Wednesday, July 31, 2013

How to Use Strong's Concordance to Improve your Scripture Study

Can I tell you a secret?

I don't know how to read Hebrew or Greek.

At all.

Not even a little bit.


Okay, that wasn't too much of a secret. But it suprises me how many people assume that I must be able to.

So let me tell you my real secret.

I use the Strong's Concordance... a lot.

Strong's Concordance was first published 1890 and is basically an index to the Bible. It allows readers to find the original Hebrew or Greek words that are used in the Bible and to compare how the same word is used in other places in the Bible. It isn't a translation of the Bible but is meant to be used by people who don't read Hebrew or Greek (like me) in order to help them gain a more accurate understanding of the Bible.

Strong's Concordance was originally printed in book form and you can still buy and use it that way. They also have concordances that are online and which I have found are much faster and easier to use. Today I am going to show you how to use an online concordance, but just know that the process isn't much different if you are using the print version--- just more page flipping.

My favorite concordance is one I found at Bible Study Tools. I have the website saved to my Ipad and when I study my scriptures I often pull up the website to check the original meaning of words that seem confusing or out of place to me. Unfortunately the website doesn't work the same on my Iphone, and I haven't found another concordance that I like to use as much. If I find a good Iphone one (or if anyone knows of one) I will be sure to share it. 

So to start off let me show you the process I went through when I was studying the story of Naomi (written here). I was intrigued by the word "nurse" that was used to describe her role to her grandson and so I looked it up in the concordance to see what the original word was.

The first step is to go to the home page for Bible Study Tools and type in the verse of scripture the word you want to study is in. It works best if you just put in one scripture at a time and not a group of scriptures.

After your search it will pull the scripture up like this.

This website will pull up many different translations so make sure that the translation you want to use is pulled up by selecting the box on the right side. On my computer the King James Version is the default translation and, since that is the one I use,  I don't usually have to worry about this. But if you are reading a different translation you will want to make sure it is selected.

To turn on the concordance click the box on the right hand side that says "Strong's Numbers".

After you have selected that box then it should hyperlink all the words in the verse that have a concordance reference to them. In this case I was interested in the word "nurse" and so I clicked on it.

It will then pull up the concordance reference for the word that is translated in the KJV as "nurse". In this case the word that is translated as "nurse" is actually the Hebrew word " 'aman". 

The concordance will give you the original Hebrew word if it is an Old Testament reference or the original Greek word if it is a New Testament reference (you may need to download the fonts on your computer to see them). It will also give you the transliterated word, so that you know how to say it. It will also give all possible definitions of the word, with the first definition being the most common and the last one being the most obscure. 

I think the most helpful part of the concordance for me is the bottom section where it tells you how often the word is used, how else it is translated, and how many times that translation is found in the Bible. It is amazing how one Hebrew or Greek word can be translated into SO many different English words. For example, "aman" is translated as "believe, assurance, faithful, sure, established, trust, verified, steadfast, continuance, father, bring up, nurse, be  nursed, surely be, stand fast, fail and trusty."

In addition the column on the right hand side gives scripture references to all the different places that the word "aman" is used. Whenever I am studying a word I make sure to read through several of the cross-references so that I understand how the word was used in other contexts. One of the biggest downsides of the concordance is that it doesn't take into consideration things like historical context, figures of speech, metaphors, idioms, or cultural references. Those are things you really need training in ancient civilizations and languages to understand, and is one reason that one word can be translated into so many different English words. Still, by reading all the scriptures in which the word was used it can still teach you a lot about what the original meaning of the word was and how it was used by the people of that time.

For example lets look at the references to "aman" in Isaiah by clicking it on the right hand column.


It will then pull up all the times "aman" is used in the book of Isaiah. You will notice that most of the references don't translate the word as "nurse" and so sometimes you might have to go back and look at the alternate translations to figure out which word is the one you are looking for.

The Isaiah scriptures were very interesting to me because I was surprised to find that the scripture about "nursing fathers" and "nursing mothers" came up.

This intrigued me and so I wanted to keep going a little deeper.  I typed  Isaiah 49:23 in as it's own reference (back to step number one) and did a concordance search on it (just like I did before).

You will notice that the word "nursing" here is not highlighted with a concordance link. Whenever you see significant words (not just filler ones) that don't link up it usually means that the words before or after them encompass their meaning.

When I selected "fathers" it pulled up the page on the word "aman" and so I could conclude that in this case the whole phrase "nursing father" was what was being translated.

I could also conclude that the same word, "aman", that was used by Isaiah to describe "nursing fathers" was also the same word used to describe Naomi's "nursing" relationship to her grandson.

Cool huh?

But it is even cooler because when I selected "nursing mothers" I was expecting it to also pull up the word "aman",  but it didn't. The original Hebrew word used here is "yanaq" which as you can see below has a much different meaning.

This was really exciting for me to discover because the English translation makes it sound like "nursing fathers" and "nursing mothers" are doing the same sort of work. Yet when you read the original words in Hebrew it makes it very clear that there are two different sort of responsibilities for the Kings and Queens that Isaiah is speaking about, but that they both have "nursing" components to them. For me it completely changed the way I understood that scripture and opened up a whole new train of thought.

This is one of the reasons why some day I would LOVE to learn Hebrew and Greek. It would make reading the scriptures so much more enlightening and exciting, because so much of the meaning of the scriptures can get lost in translation.

Yet, in the meantime the concordance is the best tool I have, and I use it a lot. Whenever I read a scripture that confuses me usually the first thing I do is pull it up in the concordance and start looking up the original meanings of words. Even when it appears that the meaning of the word if obvious I sometimes pull it up anyway, just to check. I could do dozens and dozens of posts like the one I have shown today, where words that I thought I knew the meaning to ended up having a much deeper and significant meaning.  It is really exciting and it makes scripture study a bit addictive! 

I hope that this post was helpful and that it gets you excited to dig deeper into your scriptures.

One word of advice. Make sure you always write down (in your scripture journal or other special place) what you learn after doing a concordance search. There is nothing more frustrating than getting an amazing insight and the next day not being able to remember what words you had been studying.

Trust me, I know.

If you have any questions feel free to ask!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Five Things for Friday, 58th Edition


Just had to throw this one in because it was so cute.

So someone told me I had to start mentioning the downsides of living in Iowa because I was making her want to pack up and move. So, to balance the score, I will try.

Besides being so far from family (which is a big one) the things that have been the biggest adjustments have been:

1. No Mountains. I didn't realize how accustomed I was to them until we moved out here. It is really disorienting to be without them. In Utah you always know which way is East because you can see the mountains wherever you are. Out here everything is flat and full of corn and so it is so easy to get turned around. The first week we were here I got lost on the interstate and ended up driving in exactly the wrong direction for almost an hour before I realized that I didn't recognize any of the town names. It took me nearly three hours to get home because I couldn't figure out which direction I needed to be going! I am getting better at navigating without mountains, but I do miss them.

2. High utilities. I have been shocked at how much our water and our electricity bill are here. The electricity I can almost understand because we have been running our air conditioner often, but the water bill is crazy. This month our water and sewer bill was $150. We don't water our lawn here and so that is just for household water! I thought that there had to be something wrong, that maybe we had a leak or something, but our neighbor said that her bill is usually around $200 a month for water and sewer. It is just so ironic to me that out here where water is much more plentiful it costs SO MUCH more than when we lived in the desert. From what I can gather the reason that water is so much more is because it costs so much to treat it. I guess that all the fertilizer that runs off of the farmer's fields  pollutes the ground water and rivers and makes clean water harder to come by than out west. And according to the guys at Jon's work the farmer lobby is so strong here that it would take a lot of people complaining to get things changed.  Maybe I should start complaining.

3. Lots of bugs. As I was spraying myself down with bug spray the other afternoon I joked to Jon that it was "Iowa perfume." There are lots of bugs, mosquitoes, flies, gnats, more flies, and more mosquitoes. It is a bit annoying.  But I guess the flip side to that is that there are also fireflies. Which are just about pure magic.

Totally enthralled with the fireflies


Speaking of bugs and magic. Our trees are full of cicadas. Cicadas hibernate for 11- 12 year stretches and this year is suppose to be the year when they hatch out. I haven't actually seen one yet but every five minutes or so our yard buzzes with a strange metallic sound coming from the tree tops.

It is really the most amazing sound I have ever heard.  If you don't know what I am talking about you can watch this video, it sounds just like our backyard.

The sound just doesn't even seem natural. Almost like there are aliens invading our backyard or something.  It is bizarre!

Sometimes living here feels like we have moved to a whole different country.


I think we might have a bit of a chicken obsession going on at our house. My kids spend at least one or two hours a day outside playing with them. They take them on walks, push them in the swing, tell them stories, sing them songs, and chase them over and over and over again. 

Asher our "chicken whisper"

The other day we pulled up to our house after being away for a few hours and discovered that our yard was COVERED in chickens. In addition to our nine chickens there were about 15 new chickens running around. I guess that Jon had told a friend we would take a few of their extra chickens and they just dropped them off in our yard while we were gone. It was crazy chicken chaos.

And Asher was in heaven. He jumped out of the car and immediately spied a small black chicken with  feathers on its feet. "OH, OH, OH," he screamed, "It's just so, so.... CUTE!" And off he went chasing it around the yard. I'm afraid it hasn't been left alone since.


Our homeschool is still going strong. The kids have really been loving the "Sing, Spell, Read, Write" curriculum and I am so impressed with how well they are learning their letters. Asher especially has been doing great. He didn't show any interest in letters or reading before we started a few weeks ago and now I find him trying to sound out words and sounds all the time! It is really kind of exciting.

We also did a "Me on the Map" activity that Asher loved. He really got into drawing maps of where we live. They also learned our address so, as Asher said, "If we ever get picked up by a police man we won't be lost."

Jon's summer work party was at the Reiman Gardens at Iowa State University.  They have the most wonderful butterfly house (and lots of good butterfly activities and resources on their website). We had been to the gardens before (when we first moved here) but the kids loved it just as much the second time. I was impressed at how much they remembered about butterflies. It was also sweet to see them walking around with their magnifying glasses.




I think the biggest challenge to our home school has just been that I am so tired. I haven't really been adding much more in besides just our math and reading activities. Though we do read a lot of books. I checked out a stack of books about invertebrate animals (octopuses, starfish, crabs, jellyfish, worms, etc...) and the kids have been loving them. We talked about the way animals are classified by if they have a backbone or not. It has been really cute to see them get so excited about all the backbones they can feel on our animals. I went out the other day and saw Asher showing Rose how to feel the vertebrates in the chicken's necks and explaining to her that he had a backbone.  And then Rose came up to me the other day and asked me,  "Mom is a monkey an invertebrate or an outvertebrate?"

I think she's getting the basic idea, right?


We also just finished reading "Charlotte's Web" and it happened to coincide with our county fair. The kids were excited to go and see if they could find Wilbur, Charlotte and Templeton.

They didn't, but they did see the pigs get a bath which was fun.

And they spent way too much time in the chicken house, big surprise.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend! 

I think we are off to the pool tomorrow to try to see if we can get this baby inside of me to flip around. She is breech right now, and has been for a few weeks. I've heard that breech babies sometimes turn if you do  handstands in the water. I figure it can't hurt!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reaching Out

Have you ever seen the movie "Labyrinth"?

It is a very odd Jim Henson movie from the 80's about a young girl who has to rescue her baby brother from the Goblin King (ie. David Bowie). When we were younger my cousin and I loved it.  I distinctly remember spending a whole summer afternoon making up a sequel to the movie in which the dashing young heroine ruled the Labyrinth and married David Bowie...  only after he vowed to wear better pants.

I actually haven't watched the show in years, but lately one image from that movie keeps circulating through my thoughts.

It is the image of the heroine falling down an oubliette, which in French means "a place of forgetting", and in this case is the bottom of hole with no way out.  As she is falling she is surprised to be caught by hundreds of hands sticking out from the wall. The hands grab her and, in clever Muppet fashion, combine themselves into faces to talk to her. They ask her which way she wants to go-- up or down-- and when she chooses down they promptly drop her.

This image has been powerful for me because while this move to Iowa has been wonderful in so many ways, it has also been challenging. I think that if I wasn't pregnant and facing the daunting feat of having a baby far away from family, friends, and all the women I know and love... I would be doing fine. As it is I have been struggling. I miss the support of having familiar friends and family near by and some days I feel so alone. It is easy to let myself start falling down my very own "oubliette" of loneliness and isolation.

I curl up into a little ball and start to fall.

"Everyone already has their friends, they don't want me around."

"They are too busy. I don't want to call them."

"I don't want to impose or be a burden. They hardly know me."

"I can't believe I said "that" or did "that". They probably think I am weird."   

But then that image from the Labyrinth comes back, and I remember that in order for those hundreds of hands to catch the heroine she had to give them something to grab on to.

A tight little ball, with no arms or legs sticking out, is just going to fall straight to the bottom of the oubliette.

So--slowly, tentatively, bravely-- I start to uncurl.

Just a bit.

"Let's take a walk and say "hi" to at least one person." 

One finger out.

"We made jam. We brought you some."

Then a hand.

"Do your kids want to come over and play?"  

Yikes, there goes my arm.... all the way out.

"Can I bring you dinner? I heard you weren't feeling well."
And then I start to feel them.

Not just brushes on my skin as I rush past, but firm, solid hands.

Grasping me, holding me, and reminding me that I am not alone.

Reminding me that there are people all around me, ready and willing to sustain me and help me figure out which way I am headed.

Still, it seems that I always forget how hard it is to make new friends and establish a new support network. It takes patience and it takes work... sometimes a lot of work. So even though some days it is really tempting to let myself curl up and start falling down the oubliette of self pity, I have to remember to keep sticking my arms and my legs out.

The walls are covered in hands--more than I can imagine-- I just have to give them something to hold on to.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Swastika on the Floor of the Library

We have a wonderful public library.

It is a beautiful historic building built in 1901. The whole bottom floor was built to be the children's section and it is a wonderful space. Out of all the cities we have lived in this by far the best children's library that we have ever had.

There is a back entrance to get to the children's section and I was surprised the first time we used it to see this on the floor.

Yes, that is a swastika on the floor of the public library
The floor is a mosaic of brown tile randomly broken up by tiles with symbols and designs on them. This swastika is one of the very first designs you see when you walk in the door. It took me by shock the first time I saw it. It seemed so very strange to see this symbol displayed openly in a public building.

It made me uncomfortable and a bit apprehensive of the new city we had just moved to.

I asked the librarian to help me find materials about the history of the library and as I read them I discovered that much of the building had been restored in the 1970's. It turned out that during the renovation the tile floor by the children's section had been uncovered and restored. Meaning that the tile with the swastika was part of the original floor built in 1901.

This was very interesting to me because at the turn of the century the swastika was a popular good luck symbol in the United States and around much of the world. The symbol originated in India and was widely used in Indian religions. The name  "swastika" comes from the Sanskrit "svastika", which means  "to be good" or "being with higher self". In the late 1800's and the early 1900's it was a popular symbol and was widely used. It was worn as jewelry, used as a symbol for sports clubs, placed on highway markers, used as boy scout badge, placed on public buildings, and even sewed into quilt squares (you can see examples here).

I can just imagine that when our library was constructed the person doing the floor thought it fitting and meaningful to place a swastika-- what he saw as a symbol of good luck and peace-- front and center in the hallway. This was 25 years before the Nazi party in Germany would adopt the swastika as its symbol and forever change its meaning. The man laying the floor in 1901 couldn't have imagined that 100 years later his symbol choice would mean exactly the opposite of what it originally meant. Nor could he imagine that seeing it displayed prominently in a public building would shock and alarm a mother with her children.

The swastika on the floor of the library reminds me how hard it is can be to interpret ancient symbolism with modern eyes. Satan has had millennium, much longer than any of us can even conceive of being alive, to twist and contort the meaning of so many of God's most powerful symbols. Sometimes he does it quickly, while at other times he has done it gradually over several generations. Unfortunately he has been successful in contorting many of the symbols that God uses  so that they no longer have the same meaning in our modern context as they originally did.

One good example of a symbol whose meaning was shifted by Satan is that of the serpent. In Genesis we read that Satan appeared to Adam and Eve as a "serpent." This symbol has been adopted by our Western culture as a universal symbol of treachery and deceit. Just think about any children's movie you have ever seen that has a snake in it... Jungle Book, Aladdin, Rikki Tiki Tavi, Harry Potter... snakes are never the good guys.

It then gets confusing why in Numbers 21 Moses cured the Israelites from their poisonous stings by holding up a serpent on a staff. It always seemed strange to me that he would choose that symbol. Yet in Helaman 8: 14- 15 we are taught that Moses held up the serpent as a symbol of Christ.

 "Yea, did he [Moses] not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come. And as many as should look upon that serpent should live even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal."

The truth is that the serpent is an ancient symbol of Christ (if you want to learn more about serpent symbols this is a fascinating article) and when Moses wrote the book of Genesis describing Satan appearing as a "serpent" to Adam and Eve his readers would have understood what that meant. It meant that Satan had attempted to appear to Adam and Eve as a being of light who had power and with authority. Satan used a powerful symbol, one that Adam and Eve would have associated with Christ, to try to deceive and confuse them into doing what he wanted them to do.

Satan is still up to the same old tricks today. He understands the power of symbols, just like God does, and he is constantly trying to use them to deceive. 

One of the great challenges of spiritual learning to see symbols for what they really are. God's message for His children has been the same since the world was started. He adapts and teaches each generation as they need to be taught, but many of the symbols He uses are ancient. To really understand what they mean we have to learn to take off our modern/cultural//historical lenses and look at things with our pure spiritual eyes. When we let go of what we think we already know God will open our understanding and teach us things that we never even imagined could be.

I know that for me whenever I start to get upset about something I don't understand in the scriptures  I try really hard to push aside my own limited understanding and try to look at things differently. Sometimes this means learning more about the historical context in which scriptures were written, or in better understanding the meaning of ancient symbols and rituals,  but usually it means allowing God to open my eyes to see and my ears to hear.

Like the blind man that Jesus healed by washing clay out of his eyes (John 9:6) sometimes I just need to have Him wash the world--and all its distortions-- from my eyes so that I can truly see things as they really are.

The swastika on the floor of our library fascinates me. Perhaps if we lived in a bigger city someone would have demanded it removed by now, but I love that it is still there.

It is a beautiful reminder to me that things aren't always what they appear to be...  and that I know so much less about everything than I think I do.

Now when I go to the library I am often reminded of my favorite scripture:

"Believe in God; believe that he is, and that he created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that he has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that man doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend." Mosiah 4:9 

It is humbling to remember that I am really just a baby. A baby who is growing and learning and striving for further light and knoweldge... but a baby none the less.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Five Things for Friday, Shepherdess Edition


I was talking to my sister on the phone the other day, telling her about another one of our animal adventures, and finally she just laughed and said, "Heather your life is starting to sound like something out of a children's book."

That made me smile because it does seem like we are having an unusual number of animal adventures this year.

Our most recent animal excitement has been with the skunk that was living beneath our chicken coop. We noticed about a month ago that it had taken up residence there, but we were at a total loss as how to get rid of it. We had several offers from neighbors who said they would come over with their shotguns, but we weren't too excited about that option. I called the Humane Society and they said that the most they could do for us was give us a trap.

Trapping a skunk? That just sounded like a recipe for disaster.

So the skunk stayed under to coop for almost a month until finally, after one exceptionally stinky night, we opted for the trap option. Jon put a tarp over the top of it and we put a can of wet cat food in the back of the trap (I guess that is what skunks like) and left it out over night.

Jon's skunk barricade. He didn't want that skunk to get out!

The next morning there was a black and white tail sticking out of the trap! Luckily the skunk stayed asleep until Jon got the covered trap into the back of the truck, but once it heard us talking it woke up and sprayed all over the tarp. No one was around at the time,  but it sure did make our whole backyard and our house smell bad for a few hours! Jon and Asher drove him down to the river and let him go down there.

Hopefully he won't find his way back!


In other animal news.... I am pleased to announce that I am now a shepherdess.

Jon bought me two lambs for my birthday.

He got me a boy and girl. The boy's name is "Solomon" and Rose started calling the little girl lamb "Cutie Pie".  I thought that was cute so we kept it. We put them out in the pasture with Little Red and they have all taken to each other really well. I think Little Red is much happier now that he has his own little herd to run around with.

It has been fun to see the difference in personality between sheep and goats. The sheep are really shy and mostly keep to themselves, while the goat is super social and always wants to be around people. Though I think the sheep are starting to warm up to me, because when I went out to the pasture today they both came running over with Little Red. They didn't want to be petted, but they liked eating where I was at.

Cutie Pie's leg got hurt when they were catching her to bring her over here, and so she has been hobbling around. It doesn't feel broken and so we think she just got a sprain. Today she was putting more weight on it, and so hopefully in the next few days she will be better.  I have been impressed on how fast she can run on three legs!  

I am excited about having a boy and girl because that means we should get some little lambs this  spring! I am so incredibly excited about the idea of seeing baby lambs be born.  I guess the birth junkie in me doesn't really care what type of birth it is... the miracle of it never ceases to excite me.

I know I can't rush things, but I can't wait for these two little guys to grow up and fall in love.


 I finally finished the cloth diapers that I started almost three years ago.

Aren't they pretty?

I bought the PUL fabric (a special waterproof material), the fleece for the liner, and all the snaps, and the snap press at Joann's fabric way back when Rose was still a baby. I had hopes of making them for her, but alas... it never happened.

I am not a cloth diaper purist by any means. I am more a half cloth/ half disposable type mom. I use disposables whenever we are out and about, at night, and whenever I don't feel like doing cloth. I usually use cloth when we are home or just running errands around town. I really love having both around.

I started using them when Rose was born because with two kids in diapers it just made a lot more financial sense. I tried out a sample program first ( you can read all my posts on cloth diapers here) and was surprised by how much I liked them. The new types of cloth diapers are really easy to use, and changing them is really not much more disgusting than changing any other poopy diaper. These are NOT your grandma's cloth diapers. They have definitely gotten more high tech since then!

Anyway,  I used cloth for about a year with Asher, almost exclusively on Rose (except for night time), and for just a few months with Abe. Life was just too crazy, with moving so much and all, that I didn't even want to think about bothering with cloth diapers with Abe. Yet now that we are more settled and I am going to have two babies in diapers again in a few months I figured I'd better pull out the cloth diapers again.

My stash was in a pretty sad state and so I went through and fixed several of them up and sewed six new diapers. I used this pattern (that Cocoa was so nice to tell me about) for one-sized diapers. These diapers have lots of snaps on them so they can adjust to fit newborns up to toddlers. I was really surprised at how EASY they were to make. I'd say the pattern was worth the $10. Though when Cocoa told me about it she recommend to extend the top of the front and back seam allowances by half an inch. She said that if you don't the seam allowance at the top is too small and runs into the snaps. I also didn't do the last set of snaps at the top of the diaper because they seemed too close to the edge, and wouldn't have been very useful. I also top stitched around the outside of leg elastic because I didn't like how it rolled. Those were all the changes I made to the pattern and was really happy with how they turned out.

I am afraid though that if this baby is a boy he is going to end up wearing pink diapers. That is what you get for buying the fabric and then not using it for three years!

But  it never hurts to shake up gender stereotypes sometimes, right?


I really appreciated the wonderful conversation about anger on my last post. One of the questions that came up was how to reduce the amount of anger you feel in your life, especially when you have been trying to get rid of it.  I thought that I would share this meditation that my beautiful friend Felice taught me. It is really simple and if you do it everyday for at least 40 days amazing things will start to happen to you.

I promise.

I try to do this meditation most mornings. Some days I don't have much steam to burn off, but other days it surprises me the things that come out. Either way I always feel really good after I have done it, like I have let go of a burden.

And sometimes I even have my kids do the meditation when they are really riled up. It always seems to help. At least it gets them laughing most of the time, instead of yelling.


We officially started our homeschool last week and it has been going much smoother (so far) than I expected. We have been having a lot of fun (mostly) and it has been rewarding to see them grasp the ideas and to get excited about what they are learning.

Our schedule isn't very intense.  We start out with our Mom's MTC lesson in the morning (for which Abe joins us) and then afterward we work on our reading and math lessons (during which Abe takes a nap). When we are done we have a snack and I read to them from "Charlotte's Web". We usually only do work for about 2 hours in the morning and then go do something fun.

As we get more accustomed to the schedule I will slowly try to add in more activities, but for right now we are taking it slow. 

Here are few snippets of what we have been doing.

Here is Rose working with the alphabet bags. Each day we work on a new letter and after she colors her picture of the letter and the sound it makes then she gets to pull out the letter bag for that day. They have objects in them that start with the letter. Here she is has the "A" and the "B" bag out.

Here they are playing a math memory game. I laid out cards 1-10 and then put a certain number of blocks into the basket. When it was their turn they had to go find the basket (it was on the stairs) count how many things were in the basket, leave it there, and then come back and choose the number that they thought it was. After they guessed they could go get the basket and come back and check if they were right. It was simple but they enjoyed it.

For our Geography lesson we made "If the World Were A Village" lapbooks (print it off here) and talked about where and how people live around the world. The idea of the activity is to give children an idea of what the world would look like if you reduced the population of the world to 100 people.  I took 100 beans (the 100 people in our world village) and put them on which continents they would live on, showed how many had clean water and air, how many spoke which languages, practiced which religions, had how much money, etc... The work of actually making the lapbook was  a bit too old for them, even though they had fun gluing things in, but it really opened up a good conversation about how people live. I was really touched when we made our piles showing the people in the world who don't have enough to eat and Asher and Rose started taking beans from the "rich" pile and putting them in the other pile. "We are really rich Mom," they explained, "So we can give our beans to these guys so they have more to eat." 

Amen to that! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Vashti and Esther: Why it Doesn't Pay to be an Angry Feminist

The Banquet of Esther and Ahasuerus by Jan Victors

There was a time in my life when I had a lot of anger about issues relating to women. I wasn't angry at a specific person or organization per se, but angry at a world that treated women as objects, raped them, enslaved them, prevented them from being born, paid them less money, and undervalued their contributions. Like the Savior cleansing the temple I felt my anger was justified; I was seeing injustice and I was getting motivated about it. Yet the more I went down that path the more I saw that anger was a drug and an illusion. Being angry about wrongs didn't really change anything.

 Most of all I could feel that my "righteous indignation" was killing a beautiful part of my soul.

I found that I was becoming more judgmental of other people, that I was more easily provoked to anger and impatience by things people said or did, and that I was slowly loosing my faith in the goodness of other people's hearts. Most of all I wasn't as happy. One day it dawned on me that if I went much further down the anger path, I would never be able to come back up again.

It worries me to see people embracing, even unknowingly, an attitude of anger as it relates to feminist issues, or any issue for that matter. Not just because of what it does to their souls, but because actions motivated by anger-- in any form-- will never really change anything.

Let me explain. 

In the first chapter of the book of Esther it tells the story of Vashti. King Ahasuerus, the king of Perisa, held a huge feast for all the princes of Media and Persia. At the same time Queen Vashti held her own feast in the royal palace for the women.  It was a seven day long feast and on the last day, when "the heart of the king was merry with wine" he commanded his counselors to bring Vashti, with her royal crown, so that he could show off her beauty to all the princes.

Vashti flatly refused to come. She knew that what the king was asking of her was degrading to her as a woman and beneath her position as queen. I am sure that all her womanly pride boiled up at the thought of being paraded before a drunken crowd of men. The king's request was totally a misuse his power and showed a disregard for Vashti's feelings and dignity.

Really, no one can blame Vashti for not going.

Still, her very public refusal of the king's command made him angry. As both a king and a husband he expected to be obeyed, and she disobeyed him on both levels. Beyond that one of his counselors pointed out that,   
"Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, the provinces of the King Ahasurerus. For this deed of the queen shall come abroad unto all women, so that they shall despise their husbands in their eyes... Thus shall there arise too much contempt and wrath." (Esther 1: 16-18). 
Basically, he was afraid that Vashti had opened a can of worms and that if king didn't do something then Persia would have a regular feminist movement on its hands. This scared the King and so he commanded that Vashti be removed as queen and he sent a proclamation throughout the land stating that,  "every man should bear rule in his own house"... and that "all the wives shall give to their husbands honour, both to great and small."

There, feminist movement squashed. Right?


Enter Esther.

After Vashti's demotion the King's servants brought all the fair virgins of the land to the palace to be dressed, washed and pampered for six months. After which each was given a chance to win the King's affection and become the new queen. Esther  was one of these fair virgins but unlike the other girls, when it was her turn to go before the king, she refused all finery except what was normally appointed to her. Perhaps it was this simplicity and honesty that caught the King's attention and caused  him to love Esther more than all the other women. Eventually he chose her to be his new queen.

Yet despite Esther's apparent honesty she kept one big fact a secret from the king, the fact that she was a Jew. This caused problems when later the king's advisor Haman (and his wife Zeresh)  convinced the King that he should exterminate the Jews in his kingdom. Once again, just like with Vashti, the King was being misled by his advisers and was being tempted to use his power in an unrighteous way.

The King's decree put Esther in a hard place. Due to the common occurrence of political assassinations in this time period King Ahaserus had a rule that no one, absolutely no one, could come into his presence without his permission. The penalty for breaking the rule was death, plain and simple. Not only was Esther afraid of approaching the King to state her cause, but it is likely she also remembered what happened to the last queen who disobeyed the King.

Queen Vashti Deposed by Normand Ernest
It is ironic that Ester was facing almost the exact same problem that Vashti encountered. Except that this time instead of disobeying by not coming  before the king, Esther was disobeying by coming before the king.

I think it says a lot about Esther's character that when faced with such a momentous decision she took it before the Lord before she did anything else.  I wouldn't be surprised if it was during those three days that she, her maidens, and all the Jews of Persia fasted that the plan she ultimately followed was revealed to her. Furthermore,  it is significant that she asked her people to fast for her and not that the King's heart would change. She wasn't trying to change anyone else's behavior, she was just asking for the strength to to what the Lord was guiding her to do.

On the third day of her fast Esther dressed in her royal apparel and stood in the inner court of the King's house. Eventually the King noticed Esther, and instead of being angry he was pleased to see her and held out his golden scepter as an indication that she could approach. Esther had blatantly disobeyed him but instead of getting angry and demoting her, like he had Vashti, he did exactly the opposite-- he offered her anything she wanted, even unto half of his kingdom.

Perfect time to ask for the king to not kill your people, right?

But Esther didn't ask for that. Instead she invited the King and Haman to a private banquet that she had prepared for them.That night the King asked her what she wanted, but all she did was invite them to another banquet. By the second night the King was pretty much begging Ester to tell him what it was she wanted, and promised that he would give her anything. When he found out what Haman was up to, and saw that he had been deceived, his attitude did a 360. In fact his heart was so changed that he sent a decree throughout all the kingdom proclaiming that the Jews were to be honored and protected instead of killed. This change was so enormous that even 4,000 years later the Jews still celebrate the story of Esther and what she did for her people.

The crazy part is that Esther's disobedience to the king was almost exactly the same as, if not more than, Vashti's disobedience to him. Yet the outcome couldn't have been more different.


It is important to note that Vashti and Esther were in much different circumstances. Esther wasn't facing a drunken king and all his buddies, and she had more time to plan and prepare. Yet, still the key difference in why Esther was successful in making a long lasting change in the lives of her people, and Vashti was not, was the was the fact that Esther's actions were motivated by love.

There is a lot to be said for loving people first and then helping them to be better. I think that is what Esther understood. She and the King had a good relationship, one built over time. She knew his heart and knew that it was good, but that he had been mislead by prejudice and the agenda of a corrupt adviser. So when Esther wanted to approach the King about a mistake he was making she didn't do it publicly. She could have done it right there in the throne room, but she didn't. She waited until she had Haman and the King alone and then she discussed with them what was bothering her.

I think too often when we see an injustice or a problem in the world we want to make it a public event.  We want to get people on "our side" and change things by a show of force of solidarity. We want to get media attention, go viral on social media with our message, and show that we are right and someone else is wrong. Yet, anger and force will never ever change anything for the good.

When we choose to be angry about something-- even if we are totally justified-- we choose to open ourselves up to the power of the devil. Anger is his territory, and he claims all who enter into it. But he has no real power, and anything he "creates" will never last. On the other hand love is the territory of the Savior and when we choose to turn over our disappointments, our injustices, and our concerns  to Him he can work miracles with them. He will change the hearts that can be changed and open up ways for the wicked "Hamans" to be gotten out of the way.

Queen Esther by Minerva Teichert

Even so, there is certainly a time and a place for being a "Vashti".  Sometimes we have problems that people are so blind to that they need to be shouted from the housetops in a bold way. Sometimes the "Vashti-like" actions can even help pave the way for the "Esther-like" actions. Yet, the truth is that a "Vashti" approach to change will never result in real change. It may open people's eyes, it may stir people up and make the them angry and passionate for a time, but it won't last. Like Esther demonstrated real change happens when individual hearts are softened-- one-by-one-- and people come to see and love others like the Savior sees and loves others.

I think that both Vashti and Esther are women to praise and hold up as wonderful examples of strong leaders who knew their hearts. Yet over the years I have seen, that if you really want to make lasting change in the world,  there is more wisdom in being an Esther than a Vashti.

There is real power, when instead of getting riled up and angry about a problem, you turn to the Lord with fasting and prayer to know what to do it about. God is in perfect control of the universe and His love and power  can change anything or anyone. If you turn to Him with your heartaches, your concerns, and your injustices He will show you what He wants you to do. Just like Esther it might not always be easy and it may not be glamorous,  but if it is motivated by pure love... it will change the world.

And it will last.

As in 4,000 years later it is still impacting the lives of people on a daily basis type of change. And not just the "We had 10,000 people together to protest such- and such" or "the UN passed this big resolution that nobody will really follow" type of change. 

The trick is that real change is slower because you have to do it person by person. Real change also doesn't often attract the attention of the media or make people famous, but it is what is going to make the world better for women.

Which is why I hope that if you have any anger in your heart... you let it go... and replace it with love and faith.

I promise it works much better.