Christmas Angels

   The days are getting colder here in Canada.  Soon the fluffy, white snowflakes will begin to swirl in the skies above and it’ll be time to cozy up indoors with a good book and my coveted cup of coffee. The hustle and bustle of the holiday season has come way too soon for me… we just pulled out all the Christmas decorations this past weekend!  I have a few favourite ones in my stash.  All of them are angels.  One is a teeny wooden one, given to me by a dear friend in memory of a special little baby. I safely tuck it away every year and cry a new batch of tears when I pull it out again as the memories flood over me.  Another is a primitive little crafted thing,with a toilet paper roll for a body and some lace tucked in for a skirt.  It was supposed to be “faceless” … but my kids secretly drew a magic-markered-happy-face smile on it because they didn’t think it looked right without features. The final favourite is a beautiful figurine, decked out in eyelet lace with feathery wings and a delicate, china face. I bought it when we were first married at a country fair.  There were rumours the vendor was a witch, and perhaps I shouldn’t buy from her, but I didn’t care… it was (and still is!) so pretty.  If I had an unlimited budget and didn’t have to dust, my house would be filled with Victorian angels decked out in fine royal purples and regal reds.  They are one of my favourite things at Christmas.

Yet, I wonder if my concept of angels is wrong.  Have I some how twisted my view of these very special messengers of God?  Created to serve Him faithfully forever?  Recent polls suggest that a large percentage of North Americans, no matter what their religious backgrounds, have a belief in angels or heavenly beings.  Are they truly the chubby, naked little cherubs we imagine all decked out with harps and bows and arrows?  Or the Christmas tree toppers adorned with gold ribbons and flowing gowns of crimson?  Perhaps we are too casual with our angelic references: “Thanks so much…you’re such an angel for bringing me that… Oh, what a darling, little angel she is…”  When the Bible refers to angels, humans tended to bow down in absolute fear (Gen.19:1, Luke 1).  Even the Christmas angels who brought the good news to the shepherds caused them to be “terrified”.  These heavenly hosts were definitely not the adorable 5-year-olds with make shift tinsel halos hailing “Fear not” in the Children’s Christmas pageant. 

That being said, I am thankful that these messengers of God are still so very present in our lives.  I have heard countless stories of missionaries narrowly escaping death because “strange groups of men” seemed to be protecting them.  I am confident that my children have been protected from harm on more than one occasion because of the prayers of believers around them.  Those prayers have sent angels to fight the spiritual battles we all face every day in this fallen world.  I am comforted that God still sends His heralds to remind me, like Mary and the shepherds, “not to be afraid”.  He has messengers of the good news all around us.  We just have to search them out.

I don’t think the true heavenly creatures are as cute and gentle as we imagine.

The angelic creatures described in the book of Revelation should be an indication to me that God Almighty is in control of all, and that one day the battle will be won.  The flaming, sword bearing protectors will vanquish evil on Christ’s behalf and we will enter His gates with thanksgiving and joy. 

Can you imagine what it will be like to join voices with the heavenly choir of seraphims and cherubims and cry “Holy, Holy, Holy to the Lord God Almighty”?!  Oh, my friend, it is no wonder we admire these creatures who were made for the infinite purpose of praising the One who saves us.

This season, as I pullout my tissue wrapped treasures, and top my tree with the guardians of Heaven, I will be encouraged that “… we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:28,29 NIV)

And when the swirling flakes arrive, and the busyness of the season preoccupies my time, and I am flustered with all the preparations that need to be done, I pray that I will be able to look at that magic marker smile of the “toilet paper roll angel” sitting on the shelf, and be reminded to “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:1,2 NIV)

Is Homework Necessary?

 December first has come and gone.  We celebrated the first Sunday of Advent, and are anticipating the weeks of holiday bliss which are about to arrive.  But before the Mitton clan goes whole hog on Christmas, we have to get through the last few weeks of school.  Which, in our neck of the woods, means a whole whack of homework.  A topic that has led to a rather brooding debate amongst us… is homework really necessary?!  My first answer as mom, educator and lover of learning, says yes, yes, of course!  Homework is a must.  How can we continue learning if there is no homework, no testing, no study?  The rest of the clan disagrees.  It’s stressful, it’s useless, it’s too time consuming, it has no purpose.  These are the things I am hearing!  Even the hubby, who is thinking of branching out of his comfort zone and taking a course in the new year (to which I am very proud!) wants only to audit a course and not do the homework.  Awk!  No, no, no, I say!  How can you really learn if you have no concrete evidence… nothing to show at the end…no “mark” of your ability.  But — I am willing to be open minded — and so I muse:  Is homework really necessary?

  From what I have gathered, “homework” — the work sent home because either it is not completed in class, or is assigned to enhance the practice, preparation for, or extensions of, lessons done in class — is becoming a hot topic.  There seems to be a growing trend to eliminate it all together.  In Canada, “no homework policies” are being pushed by both parents and educators alike, labeling homework as stress inducing, and time-robbing.  A 2008 study done in Ontario, discovered that the dreaded homework hour can become the primary source of arguments in a household.  Not only in parent/child power struggles, but even among marriages as well.  (Which seems to be happening in my house, too…)  And so I muse again… Why?

Apparently the answer lies in the amount of time.  The “ideal” amount of homework, as laid out by the National Parent Teacher Association and the National Education Association in the US, suggests a standard of 10 minutes of homework per grade level.  Canadian educators pretty much follow this standard as well.  However, reports are coming in that students are doing much, much more than this.  On average, Ontario students are given 40 minutes of homework per night.  Add multiple subjects and this can get pretty stressful. Families argue that this cuts into family time, not to mention that if there is misunderstanding or learning struggles — that 40 minutes could drag on in to infinity….

So.  Let’s take a step back.  Let’s look at the big picture of why we educate in the first place.  If our Christian lifestyle impacts our understanding in this topic, then God should have something to say about it too.  The Bible tells us in Proverbs to “…get wisdom and understanding at all costs…” (Proverbs 4).  Could this mean giving up some favourite television show to study the multiplication table?  Or forcing our students off the devices to sit with pen and paper to make a “useless” title page?  Possibly.  Now, don’t get me wrong, we are not perfect scholars over here… we have had our fair share of homework struggles… pulling our hair out to get that perfect paper machéd, 3-D model of some obscure parallelogram.  Or setting the timer for exactly 21 minutes of reading because that is the bare minimum required.   I have seen my teens burn the midnight oil on more than one occasion to complete that assignment simply because they procrastinated the rest of the week.  Homework can certainly be stress inducing.  And as parents, I think it is our job to shape, encourage and instruct our children… that yes, education is important.  And yes, this teacher’s expectations may be out of the ball park… so let’s deal with learning to have difficult conversations, let’s deal with how to interact with people who do not see our points of view, let’s be present in our education systems and seek wisdom.  Let’s make homework part of the bigger idea of “gathering wisdom.”

I’m not convinced there is an easy answer to the homework debate.  We are a full mix of people with many given gifts.  We have different goals and different learning styles.  Good grief… even within my own little clan, we cannot agree on this debate!  For now… I will encourage the completion of homework in our house, with the premise of gathering wisdom.  Skills like multiplication tables and correct spelling and grammar are necessary, yes, but so is good communication, and loving your neighbour, and standing up for what you believe.  Can homework achieve this?  Certainly not in 40 minutes a night.  It becomes a piece of a much, much broader idea, that I will continue to muse about often.

Let me know your thoughts… do you home school and avoid homework altogether?  Do you enforce homework time at your house?  Is it a struggle? Have helpful hints to share?  We’d love to hear from you!   Drop us a line!

Wind Beneath My Wings

road trip musingOur wayward firstborn was recently home from University for reading week.  It was lovely to have her, even though we have already given away her room to her younger brother.  She had to put up with the basement.  Nonetheless, on my trip to pick her up, the GPS app on my phone took me through some winding country roads.   I’ve made this two hour trip hundreds of times before, but for some reason that day, I was relying on my phone to pull me out of the back roads and get me to somewhere more familiar.  I seemed to be wandering in farmland for way too long… I began to pray that the power wouldn’t totally seep out of the phone before I arrived.  I was lucky — all of a sudden I came upon civilization and breathed again.

It was a dull day when I made that drive all on my own.  The skies were overcast and the wind was whipping around as rain threatened the skies but didn’t appear.  At two different stretches of highway, we seemed to have a “leaf storm”.  The leaves blew around the vehicle in great swirls and gusts as if they were snowflakes driven by winter winds led by Jack Frost himself.  It was quite unusual, really.  Yellow leaves mostly, from the ash trees of the area.  Twice I seemed to be the only one on the back roads, engulfed in this inferno of flying leaves.  Like something out of the Wizard of Oz.  I was not in Kansas anymore.  Or anywhere I was familiar with either, for that matter.

When the leaf storms subsided, I took note of the fields surrounding me.  I was taking the opportunity to reflect a little as the two hours of peace and quiet was a welcomed rest for my busy soul.  (And truth be told,  I was trying to figure out where the heck I was with respect to my final destination!)  The farmers fields were a dull yellow… dry corn husks left to be plowed under soon.  Flat, drab, and lifeless,  surrounded by the autumn forests of reds, greens, and browns.  Houses dotted the perfectly paved roads.  Nothing of great note.  Except for two black silhouettes on the horizon.wind beneath my wings

At two different points on my drive, I witnessed two giant birds soaring in the wind.  They were probably hawks or falcons.  Maybe one was an osprey — we often see their giant nests atop telephone poles in the area.  The first one I noticed seemed to be gliding effortlessly through the field.  Guided along with the wind beneath its wings… seemingly without a care in the world.  The other was also majestically soaring — but swooped up and down almost as if it was having fun in the windstorm!  Have you ever stuck your arm out the window of a moving car?  Okay… not recommending it … not safe…. don’t do this at home… blah blah… But if you ever have… you will know the feeling of the wind beneath your “wings”.  That pressure that pushes you back but encourages you forward… and you dip and rise your hand like in the commercials of pretty girls in convertibles advertising some vacation spot in sunny Aruba.

It struck me, as I watched this big bird for the brief few seconds as I drove past, that this is what Isaiah was talking about when he says that those whose hope is in the Lord, will renew their strength and soar on wings like eagles!  (Isaiah 40).  This big bird was dipping and diving and seemed to actually be having fun in the wind!  So often we get caught up in our daily grinds of work, ministry, kids, etc., and life seems to be taking us on the winding back roads.  We get overwhelmed by the “leaf storms” that blow our way and get confused by our whereabouts in what should be the familiar.  We get tired.  Yet, God is so much bigger than we can even imagine.   He becomes the wind beneath our wings.  Then we are carried and soar.  Dipping and diving as our strength is renewed yet again.soar like eagles

Apparently there are 4 different species of eagles in Palestine.  It’s no wonder that the bible authors make reference to their power, might and majesty, and uses them as our example for the never tiring Lord who renews our strength.  I’m pretty sure my birds were not eagles, but big birds nonetheless.   Even the Bette Midler song from way back, makes the bible reference of soaring eagles.  Who is your hero today?  Who is the wind beneath your wings when your strength is failing?  Rest well in knowing that God is big enough to carry you through the storms and uncertainties.   Enjoy the dips and dives as you swoop through the dull fields of leftovers.  May He be the wind beneath your wings!