Monday, March 17, 2008

A Poem is a Good Guest

The bookshelf in my bedroom holds some amazing treasures. One of my favorites is The Golden Treasury of Poetry, Selected and with a commentary by Louis Untermeyer, illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund. Inside there is an inscription: To Holly, our granddaughter, from Grandma and Grandpa.

Both grandparents could – and often did, to our delight – recite poetry they had learned as schoolchildren. Grandma especially enjoyed sitting with us right beside her as she read to us. She favored story poems like those James Whitcomb Riley wrote, and often added dramatic flair as she read.

Those poems were, as Ted Kooser says, Grandma's invited guests, desired for their ability to entertain, to educate, to delight. She shared them with us as if they were great treasures – which they have proven, over time, to be.

The rhythm and cadence, the rhyme and sound of poetry add important elements to a child's language development, not to mention fun. As a child gets older there is a sense of play, a sense of story, a sense of a widening world in poems like “Little Orphan Annie,” “The Highwaymen,” “The Tyger,” and others.

As moms and grandmas we can introduce our children and grandchildren to different kinds of poetry, different authors, different word pictures. As we do that, we share a treasure with them, a guest to enrich their lives.

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Words of Our Mouth . . .

Based on conversations I've overheard lately, family relationships can be a blessing or a curse.

To be honest, I've been blessed both by my family and by my in-laws. My husband's family was welcoming even when they might have been skeptical about his choice of a bride! And our children are a joy to us, our sons and daughters-in-law, without exception, have blessed us and enriched our family; our grandchildren are a delight. Even our in-laws' extended families have been a blessing!

But recently I was in a situation where I couldn't avoid overhearing a young woman talking with friends about her family life, especially about a minor disagreement she'd had with her in-laws. Her attitude toward them was careless and rude. I don't know if she would speak directly to them that way, but with her friends she was dismissive of them, mistrusting their motives and their methods. And she wasn't alone!

Her friends joined in, recounting their in-laws' mis-steps and mistakes. Equally rude and dismissive, they seemed to try to top one another's stories about their clueless in-laws.

Not only that, they included a running commentary about their own children's shortcomings.

I wondered to myself if they had any idea how ungrateful and self-centered they sounded.

I know mothers-in-law can be equally tactless when they discuss their sons- and/or daughters-in-law or grandchildren, and I'm always sad to hear that, too.

This conversation was quite different from one I actually took part in several days later. These young moms were talking about their in-laws, specifically gifts their mothers-in-law had given them.

These moms recognized that, while some gifts had missed the mark widely, the thought and intent behind those gifts was loving. Their stories were funny, their attitudes gracious. Instead of being insulted or bitterly resenting some odd gift choices, they focused on the deeper message, the effort their in-laws had put into pleasing them. And these young women were much more fun to be with than the first group!

We are called to live together in love, so that we might build healthy, strong families. How much better to live that way, than to tear one another down carelessly over things that are better addressed with direct, honest, kind communication.

Family relationships, even good ones, require effort and maturity. How we talk about each other both reveals and shapes our hearts.

The words we use about our in-laws and other family members reveals our hearts; bitter words spring from a bitter heart. Careless words bubble up from a careless heart, and on it goes – our words merely give expression to our inner attitudes.

Our conversation shapes our hearts because the more we allow ourselves to complain about a situation (without trying first to remedy it) the more we invite bitterness and dissatisfaction in.

As wives and moms we have a choice: we can build our families in love, or we can tear them down carelessly. A lot depends on what we have to say about one another.

More Easter Books . . .

Today the sun came out, and a welcome sight it was, indeed -- the air wasn't too much warmer, but the forecast is promising, and not only is spring coming, but so is Easter!

As a mom or a grandma, reading with the small children at your house is a privilege as well as a pleasure. With books you introduce that little person to ideas, to beauty, and to fun. Keeping that all in mind, here are more new Easter books to share with the little ones you love.

* For infants and toddlers, two egg-shaped books sized for little fingers offer age-appropriate perspective on Palm Sunday and Easter. In Hosanna by Jesslyn DeBoer, illustrated by Susan Miller, Little Lamb watches as children prepare to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem. In The First Easter, also written by Jesslyn DeBoer, simple words and illustrations will keep your child's attention as Little Lamb visits the garden where Jesus's friends hear He is still alive. Hosanna is a Zondervan Gifts book, while The First Easter is published by ZonderKidz.

* The Legend of the Sand Dollar, by Chris Auer, illustrated by Rick Johnson, recounts the story of Kerry, a young girl staying with extended family just before Easter. Lonely, she is comforted when her cousin Jack explains all the ways a sand dollar tells the story of Easter. Evocative illustrations add charm. This ZonderKidz book is appropriate for children ages 4-8 years old.

* Popular author Liz Curtis Higgs wrote The Parable of the Lily for children roughly the same ages. Although this book isn't new, the story of Maggie and the curious gift she receives in the mail is one that children will enjoy. Illustrated by Nancy Munger, The Parable of the Lily includes Scripture at the bottom of almost every page in a way that ties Maggie's story to the Biblical story of Easter, without overwhelming Maggie's story. The Parable of the Lily is published by Tommy Nelson, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers.

* Finally, The Story of Easter by Christopher Doyle and John Haysom, is written for older children, and could be read independently or with a parent or grandparent. Published by Concordia Publishing House ( this book simply retells the Scriptural story of Easter in a way that answers many of the questions a child of 8 – 12 might have about the Easter story. The thoughtful illustrations add to a child's understanding of the story.

As we prepare to celebrate the Easter holiday, consider adding a good book about why we are celebrating to your child's library. If you live some distance away, send a book or two in the mail; if you live nearby, share a book in person.