When our 11-year-old granddaughter Edith came for a two-week visit this summer, she discovered the photo book that our daughter-in-law sent us several years ago showing pictures of our then-three-year-old granddaughter Nora and recounting some of the funny remarks Nora made. Edith laughed and laughed.

She especially liked the story about the day Nora’s swimming teacher gave all the kids suckers on their last day of swimming class. Nora’s mom took the sucker away for the car ride home. When they got home, Nora asked, “Can I have my choking hazard back now?”

I laugh every time I re-read this collection of Nora’s preschool remarks, and her older cousins all think the book is pretty funny, too.

It has become a family tradition to try to preserve some of the amusing remarks our kids make, a tradition that began with my grandmother who told my Aunt Jean, “Write down the funny and touching things your children say and do when they’re little. You think you’ll remember those things, but you won’t.”

Aunt Jean followed her mother’s advice, and when her children were grown, she showed me her collection of stories. I sat down and laughed and laughed. Years later, after Jean passed away and after the advent of photocopiers, I asked my cousin to make a copy for me. In the meantime, I started collecting stories of my own from our own three kids.

And my grandmother was right. Every time I re-read those old anecdotes, I laugh all over again, amazed at how much of it I had forgotten. And I think how much fun we would have lost if I hadn’t written down the children’s funny and touching moments while they were fresh.

For years I kept the stories mish-mashed together in a file folder. About once a year the older children would rediscover the file and spend an hour or more giggling, whooping, and reading the entries aloud to the rest of the family. Then one year I finally typed the whole collection of anecdotes into the computer and made a book for each of the children for Christmas.

It was a hit.

Most baby books have spaces for writing children’s funny remarks, but the pages tend to stay blank, especially after the first child. The book is too intimidating and the space too limiting. Parents don’t want cross-outs and spelling errors in the baby book because it’s a keepsake. So they wait until they have time to write everything neatly and perfectly. When that time finally comes, if it ever does, they’ve forgotten what happened.

Here is an alternative approach that has worked well for me.

Use a simple collection method to keep from bogging down. I kept a file folder in a permanent place, wrote down stories on handy scraps of paper as soon as possible after they happened, and then dropped the scraps into the file. Some scraps sat in the bottom of my purse for a few months, and some got mixed in with the bills, but eventually most of them ended up in the file.

Write the incident down while it’s fresh. If it’s too inconvenient to write the story right away, jot down a few notes to help you write it later.

Be sure to include the children’s ages and the approximate date when the incident occurred (season and year are sufficient).

Be sensitive to your children’s feelings. Some stories may embarrass them later and should be eliminated. Others may embarrass them at one age and delight them at another. You can keep questionable items in a separate place. Just try to use good judgment and err on the side of loving silence. Then, when children get older, give them censorship privileges on the questionable pile. No incident, however funny, is worth causing your child unnecessary pain.

Don’t fret about typing up the project until your children are all out of diapers and old enough to start reading what you write.

Review the file every so often and share it with your children. For us, reading through it was so much fun it was an incentive to keep up with the project.

puppet chariot

This summer our all-ages Bible study provided the Bible stories and activities for a Do-It-Yourself one-week Vacation Bible School at a Spanish language church in a high immigrant area here on the U.S. Mexican border. Since the neighborhood is very poor, the local elementary school provided free breakfast and lunch, feeding 70 to 85 people each day. Our crew did the teaching activities, and the people from the church served meals, provided child care, and led a vigorous daily praise and worship dance workout.

We explored the Bible stories with the same everyday art activities that our kids use in our weekly gathering. Instead of breaking the kid-crowd up into age groups, we let each school aged child choose to explore the story in an activity center: art, drama, or sports. That may be why we ended up with so many teenagers coming and staying for the whole week.

chariots come 6 crop

Michaela Bell, 13, designed a flip card art project for the Baby Moses story, our kids made stick puppets out of popsicle sticks and tongue depressors for the dramas, and we taught one of the church teens to video the dramas. It wasn’t polished or glitzy like an American culture Vacation Bible School, but all the kids got their bodies engaged, so the Bible stories will stick with them. And we sure had fun.


Laugh Workouts

When our children were still at home, the surefire sign of summer’s arrival came when the kids started raiding the family supply of empty squirt bottles for water fights. Then sometimes Dennis and I joined in the fun.

Although parents usually don’t stop to analyze it, most unconsciously realize that the family feels closer when members share jokes, laughter, and hilarious play times. Research shows that laughing and playing together do even more. Good laughter also develops creativity, increases physical fitness, reduces stress and helps people manage their problems.

For families looking for a vigorous laugh workout, here are a few ways to enjoy all out bouts of rowdy, boisterous fun:

Wrestling: Little guys love to wrestle with big guys—big brothers, uncles, grandpas, dads and friends. Older brothers do need to be warned not to overdo things. It takes a well controlled use of superior strength to keep sessions rowdy and fun without little ones getting hurt. Older children need to be sensitive to younger ones’ limits in strength and endurance.

(The New Games Foundation’s slogan is good to keep in mind for all forms of rowdy fun: Play hard, play fair, nobody hurt.)

Lion hunt: Somebody big is the lion, and the children are the prey. This game involves lots of growling, roaring, and chasing (on hands and knees) on the part of the lion, with lots of hiding, squealing, and giggling on the part of the prey. Again, be sensitive—otherwise this game can get too real and terrifying for small children.

Pillow fight: Everybody whops each other with pillows.

Newspaper fights: This is a game for children who are at least kindergarten age. It looks too aggressive and scary for most toddlers and pre-schoolers even to watch, much less participate. But it is a terrific way to have a hilarious half hour with teens and pre-teens.

Give everyone in the fight a short stack of newspaper. Everyone crumples their newspapers, sheet by sheet, into balls for ammunition. Then the free-for-all begins. If the whole family participates, this fight takes lots of space. The yard is a good place for it. Be sure to have a big garbage bag on hand to clean up afterward. Continue Reading »

When I first began teaching our son Matt at home, I marked his mistakes in red like my own teachers had done, to help him notice his mistakes and try harder next time. He seemed oblivious to his mistakes, though. Matt disliked penmanship, for example, and our lessons failed to improve his attitude.
Then I read some good advice and quit marking mistakes. Instead I started drawing a red circle around Matt’s best work on the page. Then we talked about why those letters and words were his best. He had disliked having me tell him why his mistakes were so bad, but now he enjoyed hearing me tell him why his best work was so good. Matt started looking forward to seeing red marks when they meant success instead of failure. His penmanship improved, and so did his attitude.

After a few weeks of this new strategy, I started asking Matt to circle his best work himself. Once he began evaluating his own work, he found his mistakes himself, and his penmanship improved dramatically. The eye opener for me, though, was not how much the new approach changed Matt’s attitude, but how much it changed mine. Grading penmanship was irritating when I focused on finding what was wrong. When I focused on finding what was right instead, I cheered up and had more patience.

Later I was able to apply this new understanding to Matt’s spelling lessons.

Matt was a late bloomer who didn’t really “click” on reading until he was 10. Once reading clicked for him, his reading skills shot far above his grade level. But his spelling skills were poor, and he seemed unable to progress. He could make 100’s on his spelling tests using a traditional spelling curricula, but he could not seem to transfer what he learned in those lessons to the same words when he needed to spell them for original writing assignments. He behaved as if he had never seen that word before, and he could misspell the same word three different ways in one paragraph. He had great trouble proofreading as well. He could not catch his own mistakes.

He was so frustrated with his spelling difficulties that he began “dumbing down” his vocabulary in his written work to avoid writing words he didn’t know how to spell. His writing was way below his grade level and even further below his vocabulary level.

We finally had him tested at the local public school when he was 13. They said he could read at a college level, but he spelled at a second grade level. So he was “learning disabled in spelling.” I tried their suggestions for helping improve Matt’s spelling, but they didn’t work.

Then a schoolteacher friend of mine told me about a method for helping kids learn to proofread. I modified that method and came up with a good system that worked well for Matt. He began picking up two years in spelling improvement during each year that we used this method.

Today Matt has a Ph.D. in cancer research. He still struggles with spelling, but it is no longer an obstacle that prevents him from expressing himself in writing.

Here’s the method:

1. Use a spelling curricula that includes sentences for dictation, preferably a curricula designed for problem spellers. Teach the spelling lesson and do the exercises.

2. Then dictate three or four sentences using that lesson’s spelling words. (Use your judgment to discern how many sentences your student can do without feeling overwhelmed.)

3. Show your student the correctly written sentences that you just dictated and allow her to correct her own work before you even look at it. (Learning to find her own mistakes and correct them will be her key to learning to spell correctly.)

4. When your student thinks she has corrected all her errors, go over the paper with her. Make a little red mark for every correct word or punctuation mark on her paper. For example, if she capitalized the first letter of the sentence, make a red mark. If she spelled that first word correctly as well, make a second mark. When you come to an error, don’t make a big deal about it. Be matter of fact. Simply explain why it doesn’t get a mark and move on.

5. When you finish correcting the paper, count up all the red marks. Give your student a reward – a raisin or chocolate chip or other small reward for every red mark. (Chocolate chips worked wonders for Matt. He was disappointed when he missed a little red mark, and he tried harder next time to spot his errors himself. As his proofreading skills improved, his spelling improved.)

You can modify this system for original writing projects. If your student is too stuck on spelling to produce a writing flow, let her dictate to you what she wants to say (Dictation #1). Then dictate Dictation #1 back to her as she now writes down her own words (Dictation #2). Give her a corrected copy of Dictation #1. Allow her to check Dictation #2 using Dictation #1. Then proceed to steps 4 and 5.

Use good judgment. The important thing is to work with your child at her learning level and avoid her frustration level. Some horrible spellers, like Matt, are incredible story tellers who can dictate far more words than they can manage to write when those words are dictated back to them. In that case, dictate back only a paragraph or a few sentences – whatever your student can manage without becoming overwhelmed.

© Becky Cerling Powers 2012

Have you ever wondered what Sin looked like in the Bible story about the first murder, when God warned Cain that Sin was crouching at his door?

Well, perhaps not.

But in any case, here’s what Sin looked like last Wednesday in our homeschool Bible study. There he is crouching…



Meanwhile, inside the summerhouse....

Meanwhile, inside the summerhouse….

… there’s a discussion going on about What Makes Me Jealous and My Choices When I am Jealous.

Oops! Somebody made a bad choice.

And that choice opened the door to Sin.

He pounces!

He pounces!

For the last six weeks I’ve been meeting with seven kids, a couple of my young mom friends, and a retired nurse for Bible study. The children range in age from 4 months to 12 years old. This is not your typical women’s Bible study, although we do try to spend an hour in an adult study. Nor is it a children’s neighborhood Bible Club, although we also spend an hour singing and teaching Bible to the kids. It’s a multi-generational inductive Bible study, where we study a passage together as adults, then turn around and draw the children into an inductive Bible study of the same scripture in the way that kids do inductive Bible study.

Which is – through the arts.

Taylor’s Comic Strip -1-
The Fall (Genesis 3)

During my four years as an undergrad at the University of Iowa, the most practical training I received came to me not from my professors, but from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s staff, who introduced me to inductive Bible study in small groups and then gave me hands-on training in this commonsense 3-step process of:
1. Observing (noting facts)
2. Interpreting (analyzing)
3. Applying (determining the significance of)
the text of the Bible for yourself first — instead of going to commentaries and other books to read what others have to say about the passage.

The method uses good questions to engage your mind in discovering for yourself what the Bible says, what it means, and how it applies to your life.

I enjoyed this so much that when I went home for Christmas vacation, I gushed enthusiasm about studying the Bible to all the kids in my former youth group who had gone off to college, too. Unlike me, they were enrolled in Christian colleges.
And they were put out with me.


Because they were taking Bible classes in approved Christian schools and they didn’t see what there was to get so excited about.

Their bewilderment made me even more aware of the power and joy of discovering new things for oneself. It helped me understand why research shows people remembering more of what they say themselves than what they hear from others, and more of anything they figure out for themselves than what others tell them.

Good questions help discovery in any subject area. They have the power, though, to do even more in Bible study. For although the Bible is not the only place where we can meet God, it is our primary place, the place where we are most likely to encounter Him when we are looking. We get distracted, though. We find it hard to concentrate on our reading. But good inductive questions help us focus. They make us dig into the text. They prod us into engaging with the words, and the next thing we know, we are engaged with the Word Himself.

Today there is a flood of helpful inductive Bible study guides and other materials on the market, including whole Bibles published with inductive Bible study inserts. But when I was a college student, there was little material available. So my staff worker encouraged me to write the inductive questions for our student conferences.

Then I graduated, married, and had children. I began to wonder if it would be possible to teach the inductive Bible study method to kids. Could children observe, interpret and apply the Bible?

After I experimented a bit by creating an intergenerational Bible study class, Joann Collins, the wife of our church’s education pastor, asked me to help her develop Sunday School curriculum using learning centers. Her request for learning centers pushed me into realizing how to teach kids to observe, interpret, and apply the Bible for themselves.

First, I saw that the Bible takes hold on our imagination and starts renewing our minds when we are somehow motivated to process the material. Adults take hold in this way when good questions prod them to write down or to discuss the observations, interpretations, applications, prayers, etc. that flow from their reading. In other words, adults tend to process material by writing about it or talking about it.

But second, I realized that children don’t do that. They process Bible material better through the arts – storytelling, music, the visual arts, drama, and dance/creative movement. Here, for example, is 4-year-old Ada processing an application question (draw a picture of a time when you were jealous):

Ada Drawing: Jealousy             Ada Being Jealous

(Note: When Ada drew this picture, I told the moms that it would be OK if she just got so carried away with the Joy of Markers that she didn’t stick to the point and draw a jealousy experience. Pre-schoolers get very immersed in the media itself. They may not be ready to follow additional directions as well, like answering a question using the media. But Ada was working alongside older children (ages 8, 10, and 12) who were drawing pictures and talking about them, which probably helped her get the idea. She stayed on task and dictated an explanation of her drawing to her mom. We could have asked the older kids just to talk about their jealousy experience before playing the Sin Crouching game, in which case, the lesson would have taken less time. But since Ada was there too, we asked all the kids to draw a picture first. Ada was young enough to need the extra step of drawing her idea before discussing it, and the other kids enjoyed talking about their pictures, too.)

Back to the subject of my experience with inductive Bible study for kids: For the next two years that Joann’s husband was on staff at the Albuquerque Christian Center, she and I developed adult inductive Bible study material for parents and Sunday School teachers and worked with a team to develop inductive curriculum for children on the same scripture passages as the adults, but using a variety of hands on projects: visual art (drawing, painting, printing, sculpting, bookmaking, crayon techniques, and on and on), drama (charades, pantomime, puppet theater, shadow theater, masked drama productions), game inventing, creative writing (song writing, play writing), creative movement, you name it. In retrospect, we could have done kids’ inductive Bible study more simply, but so many young artists became involved in helping us that we were able try more elaborate projects along with the simple ones. We all had a lot of fun, and many worked together to build a Sunday School that engaged the children’s bodies, minds and hearts.

Along the way, we evaluated the curriculum according to the three steps of inductive study and to what children could do at the end of the lesson that they couldn’t do at the beginning. If the object of the lesson was observation, could they retell the story accurately in some form? If the object was interpretation or application, could they express or demonstrate the meaning or a life application?

I moved with my family to another state after that, and there we began the adventure of homeschooling. Once again the inductive approach helped me. I developed our family’s curriculum for studying not only the Bible, but all subjects on all grade levels using an art-based, hands-on approach. The inductive method applies across the curriculum.

A few weeks ago, Joann phoned and asked me to help her develop inductive Bible study curriculum again, this time for a parochial school. So, in order to help her and the teachers at the school, I have decided to start blogging about Inductive Bible Study for Kids. I hope that what I’ve learned over the years will be useful not only for the teachers at Calvary Chapel Academy, but for parents, homeschoolers, intergenerational classes, home and cell churches, pastors who want to coordinate children’s ministry with their sermon texts, and many other ministries that work with children and want to encourage them to engage with the Word.

The teen years have a reputation for being the worst years for raising children, but I disagree. A well trained teen can be marvelously competent. Take the time my gall bladder nearly blew up and landed me in emergency surgery. Our three children were 17, 14 and 12. For several months, with a little help from Dad, they completely took over all the cooking, housecleaning and laundry. The two older ones also planned and completed all their homeschool lessons independently.

When parents take the trouble to teach children good work habits, skills and attitudes when they are young, it really pays off when they get older. Here are a few tips for teaching school age children the basics of those housecleaning chores they will need to handle all their lives. Continue Reading »

When our three children were small, I ran our household by the Crash Crisis system. Every time I took on a special project, the household unraveled into a giant mess. I would spend a couple days making costumes for a children’s musical, and then spend the next week fighting depression while I tried to dig out of a disaster zone and get the household back on track.

Fortunately, when we began home schooling, I learned a better system: the Minimum Maintenance (MM) system described in Totally Organized, by Bonnie McCullough.

The heart of the system is recognizing that “keeping up is easier than catching up.”

“Every house has a minimum daily requirement to keep it running smoothly,” McCullough explains. Once you know which jobs must be done and which can be skipped, you need to accept your home’s minimum requirement and see that it gets done. You don’t have to do it all, but someone in the household has to oversee the process.

For most families, the minimum daily requirement includes

  • keeping up with laundry
  • meals and meal cleanup
  • keeping down the accumulation of clutter

For me the heart of MM is McCullough’s clutter solution: spending a focused five minutes picking up each room in the house (10 or 15 minutes in the kitchen) before leaving the house or starting any projects. McCullough recommends that you use a timer and wear an apron or shirt with pockets. Start by picking up the biggest items first, and then work down to the smaller items that can be collected in a basket or pockets.

It’s amazing how much work you can accomplish in five minutes.

“Work fast and don’t clean too deeply,” McCullough says. “When you see jobs that need doing, jot them down on a project list for later, during cleaning time.”

“Never feel so defeated by a tornado-struck room that needs several hours work that you don’t do anything at all,” she warns. “Just a few minutes in the room will keep it from getting worse.”

Begin your pick up routine by keeping in mind the “First Impression Principle,” McCullough suggests. “This means when you enter a building, if the first impression is one of neatness, you assume the whole building is clean. Most people don’t notice smudges on a windowsill, they notice clutter.” So decide what a caller at your door sees first, and start by picking up that area.

This simple routine made a huge difference for me. In our home, each of the children was responsible to do three focused, five minute pick ups (their bedroom, plus two other rooms) before starting the school day. (The kitchen was equivalent to two rooms and got a 10-minute pick up.)

That helped us start lessons in a tidy house instead of trying to work in a mess. When we left the house early for a field trip, it felt good to walk in the door later to a neat living room.

Of course we had plenty of lapses, and the house could get badly cluttered during the day, with everyone home most of the time.

But MM taught me that when my house felt out of control, I could get fast results and feel much better if I focused on it for even 30 minutes. If the kids pitched in, the whole house could look dramatically better in only 10 or 15 minutes.

This pick up time can be modified according to an individual’s preferences and needs. You can set the timer for five minutes to work room by room, or set the timer for 30 minutes and run all over the house picking up. If you have small children, you can do it in five minute bites.

Houses do need cleaning. You can’t give that up entirely. But throughout the year you can make what you have cleaned stay looking nice longer by using this clutter solution. And it’s a great help during the holiday season. As long as you keep up with your minimum essentials, you can put your house “on hold” for quite a while in order to take time for special Thanksgiving and Christmas projects and holiday events.

© Becky Cerling Powers 2003

Do not publish without attribution


Exiled to Gansu Province

Image“What happened to the Canaan Home orphans and their families after New China forced Laura Richards to leave China?” readers of Laura’s Children often ask me. This fall Xiaomei Lucas, whose mother grew up in Canaan Home, gives us a glimpse through her essay, “Exiled to Gansu Province” in That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone, edited by J.L. Powers and published by Cinco Puntos Press (www.cincopuntos.com).

Her memoir begins like this:

I used to get so angry with our children when they wasted food that my husband Barry must have thought This lady has to be crazy!! But when I was growing up in Gansu Province in China, I knew children who were so hungry, they tied a rope around their stomach so they could sleep in spite of their hunger pains.

My family was exiled to the impoverished province of Gansu in 1969 during the early part of the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was a power struggle among China’s top leaders. In 1966 Mao Tse Tung began encouraging young Red Guards to attack authority figures. The Red Guards mobbed and ransacked people’s homes, beat and humiliated people in public, and burned everything that represented “The Four Olds”—old ideas, old thoughts, old habits, old customs. Then they started attacking religious believers and intellectuals. As the Revolution spread, people began manipulating mobs to get personal revenge against fellow workers and neighbors or they accused other people out of fear, to distract attention from themselves. Tens of thousands were beaten to death and hundreds of thousands were sent to labor camps for “re-education.”

In those days the government determined people’s job and residence assignments. My mother was working as a nurse for a famous hospital in Beijing. Vice-Chairman Lin Biao wanted to test his power, so he issued a policy that all the big hospitals had to send some of their doctors and nurses to work in the countryside. Mom’s hospital chose to send her. They wouldn’t say why.

Technically my mom should have gone, and my dad should have stayed. Families were being separated that way all over China. But the hospital pulled a dirty trick and sent a delegation to my daddy’s factory. Before New China was born, he co-owned that factory. He made the very first movie projector in China. His brothers were good at working with their hands, so their uncle invested the money to start that factory. When New China was born, the government took over the factory and assigned the three brothers to work there. My father was chief of engineering, and people in the Cultural Revolution hated those with power. So the factory was glad when the hospital delegation came. They said, “We support you, you can send him to Gansu, too.”

My mom cried every day. My dad was depressed. My 12-year-old brother begged my parents to leave him with relatives, but he was a troublemaker, and no relatives wanted him. My family knew it was exile, that we might never be allowed to come back. But I was seven years old and to me it sounded like taking a vacation. I was excited, the only one who was happy.

The government sent my father to a power plant and gave him a house for our family to live in. He was in charge of everything for the power plant. There was no hospital so my mom’s medical staff occupied a big temple. Her medical team had to travel for three months at a time visiting farmers in remote mountain villages. They had to hike on foot and wade through mountain streams in their bare feet. So Mom was gone most of the time. My daddy went to work early and came home late because after work he had to attend political meetings. I cried and cried in bed because I was just seven years old and had no experience being separated from my parents.

Gansu was the poorest of the poor provinces. Our new home was remote. There were few telephones. People didn’t even have bicycles. I had to walk three miles round trip every day to elementary school. Gansu is in the middle west of China. Winters are very, very cold.

My school in Beijing had a different graduation time from the school in Gansu, so I ended up getting in middle school a half year early. I was the youngest – tall, but mentally just a little kid. The rural students who boarded at the school were even older than the urban students at the same grade level. The middle school was four miles away, so the round trip every day was eight miles, and I had to climb a mountain both ways. The government killed a man on the way to my school. I didn’t see the killing, but I was terrified, afraid to go past that spot.

My dad never learned to cook. He couldn’t take care of himself. So I started cooking at a young age. It was hard. I had to build a fire, keep it going, and cook everything from scratch. My older brother had to go to boarding school in another county, so by age nine I was cooking, making coal fires, cleaning the house, and washing clothes by hand when I came home from school. The coal dealer would dump a whole truckload of coal in the yard, and I had to gather the coal, sort it, sift it and make coal balls. By nighttime, I was so tired I could hardly move. I was a little girl. There was no one to take care of me. Life for me was tough, but I didn’t know about the different life other people had. So I was happy. I raised pets – a sheep, a cow. And I had food – food enough to share.

The government treated farmers different from city people. My family’s identity was urban, but 90% of my class had a farmer identity. With an urban identity we could get government food supplies like flour, cooking oil, and meat. Farmers were supposed to be self-sufficient, though, so there was no way their families could get extra food. Since my family got the government supply and both my parents worked for a salary, I was a rich girl compared to the other kids.

Every day I packed my lunch box solid. I pushed and pushed to get all the food in, as much as I could bring to school. Then I shared with my classmates. Sometimes the teachers volunteered to share my lunch. I felt honored. Those kids loved me and hated me. They loved me because they could have some of my lunch. They hated me because I had so much. I was young and didn’t understand their attitude.

Rural Communist leaders could send their children to school as boarders. The farming kids went home once a week to bring back steamed buns and bread to eat at school for the week. In the winter, the bread was OK, but in the summer, it went bad. It got stringy and turned gray. The kids just broke the bread and let the sun dry it so it wouldn’t stink. It was all they had to eat. Even if the bread turned green, they would still eat it.

In high school I took an agricultural equipment class and joined the tractor team. We went to villages to plow farmers’ fields. We’d work the whole day, and when we had a chance to eat, we were like wolves. We’d fight for the food. I could eat seven bowls of noodles, I was so ravenous.

Wherever we went, the school found a farmer for us to live with. The farmers lived in such poor conditions. To build a house, they would dig a hole in the side of the mountain. They made bricks from mud, and when the mud dried, they used the bricks to build a wall with a door and a bed – a hollow platform for sleeping, with the oven at one end. So the family lived in a tunnel. Everyone slept in that one big mud bed, the women on one side, the men on the other. They would fight for one blanket. There were fleas. It was an education. I saw kids who were really poor, really hungry – and I saw that I had great privilege.

My parents were very worried about me, because I chose the class for driving and repairing tractors instead of taking academic subjects. But after half a year, I had enough. Thank goodness when the school picked the best students to prepare them for college, I was one of them.

The teen years were a dangerous time for me. I grew up like a wild child, with my parents gone, no one taking care of me. I could have gone wrong. But I had a dream: there were two paths before me. One path was being a good girl, doing what was right. The other path ended up in jail. There was no hope for the other path. Then I woke up. After that I would remind myself I must go on the right path. I was terrified by those two paths. I knew nothing about God back then. It was illegal to talk about God. But today I believe God helped me through that dream.

All this time the Cultural Revolution was going on. The whole country was brain-washed. Everything had to be Mao’s way. Everyone must bow their heads, follow, and never ever complain openly about the government. Even in my own home, if I expressed a different opinion than Mao’s thought, my parents shut me up: “Don’t say anything! You’ll get in trouble!”

Everything depended on your identity. If you had a good identity like farmer or worker, nobody was likely to bother you. But if you had a bad identity, you were persecuted. In most of the mandatory political meetings, they pulled out the people with bad identities, and everyone forced them to confess to everyone else in the room. The meeting couldn’t be over until they satisfied everyone. It happened to them over and over, sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, no matter what position they held. My schoolteacher was a really good person. Yet they made her stand on the platform to confess her sins to all the students. Poor lady, at every meeting she had to confess: what she did wrong, what her parents did wrong, how her family treated the farmer badly, because the farmer had nothing to eat, but she and her family could eat white flour noodles. She had to say how bad those things were, and on and on….

People might have a good reputation, and then suddenly be persecuted. Their critics shamed them by writing accusations saying how evil they were in big characters with a big brush on newspaper. They papered their house with the signs every day. Their children were too ashamed to come out of the house. Their persecutors put a huge newspaper hat on them, then made them kneel down and confess their sins to an entire school or factory or an entire neighborhood. Everywhere they went other people pointed their fingers at them. People with bad identities felt hopeless, faced with endless confession meetings where they were verbally and physically attacked. Children carried their parents’ identity – they didn’t do anything, but they inherited a bad identity. So they felt helpless, because there was no way to erase a bad identity.

Fortunately the violent stage of the Revolution was over by the time I became a Red Guard in middle school. I never saw people being beaten to death like my older brother did. I attended meetings and wrote slogans. Being a Red Guard was expected. If you wanted to be considered a good child, you joined. We knew nothing. We were just kids.

The vice-principal at my school was against the teachers with bad identities. So once, to humiliate the chemistry teacher, the vice principal told me “I think you’re a good candidate to teach the chemistry class.” I struggled with that. Could I do it? He talked to me about it a couple of times. Finally one day I told the chemistry teacher in front of the class, “You don’t need to teach. I’m going to teach.” He stared at me. He was speechless. So I just took over.

Since I needed to teach, I studied hard. I got a good response from the students. After a month, though, I used up all my knowledge. So I told the teacher, “You can go back.” I was thankful for that opportunity to teach. I found out I could really study and remember things.

After Mao Tse Tung died in 1976, the Cultural Revolution ended and the country began gradually recovering. My father’s factory decided to let my father come back to work for them again, so in 1979, after ten years in Gansu, he and I were able to come back to Beijing. It took my mother another year to be allowed to come back, and it took my brother even longer. Many doctors and nurses who moved to the countryside under Lin Biao’s order are still in the rural areas today. No one gave them a chance to return. Now they are too old to work, and their children married local people. Their families became the bottom of society in China.

One day after my mother returned to Beijing she found out why the hospital exiled her to Gansu. Our apartment was next door to the hospital director. His wife assumed that my mother knew why she was exiled and carelessly referred to the reason: Mom was raised in Canaan Home, a Christian orphanage run by an American, Laura Richards. Mao Tse Tung taught that all religions were evil and that America was China’s enemy. So the hospital chose my mom for exile because she was raised Christian and her adoptive mother was American.

All the time we were in Gansu, my mom complained and said it was not fair that we were sent there. But when the director’s wife told why she was sent, Mom realized that being in Gansu protected our family. Our lives were hard there, but no one knew our background. No one knew how my mother was raised. No one knew that my father used to own the factory in Beijing. So we had a peaceful time. I didn’t get persecuted or mocked in school.
If we had stayed in Beijing, who knows what might have happened? Really bad things happened to our relatives living there. Some of the other Canaan Home orphans were given a foreign spy identity because their adoptive mother was American. A spy identity is the worst political identity. Some orphans were sent to labor camps or remote places to work as farmers because of that identity.

My mom took English classes at Canaan Home, and she taught me some English. I decided to learn English, so I studied hard and eventually used my language skills to get a job at an international trading company.

In Gansu I was a little girl who cooked and cleaned for my dad, and he spoiled me. He used to give me a whole month’s wages so I could go on a trip. When I became a young adult, he suddenly turned against me. Today I understand my dad better. New China’s politics and the Cultural Revolution ruined his chances to fulfill his dreams. The government took over his family business and he had to work in his own factory, where he was treated badly and sent to Gansu. So his heart was bitter, and he put all his hopes and expectations in me, using me to fulfill his dreams. But I was strong-willed and had my own ideas. When I showed disrespect for his way or made decisions he disagreed with, it hurt him.

My dad’s bitterness pushed us apart and caused me to make a terrible mistake. He treated me so badly that I left home and lived in a little room by myself. I wanted someone to love me. I wanted to leave that little room and have my own family. So I married a worker, a mold maker. There was a huge gap between us socially. My friends left me, and his friends felt uncomfortable. My career took off, my salary was much more than his, and the gap got bigger and bigger. Husbands don’t like a wife to be too strong, too talented. It causes too much pressure on them. My husband had a terrible temper. He used abuse to control me and after our son was born, he used our son to control me. Once when we took our son to visit his parents, we got into an argument, and he beat me in front of his parents. That is when I promised myself, Someday I’ll leave. Eventually I did, but meantime, I was miserable.

I traveled a lot internationally and inside China because of my work. Travel was my escape. I loved money, power, position – and I got them through my job – but I needed something more. In my mind I knew there must be a God, so I started searching for spiritual information when I traveled outside China. I went to Egypt eight times. People there gave me some tracts to read, but I went to sleep after only one or two sentences, so I never read them. In Germany a white-haired German at a trade show gave me a Chinese translation of the Bible. I read it over the next two years. Some of the stories were familiar, and I figured out why after I told my mom I decided to be a Christian. She said she was one, too. She was a secret believer. When I was a little girl and kept asking her to tell me a story, sometimes she told me a Bible story she remembered.

My mother didn’t have a Bible herself, of course. It was too dangerous to own a Bible until after the Cultural Revolution. Growing up, I knew that Mom was raised in an orphanage and her adoptive mother was American. But I didn’t know that the orphanage was Christian. Mom was very close to other Canaan Home orphans, who visited us often. I loved hearing them tell stories about the orphanage. But they were cautious. They never mentioned that the orphanage was Christian, and I never overheard them say anything about God or Jesus or the Bible. It would have been too dangerous for everybody in my family.

People think it was a tragedy for me that my family was rejected and exiled because of my mother’s religious upbringing. In some ways it was. The civil war affected the quality of my education. My schools were poor and teachers lacked authority to insist on strong academic standards. The war also deprived me of a modern urban lifestyle. My peers in Beijing had more opportunities and much better material possessions than I. Most important, the war robbed me of my parents’ presence and guidance when I was young, and it caused my bad first marriage decision. Still, I think my experiences growing up made me more mature and gave me a stronger character. I thank God for that.

copyright 2012

About the authors:
Xiaomei Lucas is a Lead QA Engineer for GE Oil & Gas in Houston, Texas. She is also the Chinese translator for Laura’s Children: the Hidden Story of a Chinese Orphanage (titled in Chinese Faith Journey: Laura Richards and the Orphans of Canaan Home in China), which tells the true story of her adoptive American grandmother’s efforts to save the lives of 200 Beijing-area children through famine and war from 1929 to 1951.

“I don’t know what to do with my teenage daughter,” one of my young mom friends told me the other day.”My daughter is so different from me! She loves lace and frilly things, and I’m just not that way.”

“I published a parenting column years and years ago on that subject,” I told her. “When my daughter was in her twenties, it helped me a lot to re-read it. I’d ask myself, ‘Do I still believe this?’ And I did. Maybe you’d like to read it.”

She wanted it, so I emailed it, and she told me later that it helped her. Maybe some other mother will find it useful, too. So here it is:

Letting Daughters Grow

When our daughter Jessica was about 11 she went through an annoying phase in which she seemed to be putting me down all the time. “I like to be on time,” she’d say, “but you’re always late.”  Or, “You’re always forgetting things, Mom. I’m not absent minded like you are.”

I felt defensive and irritated by the barrage of apparently critical remarks until the day it dawned on me that Jessica was observing, not criticizing. She was looking at me closely, then looking at herself, and then trying to figure out which of us was which. Continue Reading »

Our son Erik was a visual learner who picked up the skill of reading quickly as a kindergartner after only two or three weeks of simple home phonics lessons. Once he “clicked” on reading, he read all the easy reading books he could lay his hands on. He usually read them through several times.

I thought he was ready for something harder the summer after first grade. By then he read easy books fluently, and he had a hardy attention span. He could sit attentively for a half hour or more at a time while we read him long children’s classics at bedtime like C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. So I suggested he try reading The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, a book he was familiar with because I had read it aloud to him.

He was ecstatic to find out he could read a novel length book. Every day he reported his progress: “Mom, I’m on page 67!” or “Mom, I’ve read 200 pages!!”

Not every child is ready to tackle such hard books at age 7. Two children, both equally bright, may reach reading readiness at different ages—even five or six years apart. Our son Matt was a late bloomer who finally “clicked” on reading at age 10. Yet he, too, was reading novel length books within two years after he really began reading.

For both boys the key to moving on to the hard books was twofold. First, as parents we built up our children’s vocabulary by reading them many stories that were written well beyond their reading level. Second, as novice readers the boys developed fluency in reading by reading many easy books over and over.

Author and educator Ruth Beechick states that encouraging reading fluency is an important step that parents (and schools) tend to skip by pushing children on to harder and harder reading materials. This is a mistake, she says, because reading lots of easy books helps developing young readers in several essential ways. First, it gives them practice with decoding skills until these skills become over-learned and automatic. It also helps them learn and relearn the common words that make up a large percentage of all books, including difficult ones.

It helps children read more smoothly and rapidly. It also helps them develop comprehension, instead of losing the sense of a passage while struggling to deal with difficult vocabulary and decoding at the same time. Finally, reading lots of easy books helps youngsters find out that reading can be fun. But what is an easy book? The answer varies from reader to reader.

Beechick explains that every child has three reading levels at all times: a frustration level, a learning level and a comfort level. (These levels provide a way to rate books, not a way to rate individual children.) Continue Reading »