20 December 2012

Protecting Little Eyes

Dear Lissy,

We're heading into the Christmas rush, and for the first time I'm not rushing - yay!  We keep the presents/tree/baking part of Christmas small, but it is nice to have everything done ahead of time.  Today's letter is a bit more serious.  As you kiddos head into your teen years, we've had to re-evaluate our strategies for protecting your eyes and hearts.

  1. A daily umbrella of prayer and the Word.  Only a tender heart for God and His word will protect one of us from being sucked into the sin available online.  I pray out loud with you every day that God will protect you from this temptation.  I also pray that any sin that has entered the camp is quickly revealed.  In Psalm 101:3 David asserts:  "I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes..."  The Hebrew word carries not only the idea of wickedness, but also of worthlessness -- a far greater temptation in many ways.
  2. Computers, tablets, smart phones and e-readers are only allowed in public rooms (kitchen, living room, classroom) within line of sight of a doorway.  No one, even Dad, has complete privacy when using a computer.  We all know that anyone could see our computer at any time.  No child is allowed to use a device that isn't at least password protected (like our older e-reader).  Your oldest brother has to move his laptop downstairs once everyone else is in bed, and no one is allowed online while mom and dad aren't home.  When you start working and need a cell phone, it will not be a smart phone.  
  3. All electronic devices are password protected with passwords only mom & dad know.  This means we know and approve every time a computer is being used.  On the practical side, I drop anything I'm doing cheerfully any time a computer needs a password.  We don't want to create frustration, just keep on top of computer usage.
  4. All internet enabled computer devices are protected by NetNanny.  A product like Netnanny allows parents to set internet time limits, block sites based on content, and quickly see a history of sites visited.  This used to be all we did. Unfortunately, installing an OS not recognized by Net Nanny allows a child to quickly and easily bypass their safeguards.  In our case, Ubuntu provided an escape hatch to get around the time and site limits we had set.  Netnanny and others are a great resource, but they are NOT failproof. We regularly check all of the computers for contraband OS, downloads, or backdoor programs now, too.  One of the things I do weekly is to simply go on each device and try to access the internet "after hours" or navigate to Google image or YouTube, both of which are completely blocked.  
  5. We directly counsel and question you one-on-one periodically. Our goal isn't to set up electronic razor fences, but rather to protect you while we are teaching you how to guard your own eyes and heart.  Whether it's too much computer time, or content that isn't edifying, we know these temptations will be with you your whole life.  Personal accountability is a huge part of the equation for keeping your heart.
  6. Portable USB "thumb" drives and cloud accounts are held by Mom and Dad, none of you kids is allowed to use a friend's computer/phone/ipod.  This is the most likely place for real problems to enter and persist. While we allow your brothers to back up their work on thumb drives, we keep the drives between uses and periodically check them. We have a very few exceptions to the "friend and computers" rule.  For the most part, you kids are only allowed to use our home computers and network.
  7. Non-school related computer time is very limited.  Your brothers are taking online courses, and need their computers for a couple of hours each day.  Aside from that time, you each only have access to the internet for 2 hours a week.  It would be very easy as a homeschooling family to fritter away hours of time online.  Not gonna happen on our watch!
It would be far easier to ban all internet privileges, but we know that each one of you will have to face the temptation as adults.  We prefer to help you navigate these dangerous waters for several years under our guidance than to send you out to sea alone.  No, we don't trust you (or our own selves!), because we know how deceitful the heart can be.  Keeping the hearts and eyes of our family is a huge task that requires grace (God's help), humility (we and our children are capable of sin given a chance), and wisdom (doing the next right thing).  


14 December 2012

No More Late Bills!

Dear Lissy,

I wanted to share with you one of the tiny changes I made earlier this year that has kept our finances in tip-top shape.

As soon as a bill arrives, write the company name and amount onto your family wall calendar.

Yup, it's that simple.  Most of our bills auto-pay from our checking account, the remainder I pay online.  Just a simple, tiny penciled reminder:  "Amica - 40" reminds me that our auto insurance company will be debiting from my checking account that day.  Once I've paid the bill or the debit clears, I draw a line through the reminder.  If for some reason the bill isn't paid, I drag a highlighter across the reminder before I cross out the date.

Note:  I tried putting this in my more "private" personal calendar and even creating a family financial calendar that synced with our smartphones.  Neither was as effective as having it front and center on the fridge right alongside the dentist appointments, robot workshops, and furnace cleanings.

I wish I could take credit for this simple scheme, but your Aunt Holly is the one who used it first.  If I'd just been smart enough to work with my visual nature instead of against it 15 years ago, I'd have saved myself a lot of headaches and late fees.  Frankly, bills seemed like "family business" and I didn't want a casual visitor to be able to glance at my calendar and think, WHOA!  They're paying $40 a month for car insurance????  They must not be very smart. . . why don't they call Geico?  Problem is, for me, out of sight is out of mind.  

I cannot begin to express the peace I have regarding finances done this way rather than the more traditional Bill Paying Box.  No more procrastination, overdrafts, worry, or guilt.   I know to the dollar how much I need each week to run the household, and I can adjust groceries and incidental purchases if needed.  This little hack isn't very sophisticated, but it functions perfectly for our family.

Up too late and hoping you're snuggly tomorrow, 

P.S.  The other changes I made?  I reconcile our family checking account online daily instead of monthly (Thanks to my friend Les for teaching me that neat trick!), and I make monthly payments in advance toward semi-annual bills(water/sewer, for example).

12 December 2012

Arete & Lovingkindness

Dear Lissy,
It's been a looooong time since I've written you!  I've chosen to use my letter writing time to get in a workout each day, but I miss sharing my heart with you.  Ultimately though, this choice will give us more time together.

In 2012, I chose the concept of "one golden day" as my theme for the year.  It was a powerful choice:  we completely re-organized and simplified the house in February, and it's stayed that way.  I began an elimination diet and rigorous walking regimen in September, and my fitness level and weight are back where they were before I had kids (unfortunately, so is my wardrobe -- eeek!).  Our finances are in good order, despite almost six weeks when Daddy couldn't work because of sciatica.  School is running more smoothly after an evaluation and daily attention to detail.  All in all, I'm tempted to re-use that motto.  Being conscious of the power of daily consistency has radically changed my life during the past year, and I want that to continue and expand in the coming years.

I've been meditating during my walks on a powerful session from a 2010 ladies' conference on Micah 6:8 and the principles I've been studying in Essential Virtues: Marks of the Christ-Centered Life.   I'm seriously considering arete as my 2013 motto.  The Greek word, arete, translated virtue or excellence in the Bible is a powerful little word.  It reminds me that everything -- my home, my teaching, my piano playing, my relationships -- are to have the spirit of excellence that comes from seeking to glorify God in everything.  I know in our current culture, anyone exhibiting that kind of diligence and devotion is often perceived as being judgmental and phariseeical. Our world prefers messy people.   In all fairness, though, there is a real danger of  falling into a fleshly pursuit of perfection when you choose excellence.

This is where Micah 6:8 comes in.  "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? "

  • Do Justly.  First, my actions need to be arete.  I want to focus on consistently choosing arete, or excellence for myself.  I want to do all to the glory of God.  There's a funny twist to this though:  God measures our output, not our input, but we can only control the input.  Everything that we "output" is by the grace and work of Christ in our lives.  
  • Love Mercy.  Secondly, my reactions need to be arete.  Our fleshly response to others' sin and poor choices is either to try to rescue them from the consequences or wish that God would just "git 'em good."  Instead, we should love to see (and assist in prayer) God's hand in another person's life whether it is doling out discipline that will help them grow or bathing them in mercy because they have repented and returned to His ways.  Love doesn't throw stones or life preservers.  It trusts, prays, and waits like the father of the Prodigal Son who knew that both the pigpen and the feast with the fatted calf were equally important to restore fellowship.
  • Walk Humbly. My third responsibility is to keep my attitudes arete.  I need the humility that realizes anything good in my life is by the grace and work of Christ.  We tend to be arrogant about our strengths and overly sensitive about our weaknesses.    I have extremely low tolerance for poor service at a restaurant after thousands of hours spent waitressing.   On the flip side, I'm overly sensitive about my wardrobe which is hopelessly outdated and not likely to get better in the forseeable future.  (Just try teasing me about the 9" zipper and pleats on my jeans.  I dare you.)   Those are superficial examples, but they carry through into our spiritual walk as well.  Both sides of the coin are pride, and both need the power of Christ if we wish to see victory.
I'm not 100% sure that arete will be my theme/goal for 2013, but I'm fairly certain it will be some variation of that concept.  Well, you're all finished school, our 3.6 tons of coal for the winter just arrived on the truck, and it's time for a walk, so I need to wrap this up.

I love you!
Marmie (because we just watched Little Women together last night)