1. What are the school’s mission, philosophy, and values? From Kindergarten through 8th grade, a student will spend over 10,000 hours in school! Considering this magnitude of influence, it is important to choose a school that reinforces the values that you are teaching and modeling at home. Thoughtfully consider the things that your family values most – faith, relationships, learning, health and fitness, serving others, etc. Now think of these things in the context of your child’s school experience and ask, “How will this school support and reinforce the things we as a family value most?” 2. Are the faculty qualified and committed to helping each student discover and achieve their unique potential? Teachers should not only be qualified by virtue of education and credentialing, but they should also possess a passion for teaching, a love for children, and a sense of calling to serve their students and their families. They should be involved in ongoing professional growth and demonstrate a desire to know each student in order to most effectively help him or her achieve their full potential. 3. Is this a school where my student can thrive? The one-size-fits-all concept simply doesn’t work when choosing a school. Just because a school is a good fit for one child doesn’t mean it is the best choice for another—even within the same family. Consider your child’s personality, learning style, interests, and academic capability when looking at school options. 4. How large are classes, and what is the teacher/pupil ratio? Class size is a key consideration in choosing a school. For some children, a small class size makes the difference between success and ongoing struggle. Fewer students means more focused attention toward teaching students and less time spent engaged in simply maintaining classroom order. 5. How does the environment support each child to achieve to their potential? If a school’s culture embraces the uniqueness of each child, believes in that child’s God-given purpose, strives to know and appreciate each student’s uniqueness, and creates a save, loving environment, a child is free to learn and grow to their potential. A visit to the school and conversations with current parents are effective ways to learn if the school’s culture creates this kind of environment for their students. 6. Is parent involvement encouraged? Studies show that students in schools with high parent involvement earn higher grades and test scores, attend school more regularly, have better social skills and like school more. High parent involvement helps maintain continuity between home and school and creates a relational community in which families feel a sense of belonging. 7. What extra-curricular opportunities are offered? Athletics programs, chess club, pottery class, and other activities apart from the regular school program allow students to explore various interests and learn new skills as well as build relationships with the other students they may not see during their regular school day. 8. What enrichment programs are part of the school curriculum? Programs such as PE, art, music, technology, and foreign language help develop well-rounded students and expose them to areas that may ultimately become careers or life-long interests.
By Lisa Espinoza What’s the worst gift you’ve ever received? An “As Seen On TV” gadget that never worked like it did for the guy on TV? A necktie featuring patterns that likely originated at Woodstock? Eau de toilette that evokes memories of the last time you cleaned the bathroom, or perhaps a piece of fancy cookware—even though you haven’t technically cooked since the 90’s? I’ll never forget my first birthday as a mother-to-be. My dear husband, a man who typically spoils me with fantastic gifts, presented me with baby monitors. Bless his heart, he meant well. He just didn’t quite understand what I needed at that point. Men, there’s just no better way to say to your pregnant wife, “Honey, you’re not a woman any more…you’re a mom!” than to present her with baby supplies. Or maybe that’s just me. When it comes to giving gifts, God really knows how to spoil us. He knows exactly what we need, and he fills that need with His own Son. He knows we need hope that doesn’t waiver, that is the same today, tomorrow and forever. He knows we need peace that pushes past our circumstances and deep into our hearts. He knows we need love that sees our failures and embraces us just the same. This month, we celebrate the gift of Christ who is our hope, our peace, the One who loves us beyond comprehension. Week 1 “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Revelation 22:17 One day this week, sit down with a cool glass of water. Read over this scripture slowly, then take a drink of water. Think about how this water is providing your body with necessary hydration, helping flush impurities, refreshing you. Now meditate on how Christ is living water for your soul. Week 2 This week, ask God to help you notice where you can bring His peace, hope and love to others. Maybe He will place some unmistakable opportunity right in your path—a stranger who needs a car battery charged or a family in need of groceries. He may open your eyes to a child in your very own home who needs reassurance, a teen struggling to find identity, or someone at work who would get a glimpse of God’s love through your simple offer to pray for them. Week 3 “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 In the midst of holiday preparations that can sometimes seem less than “peaceful,” take time this week to reframe your activity. Rather than looking at your busy-ness as something that prevents you from spending time with God, make your activity a prayer to God. I don’t mean pray about your activity. Instead, offer the activity itself to God as a prayer with an attitude of thanksgiving…all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Week 4 What gift would you like to give to God? A quiet walk together, a poem, a phone call to a friend who needs encouragement? Maybe God has been asking you for something and you’ve been resisting. What better time than now to offer your “yes” to Him as a gift. Whatever your heartfelt offering, be assured your heavenly Father will respond, “That’s just what I wanted!”
By Lisa Espinoza It has been said that I’m the only person alive who needs directions to my own mailbox. Indeed, I was the field trip driver who arrived at the Long Beach Aquarium an hour and fifteen minutes late after an impromptu detour through residential San Pedro and the Long Beach shipyards. I arrived 10 minutes after the doors were locked for a college placement test after taking what I was certain would be a shortcut around traffic (HINT: if you’re 8 months pregnant and crying, they’ll probably let you in). I now have GPS. When the lady says, “Proceed to the highlighted route,” in her smug voice, I want to yell, “If I knew how to get to the highlighted route, I wouldn’t need you!” I need simple, detailed directions to get me going on the correct route to my destination. But if I don’t start driving, even the detailed directions will get me nowhere. That’s how prayer is. We need guidance. Even the disciples asked Jesus, “Teach us how to pray.” But if all we do is learn about prayer and never pray, we will only have vicarious experiences of prayer through others. As we begin to pray, the Holy Spirit comes alongside to guide us—much like the GPS lady, only without the smug voice. Saint Gregory the Great said, “You cannot love God’s sweetness if you have never tasted it. Rather, embrace the food of life with the palate of the heart…” This month, may you feast on the food of life as God Himself guides you in prayer. Week 1 “Sometimes prayer seems to go well. The danger is that next time I come to pray, I try to re-create that prayer instead of trying to pray from where I am…I must pray from where I am today.” Michael Casey, Toward God Begin each day this week by telling God where you are—tired, excited, confused, angry, discouraged, hopeful. Share what’s in your heart at that moment. Week 2 Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Each afternoon or evening this week, review the day’s events. What are you anxious about? Rather than ruminate over the details, direct your “worry” to God and make it a prayer. Week 3 “In my experience it is a help to have some sort of structure or routine that jollies us along into prayer before our objections get the upper hand.” Michael Casey, Toward God This week commit to a regular prayer time each day. Begin with 5-10 minutes, once in the morning, once in the afternoon or evening. Try alternating your own prayer with prayer from scripture (such as a few verses from Psalm 119) and make it your own. Week 4 Colossians 4: 2 “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” This week of Thanksgiving, practice a posture of gratitude. Each day, write an entry in your journal, “God, thank you for___________.” Don’t write everything the first day. Savor a few at a time. If you list people, take time to pray for them. You may even want to make a phone call or send a note to let them know you are thankful to have them in your life.
Making an Ebenezer Pumpkin“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far the Lord has helped us’” (1 Samuel 7:12). Have you heard the name Ebenezer before? Perhaps you have heard it from the famous Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. But do you know what Ebenezer means or that the name Ebenezer has a spiritual significance? The name Ebenezer means “stone of help” and can be found in the book of 1 Samuel chapter seven. In this chapter, the Bible records a specific time that the Philistine army had planned to attack God’s chosen people, Israel. When the children of Israel heard about the Philistines plan, they were afraid. The Bible says that they went to the prophet Samuel and said, “Do not cease to cry out to the Lord our God for us, that He may save us from the hand of the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8). So Samuel made an offering to the Lord and cried out to Him for deliverance. The Lord answered Samuel’s prayer, and “the Lord thundered with a loud thunder upon the Philistines that day and so confused them that they were overcome before Israel” (1 Samuel 7:10). In response, Samuel set up a stone “…between Mizpah and Shen, and called its name Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). It was not an uncommon practice for Israel to set up stones to remember God’s faithfulness to them or to remind them of His powerful acts. Jacob set up a stone pillar in Bethel after the Lord had made a covenant with him in a dream. Moses set up stone pillars on Mt. Sinai after he received the Ten Commandments from God. Joshua also set up stones as a witness after he said “…As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). This fall season, why not set up your own Ebenezer stone as a family…using a pumpkin! Every day leading up to Thanksgiving, have each person in the family take turns writing what they are thankful for on their pumpkin. “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). May the Lord bless you as you create your family’s Ebenezer pumpkin.
Matthew 6: 6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” By Lisa Espinoza If you liked Batman Begins and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, you’ll love this month’s Prelude to a Prayer. We’ve been looking at the Lord’s Prayer since January, but Christ’s instructions in Matthew 6:5-8 are just as important as the prayer that follows. Ironic, isn’t it. Jesus prefaced a model for prayer with a lesson against using prayer as a showcase for piety. Who would do such a thing? Oh, come now…admit it with me. The pastor closes with, “Let’s say the Lord’s Prayer together.” While others may hesitate, especially at “forgive us our trespass—uh—debts,” we never skip a beat, moving smoothly from one phrase to the next regardless of the chosen translation. Boo-ya! Not quite the spectacle Jesus mentions in verse 5, but you get the idea. Jesus wanted to steer us away from using a mere form of prayer that left out the main ingredient—a sincere relationship with Him. So in a take-off of the hit TV show What NOT to Wear, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:5-8 how NOT to pray. Week 1 Read Matthew 6:5-8. Three times in this short passage, Jesus refers to God as “your Father.” How would a father feel if the only time his child approached him was to conduct a transaction? Can I borrow the keys? Can I have some money? Can I go to the movies? God is our Father and desires relationship with us that is built on more than a series of transactions. Can you heal my back? Can you send me a job? Can you show my spouse that I’m right? Of course, God wants us to present our needs and desires honestly to him, but He also wants to just hang out with us. This week practice hanging out with God as a Father who loves you and desires your company. Week 2 This week’s experiment in prayer is this: abandon everything you know about prayer. Don’t lean on your extensive grasp of Christianese or formulas you’ve used in the past. If prayer is new to you, or you’ve struggled with prayer, set all that aside. Come to God humbly, like a little child, asking, “Father, teach me to pray.” At the end of the week, write down what God has taught you. Pray for the grace to remain each day with Christ in the lifelong school of prayer. Week 3 Read II Corinthians 4:18 Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:6 to pray in secret for an audience of one—our “Father who is unseen.” These passages reveal to us a kingdom reality that contradicts everything we learn here on planet earth. Success, material possessions, status, accomplishments—things we can see and measure—are what matters. Jesus reminds us that God is unseen. He is the ultimate reality. A life of prayer, of nurturing the inner life with Christ, is a decisive statement that we truly believe that what is seen is here only temporarily, while that which is unseen is eternal. This week, set aside time to nurture your inner life with Christ. You won’t land on the front page of People magazine or get paid overtime for it. But your relationship with Christ is real, and it is eternal. Week 4 I heard a famous motivational speaker once say in all seriousness, “It’s important that we appear to be sincere.” Jesus is saying the opposite in Matthew 6:7,8. Repeating the right words and keeping up appearances doesn’t impress Him in the least. God is after the heart. Each day this week, pull out your journal. Forget about saying the “right” things. Pour out your heart to God. Tell Him your fears, your struggles, your joys, what you’re angry about, who you’re ready to punch in the nose…even if He’s the one you’re angry with. God won’t be surprised by any of it, and your honesty will open the door to a deeper relationship with Him.