September 23, 2013

Sparky's Birthday Surprise - A Fun, Free App to Teach Fire Safety

Learning fire safety is an important lesson for children of all ages, but how do you communicate this information to young kiddos in a way that they will remember it? The answer: You make it fun!

The new app, "Sparky's Birthday Surprise" is full of fun games and activities to help teach important information like what to do if the fire alarm sounds, how to safely exit the house, and how to meet up with family at a designated place.

Of course, we hope our kids never need to apply this information, but it's super important that they be informed on how to stay safe in a dangerous situation.

My four-year-old loved playing with this app. His favorite part was helping Sparky put on his fire hat and jacket. There are several different options of play: read to me, read and play, and just a book. This is a perfect for kids of various skill levels (it's geared toward children between 2-6) There's also a fun music video, games, and a coloring sheet.

As a mom, I loved that not only was my child learning important fire safety tips, but he was also was able to work on his basic reading skills (in the interactive mode, touching the word will also read it out loud).

The animation was bright and colorful, and the narration was very well done. All in all it was a fun and educational app! It's one of my kids new favorites.

The app is available for both Apple and Android devices. You can download a copy of the App here

**If you're a teacher or homeschool parent, there are a ton of great teaching materials to coordinate with the information (interactive whiteboard lessons, printable worksheets, and discussion questions). You can check out the additional resources here.

I was provided access to the app free of charge (Of course, it's free for everyone to download as of the writing of this post). :-)

September 18, 2013

What's my motivation?

Maybe I'm nuts, but occasionally I let my imagination run away with me. Sometimes my train of thought goes something like this:

"Dear Lord, please let me win this blogging contest,
because if I win this blogging contest I can go to this conference,
and if I go to this conference then I might be able to make connections and grow my blog,
and if I grow my blog then I'll be able to reach more people,
and if I reach more people then maybe I'd be able to land a publishing deal,
and if I landed a publishing deal then . . ." it goes on and on.

It's rather embarrassing to admit, but it's true. I have in my mind a destination, and so, I think of all the possible ways that God could pull the strings and get me to that destination.

Never once do I stop and think, does God want me to have a publishing deal? Is there supposed to be something "grand" in my future or am I just supposed to continue as usual. What if I work on this blog for the next five years and only twenty-four people ever even read this blog post?

What if this is all it ever is? Would I be content? What is fueling this desire for "more"? Is it because I think I'm something special? Is it pride? A lack of contentment?

What is the purpose? *cue the dramatic spotlight* What's my motivation?

I think when it all comes down to it, we have to ask ourselves an important question. Why are we doing what we're doing? I don't care if you're the CEO of a major corporation or a car mechanic, eventually, we have to ask ourselves the question "Does what I do matter? Is this what I was put on the earth to do? Is there something more?"

I've been studying the book of John in my Community Bible Study group, and one of the things that has struck me the most about John the Baptist was his humility. I think he recognized his place in the big picture. His job was to point people to Christ, not draw attention to himself.

When he recognized that the Messiah had made his arrival, he didn't put together a strategic plan on how to keep his large following. You didn't find him throwing himself a pity party in the wilderness, complaining that "Jesus has more followers than I do." He simply acknowledged, "He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:30)

John had a God-centered perspective. It ultimately wasn't about the size crowds he was drawing, it was about doing what God asked him to do.

How different would my life be if I simply asked God what he wanted from me instead of trying to pursue what I think is best? What would happen if I focused more on God's glory than my own? I can tell you one thing, I think it would take a lot of stress off of my desire to "perform."

What a freedom to know that my only  responsibility is to simply use the gifts and talents He's given me, to the best of my ability. He doesn't expect me to live up to the gifts and talents of someone else.  I'm not called to be Beth Moore or Lysa Terkeurst. I'm called to be Sarah Brooks, and ultimately, that's what God's going to hold me accountable for. What have I done with the gifts I've been given? Have I used them to serve God's purposes or my own?

As a teenager, I felt God whisper these words to my heart: "Who will tell them?"

For years, I struggled to understand what that meant. I went to school and studied Missions because I assumed that that was what God intended.

After all, who tells people about Jesus?


While at school, I found myself really wanting to take journalism classes. It was really exciting and interesting to me. I eventually decided to double major in Mass Communications and Christian Studies - missions emphasis. I was still planned on serving as a missionary at some point, but I've loved writing since I was a little girl, and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to learn more.

Now, a few years down the road, I'm beginning to see how God has pulled my path together. He has given me the opportunity to "tell them" in a way I never initially envisioned. This certainly wasn't the destination I set out toward sixteen years ago, but it's a good fit, and in God's master plan it makes sense.

For me, the temptation has always been to come up with a plan and then expect God to bless it. It's a lot more challenging to trust that He has a plan that may differ from my own. It's hard to relinquish control, but He's trustworthy, and once I get to a point in my life where I truly believe that, it makes it easier to pry my fingers from my well-crafted plans.

I don't have a clue what the future holds. I honestly don't. Do I have dreams? You bet I do, but I'm learning that I have to take each dream to Him and say, "Lord, this what I want, but you know best. You must increase, and I must decrease." It sounds cliche, but this is the prayer for my own life.

You have a plan and a purpose, and I know that it's ultimately not about making my name great, but about making your Name great. My prayer, God, is that you would show me how I can point the attention to you. Show me the areas where I need to decrease so that you can increase. Because I know, God, that fulfillment comes from fulfilling our God-given purposes, not from achieving fame or success. Fulfill your purposes in me. Help me to bring you glory in everything I do, because your glory will last forever.


September 13, 2013

Violence and Poverty

Violence is like a cancer. When it is present, it slowly tears down your defenses, leaving you vulnerable to a host of other problems. Poverty and violence go hand in hand. Those without power and resources struggle for hope and direction. More often, the quest for power and control is manifested in a culture of violence. 

Crime is a problem in El Salvador. The Civil War of the 80s and early 90s has given way to a new wave of violence as street gangs now claim their territory and seek to exert their power.

What does this have to do with Compassion? Compassion works at the center of three concentric circles: The local church, Compassion International, and those facing poverty.

This summer, I had a chance to travel to El Salvador with MOPS and Compassion International. I've spent time in other countries in the past, and there's always an element of "culture shock" when you visit a new place.

There were times where times when I felt a little uncomfortable. I'm not accustomed to having police armed with automatic weapons following us around for our protection. I felt somewhat awkward and out of place, not quite sure how to process the poverty and the masses of people crowded onto buses or sitting together in groups at the local plaza.

Why does helping the poor matter? Why is the work of Compassion International important?

Raise your voice for the voiceless! Defend the rights of those that do not have! Raise the voice and do them justice! Defend the poor and the needy! Proverbs 31:8-9

El Salvador has known its share of bloodshed, but this is a new day, a season of hope. The country director, Guillermo Munoz, spoke with passion for his country and those trapped in poverty. Compassion is striving to bring that hope to the communities where their projects are located and to the thousands of children participating in the sponsorship program.

A recent UN study in Asia brought to light the high precedence of rape in many impoverished countries. The researcher draws an interesting conclusion. 
"There's been quite interesting research to argue that men come together in gangs and then get involved in a whole range of violence and antisocial activities as a way of trying to assert their masculinity, to make themselves feel like strong and powerful men. The conditions of poverty that they live in prevent them from having access to more traditional manifestations of manhood, such as being a provider. Their energies get directed rather into demonstrating sexual success with women, demonstrating dominance and control over women, and fighting with other men."
While in El Salvador, I had the privilege of visiting several different project centers. At one of the locations, the pastor was telling us a little bit about the community they live and work in. There are two major rival gangs in El Salvador, and their violence accounts for a large portion of the crime within the country. The amazing thing is that Christ is making a difference in the lives of the people in their community. Two men from rival gangs now work alongside each other serving the local body of believers - one as a youth minister and the other as a building caretaker. 

This is where Compassion offers such hope. Instead of young men needing gangs to find power and identity, they find identity in the positive environment of a Compassion project center. They encourage things like the power of an education, making plans for the future, and fostering a community of brothers and sisters who learn together. It's a built-in community that offers life and hope rather than crime and death.

Many of the children come from broken families plagued by gang violence, what a blessing to be able to make a difference in the lives of children who might not otherwise have a hope of breaking the cycle of poverty and violence.

I sponsor a little girl in El Salvador. I had the opportunity  to spend some time with her at her local Compassion project center. I wasn't able to visit her home because it was to dangerous for me to go there, and yet, that's the world she lives in every day. I pray for Andrea, that God would keep her safe, that he would change her community, and that God would use the church volunteers and compassion staff to be the hands and feet of Christ in her life. 

I sponsor a child because I want to offer hope where hope is hard to find. Compassion is a tool that God is using to make a difference in the lives of children. Will you be a vessel of hope to a little boy or girl living on the other side of the world? It really does make a difference for these kids to know that someone out there thinks that they are special, that God has a plan for their life, that through hard work and perseverance they can break the chains of poverty and change their family for generations to come.

Chains are breaking. Can you hear it?

Read more about my trip to El Salvador:


September 10, 2013

"MathTacular" Review

Math was never my favorite subject when I was growing up, but learning fundamental math skills is essential for future academic success. "MathTacular!: Unbelievably Understandable Math" from Sonlight uses fun, practical examples to teach math basics. As a mom, I appreciated the many ways that simple, everyday items around our house can be used to reinforce math skills (matching up pairs of socks, counting by twos using snacks as manipulatives, etc.)

I have to admit that the production quality of some of the segments feel a little bit like a home video, BUT with that being said, the content is excellent and covers a wide range of topics everything from learning how to count tally marks to how to tell time.

This has been a great DVD for my four year old who is learning the basics of math. There are a total of 67 different "lessons." All of the lesson are under 5 minutes, with the majority of them being between 1-3 minutes long. The MathTacular is approximately 150 minutes

As a mom, I feel like I learned several new ways to introduce mathematical concepts to my kids. There were several games like "Wormholes & Warp-drives" that I know my son would love to play. The concepts are age appropriate and introduced in fun ways. My kids really enjoy watching the video. There is also a set of nine printables on the DVD that include things like shape names, colors, money value, days of the week cards, etc.

The information is explained well and my kids enjoyed watching it (and I enjoyed that they're learning something in the process.) I think this would be a helpful addition to any homeschool curriculum for early learners (pre-k through 2nd grade).

MathTacular is on sale this week at Educents! You can get a copy of MathTacular Vol. 1, Inquisikids, and MathTacular Math Manipulatives Guide for $31.50 (regularly $44.98). 
Deal Expires 9/15

The version for sale on Educents contains 4 hours of math content.

I received a complimentary copy of MathTacular to facilitate my review. The opinions expressed are my honest thoughts of the product. Post contains affiliate links that help to support the work of the blog at no additional cost to you.

September 7, 2013

Does Child Sponsorship Make a Difference?

Sponsor a Child in Jesus Name with Compassion

Does child sponsorship make a difference? Does it even matter? 

While in El Salvador with Compassion International, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the impact that being a sponsored child made in the life of men and women who have been through the child sponsorship program. I sat around a dinner table as they each shared their stories. Stories about strangers who had stepped into their lives like angels and had changed the course of their lives forever. 

A photo of Alejandro, myself, and Carolina at dinner for LDP (Leadership Development Program). 
Carolina had the same sponsors for her whole time in the program. A couple from Minnesota married later in life and were not able to have children of their own . . . so they decided to sponsor a child. The wrote her regularly, and Carolina kept each letter in a small pink, plastic box. She showed us a picture album full of postcard and photographs from the family's farm. She described the couple as her angels. They invested in her life, not only through monetary contributions that helped meet her physical needs, but through words of encouragement. They wrote her several times a month and shared news and prayer requests.

She is now studying Psychology at the university level with the hopes of returning to her community. She said she lives in a dangerous area with a high level of gang activity where murders occur on a weekly basis. She says that the children of these gang members have witnessed a lot of traumatic things and they also have experienced a great deal of emotional turmoil. Her prayer and plan is to be able to provide emotional support and encouragement to these children to help them work through their issues. She says that if it weren't for the program there's not a doubt in her mind that she would have ended up just like the other women her age, pregnant as a teenager with a couple of children. Now, at age 22, she has one year left at University. 

She's a group leader of 8 other people in the LDP (Leadership Development Program) at her university. She credits Compassion with changing her life and her sponsors for encouraging her along the way to pursue her dreams. When she was 15 her sponsors travelled to El Salvador to meet her in person. She proudly showed us pictures of her sponsors standing with her family. With tears she told us what a difference their words and support made in her life. 


A group of Compassion college students, sponsors, and Compassion staff.
Moira is in the red shirt and black skirt on the left hand side of the photo.
When Moira was a child she found out that her father had wanted her mother to abort her. As a child, this was devastating news. She said she used to hate him. She refused to celebrate his birthday or have anything to do with him. She spoke with tears in her eyes of how her sponsors told her that she needed to forgive her father for his past mistakes - that the hate and anger would hurt her in the long run. She said that the first time in her life she made the choice to celebrate her father's birthday. She wiped tears from her face as she described the cake she made for him. She said that although their relationship is not perfect, it's getting better.  

Now she is in school studying English translation hoping to one day have a job as a flight attendant. She chose to tell us her story in English and she did an amazing job. I don't have a doubt that she'll be able to accomplish her dreams. When her sponsor had a chance to come visit she was able to spend the day with Moira and with her other sponsored child, a little boy from another center. The little boy's dream was to one day be an airline pilot, Moira's dream, to become a flight attendant. Wouldn't you know it . . .the sponsor works at NASA, an organization that knows just a "little" bit about flight.

Ruth is 21 years old. At the age of five she became a part of the sponsorship program. During the entire time she was in the program she only received 2 letters. One when she was around 5 and another when she was around 12 years old. She treasures the letters and the photo of her sponsor. I could sense that she regretted that she didn't hear more from her sponsors. Letters are so special to these children. be able to read the words of a family on the other side of the globe, telling them that they are special, that they have value, that they can accomplish amazing things. 
Some children at the Child Development Center where Ruth works.
She alone is responsible for overseeing the 41 women who participate in the CSP (Child Survival Program). She spends two hours each day travelling to visit each woman in her home. Each meetings lasts for about 2 hours. She goes over basic things like helping children develop fine motor skills and developing positive self-image in the moms. She prays for them and shares with them encouragement from God's word. She does this from 8 am to 5 pm, walking up unpaved roads and trails, winding her way through tin houses and fields. She does the work of two women by herself, but she doesn't complain. She says that when the time is right God will bring another person.

She went to school to study Health, but had no plans to become a doctor. She wanted to find a way to serve her community. Now the people in her community know that if they are sick, they can come to Ruth and she can help them. I was struck by her composure and her humility. She acknowledged that moat of the people her age (21) are more concerned about having fun, but she wants to do something that will make a difference and bring God glory. 

Where would she have been if not for Compassion? Where would she have ended up without the mentors and leaders at her center, the people who poured into her life telling her that she could make a difference in her community. This is a story you hear often if you speak with Compassion kids. They want to make a difference. They know what a difference someone made in their own life and they want to pass it on and make their communities and countries a better place to live. So many of these young adults I spoke with said they have plans to sponsor children. They look forward to pouring into the next 
generation of Compassion children. 

Andrea and I meeting for the first time
This is MY sponsored child, Andrea. Her story is still being written and I'm honored to be a part of it. I have not a doubt in my mind that this whole sponsorship thing has nothing to do with me. I have a feeling that God has big things for Andrea, that he loves her very much and wants to use me to communicate that message to her. I don't know what her future holds, but I pray that she'll always remember how much God loves her and that He has a plan and a purpose for her life.

Does child sponsorship make a difference?
Yes. For these three women, it has made all the difference in the world. As a sponsor, myself, I can say that child sponsorship is changing me. It helps my family look beyond our own four walls and reach out to love and encourage a little girl on the other side of the world. Andrea has a special place in my heart. I keep her picture on my fridge door right along with the smudged hand prints and "artwork" of my two little boys. We pray for her daily and look forward to seeing how God changes her life through the work of Compassion in her home country, El Salvador.

Don't want to take my word for it? Check out a recent article in Christianity Today about research that was done on the effectiveness of the Compassion child sponsorship program. 

Read more about my trip to El Salvador:

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