Tuesday, December 4, 2012

It is what it is.

It is the fourth day of December already, and I'm having kind of a hard time with it this year. Normally I welcome the Christmas season excitedly as soon as Thanksgiving is over. I *love* both Thanksgiving and Christmas ... except this year. This year, everything just seems all wrong. I can't get into it. I might as well just put on my Grinch shirt and embrace the Humbug, I suppose.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my family, and I couldn't help feeling empty when we left. They are SO far away, and from this distance there is very little I can do that I really feel I should be doing for them. They should be able to call on us--on me--when they need something. And especially now, seeing my father's health failing rapidly ... those miles just got exponentially longer. Maybe it's selfish, I don't know. I just feel like we really NEED to be closer. The girls need to be able to be part of their grandparents' lives, and vice versa. I've realized that fact all the more now that Pete and I have become grandparents. Our little grandson is a thirteen hour drive away, much the same as our own children have been from their grandparents most of their lives. It may be our "norm", but it's not the best of circumstances for any of us. However, it is what it is. There isn't much any of us can do, especially in this horrendous economy, to bring family members closer geographically. There are jobs to consider--or the lack thereof, actually; there is that fact that the real estate market is just awful. The ideal is just not even a possibility.

The holiday "season" kicked off the Friday before Thanksgiving, with a Christmas party (I know ... but there was a purpose for it being that early) for the kids at church. We didn't even have the ugly Christmas sweaters out yet; the girls were only halfheartedly "into" the idea of anything Christmas-y at all. This past weekend marked the "official" Christmas kickoff for us, as Pete, Morgan, and Jamie volunteered with the North Alabama Railroad Museum to help out with the Santa train runs. Pete then came home and packed. The annual Christmas party at church was Sunday, but I couldn't even go to that because I had to take Pete to the airport. He's now in Germany, enjoying the snow and will likely be visiting several Christmas markets while he's there. He'll be home ten days before Christmas, but I just don't know that this year will "feel" like Christmas at all. I forced myself to dig the tree out of the shed and put it up yesterday, but I'm not up for decorating it. Maybe later this week. Just not NOW. Now, I don't really even want to look at those ornaments. It's depressing.

I know I'm going to get at least one lecture about the "meaning of Christmas"; let me just stop you right there. I know WHY Christmas exists--I just can't get wholly on board with it being a religious obligation to put more effort into celebrating the gift of Christ to the world for one day. Don't lecture me--I **KNOW** this does not make me a failure as a Christian. I am very secure in my faith and I know God doesn't judge my faith in Him by my reasons for celebration on December 25th. I'm all for the world joining together and giving thanks for the greatest gift mankind has ever known; I just can't do the "happy birthday Jesus" thing because I can't find any Biblical support for it. I'll be brutally honest with you for a minute--even at almost 40 years of age, I'm not really sure WHAT Christmas means to me, except to say that I love the celebration of family, of generosity, and of togetherness to end the year with. To me, it's the exclamation point of the crazy year where all of us are going in different directions. It's that time where we can all slow down and celebrate being together. That's probably the reason I'm having such a hard time this year; our family is not together at ALL! My parents and aunt are in Florida, our daughter, son-in-law, and grandson are in Maryland, our son is in Afghanistan while his wife is here in town, and my hubby is away on business as I'm supposed to be doing all of this preparation. My heart is just not in it this year.

Maybe I just need to go sit on Santa's lap and tell him that my one Christmas wish is to have my ENTIRE family together next year. Yeah, I know. Santa can't deliver on that one. But God can.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Stepping up on the political soapbox

It's a dangerous place to be, I know, especially for Christians. The secular world tells us to separate our religious beliefs from politics, but those of us whose faith is firmly engrafted with every other part of our life, that's just impossible to do. It's true that the Bible does not give firm directives for our involvement in politics (other than to "render to Caesar what is Caesar's" and to "honor the king"--Nero, at the time), but our freedom of religion and what we know of our nation's strongly Christian heritage both allows and requires us to use our convictions when participating in the political process.

It is argued that the very reason the United States "rose to power" and became uniquely respected by other nations was because of the values system that our Founding Fathers poured into her foundation.There is an old adage (which is wrongly attributed to Alexis de Tocqueville, but its origin is unknown) that says,
"I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers - and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce - and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution - and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great"
This quotation echoes of the respect held for America in other countries. True, many countries (or portions of those coutnries' populations) hold a deep-seeded resentment and hatred of America, but if you dig deeply you will discover that hatred is based in jealousy--they hate us because we have freedoms they will never have. Our leaders do not assume power by brute force and intimidation; our laws are not carried out tyrannically.


Go ahead, roll your eyes. Accuse me of watching too much FoxNews. Tell me I'm an alarmist, that I put too much stock in the scare-tactic news coverage that preys on the gloom-and-doom nature of hypersensitive conservatives. Go ahead. Have your field day. And then LISTEN.

Those who TRULY study the Constitution (not just the 1st Amendment) will realize that there is a balance of power issue that is coming under fire, right under our noses, and by and large, the American populace is letting it go because the idea of the Federal Government "taking care of things" sounds really good. We *like* the idea of making sure that our air, water, land, and food are all safe. So why shouldn't we let the government legislate laws to protect it? We all want everyone in the country to be fed healthy food. We don't want children to go hungry. We don't want people to be homeless. We don't want someone to be turned away from getting health care because they don't have the ability to pay for it. It all sounds SO good. So does the idea of keeping our military out of harm's way and not "being the world's policemen". We don't want to look like bullies. We want to be liked. We don't want anyone to think we are telling them how they can live. We want everyone to be happy, to have whatever they want to make their life easy.

Or do we? Do we really realize that this ideology will eventually threaten the rights our nation's founders fought so hardly to give us? Do we not realize that the more power we give the government, the less power the American people will have IN that government?

Of course not. Because our schools aren't teaching it anymore. Elementary schools have stopped teaching America's hard-fought history of freedom in favor of "social studies", where we all learn how important the idea of being "nice" is and that we have to accept everyone no matter what they do--we don't DARE try to impose a values system on people, that's limiting their personal freedom! What we have going on in the United States right now is frightening--there are two very different fundamental ideologies at work, and we are finding ourselves very UN-united. One side holds to our country's traditional Christian-based values systems and the principles on which our country was founded; the other insists that we will be "held back" by an adherence to these values, that we need to realize we live in a changing world (never mind the change is occurring BECAUSE of the movement within the US to "evolve") and that we must alter the way we look at freedoms so we don't offend anyone or presume to set any limits at all on anyone. This latter view is becoming increasingly hostile toward the Christian values that have been historically the basis of our morality. Now "morality" is such a vague and unpopular term that many social circles are attempting to remove any reference to right and wrong entirely. Our children are being taught as young as kindergarten that the only absolute "wrong" in this world is telling someone that there are moral absolutes.

When we look at our Constitution under the microscope of vague "tolerance", clear definitions disappear. "The greater good" will rise to the top, and the individual freedoms and liberties we have enjoyed will be blurred as the government assumes a level of power that is very difficult to remove.

Why are our fundamental ideologies important? Because our freedom depends on it. And so does our ability to practice our faith openly as our Founding Fathers intended.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Did I set my own bar too high??

The little cutie above turned 6 last month. Unlike every other child in our family, Dani's birthday is completely isolated from everyone else's. ALL of our other children have at least one sibling whose birthday falls within two weeks of their own, but Danica is out there all by her little lonesome in October. Her birthday usually falls right in the middle of crazy-season for us--right as we are getting prepared for the holidays, and finally back in full swing for school. For the two years prior to this, it was in the middle of MAJOR family events; Derrick and Kelsey were married in late October of 2010, Jon and Meagan were married in August of 2011 ... plus for the last two years, her dad has been away on business for her birthday. The poor kid has middle-child, left-out issues. I was determined this year to remedy that by somehow pulling off a NICE birthday party for her. Granted, the last *real* birthday party (one that was actually a party for KIDS, not adults) I did was for Kelsey's 10th birthday. Umm ... it's been a few years. So nevermind I was seriously out of practice, but we also had a family friend visiting for the weekend! It was crazy, but I wasn't going to cop out. Dani wanted a Rapunzel party, and I was gonna DO it. 

Pinterest to the rescue! I found all sorts of ideas for cakes, decorations, party games and favors. YAY! Problem was ... every single cake I found was either a huge carved, elaborate monstrosity of pastry and frosting (which I was seriously NOT going to do), or involved a tower constructed of stacked cupcakes. Also not going to happen. Bad things happen when I attempt anything cupcake-y. I decided I was going to have the base only, a mound of green frosting "grass", be cake. I'd be all artsy-craftsy and construct my own tower using a Pringles can. Sure! It'll work! But what did I do? I waited until the night before the party to even try figuring it out!!! What was I, NUTS?

I'll answer that one for you. YES, I was nuts. That tower, which, OF COURSE, had to at least come close to looking like the tower in the movie Tangled, was a bear. Weird angles, strange coloring, and some kooky ivy-looking thing climbing up it?? It didn't take me long to question my own judgment. I will admit, though, that it turned out really, really well! I didn't think it would when it was at this stage, though ... 
Yes, that's a Pringles can. The weird angle from the tower up to the ... uh, ... "house" (??) portion was an upturned plastic cup. Same cups I had used to make the jello "boats", which you'll see in a minute. There's another plastic cup on top, forming the base above the house (a frosting can, by the way) for the cone-shaped cereal-box-cardboard roof to hold onto. I used hot glue to hold everything together; I wasn't crazy enough to think I was going to sit around waiting for anything to dry, and I *knew* I was going to need some seriously strong glue! A little scrapbook paper, some paint, Sharpie-outlined "timbering", and green frosting ivy/grass later, plus a tiny little Rapunzel doll, some candy flowers and pink pearls, and here's what I ended up with: 
Not too bad, if I do say so myself!  
It's not super-fancy, and it certainly won't win any design contests, but it made a certain 6-year-old and her sisters giggle and squeal when they laid eyes on it! That's all I cared about. :)
Here's the spread we had set out in the dining room. The dip for the pretzels and veggies, plus the veggies themselves, were served in cast iron skillets. Oh, and yes, that cake "plate" was actually a cast iron griddle pan. The punch (which was a 64-oz. bottle of red grape juice combined with a 2-liter bottle of ginger ale ... YUMMY!!) was served in one of my stock pots! My older girls thought that was a hilarious touch. And of course, we had Dani's stuffed chameleon representing Pascal on the table guarding the food. :) 
This was one of the ideas I found on Pinterest that I absolutely had to re-create. Blue jell-o "water, with orange wedge "boats" and a little paper sail. The kiddos loved it!
Of course, since it was a Rapunzel party, we had to have a braid somewhere! What I decided was to have part of the guests' party favors be a headband with a braid attached (hot glue again), and prizes for the games would be little hair clips to attach to their braids. Dani's headband had a purple tiara hot-glued on as well. Hey, the birthday girl has to be something special! Kudos for this project go to my master braiders, Morgan and Jamie. This would never have gotten done if I had been the one to braid all that yarn. 
 Yep, we had to play "pin the frying pan on Flynn Rider". Had to. Wasn't even an option!
 This game, inspired by apple-loving horse Maxwell from the movie Tangled, was without a doubt one of the most hilarious games I have seen in a long time. The apples were tied to different lengths of yarn hanging from our clothesline. The object was to get a bite taken out of the apple without using your hands!!! 
 It proved to be VERY difficult for the girls to bite, they were laughing too hard!!
 Believe it or not, the one REQUIREMENT Danica had for her party was to have a pinata. Sorry, I was just too lazy to make one. Target had a good price ($15), so that's what we did. Thankfully at the end of October there is plenty of candy in bulk bags available in stores!
This was not an easy party theme, and it certainly required a lot more crafting than I was expecting, but eh ... it was worth it! 
Dani was one very happy six-year-old! 

The only problem? I have four other girls who are now expecting me to go all-out for THEIR parties!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Let the spoiling begin?

As I sit here in the Atlanta airport with still more than an hour before my flight to Baltimore boards (I am home now ... just didn't have internet access during my trip), I am contemplating what I have heard from several people these last few days. Knowing I am flying up to meet my first grandchild, most people say something to the effect of, "I hope you have a good time spoiling that baby," or "Be sure to have fun making him mad and then handing him over to Mom and Dad ... you can do that now, you know?"

I know, it's all in jest. I think anyone who has ever even HAD a grandparent knows that grandparenting is a much more enjoyable, much more laid-back "job" than parenting. I have never even laid eyes on my little grandbaby, and I already know that I am going to thoroughly ENJOY this, and that the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is a far different dynamic than that of parents and children. I fully "get" that there is going to be some gloating and lots of "I told you so" smirks as my children move into this new season of life and experience all of the trials and frustrations that we did (and still do). I know I will get that little baby in my arms and have the desire to make sure he has everything he could ever need and want. After all, isn't that what grandmothers are for? Isn’t it a grandparent’s job to spoil their grandchildren rotten?

Is it really?

I had grandparents who didn't spoil me, either materially or by allowing me to “get away with” improper behavior. I don't remember any "thing" specifically given to me by any of my grandparents. I do remember that my Memaw would take me shopping every year for my birthday and that my birthday present was usually a pretty Easter dress. I didn't really have a huge appreciation for dresses when I was younger, but I did enjoy the experience of shopping with her. I don't remember much at all about my father's parents; they always did their own thing and were traveling so often that we didn't really see them that often. I remember my Papaw telling me that he loved having me around because I was the calmest of any of his grandchildren. It "helped" my cause that I was the only girl, I was tiny compared to the boys (even though I was the oldest)  and that my brother and cousins were always loud and rambunctious; Papaw never had an impatient word for his quiet, shy little granddaughter ... yes, it was sort of nice being the only girl, but I knew they didn’t have any “favorites”! No, my grandparents never really "spoiled" me (or any of their other grandchildren, that I know of), but they did give me an amazing example that I plan to follow with my own grandchildren.

I couldn't get away with anything around my grandparents. In fact, my great-grandmother (Mamaw) could see through me better than anyone else in my life. She could tell when I was "tellin' a story", and when I had a bad case of the wiggles. My grandparents showed an intense interest in my life; they always wanted me to be with them; I was never "in the way". They never complained about the messes I made, but rather included me in all of the messy aspects of daily life. I learned to drive a tractor, pick blackberries, weed a garden, prune trees, and make communion bread from my grandparents. I also learned respect from them. I learned to appreciate frugality. I learned what true beauty was, and that it cannot be found in any "thing" this fallen world has to offer. I learned the difference between strength and toughness. I learned when to cry, when to laugh, and that holding one's head high should display confidence rather than conceit.

My parents weren't awful people. They weren't neglectful. They provided well for me and my brother. They didn’t necessarily abdicate my upbringing to my grandparents, but for whatever reason, I just listened more to my grandparents than to my parents. The informal lessons of life weren't as obvious, but they were just as much, if not MORE effective when they came from my grandparents.

I'm not rushing into this grandmothering thing flippantly. I take my "job" as an Omi VERY seriously. My grandchildren (singular now, but I do certainly hope the Lord blesses us with a whole slew of grandchildren!) are not just pretty faces to post pictures of on my wall (either virtual or physical). They aren't trophies for me to parade around for the world to see. They aren't toys for me to play with and then hand back when I get tired of them or when they start acting up. Levi isn't mine to "spoil". In fact, I wouldn't want him to spoil. I don't want my grandchildren to be rotten. Something that is spoiled is not pleasant, and I don't want my relationship with Levi or any of his siblings or cousins to be that of a 'stuff-giver'. I want my grandbabies to have the memories I do of my own grandparents. I want them to be able to look at pictures of me (ugh, I guess that means I will have to let someone TAKE pictures ... eeks) and recall a memory, not a blank. I want to be part of their lives. I want them to know my phone number and be able to dial it like I could my Mamaw's when I was little. I still know that number. I just "dialed" it in my head, three decades later! I want my grandchildren to look forward to spending time with me and to miss me when we’re apart. When they’re older and I have left this life, I want to leave a legacy behind that will influence my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren to desire the truly GOOD things in this life, and I want to be able to be the person for them who shows them what a dedicated Christian lives.

OF COURSE I want them to have that influence from their parents, but by the time my children have married and brought children into this world, my work as parent has pretty much been phased out and I have little say in what kind of environment my grandchildren are raised in. I can give advice, but it's likely that most of it will be ignored. LOL I take on this new role of life with much humility, because I know I will never be perfect. I will never be able to be everything God wants me to be. But I certainly won’t stop trying! I know how powerful my influence can be. No … WILL be. One way or the other, Levi and his future siblings and cousins WILL be influenced by my life. I just want to make sure it’s not a “rotten” influence. So I will boldly say that if my grandbabies are going to be ‘spoiled’, it will not be by me!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Let's get out of the pigsty, folks!

This is not going to be another "Christians vs. 50 Shades/Magic Mike" blog post. I think it's been adequately covered by those wiser and more eloquent than myself. Two I can think of just off the top of my head are over at The Colley House and Melissa Jenna's blog, if you feel so inclined to read them. In fact, I think if you looked hard enough, you could probably find a "Christians vs. ANYTHING" post. We're notorious for jumping on anti-worldview bandwagons. Rightly so, most of the time. There is just too much world in the church, and to be honest with you, we really DO need to be getting our feathers more ruffled about the filth that is surrounding us--and that we're allowing in to infect the church and neuter the message of the Gospel. Yes, you heard that right--NEUTER the message of the Gospel. What do you think it does for Christians to be involved in the filth of this world, when they open their mouths about the saving grace of Christ and the freedom found in obedience to the Will of God? It nullifies their message. It takes the batteries out of their flashlight. It fills the salt shaker with sugar. Sure, people would love to hear a gospel that will get them to Heaven without having to eliminate all the stuff they enjoy ... but that's not 'taking up one's cross, denying one's self' and following Christ. That's fitting God into our little box, tucking in the edges that we don't agree with. It's not true Christianity--it's practical atheism.

Nope, this isn't one of *those* blog posts. I actually want to discuss something that will ruffle some more feathers. It will likely make my adult children (and my mother) cringe. Sorry, but that's just gonna have to happen for a bit. 

Ladies and gentlemen, we have to stop talking about the perverted vulgarities of UNHOLY sex as if they were the NORM!!! Yes, I said UNHOLY. No matter what "flavor", sex outside of the God-ordained union of marriage is perverted. Sin is sin. LUST is sin. Whether you are sinning with someone of the same or opposite sex, whether it's in your head, imagined, talked about, glorified, watched passively, acted out or not, it's SIN. What makes it sin? It is perversion from the original intent for something God created to be HOLY. Why are we even having these discussions about what is so obviously across the line? Why are we even discussing the line in the first place? Wanna know what my theory is? 

*Because we are TOO AFRAID to say that sex WITHIN marriage--sex that is HOLY--is also good, right, wholesome, and DESIRABLE!!!* 

Sex has become a "dirty word" among Christians. "Good" Christians don't talk about it, unless they are condemning it. It's glazed-over from pulpits, because we don't want to give people the idea we have hang-ups, but we want to make sure everyone knows they'll go to Hell if they don't purify their minds. We would rather have people shudder and blush and NOT talk about it than to risk the very possibility that we might say something "dirty". There is nothing wrong (in fact, there is everything RIGHT) with a Christian enjoying and desiring a good sexual relationship with his or her spouse! In fact, maybe it's time we turned the tables and started portraying it as healthy and the NORM?

Christians, we can either be silent and accept the world's view of sex as "dirty", or we can be a catalyst to RESHAPE its reputation. Why is it that everyone automatically assumes that discussion of anything sexual is vulgar? It is that attitude right there that makes it difficult for Christians to get help if they need it, from people they respect--because they fear being viewed as vulgar or dirty or sex-obsessed! It is the misconception (that originated from the silence of those who believed and lived otherwise) that married love is somehow nonexistent and boring and dull and a chore that has fueled the media's ball-and-chain portrayal of marriage! We need to break that mold! Somehow non-Christians have gotten the idea that those of us who are Christians are "prudes". Maybe because we portray the life of a follower of Christ as a checklist of do's and don'ts instead of preaching as the writer of Hebrews did to those who had been under the Law--that writer encouraged their fledgling faith by reiterating that what they have now is BETTER!

Why aren't we doing that? 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Reality is sobering!

This year--this summer, really--has been very surreal in a lot of ways. Many life changes, many things I thought were years away are happening now. Probably the most notable is that not only my own daughter, but also two of her friends are having their first babies this summer. It's kind of funny to think that many of my high school friends and I still have children in diapers, yet now I'm also a grandmother. No, I don't feel "old". As far as I'm concerned, "old" is something you are when you spend most of your days looking forward to the next life because there is no longer any joy in this one. I'm not there yet. Lord willing, I won't ever be.

The little hand in the picture above is my little grandson Levi's hand. He is, hopefully and prayerfully, just a few days away from ending his stay in the NICU and going home! He's doing incredibly well, and we couldn't be more thankful to God for the abundant blessings that have surrounded the little guy since his birth. This picture really got me thinking about what an awesome and scary task three young families (among many, many more) are just beginning as they bring their little babies into this world. It would be far too easy to think that having a child that isn't malnourished, abused, or neglected makes one a "good" parent, but really, when you look at that little hand, his physical welfare is only a small portion of this journey he is just beginning. In less than a decade and a half, the tiny little fingers will no longer be clinging tightly to Mom's and Dad's. They will have let go and will be grasping in this dark world to hold onto something that they can call their "own". Those little hands will work to find their own identity in this big world ... and it is the big hands that they hold on to right now that will determine what direction those little hands reach.

I think every parent reaches a point in their child's development that they wish they could stop the clock, go back, and un-do some things they did in their child's formative years. We all make the mistake of thinking our children aren't really watching what we're doing, or that we can "teach" them out of habits they learn from us. The reality is that a child will learn lessons from what a parent does, not what he or she says. In the first years of life, that child soaks in information from every source in his or her environment. TV, movies, music, how Mom and Dad react to the crazy drivers, and especially the company Mom and Dad keep and the activities they participate in. They learn what is important in life long before they can verbalize it. They learn right and wrong before they ever start testing Mom and Dad's patience.

New mommies and daddies, you don't have a few years to waste. Once that child comes home from the hospital, your job is to shield him (or her) from not just germs that can harm the body, but evils that can poison the soul. It is your responsibility as a parent to LIVE the example you want your child to follow. If you wouldn't do it in front of a 6-year-old who will repeat everything you say and do, you shouldn't be doing it at all. If it's something that is going to be a detriment to bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, then it shouldn't be a part of their life--OR YOURS!

I remember several years ago hearing some of our peers (I'll not call them friends, they really were just job associations who happened to be in the same season of life as us) telling us that they'll quit having their drinking friends over to the house for BBQ's when their kids are older and "more impressionable", because they didn't want the children thinking that they approved of social drinking. Guess what? That child is now a 17-year-old drunk. Mom and Dad never did stop having friends over to drink--they never made the mental connection about their son being conscious of what was going on. The behavior they already thought was acceptable was passed on to their son, because they never did anything to change it. He doesn't see anything wrong with his behavior. Why should he?

We have other friends (these *are* friends ... although our acquaintance has drifted because of how different our lives have become) who thought it was adorable to dress their little girl as an infant and toddler in skimpy clothing and encouraged her to role-play popular dance routines they saw on MTV. It was, back then, "cute" to see a 2-year-old shaking her booty provocatively. Now that she's 21 ... not so much. Of course, all the young men drooling over her at the pool would think otherwise. So would her boyfriend. Whoever he is this week.

I know these are 'extreme' examples, but life is never lived halfway. Choices new parents make about influences they are going to allow in their child's life in infancy are very difficult to reverse. Let "friends" who don't share your moral beliefs and values get close to your children, and your children will inevitably gravitate toward them as the "aunts and uncles" that they have been allowed to become. Let TV programs play in the background that are full of immorality and filth, and don't be surprised when your toddlers repeat things that would make your toenails curl. Children accept as "normal" those things they see on a regular basis. And they will become like tiny little magnifying glasses to their parents' spiritual struggles!

New mommies and daddies, you have a huge, HUGE task lying in that little crib. Your job is to protect them, to shield them from the outside world, to mold them into the people God can use to do grand things. Don't make your own job any harder by inviting things into your life that you will have to un-teach when it's too late. Fill your lives with good, pure, lovely things that please God and your children will learn to do the same. They will actually learn to love it. Fill your lives with the Lord's people, and your children will learn to love them as well. Please ... don't take a minute for granted.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Eye candy or heart poison?

I'm going to preface this with a disclaimer for anyone who may be reading this without "knowing" who I am. I have six daughters--five of them are under the age of 9, the other is a married adult. I've also got an adult son, a daughter-in-law, a son-in-law, and a husband. To be bluntly honest, I don't think modesty is an issue more important to any one of us than another. My daughters and daughter-in-law can be just as guilty of being immodest as my son, son-in-law, or husband can. And every single one of us can have our consciences seared to the point that we just don't even think about the temptation that is being thrown at us every day as anything less than what it is--a blatant, "I don't care" attitude regarding the purity of the mind and body.

I was raised in south Florida, within a 15-minute drive (through horrendous traffic ... it was probably less than ten miles "as the crow flies") of the beach. I have LIVED the tropical, carefree, anything-goes bikini-and-Speedo lifestyle. I will say this much--I have only owned one bikini in my entire lifetime. I *think* I was about 8 years old, at the oldest. My bikini days ended one fateful day while playfully jumping headfirst into a crashing wave and popping up to realize that my top was nowhere to be found. I am only thankful that it happened when my body so closely resembled that of my best friend's younger brother. And I'm glad I had enough training in modesty to be completely humiliated at such a young age. My own 8-year-old just yesterday asked me why Target has moved the underwear section of their women's clothing (speaking of swimwear) to the front of the store. I replied to her that it probably did need to be closer to the underwear section, since it probably covered less than most bras and panties worn UNDER clothing. I'm at least thankful that my girls have that amount of innocence left that hasn't been trampled by our near-nude culture.

HOWEVER ... back on track ... these five girls still living in my house are already being "indoctrinated" by our anything-goes culture that has somehow infiltrated the church to an alarming degree. Folks, I'm not going to say we need to take on the state of un-dress for the rest of the world. That is an insurmountable task, especially considering how strongly our society feels about "freedom of expression" with regard to fashion. What I *am* challenging is how flippantly we Christians are approaching this problem. How many times lately have you had to avert your eyes (or did you??) from the photograph of a young CHRISTIAN girl in a bikini posted on Facebook? Or her mother??? How often have we looked the other way when CHRISTIANS show up to a worship service or Bible study dressed in ways that reveal not just "too much", but also conflicting loyalties of the heart? Have you ever wondered if the "rich young rulers" of today would be challenged by Jesus to give up their wardrobe?

"Don't judge me" is one of those catch-phrases that gets thrown around more than ketchup packets in a food court, and it has swiftly become the force field that people use to protect themselves against being confronted about behavior that is questionable. But, brothers and sisters in Christ, the "judgement" of the Bible is not condemnation--it is a discerning spirit that should be used with LOVE to draw each other closer to Christ and further away from the values and pleasures and motives of this world! Christians should reflect CHRIST, not anything else. In fact, (and I KNOW I'm going to receive some flames for this one) the Bible clearly states that a follower of Christ is to die to self. DIE to self. That, um, kind of removes the "self-expression" argument from the table, doesn't it? When people look at us, what should they see? Should they see someone who is "hot" or "drop-dead gorgeous", or (this phrase absolutely floors me) "yummy"? Should they see our ink-art that tells the world "who we are" and what we value? Or should our outward appearance lead them straight to the message of Christ by seeing that what is lovely and beautiful about us is in our hearts?

I'm going to throw an idea out there that has certainly been said before, but it has become lost in the current modesty debate. MODESTY is not about how much skin you are or aren't showing. MODESTY is about what people see when they look at you. And yes, that encompasses every little part of your outward appearance. Your smile, your eyes, your entire countenance. But see ... the "rest" of the modesty debate is that how we (and I'm speaking of Christians here ... the unsaved are lost and we have bigger fish to fry with regard to their salvation) dress and carry ourselves when we are in a public setting. What is it we are drawing attention to? Are we actually poisoning the hearts of the unsaved? Are we providing temptation for other Christians to sin? This is seriously NO LIGHT MATTER.

Ironically, physical modesty is something the Arab world has handled a lot better than we do. They realize, as a culture, that modesty is not just "covering up", but also a respect issue. Take a look at this sign, which is posted in a popular Dubai shopping mall, in the United Arab Emirates:
I know most of us Americans would think that they're trying to "force" their values on people, but what they are really doing is just asking people to be RESPECTFUL. Read this article and notice how the biggest problem they have is with foreigners who cannot RESPECT the culture and values of the country that they are visiting. It's people who value their own self-expression and "comfort" (but really, no one will ever convince me that short-shorts are comfortable) over the principles of others. "ME FIRST" is not dying to self. Christians, is that an attitude you want to have ruling your heart?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day!

I have his quick wit. The smirk that takes the place of any smile when I'm annoyed--that's his. My horrendously uncontrollable wavy hair came from him. My hot German-Irish temper? Yep, his. The sport I find in pointing out the awkwardness of complete strangers to those with me and get my companions in side-stitches while leaving the object of our amusement totally unaware? Also his. My love of being at and on the sea and having wind whistling through my ears, drowning out all other sound came from him too. My fastball. My high blood pressure.

My dad may not have been the 'best dad in the world'; he actually terrified my friends on more occasions than I care to recall. Shoot, he terrified ME half the time! But he was and is MY dad. He was the best for ME. Lessons I learned from my dad have shaped who I am, and that is priceless. He won't ever read this, because he can't stand even the idea of computers and thinks the internet is ridiculous. He turned 70 a couple of weeks ago, and he is too far away and too frail to visit on a regular basis. At this point in his life, because of his physical limitations, he can barely have a phone conversation. Does that break my heart? Sure it does. I remember the man who used to scale 45-degree slopes on muddy canal banks to grab a baby alligator from its nest just to lure the mama out and scare me and the neighbor kids senseless. I remember the man who would walk a mail route during the day, come home and mow the yard, and still have enough energy to make dinner. I remember those harsh fisherman-hands that baited hooks and reeled in huge king fish that my tiny little frame couldn't handle, all while trying to maintain balance on the rolling Atlantic waves. MY mind doesn't immediately identify the man who can barely stand as my father. I don't even think HE identifies the man he is now with who he really is. His pride and stubbornness won't let him.

I guess I got that from him too. He may not have many more "happy" Father's Days, but I'm glad he got the ones he had. Love you, Dad!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Life "support"

There are many "hot topic" debates right now, considering the upcoming US election. Most of the political ones are so opinionated and inflammatory that I have removed myself completely from any discussion--I will speak with my vote and let the mudslingers just go ahead and do their thing. However, this particular topic is one that has been ongoing for YEARS and will continue as long at the atrocities continue to be legal, and I will continue to speak up about it because it is truly a repulsive fact to consider that this "debate" even goes on at all. It makes me absolutely sick to my stomach to have a picture of my precious little grandson in the same post as what I am about to write about, but in some respects, it is the perfect life-affirming place for his picture to be.

In a day and age where political debates (some VERY heated) abound regarding the "rights" of people to do whatever they so please, you'd think people would at least be jumping to defend the innocents who cannot defend themselves, wouldn't you? Seriously, how can a woman's "right" to do whatever she wants supersede another individual's right to LIVE?

Well, because the two "sides" don't agree on what LIFE is, that's how.

When does life begin? Ummm .... well, uhhhh, I think ....

BALONEY! It has nothing to do with what we THINK! This isn't a debate about opinions over whether there's a God or not. This has nothing to do with whether we view something as a sin or not. This isn't a debate about something that our "belief" essentially doesn't matter, because it involves the very right of a human being to avoid being exterminated to make another human have a supposedly better quality of life. Care to see how flippantly the "other side" views it? Here is a quote taken from just ONE site--but I assure you, most I found were pretty much identical.

          "Throughout history, theologians, philosophers, and scientists have debated the question of when life begins. There is no single answer. That is why each woman must be free to make the decision about abortion based on her own moral, ethical and religious beliefs, including her beliefs about when life begins. The critical question is who should decide; at NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, we believe it should be the woman, not the government." 

So "each woman" determines when life begins? Circumstances dictate whether the human embryo/fetus developing inside her womb is a cherished baby or a lump of lifeless cells? Permit me to give you one little bit of scientific FACT for a second--we learned in elementary school biology that the difference between something that is alive and something that is not is one little thing: CELLS. If it is a life form, it has cells. One cell, many cells, doesn't matter. One would never say that a single-celled organism such as an amoeba is not "alive". But the difference between an amoeba and a rock is the fundamental makeup of that amoeba. The three designations for all matter on earth are mineral, plant, and animal. The amoeba is not a mineral. It has cells. On the microscopic level, the presence of CELLS indicates either plant or animal life. LIFE! Unless that cell is dead and no longer growing, regenerating, etc., it is alive. In the amoeba's case, just one cell--and then when it divides, that other cell is just as alive as the parent cell. In humans (this is something taught in biology class as well), the precise minute that the parent cells combine (ahem ... CONCEPTION!), a new organism is formed. That organism is not a non-living being. It is not a rock. It is a human being. It has all the genetic makeup that it will have for the rest of its life in that one moment. The two parent cells--the sperm and egg--cease to exist as a new LIFE begins. This new life is completely different in its genetic makeup and separate from either of its parents--yet through at least part of its life cycle, it is completely dependent upon the mother for its survival. Does that dependence indicate a non-existence of life? Well, if that were the case, then "life" wouldn't exist until the human being was about, say, 6 or 7 years of age and theoretically capable of fending for itself and providing its own food source. Shoot, I know of some 35-year-olds who seem somehow to be completely dependent on the care of others for their survival--does that make them less "alive" because they have not developed well enough to be independent?

The idea that life exists only at a certain point in development (which, incidentally, came about BECAUSE of  pro-choice arguments) tends to lend itself to subjective reasoning in a "debate" that really needs to be seen objectively. At what point in development is life present? When the heartbeat is detectable with instruments from the outside? When the brain fully forms? When all of the necessary systems are working properly? When the human takes its first breath? How about when that human is weaned, or when it is capable of speech? When it learns to reason? When it can vote?

To allow circumstance, whether it be the child's conception or the mother's (or family's) financial condition or the presence of other siblings of the same gender that would make another child of that gender "unacceptable", to determine the existence of life is utterly ridiculous. What manner of person would choose to cause the death of an elderly parent or grandparent--or even a child who had been stricken with some disability that caused him or her to be incapacitated in some form--merely because their dependence is a burden? We understand that to be an incomprehensible idea, yet that is exactly what abortion does.

Why is it easy to extinguish a human life before it is born? Before we've seen images on a screen? Before we've heard a heartbeat? Well, duh. Because that life isn't strong enough to fight back. That's why.

I want you to look again at the picture of my sweet little grandson at the top of this post. Go ahead. Look. Take a good, long look at the tubes, wires, and medical apparatus that he is hooked up to. Do you know what those things do? They support life. They SUPPORT something that is already there. Those machines do not GIVE life, that was already there before Levi was born. They sustain it. They provide the support his mother's body no longer can. Had he been born a full-term infant, he would not need that support--but he does. Is he less "alive" than a full-termer who can sustain his or her own body temperature, regulate his/her own body system functions well enough to breathe, suck, and swallow to gain nourishment? That idea is ridiculous. OF COURSE Levi is alive. So is the tiny little baby who is his NICU "neighbor, who was born at just 24 weeks gestation--which, shockingly enough, is just DAYS after the legal limit for abortion in several US states.

My little grandbaby, perfectly formed and strong as a tiny little ox, is just as "alive" as the cardiac patient in the ICU a few floors under the one he's currently in. Levi is just as "alive" as the man or woman who will take their last breath in the next few days, but for now are being sustained by a ventilator and IV nourishment. And whether the pro-choice crowd would acknowledge it or not, biologically our little grandson is just as ALIVE as the baby developing within the body of his Mom and Dad's friends in Pensacola who learned of their pregnancy just a few days before Levi's birth. LIFE is LIFE. And life in such fragile forms needs our support. These precious little lives did NOTHING to warrant a death sentence just so Mom can be rid of the burden of raising an unwanted child. How barbaric a society can we be, when we hold the comfort and happiness of some in higher regard than the LIFE of another?

God help us.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Simple Woman's Daybook, 6/4/2012

FOR TODAY – June 4, 2012 – 

Outside My Window… the rain has subsided but the sky is still gray. I could let it affect my mood, but I refuse that path today. Last night's storm, as harsh as it was at times (although by no means severe), gave me thoughts to meditate on as I rose early that are fueling the fire within me to begin just as the landscape has this morning--fresh, new, and clean. It will take some time for the little plants to perk up again, it will take time for the puddles to dry; but they will, and my own life's purge will proceed in like manner.

I am thinking… that my external influences are much stronger than I had ever imagined. It is amazing to me, how just the act of "ignoring" something, then having it come popping up inadvertently without warning makes my blood pressure rise even more. It's not worth the effort of feigning apathy. I don't WANT to be apathetic. God created me to be an enthusiastic, zealous person, and even claiming that something most would consider trivial association is dangerous to my conscience. I'm not going to tolerate trivial associations any longer.

In the learning room… we are beginning our new school year today. Morgan and Jamie will be starting a new "level" of math, even if it has the same number they have been working on for some time. Amazing how different two programs can be in terms of difficulty! I'm shocked at how advanced Singapore looks from Rod & Staff. I had to tell the girls that they're not "repeating" last year; this is "level 2" instead of "2nd grade". I will take advantage of creative mom-isms while I can, thank you very much!

I am thankful for… the rain we had last night, the close friendships we enjoy that make life SO much more meaningful, and right now, especially for the relative good health of my tiny little grandson.

From the kitchen… hmm, I think the kitchen is going to be going outside today for some grilling. We all loved the grilled chicken we had a few weeks ago before Pete's trip to Taiwan, and now that he's home and craving chicken, I think today is perfect timing!

I am wearing… my "garden" pants (capris that I wear to garden that are the comfiest pair I own ... but are permanently stained with grass and this lovely Alabama red clay) and a black tee. My favorite mom-uniform.

I am creating… a bunch of mental lists. I probably should be writing most of this down, but I keep lying to myself that I will remember it all. Packing lists, shopping lists, to-do-before-the-trip-to-MD lists, garden to-do-lists ... the list of lists goes on and on.

I am going… to stay put today, and as much as possible this week.

I am hoping… that little Levi will continue to grow stronger, gain weight, and develop well so he can leave the NICU and go HOME where he belongs! Besides, that's when I get to see him!

I am hearing… the girls finishing up their breakfast and playing

Around the house… a whole lot of laundry folding needs to be done.

One of my favorite things… sending my hubby off to work with a hot breakfast and a smooch.

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week: mostly just school and the usual household tasks. Pete has his first classroom-classes toward his degree this week, so we have a new routine to get used to.

Scripture to ponder... Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8 ESV)

Here is picture thought I am sharing… is any explanation necessary? SO much of our life seems completely inundated with social media, it's as if we just can't get away from it no matter what we do. It's time to take back our lives, take back our sanity, and use these things as tools instead of being used AS tools.

Want to see how other Daybookers' days are going? Go visit The Simple Woman's Daybook and join in the fun!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Gift that Joined

His first name means "Jehovah has joined"; his middle name means "gift of God". He was named long before his birth, but his name turned out to be *perfect* for this little guy. A week ago today, his mother (my oldest daughter Kelsey) was admitted to the hospital with pre-eclampsia. At that point, she was just 30 weeks pregnant. With my unfortunate all-too-familiar knowledge of pre-eclampsia, I knew this meant trouble. But this time it wasn't ME in that hospital bed watching the magnesium sulfate drip into my arm and hearing alarm bells from the blood pressure monitor every fifteen minutes. It was my daughter. And my first grandchild's life was at stake. Knowing the risks was terrifying; knowing that she was four weeks ahead of when my earliest problems had begun was even more frightening. A LOT of growth and development and "fattening up" happens in those few weeks, and we all knew that a birth that early could mean a host of major problems for such a tiny little baby.

We did what we knew to be the *only* thing we could do--we mobilized our vast force of prayer warriors. All over the world, from Opi (my hubby Pete) in Taiwan on business, to brothers and sisters in Christ in Germany, Africa, and even the Middle East, to friends, family, and fellow Christians all over the United States, we were praying both for Kelsey's body to be spared the harsh effects of her skyrocketing blood pressure and for the little one she was carrying to be strengthened for his inevitable early birth. We had hoped they would at least have two or three more weeks, but it just did not happen. Little Levi Nathanael was born, 9 weeks before his due date, on Memorial Day. He weighed just 2lbs. 13oz. and was only 16.5" long. That name of his--the good, strong name chosen for him with a God-honoring heritage, was displayed strongly as people who knew and loved his parents and grandparents joined together in prayer to petition God for His divine protection and provision for this tiny little baby. This gift of God joined the outside world with gusto, taking his first breaths and uttering cries that confirmed the strength we had prayed for. He is very small, but as you can see in the picture of his hand holding Mommy's pinky finger, he has a strength given to him by the very God who formed him in the womb.

Keep growing, little Levi. We know you're already strong; it's what all of us were joined in prayer asking God for. The Lord has big things in store for this teeny little boy. And his Omi and Opi couldn't be prouder.

Friday, March 23, 2012

"Just let him go"

It has been twenty-two and a half years since that phone call, but I don't think I will ever forget it. It is very true that hardship brings out a person's true character, and that "friend" I had kept in my life for two years suddenly revealed something to me that I had never even dreamed I'd hear. In fact, I learned a LOT about people and society and priorities and values in a very short amount of time. All because of something someone called a "mistake".

Ironically, I don't remember the date, and what's even more ironic--I don't even remember my own reaction to seeing the second pink line show up on that pregnancy test. I don't even remember Pete's reaction. I do remember that neither of us ever gave a second thought to what WE would do. I don't even think there was an "if" conversation. But for a couple of weeks, we hid a secret we knew we couldn't hide for long while we tried to get up the nerve to face it. What followed was a dizzying flurry of emotions, threats, insults, and guilt that broke our hearts far beyond what the immediate consequences could. The two lines on that little stick had more impact on the two of us than on anyone else, but both of us spent the first four months eaten up with regret over what our actions had done to everyone ELSE. What I realize now, all these years later, is that the reason *we* have a good life now has everything to do with us not listening to people who really had no vested interest whatsoever in our lives.

It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school. I had just turned 16. Pete had graduated, enlisted in the Army, and was ready to leave home, move on, and get his own life started. I'm not even sure my parents knew how "ready" I was to begin my own life, because I had kept to myself the fact that I had already begun the process of applying for appointment to the Air Force Academy. Pete and I really had no "plan" other than to go our separate ways. Yes, we cared for each other. Yes, we were teenagers and more than just a little reckless, but we were not stupid, as is often thought the case. Morality never really entered the thought process, but we were "careful". We'd been through all of the oh-so-informative sex ed classes at school. We knew the "risks", so we took "precautions".

We became statistics.

What I do remember of our reactions was that we somehow flipped a switch, going from planning out independent lives to having a life together immediately. There was never any other question. Both of us had enough of that traditional, moral training to know that there really only was one option. I think what shocked us was that there were so many around us who tried to convince us otherwise! Surprisingly (but maybe not so?), one was a Catholic priest. Pete was raised in the Catholic church, so when we started discussing plans of marriage, well, that became a MAJOR issue. To say the least, the Catholic church doesn't "play" well with other religious groups, and Pete was told by this priest that since the Catholic church would neither recognize a marriage with a non-Catholic or a child who was not raised according to the tenets of that faith, he should just "cut his losses" and leave us behind, that he had "no obligation" to me or the child God had blessed us with. He left the Catholic church instead.

The priest's comments probably bothered Pete much more than they did me, mostly because he lost all respect for the faith he'd been raised with in one fell swoop, but I won't say it didn't really hurt me to hear it. However, one comment has stuck in my mind and still hurts as much to this day as it did the day it crossed my ears. I remember I had been out of my regular classes at school for about two weeks (Our high school put pregnant students in a vo-tech program for teen moms at a different campus so we could "finish" our school year presumably without a hiccup. Yeah ... not so much. But that's another post entirely.) and Pete was preparing to leave for basic training, all while we were going through wedding planning and prenatal care. I'd had little contact with many of the friends I had become so close to in school, when out of the blue a fellow trumpet player (and someone I considered one of my "good" friends) called. He told me first that it was really bad that I wasn't there, since I was going to have been the section leader that year (yeah, thanks for that little zinger there), and that he missed goofing around in Algebra class with me. But then he said something that left me almost speechless, and all I remember doing was hanging up the phone. He said, "You know, Pete has a life, and you're better than this. Why don't you just have an abortion, let him go, and get on with your life?"

That really was, in all reality, the FIRST time that word had ever crossed my brain. An ABORTION??? Are you SERIOUS?? Kill someone, just because I want my "life" back?

Yeah, I know what pro-choicers think. They want to believe it's a "potential" person, not a real, live human being, just a blob of cells. Whatever. That's garbage. It's a made-up justification for people like this JERK who believe it is our right to decide who lives and dies based on whatever kind of life we want for ourselves so we can fix that "ooops!!!!" See, here's where I lose my political correctness. And my patience with "choice". Pete and I **DID** make a choice. We decided, at 16 and 18 years of age, that we had the right to do whatever we wanted to do, regardless of whether we were ready for that and regardless of whether it was even RIGHT. That was the CHOICE.

We dealt with consequences. Yes, we spent several years in near-poverty because it is VERY difficult to live on military pay--especially 22 years ago. Yes, things could have been much "easier" for us had we chosen a different route. I might be an Air Force officer like I'd planned. Pete might have been able to play for the high-falootin' military honor bands like he'd wanted to. We might be together, or we might not have ever seen each other again. Who's to know?


What I do know is that Pete and I have had a pretty good life, these last 23 years. We are proud of every single one of the children God blessed our family with, and we wouldn't trade a single one of them for an "easier" life. I also know that my jerk friend grew up to be a very bitter, cynical, mean-spirited man. He has no children--only cats. He's a professor of political history now. He has had what most would consider to be a pretty good life too. But I like mine better. I'm glad I didn't "just let him go live his life". I'm glad that God saved me from myself with the blessing of life Pete and I received through our choice to take liberties we should never have taken. Our son isn't a mistake. No child is ever a mistake. And the life I have now? It's better than any I could ever have dreamed up for myself as a 16-year-old.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Crash and Burn

I am not going to theorize as to why I know of so many brand-new homeschoolers this year, because theorizing always gets me into trouble. I will just say this: I know of more people who have made the decision to homeschool in the last twelve months than I have in the last twelve years. It is truly staggering, and thrilling all at the same time. Parents are taking back their rightful places as authority in their children's education, and that is a wonderful thing!

Ironically, I can see in these parents the same fears and concerns (as well as the excitement!) that I had all those years ago when we made the leap out of the public school system. I thought I had a pretty good support system, with a pen pal who was writing to me via snail-mail to encourage me. The only other homeschool family I met in "real life" back when we had just a kindergartner and third grader was one that REALLY shocked us--they were also the only family we had EVER met with seven children. That just seemed HUGE to me back then, and seeing their bookshelves just chock full of all of those beautifully arranged, crisp "designer" textbooks from one of the big-names in home education was just completely overwhelming. Oh, if I could only have seen a crystal ball and caught a glimpse of my future ... HAHAHAA!!!! Anyway, my point is just that I had what I *thought* at the time was good support. I have to try my best not to envy some of these new homeschoolers, with their ability to have a huge support base at their fingertips on the internet at a moment's notice, and to Google any and everything. OH to have all those resources ... I don't think I would have had near the issues we had those first two three six ten years.

Or would I?

Yeah, come to think of it, I probably would have. Because it's my nature to want to overstress anything and everything and go big. I wanted to make sure that my new homeschool recruits had only the best--the whole "school" experience PLUS the fun of doing all their work in their jammies. And I would have done exactly what I am seeing a lot of these new homeschool moms doing right now--just exactly what I did all those years ago--cried, wrung my hands, pulled out my hair, fought with them over what needed to get done, stressed over attendance, hours, days, whether the curriculum was right, whether I was dooming them to a life of failure and maybe even life in prison?

That was me. Fourteen years ago, I crashed and burned. Just like all these newbie moms who are doing exactly what I did. I shudder to think back to how long it really took me to "get it", to realize that what I was trying to do was duplicate something I had no possibility of duplicating. See, a classroom is a group of people, set up in a certain way, with a certain purpose, and a certain method to achieve that purpose. Learning in a classroom setting HAS to look different than learning in a home setting, because they ARE different. But yet there I was, taking my two children from that classroom setting, moving them into our dining room full of bookshelves and a desk (and the cutest little antique German hutch for school supplies that I could find ... I was so proud of that thing!), handing them textbooks and expecting a "homeschool" experience from recreating a classroom setting. Umm .... Have you ever attempted to make lasagna with spaghetti noodles? I'm sure it *can* be done, but you sure do have to do a lot of extra work to get to that point.

I'm going to pass on a little tidbit of advice to those new homeschool moms who are experiencing the crash and burn of those first few months (or even a year or two!):
Do you know what our "school" looks like now, now that the two public-school-yankout children have graduated and all of our "knowledge" of public school has disappeared from our home? I have three students right now who are absolutely enamored with learning of all sorts. They soak up information like sponges. They LOVE to read. They even "love" to do their math! Why?

I don't force anything anymore. Not. A. Thing. Seriously. It's not a battle between mom and the "class". It's not a showdown; there isn't a constant volley of "I don't know how to do this." "Did you read the directions?" "No. It won't help. I just don't know how to do it." "Once you read the directions, if you don't understand, I'll help you, but I want you to READ." "I can't read." ............... [long, pained silence as Mom attempts to avoid the "osmosis" method of learning]

So how did I get there? Bait and hook. And I really wish I had done it YEARS ago. In fact, I'll tell you exactly what I wish I had done back in September of 1998 when we began this journey.

If I had it to do over again, I would have ditched the "need" to invest more than we had available to us in "the best" homeschool curriculum (that ended up driving us all crazy before we'd even gotten a semester into it) and spent the ENTIRE first year doing three things--working on our relationships (that were remarkably fractured by some very damaging stuff they'd encountered at school) and regaining my (and my husband's) rightful place as their God-given authority INSTEAD of touting the whole home education gig as being "fun"; I would have found a basic math course to keep them working on math at grade level but not trying to work them up into the intense homeschool curricula that prides itself as being two grade levels ahead; I would have spent at least two hours a day reading TO them from real, engaging books instead of staggering along in literature and history textbooks, and then doing copywork from those books. I know now that this is sometimes referred to as "deschooling" (Dianne Brooks wrote the article I found on the subject about five years too late); getting the child out of the classroom mindset and allowing their mind time to reboot to a different operating system, so to speak.

My son had a VERY difficult second-grade year in public school. In one school, he was labeled as the problem child who couldn't sit still during music class and was kept off of the honor roll after making straight A's because his conduct grades were poor (the boy could NOT sit still). We moved halfway through that school year, and his new teacher decided that he had a brilliant mind, so he needed to be doing creative writing. Daily. It frustrated him to the point of tears. Daily. He had NOTHING to write about, and because he is a perfectionist by nature, if he couldn't do it to his own liking, he wouldn't do it at all. He was the one I had the toughest time with when we started homeschooling. We'd have good days, but they were few and far between. Most days, he fought me on EVERY turn.

Had I the opportunity to do it over again, I think I would have really benefited from the bait-and-hook technique I use now, but maybe I'd even be more drastic. I think with him I would have told him that he *could* do whatever he wished to do but that his math and any other seatwork *would* be done by dinnertime ... or else he would not eat. And that he would also be in the room (doing whatever it is he wanted to do) while I was reading to and working with his sister. He WOULD learn, but totally on his terms. Submit to Mom's authority, but learn at your own pace. See, here's where I learned something over the years. Learning doesn't have to be in the form of "Here, read this, then answer the questions at the end of the chapter". In fact, in some children--all of mine, in fact, learning does NOT happen that way. I think that was Jon's problem; I was trying to force-feed him something that HE needed to drink with a straw. I think what I do with my girls now would have worked very well with my son.

Several years ago, I found Sonlight and realized that it was my "dream come true". I wanted my children to love literature like I do, and Sonlight had all the good stuff, plus it had lesson plans already figured out for me--including science experiments! All I had to do was open the Instructor Guide and go. And that's what I do. I require all of the girls to be in the room when I'm reading to them, but I don't "require" them to be sitting in front of me, listening intently. I have one child who has to color. Another has to sit and see EVERY picture and stroke my arm while I read. And yet another who refuses to be part of anything I do. Ironically, it's the renegade who soaks up the most information. What I found out was that even though she doesn't want me to know about it, what I'm reading peaks her interest, and she goes back after I'm finished with the others, and spends her OWN time sitting and studying the books now that she already knows what I read. She is my most voracious reader, but not because I've forced it; quite the opposite--I've actually not even required her to be actively involved--but just sitting and listening in the background she can pick up a LOT. We talk about what I've read, and oftentimes even though she's "not listening", she can give me more information than any of the other girls.

The "rule" around here is no TV during public school hours (which they think end at 3 when the bus pulls up to our neighbor's house); but that unless I am reading to them or helping them with their math or other "grade level" work, they are free to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn't involve something electronic. You would be SHOCKED at what that means for them on most days. I have found them playing with math manipulatives, reading to their younger sisters, counting money, collecting bugs, writing letters or making cards for anyone and everyone they know, categorizing rocks, even "playing school". Is this "unschooling"? Well, maybe it is, I don't know. All I know is that my girls are known for being pretty smart cookies, so they must be learning something, right? These girls are in second grade and kindergarten; the time will come when they will need more focused studies. I have grand plans of using some very in-depth studies once they get to middle school and high school that will both fill their minds with that knowledge they crave AND train them to think and reason as educated people. But right now, I want them to LOVE learning. And that they do. They just don't know what "school" looks like. And right now, I'm okay with that.

**Edited for the Homeschooling Fridays link-up!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

My rags ARE my riches.

It has been a very emotional day. It's never what anyone would call "easy" having my husband gone, but for the second year in a row, he is gone for Valentine's Day/Jamie's birthday. When she was younger, this wouldn't have been a big deal, but now she is old enough to feel the absence and really miss having her dad around for the "big" days. All of that kind of came to a head about half an hour after she talked to her dad on the phone--I guess it made her realize 'for real' that he wasn't here and that he wouldn't be here tomorrow either. Whatever the reason, we had a meltdown that left us both in tears. Plus, I won't lie; I'm a hopeless romantic who is married to someone who is hopelessly un-romantic, and yeah ... I need to let go of the expectations, *especially* when he's out of the country for the one holiday of the year that celebrates romantic love. Let's just say I'm emotional today and get on with it, shall we? Thanks.

I have a nightly routine of de-stressing in a hot bath. I've done it for the last ... uh, almost seven and a half years. I don't need a whole bunch of "me time", I don't really enjoy "going out with the girls", I'm really just a homebody type who only needs a few minutes of peace, quiet, and steam mixed with bubbles to sit and, well, stew. Today, I **REALLY** needed it. So, after I'd finally calmed everyone down from the multitude of meltdowns, put everyone to bed, and fed the critters, I just left the dinner dishes sitting in the kitchen and retreated to my happy place. Grabbing a towel and the first washcloth I could dig out from under the cat that was asleep in the linen closet, I headed toward the bathtub and jumped into my steaming cauldron of  bubbles. Unfolding the washcloth to drape across my face, I realized that I had grabbed not a "plush", matches-the-towels washcloth, but rather a ten-for-five-bucks cheapo dishrag. Ooops. And it wasn't exactly what we would call "clean", either. Well, okay, clean? Yes, it had been washed. But definitely stained. Badly. See?

It's kind of every color in the rainbow. In fact, this was the rag I'd used several months ago to clean up the girls after they'd had a rather spirited paint-fight in the backyard while painting rainbows and pretty fall trees to hang on the refrigerator for decoration. And it's ROUGH on the face, I'll tell you that much. I should probably just throw it away, right?

Um, NO. In fact, after my time sitting and stewing in the tub tonight and having time to contemplate, meditate, ruminate, and pray, I have come to the conclusion that this very rag is going to be washed, dried, and put up in my closet with a note to myself to realize that the messes in my life are the very thing that MAKE my life. I was practically moved to tears with that rag up to my face tonight, realizing what those stains mean to me. In that messy rag I can see all the green my Shelby used to paint her green rainbow so her turtles felt at home. I see the little dots from Danica's brush and know that she doesn't like to water her paint down; she prefers to "dry" the brush off instead of rinse. I remember that Jamie made very little mess at all, because she was too busy making sure that everything was perfect to bother with the business of being messy. I notice all of the pink on the rag and remember how Morgan tried to paint her nails with it ... and failed miserably, with half of that paint winding up on her face. And when I look at the gray that seems to overtake the rag, I can remember very fondly how Kasey wanted to combine all of the colors to be more effective.

Those aren't stains; they're memories. Why would I *ever* want to throw that away? Why on earth would I want to trade in all of the bad days, that were still chock full of wonderful, messy memories, to replace them with pretty, clean, well-put-together "good" memories?

The "bad" portions of life aren't something we need to forget; they aren't stained rags that we need to hide from the world and toss in the trash because we are embarrassed by them. Those stains, those hard times, those sins that have been forgiven and washed clean are all what make us who we are. No, we shouldn't be "proud" of the stains and the messy portions of our lives, but we can certainly celebrate the masterpiece that was created while the mess was being made. If we can't do that, isn't our entire life just a worthless, dirty rag?

What a shame that would be.
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