Thursday, December 31, 2009

Odd Girl Out

My sister-in-law loaned me a book from her school counseling days: Odd Girl Out. It's about how girls are conditioned not to express anger or aggression openly -- and how relationships are innately so important to girls -- so, much of their anger is expressed in relational aggression. The silent treatment . . alliance-building . . I-won't-be-your-friend-anymore . . group ostracism . . social rejection and manipulation . . etc. etc. Relationship bullying. Girl-bullying.

Every girl has been a victim of it at some point -- and every girl has been a victimizer at some point, too, if we're honest about it. It's so prevalent that we often seem to just accept it as a fact of female reality rather than as the vicious, destructive behavior that it is. And it can really be devastating to some people -- personality-killing, spirit-squashing, soul-destroying.

Although, as I read this book, I'm thinking that we forget sometimes that such behavior isn't exclusive to women. I've had men in my life do the same things to me -- in a more "manly" fashion, but the same root behavior, and with the same results.

This is a fascinating book -- a bit depressing, but fascinating. I find myself wanting to talk about this with people, but I don't know who to talk to. I'm not sure who I have in my life right now that I feel comfortable sitting and divulging such deep-seated issues with. Makes you feel very vulnerable. And pitiable. And like you must be a tiresome person to have to deal with. All feelings that point back to the observations made in this book. Hmmm.

Well, maybe I'll have the guts to blog more about some of this later. My in-laws' house over the holidays doesn't seem to be the time or place. I wonder what would BE the suitable time or place for such indulgences . . .

Friday, December 25, 2009

Julotta Revelations

We're all so petty, you know?

I mean really, just such selfish little snits. The best of us have our moments when we act like children and should be ashamed. Especially at stressful times. And holidays always seem to get stressful.

This morning, I had a "moment" sitting waiting for Julotta service to begin at the Baptist church in Lindsborg. Don't know where it came from -- well, wait, yes I do know -- but I don't know why it came right then and not at another similarly appropriate time.

Suddenly, it hit me that it was just that selfish snittiness of ours that brought Jesus to earth, that gave him occasion to show his great love for us. That I could even celebrate the pettiness of humanity -- myself included -- when I realize it only gives God a greater vehicle to show us his greatness, his extravagant grace, his incomprehensible love.

Thank you, Jesus, for everything. I'll never deserve it, but I guess that's the whole point. :)

Merry Christmas, everyone. Let every heart prepare him room!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Caddie Woodlawn

How did I miss this book all these years? Since I started homeschooling, I've seen it on list after list of recommended reading for kids. This year, I found it on a list of books set in the Civil War time period that Leslie and I are studying in history, so I scheduled it into our reading. What a great book! I would have devoured this like milk-soaked Oreos when I was a girl.

However, it did set me to thinking (as I am wont to do, you know). Caddie is a lot like other young female historical characters my daughters -- and other young girls of their and my generations -- have fallen in love with. I'm thinking Felicity . . Laura Ingalls . . there are others not coming to mind right now. They live in time periods where women are valued for being dainty and lady-like -- and they don't like being lady-like. And the books celebrate their breaking that mold.

Not that I take issue with this at all. God made many kinds of girls/women and they should all be validated. But I'm trying to remember any books I read as a kid -- or that my girls read now -- that have a very traditional, dainty, lady-like main character and celebrate that.

I mean, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a girly girl. But they seem to always be portrayed as weak, or stupid, or shallow, or judgmental, or in some other way worthy of pity and scorn. That's not right. There are weak, stupid, shallow, judgmental "ladies" out there. There are also undisciplined, insensitive, rude tomboys out there -- but if children's literature portrayed all tomboys that way, we would cry stereotyping.

I just want girls to feel like they can be whatever kind of girl God designed them to be and not be scorned for it. We seem to have rightfully given the tomboy her dignity, but perhaps at the expense of her counterpart. Too bad.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sounds of the Season

One December, many years ago, Keith and I started trying to list every Christmas song we could think of. By Christmas Eve, I believe our number was in the eighties. That's a ridiculous catalog of music devoted to one holiday, if you think about it -- and we were limiting ourselves to songs that we felt confident were well-known to the general public. Never mind all the little cheesy tunes being written out there to beef up the annual Christmas cantata and make it feel more original.

The girls and I have been listening to the all-Christmas music station in the car. I was telling them about how when I was little, there was one station in town who would start sometime on Christmas Eve and play holiday music until midnight Christmas night. And they would publish their playlist in the paper so if there was a particular song you didn't want to miss, you knew what hour to tune in. But this 24-hour, 35-day binge . . . unheard of at the time.

I like Christmas music generally. But the thing about these 24-hour holiday music stations is that to fill that much time, they have to play a lot of crap, too. Seriously, has every recording artist on the planet done their own version of "Winter Wonderland"? And none of them very interesting or original--except for . . oh, shoot, what's her name? Grace something? Or is it Annie Lennox? The scary-looking rocker chick. You know who I mean.

I suppose if I would move into the new millenium, get an Ipod and learn how to use it, I could listen to the good stuff all the time and not be subject to K95 and the Music Choice channel's tastes. But then I'd have to figure out what to put on my Ipod. You know what would NOT be there? John Lennon's "So This Is Christmas". George Michael's "Last Christmas". Elvis' "Blue Christmas" -- oh, heavens, no. I know Elvis fans will crucify me, but the man sounds like a bad impersonation of himself in that song. Ugh.

What I would include? Trans-Siberian Orchestra's "Christmas Eve in Sarajevo". Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas". Barry Manilow's "Jingle Bells" (no lie -- check it out). A good instrumental version of "Sleigh Ride". The whole Nutcracker soundtrack (yes, former ballerina here). Some pretty version of "Silver Bells" -- I've always liked that song. The muppets singing "The Twelve Days of Christmas". Oh! -- and the Grinch song. No doubt.

But mainly, I want the old Christmas carols, sung by no-name folks who aren't all about the glory of their own voices. My favorite? "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." Best Christmas song ever. Big, soaring and glorious.

Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see.
Hail the incarnate deity!
Pleased as man with man to dwell--
Jesus, our Immanuel!

Mild, he lay his glory by
Born that man no more may die!
Born to raise the sons of earth!
Born to give them second birth!

The Symphony concert Keith and I went to last Saturday closed with that, and it was rapturous. If I could swim in that hymn for the next week and half, it would be the best Christmas ever.

Hark, the herald angels sing --
GLORY to the newborn King!!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Heart Will Choose to Say . . .

Our pesky desires . . that's where I left off in my last post.

So, is that Buddhist implying that desire is evil -- that we're supposed to get rid of all our desires? That we should stop wanting anything we don't have? Sounds a bit extreme. What about your desire for your family's safety? What about your desire for world peace . . or a just society . . or for the needy kid down the block to have a warm coat for the winter? Eliminating those desires will eliminate all motivation to do good.

Psalm 103 (one of my favorites) says that God satisfies the desires of our hearts with good things. If God chooses to act to satisfy those desires, then desire itself must not be evil. However, some of our desires are apparently evil -- James says we are "dragged away and enticed by our own evil desires." Hmmmm.....

So, how do we decide which desires to chuck and which to pursue? No simplistic churchy replies, please. It's just not that simple.

One time, a small group of women friends from our church in Springfield were getting together to pray about a particular issue in the church. It was a hot-button one, and none of us could honestly say we were neutral about it. We knew exactly what we wanted to happen. Our words were, "Your will be done" -- but we were quickly convicted of the fact that our hearts were hoping to rope God into doing our will. We all wrestled with our attitudes for quite a while before finally coming to a point where we could truly say we wanted whatever it was that God wanted -- even if it was the opposite of our desires.

I've discovered that, in many such times, when God doesn't seem to be making His will clear, it's because He knows there's no point. I mean, God doesn't speak to exercise His vocal cords -- He speaks to be heard and obeyed. And if He knows I have no real intention of hearing and obeying, He's not going to bother to speak. Maybe it's that frame of mind that steals away our peace. That's when our desires are evil.

Peace is freedom from want and fear, my president tells me.

What do I want? . . . I want to sleep, and sleep well. I have little peace in my life these days because my desire for that is so strong. This feels to me like a legitimate and "righteous" desire (there's even scripture to back me up -- Ps 127:2 -- God "grants sleep to those he loves"). But after months and months of His NOT satisfying that desire with any good thing, I'm left with questioning either the faithfulness of God or the righteousness of my desire.

But am I really neutral here? Am I willing to live like this for the rest of my life if that's what God wants for me? Would I willingly welcome the daily fog of fatigue if God has some purpose in it? Or will I continue to rage at the perceived injustice of it all? Perhaps the Buddhist is less wrong about the source of suffering than he is about the value of that suffering. Perhaps a faithful God is satisfying my desire with a good thing, but I'm stubbornly refusing to see the goodness in it.

I don't know if any of the rest of you understood that bit of rambling I just did, but I needed to do it. Pray for me to get there, friends. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

The Root of Suffering?

When I came downstairs this morning, Leslie had the TV turned on to Obama's Nobel Peace Prize speech. (I swore I wouldn't comment on the peace prize thing . . . but I just have to say that, although I have nothing against our president, I think that giving a man an award for what he says he wants to do -- not on what he has actually accomplished -- is pretty bogus. I'm just sayin'.)

The volume was turned down for some reason, so while I ate my Frosted Mini-Wheats, I watched President Obama's lips move and read the captions scrolling by under his head. One phrase that ran a couple times caught my eye and has resonated with me through the day . . .


Since I didn't hear the man actually talking, I don't know how accurate a representation this was of Obama's point. But the statement itself struck me as very accurate, at least on an individual level (on the international level -- well, that's above my pay grade).

What keeps us from feeling at peace with ourselves and our worlds are 1) we want stuff we can't have (a new car . . a perfect spouse . . an end to world hunger . . ) and 2) we think things are going to hurt us. And actually, when you look at it, number two comes from number one also; by hurting us, we mean they are going to take away something we want and/or think we need (our health . . our freedom . . our dignity . . ). So, essentially, lack of peace comes from not having our way in life, from not getting what we want.

This makes me think of Buddhism. As I understand it (and admittedly, my understanding is limited), one of the basic tenets of Buddhism is that desire is the root of suffering. If you don't want things that you can't have, you won't suffer -- you'll be at peace. True enough, as far as it goes, I guess. Just eliminate all your cravings, and your suffering will disappear. Simple as that. Right?

The question is how to get rid of all of those pesky desires. Hmmm. A topic for my next blog.....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Day

Winter weather is a fascinating thing in Iowa. It started snowing yesterday (maybe the day before? I don't remember now) -- not a heavy snowfall, just a light "drizzle" of snowflakes all day long and all night long. Only about seven inches or so of accumulation, we think. There may still be a little snow coming down; it's hard to tell because of the wind. 35-40 mph. It's whipping up the snow that has already fallen so much, I can't tell what's new and what's not.

And it's creating fascinating formations all around our house-on-the-hill. Keith went out right away when he got up to plow the snow away so he could get to work. The top of the driveway, right in front of the garage doors, was almost all blown clear by the wind. At the bottom of the driveway, however, the snow is drifted up to Keith's waist. He says as soon as he clears some of it away, it is immediately blown right back into place. He can't get out. No work for him today. (Luckily, his boss is in the same boat.)

The backyard is interesting, too. There are spots where you can see the grass peeping through. But the poor dog couldn't get to them when I took him out to pee this morning -- the drifts between the door and the grassy places were almost as tall as he is. He ended up just having to pee in the half-inch of snow on the patio. Ew.

The mutt freaked me out a little bit this morning. After he peed, I kept him out a little longer to see if he had more business to do. But soon, he started walking funny . . legs stiff and spread out. He stuck his nose in the deep snow and just kept it there. Weird. His legs started shaking.

I started taking him back in the house and had to practically drag him. He could hardly walk. Once in the door, he kept at it for about 30 more seconds, and then seemed to shake it off and be walking fine. So weird. He did the same thing the other day when he was walking with Eastin and I to the bus stop. I sent her on ahead and started back home with him, but by the time we reached our next-door neighbor's yard, he was back to normal again. I kind of assumed he was just trying to get out of walking in the snow so far -- he's quite the manipulator. But maybe something's wrong with him . . hmm....

The girls were thrilled last night to hear school was cancelled today. But I have to figure out what to do about Leslie. There's no reason she can't do her homeschool stuff today. And if she doesn't, she'll be behind and have to catch up in the next few days (which she won't like). But I hate to make her stay home and do school if every other kid in the neighborhood (including her sister) is out playing in the snow. When we were ONLY doing homeschool, it wasn't as much of a problem -- our schedule was easier to adjust for an occasional snowday. I'm still frustrated having to accommodate our lives around the school's schedule. I'm spoiled, I guess.

I suppose I'll let her have her snowday. She may as well enjoy the white stuff today. If this year is anything like last year, she'll be sick of it soon enough.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Nothin' Like a Muffin :)

" . . but made himself nothing . . " (Phil. 2)

I told you that the girls and I memorized this passage in homeschool. Occasionally, they would be eating their breakfast while we worked. On the morning we got to this particular line, Eastin looked at me quizzically and said, "Did you say he made himself a muffin??" Yes, honey -- blueberry. It's been a family joke with us ever since.

He made himself nothing. Frankly, that sounds like a rather unflattering commentary on humanity. He made himself one of us -- and apparently, we are nothing? One of the first rules of Bible study, however, is to let scripture interpret scripture; so, considering the value awarded to human beings in other passages (e.g. "crowned with glory and honor"), I don't think that's how we should read this.

This is where comes in handy with its access to a million different translations. The NAS says he "emptied himself", as does Young's Literal Translation. Amplified says, "stripped himself [of all privileges and rightful dignity]". The Contemporary English Version just says, "gave up everything".

Here's a cool one: the Wycliffe New Testament says, "he lowed himself [he meeked himself]". Meeked himself. I love that. Who uses "meek" as a verb? Apparently Mr. Wycliffe.

I was once taught an extensive lesson on the Biblical meaning of the word "meek". It's one of the fruits of the Spirit, meekness. And Jesus said the meek would inherit the earth. In our modern usage, we think of meek people as doormats. But the Biblical implication is actually one of confident strength -- one who is at peace enough with life, the world and himself that he doesn't have to have his way about things. He is able to be submissive; he can give up his rights and privileges for the sake of another.

The words able and can in that last sentence will disturb some people. Because they won't understand why anyone would ever choose to be submissive or give up their rights. These folks are usually very concerned about being free to do what they want. They are not meek. And they are not even really free.

Jesus was free -- he was not a slave to his status of equality with the God of the universe. He had the strength and confidence to be able to let go of that and trust the Father enough to become a human. He gave up everything. He made himself nothing.

Or maybe he just made himself a muffin. Humans get hungry, you know.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Something to be Grasped

Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. (Phil 2:5-7)

I don't think this is often used as a Christmas text, but it has come to my mind a lot lately. The girls and I memorized this whole passage together in homeschool. Verses 5 through 11 are a kind of original "Apostle's Creed" that early believers used to recite together when they were gathered to worship. We don't often do such mass recitals these days in our contemporary seeker-friendly worship services. I fear we've lost a sense of the value contained in this kind of exercise.

Anyway, this passage gives an excellent description of the event that we purport to be memorializing at Christmas: the choice of an infinite God to clothe himself in finiteness, to become one of us. I'm particularly struck by the phrase "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped". The Amplified says "eagerly grasped" and adds "or retained". The status and privileges of being the Almighty Creator of the universe weren't something he felt the need to cling to.

Can you imagine? I mean, if I were God, I would think I'd definitely prefer my comfortable divine-ness to the miserable, wretched state of us mortals. I'm still astonished at the whole concept of the Incarnation.

I remember an email that went around once with a story about a man, a skeptic whose family was all at Christmas Eve services while he sat at home, scoffing their belief in a God-become-man. Why would a God do such a thing? Then, he heard a strange noise coming from his attic and went upstairs to find a bird that had somehow managed to get in. It was frantically searching the room for a way out. The man opened a window, but the bird didn't recognize the available exit. He spent half an hour trying to shoo the bird to the open window to no avail. Finally, in desperation, he thought, "I wish I was a bird so I could tell him how to get out!"

And then it clicked.

Immanuel -- God with us. Forgive me if I get redundant, but I may be settling in around this "Immanuel" thing for a while. My Christmas meditations for 2009.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stepping Out of Survival Mode

I get the dog up every morning. And, of course, he has to pee immediately. This becomes a much more cumbersome chore when winter sets in, as it has done in the last 24 hours here in Iowa, and I find myself grumbling through the task more often than not.

I struck out the downstairs door this morning with him on the leash. I was well-bundled up, because I can't stand shivering outside while he sniffs around the yard for the perfect spot to deposit his business. But I quickly realized that my slip-ons were probably not the best protection for my feet because there was more snow on the ground.

And more snow falling. It was still dark, and it was markedly still. The house on the other end of the "valley" behind our backyard had its Christmas lights on -- a simple white cross lying in the middle of their expanse of property, as if placed there just for our viewing on this side. The few street lights on the road to the left were enough to highlight the tiny flakes still coming down.

It was beautiful. So, so beautiful.

And for a moment it made me sad to realize how few moments there are in my life these days of just standing still and appreciating beauty. The beauty of anything. For far too long now, I feel like I've been operating in what I call "survival mode". Just praying for the energy and grace and wherewithal to get through whatever's next -- the next school week, the next busy weekend, the next groggy day after a sleepless night . . it's always something.

Someone warned me early in my parenting career to not spend my parenting days waiting anxiously for the next stage in my kids' lives when I think things will be easier. Nothing gets easier, just different -- and you need to enjoy each stage while you're in it. I've tried to do that, for the most part. But I kind of feel like I've fallen into the trap of living-for-the-thing-that's-still-to-come on a "micro" level, day to day. Survival mode. I don't want to live here.

I keep blaming it on my sleep problems. Or on teenagerhood (not mine). Or on, well, a whole host of other things. But maybe it's just my own lousy mental habits. Sigh.

Anyway, for a moment this morning, the world was beautiful. Then the dog finished pooping and life went on.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thursday, 5pm

- Eastin: Eastin is playing on the Wii. Some air hockey game, I believe. Am I kidding myself to think that playing the Wii is better than watching the Disney Channel or surfing the web? We just recently set down new limits on the girls' TV and computer time, but didn't limit the Wii time -- and they've been playing out the wazoo. Hmmm.

- Leslie: Leslie is practicing piano. This is the last of her schoolwork for the day. She doesn't normally do school until 5, but she's essentially getting off school entirely tomorrow. She has P.E. in the afternoon, and a woman called to ask if Leslie could babysit her son in the morning. I couldn't say no. But I did say her schoolwork had to be done ahead of time.

- Keith: Keith is still at work. He's usually home 6 or 6:30-ish. He's having a rough week; he has to go through this public speaking training that is making him crazy--mainly, I think, because it keeps him from getting any other work done.

- Tagger: Lying in his chair. Licking himself, at the moment. He got kicked out of his chair while family was here Thanksgiving weekend and he was a sight. Wandered around the house like a lost soul. Not until Sunday afternoon did he seem to accept the idea of lying on his cushion where we put it on the floor. We debated leaving it there, seeing if he would just give up the chair altogether. But poor dog, he's an old coot, you know. Those old bones have to feel more comfortable in a soft easy chair. We're suckers.

- The House: The house is almost all decorated for Christmas. Just the manger scenes and the tree left to do. Last night, I got out the box of all the little felt elves my mother made one year. I've had them for a long time and never put them out, because I wasn't sure what exactly to do with them. But I found a spot: they are hugging the metal posts going up our curving staircase. I think they look adorable. Nobody in the family has even commented on them yet. We'll see how long it takes before they notice them.....

- The Kitchen: The kitchen is smelling like caramel corn -- just pulled another batch out of the oven. Leslie and I made a list yesterday of all the people we will want to give a bag to this year. The total was over 40 bags. I need to find a wholesaler for brown sugar. Tomorrow, someone's supposed to be coming to fix the dishwasher that quit washing the dishes on the top rack. They'll be here sometime between 1 and 5. Wish I could live my life on that kind of schedule. Actually, wait -- I kinda do already.

- The Yard: Outside is white. Light snow flurries have been falling all day. Nothing like snow on the ground to make it feel like Christmastime! And the white lights Keith spent hours winding around all the evergreen trees on our property will look great reflecting off of the snow. But I already lost one of the two big red bows I put out front. Less than 24 hours, it took. That's what we get for living on a windy hill. (But then, we didn't have to rake any leaves.)

- Me: I'm blogging. Duh. On my new laptop. We got another one because the first family laptop (now the girls' laptop) is being held together by duct tape. They don't get to touch this one. All mine.

So, I just spent the last 5 minutes re-reading this post and trying to come up with a clever way to wrap it up. And I've decided that was a waste of my time. For heaven's sake, it's a boring post. It deserves a boring closing. So, there you go. I'm done. Create your own wisdom from all this.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Deficit?

My eldest read an article about ADD the other day, and now she thinks she is afflicted with said disorder. I looked at the list of "Signs You May Have It" from the article: You have trouble concentrating, and are easily distracted or bored. You don't pay attention to details, make a lot of careless mistakes. You often forget assignments, books, papers. You have trouble finishing work. You may seem spacey or daydream a lot. Well, yes, I have to say that sounds like her.

But then, doesn't it sound like most kids? And even a significant number of adults? These could be signs of "Attention Deficit" -- they could also be signs of laziness and/or not caring much about the task one is engaged in. I realize that many kids with ADD are falsely accused of just that, which is a genuine injustice. But I don't doubt that there are also lazy, undisciplined folks out there using the label as an excuse for slopping through life.

And then, how much of this "disorder" is simply a different way of mentally approaching the world? The "right-brainedness" that I describe Leslie as having? Our society is a left-brained one, which is why we drug our ADD square pegs to make them fit into the round holes of our classrooms. How much of the creativity and insight that God has gifted our children with are we medicating right out of them?

Many years ago, a friend told me that I seem to be an "Initiator", that I'm good at starting things up (she was referring, at the time, to our church's drama ministry). She said that she was not an initiator at all; she was a "Maintainer". She could take over what's been initiated and do the maintenance and tweaking to keep it going long-term. Only in recent years have I realized what a lousy maintainer I am. And how not a lot of people are good initiators.

I decided then that I need to stop looking at myself in terms of what I can't do ("I can't keep up with a long-term activity I've started.") and start looking at myself in terms of what I can do ("I can think through and start up a great program -- for someone else to step in and maintain.") I need to stop thinking of myself as having a deficit and start thinking of myself as having a gift.

"Attention Deficit Disorder" is an unfortunate label. I'm not convinced that there is a deficit involved at all. Maybe it's the rest of us who have the deficit -- we just don't know enough about what we're missing to value it and miss it.

That said, there are also times when people just need to figure out how to buck up and make themselves get the work done whether they like what they're doing or not. Life is not a barrel of monkeys.

I find this topic fascinating. I'm sure there are many of you out there with direct experience with this subject; any input and insight from my faithful readers would be appreciated.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Issues with the Giving Tree

At school registration in August, I signed up for the PTA holiday decorating committee, mainly because it was chaired by Pam, my neighbor, who I know is very organized and so I assumed the project would be relatively stress-free.

She called a week or so ago to ask me to set up the "Giving Tree" today in the school lobby. (I have another mom helping, but I haven't met her yet -- she'll be there at 4:00, I hope.) Leslie's school in Jersey had a Giving Tree. There were tags on it with gift requests for needy children. You bought the gift, wrapped it, put the tag on it and returned it to the school to be delivered to the child later. A worthy activity, I thought.

This is different. The tags on this tree have gifts suggestions for the teachers in the school. They were each asked to make a wish list of 12 items, and I listed each item on a gift tag to hang on the tree.

I am so uncomfortable with this project, and I can't quite pinpoint why. From the beginning, when Pam was describing the whole thing on the phone, I felt anxiety creeping up in me. For some reason, I just couldn't quite picture what this was supposed to be and what she was wanting from me. I don't know if I was just suffering some temporary stupidity that day or if she was not explaining clearly. I think I've got the idea now, but I'm still a little nervous that I'm going to miss something important here. Why? I dunno . .

But more than that, I found myself getting annoyed while I was filling out these gift tags with the teachers' requests -- and again, I can't pinpoint why. I have no problem with kids being encouraged to show appreciation to their teachers. All their gift requests seemed to be for things to use in the classroom. And I can certainly see how the teachers would like being able to let people know what they would genuinely like for Christmas gifts -- rather than getting the usual cheesy things teachers seem to get every year.

I don't know what my issue is. Maybe the somewhat extravagant gifts some of the teachers had on their list (a special stapler with colored staples? Really?). Maybe it's that my taxes should already be paying for the teachers' classroom needs. Maybe it's that I did fine teaching my kids at home without such items. Maybe it's that I want kids to think beyond their immediate world to others with genuine needs. (I remember that it wasn't until we started homeschooling that Leslie met a child who didn't get everything they asked for on their Christmas list. ) Maybe it's that feeling of holiday obligation again . . . that my gift to the teacher isn't just a thoughtful gesture of gratitude anymore, but an assumed expectation . . . that the thought isn't what counts now. The girls and I have made it a tradition to give bags of homemade caramel popcorn to their various teachers for Christmas -- but will Mr. Dickman really appreciate that when he's publicly made it known that he wants a "Zenergy Trio Chime" from the teacher store? Will we just look cheap and selfish?

Whatever. These seem to be my issues, so I'll try to let go of it. I'll set up the tree this afternoon. But I do wish I could have more joy in this.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bringing Thoughts Captive

A brief lesson about emotions. Stuff I learned in grad school. (Or at least during grad school -- my professors may not have been the actual source of this knowledge.)

Our emotions are almost completely physical responses. They are our bodies' reactions to the thoughts we think. We think a thought, and our bodies respond. Consider sadness. What do we physically feel when we are sad? Heaviness, sluggishness. Our bodies slow down all their major processes to force us to take the time to deal with the loss our brains are registering -- because sadness is always a reaction to some kind of loss.

Similarly, anger is the fight end of the fight-or-flight response. It is our bodies' reaction to a threat. Something is challenging our sense of security, in some way, and we gear up to fight it. Heart rate increases, muscles tense, senses and mental energy become focused on the object of concern -- anger is primarily physical. And like many physical responses, it is automatic. It's difficult to stop once triggered.

The key, then, is to eliminate the trigger. Not the person or the event -- we rarely have that kind of control over our circumstances. I mean, change the thoughts that start the physical response. Because truth be told, much of the stuff we get angry about is not actually any legitimate threat to us.

In Springfield, I worked with a friend named Belinda -- a black woman living in a rather racially-charged part of the country. She had many stories of the prejudice she and her family and friends had encountered over the years, stories that made my blood boil. I asked her once how she was able to deal with it all with such calm. Her answer was illuminating.

"I'm a child of God. I know who I am. What they think I am doesn't change who I really am."

In other words, their hatred wasn't a threat to her. The fight response didn't have a trigger.

I was reminded of all this last night during a discussion in our small group. And furthermore, I was convicted of my failure to put this knowledge into practice in my relationship with my daughter. The dangers of being too intellectual . . . a stockpile of knowledge is useless if it is not applied.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


She's the mother of Elisha, one of Eastin's new good friends in the neighborhood. She lives down the street, and she's the one who told me about this dance class I go to. We carpool there, and as we drive, she fascinates me with stories of growing up in Communist Albania. I'll have to share some of those someday (and her reasons for fearing government-run healthcare).

She's also a charismatic Christian. I haven't been around many charismatics for a while, and I've decided that it's good for me to court their company. Even though I have some theological disagreements with them, they challenge me in the best ways.

Mirela was telling me last night about her latest faith adventure. They're apparently doing some kind of financial campaign at her church for which they were asking for monthly pledges. She said her first thought was to pledge $20 (this would be from her own small personal income -- her husband doesn't attend church with her). But then she decided that there was no faith involved in a pledge like that -- $20 was not much of a stretch for her.

So she wrote $100. And the thing is, she apparently wrote this amount without any concern for where this money was going to come from, but rather with excited anticipation to see how God was going to get it to her.

In October, one of her friends who sends her small computer drafting projects occasionally (one of the little jobs she does to supplement family income) sent her a biggie -- big enough that her earnings easily covered her $100 pledge.

In November, a company for whom she does translating jobs -- and who, again, usually sends her small $15 jobs -- sent her a huge translation they needed. $330 she got for that one. Her monthly pledge was covered again.

Then the other day, she got a call from the census bureau, where she put an application in many, many months ago. They wanted to hire her to work in their nearby office -- starting next Monday. Just in time to cover her $100 for December.

Let me have risk-takers around me. Just as a practical matter . . . I wrote earlier. I didn't necessarily mean that to be a prayer request -- but it seems God graciously took it as such.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I remember a student presentation I heard in grad school about 12-step programs and the spiritual component in them. Someone asked the professor, "Aren't these people just trading one dependency for another?" The professor stroked his scholarly beard and sagely announced, "Well, not all dependencies are equal." True dat, I thought.

Perhaps he wasn't as wise as I believed at the time. I'm starting to think a dependency is a dependency is a dependency. An addiction is an addiction no matter how benign the object.

Case in point: I'm addicted to puzzles. Seriously. I just discovered a game on my laptop: spider solitaire. And suddenly I can't stop playing it. I've promised myself every day this week that I wouldn't even look at it -- and yet I've played over 70 games of spider solitaire in the past few days. Pathetic.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. I have a history of getting hooked on such games. Solitaire, mah jongg, game cube, sudoku, Rubik's cube -- if it's a puzzle that I can possibly find the solution for, I'll do it . . over and over and over . . .

Another: jigsaw puzzles. There's one on my dining room table right now that has been laying there since the beginning of the summer. No, it hasn't taken me that long to complete it. I've probably completed it a hundred times or more in the last five months. In fact, just last week I did it upside-down -- as in, no picture showing. That's right. I'm a junkie.

Once again, I find myself a fascinating psychological study. There's something soothing to me about these games. Each puzzle has a solution -- a solution that I already know or can easily find. So unlike real life. During a particularly stressful time a few years ago, my pastor asked me how I was coping, what I was doing to take care of myself. Well, I was doing jigsaw puzzles. The same ones, over and over and over again. Better than drinking my woes away, right? (I'm starting to think it was the grace of God that kept me away from alcohol when I was a teenager -- Lord knows where I'd be now.)

But even if puzzles are significantly less harmful than, say, cocaine . . the fact is they are an addiction and they interfere with my life. When I think of all the stuff I could be getting done while I'm stacking virtual playing cards on my laptop, guilt consumes me. (It's a considerable list -- Keith could detail it for you.) More than that, I'm sure God has another healthier way He intends for me to soothe whatever anxieties I'm dealing with -- and I'm sure his method is better than mine in countless ways.

Gotta wonder what I'm missing. I mean, what could be better than spider solitaire?

Drama Team on my Mind

Once again, I need to write out some things on my mind . . . if you're not that interested in my brain farts, skim and move on. :)

So, I guess I'm in on this Sunnybrook drama business. I'm officially a member of the "Creative Team" now, that meets every other Thursday to plan the creative aspects of the worship service. And I was now asked to be in a group planning an "open audition" for the drama team in January.

There is, unfortunately, some tension amidst all the powers-that-be concerning the drama ministry. Apparently, the purpose of this open audition is to beef up the team, get more good people. But I fear there are those who suspect that the real purpose is to eliminate some people from the team. Personally, I hope that what it ultimately is used for is to organize the team.

This is all bringing to my mind conversations I had with Marilyn, the music minister at Hope (our church in NJ). Hope and Sunnybrook have very similar music programs -- a handful of worship bands that rotate and play contemporary music. But Marilyn was always adamant that we still needed to have a choir. They didn't sit in a loft or sing every Sunday. But she insisted that it was important to have an "entry-level" place for people to participate in the music ministry who had a passion for doing so but didn't have the skill level to be in a worship band.

I pondered that concept many times. I kept wondering how we could make a similar "entry-level" place for people to participate in the drama ministry. The Sunday morning sketches are akin to a worship band -- high exposure, requiring a high level of skill. You need good actors doing those. But there are many people who love drama and want to participate who aren't up to that skill level. I wanted a place for them.

I'm wondering if Sunnybrook doesn't have such a place ready-made in its Sunday morning kids' program. Every class in "KidZone", as they call it, has a drama each week. That's three or four different "skits" happening every Sunday morning in there. The expectations are much lower, the presentations are much simpler -- actually, in a way, it's a different skill set required to work in there. You need excellent storytelling skills and ad-libbing skills (you never know what's going to happen in a class of 6-year-olds).

I would love to see our whole drama team organized into subgroups: say, the Worship Players, whose focus is the Sunday morning sketches . . the KidZone Players, whose focus is the KidZone dramas . . a Tech Crew, who deals with sets, props, lighting, etc (cuz Sunnybrook does more of that) . . and then maybe a Corps Team, who can't make the time commitment to be on any of the other teams but want to be able to participate when they're available and a role comes up that fits them. There can be overlap -- Kidzone folks can be in Worship sketches sometimes, and vice versa -- but there will be more focus, and everyone will have a better idea of what their expectations are.

Now, how to do this without making people feel that they're being demoted somehow (like in school reading groups -- the bluebirds always feel inferior to the cardinals). Because it really isn't a demotion. And how to present this idea to the powers-that-be without giving the impression I'm trying to take over here . . .

If it's even a good idea at all . . . my brain just runs amok sometimes, you know . . .

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Holidays -- Again

I started the very beginnings of Christmas shopping today. This is early for me -- I usually resist thinking too much about the holidays until closer to Thanksgiving, on principle. But I thought that maybe getting some of this stuff done earlier might head off my annual bout of Scrooginess.

Surprise, surprise. The woman who rolled her eyes at "When You Wish Upon a Star" gets a bit Scroogey at Christmas.

It's not that I don't like Christmas. I do. It used to be my favorite time of year, and it may still be. But as time went on, and kids came around and grew older, and so on and so forth . . . it started to feel more and more like a season of obligations.

I got to the point several years ago where I typed up a checklist to print for myself every year so I could keep track of all the things I had to get done before December 25th. Being me, I organized the list -- family traditions, things to do for their spiritual significance, things to do to connect with others, extra stuff that's just for fun. About 75% of the items on the list fell into the "Connecting with Others" category: cards, gifts, social events, traveling, etc. And that's just not right.

Are you gasping in astonishment? No, I'm not a cold ogre. I recognize the value and importance of connecting with others. And Christmas has always been the time of year to do that. "After all," you may be saying, "Christmas is about family . . and children . . and loving each other."

And there's where I disagree.

Christmas is NOT about family. Or children. Our culture has made it about family and children because it has to avoid talking about what it's really about in order not to offend anyone. Family is important. Children are important. But they are absolutely NOT what Christmas is about. Sometimes the way we put these things on a pedestal gets dangerously close to idolatry, I fear.

Christmas is a day of deep spiritual significance, and for all of our fuss about "keeping Christ in Christmas", we've lost much sense of that. Yeah, we read Luke 2 before we rip open the presents. We go to the Christmas pageants at church and bring sugar cookies to share. We listen to the old carols intermingled with Rudolf and Frosty. But most of the time, it is a superficial nod to the Christ of Christmas. Only, perhaps, in a brief moment of atypical peacefulness in the month of December do we really have a chance to think about and meditate on and revel in and rejoice over the concept of Emmanuel -- God with us.

It's a breath-taking idea, really. And the fact that we short-change it for the tinsel and goodies and hurried "Season's Greetings" is to our shame.

I whine about this every year -- to myself at least. I think it's time I did something about it. Maybe writing about it here will hold me accountable. Here's my first step: I have heard of people (friends of friends) who have stopped sending out Christmas cards or letters; they do it on another holiday. Keep the connecting ritual -- don't let it interfere with Christmas. Maybe I'll send out Thanksgiving letters this year.

It's a start anyway.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Make 'Em Wonder

Homeschool P.E. was at a gymnastics center today. Eastin was off school and she was THRILLED to be able to go and see her homeschool friends. As usual, the moms all sat at the side, watching and visiting with each other. I wonder sometimes if we should be better about participating in P.E. with our kids -- I mean, we all could use some physical activity. On the other hand, we all also could desperately use a break from our kids and some social time with other moms.

Anyway, a couple moms got to talking about certain members of their family who were unbelievers and the frustration they feel in dealing with them. How they just can't understand their thinking. How they don't seem to respond to reason or want to consider the opposing point of view. How they have other family members who are not strong in their faith or even open skeptics, but at least they go to church so they can live with that. Yada yada . .

I nodded and tried to look sympathetic. But I wasn't comfortable with the tone of the conversation. I found myself wondering more at my friends than at their unbelieving family members. Are such doubts really so incomprehensible to them? Have they never questioned the tenets of their faith? Is this the way they always interact with unbelievers? And just how many unbelievers do they interact with? Do they really think these loved ones' eternal destiny is dependent on their coming up with the perfect, foolproof argument for the faith? I may be inaccurately interpreting their hearts here, but this is certainly how it sounded.

I have questioned the tenets of my faith. Frequently and deeply. I thoroughly sympathize with the skeptic. But more than that, I realize that while it is important to be able to answer the skeptic's questions, there is usually more behind their rejection of the faith than unanswered questions. Even if there were a perfect, foolproof argument for the faith, there would be those that reject it. Their position has more to do with the condition of their heart than that of their intellect.

I wanted so much to tell my friends, "Look. Stop talking at them when they obviously don't want to listen. That does no good and much harm. Love them. Effusively and unconditionally. Give them a concrete picture of the God who didn't wait until they got their doctrine and their behavior right to give His life for them.

"And then focus your attention on your own walk with God. Stop asking them questions about their belief system; give them a reason to want to ask you about yours. Make sure your spiritual life is something to be envied, not something to be scorned."

I know when I went through my pits of doubt, the only thing that kept me even searching for some kernel of truth in Christianity was the memory of a handful of people I have known in my life. People who honestly staked everything on their beliefs -- and it worked for them. Their lives were their testimony more than their words. I couldn't argue the fact that they had something I wanted.

I did kind of try to say this stuff, but I felt like I was just talking at them. Like they weren't up to hearing it. Or maybe they were just in give-me-sympathy mode -- don't fix my problems, just agree with me about how awful my problems are. I've been there. It's a woman thing.

Once again, it saddens me how lousy a job we believers do of "glorifying God" in our world. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples -- if you bug them about their messed-up theology every time you see them . . . if you manipulate them to get them into church every Sunday whether or not they want to be there . . . if you look at them with a mixture of pity and disdain whenever they express some unBiblical idea . . . "

No, I don't think that's what Jesus said . . .

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Because Some of You May Be Wondering . . .

The play went very well last night. Dress rehearsal was dreadful, but that's why you have dress rehearsals, I suppose. No major flub-ups, almost everyone could be heard (one of my biggest concerns), and the message of the story seemed to resonate with everyone. And most importantly, all the kids seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves and feel a sense of accomplishment. As did I!

Now on to my next script . . Pilgrim's Progress, for the older kids . . .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Taking Risks

My favorite writer, Andree Seu, is convicting me again. (There's actually supposed to be an accent mark over the first e in her name, but I can't figure out how to make that happen here. If anyone can fill me in, please do!) I used a quote from her blog as my Facebook status the other day, just to keep it in my face. "It is normal for a tree to have fruit. If it doesn't, something is wrong with the tree and we need to get to the root of it." I find myself all too often satisfied with a less-than-fruitful daily existence -- and I need to not settle for that.

Yesterday I got caught up on reading some of my World magazines, where she has a regular column (this is where I was first introduced to her). And once again, she was the voice of God to me.

Let me have risk-takers around me. Just as a practical matter. Let me have Christians who try things that fail, and then try something else. Introduce me to someone who parks near handicapped parking at McDonalds and waits for someone to come along who might need prayer. Send me a friend who would rather make a fool of himself obeying what he is 80 percent sure the Word commands than play it safe, or who supports missionaries beyond his means. I want to hang out with a woman who snaps to the voice of the Spirit, rather than mind-screwing it till it subsides. Or who puts her full weight on the promises of God and doesn't get so mired in theological discussion of "context" that the promise is whittled to nothing.

I wrote about this before, earlier in the year. About how few of us believers can effectively share our stories with the world -- not because we're weak communicators, but because we're weak believers and have no stories to share.

We rob each other. How do we rob each other? By not risking anything all day long, so that we give no room to God for the glorious testimonies He is waiting to hand us . . God is glorified in the demonstration of the difference between our natural ability and His miraculous power.

In other words, if I never venture out to try something that is beyond my natural ability to do, there is little opportunity for God to show his supernatural ability in my life. Scary.

For me, the scary part of this is deciding what risks God wants me to take. There is sometimes a fine line, it seems, between stepping out on faith and just being an idiot. Between anticipating that God will work a miracle through me to accomplish His will and expecting presumptiously that God will work a miracle to accomplish MY will.

"We would accomplish a lot more things if we didn't believe they were impossible" -- I quoted that in an earlier blog, too. God can accomplish the impossible -- but only God can accomplish the impossible. I need to be sure that the risks I choose to take are a part of His plan. Right?

This subject has been coming up too regularly for me to ignore it. What to do about it, I'm not sure yet . . .

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Director's Lament

At our small group last night, I asked for prayer for the homeschool drama performance next week. Actually, I asked for prayer mostly for me to let go of it and stop stressing. (Although I'm much less stressed after our extra rehearsal yesterday--it was the best we've had yet.)

Keith asked on the way home if I'm worried about this play mainly for my own reputation and glory. And I had to admit that yes, that's a part of it. This is the first drama anything that I've done for these people, the homeschoolers -- and you know what they say about first impressions. It's also the first full play I've ever written and directed -- much more invested in this than in the skits I've done for Sunday morning worship.

But frankly, I think the moms involved in the show have already made up their mind positively about me and the experience, no matter what happens Tuesday night. I've been hearing so much gratitude from them all along the way that I don't expect them to turn on me if the performance somehow turns out to be a flop.

I'll tell you who will turn on me if it's a flop: ME. This was a big step beyond what I've ever done before. I've been struggling all along with whether I bit off more than I could chew. And truth be told, in my imagination I can see myself doing bigger things than this. So, to find that a small, low-cost, low-expectation kid's play was more than I could handle would be very disappointing to me.

In addition, I'm finding the director role to be much more scary than I thought. I'm quickly coming to the point where this show is out of my hands. Where I've done all I can do and it's entirely up to the actors now to make it happen. It's out of my control. Shiver. One of my least favorite sentences in the English language.

So many people have put so much time and energy into this show, it would be such a shame for it not to go well. And if it doesn't . . well, I'm the director. The buck stops here.

But it's not going to flop. It's going to be fine. We have lots of sweet children in cute costumes. Even if they screw up all of the lines in my brilliantly written and insightful script, they will have had a good experience overall. And everyone will think they're cute. Cute is enough in a kids' show.

Nevertheless, I'm still hoping for better than cute.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My Daughter and Her Quiverful

I took my eldest clothes-shopping yesterday. This can actually be fun when you're shopping for someone who looks good in just about everything she puts on.

In the course of our conversation, she happened to mention that she intends to have seven children. Seven. Of course, they will all be adopted (childbirth is too painful, you know), so she has the genders and spacing and names all figured out. Four girls and three boys. The oldest will be a girl with my names for her middle names. How sweet.

Now, I realize that she's only 13 and her plans will change multiple times before they come to fruition (she's already reconsidering some of her name choices). But the thing is, I can see her having seven children. It really doesn't surprise me at all. And I don't have any issues with people having big families. If God has called her to mother seven children, and her husband to father the same, then more power to them.

The problem is . . . I'm not sure I feel called to grandmother seven children -- at least not seven from one daughter. Does anyone who knows me see me babysitting seven kids for a weekend while the parents take some time away? Assuming my other daughter is blessed with a couple of her own, that's quite a brood we're talking here.

Unfortunately, it won't matter if I feel "called" to the task or not. The situation will be plopped in my lap and I will have to deal with it. I know, I know . . I will take some cheese with my whine, thank you very much. People have dealt with much worse lap-ploppings than a flock of beloved grandchildren. When they actually come around, I'm sure I'll consider them each a precious blessing from God. But right now, it makes my head spin.

I need to get over this idea that I should get to choose the challenges I face in life. I gotta stop feeling so mistreated and misused when God allows "weeds" to flourish in my well-planned and well-manicured garden. One person's weed is another person's rose. Exposure to viruses builds up our immune system and makes us stronger. And God knows better than I do where my immune system is weak.

Of course, her husband could put a damper on those plans . . . yeah, that's the ticket. I'll just steer her away from the boys in these big families we know . . .

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Little Bit of Randomness

* We had Kelsey Crews here for the weekend plus two days. She's a friend from NJ -- one of the girls' favorite babysitters -- who is a Freshman at University of Nebraska this fall. What a sweetie! Gives me hope for the future of this generation to know there are actually kids like that out there. We got to talking about how awful middle school is -- and she said she was an outcast kid in middle school that got teased a lot -- and we talked about how God probably used that to make her who she is today. Rather encouraging.

* Leslie and Eastin both got B's on their most recent science tests. Tests they were stressing about. There was much rejoicing!

* Going to the "Creative Team" meeting at Sunnybrook tomorrow, just to observe and see how the group works. Still figuring out what I need to do about the drama team. I'm hoping I have opportunity tomorrow to sit down and talk to the guy about my hesitations -- I think that will be a good discussion to have.

* Keith is coming home tonight and will be home for four days straight. And there was much rejoicing! Really, his business traveling has gotten out of hand lately. I hope it calms down soon.

* We had rehearsal yesterday for the homeschool drama thing. Of my 12 dancing princesses, 6 were home with the flu. Sigh. We're scheduling an extra rehearsal for them, but that still gives us only three rehearsals left. My co-conspirator in this endeavor told me yesterday that this production is already better than the last one someone did with the homeschoolers. I suppose that's good to hear . . . but it makes me glad I had nothing to do with that last one!

* Eastin's going to be Wonder Woman for Halloween. Anyone who knows her is saying, "Perfect!" Leslie wants to be a hula girl -- we just can't find the hula skirt . . .

* I hate Halloween. Candy (cavities and hyperactivity) and costumes (?!? I'm lucky to dress myself in the mornings . . ). And rude unknown children ringing our doorbell all evening freaking out the dog. Ugh.

* I've got to get a schedule down for blogging. I need to do the writing -- it feeds me, in a way. But life is getting busier all the time and I don't just find the free time to sit and write anymore.

* I love fall. Cooler weather. Colorful leaves.

* Did I mention I hate Halloween?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The One-Year Mark

It's October 13th, 2009. October 13th, 2008, was a cold, rainy day. I remember that because it was the day the movers arrived at our new house here in Sioux City to unload our stuff.

This means we've been living in Sioux City for a year now. Hmmm. I'm trying to decide if it feels like we've been here a year. Yes, I think it does. A long, eventful, often busy, sometimes difficult year. Thankfully, we're all "in a better place" (figuratively speaking) than we were on October 13th, 2008.

We're settled in our house. The last little bits of unpacking and settling in that have yet to be finished are more of the nature of those kinds of things that seem to hang around being undone for years when you own a house. When we're out of town for a while, we find ourselves longing to be back home -- and this is home.

We have friends. No, not the really close intimate friends that we left behind and still long for, but when I remember where we were on October 13th, 2008, I have to feel grateful. My girls have kids they can call to play with at most anytime. I have time occasionally with women that I have things in common with and can enjoy. Keith -- well, he has as many friends here as he's had anywhere for the last 15-20 years, I suppose. :)

Personally, I feel like I've found more . . I dunno . . purpose for my life here lately? I'm one of those people who is always involved in a million things (more than I should be, usually), and the first several months after a move is always a difficult one for me. I feel directionless, purposeless, useless. Yes, I'm always parenting and homeschooling, but I kind of need another outlet for myself, too. The homeschool drama and church drama stuff has helped a lot there.

So, I feel officially like an Iowan now. Well, no, I can't honestly say that. But I feel like we've officially left New Jersey. Like a lengthy season of mourning is coming to a close. I still miss people and things there. But we're home.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My Church Drama Philosophy

A friend suggested that I might find some direction concerning the drama thing at Sunnybrook if I articulated for myself my "philosophy of church drama". A good idea. The kind of thing I would do anyway. And I find that blogging facilitates such thinking processes for me, so you get to be privy to my ponderings. Lucky you. A forewarning: this may not be great quality writing -- brainstorming rarely is.

So, why do drama in church? (First of all, I should probably clarify that I'm mainly talking about sketches during the Sunday morning worship service. I know a lot of churches don't do those at all, but do drama for special events and such. I'm all for that as well, but since the Sunnybrook man is mainly focusing on the Sunday morning drama, that's where I'm focusing my theorizing at the moment.)

Well, I'm pretty adamant that we don't do drama just because it will entertain people, or to hold their attention, or anything like that. I mean, that may happen in the process, but that's not the goal. Not that there isn't a time and place for simply being entertained at a church event -- but in a worship service, there should be more to it than that.

I think it was somebody from Willow Creek from whom I first heard that a drama should set up the question that the sermon answers. That's the most common use of drama in a worship service, I think: to prepare the congregation for the sermon. Sometimes that takes the form of giving background information. They do that frequently at Sunnybrook--skits that tell the Bible story which is the text for the sermon. This is particularly appropriate, I think, in a "seeker-oriented" church, where you can't assume your listener has any Biblical knowledge coming in.

But what we did more of at Hope -- and what I like more -- are the skits that get the congregation in the right mindset to hear the word of God in the sermon. Something that they can observe and say, "Yeah! That's me! That's what I do. That's what I wonder. That's what I struggle with." Something that puts them mentally and emotionally in the place where they can apply the forthcoming message directly to their own lives.

And I've learned that the simpler such skits are, the better. The more auxiliary stuff involved, the more chance there is that the congregation will be distracted by that from the point of the sketch. My writing mentor Randy encouraged me to keep a piece focused and lean. I feel the same way about the "staging" on a Sunday morning. Having a lot of set pieces and props and extensive costuming often is a distraction more than a help.

I also think it's very important that the sketch and the sermon are closely tied together . . . that the latter flows naturally from the former. If you have a skit that sends the congregation's minds off in one direction, and then the preacher has to corral them back and send them in the different direction he is headed . . . well, that's a lousy skit for that service. It needs to be replaced, or tweaked, or scrapped altogether. We don't need to do drama just for the sake of doing drama -- it needs to be working in tandem with everything else in the service to make a point.

Doing such sketches, however, require several things. You have to have a pastor who plans far enough head to give the drama team time to pull a piece together. You also need writers who can create a piece (or tailor something from another source) to fit the focus of a particular service. You need, obviously, good actors -- and actors who are committed to this as their particular ministry, so they are available when needed. And ample rehearsal time, with a good director.

It's pretty easy to do a crappy job of drama ministry. And it's a challenging thing to do it well. Thus, my desire to be very sure about this commitment. I don't like doing things crappily.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Back on the Search Again?

A few of you were reading this blog back when I was whining about how long it was taking us to find a new church after our move. Looking back now, I wonder why I was in such a hurry. Well, no, I do know. We needed connections. The girls needed friends. We needed a place to belong.

We've been attending Sunnybrook Community Church since about January. A big church (at least, big by our standards) -- 1200 in attendance each week. Reformed by denomination, but they don't talk about that much. Quite evangelical. Rather seeker-focused. Pretty contemporary. Lots of emphasis on community service. Lots of emphasis on the kids' and youth ministries. Good reputation in the community. As I've said before, God seems to be working in this place.

Yet, we're not convinced that this is the place God wants us. Which is a problem because we're now connected in a lot of ways. Kind of a Catch-22 situation: you have to plunge in and get involved in order to meet people and find out what a church is really all about. But once you do that, if you decide you're not about what the church is about, you've now made connections that are harder to cut.

Not that there's anything wrong with this church. It just doesn't feel right for us somehow. The connections we've made aren't exactly social ties; we know people--and they're nice people--but we haven't really bonded with anyone.

So many of the things that don't feel comfortable to us seems to be "style" preferences. The worship service feels too polished -- too much like a performance we're there to witness rather than worship we're there to participate in. And a lot of little stylistic things are what figure into that: dark sanctuary, big video screens, etc. I keep thinking, we'll just get used to that . . or it isn't that important . .

But our hands may be forced soon. The new worship minister asked to meet with me this week. He's wanting to "raise the bar" on the drama program and wants me to pray about being involved in the leadership with that. (Sidenote: this man hardly knows me. What made him think I was the person for this? Hmmm.) Accepting such a role would not only require our staying in the church . . . it would also require me to be actively involved in helping create the worship environment that I'm not feeling comfortable with. Will being on the inside make me more comfortable? Will I be able to be a positive influence on the situation? Who knows. But as exciting an opportunity as it sounds like, I don't have much peace with the idea.

I think we're going to start exploring other churches again -- like, Keith and I taking turns each Sunday visiting elsewhere, and we'll see if we feel a pull in another direction. I'm just not sure where else we would go. As I recall now, one of my frustrations in the church search was how few great options there seemed to be out there......

Friday, September 25, 2009

A "Life"

"You know what, mom? I don't have a life."

I questioned my daughter as to what exactly she meant by that. "I don't have friends. I don't have goals. I don't have a life," she said very casually, almost flippantly. I stifled for a moment the mother-angst that immediately flared up (I'm a terrible mom!! I've ruined my child!!) and paused to consider the setting we'd just left and what might have triggered this remark.

We were watching the East High varsity football game -- or, more accurately, watching people at the game. Scads of groups of kids -- from two to five in number, from 7 to 18 in age -- "hanging out", wandering around, talking and arguing and laughing and yelling and all the stuff kids do at ball games. I was remembering ball games I went to when I was in school . . . the friends I hung out with there . . . the conversations that happened.

No friends? Both my girls keep talking about how they have plenty of acquaintances at school, but no real friends yet. But I wonder if they realize how few of the relationships they see on display have the intimacy and commitment to qualify as "real friendships" as they've come to know them. Lots of people to hang out with. Usually only a very small handful of real, true friends.

No goals? What kind of goals do 13-year-olds have? Or what goals should they have? My daughter wants to do well in school. To make and enjoy friends. To figure out what God's plan is for her life. To babysit as often as she can. To improve in all of her artistic abilities and interests. To use her time and her money and her abilities to help other people. Do all 13-year-olds have goals like that? I honestly don't know.

A thought flickered across my mind from our small group's study this week in the book The Purpose-Driven Life. We're not made for this world -- it shouldn't surprise us that we aren't completely fulfilled and satisfied with our life here, because this life is just a preparation for the next one. I considered bringing this idea up but decided against it. This didn't seem to be a moment for theological instruction. It was a moment for encouragement.

"You have a life. It's just not the kind of life that the other kids you see at school have. And frankly, I have no problem with that at all."

I'm not convinced that the life of the typical American teenager is one to be coveted. I'm anxious for her to come to that realization as well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Latest Challenge

My nine-year-old is getting on my case to update my blog. I'm happy that she's reading -- I'm annoyed that she's getting on my case. :) (Just kidding, hon.)

I have a good reason for not having blogged: I'm been too busy finishing a script. This past summer, I was talking with one of the moms in the homeschool group about drama. We started formulating an idea for how to do a drama program for the group this year. Something for the elementary school kids this fall, then something with the older kids in the spring.

When we were at the idea stage, it all sounded pretty basic. I mean, I've done all this. I've written scripts. I've directed. I've worked with kids. I can do it. No problem! Really, I have much too high an opinion of my abilities sometimes.

We did auditions last week, and I finished the script over the weekend to hand out at rehearsal yesterday. I couldn't really finish it until I knew what kids we had to work with -- how many, what ages and genders, what kind of experience and ability, etc. I've been writing like a maniac. I'm exhausted. I hope it's good -- I'm too close to the thing right now to have any idea of the quality of my work. This is when I need my writer friends (Randy, Lauree . . ) to read my stuff and give me feedback. Although frankly, I'm not sure I want their feedback now, because it's too late. It's copied and out, and I'd rather not hear what I should have done differently with it.

We have about seven weeks until the performance. Seven more rehearsals. Gulp. All the moms keep thanking me profusely for offering this for their kids. I hope they're still thankful when they see the finished product.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Family Shoe Closet? Hmmm

My friend Shelley loaned me the book written by the Duggars, the family with the 18 kids, now expecting number 19. An interesting story. I'm not going to go into my opinions about the Duggars and their "lifestyle choices". I only bring it up because they mention something in the book that I think is a great idea.

In previous homes, the Duggars quickly realized they had no space in bedrooms for dressers and wardrobes and such to store clothing. Plus, I'm sure it quickly became a hassle to have to sort all of those clothes and distribute them to each person's individual storage spots. So, out of necessity, they started keeping everyone's clothes in a "family closet" right by the laundry room. Clean clothes went straight from the laundry room to the nearby closet. Everybody went there to choose their own clothes for the day and deposit their dirty clothes.

When the Duggars built their own house custom-made to accommodate their large family, they probably could have made room for clothes storage in the bedrooms, but they decided the family closet idea worked for them, so they built it into the floorplan of the new house.

My mother-in-law kind of does this. She keeps most of the clothes she wears regularly in the laundry room downstairs and changes down there. Really, it makes a lot of sense.

I bring this up because Leslie and I were just discussing our family's shoe situation. We almost always take our shoes off immediately upon entering the house. It's just what we do. For me, this is not much of an issue, because I keep one pair of shoes right by the door that are very generic and go with just about anything. I wear them 90% of the time, so it works well to slip them on and off right there by the door.

Leslie, on the other hand, has a plethora of shoes and may wear two different pair in a day. This means that right now, for instance, there are four pairs of her shoes lying in the aforementioned doorway -- which is what prompted this conversation between the two of us -- and made me wonder if we can implement a family shoe closet downstairs by our door to the garage. It would make SO much more sense, considering the way we are ....

Check me out -- thinking outside the box. How very right-brained of me!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I Suppose I Think Too Much

Well, now that Meredith is all happy about my Disney experience, I'll put the damper on things. :) I've decided I'm much too much of a cynic. As I said, I was surprised at how often I caught myself last week rolling my eyes . . . sighing with a bit of exasperation . . . suppressing sarcastic comebacks (although I didn't always suppress them when Keith was nearby to whisper them to).

One specific example: we watched a video somewhere (don't remember where right now) with a big save-the-planet environmental message. Now, trust me, although I'm not an obsessive tree-hugging type, I am concerned about the environment and about the issues they brought up in the video. But I couldn't help wondering -- after observing all the trash created at the parks, and the huge, spacious buildings being air-conditioned, and the monstrous fleet of busses running night and day around the place -- what kind of "carbon footprint" the Disneyworld resort leaves. The irony was palpable.

But it ran deeper than that for me. And I don't want to knock the Disney franchise in general (although one could argue they deserve some knocking). They provide good, clean family entertainment, which is much needed in our society. And I usually appreciate the positive messages in what they offer my kids.

But those very messages were the issue for me last week. Somehow, they seemed . . . hollow. Empty. Like the Mickey-shaped crisped rice snacks on a stick -- sugary junk food that makes you feel full but doesn't give you the nourishment you need to live and thrive.

Not all of the messages, I suppose, but the ones that jumped out at me on this trip. "When you wish upon a star" . . . "let your conscience be your guide" . . . "follow your heart -- follow your dreams" . . . "what are you wishing for? what are your dreams?" . . . "anything your heart desires will come to youuuu".

Somehow, it felt like Christmas focused on Santa, and Easter focused on the bunny. I mentioned before how I dislike the song from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, "Any Dream Will Do" -- because any dream will NOT do. That's not the point of the story at all. It completely distorts the listener away from the Point of the story.

I know, I know -- Disneyworld isn't church, and by no means do I want it to be. I'm just saying that this was the first time I remember being so very struck by the fact that society (through "good" organizations like Disney) tries so hard to instill hope in our children about themselves and their future . . . but fails miserably to point them to the only source of that hope.

Kind of a hopeless endeavor, really.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Most Magical Place on Earth

So . . I've been away for a while at Disney. My FB friends may have noted on my status before I left that I was unsure of how much I would enjoy this trip -- not big on crowds, or heat, or bratty kids, or parents who fail to keep their bratty kids in line. But I was pleasantly surprised by many things on this trip. I'll list a few:

1) The LACK of crowds -- which was the reason we picked Labor Day week to go. My Disney freak friend Meredith said it's the deadest week of the year there, and I don't doubt her now. After Labor Day Monday, we hardly had any lines of any kind. Sweet.

2) Disney seriously does this stuff well. Disneyworld is one monstrosity of a resort size-wise, but they have it running like clockwork. Everything was about as easy as it could be, considering. For example, our room keys served as our admission tickets to the parks, as make-shift credit cards that we could charge pretty much anything to, and as our meal cards to get food at restaurants and food stands throughout the resort (plus we got a free meal deal for visiting this week! I repeat -- sweet!)

3) There's simply no way I could work at Disney -- I'm not cheerful enough. I've never seen so many nice people one place, especially in the service industry. And really, if you're a person who just loves to perform -- sing, dance, etc. -- and who doesn't have any hang-ups or attitude about needing to do highbrow stuff, Disney is heaven. There have to be thousands of performing jobs. But again, you have to be the cheerful type. Plastic smiles required.

4) Amazing shows. The main street electrical parade (or whatever they're calling it now) was beautiful. The fireworks displays at Magic Kingdom and Epcot were awesome. The Lion King show was really exciting (and Eastin got pulled out of the audience to participate). And I thought the puppetry in the Finding Nemo show was absolutely gorgeous.

5) Most surprising of all, I was amazed at how unannoying the general public was. Other than the two women behind me at the Magic Kingdom parade the first night who started arguing and spoiled about a third of the parade for everyone around them . . . people were generally polite and decent. Able-bodied folks gave up their seats on the bus for children and elderly. Parents, for the most part, made their children behave. I even saw a couple strangers jump in and help some women struggling to lift their handicapped companion out of a ride. I usually hate places like this because they remind me of how overall jerkish the human race can be. But humanity was redeemed in my eyes this week. Made me wonder what was in the water.

However, I was wondering about myself by the time we headed home. I caught myself in far too many eye-rolls over the course of the week. Perhaps I'm a bit too cynical ....? But that's a topic for another post . . .

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Battles We Pick

Some members of our household (who shall go unnamed) have become reality TV junkies. The end of the American Idol season didn't end our obsession; nor did my personal boycott of "Jon and Kate Plus Eight". Now there's "What Not To Wear" . . "Toddlers and Tiaras" . . "Nanny 911" . . "Wife Swap" . . "Cake Boss" . . "Say Yes to the Dress" . . it's shameful, I tell you. Sha-a-ameful.

Several of these are on the TLC channel (and if you already knew that, maybe you have a problem, too). Does anyone else remember when TLC stood for The Learning Channel? Is there anything educational on there anymore?

Anyway, I have a love-hate relationship with most of these shows. Honestly, some of them I enjoy watching. I've learned stuff from Stacy and Clinton on "What Not to Wear" (though I wish they'd watch their language sometimes). I have yet to watch "Wife Swap" or one of the Nanny shows without coming away feeling like a better wife and mother ("At least I'm not that bad . . "), and I truly do occasionally get some real insight into family issues that are useful to me. Some of the cakes Buddy and his crew make on "Cake Boss" are really fascinating . . . and the east coast talk and attitude are entertaining for a recent transplant from that area.

But other times, I have to admit: it's just mindless occupation that is a total waste of my time. What really could I gain from watching a bunch of women agonizing over what wedding dress to buy? You gotta wonder who ever had the idea for a TV show like that . . .

And frankly, some of the programs are infuriating. I swear I'm going to throw a pillow at the screen one of these days during "Toddlers and Tiaras". Leslie's already heard my tirade about why I think such pageants are entirely inappropriate for kids that age -- and why I think TLC is exploiting the people involved in making this show. I'm not telling her she can't watch. I didn't tell her she couldn't watch Jon and Kate either; I just told her why I wasn't going to watch it anymore and she made the decision to stop watching also. Yet toddlers are still parading across my TV in tiaras.

But when Eastin glanced at the TV the other day to see a 5-year-old in a sequined halter-and-bell-bottoms ensemble wiggling her hips and blowing kisses at the judges . . and then said, "I can do that. I wanna do that," that pillow was almost a-flying and mom's leniency was almost at an end. We WON'T be having any of that in my house. OH, no.

I'm already tired of being the mom of a teenager. I hate having to pick my battles; they all seem important to me. But I do have to pick . . and I think this is one I don't fight against her, but alongside her. If she must watch, she watches with me and gets a reality check on what she's viewing. And the TV goes off the minute I see evidence that her filters are malfunctioning.

And, in the meantime, I suppose I need to be more intentional about finding better activities to fill our minds and our evenings with -- things more noble, more true, more pure, more lovely, more admirable . . all that Philippians Four stuff.

That would mean no sequined halter tops. Ha.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Fourth Graders in Make-Up?

So, this is the girls' 8th day of school. We've known this new phase of life was coming for a long time and wondered what it would be like for them. Some interesting things we've noted so far. For one, they are both sounding a lot like typical school kids already -- they don't want to go to school. But they didn't ever feel like doing homeschool when 9:00am rolled around either, so this is no surprise.

Both of them have commented that it seems like they do the same things every day. Leslie says it feels like they don't get much of anything done in a class period (of course, their class periods are only 45 minutes long). I remember hearing that comment from other homeschoolers whose kids had gone to school later -- that the kids said they were frustrated at how much time in the school day was wasted with classroom management and review.

Both have expressed concern with whether or not they are catching all the instructions and information they are supposed to be getting from their teachers. That surprised me a little -- it's not like they haven't been in situations where blanket announcements are made to the group that they are expected to listen to and digest. I think maybe they're just expecting it to be harder than it is. Or they're just more nervous about the direct accountability here--as in, I'll miss something important and get a bad grade later. Plus, Eastin in particular is not used to having to maintain this kind of attention for so long. She leaves home a little after 8 and gets off the bus at 4:20pm -- that's a long day. She's wiped out.

They also are both struggling to make real friends. I know -- that just takes time. They know that, too. But it's still hard to be the odd man out at the lunch table or standing around before class. Eastin made an interesting observation: she said everyone in her class seems either so much older than her or so much younger than her. Leslie has made the remark before about public school kids being more mature than homeschooled kids, so I wanted to probe what they mean by that (because that has NOT been my observation).

I asked Eastin, in what way do those kids seem older? Her response? They watch PG-13 movies. They wear make-up (in 4th grade? Really??). They look and talk and act like teenagers. Ah. So they put on the outward trappings of kids older than them.

That's what I thought.

Apparently, the issue is, my girls have spent most of their time with kids who act their age. They haven't yet had enough experiences with 9-year-olds in make-up with teenage attitudes to find out that underneath all that, these kids are still 9-year-olds -- and probably rather immature ones at that.

So, these are those lessons that public schools are supposed to teach better than homeschool. Hmmm.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

More on the Nehemiah Institute Thing

The Nehemiah Institute divided their 20 statements on their Biblical Worldview test into five categories. I'm going to address those in the "social" category today, because they call me Biblical (and I agree with them) on most of those. I know that means I don't have a fuss to make here, which may make for a boring post, but I thought some of you might be curious to hear what they were anyway. And maybe one of you has a fuss to make about one of them--which I would be curious to hear! So here we go . . .

The first two I can deal with quickly. Statement #2: Human nature, because it constantly adapts and changes has an unlimited potential for progressive development. I disagree. The problematic word here is unlimited. We have tremendous potential for progressive development, but it is not unlimited. Only God is infinite in his power. I will say, though, that we are so far from our limits in our potential that perhaps it wouldn't matter that much if we did believe this . . other than the unbelievable chutzpah it reveals . .

Chutzpah . . . what a great word I picked up on the east coast!

Statement #7: The major obstacles to social progress are ignorance and faulty social institutions. I disagree. Ignorance and faulty social institutions are certainly obstacles to social progress. But the major obstacle to social progress is sin, our unwillingness to believe and act on what God says about us and our world. We don't progress because we try to do it our way instead of God's way, as if we know better. But that fact doesn't excuse us from trying to elimination ignorance and faulty social institutions in our society as well.

Statement #15: Social reform should be designed and enforced to correct inequalities in schooling, housing, employment, and recreation. I found this statement rather confusing. By "social reform", I assumed they meant action taken by the government, although that wasn't necessarily clear. And by "inequalities in . . .", do they mean inequalities that are the result of specific unjust discrimination? If so, then I might agree. But if they mean just general inequalities -- you have a nicer house than I do and that's not fair -- then no, of course not.

It may sound silly to think they might mean the latter, but I think a lot of "socialist" measures start to inch awfully close to that. They are an effort to level out all the classes, eliminate the categories of rich and poor. But NI points out in their explanation on this question that the Bible says "there will always be a segment of society identified as 'the poor'; some will be poor of their own doing; others may be poor because of the Lord's doing (for reasons known only to Himself) . . "

Actually, that was rather thought-provoking to me. That God, "for reasons known only to Himself", has designated certain people to be poor and certain people to rich. Some to be beautiful and some to be ugly. Some to be brilliant and some to be slow. Some to be athletic and some to be clutzy. One thing that says to me is that we shouldn't consider any of those situations as somehow more or less blessed than another, for they are all ordained by God.

Many years ago, I was driving somewhere with a particular friend who was always in difficult financial straits. We happened to drive by a neighborhood with huge expensive houses, and she remarked how she felt sorry for those people. The comment struck me as odd at the time; living in such a neighborhood now, I find it remarkably insightful.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this . . . I think it's that while we should always be ready to help someone in need, we shouldn't assume that an inequality automatically implies a need -- or an injustice that needs to be righted.

The last of the four social statements on the test was the homosexuality one -- and I already expressed my outrage about that. I'm still trying to decide if I need to open that proverbial can of worms here. I suppose if anyone out there has any real desire to hear my feelings on that, you can let me know so in the comments section.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Looking to Hire

I have decided I need to hire somebody. Someone to do the stuff that I don't do well. (Now, Keith would probably gleefully supply a task list for said employee, but housework is not what I have in mind here.) I'm thinking of research. There are a lot of topics that interest me (in case you haven't noticed). I like to know a lot of things in a lot of areas. But I don't always know how to find that information.

For example, I was wondering the other day how exactly the poor were taken care of in different societies in history (this question came out of reading one of those Nehemiah Insititute papers). How would one go about finding that out? There may be books written on the subject. In fact, I think they mentioned just such a book in World magazine last month, a book I thought at the time I should buy and read (I really need to get a job to support my literature habit). But consider the people who write these books -- where do they get their information? Scientific research? University libraries? Some unknown secret recesses on the internet?

That's what I'm not good at -- finding information. Once I have the information, I love to devour it, analyze it, synthesize it, evaluate it, reformulate it, spit it all out in a new and enriched format . . . but I need raw material to work with.

So, as I said, I'm hiring. A personal research assistant. I'll email you with a question I need you to get answers to, and you have to get back to me with as many resources as possible within 24-48 hours. Okay, maybe 72. But the time frame there is important. You can't say, "Oh, okay -- I'll have something for you in a month or so." Because in a month or so, my frenetic mind and I will have moved on to something else entirely.

And I'll pay you. Well, in caramel popcorn, anyway. And seriously, folks -- people rave about my caramel popcorn. Or maybe in homemade salsa. I've been getting good reviews for that lately, too.

You may submit your resumes to my comments section (yes, I know, there's supposed to be an accent mark over one of those e's -- if you can tell me how to type that on my keyboard, put that in my comments section, too). And be prepared, if accepted for the position, to begin immediately with that question about the poor in paragraph two.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Recommended Reading

I was asked to do the book review at our homeschool group's Mother's Night Out tonight. I was a little hesitant because, being new, I don't know what books have already been talked about and I don't want to be repetitive. But the woman who asked me said if they're good books, it will be good for the group to hear about them again. So, I scanned my bookshelves to see what I wanted to share with the group and found a theme emerging. I picked four books that I tend to come back to review, sometimes yearly, to remind myself of the big picture -- of who we are, where we're headed, how we get there, and all that.

So, is anyone interested in the books I picked? Hmm? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway.

The first is Discover Your Child's Learning Style by Mariaemma Willis and Victoria Kindle Hodson. Figuring out my kids' learning styles probably made more difference in our homeschool than anything else because they each think and learn very differently than I do. There are probably many other books about learning styles, but I like this one because it is very thorough. It's not just about audio/visual/kinesthetic and all. For example, I learned from this that Leslie likes to learn by drawing pictures. So, I often incorporated that into projects for her; like, the last few multiplication facts that she had difficulty mastering she drew crazy pictures to remember. I review this information frequently, for one thing, because I need to remember how they learn so I continue to teach them effectively.

More than that, though, I know that eventually they will be in a classroom where no one will give a flip about their unique learning style -- so I need to teach them to learn to adapt to the dominant teaching style of our age. So with Leslie, for example, early on I had her draw pictures of what she was learning. Then I had her draw pictures and explain the concept behind the picture. This year she'll be writing notes and drawing little pictures beside them . . or imagining the pictures in her head. The idea is to affirm how her brain works but also help her figure out how to adapt that to the typical classroom.

My second book: The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise. If it didn't sound so sacriligious, I would call this my homeschooling bible. I heard Susan Wise Bauer speak about classical education at a state homeschool convention and was sold on the concept. This is a MONSTROUS-looking tome of about 800 pages that would frighten away many people but it is full of invaluable information. It has excellent overviews of the three stages of classical learning (grammar, logic, rhetoric) and what to expect and require of a student at each stage. It also has very thorough lists of resources the authors recommend. The main reason I check this book out again every year is for the book lists; they recommend classic books from every historical period and specific editions that are appropriate for each age group. A homeschooling essential.

Next: Life Skills for Kids by Christine Field. The author has chapters on all the various kinds of life skills a person needs -- money management, people skills, space organization, spiritual habits, etc. -- and suggestions for when and how to teach them. I skim this book regularly just to remind myself of what my kids still need to learn. Then I usually pick one or two skills a year that I'm going to be intentional about working on with them that year.

And finally, The Family Manager by Kathy Peel. The author talks about managing your family and household as efficiently as you would manage a business. She divides a Family Manager's duties into eight departments and discusses all the different things to consider in how you run each department in your own home. I use to re-read this book every January when the girls were tiny -- because the girls, and therefore our family's needs and routines, changed so frequently when the girls were tiny, I was constantly needing to re-evaluate how I did things. It's not as cold and left-brained as it sounds -- it's very light, easy, practical reading. I would recommend it to every wife and mother, but particularly to every mother of young children.

So, there you go. Four more books to put on your to-read list. Because I know you all are freakish bookworms with burgeoning to-read lists like me, right? Of course, you are. Why else would you have read this post? :)