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.