Monday, June 28, 2010

In Defense of Best Friends

My friend Robin was interviewed for a NY Times article on childhood friendships (which I'm trying to figure out how to link to . . . just get to it from her blog at First of all, yay for Robin! But secondly, I'm not sure what to make of this article.

The writer is talking about how kids are often discouraged at schools these days from having "best friends". School personnel are concerned about exclusivity and cliques and bullying, and so they keep a close eye on relationships that seem to be too close and intentionally separate the kids.

They say they do it to encourage healthy social interactions. And I can see some validity to that. I had one best friend in late elementary school and no one else really who would hang out with me. On the extremely rare days when we were fighting, the loneliness and isolation were devastating. It is important to have friendships across the board.

But discouraging close friendships is a big mistake. As one psychologist in the article stated, "Do we want to encourage kids to have all sorts of superficial relationships? . . . Imagine the implications for romantic relationships. We want children to get good at leading close relationships, not superficial ones." Exactly.

These social issues in schools are one of the rallying cries for many homeschoolers. When people express concern that homeschooled children won't have the socialization they need apart from school, the parents counter that they've seen the kids in school and don't want their kids socialized that way. That's a bit harsh, but they have a point.

For my part, I will say that there are advantages and disadvantages to each setting. With my girls' homeschool friends, we parents are more aware of what's going on in their relationships and have more control over how much time they spend with who, and where, and doing what. I am friends with the mothers, with whom I share common values, and we can discuss problems that come up and help guide the kids to work them out more effectively. Overall, it's been a good thing.

On the other hand, my girls were sheltered from some of the real ugliness in people out there, and that can have the same consequence as being sheltered too much from germs -- you need a little bit of exposure to build up internal protections from what could destroy you. Although they got a good amount of that exposure in church, frankly. As they say, a church isn't a museum for saints; it's a hospital for sinners. At least that exposure was more on the level of a brief innoculation rather than an extended saturation.

Anyway, I guess, in response to the article, I would say that schools do need to keep an eye on relationships that are getting unhealthy in their attachment and exclusivity and work with parents on that. The problem, I think, is when schools have to make blanket, "dummy-proof" policies about such things and there are personnel who are not sensitive and discriminating in applying the policy to children's lives. This is an art requiring tremendous wisdom and insight, not a science requiring one-size-fits-all process and procedures.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thoughts While Standing in Line for a Funnelcake at the Sunnybrook Family Fun Night

- Wow. This is a long line. Do I really want a funnelcake?

- The lines going up the hill for the huge waterslide are just about as long, but they're moving faster. When did I get so old that sliding down a huge, wet hill into a trough of muddy water doesn't look the least bit entertaining? But the kids are sure having fun.

- Great band. Keith would like them. One of these years, he has to schedule his business trips around Family Fun Night so he can witness this.

- Twenty minutes in line now. Apparently, funnelcakes are the new cotton candy at Sunnybrook.

- Kids keep waving at me and saying, "Hi, Mirror!" Kinda sweet. Signing everyone's shirts this morning, I started to feel like a rock star or something. I wonder, in five years, if they'll look at that shirt and wonder, "Mirror? Who was that? Was she in my volleyball clinic?"

- The sun is starting to go down behind the hill, thankfully. And no mosquitoes torturing us, more thankfully. Apparently, the bugs were a big issue all week at the outdoor Skill School clinics.

- Forty-five minutes in line now. These had better be darn good funnelcakes. At least it gives me something to do while the girls are running around.

- An exhausting but satisfying week. My clinic kids did well with their skits in the closing program tonight, even with two kids missing and having to be covered for. Amazing what we can pull together in four hours -- well, two hours of teaching and two hours of rehearsal. I do this for the kids, but I get as much personal growth out of it as they do. A good reminder of how "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

- And all things includes ad-libbing through the morning dramas on stage in front of 700 kids. Way out of my comfort zone. But I've decided I need to do more of this. A good metaphor for life. We don't often have a script for our lives. God says, "Yeah, we're kind of going to head in this direction . . I've got the plan, you just play it by ear as you go . . and trust me."

- A hour and fifteen minutes. I will not give up on this line. I will get a funnelcake for my efforts.

- One daughter is running around out there soaked to the bone, going back and forth between the inflatables and the waterslide. The other is having water fights with her friends. We should have brought more towels.

- I kind of feel guilty that we're not staying to help clean up . . . but we're leaving in the morning for KC . . . let go of the guilt . . . you already did a lot this week . . .

- One hour and a half -- and I have a cinnamon and sugar funnelcake in my hand! Woo hoo! People congratulate me as I walk around nibbling on it. A fine accomplishment for the evening. And a fine end to the week.

And now the weekend begins -- off to Kansas City!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Do Hard Things

Summer has gotten busy again, but during those couple of transitional weeks when school was just out, I was able to get some reading done. I know some of you are readers, too, so I thought I'd share.

Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris, is a book I've been hearing about for years and been wanting to read. It's by nineteen-year-old twin brothers who have started a movement among teens around the world. Check out their website: They are encouraging teenagers to rebel against the low expectations that society puts on them. Before this last century, people in nearly every culture of every time believed that once a child reached the age of 12 or 13, they were very nearly ready for adult responsibilities, and they treated them as such. None of this nonsense about a decade or more living like a child in an adult's body partying and wasting your time avoiding real life.

The Harris boys challenge their readers (teenagers, but also adults like me) to intentionally push themselves to do things that are challenging, that defy the weak expectations placed on them. Hard things -- not just because they are hard, but because they are of value, and because your young years, when you have no family responsibilities and have many years ahead of you to recover from mistakes, are the time to do them.

They list five different types of hard things: things that are outside of your comfort zone, things that go beyond what is expected or required, things that are too big to accomplish alone, things that don't earn an immediate payoff, and things that challenge the cultural norm.

The book is supposed to be for teenagers, but I found it convicting and inspiring. Lord knows, my generation had no sense of the need to do anything hard until it was forced on us. We are a lazy, spoiled bunch, and I epitomize the bunch. I find myself every day now searching for the one hard thing God is challenging me with that day -- and looking for the bigger hard things He is challenging me with for the near future. Like, directing a full-length play at our church this fall. Like starting a school -- or educational program, or something -- using what I've learned about education. Like approaching life with an attitude of praise and thanksgiving . . . amazing how hard that one is for me.

Great book. Buy it for your kids and then read it for yourself.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Continuing on the Theme of Fear.....

Joel Belz from World magazine did an informal survey recently, asking his readers to write and tell him if they were 1) mildly optimistic, 2) mildly pessimistic, or 3) VERY pessimistic about our nation's future. He's written about it in three different issues now, because he's so stunned at the results. More than half of his respondents are "doomsday cataclysmists", and when you add those from the second category, a full 75% were pessimistic about the future.

I guess I was surprised at the overwhelming numbers there, but not at the sentiment. My time in the homeschooling world has made me well aware of the Chicken Littles out there crying that the sky is falling.

[For the record, we don't homeschool because we believe in a vast state conspiracy to control our children's minds through the schools. Or because we feel public education would destroy them intellectually, socially or spiritually. We just recognize the problems in the public education system (as frequent readers of my blog have heard) and know that it is our responsibility to ensure our kids get a good education. And, for the record, there are a lot of other homeschoolers out there like us.]

But Belz makes a good point, one he says he made after the Y2K freak-out as well: For Christians to be living in the regular context of alarm is to deny their birthright. As Suzi at Sunnybrook says, we're living below our privilege. We are the ones whose hearts are not supposed to be troubled.

I know far too many Christians, including myself at times, who claim complete confidence in the sovereignty of God but live their days in sighing and fretting. No wonder the world is not inspired by our "Good News".

For my own part, I'm trying to make more of an effort to act on concerns rather than fret about them. I am concerned about the state of public education . . . so I'm trying to educate myself on the topic and look for an opening to use my knowledge and skills to make a difference there. I'm concerned about the direction some of Obama's policies are taking our country . . . so, again, I'm trying to educate myself and hope to get a bit more involved than I have before when election time rolls around.

And beyond that, I'll just try to internalize Belz's conclusion regarding the end times: "Might be just around the corner. Might not. Either way, we're OK. The Lord is our God."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Great Fears

Leslie left this morning for a week-long mission trip with 25 other 8th graders. She left with a good amount of anxiety about the whole venture. So, fear is on my mind right now.

The preacher this morning had a side-note in his sermon on the topic of fear. He described a time when a friend asked him what his greatest fear was. He took the question very seriously, and when he had answered it, he realized it gave him insight into many things in his life.

Have you ever had to answer that question? What is your greatest fear? Is it fear of failure? Of being controlled or manipulated? Of abandonment? Of pain?

I've heard before that your earliest memory can give a hint to major psychological "themes" in your life. My earliest memories are of our house on Fairmount which we left when I was six. There were three girls my age on that block. Sarah, across the street, was my best friend I've been told, but I don't have any memories of her from that time. However, I well remember the other two girls. They were nice . . . sometimes. And sometimes they would have nothing to do with me. There was no rhyme or reason to their friendship that I saw; I just knew I could expect them to dump me at any time with no warning.

My greatest fear is rejection. Our great fears have deep roots, as you can see. They also have wide-spreading branches. When I look at it, this fear has had profound implications in my life -- in my career decisions, relationships, parenting style, and much more.

But fear is not supposed to be the habitat of believers. We are children of God . . . and God is love . . . and "perfect love drives out all fear". One could even argue that living in fear is a form of idolatry.

I hope my daughter understands and conquers her fears before she's a middle-aged mother with regrets. But unfortunately, maybe we need some life regrets to reflect on in order to understand our fears.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Blown Away

We woke up in the middle of the night to a huge storm raging outside. I haven't been able to find any stats on it, but the wind was stronger than anything I've ever heard here yet -- and the wind gusts we get on this hilltop are pretty amazing.

All of our deck furniture was piled on top of each other at one end of the deck this morning. The 14 ceramic tiles from the table top were all blown out. I was SURE some of them were broken or missing, but there's only one with a corner chipped off. The grill was still in place, thanks to Keith bungee-cording it to the deck railing, but the cover was blown off, torn in half, and half of it had blown into the empty lot down the hill.

It's trash day, so of course, all the trash and recyclables are blown all over the neighborhood. We can't even find our trash container. Eastin and I picked up four bags of trash around the neighborhood -- none of which belonged to us. Who knows what poor sap out there is picking up our trash out of his yard.

But the worst thing is . . . our big, beautiful elm in the backyard has lost some big branches. Keith is afraid is might have to be cut down altogether. I could just cry. I know it's just a tree, but it's big and beautiful and I love that tree! I sit on the deck in the morning to do my quiet time and look at the branches sway and listen to the birds singing in it and all seems right in the world. Oh, it's just heartbreaking.

Apparently there's some minor flooding in the area, but there's more rain expected over the weekend so it may get worse, unfortunately. I tell ya, Mother Nature has it in for Iowans this year.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


A certain loved one has told me that I'm sounding a bit too pompous and arrogant in my blog posts lately. Hmm. Lord knows, I don't feel pompous and arrogant. My readers have always been friends who know me pretty well . . but I seem to be getting different readers these days. I guess I need to be more mindful of how I might sound to a stranger who wouldn't hear my voice when they read these words.

In particular, they thought my earlier post about not understanding poor people could be insulting to some. I was concerned about that -- I specifically did NOT want to come across as a know-it-all judgmental snob who thought I could fix everyone's problems. That was my point in that post -- I clearly don't know it all. There are obviously details about living in poverty that I am completely clueless about.

A friend emailed me about that post and explained to me her situation and the difficulties of getting out of financial pits. And THAT's what I was hoping to hear. Keith and I were talking last night about how incredibly blessed we have been. But we are blessed to be a blessing. I have felt burdened lately to be doing more to help those "less fortunate". But how is the big question.

I read a fantastic book a while back: When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert. Everyone should read this book. He talks about how often people step in to try to help the poor, but, because they don't really understand the dynamics and culture of poverty, they end up actually hurting more than they help. That's me -- as I said in my post, I don't understand . . . and I'm liable to make a situation worse with my efforts.

So, how do I come to understand? I guess that requires spending time with people, getting to know them and their circumstances on a more intimate level. Now to figure out how to make that happen. I mean, it's not like I can walk up to someone and say, "Hey! You look poor. Let me get to know you." Talk about pompous and arrogant.....

Monday, June 7, 2010

Where's the Hidden Camera?

So, Leslie and I are sitting on the bleachers watching Keith's co-ed softball team -- Eastin's at the playground nearby. It's just a bit chilly and I'm wondering how long we're going to last here.

Suddenly, Leslie says, "Mom! That plant is growing into the ground!"

I look where she's pointing, thinking she means the ends of the leaves are stuck in the ground or something. And then I see it: a small stem of a dandelion looks very much like it's sinking.

I step off the bleachers and up to the fence to get a closer look. Nothing. The wind rustling the leaves a bit. I climb back onto my seat wondering if my eyes were playing tricks on me or what.

And then Leslie and I gasped in unison as the four large leaves of this dandelion plant start slowing sinking into the ground. They stop a moment, and then they're suddenly sucked away completely.

Absolutely the most freakish thing I've ever seen. I started to wonder if Candid Camera was filming us. We'd have been a sight with our mouths all agog and our eyes buggin'.

I called Keith over and showed him the spot where this dandelion used to be. He and another player looked the ground over and saw a hole indicating the presence of some kind of underground critter. Yeah, that's the only explanation I could think of.

The game continued and we watched . . . watched the rest of the dandelions, that is. The game wasn't nearly as fascinating as the plant life. We were just about to give up on our critter when another one bit the dust. One leaf . . two leaves . . . and pop, it was no more. Wow.

Maybe the rest of you won't find this so intriguing. But it sure made our night!

Three Ways to Read, Part Three

Now, somebody is going to argue that memorizing isn't reading. But I'm thinking of reading in the very broad sense -- the input part of the input-process-output learning mechanism. Listening falls into that category, too. Memorizing is just a more focused, intense form of input into the brain, so yeah, it's "reading".

I memorize. For some reason, God just designed me so that memorization comes easy for me and is fulfilling. When Leslie was a newborn, I started memorizing the beatitudes, and then continued on with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. And then the book of James. And then Galatians. And then First John. I'm not bragging, and please don't be impressed. Like I said, I'm just made this way. (When I was seven, I memorized the Gettysburg Address, just for fun. Little freakish me.)

I only bring this up because I learned with all that scripture memory the value of having meaningful words stored away in your heart. To remember the order of ideas, I had to look for a flow of thought between the different sections, which gave me a lot of insight into the meaning of the passage. To remember unusual words and wording, I had to consider why the writer chose those words, which again gave me food for thought. I found verses and phrases coming to my mind automatically when I was in life situations that called for them. Basically, the scripture became a part of me, a part of my thinking, a part of my worldview.

This is why I was very conscientious about the scripts I wrote for the homeschool drama programs this year. These kids were memorizing this stuff. Some of those words will be with them for the rest of their lives. May as well make those words count.

Many classical education homeschool resources recommend that students memorize literary passages on a regular basis. Kids used to do this all the time in school. Read Laura Ingalls Wilder's books and you hear about them having to recite poems, essays, speeches, even entire history texts. Reciting out loud adds even more value to the practice. To recite expressively, you have to really think about the meaning of the words, the emotion behind the passage.

You own a piece of literature when you memorize it. I know this isn't for everybody, but don't knock it until you try it. Try more than just a Bible verse or a one-sentence quotation. Challenge yourself with a passage of significant length, one that has a lot of meaning for you. Add a sentence or a phrase every day. Run through it in your mind while you're filling up the gas tank, unloading the dishwasher, whatever. See if you aren't ultimately changed by the power of the words.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I Can't Drive 55

We drove home from Lindsborg yesterday. As a general rule, I drive 4-7 miles per hour above the speed limit when I'm driving on the highway. I know I'm not alone; just about everyone I know does the same thing. Thing is, I am a rule-loving, law-abiding citizen. So, why do I drive 4-7 miles per hour above the speed limit on the highway?

Well, I have through unfortunate experience learned that if you get much faster than that, you're risking a ticket. Rarely will a patrolman think it's worth the trouble to stop you when you're toeing the line within a few mph.

Also, I don't know and therefore don't understand how the powers-that-be determined what the speed limit should be. When I was a kid, you couldn't drive over 55 anywhere in the country. Then out of nowhere, someone decided 65 was just fine, thank you very much. And then 70s and 75s starting popping up. If you drive cross-country, you see that one state sets their max at one point, another state will set it somewhere else. Who do you believe about what is really safe?

Some speed limits seem just arbitrary and silly to me, too. Why in the world do I need to slow down from 70 to 55 on an empty four-lane highway in the middle of Nebraska just because we're passing a town a quarter of a mile away? Conversely, driving 55 on the bumper-to-bumper New Jersey Turnpike when everyone else is zooming past at 75 or 80 is downright dangerous.

So, what it boils down to is this: I drive the speed I do on highways because I think I know better than the highway experts -- and because I'm more concerned with not getting a ticket than with obeying the law.

I'm not sure that's a very flattering picture I just painted of myself.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Three Ways to Read, Part Two

My senior year of college, I took (because I had to) a literature class called "Heroic Themes". One of the books we read was Ulysses, by James Joyce. I saw later that some organization had put that book on the top of their list of the 100 best novels of all time. Shut up. They have to be kidding.

I remember nothing about this monstrously long novel. Well, except for the fact that my professor came to class every day we discussed it with two equally long reference books that she used to explain the symbolism and so forth. I couldn't quite understand why a piece of writing could be considered so great when it required the help of two extra books to make any sense of it.

I think of that sometimes when I pull out my concordance and commentary to do some intense Bible study. But there is a difference. The Bible is a very unique piece of writing. Living and active, not static and dormant like the stuff I read in lit courses. Like an ogre, it has layers. Like a great poem, you can read the same passage several times and God reveals more truth each time. And you can focus on small sections at a microlevel and find even more.

An example: one time I was studying the second half of Proverbs 31, the "wife of noble character" passage. I wondered what exactly the term "noble" meant in the context. So, I got out my trusty Strong's Exhaustive Concordance and looked it up. The Hebrew word translated "noble character" here is hayil. In other passages, it is translated army, strength, brave warriors, troops, etc.

In other words, a wife of noble character is a warrior wife. Oh, yeah -- that opens up a whole new window on that passage. You see . . . layers.

So, some literature is meant not just to be read but to be studied. Too bad "study" has become such a dirty word anymore. Deep study is what makes one a deep person. And the world has far too many shallow people as it is.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Worship the Orthodox Way

On my retreat this past weekend, I went to church with our neighbors, the Virippils, at St. Thomas Orthodox Church. It was my first time in an Orthodox Church, I believe. Beautiful sanctuary. Nice service. Very different from what I'm used to, but an enjoyable experience.

I got to speak with the pastor a bit after the service and asked him some questions about their beliefs and practice. Like, what's the significance of the incense they swing at everything? He explained, but I don't think I really got it all. He struck me as one of those pastors (of whom I have known many) who have a hard time explaining such things in regular, simple language. Nothing against him -- very nice guy -- but seminary seems to do that to people sometimes.

I didn't question him much more after the incense query, but I did have more I was wondering about. Like . . . all the icons. Especially their kissing them. My friend explained to me (when I asked who "Theotokos" was -- Greek for "Mother of God") that they do not worship Mary, but they "give her veneration". I'd like to understand the distinction there a little better. Apparently they "venerate" the saints, too.

And I've always been fascinated by churches who see communion (and baptism) as "sacraments". I grew up Baptist. We called them "ordinances". They were not sacraments, because no saving grace is actually conveyed in the act. They were merely symbols and acts of obedience.

So, I am fascinated by people believing that eating this piece of bread dipped in some grape juice--or getting dunked in a tub of water--actually changes something in you spiritually. Erases original sin. Conveys forgiveness. Whatever. It's such a bizarre concept to me. But I suppose I have beliefs that others would find pretty bizarre as well . . . hmmmm.....

Overall, though, the Orthodox service was a positive experience. It's good to worship in someone else's "worship language" once in a while.