Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Sometimes I just really screw up. As a wife . . as a parent . . as a friend . . as a human being . . I do things that are completely wrong and I hurt others in the process. I am blessed that most often, those that I've hurt are gracious to forgive me. I rarely deserve it.

But sometimes, the "OK, I forgive you" is less than genuine. Forgiveness is clearly not there yet. I suppose I should understand -- sometimes it just takes time. But there's not much that feels more devastating than to be so repentant of a wrong but powerless to fix the situation. You've done all you can -- they have to bridge the rest of the gap. The status of the relationship is now in the other's hands. And they may not hold that relationship in much esteem anymore.

Jesus said that if we forgive others, we will be forgiven; if we refuse to forgive others, we won't be forgiven either. That statement always troubled me a bit. It sounds like he's saying God's forgiveness is dependent on our doing good, which contradicts the rest of scripture. But maybe that's not it.

Maybe it's that a failure to forgive shows a pride in self and an apathy for the relationship. It says that I am of such importance that your slight to me has no remedy. That I would rather sacrifice my relationship with you than think less of myself -- or think of myself less. It says that you are not worth risking the chance of getting hurt again. Maybe when one is that care-less about relationships with other flesh-and-blood humans, one is not capable of giving the appropriate value to a relationship with God. I mean, to approach the Almighty Creator of the universe with that kind of pride means you really don't know who you're dealing with here. And you can't have a relationship with someone you don't know.

There's only so much one person can do to build a relationship -- the other has to meet them part of the way. I assume the same is true with God? Being God, he goes far, far beyond the halfway point to meet us. But if there's nothing given or sacrificed on our end, it's not a relationship. It's . . . something else.

Sorry. This is probably one of those rambling posts that means nothing to anyone else. But it may have connected some dots for me . . .

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Miracle Monday

I've mentioned before my Charismatic friend. Her church is having a revival this week, and she invited me to go last night. It was designated as "Miracle Monday", and they were encouraging anyone who wanted prayer for a miracle in their life to come. She knows about my sleep problems . . . did I want to have prayer for that? Well, heck, yeah! Pray, anoint, slap me around, whatever.

So, I went. I did pause a moment during the service to consider the progression of my faith over the years. The first time I heard someone speak in tongues, I kind of freaked. Now, it doesn't really faze me. I have my questions about the whole idea, but I don't put God in a box anymore and tell him how he does and doesn't work in people's lives. This wasn't the kind of worship service I would feel comfortable attending on a regular basis, but it was appropriate for my needs last night.

They prayed over me. They anointed me with oil in the name of the Lord, just like it says in James. I went home tired, although that's typical. And then I slept about like usual, maybe slightly worse. Not that I was expecting instantaneous change -- healing isn't always instantaneous. Actually, I'm not sure I was really expecting healing at all.

And therein lies my problem now, wondering if I "did this wrong" somehow. Here's the thing with me and healing: I absolutely believe that God can heal me of whatever is causing my sleep problems. Absolutely no doubt in my mind. But, God can heal anyone of anything, and he doesn't always do it. So, it's not a question of can he, but will he. And if he doesn't, I assume there's something else he has in mind. As I've said before, I've started to wonder if this isn't my own version of Paul's thorn in the flesh -- something to keep me humbled, to keep me always dependent on him.

Like the two alcoholics who got saved. One of them never wanted a drink again for the rest of his life -- a miracle. The other craved alcohol every hour of every day, but never drank again -- and that's just as much of a miracle. The fact that I've lived with this kind of sleep deprivation for years, apparently, and have not had a major car accident, or abused my children, or destroyed my marriage, that I've been able to continue living life pretty successfully . . . that's definitely a God thing.

I guess I find it a bit presumptuous to expect God to jump at my words and fix me all up just because some evangelist labeled this "Miracle Monday" and I decided to act on that. On the other hand, something keeps nagging at me that if God does have a miracle to do in my life, he may want me to participate in that miracle by believing it's going to happen, without any reason to believe it other than the fact that God says he's Jehovah Rapha, The God Who Heals. SIGH.

I believe, Lord. Help me my unbelief.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

It's Only One Mosque

I don't like being in the middle of conflict. So, it is with great trepidation that I step into this "ground zero mosque" fray, but I'm too irked now to keep my mouth shut about it. Irked by those on BOTH sides (as usual).

Here's the deal. It sounds to me like, from the very beginning, much ado has been made about little. Legally, there is nothing to prevent a mosque/Islamic center being built on this location, as everybody seems to acknowledge. The description of it being "at Ground Zero" sounds like an exaggeration. It's close to Ground Zero, but not close enough that it can't be avoided by visitors and mourners. Yes, America is all about religious freedom. Yes, perhaps the victim's families over-reacted to the idea. Maybe they shouldn't find this so offensive or hurtful.

But the fact is, they DO find it offensive and hurtful. Most Americans do -- 61% I am seeing on TV as I type. Sometimes pain is oblivious to the arguments of reason. Telling someone that their hurting is unjustified, or that they themselves are to blame for the hurting ("Intolerant politicizing bigots!"), doesn't stop the pain -- in fact, it only exacerbates it. And it shows a lack of compassion for the hurting one and a marked apathy about the relationship with the hurting one.

And THAT is why I'm mad about this mosque.

We are continually being told that the vast majority of American Muslims are reasonable and moderate and peace-loving . . . and I believe that. But reasonable, moderate, peace-loving Muslims would not continue to push for an unnecessary thing that is so dramatically damaging their relationship with their fellow Americans of other faiths. If these people are truly interested in building inter-faith relations, their response at the beginning of this uproar should have been:

"Our intentions are innocent; we had nothing to do with the 9-11 attack; we believe there is nothing wrong with what we're trying to do here. However, we have no desire to hurt our brothers and sisters who are still grieving, and we know that positive, trusting relationships with our fellow Americans are more important than our legal right to build an Islamic center on this particular spot. We will build elsewhere. I mean, it's only one mosque."

Had the Muslim higher-ups said something like this months ago, they would have earned tremendous respect from the American public. It would have been a tangible sign of the benevolence in their hearts. It would have promoted healing, where they are now promoting distrust and rancor. They would still have their Islamic center, and they would also have the support and affection of the very people fighting them now. If only they had been willing to turn the other cheek -- to be their weaker brother's keeper -- this could have been not just a non-issue, but a step forward.

Unfortunately, there's now no forward motion to be had. It's gone too far; somebody is going to come up the loser. And that makes me mad. It didn't have to be this way!! It's a bloody shame. When will we all learn that it is often more important to be kind than it is to be right.

Just Absurd

So, I'm going through the pile of paperwork we finally got from East High for the start of the school year (long story behind that "finally" . . one that doesn't need reiterating . . ) and I come upon a pink sheet which begins "To the Students and Families of Sioux City Community Schools," and ends with a "Healthy Kids Act Contract".

Now, let me remind you that I am a relatively intelligent woman. I have a Master's degree, even. Yet, I had to read this letter over and over and over again before I completely grasped what it was asking of me. This obscurity was the first issue I had with this pink sheet. My second issue with it emerged when I finally grasped what it was asking of me.

Apparently, Iowa has a law requiring that public schools must ensure that middle and high school students "engage in physical activity for a minimum of 120 minutes per week in which there are at least five days of school." Sioux City's high school students are required to take PE every semester, but the PE class only meets every other day -- that is, three days one week, two days the next. And on the two-day weeks, the students do not get their 120 minute minimum.

So, parents are apparently required to make up this difference, and we are to fill out this contract to describe how we will do that. The form asks for the activity the student will participate in, its starting and ending dates, etc. Does this seem bizarre to anyone? I mean, just how are they supposed to enforce this? What's to keep a parent from lying and saying their kid is playing soccer at the Y twice a week when he's not? And what would they do if a parent just said, no, my kid isn't doing any stinkin' physical activity? Since when does the school have the authority to prescribe how their students spend their time off campus and off hours?

But, wait -- there's more! They offer a list of possible activities that will meet this mandate, which includes, along with sports, dance, drill team, cheerleading and such . . . are you ready for this? . . . "Interscholastic activities sponsored by the Iowa High School Music Association or Iowa High School Speech Assocation."

Seriously? Orchestra concerts and debate tournaments count as PE?? This is absurd.

I'm sure legislators had Iowa's children's best interests at heart when they came up with this baloney. I'm sure they thought anything that would lead to students becoming more physically active is a positive thing. But perhaps they should have thought through whether the time-consuming, paper-wasting process they set up was actually going to make kids more active, or just set their parents and schools up to be liars.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Not Regrets, Just Realizations

I've mentioned before that we are done having kids, so this is not written to invite speculation. This is written as personal reflection from which others may possibly benefit. And so . . .


1) I would start from the beginning having my babies eat normal, natural food. No processed stuff. No sugary sweets. Real food. I mean, I wouldn't have been a tyrant about it, like forbidding cake and ice cream at birthday parties. But I would not have allowed them to acquire a taste for the lousy stuff first. (Remind me of this when I'm a grandmother . . . it seems to be harder for that generation to resist . . . )

2) I would have stricter TV/video (and, eventually, computer) limits. Time-wise, not necessarily content-wise -- I'm pretty comfortable with the limits we set there. But I would try harder to resist the temptation to use a screen as a babysitter. I also would put more effort into developing the girls' interests in better activities -- more productive, more active, more creative. Taking the remote isn't as much of a fight when they know what to do instead.

3) I would teach them housekeeping skills earlier and establish cleanliness and order at home as a habit. Again, not dictatorially, but such that order feels like the norm and disorder feels like a condition needing to be remedied -- not vice versa. Even if that means taking a day off of school occasionally to make a "fun day" of picking up the house with an ice cream sundae dinner as a reward. (Yes, I see the tension here with #1.)

I'm sure there are more, but there is one thing I would never change . . something I recommend to every parent.

I would read to my child every single night possible before they go to bed. And before naptimes. And any other time during the day that it's feasible. The many hours we have spent cuddled up reading books are the most precious memories I have of my girls' childhoods. A mother in our NJ homeschool co-op said that once a child learns to read, you should not read aloud to them anymore. Hogwash!! I will read aloud to my kids until they muzzle me. And thankfully I don't see that happening anytime soon.

But, as I already said, we are done having kids. I promise.

God As Narrative. Deep......

Yes, this is the fourth post this week. School starts next week, and then life will be a bit busier (or at least feel busier), so I want to get some stuff in before then.

One is another "book review". Well, not actually a review. The book is The End of Education by Neil Postman. Here's the review: it's great. Kind of deep, but great. I could probably write a long series of posts about the book -- and may -- because it was so thought-provoking.

By the way, when he talks about the "end" of education, he's not talking about education ceasing to exist. He's talking about the goal or purpose of education -- as in the phrase, "the ends justify the means." His main thesis is that we spend all of our time talking about the means in education and don't talk enough about the end. And he's right.

So, so many rich ideas in this book. But I want to share today his notion of our need for "a god to serve". By god, he doesn't mean God. He means, well, a great narrative -- probably the closest synonym I can think of is worldview. The stories we tell ourselves about what is true about ourselves, the world, life, etc. . . the stories that give (or don't give) meaning and purpose and direction to things. And as he says, we all need a god to serve -- a storyline that explains not just how, but why.

He then goes into discussion of many such "gods" that have failed our society over the years, particularly in education, and to suggest some more appropriate "gods" or narratives that would serve us better. Again, he's not talking about any kind of deity here. But I was struck with the idea of the god we serve being a narrative. And the fact that Jesus, God-in-the-flesh, was called The Word. The idea that God (our God, the deity), in his beyond-our-comprehension complexity, could be conceived by us in terms of narrative.

When we serve God, we are not simply serving a person (although he is a person). We are "serving" (or living our lives in terms of the truth of) a narrative (or story/explanation of everything). God, in his very nature, is the explanation. God, in his very nature, gives purpose and meaning and direction for all things. He doesn't just give us the narrative. He IS the narrative -- the Word.

Yeah, I told you. Deep. Actually, that is more deep and obscure than anything Postman says in the book, so don't let my weird thoughts scare you away from reading it. There's a lot more I'd like to write about from the book, but it's due back at the library soon. So, you may luck out- this may be the end of my deep thoughts. :) Then again, I'm considering ordering my own copy . . .

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Village Living

My eldest just returned from a sleepover. She said she and her friend walked this morning to the library and Walgreen's. I'm envious -- I wish I lived close enough to walk to a Walgreen's and a library. And a grocery store. And a post office. And my church. And a bank -- well, I probably do live close enough for that.

The summer before my first pregnancy, I attended a four-week NEH seminar at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. The village of Gambier, they call it. One of the neatest little towns I've been in. I'll try to describe my memory of it, but won't swear to its complete accuracy. I'm sure I've romanticized it some over the years.

At the center of town was a one-block long "business district", that didn't look business-y at all because it had a lovely tree'd median down the middle and little or no traffic. On this block was a grocery store, a bank, a post office, the college bookstore (which was also a coffee shop, snack bar and more), a couple restaurants . . you know, all the basics. At each end of this block was college property -- academic on one end, residential on the other -- kind of like a barbell. And then there were homes and some other businesses surrounding all this.

Basically, anyone living on or near the campus (which seemed to be the majority of the town) could walk to downtown, where most of the necessities of life could be found. It was the epitome of idealistic small town America.

I wish we could plan our towns to be communities like this. Even the big cities can be a collection of such communities. Don't you think if it was more convenient and pleasant to walk to these places, people would do it? Don't you think these little communities would be likely to grow the kinds of social connections that we are missing so much in today's world?

I know, it's idealistic. I do indulge in a little idealism on occasion.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Feelin' a Bit Random....

- A couple of my friends who blog have fill-in-the-blank slots on their posts where they name a song they are listening to while they write, or one that fits the mood of their post, I guess. Interesting. I don't think I could do that. Usually, the musical backdrop to my blog-writing is Disney Channel theme songs, which would not fit the mood of my posts very often. And despite being a pretty musical gal, I don't know that I could come up with a song to fit my mood at any given time. Beyond that, I find that introspecting that much on my own mood tends to sour it.

- Our dog is old and sick. Yeah, the old part isn't news, but this sick part is a recent thing. Since we brought him home from the kennel he stayed at during our vacation, he's been really out of it. To be expected to some degree, I suppose -- a week of eating different food, sleeping in a different place, not getting his arthritis meds ... it takes its toll. But he seems to have some gastrointestinal issues going on, too. Poor guy. I would be surprised if he makes it through another Iowa winter. Sniff.

- For the record, doggy diarrhea is TOXIC.

- I'm doing a two-week adult Shakespeare workshop at the community theater and I am so psyched! We spent the last two sessions picking scenes and monologues that we're going to perform at the Rose Garden in Grandview Park at the end. And hold your hats, folks: I'm doing a Kate/Petruchio scene from Taming of the Shrew!! OK, maybe my hat was the only one requiring a firm grip at that news, but you have to understand -- Kate is one of my "before-I-die" roles. I am SO thrilled!

I'm also doing Brutus' "Romans, Countrymen and Lovers" speech from Julius Caesar. I really wanted Antony's "Friends, Romans, Countrymen", but I was too bashful to speak up in time before he gave it to someone else. I could hope that girl gets sick or something, but I suppose that's uncalled for. Oh, and yes, those speeches are supposed to be done by men, but there are only four men in the class of a dozen or so. Lucky for me -- I LOVE those speeches!

- Speaking of Disney Channel, I have not been looking forward to watching the premiere of "Camp Rock 2" in September, and even LESS so after being bombarded with promos for the bulk of 2010. Can you say, "Overkill"?

MOOD: a bit scattered
LISTENING TO: the Phineas and Ferb theme song

"Mom! Phineas and Ferb are making a title sequence!!"

Great show.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gray is BOTH Black AND White

I've read several books this summer, and I intended to write about each of them. Now, it's almost time for school to start; plus, it's been so long for some of them, I don't remember a lot of the details. Oh, well. I'll try to get caught up this week.

Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White, by Adam Hamilton. Recommended to me by my friend Jo. When I heard the title, I was anxious to read it, even while I was a bit wary of where the author was going to go with that. I tend to lean toward trying to see the grays, but I'm also aware of -- as Leslie and I learned about last year in her Critical Thinking studies -- the Fallacy of the Golden Mean.

This is when people assume that the truth lies in the middle of two extremes. "Laura says she has never cheated in school. Tonya says she cheats all the time. So, the truth must be that she cheats some of the time." I hope the problem with this thinking is clear to everyone reading. Just because the truth lies at an extreme end of somebody's arbitrary continuum doesn't negate the fact that it is true. "Some people say that six million Jews died in the Holocaust. Some people say there was no such thing as the Holocaust. So, the truth must be that there were only about 3 million killed . . ." If you start paying attention, it's amazing to observe how often and easily we fall into this mental trap. We're so conditioned about the evils of extremes.

Fortunately, Hamilton doesn't engage in much of that thinking -- generally. He addresses some very tough subjects in the Christian world, primarily in terms of the liberal Christian vs. conservative Christian differences. But I found most of what he had to say to be very helpful and insightful.

And I liked how he addressed the two extremes on the various continuums he discusses. For example, regarding worship "style" or focus. There are the mainline denominations, on one hand, who tend to be intellectual and structured in their worship, but also pretty spiritually dry. Then there are the charismatics who brought the emotion and the Spirit back into it, but who are often pretty flaky and easily drawn off-track from scriptural truth. True worship does not lie in less of each extreme -- it lies in both extremes in co-existence. It's not "either-or", or "neither in excess" . . . it's "both-and". Jesus said we are to worship "in spirit and in truth".

I've been seeing this "both-and" approach pop up a lot in my faith. God is both loving and just. Jesus is both God and man. The Kingdom of God is both now and yet to come. The truth is often more complex than our minds can wrap around -- and so beyond our limited human experience that we would never come to it on our own. Thus the need for divine revelation.

But I digress. Good book. Recommended for anyone interested in the church and social issues. Thanks, Jo.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Blessing in Suffering

A Facebook friend from high school just lost his son in a car accident. The boy had just graduated from high school. Ohhhh. There just aren't words. I prayed for him, and then I tried to put it out of my head. If I think about this too much . . . the tragedy of losing a child . . . I just may tumble into a pit of despair difficult to crawl back out of.

And then I read this, posted today in Tony Woodlief's blog: Today, I attended the funeral of a child. It is a bitter, hard thing, the death of a child. It is especially so in modern America, insulated as we are from the brutalities of history and the depredations in much of the world. We are not accustomed to burying our children, any more than we are accustomed to the thunder of approaching war or the desperate of searching for clean water and a scrap of food. We have outgrown the world and history and have forgotten much about suffering. Perhaps this is why we have also drifted from God.

I have considered before the fact that we of the "Western" modernized world tend to approach the trials of life with the question, "Why must I suffer so?" Meanwhile, our third world counterparts experience the touch and presence of God and question, "Why am I being so blessed?" Who is to be envied here?

I shared recently with my friend who grew up in communist Albania a quote I heard from a missionary to the Eastern block. He returned a few years after the Iron Curtain fell and churches were now being allowed to flourish. The question he heard from his Christian brothers: "Why has God taken away the blessing of persecution?" My friend nodded. She knew just what he meant.

The blessing of persecution. Of suffering. It draws us to God. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." The comfort of God must be a tremendous thing if we are to be happy for the opportunity to have need of it.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

And A Favorite Eastin Moment

When I look back, I kind of wonder if Eastin would have learned much of anything in "regular" school early on. She is what you call an active learner -- a loud active learner -- and was even more so in kindergarten. She could sit still and quietly in class (I saw her do it in Sunday School), but it took so much of her energy and concentration that she couldn't focus on what was being taught. So, she either would have behaved in class and learned nothing, or she would have tried to understand what the teacher was talking about and gotten in trouble every day for acting up.

I vividly remember teaching her to read. I was using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. She had all the sounds of the letters down pat, but the idea of a verbal word being written on paper just wasn't clicking with her yet.

But the day came. We were on the sofa, sounding out words from the book. "B - A - T", she said a couple times. And suddenly, miraculously, I saw the light come on. "BAT!!", she yelled. Then she jumped to her feet on the sofa and started acting it all out for me: "That's like you TAKE A BAT and you SWING IT AT A BALL!!!"

"Yes!" I answered. "Good! Have a seat!"

"OKAY!!", she yelled and plopped down beside me again, obviously thrilled with herself and this new discovery.

Next word: "M - A - D . . . MAD!!!" she hollered, and she was back on her feet towering above me with her hands on her hips and her face scrunched into a scowl. "That's like, I am REALLY, REALLY MAD AT YOU!!"

"Yes!" I answered. "Have a seat again!"


Within a few months, she was reading Junie B. Jones chapter books and coming into the room every few minutes to announce, "GOOD NEWS, everyone!! I finished ANOTHER CHAPTER!!" She's still a fanatic reader. The librarians' eyes bug out every time she brings her pile of twenty books up to the desk to check out.

Ah, my precious little loud girl! I will forever be grateful that I was there at that magical moment. I am SO glad we decided to homeschool.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

Yes, we're home again. Sorry for the lack of posts during the rest of our vacation, but between a cold I caught from Eastin and the increasing lack of sleep as the week progressed, I wasn't up to thinking and writing at the hotels each night. So, let me try a quick run-down of the rest of our trip....

- Yellowstone: Beautiful, really. Especially the Canyon -- and Old Faithful was a cool sight, too. But my full enjoyment of it was spoiled by the size of the place and the lousy roads trying to cover it. Lousy as in slow. To their credit, they know they're lousy roads and they're in the process of improving them, but right now, the construction just added to the frustration of getting around such a huge place. Winding, two-lane roads with wimpy drivers afraid to move above 20mph and not thoughtful enough to pull over occasionally to let faster vehicles by (as the road signs suggest) already make for hours on the road trying to get to the next beautiful site. Construction didn't help.

- White-water rafting: Yes, friends, I went white-water rafting. I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't had to paddle, but I still enjoyed it -- probably one of my top three activities for the trip. We all enjoyed it, but Eastin the most. She jumped into the water to swim twice (and this was bitter freezing cold water, folks) and was hoping she would fall in while going through one of the rapids. Her mother was infinitely relieved that she did not.

- Frontier Days Rodeo in Cheyenne: This is the largest outdoor rodeo in the country -- a week-long event -- and probably one of the most fun rodeos I've ever attended. But my favorite moment was the national anthem. A young girl was singing it and her voice was absolutely fantastic. I'm getting more emotional with age, it seems, and I always tear up a bit during the national anthem. But when this sweet little girl was done singing, she ran into the arms of a grown-up nearby (a parent, I assumed) and fell into tears, clearly overwhelmed by the power of singing that song in front of 12,000 screaming, appreciative patriots. And then I started to really cry. Keith and the girls kept looking at me, asking, "Are you okay?" Yes, I'm fine. Just a bit ferclempt, thank you very much.

The only really bad part of the trip . . . my miserable sleeping. I had to take my max of medications every night, and that still didn't keep me in slumberland for more than a few hours. I'm calling the sleep specialist again this week. Wish I could do so with more optimism.