Friday, September 30, 2011

Sigh. We Can Do Better.

Put yourself in a scenario here with me. You're a young pre-teen student who has always struggled with math. It's just not your thing -- it's tough for you. And maybe because of that, you've avoided working very hard at it, which hasn't helped. You WANT to be better at it, you just don't quite know how to get there, and it's hard. But in any case, you are now placed in a homogenous math class with students at various levels of math ability.

Some of these kids are naturals with numbers. It all comes very easy for them; they hardly have to try. Some of them have even competed in math competitions and gotten special coaching and practice in the subject. You're at the bottom of this class. And it's obvious to the whole room.

Everyone in the class is given the same assignment -- one that is beyond your current ability. The work is graded by other students in class. And when it's time to tell the teacher your scores, you're required to announce it . . . out loud . . . in front of everyone. "85." "92." "100%!" And then you give your score: "27." Kids snicker and look at you amused out of the corner of their eyes. And the teacher seems oblivious to the snickers and to your humiliation.

Does this make you love math? Does this motivate you to want to work harder to get better at it? Does this encourage you to develope lifelong healthy "math habits"? Would anyone say this is an appropriate way to conduct a math class?

Well, if it's not appropriate for math class, why is it appropriate for P.E.?

For a country who is so concerned about the healthy lifestyles of our youth, you'd think we could find a better way to conduct our Physical Education classes. P.E. is notorious for being a locus of fear and shame for the non-athletic child. How have we allowed that to continue? I suppose it's because the only people who become P.E. teachers are those who loved P.E. as a kid -- and they apparently can't put themselves in the mindset of a child who hates this. Or maybe it's because we simply don't allocate the money and resources to be able to do P.E. in anything but a mass production factory fashion.

I hated P.E. after elementary school. I assumed things surely had changed; apparently not. We've got to be able to do better than this, folks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Me and Jeremiah

The young 'un and I are reading about Jeremiah. That poor, poor man. God gave him this depressing message to deliver to the people of Judah -- you're going down. You screwed up. God'll bring you back eventually, but things are going to get really bad here, really soon.

Obviously, nobody wanted to hear this. He was beaten -- put in stocks -- thrown in prison -- thrown down a well, for Pete's sake. The other "prophets" contradicted him and tickled the people's ears. "Oh, no -- the Lord's going to give us victory over the Babylonians! You just wait and see! Jeremiah's full of it." The king burned the scroll of the word Jeremiah received from the Lord, a piece at a time as it was read. Harsh.

But the man kept on keeping on. Not that he didn't complain. He did. But he didn't quit. He kept right on doing exactly what the Lord told him to do, even when it looked like his "mission" was a complete failure. No one was listening to him. No one cared. No one even liked him.

How does a person do that? Keep going in the face of failure, I mean? I remember hearing someone say once that God has not called us to success, God has called us to obedience -- meaning that sometimes we can be right smack dab in the center of God's will for our lives and it will look like nothing is working right. When you're in those situations, how can you be confident that you really are right smack dab in the center of God's will for your life? How was Jeremiah so sure that he was hearing God right and the other prophets were wrong?

I'd kind of like to think that, you know, he was one of those great prophets of old who just had a secret line to God somehow and knew this stuff for certain. But I know better. Folks in the Bible were very real and very normal. In fact, Jeremiah sounds a lot like me sometimes. "If only I had died within the womb . . . cursed be the day that I was born . . . " (OK, I don't get that morbid, folks, but I do get depressed.)

Some days it discourages me to read about the perseverance of a Jeremiah and realize what a wimp I am. And then other days, it encourages me to know that wimps like me and Jeremiah can be given the power to persevere.

Monday, September 26, 2011


A very medical week last week. After Eastin's emergency room episode, she had an EEG on Friday. No results from that yet. And Thursday I drove down to Omaha for yet another follow-up with my sleep doctor.

About a year ago, he suggested that I need to see a psychiatrist in town and try an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety med -- see if messing with my neurotransmitters did anything. I opted instead to spend some time with a holistic health kind of guy trying to get at that problem more naturally, to no avail. So, last spring, my sleep doctor again recommended I see a psychiatrist about anti-depressants.

I did, and the psychiatrist after talking with me a while said, although it's clear I'm "dysthymic" (kind of a low-grade chronic depression -- I've known that for years), I seem to be managing that well on my own and don't need meds. He gave me another type of sleeping pill.

So, following up with the Omaha sleep doctor last week . . . I'm still not sleeping as much as I'd like, and I'm still tired and groggy all day. And he AGAIN wants me to try an anti-depressant -- in fact, this time, he just wrote the prescription himself. Effexor. I'm reading up on it online, and I'm not crazy about the idea.

It occurred to me as I thought through all this over the weekend that I've been taking some kind of sleeping pill (Tylenol PM, Benadryll, Ambien, Trazadone, etc.) on a somewhat regular basis (at least once or twice a week -- now every night) for about 14 years. 14 years!! And it has been during those 14 years that I've learned how to manage my dysthymia better. I'm wondering, if I got off all these sleep meds altogether, if I might be able to figure out how to get some sleep on my own. Maybe the meds are part of the problem.

Thing is, I am quite dependent on the meds now. I don't sleep at all without taking something. Going au naturale is going to be a painful process, for myself and probably for everyone around me whose head I will bite off until my body finally readjusts itself -- if it ever does. I may be totally wrong about this.

Is this worth the battle to try? I don't know. I'm not a fan of the better-living-through-chemistry movement. But I still gotta live . . .

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Emergency Room

I pulled the car over yesterday because my eleven-year-old daughter suddenly sounded like she was drunk. I made her look at me and told her to speak as clearly as she could. "Ahm trah-ing to," she slowly spit out. It looked like the right side of her mouth wasn't moving right. I asked her if it felt weird and she said kind of. "Izz juss I cann . . mebbe I need tuh see a dotter . . " Yes, I think so. My mother died of a massive stroke -- her mother died of a stroke -- not taking chances with this.

After a quick stop at our family doctor's office, which was right nearby (and during which the numbness left her mouth . . and moved to her right hand . . and then her right leg . . . and then back to her mouth . . . ), we drove to the emergency room. By that point, all the numbness was gone, but her head ached and she was very sleepy. And she was struggling to speak right. Fighting to find the words she wanted. Substituting words that sounded similar. When the doctor said to her, "Repeat after me: 'No ifs, ands, or buts'", she said, "No ifs . . and . . is but." He looked at me and asked, "Is this a normal vocal pattern for her?" I shook my head intently; no, it most certainly is not.

They did an MRI and several other small tests. We're supposed to call to schedule an EEG this morning. After we'd been there for three or four hours, and Dad and sister had shown up, she was quite back to normal which was a tremendous relief. The doctor's best guess was that it was a migraine or some kind of seizure. Thus, the EEG. We'll see what that shows.

A rather scary evening. I appreciate all your prayers.

Monday, September 19, 2011

So, You Gotta Live It Big Time

Last Saturday night, our family went to the Grandstand concert at the Clay County Fair, about an hour and a half away. It was a cold, cloudy day, and we expected to be rained on any minute. And we got back very late, especially when I had to be at church early the next morning. But we couldn't have missed this concert -- it was Big Time Rush with special guest Hot Chelle Rae, and the girls had been hoppin' excited for this night for weeks, especially Eastin.

For those without teen- or pre-teen-aged children, Big Time Rush is a boys band with a show on Nickelodeon. I feel a bit of affinity for them because one of the members is from Wichita, my hometown. Big Chelle Rae I hadn't heard of until I realized they sing "Tonight, Tonight" -- I love that song.

I had mixed feelings about going to this concert. I don't mind BTR's music, so I figured it would be a decent concert -- and it was. But as I said, it was cold and rain was pending the whole time. And I dreaded sitting in the middle of a bunch of screaming girls all evening long. As it turned out, our seats were near the top of the bleachers, so although the cold wind was worse up there, the screaming was mostly in front of us. Our ears got a break anyway.

At one point in the concert, they pulled a young girl up on the stage to sing to. I was afraid the poor thing was going to pee her pants she was so nervous and excited. They asked her if she'd ridden any rides at the fair that day . . . and she couldn't remember. She sat giggling, hyperventilating, on the verge of tears through the whole song. She squealed when each of them took a turn hugging her while they sang -- until her apparent favorite, Kendall (the Wichita boy), put his arm around her shoulders and she closed her eyes and just shrieked. Too funny. These boys have to just love this concert tour business.

I have been relieved that my girls haven't let themselves get all crazy obsessed over any celebrities since they've hit the pre-teen stage. No Bieber fever in our house, thank God. I don't think I ever got like that about anyone from my day (who would it have been? All I can think of is Shaun Cassidy . . . Andy Gibb . . . oh, yeah, Rick Springfield . . . but they never really did anything for me).

Nevertheless, the youngest had the time of her life Saturday night. "Thank you! Thank you! I love you guys SO MUCH!!!!" she told us over and over. That made it all worth it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Faith and Compassion

An FB friend posted a link to Pat Robertson answering a question about a man whose wife has advanced Alzheimer's disease. The man was angry at God and had started seeing another woman -- and Robertson suggested that, once he's provided for her continued care, it would be appropriate for him to divorce his wife and "start all over". It was a lousy answer to the question, and he was legitimately crucified for it by people from all over the spectrum.

But having watched my mother stand faithfully and lovingly by my father through a cruel 21-year battle with Alzheimer's, I felt defensive at the many implications that Robertson was a hypocritical scumbag for daring to try to give the man an out. Seriously -- have you walked in those shoes?

Sometimes, God allows difficult and painful circumstances in our lives. In fact, "difficult and painful" is hardly adequate to describe the situations some are in. And he calls us, in those times, to be faithful and obedient. To stand firm and not waver. To follow his lead, even into the terrible darkness, trusting that He has us there for a reason and He will never leave us and He will work all things together for good. I believe those like my mother who do stand firm, despite how hopeless and unbearable the situation around them becomes, find a tremendous reward at the end of the battle that makes it all worthwhile.

BUT. It takes a profound faith to believe that God can redeem the unbearable, and some people simply don't have that kind of faith yet. Maybe they're new believers, or immature believers, or wounded believers, or weak believers . . . they may be very genuine believers, and yet when facing the dark path God is leading them down, they simply don't trust enough to keep walking.

It does no good to castigate them for their lack of faith; they're already castigating themselves. We can encourage them, "exhort" them (such a churchy word) to stand firm and trust God, but in the end, they have to have the will to do it, and many won't. In fact, I bet most won't. Most of us walk away from the fight long before such sacrifice is required of us.

So, how do we respond to these?

I think we need to respond in a way that allows them to hear what Jesus would say to them, which I believe is this: I understand. It's okay. What I ask is hard. Impossible, actually. That's why I ask it -- so you can see me work and know it's me. But I give you free will and a choice, and even when you don't choose my will, you're still my child. I still love you. I'll still walk close beside you down the path you're choosing, because things are going to be difficult that way, too. And when I've carried you through those trials, you'll know me better . . . and you'll trust me more. And that was the goal in the first place.

Yes, I believe one should stand beside their invalid spouse to the end. But I also believe God is full of compassion, not condemnation, for his children . . . and we need to be, too. Because it is compassion that gives them strength to keep walking.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Extra-Sensory Perception

Just got back from taking the eldest to school and the neighbors' two dogs are in our front yard. First time that's happened in three years. I assume they'll corral them back pretty soon. They were having a regular sniff-fest on our lawn, feasting on the various scents our own mutt emits in the area.

I always wonder what information they get out of those smells that we can't decipher. I heard somewhere that they can identify who's been passing by, how long since they've been there, whether they be friend or foe . . . and probably, like, what they ate for dinner last night. I bet if these dogs could talk, they could tell by smelling our mutt's pee out there what's wrong in his digestic tract that has kept him from eating much these last few days and given him diarrhea. The vet and I would like to know.

How do their noses get this information? Do they have more receptors? Different kinds of receptors? Do their brains have more neurons firing in the olfactory mode? Are they born with more innate information about scents stored there for use later?

And dogs hear better, too -- hear sounds that we can't. That always freaks me out a bit to think that there are sounds out there in the stratosphere that no human can hear. Are there tastes in food that our taste buds are too limited to taste, that if we were aware of them, would stop us from eating things that are bad for us? Are there things to see out there that our visual systems don't physically register? Or maybe that they register but our brains can't make sense of, so it's as if we don't see them?

Might there be things in our environment that we could feel if the nerve endings in our skin were more sensitive or developed? Or that we would "feel" through a completely different organ altogether? Are there other senses that we simply aren't aware of? I read once that we only really use about 20% of our brain capacity -- who's to say that with the other 80% functioning, we might not discover some other ways of "knowing", ways of experiencing the world that have been closed to us?

Maybe we'd hear the voice of God, the way the Old Testament prophets did. Not through our ear canals, but through another "sense". Maybe we'd see the hand of God. Not by way of the optic nerve, but we'd just know it was there, like we know the color purple -- like we "feel" the air pressure drop, or "feel" a storm coming.

Kind of makes it easier to believe the miracles in the Bible without questioning. If my dog can smell how old the neighbor's cat is through its pee, why couldn't a God-man know a way to walk on water?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Brick and Stone

Just got back from another one of my wimpy jogs (but I jogged! Yay, me!). I sat on the front steps for a little while when I was done to cool down cuz it's so nice out this morning. I was looking around my neighborhood and thanking God for the blessing of living in a place where I see beauty when I look outside. Planned and manicured beauty, yes, but that's still beauty -- art -- an act of creation in the image of God.

I was looking at our and the neighbors' mailboxes. Theirs is red brick. Ours is whitish and grayish stones. And I was wondering why they made our mailboxes look so different when they sit so relatively close together on our relatively isolated end of the cul de sac.

Then I looked at the neighbors' house and realized it's made of red brick. And I turned around to glance at ours and saw . . . wait for it . . . whitish and grayish stone. (At least at the bottom -- I don't know what to call the material the main part of the house is made of, nor its color -- taupe, maybe?).

This is one of those things about me that makes my husband shake his head in disbelief. We've lived here almost three years now, but if you'd asked me what material the house was made of, I'd be hard pressed to picture it in my head to even describe to you. And I'd have no hope of describing the Lapkes' place to you. Red brick! Who knew.

I think it odd now, too, that looking from the perspective of my front steps, I was thinking of the mailboxes as a unit, as connected. But from the perspective of the street, clearly each mailbox is connected with its house. Duh.

I'm not sure there's a point to be made here. Something about perspective? Attention to detail? Unity in diversity? I don't know -- I just jogged and I'm tired. Find your own insight today. :)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What I Remember About 9/11

- The weather was beautiful. And we were so grateful, because we could send the kids outside to play and not worry about them over-hearing what was going on.

- The skies were quiet. The streets were quiet (which is nearly miraculous in New Jersey). It was like the whole world had gasped in horror and hadn't let their breath out yet.

- Flags suddenly popped up everywhere. On lawns and cars, in particular.

- Churches were all open in the evenings for special prayer services -- and everyone went.

- At my daughter's elementary school, many kids had parents who worked in downtown Manhattan. Apparently, the school office got calls all day from parents saying, "Please tell my child that I'm alright." And the school told them, "We can't. We can't tell your child that his father is alright if we can't tell the child next to him that his father is alright. The kids know nothing."

- A friend of mine had one grand-daughter at college near the Twin Towers and another at college near the Pentagon. The family lost contact with both of them for several hours after the attack. Later, she printed up the series of panicked emails floating around among family members trying to hear some word from them, concluding with the news of their safety. She was a Creative Memories consultant like me. She put the printout in a scrapbook, of course.

- A friend in Wichita called that morning to tell me that our friend Scott had died a couple nights before. His funeral was a couple days later, and his brother had to drive across the country to get there because all the airplanes were grounded.

- At another elementary school in the area, the principal reportedly defied the ultra-secular culture in New Jersey and, after the morning announcements, invited the student body to pray with him for the country.

- The Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer had a several-page special section full of nothing but reader-submitted photos of the Twin Towers. I heard somewhere that 80% of New Jerseyans knew somebody who had been in the Towers during the attack; 50% knew somebody who died there.

- I looked at my daughters at one point in the days that followed and ached for them, because I thought, the country they will grow up in will be so different than the one I did. At that moment, it seemed like nothing could ever really be the same again.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Life, These Days

WRITING -- We had auditions for the 2nd-5th grade homeschool play last Tuesday, so now I have to finish the script before next Tuesday. Lots of random sheep in this play, so now that I know the kids I have to work with, I have to tailor personalities to each character that the kids can portray successfully. The girly sheep . . . the whiny sheep . . . the sassy sheep . . . P-Dawg, the sheep with bling . . . it's fun, but intense. Got a lot to finish up this weekend.

HOMESCHOOLING -- Just starting to get into a real routine here with the youngest. She's in class at the middle school for one period a day -- P.E. half the week and orchestra the other half. That's fifth hour, which cuts our day in two. Makes it tricky to figure out how to work everything else in around it effectively. But the good news is, she's out in time to do homeschool choir and homeschool drama in the spring.

THE DOG -- Oh, this poor mutt! All summer long, he's been up and down, eating and starving. Two days ago, he just stopped eating again -- the same food he's been devouring for the past couple weeks. I don't know. You gotta eat to live, and we can't force him to eat. Between doctoring up food for him and taking him out frequently to avoid messes in the house, our home life seems to revolve around the dog anymore. It will almost be a relief when his time comes . . . but it will be sad, too.

CHURCH DRAMA -- . . . feels like it's hiccupping along lately. I don't like all the skits I've been writing, and several of them haven't been used anyway, and actors are having to back out on me . . . just kind of frustrating. Feeling a little bit of burn-out, I think. I need a Kim Jacob at Sunnybrook.

AMBIEN CR -- Which puts me to sleep for 5 or 6 hours. Then I wake up, think of something I have coming up during the next day, and have a moment of anxiety that takes a while to calm down from. Then I doze restlessly for another couple hours with some very bizarre dreams. And I feel like I'm half-sleepwalking for the rest of the day. I'm trying to decide if this is acceptable or not.

THAT 70s SHOW -- The eldest is into this show now. It's very funny. It's also rather inappropriate. What to do, what to do.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"He Ain't Through With Me Yet"

Last week, the eldest was scanning Netflix looking for a comedian to watch who was clean and on instant queue. She happened upon a Steve Harvey show described as being performed to a sold-out crowd of "the Christian faithful". Well, hmmm.

I had to google Steve Harvey, because I knew the name but couldn't place him. He's a comedian; he had a sitcom for a while on WB and he looks remarkably like Richard Pryor. He got remarried a few years ago to a lady who he says turned his life around, and he decided he needed to clean up his stage act. So, Bishop T.D. Jakes invited him to get a new start by doing a show one night of "Megafest", some monster Christian event the Bishop runs every year.

Harvey started out the show, after receiving his truly wild applause from the huge audience, by asking them all to pray with him: "Lord God, PLEEEAAASE help Steve not cuss during this show tonight . . . " He explained that he'd been performing for twenty years and hadn't once gotten through a night without cussing, so he was going to need their grace and their prayers. And if he messed up, he asked them to remember the name of the DVD this would be put out as -- "Don't Trip: God Ain't Through With Me Yet."

He cut himself off in mid-sentence more than a few times. He played with some theology I thought was questionable. And he danced around some subjects I'm sure aren't often brought up at many mega-Christian conferences. But, he was seriously funny. He'd obviously grown up in the church and had plenty of material from the experience. And he continually gave God the glory for where he is today and for the work he's still doing to straighten him out.

I loved watching this. I love stories of how we dig ourselves into pits and God pulls us out anyway. I loved watching an audience of Christians -- who are often SO judgmental and sanctimonious -- embrace and carry him through this big night, even when he stumbled very close to the line.

He ended the show with a glorious demonstration of how he (who has introduced many a celebrity on award shows, Showtime at the Apollo, etc.) would introduce Jesus Christ to an audience, had he the blessed opportunity to do so. As I said, it was glorious. He got a rousing, standing ovation, and he was visibly moved to tears when it was all done. I LOVED watching this.