Friday, December 27, 2013

Aging with Grace

My mother grew old pretty gracefully, and it was a blessing to us all. She chose a retirement community to move to where she would be taken care of as she gradually lost the ability to care for herself – completely accepting the fact that she would gradually lose the ability to care for herself and not wanting my sisters and I to be burdened with that. She didn't seem to have a lot of problems selling her house or the bulk of its contents. Giving up the car was a bit of a struggle, my sisters told me, but overall, she took her declining years in stride and sought to enjoy what she had rather than mourn or rage over what she had lost.

That's how I want to do it.

My dad had Alzheimer's for twenty-one years, and since there is a genetic component to that, I'm preparing myself. I've already made it quite clear to hubby and the kids that I don't need them trying to pull any heroics about taking care of me in their homes long past when it makes sense. Find me a good nursing home, keep close tabs on me, but don't put my life or your lives in jeopardy or make yourselves miserable trying to “do the noble thing”. Yeah, I'll want to be with my family, but I wouldn't want to be there if I knew I was making your life hell.

My brother-in-law's dad was at our family Christmas this year. My sister and her husband have just recently moved in with him because he can no longer take care of himself. He has a form of dementia, and -- please don't think this was crass -- he was kind of entertaining. I think he asked me four or five times who I was (he's known me since I was a kid). “Oh, you're from San Antonio? There's someone else here from San Antonio . . . “ Yep, that would be my family. Dad B also asked his grandson if he had a girlfriend yet. “Yes, Grandpa, I'm married, actually.” "Oh, would you like me to perform the ceremony?" “Actually, you already did, Grandpa.”

If I have to get loopy when I get older, I hope I at least provide holiday entertainment for the family. And I hope they don't feel so sad about it that they can't enjoy the humor.

In my mind, when I imagine losing it, I figure that if I know it's coming, it won't be as upsetting as it was to my dad and to so many people I see getting old. If I just accept that I can't remember things as well . . . I can't do things as quickly . . . I can't understand some of the stuff that's being discussed . . . and simply, like my mom, enjoy what I have rather than mourn or rage over what I've lost . . . I'll be fine.

In my heart, I know better. I know there comes a point when you forget the grace you intended to remember. Hopefully, it will only be for short spurts.

I suspect that the best way to prevent becoming an angry, miserable old woman is to be certain that I'm not now an angry, miserable middle-aged woman in disguise. Sometimes, old age changes you. But I suspect old age more often simply takes off your masks and reveals who you really are. Which means now is the time to let God do the painful work of remaking who I really am.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


And so this is Christmas . . .

For all my talk about focusing on Jesus during Christmas, like everyone else, I get far too caught up in all the doings. So caught up that I missed my last two blogging days. But that's okay, because I probably would have ended up blogging about Phil Robertson, and these two people (here and here) said it all more eloquently than I would have.

But it's Christmas Eve now, and everyone is still in bed after a late-night Dominion binge, so I'm considering this morning the significance of what these next couple days are all about. God becoming a man and living with us.

This is, of course, a mystery whose depths we will never really be able to explore fully. In our limited human capacity, we will never completely understand the hows and whys of divine incarnation. But we get glimpses of truth . . . usually the glimpses that God needs us to see for some reason at that point in our lives.

I blogged recently about Jesus teaching us to be human.  This is the glimpse God has had for me lately. That Jesus came to live in human flesh to show us how to live. I know, I know -- didn't I learn that in fourth grade Sunday school? Well, yes, I learned that fact in Sunday school . . . the reality of what that fact means takes the instruction of the Spirit to sink in.

Consider some of the things Jesus did on earth:

- He slept. All the work he had to do, all the needs around him, all the burdens on his shoulders, and he took the time to sleep when his body needed it. And to sleep soundly -- the disciples had to wake him up to point out the raging storm that was about to sink their boat.

- He socialized. And not only with "his own kind". The Pharisees got on his case for hanging out with the sinners and low-lifes. He cultivated relationships, and apparently did it well enough that people -- especially those sinners and low-lifes -- sought him out to be with him.

- He separated himself on occasion, spending time alone with the Father to get re-juiced. And I doubt he felt guilty about it.

- He prayed. Again, we can't ever really comprehend the relationship within the Trinity and what this kind of prayer was like -- but Jesus, in his human form, spent extensive time in prayer. Before he chose his twelve disciples, he spent all night in prayer. If Jesus needed that kind of connection time with the Father, what makes me think I can get by on the occasional shout-out?

- He fasted. Despite his divinity, there was still something about existing in human flesh that meant that flesh had a pull on him which required a conscientious effort to deny once in a while to get his focus back where it needed to be. Again, if Jesus needed to fast, for crying out loud . . .

- He devoured Scripture. As I said in that blog, he didn't call down the angels to battle Satan during his temptation in the wilderness.  He used the same weapon we have available to us -- the Word. He showed us how it's done.

Hebrews tells us that we don't have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our human weaknesses, but one who was tempted in every way just like we were, but succeeded in not sinning. I think we need to remember what a gift that is. That when we are struggling, he's not standing over us clucking his critical tongue, shaking his aggravated head, wagging his accusatory finger. He GETS it. He's been there. He knows.

Thank you, Lord, for willingly becoming our Emmanuel. Pleased as man with man to dwell!  Merry Christmas, all!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Ugh

One week 'til Christmas Day.

If you've read my blog for more than a year, you've surely picked up on my frustrations over the holiday season. I get so aggravated at the commercialism . . . but I also get aggravated at the secular anti-commercialism, especially when it is spouted by religious people and sources. If you're a believer, Christmas is NOT about "family", "giving", "the kids", or any of that stuff. Christmas is about a specific historical and spiritual event -- an event of profound significance that is worthy of deep and joyous worship on our part.

But the way we celebrate Christmas in America these days makes it almost impossible, it seems, to remember that event in any meaningful way. Try as we might, our efforts to "put Christ back in Christmas" really are so shallow. We have special programs at church . . . but in the end, those are usually just about putting on a show (often "for the kids"), eating holiday food, fellowship (the churchy word for socializing), and perhaps a single poignant moment seeing the manger scene portrayed once again -- then back to more food and fellowship.

We do some volunteer work one night with the homeless or a group of needy kids ("giving") . . . but what does that have to do with Christmas, really? We should be doing that all year long. And from what I hear, most of those organizations would actually be more grateful if we stopped by to help in January when everyone suddenly forgets about them again.

We listen to the traditional Christmas carols on the Christmas music station in the car . . . and get a momentary emotional rush from the power of the music and the memories it invokes (rarely, if we're honest, to the ideas behind the words), and then immediately turn around and start bouncing to "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree."

We maybe read a brief "Advent devotional" each morning during December . . . another thing on the full to-do list for the month.

We send Christmas cards and letters and make sure they have a scripture reference in them and make mention of Jesus somewhere . . . but we're really just doing this to keep in touch with folks.

On the big day, we read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and say a quick prayer . . . just touching base with the heavenlies before the orgy of gift-opening.

Putting Christ in Christmas kind of feels like putting bunko in the neighborhood bunko night: it relieves our conscience by giving us a legitimate excuse to put time and energy into doing all the things we REALLY want to do.

I have a dream of a Christmas one year where there are no presents, no decorations, no Christmas specials on TV, no fattening Christmas goodies -- where I spend the Advent season with me and God (and occasionally with the family of believers corporately) worshipping and studying and praying and meditating on the amazing fact that the God of the universe chose to take on human flesh and become one of us. And to wake up on Christmas morning genuinely overwhelmed with the joy and awe that such a truth should inspire in humanity.

Because that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Controlling the Mama Grizzly Within

On the one hand, kids always complain about their teachers.

On the other hand, her complaints seem quite legitimate.

On the other hand, I'm only hearing her point of view, and when she's this stressed out and upset about something, her point of view can get warped by her emotions.

On the other hand, the mom I met at the ball game the other night told me her daughter's complaints about that teacher, and they were the same.

On the other hand, she is learning a lot about self-discipline and working really hard this semester.

On the other hand, those lessons now seemed learned -- and I'm not sure continuing in this vein is worth the hell she's going through.

On the other hand, it's an AP class. It's the highest level of English class one can take in high school. She's got to expect it to be tough.

On the other hand, the difficulty should be in the content, not in the back-breaking workload and lack of support. And it shouldn't bring her to tears as often as it does. And it shouldn't be discouraging her from wanting to go to college "if this is what college classes are like".

On the other hand, she hasn't gone to the teacher to ask for help or to explain the problems she's having: the reading assignments nobody knew about but were still quizzed over, the quiz questions that seemed to have more than one possible right answer, the essays whose correct punctuation was wiped out by the website she had to turn it in on (and she has her hard copy to prove it), the inability to figure out where she's supposed to find all of the work she's supposed to do (the school website . . . another website . . . the board in the teacher's classroom . . . texts that sometimes are received and sometimes aren't . . . there doesn't seem to be a consistent system here).

On the other hand, she has seen the teacher's interactions with other students and their complaints and concerns enough to believe that all such issues will be made to be her own fault somehow and not addressed satisfactorily.

On the other hand, she is almost eighteen. She'll be on her own at college next year. She needs to learn to confront people on her own and stand up for herself when she feels like she is getting a raw deal.

On the other hand, she's never had to do that before, and how is she to learn how to defend herself against a powerful, intimidating authority figure unless it is modeled for her? And isn't the parent supposed to be her child's advocate when no one else will?

On the other hand, if I step in and tell the teacher what my daughter is feeling about her and her class, it may make the teacher angry . . . or make her think badly of my daughter . . . it may make things worse for her rather than better.

On the other hand . . . no, that's it. That's the rub, right there.

Grrrrrr.  The Spirit of wisdom and revelation. That's what I need, Lord. Soon, please.

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's Okay to Give Up Traditions. Really.

I'm trying to decide if I'm weird. My girls were watching a Christmas movie the other day where some tragedy was happening (I wasn't paying close attention) and they weren't going to be able to do something that they always did at Christmas -- and the whole family was absolutely despondent that Christmas was now ruined. And I'm thinking, Seriously? It's not like Christmas doesn't happen every single year. You can do it again next year. Buck up. I mean, a little disappointment, yes -- but a ruined Christmas?

For some reason, the idea that someday, we won't be doing Christmas at Grandma and Grandpa's house came up this year, and my girls find that quite upsetting (and even Hubby, to an extent). "It won't be Christmas if we're not with the whole family opening presents at Grandma and Grandpa's!"  Uh . . . yes, folks, it most certainly will be. Not that I don't enjoy our Christmases in Lindsborg with Hubby's family, but Christmas will most certainly not be ruined when that tradition has to end. That tradition does not define Christmas for me.

Maybe I feel differently because of my own family Christmases. We had our traditions, but we often mixed it up, too. In fact, for most of my life, we haven't celebrated Christmas on Christmas Day. One of my sisters put her foot down one year and said she was done trying to decide which family to be with (or trying to get to both families in one day); her brood was not leaving the house on Christmas Day. We could have them before or after -- take it or leave it. (Wise woman, she was . . . )

So we usually celebrated on Christmas Eve or the day after. It was a bit disappointing the first year (because I was pretty young), but I quickly got over it when I realized everything was still just as fun . . . just on a different day.

My mom, also, was one to try new things a lot. Let's put the tree here this year. Let's have barbecue brisket for dinner this time. (That one became a yearly tradition 'cause we all liked it so much.) Let's make this craft with the grandkids after dinner. One year she bent a hanger into a wreath shape and stuck peppermint candies on it where you could just pull one off at any time to eat, and she offered mints to everyone who came in the door all season. I loved that.

And actually, it's the different things we did that I remember the most. The year mom put only the top half of the tree up on a table with the gifts around it so the then-tiny grandkids couldn't get into it. The year my sisters, their husbands, and I went to see "Superman" on Christmas afternoon while mom and dad stayed with the napping grandkids (THAT was so cool!). The year we prepared music ahead of time and did a little concert for each other (that one didn't catch on . . . but it was memorable!).

Several years ago, for a reason I don't recall now, my whole family met in Kansas City for Christmas. We went ice skating and opened gifts in one of our hotel suites. One year, we spent Christmas Eve at a sister's house and had cheese soup and home-made donuts. And I have vague memories of a Christmas Eve when I was very young that we spent at a downtown church listening to a big choir concert -- something I was too young to appreciate then but would love to do now.

THOSE Christmases I remember. The rest of them are a muddled memory of sameness.  Don't get me wrong -- very enjoyable and happy sameness. I still treasure those times. But it was when we were willing to, "just for this year", give up something we always did and try something new that Christmas was really special. By NO means, was it ruined. Sheesh.

We had friends in Missouri who packed up one year and spent Christmas in New York City -- just their family. And they all LOVED it. It sounded like so much fun! Maybe I can talk my family into that one year.

But . . . I kind of doubt it.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Thoughts While Listening to the Christmas Music Station in the Car

- Who doesn't like Karen Carpenter's voice? Such a sweet, natural, pleasing tone. And we only hear it in December.

- "Mr. Grinch" = linguistic brilliance that could only have been written by Dr. Suess. And brilliantly performed.

- I know I should be okay with artists doing the traditional songs and giving them their own personal flare -- I mean, some of these interpretations are great, and they become the new classics.  But some are really awful. And most are hopelessly forgettable. I most get annoyed when they do a classic ("Let It Snow", anyone?) and don't make it their own -- when their version is orchestrated and paced and everything just like everyone else's.  They apparently think that their fabulous voice and their minor melody changes here and there make it better than what's been done before and worth the audience's time to listen to. Yeesh.

- And speaking of . . . I don't ever quite get over the sound of Hall & Oates singing "Sleigh Bells". It's just . . . odd to me.

- Now, there are a few artists that get it right. James Taylor on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  Whitney Houston on "Do You Hear What I Hear." (Oh, Whitney . . . seriously, the lady had pipes.)

- I know how many people love "Christmastime is Here", the Charlie Brown song. I don't. The vocals make me cringe. Call me Grinch. Your heart's a dead tomato squashed with moldy purple spots . . .

- My favorite this year (and for a few years now): "Christmas Eve/Sarajevo" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  This is the one Christmas song right now that completely transports me, that I get totally lost in. I'm air-guitarring, air-pianoing, pounding out the drums on the steering wheel . . . I'm downright dangerous. I asked for the CD for Christmas so I can enjoy it in the safety of my own living room at home.

- Fascinating the many, many different styles of music we listen to during the holiday season that we would never deign to listen to in, say, July.

- I'm noticing something interesting this year: I find myself rather bored by the traditional mid-20th century crooners and their classics (Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Bing -- you know, with the cheesy sounding choir in the background). But when Harry Connick Jr. does the same song in the same style, I'm enthralled. And I usually don't even know I'm listening to Harry Connick Jr. until the song's over. If I had the musical knowledge, I'd try to analyze exactly what it is he does differently that appeals to me. Gotta love Harry.

- I have yet to hear "O Holy Night" anywhere this year. I love that song.

- One of these years, I'm going to have to pick what I think are the definitive versions of each Christmas song and make my own personal Christmas CD. And to my surprise, I think one of those definitive versions would be Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You". The first time I think I heard that song was many years ago, during a morning newscast when they were showing her live giving a concert to troops overseas. She was singing with passion and gusto and blowing it away, and I was just flat out impressed.

- And for the umpteenth year in a row, I find my favorite Christmas hymn is "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing". The whole song. All the unfamiliar verses, too. Glorious in sound and glorious in sense. Just glorious.

Except when some uber-hip modern poser who has no sense at all of the meaning of the words just butchers it trying to "make it their own". Step away from the microphone, buddy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

8 Things I Have to Say About Enumerated Lists

It's no secret that I'm on Facebook a lot (more than I should be, truth be told) and that I like to read articles that friends post there (you may note that they are often fodder for my own blog posts here). So, allow me to make a few enumerated observations about these articles:

1) A large number of these articles are enumerated lists. You know, "6 Things I Learned From Slamming my Finger in the Door".  "8 Reasons to Buy an Eight-Track Tape Player This Holiday Season". "The 40 Best Gregorian Chants of the Decade". Not only that, but I've noted that . . .

2) The number of enumerated lists seems to be increasing. In fact, I believe the majority of FB articles I see posted are these types of articles, and this was not always so. But I see a reason why, because personally, I find that . . .

3) I am more likely to click on and read an article if it is an enumerated list. Even if I might not necessarily be that interested in the topic otherwise. I'm not sure that I would have normally cared about pictures of dogs and their recent misdeeds, but the fact that the title informs me that there are 30 such pictures here available for me to see, for some really bizarre reason, draws me in. In addition . . .

4) My blog posts which are enumerated lists seem to get more hits than normal. Every once in a while, I post a list of three's:  "Three Lies".  "Three Reasons Not To Date".  "Three Things NOT To Do When a Woman is Crying".  I'm always surprised at the traffic they get. And it's not because they are more brilliant than the other things I write. Nobody knows how brilliant they are until they read them, and they have to click on them to read them. People are apparently more likely to click on them when they see the number in the title. In other words, I'm not out of the mainstream in that regard. Now this fact leads to the following . . .

5) I find myself wondering why we are more likely to click on enumerated lists to read. As I said, I don't even have to necessarily be that interested in the topic at hand, but a number in the title draws me. And clearly, others have figured this out, too, or there wouldn't be this plethora of such articles popping up. And I have a theory . . .

6) Enumerated lists are easy to skim. Most of them are formatted the way I have formatted this one: the main point is in bold with an elaboration of that point following. This means that I can just read the points in bold if I choose and get the gist of the thing and decide if it's worth deeper reading. Or I can pick and choose the items that I want to hear more about and read more closely there. And because of how I think, I jump from this fact to a larger observation about our modern world . . .

7) Our attraction to enumerated lists reveals a shallowness in our society . . . or at least in the subsection of society that makes frequent use of social media and the internet as a source of information. We live a mile wide and an inch deep. We revel in sound bites and catchphrases and witty captions plastered over photos of angry-looking cats. If you didn't come to Facebook with ADD, you are likely to leave Facebook with it.  No, that's incorrect -- you're not likely to leave at all.  And a final note . . .

8) My wondering about our attraction to enumerated lists is not in the least bit strange . . . no matter what my eldest says about it. She is always telling me I wonder about the weirdest things.  "Why do you want to know who Wurzbach Parkway is named after?  Who cares? What difference would it make if you knew?" No, this is a very normal and practical wondering I'm engaged in. It speaks to effective communication and the nature of humanity. Nothing weird about it. "Weird" . . . please . . . this from the girl who pondered last week why the rear wheels on school buses are placed so far forward, leaving so much of the body of the vehicle suspended over air in the back.

And she made me wonder about that, too. If anybody can answer that one for me, I'd be much obliged.

Friday, December 6, 2013

You Didn't Hear It From Me, But . . .

A book I'm reading describes the various approaches Christians have used to deal with “being in the world but not of it”. One of these approaches is to cocoon themselves in their own little community separated from the sinful world. Problem with this, the author states, is that they take their own sin into the cocoon with them. 

My eldest might be getting a taste of that at her new school. It's a rather prominent Christian school here in town, but she says there seems to be a gossip epidemic on campus. Everyone knows it; the teachers bring it up in admonition on a frequent basis . . . although many of those teachers are themselves some of the biggest culprits.

My daughter doesn't think she personally has much of a problem with gossip (“although that may mostly be because I don't talk much at all”), but her observation did lead to a discussion of what constitutes gossip and what doesn't.

Because, really, why wouldn't kids at school talk about each other? And why shouldn't they? If merely passing on second-hand information about another person is a crime, how would we ever know anything about anybody? What distinguishes gossip from casual, harmless conversation? Is it the content of what is said? Is it the way the information could be used or perceived? Is it the motive of the informer?

When I google a definition of “gossip”, it tells me that gossip typically involves details that are not confirmed as being true. But this is easily turned around to create an excuse: “It's true, so it can't be gossip.” In fact, we can come up with all sorts of excuses to justify this behavior. “She didn't say it was a secret, so I'm sure it's okay to share.” Or the grandmama of them all: “I'm just sharing this with all of you so you can pray for her.” Mm-hmm.

Another Google source gives a more specific description of what the Bible says constitutes gossip. We are gossiping when we:

- tell a secret (Prov 11:13)
- talk too much about others (Prov 16:28)
- use our words to add fuel to a fight (Prov 28:20)
- discuss topics we shouldn't (1 Tim 5:13)
- cause division with our words (Prov 16:28)

That helps. (Although "too much" is still pretty subjective . . . )

Curious about the school's approach to the problem, I asked my daughter if the teachers' reprimands were simple scolding or if they included suggestions for how to identify what's gossip, how to direct conversations away from inappropriate topics, what else to talk about instead. No, just scolding. In my BSF this week, we read this teaching of Christ's in Matthew 12:

When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, “I will return to the person I came from.” So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.

When dealing with our pet sins, getting rid of the bad is not enough – you must replace it with the good so there is no room for the bad to return.

Hmm . . . excuse me while I apply that teaching to my own little pet sin . . .

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Las Nuevas Tamaleras

Our family saw the most interesting play last Friday. It was called Las Nuevas Tamaleras (The New Tamale-Makers). What was so interesting about it?

1) It was bilingual. One character spoke all Spanish; another spoke a mix of Spanish and English (probably what one would call Spanglish); the other three spoke English with some Spanish words thrown in here and there. The person who invited us (my husband's assistant at work, who was one of the actresses) told us that we would be able to figure out what was being said in Spanish from the context and gestures and stuff. Not quite. We got the gist of what was going on, but we surmised from the audience's laughs that a lot of the funniest lines came from Spanish-speaking Doña Mercedes, and we missed them.

2) At first, I didn't like the delivery of the actresses. They seemed to be speaking so slowly, it all felt very over-acted. And maybe it was. But it occurred to me later: even with my very limited Spanish vocabulary, I was picking up on a lot of it, and I think that was because the Spanish-speakers were speaking slowly, not rattling it all off like so many Spanish-speakers do. (Or like it sounds to us English-speakers -- I suppose to those who don't speak English, it sounds like we're talking fast, also.) Maybe the actresses were told to speak slowly -- Spanish and English -- so the native speakers of each in the audience would more easily understand the other. So, okay. I can appreciate that.

3) It was about a Mexican tradition of making tamales for Christmas, one we are aware of but unfamiliar with. A couple of elderly Mexican ladies, who have been in heaven bemoaning the fact that they can't make tamales in heaven, get sent down to help three clueless young Latinas at their first attempt at the task. 

As I said, this was a new cultural thing for us, the tamale business, but the audience was loving it.  In fact, this is a play they perform at this theater every December, and it has apparently become a family tradition for many in San Antonio to see it every year. I can imagine why; if this is a part of your culture, there was a lot here to appreciate. We appreciated it, even from the outside.

And wouldn't you know, we seemed to be inundated with tamales for the rest of the weekend! The church we visited on Sunday had a strong bilingual ministry (in fact, the associate pastor who preached at our service was from Mexico). They had a "tamalada" scheduled for the next day -- an open cooking class for anyone wanting to learn how to make tamales. And many of the tamales made there were apparently going to be served at a Posada Dinner later in the month.

Then our youngest picked Mamacita's for lunch after church (our favorite Mexican place we've found in town so far). The furious appetite we all had for some Mexican food after we left the play may have contributed to that choice.  I decided to be adventurous and try the tamales. None of us had ever had them before (well, hubby might have tasted one). I thought they were fine. Hubby and youngest were kind of, "meh". Eldest almost gagged. I'm not sure why, although she's not a big Mexican food fan anyway. I guess it's just as well I didn't go to the tamalada and bring home more tamales -- I'd have been eating them all myself.

All in all, a fascinating cultural weekend for us. And it got me psyched to start learning my Spanish again. Still looking for a Latina friend who will talk Español with me . . .

Monday, December 2, 2013

Prideful Shame

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. - Proverbs 31

I've always wanted this to be true of me. And I've always been frustrated by my efforts. No matter how hard I've tried to be a good “helpmeet”, to make my husband's life easier for him, I always seem to screw up and cause him more trouble. (He, of course, tells me otherwise, but what does he know.)

Over the weekend, I made our Christmas letter (a handwritten scrapbook page that I copy to mail out) and realized I'd left something out he wanted in. So I redid the page, made all the copies and stuffed them in the envelopes . . . and then realized I'd messed up his new job title. And then I opened the newly-arrived mortgage bill and found that I apparently didn't get the mortgage paid last month somehow.

I put down the mortgage bill and went out for a jog around the neighborhood with tears in my eyes. I hadn't slept well or eaten well during the Thanksgiving holiday, which may have contributed to my emotional state, but my pity party was real. How could I have missed getting the mortgage paid?? Forget about whether my husband was disappointed in me – I was now disappointed in myself.

I read something recently about spiritual pride. We usually think the proud person is the one who thinks they are so righteous, that God must be so happy to have them on His team. But it's just as prideful to think God is dreadfully disappointed in you.

Consider: I know that all of humanity is sinful, so sinful that we can not possibly live up to God's righteous standards apart from His Spirit making that happen within us. But I know that God is great. That He knows we are dust. That He loves every person despite their sins and foibles and failings, and He forgives us when we come to Him. That He casts our sins has far as the east is from the west.

Everyone's but mine. My particular sins are SO bad that God just can't get over them. They are far too heavy for that east-to-west casting. He knows that I, being more than dust and better than the dusty world, was capable of better, and so His disappointment in me continues beyond my repentance. He can forgive everyone else – but not me. MY sins are greater than God's capacity to love and forgive.

You see the pride there?

There was a day in my life, when my eldest was a baby, when I had done something to make my husband mad at me. I don't remember what it was, but I remember just hating myself and how I always messed things up, even when I was trying so hard to do the right thing. And I remember thinking to myself, “I'm always going to screw up; I just have to hope that someday, he will decide to love me anyway”.

Don't think I'm crazy or anything, but I swear I heard a voice that was almost audible: Long before you were born, I knew every screw-up you were ever going to make . . . and I decided to love you anyway.

I cried. And my life was changed. But I still need to be reminded.

Friday, November 29, 2013

The Night of Questions

I had the most wonderful evening with my family -- hubby and two daughters -- the night before Thanksgiving. After dinner (a late one, because I was a bit disorganized), hubby got out an old Book of Questions he's had for two or three decades and started asking away.

Would you enjoy spending a month of complete solitude (food and shelter provided) in a beautiful natural setting? Hubby was a definite yes; the rest of us were not so sure.

Does the fact that you have never done something before increase or decrease its appeal to you? This one definitely showed up the differences between our daughters. Those of you who know them don't even need to ask who said which.

If your friends and acquaintances were willing to bluntly and honestly tell you what they really thought of you, would you want them to? I said no -- I would obsess over any criticism I heard and ignore the positives.

Assume there were a technological breakthrough that would allow people to travel as easily and cheaply between continents as between nearby cities.  Unfortunately, there would also be 100,000 deaths a year from the device. Would you try to prevent its use? We ladies said absolutely . . . until hubby pointed out that there are at least that many deaths a year from automobile accidents. Which then brought up the question: if we had lived at the time of the invention of the automobile and knew how many people would die each year in car wrecks, would we have tried to prevent its use? Much more interesting question, because it's hard to conceive of modern life without the automobile.

Would you like your spouse to be both smarter and more attractive than you? Hubby, of course, had to get smart-alecky with this one.

When did you last sing to yourself? Uh, a couple hours ago, in the car.

What was your best and worst experience with drugs or alcohol? Hubby asked this one as a joke, knowing neither of our girls uses -- and yes, we are sure of that. But we did get some interesting responses. The youngest remembered with disgust the church we visited a few weeks ago that used real wine for communion (seriously, the look on her face was priceless). The oldest mentioned a night when I gave her an Ambien and she was Skype-ing with a friend before she went to bed -- apparently, she was quite entertaining, her friend told her.

Would you give up half of what you now own for a pill that would permanently change you so that one hour of sleep each day would fully refresh you?  I was the only one that went for this one enthusiastically. There's a lot I would give to get fully refreshing sleep. Overall, though, I noted from many questions that money is not a big pull for me or my girls, which is good to hear.

Would you be willing to murder an innocent person if it would end hunger in the world? Oooooh . . .

Since adolescence, in what three-year period do you feel you experienced the most personal growth and change? The girls couldn't really answer this one . . . but hubby picked the ages of about 23-26 (interesting, because that's when we first met). I picked the ages of 26-29 -- my eldest was born when I was 27. So much in those years that changed who I am.

If you learned you would die in a few days, what regrets would you have? Surprising to hear the regrets my daughters have already in their short lives.

We spent about four hours sitting talking about this stuff. No TV. Just talking. It was wonderful. I will probably treasure its memory for years -- when the girls are gone and I'm remembering the joy of living with them, last Wednesday night will be one of the moments I remember.

Too bad I have no photo to put in the scrapbook.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

We, Like Sheep, Are Not All That Bright, You Know

A couple years ago, I wrote a play for the younger homeschoolers in Sioux City that was about sheep and the Good Shepherd. Basically, I made a list of every sheep reference in the Bible -- and there's a LOT of them -- and pulled them all together into a storyline. It was more of a challenge than I was expecting when I conceived the idea. I didn't like the script at first, but in the end, I had several people tell me it was one of their favorite of my plays.

All this to say, I am well acquainted with the Biblical discussion of sheep and have developed a fondness for the analogy. So when I read in Matthew in our BSF lesson that Jesus told the disciples he was sending them out "like sheep among wolves", I perked up.

Amy, our teaching leader, noted something about sheep last night. They're dumb. Really, they're not all that bright. In fact, they are not even able to forage and find food on their own, like a goat would. Sheep have to be taken to places where food is readily available, or they will starve.

They also, I learned in my own research for writing the play, can't distinguish a safe plant from a poisonous plant. A shepherd has to go ahead of them and pull out any grasses that would be dangerous for them to eat. This is actually what is meant in Psalm 23 when it says, "You have prepared a table for me."

Sheep NEED a shepherd. Sheep literally can't survive on their own; they only survive when they depend entirely on a good shepherd to take for them. (Which makes one wonder how they ever would have evolved and continued to propagate before humans were around to care for them . . . but I digress.)

In my play, I had one rebellious character, Felicia, who insisted that there was no such thing as a good shepherd and kept "crawling the fence", trying to find a way out of the sheepfold. When she finally got out, she immediately got herself lost and stuck in a ravine. And that's when she discovered that her shepherd was truly a Good Shepherd -- he sought her out, rescued her, bound her wounds, and lovingly brought her back to the fold. Because he loved her and knew her for what she was: a dumb, dependent, but beloved sheep.

And WE are sheep. We are made to be dependent on someone else. Dependent on God, of course, in the greatest sense. But I think we are also supposed to be dependent on each other -- our families, our neighbors, our churches . . . the American Way aside, we are not meant to live individualistic lives.

It's not coincidence, I'm sure, that in Jesus' analogy of the sheep and the goats, the self-reliant, independent goats are the ones sent to damnation, while the dumb, dependent sheep are welcomed into the kingdom. Pride is the root of all sin, after all. Not only is God unimpressed with the work we do on our own apart from him (even if we're doing it FOR him) -- but we simply prove that we have missed the point of the gospel completely.

One should be cautious of any value being promoted to us that begins with the word "self": self-reliance, self-esteem, self-actualization, self-worth . . . you can't ever get to genuine relationship or community -- with God or anyone -- if you begin with self.

Monday, November 25, 2013

New Life Growing From the Top of my Head

I realize it may seem a bit vain to spend an entire blog post talking about my hair, but hear me out.

Growing up, my hair was straight as a board, and I hated that. I had a long, thin face, and I thought my long, straight hair just accentuated that and made me look like a horse. So, I tried desperate maneuvers with a variety of curling irons and rollers to change the shape of my coif. All to no avail. By lunchtime, all my curls would disappear.

Then during my junior year, when I landed my big theatrical lead of my high school career (Ruby in “Dames at Sea”), the director asked me to perm my hair. Hallelujah! I loved this! I continued perming my hair for years – many years after the style was in any sense fashionable. It was an EASY style. I washed my hair, put a little mousse in it (maybe) and let it dry. Glory! With two little ones in tow, I hated the hassle of messing with my hair.

Then my friend Maria in Jersey offered to color my hair for me to save me the money I was spending at the hairdresser's. As she was finishing up, she said, “You wanna see what your hair would look like straight?” And she pulled out this remarkable little flattening iron and proceeded to make my hair straight and amazing-looking. I was so excited! I immediately bought myself one of those handy little tools and had her teach me how to do that with my hair.

That was my last perm. I let the kinks grow out and took to straightening my hair after every wash. And I did find it interesting that even when the perm had grown out, there was enough “wave” in my hair to require the flattening iron. But I didn't think much of it.
Until we went to Panama . . . and my hair took on a life of its own. I may as well have left my beloved little tool at home because my Panama hair defied it with vengeance. That hair was big and curly and flyaway and I'd have had more luck bottling the waves of the ocean than taming the locks on my head. I chalked that up to life in a different continent, one of the many things that would be new in my world if we decided to make that move. Everything was so different in Panama that my hair being curly seemed to just fit right in.
Imagine my surprise, however, when I found the same to be true in Texas. It's not quite as bad – I can force my hair almost straight right after a wash, but it's not worth the effort. The picture above is my own little head. My naturally curly head that still doesn't feel like it belongs to me. I paid good money for this look twenty years ago, and now it's given to me as a gift. No, it's not the climate -- the climate isn't THAT different here -- it's just my freaky hair.
I don't get it. I've heard of a woman's hair changing dramatically after pregnancy, or growing back differently after chemotherapy, but I've just been living life and suddenly my hair has decided to create a new life for itself.

As if it were inviting me to do the same. Weird.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thoughts While Playing Bunko at the Neighbor's House Last Night

- How do you play bunko again?

- Dang, women are loud.

- The evening's theme is PJs and breakfast food. I think this is the first breakfast event I've been to in San Antonio that didn't include salsa.

- And I've never drunk wine with my breakfast, either, but that and water are the only beverages available this evening.  Oh, wait!  Someone just brought in a pitcher of orange juice.  Awesome!  I love orange juice.  Wait . . . this isn't just . . . sigh! Glad I walked here.

- I got a bunko and a boobie, both in the first round before I had any idea what I was doing and understood the significance of either.

- Our new neighborhood seems to have a nice mix of ages.  We haven't had opportunity to meet many folks yet, so this is nice to see. All lily-white, though -- which is surprising in a town where anglos are in the minority. And a little disappointing to me, because part of the appeal of coming to San Antonio was that I might hook up with someone willing to talk Spanish to me and help me learn (Panama is still in the back of our minds).

- I love breakfast food. I wish my tummy wasn't acting up so much. What did I eat for lunch that's coming back to haunt me . . . ?

- Bunko's an interesting phenomenon. A friend in Sioux City invited me to a bunko night, so this is my second go at it. The game seems to be created simply as an excuse to mingle and chit chat. Frankly, it almost feels like speed dating.

- Dang, women drinking wine are LOUD.

- And these drinking women are not fond of Obamacare. One lady just found out their insurance is being cancelled -- the suggested replacement policy will have an $8000 higher deductible and cost them $3000 more a year.  Three women in the group work in healthcare (one's an occupational therapist, don't remember about the other two, if they said). They all say they knew this was coming from the moment Obamacare started being discussed. And they all say they are losing doctors at their places of employment (I want to ask if those doctors quit or were let go, but I'm not drinking enough wine to be loud enough to get a word in).

- Finally starting to remember how this game works. Not that it matters -- there's no skill involved whatsoever. But at least I can keep up with the competitive ladies who are really into this, of which there are a couple.

- A former first grade teacher in the group (who's expecting her third son in a couple months) and a mom of a first grader are talking about money and math. The mom's daughter is anxious to learn how to count money, but the first grade teacher tells her she won't learn that until second grade. That was her biggest frustration teaching, she says; she had some kids who were ready to move on to counting money and beyond, and then other kids who couldn't even name the coins. So many levels she had to accommodate . . . and the ESL kids mixed among them.  Yep. We give public school teachers an almost impossible job.

- And the hostess decides she's done with bunko after eleven rounds; time to stop and just drink. (These women aren't drunk or anything, I should clarify; it's just clear that some of them are really only here for the wine and the talk -- maybe they had rough days.) So, I end the night with six wins, five losses, one bunko and one boobie. Which wins me nothing out of the $5-a-lady pot. Oh, well. I didn't come to win money. Or to drink wine.

I came to meet my neighbors. And that's why I'll be back in December . . . with a $15 white elephant and a plate of hors d'oeuvres. Maybe I'll bring the salsa this time.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Moral Pagans at Your Local Church

My youngest popped up with an interesting observation the other day. She said (and I paraphrase), "Sometimes, I think it would be easier to be a Christian if you weren't raised as one." I suppose many Christian friends of mine would have been shocked at this remark, probably dismayed, and perhaps even a bit horrified.

But I told her, "You know, honey, I've been thinking exactly the same thing."

The Biblical stories become old news rather than amazing revelation. God's love becomes a fact to be presumed upon, rather than a cause of wonder. At a drama rehearsal with my homeschoolers last spring, we talked about how even the resurrection of Christ doesn't seem so amazing when you've heard about it every week since toddlerhood.

But not only can truth become humdrum . . . it can become warped.

I read (and reposted) a great article on Facebook last week called "How to Raise a Pagan Kid in a Christian Home".  (For those who are picky about such things, Johnson, the author, has a disclaimer about his broad use of the term "pagan". Don't get hung up on that and miss the point.) Johnson writes about a concern I've had for years: in our churches in America, we teach our kids legalism. We teach them that God loves them and wants them to be good -- and that's NOT the Gospel. The Gospel tells us that we can't be good, at least not good enough to earn the favor of God. The author says it so well:

The gospel is not about making bad people moral, but about making dead people alive. If we teach morality without the transforming power of the gospel and the necessity of a life fully surrendered to God's will, then we are raising moral pagans.

The gospel is about making dead people alive. And one thing I've noticed about people raised in the church is they often aren't aware of their deadness.

My daughter's concern -- and mine, also -- is that, the Bible teaches that we are a new person when we surrender to Christ.  The old is gone; the new has come. But when you are raised with clear and explicit knowledge of what this kind of new person looks and behaves like, you can do a pretty good job of faking it without ever experiencing the real transformation. I've done it. I bet many of you have, too.

Back when we were first married and moving around a lot, joining new churches on a frequent basis, Hubby and I used to playfully bemoan the fact that we had pretty boring testimonies. Raised a solid Baptist . . . baptized as a kid . . . faithful in church attendance and service . . . yawn. Not that we wished for a past drug addiction or something to liven up our histories, but you know -- just a better story. That's what I was -- here's what I am now, thanks to Christ.  No big dramatic changes to talk about when you've been "raised right".

I'm not arguing that we shouldn't raise our children "right" or raise them in the church -- I'm just saying that we need to be certain that we're raising them in the truth. And that requires us having a really solid grasp of the truth so we don't accidentally communicate something else.

As the author quotes Phil Vischer saying, we need to stop worshipping the "Oprah god", stop drinking the "cocktail that's a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel." We need to stop believing (and thereby communicating) that the Christian life is about keeping yourself clean, working hard, and being nice to everybody -- and that when you do that, God just blesses us with comfortable, easy, prosperous lives and all our dreams comes true. Plus you get to go to heaven when you die.

That is NOT The Gospel, and it will only make us -- and our children -- moral pagans.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Self-Inflicted Torture

When I first met my husband's new boss and fellow employees at a dinner last spring, someone told me that the boss goes to the gym every single morning and works out for an hour before he goes in to work. My second thought about that was, That shows a lot of discipline. My first thought was, Man, that sounds like HELL.

Maybe it's because of my years of sleep deprivation, but there is almost nothing -- well, let me rephrase that -- there is no first-world habit that sounds more completely horrific to me than getting myself out of bed at 5am and driving to a gym to work out for an hour. There have been times in my life when just dragging myself out of bed at all would feel so torturous as to bring me to tears. To do so voluntarily . . . and to make myself go exercise immediately after . . . impossible. You may as well have asked me to cut off my own finger.

I've been trying to exercise at least a little every day this fall -- primarily, I've been running.  Okay, it's more a walk/jog, but I call it running to sound cool. My daughter's cross country adventure inspired me; with the good weather here, the safe neighborhood, and my open schedule, there's really no excuse for me not to do it.

But I still hate it. I learned about a week into it that I can't have a mental attitude that I'm going to push myself on my run -- you know, make myself run longer or further than I did last time. Then I end up hating and dreading it all so much, it's too easy to talk myself out of doing it altogether (I'm amazingly good at rationalizing -- that is, lying -- to myself). I have to give myself permission to run when I'm up to it and walk when I need to.  Otherwise, it would never happen at all.

But it's not just the actual running I hate. I hate dressing for it. I hate putting on my workout clothes first thing in the morning rather than real clothes . . . but I hate even more having to change into workout clothes later. I also hate being sweaty and gross for a while afterwards. And I hate having to take a shower when I'm done. If exercising was just about the 15-20 minutes I actually exercise, it might actually be tolerable.

Nah, I'd still hate it.

Sometimes, I wonder about Adam and Eve in the garden. Did they go jogging around Eden to keep their bodies strong and in shape? Maybe the work they had to do in the garden was enough exercise for their bodies. Actually, I have a different theory (one that many of you will poo-poo straight out, but that's okay). I don't think they needed exercise. Their bodies, before the fall, were perfect and uncorrupted. When sin entered the world and creation began to groan under the weight of it, human bodies were included in that groaning. Our physical deterioration is a result of sin, and therefore, so is our need to work so hard to fight the deterioration.

So, I blame Mother Eve. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't be sitting here in my sports bra, t-shirt and shorts trying desperately not to think about going out to run when I get back from dropping the eldest off at school. All for a stinkin' piece of fruit.

Now, if she'd done it for a Krispy Kreme donut, I'd understand.

Friday, November 15, 2013

WDGT - What Does Gwen Think?

Because I feel a tremendous responsibility to my readers -- many of whom, I know, hear of a current event or a piece of news and immediately find themselves wondering, "What Does Gwen Think about this?" -- let me give you a run-down of my opinions and feelings on a few items:

- Ritchie Incognito and the Miami Dolphins.  As far as what went down with Incognito and Jonathan Martin and whether Martin's departure was justified, who really knows. But I have been shocked by what this incident has revealed about the culture of football in our country. Former players and coaches keep being interviewed on the matter, and they all seem to say the same thing: yeah, Incognito got carried away, but this type of behavior is just what happens in the NFL.

So, we pay grown men OBSCENE salaries (players and administrative types) to play a game violent enough to require so much safety equipment covering their bodies as to completely hide their natural body shapes (and they still have horrible -- even life-threatening -- injuries).  We encourage this violent attitude to the extent that behavior and conversations which the rest of society would find extremely offensive and which might land them in jail are normal among these men. And we allow our boys to idolize and try to emulate these men. 

And we allow it all to happen for the sake of being entertained by the game. Are we really that much better than the Romans with their gladiators?

- Black Friday.  I've never shopped on Black Friday because I hate getting up early on a holiday, I hate big crowds, and I don't enjoy shopping in general. But it has gotten a bit ridiculous how early stores are opening. I'm not so upset about the employees having to work on a holiday -- there are thousands of people out there who have to work on holidays. But it just cheapens Thanksgiving Day to make it about shopping now. Nothing is meaningful anymore.

The thing is, the only reason those stores open so early is because they know somebody will show up to shop -- scads of somebodies, in fact. Kind of like how the politicians only use dirty tactics because they know they work. We get what we deserve.

This is related to the football item. The Marketplace is morally neutral, but it makes our societal moral weaknesses so apparent.

- Kennedy and Lincoln. Both on my mind lately. I've read Bill O'Reilly's books about them this year (yes, Killing Jesus is on my Christmas list). Excellent, excellent books -- whatever you think about O'Reilly. The Kennedy movie being on the National Geographic channel (and all the other discussion about the anniversary of his assassination) has led to talk with my daughter about marriage fidelity, communism and the cold war, presidential safety . . . good discussions. (The book is very frank about the president's affairs, but interesting to note, it also says that the Cuban missile crisis struck such fear in him about losing his family that the other women lost much of their appeal.)

The Lincoln book I read a while ago but has been fresh in my mind because my daughter is memorizing the Gettysburg address for school, and they are going to film the class reciting it at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery for a presentation at the Christmas program. Such an amazing speech.

- The Obamacare ads.  You know, the ones with the women excited to get birth control so they can hop into bed with the guy they just met. Seriously. I mean . . . ugh. It's just . . . it's so . . . I'm sorry.  I can't even find words to communicate my contempt and disgust for this.

- Texas weather. It got down to freezing here the other night, which is apparently extremely unusual for around here this early in the season. My daughter's math teacher had frost on her windshield in the morning and had to sit and think what to do about that. It really has been quite chilly, which is refreshing. My new Texan friends tell me that we have cold spurts like this once in a while, for a few days, all winter long, but then it warms up again. I'm curious to see how we like the winter weather in Texas.  Part of me thinks I'm going to miss having at least some snow. I'll just pray for a white Christmas so I get my snow fix when we're in Kansas for that.

- The President's speech yesterday. Refreshing to hear his more humble attitude. Unfortunately, I don't think this fix is going to fix a thing. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

There you go, friends. This is what I'm thinking these days. Go forth and think likewise. ;)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Three Things Every Teacher MUST Do for Students to Succeed

I know, I know . . . I was just ranting about bad teachers a couple posts ago. But this isn't necessarily about bad teachers; it's about bad teacher education and a bad system. These three items come from my years in the classroom and from the last few years with my eldest in public schools again -- and for the record, they aren't exactly primary issues.  They are secondary, but when they are violated, they make the primary a moot point. So, for your edification, Three Things Every Teacher Must Do for Students to Succeed:

1. All important information must be communicated more than once – and preferably in more than one format. My daughter recently had to take a quiz over a couple of chapters she hadn't read – that nobody in the class had read – because the instructions to read the chapters were written on a side board in the classroom and never mentioned in any other way. That quiz was a total waste of time; it completely failed to assess their understanding of the chapters – it only assessed their acute observation skills and their ability to make educated guesses.

If you want your students to read chapter 24 tonight, write it on the board in front of them AND tell them so out loud. If they need to include three examples in their science report, tell them so AND include that fact in the assignment sheet. If the carbon cycle is essential for them to know, explain it in words AND give them a reading assignment that explains it . . . AND do a demonstration in class that illustrates it. If there's anything that educational research has taught us in recent years, it is that students absorb knowledge in different ways and that repetition is essential.

2. Make your expectations clear. I can't believe how many assignment sheets I see from my daughter's teachers that are so vague, neither of us can figure out exactly what is expected. This should be a basic skill taught in teacher education: how to communicate your expectations clearly. My eldest has an project she's struggling with right now; she said to me yesterday, “Mom, I don't even know what the point of this is. I don't know what I'm supposed to learn.” That's not her failure. That's the teacher's failure.

And a subset of this caveat: when it becomes obvious that your instructions were not clear, own up to that and fix the problem. My daughter stopped approaching high school teachers for help long ago because of how many times they made her feel stupid, lazy, or irresponsible for not understanding this stuff the first time around. (Ooooooh – OOOOHH – that one deserves a rant all to itself!) 

3. Your objectives, instruction, and assessment should all correlate. If your classroom time is all focused on A, B, and C . . . and then your test is about D, E, and F . . . honey, there's a big problem here. Why do YOU think your students are failing?

Sometimes, the issue is that teachers are given required objectives and assessments that they don't like and don't agree with. They want to delve with their students into the meaningful content of a novel that could reach the kids' hearts, but the district exam they have to administer asks for types of characterization and the author's hometown. I can sympathize with that. This is the problem with top-down educational management.

But, the fact remains that if a student's success in class is dependent on passing that test (whether you like that test or not), you do need to spend classtime addressing the content matter included there. Yep, that is “teaching to the test”. It is an unfortunate but necessary evil the way we have our educational system set up. A better choice is to give teachers more leeway in their objectives and create their own assessments that cover those objectives. Better yet, have uniform objectives, but give students and teachers more leeway in the time and means to meet those objectives . . . but that's a topic requiring another post.

Actually, most teachers know this stuff, I think. It's just that they get lost the day-to-dayness of school life and lose track of the basics. So, here's a reminder.  Feel free to forward this post to any of your kids' teachers who might need that reminder.  :)  (Okay, no, that might be rude . . . )

Monday, November 11, 2013

Crime and Blessing

Last Friday evening, our family went to see Taming of the Shrew in a rather obscure little theater near downtown (a requirement for our eldest's AP English class). It was an excellent production.  And then when we left, we found the driver's side window of my husband's car had been broken out and his suitcase was stolen (he had driven there straight from the airport to meet us) as was his work bag containing his laptop, iPad, and various other folders and such.

Kind of put a damper on a nice evening. To say the least.

This was our first experience as victims of a real crime like this. And as such, it was interesting to see
our reactions. Keith told us we could go on home while he called the police and all, but there was simply no way I could leave him alone in that parking lot. Our eldest and I paced beside the car while he talked to the police on the phone (they never came out -- just took info over the phone).

Then he got a call from someone who found one of his work notebooks at the side of the road. She dropped it off at a police station for him, so he had to talk to the police about that, also.

Our youngest opted to sit in the van during all this, so I went to check on her once in a while and fill her in on what was going on. Her calm astounded me. She said, "You know, mom, I've been memorizing those verses we studied in BSF a while ago . . . about how God takes care of the birds and the flowers, so of course he's going to take care of us . . . we're worth much more than they are . .  . God knows what we need before we even ask . . . we don't need to worry about anything . . . this all happened for a reason . . . "

Wow. Preach to your mama, sweetheart.

As hubby and I finally crawled into bed way late, I took my turn praying aloud for the two of us. I thanked God for protecting our family that night. I asked if possible that his stuff could be returned. I asked for everything to go smoothly in the process of getting things repaired, replaced and restored. And after my "Amen", my husband piped up to add something: he asked God to bless the people who had broken into his car.

Bless them??!?  Sigh.

He's right. Yes, Lord, bless them.  We don't know why they went to this effort to take his stuff. If they are in need of money for food or shelter or basic survival, bless them and meet their needs. If they are in the throes of an addiction that drives them to desperate measures, deliver them from that bondage. If they are wrapped up in a dysfunctional community that makes this behavior seem normal and necessary, come to them and draw them away. Bring them to you, Lord. However you choose, in whatever mighty way you can, don't allow this event to go to waste -- use it somehow to bring these people to you.

Wow. I'm humbled and amazed sometimes at the work God has done in the hearts of my loved ones. And excited to see the completion of work He has in progress.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Has That Teacher Taught?

In a conversation the other day with my daughter's principal, I asked her how they evaluate teachers and hold them accountable. What's the procedure if a teacher is just not cutting it? How do you go about getting rid of them?

It's pretty well-documented, I think, that one of the big Achilles' heels for the public school system is their inability to get rid of bad teachers. And everybody knows who the bad teachers are. When I was a teacher, I knew. As a parent, I knew. As a student, I knew. Surely, the administrators know, too.  Yet the bad apples stay.

I remember being evaluated by my building principal during my years teaching in Hutchinson.  She would come in two or three times a year and observe me in the classroom. She also knew about any discipline problems I had because when kids were sent to the office from my class, the office they went to was hers. We also just talked a lot casually and she knew what I was doing, for the most part (she was a former English teacher and always curious).

A couple times a year, I had to meet with her formally for a performance evaluation. There were forms she had to fill out. I don't remember everything on the form (I may have one packed away in storage somewhere), but there were things like . . . did I plan my lessons well ahead of time? Did my plans follow the Madeline Hunter model? Was I well-composed in front of my students? Did I command their attention? Did I play well with others (that is, work well with the rest of the department)? One year, she commented that I had called on girls twice as much as boys in the class she observed. I thought it interesting that she took the time to tally that up with everything else happening in the room to be observed . . . but okay.  Good to know -- I'll work on that.

One thing I don't recall being noted on any of the forms she had to fill out: did my students learn?  Maybe it was there. But if it was, it certainly wasn't emphasized. Hopefully, she just knew my kids were learning and didn't need to bring it up.  But I wasn't always sure . . .

Now, I realize that this was twenty years ago, long before No Child Left Behind, which was an effort to correct this exact fault in school systems -- and we saw how well that worked. But really, the fact remains that if a student hasn't learned, then the teacher hasn't taught, and there should be some accountability for that.

I contend that one of the biggest problems with the way we end up evaluating student learning -- and therefore teacher performance -- is that we expect too much uniformity.  All students should know this information at this age.  All students should be able to master this skill by the end of this grade. Cookie cutter education. That doesn't fit reality.

A friend of mine went through some difficult times personally in the couple years before she put her son into kindergarten. She knew he was behind other kids his age in knowledge and skills because of her inability to give him the attention he needed to learn those things during those years, but she also knew he was smart. He started picking up those skills very quickly once he was in school.  But, when the first set of standardized state evaluations hit, he was still behind where he was "supposed" to be at that point of kindergarten -- even though he had been making progress in leaps and bounds. They recommended he be put in special ed. Luckily, she knew her son well enough to know that was ridiculous and pulled him out to put him in another school. I wonder how many kindergarteners and first graders end up in special ed and stigmatized perhaps for the rest of their lives for the same reason.

I also wonder how that teacher was evaluated. Was it counted against her that this boy failed to meet the mid-year requirements? Or was it counted to her credit that he was so much closer to those requirements than he was when he walked in her door in August?

So, teacher evaluation: it's important. It's critical. It has to be done well. I have yet to find a school that has mastered this integral part of the learning process. If you know of one, I'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Singing the Meaty Stuff

The other day, after practicing the hymns I needed to play for BSF, I turned around to find my husband sitting in the study listening. Just listening. That was cool. So I opened the hymnal again -- my good old Baptist Hymnal from my childhood church -- and just starting playing through it. It had been a long time since we'd heard some of these hymns.

Hubby and I like the traditional hymns. We were hoping to find a church here that would sing them instead of -- or in a good combination with -- the contemporary "praise songs". Problem is, such churches only attract old people, and they don't have good youth groups for our girls. And a good youth group is important right now.

But as I said, we really like the traditional old hymns. "The Church's One Foundation." "At Calvary." "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." "Immortal, Invisible."  "How Great Thou Art."

We noted, though, that "How Great Thou Art" isn't that old. It was written sometime in the 50s. So, to my parents, it was like "Pass It On" or something (that's an old 70s hymn classic, for those who didn't grow up all churchy like me).  (By the way, we have a family story about the song "I'd Rather Have Jesus", which was a new song during WW2 that my father learned in the navy in the Pacific . . . but that's a story for another day.)

That means that when Elvis sang "How Great Thou Art" on his album in the late 60s, it was not an old hymn; it was a relatively new one. That would kind of be like Mariah Carey putting out an album titled "Shout to the Lord" and getting a Grammy for the title track. Weird.

Back to our hymn-fest in our study . . . we wondered aloud why the old hymns are so good and so much better than most current praise songs. However, the fact that I was skipping half or more of the songs in the hymnal kind of answered our question: they weren't all good. Some of them we never sang. Some we sang and still enjoy just for sentimental reasons, but they're actually pretty mediocre. But the true classics that we sing over and over again and have sung for decades -- even centuries -- are classics because they've been vetted

Probably, at the time "Amazing Grace" was written, it was one of a slew of brand new hymns being sung in the church -- some good, some mediocre, some pretty awful probably, but a couple shining brightly as truly Spirit-inspired. And the mediocre faded away. The inspired lived on to be sung today.

One of the things I think makes the classic hymns live on is that they appeal not only to the soul but to the mind; they have good theology. There's a lot of fluff in the praise songs we belt out each Sunday these days. But the old hymns are meaty. Sometimes, I'll get a verse in my head and just end up mulling over it all day long.  Here's a common culprit:

Oh, to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be.
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, Lord; take and seal it -- seal it for thy courts above.

Prone to wander . . . bind my heart to you . . . I'm so indebted to grace . . . amen to all that . . .

I wish there was a "hymn" channel in the music section of my cable listings. I'd be there every day.

Monday, November 4, 2013


My November thankfulness post on Facebook yesterday was about my house.  I love my house. The closer we get to having everything put in place and organized, the more I love it.

I love getting up in the morning and walking out of my bedroom into our main living area. I love walking up the stairs to the girls' rooms. I love opening the door into the walk-in attic area to look for something. I love shutting the French doors of our "study" to practice piano. I love all the doors that open into our beautiful yard that I love.

I LOVE my new house. It's nicely designed and decorated (despite me -- the previous owners had a business staging houses for the market).  It's just the right size. It's cozy, and it feels like home.  It's . . . comfortable.

And there's the word that's troubling.

Many years ago, back at my first "drama ministry" gig in Hutchinson, we did a skit about a couple who are all about being . . . comfortable. In fact, they miss out on many opportunities in life -- especially some to be a blessing to others -- because of their need to be . . . comfortable.  The skit ends with the wife collapsing on the floor, choking on a piece of popcorn, while her husband wonders what to do because . . . well, with his back problems, you know . . . doing the Heimlich on her just wouldn't be . . . you know . . . comfortable.

I believe I've written about this before: Comfort is my idol of choice. If anything is going to take God's place on the throne of my life, it is going to be my own pleasure and ease. I'm quite aware of that. And that is the reason I find myself being suspicious of any situation I find myself in where I am experiencing a great deal of pleasure and ease. Only relatively recently in my 45-year spiritual walk have I come to grips with the idea that being right in the middle of God's will for my life may mean being in decidedly uncomfortable circumstances.  That I can be joyful and at peace even when I'm not at ease. And that I shouldn't necessarily take agreeable life circumstances as a sign that God is pleased with me, nor vice versa.

It's hard for me to deal with my personal form of idolatry without becoming a complete ascetic -- which I don't feel called to (nor does my husband, who really would have to be on board for that to happen).

Right now, I'm simply trying to enjoy the blessings in my life with an open hand. Thankful for them right now, in this moment, while realizing that at any time, God could choose to replace them with something displeasurable to me but that would bring me closer to Him -- and that would be awesome, too.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Three Things To NOT Do When a Woman Is Crying (And One Thing TO Do)

I offer this as a service to guys everywhere, particularly you young ones just starting out on this relationship gig. You should be taking notes, gentlemen.
1) Don't even think about hinting at “that time of the month.” Seriously. You may be right, but just don't. We know better than you do how crazy our body chemicals make us.  If we don't realize that that is the source of our emotional outburst right now, we will eventually, and your trying to rush that process will only prolong it.
But even more than that, blaming all of our tears on hormones just minimizes the real problem . . . and yes, there usually is a real problem. It's possible that your lady just fell apart into torrential sobs over absolutely nothing, but it's not likely. It's more likely that the hormones simply magnified the reaction to a very real problem that deserves very real attention.
2) Don't try to make her stop crying. At least, on a surface level. When I see a teenage boy with his weepy teenage girlfriend trying to make her laugh to stop the tears . . . or, God forbid, tickling her (seriously, do you have a death wish?) . . . I think, “Yeah, dude, she'll think that's cute and appreciate your effort for a while, but be prepared for the blow-up one day.”
Once again, you have to remember that under the apparent hysterics, there is a real problem. When you minimize that problem, you are minimizing her. It's demeaning. I know you mean well -- so does she, that's why she'll put up with it for a while -- but there comes a point where you look like you aren't interested in the whole woman here.  You're only interested in a happy, pretty plaything that entertains you and responds to the push of a button.  That's not a woman; that's a doll.  Buy a doll.
3) Don't try to fix the problem – at least at first. I realize that sounds COMPLETELY contradictory to what I said in my first two points. And here is where I'll admit some craziness on the part of my gender. Men are fixers; they see a problem, they fix it. Women are not men. Sometimes, we need some wallow time. We need to feel the full emotional impact of what we're dealing with and get a grip on that before we can deal with it. Yes, we will over-do it occasionally and indulge in our wallowing to an unhealthy extent (ladies, you need to recognize this tendency in yourself and work on it so your man doesn't have to attempt the dangerous maneuver of pointing it out to you).
But I'll let you in on an important secret: often, when a woman is not able to get past the emotions of a situation and move on, it's because somebody in her life (currently or regularly in the past) has minimized her emotions so much that she has learned to compensate by exaggerating them. She has to over-react to demonstrate -- to herself and to you -- that her feelings are legitimate.  That SHE is legitimate. Weird, yes . . . but only to a man.
Your woman would probably welcome your suggestions and insight into her situation, but not until she's ready.  Not until she's felt the full emotional impact of that situation.  Not until after you . . .
* DO sit with her and help carry the burden.  Listen. Hold her hand. Affirm how bad things are. Yes, even if you don't quite understand why things are so bad. I'm not saying to patronize and lie . . . I'm saying take the time to understand what this means to her. Did you catch that key word?  UNDERSTAND. Attempt to understand. Women are extremely relational by nature. They won't care to hear your suggestions until they are convinced you really get the problem.  How can you fix things until you understand?
This is hard for men; I get that. But let me give you some encouragement: the more you do this, the less you may need to do this.  The more understood she feels, the quicker she can get through the emotions and be ready for your assistance in solving it all.
Do I hear an "amen", sisters?