Monday, September 29, 2014

Small Me

My boss has a blog, too, and her post this morning reminded me of a dream I had many years ago.

In my dream, I had just been hired at a new job -- well, hired on a one-week trial basis. My new boss (the one in the dream, not the real-life blogger) was going to be out of town for that week, and he gave me three specific jobs to get done while he was gone: Job #1, Job #2, and Job #3. None of these jobs were terribly difficult. I was confident I would come out of this week shining pretty and get hired for sure.

But as the week progressed and I walked around the company getting to know how things worked, I found the place was absolutely falling apart. I spent the whole week fixing messes, putting out fires, trying to keep the ship afloat, to mix a bunch of metaphors. It was exhausting, but a bit exhilarating as well. I felt so valuable and competent. Wouldn't the boss be thrilled to have me on board?

So, at the end of the week, boss-man returned and asked me how my week went. I told him everything, all the disasters I had found and all the problems I had fixed, trying desperately to communicate my excellence while maintaining a veneer of humility and carefully avoiding the implication that my boss didn't know what he was doing.

He listened quietly. Then he said, "But I didn't ask you to do any of those things. I asked you to do Job #1, Job #2, and Job #3."

And in a moment of horror, I realized . . . I had done none of those jobs.

Then he proceeded to explain to me how, in my zealous efforts to rescue the company, I had actually messed everything up. I was the one who didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have the big picture, like he did. I screwed up. I screwed everything up. Royally.

"It's not your job to keep this ship afloat," the boss said. "That's MY job -- and I'm quite capable of doing my job. Your job is to do exactly what I ask you to do. No more; no less."

I woke up just as my heart was dropping to my feet, fully expecting to get fired on the spot . . . and I didn't need a prophet to interpret this dream for me. I knew EXACTLY what God was trying to tell me.

You are not the Savior. You are not here to fix every problem you come into contact with. You are here to do exactly what I tell you to do: Job #1, Job #2, and Job #3. Get over your messiah complex, and just listen and obey

The day I learned how small I am and how valued and useful I can be in my smallness. Except I'm still learning.

Friday, September 26, 2014

I Need a 12-Step Grammar Program

I didn't start it. A woman named Charlene did. 

She asked the question on the San Antonio Homeschoolers Facebook page: "In the sentence: My current favorite book is about baby animals. Is current an adjective or adverb. The book says adjective, but doesn't it modify favorite, an adjective, making it an adverb?"

All these people commented on her page that "current" was an adjective modifying book.  One of them even went into a mini-lecture about how it couldn't be an adverb, because adverbs tell us how, where, or when, which "current" clearly doesn't tell us.

And I couldn't stay silent. Because they were all so WRONG.

The word "current" in that sentence is giving us more information about when that book is her favorite, not about when that book is her book. It is modifying -- giving us more information about -- the word "favorite". And the how/where/when business is accurate when the adverb is modifying a verb; when it is modifying an adjective, it is often telling us "to what extent".

And so, I politely explained all this, with a gentle introduction to myself as an English teacher to try to give my words a little more weight in the conversation. I also softened the blow with a remark that this is an unusual construction and English is a pretty crazy language.

But in this sentence, "current" is most definitely an adverb.

Charlene thanked me. And then four or five more people commented on the thread, insisting that it was an adjective modifying book.

Seriously, people????

One tried to explain: "My current favorite book, remove favorite, the sentence still works ..... My current book, and also you can write the sentence as, 'My favorite current book' and it makes sense......which you couldn't do if it was an adverb."

I started to fume inwardly. (For real -- what's wrong with me?) I asked my daughters which word "current" is modifying in that sentence, and even they got it right. I tried to explain -- again, gently -- that although the phrase makes sense with the words switched, the two phrases do not mean the same thing. "One says, 'Of all of my books that I am reading at the moment, this one is my favorite.' The other says, 'Of all of my books, this one is my favorite at the moment.' The words are interchangeable, but the meaning changes when you change the words. That's because the first word is modifying the second in each case."

After a few more exchanges with Charlene about "light blue" (light is obviously modifying blue, but it can't be an adverb, she said -- YES, IT CAN!!), I decided that I'm a pretty sick person to obsess this much about labeling language. I bid them all good night and tried to get it all out of my head and go to sleep.

But friends, "current" is most definitely an adverb in that sentence. Definitely. Harrumph.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Taco By Any Other Name

The girls and I ate dinner at Taco Cabana yesterday. Taco Cabana seems to be the taco joint of choice among most San Antonians. They have a salsa bar. This is to their credit.

Aside from that, the girls and I feel that . . . well . . . Taco Cabana is . . . not Taco Bell. And most San Antonians would find that fact to be to their credit, but we don't.

Really, a taco should be a taco should be a taco, but it is SOOO not. Taco Bell has been our taco joint of choice for a good many years, and our taste buds are accustomed to its peculiarities. And it took me some time to adjust to Taco Bell -- when I grew up, we ate at Taco Tico. Taco Tico! Any other Wichita folks remember Taco Tico? I wonder if it's still around. I miss Taco Tico.

Just like I miss Sub 'n Stuff. Again, Wichita friends -- Sub 'n Stuff? When they when out of business and I had to resort to Subway for my submarine-type sandwiches, it was truly a sad day for me. There was simply no comparison. I still have moments when my mouth experiences a flashback to biting into a Sub 'n Stuff pepperoni sub and it cries a little for the treasures time takes from us. Sigh.

Didn't I just write about how the variety of food available to us has contributed to the obesity problem in America? I did. But I'm going to ignore that convicting bit of information as I return to my original subject . . .

Taco Cabana. It's not Taco Bell. Salsa bar notwithstanding, it just doesn't quite do it for us.

Furthermore, a trip to Taco Cabana never fails to stir up our linguistic pharasaic tendencies. Yesterday, my youngest ordered an item that consisted of a flour tortilla filled with beans and cheese and folded in half. It was labeled a bean and cheese taco.

No such item exists in our world.

Tortilla folded in half = taco. I get that. But once beans are included, we have left the taco family. Beans = burrito.

I understand that for many folks, tortilla wrapped around innards = burrito. And that has generally been a part of our understanding, too. But in reality, when you receive said Taco Cabana item on your tray, it has been wrapped up much like a burrito to fit into the aluminum foil wrapper they use to keep it warm. It looks like a burrito.

But the wrapping is a secondary matter. Once you add beans to a tortilla-filled item it has been born into the burrito family. And beans with no meat? = NO DOUBT ABOUT IT BURRITO.

It is probably a sad commentary on my family that the label given to our fast food entree can disturb us enough to spoil the pleasure of the dining experience. Even with a salsa bar.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The 7th Graders and the Impossible

My 7th graders began their year reading a short story by Richard Thurman called "The Countess and the Impossible." It's about a boy who gets snagged by the eccentric, mean old lady in his neighborhood whose property he is short-cutting through and she hires him to take care of her lawn. She says she'll pay him what he thinks he's worth -- which he thinks is fifty cents, but she pushes and demands more of him until she can justify paying him two dollars for his work. She'll pay him more in the future, she says, if the quality of his work improves, but a five-dollar job -- well, that would be impossible..

Ultimately, he becomes obsessed with doing a five-dollar job. Once he discovers the secret he needs to get him there (taking 10-minute catnaps when his strength runs out), he ends up spending an entire Thursday making her lawn and yard immaculate beyond anything he ever thought himself capable of . . . and proudly astonishes the Countess by accomplishing the five-dollar job.

This was a great story for these kids to read to begin their junior high careers. Right now, you want to do fifty-cent work. We, your teachers, know that you can actually do two-dollar work and we aren't going to accept anything less. But we also know that within you is the ability to do the impossible: you can understand algebra. You can write a well-structured five-paragraph essay. You can remember all the details about the War for Independence and pull them together into a coherent presentation. You can do this experiment and discover something about the nature of momentum and gravity. You can focus yourself on six hours worth of home study work and get it all done and organized to turn in when you need to. You can fix your attention on the instructor in class so you pick up all the information you need and not distract yourself and your classmates with mindless chatter. You can do this. It is within you to do the five-dollar job. The impossible.

It is always a matter of figuring out what inspires each kid to get there.

In the course of my reading this weekend, I found an old verse that has challenged me often over the years:

Matthew 5:48 -- Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.

PERFECT. Perfect the way God is perfect. Talk about the impossible job.

Whatever it was I read this in over the weekend (and I don't want to take the time to hunt it down now) talked about the possible meanings of "perfect" in this context, how it may not be demanding such an unreachable goal as it sounds. But I see no need to water this down. Jesus was telling us to strive to be just like God -- it's that simple. And the Word tells us that He has given us His Spirit to enable us to do just that. To be like Him.

Without the Spirit, we can only go so far. With the Spirit we are fully capable of doing the five-dollar job. It's just that we settle for two or three dollars, impressed at how far we've come since we were earning quarters.

And once again, I'm inspired to aim for the impossible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What They're Wearing

Fall means a new year of Bible Study Fellowship. This year, my oldest daughter is going to her own BSF class, one for young adults. I'm very excited that both of my daughters are involved in this study now. BSF has been very meaningful for me when I've been able to participate in it over the years.

Last night, while I was sitting at the piano waiting for our opening session to begin (I accompany the songs we sing as a group before we start), I was noticing our teaching leader's dress. It was a long, sleeveless blue and white thing under which she wore a white t-shirt. Very cute. The kind of thing I wish I could find to wear to school. She always has cute outfits on -- not over-the-top fashion plate stuff, but simple and attractive.

Not only that, she always has different outfits on. After thirty-some weeks of class last year, I don't recall seeing her in an outfit that I remembered her wearing before. I have often wondered at the size of her closet. This has particularly struck me this year now that I'm back in the work world and have to dress professionally three days a week. I have only a handful of outfits that qualify as "professional" -- I'm going to be wearing the same thing over and over.

I've also wondered if our teaching leader intentionally keeps track of what she wears every week so she's always wearing something different. From what I know of her, I doubt it. She doesn't strike me as one to focus that much on her clothes. Yet I've noticed . . .

And now I'm not wondering about her anymore -- I'm wondering about me. Why in the world have I been paying such close attention to what she's wearing?

Such behavior might not be unusual for some women, but I am SOOO not into clothes. I hate shopping. I hate trying to dress myself and make myself look appropriate for whatever situation I'm going into because I stink at it. I don't like having to care about what I put on my body before I leave the house. And most of the time, I pay no attention whatsoever to what others are wearing. If my daughter had disappeared in the middle of a school day, I couldn't for the life of me have been able to tell you what she was wearing that morning. (Well, not when we were living in Sioux City. Here in San Antonio, she would have been wearing her school uniform. But that's beside the point.)

There are two people whose clothes I find myself paying a great deal of attention to these days: my BSF teaching leader and my principal. I have no earthly idea why what they're wearing jumps out at me. They're not flashy dressers -- like I said, simple and attractive. But it seems like every time I see them, my eyes end up scanning their outfit of the day and thinking, "Oh! That's so cute! I need a scarf like that . . . or a skirt like that . . . or shoes like that . . . "

I have never done this before. Is it weird that I suddenly notice how these two particular people in my life are dressing? Even more -- is it weird that I'm sitting here thinking about how weird it is that I suddenly notice how these two particular people in my life are dressing?

Even more weird: I apparently think you all are interested in reading about how weird it is that I suddenly notice how these two particular people in my life are dressing. Hmph.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Why We're Fat

One reason I hesitate to give up Facebook entirely: people do post some fascinating articles on there.

Last week, it was one titled, "12 Graphs That Show Why People Get Fat." VERY interesting. Here's the title from one graph: "The Obesity Epidemic Started When The Low-Fat Guidelines Were Published." Heart disease was skyrocketing and scientists believed that saturated fats were to blame, so they started telling everyone to limit their saturated fats . . . and we all started getting chubbier.

Now, the article rightly points out that correlation doesn't prove causation -- just because they happened at the same time doesn't necessarily mean one caused the other. But does it not make sense? When we get rid of the fat in our foods, we need to add something else to make it taste good: sugar. Another graph in the article shows how "Sugar Consumption Has Skyrocketed." My mother used to add a little sugar to canned vegetables; she thought it took away the tinny taste from the can. I still do that. I'm not sure I can eat canned vegetables any other way.

Another graph: "People Gain Lots Of Weight During The Holidays, Which They Never Get Rid Of." I have to say, this one surprised me. Not that people gain weight during the holidays, or that they never get rid of all of it, but that it was enough to be a significant factor in obesity. I guess if you start when you're twenty adding on a couple pounds every Christmas, by forty you've added forty pounds to your body.

But feasting has always been a feature of the holidays, yes? Why hasn't it been a factor before? I'm guessing because before, Christmas only lasted one day. People worked right up until Christmas Eve and didn't spend the whole week between Christmas and New Year's celebrating. The stores weren't putting holiday items out in October to make you crave those holiday goodies so you have them sitting around for two months. It's nuts.

Here's another good one: "The Social Environment Can Strongly Affect Caloric Intake." We consume more calories the more people we are around while we eat. Putting food into our mouths becomes an exercise in social connection, rather than in staving off hunger pangs. Wow. Human beings are just fascinating, you know?

"People Don't Burn As Many Calories Working." Of course. The problems innovations caused us by making our lives easier. "People Are Eating More Vegetable Oils, Mostly From Processed Foods." Again: processed foods = easy. Easy living = a curse more often than we want to admit. "Food Is Cheaper Than Ever Before." This is starting to remind me of a line repeated often in my new favorite TV series, "Once Upon A Time":  Magic always has a price. So does convenience.

But here's the one that hit me the most: "Increased Food Variety Contributes to Overeating and Weight Gain." You know these diets that focus on what people ate in Bible times and all -- "What Did Jesus Eat?" Well, he ate healthier food, yes, but he also probably ate basically the same stuff everyday. So did other people throughout history, I suspect, expect for the exorbitantly wealthy ones. They ate to sustain their bodies; they didn't eat merely for the pleasure of eating. At least not on a daily basis. We eat for the pleasure of eating. And the variety of foods we have to choose from makes eating a pleasure, not just a necessity.

In the four or five weeks of school we've had so far, I've taken the same lunch every day I've had to stay for lunch: an apple and a granola bar. If I were at home, I would never have dreamed of limiting myself to such a scanty lunch -- it would have taken all the self-control I have to do that. But at school, I have fifteen minutes to scarf down a lunch between classes, and I'm only eating to keep my energy up for the afternoon. Lunch is not for pleasure -- I'm getting my pleasure from teaching. So that scanty lunch is completely satisfying; I'm not even hungry for more when I get home.

Very revealing to me, that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lacking Authority Over My Self

I saw a little cartoon yesterday. A patient in a doctor's office says, "Doctor, I don't feel well and I don't know why."

The doctor tells him, "I want you to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day, exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, avoid processed foods, eat plenty of organic fruits and veggies, spend more time in nature and less indoors, stop worrying about things you can't control, and ditch your TV. Come back in 3 weeks."

Ah! Of course. It's that simple.

The thing is, it probably really is that simple, and we all know it. If every single one of us followed that advice for three weeks, it is almost guaranteed we will feel better. No, it wouldn't cure every malady in our lives, but we would feel better. And we all know it.

So why don't we do it?

Do we think we don't have time? Very likely, but that's just an excuse, I suspect. I had plenty of time this summer, but I still didn't meditate or exercise. And ditching the TV would add a lot of minutes to my day. (He didn't include internet entertainment -- I think that would be valid, also.)

Do we argue we can't afford it? Yes, processed foods are cheap, and organic food is expensive. But most of us, if we thought it important, would find a way to make that happen.

We don't do this stuff because we don't want to. Because we'd rather continue to feel lousy, with the right to whine and complain about feeling lousy, than put out the effort to do the things that will help us feel better. Probably because feeling lousy zaps the energy we have for the effort.

We're a sad lot.

But two thoughts ran through my mind as I pondered this cartoon: first, if a doctor actually told me to do these things, I would do them. I know because a doctor did tell to do similar things once (for my sleep problems) and I did them. Most of them. And I really did feel better. (Although I didn't sleep better.) Why do I need an authority in my life to instruct me to do the things I know are best for me? (There is HUGE connection to be made here for our spiritual walk, the role of the Law, our relationship with God . . . but I won't go there today.)

Second, why don't I just pretend I've been given this prescription by an actual doctor and follow it for three weeks? Chances are, I would feel so much better, I would want to keep most of it up indefinitely. But the truth is, I know myself well enough to know that I wouldn't keep it up even for three weeks; I would quit when it got hard. Lack of self-control? Lack of faith in the method? Who knows. But it wouldn't happen. (Oh, the spiritual implications here . . . so much to say . . . )

I'll repeat: we're a sad lot. A new friend of mine has Lupus, and when she was diagnosed, she started on a journey to find any possible means of alleviating her symptoms, including changing her diet, adding exercise . . . all this stuff the cartoon doctor recommended. Why does it take major debilitating situations to force us to do the stuff we know we need to do anyway?

(Ughh . . . it's almost painful to hold back . . . a post for another day . . . )

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sometimes Depression IS a Faith Issue

Okay, I write this post with a bit of trepidation, simply because I have found that many friends read my posts with some kind of glasses on seeing only what they want or expect to see. And if depression and anxiety and such are hot-button topics for you, and you read this way, you'll come away mad at me. So here's my request: please actually read my words, all of them, before you react.
I just read an article titled “4 Myths Christians Need to Stop Believing About Depression.” And I got a little annoyed. Here are the author's four myths:
- Depression is a faith issue.
- Depression can be prayed away.
- Depression isn't physical.
- Depression shouldn't be talked about.
So, here's the thing. The last one is absolutely a myth that should be done away with. The other three . . . maybe not so much.
The problem is that all emotional struggles (depression, anxiety, anger, etc.) are very complex. Our emotions are part of our “Soul,” the part of our Self that is the interaction of our spirit and our flesh. They are affected by both. They are not confined to one realm or the other.
So, is depression physical? I think it is always physical in that, in its essence, it is a physiological phenomenon. Our bodies physiologically slow down in order to process a loss perceived by our brain. But more often than not, its cause is not physical, and therefore its cure is not always physical.
Is depression a faith issue? Sometimes. Sometimes, our lack of faith causes us to perceive situations in our life as a loss or a threat, which triggers the physiological reaction leading to the feelings of depression, anxiety, or anger.
Can depression be prayed away? Sometimes. Depressive episodes are different in every person – and often different in even the same person at different times.
I've written about my own experiences with depression. Basically, what I've come to see about myself is that my body's default settings are just different than the average person – I start closer to the bottom of the depression pit than most, so it takes less of a push to get me there. But I've also learned that most of the triggers that push me are of my own mental making, and growing in my faith has eliminated most of them. So, for me, some of my depression IS a faith issue, and it CAN be prayed away.
But not all of it. I've been on medication before -- sometimes it wasn't a good thing, but sometimes it was. Sometimes it kept me from killing my children, a very good thing. But every person is different, and every depressive episode (or panic attack, or explosion of rage) in every person is different as well.
I just don't want to jump on the bandwagon of people comparing depression to diabetes or something. "You wouldn't hesitate to take medication for diabetes; why hesitate for your depression?" Because they are not always analogous phenomena. There is a difference. And it takes a great deal of wisdom to understand the nature of your own condition.
Just sayin'.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Tell Me What Greatness Looks Like, Mom

My friend lost her father a week ago today. Her son is a student of mine, a classmate of my daughter's, so the family has been on my mind a lot this week.

I lost my father thirteen years ago -- my mother the year before that. Other friends who have lost a parent talk about thinking about them every day. I can't say I think about either of my parents every day. I never lived close enough to my parents for them to be an integral part of my daily life as an adult -- maybe that's why. I don't feel a hole in my daily life to prompt their memory. It's mainly on holidays that I miss them, or at other random times . . . like this morning.

My dad grew up on a farm in Kansas during the Dust Bowl years. Mom grew up in small-town Missouri, daughter of a high school principal and elementary school teacher. From what I understand (I had to piece these details together through relatives after they died), they met in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where my dad was stationed for some part of his military training during World War II and where my mother was teaching in a one-room schoolhouse (I think Cape Girardeau was where the one-room schoolhouse was . . . oh, I wish so much I had asked her about that experience!).

From that point, Dad left for officer training at Harvard (that's how a poor farm boy from Kansas ends up getting a Master's degree from Harvard), and the two of them continued what my mother called a romance of letters. They apparently wrote each other all through the war.

As you can guess, my sisters and I would give just about anything to see those letters.

This is hard for me to imagine. As I recall, they didn't have a whole lot of time together at Cape Girardeau. Maybe a year? And this was back in the day when people were a bit more cautious about their romance. My dad, in particular, would have been cautious, I think; he was always a very conservative one.

But maybe not in Cape Girardeau? They apparently fell for each other hard enough to maintain a long-distance relationship for a few years through nothing but words on paper (no email, no texting, not enough phone calls). And it flourished to the point that they got engaged soon after he returned from the Pacific.

How do you do something like that? My daughter and her long-term, long-distance boyfriend would probably like to know.

I remember asking my mother once what made her think my dad was good husband material. I mean, on the surface, someone from my mother's background might not see much in a farm boy from Western Kansas whose family of nine lived in a basement (she said when she first went to meet the family, they hadn't even built a house over the basement yet -- they literally all lived in just a basement). Her answer was, basically, that she saw greatness in him.


I lost my parents too early. So much I should have asked them.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Here's My Heart

Oh, to grace, how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be.

I could force my children into moral behavior. Well, I could have to an extent, when they were younger . . . my oldest being eighteen now, everything is a little more complicated . . . but that's kind of extraneous to the point I want to make here, so we'll gloss over that for now and return to . . .

I could force my children into moral behavior. In fact, that's what parents do on some level when our children are young. Through various disciplinary techniques, we require our children to behave morally with the hopes that these behaviors, which are not natural to them, will become reinforced and habitual, and with the hopes that they will see the benefits of moral behavior and strive to continue in that vein.

Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.

In fact, it seems like the bulk of our parenting effort when our kids are young is expended toward shaping good, responsible kids -- probably because that task requires so much effort. Our natural bent toward sin makes this training a long-term job, one that doesn't ever get completed, one that our children (we hope) eventually take up to work on in themselves.

So much energy gets spent toward the goal of making our children good that it's sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that this isn't our primary goal in parenting. At least it shouldn't be. At least it's not mine.

It's also not my primary goal that my children be happy. Not that I don't want them to be happy, but we all know that the happiness they desire from us today is temporary and destines them for misery later. The happiness we desire for them requires gruntwork today that is no fun.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.

If I limit myself to the temporal goals I have for my children in this life (which I will for the purposes of this metaphor), one of my primary goals is for my children to have a relationship with me. A real relationship. Genuine, authentic relationship. Relationship appropriate to who we each are to each other -- not buddies, not business associates, but a mother and child. If I raise "happy," "good" children who don't have an authentic relationship with me, I have not really succeeded in my goal as a mother.

And it strikes me lately that I need to remember this about my heavenly Father as well. It is often easy to lose sight of the fact that His ultimate goal for me while I'm on this earth is not to make me a good, moral person (although He'd like that). Neither is it to make me happy in this life (although He wants that, too). Both of those goals pale in comparison to the ultimate, crucial need to establish a genuine, authentic relationship with me -- a relationship based in the reality of who we each are: father/child, master/servant, king/subject, creator/masterpiece, bridegroom/beloved bride. Goodness and happiness will all be taken care of some day; the relationship part has to be taken care of NOW.

I'm finding that when the ways of God don't make sense to me, it's usually because I've forgotten His ultimate goal. Not my morality or my levity, but my heart.

Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.