September 24, 2014

Letting It Go

And lo, the spirit of reason and truth spake unto her, saying, "Guard yourself, for the time of Halloween costumes is upon you."

I'm not sure when it happened, but Halloween is not the low-key fun holiday I remember as a kid. No one spent $195.50 on a costume to look like a flamingo from head to toe. School parties had jugged Kool-aid to drink and cheap cookies. The amount of candy you raked in had to do with how many houses you were willing to visit. Now... my daughter wants to be Elsa, along with half the child population in the nation. My son wanted to be Yoda. I wished him luck. Then he wanted to be Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi from Episode III. Yes, he's particular.

The problem, my friends, is me. If I do something, I want to do it the right way. It has to meet certain standards, adhere to the ideal, meet a budget, and be darn-near fool-proof so my kids can get them on by themselves at school.

I found costumes that met the budget, the idea, and even pleased my kids (though my son is a Stormtrooper instead; he's happy about it). It was that I realized _I_ was irritated with them for being so easily pleased. Couldn't they see the workmanship was shoddy?! Didn't they know these costumes weren't good representations of what they wanted to be?! How could my offspring have such low standards?

No, the problem is me. If they're pleased, why am I displeased with their costumes? Why am I insisting that what they want isn't good enough for me? When did I suddenly see their lives as a report card for how I'm doing as a parent?

It takes a really poor costume for a kid to comment on how bad another kid's costume is. It takes very little for a parent to think, "Wow, that could have been done better." It also takes very little for a parent to think, "I didn't do NEARLY enough compared with that costume."

I will remind myself of the apostle Paul's words in Philippians 2:12-13:
"Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him."

Work hard to show the results of my salvation... In other words, acknowledge deep within me that I need to Let It Go. Rejoice in the play and fun with my kids; don't allow myself to believe that striving for excellence in my kids' Halloween costumes truly matters at all in the long-range view. It doesn't.

I will also choose to be thankful I found an Elsa dress, even if it isn't exact. If I hadn't found one, I might have tried to make one, and there the temptation to go overboard on perfection might have been too much for me. My family wouldn't have seen me surface for weeks. I would have been researching costume design, dyeing fabrics... it wouldn't have been pretty. At all.

Lastly, I will choose gratitude for how God works in me to change my desires and choices, even in something so small as Halloween costumes.

September 23, 2014

Buckle up, Scholars!

I am an auto-didact. I love to learn, and I love to seek out new information regarding a very, very broad range of topics. French history? Polish fairy tales? The history of salt and where/why/how it was used and what it meant in cultural references? Connections between electrical wiring and neural networks? I'm your gal. Through analogies, descriptions, and story, I like to make topics interesting to people who weren't interested in them before. History, physiology, language, math, grammar, spiritual truth, literature, art, music, genealogy, and technology can all be fascinating topics if the teacher has a passion for the subject.

Since this is my blog, I want to use those gifts. If you choose to read, I hope some of my topics might help you understand something that wasn't clear before. I can't promise crystal-clear, but maybe the waters will be less muddy. Think CGPGrey, but in words. And perhaps Power Point diagrams. I like diagrams.

This morning my burning passion is for the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. It happens most often when studying the Bible, but it can be used when studying any book or text.

Exegesis is to explain the words as they are written. If the original author sat in your audience and listened to you teach, would they agree with you? Less is more for exegesis (unless you're the author!). Understanding someone else's words often means crossing big gaps in time, cultural understanding, expectations, and language. Gay meant something different to G.K. Chesterton than it does in our time.

Eisegesis is reading a meaning into the text. If you read someone else's words and think to yourself: "Ok, it DEFINITELY means this!" and never, ever reconsider it, be wary. Your mind likely grabbed for the first available meaning (which was probably something that made sense to YOU in YOUR time and in YOUR culture). Eisegesis is using a text to say what you want it to say.

It's wonderful to propose ideas and ask questions. Did Dickens mean to imply such-and-such with this relationship in Dombey & Son? How long would it have taken this character in the Bible to make bread? What alcohol content did wine have in the Middle Ages? Questions are great. They're what help you engage with the story. It's how you answer the questions and what you do with the answers that mark the difference in good learners. Did you assume Dickens' words were meant for someone in your time? (They weren't; he had no idea your world would exist in his lifetime. He wrote the words for HIS world.) Did you assume bread looked the same in Bible times as it does when you make it? (Unless you live in the Middle East and make naan or aish merahrah, it's unlikely.) Did you think wine has existed for thousands of years, so it must be the same? (It hasn't. Wine's composition and how it's made have morphed over time. Not changed completely, but enough so you shouldn't assume.)

Those who bother me most are teachers who move from exegesis and questions straight into eisegesis without giving a heads up when they crossed the line between the two. "We don't know what this name means for sure. This gives us a little freedom in imagining the meaning. Since we don't know what the name means..." NO. No, no, no, no, NO. That went from "we don't know for sure" to "we don't know at all" in less than two sentences. The teacher has now shifted their weight of teaching onto something that was just an idea a moment ago. This is a hard thing to catch if you're not looking for it. Persuasive teachers often fall into this trap. They find a meaning that could mean this... y'know, it works WELL if it means this... it DOES mean this!

No it doesn't. Stick with it COULD mean this.

If a teacher tells you they KNOW what something means and it can only mean this, they better have the credentials you would expect for an expert in a very narrow field with years of experience. People with that kind of knowledge don't have to throw their weight around. Their knowing is usually quieter and assured; they're less likely to argue because they don't need to.

First rule of learning: Always ask yourself if you agree with what you're being taught. Is this information supported or contradicted by what you've learned elsewhere? I can't think of a single person in the world with whom I agree with about everything. That includes my husband, my parents, my children, my counselors, and yes, trusted teachers.

And that includes me! If you have questions for me about what I say, please ask! If you think I said something wrong, please engage with me about it. If you don't understand something and would like to learn more, let me know what the topic is and I'll do my best to go find out and share what I find.

Learning from people is best when it's a conversation, not a monologue.

September 19, 2014

Energizer Rabbit on Crack

If you're alone and making siren noises to yourself while driving, purely because the sound and feeling of making that sound interest you, something is wrong.

Today has been insane, and it's completely my brain's fault. My thoughts have been scattered and insanely high-energy. Think free-form popcorn. For hours. Even when no one's there to keep an eye on it.

I took my Ritalin like I should have, and maybe I shouldn't have had two cups of high-octane coffee, but wow... I wrote my daughter's teacher a note this morning to let the teacher know that my girl has been high-energy for the last 12-18 hours. I called my husband before he came home for lunch to warn him about me. "Hi. Before you come home, you should know I am NOT restful to be around right now!"

Talking to oneself doesn't have to mean craziness, but my solitary chatter today has been... scary... even for me, the one who's DOING the chatter.

"LAAAAAAAA!!!!!!! -Ok, that's weird. Why am I making these noises? No idea, but God, I hope you're listening, because I don't think _I_ am right now. Why are just those leaves turning red on that tree now? Wow, that's a big tractor. I wonder if it's the caffeine that's doing this to me or the Ritalin or the sugar in the creamer I used. I wonder what the difference in chemical composition is from Ritalin to caffeine to sugar -- I should look that up in my psychopharmacology textbook when I get home. How soon should I start the meatloaf? I need to bake brownies first--ooh! I should add those white chocolate chips to the batter! and butterscotch ice cream sauce! Did I actually finish my bible study lesson? I wonder if the Hebrew word for 'lily' changes to another Hebrew word if you insert the he letter in the middle. I spent quite a bit of the grocery money for this week already, and it's mostly for just one meal; I should know better than that. Nope, that's not toilet paper rolled over fresh tar, it's just newly-repainted white lines for parking spaces. WooooOOOOOOoooo... wooooOOOOOOOooooo... Making siren noises while I'm by myself is DEFINITELY not normal. I'm nearly freaking-forty! I should be more mature than that" and on and on and on.

You can't possibly read that paragraph as fast as the thoughts came into my head and out my mouth. It was playing at higher than 45 rpms. Mickey Mouse-gibberish speed.

I'm trying to direct this energy into things that aren't harmful and aren't bothersome to other people. When I can, I'm trying to use it productively. I did make the pan of brownies. I've made two meatloaves from scratch (one for tonight, one for the freezer). I've planned out the timelines that will work for meatloaf, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, and vegetable to be done in time for supper at 5:30. I made myself sit down to talk with my husband when he was home because I knew I would feel guilty later if I didn't--and I also knew that I WILL need rest periods, even if it feels like I'm the Energizer bunny on crack right now.

I don't know the cause of my mental state today. I don't know how to stop it or what good purpose it could possibly serve. Sometimes I feel broken, the questionable relative that just has times of behaving strangely.

I'll be glad when the tilt-a-whirl thoughts end as this is NOT a fun ride to endure. BUT. I will refuse to believe I am fatally damaged. I will choose to believe God is neither surprised nor appalled by my internal state. I will remind myself that today, too, shall pass.

And maybe tomorrow I will be calm again.

September 17, 2014


This season of life is new to me. Both of my children are in school, and there are gaps of time in the day that never used to exist. Time to breathe, time to finish drinking an entire cup of coffee before it gets cold, time to tidy a house after the morning melee, and (wonder of wonders) a long stretch of time that the house remains tidy.

By nature I'm an ambivert. I can be social, but I also welcome silence, solitude, and the space to ponder and process whatsoever my mind chooses. The last several years have had many interruptions, questions, disruptions, interventions, admonitions, and instructions, but precious little solitude. I fell in love all over again with my husband when, as I cautioned him not to expect much to change around the house these first few weeks, he said, "I don't expect anything to change for more than a month! You have close to a decade of solitude to make up for."

This is only my third week with regular silences, and I'm learning some hard truths about myself and the world I inhabit. I am learning that we dislike, resist, and even FIGHT stillness.

A movie quote from "The Sound of Music" says that a life of activity suggests a life filled with purpose. Do I resist being still because I fear that it means my life has no active purpose? Have I fallen in the trap of believing my value is equal to my productivity?

It is HARD to be still. Hard to hold myself in check and refrain from acting simply to be active. I'm somewhat dismayed at how quickly a week can fill without any deliberate effort on my part to make it full. It is far more difficult to keep time open. Open time requires actively resisting requests and invitations, learning to say the dreaded word "no" to what is good, sincerely believing that saying "no" can leave me available for what is best in the long run.

When I woke up this morning, my day had a blank holiness of six hours' time. Two of those hours were gone in a flash, with little say-so from me. And yet... it was because so many hours were open that _I_ was open to where the moment might lead. My margins are wider now than they have ever been. I have more time, so I resent things that take time less--while fighting a good fight to maintain deep margins.

Still... still I am waiting. Still, I work to cultivate a listening heart. Still, I have the conviction that more is coming. Still, I enact my belief that there is more beyond me and my activity. Still, I am willing to wait, to halt my action until such a time as I truly am needed.

Today I am praying that my heart will learn to cultivate and crave stillness.

September 16, 2014

Trust the Joy

I looked at the clock and realized I had less than an hour before my kids would crash through the door after school, so I did what any mom in her right mind would do: I made myself a horrendously large cup of chocolate milk.

There's no one here to cry foul, no one to monitor my syrup usage, and no one to whom I must explain my actions. How is it more parents don't do this?

On the one hand, I could see it as selfishness cropping up where I should have learned selfLESSness by now. I prefer to see it as evidence of my having kept the heart of child.

Have you forgotten? Do you remember the delight if your mom broke the rules and let you have ice cream for breakfast? Or a candy lunch? Or deciding to have the family eat supper in the blanket tent you made in the living room? Do you remember the fascination of seeing something with new eyes and wondering EVERYTHING about it? You had no stored knowledge or ready reference for what was in front of you, so you tried to absorb everything you could about it, whether it was a flower, a new person who was funny, a new story, or a fascinating bug on the sidewalk at your feet. You'd even crouch down, push closer, and squeeze in so you could see better, absorb more.

Have you forgotten?

Where is your joy these days? Is it joy you feel when you complete a job that's been hanging over your head? Is it a joy to see someone catch a spark you lit in hope? Is it delight you feel when you're fully present, all-the-way-up-to-your-elbows in and focused on whatever's before you? Are you able to set aside your to-dos to be fascinated by what you thought was familiar when it shows up on the wrong timetable and out of place? Can you set aside your tasks and grant the time for questions to come? What is that? Why does it look/taste/smell/feel/behave that way? How does it react if you touch it? chase it? try to hold it? How does it change?

It takes time for the questions to come if it's been a while since you gave them the space to form.

If the questions feel silly or hard to force, be near a child and be willing to listen. They ask questions as simply as breathing. The questions may seem ridiculous to an adult mind, but if you're willing to wait and ponder the question, you might remember...

You might remember how hard it was to wait. You might remember the breath-taking wonder the first time you saw someone turn a balloon into the shape you requested. You just might remember how important and sincere your question was and how it hurt when the adults just laughed instead of answering. If you're willing to push into the struggles of memories from your childhood, and you're willing to stay in the frustration a while, you might get back the joy.

The joy of finding out there's no school today because of the snow that made your mom's shoulders slump. The joy of finding your very favorite book is back on the library shelf, even if you've read it so many times you have it memorized; you remember how familiar things can be as wonderful as finding old friends. You'll get back the joy and relaxing feeling of comfort that came from burying your nose in a favorite blanket or pillow or stuffed friend. You might even get back the hedonistic joy of gulping down a carafe of chocolate milk without any grown-ups finding out you did it.

And getting back these joys is worth whatever price you might have to pay.
Now please excuse me. I need to go gulp my milk in less than 10 minutes!

September 15, 2014

My Fear of My Girl

A friend of my heart wrote a post about her fears in having a daughter. I love her writing voice, and many of her phrases tugged on resonant heartstrings in me, so... despite the on-going litany of tasks and to-dos and shoulds and "Good Things That I Ought to be Doing Instead" [please tell me I'm not the only one who has these] I've run to my keyboard to think through some fears myself.

I knew from the moment I married that, if I had children, odds were heavily weighted in favor of having a child like I was. We have a clone of me (or as close as we'll get outside a laboratory) in our heart-winning hurricane of a girl. She is mature for her age in many ways, but she still brings me fears aplenty.

I fear being her primary female role model, because I still get it wrong so often.
I fear looking at her and finding new things that need fixing in me.
I fear walking through familiar prisons again with her--and forgetting how I got out the first time.
I fear seeing her bypass some of my prisons and (heaven help me) possibly resenting her the tiniest bit for escaping what I did not.
I fear feeling my heart sink as I watch her get bewildered by the same things that confused me.
I fear that my role of comforter and rejuvenator will atrophy or be destroyed as she gets older.
I fear that she frames who she will be without me or in spite of me.

My daughter, more than my son, reminds me of who I have been and who I am. She is as painful and frustrating a mirror of me as heaven could shape. In wrestling with how to help or direct her (or simply outlast her), I have often thought wildly that _I_ of all people should know what to do! I've had more time with her than anyone else on the planet has. 2300+ days. 55,000+ hours. So often she leaves me staggered and speechless. She unwittingly shows me how often I don't have the answers.

I want so many good things for her. I know how hard the road could be ahead. It feels like cheating sometimes to remind myself that she belongs to God first, so HE is the one who directs her life, and it's okay if I don't have the answers because he does.

I'm trying to 'be' when I'm with her in ways that leave me feeling vulnerable. Answering questions she asks me just after I get out of the shower. Being honest about my struggles and insecurities. Asking for her help without leaning on her in ways she isn't meant to uphold me.

If it's hard to be a woman in all the ways that are best and brave, it's a billion times harder to be that and encourage an open floor for questions from your preschool audience as you do it.

For now... it's the best way I know to help her learn to be whoever she might be.