Tracing Memory

Scattered pieces of tracing paper graced our home much like the misplaced or missing socks were also doing. My girl had traced the lines of many a princess. This wiggly little one could magically sit, all dolled up, under the spell of paper and pen. Looking back at tracings from two years before, I saw a big difference. The ability to follow a line and obey the shape had become stronger. Lines more refined, she had almost moved on to drawing these beauties from memory.

Tracing got me thinking of how we had grown in learning how to learn. I remembered when this little artist would feed helpless—tracing the lines of my face, studying my eyes. A minimum of 1500 times we sat down to give and receive nourishment and in the meantime, trace faces. She memorized early the curves of my nose and lips, the boundaries of my teeth, the sound of my voice. In those earliest days, I was teaching her, unaware.

What seemed to be years away, hopped right into my lap: the school years. It was time to start learning! The first day came with no big fanfare; I don’t recall the date, but there we were “doing school.” I felt the need for our schooling to be run by a published list of lessons on a specific timetable and I was tense. Learning wasn’t quite as fun as I’d thought it would be . . .

Find my complete article, published earlier this week, over at Classical Conversations’ The Writer’s Circle!

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Whilst Every Day is Saturday

I had the privilege of knowing Ann Absalom during the brief 4 years I lived in Japan where she led a bible study at our international church.  Back in our home countries, we reconnected over Facebook about a year ago.  I came across these words she posted this past Saturday just before Easter and she gave me permission to share them here . . .

I have been thinking about Easter – how it is not really ‘good’ Friday until Sunday – how we won’t really, truly know until we see Him face to face on our resurrection day. Meanwhile we wait and we hope – we live in the in between – we have His promises that we have been born again, that heaven is waiting – that it is glorious, that He is there now preparing a place for us. We are given tasters of joy and peace by His Spirit who lives within us but the tasters are found amidst a life that is often difficult and hard, relentless and tiring. We are asked to trust His Word that He will rise on the third day and that we will rise with Him and we are encouraged to put our trust in that – to believe that He is now – in the time between Friday and Sunday – causing all things to work together for our good, that He is for us and that in the end we really will rise with Him and live for eternity in a place without pain and sorrow and tears.

Hollyhocks

 

But it is all unseen, it is a confident hope, but hope nonetheless. That is what makes it faith – that is what makes it so difficult for those who need to see and touch and taste and feel.

It is still Saturday and the voices along our path cry out on the darkest days ‘really, are you sure – wouldn’t it be easier simply to stop and give in? The voices cause us to ask ‘why me’ and to question His love and His compassion. But we look back and have decided to put our trust in the One who died in our place on Good Friday – we believe that He is God, that He paid our price, that He made it possible for us to walk through Saturday into a glorious Sunday. We have decided to trust and to wait and to hope in the Lord and as we do we hear His soft small voice call out ‘well done beloved child, well done – I am rejoicing over you with singing’.

It will always be Saturday whilst we live on this planet – Saturday with its trouble and trial, it’s pain and its doubt but Sunday is just around the corner – hang in sweet and precious child of God He is waiting to greet you with open arms.

 Wisteria

Post Easter Thoughts

So we’re back in the “In-between;” the “Already and still-not-yet” of this life hanging between the down payment of the bride of Christ and the final appearing and wedding feast of Heaven and Earth together again.  I have no well-pondered thoughts, but I miss posting so I’m sharing some photos from our celebration this year.  I’ve been thinking for a while now that Easter lacks a focused beauty and coziness like we experience at Christmas.  So, I got my sister and mom to go in with me to make a little more of the celebration and this is what we ended up with . . .

Branches Easter Butterflies Table Branches Tomb Easter Cake

I don’t usually pull these kinds of things off because I’m not willing to stress myself out to make things picture-perfect.  And it wasn’t.  The day before I thought I should’ve planned some kind of special breakfast so I got up early the next morning and whipped up a REALLY fast coffee cake recipe and fried some bacon.  How can you go wrong?  Only the table we sat at, with a tablecloth covering the scratches and candles glowing in the middle was tidy and it was delightful.  The rest of the kitchen had clutter and dirty dishes.  And I didn’t sweat, I let it go.

When I was tempted to think “poor me,” for having to get up earlier than everyone else in order for anything beautiful to happen, I thought of the work God has done to give us His abundant beauty and rest.  It is hard work to feed people multiple times a day, keep a house clean when 4/5 of us live in it all day everyday, and just plain being a distract-able person in general.  In the scheme of things it is so small, but I was reminded that nothing is ever free.  Yes, His grace is free to us, but it was not free for Him.  It costed.  And though His grace is free, our lives are not free from the debt of service–not to secure His love, but to carry it out, to incarnate it right here, right now.  So I was tired, but I was joyful as I sought to serve my family in creating beauty that could bring a little of God’s beauty to our senses.

Oreo

And our sweet Oreo died this past week.  She died suddenly and quite traumatically for us and on cue, rain and thunder rolled in as Claire began to dig a grave.  We cried many tears over this 5-pound fuzz ball and felt the groans of creation in a small way, on our own little piece of earth once again.

Death’s Creepiest Thing

A little delayed for the season, but I couldn’t make this one happen before October 31st . . .

I enjoy the season of autumn as the cooling air calls people in to warm soup, hot chocolate, blankets, and fires on the hearth.

Soup

What I do not enjoy so much about the season is the ugly side of Halloween. My children are less effected as they grow up, but they generally haven’t enjoyed the store and yard decorations, though they can’t seem to stop looking at them. In this season I’ve dealt with night-time fears over something ugly and I’ve been in a fight for the right imagination in them. Still, I’m intrigued by Halloween. I’ve seen and heard of traditions similar to “All Souls Eve” in Japan and Mexico (sans the costumes and candy), and I’m sure there are more elsewhere; essentially, days of the dead.  I’ve spent a little time searching out the beginnings and beliefs behind these traditions, and frankly it’s confusing.  In the end, it’s obvious, they have to do with death and souls of the departed and the belief of living on after the shriveling of their shells.

At some point, a church holy day collided with the dark side and some of us aren’t sure what to do with this “holiday.”  Some boycott Halloween altogether and don’t do costumes or trick-or-treating.  There are harvest parties meant to be an alternative, either to protect our children from nightmares or to free our consciences from somehow associating with the wrong father, worshiping the very one we’ve been rescued from.  A harvest party sounds better; non-creepy, kid-friendly . . . a celebration of abundance (maybe of candy more than corn and squash these days).  I admit, I would rather have pumpkins and squash lining my mantle and porch steps to celebrate harvest than skulls and spooky things. But have we overlooked something on the safe side of the season?

Squash

I have a picture on my wall of my girls one past autumn.  They were sitting in a pile of orange, brown, red, and yellow leaves we had just gathered.  As they sat centered in shriveling colors, death was the backdrop behind their youthful faces. Every leaf that falls, every squash and gourd picked, is severed from its life source in this lovely season of harvest. Life has ended, yet their colors decorate our lives for a while. The squash finds its way to our tables in soups, breads, and pies and their dying pulp feeds our flesh for a season. Call it Harvest, not Halloween, but it’s still a season of dying.

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Only a world which knows death can keep walking without surprise at what is happening to the leaves. It has become normal. Things are supposed to die. But really? We don’t really believe that. Maybe the gore is there to remind us of how ugly death really is. It’s the ugliest, smelliest thing there is . . . when it is final and hopeless.

And only a world that knows hope can admire the colors which come in the process. Harvest shows us a death that gives life. The leaf returns to the earth, but the tree lives on. The seed must die to produce the next yield. I must die to myself to find where my life really is. There is dryness, crackling, pain, and in the end, beauty and new life.

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We live and move in a world of death every single day.  One doesn’t have to look far, even if you don’t watch the news.  We buried a tiny mouse in our back yard three weeks ago.  It was sad and ugly (the experience, not the mouse). It mattered because nothing is supposed to die.   Death is ugly and no one will argue but death itself. And just as crazy as believing in the living on of souls, is a crazy promise to which I cling:

“Since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead . . . and . . . The last enemy that will be abolished is death.” *

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?” ” **

Death has been collecting the debt of this world from the time we fell from the world that knew death not.  But it has already been severed.  Its colors of dark and ugly are simply lingering as it dies slowly and surely.  The One who bought our victory has plunged to its depths and awaits for all to see what He has done . . . given us victory.

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So with a clear conscience, my children wear costumes and we move among the world that has come to know death, collecting candy in jack-o-lantern buckets . . . because we have the light of life and nothing to fear.  We walk along with neighbors present and neighbors past, knowing that any light, however small, will always overcome the darkness.

I cannot spend my life worrying about the obscure ways holy days might collide with the darkness because I am meant to be a light in it.  And if the few images of death scattered around the beautiful colors are scary now . . . wait until death dies and the ground can no longer contain those who have shriveled before. They won’t be walking like zombies, but rather fully alive like we’ve not yet seen; in the world that knew not death. This is the imagination I instill in my children.  And that, my friends, is possibly the creepiest, most colorful thing death will ever see as it breathes its very last.  

*I Corinthians 15:21

**I Corinthians 5:54,55

 

A Blog of Few Words

I wish I could remember where I recently heard or read this:

“The fool speaks because he has to say something;

the wise man speaks because he has something to say.”

I’ve also heard when one wins a million-dollar lottery, the first thing to do is “become a millionaire.”  Most people who win huge lotteries end up losing the money very quickly because they lack the mindset or wisdom that would have gotten them there without that lottery.  The money falls through their fingers without the skill of knowing how to live with much.

These remarks have simmered in my mind since I made the decision to step back from blogging last October.  I needed to become a millionaire!  Rather, a master of my domain (as in home, not web address) and maybe even a writer. I wasn’t doing my most important roles well.  I knew I could do exponentially better with the time that was slipping through my fingers like quickly acquired riches.

I had a wordy post ready to share back then and never felt like following through.  So here I am checking into a dark and empty auditorium, wondering if this microphone is even on. Like that clumsy squeak piercing the emptiness, I’m stepping up to say, “I’m still here!”

I’ve been asking the questions, “Do I have to say something or do I have something to say?” and “How do I order the minutes in a day to get it said?” I think I’ve become more skilled than I was last fall in the daily management of life.  Writing is still something to figure out.  This blog will remain on the quieter side until that ever gets settled.  One thing I’ve frightfully concluded is that this writing thing isn’t entirely my own idea.  I’ve tried to get away from it and, for some reason, I don’t think I’m supposed to so I’m choosing to obey.

If I ever must leave here for good, I will say so.  But if it’s just plain quiet for a while, it’s because I’m working at becoming a mother in multiple facets since acquiring such fortune 12 years ago, chiseling away at mental marble, or just letting things sit until I truly have something to say.

How to Make Rain

She was angry with no intention to change. Her sister was mean and wrong. She wants to be right and others to be as well. But there would be, “no enemies at our table.” I pulled this out when they were smaller and forgot about it. The fighting had been escalating for months. I’ve read all kinds of advice. My mind and heart spin and don’t settle on any piece of it for long. I know no author is perfectly wise, but this reader is far less. Books in the hands of a foolish woman; I am unfit for this role.

I declare the study to be the new peace-making room, “There you will go to make peace before you may eat at this table.” At breakfast it was simple, laughter came quickly.

Later, before lunch, a bigger dispute broke out and the peace-making room was thick with hatred with no plans of departure. I intervened with questions, mining for the heart of words and actions. Both sides were hurt, both sides were stubborn, both had a point.

I was tempted to take the easy road. I could just take the iPad away from everyone. That would cover things up for a while. . . I closed my eyes and begged. “God, what do I do? What do I say?” I stayed there with eyes shut.

The girls were quiet, wondering if I had fallen asleep as I waited for something to bring out of this fight.

It was time pull out a book I had ordered two weeks before, but tucked away. I began reading as the one who refused to forgive sat in the farthest corner. Two pages in and she was closest to the book. Drawn in to the story of a man drawing circles in the sand, praying boldly for God to send rain.

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The story ended and I was out of things to say again. We were back where we started; one willing to reconcile, the other still couldn’t forgive, and me with my eyes shut and no clue.

So like the man in the story, I circled. I took her in my lap, imagined a circle of sand around us, and I told God I would sit there all day, all week and longer, until He rescued her heart. I declared that she was made to display the love and beauty of God and begged Him to restore her to that purpose. I demanded that evil would have no power over this house, that this child would choose to obey what was right and be free from its clinches. I prayed like I didn’t know who I was.

Then I felt them. Big drops on my arm as I held her tight, sitting on the outside, standing boldly on the inside before the throne of God. She broke like clouds over a dry and weary land; desperate for refreshing, hungry for release.

This led me to note a few things:

Written advice lead me to create a peace-making space and insist peace be reached, but it was God who met us in that place when we couldn’t figure out how.

Discipline and faith made me expect good things from my children, but it was God who broke rain inside our roof.

My daughter, who wrestles with anger, spoke the rest of the day of wanting to obey God and not be angry. Do I think she’s cured? No. Anger will likely be a default struggle for her, but her heart experienced a power than goes beyond mommy’s shadow. She saw God with us, reaching down to her heart. She heard a prayer for rain and felt it fall deeper than her skin.

Since that day, there has been more anger, but you know what else? I have heard through cracked doors, a little girl crying out on her own, begging God to help her in her anger.

This is what I’ve learned about prayer . . . it’s clinging, begging, drawing a line in the sand. Not to demand that God does what you want, but preaching to your own soul there’s no where else to go; that this is where you wait if you want to see great things. No one else is really listening. No one else can do a thing about your frailty or your child’s. It’s not wishful thinking, throwing pennies in a fountain hoping there’s “something” out there. It is life with God.

And this is what prayer does . . . opens your eyes to see Him move, rain sometimes falling on your head, affecting your soul with greatness, causing you to sing.

Worshipping Tired

We’ve succeeded at an earlier-than-usual bedtime, but I’m ready to collapse. I lean into the top bunk and she whispers, “Can you scratch my back?” I try not to let my face fall and my voice fails to hold in the sigh, . . . “Just a little . . .” I start in scratching and 5 seconds seems long.

For a moment I catch myself. If I knew this would be the last time I would hold onto it, scratching every cell and wouldn’t feel the tired, maybe.

The next moment I hear a whisper; a name so pure and untouchable, needing no vowels, a vapor on the tongue. We had just learned this Name at breakfast. “YHWH,” The Self-Existent One, needing no one and nothing, not even a nap or early bedtime. As we crunched toast, what surprised them reminded me. I am not the Self-Existent One. I need sleep; hours of it every setting sun. I explained there is only One with this name, and why it’s not me. Their faces softened as they saw some sense to the shortness I’m left with post 8:00 pm.

So there I hang over the top bunk, wondering if I should hold on and scratch forever. I scratch a little longer, run my nails a little softer the way she likes. But I know it’s not my place to pretend to be all she needs. I kiss her and remind her she is loved. I wonder why it’s so easy to rush through the moments . . . if it’s because eternity has been placed in my heart so I expect another day to always come . . .

And I know it’s ok when I just can’t hold on . . . because I’m not the keeper of forever, nor the keeper of her heart. That’s the job of a Name that whispers, in no need of sleep, freeing me from filling impossible shoes, to lie down and sleep in peace.

Tired

A Short Prayer from a Sore Heart

This was my prayer this morning, raw and unedited, coming from an aching heart over the battles I see in my country over the idea of freedom . . .

My heart longs for the new world; a “country” based on You, the source, not just our own ideas of You, and enjoying freedom; true freedom.

The current world, at least my part of it, is based on freedom and enjoys the idea that each is his own god. Freedom can’t be defined here, as what makes one man free seems to enslave the other. It can only get uglier. We’ve never been on a path of progress.

In You we do not, as a people, truly trust. But in You is true love, compassion, humility, kindness, beauty, justice, joy, and therefore, freedom.

I yearn for You to come and set us straight. Set us free from our own doings, our own short sight. Unlock the graves. Amaze us all with the life and beauty and peace we think we’re aiming for, but our imaginations are not able to touch.

The Science I Thought I Couldn’t Teach

It’s a Friday and my assignment is a class of 9 five-year-olds.  Our mission:  Memorize Newton’s First Law of Motion,

“An object at rest tends to remain at rest,
and
an object in motion tends to continue moving in a straight line at constant speed,

unless an outside force acts upon it.”

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It’s a lot for them.  They won’t truly memorize it this year, but at 5 years old it’s about exposure.  As they grow, we will return to this law and watch it get bigger in depth and meaning.  But really, any child who knows the song, “On Top of Spaghetti,” unconsciously knows this Law of Motion.  That meatball sits pretty atop its pile of pasta until a sneeze makes it roll.  It then continues to roll until something stops it.

Coaching these wiggly worms in memorizing this “dry fact” of Science while singing a song, I suddenly see something they don’t.  I pause the song and say,

“Kids, this is about our hearts!  My heart, and yours need God to change it!”

To myself I realize, “We think we’re learning about meatballs sneezed off center, soccer balls kicked into flight, and satellites floating endlessly in space, but all of these things point to more.  This law is not only about physical matter.  It’s the law that my heart will not move, or be still, without an outside force, sometimes gentle, sometimes not so, stirring me to do or not do, think or not think, love or not love.”

Stuck in Leaves

My little ones are unaware of, and unimpressed by, the explosion of light that’s just entered my eyes.  It’s no joke that the teacher often learns more than the students.  Is that a law too?  I’m standing in a divine moment, worshipping overjoyed to be teaching this deep science I never thought I was interested in.

And I love the law for simply stating what is.  It tells me what I am and what I do and points me to that outside force that I see, over decades of progressive understanding, is a loving and unfailing force.  I pray silent for my little ones anxious for snack time,

“May the “Force” be with you, and may He move strong in your hearts.”

It’s ok that they don’t get it.  This law we give the man Newton credit for does not need to be understood to be true.  I am confident in this:  that in kindness and love, He moves lifeless hearts stuck in an unseen state of inertia.  And I hope as these children grow, the highlight of education in any subject is the sheer joy of seeing the law and love that works on our behalf.

Weeee

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, . . . 
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ 

Ephesians 2:1, 4-5a

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.  But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,

Titus 3:3-4

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
Romans 2:4

Things I’ve Learned about Teaching

I often get the question, “How do you do it?” referring to the fact that my children are homeschooled.  I tend to shrug it off with something like, “Oh, if I can do it, anyone can do it,” or “Oh, I don’t know if I’m really doing that great of a job.” While these are true statements, they’ve come to be more telling of where I was in the beginning and don’t hold much weight now.  I might have a bit more to say, about learning at home or elsewhere, after what I’ve learned so far along the way.  

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The first thing I did not know in the beginning was that teaching is not always the same as telling.  I told my first student in the ranks what she was supposed to know.  She rarely caught on quickly and I worried about a learning disability.  Through trial and error and trying to understand how to teach, I’ve learned everyone truly does learn differently.  Much of my teaching has become showing, not just telling.  

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I learned that repetition is normal and necessary.  I am not alone in feeling the frustration of repeating yet another time, for example, that “The number on the bottom of the fraction is the DENOMINATOR for crying out loud!”  Somehow, through this journey of becoming a teacher, I realized this wasn’t much different than the sometimes frustrating, but mostly enjoyable, process of learning to get pizza dough to turn out right.  It’s about repetition.  Seeing it, feeling it, and then knowing when it’s right.  

I began homeschooling with the notion that the goal was results.  I now believe that without relationship, you rarely get results.  The eyes will tell how the relationship is going, with you and with learning.  Are their eyes glazed over?  Am I rolling mine?  The relationship is not healthy when I do; I’m looking for results.  The eyes are the lamp of the body, a window to the soul.  Watch them.  

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Together

It’s about the process and learning together. Since when was it not? From the first day in the hospital, she knew physically how to eat. I, on the other hand, had to learn the best way to get that to happen without too much pain. With each successive child, the experience has been different and I have always been a co-learner. It’s the same with teaching them reading or multiplication. I’ve had to go on a hunt for ways to impart the wonders of the created order.

Vision is essential.  What do you want for your child when they are 20, 40 or even 70?  What do you want her to know about relationships and living?  What do you want to instill in his character?  Will she know how to talk to someone who has hurt her feelings?  Look to others’ interests and not only talk about herself?  Will he know God and His joy?  Thinking far down the line can help you decide what to focus on now when they are 6, 8, or 10.  You need some idea of where you are going, but don’t get lost way down there.  Yes, vision is essential, but so is right now. . .

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Remember when they kept waking in the night?  Wouldn’t potty train fast enough?  You wondered if they would wear diapers in 6th grade.  Would they want to sleep in your bed through college? (Which I probably wouldn’t mind!)  You know it was ridiculous.  It still is now, if they’re struggling with their times tables, to think they always will.  Relax.  Keep at it.  They’re 8 only once and real success in anything never happens overnight. 

So how do I do it?   

My goals now are opposite of what they used to be.  Telling my kids what to know has become a desire to growas a teacher that is able to show them wonders.  

The results I was looking for will probably still come, but the relationship my kids have with me, with the world they’re observing, and with the God who made it all is at the forefront of my mind.  

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My vision is reigned in as I remember my children are still children.  They are not at an age to be masters of much, but wonderers.  They are being exposed to how the world was and is and is to come.  

I don’t believe educating my little ones has anything to do with checking boxes, clocking in hours, or determining their skills based on their birthday.  Nor that learning only happens between certain hours of the day and when one sits with pages of text and worksheets.  That mindset only brought me anxiety and answers that kept my eyes looking down when asked how things were going.   

Letters

Do I think I’ve got it all figured out?  By no means!  But by now I no longer feel the pressure of thinking I should.  I have no intentions of them leaving the nest fully “educated,” all “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed, like a brand new computer fresh off a conveyor belt, nicely packaged and ready for use in the “real” world.  Rather, I envision them leaving equipped to never stop learning.  No matter where your kids are schooled, I believe you can have the same goal.