Saturday, September 29, 2012

I Am That Woman

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

I am the broken one who hides behind humor and a smile. I am the one who asks, “How are you?” and then coo's and murmurs and bathes you in empathy so serene you never guess the truth. Because I do what I do, you miss the vacant stare behind the smile. If I was still long enough and you looked closer, you would see the vacancy signaling a pain deeper than anything I can put into words. 

I am the one who labors in the trenches thinking tomorrow will be a better day. I go through the motions thinking hard work and perseverance can overcome this present pain. Until I know I have done all I can do until there is nothing left to do. Then, there is nothing left to do. But wait. Wait on the good God with the good plan to show me what is coming next.

The face staring back from the mirror is the statistic I never wanted to be: the woman facing divorce after almost twenty-four years of marriage. This has been a hard fought marriage with many, many counselors and an infinite number of prayer warriors all aimed at patching up brokenness that never seemed to end. From where I sit today, all the effort, mine and theirs, was wasted.

Time has gone and cannot be regained. The monster that has dogged our steps every day of marriage finally caught up with us and washed us away. Even a 2nd wedding could not patch up what was broken before it began. God hates divorce. His mercies are new every morning. Hope springs eternal. Random thoughts come and go. They always end with, “I am that woman now.”

I think about the days of death and dying and wonder why, “Fire on the mountain, run boys run,” does not pound through my soul now as it did then. I am just as numb with grief. I am that woman.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
My gift of words fails to describe my exhaustion. I sleep but do not rest. I wonder how long it has been that sleep and rest went hand in hand. I breathe deeply trying to quell the sadness and panic threatening to overcome me. I look back and know that all the hard things I have already endured have been my boot camp. 

This monstrous thing is hard. Suffocatingly hard. Watching your mother sign the orders to turn off her life support systems – that was the P90x of preparation for this horrible, nasty moment. I endured those endless days in ICU. I will get through this challenge the same way I got through that one. Intact. 

Instead of the relentless beat of the Marshall Tucker Band, the only words that come are whispered: 

So, this is what it is to be that woman. 

I wonder when the backlash will start. When will the Christians begin to whisper? When will the, “God hates divorce,” emails and phone calls commence? I am prepared. I will look into the eyes of the women who try to mop up my mess with their inexperienced words of wisdom, and I will know.

I will know that when they least expect it and believe their hard work has been sufficient to prevent it, they might find themselves looking into my mirror. And so, I will smile the smile that covers up the vacancy in my soul and coo and murmur and reassure until they forget their original mission.

I will do so to leave the door open wide enough for them to overcome shame and fear and come back again. When they look into their mirror and see my face, when they are shocked to think, “Now it is me, Now, I am that woman,” I want to know I left the door open for their return.

And now, now I sit and wait. I wait on my good God to be faithful to his good plan because no matter what, I believe. I sit with my sons, and we pray. There is a good God, and he is too sweet not to trust. So, we pray for the strength to trust no matter what.

I choose again today to trust him even with this pain that I could not out run. And, in the end, I hope to say for once and for all: Jesus is too sweet not to trust him. I can commend him to you because he was sweetest when the pain was greatest.

Many thanks to all who bear my burdens. You are too numerous to name, but you are Heaven sent gifts. Thank you for teaching me and inspiring me. Thank you for strengthening me. Especially to Jackie for uttering the words, “Jesus is too sweet for me not to trust him.”

Ephesians 5:1-2 (The Message)
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Homeschooling: It Ain't Dorothy's Kansas or Eve's Eden

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

The sun is trying to wedge itself between your eyelashes. You squeeze a little tighter hoping to hold back the day. The crying baby wakes up the toddler who then roams the house waking up the four-year-old and 1st grader. You know the drill, don't you?

Have you found yourself wondering why reality isn't as picture perfect as all those daydreams of the comfy, cozy world of homeschooling? It all looked so pretty pinned up there on that Pinterest board. So convincingly pretty that the ugly reality has you feeling like a failure and wondering if it's time to summon the little yellow bus for rescue.

Call it homeschooler's remorse and think of it as a close cousin to home buyer's remorse. You've jumped on board, but life after ownership isn't quite what it looked like when the Realtor was showing the property! Did you find yourself thinking, “What have I gotten myself into?” when reality didn't match expectations. 

Shock, confusion, frustration, anger, and depression can set in before you have time to realize what hit you. Slinking to the park for socialization, you look around and wonder if anyone else ever felt like you? If they did, why did no one warn you homeschooling life could be this . . . well . . . hard? This demoralizing? This lonely?

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
You wanna cry, but if you do, you'll look like you are a total mess who is incapable of having everything under control enough to homeschool in the first place. You suck it up and smile like all the other moms. Before you know it, you are in bed trying to deny the day by keeping your eyes closed as tightly as you can for as long as you can.

Oh, sweet friend, you are not alone. There are pivotal reasons for the second guessing, remorse, and self-doubt that often plague the new- to-homeschooling families. What you are feeling is not fatal, and there are cures to be had if you are brave enough to stay the course.

Courtesy D. Horrocks
For families coming home to school from traditional schooling (public or private), expect a 'settling in' period where mom and dad spend time establishing themselves as the final authority re both discipline and learning. In a sense, you have abdicated your authority over learning to the teachers, counselors, and administrators that populated your early educational days.

It naturally follows that you and your children will have to adjust to a new world where the buck, all the buck, stops with mom and dad once you've come home to school. That adjustment takes time. Give yourself grace to get over that hurdle first. The rest will follow! 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
When families begin schooling at home in the preschool years, the most debilitating trap is the tendency to demand too much too quickly. Learning in the early years is best accomplished through experience, and play is the best vehicle for early learning experiences. When caterpillars are in abundance, it's hard to read a book about butterflies and then turn the kids loose to collect them for fear we will fall behind in the 'book' learning. Do it. You are developing curiosity and a love of learning. There will be lots of time to go hard after the work and textbooks. The more time spent in fostering creativity, curiosity, and the love of learning in the early years, the better.

When curriculum is not working, it is easy to cling to it because we paid good money for it. There will be a time and place to wade through a text as students get older. Especially in the early years as you are learning how they learn, don't be afraid to sell that sucker and start over!

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
Those who are afraid to ask for help because they fear the reactions, set themselves up for isolation and an ever increasing sense of failure. Don't be afraid to lean on your homeschooling community when you are finding your comfort zone. One of my most pleasant experiences this last fifteen years has been watching other moms comfort and encourage the mom who came to support group meetings in tears of frustration and failure. Now, those moms who were comforted are doing the comforting!

Nurture yourself spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Set boundaries to protect yourself. If you don't, burnout will surely follow. Those boundaries will look different from one mom to another, but your homeschool will pivot on your ability and willingness to take care of you so that you can take care of them.

No, sweet mamma who's wondering what she got herself into, you aren't in Kansas nor the Garden of Eden. You aren't alone either. You have embarked on a wonderful, amazing adventure. What you are feeling is normal. One day, you will say these same things to another new-to-homeschooling friend, and you will say it with calm assurance. Wanna know how I know? I, my friend, used to be you!

Courtesy B. Creasy - 2011
1 Corinthians 1: 4 (The Message)
. . . he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What if the Proverbs Woman Had a Pinterest Board?

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

The warm water poured over me. The streaming drops felt like tears I could not cry. Without realizing it, I began to hum the words to the childhood nursery rhyme, “London Bridge is Falling Down”. How appropriate. Life is always falling down around me, it seems.

Only an hour before, my son and I had been reading from the book, Jesus Freaks, and praying to be both encouraged and encouragers. Our life is easy compared to the martyrs in the book. Embarrassingly cushy. After an hour spent in that book, we should be ecstatic with life for days on end.

The day began to intrude and remind me that life is real. And, pain is relative. I slumped with embarrassment at the frailty of my spiritual frame. My relatively simple pain never ceases to catch me no matter how hard and fast I run.

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative 
Eyes stared back at me from the fogged up mirror. The woman behind the steamy haze was a stranger. How has it come to this despair so quickly in the day after so much determination to escape and remain free? I pulled myself together and collected my broken-hearted feelings from where they had fallen in a heap around my feet. “Just another day in Margaritaville,” I sighed.

The territory of my home and day awaited my conquering touch. A wry smile crept across my lips as I imagined the gall it would take to snap pictures suitable for Pinterest. I'd label the board, “Real Life”. 

I remember when I had a Pinterest-suitable life. It was the one before two kids. There was a small window of time, while I was in the nesting phase of pregnancy #2, that my home would have deserved pages in BH&G or Country Living. Neat, uncluttered, clean, light, airy. Of course it was! I was cleaning nooks and crannies of furniture with Q-tips and wiping down bathrooms twice a day.

I was running to keep up because I knew once Baby #2 arrived, I wouldn't be able to stay ahead of the game again till he was grown and gone. I'm a positive thinker like that. Thank Heavens it was back in the BP days: Before Pinterest. I had time to adjust to real life before fairy tale lives were laid out for all to see on virtual bulletin boards. 

As I surveyed the chaos that dots the landscape of my home with good bones, I thought of the kitchen re-do that never ends because there is only one of me and a finite amount of time. I looked at walls that still need paint and clutter that needs an ominous, warning visit from the folks at Hoarders

I closed my eyes and wondered, “What if the Proverbs woman had a Pinterest board?” 

Would her boards show the race to keep up with life? Would I see cranky, sick children fretting as she tried to clear her mind and consider a field? Would I see the frayed edges of temper from too little sleep too many nights in a row? Nights that ran into early mornings of meeting merchant ships from afar. Maybe I'd see loneliness in her eyes. Loneliness for a husband that has too much on his mind as he sits at the city gate to notice the light in hers until that light has gone out? 

Maybe she'd be fretting at the spindle and distaff because her aging eyes no longer saw the minute details of the work she could no longer do without help. In the midst of her industry, would she pin the struggle to balance business and family in a failing economy that requires more and more for less and less? Would she pin the sashes, scarlet, linen, and purple, so the rest of us could ooh and ahh and pin them to our 'someday' boards for the day we too could be trendy and stylish?
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

Perhaps the most pinnable of pins would be the picture no one would want to see. The one of her bent quietly in prayer at the feet of the one who sustains her when life is anything but pinnable. The most instructive pin of all would answer all of the “How did she do it?” questions we ask.

I move on about my day knowing as I try to create pinnable and picture perfect order, life will be real. Real messy. Anything but pinnable. In those messy moments when tears threaten to come like water from the shower head, I think of that Proverbs woman.

I will never have a pinnable life. But when all the pins have been pinned, I hope, I pray, my faith will have inspired and encouraged. I hope it will have been pinned and repinned over and over again in the lives of fraidy cats near and far. Because in the end, faith is the only pin that will remain. 
Courtesy B. Creasy - 2010

1 Timothy 6: 11b-12 (The Message)Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pssst...Hey, Homeschooler, Is Your Slip Showing?

I'm gonna skip preaching and go right to meddling. Don't worry. I won't have time to take up an offering given how I'm gonna be run of out town on a rail and all. If I don't have to go into witness protection for writing this post, I hope someone will thank me for it.

Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. I had heard rumblings of this kinda thing from friends who work in the restaurant industry. The first one to tell me how the real world works was, in fact, a Christ-following homeschool mom who waited tables on weekends.

We shared a meal at the restaurant where she worked. When it arrived, one of our group offered to say grace. My waitress friend snickered and said, “Oh good grief! Just don't join hands when we pray. If you do, the waitstaff will start betting on whether we are gonna leave a tip or not.”

My innocence peeked out. “Whaddya mean?”

Seeing my 'deer in the headlights' look, she led me along gently lest she spook me. “Oh, honey, you learn when you wait tables - the family that comes in on Sunday, holds hands, and says the blessin' is gonna be the most cantankerous, cheapest customer you have all week. Cheap and mean. You can count on it.”

Courtesy A. Hughes
She regaled me with stories of how her cheapskate 'brothers and sisters in Christ' had treated her like the enemy while the 'unwashed heathen' were easy to get along with and tipped generously. I should have paid closer attention, I guess, given what happened this week.

In my homeschool community, I facilitate PR for classes, trips and activities. I pass along word of events when I hear of them. Lately, I've done PR for a fella whose faith differs from mine in notable ways. I have been mindful of that reality as we've worked together. I could tell he was watchful and quietly curious about how we differed from one another and why. I wanted to be salty and exude light as we interacted. I hoped he would eventually ask, “Why are we different?”

My PR efforts led to the expansion of his classes to a nearby city. The fee structure for the two hour class was phenomenal. A fee cap afforded opportunities to larger or cash strapped families. I glowed with excitement knowing my PR, simple as it was, had helped this fella's business grow. I was proud of my rocking homeschool community!

That glow turned to a burn of shame this week. I discovered the other class had folded. Clients behaved unfairly asking for additional tuition breaks. I pondered how much cheaper his class was than the local YMCA and how these same folks would not have haggled with that organization. All I could do was shake my head.
Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

When asked to expand to a 3rd city for the convenience of some clients, he agreed even though the venue was over an hour from his home. He raised the tuition a modest amount to cover his extra time, gas, and effort, including transporting a large amount of equipment.

The same folks who asked for the class (and had haggled over tuition already) failed to register for the class they had requested. They opted to continue to attend at the original location because they balked at the tuition increase. In the end, the instructor opted to close the 2nd location as well. He'd had enough.

I get it. I do. We are a one income family with a son in college and medical bills that drove us to file chapter 13 and lose a home. Gas and food prices have gone up. I feel it in my coin purse too. 
We are all doing what we can to afford what we can as long as we can.

Courtesy D. Ahola
I understand the need for good stewardship. I struggle, however, when stewardship becomes an excuse for taking advantage of someone who has already gone to great lengths to accommodate our learning community.

As the details of the story came out, I sat in stunned disbelief. I thought back to when I was younger. One of the most embarrassing experiences for a teen girl was for her slip to show beneath her hemline. I felt exposed and embarrassed. It was as if someone hissed, “Hey, you Christian homeschooler, you! Your [spiritual] slip is showing.”

No. I haven't heard the 'other' side of the story nor have I met the folks in the other city. Still in all, I am sad. As he told me the story, I could see the same sense of disdain and disgust sweep over his face that I had seen on the face of my waitress friend of years ago. Inwardly, I wept. I fear my saltiness and light have been tainted by his experience. Any chance I had to share my faith has been torpedoed; the damage will take months and months to repair.

So, on this day of Sabbath rest, I have to ask, “Hey Christ-following homeschooler, is your slip showing?” The world is watching. Oh, how I pray we give them something to marvel at...and for all the right reasons. 

Matthew 5:13-15 (The Message)
Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage. Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Skydiving, Velcro, and Me

It was one of those, “Oh no you Di'n't!” kinda moments. My friend had just jumped out of an airplane at 14,000 feet. You can imagine the flip-flip my heart went into just reading the comment. She had the nerve to post a picture to prove she completed the audacious feet. My heart is in over-drive right now just writing the words.

I thought we were friends. She knows what fraidy cat I am. The only thing she could have done to come closer to giving me a heart attack was to post pictures of a snake. My friends know. They sign a sort of prenuptial-friendship agreement. If you wanna remain friends, it's easy: no snakes!

Just ask the ones that have violated the 'no snakes' clause. They'll tell you breaking up is hard to do when the break up is over violation of that clause. Now it looks like I'mma have to add a 'no sky diving' clause.

Courtesy A. Hughes
You know me. I'm a push over. It doesn't take me long to kiss and make up. So it was that when my friend and I met after this adventure of hers, we shared a long hug and laugh. Truth is, I held on longer because I was glad she survived her brush with insanity. We talked non-stop trying to make up for lost time.

We talked about pushing ourselves beyond our fraidy cat limits and how change follows like dominoes. I tried to cover up the ugly truth about how I really felt. If I had to admit it, I was just a teeny-tiny, eensy-weensy bit jealous. Jealous of her backbone. I thought it was a big fat hairy deal to get on an airplane. She got on and jumped out at 14,000 feet. Show off.

My unremarkable flight was the gift of change that keeps on giving. I can only imagine that her escapade is going to reap much larger rewards over a much longer period of time. So, I asked, “How do you think you've changed after taking on such a daunting experience?”

Her face went somber. The staccato of conversation and laughter softened to a hushed and pensive quiet. I watched emotions flit across her face as she organized her thoughts and took stock of them: 

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative
You know, I am different. I have recognized sin in my life. It's something that has haunted me all my life. Somehow, I see it now like I never have before. I have always been the kind of person who listens to the opinions of others and takes stock of myself in light of what they say. If I heard anything negative, I immediately identified with it and adopted it as my own failing.

It was as if I had Velcro strips all over me. I wore those and waited for any negative label to come zinging toward me. Every time I heard one float through the air, I'd grab it and plaster it on even if it didn't apply to me. Somehow, I'd find a way to make it apply and accept the guilt and blame for that fault, failing, or sin.

As she spoke, her hands floated through the air as if grasping words floating by. She'd pluck the invisible word out of the air and pat it down to stick it tight to a waiting Velcro strip. Maybe you had to be there, but the moment was riveting: 

Courtesy My Free Falling Friend

Pure and simply, accepting all that guilt, all that blame was sinfulness on my part. Taking all that on was a twisted kind of selfishness that made me the center of my own negative universe. I was refusing to accept the righteousness of Christ and live in peace with myself. I feel free now. Free to live as the new creature I am: redeemed, forgiven, made new. I am free from the selfishness that enslaved me.

We sat back and looked at one another basking in the moment. I said, “If you realize this much so soon, can you imagine where you'll be a year from now?” Then, it was time to rush on to the next things on our never ending 'to do' lists. We hugged again as we savored the victories of life and the sweetness of new found freedoms in Christ.

In the days since, I have rejoiced over the opportunity to share her journey and her victory. I think about the unseen Velcro strips that adorn my existence and the unwanted labels they bear. The burden is heavy. I am weary from the labor. I reach down and grab one as I think of how it has haunted my days. I hear the distinct sound of Velcro tearing loose. Enough is enough. In my mind's eye, I see myself at the door of the plane. I jump. I am in a freefall to freedom.
Who knows? Maybe the next time she jumps, she won't be alone. ;-)

2 Corinthians 5:17 (Amplified Bible)Therefore, if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!

Courtesy B. Creasy - 2010
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message Bible) Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Eating Humble Pie

Courtesy Mad Penguin Creative

A mountain climb is to a crevasse as parenting a teen is to ___________. What's your reply?

If you've visited me often, you know we've had a wild ride with Son #2. With his long hair, now a lovely shade of Kool Aid red (yes, I confess, I did it), any passerby might do a double take looking for his wild side. Might just take a look up and down for a hint of tatted sleeve or shirt. Truth is, I'm holding off on that eventuality as long as I can and hoping he will opt not to when the time comes. Hope springs eternal. Check back with me in three years or so.

Looks can be deceiving. He's a work in progress, and we struggle with daily challenges as he matures into the man God is crafting. It's scary. I feel as tho' I am on the edge of a precipice looking down into a crevasse of potential failure. How are we going to get him from the teen he is now to the young man God designed him to be? I lay awake at night over that one. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I just hyperventilate.

On the worst of days, I wonder about what you think. Yes, you. The parent with the squared away kid who learns easily, was born with athletic grace, and who never raised a defiant eyebrow in his life much less argued with you about the conventions of language and what makes cursing cursing. I'm your worst nightmare. The parent of 'that teen'.

Courtesy A. Squires
On those days, I want you to see us behind closed doors. I want you to see beyond the long hair and the heart full of questions. I want you to meet the kid you wouldn't stop and take time to know if you saw him passing on the street because you'd shy away thinking he might somehow lead your kid astray.

I would show you the kid who asks to read 'just one more chapter' in the book Jesus Freaks before we begin our school day. He's the kid who engages strangers far more schooled than he about issues of faith and doubt asking question to prepare him to argue his faith with atheists. Come with me to the local venue for teen bands and watch as he discusses issues of purity and abstinence with a Christian heavy metal band.

2012 - Fencing
And oh, if only, you could have been with me tonight as I sat and sampled a big ole slice of humble pie. It's been a couple months since we visited our local Mexican restaurant. It was there a few months ago he spied a kindred spirit with long hair, tatted knuckles, a gaunt frame, and chains. I acted just like you would expect. I shuddered and wanted to run and hustle him off someplace safe because I knew what was coming.

He walked over, introduced himself, and made a friend. This unsocialized, homeschooled Aspie who isn't supposed to make eye contact, engaged a total stranger adrift on the fringes of society. After a few weeks of by chance meetings at the same place and time, Son #2 began to look for the rocker dude. A friendship was sealed.

Even tho' we hadn't seen him in a couple months, he was never far from our minds. He told Son #2 that he was an atheist but that he was searching for answers. That was all he had to say. Son #2 asked to buy a copy of the Metal Bible containing stories of heavy metal greats past and present and how they came to be Christ-followers.

Today the question came, “Can we go out to supper tonight and look for my friend? I want to give him the Bible.” And so, we did. My heart was in my throat hoping Rocker Dude would be there and hoping just as much that he wouldn't. See...I know that feeling too.
Winter Jam 2011

Before we were seated, in walked Rocker Dude and his Dudette. Eyes brightened, shoulders lifted, conversation flowed. I missed the moment, but the Metal Bible changed hands. The Bible we have prayed over now given to the couple we have prayed for. Because my unconventional child, who questions everything in the process of finding his own way in faith, was not afraid to reach out in kindness to a kindred spirit.

Tonight, my heart is still in my throat. Will we ever see them again? Will they toss that book aside and laugh behind his back? Will either of them, in a desperate and lonely moment, wonder about the boy who brings salt and light with him when he comes? Will they see enough of themselves in him to make them want to see what makes him different from them? Will they pick up that book and find the answers to all the searching and not finding they have done till now? Even so, Lord Jesus, let it be? 

I have eaten humble pie served up by my courageous, questioning teen. And, it was good. No matter where we are in life, there will always be a crevasse yawning ahead. He sees you. He sees your teen. He sees your life. It's ok to rest in him. He's got your back...and the crevasse that looms so large tonight. 

Courtesy B. Creasy 2010

2 Corinthians 4:1 (The Message)
Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times.