Maybe She’s Born With It

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On my first Christmas, my father presented me with a beautiful, hand carved cradle for my dolls. He drew out the plans based on colonial cradle designs, cut a large piece of maple into complementary shapes and angles, working extra hard to make sure the pieces fit together well. He then carved in a daisy motif, which was a signature of many of his woodworking projects in those days, not to mention the flower of the times. He meticulously hand-painted the daisies, sanded and stained the wood to a smooth, shiny finish, and placed it under the Christmas tree that year with a bow and my name on it. Toddling over to admire the gift, I was almost small enough to fit in it myself, but I enjoyed endless happy years of carefully wrapping my baby dolls in blankets and rocking them to sleep in that cradle with a gentle mother’s touch. As I grew into a teenager, the cradle sat quiet, more a decoration and reminder of my early childhood until one day I moved out on my own, and it was time to pack things up.

As an Air Force brat, and then later as an adult, I’ve moved many times, always carrying this heirloom with me. From time to time I’ve wondered where I could put it on display, how I could release it from its cocoon in the basement and appreciate it out in the open. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about pieces of my father’s woodwork. They are absolutely priceless to me. If he has built it, refinished it, painted it, or bought it at auction for 75 cents forty years ago, it is a priceless treasure to me – one I refuse to part with, once in my possession.

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Until now. Having only ever been a boy-mom, I will have a daughter of my own in less than a month. I’m nervous. I’m sure things will be quite different this time around. We will connect differently, she and me, and that’s both beautiful and terrifying to imagine. I am wonder-filled, thinking about her. Will she have my hair? My eyes? Will she look more like her father’s side or like me? What else will I pass down to her? Some of my worst traits and tendencies, some of my talents and aspirations? I know that in so many ways she’ll be a completely different person – and in other ways she’ll find someday, hopefully not lamenting, that she’s “just like her mother.”

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This weekend, I finally found occasion to rip the paper and bubble-wrap shroud from my beloved cradle (with the enthusiastic volunteer help of my youngest son) in preparation to give it away to the daughter I already love and have not yet met. After polishing each angle, curve, and sunflower to a brilliant maple glow, I set it in the sunny grass to admire it. I wonder if Elise will love the smell of fresh cut grass like I do? I hope she likes to play with dolls. And I hope she knows just how loved she is. For now, who she will be is still wrapped up in one magnificent little mystery.

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Making A List, and Checking Myself

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Hot Air Ballons by DFBphotos.

“Now…what are the major school subjects, again?” – Joe

Last week I announced our decision to try homeschooling this year and invited you to follow as I share this big, new adventure/experiment. I’m not writing as a homeschool expert or even as a veteran teacher (or parent), but as the novice I am; feeling a little scared, a lot clueless, but venturing forth on a journey I feel compelled to take. Several friends already shared my first post. Thank you, and please keep sharing! I’m feeling so encouraged and energized by comments from both friends who don’t homeschool and just want to walk this road with me and new homeschool mom friends, mostly introduced to me by my non-homeschool friends. Now how cool is that?

Going back to that day Joe and I sat down at the dining room table, looked at each other and said “so we’re going to do this, right?” what we knew we were doing was cutting the ropes that kept us comfortably grounded and letting the balloon soar God-knows-where. Certainly past the euphoric feeling of flying. Definitely into uncharted territory, probably into realms where we’ll give about anything to just tie down again and feel secure. We won’t be able to rely on (or blame) public schools or teachers for Luke’s development this year. We even passed up on the opportunity to join a co-op that would cover half the subjects (even delivering the content and assessment material for those subjects) for us. No, instead, we sat down and did what maybe most people would do in our situation; we made lists. The first, a list of subjects we needed and wanted to cover. By “need” I mean things like Math and Reading, and by “want” I mean underwater basket weaving. Kidding! Then we went online to shop for curriculum.

We were already having our first hot air balloon moment; we were in uncharted territory, gaping in awe at all the curriculum choices – our choices – on a single website! Narrowing the field to, say, “Science” and “First Grade” there were hundreds of choices, and whoooosh that balloon was flying a little high for my comfort level. I’m like this at a new restaurant, too. As much as I love to try new foods, and I love so many foods, if there are too many choices on the menu, I am quickly overwhelmed and helplessly (pathetically) asking Joe to order for me. Taking a deep breath, we decided to anchor our choices by at least reviewing the content standards for our State, as well as the Common Core (national standards) that forty-some states have already adopted. I will say briefly that I am not a fan of the Common Core or what it represents for our public schools, especially after spending years on curriculum and pacing guide committees as a teacher, meticulously mulling over the standards appropriate for our state and school district – but for a host of reasons; that our kids’ peers will be held to these standards, that we can use them as a springboard and jump higher if we want to, that it’s just nice to know what the competition is up to – we reviewed them, and it did help narrow topics within a subject. Of course we are adding plenty of our own.

Joe and I were feeling pretty good about ourselves once we filled that online cart with $400 worth of curriculum. Oh yes, we are dreaming big. There is no possible way we could go through all this curriculum, I’m thinking (and the field trips we want to take, and the music lessons we envisioned, and some kind of sports team for Luke…). And frankly, right now, there’s no way we can pay for all this curriculum. We will have to prioritize and take it a little at a time. But it’s so exciting to shape what our boys are learning. At this point, I walked away with a feeling of empowerment, and a thought was running through my head “Those he calls, he equips.” I Thess. 5:24 and several other verses reference this truth about God that I’ve heard my pastor illustrate many times; God calls you to do something first. THEN he equips you. When we made the decision to homeschool, it was terrifying and I felt completely inadequate. But almost immediately after making the decision, we were able to focus on those curriculum choices, write a post announcing our decision, and through that post I have already begun to build a network of friends and family who will support me on my way. And I had been afraid that maybe none of my non-homeschool friends and family would want to talk to me again!

Then, just when I was feeling on top of this thing, I saw this third and completely different list come through my Facebook feed this week:

Qualities Not Measured by Most Tests, by DyslexicKids.net
Qualities Not Measured by Most Tests, by DyslexicKids.net

Now this list brought me right back to earth. These are the things I really want my boys to walk away with when they leave my “classroom.” And through homeschooling, spending all those extra hours with my boys, I will get to know their character a whole lot better – both their strengths and weaknesses – this will be my work, and honestly, this is the hard work. I learned quickly as a parent that kids don’t simply listen and apply our character lessons immediately. They don’t even mimic every good thing we “model!” Some parents wait a lifetime to see the “fruit” of the seeds of character they’ve sown. Yes, this is the hard work. And I will need continual equipping the whole way through!

We’re still in the “big dream” stage of homeschooling. What would be your big dreams, if you chose to homeschool, or what were they when you started out?

Bean. Sprouted.

(by Brandon Giesbrecht, Creative Commons)
(Photo by Brandon Giesbrecht, Creative Commons)

When I was a little girl, I played school. I was the teacher. I don’t remember this, but my mom does, and has pictures to prove it. I do remember writing countless poems and stories, though, since I was old enough to put a pencil to paper. In high school, I had a wonderful English teacher who helped me develop a stronger vocabulary and a love for all aspects of English/Language Arts. In college, my work-study boss at the preschool showed me the power of a high quality, organized and thoughtful educational program, which – suffice it to say – bears a complete contrast from a view of any typical daycare or even preschool you might have seen. I switched my major from the nebulous “English” to “Elementary Education” and never looked back.

Amy playing  teacher.
Amy playing teacher.

Now, with fifteen years of public school teaching under my belt (definitely dating myself here), I find myself in uncharted territory: Three months ago, I removed my son from the public school he was attending just one month shy of Kindergarten “graduation,” and today my husband and I officially affirmed our decision to homeschool him for First Grade. I’m terrified.

In fact, I’m so scared, I’ve been running from this decision for seven years – back when my eldest son was just a “bean.” An idea met me in the recesses of my mind, asking me if I wanted my bean to be educated in the same way my students were being educated. Well, why not? I was a dedicated, conscientious teacher. So were all of my friends and, well, most of my colleagues. There are always exceptions in any field. I loved my work, it was rewarding and I had such a sphere of influence, even though I couldn’t speak publicly about my faith. Growing up a military brat, I had a mixture of public and private school experiences, switching schools every couple of years throughout my education. Joe grew up in a single public school system from kindergarten through high school graduation. Funnily, he also had questions about how we would school our own children. We were on the same, uncertain, page.

Over the next several years, as Luke developed from a bean to a baby, toddler, and then preschooler we felt the decision pressing in on us, the pressure only intensifying with each new article or blog post we read about the issue. We discussed the topic carefully with a few trusted family members and friends. Part of me hated the very fact that parents have a choice in how to educate our children. I see how asinine that is now, how privileged we are in America to still have a choice. But since the overwhelming choice (looks like around 97%) is public school education, homeschooling is far and away a fringe option. And when choices counter the trend, they are often viewed in the narrow, the negative, the anti-.

Neither Joe nor I have considered ourselves conformists, so it was quite a surprise to both of us that last year, despite seven years of ideal-discussing, we enrolled our child in a public Kindergarten “just to see how it works out.” I, for one, was afraid to buck the American School Experience ideal unless I was sure-sure it wasn’t right for us. Well, after an intense yearlong battle to make it work, it simply didn’t.

One of the things I read in all those homeschool blogs and articles over the years was that it’s best to have a good, solid reason to share with folks who ask why you have chosen to homeschool. A diplomatic response is best, reduces the chance people will be offended by your choice. I get it. Some people are going to respond defensively “You think you’re better than me?” (I’m hearing this in a funny New Jersey accent like I did in a recent sit-com bit). Others are going to assume you’re one of thooooose people. A few might just watch you fumble along and wag their heads, snicker when they hear you mention struggling, needing a break from the kids, low on money because you gave up that $80,000 earning potential. It’s a fool’s decision. Well, after seven years of thinking it over, I’ve heard every reason for choosing or not choosing homeschooling, and while I agree to varying levels with some and disagree completely with others, I’m just not ready to espouse one. I’m a bit of a slow-processer, maybe. The truth is I just couldn’t run away from the nagging suggestion that I should do it. Or at least try. That’s all I’ve got.

So far, I don’t feel equipped for this on the merit of having been a teacher for fifteen years. Strangely, that has made me feel less equipped. I don’t have any friends who home-school. In fact, almost every single one of my friends is a public school teacher and everyone in Joe’s and my family has chosen public schooling for their children. It feels like a lonely road ahead. I’m nervous about being asked to justify the decision on the spot. I’m anxious about judgments and hard feelings. This is a lot of what stopped us from making this choice sooner.

What I want people to know on this big decision day is that this is a scary, exciting new adventure for my family. I’d like to invite you along on the journey as I try to blog about these new experiences. I’m not writing as an expert or from some elevated homeschooling platform as you might have heard others speak. I’d just love to have you follow along with me on this little experiment; I don’t know if this year in homeschool will be any better than last year in public school. I expect bumps along the way; fatigue, fears, anxiety, financial woes (since this is my first unpaid teacher gig), and hopefully some triumphs. At this point, if you have never homeschooled, you know about as much about it as me! So please, friends, share your thoughts and feedback with me as you join me on this new adventure. And if you’re enjoying my posts, share them, too! Nothing is worse than writing for the crickets…

At an Orchard

All the trees in neat little rows
Hills that turn and curve just so
The way your love rolls back to me
The way I’m blue, the how you’re green

A house that sits high on a hill
Though lonely, knows how to be still
Return, as cloud crests from the deep
From somewhere yonder, far and steep

Shadows mark your presence, see
The glow-light shifting o’er the trees
I know it’s dark beneath their boughs
I know I need you every hour

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Can’t See the Sun for all the Clouds? Confrontation 101 for an Avoider.

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It’s been a strange week. Quite uncharacteristically, I found myself compelled to (lovingly) confront two different people. Now, if there is ANYONE in the world who doesn’t like confrontation – it’s me. But after months, in one case, and years, in the other of seeing the problem between us only grow, rather than “go away,” or “resolve itself” as I’d hoped and prayed, I was led to the realization that I must speak up. In one case, I had to establish a healthy boundary where encroachment had occurred, and in the other, I needed to speak up for someone too young to speak up for himself. It was painful preparing the right words as tenderly but firmly as I knew how, and worse – imagining how the recipient might feel or respond. I think that is the biggest fear for someone like me – hurting another, appearing ungracious or inflexible somehow.

The Gospel is all about grace, after all. I lean heavily this way, myself – I remember the grace God extended and still extends to me and I remember how much I would want others to forgive or overlook an offense of mine. And I know they do. For months and years, respectively, I did the same in these two relationships. John 13:34-35 tells us that “they will know we are Christians by our love.” We also read that it is wise to “overlook an offense”  (Proverbs 13:11.)  But contrary to many Christian’s apparent belief or practice, the Bible does not preclude confrontation altogether. That we are to confront injustice is poignantly clear in several passages, but we are also given instructions for personal confrontation in Matthew 18, Galatians 6 and Titus 3, to name a few references.

Speaking up in these two instances was just uncomfortable enough to drive me closer to God in prayer. Now isn’t that how God uses painful circumstances? The closer we draw to him, the better we are able to hear his loving instruction, to learn and grow. Here’s some of what I learned through these confrontations:

  • To wait on God’s timing. Since I was prayerfully committing these issues to God from the beginning, I believe he led me to overlook offenses until the timing was right to speak up. Importantly, I was led to forgive each time and not let bitterness grow. 
  • To consider the breakdown in communication. Once I opened up about my concerns, I opened a window of opportunity for dialogue and mending of the relationship.
  • To be humble and prayerful before, during, and after the confrontation.
  • To trust God to direct the response and repercussions. I realized I was overly concerned with the approval of others when I was faced with my fear of their reactions.
  • To be more aware of the ongoing conflict between my Christian worldview and the “world’s” view.  

Challenges to our convictions arise in unexpected ways, times and places. Christians cannot simply go live life quietly in a corner, as we are increasingly encouraged to do by culture these days. Not if we are living a life of integrity. This week, God has been teaching me much and growing my courage in Christ. And now that I’ve weathered a storm, I can see the sun breaking through the clouds! I truly feel relieved. 

 

Faith and winter

I’ve missed writing and sharing.

This morning, looking at my weather app, my heart burst open with the hope of early spring. A gradual warm-up throughout the week. 64 degrees on Saturday. In Ohio. In January!

Since I’m such a nature girl I am always inspired by God’s creation.  I see His awesome power and astounding creativity in every season.  I delight in the joy of a fresh breath of air, a beautiful sunset,  a painted  fall leaf or delicate flower. This year in particular, I’ve seen some breathtaking beauty in winter and enjoyed the gift of a lovely white Christmas. We’re likely to have many more opportunities to appreciate winter and – likely – to tire of it. Alas, a California girl at heart, I always end up longing for spring. I’ve written several poems over the years, but my favorite has always been one entitled “Faith.” I wrote it some 14 years ago, and thought of it this morning. I wrote it thinking of the long winters we endured living on “the tip of the thumb” in Michigan during one of Dad’s military assignments. Buried under lake-effect snow for months, my sisters and I, along with everyone else, truly longed for spring. To me, it’s impossible not to draw spiritual parallels and applications through creation and the seasons.

FAITH

It was always that first

mustard yellow patch of grass

and mud

that gave me hope.

And I,

small enough to fit in its circumference

– if I curled my tiny legs –

lay amid the billowing drifts

With an upturned face

I’d cast a child’s dreams

into the waiting sky

-A hope for Spring –

The long-sought sun,

at last, would warm

my rosy cheeks,

still thawing from the cold.

c.1999

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This morning, I stepped out my front door to catch a shot of the snow with that “mustard yellow patch of grass and mud.” You’ll notice the grass is actually mostly green in this shot, because it has only been covered for a couple of weeks. Imagine the miracle of renewal in a completely dead patch of grass coming back to full and vibrant, green life! The trees tell us this story, too, naked skeletons that they are now. They remind us how far God can reach, how dead a person he can revive and give new, abundant life. Finally, I couldn’t help but notice the sky afire with a breathtaking sunrise. There is such hope and beauty in a painted sky. How amazing is God? I cannot fathom.

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Help me Remember

It’s been 449 days since I posted on this blog. Yeah, you bet a lot has happened! But every time I sat down to pen it, I got stuck somehow. Fear is a heartless robber. Who is reading my blog? What do they think of me? Who am I to write a blog? How presumptuous am I to think I have something unique or wise to share? How dare I start up writing again after a 200 day haitus….300 days….400 days…? Am I reliable to my readers?

I became crippled by these fears and doubts. And how silly! When I was writing, the ideas simply came to me, I prayed before writing, and let God do the rest (pick the readers, inspire their responses, give me the next idea.)  These days, it seems as though I’ve almost forgotten how to write in the first place. But if what I write is a weighty matter, it just can’t be my weighty matter. I am what I am, have what I have, and God is who he is. So, with no guarantees, I’m taking up the “pen” again today…

My sweet Gamma turns 100 in less than two months. I’m ecstatic that I can be there on that blessed, happy day! Reading over some of my past posts, I noticed that she has been a frequent subject of my writings. We’ve had a most complex relationship over the years, and I’ve learned so much from it.

Quite honestly, when I was little, I feared her. I felt she picked on me for being clumsy and childish. I was a child, after all, and not a bit graceful. I broke things in her house. Acted younger than my age.  Hung on my mother too much. But still, her barbs hurt. Sitting on the porch swing I heard her in the kitchen window drying dishes next to my mom, lecturing her on what new dose of tough discipline I required. When mom tried to show Gamma deference, I was crushed and further alienated from the freedoms my siblings and cousins were apparently enjoying. I felt weirder. I probably acted weirder. The tension culminated one summer when the entire extended family (I want to say 20 people) were called into the living room to hold hands and pray for me – pray over me – pray for Amy’s behavior, attitude, etc. to improve. This was a defining moment in my life, in the negative sense. For a time, at least.

When I grew out of awkward preadolescence into a real young woman – slender, with makeup, a purse, boyfriends, I still felt her judgmental eyes on me at times, but the look was softening. I wasn’t running into the living room and knocking over a plant table or breaking a priceless figurine anymore. After many more years, I realized she was softening, not just toward me. What was once, to me, her biting and cynical appraisal of people was now playful, harmless wit, even wisdom. Her lust for gossip seemed to simply disappear, and she adopted a more sympathetic, almost live-and-let-live approach. Gone were her characteristic critical comments about every family member. And, sadly, going, was her memory. I feel tremendously remiss and incomplete in my description, here, of the changes I saw in her, and I know that I changed dramatically, too, since childhood. But whatever the differences can be attributed to, they are there, and they are beautiful, except for the tragedy of her slipping memory.

A few years ago, in a Virginia gift shop, I found silver bracelets printed with verses. For Gamma, I chose one printed with Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” Contemplating the verse, I thought of how my grandmother had grown so beautiful to me; someone gentle, caring, a great listener who thinks the world of my husband and loves my children; Someone who loves me, and never casts a judgmental glance my way, no matter how clumsy or careless I might be on any given day. I thought of our relationship, how beauty came – in its time.

This summer we made our first drive to Virginia from Ohio, ecstatic that we can now travel home to see family frequently. The next trip will be for Gamma’s birthday. Visiting her in the retirement home, I felt a deeper sense of sadness and helplessness than usual. My husband is a great talker and for years I’ve enjoyed, and come to rely on, his ability to draw out the old stories from Gamma about her growing-up years. She’s had a fascinating life, suffice it to say! It used to be that she could remember the old stories even when she couldn’t remember last week. But on this day, her hearing seemed worse and she didn’t remember any stories, and I began to panic about the visit. What could I do to make it meaningful? The visits have been so few, and how many can be left to have? And then a thin, quiet thought streamed through my head, “Maybe instead of asking her to remember, it’s time you help her remember.” And with that, I began:

‘Oh Gamma, I remember coming to visit you every summer and we just couldn’t wait to get to your house. The whole way we’d ask mom and dad ‘are we there yet?”’

“Oh, yes, I remember you kids were so excited when you finally got there.”

“And we loved swinging on your porch swing. We’d get it going as high as we could, and pretend we were visiting other places with every stop.”

“Ah yes, everyone loved that swing, didn’t they?”

“And you always had the most amazing meals prepared for us, Gamma. Roast beef, potatoes, and three or four vegetables! It was an amazing spread! That ice-cold apple sauce, and lemon bundt cake drizzled with icing…”

And for just a few too-short moments, we relished in the beauty of those summertime memories and didn’t give a thought to any of the pain. Honestly, I’ve forgotten most of it already, at least in my heart. Memory is as subjective as perspective itself, and time sure does a number on both, doesn’t it?