Monday, February 28, 2011


1. to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises

 Does a scripture, a phrase or a song ever seem to jump out at you?  Yesterday, the second lesson during our service was in 1 Corinthians 4.  It was a mere five verses, but six words nearly jumped off the page at me: "I do not even judge myself."  Paul preceded this statement by saying he really didn't care what people thought of him - or how they judged him.  I'd like to feel that way.  I'd love to spend far less time worrying about little things like whether I am dressed nicely enough to pick my daughters up from school. (Seriously, I worry about stuff like that.)  But let's say I someday get there: I get to the point of not caring who judges me or whether they find me lacking.  Is there then the slightest chance I will ever stop judging myself?

During the sermon, I wrote in my journal, "What would it look like for me to not judge myself?" and I spent some time during the rest of the service pondering this.  When I told J how this thought had struck me, he was less impressed, "If you didn't judge yourself?  I'm not sure I want to know. I like who you are right now.  Would not judging yourself mean you were less introspective?  I'm not sure that would be a good thing."  He got me wondering whether my line of thinking had been amiss.  But one of my favorite bible tool sites says that the word rendered "judge" in this passage denotes not only examination, but the result of such examination.  Paul's not necessarily saying he doesn't examine his heart, but that he doesn't blame or condemn himself for what he finds there.  That's God's job, not his.

This line of thinking was interesting to pursue on a day when I felt incapable of getting everything done that I wanted to do.  Circumstances were not on my side:  gray skies gave way to a downpour as I was dropping B & K off at school, A was a distracted student, I struggled to maintain focus and motivation myself.  By 10ish, I forced myself to begin laundry.  By 11ish, I slogged through a workout then dashed out to the grocery store during a break in the rain.  I was under time pressure because K had a dentist appointment at 2:30, which required a 2:00 school pick-up.  A short Monday?  Not ideal.  So as I headed upstairs for a bath, I was definitely not following in Paul's footsteps.  I was heaping lots of blame and condemnation on myself for all that remained undone on my mental checklist.  But then...

As I laid in the bathtub, I read today's passage in Jesus Calling and I laughed aloud.  The first sentence?  "Stop judging and evaluating yourself, for this is not your role."  OK, then.  I guess there was a message God was trying to get across to me yesterday.

I would say that, generally speaking, I'm not a very judgmental person.  I am far more inclined to wonder what might have motivated someone's hurtful action than to make an assumption about what they were thinking or feeling.  I don't think I exactly make excuses for other people, but I try to extend grace - especially when I have no idea what might be going on.  But that same grace is far more difficult to extend to myself.  Because with myself, you see, I know what's going on.  I know when I have an excuse and when I don't.  (And I should probably note that I very rarely am willing to accept excuses from myself.)

This is the disease of perfectionism rearing up in me.  A friend sent me an e-mail with a link to this blog post on perfectionism because of its conclusion that being real (or transparent) is the key to fighting perfectionism.  It is perfectionism that makes me notice the dust on my bathroom floor instead of my well-fed children.  It's perfectionism that makes me take note of the fact that while I've been very content with my life of late - enjoying my children, enjoying homeschooling, enjoying time with my husband - my house isn't very clean.  Should I forgo contentment for a cleaner house?  (If you think I should, you might be reading the wrong blog.)

No, I am not doing everything perfectly.  Yes, I still love my husband and my children to the best of my ability.  I try to make space in my heart and in my life to hear the voice of God.  I try to carve out time for me - to read, to create, to just be.  So should I judge myself for all of the things that are falling by the wayside?  No, I shouldn't.  Should I still pause to reflect, ponder and evaluate where I am and where I'm going?  Of course.  I wouldn't be me if I didn't do that.  But for now - for however brief a time - I am going to try to set aside the blame game and stop judging myself.  What about you?

Saturday, February 26, 2011


1. : moving to action : inciting

I've had several interactions over the last week that have encouraged me.  One such experience results in little thought on my part.  I accept it, am thankful for it and think no more about it.  But cumulatively (when I'm up to half a dozen specifically encouraging incidents), I see them as promptings that other people have chosen to respond to.

These experiences have been varied: a e-mail from a friend saying she's been thinking about me and wondering if she could pray for me in some way, a conversation with a former teacher of A & B, a text from a friend after an hour and a half of impromptu talking, an acquaintance or two specifically taking time to tell me they enjoy my blog.  (Please note, given my recent thoughts on technology, that several of these have been through e-mail or texts.  One more reason I think it's important to not throw out all technology or access to it in my home.)

One thing that's been striking to me is how easy it would have been for each of these individuals to not say or write what they did. 

My friend could have thought about sending me an e-mail and then said to herself, "Why would I do that?  I don't even know her that well.  Is she going to think I'm crazy for asking this?  I'm not going to e-mail her.  I'll just pray for her when I think of her.

Another could have thought, "She just shared on her blog how her daughters have been making mistakes.  Should I drop the subject or tell her it helped me to hear that?  Will I make her feel worse?  I'm not going to bring it up.

Or even, "Why should I text her?  She clearly knows I enjoyed talking to her.  Why send a text?  Will that make me seem needy?  A little crazy?  I'll just mention it the next time I see her."

Instead, they each went ahead and reached out to me.  Either because they don't overthink things like I do or because they responded - consciously or unconsciously - to a prompting from God, who has felt distant from me of late.  But bit by bit, I've see his fingerprints and heard his voice in these little messages.  I've read an e-mail and heard God whisper in my ear that hard circumstances - in my own life or in the lives of my daughters - and transparency about these circumstances are a part of the invitation to unfurl in 2011.

In my opinion, there's a lot to think about here.  There's the question of whether you are being sent similar messages of encouragement, direction or love from God.  Are you listening for them?  I could missed these messages - individually or their combined impact.  Then there's the question I really want you to think about as you read this:  are you responding to promptings to encourage others?  If you think of someone unexpectedly, do you take that as an opportunity to pray for them?  If you see a friend handle a work situation with grace and aplomb, do you tell her?  If you value a friend for what she brings into your life, do you say so?

I can pretty easily ignore a message - subtle or direct - to reach out in a specific way.  I'm very good at explaining away my ability to influence or encourage others.  So I might think about someone and feel incited to e-mail her, even if we haven't talked in a long while.  But I talk myself out of it.  I explain away the prompting, minimize its potential importance, do nothing.  I find I'm actually more likely to act if I do so without much thought.  If I do something without pondering, thinking it over or taking my time with it, I'm more likely to do it.

I'm challenged to do this more often - to respond.  If I've been so encouraged this week by casual comments, kind e-mails and even a text, think of the encouragement going unsaid when I ignore a prompting.  Think about how we could each feel if we let ourselves listen to the big and little messages we are sent everyday.  Think about what could happen if we acted on them.

Thursday, February 24, 2011


2. a : free from pretense or deceit : frank
b : easily detected or seen through : obvious
c : readily understood

My last post was a bit of a stretch for me.  I felt the need to write it, but knew even before I did so that it was likely to garner some discussion.  How our children interact with technology is, I believe, a key parenting challenge for my generation.  I think we'll all be better off if we'll share our successes - and failures - openly so that others can learn from them.  But this level of transparency takes a bit of work on my part.  And it sometimes leaves me feeling a bit bruised.  Luckily, I recently had an acquaintance who is pregnant with her second child say that my blog encourages her because she sees how hard I try as a parent and that my children still make mistakes.  Well, yes, they do.  I do, too. 

I feel it's so important to be frank, honest and open about parenting - and life - because if we all walk around pretending we have it all together, everyone ends up miserable.  Miserable because even if we're excellent actresses when we're with others, we know how often, how deeply, how tremendously we fail.  The internal dialogue says that if no one else is failing I must be the only one.

How can we change that?  By being real.  By admitting the failures as readily as we offer the successes.  By not allowing shame to push our parenting missteps to the depths of our minds, where they stay hidden, but fester in our memories, looming larger and larger.

I don't want to intimate that parenting is all doom and gloom.  It's not.  I considered writing this post on LEARNING and how I am seeing it every day in each of my girls right now - in a metaphor A created about Martin Luther (his ideas were lightning bolts), in a paper K wrote on what she would do if she were President (take care of her country), in a book by B about her favorite food (tomato tart, of course).  But my camera is broken (thanks to my imperfect 11 year old), so I have no visuals to go along with these lovely examples of learning.  It doesn't mean they aren't happening, just that I can't properly document them.

Living transparently means sharing the good and the bad.

One of the challenges with choosing to live as transparently as possible is that people can really see me for who I am.  While this brings its fair share of blessings, it means that others are free to judge me when they don't like what they see.  Is it paradoxical to hope that I can both live transparently (easily seen through) and have a thick skin?

Someone asked me yesterday what my biggest fear was about A's recent online behavior.  It's that her actions were prompted by loneliness.  A's been honest with me that she's been lonely this year.  I anticipate that will ease next year with her sister at home for school as well, but that will bring its own challenges.  I want to talk with A about loneliness - how much she is feeling it, what she's doing with those feelings, what choices she can make.  Because she does have a choice in her loneliness - she can choose specific ways to combat it and she can, if necessary, accept this as a part of her current journey.  I have found that a depth of relationship combats loneliness far better for me than a breadth of relationship.  An hour of conversation free from pretense does more to fill my emotional tank than three hours of small talk.  I suspect this may be true for A as well and I need to keep that in mind as I parent my girls.  If I feel better when I can really be myself around someone, I think it's safe to assume the same is true for them.  I want them to have the freedom, the comfort, the safety to be completely transparent here in our home and in our family.

This doesn't mean they will share their every thought with me - we're nearing the time when that will not only be less likely, but less beneficial as they prepare for life on their own - but that they can authentically be who they are - without pretense, without deceit, without hiding.  So that they can be more fully understood.

Monday, February 21, 2011


1. a : the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area : engineering
b : a capability given by the practical application of knowledge

I try to be respectful of my daughters' privacy on this blog.  Not because they read it regularly (they only read the posts I write about them and allow them to read), but because I respect them as individuals and I think their mistakes are theirs to share.  But we've had some recent parenting experiences that have made me feel the need to assess our approach to technology as individuals and as a family.  I think I'll need to share an outline of those happenings to explain my current thoughts on technology.  So forgive me if I cross the line and share too much about my children's actions.  Know that I do so to help our family navigate the arena of technology, not because I want to shame them for their behavior.

In the fall, I got a call from one of my daughter's teachers about a note she had intercepted from my daughter to another student.  As a result of this intercepted note, I found out that my daughter had wanted to know more about sex and had therefore googled it.  You can imagine what she then found.  Frankly, I should have seen this coming as her parent.  She's very independent, equally curious and takes care of herself.  She saw this the way she sees most everything else - I'll just find out what I want to know.  We had a long talk - I explained the details of what she wanted to know.  And there were big consequences: no computer access for three months, writing lines and doing additional yard work.  I thought she got the point.

Then, last Friday, another daughter asked me to put her iPod on the charger.  On my way to do that, I decided to check out her recent usage.  We had warned her that we would do this, so I didn't feel it was a violation of her privacy.  What I found were texts referencing a boyfriend and websites whose very names made me blush.  J and I talked with her and found out she had been messaging with a "boy" (who knows this person's actual age or gender) and he had used terms that she didn't understand.  So she looked them up herself.  Very secretively, I might add.  Earlier on Friday, she had told me she deleted an app from her iPod, so she did eventually draw a line for herself.  But she did so without ever explaining what was going on to J or I.  This was, in its way, a bigger surprise than the previous technology scare because this daughter is more compliant and generally less prone to break the rules.  She knew her sister had received big consequences, so it's a new behavior for her to choose to commit nearly the exact same offense.

All of this has resulted in a few things for our family.  More stringent family computer rules, yes, but also a desire to really think about what technology means - and should mean - for our family.  As I drove to the library on Saturday, I pondered whether I should cut myself off from technology after all of this.  Should I drop my facebook account, ignore this blog, stop reading other blogs, cease writing book reviews, only look up recipes in cookbooks?  In short, should I become a total Luddite?  This was what brought me to the idea that we should assess the role of technology in our lives.  I think this blog serves a positive purpose in my life - it allows me to work on my writing, to think through issues, to step away from my day to day life and get a bit of perspective.  I think writing reviews of books I've read makes me read more closely and enjoy books more thoroughly.  These are good things.

As I was thinking about how I use technology, it reminded me of a recent episode of Castle that J and I watched.  In it, a lottery winner dies.  Over the course of their investigation, Castle is fascinated with asking the other characters what they would do if they won the lottery.  He's already basically won the lottery by being a successful mystery writer and he asserts to another character that winning the lottery or otherwise coming into a large amount of money doesn't change you so much as it amplifies already existing tendencies.  I think technology does much the same thing in our lives.

This bears out in my own family.  I have a tendency towards introspection and this comes through in my use of the computer.  My husband spends his screen time reading about his favorite sports teams, listening to new music and reading about books.  My pitfall?  Spending too much time on blog reading or facebook.  Not because it satisfies a deep place in me, but because it's on my phone and an easy thing to do when I have a few minutes.  J's pitfall?  Choosing catching up with information on his various teams over catching up with his family.  Like their parents, my daughters' pitfalls were using the internet to satisfy their curiosity and connect with others technologically without seeming like a neophyte - both things very typical of their personalities.

I think one thing this means for our family is that J and I should be more intentional about what time we do and don't spend on the computer.  And we should communicate clearly to our daughters about how insidious the use of technology can be.  About how it can allow you to substitute an artificial connection for a real one.  How it can take away time from other, more valuable pursuits like reading or going for a walk or any number of other things.  But I think we should contrast technology's downsides with the good things it brings us - easy access to a wealth of information, ways to use our gifts, an inexpensive source of entertainment.

With daughters who are 11, 9 and 6 we are well and truly into a new phase of parenting.  And this is a little scary for several reasons.  There's the fact that there are dangers we can't keep them from (like websites), our lack of experience in dealing with the new terrain and, perhaps scariest of all, the way our parenting to date begins to bear fruit.  By this I mean that the groundwork we've laid up until this point begins to show where it is strongest and where it is weakest.  We all have different approaches to parenting, so this will look different for every family.  But one thing J and I discussed this weekend was that we have a tendency to trust our children, for good or bad.  I don't think our recent experiences will make us choose to be more distrustful - how will they ever become independent individuals if I'm constantly looking over their shoulders? - but it does give us pause to consider whether we should be more vigilant in some areas.

Maybe you're reading this post thinking that I'm a horrible parent for letting my girls make these mistakes.  You might be right, but I really can't protect them from everything, even if I were a helicopter parent instead of the more free range approach I take.  I really can only help them learn to navigate this world the best I know how.  And the world is a disparate place - a place full of beauty and ugliness.  If I only ever prepare them for the beauty, how will they know what to do when they face its ugliness full on?

In an odd way, I'm thankful for these recent missteps of my daughters because they have given our family an opportunity to not just evaluate how we deal with TV, computer, gaming, texting and phone issues, but a chance to look at why our family uses or doesn't use these things.  Because if we can take a step back and decide why that will make the how easier - easier to decide as a parent and hopefully easier to follow as a child.

I'd love to hear any thoughts you have, especially on the why of technology in your life.  Why do you choose to spend time on one site versus another?  Why do or don't you limit your computer time - or that of your children?  Why are you thankful for technology?  Why do you wish it were less pervasive?

Sunday, February 20, 2011


1. a : being next after the second in place or time

If you're a parent of more than one child, you might have read The Birth Order Book. A friend gave this to me after babysitting for our girls many times and seeing our daughters reflect a lot of characteristics from her own family experience.  I haven't read the book cover to cover, but I've read enough to believe there's something to it.  There's a fair amount of nature and nurture at work in all of us and it's often difficult to separate the two.  Is my third daughter K a talker because she's genetically predisposed that way or because she immediately figured out that if she was going to get attention as the youngest she would have to demand it?  Tough to say.

It's also difficult to sort out how much of birth order is a result of your children sensing their place in the family versus how your different style of parenting impacts your children.  I am not intentionally harder on my firstborn, but I will confess that I am harder on her.  I don't intentionally pay less attention when K learns to do something that her sisters mastered long ago, but it does happen with some things.  Despite this, I've found there's one thing that never gets old:  your child learning to read.  Not even seeing her learn to read, so much as seeing her go from toddling along with the words, to walking, to jogging.  In the past few weeks, K has hit her stride with reading.  And it is sheer joy to witness.

K is 6 1/2 and it took her the longest to get to this point.  Her eldest sister A took us by surprise and didn't really learn to read so much as wake up one day and do it.  B learned to do it, did it fine and then spent the summer between first and second grade devouring every book she could get her hands on.  That summer, we went to the library twice weekly in order to have a fresh stock of books on hand at all times.  Both A & B started first grade well ahead of K in terms of reading.  Had K not been my third child, this might have concerned me.  But I had seen twice already that it's a process that develops in its own way and over its own time.  Sure, there are things you can do to encourage your child, but ultimately, you must just wait for her to see for herself how glorious it is to read everything around her.

I've tried to imagine what these last few weeks have been like for K.  Did the letters start out jumbled together and finally begin to coalesce into meaningful words?  Did she see a word as its individual parts rather than its meaningful whole?  I'll never know.  What I do know is that when she joined us in church today, she pulled out the Book of Common Prayer and started reading it.  It was pretty tough going, so I put her in Psalms and let her go.  I don't even have words for how happy this makes me.

We are a family of readers.  A and B probably read well over two hundred books annually.  J and I don't post those kinds of numbers (anymore), but we read regularly and with great enjoyment.  I had wondered whether K, the most talkative and extroverted of my children, would really come to love reading.  But I am now very hopeful.  She spent nearly two hours reading yesterday.  She read for an hour this morning before she ever got out of bed.  That's a good Truss Girl!

So if you're a parent who has watched one child hit this particular milestone and you've wondered whether it will lose its shine the second, third or fourth time around, let me assure you it will not.  I don't plan to have any more children.  But I already smile in anticipation of hearing a grandchild, a niece, a nephew read to me.  It never gets old.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


3. c : a balance maintained in an artistic work between opposing forces or elements

Even after my last blog post, I've continued to ponder rules, especially why we need and want them.  After writing the post, I went out to dinner with a friend and we started talking about all of the rules that pregnant women face today. No to cigarettes and alcohol, no luncheon meat, no tuna, no sushi, no cheeses, yes to folic acid - all manner of yeses and nos.  Even in the six years that have elapsed since my final pregnancy, the do's and don'ts have grown tremendously. 

This seems a little crazy to me.  Does a turkey sandwich really harm you more now than it would have eight years ago?  I don't think so.  And I suspect the risk is pretty minuscule.  But here's the thing about our culture:  we really want these rules.  Not just because they seemingly keep us safe, but because they limit what is required of us in discernment and judgment.  No need to actually think about whether it might be wise to follow some common sense rules about nutrition by varying your diet and limiting your intake of known dangers like cigarettes or alcohol.  Instead of deciding for yourself and using a bit of good judgment, just pull our your baby friendly checklist and dot every I and cross every T. 

But know as you do this, that it will lead you to two things:  a false sense of security and a self-righteousness about what a good job you're doing.  By following all of the proscribed behaviors during pregnancy, we think that guarantees us a healthy baby, a healthy mom, an all but charmed life.  Guess what?  It doesn't.  So that false sense of security that we get from following all of the rules - that insidious idea that if we do it all right, all will be right - can get yanked right out from under you.  But if the false sense of security bubble doesn't get popped, it gives you the opportunity to judge others who might bend or break the rules.  Or, frankly, to judge others who follow the rules but aren't blessed with the outcome they hoped for.

I think this dependence on rules to protect us from unlikely occurrences is dangerous - and not really how we're meant to live.  I think we're not meant to live all the way to one side or the other on most things.  We're meant to live in the tension.  That fearsome gray area where what seems right for one person one day might not be right for you or I tomorrow.  That area where we must decide for ourselves which path to take, trusting that we'll heed the spirit's call and be able to see just far enough into the fog to not lose our footing.

This tension, while eschewed by many, is one of the things I love best about life.  It's why I love novels that break your heart while also lifting your spirits.  Because all of life isn't heart-breaking, but all of life isn't happy, either.  Life is not simple and easy, even if we want it to be.  I think life is truly lived in the tension.

Living life in the tension and embracing that isn't always straightforward.  It means accepting a certain amount of uncertainty and ambivalence.  I encountered an example of this today while teaching A history.  We are currently reading Machiavelli's The Prince - ok, she's eleven, we're reading the Cliff Notes of The Prince - and I had her read the section in our curriculum on it before reading the first few chapters yesterday.  This morning, I sat down to review her work from yesterday and read the section myself so that we could discuss it.  I wasn't thrilled with what I found. 

One reason I chose this curriculum is that it is less a textbook than a collection of resources to help you figure out the history for yourself.  In my opinion, doing history the right way means hearing not just one version of the story, but seeing what the people who lived during that time thought, too.  In fact, that's one reason I wanted to find a way to tackle The Prince together - a look at Renaissance politics written by a Secretary to the Medici?  That is good original source material. 

But even though this curriculum isn't a traditional textbook, it does have sections of information and explanation before listing additional resources.  A and I have enjoyed previous sections because they are written in a conversational style and do a good job of setting the stage for our real reading that follows.  But today what I read didn't set the stage for gleaning much of anything from The Prince.  Instead, it was eight paragraphs on how wrong Machiavelli's thoughts are and contained very little information on the actual book - and no unbiased information at all.

I talked this through with A.  She had found her reading of The Prince yesterday to be challenging, but before we tackled that together, I wanted to be sure she saw this section for what it was - one very biased opinion.  We started by looking up the word bias.  After reading the definition, A easily said that what she'd read was biased against The Prince.  So then we discussed why we should read the book anyway.  I argued that a book that's been around for four centuries must have some value - otherwise, it wouldn't have survived this long.  A agreed with this premise and we're working our way through it together - and finding that it does have things to teach us.

This experience embodies living in the tension because it would be easy to dismiss a book that offers a worldview different than - or contrary to - my own.  But if I dismiss it out of hand, how will I ever learn more about that position?  It's so much easier to hate what we don't understand.  I want A to develop her own set of beliefs, her own faith.  And I think that will only happen if I encourage her to navigate the tension - to balance the opposing opinions, forces and experiences she'll encounter.  Are we likely to finish The Prince and decide we should be more ruthless in our dealings with people?  I don't think so.  Are we likely to have conversations about whether we see leaders in our world today who follow Machiavelli's suggestions for ruling?  Yes.  And I think we may end this section of our study with a bit of ambivalence, but also with a bit more knowledge about what it was like to live in a world of city states that fought each other and foreign countries constantly.  By spending a bit of time embracing the tension in our studies, we'll hopefully emerge better equipped to live in the tension - and live more fully.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


1. a : a prescribed guide for conduct or action
b : the laws or regulations prescribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members
c : an accepted procedure, custom, or habit

This particular post has been percolating in my mind for two weeks.  I'm still not sure exactly what I need to say, but I do know I need to write about rules to help me figure out what role they already play in my life versus what role I want them to play in my life.  It all started (as so many things do) with a conversation with one of my daughters...

Last year, A attended a wonderful camp and we were so excited to let B attend this year.  I filled out the paperwork while she was at school, then gave her two forms to fill out - one listing her preferences for activities, the other a form where she had to initial that she had read and would obey the rules.  I thought nothing of it, but in hindsight, I totally should have seen it coming.  9 year old B sat at the table, initialing each box that she had read the rule.  She went slower and slower.  She got quieter and quieter.  She finished the form and brought it to me.  Then she said, "Mom, I'm not sure I want to go to this camp.  There are so many rules."  Ahh, B.  Like I said, I really should have seen this coming.  B has never, ever been a fan of rules and having to sign a list of 15 rules in a row was just too much for her.  We talked it through - the pros and cons of going to the camp, the fact that she follows all of these rules at school every day, and more.  B decided to sign up for camp, but she got me thinking about rules that day.

The next week, I met a friend for coffee and was sharing with her my experience with B and the camp rules.  I told her that I really love this about B - her willingness to question the rules.  I asserted that some rules aren't good ones and should be broken - and that we need people like B who are willing to do that.  Then she asked for examples and I went silent.  My mind went blank and I couldn't come up with a single example.  Yet my heart still said I was right about this, that there are rules that are cultural, societal, convenient - and completely unnecessary.  I continued to ask myself, "What rules should be broken?" for the next twenty-four hours, thinking about it as I fell asleep and when I woke up.

The next morning at Bible Study, the first question our leader asked was, "How does the word obey make you feel?  Are you a rule follower or a rebel?"  I said out loud, "I can't believe we're talking about this!"  As we talked it through together, I was finally able to articulate that the unspoken rules are the ones I feel most strongly need to be questioned, challenged and maybe broken.  Rules like...

  • The bigger and stronger your faith the less you question God
  • Mothers shouldn't work outside the home
  • Christians aren't Democrats
  • Girls who wear skirts aren't tough - they're girly
  • Boys don't like to read
  • Women who want to use their gifts in the church should do so in children's or women's ministry
  • Men are leaders and women should follow
  • Drink white wine with fish
  • Never eat chocolate right before bed

You get the idea.  The rules that few people speak out loud, but our community, our families, our churches hold onto with great tenacity.  These rules are the most dangerous ones, in my opinion.  They're dangerous precisely because they are often unspoken.  That leaves room for misinterpretation, for abuse, for all kinds of wrongs.

So are we better off without rules at all?  Should we just leave it at "Love God.  Love your neighbor."?

I decided to ask two members of my own family whether they like rules and why.  I started with B.  When I started the conversation with her, I actually skipped right to, "So, why don't you like rules?"  As soon as it was out of my mouth, I realized I was making an assumption about her.  And while I have much to learn as a parent, I have come to the conclusion that it's better to never assume what my daughters are thinking and feeling - always better to ask.  I backed up, "Well.  First: Do you like rules?"  A quick "No" was the answer - almost as soon as the words had left my mouth.  "Why not?"  "Because they restrain me from doing things I want to do.  And sometimes they don't even make sense.  Like why can't I be silly in the classroom?  That's a bad rule."  Viewpoint #1.

Viewpoint #2:  On a walk with A in yesterday's lovely, spring-like weather, I asked her, "Do you like rules?"  "Yeah," she replied after a slight pause (perhaps because her position on this is not as cool for an 11 year old?  I'm not sure, but her response was not as quick and visceral as B's.)  "Why?"  "Because they restrict me from doing things that make me unsafe.  Things that I shouldn't do anyway."  A's response didn't surprise me any more than B's did.  In contrast to B's conflict over agreeing to obey a list of camp rules, A's biggest concern last year was that she follow the rules as closely as possible - she doesn't like to wear shorts and requested that I contact the camp to make sure it was OK for her to wear capris and skorts instead.

I think my wise-beyond-their-years children used some very interesting words in their answers.  Specifically restrain and restrict.  That's what rules do.  And good rules do exactly what A likes - they keep us safe, they show us where to go and what to do.  B's right, too.  Bad rules restrain us - from doing the things we want, yes, but more importantly - from being who we were made to be.  Rules that make us conform in ways that we were not made to bend are bad - for us and for society.  Rules that help us learn self-control and guide us in the better way to go are equally good.

I'm not sure I now have a definitive position on rules.  Do we need them?  Yes.  Do some of them also need to be challenged or broken?  Yes.  To go back to the question from last Wednesday, am I a rule follower or a rebel?  I've been both in my life, but I think the more I know myself, the more I realize what a rebel I am at heart.  And while I'm confessing, I'll let you in on a secret:  I don't think that's a bad thing.  The world needs people like me - and B.  People who won't blindly follow where they're led.  People who question.  People who ask questions like, "How do I feel about rules?"

My Rule Follower

My Rebel

Sunday, February 13, 2011


: a roundabout way temporarily replacing part of a route

It was Wednesday night and shaping up to be a lovely evening.  Snow was falling - big, fat flakes that were swirling in the air and quickly covering everything in sight - grass, sidewalks, streets.  The girls and I were cuddled inside.  School had let out two hours early in anticipation of the snow.  K and I had were on our way to drop her friend off at home after a play date when the flakes started falling.  I knew the state of our pantry, so K and I made a quick stop at the grocery store on our way home - not to stock up on bread and milk like so many Nashvillians, but to grab that most essential of snow day items - hot chocolate.

Back at home, the girls read, sipped hot chocolate, then watched a science special on TV about the moon and its role in how our planet works.  TV is generally off limits in our home on school days.  When A and B started school, I let them watch two shows after school.  Those were in the days before homework.  And more importantly, in the days before dance.  Because then A started taking dance two, three, four times weekly.  We would get home from school and B would turn on PBS.  Partway through her show, it would be time to turn it off and take A to dance.  After a few months of this, I realized it would simply be easier to shut off television on school days rather than deal with ill tempered girls who weren't getting to see the end of anything and remained perpetually frustrated with their TV viewing time.  (Fridays are the exception to this.  We pop microwave popcorn and watch TV together until J gets home from work.  It's serious down time that we all look forward to.)  No TV on your typical Wednesday, but this was no typical Wednesday.  After about 30 minutes to an hour of steady snow, it was clear there would be no school on Thursday.  J was still at work, having opted to give the traffic some time to clear before attempting the drive home.  Why not watch a bit more TV?  Bedtime wasn't going to be heavily enforced.  We decided to watch Live to Dance in the hopes that we could finish last week's episode before the finale aired at 7:00.  At about 6:45, the oven was preheating, J was starting for home and we were two dances away from being ready to view the finale.  Then the power went out.

At first, I just stopped what I was doing, hoping this was a flicker, not an outage.  No such luck.  We began gathering candles and bringing them all into the living room.  As the girls went from room to room collecting by flashlight, I lit them one by one, until the living room was bathed in a pale yellow light.  Then it was time to come up with a plan B for dinner.  Frozen pizza wasn't going to be an option with no electricity for our awesome dual fuel stove.  Cereal was served on trays in the living room.  The girls were holding up admirably.  K said a few times, "This is fun, but scary, too.  Will the lights ever come back on?"  I assured her that they would definitely come back on eventually.  (I just had no idea when.)

After dinner, such as it was, we cleared the bowls away and pulled out blankets.  The temperature wasn't dropping quickly thanks to our plaster walls, but I thought it would be better to stay warm rather than get cold and try to warm up.  So we each put on a sweatshirt or hoodie and socks and shoes.  Then we bundled up.  Since my plan for the evening had been reliant on electricity - no Live to Dance with no power - it took me a while to realize there was a great back up plan right there on the library bookshelf.

We're not a big read aloud family.  Since A & B learned to read so well at such young ages, we just never got in the habit of reading classic chapter books aloud to them.  In spite of this, we've had some successes in this area.  I remember with particular fondness reading The Iliad during last year's snow days and convalescence.  Then not long ago, I shared an old love with B & K: Where the Sidewalk Ends.  I've enjoyed sharing books aloud with the girls from time to time and our atypically cold winter has given up ample opportunity to be together inside.  So I picked up a copy of Lafcadio last week in the hopes that I would find the right time to read it to the girls.  I've never read it, but it looked like a book that would make a good read aloud.  Given that we were without power, the streets of Nashville were in gridlock and J was slowly making his way home, this seemed like a pretty good time for a read aloud.

That's how J found us when he got home from his 90 minute commute (triple the typical 30 minutes): under blankets, in sleeping bags, reading and listening by candlelight.  It wasn't how I had envisioned the night.  It wasn't how my girls would have chosen to spend the night.  But it was lovely - and an unexpected, detour of a blessing.

Before our snow induced blackout, I had been thinking about how God has used closed doors, blocked pathways and a simple "no" or two to offer blessings that I would never have experienced if I had been given my first choice.  I was thinking about this in relation to homeschooling - something that I've found I really enjoy, where I am able to use my gifts and feel such rest and contentment.  Our blackout evening felt like an exclamation point to the thought that a seemingly disappointing situation can actually be an opportunity to lead me to something better - if only I will be open to whatever the offering is.  I could have chosen to be angry, worried, anxious, frustrated or any number of other things Wednesday evening.  I could have refused the opportunity to curl up under a blanked and read about a lion who becomes a sharp shooter.  I could have clung to my vision for the evening.  But had I done that, I would have missed out on a lovely offering that turned out to be a far better, more memorable way to spend the evening than our original plan.

If I'll learn to hold loosely to my idea of what I need and want, I have a feeling I'll be amazed at the things that God brings that far surpass what I could ask for or imagine.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


5: the quality or state of being complete or thorough

Last week, A went to our local middle school to take her TCAP writing assessment.  While there, the counselor gave us a sample TCAP test to use in preparing for spring testing.  I spent that night going through the test, paying special attention to the math and science sections, which are A's weaker areas.  In math, I was looking for concepts that our textbook hadn't covered.  We've been following diligently along, making good, solid progress, but we aren't using the same textbook our school system uses, so I imagined there might be some differences.  There were a few, but nothing alarming.  Science, on the other hand, left my head spinning.

I read through the section once to see if I knew all of the answers.  I did, mostly.  But what was of great concern and no small amount of consternation was the breadth of subject matter and complete lack of depth possible when covering at least five different categories of science on a fifth grade assessment.  How could students be expected to truly understand any aspect of genetics, ecology, physics, astronomy or meteorology when all of them were covered at once?

I started by making a list of the different things A and I would need to cover between now and April. I looked up books on motion, force, gravity and more.  I spent several hours and created a general plan for the next two weeks.  But the more I worked, the more frustrated I became.  This approach to science made no sense to me.  Wouldn't A be better off truly understanding one of these subjects instead of knowing tiny bite sized portions of several of them?  Sure, I could teach her some, if not all, of this stuff over the course of the next six weeks, but was that really how I wanted to spend our time?

I should confess that science has not been our focus this year.  I signed A up for a Botany tutorial precisely so that I wouldn't have to juggle science along with our other subjects.  It's not my favorite and not a favorite of A's, so I thought it wouldn't hurt anything to pick an area that she does have interest in and just go with that.  She has learned quite a bit in her botany class, but that's one subject that does not appear in the TCAP, so that's not doing us much good right now.

Even before seeing the sample TCAP, I was planning a different approach for next year.  B loves science and has already asked for units on geology, astronomy and botany next year.  I've already purchased a few books to help us learn about these subjects and I think they can easily be done without lab access or a great deal of foreknowledge on my part.  And I suspect that having a sister classmate interested in science will help A find it more interesting.  One of A's chief complaints about science is that it is messy and a little gross.  That shouldn't be a problem when studying rocks, space or plants.  But that's all next year...

In the meantime, I find myself struggling to reconcile testing with learning.  Before I started homeschooling, I heard other parents speak with disdain about testing, making it fairly obvious that they didn't like having to assess their children in this way.  As a product of public school and a parent of public school children, I was a bit puzzled.  What was wrong with testing?  Couldn't it help you see what your child had or hadn't learned?  I get it now.  I haven't taught to this test, so it may show that A is behind her peers.  Is that true?  Yes and no.  She might not be able to tell you which planet is fourth from the sun, but she can tell you how Renaissance art heralded a change in approach to art and how Impressionism heralded a break from that approach and started a different trajectory.  She can tell you how people in the Renaissance viewed women and how that is similar to and different from today.  She can explain in writing what she's learned and can write imaginative short stories.

I think, above all, she is learning to think.  But will the tests in April measure that?  I'm not sure. My approach has definitely been one of depth over breadth.  My initial goal was to study 1400-1800 in history.  We've only just finished da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael.  You do the math.  There's no way we're making it to 1800 before May.  And that's just fine with me because she is taking the time to really understand the material.  She's taking the time to create projects that help her remember what she's learned.  She is enjoying learning.

I'm still on the fence about how to approach our TCAP preparations.  I don't think it will serve me well to ignore what's on the test.  But I don't think it's best to just scrap what we've been doing and focus solely on test prep, either.  For now, we're learning about Galileo, who was born the year Michelangelo died and illustrates the Renaissance approach to science quite nicely.  He also discovered several laws of nature that will be covered on the TCAP test.  I am loathe to forgo some degree of depth in our study of Galileo.  I am a firm believer that learning a lot about one subject ends up teaching you a little about other subjects.  But learning a little about a lot of subjects?  That leaves your mind with huge gaps to fill in - and sometimes we fill those gaps incorrectly when left to our own devices.

As with everything in life, I'm sure my own experiences with and style of learning inform my opinion on this.  I loved learning best when I was able to really dig in.  In fact, one of my favorite things about my junior year of college at the University of Leeds was that I took seminars on very focused subjects instead of survey courses that covered hundreds of years in twelve weeks.  I loved learning this way.  I still do.

If you're a teacher, a parent, a lover of learning, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.  Are there times when we are better served to learn with less depth?  Are there subjects where a breadth of knowledge is more beneficial than depth?  I have no statistics - or even experience - to back up my feelings on this.  I just know how I like to learn and that it rubs me the wrong way to touch on a bunch of things, but never dig into them.  What do you think?

Monday, February 7, 2011


1. once more; another time

There is snow falling, accumulating and on the way here in Nashville.  I am nearly speechless, except to say, "Again?"

Sunday, February 6, 2011


1 a: of high grade or quality

K's Drawing of our family Super Bowl Party

On Super Bowl Sunday last year,  I was confined to the couch.  A few days past surgery, I was incapable of attending, planning or executing a party.  J stepped in.  He bought appetizers, prepared them, served them to our girls as they sat scattered around the living room, watching a bit of the game, but much more interested in the food.  Sounds a lot like most Super Bowl parties, right?  It was a sweet moment for me.  J knew my limitations, wanted to make it a fun time for our girls and took care of everything to make it happen.

This year, we debated what to do for the Super Bowl.  With the Packers playing, our family has more of a vested interest.  J was born and raised in Wisconsin, a long time Packers fan.  I, on the other hand, was weaned on college, not pro, football.  It was the Crimson Tide that first earned my love on the football field.  But in the first years of our marriage, J introduced me to the fun that pro football could be.  It was a magical time to be a Packers fan - back when Brett Favre looked poised to be a legend, not a laughingstock, when he made it look like he was playing the game for the fun of it. Those days are long gone and J and I have less time to spend watching football on Sundays - and less opportunities to see the Packers televised.  But we are still, as a family, excited to see the Pack play tonight.

When the NFC Championship game rolled around, J and I talked about what we should do if the Packers won.  Host a Super Bowl party?  If so, how big?  We talked about keeping it small - maybe inviting some neighbors over.  We like many of our neighbors, but quite honestly do a poor job of forging better relationships with them.  This might be a nice opportunity to get to know them better.

But then we watched the NFC Championship game.  And it was so nice to just sit and watch the game.  A watched a bit of it with us, reading her book during some of the plays, looking up for her favorite commercials (a preview of tonight, no doubt).  K wandered in, watched a few plays, then went back to her room to play.  B stayed out of the living room, choosing instead to curl up with a book in her room.  J and I simply watched the game, with no small talk, no hostessing, no distractions.

After that experience, J and I conferred.  I admitted that I would really prefer to try to copy last year's experience, with a bit more help from me this time around.  I told J I thought would we would have a better chance of actually watching the game if it were just our family.  And this way, we could put the girls to bed at halftime.  He agreed.

Our girls were less than thrilled.  While my daughters fill the complete range from introvert to extrovert, they all, without exception, love a good party.  So when we told them we were having a family party, there was an uproar.  What's a party without a house full of people?  J and I held our ground.  This was what we had decided would be best and we were moving forward with it.  Given that first K, then J, then I have been sick since Monday evening, I am grateful not to be hosting a gathering - however small or large it might have been.  I am, thankfully, feeling a bit better today and J is well enough to run errands, which wouldn't have been possible earlier in the week.

Our girls' disappointment at the announcement of a family Super Bowl party did make us up our game a bit.  I bought football plates and napkins.  J is out buying Nashville's best cupcakes right now.  They will be accompanied by J's dad's Chip Dip, lemon hummus, cheese nachos, ham and cheese crescents, chips, crackers and the smallest of nods to nutrition in the form of baby carrots and celery to house dip or hummus. I have no doubt it will be a super evening.

Friday, February 4, 2011


: the act or process of refusing to have, take, recognize

I met with B's teacher, Ms. R, yesterday to get the scoop from her on B's academic progress and to hear her thoughts on things I should emphasize during fifth grade.  Academically, B is doing well.  Ms. R's main feedback was that B doesn't respond well to suggestions to revise, change or expand her writing.  She noted that B has been getting better about trying to listen and make changes, but it's still quite hard for her.  I appreciated the feedback and as I listened, it occurred to me that there was some significance that it was writing where she experiences this most.  B is so creative that I think she feels like her creations are hers.  She has a vision for them and doesn't want that vision tampered with, even if it might improve the end product.  The up side of this is that B tends to be marvelously content with what she makes.  The down side? We all need to realize we can improve, don't we?

I definitely want B to be able to accept constructive criticism and improve her work over time, but I also want to be sensitive to the creator/creation link.  I told her teacher that I might try giving B suggestions for things to add rather than things to change when she gives me a draft.  This might feel less like being asked to change her clothes and a little more like adding the right pair of boots to the outfit.  She seemed to like that idea and said she might try it with B this year.  I have no idea whether it will work, but it's a start.

I mentioned my conversation with Ms. R to B last night at bedtime.  (This daughter of mine is SO fond of the bedtime chat.)  She admitted that feedback is hard for her, that it makes her feel like whatever she has written isn't good enough.  We talked about why that wasn't true and I confessed to her that I can really understand her feelings.  The more intimately connected I feel to something I've created, the harder it is to receive feedback, however constructive.

I've seen this in myself most recently in the kitchen.  I enjoy cooking.  Am I an artist?  No, just a craftsman, but I do put a bit of myself into the foods I make.  This time of year, I long to use my culinary creativity to craft aromatic, satisfying, soothing soups.  I love the process and smells of soup making.  The chopping.  The sauteeing.  The waiting.  Especially the waiting.  There's something beautiful about putting together disparate ingredients that find a way to work together for one purpose.  I love waiting for the flavors of the soup to meld as they simmer slowly on the stove.  I love the resultant bowl of steamy nourishment, especially with a good bread on the side. 

But while I love making soups, there is one member of my family who doesn't like soup.  I try to keep this in mind and keep the soup making to a minimum.  Or make soup when it's dinner for four instead of five.  But there are times when soup is simply called for - freezing cold days, an achy mom, coughing aplenty.  So I make the soup and know there will be consequences - at least one disappointed face at the dinner table.  It's hard to not feel a bit of rejection, even though I know I'm not being rejected, my soup is.

I'm not sure how to resolve this for myself.  Since I am primarily responsible for cooking for our entire family, I have some responsibility to prepare foods that our whole family will enjoy.  But I guess I feel like shouldering this responsibility should also give me a bigger vote as to what ends up on the dinner plate.  I find it nearly impossible to prepare a meal I won't eat.  One of J's favorite meals is pot roast.  I made it clear when we married that he would need to learn to cook it if he wanted it.  I've always hated pot roast because of the carrots in it.  The potatoes taste like carrots, the meat taste like carrots.  It's awful.  J did learn to make pot roast.  And, bless him, he makes it without carrots.

I also try to adapt to preferences - no crunchy carrots for J, no grits or polenta for B, tiny portions of meat for K, etc.  But the core ingredients and preparation methods are my own and so are the meals that end up on our table. So how do I blend my desire to create in the kitchen, my resultant feelings of ownership and my family member's tastes?

Is this hard for your family?  Are there dishes you love to make and then have to eat alone?  Do you cater to your husband's, daughter's, son's tastes?  How do you avoid rejection in the kitchen?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


:becoming fully developed

K was home sick today.  While I've not referenced it a lot on my blog, we've had crazy weather of late.  School started back in session January 4, but we've yet to have a five day school week, thanks to snow, snow and more snow.  This week looks like one that will accommodate buses running their normal routes, so it will likely provide that elusive gift of five straight days at school - for all but K.

There's never a great time for your child to be sick and I freely admit that we are blessed with generally good health.  A and K didn't miss a single day of school last year and B only missed the very last half-day, thanks to a case of strep throat.  That's pretty remarkable for a family with three children in an elementary school, a veritable petri dish of illness, germs and assorted yuck.  So I've tried to accept K's fever with grace - and no small amount of gratitude.

Perhaps it seems odd to greet illness with gratitude, but as I lay in K's tiny twin bed with her last night, her body fiery beneath her pajamas, I was immensely grateful for readily available fever reducers like Tylenol.  Thanks to the country we live in, the medical advances of those who came before us and our economic means, we can easily obtain medicine to lower a fever.  It's an inconvenience, not an event to strike terror in my heart.  But were I another mom - born a century ago, living on another continent or mere miles from my own home, but with no money until the next paycheck - I could not simply pray for my child's comfort.  I would pray for her life.  If it takes a fever in a family member to jolt me out of my smug complacency, I will be grateful for the high temp and the medicine that reins it in.  As the day wore on and it became apparent that K's fever was not your garden variety, I was given cause to be even more grateful for the blessings I have.  A quick trip to the doctor confirmed strep throat and an injection of antibiotics coupled with a bit more Tylenol has K sleeping away at the moment.

K herself has given me much to be thankful for on a rainy day, stuck at home, missing out on my spiritual direction group.  Because this day alone with K was a reminder of similar days two or three years ago.  Days when A and B were in school and I had more alone time with K.  Back then, I was working part time and had one or two days weekly at home with K.  She was a challenging toddler, talking non-stop, seemingly unable to entertain herself, never able to get enough of being with me.  It was a bit stifling.

Today was different.  K stayed in bed after her sisters were up and moving.  But she emerged for breakfast, ate her oatmeal and then went back to her room to play.  She played quietly all alone there for a few hours, until she finally came out and asked to use the new stamps her Me Me had given her.  I helped her gather assorted materials and K got to work on making Valentine's cards for her classmates.  She made a few before her fever started creeping back up and I offered that rare weekday treat of TV time.

Perhaps a few hours of solo play and crafting doesn't sound like a big deal, but it's a big deal for this child.  K is the consummate extrovert, happiest when surrounded by people, most content with friends by her side.  Yet today she entertained herself in a way I feared she could never do.  It made me thankful, but it also made me realize how quickly and how much she is maturing.  The Kate of two years ago couldn't have played and created without more direction, participation and interaction from me.  Nor would she have wanted to.

K is not only growing up, she's developing skills she didn't have before.  This made me wonder whether I'm maturing along with her.  Am I the same Shannon I was two years ago?  I was encouraged to realize I'm not and one way I know that I'm not is that I was sad today.  Sad that K was sick, yes.  But also sad that I wasn't able to attend my monthly spiritual direction group, sad to not get my Tuesday alone while A is at tutorial.  Being sad doesn't mean I don't love K.  It doesn't mean I'm a bad mom.  Or a selfish person.  It's OK and even healthy for me to mourn life's little deaths and disappointments.  Today brought some of that, but it also brought a realization that I'm maturing and so is my K.

K playing with her toys on a healthier day