Wednesday, August 31, 2011


: sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it

I've been thinking a lot about compassion today.  It started early this morning, when I received an e-mail from a friend.  She and I are in a bible study together and we've recently started studying the enneagram.  It is kicking my butt.  The more I learn about who I am and how deeply my sin penetrates who I am, the harder it is.  Her e-mail to me said, "the enneagram is about is a training in compassion--on yourself and others."  It brought tears to my eyes to read her words.  I need to work on having compassion - for others, yes - for myself, especially.

A few hours after this e-mail from my friend, I retreated upstairs to read a passage in Isaiah.  It said, in part, "'with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,' says the Lord your Redeemer."  It was a day when I needed compassion for myself - and my daughters. 

Monday was a rough school day.  B quite simply did not want to do school, so it was a day filled with low grade and outright conflict all day long.  This is completely exhausting for me.  So what a blessing it was for yesterday to be a good day.  A and B were attending their tutorial for the first time this year - B for the first time ever.  On Monday, B said to me, "Mom, it takes me a long time to make friends.  It could even take a whole year going only one day a week."  My heart shattered and I started praying.  All day on Tuesday, I prayed for one friend for B.  Just one child to be kind and welcoming to her.  One.  God answered with abundance.  When I arrived to pick the girls up, I asked B how her day had gone.  "Awesome!" she replied.  She spent the entire ride home telling me how well the day had gone, who she had met, what she had learned and made.  My heart overflowed with thanksgiving.

This morning, school got off to a nice start.  A and B started their work while I took K to school, but B's progress came to a screeching halt when she hit history.  The first speed bump was when I walked through the door from drop off and B said, "Have you read this book you told us to read?"  I hadn't read the book in question - I'd merely skimmed it.  She pointed out how difficult it was - with many words she didn't understand (and her vocabulary is not lacking).  I read a few paragraphs and revised the assigned reading from five pages to one page.  Then came another speed bump. 

I had asked for two paragraphs explaining what we could learn about the Egyptians based on their religion and how that compared and contrasted to our own beliefs.  She wrote two paragraphs.  I marked them up and we talked about them.  I tried to help her get closer to what I wanted.  She fought me.  She moved on to some other work, came back to history, fought me again.  Meanwhile, A was plowing through her plan for the day - or so I thought.  When I read her response to the same history assignment, I realized something: what I was asking was simply too difficult for them.  I wanted them to look at the pantheon of Egyptian gods and their myths and infer things about the Egyptian people.  I then wanted them to take those inferences and compare them to contemporary beliefs.  They didn't get it.  So instead of making them re-write their paragraphs (yet again), we talked it through.  We discussed what we might be able to tell about a culture that has a God of the Desert and so on.  Seeing that they weren't unwilling, but unable, to complete the assignment as I'd envisioned, I was able to be compassionate.

But it's far easier to be compassionate with my daughters than with myself.  Do I understand them better than I understand myself?  Or do I just think their suffering is worth alleviating and my own deserves to be borne?

Part of what the enneagram does is help you see how your greatest gift is also your deepest sin.  As the book says, "We are destroyed by our gifts because we identify too closely with what we can do well."  My inclination - in this, as in all things - is to shame myself for my sin.  To remind myself over and over of how I choose inaction over action, avoid conflict when speaking up would be the better course, get trampled on rather than stand up for myself.  I am not inclined to be compassionate or loving towards myself.

Yet if I am to learn and grown and become someone else - all of which I desperately want - I'll have to learn to be more gentle with myself.  I was able to see today that my daughters needed something - they couldn't do what was asked of them.

This evening as K was playing a game on the computer, she was talking to an imaginary friend in the chair beside her.  K kept saying over and over, in a kind and gentle voice, "Everybody makes mistakes.  It's OK.  Everybody makes mistakes."  She even started singing it at one point.  The look on her face as she played her game and said this repeatedly wasn't ashamed - it was joyful.  Boy, can I learn from this kid.  Compassion 101 - for herself and others.

Friday, August 26, 2011


1: drained of strength and energy : fatigued often to the point of exhaustion

I'm tired.  Exhausted.  Completely lacking energy.  The good news?  I felt this way this time last year, too. 

Why is that good news?  Because this year, I know it will pass. 

Last year, I feared that homeschooling would suck every ounce of energy and leave me totally depleted.  This year, I know that this tiredness, this fatigue will pass.  It's partly a function of adjusting our sleep patterns, our eating patterns and even our daily expectations.  Some things are easier during the school year and its scheduled days:  laundry gets done more regularly and with greater ease, grocery shopping slips into its slot on the schedule, dishes slide into the emptied dishwasher instead of being piled in the sink as we head out the door for the lake or the pool.  Other things are harder to release: slow mornings, lazy afternoons, time to just relax and be together with no agenda whatsoever.

I will adjust.  We all will.  As Julian of Norwich reminded us, "All shall be well and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

As if to prove Julian's words, as I settled down to write this post, I realized that despite my Friday fatigue, this has been a lovely week.  Three successes:

1) For literature this year, we are doing genre studies.  I've selected three books that I think typify several genres of literature.  A and B will each choose one book from the three classics to read.  After reading a classic, they'll read a contemporary book from the same genre and see if they can spot similarities, references, homages.  We're starting with the mystery genre.  A and B both selected an Agatha Christie book.  A finished it in two days.  And promptly asked to please read another book by Mrs. Christie.  As she said today in the car, "I just never would have thought I'd find a writer I really liked by reading a book for school."  Score one for me.

2) B is doing a composer study on Johann Sebastian Bach.  (She chose him, in part, so that she can learn to play Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.)  I requested several books from the library for her to read about Bach's life.  This evening, K sat on the sofa reading about John Sebastian, as she calls him.  She then asked me to read her another of the library books about Bach at bedtime.  It makes my heart happy to have any of my daughters read books that are hanging out on the library bookshelf - especially when "school books" become "pleasure books."  That's a line I want blurry and easily crossed.

3) B taught her first art lesson today.  Twin kindergarten friends AW and CW came over.  B shared a poster book and showed the girls a self-portrait poster with words that describe art incorporated into the portrait.  We each drew a (somewhat abstract) self portrait, then came up with a list of words to describe ourselves.  Not surprisingly, B's portrait was the best one.  She's a natural artist and a natural teacher.  I love seeing her use her gifts.

The Fred Babb Inspiration

B's Self-Portrait

My Self-Portrait

I'm still tired after recalling these successes, but recounting them helps me recast my weariness.  Instead of the tiredness that accompanies an illness and leaves you depleted, perhaps the way I feel now is more the post-workout kind.  Yes, you're tired, but because you've given it your all.  And while I don't have the post-workout rush yet, it will come.  There will other small successes to lay alongside these, as stones of memory to remind me that the journey is worth it.  All will be well, even when I am tired.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


1: consisting of parts intricately combined
2: difficult to analyze, understand, or explain

B is now 10.  Last Saturday, we celebrated by going to Holiday World with her sister A and two friends.  It was a great way to celebrate reaching double digits and entering her second decade of life.  If any of my children are symbolized by an amusement park, with its twists and turns, loops and swirls, screams and gasps, it is B.  When she was two, I could only take her to a playground if I didn't really watch her while we were there.  (I would look up from my book long enough to determine that she was still nearby and then go back to reading.)  She would lean way out, reaching for a bar that seemed just beyond her, only to grasp it and haul herself to where she wanted to go.  She rarely looked like she would make it unscathed.  Yet she made it nearly every time.  Around this age, I used to joke that if fear came in pill format, I would have given it to her because she had none of her own.  She still does amazing things on the playground - finding uses for the equipment that I'm sure the designers never imagined - but I'm able to watch her antics now without leaping from my seat and spotting her every move.

That fear (sadly? or thankfully?) has developed all on its own over time. At Holiday World, B rode the first roller coaster with great anticipation.  It was a big, scary, twisty roller coaster.  I rode it and could feel my neck whipping around.  (In fact, my neck was sore for two days after our trip!)  B decided after this coaster that she didn't like the part of the ride where you are climbing slowly up.  She didn't like the way that pushed her back into her seat. So when we got to the next coaster, B decided not to ride it.  We talked it through - she was certain of her decision.  She and I stood in line with her friends and sister so that they didn't have to wait alone.   While we were waiting, a couple behind us in line started talking to us.  They were intoxicated - I could smell the alcohol on them - and they were therefore loud, in our space and saying things I would hope they wouldn't say if they weren't uninhibited by drink.  When they found out B wasn't planning to ride the coaster, they started trying to talk her into it.  B wasn't swayed.  She knew her reasons.  I helped her explain that she had thought about it and just didn't want to ride.  I was proud of her determination and her refusal to be bullied into doing something she didn't want to do.  Maybe it was fear that helped her decide not to ride the roller coaster, but it was strength that helped her hold firm in that decision.

B is, and always has been, complicated.  She's the only one of our children whose timing was a surprise to us.  With both A and K, we were hoping to get pregnant.  With B, we were surprised.  And she's been surprising us ever since.  I've said before that I think it fitting that her conception was spontaneous and unplanned because that's exactly how she is - B refuses to fit into the molds people want to put around her.  This gets her into trouble sometimes.  Those who expect people to be straightforward and easy to understand are inevitably frustrated by B.  Is she straightforward?  Shockingly so, sometimes.  She will tell you exactly what she is thinking and feeling.  Is she easy to understand?  Far from it.  I've studied her closely for years and she still amazes me with the way she sees things other people miss.

Yet underneath her spontaneity, creativity and free spirit is a person who loves stability.  I think having a father who is a launchpad has served B particularly well.  She wants to know the boundaries, the framework, the rules.  Not so that she can stay within the boundaries, framework and rules, but so that she knows what she has to work with.  I think this has been part of why the transition to homeschooling has been difficult for her.  I am still hopeful that she will ultimately love the freedom that homeschooling offers.  I hope she'll hit upon a subject she loves and jump in feet first.  I've already seen hints of this with her first composer study.  She chose Bach so that she can not only learn about him, but learn to play Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring.  I have no doubt that she'll fuss and fight with me about the completion of her composer study.  I also have no doubt she'll learn to play the song beautifully and that the song will be her favorite part of the entire project.

There are times when I think B is the daughter most like me, but I wonder whether it's just that I want to be like her.  I see her unbridled creativity and her joy in it and I want to be that free.  I listen to her pour out her heart - with tears of sadness and anger, with raised voice and passion - and I want to know how to release my feelings instead of bottling them up.  I watch her learn a song note by note, working on it every day and I want to love something that much.

Being B's mom is a difficult job.  A daughter this intricately created requires serious work to shepherd.  But I have no doubt that it will all be worth it.  Because she is one amazing child.

Happy Birthday, B!

Sunday, August 21, 2011


: to be afraid or apprehensive

Our first full week of home school ended on Friday.  These first five days stirred up many of my fears for the upcoming year.  Fear of B pushing every boundary, as I know she is inclined to do.  Fear of the ensuing conflict when I enforce boundaries and help her re-formulate what it means to learn.  Fear that I am not up to the task of dividing my teaching time and talents (which I freely admit are few to begin with).  Fear that B will hate homeschooling.  Fear that this year will be an unmitigated failure.  Can you tell the week did not go well?  Tears on 3 out of 5 days is not what I was hoping for.  I knew the adjustment would be hard.  I just didn't know it would be this difficult.

On our way to church today, I remembered the single blog post that I'd written in Tobago and never posted.  Aptly enough, it dealt with fear - and conquering it.  Here's what I wrote back on August 3rd.

Today I stood up to fear, but let shame beat me.

On day 3 of our Tobago experience, we opted for a tour.  Our plan was to snorkel, ride a glass bottomed boat and tour the old English fort, Fort King George.  I had read in our guidebook that you could drive all the way around Tobago in four hours, but that you would never want to do so.  I found this statement a bit puzzling until I spent an hour and a half riding in the back of a sedan as we sped along the coast, navigating switchback after switchback as we made our way from one end of the island to another.  We passed numerous villages along the way, but were rarely out of sight of the ocean.  The Tobagonian winding way reminded me of what my mother said about a road in my own hometown, "You have to wonder why they wanted the road as close as possible to the water every inch of the way."  I did wonder that today - more than once.

We all four arrives in Speyside a bit nauseous and more than ready to be out of the car.  I'm not sure any of us envisioned a boat ride as the ideal solution for our ill-treated equilibrium.  Yet after 10 minutes or so to change, we stepped aboard a boat for what would be my first snorkeling experience.

The friends with us had each snorkeled before - not extensively, but a time or two.  J and I were novices, but I (arrogantly?) thought it sounded rather easy - breathe through a tube and look through a mask.  How hard could it be?  I grew up near the water (hence the aforementioned winding beach roads) and I'm a fairly confident, if not consistent, swimmer.

I listened as the guides explained how to put our masks on.  I either wasn't listening or missed altogether the explanation of how to actually breathe without inhaling salt water.  So my first attempt yielded a mouthful of brine and a skittish me.  After asking for a bit of help, I was able to do it, but only when I pushed past the fear that rose up every single time I needed to put my face down into the water.  I tried to minimize the need for this by staying in position with my face immersed, but it's impossible to see where you are when looking straight down into the water.  So I needed to occasionally look up - to see where I was in relation to the boat, to locate J, T and M, to decide whether I re-orient.  Every time I wanted to go back to snorkeling after a short break above water, a bit of fear would bubble up inside me - fear that I wouldn't be able to breathe, that my mask would full with water, that I wouldn't be biting the mouthpiece hard enough to keep my mouth from flooding.

I would steel myself and push past the fear and put my face down.  Then I would focus on the comforting sound of my own breathing and its rhythm - a slow inhale, a slow exhale - echoing in my ears to the exclusion of all else.  It calmed me and I was able to focus on the coral, the fish and the sea life.

We only snorkeled at the first stop for a few minutes before heading to another location near a large reef with several types of coral.  I did better on our second outing, but still had to push past fear to put my face in and get started.  I did it anyway and was proud of myself that I didn't let the fear stop me.

There are things for me to hold on to and remember from this.  First and foremost, that I can choose to let fear keep me from some really great experiences or I can choose to reach for the experience in spite of the fear.  I also think it's telling that (as I reference in the first sentence, but never got around to explaining) I fought the fear, but I let shame win.

After snorkeling, we stopped at Argyle Falls.  We hiked through the rain forest and reached a lovely waterfall.  The guide didn't offer to hike up the falls with us, but pointed the way for those interested.  J, T and M perked up immediately.  I, on the other hand, had been slipping and sliding my way over wet rocks with a camera in one hand and my balance compromised and I felt defeated before I even thought about hiking up two levels.  It didn't help my shame that I was by far the least athletic of our quartet.  I was embarrassed and felt I'd hold the others back.  Without so much as a second thought, I encouraged the other three to go ahead without me.  They had a great time and came down satisfied and soaked - having been caught in a surprise rainfall in the rainforest.

The lesson here?  I feel fear as an invasive presence - and I can push through the barriers it puts in front of me.  Shame, on the other hand, is so much a constant companion that I often don't even realize until after the fact that I've let go of the driving wheel and put shame in charge.

I don't want to let shame keep me from doing my best to teach B - even when she throws some curveballs at me.  (Last week, she complained that I should not workout during the day because teachers don't do that.)  I think I can push past my fear that our year will fail.  But I'll have to be far more vigilant to recognize shame's insidious presence, whispering in my ear at every turn, sabotaging me before I ever start.

Saturday, August 13, 2011


: a waxy solid usually colored cosmetic in stick form for the lips

My husband J turns 37 today.  He and I laughed together last night about what a post with 37 things about him might contain.  Even as we joked, I had another idea percolating in the back of my mind.  There's an event that recently happened that says so much about who my husband really is.  So in honor of his birthday:

On our last night in Tobago, J and I got dressed up for dinner out.  I had showered, dried my hair, donned a dress and even put on a bit of make-up.  I don't wear make-up with any regularity because most cosmetics make my face (especially my eyes) itch.  I decided years ago that I'm just going to look the way I look and not spend hours trying to find concealer and eye liner that I can actually wear.  Even so, there are times when a little make-up makes me feel dressed up.  This was one such night.  Yet after I was ready I looked in the mirror at my colorless lips and complained aloud, "I stink at being a girl.  I don't even have any lipstick to wear."  I borrowed J's chapstick (having lost mine en route to Tobago) and stopped worrying about it.

We returned home to Nashville the next evening and jumped right back into life.  Within an hour of getting home, K had announced to us, "School starts Thursday and I don't have a backpack!"  J and I looked at each other wide-eyed.  She was right.  Yikes.  So Monday morning, J took K to Target for a backpack and lunchbox.  When K showed me her purchases, J reminded her, "Show Mommy what we got for her."  I looked in her cute purple backpack and found a tube of lipstick in the bottom.

Surprised, I looked up at him.  J shrugged his shoulders and smiled, "I wanted you to be able to feel like a girl when you want to."  It's not a big gift, I realize.  Clearly I don't buy lipstick very often, but I'm sure it costs less than $5.  Yet I hope you realize what a big gift this tube of lipstick was.  It's a big, huge, invaluable gift to have a husband who buys you lipstick not because he wants you to look a certain way, but so that you can feel like a girl.  It's a priceless gift to have a husband who listens to the little things you say and then acts on them without being asked.  It's a treasure to have a husband who doesn't worry about buying the wrong shade or what people will think when he's checking out or whether I might take the gift the wrong way.  I hope K will remember her father giving this gift to her mother and that she'll want a husband who loves her just this way.

I'm not sure J saw this tube of lipstick as momentous.  Later that night, I hugged him and thanked him again for it.  "I could count on one hand the number of husbands I know who would buy lipstick for their wife."  After a pause I added, "In fact, you might be hanging out on that hand all by yourself."

There's a lot to celebrate about J on his birthday, but I hope one tube of lipstick tells you all you really need to know.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


2 a : a visionary creation of the imagination

What do you dream of?  I don't just mean at night when you're asleep (although you're welcome to share those dreams as well).  Do you daydream?  Fantasize?  Slip away to another world in your mind?  I realized this week that I regularly dream, but that I didn't daydream at all last week when I was on vacation.  Why?  One very simple reason: I dream to escape my reality.  And who wants to escape when your reality is a Caribbean island, a beach view, a shaded pool and a complete lack of responsibility?

I found myself slipping back into one of my favorite daydreams on Monday while driving A to her ballet class.  The van was momentarily quiet, so I slipped into a favorite daydream and was aware that it fit slightly differently.  I'm used to my dreams laying casually about my shoulders, settling in around me like a soft cloak that I can shrug on or off whenever I want and as quickly as needed.  But this dream had grown a bit stiff having sat on the shelf for a week.  It scratched a little as I tried to slip into it.

I think there's a definite devaluing of dreams in our world today.  Several months ago as A and I listened to The Story of the World on CD, a story about a dream struck me.  A general/emperor/king (the details escape me) was about to lead his men into battle.  They were encamped within sight of the enemy and the battle was to begin the next day.  This leader dreamed that the flag he flew in battle was different than the flag of his family.  So he ordered a new flag made early the next morning.  The new flag flew and victory was won.  You can't tell a story like this to someone today and expect to get anything other than sheer disbelief as a reaction.  People don't trust their dreams - sleeping or waking.

We don't trust our dreams because we distrust mystery.  We don't believe we should listen to what our heart tells us when we sleep at night.  We are suspicious of our imagination and its ability to take us to places we've never physically been.  Yet I am convinced that our dreams - waking and sleeping - matter very much.

One of my favorite dreams of late has been imagining a new home for our family.  I love our current home, but houses built in the 1920s don't have enough closet space to accommodate three teenaged girls - a state that is rapidly approaching for our family.  J longs for a newer house, a house where there aren't consistently a half dozen project begging to be done.  I long to stay in our quirky, colorful neighborhood.  My dream solution? To buy a lot and build a new home in our mature neighborhood.  Depending on the day and my mood, I might dream about choosing the perfect colors for each bedroom or what layout might best serve our family's artistic, work and entertainment needs.  Would it be better to have several rooms open to allow free movement when entertaining?  Is the ideal spot for the kitchen near the middle or the back of the house?  Would I want a front porch or a wraparound?  Could an art studio double as an at-home office?  This dream can take me so many different places.  I have no idea whether any of them will ever become reality, but I believe there's value in giving myself over to my dreams.

As I've been pondering how I use dreaming in my daily life, another blog I read has been discussing living your dreams.  This seemed like too much coincidence for me to not write about it.  I'm not sure whether my dreams are meant to be lived out or just dreamed right now.  Will we build a house?  Will I start a homeschool tutorial that's different from the current offerings in our city (my other favorite dream du jour)?  I don't know and, frankly, I'm not sure I care whether these dreams ever come to fruition.

I love my life.  I love having three daughters and getting front row seats to the process of growing up.  I love teaching A and B and learning alongside them.  But my life is also filled with mundane (read: boring) tasks like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking and chauffeuring.  My dreams keep me alive.  They give me some of what I need to do the things that are necessary, if not fulfilling.  My dreams keep me going.

Dreams matter.  What are yours?

Monday, August 8, 2011


4 a : to proceed smoothly and readily

What did I do over the last eight days?  I didn't write.  I didn't do a lot of deep thinking.  I didn't read a single blog post.  I didn't look at Facebook or watch TV.  I didn't hear my daughters' voices or see their beautiful faces.  Some of this was intentional, some merely the result of letting the week wash over me and take me where the tide guided.

Here's where the water and breeze of Tobago took me:

to the beach - with a dense, thick sand that didn't stick to my feet, my shins, my hands the way the fine white sand of the Gulf Coast does.

to the pool - where I could dip in and swim and then sit in the shade and read.

to a book - I wrote less because I read more.  I finished one book on the plane trip to Tobago and spent a great deal of the week making my way through a 1,000 page sequel to a book I enjoyed earlier this year.

to the bed - for naps, a bit of reading and some much-needed snuggling with my husband of fifteen years.

to laughter, relaxation and respite.  The friends who traveled with us were a joy to be with.  They make me laugh, know us well and were the perfect companions - happy to share a breakfast table, but equally willing to let the ebb and flow of the week bring us together and send us out in different directions.  I ended the week with gratitude for this friendship of fifteen years and dreams about where to go to celebrate an even two decades of marriage.

I'll be honest.  I could look back over this week and see all that I didn't do and berate or shame myself for not having more to show after a week in a Caribbean haven.  I have no tan, no journal entries, no blog posts, no art.  What I do have is a sense of having taken a deep breath and let it out slowly.  There's much to be said for bringing no agenda to vacation.  God didn't give me what I'd imagined (deep revelations or stories flowing from my pen), but he gave me the gift of rest.  The gift of laying afloat in the water and simply going with the flow.

Monday, August 1, 2011


: lack of computer, wi-fi, phone, internet and texting

By the time you read this post, I'll be on my way to Tobago to celebrate my 15th wedding anniversary with J and two of our friends who married exactly two weeks after us.  We planned this trip early this year and it's hard to believe it's almost here.

I have more than 2,000 pages of reading material loaded onto my Nook and a paperback to bring along in case I get tired of the feel of the Nook in my hand and start longing for good old paper between my fingers.

I'm looking forward to the beach, the books and a relaxed pace.  I've somehow turned into one of those people who communicate by text, e-mail and all things internet.  I mostly like this - texting over talking being a plus to me - but it will be lovely to be on an island where I'll know only three other people.

Here's hoping your week gives you a chance to unplug, in whatever way you like.  I'll return next week to regal you with tales of the Caribbean.

Photos courtesy of Blue Haven Hotel, where I'll be lounging and luxuriating.