Tuesday, May 14, 2013


: coming at the end of a series

This will be my final WordGirl post.  After months of thinking about it, I've finally taken the plunge and switched from Blogspot to Wordpress.  I'll still be writing when the mood strikes, but after more than 600 posts here at WordGirl, I think it's time to move on.

There are a few things on this blog that I've outgrown (using only the first initials of my daughters' names, for example) and if there's a theme I want to more consistently explore, it's how the words we use impact others.  So I'll be blogging at www.plantingwordseeds.com from now on.  I want to think about the words I'm planting and what kind of harvest those words might bring.

I'm thankful for the experiment that this blog was for me.  I learned from the discipline of it and I'm always a bit amazed to go back and read some of my early posts and realize not only how much my children have grown, but how I've grown as a writer over these last five years.

In scrolling through the posts on this blog, it's funny to see how things have changed... when I wrote my first post back in 2008, my eldest daughter was eight.  In less than a week, my youngest daughter will be nine.  I'm in a whole new phase of parenting than I was when I started writing about the trials, travails, successes and failures of parenting three daughters.

But some things haven't changed.  I still long to be the best parent I can be.  I long to see myself more clearly and writing helps me do that more than just about anything other than prayer.  I've come to see writing as a way to invite others to join me on my journey through life.

So I invite you to join me at www.plantingwordseeds.com

You can sign up there to receive e-mail updates on posts.  Or just stop by when the mood strikes you and you wonder what WordGirl and her girls are up to.

For this final post, I'll leave you with some images from today's hike in the woods of Door County, Wisconsin.

Friday, May 10, 2013


:a garment worn for swimming

I have recently had the unenviable task of purchasing three swimsuits - one for my teen daughter, one for my preteen and one for myself.  While the definition of swimsuit is deceptively banal, I doubt there is a female over the age of sixteen that sees a swimsuit as a mere "garment worn for swimming."

Yesterday, I found myself standing in a Shopko in Sister Bay, Wisconsin trying on swimsuits.  Why?  Because in the marathon of packing that ensued before leaving Nashville, I forgot to pack a swimsuit for myself.  If K were a couple of years older, I would have just gone without.  But she's not.  She can't swim at the YMCA pool without an adult in the water with her.  Given that she is enrolled for swimming lessons while here, it's a good thing an adult must be present.  The bad news is that meant I had to find something to wear in the pool.

To say that clothing selections are limited on this tiny peninsula is an understatement.  The nearest Target?  A drive that will take 45 minutes to an hour.  

So yesterday I tried on two tankini tops and four tankini bottoms, finally settling on one that will do - at least for the remaining three weeks of this trip.  But what I kept thinking about was how different this experience was than shopping for swimsuits with my daughters.

A few weeks ago, I took A & B to Kohl's to shop for swimsuits.  I thought Kohl's would be a good place to try because their junior's section offered jeans and other clothing that fit A & B well and was appropriate.  But they don't carry juniors swimsuits.  Everything is in the adult section.  This meant 1) a one piece was out of the question - all of their one piece suits looked too old for ME, much less two cute tweens and 2) finding a two piece to fit was going to be a challenge.  They both actually liked a couple of suits in the children's section and while they weren't too small, it was immediately apparent that my daughters no longer have children's bodies.  A swimsuit made for a flat chested ten year old was not going to do the trick.

A few weeks before this shopping trip, A asked me if she could get a bikini this year.  She caught me off guard, so I gave her a bluntly honest answer.  She asked.  I said no.  She asked why and I told her I didn't think she was ready to wear a bikini.  "Honey, I think wearing a bikini sends the message, 'I am comfortable with my sexuality.'  I don't think you could honestly say that, so I don't think you should wear something that sends that message."  She looked a bit shocked at my response, but when I asked if she agreed, she did.  I was much older than any of my daughters before I fully understood that the way guys interpret my clothing and appearance was vastly different than I did.  I don't want my daughters to never be sexy.  The exact opposite, in fact.  I want them to wear a bikini when they are emotionally ready to do so and I want them to wear it proudly.  I want them to know just how beautiful they are and enjoy that feeling.  But for now, we were looking for a tankini, not a bikini.

At Kohl's, they tried on suit after suit - several were too big, A disliked the padded breast inserts in one, B couldn't stand the way another fell off her shoulders every time she moved.  They finally ended up buying identical tankini tops with boy shorts (one black pair, one purple pair) to go with them.  While I felt haggard and cracked a joke about this process needed to come with a free margarita, it was more from the running back and forth from the dressing room to the racks than because we couldn't find a suit that looked good.  They all looked good, some just fit better than others.

As I shopped yesterday, I caught myself thinking about how A & B looked cute in everything they put on.  There wasn't a single swimsuit that looked bad on them because of their bodies - the cut of the suit or its size just meant some of the suits weren't meant for them.  At least that's what I thought.  Maybe B was thinking about her butt or A was thinking about her thighs.  I hope not.  Because while my daughters may have felt like they didn't look good in a swimsuit or two, the fact is that they have fabulous bodies.  The sadder fact is that as I shopped yesterday, I envied them.

I say this is sad because they are 11 and 13 and I am 40.  I should not expect myself to have the body of someone more than two decades younger than me.  But that is what I desire, if not what I expect.  Why do I desire that?  In part because the world tells women that no matter their age, they should have the slim, lithe body of an adolescent girl.  Never mind the fact that I've given birth to and nursed three children.  Or that I was too self conscious in my own adolescence to build the muscle mass I now wish I had.  Or that my natural shape is neither slim nor lithe.  That's still what I want.  What I long for.

I don't want to envy my daughters their cute bodies, but I do - even more, I envy their comfort and familiarity with their bodies and their embodiment of who they are via their bodies.  I know my daughters have had and will have moments when they do not feel swimsuit worthy, moments when they wish for different hair, different breasts, longer legs.  But I hope they will make it through adolescence not with an adolescent body but with a comfort in who they are and how they look.  I hope that, many years from now, when they shop for swimsuits at age 40, they can relish who they are when they look in the dressing room mirror and not long to be who they once were.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013


1: with no special or distinctive features; normal

Once upon a time, I hated taking pictures, hated having them taken, hated most everything about them.  In many ways, I thought photographs ruined the event for me.  I would remember an event with fondness, look at a photograph and see something that contradicted my memory of the experience.

I think I've come a long way since then in allowing photos to be taken and in seeing the value of a picture.  But I still struggle with photographs.  If I'm busy taking pictures, I'm not really experiencing the event.  So I'll often arrive at an event or performance for my daughter with no camera in hand.  Thankfully the iPhone has mostly taken care of this - especially since we arrived in Fish Creek, Wisconsin on Sunday for a month long vacation... only to realize the camera was at home.  This time it wasn't really my fault - I gave our family camera to my middle daughter a few weeks ago, since she enjoys playing photographer much more than I do.  I'm not sure whether I left the camera off her packing list or she neglected to pack it.  Either way, we'll be documenting this trip via phone cameras.

As much as I have mixed emotions about photographs and the way we use them as a substitute for real experience, they are a lovely way to share something with others.

I'd like to have the words to tell you about our day - about waking up whenever we want, reading in bed before breakfast and heading out to a nearby state park, where we saw a lighthouse, hiked a trail and meandered a shoreline.  But I'm not sure words can capture the bittersweetness of watching A and B walk along ahead of me, heads inclined towards each other.  Nor can I give you the feel of the bark underneath your hands.  Or make your eyes squint as you look up and realize how brightly blue the sky really is.

But if you're inclined towards a vacation sometime soon - or your own seems so far away that you can't yet glimpse it on the horizon - take a few minutes and journey along with us on an ordinary day that was an extraordinary gift.

K, B and A walk to Eagle Bluff lighthouse 

It feels like paper under your hand

B stops to rest - and get the dirt out of her shoe

About as close as A will get to this cold water

My cute husband

I swear I watched them get older with every step they took

J teaching K to skip stones

We've driven 16 hours - and arrived right back at Hemlock

Monday, May 6, 2013


1: a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, esp. the sight

At our final mother/daughter book club of the year, we discussed Uglies by Scott Westerfeld.  The book was good, but the conversation was great.  As I had hoped, the book prompted discussion of not only its content and characters, but our own thoughts and feelings on beauty.  The girls were honest.  They shared that they feel it is important it is to be pretty (almost as important as getting good grades), how it makes them feel if someone look at them strangely ("I must not look good today") and whether it's good to ask others' their opinions (sometimes don't ask, don't tell is the best policy when it comes to fashion and beauty).

If you aren't familiar with Uglies, it's set in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone has an operation at the age of 16 to make them pretty - symmetrical faces, large eyes, not too thin, not too heavy, not too short, not too tall.  When the main character, Tally, meets someone who didn't grow up in a city with this framework for beauty, she can hardly process the differences.  In one key conversation, the outsider, David, tells Tally that she's beautiful.  Her immediate response is that she can't be beautiful: you're either ugly (pre-surgery) or pretty (post-surgery).  There is no room for beauty in a world where everyone looks - and even thinks - the same way.

Our group talked about our own cultural pressures to look or dress a certain way - to wear makeup or not wear makeup, to dress up or dress down.  And we talked about the words we use to describe ourselves.  In Uglies, the pre-surgery children give each other cruel nicknames that emphasize their physical appearance - Squint, Stick, etc.  When David tells Tally this is one of the worst things about the way she grew up, I nodded along.  The words we use to describe ourselves are meaningful - we can see our hair as lank or straight and shiny, our bodies as curvaceous or heavy-set.  To further explore this point, we watched the Dove real beauty video and we discussed that while sometimes it's good to listen to ourselves and follow our heart, we need to be wary of our inner critic.

At the end of book club, I passed around post-it notes for the mothers and daughters to write down what they think beauty is.  We then stuck the post-its to a table and took a few moments to read our thoughts alongside those of others.

It was just one conversation and I fear it won't change these girls' experiences of our culture and its definitions of beauty.  But it's never too early to start this conversation.  In fact, I needed this conversation myself.  I was surprised to think back later on the words that came to my mind when I closed my eyes and pictured what beauty is:

Straight, shiny hair
Gentle curves
Smiles with her whole face

While there is nothing wrong with any one of these definitions, what struck me most is that there is only one of these terms that possibly applies to me.  If I'm completely honest, I don't see myself as beautiful.  I think I've made peace with my body.  I've accepted what it is and isn't.  But acceptance is a long way from embrace.

I know rationally that there are many kinds of beauty in our world.

Yesterday, we completed a very long journey from Nashville to Fish Creek, Wisconsin.  I've been to Green Bay once before, but that was in February.  It was striking to drive through the early May countryside and think about how different this part of the country looks from season to season.  Sure, winter in Nashville brings leafless trees and more brown that green.  But the landscape in northern Wisconsin experiences a more dramatic and drastic transformation.

I would not say that Wisconsin is more beautiful than Tennessee - they are differently beautiful.  Yet I struggle to mesh my inner experience of myself with my definition of beauty.  What is so troubling and so difficult about beauty is that we begin to define what beauty is and isn't at a very early age.  How can I undo forty years of assimilated thoughts about beauty?

As with nearly everything, I think the first step is awareness.  It was only after I had pictured the long, flowing hair I defined as beautiful that I realized my own hair doesn't look that way. I don't like to wear my hair long - not because my hair isn't straight or shiny but because the longer my hair gets, the more it gets in my way.  It's a definite choice on my part - and a practical one at that.  So should I grow my hair out to make it more beautiful or wear it the way I feel most comfortable?

Or is there a third path?  A path that says the way I feel most comfortable is the way I am the most beautiful?

The Wisconsin birch trees are not spending time and energy trying to look like Tennessee magnolia trees.

Maybe by the time I'm the age of the trees surrounding me, I'll be similarly content with my own structure and able to see the beauty within and without.

Monday, April 29, 2013


:a period of paid leave granted to a college teacher for study or travel, traditionally every seventh year

We leave Saturday for Wisconsin.  This won't be a quick trip up to see family, but a longer affair.  We'll stop in Milwaukee for lunch with the in-laws and then keep driving another few hours to Fish Creek.  From what I've read, Fish Creek is a quiet little town on the Door County peninsula that juts out between Lake Michigan and Green Bay.  I imagine spring will just be getting ready to arrive there.  Instead of the gradual transition to sandals and sundresses, our wardrobes will revert to layers of long sleeves and light jackets, maybe even hats and gloves.  I also imagine quiet - birds chirping, trees swaying, neighbors out of sight and sound distance.

This trip isn't exactly a sabbatical since no one in my family is a college professor, but it is a much needed break from the regular routine of our daily lives.  It's a chance for us to be together and experience life in a small town, surrounded by nature in a way we don't get here in Nashville.  It's an opportunity to combat the loneliness that the busyness of daily life brings.  I hope it will be a time of rest, relaxation and exploring.

After I wrote my last post, I was talking with a (highly efficient and productive) friend and I asked her how she manages to do so much and not feel lonely in the doing.  She asked me what makes me feel most connected: "When do you feel the opposite of lonely?  What does that look like for you?"  I didn't answer right then since the conversation moved on without requiring an immediate response.  But I pondered it for days until realizing that when I feel least lonely is when I have time alone for quiet, time alone with God, time to connect with my own soul.  This is why work can leave me feeling isolated and alone - because I feel disconnected from my soul - split apart inside into the real me and the one who is getting the work done.

At a certain point, I do need interaction with other people to not feel lonely, but I think what I've been experiencing lately has not been a social loneliness so much as a soul loneliness.  I interact with people quite a bit in the work that I do.  I just haven't had space or time for soul care over the last few weeks.

I am hopeful that will change starting Saturday.

We don't have much planned for our time away - that's sort of the point.  My only firm plans right now are for the girls to make their own breakfast every morning, so that I can have an hour or two of quiet time before joining them in whatever our day will hold.  Beyond that, I hope for walks in the woods, swims at the nearby YMCA, explorations in the parks nearby and visits to some of the lighthouses in the area.

Last night, we enjoyed a fire on our back patio.  As we sat there, I asked the girls what they were most looking forward to about this trip.  My middle daughter (who is so different, yet so like me) said she is looking forward to days where she doesn't have to go anywhere at all, days when she can stay in her pajamas all day long, days where there are no scheduled activities.  We seem to be on the same page, she and I.

The irony of time away from home to cure loneliness and burnout is that we will miss out on things.  My evite inbox already holds five events someone in our family has had to decline regretfully.  There will be other things we'll miss - a friend's dance recital, the run of a play we'd like to see, birthday parties and casual dinners with friends.  But my hope and prayer is that this time away will leave us better equipped to love, serve and engage with our friends when we return.  I hope we will come back with stories to tell, pictures to share and hearts that are full after feasting on rest.

I nearly ended this blog post right there.  But I would be telling only half the story if I did not mention that I am also afraid of the next month.  Afraid of unmet expectations.  Afraid of bored children.  Afraid of feeling unworthy of this respite.  Fear and shame have swirled around in my heart in recent days as I have asked myself over and over, "What was I thinking?!"  There is much to be done before leaving early Saturday morning.  Beyond the actual trip preparations like packing and cleaning, there are e-mails to be sent, schedules to be set, meetings to be attended and arranged.  I feel so overwhelmed that I have been trying to take it one hour at a time since a full day at a time seems daunting.

But I keep coming back to the idea that I am thirsty - for rest, for God, for something more than my everyday life affords.  And I get the sense that this thirst is one I should tend to - one that was given to me as a gift.  I enter this sabbatical time fearful and excited in equal parts, yet hopeful that this time away together will change us all in ways we can't anticipate from this side of the adventure.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


2: without companions; solitary

The last seven days have been busy: filled with the work of homeschooling, scheduling volunteers for May and June, driving my dancer daughter back and forth to rehearsals, ordering curriculum to finalize plans for next year's tutorial and scheduling everything that needs to be done in Nashville before being out of town for a month.  As I've moved through these busy days, I've tried to be aware of what I am feeling and one thing I'm noticing is how lonely I find work to be.

On Thursday, I came home from driving K to golf, A to ballet and making a quick stop at the library in preparation for World Book Night to find that B had cleaned the house in my absence.  The books that cluttered the dining room table were gone, the kitchen counters were clear, even the dishes had been magically moved from the sink to the dishwasher (isn't it always magic when that happens without your own two hands doing it?).  I nearly wept with relief at the thought that perhaps not every step of my work must be done alone.

I tried to explain to B how meaningful this was for me.  I told her how lonely my work makes me feel, that I feel the burden of people's expectations and the desire to not disappoint them.  To illustrate, I referenced the most recent Project Runway episode we had watched together.  I reminded her of how one contestant wanted to be totally in charge of her team - she wanted to own the vision, but not do all of the work.  Her own dress was 100% her creation, but her teammate's was 50-50.  Unlike this person, I don't desire to take all of the credit - if all of these jobs in process are carried through to completion, I am happy to blend into the background.  But if something goes wrong?  That's all on me.  I bear the burden for every detail that goes undone.

This is a lonely feeling.

And as I sit with my loneliness, I am realizing how lonely I am in various aspects of my life.  I spent the last hour or so typing words and erasing them.  I'm inclined to tell you about my various responsibilities and how they make me feel lonely, but I think more important to share - and see clearly for myself - is the reality that responsibilities and carrying them out make me feel lonely.  In short, I find work lonely.

I suspect this is because I feel inadequate to the tasks before me.  Since inadequacy = shame on my feelings chart, I'm sure there's an important kernel of truth for me here.  Sadly, I can't find a few simple words to convey this truth since I'm not even fully sure what it is.

What I do want to ponder further is how to do without feeling lonely.  If work makes me feel isolated from those around me, how can I use my work to connect with God?  A book I am reading talks about how when the author tries Brother Lawrence's way of finding God in the small, mundane tasks, she is able to do so, but finds she is slower and less productive.  Am I forfeiting intimacy with God because of a (self-imposed) pressure to manage all the details myself?  Or a (again, self-imposed) pressure to do everything on-time, as close to perfect as possible?  Am I still a perfectionist, not a recovering one, as I like to believe?

Or am I just in over my head?  Have I taken on too much?  Frankly, this seems like the easy way out for an Ennegram 9 like me.  I am only too willing to admit I can't do it all.  Even as I type the words, "Am I just in over my head?" my heart constricts - I do not think the solution is to start dropping responsibilities.  This might ease my loneliness short term, but I don't think it is where God is leading me right now. Instead, he is encouraging me to leave the safety of the known pasture for the intimidating freedom of the open road.

I don't know what awaits me.  I could fail miserably in any of these ventures and find myself lonely in failure instead of lonely in competency.

What I do know is that I don't want to remain the same person I have always been.  I want to find a way to work within my gifts and stay engaged.  I want a path to being present even when my mind is task oriented.  This feels like hard heart work for me.  But maybe the hardest, best work is always lonely.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


1. pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory

Certain words have burrowed their way into my psyche, taking up residence there, shaping the things I do and say for years before I stop to examine them.  Once examined, I may try to uproot them, attempting to rid my mind of an influence better left unplanted.  One such word: nice.  For years, I have longed to be nice, been exhorted to be nice, been told that nice was important.  In order to be seen as nice, I have set aside my own thoughts, feelings and desires.  I've swallowed words, turned the other cheek and melted into the background.  All for the elusive nice.  I say elusive because can we ever really be nice?

Only recently have I begun to ponder the contrast between nice and kind.  As a parent, I encourage my children to be kind, but I rarely admonish them to be nice.  The difference in my mind is that nice refers to outward appearance and perception by others, while kind is about the heart.  One word describes an action, the other sees the motive behind the action.

The definitions of these words bear this out.  If nice is pleasant, agreeable and satisfactory, kind is having a friendly, generous, and considerate nature.  Nice is about how others see you.  Kind is about who you really are.  I want to be kind.  I'm not so sure I can continue to try to be nice.

If I am going to learn to sit with my feelings, I can't be preoccupied with what others think about those feelings.  I can't be unwilling to feel something that is unpleasant or disagreeable.  In fact, as I've begun to examine my feelings, I often find them less than satisfactory.  I have far more fear than I ever would have imagined.  Have I been repressing that for so long because it wasn't received well by those around me?  Perhaps.

I find it interesting that without even realizing why, I gravitated as a parent to encouraging my children to be kind rather than nice.  It's not that I don't want them to be nice - I do.  I want them to be pleasant to be around.  I want others to find them agreeable.  But I want these things to flow from who they are, not result from a pressure to conform to an outward standard.  When I get right down to it, I would far prefer that my daughters be honest and true to themselves than be nice.  I love it when the two things converge, but they don't always.

A friend recently said, "Jesus was kind, but he was not nice."  Pause and think about that for a minute.  Do you conflate nice and kind?  Are you one but not the other?  Which do you want to be?  Jesus was not worried about what others thought about him.  He did not fear being judged different or outlandish.  But he was kind - oh so kind - to those who least deserved it, to those who needed it most, to those overlooked by the higher-ups in his world.

I want to be kind - to others and myself.  I want to allow those around me the space to be who they really are, without fear that I will judge them or belittle them.  I want to be generous with myself and allow my feelings room to expand and be seen without overtaking my rational thought.  I want to be someone who is unafraid of being kind and unconcerned with being nice.

I want to plant words in the hearts of my daughters that allow them to grow into who they are.  I don't want to leave vines labelled "nice" running up their hearts and constricting them when they should be free to beat away with kindness, generosity and abandon.  I want words that are about who they are, not just what they do, to be the ones that burrow in to stay.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


1: an emotional state or reaction

I don't know about you, but sometimes fear can point me to areas I need to think about.  

Yesterday, I was talking with a friend whose counselor suggested she journal her feelings daily.  My immediate thought was, "I would hate to do that!"  I was honest and shared that thought with my friend, but I also set it aside mentally for some further consideration.  

I know this about myself: my emotions are buried deeply and my emotional reactions to situations are often on a time delay.  If I encounter something unexpected or traumatic, it takes me about 24 hours to know how I actually feel.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing - I think it's just part of who I am and it does enable me to be calm in a crisis because emotions aren't getting in the way.  That being said, delaying and stifling are two different things.  It may be a natural part of me to not feel my emotions until later, but not feeling anything at all should be a red flag that encourages me to look deeper.

As a part of my conversation with this friend, I told her about a list of emotions that another friend uses in her spiritual direction.  I told her it's easier for me to know what I'm feeling if I have a list of emotions to choose from. I offered to send her the list, which I did this morning.  Here it is:

Human emotions are neutral and guide us in knowing God and ourselves.  We experience emotions as movement either away from God or towards God.  Each emotion is listed below preceded by (impaired version) and followed by (gift of each emotion):

(depression/resignation)  ANGER  (passion/healthy boundaries)

(anxiety/control/rage)  FEAR  (faith/wisdom)

(resentment)  HURT  (courage to seek help or forgive)

(apathy/boredom)  LONELY  (intimacy with God and/or others)

(self-pity)  SAD  (acceptance, honoring precious loss)

(paranoia) GUILT  (freedom)

(inadequacy)  SHAME  (humility, empathy, knowing limits)

(indulgence)  GLAD  (hope)

Take time to notice your feelings.  Feel your feelings.  Tell the truth about your feelings.  Invite God into your feelings.  Stay with your feelings.  Let your feelings lead you to God.

After sending the e-mail to my friend, I sat and prayed for her.  I tried to notice what I was feeling as I did so and I felt sad - sad that she is hurting and walking through a difficult time.  I also knew what my heart's desire was for her and that was for God to comfort her in her pain.  Not because I want God to "fix" her, but because I want Him to meet her where she is and I want her to feel loved and valued.  It was worth noting that I knew what I desired for my friend as I prayed.  I don't often know what I was for myself, even when praying.  But I had a very clear idea of what I wanted for her.

Tears rolled down my face during and after my prayer.  As I sat there in my bedroom, I looked over at the piece of paper listing the emotions. What was I feeling?  In that moment, I could only feel the sadness for my friend, but hours later I sat outside my daughter's ballet school waiting for her rehearsal to finish.  It is a lovely day, so I was sitting in the shade with my eyes closed, trying to quiet my mind.  In that quiet moment, I asked myself what I was feeling.  I decided on sad, angry and lonely.  Sad for how broken our world is.  Angry with myself for not being in touch with my feelings (although this might better be named shame? I'm not very good at this, so I'm not sure.).  And lonely.  That one was a bit of a surprise since I was in the middle of a day with my family - a day filled with lunch out, a spring football scrimmage and sunshine.  But the loneliness was there.

So I sat with it and explored it.  I think my loneliness stems from how overextended I feel right now and how alone I feel in facing down and doing the jobs before me.  I'm a little embarrassed to even write about this because I feel like I do so much less than some people do.  But between wrapping up a year of homeschooling, researching next year's courses, starting a tutorial, planning for a month away from home and managing more than twenty volunteers weekly, I am feeling adrift.  I think each of these things is important and all of them are jobs that I believe are meant for me.  But I sometimes feel like they are meant only for me and that I therefore must do them alone.  All of the doing leaves me lonely.

I feel most connected to people when I am with them quietly - listening, talking, sharing and receiving.  Working alongside someone doesn't give me the same sense of connection.  We are bound by action, not by words, by an end goal, not the journey together.  When working, a part of me is always focused on the task at hand and it is nearly impossible for me to be fully present to the person I am with, much less my own feelings.  I am running on autopilot to get the job done.  I don't think this is true for everyone, is it?

How can I work effectively and efficiently and still be a present, fully alive person?  

How can I feel connected to people and stay committed to the work at hand?

I'm not expecting you to actually have the answers for me.  (Although feel free to offer them if you do have them!)  What I do hope is that I can slowly but surely learn to check in with my emotions and that I can find a way to be present even when I feel overwhelmed by the tasks at hand.

On my last spiritual retreat, I was sharing with my spiritual director that I had recently been feeling envious.  I felt like I was making a confession, but she was unbothered.  "Emotions are amoral," she told me.  "They are neither good nor bad.  They are just something we should notice and bring to God."  It was news to me that emotions are neither good nor bad.  I definitely think of them as bad - I think I am at my best when I can keep my emotions at bay, either by offering a rational response or by being still, receiving what others offer me without judgment, just holding their words and feelings for them like I am a vessel.

If nothing else, I think I need to explore my relationship to my feelings.  It may sound obvious but I think feelings should be a part of who I am and I shouldn't work so hard to contain and repress them.  What this means practically, I am not sure. For now, I'll look for those kernels of fear that point me to things I need to tackle.  And I'll spend a bit of time each day trying to name my emotions.  Maybe I'll even muster the courage to write them down in a journal.

Thursday, April 4, 2013


: having or displaying a passionate intensity

Are there certain words that are a part of you?  Words that reside deep inside you, that hold a special place in your heart? Are there words that bring to mind a vivid mental image each time you hear them? Or perhaps words that instantly come to mind anytime you see an image?

As I was walking this morning, I happened upon a dead squirrel.  I was startled, quickly adjusted my stride to miss the poor creature and, within seconds, was contemplating the word fervent.  You might rightly be wondering why.  It was because the squirrel was stretched out, like a football player reaching for the goal line with every ounce of his being.  For me, this posture of stretching beyond our natural or safe boundaries will always be equated with the word fervent.

Years ago, I was studying the book of Peter with a group of women.  Being the Word Girl that I am, I looked up the Greek origins of the words of the verses as we went.  There is a verse that says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins."  Another version says, "Keep fervent in your love."  I read a commentary that described how the Greek word ektenes means wholly stretched out.  That was interesting - and painted a rather vivid picture of how God wants us to love each other - but I might have only remembered that in passing had the word not been called to my mind later.

At a spring women's retreat about five years ago, I experienced my first moments of silence with God.  It was a directed silence and only lasted a couple of hours.  I can remember leading up to this retreat that I was so excited to try sitting in pure silence with God.  I had a list of things I wanted to pray about and I was ready.  I got my blanket out, laid down in the sunlight, opened my Bible and my mind and heard God say to me, "Those things you wanted to talk about?  You already know the answers to them, don't you?  Here's what I want to talk about.  I want you to love me fervently."  I was not planning on hearing that, I can assure you.

But that conversation with God prompted me to look at my relationship with Him and see how head-oriented it was.  I loved looking up the Greek for the verses we were studying, loved reading commentaries on the verses, loved diving into God's word.  And God wasn't telling me there was anything wrong with that.  He merely showed me how very safe it was.  Because studying something and falling in love with someone are two very different things.

That first taste of silence whetted my appetite in a way I never could have imagined.  And I'm sure it's no coincidence that it was in that silence that God asked me to think about loving him in a stretched out, vulnerable way.  Because that's what loving fervently is - it's vulnerable, it's exposing and it is risky.  I saw that part of it right away and, quite honestly,  I still struggle with that aspect of living and loving fervently.  I want desperately to be authentic, to be real, to be fervent.  But I Do. Not. Like. Being. Hurt.  And when I open myself up to give and receive love, I'm allowing for the possibility that good and bad may either one come - pain or beauty might walk in the door of my heart.

I want the strength and courage to die like that squirrel I saw this morning - stretched out to give and receive all that life has to offer.  I don't want to live and die curled into a ball, safe and secure - but I fight these tendencies every day.

I have been feeling overwhelmed this week, day after day, moment after moment.  My mind has been skittering from item to item on my to-do list.  I have worried about everything from scheduling time for my daughters with their friends to scheduling a parent meeting to what I should do about standardized testing.  I have felt stretched thin, but not stretched out in an "I claim this life as mine" kind of way.  

This morning, my daughter A read to us from the Jesus Storybook Bible as we ate our breakfast.  She read us the story of the Israelites and the parting of the Red Sea.  After she finished, I read the girls one of my favorite verses from this story, Exodus 14:14. It says, "The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still."  

I think this might be the key to living fervently: letting God do it for me.  On my own, I am hesitant to stretch myself out, fearful of being not enough, afraid of being hurt.  Sometimes I need to just be still and let Him doing the fighting for me.

Monday, April 1, 2013


1 a: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires : delight

What do you think of when you hear the word joy?  Do you have a mental picture that personifies joy? When I think of joy, I get two images.  One is of a person standing in the rain, arms stretched out, face up to catch the raindrops, laughing.  She may be wet, but her joy is not dampened.  The second image is of a person getting on in years - her hair is silver, her face creased.  But she is engaged and interested in those around her, listening intently, delighting at each new thing she sees, hears or experiences.  Laughter comes quickly to her and she nods along eagerly as others share their life and views with her.

For a while now, I've thought joy isn't really something for me.  Last fall, I went away for a weekend to hear Richard Rohr and Russ Hudson talk about Grace and the Enneagram.  As I was preparing to leave for that, I was thinking about two other women in my life that are also Enneagram Nines.  I could see some similarities between each of them and me, but they are both funny, lighthearted people in a way that I am not.  I shared this observation with a friend during the conference and was able to articulate that I feel like I'll never be able to be joyful - I'm just too scarred, too wounded to ever recover the joy you see readily flash on the faces of children.  I cried as I told her this, both out of sadness for this thing I do not have and out of fear that I am not worthy of joy.

Before Lent, I was talking with a friend who said she longs for joy.  She longs to enjoy her children more, to delight in them and alongside them.  To this end, her Lent was about learning to stop at regular intervals in her day.  She was learning to make space for joy.  

I don't actively long for joy like this friend of mine.  If anything, I long for peace and contentment, things which I suspect are vague shadows of joy.  I settle for these rather than risk seeking the real thing and falling short.  Yet I think peace and contentment are companions on the road to joy because I envision joy as more pervasive, more persistent, less mutable than happiness.  I imagine joyful people have an inner peace and contentment that their circumstances can not ruffle and can not take away.

I picture joy as something nearly tangible, something you can grab and hold on to and feel it alongside you, underneath you, beside you.  And when I think of it this way, I wonder about how closely joy and the Holy Spirit are interconnected.  Because when I think of the Holy Spirit, it's as a swirling, comforting presence all around me.

The Holy Spirit is the aspect of the Trinity that I most long to be like.  I don't want the responsibility or inspired devotion of God the Father.  Nor do I long to be the ever present teacher that Jesus is.  But a soft, encouraging presence that points others to God, to truth, to beauty?  These are traits I want to embody.

Last night as we sat around the dinner table, we discussed the transition from Lent to Eastertide.  We talked about what we learned during Lent and what we hoped to delight in during Easter.  I asked these questions before fully thinking through my own answers to them, so it wasn't until later that I realized that while my Lent did not go as expected, I did make very real progress towards beginning to identify the desires of my heart.  And if joy is evoked by the prospect of possessing what one wants, perhaps this is a good first step towards joy.

Easter day did leave me feeling oddly lighthearted - not as a result of any one experience but from thinking about a series of small truths seen together: truths like the realization that love must be very strong indeed to have defeated death and that our biggest blessings often come just from lingering near God, not from any activity on our part.

Maybe this is how joy is found - by following the trail of breadcrumbs God leaves for us, each one leading us closer and closer to the realization of how much He loves us and how immutable that love is.  Because when we grasp that His love for us cannot and will not change, joy is the only possible response.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


: my expectations for Lent

In almost every way, this Lent has not been what I expected.  That began early, when the timing of Lent snuck up on me and I didn't feel led towards a specific, easily enforceable discipline.  Instead of something straightforward like, "Give up caffeine," or "Walk every day," or even "Pray the hours," I felt a need to open myself and be receptive to the idea of being led daily to the well I needed to drink from.  This idea was a little scary to me, but I wanted to be responsive and receptive, even in my fear.  So I was blindsided, hurt and left reeling when I posted about Lent and received a snarky comment about Lent being a time for penitence.  The implication was that my discipline of seeking creative and restorative outlets was selfish and inappropriate.  That, combined with a reticence on God's part to direct me, left me stumbling through Lent rather than following along, walking near Jesus' side.

Perhaps the stumbling along can be traced back to the first whisper I heard to write during Lent.  Because I have done many things over the last forty days, but very little writing.  Taking a step away from writing has been somewhat unintentional,  yet I've been aware of the slippage and allowed it to happen.  Like a workout routine left undone for too long, it became easier and easier to not write.  I certainly had plenty of other things to fill my time and my soul gradually quieted and stopped asking questions that needed to be processed in writing.

But even as that form of communication quieted, longer form writing ideas pursued me - everything from an idea for a novel to an idea for a children's book series.  I have not written one word towards giving birth to either of these ideas, yet they circle in my mind and leave me fearful and frozen.  That's what fear does to me - it freezes me.  My mental and physical muscles clench and I feel unable to fight or flee, regardless of what they tell you adrenaline is for.  So the blog sits for days, then weeks and my writing muscles atrophy, then stop even asking for the release of exercise.  Thankfully, it was in just such a moment of fear induced frostbite that I went on silent retreat.

The Ghosts of Leah and Rachel

As my retreat began, Leah kept circling in my mind.  Maybe you've heard of her?  She's the one who married Jacob, when he intended to marry her sister, Rachel.  Her father tricked Jacob into marrying her, probably because he thought this was the only way he could marry her off.  Jacob never really loved Leah and I've always thought her story was a sad one.  She was on my mind because I had read about her in the Jesus Storybook Bible to my daughters.  Here's how her story ends in Sally Lloyd-Jones' rendition:

One of Leah's children's children's children would be a prince - the Prince of Heaven - God's Son.

This Prince would love God's people.  They wouldn't need to be beautiful for him to love them.  He would love them with all of his heart.  And they would be beautiful because he loved them.

Like Leah.

Leah wasn't loved because she was beautiful, she was beautiful because she was loved.  God blessed Leah in a way the world saw as blessing - he gave her children.  And not just children, but sons.  There was no greater gift, no more sought-after role than to give birth to sons.  But at first, Leah misinterprets God's blessings.  Each time she gives birth to a son, Leah thinks this will make Jacob love her.  She says, "God has seen my misery, now Jacob will love me (Reuben).  God has heard my cry, now Jacob will hear me (Simeon).  God has given me three sons, now Jacob will connect with me (Levi)."  And that does not happen. 

Jacob does not love her.

Not ever. 

But finally, Leah sees that someone does love her: God.  So when she gives birth to a fourth son, she says, "I will praise God (Judah)."

Judah is the line of Jacob's family that Jesus will be born into.  It's to a town of Judah that Mary will travel to give birth.  And Mary, like Leah is blessed by God.  But she's blessed in a way that the world would never, ever expect.  She's blessed with an out of wedlock baby, a son who leaves her to fulfill his ministry and who she ultimately watches die on the cross.  While Leah may have been blessed in a way the world acknowledged and valued, Mary's blessing from God was not what she - or anyone else - was expecting.

But both were blessed.  God loved Leah and Mary, even if the outward signs of his love were vastly different.

My expectations for Lent have gone mostly unmet this year.  I haven't felt closer daily to Jesus.  I haven't had an outpouring of creativity or seen with clarity a habit I need to break.  But even if my expectations have gone unmet, I have been met.  I've been met by the Holy Spirit, who hovers in and amidst my pain and confusion.  I've been met by Jesus when I've had the space and grace to invite him in.

I have been met with Leah and Mary and how their stories help me see my own story more clearly and more compassionately.

Whatever expectations, hopes and dreams you have that are unmet, may you meet Jesus, especially on this cold, dreary Easter weekend when we are reminded of how much we all need Him.  And may meeting Him propel you to action and move you out of the place of fear, than can keep us locked in and frozen.

Monday, March 25, 2013


4 a: to exert influence on : constrain

A little over a month ago, I read a fiction book that got me asking deep theological questions.  In the world of this book, there are three gods.   When the gods go to war, one god wins by imprisoning the other two.  (Question #1: What happens to our own faith when one part of the trinity is minimized or emphasized over the other two parts?  This one's for another post.)  The main character, Yeine, meets one of the imprisoned gods and comes to know him as more than the god of chaos, he's also the god of creativity - and don't those two nearly always go hand in hand.  Yeine has been brought to the capital to be used as a sacrificial lamb and she's talking with the imprisoned god about how she can't change her reality.  He tells her:

You are what your creators and experiences have made you, like every other being in this universe.  Accept that and be done... The future, however, is yours to make - even now.  Tell me what you want.  [As for me,] when I am free, I will choose who shapes me.
Question #2: If I get to choose what shapes me, what am I choosing?  What am I pressing in to?

Last week as I was walking one morning, I pondered this question.  In my mind, I saw myself pressing in to my enneagram nine ways of living.  For me this means withdrawing (primarily emotionally) and sitting back in the reality that this world is broken and shattered.  And it means feeling incapable of changing the inherent brokenness that I sense.  The alternative felt like a choice to press into the Holy Spirit - that whirling softness that brings comfort, yes, but also growth and uncertainty about what lies ahead.  I ended my walk that morning determined to choose growth over stasis.

Then I went on a silent retreat - those lovely weekend interludes away with God that fill up my emotional tank and recenter me.  On this retreat, I imagined myself in the cleft of a rock.  There I saw the choice of what I press in to is not so clean cut as I initially thought.  I thought I faced a simple choice between doing things my way or doing things God's way.  Instead, I think my choices are more intricate, more compelling, more fluid.

I need both the quiet darkness of my nine space and the light and space of growth.  Like a seed that needs time in the dark recesses to prepare for growth, so my soul can't be constantly exposed to the light and sun without withering.  It's hard to remember that God made me the way I am and I don't need to change myself to conform to some idea I have of what growth looks like.  Growth for me will look different than for anyone else because we are all made differently.

I'm not saying my growth will happen naturally, without me doing anything to encourage it.  My job is to press in, both to the sheltering dark and the swirling hopefulness of the unknown.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


1 a : a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” -Matthew 11:28-30, New International Version

Thanks to chapter 11 of Matthew, I've been pondering what it means to be yoked for the last five days or so. When I read through the passage, I was using the lectio divina method of reading scripture, so I read it through several times and then tried to picture myself talking to Jesus about it.  In my mind's eye, I saw Jesus guide me into a room both welcoming and beautiful.  Once there, I settled in on a sofa with a blanket tucked around me.  When I thought about the word "yoke" I felt clearly that what this word meant for me was "write."  This might seem contradictory since I have been doing many things - none of them writing - over the course of the last three weeks.

It's not that I haven't thought about writing - I have.  But most of my ideas lately have been of the fiction variety.  And who has time, energy (and talent) enough to tackle that?  Not me.  So I've been mentally filing away the writing ideas and instead pouring my time and energy into planning for our next school year.  While that may seem a long way away, the knowledge that I will be homeschooling all three girls again next year has propelled me to move from dreaming about an idea to actively pursuing it.  Starting in August we will have our very own neighborhood tutorial offering science, literature/debate and possibly a math enrichment option.  Since January, I have been working steadily to find tutors, work out the timing and get everything arranged.  Sunday night I took the somewhat scary step of presenting the plan to other families via e-mail.  Nearly all of them want to join us on this adventure.  I am pleased, excited and a little terrified.

I've been dreaming of doing something like this since my first year of homeschooling, but I've also been waiting for the right time.  Last fall, I accepted a job at my church overseeing the elementary Sunday school classes and volunteers.  Just recently, I agreed to expand that role to the preschool classrooms as well.  I've been treading carefully through all of this, taking it one month at a time.  But I have prayed for guidance at each step and I've honestly found the work quite easy.  A few months into the job at St. B's, it occurred to me that it might help prepare me for starting a tutorial.  Many of the skills I use for that role, including communication, volunteer management, setting clear expectations and supporting the people in the classrooms, could help me set up a homeschool tutorial.

How does all of this relate to being yoked?  I see it as being about my yoke because there have been times in my life when I've strained against my yoke, pushing ahead and pulling God along behind me.  There have also been times when God has had to encourage me to take a step instead of staying rooted to the spot.  But these jobs have felt like a natural outflowing of who I am and what I do well.  While I wouldn't say I have exactly felt like I am working alongside God (I haven't felt enough closeness to him to describe it that way), I can say that when I look back I feel like I have been gently led to where I am standing - and there has been very little need for pushing or prodding.

The hardest part of being yoked isn't being asked to work - I am finding that if I wait for God to show me the jobs that are meant for me, they are rarely hard.  He knows my strengths much better than I know them myself.  All three of the current things that occupy my time and energy - homeschooling, coordinating at St. B's and setting up the tutorial - require skills and interests that I have (in abundance).  So doing them isn't the hard part.  The hard part is believing that I've made the right decisions and having confidence that I can do these things.  So I'm trying to remember that I don't have to do all of this on my own.  That's where it's helpful to see myself as yoked - I'm only doing part of the work.  The Message version of Matthew 11:28-30 says it this way,

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. -Matthew 11:28-30, The Message 
When I hear the word "yoked," I may worry about being asked to do things I can't do or being pulled along to a place I'm not ready to go.  But these words paint a different picture.  Live freely and lightly?  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace?  Yes, please.  And I can see this in my life.  The work I am doing feels unforced.  That makes me desire even more to walk with Jesus and watch how he goes about his work, in the hopes that I can do mine in a way that likewise blesses other people.

Monday, February 25, 2013


2 b: acute mental or emotional distress or suffering : grief

One night last week I was praying for a friend as I went to sleep.  As I was praying for her, my mind shifted from seeing her standing on the shore with God to seeing myself seated in the sand with Jesus beside me.  For a while, we sat companionably but then he moved into the water and invited me to join him.  Before I joined him, he was clear about one thing: moving into this water would hurt.  Not because the water was cold (though it was) but because this water was the pain of the world.  I was afraid.  Would anyone head into something containing the pain of the world without at least pausing?

But I wanted to be near Jesus, so I went.  There wasn't anything for me to do with all of this pain, just bear witness to it.  And as I stood in the midst of the pain, the water shifted.  Standing there beside Jesus, the water immediately surrounding us changed from murky brown to turquoise, aquamarine, sky blue.  Instead of sitting stagnant, it shimmered.  This beauty didn't mean the pain went away.  It was still there, but with beauty amongst it.

Since that prayer, I have tried to choose moments to stand in the pain instead of avoiding it.  Perhaps it is not surprising that I've found it is easier to stand in others' pain than my own.  My own pain, especially when accompanied by anger, makes me feel shame.  One reason I wrote about my frustration, disappointment and sense of abandonment surrounding our magnet school application process was as an attempt to stand in the pain.

I tend to deal with pain in one of two ways: I let anger fuel me and push through it belligerently or I gloss over the pain, moving as quickly as possible to a place where I can see the good instead of the bad.  These are not necessary poor ways to cope with the world: seeing things positively does make me more content and pushing through the pain gives (at least the impression of) strength.  But there is a difference between coping and growing.  I do a lot of the former.  I want to do the latter.  Choosing to stand in the pain?  That's not my typical approach.  It requires patience.  It requires that I acknowledge everything is not OK.  It encourages me to feel deeply.  And it hurts.

The only time I willingly stand in the pain is when I have no choice.  (I'll let you decide whether that really qualifies as "willing.")  There are times when what I am feeling is so big, so encompassing, there is no pushing through or glossing over.

The circumstances surrounding B's school options for next year are not nearly so big as that.  There is much I appreciate and enjoy about homeschooling.  I treasure the time with B and the flexibility our family will continue to enjoy.  But rather than go straight to the silver linings, I felt it was important for me to actually see, dwell on and process the way this particular disappointment has brought pain to my heart.  As always, it has been illuminating.  (I think pain tends to function as an internal spotlight, showing us the places we neglect, the unkempt corners of our souls.)

What I have seen this time is that I believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that God takes some pleasure in causing me pain.  I know this particular idea of who God is comes from my earthly father.  He always seemed tickled when I did something wrong or stupid.  Why this is true, I am not sure.  I hurt for my children when they make a mistake or feel shamed.  But that wasn't my own experience.  I'm not the only one to confuse God the Father with an earthly father.  Richard Rohr writes:

After years of giving and receiving spiritual direction, it has become obvious to me and to many of my colleagues that most peoples’ operative, de facto image of God is initially a subtle combination of their Mom and their Dad, or any early authority figures... The goal, of course, is to grow toward an adult religion that includes both reason and faith and inner experience that you can trust. A mature God creates mature people. A big God creates big people.

I hope I am growing toward a mature faith, but allowing my image of God to change is no small task.  Awareness is hopefully the first step, but I imagine I may only have my toe on the first step of a processes comprising many flights of stairs.  For now the only thing I know to do is try to sit with the pain and hope that staying in it will allow beauty to enter and commingle with the pain, thereby transforming me in the process.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


2: something that attracts

For hours, I have been trying to do something other than sit down and write this post.  I've cooked.  I've done laundry.  I've watched a TV show.  But the words keep circling in my mind and I feel the pull to put the words down, even while I don't want to.  (This, by the way, is the thing that stinks about Lent this year: when I feel that pull to write and ignore it, I feel like I'm ignoring God.) So I will write, despite my misgivings, despite my fear, despite my shame.  I will write with the caveat that if you are one of my readers who judge me for homeschooling, please just click away right now and don't read this post.  Or if you are a fellow homeschooler who judges me for thinking a return to school might factor into our future, now might also be a good time for you to depart.  Because I'm feeling enough shame without having others heap it on.

The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster.  On January 12, our public school system held their annual lottery for admission to a variety of magnet schools.  We only entered one child for one school this year.  A is entering 8th grade next year, which means her chances for getting into a magnet were slim.  Plus, who wants to join a school in 8th grade after everyone else has already been there for three years together?  But B is entering 7th grade and is therefore eligible to apply to a math and science school.  On lottery day, she came in 77th on the waiting list.  Then the roller coaster began.

I initially thought 77th on a waiting list sounded like it would never happen.  Then I noticed that not a single seventh grader was admitted via the lottery.  Were they all going to a waiting list, only to to pulled off later?  After checking with some friends, I heard encouraging news: each class has roughly 200 students and 100 of those spots are filled by students from a feeder school.  That made 77th sound pretty good.  But why would everyone go to a waiting list?  I thought I had uncovered the answer to that mystery when I heard from someone whose son attends the feeder school that current sixth graders are given one more opportunity to get into the magnet school if their grades on this year's standardized tests allow them in.  That meant a long wait (until late spring or early summer), but I still felt good about B's chances.  I had been mentally preparing to have her back in school next year.  Until yesterday when I ran into a friend who is now a guidance counselor at the school.  We haven't seen each other in years, so I didn't even know she was working there until I noticed her t-shirt.  I mentioned that B might be there next year and when I told her our lottery number, she broke the news to me: no students will come off the waiting list this year.  They are only accepting students from the feeder school, none from the population at large.  So if you didn't win the lottery two years ago and end up at a magnet school back then, you are out of luck.

I am so thankful that I ran into this friend.  I can't imagine how devastated and befuddled we would have been to have received this news just weeks before school starts.  And my friend couldn't have been kinder in the way she broke the news to me.  She even commiserated with me that the school system has not and will not be informing parents of this.  From their perspective, we are on a waiting list.  We should have no expectation of getting in.

Yesterday I was shell-shocked.  Today I'm more angry than shocked.  I'm angry at a school system with nearly universally weak middle schools that forces me into feeling like our only option is to try for a magnet.  I'm angry that they don't respect parents enough to explain the situation - thinking that it is perfectly acceptable for a family to wait months with no clear information.  And I'm angry with God for leading me down this path and then yanking the rug out from under my feet.

Last year, we didn't lottery for spots for any of our daughters, but this year I felt oddly compelled about putting B in the lottery for this particular school.  And when I thought our chances were good, I started reconciling myself to the idea and was able to see that in many ways I am not the ideal teacher for B.  She pushes back so hard in everything and I don't want to be the one who pushes her. I want to be her safe place, not her taskmaster.  She and I discussed this shortly after the lottery.  B wasn't excited about the idea of going back to public school, so she offered a solution that she would try not to push so hard so that I would keep homeschooling her.  A sweet offer, but not something she would be able to sustain for very long.

So now that I've reconciled myself to the idea that she should go to school, I find out she can't go back to school.  I feel like saying, yet again, to God, "What the hell?"  And when I look at the families who do win the lottery, for not just one child, but multiple children, I feel like God is looking at us and saying, "Nope.  Not you.  I don't love you enough to let your children go to a good public school.  You are not enough.  Go sit over there."  Because it seems outside the realm of possibility that God's best for my children is me as their teacher.

I actually love homeschooling them.  I love teaching them things like how to create ordered pairs from a two variable equation and graph a line.  I love showing K that her cursive is better than my own.  I love the way she wants a bonus spelling word every day: "Give me a really hard one," she says.  I love getting to spend time with my children.  Because in less than five years, A could be off in another city, pursuing a career.  (Am I the only one that finds that scary? Five years?!)  So it's not that I don't want them around.  Or that I don't enjoy the teaching.  It's just that I don't want doors closed to them because of my own failings.

Maybe that in itself is naive.  There are already doors closed to them because of who they are and who I am.  Doors start closing for most of us the minute we're born, even though we'd like to believe anyone can do anything in our country.  That simply isn't true.  We are limited by our socioeconomic status, our race, our gender, our abilities, our work ethic.  But it's one thing to see my own life options narrow as I make choices.  It's entirely another to see that happen to my children.

Alongside my anger with God for not deeming us worthy of good schools is an anger at our school system for using magnet schools as an excuse to not make every school in our system one that parents want to have their children attend.  If magnets attract, shouldn't all schools be attractive?  But they aren't.  They are gloomy, sterile and sometimes downright scary.  I know their job is a huge one - to educate such a disparate population while making sure no child is "left behind."  But perhaps instead of concentrating middle class educationally talented children at two high schools by attracting them like metal pilings to a magnet, they should work at attracting families to the system and keeping them there, in all of the schools throughout the system.

I know this is a pipe dream.  I know it won't happen in time to change anything for my children.  But the other thing magnets do?  They polarize?  That attract like to like and push differences away.  Is this really the approach we want our schools to take?

As I shared my frustration with J earlier today, he was able to be much more positive about the possible reasons for B not getting to attend a magnet school.  (Admittedly it's not difficult to be more positive than, "God doesn't love us.  That's why this happened.")  He offered a range of options from God protecting B from potential dangers to God asking J and I to confront our own biases about education and how that should play out for our daughters.  I'm not able to see this glass-half-full yet, especially when I feel like God has turned his back on me in the last six months and left me standing in the desert gasping for air.

I don't know how to end this post other than to acknowledge that even as I try to work through my anger with a God who seems to not care a whit for me or my family, one of my daughters ran downstairs to tell me that a song we know was playing on the radio.  We came to know this song after a friend read a post of mine and brought me the CD.  At that time, the CD hadn't been released yet, but she thought one song in particular would encourage me - a song called Not for a Moment about how God doesn't forsake us, not for a moment.  So while I'm reluctantly fulfilled a lenten discipline by writing about my wounded heart, God is reminding me that even in the dark, he will never leave.