Thursday, May 11, 2017

To Fully Attend

"To attend" can mean to be present, to deal with, to occur alongside.  Often I am concerned with the first definition, being fully present each day so that I can better teach my children as a profitable moment arises or giving my undivided attention to the particular moment which enables me to see beyond myself to the needs of others. 

But tonight as I am digesting two days of instruction on education after our Classical Conversations practicum and one day of training in PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System), a system of communication for those with expressive disorders, I am thinking of the sense in which attend means to listen

I listen to my children differently on different days.  Sometimes it takes much concentration and focus to listen to the story of an imaginary character and his numerous escapades.  Other times, I delight in the creative details. Sometimes I hear the frustration and pain behind the complaint.  Other times, I am annoyed by the complaint and can't muster the care for the causation.

But one thing that I always hear happily because it comes from a place of profound joy is D's praise in song. I may be weary, grumpy, full of self-pity, or cynical, but his rejoicing can turn my frown upside down. D can't sing words--his utterances are not lovely by conventional standards.  But his expression involves his whole being. And witnessing this changes me. As a character writes in one of my recently favorite TV shows (When Calls the Heart):  "The light of love restores every lost voice." I may have momentarily lost sight of my joy, becoming entrenched in circumstances rather than lightened by my heavenly Father's love, but D's praise helps to restore my focus.

D, however, is literally losing his voice by losing vocabulary each year.  The word list that I compiled for him when he went to camp when he was 9 years old has been condensed from four pages to one page.  A common word, "pweese" for "please," has vanished. Part of the reason I am attending this PECS training is to help D find his voice, to get past the "heys!"  He can say, "HEY!" again and again and will because his communication is so limited that though he wants to connect, his verbal vehicle for so doing is limited to "Hey!" And because his discourse is repetitive and indiscriminate (he will speak to anyone, anywhere, anytime), he often doesn't get acknowledged.  When that happens, my husband likes to say, "Well, D, some people just aren't as friendly as you are."

Ninety percent of the time when I speak, my family hears me.  But that ten percent. . .when I tell the boys to do something (usually a chore) and they don't even look up from what they are doing or conveniently leave the room, I tell you I can think of few things more frustrating.  When my husband is preoccupied and doesn't listen to my admittedly somewhat overly detailed account of my day, I feel invisible and it is no fun.  Well, D only gets responses about 25% of the time when we are out in public.  I'm sure people don't know how to respond or why he is even speaking to them or even sometimes that he IS speaking to them.  But oh, in that 25% of the time when his greetings elicit a response, his eyes light up, his face is enlivened, his back even straightens.  He has been heard.

This past Special Olympics was THE most fun we have had at the games in North Carolina.  During the victory lap at the beginning when the athletes are following the torch and the schools are being announced, D waved his arms to the crowd and when he received applause, he responded with applause which elicited more cheers.  The exuberance in his face and in his gestures as his arms reached higher and higher reflected the joy he was experiencing inside.  Not only was he being heard, he was being acknowledged, and even better, he was being celebrated.

Oh the joy on his face. . . and the tears streaming down mine.

And you know, what is even more wonderful than this is to think that God takes delight in us, He celebrates us, He rejoices over us in singing.  A friend shared this verse with me years ago and it is still a favorite:

Zephaniah 3:17
The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.

God in his mercy and loving kindness has forgiven me, and that is cause for His rejoicing over me with his thunderously loud singing. How marvelous!

I pray that I will fully attend to His Word and to His voice in prayer so that He might take delight in me as he did of Israel's obedience. And as I told D the other night after he had celebrated his favorite gospel quartet during our revival service, you made God happy, D, when You praised Him with the music last night.  God likes your praise and fully attends to it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Behind the Curtain: For my home schooling friends

Yesterday, we had our family presentation in CC.  Some moms asked me to post pictures of some of our favorite books.  I have decided to share the requested pictures in a blog post, so I can put these books in a more realistic context.

First let me say that scheduling is an ongoing struggle for me as my plans are always greater, more elaborate, and more beautiful than the reality of my school days. It has been a constant frustration that as the apostle Paul said about his life: "the good that I would do I do not (check everything off my "to-do" list, teach with complete patience, maintain a neat home while providing healthy meals, treat my husband with kindness always), and that which I don't want to do that I do (yell at my kids to hurry, get frustrated by their questions and rabbit trail diversions, say "we are SO behind schedule," or "let's just get Dixie Burger").  Until one day. . .not that things are perfect now, but I am seriously NOT stressed about our schedule.  Sometimes I find that we ARE indeed behind, and I take a deep breath and realize that it will get done tomorrow or I can change what is on the schedule for today.  I am, after all, the one who is creating the schedule.

But thank goodness for Facebook, someone posted an article (I think, Jessica F.) about managing time as an home educator.  And it was life-changing for me. . . God has given us a 24-hour day.  He knows how much excellent material is out there to learn--He, after all, is the fount of knowledge and wisdom--and has given us a finite amount of time in which to learn it.  If he had meant for me to use every single good educational tool, book, or method there is, then He would have given me 48+ hours in a day.  I have been given a set amount of time and, to do what I want to do well, I have to work within those time constraints, acknowledging there will not be time for all good things.

So with my hero of a time-manager husband's help, I mapped out a typical weekly schedule, beginning with the number of hours I had for school each day.  And I, then, prioritized our subjects:  math, Language Arts (grammar, writing, reading, and spelling), history 2x/week, science 2x/week, couch time daily (read-aloud: devotional--super short since we have family worship each evening, poetry, myths/fables/folk tales, topical books on subjects being studied).  Couch time was at the bottom of my importance list, but it was at the top of the boys' like-to-do list.  So it just made sense that in order to get the school day off to a promising beginning, we start with devotional and the subjects they most enjoy. Since each day typically began with couch time, I later incorporated science and Story of the World on the couch, alternating days.  This meant, that now, I would only have three "subjects" to accomplish each day: math, LA, and couch time. History online, piano, science experiments, documentaries, CC review, CC presentations and library visits all became as-time-allows subjects, according to the time allotted each day. Five hours (Mondays six) and no more of academics each day. No more working until we get it all finished.  There are only so many hours dedicated to schoolwork. Play and free time are important, too.

We are no longer ruled by our schedule.  I no longer plan hour by hour what we are to do.  The night before I spend NO more than 15 minutes preparing the next days' materials.  A master list in a page protector has only the number of tasks that will fit in each day's allotted time.  One of my sons likes to know exactly what is expected when-- each moment of the day.  Before I had tried to provide that in a hourly schedule, but could never live up to it because with my eldest son and life in general, nothing is ever certain to the minute. Now he has a list so that he knows what is happening and I let him help me choose when it is happening; our schedule is task-driven, instead of clock-driven. Rabbit trail diversions are part of the learning process and even welcomed, given a little guidance and built into the schedule. If an item happens to remain unchecked, it is OK. It will simply be given more attention tomorrow. Grace, grace, we give ourselves grace.

 Some books that are good for Cycle 2: Good Masters,
Sweet Ladies!: skits in various poetic forms told from
 medieval villagers' points of view--such a fun read-aloud--it has footnotes to teach vocabulary from the time period as well as a map to give children a visual of the medieval village and show the interactions of the villagers. Ollie's had this one as did our library.  Medieval Tales: That Kids Can Read and Tell is an excellent resource for teaching older children how to tell stories like a medieval troubadour. It includes stories that traveling poets would tell during the time period, some from before knights and castles, others contemporary medieval tales with historical background for each tale and helpful hints for your budding story-teller. I have the boys read one the day before they tell it to us during couch time.

 Grimm's Fairy Tales and Italian Folktales are fun and short. I read one tale a day.  The Aesop's Fables I read during Cycle One, but Ben's IEW for 3rd grade included some, so we've read a few.  This IEW text is WONDERFUL to prepare a child for Essentials.  I highly recommend it.

I often choose a poem or read part of a poem from one of these books.  Bloom is one of the best living critics in the English language.  His choices are sometimes surprising, but are certainly engaging.  I let them pick a novel to read during couch time since I choose the tales and poems we read. We just finished Huckleberry Finn and are reading Moby Dick.  These are abridged versions and we generally read 2-3 chapters a day.

 Last year, we followed Paul Tripp's advice and I looked up verses on different character traits.  The boys would copy a verse on that trait: loyalty, kindness, etc. and would draw a picture about a story I read from Bennett's Children's Book of Virtues on that characteristic.  That was our devotion.  Their drawings would often take longer than I liked, as would the dictation, depending on the verse.  This year, I needed something easier.  The Kids' Book of Devotions is good--sometimes I correct the theology, but generally, it is OK.  It actually gives us a chance to talk about what we believe when I don't agree with an interpretation.  The boys will take turns praying the prayer at the end of the devotion.  A Little Bird Told Me has 52 everyday sayings that originated in the Bible and is written with a gospel focus.  Once a week, we read from this book.  It was not written for children, so I sometimes skip parts of the longish chapter, but it is a fun way to talk about language and the Bible.  There is a devotion/application at the end of the chapter which I usually paraphrase.

The Exploring Creation series has been great.  For Cycle one, we did the Botany version the first half of the year and Flying Creatures of the Fifth Day the second half of the year.  The boys were more interested in the animals, so we took our time and finished the Flying Creatures this year and have begun the Swimming Creatures.  I rented the textbook for Swimming from amazon, so we will finish in May.  The Human Anatomy and Physiology was perfect for Cycle three.

With botany, I wouldn't recommend the journals; a lined notebook is sufficient. But it would be very helpful for the human anatomy. The journals have been excellent--so helpful for review and staying focused--for the animal books.

These are examples of the journals for the swimming creatures.  The one on the left is a JR. journal so less writing is involved, more cut and paste, coloring and labeling with the words provided.  The one on the right is just a regular journal with review questions, vocabulary crosswords and lots of blank boxes.  If your children enjoy drawing, this is a must-have accompaniment!
 These books were excellent for couch time when we were in Cycle 1(left) and 3 (right).

Recent discoveries:  the memory joggers has helped increase the speed of their multiplication fact recall.  I may get the MJ state/capital ones for next year.  I bought this at Educents website.  The spelling is for older students (I have enjoyed it because the Latin and Greek root words are read aloud to aid in my pronunciation).  It is a download from IEW.  Knox and I have done this together and are both benefiting from it.

That's it.  Hope this helps anyone who may be looking ahead or be wanting to supplement what you are currently using.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

"Noche Oscura"

Maybe because my younger boys like Batman and maybe because I have been feeling a spiritual dryness for an unparalleled period in my life, the phrase "dark night of the soul" has been echoing in my head.  Interestingly enough, the phrase "noche oscura," or what is commonly known as the "dark night of the soul," comes from a poem by the 16th century Spanish poet, St. John of the Cross. He did not intend it as we think of it today--a time of difficulty and spiritual impoverishment.  He was writing about the soul's journey to God.  The dark for him is our unknown destination with an unseen God. His "noche oscura" was joyful for God redeems. . .

 A few weeks ago, I finished Elie Wiesel's book, Night, telling of the Holocaust horrors he, his father, and his fellow Jews experienced in the concentration camp and work camp of Auschwitz and Buchenwald near the end of WWII. After reading his harrowing account, my own sorrow was made heavier, but I no longer felt I was experiencing a "dark night" because in comparison to his experiences in 1944-45, my current angst was nothing.  It felt ridiculous for me to be sad in my current situation. I felt ridiculous. But God redeems. . .

I had a friend when D was younger who had children about the same age as he.  They were/are beautiful, bright, typically developing children, and the mother confided to me her struggle with depression.  I had also experienced many of the same fears and feelings and expressed this to her. I will never forget what she said, "You have reason to be sad, overwhelmed, and fearful about the future with your son, your life.  [I was also a single parent at the time dating a man who could not commit.] But I don't.  My children are normal.  I am married to a wonderful man.  My life is good.  Yet I am sad without cause, without hope."  Then we discussed the faith and hope that is found in Christ.  She agreed that hope was found in Christ, but she could not grasp and hold on to it. I did not understand. Yet God redeems. . .

On November 9th, a new wave of sorrow washed over me.  Reading the reactions of dear friends on Facebook, rejoicing or lamenting, relieved or dejected over their candidates, made it difficult for me to function. Attitudes of both sides affected me.  For my sorrow, made insignificant by reading a Holocaust autobiography and then aroused by the current political climate, the phrase "dark night" was no longer applicable; now weary of trying to love, trying to teach, trying to care for others, even my own precious boys, the image of the dry bones of Ezekiel 35 seemed apropos:

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say,
 ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.

That was it!  I felt dried up, without hope. But since D's situation has improved, I have less cause to be blue. "D's up!" Ben shouts a few times each day.  At first when we came home from D's surgery in August, I was unsure whether he would ever walk without assistance again.  He didn't try very often initially.  But now he is getting up and my youngest son is alerting us to D's mobility, aware of the danger that walking alone may bring if the floor is not picked up or the bedspread's hanging at a jaunty angle or the sweatpants are too long and dragging the floor or a littered piece of paper makes the hardwood slippery or a stumble occurs from trying to ambulate without first becoming steady or the chain door-locks are not fastened so that D will escape outdoors. So God redeems. . .

Relief that D can walk and is regaining his skills is tempered by the stress of his being unsteady and unable to be left alone at all.  And my sorrow, the weight of malaise, exacerbated by listening to the  news which is never good, continues to squelch my spirit.  My countenance has changed.  I know it.  I feel it.  A man from church once remarked that I was always smiling; that no matter what my boys were doing, I would always be smiling.  An aunt has said that I sparkle, but my sparkle is gone. I am too tired to smile, to shine. I don't want to be around people and really wish I could just stay in bed all day, no all week, yet I find that I cannot sleep.  Three-four hours a night most nights of the week is all I enjoy. Will God redeem?

"The joy of the Lord is my strength."  I always thought this verse meant that God would give me joy to endure.  But it says that my strength comes from the delight I have in God.  In fact this verse comes from Nehemiah 8:10 when Ezra the scribe tells the weeping people who upon hearing God's law realize they have broken it:  
 “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions
 to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. 
And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.
                                                                  And God redeems. . .

D is a wonderful example of delighting oneself in the LORD. When we were in the van on the way to therapy one afternoon not long ago, the Jeremy Camp song came on, "There Will Be a Day": 
"But I hold on to this hope and the promise that He brings 
That there will be a place with no more suffering”  
When D heard those lines, he started clapping. 
"I can't wait until that day 
Where the very one I've lived for always
Will wipe away the sorrow that I've faced”
At this point, he started saying, “yeah, yeah” and began clapping even faster. 
"There will be a day with no more tears.
No more pain, and no more fears.
There will be a day when the burdens of this place
Will be no more, we'll see Jesus face to face”
When he heard the lines about seeing Jesus face to face, D started shouting, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! Thank you!” He was clapping the whole time, his face beaming. Here is the song if you haven't heard it:There Will Be a Day

D's rejoicing in seeing Jesus face to face and looking forward to a day without pain, suffering or sorrow, moved me. His delight in the LORD helps me see that the oppressive sadness smothering me will one day be removed and in the meantime, my delight needs to be in the One who has redeemed me, the One who promises to be my strength.   Hallelujah, God redeems!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Feeling Fine

My daily mantra, echoes the Little Engine's--  "I think he can. I think we can. I think I can" --as I care for my adult-child with extraordinary needs, home school my younger two boys, live wife to my husband the pastor.

But since July 21st, a couple of days after my eldest had spinal fusion surgery, the internal cheerleader was drowned out by the realist vacillating between hopeful and hopeless, more often landing closer to the -less side: "I don't think he can. I know I can't. There's no way I can. How in the world will we ever?"  And I would like to type something like, so I prayed and realized that Philippians 4:8 is true for me:  "Through Christ, I can do all things." Or I learned to trust in God in bigger ways than ever before and I have a peace beyond understanding.  But I am not there yet.  Don't get me wrong.  I know God is bigger than any difficulty we face.  I know there are things other parents are dealing with that are WAY more difficult than a child who was ambulatory with an unsteady gait now confined to a wheelchair or walker. But he is my child, and he was in extraordinary pain and now intermittent pain, and he can't tell me exactly how or when or where it hurts, and I just can't wrap my head around how I will care for D, home school his brothers, and do the things I enjoy and have been doing for my husband and at church.

There were days during our month-long hospital stay when I was just "done" and someone would let me know she was praying for me; then inexplicably I had strength or peace or patience or whatever was needed most at that moment. There were times when I was reading God's word aloud to D so that he could sleep and I could check off my daily Bible reading, that the words on the page were more than mere words; they were life-giving, soul-assuring, heart-affirming.  Sometimes a friend or relative came to visit and I felt loved, hopeful, and confident in my faith in the eternal Creator who is omniscient and never caught by surprise as I had been by this whole ordeal. But most of the time, I felt five-point-harness-strapped-in on a roller coaster with steep inclines, and I've never been a fan of the descent.

Watching Beverly Hills Baptist Church
One day in the hospital bed when he was able to hold his iPad with two hands for the first time since surgery,  D wanted me to find a church service.  I followed a link on Facebook to a friend's husband's Sunday morning worship service.  My friend happened to be singing the special, "Blessings" by Laura Story.  Before singing, she shared her own tragic experience and how her family was drawn closer to God as they wrote out all the blessings that had resulted from the terrible loss.  And I placed a mental bookmark to do the same later.  But when we came home, I was even more overwhelmed; there were no therapists to work with D daily,
D with one of his favorite PTs
no round-the-clock assistance with his self-care needs, and no food service brought to our bedsides. I was grateful that my parents and younger boys were able to come the evening of our return and for the wheelchair ramp set up before our return, but I could not see these blessings and others for the demands that were placed upon me and my time and the uncertainties of a possibly incomplete recovery for my biggest boy.

I picked up a book for $2.99 at Ollie's the other day.  If I had every "just a dollar" purchase I'd made there, I'd have enough to buy a new set of dishes or a new wardrobe or a year-long membership to the gym.  Sorry, Mom, I just can't help myself.  Retail therapy, especially when it is SUCH a bargain, works.  Carry on, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton--in it, the writer at Momastery, gives the advice, "When you start to feel, just do."

Leaving the hospital with all the sweet cards and gifts.

So that, my friends, is what I did Monday when my parents left. And boy have I done a lot.  Before they left,  I wasn't sure I could exist in this life anymore.  I am still overcome by anxiety at times, but when I start to feel, I do. . .laundry, heating up dinner to have it hot when the younger boys and Stan arrive, printing out things for home schooling, cleaning out cars and piles in rooms, taking the family on a hike at Hitchcock Creek, getting prepared for class, sending out overdue email responses and writing here. Writing has wiped the glass clean for a better view of God working. And I can count my blessings now.  The greatest blessing is knowing that Jesus has me covered; Ephesians 1:7-8 in the Common English Bible version:  "We have been ransomed through his Son’s blood, and we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace, which he poured over us with wisdom and understanding."

When I returned home, we had a borrowed wheelchair ramp at the door and Circle III had added plants and mulch, even weeding my much-neglected flowerbed.
To borrow from REM: "It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine."

Friday, May 13, 2016

Rest, Please

"Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28). This verse has been in my face lately.  On Facebook, a lecture text, an academic orientation verse.  It's been one of my favorites since motherhood, and when I read it recently, I intoned,  "Yes!  I want, no, need, rest."  Then I got lectured.  Well, not me directly, but I heard the lecture.  And when the speaker started with that verse, my reaction again was, "Yes, Lord, that is what I need:  REST!" And then the guy elaborated.

He said often when we read that verse, our focus, as mine was, is on what we receive.  And I would add, on what we are.  I am weary.  Everyone agrees that moms are tired. The ubiquitous memes about tired mothers exist because we all relate. We want time to ourselves, so we stay up late. We miss out on sleep, but can't sleep in because the bus comes at 6:40 AM or we wake up at 3:00 AM and can't go back to sleep because our minds are full of plans, problems, pain, and/or pettiness.  I haven't been able to carve out any solitude lately and that has made me grumpy to say the least.  So when I hear a verse describing me and promising something that seems elusive, the response is "Gimme, gimme, PLEASE!"

But that's being a selective Bible verse claimant, treating Jesus like some kind of magical Pez dispenser.  To read the verse and focus on who I am and what I need diminishes the gospel, to borrow the pastor's words, to "a way to meet our needs and desires, a method to solve our problems" and in so doing, "Christianity's benefits become our idolatry."

Reading the verse correctly is to see the first three words as crucial.  They are set off by a comma after all: "Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest." When the focus is, as it should be, on Christ, then it becomes about who he is and what he freely gives.  Coming to Christ means that I come before him, laying down my schedule, my plans, my desires, my striving, and He, knowing my burdens better than I, understanding my confusion and hurt in ways I may never grasp, He gives me what I cannot manufacture myself, true rest.  All the spa days and Moms' Night Outs in the world cannot give a person peace--perfect peace--but coming to Christ, surrendering to the One who willingly took our burden and our sin upon himself and paid the price for freedom and blessings beyond our imaginings, gives us rest.

On Mother's Day, our first hymn was "O For a Thousand Tongues" and I knew before we started singing that I was going to cry.  When we got to the verse, "Hear him, ye deaf; his praise, ye dumb, your loosened tongues employ;" the tears started to flow. That hymn always makes me think of D. There is nothing more that my eldest would like to do than to sing God's praise. For his birthday, I played and sang at the piano for him; then I had his brothers both sit on the couch with him and sing hymns to wherever he opened the hymnal. Later, my aunt serenaded him by phone using the same method, (I would tell her to what hymn he had turned) and those songs were THE best birthday presents ever.  Now D follows Knox and Ben around with a hymnal, holding it out to them and calling out their names. They will usually sing at least one.  This morning as I was getting dressed to take D to school (we missed the bus), Knox sang several:  "And Can It Be, Christ the Lord Is Risen Today, Joy to the World, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, O Sacred Head."  The third verse of that final hymn rang out in his beautiful, clear, careful treble:

3. What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.

And my heart cried out, "Yes!  Let them love you.  Let me love you.  Give me Jesus!"

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Playing God

So much sadness in the news the past few months that I haven't been able to write.  Yesterday, I read the book, Owl Moon, to the boys and the final sentence made me emotional.  Current events have been draining me of my hope. In this beautifully illustrated children's story, the narrator is recounting owling with her dad and what is required to experience that moment of beauty and wonder looking the owl in the face:

"The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shining
Owl Moon."

Reading the news throughout the day has almost become a daily blow to hope and vitality: watching thousands of refugees flee, reading of the atrocities committed against those Syrians who attempted to speak out, finding victims of human trafficking dead in the back of a van, watching videos and interviews of those harvesting unborn children, hearing about police officers randomly killed or prisoners killed by officers, reading a detailed article about a beloved star from my childhood who has been revealed to be serial rapist, and this morning I read of children killed by parents, and for all of this, my heart is heavy.  I feel like I have been torn inwardly like Ezra's outward grief in chapter 9 who tore his tunic and cloak, pulled out hair from his head and beard and appalled, fell prostrate and prayed: “I am too ashamed and disgraced, my God, to lift up my face to you, because our sins are higher than our heads and our guilt has reached to the heavens."

Yet there is hope: our God is merciful and just, filled with lovingkindness and grace for those who repent.  It is our duty as Christians to share the good news of Christ's love and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  How exactly this is worked out in these situations I don't know and I pray for wisdom.  That's all I can say about those tragic issues.

 But upon reading responses in the New York Times just now to a law in Ohio considering banning abortion following a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome, I will say more.

One man, telling about his dearly loved sister with Down syndrome, said, "She was still wearing diapers when my parents were able to get her into a state home so that my mother could go back to work in order to get us out of a rat-infested three-room apartment.  The decision caused her much pain and she bore it her entire life.  I know that faced with a decision about having a Down's child my mother and all Joyce's family would choose an abortion."

Another tells of her mother, with a sister who had Down syndrome, who aborted her child when his prenatal test showed positive:  "I have no regrets at all and never have. . .Sadness, yes, when I opened the post-op report and read about a 5 cm left foot and that it had been a boy, but not even a twinge that I chose to end this potential life in order to make my life, and those of my already born daughter and son who arrived two years later, a family that was not broken, tortured, and hell to live in as my own had been."

I love my mother and I know she will tell me to quit reading the news.  And my funky friend Shawna will say, I told you to write about silliness for a happier read.  But I cannot let the above comments pass.

As for having to put a child in a state home, I am relieved that I have not had to make that choice, that D is not violent or, as yet, require more care than I am able to provide.  One day I will not be able to care for him, but that day is not here.  I thank God that I have respite care in NC so that I am able to keep him at home with his family and home school my other two. But avoiding the pain of placing a child in a state home by having an abortion makes no sense.

And aren't we all broken?  Isn't every family you know broken in some way? Or is it just me, imagining problems for others to make myself feel better about my brokenness?

As for the "tortured and hell" part, I must admit I have used the word "torture" before when talking about what D is doing that is driving me crazy, and sometimes not really about what he is doing but what he can't help but do.  But I have also used the word to describe my other two when I am trying to get them to clean their playroom or about my husband when he wakes me up before D does early in the AM.  And there have been times in the car when D has been uncomfortable due to his hunger or need to toilet that he has pinched and pulled the hair of his brothers in a way that they would probably qualify as torture. So would I rather he not be alive? That is absurd.

When he spends a week at my parents' house or at the Civitan camp in the summer, I feel guilty because I enjoy my days being a bit easier, more relaxing, but when he comes home and thanks me for giving him a bath or kisses me on the head with his awkward lip smacks 300 times in the morning because I don't want to get out of bed and he is ready to eat, I don't regret the "difficulty of D."  When he says "YAY!" and claps his hands because a singer has just lauded the saving grace of Jesus, I know my life is richer, my faith is deeper, and my love is better because of D being exactly who he is.

His body is starting to curve a bit to the right side as his muscles on his side get shorter, reminding me that he does have a degenerative disease, but his therapist cannot say enough about the strides he is making as far as increased balance and ability to follow commands.  My boy is doing well, better than predicted.  Is he making our lives a living hell? Don't ask me that question at 4 in the morning when he is playing his favorite choir rehearsal CD at volume 10 or maybe when he has an upset stomach and I am out of wipes, I may not be able to say a resounding "No!" with all sincerity.

But what makes me really want to pull out my hair and sit resignedly appalled is not my child with extraordinary needs, but my own sin, my selfishness, my pride, my callousness, my impatience, my discontent, my condescension, my covetousness, my greed; these are what make my soul tortured.

D and I were able to spend a wonderful weekend celebrating my sweet Aunt Nancy with her family in Atlanta and driving down we listened to lots of different stations.  Several songs spoke to me, but "Flawless" by Mercyme is one that really stands out;  "Grace, grace, God's grace" made D clap every time!  Here is an excerpt:

No matter the bumps
No matter the bruises
No matter the scars
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless
No matter the hurt
Or how deep the wound is
No matter the pain
Still the truth is
The cross has made
The cross has made you flawless

Could it possibly be
That we simply can’t believe
That this unconditional
Kind of love would be enough
To take a filthy wretch like this
And wrap him up in righteousness
But that’s exactly what He did

Praise God I do not have to remain in a tortured state or experience true hell in this life or the next.  Jesus declared "It is finished" on the cross.  His redeeming work is done.  If we believe in Jesus, confess our need for Him, repent from our sin, he has made us FLAWLESS.

God's word and prayer need to be my antidote to the daily news.  Not that I plan to stop reading the news or disconnect from the hurt others are experiencing, but I will fix my eyes on Jesus: "the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." Hebrews 12:2b

God's plan doesn't remove us from pain, but provides us the strength and grace to work through whatever we face, enabling us to love others who, too, experience the pain of this life. 

Here's the song if you care to listen:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Many Paths to Grace

Andrew Peterson sings of the "many roads that we all traveled just to get here."  It's an apt metaphor for General Assembly.  I've talked to several folks about their roles in ministry and each ministry couple/family has an unique journey; while we are on a kaleidoscope of paths, our spiritual journey is the same narrow way that leads to life.  It's been fun this week to watch serendipitous Providence at work as people meet for the first time and find they are connected somehow. I've seen folks who were a part of my journey at various times, each time the picture shifted, the kaleidoscope colors rearranged; each person, each friendship reminded me of previous patterns some with more blues or vermillion, others when brilliant gold shone.

On Tuesday morning, Joan and I participated in the Art Walk, a guided tour of the Hunter Museum with a quick view of a sculpture garden around the Tennessee River.  I learned much from our docent as we discussed different periods of art in American history and noted the exquisite architecture of the mansion overlooking the bluff, a spot once important during the Civil War.  A few ladies lingered after the tour to get the bonus guidance of the abstract art room.  We talked at length about this large paint-stained canvas by Paul Jenkins (thumbnail below).  It was not meant to represent anything: just an experiment in color and technique of paint rolling down a stark white canvas.

But I contend it signifies something because it is titled, and while I may be wrong for seeing a bird in what is supposed to be an exercise to highlight color, the word phenomena suggests, as least in the Kantian sense, that it is something not in itself, but as it appears to me.  Perhaps it is simply the royal blue becoming violet as it appears to the observer, but visitation, I think, implies that the something that is being perceived by the observer/painter, not simply as it exists on canvas, is manifesting itself to me.  I am being visited by something--a bird, a group of colors blending to form another, I don't know really, but it brings me again to the Peterson song.

Why these Many Roads "brought us to this moment isn't clear," he sings.  Perhaps interpreting abstract expressionism is missing the point, the art is not meant to contain meaning, but how like understanding God's Providence is viewing this abstract art.  We don't see the point clearly.  We find out in bits and pieces as it is revealed to us the reason for our journey.  Events seem random, unplanned, yet there is a design beyond our dreams or musings.
Paul Jenkins (1923-2012), Phenomena Royal Violet Visitation, 1977, acrylic on canvas, signed and dated at lower center, 55 x 169 inches, Gift of Ruth S. and A. William Holmberg, 1978.22
Phenomena Royal Violet Visitation by Paul Jenkins

 I finished reading Dancing with Max a book by Chuck Colson's daughter about life with her autistic son a few nights ago.  It reminded me of a part of my journey I had mostly forgotten. A difficult part. Life with D when he was younger, hyper, incredibly hard-to-manage. Life before being a pastor's wife gave me a husband who prayed for me and supported me in this difficulty, life before God had drawn me back to Himself after having tried to forge my own way and failing miserably to be happy, prosperous.  And while I don't understand that path and all its purposes, reading this book now gave me some insight that was helpful.

I've also been reading in Ezekiel:  how often did the Israelites try their own way, make alliances with other nations against God's wisdom?  The middle part of the book seems to be all about God's judgment against their rebelliousness, and this morning I arrived at chapter 36 vs. 25 when finally there is redemption:

 "I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."

God does this for them, but get this in vs. 32, "I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD."  

The redemption does not happen because of anything the Israelites have done; verse 32 makes that clear.  It is because the Lord chooses to forgive and cleanse.  Pure grace.  My NIV notes said that Ezekiel is a prophet of pure grace.  You don't really get that in most of the chapters where the judgements almost read like Jeremiah and his jeremiad.  But it's there.

I would almost say that grace has been the theme of this GA for me.  In the first sermon Bryan Chapell  preached on Psalm 32, God, the God who does not pause, is our hiding place:   vs. 5 "Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said 'I will confess my transgressions to the LORD'--and you forgave the guilt of my sin.  Selah  Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found; surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him.  You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah."  If we confess, He is faithful and just and will forgive.

I missed Andrew Peterson's concert last night at Covenant College because the only person in my family who will travel any distance for live music is D, and he is having a blast at Camp Mawmaw/Daddyghee.  To make up for missing the concert, I have listened to Peterson's songs this morning and the one that spoke to me most was "Silence of God."  For those times when it seems as if my prayers are just echoes in my own head, that God does not see, that God is silent, that God is disciplining me for my disobedience, this song reminds me that I cannot trust my feelings, faith is knowing God loves me with a love everlasting and that He does hear and He does know, God is El Roi (Genesis 16:13)--

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
The aching may remain but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God

Here is the song in its entirety: Silence of God .