Friday, January 11, 2019

Daredevil Homeschool

Days like today are why we homeschool. Not the only reason … but you know how when you determine that you are going to do something, you have expectations? A picture in your mind of what it will look like?

I have a master’s degree in elementary education. The vision of an ideal learning situation was burned into my brain. When I started teaching, nothing could have been further from that vision. It was disappointing and frustrating.

So we started our homeschool journey with our eyes wide open. I knew it would require a patient persistence, discipline, celebration, and periods of rest. But I often I beat myself up for falling short of this beautiful perfection constructed in my mind: themed units with broad spiderwebs of connections between subjects. Topical and engaging, the kids excited an enthralled and soaking up the information as organized and categorized little sponges. Easily accessible in their minds so they’d never, never forget a precious drop.

Homeschooling has been so much more agile that I dreamed. I don’t plan themes, I follow a curriculum. I think I’d have been placed in an institution by now if I tried educate from exciting thematic units as a rule. That or my family would have starved and we’d have had to hire a live in maid and nanny by now. I realize that some educators have achieved this, and my hat is off to them - it is a labor of love and likely the result of years of sacrifice, triumphs, and failures. And frankly, I actually feel that if it was exciting all the time, I wouldn’t be best preparing them to leave the nest (college organic chemistry, anyone?).

But today … today was a diamond of a day. Sparkling with multifaceted clarity! Not mined but unearthed from the mud of the mundane. Organic. Natural. The most beautiful day of homeschool among countless sparkling gems on our calendar.

OF COURSE it started with science. I heart science with an anatomical heart in sinus rhythm. We introduced forces and simple machines. Wheels, ramps, levers. I used their own toys to demonstrate, let them try for themselves, and might even be disappointed if I don’t catch them experimenting on their own when they think I’m not watching.

Now, part of our homeschool day involves focus exercises. Not intentionally. But when you have an 18 month old boy running roughshod through your school day … it takes effort to avoid distraction.

I’ve taken to calling RJ Evel Knievel. I thought the girls were climbers, but he climbs higher, faster, and at a younger age … seemingly without fear. He laughs in the face of danger. Our little adrenaline junkie; I shouldn’t be surprised but I am. Today I chided him as a removed him from a table, and Victoria jutted out her chin and came to his defense, “Don’t call my brother evil!”

As I explained that I was calling him Evel, not evil … it dawned on me. Wheels! Ramps! Thank you, internet … as the children watched science reemerged.
It gets better.

Evel Knievel attempted to jump the Snake River in Idaho. The same river we crossed on our road trip this summer. Not far from where we crossed it.

Then we watched footage of the actual jump, with Evel Knievel himself describing his experience. That it was a miracle he landed on the rocks instead of the water, seeing as how he was bound into the heavy machine. Seeing a person who tried and tried and tried again and didn’t wait until everything was perfect.

And that word. Miracle. Inspired Shelby to ask if he believed in Jesus. I vaguely remembered that perhaps he had later in life. And they got to hear his testimony, in his own voice.

And just like that, something better than I ever could have planned unfurled around us.

I just hope I didn’t manage to turn them all into professional daredevils.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Baby It's Cold Outside

To say I’ve noticed a lot of heat over what has become a classic Christmas song … Baby It’s Cold Outside … is an understatement. For whatever reason while doing dishes this morning I was inspired to share my thoughts. It’s only one perspective; on second thought it’s really two because I’m both a wife and a mother. I’m also a Christian, so keep in mind that’s going to temper my view.

Let’s face it … this song is an easy to sing romp through a clever duet exchanged between a man and a woman. Toasty when the temperature drops and the sky darkens by 5. But I’ll also admit that in all honesty it has always been a little bit creepy. Maybe even a lot.

All the same, it is also much like an exchange between a weary mother and her amorous husband … I’m trying to be a little more bold and brave with my writing, so consider yourself warned...

I’m often a touched-out lukewarm clutter of uncooperative hormones. And absolutely no means no even in marriage… but if my first sigh of exhaustion meant Tim and I never consummated our marriage after having children … baby, it’d be cold inside too.

“Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” - 1 Corinthians 7:5 NASB

He sweetly brushes aside my myriad excuses, and I’m thankful he does. He’s never talked me into something I regret. Isn’t the flirting and half-hearted protest part of the (yep, I’m going to say it) foreplay? Were we more musically gifted, our evenings often might going something like this:

This evening has been (Been hoping for time alone)
A trial of patience again (I’ll help you relax, just let me begin)
What if a child awakes? (See this door? That’s all it takes)
I’ve not slept so well you see (In the morning leave the kiddos to me)
I want to but I’m just so tired (Have I told you, you’re beautiful tired)

Many nights my heart is willing, my husband is handsome and romantic, but it takes my exhausted body a while to switch gears. Playful banter and furtive glances over our children's heads help move me from reluctancy to enthusiasm.

So, within our marriage I appreciate my husband’s gentle persistence. In our relationship such banter and pursuit is safe and welcome. From my Christian perspective, within a marriage is the only place for this. I don't mean that as a judgement towards someone who has not accepted Christ. But as a Christian I believe relationships work best and are safest when we respect the boundaries God has given us because He loves us. It is a safe place for us to play.

On the other hand, especially as a mother, I understand the “#metoo” perspective. I have been out in the dating world, and there are too many men who are detestable in what they think they are “owed” when they take a woman on a date. Excuses are not playful invitations for you to persist and pour the wine, they are something to be respected as polite, gentle no. In an unsafe, uncommitted relationship this “gentleman” is not behaving as one.

As a mother, I would want my daughters to have the confidence and self-respect to stand up to this guy and bust out the rude and unmistakable no. Whatever her reasons, he needs to accept them or be ready to become the recipient of some violence! I would hope our son would be a true gentleman. Of course, I also hope he grows up to be a Christian young man and doesn’t take a young woman home with such intentions in the first place ... I pray this for him.

Don’t get me started on this guy's pride. Your pride shouldn’t be tied to whether or not she stays the night. I would be so much more proud of my son if he realized he was going to far, pushing too much, and politely made sure she made it home safe. He should also respect her parents enough to care that they are worried about their daughter. If you are meant to be in a relationship together it is going to work out. Your polite patience and mutual respect will pay off with interest.

The song is controversial because it is uncomfortable. I can only imagine that was the intention. I’ll probably continue to listen to it and even find myself absentmindedly humming it. At this point in my life, it’s always been around at Christmas … and the subtly coy lyrics can provide innocent (or not so innocent) playful banter for my husband and I.

The scene in Elf where Jovie is singing in the shower and Buddy innocently, naively joins in to me epitomizes this song. It’s uncomfortable and wrong and innocent all at once. It really just depends on how you look at it. But for me, I guess I’m still ok being a little bit uncomfortable. And as the kids get older the lyrics offer an opportunity to talk about relationships and respect. I'm not kicking it out of my playlist but I wouldn't dream of insisting someone listen to it when it is making their skin crawl.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Used Furniture

Youth camp can impact you for a large portion of your life. It can change your life.

A handful of well-intentioned words of warning at a youth camp in my teens have left me with a wound that has festered for most of my adult life.

My pain has not been wasted. The thorn left under my skin, rubbing me the wrong way, swelling with inflammation when I dared to forget it existed, humbling me lest I become proud, bringing me back to my knees asking for Jesus’ lavish mercy to cleanse me and comfort me … it has helped me see the pain in others. Helped me try to remember to temper my words with grace, His grace. His bountiful, unending, matchless grace that can cover a multitude … nay … every sin.

But this morning in His immeasurable, complete, and compassionate mercy a seed God had planted long before bloomed into healing beauty before my eyes. I don’t think I have ever felt more clearly that He loves me. He sees me. He hears my prayers. He knows my pain. He cares that I have suffered.

God can redeem anything. ANYTHING. Nothing is beyond His influence. He who hardens the hearts of pagan world leaders (Exodus 7:13), brings the dead to life (John 11:43) … I can trust that same God to recover a careless, scare-tactic attempt at behavior modification by fear meant for teens.

I don’t remember exactly what year it was, but I know I was 15 or older. I remember the room at the camp where the preaching took place with icy, crystalline clarity. It’s hard to forget where you were when hopelessness crushed your spirit.

“You’re like used furniture - without value, worthless. Nobody wants to buy used furniture.”

How the enemy has belittled me with those words time and time and time again. Like an ugly, scratched and outdated credenza or the faded, stained couch on the side of the highway that probably smells like vomit. Broken, unwanted, distasteful.

In my shame I didn’t tell anyone. To their credit there were friends and family around me who would have wept alongside me and reminded me of the truth … that I am a child of THE KING. That He is Go’alenu me’olam, Our Redeemer from of old … nothing is a surprise to Him; there is nothing He can’t repurpose for His purpose.

Today in Sunday School (yes we still call it that) we’ve been slowly going through the War Room Bible study, and there, at the bottom of page 51, was the seed God planted for me. An excerpt from “A Touch of His Freedom” by Dr. Charles Stanley:

“…Christian transformation, like RESTORING OLD FURNITURE, is a two-stage process. First, one must take off the old. Then you have a clean slate to put on the new.”

In the hands of the Master (y’all, JESUS WAS A CARPENTER), old, used furniture can be made into something valuable and beautiful. A one-of-a-kind creation full of character that brings usefulness, joy, pleasure to the family it was meant for.

We are never too far gone. Though consequences may be far reaching, there is NOTHING that is beyond His reach. Never let anyone tell you differently. Jesus didn’t die just to save us, He died to REDEEM us. To buy us back from Satan, full price. You are valuable to Him.

Furniture restoration photos courtesy of Eclectic Home Boutique in Houston, Texas

Monday, December 5, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Why do Christians say: Blessed?

If you have spent much time in the genial South, you've probably heard "Bless her heart" as a prelude to gossip. It might as well be a curse. God protect this person, and my soul, because I'm about to share something awful, or private, or that may not even be true.

We Christians use the word bless a lot. We bless people when they sneeze to be polite, but it started as salutation to acknowledge that someone had just expelled a demonic presence from their body.

Christians tend to misuse the word bless. To hear us speak, anything with the appearance of good is a blessing, and anything resembling hardship is a lack of blessing.

But that's not actually what the Bible says.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 5:3
What on earth does that mean? Aren't Christians supposed to be rich in spirit; don't you "saved" people claim to be full of the Holy Spirit?

But that's just it. In order to make room for the Holy Spirit, I have to recognize that my own spirit is bankrupt. Without currency. No matter how rich I am by the world's standards, I can't buy property in heaven. I come before God empty and He blesses me by paying my way back to Him. Blessings beyond measure!
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."
Matthew 5:4
I don't know about you, but I don't like to mourn. I don't want to grieve. Yet the Bible calls it a blessing when I do, because then I can be comforted. Not by friends patting me on the back or dropping off casseroles. By the Holy Ghost. Comfort from within that doesn't tapper off as time passes. That is there no matter what time of day or night, even if I can't utter a sound. Such comfort that Jesus called it a blessing to mourn in order to receive it.
"Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth."
Matthew 5:5
Some translations use the word "meek" in place of gentle. My first thought is "oh great, that wouldn't be me." Take heart, dear strong-willed fellow sojourner! HELPS Word-studies says:
"Biblical meekness is not weakness but rather refers to exercising God's strength under His control - i.e. Demonstrating power without undue harshness."
Under His control. With Him, it is possible to be powerfully gentle. Rather than the mousy wall-flower backed into a corner at the high school dance, I picture the woman on the prow of a ship ... steady, unmoved, not afraid of the wind and the waves raging around her. But it isn't the sandwich-board evangelist shouting doom from the street corner at every passerby. For me, it brings to mind a picture a friend posted a couple of years ago. When pro-life protesters in Austin wore red tape over their mouths with the word "LIFE" written on it. With angry insults and indignation swirling in a tempest around them they stood, brave, powerful, and silent. Meek. Gentle.

The beatitudes (as these verses are called) continue and I will wait until next week to explore the rest. For today I leave you with the idea that while the physical provisions we have, the unexpected abundances, the appreciation for hard work, and our families are all blessings ... perhaps we need reminded that the blessings promised in the Bible don't always look quite like that.

If you are in need, feel empty, are mourning, or feel like you aren't doing big, bold things for the kingdom ... take another look through the lens of these verses. Perhaps it isn't that God hasn't blessed you with the answers to your prayers. Perhaps you are blessed because your reward isn't here yet.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Softly Call

Let me tell you a story about Aggies.

They say from the outside in, you can't understand it. And it is true. Almost any university has a sense of school spirit, but there is something different about being an Aggie.

In 1999, I was a junior. I was struggling. I had been a straight A student in high school, and I rarely studied. Even my first year at A&M was mostly review since I had taken advanced courses as my electives as I finished my K-12 education.

But that fall, I was what my Dad calls "a good Aggie." I didn't drop my classes to avoid the blow to my GPA. I stuck to it, even when I knew I wasn't going to pass - even if I didn't miss a single question on the final exam. Why would I do that? I knew I was going to be retaking the classes and wanted to learn as much as I could so that I could do better the next time.

It was hard. I was having to learn to study. On the night of November 17-18 I was studying. I had a microbiology test coming. I was failing miserably in the lecture portion even though I was acing the labs.

One thing I had learned was that I'm easily distracted. So I would go to Evans library, immerse myself in the stacks, find one of those abandoned study carrels with the walls on three sides, plug in my portable CD player (usually with the Braveheart soundtrack spinning away) and block out the world around me.

That night, I was there until late trying to cram gram positive, gram negative, spirochete, bacillus, coccus, disease process, and carriers into my weary brain. I left to return to the duplex I shared with three other friends. I could have driven east from where the library sat near the center of campus, but I took a brief detour to pass stack. It was between 1 and 2 in the morning. There it was, brightly lit, students working 24 hours a day to prepare for our rivalry with t.u. A happy reminder that there is more to college than books.

The next morning, I awoke to tragedy that still rocks me to my core. Probably around the time I was finally falling asleep, stack fell. Students were being pulled from the huge logs that looked like so many matchsticks as the behemoth heap fell.

It has taken me nearly 17 years to learn that it is ok for me to grieve. I still struggle. I cried in the shower this morning, still fighting the guilt that I have no reason to weep. Anytime a helicopter passes overhead, I'm still taken back to the days following the fall. News choppers whirled overhead day and night and campus bristled with antennas as the country watched our personal tragedy like a spectacle, tut-tutting in their safe newsrooms about our traditions.

I didn't know any of the 12 who died personally. Someone from my microbiology class of 500 students was among the injured, but I couldn't have picked him out in a crowd. Only one of my fightin' Texas Aggie class of 2001 was among those who died, but I didn't know him. How could I be so upset? Get over it! It isn't personal Amanda! My microbiology professor perpetuated these feelings by holding the exam despite the fact that many of us were reeling. I failed two classes that semester.

But we are Aggies. The Aggies are we. When something happens to one of us, it happens to all of us. Even students today feel the weight of what happened nearly a lifetime ago. It is ok, even right, for me to grieve fellow fallen Aggies.

I have attended two other schools since my time at Texas A&M, but I'm telling you there is something about us Aggies. You might not understand it, and I can't explain it to you. But I'm proud to be a part of the Fightin' Texas Aggie class of '01 ... and when softly they call the muster for my fellow Aggies, I will proudly answer ...


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A Day in the Life - Rolled Away

A few days ago we pulled into a gas station, and a grackle was pecking around in front of our car. Shelby piped up from the back seat:

"God and Beast (our vehicle) will protect my heart in my tummy where that bird can't get it. It won't roll it away."

Um. Yeah. I mean, she is right ... the grackle wasn't going to roll away with her heart. I couldn't figure out why she would think that was a possibility?

One of my favorite words is "mondegreen." I love it because I LOVE misheard lyrics. And I love that the origin of the word IS a misheard lyric ... apparently there was a war lament that went "laid him on the green" ... but many listeners heard "Lady Mondegreen." Hence, mondegreen.

Not long later, Shelby started singing ... and the origin of the heart rolling grackle was revealed:

"Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away ...
And the bird took my heart and rolled away."

While I'll never really know exactly what was going through her head thinking we were singing a hymn about a bird taking our heart, I figured out where she got it from.

She is SO smart and SO good at figuring things out ... I wish I knew her thoughts on this hymn
Part of the homeschooling curriculum we decided on is Bible, which includes music. On the way to gymnastics we often listen to the songs since we don't do school on Mondays. We had done that the morning of her grackle statement.

Last Friday we had BLTs for supper to celebrate Shelby's first three consonants!
One of the songs is the hymn "Rolled Away:"

Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away,
Ev'ry burden of my heart rolled away;
Rolled away rolled away, rolled away,
Ev'ry burden of my heart rolled away.
Ev'ry sin had to go 'neath the crimson flow, Hallelujah!
Rolled away, rolled away, rolled away;
Ev'ry burden of my heart rolled away!
- Walter D. Kallenbach 
Mystery, solved. This time.

(and if you're ever in need of a good laugh - search "misheard lyrics" on YouTube ...)

On another note ... her statement about the blessing of the protection of our monstrous 12 mpg vehicle was not lost on us that day. Less than half an hour after Shelby's statement, someone changed lanes into us at 70mph on highway 6 between College Station and Bryan. And bounced off the side of Beast. The girls have done more damage with rocks than that young, late-for-work driver did. She was ok too, thankfully.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Start Your Week in the Word - Why do Christians say "everything will be ok?"

"Everything will be ok."

Has someone ever said that to you, and you felt like they were blowing you off? Not listening? Delusional?

Have you ever said this to someone? Because you meant well and didn't know what else to say? Because you believed it about their situation? Because you believe it about your own situations?

It's ok. I understand. I'm going to tread lightly here, but I'm going to tell you these things that have been laid on my heart for a few weeks now. It took me that long to digest them, turn them over in my hands, and try to take a look from as many angles as I'm capable of. No doubt I missed some.

If you aren't a believer, I'm going to attempt to help you understand why a believer may say this to you.

If you ARE a believer, I'm going to attempt to help you understand why sometimes this isn't helpful - and sometimes it isn't even true (blasphemy! I know, hang with me here, I'll explain).

For a believer, everything will eventually be ok. That doesn't mean in this life. That means in the end, THE end, the very end of everything, for a believer everything will be ok.

Even if things get very ugly in this life ... divorce, cancer, financial ruin, persecution, we can hold fast to the promise that this life is not the end.
"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us." 
- Romans 8:18
Jesus overcame sin and death to give us a way to the Father. In the end, for a Christian, that is all that matters. Not what happens to us here. How we handle, our countenance during trials, our joyful acceptance and continued praise, points to our faith in Him and is our witness to His greatness even when He doesn't deliver us from our pain.
"In the world you have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world." 
- John 16:33
Because everything will be ok in the end, we can comfort ourselves with scriptures like the following:
"And we know that God causes all things to work together for the good ..." 
- Romans 8:28a
But carelessly tossing them for comfort to a lost soul is dangerous. It's like throwing someone a deflated life raft without telling them "Hey, this raft works great ... BUT you do have to put air in it first." Gee, thanks.
" those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." 
- Romans 8:28b
In reality, for many believers things are NOT ok in this life. We should praise and thank God profusely when things work out well in this life. It is a blessing, not a right. The Gospel is not about worldly prosperity ... if you are poor or sick or unable to have children or lonely ... it doesn't mean your faith is weak or God doesn't love you as much as your healthy, wealthy Christian friend. It means He is working something eternal that you aren't going to understand yet, so you can praise Him anyways. It WILL eventually be ok.
"'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope." 
- Jeremiah 29:11
For the believer, there is always hope.

Not so for the nonbeliever. The hope is there for them, a free gift, a gracious offering on their behalf. But if they have not accepted that gift ... they absolutely have no reason to hope.

Tim was reading me something a few days ago about a woman terrified that, because of the election results, her life was going to be shortened by 40 years due to climate change.

For a nonbeliever, this kind of fear is very real. If you choose to reject Christ, this life is as good as it gets. While I do not want to be cruel, I want to be honest enough to say that yes ... disease, famine, death should be as frightening as hell. Because that is what the future holds in the end without Christ.

That is a situation without hope.

Don't get me wrong ... this life can be so good! But there is MORE coming for believers than we can imagine!
So for me to toss a grieving, groaning, crying nonbeliever a nonchalant "everything will be ok" isn't helpful. Everything will be ok for me ... when Christ returns. If you continue to reject Him things will never be ok. And screaming, mourning, a bemoaning the hardships of this world is not uncalled for because this IS as good as it gets without Him.

This vibrant life is but a shadow of what is to come when we get to be face to face with God.
Even if you don't have hardship ... are the fame, fortune, titles, career ladders, bank accounts, vehicles ... do they feel empty? Are they fulfilling? If this life is going to be as good as it gets, and those things aren't filling you up ... it might be a good time to at least consider if that is how all of this really works. Because without Jesus nothing will be ok.