Monthly Archives: May 2012

More Gifts

When I begin to feel overwhelmed with the dirty laundry and the dirty dishes and sick, fevered children, with schedule-planning and decision-making and character-training — when I begin to feel overwhelmed with life, I try to stop and breathe and remember to be thankful.

Ann Voskamp, in her book one thousand gifts, beautifully articulates the heart-transforming work of thanks-giving.

Yesterday I listed some of my blessings. Today, as I look at the piles of dirty dishes and the hampers full of laundry, I need to focus my heart once more on the gifts surrounding me.

* sweet buttercream frosting licked from mixing bowl

* boys counting UNO cards

* old hymns on an acoustic guitar

* colorful K’Nex car rolling down the black driveway

* tropical smell of pineapple in the blender

* bedroom floor large enough for boys to flank my bed on their make-shift sleeping mats

* cheerful warble of birds in the yard and on my porch

* visits with grandparents

* children’s giggles

What gifts can you name in the midst of your messy, busy, demanding life? 

Today’s Gifts

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Today’s gifts

* birthday celebrations

* sunrise glow over the mountain

* freshly-picked wildflowers

* medicine for children’s fevers

* wispy white clouds

* baby birds testing their wings

* front porch sitting

* cool mountain breeze

* hope

What are your gifts today?

Do you want my help or not, kid?

Lately my sons have been doing this thing to each other. I have no idea why they find it amusing. Because it makes me insane. Absolutely insane.

One of them will grab his brother’s hat and run. Or snatch a quarter from his little brother’s hand and sprint around the living room. Or steal his brother’s favorite stuffed animal and dash downstairs with it.

And that’s wrong. I get that. It’s frustrating and annoying. It’s no fun when someone takes your stuff just to upset you.

However — what really makes me crazy is the reaction of the wronged son. And they all do this. And it makes my head want to explode!

As soon as the hat is grabbed or quarter snatched or stuffed animal stolen, the victim begins to chase and scream, “Mom! MAAAAHHHHHHMMMMM!! He took something from me! Make him give it back!”

Usually by this point, they are running in circles around the downstairs. “Mom! He has my thing! He took it! Make him give it back! Mom! MAAAAHHHHHHHMMMMMM!”

And then he will turn to his brother, who always has an evil smirk on his face as he runs for his life. “Give it back to me! You can’t take my stuff! I hate you! Give it back!”

Then he screams back at me, “MAAAHHHHHMMMMM! Why aren’t you helping? Make him give it back to me!”

And, of course, all of this happens in less than two minutes. And because of all the screaming and running and chaos, I can’t really say anything and be heard.

Over and over, I explain to my sons that if they want my help, they need to come to me and ask with respect and then let me handle it. If they are screaming and chasing and trying to wrestle their possession from a brother, then they are making it harder for me to handle the situation.

As I have been reminding my boys of this, I have begun to think. Don’t I do this same thing with God?

I have a problem, so I frantically pray, “Help me, God. Work this out for me. Hurry. Work it out quickly.” And then I worry and fuss and complain. I try to wrestle out the solution on my own. I practically scream for God to help me, but then I plow ahead as if it all is up to me.

All the while, He is saying, Be still and know that I am God. . . . Be still before Me and wait patiently for Me. . . . Wait patiently for Me, and I will incline and hear your cry. . . . Wait on Me and I will strengthen your heart. . . . Wait for Me, and I will provide at the right time  (Ps. 46:10, Ps. 37:7, Ps. 40:1, Ps. 27:14, Ps. 104:27). 

Today, I am going to quiet myself before Him. I am going to stop screaming and fretting and fussing and plotting and scheming. I am going to be still and wait.

Do you ask God for help and then forge ahead as if you had to handle it all by yourself? Do you have any idea why my sons think this is a fun activity? Is it possible for my head to actually explode from their antics? 

Head-Shaking, Arm-Flapping, Test-Taking ThingFour

He squints his eyes and shakes his head rapidly back and forth. He lifts his knees to touch the top of his thighs to the underside of his desk. He lifts his toes up and down inside his shoes. Discreetly, he tries to turn some arm-flapping into a stretch. And every time he reads a cool word, his brain repeats it, rolls it around and around in his mind, silently focusing on every syllable.

The head-shaking, knee-lifting, arm-flapping tics are repeated over and over again as he tries to listen to his teacher, remembers not to repeat any cool words out loud -only inside his head- and makes sure his arms don’t actually hit any kids sitting near him.

ThingFour has Tourette Syndrome and some mild OCD. And while it’s often an annoyance, it usually isn’t horribly disruptive to life. There are worse things, we remind ourselves.

But during state standardized testing days —– Well, Tourette Syndrome and standardized testing aren’t the most compatible.

The compulsion to repeatedly check and recheck and recheck every answer has tripped him up on tests before.

Reading test questions, looking at maps, lining up math problems while squinting up his eyes and shaking his head from side to side can be especially challenging.

Holding in tongue clicks and remembering not to whisper-repeat any fun-sounding words, like Ponce de Leon and Antarctica, requires mental energy that could be put toward answering test questions.

So today and on the other test days, I’m praying for ThingFour and for ThingTwo, his ticcing sister. I’m praying for focused minds and calm bodies. I’m praying for understanding teachers and neighboring classmates who are not easily distracted by knee-lifting and head-shaking.

And I’m bracing myself for some serious opera-singing tics when ThingFour gets home from school. After holding in tics and focusing on test-taking today, Tourette Syndrome will probably really let loose when his school day is over. Anyone have any song requests?

ThingThree and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

When I was in college, we learned about the notion of self-fulfilling prophecy in my educational psychology courses. Studies show that, most often, students live up to whatever expectations have been matched with them.

This child – my ThingThree, my first-born son – is a poster-child for the concept of self-fulfilling prophecy.

He started at a small, private school half-way through first grade. By the end of his first week there, he had been told he was behind the other students and that he would have to work hard to catch up in reading.

During that school year and the next, the ideas that he couldn’t read, that he was slower than everyone else, that he was behind, that he should be held back, that he would fail if promoted — all of those thoughts were imposed upon him at school. Often the help he received made him miss out on other classroom work, work that had to be made up, which perpetuated the idea that he was never able to catch up with the rest of his classmates.

By the end of second grade, he declared he was not made for school. He would drop out and travel the world.

The next year I homeschooled him. I learned everything I could about teaching reading. I learned everything I could about kinesthetic learning. And I taught him reading and math and grammar and social studies and science.

But mostly, I worked my tail off to rebuild my broken little boy. Every day, I told him he was smart. Every day, I told him he was becoming a good reader. Every day, I pointed out his successes. Whereas at school, the focus had been on his weaknesses; at home, we highlighted his strengths.

It was sort of like this

Academically, we have seen great improvements in the past couple of years. His reading fluency has increased by several grade levels. Emotionally, we also have seen major improvements. His anxiety has decreased — he doesn’t bite his fingernails; he doesn’t pick at his skin nearly as much as he used to; he doesn’t hoard food and trash in his bedroom like he was doing.

Now he is in a public school here in our new location. He began in January, which made me a little nervous since that scenario had been such a disaster back when he was in first grade. But this time, the whole self-fulfilling prophecy has been working in the opposite direction.

His classmates and teacher commented right away on how smart he is in math. He has always been strong in math, but I think his math skills have improved even more in the past couple months.

His teacher and the reading specialist have told him what a great reader he is — that he is so fluent, he needs to slow down a little! He is beginning to believe them. And his reading continues to improve.

But most notably, he has always loved to draw but this love has gone to a whole new level now. Within the first couple weeks at this new school, his classmates noticed something he was drawing during free time. One boy exclaimed how great it was, and the other students clamored to see. They declared my son an artist, the best artist in the class!

His classmates began requesting drawings, commissioning him to draw specific things. And my son obliged. After all, he is an artist now.

He has been bringing home Big Nate comic books and Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and meticulously copying, by freehand, scenes onto paper. Now that he is mastering the concept of comic drawings, he is ready to start creating his own characters.

Years ago, his teachers said he was slow, a poor reader, behind everyone else. And, for a while, he believed them.

Now, his teachers tell him he is a fluent reader and great at math. His classmates tell him he is a rockstar artist. And he believes them.

Seriously, this kid might be the next great comic strip artist! At least, I’m telling him he can be if he wants.

What messages are we giving the children in our lives? What labels are we putting on them? Because they believe us. And they’ll live up to whatever we expect of them. 

On The Verge Of Falling

Last year, I found this video clip of Rich Mullins talking about where he puts his faith. 

It spoke to my heart, and I wrote the following response to it. 

I love how Rich Mullins put it –  ”I would rather live on the verge of falling & let my security be in the all-sufficiency of the grace of God than to live in some kind of pietistic illusion of moral excellence.”

How many of us live in a pietistic illusion of our own moral excellence?  I know I’ve been guilty of that.

Then he said, “My faith isn’t in the idea that I am more moral than anybody else. My faith is in the idea that God and His love are greater than whatever sins any of us commit.”

Let that sink in.  I have been thinking about it all morning.

When I focus on my own behavior, even my own good behavior, then my focus is not on God.  We Christians can make an idol out of morally good behavior.  We can behave as if our faith is in our own morality.

Whereas, if I live on the verge of falling, then I am constantly aware of my own weakness.  I am constantly aware that I am fully reliant on God.  I am constantly aware of His love that far surpasses the extent of my sins.  And that’s a good place to be.

If I live on the verge of falling, then -to paraphrase one of Rich Mullins’ songs- then if I stand, I stand on the promise that Christ will pull me through, and if I fall, then I fall on the grace that first brought me to Christ.  Either way, my focus is on Christ and He gets the glory.

Do you agree with Rich Mullins? Have you ever lived in the illusion of your own moral excellence? What’s your favorite Rich Mullins’ song? 

It’s Your Kindness

 

I’ve been pondering this thought lately. If God’s kindness leads us to repentance, then why do I think it’s going to be my yelling and nagging that leads my children to repentance?

This week, I will be more kind and loving when I speak to them – firm, when necessary, but kind. Even when I’m tired or hungry. Even when they are ignoring me or disobeying me or fussing with each other over something stupid. Even when they are being unkind.

I want my interactions with my children to be marked with this loving kindness, the same sort of kindness and goodness God shows to me.