Monday, February 20, 2017

What my family does when I'm away

 They go to the park.





They work on fairy houses. (Thanks, to M. for the additions.)







And J. got to listen to the question, "Mommy, airplane, come home?" probably at least one million times.
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Saturday, February 18, 2017

What I didn't know I needed

If I had unlimited funds and unlimited room, this is the little souvenir I would be bringing home from my little judging jaunt.



Do you not love it? It's a panda piano. Who doesn't need and love a panda piano? It's made my Pearl River Pianos. (It's a  Chinese business out of Guangzhou, hence the name Pearl River, since it runs right through the city. I've seen it. The river, not the company.) The recital halls where I was judging are attached to a piano store, and are owned by a friend of my mom's. He has two of these pianos in his store. I love them.

Sadly, even just one will not fit into my carry on.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Snake

It doesn't always pay to go out of town. Because when you do you miss exciting events. Exciting events such as having a snake arrive via FedEx to your house. I mean, how often does that happen in a person's life? Not many, I think, unless you happen to be a snake breeder. And how many people are snake breeders I wonder. (Yes, I'm kind of punchy of the moment. I've spend five hours listening to piano students play and writing encouraging comments to each of them. It leaves you feeling a little loopy.)

But back to the snake. M. bought a snake. For various reasons, the snake was to be delivered to our house. This morning. Evidently there was some drama involving the snake arriving. Or not. But I wasn't there, so haven't gotten the full scoop yet, which means you don't get it, either. The most you get is third hand news without any amusing details. Sorry. Oh, and you get a picture of a snake, which then puts you and me on the same level of knowledge regarding the snake.

Here's Geb. The banana ball python.


As you can see, Geb, the banana ball python did arrive safely in his box. I suddenly have visions of old Disney movies... The Jungle Book, Robin Hood (wasn't there a snake in that)... running through my head when I look at him. Geb is not living at my house. I wasn't there to be sure, but I'm pretty sure that several of my other children are disappointed by that fact. No, Geb went with M., his rightful owner. I am told his is in his new snake enclosure hiding under a rock. It must be tiring and upsetting to be sent through the mail and then not delivered correctly. But all seems to be well now.

My day was not without it's own merit, though. The weather was beautiful and I did get a chance to be outside in it for a bit before going back to the piano students. My mom also took me out to eat at my very favorite Mexican food restaurant. I ate all the Mexican food. Well, I think all the Mexican food was at least on my plate... it was a sampler of eight different mini-versions of different yummy things. I had a little taco and a little enchilada and a little chile relleno and a little flauta and a little tamales... you get the idea. I think I took one bite of each one and then decided I couldn't eat any more. The leftovers are here in the refrigerator and I will enjoy them over the rest of the weekend. It truly is my comfort food.

So now it is late. The morning comes early and my mother does not share my time challenged-ness, which means I must try my hardest to be punctual or else I will be putting my shoes on in the car as she is driving away as I did for much of my adolescence. I do not care to visit that time in my life again (who does?), so I must go to bed in order to get back up.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Leaving on a jet plane

I am heading to Arizona for the weekend, both to visit my mother and to judge a piano competition for her. It's two o'clock now, and we need to leave for the airport at 4:30. At some point in the next two and a half hours, I suppose I should pack. In order to pack, though, I need the clothes that are currently in the dryer. It's been that kind of a week.

I am also seeming to continue with my phenomenal track record of bringing rotten weather with me on vacation. Get this... so it's February, a month usually known for its miserably cold and grey weather in Chicago. It is also a month in Arizona where the weather is starting to warm and spring is already springing. Except for the three days I will be there. This weekend? It's due to be 60's and sunny in Chicago, and 60's and rainy in Phoenix. Trust me when I say the 60's feel completely different in each location. It's a gift. A gift I'd be happy to pass along to someone else.

Of course the biggest issue regarding this trip is... what book do I bring to read? This has occupied quite a bit of brain space over the past week. You see, there's two 4-hour plane rides plus three nights. That's a lot of reading time. I'm not checking a bag which means I can't throw in several extra books as insurance. I don't really want to drag out the Kindle because I don't really like it enough to warrant its use for such a short trip. I do have a book my sister-in-law loaned me which both she and J. liked. It's long and a writing style that will slow me down for just a bit. I haven't read it yet because it seemed like a commitment and I just haven't felt as though I wanted to commit two weeks to the same book. It should be more than enough book for the hours I have. The problem is that I am also in the middle of a mystery and don't really want to leave it behind, either. I guess I'll have to see what the carry on looks like once it's packed. The fear of running out of something to read is real, people.

I will be bringing my laptop with me, mainly because this is one of the few downsides to not having a smart phone... without it I won't be able to print my boarding pass for the return flight. If there's a chance to check-in with all of you, I will, but don't panic if it's pretty quiet around here for the next few days.

In the meantime, you can click on, read, and share (a lot) my newest article: The Best Ways to Support Your Friends Who are Adoptive Parents

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Testing

Let's talk about the point of tests and exams. That's always a nice, calm, unemotional topic, right? One of my children and I were just talking about this a bit ago, and I thought it might make an interesting discussion. Now, before I begin, I need to say up front that I test extremely well. This post is in no way sour grapes. Taking tests and doing academic work is definitely a strength and I played the school game quite well. Perhaps I was able to play it too well, and that has more than a little bearing on my thoughts about tests and testing now.

The stated purpose for tests and exams is to determine how much of the material the student learned and understood, often so that a grade may be given for the class. On the face of it, it doesn't sound too bad. Students are in class to learn, and it is not unreasonable to ask them to show that they've done that. Seems reasonable, huh? In fact, for a very long time, I was right there. Teachers teach. Students learn. Tests are taken. Grades are given. That's education.

Or is it?

There was that moment while I was researching homeschooling, before we had actually taken the official plunge, where I came across this statement by John Holt**, "If a student fails a test, it was the wrong test." Unless you are a fairly radical homeschooler, I imagine that you are currently reacting rather negatively to that statement... possibly even sputtering a bit. I did. I sputtered a lot. It was wrong. I just knew it was wrong. There was a lot of cognitive dissonance going on.

Here is the crux of the problem. Testing assumes that students are not doing their best. It is the entire foundation behind testing. Think about it. The 'best' in a testing situation is 100%, because that is when the student gets everything correct, thus they did their job to learn the material. But everyone does not get 100%, do they? In fact, if everyone does get 100%, then immediately the accusations are leveled that the test was too easy, and the tests are adjusted accordingly for the next time. What kind of system sets out to discover what the students know, then rigs the system so that not everyone can succeed? It becomes clear that it stops being about what the students know or not, and becomes about something else. I'm not even sure what the something else is, but it certainly isn't about learning.

I'll let you in on a secret. Those of us who are good, very good, at taking tests, can usually do quite well even if we don't know the information. This is especially true if the test is multiple choice or true and false. (This is also why straight fill in the blank tests were never my favorites.) I'm great at the informed guess. Even as a child, though, I knew that my test results had nothing to do with what I actually knew. I wasn't fooling myself into thinking I had the information down pat; the test was just another game that was played in school. Every so often when I would voice this thought to a teacher, the inevitable reply was, "You need to stop being so hard [critical] on yourself." Pfft. If they only knew. I tried to tell them, but since they wouldn't listen and take me seriously, I just stopped trying and continued to study the least amount possible.

So what is the correct test? It's not one that's out to get the student; to show them exactly how ill prepared they are. It's not a measure of commitment to the information, and it's certainly not a measure of intelligence or potentiality. It is a window into a sliver of time, when, assuming the student was in top form and not distracted by other areas of life, the teacher gets to find out how well he communicated the information and how well the student was able to guess at what was deemed important. Sometimes a test doesn't even give that much information.

The right test (if we still have to use a testing model), is one that sets the student up for success. It is one that allows the student to share what they have learned, what they find interesting about the material, what they want to focus on next. It would be more of a personal diagnostic tool than anything. A bad test assumes the student doesn't want to learn and needs to be threatened into doing so. A good test, would aid both teacher and student to discover what is clear and what still needs to be worked on. It represents a partnership and not a dictatorship.

But I'm still not convinced that we need to have them at all. And if you're curious, I've never given a test to any of my children in the name of education.

**I was in one these books, I can't remember: How Children Fail, How Children Learn, or What Do I Do Monday?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hi, My name is E. and I am a craft supply hoarder

At least that is the only conclusion I can come to based on yesterday's little extravaganza in my craft supply area. After five bags of garbage, seven bags of donations, and six or seven boxes packed for moving, the craft area is empty. (In my defense, not everything in those boxes was craft related, but junk item which belonged to other people which ended up in there for one reason or another.) Still, there was a lot.

I suppose this is the trouble with having lots of different activities that I enjoy doing and am vaguely successful at. This and my wide-swinging whims of what I feel like doing at any one time. I go through seasons, where one particular thing is all I want to do, then I'm over that for a while and on to something else. But I know myself, and eventually I will swing back to many of those crafts. The storage of multiple crafts and their needed supplies is an effort to save myself money when I cycle back again.

While cleaning out, I came across all my hand spinning supplies, you know, as in spinning wheels and wool and (hopefully) beautiful yarns. It's been quite a while since I had it all out. But suddenly, I'm feeling like rejuvenating my spinning skills is exactly what I want to do. I'm afraid it is going to have to wait until after we move, but I do have everything I need to pick it up again. I'm kind of excited.

The things I gave away were the few crafts that I picked up at one time and have never cycled back through again. Once was enough and it has no pull. It was pretty easy to give it all away. I even gave away fabric. (Gasp!) Either it was fabric for much younger children or yardage I had already made something with or I just didn't like any longer. Out it went. This was made even easier because a good friend stopped by on a whim and lent a hand to the cleaning effort for a while. She was great at reassuring me that I didn't need it, and someone else would be thrilled to have it.

Of course, there is one more aspect of my craft hoarding tendencies. Am I the only one who secretly worries just a little bit that somehow one day I will be held in my house by some outside force and I will need things to fill my time? Does anyone else plan for this imaginary contingency? Does anyone else harbor some small secret hope that this will actually happen? You know, someone brings you food and you have no other responsibilities, but you are stuck with whatever is in your house? Please tell me I'm not. Though sometimes it does sound glorious. Of course, I'm usually alone in this little fantasy. It wouldn't be quite so fun to be trapped indefinitely in a house with many small children.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Move Update

I've decided to limit myself to writing about moving and packing to just one a week, to spare, you my readers, the monotony of reading about it every single day for the next six months. It would give you sense of what it is like inside my head, but it's not a lot of fun in there, so I won't subject you to that.

The surrealist feeling of life continues. It will be months (if we're lucky) before we move, and yet nearly every single waking moment is spent thinking about or doing something towards that event. And then when you add in children whose sense of time is a little shaking to begin with, well... At least one child is convinced we're moving tomorrow and other are convinced that as soon as the weather gets warm, a moving van will pull up in front of our house as if it were a part of some odd seasonal migration. They just cannot wrap their heads around the idea that I am boxing up almost everything we own, yet have no idea when we will move. Sometimes I have a hard time with that myself.

With so much left to do before the end of March, I want to focus on a moment as to what we've actually accomplished. Here's our list:
- Boxed up all extraneous possessions in three bedrooms (H., R., and Y.'s; G. and L.'s, and K.'s)
- Boxed up nearly all of my sewing supplies, with just a little left to do
- Cleaned out the gutted rooms on the third floor to act as a staging area for the boxes we are moving
- Moved all the so far packed boxes (~30) to that staging area
- Started a significant pile of stuff to give away
- Tore out the ugly, crumbling vanity in the children's bathroom and J. ordered a new one to install when it arrives
- A. has made a good dent in the room over the garage and in packing seasonal items

The biggest item of that list is definitely the clearing out of the children's bedrooms. So far, they have been able to keep them looking pretty spotless (I check every night, and we practice getting things put away before bed), mainly because they have so few toys left. Surprisingly, no one has complained at all. I am keeping the toys out on the third floor, so they do have things to play with, but somehow I think there is probably a lesson for all of us in there. I will start having times games as soon as the house reaches a certain point of neatness, and we will see how fast we can go from comfortable to spotless. So far, the bedrooms have taken no more than five minutes each for their occupants to completely straighten. I'm thinking that many of these boxes that are all packed up will be opened slowly and carefully (meaning, I will probably open them first, by myself), when it comes time to unpacking.

Today's item on the docket to conquer? The craft porch. It is an unheated area of the house, and it's not frigid outside, so I think today is the day. It is bad. Really bad. The kind of bad that happens when a room becomes the place for people to stash things that they don't know what to do with. I anticipate we will end up with more garbage bags and give-away stuff than actual boxes. And it will feel good. When it's done.

Oh, and the answer to Saturday's little word count game was 25, though, clearly, the game was a bust.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Teaching the reading of English

Some days I find it nothing short of miraculous that any of us learn to read, especially given the number of phonetically irregular words that English contains. Consider the example below. How many phonetically irregular words can you find?

"Chloe! Chloe! Run! We'll miss our boat!" Phoebe shouted with more than a little panic in her voice. She was standing on the quay, undecided as to whether to board the boat or wait for her friend. Before she had a chance to make up her mind, Chloe came running and both girls dashed up the gangplank and onto the ferry at the last moment. As Chloe tried to catch her breath, she also developed a case of hiccoughs which took a while to go away.

Finally, both girls were able to relax a bit and enjoy the ride. "I can't wait to get to the island," Phoebe told her friend. "It's been three years since I last visited. I'm so glad Daphne and Michael agreed I could bring a friend. You'll love it!"
"How long has your aunt lived there?" Chloe asked.
"About five years. Her husband, Michael... I guess he's my uncle, really, though I never quite feel as though Daphne is my aunt... more like my older sister... anyway, he's always lived there. When they got married, Daphne moved to the island with him," Phoebe replied.

The waves were getting bigger now that the boat was out of the harbor. "I thought you said the crossing wouldn't be rough," Chloe said, feeling a little wobbly.
"It isn't usually," Phoebe replied. Just then, the boat dipped down into a trough created by the waves, and the girls lost their footing. Chloe fell with her full weight on top of Phoebe, knocking the breath out of her. With a little cough, Phoebe caught her breath again, and both girls stood up. "I think we better go find a place to sit," Phoebe said, and both girls headed through the doors and inside the cabin.

Two hours later, which felt more like eight to poor Chloe who had made the unfortunate discovery that she was prone to sea sickness, the boat pulled up to the quay on the island. "I think I've had enough sea voyages for a while," Chloe said, as she felt the dry land under her feet. "Well, you'll have to make another one in two weeks," Phoebe reminded her, "but it's bound to be better on the return voyage."

The girls saw Daphne waiting for them and ran over to her. After greetings and hugs and kisses, the three headed toward the car. "We live on the other side of the island," Daphne told Chloe. "It will take about 45 minutes to drive there. We'll drive through some interesting scenery, including a slough." After Daphne handed the parking receipt to the attendant, they were off.

"We have another friend visiting for a few days," Daphne said. "He's an old friend of Michael's. He used to be a colonel in the army, but now he lives in Africa and studies wildebeests. Some people know them as gnus. You'll like him. He seems like a tough guy at first, but really he's an old softy. He's been helping Michael plough the large field behind our house."

Daphne continued her running conversation as they drove across the island. As they pulled into the drive, Daphne slowed down to a cautious three miles per hour. "Why have you slowed down so much," Chloe asked as they crawled down the drive.
"We have this goat," Daphne replied. "His name is Pharoah, and like his namesake he thinks he's in charge. He doesn't like his pen and is constantly getting out. I never know where he is, but have to drive slowly because he will charge the car if he is loose. He will feint right and then left and then charge full speed ahead. I'm afraid one day the car will do more damage to him than he does to it. Someone gave him to us in payment for some work Michael did. We tried to object, but the previous owner said he wouldn't be able to live owing a debt to anyone. We took him because of a pang of conscience over the moral dilemma we were putting his former owner in. The day when I accidentally knock him unconscious with the car, will cause me a different pang of conscience."

No goat was encountered and the house was safely reached. The girls got out and were gathering their bags when Daphne shouted, "My dough! I knew I had forgotten something!" and ran into the house leaving the girls behind, standing in the yard.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Friday bullets, Feb. 10, 17

And here we are at Friday again. I'll take a break from the endless cleaning and boxing extravaganza to share a few things from the week.

  • R.'s eye patching is going better. You want to know what turned her around (for the most part)? Three minutes of computer time. I found a website with eye strengthening exercises and she really likes the game where you touch the place where the little ladybug shows up. It moves pretty fast, so I was completely unsure of whether she would be able to do it or not, we are talking about the child who screamed, "I not see!!" when the patch first went on. But we tried it and though she is about a beat behind, she can do it. And she loves it. She watched other children play computer games and now feels she has joined the party. I worry about fatigue and her tendency towards perseveration, so we keep it short, but it is enough. At least once this week, she has asked when it's time to put on the eye patch so she can play the ladybug game.
  • We officially signed the papers to sell the house and have a goal of getting it on the market by the end of March.           That space is my silent scream about all that has to be done. Is it too big a prayer that a buyer just shows up out of the blue with a decent offer before then? Anyone want a house?
  • I think some of my children are hoarders-in-training.
  • For most of the week, many children have spent many hours creating wooden swords in the basement with hammer, nails, and scrap lumber. This has been a good occupation for a cold week. I like happily occupied children. The result, though, is that I now have many children armed with wooden swords with which they like to practice their fencing skills. Inside.
  • Bratty horses are not always pleasant to saddle. Here is what P. showed me after her riding lesson this week.

Yes, that horse bit through one jacket (which she really likes and was most annoyed about) and one long-sleeved shirt in order to get through to the skin.
  • I was going to apply for the TEDx conference happening this spring at North Park, but couldn't decide on what to talk about. And then the whole house-thing happened, and it seemed for the best. Then yesterday, I had a great idea pop into my head and briefly thought about whipping something out last night. But, I missed the deadline which was noon. This time procrastination did not have positive reinforcement. Oh well, it would have been utter insanity anyway. 
  • This is going to be shorter today because I need to run out the door to see the eye doctor for new contacts. Packing would be easier to accomplish if I had no appointments for the next couple of months. Ha! But I suppose being able to see will help the packing process.
  • Don't forget Sapphire! Let's find her a family sooner rather than later, OK?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The building of trust

I have started packing boxes in earnest, and am quickly entering the phase of it having to get worse before it gets better. Don't worry, I won't subject you to endless posts about me putting things boxes. That would be more tedious than actually having to do the packing. Instead, I'll address something adoption related.

Our children, when they arrive home at older ages do a great job of seeming to understand and navigate their new life. I will admit that I am often fooled by this appearance, and I don't think I'm the only one. The truth is, for a good long time, our children do not understand very much of what is going on around them. I remind people that the first year should just be considered a bust. Not much will make sense, everyone (family and child) are still adjusting to new circumstances and getting to know one another, and survival on all fronts is the name of the game. This is true even for a bright child who really seems to grasp what is going on. I have a story to illustrate my point.

I have been asking children to go through their rooms and start putting into boxes things they think they can live without for a while. Some of this packing has been completely unsupervised, but boxes are full and labelled, and even if I hate myself for it on the unpacking end, this is how they are staying. Stuff in a box cannot be strewn about the house. So in the middle of the process, Y. comes across a marble game that we had given her for her birthday last year. She comes into my room, shows me the game, and says, "You gave this to me for my birthday last year," pausing to shrug her shoulders in a way that communicates complete bafflement, then adds, "but I have no idea why." I paused for a moment, thought, and then asked her to repeat herself so that I could be sure that I understood her. She says the same thing. I then told her that we bought it for her because we loved her and we like to give our children gifts for their birthdays. The lights seemed to go on then, and she looked happy to have this deep mystery finally cleared up. She left with a sense of satisfying comprehension and left me to be the one in complete bafflement.

You see, she understands birthdays. She has told us about how she celebrated them in China. She knows when her birthday is, and has also given us quite an extensive list of items which she would enjoy receiving when her birthday rolls around. She understands it all. Yet, her birthday last year, after she first came home was baffling.

This tells me that she still didn't really comprehend what had happened to her or who these people she somehow ended up with really were. Why were these complete strangers who claimed to be her parents giving her gifts? It is not as though we didn't have Mandarin speakers for her to talk to and ask questions of. This was not a language issue. This was a heart issue.

How many times have a heard a parent who is newly home (as in months newly home) announce, "Oh our new child is so attached to us!"? Can I just say out loud that they are not 'so attached', but merely being pleasant? It takes time to attach. It takes time to form new and deep relationships. It takes time to really trust a person you don't know. In our own lives, we know this. We know deep friendships take time. We know that the love and trust between married couples feels deep and strong at the beginning, but looking back these couples will comment on how little they really knew each other. The attachment between a biological mother and child starts before the baby is even born, and then at birth process continues over the first year as mother and baby get to really know each other. It is actually not normal for a child to attach to a parent immediately. Would you want your biological child, if handed to a stranger, to fall in love with that stranger after a few weeks?

The point to all of this? Take it slow. Do not assume attachment and real relationship too early in the game. Remember the first year is a blur for even a bright, well-adjusted child, and even more so for a child struggling with delays. Do not confuse compliance and pleasantness for trust and love and be careful to continue nurturing those things.

I'll give you another story as to how long trust can take to build, especially if that child has been hurt before. H. continues to process the idea that people can be angry with her and still love her. It's almost as if she is trying to work her way into these specific situations so that she can test her hypothesis. (I know she is not doing this consciously, I might add.) It has only been in the past couple of months that H. has been willing to acknowledge that she might mess up sometimes and do not nice things. She was the perfect child for so long, that this learning of her own imperfection and testing our love for the imperfect her has been hard. There have been lots of tears. It's a little gut wrenching. What most toddlers learn from being toddlers, she now has to learn at a much more difficult age. But underlying it all is the positive news that we have reached a point where she trusts us enough to do this work.

Parents, reframe your timelines. The dance of trust and attachment is a process, one that is not done in a matter months, but over a life time.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Neurology appointment

Boy, neurology appointments for two girls at a place an hour away, takes it out of a person. On the whole, though, the appointments went well, and I continue to work well with this neurologist. In fact, there were some high points. First, she was pretty darn impressed with the gains that R. has made. She also commented how both girls seemed so much calmer and appropriate in their behavior. Actually, she mentioned these things more than once, which showed exactly how struck she was by the improvement. At the end of the appointment, she asked me what kind of OT R. has been doing. I said that she wasn't seeing an OT, but that her life was one long OT session. The doctor then asked me if I had a therapy or medical background. It's taken a year, but I think that we have reached a point in our relationship where she acknowledged I just might have some clue as to what I am doing. I am so glad that we don't have to switch specialists with our future move, because it is tiring to reach this point with a doctor and I don't relish having to do it again soon. The other good news is that we have seen some improvement with R.'s seizures and have a plan for H.'s. Maybe this will all turn out to be the thing that does the trick.

Things were fine at home while I was gone with H. and R. The newest craze which has hit the household is sword making, using hammer, nails, and scrap wood in the basement. On the plus side, it has kept the rest of the house fairly neat, though I can't say the same about the workroom. I tell you, anyone with children suffering from cabin fever should hand their children these things. It has kept all my people occupied for hours at a time. I also think all fingers are still intact, which means they must be improving their hammering skills as well.
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I don't normally do this more than once, but please take a look at The Special Needs Adoption Guide that was recently published. It could do with a little bump in its stats.

Monday, February 06, 2017

Missing the point

(This post is directed at my fellow Jesus followers. It this isn't where you are right now, then feel free to come back tomorrow.)

I'm halfway through reading the book, The Insanity of God, by Nik Ripken. The past four years have been a bit tough in any number of ways, and I will admit to periods of struggling mightily with my faith as a result. Everyone goes through periods such as this; those times of wondering, "Do I really believe this?", "How do I reconcile evil with the goodness of God?", "Does God still love me if all I see around me are the remains of seemingly unanswered prayers?" That kind of stuff. When a friend mentioned this book that she had read, about a missionary who was struggling with the same kind of questions, I jumped on it.

In searching for the answers to her questions, the author visited countries where persecution of Christians had (or has) been intense. A place where it is truly costly to follow Jesus. The stories he hears are both inspiring and more than a little terrifying. When reading such stories from the comfort of one's home, where, regardless of what anyone believes, we have incredible freedom and the police are not going to come knocking on the door of a house merely because there is a Bible inside, it always makes me wonder, what would I do? Would I be as strong as these believers I am reading about? If you are like me, you probably have real doubts about this. Once again, I am confronted with the question, "Do I really believe all this?"

It is obvious that the believers in the persecuted countries do. As the author also struggles with his own doubts, and as he wrestles with what to do with the persecuted church, he comes to some realizations that I have found helpful and thought-provoking. Because I am still wrestling with them, I thought I'd let you wrestle as well.

The first is that persecution of believers is the normal state of things for the church in our fallen world. It is we in the west who are living without persecution who are living in an unusual state. At one point in the story, one of the Christians whom the author was interviewing, pointedly asked, "When did you stop reading your Bible?" He went onto explain that this was how things were. This is what Jesus' followers are to expect in a world aligned with evil. Why would anyone think any differently? "When did you stop reading your Bible?"

The second is that, I believe, we Christians in the west get our priorities mixed up. We forget the two things we are definitely called to do, and instead focus on things that we shouldn't even be concerned with. In an interview with another man who had spent years in prison because he would not recant his faith, the man says to the author, "I took great joy that I was suffering in my country, so that you could be free to witness in your country." The author immediately tries to get out from under the guilt that he feels is being put upon him. The man replies, "Son, that's the debt of the cross!"

What brought joy to that man sitting in prison? The idea that in other, freer parts of the world, Jesus was being shared openly with others. That's it. It wasn't that Christians in the west were protecting their rights, or enacting legislation, or building church buildings, or creating media campaigns. No, it was that Christians in the west were simply telling other people about Jesus, and allowing themselves to become more and more like Him.

I hope that makes your squirm as much as it did me. When did we lose our way? Our persecuted brothers and sisters, in reading their stories, have plenty of joy in horribly adverse circumstances. We here? Not so much. We are a depressed and angry and pretty unlovable bunch, even in the midst of a level of wealth and freedom that has never before seen in history. We are not acknowledging the debt we owe the cross, instead, we have taken it as our right, with nothing owed in return. I fear we have squandered the gifts that God has given us... the freedom, the wealth, the ease... the cross. And I wonder if it is too late for the western church to turn back.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

More Saturday thankfulness

J. and I spent some time wandering from room to room around the house making a master list of everything that needs to be done. This is the absolutely essential list, and not the it might be nice to.. list. There were many of the same items for each room, things such as new paint, lots of boxing up, and new blinds. You know, those things you get used to and don't notice until you see them with the eyes of someone seeing the house for the first time, and then you are appalled at your own filth.

So, despite the filth and the work, I will look at the thankful parts of the day instead. My list includes...

Less screaming

Yesterday, we started patching R.'s eye in the hopes that it will strengthen her weak eye and help her to use it better. We had great success patching H.'s eye after she joined our family, and we're hopeful this will help R. just as much. Well, R. has never been quite as compliant as H. was, and when I put the eye patch on her it was a shock. At first she started yelling at me that she couldn't see, which was a bit alarming. Well, alarming until I watched her navigate the perpetual mine field that is the kitchen to go and get a coloring book. When she realized that I wasn't taking it off, I then was shouted at in Mandarin for a while. That eventually settled down to a quieter, but constant stream of unhappiness. She patches for four hours.

Today, we put the patch on and got to skip the screaming in Mandarin part of the festivities, and instead went to the constant low whine of, "No good. No good. No good." I know it's not fun. I know she doesn't see as well with her good eye patched, but it is also so important to do what we can to get both eyes working as well as possible.

Poblano chilies were on sale

It's not as though poblano chilies are outrageously expensive at any time, but there is something about having them cost less and seeing a great big pile of beautiful chilies there that makes me want to buy them. So I did. Which means we are having chile rellenos tonight for dinner. Oh my goodness! Have you ever eaten homemade chile rellenos? They are incredibly good. They are also incredibly bad for you and take a ton of time. Did I mention they are so good? Right now, I have the sauce simmering, the stuffed chilies are down in the freezer doing their half and hour freeze business, and I am about to get up, start the rice, and then fry the chilies.

Husbands who take masses of people to big box stores for me

I don't enjoy doing the necessary shopping at the big box stores, but sometimes you just have to go because you are running low on things such as toilet paper, light bulbs, and chopped garlic. J. and I divided and conquered the weekly shopping today. I took the two grocery stores and the pet store. He took the two big boxes. One for paper products and the other for home related repair type items. I took one girl. He took five other people. I think I got the better deal.

Don't you love having the grocery and other related shopping done for the week? It's that nice feeling of knowing your house is stocked with what you need, and you can relax a bit before having to do the next round of hunting and gathering. I also often think to myself, "OK, now would be a great time to have a short blizzard. We have supplies." This statement probably shows my latent prepper tendencies... that need to be prepared for all contingencies at all times.. than it does anything else.

Church is an hour later tomorrow

This is pretty exciting. It means we have a chance to actually be on time and still sleep in just a wee bit. But in reality what it means is, we will sleep in a wee bit, take more time than usual getting ready because church is an hour later, and then still be late. The reaction of our children to this tendency varies. Some don't seem to realize that we have difficulty arriving to church on time. Others are resigned to the fact that it happens more often than not. And a few are driving absolutely wild by our pattern of lateness and sometimes threaten to walk so at least they will be on time. I feel a real kinship to the family in Speechless over this. (You all have seen this show by now, yes? Please do watch it, because then we can discuss it and share our favorite parts.)




Friday, February 03, 2017

Friday bullets, Feb. 3, 17

I am tempted to write this in Morse code, but I'll save us all a lot of work and restrain myself. (As I type this, everyone is busily decoding today's message about what the day holds. I kind of like this morning secret message-thing.) Anyway, all the non-spy related news that might be vaguely interesting follows.

  • I need a brain hat. How perfect is that? It's perfect in sooo many ways. I think I will knit mine with a white base (for the all-important white matter) with greyish pink I-cords for the the surrounding grey matter. It might be done in time for the march in March.... 2018. Plus, I would just totally wear this all the time. Don't you just love brains? And knitting? And knitted brains?
  • To clarify from an earlier post this week as to who the human tornado is. It is actually the 10yo boy, and not R. I would be thrilled if R. started leaving detritus in her wake. It would mean that she was voluntarily picking up toys and things to play with as opposed to sitting endlessly and doing nothing until I notice and find a toy she likes and insist she play with it. K., on the other hand, is very much like a cross between the Peanuts character Pig Pen and a Family Circus cartoon where you follow the dotted line of the child as they wander about. The difference is that instead of dirt, the trail of the child in question is the debris left behind as he moves from activity to activity. No tracking skills are needed to follow the trail and find the child.
  • A. adores packing and has swung by a few times this week as she has time and packed up stuff for me. It is incredibly helpful. She finds it relaxing. I do not. I'm happy to have her help and have much more relaxing in store for her.
  • I've discovered the author Dick Francis. He's been writing mysteries for ages and they are almost always vaguely related to horses, so you would think I would have discovered him earlier. Anyway, I am finding his books to be just the right amount of brain candy for this particular season. They are interesting and remarkably unformulaic, but still just enough formulaic to be soothing to an overly agitated brain.
  • I am often quite happy to be an autodidact and to not have a string of letters after my name. Sometimes, though, I do wish I had the appropriate letters and credentials to throw about. This is usually when I have written a long opinion somewhere, on a subject I have quite a bit of experience with, and am completely discounted because I am not an "expert". I don't mind people disagreeing with me. I don't mind healthy discussion. I do mind (very much) being completely dismissed out of hand. Applications are now open to any institution of higher learning who would like to bestow any and all honorary degrees upon me. 
  • Midnight had his annual vet check-up this week. He is healthy and fine and the vet was thrilled to see a slender cat. See Midnight? It's a good thing that we don't let you eat your weight in butter. Nefertiti has her appointment in two weeks. She is slimmer than she was when we brought her home, but slender is still not an adjective which anyone would us to describe her. L. has decided that Nefertiti is her own personal stuffed animal, because she is so soft and squishy. L. doesn't seem to mind the unhappy noises her new stuffed animal makes when hugged. I spend a lot of time rescuing the cat from L.'s clutches. Thankfully, while Nefertiti makes a lot of noise, she is essentially a very good natured cat and puts up with the love.
  • H. continues to process how love works. It can be hard to be a 14 yo girl even in the best of times, but it can be even more baffling when your functioning age is younger than that. Hormones are not always friendly things. We have spent the week assuring H. that we love her not matter what, even if we do not particularly care for how she is acting at the moment. So to her litany of perpetual questions... Do Mommy and Daddy still love you when you cry? Do Mommy and Daddy still love you when you're sad? Do Mommy and Daddy still love you when you're angry?... she has added a new question. Do Mommy and Daddy still love you when they're angry? I significant mental leap in my book. And yes, H., we still love you when we're angry.
  • Would we still be having these conversations after nearly five years if H. had been able to join our family earlier? Probably not. The years of neglect and the years of missing out on unconditional love took their toll. None of us can do anything about those lost years, but wait to see how God will redeem them. There is another little one, though, who does not have to wait and have quite so many lost years redeemed. We CAN do something about this little one. Please, take a look at little Sapphire. Let's not wait until it is nearly too late to find her a family. Let's allow her to know the unconditional love of a family now. Let's not waste her childhood. 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Method to the madness

This morning, I got up, put on my spy master hat, and posted a coded message for all of my secret agents. It was really just a list of what we were doing this morning, but it kept the imaginary play story line going. I also don't think it would be a bad thing if everyone learned Morse code by the end of our little adventure.

Other than just raking in the fun mom points, I do have a purpose in all of this. It was a good thing that I accidentally reread the book about habits a few weeks ago. As I was pondering the craziness of what the next few months could look like, I realized that I needed to create new habits in all of us. (And the adults are just as guilty of leaving things lying around as the children, so we are definitely included in that 'us'.) I also realized that I had just read a book about habits and I had some idea of how habits are formed and how they are changed. I could use this, plus my children's strong need and enjoyment of imaginative play to my benefit.

Here's the short version of how habits work. There are three parts: trigger, action, and reward. Once the brain is triggered by something, it automatically reverts to the actions that it chunked together in the first place. This is why, if you are taking a road you usually only take to go one place but are going to another, that you might find yourself at that place you usually go instead of the place you meant to. It was a driving habit and that habit was triggered by the road you were driving on.

The trick to doing away with an unwanted habit is to not try to eradicate the habit, but to replace that bad habit with something better. To do this, you need to figure out what the reward is that you are enjoying for that particular action. In the case of sloppy family habits, such as leaving things lying about, the reward for that action is getting to move on to what you had wanted to and not having to spend time putting something away. My goal then, was to come up with some sort of reward that would counteract the first one. I knew I didn't want to go the 'pay for picking up route', because I also know that tying a behavior to such a reward means that if the reward goes away, so does the behavior. It's not really a habit, and picking up habit is what I wanted.

Thus the spy school idea was born. We could play a pretend game, have some fun, and actually create new habits at the same time. The reward in this case would be the enjoyment of playing the game successfully. This could become a habit. The trigger would be anything out of place. The action is putting that item away. The reward is the congratulations of others and the self-satisfaction of being a good spy and being able to blend in the with Magazine People (aka the people who will be looking at the house when it goes on the market) when the time comes. For the adults, our reward is a little different. I'm not so motivated by playing the game, but by my children continuing to play. For that to happen, I have to be all in. I have to be noticing things and then verbally rewarding my spies. I have to create new challenges so my spies can further their training. I have to be modelling the behavior I want from them. I am hoping that after two months of this, neater habits will be well on their way to full development and living life in a house on the market will be that much less stressful for everyone. Though being undercover is always a little bit stressful...
_____________
I have a new article published. If you ever had a question about special needs adoptions or had a friend who did, I have probably answered it in the Special Needs Adoption Guide. Feel free to share... a lot.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Mission Impossible, Take 2

[Cue music] Duh, Duh, Duh-duh, Duh, Duh, Duh-duh...

A national security crisis has come to the attention of the authorities. It's time to call in the best agents.



[TOP SECRET
WE HAVE LEARNED THAT THE MAGAZINE PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO INFILTRATE AMERICAN SOCIETY WITH THE INTENT OF ERADICATION OF COMFORT AND REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS. IN ORDER TO FOIL THEIR VILE PLOT, WE NEED INFORMATION ON HOW THEY MANAGE TO LIVE IN SUCH AUSTERE AND PRISTINE ENVIRONMENTS.
YOU'RE MISSION, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT IS:
-LEARN THE WAYS OF THE MAGAZINE PEOPLE IN ORDER TO PASS AMONG THEM UNNOTICED
-INFILTRATE THEIR HOMES AND PASS ALONG ANY INFORMATION THAT WILL HELP IN FOILING THEIR PLOT
THIS WILL NOT BE EASY. HUMANS ARE NATURALLY INCLINED TO COMFORT AND LIVING IN PRISTINE CONDITIONS WILL TAX ALL OF YOUR SPY ABILITIES. FURTHER MESSAGES AND COMMUNICATIONS MUST BE CODED.
DESTROY THIS MESSAGE AFTER READING]

[Cue music] Duh, Duh, Duh-duh, Duh, Duh, Duh-duh...

Training will not be easy.

There are codes sheets to learn.


Primary sources to study.


Our people were unable, sadly, acquire a copy of Martha Stewart Living. We believe that she may be the commander of the Magazine People. Further efforts must be made.

And then we must practice our new skills.

(And yes, we did destroy our instructions. Burning things up always makes things more memorable.)
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