Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Driving, Not My Favorite Thing

Until last night I’ve been able to say I’ve never been pulled over while driving. Not once, no tickets, nothing. Those of you who know me and what a wonderful, hahaha, driver I am can all share in a small laugh right now if you so choose.

When we moved here, we joked that if I managed to get through our year here without being pulled over, it would be amazing. Driving here is that difficult. I made it almost five months. Yay me. 

How fun it was last night to be driving home from taking my oldest son to the doctor, hungry and cranky after waiting at the doctor’s office for over an hour right at dinner time, fighting off the beginning of my own raging headache, minding my own business, driving carefully because I was determined to beat the odds and not get pulled over for driving like a bonehead around here and because I had seen the police car in the next lane over, when I turned onto the main road home and immediately heard that ‘bloo -oop!’ and saw lights in my mirror. My son looked shocked and said, “Is that for us?” I said, “Looks like it is.” So I pulled over and sure enough it was for us.

As we sat there waiting for the officer to come tell me what I’d done wrong, I couldn’t for the life of me figure it out. I had my turn signal on, wasn’t speeding, signaled my lane change, what?? 

Turns out my plates expired last month (exactly 24 days ago). Somehow in all our moving around, we either didn’t get the renewal notice or, worse, I’m going to find it accidentally filed away somewhere when I clean out my files. It’s been a rough year. I have been wracking my brain trying to remember if I ever saw a renewal notice or not. Doesn’t matter now. We went online last night and took care of it, and that little clerical error will now result in me having to pay a not-so-welcome fine to the city and get a report sent to the Ohio Division of Motor Vehicles. Happy I am not.

At least the police officer was nice about it while he handed me my ticket, though I felt really stupid when he said, “Are you aware your plates are expired and have been since October?” and I had to honestly say, “No sir, I was not aware of that.” I didn’t even try to explain about moving and not getting the notice to renew. Fun times, fun times.  

And that headache that was just nudging at me behind my eye last night?  I woke up with it raging this morning, since apparently three of the five of us now seem to be fighting what the doctor informed us is a nasty head-cold that’s going around. Yay me, again.

Actually, I’m thankful that if I had to be pulled over for this, and it was inevitable since I’m pretty much the only one who drives that car and we really weren’t aware it had expired, that it happened at a time when I wasn’t late for an appointment or, even worse, taking my son to school. Can you imagine that humiliation, to be pulled over in the high school car drop off line?

So, I can no longer say I’ve never been pulled over, but at least I can say it wasn’t for being stupid with my driving. 


Happy Thanksgiving, y’all. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Things I Never Considered When I Lived in Florida

Things that I had never considered or even realized people might have to do when I was growing up in Florida and complaining about the occasional cold day, but which have become a part of my life now that we live up north:

  1. Using a hairdryer to try to dry out the inside of an 8-year-old’s snow boots because she got a little overenthusiastic the day before while playing in the snow mounds on the way home from school and I didn’t realize snow had gotten inside the boots and the insides actually got wet and now it’s frigid and we have to leave for school soon and I don’t want her to have wet feet on the way to school. 
  2. Finally giving up because my hairdryer is overheating and inserting the rack in my dryer so I can put the snow boots in the dryer and hope I don’t have it set too hot for them.
  3. Waking up to a weather forecast that says, “Feels like -7˚ F” in NOVEMBER. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!
  4. Wondering why my strange neighbors next door have their window open when it feels like -7˚ outside and I am standing in my kitchen freezing with the storm windows closed and the radiators on all the time. Seriously, I’m not kidding, my neighbors’ open window is one of the things that plagues my curiosity. I’m not trying to be overly nosy, it’s just so….odd. They’ve had it open every day since the snow started. I would not want to have to pay their heating bill.
  5. Checking the various websites and my text messages every so often, hoping school is closed or at least delayed due to snow or cold. They really take school seriously up here. Tons of snow, arctic temperatures, no snow day. Our last city where we lived for the past four years got snow days when there was even a hint that snow might happen, and 1-2 inches meant at least two snow days. Not here in the snow belt.
  6. Wondering since they didn’t grant us a snow day when we had lots of inches on the ground and snow was still falling or when we dipped into negative temperatures, yet I know they did have some snow days last year, how bad, exactly, is it going to get here? 
  7. Feeling grateful for snow plows and salt on the roads.
  8. Counting shoveling snow off the driveway as part of my exercise routine. 
  9. Actually putting ‘shoveling snow’ into my fitness tracking app so I can count the calorie burn.
  10. Remembering when I thought 60˚ was cold, and it really, really was cold, because I had never lived up north.
  11. Being amazed at how the body adapts to real cold and that what used to be, not just feel, but actually be, cold now is something I long for as a ‘warming trend,’ and realizing just how self-centered I am. Cold is cold, wherever you are, and when you’re used to warm all the time, and you don’t have cold-weather clothes, it takes a lot less time to feel cold in Florida than it does where it gets colder and we’re expecting it. It’s not a contest. Perspective, I guess. 
  12. Eagerly anticipating snow because I just love it and it is so pretty, but dreading it at the same time, because driving in it is not fun. Pretty snow is great when all you have to do is sit and watch it out the window. I love that. But when you have to get out and function in it, not as fun.
  13. Buying several different coats, and not really being satisfied with any of them, because I grew up in Florida and am clueless about how to buy and dress for winter. Wishing I had a personal clothing buyer who could just shop for my winter wardrobe for me and say, “Here, this is exactly your size and it will look just right on you, and we were able to do it on a budget that didn’t break your bank.” Actually, I need one of those for every season. I do not like to shop and I’m not very good at it.
  14. Finally relating to those Calvin and Hobbes cartoons where he always seemed to have the snowiest winters. That’s not imaginary. There really are places that get that kind of snow. I’m living in one this year. In fact, I found out recently that Bill Watterson actually lives around here somewhere. Now I know where Calvin is from.
  15. That I actually have to tell a kid to go back upstairs and put on a coat, a sweater just isn't good enough when it's this cold. Don't they feel cold??
  16. Not being able to feel my legs after walking outside for about 5 minutes.
  17. Slipping and falling on the icy sidewalk on the way home from taking my daughter to school, being thankful nothing is broken just a little sore, deciding to walk the rest of the way on the street since it isn't a solid sheet of ice like the sidewalks are. True story.
  18. That surreal feeling when you are falling that feels like time sort of stops or slows way down and you have all this time for random thoughts, but in reality it is really only a second, you know you are going down, yet there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop the fall, and all the odd thoughts that randomly flit through your brain as it happens. That is one of the weirdest feelings ever.
  19. Being very thankful for a heated house. And boots, oh the joys of a comfy pair of boots!
  20. Learning to really love the change in season. For all the whining, I have loved watching the beautiful leaves this fall, and the novelty of learning to deal with snow is kind of fun....well, it's an adventure, anyway. And freezing in the winter just makes the warming trends of spring that much sweeter. Besides, after how swelteringly hot it was here with no air conditioning in the house when we moved here in the summer, I said I wouldn't complain about the cold. Apparently I lied. It just doesn't work that way. Remembering the heat doesn't make it any less cold today. :-)


Happy Tuesday, everyone. Stay warm!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Reading Proverbs

For the past several years I have added a chapter of Proverbs to my Bible reading every day. Since there are 31 chapters in the book of Proverbs, I usually read the chapter corresponding to the day of the month we are on, and double up at the end of those months that don’t have 31 days. It’s been very helpful. I wish I could say I apply and follow all the wisdom perfectly after all this reading, but that would be very far from the truth. It is becoming more and more part of my thinking, though. 

One thing that has often struck me is how very often the Proverbs I read speak directly into my life in the exact situations I’m walking along in each day. It says something very ugly about me that sometimes in my flesh I find that I have to fight the temptation not to think about other people to whom I want to apply them sometimes, and when that temptation is strong, I’m learning to turn it around and ask myself, where do I need to apply this to myself? Stop looking outward and look at my own deceitful heart. Trust God to deal with everyone else. And when I’m hurting and confused, run to my Heavenly Father and tell Him, and pray for wisdom, understanding, peace, and grace. His grace is sufficient in every situation. I must learn to rest in Jesus.

One verse that I’ve done a lot of thinking about over the years is Proverbs 18:17, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” With that I also think about Proverbs 18:13, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” The gravity of these thoughts came home to me in a striking way some years ago when I was serving on our county Grand Jury for a couple of months. We had a very complicated case come before us that took the greater part of one day just to listen to the testimony, and no small amount of debating among us about what to do with the testimony we’d heard afterward. The general consensus of the group was to send down an indictment on two people, though it was a confusing and very complicated case, and some of us disagreed about whether both people might be guilty of the indictable offense.  All of us were quite confident about one of them, but not all of us were sure about the second one, though in this case it only required a majority to carry the case forward. Well, when the story of the indictment hit the newspapers, there was much about the case that couldn’t be reported due to some strict confidentiality restrictions on it, so the story in the newspapers, while factual, did not present a very true overall picture of the whole case. I happened to read some of the comments people left under the story on the internet version, and it was amazing how differently things looked to the readers and what that led them to believe and say from what I knew to be true about the case, that it wasn’t nearly as cut and dried as people assumed from the short news article. 

I learned something after that experience, and it was to be more careful about my assumptions. I wish I followed this better more of the time, but I am at least aware of it in a more real way now. I may think I absolutely understand a situation, but I need to realize I may not know all there is to know and it’s quite possible that if I knew more it might change entirely how I viewed the story. This is easy in theory, but very hard in practice. Turned the other way, when someone unjustly misunderstands me or misreads my intentions in a really big way, it’s hard for me to remember that they may not know everything I wish they did, and I also try, hard as it may be, to realize that if someone can so greatly misunderstand me, is it possible I’m misunderstanding them just as much, that probably there are things about them and their situation I don’t know that might change how I see things? These are things I try to think about, though imperfectly, I’ll admit, especially when my emotions are running high. I think this is part of the wisdom in 1 Corinthians 13 that tells us that love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs and is not easily offended. Learning to put the best construction on things and let go of my right to be offended when it’s really hard, especially when I’m feeling hurt, and to let go of my need to try to justify myself when someone is unwilling or unable to listen or understand where I’m coming from, is a hard thing, but it is the loving thing. 

Bringing this home to today, this morning I read Proverbs 17:28, “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” As I’m thinking on those, I’ve decided to turn off my Facebook for a few days. When you post and then delete several status updates in a row, it’s probably time to just sit out for a while and not be the fool you know you can be at times. Wish I followed that advice more often, too.

So, I am thankful for the wisdom in Proverbs, I’m thankful God gave us this book which has become so precious to me. The more I read it, the more I’m learning to think through the wisdom and learn to apply it. It is one source God is using to grow me in sanctification, a life long, and sometimes slow process I’m finding. I’m thankful that God’s kindness includes His gift of the book of Proverbs to us. 


**If you are interested in taking up the challenge of reading Proverbs daily, and you want a great resource to help in understanding how to read and apply Proverbs, I can recommend Dan Phillips’s book, God’s Wisdom in Proverbs.** 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Status Report - November 2014

Drinking…..hot pumpkin spice tea with honey. I’ve already had a large amount of coffee, and I don’t want my hands to start shaking if I drink much more, but since the cooler weather is settling in for the long haul, only to start growing colder now, hot tea it is.

Making….sourdough starter, well, already finished making it this morning. Hoping it turns out well. I’ve not had a lot of success with sourdough, but my husband likes it, so I’m trying it again. Hoping it will be warm enough in the kitchen to get this starter going.

Enjoying…how absolutely beautiful Fall is here in Ohio. We live in a neighborhood with lots of older trees, and the colors have been splendid. It’s like drinking in the gorgeous colors as I walk and drive through town. I’ve never seen so many ginormous piles of leaves on the ground before, either, as the glories of the season are beginning to wind down and we head into the cold and snow of winter, as people keep taking some perverse pleasure in reminding me is just around the corner.

Speaking….of driving through town, that is something of an experience around here, and not always a pleasant one. Wowza. Some days I feel like I’ve held my breath the whole way between home and where ever it is I’ve had to drive to. 

Thinking…about how ‘social media’ isn’t so much a good thing for the social life. It seems to have a role in hurting more relationships than helping sometimes. I’m learning to be a whole lot more ‘surface’ in what I post and staying out of a lot of conversations when at all possible. Then you get into the whole internet vs. ‘real life’ face time discussion that I don’t want to flesh out here. 

Logging out….of Facebook on my iPhone for a while. Part of that thinking up there. I am becoming convinced that, for all the good that comes from smart phones (maybe), they overall aren’t actually such a good thing for us in the long run. I’ve never seen something that I find so addicting as that stupid, stupid phone. I find myself scrolling and scrolling social media and checking in on the two games I play, and it just is NOT healthy in so many ways. SO much wasted time, energy, and emotion. I’m trying to use November to wean myself away from it a lot. That and it's really annoying to only see the tops of people's heads these days as everyone else seems to be just as addicted to the dumb phones. We are becoming a nation of phone zombies.

Reading…..a book called Time and Again by Jack Finney, which I did not realize until I looked up the link to share here just now as I write this is actually book one of two. Hmmm….. Well, I’m enjoying this one at the moment, and I’m about halfway through. I’m also reading Expository Listening by Ken Ramey, which I received from Truth for Life. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but if you are not listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life, you should be. :-)

Finding….that I am having a harder time sitting down to focus on reading than I’ve ever had in my life. I feel like I’ve developed adult onset ADD or something. I am sure it is directly related to my dumb smart phone. One more aspect to my love-hate relationship with the crazy thing. 

Writing….quite a few blog posts that I’m not quite ready to post in public yet. It’s frustrating. I have a lot on my mind, all of which it helps to write about, but none of which I believe is ready for the blog, if it ever will be. My private journal is getting lots of wear and tear lately. I may have to burn the thing sometime down the road, but it helps me to corral my thoughts to write about them and work through them.

Beginning….to research the area where we think we may be moving next summer. Another minor background stress, that not knowing for sure yet where we’re going next, but we’re starting to look at churches, housing, and schools in the area where we think we will be. Encouraging thing is, if we’re going where we think we will be going, there is a lot to be excited about in those areas.  

Feeling….the drain of missing having good friends to talk with face to face over lunch. We are only here for a year, and not having that camaraderie is so difficult. In fact, the last year and half has been one of the most difficult seasons of my life for various reasons, to be honest, and I’m feeling some of the strain of it, truth be told. My husband is wonderful at listening and talking me through things, but I’m sure he would appreciate it if I had some girl friends to share the burden of all my words. :-) Sometimes you just need your girl friends, you know? This moving for just a year is lonely, and I can see some areas where it’s quite difficult on my children, too, and that hurts.

Thankful….we have an excellent church to attend while we live here. It is a blessing.

Working on....memorizing the book of Colossians. I started this way back a year ago, then life got busy, my ADD kicked in and I let the project drop. I've picked it up again. I find the discipline of memorizing long passages of scripture to be very beneficial. It gets your mind engaged in a way that simply reading the passage once does not. This is one more reason I want to walk away from social media all-the-time connectivity, so I can free up my focusing ability to work on memorizing these passages. So, I'm working on finishing up chapter 1 this week.

Also thankful, beyond words….for Jesus. No matter how difficult or lonely or even confusing the path I’m walking today, He is with me, and I am never alone. Every promise in His word is true, and I can stand on every word. I’m so thankful for His Word, that I have a Bible I can read and study and learn to know Him. And I’m thankful for His discipline and for the mercy He shows His people as the Great Shepherd and Redeemer. 

And with that, I’ll sign off for now. Happy November!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Take Heed

I found out something by accident the other day that has left me profoundly saddened and thoughtful. There is a pastor from whose teaching I have benefitted in the past, and I happened to know, because I followed him on Twitter that he had preached through a book of the Bible recently that I have been reading. I had heard his first several sermons in the series some time ago via podcast, and when I finished reading through the book I went to look up the rest of the series since I thought it might be helpful to listen to it. When I pulled up the church website, I was astonished to read a statement on the front page that this man is no longer a pastor or elder at the church and has been disqualified and to contact the church if you require more information about the situation. I cried. It truly grieved me to read that statement, and to see that all of his sermons have been taken off the church website, including the series I had gone to find. I really and truly did not expect such a thing. I do not know what happened or what he did, and I don’t need to know, but I do pray for the whole situation. I may not know, but God knows it all, and I pray for restoration and healing and for the health of a church that is left grieving and hurting in the wake of whatever it is.

I’m not naming this man or even speculating on what happened, because this is not a gossip blog or a watchblog, and you probably don’t even know who he is, and who it is isn't all that important to the rest of this post. He’s not a certain big-name pastor who has been all over the evangelical twitter verse and blogosphere and who many of us are not surprised to see in the predicament he is in. No, this is someone else less famous, but who I’d heard of through another ministry I listen to and I had appreciated what I’d heard of his teaching. I told my husband that I’m surprised at how much this unexpected news bothers me, and how sad it makes me. He wasn’t my pastor, I’ve never even been to the city where his church is or heard him in person. But in this internet age, I had listened to his teaching, read one of his books and very much liked it, and learned from his contributions to the other ministry where I had first come across him. Here are some things that this has served to remind me and that I’ve been thinking about as I ponder just why it bothers me so much:

  1. Be careful not to hold any man or preacher or teacher in too high esteem. Even the best man is only a man at best, and capable of disappointing. It is Jesus we worship, not any teacher or preacher, no matter how much we may like them.
  2. Never assume you know a public figure or know what is going on behind the scenes. Learn from men who preach the Word well, respect your leaders for as long as you have no reason not to, but ALWAYS be like the Bereans and search the scripture for yourself to be sure what someone says it means is really what it says. Let it be the Word of God that draws you, not the charisma of a preacher.
  3. PRAY for your pastors and elders and church often. Ask God to guard their hearts and to keep them true to the command to pastors to guard their life and doctrine closely. Pray for them diligently to stay true to Jesus and His word and to steer clear of anything that would bring dishonor to the Kingdom, the Church, and the Lord.
  4. PRAY for yourself and your family. We need God’s grace daily for persevering faith. Never assume that we can stay faithful in our own strength and never assume that we are immune from temptation or deception of various kinds. Pray for wisdom and grace to persevere and steer clear of any appearance of evil and any wrong thinking that would dishonor our Savior. Stay humble before Christ. Stay close to Christ and in His Word daily.
  5. Trust in Jesus to bring restoration and reconciliation when sin occurs. The gospel is the power of salvation to those who believe. He saves us to make us holy. May we live increasingly holy lives before Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  6. Rest in Christ. It is to Him that I answer. I do not have to impress anyone with my words and actions. I have to live every day as unto Christ. He is my Savior, Lord, and High Priest. Don’t try to overthink things. Stay in the Word and follow Jesus. 

I think two of the biggest things I keep thinking about are the need to pray for our pastors and to personally walk humbly and obediently before our God. Think! Let what we say and how we act match who we are, publicly and privately. God knows our hearts, even the secret things we think are hidden. Guard our hearts against spiritual pride or presumptive attitudes toward God’s grace. His grace IS amazing, but it is NEVER an excuse to be lax about sin in our hearts and behavior. Let every one of us take heed lest we fall. It is only by God’s grace that we stand. This is true for everyone, not just public figures like pastors. The verses in Timothy that exhort guarding one’s life and doctrine are written to the pastor, but it is a true exhortation for every believer. Guard your life and doctrine. Stay true to the Word. Pray daily for the grace to cling to Christ as He holds you in the faith that saves.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Thoughts on a Fall Morning

Wow, have I let this poor little blog slip away. I never meant to enter into blog silence, but it sure seems I have. I blame Facebook. That vortex of time wasting has ruined my blogging ability. There are days I wish I'd never given in to the invitation to join it, truth be told, but there's something about it that seems to lead to a no going back once you've been seduced by the siren song. You do know that the sirens in mythology were calling sailors to their own destruction, don't you? All that said, I find myself more and more wanting to tune out the song and turn it off. I am not at all convinced that having a smart phone has been overall a good thing. But ask me if I'm ready to give it up completely.

All that said to say that I miss the old-fashioned blog days a bit. I miss having something to say that took a little more thought than what tends to fill my typical status update these days. I'd like to walk away from momentary and time-wasting repeated scrolling of the news updates and get back to thinking through more regular blog posts. I am not, however, naive enough to make any sort of sweeping promise of a new post here every day for the next 30 days or anything, because I know myself much too well for that. But I do want to come back home and use this space to rejuvenate my writing bug, because I want to pick up my writing projects again and regain what I've lost to the mental energy drain of Facebook and constant connectivity. Ok, that's much more on this topic than I even intended to say when I sat down to write this post. There is a beautiful picture up there in the left corner that I've ignored in order to get these thoughts off my chest, so now, here's the post I meant to write when I sat down:

I have admitted here and elsewhere that I've found living in our new community challenging in some ways. Challenge isn't necessarily bad. It's good to stretch out of my comfort zone and learn to live a little. I didn't say easy, but I did say good. It is good because my good and faithful Redeemer, Lord, Savior, and God has placed our family here for such a time as this and for His glory and for our good. How do I know this? Because we are here. In the midst of a fairly stressful challenge recently, I was able to say to my husband, "You know, if we had not been here, this year, we would not have caught this and dealt with it when we have. Better now than later, and I'm thankful for it." Friends, that is God's grace. I am so thankful that He has brought me to the place where I can view challenges in this way and trust Him with it, realizing I am not 'all that' and that I need Him. How I need Him. We can see His hand and I'm so thankful that we can also trust His heart.

You know I grew up in Florida, and because of this, I had never seen a glorious, full-blown gorgeous Fall until I was in my twenties. I had, of course, read about the leaves changing, and I've always loved the season, but now that I have been able to live in parts of the country that actually experience the turning of the leaves for the past 5 or six years now, I have to confess to you that I never get tired of the beauty of this season. When I walk in my neighborhood full of old trees and drink in the vibrant colors, it just gives me a joy, because what I think every time I see these beautifully breath-taking colors, and what I often tell my kids, is that I am awestruck at our Creator God. He could have just made a functional world for us to live in, but He didn't stop there. No, He made it heart-achingly beautiful, too. What love and kindness He has shown to His creation! Every season, every different topography has an exquisite beauty to it that leads me to sing praise for His creativity and glory. If you have eyes to see and ears to hear it, the heavens declare the glory of God and His creation speaks to us of how glorious He is. Such thoughts ought to turn us to His word so that we can look deeply into this awesome God who would stoop to create such beauty.

And when we do look into His word, we see just how much love He has shown us, sinful, poor, wretched, and blind as we are. Because not only did He create us and design His creation to sustain us and delight us with its beauty, but He stooped to come down and walk among us in the person of Jesus Christ, fulfilling His law on our behalf, which we have broken in so many myriad ways, and He became the sacrifice for sin that our wretched state required, and made the way for us to be reconciled, made clean and right, with Him. He has opened the way for us to enter into the Holy of Holies as we pray, because we no longer have to fear His wrath when we have repented of our sin and placed our trust, our only hope, in Jesus, the way, the truth, and the LIFE.

I received a treasure in the mail yesterday from Truth for Life, Charles Spurgeon's Morning By Morning, and as I read the devotion for this morning, I came across this thought: "Constant wrestling  in prayer with God is sure to make the believer strong - if not happy. The nearest place to the gate of heaven is the throne of heavenly grace. Often alone, you will have plenty of assurance; seldom alone with Jesus, your faith will be shallow, polluted with many doubts and fears and not sparkling with the joy of the Lord. Since the soul-enriching path of prayer is open to the very weakest saint, since no achievements are required, since you are not invited to come because you are an advanced saint but freely invited if you are a saint at all, see to it, dear reader, that you are often in the place of private devotion. Be regularly on your knees, for in this way Elijah drew the rain upon Israel's famished fields." 

I got to thinking, why is prayer so hard? Why do people try to make prayer into something it isn't? How offensive I find it when people talk about 'sending prayers your way' or 'sending positive energy your way' as if prayer is some mystical, ephemeral, indefinable 'energy' we have power to send toward someone. That's offensive and it's foolish.  At least, if you understand what prayer actually is rather than making it some new-agey spirituality positivity thing, that is. Prayer is just us pouring our hearts out to God. Prayer is people who know God talking to Him, worshiping Him, and bringing requests to Him on behalf of people we care about. It isn't mystical energy we send around, and those misunderstandings make me so sad to hear and read. I understand they are written or said by people who mean well, are trying to say something positive and encouraging, and who just don't know the truth, and that makes me sad.  We who are in Christ have an awesome privilege in coming to our Father in prayer, and isn't that, ultimately, much more encouraging? To know that we can talk to the God who created all that is, and we aren't just hoping in some uncaring 'universe' as we try to send 'energy' around? And we have an awesome privilege and responsibility to share the good news of the gospel with our lost friends who only have hope in some 'positive energy' that ultimately has no power at all.  May I be a more vocal sharer of that good news. Days when we are reminded of His glory in such a way as I was when I took that picture ought to remind us to know His word and spend time with Him in prayer.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Where I Am Right Now, Thoughts on Moving and Where We Are Planted This Year

Moving to a new community is always interesting, and each move brings with it challenges, joys, sorrows, and struggles. The community where we are planted for this year is no exception. It is interesting, challenging, but also has some good. One thing that’s added to the mix this year is that the city we live in, in the greater Cleveland area, is, on some measures, one of the most liberal cities in Ohio, maybe even the country. We in our family have been known to call it the USSR of (our city name). It’s definitely the most liberal school system we’ve ever encountered. It is also a totally IB-infused curriculum from elementary to high school throughout the entire school district. Those of you who love that curriculum, please don’t be offended or feel the need to convince me otherwise, I’m glad for those who like it, but that wasn’t actually a draw for us. I wouldn’t choose it for my kids if I’d had a choice. At least we really, really, really love our church, even though it’s kind of a drive to get to it several little cities over.

That said, there are some great things about this community and school system, IB and all. I’ll start with that before I get to my rather short point. First of all, this is probably the most diverse community we’ve ever lived in, and that is a really good thing. I love that my daughter is completely race-blind. She truly wants to befriend anyone that will be her friend, whether black, white, brown, or whatever, we are all descendants of Adam, created in God’s image. I love this for my kids. May their tribe increase. I also think it’s great that they get to meet people who aren't necessarily just like them and don’t think like them. I am very encouraged by the discussions we have at home as they work through what they believe and why they believe it and learn to embrace the faith as their own and also learn to respectfully discuss issues with people who hold very different beliefs. Our Sunday School class is studying the book of Daniel, and last week we discussed the balance between being resolute in our convictions and what we hold to be true, and know to be true, and respectful in how we seek to follow them and talk about them. I found it quite helpful in light of some things we face daily. 

Another thing I like about the schools here is that academically they are quite rigorous, and when I went to the elementary school open house, I liked some of the strategies they shared for how they are teaching math and reading and other things. Musically we could not ask for better education. Both of my boys have top-notch private lesson teachers. And the band totally rocks. 

That said, there is a feel here, for lack of a better word, a kind of smug sense of self-righteous superiority that pervades the atmosphere here that I find a little creepy, and it’s mostly from the IB stuff. First of all, people are NUTS about scores and tests and stuff. One of the first things high school parents ask when they meet me is, “What classes is your son taking?” And there is an underlying arrogance about whose kid is taking the hardest classes. It’s creepy.

Then, another thing that defines our experience here is that there is a group-think mentality I find off-putting, even as they stress characteristics like independence and learning to think critically. However, listening to my older boys talk when they come home from school, there’s a subtle subversiveness to the learning to think thing. It’s great when they learn to think ‘critically’ as long as it matches the teacher’s liberal bent, and as long as their reasoning sounds like good little communists socialists liberals globally aware IB students in the mold approved by the curriculum, but my very conservative, very Christian sons are finding that their contributions aren’t always what the teacher is looking for, and sometimes aren’t very welcome. They haven’t had any outright negativity, but they have been told, “Yes, well, we won’t be going there,” with certain discussion topics. 

Case in point, my high schooler’s text book for Honors English is The Bible As/In Literature. I wasn’t thrilled with that choice, but what I have been thrilled with is listening to the things my son has been telling me as he’s asked me questions and we’ve discussed things and as he’s been sharing in class. He said there is one boy who now asks him, “What do you think about that?” after certain discussions, and he’s able to open up the Bible and show him there is so much more to what they read than the curriculum line they are given in class, which definitely is subversive to our high view of the Bible. That’s been pretty neat to watch. I kind of feel like, if they choose a book like that for a high school class, then they invite the discussion. You use our holy book for your text, don’t get mad if a Christian kid goes deeper with it than you maybe intended. While the Bible is literature, and great literature at that, it is so much more than just literature, too, and if we’re really going to be tolerant, he has just as much right to share his insight as the atheist kids who are so antagonistic to his view. TRUE tolerance implies disagreement. So, all that said, I’m pretty excited to see God working in this situation and how my sons are learning to make a reasoned defense for what they believe. Even when they may not speak up in front of the class or directly to the teacher, other kids notice and they listen to them and even ask them. I’m also planning on giving him the book I’m reading just as soon as I finish it, which is Jesus Unmasked by Todd Friel. After being exposed to the discussions in his English class and the discussions we’ve had at home about those discussions, I’m very excited for him to read Todd Friel’s most excellent look at how all of the Old Testament points to Jesus, finding Jesus in the types and shadows of the Old Testament. The timing of that book coming out is spectacular for our family. My son will get to see how truly awesome the Bible is, how inspired and how much more its message is than what was discussed in class. I pray daily for my children in the midst of all this.

Which leads me on a little rabbit trail. What I see very much here in this community is the classic liberal redefining of tolerance. Tolerance today is not actually tolerance. To be ‘tolerant’ according to the common wisdom of our whacked out culture today means to be totally accepting of everything, and especially of everything that we might be prone to voice any disagreement about, if that makes sense. It means calling evil good and good evil. It means nothing is EVER wrong, unless it’s something that doesn’t mesh in lock-step with the prevailing secularist view. THAT is wrong and intolerant.  These days, calling something wrong is just about the biggest cultural sin you can commit. Problem is, it just doesn’t work. I’m supposed to be totally accepting of homosexuality or evolution, for example, but my view is taboo and ignorant. Tolerance only goes one way in the tolerance-not tolerance camp. TRUE tolerance, however, is acknowledging disagreement, but believing you don’t have to be disrespectful or go to war over the disagreement. TRUE tolerance allows for people to strongly hold their beliefs and convictions, strongly defend them, on all sides, and learn to coexist peacefully in spite of disagreement. That’s when true dialogue can happen, too. A truly tolerant person will not insist on everyone else changing everything they believe or going against their strongly held convictions just to suit them. However, that’s not the culture in which we find ourselves.

So, anyway, back to the point all this was leading up to, last week I went to the elementary school open house, and during the principal’s remarks at the end of the evening, she was discussing the new program they’ve implemented for recess. It used to be, she said, that you would have a group playing football, very competitive, which led to arguing, a group playing kick ball, also very competitive, and then everyone else. Well, now they’ve done away with the football and kickball, because the competitive nature of them was not good, in their opinion, and implemented these non-competitive games that can include everyone. No more bad competitiveness. And it really was presented as if the problem was that being competitive is a bad thing. So, we spend all day teaching these kids group-think, then we don’t ever let them think it’s ever okay to compete at all. We all have to get along, and we can’t ever compete. Being competitive on the recess field is BAD. I think that’s unwise. It’s not bad to be competitive, per se. What about teaching them to be competitive in a sportsmanlike way? Rather than making competitiveness an evil, why not teach how to do it well, and offer the non-competitive games, too, as an alternative for kids who don’t want the more competitive option?

I get that they are trying to crack down on bullying and trying to build team work and cooperation and diversity. Those are admirable goals. I just disagree about how to get there. Teaching the wrong view of tolerance isn’t it - that just breeds a whole new kind of bully, and neither is obliterating any semblance of competitiveness. There needs to be balance. Teach kids to compete as sportsmen, teach real tolerance - the balance between being resolute and respectful, and teach proper competition, and I think we’d have a better mix. Just going around chanting the IB characteristics all day doesn’t make them true, it just makes for a creepy kind of group-think, parrot environment. (Just ask my daughter who came home in tears on Friday because of the ‘mean girls’ (my term) at lunch. Those ‘IB learners’ weren’t acting very ‘open-minded’ or ‘caring’ toward the new girl. My mama bear instinct grizzled up a little as she told me about it and I had to swallow it and talk her through it wisely.)

When I got home from that open house and was telling my husband about all this, it suddenly occurred to me: “Maybe that’s why the high school football team is 1-3 so far this year.” Growing up in the SEC south, this whole being on the always losing team is a new experience for me, I must say. ;-) When you spend their whole elementary school years telling them competitiveness is a bad thing, don’t expect a winning high school team later. Just saying. 


At least the band rocks half-time. :-)