Thursday, April 17, 2014

Rejoice in our sufferings

The Hearts at Home link-up topic today is "Love Your Struggles." This is a topic that I can write about. It seems learning to love my struggles has been my theme for more than a couple of years. There have been moments of life that have not been easy. Parenting children from hard places has felt as though I had been dropped into a particularly difficult spiritual boot camp. But just like a real life boot camp is designed to turn out soldiers who are highly trained for particular duties, this spiritual boot camp has felt as though it has done the same thing. I am a very different person from the one I was 8 years ago and it is all because of the struggles God has allowed me to experience.

Fear and worry have always been something that have been a challenge for me. In fact, several years ago, I wrote extensively about rooting out fear from my life. Let me tell you, there is nothing like facing one of the items on your "things that terrify the heck out of me and I don't think I could handle it" list to help you learn to combat fear. This isn't because experiencing such a thing makes a person stronger. I have a lot of trouble with the pithy, wrong-headed idea that God won't give you more than you can handle, mainly because it's not true. God routinely gives us more than we can handle on our own. If you read the book of Isaiah with any care, it becomes very clear that God doesn't want us to handle things ourselves, but instead wants to bring us to a point where we have to rely on Him. I haven't become stronger as a result of my experiences, instead I have learned the extent of my own weakness and have allowed Jesus to take over. He can handle it, I can't. People routinely tell me, "I don't know how you do it." I'm still not sure what it is that they I'm doing, but whatever it is, I'm sure it's not as impressive as they make it out to be. It's not me who's doing it after all. My struggles have taught me that I can do nothing, but my God can do anything.

This boot camp experience has also shown me both that I wasn't nearly as compassionate as I believed myself to be and made me a more compassionate person all at the same time. It is unpleasant to learn things about yourself that you'd rather not know, but until you learn them, you can't change. I learned that it is easy to be compassionate and loving when things are easy, but when things are hard, I discovered my true nature. It wasn't pretty. I was not better on the inside than the behaviors my son was showing on the outside. We were exactly the same. You think you understand the need you have of a savior who will forgive and change that disgusting yuckiness inside of you and it's another thing completely to stare that disgusting ugliness in the face. Your own. I am no better, and probably a whole lot worse than anyone else. That is what creates compassion.

It is interesting that in these same past 8 years, I have also experienced more joy than I could have imagined. The joy of adding new children to our family, the joy of seeing broken people heal, the joy of letting go of all the 'shoulds' and not worrying about what others think, the joy of resting in God's love and care, the joy of loving other people, the joy of following the adventure God has for us, the joy of great confidence because we are following where God leads, the joy of having hope.

I have learned through these challenging years the true meaning of Romans 5:2-5, a passage that as a younger person I always read with a bit of trepidation. "Through Him (Jesus) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (ESV)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Music for the season

Years ago I sang John Rutter's Requiem in a church choir. It is a beautiful piece of music and my cassette (!--I told you it was a long time ago) wore out from use. Today I was sitting down at my desk to pay bills and decided that I really needed to listen to it again. Thank goodness for You Tube. If you haven't heard it, take a listen. Gorgeous music and just right for Holy Week.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Adventures in sewing circa 1943

Hmmm... well I certainly don't want to write about the snow that fell last night. Writing about taxes doesn't seem terribly fun, either. Really, I don't have anything to write about because I have spent every waking moment working on sewing this pattern.

Cute dresses, huh? I found it for sale when the little girls were babies and have been holding on to it until they can wear a size 6. Since for the next 10 minutes they wear a size 6, I am finally making the dresses. I very nearly let the moment get away from me. They are tall girls and between their height and the shorter style of girls' dresses in 1943, I needed to add a couple of inches length onto the pattern as it is. Since they are also rather narrow little girls, with the added length, I think I will have time to make the pattern a couple of times before they completely outgrow it.

And I do want to make it again. I have the short-sleeved version still to make after all. Well, that and the fact that the learning curve for putting these dresses together is extremely steep. I don't know if you've ever looked at the instructions for vintage patterns before, but let's just say they're not verbose. They also assume the seamstress knows what she's doing. I think I have spent as much time figuring out how to make the pieces fit together as I have actually sewing. While the dresses are looking pretty decent, all I can see are the places I want to redo because having made it once or twice, I finally understand how it all works. At least they will be easily finished in time for Easter, which is good, because they are not the only children in the house whose clothes need figuring out.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Another first horse show

Yesterday A. rode in her first horse show. P. would have ridden again, but she was broke at the time the entrance fee was due, so needs to save her money and wait for the next one. A. did quite well. She place 3rd in her first class and 1st in her second class. Not too shabby, huh? Here are some pictures.

Getting ready

Starting the class


and more cantering

Hearing she placed first

At the end with her two ribbons

Thanks to P. who took all the photos.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Helplessness and Hope

I think one of the reasons that the book, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and your Life, resonates so much with me (other than it's just a really interesting book), is that it has confirmed and given understanding to something I had noticed in H. from the very beginning. That something would be that helpless (perceived or actual) causes passivity.

I will admit that H.'s passivity at the beginning is one of the things that made it difficult for me to attach. I found it very difficult to understand and love and help a child who exhibited such extreme passivity in the face of any type of decision making decision, much less a small setback. It was frustrating. Very frustrating. (If you know my family, you know that passive is just not an adverb which would be used as a descriptor for us.)

I had a sneaking suspicion that it was a learned behavior. After too many years of having no control, of assumed incapability on the part of others, she gave up, not unlike the phenomenon of orphanages filled with silent babies. Crying didn't cause their needs to be met, so they gave up. I was pretty sure that helplessness could be learned, but had no real proof.

No real proof until I started reading the Learned Optimism book, that is. Imagine my excitement when one of the first things I read concerned the author's experiments on learned helplessness. To condense a long and complex chapter into a few sentences, essentially he discovered that animals could be taught to be helpless by putting them in an environment in which they had no control. Once the animals learned to be helpless they were passive to whatever bad thing came their way. Why fight it? It's going to happen anyway. (The results were replicated in humans as well.) I felt as though I was reading about my daughter as I worked my way through the descriptions of the experiments and the results. It was both heartbreaking and hopeful. Hopeful because the researchers also discovered that the helplessness could be unlearned, and once unlearned the animal or human was not prone to it again. Hope is probably one of the most beautiful words in the English language.

On some level, I already knew this. Over the past two years we have seen the extreme passiveness abate a little. Every time we allow H. to affect her environment, to have some control over what happens to her, we erase a little bit more of the helplessness that was so ingrained. It is a long process. Something that took years to create will not be undone quickly. While H. now knows that she can have opinions... she can like things or not like them, she can have feelings and express them, she can do things without having to ask permission first, there is still a large area that needs work. When faced with a problem (or any degree), she instantly reverts back to passivity. It just doesn't occur to her that she has any power to figure out a way to solve it. You can see the passivity kick-in. It is immediate and pervasive.

Armed with my new information, I am slowly starting to help H. with this. And let me tell you, it is one of those ultimately good parenting things that feel really horrible at the time. Recently, whenever H. has been faced with a manageable problem, I have been letting her figure out a solution. I am supportive, but I have not been giving her the answer. Let's just say, H. is not enjoying the process... nor have I. On the face of it, it just seems cruel. I can easily solve her problem, and it is difficult to watch her stretch herself to try to solve the difficulty herself. It feels a little as though I'm a physical therapist asking a recovering stroke victim to regain use of a limb. It is painful and slow. I feel like a rotten mother for allowing... insisting... on her doing these things for herself. Yet, there is hope.

Yesterday, we had two instances of this. It took a while each time, but each time she solved the difficulty herself, without any help from me. I offered her encouragement and pointed out that she was smart and could figure this out on her own, but that was all I did. She did the rest and figured it out. By the end, it hardly mattered to any of us that the solution happened, because we were both excited that she had figured out the solution.

It feels huge, but boy, this parenting-thing isn't for wimps.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Good versus best

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what activities we choose to participate in as a family and why. Sometimes it feels as though it is a moving target with children coming and going and getting older. We live in a society where parents and children have more choices for activities than ever before. It can sometimes be difficult to choose among them and if no conscious thought is given to this process it can result in stressed and overwhelmed parents and children. Actually, sorting through the options can be overwhelming in and of itself. There is so much stuff to choose from... much of it really good.

Since I've had more than a little practice at this, I thought I'd share how we go about making these types of decisions. The place to start is to have a goal. For us, the goal of our parenting is to raise our children to know Jesus (and we hope for them to love Him as much as we do, but that's not something we have control over.) After that, we also have the goals of raising our children to be emotionally healthy, functional, and interesting adults who have positive memories of our family. It is important to think about what your ultimate goals are. For some people, their goal for their children may be to get into an ivy league college, for others it will be to give their child the possibility of being a professional athlete, and for others it may be something else entirely. These goals will cause the parents to make choices which look very different from each other. Without goals in mind, there is no way to make decisions that will help those goals along.

But back to our decision making process... with our stated goals, having dinner together as a family is the single best way for us to accomplish that. Dinner is a time when we are together, when we enjoy each other's company, when we discuss things, when we train our children to sit and be polite, and (when we are on top of our game) have family devotions. For us, it is non-negotiable. That makes the decision easy if the activity falls over the dinner hour. We just don't do it. It doesn't even require discussion, the decision is already made. There are always exceptions (we make the rules so we can break them if we want), yet when we make those exceptions it is usually when an event is a one-time thing, not something ongoing.

What about for all those non-dinner hour activities? First we need to look at how it affects the whole family. How much driving does it involve? Is it within our budget? How much do the children involved want to do it? Does it conflict with our family values? It is a balancing act. If I drive too much, it makes me an unhappy, impatient mother. I know this and the good of the potential activity is often counter-balanced by the potential for a poorly regulated mother. I will always make sure there is one day in my week where I do not have to go anywhere. An activity on that day (whatever it happens to be that year) is off the table. For a larger family, cost is often a huge consideration. There is just not a lot of money in the budget for extra activities. Don't feel too sorry for my children, though. They have plenty of experiences and activities and I'm pretty sure that no one has been stunted because I won't pay for expensive classes and camps.

The bigger question for us is always, does it fit with our values? Is what my child is going to learn and experience in this activity in keeping what we teach at home? Who are the adults involved and do I want them speaking into my children's lives in an intense way? For older children, it may be that the experience of being exposed to different ideas is valuable. So is interacting with adults whose views may be very different from our own. We don't shelter our children, but do use wisdom in deciding when it is appropriate for them to spread their wings a bit.

There are a lot of considerations. With so many, it is not surprising that just a few activities make the cut. Fewer things to choose from makes the decision making process a bit easier. But there is still one more consideration we need to keep in mind... that of the unique needs and personalities of each of our children. What may be a great option for one (or several) of our children, may be a poor one for another child. I have certainly made the choice for one child to participate in something, yet decided that same activity is a bad match for another. Just because we have many children does not mean we use a cookie cutter approach to raising them. Seasons of life in our family are different as well. In a season where I have many surgeries and doctors' appointments, there is less time to pursue outside activities. In a season of reasonable health, there is time for more. It's how life works and teaching our children to tailor their commitments to what is happening in their life is a good life skill.

There are a couple of things which make this process a little more complicated. The first is parental guilt. We hear about other things that other people's children are doing and we panic and feel guilty that our own children are not doing those same things. We tend to underrate free time and the positive things that come along with it. The time to read, to imagine, to play, to create, to experience boredom and learn to overcome it. These are good things as well, and skills that will follow our children to adulthood. We also need to remember that we are not responsible for teaching our children every single thing in childhood. It is very short and we need to leave the door open for learning things as an adult. Just because you didn't do something as a child does not mean you cannot pursue that interest later in life.

The second hindrance is peer pressure. We parents are as guilty of peer pressure as any junior high age child. We want people to do what we are doing. It validates our decisions and makes them acceptable. It makes us good parents. It is very difficult to be the parent who bucks the trend. I know. I didn't send my oldest to preschool after all. Our area is a little preschool obsessed. When I would tell people that I wasn't sending M. to preschool the looks and reactions were a little staggering. At least I was staggered by them. You would have thought I had said, "I hope to marry my daughter off at age 16 so that she can bear 30 children by the time she's 40," instead of, "We are going to skip preschool." Really.

When other parents pressure you, it can make you second guess your decisions. Are you really doing the right thing? What if I ruin my children? What if my child is a piano prodigy and we never discover it all because of me? I wish we would just allow each other to be the best parent we are trying to be. If someone decides not to participate in an activity, it is probably because it's not right for their family at that time. It really says nothing about what another parent in choosing. Let's all be secure enough in our decisions to let others make different ones. Remember different is just different, not better or worse.

Really, just think about why you do things. Do you know where you're going? Will this help you get there? If you're happy with your level of commitment, great! If you're not, feel free to say no (or add something, it can go either way). The more a person thinks about why they are doing something, the more secure in that decision they feel and thus can allow others a similar freedom. Besides, the world would be a mighty dull place if we all did the same things all the time.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Pair of Red Clogs

We have just finished working on A Pair of Red Clogs by Masako Matsuno. This time is wasn't so much "Five in a Row" Style as "Five every now and then separated by many day" style. A trip to Arizona will do that to a schedule.

I loved this book. I loved the drawings. I loved the story. I loved the relationships in the family. I loved the whole thing. Because the time we worked on in was a little disjointed, I didn't so as much as I could have, but here are some activities we did to go along with it.

Colored Japanese kimono coloring pages... did our emotions preschool game (the author does a great of job talking about how the little girl in the story is feeling)... found Japan on a globe...

But best of all, we looked at and played with a real pair of Japanese clogs. I have a friend who is Japanese and grew up in Japan. I had asked her if she had a pair of clogs we could borrow and carefully look at. Well, she surprised us by giving us a pair of wooden clogs. She also shared that she played the weather telling game the girls play in the book. I love connections like that.

True to form, when I asked G. or L. to put the clogs on to model for me, they both looked at me as though I had asked them to have a shot. So, you get just the clogs and not the cute girls wearing clogs. I'm sure the second I hit publish on the post, there will be a knock-down fight over who gets to put them on.
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