Friday, August 29, 2014

Grace

I just finished reading the gut-wrenching post at The Blessing of Verity. It is Susannah's first post after the accidental death of her son. It is raw and painful to read. It also confirms something I've been thinking a lot about recently. That would be the clash that happens when parenting bumps into God's grace.And believe me, it is a clash.

When you have children, you realize that you have suddenly become far more susceptible to pain than ever before in your life. You love this little person. You love this little person so much that if anything were to happen to this child, you are not sure you could go on. But it is not only that, you desperately want what's best for them. You are overwhelmed with the responsibility that parenting entails. If you are not going to ruin this precious child's life, you need to be the best parent you can possibly be. To fail in that mission means that you have not done your best for your child. It means there could very well be life-long consequences for you child.

And this is true to some extent. How we parent does have implications for our child's life. Neglect and abuse and damage a child and forever change his or her life.Yet modern parenting has taken this notion to such an extreme that it leaves little margin for error. If you don't do things a certain way, you have failed your child. There is a blog post (Back to School: the 70's verses today) being shared about just this notion that perfect parenting will turn out a perfect child. Christian parents have their own take on this. Unless things are done a certain way, your child will grow up and turn away from Jesus. The pressure (and the stakes) are high and it leaves parents anxious, fearful, and overwhelmed with the responsibility they carry.

In this mind-set, it's all on the parents' shoulders. Everything from health to education to socialization to belief from now until eternity. We parents take on so much more than we were ever intended to carry. We cannot bear up under this burden. We just can't no matter how hard we try and here's why: we are not perfect and we will not be perfect no matter how hard we try. We will fail our children at some point in our lives. We won't mean to, but we will. For some that failure comes early, for others we can go along for quite some time operating under the assumption that we are the 'good' parent; the parent other people wish they could be... if they would just try harder. But sooner or later, every parent... every single parent... will find that they have failed. They have not lived up to their responsibility and their ideals. We will all have a moment (or more) where we wonder how on earth God could have thought that giving this child to me was a good idea. We realize that we cannot be a perfect parent. We will realize that sometimes we can't even be a good parent. Surely this child deserved more, more than me as a parent.

And here is where the clash between grace and parenting happens. Right in that moment when we realize that we cannot be the parent we want to be; the one we feel our child deserves. In that moment we can get a glimpse of what God's grace really and truly means. He knew we would fail. He knew just how spectacularly we would fail. He knew all this and still He gave us these precious children to love and care for and nurture. And when we fail, He still loves us. This is grace. When we have a moment when we have a glimpse of exactly how sinful and selfish and incapable we really are and Jesus puts His arms around us and tells us how much He loves us anyway.

I've said it before... parenting is humbling. If there were one 'right' way to do it, it would have been discovered and perfect children would already be being raised. No formula is going to do to this. We are sinful creatures, both young and old. If there were a formula, we adults wouldn't be able to carry it out, but it wouldn't matter because it wouldn't work on our sinful children. We don't get perfect this side of Heaven. Instead, we have to learn to function despite our failures... to learn to extend the grace that God extends to us to ourselves and our children.

I often wonder if God gave us children because it would mean that we would be living out the Gospel on a daily (or sometimes hourly) basis. Nothing so perfectly shows us our failures as being a parent. It is in those failures that we truly see the need for a savior, some one to save us from the mess we see inside ourselves. And it isn't until we see that mess that we see the Savior and discover His overwhelming love. Because there is nothing like the love that is experienced when the person doing the loving knows all the bad stuff and loves you anyway. Grace. Amazing.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The eye doctor and seeing

H. had another eye appointment today. The difference between now and two years ago is slightly astonishing. Two years ago, H. had no idea what we were doing or why and, despite having an interpreter present, we had no real way of explaining it all to her. It was baffling and frightening; just one more baffling and frightening experience that she endured in those first six months. Today, she understood why we were there, what eye drops were and why she needed to have them, the ability to express how much she didn't like them, and the self-control to allow them to be put in her eyes. It was also the very first time that the doctor was able to correct her eyesight in her good eye to 20/20. We have a new prescription and are just waiting for the new lenses for her glasses to be made.

I have also been thinking about the improvement in her eye sight since she has been home. Why should it be getting better? It's not like we are patching to strengthen the good eye. Aside from wearing glasses, there has been nothing that we have done to help her vision improve and yet, we see small changes to the positive each time. It seems odd. Yet, I don't think it really is. Living with H. over the last two years has been like slowly watching a metamorphosis. Actually, is has been a metamorphosis and not just like one. H. is so much more aware of herself and her place in the world now. She understands things that she never understood before. She is learning that she can have opinions and can like things and dislike things. The world is slowly opening up for her even as she opens as a person.

I've always had a sneaking suspicion that so much of what happens inside our heads is interrelated. You can't just separate out sight from memory from physical ability; it all seems somehow interrelated in that mass of brain cells we keep inside our skulls. Since this is my made-up hypothesis, it has no basis in any research what-so-ever, but still it seems to make sense. Imagine my pleasure, then, when I come across something that seems to support my own made-up pet theories. I came across something rather interesting in the book I'm currently reading, Proust was a  Neuroscientist by Jonah Leher. (It's thesis is that certain artists predicted truths about the brain that science is only now discovering. Fascinating.) Anyway, this little bit has to do with how we see. Instead of paraphrasing, I'll share the few paragraphs with with.

"So far, the story of sight has been about what we actually sense: the light and lines detected by the retina and early stages of the visual cortex. These are our feed-forward projections. They represent the external world of reflected photons. And while seeing begins with these impressions, it quickly moves beyond their vague suggestions. After all, the practical human brain is not interested in a camera-like truth; it just wants the scene to make sense. From the earliest levels of visual processing in the brain up to the final polished image, coherence and contrast are stressed, often at the expense of accuracy.

Neuroscientists now know that what we end up seeing is highly influenced by something called top-down processing, a term that describes the way cortical brain layers project down and influence (corrupt, some might say) our actual sensations. After the inputs of the eye enter the brain, they are immediately sent along two separate pathways, one of which is fast and one of which is slow. The fast pathway quickly transmits a coarse and blurry picture to our prefrontal cortex, a brain region involved in conscious thought. Meanwhile, the slow pathway takes a meandering route through the visual cortex, which begins meticulously analyzing and refining the lines of light. The slow image arrives in  the prefrontal cortex about fifty milliseconds after the fast image.

Why does the mind see everything twice? Because our visual cortex needs help. After the prefrontal cortex receives its imprecise picture, the 'top' of the brain quickly decides what the 'bottom' has seen and begins doctoring the sensory data. Form is imposed onto the formless rubble of the V1 [the first stage of the visual cortex in the brain]; the outside world is forced to conform to our expectations. If these interpretations are removed, our reality becomes unrecognizable. The light just isn't enough." (pp. 107-8)

So, what this is saying is that we see things and then our brains translate what the images are into something it recognizes. It is far more than our eyes acting like a camera lens. Interesting, huh? Wouldn't it make sense that a brain that is more aware of the surrounding world would see better? I think so.

This isn't to discount the fact that the images we are taking in with eyes need to be in focus. Considering my glasses prescription, it would be crazy for me to state otherwise. But there seems to be so much more to seeing than what our eyes take in.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When it's beautiful in Chicago...

you go out and take advantage of it. Because Chicago really is beautiful and quite enjoyable when it's not frigidly cold with grey skies that have overspent their welcome. We went to the Lincoln Park Zoo and also enjoyed the formal gardens just outside the west side of the zoo. Did you know that this is one of the oldest parks in the city? That's OK, I didn't, either, until I read the sign.



H.

L.

P.

K.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

First day of school

So, it would appear I lied in yesterday's post about the block party when I said no one in the house was starting school the next day. I realized much later that someone did start school. A. headed off to her first day of a real class ever... she is taking Spanish 1 at the university where J. teaches (and M. and B. attend). And I didn't get a picture. Can you believe it? A child goes to her first day of school at the tender age 16 and her mother doesn't take a picture? Actually, I can believe it, without any difficulty.

It sounds as though her first day of class went well, though I'm getting that information second hand as I haven't actually talked with her yet. You see, when she went down to school last week to buy her book, she also landed a job at the bookstore during their peak times. (That would be the first week of class when everyone is buying books and the last week of class when everyone is selling them back.) It worked out extremely well because we don't begin our school schedule until next week, so she was free to work some rather long hours. To add to the fun, A. decided it made a lot more sense to spend the night on the futon in her older sister's living room instead of coming back home and then turning around and heading back down the very next morning. She is probably right and this is why I haven't seen her to actually talk to her yet.

I have a feeling my high school junior is going to enjoy her pseudo-college student year, very, very much.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Block party numbers

1 - Use of the Polarcare 300 which is an icing machine left-over from one of M.'s knee surgeries.

2 - Number of times the new bike jump was used before having to make use of the Polarcare 300. It is also the number of people it took to carry TM into the house after the second use of the bike jump.


D. went over it without incident, but he was not going as fast as he possibly could, like TM. When you go as fast as you possibly can, the bike goes a good three feet in the air. Then if you are strong, you can manage to hold onto the handle bars even if the rest of you goes flying up above the bike. But then what goes up must come down, first behind the the seat onto the wheel followed by a nice long skid along the pavement on your leg. It was spectacular and we all wish we had gotten a video of it... but only because there were no broken bones. We treated the wounds, iced his leg, he rested and within two hours he was back up and riding his bike again.

3 - Friends who unexpectedly dropped by. These are friends we haven't seen for years and it was wonderful to see them.

4 -  Dogs playing together. Gretel had fun, too. She got to go down the street and have a play date with three other dogs in our neighbors yard. She also got to play in the water being sprayed by the fire engine.



5 - Band-aids applied during the course of the afternoon.

6 - Minutes, approximately is how long G. and L. stayed in the costumes they had donned. We don't know why the decided costumes must be worn, but they did. We only just talked G. out of wearing her fleece panda costume, worrying that she would pass out from heat exhaustion given the level of humidity and temperature. L. decided to be a cowboy... riding an unicorn.


(She is wearing her serious 'cowboy face'.)


7 - Dollars earned by L. at her 'Art Sale Table'. We have no idea what put this idea into her head, but a couple of days before the block party, L. announced that she would have an art table and sell pictures. I first thought that she would forget about it, but she never did. Signs were made, pictures were created, and as the party approached she made plans as to what needed to be brought outside.





G. held the sign and L. badgered passing adults into buying her artwork, sometimes following them down the street until they acquiesced. It was a pretty impressive display of rabid sales tactics. Then she announces to me, "I am going to earn money so I can go to Disneyland."
"Oh, you are?"
"Yes... how much money do I need again?"
I let it drop, once again hoping she would forget. (I should know better by now.) At the end of the day, L. counts her money and is quite satisfied at the seven dollars plus change, and then asks, "I have my money now, can we go to Disneyland tomorrow?" Oh, how I wish I could do that for you my darling girl.

8 - Gallons of juice/punch/lemonade/water consumed by small children. Small children with small bladders and houses that suddenly seem a little too far away. 'Nuff said.

9 - o'clock, the hour we finally got everyone tucked into bed and were very thankful that no one in this house, at least, was starting school in the morning.

10 - The level of enjoyment K. had playing in the water from the fire truck.


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Migration

The end of warmer weather marks the beginning of the seasonal migration of the animal known as collegium discipulo or as they are more commonly known, the college student. The first sign that the coming migration will be occurring is the frequent sightings of these not-so-rare animals at stores selling office supplies, cheap furniture, and clothing. Scientists seem to believe that this behavior stems from the widely held belief that the items sold in the these stores are unattainable in the migratory habitat.

Once the needed supplies are laid in, the next step of the seasonal ritual begins.. the one of packing all personal possessions into bags and boxes. It is one of science's most enigmatic mysteries as to how the physics of this process works. The quantities packed seem to take up such a mass as to not fit into the significantly smaller seasonal migratory dwellings. How the animal eventually stores their possessions away into such limited space has yet to be solved, though if it were, it could have vast implications for personal storage business.

This playing with physics of space continues as the next step of the migratory practice continues. In order to actually migrate, the animals must now store all of their boxes and bags into a vehicular conveyance. The distances traveled are often great and personally carrying said possessions would be an impossibility. Those species which migrate the greatest distances seem to have modified this behavior somewhat. For those that travel greater distances, not all possessions seem to be carried back and forth. Instead a small token amount seem to be transported and the rest are safely tucked away in a secure location until the next swing of the migration continues.

Those species who travel shorter distances have not developed this habit of leaving behind some possessions and instead transport everything back and forth between the two habitats twice a year. Scientists are still working to discover what causes the differentiation in the species. That is, why do some animals choose to migrate long distances while others choose to simple move to another side of town. Studies are still in progress to discover the cause and it is hopeful that some type of prediction criteria with be forth coming.

The penultimate step in the annual migratory pattern is that of the leave taking. The collegium discipulo, anxious to return to the migratory habitat, gives quick hugs and kisses to the non-migratory family members and enters the vehicular conveyance. One of the non-migratory members seems to be necessary and makes the initial voyage with the migratory members. The difference is no possessions are transported for this member and the appointed member returns as soon as the possessions are appropriately stowed.

As the family members live apart, life seems to go as normal for both parties, though communication continues between the two. The season of living apart is a longer time period than the living together period, encompassing the cooler months. As the weather warms, you can expect to see signs of migration once more. The difference is that the acquisition of supplies does not seem to be needed for this part, but does seem to require a significant amount of soiled laundry in order for the return migration to occur.

So as the migration season continues, keep your eyes open and you might just spot one of these fascinating creatures.

Friday, August 22, 2014

When life is overwhelming

It seems to be a difficult season of life for many of my friends, and I'm writing this post with each of you in mind. I know all too well what it feels like to have the rug pulled out from under your feet...and the panicky, breathless, nausea-inducing, blinding fear and sadness and anger that goes along with a major detour in a well-ordered life.  I also know when my life seems precarious, it can be difficult to function. I'm living in my head too much. Not only is there the thing that has upset me in the first place, but more than that, my own imagination is often the cause of much of my anxiety.

I've shared before that I can be a world-class worrier. I can jump into worst-case-scenario-mode in less time than it takes to reheat my cup of coffee. This is especially true when it is something involving my husband or children. I cannot tell you how often this happens to me. I'm slowly getting better, but it is a very conscious effort to not go down that path. You know, the path where everyone dies, or is estranged, or has something else equally horrible happen. The path where the horrible thing keeps happening and that's your future and there will never be anything good about life ever, ever again. That path.

Excuse me while I pause a moment and take a couple of deep breaths.

But when life has thrown us a curve ball and that curve ball has hit us firmly in the head, that's about the only place it feels comfortable to live. Because, really, how could life ever be good again, once this thing has happened? We continually play out in the vast panoramic, technicolor screen in our minds, all the ways that this will end badly. Over and over and over. We play out how we could have averted the crisis. Then, after having had a nice little wallow in the mud pit of regret, we go back to the epic of disaster we are creating in our mind. Back and forth, over and over, until we are so emotionally wrought we don't know which way is up.

The trouble is, when I do this, I find I am as much upset over the events of my imagined future, as upset as if they were actually happening, as I am about reality. And you know what? While there have been some yucky things in my life that I have experienced, not once has one of my imagined scenarios actually ever played out. All that wasted worry and anxiety and fear over something that was never going to happen.

So how do I stop (or make a valiant effort to stop) the crazy upset and worry? Well, this is a work in progress. I still have a long way to go, but here's my short list of living through a present and very real crisis. 1. Pray, pray, pray. The second I find myself going to those imaginary futures in my head, I have to consciously make an effort to pray. Are these prayers eloquent? Ha! More often than not they go something like this, "Help, Jesus, help! Oh, make it OK, Please, please, please, make it OK! Help, Jesus, help!" 2. Remind myself, as often as is necessary, which would be, oh, about every five seconds, that just because I have imagined that future, doesn't mean that it is going to happen. In fact, it is extremely unlikely it will happen at all. I am not the creator of the universe and just because I've imagined it doesn't mean it will happen. 3. Share your worries with someone. There have been many times I've shared my worried imaginings with J., and even as I'm saying them out loud, I begin to realize that they are pretty far removed from reality. 4. I try to follow Elisabeth Elliot's very wise advice and, "Do the next thing."

This doesn't seem all that earth-shattering at first glance, but it really is brilliant. By focusing on just the next thing, we stay in the present... none of that imagined future-thing going on. By focusing on just the next thing, we take life in a small enough bit that it is manageable, even if that next thing is shower or eat breakfast or go to the bathroom. Or breathe. You take life in very small chunks and get through each of them one at time. Slowly, slowly, they add up and you discover you've made it through a day. And each day begins to add up and you realize you've made it through a week. The more time that passes from the day life exploded, the easier it gets to breathe. The farther you go into the future, the more you realize that the horrible imagined future isn't happening.

Yes, whatever caused the initial plunge over the cliff may be truly horrible. I don't want to make light of that. But it will be navigated, perhaps not without heartache and pain. Keep praying. Keep breathing. Keep just doing the next thing.
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