Cherish the Uncertainty of Life’s Adventures

It was supposed to be a little trip to pick up some pumpkins for the pigs.

Cherish the uncertainty of life's adventures

Just a little trip.

What’s more, it’s through our version of Amish country and seeing the buggies out is always a treat.

But things didn’t go exactly as planned.

First off, I took a wrong turn. My son took this as a sign that we should not be doing this. A few pumpkins is not worth the time or the gas. Which I had precious little of.

So we stopped to refuel. We ran into a friend who told us about Santa and hot dogs and a raffle for our robotics club.

“Can we go? Can we go?”

Of course we could go. It was just a little trip to pick up the pumpkins. We’d be back in plenty of time. My son again attempted to talk me out of this fool’s errand. He does not like car trips. Even if they are little ones through Amish country. A life with no electricity holds no fascination whatsoever for him.

And perhaps there is a point when you cut your losses. When you realize you have already invested enough time and energy into a dozen or so pumpkins and it is time to move on. If so, that point is well beyond where my stubbornness kicks in.

And it would take less than an hour to get them, putting us where we wanted to be right on time. It would work out perfectly. Because who wants to sit around for an hour waiting for Santa? (Don’t answer that.)

At any rate, that’s how I ended up driving south for the second time (only this time on the right road), allowing me to make yet another wrong turn. This one, however, did not lead me in a convenient circle. This one led me down a gravel road that ended a little before I realized. As in I was suddenly on nothing but mud.

What’s a little mud? I have four wheel drive, right? Thing is, I didn’t. I pushed that little button and nothing happened. And I don’t know how many of you know this, but if your four wheel drive isn’t activated, you have rear wheel drive which is essentially useless in slippery conditions.

Then I began the long slow slide down the hill which ended with me facing east west on a north south road.

And I had given my daughter the cell phone. In fact, I had joked that if I wasn’t home when she got home to call the police and send an ambulance my way.

“This is why you don’t make these kinds of trips for pumpkins.”

My son was full of wisdom. So I sent him out of the car to push until we got the car out of the way as much we could.

All we had to do was get to a phone before my daughter left for Lincoln.

“Worst case, we go back to the car. Dad will be off by midnight at the latest. I think there’s a hotel in town, but if not, we’ll be fine in the car.”

And with that, we marched. A quarter mile through mud and another half mile through town. With my son pointing out each and every step would have been unnecessary had I only taken his sage advice. My goal was the gas station (and ignoring my son. Let’s not underestimate the value nor the self control behind saying nothing at all). But then I saw Subway.

Subway, precious Subway. What a sight to behold! Warmth and chairs and drinks and food and a phone.

And the worst case scenario became the best case scenario. Not only did I get hold of my daughter, but she AND her friend drove down to rescue us. We’d go home all in one fabulous trip.

But as we talked over soft drinks and cookies (can you believe that as I handed out cups, I told them they could get whatever they wanted?) you know what my children said the highlight of their week was?

Getting stuck in the mud and hiking to Subway. For them, it was an adventure. They saw tracks of deer, raccoon, coyote and even fox. They got to slip around in the mud and tease their mom and, for a little while at least, everyone knew how to drive better than mom. They laughed and hiked and loved the whole misadventure of it. And when asked what he thought the best part of the week was, even my son answered,

“Mom seeing the error of her ways.”

Which I think is thirteen-year-old-speak for “I kinda had fun, too.”

When life gives you lemons . . .

We all know the end of the saying. When life gives you lemons . . .

Make lemonade.

But is that really the message Christians should be delivering?

When life gives you lemons

It has such a nice “pull yourself up by your boot straps” kind of ring to it. We are, after all, masters of our own destiny. And life is what we make of it.

But it also has an air of your problems aren’t my problems and your grief is worn best silently. Hidden away somewhere where I don’t have to deal with it.

Having lost a child, I have a somewhat different perspective on grief and suffering and what denotes strength and dignity. Having lost a child, I know that sometimes you cannot just put on a smile for the world and I don’t think you should try.

The Bible, after all, calls us to “bear one another’s burdens,” but the verse doesn’t end there. Galatians 6:2 goes on to say this is how we fulfill the law of Christ. We act out our faith by bearing burdens. Not by asking people to keep them to themselves, to silence them, to stick them somewhere deep where we do not have to be confronted by their heaviness.

We walk along side them and lift as much as we can.

It is only natural to want to make someone feel better when they are hurting. But it isn’t always in our power. And it isn’t always in theirs. It isn’t even always in their best interest. All we can really do is sit awhile and remember the One who turns mourning into dancing (Psalm 30:11), praying for that day and sharing tears along the way.

Because the world may not be able to offer enough sugar to do anything with these lemons, but they are not all that I have. I have Christ and therefore I have hope.

Homeschooling just isn’t fun anymore

As I am reflecting, planning and restructuring our homeschool, I am reminded of a fairly common theme to the homeschool complaints that pop up on the various homeschool groups I am on.

homeschooling isn't fun anymore

“Homeschooling just isn’t fun anymore.”

Being a little more “old school,” my first reaction usually runs more along the lines of, “Life ain’t all rainbows and unicorns.” Not that I would ever actually say that to a young mom struggling with motivation. Because we’ve all been there. There where all the joy seems to have been drained out of the day and all that is left is attitude and work and discipline and wondering where you went wrong as a parent. A teacher. A Christian.

Or at least I have. Ahem.

But I’m not sure “fun” is the problem.

I don’t know how many of you remember back to the days when all you needed to homeschool was a Bible, Webster’s 1828 Dictionary and a denim dress. But the old faithful standard of American English defines fun as:

Sport; vulgar merriment; a low word

So you might rephrase the original complaint,

Homeschooling just isn’t “vulgar merriment” anymore.

All of a sudden, that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, does it? Of course, words do change in meaning over time. And it is important to remember that “vulgar” really just meant “common” back in the days of Noah. (Webster, that is.) But even more modern dictionaries define fun as “light entertainment” or “amusement.”

It’s hardly the core principle behind my homeschooling goals and probably not of yours, either. So if I don’t strive for homeschooling to be “fun,” what do I think homeschooling should be?

Homeschooling should be Christ honoring.

OK, so I’m a Christian and faith is an important reason behind our choice to homeschool. But what does it mean for homeschooling to be Christ honoring? For me, it isn’t so much about devotional time and peppering lessons with Scripture. It’s less about the outward signs of religion and more about the spirit behind it. Is my teaching marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Is it spirit filled?

Ouch. And moving on . . .

Homeschooling should be engaging.

I think this is really what a lot of us mean when we complain about homeschooling not being “fun.” I don’t know how many people really expect multiplication tables and Latin declensions to compete with, say, an amusement park. But we all know that children learn best when they are actively engaged. Fun activities are the ones that we might choose in our free time to relax and socialize. To be engaging, a lesson has to appeal to some aspect of a child’s interests, be challenging enough to require thought and be active enough to keep their little minds from wandering off to birds’ eggs and play.

Homeschooling should be useful.

And I don’t just mean to the future college graduate out looking for a job. Though those lessons are important, too. As are the ones taught strictly for the purpose of expanding those little minds. (Like learning the quadratic formula. It’s good for your brain. That’s all I got.) But I think it is important to remember to make some lessons useful to children right now, where they are at. Whether it is building their own garden box and growing their own choice of vegetables, learning to sew for themselves or their favorite doll or how to start a campfire, it is important to remember that our children are not just little vessels holding information for their future selves. They have interests and passions now and at least some of the lessons we teach should connect directly to those interests and passions. And I don’t mean just using these passions to get them to practice skills we think they need to improve. I mean actually seeking out lessons that further their interests and that they find useful right now.

So when I have those days when I start to feel like homeschooling just isn’t “fun” anymore, I’m going to ask myself these three questions:

  1. Is it Christ honoring?
  2. Is it engaging?
  3. Is it useful?

And I have a feeling that the answers to those questions will go further in helping me to see the actual problem than wondering why it doesn’t seem “fun” any more.

By the goodness of God . . .

Edward Winslow wrote in A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (1621):

    . . . And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

By the goodness of God, we are far from want. In fact, we have never known want like that of the Pilgrims. Giving up their homeland, leaving for an unknown shore across an unfriendly sea, suffering disease and starvation. For what?

Mayflower survivors

We often think of all the Pilgrims had to be thankful for this season as we partake in the season’s feasting. But how often do we think of all they had to mourn?

More than half of them died in the first “general sickness” as William Bradford called it. And yet when the harvest came in and alliances were made with the local natives and strength returned to the survivors, they were able to turn their grief into thanksgiving, their despair into praise.

The holidays are a difficult time for me. Not just because little Mattias isn’t here, but because the anniversary of his death is right between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The anxiety increases until it almost seems as if his death were something that is about to happen rather than something that happened already.

And how do you give thanks in the midst of losing a child? And what for?

The pilgrims sought a wealth few of us think on today. As the closing two verses of The Landing of the Pilgrims so eloquently say,

    What sought they thus afar?
      Bright jewels of the mine?
      The wealth of seas, the spoils of war?–
    They sought a faith’s pure shrine!
      Ay, call it holy ground,
      The soil where first they trod.
      They have left unstained what there they found–
    Freedom to worship God.

Freedom to worship a God who gives and takes away.

Freedom to worship a God who sacrificed His own son, that we might live.

Freedom to worship a God who said death is not the end.

Freedom to worship a God who gives me hope, even in the face of such a terrible loss.

And that truly is a thing to be thankful for.

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 If you post what you are thankful for this week, feel free to drop a link in the comments. I’d love to check out what you are thankful for this season!

Only love can overcome fear

Back when I still lived at home, my family hosted a Serbian exchange student. This wasn’t really your typical exchange student situation. He wasn’t really here to learn our language or our culture or any of the things students who normally participate in these programs come for.

Love overcomes fear

He was here to escape the war.

He was maybe 15. OK, so maybe he was older. He could have been older. I hope he was older because he was escaping the draft and I would hope that even Serbia wouldn’t draft 15 year olds. But his family didn’t want him drafted. Partly for the same reasons any family doesn’t want to see their son drafted into a Civil War but also because there is no way he would survive. He lacked maturity. He lacked a certain sense. He was . . . maybe 15.

My friends and I took him to the mall once. That great center of American culture. And America, being for the underdog, was decidedly pro-Croatian. As was the mall. It almost led to a fight between him and one of those people who set up little shops in the walkway because he had a whole display of Croatian flags.

I remember him spitting right there on the floor of the mall and in his thick accent and broken English,

“Pigs. They are not human. They are pigs.”

Yeah, that’s a scene you want to be in the middle of at the mall. Between a hot headed Serbian kid and a kindly Croatian gentleman. In the US. Where everyone knew about the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Serbs in Bosnia. We all knew what kind of hate Serbians were capable of. And right next to me, traveling with me, being cautiously led away by me, was exhibit A.

We hadn’t actually talked to him about what was going on in Serbia before that moment. Chalk it up to a certain liberal sensitivity. Everyone “knew” what was going on in his homeland. His family wanted him out. We, I think, had assumed that like in any conflict, the individuals in the conflict do not necessarily agree with what is happening around them.

Then again, maybe they do. So we had a little talk. First. This is America. America is decidedly pro-Croatian. You might get away with calling a Serbian a pig, but you won’t get away with calling a Croatian a pig. Second. You just don’t talk about people like that. Period. They’re human. They’re involved in a horrible conflict. And you just don’t talk like that. His answer?

“Because you don’t know what they are.”

The statement was chilling. Maybe it was the accent. Maybe it was what had just transpired. But there was something in his voice that was more than just hate. And he gave me my first personal glimpse at the horrors of Civil War.

Because he was right. I didn’t know what “they” were. I knew “they” were being tortured. Raped. Murdered. It was, after all, genocide. The UN and United States Congress agreed. Genocide. Not just a conflict or a war or a break up of Yugoslavia, but genocide. The eradication of a people simply for being.

I only vaguely knew that Croatia had been guilty of the same crimes. Not just back in World War II, when they had actual concentration camps set up for their Serbs and Gypsies. In the early nineties, the Croatians were guilty of murder. Rape. Shelling civilian areas. They killed unarmed civilians. Children. Families hiding in basements. This is from Bojana Isakovic’s  exhibition Genocide against the Serbs. Croatian forces killed 24 men and women with guns, knives and sledgehammers. Then burned their bodies. The other images were too graphic for me to share.

lm53_yugo_5

(Note: The image comes from a Marxist site. The exhibition was not banned as they state, and the atrocities were not fully unknown. It was complicated by the fact that there was an embargo, but the exhibition itself was not the subject of censorship.)

Now this exchange didn’t make me suddenly pro-Serbian. It gave me a very human face to a terrible and bloody Civil War. And it made me think. When the vanquished become the victors, they often turn on those who oppressed them, punishing them in kind. Seeking justice is rare. Seeking vengeance is not.

It seems to be part of human nature.

Fear and hate are the darkest of human emotions. And they aren’t overcome by laying out behavioral expectations, banning touchy conversations and simply telling someone that hate is not OK and that vengeance serves no purpose.

Because fear and hate cannot be overcome by reason. By love, grace, mercy . . . eventually. But not by reason.