Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Adult Learner" or OCD? (or both?)

My schoolroom yesterday
I already told you that I did not do so well on my very first quiz in my graduate school career.  But what I didn't tell you was that I failed the quiz. I got a 50%.  Out of a possible 100% ~ just to clarify.

I also didn't tell you how completely terrified I was to finally log onto Moodle ~ the online platform/hub for all of my coursework ~ and take the plunge...I mean, quiz.  I had studied for HOURS.  I made flash cards.  I re-read and outlined the many pages of reading I had done.  Robert prayed for me on Saturday night just before I clicked "take the quiz now."

The deadline for taking the quiz wasn't until Monday at noon, but the deadline I had given myself was Saturday evening.  I didn't want to be worrying about it on Sunday ~ you know, because of church, Sabbath, after-church lunch guests, etc.  And I wanted Monday to be a fresh start on the information for week 2.

So, he prayed, I clicked the tab, and the quiz appeared.  Ten minutes to complete ten multiple choice questions.  It was difficult, and I knew it would be, partly because I had lunch with this lady last Thursday in Boston. (Well, Cambridge, to be exact)
Cas discipled me during my University of Texas days through the ministry of Campus Crusade ~ or CRU as they call it these days.  It was Cas who expected the women in her small group to read the book of Romans 50 times and memorize two verses from each chapter, which had my suite-mate, Debbie, and me poring over stacks of index cards during lunch breaks in the dining hall.  We knew she would call on us, choose a random verse, and we would be expected to repeat it flawlessly. Oh, there was grace and joy and lots of laughter, but there was also a tall order for immersing ourselves in God's Word, knowing it, and applying it, and for this I am so very thankful.

Cas and I have now been friends for over 25 years, and she just completed her Master's degree at the same school from which I am now taking this online course.  Over our two and a half hour lunch (which was not long enough at all), we talked about many things, only one of which was seminary, but Cas confirmed to me that my fear of quizzes was not necessarily misplaced.  She took the same course with the same professor.  She even confessed to being angry over quiz grades after putting so much effort into preparing.

So, yes, Saturday night had me terrified to take the quiz and then angry at my results. Angry that the professor would choose questions that seemed so random and certainly not a faithful treatment of the actual material. Honestly, it felt downright unjust.

When Cas confessed her anxieties and apprehensions concerning studying, taking quizzes, exams, and writing research papers to a friend, the reply was, "Cas, you are showing all the classic signs of an adult learner."

When she related this story to me, I felt better.  This stress is normal for someone my age.  Adult learners tend to be a bit more concerned and "in earnest" about doing really well in their courses. And this can even be positive.  I certainly wish I had been a little more "stressed" about my undergrad classes. Unfortunately, I was more attentive to room decor and what restaurant to eat at with friends over the weekend.

I was unable to shake my disappointment and sense of injustice, though. I mused about emailing the TA or professor to express my concern, but then backed down, fearing the thought of being "that person" ~ the nagging 40-something "adult learner."

Then I logged into the syllabus review and online "chat" where the professor urged us to email with questions about the quizzes by copying and pasting each concerning question into our email, as Moodle selects questions at random and therefore no two quizzes are alike.  This seemed to be confirmation that I could inquire without making a fuss, and so I did.

I copied and pasted three of the questions to which I could not find the answer anywhere in the readings.  In fact, I discovered the answers for those questions in the readings assigned for THIS week, and shared the page numbers with the TA. Maybe I'm not crazy after all, but here's where the OCD part comes in.

I spent two nights obsessing over both my failure and the unfairness of the evaluation. I decided seminary, or higher learning of any kind, must not be for me.  I just don't "get" it. This thing I have dreamt about for years is misguided and not really from the Lord like I thought it was. I have now wasted a lot of time and money.  I felt foolish and angry.

THEN I went to bed and had a DREAM about the quiz and my email to the TA.  The professor contacted me, sat down with me (in a car parked in some random parking lot), and looked over each question with me, listening to my concern about the unfairness of each one.  He was taking notes and seemed to be genuinely receiving each complaint ~ desiring to improve his course. (HA!  This is truly a dream about my desired outcome!) In my dream, I was reluctantly shocked by this, not sure how to respond or go forward.  Then Sarah Abbott, a good friend from our Classical Conversations program walked by and started talking to me, and this is where the rest gets fuzzy.

I should mention here that Robert has only been thoroughly entertained by my angst, which did absolutely nothing for curing my inner obsessions and compulsions. In short, it made them ten times worse.

He found me in the kitchen early the next morning reading my Bible. He asked me how I slept. "Fine, I guess," I said, "but I had a dream about the professor, and the quiz, and we were in a car, and Sarah Abbott stopped by..." I was almost in tears.  What am I doing to myself?  This is going to be the first and LAST graduate course I ever take.  I really don't need any extra drama or sleepless nights. Got enough of that to last me a long time.  He wanted to laugh, I know it, but he did the right thing and said he was sorry. And he was.

Later, I checked my email. There was one from the TA just to me.

(Cue the fireworks and confetti.)

An apology! Moodle pulled the wrong questions! Everyone will receive a B! (or an A, if anyone was actually able to choose correct answers) Justice has been served!

And I am not crazy.  My sense of injustice has not simply succumbed to my own stubborn pride.

I am so relieved, but I'm not sure the O's and C's will be tempered until after this week's quiz.  We'll see...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School 14.0 (And Back From Texas, Too)


Starting our 14th year of homeschooling today. I can hardly believe my baby girl is in high school this year.  Wasn't she just beginning kindergarten?  Wasn't she just 3 years old and taking ballet class and afternoon naps and losing teeth?
And completing her first "chapter book" ever?  Oh, those were such milestones and proud moments! But today she begins algebra I (she actually started this summer), and American Literature (The Scarlet Letter is first up!), and Spanish I and philosophy and economics and more.  She's taking a break from CC this year, but will likely return in the coming years.  I just felt that God was leading us to be at home together this year doing our own thing, and am praying that He uses the year to pour into her an abundance of grace, confidence, strength, and wisdom. (Not that she doesn't already posses these things!)
And Mr. Cooper is a SENIOR!  Here is is with his monstrosity of an American History textbook. He began the Challenge III level of Classical Conversations last week and has been hitting the books for hours on end ever since. Shakespeare, poetry, philosophy, pre-calculus, chemistry, and Spanish are all on agenda for this year ~ and LOTS of rhetorical assignments like debate, speech, memorizing lines of Shakespeare, etc.
But it seems like yesterday that he was just learning to type on a very old desktop computer. He's still the fastest typist in this family for sure! 

The cuteness.  Oh my.
I'm hitting the books this year, too.  My first seminary course began last week, and I really enjoyed the lectures and readings.  Fascinating stuff ~ philosophy, philosophers, the nature of reality, arguments for the existence of God, existentialism, noumena, phenomena, Tertullian, Athanasius, Luther, Calvin, Barth.  I'm overwhelmed by the amount of information, but I love learning it ~ I think.  My first quiz grade has me a bit discouraged, but this is a new week, and I'm hoping to get the hang of things soon. Prayers are appreciated.
Thankfully, my class did not begin until last Monday, which meant I had plenty of time to travel to Texas with Kory and take care of all sorts of things there along with him and my dad.

First on the agenda was buying a car.  Kory was blessed by a gift from his grandparents that enabled this purchase, and we are so thankful. (Thanks Grammie and Paw-Paw!) It was probably the easiest, smoothest transaction in car-buying history! I put out a plea on Facebook, a friend from high school, who happens to live near my dad, responded (Thank you, Lee Ellen!), we took it for a test drive the day after arriving in Texas, everyone had the correct paperwork, they signed over the title, Kory wrote a painful check that was well within our budget, and we drove away. Initially, I did the driving, since it is a manual transmission, but Kory practiced over the next two days and took to it like a pro.

I feared the transaction at the county tax office the next day would be stressful with long waits and trips to various offices, but it wasn't.  We waited about 3 minutes, and walked out with Texas plates and registration in under 20 minutes.  Amazing. (Acquiring insurance was done over the phone at 9pm ~ inexpensive and unbelievably simple. Wow.)

It was so wonderful that all of this happened so smoothly, because it was Friday, and Kory needed to be at school on Sunday afternoon to begin his week of training for LEAD mentoring.  EVERYTHING had to happen by Friday, and it did!  This also meant that Saturday could be spent washing, vacuuming, Windexing, and Armour All-ing the car.  It cleaned up beautifully! (Have I told you how much I adore washing cars, vacuuming cars, and Windexing and Armour-All-ing cars?  Heaven!)
 Friday afternoon and evening were spent in Austin at the Domain, which is sort of an up-scale outdoor shopping mall.  After spending two hours in the Apple store watching/helping my dad purchase a new iPad (Kory went to the movie with a Baylor friend) and case, and SD card attachment, and wireless printer (whew!), we enjoyed some iced tea and GF carrot cake cupcake from the Steeping Room (yum!) and outdoor seating for the high-fashion show that this mall tends to naturally provide.  We were definitely underdressed.
 And then it was dinner out at Chez Zee with my sister and her family.  Fun times catching up, and frozen yogurt afterwards, of course! Speaking of growing up too fast, my nieces and nephews are all in high school now, and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing about their interests and classes ~ cross country and color guard flag team for the girls, and history and film for my nephew.  They are an awesome and talented bunch. (P.S. DON'T go and see "The Conjuring," okay?  Take it from the experts here. I stay FAR away from stuff like that, but I'm passing along this PSA from three teens who KNOW.)
 Sunday morning had us leaving for Waco, TX and Kory's return to Baylor.  My dad helped us gather up his things which had been in storage in his very hot attic. It's a good thing that Kory got a car, because my dad down-sized from a Suburban to a Foreruner and it would not hold all of Kory's Rubbermaid containers.

He's in a single this year and loving having the room to himself.  I think he needs curtains.  What do you think? Only kidding.  Pretty sure he's not concerned about window treatments, though I have to say, he has his own ideas about design and room decorating. He's especially excited about his new futon.  Living the life...

 One BIG trip to Target during one HUGE thunderstorm (thankful we were safe inside!), and he was all settled in, and it was time to say goodbye.  I suppose it was slightly easier this time, especially knowing what good hands he's in and how much he adores his school, leadership program (he's a mentor this year), friends, classes, and professors. I've probably said it a zillion times, but Baylor is truly a special place.  Kory even had a much-anticipated meeting last week with Baylor's Athletic Director, Ian McCaw, who happens to be a friend of ours from Amherst years ago.  Kory has been on Cloud Nine ever since.  He just soaked up the wisdom and example of godly leadership that Ian possesses.  We could not be more grateful for that life-changing influence in Kory's life. They both love the topic of "leadership"  ~ godly leadership especially ~ and had such a meaningful conversation about it.  I'm pretty sure Kory even asked him why he went after Art Briles to coach football. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for all of that.

(Send your kids there!  You won't be disappointed! REALLY.)

(Okay, I'll stop.)
Allen Hall Year Two
 The best part of the ride home was meeting this sweet lady for dinner.  (My dad had to endure our speed-talking about kids, and church, and homeschooling, and private schooling, and more.) It was spur of the moment and scheduled around our late departure from Baylor, a river rafting trip for her family, and CC preparations for her, but we made it work.  Yvette and I have been friends since college, and it has been such a joy to stay in touch through the years and watch each other's kids grow up.  She is an amazing mom and a gifted teacher.  I wish we lived closer, but for now we'll grab whatever moments we can.
 Back in San Marcos, I was able to get started on my seminary course with the luxury of sitting in bed in a room by myself, listening to lectures, and reading, and taking notes for hours.  If only that were real life...

Oh, and we also made a lot of progress on a painting project.
 I talked my dad into getting started on painting his deck table, which is something he's been wanting done for at least three years.  He has many, many projects on his list, but this was one I could actually help with (well, this and setting up the wireless printer), so we dove in.

We hauled the heavy furniture out to the driveway, and started scrubbing each piece with a steel brush.  We followed that up with steel wool.  Next came washing with soap and water, rinsing, and leaving out to dry overnight. Although, in south Texas, it only takes a few minutes for a soaking wet towel to dry ( I know this because we also went swimming), so the table probably dried as soon as we finished, but we couldn't tell, because it was dark by that time.
 The next day, we started painting, and by the time I left last Wednesday, the table and two of the four chairs had their first coat of paint.  It was so satisfying to make so much progress, and my dad was super-motivated to finish it up himself.

Well, that's the long update.  Now, I'm WAY overdue to be off the computer and setting up Kayla's Spanish CD-Rom curriculum as well as her online stock market game. After that, it's over to the dance studio to register her for Hip-Hop class.

Don't even ask me if I've watched today's theology lecture.

Happy Back-to School!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Through the Clouds

About to get on a plane back to Massachusetts this morning. These were my thoughts on the flight to Texas last week...

Cruising near 30,000ft on my way from Massachusetts to Texas via Chicago. Time to take Kory back to Baylor for his sophomore year. From my window seat the sky is blue, the clouds are white, and the sun is shining, but that wasn’t the case fifteen minutes ago. Fifteen minutes ago everything was cloaked in dark grey and the rain poured down. Funny how I forget that the sun does indeed rise and shine every day even if I’m unable to see it from my location on the globe. There was a terrible wreck on the opposite side of highway 91 as we made our way to the airport this morning.  A charred black and jack-knifed 18-wheeler.  It tore the guard rail, caused others to collide, and stopped traffic for miles.  So much for being an hour early for check-in, and now an alternate route would have to be sought for Robert’s 11am counseling appointment with a young engaged couple.
Flying "Sun Country" to California last October. Very few clouds in Hartford that day.
That’s what the rain and the dark grey do. They shadow everything. They close you in, limit your view, and cause the path ahead to seem perilously unstable. They cause fatal accidents and even lead to purposeful fatal incidents. They shroud light and hope from view. Ann, writing in regard to Robin Williams’ shocking and recent suicide, said hers felt like an engulfing flame. Mine always feels like a heavy, dark, and endless rainy day closing in and suffocating with a despair that seems it will never go away.
I went in for a yearly physical last week, except it had been two years since my last visit. And the two year wait was “doctor’s orders.”  He seemed to think I was such a picture of health that checking in yearly was silly.  And it’s true. My cholesterol and blood pressure are enviable. “Hands down the best I’ve ever seen,” he said back then.  (Good genes, I tell ya.)  So I waited.

Last week, the nurse weighed me in the hallway, and then got me situated in the exam room.  She took my blood pressure.  Very low. Always very low.  A sign of longevity, did you know? And then she said she needed to ask me two questions.

In the last two weeks, have you, at any time, lost interest in your normal activities?

and

In the last two weeks, have you, at any time, had feelings of hopelessness.

The mama bear in me balks at similar questions when the pediatrician’s office gives me the long questionnaire regarding the emotional state of my kids. Great, I think.  More evidence to put our family on the “watch list.” They’ve delayed a few vaccinations. They are Christians. They homeschool…through high school. The husband is a minister.  They are from...Texas. Deciding they need no further evidence of our questionable life, I ask to be exempt from filling it out.  Permission is always granted with a knowing smile by Dr. Kenny. He understands, and he trusts me. I’m thankful.

“Do I have to answer these questions?” I asked the nurse

“Yes, we are required to ask and record an answer,” she replied.

“For what purpose?” I inquired.

“It’s required for insurance purposes. In an effort to treat the whole person, we are required to ask questions regarding mental health,” she kindly explained.

“Oh, I see,” I replied, and then reluctantly admitted, “Well then, yes.  I would have to answer both questions with a yes.”

A “yes” reply sets off the next step in the new protocol ~ a longer questionnaire.

“Please fill this out and have it ready for the doctor when she comes in,” the nurse instructed.

I wasn’t able to get to it before my new physician knocked on the door. Having lamented the leaving of my previous doctor of 15 years, I was pleasantly surprised by a young and pregnant-with-her-first-child general practitioner. You know you are getting old when your female physician is stunningly, naturally beautiful with a small and super-cute belly bump enveloping a full term baby. I asked her when she was due. “Any moment,” she sighed. She was having contractions all throughout the appointment, but they didn’t stop her from being incredibly kind and gracious about the mental health questionnaire upon which I was just getting started.

But we descended into a cloud-shrouded connecting city.
Hard to believe the sun is shining somewhere beyond.
I tried to put it aside, thinking it would just eventually be another form in my file, but true to the priority of “treating the whole person” Dr. Emily insisted that we finish filling it out…together. Ugh. Basically, the questionnaire investigates further the severity of a person’s hopelessness and loss of interest in daily activities. Thankfully, my score was low, but she still pressed in to the issue. It was actually one of the things on my list to talk to her about. I just wasn’t expecting to be exposed so immediately.

She didn’t have to ask too many questions, because I’ve already been down the road and figured some things out in the depression department by the wisdom of the Lord, HIs Word, my husband, and a 70 year old godly, Christian counselor. It remains an ongoing struggle, and now that I’ve had some time to ponder it, I’ve realized it’s always been present, at least since high school, but 2009 was the worst.  A prompt in a Beth Moore Bible study workbook began to bring it to the surface...  

“Write about a time in your life when you have been required to exercise much faith.”

I was working on the study for my own personal growth and learning while driving in the mini-van, along Interstate 35N through Texas and into Oklahoma.  After pondering episodes from my life that might have required more than the usual amount of faith ~ getting married? having children? moving to Massachusetts? buying our house there? dealing with Cooper’s Celiac diagnosis? The tears started rolling as I realized that none of those things of the past, but Now. Right Now. was requiring more faith than I had ever needed.
Thriving during a sunny morning, running on the beach.
Only recently discovered taking photos "of" the sunshine. Beautiful to me.
We’d been in Massachusetts for ten years at that point. I needed faith to stay with my husband on this fund-raising journey through Texas and Oklahoma.  Faith to go back to Massachusetts when it’s over.  Faith to keep being a faithful wife and mom.  Faith to continue homeschooling.  Faith to stay in the ministry.  I was tired.  I was overwhelmed. I felt alone. And I felt guilty, because I had a “good” life, even enviable by some standards ~ you know, like my blood pressure and cholesterol. The picture of health and blessing. Once the trip was over, the tears just kept coming and now everything was by faith ~ getting out of bed, eating, leaving the house, interacting with any human being. In fact, for a short time, I couldn’t even “by faith” do any of those things.

So, my mental health questionnaire turned into a bit of a testimony last week.  Probably more than Dr. Emily bargained for, but she seemed both concerned and interested. Now that I’m five years out from the severest of the depression, I wasn’t necessarily asking for advice, but rather describing what I’ve discovered and trying to gain any further recommendations she might have ~ and this partly because I’m a woman, I’m getting older, and the dark grey days typically come like clockwork now. I can literally mark most of them on the calendar, and I do, with a little red squiggly line.

I’ve been offered prescriptions to cope with the issue ~ both the kind that come from the pharmacy in a small bottle and also the kind that seem more like a “home remedy.” So far, I’ve relied on the “home remedy” ~ a combination of spiritual disciplines like daily Bible reading and prayer, and physical disciplines like exercise, sleep and rest, and healthy foods, as well as vitamin and mineral supplements.  Actually, I view them all as spiritual, since God created the body and a system of wisdom principles in which the world and humans can thrive. Dr. Emily was fine with my current self-treatment, but offered others if needed in the future.

One friend who knew the intensity of the struggle checks in with me regularly. How are you feeling? Are things any better? she often asks on our weekly early-morning runs.  For the longest time I had to reply that everything is still by faith ~ getting out of bed, going about my daily tasks, etc. Nothing comes with any sort of natural desire, let alone joy.  Today I can say that there has been some healing, but the problem is not reversed. I don’t know that it ever will be.

Robert’s grandmother died from shock treatments for depression in a Texas state hospital long before he was ever born.  My own father received a similar course of treatment in the very same hospital for the very same reason just a few years later. I now know how thankful I should be for his very life. He’s described the heartbreaking  experience to me a couple of times. Left alone in a room, roused to get in a line behind other patients, placed on a hospital bed, hooked up with electrodes, shock treatments for several minutes, get back in line, go back to your room.  No talk therapy. No group sharing. No nothing but the “treatments.” I always picture it to be cloudy and raining in Galveston, TX ~ even though Robert and I honeymooned there during a very hot Texas August. My dad finally got permission to go to the YMCA next door to the hospital and swim. He loves swimming to this day. My mother has spent much of her adult life lying in her dark bedroom with a host of varying and mysterious ailments, the most looming of which is probably depression, but I don’t know that for sure.  She chooses to remain outside of my life. Relating in normal, healthy ways is too difficult. I feel her pain, and I pray for her.
My sunny view from the guest room at my dad's house this week.
Warmth and sunshine every day is wonderful and effective.
So, there’s a family history to be sure, but I think it’s even more prevalent than that. A majority of women I know opt for the prescription medications. One felt there was no other way after she experienced just one episode of anger during a very trying situation, but I think angry episodes in stressful situations are to be expected.  I think anger is sin ~ usually a response to our own selfish expectations.  I think emotions are God-given indicators of our desperate need for Him. I guess I think we’re all too quick to think our anger or our sadness or our frustrations are abnormal, and too slow and impatient to wait on Him for healing. I have found that there is a bitter-sweetness in the waiting, though. That in the time between the scary, slippery, dark gray runway takeoff and the eventual pressing through the thick clouds that reveals the sunshine, there is deeper intimacy to be found with the One who created it all. And really, though many squinting glimpses into the beauty of the sun’s light are generously and frequently given here on earth, I don’t think the clouds will be completely or permanently lifted until He returns. That knowledge has a way of altering perspective.  Someday the brightness will be so beautiful and overwhelming that our knees will bow in worship, and our faces will touch the ground, and our hearts will overflow with joyful, reverent gratitude. We are not there yet. We must wait in some level of darkness. All of us.

(But please don’t hear me say that medication is wrong or sinful. I think it can most certainly be a gift from God, discovered and created by His children for the benefit of His children. There is a time for everything.  Ann’s blog says it so well. I struggle, though, with the idea that all depression is chemical and therefore only remedied pharmaceutically. There is wisdom and there is foolishness.  Ironically, I have been thought foolish for not taking it.  Maybe those counselor-friends are correct, but I have not felt the go-ahead from the One who continues to lift my head by other means. Others have felt the go-ahead. I will trust their judgment in the Spirit. I hope they will trust mine.)

It took a while for noticeable healing, and though most activities are still “by faith” and by choices of “the will” there is more ease and joy in the process. I don’t ever feel “up for the task” of the hurdles, the conflicts, or the challenges the Lord allows, and He has allowed some heavy ones in the last few years. Without intending to be cliche, His grace truly has been sufficient. He’s made me to boast only in His strength, because I, myself, am nothing but weak.

Five years ago, in the midst of extreme fatigue and despair, my tirelessly compassionate husband allowed me to sleep in, stay in my room for the morning, spend time with my Lord, and heal.  Daily, he delivered hot tea and encouraging Scripture written on pastel card stock stationery that he purchased from Target. It was about three months of the rest and support I needed. Not everyone is so fortunate, I know.

Here’s one of the verses he wrote out for me:

Thus says the Lord, “Yet again there will be heard in this place, of which you say, ‘it is a waste, without man and without beast,’ that is in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man and without inhabitant and without beast, the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’
Jeremiah 33:10

Verses 7:34, 16:9, and 25:10 constantly warn that gladness and joy will be removed for a time. This verse indicates the coming reversal of those things. It's a promise to us today, too.

More photos of the sun on a a morning run.
This one on the Norwottuck Rail Trail Bridge over the Connecticut.
And here is the section of Psalm 72 I discovered while reading in my room during that very dark time:

O God, You have taught me from my youth, and I still declare your wondrous deeds.  And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare your strength to this generation, your power to all who are to come. 

For your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens, You who have done great things, O God, who is like you? You who have shown me many troubles and distresses will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths of the earth.
v. 17-20

Yes, He brought me up from the depths of earth's darkness and despair. He brings me up again and again even now, and He will continue to allow me to rise up from the dark, fallen, shrouded earth into the atmosphere of joy and light ~ veiled though it is for now. He promises it, I’ve experienced it, and I trust Him.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Dare Not Trust

My husband just confronted me about something I said to my children recently.  And for the record, this hardly ever happens, his correcting me or having issue with something I've said or done, that is.  In fact, I've worried before that he was secretly harboring all kinds of ill will and complaints against me and not telling me about them in the name of patience and as an act of grace.  He assures me this is not the case, and I have come to believe him, mostly due to his undying optimism and his tirelessly giving every person he knows the benefit of the doubt, and this long after my own suspicions about a situation or person seem confirmed. Anyway, he's an ultra-positive-believer-in-people who reserves confrontation for what he deems the severest of cases and always for the sake of the other person, so when he's concerned, I know to take it seriously.

What he heard me say to my teenagers was "There is no one you can trust."  And yes, that statement is something to be concerned about. What I think I actually said was "There are very few people you can trust." Either way, I needed to hear his concern and gentle redirection.

The interesting thing is that while I was out running this morning, and before the expressed concern, the words to the hymn "My Hope is Built on Nothing Less," kept coming to mind, especially these first lines...

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness 
I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name

I've always wondered exactly what "sweetest frame" meant, and while I now understand that the phrase probably intends something along the lines of "frame of mind" or "emotional frame" and the fleeting nature of those things, I think it can also apply to people.  People have frames, too ~ sweet, or slight, or heavy, or kind, or stubborn frames.  And Scripture certainly warns that people are insufficient sources of validation, of salvation, of love, of loyalty, of anything really.  I was reminded of this recently while reading Psalm 60...

O give us help against the adversary, for deliverance by man is vain.
Through God we shall do valiantly, and it is He who will tread down our enemies. v. 11-12

Yes, deliverance by man and dependance on man is indeed vain, and though I am the slower-to-trust-one in our marriage, I am also the one quicker-to-bear-my-soul to an assumed friend.  I long to relate, to share deeply and intimately, to know and be known by people. I keep no secrets and I assume that those I've discerned to be kindred spirits in Christ don't either. (How naive!) I'm ready to defend and to celebrate those I love, those who've come close in friendship.  (How silly!) Without intending any sort of boasting, I am fiercely loyal (the personality tests and my own experiences confirm it) but this loyalty has backfired on me so many times, and it's partly due to my own sin, because loyalty is easily motivated by "fear of man." So, I know for sure that some of my faithfulness to others is God's good work in me, but some of it is more like this...

...for they loved the approval of men, rather than the approval of God. John 12:43

When I spoke the words about not trusting people to my children recently, it was in reaction to my own feelings of betrayal, and honestly, the betrayals, the rejections, and the inherent questioning of my character feel like they've been stacking up. It hurts deeply at first, but then I just feel foolish, incredulous that I have put myself in this position yet again.  Trusting others, entrusting others with information and vulnerability, serving others, sacrificing for others ~ others who will eventually distance themselves from me in word or deed in spite of the closeness between us that I assumed.

And yes, my grandmother taught me early on what "assuming" makes of "u" and "me."  (I've used the dangerous word "assume" a lot in this post.) So yes, I must be a stupid donkey, because I have fallen foolishly prey to assumed loyalty more times than not. It's in times like these that I begin to ponder all those surface-y, non-emotional, closed off, reserved folks I know and mentally beat myself up for not being more like them. They are so wise, so mature, so savvy, so spiritual.  What is wrong with me? When will I ever grow up?

One thing's for sure: I must resolve to stop trusting others.

And evidently, I must resolve to teach my children to do the same.

Or maybe not, according to my husband's rebuke this morning.  And I know he's right.

Larry Crabb, the Christian counselor and author we love to hate around here (but mostly love), because of the painful, scriptural truth with which he exhorts, says that Christians are more like practicing Buddhists, denying all hope, all desire, and all positive anticipation in an effort to avoid any disappointment or pain.

"We Christians are often practicing Buddhists. We kill desire in an effort to escape pain, then wonder why we don't enjoy God." Shattered Dreams, p. 60

"In our day of feel-good Christianity, we have come up with a wrong view of our spiritual journey.  We think of suffering as something abnormal, as evidence that we lack faith.  We work so hard to escape suffering that we fail to realize what good things might be happening in us as we suffer.  But that's wrong. That's more Buddhist than Christian."  p. 166

I lose sight of this truth so often.  My faith in Christ allows me to hope for and anticipate all the best things in people, in relationships, in circumstances, and then when they fail me,  I can be okay, because my sure foundation is not in those things, those people. Rather, it's in Him, and He never fails me or forsakes me. It's also an opportunity to identify with Him, albeit not exactly a fun one. Now that I think of it, a lot of our "opportunities" to identify with Christ are not that enjoyable right away, but they are good.  ("It is good that I was afflicted...") And He's been there.  He was misunderstood, rejected, falsely accused, and betrayed by those closest to Him. Really, it should be considered a privilege to be entrusted with any of the same sort of emotional pain He endured. I only wish I could embrace it more willingly.

So, Robert is right.  I need not, should not take up the "I dare not trust" mentality.  Jesus' life, death and resurrection enable me to entrust myself to Him as I risk trusting others.

I might be slightly more discerning in future circumstances, but there is no pressing need to withhold myself from relationships with those He puts in my life.

His oath, His covenant, and blood support me in the whelming flood
When every earthly prop gives way, (or "when all around my soul gives way")
He then is all my Hope and Stay

(Kids, are you reading this? If so, please forgive my hardness of heart, and entrust yourself to those given to you in friendship, but entrust yourselves to Christ above all. Love, Mom)

Friday, August 8, 2014

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday ~ Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins (& Summer Sanity)

Happy Friday!  I'm sitting here near a sunny window in a central Massachusetts Starbucks waiting for a beautiful young woman to meet me for coffee. It's sort of a halfway point for each of us, and I'm remembering several other mid-way coffee dates I've had here.  Life, walking with Christ, ministry....and boys (You know, the usual...) are on the agenda I think, and I'm always so impressed and encouraged when a 19 year old wants wisdom on these things.  Truly the Lord is at work in the lives of young people.  I see it all around me.

My body is so sore today, and not due to any long runs I've been on this week either.  Rather, my hands, legs, and back are aching because I spent the day cleaning, organizing, bagging, and boxing items for the Salvation Army yesterday.  I think I gave away about 200 books (really), a dozen coffee mugs (those things multiply!) and even 4 trash bags full of girls' clothing to a family with four daughters younger than Kayla.  It felt so good, but there's still so much to be done.

And it just feels so good to be at home for a day.  Summer is so chaotic and always means jumping hastily from one major activity to another with almost zero concentrated or consistent time at home.  Weddings, various youth camps, traveling, more weddings, teen activities, birthdays, out-of-town visitors, and more.  I was in complete denial when I planned to re-paint several of the rooms in my house, not to mention my basement staircase and floor for summer projects, because I KNOW that summer is like this.  I'm always anxious for the school year to arrive, because it brings a more predictable schedule ~ for everyone.

And even though there is so much housework to be done, baking something or cooking a complete meal always makes me feel like I've truly been at home accomplishing something.  So, though I desperately needed to re-arrange and downsize the sheets and towels in my linen closet (among MANY other things), I also NEEDED to bake something and then clean the kitchen from top to bottom.  So, that's what I did, and it was wonderful.
Raspberries were on sale here "buy one get two free," and so I was anxious to do something with at least one of the packages I bought instead of just gobble the whole thing down immediately.  I had also just stocked up on a week's worth of groceries (which hadn't been done all summer either) and had dark chocolate chunks on hand.  I looked at several recipes for muffins including those two ingredients, and finally came up with a version of my own.  And they're pretty good.  Not so-good-your-non-paleo-kids-will-eat-them-all-before-you-do, but still a great breakfast treat or afternoon coffee accompaniment for those who've given up carbs and sugar for good.

And I have to tell you (though I probably already have; I'm getting old) that Robert is more sold out in that decision than I am, and I'm pretty sold out! He can tell a HUGE difference in the way he feels after giving up breads and sweets, and I don't think there's any turning back as far as he's concerned.
Here's the recipe. I've had a Ziploc bag with a couple of these in my purse on several occasions this week as I've dashed out the door before eating breakfast.  They are very satisfying.  Hope you enjoy.

Raspberry Dark Chocolate Muffins

Makes 1 dozen

1/2 cup coconut flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
dash sea salt
6 eggs
4 tbsp honey
3 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp warm water
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 - 1 cup raspberries, chopped (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks (I chopped mine to a finer grade)

**Save a few raspberries and chocolate to sprinkle on top of muffins before baking.**

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk all liquid ingredients together~ eggs, honey, vanilla, coconut oil, and warm water. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together ~ coconut flour, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt.  Add dry ingredients to liquid and mix thoroughly.  Coconut flour soaks up lots of liquid, so your batter will get pretty thick, but that is normal.

Fold in chopped raspberries and dark chocolate pieces, saving some of each to sprinkle on top.  Fill 12 greased muffin cups about halfway with batter and then sprinkle each with a few pieces of berries and chocolate.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.  Be careful, as the coconut flour bakes fairly quickly.

Hope you have a great weekend!


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Maine: Building, Running, Celebrating

I love this picture of my two big boys building a sand castle.  This has been happening every summer for 15 years.  The holes get deeper and the piles get higher every year. We just never outgrow the enjoyment of playing in the sand.  There were little kids all around us on the beach each day last week, and it was so fun to watch them do the same thing mine used to do ~ dig and build closer to the water, where the tide will inevitably fill up the moat, but then eventually destroy the entire castle.  They would squeal and scurry around building bigger walls and barriers, and this would occupy them for at least an hour, but always to no avail.

Building houses OF sand and ON a foundation of sand can not withstand the storms, it's certainly true to Jesus' parable. In fact, they can't even withstand the daily tide. A dear friend said to me the other day, "It's not the dragons.  It's the gnats."  So true.  The daily tide of life (conflict, work, parenting, relationships, rejection, finances, betrayal, people's needs) can be so difficult to endure for the long term. This wasn't supposed to be a post about trial, but the truth is that there was a bit of that hanging over this vacation. The good news, though, is that getting away granted a bit of reprieve from its disappointing, discouraging nature.

Getting out of the house and spending time in a different location always helps put things in better perspective, and we did have a refreshing time away, so back to the sand castles....

Kayla enjoyed hanging out in the one that Kory made one day ~ sort of an inverted one, built deep down in a valley of sorts ~ as well as showcasing her own masterpiece. We spent nearly three whole days (afternoons) on the beach, and two of them were fairly chilly. I had to wear a sweatshirt the entire time one day. Oh, New England... 

But on our last day, the temps were up around 80 degrees (sigh...), so we made the most of that one.
 Cooper built a castle, too, but his looked more like a Hershey's Kiss ~ only slightly larger. (Sorry, no photos) He eventually gave up and took to simply sunbathing and well, just generally looking cool.
Everyone braved the 60 degree water except for me.  It actually didn't seem as cold as usual, and I did make it in to my knees. I didn't want to spend the rest of the afternoon shivering on the beach, though, so I stayed dry for the most part. Plus, I was being swept away via words on a page to both southern India as I read the biography of Amy Carmichael, and also to Depression Era New York City and Ireland, as I finally picked up Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt.  It's been in a basket in my room or on my nightstand for years.
Robert thought the cold water might give him some relief from back pain, but sadly, it really didn't.
Pretty sure they were just numb by the time they came out of the water!
An attempt to warm up. (Well, and avoid another photo.)
If you know my daughter at all or read the last post about Kayla's birthday, you won't be surprised that a unicorn made an appearance on the beach.  She also recently acquired a t-shirt that reads "I liked unicorns before it was cool," and it's true, she did, in her generation anyway.  I cringe at the latest fashions ~ high-waisted, button-fly, acid-washed jeans, cropped tops, rainbows, unicorns, and all things 70's and 80's.  Don't these kids know how we 40-somethings look at old photos of ourselves wearing those exact same things with so much regret?
Kory working on one of his three sand castle designs over the course of our trip.
Our evenings were filled with grilling some yummy dinners, trips into town for ice cream, a movie on a rainy night (no need to pay good money to see "And So It Goes" ~ FYI!), and a nightly Spades tournament. Cooper and Kory beat Kayla and Dad in the best two out of three.  Mom couldn't stay up that late, and somehow fell asleep each night just feet away in spite of their laughing, yelling, and arguing.
View from the Marginal Way
 Maybe my favorite parts of getting away were the early morning runs I was able to go on and our anniversary breakfast.  If you know Ogunquit, then you know the "Marginal Way."  It's a narrow mile-long walkway along the rocky coast and overlooking the ocean. It's beautifully and naturally landscaped, and provides incredible views.
Sunrise
 From there I could run into the quaint downtown area and then access the sandy beach, running for a couple of more miles, enjoying the quiet, the sunshine, and the thoughts of our great, infinite, and majestic God.  One morning when I got back I looked up this verse:

For the Lord is a great God, and a King above all gods
In whose hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also
The sea is His, for it was He who made it, and His hands formed the dry land
Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker
Psalm 95: 3-6
Low tide and a few other runners and walkers.
This map must show the high-tide view! Looks like I was running in the ocean ~ or swimming.
I returned "home" to this pretty view of Perkins Cove and sitting on the deck with Robert while
our three teens slept.
Robert's back is still giving him so much grief. He's been in constant and worsening pain since December, which means he hasn't been able to run with me in months. We did go out for breakfast together after my run and while the kids slept to celebrate our 22nd wedding anniversary, though.
We definitely cheated on our paleo diet for this breakfast celebration.  Robert had a toasted blueberry muffin along with his omelet, bacon and homefries, and I finally got to try a lemon-ricotta pancake.  I see them on the breakfast buffet at Whole Foods each week on our Monday breakfast dates there, but they are never gluten free.  I ordered one on the side of my two-eggs-over-easy, homefries, and bacon plate, and it was delicious! I'm craving another one as I type this.

When we returned, we made one pajama-clad child come outside on the deck and take our picture.

So thankful for some time away and some sunshine!

So thankful for this 15 year Maine vacation tradition!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

1 Birthday, 1 Bedridden & 5 Beach Bound


Her complimentary Birthday Chocolate Dome at her favorite place to eat: PF Chang's.
 This pretty girl turned 14 yesterday!  She started the day with a trip to the gym at 7am.  This was not her preferred wake up time, of course, but turning 14 means that you are now old enough to go to Planet Fitness, and she's been wanting to "work out" at a gym with mom and dad for a long time.

Only her Daddy could take her and show her the ropes at the gym, because I needed to stay home and take Kory to walk-in hours at the pediatrician.  It is a very long story, but it (sort of) began with him passing out on Saturday evening after our family talked through Ephesians 6, the armor of God, and stood to pray, holding hands.  After we finished praying, Kory's eyes rolled back into his head, he fell backward, breaking the door of our TV cabinet, and slumped onto the floor. He was out long enough for Kayla to call 911 and give the proper information.  I thought he was having a seizure, and it seemed like forever before he finally came to, but it was probably more like 10-15 seconds.  Paramedics came. Vitals checked out okay. A ride to the hospital was refused, but after they left, he spiked a 102 fever which stayed consistent until this morning around 3am ~ over 48 hours.

Yes, it really happened, as have many other scary and disappointing things in the last two weeks, and I'd love it if you prayed for us. 

(And yes, the paramedics asked what we were doing when it happened. They didn't skip a beat when we said we were praying ~ that it was even Kory's idea to stand and hold hands.  They did explain that prayer is not the typical reason for "passed out 19 year olds in Amherst."  Comic relief was nice at that point.)

Anyway, Kayla returned home from the gym to her requested breakfast ~ chocolate chip waffles, eggs, and bacon.

And gift opening...

Arizona Tea and iTunes (from Cooper), Unicorns, and Taylor Swift Quotes ~ some of her favorite things


And the much desired iPod touch!  She was really surprised!

The weather was really weird yesterday ~ storms off and on all day ~ and so Kayla, Cooper, and I headed to West Hartford and the "fancy" mall to do some shopping with her birthday money and eat at her favorite restaurant ~ PF Chang's ~ which is also inside the mall.

Robert stayed home to keep and eye on Kory and his fever, get some work done, and begin packing (in faith)  for our vacation to Maine ~ our usual trip to the cabin on Perkins Cove in Ogunquit.

We even had a unicorn sighting at Urban Outfitters.  It wasn't a very pretty or cute one, though, and no sparkly glitter or rainbows accompanied it, hence Kayla's disturbed face, but we enjoyed the time away.

Things were not looking good for Kory last night, who said he has never felt so terrible.  Cooper was beginning to feel feverish, too. We prayed for them, for protection, for mercy, and healing last night before bed.  I checked on them in the middle of the night, and they both felt feverish.  Thankfully, Kory's fever finally broke early this morning and he ate breakfast. When Cooper got up, he said, "I really can't believe I woke up well."

So we are headed out with much gratitude, and looking forward to some time away in one of our favorite places.  Thankful, too, for the Smith family who have so generously allowed those in ministry to stay in their wonderful studio cabin for decades.

See ya soon ~ and hopefully with sunny beach photos to share!