Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Scary Cool

And God caused the sky to shake and the waters of heaven to open.  His brilliance illuminated the earth.  His voice made the trees tremble, and he said, "Fall on your knees, before the Lord your God."

**6 months earlier**

I'm a sucker for shows that start this way.  There is always a tension inside me between distaste with the writers for hooking my attention with this cliche tool and loving that this cliche tool succeeds in hooking my attention.  I really want to see what happened earlier to lead up this climactic moment in the show.

Compared to most television shows/movies, however, my life is much less climactic.  But that doesn't really matter, does it?  Pain is a relative thing.  Ask people of differing ages and experiences how much a skinned knee hurts (say, my eight year old son and my 75 year old father) and you will get significantly different answers.  Our pain is uniquely qualified by our own perspective, not others.  What is devastating to me, may seem trivial to someone else.  The sharp pain of a stubbed toe temporarily obliterates your awareness of all else, yet an onlooker may simply find it funny.

I explain that as a disclaimer and a justification of the fact that the last several months of my life have been really hard (relatively).  And, frankly, it is hard for me to admit it.  I was raised on stories of the Bataan Death March and Vietnamese prisoner of war camps; images of monks lighting themselves on fire and tanks rolling over people in Tienanmen Square; knowledge of the War to End All Wars and then the next one and the next one depictions of the Great Depression and the Holocaust; studies about despotic and genocidal leaders like Stalin and Pol Pot and Mao Tse-tung and Hitler and the Ayatollah Khomeini; real possibilities of nuclear war and, and, and...  

Life's pretty good
In the knowledge and perspective of these and more, it has always been difficult for me to admit pain.   Who am I to complain?  I don't have it so bad.  This will pass.  Heck, I'm married.  I have four healthy kids.  I have a roof over my head.  I make more money than 98% of the world. My parents are alive and still married. My dog doesn't bite me anymore.

So, it is hard to complain... out loud.

Because I do plenty of complaining.  I just don't verbalize it.  Complaining out loud would be wrong.  That would allow others to compare my pain against those absolute standards of suffering like poverty and starvation and abuse that makes my hardship seem less, well, hard.  So, I try and focus on what I have, what I'm thankful for.  And it works.  Mostly.



Sunday, July 3, 2016

Our Grubby Little Lives

A lesser known fact about me: I am the world's worst fisherman.

That's not hyperbole.

My dad, who is really a pretty good fisherman, has taken me fishing many times over the years.  I've trolled for trout and angled for bass and jigged for salmon and even cast a few flies.  I love the idea of fishing, but one thing has always been missing for me.  One thing has always kept me from enjoying it the way my dad does, the way almost everyone who fishes enjoys it: the fish.  I don't catch any.

In all of times I have fished in my life, whether in a row boat or a float tube or with waders or on the shore or 300 feet above a weighted down rigger, I can count the number of fish that I have caught over the past 30 odd years on two hands.  I just don't catch fish.  I'm cursed.

It doesn't make sense.  'The funny thing about fishing is that it isn't hunting.  You don't have to stalk them or cover yourself with fish urine so they don't smell you.  While diehard fishermen may disagree with me, success in fishing is largely about preparation and equipment.  The right lure, the right spot, the right time, and voila, fish on the line.  Equipment impacts hunting, but a good hunter can be largely successful with inferior equipment.  On the other hand, while there is definitely skill involved in reeling and netting, all the skill in the world won't make fish bite the wrong lure at the wrong time.  

That's what doesn't make sense about my inability to catch fish.  I'll be on a boat with the latest person who is going to show me that the curse is nonsense.  We'll be fishing at the same time, in the same spot, using the same equipment, and the fish just don't bite my line.  I don't know why that is, but I know when it started.

When I was nine or ten, my family took a trip to Alaska.  No, we didn't fly.  We drove.  Towing a trailer.  35 miles per hour.  On a 2,000 mile dirt road. Sound fun?

It took a while to get there.  But that was ok, because the fishing is great along the way.  And it was.

30 years later, I still remember reeling in the grayling on rivers while being sucked dry by the biggest mosquitos you will ever see.  (My brother bought a cap in Alaska with a picture the pest and the caption "Alaska State Bird".)  Up till this point I was still a kind of normal kid when it came to fishing.  Sometimes I caught fish, sometimes I didn't.  

But that changed when we reached the Kenai River.  

On the Kenai, the river literally boiled with fish.  Salmon so thick, it looked like you could walk across the water on their backs.  My dad caught a fish that was nearly as big as I was, and I wanted to go out on the river too, but I was young and the boat was full, so while they fished, I sat.  Later though, because no one was going out and I wanted to catch a big fish like my dad, I grabbed a pole, geared up, and got in the boat by myself.

I wasn't going anywhere.  The boat was tied to the dock.  The older men and boys snickered a bit at the adorable ignorance of a 9 year old thinking the fish would swim up to the doc to be caught.  (This is a disease that you catch if you fish too long.  I call it I've-fished-so-long-I-forgot-that-fish-really-do-have-to-swim-up-and-bite-my-lure-itis.)

So I sat in the boat and cast my salmon pole out into the river in hopes of hooking a "big one".

And I did just that.  (In your faces!)

I had reeled in a couple of times and then cast out again, when all of a sudden the pole started making this horrible whining noise as the line shot out of the reel.  I was terrified.  I had actually hooked a big salmon and had no idea what to do.  So, like any red-blooded, american male in the throws of a primal and manly pursuit would do, I screamed.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

7 Things I'm Loving Right Now

I love summer!! After what has felt like endless months of tight, full schedules, I love the laid back feeling of summer days. I still haven't traded in my taxi hat, or given up some school with the kids or kicked the chores to the curb but I am finding more margin in my days. I'm loving it! Almost too much!

Here are 7 things I am loving these early summer days.......
1. Fiction~ I love to read and summer means reading to me! I have been know to have many books going at once. Not because I am actually capable of reading many at once but because I can't fathom reading only ONE book. Also, since I am not a finisher by nature, I start a new book whenever I want, just because I can.

I have set a goal for myself to read through the Harry Potter series this summer. My older girls and Joel have read them all. My little two have read through book 3. I read the first book about 18 years ago and then stalled a little ways through the second one. Well, I breezed through the first book and am officially stalled in the same spot in the second one. I will pick it back up next week and give it a shot again. I would really like to read them and see what all the fuss is about!

My current fiction book, though, that I am loving is The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza. This book brings together a 40 something year old and a 20 something year old in the setting of a magazine turned app. I am loving all the references to social media and watching the 40 something year old evolve in her technological ways. I am surprised by what a fun read this has been! What are you reading? I am making my list!

2. Peaches~ Peaches with cottage cheese and coconut creme yogurt is what is getting me out of the bed in the morning. Even as I write this, my mouth waters! Summer is bursting with fresh fruit and amazing flavors. I can't get enough! Emy made a Peach Cobbler for Father's Day that was divine!

3. Time and Teaching, ~ I am loving the time to schedule coffee and meetings and classes and all kinds of fun things with grown ups these days. This week I've had two oil classes. Teaching and interacting with women, sharing with them how to make a difference in their lives and the lives of their families and friends, that fills my cup!

4. Lime, Ginger and Spearmint~ Lime essential oil has always been one of my favorites, either in the diffuser or in my water. I typically combine it with Grapefruit which says all kind of summer. But lately, the Lime, Ginger, Spearmint trifecta has me guzzling my water! It has a zing, a kick and a refreshing aftertaste that I adore!

5. Facebook~ I know, I know. It is 2016. I get it. But Facebook and I have only been friends for a couple of months. I have an addictive personality and have avoided Facebook for all of these years because of it. The reason I decided to take the plunge now, though,was because of my oil business. There is a lot of training available through FB that I wasn't taking advantage of and knew I was missing out. I signed up for that sole purpose and have gotten so much more out of it. I have found that I have been able to connect with others in a new way. I have also been able to reconnect with people that I most likely wouldn't have, otherwise. Yes, I've had to set limits for myself and assign parameters for how I use it and sometimes need to scroll quickly as to avoid finding myself in a dangerous mindset or down a dark hole but otherwise, it is something I am loving.

6. Grilling~ I mentioned on Instagram about a month ago that I am "grillin' like a villain" these days. I love it!! I have always been afraid of the grill. Afraid of the propane and turning it on. But after listening to one of my favorite podcasts (see below), I decided to be brave and tackle the grill. Making lunches and dinners are quick and easy with this extra tool at my disposal. Please feel free to send me your favorite grill recipes. My family will totally appreciate it!

7. Podcasts~ I am sure I have mentioned it before but it is definitely worth repeating, Podcasts have been a life saver for me and summer time allows me even more time to listen in. I struggle with anxiety and sometimes, too much quiet in my head is not a good thing. Finding quality podcasts has allowed me to spend less time in my own head. I also love listening to what people are doing all over the world. Sometimes my neck of the woods closes in and I begin to feel like the world is small. Listening to podcasts helps me feel how big the world is. That is a good perspective for me to have.

Do you know you that if you have an iPhone that Apple has given you a Podcast app? This is what it looks like. Once you click on it, you can follow different podcasts and they will upload automatically to your app. I love listening to them in the car, while I am working in the yard, folding laundry, doing dishes, walking, cleaning. Most of the time I am not sitting still while I listen. Occasionally though, I need paper and pen to jot notes because the podcast is a wealth of information.




Here is a list of my very favorite podcasts:
1. The Simple Show
2. Sorta Awesome
3. Personality Hacker
4. The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey
5. That Sounds Fun with Annie F. Downs

That wraps up things I'm loving this June. What things are you loving?

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Oh yeah? Then How About This?

Sometimes I feel like God is messing with me.  Like now.

Not in a malicious way, but in the way a dad might test a son or a teacher a student.  There are times when I'm coaching when I'm really pleased with how players are doing or how things are going or maybe I'm not exactly pleased, but I reflect and realize that concepts are being grasped, goals are being reached.  Many times I also notice some overconfidence developing, maybe even some arrogance.  So in those times, sometimes, I give them something way more advanced than I was planning.  I give them a glimpse of the reality that their limited experience and perspective cannot grasp.  I give them something I'm pretty sure they can't handle or aren't ready for.  It's not malicious.  I'm not trying to break their spirit, but they need a check.  They need a glimpse of a bigger picture.

That kind of messing.

For two months now I can't get ideas to come together in neat packages.  I've started several posts and just can't wrap them up.  To be honest, I'm a little (lot?) frustrated with God.  He asked me to do this.  Why would he have me write if I can't put ideas together?  See what I mean?  Messing with me.

In Exodus, God does this with Moses.  Toward the end of the book of Exodus, we see that God has literally transformed Moses from an escaped-convict-nomad to the leader of a nation.  Moses has had multiple meetings with one of the most powerful men in the world at the time (Pharaoh), has led his people out of bondage, has produced miracles of deliverance and sustenance, and has established a standard of cultural mores and a codified law (not to mention regular conversations with the omnipotent and omniscient creator and ruler of the universe).  At the height of his accomplishments with every conceivable wind at his back, Moses comes down from Mt Sinai and finds his brother and his people have completely lost their minds, melted down their valuables, and molded a "god" of their own creation.

At this point, Moses might be justified in feeling a bit further along in the faith journey than pretty much all of his peers.  Some understandable arrogance.

Moses heads back up the mountain to see what the Israelites can do to atone for their sin and he says, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold.  But now please forgive their sin -- but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." (Exodus 32:31-32)  It's hard to attribute intent when reading scripture, but to me, this sounds like Moses saying, "You and I both know they are bad, but you and I also both know that I'm awesome, and because of that, I know you wont destroy me, so please forgive them for my sake."

God's response?  "Don't you worry about it.  I'll take care of them.  You take care of you." (Exodus 32:33-34 Joel's Translation)  That should have been a bit of a warning, and maybe Moses heeded it, but I totally get why his pride may have swelled a bit.  Unfortunately, though, the pattern continues.

Right after this, in Exodus 33, God promises victory over the regional powers of the day and a homeland of wealth and comfort. He also tells Moses to "tell the Israelites, 'You are a stiff-necked people...'" implying, of course, that Moses isn't included in that assessment.  To further reinforce his distinction from the masses, Moses set up a tent "some distance away" from the camp and anyone who wanted to inquire of the Lord, would go up and ask Moses.  There "the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend." (Exodus 33:11)

So, again, it is understandable how Moses, as my dad used to say, gets a little too big for his britches. But we aren't done.

In Exodus 33:12, Moses goes to God and says that he needs to know more.  He needs to be part of the executive team, for how can he lead these people without knowing what God knows.  God gives him a gentle rebuke: "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest."  In essence, God says, "I am enough.  My presence is enough.  I've got this.  You don't need to know what I know.  You just need to trust me."

But Moses presses, "How will anyone know that you are pleased with me...?"  (as if that is important)

At this point, I'm getting nervous.  I'm thinking that God is gonna give Moses a smack down.  Who the heck does he think he is?  But I'm not God.  Or more accurately, God isn't me.  God doesn't smack him down.  He gently relents.  He says, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name." (Exodus 33:17)

Wow!  What I wouldn't give to hear God saying that to me!  Instead of rebuking him, God directly addresses the insecurity in Moses' question.  He reassures Moses of God's love for him and approval of him and place with him.  I can't imagine the joy and pride and comfort in receiving such a statement.  I don't know how I would respond.

But of course, that isn't really accurate.  In Christ on the cross, I have already received that statement.  And while I was and am eternally grateful for God's love and gentleness and unmerited favor, my response is generally, "but I want more."  Just like Moses.

Moses says, "Now show me your glory." (Exodus 33:18)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Finish Strong

Pixel #3: ...?

Ok.  Writer's block.  Kind of.

I've been working on the Pixel #3 post off and on all month.  It was a post I started back in 2014 and never finished, so I picked it up again at the beginning of May.  Frustratingly, though I have plenty of thoughts and content, I can't get it to come together.  A more accomplished/experienced blogger would have moved on to something else in order to revisit it another time, but "accomplished/experienced blogger" doesn't accurately describe me and finishing is something in which I take pride.  So, instead,  I plowed ahead for 4 weeks writing and rewriting.  The fruit of this persistence?  I still have a two-year-old, unfinished post, haven't posted for a month, and am moving on anyway.  (Inexperienced and prideful are not the best of attributes.)

However, I did move on finally this week.  I still can't get that post to come together, but moving on caused me to think about why I have such a hard time doing it.  And it really boils down to what I alluded to above: I am a finisher.

Pixel #4: Finishing

I don't know if I am a hard worker, but I am definitely a finisher.  That isn't to say that I don't work hard.  I do, but it is the finishing that drives me.  Work is just the means to get there.  Work isn't to be feared or avoided.  It is to be embraced.  It gets you where you want to go.  But work for the sake of work?  Value in work in and of itself?  That's always been harder for me.

building a deck for my future in-laws
My dad stressed(s) the value of hard work with us.  He stressed not setting limits on what you may accomplish through effort and determination and perseverance.  Earning the moniker "hard worker" is among the best compliments you can receive from him.  Somehow though, whether my dad emphasized it, or it was implied, or I just connected the dots between work and finishing, I definitely picked up finishing as a value as well, or maybe instead.

I'm not sure how it happened, but, at some point, I concluded that work done without finishing is just dust in the wind.  It is meaningless.  A hard working sculptor who sweats over a mass of granite, who hammers and chisels chunks off of the whole, has done nothing more meaningful than the sledge hammer wielding prisoner in a quarry if he doesn't see the work to completion.  If the sculptor doesn't finish, he hasn't brought art out of stone.  He has only smashed rock.  Similarly, a runner that races the mile and stops after one lap hasn't run the race.  It doesn't matter how well she did up till that point.  Even if she worked her hardest, ran herself to exhaustion, and was in the lead when she stopped, stopping, not finishing, negates the effort.  Success in the race is only measured of the finishers.  Hard work is important, but only in the context of finishing, because the value of the work is directly measured by the value of the finished product that the work produces.

Right?

As I said, I'm not sure exactly when I figured this out, but I do know one of the experiences that shaped this belief.  When I was six years old or so, my dad signed me and my brother up for a track program called Rainbow Runners.  We went to a couple of practices, and because I didn't like running (still don't), I decided that my event would be the shortest one: the 100 yard dash.  Also, I was pretty fast, so I figured I'd do well (because being one of the fasted of the 19 kids in my 1st grade class clearly should translate to winning a city-wide sprinting competition).  

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Not Bubble Wrap

This is the time of year when school starts to wind down for us (yesterday was Emy's last day of 8th grade!) and I begin to think about our plans for next year. Every year, Joel and I take a look at each of our kids, determine needs and goals and attempt to chart a course that best fits them and our family. It is also the time of year where I reflect on how I've come up short, failed to meet an objective or have done a disservice to one or all of my kids. Since I have also had quite a few people ask me over the past several weeks about why we homeschool and to avoid the ever spiraling "I could have done better" narrative, I thought this the perfect time to document the "why" of our homeschool journey.

Joel and I are both "trained" school teachers. I have my elementary teaching certificate and he has his secondary teaching certificate. We both spent about 5 years teaching in the public schools and neither of us ever imagined that we would wind up homeschooling our kids. I remember when Rylee was about 4, Joel asked if I would ever consider homeschooling. My answer was a clear "NO WAY!" Or as Joel recalls "Over my dead body!" Either way, I knew she and I would butt heads and was convinced that she would never be able to learn from me.

Rylee started Kindergarten at a small private school, Providence Christian School and Joel and I were involved from day one. Joel was part of the board and I had the opportunity to help choose curriculum, write objectives, and train teachers. The small class sizes, loving teachers and Christ centered education was precious and the lessons we learned during that season are for another post. But like with many, homegrown, grassroots, types of things, our numbers dwindled and the school closed its doors when Rylee and Emy were in 4th and 2nd grade respectively. I had spent that last school year visiting different schools in the area and none fit the specific type of education that I was seeking for my kids. I had had a few friends that already dipped their toe in the homeschooling waters and after lots of prayer, I knew I could at least give it a try.

I have such wonderful, fond memories of those first few years of homeschooling. 5th grade, 3rd grade, kindergarten and a toddler. (Jack and Halle are actually just finishing 2nd and 4th grade and it is crazy to feel like I am beginning the journey all over.) During those early days, we had so much time. We were no longer bound by someone else's schedule. The kids could sleep in, stay in their jammies for the morning, I didn't have to pack lunches everyday or make sure the uniforms were clean and accounted for. As the kids have grown and their stages of life change, Joel and I revisit the homeschooling conversation often. But at the end of the day, we come back to the same conclusion, homeschooling is best for our family.


Monday, May 2, 2016

Live Like You Are Alive

(For an explanation of what I mean by pixels and pixel #1, go here)

Pixel #2: Living Isn’t Not Dying.

That may not seem to be the most mind-blowing statement, but I don't think many people get this.  I know that when I reflect, this isn't how I actually view life, and from what I observe in others, I don’t think I’m alone. And while it isn't completely clear to me, I’m pretty sure I’m on to something here. 

It’s like when you are heading out the door to the zoo so your son (I'll call him Johnny) can go see Simba (all lions are Simba).  Before you leave, you check your bag for the 3rd time because you’re sure you’ve forgotten something, but everything looks right, so you apprehensively head out anyway. Sometime about three hours later, you’re standing next to the lion exhibit with Johnny wishing that the obnoxious family with the ice cream would quit showing up at the same exhibits and proceeding to the front of the viewing area as if all you were there for was to hold their places while they stopped at another snack kiosk about which you just told your son “no” for the 347th time.  You’ve spent the last 20 minutes standing in the sun trying to point out how that dirt colored lump differs from the rest of the dirt colored surroundings, convincing Johnny the aforementioned dirt colored, inanimate blob that looks like a discarded carpet remnant is actually the same animal as Disney’s majestic movie star, and internally cursing these big cats for acting like, well, big cats.  You are on the verge of giving up on the lions and caving in to the repeated requests for ice cream, partly due to the futility of the lion-spotting exercise and partly because while standing on the pavement, in the sun, arguing with Johnny, your body temperature has risen to 103.7 degrees, when you triumphantly notice movement: the subtle, (can I say catlike?) twitch of a feline ear.   But as you are asking Johnny if he has noticed the smoking gun in your case for the existence of the lions (because an ear twitch has now become the equivalent of Simba roaring from a rocky ledge while Elton John sings in the background), you notice that Johnny has long since ceased watching the mound of dirt that his parents have been lying to him about.  Instead, his covetous stare is directed at the bratty girl with the ice cream, which just about pushes you over the edge into the oblivion of insanity when he says, “My skin hurts.”

“Oh, #@%!  I forgot the sunscreen,” you say.  To which the obnoxious family with the ice cream glares disapprovingly at your clear lack of parenting skill and ushers their daughter away to protect her sensitive ears.

So, just like when you know you are forgetting something on the way to the zoo, I’m pretty sure I’m on to something here.  And here it is.  Drum roll.

All of us die.  Death is part of life.  But unlike death which none of us choose and which will happen to each of us whether we like it or not; unlike death you have to choose to live.

Okay, this probably needs some unpacking.