Saturday, June 28, 2008
We all know that drunk driving kills. We all know that our reasoning abilities, response times, alertness, judgment, concentration, and coordination are impaired if we have been drinking. We may or may not further realize that our reflexes, depth perception, distance acuity, and peripheral vision are also affected (2), leading to a dramatic decrease in general safety behind the wheel. The crash risk is known to be about ten times higher with a BAC of .08 (3), which is the equivalent of talking on a cell phone while driving!
Apparently it isn't really the distraction of dialing or answering or holding the phone with only one hand free for driving. (These are practices I had stopped doing, for safety's sake, by having my passenger dial for me, and by using a hands-free device.) It seems that the research indicates that attention isn't really affected by merely listening to a speaker who is not present (i.e. the radio) nor by conversing with a speaker who is present (i.e. a passenger in the car with you), but that attention scores plummet when one is asked to converse with a speaker who is not present (i.e. the person at the other end of your cell phone call).
I guess I found my second stake. (See "Setting Stakes" on June 15.)
Monday, June 23, 2008
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Who has time to Blog in the midst of "real life"? Until the next hastily-snatched minute...
Happy first day of summer!
Friday, June 20, 2008
At night, when we go outside to walk the dog before turning in or to take in one last view of the beach before heading to bed, all around us are larger-than-life big screen televisions showing through the windows of the beach houses surrounding us. These large windows, left unadorned with shades to allow for the magnificent beach views during the day, also allow a clear view into the house after dark, demonstrating what must be nearly every family's evening activity. (Including ours, occasionally... the movie the kids have been begging to watch for the past three days, we watched together last night before bed.)
This is not new information to me. I have known that most everyone I know watches hours of television every day, back home. What has newly struck me here is how much it is true even when they're staying in paradise. (Everything around us is more beautiful and peaceful, and yet many ignore it in favor of the frantic and mindless experience of the usual television fare.)
I'm also amazed at how it is true around the clock. When we walk up from the beach to shower and make dinner, the TV's are going in all the beach houses we pass on the way. When we head out for a walk or bike ride after dinner, the televisions all around the neighborhood are going. When we walk the dog before bed, they're going. If I get up in the middle of the night to stumble to the bathroom, they're going. And when I get up just after sunrise to go walking, they're going.
The images are frantic... hectic... frenzied... When you stand outside of the experience, viewing it minus the sound, it strikes you just how frenetic and chaotic and dizzying the flashing of the images is.
No wonder the average kid has no attention span, no ability to sit still and listen to a normal message delivered in a normal tone of voice in a normal setting. He's been conditioned - since his parents put him in front of "children's educational programming" in infancy - to expect a visual change every second or two, having actually had his brain rewired in the process to be unable to attend to things that happen in "real time." (See here, or here, or here, just the first 3 of 12,300,000 results I got when I googled 'television bad for children.' When I googled 'television good for children,' I got "only" 243,000,000 entries, but it is worth noting that each of these - if the first ten I looked at are any indication - all depend on making the experience good by carefully choosing the programming, watching the show with your children, discussing what they've seen with them, etc.)
I would assume, however, that this is not what's happening during the eight hours and fourteen minutes average that the television set is on each day in the typical American household. This staggering figure doesn't include any of the time that the average American child spends playing computer and video games, which - according to research published in the Science Digest Journal of Pediatrics - has surpassed television viewing.
Yeah, and they also spend hours with earplugs in their ears listening to music; and hours surfing the web; and hours sending IM and text messages to their peers, about their peers. "According to figures released by the National Statistical Office on Wednesday, teenagers between 15 and 19 on average sent a whopping 60.1 text messages per day, a slight increase from 59.5 in 2005."
What on earth are we doing? I'm reminded of something I read this week in Gregg Harris's book The Christian Homeschool. It is not at all the most seminal in this book full of salient points, but it is clearly relevant for this discussion. In making the point that "storytelling" is extremely important in the training and education of our children (not as in reading them a book aloud or spinning them a verbal yarn; but as in making every occasion, holiday, lesson, or life experience a chance to discuss a pertinent story from Scripture or history or experience), he notes:
"Television is perhaps the greatest enemy of storytelling today. When the tube goes on, all conversation stops. When it appeared in America, the front porch swing disappeared. It's time for us to take a second look and determine how to best use our time.
Storytelling isn't something we do only a designated times. As we read in Deuteronomy, chapter 6, we should be teaching throughout every day - as we're out walking, as we're driving in a car, as we're getting the children dressed in the morning. We should tell stories about the fish we've caught, the tree houses we've built, the dolls we loved, the honesty of Abraham Lincoln, the was Jesus sought out the sinful tax collector named Zaccheus, and so on. There is plenty of time to tell these stories. There is just not enough time for watching television."
- From The Christian Homeschool. Published by Noble Publishing Associates, Gresham, Oregon. Copyright 1995 by Gregg Harris.
That is, of course, if the television actually goes off... which, if what I've seen flashing out of all these beach houses all week is any indication, ain't likely. But this also requires that we're with our children throughout the day, which - in this age of working mothers and age-segregated schooling - also ain't likely.
But that is another topic for another day, when I am not itching to get outside into the beautiful surf and sand to spend the last glorious day of vacation with my family.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Oh, so many books! I didn't even bring enough, at the rate I'm ripping through them. And they're substantial books, too. Life-changing books. I love them. I never have enough time in regular life to read as much as I'd like, and here I've been able to finish, and start, and finish, and start, and finish, and start again some really great stuff!
This week's main non-fiction fare? The Christian Homeschool by Gregg Harris, Do Hard Things by his sons Alex and Brett, Don't Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Plowman, and The Pressure's Off by Larry Crabb. Good stuff!
Well, not really.
In that moment, I was struck with the beauty of being known. Really, truly known, in all the really big ways and in all the really small ways... and then really, truly loved with a fierce tenacity and constancy that soothes away the fears and the insecurities and doubts. The rest of the world doesn't love me like this. Even those I thought were good friends haven't loved me like this. Sometimes husbands don't love like this, even though they promised to.
But it is a precious and magnificent and wondrous thing to be so deeply known, and then accepted just the same... all the good and all the bad... all the pleasant and all the ugly... all of it.
And so I smiled this morning when my husband mentioned my cutting up the pancakes before the syrup goes on. He knows that about me. He knows that I like to do that. (You use less syrup that way, but with the same taste effect.) He made me a cup of black tea this morning, and brought it to me with "two scoops and a splash," just the way I like it... and I hadn't said a word.
Thank you, my sweet love, for this kind of faithfulness... for this kind of constancy... for this kind of commitment. You are truly an earthly reflection of the love Christ has for His church. Imperfect, yes, because you're human, but I see and know Him better because of you in my life.
And I'll stay here, with all your junk, too, because that's the beauty of marriage. It is my privilege... my honor... my joy. All the days of my life.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
There are also the usual differing tastes and practices in things like food ("Mom, why can't we have Lucky Charms and Honey Buns for breakfast?" or "They're so lucky, they get grapes and we have to have carrots") and movies. (You can imagine, I'm sure, what that issue might look like when you vary in ages from seven to ninety!)
But the really funny things - if you can keep yourself above them and not take the bait to get irritated - are the "secret, unspoken" wars that go on... like the thermostat wars. My great aunt likes it 70 degrees tops. My mother wants to keep it about 80. And so they play the "you push it up then I slide it back down" game all week. The rest of us never know if we're going to be fainting hot or freezing cold at any given moment on any given floor. And if we find ourselves either one, we just might get in on the game and do our own push or pull of the little knob.
Also unspoken but very much prevalent are the television wars. Some of us never watch any television. Some usually watch six or seven hours a day. Some don't really watch it, but want it on for background noise anyway. So those who want to watch it have to try to get to the set first and get it on the show they want. And those of us who can't stand to have it going all the time in the main living spaces have to find another spot for the (relative) peace and quiet of conversation or reading or playing a game. And we also have to lay down concern about what our kids might be watching on that incessant boob tube.
And so, in the middle of it all, we who care about such things get to practice the admonition to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" - Philippians 2:3-4.
Even when you really wanted to go the pool, but they really wanted to play Tripoley.
There is another family staying here who is a family full of cousins, like we are. The father told us the first day here, "This'll be you guys in about fifteen years..." They are all the same family, gathering from different parts of the country for a week every summer. Every day they are playing some serious volleyball - all of them, or some combination thereof - the sexy young men and the sexy young women and the well-preserved older aunts and uncles and parents. Every male is tan and rather muscley. Every female is both sporty and shapely... and wearing a bikini. For a volleyball match. You get the picture.
How difficult it is to take a stand for modesty in this current culture. You really do have to be willing to be "different," because the very choice to remain relatively covered is so counter-cultural.
Sometimes even in your own family. Certainly within the family of God.
And, I'm realizing this week, even within your own heart and mind. What's proper? What's improper? What's outside the realm of considerate? What's loving? What's priggish?
When I'm only around my own family, I allow myself to wear a bikini. I am forty-one years old, and about thirty pounds overweight, so I am decidedly not a "stumbling block" for anyone. I wear a cover-up walking to and from the beach, and if I need to walk or play while down there.
This is not something I would do at a community pool party. This is not something I would do at a youth group beach day. But alone with my family, I allow it for myself. Why? Because I look better naked with a little sun on my belly! Pure and simple. Those thirty extra pounds and beautiful baby belly stretch marks fade away significantly when they're nicely tanned. And doesn't my husband deserve that?
Especially when having to navigate his eyes and mind away from the volleyball show going on up the beach every day!
Sunday, June 15, 2008
"The rots sets in" quickly, too, I discovered this morning. Every year, when we gather here on the shores of NC for a family reunion, my sister and my father and I go walking early in the mornings before anyone else is up. Our husbands go jogging, and my sister and I take our dogs and our dad and go power walking. Well, that's what we usually do.
This year we did more "walking" and less "power." Why? Because I couldn't handle it... I couldn't keep pace with them, so I slowed them down. My younger sister has always been more sporty than I am, and she continues to work her body to keep it healthy and strong as she approaches forty. My father, although past sixty, has also kept himself extremely fit since his college football days. (He is the kids' official PE teacher, and he works them pretty much to death three days a week.)
Although Dad and I used to walk together every morning, this past year I bowed out in favor of some spiritual, mental, emotional, and practical preparation each weekday morning for the homeschool day ahead. Though this was very good for me in all of those many ways, apparently it wasn't so very good for my body. The "rot" has set in.
And so have about thirty extra pounds. Sometime over the past five years or so, I have slowly gained forty pounds, only ten of which I've managed to take back off. I still weigh about thirty pounds too much, though I'd be content to lose just ten or fifteen more, really. And why is that so difficult? Well, mostly because the things we know we should do in order to stay fit and trim, work, "but only if you do it."
For a variety of reasons I'm sure I'll explore and ponder more deeply as these next weeks go on, I have become a person who doesn't "set stakes in the ground." What do I mean by that? At the homeschool convention we went to, most all of the speakers we heard spoke of acting with purpose and deliberateness. This sort of decisive action has become all but absent in my life. Whether through bad theological teaching, or sound theology improperly understood and applied, or simply the laziness of the flesh, I have become a person who feels that I can't - or shouldn't - determine to do something simply because it should be done, and then set about doing it. This "grace, misunderstood and misapplied" mindset has resulted in a total transformation - and not for the better, either - of the person I tend to naturally be. I am now sometimes paralyzed to act, in ways that I know are good and beneficial and necessary in my life, for fear of being "legalistic" or "missing the grace."
So, whether it is the teaching itself that is just a little bit "off," or just my interpretations of what I think I'm hearing, I am determining to ignore the voices in my head that prevent me from doing so, and to set a few stakes in the ground. One speaker we heard in Richmond spoke of the time early in his life as a father that he vowed, both to God and to his family, "Every day, if (he was) in town and alive, (he was) leading family devotions." I'm sure he missed some days over the years. I'm sure on those days he was grateful for grace. I'm sure he understood that he was not acting in this manner to win God's favor or to earn His love; he simply wanted the blessings and benefits in his family commensurate with being in the Word together on a consistent basis. And I'm sure he got them, in large part because he set the stake in the ground, set the goal, fixed his eyes on the means of grace that would enable this benefit in his and his family's life.
I'm ready to do the same, no matter how many seemingly contradictory messages about "not trying harder" I hear in the meantime. I want to pursue Jesus, yes! I want to know Him more. I know that, "It is God who works in me both to will and to act according to His good purpose" (Philippians 2:13). But I'm ready to cooperate with His work in my heart and in my life with a little decisive action... a little "trying harder," if you will. I need His mercy every moment I fail, and I need it even more every time I succeed, but I'm ready to have it with me as I walk the road of some stakes in the ground.
The first one? I need to get back to some regular physical exercise in my life. This morning revealed to me just how detrimental my neglect of my body has been. I read somewhere about a study demonstrating that regular physical exercise is as effective as anti-depressant medications in treating symptoms of depression. It is no secret that excess weight is more easily controlled with regular exercise, and that people have significantly more energy for the tasks of the day with regular physical activity. Physical exercise reduces stress, the effects of which can be deadly on the body.
So, here's stake #1, established this cloudy Father's Day at the NC shore: Every day that I'm uninjured and alive, I will practice one of the three S's of exercise. Each day will contain either Sixty minutes of intense cardio activity, Sixteen minutes of targeted strength training for a particular part of the body, or Sex (which I will initiate at the end of the day, if one or the other of the other S's didn't happen).
Sounds like a plan... or at least a really great Father's Day gift!
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
During a normal school day, each of my children has a "grid" he manages, checking off items that are required of him. Certain academic work (like math and language) is expected on a daily basis; other academic work, as they get older, is assigned in weekly chunks, and my kids are required to determine and manage their own time and workload daily, to complete the assigned work over the course of the week. (Think college here.) So, some days they might not do any work in history or science or some other subjects we don't do daily. These items are still on their grids, however, and at the end of the day, they get a "sign off" from one of us parents indicating that all of the items have been checked off (if completed), crossed off (if intentionally not done this particular day), or x'ed off (if not required today).
And here's the deal. Grids work so well that we can't bring ourselves to give them up when we're not "doing school." All of the non-academic items of the grid still need to be done (the "life grid" we call these items), and the grid is simply the easiest and best and most reliable way to manage them. The grid becomes the "slave driver," not me!
So, what sorts of things are on the "life grid"? It varies for each child, but some of the non-negotiables are as follows:
MR (Morning Routine)
SM (Scripture Memory)
TB (Touch Base)
SR (School Reading)
FR (Free Reading)
5PC (Five-Point Check)
SO (Sign Off)
When we don't do grids, we get "scrambly." (This is a favorite word we've picked up from our piano teacher, to describe when life gets sloppy and ceases to be approached with deliberateness.) When we don't do grids, my kids are begging to play some form of electronic entertainment by 10:00 a.m. (And they'd play them indiscriminately for hours, too, until they finally got off - resentfully - when the "mean mom" asked them to.)
The grids keep us happy. The grids keep us productive. The grids keep my children squarely in charge of learning to be responsible with their time even when someone else isn't telling them what to do with every minute of their day. And best of all, the grids keep me from becoming a nag.
Why do we keep "doing school" during the late spring and over the summer? Because keeping a few academic items on the "life grid" during select weeks of summer isn't difficult, takes little time, keeps our academic skills sharp, and keeps us from being "bored." When we're done, we go swim or play. When we have a social invitation, we skip the academic stuff and take the chance to go visit. But we don't spend hours watching TV or playing electronic gaming devices or getting snippy with each other like we do when there is no grid. It keeps us living the principle that, "Play is a reward for work."
We hope to spare our children from the expectation we ourselves bought, unintentionally, as we lived the lie of adolescence as it is currently practiced in middle America: that one gets 3-4 months "off" every summer from the work the Lord has called him to do. Life doesn't work that way as adults. Why should we train ourselves to expect it to work that way while we're still children?
I'm reminded of something I read by Alex & Brett Harris on the Rebelution website entitled, "'Do Hard Things' Doesn't Mean You Can't Have Fun." They were speaking to a youth group at the time:
Once we realized the impression we were making Alex and I quickly explained that we weren’t “freaks of nature” with a genetic disposition for work. We are a lot like “normal” teenagers. We like sports (we’re short, but we try really hard), we love music, we watch movies, we style our hair, and we even play video games from time to time. But, we have a different way of looking at fun. Here are two principles we try to follow:
1) First Things First
Being a “rebelutionary” does not mean you have erased “fun” from your life. It means that you have relegated it to its proper place. “Do Hard Things” does not eliminate fun, but it elevates, honors, and recognizes the superiority of the activities and pursuits that strengthen, stretch, and grow our character and competence for the glory of God.
We explained to the youth group that night that Alex and I view fun as a break from the “hard things” that we spend the majority of our time doing. Did you catch that? We view fun as a break from hard things. We have fun after we feel that we have accomplished something significant.
Our culture, on the other hand, tells us that we should have fun first and do hard things only “when we have to.” Do you see the difference? It’s all about priorities. We will always prioritize that which is most important to us. A rebelutionary will place “fun” in its proper place, understanding that responsibility to God and others comes first. Our culture spreads the lie that our pleasure, our enjoyment, and our fun is first priority.
Our culture acts like it’s giving us something by allowing and encouraging us to just have fun — but the truth is that when all we care about is “having fun” we’re being robbed. Robbed of contentment in the future, robbed of effectiveness for God, robbed of competence, robbed of character, maybe even robbed of the spouse we’ve always wanted, because we weren’t prepared for them and didn’t deserve them.
A rebelutionary recognizes that what is most valuable isn’t always the most fun. A rebelutionary puts first things first, and second things (like fun) second.
2) Hard Things Can Be Fun
You might (accurately) conclude that Alex and I do fewer “fun things” than the average teen, but you couldn’t say we have less fun. We might spend less time playing video games, going to parties, and just “hangin’ out,” but we also enjoy much of the work we do.
In other words, it is possible to enjoy doing the hard things that develop your character and your competence for the glory of God. Alex and I love delving into the biography of a great man or woman, we love writing, and we love speaking. Which is good because that is what we spend the majority of our time doing!
...The point I want to leave you with is that hard things can be fun — not the way snowboarding is fun — but still in a fulfilling, exciting, and positive way.These guys are some teens who "get it." I want my kids to be teens who "get it" - who work hard, and then play hard... but in godly ways, in the right proportions, and in that order.
Me, too, for that matter.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I suppose it is a blessing that this restaurant isn't just up the road, but it is a bummer, too. It was so good that it is the stuff cravings are made of!
If you're ever in Richmond, you must check it out.
Monday, June 9, 2008
This weekend we went to the HEAV conference in Richmond. It was wonderful... challenging, convicting, encouraging, invigorating. There are so many things I need to "process" about all we heard, some of which I'm sure I'll do here, but for now, I'm really pondering this verse.
Why? Because this weekend in Richmond, Iivo and I stayed with a total stranger... a friend of a friend, a fellow believer, a "brother" whom we contacted to see if we could stay with him on Friday night. This sort of ministry is something we do all the time, but I'm realizing more and more that it is not something usually practiced easily and freely within the church Body. Even having someone into our home to share a meal can be daunting to many of us, so the thought of hosting overnight guests - particularly ones we don't know - is terrifying. I would like to suggest that it needn't be. We have found it to be a significant blessing, both to ourselves and to our family, whenever we are on the receiving end or the giving end of this experience.
The conference this weekend was not free. The food we had to eat while away from our own kitchen was not free. The home school curriculum I purchased while there was not free. The gas it took to get us there and back was certainly far from free! And so the fact that we did not have to spend further Kingdom money for lodging while we were there was a huge financial blessing to our family.
We are so grateful that this young single guy Rick chose to "not forget to entertain strangers..." in this very low-risk, high-yield sort way. His beautifully-restored 1930's house in the Fan has extra bedrooms in it, and he was happy to have one of them filled for this particular night. What did it cost him? The money it will take him to run the washing machine on our sheets and towels. What did it save us? A lot of money.
But even beyond that, it was a deeper spiritual blessing to both him and to us. We provided opportunity for him to serve the Lord by serving His Body in this way, and he provided us opportunity to humble ourselves by making known our need. And the Lord blessed both of us with an experiential picture of His Body in action. "Keep on loving each other as brothers." Do we really believe that we who call ourselves by His name are actually family? Do we really believe that we are to share with others what the Lord has given to us? Do we really believe that Kingdom money spent on necessities like evening lodging while at a Convention could be better spent on other things?
By the way, our kids are watching... and every time we as their parents invite in a stranger - and we prepare the house and change the sheets and run the vacuum and set out the towels - they are seeing the Body of Christ in action. And so it is even on the other end, when we come home with tales of the house we stayed in... a home belonging to one who was a stranger on Thursday afternoon, a new friend by Thursday night, but a brother all along.
Thank you, Rick, for serving the Lord by serving us. May we ever be open to doing the same!
Sunday, June 1, 2008
I also love having a cup of tea... the feel of the warm mug in my hands (even on a hot morning, like today), the sense of the "earthiness" when you breathe in the smell as it comes close to your nose and mouth, the surprise of what "flavor" I've been made on any given morning or evening. I love black teas, herbal teas, exotic white or green or red teas... we have quite a collection, and I love every one of them.
This morning I've been praying for some dear friends who are heading to the mission field. They are currently living life in preparation for their future long-term "heading to the mission field" as he completes a medical residency here in the US. But they are now - more immediately - preparing for a short-term "heading" next month, to Haiti. I've been both convicted and encouraged by my friend's words in a letter she sent last week:
Lord willing, one day after residency, we hope to transplant ourselves longterm. And then I think, my life will be basically similar to what it looks like now. The way I do my work and the way we get our food and all may be quite different!!! But essentially, I'll still be a stay-at-home mother/wife. "Ministry" there will be much like it is here. I'll visit with other moms (maybe more unbelieving moms then) and maybe teach a music class or two for moms and their children. In essence though, we just move our life to a different culture. I won't all of a sudden start working outside the home to "minister." I am fully content in the calling of motherhood as I feel it now. My little ones are my ministry and my greatest mission field. SO With that mindset, I go to Haiti. We go as a family because we need the "practice" and the perspective. We need to see and hear and smell first-hand the desperate poverty of the two-thirds world as a family to renew our long-term vision.
Another reason we feel called to go AS A FAMILY is that we firmly believe that people need to see Christ-centered families. Husbands who love their wives with the Love of Christ, wives who honor their husbands with Christ-like submission, children who are learning the Word and how to pray. With so many single parents, children on the streets fending for themselves, orphans, God's plan for marriage and family needs to be witnessed. The cycle of dysfunction needs to be broken! One way we believe that can be challenged is by the sincere testimony of a family living together for the Lord --with all our flaws and failures --trusting in the blood of Jesus to cover our sins! That's true in the first world and the third!!
Her heart echoes mine; her desires parallel mine. I long to live in such a way - here, there, and everywhere - that we as a family challenge the contemporary life of frenzy and emptiness that so many are caught in... families who aren't really families at all, but merely resentful strangers living under the same roof - if they're still doing even that. I believe Christ redeems us and our lives and the world around us. I believe He is the answer for the pit that is divorce and pornography and teenage sexuality and rampant materialism and American isolationism and, and, and...
Oh, come, Lord Jesus! Keep us from complacency and disengagement because we've bought the lie that to live in grace means not to fight, not to labor, not to engage and confront and challenge the world and its worldliness - both within and without - with a bold humility, a humble boldness. Give us tenacity to fight the fight with our own flesh, and to love others enough to give them the hope of the gospel of grace, which we snuggle into, rest in, hope in, live. Teach us what it means to be "in the world but not of it," neither retreating from the world nor becoming indistinct from it.
Come, Lord Jesus! Impact Haiti because my friends have walked there. Impact Hampton Roads because we live here...