Flights of Fancy

On a rare warm day in February, I step outside,

Feet squelching through the muddy brown grass.

I pause and look up, the blue sky calling my gaze.

White clouds drift across the sky, and I am mesmorized, 

This temporary break from a gray, cold winter. 

Suddenly, three birds fly over my head. 

Small. 

Nondescript. 

But they are close. I can see them. Their wings flapping with strength, 

Their chests straining as they climb through the air. 

I watch them, and I feel the muscles in my arms and my chest, 

Straining in rhythm with theirs. And for one moment, I am certain…

I have flown before. 

I know this feeling. My body remembers the exertion. 

My arms begin to raise, as if, at any moment, they wil be capable of lifting me into the air.

I close my eyes and I can remember the feel of the wind hitting my face. 

I can remember squinting through the bright sunlight.

I can remember the exhilarating rush of climbing and falling.

And then I step back. 

Silly me. 

What flights of imagination.  

I am a logical woman. My feet have never left the ground. 

I bring my eyes back to earth, continue to walk through the brown grass. 

But one part of my mind rebels. It says, No, you are wrong. 

You have flown before. 

We remember. 

I wrote this poem because it showed up in my mind and needed to be written down. But, I sat here puzzling over it. Because, I do have this feeling that I have flown before. What is that all about? And as I have sat here thinking about it, I suddenly have this memory of me, as a small child, on a very windy day, running through a field. Certain that if I just run fast enough, lift my arms high enough, the wind will lift me off the ground and take me away. Maybe if I just take some jumps in the air, that will help the wind along. I remember running for the joy of it, my face turned to the sky, my heart pounding as I pushed myself as fast as I could go. I remember lying on my back, staring, watching the clouds sail past. Dreaming of living in those clouds, how soft they must be! Ah yes. I have flown before. 

Oh, to remember how to be a child and fly again. 

My Newest Challenge

This past week I started something new. Something that has my whole family scratching their heads in bewilderment. My husband commented, “that is a really weird way to relax.” My kids keep coming up to me and wanting to know, WHY? I will tell you, and probably all my friends that knew me in high school will start laughing. I am taking high school Alegebra 1 via Khan Academy, online. 

I zipped through Unit 1, and I am on the last quiz and Unit test for Unit 2. There are 15 units. I have no idea how long this is going to take. I hope that I will stick with it though. 

So, a little background. Yes, I have taken high school algebra before. In high school. Actually, freshman year I was doing correspondence high school courses and finished Algebra 1 with an A, and no teachers on hand for daily help. I went to a little mission school and there were 5 highschoolers that year, and each of us worked independently on our own courses. There was a volunteer in the class to kind of keep us on task and answer questions if they were able. I think Aunt Bernice, the principal of the school, might have sat down a couple times with me to get me over a hump, and I think they once tried to get one of the doctors who worked at the mission hospital to give me a tutoring session, but they were unable to explain things on a beginners’ level. But, however I did it, I did pass the class and got an A. But, that was in 1992-93. I really don’t remember a whole lot of what I learned. Especially since, I HAVEN’T USED ALEGEBRA for my ENTIRE GROWN UP LIFE. (Something all my teenagers have constantly pointed out when bemoaning their math classes.) 

I later took Geometry and Algebra 2 at Bethel Regional High School, up in Bush Alaska. I had an awesome teacher whose teaching style consisted of showing us how to do something at the beginning of class, giving us an assignment with lots of practice problems, then sitting down at his desk and allowing us to all work in groups and do all the problems. If our group couldn’t figure out how to do a problem, we would go ask another group. If none of the groups could figure out how to do the problem, an emissary would be sent back to the teacher’s desk. The teacher would explain how to do the problem to that One student, then that one student would come back and start showing all the other groups how to do it. It really taught us how to figure things out on our own, brainstorm, and work together. I grumbled a lot about those classes, but I think I secretly really enjoyed them. But again, I can’t remember a thing that I learned. 

Anyway, back to why I am taking Algebra 1, again. I enjoy math puzzles. I love sudoku, even though I’m not a genius at it. (My mother-in-law is genius level.) But, I was starting to get bored with sudoku and I really wanted something numberish to do. When I do math puzzles the worrying, fretting, stressed part of my brain turns off for a while. The problem solving part of my brain gets turned on, and it actually becomes quite relaxing. 

My kids have used khan academy some over the years and it occurred to me that this would be something free and interesting to do. I would not recommend the algebra course as a stand-alone course for someone who has never taken Algebra before. Mostly because they don’t give a lot of practice exercises. But, for someone who needs extra review, or who, like me, just needs a refresher, it’s a great format. 

My long time, high school math partner, Sara, will be amused to learn that I am still making stupid mistakes, like forgetting the negative signs, or copying the problem down wrong. I am also struggling with writing the letters down neatly enough that I don’t mistake them for numbers. And I am currently stuck on the last quiz in Unit 2 because the silly thing only has 5 problems, but you have to get ALL 5 correct to move on with high marks (and I’m being a stickler, not letting myself get anything but 100%). And I keep missing ONE problem because of some silly mistake, then I have to start all over again. My kids think this is pretty funny. 

I think what probably really got this whole ball rolling, was my mom making a comment a while back that she was trying new things that were challenging in order to keep her brain stimulated. And I liked that image of keeping my brain stimulated, not letting it get stagnant. And since I am such a book and history and writing kind of person, math is actually really challenging. And it feels good to challenge myself. Wish me luck on my quiz!

Fat Fridays: Fighting Stress

Emotional eating has always been a thing for me. It’s a source of comfort for every imaginable problem. Since I started this journey, about six weeks ago, I noticed that after the first couple weeks, food stopped having such a strong hold on me. I haven’t been tempted to grab something every time my mood swings. I think a big part of it is that I am losing weight, and I have a definite goal that I want to achieve this year, and that goal has been front and center in my mind. No, I don’t want to just eat whatever, whenever. I wouldn’t reach my goal if I do that!

This week has been a bit of a test. On Wednesday I received word that my father’s cousin had died, (someone I had made a connection with online and who often commented on my posts and engaged in conversation with me), and then that same evening I received word that a dear lady from our church (who had long been a source of encouragement to me) had also died, of covid. 

I admit, my first reaction was that I just wanted to binge eat. Forget this diet. I’m just going to make a bunch of food and eat it. Maybe I will feel better. But, by the grace of God, I walked past the fridge and went in my room and cried instead. Which is actually what I needed to do, instead of trying to stuff the emotions down with food. 

The next day I was pretty out of it. We’ve had a lot of death in our neighborhood due to gun violence and everything just seemed to be crushing me down. My trainer asked how things were going, and I mentioned briefly what was going on. She suggested that I use exercise as therapy, and later that day I went outside for a long brisk walk in the sunshine. It helped. 

In the past, I have always had this mentality that I can’t start a diet until my life calms down. Like, adding a diet and exercise to an already stressed out life would just send me over the brink. But this year I am realizing that the exercise and diet are actually tools to help deal with the stress. Bingeing on donuts does not help you deal with stress. Knowing that you are eating healthy DOES make you feel better though. Like, the world is falling apart, but at least I am taking care of my body! 

In other news, I woke up early this morning and took my fasting blood sugar and it was 96!! I haven’t had a reading below 100 in years. That also made me feel better. 

So, my takeaway for this week is diet and exercise aren’t causing me stress, they’re fighting stress. 

We All Need a Rock

This morning I had to take my four youngest children to the dentist. The appointment was at 8:30am which meant that two of the girls wouldn’t be going to school as normal, but would be dropped off after their appointment. It also meant that the two little boys had to get up at the same time as the school kids instead of sleeping in. To make things a little more confusing, another daughter had a doctor appointment later in the morning, so the plan was to return the dentist appointment kids to the school and pick up the doctor appointment kid at the same time to take them to their appointment. Also different, I told my highschooler to be ready a little early and I would drop her off at her school this morning on the way to the dentist. 

Let me say there is no deeper confusion than that of a small child whose daily routine has been changed. 

Why are David and Noah getting up right now? Why do we have to eat breakfast right now? (school kids usually eat breakfast at school.) Is Ruth (the highschooler) going to the dentist with us? Why are you taking those other kids to school? Why do we need a mask? Are you taking us? Why are we taking our backpacks with us? Why are we driving in this direction? Do you know the way? Are we going to school? Why do we have to go to the dentist??

By the time we got to the dentist I was ready to start banging my head against a wall. 

Usually, if I’m going to change things on my kids, I sit them down and try to give them a simple explanation as to what is about to change and why. I try to make sure that they understand completely what is going on, just so I can avoid the million questions. But, our schedule was so wonky this morning, that I knew that no amount of explaining was going to get it all clear in their heads. The schedule was confusing to me. The adult. Comprehension was not going to be achieved. 

That, of course, has kind of been the past year. Why are we home? Why is there covid? Why are we wearing masks?  Why is everything different? 

Then yesterday, one of my older kids decided to blurt out the recent news of highschoolers dying from gun violence in our neighborhood. This is something that I have been trying to keep from my little kids. They didn’t need to know. And suddenly all the questions.. Why are kids being shot? Who’s shooting kids? Did they die? Why? And there was no way to break through their confusion so that it all made sense. Cause it doesn’t make sense. And while I can step back and say, Yes, there is evil in the world, and until Jesus comes back, there will be bad things happening all the time, it doesn’t answer the question of, why now? Why those kids? Why did someone make the choice to pull the trigger? I don’t know. 

I am not too different from my kids. I like routine. I like to know what is happening every day. And while an occasional surprise or change of schedule can be fun to break up the monotony, when weird things are happening, EVERY SINGLE DAY, it is not fun. And that has been life in our country since past March.  And I also start asking the questions. Why God? Why? Can’t you just fix this? Don’t you see I’m going insane? When is this going to stop? 

When things are unsettled and crazy, my kids get clingy. Needy. And I am the one they cling to. The one they need. They depend on me to be their security. Their unchanging rock. Life is crazy, but mom is still here.  And that is how God is for me. As life gets crazy I find myself clinging more. Leaning more. Lord, you are my rock. 

2 Samuel 22: 2-3a

He said: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;

    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,

    my shield and the horn of my salvation.

He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—”

Considering that these words were written thousands of years ago, I have given up hope that there will ever be a time when we don’t desperately need God to carry us through the days appointed to us. There will always be times when life does not make sense, when our daily routines are upset, when all we have left is a bunch of unanswerable questions. The good news is that, unlike me with my children, God does not get irritated with our questions or exhausted when we cling to him. 

Psalm 103: 13-17a 

As a father shows compassion to his children,

    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. 

For he knows our frame;

    he remembers that we are dust.

As for man, his days are like grass;

    he flourishes like a flower of the field; 

for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

    and its place knows it no more. 

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him…

An East Knox Resident’s Thoughts

This has been a rough week for East Knoxville. Last Friday a young man from our high school was shot and killed while he was leaving the school in his car. Then on Tues, another young woman from our high school was found shot in the street and also died. (And this comes after another child was shot two weeks before). Our school and the middle school have been moved to virtual all week as everyone tries to get a handle on the situation. 

I’ve not had a great week. I’ve been depressed and frozen and functioning at low capacity. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why. I did not know these children personally, and they were not friends with my kids. But, they attended the same school. They are children who died senselessly. All of our high school community is mourning. All of these are enough reasons to be struggling. (And we offer our prayers and condolences for the families who lost their children.) On top of all of that pain though, what is causing even more stress for me, and I imagine a lot more parents in our community, is wondering how we move forward. 

A good percentage of our highschool kids walk to school. We live only half a mile away from the highschool and we have had kids walking to school every day for the past six and a half years. Should I let my child walk to school anymore? But then, I remember that the young man who was shot, was DRIVING A CAR as he left the school. So, now what do we do? 

I listened to the community press conference that was given on Wednesday. I heard a lot of people saying This has got to stop! We are going to stop this now! But I didn’t hear a lot of concrete plans on how they are going to stop it. 

Our principal has told us that they will be emailing a bunch of information on how we are going to move forward, but I am still waiting to get that email. 

In all these press conferences, I have also heard a lot of people say, We’ve got to come together as a community and make this stop! What does that mean exactly? I’ve been scratching my head wondering how I, a property owner and sixteen year resident in this neighborhood, am supposed to make the criminals go away. I wasn’t aware that I, as a private citizen, really had any authority to deal with criminals. I do my part. If I see something that is very obviously wrong/dangerous, I call it into the police. But that’s about all I can do. 

Trouble comes with people. We have lived here sixteen years, and I can always tell when a new group has moved in that is causing trouble. We have an increase of traffic, an increase in gunshots, an increase in police calls. And then, maybe something horrible happens, like the time there was a shooting in the apartment two houses down from us. After that, they all moved away and it got quiet and peaceful again. If we, as the neighbors, are aware of increased suspicious activity in our street, surely the police are aware as well. Especially since they get called often to come respond to whatever craziness is going on. This is not a criticism of the police, just pointing out that the police are probably just as aware as we are when these groups move in. So what exactly are we, as a community, supposed to be doing to combat this lawlessness? 

Monday morning is coming soon and I am still unsure what to do about getting my daughter to and from school. Walk her there myself? Drive her there? Let her continue as normal? Getting her home in the afternoon is even more difficult because I am already picking up other children from a different school, and our high school is not designed for an easy flow of traffic after school. In fact, I always avoid the school when kids are being let out because it’s a huge snarl of traffic, buses, and walking kids.

They have mentioned an increased police presence when kids are going to and from school. I hope that they follow through on this. I, personally, want to see police cars on each street my daughter has to walk on. I don’t know if that is possible or not. But it seems to me that our kids deserve some drastic measures on the part of the adults in charge to make sure they can walk to and from school every day without being killed. And while this whole community wants to see our kids safe, we need some concrete steps and measures, not just blanket statements of how we need to DO SOMETHING. 

Fat Fridays Begin with the End in Mind

It’s been a rough week. We have been dealing with gun violence in our community that took the lives of two highschoolers this week, days apart, both times they seem to have been caught in a fight that had nothing to do with them. On top of that we have had inclement weather that has kept my elementary kids home this week doing virtual school. Today I have simply been feeling weary. 

I weighed myself this morning, hoping to cheer myself up with my progress, but I had only lost one pound in six days, which is frustrating when I look at how much I exercised and how good I ate, despite the fact that we had a Valentines’ weekend. 

So, now I am trying to have a good attitude. I have lost ten pounds in five weeks. That’s good. I have been exercising around fifty minutes a day, six days a week. Also good. I can feel myself getting stronger. I have been eating for hunger instead of boredom or as a coping mechanism. That is awesome. 

My kids’ elementary school was a “Leader in Me” school for a while (not sure if they still are?). They incorporated Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits for Highly Effective People” and they went over these habits every day. It was impossible to not hear about these seven habits on a regular basis every time you visited the school. I don’t know if it made an impact on the kids or not, but there is one habit that has been on my mind this week, “Begin with the End in Mind”. 

I am tempted to get frustrated at the slow weight loss when I look at how much work I’m putting into the process. But, I need to step back and look at my end goal. My end goal is to have more energy, to not have an unhealthy addiction to food, to be in shape so I can do more activities, and to get my prediabetes under control. 

If I step back and look at these end goals, then I am doing very well. I’ve been taking my blood sugars more often and the numbers are already looking a lot better. I’ve been able to push through a very stressful week without binge eating anything, and have kept my intake at the level that it needs to stay for the rest of my life. I’ve been pushing my body to do a lot more than I thought it could do, and I can feel myself getting stronger and more capable. I’m jogging up the stairs at our house without giving it a lot of thought and I’m enjoying the rush of getting a really good workout. In other words, no matter what the scale says, I’m living the lifestyle I need to.  

I imagine I will have to remind myself of this often. 

Please Pray

It’s late Monday night. The younger children are asleep, the older ones are quiet in their rooms. Throughout the evening I’ve been hearing random gunshots in our neighborhood. After hearing five different shots, I called it into the police. They said they would send someone to check things out. But, the gunshots have continued through the evening. 

My highschoolers have been put on RED this week, doing virtual school instead of in-person school. Except, this time, it’s not for weather or covid, but because of a death. This past Friday, a sixteen year old boy was leaving our highschool and was struck by a stray bullet shot very close to the school. He did not survive. 

One of my daughter’s teachers sent out a schedule for tomorrow and it is basically going to be grief counseling all day long. 

Very recently my own daughter was walking home from school and had someone firing off a gun half a block behind her. And I’m crying in relief. It wasn’t my daughter that got hit by a stray bullet. And I’m angry. WHY ON EARTH are our kids having to deal with bullets on their way home from school!! And I wonder how on earth to make it stop. And I think about the anger and gut wrenching grief of this young man’s family.  And I think about all the kids showing up to their online classes tomorrow, angry, mourning, scared it might be them the next time. 

I am so angry. And I am weeping at the pain of losing a child so young. 

And I want to know how on earth our family can be an agent of help in this community. It seems so impossible. The problems too big. Our influence too small. 

My husband and I were driving in the countryside yesterday. We have always longed to live in the country. We talk about farms and cabins in the woods. We toss around ideas of how we could make it happen. 

Yesterday, as we drove through the beautiful scenery, my husband asked, again, Why aren’t we living out here?? 

I didn’t answer right away, because we’ve had this conversation over and over again. But finally I spoke up. 

Cause God put us in the city and for some reason he seems to want us to stay there. 

Oh yeah. That’s why. We actually feel like God had a plan when we moved here. And we haven’t felt like it’s time to move on yet. 

But, on days like today, nights like tonight, I feel a bit of despair. 

Please pray for our high school as the kids come together for the first time tomorrow. Pray for safety for our children. Pray the family of this young man. And pray for change to come. 

My Valentines Weekend

I’m going to start this blog with a big shout out to my parents who babysat our kids all weekend and gave Andy and I a kid-free Valentine’s weekend. Yay! We had a stay-cation at home, went walking in one of the Urban Wildernesses here in Knoxville, had some great Thai food, took a long drive in the countryside today and watched several good movies. 

The last several years I have not been much of a movie person. Mostly just watching kid movies with the family. There haven’t been too many movies that could hold my attention. Watching movies with my husband is hard because by the time the kids are asleep, I’m too tired to stay awake for the whole thing. But, this weekend we watched FOUR great movies. We started off with “Greenland”, an apocolyptic movie with Gerard Butler, then watched an old favorite “Return of the King”. The second night we started off with an Amazon production called “Bliss”, which I would call an artsy fartsy kind of movie that fits it’s self-description of MindBending. Then we ended with “Critical Thinking” which tells the story of an inner-city Miami chess team that won a National competition. 

By the end of the second night of movie watching, I was starting to feel a definite acceleration in my heartrate. I started thinking about how fast the earth is spinning in order to make day and night (roughly 1000 mph!!!). And then I thought about how fast the earth is hurtling through space as it makes it’s yearly journey around the sun (67,000 mph!!!!!!). And I thought about how tenuous our humanity and civilization is. All of the movies showed how quick we are to turn to chaos and violence when we feel threatened or when we feel like nobody is keeping us accountable. And it felt like there was no safe haven here on this spinning ball we call home. I could feel my anxiety rising. 

And then I had to take a deep breath. And I had to re-center my imagination. Instead imagine myself  held in the hands of a mighty God. Sheltered. Safe. The universe in all it’s magnificence and awe simply the craftsmanship of our God. The people whose crazy behavior makes me so nervous, his workmanship too. God is heavily invested in them and I can trust in His sovereignty. God is heavily invested in me and I can trust in his plan for my life. 

This morning during our sermon at church (which we got to listen to remotely while we took our drive) our pastor touched on the Peace that God gives us. A peace that is not dependent on circumstances, but instead allows us to go through the storms and chaos calmly and with confidence. It’s a peace that will carry us through giant meteors hitting the earth, war, illusions, violence, the confusion of our world. 

This Valentine’s Day as we focus on love, I am once again thankful for the Love of Jesus and the peace that he gives. Our closest family members, our spouses, our children…they are not capable of giving us the never-ending, always enduring, never wavering love that we need to live our lives in peace. And while I am Very Very Very thankful for my husband and my children and my parents and all our extended family who love me so well, I know with certainty that their love can’t save me, can’t carry me through every storm, can’t give me the peace that I crave. 

And so I cling even tighter to the promise that Jesus Loves Me…the Bible Tells Me So… And as we rest in his love and his peace we are better able to love our spouses and children and parents and all the people around us.

Happy Valentines to you all. As we spin through space on this dangerous planet, may we live in perfect peace, resting in the love of our God and sharing that love with those around us. 

Fat Fridays: Non Food Rewards

I am almost at the end of my fourth week of this new diet and exercise program. One of the first things I talked about during week one with my trainer was Non Food Rewards. I was explaining that on my nights off, or when I suddenly found myself with some alone time, my first instinct was to eat something special. It’s my night off, I’m going to go get some takeout! I just managed to get an hour to myself, I think I’ll eat some dessert! I just survived a really hard day, definitely deserve some chocolate! 

It is a pattern that is deeply ingrained in who I am. 

Obviously, eating every time you want to reward yourself is not a healthy pattern. It has led to one of my biggest problems, Comfort Eating. No, I’m not hungry, just bored, angry, uptight, tired….I think I’ll eat something. 

So, I have been trying to come up with some Non Food Rewards. It’s been hard. This is what I’ve come up with so far. 

Long Hot Showers

Buying New Exercise Clothes

Watching the Lord of the Ring Movies again.

Taking a walk solo around the neighborhood. 

I have thought about getting a foot soaking tub and sitting and soaking my feet, but that hasn’t happened yet. 

Reading a book (I don’t know if that counts though, I am always reading a book)

Sitting by my fire

I am just getting started on this list. I need more. 

In the meantime, I am also trying to tone down the food rewards. Like drinking a hot cup of tea or sucking on a sugar free hard candy, or munching on carrots and hummus instead of snack food. 

As a parent I am also realizing how I am training my kids to turn to food as a reward. It is such a big part of our culture. You did good today, have a piece of candy! It’s Friday night, let’s eat pizza and ice cream! You’re really sad, want to have a treat to cheer you up? I am not sure how to change this. I think I need a list of Go-To rewards for kids. And then I need to have it posted all over my house, because this is a deeply ingrained habit. 

Last week I lost another three pounds. Today I did thirty minutes on my elliptical, 40 seconds as fast as I could go, 20 seconds slow. I did not think I would make it thirty minutes, but I did! I am definitely seeing some positive changes. I am also noticing that I don’t have an urge to eat all the time like before. I eat, I get full, and then I don’t eat again till I feel hungry again. Yay! 

I’ll see you all next week! 

The Power of Worship

I started off this morning feeling off-balance. Unresolved conflicts. In the middle of a battle with myself as I try to adopt healthier habits. Children not as happy as I’d like to see them. The overwhelming amount of projects I need to do in my house. A dull February morning, the sunrise trying to push away the gray, but not quite managing to do so. The feeling of not having it all together. 

Then my fifteen year old came downstairs, dressed in cheerful pink, and turned on some worship music on her phone. I found myself singing along. And almost right away, I felt Hope returning. Jesus is good. He is on his throne. My life is in his hands. 

There is something about worship that recenters your perspective. As I write, the sunshine suddenly gets brighter, I can see more blue peeking around the clouds. My little boys are playing cheerfully. I feel a bit more confident that I can handle whatever this day hands me. 

The kids are memorizing Psalm 100. Every morning on the way to school, we practice our verses. It’s a good way to start the day. Though sometimes, I’m not paying enough attention to the words we are saying. 

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

    Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];

    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Worship does not change your circumstances, but it shrinks them back into perspective. Instead of me standing alone in a pit, it’s me holding the hand of my Father God as we navigate a bumpy road together. 

Come, Let Us Worship our God, Let us kneel Before the God our Maker, For He is Good and his Love Endures Forever.