In Memory of Peter

When I was four or five years old my family was living in Northern Haiti on the OMS missionary compound. Our maid, who lived in the neighboring village, told my mom about a newborn baby in her village whose mother had just died of AIDS. The grandmother was caring for the baby now, but it was not doing well. My mom went into the village and found the baby: tiny, severely dehydrated and dying, the grandmother trying to keep him alive with sugared tea water. My mom brought the baby home. We had a nurse who lived on the compound. She tried to start an IV but the baby was too dehydrated. She instructed my mom to give the baby a dropperful of rehydration fluid every five minutes. My mom worked around the clock with the help of a volunteer missionary who was staying at our house. On the third day, exhausted, my mom asked the nurse if she could take a night shift with the baby. That night, under the nurse’s care, the baby opened his eyes, smiled, lifted his arms and then died. They had a funeral, people from the village came and this death ended up being the birth of my parents’ relationships and ministry in this village. 

I don’t really remember all of that. I had to ask my mom to get those details. 

What I remember is a blue blanket. A little dark head peeking through. I remember my mom made a baby bed in the living room out of a dresser drawer. I remember having to be quiet. And I remember the delight of having a baby in the house. The hope. Could this be my new baby brother? Do we get to keep him?

And then I remember the solemn conversation. Standing next to my big brother as the adults shared some important news. No images of the adults, no memory of their words, just information that was imparted. The baby had died. 

Peter had died. 

No one had bothered to name him, so our family named him Peter. 

It’s a wispy memory. A memory of What If. What if he had lived? What if my parents had decided to adopt him? What if I could have had a baby brother? 

I remember as a bit older child, moving to a different place, telling the new kids I met that I used to have a baby brother, but he died. 

As I was sitting here thinking about all this, it brought to mind another Peter who died. I had an early miscarriage in between my 9th and 10th child. I have no idea if the baby was a boy or a girl, but my heart said, this was a boy, and his name was Peter Elisha. Another wispy memory. What If? What if he had lived? A thought I shy away from. If he had lived, we would not have our last little boy who has brought so much joy to our lives. What ifs are too convoluted, confusing. A rabbit trail not worth pursuing. 

But, it is good to remember for a moment. Peter. Both Peters. You were loved for the few moments we knew you. 

Fat Fridays: The Stories Behind the “Why”

I grew up in the North of Haiti as a missionary kid. Our final four years there was a very turbulent time for the country, during the time of Aristide’s presidency. We were there when the US placed an embargo on the country and it was a very difficult time of food, gas, and medicine shortages. 

We lived in a flat roofed, two story, concrete brick house at the top of a mountain pass (ok, it was really a very tall hill, but it had the feeling of a mountain, and the road was steep enough that it might as well have been a mountain.) We had a view of the Bay of Acul and the Plan du Nord, a beautiful plain dotted with rice paddies and sugarcane fields, surrounded by distant mountain ridges. I spent a lot of time outside, just gazing at the view, maybe trying to sketch what I was seeing, thinking a lot. 

We didn’t have electricity. We had a generator, but during the embargo we had to be very careful with our fuel. We would turn the generator on every couple days so we could get the water pump working. We had a utility room that was full of 5 gallon buckets and water jugs that my brother or I would stand and fill with a hose. This would be our water supply until the next time we turned our power back on. (I mastered the 5 gallon bucket bath.) We had a kerosene refrigerator, but no kerosene, so we just made do without a fridge. Our stove was gas, but somehow we were able to get the fuel for that. 

My mom was a genius at making do with what we had as she tried to feed the family on a very limited budget and very limited available resources. We had friends in the States who would send boxes of food occasionally and there was the local market place. By the time of the embargo, the few grocery stores around were mostly empty. I remember that my mom would buy a giant bag of flour and a giant bag of sugar that she would keep in a steel barrel in the kitchen. The barrel was to keep all the bugs out of the food. My mom baked our bread every week.

There were many times that we were unable to leave the house due to unrest and disturbances. While that sounds exciting, it was actually very boring. Imagine a fifteen year old sitting at home with nothing to do. 

Mom, I’m bored. 

One of my favorite things to do was look through old GOOD HOUSEKEEPING magazines that someone had sent us. They had so many amazing pictures of food. Imagine. Decadent desserts, fancy roasted chickens. Our diet at the time consisted of a lot of canned tuna and Spam, because that was what people sent in food boxes. My mom is a gourmet cook, but she didn’t have much to work with. We will never let her forget the “Sweet and Sour Spam with Angel Hair Pasta” that she made. One of the few times I think I just didn’t eat. 🙂 So, here I am, bored, looking at food magazines, wanting to make all these amazing recipes. I asked my mom if I could bake something. Sure. She handed me her Better Homes and Gardens cookbook with the red-checked cover. 

Find a recipe that we have the ingredients for. 

Ok. 

Turns out, the only recipe I could find that we had ingredients for was simple sugar cookies. Sugar, flour, margarine. Some salt and baking powder. Eggs. Ok. We can make this recipe! I mixed everything up and then pinched some dough when my mom wasn’t looking. (Salmonella! Don’t eat raw cookie dough!) We baked the cookies. A bit too long. They were rather crispy. But they were sweet. It satisfied a longing. It pushed away the boredom for a little while. The cookies made me feel good. 

And cookies and other sweets still make me feel good. For a little while. Until I look down at myself and see the consequences of too many cookies. Check my blood sugar, see some more consequences. But how to change this life long habit? I’m bored. I’m feeling antsy. I’m not happy…food will make me feel better. 

I am discovering that it’s a really hard habit to break. 

Thoughts on the Protests

This past week the DA in our city released the bodycam video of the police shooting of Anthony Thompson Jr at Austin East High School. I watched the presentation the DA gave as she walked through all the evidence, one step at a time, and ended with the conclusion that it was a justifiable action by the police officer and no charges would be brought against the police. Seeing the evidence, as she presented it, I had to agree. Yes. This looks like it was definitely justifiable. 

So, I was really surprised when I started reading FB posts from my black friends from this neighborhood. They had a completely different perspective. They felt that the DA maligned Anthony’s character by bringing up the domestic violence incidents that led to the police being called. They wanted to know why the police did not use a taser or try talking first. They wanted to know why the police did not speak to Anthony from the doorway of the bathroom and ask him to drop his weapons and come out with his hands up. They watched the video and felt that they were seeing the police’s hands on the gun, not Anthony’s, when it was fired. In fact, they were seeing something completely different from me. 

When two people watch the same video and see two different things, you’ve got to step back and realize that vision is not just a physical thing that our eyes do for us. Vision is affected by what is in our minds, our past, our experiences as well. Perspective. We can all see an image, but our perspective is going to tell us different things about that image. 

I think about where we are at in our country. When this incident happened, we were in the middle of the George Floyd trial. The news is frequently posting more and more incidents of police officer shootings that seem to have been avoidable. The experience of people of color in their involvement with the police has led to a feeling of distrust and danger where the police are concerned. 

Since the release of the bodycam videos, our city has seen a couple protests. I watched some video from one of the protests and the things that they were chanting hurt my heart. This is not my perspective. I don’t hold these views. But, I feel like I can understand, a little, where these views are coming from. 

So, here’s the question. Can we lay down our self-righteousness, our desperate need to always be right, and just enter into the idea that other people have different perspectives than us? Can we withhold our judgement for a minute and remember that other people have vastly different stories than we do, and those stories have caused them to see the world in a very different light than us?   

I believe in absolute truth. And I believe the Bible spells out what that truth is. But, when it comes to things like watching bodycam videos of a seventeen year old being shot and then deciding who is guilty and not guilty, I don’t think that falls into right and wrong categories. There is a lot of gray that we have to wade through. Let’s have grace for each other and understanding as we all react to this event in a different way. 

Thoughts on George Floyd

As I’ve scrolled through FaceBook the last couple days, I see everyone posting about the murder of George Floyd. I’ve seen a lot of different posts. Angry, Black Lives Matter, kind of posts. Sarcastic Memes saying that conservatives are a lot more worried about themselves than about this Man’s Death. Posts that wonder if there is a conspiracy afoot, perhaps this was done intentionally to stir up a riot. There have been several very good posts from Black Men who have introduced themselves, humanized themselves for the general public, in an attempt to take away the scary stereotype of “Dangerous Black Man”. I have seen mothers of black boys lamenting and praying over their son’s futures. I have seen a lot of people dismissing their need to be involved in any way because of the riots that have come afterwards, thus proving that this is not a cause they want to support. I have seen people turn this into a sermon illustration, this is proof that we all need Jesus. And I’ve also seen a couple very helpful posts that give a list of things that white people can do to fight against racism. 

 

I find myself asking the questions, what can I do? Have I done enough? Am I doing enough? What would I do if I had been an observer on the sidewalk, seeing this happen before my eyes? 

 

And I keep thinking about my teenage daughter. She has lived in an inner city, primarily black neighborhood, all her life. She has been attending inner city schools for four years. All of her friends at school are black. And this daughter of mine has a secret dream of being a police officer. She wants to work her way up to Detective. She has a plan of how she’s going to achieve her goals. She’s excited about it. And she told me that she has never shared this with anyone at school. She wouldn’t dare tell anyone at school. She tells them she’s interested in forensic science. And she confided to me that she didn’t think she would be able to work in our city. It just wouldn’t go over well with the people she knew. 

 

When I lived in Alaska, I had several friends who were in Law Enforcement. I know a couple down here as well. They are all people that I would trust my life to. I am pleased that my daughter has this dream. And I’m worried. 

 

I think about the video of George Floyd. Why didn’t any of the other officers interfere? Why didn’t they say something? Why didn’t they take any action? According to another post I saw, kneeling on his neck was not a police procedure. And according to yet another post, this guy has a long history of abusing his position as a police officer. Surely the other officers knew his character? Knew what kind of person he was? Is there some kind of protocol that was keeping them from interfering? 

 

What kind of system is this that one person can be doing evil in front of their peers, and no one takes action? 

 

I know that a lot of people dislike Black Lives Matter because they feel that it is anti-police. Or they feel that any criticism of our current police force will end up in having our police force nationalized instead of it being a local thing. 

 

I personally think that our police forces should be local. I am also Pro-police. I live in a neighborhood that deals with a lot of crime and violence. I depend on being able to call the police for help. But I don’t think it’s Anti-Police to be calling for reform, to be calling for some drastic changes that would make this type of violence impossible. It’s personal. One day my daughter might be one of those policemen. I want to know that she is entering a force of men and women who are accountable for their actions, who are taking great pains to be fair and equitable. 

 

I personally don’t know any bad stories about our local police. But, I do know that the culture at my children’s school is such that my daughter would never share her dream of being a police officer. I don’t know the stories, the history, the personal experiences that have led these children into believing that the police are their enemy. But the stories, the history, the personal experiences…they exist. We are reading about one of those stories right now. 

 

Racism exists. Police violence exists. George Floyd should not have been killed. We should all be outraged. 

 

Let’s focus that outrage into something tangible. I know, for myself, I know next to nothing about my local police force. I am very curious what rules and regulations they already have in place to combat racism and police brutality. I am sure they have something in place. I wonder how effective it has been? I wonder what their track record is? 

 

I imagine that with a couple well placed emails and phone calls, I could probably get those questions answered. I think I could probably even ask the question, what is the police force doing to start making positive connections with the young people in our neighborhood? Maybe they already have a plan that they are working on, that I just haven’t heard about. Maybe they have programs that need volunteers. Maybe they are aware of some weak places that need changes, maybe I can advocate in the proper places for those changes to happen. 

 

Let’s do something tangible. Don’t just blow up FaceBook with your grief and anger, turn this tragedy into something good. George Floyd was killed. And that motivated me to get involved in my community and start advocating for changes. And that is how we turn this senseless tragic death into something that will go forward. And this is how we honor George Floyd. 

Breaking Down Strongholds

I wrote the following piece, thinking, this is just going to be for me. And now I have sat here for some time, wondering if I should share it on my blog. It’s personal. Not G-rated. Not particularly something I feel like chatting with someone about later. Maybe posting this will be a help to someone though. So here goes. 

 

I’m thinking about strongholds. How we get stuck in them. How we get free from them. 

 

When I was a small child, I was assaulted by a group of older boys. I was young. My memories are pretty hazy. I remember laying on the ground sans clothing. I remember their faces above mine. 

 

I always thought it was some kind of recurring nightmare that I just remembered from early childhood. But then, when I was twenty years old and struggling with panic attacks, a young man at our church talked to me about how our past wounds can cause present day anxiety. He suggested that I pray and ask God to show me things from the past that were unresolved issues in my life. I took time, prayed, and God started downloading a list of memories that still caused me to have an emotional reaction. I wrote them all down. I was really surprised that the memory of being attacked by these boys was on the list. I hadn’t thought of it since I was a child, and I really thought it must have just been a nightmare. I wrote it down anyway. Later, I met with this young man and a couple others and we talked about each thing on the list. And he spoke truth over those memories. And as he did, something loosened inside of me. Later I took that list and burned it in a symbolic act of no longer having to think about these things. 

 

Fast forward to my late, late thirties. I was again doing Story Work. This time in a bit more formalized setting.  I had a friend who had been trained in Story Work. The premise being that each of us has a handful of stories from our childhood that have shaped how we see and interact with the world. When we can write those stories down, and then discuss them in a safe group setting, we are able to unravel some of the lies we have believed and perhaps in that way, bring healing to some of the wounds. 

 

My first story session was at a retreat. A lot of prayer had been poured into the retreat before we even got there. Early on, we were sent to our rooms to pray and ask God to show us what story we should write down. God gave me a story from my early childhood and I was really surprised by it. Again, it was something that I hadn’t thought of in years, and on the surface, it seemed pretty tame. Not much happening here. But, during the group time, when it was my turn to share my story and have a group discussion, I was blown away by how much debris got kicked up from a simple story. Some of the things that were brought up actually took me a whole year to process through and come to peace with. 

 

I signed up for another story group, maybe a year later. And as I prayed about what story I should do, again the story of when I was very young and attacked by a group of boys, came back to me. This again? I can barely remember this time, why is this so important? I decided to write the story down. As I did, more details came back to me and a larger overarching story came into place. 

 

I took the story to the group meeting. We discussed it. Nothing super magical happened that I could tell. I did get some better understanding of myself and how I approach life. 

 

But then, something really surprising happened over the next couple months with my thought life. Stuff I wasn’t expecting at all. 

 

Since I was a young child I have had an active fantasy life. Nothing super-sexual, just stories running through my head with me as the main character. There was a major theme though, that ran through all my fantasies. In a nutshell, I was always being attacked or hurt by a group of people, and then a Savior-like figure would come and rescue me. A king, a Lord, a Chief…something along those lines. My relationship with this Savior was never sexual. It was more like Master and Servant.\

I had realized, when I was a young adult, before I even got married, that my fantasies were very much a Salvation kind of replay. I am trapped, hurt, stuck, considered unworthy, and then the King arrives and says, You Are Worthy. I am going to save you. And I pledge undying fealty to my new Lord. But, despite the fact that I had analyzed and could see the good story line in these fantasies, I was still drawn to them. It was kind of like being stuck in an ever-repeating loop. 

 

And then I did my story group where we discussed my story from my early childhood. And by habit, I went back to revisit my old fantasies, and suddenly they had no pull on me. No attraction. They just seemed like a worn out shoe that I no longer wanted. These fantasies were a habit that I had never broken free from, and suddenly, they had no appeal. 

 

I realized that those fantasies had been playing a role for me. They had been an attempt to fix something broken inside of me. But, it never quite worked. No matter how many times I was rescued in my fantasy life, the next day, I needed rescuing again. 

 

But somehow, taking that old story from my childhood, discussing it in a safe setting with people who could help me understand it, and see it through the eyes of truth, somehow, that set me free. 

 

And the stronghold was broken. 

 

If you are interested in learning more about story work, here is a link to my friend’s website.   Click to Look Inside

A Glimpse into Inner City Violence

Lately, I’ve been in a contemplative mood. My brain has been downloading stories from my past that I’ve been writing down in order to get them out of my head. I had written this story last week, wondering what to do with it. Then, today I found out two people lost their lives in a shooting last night, a couple blocks from our house. Since the stay-at-home orders began, in March, the gun activity has increased in our neighborhood. We hear gunshots several times a week. Sometimes we call it in. Sometimes we just don’t. Depends on how close it sounds. Anyway, it seemed a good time to share this story which took place in December of 2015. The end result of the events told was the death of our neighbor’s nephew who had been walking home from his night shift at McDonalds.  

Gunshots. Lots of Gunshots. Never-ending Gunshots.

I jerked awake, frozen in my bed as the gunshots went on and on and on. My body seemed to revert back to that childhood belief, if I don’t move a muscle, the monsters won’t see me. A voice was yelling in my head, GET OUT OF BED! HIDE! GET ON THE FLOOR! And I just lay there, frozen, wondering when a bullet was going to hit me. Because, surely those bullets must be aimed at my house. It was so close, my eyes were squinted shut, just waiting to feel the thud of a bullet.

And then…it stopped. 

Silence. 

I lay there for one more second and then my Mom Brain turned on. THE KIDS!! What if a bullet came through the walls and hit one of them??? I jumped out of bed, grabbed my phone and started dialling 911. As I dialed, phone to my ear, I ran out of my room, looked into the bedroom next to mine. Stood in the doorway, listening. Listening for awake children. Listening for signs of distress. 

Nothing. 

I ran into the room, bent over the bed. The boys were asleep. I yanked back the blankets. No blood. No wounds. The operator answered my call. 

Hello. My name is Esther Heneise. I live at *********** and I need to report a shooting. As I was speaking on the phone, my oldest daughter ran out of her room. 

MOM! What was that??

I motioned for her to climb into my bed. I continued to answer the questions on the phone as I paced around the upstairs, checking bedrooms. No. I didn’t know how many gunshots there were, but it went on for a really long time. No, I’m not sure where the gunshots were coming from, but it sounded like it was right outside my house in the street. 

Then I suddenly remembered my nine and eleven year old daughters who shared a room downstairs, what if the bullets had got to them?? I ran for the steps, phone still pressed to my ear. Just as I got to the top of the steps, both girls came running up in a mad scramble. Hanging onto me when they got to the top. WHAT WAS THAT???

I motioned for them to join their older sister in my bed. The three of them huddled together and watched me as I paced around my bedroom. Trying to communicate to the operator what had happened.

The operator asked me if I had seen anyone. Seen anyone? No. I had been in bed! But this made me run to the window. I looked out, my windows giving me a clear view of the little side street that runs past my property. Wait. There were two men outside. I could see them in the road, under the streetlight. I quickly told the operator what I was seeing. Two men, and they are starting to run. There they go! They’re running down my street….Wait, no, they are out of the street now, they’re cutting through someone’s yard, heading towards Magnolia. 

Suddenly, the operator stopped her questions. She said, you’re breathing really fast, are you ok?…..What? Oh. Um. Yeah. I’m just really freaked out. I’m all alone at my house. My husband is gone and it’s just me and eight children. 

We talked a little bit longer and then I hung up the phone. My girls were laying in my bed, the blanket pulled up almost over their heads. Their eyes stared big and round at me. 

I leaned over the bed. Gave them a hug. Here. Just stay here in my bed. Sleep here. I’m going to go and check on the little kids again. I’ll just sleep with the little girls. 

I walked out into the hall, peeked into each bedroom again. Then pulled out my phone again. I tried calling my husband. The phone rang and rang and rang. No answer. True, it was somewhere around 1am in the morning. But, he was also out on a camping trip with our oldest son and his boy scout troop. He didn’t have good reception out there anyway. 

I felt extreme frustration at that moment. Without fail, any time my husband was gone overnight, something momentous happened that I had to deal with by myself. I went and looked out the window of my bedroom again. There were now policemen down there. No flashing lights. No sirens. I could see several officers walking around with flashlights. Our neighbors on the other side of the side street came out of their house. Spoke to the policeman, gestured towards their house. The policeman walked around their house as well, shining their flashlights. 

Then, all the activity suddenly focused into one place. Now they were all there, pointing their lights at the little side road, bending down, looking at something. I stood staring out my window. I had absolutely no desire to go downstairs and look out the windows down there, I had no desire to step out on my porch to see what I could see. At that moment in time, my upstairs felt safe and everywhere else felt dangerous, scary. I continued to watch. I don’t know how long I stood there, but eventually, the policemen all piled into their cars and drove away. 

I wondered if I would ever find out what had happened. 

My big girls had fallen back to sleep and I quietly walked out of the room and headed over to my little girls room. The two and four year old shared a double bed and there was plenty of room for me to climb in. I snuggled up to their warm bodies. Pulled the blanket up high and lay there, wondering how on earth I would ever fall asleep. I prayed. Asking for God’s protection on us. And as I lay there, a surprising peace settled over me, and I slept. 

Renewing My Mind

It’s been a long day. I’ve been up since 6:30 am. The kids were home today on their fourth day of “flood-cation”. Today we cleaned bedrooms, had devotions, played scrabble, read science books, watched educational tv shows, went to the Children’s museum, did laundry, washed dishes, cleaned up the house, drove my daughter to work,  made supper, cleaned up from supper, finished getting the laundry (including the socks!) folded and put away, dealt with numerous discipline issues, comforted crying babies, resolved fights, and now, I am trying to get everyone to sleep. (Did I mention somewhere in that list, breaking up a spontaneous rollerskating party that occurred inside the house while I was in the shower?)

 

Despite all the chaos and busyness, and despite the fact that there were numerous times when I felt the need to mutter under my breath, “Lord, I can’t do this!!” , it still felt like a good day. I think that has to do with some changes that have been going on in my thought process. 

 

As God has walked me through a healing process over the last couple years, I have been noticing the difference that it has had on how I think and what I think about. When I try to revisit old thought patterns, I find that they no longer satisfy me, they no longer hold my attention. When I try to revisit old stories that I used to weave in my mind, I now find that these stories no longer hold any interest for me. It’s like, they served a purpose, that purpose is no longer needed, and so they are useless. It’s almost been a bit comical. I will be sitting quietly and my thoughts will start to wander and then suddenly it’s like I’ve hit a brick wall. I don’t know what to think about. While it’s bewildering, it’s also freeing. Looking back, I can see how the things I used to occupy my mind with were simply coping mechanisms for dealing with deep wounds. As those wounds have been exposed to light and have begun healing instead of festering, those coping mechanisms no longer have a hold on me either. 

 

And I have literally had to ask God, Ok, what do you want me to think about now? And he was faithful to answer. I mentioned in my last blog that I have been thinking about heaven. I’ve read several books about heaven (I forgot to mention in the last blog that I also read “The Great Divorce” by C.S. Lewis). And now, when I find my mind at rest for a moment, my thoughts wandering, I find myself settling into curiosity. Curiosity about heaven and Jesus and the scriptures I’ve been reading. 

 

It has been a true “Renewing of the Mind”. And the awesome part is, I know that it’s not me that has been doing it. It’s been all God. I don’t have the power in myself to break off these old patterns. I don’t have the power to heal myself. I don’t have the power to change lifetime habits of thought overnight. It has truly been a miracle to watch what God has been doing in my life and my mind. 

 

All of this to say, when I have crazy days that push me to my Patience Limit and wear me out from rushing from one thing to the next, it’s still a good day. A day of thinking about God, pondering his word, feeling his presence as I go about the day. Romans 12:2 says:

 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

 

I am basking in the wonder of being transformed by the renewing of my mind. 

 

And that’s made it a good day. 

 

Juvenile Court

I spent the entire morning in Juvenile Court today. Which here, where we live, deals with not only delinquent youths, but any cases solely concerning minors (custody, child support etc). We had to attend a hearing on a matter concerning our foster kids. We showed up at eight-thirty am, supposed to be there at nine, and weren’t seen until eleven-forty-five. During that entire time we sat in the lobby, surrounded by people wearing their stories on their stress-filled faces. 

 

For an empath like me, it was one of the most emotionally painful mornings I’ve had. 

 

I’m not sure what happened to all the privacy laws, but at this particular court, everyone uses the lobby as the place to consult with their caseworkers, their lawyers, their children’s lawyers and caseworkers…Everyone just sat there in front of everyone and talked about their business as if no one else was listening. My ears were burning. I kept looking down at the floor so that my shocked expressions wouldn’t give me away. Not that I was trying to listen. I was people-watching, and then, instead of just being curious about their business, I was suddenly hearing all about it. 

 

I was feeling so sad. So much heartbreak. So much dysfunction. So many shattered families. 

 

I turned my attention and started watching the people that worked there. The brassy receptionist who kept her face completely indifferent to all the weary world that showed up at her desk, looking for directions. She had no problem being firm and short in her answers. But I also saw her gather an armful of large, very soft,  cuddly, stuffed animals and arrange them on her desk. I heard her comment, The kids will love these. I had all the context I needed since I had just watched the movie “Instant Family” (which I highly recommend) where the kids in the foster system had their collection of Court Bears they were given when they had to go to court. 

 

I watched a short woman in a red suit, who radiated the aura of Lawyer from New Jersey. She had a group of sycophants following her around as she “showed them the ropes”. There was the court-appointed lawyer who made his rounds, introducing himself to all his new clients. He managed to keep a friendly, but competent air about himself. There were caseworkers who looked like they were just Done With This Job. They looked worn out and frustrated. There was the guardian ad litem who angrily demanded a clear answer from a parent who was not talking straight. There were the young men, who had just left a courtroom, shaking their heads, expressing their disbelief at what they had heard behind closed doors. There was a middle-aged man with some kind of disability that made him limp very badly. He was bustling about, doing his work with a smile on his face. He looked like he had a passion for his work. 

 

I sat and watched all this teeming humanity around me. And it occurred to me that it’s actually pretty wonderful that I live in a country that has a Juvenile Court and all the offices and people connected to it. This building represents our country using it’s tax dollars to protect children. Protect children from broken caregivers who are no longer giving care. Protect children from the stupid mistakes they make when they break the law. Try to get them off that path and onto a better one. Get justice for children who have been treated evilly. 

 

I hate that we live in a sinful world. I hate that no matter how many systems of government we’ve tried throughout history, people still treat other people badly. I hate that there really is no answer, no solution. The only way to revolutionize this world is for everyone to find Jesus and his Way of Love and Peace and Justice. And the Bible doesn’t seem to hold out hope that will happen completely until Jesus returns. In the meantime, we’ve got to somehow maneuver through these crazy times we are living in. 

 

All that being said, I’m glad that we are making an effort to protect the children in our country. I am thankful for all those people in that building that get up every day and go to work in what has to be one of the hardest work environments. I am thankful that my tax dollars are helping support this system. I am thankful that hopefully, every day, at least one child is getting a chance at a better life because of what goes on there, at Juvenile Court. 

 

How do I Keep Up?

This week I ran into an old homeschooling friend. Though we are often in the same vicinity, we haven’t stopped to have a conversation in a while. I was asking how homeschooling was going and we talked about that for a while, then she asked how public schooling was going for me. I said it was going great. She asked how on earth I keep up with everything. I said something along the lines of, “It’s easy, I just don’t care.” Which, while flippant and funny, probably did not really convey how I feel. It’s kind of been nagging me, and I keep thinking of how I should have clarified that statement…So, my dear friend whom I’m going to tag in this post, I’m going to expand a bit. 

 

Homeschooling is all-consuming, and mentally exhausting. Especially if you are trying to homeschool multiple children. In your mind, at all times, you have a working knowledge of each child’s abilities. You know what they can and can’t do in Math and English and Science. You have a list of things you are worried about for each child, and also a list of things you are proud of. You can’t have a casual interest in your child’s education because YOU are the Educator. It’s a big load to carry. It was too big a load for me. I went through a long depression and in the middle of it, completely fizzled out in my ability to school my children. We put our kids in public school. We’re in our third year with our younger kids. My oldest two kids homeschooled through eighth grade and then went to public high school. My third daughter is in her fourth year of public school. 

 

My view of public school is, my children now have teachers. I no longer have to keep up with all the minutiae. That’s the teacher’s job. Yes, I look at all the papers sent home. I ask my kids what they learned today. I go to Parent/teacher conferences. I look at report cards. But as far as knowing how well they are doing in multiplication or whether they are mastering their fractions or whether they used proper punctuation in their writing assignment, I have no idea. Since their report cards all say that they are getting good grades, I’m presuming that they are learning what they need to learn. 

 

As far as homework is concerned, I don’t believe in homework for elementary school kids. I’ve been upfront about it with the teachers. Sometimes my kids choose to do their weekly “homework” packets because they want whatever award the teacher is offering. And sometimes they choose to not do it. That’s fine. I think that several hours of running around our yard, playing make believe games, and creating things with legos is going to help them a lot more than sitting down and doing a page of math reviews. I do expect my middle-schoolers and high-schoolers to do their homework, but they’re old enough to be in charge of their own work, so I don’t stress about keeping up with it. 

 

Of course, you have to ask the question, What if they aren’t learning what they need to learn? What if they are getting good grades, but are still getting major gaps in their education? 

 

Well, this is where my philosophy on learning helps me out. I am a reader. I have been a bookworm since second grade. While I can remember a handful of odd facts that a teacher taught me in a classroom, most everything that has stayed in my brain, came from an interesting book. I believe that if I can foster a love of reading in my children then I’ve won half the battle for educating them. 

 

We are a reading family. I always have a book on my kindle app that I pull out whenever I have a spare minute. My husband reads a book most evenings to unwind. My older teenagers have long, loud discussions about characters and events in various book series that they have all read. We have eight large bookshelves in our house and books are scattered on every surface. My kids go to the library at school and bring their books home and have fights about whether they have to share their library books with each other or not. 

 

I have one child whose brain is wired differently. In three years of homeschooling I was not able to teach him how to read. In public school they put him in a remedial program and the reading experts got him reading pretty quickly. (YAY!) But, he still struggles. It doesn’t come naturally to him. He’s still getting extra help in this area. But, he read books. Maybe not at grade level, but he still wants to read. This past week I had to take him on a rushed trip to the library because he needed the fourth book of the series and we only had the first three books at home. So, while I know he may struggle all his life to read easily, I’m not worried about him. My kids all have a natural curiosity about life, and they know that reading books is an easy way to learn about whatever they are interested in. 

 

I see public school as an opportunity for my kids to learn about different cultures. It’s a chance to be with the kids from our neighborhood. Learn how to make friends. Learn how to work with all kinds of people. It’s an opportunity to put into practice everything that we’re trying to teach them at home about “Loving your neighbor as yourself”. It’s a chance for them to think about people’s stories. What are some of the reasons why that particular child might have a hard time behaving in class? It’s an opportunity for them to learn how to be problem-solvers: if you see a problem at school, what can you do about it? All of these things naturally come up in our daily conversations, so I get a good gauge on how the kids are doing in these areas. 

 

So, how do I keep up with everything? I don’t. But, it seems to be working well for us.  

 

Masterpieces in Progress

I take my daughter to Nashville tomorrow morning to send her off to Alaska for a year. I have been thinking about what to write today, but have drawn a blank. As I was driving in the car, I realized why I can’t think of anything to write. All weekend and this week I have been systematically shutting myself down emotionally. My oldest kids are leaving the nest and this is a good thing for them. It’s the natural next step in our parenting journey. And it’s painful and I hate pain and I hate goodbyes, so I seal myself off. I’m a missionary kid. I’ve been saying goodbye to people on a regular basis since I was two years old. After a while, you just naturally learn how to distance yourself so that it won’t be as painful. 

 

We’ve been living in the same city for almost 16 years now. I haven’t had to say nearly as many goodbyes. Mostly it’s just saying goodbye to friends of mine who have moved on to other places. You would think that I would have softened my approach over the years. Allowed myself to feel some of the emotions. Let myself cry. You would think. 

 

But, even though I have not reached the place of emotional honesty, where I allow myself to feel the emotion, experience it, and then move on, healthier because of the experience…even though I haven’t reached that place yet, I am at least at a place where I can recognize what I’m doing. Oh look, I am shutting down because I’m about to say goodbye to my daughter. It’s progress. 

 

In the meantime, I will drive my daughter to the airport three hours away while it’s still dark outside. I’ll walk her to the security gate. I’ll hug her as long as I can, pray over her, bless her, and send her on her way. And I’ll shed a couple tears which I’ll quickly sniff away, go get back in my car and make the long drive back home. 

 

Then a couple months from now, I’ll suddenly think about her and burst into uncontrollable sobbing and then have a day-long depression while I finally start processing all the emotions. And then I’ll feel better. 

 

This is the way I deal with emotions. I’m going to make a guess that I’m really not the only one who does this. So, for all you other emotionally awkward people, it’s ok. Fortunately there is no set mold on how to to do life. We all have our stories that have shaped who we are and how we interact with the world around us. It’s been my experience that as I have explored these stories and spent some concentrated time analyzing my behavior, it’s helped me to change some of my negative patterns, some right away, others very slowly. 

 

We are all masterpieces in progress.