March 19, 2013

This is where the healing begins...

The final good-byes were said last week as really good, close friends and my homeschooling mom/partner-in-crime left for their new home 2,000 miles away.  Coincidentally (or not), our church is studying Habakkuk this month in which a guy asks God a lot of questions and God gives him answers that he doesn't like because it doesn't fit in with his idea of a good plan, even though he acknowledges that God can only make good plans so this plan that seems to be wrong must be right.

I totally empathize with Habakkuk.  When we first moved to Arizona, I felt cast adrift from a strong base of friends.  I would vacillate between wanting to curl up into a fetal position and ignore the world to manically trying to set up play-date after play-date in hopes of finding my new best friend for myself and my kids.  Looking back, I might have resembled this:

A year after our move, I found a homeschooling family that had moved 2,000 miles away to a house very close to us.  Knowing what I had gone through, I contacted her and we set up a playdate.  The kids got along fine and before you know it, we were planning a two-family homeschool co-op and put together a small P.E. co-op close to us.  One of her sons and one of mine shared a passion for baseball and we took turns with baseball carpools.  One of my daughters and her other son shared a love of making art, so we put them in an advanced art class together with a teacher that she had really liked.  We still use the teacher.  About the same time another homeschooling mom and I were talking about friendships and she talked about the "cult of friendship", in which "friendships" become a status symbol with the hierarchy based on  how many FB friends you have, how many birthday parties you get invited to, etc.  Through that conversation, God pointed out that I was buying into the cult of friendship myth and addressed some issues from my own public school experiences, in which I felt like a deer with a target-shaped birthmark over my heart.

So I became content with the friends He had divinely appointed to me, including the one close friendship that was blooming between that family and ours.  I figure that we spent, roughly two months a year with them when you add extra playdates, weekly co-op get-togethers, birthdays and even a camping trip.  

So why would God encourage me to focus my time on developing a close relationship with a family that He was intending to move so far away in such a short time?  Did I misunderstand Him?  Had this family become an idol in my life and God had to remove them to demonstrate it to me?  Is this a little more perverse form of His occasionally gently-twisted humor?  The last two weeks, especially have been  a struggle and, honestly, I started checking out again, wanting to curl back up in a fetal position and insulate myself from the world.  Today, in quiet time, God replied to me, "My dear child, you and Tina have chosen the most excellent way--the way of love, focusing on people rather than accomplishments and activities.  It hurts right now, but I will carry you through the pain of loss.  Just let go of striving and fall back into my arms."

And so, I find yet another reason to have joy in this hard moment:  that God has been pleased and is faithful to be the God of all comfort, the God who provides, and the God who is in control.

Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will exult in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
Habakkuk 3:17-18

March 6, 2013

Homeschool Idea

A dear friend of mine recently had her ten year old son diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is in the Autism Spectrum disorder.  We have been working together with her son even before he was officially diagnosed because we had been meeting weekly for the past two years in a mini co-op.  Her son had been having problems in math for a long time and she had switched curriculum two or three times in the past three years trying to find one that suited him.  One day, she made a comment that he preferred to do the math in his head, even if it was long division because he hated writing out the numbers and had difficulty in lining everything up.  That sparked an idea for me:  if writing was the problem, why not eliminate that distraction in some way and get him to focus on the math, not the writing.  Being a nerd, I immediately thought of a computer program to help.  We pored online over different programs, some free online and some expensive voice recognition software.  Generally, we decided in terms of programs, you get what you pay for. Then, a sudden inspiration was dropped in my lap:  why not just get a ton (literally) of those plastic, magnetic numbers, enough to do long division or hairy problems?  Later, when he takes algebra, they can buy the letters.  Then maybe make the exponents, parenthesis and operations out of foam or clay and put magnets on the back.  Instead, she and her son took sheets of foam and cut out the numbers and parentheses and had him write out the operations and exponents by hand.  She bought a magnetic white board dedicated to math and a roll of magnets that they cut up and glued to the foam.  Below are pictures of what it looks like (sorry that it is on its side--technical difficulties):

But the results are even better:  his math scores have improved dramatically and, within a week of starting it, her son, the one with Aspergers Syndrome that doesn't really like being touched, HUGGED her and thanked her for working on the solution to his problem.  So I am putting up there as a resource for homeschooling moms, teachers, or anyone with students who struggle with writing related problems like those in the Autism Spectrum and those who have dysgraphia.  I also have this on my Pinterest site.

March 5, 2013

Joy in the midst of "Good-byes"

Three years ago, someone in the homeschool group to which we belong introduced me to a mom whose family had just moved to Arizona and lived near me.  In fact, they lived less than three blocks away from us, though on the other side of a busy road.  We started meeting twice a month or so for PE related activities.  Last year, we joined as a co-op for Writing, History and Science and organized a PE co-op in our area with just a few families.  You get to be pretty close when meeting  roughly 52 times a year.  Last year, she and her husband started discussing having him find a job because their oldest son, who shares a love of art and all things Tolkien with our oldest daughter, was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome with the usual side issues and his company's insurance refused to pay for all the therapy.  Sure enough, he found a job fairly quickly with good insurance, but it was in North Carolina.  That was in August.  We were expecting them to leave at Christmas, but they decided to have her and the kids stay until the house sold.  The house sold within a month of putting it on the market and the sale date was set in March.    Two weeks ago, I looked at the calendar and realized that March was just around the corner.  That is when it hit me that my kids are going to lose the closest friends they have had since moving here.    So the last week or so has been an exercise in grieving.

Honestly, it seems as if, for the last five or six years, God has been removing the people who have been closest with us from our lives. It hurts horribly.  When we first moved, I felt as if God was telling me that friends had become an idol to me--something good and necessary became something that meant more to me than God.  I am not saying that it is the reason He moved us, just that He used our move to reveal an idol in my life so that I would draw closer to Him.  And I walked away from that wrestling match deciding that if He took everyone else away, even my family, He would be sufficient.  As I remembered those many conversations with Him, I realized that my attitude concerning the current situation has not been great.  So, as of last week, every time I was tempted to wallow in pity, as much for my kids as for me, I made a conscious decision to choose thankfulness that He brought this family into our lives, even if it is for a short time.  And I choose to be happy for my friends because He is bringing them back to a place where they can live near extended family, where they will have a bigger yard, a bigger house and away from the desert megalopololis, which I knew that the mom really hated.  And I choose to trust Him with my kid's lives, though, in all honesty, I don't have much of a choice in the matter because the concept of being in control of anyone except myself is a Grand Illusion that the enemy loves to perpetuate.  So, to be more precise, I have chosen to rejoice that the Lord is in control of my life and my family's life and rejoice in the knowledge that He is good in every situation, that He loves me far more than I can ever imagine, that He knows what is best for my family and will lead us.  And I rejoice that we will spend eternity in heaven, where there are no "good-byes".

I choose joy even in the midst of sorrow and uncertainty.

March 1, 2013

This is dedicated to the one I love

Sixteen years ago on February 20th, I got into the mini van (known at the time as a "Bike Transport Vehicle") of a guy that I hardly knew to go on a four day cross-country skiing mini-vacation.  Not exactly a situation recommended in Christian dating how-to books.  Or even Stranger-Danger videos we tell our kids.  My reasoning was as much a need for a four day weekend away from my high pressure job and a chance to test my endurance on cross country skiis, which seemed to overwhelm the negatives.  I originally had another reason to go, which was to meet new potential friends, which can be a lot harder to do as an adult out of college.  That third reason was laid to rest when the large number of people who initially signed up dropped out for various reasons.

This is what  I knew about him:  he was an avid bicyclist and in the "fast" crowd, meaning that he could bike much faster than I could; he had been very helpful in teaching me the basics of cross-country skiing when a group of us gathered at a forest preserve in Chicago on a rare day when there was enough snow on the ground AND it was above 20 degrees; he recently had become unable to do things on Sunday because he had "found Jesus" and started attending church on a regular basis.  That last bit of information was provided by one of his friends and piqued my interest.  It also made him a little more trustworthy in my eyes.  Before I went on the trip, however, I prayed and asked God because I had just promised Him that if He gave me a godly man, I would not under any circumstances allow myself to become intimate with him.  God was silent on the subject (or it could be that the wax in my ears prevented me from hearing His still, small voice), so I decided to see if the gentleman would be willing to go.  He was, so I took it as a sign that God was okay with it (which is not the same as "approved of.")  I found out later that his small Bible study group, when they met, prayed for my future husband's safety, safety of his heart, and for God to protect him from sin while going on a trip with an unknown woman.  They might have even prayed for me.

I had brought along a stack of books, too much to read in a month, much less a weekend that was supposed to be spent in the great outdoors.  Shutting myself in my room to read when we weren't skiing was my back-up plan in case he was creepy or annoying.  I never touched the books. Within the first 30 minutes of the four-hour trip, he started telling me about how he had found Jesus.  He was hoping to convert me, if I was an unbeliever.  It started a great conversation about God, one that I had been longing to share with a man for a while.  He was so funny and punny (he still is), which is my love language.  We had a great time cross-country skiing and at night, we either watched "Into the Woods", which is a very long Steven Sondheim musical, or played board games.  The only other thing that happened was that the seeds of a relationship was started.  Two days after returning, we met for dinner at an average Chinese restaurant before the monthly bicycle club meeting and agreed to pursue a relationship.  That was the start of a beautiful relationship, created by God, that remained pure until our wedding night.  And that is why we ignore Valentine's Day and, instead, focus on our own personal Valentine's day on February 25th.

God is the best matchmaker.  And my husband, though he would never be considered perfect, is still perfectly wonderful in my eyes, sixteen years later.