Thursday, October 28, 2010

Halloween Scares Me

Halloween scares me. It scares me because I can't make a firm decision one way or another about whether I should participate in any way as a Christian. During my childhood, I alternated years of costume wearing, only wearing Biblical costumes and stoic avoidance of acknowledging the day was even happening. It seems my parents were just as confused as I am about how to handle Halloween.

Every year, I am presented with deeper and darker tales about how evil it is and how its celebration has Pagan roots and how some of my friends will not be participating in something Occult-ish. You may have firm convictions regarding this. For that, I envy you. (Yes, it's as okay to envy your convictions as it is to covet someone's prayers.)

Here's my problem with those arguments: what about Christmas Trees and Easter Bunnies? Every time I encounter an article or argument about the evil origins of Halloween, I'm smacked upside the face with the equally evil origins of Easter bunnies and Christmas Trees. (Seriously, start digging....)

And yet, many of the same people who are living, dead set against Halloween because of its Pagan origins, decorate cakes with bunnies at Easter, decorate and hunt eggs and bring evergreens into their homes each year at Christmas. (Yes, I said living dead in discussing Halloween)

And the argument is, of course, that those activities have been appropriated by Christians. We have our own spiritually acceptable ways of looking at Christmas decorations. Even the fertility symbol that is the egg and the Easter bunny have been adopted as representations of the empty tomb. (Actually, I can't remember why we justify the bunny.)

As far as I know, we aren't called to celebrate Christ's birth but we are called to remember His death, burial and resurrection. And we pervert the memory with a bunch of silly antics that, upon closer inspection, turn out to be not so silly and all the more disturbing.

If we must have some traditional activities to participate in on Easter, the last thing we should be doing is eating HAM! We should be eating lamb with bitter herbs and either actually spreading its blood on our door posts or at least doing it symbolically and thanking the Lord that He became our Passover Lamb. Has it ever occurred to anyone that the Person who fulfilled the Mosaic law might be offended by our flouting it on the day we celebrate His rising from dying for our inability to follow such laws?

But this same Lord spoke to Paul about all of us Gentiles and explained that circumcision was unnecessary and why it was okay to share in salvation while still being unclean in our choice of foods.

If we can choose to ignore the original meaning behind symbols for holidays we consider to be Holy, perhaps we can choose to ignore the meanings on another day. (Or again, maybe we should drop them all.) I agree, worshipping and fantasizing dark spirits or using superstitions like lit, carved pumpkins to "protect" ourselves from evil is a bad idea when we actually should be relying only on the Blood of Christ. I leave those arguments for people who have more ambiguity about those things.

On the other hand, carving up a pumpkin and putting a candle inside is an endeavor innocent enough in itself. (Though some of my friends shy even away from doing that. But Christmas trees are ok. Seriously, look into the original reason people brought the trees inside in the first place.) And let's not forget that Jesus was, by any evidence, not born on December 25th. Or even at that time of year. That date was chosen simply because it DID correspond with a dark holiday already being celebrated. How's that for situational ethics?

So, let me say, I've come to the conclusion that however I feel about Halloween, I must also feel about most of my traditional, cultural expressions at Christmas and Easter. Intellectually and spiritually, if I must give up one, I must give up the others as well. And since I've not come to the conclusion that is necessary, I choose to participate in some things that go on at Halloween.

I choose to participate in a cultural expression where we get to dress up. There is no other culturally acceptable time during the year where so many adults put on costumes and get so playful. I'd be in favor of costume parties once a month, not tied to any spiritual overtones... just a chance to pretend and be playful.

We don't dress up to confuse the spirits. We dress up because it's fun. We dress up to amuse and impress each other with our creativity. My baby will be an octopus and I will be the ocean as I carry her this year. How cool is that?!

I choose to dress up and to minimize my children's exposure to candy. In reality, the need to have gobs and gobs of candy is the scariest part of Halloween for me. I mean, my family was given a certain deliverance from obesity and gluttony by choosing to avoid processed foods and refined sugars, yet, you all say that part is harmless. Celebrating the macabre? I'll leave that to your conscience and your own blog.

I choose to forego ghosts and ghouls and the decidedly nightmarish things associated with Halloween. I choose to pray for those in a lost and dying world. I choose to do that on more than one night per year. I also choose to be in the world but not of it. I try to live according to my conscience, the conviction the Holy Spirit brings.

I thank you all who remind me to be careful in my behavior each year as this date approaches because I would hate to continue to participate thoughtlessly. But I also urge you not to fall prey to superstition yourself and allow Satan to own a day of the year because of fear. Why does he get October 31st? Why does he get costumes and candy?

For those who argue that church Fall Festivals and Trunk or Treat programs are simply teaching our children that they need something just because the world is having it, you're right. I don't think we should have be having alternatives simply because the world is having something. But on the other hand, cultural appropriation seems to be something we're fairly comfortable with in most situations.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

To Punish or Not to Punish?

Ok, so, I have a hypothetical question for you...

Yeah, you're right.

Who am I kidding?

It's not hypothetical at all.

It didn't happen to a friend of mine. It happened to me, today. Well, I found out it happened today. The event happened a while ago. I think I need your help.

Hannah has a beautiful crown she received as a party favor from a friend's birthday party. It was broken by a sibling. We can't remember who. It may have been both. But that's neither here nor there. The point is that it needed repair.

After a twenty minute stint where I fought valiantly to open a previously used (and now sealed) tube of super glue with a 9 month old sitting on my lap, I decided perhaps super glue wasn't the correct tool for the job. I announced my defeat energetically, "Aha! What Mommy needs is the glue gun!" The stupid, faulty tube of super glue is now in the trash.

Immediately, John opened his own trusty tool box (pictured above) and proffered his glue gun. This tool kit is a thing of beauty. It has been useful numerous times over the years. He used Christmas money to purchase it, years ago, when he was still too young to really use it. Hmm, I suppose he's still too young. So it resides in the school room where he is under strict orders to not even open the box unsupervised.

Always pleased to find some way to let John provide assistance and feel useful, I readily agreed that his glue gun was the perfect solution. Immediately, my Mom-dar went off.

"John, where are the glue sticks?"

"Someone must have taken them out of there."

Interesting how Someone is always an available scapegoat... but then again, I do weird stuff I can't always remember, so I may have been the guilty party. John plugged in the gun and offered to fix the crown for me. I wasn't prepared to hand over the reigns just yet (plastic tiara stakes are pretty high). I was already thinking of another project where he could try his hand as using the tool.

The first thing I noticed was that the gun was taking a long time to heat up. Already five minutes had passed and there was no molten pool on the sacrificial piece of junk mail. On closer inspection, I realized the little metal rest was missing. Someone's name was once again invoked.

At last I saw a little purple goo at the tip of the gun. My heartbeat quickened as it recognized foul play while my head still rationalized, I don't remember having purple glue sticks... I inquired as to the origin of the purple goo.

"Oh... I thought you knew about that. Remember, I melted one of my K'nex pieces through there. I'm pretty sure you said it was ok, but you may have been absorbed with the computer or something."

Plausible deniability plus blame shifting. GOOD. Almost as classic as Someone.

So, what do I do, now? Is there a plastic melting, sneaking statute of limitations? We have no idea when it happened. But to me, it happened today. Should I super glue him to his bed? Too bad the tube is permanently sealed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Someone's in the Kitchen with Dina

...and she's probably fed up with all that infernal banjo strumming!

Some say the kitchen is the heart of the home. It is very true in our home. It's the center of activity. Stuff and people are always coming in and going out. There is the constant processing of groceries, food prep, cleaning, cooking, cleaning and eating. (And cleaning.) And my children are always close to my heart, which means they are always in my kitchen.

Sometimes I love having them in there with me. Sometimes I consider hiring a nanny (just for meal prep). I wouldn't give up cooking. I love it too much. But, alas, I view training them as my job, so they are eagerly invited to be present, welcomed to participate and required to help clean.

Today, I'm making Garlic Soup. Cote and I are a little under the weather. I'm a firm believer in the healing power of garlic and homemade chicken broth so I'm following my friend Mary's advice and finally trying this recipe.

Because he's had years of training, I actually trust John with many food prep activities. Since I was busy helping clean up Cote from another round of regurgitation, I asked John to chop the potatoes. He chopped potatoes and celery and assisted with other activities when I made it back to the kitchen. He's obviously a wonderful help in the kitchen.

Hannah, I have my hopes, will eventually be a major help as well. She always brings a chair over and stands at the counter, involved in everything possible. If she sees me get out garlic, she finds and brings me the garlic press. She offers to stir and pour. Sometimes she stirs and pours despite my admonitions not to. She is always a willing taste-tester.

She's thrilled when she sees stock simmering on the stove. She eats the carrots wilted by hours of simmering as I let the chicken cool for deboning. That girl can debone a chicken almost as fast as me. She puts the bones in the correct bowl, rightly separating the refuse from the valuable meat. Unfortunately, she believes the place for the good chicken is in her mouth. I have to work quickly to stay ahead of her and not lose too much chicken to her "wages".

Tonight, she was working diligently. Suddenly, she straightened her body and looked intensely at me. She said, "Mom, this chicken is having a homebirth." I was never able to discern what exactly caused her to make that connection but I did laugh. It reminds me she is experiencing a lot of life and learning all the time.

About that time, the soup started to boil and I asked John to stir it and turn it down. He asked what temperature I wanted it. I said if it was high, then to turn it down to medium. He quickly complied, noting, "Yeah, high is to get things hot. Medium is to keep it going. And low is just for amateurs."

Despite my frustrations, I am always glad that I have invited them into the heart of the heart-of-my-home, letting them participate rather than simply witness. They make me laugh and I see them learning. And well, they teach me things as well. Cooking with children in the room heats things up and keeps them going. Cooking by oneself, well, that's for amateurs.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Free for All

We are a family who loves to play games. We have an armoire full of boardgames, cardgames and puzzles in the school room. Tonight, I settled down to play a game with the kids for the first time in what seemed like forever. My first thought when we began playing Yahtzee! Free for All was Why don't I do this more often?


I have a four year old and a nine month old.

Playing board games with them around is less like entertainment and more like character training. Tonight, Hannah deemed herself fit and ready for duty in the vacant seat at the table. I patiently encouraged John that she would only play as long as she could keep herself in line. My other charge was wide-eyed and in full octopus arm mode as she made for those tasty looking dice.

I found myself saying, "Oh, it's my turn again?" Then I held Cote close to my body while I shifted that side from the table and rolled my dice. I examined them to realize I had three sixes and a one and a four. Suddenly, I realized that Cote had snaked her hand around my body and was drooling as she lunged nearly out of my arms in hopes of attaining a forbidden cube.

It was at that moment, Hannah reached over and decided she didn't like the card she'd earned on her last turn and decided to exchange it. I ordered Hannah to stop and threatened her with eviction from the game. I slid the dice a little further from the edge of the table and promptly picked up those three sixes I had and rolled them again. Oh well, at least no one was choking and no one was being throttled.

This scenario played out a few times with minor variations and I remembered why I always say the baby has to nurse at game time and suggest that Theo and the kids get started without me.

John was very patient with the whole situation but I felt vaguely as if he was making the most of it. I know I couldn't possibly have been able to count but it sure seemed like he took more than three rolls a time or two. I think I also noticed a four turn into a five to become a yahtzee. But what do I know, I had bigger fish to fry.

Shortly before her four-year-old attention span led her to forsake our game, Hannah really got into the role. She cupped her five dice gleefully in her tiny hands and shook for all she was worth. As she threw them on the table she blurted, "I'm gonna take my baby to Venice!"

I began to laugh hysterically and wonder what had inspired that outburst. I asked her if she said Venice (just to be sure) and she nodded. She repeated, becoming even more animated, "I'm gonna take my baby to Venice, Son!"

John just smiled patronizingly at me, "Dad said last time, 'I'm gonna take my son to Vegas, baby!'"

I decided he can. I'll stay home and nurse the baby.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Confessions from the Land of Everything is Okay

A few years ago, I had a Sunday school teacher who said during a discussion that we needed to not complain or show sadness or be depressed around non-believers because we need them to see we aren't in the same boat with them. The theory was that they want to come over to our boat.

It seriously rubbed me the wrong way. Immediately, I protested. We are in the same boat! They are looking to see how we deal with it, not pretend that all our worldly troubles go away the moment we accept Christ.

So, that's how deep our faith is? That we must fake who we are and what life is like in order to convince others that following Christ is worthwhile. That sounds more like a Pharisee than Christ to me. Though my spirit screamed NO, and knew it was wrong, my flesh has operated that way most of my Christian walk.

The Bible says that we are to confess our sins one to another. It also says the rain falls on the just and the unjust. We aren't promised that we won't mourn, but that we do not mourn like the world.

Yes, sin is deeply intertwined with our illness. It is a result of the Fall. We live in a sinful world and all struggle and our afflicted by sin and with sin. I don't know if what you are dealing with is the result of specific sin you committed, or your ancestors committed or simply so that God may demonstrate His power, or maybe it IS because you are faithful (Anyone remember Job?) or just because the rain falls where it falls.

Regardless, I can share your burdens. I am in the boat with you. I am both an amazing, wonderful daughter of the King and a miserable wretch of a person. Why is it when we are rescued by Christ's love, we don't turn around and bring our fellow boat riders with us? Is it because we are actually trusting in something other than Christ's redeeming love who takes us where we are and how we are and continues to work on us?

My recent blog entry regarding John's Bipolar got a lot of response from dear friends. Apparently, I've not been living transparently enough. James 5:16 (NIV) says, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

God's Word Translation says "those who have God's approval" in place of righteous. What is righteous? Abraham believed God and it was counted as righteousness. Abraham was granted approval by God and certainly wan't perfect. Maybe we'd have more healing if we had more sick people (people who admit they are sick).

Our deepest relationships are with the people who know us best. They are with the people who see us with bed head and bad breath and love us anyway. We Christians are supposed to be brothers and sisters but no one lets their guard down to get comfortable enough to live together. Only Christ can rescue us from these problems in our lives so lets show our Daddy our boo boos and let him make them better and stop worrying about what the one in line near us might think. Did it occur to you they are in need of His help too?

So I'll follow my sister Jenifer's lead.

I am Holly. I am smart and capable and extremely lazy because of it. I don't have to work as hard as others at many things so I sit back, procrastinate. I'm used to doing things right (or so they appear right) so I avoid doing anything that seems hard to me. I don't want you to know I'm not perfect so you only see me do the things I'm good at or confident about. And I judge people who don't do as well as me. It makes me feel better about my shortcomings. (For a little while.)

I have been miraculously delivered from many emotional issues, physical issues and morbid obesity by an answer to prayer in how to change my diet a few years ago. I lost 80 pounds easily, painlessly as long as I obeyed what I knew to be right. I still struggle with desires and an unwillingness to admit that just a little won't hurt me. When I have a little, I have serious obsessive, compulsive eating problems. I dream about food and will result to lying and sneaking to get what I want when I am in that mode. I've been doing a lot of "just a little bits" lately.

I love my children desperately and am thrilled to be blessed with them and desire God to bless me with more. Sometimes when they don't do what I want, I scream at them and threaten them, use my size and authority, in the hopes they will fear me and comply. It never works well (other than the fearing part). :( Not cool, I want you all to think I'm super mom. My kids already know I'm not but they do love me.

I have been gifted with the ability to write well and I'm afraid to commit to doing it more and working on getting published. I have seen God do amazing things in me and the people around me but have been unwilling to devote daily (weekly even?) time to prayer and Bible reading. I am afraid of all the very serious needs of people around me and what I may have to do to help, so I try not to pay attention. Love my happy little bubble.

I have a wonderful husband with his own flaws and have attended lots of marriage conferences and read books. I think we have a great marriage that will last but must admit I haven't given it much attention. So I've allowed some hurts and miscommunications to get in the way and I've turned apathetic toward my dear one and have chosen to spend more time with just about anything than my husband. Because there have never been problems, we've not devoted time to marriage preservation that we should. We've been married for fifteen years and have become nothing much more than roommates lately.

I'll have you know that the answer to our way of eating came after a period of confession about my eating and my inability to do it on my own. So there you have it. There are some of my flaws that I'd really prefer to keep to myself. Please heal the wounds in my life, Dear God. When I admit these flaws it keeps me from ignoring them. Let me know what to let go of and have the courage to work on the parts that I need to work on. Give me righteous brothers and sisters who can both pray for me and hold my hand, keep me accountable while we ride in this boat together. Make me righteous so that I can return the favor.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What my kid can do that your kid can't

So I posted today on Facebook that I love Fridays because John knows he gets to play video games after school so he gets up and starts working before I even get out of bed. I listened to a webinar yesterday about the lies that homeschooling moms believe. One lie is that no one else has the troubles they have and everyone else's children are further ahead. Facebook can exacerbate the problem when people are posting about their wonderful vacations and children's progress.

I realized very quickly that I tend to post only the good stuff. I'll have you know that our struggles in parenthood and fosterparenthood have been harrowing. I am THRILLED when good stuff happens and I have to share it with someone because I'm so excited. I focus on what's good because that gets me through the day.

Let me give you some history. John spent 8 months in the foster care system before we met him. During that time, one social worker indicated that he was in more than 20 homes though the record states it is less. John has been diagnosed and treated for Reactive Attachment Disorder and Bipolar Disorder.

Despite my hippie biases against pharmaceutical intervention, my boy takes very a powerful atypical antipsychotic and lithium each day. There are side effects both short term and long term that make my head spin but we opted for something that would limit his tendency to unstrap his seat belt and beat me with objects while I am driving. He once covered my eyes while I was driving because I told him he was going to have to eat dinner before dessert. (Which was always the case.) Then there were the two times he tried to get out of a moving car because he was so desperately angry.

I've had the police called because I was restraining him while taking him out of a store to keep him from hurting himself and me. I told him to stop climbing on the furniture in the store or he would need to ride in the grocery cart. Then he tried to pull a glass shelved baker's rack over on top of himself. He's told me before that he wanted to hurt me with a knife and that he wanted to hurt himself with a knife. He was mean to the cat. Simple disappointments or overstimulation would lead to rages that lasted for hours.

I've requested police assistance and he has run and hidden from them. One policeman kindly suggested I might consider medication for him. Yeah, well, the one he was on was being weaned down because he'd been stable and we wanted him on as few medications as possible. The doctors and I now refer to that medication as the "anti-police" drug. We don't need police intervention when he's on it.

And trust me, it isn't a matter of consistency. Theo's grandmother once noted, "Why does he behave like that? Throwing fits? He knows they never give in."

He's had imaginary friends that we eventually realized were visual hallucinations. He had days and weeks at age 5 that involved him rocking, staring out the window and crying all day. He's had times where I've woken up at three in the morning to find him doing experiments involving light bulbs. He once decided to build a ray gun by sticking metal wires into an electrical outlet. And there are other issues I'm very reluctant to talk about in public.

To say there have been dark times would be a grave understatement. There have been prayers upon prayers. I've read so many books on raising boys and overstimulated children and on bonding and attachments and Bipolar. I've literally loaned out enough of those books to other mothers in need that I could be considered a public library. I take what works and move on.

Frequently, what works only works for a while because this isn't behavior related. It is a mood disorder. It isn't based on rationality. Behavioral intervention works when people are actually making decisions. Nearly anything would send him into a panic. Flight or fight isn't really a decision, it's an instinct. We've done bonding activities that have offered some help to calm him down. By the way, there are plenty of books out there about what to do if your child is being bullied but I found nothing about what to do if your child was the bully.

When John wasn't panicking he was a well-behaved and very reasonable child. That's why it was so hard to watch him go through this. I only once experienced that kind of rage where my eyes turned dark and I could feel myself detach from my senses. It was during one of these dark periods of John's severe instability and I had just experienced my first miscarriage. There was no thinking. There was only anger and then there was extreme embarrassment and guilt afterwards. My John used to experience that rage within himself daily.

Medication staved off the worst of the worst of the symptoms but I still had never seen him stable. Then an answer to prayer came when we agreed to change our diets. It wasn't with the idea of helping his Bipolar, it was seriously where we were led by God. Within three weeks we saw him stable for the first time ever. Nevermind that I had asked numerous health professionals about nutrition and they all said, "Well, it won't hurt him but it won't make any difference in his behavior. I'm very pleased to say that they were wrong.

As his moods settled it became evident that some of the struggles John had with learning weren't all related to mood. After great efforts at home (I am a trained special educator, afterall) we finally decided to get some testing. Turns out that John's written expression skills and visual motor coordination are in the .2 percentile. To help you grasp that concept, I'll say that at that time, my 10 year old boy and my 3 year old girl could have drawn pictures and you wouldn't have been able to guess which one was the artist. It was handy in that it reinforced my decisions to have him answer me verbally in most subjects and to eschew cursive handwriting for typing.

But how do I get from the picture I've painted here, to the amazing, confident, well-balanced boy I'm getting to know today? There have been a lot of little helps and strategies and medications and good whole foods that have helped but I'm going to have to answer with a big I. DON'T. KNOW. But recently, I'm starting to have some suspicions.

Despite using myriad phonics programs and my own adapted reading plans and timed fluency exercises, my fifth grader was struggling to read at a second grade level this spring. And we were happy because that was progress. He was two and a half years behind in math. It was hard to get him to write his name more than once a day.

Yet, suddenly, he'll be only a year behind in math by Christmas and he's typing 9 words per minute and starting to write paragraphs on paper. And he's blasted past a fifth grade reading level to being able to comprehend and tackle pretty much any popular fiction on the shelf.

I wasn't sure if he was understanding a book he's been reading this week but he answered all the comprehension questions I could throw at him. I still thought that he might be getting the big concepts but not technically some of the words. Those thoughts were proven false when I started to read a chapter aloud to him last night and he indicated he had read to a certain point by saying, "Start here, Mom, where it says 'He abruptly...'".

Oh.... ABRUPTLY.... nevermind.

Let's not forget he's mostly a cooperative, normal 11-year-old boy. He has his moments which need correction. He still occasionally panics. But I now have a young man who gets up early on Friday to complete his school work as fast as he can, most of it independently. He used to go into hysterics when he just knew we were going to start anything challenging. He does his own laundry and is a huge contributing member of our family. His obsessive compulsiveness is well under control. He's a pleasure to be around. He does spat with his sister.... Oh wait, that's normal! :D

I thank God as I contemplate where John is now. And I remember a few books I read by Raymond Moore which highlighted studies that said boys specifically (it happens earlier in girls) reach some sort of developmental coordination around the age of 10-12. He said you could basically give a child no formal education up to that time and they could easily then catch up to their peers within six months. I nodded my head at the concept and felt pressured to pressure an education on my sick son.

I've done nothing new educationally in the last six months but to keep moving ahead with him at his own pace. But that pace has drastically accelerated. I think he's suddenly developmentally ready. I realize the One who made him, designed him well. It's hard in our society, but we really do need to lovingly and tenderly wait. Through no greatness of our own, our children will become who they are meant to be.

We can't teach them to walk but we can clap our hands when they try. We can pick them up and encourage them when they fall. They grow and learn, we've just got to love them, feed them, and present them with the next challenge. Be gentle on your children and yourself. They are individuals made by God. He put your family together and has equipped you to meet their needs. So let's stop comparing them.