Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Being Brave



This feels like a year of big change. Some changes, like losing dad, aren't all that welcome. But the funny thing about traumatic circumstances is that they ignite a fire within me. I have felt a ton of motivation in the past month, motivation to do. Things I once thought I didn't want or that I couldn't make myself do, I'm now fully immersed in. Things that a few months ago terrified me are now things I really enjoy and look forward to.

The first is photography. Before, I enjoyed it, but didn't really want a business. Nor did I want to invest the time and money in really getting serious about it. But, lately, it's all I can think about. I've actually started studying it, learning all the nuances and terms I thought I'd never understand before. And I'm thinking about making this fun hobby work for me. I don't really think I'm interested in shooting portraits all that much. I'm more interested in getting into stock photography. Of course, it can be a tough scene to break into, because like every other area of photography since the invention of the affordable digital camera, the market is saturated. Plus, the standards are pretty high as far as quality goes. I'm going to have to start shooting in RAW a lot more, which means I'm going to have to get better processing software, which means I'm going to need a better computer...it's a slippery slope. I'm not interested in having a full time job or making $50,000 a year. But if I could make enough to pay for my kids' eventual tuition to a Christian school, I'd be happy. So, for the time being, I'm studying and practicing and working on getting better. Perhaps over the course of the year, I'll be able to upgrade some of my equipment before I really jump in. Photography ain't cheap.

The second is music. The night before dad died, I had a strange burst of creativity, and before I knew it, I'd written a song. I've never completely written a song before. Lyrics I've done, but not music. It was so strange. About a week later, I played it for Seth, and he told me that I had to perform it in church. This was terrifying for me. Singing, no problem. But this involved playing the piano. In public, something which hasn't happened since I had to play Minuet in G during a fifth grade recital and totally bombed the whole thing. But since he was so supportive, I decided to go for it. And I'm so glad I did, because I've heard from a few people whom God has been reaching with the song. That makes all the nervousness and awkwardness worth it. So, now I'm thinking of getting it officially copyrighted, and maybe writing more. This could spur us on to getting started on our youtube videos that we once talked about.

And writing, the third ingredient in my creative trifecta. The changes here are less dramatic and more personal. The thing about my dad was that he wrote. He wrote a lot. He wrote insignificant things and later turned them into significant stories. He journaled, jotted notes, blogged, and updated his facebook status far more than necessary. But now, I feel like we have a vast treasure of everything he wrote, so as we find things, we can laugh and learn from him still. So, while I don't think I can reach the level of writing (and honestly, packratting) that my dad attained, I do want to be more intentional in writing as much as I can. I've started a daily journal. I suck at journaling, so we'll see how long it lasts. Having a nice book and pen does help though. ;)

So, for me, this is the year of being brave, trying new things, and making intentional plans (and doing something to progress those plans!) My deepest goals for these areas are that they be things God can use to reach others. Honestly, I really want that most of all. That motivation is what is giving me boldness, because if it was left up to my natural tendencies, I'd just stay in my introverted hamster ball and not let anybody see the things I hold closest to me. But after memorizing Romans 12 last year, I know that's not what God wants. Our passions are not for private use. They are gifts we are meant to share for God's glory.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Da Benjamins: An Update

We are only months away from being credit card debt free. As in, fewer months than I can count on one hand.

Dudes. DUDES.

I can't even.

Seriously, sentences won't form.

Of course, we're not dancing on the tables yet, because once you've been in the depths of financial misery, you know not to count your freedom until it's actually there, but still. This is a big deal. Five years ago, when we started working with Care One, it seemed like we'd never be this close. And now here we are.

Feels good.

Also, savings account. As in, we actually have one. And it actually has a little money in it. As in, for the past three months, we've only added to it. This is also momentous for us.

And part three, bills. We're actually keeping track of them and not avoiding them now. We're not totally up to speed on all of them, but we are *this close*. Can I just say that it's much easier to keep track of the bills when it doesn't make you cry to face all the bills? Funny how that works.

Soon, we're going to actually be able to chip away at our "normal" debts, like car loans and the mortgage.

Once upon a time, we lived paycheck to....Monday after paycheck. It seemed like there was no hope. It was rough, and the misery we felt then and the lessons we learned are still very fresh in our minds. We don't take anything for granted. We know that hard times can hit at any time. God is in control. Not our bank account.

And we are in no way rollin' in it now. We still have some concerns, and big expenses on the horizon make us a little nervous. But I'm not going to pretend our sky is falling. Because that's happened before, and this is nowhere near that. When you go through fire, you know it's insulting to pretend that a little heat is the same thing.

Sometimes, you can look at your life and feel like the sun will never shine consistently. I've been there, and I promise you, as impossible as it seems, things CAN change. Not easily. Not quickly. Not exactly like you wish they would. But with God, all things are possible.

He is the only one who deserves any credit for this.

Haha, credit. See what I did there?

Weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. The night may last a few years, but it does eventually end.




Sunday, March 23, 2014

Steadfast



"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever." Psalm 118:1

God's love was here before the trial. I could see it tenderly written on the pages of my life. Everywhere I looked, I saw his love. A love that forgave sin and restored relationships. A love that blessed beyond what I deserved. A love that provided a hope and a remedy to my unrighteousness. 

God's love is current. It's here in the midst of the trial, supplying me with strength and peace, and even joy. Because of God's love, I can still smile. I can feel positive about my circumstances. I can shed a tear and laugh aloud in the same breath. I can see all the ways that the trial is good, all the blessings and protections he is supplying even in the midst of life altering change.

And God's love will be here later on, when the wound isn't so fresh and doesn't hurt quite as much. He has planned out each of my days, supplying me with all the tools I need to live in a way that honors him and touches others. There is no reason to dread or be afraid. There is no mountain ahead that he has not already conquered on my behalf. There will never be anything that can trump his love. 

God's love doesn't increase when I'm paying attention or decrease when I'm aloof. God's love does not change as I do. It doesn't flee when the mountain seems too high. It is not a fair weather friend. It doesn't get distracted or lazy or unattentive. It doesn't throw in the towel when I ignore it or even rail against it. It is steady. Unworried. Calm. True. A perfect remedy. 

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." 
Romans 8:38-39

Monday, March 17, 2014

Grief

I wonder when it will start to feel real.

I wonder when we'll stop waking up at 5:00 am.

I had to change my ringtone on my phone, because whenever it rang I was instantly in that moment, being pulled from sleep and hearing mom's shaky voice on the phone.

"It doesn't look good."

As I raced over to your house, I knew it. I just knew that this was the end of your earthly story. I didn't even think to pray that God would spare your life. Isn't that strange? All I could think to pray was God, thank you for my dad.

That morning, death was trying to win. The verse that says "Where, O death, is your sting?" kept running through my mind, and I was thinking, this is the sting right here. Everywhere. I found it. This stings. It felt like the air was thicker, the silences heavier, the thoughts in my head sharper. We just sat there, shocked, realizing all the things that day was going to bring us. Funeral arrangements. Life insurance. Cemetery decisions. How were we supposed to do all that when we couldn't even wrap our minds around the fact that you were gone?

For years, I've been telling myself at every Christmas, every family dinner, every birthday party, every picnic in every park, Enjoy this, because this is the time of your life. And I did. I cherished it. I enjoyed those moments because I knew they wouldn't last forever. But knowing our days were numbered didn't prepare me for how life altering losing you would really be. And now that those days are gone, I am overwhelmed with this sense of what now? Rationally, and because of my faith, I know God heals and we will be happy again at some point. But I also know, my happiness will never quite be the same here on earth.

Sometimes I cry and I feel better. Sometimes I cry and feel worse. I have a spot in the house where I cry--in the middle of the night, so I don't wake my sleeping family. Our family has always been private about weeping, as you know. Sometimes I feel like I won't ever stop crying.

In those moments of bitter weeping, so many painful thoughts occur to me. Like that I just didn't have you long enough. I'm only 31. I don't want to face all the years ahead without you. Or that mom wasn't finished with you. Or that death keeps getting closer and closer to me. The holes in my life keep getting larger. I've always thought I was a pretty tough cookie, but now that I've tasted what grief is really like, I'm really not interested in tasting more of it, and now more than ever I realize I can do absolutely nothing about it. I hate that feeling of being powerless.

We try to pretend that death is natural, but when we come face to face with it, the first reaction is always no.

The truth is, we were never intended for death. God created us with the capacity to live forever. We chose death. Because of sin, we now have to face this grief, this emptiness, this gut wrenching pain that separates us from the ones we love and hold dear. What foolish things we are!

But there is a silver lining to our grief, because we know that God will not hold us to our choice forever. Through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I will see you again someday.

I wonder if I'll know you're my dad. I wonder if we'll still be allowed to tease each other. I wonder if you'll laugh and wink at me and I'll finally feel like the hole in my heart closes up.

I've imagined you holding our lost baby. You know more about this precious little one than I do at this point. That's actually a little comforting.

Yes, death stings right now. Death thinks it's winning. But Christ has already been victorious over it. Christ crushed the power of death when he came storming out of its doors just three days after he'd died himself. Jesus looked at the brokenness that death caused and promised to fix it for us. And he did just that.

Someday, for me and for others who have embraced Christ's victory, death will be history. No more. He promised it in the Bible, and God keeps his promises. Always.

I can't wait till that day. It feels a long way off now, but if I've learned anything in the past week and a half, it's that our lives pass by in an instant. The older we get, the faster time seems to move. I don't like it, not one bit, but there is joy in knowing that when we reach eternity, time will stop. I won't have to focus on cherishing every moment, because there won't be an end to the moments to cherish. There won't be a number to our days. Our joy won't have a shadow of pain.

Till then, I want to live as you lived, as a servant of Jesus, redeeming the time by being a light in this present darkness.

But I'm probably going to have to ugly cry for a long while too. I promise I won't let lies creep in though. I promise that I'll lace my grieving with truth from Scripture and with prayer. I won't be bitter. I'm not interested in being bitter or depressed for the rest of my life. As the grief grows in my life, so shall the truth. It won't defeat me. I promise you.

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!






Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Portrait of Loss

One week ago, I lost my dad.

Well, one week ago tomorrow morning at roughly 5:00 am, to be more precise.

Words swirl around in my mind, but they refuse to be typed. Maybe that will come with time, but for now, everything's a little too raw.

For now, this will suffice.

The night after it happened, I had a weird dream where my sisters and I were in our childhood home, which was on fire, and we were trying to salvage things that we wanted to pass on to our children.

When I awoke, all I could think about was taking pictures.

So, even though it was weird, I starting shooting. I shot all the things that seemed to pull me to them, all the things that expressed in their simplicity the emptiness and shock I felt inside. His suits in his closet. His empty office. His bulletin board decorated with pictures from his grandkids. I shot them all. I shot them and then I ignored them, because I couldn't handle looking at them. But tonight, I forced myself to confront them. I both love and hate these photos.

They're far from technically perfect. It's hard to focus correctly through tears, and they don't match the pictures I had in my head, but they are something. They are a way of honoring our loss. Even Seth shot a few.

I guess this is how photographers express grief, and if that's the case, dad would probably totally get it.




















Monday, March 3, 2014

Nope: An Update

It may not always be pretty, but the point of this blog is for me to hash stuff out and learn. 90% of the time, I edit my struggles or don't write my feelings with exact precision. But sometimes, it just has to come out. And I know my four or so readers understand that and give me grace.

Over the weekend, a lot of Awana discussions transpired, not because of my blog so much as a frustrated comment I left on Facebook. I got in contact with a nice lady who works with Awana and shared with her my concerns with the wording in the T&T book and how it makes kids with disabilities even more confused. She told me about the reasoning behind the weird questions, and she didn't say that those specific things would be changed, but she did say that an update for T&T was in the works, and that they hoped to give churches more options in choosing their materials. So that's hopeful. I talked with many wonderful leaders in our Awana program and we set up a plan to finish out the year. I doubt we'll finish the book, but at least we can be a little less stressed about it. And five people--no, wait, six now--expressed that they have had the same discouragements when it comes to the Awana program. So, I was glad to take the proverbial bullet for the kids who have struggled with feeling like they will never be good Christians because they can't memorize like their peers.

There were also a lot of people who came out in defense of Awana, which I get. They are entitled to their opinions as much as I am. And to be honest, until I had Thing One, I would have never given a program like this a second thought, or if I did have funny feelings about it, they'd never come to the surface. I've been warned not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, that just because our family has had problems with Awana doesn't mean the whole program is bad.

I get it, really, I do. And I know these people have good hearts and intentions.

I don't believe in  making everything easy for Thing One just because he's dyslexic. On the other hand, for nine years, I made everything impossibly hard for him by treating him like any other kid and not speaking in his language. So now I'm in the tricky place of having to make intentional decisions about every piece of curriculum that comes through this house. I have seen him blossom in math simply because we switched to a curriculum that he can understand. His understanding of science is exploding because we're doing hands on things instead of just reading a book. Bible, History, Geography, it's all starting to click for him.  He still has to work, but he's learning, and it's amazing and refreshing. We're still considering language and spelling programs for him, simply because the ones geared for dyslexics are very expensive and we don't want to waste thousands of dollars on something that won't work for us.

I feel like before it was like we were giving him all of his learning in Latin. Imagine trying to do that--you might recognize a few words here and there, but there's no way you can get ahead that way. Now, his learning is in his language, and he's very bright and enthusiastic about it now.

So, the problem with Awana is, it's not in his language. And about half the population is in the same boat with him.

So, while I can understand that a lot of people love the Awana program, I think I'm to the point where I can't defend it, because, at its essence, Awana is competitive verse learning. That may be fine for some people, but I've noticed that for kids who don't learn the "mainstream" way, things like this really have a strong effect on their self-worth. It's quite easy for a struggling kid to say I can't read well. I can't memorize well. I won't ever be useful for Christ. Maybe I'm not really a Christian because if I was, this would be working. And on the flip side of that, I was the kid who could memorize well in the short term, but until I was an adult, verse memorization felt more like a mindless task than something that changed me.

Anyway, I'm sure you're as sick of hearing about Awana as I am. I guess my main point in all of this is just to stress that programs can be a catalyst for growth for some, but they can also be a stumbling block for others. A program can never be the answer for everyone, and we need to be on the look out for "the least of these" that might end up being hurt more than helped.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Nope.

Picture me sitting here, tears rolling down my cheeks, a tattered AWANA book beside me, and a pile of stuffed animals on my lap.

The stuffed animals were my two year old's response to the tears.

The tears were my response to the AWANA book.

Or more specifically, my response to other people's responses to my response to the AWANA book.

Didja get all that?

There was a time when I was only mildly wary of AWANA. (Sidenote, I'm gonna just call it Awana from here on out, because all that capitalizing is getting tedious.) Back when Thing One was an adorable little Sparkie, I bought him a book and a vest with absolutely no idea what it all entailed. It was like a foreign language or a secret club. To be honest, it wasn't that I was particularly interested in getting him into Awana. That's just what you do with your kids in our church. They hit kindergarten, you enter them in Awana. I didn't think it through. I didn't really investigate it at all. Just did it.

And during Sparks, it was relatively fine. Granted, I constantly felt like I had no idea what was going on. What's the Grand Prix? What's a share? Where did that stupid badge go that fell off the vest again? Why is he coming home with so much candy?

Oh well, doesn't matter. He's learning verses and having a good time. Look how cute he is with his ribbons. Oh, and he gets a plaque for finishing Sparks, That's adorable. Yay!

Enter T&T.

Enter problems.

All of the sudden, he's having to say at least two sections a week to keep up. Not just two verses, two sections filled with these questions and answers that leave me scratching my head. The way they are written is not intuitive, not fluid, not even grammatically correct half the time. But he's got to say them just so to get credit.

Maybe this would be fine if we had an hour every day to devote to a church club. But that's not realistic. We have a laundry list of other subjects (including our Bible curriculum) to tackle each day. I don't have time to hash out each section with him. There will be no flow charts, crafts, or graphs devoted to Awana in our schooling. There just isn't time. (Besides, isn't this what I'm paying Awana to do?) This does not mean Scripture is not a priority in this house. Far from it. It just means that in the list of Bible learning tools we have, Awana ranks pretty low.

And on the other hand, if everyone treated Awana like what it is (a church club for kids), it probably would be no big deal for him. Awana has been elevated to the gold standard in outreach programs for churches, so it's up on this serious pedestal that we're not allowed to disagree with.  Awana has the essense of performance based legalism, at least around here. If you love Jesus, you finish your Awana books. If you're having trouble, the struggle lies in  your heart, not the program. That is far too much pressure for kids who already struggle with reading and memorizing. Is it any wonder that kids with dyslexia so often have such horrible self-worth and struggle with the idea that God loves them and gives them grace?

It would also not be an issue if he didn't have learning disabilities. To be honest, and I know this from conversations with other parents, if he could do it on his own, I'd never even see the book except on the rare occasions I'd have to sign something. I have a feeling if more parents read through the book, these wording issues and problems would jump out at them and they'd see what I'm talking about. But until you have a kid who struggles each week, you probably wouldn't understand the depth of my frustration and hurt.

If anything, I feel like Awana is hindering my son's growth and understanding of the Word.

So, in essence, I'm paying money every year for stress, tears, and to confuse my son about the Bible. Awesome.

But heaven help me if I utter a word against this holy program. In our church, Awana is basically infallible. I'm going to go ahead and say it: it's an idol. It makes us feel like we're getting a gold star for teaching kids verses and reaching out to the community.

And if your child has a clear understanding of Scripture and no trouble memorizing random lists and verses, you'll probably love Awana.

And if your child is unchurched and has no grasp of Scripture, don't you worry. Your child will receive extra attention and Gospel sharing.

But if your child has a good understanding of Scripture, but can't memorize, good luck. He will surely fall through the cracks of the system. Most people won't say it out loud, but your level of spirituality will be judged. It won't be the program that needs to change.

I used to be one of those people. Makes me want to vomit now.

There are some bright spots, such as Thing One's leader this year. He is gentle, understanding, patient and good natured. He understands learning disabilities and gives grace. I thank God for him. There are many, many other leaders who have made Awana a good experience for my kids, despite the inherent problems with the material and the set up.

But not even wonderful people can make this a good fit for our family. I would have quit long ago if Thing One didn't love seeing his friends every week. I'm sure I was a part of a few things in youth that I loved and my parents hated. But now I feel like we're dancing on a line where we may have to pull rank and make the decision to remove them even if they really like it.

Because if people think I'm wrong when I disagree with what I see, even though I can rationally show why I disagree and point to specific things, how much worse will it be for Thing One when he doesn't feel right, but can't explain why? I don't want his standard of value to be finishing Awana books or getting trophies or knowing the answers to a million quizzing questions. This isn't a sport where he needs to learn to lose. This is God's Word. How we present it will teach him how to respond to God. We absolutely should be thinking critically and making long term decisions about stuff like this, not just leaving it up to our churches or a program to think for us.

I'm really beginning to think that being a follower here is just not worth the price.