Can there be hope for the hopeless? (pt 1)

*Warning: This post is a reflection on a war memoir. The book is painful, tragic, and graphic to read. Though I do not relay the graphic horrors, there is the natural horror of war.

From the time I was young, I have (rightly so) been sensitive to the tellings of genocide. At the age of 21, I had the incredible opportunity to be in Anne Frank’s Haus in Amsterdam. I was unsettled and jittery for more than a week after, with nightmares.

Walking through a simple street memorial can send me into a day of introspection—a day of being no good company whatsoever. I often feel as though I am unusual. It’s not that I have insensitive or brutish friends. They just don’t seem as affected an hour or two after visiting such a place. Everyone processes events and sorrow in different ways, this I know. Maybe I don’t seem affected either. All I know is that when I am faced with a tangible memorial of war, I feel isolated.

This is why I avoid novelizations of the Holocaust or really of any war. Visiting museums or memorials are bad enough. So, why, you ask would I pick up such a book as this memoir from Cambodia’s Killing Fields?

This is the reason.

“The cost of war is a lifelong legacy borne by children. And I know this: As a survivor, I want to be worthy of the suffering that I endured as a child.  I don’t want to let that pain count for nothing, nor do I want others to endure it. This may be our greatest test: to recognize the weight of war on children.” P20-21

Reading helps me feel as though the suffering has not been in vain. I don’t generally bear heavy guilt from being born in a wealthy, often dominant, country. Why? I believe that guilt doesn’t motivate action…it often prevents change. Lingering in guilt is useless in the scheme of change. I have seen guilt debilitate friends to inaction, which then cultivates more guilt. That’s not to say that guilt doesn’t have its place, yet it is to merely expose our sin to us. We must move beyond it to change and walk away from that sin.

I don’t even truly feel as though I am alleviating pain by reading of that which belongs to another. Yet, I know that the telling is important. More important than my own comfort.

But to choose to read this, I cannot linger. For the sake of my family, I must read quickly—like ripping a Bandaid off a wound. The pain is intense, but for me, it will fade away. I may be changed; I pray I may be changed. But the horrors will still fade, for these are not my own living memories.

“The Khmer Rouge know how to strike deeply. The head is the most sacred part of the body to a Cambodian. To be struck in the head, even to have a younger person or enemy touch your head, is enormously insulting. And yet our captors seem indifferent to our lives before this moment. There is only the history of the here and now.” P 100

Can I possibly relate to having everything in my life rearranged or destroyed?

In Chanrithy Him’s firsthand account, the oppression deepens as the book wears on and comfort and custom are stripped away. The Khmer Rouge tries to take away language and dignity, as eventually, there is nothing left. The most difficult part for me to push through was the death of the author’s 3 year old brother—who died of dysentery and dehydration. So curable. So senseless. (And so, so painful for this mama of three little ones.) As this young boy dies without his mother who is too ill to go to the hospital to hold him, the horror of war swept over my whole body, my consciousness in waves. It is true, these innocent children—too young to understand why Mak* cannot visit—hold them—they are the casualties of greed, selfishness, and lies that men and women rationalize as a necessary evil to rid the world of “gross inequality” (in this case). The Khmer Rouge railed against class and custom, destroying even themselves in the process.

Is there hope? Hope for a people who were treated as chattel by their own countrymen? Left by the world to die?

*Mother

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On Becoming Stained Glass

I’ve been contemplating stained glass of late. A community arts school near me offers classes in stained glass, and I would so love to take one. I will, too. Eventually.

But thinking of it reminds me of college. Of a time when I tried to explain to a friend a transformation that had taken place within me.

I went to college with my dreams like an intact pane of glass. I had my thoughts about my future, and I was certain that God would bless them. They were godly plans…self-sacrificing plans. They were intense and passionate, but they were conceived by yours truly. I didn’t even consult with God, less not ask for guidance. One by one, He stripped away the things that I had dreamed for myself. And in doing so, He shattered that pane into a thousand pieces. It was painful.

But He didn’t leave me there. He gave me color. He gave me shape. And He put me back together, not in a monochromatic pane of glass, but in a design of His making. This design is much more interesting than anything that I could have dreamed on my own.

I was reflecting again on this recently. I was thinking about the spotlights that we shine through stained glass (for, it is only when the light shines through the glass that we see beauty). I was thinking about how I try to shine a spotlight through my glass, when it’s the sunlight that truly makes the glass sparkle the way the artist intended. If you’ll forgive my cheesy pun, I’d like to suggest that it is only the Sonlight that can make us truly shine as we were intended. Our own spotlights just blind us or make the light that shines from us harsh and artificial.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anything about me to be artificial. I want my life to be lit up by the light of the only One who shines brightly enough to chase away the shadows.

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Remembering

The crickets sing right outside my bedroom. My place in the bed is right below a poorly sealed window, which, this winter, I’m sure will be wretched, but now provides a delightful time warp.

First, I’m eleven, kicking off my pink sheets and drowning out the crickets with the country music my mother hated. I still remember belting out Black Velvet [in my best stage whisper] while I was supposed to be asleep.

Memories are fascinating to me. Some memories, memories made with multiple senses seem indelible. I hear those crickets, and I can almost smell the bug spray and hear the crackle of the campfire. I can feel the cold cement making its bumpy imprint on my legs. And I am fourteen—at summer camp, sitting around the campfire waiting for someone to start another chorus. I am fourteen, on the brink of commitment.

Some would certainly have said that I was too young. Too idealistic. Too naïve. Too emotional. I say it was Grace. And one is never too young for Grace.

Remembering is important. Remembering is what brought me to the brink of decision in the first place. Remembering a time when the hand of God intervened.

At two, I stumbled into a massive head injury. An injury that the doctors said I would never wake from without surgery. Surgery that seemed impossible to arrange. The weather, my location, time—they were all multiplying the odds against my survival. I have a secret though. Other than the removal of an ingrown toenail (a whole other painful and not terribly interesting story), I have never had surgery.

I’ve never known why there was divine intervention that day. But it changed my life. First of all, of course, I actually have a life. But, I think, most remarkable for me, is that until that night at the fire, as my father told his side of the story of that night when I was two, I didn’t realize that I was in a coma through that whole ordeal. I REMEMBER it.

I remember all the inane comments my family made to try to get a response from me. I remember wanting my blankie, and I remember a frantically whispered conversation about cutting off its bloodied edges. I remember being clutched in my mother’s arms while she called for an ambulance that wouldn’t come. I remember the smell of the hospital. I remember my annoyance with the EMTs who pestered me with questions while I was transferred to another hospital (though that was after I “woke up”).

I remembered, and my heart was stirred. And I have remembered, but I have never looked back.

There is a difference, you know. Because life is not about “what ifs”, but about “what nows.” Because this has happened, I can now be who I was meant to be. Sometimes the past needs to be remembered so that we can move forward.

What do you need to remember?

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Counting my Blessings

It’s late. I’m ready to stumble off to bed. I’ve just spent hours relishing the stillness of my house. I feel refreshed in spite of my exhaustion. I know I will pay for it tomorrow, but somehow, a late night here and there makes me a saner person.

As I’m about to collapse in bed (gently, of course—I don’t want to wake Little Miss Mischief or Mr. C), I remember. I drag myself up and down the hall, across the house—wishing I could forget just once. But I know that if I do, I will have laundry and cranky kids tomorrow.

In this moment, this moment of remembering, I loathe this task of motherhood.

One by one, I lift my sons and carry them to the bathroom, giving them one last opportunity to relieve themselves for the night. They are so young, so young that this step is a necessary one for a successful night’s sleep—for everyone.

My Little Explorer has recently grown, and I can barely lift him. But I know that if I make him walk, he will wake up too much to fall back asleep. So I lift him, clumsily, awkwardly shifting his still unfamiliar bulk, and he wraps his arms around my neck. Trusting me. Loving me. In his sleep.

I walk away to my bed. Humbled by grace. Grace that allows those sweet unconscious hugs.  No longer am I seething with feelings of injustice, but now bathed in the blessings of motherhood.

Learning, always learning, that sometimes the most difficult or unpleasant tasks are the most rewarding.

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My Baker’s Dozen

It’s been weeks since I asked you what you are reading. In those weeks, we’ve had upheaval in our home. But I’m still reading.

I love to read fiction, and I’ve read some really great books in the last year or so. From kid lit to classics to the Christian market to Oprah’s book club to serial crime novels, I’ve travelled the globe in books.

But I think I’m missing out. Somehow, without meaning to, I seem to have fallen in to a black hole of fiction. So I really need to balance things out a bit.

I read books like I clean my house. I start in the living room just picking up the floor, then I get bored, and before I finish in the living room, I move on to the kitchen sink. Then I find something on the counter that belongs in the boys’ room, so I deliver it, but can’t help getting sucked into cleaning out the closet. It’s not terribly efficient or effective, and I don’t recommend it as a house-cleaning strategy. But it works for me when I’m reading books. As long as I remember to go back and finish the first book!

Some of these books on this list have been on my shelf for months, or even years, and some are recent finds. The trick was narrowing it down, and there was one requirement: it had to be non-fiction. The list is a little heavy on the topic of homemaking, but that is our family’s big struggle right now. I’m already deep into several of these, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts on how they interact with my vision to live a great commission life.  But first, I just want to write out the list. Having started and stopped several of these in the past, I know I need to write it out as a goal to READ them because I do want to finish all of them.

1)      One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp: I really can’t say enough about this book. Mr. C and I are reading it as a couple, and we have given several copies away. There is a video trailer when you follow this link that is just exquisite. I follow Ann’s blog, and it has really inspired our family. She has a gift.

2)      Organized Simplicity by Tsh Oxenreider: This book really changed our thinking about our stuff. I can’t wait to write more about it!

3)      As We Forgive by Catherine Claire Larson: This book has been on my shelf for a couple of years. Is there any good in making ourselves read something that makes us cry? Yes.

4)      When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him: Since reading the book Killing Fields, Living Fields in seminary, I have been taken by the strength of the Cambodian people. Another hard one to read, but I am interested to read a more personal account.

5)      Radical by David Platt: I need a little radical in my life.

6)      Dwelling by Mary Beth Lagerborg: This was the book my MOPS group studied several years ago. I missed most of the sessions, but I wish to pick up the book again.

7)      For the Beauty of the Earth by Steven Bouma-Prediger: A theology of Creation-care, a timely topic. Well, that, and the title usually makes me break out in song.

8)      Deep-Rooted in Christ by Joshua Choonmin Kang.

9)      The Mission-Minded Family by Ann Dunagan: If there were a phrase that Mr. C and I wish for our family, it would be the title of this book.

10)   Same Kind of Different as Me by Denver Moore.

11)   The Hidden Art of Homemaking by Edith Schaeffer: Gifted to me by a friend several years ago, it has been on my must read list for a long time. It’s finally time. If ever there were a family that practiced radical hospitality, it was the Schaeffers.

12)   Keeping House by Margaret Kim Peterson: a theology of homemaking. Gosh, I need a philosophy of keeping house that will give me a reason for making it a priority. This is not just another organization book.

13)   Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv: This book has led me to search out a nature curriculum for our home school, and I haven’t even finished it yet! Fascinating read with compelling arguments.

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No, Really, We Turned It Off

Last week, I read a really great post at this mama’s blog. It was pretty convicting. I am usually a pretty decent monitor of how much TV the boys watch, but lately I’ve been busy. Really busy. The kind of busy where it’s really convenient to let them watch full-length feature films back-to-back or over and over. My Little Explorer is pretty good about walking away and doing something else after a little while. But with The Escape Artist, once his gaze is fixed, it’s not going ANYWHERE.

I started relying on the TV when #2 was a bun in the oven. I. Was. So. Tired. And really it didn’t seem like a big deal.

Once the baby was born, I was still tired. And we had cable. And though we no longer subscribe to cable, the TV has remained as a babysitter for a good chunk of most days. It goes through cycles of reliance, of course, but it’s always been there.

In theory, I’m of a “little or no TV” parenting philosophy. It’s not that I think Sid the Science Kid is the anti-Christ or anything, I just think that kids should be actively using their hands to learn, not just their brains. But in practice, it has been difficult for me to act on my convictions.

Lately, I’ve been noticing that our kids are cranky and tired and having trouble falling asleep. Could it be the extra TV? I thought through their diet, their sleep patterns, their access to outdoor play, their busyness. It all seems about the same. It all could use some tweeking, of course.

But Mr. C and I have turned off the TV in the evenings, and it has been really…peaceful. I’ve been sleeping better, I’ve been more relaxed, even during a stressful time.

So I decided to turn off the TV for the kids too.  I decided that we would not watch as part of our daily routine, but that we will allow occasional movies or shows for family viewing (or family movie nights). Last Monday was the day that when our little Escape Artist (usually the first out of bed) woke up and asked for Toy Story, I said “not right now” and ushered him to the table for breakfast. I thought there would be tantrums, but there weren’t.

So each time they asked for a DVD, I redirected them. They stopped asking. And they have been playing beautifully together. I thought that they would need more direction from me, more often. That hasn’t really been the case. They touch base, they play near me, they talk to me. For the most part, I am still getting the same amount accomplished after turning off the TV as I did when I relied on it to occupy them.

And, yes, they are falling asleep more easily and even growing in their ability to follow direction.

It was a good move for us.

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We Turned It Off

The TV, I mean.

Due to a busy season, we decided to suspend our Netflix.

Last Fall, Mr. C and I tried to take a break from TV. We live in a rural place, and we cannot get even PBS at our house (this also might have to do with the fact that the antennae on the top of our house has fallen down, and the landlord has not repaired it).  So we Netflix. We have series that we like, and we don’t mind being a season behind. But there are usually four episodes on a disc. It’s a much larger time commitment than a movie. We noticed how much time it had begun taking up in our lives. We weren’t really talking to each other much in the evening, we were no longer playing games together, and we were no longer investing time into our hobbies. We sunk into the habit out of pure exhaustion. Little Miss Mischief had just been born, and it was all we could do to hold our heads up by 7:30. We would be singing the boys’ lullabies with lolling heads.

But we knew that we wanted our lives to be different, so we decided that we would watch movies, but not subscribe to our regular TV shows for a period of 90 days. We downgraded our “plan” from 4 DVD’s at a time to 2 at a time. But we watched way more movies than before, and decided that 60 days was enough time without our TV shows. At least we didn’t bump our plan back up.

Obviously, that plan did not have its desired effect.

This time, we have fully suspended our account out of necessity. And we have been surprised at how we don’t even miss it! It’s been almost three weeks, and we haven’t even watched one of our own movies. The kids are a different story, of course. More about that here.

We are amazed at how much we are accomplishing and how much more rest we are getting. We don’t know what we will do once this 90 days is up. Maybe we’ll start it back up again, maybe we’ll cancel it. But either way, our lives will look different.

And this is what we need right now.

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Making Deliberate Choices

de·lib·er·ate (from dictionary.com)

[adj. dih-lib-er-it; v. dih-lib-uh-reyt], verb, -at·ed, -at·ing.

–adjective

1. carefully weighed or considered; studied; intentional: a deliberate lie.

2. characterized by deliberation;  careful or slow in deciding: a deliberate decision.

3. leisurely and steady in movement or action; slow and even; unhurried: a deliberate step.

I’ve known that I wanted to homeschool my kids since I was homeschooled in high school. I wasn’t sure if I would ever have kids of my own, but I wanted to homeschool them if I did.  That said, it was tempting for me, three years ago when Mr. C and I started talking about schooling choices, to say that we are a homeschooling family and leave it at that.

But, from my own family’s experience, I knew that there would be community, family and stranger disapproval of our choice. So I knew that if we are going to do this, we needed to be sure about WHY we wanted to do it.  What we discovered surprised us. We have a lot of really good reasons for homeschooling. And weirdly, the ones that we each hold dear are not the same reasons.

I think that my kids could get an ok education in most schools. I think my kids would LIKE school. I’m not really freaked out about their safety in school (most of the time). I don’t think that every family should homeschool, and I think that public school is a great choice for many families.  I don’t believe that I have superior intellectual prowess or that my children are prodigies.

So what it boils down to for me is RELATIONSHIP.

Our relationships as parents to our children,  our children’s relationships to each other, our children’s relationships to the world, but most of all, their relationship to Christ. And I ask myself regularly how I can nurture these relationships and make them HEALTHY and STRONG.

And what it boils down to for Mr. C is FAITH.

Knowing exactly what our children are taught and being confident that they are learning from a worldview that is of our family’s vantage point on the world. Being able to discuss everything from our perspective and teaching them WHY it is our perspective.

I have a lot of other practical reasons, too. Our kids (as a nation) are spending too much time at a desk being taught a test. Recess is being cut out, classroom sizes are getting bigger, and 5 year olds have homework. When do they get to be kids?? Where we live now, Our Little Explorer would get on the bus at ten minutes to seven and disembark at ten minutes after four.

Not only do kids have less time to be kids, but parents have less time to be parents. So who is raising our children? If my choices are that I teach my kids “everything” or I have someone else teach them “everything”, I choose me. And our government has granted us the right to choose to home educate our children.

How does my little rant fit into my life goal to live a Great Commission life 365 days a year? We have chosen a literature-based curriculum that teaches about missions, about world cultures, and most of all about people. We desire to teach our children to be world Christians, and we believe that home educating them is the best way to accomplish that goal FOR OUR FAMILY.

Studies have shown that children who have developed close, open and healthy relationships with their parents BEFORE the age of ten weather the stormy seas of adolescence better than those who have not.  We know that home educating our children does not guarantee this relationship. It’s all WORK. But it gives us more opportunities to nurture it.

And we feel that this is even more important as a family in ministry. Our children will experience more criticism, more scrutiny and more misbehavior from people. This has already happened to us, thankfully, so far, this has not affected our children directly. We wish to make sure that we have a strong family unit to support each other when crisis comes.

Is it possible that we will send them to school when they get older? Absolutely. We will evaluate each year to make sure that we are reaching our goals, and to see if another setting might aid us in reaching those goals.

This is a decision to which we have “carefully weighed or considered; studied”. And we are open to questions and thoughts. But only constructive ones. Please make sure that you have deliberated too!

*Disclaimer: This blog will not be a place where I regularly talk about our homeschooling journey. I merely wish to express one way in which our family is seeking to live a great commission lifestyle. I am not advocating that this family lifestyle would have been right or is right for your family. And further posts that mention this aspect of our lives will relate directly to this blog’s mission.

**Oh yeah, and because this is mostly rant, I did not link to and studies or statistics, but if you want help finding them, I’ll be happy to point you in the right direction!

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Right or Left?

It was simple. We had something that we thought someone else needed. We didn’t need it anymore, so we thought they should have it. We loaded up the car—well, both cars, really—and set out (all three babes in the van). Mr. C really thought he knew where we were going (he’d been there before), but, of course, I thought I knew better (but I’d never been there before).

You can see where this is headed, right? LOST.

We set out to do this good deed, and we wanted it to be private. You know “Let not your right hand know what the left is doing”? But it turned out we didn’t know our right from our left. And we had to call half a dozen people to get it straightened out, who called more people. So that in the end, not only did the right hand find out, so did the right and left feet, and the ears and eyes…

When we finally reached our destination—miraculously without too many potty emergencies from the peanut gallery or milk cravings from the nursling—I was so distracted by my own stuff, I almost didn’t pause long enough to remember why we thought this was a necessary trip.

I almost didn’t take the time to stare poverty in the face. As we pull up, I hear a little voice from the way back. “Mommy, why are they the Christmas family?” Long pause, as he takes in their single wide. “Oh, I know why!!” I’m staring at the muddy yard where children play, the rusty siding, the general unkemptness of a house that harbors little hope within its walls. And I sigh. “Why is that, Son?” “It’s because they keep their Christmas lights up all year long!!” Sure enough, there were lights strung along the edges of the trailer. I saw need, but he saw only what they had.

My boys played happily in the yard with the toys they found (mostly broken) while some of us unloaded the cars. Our kids didn’t analyze what was there or what was missing. They asked obvious questions, and they took the answers at face value.  They had no compassion beyond what they exhibit to everyone. They treated the family with kindness and deference, as much as they do everyone they meet.

A father, mother and two little girls. One just a baby. A daddy whose body has been broken by war and work, and a mama who works her part-time, minimum wage job to put food on the table.

But by the grace of God do we, any of us, live and move and have our being.

That day, we unloaded nearly a full load of firewood onto a gigantic pile of wood that had been delivered by an angel of mercy earlier that week. It was a balmy spring day, and our own “errand of mercy” seemed more of an errand of redundancy. A superfluous gesture. Compounded with the fact that we embarked on our journey with little to no idea where to go and we ended up advertising something very private to the whole community, it could have seemed like our venture was an epic fail. And it did for a little bit.

But I needed to take my head out of the sand, and realize that it just isn’t about me. It never was. My own issues with how the gesture was executed or my limited scope of perception of its need were in the way.

It was simple. God told us that we had something someone else could use. God said go. So we did.

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Put Down the Bloomers

I’ve been distracted. Fixated.

This is my daughter’s first Easter, and I want to make her Easter dress. I wanted to make the boys matching neckties, too. A dress. A bonnet. Ties. And Bloomers. The dress is [mostly] done, she wore the sweet little bonnet to an egg hunt today, the neckties have long since been thrown out the window, but these little bloomers will be the death of me. The pattern is so cute. Five rows of curved tiny ruffles. And my sewing machine has been giving me fits. First, I sewed ALL of the ruffles on the front, rather than the back of the bloomers. So I reshaped the front and cut a new one. My bobbin thread keeps tangling, my casings are uneven and have gaps. I have ripped and stitched, ripped and stitched.

I. Just. Can’t. Get. It.

As I am venting in non-verbal (ok, some <ahem> verbal) ways while my daughter is crying on the floor beside me, begging me to put her to bed at 10 pm, I realized something. Somewhere between frustration and ignoring my family, I forgot. Forgot WHY I celebrate Easter. The Easter Bunny didn’t have to get in my way. I did it all on my own. Easter became about THE DRESS not about the ONE.

I am redirecting my attention where it SHOULD be. I am putting down the bloomers and walking away. She will still be my sweet daughter without them.

And Jesus will still be the Savior of the world.

It is Saturday, Easter Eve. Symbolically, the darkest day in eternity for the followers of Christ. They were…

Heartbroken.

Terrified.

Devastated.

Hiding.

I believe that though I celebrate it symbolically today, it is only meaningful because it really happened. What a glorious day it was when Jesus “made the sad things untrue”! When he made the saddest day a preamble to the most joyful day!

Praise the Lord! He is risen!

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