Saturday, September 01, 2007

Fear, Love, and Trust

I remember asking in Sunday School and adult Bible class and even in college theology classes about that word fear. I asked a gazillion times. I was never satisfied with the answer.

The popular answer in the last few decades is that it doesn't reeeeally mean "fear." It means "reverant awe." I bought that for a while. But I don't any more.

After several years of regularly going to private confession, I suddenly realized that I fear my pastor. But I love him. And I trust him. HOW can you be afraid [and I mean shaking-in-your-boots, knees-knocking, palm-sweating afraid] of someone that you love so deeply and trust so thoroughly? It doesn't make sense. But I know from experience now what it is to "fear, love, and trust."

So yesterday, we be readin' some history. The section we were on was the death of King Charles of Sweden, and his final advice to Gustav Adolph. One of the sentences was "Fear God."

So Maggie asks, "Fear God???? Why would he tell his son to fear God? That sounds like you should be afraid of Him."

So the mother says, "Well, .... uh, .... yeah. What's the problem with that?"

So the child says, "But God loves us. Why would you tell anyone to be afraid of God?"

And the mother, feeling totally hopeless, feeling like all has been futile, and wondering if the child has ever listened to the words coming out of her own mouth, responds, "You shall have no other gods. What does this mean?"

And child says, "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things."

Mommy says, "We should do WHAT? Why would you tell someone to fear God?"

Hey! What's going on here?

So the ever-helpful teenager assists his little sister. "Well, Maggie! Aren't you afraid of Mom sometimes?!?"

Hmmmmm. It's one thing to realize you yourself fear your beloved pastor. It's another thing altogether to realize your children are discussing that you are the fearsome one.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Slave to the To-Do List

I make lists. I must. I have no memory. I remember a friend telling me once that list-making wasn't good. If it was important, you'd remember it. For example, you remember to make dinner every day without its being on the list. (Actually, I've gotten so busy and so forgetful these days, that I do have to put "dinner" on the to-do list.) She didn't make grocery lists either; if it was important, she'd remember to buy it. And if she forgot, and if it was important enough to need, she'd just go back to the store. That's definitely easier for someone to say when she lives 2 minutes from a variety of stores. For me, running to town to pick up what I forgot will cost me two hours and $7 in gas.

Tena has been writing about her new venture of homeschooling -- the days that go well and the days that make you want to pull your hair out and run screaming to the airport to escape to a new (and lonely) life in the Bahamas. Life has interfered with her well-laid homeschooling plans, but she's dealing with it, and putting the priorities where they belong (such as the new roof on the house).

Why can't I do that any more?

I used to know that the learning that happened with LIFE was more important than the schoolbooks. I simply couldn't comprehend the idea of people turning down an opportunity for a really cool fieldtrip because they had seatwork to accomplish with the kids. I couldn't understand how real-life learning could be supplanted by the all-important textbook.

But now I'm falling into that trap.

"Help me! I've fallen, and I can't get up!"

We have taken to making to-do lists for school. One child will keep up with his work quite well, as long as I've got a detailed check-list for him to follow. Another child will keep plugging away at his master-list for high-school requirements, trying to get finished in a timely way so as to get on to the next step in life. The youngest child loves to check things off her list ... even if she's not exactly doing the things on the list. If certain students need micro-managing, I don't have the energy to keep straight all the micro-managing swirling around in my brain and coming out my voice. Some of the micro-managing must be relegated to The List.

But then that list has power. Too much power. A power that I don't approve of, and yet am enslaved to, somehow.

I spent over 6 hours driving on Wednesday. Today will be nearly 6 hours by the time I crash into bed tonight. There are problems with the septic, so yesterday was spent trying to identify the problem, and today was dealing with repairmen. Philip has been getting "lessons" in vehicle shopping. Today the purchase was made, and he got lessons in sizable business transactions and then doing what must be done to appease the government and give them their cut. One little girl garnered herself the biggest punishment she ever had in her short life. Then there's laundry and cooking and bread-baking and job. (Forget the cleaning.)

And still,
all the while,
The List sits there with its silent demands
that math be done
and history be discussed
and physics be studied
and currents events be read
and so forth and so on.

On the one hand, buying Philip's car and fixing the septic is higher priority than today's physics sub-chapter. (Just as Tena was saying about their roof being more important than textbook lessons.) And yet, that basic academic stuff gets relegated to the back burner all too easily. That's okay when the kids are interested in life and learning and books. But if they're not.... well, then, somebody somewhere sometime has to divert their attention from the Veg-Out Screen. Even when Real Life comes calling with its incessant demands. Somebody once told me that it's all about the urgent usurping the place of what is most important. But the urgent needs are "urgent" for a reason.

And I just don't know how to deal with the conundrum.

What Now?

It's not raining, but the basement keeps getting wetter. And it stinks. This is not a good sign.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Busy Work

As a homeschooling mom, I used to detest busy work. Unfortunately, plenty of what's available in homeschool catalogs is busy work. Even worse, a huge amount of the work kids do in conventional school is a waste of time. Do kids really need to write out complete answers to the questions at the end of a chapter? Or is it enough to know the answers to the questions, and not even write out any answer (much less complete sentences). Do you even need questions at the end of the chapter? Maybe it's enough for the kids to know what they read!

But this year, I'm looking for busy work to assign. I feel like a wash-out as a teacher to have to resort to this. These days I have to be too specific about what I'm requiring of the kids. I'm having to micro-manage them more than is healthy. But if someone would be content playing video games and reading comic books all day, I'm not okay with that. Busy work may not be educational. It may not be stimulating. It may not encourage thinking skills. But it can keep someone [ta-da!] busy! If busy work prevents a kid from studying salutary topics, then the busy work is harmful to education. But right now, I'm not seeing any harm that could come from a vast increase in amount of assignments.

Clean Refrigerator

Things are crazy-busy right now. And my brain is filled with thoughts of articles I'd like to write, a place where I'd like to try to get a job, and a host of other NEW responsibilities to add to the to-do list. Why do I get the urge to start new projects when I can't even handle the duties I have now?

And then the thought occurred to me: if I'm doing such a lousy job at what I'm busy with now, maybe I could have success if I did something different. Failing at this job? Find a different job where I be great! Sounds reasonable. Except that the jobs I currently have are the ones most important to me, and the last thing they need is MORE neglect.

And that is why my refrigerator is clean today. Philip and I were disappointed in the car we looked at this morning for him. My car is in the shop for a $1600 bit of upkeep. I'm telling myself that paid employment is not the solution to anything; it would just distract from the more important work of cooking and cleaning and teaching (and taking Maggie to the beach). So instead of contacting a potential employer, I just cleaned the fridge instead. Okay, so it's a small success. But it is a success nonetheless. Now, to keep car-hunting and mowing and doing history with the boys and all those other things.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Daily Bread

I don't want to pray for daily bread. I want the month's bread (actually the year's bread, or better yet, the decade's bread) lined up as a sure and certain thing. So I get terribly uneasy when the finances at church are iffier than usual.

And then what does God go and do? A thank-you check surprisingly arrives in the mail from the son of a shut-in. And an anonymous envelope of cash is handed to me. And a friend shows up to visit, bringing all sorts of spare garden produce. And a gift-card arrives in the mail from a friend. And a small check is given to the pastor. Then a neighbor arrives with treats from an over-abundant garden.

These things may not be enough to replace a paycheck (but they sure help). But I think that's not the point. God can provide for us as He wills, whether the "normal" means are in place or not.

I wonder if I'll ever learn to believe that.

Back to School?

Jane wrote up a great explanation of what LEARNING looks like when kids aren't coerced or forced into it. Highly recommended reading!


The sand was really wet at the beach on Saturday. Almost no one was there, including the life-guards. I wanted to spend my time there doing some paperwork while Maggie played in the water. So I plunked myself down on the [dry!] concrete base of the life-guard stand.

After working for about 10 minutes, a couple showed up. They too wanted to use the base of the life-guard stand, so that their towels didn't end up wet before they were even used. But then they sat down and started talking. Loudly. Only 6' from me. He had a piercing voice and was intent on convincing her to become one of his salesman. He was passionate (and vocal) about how great his business was.

Y'know, it's really hard to concentrate on grammar and punctuation and the nuances of particular words and how they're put together, when somebody is so intent on talking about window wells and how to increase the numbers of people who recognize that his window wells are superior to any others available. So later, when I got home, Gary asked how much I'd accomplished. I told him my pitiful tale of woe about not making much progress on my editing. (Hey, at least I got to watch the sailboats and look at the pretty lake!)

So yesterday, something happened which cauesd Gary to make an allusion to Someone who interrupted and chattered on and on endlessly so that I was unable to get my work done. And a certain young girl piped up from the next room, "You're talking about me."

I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry. Ended up laughing. I guess maybe she actually does realize how much she interrupts, after all. Now, to work on controling it....

Monday, August 27, 2007

Subtraction Made Easier

I hate checking the kids' subtraction when they have problems like

I can do it. I am a mathematician, after all. But right now, my brain is stressed enough keeping up with the laundry and bread-baking, so checking three people's math daily without answer keys is just more effort than I wish to expend.

But you know what I discovered today? (Oh, this is SO cool!)

I'll use the above problem for an example.
Rather than having the 6 run next-door to the 0 to borrow (or "regroup" as we're supposed to say in these modern days), and then have the 0 run next-door to the 0 to borrow, and then have the 0 run next-door to borrow from the 5, and then to trickle the regrouping all the way back,...

have the 6 run-next door to the 500. Borrow 1 from the 500, and it becomes 499. And then you're all set to subtract the rest of the problem!

How easy is that?

Dry Carpet

It's been over 48 hours since we last had rain. I think August 5 was the last time we could say that we'd gone even 24 hours without rain. Almost the whole basement carpet is dry; there are just a few damp spots where it was the wettest.

I gotta post this quickquick, because the sky is heavy, the lightning is flashing, the thunder is rolling, and my initial sentence will not be true if I wait much longer to say it.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Harm in Waiting for 14

My friend Pr Stuckwisch commented recently on first communion practices in relationship to confirmation practices. On another blog, several pastors took issue with what Pastor had written.

One pastor made the point that we ought never change our practices unless they are shown to be contrary to God's word. His point was that our current confirmation traditions might not be the best, but it IS our practice, and we ought not change from it.

I agree with the principle: we ought always to avoid change unless it can't be helped. For example, I'm still having a very hard time with the new hymnal, and will for a long time. I hate change, especially at church. Like one of the Motley Magpie guys wrote: "But We Don't Do It That Way" is the laymen's protection against renegade pastors who want to make changes that they oughtn't.

But the question remains. Is our current practice contrary to God's Word? Does it cause harm?

I think we underestimate the harm it does to people when they are not allowed to commune until they are teenagers. But beyond the waiting period, does our current practice do any harm?


What does it teach me about my worthiness?

Seven years ago we were attending a friend's ordination. The communion announcement in the bulletin said that anyone with doubts ought not commune. It just so happens that that same morning I had gone to private confession and confessed doubts which Pastor had forgiven, and yet the doubts were not automatically and instantaneously overcome. Pastor had also said that no one can ever be free of doubts until he assumes room temperature; that's what the sinful nature is, a doubter. So if having a sinful nature (with its doubts) makes us unworthy to commune, then no one could commune. I really struggled during the ordination service with whether it would be okay to commune. [Would I desecrate the holy things? Would I bring harm to myself?] But I finally decided to rely on Pastor's word that the Supper is strength and life and is given even to me who is unworthy.

But that day sent me into a tailspin. How do I know I'm worthy? How do I know my faith measures up? After all, we are told that children are not worthy to commune because they don't have the right kind of faith. Children can't reflect upon their faith. Children might not be able to properly "discern the body" and thus may eat to their judgment. Children cannot examine themselves.

Well, how do I know that I examine myself properly? How do I know that I am properly discerning the body? How do I know whether my faith is mature enough?

I asked these questions. My friends (some of whom were pastors) assured me that my faith was the right kind of faith. They cited proof of why they knew I was worthy. I'd been confirmed. I attended church every week and longed to hear the Word. I could recite the catechism. I could reflect upon my faith. They were sure that I could "discern the body" (whatever that means).

Every assurance somehow or other pointed me to myself.
Which only made the doubts greater.
Which only made the sense of unworthiness deeper.
Which only served to make me fear the Sacrament.

My pastor, however, kept pointing me to Jesus and His promises and what He had done and what He wanted to give in the Supper. Whenever I argued and sassed back at him about my unworthiness and my doubts, he would point me to Jesus. But he couldn't be right. He couldn't! That's just contrary to what's taught in Missouri Synod: that I can be unworthy because of my age or my maturity or my knowledge or my understanding or my ability to reflect upon my faith. And if I can be unworthy for these reasons when I am 10 yrs old or 7 yrs old or 4 yrs old, then I have no confidence that I am "beyond that" just because I'm middle-aged now.

Eventually I came to the conclusion that the "judgment" of sickness or death (which some people say will come to some Christians, based on 1 Corinthians 11) was something I was willing to endure so as to be able to receive Jesus' body and blood and the forgiveness therein.

I figured I was the only one who had ever contemplated such things, who had ever struggled with such thoughts. But then I was talking to a young friend who had had the same fears. He said that from the time of his confirmation until about 5-6 years later, he was always afraid to commune. He did anyway. But it was unsettling because he was sure he wasn't communing "worthily." After all, if young children aren't capable of communing worthily, what makes me any more worthy than them? The only way my friend got over his uncertainty was when he had a new pastor who stubbornly pointed my friend's eyes away from himself and his "faith" to look instead at The Faith -- the truth of what Jesus did to redeem him and the promises attached to the elements of the Sacrament.

Those who are harmed by the practice of 8th-grade confirmation are not just those who are barred from the Supper.

Grocery Prices

It's so frustrating to see the grocery prices. Cheese has gone up 50% since early spring. Flour has gone up 50% in less than a year. Eggs went up 50% in the last half-year. Olive oil has gone up 50% in the last year. Apples have gone up 50% in the last two years. The cheapest brand of frozen vegetables went up 50% in the last half-year.

I'm not sure what to do to cut costs anymore. When you're already pinching pennies, when you're already making everything from scratch, when you're already buying the cheapest off-brands available at the cheapest grocery store in the state, what more could be done to cut the grocery bill? Honestly, the only thing I can think of is to survive mostly on potatoes or beans-n-rice. But we already eat less meat than most families. Given that we buy whole hogs and sides of beef from local farmers, the price-per-pound on meat is about the same as apples and eggs, about half the price of cheese, and only twice the cost of flour. So even being vegetarian wouldn't save that much in food costs.

I just have to keep telling myself that food is the priority. Animals spend most of their energy feeding themselves. If most of our income has to go to food, that's okay; it's not much different than most people throughout most of history have done. (But sometimes it's hard when you see the out-of-towners paying $100/hr per person for for the whole family to spend an afternoon jet-skiing on vacation.)