Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Another lifestyle

Continuing on the theme from yesterday regarding the commitments we make that define our lifestyles, I’d like to include being a church on that list.  So, we have—in no particular order—homeschooling, marriage, parenting and being the church. 

I think we have severely limited the scope and range of churching these days.  So much so that it is reflected in our language.  We now go to church, clean the church, and like the ambiance of the church on that corner over there.  Most Christians know in their heads that church refers to people, not a location or structure, but our words reveal how we really think about it.  Church is there or here.  Today we are going to do such-and-such at the church tonight.  Youth group meets Wednesday in the sanctuary; Bible Study for ladies meets Thursday mornings; Men meet every month for prayer and doughnuts at the back of the church;  Sunday School for all ages is available between services in the classrooms.

I think we need to remember that we are the church.  If you are going to the church, it means you are approaching a group of people who love the Lord and are working as a unit to manifest Christ’s love to the world.  If you can replace the word church with the word family, you might be speaking more accurately.  “I am going to the church to ask for prayer,” doesn’t require a map or a key. And just like family, it isn’t something we can turn off, or check off of a to-do list. 

I do think church belongs on the calendar and should be visible in the check register, because church is important and deserves priority.  Similarly, dates nights and just-because-gifts should be regular occurrences to keep a marriage alive. Shoe shopping and game nights belong in our lives if we are raising kids.  But when we aren’t currently engaged in one of those particular activities, we are not less married, or less parenting.  We can never be less the church.  We always represent.  We always are the body, the hands, the feet…  Just like a wife can be a loving wife or a rude wife, she is always a wife.  We may be lousy hands, lazy feet, but we are always the church.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Homeschooling as I see it

I am often tongue-tied when people who find out I homeschool tell me in a comrade tone that they, too, homeschooled… for a year.  It takes all my self control to not pull this face:


See, there are words that we toss about, but the meanings are so very different  depending on who is using them.  In this case, when a lady says she homeschooled for a year, to me it is equivalent to saying she parented for a year.  Or a guy telling a couple celebrating their 50th anniversary that “I was married for 3 years and 5 months, so… I understand.”

The other thing that shows that the meaning of our words are so different: “We tried homeschooling, but it didn’t really work for us.”  Again, apply that sentence to parenting or marriage and you can see how people use the same words, but think very differently.  Homeschooling, parenting, marriage—in the way that I think of them—are lifestyles.  They are things to which we commit.  And—this is a biggie—it is not for them to work for me.  We choose a lifestyle and then we do the work. 

I don’t stay married until it becomes difficult or merely stops working for me.  If I did, I would have been divorced over a decade ago.  I don’t parent until I get inconvenienced.  If I did, we would never have gotten past birth!!  Similarly, we are homeschoolers.  We are.  We aren’t trying it out or waiting for it to get hard or hoping that it will work for us. 

I appreciate that homeschooling isn’t for everyone.  I understand that sometimes we try things that we truly must abandon because it is a poor fit for our family.  I don’t resent people schooling at home temporarily.  But, like I said, I am really drawn up short when someone tries to compare notes with me as a homeschooler because they did it for a year or two. 

Homeschooling in the way that we do it is impossible to do in a year or even in five.  It is a lifetime.  It is a way of being, an outlook on all of life; homeschooling is a lifestyle. 

Homeschooling isn’t just about academics, books, schedules, college preparation or tests.  But each of these things plays a role.  Homeschooling isn’t about character, life skills or instilling a love for learning, yet these elements are absolutely essential to homeschooling when I use the word.  Homeschooling this way takes time and encompasses every aspect of life, which is a blessing.  Why? Because the bad things are are swallowed by the good.  The rough seasons don’t define anything.  The weaknesses have time to work themselves out.  Deadlines don’t exist.

You can’t compartmentalize it. There is no such thing as school time and not-school-time.  I am never not married.  I am never not a parent.  I am never not a homeschooler.  I like it that way.

Saturday, September 13, 2014


Exclusivity is a no-no.  It is intolerant, narrow minded and offensive.  We don’t like it when people speak too strongly about right and wrong, in and out.  It hurts feelings, is judgmental and shows an ugly pride.

The problem is that this notion is paradoxical.  “We can be sure of nothing!” begs the question, “Are you sure?”  The same is true with “There are no absolutes!” Yes, of course… “Absolutely!”  See the problem?  Exclusivity is a no-no.  So, you are excluding those who exclude?  It isn’t right to say that something is wrong?  These arguments just don’t hold water.

Of course, the notion behind most of these statements is that it is unkind to dismiss the beliefs of others or to outright condemn people for their philosophies and behavior.  The preschool lessons to get along are well ingrained in our society, and haven’t really developed beyond a preschool mentality to just be nice.  And who doesn’t think being nice is wrong all by itself? 

What is ‘nice,’ though?  Is it always agreeing all the time?  That really would keep us all as preschoolers, never allowing ourselves to discuss anything beyond the most elementary (heh heh) topics.  Most of us weren’t made for that.  Life has complexities and we need to work through them.  For us to live a life with any meaning, we have to make choices.  Any choice for something is also a choice against at least one other something.  If we bind ourselves to this idea that choosing against things, excluding, is offensive, we imprison ourselves in a false world of the ever-yes.  It doesn’t exist and so it paralyzes us.

So, we make choices.  We must.  And the choices necessarily exclude.  We disagree.  If we are going to graduate from preschool, we have to learn how to do this without being ugly.  But we also have to grow up enough to allow OTHERS to choose and exclude and NOT be offended by it!  The reason we teach three and four year olds to be kind in the form of inclusiveness is because they are spending time with other three and four year olds who are only just developing their fragile egos and necessarily require some tender handling. 

When I taught, I worked hard to not tell the kids their guesses were outright wrong, because in spite of whatever topic currently being explored, the real lesson was for the child to try, experiment and be bold.  Getting the answer right was in fact irrelevant to my true goal, so I said, ‘You answered so quickly.’ ‘Keep trying.’ Guess again.’ ‘Look here for a clue.’ ‘Thank you for sharing.’ ‘So close!’ ‘I see why you can think that.’ ‘Have you thought about this?’ ‘I see you working so hard.’ ‘Don’t give up!’  Instead of using the word no, I would say yes, after…  Or yes, as soon as…  Or yes, once we…

This encouragement was always on my lips as my kids struggled to learn and grow and master.  I modeled it and expected the kids in my care to use similar sentiments as they offered help to their peers.  I wanted my kids to see themselves as able, to see the world as full of possibilities.  The phrases that became part of my being conveyed sky’s-the-limit concepts that would best equip my kids to face challenges with confidence.

I don’t regret this.  I believe it is right and good.  Eventually, however, the word no must be used.  Limits are set.  Choices are made.  We need to teach kids—and be adults who model—to accept this without it crushing them.  We have failed, in my opinion to handle this part of child rearing, and we now have a society of people who seem to LOOK to be hurt.

One of the contributors to this easily offended mentality is the importance we place on the court of public opinion.  We live to please others, to garner praise and recognition.  So, when someone disagrees, it is a deeply personal blow.  We have to realign our sense of selves to EXCLUDE the need for homogeny. 

My family chooses to not participate in our local soccer league.  We have reasons; some are reasonable and others are totally emotional and reactionary.  Regardless of our reasons and their validity, I am often astounded when I meet with hostility because of our choice.  I have friends who have raised their voices at me because I don’t sign my kids up for this particular sport!  Why on earth is this an issue? 

Soccer is silly and passing.  But what about bigger things that truly matter and have lasting impact?  We have to be ok with people choosing creeds, lifestyles and philosophies that go against our own choices.  We have to handle the disagreement as an honest disagreement without it being an affront.  That means I don’t have to pretend that all choices are ok  with me, and neither do you.  It also means that I cannot place the obligation to keep me happy on every individual who lives in my city, state, country and world!!  And, yet, that is essentially our final destination here: you aren’t a small-town, home-birthing, home-schooling, home-churching, stay-at-home-momming, family oriented, geekifying, game-playing, food-loving, mission-supporting, conservative-ish Christian person??  Well, fie on you! 

See how lonely I’d be?  Not to mention totally ineffective in any endeavor I’d like to accomplish.

So, make choices that exclude and be honest about it.  Allow others to do the same.  Choosing a faith in anything other than Jesus Christ should not offend me even though I believe that Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life.  Being offended by Joe who believes differently dictates that Joe is obligated to smooth my ruffled feathers—a total paradox to what I claim!!  If Jesus is the ONLY way, why would I allow Joe the power to upset me and require Joe to change in order for me to be at peace?  That is a whole lotta Joe and a whole lotta me involved in a world view I purport to be Christ-focused.  That is utterly nonsensical.

We have to stop blending the line between offense and disagreement.  They are not the same.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Aside from my children, my two most favorite people are Brian my husband and Diane my sister. Aside from children, the only people for whom I have provided care are Brian and Diane. And, aside from the facts that they were in the position of needing care and needed it at the same time AND lived 2000 miles apart, the opportunity to provide care for each of them was ideal.

I love them. Neither had pointedly diminished mental capacities. Neither had (at the point when I was providing care) lost bladder or bowel control.  Both feel tenderly towards me. Both respond protectively towards me. I have a relationship with each that is intimate, relaxed and authentic.

Because of this, I repeat, caring for my 'patients' was ideal. I know professional caregivers are under different circumstances. I know family members have to care for less pleasant 'patients' than I have. And I know the care I have provided has been extremely short term. So, for the third and final time, my caregiving experiences are ideal.

Providing care merely was a natural response of love I have for two people who have loved me unconditionally since the day I met them. It was easy.

It was hard. In helping them with basic needs--meds, toilet, shower, clothes, memory, bed--there was nothing awkward about being together, but their very need made them each vulnerable and somehow reduced. There is an almost innate loss of dignity in being unable to independently do the self-care tasks we mastered in our first years of life. As a caregiver, it seems important to give yourself to a degree to BE the person for whom you are caring. A caregiver needs to BE the 'patient's' hands, doing for them what they cannot. There is a corresponding non-physical element of self that is turned over to the patient to help restore that dignity. It is unspoken and even undefined.

This unspoken component is a forever bond between caregiver and patient. I actually see this play out more in the care that my other family members are giving my sister. Through bits and pieces that are revealed, I am seeing only that there are large portions closely held in obscurity. I myself shield Diane and Brian by never speaking about some of our time together.

Caregiving seems such a quiet thing. Even the one being cared for will never know what the caregiver does. They don't need to. It isn't about you, and they are going through plenty without needing to comfort the caregiver.

This moratorium on discussion may be no burden to some, but for those of us who tend to process life through the use of words, it can be a challenge. But that is the nature of caregiving: it is all about self-sacrifice. The motto? "It's not about you."

For the purpose of caregiving, these are the facts, whether they are true or not: You are not sick. You are strong. You are well-rested. You have energy to give. You are clear headed and organized. You are patient. You are clean. You don't have anyplace more important to be.

I found that even when there were truths to contradict these facts, the facts remained. I may have been tired, but it didn't matter when the meds alarm goes off in the middle of the night.  I may be behind in my own med schedule and feeling a little wobbly, but if they were in immediate need, I was going to be able to wait until their need was met.

And the ultimate fact that supersedes all others? You never judge.

I may not choose something for myself, but I just could NOT stand in judgment of their choices. It would have jeopardized the trust that was essential to providing the best possible care. They were already so vulnerable. You simply don't pick at someone when they are compelled to such extreme exposure.  If you have any issue with that, all it takes is half a second of imagining someone into your own most personal world.

Caregiving is holy. It is what Jesus does. It is ultimate scut- and servant work. You do the work so intimate that you are bonded by non-disclosure agreements--before there was ever such a thing. You are a living sacrifice, you lay down your life for a friend. There is no greater act of love. (Romans 12:1, John 15:13)

There is a caveat, of course. Since we aren't actually Jesus, we cannot give ourselves wholly in the way He can and does. We do have needs and we do have weaknesses--one of which is an ability to turn caregiving into something unhealthy. How like humanity to twist something so good and holy!  But that is what co-dependence and enabling are: perverted caregiving.

It is important to set boundaries.  We must rely on God and direct our patients to do the same. We must keep our eyes on the goal of health, for ourselves and our patients. That plays out in taking care of our own needs and pursuing activities that maintain our full personhood. It means not designing a situation that sets us up as being irreplaceable. For our patients, we must encourage their self-care in the instances that they can carry out the tasks. We must strike the balance of being dependable without creating a false dependence to stroke any personal desires to feel needed. While we may rest comfortably in the role of servant, we cannot allow our identity to be bound up in being any person's provider. We each have one Provider, and trying to step into His shoes is folly best avoided.

Nevertheless, I see caregivers as secret superheroes and feel as though if one were to look long enough, ethereal capes would become visible and flap inaudibly in otherwise imperceptible breezes. Those capes shield their charges and mask the unspoken provision one person is humble-honored to do for another in need. The cape elevates the superhero above the busy distractions of this life to an unseen dominion that reminds us of what life is all about: relationships, interdependence and love.