Tuesday, September 20, 2016

PASS OR FAIL

When I finished grading my student's math test, the page had more red ink on it than black. Despite the fact that he did well on his homework assignments, he totally bombed the end-of-chapter exam.

He looked at the bleeding paper. "Does this mean I failed?"

"Failed?" I answered. "No, this doesn't mean you failed. This means we need to go over the lesson again, until you understand the new concepts better."

We took a couple of days and worked through the chapter again. I created a second test. This time, my young student aced his exam. "That's better!" he exclaimed.

"Yes, that's much better!" I agreed.

One of the benefits of homeschooling is that when a student has difficulty with a particular subject - such as fractions or subject-verb agreement or science vocabulary - we are free to take the time needed to go back and figure out the problem. We can review and practice until the student understands his mistakes and is able to correct them.

Our goal is to learn. The goal is not: take a test on Friday and then begin the next chapter on Monday, whether you understand the previous material or not.

"Pass" and "Fail" are not legal sentences, where pass means the student is exonerated and fail means he is condemned. No, a test score is more like a litmus. It helps us assess our situation. A failing grade means we still have much to learn in a particular area. A passing grade means we are ready move on to the next lesson.

At Grace on Sunday mornings, Brother Billy is preaching through the book of Matthew. Currently, we are studying the Beatitudes. Near the conclusion of Sunday's message, Brother Billy shared that some theologians and commentators refer to the Beatitudes as a type of test: as Christians, we should be merciful, we should hunger and thirst for righteousness, we should be meek, etc.; when we examine our lives, do we find these things to be true of us?

Concerned that the congregation might misunderstand the intent of this "test," Bro. Billy gave an example. As a homeschool dad, he explained, when he gives his daughter a test, his desire is not to fail her. His desire is for her to learn and for her to pass. He wants her to grow and to improve and to excel.

I loved his example: as a homeschool mom, it is one to which I can easily relate!

Let's develop this example a little further...

Do I think God is watching me, waiting for me to fail, eager to whip out His red ink and stamp "FAIL!" across my life? When I do fail - which happens too often - do I think, "Well, I totally blew that," and then throw in the towel?

- OR -

Do I imagine that God is watching me, waiting, eager to see me learn and grow and succeed so that He can say "Well done!"? When I do fail - which happens too often - do I think, "Wow, God, I totally blew that. Please, let's go over this lesson again. I need for you to teach me more. Thank you for being so patient!"?

Dear fellow Christian, we do not have to be afraid of failing. We have an excellent Teacher. His desire is to see us "pass" - He will make sure that we do. He used up all his red ink at the Cross.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

GENDER DISCRIMINATION

If you don't believe that gender discrimination exists today in America, then you obviously are not married-with-a-vehicle.

I am convinced that automobiles, household appliances, and all things electronic not only differentiate between male and female users, but these things alter their performance in favor of males.

Earlier this summer, after loosing close to a quarter of my body weight in sweat when I mopped the floors and cleaned the bathrooms, I told my husband the air conditioner was not working up to speed. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. Maybe I didn't really sweat quite that much. But my point is: the house was hot.

When my husband got home, he checked out the air conditioner. Everything seemed to be working fine. And it actually did seem to be cooling okay, after his inspection. At least for a little while.

Then summertime cranked up the heat and humidity again. Ummm, nope, the AC was most definitely not working. Either that, or I was having one long-lasting hot flash.

Eventually, the AC forgot that it was supposed to cool when The Man was home, and not cool when it was just The Woman. Or maybe it forgot that my husband was due in from Memphis. The AC inadvertently did its I'm-not-going-to-work trick while my husband was home. Busted! Steve got the repairman out and had the thing fixed.

And then there is the van. When I drive the van, it sounds like a rickety Tin Lizzy off of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Seriously, I half expect the engine to fall out from under the hood and go bouncing down the road. And it dies randomly, like dying randomly is its version of a practical joke.

When my husband is in the van, all those awful noises vanish into a whisper. I don't think it has even once died in the middle of an intersection with my husband inside.

The van knows when a man is on board. It knows, and it "simpers and sighs and makes love to us all," as Mr. Bennett said of the odious Mr. Wickham. When it's just us girls, however, the van throws off all pretense: it bucks and brays and wallows down the road like a drunk rhinoceros.

Refrigerators, washing machines, thermostats, wifi routers, engines...these things have some special kind of sense, obviously. They know the difference between men and women, and they give men preferential treatment.

I protest! It is time to put an end to such gender discrimination! But how?

Be warned: if you bump into me at Walmart the next time I drive into town for groceries, I may be wearing a fake mustache.

Friday, September 9, 2016

AGENCY, ADVOCACY, AND LEARNING TO LISTEN WELL

From merriamwebster.com -

Agency (noun): the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power

Advocate (verb): to support or argue for (a cause, policy, etc.); to plead in favor of

If I lack agency, I lack the ability or power to take action to change my circumstances or to address my problems.

If I lack the ability to advocate, I am unable to give verbal support to defend or promote my opinions or ideas, or to engage in physical activity conducive to effective, positive change.

Ironically, it is often those most intimately acquainted with an injustice or a trauma or with a should-not-be-this-way life situation who feel most keenly a a lack of agency and a crippling inability to advocate. Those who know and understand a problematic situation best, those who have first-hand battle experience, frequently find themselves incapacitated by a kind of shell-shock-induced paralysis.

Sometimes this paralysis is self-imposed: a resigned passivity that is simply emotionally and physically easier than any type of intentional, ongoing activity.

Sometimes this paralysis is learned. "Fool me once: shame on you. Fool me twice: shame on me." Attempts at agency or advocacy that result in repeated failure can cause a person to believe, "Nothing I do helps. I can't do anything to change this situation." And so they give up trying.

Sometimes this paralysis is culturally imposed. I am a woman. I have experienced first hand dismissive or belittling treatment from men who behave as if women have nothing of value to bring to the table of life besides sex, dinner, and a freshly-ironed shirt. However, when I have tried to address such attitudes, I have repeatedly encountered responses that go something like, "Oh, of course you would think women need to be treated with more respect: you're a woman, after all!"

Because I am a woman, it is assumed, I am incapable of anything like an objective perspective concerning the treatment of women. The men I've addressed, on the other hand - because they are not women and therefore do not have my "vested interest" - think they are somehow capable of completely objective opinions!

I read recently that most people do not "listen to understand" - they "listen to respond." In other words, most of us are not very interested in learning what lies behind another person's words - what they are thinking or feeling, their experiences, their concerns. Instead, we are interested in formulating our own erudite responses to whatever it is the other person feels a need to express - why their opinions or concerns are unfounded, why they are wrong, why they are irrelevant or inconsequential.

Listening to respond is all about me - about promoting my thoughts, my opinions, my self. Listening to understand is about the other person - about wanting to better understand their thoughts and experiences and concerns.

I am guilty of listening to respond. I am tired of listening with such tiny ears. Listening-to-respond is an egocentric little world about the size of a pinhead.

I want to learn to listen to understand. I want to listen with ears so big that they turn my world inside out.

And then, after having learned to listen well, I want to learn to speak, to advocate, to be an agent for positive change.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

"JUST" IS A 4-LETTER WORD

"The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of parts it would remember the whole. While studying It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation...Its followers would not be free with the words only and merely." - C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

* * * * *

Just.

Just is a 4-letter word, one that I often find offensive.

"What does Mary do?"

"Oh, she doesn't do anything. She's just a mom."

Just a mom? Birthing and nursing and raising a new generation of humans, nurturing immortal Image bearers during their brief sojourn between eternity past and eternity yet to come...how on earth, tell me, is the word just (as in only, merely, simply) ever aptly used in conjunction with the word mother?

Just a mom? Is this not a subtle way of downplaying, if not an attempt to dismiss altogether, the tremendous significance of motherhood?

Cooking dinner, resolving relationship issues, dealing with health problems or demands at work, diagnosing a vehicle malfunction...whatever the context, when the word just is used, it nearly always implies: "Your problem/concern/struggle/difficulty is really no big deal. The situation/solution is actually quite simple."

Just is often used as a tool for explaining away a reality that is bigger than a person wants to acknowledge.

Just, only, merely, simply...these words should not be used as a smoke screen to obscure our vision of reality, nor should they be used as an opiate to numb us to the very real concerns of others.

Just, only merely, simply...such small words, but deceptively dangerous. Handle them with care.

Friday, September 2, 2016

GOOD DECISION

I am still working frantically to catch up on household chores, writing assignments, and errands after almost a week off doing sheep-y and cow-y things at the fair. I was wondering, "Why is it so incredibly difficult to get caught up?!"

Then it hit me: while I am whittling down last week's ToDo list, this week's ToDo list is still waiting in queue, getting backed up.

That's one of the special things about being a mom: when you miss work for a day or two or three, the boss doesn't call in someone else to cover your shift. And if you're a homeschool mom, there's no substitute teacher, either. Nope. All the work you missed just piles up, deeper and deeper, until you clock back in and start digging double-time.

So today...

(I am almost caught up...maybe...almost...)

So today, I had a difficult choice to make:

Press on at the catching-up game - OR - Hold the baby, eat lunch with The Chicken, get back into the pool, and play at the blog.

Difficult decision.

Option A: one more l-o-n-g day at the computer, and I can start next Monday right where I'm supposed to be - OR -

Option B (Man, the pool looks so inviting!): start off next week STILL a few days behind.

What did I choose?

Well, after loving on Lizzy and downing a chicken salad wrap with the cool college kids in the engineering study room at EPS, I hit the pool for 30 minutes. The water was amazing - a bit chilly at first, but perfect once I hit my third lap.

And now, a cup of coffee, a Reese's cup, and playtime at the blog.

Come Monday morning, I may still be a little behind, but...

I didn't really have much of a choice, now, did I? :)

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

NOT MY PAROLE OFFICER

"As pastors, we should realize that if we fail to equip the saints because we are afraid of what God will say if we 'do it wrong,' we are not relating to God as either our Father or our bridegroom, but instead relating to him as our parole officer." - R. W. K.

Substitute the word mothers for pastors, and our children for the saints, and this quote from one of my favorite young theologians speaks right to the heart of so many women I know, myself included.

If I burn dinner, spill Clorox on Steve's favorite shirt, or puncture a tire on the van, that is bad. When it comes to parenting my children - including this whole homeschool thing - if I "do it wrong," the potential negative consequences of my ineptitude are terrifying.

"What if I do it wrong?!" The fear a mother often feels when faced with the responsibility of nurturing and training other eternal souls is palpable, even paralyzing.

Well, let's look at that question just a minute: What if I do it wrong?

If I "do it wrong," will my failure trump God's sovereignty? No.
If I "do it wrong," will God be unable to redeem my mistakes? No.
If I "do it wrong," will God be unable to redeem my children? No.
If I "do it wrong," will my security as God's child be compromised? No.
If I "do it wrong," will God love me any less? No.

Who am I kidding?! IF I do it wrong - I have been doing things wrong my entire life! That's why I need Jesus in the first place! IF I do it wrong...there's no IF to it!

So what's to be done with this fear?

1 John 4:18 says: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love."

I am afraid, because if I "do it wrong," I must be punished. But hold on just a minute. For me, a child of God by the atoning work of Jesus, my punishment has already been dealt with. God - my Father - punished Jesus - my Bridegroom - in my place.

Even if I "do it wrong," I do not have to be afraid! God himself has taken care of everything!

God is not my parole officer: He is my Father. Jesus is not my parole officer: He is my Bridegroom.

The security offered in 1 John 4:18 is grounded not on my perfect love - for God, for my kids, for anyone - but on God's perfect love for me. God's love is perfect. I have no need to fear.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

No, GKC was not excusing laziness or sloppy work. He was, however, saying that as Christ's beloved, we do not have to be hindered in what we do by our fear of imperfection. If a thing is worth doing, then do it! Stop being afraid of doing it wrong, and trust the Father who loves you perfectly!

* * * * *
"There was a time when you and I and all of us were all very close to God; so that even now the color of a pebble (or a paint), the smell of a flower (or a firework), comes to our hearts with a kind of authority and certainty; as if they were fragments of a muddled message, or features of a forgotten face. To pour that fiery simplicity upon the whole of life is the only real aim of education; and closest to the child comes the woman - she understands. To say what she understands is beyond me; save only this, that it is not a solemnity. Rather it is a towering levity, an uproarious amateurishness of the universe, such as we felt when we were little, and would as soon sing as garden, as soon paint as run...

"[The woman] was maintaining the bold equilibrium of inferiorities which is the most mysterious of superiorities and perhaps the most unattainable. She was maintaining the prime truth of the woman, the universal mother: that if a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly."

- G. K. Chesterton: What's Wrong with the World



Friday, August 26, 2016

I AM THAT MOM

For the most part, I am pretty laid back. Easygoing. Passive. (Or, to be more accurate, passive-aggressive.)

I don't like to inconvenience people. I prefer to make do with what's at hand, than to trouble someone to fix a less-than-desirable situation. Even where it concerns my kids...I don't want to be "that mom," the one who insists that what's good enough for everyone else is not good enough where her kids are concerned.

But that seems to be changing, slowly, at least a little bit, at least where my role as a mother is concerned.

The youngest chicken was registered for a dual-enrollment class at our local university. After the second class meeting, she came home looking like someone had let all the air out of her balloon. "Mom, I don't think this class is going to challenge me very much," she lamented. "I don't want to waste an entire semester doing mediocre work for a mediocre class."

I could have said (I thought it): A whole lot of life is mediocre, Sister. Excellence, I'm afraid, is not the norm. So, just put in your time, do the mediocre work required of you, and check that course requirement off your list.

Or, I could have said (I thought it): Jackie has gone above and beyond the call of duty to get you registered for this class. Whether the class is mediocre or not, I don't want to bother her again, to ask her if she could please adjust your schedule for the umpteenth time. (Jackie is our dual-enrollment liaison at the school, and SHE IS AWESOME.)

Or, I could have said (I thought it): The extraordinary teachers, their classes are already full. It would be rude - and a little arrogant, don't you think? - to ask someone at the university to open up just one more slot for you, because you want something better.

Or, I could have said (I thought it): What difference does it make how much you get out of this class? If you finish with a decent grade, isn't that what really matters?

But then I thought...

Yes, much about this life is mediocre. But why settle for mediocre when there is the possibility - maybe only the teensy-tiniest sliver of a possibility - that you can have excellence instead?

Yes, Jackie has knocked herself out for us, and I am tremendously grateful for all her help. And if I ask her to help us this one more time and she says "No," I am still tremendously grateful for all that she has done for us. So, why not ask?

Yes, it would be a little presumptuous to ask for another slot in a class that is already full. But (see preceding paragraph), why not ask?

No. No! I cannot say that it doesn't really matter what you get out of this class. No, a decent grade is not what's most important. If you, young chicken, are going to sit under the instruction of a teacher for three hours a week for an entire semester, if you are going to read assignments and write papers, if you are going to invest a significant part of this year of your life in the relationship you have with this teacher, then that matters a whole dang lot. And the fruit of that relationship will have consequences that will reverberate throughout your entire life.

I want my youngest chicken to do well in school. I also want her to be challenged, not just academically, but personally. I don't want her to settle for some mediocre performance to meet the minimum requirement to satisfy a college check list - I want her to absolutely fall in love with learning.

Life is too precious to just "make do" with what's at hand simply because Passive Mom thinks aiming for excellence requires too much effort and causes a little bit of personal discomfort.

And so, I made a phone call and I emailed Jackie and I realized...

I am that mom.

Honey, it's about time!