Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Good Old Days That Weren't

I grew up hearing about the Good Old Days. A lot. Perhaps it was because, being a child of the 60s, I hit the planet during a time of particularly acute social upheaval. The fact that my parents were both around 40 when I was born, and this during a time when most couples were reproducing in their 20s, may have had something to do with it. The psychedelic, acid rock, drug-taking, sex-rocking, war-protesting 60s were a far cry from "their day."

The Good Old Days talk grew old. And frustrating. I didn't understand why my parents were so privileged to have grown up during such an innocent, honorable, grand, hardworking time when I was stuck with everything that was evil in life. They were The Greatest Generation. This generation selflessly survived the Great Depression, valiantly saved the world from evil in WWII, and built the greatest nation on earth, all the while (supposedly) refraining from 4 letter words, premarital sex, too much liquor, and, basically sin of any kind.

You can imagine my surprise, while sauntering through the book of Ecclesiastes, when I stumbled across this verse:

Do not say, "Why were the old days better than these?" For it is not wise to ask such questions. (Ecc. 7:10)

I was struck with the fact that this Good Old Days mindset was not new. Not new at all for, as the author says earlier in Ecclesiastes, indeed "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again;there is nothing new under the sun." (Ecc. 1:9)

I still see this though, this longing for the Good Old Days. I see it all the time when the true hideousness of our current culture shows its colors. I see it all the time in families, as they raise their children, and long for a simpler time of prairie life and one room schoolhouses and barns and chores and horses and buggies. I saw it, and sometimes still, see it in myself. Sometimes I need a reality check.

The reality is that three of my four great grandmothers died prematurely, for lack of the most basic of medical interventions that we now take for granted. Two of them died of infections that, today, would be easily cured with antibiotics. The other one died of "lockjaw." Tetanus.

Then I came across this family in my husband's genealogy. Take his great, great grandfather. Born in 1812 to a well educated, prominent family. Educated at West Point. His first wife and newborn son die. He remarries 11 years later and begins a family. Remember, this was a wealthy family and if anybody could afford the best medical care around, they could. Following is a list of the birth and death dates of his children, with age at death in parentheses:

Clara, born July 5, 1851, died May 23, 1853 (22 months)

James, born August 8, 1852, died June 2, 1853 (9 months)

Harriet, born November 7, 1853, died May 22, 1855 (18 months)

Julia, born January 25, 1856, died July 5, 1889 (33 years)

Emma, born February 23, 1858, died February 15, 1885 (26 years)

Benjamin, born December 31, 1859, died January 2, 1945 (85 years

William, born January 30, 1862, died July 7, 1862 (5 months)

Caroline, born October 15, 1863, died July 26, 1864 (9 months)

Mary, born April 4, 1865, died March 7, 1873 (7 years)

Albert, born February 24, 1867, died April 8, 1958 (91 years)

George, born September 7, 1868, died July 12, 1919 (50 years)

When my husband's great, great grandfather died in 1892, he had already seen so much loss: one wife and nine of his twelve children, six of them before the age of two.

What I found interesting and heartbreaking is how these losses just happened, over and over again. I have yet to delve back into history to try and correlate any of these exceedingly premature deaths to outbreaks of cholera or Yellow Fever or malaria or diptheria or any number of the other illnesses that could sweep across a city in the blink of an eye. But how terrifying to never know when the next fever would bring a funeral and lifelong heartbreak rather than a few days in bed.

I recently read another article. This one tells the story of a family in Kansas around the turn of the (last) century. You can read the story for yourself here. The family lost eight of their nine children in less than a week to diptheria. The article does go on impress upon the reader the seriousness of theses illnesses and the need for immunizations, but that is not necessarily my point. (If you are tempted to start a vaccine debate here, do not. I say it again, DO NOT! Go somewhere else and do it there.)

My point is that we all seem to long for those Good Old Days, even though they held such widespread unimaginable heartache and loss.

Maybe there was something good to it all. Maybe it was seeing up close and personal the fragility of human life, the uncertainty of the future. Perhaps there was something character building is seeing how desperately out of control you are of the most dire of situations. Maybe people valued one another more because of that. I don't know.

What I do know is that, given the present day alternative, I would rather not bury child after child or die, myself, prematurely from childbirth or TB or a bad cut on my foot.

I guess God is right. It is foolish to look back and long for the Good Old Days because, in so many ways, they weren't good at all. And more importantly, God didn't put us back then. He put us now. And in some ways, now is very good.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

What We Haven't Taught Our Children

(Disclaimer: I understand that there may be some parents who have done an excellent job with regard to this topic. I applaud you. I am addressing what I see as an overall trend.)

I have been doing a lot of reading on child sexual abuse, especially that which takes place within the context of the Christian community, be it a church, school, or home. While reading I have been brought face to face, time after time, with the words of Jesus as to how he sees, and we should see, children.

He actually tells us not only that we are to open arms to the little ones, but also that we are to become like them. He teaches a very compassionate view of children.

Maybe it is just me but I don't always see this compassionate view being played out in the Christian community. Perhaps it is because there is so much emphasis on teaching and training and disciplining, that we begin to see these children as a project to be completed  or an obstacle to be overcome.

But in all of the teaching and training in obedience and personal responsibility there seem to be a couple of truths that get left out. And these are vital when it comes to abuse.

1.) Obedience. We teach our children obedience. Obedience to parents. To teachers. To authority. Some tack on not only the need to obey, but to obey immediately, willingly, and cheerfully. But do we ever teach out kids that there are times when it is important NOT to obey? I think it blows our minds to think that any of our children might ever be in that situation. But it happens. And we need to face that.

Our kids need to know that it is ok not to obey in certain situations. When somebody wants to touch them. When somebody does something to them or in front of them or shows them something and makes them promise never to tell. Our kids need to know that it is not a sin to say no. Or to share a secret. Even if somebody made them promise never to tell. Obedience always, at all cost, can be exceedingly dangerous.

2.) Sinning vs. Being Sinned Against. In the Christian community, at least within my corner of it, there is the ever present reminder that children are born with a sin nature. Our job as parents is to teach them and train them and discipline them, all the while reminding them that Jesus came to die for their sins. All too often, it is the teaching and training and disciplining that get the airplay with the apparent goal of well behaved kids. Even if the kids do begin to really grasp the idea of their own sin and the need for confession and repentance, they aren't being told the other half of the story.

It is no wonder that children who are abused feel that the abuse is their own fault. That they are the ones who have sinned. We teach them that God honors good behavior. So when something bad happens that must naturally mean that they did something bad. It is important to understand that in so many cases of abuse within a Christian environment, the abuser actually blames the victim for the abuse.

We do a disservice to our children when we don't equip them with an understanding of what it means to be sinned against.

Sin is an uncomfortable topic but it is everywhere. Everywhere in the Bible and everywhere in our world. So we talk about it. A lot. It seems to be easier to manage our sin (or so we think) than it is to manage our shame. We don't teach out kids how to handle shame because I don't think we know how to so it ourselves. But it is time we learned.

We will be sinned against in this life. Our children will, too. Our children need to learn how to turn to God and to us out in their brokenness without fear of punishment for a sin they did not commit.

Raising kids is hard, hard work. Jesus reminds is that he wants us to receive and protect them while we train them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Remembering Reggie

(This post was started on March 10, which is why I mention that date and its significance.)

March 10 is a date that will always stand out in my mind. First, because it was my parents' anniversary. They made it 31 years and 11 months as a married couple before the papers were signed and the gavel came down (do they do it like that?) and they were declared no longer man and wife. That was in 1978.

From that day, March 10 took on a new meaning. It was the painful reminder of a union that no longer was, and of a marriage gone bad. And it was a day to try to figure out how to cheer my mother up or, more often than not, avoid her and her pain. I say this to my shame.

It was another 18 years after their divorce and a full 50 years after their marriage that March 10 took on a new meaning. All because of Reggie.

Reggie was special. Everybody knew that. Never had I met a man with such kindness and compassion and humor thrown into one person. After he and his wife, Carole, had their three children, they began fostering . . . and adopting. Over the course of years they adopted two special needs children from Korea, were guardians for 2 children, and fostered 65, some short-term and some for much longer. Reggie and Carole were a blast and one of the most down-to-earth couples you'd ever meet.

They lived in a doublewide on the side of a mountain way outside of town and drove an ancient baby blue and navy passenger van. When that van opened you never knew how many kids would come piling out. It was like a cheerful, rolling circus.

I first got to know Reggie when we worked the church nursery together. Every Sunday morning we, and another worker or two, would sit on the floor with the Crawlers. I love that age. They are old enough to play with but not so old as to boss you around. (I hate it when kids boss me around.) We would talk about anything and everything.

Now, I have been blessed—or afflicted, take your pick—with the trait of social invisibility. My husband didn't believe me until he saw it happen with his own eyes . . . over and over again. During that time in my life being invisible was particularly painful.

I could be talking to a person and they would, in the middle of our conversation, turn their back and start a conversation with someone else, as if I wasn't there at all. Or I could chime in to an ongoing conversation, only to be completely ignored. Or sometimes I would speak up, only to be cut off by somebody else, as if wasn't even there. I really hated being invisible.

But I wasn't invisible to Reggie. If I started to say something and got run over by somebody else in the room, Reggie would hear them out and then turn to me and say, "Now, Ginny, what were you saying?" Nobody had ever taken notice of me like that. He actually seemed to care that I existed on the planet.

Over the next few years, Reggie, who was 20 years my senior, became part father figure, part big brother, and part friend.

Then one day he had to go to Duke University Hospital. He had the worst of the worst diagnosis: Melanoma. Over the course of a year he would undergo treatments and surgery and treatments again. He was undergoing yet more chemo around Thanksgiving and didn't feel like eating any of the usual fare. We went out of town that year for the holiday, so I bought a turkey on sale and saved it.

By late January, Reggie was feeling better. Much better. And had just been given the incredible news that he was cancer-free. Time for a celebration!

I cooked up the turkey and all the stuff that goes with it. I wanted to bring him and his family a belated Thanksgiving dinner. Reggie said no. I was 37 weeks pregnant and there was snow on the roads and he was in NO way gonna have me going into labor out at his house. So instead, they came to ours.

I still remember looking out the window as they arrived. Their monstrous van was broken down so they came in their smaller car. To this day, I have no idea how they stuffed that many people into one vehicle. It was like a clown car at the circus. Kids just kept coming out.

After supper my husband was making coffee. He asked Reggie if he took anything in his coffee and Reggie said not unless it was really bad coffee. Well, we had instant coffee. Reggie took one sip and said with his characteristic mixture of gentleness and humor, "I'll have some milk in mine." We all howled.

On Valentines day we saw him at church. He said that the next day he was having to go to the doctor because he was having bad headaches and was hoping it was just his sinuses. I still remember where I was standing when he told us.

The next evening I gave birth to our fourth child. The following morning I called Carole and Reggie to tell them about the new arrival. Carole greeted our news with her usual wonderful enthusiasm, never hinting at what she now knew. Not wanting to upset me or diminish my joy in any way, she chose not to tell me her news. The doctors had discovered melanoma cells in Reggie's spinal fluid and this was the source of his headaches.

It wasn't long before Reggie was back in the hospital and then on to the local Hospice facility. Once he was at Hospice, I would go and visit, taking my 3 week old baby with me. The minute I stepped in the door, the nurses would run up and grab my baby and pass her around. I suppose they all so longed to take hold of a new life in the land of the dying.

On March 9, my husband and baby and I spent a long time there at Hospice. Reggie had extreme difficulty communicating by this time, so we did most of the talking. I laid my three-week-old daughter on his chest and he rubbed her back. It was so fitting to see Reggie, even a dying Reggie—maybe even especially a dying Reggie—with a baby. Beautiful.

My husband stayed the evening, reading Reggie funny stories. He was unsure whether Reggie was conscious at that point until he let out what seemed to be a laugh at just the right moment.

The next day we were going to go back to see him. I was going to take my baby and get a picture of the two of them together. Then I got the call. Reggie was near the end. Could I come pick up their kids and hang on to them?

The rest of the day is a blur. After Reggie died we went back to Hospice with the kids. I saw him as they rolled him out. Perhaps this is the mercy of an evil like cancer, that once it is done with you no longer look like you any more. It was so obvious to me that the person they were wheeling out was no longer Reggie. It was only his shell. He wasn't in there any more.

It was March 10. Again a day of loss. A mournful chord.

This is what I loved about Reggie. And love about Carole. She buried him, and I think this was his request, in his khakis, flannel shirt, and slippers. No fanfare. Just love and comfort and humor in the midst of grief.

His funeral was the largest I have ever attended. The funeral procession seemed to stretch for miles. He was buried on a sunny, breezy March afternoon. A beautiful day to say goodbye to a friend.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Homeschooling "Freedom"

An excellent article came up today regarding some of the controversies that have hit the fan in the more extreme arenas of the homeschooling movement and it was a call out to the movement to face these things head on and not to avoid the elephant in the room. It is an excellent post and I agree with everything the author says. I would just add two words.

". . . for some."
"I’d go so far as to say we believe it is the best option."

Turn that into "I'd go so far as to say we believe it is the best option for some." and I'm good.

Because I don't believe that homeschooling is for everybody.

I know that I may be going out on a limb here and taking some risks by saying some of the things I am about to say. Homeschooling is one of the darlings of the Christian community but, as a movement, it has been around for three decades now and should be strong enough and secure enough and wise enough and humble enough to hear these words.

I must say that, in my circles, the pressure to homeschool is immense. Most families I know homeschool. Most of them are not rabid homeschoolers, the type that believe that putting your child in any school is a violation of the commands of God, but there is nevertheless a peer pressure there.

I felt years and years of guilt for not homeschooling. I'm not sure why, because I would have felt more guilt for having murdered a child or two or four, which is what would have happened had I given it a shot. ("Honey, the thought of you trying to homeschool strikes terror in my heart" are the words that came out of my husband's mouth when I first suggested it.)

I know people who have homeschooled for a few years only to decide that their children need to be in school. And they NEED their children to be in school. And that is OK. But, from what I hear, there is a sense that putting your kids in school is a sign of failure. Other homeschool moms try to talk them out of it. What is that about?

From what I understand, homeschooling is about freedom. The freedom to educate your child as you see fit. And that is wonderful and I am so thankful that it is an option for families. I am all about freedom.

But what started out as freedom is not about freedom any more. It is coercion. And guilt. And a very narrow definition of what it means to be a Christian family.

What is true about homeschooling? What is true is that SOME parents have the appropriate skills and desire to educate their kids at home and with the various educational tools that are available outside of either a public or private school setting and THESE parents often do an excellent job.

What is NOT true about homeschooling.

-Homeschooling is NOT something anybody can or should do.

-Homeschooling is NOT the best educational option for all children.

-Homeschooling is NOT a measure of your love for your child.

-Homeschooling is NOT a measure of your love for God or obedience to God.

-Homeschooling is NOT a measure of your worth as a woman and as a mother.

-Homeschooling is NOT the only biblical way to raise your child.

Like it or not, there are a many, many organizations out there who teach these lies and there are many, many parents who believe them. These lies are crippling the Christian community and driving a wedge between parents that need not be there. These lies are producing the fruit of all legalism, the pride in those who DO IT RIGHT, and the despair in those who FAIL.

What started out as freedom has turned into law.

Where is the gospel in that?

What Being Sick Taught Me

I don't often feel bad. I mean, I don't often feel bad physically. Emotionally? Ha! That is a different story. Sigh. But I am not one to get sick very often. Oh, for years I would get the annual cold but sinus irrigations and antibiotics and treatments of all sorts were just not part of my life.

Somehow though, the older I get, the easier it seems to catch whatever is out there. Last October I turned 50 and this winter I have managed to be sick more often than not. It may have something to do with my own miniature, adorable, live-in germ factory (at 20 months she is learning to share . . . at least share her germs . . . well), but whatever the cause, I have been sick. A lot.

(When doing research on what decreases the immune system, I could come up with only one culprit that is really an issue for me, and interestingly, it's the first reason on every list I read: Stress. Bwahahahaha!)

This last bout of illness was the worst. The flu. For you people out there who wonder if you have the flu, well, based on my experience, if have to wonder, then you don't have it. It is like having to decide if you were just hit by a tricycle or an 18-wheel semi.

I used to actually LIKE getting sick. Especially as a mom. Getting sick, especially REALLY sick, was a Get Out of Jail Free card. A mini vacation of sorts. Guilt free. When I had my hysterectomy back in 2007, people asked me about it. Was it bad? Heavens, no! IV morphine and the History channel? Fantastic!

But I digress. This year has been different. When I haven't been sick—and I must add that some of my bouts have been mostly of the common cold variety—I just haven't felt good. And because of the string of cold upon cold, mixed in with the stomach bug and then topped off with the flu, I have grown ever so weary of just not feeling good.

I hate it. I hate feeling physically weak. It makes me feel useless. It makes me feel worthless. It makes me feel vulnerable. It makes me feel like there is an entire world going around out there and people going on with their lives and it is all passing me by.

I don't understand why God does things. I still try to figure that out even though experience has shown that that is a useless pursuit. But one thing that I have gained through the past few months is a greater empathy, admiration, and respect for my friends who suffer physically with chronic illness.

We live in a world that idolizes physical health. We are told that we can write our ticket. That by exercising the right amount and eating the right foods and taking the right supplements or avoiding the right (or wrong) chemicals, we can be guaranteed a long and healthy life. We are told, sometimes by inference and sometimes outright, that if we are sick or if we suffer from some chronic medical condition, well that is our own damn fault. (Excuse the language but somehow it is fitting.) And that is a lie from the pit of hell.

Before you get all funkied up about what I just said, yes, it is true that a healthy lifestyle can prevent a number of diseases but GOODNESS, PEOPLE, we don't have THAT much control and it is time we admit it. Quit being so arrogant as to assume that your health guru has the truth or that because your health regimen works for you, it will be the savior of somebody else. There is so much we don't know and acting like we do doesn't help anybody, least of all those who suffer and who have to wade through all prescriptions and recommendations and treatment options for themselves.

Dang it! I digressed again. What I am trying to say is that I now have a glimpse (and I understand that it is only a glimpse) of what my suffering friends face on a daily basis. And I want to say to those friends . . . you people out there with lupus and Crohn's and various other autoimmune diseases and cancer and diabetes and debilitating back pain and all those other conditions that are too many to name . . . I respect you more now, and more than you know. You are not weak to me, you are strong.