Category Archives: Life Lessons

Here Comes a Zebra!

We recently celebrated the ninth birthday of my youngest son.  The day was marked with beautiful weather and special activities of his choosing.  The mood was light and joyful, but most of all, reclaiming.

Last year was different.  While the weather was gorgeous and we celebrated with activities of his choosing, we also received news that would rock the world we knew.  Last year was tough – not just for us, but for Owen, also.

While Owen’s medical diagnosis unraveled slowly over the next six months, I came to this realization … I think I always knew.  I think I always knew that something wasn’t as it should be.  When was it, though, that there were enough dots for me to connect in his story?

Although I felt sure of my own calculations, when doctors told me Owen’s due date was significantly later than I had previously calculated myself, that alone did not warrant any exaggerated concern on my part – but in the back of my mind I wondered … How could I have been that far off?  How could I have miscalculated that much? It seemed like an egregious error!

When he was born, he weighed in at a much lower birth weight than my three older sons had.  But he’d also been born without breath in his lungs and required resuscitation and level 2 nursery.  No one seemed concerned over his size, however, because based on their calculations, Owen was born about 4-5 weeks early!  I knew better and chalked his size up to fetal distress and a tumultuous birth experience.

I took him in for his one year old well-baby-check and was told that his height measured in the negative 10-percentile.  Yes, that was -10%-tile! “What?  I’m just going to tell people he’s off the charts and let them draw their own conclusions!” I thought playfully. It was suggested that he’d likely just be smaller in stature than most full grown men.  I was offered the option of looking into growth hormones if I was overly concerned with his potential height, but I’d heard horror stories of children receiving growth hormones so I quickly declined.  Two of Owen’s older brothers had slow starts, too.  I’d just wait this stage out! But in the back of my mind, I knew none of his brothers ever clocked in at a negative percentile.

The incredible staff in the church nursery carried our little man for his first 22 months.  One day, they set him down between their legs so they could use their hands and he walked away.  They were shocked that such a young baby could already walk so well.  I assured them that he was 22 months and had been walking for some time now.  But in the back of my mind, I was growing more and more aware of Owen’s small stature.

At four years old, Owen would still crawl up the stairs at home.  I knew he was small, so it made sense.  Those stairs still looked HUGE to him from way down there.   At this age, he also started to show signs of tiring easily on long walks or standing in lines at stores.  He’d ask for rides in the wagon on our family walks and he’d squat down to rest his legs as we stood in various lines waiting to check out.  Now, in the back of my mind, I knew I needed to start tracking what was going on with our sweet boy as I grew less trusting of my previous self-assurances.

The clues continued to build.  When Owen was five years old, it began to feel awkward requesting size 3 clothing from relatives for Christmas gifts. When he turned seven years of age, we joked about his preteen swag.  But in the back of my mind, I knew that it wasn’t a normal gait. Not on a seven year old boy.

Shortly after this came the night pain.  I would tell him it was just growing pains and send him back to bed but I realized that he was coming to me more often than any of the other kids.  And at this point, who was I kidding?  He wasn’t growing! What was once relegated to the dusty shelves in the warehouse of my brain could be stored there no longer.

That proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back came when Owen turned seven years old. Although he’d been in martial arts for three years already, I noted that he wasn’t progressing like his peers. I was his instructor and was pushing him to do his personal best but his attempts seemed to be lacking.  Later at home, I broke down a kick for him, asking him to replicate the motion. While I was trying to be gentle in my insistence for better form, he looked up at me with his deep brown eyes, tears now streaming down his little red cheeks, telling me, “I’m trying, Mommy!”  At that instant, my heart broke because I knew something was definitely wrong.

It started as a check up with our family doctor.  I told myself we were just checking to make sure that everything was OK.  I knew better – but couldn’t speak aloud the concern that now gripped me.  Our family doctor knew, too because he immediately referred us to a local children’s hospital for an MRI and x-rays and, soon after, to a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. “What are the findings thus far?” I asked our family doctor. “It’s either bilateral Leg Perthes or Multiple Epiphyseal Dysplasia,” came his calm response. “Once you see the specialist, you’ll know more.”

That evening I met with a group of friends for our Bible study.  I asked for prayer for Owen – and for a sense of peace for me. A dear friend reassured me that everything would likely turn out fine. After all, she said, if you hear hoof beats coming down the street, you wouldn’t automatically think, “Here comes a zebra!”  It’ll probably just be something that is easily remedied, she continued.

His appointment with the pediatric orthopedic surgeon, out of necessity, was set on Owen’s eighth birthday.  He was saddened that he had to go to yet another medical appointment, especially on HIS day – a day where he had requested a trip to the zoo and a birthday dinner at, of all places, White Castle. We fit everything in around his appointment where we were told he had Multiple Epiphyseal Dysplasia (MED) and referred to a geneticist.  Since I was expecting the diagnosis to be that of the more common Leg Perthes, I hadn’t prepared questions for this doctor regarding MED because I prepared myself for a horse, not a zebra! I was suddenly jumping mental hurdles the size of skyscrapers as I struggled to know what to ask him about MED.

In the course of the next six months, Owen endured many medical appointments and had more blood taken from him in one sitting than I suspected his small body contained. We cautiously curtailed his physical activity while we waited patiently for an answer; a final diagnosis.  When it came, it was again different and I was again unprepared.  It wasn’t a zebra … It was an entire herd of zebras.

Today we know what I think I always suspected – although I never suspected this diagnosis specifically.  Owen has a change on his COL2A1 gene which causes Spondyloephiphyseal Dysplasia Congenita, a rare condition that occurs in less than 10 people in 1,000,000.  It results in a short-trunk form of dwarfism – but it reaches so much further than his shortened stature. This collagenopothy will require him to have annual hearing and eye exams since people with SEDc typically have poor eyesight and hearing. Currently, Owen’s hips are not formed properly. While that gives him incredible flexibility that he likes to show off to his doctors, it also causes him to physically tire much faster than his peers.  Eventually he’ll need a bilateral hip replacement to help him live life without pain.  Additionally, his shoulder, elbow, wrist, and ankle joints are all affected and need to be monitored annually. Probably of greatest significance is the fact that this affects his spine.  While his entire spine is flattened, his C1-C2 cervical vertebrae are underdeveloped … meaning all contact sports are out for him as are things like bumper cars, somersaults, and active childrens’ games since even simple falls could be catastrophic for Owen due to his underdeveloped vertebrae.

While Owen does not appear overly compromised beyond his shorter stature, I think I always suspected that somehow he needed attention; something was different. In this, I am reminded that, as parents, we need to follow our instinct when it comes to our children.  I believe that God places a knowledge of our children deep within us, much like He foreknew us before He knit us together in our mother’s womb.  We know our children. We are their first line of defense. We are their protection. We are their guardians.  And while this alters some things in Owen’s life, our goals for our youngest son remain intact:  know God, love God, and be a good person.  And he’s totally on track despite these very earthly hurdles!

Did I suspect anything when we could carry this boy in a backpack? Yes, I did.

Did I suspect anything when we could carry this boy in a backpack? Yes, I did.

Owen runs a race with friends in the DAAA (Dwarf Athletic Association of America)

Owen runs a race with friends in the DAAA (Dwarf Athletic Association of America)

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Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect … But it Sure Helps!

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I’m counting the days now.  I have five precious days between now and then. I have a tad less than 120 hours between now and then.  I have two formal lessons between now and then.  I also have two children to teach, three scheduled appointments to attend, and six youth group children to lead between now and then.

This is something I’ve prepared for over the course of the past 11 years, more heavily over the past two years, but devotedly over the past six months.  Call it a hobby, if you must, but I call it a passion; I call it part of me; I call it dedication.  What is it that lives in my future, a breath away, anticipating my appearance?

In five days, I will stand with a group of peers, before an examination board of five members to demonstrate my abilities in Soo Bahk Do while seeking a rank promotion.  Soo Bahk Do, a traditional Korean martial art, is not a sport, so to suggest that my demonstration involves competition would be technically incorrect. However, on that particular night on the floor of the dojang, I will be in competition – not the competition that would bring to mind two rivals ferociously seeking to triumph over their opponent, but rather the competition that occurs within oneself. Instead of demonstrating superiority over my peers, I will be contending for outstanding execution  of all I’ve ever learned. I will be competing for my finest hour … er … three hours.

Competition. Does it conjure up a positive feeling?  If team sports, such as baseball, football, or soccer, have been part of your life, or perhaps part of the life of your children, competition can feel inspiring or motivating. Likewise, it can also feel discouraging or disheartening, probably depending upon the outcome of the event!  The same is true for those that compete in individual sports or arts, such as gymnastics, dance, golf … or martial arts.

Until recently, I’ve viewed competition as rivals attempting to triumph at the cost of defeating of the other. Both sides walk away; one having conquered, the other having surrendered. Personally, that has always presented a conundrum … how to feel completely content with that win, understanding that it came at a cost to others. At the heart of it, however, we discover that we compete with others, not against others, since we are all striving together to produce excellence. To give the opponent anything less than our best would be out of the question, as it would prohibit them from improving themselves.

Despite the fierce competition that comes from the outside, competition within ourselves can be even more intense as we know better than any other where our capabilities lie and therefore know when we’ve fallen short. While it’s true that we are typically our own worst critics, we can positively utilize that inner-striving to produce excellence. We can use both setbacks and success to improve ourselves. To use setbacks for the purpose of growth is called grace, and as we extend grace to others, we need to extend it to ourselves as well. To fail gracefully, while learning from the process, is a win. We can view our very best attempt as a win, simply because we attempted.

On my journey to this newest martial arts rank advancement, I’ve achieved so many smaller successes.  Previous rank advancements would be obvious achievements. But I’ve also learned the art of dedication and drive, the profession of perseverance and practice, the capacity to comprehend new material, and the ability to overcome adversity in training, Incrementally I have received lessons, beyond the techniques themselves, that I didn’t expect to learn inside the four walls of the dojang.

Soon I will take part in a dan classing where my technique will be showcased to five examiners. While I do not yet know the outcome of that event, I do know that I have grown through the process of preparation. I have developed in ways that far surpass my technique alone.  Fortunately, my instructor is more concerned about my development than my three hours on the floor.

Interestingly, that’s just how God works. He refines us from the inside out and cares about our growth through the process we call life.  Our striving in life mirrors our striving in the various arts and sports … and through both, we grow.

I’ve absorbed, practiced, and persevered. After all that, I still cannot claim perfection in technique. On October 11, 2013, I’ll be leaving the results to God. Like my instructor, He too is interested in the process of development and any lessons left to learn, He will be teaching me!

Counting Up

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Today I begin. I begin to live with an attitude of gratitude. I tell my kids to be thankful all the time.  Then I wonder, do they need to be told …. or do they need to be shown?  Is gratitude something that is taught? ….. or caught?

It’s easy to get caught up in the daily to-do list around the house, running errands, wiping little noses, getting swept up in the scurry of BLESSINGS that are no longer counted as such.

That cluttered countertop? Be thankful. It means you have the blessings of modern appliances, the postal system as a means of communication, the funds to purchase coffee, and yes, toys for the kids.

Take a look around you. What do you see as you are seated in the comfort of your home? What does it tell you …. really, what does it tell you when you start seeing it as a blessing? It tells me I am blessed abundantly, beyond measure.

Today I begin.  May I challenge you, Reader, to start counting your blessings too? There are still 293 days left in 2013. Begin today. Count just three blessings a day and you will amass nearly 1000 blessings before the end of the year!  1000 blessings! So very much to be thankful for. Start.  Today.  Do it.

  1. 3/13/13:  I’m thankful for the blessing of the beautiful, bright sun filling my house with natural light  and warmth.
  2.  3/13/13: I’m thankful for the blessing of friends – near and far – who are there for me and with me as I navigate this wonderful life.  Hope to see you all in the next life!
  3. 3/13/13: OK. The clutter. Yes, I’ll be thankful for the blessing of the clutter too, because it tells me I lead a very FULL life.
  4. 3/13/13: And today I’ll be thankful for the time I’m given to CLEAN the clutter. I am a stay at home mom, afforded this time, and it is a blessing indeed!
  5. Just before the stroke of midnight on 3/14/13:  I am blessed beyond measure with an automobile that navigates well in the MN winters!
  6. 3/14/13:  I am oh-so-thankful for the gift of our 9 month old puppy, Dutch. He is a counter-surfer extraordinaire, but he loves us all, all the time – even when we are unlovable.
  7. 3/14/13: And today I am thankful for effective allergy meds since I’m not sure I’d manage well without them!
  8. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for the seasons and the gorgeous flaming fall leaves that dot the landscape.
  9. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for a loving husband who adores me and tries his very best to understand me.
  10. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for the ability to homeschool my youngest kiddos this year! We are having so much fun and they are seriously enjoying the learning process.
  11. 10/7/14: I so thankful to be part of a church that is alive, well, and proclaiming the GOOD NEWS of Jesus Christ!
  12. 10/7/14: I thankful for the unusually warm weather that we have had this fall.  The cold and snow are inevitable, but being able to hold them at bay for a while is absolutely wonderful!
  13. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for good friends in every walk of life!
  14. 10/7/14: I’m really thankful for my new pink and lime green (yes, you read that correctly) Bible! 🙂
  15. 10/7/14: I’m thankful that Halloween candy is not available year round. Those *fun sizes* can get me into so much trouble!
  16. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for the life of my littlest man, who actually didn’t make it through the birth process, but was later revived. We celebrate him on his birthday … in just a bit more than a week from now.
  17. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for the quiet of the late nights. It gives me time to reflect on and savor all my gifts in this life!
  18. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for my 18yo son and his quick wit. He keeps me in my toes, but in a happy way!
  19. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for the academic ability of my 20yo son. At just 18 years of age, he was halfway through his college career, having amassed 72 college credits.
  20. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for the caring heart of my 3rd born son. The love he shows others far outshines his quick temper!
  21. 10/7/14: I’m so thankful to have found a martial arts family that our family can embrace. We have received a gift in the new friendships that we have developed over the past three years.
  22. 10/7/14: With the GIFT of a smartphone this year, I am SO thankful that I am now beginning to feel organized! I’m missing fewer appointments … AND I can keep the littles entertained while AT the appointments! A double blessing!
  23. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for the new/used leather sofa that we found on Craigslist for only $20.
  24. 10/7/14: I’m so thankful that we got our tire replaced for free when I drove over a screw in the road two weeks ago.
  25. 10/7/14: I’m thankful that I still have eight healthy fingers after having broken two of them within six weeks at karate.
  26. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for our new homeschool co-op, River of Life in Lindstrom, where our children are establishing healthy friendships with other like-minded kids.
  27. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for my Bonsai Tree bought for me with love by my husband. Maybe this is one I won’t unintentionally kill. He demonstrates his faith in my each time he brings home a live plant!
  28. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for extended family. While I always wish I had more time to spend with them, I know they love me, near or far.
  29. 10/7/14: I’m so thankful for the abundance of books that we have, for it means we will never have to experience a dull moment.
  30. 10/7/14: I’m so very, very thankful for my new Vitamix Blender. We have had so many enjoyable smoothies in the past three months!
  31. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for my membership with our local food buying co-op. Because of that, our family is able to eat mostly organic food at very affordable prices.
  32. 10/7/14: I’m incredibly thankful for my new hobby – knitting – and my knitting friends.
  33. 10/7/14: I’m thankful that I have yarn (MUCH yarn) with which to create wonderful knit projects!
  34. 10/7/14: Did I mention my incredible Addi Turbo Click knitting needles? I’m really thankful for those. They make knitting so very enjoyable!
  35. 10/7/14: I’m thankful for WordPress.com – My avenue to my creative expression!

Second Sock Syndrome (Or Do It Again! and again and again)

socksKnitting.  Apparently it’s all the rage.  I didn’t know that when I discovered my new love a little less than four months ago. But honestly I’m grateful that knitting is considered trendy right now since it opens up so many doors for me by way of local yarn shops, publications, websites, inspirations, and co-addicts  fellow knitters.

Four months into this new hobby, I have created approximately 15 scarves, 10 hats, a varied numbers of cowls, headbands, washcloths, and fingerless gloves. Yes, I am even in the process of knitting (gulp) socks.

When a friend told me she knitted her socks, my immediate questions was, “What possesses you?”  I would ogle the socks that adorned her feet, studying the micro stitches and intricate patterns, and a feeling of incapability would immediately wash over me.  Each time this happened, I would quickly dismiss the notion of knitting socks as something only attempted by the most masterful knitter or the criminally insane.  I was neither so I was safe.

It’s never really that easy though, is it?  I wounder if you are much like I am. When faced with something that appears to be essentially impossible, it becomes difficult to dismiss for more than ten minutes at a time.  An inner voice whispers in my ear, softly at first, then louder with the passage of time, like a child whose questions have gone unheard for too long.

“You can do it.” “You CAN do it.” “YOU can DO it!” “YOU CAN DO IT!”

OK.  Admittedly, THAT is about all the motivation that I require to tackle something new.  Understandably, there are things that I cannot do.  A triple twisting back flip off a 4″ ledge comes quickly to mind.  Other than that, I appreciate a challenge and typically work hard to accomplish a new goal.  In cases such as this, motivation runs naturally high for me.

For three weeks now I have knit with needles the size of toothpicks and yarn seemingly no thicker than thread. I have watched the pattern emerge as I repeatedly hold my first sock to my foot and imagine the end product, all while I question the sanity of working so hard at something that will soon be covered up by a boot!

As that first sock nears completion, however, the stark realization sets in. That exact sock needs to be knit again.  This time around will be easier since I have just proven that, in fact, I can knit a sock.  But the motivational level has dropped significantly. This is a project that I have already done. I really want to set my sights on the horizon and select a new project rather than repeating the  exact item I just completed.  In the knitting community, this is known as Second Sock Syndrome and it often strikes both the seasoned and new knitter with a vengeance.

This mirrors life, doesn’t it?  Whether in school, at work, or in the home, there are many tasks that require repetition.  A student will daily board the school bus, arrive at a prescribed time, navigate the halls to attend classes, work complicated math problems and write long papers. At home we never truly finish the laundry, meal prep, or dishes.  And even though the same carpet has been vacuumed thousands of times, it will require it again and again and again.  In the work environment, there will always be meetings to attend, customers to serve, and files to be restored.  Often these tasks will involve the same people on a daily basis.

Conversely, a two year-old will repeatedly squeal with delight, yelling, “More, more!” as you pop your head over the top of his favorite blanket in a jovial game of Peek-A-Boo!  A year later, he will plead with you, “Do it again!” as you twirl him around the backyard, helicopter fashion.  At five years-old, he will be in front of the TV at 11 a.m. to watch SpongeBob and find humor in it – even when he has watched the same episode three times already.

I have no doubt that, at a young age, there is still a freshness to much of life in just the everyday, so unless it involves potty training, self-motivation is extremely accessible.

How often do we squeal with delight, singing out, “Do it again!” as we dislodge the vacuum cleaner from the closet and prepare to vacuum the carpet? Have we ever seen anyone board a school or city bus, smiling and calling out, “More! More!”?  Do we find excitement in running the same backup tapes at work as a myriad of colorful lights flash excitedly before our eyes?

So what motivates you? Since Second Sock Syndrome set in with me, I’ve begun questioning people about their motivation in the everyday.  The answers are always varied. Some are surprising, others are more predictable. Some are internal motivators, others are external motivators. Examples include:

  • the threat of punitive measures if not completed (fear);
  • the desire to please someone else (recognition);
  • the determination to set a good example for others (futurity);
  • the opportunity to grow in both patience and persistence (progress);
  • the hope of learning new information (knowledge acquisition) ; and
  • the start-strong, finish-strong mentality (achievement).

Regardless of the motivation, I find there is always one thing that remains constant.  That constant is an end goal that the person sees and strives to attain.  The student strives for the grade in hopes of a scholarship.  The employee strives to meet or exceed expectations at the end of the day, week, month or year, in anticipation of a salary increase, promotion, or both. The stay-at-home mom strives to create an environment that is both aesthetically pleasing and physically comfortable for her family.

Motivation is really a requirement in goal accomplishment since it usually determines whether or not we will even attempt to achieve our goals. Therefore it becomes important to realize what our motivators are. What do we respond well to? From where do we draw our strength to continue?  Are we able to develop internal motivation or do we depend solely on external motivators? As individuals we all differ in what drives us, yet there is motivation in nearly everything we do.

Today I invite you to consider your motivators. Determine what moves you toward your goals. By knowing and understanding your personal motivators, you create a life line in time of need when you are able to recall WHY you are doing something – especially when it appears mundane.

That Second Sock Syndrome I refer to?  It CAN be beat … I need only put the first sock on my foot to realize how important it is to finish the task!

Philippians 3:13-14

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 

The Stepping Stone in the Journey

Minnesotans … We’re a people known for our extended goodbyes. We start saying goodbye in the living room, lumber through the dining room remembering missed conversations, progress slowly to the entryway discussing plans for tomorrow, follow the guests out the the driveway while providing armfuls of hugs and ample driving advice, and then wave unceasingly as the guests drive out of view. Eventually we walk back inside and turn off the lights, resigning ourselves to the fact that our guests have left.

I’m in the process of saying goodbye now and it is tough. Incredibly tough.

I’ve had the same neighbor for over 20 years now. Rob has been a friend, a confident and quite often a role model to my children. For 18 of those 20 years, he has consistently beaten back the cancer monster. He would go into remission time and time again, only to have it rear it’s ugly head in some other form, but Rob was a fighter and no one ever thought that cancer could overcome him.

As I sat inside Rob’s living room, perched on the couch next to his bed, I made light conversation with him, hoping that he was able to hear and process at least some of the things I spoke to him. Occasionally he would open his eyes and I would see him in there, looking at me, wanting to talk but unable.

“The Cowboys won last night. It was a close game, but they pulled it off in the end.”

“You’ve been the best of neighbors. I couldn’t have asked for better.”

“Thanks for always being there when we needed you. We appreciate you.”

“We’ll be here to help JoAnne out. Don’t worry about her at all.”

“It won’t be long now and your body will be restored; healed.”

“I love you. You will be missed.”

While Rob slept on and off, I gently held his hand and talked to his wife seated across the other side of his bed.  We talked about his childhood memories, his kind nature, his football allegiances, his squirrel-shooting hobby, the length of his illness, and his incredibly valiant efforts to survive his odds.

“He didn’t deserve this.” she said.  I nodded in agreement. He so did not deserve this.

“This isn’t what it’s about. Life is just a stepping stone for what follows.” she continued.

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Bird’s Feather Stepping Stone

Amen. I could not have said that better myself. A stepping stone … intricately designed before being carefully set in place, then lovingly positioned into just the right spot, placed to   provide both direction and confidence of footing on the journey. Once established in its given path, it quickly becomes dirty with use and time, yet is easily restored to its initial beauty with one sweeping motion.

A stepping stone … just a small part of a journey along a much longer path. Over time it wears down. Through the hot sun, the brisk winds, and the seasonal storms, it gradually erodes – an unavoidable process that begins at the exact moment it is laid in place. Amid the dirt of life and the inevitable erosion, the One who laid that stone is enthralled with its beauty while understanding its very temporary nature.  Quite often, time itself will cause that stone’s mere existence to cease. Other times, there will be situations that expedite the process.  One day there may even come those that have never known of the stone’s existence.  And yet, fragments will continue to be carried along in the sands, leaving an indelible footprint; proof of its time here on earth.

It looked painfully obvious to me that Rob needed to be moving on from this life. His stepping stone had been well-utilized, but was now wearing so very thin.  Even though Rob wasn’t a Minnesota native, he (not unlike myself) had mastered the long goodbye – both in everyday life and in leaving for the next life. Now, however, was my turn to linger. In my heart, I knew this was probably my very last earthly goodbye to my friend and walking out his door was extremely difficult. I kissed my dear friend on the head, gently hugged his frail body, and told him I loved him one last time.

Today Rob’s stepping stone has served its purpose; his earthly journey complete.

A light has gone out indicating that one of earth’s guests has gone home.

God speed, my friend. You will be so very missed.

Romans 8:38-39

38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Math Word Problems (Or Forcing a Square Peg in a Round Hole)

My nine year-old has more homework than usual this week. That’s OK. Since I homeschooled my oldest sons, I know all too well how to teach a third grader, but every once in a while the explanation seems to elude me.  His weakest (and therefore most detested) subject is math, so I wasn’t surprised that he balked when we began the two pages of word problems. The conversation that ensued while we worked through the problems was actually quite comical.

Me (reading from the assignment): Write and solve a word problem in which you must find an unknown partner.

Aidan (a little confused): You mean like I have to do in gym?

Me (containing my smile): No, Honey. This is different. The teacher is asking you to create a word problem similar to the nine that we just worked through. Finding an unknown partner means you’re only given a portion of the information and you need to use math to find out the portion that you weren’t given.

Aidan: Does it need to be a subtraction problem?

[He sees no useful reason he should ever have to do subtraction, especially if it involves borrowing from the *neighbor*.  Wait until he opens his first checking account!]

Me: Let’s assume the answer is YES since the previous nine problems all involved subtraction.

Aidan (enthusiastically):  I know! There were 15 kids in costumes. Six kids wore ghost costumes.

Me (excitedly thinking he’d caught on quickly): Good, Aidan! I’ll write that part down for you. Now you need to end the word problem by asking a question. What would your question be?

Aidan (very confidently): The question part is really easy, Mom!  How many kids wore werewolf costumes?

Me (mental face palm): Ummm.  No. How could I answer that, Aidan, since there are still nine kids that I don’t know about?

Aidan: Easy. I could tell you.

Me (growing more confused than HIM!): Tell me what, Aidan?

Aidan: I could tell you that eight of the kids wore werewolf costumes!

Me: But eight werewolves plus six ghosts only equals 14 kids. I thought there were 15 kids in costumes.

Aidan (more than ready to make his word problem work):  OK. So let’s say that the other kid dressed as Darth Maul.

[sigh]

It’s fun to hear how Aidan processes things. He’s not a neuro-typical third grader since he navigates life with high-functioning Autism, but he is very academically adept. That said, our math lesson gave me reason to pause tonight to explain to him that somewhere in our conversation, he went off-course. It wasn’t about werewolves at all when we began the word problem, but once he introduced werewolves into the picture, he was focused on  making it work.

How often do we find ourselves doing the very same thing, whether it be with a school assignment, a work situation, or a life circumstance? After using a half page of paper on one algebra problem, it becomes obvious that the direction in which we are headed is not right. But who wants to rework that entire problem? It seems more time-efficient to chalk it up to a great, albeit failed, attempt and be thankful it was only worth five points while moving on to the following problem. At work, we find that the implementation of  a new product did not provide the company with the long-term benefits we anticipated. Rather than giving voice to this fact, we force the new product to fit into the business while we listen to our peers grumble under their breath. In life we find ourselves accumulating debt. As the interest becomes higher than the principle, we begin to realize that our credit card debt is too high, but it’s so much easier to open a new credit card and start with a zero balance than to reign in our spending habits and pay off the balance on the first card.

As we worked through Aidan’s math word problem that evening, we had to return to the base problem to ascertain how to best address it. Avoiding the problem, or simply adding new factors, was not working – no matter how hard he tried forcing that square peg into the round hole!

What are the square pegs in your life? Are you working through issues where you’ve introduced too many factors? Or are you simply ignoring that the issue exists at all? Unfortunately, the issues that are not dealt with remain, needing correction and seeking closure. Left open and uncorrected, they haunt us unceasingly.  Face the issues in your life; correct them; bring closure. It will feel fa-BOO-lous!

Philippians 3:13-15
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.

It CAN Always Get Worse!

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How was your week? Mine felt unbearably long and there were many times I was sure Friday evening would never arrive – or if it did, I would somehow miss it amid the chaos of life. The proverbial nail was driven into the casket this evening as my six year old spilled his milk on the peanuts I had just spent two hours shelling while our four month old puppy pounced excitedly between his rawhide bone and the sweet, dripping kitchen table unsure which way to run in the 1.5 square feet of space available. Admittedly, bedtime could not come soon enough – if not for the young ones, for me.

OK. It can always get worse. When I’m tempted to feel tapped, I try to remind myself of that fact. For example, Rasputin, the iconic Russian religious advisor to the Romanov family, definitely dealt with greater grievances. Hated by many in a country where he held significant influence and power (not an unusual feat in and of itself), he experienced trials and tribulations beyond what I’d wish on my worst enemy. Rasputin was stabbed, poisoned, shot three times, clubbed, and drowned – and with the exception of the stabbing, it all happened in one evening!

I can’t top that. More importantly I don’t even want to try! Incomplete homework assignments, piles of laundry, sticky floors, dinner dishes, spilled milk, and puppy poo all plague my week, but I can tackle those consistent challenges that attempt to derail my days. And much like Rasputin, I don’t go down without a good fight. But his life, and subsequent death, serve as a stark reminder that it can always get worse!

So how did you say your week went?