Tag Archives: Halloween

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.

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If For Only a Moment ….

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I was driving to church to meet with a group of ladies for our study on significance as the sun was slowly setting, when suddenly and swiftly, it happened. The golden rays shone through the auburn leaves of the enormous Maple tree in front of a small, unpretentious white house in the middle of town, creating a beautifully appointed canopy overhead and an array of warmly scattered colors on the grass beneath. And if only for a moment, I was there – almost magically transported back to the innocent days of my childhood growing up in a neighborhood surrounded by the laughter of children and the innocence rooted in those young lives, just as the Maple tree was rooted to that very ground.

That fleeting passage back was not of a specific day, memory, or event. It was more generalized than that. Without hesitation though, I can state that it was a reflection of a time prior to my ninth year, a time when things were simpler, when I understood as much as I needed to, and life was not left with gaping holes, unanswered for the sake of protection. That momentary trek back in time … it brought me to a moment filled with perfect peace, purity, and an assumed protection of all things big and bad. After all, that’s why every little girl has a daddy, right?

The Fall of 1973 brought most of those days to a halt for me, a chapter in a book closed well before the ending. It called into question the very basis of my known peace, my perceived world of purity, and the existence of any possible protection that I imagined would always be there.

On October 31 of that year, my sweet, young, loving friend, Lisa, dressed as a hobo and went out into her neighborhood, armed only with a smile and a candy bag, never to return home again. I wasn’t with her that fateful night, but I can almost see her – still. Lisa had a charming smile that drew you in in an instant. She had an accepting manner that allowed for a great circle of friends, and at that very young age, she had a beautiful heart of gold, totally sold out for her Lord.

I remember November 1, 1973 as though it happened yesterday. It was a crisp, cool day. The sky was a bright azure canvas with very few clouds interrupting the flow of sunshine overhead. “Pray for Lisa. They can’t find her,” was the urgent plea that came from our family friends as I stood inside at the white counter of the bakery they owned.  “What? What do you mean they can’t find her?” I asked as I furrowed my brow. Life was much simpler in those days. At just nine years old myself, it was all I knew to ask. And I can guarantee that I didn’t understand the implications of that plea for prayer. “She went trick-or-treating last night and never returned home,” came the grave reply. Confusion would be an understatement. I could see it in their faces and sense it in the room. There were so many words left unspoken but the worry was thick.

I prayed … and prayed  . . .  and prayed. There were no answers that day, nor the following day. I honestly can’t remember the number of days that passed as we waited for some news. Since Lisa didn’t live in the same town, we waited anxiously for the ring of the phone … Days ambled by as hours grew longer and minutes more intense.  It was a time in my life filled with such a pregnant pause that doing anything other than awaiting a resolution was almost unthinkable. Finally the news came. Standing in the same spot in the same bakery, the dissemination of information was sparse and obscure. “They found her.”  “OH! Where?” I asked excitedly. As she knelt before me and looked me in the eye, the answer came softly, gently, cloaking the anger behind the words but not the tears brimming over the edges of her already swollen, red eyes. “They didn’t find her alive.”

Those five simple words rocked the foundation of my life as I knew it. The peace, purity, and protection of my days were all up for grabs. Hundreds of questions stormed through me, leaving me stunned and unsure which, if any, should be given voice. Who found her? Where was she? What do you mean, “not alive”? How can that even be? How can this happen to my FRIEND? I left the bakery that day in a manner previously unknown to me, shoulders slouched forward, tears streaming down my cheeks, confusion consuming my very core.  No one could answer my questions that day, for my protection. They knew in the years that ensued, I would eventually put the pieces of the puzzle together, but it wasn’t time for me to understand – not at nine years old.

To this very day, Halloween is a *holiday* shrouded in bleak memories. With my oldest children, I would bribe them into staying home by purchasing them a bag of their chosen candy and enticing them with a family movie. Together we would hunker down in the dark, ignoring the knocks at our front door, eat popcorn and candy, all while loosing ourselves in the adventure of the home cinema – played out on a television very small by today’s standards.

Now my youngest children are nearly six and nine years old. Nine. The age I was when I learned about my sweet friend; the age SHE was when she breathed her last breath; an age that no one should know about such atrocities, but certainly should never experience them. To my dire disappointment, my youngest boys so badly want to partake in trick or treating. Do I tell them about Lisa? No … they are far too young. I want to protect them … from the knowledge of this crime, yes, but also from bullies on the bus, from fights on the playground, from injury in a fall … from life. After living that impossible lesson at nine years old myself, I know that I am utterly incapable of protecting them in every sense. So I look skyward every day I release them to the bus, every time they go to play at the neighbor’s house, every moment I let go of them, and say to my great big God, “You’re up!”

Lisa never made it home that night. That was my *take* on the subject for so many years. After reconnecting with Lisa’s mom last year, sharing memories, tears, prayers, and long-distance hugs, I came to the realization that Lisa never made it back to her earthly home that night. Looking back with eternal eyes, however, Lisa really DID make it Home that night.

That moment in time that I mentioned earlier? Without a doubt, that was a God-moment. It was a moment of pure peace, serenity, and security. It was God’s reminder to me …. “I’ve got her. She’s OK.”

Below is a link to a newspaper article written over five years ago about my young friend. Reader, if you pray, could you please lift Lisa’s mom up to the Throne Room today?

If you don’t pray, why not try seeking Christ and inviting him into your life? It can only bode well for you … and one day you, too, may meet my wonderful friend, Lisa.