Saturday, February 20, 2010

On Hope

I read a book review recently which concluded, "Books like [this] make you laugh and cry and ultimately leave you feeling happy and hopeful."

You know that nice, warm, after-a-movie feeling when the world is almost-right and you can do anything. You even look like the heroine of the film until you get to the bathroom and have to stand under the garish movie theater bathroom lighting.

We call that "hope." We like that feeling, fleeting as it is, and sometimes we chase it like an exotic butterfly because we're so desperate to feel hope.

I do not want to feel hopeful. I do not want to be full of hope—not in the emotional sense of the word. Not in the synonym-for-optimism sense. Feelings are far too fickle for me, and like a drug, I find that they leave me feeling emptier when they're gone.

I am a confirmed pessimist. I lose fights in my dreams, but worse, I lose them in my imagination, when I'm fully awake and fully in control. Give me a few minutes to discuss your problems, and while I can encourage, I can really discourage. I can suck the optimism from an entire room with the precision of a government-designed weapon.

Not that I've ever tried.

But if I'm going to deal in hope, it's not going to be trite. It's not going to be sticky stuff that comes from a tree. Hope is not the ephemeral sense that "everything will work out."

I'm discouraging partly because I'm so hard to encourage.

The problem with this kind of hope is simple, though. It's a feeling. Real hope—the kind that is the marrow of the human race—is not an emotion. It is a tool. It is an engine, a generator that spurs the human heart onward when all else has failed.

Sometimes it's only an oar, and you have to pick it up and push back the sea with all your strength until you want to weep with exhaustion. For the sake of survival, though, you pick up the oar, you choose to hope, and you press on with all the determination and fortitude you can muster.

Hope is a powerful force—one to be wielded, not merely felt, not merely enjoyed at the end of a good book.  Hope is a lifeboat, and when your boat sinks, it will get you to that distant shore.

Keep it close. Use it well.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Day

I imagine it's Spring Cleaning in heaven. You can feel the peace coming quietly down with the snow, which must be bits of angels' wings. It's so hard to watch everything turning quietly white and imagine that it's actually wet and cold.

We've done the snowy things you do. We made snow-cream at lunchtime, and the kids are outside now with dad, building the biggest snowman ever. Baby is standing stock-still, crying, "NOOOOOO!" Which actually means "snow," but he refuses to walk in it. Until dad moved him, he simply stood in the doorway, where he got dragged out with everyone else. Now he's sitting happily on a dry porch chair, swigging hot tea from a sippy cup & watching everyone else roll, flop, & fall in the mysterious stuff he happily licked out of his bowl earlier.

On a day so full of good will toward men and peace on earth, how can there still be so much angst, even in my own household?

We've been sick for a week, and the house shows it. We've got that cooped-up feeling going, and the remainders of head colds that can bring short tempers. But it's something more.

It never snows in Texas—maybe an inch every three years here in DFW. We've got close to 4" today. It's the most snow I've seen in Texas in my life, and I've been here the whole time. A neighbor walked by, full of the joy of the miracle, and grinning, he told the kids, "Better enjoy it today! Because it won't come around again any time soon!"

I think that's exactly it. It's the pressure of a once-in-a-lifetime snow. It's the same pressure that we get raising kids. How many times have you heard, "They grow up fast—before you know it, they'll be gone!"

And I have taken the advice so seriously, that in trying not to miss anything, sometimes I miss everything. The pressure of tomorrow, of today being gone, becomes so much that I miss today as much as the person who forgot to look at all.

Sometimes a snow day needs to be just a snow day. Maybe it will be the only one like it in our lifetimes, but that is food for reflection on another day. Today is for snowball fights and strangely shaped snowmen and the icy, crunchy, shapey feel of snow and its limitless possibilities.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Life's Not Fair

We say so many things to our kids that would never fly if someone used it on us. Imagine if the guy who does accounts receivable was always 5-10 min late to work, & finally, your boss said, "That's it. I'm cutting everybody's pay by 2% because of Jimmy here, who can't seem to get to work on time."

The idea behind this kind of discipline is that group peer pressure will work better on Jimmy than pressure from the boss. But, really, what legal thing are you going to do to Jimmy? And if this were really school, Jimmy would be some cool kid who was untouchable anyway.

While such an approach to discipline would *never* fly with adults, I hear this refrain from parents and educators often, as an excuse for their approach to discipline. Those who promote this view say that the sooner kids learn this lesson, the better off they will be. I think it's a lazy approach, a shirking of responsibility.

I'm a grown up. I know life's not fair. Shoot, I knew it when I was a kid. What I don't want is to perpetrate that unfairness in my own home. Life may not be fair, but to the best of my abilities, I will be. You can count on it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Ipads & Kindles & E-readers, Oh my!

I'm a technological orphan. We didn't have a microwave or a dishwasher in my house until I was in jr. high, and one could argue that I married my husband for his computer.

Riding the coattails of my husband's technological finesse, I learned all kinds of things. He won a digital camera back in the days when everybody didn't have one. I completed my master's degree online & taught myself HTML code.

In the process, though, we had children, bought cars, a house, and began homeschooling. The crest of our wave—i.e., our buying power—fell. We still have a microwave & a computer, but no dishwasher. I've never used an MP3 player, and we still use tape cassettes and a VCR. I have become the old lady who doesn't adapt well to new formats.

And now there are people in the world who want me to give up my books, my beautiful, bound library of ideas, risking the conspiracy of the geeks, & trusting my philosophy to a little piece of equipment that is supposed to hold a library in the palm of my hand (or my purse).

Sure, there are bookmarks, if you can figure out how to use them. I write books, & I have a hard enough time finding what I'm looking for in my own novels. If I could afford to print them out whenever I wanted, that would be so. much. better.

So digital reader? Hmmm. I doubt it.

But a piece on NPR about a week ago had me rethinking my position on the whole thing. The commentator was talking about the pros & cons of the Ipad, & one of the best things about the new gadget was how much it's like a book. You can turn it sideways & view two pages at a time. It's got a flip-the-page function.

I couldn't help but notice how funny it is that we're going out of our way to make this new technology as much like the old as possible, to make the conversion more comfortable. I wonder if Gutenberg encountered the same resistance:

What? You want us to cut. our. scrolls. APART??? Why--we wouldn't be able to see what came before & after what we're reading! We wouldn't be able to leave it rolled up where we left off!

Just think how much easier progress would have been if we could have skipped right past the printing press & gone from scrolls to e-readers. Everybody would be happy. Well, except the out-of-work scribes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Muttering Hole

What do you do when one of your kids gets angry? I have one who is sunshine on legs, she’s so cheerful, so easy, so outgoing, friendly, and…bright! She’s eager to please, eager to learn. But sometimes…she gets angry.

This child does not slam doors, yell, or throw things. She’s much more subtle. She mutters. She talks to herself at varying decibels about how unfair life is, I am, a consequence or state of affairs seems to be. She replays whatever made her angry, as if she’s narrating to the room. It drives me crazy, and I recently realized why.

I think it’s passive aggressive. I explained to her that that means she wants me to hear her complaining. By muttering, she’s able to talk back, saying things to me that she would never dream of saying to my face. She’s also working herself into an angrier state, as she hears her own arguments about the unfairness of an early bedtime, for example, and then agrees with herself, more indignant than before. When I suggested these two problems with muttering, she blushed but didn’t deny it.

Muttering is not a good habit, we agreed, but I wanted to validate her feelings. There’s nothing wrong with being angry. My job as her parent is simply to teach her what to do with angry feelings. She clearly likes to talk them out, even if she’s the only listener—and she does like to talk things out!

I suggested a Muttering Hole—a place to go when she’s feeling angry. Instead of telling herself why she’s angry, though, I asked her to say Scripture to herself. Especially the verse about thinking on whatsoever things are pure and lovely and of good report. I told her we’d print it out, hang it on the wall, and she could read it to herself when she was angry. I told her that when she goes to the Lord with her feelings, through prayer and Scripture, He will help her sort through those feelings. Sometimes it’s good to be angry, and when you pray about it, the Lord will direct that passion. Sometimes we’re wrong with regard to how we see a situation, and the Lord will clarify our vision when we turn to Him.

She was happy with that solution. The anger itself wasn’t wrong, just her way of dealing with it. I gave her different words to say, and she thought that would work fine. The next day, before we’d had a chance to set anything up, she said, “Mama, I need a Muttering Hole.” I thought, “Uh-oh. Angry already?” Clearly some kind of sibling argument… But no, she said she was just looking for a place to be the Muttering Hole.

Once she found a spot—under a game table—she spent the rest of the day copying verses from a pack of ABC memory verses from Abeka. For hours, she copied verses like, “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right” onto construction paper. We didn’t get to school that day. I didn’t have the heart to say, “Okay, now put your Bible verses away so we can learn about the Civil War.”

She’s got a Muttering Hole and hopefully a new tool to help her approach her own and other people’s feelings. Now? I should probably ask her to make me a Muttering Hole.