Be Still My Soul

The sermon tonight was about trusting God, not worrying, and knowing that God cares for me. He works good for me through my afflictions. Leave worrying to the world because I have a Father who is taking care of me, always.

And then we sang the song “Be still my soul.”

There are tons of reasons my soul doesn’t want to be still. And there are just as many reasons it does. The stillness and the wildness push and shove and generally act like my children when they’re stuck inside on a rainy Sunday afternoon. And I am torn up and confused.

Except that the stillness has won already. I know that. And it doesn’t really push and shove. It pervades. It fills. It’s like smoke. (Good smoke. Smoke doesn’t have such a pleasant connotation for me.) But the wildness stirs it up and makes it seem to go away. And then I calm down, and the stillness pervades again.

I keep hearing things like, “I have to do what is good for me.” And I fight against that because it sounds so much like worldly wisdom. But… I need to rethink that. If I do what’s wrong for me, that’s no good either. That’s stirring up the good smoke. I have to get to a place where the good smoke becomes less stirrable. Like a higher altitude or something. Where smoke can gel. Where peace can become a solid instead of something that comes and goes. Probably, it means I need to ask God to strengthen my faith so I can trust Him more.

I’m trying to be more practical here and less metaphorical. I need to pray for stronger faith. I need to keep going to my church because that’s where I’m hearing the Word faithfully preached. I need to keep going to my Christian counselor because she sets me straight when I get confused. I need to play piano when I am anxious at home. I need to write in my blogs because they help me process my thoughts. I need to keep relationships going with encouraging Christian friends because, well, because they are encouraging. I need to be very careful to whom I trust my heart.

There. That was good for me. To say that. I think I will go to bed now.

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Names for Spiders

A couple weeks ago I was doing something at the kitchen table and my son comes in looking for a plastic container with a lid which he could punch holes through. I ask suspiciously, “Why?” He says, “It’s for Tom.” At this point I’m thinking caterpillar, but I can see my son is holding back something, so I ask, “What is Tom?” Turns out Tom is a cute spider on the bathroom wall. Reddish-orange. A little hairy. I immediately instruct him to kill Tom rather than put him in a container. So, my son and youngest daughter (who is not squeamish) spend about twenty minutes throwing fly swatters at Tom, who has sought refuge on the bathroom ceiling. Finally, I suggest a broom handle. That does the job. Tom dies.

Tonight, I was picking up some stuff on the family room floor and I come much too close to a big black spider. Immediately, the non-squeamish daughter comes up and says, “We’ll call him Fred.” She and my son spend a lovely few minutes talking to Fred before they smash him to bits. And then my son cups his hands and walks toward me with a big smile on his face. I know that Fred is dead. I know he has nothing in his hands, but I can’t stop screaming and shivering when he pretends to throw something at my head. And then he laughs. And does it all over again. And I order him to take his bath. Now.

Sigh. I’m glad they can kill spiders for me. But I also wish they could be a little more like their sister, and then spiders wouldn’t have names and I would never suspect them of chasing me with a spider in their hands.

Louisa May Alcott Books

My children, especially the middle one, are loving Louisa May Alcott books. We began with Little Women, then Little Men, and now we started Jo’s Boys. I enjoy them too, and it makes me wonder what is so special about them.

First, they are familiar from one of our favorite games: Authors. It’s an old set of cards from before my childhood. LMA is the only female author. I often wonder if there’s an updated version of the game, and if so, who are the authors? And if not, perhaps I ought to make one!

But why else do we like them? If you read any analysis written about them, especially Little Women, you learn how feminist the book is. Do we like them because they contain such strong and unique women? Well, partly yes, I think. But we like Laurie just as much. And Mr. Bhaer. And then the next two books have a lot of strong and unique boys in them. Maybe we like strong and unique characters in general. There are plenty of those.

More than just the characters, I enjoy the series. I enjoy watching the family grow up and expand. Unlike, say, Charlie Brown, who never gets older, these characters actually mature at an appropriate rate. Jo’s Boys begins ten years after Little Men ended. It seems right. I mean, we laugh because Nat has a moustache, and that’s a funny thought, but isn’t that just like real life? Don’t we have the temptation to laugh at young men when they start growing up and growing facial hair?

These books are also comforting. They have their funny moments, their poignant moments, their tragic moments, their long-winded descriptive moments. But it all strikes chords with our life. Plumfield school sounds a lot like our own homeschool. Demi is “the deacon” because he is pious and philosophical, and we love him for that, not despise him. Tommy is a prankster, and we love him for the trouble he gets into because he is still so good-natured, not horrible and dark. So many contemporary books strike off-notes because we don’t live our lives like the people in the book do. LAM’s books are closer to home than The Boxcar Children or James and the Giant Peach (not that those are bad books).

Finally, I like the wisdom that seems to wrap its way into the books. Jo grows older and learns better how to manage boys, and the book shares that wisdom with us. Amy grows prettier and more sophisticated and keeps her passion for art even as she lives out her life as Laurie’s wife and Bess’s mother. The characters grow more character as they age! I love that. I want to do the same. I think I’ve finally hit on the main reason I like the series. I want to be more Amy as I continue to grow and learn. I don’t want to diminish and become a pale version of myself. God wants me to bloom and be the full version of myself. It seems true that the more we learn from life’s experiences and the nature of other people, the fuller we can extend our own arms out to the world.

School Enjoyment

Although I’ve personally had a rough summer, I’m taking a few moments to count some of my blessings. Our homeschool is really high on the blessings list. I love the challenge of teaching my children, I’m happy to be sharing the world of beauty and knowledge and wisdom to them, and I am convinced this type of home education is a benefit to them.

Three weeks into the school year… what have we done that merits so much praise from myself? Let me make a list.

  • Five in a Row Volume 4: FIAR continues to be a winning curriculum choice for my girls. When I pulled out the first book on our list, Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, all three children gasped and said something like, “I love that book! That’s one of my absolute favorites!” Building their own Roxaboxen in the upstairs family room was a fun adventure which included blankets, legos, Monopoly money, a store of stuffed animals, play food, and empty Mountain Dew cans.
  • Doing an archaeological dig in our little flower garden. I buried some recyclables and let the kids dig them up. Not too difficult, a little wormy, but overall pretty enjoyable, and it was a project that coincided with our history topic.
  • Creating treasure maps with brown pencil and watercolor. We made this fun art project educational with a little info about cartographers. The kids hid some treasure in the house. I had to follow their maps (thank goodness for the obvious symbol of stairs, or I would have been lost!). I found a coin jar (quickly reclaimed by its owner) and two full cans of Mountain Dew. My youngest daughter even made the treasure hunt difficult by adding string-laser beams to the stairway and a teddy-bear rescue mission.
  • The Sassafras Twins Science Book: Anatomy. We enjoyed Zoology last year, and we are finding Anatomy to be even more exciting! It is definitely the most-asked-for subject. And mean Mom only schedules it twice a week.
  • Sneaky Geography. I don’t call it geography at all. My girls claim to despise geography. However, they willingly pull state and country books off the library shelves and beg to write a story about them. We sit on the couch together, paging through the books, and they dictate a vacation adventure story (starring ourselves, of course), which I write down faithfully. Today we went to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. I nearly sat on a patch of prickly pear cactus!
  • Spelling! Spellwell workbooks are simple, not too boring, and do the job of making my kids think when they write their words.
  • Homeschool Co-op. We’ve had one week, and already we love it. I am teaching a class about Beatrix Potter stories to a group of 16 four-and-a-half to six year olds. They were very well behaved, excited about Peter Rabbit, and willing to do the projects I created for them. Yay! I love my class!

There’s my list of a few good things that have happened in the last three weeks. I won’t spoil it by listing a few bad things. I may not be earning money, but I really am doing something important with my life.

Boundaries

Room in Brooklyn by Edward Hopper, 1932

There’s a book called Boundaries that is changing my life. My counselor assigned this book, and I’ve been implementing its ideas. It’s about setting personal limits and knowing when to say no. Like this lady in her room in Brooklyn, I have personal limits, walls and windows, that set me apart from those around me. For example, I have a limit concerning my writing and my children. I’m not okay with them watching me write something personal, like an email. I tell them to not be nosy and go in the other room.

Not having enough boundaries allows other people to hurt you or take advantage of you. If you don’t fix that situation, you allow people to do it over and over again. I’ve been challenged with the concept of enabling people to continue in their sin. Enabling is bad, I know it is. And the flip side of the coin – setting up a boundary so that person knows the sin is going to have consequences – is equally hard. Everything about boundaries is difficult. Most things are unpleasant. I don’t like boundaries.

But, I need them. They help me have that “spirit of power and love and self-control” that is mentioned in II Timothy 1:7. Without boundaries, I have a spirit of fear and craziness and self-doubt. It is true that I still doubt if boundaries are a good thing because I don’t like making people upset. And the consequences can be big and life-changing. However, I believe God works peace and truth through boundaries. Ultimately, God cares about me and wants what is best for me. God does not want someone breaking down my good boundaries and coming in and hurting me. And if they do, God is a healer.

Boundaries is a popular book and applicable to any life situation. I do recommend it. The authors are Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. They write from a Christian’s perspective.

Beginning School Again

This was our first week of school, and as it is a week earlier than planned, I chose to begin easy with only our workbooks. It is going well. Workbook work doesn’t consume too much time, and the beginning of our math books are not too complicated.

Emotionally, I’m drained. Too much confusion. Too much personal drama. I pray for peace, but I’m also praying for God to send out His truth, and I imagine peace and truth don’t always come at the same time. Hopefully, the truth leads to peace eventually.

The beginning of the school season means the beginning of homeschool co-op, and I have a challenging class this year. I have begun to prepare, but I’m not a great classroom teacher, and I will be teaching 16 four-and-a-half to six year olds. Thankfully, I’ll also have the help of three adult aides. And also, my class is first hour, meaning they aren’t so tired yet.

And then there is Sunday School, which isn’t hard, but it is extra preparation.

I’m not exactly overwhelmed with the upcoming school work, but I am concerned how this is all going to work with my personal marriage problems. My counselor says to keep doing things I enjoy. I need to take care of myself. I enjoy writing. So I need to keep writing. That is how I hash things out so I can understand them.

Little Women

I’ve had such drama in my life lately, that I want to write something normal. So I will quote a quiet little truth found in Little Women, which I’m reading aloud to the kids right now. This quote comes when Jo and Beth are at the seaside and Jo realizes that Beth is going to die soon.

… for often between ourselves and those nearest and dearest to us there exists a reserve which it is very hard to overcome. Jo felt as if a veil had fallen between her heart and Beth’s, but when she put out her hand to lift it up, there seemed something sacred in the silence, and she waited for Beth to speak.

— from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1869

When I read that line aloud, it struck me as comforting. There’s nothing wrong in feeling shy talking to a loved one. It’s a natural thing, and often the silence between you and that loved one is full of more meaning than the words could ever have.