December 4, 2014

Getting off the Gerbil Wheel

I wrote a while back about having a bit of a breakdown, that made me realize that I was trying to do it all, and I might add, do it all perfectly.  The purpose of the breakdown was to show me how wrong I was, not just about my abilities, but also my desire to even try.  In some ways, it is a message our society sends to us, making us think that we are not doing enough when we are doing more than we should.  Pinterest and all those other "helpful" articles about how to "do things better" only fuel the inner perfectionist, which should be killed quickly and decisively whenever it resurrects.  So the good news is that I have uncovered yet another disguise of perfectionism and through Christ, my battle against it is being won.

Our family has been working hard to get off the gerbil wheel of activities.  Kyle's baseball season is over and we are taking a break from official games, which means one less thing to do Wednesdays and on weekends.  Jessi's First LEGO League tournament is over and we have our Monday and Thursday afternoons back.  Elizabeth's aerial's performance is next week, which will involve three days and that activity won't be renewed, mainly because we will in the near future be dealing with the extra costs of her having a driving permit.  John is the only one who still has two activities, Cub Scouts and Tae Kwon Do, but both of those at this point are only one day each.  The gerbil wheel of activties is being dismantled.  We are seeing positive affects on our family, which is even better news.

In the past three weeks, however, I have discovered another type of gerbil wheel as I have had to deal with increasing interpersonal conflict in one of the kids' activities and that is a gerbil wheel of the thoughts.  As a person seemed to become increasingly hostile, God gave me several orders, each of which were difficult and could only be done by the Holy Spirit changing my pride-filled, natural self:

  1. Philippians 4:8--Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever, is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, focus on those things. 
  2. Ephesians 4:31-32--Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander and every form of malice.  Instead, be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other just as in Christ Jesus, God forgave you.
The gerbil wheel of the mind is the bad stuff listed in the Ephesians passage as well as the critical attitude that goes against Philippians 4:8.  When we are in tough situations, it is so easy to fall into griping and anger and bitterness and to view ourselves as the "innocent victim" rather than the co-collaborator.  In this situation, I know that I was definitely a co-collaborator.  I also know that at the beginning of the conflict, I made every attempt to make peace by acknowledging what I knew at the time to be my sins, asking forgiveness and and asking the person to bring up any other offensive conduct on my part so that I could work on my conduct.  And yet it the conflict became worse.  The person stopped talking to me.  So I clung to these two verses and whenever the gerbil wheel invited me to get on, I made a Philippians 4:8 list of the person's good qualities and I forgave the person for any offenses against me.  The immediate affect was that whenever I actually did that, I felt peace regarding the situation, because I knew God was working in it and He was helping me.  He also transformed my mind so that I was able to feel kindness and compassion for the other person, rather than letting bitterness set in.  And this was really important because there came a time when we were generally avoiding each other because the situation was becoming too hard. However, we both knew the day was coming in which we would have to face each other.  And once again, when that day came, God helped me by waking me up with a vision of the humor in the situation--it really probably reads like a bad "womance*" novel if I went into all the detail.  I could laugh at myself and at the absurdity of it, which is just the first victory.  And because He had been training me, when we did end up looking each other in the eye, I was able to offer a compliment--one of the many "excellent and praiseworthy" things upon which I dwelt--as a peace offering.  I saw the person relax and we were able to talk again peaceably.  So the Prince of Peace worked his "magic" on two stubborn people through His word.   What a great Christmas present!  And as a result, we will be getting together to evaluate what went wrong so that we can both learn from the experience and so that our friendship can grow.  

Not to us, Lord, not to us
    but to your name be the glory,
    because of your love and faithfulness.
Psalm 115:1

* if guys can have a "bromance", women should be able to have a "womance".  And the plot of all bad romance novels is that the boy and girl meet  and like each other but some misunderstanding threatens their relationship because they refuse to talk to each other about the situation until the very end, when all details are wrapped up nicely and they live happily ever after.  I hate bad romance novels.  And this situation, even though good came of it, had some negative consequences, both for the adults and for the kids involved in the activity that only God can redeem.

October 4, 2014

Review of "Run Wild. Live Free Love Strong" by For King and Country

For the last few months, "Fix My Eyes" by For King and Country has been playing on Air1, whetting my appetite for the rest of their album.  The combination of great rhythm and encouraging lyrics create a great get-you-out-of-bed song.  And on the album, they include a drum prelude to "Fix My Eyes" that makes a great song even better.  I "got" the album for my birthday, as a pre-order, but had to wait for a couple of months to truly have the music.  I am not disappointed.  The songs on the album are meant to encourage people going through rough times, though they aren't treacly platitudes wrapped up in soothing maranatha chords.  The words are no-nonsense:

  • "It takes a soldier who knows his orders to walk the walk I'm supposed to walk" (Fix My Eyes)
  • "Beat up but won't be broken; lonesome but always searching; homesick but nobody's heading home soon." (To the Dreamers)
  • "What do you do when you don't get better?  Strong arms, get too, get too weak to hold on..." (Without you, featuring Courtney)

The music is complicated, with rhythms created by so many different instruments, including vocals.  They tend to have the music counterpoint the hardness and despair in the lyrics, both through the rhythms and including bits of chimes/xylophone and other sweeter instruments to lead us to the place where God is there to comfort and heal us, a little bit at  a time.  

But the album is not only about hard places.  "To the Dreamers", "Fix My Eyes" and "This is Love" are anthems for living out the life God has given us and loving the people He has brought into our lives as the album's title envisions.  

The one song on the album that has been speaking to me most, however, is called, "Matter", mainly because of the words.  I started by making a slideshow on Google.  When my husband saw it, he liked it enough to encourage me to make a lyrics video.  I used Windows MovieMaker to create the video.

The video is dedicated to anyone who has experienced tremendous loss, anyone who is struggling to find hope in hopeless situations, to anyone who thinks that God has forgotten them and for those who think that He cannot love them because of what they have done. 
 {Hugs} to you all.


September 17, 2014

Breakdown of a "Supermom"

There is so much that I want to do.  There is only one problem.  Actually there are several problems.  I have limited time.  I have limited energy.  I have limited resources.  The warp drive and transporter beam that would allow us to get to places instantaneously still have not been invented.  I can't be in two places at once.

Kevin Lehman has a book entitled It's Your Kid, Not a Gerbil."  I haven't read it, but I have heard him referenced at various times and it touches on the question of how busy should we make our kids.  Of course, unless you only have one child, busy kids mean even busier parents.   We have four kids, each involved in one or two activities.  Of course, some of those activities require multiple days.  And I can justify each activity in which they participate. And generally, each individual kid does get down time, though Eric and I don't as much because we are coordinating our schedules to make sure our kids get to their activities on time.  If our kids are gerbils, then we are hummingbirds.

Every year, in addition to homeschooling, taking care of the house and kids, attending church and church events and trying to get the kids to their appointed activities on time, I have tried to do something "for myself."  Every year, I try something that doesn't seem like it would take that much time.  Every year, I get totally slammed and stressed out.  As our schedule has continually become stretched to the breaking point at times, something inside has been telling me that the things which Eric and I are putting our attention are meaningless and possibly destructive to our family. However, up until now,  I have had a hard time really putting these feelings into words because I haven't been able to pinpoint the root or even if what I have been thinking/feeling is right.  I have tried to fix things, I have tried to change the way I handle the situations, I have tried everything I know to make the situations better.  But there is only so much I can do.  I have tried talking to my husband about it, but if I can't put it into words, how can I expect him to understand me?

Up until a few weeks ago, I felt trapped in a gerbil wheel of my own making, but there didn't seem to be an exit.  I felt empty, like all I had to give had been spent and I had been burning through reserves for the last two years.  God is my helper and my source of strength, but I don't think that when He had Paul write, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13) He meant, "Over-commit your time and energy and use what I give you to barely get through it."  I started to break down and I could see in my kid's behavior that something was wrong with them, too.

I know that within five years, two of my kids will be off to college and life might get simpler for us, but do I really want the last few years of my life to be so busy doing that I miss out on being with my kids and enjoying them?  Do I want to tell my kids through my decisions and my actions that our value comes in doing and not in being with people?  No!  Definitely no!  Positively no!  As I went through a really bad couple of weeks, I realized that I could do one of two things.  I could keep MacGuyvering my life with emotional duct tape, chewing gum and hair pins or I could allow myself to break down, let the pieces fall into God's hands and let Him fix the brokenness I had created.

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;
    therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.
18 For he wounds, but he binds up;
    he shatters, but his hands heal.
Job 5:17-18

Good News!  God finally gave me the words and had been speaking to Eric so that when I finally was able to speak them, he listened.

August 16, 2014

Tandemingtroll's Guide to Choosing a Candidate

Arizona primaries are quickly approaching and I thought I would share my non-partisan method for choosing candidates, mainly by eliminating obvious choices.  This is my criterion for elimination:
  1. Does the candidate pick a certain group as the source of our nation's problems as the focus of their campaign?  The group can be the opposite political party or a group based ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.  If the candidate is targeting a particular group of people you shouldn't vote for them for several reasons.  First of all, if they start blame-shifting as part of their campaign, what is the likelihood that they will accept responsibility while they are in office?  And if they don't accept responsibility, then they emotional children in the guise of adults and we don't want children running our country, state or city. And if they are targeting one particular group, they are oversimplifying the situation, which means they are incapable of critical thinking and problem solving skills.  Furthermore, if they target one group, what will keep them from targeting your group in the future?  After all, fifteen to twenty years ago,  we were told how horrible coconut oil was for our health and how the evil movie theaters were secretly trying to kill us by cooking popcorn in coconut oil because it was addictively delicious. And now what are all the health experts saying about coconut oil?  Soviets were the evil empire during the Cold War, then they were okay during Glastnost and now they are working themselves into the evil empire again. 
  2. Does the candidate spend all of their marketing money attacking their opponent rather than coming up with a plan for improvement that does not involve newspeak or the hot button phrases that are designed to create knee jerk reactions?  If all they can do is tear down and attack, they will have a difficult time working with other people because they cannot be trusted.  Also, my experience is that most of the attack ads misrepresent the candidate's position or an incumbent's voting record, which makes them liars, which means we can't trust them, which means we shouldn't vote for them.
  3. Does the candidate employ tactics designed to play upon your fears and worries?  Don't vote for that person because they are snake oil salesmen and snake oil salesmen are liars.
  4. Have they been in office more than twelve years?  Politics shouldn't be a career path.  It should be a temporary detour to serve your country and should possibly include a vow of poverty.  People who have been in office more than twelve years should step aside and let other people step up and serve, getting income from the private sector, not the public's tax money.   Besides, the longer people stay in office the more used to power they get and we don't need people making laws to serve their own need for power and control.
  5. Are they making promises that sounds too good to be true?  Then don't vote for them because they are either making promises they don't intend to keep in order to look good, which makes them liars or they don't have a firm grip on reality, which makes them unstable.  I think we can agree that neither are good attributes for lawmakers. 
At this point, you hopefully have at least one or two candidates whom you can research.  If these five qualifiers eliminate all candidates, then maybe remove one (or, if necessary, two) of the five disqualifiers that are least offensive see which candidate is available.  Realize that no one candidate is going to be a perfect fit and they are most likely to make mistakes while in office.  Give them the same grace you want other people to give to you. And please vote in your state's primaries, even if you feel that your candidate doesn't have a chance because not voting becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. 

Happy Voting!

July 25, 2014

Tales from a Tsaddaqim Wannabe

A few months ago, I was reading the book by Amy Sherman that encourages Christians to be the tsaddaqim in their communities.  I wrote about it here.  After one reading session, as I was praying, I felt God calling me to pray for the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.  I wasn't sure why, other than the fact that Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies.  So I prayed that those who were truly innocent would be released and that those who were imprisoned would experience God as their Savior even as they lived behind bars.  Then it occurred to me that some of these men had spent over ten years in prison and I started wondering why they were still in prison rather than going through the trial process that each of us would go through if we committed a crime (I can be quite dense at times).  It turns out, that the US has set up Guantanamo Naval Station and some other territories as land that we control that is not covered by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.  That started me on another reading project, Guantanamo, An American History by Jonathon M. Hansen

Here are some interesting facts from the book:
  • Guantanamo Bay and Cuba were always considered key property for the US because it allowed us to control the Gulf Coast and Carribean.  It goes back to President Jefferson, though even some English leaders during colonial times saw it as an advantageous port.
  • The colonists became angry that Parliament and King George thought that we were unfit to rule ourselves and yet, around 100 years after that, we made the same presumption when Cuba finally started the process of throwing off its colonial parent, Spain.
  • The idea that Guantanamo Bay naval station could be outside the laws of the Constitution was initially presented during the Haitian Boat people refugees crisis in Carter's administration.  Yes, a Democrat, made that decision.  That idea was initially fought by the people who were trying to help the Haitians gain citizenship but was ultimately defeated.  Former Presidents Reagan (R), H.W. Bush (R), and Clinton (D) all supported and promoted the extra-legal status, but G.W. Bush (R) was the first one to take FULL advantage of it after 9/11 as a place to hold suspected terrorists without the need for silly things like trials.
  • In the 2004 Supreme Court agreed that U.S. citizens being held in Guantanamo could pursue their rights, at least the right of habeus corpus and that foreign nationals could be tried in U.S. Courts, rather than only in military tribunals.
The fact seems particularly ironic, that our government, regardless of which political party is in power, has our service men and women who are sworn to protect a Constitutional government and the fundamental freedoms spelled out in the Bill of Rights are denying other people those rights.  In fact, in 2013, President Obama declared that 46 prisoners would remain in Guantanamo indefinitely without a hope for trial.  Though five of those were probably released earlier this year.

Sure, most of these men are not U.S. citizens and sure, they may or may not have ties to Al Qaeda, which would make them enemies of the U.S. I am not in favor of just releasing them.  But I do believe that they deserve to have the same legal rights and privileges of U.S. citizens for several reasons:
  1. The best way to promote a Constitutional type of government is to be liberal in guarding the freedoms of ALL people, whether we agree with them or not or whether or not they are citizens residing in the United States.  Any nation can remove liberty.  It takes an especially strong nation to preserve it at all costs.
  2. Ben Franklin said that "Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."  I would add that those who are willing to deny essential liberty to others to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
  3. It is the height of  hubris to believe that what happens to others cannot happen to us.  If the President, can change the rules without going through Congress to change the laws as the Constitution states, then we, the people will be subject to the whim of every President, which means that someday, maybe foreign nationals will be detained without due process because of some new rule created by the new President.  That, by the way, is tyranny.  And once we give tyranny a foothold, at some point in time, we will become victims of it.
  4. This last reason is most important for me as a Christian:  God hates injustice because justice is part of His character.  Micah 6:8 says this:  
"He has told you, O man, what is good;

    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness (or mercy)
    and to walk humbly with your God?

So for the time being, I will continue to pray for the detainees at Guantanamo, that God's justice will prevail, that Jesus Christ will be their protector and that they will have their day in court.

June 20, 2014

Book Review: _Cinderella's Dress_ by Shonna Slayton

Now that school is over for the year, I have been reading more books to follow my own interest.  I was asked by a homeschooling mom to read her book before it was published through NetGallery.  It did involve getting registered with NetGallery and now involves getting emails from them with other books to read.  Booklover's paradise.  I published my review on Amazon this morning.  I am not one of those people who likes to reveal too much of the story, especially one that is well written and has elements of mystery to it as this story does.  It basically starts with the premise that Cinderella was a Polish woman who became queen after wearing a magical dress to the ball and capturing the Prince's heart.  When she is queen, she gives a loyal family of servants the privilege of being keepers of the dress when her kingdom comes under attack from the step-sisters and their husbands.  The protagonist, Kate, is in this line.  My official Amazon review is below:

I was asked to review it by Netgallery and, like other reviewers, the concept of continuing the Cinderella story through the dress caught my interest. I have to give this five stars because the story completely drew me in and I couldn't put it down.

Kate is the main protagonist whose mother wants her to become America's version of royalty, which is a Hollywood star.  Kate has different ambitions, wanting to crack the male-dominated world of department store window dressing.  And her talents seem to definitely align with her dreams.  One day, her great-aunt and great-uncle from Poland arrived unannounced at their doorstep with a big trunk.  And soon, Kate's great-aunt reveals that her family comes from a long line of caretakers of Cinderella's ball gown and wedding dress.  But is her aunt's story as fictional as the fairy tale of Cinderella seems to be?  

The author manages to weave several themes together as beautifully as Kate's great aunt tats lace, with the setting of the story in WWII.  And I love the fact that the story begins with the fairy tale, but the romance in this storyline is decidedly un-fairy tale.  What kept my attention was how she draws the characters out, little by little and how well she generally manages a lot of characters and several side stories.  Many books written for teens these days use chapter-ending cliff-hangers to keep you reading, but this book only uses that device for the actual climax.  Instead, she uses the mystery of the dress, of Kate's family background and of Kate's character development to hold our attention.

There is one development involving Kate and her aunt that is a bit jarring because it seems to come out of nowhere and a couple of minor story arcs could probably have been eliminated.  However, the strength of the story overcomes these slight problems.

I would highly recommend it for teens and tweens, but I believe that adults would thoroughly enjoy the book also.

This was a total joy to read.  This book is available on Kindle, though we are planning to buy a non-electronic version and get the author's signature.

May 31, 2014

Letting Go

Over the course of the year, as my oldest has developed a better sense of what she wants to do when she grows up, which may involve living far, far away from home, I have been getting a sense that my homeschooling journey will not be taking her all the way through high school.   It is time to release her and test her wings while she is still has the safety net of home, with family and other mentors to help her as she learns to fly.  So we started checking out different schools.  And the one we have really liked is New School for the Arts and Academics, a charter school.  It is a smaller school, which Elizabeth prefers to the big regular high school.  And the English teacher only gives essays on tests, which is what I like.  And most importantly, she will be taking classes in all kinds of art, including ceramics and some art-based computer programs.  Because the school is so small, they have a rigorous application process, asking for two letters of recommendation and requiring the student to write an essay, which is also preparing her for college admissions in a few years (gulp).  Below is her essay to get her into school, which was edited by a friend.

The Influence of the Arts On My Life
By Elizabeth Overtoom

Art has been an essential part of my entire life experience. As I have matured, I have progressed from basic stick figures to more complex drawings that come with increasing skill. When I am listening to a sermon or a lecture for school, I often doodle to help me focus. I also use drawing to pass the time as I listen to audiobooks or music. I find those outside factors influence the way I draw and my artistic abilities. When I am having trouble thinking of an answer to a question, drawing helps me focus on the solution I am searching for. I have always loved to draw, and I would not be the person I am today without art.

From the time I was five, I have had four different art teachers. My first art teacher, Teri Rueckert, taught me pottery and introduced me to mixed mediums, such as using vibrant colors from chalk and the graceful beauty of oil pastels to create a work of art. Ms. Rueckert made her lessons entertaining and instructive, and set the cornerstone for my love of the arts. Russell Taylor taught me oil painting. He made the lessons amusing. Many of my lessons ended with us getting covered paint, mostly from projects that involved me splattering paint on cardboard. He showed me the power of the random, and also showed how to not follow the picture I was painting down to the exact detail, but instead put in the elements I thought would fit with the overall tone of the picture. Carol Brown, is currently teaching me watercolor painting. One of the special talents she includes in her instruction is incorporating lessons about the masters into her teaching. My other current art teacher, Sherri Redman, is teaching me how to sketch.

These early experiences brought together a love and passion in storytelling. I see fundamentals of art and language in movies and literature. Through my lessons, I have come to notice the artistic details and elements in movies. I am fascinated with the processes of coming up with how elements in the story should look, and with the artwork displayed in the finished films. It has inspired me to pursue a career in the line of cinematic arts.

I have researched cinematic arts through watching and reading about the artists who think up the marvelous movie sets and the look of the characters for films such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. I am mainly interested in Alan Lee and John Howe, who are both famous book illustrators, and movie conceptual designers. They are well known for their artistic interpretations of J. R. R. Tolkien's works. I love learning about their techniques and how they thought up the ideas for their beautiful paintings and sketches. I also enjoy reading up on how the ideas for the CGI scenes and how the movie sets were designed, as well as seeing the different ideas for the characters' appearance. I am fascinated with the processes and the artwork displayed in their work.

I believe art has helped me progress as a scholar. Knowing and understanding art has trained me to explore history and literature in detail, just like, as an artist, I need to see the specific parts of an object to draw it properly. For example, while studying the middle ages, I could appreciate the affect on the Eastern European culture and had a better appreciation for the architectural intricacies found in some of the early orthodox churches. Art has improved my ability to focus and taught me to persevere. I have become more disciplined as I have repeatedly practiced techniques. I see the parallel of this kind of exercise transitioning into my studies: I need to repeat a math concept to understand it completely. Therefore, art has helped me progress as a scholar.

As a natural compliment to visual art, storytelling- especially creative writing- is my new present interest. I love reading, and over the past school year I have been studying a more in-depth view of the classics, such as John Milton's Paradise Lost and Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. I enjoy learning abut the different literary techniques and how authors use them to create their masterpieces. Someday I hope to be one of those authors.

I am excited to go to the New School for the Arts and Academics for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, I wish to advance my artistic talents further, by being taught by some excellent artists, as well as learning more and different methods of art. Coming from a home schooled environment, I loved the look of the hands-on classes. They are unlike anything I have experienced before. I believe coming to this school will be beneficial artistically and academically, giving me a strong foundation for my career. The New School for the Arts and Academics will challenge me, and I recognize it will require more concentration and dedication than a normal public school offers. It will push me to work harder for good grades. As a home schooled student, I am in my house for most of the day. I only interact with the people in the co-ops I attend and in my extracurricular activities. Overall, I believe going to this school will be a wonderful event in my life, and will help me when I graduate and go to college. It will also allow me to meet new people, make new friends, and generally have new experiences and opportunities I would not have otherwise experienced.