Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Pig Litmus Test

Ive found a great way to judge the daily condition of my heart, and I stumbled on it quite accidentally. Several months ago, I read the story in Matthew chapter 8 where Jesus cast a legion of demons out of man and into a herd of pigs. Many times I've read that story and thought it was so great that Jesus would save that man's life by casting out the demons. There were even times when I read and loved the fact that Jesus sent the demons into swine -- was that a slight jab at demons or materialism?

I've read the story at other times and saw it from the perspective of the people in town. What a display of inexplicable power! They knew that this guy had been absolutely nuts. He even lived in the town cemetery as he was unfit for living around other people. Then, miraculously, he's perfectly normal and the entire herd of swine goes mad and jumps off a cliff. It's no surprise they were scared and even a little understandable how they wanted Jesus to leave town.

However, when I read the story last time, I had an entirely different perspective: I felt sympathy for the owner of the swine.

I thought about how it was great that everybody got to be see this man so miraculously healed, and generations of children since then have loved to read the story of the pigs throwing themselves into the ocean. However, somebody paid the price. Matthew doesn't talk about him, but somebody in that little sea port owned those pigs and that man's healing cost him quite a financial loss.

Yes, this is shallow. Yes, one man is much more valuable than a herd of swine, a mine of gold or the Crown Jewels of Britain. But when I read that story that day, I understood the frustration of the swine's owner. I imagined him, dressed in a nice biblical robe, ready to explode over this tremendous loss, while everyone else was just so happy about the bigger picture.

Then, several days, ago, I read the story again, this time to my children. As I read it and we discussed it, I realized that, once again, I was happy for the man's healing, and fine with the pigs diving into the ocean.

What changed?

I realized that my reaction to the story was based on my heart. Several weeks earlier, I was tired (well, I still am), overwhelmed by several big financial hits (a major plumbing job and car repair at the same time) and stressed with trying to provide all for my kids that I want for them to have. In addition to that I have constantly weighing on my mind that we are not in a home that is easy for two of our daughters to live in. Steps are a part of every aspect of our house, and it makes life much harder for one daughter and really difficult for our youngest. Beyond even all that, a recent visit to our daughter's orthopedist emphasized to us that there are no practical surgical options for her legs at this point. If she's going to walk, it's going to be through therapy in combination with serial casting and a lot of work on our part.

I projected onto the owner of the pigs, exactly what I was feeling. Everyone gets to witness the miracle, and I get to pay for it (through the hard work I do to educate, provide for and deal with the physical aspects of their disabilities -- ie carrying our daughter up and down steps, or waiting while she crawls, sitting her on the toilet because she can't fit her wheelchair in the bathroom, stuff like that -- in addition to the sacrifices we all make for 7 people to live on 1 income).

Since then, the "crisis" has past. So, I'm feeling a lot more balanced about things and when I read the story of the pigs, I can celebrate the healing of such a sick man. I realized that I can use this story as a sort of litmus test for where I am.

Who do I really identify with in the story? Do I identify with the man who was healed? If so, then I understand the amazing gratitude he had for Jesus. Do I identify with the townspeople who asked Jesus to leave? If so, perhaps I'm overwhelmed by his power and misunderstand his purpose. Do I identify with the owner of the pigs? If so, perhaps I'm tired, self-centered and need to pray about my attitude.

I keep thinking that all these healings that are included in the Gospels are about so much more than the healings themselves. Jesus was always very intentional in what He taught, so it would follow that He would be intentional in what He lead the Biblical authors to include.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Me Thinks We is not So Stupid as WKRC Channel 12 News Thinks We is

Normally, I don't watch the evening news. Long ago I learned that if you really want to know what's going on in the world, you just simply don't watch the news. You might luck out and learn something in the newspaper, and now with the Internet it's possible to actually get accurate information, but the local T.V. news is vague at best and downright wrong at worst.

Many years ago, during our funeral home days, I saw my first blatant example of bad reporting. One of the newscasters made a big to-do about an 'in depth" report she had done that had taken over "3 months" to complete. "3 months" she kept telling the viewers, "3 months". To watch her promote her own story, you'd think that 3 months of research was incredibly scholarly and that after airing on the evening news, she'd be submitting her report for her Phd.

During the "3 months of intense research" -- where I guess she was calling local funeral homes -- she compiled a list of the "average" cost of a funeral from each home. Then she took the list and put them in order from cheapest to most expensive. Voila. An expose`. (sorry, I tried for the little French markie thingie).

Only there was one fundamental problem. She never found out what each funeral home was considering "average" to the cost of a funeral. So, some funeral homes added in the average cost of a casket (at that time something like $5000), and some did not. So, some of the "cheaper" funeral homes were actually the most expensive, and some of the middle-of-the-road and even expensive, were actually the most reasonable.

Boy, and that was after 3 months of exhaustive research.

Last night, though, there was a report that should be eligible for some kind Darwin Award or something. Apparently, Duke Energy has proposed a monthly increase in its customer service charge -- from $6 to $15. The increase is to cover the cost of repairing some of the piping that carries the natural gas into the city.

Now, I can understand investigating the veracity of their claim. I can understand investigating Duke Energy's accounting. But I can't understand the stupidity of what I saw last night.

First of all, Channel 12 claimed that Duke was nearly tripling people's heating bills. From the actual report, it appears that people's entire heating bill is not tripling, one charge is increasing. Also, the last time I checked, $15 isn't 3x 6 (18 is, see I am good at math, just not spelling.)

Secondly, I think that if a pipe system that carries natural gas all over our city is in need of repair, then I want it repaired! I've spent enough time in countries where the infrastructure is a mess, and, trust me, we don't want that here. Not only is it dangerous, but it's a frustrating way to live. I don't know about Channel 12's Angela Ingram, but I like living in a city where I have a consistent supply of natural gas for my furnace. I've stayed in cities, in winter, where it's not like that. It really isn't a joke. It stinks. Maybe Ms. Ingram and the other Channel 12 reporters would like to take some cold showers or wear 3 or 4 layers of clothing and still be cold at home.

But then, thirdly, Channel 12 really scraped the bottom of the barrel. I guess it was a slow news night. They interviewed a 91 year old woman about how this terrible rate increase would effect her.

I understand that there are people on fixed incomes. In fact, while not on a 'fixed' income, I am on a really tight budget! However, this was just ridiculous! They just breezed right past the bigger picture of keeping the infrastructure solid and jumped right to the emotional story of a little old lady, shivering in her apartment.

According to the news story, as it is, this lady can never turn her heat above 70 degrees during the day, and turns it down to 68 degrees at night. Already, she's ahead of us, who never turn it above 67 degrees during the day or night.

My heavens people! According to channel 12, this poor lady has had to put plastic over her windows, and, gasp, use multiple blankets at night!!! While this injustice ever end???

I'm all about taking care of the elderly, and I certainly don't want this lady to be cold and uncomfortable, but I still don't see what her heating issues have to do with a cost increase of $9 a month. In addition to that, I fail to see why the elderly should be exempt from doing things like keeping the heat at 70, covering windows in plastic, wearing multiple layers of clothing and using multiple blankets at night. These things don't hurt anybody. In fact, we should all be doing those things -- or perhaps channel 12 isn't concerned about how our over usage of energy can and is contributing to higher bills. Heaven forbid we take any personal responsibility for anything!

I can't even understand what their point would be, unless they just simply want to incite some kind of emotional response against Duke Energy and then end up with either a poor infrastructure, or some kind government-sponsored fix. In reality, though, I think that they just don't know where to really go for the story.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Whatever You Do, Don't Try To Come Between a Boy and His Bottle

It all started when we had the flu. My husband, innocently enough, purchased both my youngest son and me a liter of ginger ale to nurse our sensitive stomachs for the next couple days. I finished mine, and, of all the odd things, rinsed it out, pitched the cap and threw the bottle in the recycling bin.

My son, on the other hand, had grown some kind of attachment to his bottle. He rarely gets any kind of pop, and this was his first experience (he claims) with ginger ale. He was immediately smitten with its sweet-yet-spicy taste. He finished his, and upon rinsing it out in the sink, realized an amazing thing.

"MOM, this bottle will turn any liquid green!" he gasped, "Yet, I can see right through it!"

I knew what was coming next.

"No," I responded before he could ask.

"Can I keep it?"


"Why not?" He instantly regretted asking.

"Why not?" I asked, "Why not? I'll tell you why not...."

Then I proceeded to explain to him how we had no extra space in our house for an empty bottle, that it was really trash, and that I was already tired of picking up junk through out the house... the typical mom explosion.

Then I saw the puppy eyes.

Oh, I thought, It's only one bottle. And its so thrifty and creative of him to find entertainment in something most people think is trash. Plus, it's environmentally friendly to get as much use out of something as possible. Oh, what could it hurt....

"Okay," I said, "You can keep the bottle, but if I find it on the floor you owe me $5 as a trash collecting fee."

His cheers only served to confirm my suspicion that I would regret that decision. Already I was eyeing that bottle as the enemy of my efforts to get my son to pay attention to his work. Plus, as a Mom, I find it a bit unnerving that my son would form an attachment to an empty pop bottle.

We started our school work when the first problem surfaced.

"Why do you have the bottle with you?"

"Because I love it."

"It' empty green bottle."

"I know, but it makes me happy. I can squeeze it."

So, he sat there, working on his handwriting, and occasionally squeezing the bottle. It wasn't long before I couldn't contain myself.

"Enough with squeezing the bottle."


Several minutes later he was at the sink, filling the bottle with water. He sat back down and went back to work. After a minute, he put his pencil down, opened the lid of his bottle and...


A minute of work. He then, again, opened the cap.


Then he repeated the cycle again.

I breathed deeply.

"*&%^$*#" (that's his name, not a cuss word), "You need to put the bottle away. Far away. Away where I can't see it."

"Okay." And it disappeared -- for the time being.

I started working with my daughter on her math. Several minutes into it, I heard him again.

"Ohhhh.... you're green and squishy with my uni-binoculars."

I couldn't even look up. I was certain that I would do something not very nice with the bottle if I saw it. Not to mention, this kid had been sitting there for close to an hour and had only completed half of his handwriting page which normally takes him about 5-10 minutes.

But, I'm brave, so I looked up. He was sitting there, his eyes bulging from his head and staring at me through his snazzy new 'binoculars'. If my camera wasn't missing, I would've taken a picture because words can never really describe what I saw.

"*&$*(#)@" (again, his name, not a cuss word). "I need this bottle out of my line of vision."

"Okay! I'll put my nice set of uni-binoculars away!"

And, they were gone until we were reading the Bible. Although it was still with him in spirit.

"I could make it into a boat that floats." He said, between lines 4 and 5 of his handwriting.

"It's better than my regular water bottle -- bigger." He mentioned as he started his grammar.

"It's like it's really two different shades of green when it's half full." He mentioned, after one line of grammar had been half completed.

"I could even write a face on it."

And, so his musings went. But the bottle itself never made an appearance. Of course, at this point, it had taken on demonic undertones to me, so I felt as though the room was possessed by "the green bottle". We do buy this kid toys! We do invest in fun activities like tae kwon do, drums, piano, swim lessons, 4H and he's even joining boy scouts. What, but the supernatural, could explain this obsessive connection to an empty green pop bottle?

We continued with our day. Me, 5 kids, 2 dogs and the empty green pop bottle.

As I began to read the Bible to the kids, I noticed that my son was leaning back on the couch, and yet not leaning all the way back. There appeared to be something up the back of his shirt.

"*&%($#, is there something in your shirt?" I queried, hesitantly, because I already had suspicions about it.

" back hurts. "

"Yes, but that doesn't answer my question. Are you hiding your pop bottle up your shirt right now?"

"Not, the pop bottle," he replied...."It's more than that.... I filled it with hot water, and now it's a HOT WATER BOTTLE for my sore back. This thing is just so amazing! It's so many things in one reusable bottle!"

At that point, I realized that I wasn't going to win. That stupid bottle was going to be the love and focus of his day. I keep telling myself that George Washington Carver probably had his own special jar he nurtured, that Albert Einstein probably discovered Tupperware's versatility when he was a child, and that Galileo probably fell in love with a uniquely shaped clay pot. I keep reassuring myself about how Edison's teachers called him "addled". It's okay. Really. These are the people that change the world. Really. It's because he's so creative and intelligent that he can find so an empty green pop bottle.

At least I haven't had to pick it up off the floor.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Finishing Up My Thoughts on Jimmy's Thoughts

Well, I figured it was time to finish up my thoughts on James Kennedy's last book. Since the book was really mostly empty rhetoric, there wasn't too much to talk about anyway. Most of the issues I was in agreement with him -- certainly the sanctity of life issues -- but most of the arguments were, in my opinion, weakly expressed and often times based on a misunderstanding of history, world events and the role of government. Also, my husband returned the book to the library and I don't have it on hand any more. Using my super power memory I will attempt to write this blog.

The last thing I was thinking about before the book was ripped mercilessly from my hands and returned to the library was the chapter on education. In general, I agree with him as the basis for his educational philosophy is Proverbs 1:7 (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom). His belief, then, is that education that exists outside of God isn't education. On one hand, I agree with him (which is one of the reasons why I home school my children). One the other hand, there are multiple arguments against taking this verse too literally.

The obvious one being, of course, that there are how many millions of atheists world wide that are quite literate and educated? Do they have any real understanding of the bigger picture of life? They would say they most certainly do, but those of us who do have an understanding of the bigger issues and purposes of life know that they don't. However, you can hardly argue that they're all uneducated, and certainly using that as your starting point isn't going to do much to further the kingdom of Christ.

In addition to that argument, there is no way that you can justify placing a religion in a public school -- even if your religion happens to be the right one. And, while, of course he's counting secular humanism as religion that dominates the public school (and I agree that it is), in theory the public schools should be attempting to not endorse any religion, but teaching respect and toleration for all view points. All that is an aside, though, because it is an entirely different blog entry.

He spends his rest of the education chapter on the miserable state of public education in the United States. Keeping in mind I'm a home schooling mom who has avoided using the public school system, I have to say that I find his argument so unconvincing. This is really bad when you consider that I'm actually on his side! However, being on his side doesn't mean that I can gloss over the facts surrounding education in the U.S., or gloss over the controversy surrounding it.

The fact of the matter is that if you define a good education as obtaining the necessary skill set to advance your life and career, you
can get a good public education in the United States -- just statistically you are unlikely too. Ultimately, the burden of learning is on the student, not the teacher. This country is full of examples of well-educated adults that have graduated from the public school system (myself included). While, I don't credit my public school education to why I'm educated, I did learn to read, write and handle math from the public schools. They did provide a basic, core education. Nothing more, but still, it was a start.

Anyway, Kennedy spends much of the chapter ranting about how the U.S. scores lower than all the other nations on math and science tests.

I had heard once, that the U.S. as an entity does score terribly internationally. However, if you broke down the scores of individual states and compared them to individual countries, several of the U.S. states (might we even say many?) actually stayed at the top of the list. Although it might just have been an educational urban myth, it certainly seems logical. Those of us that live in Cincinnati have no question in our minds that we are way more intelligent than the people who live across the river.

That was a joke. It really was.

So, I decided to look into this issue at bit more. The issue of U.S. student performance compared to the international scene, not why Ohioans are smarter than Kentuckians (because remember, that was just a joke).
I really respect people from Kentucky. I even let some nice people in Kentucky perform multiple surgeries on 2 of my children.

First of all, I learned that the statistics are always based on math and science because those transcend cultural barriers. For example, 10+10=20 in every country around the world. Math and Science are concrete. Language arts, humanities, arts and social sciences are not. Where as we Americans are kick-butt spellers (because we have to be to master this language!) and there are countries where the language is so phonetic that if you can read, you can spell, and the subject of spelling never even enters a curriculum. My oldest daughter would love that! So, humanities, language arts, arts and social sciences are never considered in these statistics.

Considering that our culture has always thrived on creativity, humanities and western thought, along with our Edison-like ingenuity, these statistics might be actually focusing on just the weaker side of our education, not the entirety of it.

In addition to that, I have just finished reading a fabulously written and engaging memoir entitled, "The Bitter Sea: Coming of Age in a China Before Mao" by Charles N. Li. Dr. Li is a linguistics professor University of California at Santa Barbara (I was going to say "Go Banana Slugs", but then I remembered that that was University of California at Santa Cruz). Born in China, Dr. Li immigrated to the United States when he was 21-years old. He spent his childhood in both China and
Hong Kong (as a political refugee of sorts). As he wrote about his teen years in China, he revealed some fascinating information about East Asian schooling. The students who actually made it to secondary education, already an elite minority, were segregated into two distinct groups: math/science and humanities. The top 50% were automatically placed in the math science track and the bottom 50% were "relegated" to the humanities.

In his book, Li writes, "This segregation of students according to their aptitude for science and mathematics explains in part why, after World War II, the overwhelming majority of Chinese students studying abroad have been in the fields of science and engineering. Before World War II, secondary schools did not systematically discriminate against humanities students. Among Father's generation, there were as many humanists/
social scientists as scientists/engineers who won scholarships to study in Europe and America. After World War II, most people in China subscribed to the belief that science and technology provided the only path for a nation, or an individual, to rise to prominence. The belief became so pervasive and firmly entrenched that the educational system automatically shunted high-performing students into science and engineering, regardless of the interests."

While this hardly justifies our lack of expertise in science and math, it may well provide some insight. In addition to that, many of the countries we are compared with do not attempt to educate the entire population. So, that should be factored into the equation as well. There are some smaller nations that offer full public education
that we are often compared with, but I would have to wonder if, in those cases, we should be comparing them to individual states rather than the entire nation. Frankly, Greenland might have a literacy rate of 99.9%, but I could teach 100 people to read too! Just kidding.

So, while I agree with James Kennedy that there are big problems with the public education system in the U.S., I'm don't totally agree with his premise as to what those problems are, what the purpose of public education is, and what needs to change within the public system.

By not
thoroughly examining the problem, we miss coming up with the solution. Across the board, that's the problem I found with this last book. There was a real lack of critical analysis, independent thought and understanding. We might have some ideas of what the end goal of government should be (although I think I disagree with him on many points there), I think that the tactic he took was a real losing battle. If we're totally honest with ourselves, we've lost the culture war, and now we need a new game plan.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Limericks of Illness

There once was a woman of Ohio
Who had a lot of reasons to smile
Then her son he did run
a temperature of 101
And she avoided him like he was Gomer Pyle.

I once was a happy young girl
Before the days of the great hurl
Now I feel like I'm dead,
but haven't quite lost my whole head
Though I fear our home may be overtaken by venomous squirrels. (obviously I've become delusional in my illness)

Virus, a Haiku

Quesy cold yet hot
Whinning Moaning Complaining
such is being sick

Ode to the Stomach Flu

You came to our home quite suddenly
Your attack we did not expect
From the home of a family we considered friend,
never in the least a suspect.

The first hit,of course, our son
Of this we did expect
as since the age of 2 months innocent
Into his mouth everything in certainty went.

Serves him right, I thought to myself.
Good hygiene is not his goal.
Perhaps he'll learn his lesson this time
Watching his siblings enjoy this day so bold

I felt justified, nay vindicated.
"My superior hand washing will save me again."
We placated him with some sweet "you poor thing"s
Certain that we'd never experience a moan of his pain.

However, all that did change on the turn of a dime
When his siblings and I found ourselves laying supine
The flu may have entered our home through him, but
It's havoc has wrecked all who live within.

Now I lie here writing bad poems.
Hoping this will not last so much longer.
If it does, then I'll perhaps try my hand at haiku,
An iambic pentameter, a sonnet or a limrick

Or perhaps I'll try writing a songer.


Boy does the flu really stink!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

No Matter What You Do, You Just Can't Be My Daughter

Ever since bringing home our oldest daughter, people have raved to me about the "Everybody Counts" Curriculum used to "teach inclusion" in the public schools. While I've never really had any significant experience with the curriculum (I've read through their website and talked with parents whose children have been taught from it), there are several things that jump out to me as problems. I know. I'm so annoying. It just doesn't stop with me. Ask my husband.

To understand my perspective on this, you have to understand my vision of inclusion.
My vision for inclusion is that my children's handicaps are nothing more than a tiny little blip on the radar screen of life. I don't want empathy for my children. Sensitivity, yes. Compassion, maybe if they get hurt or someone wrongs them. Pity? Never. I want healthy relationships and respect. Their disabilities are one facet of their lives, not the focus and certainly not what their life will be organized around. Are they life changing? Yes, of course, but that doesn't mean they need to be life defining.

From what I've read and have been told, the crux of the "Everybody Counts" curriculum is a smattering of simulation exercises. In other words, a child is blind folded and given a cane to simulate what a blind person experiences, or a child has an arm tied behind their back to simulate the experience of living with one arm, or a child is given a wheelchair to use for a specific period of time. The idea is that this will give the child an idea of what it is to live with such a disability.

Therein lies the problem.

If I go for a day using only my left hand, I am not able to accomplish even a fraction of what my oldest daughter does every day. In fact, I often do make myself do things one-handed so that I can advise her on how to accomplish certain tasks. However, it never fails. She finds a better, more efficient way. There is no way that my simulation comes anywhere near what the reality of living with one arm is like!
These simulation exercises simply do not present an accurate picture of how a person lives with a disability.

Take, for example, the idea of blind folding a child to simulate living with a visual impairment. Do they really think a blind-folded kid with a cane has developed adaptive behavior necessary to accomplish ordinary life like a person who has been visually impaired since birth? Of course not, the only certain product it would create is the wrong attitude, an attitude of "it's so hard to have a disability!" or an attitude of "you're so amazing! You can dress yourself!"

It reminds me of the time not long after we adopted our first daughter, that a very nice lady I know couldn't stop going on and on about how impressed she was that our daughter could take herself to the bathroom.

"I mean she just hopped right up there and went and then wiped and then flushed and then hopped off and pulled her pants right up."

"That would be the general sequence of things..." I replied.

"Yes, but she did it so well."

"Yes, but she is 4 years old." I responded."4-year-olds use the toliet."

"Yes, but she's disabled."

Could've fooled me
, I thought.

I mean maybe it was just me, but I was far more impressed with her incredible language skills (speaking complete English sentences only a couple months after arriving home!), her great imagination, and her cute little face.

I realize that I'm harsh on this, but, again, I take this all from the perspective of how I would want to be spoken of and to if I had a physical disability. I also know what I want my kids to be known for, and the simple tasks of everyday living are not on that list. Simulation exercises are dangerous in that they trick people into thinking that they have an understanding about something, but, in reality, they have gained a misunderstanding.

There are some other subtle attitudes that I don't like as well. These things are minor, like on the website where it says, "how people who are visually impaired cope with everyday life". I don't know how any parent of a visually impaired child would feel about it, or how a visually impaired person would feel, but I do know that my children don't "cope with everyday life", the "live" everyday life. It's a subtle difference, a mincing of words, but I believe it's important.

I understand that things need to be "hands on" with children. When I speak to groups of children about disabilities, I always make a point of having a hands-on exercise. For instance, I'll take a piece of paper and marker and tell three different kids to find three different ways to write their names without using their hands. Then, we don't discuss the difficulty of writing without hands, we talk about how there is more than one way to write. We talk about how they would improve at writing in their unique way over time, just as a child that writes with their hands improves over time. We talk about how having a physical disability means
thinking outside the box. You have to think differently when you have unusual limitations placed on you. It's not harder, it's not sad, and it doesn't have to be limiting. It's just different.

I know I'm whining, but I just get really really tired of people admiring my kids for the wrong reasons. Their life is sweet and good. Their lives are full. There's really no room for pity. They just want to be viewed as regular old kids that have to accomplish some things in a different way.
And, different can be really really good.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Yesterday we received the quarterly newsletter from a local ministry called The Shepherds Crook. This ministry serves waiting children and adoptive families by advocating for the children's adoption, supporting the adoptive families during the adoption processes, helping with fund raising, and also serving the children with much needed medical help. The newsletter started with statistics I was aware of but hadn't thought of recently.

114,00 children in the US are currently living in the foster care system.

2.1 Million children become orphans in Africa each year.

143,000,000 is the current estimate of the number of orphans world-wide.

Honestly, these are numbers I can't even really get my mind around. I know that the number of children in foster care in the U.S. is nearly the same as the population of Dayton, Ohio. It's more than 4x bigger than population of the city in which I grew up, Warren, Ohio. Just the number of children in foster care is more than enough to populate a city!

The population of Chicago is only slightly larger than the number of children that become orphans in Africa in one year's time.

Estimates suggest that there are probably more orphans, world wide, than 100x the population of New York City.

Here are some other statistics that come to mind:

The average cost of an international adoption: $15,000-$30,000 (with a $10,000 tax credit bringing the price down further). The cost for a US foster-to-adopt: in most cases, $0.

The average cost of a new car in the U.S.: $28,000

Over 1 million new cars are purchased, on average in the U.S., each year.

About 20,000 orphans are adopted internationally each year.

People spend thousands of dollars on cruises (even "Christian" ones), boats, new clothes, vacations and that's in addition to the thousands of dollars now often spent to send 1 teenage girl to prom! Christians are buying movies that will only be watched once or twice, spending thousands of dollars annually on Thomas Kincaide kitsch, and who-knows-how-much on Christian Romance Novels. Christians buy bigger houses than they need, have larger wardrobes than necessary (especially compared to Jesus' wardrobe!) and do silly things like pay hundreds of dollars to send their kids to circus camp.

At what point is the church in America going to wake up to the crisis that the world is facing? At what point are we going to stop justifying our materialism and come to grips with the fact that we might be so blessed so that we can bless others (not our daughter who wants the $2000 prom dress).

As Scott Rosenow, director of Shepherd's Crook, wrote in the newsletter, "Christian, will you look at these [sic] numbers, like the man with the mirror, turn away and forget? Or will you look and remember, remember the call of God to minister to the needy; remember that God's expectation for His followers is not that they will seek comfort and the status quo, but that they will seek to serve Him in ways that defy explanation, ways that appear foolish to the perishing (italics mine)... remember that there are roughly one hundred and forty-three million other children out there waiting for their families. You can't help one hundred and forty-three million children any more than I can, but you can help one or two. I urge you, I implore you, to bring this before the Lord and ask Him to lead you as you consider this. I can promise that your life will never be the same, and your walk will be strengthened and challenged and rewarded" -- Scott Rosenow "Reflections" The Shepherds Crook Issue 14, January 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Socialism of Helen Keller

Several days ago I was shocked into reading a book entitled, "Lies My Teachers Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong" by James Loewen. I have to admit, the title did snare me. After all, I am a Home School Mom and I just love it when text books, which are, in my opinion, the archrival to learning, are proven wrong. However, it wasn't just the title that lured me in, it was the first chapter. Right off the bat, Dr. Loewen smacked me with a sentence that just floored me.

"The truth is that Helen Keller was a radical socialist."

What? Helen Keller was a socialist? How incredibly anti-American! How ungodly! How scandalous! How interesting! An image of her sitting in a rocking chair, by a warm cozy fire, reading her braille edition of "The Communist Manifesto" popped into my mind -- an image I'd never thought could even exist, let alone be conjured in my mind. My world had been rocked, and now I was hooked. I had to read the rest of this book.

However, first I had to understand how, and if truly, Helen Keller was a socialist. It was something that wasn't hard to verify, as the woman was not only a member of the communist party in the U. S., but towards the end of her life wrote letters to a friend who was incarcerated for her communist activities. Apparently Keller was outspokenly socialist in her early adult years, but then moved her socialist activities to the back burner for her later years, as being an advocate for the blind was placed in the front. Wow. You learn something new everyday.

Dr. Loewen's reason for including Helen Keller's socialism interested me, because he has a good point. Most people think of Helen Keller as someone who miraculously overcame her incredibly difficult disabilities. Indeed, I have spoken to my children often about Helen Keller, because she is a great role model for not only my girls, but my boys (whose disabilities include an inability to carry multiple items at once, and problem solve such things as "Where did I put my shoes? How can you expect me to find them when I don't know where I put them?").

Yet, as Dr. Loewen points out, what did Helen Keller do after she overcame her disability and graduated from Radcliffe?

Good question. I realized that I had no idea. Here, for all these years, I've been touting Helen Keller to my children, and self, as a great person who overcame her disability and I had no idea what exactly she did once she overcame her disability. Well, according to Loewen, it's because after she overcame her disability, she became a socialist -- something text books don't really like about her, so they just happen to leave out the 60+ years of her life after overcoming her disability.

Why didn't this ever occur to me?

According to Loewen and several other sources I read (including her obituary) , Keller's socialism grew out of her righteous anger over the treatment of the working class in America when she learned that a large portion of the blindness in this nation came from work related accidents due to unsafe working conditions.

I would grant that now, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union, and seeing, first hand, the fruit of communism, we know that socialism is a baseless idea, chalk full of fallacies and doesn't even begin to factor in the effects of sinful human nature on a society. It seems ridiculous that anyone would believe that socialism would work, although there are professing Christians who believe as strongly in capitalism as Keller did socialism, and capitalism isn't exactly God's economy either. But, I digress.

What is interesting, though, is that no one does mention that Keller was a socialist. According to Loewen, and I have to agree, this is because textbooks, and other teaching aids I might add, want to create "heros". Someone over coming their disability is a hero. Someone doing that and then becoming a socialist is not a hero. However, in creating "heros" some of the truth gets left out, and a myth is created or there is some insight lost because of it. I don't like the creating of heros, because I only want there to be one hero in my life: Jesus.

Is Helen Keller any less amazing because of her political views? I would say no. After the shock wore off, Helen Keller became more human to me. She wasn't a genius, she wasn't an infallible saint. She was an amazing woman who lived a full life and didn't get everything right. It helps me to think, "Perhaps I can do some good, even though I don't get everything right..." After all, I don't want any other heros, but I do want people I can look up to, and take encouragement from, even when I know that they were a bit wacky. And, I would rather my children understand the errant nature of man from the start, so they don't get disappointed in the truth when they're older and hit with it.

In my opinion, Helen Keller did what so many Christians over the centuries have done. She put her faith in changing the system rather than in God. While God can use the "system" to bring change, it's our job to follow his calling to obedience in our own actions. Of course, perhaps Keller would say joining the communist party was God's calling in her life. Ohhhh.... that's wild.

So, it turns out that Keller was an active socialist and writer. She lived off the royalties of her story (along with her teacher) until people lost interest in her book. She almost married once, to a nice socialist man, but her mom hit the roof and kicked the man out her life. Then, when the money ran out, she did a very successful circuit on vaudeville. Although many were offended, she and her teacher did a re-enactment of her story. With interesting people, the scandals just don't cease.

Now, the next question to tackle. How did Keller reconcile her Christianity with her socialism? I would imagine that this very question is why Christians have been more-than-happy to overlook Keller's socialism. It's just so messy, (just like the fact that she was a Swedenborgian, and never committed to a local church -- maybe if she had she would've put her socialist efforts towards a better cause?) but, I agree with Dr. Loewen, it's the controversy, the "mess", that makes it all so interesting.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

More Thoughts on the Healings

I was thinking, again, about the miraculous healings found in the New Testament. The Lord has certainly changed my perspective on many things over the years, but my perspective on the healings are going through a most radical change. Perhaps other people have always had this all figured out, but I haven't (I've been too busy figuring out how to solve America's problems, I guess...).

Anyway, the healings have always been presented to me as acts of Jesus kindness and compassion. Teachers would point out that Jesus would choose to give his time to the "the crippled, the sick and those 'tormented by evil spirits' ". "Tormented by evil spirits" could mean almost anything depending upon whatever church I happened to be sitting in. To some it meant demon possession, to some it meant being tormented by illness and to yet others it meant mental illness. To me it shows that the concept of grouping all disabled people into one big "group" rather than seeing them as individuals with very unique needs can be seen even in ancient times.

The teaching tends to focus on the fact that Jesus was always willing to give his time to the "least of these", to the outcast, the people who no one valued. The thought being that if Jesus was willing to love even them, then certainly he would love me. Before my days as a mother of special needs children, that explanation was enough for me. Jesus did seek out the broken, there certainly is truth and insight in that interpretation.

However, once I became a Mom, I realized that there are some concerns with that interpretation. It began when I started reading children's literature about disabilities. I noticed a subtle attitude that would often come through the text: we should have compassion on them.

I freely admit that I am a curmudgeon, and that I often read through things looking for unspoken attitudes and cheap imitations of the truth. However, take, for instance, one children's book I read where a child and grandpa go to the zoo for the day. While out, they don't just look at the animals, they also look at a myriad of people with disabilities. "Look a monkey! Hey, Look at deaf girl!"

Albeit that was a wee bit of hyperbole, the feel of the book was simply that. The perspective it was written from was a "us looking at them". Even at the end of the book the kid writes a letter to a disabled kid saying, "I know your just like everybody else." Of course, if that's so true, then why did he have to write and tell her in the first place?

It's all so pedantic.

I started to think, "How would I feel to be the subject of a book like that?" "How would I like it to be labeled 'the person we're supposed to have compassion on.' "

Maybe it's just pride... but maybe something is there. As a child, how would I feel if someone wrote me a letter saying, "Really, I believe you're just like everybody else?" Well, I would be pretty concerned as to why a person would feel the need to say that to me.

So, does this apply to the miracles? I think so, because maybe, just maybe, the only point wasn't that Jesus was just compassionate, but that Jesus understood the value of people with disabilities, and that those who have a disability don't have to be on the margins of society. With Jesus there wasn't a "we" and "them." He didn't need to tell disabled people "you're just like everybody else." He knows it and He knows they know it.

Think, again, to the story of the man by the pool of Bethesda. Jesus asked him if he wanted to be healed. Our presumption is, of course, that he would want to be healed. The most common explanation I've heard for that question is that Jesus is asking him because maybe "he wants to be disabled, he wants to have an excuse for not working." But, perhaps Jesus knew that not every disabled person desires healing.

"Do you want healed?"

There's an option. Jesus understood that abundant life was available to the man whether or not his body was healed. Perhaps one of the points is that either way it's okay. It's okay for a person with a disability to want healing, and it's okay for a person with a disability to not want healing. It's a message of reassurance to disabled people. At the same time, it's a message of perspective for those of us who don't have a disability: don't presume just because someone has a disability that they wish they didn't have it.

Give compassion where compassion is due. Give respect where respect is due.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Life With a Nearly-4-Year-Old

Today my youngest daughter decided to do everything in the world that she could to drive me crazy. She almost succeeded.

It all started when she woke up. I was finishing the paper route with my son, and my husband was in the shower, getting ready for work. No one heard her scream.

Now, she wasn't screaming because she was hurt. She was screaming because she wanted someone to remove the protective railing from her bed so she could climb down. She called for me once, and when I didn't come, she screamed. Then she screamed louder. Really, I'm surprised that I didn't hear her screaming while I was out driving my son around. Grant it, all her siblings, minus her paper boy brother, were still asleep in bed and no one else was getting up. She wanted up -- now.

By the time I arrived at the scene of the tragedy (that would be her description), she informed me that she had been yelling for me. What a start to the day!

Then, she got down, got dressed and came down for breakfast. All was fine. In fact it was all fine until she, her older sister and I needed to leave for a doctor's appointment. As I was setting her in the car, I realized that her tights, dress, shirt -- everything-- was drenched with pee.

Then I wanted to scream.

I didn't have time to change her clothes,so I said, "Well, honey, you're going to the doctor wet."

Since it wasn't her appointment, she was going to just have to sit in her wheelchair. Once in the car, I asked her why she didn't tell me she needed to go potty. She gave me her standard response:


So I went over with her, again, what she should say when she needed to go potty.

"You need to say, 'MOM, I NEED to go POTTY!'"

She scowled at me, her bottom lip hanging low enough to touch her chin.

"Now, you say it...."

Nope, she wasn't going to do it. The line had been drawn and she wasn't going to cross it. She knew she was supposed to tell me she needed to go potty. The whole point was that she didn't want to bother with it, so there was no way she was going to say it now.

"Fine." I said, "You're in time out in your wheelchair until you say those words." I can be every bit as feisty as her.

So, she remained, pouting, in time-out in her wheelchair (which actually worked well since her clothes were wet so she couldn't get down anyway, but she didn't' know that) for the next 45 minutes. Then, as we were in the drive through line for the pharmacy, she decided to proclaim her intent.

"MOM, I NEED to go POTTY!"

Of course, there was no potty anywhere near us. I swear this was all planned. This kid is smart. She plans. She strategizes. And, as a result, she often wins...

Accident number 2.

Then we arrived home. I put her on the pot and made her take her clothes off and put them in the laundry room. She was in time-out on her bed until lunch.

Lunch was fine, and she was happy in her dry, clean clothes. After lunch she and her sister got out the "bean and aquarium rock box" and played with it for a while. Then it was time to clean of the enormous mess. It was not long before the "sweep" controvery arose. We have a small hand broom and dust pan they use to clean up their bean box mess. The older one had it first, and so, of course, she wanted it. Instead of helping with the dust pan she laid down and cried.

I had enough.

"Okay, if you're not going to help your sister, then you'll clean the mess up yourself." I said.

As the realization sunk in, her lip went out.

"Wha... well.... uh.... " some serious pouting, "Well, JESUS STILL LOVES ME!!!"

The implication being, of course, that I didn't since I was making her clean up the mess.

"Well, I still do to, but you're picking up that mess."

The day rounded out with 1 royal tantrum, 2 more potty accidents and an early bedtime.

So, now I will reflect on why I love this kid. Everyday isn't like this. Really. It isn't. I keep reminding myself of that.

For instance, she always talks about Jesus and how much she loves him. It's very sweet, especially when she says, "Someday Jesus will come get me, and then I'll take His picture."

She has also, recently, told me about her "people." I know it's common for a preschool age child to have a pretend friend, but how many have a pretend entourage?

"I do all my stuff with all these people," she told me the other day, waving her arms around and pointing at nothing. "All these lots of lots of people and friends."

It's always creepy when your kid gets pretend friends, but this was the creepiest, a group!

"What stuff?" I asked.

"My singin' and readin' and playin' , " she replied.

"What friends?"

"I have Big Brown bear, 2 little white bears, 2 froggies, 2 elephants and Mr. Helen." she replied.

So, apparently, everything she does, she does for her pretend audience of 7 animals and some unfortunate man named Helen. She, of all people, would want an audience! This is almost as bizarre as the time that my oldest son took an old broken laundry basket, put a pair of jeans in it and called it his "pet kitten". He took it everywhere with him and showed many shocked people the pet kitten. Thankfully, he out grew that phase.

She's also really cute when she pretends that under our dining room table is her choo-choo train. She sits on one of the pedestals and drives the train to her friend's houses. She often takes her baby -- baby John, who, today was wearing bloomers, a bow and a pink shirt. She had to drive him to the doctor for an appointment for his "streps and white spots on his throat."

And, she was really sweet when I tucked her in bed tonight. She hugged me and kissed me and said, "Mom, I flove you." It was really sweet.

So, I just have to remind myself of all the good things. Which is so much easier to do when she's asleep in bed.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Cooking with Deb

Last week, after a full day of homeschooling, I made a very profound statement to my husband.

"It's a lot of work to home school and care for 5 children."

He looked at me like he wondered if I had the mental capacity to home school children in upper elementary school.

"You're just now realizing this?"

The problem is that the schoolwork is not the problem. It's that life goes on at the same time. So, while I enjoy studying Latin, history, music, logic, bible, math (sometimes), science, grammar and literature with my older three, I still have to devote a big part of my day to feeding them all. This starts at the grocery store.

I hate the grocery store. Talk about boring. I mean all that's there is food. And, darn it, the food isn't even cooked, at least not the food I can afford to buy. Since I'm feeding 7 people, I have to be very careful with how I spend our alloted grocery money. I have a complex formula that I follow. It's something like this:

nutritional value + ease + environmental impact / price = must be cheap

In other words, precooked microwavable bacon is never on the list. Fresh apples, Kroger brand vanilla yogurt and canisters of oatmeal are.

I'm trying, very diligently, to go grocery shopping only once a month. This would work better if we had a big freezer, but since we don't have space for a freezer, it isn't an option right now. I do, however, have it down to one huge trip per month, with a second trip halfway through to reload on fresh produce and milk. This past month, I decided to take my oldest son to help, especially as we really need two carts when shopping for the month.

Things went pretty well. To save time, I sent him down the cereal isle while I picked out the meat. I should have sensed trouble at his little cheer upon the news that he was picking out the cereal. Instead, I naively pushed forward. I laid down the guidelines, presuming he'd stick to the cereals that I normally purchase.

"Get 10 boxes of cereal, and they have to under $2.50 each. A couple of them can go as high as $3.00"

When I returned to his cart, he was beaming with pride. All 10 boxes were under $2.50, and all 10 boxes listed sugar as the first or second ingredient! There was no way I could burst his bubble by putting them all back. Needless to say, my other 4 were thrilled when we got home, and I added some new factoids to my education. I hadn't even realized that there were chocolate Lucky Charms.

Once we get home, of course, the marathon continues as we have to put all the groceries away. We actually have an assembly line that we form, passing the food from person to person to either the refrigerator or down the stairs to our ill-placed pantry. Then I spend the next few days trying to convey to my 9-year-old son that this food has to last for a month, not just several days. Yesterday, I caught him about to open a ham for a snack. He carries about 1/4 of our total food bill.

Then, of course, there is the cooking. I actually enjoy cooking. It's baking that I hate. I hate getting flour on my hands and clothes, and I especially hate it when I'm trying to frost something and it rips apart. But, cooking isn't so bad. It's just cooking everyday, day after day. My kids are very polite, and always say, "Thank you for cooking dinner Mommy." but I can tell the popular meals from the unpopular. Usually, the first clue is that they start asking questions about the next day's breakfast.

I've only had one real cooking disaster. It was several years ago, and I purchased a Chinese marinating sauce to give dinner a unique flavor. Unfortunately, unique is the polite way to describe the sauce.

"UGGGHH!" screeched my oldest, "What's that smell???"

"It's dinner" I replied with a smile. He looked unsure and ran upstairs. When the meal was finally cooked, we called him down. He didn't come, so we went looking for him. I found him in our upstairs bathroom with the door closed and the fan on.

"UGH!" he yelped, "Close the door... oh no it's too late, you let the smell in!"

I told him he was being unreasonable. However, after trying a bite of dinner, I realized he wasn't. At that point I filled a bowl with plain rice and took it to him. He was sitting on our side porch because that was the only place he couldn't smell dinner. I handed him the rice through a crack in the door (he was worried dinner would pollute the outside as well.), and pondered what our neighbors were thinking as they watched a small boy, huddled in his coat, eating a bowl of plain rice on our side porch. He wouldn't come in until my husband offered to bake some oatmeal scotchie cookies to cover the smell. He entered the house after the first batch went through the oven.

Our oldest son is gifted in many ways, but especially nasally. This is really hard to live with. One time, my husband was making homemade barbecue sauce. Our oldest walked into the kitchen.

"Ohh." His nose wrinkled. "That smells awful."


"It smells like...."




"With ketchup and brown sugar."

Sniff. Sniff.

"And a touch of mustard, red pepper and salt."

Yes, it's really that bad. I honestly think that the kid has some kind of onion/mushroom detecting radar in him. He can even taste onion powder in spaghetti sauce.

The main problem with all this cooking is keeping things varied while catering to 7 people with very different tastes. I always thought those wives who run their homes on a 2 or 4 week menu cycle were a little, well, stifled. However, I'm now on a month -to -month.

My husband, wanting to help out, forwarded me a link, recently, for a new cookbook. At first blush, I thought that he was hoping for not only some more variety to our dinner fare, but was looking at cheaper options for the main course. Then I saw the cover and it made a bit more sense. The book is appropriately titled "Cooking with Pooh."

I do believe that this must be the absolute worst cookbook title in the history of the world.

Of course, there's nothing for me to do but to continue cooking for my family. My husband does cook on the weekend, and we do have a cereal night once a week. So, I think we'll all be able to survive the next 15 years. At least I hope.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

A Little More Bragging

This artwork was done by my 9-year-old.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Update on the Wheelchair Saga (Also Known as "The Young and the Unmotorized")

Well, I thought I would update on the entire wheelchair controversy. We're still in wait mode on the funding, and so everything is on hold until that's settled. The good news is that our original therapist is back from maternity leave. Since she has actually met us a few times, she has more of a context for our family. I talked with her last week and she ended the conversation by saying, "I just don't want you to feel like I'm pushing this wheelchair on you."

AMEN! This I can work with! But, the push is still, really, to get the chair.

One big thing I'm noticing is that people are assuming that our daughter's "spark" will carry her through and make her able to do anything. To a degree, I believe that's true. But, in the course of the past year of mothering her, I've learned that that spark is also very able to help her dig in her heels are refuse to do even things she knows she can do! Her greatest disability is not arthrogryposis, it's "victim syndrome". The world owes her, and we should just pity her and do for her. At the risk of using the oldest parenting cliche in the history of parenthood, "When we give her an inch, she takes a mile."

For instance, we know that she can dress herself. She knows she can dress herself. Yet, many mornings she chooses to lay in bed and cry about having to dress herself because "it's just so too hard." After she finally realizes that her pity partying isn't going to move anybody, she puts her clothes on and crawls downstairs.

So, we're still really hesitant to do anything that's going to give her an easy way out before she's mastered other ways first. And, I still think this wheelchair is going to sit in our garage for the next 3 or 4 years.