Thursday, December 21, 2017

Merry Christmas Letter 2017

Dear Friends,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We hope 2017 brought abundant blesses, new friends and more love into your lives.

We’ve had blessings and challenges in another whirlwind parenting year. Having four kids was a real physical challenge 9 years ago when Beth was born; I had four kids ages 7 and under. I’m not sure which is more challenging—that phase or having two teens and two tweens and being emotionally wrecked. Someone once told me you don’t get any more sleep when they’re older because they need to talk…a lot. We have some of those heart to hearts during the school day, thankfully, but yeah--parenting isn’t for sleep lovers.

Peter turns 16 January 11th; Paul is 14; Mary is 11; Beth is 9. I’ll fill you in on what we’ve been doing collectively and then tell you a little about each child. Homeschooling eats up traveling money, but this year we did, with husband’s sister’s help, make it over to Lemar, Pennsylvania for the 4th of July to see my husband’s aunt and uncle, with his sister meeting us there. Adding our four to their cousin's grandkids, there were eight children in all, making it a blast getting reacquainted with my husband's family. We’re praying we can take the drive more often. Aunt Dot took us to see her delightful Amish friends, where a large litter of puppies and kittens greeted us. Every child’s dream! Peter and I talked farming with the homesteader while Mary and Paul took pictures of the animals, later entering them in a library photo contest and winning $75 between them, with Mary taking the first prize!

We’ve continued with the AWANA program this year, which runs from September until early May. Peter is in his second year of helping in the preschool class, and Miss Jill, the teacher, loves him. He’s gaining valuable experience in how to control a group of squirrelly kids by staying a few steps ahead of them, and he delights in the funny things they say and do. Peter has always appreciated children—it’s an unmistakable love that comes from a person’s core and causes the spirit to lighten whenever children are near.

Paul is in his last year of the AWANA Trek club (grades 6-8); Mary is in her last year of the Truth and Training club (grades 3-5), and Beth is in her first year of Truth and Training. I help with the middle schoolers, which uniquely connects me to what kids are going through in the public schools as the kids share their prayer requests and their trials and triumphs. I still love working with kids of any age really. This experience, though, helps confirm that homeschooling is still the right choice for each of our children going forward, although for a time we were considering putting Peter in a career vocational high school for his last two years, partially because his OCD gives him so little peace and working helps with that. We’ve all decided against that approach, however.

All four children work with me as door greeters at church, which is part of a push to have whole families serving together as much as possible; my husband works the information booth between services. The elderly people especially enjoy my girls opening the door for them, and will ask where they are when it’s the boys’ turn. If you have a picture in your mind of my girls standing there like model citizens, smiles awaiting, erase that picture. Beth twirls around like a graceful ballerina and Mary looks for bugs in the flowerbeds while they wait for people to arrive. I often have to cue them that someone is coming. Sometimes the overly heavy door gets in the way of remembering to smile, but still, they charm the socks off the cheerful people. And the grumpy people? After six months of door greeting and seeing the same families/people continually, I’ve decided that grumpy people probably don’t know another way to live. They’re the people who harbor irritation over the whole concept of door greeting.

Who knew how telling this job would be! The most joy-filled people who come through my door? They’re the kids and parents of kids ages birth through 12 years…and the more kids in the family the happier they are. Society sells lies about kids—they’re too expensive, they’ll make you slaves, you’ll lose your identity, you’ll have no retirement—and for the first time ever, Americans are having less than 2 children per family. That’s a lot less joy all around. According to statistics, I predict that quality of life and health will suffer in the long term.

This school year has the boys immersed in Spanish 1, Classical Literature and Composition, History of the Christian Church/Medieval History, Geometry/Algebra II (Paul), Algebra I/Geo (Peter), Biology with Lab, Career & College Readiness. In high school my lab partner (who I might have had a crush on) did most of the dissecting and this year my husband (who after eighteen years I sometimes still crush on) will be supervising the dissecting. Our literature class, always my favorite, encompasses some poetry, Romeo and Juliet, Jane Eyre, The Merry Adventures of Robinhood, a biography of Pontius Pilate, Pilgrim’s Progress in Today’s English, Robinson Crusoe, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Pride and Prejudice, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Twelfth Night, The Screwtape Letters, and ten other less famous works.

The girls, also taught together, are finishing a long (2.5 years) study of American history. In March they’ll begin a yearlong study on Eastern Hemisphere literature and history, followed by two years of world history.

Last Spring we used Wednesdays for a Homeschool Co-op, but in the teen years mental illnesses often worsen. This fall we declined Co-op to concentrate on seeing a counselor for Peter’s OCD, ADHD, and new disorder developed in March, called Trichotillomania, which is a subset of OCD (a hair pulling disorder). By June, Peter didn’t have many eyebrows left and was pulling out his eyelashes and through the summer was working on small bald spots in his head. Mary’s had a storm phobia for a number of years and this year, instead of improving, it worsened. She started seeing a counselor in August, and Peter in September, after being on a waiting list for a few months.

When we found these two counselors, I thought things would improve for us. Maybe Peter’s counselor could at least help with ADHD life coaching and the hair pulling, I surmised (OCD therapists are $100+ an hour). I’d become stressed and worried about so many things, including suicide because anxiety is extremely draining and kids don’t tolerate it as well as adults, which our culture doesn’t understand; I knew I had to keep a very close eye on them. Mary’s counselor, although pleasant, planned things that were more appropriate for a younger child. Mary didn’t improve and claims she got nothing out of it.

And Peter? I sat in on those meetings per the counselor’s request. I got an upfront view of the process, which was not the case with Mary. The counselor ending up knowing less than I did about some of Peter’s issues and had nothing to add, other than to ask Peter each week what worked when he experienced this or that symptom. He then wrote the things Peter narrated on a notecard and sent it home with Peter. He didn’t teach. As an educator, that irritated me. If you really want to help people with emotional disorders, you want to teach them about the mind, don’t you? How is your mind tricking you? What must you do to counter it so you can go on with your life?

Now, Peter still does therapy, but at home with me and Mary and Paul. They’re learning that anxiety is nothing more than your brain telling you lies. And their job? To practice catching the lies and replacing them with truth.

I watch them closely and no one is ever left home alone, but I’m learning to give them over to the Lord, knowing he has every hour of their lives planned according to his purposes, and that I can’t save anyone. The best parental move is not healing your own children, but introducing them to the Healer. We replace the lies in the brain with His truth…that he loves us with a perfect love, that we are worthy because he gave us our worth, that he is mighty to save, that he doesn’t make mistakes, that he is working all things according to the good of those who love him. I can see the peace in my children now after one of our counseling sessions, which marry Christian counseling with what man has learned about the mind. Biblical counseling sites provide storehouses of valuable materials for free online. While I provide sound advice for their souls and minds, it’s still up to them to make choices for themselves going forward. Ultimately, for my own peace, I have to remove myself from their choices and keep on praying. Wellness from emotional disorders is always a choice—it’s a daily choice, a fighting choice, but still a choice. Anxiety takes many victims and I choose hope. I have warned them of the pitfalls—that people will tell you, take this or that to relax--that America has an addiction crisis primarily because of untreated anxiety and don’t ever say yes to artificial relaxation. Go to the Prince of Peace.

Beth, at 9, is very loving and affectionate. Just this morning she declared she’ll be a librarian or a teacher. While skilled at writing, she says it’s not her favorite. She enjoys dancing, reading, drawing, stuffed animals, swinging at parks, hiking, talking to her friend Isabelle on the phone, and playing make believe with her sister, who only sometimes obliges now that she’s eleven. What stands out about Beth every morning is that she starts school immediately, even before breakfast, and stays focused until she’s done. I asked for a new rheumatologist for her several months ago—a young doctor from Turkey who is fabulous. Previously on three drugs for her rheumatoid arthritis, she is now on only one (Orencia administered via IV once a month) and so far, there are no problems associated with dropping the other two. She requested a guinea pig for Christmas and Daddy compromised with a hamster, who will be joining our family shortly—one just like her sister’s long-haired Syrian hamster.

Mary, at 11, became a real bookworm this year. She enjoys reading, hiking, inventing new things using motors from discarded toys (pleads with Daddy to take her to the junkyard for raw materials for her inventions), and caring for her hamster. Fishing has become a real summer highlight for her! The children go fishing with Daddy (who hates fishing but likes birding) nearly every weekend in late spring through the fall. Sometimes Paul stays with me, but often he goes fishing; Mary always catches the most fish. Mary’s an able athlete and fierce competitor in sports and in board games with her siblings. The boys are heavily into chess and she goes to a chess club with them once a month, just starting to improve her game.

Mary’s greatest storm fear is that the roof will blow off the house and she’ll die. Every bad storm or threat of a storm is like the last day of her life; it’s a huge weight to carry and distraction is all that works at the present time. The hardest thing is if I’m on a grocery run and a storm brews up, my husband calls me to calm down what looks like a panic attack starting in her. The breathing exercises work, but she needs to learn to do them solo; Peter is good at working with her if we’re driving and a storm brews.

Paul loves chess, attending and following our local university's basketball and football games with his dad (who often gets free tickets), playing basketball in the driveway, attending youth group and AWANA, math, cooking and baking, playing Christmas songs on the piano (for fun; he doesn’t take lessons), and somehow he enjoys taking practice SAT tests wherever he can find them. He wants to do something with engineering someday. Paul and I are partners in trying to stay sane around here; he encourages my heart and always has something nice to say, even though he has struggles of his own. I’m careful to remind Paul that God’s got my back. It’s easy to feel like a huge failure when you have kids with mental disorders. I have to drown out a lot of noise to hear the truth…that God loves me, that I am not a failure as a mother, that God has a purpose for our struggles, a purpose bigger than we are, a purpose that will bring Him glory and our hearts closer to Him.

I think of Martin Luther, Father of the Reformation, who suffered from OCD, Bipolar Disorder, and Major Depressive Disorder, none of which God healed. No one knew about OCD (he had the same type as Peter) or Bipolar in the 1500’s (Luther was accused of a lot of things due to his peculiar behaviors). God used him mightily, flawed, sinful man that he was. He was no hero, just God’s instrument. The OCD that tortured him from an early age? It was the catalyst for his rebellion against a saved-by-works heresy, against indulgences and a rich Church that used poor believers mercilessly. The big picture was that God wanted the Bible in every home and Luther was the man he chose to do it—though it was the Church’s greatest fear: that the common people would know Truth. The Bible, which Luther took ten years to translate into the common language, then became the catalyst for literacy. God loves us perfectly, scandalously, yes, but we exist for his glory and that’s a hard concept when you just want your healing prayers answered so you can live comfortably. Living joyfully as God’s instrument is a desire the Holy Spirit grows in us over time.

Peter loves fishing and chess equally—one to occupy summer and the other, winter. He enjoys fixing things and career assessments point to technician, or agricultural worker, etc. He’s had his own lawn-mowing business since age 13, now working with five neighbors. He keeps a used lawn mower going, ordering and paying for his own parts. Farming is something he keeps coming back to in terms of career, but it’s hard to say what he’ll choose. Ohio State offers two-year agricultural degrees, which is a current goal, with the aim of working toward owning his own farm.

I've been absent a long time from this blog, and I haven't read any blogs, but I've thought of you and I've wanted to get back here. I just lost my voice, so to speak. I wish you and your family a blessed 2018! 

Merry Christmas!

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 

1 comment:

TerraD said...

Welcome back! You were just down the road from me. Lamar is about 40 minutes from me and where we lived when my son was born!