". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Best Laid Plans

Yesterday we went to Warren Dunes in Michigan. It is one of our favorite things to do in the summer. We had been watching the weather and trying for a while to find a break in everyone's schedule that would allow us all to go. Even though the forecast yesterday indicated a 20% chance of thunderstorms later in the day, we decided to take our chances as it will be a few weeks before everyone will again be available.

The dunes are a two-hour drive from our house, so our plan was to leave at 6:00 a.m. and arrive in time to have a hearty breakfast before entering the park. Various factors conspired to result in a 7:00 a.m. rather than a 6:00 a.m. departure, but by about 9:00 we were chowing down at Luisa's Cafe & Swedish Bakery in Harvert, Michigan. Here's Evan finishing off his buttermilk pancakes. Caitlin had the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, while my choice was baked organic oatmeal with dried cherries.

After breakfast we headed for the park and spent about 45 minutes setting up, changing clothes (in the park restrooms, of course!), and applying sunscreen. We found a shady spot under a tree (I may be from Texas but I still don't handle the sun well) and Caitlin took a quick dip in the surf (she is a carpe diem soul, that one). Then she, Evan and Trevor headed off to climb the dunes.

Unfortunately, that's when the trouble started. As distant thunder sounded, a voice came over the park loudspeaker warning of an approaching storm and encouraging people to leave the water if conditions deteriorated further. A little while later our crew returned from their hike and not long after that the loudspeaker voice was back with greater passion, asking people to leave the water and also suggesting that those on the dunes should begin their descent since most of the dead trees on the dunes got that way as the result of being struck by lightning. The good news is that most of the climbers heard and quickly responded. I wish I had had my video camera to record the mass descent!

We sat for a while longer as the temperature started to drop (aaaaahhhh), planning who would grab what if we needed to clear out quickly. As the first drops began we did just that. We had our picnic lunch in our car while scratching our heads at the Really Dumb People who thought it entertaining to climb trees, swim, play on the beach, and ride waverunners in a lightning storm. After a while it became clear that the storm was not going to subside any time soon. We headed home, consoling ourselves with stops back at Luisa's for cookies and Starbucks for coffee. Even though things did not turn out quite as planned, the day was still one spent entirely together and entirely away from Everyone Else, and for that we are thankful!

Gut Reaction

In addition to ruling on Obamacare on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled on the "Stolen Valor" statute signed into law by former President George W. Bush. The law had made it a crime to lie about one's having received military honors or medals. The Supreme Court struck it down by a 6-3 vote.

While I understand the indignation of American citizens at those who would misrepresent their military record so as to get accolades of which they are undeserving, I also worry about the precedent that would be set by allowing the government to become the arbiter of truth in the public forum. We already have laws making it a crime to lie under oath. If we start allowing the government to categorize other lies according to their level of offensiveness, I have to wonder where it will stop? Especially now, with Obamacare still breathing and providing the federal government even more of an excuse to invade every aspect of our daily lives, do we really need to grant it the power to decide what kinds of lies are acceptable and what kinds are not? Again, unless it's done under oath, I consider lying to be a moral/spiritual offense, not a legal one.

Disclaimer: I have been paying attention to very little these days apart from the care and feeding of my own barracks and the troops therein, so I could be sadly misinformed on this whole issue. But this is what my gut tells me. Please be kind to my gut. It's had a hard year.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Question for You Fun Word People

Today, while we were waiting for Sunday School to start, my two oldest children and I had a discussion about grammar. (Isn't that what everyone does while waiting for Sunday School to start?)

The issue at hand was the proper use of the word "fun." My daughter informed me that according to the grammar book she is reading right now (written by "Grammar Girl" Mignon Fogarty), "fun" is only correctly used as a noun. So it is proper to say, "Did you have fun?" but improper to say, "That was a fun game." She (my daughter) observed that one mark of adjectives is that they have comparative and superlative forms (good, better, best; pretty, prettier, prettiest) but that we don't say say "funner" and "funnest." (Yes, we do say "more fun" and "most fun" but I think the grammar purists would argue that when we do so we are using "fun" as a noun, not an adjective, with "more" and "most" serving as  adjectives.)

I have to admit that, Master's degree in English notwithstanding, I had to stop and think about this one. Really? I can't go to a fun party or, after coming home from that same party state that "it was fun"?

I went to Grammar Girl's website and found this entry, in which she discusses the question at length. As with many points of grammar, it depends whom you ask.

So of course I'm asking you, my brilliant readers! Can "fun" be an adjective? What about "word"? If not, what am I going to do about the title of this post? And if I do nothing and turn out to be a descriptive grammarian hiding behind a prescriptive veil, will you still respect me in the morning?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

"I'm Nobody! Who Are You?" (Updated)

This week my husband and I were blessed to attend the 19th Annual Concordia Catechetical Academy Symposium in Sussex, Wisconsin. One of the presenters, Pastor Rolf Preus, spoke about "Knowing Who Jesus Is By What Jesus Does." Here is the third paragraph of that paper (we were provided with a print version):

"We cannot confess the two natures of Christ without confessing Christ as our Redeemer from sin. We cannot talk about who Jesus is without talking about what Jesus does. We cannot consider the person of Christ in isolation from his work."

The inability to separate Christ's words from His actions was a recurring theme of the conference. I had the thought while listening to all of this that it gets at the heart of why vocation is so important. Human beings are inextricably tied to what they do. It is from what we do that we take our identity. 

So when a relationship is broken, one feels not only the loss of that person on an external level but on an internal one as well. "I was a __________ (friend, spouse) and now I'm not; what, then, am I?"

Or when a dear one dies, that loss, too, is more than just the absence of that beloved person, but a new hole within oneself. "I was a __________ (daughter, son, mother, father, sibling) and now I'm not, at least not to the person who is gone; what, then, am I?"

Or when a job is lost, it is not just the worry about making ends meet that can keep one up at night, but the questioning of who one is. "I was a __________ (teacher, pastor, cantor, accountant, secretary) and now I'm not; what then, am I?"

The list could go on. When the loss is not due to death or a broken relationship or the ending of employment but is instead merely the passing from one phase of life to another (as with a breadwinner retiring or a homeschool mom's last child leaving home or going to school) there will still be significant need for adjustment because when the thing we have done for so long comes to an end we are going to some extent feel and grieve that loss.

I realize I am not observing anything new or profound here. But considering all of this in light of Pastor Preus's paper has driven the point home for me in a brand new way. We are what we do. What we do is at the core of who we are. So when what we do changes, we may find ourselves wondering, "Who in the world am I?"

Thanks be to God that even when a Christian can't answer that question in terms of his temporal life he can still answer it in terms of his eternal one: "I may not know what I am doing today, and I may not know what I am going to do tomorrow, but I know who I am. I am a child of God. Jesus has called me, and no matter what I do, I am HIS!" 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

"Trust Not in Rulers . . . "

. . . or fathers or mothers or friends or family or jobs or employers or paychecks or inheritances or churches or pastors or health or pets or intelligence or education or accomplishments or charm or talent or strength or youth or beauty or skill or possessions or status or reputation or house or country or world.

But I know--you will. And so will I. And as always, our Heavenly Father, He Who does not forsake, the only One worthy of our unmitigated trust, will step in to pick up the broken pieces of whatever idolatrous piggy bank we have placed our hope in this time. And then He will not merely glue it back together but instead replace it with one that is so full of His eternal treasure that we can't even get a good rattle out of it, and that is likewise so impervious to breakage that repeated droppings will not compromise it. Even more amazing, no matter how many times we open up the bottom and pull out some of the contents, it is always full the next time we come back for more, because He continually supplies it with Himself.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy. May I have some Word and Sacrament, please?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sounds from a Sunday Afternoon

I was inspired this afternoon to record this two-minute video. My husband and two sons were watching the Yankees-Mets game when Phillip decided to play the piano on a commercial break. He launched into "Amazing Grace" and this is what I managed to record. I did so surreptitiously, which is why all you see is the view out our living room window. Meanwhile, you can hear dogs playing with squeaky toys and family chatter in the background.

What a blessed life I lead. Amazing grace, indeed! By the way, Phillip told me that the music you hear here goes with the words to the fourth and fifth stanzas as found in Lutheran Service Book, #744:

"Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail
And mortal life shall cease,
Amazing grace shall then prevail
In heaven's joy and peace.

When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun."

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Don't mention it. Oh, wait, you didn't, did you?

So, Rebekah visited and said some positively lovely things about our day together. Really, she made my house sound so nice I had to wonder at first whom in the world she was writing about. I do, however, need to point out one omission on her part. It must have been an unintentional oversight. Because certainly you wouldn't come all the way to Chicagoland and not mention that your hostess rewarded your effort by making sure you got to watch an entire episode of Spongebob Squarepants uninterrupted for the first time ever.

You're welcome, friend. It's the least I could do. I wanted to make your visit special. I have nothing if not imagination.

Monday, June 4, 2012

I Think, Therefore I Wear

Remember that drawing of my daughter's I posted a few weeks ago?

Well, she took our advice and decided to make it more widely available. Our box arrived in the mail today!

I know what I'll be wearing and drinking out of tomorrow. You can join the club by visiting Caitlin's page at Cafepress.com. If they aren't having a sale right now, just wait. They will. If you're on Facebook, you can like the Cafepress page and increase your chances of getting a coupon code.

What are you even waiting for?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Junior High Concert

For my readers who aren't on Facebook and might not otherwise see these, here are a few videos from the concert my husband's junior high choir gave earlier this week. In the first two songs his assistant directed so he could play piano. He plays jazz and I don't, so he was without question the right man to accompany the first piece (he played many more notes than there were in the sheet music!). And in the second piece, he played because we couldn't find our sheet music (all we have is a solo version of the piece--he arranged the vocal parts that you hear sung by the choir). Rather than his writing out a part for me to play, he just played the accompaniment himself (and again, played a much more interesting arrangement than I would have played just by reading the ink). Look, Ma, no score!

I am playing on the third piece, which, by the way, Phillip also arranged in part. If you are familiar with the song you know it starts with the quicker tempo that in this video doesn't come until later. It was my husband's idea to slow down the opening verse and give it to a soloist. I think it provides a new spin to a song that has become so popular that most people attending choir concerts these days have heard it.

Making Sense of High Sensitivity

I concluded my previous post about my son by stating that I have come to the conclusion that I, like him, am highly sensitive. I am surprised for several reasons to find myself typing these words. First, I am a cynic when it comes to these kinds of things. I don't know why, but I have always resisted arguments from cause. I think causality is way more complicated and harder to prove than most people imagine it to be. So when people attribute behavior to biology my skeptical side kicks into gear. I don't like anything that provides a potential excuse for things I think people should be able to control. I think we have come to a place sociologically that we want to have a name for everything and a box to put it in and a place on the shelf to put it, and I don't think things are that simple. And even though I have a child with Asperger Syndrome, my attitude towards that "condition" is that it is something that is completely normal for him and a lot of other people. It is just the way he is, in the same way that some of us are more introverted and others are more extroverted. I don't care whether there is a name for it except insofar as its having a name allowed us to more easily access information that assisted us in understanding and teaching our son.

So there is a big part of me that is highly (haha) annoyed to discover this thing called "high sensitivity" and further to discover that it might apply to one of my children and to me. But I can't ignore what I have read and learned in the past few weeks. The passage in the Highly Sensitive Child book (Elaine Aron, author) that started bells ringing in my head was this one:

"Parenting certain HSCs is also more difficult than parenting others. Some are real 'drama queens' and demanding 'little princes.' This partly depends on other aspects of their temperament . . . plus the child's role models and general environment. . . . I also find that parents who are more accepting of the trait and generally available and responsive to their child are the ones, ironically, whose HSCs are more 'trouble' when small. This is because their child feels free to express his feelings . . . . Parents who are less available and responsive--perhaps they are overwhelmed themselves, or nor comfortable with intense emotions--may cause an HSC to hide her feelings in order to be accepted and not cause any trouble. But the child never learns to cope with these bottled-up feelings, and they usually resurface in other ways in adulthood, when it is much harder to fix. So I always worry a bit when parents tell me that their HSC 'never caused us any trouble at all.'" - Chapter 2, p. 47

The more I study high sensitivity, the more I think I am a highly sensitive person who was a "good" highly sensitive child. I am the youngest of a blended family and when I was growing up there was extreme conflict in the home compounded by mental illness and alcoholism. It would be an overwhelming environment for anyone--how much more so for the highly sensitive person. I have been told by older siblings that when I was a baby/toddler I cried all the time. When I got older, I went from "crying all the time" to "reading all the time." I learned to disappear. It was the best way to survive: get a book, go find a corner, and try not to be noticed. And the trying not to be noticed is pretty much how I have spent my life, which is why I never would have thought of myself as being highly sensitive. Aren't highly sensitive people extremely emotional and obvious about it, calling attention to themselves as they express their inner turmoil in dramatic and noticeable ways?

Well, no. Not necessarily. Here is a list of traits associated with high sensitivity:

Aware of subtleties in one's physical environment and in the moods of others
Very sensitive to physical pain
Need to withdraw to get relief from the stress of being overstimulated
Particularly sensitive to the effects of caffeine
Easily overwhelmed by sensory input (bright lights, loud noises, strong smells, etc.)
Prone to startle easily
Conscientious--tries very hard to avoid making mistakes or forgetting things
Stressed out by too many demands or people coming on all at once (everyone is like this, but highly sensitive people have a lower-than-average threshold)
Intuitive--good at picking up on what's happening non-verbally
When people are uncomfortable, the HSP tends to know what to do to increase their comfort.
Deeply moved by music and the arts
Possessed of a complex and rich inner life--a deep thinker
Avoids extremely graphic or violent movies and television shows
Need for high degree of control/ability to arrange things to avoid upsetting/overwhelming situations
Low tolerance for hunger or thirst, cold or heat
Difficulty performing while being observed
Low tolerance for change
"Shy" (Aron doesn't like this word and prefers the term "social discomfort" for shyness)

The only items on this list that don't resonate with me are the low pain threshold (I think I have a high one) and high sensitivity to caffeine (I am very caffeine tolerant). Everything else fits pretty much perfectly. I am reminded of my husband's good-natured kidding of me over the years about my frequent need to get my "tuffet" in order before I can relax--to adjust things such as the thermostat or the speed of the fan or the volume of the radio to a precise level that I can tolerate. If he drives my car and changes the seat adjustment, it takes me forever to get it back to where it feels right again. I obsess about the slightest differences in facial expression or tone of voice in my friends or family members. If I'm in a group of people I worry greatly about whether someone is feeling left out or someone's words are being misunderstood. I want everyone to get along; conflict greatly upsets me. I have no poker face and am not good at either pretending or teasing; neither do I take teasing well. I also obsess about my own appearance and the judgments I imagine people are making about me. Perhaps not all of this is related to high sensitivity, but I think much of it probably is. Here is another passage, this one in The Highly Sensitive Person, that rang very true:

"We are often told, 'Don't worry; no one is judging you.' But being sensitive, you may be noticing that people really are watching and judging; people usually do. The nonsensitive are often happily oblivious of it. So your task in life is much harder: to know about those glances, those silent judgments, and still not let them affect you too much. It's not easy." (Chapter 15, p. 90)

Speaking of feeling judged, the Preface to the book begins this way:

"'Cry baby!'
'Don't be a spoilsport!'
Echoes from the past?"

Um, yeah. Most definitely. Add in "wet blanket." I have always been, and will always be, the one who worries incessantly about the danger, the risk, and the consequences of whatever is going on at the moment--the little mommy that spoils everyone's fun, that doesn't want to go on the big adventure or ride the roller coaster or get her shoes dirty or her clothes wet. And yeah, I have felt judged and marginalized as a result.

If you are still with me, I will share just one more thought. There is a chapter in The Highly Sensitive Child about trying to parent an HSC when you, too, are an HSC. Here, too, I see myself in neon lights. Highly sensitive parents are more likely to overprotect their children, to avoid exposing them to new experiences, to empathize with them to a fault, feeling their pain (both physical and emotional) more than a nonsensitive person would, to have trouble asserting themselves on their children's behalf, and to have trouble asserting their own needs within the family (so they care for the needs of others to a fault, resulting in others not learning how to care for themselves as they should). This is my life. I could go through each item in this list giving example after example, but I think I will just let you take my word for it.

And then there is the situation of one highly sensitive parent and one not highly sensitive parent trying to co-parent the highly sensitive child. You can imagine the issues that arise when the parents are coming from two such different places. That is another whole blog post, which I may get to eventually. Let me just say that my husband and I are starting to better understand ourselves as parents and realizing that we could both adjust our approaches in certain areas.

I am interested to hear from any of my readers who think they, too, are highly sensitive. According to Aron, about 20% of people are highly sensitive, and 30% are at least moderately so. This is not to say that the rest of the world is made up of unfeeling clods with no sensitivity at all--humans are by definition sensitive!--only that 20-30% of people are more sensitive than average. I think my high sensitivity may be one of the reasons I have trouble sleeping and feel most of the time as if I am physiologically on high alert, with butterflies in my stomach and heart pounding and cortisol levels heightened for no apparent reason. Things that most people deal with as a matter of course send my body into overdrive. If you think you are highly sensitive, take heart. One of Aron's themes in both of the books I have read is that high sensitivity is not a handicap, but a gift. Certainly it can create challenges for people trying to make their way in a world that is not built with them in mind. But there are many benefits to being highly sensitive. Feeling is good. Feelings are good. It's what we do with them that counts.