Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Last Fasting Day

And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. ~Matthew 4:2

I have never fasted forty days, not even thirty. I think my longest had been fourteen or fifteen days. (Update: About six months after publishing this post, I began a 40-day fast.)

I have this tradition of fasting for a week or so every January. I did not feel a specific calling to fast by my Lord this time, but it still heightens one's spirituality and I do have much on my heart for other people right now...a friend's husband was let go from his job just before Christmas, a Christian marriage of seventeen years heading for divorce with children, a friend's daughter is readying herself to be a missionary in Chile, many church members with various injuries and health conditions, the people suffering after the earthquake in Haiti, changes with my husband's job, and the Princess...there is never enough prayer time to devote to her alone.

I fast in January because I do indulge myself with wild abandonment during the holidays. I believe in wholehearted feasting at times, eating treats and rich foods and a bit more than I usually do of everything, but I also believe in practicing famine at other times. After all, it has been the natural course of human existence since Adam and Eve left Eden. Plus, many studies suggest that fasting prolongs youthful qualities, and promotes longevity as well as fosters physical healing on a deeper level of even old injuries or illnesses. Studies have proven it heightens the human growth hormone (HGH) naturally; this hormone among other things encourages the building of muscle mass and reducing fat. All this may happen because the body is not busy with the digestive process and can focus on rejuvenation.

After holiday feasting, I find I have gained usually five to nine pounds, about seven this year, and I retain cravings for daily cookies and candies. Fasting breaks food cravings and I lose weight, usually one pound per day until I reach a certain weight and then it usually goes down to half a pound or less a day, the body's natural way of lowering metabolism to preserve itself,...but every fast is different. This time I lost more than one pound a day and that resulted in being weaker than usual. However, now all those little aches and pains have disappeared and I am very relaxed.

This fast was to be a water-only, although I did have hot tea and lemon water, because I tend to get cold easily on fasts, particularly in the winter. On a couple of days I had about two ounces of raw milk in the morning as I was a bit weaker and within an hour I had more energy. I planned to fast today as my last day, but since I lost more weight than I had hoped to do, I am will be taking liquids with more substance like milk and broth throughout the day to start stimulating digestion.

Tomorrow I will begin eating small amounts of raw foods. It is important to coax the digestive tract back into doing its usual work when coming off a fast of more than three days. It is likely that I will still lose weight, although more slowly, until I am eating normally in three or four days.

My husband at times does a one day on and one day off fast, as he has to work during his fasts. It serves him well and he gets similar benefits in the long run. I also fast one day every week: Wednesday's Child is Full of Woe

Fasting is a discipline. It is something that one should read about before doing it for more than a day or two. I have been practicing fasting for nearly 20 years, so I am well aware of how my body responses and the spiritual, physical, and emotional benefits. Here are a few sources of good information:

7 Basic Steps to Successful Fasting and Prayer
Your Personal Guide to Fasting and Prayer

Some other benefits:
  • The taste of food when I come off a fast is...indescribable! Vegetables are quite sweet, so I don't even crave sugar.
  • My digestion is more efficient so I can eat less and not only be filled but get more nutrition out of the food I eat.
  • I maintain my weight so that I am comfortable, energetic, and can wear many of the clothes I have had for over twenty years.
  • It saves money on clothing for the above reason and in groceries.
  • My skin always looks years younger whenever I come off a week-long or longer fast.
  • My body is more flexible and even pains in joints with old injuries disappear.

Another benefit and a warning of sorts: Many toxins are stored in body fat. When you fast, you are using stored fat to sustain the body so these toxins will be released, which is why it is important to drink fluids to flush them out. Certain toxins can cause irritations once they are released, which is another reason a person should begin with short fasts and work up to longer ones and beginning with juice fasts are easier for the beginner also. However, I feel that if the Lord calls you to fast, you should do so however He is leading you.

My Lord, so many things are on my heart right now that I can hardly verbalize them, but You know all our needs and you know my heart. Please, hear what I cannot say and provide what I do not know is needed.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Just One Year Ago

Other things may change us, but we start and end with family. ~Anthony Brandt

A dear friend's mother past away this week. For years they had a difficult relationship, but things changed and their relationship improved in recent years. My friend was an only child so she all the responsibility of her mother's nursing home care and making funeral arrangements. Because of our one car situation, the distance, and bad timing, I was unable support my friend in person.

This event has caused me to reflect a bit on when my mother past on one year ago on January 24th and the saddest really had no impact on my life. I detest how cold it sounds, but during the past year I did not grieve, I have no regrets, and I am not in denial. My mother and I had very little in common. I had an abusive father, whom she also feared, which was stronger than her motherly instincts to protect her children. Except for fleeting moments that remain dear to me, I don't remember feeling any closeness to her since I started first grade at five years old. Still, when one loses a mother at any age, at least some feeling of loss is expected, regardless of most troubles there has been in the relationship, but for me, the relationship with my mother died, for the last time, when I announced my pregnancy.

I never really understood her reaction to the news. It was too bizarre to have any rational reasoning supporting it. There was a time when she was pressing me to have her grandchild and I had very bad back problems. (Back Pain) She had done this for years, but at the time it was quite inappropriate. I finally told her to not mention anything about me having children; it was not only unlikely that I would have children, but I did not want any, which was quite true at that time with our circumstances: back problems, other family stresses, finances, no room where we lived, etc.

I suppose she took me at my word and assumed I never would change my mind as our circumstances changed. However, I did and I had been telling her for a year that we were trying to have a baby, so it really should have been no surprise when I finally became pregnant...but it was...quite apparently.

I had made a terrible error. I broke a personal rule about having expectations with my mother that had kept the peace between us for over nearly ten years. (Changing My Expectations) I had expected her to be happy about the news. While she had not mentioned children to me in all those years, I believed that she still desired for me to have her grandchild...but I had not factored into the simple equation that my mother holds grudges; sadly, in her walk with the Lord, she did not learn how to forgive and forget. And, I was so angry for her acting like the baby I was carrying inside of me was some kind of disease, something she just could not accept.

I had waited until we had our first house with room for us all, until we were financially ready, until our relationship was stable, and until my back had been in good shape for a few years. We had tried upon occasion before, but it did not happen. Now I was about to turn 40 years old, still two years younger than my mother was when she had her last child and she was not in that good of health. My health was excellent and the pregnancy went very well. Above all that, my Lord had told me quite clearly when I would be pregnant and I had related the story to my mother, but she just did not see the Lord's will in all this.

Unfortunately, two things happened during the pregnancy, my husband's sister died and I was terribly angry with my mother for how she continued to treat me. Right after the baby was born, I finally told her not to call anymore, to just pretend I was dead—a very terrible thing to say, I know. I started having upper back problems again, worsening as time when on, but I had absolutely no difficulty or pain when I held the baby, so I was sure that it was because of this anger I was still harboring against my mother. It continued to worsen. Nearly a year after the baby was born, the Lord showed me something that was so surreal I don't know if I can put it into words, as if I was my baby and my mother was me but I was also my mother at the same time, but at the moment of that realization the anger left me and I forgave her completely. My back pain diminished and was completely gone two weeks later. I apologized and asked my mother's forgiveness several times in writing and sent pictures of my daughter, but she did not respond.

My mother was invited to the 50th wedding anniversary party for her sister, my aunt, but told her she could not come, because I was also invited and planned to come. My daughter was just fourteen months old and it could have been the first time she had seen her, so we hoped she would change her mind, but she did not. All this time my aunt was concerned that I would have regrets, but I had honestly forgiven my mother and again had no expectations of her, so she could not hurt me.

Years later, my Lord prepared me, so I was not that surprised when one day my mother called me; I had been expecting her to do so for several weeks. She did not talk about anything much, certainly not about last few times we had spoken to each other. She talked to my daughter, then five years old, for the first time that day. We talked whenever she called, which was about once a month, as if nothing had happened, but for me our relationship had changed significantly: I no longer hoped she would be the mother I really wanted, that dream had died in me. Now and then she would tell my sister we had the best conversations, these were the conversations in which I do not remember saying anything at all beyond hello. She would not see her granddaughter for two more years when she was 7½ years old. The one and only time she saw her was during a visit in the autumn of 2008, when her health was quickly deteriorating, just months before she would pass on.

The only thing my mother said to me during that visit, "All those years...wasted." She may have meant it as a blame on me, or she may have meant it as a shame on herself, perhaps on both of us. At that point, it did not matter to me...I choose to see it as one of the few tender moments I will always remember. I had no expectation of her and no ill will. All I felt was pity for her because I knew in my heart she still was holding a grudge, it was just swept under the rug for a time. If she had been in better health, she would have swept it right back out, like she used to do. As I write this, I find myself least, that would have been the mother I knew.

My daughter played a hymn at her funeral and I know that would have made her smile. I think it is sad that I don't feel her loss in my life, but I did certainly love her enough to forgive her and I have hope. Maybe she understands all that now. The one thing to which I am looking forward is seeing her in heaven as a perfected being without her grudges. Yes, I am very much looking forward to that meeting where there are no sorrows.

My Lord, I am thankful for Your guidance you given me all my life and the wisdom You have bestowed upon me about forgiveness through the good and bad with my family. Please take good care of my family members who rest with you now. I asked again, as I have so many times, my Lord, please keep my relationship with my own daughter close and loving.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wordsmithery: Bestiary

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish of the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
that the hand of the LORD has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
and the breath of all mankind.
~ Job 12:7-10

I have always like reading fantasy but my love for sci-fi dominates. Yet, much of the sci-fi I have loved the most had more mysticism that science, like the Dune books by Frank Herbert. I have been considering how one would explain the difference between the two, which often cross boundaries resulting in nearly indistinguishable differences. My thoughts are that sci-fi adds futuristic ideas or the suggestion of technology beyond what we currently have, like interplanetary travel, or technology with a scientific basis, whether known or fabricated. Fantasy, for the most part, relies on a more earthly nature and its unexplanable traits with magic secreted and protected, for the most part, by an elite few, whether learned using elements in special ways or a natural ability or a combination. To me, sci-fi, for the most part, has more logic and unless I am in the mood for it, fantasy can frustrate me a bit, until I understand its rationality, which probably defeats its purpose and beauty. However, when I am in the mood for it, I am engulfed by its surrealism.

The Princess and I are currently reading through a fantasy chapter book, so I wrote all this to explain that fantasy based on magic, beyond a few children's books like the Oz series and a movie now and then, is basically untried territory for me, so when I read a fantasy book, I am destined to find words unfamiliar to me that are probably very well-known to most fantasy readers. To those of you, I apologize for my naiveté and request that you add your thoughts in the comments area to enlighten me further on this subject or make suggestions of fantasy books worth reading. (I am ashamed to say that I have not read C.S. Lewis's Narina series, even though we have them and my husband read them all to the Princess at bedtime over a year ago, nor have I picked up a book leading into the world of Lord of the Rings, but I enjoyed the movies very much.)

I was aware that in medieval times there were real books handwritten in Latin and with amazing drawings of mythical creatures of all sorts, I just did not know they were called: bestiaries. The origin of the word is the Latin bestia from where we get the modern English word "beast." In short, a bestiary is a book of beasts, but...there is a interesting history with bestiaries intertwined with Christianity.

Around the sixth century, the Catholic Church began using bestiaries as books of learning with examples of animal lore to teach Christian values, in a similar fashion as Aesop's Fables. Combining observations of nature, zoological commentaries, and imaginative illustrations, as well as moral and religious lessons, bestiaries then became an intriguing mingling of fact, fiction, and Christian morals pointing the way to salvation. One such bestiary is Louis Charbonneau-Lassay's Le Bestiaire du Christ (The Bestiary of Christ). The author as Roman Catholic scholar published this collection of animal symbolism and religious symbols gleaned from sources as diverse as ancient Egypt, classical Greece and Rome, early and medieval Christianity, the Kabbalah, Gnosticism, and various spiritual schools of the Near and Far East.

~ My Lord, thank you for our imaginations where we can create entire worlds in our minds, a taste of what You enjoyed in creating this world. In all our fantasies, may we see Your messages, so they are used according to Your Will. ~

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Days!

Only nature has a right to grieve perpetually, for she only is innocent. Soon the ice will melt, and the blackbirds sing along the river which he frequented, as pleasantly as ever. The same everlasting serenity will appear in this face of God, and we will not be sorrowful, if he is not. ~Henry David Thoreau

I felt the moisture in the air as my daughter and I stepped out through the automatic doors of our favorite health food store. I felt a slight sensation on my hand, cool and wet, just as we were transferring our groceries from the cart to Pegasus, our trusty white mini-van with high mileage and sorely in need of a wash. The temperature was just at freezing and the wind biting. It could have been a tiny wet flake, but all evidence was gone in an instant. Was it finally beginning?

For nearly a week, the weathermen had been broadcasting the possibility of snow. Snow in Georgia. This is not an insignificant event. Of course, children quiver with excitement over the thought of this frozen white stuff for the opportunity to play in it and the possibility of school closings. However, in the Georgia, the real problem is not the snow itself, but ice. For the last few days, temperatures had been dipping into the teens at night and would stay below freezing for the next few days. The wind chill factor would also be around zero degrees so it was unlikely that the ice would melt away the next day.

I had been considering canceling our regularly scheduled piano lesson, but decided to just see how the day went. We had left home early and were done with shopping. I had more time than I needed to stop at the post office just five minutes later. No doubt about it now. It was a very fine, yet wet, snow besprinkling the windshield.

As we traveled north, the snow fall became heavier and the snowflakes a bit larger. Outside of Trudy's home studio, the snow was already accumulating on the ground. The Princess expounded on how this was Rachel Rebecca's first snow. (She picked the name Rachel Rebecca for her newest doll because it means "a bound ewe." In other words, she would be like a little lamb following her everywhere and so far she has lived up to the name well.)

On the drive home, the snow continued as the temperatures began dropping, lighter in some areas and heavier in others, barely coating the ground yet melting on the roads. Traffic was lighter than usual and the drive home went well even as we listened to school closings for the next day. We were soon home and safe.

Today, I awoke to find the lawns looked more dusted with white. The Princess would sled down our slick driveway all giggles.

We watched vehicles struggle up and down the slippery hills in our neighborhood. My husband would not be going anywhere for work today, but we had to return a rented car. The main roads still had icy spots, but we did fine. On the way home we stopped Steak 'n Shake for their Happy Hour, which means we had yummy milk shakes for half price. While we sipped our shared White Chocolate and my husband quickly devoured his Peppermint Chocolate Chip, the Princess would come up for air long enough to read a library loan, Hatching Magic, aloud to us.

Now we are home about to prepare dinner with a flickering light in our fireplace radiating warmth. The ice will continue to be a problem for a few more days and, unfortunately, this cold front is causing problems with produce in Florida also.

~ My Lord, thank you for the changes in nature that remind us how much our lives are influenced by them, how little control we have, how well we can adapt, and make the best with what we have. ~

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Reading of A Christmas Memory

Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become. ~C.S. Lewis

Very few children's books weave a tapestry of words truly delighting my senses. Now many admirable children's books avail enjoyment and sweet memories to a youth, but most, in truth, are rather boring reads penned repetitively with predictable adjectives and overused adverbs necessary for a beginning reader.

Currently we are in the latter half of a book called A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote with Beck Peck's exquisite pen and watercolor illustrations. It has a rating of being at the 5.7 grade level, although I think it is a bit low compared to other fifth grade level books. It had first been published as a short story in Mademoiselle magazine in December, 1956 and again reprinted in The Selected Writings of Truman Capote in 1963 before Random House issued the book in 1966. You might know Capote's more famous works, Breakfast at Tiffany's and In Cold Blood. Based on his own boyhood in rural Alabama in the 1930's, this story portrays a vivid rendering of life during the Great Depression and Prohibition. Capote had been abandoned by his mother as a child and lived with distant cousins. His favorite cousin, Miss Sook Faulk inspired him with her eccentricities and childlike innocence, influences notable in many of his short stories.

I cannot recommend this book without a warning, because his sixty-something-year-old cousin, who is the boy's best friend, and the boy take a daytime walk to what was probably a speakeasy far back in the woods near a river to buy one bottle of whiskey for $2.00 and then she gives a bit of the remaining from baking her fruit cakes to him; he is only seven years old—undoubtedly something that most Christians parents would rather avoid reading in a child's book, even if it has some historical significance.

Even so, it is a joy to read:

Frozen rime lusters on the grass; the sun, round as an orange and orange as hot-weather moons, balances on the horizon, burnishes the silvered woods. A wild turkey calls. A renegade hog grunts in the undergrowth. Soon, by the edge of knee-deep, rapid running water, we have to abandon the buggy. Queenie wades the stream first, paddles across barking complaints of the swiftness of the current, the pneumonia-making coldness of it. We follow, holding our shoes and equipment (a hatchet, a burlap sack) above our heads. A mile more: of chastising thorns, burs and briers that catch our clothes; of rusty pine needles brilliant with gaudy fungus and molted feathers. Here, there, a flash, a flutter, and ecstasy of shillings remind us that not all the birds have flown south. Always, the path unwinds through lemony sun pools and pitch-black vine tunnels. Another creek to cross; a disturbed armada of speckled trout froths the water round us, and frogs the size of plates practice belly flops; beaver workmen are building a dam. On the farther shore, Queenie shakes herself and trembles. My friend shivers, too: not with cold but enthusiasm. One of her hat's ragged roses sheds a petal as she lifts her head and inhales the pine heavy air. "We're almost there; can you smell it, Buddy?" she says, as though we were approaching an ocean.

And, indeed, it is a kind of ocean. Scented acres of holiday trees, prickly leafed holly. Red berries shiny as Chinese bells: black crows swoop upon them screaming. Having stuffed our burlap sacks with enough greenery and crimson to garland a dozen windows, we set about choosing a tree. "It should be," muses my friend, "twice as tall as a boy. So a boy can't steal the star." The one we pick is twice as tall as me. A brave handsome brute that survives thirty hatchet strokes before it keels with a creaking rending cry. Lugging it like a kill, we commence the long trek out. Every few yards we abandon the struggle, sit down and pant. But we had the strength of triumphant huntsmen; that and the tree's virile, icy perfume revive us, goad us on.

The words washed over us both; I indulged in a soaking bath while my daughter barely dipped her toes. I reread portions and we search definitions in our dictionaries—to be honest, some of the writer's words were not listed in even my better dictionary. Quite titillating! A taste of real literature. My daughter's perspective on Christmas trees may never be quite the same. It is with much anticipation that I look forward to my daughter's graduation from the customary jargon of children's books.

~ My Lord, thank you for providing us with such talented people, who can express the ordinary in such a way that it changes our perspective and enriches our own ordinary lives. ~

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A New Year Reminder About Homeschooling

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~John Dewey

There are times that every homeschooling parent toys with the idea of allowing their children to go to public school. Today I was reminded why that is not really an option. Since I have not really brought up this subject before on my blog, I feel I should give some background as to why my husband and I chose to homeschool.

I met my first homeschooler nearly twenty years ago now. I remember having a number of concerns it, but mostly these three. First, I did not think the parents were capable, a very common (and tiresome) argument against it. Second, I thought their ideas about how to educate a child were irresponsible because this particular family planned not to teach their child to read until the child wanted to learn for herself and I already thought the child should have begun; this ideology the mother learned from reading Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child's Education. Third, I thought that maybe they would change their minds when their child got a bit older and they would conform to what I thought at the time would be normal, a rather odd thought coming from someone who is not that fond of conformity herself.

Frankly, I don't know what has happened with that family as we moved to another state and loss touch, but I can say that just about every opinion formed from that first exposure has been turned completely around through the Lord's guidance. I could go on and on about the benefits of homeschooling and I have seen some of the pitfalls with it as well, but for now I will just address my three first impressions, erred as they were.

First, no parent is given a manual as to how to be a parent and so no homeschooling parent is going to be perfect and some are not as capable at homeschooling as others, but the one thing that people do not understand about homeschooling is that the education of the parent also improves as they teach the child. Even though I have been a Christian for most of my life, I remember never really learning as much about the Bible as I did when I taught a Sunday School class for teenagers. As Richard Bach said, “You teach best what you need to learn.” Another way of saying you need to learn to teach and, as the teaching parent, you will learn what you missed or relearn what you have forgotten, but you will learn. Homeschooling is a lifestyle of continual teaching and learning.

Second, ideas about how to educate children are vastly different and cover a wide range. There is no one fits all style and even after homeschooling parents choose what they feel is the best way for their family, it will be modified and molded and even toss out because it did not fit after all. This will probably happen many times as each child is different and each one also changes as he matures, so it is likely whatever ideology appealed to the parent in the beginning is going to be quite different in practice than was expected. Homeschooling is exercising adaptation and recognizing opportunity.

Third, if the parents start homeschooling the younger child, they are going to be hooked and it will just seem natural to continue doing what they have been. There is just nothing more gratifying than watching a child with eyes of wonder examine something for the first time, or that "ah-ha!" moment when he finally understands a challenging concept. Homeschooling is the ultimate the parent-child relationship establishing a firm foundation in respect and discipline.

With all that said, I would not have homeschooled if I had not felt led by my Lord to do it. My husband and I planned to homeschool long before we had the Princess, but only because I was certain this was my Lord's will for our family. He made it quite clear to me in so many ways and continues to do so, especially when I feel overwhelmed or inadequate.

Today may have been another one of those reminders. We had a potluck dinner to welcome our new pastor and we, my husband and I, ended up sitting across from a sixth grade girl, probably at least three years older than my daughter. She was quite nice, but it was eye-opening. After discussing a few topics, she asked what my husband does because he seemed so smart. I said we homeschool and that seem to explain it all to her, as if the typical parent does not know much...? Later on she told us that Language Arts was her best subject and I repeated a chant that my daughter learned: "A preposition is a word that shows the relationship of a noun or pronoun to another word in the sentence." She said that she had just learned prepositions and was surprised that my daughter knew what they were. Not only the Princess knows what they are, but she memorized the list over a year ago. Then I mentioned that my daughter struggled in recognizing adjectives and adverbs, so I had her start sentence diagramming. The sixth grader then looked really surprised and said she just learned sentence diagramming, but she was not doing well with it.

I am not even going to tell you what these children have been led to believe in Earth Science...well, yes, I am, just this one thing. The earth is losing water, which is why we must conserve water. Now except for a bit of water that has been taken into space and not returned, just how has the earth lost water? When you think about it, all the water has been here since the creation of the world, it is pretty incredible.

There are times I think that am not teaching my daughter enough, that she will be behind or lack in core subjects, but today I was reminded that whatever I have done is far better than she would be learning in our local public schools. Today I know it is worth it and that she will be searching for answers, not given PC propaganda deceivingly woven in science texts. Tomorrow we begin doing lessons again and I will probably meet with resistance, but this was motivating for me as I plunge into homeschooling this new year.

~ Thank you, my Lord, for guiding me to provide my daughter a better education. ~