Monday, December 24, 2012

Focus on the Baby

As a child, Christmas is this fool proof, carefree holiday you look forward to celebrating each year.  Even if money is tight you're guaranteed a week off from school, a festive display of lights and last but not least - Christmas Cookies!  So what happens between adolescence and adulthood that makes the most wonderful time of the year perhaps the worst?

My perspective on it all changed on Christmas Eve in 2001.  Just a few months after the sadness of  9/11,  I was ready to celebrate the joy of Christmas.  That afternoon I headed out the door to spend the evening with my best friend Jeremy (now my husband).  His entire family and I were at his uncle's house when their phone rang.  A few minutes later Jeremy's Dad came downstairs.

"Your brother has been in a car accident."  That's all he said, that's all he had to say.  I knew it was bad.  We rushed to the hospital.

I remember feeling my feet fall out of my clogs and someone was catching me when my Dad said that Matthew was in a coma.  He quickly told me to pull it together for my Mom's sake.  My 16 year old brother had just finished putting some Christmas lights on the house before hopping in his car wearing just shorts, a t-shirt, my Dad's coat and slippers that cold night.  He was going to drive past the house to see how the lights looked from the road, but he never came back.  We later learned that he had crashed his Pontiac into a telephone pole over a mile away.

My brother and I ~ 2004

My heart ached and the sorrow overwhelmed me when the doctors said that they didn't know if he would live to see Christmas.  His head injury was that severe.  Like no other time before or since, I cried out to God.  "Please let him live!  Please don't let him have any brain damage."  I think the fear of having my little brother be mentally impaired was the hardest possibility to take in. 

As I begged and pleaded with God for a miracle a humbling thought occurred to me.   On Christmas so long ago, God was willing to send His son to earth from heaven to die a horrible death for our sins.  But I was very unwilling to allow God to take my brother to the glories of heaven and leave behind the sorrows of this earth.  The meaning of Christmas quickly changed for me that night.  It wasn't about the pretty tree, the gifts or even spending time with family.  All of those things are subject to change.  I learned that Christmas that the only way "to survive the holidays" was to focus on God's Gift - his son Jesus.     

Jeremy went back to my parents' house that evening to pick up some personal items for us all.  "Get the ribbon under his pillow" I said.  It was a ribbon we weren't supposed to know about.  It was once a silky bow tied around his precious stuffed bear he called "Boo" as a boy.  Matthew used to rub the softness between his fingers as he fell asleep.

While Jeremy was gone the Trauma Unit waiting room filled with most of our church congregation as the Prayer Chain calls went out.  The crowd began to fill the hallway so the hospital staff finally opened up a large conference room for the many people that came to be us that Christmas Eve.  I'm not normally a fan our crowds, but the fact that so many put their quiet evening aside to be in a hospital that night meant so much to us.  My uncle flew up from Nashville, our former youth Pastor drove down from Selinsgrove and lots of family came up from Delaware - to pray, cry and possibly say "goodbye", it was that bad. 

When the ribbon arrived we wound it around Matthew's wrist and left the ends loose so that he could touch it.  Because sleep was rare during those prayer filled nights I don't remember what day it happened - but we all received a miracle that Christmas, wrapped in an old tattered bow.  Matthew hadn't opened his eyes yet when I looked down at his side to see him rubbing the ribbon between his fingers.  I still tear about when I picture it.  It was then that I knew "he was still in there."  He was going to live AND he was going to remember us all despite such a blow to the head.  

My brother suffered from many headaches that winter.  He didn't remember the accident or the Christmas days spent in the hospital.  Life soon returned to normal as my brother made a full recovery!

Eleven years later I still say a prayer when I see an ambulance on Christmas Eve.  May God Bless the many that put their celebrations aside in December for our emergencies.  

Eleven years later my brother is alive and well - married with two adorable children.  Christmas is difficult because I never get to celebrate it with him.  Falling outs don't fade because of festivities (that's only in the movies).  I still pray for a miracle at Christmas.  I miss my brother so much.  

If you've buried any sorrows throughout the year I can almost guarantee they'll come to the surface in December.  I wish I could share some full proof way to survive the celebrations without missing the ones you love.  But we are human and can never forget those connections from the past.  

When Christmas gets difficult (and it always does), I think back to that moment in the hospital when God quietly told me what Christmas was like for Him.  He sent His son to a wicked world when He could have kept Him all to Himself.  Mary held her sweet baby knowing the fate that awaited Him.

Photo Courtesy of Dianne Albright
As I read our church bulletin a few weeks ago I saw that the upcoming Christmas Concert needed a Mary.  I jumped at the opportunity, despite the fear of crying on stage.  I've mentally put myself in Mary's shoes many times and it is so humbling.  Think about all she went through so that we can know the Savior and you'll be tearing up too.

As I waited for my cue to enter the stage I thought of my brother, of Ruth and others that I won't see this Christmas.  There are many reasons to be sad.  But as I settled on my bale of hay with my infant son I remembered my only instructions for my brief part in the concert - look down lovingly at your baby.  Focusing on the baby is what we all need to do this Christmas.  No matter how bad your year has been, and I know 2012 has been a tough one for many of you, meditating on God's indescribable gift will put your trials into perspective. 

God is still in the business of performing miracles at Christmas.  Today a 3lb. baby is breathing on her own in the NICU at Women's & Babies Hospital.  She was never supposed to be born.  Just two months ago doctors gave her no chance of living, but here she is.  This past week a little boy with cancer is rebounding under Hospice Care.  Have you ever heard of someone improving under Hospice Care?  Me neither.  We serve a mighty God!  Keep praying for your miracle this Christmas and I'll keep praying for mine - my little brother. 
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Teaching at Home

I’ve had this blog post in my head for several weeks now.  It started when a friend asked what led me down the path to teaching at home.  After evil was unleashed in Connecticut a few days ago yet another friend is contemplating Homeschooling.  So I’ve done my best to pull my thoughts together.  I must admit it has been difficult.  Emotions are still so raw after the death of my friend Ruth a few weeks ago.  Now I’m so saddened at this loss of innocence.  Children have been murdered.  The survivors will be forever haunted by what they heard and saw that morning.  My heart aches for them.  On Sunday I drove to church with one hand on the wheel and one hand clutching the fingers of my four year old in the backseat. 
Lord, heal our land.

Homeschooling is a decision that you must make, if you do it because someone talked you into it, you’ll never make it. There are lots of negative reasons to teach at home – avoiding extra germs during flu season, that bully on the school bus and sadly the new norm of school shootings.  But these reasons will not get you through those difficult, stubborn days.  You have to ask yourself, what can I offer my child that is not available at the local school?  This can be an incredibly long list if you think about it.   Here are some of mine: 

Six years after Hurricane Katrina, Jonathan was
able to see firsthand what had happened. 
Biloxi, Mississippi has many empty lots to this day.

Our family is on our own schedule, not a school district’s.  With a husband who puts in long hours and serves in the Air Force Reserves, this is so priceless.  My boys never miss an opportunity to spend extra time with Dad on the Friday afternoons before he goes away for his weekends.  When my husband Jeremy spent a few months in Mississippi for training, we had the flexibility to be down there with him for an entire month.  School just relocated and my boys experienced a whole new culture that is a far cry from Lancaster County.  We went on a shrimp boat, experienced Mardi Gras (the child friendly version), went to the most incredible Air Show at Keesler Air Force Base and toured cemeteries in the French Quarter.

On a Shrimp Boat

A teachable moment during
the Keesler AFB Air Show.
Schools brag about their low teacher to student ratio.  But they have nothing on families that homeschool.  Even on those days that his little brothers are demanding, Jonathan gets so much more personal attention from his teacher than he would at school.  There is no possible way he is going “to get lost in the cracks” - that lousy excuse that is used to explain why kids in high school can’t read.  I can challenge my students when I see they are focused and ready to learn or I can take it down a notch if I see they are having a bad day.  There are days that the energy in this house is going to explode and I can tell Jonathan to go outside and write the alphabet on the driveway to help his little brother learn his ABCs.  This leads me to another reason…

While others kids are still riding the bus
home, Jonathan is building a house
for our cats that he designed.
Jonathan is learning to be a teacher as we go through school.  The demands of life sometimes call on Jonathan to help his little brother with his preschool work.  By doing this he is learning to be patient and is able to see how far he has come in his own learning experience.  It really boosts his confidence to be able to teach his little brother a thing or two.  I love those moments.  Kids in school are pretty limited when it comes to interacting with different age groups. 
But the absolute #1 reason I homeschool (and this reason gets me through those difficult days) is that I get to teach them about the Bible, about Jesus and about how a little boy should behave in society. I can recall my frustration in Sunday School as a child because I didn’t know the answers that came so naturally to other kids as the teacher asked questions about a particular passage of scripture or story.  My frustration mounted in 10th grade Biology as Mrs. King tried to convince me (yes, her and I, one-on-one after class) that the evidence for evolution was clear and she tried to assure me that Charles Darwin was a Christian.  I knew Evolution was a lie, but I had little to defend my case.  It just so happened that our church was hosting a Creation Seminar with Steve Grohman as I was in the thick of things at school.  What an eye opener that was.  Today I use curriculum from Answers in Genesis and Apology to teach science and the Bible side by side.  My children know that they answer to the Creator of this world.  If only more people knew that. 
Many like to talk about gun laws after a tragedy.  But the problem is that some in our society have little to no regard for human life – from the womb to the nursing home.  We’re all souls in God’s eyes.  This is what I want to continually teach my children.      
I would never talk someone into homeschooling.  It’s not for everyone and can be difficult.  For me the hardest part is the time commitment.  Being in the classroom each day takes away from keeping up with things that need to be done around the house, spending time with friends and just having the freedom to do what I want during the day.  There are times that I’m jealous of Moms that get to put their children on a bus each morning. 
Resources available to parents who decide to homeschool can depend on you location.  If you don’t have some type of support I wouldn’t recommend taking on such a challenge.  Even if you cannot be a part of an official Homeschool Group, I think it is vital to at least have a close friend who is walking down the same path, so you can hold each other up along the way.  It is my prayer that God will put such a person in my life again as my main source of encouragement went on ahead of me to heaven.   Just last spring my friend Ruth and I went to the CHAP Convention(Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania) in Harrisburg together.  (I still can’t believe she’s gone.)  The event takes place at the Farm Show Complex each spring.  It can be overwhelming, but what a great resource!  
Jonathan plays Little League with his best friend Jackson.
Many parents' first concern in regard to teaching at home is the fear of having unsocialized kids.  If you raise your kids to be hermits than that’s what you’ll get.  We do many things to change the scenery for Jonathan – Little League, AWANA Clubs, Indoor Soccer, Upward Basketball, CEF Summer Day Camps, VBS.  There’s really no  excuse to have unsocialized kids with so many local programs available.  Check with your local church or YMCA if you need some help in this area. 

Regardless of where your children are educated
it is your responsibility to raise them – not the teachers'! 

I think one of the best things a parent can do for their child is to regularly visit with someone that is elderly.  Nursing home residents light up when a child enters the room.  The connection that takes place between the oldest and youngest generations of this earth is hard to describe.  I often think of my two great grandmothers that passed on many years ago.  There was a bond that is hard to put into words.  Lessons are taught that will not be found in a book or classroom. 

Our recent visit with Pop Pop.

Am I doing the right thing?  There are moments that I wonder.  Then there are times that I have no doubt.  Jeremy had to step out of the church service on Sunday due to a bad case of the hiccups.  That left Jonathan in the worship service by himself because I was feeding Daniel .   When Jeremy returned he found this note.  It was so encouraging to us as parents and Jonathan just beamed when we told him about it.        

 May God grant you wisdom as you make the
many decisions that parenthood requires of you. 
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