Friday, June 29, 2012

Needing to Put the God Box Principle to Work

While I was away at camp, I had opportunity to put the principles learned from The God Box into practice, but I'm sad to admit that I failed somewhat.

On Monday night, I awoke at 3 a.m. from a terrifying nightmare.  Trevor had been lying on train tracks and despite our shouted pleas for him to get up, he remained and was run over by a train.  I woke shaking and hyperventilating.  I couldn't fall back to sleep for over an hour.

Tuesday was the first day that Grandma was going to be taking my two small boys at home to the high school pool.  Sean doesn't know how to swim yet and is resistant to wearing his floaties.  Plus, I have observed the life guards there before.  They do not pay attention to the pool or the swimmers.  They sit on the side and converse with parents.

Suddenly, I was gripped with the irrational fear that something was going to happen to my youngest in my absence.  When I take the boys to the pool, I stay close to Sean at all times, in my suit in the water.  I knew Grandma would not be getting in.  I kept imagining the worst.  It totally took hold of my psyche.  I couldn't concentrate on anything and panic set in.

Finally, at lunch (just prior to the scheduled pool trip at home), one of the other faculty members said a prayer with me and I was finally able to let my fears go.  I continued to pray frantically, but distracted myself with my puppet class.  At four, I called home and was thrilled to talk to both boys, assuring myself of their well-being.  They went to the pool again on Thursday, but I wasn't quite so gripped with terror.

Now, I'm facing a similar need to pray and let it go.  We are going to Holiday World and Bryce will be riding with his friend down, instead of in a vehicle with us.  I must pray for their safety and then let go of my worries.  He is big enough to handle my concerns and has a will already determined in the matter.  It is my place to rest in His will and trust God.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Camp Recap

What a delightful week I had at the Indiana Music Camp.  When I arrived, I was like a deer in the headlights.  I hadn't led a youth singing group in over twenty years and hadn't been able to pick out a single piece to sing prior to the encampment.  I hit the ground running because my first responsibility of the day was to register and audition all of the singers in the 9-12 year old range.  Even though they would be in my performance track regardless of how they did, it was nice to be able to meet each child and hear what they were capable of.  Since the auditions were followed by a staff meeting (where my track was switched from a non-air-conditioned location to the air-conditioned lodge - whew!) and dinner, I suddenly found myself in the first rehearsal.

Thankfully, I had taken some time to google children's choir warm-ups and found a set of wonderful videos by a woman named Kathie Hill.  She gave me some clever tips and ideas that I incorporated throughout the week (like asking the kids questions, "Who's the smartest kid in the choir?" and having them respond with intervals of "me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me").  We talked about the importance of singing with a wide open mouth.  To encourage them, I had Trevor help me draw a poster with a boy with a cut-out hole for the mouth.  They took turns coming up and trying to sing so that their mouths filled the whole opening.

I had several of the girls come up and lead everyone in a favorite chorus and before I knew it our first session was over.  Immediately following the Welcome Meeting that night, I raced back to the Faculty Resource Center (in the lodge) and selected two pieces for our group to sing.  We worked on "Happiness is the Lord," by Ira Stanphill and "High as the Sky" by Gowans and Larson (a Salvation Army classic).  One of the reasons I selected "High as the Sky" was because I had memories of watching a 1000 kid choir from Britain singing this in their junior soldier uniforms with their adorable felt hats on.  It would have been marvelous to have had a 1000-voice strong choir, but we did okay with our humble seventeen.

The next stressful responsibility I was focused on was my role, on Monday, as Officer of the Day.  I botched the flag ceremony when I forgot to have the campers salute the flag (oops), but everyone was gracious.  Since the theme of the camp was "Happy Campers," I selected the day's memory verse from James 1:2 which says, "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience."  I talked about how God wants us to rejoice even when things don't go our way, like when we, perhaps, don't win the solo contest, etc.  For the ten minute devotional at the end of the evening meeting, I gave my testimony about the time in my life when my parents were moved from Chicago to South Dakota just prior to my senior year in high school.  I spoke about the spiritual growth I experienced as I passed through this difficult time in my life where I lost my class rank, friends, my instrument and a shot at the Chicago Staff Band.  Then, at the Call to the Cross (a nightly mini-devotional prior to sending the kids off to their cabins for sleep), I gave an object lesson comparing Christians to tea bags, with Christ being the tea leaves.  I explained how He can be in us, but we can fail to be effective until we are placed in hot water and others are finally able to see what we are made of.

After that, I was able to relax more and just enjoy the week's activities.  My puppetry class went very well.  I had four eager students who selected two different skits within the first ten minutes of our first session and enthusiastically practiced their lines.  I was grateful to merely be an assistant in the recorder class, helping the older students learn how to make notes.

My favorite thing had to be playing in the Faculty Band with my son.  Since Bryce was in the highest level band, he and a few others were asked to join the Faculty Band, giving up their free time for our rehearsals.  Bryce wailed on the drums during one particular piece, "Island Dreams," where he started the piece off with a four or five measure drum-set intro.  The music was quite challenging, especially since I had been placed on a valve trombone instead of my usual alto horn (there were four horn players, so they shifted the trombone player to the Eb tuba and shifted me to Bb trombone).  It was hard to place my notes and often I was quite timid in my playing until I felt more confident that I had the right note.  But, it was loads of fun to attempt to play the difficult numbers.

On Tuesday evening, to reward the boys who gave up their free time to join us, we had a faculty swim.  This was fun, as well, since we played a game of water volleyball together.  Then, on Wednesday, I went with a bunch of other faculty to an ice cream shoppe nearby and was able to treat my room-mate (since it was her birthday).

Before I knew it, we were at the end of camp, approaching the awards ceremony.  My choir got ahead of the pianist for a bit (we only had two rehearsals with accompaniment), but did well overall.  Bryce looked tremendously grumpy as he begrudgingly accepted his second place award in the solo contest (it is supremely difficult for a percussionist to beat out cornet players - he didn't miss a single note and wrote the solo himself but still failed to win, despite the cornetist missing notes on his solo) and the Divisional Commander's Award, which included a full scholarship to CMI (which he cannot use because of his involvement in football).  As Bryce drove us home, we were content with a fun week at camp full of shared memories.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book Review: The God Box

This was another book that only came on my radar because our library has begun sending out information about their recent acquisitions.  It sounded like a highly inspirational book.  Although it was good, I don't think it really lived up to my expectations.

This memoir tells of Mary Lou Quinlan's discovery of her mother's numerous God boxes.  She always knew that her mother placed their concerns in her prayer boxes, which she called her "God box."  She didn't know how many of these boxes they would discover upon her mother's death.  The slips of paper within the boxes contained tidbits of information and concerns over the years, becoming a sort of memoir all on its own (a neat way to relive the cares and concerns of life gone by).

While I appreciated the book's emphasis on the mother's devout belief in the power of prayer, it didn't really seem like the author ever came around to the same belief herself.  She continues to remain somewhat neutral about the practice of writing out prayer requests.   Given the fact that her mother was Catholic, many of the prayers weren't even addressed to God, but rather to deceased saints who are believed to hold some sort of power over our lives.  I understand that this is merely a difference of religious perspective, but I think this colored my opinion of the book.

I think the best thing I gleaned from the book was the importance of giving your requests to God and then letting them go.  The author's mother would tell them that if they were going to continue to worry over what she had placed in the box, she would have to fish it out and give it back to them because they obviously thought they could handle it better than God.  This was a worthwhile lesson to revisit.

The writing was easy to follow and read like a story, but the author's own life didn't really seem to undergo any change.  I believe she's hoping her mother's practice will inspire others to pick up this habit.  I don't think I'm likely to begin writing out my prayers on scraps of paper and storing them in humble containers.  However, I will continue to pursue an active prayer life, attempting to turn over to the Lord even the tiniest concern that crosses my path and then leave it at His feet.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Heading to Music Camp

Over the past five years, Bryce has relished the opportunity to attend The Salvation Army's Indiana Divisional Music Camp.  We've been grateful for his involvement.  When he entered high school, he learned that you had to be in the marching band if you wished to pursue the band class.  Thus, given his intense schedule with football and wrestling, he opted out of participating in band.  He's an outstanding drummer, with intense natural ability, and this camp is perhaps his only chance to play music in an organization (okay, our corps wishes he would volunteer to play drums with the Sunday morning praise band, but his attendance is sporadic and he doesn't wish to be involved).

This is the first year, however, when I will be able to attend the camp with Bryce.  I have so many fond memories of my childhood and teenage years, attending Salvation Army music camps.  I would count down the days until the next camp every year.  I have never before been on staff.  This year, I was asked to lead the 9-12 year old chorus and the Puppetry elective class.  I will admit that I am a bit nervous about my abilities to fulfill these leadership positions.  I haven't led a singing company (Salvation Army-speak for youth choir) since my graduate school days, over twenty years ago.  I've never taught a puppet class, or even ministered with puppets all that much, but I have been collecting small puppets here and there over the years.

My husband could really be teaching the puppet class.  For years, he would regale Bryce with puppet performances by Ronald McDonald (a puppet we received when we scheduled Bryce's 4th birthday party there) and Dopey and Woody.  Each of them had their own distinctive personalities and he did an outstanding job of altering his voice for each character.  Of course, they were sometimes naughty.  Woody did teach Bryce a little ditty that went: "Roses are red, violets are blue, poopies are stinky and so are you."  I was mortified when Bryce stood on his chair at church and repeated Woody's silly poem.

I am hoping and praying that we will have a really good time and that the students will benefit from whatever it is I can offer them in the way of instruction.  The main supervisor told me not to be nervous because "this isn't university ... it's just camp!"  I'm also praying my boys will be well-behaved in my absence.  I have two sitters lined up for Saturdays (when John works) and my mother-in-law is covering three days during the week.  It will be neat to have this memory with Bryce and fun to be involved in a music camp again, after so many years.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Book Review: Locked Garden

I stumbled upon Gloria Whelan almost a decade ago, when I read her wonderful book, Listening for Lions.  I enjoyed that book so much that I talked the 5th grade teacher (in the room where I worked as an individual assistant) into letting me read it to the students as a read-aloud.  They loved the book and I became a fan of Gloria Whelan.

In The Locked Garden, Verna and Carlie are still grieving the loss of their mother, when they are moved with their father and Aunt Maude to the grounds of an asylum for the mentally ill.  Aunt Maude seems determined to put a damper on everything in her own way of dealing with the loss of her beloved sister.  The girls do their best to make the adjustments to their new environment and become friends with one of the patients in the asylum.  As Aunt Maude feels her influence over the girls slipping away, she attempts to wrench away their affections from the patient/friend.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was a light read, but full of emotional pull.  The characters were well-drawn and the plot moved along quickly.  Inspired by the Traverse City State Hospital in Traverse City, Michigan, this book teaches, via story, a great deal about mental illness and depression and the facilities which used to treat such illnesses.

I even found myself incorporating one of the activities the girls enjoyed in the book, receiving a penny for every new word they learn, into our daily routine.  Trevor and Sean are extremely eager to garner new words into their language reservoir as a result of this.  Already this week, they have earned pennies for "irked," "facade," "configuration," "procrastination," and "mortified."  This book is sure to appeal to both children and adults and will teach young readers new words in both English and German.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book Review: Journal of Best Practices

I am fascinated by memoirs of people with Asperger Syndrome.  Thus, when I stumbled upon David Finch's book, Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband, I knew I had to read it.  What a hilarious book.  There were times when I had to laugh out loud at the things which never occurred to David to question, it was just the way his Asperger brain was wired.

When David Finch received his diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, he was actually relieved.  Finally there was an explanation for his differences from others.  In his book, he chronicles his adventure trying to write down reminders to himself to improve his marriage. 

Some of these reminders just made me laugh: "Don't change the radio station when she's singing along," "Do not EVER suggest that Kristen doesn't seem to enjoy spending time with our kids," "Don't hog all the crab rangoon," "Apologies do not count when you shout them," "Better to fold and put away [laundry] than to take only what you need from the dryer," and "It is not okay to leave for an hour in the middle of having company."  Others made me tear up: "Fixing our marriage is about working together and managing my behaviors.  Not fixing me."

It was almost comical how, in his Asperger tendency, he began to drive the act of finding best practices into the ground.  He was constantly looking for ways to improve himself, to the point where it almost became too much.  I was also amazed at how patient his wife seems to be.  She sounds like a true saint, helping him through his difficult self-absorption and into the world of thinking of others.  This book was a gem of a memoir!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Walking Maniacs

I have created two monsters.  It's a good thing, but exhausting.

On the last Tuesday in May, Bryce had his driver's ed driving test at the high school.  It was supposed to take 30-40 minutes.  Since our drive to the high school takes ten minutes, it seemed pointless to go home between his drop-off and pick-up times.  Thus, we chose to stay and occupied ourselves by running on the track around the football field.  The rest of the day, the boys were calmer than usual and I figured it must have had something to do with running off their energy.

So, we began going to the track daily.  I offer them five cents for each lap and ten cents for the winner of the first lap (since we run that one, but end up walking part or most of the rest).  We had generally been doing between a mile and a mile and a half each day.

Then, the boys requested a return visit to Jack-in-the-Box for their shakes (a treat we enjoyed during my parents' brief visit at the beginning of June).  We set a goal of reaching 20 miles before treating ourselves to the shake.  I didn't realize this goal would turn them into walking maniacs.

Yesterday, I intended to walk eight laps (2 miles).  I ended up doing twice that because the boys insisted on walking 20 laps.  It was probably the hottest day we've had.  After the twelfth, I thought if I sat it out, they would tucker out and give up.  At fourteen, I begged them to give it up (fearful even that someone might come by and think I was forcing them to walk all those laps).  On their seventeenth lap, I rejoined them through their finish.  Thankfully, the building was open so we could go inside and get more to drink, since we quickly drained the water bottles we had brought along.

Although I'm proud of them for plugging away through five miles (and I'm thrilled that Trevor is slimming down some as a result of our daily laps), I'm hoping they don't think this is going to be a regular thing.  It takes way too much time out of our day, even if our summer days are basically empty.  Plus, I'd be broke if I had to pay them a dollar a day (their fitness is worth that, though). They may just whip ME into shape, in the meantime.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Relief After Heart Surgery

On Monday, we took our oldest son, Bryce, to The Children's Heart Center of St. Vincent's for a heart surgery to identify and correct the cause of his Supraventricular Tachycardia (irregular heart beats during exertion or excitement).  Bryce decided that he wanted to take care of this condition once and for all instead of remaining on medication for it for the rest of his life.  I think his dad and I would have been content to stay on the meds, but at 16, Bryce is certainly old enough to make that decision.

I was fairly anxious about the procedure.  We have a friend whose brother went in for a routine dental procedure and came out of the anesthesia mentally impaired and physically tied to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.  Now every time I approach a situation where any type of anesthesia is involved, I feel a twinge of hesitation and concern.

Overall, it turned out to be a positive experience.  We received wonderful care and consideration.  We arrived at 6 a.m. and were met there by our pastor who stayed to talk with us for a while and pray with us prior to the doctor's arrival.  Once Dr. Steinberg arrived, he prepped us on what to expect for and from the surgery.  He had to go over all the possible outcomes and it was difficult to listen to (one of the worse case scenarios being stroke).  He explained that there are three sections to the heart and complications possible with each of the sites.  The goal was to go in and locate the source of the heart's misfire (the diagnostic portion of the surgery) and then cauterize, either by heat or cryogenics (freezing) the location of the source of the problem (the therapeutic portion of the surgery).  Each would take two or more hours to complete.

Waiting in the waiting room was a bit tricky.  It always amazes me how some individuals are not at all aware of their personal space in public, since one woman plugged in her earphones and sang along with her music from time to time.  Others were merely hard of hearing and carried on loud conversations.  I would have relished distracting myself by getting absorbed in a book, but found my concentration lagging.

Still, I was very grateful for the patient liaison who came to us from time to time to let us know how things were going.  Two hours after the surgery had begun, the doctor came out to inform us that they couldn't seem to get Bryce to go into SVT.  They said his heart was doing erratic things and that it was especially difficult to fully sedate him.  He seemed extra anxious about the whole thing (although he told me afterwards that he was wishing he could stay awake for the whole thing because when he first got the meds to sedate him he felt happy and almost high).

Since they couldn't determine the location of the source of the tachycardia, they had to make a reasonable guess about where to cauterize the heart.  I think they said they found a small hole on the AV node and that often this presentation indicates a particular type of tachycardia (AV nodal re-entry tachycardia).  So, they treated it as if this were the case.

When Bryce first came out, it was hard to watch.  He was so sleepy and looked absolutely horrible.  I had to look away because it was breaking my mother's heart.  However, after a bit of time, it became almost comical to watch him come out from under the sedation.  He asked repeatedly how he got to the recovery room.  He asked repeatedly if the whole thing was already over and how could it be?

The funniest part had to be the television.  They offered a selection of 30 fairly recent movies to choose from.  Four different times, Bryce asked to go through the choices and each time he'd end with "those choices are crap."  By the fourth time, as he was cursing through the list, he said, "I bet the choices are just crap," and I chuckled and said, "Yep, you're right, they're just crap."  At one point, I put on Transformers because I knew it was a movie he had seen in 3-D and thought was amazing.  After he came fully out of the anesthesia and I was explaining the funny movie review situation, he said "They had Transformers?  Really?" (like he would have watched it, if only he had known - ha).

The other thing he kept saying was "Berka."  This is one of his pet phrases when something doesn't go his way.  It was hilarious how he would nod off and then jerk awake and try to lift his head (a no-no, because it might rupture the sites of catheter entry, where they wanted it to heal closed) and say "Berka!"  He still can't believe that he was out for almost seven hours of the day.  He finally came to more fully around 3:30 in the afternoon.

Since he managed to walk and keep food down, he was released and we went home to rescue Grandma (my husband's mother) from the little boys.  We were so grateful that she was able to come so that both of us could accompany Bryce for his surgery.  As we left the facility, Bryce commented that he thinks it probably did take care of the problem because he can already notice a difference in how his heart feels.  He said that before, when he didn't take his medication, he could feel his heart beating differently and after the surgery he couldn't feel anything out of the ordinary with his heart.   We're taking that to be a good sign, but we still have to wait to see whether or not the tachycardia presents again.

I find it amazing how quickly he healed from the whole thing.  He received the best of care while there and now is already feeling up to doing everything that he normally does.  It is hard to believe he was in heart surgery just two days ago.  God is good and I'm grateful to the medical staff of St. Vincent's for their expertise and wonderful care.