Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Office Remodel

An old house like ours is like the Ship of Theseus. If you replace all the pieces of it, little by little, is it still the same house?

This is from Wikipedia: 

It is supposed that the famous ship sailed by the hero Theseus in a great battle was kept in a harbor as a museum piece, and as the years went by some of the wooden parts began to rot and were replaced by new ones; then, after a century or so, every part had been replaced. The question then is whether the "restored" ship is still the same object as the original.

The most recent parts of this ship to be changed were the downstairs bathroom and office. The bathroom was the more extensive remodel, but that update will come later. Most of the work was finished weeks ago, but an entirely different company was doing the counter and sinks, and we had to wait an extra two weeks on them.

Then the carpenter crew came back to put in the last bits of wainscoting, only to find that those pieces had accidentally been thrown away when they did the final cleanup. So now we keep waiting. Is it a new bathroom if 97% of it is new, but two 6-inch sections of bare wall still have carpenter-pencil scribbling and sploshes of paint?

This house is laid out like a 4-square game. The northeast square is off the living room and served as the master bedroom back when Vernon and Elsie Knox lived here, and what is now our bedroom was the nursery for each new little Knox Brother. We use the northeast room as our office. Over the last 20 years it has served as a slow, giant vacuum cleaner for papers, books, office supplies, and random cords that we will need a week later if we ever throw them out.

I don't have "before" pictures of the office, because it wasn't a room I was proud of.

Emptying out this accumulation was a huge but necessary job, and it rendered the living room unusable for a few weeks.

This is getting ahead of the story, but in the process of moving back in, we got rid of boxes full of books and hundreds of old files and accumulated papers. We found missions committee notes from years ago, zillions of warehouse papers, and even Paul's research paper from high school.

I had plenty of papers of my own filed away. Honestly, why did I keep some of this stuff? Did I really think I would use this craft idea I tore out of a magazine? Appliqued bunnies! And that child's expression--Jenny said that's how she feels when I make her pose with things I make.

But we didn't toss many cords, unfortunately. I didn't have the nerve.

It really is refreshing to get rid of accumulated papers.

I had torn up the carpet last year, exposing the old wood floor, but we couldn’t complete the job until the built-in bookshelves were out. 

If you knew how big these projects would turn out to be, you’d never start.

We wanted to make the floor look like the bedroom floor that Paul refinished about four years ago. Our builder guy, Kevin Baker, sanded it for us, a task that Paul would have done in his healthier days. But then Paul was able to stain and varnish the floor. If you have the skills in your head, it’s amazing how you can find ways to get them done with one arm.

In case you're interested, he used Dura Seal quick coat 2 hour penetrating finish for wood floors 110 Neutral stain and DuraSeal polyurethane for wood floors.

Meanwhile, Paul did warehouse paperwork on the little
table where my grandpa did his farm paperwork
a hundred years ago.

 When he was finished with the first coat of polyurethane, a section by the door looked flat and dull, while the rest of the room looked shiny. 

Paul redid it, with the same result. He couldn’t figure out what he was doing wrong. Did he get a bit of water mixed in from a washed-out brush? Did he fail to stir enough? We still don’t know.

Finally, he bought a new can of varnish and a new brush, and this time it worked.

We painted like crazy.

That basket contains the internet router and stuff, which had to remain usable while the remodel happened.

Yes, I let Paul get back on a ladder.

The carpenters put up wainscoting on the walls, restoring it to our best guess of what it looked like long ago.

The bookcases got wrestled back into place.

We were deliberate and intentional about what went back in.

I set up my new computer that Paul got me for Christmas.
My family has figured out this is the best way to drag me
into the 21st century. My old desktop was 11 years old.

We love how it looks. Sometimes you just have to plunge in so you’re forced to finish the task.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Ask Aunt Dorcas: Breaking Their Wills

 Dear Aunt Dorcas,

 Do you have any thoughts or advice to share on the concept of breaking your child’s will? I am referring specifically to Michael and Debbie Pearl’s suggested parenting plan.


Dear Erin--

I’m told that Ali Abdullah Saleh, the former president of Yemen, once said that leading Yemen was like dancing on the heads of snakes.

That’s how I feel addressing this question. But I feel it’s important, so let’s poke it with a stick and see what happens.

Let’s establish a few basics about raising children that we agree on:

1. Human babies are the most helpless of any animal newborns. Baby chicks peck their way out of the egg and pretty soon they’re running to the food dish on their little scratchy feet. Baby sea turtles head for the ocean on their own determined little flippers.

But baby humans will lie there and die without constant and long-term care.

2. It takes a long time to raise a human. We are born not knowing language, survival skills, or how to function in a community. Each of us needs to be nurtured, protected, and taught. Children with minimal care might survive physically, if they’re lucky, but if they aren’t taught the complex rules of interacting in a family, culture, and community, they will not thrive or be healthy members of society.

3. It’s the parents’ job to raise the child into a fully-functioning adult. They might feel that they can’t possibly be grownup enough to be in charge, but if God sends them a baby, then they’re the ones responsible for it. It is their job now. 

4. Raising a child is a big task, and it’s not easy, but we’ve made it more complicated than it ought to be.

We’ve all seen what happens when a child doesn’t get what they need. From the sad barefoot child in the grocery cart ahead of you on a cold day to the untamed wildcat that tears through your house and bounces on the couches to the kids who bullied you at school to the little girl in front of you at church who sat perfectly still until she happened to play with her braids a little bit and her dad reached over and gave her a vicious pinch on the arm that made her sit perfectly still again and filled her love-hungry eyes with tears.

[That last example is pulled from real life, and 25 years later I still want to reach forward and show that black-suited dad what a real pinch feels like.]

So we know what’s at stake if we don’t parent well, and we want desperately to get it right. I think this is why the subject is so fraught with controversy—it matters that much. Despite Scripture, our own childhoods, watching others, and a million books on parenting, there are no simple equations, and the math doesn’t always come out the same for everyone.

We want to get it right. Sometimes it’s because we love our children so much, and other times it’s because we fear the shame if they go wrong.

The first line of the book Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is famous and wise: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

We could all, right now, number our notebook paper from one to ten and list ten kinds of unhappy families, but I prefer to look at what the happy and healthy families have in common.

Off the top of my head, here are eight traits.

Basic stability--Dad isn’t going to walk off. Mom isn’t going to be drunk at breakfast.

Safety--Children don’t live under a cloud of fear and uncertainty.

Nurture—Children are cared for physically and emotionally.

Cohesion—family members are for and not against each other.

Grace—Children are allowed and expected to be children. Behavior is addressed without destroying the worth of the child.

Clarity—children have a good idea of what’s expected of them

Competence—children know they have what it takes to do and contribute what’s expected

Decency--people treat each other with basic respect and kindness

Within those parameters, there’s room for enormous variation. In his book Walking His Trail: Signs of God Along the Way, Steve Saint, son of the martyred missionary Nate Saint, mentions the differences in the childhood homes of his father and aunt, Rachel Saint, and her eventual missionary partner, Elisabeth Elliot.

The Saints were a laidback West Coast family. Schedules and proper manners didn’t matter too much. They valued creativity, fun, and discovery. One weekend, as I recall, the boys wanted to take the family car apart, and their dad shrugged and said it was fine as long as they had it back together to take to work Monday morning.

Elisabeth, on the other hand, was a Howard from the East Coast, and the Howards did things right. Schedules, manners, meals, tidiness, disciplines, all kinds of things. 

I also read The Making of a Christian Family, Elisabeth Elliot’s story of her family, and the properness of it all nearly gave me hives. Interestingly, though, her family loved to laugh, and she relates how some were wonderful storytellers or mimics, and they would shriek and laugh at the dinner table.

Rachel and Elisabeth didn’t work out so well together on the mission field, as one might expect, but the point here is that despite their wildly different upbringing, both women were effective missionaries and good people.

As long as the basics are in place, there’s lots of room for variation.

However, I don’t think there’s room for the Pearl method of “breaking the child’s will.”

This is why: It presumes a basic enmity between parent and child. It puts them against each other.

[Edit: Just to be clear, this "spank until the will is broken" idea was around when my husband was a child, he says, long before the Pearls started their teaching, and it came from multiple sources. So I'm referring more to the general principle than the Pearls' specific methods.]

This is painful for me to address, because it’s too much like the approach I used with my older children.

Somehow, between my birth family, preachers, other parents, and books, I had picked up this idea that my children had a huge and terrifying entity inside that was going to swell up like mutant bread dough and destroy both them and us if we didn’t keep it punched down.

The primary method to accomplish this was punishment, either spanking or some other unpleasant consequence. The general idea was that if it didn’t work, you weren’t doing it enough, kind of like multi-level marketing nutrient supplements.

Well, we had very spirited children, and I loved them to pieces. But I was also terrified of them ending up in prison or Hell, or both, if I let that bread dough ooze over the edge of the bowl.

I was also afraid of what other people thought. This whole era was complicated by my own unresolved issues.

I remember asking other moms for advice, and how utterly unhelpful it was. “Sounds to me like he has an anger problem! You need to deal with that.” “You just have to spank until their crying changes to a submissive cry.” “I think he has a demon. He’s just so crazy wild.”

We didn’t have a lot of time or resources for therapy, or even the initiative to seek it out. Paul was a much better parent than I was, but I was the one with the children all the time.

Thankfully, things slowly got better, and by the time the last of the six came along, parenting was different. I had let go of some of the shame and terror, and was better able to relax and enjoy my children.

The “breaking their will” idea presumes the complete dominion of the parent, like a slave master over a slave, or a conquering king over his defeated subjects.

In the Pride and Prejudice series from the 1990s, the best version ever made, Mrs. Long is talking to Mrs. Bennett about everything Mr. Wickham had been up to. Since I don’t want to watch all five hours to get the quote right*, here’s what I recall: “Intrigues! Seductions! Drunken routs, in which more things were broken than pots and heads!”

*I mean, I do, but you know what I mean.

When you go about breaking the will, more things are broken than pots, heads, and wills. Worthiness, hope, relationships, a sense of safety, love.

How much better for parents and children to have a sense of being with and for each other. Yes, the parents are the responsible adults, and this isn’t to say they need to be the buddies, watching indulgently as a toddler pokes at your cat’s eyes or endlessly playing whatever the 4-year-old demands. But they can convey a sense of being in the same family and on the same team. “We all want to make this work. We want good things for each other.”

With my younger children, I realized that much of what I thought was that ominous bread dough rising (the Sinful Nature!) was just kids being kids. This is what children do. Usually they need a hug, a peanut butter sandwich, and a nap instead of another lecture or spanking.

Most kids want to do what’s right and appropriate, if only because they want people to like them. You can give them basic information about behavior and consequences without shaming them down to their souls.

“It’s not ok to kick the dog. It hurts him.”


“Let’s go inside. Unfortunately, if you kick the dog you can’t play outside today. We’ll try again tomorrow.”

Once I realized how ridiculous, fear-based, and even abusive my methods had been, everything improved. I liked my children. They liked me. We cared for each other. They wanted to please me. Things were never perfect, but perfect isn't the goal. Caring for each other is the goal, and safety, competence, and all that.

My grownup kids have forgiven me and given the refreshing drink of grace. I am so grateful. I still pray for God to heal whatever I damaged.

You don’t have to freak out, dominate, and control. You can be the parent and guide them to adulthood with the loving authority of Jesus.

Your family will have its own personality, flavor, and priorities, and that’s ok. If you hear or read parenting advice that smells of shame, abuse, and fear, you are allowed to ignore it.

Pursue your own healing and being like Jesus, because your children are going to be a lot like you.

That’s what I think. I wish you well.

Aunt Dorcas

Photo by Sophie Carlson. [Designed and sent of her own volition--how sweet of her!]
Check out my books at Muddy Creek Press.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Eight Months--On Being Weak

 Here's what I posted on Caring Bridge today:

Today it's eight months since Paul fell.

"He will recover, but it will be a marathon, not a sprint," they told me at the hospital, still in the emergency room. They were right.

I would imagine the only way to run a marathon is one step at a time, and that's how we ran ours. Today, Paul drove us to church, then we ate dinner with our whole family. Later, he and I went on a 2-mile walk.

We got here one step at a time.

At the post-surgery visits, the doctors again expressed amazement at his recovery not only from the accident, but also from the surgery on his neck. The word "miraculous" came up.

Some of the muscles in his left arm and shoulder have recovered completely, some partially, and a few not at all, including the deltoid in the shoulder.

"Don't give up hope," the neurosurgeon said. "Keep doing therapy on that shoulder, just in case."

So, while Paul continues to build up his strength, and we hope for full restoration, where we are is probably where we will be for the foreseeable future. So we adapt to what is.

A large recent project has been remodeling our bathroom and office. We hired someone to do most of the work, but Paul has made numerous trips to Jerry's, the huge local home-improvement store, to pick up supplies. One day he said, "I think people offer to help me a lot more than before my accident."

Most of us age gradually, so slowly we barely notice.

Paul aged about ten years in a moment. Before, he was tall, strong, and confident, with a straight back and a commanding presence.

He lost about an inch of height thanks to the crushed vertebrae, he is more stooped, and his shoulders are uneven. Also, his left arm dangles.

So people offer to reach things for him, to lift and carry them, to help load them in the car.

It's a strange thing to go from strong to weak in an instant. You realize, suddenly, that you've always seen the world from the perspective of the strong. Paul was not only physically strong, he also had influence. He was an employer, teacher, and pastor. He was decisive, and he made things happen.

The world looks different when you're weak.

The strong make the decisions. Sometimes they consider how their decisions will affect the weak, and sometimes not. You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat people with less strength and power.

Romans 15 says, "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves." That may be talking about spiritual weakness, but the principle applies. Other verses repeat the idea that considering the weak is an important Christian principle:

Acts 20:35--I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.

I Thessalonians 5:14--Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.

Probably where we noticed this dynamic the most was with Covid. Across the board, the people with the most to lose were not making the decisions. From churches deciding policies, to nursing homes isolating their residents, to governments creating mandates, it was usually the healthy and strong who decided.

While he recovered from his accident, it was important that Paul didn't catch Covid. We also had to be very careful leading up to his surgery at the end of the year because they were testing him often, and a positive test would have derailed all the schedules and plans.

It was fascinating how people treated him and his needs.

Most visitors, even those who never wore masks otherwise, asked if we'd prefer that they wear one. The question communicated care and respect to us.

Some made efforts to accommodate us away from our home, through meeting outside, for example, or substituting Zoom meetings until things were safer. Others were not willing to alter any functions for our sake, so the only option for us was not to attend. That was their privilege, of course, but it communicated information about them, and about our relative value. Some said, "You can wear a mask if you like," not realizing, apparently, that we were still at their mercy, since masks are better at keeping you from giving Covid than from getting it.

When you're suddenly weak, you view the world like you never did before.

Probably the most interesting episode happened on a hike near Tillamook on the northern coast. Paul and I ate our lunch in the parking lot at the head of the trail. One group returned from the hike while we were there, otherwise very few people or cars were around.

We got our water and jackets, read the information signs where the trail began, and started out. The first leg of the hike was up a long, steep hill which we ascended with difficulty, like old people, to be honest--puffing and slow.

Near the top of the hill we met two hikers coming our way. They were both wearing masks as they passed us. Paul and I looked at each other. We have been careful to mask whenever required and appropriate, but it had never crossed our minds to take masks along on this hike. None of the signs had mentioned it, and we were outside in the wilderness.

However, if the current hiking protocol was masking, we wanted to be respectful. We had no way of knowing if masks were expected or if this group was unusual.

We looked down that long, steep hill. Did we have the energy to hike back to the car, get masks, and come back? No. We didn't.

So we plodded on.

We met probably ten people on that 3-mile hike, and their response to us was fascinating. Without exception, they either stepped way off the trail to let us by, or they nodded politely and then popped masks, t-shirt neckbands, or scarves over their nose and mouth as they passed.

None of them berated us, even though we were the "negligent" ones. Their eyes smiled in a friendly fashion.

It was like being in Thailand and having younger people bow and press their fingertips together in a respectful Wei. All the hikers conveyed an attitude of, "We know this is kind of silly to yank up these masks, out here in the woods, but we are going to make you feel protected, you sweet old people out here bravely trying to hike!"

It's hard to explain how blessed we felt. Something valuable was communicated even if, technically, their gestures may not have been necessary.

I started popping the top of my shirt up over my nose as well, which felt awkward. But, as with knowing when and how to return the Wei in Thailand, I like to do what's appropriate in the local culture.

Our son Ben, who hiked 500 miles in Oregon last year, informed me later that most hikers have something to easily pop over their nose and mouth if they meet someone on a narrow trail. He prefers a bandana around his neck. Others use a mask or their shirt. 

One of these years, Covid and Paul's accident will only be awful memories. But for the rest of our lives, all of us who are strong and influential will have opportunities to make decisions that affect the weak. I hope we do it with consideration and honor. Eventually, most of us will be weak, and then, belatedly, we will truly understand what it's like to have others make choices on our behalf.

In John 21, Jesus says, "when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."

Whether that change happens gradually or in an instant, you will look at life from a new perspective and  learn new things about yourself and the people around you.