July 29, 2011

Here I raise my Ebenezer

Well, since summer has been late to show its warm and sunny face I’ve had some extra time to shuffle papers and sort books and all those indoor organizing kinds of things that really must be done but somehow get put off… I have a closet full of books and papers from seemingly countless years of homeschooling. Considering that I have only one pupil remaining, and two years of instruction to go, it would seem that we don’t need ALL these books. And really, how many samples of handwriting, and weekly schedules and daily assignments do we need to keep? Let’s see, 5 kids X 12 years X 36 weeks X 5 subjects = A massive amount of ‘memorabilia’! Must I keep it all to prove we did something, learned something, and maybe had a little fun doing it?!

Why are some people pack rats anyway? Yes I treasure those forays into creative writing. I love the essays on sundry topics from pranks played on Mom to sailing mishaps to inventive reporting of mundane life experiences… They’re ‘keepers’. I love the artwork (and the doodles) which seem to multiply in proportion to the quantity of paper made available and the ‘dry’ness of the topic at hand… But really, where’s the limit?

So I had me a look at this business of being a ‘pack-rat’ and I found the proper terminology is “compulsive hoarding”… and what’s more, there is a specific syndrome called: Bibliomania – “a disorder involving the collecting or hoarding of books to the point where social relations or health are damaged.” Oh my. Well, my health isn’t in jeopardy yet (though I do seem to have a sore throat and snuffles today… and I did miss a social opportunity to go sailing on this otherwise splendidly sunny and breezy day in order to deal with books…) Hmm. As for the treatment? Anti-depressants and/or psychotherapy can be helpful.

I’m not into drugs, so bring on the psychotherapy! Just so happens I was reading a book (surprise!) and this quote jumped out at me:

“Your preoccupation with satisfaction is the corruption beneath your compulsions” (God’s Love Letters to You--Crabb, 86) 

Huh, what? Read that again… OK, so stretching the context (which I may or may not get back to), I got to thinking about my ‘preoccupation with satisfaction’, even re-worded it… my demand for perfection--to get it right, do it all. In terms of homeschooling, to use every resource to its fullest potential, to learn everything thoroughly, to cover all the bases… and to drive my kids crazy with my edits and demands for more and better and my “it’s-never-quite-good-enough”-ness. Gulp. So I save the books because we’re not quite through with them. So much good content. Wonderful presentation (or not). We could do this… We should go through this one…one day we’ll come back to this… Meanwhile my students have graduated with varying degrees of burn-out, feelings of failure, and a toxic mix of guilt and relief that THAT’s OVER WITH! And me, I hang onto the books and dream…and the papers that verify we learned something through all that!

Ha! Really, given a different personality this job would be a happy picnic. Picking up paper after paper full of memories of small people I got to live and learn with. Small people who were so very clever and such good writers. Each with his/her own angle on the world. Each a challenge and reward all its own. Small people who filled my days with meaning and my life with their delights…Were I not living for perfection, this would be enough, wouldn’t it?!

Why does a book unused have to be a sad thing? Maybe it was a lesson learned (namely, this is not for you; leave it!). A dog learns that lesson. Can’t I? And does a completed book have to feel so bittersweet? Do I really want them all still to be in 4th grade so we can read-aloud together and learn cursive just a little better… What if life is not about hitting perfection today but about lots of ordinary days where we give what we’ve got to the task at hand and celebrate the accompanying grace, in whatever measure it’s bestowed.

What if the process of living and learning and walking it all out by faith is what matters, not the product at all! Maybe the string of such days well lived is all the product that’s expected on my end. Otherwise, at which stage in this process of growing up can one be said to be ‘complete’. And which test will show it so that I can say ‘Whew, that’s done’. If I’m looking for perfection now, there’ll be no rest, no satisfaction, no commendations forthcoming. Only compulsions.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Gal.5:6

I sometimes fault my students on working as if ‘getting it over with’ is the whole objective, rather than focusing on learning and enjoying the process. Hmm… seems I haven’t taken that too well to heart myself? Lifetime is an unending process; I may as well get used to the open-endedness of it and start recognizing the glory of each stage, as plenty good enough and cause for celebration! [Sorry kids; your mom’s a slow learner]

So we all ‘with unveiled face’ are called to turn from bondage to books or rules or any good thing that makes us think we can better ourselves…we’re called to turn to Jesus, who ministers to us His righteousness, by His own Spirit, as we look and live. This is how we are changed ‘from one degree of glory to another’ until we behold His likeness and are completed in the ‘twinkling of an eye’—graduated. And life as we’ve always hoped and dreamed it would be commences. That will be glory.

In the meantime? Books and papers serve as reminders of the trail of grace we’ve traveled. I began reading I Samuel this week. After all the ‘doing it their own way’ and resultant bondage of Judges, at last there is one who hears from God and begins to free the Israelites to enjoy their inheritance and to realize what a privilege it is to have God as their King. They toss their idols, confess their sin and decide to serve only the LORD. But watch out! It’s not over. Their oppressors rally intent on keeping them in bondage. They call on Samuel: “Do not cease to cry out to the LORD our God for us!” He does. God answers by thunder and the enemy is routed in confusion. And the next thing Samuel does is to set up a stone by way of reminder. He names it Ebenezer, ‘stone of help’ for he said, “Till now the LORD has helped us.”(I Sam.7:12) The territory lost to the enemy is restored and peace reigns…

Yes! I so want that. None of this bondage to stuff or guilt or ‘if only’ or ‘one day…’ or any such thing. Just a calling out to God that routes the enemy and restores the freedom that is my birthright, and the setting up of landmarks that remind me of His faithfulness.  Maybe that’s what this week is about, sorting and sifting through all these years of homeschooling fallout for a ‘stone’ that will cause me no regret, no anguish of heart, only rejoicing at all the way the Lord has led us and will lead us still--until we stand before Him at the commencement exercises to hear the words: “Well done thou good and faith-filled student. Enter into the joy of your Lord”. Let the wedding feast begin!


I close with these original lyrics to the familiar hymn: Come, Thou Fount
by Robert Robinson (1758)

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise….

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.



paula_starker@sil.org said...

Dear Linda,

Deep thoughts from the heart of a kindred spirit; a fellow sentimental perfectionist who treasures the written word and art forms and delights in such gifts from the Father. This is hard work, the work of letting go and giving up these kinds of gifts in view of the larger, more unseen ones. Our humanity reminds us that we are not home yet; may we both reminded of our real home as we glance at the nick nacks (I just found more sea shells and tiny ocean pebbles in my billfold today and put them on your little wooden picture frame that sits on my windowsill. Indeed, we share so much at heart!

Linda said...

Ah yes, we cling to the good things and the memories of them, as if good things were in short supply... While all the while the best is yet to come and these 'good' things will be specks of sand on a seashore of infinite goodness unmixed with sin. I'm looking forward to the real thing! Thanks for the note (and the memories that collect no dust!)