New York City

The chronology of my summer posts is a little backwards.  Before our pastor moved, before Thomas was confirmed, and while I was still throwing rocks, Thomas, Jack, and David went to New York City.  They had a great time so I want to give their summer “field trip” a little mention on this space before the calendar and the weather officially turn to autumn.


Tom’s favorite picture from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

We had a few reasons for sending just the two older boys with David on a trip like this.  First, I am at a stage in my life where I really do not like to travel.  Perhaps this is just a temporary stage.  I don’t know.  I do know that I am currently a homebody. That does not mean, however, that I want our children to grow up to be homebodies too.  David and I thought it would be good for Thomas and Jack to see and experience something outside of western New York.  What better way to do this than to hop a train with Dad and travel across our Empire State to New York City?

Our second line of reasoning was that Walter is just too young for a trip like this.  He would neither appreciate it nor remember it; and even if I did like to travel, the logistics of taking a toddler on an eight hour trip to New York City are complicated at best.  Clearly the older boys would be less encumbered and would have more fun without their anxious mother and their little brother in tow.

Finally, with just bit of homeschool math, one can figure out that a trip for three people will cost less than a trip for five people.  Our limited travel budget was able to stretch a little further with Walter and me staying home.

After we thought through all this quite logically, David bought tickets for the train and booked an Airbnb for two nights in Times Square.  I helped the boys pack their bags, and they were off!

In Times Square.

In Times Square

The trip was a huge success!  My three travelers are already planning a return trip next summer.  Upon their return, I asked the boys to write blog posts about their experiences, which they did gladly.  Thomas is the photographer of the pair.  You can see his post at Thomas Duke 2003.  Jack is our young writer in residence.  If New York City from a ten-year-old’s perspective sounds interesting, you can read about it on his site, EpicJetMan 1780.

What about Walter and me, you might ask?  We enjoyed the quiet.  We enjoyed the not cooking for five people.  We enjoyed walking at the river in the morning and napping in the afternoon.  We enjoyed playing the piano and getting some house projects done.  It was wonderful.  I’m looking forward to next summer’s return trip too!

Not New York City

Not New York City




Throwing Rocks


I found a new form of meditation this summer.  Meditation with a toddler is not easy to come by; but ironically, it was my toddler’s enthusiasm for this new form which drew me to it in the first place.  This summer, with my toddler in tow, I discovered the meditative qualities of throwing rocks.

As soon as the weather warmed up this spring, I started taking Walter for walks down by the river.  This is not new for me.  The river has been my special place almost since we moved here.  I remember being pregnant with Jack and pushing Thomas in the stroller along the Riverwalk.  Now it is Walter’s turn to be in the stroller.  We usually walk for about a half and hour, and then I let him out of the stroller so we can go down by the water.

There are lots of rocks down on the riverbank.  Walter loves to throw them.  He is has the overhand throw of a future baseball pitcher.  I, however, am the epitome of the phrase “throws like a girl,” and at first I was content to let Walter do most of the throwing.  I would sit and watch him play while I pondered the nebulous causes for the depression and anxiety with which I was struggling.


Spring turned to summer and my mental state did not noticeably improve.  In fact, my once vague worries became quite focused on a truly possible scenario.  I felt tight and wound up.  My whole body ached.  I wished I could just let go, but I didn’t know how.  I ordered With Open Hands from the  public library.  This is a lovely little volume on prayer written by Henri J. M. Nouwen.  I had read it once before, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to read it through again.

The chapter on “Prayer and Acceptance” is the centerpiece of the book; to pray with acceptance is to pray “with open hands.”   When we open our hands in prayer, we learn to let go. We let go of the guilt God wants to forgive.  We let go, perhaps, of unhealthy habits.  We let go, ultimately, of the illusion of control.  The act of letting go frees us to accept the gifts God wants to give to us and the future He has in store for us.  Nouwen writes:

The person who prays is one who has the courage to stretch out his arms and let himself be led……

When you are still young and not yet adult, you want to hold everything in your own hands, but if you open your hands toward prayer, you are able to stretch out your arms and let yourself be led without knowing where.  You know only the freedom which God’s breath has brought you will lead to new life, even if the cross is the only sign of it you can see. 

But for the one who prays, even that sign has lost its fearful character.

I think about these words down by the river, and I start throwing rocks side-by-side with my son.




My throws are different from Walter’s.  I throw underhanded, arm outstretched, palm facing up, and my rocks follow a graceful arc before plunging into the water.  I feel my body start to unwind as I try to incorporate this posture in my prayer life as well.

For weeks I pray about the scenario close to my heart.  I try to pray with an openness toward God’s will, but I also do not hesitate to let my desires be known.  Then one day in late July, I am pushing the stroller by the river, and I pray, “If this scenario is to be, then dear God, please just let it be.”  This is the exact opposite of the outcome I desire.  It is, in truth, the exact opposite of the prayer I had prayed only months before.  Even here, in late July, it is not the prayer I set out to pray.  It is the prayer that God in His grace has given me.  It is His gift for me to accept.  I pray it, and for the moment, I am at peace.


I am at peace.  The tension is gone.  And yet, this is not a post advising that if you just pray hard enough and the right way all your depression and anxiety will disappear.  It doesn’t work that way.  If it did, I would have started praying “the right way” a long time ago.  I don’t really understand depression and anxiety, but I like what Elizabeth Foss has to say about it.  On her blog she writes this about her season of depression:

For the longest time (and it has seemed the longest time), I kept operating under the assumption that there was something I needed to do or say or pray to turn on the light. Slowly, I have begun to recognize that it is better to know that this season isn’t one to be pushed away under my own power and that God is with me in the dark.

There is no certain antidote to depression and no magic prayer to quell anxiety; but if God is with me in the dark, then I will pray to Him.  I will pray because He asks me to:

“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”  Psalm 50:15

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1  Peter 5:7

“Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Matthew 11:28

Prayer is not a prescription.  It is a gift, an invitation, and ultimately a mystery.  This summer, I was prompted to open my hands to that mystery, and now I have a story to tell about it.


It is late August.  Summer is winding down, and some days I can feel depression and anxiety knocking at the door once again.  It happens that the exact opposite scenario from that which I desired did come to pass.  I may be at peace with it, but it still hurts, and I still pray.  Some days my prayers are much less like that of an accepting adult, and much more like that of a petulant child:  “Dear God, I didn’t mean it.  I don’t care if it is for the best.  I take it back.”

God hears this prayer too, and He sends me another beautiful morning for a walk by the river.  The goldenrod is in full bloom along the riverbank.  Walter and I go down to the water’s edge, and we throw some more rocks.




  1. Quote from Henri J. M. Nouwen, With Open Hands (New York: Ave Maria Press, 1972)
  2. Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia.
  3. All Bible verses are taken from the New International Version.




Our Confirmand


I don’t know how I became the mom of a big kid, but somehow over the course of thirteen years, it has happened.  July was a big kid month for Thomas.  First, he got his second round of braces, and then on July 30, he was confirmed as a member of our church.

We hadn’t planned on a July confirmation, but Thomas was ready, and when we learned that our pastor would be leaving soon, we decided to go ahead with it.  I cut a good two inches off his hair and bought him dress pants and a tie for the event.  My parents graciously ordered a cake and then drove the three hundred miles to be here; and several family friends came to show their support.  Jack also helped to make the day special for his brother by playing his Boccherini Minuet at the beginning of the service, this time without any cello mishaps!


The service itself was just right.  Our pastor has a way of making people feel special, and I think that was certainly true for Thomas on his confirmation day.  As for me, the experience was kind of surreal.  I still have a toddler so I am used to being pretty hands-on at church, and yet here was my firstborn, standing all on his own and confessing his faith.  I didn’t have to do anything.  I was simply a witness to the faith that the Holy Spirit had planted in my son.


So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  John 11:16

Thomas, the disciple, is usually remembered for his moment of doubt, but in this verse we see how loyal he really is.  This is the confirmation verse Pastor Andrew chose for our Thomas.  We pray that by God’s grace, our confirmand may be loyal and faithful to his Savior all the days of his life.



Songs for Goodbye

I think this summer will be remembered as a summer of goodbye.  My pastor and his family moved away this month, and he is now serving a different congregation in a different state.  The relocation process for a pastor in our church body is necessarily tedious.  It seems like weeks of the summer have been spent just saying goodbye.


There have been other summers of goodbye.  The summers of my late high school years come to mind.  First, at the end of our junior year, we said goodbye to all the seniors.  This was the summer of our school choir trip to Disney.  I’m not even a Disney fan, but it is admittedly a great place for teenage memories and songs for goodbye.  Our actual choir performance was rained out, but we managed to sing anyway.  We sang “The Rose,” with its wonderful acapella harmonies while sitting in the hot tub, and we sang “Remember When the Music”  while gathered in the hotel lobby.

The summer of our senior year came;  it was our turn to spread our wings and to say goodbye.  At our high school graduation ceremony, we sang the popular “Friends are Friends Forever” by Michael W. Smith.  I think I accompanied on the piano.  We gave hugs.  We exchanged pictures and cassette tapes.  Some of us might have cried, (I didn’t), but no one was really sad.  It was just so exciting to be going out into the world.  We were full of hopes and dreams, and our youthful idealism kept us from being afraid.  I wonder, do Christian teenagers still bring out Michael W. Smith, when it’s time to say goodbye?

Now, in our middle age, the goodbyes are harder.  Over two decades have passed, and we are not the same people we once were.  The youthful idealism is gone, replaced, hopefully, with some degree of wisdom, but also tempered with a good dose of the struggles of adult life.  Hope is still a commodity, but it is harder to find.  Courage is harder to muster.  And it is harder to let go of something that seems so good.



I came to know my pastor three years and some months ago.  During the season just after Easter, I found myself in the pews of his church.  I had been in a period of wandering from church to church, looking for a home, feeling not unlike the proverbial lost sheep.  That Saturday evening I sat towards the back of the church with my (then) two boys.  It was Good Shepherd weekend.  We sang the hymns based on Psalm 23, we listened to the readings and the sermon, and I knew I had found my shepherd.

During the three years that followed, we moved from the back of the church to the front.  We added another boy to our church pew, and had him baptized.  Nearly every weekend we came and were blessed by the ministrations of our pastor.  He loved my children and encouraged them.  He taught me, fed me, forgave me, and preached to the fears of my soul.  And when I recently traveled through the valley of anxiety and depression, he was there to walk with me.

How to say goodbye to this man?  Where was the song for this difficult farewell?  This time around, Michael W. Smith wasn’t cutting it.

This time around I turned to Mozart, diligently practicing the first movement of Sonata 11.  During the depths of my springtime depression, my pastor had sent me a link to this sonata, suggesting, perhaps, that it might be soothing to my soul.  Little did he know that I had the sheet music in my attic.


When the news was official that my pastor was leaving, I took my sheet music to the sanctuary.  The church is not air conditioned, and the piano light was so hot, but still I had to play.  I thought about the message Dr. Suzuki had found in the music of Mozart:

All right.  Life is sad. But if there is love, see how beautiful life can be.  The sad life that we all must live – let us go along together and comfort one another.


I played, the notes of the piano echoing through the empty sanctuary.  Sometimes I played at night, with only a few lights in the sanctuary, and only the sound of the cicadas outside.  Sometimes I played in the silence of the afternoon with the sunlight filtering through the stained glass windows.  Then one rainy morning I played, and in the background there was the telling sound of packing tape.

I stopped in the office on the way out.  “Will you let me play for you before you leave?” I asked.

“I won’t leave town without hearing Sonata 11,” he replied.

Five days before his departure, I played Sonata 11, as my pastor sat listening.  I wasn’t sad.  I was nervous, and by the end I couldn’t play the fast parts very well, but mostly I was just happy that I could play for him.  It was my song for goodbye.

And that was supposed to be the end of this post.  I would to take my boys to the Saturday service and say my final farewell, and that would be it.  The church picnic was to be on Sunday, but I’m not much for church picnics anyway.  I didn’t think I wanted to go.


But then another song, and an invitation:  The closing hymn on Sunday was to be “God Be with You Till We Meet Again.”  The organist wanted to do something a little special.  He would play the organ, and he asked me to play the piano.  I was so touched that he would ask.  Here was another person, perhaps feeling a bit like I did, and he was asking me to join with him in another song for goodbye.

I took my boys to the Sunday service.  The older two watched the toddler so I could play the piano.  I was glad I was not singing because it is much easier to play without crying.  “God Be with You Till We Meet Again” is blessedly easier than Sonata 11.   I played loudly, and it felt good.  I was sad, but I was not alone.  I was joined by the organist and by all the other members of our church home.  Together, we were singing and playing our final song for goodbye.

Afterwards we stayed for the picnic.  It was fun!  Yes, it was bittersweet, but I was glad to be in the company of our church family.  The picnic wound down, and I lingered for one last hug before pushing my toddler home in the stroller.


God be with you till we meet again….with a shepherd’s care enfold you.

Goodbye, dear shepherd.  We will miss you.

May our Good Shepherd guard and keep you and your family until we meet again.


  1. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki quote from Nurtured by Love, Alfred Publishing Company, 1983.
  2. No, we did not sound like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when we sang “God Be With You Till We Meet Again,” but our organist recommended the recording to which I linked.
  3. This may be the first and last time I post one of my own recordings on YouTube.  My patient and talented husband, John David Duke Jr, was my recording technician.  All of the pictures were taken at Immanuel Lutheran Church.  Our garden volunteers have been busy this summer!



In the Face of Life

He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How. 


Over the weekend I read a good portion of Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl. This is, of course, a classic work, detailing Frankl’s survival against all odds in a Nazi concentration camp. The basic premise is that Frankl and others like him were able to attach meaning to their lives. Survival was more likely, though far from certain, among those who found a reason to live. The horrific numbers tell the story of those who did not survive, but even among the victims, those with meaning were able to face death with courage.

At one point, Frankl quotes Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.” Frankl grasped his why with both hands, and this helped him to survive the how of the concentration camp. His story is noble and inspiring as are the stories of many others who have shown courage in the face of suffering and death.

I have nothing but admiration and respect for those who have lived or are living these stories of courage, but these stories are not mine.


I am living in a comfortable house in a peaceful neighborhood.  I have three beautiful children and a husband who loves me. My why and my how are all right here, and yet I find it hard to have courage even in the face of life. I feel so ungrateful and alone. I read about all these brave and noble people, and I wonder, where are the stories about people like me?

This morning I was making gluten-free, sugar-free, apple cider pancakes for the “whys” in my life. It is my own special recipe. The “how” of it is not difficult for me; and yet, as I was standing at the kitchen counter measuring all the different gluten free flours, I experienced the familiar dread of anxiety welling up inside of me. I willed myself to go on, not even caring that the toddler was throwing rice from his sensory bin all over the kitchen floor. At least he was not whining….



I was listening to my Pandora station, trying to perhaps suppress my anxiety with the distraction of music, and “Her Morning Elegance” by Oren Lavie started playing. I stirred the flours, the baking powder, the salt, and the cinnamon as I listened:

And she fights for her life as she puts on her coat.  And she fights for her life on the train.  She looks at the rain as it pours.  And she fights for her life as she goes in the store.  With a thought she has caught by a thread.  She pays for the bread and she goes.  Nobody knows…

This is my story. Here is a perfectly ordinary woman: she has flowers, she has a cello, she has a job, she has money for bread, but still she is fighting for her life.  (I only just watched the video today when I was looking for a link, and I don’t have any comment except that apparently a woman can be gorgeous and still “fighting for her life.” It was the music and the lyrics that appealed to me.) Her life seems so pleasant, and yet inside there is a hidden torment that nobody sees.

I never thought I’d find consolation in a pop song. It is not a song about courage in the face of death. It is a song about continuing on in the face of life. It tells a story to which I can relate. I don’t take the train to work.  I stay home, change diapers, cook meals, and correct math problems, but that hidden torment is still there. I don’t know why I am so anxious, so lonely, so depressed, but I am.


I am not doing anything noteworthy or courageous; I am just here fighting for my one little life. I am playing the piano, taking walks with the baby, saying my prayers, teaching the boys, and some days it is so hard. Not many people know or understand that it is hard, but there are a few who do, and they do their best to support me. One of my steadfast supporters sent me this quote from Julian of Norwich:

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

I suppose it is true.  If I believe in God, and I do, then it must be true. I think of it in terms of the words of St. Paul:

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  Romans 8:28

All shall be well because God is in charge. He is working all things, even my depression and anxiety, for the good.

Today the good is that I have connected with a song and a story. I finish listening, and I sweep up the rice on the floor. As I cook the pancakes, instead of washing dishes, I snap pictures and write these words in my head. The exercise attaches some purpose to my anxiety, if only for today, and as I continue the composition in my head, the tension dissipates, perhaps just a little.

I will keep fighting for my one little life. I may not be brave, but I will continue on in the face of this life that God has given me. In truth, my life is full of blessing. I may not be aware of any grand meaning, but I do know that I have a family to love, and I will trust God to take care of the rest. For today, I have a story to share. I have found that I am not alone, and if you are reading, perhaps you have found that you are not alone either.








Present vs. Efficient

From toddler to teen, my children are teaching me what it means to be present.


Toddlers, especially, are good at teaching this lesson. For the past few nights, Walter has been overtired, and his bedtime routine has looked rather like a crash and burn event. We have been necessarily efficient, but that is usually not the case. Ordinarily bedtime looks more like a gradual unwinding of the day.  We put all the lids away, and then I go with him to his bedroom. We close the door, and he plays for a bit while I watch. Only after this playtime do we get to putting on pajamas, nursing, reading books, singing lullabies, and saying our prayers. It’s a long process, as anyone with a toddler knows. During this process, it’s my job not to rush, but to be present for each step before Walter finally puts his head on his pillow, ready to sleep. It’s not very efficient.



It’s also not very efficient to linger on the river bank for a half an hour looking for what may or may not be “sea glass.” (It looked a little more like regular glass to me, but again, this was a lesson in presence, not correct terminology, so I let it be sea glass.) A brisk walk without pause would have been much more efficient, and I probably would have gotten more exercise. But what we would have missed! I love the river, and I love these two boys.  There was no better way for us to spend that time than by being present together.

With teenagers, being present sometimes looks more like holding a space. A few weeks ago, Thomas had to make a rather large decision.  At least five adults were waiting on his answer so that we could move on with our plans, and it was tempting to rush the process. It would have been more efficient just to make the decision for him, but instead, we gave him counsel, and then let him alone for a whole day. We let him putter around in his workshop, giving him space while he processed, and by the next morning he had made a mature decision suited to his needs.

Our family lifestyle lends itself to this kind of presence. We have time to put Walter to bed slowly, we have time to spend down by the river, and we have time to let our kids putter and process and decide for themselves. Homeschooling plays a large part in affording us this time. We have whole days to spend together. We don’t have to rush, and we don’t have to structure our time to meet an institutional agenda. I think it would be more efficient to put my school age children on a big yellow bus and have them sit in class with their same age peers, but efficiency is not one of my goals for their childhood or for their education.

There are plenty of parents who do send their children to school and are still present for them when class is dismissed. Some might even find that being present is easier this way. The theory of quality versus quantity comes into play here. Perhaps it is actually easier to be present for your children if you haven’t been dealing with their noise and their messes all day long. As someone who sometimes checks out or at least takes a break, I can understand how this might be the case. It is also possible to not be present even if you are homeschooling. Pushing through curricula, scheduling too many activities, and parental burnout all come to mind here.

Presence is ultimately a state of being. Homeschooling parents can be present, or not. Parents who send their kids to school can be present, or not. Presence is also a bit of a balancing act, because efficiency is not essentially bad. Indeed, there are times when efficiency is helpful and even necessary.  If we want to get to a scheduled activity on time, we may have to be efficient in our preparations.  If the toddler is whining because he is hungry, we may want to be efficient in getting food on the table. A degree of efficiency is a good thing, and how much of a degree depends largely on the situation and the people involved. There are some people who would be driven crazy by the degree of inefficiency in my household. In fact, I think I am sometimes driven crazy by the degree of inefficiency in my household! It’s all about finding the right balance.


I am learning to hold the balance between presence and efficiency. My particular balance leans more towards presence because this is what works for me and my family. I am taking my cues from my children. They are good teachers.



April in Review

“April is the cruelest month.”  Someone lent me an anthology of poems this month, and therein, I found these words penned by T. S. Elliot.  The entire poem is very long and difficult, and my attention span being what it is, I honestly did not read the whole thing.  I do, however, tend to agree with that first line.

April is a bit of a tease.   I get excited by a day or two of warm weather, and then it snows.  I feel relief that the boys’ hockey season has ended, but then I remember there are still taxes to pay, home school reports to write, and a violin to take to the repair shop.  (It’s funny how the poets never write about taking kids to hockey practice.)  I feel hopeful that blue skies and sunshine will lift my spirits, and then I find myself stuck in the kitchen, overwhelmed by all there is to do and struggling with the tyranny of the urgent.  It was a tough month, at least for me, but enough about that.

My boys continue to learn and grow, and for that I am grateful.  It’s been awhile since I’ve done updates about them, but I am hoping to make it a monthly post.


Walter turned 18 months old on April 2.  His walking is starting to look more like running, and it is so cute.  His favorite “toys” are the four lids from the kitchen.  He twirls these like tops and watches them over and over.  His favorite book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and we have read it over and over.  He likes to put his finger or my finger in all the holes that the caterpillar eats.  At church, Walter likes to be blessed.  When it is almost his turn, he puts his hand on his head in anticipation.





Jack is ten, and has been ten for quite some time.  In true middle child fashion, he had a rather quiet April, and so I had to cheat a bit and use some photos from March.  Jack was quite prolific during March, writing stories, drawing pictures, and even recording the events of Holy Week with sidewalk chalk.  During the month of April he started his own blog for the purpose of sharing his stories.  You can read the first chapter of Jonathan Marden: The Boy Who Saved EpicJetMan1780’s Kingdom on Jack’s website, EpicJetMan1780.  (Did I mention, he’s ten?  His subject matter is very ten-year-old-boy!)  Hopefully chapter two of these epic adventures will be coming soon.


Thomas is officially a teenager!  He turned thirteen on April 25.  The day itself turned out to be rather low key, but I think thirteen is still a big number for Thomas.  He is working hard at growing up, and we are proud of him.  He spent his birthday day in his basement workshop setting up his computer, which we finally let him move downstairs, and installing a new graphics card.  I’m pretty sure he couldn’t have been much happier.  Aside from his techie aspirations, Thomas has become quite the topic of conversation at church.  Nearly every weekend this  past month people have mentioned Thomas.  They tell me about his contributions at Bible class, comment on his violin music, or thank me for his help with the spring clean-up.  They don’t seem to mind his backwards baseball cap and long hair, and that’s a good thing!

Perhaps April was not so cruel after all.  Despite the weather, and the taxes, and my general disposition, I have three wonderful boys.  They are my sunshine and blue skies, and I might even take them to hockey practice again next season!




Too Boring for a Bullet Journal?

Have you seen all the posts and pins about bullet journals? These journals are the newest system for planning and reflecting all in one, and they are everywhere I look on the internet. Some of them are colorful and well-organized, while others are even quite artistic, and I must admit they have caught my eye. For months I have been on the sidelines, merely looking at other people’s journals but not really keeping one of my own. I mean really, do I need a lovely decorated page in a notebook to tell me that on Monday I’m going to roast two chickens, do a load of laundry, and pay the bills? The simple answer is, no I do not. All of these things are foregone conclusions, and I will probably get them done whether I write them down or not. I guess I’m just not much of a planner, and there’s really not that much going on in my life that I need to plan. I think that really, I am just too boring to keep a bullet journal.

I may or may not be boring, but regardless, the siren call of the internet is too hard to resist, and so I have started a new journal.  I don’t think what I have started can truly be called a bullet journal because I am terrible at following anyone else’s directions for doing pretty much anything. (I rarely follow lesson plans when I teach or recipes when I cook.) I prefer to think of my new notebook as “bullet journal inspired.” It’s basically a place to keep anything I need to record, complete with a handy index.


I’ve been using my journal as a calendar and a place for things like the boys’ spelling lists since January, but this month I’m adding another element that I call my “Daily Pages.”  I have a place to list tasks (like roasting the chickens), a place to keep track of my anxiety triggers, a place to keep track of joys and thanksgivings, and a place for general reflection.  These four items cover a two-page spread each day.  In the end, I don’t think the question will be whether I need to remind myself in writing to roast the chickens, but rather whether writing about my day helps me to be more intentional and fulfilled, or whether it instead makes me hopelessly narcissistic.

It’s too soon to answer that question, but I do know what is helpful: making the “Daily Pages” my habit for April is helping me to actually get them done.  Thomas and Jack are completing the “Daily Pages” habit with me.  This is the second month we have worked on a habit together.  There are numerous books on habit out there, but I read (most of) this short little volume from Charlotte Mason and decided to give it at try.  During the month of March we worked on the habit of cleaning up after ourselves.  Our efforts made me wonder if Charlotte Mason ever encountered boys like mine, but in the end I think we did get a little neater!  The April “Daily Pages” habit has been somewhat easier to enforce.

The boys’ pages are different from mine.  On one side of their two page spread they have a task/assignment list written by me that they need to follow.  On the other side, they are to write a paragraph about the events of their day.   I am hoping this will help us incorporate a little more structure and accountability in our home school days.  My inspiration for their “Daily Pages” came from this post on spiral notebooks, and also from this article about Montessori journals for elementary students.  I have long aspired to follow the Montessori principle of “freedom with responsibility,”  but this is not always easy to do.  We did try to follow the Montessori idea of recording times and activities completed in list fashion, but it did not work for us because our loosely structured home school day does not really have a definite beginning or end.  If my kids are “learning all the time,” it would follow that they would be listing activities all day long, and that gets a bit tedious.  Instead, we’re just catching the highlights with a paragraph at the end of the day.  So far, our combination of task list and summary paragraph seems to be working well.

Flowers from Trader Joe's. Another internet idea I couldn't resist!

Flowers from Trader Joe’s. Another internet idea I couldn’t resist!

We’ll keep up our “Daily Pages” habit for the month of April and see how it goes.  If we really like it, I may report back with an update.  For now, I can check “blog post” off my daily task list.  The next thing on my list is the laundry….





Easter Celebration

easterboys1This evening as I write, it is snowing outside.  Honestly, I doubt that many of us in Western New York are surprised. We were more surprised, and quite delighted, with the gorgeous warm weather of Easter Sunday.  Our family had planned a nice Easter dinner, but after the events of the morning, we were quite exhausted.  Instead, we scrapped our dinner plans and spent the afternoon napping and then playing outside.  The big boys hid eggs for Walter, and once he figured out there were little cookies inside, he quite enjoyed his first Easter egg hunt!  We discovered that he does not like to walk on the grass because it is too bumpy for him and makes him feel unstable.  We consequently had to move all the eggs to the edge of the sidewalk.  I guess the activity could be more accurately labeled “Easter egg gathering” rather than “Easter egg hunting.”

After gathering eggs and eating cookies, Walter enjoyed a ride in the stroller as we walked around the neighborhood, and Thomas and Jack ran off to play with their friends.  The entire neighborhood was ringing with children’s happy voices.  It was lovely.

And for dinner?  We ordered pizza!  It was one of the best decisions we made the entire day.  We still set the table with nice plates, and even candles.  We traditionally give up lighting candles for Lent.  Back when David and I were young newlyweds we would give up Doritos and Coke.  Now we are a bit more health conscious, and needless to say, there really aren’t any Doritos or Cokes to give up! (Or caffeine, or chocolate, or Facebook, at least for me. It’s like my whole life is Lent.)  So we give up candles.  It’s kind of like giving up the “Alleluia” in church.  Everything is a bit more somber until Easter Sunday arrives.  Then we light the candles again because Jesus, the Light of the World, has risen from the dead!

We ate our candlelight pizza, and we talked about what it was like for the disciples that first Easter evening.  I don’t have any pictures because we were too busy enjoying one another’s company.  After supper, everyone stayed together in the living room and just played until Walter’s bedtime.  We were not somber.  On the contrary, I’m sure that Walter banged all his lids, and there may have even been a party horn involved.  Throw the balls!  Bang the lids!  Blow your party horn!  Jesus is alive!












Easter Sunday: Resurrection, Music, and Psychology

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.  They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”  Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,“Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.  John 20:11-18

The story of Mary Magdalene is comforting to me.  She was tormented by all those demons, and it must have made her crazy, but Jesus loved her in spite of all that.  He loved her enough to rescue her from the demons, to die for her sins, and then, like icing on the cake, to appear to her personally after His resurrection.  I am tormented sometimes by anxiety and depression, and sometimes it makes me crazy, but Jesus loves me too.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Matthew 5:8

I don’t really think that “crazy” and “pure in heart” are the same thing, but through His death and resurrection, Jesus purifies my heart, and some day I will see Him face to face just like Mary Magdalene.

I’m sure Mary Magdalene was in my subconscious as Easter approached.  She was there along with many other thoughts, some of which make me very anxious each time a holiday approaches.

I attended both Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services and kept my composure, which I view as a small victory. Easter Sunday arrived, and I was anxious, but still everything was pretty much under control.  Thomas and Jack were playing for the service, and that always makes a mother a little nervous, but they were well prepared, and there was really no reason for concern.

We had prepared two pieces of pre-service music.  Jack was to go first, and Thomas was to follow.  The instruments were all tuned, and the boys were in their places.  About thirty seconds before Jack was to begin, another young boy entered the sanctuary.  He was high on the excitement of life, chocolate, the Easter Bunny, and perhaps even the Tooth Fairy, and he came running across the front of the church smack dab into Jack’s cello.  The cello fell with a clatter onto its bridge.  In an instant, my carefully guarded composure disappeared.

The tension that was simmering under the surface welled up into panic.  I started to scold.  “Jack!  I told you to hold onto your cello!”

“Deborah.”  I turned around, and there was my pastor all in his white alb and chasuble.  He said something to the effect that it wasn’t Jack’s fault.  Thomas re-tuned the cello, and really the worst of the outcome was that we started five minutes late.  Still, I was shaken.  By the time we got home from the service, I was exhausted.

Wednesday afternoon found me in my  therapist’s office for a regularly scheduled appointment.  I recounted the events of Easter Sunday, and I mused that it was really a bit of a relief to panic out in the open.  If the cello had not clattered to the floor, no one would have seen my anxiety simmering below the surface.  I would have been left to wrestle with it alone.  Instead it was witnessed by someone who cared.

I told my therapist how comforting it was to hear my name.  Thinking back on the service I cannot even recall the Gospel account. (It wasn’t from John).  What I remember the most is the sound of my name being spoken.  “It’s really kind of silly,” I admitted.

“No, it’s not silly,” my therapist countered.  He explained that what I had experienced was called anchoring.  When I was upset before church, the sound of my name spoken in a caring manner served to anchor me.

Mary was upset in the garden on that first Easter morning.  Then she heard Jesus speak her name, “Mary.”  In that moment, I think she must have felt anchored.  I know John wrote the account as a witness to the resurrection and not as a psychology lesson, but really, who could anchor someone more than Jesus?

 “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

Jesus has redeemed me, and through my baptism, He calls me by name.  I am anchored in my place as a child of God.  It is a true blessing when God sends people to care for me, but even when I am alone and tormented, I can rest secure in the knowledge of my baptism.  As Martin Luther states in his Large Catechism:

When our sins and conscience oppress us, we strengthen ourselves and take comfort and say: Nevertheless I am baptized; but if I am baptized, it is promised me that I shall be saved and have eternal life, both in soul and body.

My pastor is not always standing behind me, and my therapist will soon be retiring, but I am anchored in my baptism.  I have the promise of life and salvation, and that promise is always and forever.