Homeschooling and the Intellectually Disabled

I’m one of those people who spends a lot of time complaining about the state of education in America yet fails to attend even a single PTA or school board meeting.

My only excuse is that I’m too tired in the evenings because I get up at five A.M. My husband likes to point out that the family members from the 1800’s I’m researching for my next book probably got up even earlier to milk cows and probably went to school meetings, but he doesn’t go to PTA meetings either.

When we took in our now adopted daughter, our local, tiny school was very accommodating despite M’s first day from hell when she announced she was going to kill herself with knives and made her fourth grade classmates cry.  In my typically controlling way I dressed “M” to look “normal” and hoped for the best. By Friday she was in the psych ward and would stay there for months before returning to the now wary school.

Again the staff took her in with open arms (much to their credit), but there were problems.  M’s trauma had forced her to become a very charming manipulator. She was hungry all the time so they gave her access to treats in every classroom (despite our pleas against the practice) and gave her free lunches even after we insisted that it was unnecessary since we packed her enormous lunches every day.

This was the first button pushed for me. I’ve always found it galling that, despite the obesity epidemic among our children and the mandatory health education classes taught in schools,  teachers still give out so much “food” in their classrooms. The school psychologist was the worst offender, but it seemed to be common practice especially among the special education teachers.

It was obvious that some on the staff considered us overbearing  quacks because we noticed an uptick in insane behavior whenever school was in session and whenever M was allowed tons of junk food — and she was getting tons of junk food daily.

  • She ate breakfast at home.
  • Just off the bus she ate a second breakfast and loaded milk and muffins into her bookbag from the Share Table to snack on during the day.
  • She ate the lunch we packed AND another lunch.
  • She scarfed down the candy offered by her special education teacher and during counseling.
  • She was even given money to buy MORE food from well-meaning volunteers when she said she was hungry. Yes.
  • This happened DAILY.

The school psychologist even told us that the staff’s job was not to monitor children’s eating habits.

I countered that if a mentally disabled child with impulse control issues was deathly allergic to peanuts the staff would probably monitor that, but to no avail. For three years we begged them to stop overfeeding, to stop being manipulated, but it only got worse.

By the end of last school year M had convinced certain teachers to keep secret clothes for her in bins so she could change into them at school and change out before coming home.

She had teachers who gave her their own pierced earrings to wear despite the fact that we told M she had to wait for her ears to heal after she let them get so infected that the skin was growing over the backs of the earrings.

M has strong compulsions related to her abuse and frequently sought out inappropriate and terrifying things on the internet — things so terrifying to her that she insisted on being taken to the mental hospital a few times so we asked the school not to give her a Chrome Book.

Here again is a pet peeve of mine: if we are being told that too much screen time is frying kids’ brains then why are we giving them more screen time in school?

I once quipped during a special education meeting that pretty soon teachers would be unnecessary. The staff members laughed uncomfortably. My husband rolled his eyes. Of course M was secretly given access to the Chrome Book.

One teacher who took our concerns seriously said that M might do well in her class if she would just settle dowwn. She had so many balls of lies and craziness in the air she was like the Cat in the Hat on steroids.

Her double life led to sleepless nights, suicidal thoughts and rage. She fantasized about living at school or at a friend’s where she had vaped once. At our most recent school meeting (just before the Covid lockdown) the staff suggested M be put in total special education lockdown. They didn’t say lockdown. They were nice about it, but admitted their belief that she couldn’t possibly pass the state exams to graduate high school. M cried when they suggested she could still “graduate” with her class but would not receive a real diploma.

Now I’m not unrealistic. I don’t think she can pass the state exams. The idea of M languishing before a computer screen munching on cookies for the next four years just seemed wrong. To be fair, the school district does not have the means to offer truly individualized care for their struggling students. Kids with disabilities have to share space with other kids who may have behavioral issues. There’s not a one fit computer program for the problems kids come to school with. We talked about special schools, but we live far away from most and they can be really expensive. My husband and I would take turns saying, “We don’t want to homeschool but …”

When Covid swooped in to take away most freedoms, one freedom remained: we could bite the bullet and give homeschooling a try. I informed the superintendent (who is a nice guy) that we would be keeping M out of school for at least the rest of the year. He probably sighed in relief as I was becoming more and more aggravated and annoying. I immediately bought a CURRICULUM FOR SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS and my husband installed a huge white board on the landing to our basement.

All kids are at home now, but I’m pretty sure I won’t be sending M back ever. M hasn’t had a single episode of crazy, suicidal spiraling. She’s sleeping a solid eight hours. We aren’t fighting — AT ALL! 

M is conjugating LATIN verbs(!) and reading Greek Mythology with great enthusiasm. She’s developed a love for Laura Ingalls Wilder and no longer has to deal with dystopian themes like the ones constantly being fed to her at school. She’s not using a calculator to do simple math. It’s challenging but that’s the very thing she needs. Now M doesn’t get on honor roll just for showing up with a smile. She works. She’s intellectually disabled not doomed.

I admit that the idea of doing this for the next four years is daunting, but so far the experiment has been far more fruitful than I could ever have imagined.

How about you? Is anyone bothered by the double-mindedness of educators who constantly reward children with food or do you think I’m nuts? ♥♥

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M taking an afternoon nap after a productive morning 🙂

 

 

 

Therefore I Exist

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A dying barn …

Yesterday was the beginning of Lent for Christians.

This was the first time in years (or maybe ever) that I was excited to get the ashes smeared on my forehead. Going back to Confession was a big step for me since for the longest time I hated the idea of a priesthood set apart. I wanted to be on equal footing with everyone and liked the idea of having “accountability partners” who basically were just as flawed and untrained as me.

It’s a rare friend who tells you the truth about your missteps.

The priest I went to see was pretty hardcore (in a nice way). He didn’t downplay my tendency to jump into family gossip and self-righteous back-stabbing of my adult siblings. After all everyone in the family does it. The priest shook his head. “No, that’s a bad sin.” Of course he was far more eloquent about it.

Friends tend to help you find excuses for your bad behavior. After a while all of my “accountability partners” became suspect. It started to bother me when they soft-pedaled around things. I’ve done the same, thinking to myself this person is a train wreck but not saying it. I mean, calling someone a train wreck isn’t helpful anyway, but you know what I mean. I didn’t have the faith that the friendship could survive an honest appraisal of the person’s behavior.

A priest at Mass recently talked about how draining  it was in this time of priest shortages and bad-apple priests to carry the weight of parishioners’ sins. Until I “got” the sacredness of the priests’ position I would not have understood what he was saying. He intercedes for us! Now that is a burden for sure!

Last night I took my puppy to her PUPPY CLASS. You can follow her on INSTAGRAM here: Comfychi_golden

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Down … stay … good Comfy!

I was tempted to wipe the ashes from my head. I was torn because some teach that wearing your faith on your sleeve (or forehead) is offensive to the sensibilities of others, and I so enjoy being liked. Some say you should proclaim your faith in actions and behavior. In the end, since I’ve decided to fully embrace traditional Catholic culture I went ahead and wore the ashes to class.

Totally by coincidence, the judge who was involved in the adoption of our daughter was taking the same class with his tiny pug-like dog Wolfgang (which is the cutest name ever). It’s always funny to see people outside of where you put them in your head. Obviously the judge doesn’t wear his robes to class (and he doesn’t command the same authority with his dog that he does in the courtroom).

He smiled when he saw the ashes (by now I had forgotten them). “Oh, I forgot today was Ash Wednesday,” he said, “but I went to a Fat Tuesday pancake dinner last night. It was really good.” He sheepishly laughed again. How could he have forgotten after a full night of pancakes? I laughed too.

We all care so much about what people think. 🙂 As a writer I care about every last review and fret when people on Amazon find the few negative reviews from when I first published MY NOVEL “helpful” because this lands those reviews as Top Reviews. I tried to explain to an Amazon rep that it would be better to set the default on reviews to Most Recent (since my book has been thoroughly re-edited and getting good reviews for a while now) but to no avail.

I found this this helpful:

“To realize how desperately we depend on the ‘existence’ that recognition by others gives us, and how hopeless we are without it until God gives us feet to stand alone on. I have those feet sometimes, but once again, let me realize that there is no absolute ‘standing alone’ — only awful poverty and insecurity and clinging to God in one’s need of others, and greater appreciation of the smallest and most insignificant of communal verities.” THOMAS MERTON

Going to puppy school has been a good thing for me. The tendency to keep in my hermitage actually makes me more desirous of outside praise and notoriety. I don’t want to be that bitter person who compares likes on Instagram and lives for new followers, but it’s an easy trap to fall into. At puppy class everyone goes without their authoritative robes. We are all at least partially dependent on the whims of the puppies. Learning to let your guard down and take your lickings and laugh when you can’t make puppies stay is the best kind of humbling experience. And in this most insignificant of communal experiences I find, as I already know but forget, that we are all the same and live in this mystery of loneliness and friendship.

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Are Artists Selfish?

“How good life is when one does something right and just!” The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky

I read somewhere that Dostoevsky originally intended for The Brothers Karamazov to be three times as long as it actually turned out to be. If it had been, I definitely would have followed his characters along. Despite being a huge book with questions worth pondering for a lifetime, I was left aching to know, when I finished, how each of the brothers fared after the decisive events following the murder of their dissipated and malicious father .

IMG_1569As a novelist I have to force myself to be alone to write. It’s not that I hate the idea of being alone. I love it. But … as artists we have to say no a lot. No to the people who love us and wish we’d call more. No to the husbands who wish we’d acknowledge them first thing in the morning instead of rushing past them to get in some writing before the kids and dogs wake.

If we are not making a handsome living at our artistic vocation it can appear to be a fool’s errand we are on. Isn’t it more saintly to serve others with our presence and maybe some fresh cooked pancakes? I used to hate the idea of serving God above all else — as if God was a selfish and egotistical slave master. I realized the reason I hated this was because I wanted people to elevate me in God’s place. It was not because I felt such loyalty to humanity that I wanted to serve them above God —  though that’s what I told myself.

Making art is a strange thing. It can feel  self-indulgent at times. It seems to serve only the artist, especially when the calling takes the artist into a private world for hours and days. Years go by and the artist may be preoccupied with the call, the words, the ideas, the images that God is pressing into his soul.

But making art and saying yes to the call is like entering a sort of priesthood of beauty and truth.  All vocations are like this.

“The particular vocation of individual artists decides the arena in which they serve and points as well to the tasks they must assume, the hard work they must endure and the responsibility they must accept. Artists who are conscious of all this know too that they must labor without allowing themselves to be driven by the search for empty glory or the craving for cheap popularity, and still less by the calculation of some possible profit for themselves. There is therefore an ethic, even a ‘spirituality’ of artistic service, which contributes in its way to the life and renewal of a people. It is precisely this to which Cyprian Norwid seems to allude in declaring that ‘beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up.'” Letter to Artists, Pope John Paul II

Alyosha Karamazov takes his calling literally and seriously. It is not enough for him to “give two roubles instead of ‘all,’ and only go to mass instead of ‘following Him.'”

In Alyosha, Dostoevsky gives us the beautiful and ideal. He tells us that Alyosha is for him the hero of the story. He is the fulfillment of everything good that his mentor Father Zossima talks about and all of the other more troubled characters are drawn to him.

I wonder if the artist’s most important job is to document beauty, not only the easy beauty of a sunrise, but also the beauty that so often arises after great suffering. Alyosha is the sunrise and sunset. His brothers are all of those in-between moments of recklessness and inner spiritual turmoil we experience in life.

Some people simply accept the gentle nudges of the Savior, some resist all the way to the end, but those in-between people are the ones it’s so interesting to read and write about. Dimitri Karamazov lets his sensuous desires run amok in search of love and happiness, while Ivan, the intellectual middle brother avoids intimacy and despairs at the suffering of innocent children under a “just” God. Both men suffer, but their suffering offers enlightenment and beauty if they will accept it (as Alyosha does). Smerdyakov, the illegitimate half-brother, refuses God’s grace evidenced by his suicide.

The beauty of the story is not that we are given the answers to all mysteries, but that we are given the ‘beauty to enthuse us for work, and work to raise us up.’

There are some people who say being a Christian is as simple as doing what Jesus says. The What Would Jesus Do? crowd. As artists we are given the task of peeling the onion, of suffering dark nights and loneliness of the soul. Sure, we are also given sunrises and sunsets and these need to be captured enthusiastically as salves for humanity’s suffering. Jesus is all-knowing, all-loving goodness, truth and beauty — we mortals struggle.

I like to think that most people love children and puppies and sunsets. But some people go afar off track following an idea — a lesser idea that puts God in the passenger seat (or the trunk). I understand the impulse. Human theories are applauded and celebrated for being progressive paths to happiness and enlightenment, yet they so often fall flat — many lead to great evil — like communism. I struggle to think of a single human achievement that has not come with an entire host of unintended consequences.

The celebration of something beyond us, bigger than us, more beautiful than us has brought us cathedrals. The celebration of us has brought us Walmart box stores. The Brothers Karamazov brings us before God with big human questions while so many other books talk about self-help and the sensual pleasures of this life and this life only.

True artists are not selfish for locking themselves away for hours (there is a time and place for family gatherings and playing with puppies of course) but we need art like we need God to help us remember our mission as humans to seek out truth, beauty and goodness in the midst of suffering.

This week on the farm there has been a lot of miraculous, “simple” beauty. I hope your week had its share of beauty too. Let me know if you are a “selfish” artist in the comments! 🙂 How do you manage your time?

8 THINGS JOHN PAUL II WANTED ALL ARTISTS TO KNOW

AN ARTISTIC REFLECTION ON JOHN PAUL II’s LETTER TO ARTISTS

 

Is There a Perfect Age to Die?

Is it better to die young or old? Isn’t it true that when we hear of a young person or a child who dies we feel it to be terribly tragic? On my travels this past summer I visited my dead relatives in a forgotten cemetery surrounded by state forest where the trees are planted in far more uniform lines than the grave stones.

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An uncle of mine was the cemetery sexton over a century ago who’s job it was to dig the holes when the ground was thawed for burial of the little community’s dead. In his neat 19th century script he kept records of the friends and family he helped to bury for a fee, making sure to note who had paid and who had not.

My grandfather (4x) was all paid up in 1860. In that same year his four-year-old son had died and his married daughter too.  On my summer trip I met distant cousins who made a picnic for us by the pond so when we went to the cemetery I wasn’t really able to soak it in as much as I would have liked (though meeting my  cousins and feeling instantly attached to them made up for the little disappointment).

XVXW1091I made sure to take a solitary trip in the fall to commune with my dead. People talk of soul mates but do they talk of soul places? The place my soul is drawn to is a bleak and beautiful county in Upstate New York. If I could live beside the cemetery I would be quite pleased.

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On this second trip, with the wind causing the pines to whisper all around, not a soul stirred for a mile. So much of the county is deserted now and all of my family farm land is owned by the grabby hands of the state. All of the woods chopped by my New England ancestors are back to “forest” though there is hardly a wild feel to these managed rows.

Back to the dead.

I entered the cemetery through the opening in the rock wall that surrounds the place. Once an iron banner stood over the entranceway, but someone had carried it away for their antiques collection or had destroyed it for fun. Nobody knows.  The stones stood white for over a century until acid rain  became a thing and turned the limestone black.

IMG_0098And still I avoid talking of the dead — though I have no fear of death because of the very people I came to visit. As the wind picked up and the loneliness of the place heightened my awareness of the longing I always have to time travel I found my grandfather’s stone. My grandmother’s had broken in two and lay beside her husband’s.

No one believed way back then that this grandfather would keep the faith after his conversion but he did and made sure that his stone would declare this faith with the Holy Bible carved at the very top. He had one made for his wife and even his adult daughter. Of course in a God-fearing community of Baptists the style of stone could have been the basic model, but not everyone in the cemetery have such stones.

My aunt (4x) and even the sexton who was her husband are buried close by, but little Jesse, my Grandfather’s son who died at the age of four, lies close beside his grandfather’s stone. Jesse’s stone is ornate in comparison to many of the others and has a long and hard-to-read epitaph. I knelt before it in the moist grass and scratched the moss from the stone to get a better look. Much of the epitaph has been worn away but there are words about eternity, sorrow and love.

What is the most tragic age to die?

Is it even a tragedy? As a mother of adult children I still pray that I die before my children do, yet I totally believe in the eternity of souls. I was thinking the other day that a long life carries with it far more suffering than a short one. I was reminded of this idea  when reading The Brother’s Karamazov:

“Add to that that he was to some extent a youth of our last epoch — that is, honest in nature, desiring the truth, seeking for it and believing in it, and seeking to serve it at once with all the strength of his soul, seeking for immediate action, and ready to sacrifice everything , life itself, for it. Though these young men unhappily fail to understand that the sacrifice of life is, in many cases, the easiest of all sacrifices …”

This is not to say a child is seeking after all of this. The cuteness of children, the holy innocence of them is maybe why we hate their loss the most and miss them more terribly (if that is true and I’m not certain) amidst this worldly corruption. When young men and women (but still mostly men) sacrifice themselves for causes and wars the thing is terrible, but glorified. But to live on and die an average age, to experience the death of others, to be diagnosed with disease, to fail at work, to be stuck in deep depression or chronic pain … most of these things are reserved for the middle-aged and the elderly.

In the Catholic Church it is not a sin to talk to redeemed souls, to ask after them, and to beg them to pray before God’s throne for us. We can also pray for them. This absolutely thrills me. I’m in no hurry to die, but I long for the day when I will meet generations of family.

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By the road side where my soul lives …

I feel strengthened especially by those who lived long and hard lives, who learned things from deep suffering and carried on with mystic purpose. In ways that I can’t explain, I feel especially close to some of my dead. I know and have experienced signs that we loved each other deeply in another place. Some people would say it’s a coping mechanism or the product of an active imagination, but the older I get the more I feel it’s true and the less I worry about the end.

Have you ever been in touch with dead souls? Let me know in the comments!

 

A Letter to Artists

“None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when — like the artists of every age — captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.” Letter of John Paul II to Artists

Isn’t there something thrilling in the idea that God, through some mysterious inspiration, taps our shoulders and asks us to birth beauty? Artists are graced especially with a sense that we are given something from nothing. We take an idea only just now occurring to us and bring it into this dimension of reality. When we have taken our inspiration seriously enough, we sense the importance of it or the goodness within it even in its embryonic stages. Though our limited talents may always disappoint us, there is a sense that this idea, this vision was given as a gift — if even a more humble one than others receive. Yet is any gift small if it is meant especially for us?

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When we keep our eyes on the gift before us, we feel that expansive breath and excited heartbeat. It transports us to the heavens — if only for moments of time. I don’t know if everyone is gifted with such moments or if it is really only given to artists. I do know that we have a choice to accept the grace or not.

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For twenty years I ran from God’s call on my life like Jonah, and I too was swallowed by a whale. I had caused many storms and needed to be thrown overboard. I turned back to God and the creative call only after everything else that seemed more practical had failed.

But it doesn’t matter anymore. Saying yes to the art that God asks us to make puts you in a special mood — one that makes life very simple even when it’s difficult. Listen and obey.

Have you ever felt called to do something? Did you run from it or embrace it instantly? I’d love to know in the comments!

 

Losing Faith & Finding It Again

“Finally, there is another reason, well known to Job, why even good men must drink the bitter cup of temporal adversity: in order that the human spirit may test its mettle and come to know whether it loves God with the virtue of religion and for His own sake.” St. Augustine

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A recent reviewer of one of my books wondered if I was depressed when writing it. They were seriously worried for me.  I found this kind of touching. I probably was depressed at the time because I borderline always am. I no longer fret about it though. The sounds of train whistles and small planes buzzing in the sky bring me delicious sadness that I’ve learned to embrace.

Suffering is such a big part of the human experience I cannot imagine how to avoid writing about it. I used to worry that my characters were too flawed.  I suppose the real worry was (and is) that I’m too flawed. It’s a funny thing though because I’m drawn to and adore really flawed characters, historical figures and Saint Peter in the Bible — not to mention my family.

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A little grace …

But there is a delicate balance in life. Little graces abound in times of trouble and those things, even though small, sometimes transport our spirits far more than the big joys on happy days.

I’m drawn lately to the Catholic Church’s view of suffering and how even our sufferings can be offered up to souls waiting around their tombstones for some love. Suffering with purpose makes a world of difference. One word from a friend has brought me back to the Catholic Church this year with all its stupendous flaws and breathtaking beauty.

To walk into a Catholic Church, after years of time spend singing songs in plain white rooms and drinking coffee during sermons, is to walk into a visual, virtual heaven on earth.

While Notre Dame burned, my heart burned for Western Civilization with its novels and stained glass and deep theology. The smoke did not blind me to the scandals of the Church (and of all churches and all people). The smoke alerted me to the desert my heart had become.

Why did a Catholic Church burning have any meaning for me? What did it matter to me in America? It made me think of the death of beauty. The death of truth. The death of goodness.

Not that these things are dead. They sit waiting for us to return to them especially in times of suffering, but we’ve made the atmosphere smoky with lesser things. My adopted daughter takes selfie after selfie to find beauty in herself when the source of beauty comes from being part of a trinity of beauty, goodness and truth. A filter can’t do that.

A year of suffering in ways that some would find trivial made it impossible for me to stomach writing blog posts. I didn’t feel like faking and I didn’t feel like whining or bitterly debating politics. I read from the mystics and the early Church fathers and embraced the beauty and transcendence of the Latin Mass at the risk of alienating my husband. I realized that not pushing your ideas upon people too hard really does leave space for reconciliation and grace — especially in marriage.

The suffering of mine took many forms this year as time in a self-imposed desert can do, but it opened up a world of new ideas, of new people — here and in the great beyond, it brought the sacred back.

TRUTH. GOODNESS. BEAUTY.  Is there need for anything else?

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A farm trinity of beauty and cuteness!

Have You Ever Been Fearful?

Last week I let my fears get the best of me — and it’s not  the first time.

Many of my bad decisions over the years have come from a place of fear. I wish the fears were related to grizzly bears or insects because it’s pretty easy to rid yourself of those types of fears since they’re obvious.

My fearful tendencies are usually more subtle because I’m great at rationalizing them or ignoring the deeper causes all together.

A few weeks back my husband got me a pony (actually a mini horse) and I was thrilled for about three days.

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Here’s what triggered an insane panic attack that also lasted about three days (not including the physical recovery time):

  1. When the lady dropped off Hobbes he was much bigger than I imagined he would be — and to be fair — much cuter. He was also skittish and head shy. This we had been warned about but it was still unnerving since he was at least a hundred pounds bigger than I thought he would be. The kind lady had spent a year working to get him used to people and did a great job but he still has a long way to go. The FEAR set in when she mentioned he needed his hooves trimmed ASAP.
  2. I called a vet-recommended farrier whose tone let me know right away that he thought I was an idiot for taking in an unknown rescue animal. The more he talked the more I could feel my excitement draining from me while fear flooded in. He said he’d come by in a few weeks. That meant each day that I woke in dread of his call since Hobbes was just barely letting me touch him.
  3. Randomly, this other lady who I’d been talking to over the last few months who does Christ-based equine therapy for humans called me about something. When I told her I had a mini horse now she was super excited for me, but warned me that if there was one thing I should know it was that  Hobbes should NEVER EVER be given second cut hay because it is too rich and the horse could die from founder (which is a sort of fever in the feet). She continued to give good advice that I don’t remember because I was pacing the floor waiting for her to hang up. As soon as she did I raced to the barn and tore the second cut hay outta there.
  4. I spent the day driving around to all the places in the county that I could think of that had first cut hay to no avail. I also forgot to eat. By nightfall I was a mess and spread the lovely anxiety all through the house as my husband called the guy he knew —  but the guy was drunk and didn’t have any hay.

Did I mention that I burst out crying to a few people I didn’t really know over the course of the day?

Now here’s the part I find so amazing. I had been praying to God to reveal my weaknesses and also to make it clear that the revelation would be from Him. I assumed if ever I got an answer it would be something about impatience.

As I walked through the two days of hell that I basically created I felt in my soul that God was answering the prayer: FEAR OF MAN IS MY IDOL OF CHOICE

The fear of man brings a snare, But he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted. Proverbs 29:25

You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God’s The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it. Deuteronomy 1:17

If I were to say to you that I was afraid for Hobbes and his health that would only be the side of the thing I wanted you to see and maybe applaud me for, but the truth is as I ran around all day my thoughts were about the condemnation and shame I would feel if it were exposed to the unknown farrier and the unknown imaginary judges that I was imperfect and in way over my head.

Fear and shame run rife in my family, but that doesn’t mean I get to wallow in it. I wallowed for a little while until I remembered a sign advertising hay I’d passed many times. This is silly but even at my age I still feel a strong anxiety about phone calls especially when I’m in need, but I knew that I could not let my husband make the call. I knew God was basically saying that fear just wasn’t a foolish thing but a total lack of faith in Him and an idol that kept me from living a victorious life (church speak).

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”Matthew 16:23

I called and the guy on the other end answered.

“I’m really hoping you have hay because I’m desperate and freaking out because we have a mini horse and there’s no way he’ll lift his feet for the farrier and I’m irrationally afraid that he’s going to die of founder by tomorrow morning — he won’t right???”

There was a long pause. “Hey, take a deep breath. Your horse will be fine. Okay, what I want you to do is enjoy tonight with your family. I’ll set a few bales of hay out tomorrow morning and you come by and I’ll give you some help since I have a few minis myself.”

There was something in his voice that was super Zen.

I was shaking on the phone because as he was speaking I knew God was showing me what life could be like if I didn’t carry around a whole ton of pride and shame.

When I got off the phone I burst into tears. Our adopted daughter came beside me and said, “I didn’t know you were anxious like me. That’s another way that we are like twins.”

Apparently she was happy about it.

When I got to the horse barn the next day I was a lot calmer. I realized that if Hobbes didn’t get his feet done right away it wasn’t all my fault — after only a few days of knowing him. I wasn’t a superstar trainer. This would be a huge learning season for me. The man with the hay took time out to show me ways to calm Hobbes  (and me) down. He was so kind and not judgemental!

It reminded me of how in elementary school I was so humiliated that I didn’t already know the stuff the teacher was being paid to teach me. Irrational but me — STILL.

IMG_0250The lady who gave us the horse called and offered to come show me how to handle the hoof situation (this also made me cry because she offered to drive an hour and a half for free!). When she came Hobbes was a brute and didn’t let her do a thing which was oddly comforting.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear: because fear has to do with punishment. He that fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

 

 

Further reading:

LAY ASIDE FEAR OF MAN

DETOXING FROM THE FEAR OF MAN

FEAR OF LOSING APPROVAL

The Tenafly Road Series

“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

Sunday at Middlemay Farm

 

There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse. ~John Lubbock, “Recreation,” The Use of Life, 1894

Look what my husband got me for Valentine’s Day! When my husband showed the picture of the mini horse to a friend at work he said, “I thought your wife wanted a quarter-horse not one quarter of a horse.” (I actually have my eye on an aged standard-bred but no matter).

Anyway in order to adopt a horse most organizations tell you that you need to have at least one other equine on the property as a companion. My husband sort of liked the idea of getting a donkey, but as I scrolled through Craigslist this little guy caught my attention and so I sent the picture to my husband — just to point out how cute he was.

My husband texted me back: You want him for Valentine’s Day?

He also told me later that to himself he said: we have to have him.

So Saturday morning the wonderful couple who had saved him from the kill pen delivered him to our house!

It is estimated that over 100,000 horses are shipped for slaughter every year to Mexico and Canada.

Some people think rescuing from kill pens does nothing to solve the problem of over-breeding and seeing horses as just a commodity, but, for the individual horses rescued, it makes a difference.

As so often happens when dealing with people from Upstate New York, I came away inspired. For no material gain this couple takes in animals and finds them new homes. Not only that but in this case they had an entire care package of grooming supplies, special feed and even a beautiful winter coat for the little guy my husband renamed Hobbit or Hobbes for short.

The generosity of some people just astounds me.

I spent all day yesterday with my first horse, just reading Tom Jones and allowing him to get used to me since he’s a little timid. At one point I could tell he was already pretty comfortable with his surroundings. There he stood, basking in the winter sun while the sheep sleepily chewed their cud. His eyelids kept drooping until he finally napped with the rest of the barnyard animals.

Save 150,000 Horses From Slaughter Each Year By Ending Auction And Export

Walt Whitman in the Civil War

I worry that a book like THE BETTER ANGEL by Roy Morris Jr.  in 2000 would not get written today because Walt Whitman, despite nursing thousands of young, suffering soldiers in overfilled hospitals who fought a war that freed slaves, expressed what we consider today to be offensive (and ignorant) opinions about slaves.  

Racism as a word needs to go. Its meaning does not allow for any complexity of feeling or thought. It shuts down avenues of reconciliation and fails to deal with the deeper issues which are basic: human hatred and ignorance. Cain murdered his brother as one of the first acts in the Bible. Anyone with maturity and experience lies to themselves if they think they are above nursing hatreds. Tell me at least one time when this hatred based on jealousy, past wrongs or misunderstanding ever brought peace to anyone, yet still we run to our little groups and cast hateful looks and words at others.

To take the argument away from American race relations for a minute I’d like to use the example of the long animosity between England and Ireland. Depending on who you talk to, people will bring up various battles and laws and wrongs reaching back a thousand years. Some people carry the bitterness of a lost battle between men generations ago into their daily lives today with no positive results.

How as honest humans can we not admit that we all have ingrained hierarchies of human importance? Some cheer for new late-term abortion laws while others like myself are sickened at the callousness and laughter on the faces of those signing infanticide into practice. Others decry borders and the mistreatment of foreigners. The hypocrisy of humanity is sickening. Yet I must remind myself that I am part of humanity.

I can be incredibly callous to suffering. I can make harsh and ignorant judgments based on race, class, religion and even the motives my husband has for doing something I don’t understand or like.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
 Matthew 7:3

I briefly entered the fray of blaming my insecurities and deficiencies on gender, genealogy and religion. Guess where it got me — nowhere.

People don’t like to hear it (I didn’t want to hear it until my sins could be hidden no longer) but seeking revenge or pity or money won’t cure bitterness. Only forgiveness does. People don’t like being humbled. It goes against the self-esteem religion. It goes against the I’m a star and you need to respect and idolize me religion.

What Jesus said is still as counter cultural and revolutionary today as it was two thousand years ago:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Be careful not to skim over these words. They are the keys to a life worth living.

Walt Whitman just before the Civil War was a man without a cause. He rode the city streets by day and spent the nights drinking and carousing. He was depressed.

His brother enlisted in the army at the start of the war. Walt left in search of him when he was hospitalized months later. He had planned to stay only briefly until he encountered the sick and dying young boys — thousands of them — in places we would never send our dogs to get well today.

Cynics might say Walt stayed because he had always had affectionate feelings toward younger men and maybe there is some truth to that, but anyone who thinks they are 100% altruistic is again living under serious delusion.

Forgotten Veterans

The many forgotten soldiers with no family to advocate for them adored Walt’s visits and the man himself. Evidenced by the letters he received late in life from grateful veterans, they believed without his small kindnesses they would not have survived the disease-ridden and terrifying hospitals.

As some of you may remember, I’m researching my young relatives who fought and died for the Union. Two died of disease early on but one was injured at Second Bull Run and spent months in hospital before being discharged only to enlist again and die a few days before Appomattox. Every wrecked young man  Walt showed special kindness to could have been someone very much like my cousin Waldo who enlisted when he was only fifteen.

The Civil War Dead

We so often think in terms of big numbers and so little do we ponder and appreciate the individuals whose tiny lives flickered so briefly. Their hopes, their mannerisms, the things that made them laugh and cry — Walt saw to those things and loved the boys “like father, like mother, like lover and friend.” He saw these suffering boys made in the image of God — fearfully and wonderfully made — and mourned for them and with them. He brought ice cream on hot days when no one wanted to be in the stinking tents of human waste and rotting flesh.

Walt wrote once about Private John A. Holmes,  a man I assume most of us have never heard of. Like 54 percent of the Union soldiers and 99 percent of the Confederates, Holmes was stricken with diarrhea — “a disease that would claim the lives of nearly one hundred thousand men.”

After weeks in camp Holmes was sent by steamer to Washington. On the boat he was too weak to open his bag to pull out a blanket. When a crew member refused to help him, Holmes was forced to sleep exposed to the elements with chills and fever. At the Washington hospital he was stripped naked and scrubbed under a cold shower until he fainted in the nurses’ arms.

For days he suffered in anonymity and hopelessness until Whitman noticed the poor boy’s look of despair when he stopped to make some encouraging remark.

“‘I saw as I looked that it was a case of administering to the affection first, and other nourishment and medicines afterward … I sat down with him without any fuss … wrote a letter to his folks … and gave him some small gifts and told him I would come again soon.’

“Holmes said he would like to buy a glass of milk from the woman who peddled it in the wards and Whitman gave him a little change. The young man immediately burst into tears.”

John Holmes credited Walt’s first visit that day with saving his life. I like to think that my cousin Waldo had someone beside him during the 24 hour period between receiving his mortal gunshot wound to the thigh and the time he spent suffering in the hospital before he died. On reenlisting he had not gone back to the regiment from Cortland, NY (his home) so I have no idea if he had any close friends near by in the end. He was only 18 or 19 when he died. He was buried on a plantation far from home as his parents celebrated Lee’s surrender.

Walt Whitman considered his Civil War days to be the most important of his life.

His collection of poems from that time are his best. Long after the country moved on and long after the thousands of young men  were buried and forgotten by all but genealogists,  Whitman’s poems live on as a testimony to the uncomplaining bravery and suffering of a generation of young men and their families.

THE BETTER ANGEL Walt Whitman in the Civil War is a book to inspire the most calloused heart. How many of us give so freely of ourselves as Whitman did? He’s always been my favorite poet, but now he is one of my favorite men.

A Twilight Song by Walt Whitman

As I sit in twilight late alone by the flickering oak-flame,
Musing on long-pass’d war-scenes—of the countless buried unknown
soldiers,
Of the vacant names, as unindented air’s and sea’s—the unreturn’d,
The brief truce after battle, with grim burial-squads, and the
deep-fill’d trenches
Of gather’d from dead all America, North, South, East, West, whence
they came up,
From wooded Maine, New-England’s farms, from fertile Pennsylvania,
Illinois, Ohio,
From the measureless West, Virginia, the South, the Carolinas, Texas,
(Even here in my room-shadows and half-lights in the noiseless
flickering flames,
Again I see the stalwart ranks on-filing, rising—I hear the
rhythmic tramp of the armies;)
You million unwrit names all, all—you dark bequest from all the war,
A special verse for you—a flash of duty long neglected—your mystic
roll strangely gather’d here,
Each name recall’d by me from out the darkness and death’s ashes,
Henceforth to be, deep, deep within my heart recording, for many
future year,
Your mystic roll entire of unknown names, or North or South,
Embalm’d with love in this twilight song.

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DRUM TAPS by Walt Whitman