Friday, December 29, 2017

Curse of the Should Be's, pt. 1

The words should be have been on my mind a lot of late.   They are a potent pair of words.  You can have a could or a would to express possibility, but the word should has consequences.   If the word should is in play, then there is a right answer and a wrong answer.  If what should happen doesn't happen, then there needs to be a reason why.   For example, if my table is messy after breakfast, I should wipe it off.  Why? Because if  the table stays sticky, I can't use it as my writing surface, and that would be a tragedy.  So if I don't wipe off my table, I should really have a good reason.  For instance, being about to miss the bus. 

But not all should be's are natural should be's.  And not all consequences are natural consequences, and some have no consequences at all.  A moral imperative, or at least what feels like a moral imperative attached to a should be, can come from a lot of different places: upbringing, education, media habits, personal preconceptions, a mood swing, or a random headline that you saw at the cash register last Saturday.  It's my personal opinion that we attach should be  feelings to could be facts and circumstances, and it ends up making us unhappy. 

For example, a couple of weeks ago, the temperature here in Michigan dropped into single digits for the first time this winter, and I still had to take Boogaloo to school.   I was cold when I was all bundled up -- thermal underwear, blue jeans, snow pants, parka, two pairs of socks, the whole kit and kaboodle.  The car didn't get warm.  There was snow falling when the radio said it was too cold to snow.  I had to drive on ice.  And I was cold when I got home.  In spite of the fact that I had a sweater, a cup of tea, and a thermostat set at 72, I was still cold.  I had a snit fit that day because that's just not the way it should have been.

 I can hear some of you now . . . "Woohoo, single digits.  We've been in the negatives for over a month now." 

Well, I hadn't.  For the last eleven years, I'd been in Western Washington and Oregon where the rain and the damp creep in at your bones, but the temperature never falls below 16 degrees, and three inches of snow earns you an automatic snow day because there are only two snowplows in the county.  And that's kind of the point.  The source of my indignation, my disappointment, was that I had not adjusted to my new environs.  I didn't have a reasonable set of expectations for the place that I now live.   I actually made myself unhappy because I couldn't figure out something that was completely natural.  I sat at my table with my tea cup and pouted a bit, let myself think nostalgically of Oregon winters, and wondered what on earth I was doing here.  Because I was chilly, the radio weatherman was a little off, and I had to drive my daughter to school on the snow.

Now this is an extreme example.  Tiny stimulus; big response.  But it's also a basic human predisposition, and a dangerous one.  What was the source of my should be?  Limited personal experience and a predisposition to be dogmatic about it.  In this case, a lack of a sense of adventure.   What are the sources of our should be's, and what are their consequences? 
Let me throw out some examples that have been bouncing around my own consciousness in the last few months.  I do so in the complete confidence that all of you will identify with at least one of them.
  • I should be able to come home from work to a clean house.  
  • Moreover, I should be able to relax after dinner , and everything that needs to get done should be done.  
  • I should be able to find salmon more cheaply at the grocery store. 
  • I should be recognized for what I do for this family.
  • I should be warmer. 
  • I should be outside more.
  • I should be done with acne.  
  • I should be over the effects of that accident.
  • I should be more attentive.
  • I should be more active. 
  • It should be easier to be active.  
  • My house should be cleaner.  
  • Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera
Now there are, of course, various responses to these kind of shoulds.  They range from sympathy to "Quit whining" to "Get up and do something about it."  But should be's exist in all kinds of places and affect our ability to be happy in all sorts of ways.  Establishing should be's about other individuals, groups of people, and states of the nation can affect our closest relationships, our racial tendencies, our politics, and our global understandings.   And closer to home our notions of should be  relating to our own lives can have a serious effect on our ability to be content.

Over the next couple of months, while it's cold and snowy outside, I'm going to use my blog to consider the different kinds of should be's, how we respond to them, and how we should respond to them.  There are legitimate should be's as well as illegitmate, and some should be's are stronger than others.  I anticipate at least four more posts on the subject.  Next up: personal should be's, where they come from, and how we should respond. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Atsma Christmas Letter 2017

Every year, I get out the Christmas cards, the stamps, and the envelopes and end up leaving them on a corner of the dining room table until the thought of mailing out those seasonal greetings is just a little ridiculous.  How much time do we have until Christmas?  A week and a half?  At this point, you might all get our cards at Epiphany.   However, we do think of you all, miss you, and read your Facebook updates and Christmas cards eagerly.  

We are all snugly battened down here in Grand Rapids.  The last week has thrown seven different types of snow at us: lake effect snow, light snow, "a break from the snow" in which snow is nevertheless falling, winter storm snow, pellet snow, snow misting, and that lovely snow I like to call snow-globe snow.  In spite of all the dire warnings about winter driving, we seem to be handling it all well as we look forward to Christmas.  I am discovering why we in North America insist on portraying Christmas with snow and icicles, even in places like California.  A frosty, snow-covered view really does create a sense of expectation and wonder.  

This month marks the end of our first semester here at Calvin Theological Seminary.   In July we sold our house, drove across the western half of the country, bought a house here and settled in to work and school.  We weren't quite sure what awaited us, but most of what we've discovered has been good.  We live in a delightful little neighborhood near our church and near several little shopping neighborhoods. The leaves are golden and crunchy in the autumn, something that hardly ever happened in Oregon.  

Seth is wrapping up his last week of a hectic semester.  He had to take five courses, including Introduction to Hebrew this semester, but he enjoyed his studies.  He kept saying that his biggest regret was that he didn't have the time to give all of his subjects the attention they deserved. He did his internship at Wedgwood Christian Services, a residential center for kids who have been through severe trauma.  That was a stretching experience for him because most of those kids not only lacked Christian upbringing, they also lacked those basic formative experiences that we use to explain God's love for us.   But he was encouraged by how eagerly the kids he worked with sought God.

I now have my Michigan teaching license, and I am living off the general shortage of substitute teachers in the area.  I've gotten to work at three or four different schools pretty consistently, and even run into an old school mate of mine.   Outside of work, I am still working on getting our house settled and adjusting to the various differences that Michigan throws at us.  I got to hearken back to my childhood by installing plastic over the windows this fall, and I'm still hunting for enough secondhand bookcases to justify unpacking all of our books.  I run the powerpoint at church once a month and volunteer with Boogaloo's GEMS group.

Boogaloo is halfway through her fourth grade year at Legacy Christian School.  We have her in another mixed grade classroom, and she is enjoying it immensely.  When people ask her how school is going, she answers, "Great" with enthusiasm.  She is also attending G.E.M.S.  for the first time and enjoying it very much.   She has her own desk now to make up for having a smaller room, and she is definitely enjoying the snow.  She is developing a real sense of drama and purpose which is at once entertaining and a little confusing. She is the one who keeps track of our sugar intake in this household.  Housekeeping and cooking are also beginning to catch her interest, which doesn't bother me a bit.

Max the mutt is still with us.  Once he gets his daily aspirin, he is almost as spry as he used to be, and  with or without his aspirin, he is just as hungry as he always was.  He enjoys the fact that we no longer have a fenced in yard, so we have to take him for several walks a day.  He also likes stealing the bread that the neighbor two doors down leaves out for the squirrels.  He sneaks over, sniffs out a piece of bread, surreptitiously bounces his way back to our yard with his tail wagging, buries the bread and then scoots back for more.  The neighbor says he could watch Max for hours.  We have held off on getting Boogaloo her promised pet because we aren't sure how Max would handle it, but one thing we look forward to next year is another, smaller dog or cat

Our daily reality is a little surreal. Not that we're living through anything particularly exciting or abnormal,  but I have a sense of being here temporarily that I didn't have before God shook us out of Oregon.  I think Boogaloo feels the same way.  The other day, she was talking about when we go back to Oregon, remembering our big backyard and our fruit trees.  She wished we were there instead of here.  I had to tell her that we don't know when we'll be going back or where we'll end up, but that it would be someplace different than we were.  We won't be going back to that house specifically.  She took it pretty well.  However, it just highlights that we are now in the business of looking forward with all the adventure that that entails.    
So here's to the New Year.  May God keep you in his will even as you go forward into his love.   

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Hello, World!

In the middle of September, I posted a simple request on Facebook.  "Pray for us.  This month is intense."  In the middle of last week, Seth had two people independently ask us if we were all right.  Apparently Facebook had recirculated my post and made me aware of how long it's been since I put out a general bulletin.  We're still here, and life is good.

Last month, a convergence of things had us running and spinning and bumping into each other and learning all over again how to manage three schedules and the needs of a family.  First of all, God provided a wonderful opportunity for me to cover a maternity leave for a third grade teacher.  I was basically working full time from the middle of August to the end of September, the same time we were moving into our new house, setting up healthcare, finalizing our choice of Boogaloo's school, etc.  Anyone in education will tell you that when a teacher works full time, that's not a 40 hour week.  There's no way to do all that in 40 hours, especially not at the beginning of the year.  So that was intense.

Then Seth and Boogaloo each started school.  Seth is playing catch up for two years of online school by taking 5 graduate level courses and working out a 200 hour internship this semester.  Intense, yes?  He was also managing the home front, getting Boogaloo to school, groceries, dishes, and laundry.  We found a wonderful school for Boogaloo -- Legacy Christian School.  She's in a combined class of third and fourth graders, 22 kids, in a school that makes a point of building community around learning differences.  They actually have a program for helping new students make friends.  The only downside is that it's a 20 minute commute one way. So we were a little pushed about, if you follow me.  Like I said on Facebook, it was intense.

Things were working out well.  We found a wonderful church not two blocks from our house.  (We walk there through the Michigan leaves. Next weekend, we might be walking through snow if the weather people are correct.) That church introduced us to a G.E.M.S. club nearby.  We found a couple of great restaurants, though we are still looking for that one coffee shop that will be our go to date place.  We started making friends and connections.  But we were awfully busy.  I, for one, have a tendency to withdraw from people when I get overwhelmed, so that I can get more done.  We were all missing each other. We were all a little fried.   There was one point when Seth looked at me and said, "If it keeps going like this, I don't think we're going to make it through seminary."   And I knew what he meant.  That's when I posted my prayer request.  And you prayed.  Thank you.

Since then, my full time job has ended.  The regular teacher came back.  I have worked a few days here and there, and as there is a general shortage of substitute teachers in our surrounding community, I have had principals approaching me, almost out of the blue, about coming to sub for them too.  That's a relief.

But we are here to make connections.  I've joined the seminary family group.  Seth is making connections every where.  The seminary put us in touch with a sponsoring family through their scholarship program.  We keep looking for friends for Boogaloo, but that will come in time, and she stays busy with her little projects.  She made her entire Halloween costume, and now she is learning to crochet. 

So don't worry about us.  We are falling into a nice routine, and we are starting to get invitations for the holidays.  Life is busy, but we are well taken care of. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Updates and Reflections

Just to keep family and friends up to date, here is the progress toward our move:

1.  We have decided to sell our house here in Oregon.  A market date of early May snuck up on us a bit, but we painted the house (as much as the weather would allow), removed the covered porch, and started weeding the flower beds.  I feel like there's so much that we're neglecting, but there's also so much that we're getting done.

  • The bathroom has been painted.  
  • Half the stuff in the kitchen has been packed.
  • 2/3 of our books are in boxes.  
  • We filled another 30 yard dumpster with destruction materials. 
  • Our beige house with red trim is now a white house with blue trim.  
Of course, I have no pictures of any of this because I don't have time to download pictures.

But the people seem to like it.  When our house finally went on the market last Tuesday, we had an offer the same day, and the only reason we didn't take it was because about two dozen more people had signed up to see the house between then and Thursday.  Our last walk through was Thursday night, and we had to cut off the viewings at that point because we already had six offers in hand.

Some tips for buying in Portland.  1.  Don't bid too high.  We turned down one offer because we just didn't see how a bank would assess our house at that value.  Thank you, but be realistic.  2.  It doesn't hurt to talk to the sellers, should they be around the house when you get there.  We definitely considered the offers of faces we remembered twice.  3.  On the other hand, we did not really read any cover letters because we knew that they would not help us make an unbiased decision.

But we have accepted an offer and are eagerly anticipating going through the process of closing as sellers instead of buyers.  

2.  The housing market in Grand Rapids is such that we should probably be able to get just as much (if not more) house as we have here for about half the price, and because we bought low (as in short sale) here, we might actually have enough of a margin to pay cash.  We did not expect our housing investments to start paying off like this quite this quickly, but we'll take it.  We've got a couple of realtors and a good friend looking at houses in G.R., and we've been spending lots of time on Zillow and Trulia.  By early July, we hope to put out a few offers of our own.  

3. With houses, come neighborhoods.  With neighborhoods come schools.  And with Grand Rapids, headquarters of the Christian Reformed Church of North America, comes lots of Christian schools.  I mean lots.  We are school shopping.

4.  And with schools come jobs.  Seth will be in school full time and managing an internship as well, so he doesn't expect to work (nor should he).  Substitute teaching is, of course, always an option for me, but I'm aiming at something more steady.  A couple of part time teaching positions at private schools have opened up, and I am also looking at classified positions and just seeing what else is out there.  I don't have to work in education, but thinking of breaking into a new field or just getting a job to tide us over for a few years feels, again, weird.  I'd like to take the opportunity to sharpen some of the skills that I'm going to need when Seth's ministry comes into its own.  That is the thought that is always in the back of my mind.

5.  A lot of things are going to be staying behind when we go.  My car will find a home in a scrap yard.  Our kitchen chairs probably won't make the trip.  We've already disposed of a couch.  And there is a chance that our faithful hound, Max, might not be up to the journey.  He is 14 years old, and time (and the recent heat) are beginning to tell on him.  Breathing is getting difficult, and his joints just aren't moving the way they used to.  This is another decision we have never had to make before, and both Seth and I are uneasy about it.  He's been such a good companion for us.  How do we know when the time is right?

All this to say that we are at a month and seven days before departure for the great unknown of Grand Rapids.  God keep us, please;  we are seeking to do your will.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Star Gifts

The Atsma family "Star Gifts" from 2016 and 2017.  Boogaloo also received stars, but we never know where they end up.
These are "Star Gifts."  They are an Epiphany tradition at my church.  

Every year, between Christmas and Epiphany, the pastor and several volunteers prayerfully write different spiritual gifts and attributes on over 200 little paper stars.  Then, as the offering is collected on the Sunday of Epiphany, the members of the committee will follow behind the deacons and pass out the stars randomly.  The words are all facing down, and the congregation is instructed to just take the one on top.

Now, some of you might be thinking, "What a cute way to commemorate the Wise men."  And I grant you, there is something fun about colorful little paper stars.  But the stars are always accurate.  They are exactly what people need to receive.  I've even heard people say, "I didn't know why I received the word I got last year, but by the end of the year, I knew exactly why God had given that to me."

 Two years ago, I drew "Pardon," and anyone who knows me well knows that I have difficulty letting go of my past sins.  As I looked at that star, I understood that God wanted me to understand that I was clean.  What I was given that year was the delicate ability to pardon others (particularly political opponents on Facebook), and by the end of the year, I had a whole new appreciation for all being in this together.

Last year, the year of the Great Michigan Decision, Seth got "Encouragement" and I got "Guidance." I thought that we should switch stars because he, as the head of the family, was obviously going to be needing the guidance.  But throughout the year, I found that comparing my gut feeling to the decisions we reached, I knew what we were going to do, especially when we had spent significant time in prayer.

So this year, when I pulled "Discipline" out of the basket, I laughed, right up in front of church with a microphone in my hand.  How appropriate.  Discipline is something that I have been asking about for a couple of months now.  It applies in so many places: discipline in writing more often, discipline in physical exercise, in time management, in accomplishing tasks instead of worrying about them, in choosing my priorities, in getting up earlier in the morning, in prayer and Bible Reading, in speaking my mind instead of willing people to guess what's bothering me and in limiting my time on social media (read Facebook).

One thing our pastor said this year brought the poignancy of the gift home to me.  He said, "This is not an assignment; this is a gift.  This is not something you need to achieve.  This is God's gift to you over the coming year, and over the coming year, we pray that you will see this trait manifest and grow as you mature in Christ and give your best back to God, as the Wise Men did."  Being a good Calvinist, I am much inclined to try to achieve what has been given to me.  But receiving discipline this year was more like that verse when Jesus said, "When you ask for something, believe that you have already received it."

In the few weeks following Epiphany, I have seen a growth of discipline.  I'm not saying that I'm a cross between Maria Kang and Elizabeth Elliot all of a sudden.  But two out of five school days, I manage to get up and read and pray, and I got in some yoga and a little aerobics.  I also had two days subbing for a P.E. teacher, which helps.  As for writing, well, this is my second blog post this year.  That's something.

On the other hand, this past weekend, the family devotional covered the parable of the Talents.  The one indisputable lesson to take away from that parable is that God expects a return on His investments.  This may not be an assignment (for which I am honestly grateful.  The last thing I need is another "to do."), and the gift was certainly free, and I asked for it and He was pleased to give it to me.  But now that I have discipline (and it's growing), I have to do something with it.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Why Common Sense is such a hard thing to find

Seth came to me the other day with the textbook of his latest class in hand and said, "Look, Love.  These authors don't approve of the common sense approach to interpreting Scripture."  (We have these conversations a lot at our house lately.)

I replied, "Of course not.  There's no such thing."  And we proceeded to discuss the idea for several minutes before he went back to studying and I went back to folding laundry.

In a society as diverse as ours -- diverse in roots, in experiences, in opinions, in goals --  common sense is a tricky thing to pin down.  Sometimes it's as simple as holding a full pitcher with two hands (sorry, Mom), and sometimes it eludes us all together.  At the end of a troubling election year and the beginning of a new administration, a lot of people are left looking around and questioning their neighbors' notions of what is and what ought to be. The ardent feelings and and high stakes on both sides have left a lot of my friends and colleagues feeling uncertain of other people's ability to assess a situation and pursue a naturally beneficial course.  "Do they really want all immigrants thrown out?  Do they really want to see all restriction on abortion struck down?  Do they really want . . .?  Where is their common sense?"  

But common sense is a tricky thing.   Based in experience, especially the experience of the community, it's that basic human wisdom that applies to ordinary circumstances.  Some confuse it with natural law by saying that if everyone applied their unalloyed human reason to a situation, everyone would come to the same conclusion, so if we aren't coming to the same conclusion, obviously, someone isn't thinking or at least not thinking in an unbiased manner.  Translated:  they're not using their common sense.  

Now, if you're at home in the kitchen, and you've got a kid carrying the lemonade to the table, then common sense will serve you just fine.  Two hands, and focus on your destination.  We all want the lemonade to get where it's going.  However, the problem with using common sense to approach almost any cosmopolitan situation is that common sense is a highly specific thing.  Common sense is what our communities have used to survive.  However, the places and circumstances that we need to survive in differ, sometimes drastically.  That's why I, living in rural Oregon, have two cars to my household, and my aunt, living in New York City, has none.    Different geographies give birth to different cultures and different approaches to basic parts of life.

On the other hand, another reason that common sense is so diverse is that it rests so close to our a priori assumptions.  Logic goes from point A to point B, a lot of "if this, then that." The "if this" is something unproven, at least if you go back far enough.  Common sense rests halfway between the "if this" and the "then that."

A message from the family mathematician:  Logic goes from point A to point B using a set of premises (aka axioms, aka assumptions) and operations.  The set of premises are accepted without proof.  An example of this would be the geometry we learned in school.  What you might not know is that the geometry taught in school is called Euclidean geometry and that mathematics actual has a variety of different geometries (be glad you only had to learn one of them!)  Each of these geometries have different sets of premises, and thus are able to generate (logically) different results.

People have different experiences and motivations.  This variety in approach and experience is why newly weds have to learn to live with each other and travelers experience culture shock.  The sense we have about the common priorities (because there are common things, common desires, common rights, common necessities for living) is not as common as we assume.   The only thing common sense can tell us in situations that involve more than one background or upbringing is that there is going to be more than one approach to any given situation, and we need to be flexible.  

Take a light-hearted example from early in my marriage.  I grew up in the Yakima Valley, which is a sagebrush desert.  Because of prolific irrigation, it is the Washington fruit basket, but water is still something you use frugally there.  My mother poured the dishwater on the garden every summer and used the rinse water (still clean, of course) to mop the kitchen floor.  I learned that water is precious, and that a little extra effort to stretch out what you have is effort well spent.

One day, I was mopping the floor, and my husband, who grew up in the Willamette River Valley, one of the most well watered places on earth, finds me dipping the mop in the sink.  He stops stock still in the middle of the floor and says, "Love, why are you dipping the mop in the dishwater?"

"I'm mopping the floor," I replied.

"Why?" he asked.

"To save water," I replied.

"It's raining," he replied.  And he was right.  We live near Portland, and there was no shortage of water falling out of the sky.  He also thought I was using the dirty water, which is another quibble entirely, but the point is that he wasn't raised to save water.  Keep it clean, yes; use small quantities, not necessarily.   Because economy of water was not one of his basic premises for survival, he could take an entirely different approach to mopping the floor.

Now when we look at Scripture or at political decisions or third world crises or our teenager's angst, we need to remember that there are experiences behind those words that we don't have in common.  Some of us have never stood outside an abortion clinic and counted the women going in and then watched them coming out.  Some of us have never worked with refugees trying to make a home away from a home they will never see again. Some of us have never wondered our next utility bill would get paid, and some of us have wondered if we would even see morning.  No human being can experience everything, and so no two human beings will have all their experiences in common.  Ergo, unless it relates to gravity, and even then there are exceptions, there isn't much that is strictly common sense.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Atsma Family Christmas Letter -- 2016 in a nutshell

Greetings, Friends and Family, and Merry Christmas to you all.

Christmas is almost here, and once again, between the work and the shopping, the studying and the little Christmas things that come with having a child in Christian school, I can see that the Christmas cards are probably not going to go out this year. My New Year's resolution is to improve my communication habits, but until 2017 starts rolling, I'll just focus on getting a letter out.

God had been very good to us this year.  We've stayed largely healthy, learned some new skills, and made some tough decisions.  Family has gotten dearer, and purpose has gotten clearer, but mostly, life just keeps rolling along.  A lot of teaching, a lot of learning, and a lot of watching Boogaloo grow.

About this time, last year, we were halfway through a school year, Seth in Seminary, Boogaloo at Emmaus Christian School, and I as a substitute teacher on my first long term assignment, doing six weeks as a freshman math teacher.  Life was peaceful, a little stressful, and we were all happy when Christmas break rolled around, and we could all take a deep breath.  Of course, being a substitute teacher, vacation means no income, and being the conscientious type, that worried me a bit.  One of the major themes this year had been to learn to trust that yes, God will actually provide.

Spring was devoted to much the same.  Seth got certified as an emergency substitute teacher, I got work as a fill in for a maternity leave in a freshman Language Arts classroom (hot dog!), and Boogaloo's school announced that it would be moving and or closing at the end of the school year.  We loved Emmaus, and we were sorry to see it close, but we found another wonderful Christian school not much farther away.  That made four schools for Boogaloo (counting preschool) in four years, and all of this was after we left the Navy, but she seemed to take it in stride, especially since several of her friends transferred to her new school too.

This summer, we threw our hearts and souls into our little house.  We experimented with wood chip gardening with some success and were overwhelmed by pears, plus a few pumpkins and a piddling berry season.  I got so tired of canning pears that we just pureed and froze the last two weeks' worth, so if you come to visit, I will either fix you pear cobbler or pumpkin pie.  The berries are already eaten.  Seth's study schedule meant that our vacations were mostly small trips to or with family, such as painting Mom and Dad's house or hitting up a couple of baseball games with Seth's Dad and sisters, but we did find time for replacing the gutter on our carport and six windows on the back side of our house all by ourselves.  You know you live in Oregon when you have to stop working on a gutter because the rain is coming down too hard.  We managed to sneak in one camping trip at Champoeg State Park, so that is one item off the Oregon bucket list.

However, the biggest event of the summer was deciding that Seth's ministry would be most benefited by switching from George Fox to Calvin Theological Seminary and deciding that the best way to make that happen would be to pick the whole family up and move to Michigan at  the end of the current school year.  That makes five schools in five years for Boo, but wouldn't you know it, her most pressing concern is whether or not Michigan will have snow next Christmas.  (Oregon made a stalwart attempt at a white Christmas this year, but alas, it was not to be.)  Our pastor and his wife encouraged us to move to a setting where both Seth and I could receive support and development in becoming a ministry team, which is what we hope to do, and developing ministry connections.  And so, at the end of the summer, we began planning out a year of transition.

Boogaloo started third grade in a third-fourth-fifth mixed age classroom at Forest Hills Lutheran Christian School this year.  She loves her teacher, and we have seen her blossom  through interacting with kids who are older than she is, but she's a little stubborn about answering all the questions on a paper.  If you've proved you know how to do it, why should you have to prove it again, right?   At home, she is reading the "How to Train Your Dragon" series relentlessly, building detailed Lego structures, begging to go play with friends, and watching "Simon's Cat." She steadfastly refuses to learn to ride a bike and resists getting new clothes or cleaning her room.

 I have been substitute teaching nearly full time, and I continue to marvel at people who can work full time and still squeeze the rest of life in.  If there is one thing God is teaching me, it's that cleanliness is not necessarily next to godliness, and if I choose to take a bath instead of fold laundry, the result is minor inconvenience in the morning, not peril of the soul.  And yet our lives are pretty full.  I play flute in church once a month (twice a month in the Christmas season), and both Seth and I coach Boogaloo in her homework and volunteer at her school. I hope to pick up my writing skills a bit this coming year.

Seth is a full time student and part time substitute teacher, and between being extremely popular among high school math teachers and coaching 5th and 6th grade boys basketball at Boogaloo's school, he rarely gets a whole week to himself to learn his Greek and history.  He is planning a list of house projects to begin when the rain stops and enjoying the opportunity to pick the brains of experienced pastors, the saints, and sometimes God himself.  We have rediscovered the joy of board games and regularly meet with friends to engage in a few hours of play.

The Lord has really shared a lot of new ideas with us concerning Seth's ministry.  There is a new wrinkle developing in the treatment of returning veterans that goes along with PTSD: the concept of moral injury, which is the scar on the soul that comes from doing something ignoble, however noble the cause.   Seth's dream is to build a community for returning combat veterans to give them a structured place to deal with the moral and spiritual as well as psychological scars from their experiences.  That's a long way from here, and it's a lot to contemplate, but two things we have seen over the past year.

1.  God provides.

2.  God doesn't feel obligated to honor your plans, or your feelings for that matter.

In the meantime, we prepare.  Seth and I send our greetings.  Find a way to use this holiday as a time of rest as well as joy.  Boogaloo says, "Merry Christmas."

With love,
the Atsma Family.