Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Westall Family Update

Greetings from Alpine, Texas!

     We’ve been in southwest Texas now for just over a couple of weeks, and I’ve been asked several times about how we’re adjusting. I’ve been thinking on this today, one of the most beautiful days we’ve had since we got here, and I thought I’d share a little bit with all of you about all the adjustments we’re working through.
     First of all, there’s the weather. WIND!!! I’m talking straight-line wind that might just blow your five-year-old into the air a little if you’re not holding his hand. I’m told this wind is nothing. I’m starting to get a sense that I should be very afraid of March. But, the wind not withstanding, the weather has been mostly nice. Bautiful blue skies with gorgeous mountains surrounding us on all sides, and a mild temperature I could definitely get used to. It’s so nice to be able to force my kids to play outside in the middle of December.
     I haven’t quite adjusted to the laid-back mentality of a small town with virtually no crime. I still feel a bit of anxiety at sending my boys out into the neighborhood to play, and I can’t shake the need to make visual contact at no more than thirty minute intervals. I’m not sure that instinct will ever go away, and I accept that as a good thing. The boys—not so much.
     We haven’t found a church home yet, but I suspect that will take us a some time. Finding a place where your soul is nourished, your family is loved, and you can grow in your walk with the Lord as you serve others is a search that shouldn’t be rushed. So we’re taking our time and exploring our options. At least in a town this size, our search can’t take too long! I believe with all my heart that God brought us here, and He will provide for us.
     We are slowly acclimating to our new surroundings. It doesn’t feel like home yet, but we’ve all made a few friends, and we’re jumping into the experience with both feet. Even my ten-year-old, despite his best efforts to be mad at us for moving, has been having a good time making new friends and going hunting.     
     With Christmas quickly approaching, we are trying to focus on the opportunity to spend time at home rather than on the road between our families, and keep our minds focused on the beautiful gift of Jesus’ birth. But we all miss home, miss our family and friends, and ache to see their smiling faces. So if you think of us these next few days, please pray for our peace of mind, for us to have joy in this opportunity before us, and to keep our eyes on God’s will. We have appreciated your thoughts and prayers, and we send our love to all of you.

     May you enjoy the Christmas season surrounded by love, grace, and humility, knowing that you are loved by the Creator of all things, and saved through his son! Merry Christmas!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Standard Kids

Okay, so now that school is finishing up for everyone, I think we can all take a huge sigh of relief and be glad certain aspects are behind us for a while, especially all the tests. I have certainly taken, given, and analyzed my fair share of tests, and it wasn’t until this spring that I found myself truly anxious about them. For one thing, I’ve always been a skeptic when it comes to standardized tests. I’ve seen many bright students of all ages do poorly for various reasons, and knew beyond all doubt that the test didn’t reflect the student’s level of understanding, or their ability to be successful in the next level of study. I can hear several of my former students and their parents shouting “Amen” right now.

Well, for all my thoughtful, mature perspective on the matter, I fell into the trap! Brody (my 4th grader) went back to his old school a few weeks ago for a few days to take the standardized test he’s taken every year since first grade, which has never made me anxious before because I always knew he was learning what he should and that he was a very intelligent, thoughtful child. However, I turned into helicopter mom. The poor child got in the car with me every afternoon only to face a barrage of questions. “What was on the test today? Did you know the answers? Were there any fractions? Any decimals?” I was so terrified he was going to have to do decimals (because that was the last unit in his book and we hadn’t gotten to it yet), that I actually sat him down the Monday morning before he left and gave him a short lesson on how to add and subtract decimals and how to identify their place value.

So why did the test freak me out this year? Because, I realized it wasn’t testing him, it was really testing ME! I kept wondering all year if we were studying the right things, if I was testing him enough, and what would I do if he went in and completely bombed the standardized test he had always done so well on? Well, we got the results back, and I saw that he was fine…well, mostly. His grammar score did go down, and I should take responsibility for that because we didn’t work too heavily on that this year. But I realized something MUCH MORE IMPORTANT.

See, here’s the thing, I’ve always loved being a part of the educational system, and I have a passion for teaching kids math. I’ve also been very alarmed at the direction our schools are taking in their choices for curriculum and teaching methods. Now, I’m not getting on my soapbox here, because my point isn’t really about all the political nonsense going on in our country or our educational system. We’ll deal with that later.

My point is that no one knows my child like I do, and I am capable and responsible for measuring him according to God’s standards, not the world’s.

The reality check came for me in two parts. I was reading a story out of Texas where many people are challenging the standards that have been adopted in the past couple of years. This is going on in many states as people are starting to realize all the dangers in the Common Core Standards. What I found completely baffling was a quote by a mother who wanted to keep the standards, because if they got rid of the standards, how would she know whether her child was learning what he should and where he stood in relationship to other kids his age.

I just kept thinking, why are we so willing to accept the measurement of our children given to us by others? Why do we see ourselves as unqualified to assess whether or not they are growing and learning as they should? We’re their parents!  Not only are we capable of evaluating our children, it is our responsibility, and we have no business passing it off to someone else. Now, I don’t mean everybody has to abandon the educational system and homeschool their kids. But I do think we should find a way to leave behind all the craziness of the Standardized Testing World. It’s like an alien planet that has kidnapped all the kids and teachers then sucked out their joy of learning and ability to be creative or even curious. The whole school year has become this monotonous march to the dreaded EOCT (or whatever test your kids are taking).  No wonder kids hate school.

The final part of my reality check came just two nights ago. Lately, Fox has been going through a stage where he doesn’t want to sleep by himself. Most nights, Brody either says no to letting Fox sleep with him, or begrudgingly agrees if I bribe him. Well, that night I had put them to bed separately, but thirty minutes later I turned off the tv and heard their little voices talking. I started to go up and fuss at them, but then I stopped on the stairs and listened. Brody was in Fox’s room reading to him from the Bible that used to be his, but is now Fox’s Bible.

My heart just melted listening to Brody’s sweet voice answering questions about God from Fox. And it hit me that it really doesn’t matter if he makes great scores on some stupid standardized test created by some strange person in the distant land of the Kings of Education that neither knows him nor values him. What truly matters is that I help him learn to measure himself against the standards set by God, who does know him and has loved him since before the foundation of the world.

I am not out to raise a kid that meets the standards of this world, and I am so extremely blessed that I got to spend all the days of the school year watching him learn and grow, both in his intelligence and his spiritual maturity.  I pray that more and more parents will realize that they can let go of their anxious fears for their children, and begin to value their own ability to assess what’s truly important.
Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed of a day when his children would not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Our kids spend so much of their time being measured. And even though King’s statement was about skin color, I think the general message can apply to just about any kind of measurement we give power to.  Let’s stop giving so much power to the world’s standards.

And that, folks, is your WWW for the day!

P.S. When I was talking to my husband the other day about the blog, he asked me, "So where does all this wisdom come from?" I realized he probably wasn't the only one who didn't understand where the name of this blog comes from. It's actually from a joke I started with my middle school math students many years ago. When I lectured them about life, I would always end it with, "And that's your Westall's Words of Wisdom for the day." It was then shortened to WWW. I began joking around with them that I should start a blog, and its address would be www.www.com. The idea was to post all my lectures so they would always have them if they needed a refresher. Anyway, so when I finally got around to starting the blog, the name seemed fitting. So, hopefully you understand it's not coming from a place of vanity, but from an affectionate connection with my former students.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Seventy Times Seven Equals Infinity

So, let me tell you about this really strange, wonderful dream I had two nights ago…

I’d really like to start my story with that sentence, but the only way you’ll truly get the magnitude of this dream is if I back up and tell you a little more about the past two years of my life. Now, I actually wouldn’t mind diving into all the juicy details, but hopefully you’ll understand that in sharing intimate details of my life, I also inadvertently share intimate details of my loved ones, especially those closest to me. So out of respect for their privacy, I might be a bit vague at times, and I ask that you just go with it and not try to figure out the missing details. Despite some ambiguity, I pray you’ll see how this story might relate to your own life experiences, and that you’ll find something in it to encourage you.

Okay, so back to my story…

2011 was the start of a long journey for me, and it started off with circumstances that were devastating. I’m talking the kind of devastation that changes a person forever, and boy did it. (Here comes some of that ambiguity I was talking about. Bear with me a moment.) Betrayal changes the way you see the world around you, especially the people in it. But it isn’t just the people around you that you start to doubt. You doubt yourself, your judgment, and for me, I began to doubt things I had believed about God my entire life. I doubted that God loved me—that I’d ever even known him—and I started to think that there was no way I was actually going to heaven. I remember sitting outside many evenings crying out from the depths of my soul for God to show me somehow that He was here. Nothing crazy, no big miraculous sign or anything. I just needed one small thing, anything, that I knew could only be from Him. I prayed for a dream.

Well, time passed, and there was no dream. I went to a wonderful retreat that I loved, and where I grew closer to understanding my circumstances. I saw so many people experience that moment of intimacy with God that I was craving. I knew God was speaking to me, but it was through the words of others and the Bible, not the deeply intimate thing inside of me that I knew would be His presence.

So I came home from the retreat and faced my circumstances with two choices. I prayed and prayed for wisdom, and at the time I honestly felt that neither choice was sinful, and that I was spiritually free to choose either path. So let me get a little metaphoric on you for a moment. If you had to choose between a very steep, perilous, LONG climb up a mountain and another climb that appeared to be a shortcut around that very scary, perilous mountain, which would you choose? So here’s the thing. I just knew that if I took the scary path, I would eventually get to the top of the mountain, and at the top would be this gorgeous, thrilling experience that would surely be worth all the difficulty. And if I went around on the shortcut, I would be giving all of that up just so I could stay “safe.”

I chose to climb the mountain.

Now, this wasn’t just any mountain, and it threw some big time boulders at me. I lost friends over choosing this path, and I left a church that had grown to feel like my family. And as for my family, well, it hasn’t been easy living out this choice knowing many of them either don’t understand or don’t agree (though many of them do!). I have struggled to take each step up this mountain, and sometimes I have walked to a ledge and wished I could just throw myself off. Forgiveness is not something you do once and move on. It is a struggle every day, sometimes seventy times seven times a day. It is a choice of the will to force your mind not to dwell on hurt or anger. For me, it was seeing the enormous amount of sin that God has forgiven me for, and realizing I have no business holding a stone in my hand. And it was finally looking at others with a compassion that I know only comes from God, and being able to restore relationships that seem to befuddle even other Christians.

Lately, I came to see that I was nearing the top of my mountain. I have found a church where my family is loved and accepted, and where we can live out the call God has placed on us for serving others. My relationship with my husband and children has deepened so much, that I can look back on the circumstances I faced and honestly see them as blessings. I have spent the last eight months homeschooling my sweet boys, and despite those days when I have utterly failed in every way imaginable, God has blessed me with knowing I will look back on these days and give anything to get them back.

And yet, through all this growing I’ve done, God still has kept His distance in a way. I still felt like the invisible person in a crowd hollering at Jesus for attention, just hoping to catch a crumb of his love for me. I prayed over and over for a dream, just a simple little dream where I would know it was from God. Just a crumb.

I had finally come to the point where I just accepted that God didn’t do that kind of thing in our relationship. I was okay with that. I was content with trusting in Him, and I have been at peace for some time now, knowing His blessings and mercy have been poured out over my family. I haven’t even prayed for the dream in months.

So, let me tell you about this really strange, wonderful dream I had two nights ago…

Yes, finally. A dream. Not just any dream, mind you. THE DREAM. I have no idea why God waited so long, but maybe it’s because I have finally gotten to the point of letting go of the past where I am truly open to His presence. Or maybe he just likes making me wait on things. Who knows? I’ll do my best to describe it, but as in many things that involve God, words seem inadequate. But here goes.

As in most dreams, I was in a circumstance that makes no sense in the light of day unless you get all Joseph-like and try to interpret. There was warfare going on around me—bombs, planes, gunfire—you name it. I’m hiding behind something, and I look up just in time to see a large plane coming down right behind me. Nose dive into the ground. Huge explosion.

In my mind, I think, “I’m actually about to die.”

Then this wall of flame envelopes me from behind, but it doesn’t hurt. Immediately I get hit by this wave of something else. It’s not fire, but an intensely bright light that flickers like fire. And I remember thinking to myself, “I’m dead!!!” And I am so excited about it! It’s better than any excitement I’ve ever felt, like multiplying Christmas morning by a thousand! I’m dead!!! I am about to see Jesus, and the joy inside me is NOT EARTHLY. That is the only way I can think to describe it. All of this lasted for a few short seconds, and then I jerked awake and sat straight up in my bed.

I have thought a lot about this short dream the past two days, and I have taken many things from it. The main thing is the joy I felt. I want it back so badly, that I can truly understand now that to live is Christ and to die is gain. Not just gain, but the most abundant, overflowing joy imaginable. I’ve known almost my whole life how to explain in words that we are to seek first the Kingdom of God, and all that we need will be added to our lives. But I know what it feels like to desire to be with Him with all my heart. All I want now is to face every day with that joy inside me, and to share it as best I can with others.

So if you see me, and I seem a little excited, maybe even inappropriately so, just keep in mind it’s because I am so EXCITED about dying!!!