Friday, September 26, 2008

Cognating about cognition

I just finished a small blizzard with snickers. I have developed, over a lifetime, a rather nasty habit of rewarding, consoling, and comforting myself with sweets. I just took my first test in PhD school and it left me with a headache that only Dairy Queen can cure.

The test was 61 multiple choice questions wherein my professor was attempting to assess complex achievement via interpretive exercises. I only know this because it comes from chapter 9 in the textbook for the class on assessment that I am teaching. Unfortunately, this fact was not included on the test I took.

The professor says he is not trying to trick us, yet somehow we feel tricked when it is all said and done. As students, who possess hopefully at least half of his intelligence, we are pretty much working on a different level. What is merely an interesting puzzle for him is an insurmountable challenge for us. If this is what it feels like to be an emergent psychology student, I wonder if I will ever be fluent.

Even though it may not be apparent in my test grade, I am learning in this class. Not only do I have a whole set of new vocabulary terms (that I need to remind myself are useful only to people studying this topic, so probably I should not try to remember them by slipping them into casual conversation, although this would be an excellent example of metacognition.) but I seem to see examples of what he teaches in every corner of my day.

In other words this prof, has begun to change my way of thinking and changed my way of viewing the world just by torturing me with a test. (Umm, I mean, by giving me this wonderful opportunity to show him what I have learned.) I now see the world through the eyes of theories, schemas and paradigms. I am not sure, yet, if this is helpful, but there it is none-the-less.

God changes us, when we aren’t watching. When we think we are doing our best to survive He comes in and changes our way of looking at the world. When we want to veer off onto our own path, when we want to pull out our own map and make a new plan for how to get to our destination, God plants a detour. We think we are going out of our way and He knows we are headed right where we should be going. As much as I like to plan out every detail, I think I am glad that I cannot see the entire itinerary.

With God’s help I will just trust and drive through this journey. However, I will stop at any Dairy Queens along the way. Old habits are hard to break.

He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs;

there He brought the hungry to live and they founded a city where they could settle.

They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest;

He blessed them and their numbers greatly increased,

and He did not let their herds diminish.

Psalm 107:35-38

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Catching a glimpse of heaven

My niece is expecting a baby. I am very excited to be a grand-auntie. She and her husband have a sealed envelope on their refrigerator that indicates the gender of the baby; they do not want to know before the birthday. However, all of the aunties and the soon to be grandma, want to know. We figure it would make gift buying so much easier. I want to try to convince her to mail me the envelope so I can have a glimpse of its contents. I promise not to tell her, but I will share the news with my sister and all the other aunties.

I have a test coming up on Monday. (stop here and say a short fervent prayer) ( thank you) I am up to my neck in “isms” such as nativism, empiricism, interactionism, constructivism, and even rationalist constructivism. Ism havingism troubleism thinkingism ofism anythingism elseism.

I am not actually worried about the test. Hmm, is that a rationalization-ism? Okay, I am a bit worried. I wish I could get just a glimpse of the test. Not to cheat, mind you; after all, we are studying moral development. No, I would use my glimpse just to make sure that I am studying the right isms.

Maybe I better take another glimpse of my notes, instead.

God has been blessing me this week with something much more important than any ism thought up by any earthly philosopher. He has been blessing me with small sweet glimpses of heaven.

My first glimpse came in the form of notes in the mail from good friends. These notes remind me that I am surrounded by love and prayers. These friends have pointed me to the truth that God’s plan is bigger than what I can imagine and that His attention is on every detail. If you are a person who sends notes, gives hugs, or otherwise checks on people, please know that you should never underestimate the value of what God has called you to do. The children of God are blessed by your encouragement.

My second glimpse was in seeing networks of people pulling together to help two families I love and pray for. This is God’s work. The praying and the doing, the planning and the caring, the laughing and the loving; friends gathered together to stand by a fellow brother or sister in a time of crisis. In heaven we will not need fundraisers or meals brought to our house. In heaven we will stand with the people who stood with us on earth and look into the face of God with joy. I know that the church puts more emphasis on, and gives more honor to, things that have numbers. Counting members, dollars, programs, new churches, missionaries, etc. is all very important to the work of God. But, bringing a meal, providing a shoulder to cry on, lending a hand or a listening ear; these are the small sweet glimpses of heaven.

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.

Isaiah 66:13

Friday, September 12, 2008

Today I want to quit

Today, I want to quit.

This is what comes from waking up in the morning and before I even open my eyes I can see the all too familiar shiny coiled snake in my field of vision that indicates a migraine. I managed to escape the headache but spent the day feeling I was wearing a physical and mental Pillsbury dough boy suit that ground the pace of the day to a halt.

It didn’t make things any better to receive a letter in the mail saying a hold was going to be put on my registration because I did not get a measles and mumps vaccination. I called the number on the bottom of the page and the fine young lady I spoke with didn’t seem to know what to do with someone old enough to predate MMR vaccinations. She stuttered when I told her I had measles when I was five and mumps when I was eight and I was vaccinated, just in case, when I was an undergrad almost 30 years ago. Apparently, I still need to be vaccinated because all of this happened too long ago. How ironic that I will most likely be getting that childhood vaccination at the same appointment where my health care provider and I will be discussing the results of my bone density test.

Later in the day I had an email conversation with a friend that confirmed my suspicions about an institution of higher education that is near and dear to my heart. The devil is at work and he is greatly interfering with the good that institution could be accomplishing. I am frustrated with my connection to that institution and I am ready to quit.

This feeling of wanting to quit has always been a strange one. I don’t really want to quit. Or at least I never have. I am just tired of rediscovering the truth that I am a sinner living in a sinful world so there is always something looming on the horizon that I don’t want to face. Deep down I know that quitting won’t fix this. We all have things in life that we want to quit and most of us can’t.

If you are the parent, spouse, or the victim of a chronic illness, you can’t quit. If you live in a violence filled part of the world, including many areas of our own country, you can’t quit. If you are being wrongfully persecuted you can’t quit. And quitting is certainly not a reasonable option if you are a Christian, regardless of your life circumstances.

No, I don’t really want to quit; I just want everything to be easy. I don’t want to face my sin. I want to quit before real repentance happens. It is not so much that I want to quit as it is a realization that I don’t want to have to change. The key to what is wrong with the phrase “I want to quit” is not the last word but the first two words: “I want.” These words put my faith in me, not in God. These words put my focus on me and not on His ministry. These words are my sin and my weakness.

I was young and now I am old;

yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken

or their children begging bread.

Psalm 37: 25

For most of his young adult life, King David had a life he probably wanted to quit. He faced real danger and real persecution and knew he did not have the option of quitting. He did not aspire to be King; he had been anointed by God. No matter his life circumstances he had to continue on the road set out before him. His words are a good reminder to me that God knows what He is doing. He knows better than I. He does not abandon His children.

Earlier words in the same psalm show me my need for change. I do not need to “quit” what I am doing; I need to ask God to change my priorities:

Delight yourself in the LORD

and He will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:4

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Who is in control, here?

I’m into my second week of graduate class and I find it to be an interesting world. The classes have important sounding names and huge expensive textbooks that make you feel you will be learning everything there is in the world to know.

It is interesting how when you go to class you learn more about the professor than the subject matter at hand.

I remember being newly married and excited to take a class from my father-in-law. Being an artist and an inventor he had a reputation for being somewhat of a free-spirit and he did not disappoint. I learned new ways of looking at God’s world and new perspectives for teaching children from a professor who surprised us by occasionally standing on a chair to make a point. Recently, while cleaning at my mother-in-law’s house, I found a copy of a letter she wrote her family. In it she expounded on the fact that Marx was a bit nervous about having his daughter-in-law in class and was determined to get serious about teaching this semester.

My current professors do not stand on their chairs (unless the media screen gets stuck) but one professor does sit on the desk cross-legged. I am somehow pleased to see he wears Birkenstocks; as if that verifies the validity of his lecture.

Another of my professors paces the floor and tells us that learning comes down to “skill and will.” He expounds that if we learn, model and teach good learning strategies we will retain control over what we know.

That “c” word makes me a little nervous. God has spent most of my adult life trying to teach me that I have no control.

In his introductory lecture this professor informed us that his learning strategies could help us take control of "out of control situations." He warned us that we might have a child with Autism, a spouse with MS, or a parent with Alzheimer’s and that if we had the right learning strategies we could keep the doctors and experts from wrestling control from our hands.

Hmm, is that so?

I don’t have experience with a child with Autism but when our three year old son started having idiopathic seizures I started reading books on Epilepsy. I read no less than a dozen books including a medical text. Not once during the years Joel suffered seizures, ambulance rides, emergency room visits, medicine that made it nearly impossible to learn, and medical tests and blood draws did I ever, ever feel I had control.

I lost a close friend this summer to MS. She was valedictorian of our high school class and lettered in every sport she tried out for. She was a stand-out athlete for the Huskers and earned many awards in her college coaching career. She was an intelligent, loving and talented child of God. I am certain that she kept abreast of the most current information regarding her illness and did whatever she could to stay healthy and alive to love her husband and her daughter. Learning strategies did not give her control over the length or quality of her life.

Every week I drive 30 miles to visit my in-laws. My father-in-law, an intelligent creative man, has suffered with Alzheimer’s for almost 15 years. My mother-in-law, equally intelligent and creative is very well read and well versed on the subject. But when she walked him into the care facility that is to be his last home, hear on earth, there was not the kind of control that she longed for.

This man is a good professor and I know that I am taking this class for a reason. I trust that I will learn much useful information about learning strategies and how to embed them into my instruction. I hope I will learn ways to help my current undergrad students who are struggling, along with their professor, with the topic of tests and assessment. But, in my life there is a different truth about “control.”

God has brought me to a place in my life where having control is no longer desirable; it is terrifying. The more I learn the more I realize how little I know and how insignificant I am. I want to let go of control and fall into the strong arms of my faithful God. I do not stop grieving over the things in my life that I cannot control. But, I do not want to be in charge. To let go of control is to embrace the freedom of being His precious child.

Job did not try to take control of his suffering despite the unwise counsel of his friends. God’s counsel to Job did not explain the “why” of what had happened but simply reminded him of how powerful is our God. God’s control is enough.

Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?

Tell Me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions?

Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?

On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone

while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Job 38: 4-7