June 24, 2011

'Climbing Merit Mountain'...

This post was originally written by my lovely friend Jenny Franke on her blog 'A Suburban Adventure', and re-posted here with permission. Love your work Jen!

It made me reflect again on the worldly pressure to attain 'merit' for our 'good works' and 'good behaviour' that becomes so ingrained and reinforced in our thinking from early in life...and the disincentive that results when we realise it's ultimately an impossible standard to attain or maintain...

This week we went along to Campbell’s school assembly to watch him presented with his Silver Merit Award. This has taken him 18 months to achieve.  

The system goes as follows:
          10 “bee” tokens = 1 school award.
          5 School Awards = 1 Principal’s Award.
          5 Principal’s Awards = 1 Silver Award.
          5 Silver Awards = 1 Gold Award
          2 Gold Awards = Gold Medallion

I don’t think too highly of our school’s merit system. 
It seems to me that it is skewed in favour of children to whom quiet, sensible behaviour comes easily. 
When this system was introduced the staff made no apologies for the fact that it was not designed to be “equal” for all kids. Some kids would receive many awards and achieve the top levels of awards relatively quickly. Others would not. I have calculated that if it takes Campbell 18 months to reach a silver award, then he will not reach the top of the system by the time he leaves primary school.
I get that the system is about recognising and positively reinforcing good” behaviour, and that the system is built to carry across some years to encourage consistency of behaviour. When I was at school I would have been totally into it and would have had no problems exhibiting the kind of behaviour that would have brought the bee tokens raining down. 
But not all kids were like me, and my son is not like I was. He is bright, bubbly, noisy, easily distracted, very exhausting. Quiet and sensible behaviour are really really hard work for him.
Where is the incentive for kids who find “good” behaviour more of a challenge?  

Campbell had pretty much lost interest in the system within a couple of weeks of its introduction last year. The “pay-offs” under this system are simply too delayed, and essentially out of reach, for a seven year old boy such as mine. 

-Campbell and brother Charlie-
I’m glad because at least he is not feeling pressure to achieve something that perhaps he cannot. I am also very pleased that it has been quite some time since he told me that he spent his lunch break picking up papers to earn a bee token. Lunch times are for playing!

I understand that children need to conform to certain standards of behaviour. We expect this at home.  However we do not expect perfection at home (if we did we would be sorely disappointed).  

We expect and try to recognise effort and improvement over time.  I also think we will need to acknowledge differences in our kids based on how easily good” behaviour comes to them.  It may well be that an achievement of 75% “good behaviour is actually far more worthy of reward and recognition than 100% is in a child who behaves a certain way as naturally as breathing.

-Campbell and sister Siena-
My worry is that at some point he will say “why bother?” If he tries really hard but still cannot get near to the top of merit mountain, will he just give in to his strong and innate desires of chatting, fidgeting, and silliness?
I am just thankful that this year he has a teacher who is suitably no-nonsense but who rewards good behaviour by the class with an occasional movie and popcorn on a Friday afternoon. Now there is a reward that speaks the language of a child like mine!
So we proudly watched him receive his silver award because we know it’s a big achievement for him.  I then promptly rewarded him with the Andy Griffith’s book “The Day My Bum Went Psycho, which appeals beautifully to a silly seven year old, and is about what I think of the merit system anyway.
As an aside, Campbell came home today to a surprise parcel containing a Super Soaker water pistol. This was a second chance prize from a Paddle Pop competition entered months ago. Perfect for him – so much excitement abounding this afternoon. Major trouble for us!

June 7, 2011

'Surprised By Grief"...

This is somewhat of an unusually personal piece for me. Never one for gratuitous self-exposure, and not naturally a person who opens their private world into the public realm (let alone the very public world of the ‘blogosphere’!) But, deciding to finally be brave enough publish this piece was provoked in part by a reading a recent article by Narelle Jarrett called Grief Just Is…’ (*here) but also the thought that by posting it, it might just be of some help to others who at one time or another also found themselves ‘surprised by grief’.

I hope it does…

Recently, during the process of supporting dear friends through a particularly painful event, I unexpectedly found myself overwhelmed by a profound & besetting emotion. An emotion I could not immediately identify, but one that eventually showed itself to be a deep & profound grief. What I can probably only best describe as an acute sense of ‘missing’…

It crept silently upon me from behind, disarming me in an instant, sweeping and swamping my emotional world. A sudden, perplexing grief I’d neither courted nor coaxed with negative thoughts, disaffected grumbling, hidden resentments nor murmuring discontent. 

I’d not invited it, encouraged it, nurtured it, nor desired it. But, there it was…

This overwhelming sense of loss at never having, knowing, nurturing, or tenderly loving in the Lord, my own children…

Inexplicably and without warning, there it was.

It wasn’t that at that moment, or in the days and weeks that followed I didn’t ‘know with absolute certainty God’s love for me, or have an unswerving confidence in his sovereignty, or a trusting belief he’d not withheld anything good from me. I did.

Likewise, it wasn’t that I didn’t ‘feel’ with a heartfelt assurance my heavenly Father’s love for me, compassion for me, that he wanted only the best for me. Not once did I ‘emotionally doubt’ that he was intimately engaged and tenderly attuned to me, to all I was thinking, feeling & experiencing. All this I knew. All this I was confident of. All this I was comforted by - deeply so. And yet, there it was…

For as long as I remember, children have always been a significant part of my world. Having raised my young brother & 3 sisters when my father became incurably ill. Having taught Sunday School, lead ‘Keenites’ on Beach Mission, trained and taught as a Primary School teacher, babysat, loved, watched over and embraced countless children of friends and church family…and yet, this void…

But, I also knew that for a single person to acknowledge such a grief, or express such a grief was not without its complications. Complications of perception, validation and acceptability…what do I mean?

Well, common responses to grief such as this have sometimes been …

- That unlike the married person, there’s no immediate ‘potential’ for children, therefore a single persons grief must surely be less acute, less distressing, less logical

-  Such grief cannot be compared to the grief of someone facing  infertility

-  It’s a void best cured by the joy & privilege of looking after the children of others

- It’s but another reflection of the singles lack of contentment, ingratitude & lack of thankfulness to God

All responses that can be fairly confronting, confusing and alienating to tender grieving hearts already struggling to make sense of grief’s existence and validity. 

Though I dislike the way psychological ‘labels’ often have a nuance that almost ‘clinicalizes’ the human experience, categorizing issues into neat boxes potentially diminishing their importance, the term sometimes given to grief like this is - disenfranchised grief’.

The concept of ‘disenfranchised grief’ was originally described and articulated by Prof. Ken Doka. Doka defined this kind of grief as:

 “… grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not, or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned."

A ‘disenfranchised’ grief may happen when the real impact and significance of some events are missed or ignored, either by the person experiencing them or by those around them.

For example, natural, appropriate and rightful grief may go unrecognized, unexpressed or unacknowledged in these kinds of instances:

* Infertility grief during the onset of each menstrual cycle
* Miscarriage
* Termination of a pregnancy
* Children’s grief
* Singleness & childlessness (a double acuteness)
* Birth mothers as they adopt out a child
* Adopted children grieving the loss of biological parents

* When a Christian couple divorce or separate
* Death of an ex spouse
* Break up of a de-facto relationship
* A missing person
* Death from Aids/HIV
* Family & friends of ‘a suicide’
* Retirement
* Unemployment
* Death of a pet

Note: Some of the griefs listed will have lifelong effects, and therefore there is lifelong grief.

Doka reflected that in many of these instances, an individual may have an intense personal experience of loss, a loss that may not be validated by family, friends or society. They may not be offered "the rights of the grieving role - such as a claim to social sympathy and support, or other compensations such as time off, or diminution of social responsibilities”.

Compounding the particular grief may be dismissive and hurtful sentiments or statements, such as - “You’re still young, you can have another baby.” “Be glad you’re still alive.” “You need to learn contentment.” “You’ll find another partner.” “If you had to get up 3 times a night to a crying baby you might feel differently.” “It was only a dog!”… Ill thought out comments such as these can only serve to intensify the person’s sense of emotional and social isolation and invalidation.

Because of this lack of social recognition, Doka suggests this disenfranchised grief can become hidden, suppressed or internalized by the grieving person. This "hidden-ness" can paradoxically increase the reaction to loss, intensifying emotional reactions; intensifying feelings of anger, guilt, isolation or powerlessness, resulting in a more complicated grief response.

Sometimes it may actually be the grieving person themselves who disenfranchises the grief. They may feel awkward about it, embarrassed, or anxious that the feelings themselves may not be seen as appropriate or acceptable, either to themselves or to others.

There may also be conflict with informal, or subtle, cultural expectations about how such a grief can, or should be expressed…

“… if an individual has internalized societal norms about which loss can be grieved and how it can be grieved, and then finds him or herself grieving a loss not formally sanctioned, there can be psychic pain internally including guilt or shame.”

Doka suggests an important factor in the resolution of this kind of grief comes about through both social legitimization and loving emotional support from friends and trusted confidants. Support, not only for the reality of the loss, but for the validity of the grief and of themselves as legitimate grievers.
"Because loss entails a loss of self-validation,
the starting point for recovery is the validation of the loss itself."

A wise friend Keith Condie, once said - all emotion must be felt’. That must sound like a peculiarly obvious statement to make, but what I think he meant was, emotions don’t change, dissipate or fail to exist just because we ignore them, deny them, suppress them or try to displace them. Emotions must be felt before they can be processed

Any attempt to circumvent that reality is not only unwise, but it’s also emotionally, psychologically and spiritually unhealthy.

For the Christian believer, we also take confidence from, and enormous comfort in, knowing the God who ‘sees all and knows all’. The one from whom nothing is hidden, nothing unknown, nothing not understood, nothing uncared for (Ps 62:5-12, Lam 3:31-33, 1Pet 5:6-7).

Our Lord, who lovingly and constantly searches our hearts, deciphers even what we deem as the most irrelevant of thoughts, the one who hems us in behind and before, and strengthens our fragile spirit (Ps 28:7-9, 119:28, 139). The one with whom there are no labels, just love…just grace.

In the beautiful words of the Psalmist:

“The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

My heart leaps for joy
And I will give thanks to him in song.”
(Ps 28:7)

As for me may I be like Job, who in the face of great grief and those doubting God’s goodness towards him, exclaimed with trusting heart, “shall we accept only good from God and not trouble…may the name of the Lord be praised!” (2:20, 1:21-22). May I learn to view all of life’s griefs and challenges through those same ‘eyes of faith’, and with the same hope, same assurance, and same yearning that declared…

I know that my Redeemer lives,
and  that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
 And after my skin has been destroyed, 
 yet in my flesh I will see God;
 I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another.

   How my heart yearns within me!”
My hope, my comfort and my strength rest, not on marriage, not on children, not on things that are passing, but on Him (1Cor 7:29-31, Phil 3:13). As I turn my eyes toward Jesus, and look full in his wonderful face, the things of this earth “grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”

The deepest validation for any believer, for THIS believer, is being known and loved by the one who is never surprised by our grief, whatever it is, nor ever distant from it. He that never fails to bring us great joy, even amidst great sadness (2Cor 6:10, Neh 8:10).

June 5, 2011

My Photo Culture: 'Let There Be Light...'

This 'photo culture' post is of a wonderful Friday evening spent feasting on the spectacular beauty of 'Vivid Sydney' , a festival celebrating light, colour and the boundless creativity of the human mind!

A brilliant winter evening soiree on the  stunning foreshores of Sydney Harbour...

The Rocks...

-the Art gallery-

- Cadman's Cottage -