Out of Whack

Note: This is Part 3 in a Sunday series on the life of Joseph.
Part 1: Messy Family
Part 2: Resisting Temptation

The other day a friend said, “It sounds like your life is out of whack.”

Out of whack…sounds about right.

My kids have this cool math toy, like a Rubik’s Cube but a ball, called a Ball of Whacks. It’s fun and kinesthetic and an appropriate analogy for our life—we’ve got a few pieces missing and others poking the wrong direction.ball-of-whacks-1

Two weeks ago Teen slipped on a wet pool deck and got a concussion. Last week Tween got a cold, and then began vomiting, and it can be darn near impossible to know the difference between the run-of-the-mill virus and a cold + cyclic vomiting. A week of rest for each and they’ve both recovered, thank God.

Long work hours and make-up school work means we haven’t eaten dinner together as a family in too long. The clean and folded laundry occupied prime dining table real estate until it was time to wash more laundry. Wash, rinse, repeat – bodies, dishes, clothes, days, life.

Individually and as a family, we have been out of whack. And when we get this way, it gets me down.

One of the fun things about a Ball of Whacks is that you can whack it apart, but when you hold them close, the pieces magnetically snap into place with a satisfying click. Effort pops the pieces apart but just a little effort draws them back into shape.ball-of-whacks-2

When we get out of whack, like everyone does from time to time, I hang on to gratitude. Gratitude helps me locate all the missing pieces and sort them as needed. Gratitude directs my attention to times I thought we’d lost the pieces for good and helps me remember that, since we came through that, we will get through this. Gratitude diverts my attention from feeling sorry for myself to appreciating the good things, even the very little things. Gratitude takes my focus off me and puts my sight on others.

No secret: life is hard. Injury and illness, job insecurity and financial struggles, relational conflict, long days and sleepless nights, the list goes on. Betrayed by his family and ripped from his home, Joseph dealt with understandable and significant disappointment. But he kept his sights on God and did his best in every situation.

I bet Joe felt more than a little out of whack, more like the missing piece. But his faithfulness—and God’s faithfulness to him—give me hope. God used a situation that looked like extreme injustice to bring about reconciliation and redemption. Of course, Joe couldn’t know that at the time, so he had to hold on.

So I hold on by giving thanks while I look for the pieces and hold them close so God can pop them into shape.

Think about a time when life got you down. How did you handle it?

Read aloud Genesis 40.
What reasons do the chief cupbearer and chief baker have to feel dejected?
What reasons does Joseph have to feel dejected?
How do you think Joseph felt when his interpretations of the men’s dreams proved accurate? When the cupbearer forgot him to Pharaoh?
How does Joseph seem to deal with disappointment?
In Genesis 37:5-11 Joseph has dreams. In Genesis 40 Joseph interprets dreams because “interpretations belong to God.” How might the theme of dreams be evidence of God giving Joseph hope in disappointing circumstances?

In your recent experience, have life’s disappointments tended to be predictable or surprising? Is one or the other easier to deal with? Explain.
When have you felt disappointed with God? What helps you to maintain trust?
How has serving others helped you feel better about your own circumstances?
How might you, individually or with family/friends, help others dealing with disappointment?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray that the Spirit will help you trust God during disappointment.

Spelling Bee

Tween participated in the school-wide spelling bee. Placing in the top two in his classroom bee, he joined seventeen other 3rd through 5th graders. All winners before they hit the stage, Tween made it to 4th place.

Miraculous, as years ago experts predicted that given his particular set of learning (dis)abilities, his spelling level wouldn’t exceed third grade.

Watch this kid surpass his doctors’ expectations – woo hoo!

Similar to the well-known stages of grief, Tween passed through several Stages of Anticipation:

At first, he was over-the-moon excited. Giddy, jumping around, couldn’t stop talking.

Next came anxiety with a dash of denial. Let’s not talk about it unless we’re so anxious we have to talk about it.

Then, annoyance: “Mom, I Do Not want to practice spelling!”

Followed by acceptance, “Mom, can we practice spelling?” (Snuggles).

I came up with an unorthodox strategy: I checked out a DVD of Akeelah and the Bee from our fantastic local library. We watched it over two nights after homework and dinner, me pausing the show periodically to quiz Tween on a word (Guy declared it the worst movie-watching experience ever; I argued that we were studying!).

We talked about anxiety and desire, gumption, determination, and overcoming expectations. Tween’s parents watched the power of storytelling wash over him as he joined Akeelah on her journey from inner-city closeted smart kid to National Spelling Bee champion.

From no-dream to pipe-dream to day-dream to reality, Tween caught the spirit.

Finally motivated, he let me quiz him as I inwardly marveled at his ability to spell words I couldn’t imagine he’d seen before and outwardly praised him like crazy for his hard work.

The night before the bee he crawled into bed and buried himself in covers. Overwhelmed, he began to criticize everything about himself – body and brain. You know those moments, when nerves take over and you just can’t see how anything you are or do could possibly be good enough?

I made him look me in the eyes. Firmly, I said, “You do your best and let God do the rest” (thanks, Mom, for that little pearl of wisdom!). “And I will be proud of you No Matter What.”

Morning of, he turned ornery when I suggested he Dress for Success: “Did you read that in one of your magazines?” (Ugh, Adolescent Sassy-Butt, I only requested that he put on a polo-style shirt with his jeans. “But Mom, NO ONE else will wear anything special, you just watch.” Bummer, he was mostly right). After he left for school, I insisted that Guy and I also Dress for Success to honor his efforts.

As Guy and I entered the auditorium to join other parents seated on benches lining the back wall, the school principal called us over. “I have to ask,” he began, “but do you live in a zoo?”

The bee participants had filled out questionnaires about themselves and one of the questions asked about family pets. “I was just wondering how many of these animals Tween listed might actually still be living with you?”

We glanced over his shoulder at Tween’s paper and laughed. He had listed all of our 3 cats, 3 leopard geckos, 2 dogs, 2 snakes, 1 tortoise, and 1 betta fish by name and species. All except for the newest snake which he listed as “ball python (I forgot its name).”

Um, yes, we live in a zoo of sorts. We’re a little nuts.

National Spelling Bee rules at play, kids could only ask two questions about their word. They could ask for a definition, to hear it repeated or in a sentence, word origin (nobody asks that at this level), but only two questions.

I held my breath each time Tween stood up. He spelled words we had studied and words we hadn’t studied. He spoke straight into the microphone, loud and clear, no mumbling. An astonished parent turned to us: “He’s so confident!”

He made it through six rounds. Down to four spellers, Tween’s word elicited hushed gasps from nearby parents:

“Please spell jocularity.”

Parents whispered, “What did he say? What does that mean?”

According to Merriam-Webster: “Given to jesting, jolly.” Actually a pretty good descriptor for Tween.

It hadn’t been on the provided spelling lists. I looked it up in the children’s dictionary he and every other 2nd grader in town received from the local Kiwanis club and, guess what? It’s not in there.

This is not a kid-friendly spelling word, folks.

He hadn’t asked a single question so far, but this time he asked for a definition and a sentence, and then he asked to hear it repeated; he asked three questions, so the principal would not repeat the word.

“Jocularity. Hmm, J-O-C-um…hmm…K…?-U-L-A-R-I-T-Y. Jocularity.”

“Thank you for participating.” Applause.

He walked across the gym and took a seat on the floor with his classmates, high-fiving along the way. He smiled. Clearly disappointed, he put up a good face.

Of course he added a K. Wouldn’t you? Or maybe you wouldn’t, but you might have in 5th grade. Jocularity sounds an awful lot like jock.

The next word: havoc
And: thyme
And I no longer remember the winning word, but it wasn’t nearly so hard as jocularity.

When a winner had been declared, parents stuck around for hugs and pictures and congratulations. The principal personally congratulated Tween, commending him for doing so well and encouraging him that a “ck” made perfect sense, even if it was incorrect.

Bee participants

Bee participants

Rightfully proud of himself – the kid mouthed the correct spelling to every single word in the bee from his place in the back row – and kicking himself at the same time, Tween glowed. But when we picked him up after school three hours later, he glowered. The luck of the draw had not been on his side, and he was angry at Misfortune.

So we made a big deal to celebrate the miracle: we gave him the choice between Slurpees or ice cream (Slurpees won). We spelled jocularity back and forth to one another for the rest of the day; no one in this household will ever stumble over an added K again. We met friends at the park and they expressed admiration for his serious spelling skills. We thanked God for the gift of a spelling adventure. For fun in the process. For a new appreciation of the power of studying well. And for the experience as a whole.

You might even say we acted a wee bit jocular in our miraculous spelling celebration!