The Education Of Victoria Faith


My firstborn daughter graduated yesterday, Visitors, and it rocked.

Victoria Faith was the smallest of my biological crew, weighing at at 6 lbs 12 oz. She had the biggest head of the bunch, though, and makes a habit out of apologizing to me every birthday. This running joke still cracks me up.

That head proved to be stuffed with brains, as this kid talked at about eight months, showed remarkable fine motor coordination early, and not an iota of interest in walking until she was nearly 2. Early childhood specialists know that could be cause for concern, so we had that enormous head scanned to check for problems, anomalies and incubating aliens. Nothing out of whack, just a cantaloupe held up on a fragile neck-stalk, and we had to be careful until she grew into it.

Grad Cap Fits

It normalized, eventually.

Victoria Faith was, of course, one of four reasons why I felt the burning desire to start Evergreen Academy. As most of you know, Visitors, Jefferson County Public Schools is a flaming train wreck, and is getting worse as time goes by. (More on that later)

Jeffco was in bad shape in the nineties, and I simply could not abide the idea of sacrificing my children on that particular altar. Victoria Faith was a case in point. When she was three, she had a preschool teacher that went a little overboard on phonics instruction for preschoolers. Three year olds should not have direct phonics instruction, and I was constantly correcting that particular teacher. That said, Victoria Faith made these mysterious synaptic connections, and one day when she was four, Chris caught her reading Curious George out loud to herself. Fluently. With expression.

Faith’s intellectual development proceeded by leaps and bounds after that. I knew what was going on, and as with all my kids, I handpicked their public school teachers when they entered public high school. Largely, Faith’s public school teachers were a good influence on her, and Chris and I mitigated the influence of the bad ones.

Salutatorian Faith

She rocked the Salutatorian stage.

Chris and I started saving for our children’s post-high school education after they got their Social Security numbers. (With four of them, we knew we better start early. ) When Chris died,  all of the kids really dialed in on the financial arrangements for college.  All of them could see me working hard for that goal, and were hugely appreciative when Poppa wrote the occasional check for that purpose. All of them stayed on task, but Faith’s path was the most torturous, in my opinion. THREE sections of Organic Chemistry? Organic Chemistry FaithThat says “Orgo III Reaction Guide – Wheeee!”.  (I have very sarcastic children.)

Jeep picture with Chris

Victoria Faith was about thirteen when this picture was taken. Chris was diagnosed shortly after.

Chris left us when Victoria Faith was sixteen, and that considerable brain power was knocked cleanly off the rails. Victoria Faith, like all of my children, was devastated.

I have never gotten permission from my children to detail  here what they experienced when they lost their father. Life was shattered for all of them. They loved their dad. Life, though, has this tendency to go on.

Faith End of Freshman Year

Victoria Faith struggled through her first year at DU. She made it.

Fem in Stem pic

She developed her own interests, and her own delightful friend group.

Robin and Faith

Distinctive Thesis Award -Faith

 

 

 

 

She made a wonderful, wonderful connection with this woman, Dr. Robin Tinghitella. Dr. Tinghitella  is a PH.D primary investigator at DU’s Tinghitella Lab, where like minded-scientists study rapid evolutionary change in organisms such as crickets and sticklefish. (http://mysite.du.edu/~rhibbs2/Robin_Tinghitella/Welcome_1.html) With Robin’s rigorous review, Victoria Faith earned a Distinctive UndergraduateThesis award.

All of this with me providing the most minimal, diminishing guidance. Visitors, those of you who , like me, have been visited with loss, remember the days when it seemed like nothing would ever change? Loss is here. It is defining. It rains on my days, it deepens my nights. I will not see the clear light of day anytime soon, maybe not ever.

Mom and Faith Graduation

Faith in auditorium

 

 

 

 

 

Things change, Visitors.

Things change for the better.

 

Like a friend of mine once said – “What are you going to do with it now? ”

Faith and Mom Walking

I’ll keep you posted.

Much love,

Victoria

Serial Killers and Mother-Daughter Bonding Time


They're everywhere.

They’re everywhere.

So, my daughter and I just spent an hour bonding over an investigative show devoted to teenage female killers. I’m a graduate student now, pursuing a criminology degree in investigative psychology.

It’s fascinating stuff, Visitors, and I often get asked, why, at age 50, this is a course of study I want to pursue. I haven’t come up with a decent answer yet. Those of you who have been with me for a while, know that a lot of ‘watershed moments’ happened to me all at once, starting with being widowed in 2010. Friends died horribly, wrenching betrayal happened, my  mom died dramatically and suddenly. I wrote a column exploring a personal application of PTSD (Jeff Mackleby And the Art of Advanced Forgiveness) which detailed my own furtive journey into some pretty dark territory.

It in, I described what I now can recognize as a situation of predation. That is to say, “Jeff” and “Christina” were authentic predators, people who look for the vulnerable, the trusting, and who exploit them for personal gain. In short, authentic psychopaths, and I was easy prey.

I just finished a segment in my studies about psychopathy. There is a lot to write about there. The general public usually considers a ‘psychopath’ to be a knife wielding, blood soaked movie figure bent on pointless violence. The truth is a lot more chilling, and I’d like to bring some of those things to your attention later.

I am still a director of a local Christian preschool, and this course of study has sharpened my perception of my role immensely. Scholars have spent years studying how innocent babies grow up to be wreakers of havoc, and many of them have their roots in simply awful childhoods. When I go into the infant nursery in particular, I am filled with an immense sense of gratitude that our Lord has placed loving, caring people in my employ to show consistent care to these, the most vulnerable of our population.

Safety, is another enormous consideration. Dawn Hochsprung, the slain principal of Sandy Hook, has become a hero to me. She and I followed a comparable career path, and she was about my age when she confronted Adam Lanza and took a bullet for her trouble.

So many interesting aspects of this apply to all of us, Visitors, many of which I would like to bring to your attention in future days. Dawn, for example, were she allowed to have been armed, and had arms training as part of her leadership studies, might have effected a very different outcome at Sandy Hook. But for Dawn, and any other person besides the on duty School Resource Officer to bear a weapon within 1000 feet of a school would have been a violation of law. Hmmm.

Rachael, esteemed #4 child, shares an interest in extreme human behavior. She is enrolled in a dual studies course of forensic science at a local college, in addition to being a junior in high school. The video tonight provoked a lively discussion about ‘normal’ teenage girls setting aside what they know to be good and true, and taking another human life with ease.

Rereading that, I can see how many might consider this course of study to be somewhat awry. But for me? I find this immensely hopeful. Many people have terrible childhoods. Many are exposed to drugs in the womb. Many are disengaged, addicted, disenfranchised in their adulthoods. Many, my own husband included, lived with the fear of unpredictable days precipitated by an abusive parent.

Most, my dear Chris chief among them, do not turn out like this. Most go on to be decent human beings, by some measure. Most find a job, pay their bills, stagger along, even have successful relationships, and put one foot in front of the other regardless of some pretty incredible baggage.

What happened? How did ‘most’ turn out for the better? How did ‘most’ manage to discard these predictors of later trouble and turn out to be reasonably decent human beings? That’s what I want to find out.

I’ll keep you posted.

Much love,

Victoria

On Weddings and Victoria’s Garden


Here’s a picture of a good friend of mine.

Rose was a beautiful baby!

Rose was a beautiful baby!

I knew Rose shortly after she was born. She came in this dress to my wedding, staged right here in 1987.

On Tough Mudders, Tough Bastards, and Really Tough Bitches.-Adult Content.


Tough Mudder, as many of you know, is a ten to twelve mile obstacle course with things like sheer climbing walls, ice pits, and barbed wire obstacles to get through. You work as an individual, and as a team, and when you are done, you have bragging rights to one of the best races in the country. (Next to Spartan, Aroo!)

A really cool test of mettle

My good friend Bird Martin (everyonehasastory.me) recently wrote a column ruminating about why she and her siblings had such rocky relationships. It’s a good one, and a textbook examination of attachment disorder, for you prospective parents and PsyD candidates.

It got me to thinking about something I saw on my mother in law’s apartment when we went to visit her last month. Those of you who have been with me for a while, know that that relationship is tentative at best. I don’t hate her for the abuse she allowed in her home, I don’t have the energy to keep that up. Also, if I claim to be a Christian, harboring hatred in my heart is clearly off limits.

We were over there for a visit, and prominently displayed was a picture of several people wearing T-shirts with my late husband’s face and birthday prominently displayed. It was my in-laws, every single one of them, adult cousins included, on a Tough Mudder team to raise money for colon cancer, the disease that killed my husband Chris.

Hmm. Well, that’s instructive. And news to me. This clearly went under the category of “A Big Family Deal.” Pictures, fundraising, lots of people included, except, of course, Chris’s family.

Over the years that we have known each other, Chris’s brother and sister rarely disguised their disdain for his life choices. Headmaster of a Christian school? Phht. Board member for an organization for sexually abused men? Shhhh! Speaker to police academies and other helping organizations for the weak and victimized? No “atta-boys” from them, ostensibly the closest of his relatives.

Not, actually, that any of that mattered a whit to Chris. As he went on his healing journey, his family’s opinion of it didn’t mean a thing. It was a bumpy journey, accentuated by alcoholic, disinterested siblings.  Chris fought the good fight not to avoid being pulled back into any self-destructive behavior.

What really made a mark though, was none of them getting to his funeral. I still ponder that. I think of my own son, what it would take to get me to miss his funeral. Or my own brother or sister. I can’t imagine. I mean, even on death’s door, you’d see me getting wheeled in on a gurney to say goodbye to these precious people. His entire family of origin fled, leaving us at our most vulnerable. Not a single family member made it to see Chris off. Not one. Even his adopted sister, who he was closest too, made a point to catch a plane home the day he died. I’m still staggered by this, four years later. My children heard that as a clear message of hatred, one that I battle to this day.

I mull over what Bird said in her article, “A Message to My Brothers and Sisters.” Bird and her brother Michael had three half brothers and sisters in their childhood. Their household was an abusive one, like Chris’s. Yet Bird manages to survive this thing with the diamond like certainty that there is something better. She was loved well once, by her dad who was forced to leave. This shaped the essential bedrock of her character.

Chris didn’t have anything like that. No one dealt with the childhood monster under the bed, which was Dad. So I looked at that picture, gazed at his brother.

Bastard.

His sister.

Bitch.

Yet another slap in the face to me and my kids. Chris’s family, his family of choice, his wife, his three biological kids and cherished adopted one, didn’t mean a thing to them. His family of origin huddled, inbred, silent, continuing their pattern of hateful exclusion.

Well, of course. What could I expect? I’m an early childhood expert, and these two had pretty terrifying ones. In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells an audience of occupied Jews to love their enemies. To go the extra mile. To feed your enemies, to give them a drink of water. These enemies that Jesus was talking about were pretty spectacular. Romans were cruel to their conquered people groups-their forms of torture and execution were exquisitely awful. It makes my hard heart look pretty silly.

Sigh. So here I am again, frustrated at my own lack of Christlikeness. Sure, thirty years branded the religious nut gives me a great excuse. Them being mean to my kids gives me an even better one, truly. No one would blame me for being the Really Tough Bitch in this situation, and man, that is such a comfortable place to live.

But I think it’s time to go now. Really Tough Bitches don’t have a whole lot of room for healing, love, laughter and hilarity. I’ve got a whole lot of that these days, and Really Tough Bitch doesn’t get to edge it out.

Perhaps, maybe even Really Tough Bitch might someday leave completely, and leave room for other family members to come in.

Much love to you all,

Victoria

 

Weird Christian Attitudes About Money


imagesChris and I had a simply terrific pastor for pre-marital counseling. His name was Mark Brattrud, and he pastored a little Full Gospel church that met in a Howard Johnson’s in Albany. Mark was perhaps thirty at the time, married for a few years with a couple of small kids. The church grew like wildfire. Made up mainly of college kids and young marrieds, we got the job done.

We sent out missionaries, sent up Sunday school programs for little ones, and had all kinds of positive things going in the community. I’m convinced that one of the reasons this happened was because Mark took what the Bible had to say about money very seriously.

At the time, a man named Larry Burkett had started a ministry called Christian Financial Concepts out of Georgia. Larry merged his ministry with another one, and it’s now called Crown Financial Ministries. Larry passed away after that from cancer, but Crown continues to thrive.

Mark got all of the “managing your money God’s way” materials and made Chris and I study them together as part of our counseling. We learned all kinds of things like this:

*Jesus talks more about money than any other topic except salvation and love. “Did you know that?

“The Bible has a lot to say about finances and belongings. I have researched God’s Word and found more passages about money and possessions than about heaven, hell or the Second Coming. The Bible offers more than 500 verses on prayer and fewer than 500 on faith — but more than 2,350 verses on money and possessions! There is no doubt that the church should have something to say about financial matters in the church as well as in the secular world.” (www.crown.org)

*”Thou Shalt Not Go Into Debt” is nowhere to be found in the Bible. It does, however, admonish us with all kinds of scary images about debt. Ps. 37:21 calles us “wicked” if we borrow and do not repay. Proverbs 22:7 says the “borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” Yikes!

* Money is intimately connected to your heart.

Matthew 6:21, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

So, Pastor Mark wanted Chris and I to “hide these things in our heart” from the very beginning of our relationship. Considering that nearly 80% of all divorces cite “Money” as one of the top 3 reasons for splitting up, this was a very wise idea.

Anyone who’s been married for a while knows that reasons for arguing with your spouse abound. It’s nice to knock “Money” off the list from the beginning. I can sit here and tell you with clear eyed truthfulness, Chris and I never argued about money, because of this early training.

So, now that  he’s gone, what to do? In the previous post, I related to you a gritty situation I found myself in regarding money.

The megachurches I have been involved in over the past years, sadly, don’t seem to handle their money well. Before Chris was diagnosed, we attended a church up here that has since shut down. Money was a constant issue. The church was affluent and well attended. It was estimated that the average annual income of the attendees there amounted to about 70 million dollars a year. (Average household income in the area about 70,000$ a year, times about a thousand regular givers.)

Out of the seven years we went to that church, it stretched to meet a two million dollar budget. Jesus asks us simply to tithe. Just tithe, or give ten percent of our income. Jewish folks actually were encouraged to make all kinds of other offerings, the ten percent was a minimum.

Had my old church simply been obedient and tithed, our annual budget would have tripled. Think of it. Seven million dollars. We could have started a free medical clinic, immunized poor kids, supported food pantries, had every single ministry in the family of God provided for abundantly, very likely with some left over.

This is, sadly, the modus operandi of most American megachurches. Honestly, it’s so irritating I could spit. My kids and I talk about this type of thing all the time, and fortunately, so far, their training in generosity seems to have ‘stuck’.

Ten percent isn’t that much. If we can’t get along with 90 percent of what most Christians make, we seriously need to reevaluate.

Did you ever notice, too, that Christians can’t seem to talk about this type of thing without raising up a whole crop of squirrely attitudes?

I got blasted the other day by a regular reader about the previous post. David is a doll, and one of my most valued friends. Still, he’s a redheaded Irishman, and trusts me enough to let loose now and again.

“Victoria! You should take that post down! You can’t assume about people’s financial situations! And besides, you’re making yourself out to be this loaded chick with more money than God! You are sounding very manipulative!”

Hmm. I thought about it. Really, I did. David is one of about 5 people that I actually listen to when they criticize me.

I realized that David was right about some things.  Since Chris and I used God’s principles of handling money from our marital infancy, we’ve always had a surplus. The point of that surplus, after the needs of the family are met, is to give it away. Really, it’s not brain surgery, a minimum of study will reveal that God owns it all anyway, so we may as well be obedient.

Very, very few Christians are obedient in this way.  Thus, people like me come across as indiscreet. How unfortunate. How much better for ALL of us to be obedient, and maybe even get together and TALK about the good we could be doing with a surplus!

When Chris and I were young, we had the joy of discovering that even a well placed 50$ could make a world of difference to someone. As we went along, we learned about how wise Christians provide even for their children’s children (Proverbs 13:22) and how we need to know where our money goes and have a plan for it (Proverbs 27:23) .

The blessings of this sort of concrete planning are really pretty cool. I think the best part of this type of thing is the joy that comes with contentment. Chris and I were not millionaires, and with four children to educate, I’m not  going to be that, probably ever. But we knew the faces of our flock, AND knew the faces that came with sharing with those of us who don’t have a surplus, and could use some of ours.

So, my friends, lay off the judgements, if you please. I talk about giving because it’s what Jesus asks us to do, not because I’m made of money. Also because I think it’s pretty darn fun.

I would dearly love to talk to YOU about giving, because I know for a fact, somewhere you have a fifty lurking around that could change someone’s life. You know you want to, don’t you. images-1

Much love to you all,

 

Victoria

Faces of Love: Generations of Pride


So, who knew I had a completely badass brother? In 2008, my brother, John J. Newkirk, published The Old Man and the Harley.

Look for the book at theoldmanandtheharley.com. Tyndale was smart enough to publish it, and you can be inspired to get it on Amazon.

Look for the book at  theoldmanandtheharley.com. Tyndale was smart enough to publish it, and you can be inspired to get it on Amazon.

John’s a pretty bright guy. He’s also the best brother a gal could have. He’s a double EE from Renssalear Polytechnic Institute, Dad is also a graduate as well. Both with a powerful sense of family, history and citizenship.

In the summer of 1939, my dad, a young Jack Newkirk, set off on a rickety Harley to see both the New York and San Francisco World’s Fairs. He had no way of knowing it was to the the autumn of his youth, and that his entire generation would soon be thrust into the most devastating conflict in history, WWII.

Seven decades later, John retraced this epic ride with Dad, in a silent hope the old soldier will still be proud of the America he fought for. Each mile brought discovery as the author learns of his namesake, “Scarsdale Jack Newkirk”  the heroic Squadron Leader of the legendar Flying Tigers, and of his father’s life on the road and in the jungles of the South Pacific during World War II.

The result is quintessential Americana, a sweeping portrait of the grit, guts, ingenuity, and sacrifice that defined a nation, and a timely lesson from the Greatest Generation on how we can overcome our most pressing challenges and reclaim the American Dream.

I’m proud of these two generations of men in my family. I’m the mother of a firstborn son, and thank God he had the first eighteen years of his life with a man who wasn’t afraid to be manly, like John and Dad.

Study this one with me for a minute.

You could say apples don't fall far from trees. Except that God grafted Abi into our family tree, and Dad couldn't be prouder.

You could say apples don’t fall far from trees. Except that God grafted Abi into our family tree, and Dad couldn’t be prouder.

So here’s part of the third generation now. Faith is wearing the Salutatorian banner, and Abi is a National Merit scholar. Dad’s goofy grin takes over the picture, he just couldn’t be prouder.

Since my girls lost their dad, I’ve been praying for  ‘manliness’ to surround them. Now, don’t laugh, I realize the words ‘masculinity’ and ‘manliness’ have become comic fodder these days.

But when dealing with families, completeness is such a luxury. Male influence is necessary for child development, I’m convinced of it.

Now, before I get deluged with all kinds of mail about how intolerant I am, let me remind you I’m a single mother. I am not on the prowl for a spouse because my kids need a dad. That’s ridiculous. Loss abounds. One of my favorite bloggers, Prego and the Loon, recounts the tale of her near escape from a dad who very nearly killed her and her child. Bird Martin, of Everyone Has a Story, has very wisely chosen to restrict access to the kids by her meth-addicted husband. Men make mistakes, and women often have to make hard choices. A dear friend also lost her husband to cancer, two weeks before she gave birth. It can be a lonely life.

But how about the normal, healthy masculine guys? The ones like Dad, who fought for this country, came home and slugged out a living for sixty years, took pride in his kids and their accomplishments, and thanked God for his opportunities.

Or John? Electrical engineers are a dime a dozen in this raggedy economy. John is getting older, his kind of jobs are getting fewer and father between. So he regroups and slaves away and produces this marvelous book.

Or my friend Jeff? Look at this picture for a moment. Jeff has endured his fair share of loss. Jeff is familiar with spousal betrayal, the loss of precious friendships, and the restrictions of his rights as a father.

But even in his fifties he slugs it out. Jeff has three kids, two still need to be provided for. He’s a soldier, a defender of our freedoms, and works two jobs to get it done.

Look closely at this one. Cradled in his big arms, his powerful, careworn hands gently handle the most fragile of our species. A prideful smile plays across his craggy face, and the power of masculine gentleness radiates from the shot

Grampa Jeff when he's not flying a big scary plane.

Grampa Jeff when he’s not flying a big scary plane.

So what to do with all of this? For single people, I have found that Valentine’s day can be a little difficult. It’s a beautiful thing to reframe things sometimes. The love of a father, brother, the love of a child, all of these things truly are blessings from the Lord, and gifts to be treasured.

In fact, if I were a man, I might even give a hearty UH-RAH!

Much love,

Victoria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Faces of Love: The Unlikely Joy of Peter Wiebe


Love: The Blessing and the Curse

Jesse 2010 - 2011 225To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.

Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

C.S. Lewis. (Isn’t that true? And so terrifying. To love anyone is to risk having your heart shredded.) 

It’s nice to see you, fellow Visitors. During the Sabbatical in a Teacup I mentioned to you that I had met some remarkable people in this oddly wonderful blogging community. I’d like to introduce you to one that I met a while ago, a gentleman named Peter Wiebe, who writes thresholdofheaven.com.

Peter lost his oldest son Jesse to a rare form of childhood leukemia on May 11, 2011.

Peter’s blog is a chronicle of thoughts and actions during his son’s journey to heaven. Peter is a dedicated Christian, and, like me, has had his faith sorely tried over the past stretch of time.

Valentine’s day is coming, it will be my third without my lover and best friend,Chris Lierheimer. Chris was a generous mark for all the Hallmark holidays, he just loved to give cards, candy, flowers, dinners, all the trappings.

I was often too distracted to make much of this sort of thing, which generally led to a lot of frantic night-before shopping and planning. I was just glad to have my loved ones around me, and to make sure he got his special grilled steak. (And, usually something else from my namesake Victoria’s Secret, since he’s been such a good boy.)

I’ve actually been gathering the strength to look at pictures this year.  The one in the previous entry is one of my favorites. My mom was a stunning woman her whole life, and this morning, before I went to work, I studied a series of pictures we had taken of Mom and Dad on their 60th wedding anniversary.

Bent and stooped, graying, they both had the goofy smiles of their youth, and their love for family and each other radiated from the picture.

When Peter posted this shot on the fourth, it took my breath away. Study it with me for a minute, will you? Jesse’s departure seems imminent. He can’t eat, thus the nasogastric tube. His body seems almost transparent. Frail, like that of a cocoon about to be shed.

Peter is vigorous, with good color and strong hands. Only in his eyes do you see the pain of a parent about to lose his firstborn son. Go to the blog now-thresholdofheaven.com- and read a remarkable story of redemption and love between this father and son.

I have found that people often avoid cancer blogs. No one likes to be reminded of their mortality, especially if one’s views of the afterlife are uncertain. Peter, like those of us who lay claim to the promises of Jesus Christ, looks forward to the day when he will see Jesse whole again.

But today is really all we have. Jesus doesn’t promise us tomorrow, only that we will be with him in Paradise. So what shall we do? Where shall we go? Shall we insulate our hearts, wrap them in airless containers to harden and fossilize? Or shall we be like Peter, and love extravagantly? Peter and his lovely wife poured their hearts into Jesse’s journey, and were broken for their faith.

But what else to do? When you love a child, a woman, or even an animal, it’s an extension of your own heart. The rewards are tremendous, and the risks, commensurate.

I have a series of pictures I would like you to see over the next few weeks, fellow Visitors. I call them the “Faces of Love”. They are from fellow travelers, and cover a different kind of landscape. One that I think you all will find just as beautiful and heartwrenching as any other landscape on the planet.

Much love,

Victoria

PS- Let me remind you to the introductions so far:

Everyone has a Story – birdmartin.wordpress.com.

Evan Sanders at thebettermanprojects.com

and finally Peter Wiebe at thresholdofheaven.com