Constants, Variables and Coefficients

Last week was our first week of homeschool for this school year. It was challenging enough that it makes me a bit apprehensive about week two and three and so forth. I think sometimes folks who don’t homeschool assume that folks who do are super confident in their ability to do what they’re doing. Truthfully, most of the time, we are shaking in our shoes and hoping we are getting it right.

Another first last week was the launch of a small group I am leading called Spirit of Adoption. As I spoke with a new friend concerning her questions about adoption, my thoughts turned, oddly enough, to the algebra lesson I had done with my three ninth graders. (Yes, I said three).

I may have lost a fair few of you as soon as the word algebra fell before your eyes. But, hold on before you run away in horror. This isn’t going to be an algebra lesson, I promise. Instead, I hope it might be a life lesson for the days ahead as you attempt to juggle the constants, variables and coefficients of your life.

As I introduced algebra to my three middle children, I told them that mathematics has a language and if you didn’t learn it you’d always be confused as to what was being said and therefore, expected of you.

Interestingly enough, I had chosen to take to my first meeting of Spirit of Adoption a printed copy of one of my blog posts called ‘How to Speak Adoption’. Yes, adoption has a language of it’s own as well that can be overwhelming at first.

At one point in our conversation I realized that I could use one to explain the other. So, here’s my attempt to do so.

The three key words we studied in algebra in our first class were variables, constants and coefficients. If there are any true algebra experts reading this forgive my VERY simplistic explanation. This isn’t, after all an algebra lesson in earnest.

In Algebraic Expressions a variable is an unknown value. It will often be represented by a letter. Determining exactly what that letter represents will lead to a solution to the equation. Until you do that, it’s a mystery exactly how things will turn out.

The third term we learned was coefficient. That is the term for the constant that precedes the variable. I hope I haven’t lost you yet, because I’m about to ‘bring this home’.

Families are unique expressions themselves. Almost every family will include variables, some more than their fair share. Hopefully there is at least one constant. The problem is I think, that the order is lost in a family with the constant isn’t placed properly so that it can serve as a coefficient.

Why is that important? Because a coefficient (when properly placed) multiplies the variable. It helps the variable to find a greater value. It brings out the most from the unknown factor.

Oh, how I hope this is starting to click in your minds as you consider your own families and the struggles that occur when many individuals strive to become one beautiful expression of love.

In my home we have more variables than most. We have seven adopted children, four of whom were older child adoptions. We have lots of unknowns. Sometimes we have limited background information. Often times unknown experiences, abuses, special needs, struggles, that we can not determine at first.

Your family may face variables such as divorce, step-children, financial woes or a discouraging diagnosis.

If you keep trying to figure out the value of the variables without a constant, you’ll likely end up frustrated and discouraged. But, when you factor in a constant, you have the opportunity to do some problem solving.

If presented with such an equation during math class we would protest. Hey! Give us something to work with. Give us a constant.

If we reorder the equation to include a number with value, at least there is a chance. We need a clear goal, a bottom line, a constant. The more constants, the easier the answers will be found.

As an adoptive parent when dealing with the variables, the unknown values, our greatest challenge may be finding the solution to becoming a functioning, bonded, loving and trusting family. So, how do you build trust with a person (even a child) who has learned through betrayal not to trust.

You become the constant. You become the known part of the equation. You are consistent with rules and boundaries. You are the solid ground, the stable place, the safe place while they are learning.

And one day, when properly placed before them, your constant will multiply their variable and the results will be VALUABLE.

As a Christian family, we rely heavily on a very powerful and solid constant to help keep us constant. We trust The Lord and position Him as our coefficient. He comes first and He multiplies the rest. He brings clarity and understanding and healing and hope. He is, after all, the most magnificent expression of love.

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