Wednesday, May 28, 2014

to the director of the music

I would know those small hands anywhere.
The way the round thumb touches the short fingers
or only one of them, but all at the same time.
I know the clothes you wear
on occasions such as these
and how they must enable you to boldly turn your back on the world
to face the rest of us.
I know the way you turn so that
your eyes see our eyes
or only one person's, but all at the same time.

I have studied your face,
watched the movement of its lines
over the course of years.
I know how to anticipate your every move
in this dance we love to do.
It's our dance, but
perhaps lovers understand.
Or poets, perhaps.
Don't ask the puppeteer; We give our consent.
Ask the good Lord. Maybe He knows best
this dance
where your hands do this
(and I do that)
and swirl the air around them
swell the sound of soul-dance till it fills every crevice.
I look into your eyes
and together we
stir up the Spirit's dance
inside your hands
and behind our eyes.
Such small hands
grasping at souls until
there are no spectators.
I would know those small hands anywhere.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

fear and faith and fumbling the food

A man named Soren once wrote a book about faith called, "Fear and Trembling." Though I read it and loved it, I must admit I don't remember many details. The subject and title, however, stick with me like a patch on a scout's uniform. I run my finger over their embroidered outline when I need reminded that fear is not an uncommon companion of faith.

Not long ago, a friend of mine posted a quote about religion being an opiate for people who have not learned how to cope on their own without it. I thought it and chanted it myself enough in college that it feels like some out-dated political slogan to me now. "Ah...the opiate of the masses stuff again. Well, good thing I don't have to believe someone's opinion just because they said it loudly," I thought. But inside, I started wondering again. "Do I just believe what I do because someone else said it?" "Why is it I believe what I believe about God, again?" "Are my reasons any better or do we all just pick what someone else said that we like and believe it?"

Ugh. Will my mind never tire of bringing these things up? Most days, I simply remind my mind that we've already been through all of this and I don't want to re-play the years it took to arrive back at this point of departure. If other people think I'm weak or not smart or whatever, they can think it. Belief in God is at least as rational as anything else out there. I have yet to see any other reasonable explanation for, say, existence.

All the same, I want my belief to be active and now -- not just something I decided back then. I become afraid that I'm living more in laziness than in true faith, more in not feeling like asking the questions than in trusting God for the answers to them (if they are to be answered). Maybe I have to address these questions (again), after all. At the very least, I need to ask God to help me in my unbelief. Perhaps He will show himself to me again in some way that I could not have conjured up.

Wait. Am I asking God to show up because I believe He will or because I'm afraid He won't? Is one question faith and the other not? Since I have pledged to follow Jesus, (ah, Jesus...much easier to follow than my own set of ideas and proofs!) I don't want to act in bad faith. I'm like Thomas, saying, "I believe! Help me in my unbelief!" when I was just thinking about how unlikely it was that I would ever have my questions satisfied. Thomas was good enough for Jesus, right? Am I only looking to scrape out a passing grade? Here's that fear and trembling, again. I'm afraid of leading people somewhere I am not sure we have business going. I'm also afraid of having an empty faith. I remind myself that we all have faith in something and it makes great sense to place my faith in the Maker of the universe -- especially if that Maker was willing to come and die for me. It doesn't sound very likely, though. Could you repeat yourself again, God? I'm so hard of hearing and quicker to forget than Israel. I may be one of the worst Christian leaders ever. Don't follow me, guys. Find your own way.

Enter my friend, Lauren, asking me to serve communion. I had just recently been talking with her about how meaningful it had been to me once when I had served it before. I had cried the whole time as I announced to each person that Jesus died for him, for her. This is not that time. This is a time when I feel so distant from God that it feels almost hypocritical to go around offering Him to anyone else. But I've just told her earlier this week how much I like serving communion, so here it goes. I hope this is somehow okay with God. I'm hypocritical if I do and hypocritical if I don't. So I sing the songs as earnestly as I can. I listen to others share their fresh experiences with God and feel completely happy for them. I take the bread in my hands and say the words.

"My sister, my brother, this is the body of Christ, broken for you."

Person after person, we look each other in the eye. "This is the body of Christ, broken for you," I say, before they tear off a piece to dip in the juice. Each time, there is the moment where it's just me talking to the person in front of me. "This is the body of Christ, broken...." For just a small moment, I've said the words without having given them anything. It's just the other person -- the person I've known for years, the person whose name I cannot remember, the child I knew as a baby -- and me, saying, "This is the body of Christ, broken for you." It's as though, just for a split second, I'm talking about myself. I greet them with just myself: "My sister, this is the body of Christ, broken...." Then the moment shifts to the bread they're actually tearing and then it's that small moment again with just me and the next person in line. I gradually begin to realize the truth of both moments. There's the bread I'm offering, but there's also myself. In both cases, I only have the smallest bit of anything to give. I watch the loaf of bread being picked away until it becomes difficult to know what it looked like when it was whole. I feel myself unraveling in the same way.

"This is the body of Christ, broken..."
and I recognize Him in my own skin again enough to be okay announcing it:
"...for you."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

low-hanging fruit

It's not often someone walks down the sidewalk on Ninth Street. We have a lot of pedestrians -- I make sure my sidewalks are cleared for them -- but people walk in the streets around here. All the better, because my curiosity is satisfied when I am able to see the faces of passers-by. I may pop out and holler at some of the young people I know. If it's a stranger, we both go on about our business.

Today, while I was sitting in the chair that overlooks Ninth Street, I was just able to see a bouncing mop of curly hair over the lip of my front porch as someone came down the sidewalk. It reminded me of a friend's brother's hair. I wondered if his face was also similar to the man's face I know. He came closer and closer toward the house and seemed very comfortable stepping into my front strip. (I cannot call it a yard.) He seemed so at ease stepping into the grass towards my front steps I thought perhaps he was a familiar person happening by for a visit. Then I saw his hand reach up and pick an apple off my apple tree!

I act without thinking in these situations. My gut instinct is almost always to confront strangers directly. I took the three steps to my door and opened it up to find him just at the bottom of the stairs. An older woman was with him. "I knew you'd get caught!" she said, smiling in a way that said she was definitely embarrassed and possibly the grown man's mother.

"You will want to cut that open first," I told him. "They're bad in the middle." (I will make sure to spray the blossoms next year.)
He clearly did not want to stop to chat. "Oh, really?"
"Yeah. So you might not want to just bite into it. We will gladly share them with you, but please just ask." I wasn't being holy saying it. It was a script I had memorized. I had told myself I had to be willing for the apples to be stolen. If it's possible to invite people to steal, planting an apple tree 4 feet from the sidewalk and leaving its golden apples dangling there is as good an invitation as any. I have to convince myself to share and say I'm glad to do it until it's true. It gets truer each day.

The man kept walking and I went in my house, thinking over what had happened. If I was really that glad to share, perhaps I would not have opened the door to tell him so. I don't know. I'm not perfect, so I returned to my seat to process my sense of injustice at someone nonchalantly plucking and apple I had planted and tended for a year.

I really would give him the apple if he asked. I'd be a jerk not to, right? It reminded me of this story from Luke 11. I'm quoting it from The Voice Bible.

Imagine that one of your friends comes over at midnight. He bangs on the door and shouts, “Friend, will you lend me three loaves of bread?
A friend of mine just showed up unexpectedly from a journey, and I don’t have anything to feed him.” Would you shout out from your bed, “I’m already in bed, and so are the kids. I already locked the door. I can’t be bothered”? You know this as well as I do: even if you didn’t care that this fellow was your friend, if he keeps knocking long enough, you’ll get up and give him whatever he needs simply because of his brash persistence! 
                  9 So listen: Keep on asking, and you will receive. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened for you. 10 All who keep asking will receive, all who keep seeking will find, and doors will open to those who keep knocking.

I start imagining the conversation that I didn't continue having with the man.
Just ask! I will give it, but I'd rather that you'd ask! If you don't ask, you're assuming I wouldn't give it to you. You assume I'm stingy and that you have to steal to get what is mine. If you just ask, I can give it to you. You can have it and we can talk face to face. I can tell you all about why it's the best apple on earth. You can know you're eating a Gold Rush apple. You can know this is the perfect time to pick them and you can come back next year at the same time. I can learn your name and address you as who you are instead of knowing you only as the man who stole my apple. If you'd just ask, we could chat and know each other a bit and the apple would be truly yours. As it is, you're eating my stolen fruit. You can't look me in the face and I can't look you in yours.

Maybe I should put up a sign in my yard that says, "It takes more courage to ask than to steal." It's quicker and easier to just snatch it, but if people just ask, we can know each other a bit and aren't left making so many assumptions.

And I start to wonder if God doesn't have these same wishes in regard to us. How often do we try to snatch things to provide for ourselves instead of just asking for them? It's quicker and easier to just get what we can and go on. But to stop, knock, and ask takes some time and being willing to look each other in the eye for a bit.
It takes courage to go to the Person to Whom All Things Belong to ask. What if we get turned down? What if we're not good enough? What if that apple is being saved for someone better than us? What if we get told no? It's a risk and we have to summon courage to take it; stealing requires boldness, perhaps, but not true courage.

But what if that fruit is planted there as an invitation? I've planted my tree where anyone might pick it in hopes of learning how to be more generous of heart. What if God has planted good things out of his generosity? The truth is that my apples don't belong to just me or my friends. I determined in advance that they belong to whoever asks for them. I think God may be the same way. His goodness, even His entire kingdom belongs to whoever finds the courage to ask for it. If we ask, then if we are granted it, it can be truly ours. If we snatch, we're stuck eating the forbidden fruit again. What should I be asking for instead of plotting to snatch? 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Home: the already and the not yet.

It's an idea that has haunted me for much of my adult life.
In college, the idea was of particular importance to me. I had left my parents' home and was, perhaps, more anxious than most to establish "home" for myself. I was not in love with the landscape in east central Indiana, but with all the people brought together by that remote location, I learned that something about those people, if not that place, was Home.

The problem with finding your home in people is that people move away. There was a mass exodus that took place where all of my closest friends moved away, either to the other side of the nation or to another nation entirely. It left me feeling homeless and lost. I found myself surrounded here in Muncie by an entirely different group of people than I had known before in this place. Our new, two-person family moved into a different neighborhood and everything felt foreign and unfamiliar. I had spent years surrounded by hippie-types (at least that's what some people called us) and was having trouble adjusting to an urban culture I had never known. Though most of my immediate neighbors here are white, the culture of the neighborhood is a bit different than what I'm used to. Over the last few years, we have also become more and more immersed in the African American community in Muncie. It's been years of culture shock for me, honestly.

I'm not writing today to say to anyone that I have arrived or that I am fluent in any part of the culture into which I am a transplant. It's not that I have arrived; it's that I've been welcomed by some gracious hosts. And I have to say thanks.

This weekend, my friend Tasha had us come to her family reunion. There were people there from all over the country! My family has a great big reunion, but this was bigger than the Sherman family get-together. I was one of only a few other pale faces gathered in the corner of the past-capacity cabin at Heekin Park that was reserved for honored guests. Honored guests. We were invited to sing. I am glad we sang first because almost immediately afterward, it was obvious that just about everyone in the room has some crazy musical talent. Anyone at that family reunion could've stood up there to sing, yet they invited us. Room was made and we were invited and welcomed in. The reason: Tasha said she couldn't wait for her family to meet her family. How awesome to be able to make it happen! How beautiful is that?!

Some of her other family joined us for service this morning where, once again, her family got to meet her family. I enjoyed worshiping God with my brothers and sisters. I don't like to brag about my church, because we aren't here to make the name of our church great. However, there are things I've learned here that it would be hard to learn almost anywhere else. As I watched one of my girls pack up and leave this weekend and as we prayed for my friend, Jen, who is moving to take care of elderly family members, I cried and cried because it feels like part of my family is missing. Jen said it this morning, and I think she is right: This church has taught me so much about what it really means to be the church. On any given Sunday, I can look out from behind my mic and see a miniature, Muncie-version of "every tribe, every tongue, and every nation" singing back at me. And the people in the congregation see an even smaller, diverse group of brothers and sisters leading them in music. We're doing this together.

Today, as I looked out on familiar faces that have welcomed me into their lives and as I felt the pain of people moving on past this place to whatever lies ahead of them, I realized that this place that used to feel foreign and unfamiliar has become Home. These people I did not know have become Family. We may not share the exact same sense of humor (you don't really have to laugh at my puns; groans are just fine) or the same taste in food (I'm sorry about those chitlins. This veggie-lover tried...:) ) or the same mama or daddy or even cousins. We are family because we have been welcomed, first by God, and also by each other. It's not about what all we have in common or what about us is the same. There may be only one thing the same, being that we are rebellious children forgiven by our Father. Whatever other different things we may have are all brought to the family table and shared. I see pictures of this as my friend who sings country joins my friend who sings hard rock and my friend who sings gospel and my friend who loves to rap all in one song of praise. I see it in the table of food we all contribute to each week so we can sit down and eat together as family.

The only problem is that here, home is temporary. Here in the heart of the Crossroads of America, family often meets family only for a minute or a season before going different ways. I look forward to the day when my family will meet my family and continue getting to know each other without end. That will be Heaven. That will be Home. I can't wait.

"But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ." - Ephesians 2:13
I could've tried to post pictures of my family for you to see, but there are already quite a lot of them on our website and on our facebook page. But these two of a recent outdoor service went nicely with the roots and branches theme, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

things I love: a family update

     When I started this blog, a lot of it was dedicated to my kids. We were in their first years of life and everything was new!
     "Look! They just learned to sit up!"
     "Here are their first words."
     "Oh my goodness, look how much they've grown!"
     "We have a crawler on our hands...."
     "Watch this video of the first time (okay...ALMOST the first time...) they took steps!"
And on and on.
     There's this funny thing that has happened as they have gotten older. Continuing to publicly celebrate firsts starts to feel braggy. Over these years, several friends have had children who haven't or probably won't get to their firsts as quickly as mine. Some of them may never get to do these things for a first time. I've worried that me being excited about my kid doing something for the first time might make them feel like they're missing out or like I think my kid's better than theirs. Sometimes we act as though saying one kid's awesome at something implies that all other kids aren't awesome at that. Especially as they get older, kids start to reach milestones at very different times because they have very different strengths.
    What my friends of kids with special needs have taught me is that this is not a competition. They have gracefully demonstrated that we can be excited for my kids when they learn to walk and be (probably 10 times more) excited when theirs learns to walk. We can affirm how awesome it is that my kid does x thing and how awesome it is that their kid does thing y. One of us saying, "My kid just sounded out her first word!" means neither, "Your kid is dumb and you suck as a parent because your kid hasn't yet..." nor, "I should feel less excited because your kid learned this a long time ago." Even kids of similar ability focus on different things. I'm pretty word-oriented; I've taught my kids about words. My adventurous friend has kids who can climb trees and swim. Another friend has a kid who can name and recognize all the presidents. When I would find these things out, I used to panic. "Crap! Should I have taught them that, instead?!"
    (Okay, sometimes I do still worry that perhaps skills that can save your life -- like swimming -- may have been more important. But then I decide my kids can just stay away from bodies of water where they can't read the signs designating depth and such for a few more years. See? Different abilities are fine!)
   I say all this because I still want to celebrate my kids' achievements, especially if they've been working hard on them. They may be getting older and their firsts may come in a completely different order than others, but that's fine. My kids can be awesome like they are and your kids can be awesome like they are. This should be obvious to us all, but we need to be reminded. (At least I do!)

So here are some of the firsts in our family, not for those keeping score, but for those who enjoy celebrating.
- Israel went quiet in his reading for quite some time, refusing to try to read out loud if he thought a book might be hard. But today he started reading a chapter book out loud to me for the first time without freaking out. It said things like, "Buster wedged himself into Arthur's seat. 'My fault?' he said, 'You're the one who called Francine a marshmallow.'"
-  At the beginning of the spring, Eden forgot that she had ever peddled at all and refused to try a bike -- even with training wheels! (This, though I have a picture of her independently riding a tricycle at some ridiculously young age. So frustrating when you know they can do something and they won't....) I remember a spring day of her screaming like she was being tortured as I held onto her and moved her bike in a circle around a small parking lot. But yesterday, Eden tried out a bike without training wheels. I had to hold on the whole time, but she tried it without screaming bloody murder. She's super proud of herself.
- Eden asked to read to me today. She ASKED. I've been teaching her to read here and there for over a year now, and she's proud once she's finished a book, but getting her to pay attention and read from start to finish has been like pulling teeth. Today, though, she ASKED to read to me on her own. She reads sentences like, "I forgot to close the gate and Glory got out." (Thanks, Starfall!)
- Israel and Eden both put their faces under water for the first time, which was a tremendous act of courage for them. (For Iz more than for Eden, whom I believe is only "afraid" to do it because he is.) We're working on not running out of the water to immediately wipe faces with towels. We'll get there....
- The kids rode their first adult roller coaster. No big drops or upside-down stuff, but fast and crazy, anyway. They LOVED it. They want to do it again and again. I can't wait to take them to Kings Island and let them ride the big rides, though they probably aren't quite tall enough to do it now. But it won't be long, because...
- Eden just grew 3 inches in 6 months and is now taller than 75% of the kids her age. WHAT?! She used to be shorter than 97% of them!
- I'm getting size 7 pants for when Israel starts kindergarten in the fall. I'm a bit unsure which part of that sentence makes me feel more uneasy.
- Eden has figured out how to swing herself without needing a push...just this evening! YES!!!!
- Iz gets all happy and puts on an air of sophistication about making his own snacks and helping cook things in the kitchen. He's starting to be a great helper. It's been some time now since he first started getting breakfast for himself and his sister (while I pretend I actually get to sleep in) in the mornings.
- Iz is learning to play piano. He is pretty enthusiastic about it right now and will take "lessons" (about 5-10 minutes of instruction time) as often as I'll give them. He's pretty proud of his songs and will happily play them for you. Right now, he loves playing the Star Wars theme he learned by rote and the 5-finger scale song he learned by reading the music.
- Eden correctly used an apostrophe last week. If you know me, you know this puts joy into my geeky soul. That girl remembers how to spell just about anything I've ever had her write. She can now write "HAPPY FATHER'S DAY" with no assistance from me. I'm realizing she's not as on-her-own-wavelength as I thought she was.
- Pat graduated college for the first time. I'm putting it here not because he's my child, but because it's a case in point that firsts achieved later or through more adversity can be so much sweeter. I did not see a need to throw a party when I graduated college; it was just completing the next-expected life-phase. But boy, did I throw a party when Pat graduated! Pat graduating was AWESOME!!!

     One more thing before I end this post. I learned something new recently. Seeing how my children want to perform for praise, I have wanted to make sure I praise them for the right things -- working hard more than being close to perfect, having a great attitude over winning, kindness over smarts, etc.. I can see how it's especially important for perfectionists and competitive people (No, I don't know any...). We need to encourage and be encouraged to try our best and be our best, even if it doesn't immediately yield perfect results. We need to be able to praise others when they do something we wish we could do instead of merely trying to up our talk or our game. It's also just true that I'm more proud of my kids for working hard to meet a challenge than I am when they do things that don't require much effort on their part.
    But on to that something I learned for the first time. Some friends had posted on facebook about six words you should say today. I highly recommend reading it. I tried it for the first time recently. (I think. I hope I've said this before, but I really don't remember...) Instead of saying how great my kids did at reading or how proud of them I am for learning that song, I said things like, "I love playing piano with you," or "I love listening to you read." My kids' responses were very like the ones in the article. (Go on. Read the article. It's well-said there, so I don't want to repeat it poorly here.) Both gave me big, not-arrogant smiles. One of them gave me a hug and a kiss.
     I'm proud of them for what they've done and how they're growing, but also I just love watching them as they do it. So I'm writing to celebrate things I love seeing my kids do. I love watching my kids grow and learn and change. (Not to say it isn't bittersweet when I remember back a few years or that part of me doesn't wish I could freeze them in time at this point or that one.) As I'm writing, I'm looking up at the Duplo structure Israel built and put on my mantle to show to anyone who comes in. It's not the tallest one or the most complex or the best representation or most imaginative, but I love listening to him talk about it and display it. It makes him happy...and me, too.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy father's day!

I've been reading A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I have been refreshed reading what she has to say, especially about Proverbs 31. You may know that as the chapter in the Bible devoted to "The wife of noble character." I realize this seems like a funny place to start thinking about Father's day, but hang in there. As I was thinking about how to properly praise the fathers in our church today, I was reminded from Colossians 1 that our prayers for others spring out of our thankfulness for their good works. We are thankful for every good work that they do and we pray that God will cause each and every one to bear fruit.

So back to Proverbs 31. So often we women (and maybe the men, too...I don't know...) read it as a checklist of things a good wife needs to do. Read like that, the list is exhausting and defeating. But Evans quotes Old Testament scholar Ellen Davis who says Proverbs 31 was written "not to honor one particularly praise-worthy woman, but rather to underscore the central significance of women's skilled work in a house-hold economy." Evans later tells of a Jewish friend of hers who says men sing the chapter to their wives before sabbath meals. How affirming! Reading it like this, I thought it was a shame such a chapter doesn't exist in the Bible that helps women know how to really praise their good men. It's amazing how being told you are something in this way makes you feel appreciated and also makes you feel like rising to the occasion. We all need these sorts of praises sung over us from time to time, and today is the day for Fathers. 

In keeping with my current ideas about Proverbs 31, I didn't want to write about just one husband in particular, so I asked women and children in our church to let me know some of the good works the fathers in our church should be praised for. I got quite a response and easily filled verses with the good works fathers I know do every day. My hope is that men will see themselves somewhere in these words and know that they are appreciated and encouraged as they continue on in good works. Chances are we all have some valiant fathers in our lives. Let's give them the praise they deserve!

A valiant Father, who can find?
He is worth more than diamonds and gold.
His family has full confidence in him
and has everything that is truly valuable.
He brings good to his family
every single day.

He knows his way around the kitchen
and he grasps the grill lid with seasoned fingers.
With his own hands, he grows food
and guests and neighbors always have a seat at his table.
After dinner, he faithfully does the dishes.

He gets up while it is still night
to pray with and encourage his brothers.

He considers a business and buys it,
and out of his earnings, provides for the community.
He takes his work seriously.
His mind and body are strong for his work.

With excellence, he selects wood
to build toys that fuel his children’s imaginations.
All through the day, he goes with them on adventures,
showing them how to have courage and fight the good fight.
Even when they are grown, he works day and night
to help his children achieve their dreams,
working to ensure their success.

His car is profitable in his use.
He considers it nothing to drive miles and miles
to ensure his children can spend time with their family,
even with their mothers.
He opens the passenger door for those in need
and extends his mileage to help out.

He ensures his children love their mother,
leading by loving his wife,
And he gracefully shares her burdens.

His eyes eagerly seek out his children
and love is in his gaze.
His ears are always ready to listen.
They are patient in their task.

He sets out early to find work,
and is able to trade with neighbors.
When times are hard, he has no fear,
but faithfully uses all his abilities, laboring hard to provide for his family.
His teaches his children how to conduct business
and they are able to follow in his steps.

At bedtime, he kneels and prays.
He sings over his children. His voice is the delight of their ears.
All through the night, he provides relief for their mother
by answering their call for help and comfort.

He has a place among the decision-makers and do-ers in this city,
striving for a good place for children to learn and grow.

He is clothed in strength and dignity.
He can look forward to the years to come.
His advice is trustworthy,
for he speaks over his children the very word of God.
His children recognize him as a blessing
Their mother, also, praises him.
“Many fathers are good, but you are the BEST!”

Flattering words are deceptive and muscles are fading,
but a father who puts God first is to be praised.
Honor him for all that his hands have done,
and let his good works make headlines!


Monday, May 13, 2013

the difference it makes

     This week, the kids visited the dentist for a routine cleaning. Pat was able to go with us for the first time ever. As things got started, I tried to prepare him for what was going to happen. "Israel does great," I said. "He thinks going to the dentist is a special treat." And sure enough, he climbed into the seat happily, laid right down, and watched the kids' programming on the TV screen over his head while waiting for the hygenist to come. Teeth cleaning? Loved it. X-rays? Cool. Sealant? Awesome. There's a kid to make you proud at the dentist.

     It's almost as though someone in the cosmos didn't want me to become too conceited during trips to the dentist, as though I had done all the right things to have the kid who is enthusiastic about dental care. Because of this, I was not only given that child, but I was also given THAT child: the one who totally freaks out the whole time. Eden always talks it up about how she's going to have courage or how she really likes the dentist all the way there, but when it comes time to deliver, it's a whole different kind of delivery. And sure enough, she was doing just great in the waiting area and all. "Does it usually start out worse than this?" Pat asked.
     "Nope." I said. "It always starts out fine. But just wait. I have never been here when I have not had to hold her legs down the whole time and she screams so loud and high that it'll make your ears bleed." The lady sitting down to do her job nodded in affirmation. "You've heard it, then?" I asked.
"Yes, I think so."

     At that moment, I realized I had never had the opportunity to look any of the other adults in the room in the eye during my daughter's trips to the dentist. (And there was always more than one, with different people holding various limbs, astonished by how one flailing toddler/preschooler was nearly stronger than all of us combined.) After the ordeal, I never had the desire to look them in the eye, but bowed my head in shame and left as quickly as possible. I had never seen her face.
     Since I had parental back-up this time, I decided to take the time to get to know her name and face. Her name was Abigail. "Look, Eden! She has the same name as your friend!" I tried to chat it up about this wonderful discovery, hoping to provide some sort of connection or distraction for my daughter. I was glad to have Pat with me so I would not have to bear this experience alone. He had no idea what was coming. Abigail and I braced ourselves. So did Eden.
     And then the craziest thing happened. My daughter shut her eyes tight and stiffened up and just took it. No screaming. No kicking. Just one little girl deciding to take it. She let Abigail clean her teeth. She let the dentist look them over. She took the floride with no problem.

     I could not believe it. "Pat will never believe the horror stories now," I thought! Abigail gave me a look that said, "Of course it won't happen now that she has an audience." "Write it down!" I said. (So I am.) Incredible. I could tell she still hated it, but WOW! What a difference in how she dealt with it!
     On the way home, after praising her over and over, I asked her what the difference was. "Why did you decide to have courage this time?"
     And, sure enough, it had everything to do with Pat: "Because Daddy was there."

     I'm not gonna lie: part of me is a little mad that none of my pep talks or soothing words ever did anything to help the horrible situation of Eden at the dentist. Pat didn't do anything special. He offered no reasons why it was going to be okay. He just sat there and held her hand. (SO much better than having to hold her hand AND her leg! I may be a tad jealous.) But another part of me understands: sometimes we just want our Dad. It is easier to find our courage when we can see our Dad there with us. No words from anyone else can take the place of that.

Friday, April 19, 2013

out of the mouth of my babe

Last night at bedtime, Israel was complaining of is foot hurting. It was a minor issue, so I pulled out that line my dad used on me as a kid: "Do you want me to cut it off?" (As I child, I thought this was stupid, because of course it would hurt more to cut off your foot than it would to deal with the minor boo-boo. Kids can't realize this is the point of the question. So I add an explanation.) "Your foot can't hurt you if I throw it over there somewhere."

This led immediately into a string of questions from my son that ended up with a discussion of prosthetic limbs and how it is possible to live and not die from losing a limb and how it is possible to walk, even if you're missing a leg. And then, of course, it led to giving an account of what has happened in Boston. It was time for prayer, anyway, and the subject seemed the logical bridge from hurting foot to prayer. Pat and I looked at each other and I dove in:

"So tonight we can pray for people who have been hurt and are missing their legs. Lots of people in a city far away called Boston got their legs cut off by a bomb."

The kids looked at me, waiting for further explanation for a second, so I continued to answer the silent "why" question by saying, "A couple of men left a bomb around a lot of people and it exploded and lots and lots of people were hurt really badly. It was a very bad choice for them to make...a very bad choice that really hurt a lot of people."

I always hesitate before letting my kids know about such horrible events. Israel still prays for Syria lots of evenings after Pat informed him of that one world event something like a year ago. I don't want him to know about every bad thing that happens, because he does not forget them. I don't want my kids to be afraid of bad things happening. But since ignorance doesn't tend to make unafraid people, I try to tell them SOME bad things that I think they will hear about as we listen to the news. (As we have one starting kindergarten next year, we skipped Sandy Hook for the most part.) So I drop these things on them in a context of something to do about it. "You can pray about this because...." and then they aren't powerless; I'm telling them so they can do something about it. Even if it's for people far away. But I wait to see how this will affect them. Israel didn't ask any further questions, but sat thinking about it for awhile. Eden, who, has a completely unsuppressible spirit, piped up immediately about the people who had made the really bad choice that hurt a lot of people: "But Jesus still loves them."

And so we prayed for them, too.

I'm not the most filled-in on the details and on how different media outlets have portrayed the young men presumably responsible for creating the need for all the heroism we've read about. I have read people being upset that they were initially described in terms of skin color. As I tuned in today, there was mostly talk about ethnicity, religion, and place of birth. Would we make such a big deal of these things if the person was born and raised here and had light skin? I can't say for sure.

But I do notice, on many levels in society, in times of tragedy and times of relative peace, we like to distance ourselves from people who make bad choices. We like to point out how people we would label "bad guys" are different from us. It's easier to find some way to cut them off from "us." We say to each other: "Here. You want me to cut it off for you so it won't hurt you?" I can't say for sure that's what is happening here. What I can say is that we need to guard against that. As humiliating as it is, Christians have to admit that we don't have anything up on

And so we pray for EVERYONE'S hearts and lives who have been changed (or not) by this horrible choice/event, recognizing that the best thing that can happen is for God to be at work in the lives of all involved.

Instead of focusing on why "that person" is different from us, Eden honed in on the very powerful and humbling thing that we have in common. The most basic and wide-reaching truth about me is the same for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: "Even when we make bad choices, Jesus still loves us." And if I can't affirm this about him, I cannot truly believe it for myself. I don't know what Jesus's love will mean for Dzhokhar in his life or the next, but I know he wasn't created less in the image of God than I was. And Jesus didn't only die and rise again for people who meet some basic moral standard. I am no more worthy of forgiveness than he is. (Can one be "worthy" of forgiveness?) As an adult, I have a whole list of theological questions about this, but none of them advance my knowledge any further than what my daughter already knows: "Jesus still loves us, (all of us,) even if we do something wrong."

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

where I'm writing

I haven't been blogging as much these days. It's not that life isn't still happening. It is. It's not that I don't have anything to say. I do. Sometimes it's a bit difficult to figure out just one thing to say. But I have been writing in a less-structured sort of way and thought I'd share it for anyone who's interested.

My friend Chad put up this website called Ask Two Questions. It's based on reading through the common lectionary. Every day, there is a brief passage and you're asked to think about what it's saying about God and you. (Sometimes I have a hard time teasing those two questions apart.) It's not overwhelming at all. If you don't get lost in writing like I do, it can take 5-10 minutes to prayerfully think it through. I'm a verbal processor, so it takes me awhile to "talk it out." But if you want to read where I've been writing, check it out. You are welcome to join in the discussion...or not. It has been beneficial to me, though, and if I think something's good, I'm going to share it.

I'll list out for you a few of the topics that I particularly enjoyed as way of providing a sample for you. Maybe some one of you will enjoy it as much as I do. I'm titling them by my summary of what I took from the passage on the left, followed by the site's title for the passage on the right.

My God! Is that alive?! - Treasure in Jars of Clay

That was then, this is now. - God Will Do A New Thing

Not sure even I'm controlling enough for this - Live In Love

I'll just keep that to myself - The Joy of Forgiveness

Feeling labled - Diving Mercy for Ephraim

Getting a free meal - Return to the Lord

The only thing - The Lord is My Light

Martyr 1: The Stoning of Zechariah
Martyr 2: The Stoning of Stephen

The destructive safe place - The Valley of Decision

Monday, February 4, 2013

I made homemade ravioli like a champ!

(This morning, I had "We are the Champions" stuck in my head. I knew right then this Monday was going to be alright.)

I'm getting into making homemade pasta. Usually meals that dirty that many dishes are left to Pat and the kids. However, over Christmas, I watched my dad making his homemade noodles for his famous (or infamous if you remember the time it fermented in jars in my dorm room...) chicken noodle soup. It must've inspired me. My dad used to take up the whole kitchen table rolling out the dough and cutting it into noodles with a pizza cutter. And then we got him a pasta maker. We also have a pasta maker that had sat on the shelf for...a long time. Too long. But not long ago, Dad told me how to make his homemade noodles. And down came the pasta maker from wherever it had been hiding.

I don't usually like single-use kitchen gadgets, but pasta makers are actually worthy kitchen gadgets. They have cranks. Kids like to turn cranks and will help out because it's fun. Heck, I like to work cranks and will use the pasta maker because it's fun. It's like a playdough machine, but the results are edible.

So, because I love when my dad does it, and because it's fun, I've been making homemade pasta noodles every chance I get. They are great for making lasagna, since you don't run the risk of breaking them or of trying to snap them off at just the right length. You don't have the cook/uncooked noodle dilemma. You do get custom-sized noodles that are as thin or as thick as you want. (I like a lot of thin layers, personally.) If waking up with Queen in your head isn't enough insurance of a good day, making pasta has proven to make every member of our family happy. Homemade pasta = good day insurance.

My dad's recipe of "1 egg to each heaping scoop of flour...that's it!" works well for his soup noodles, but I was looking for something a little more pasta-like. We've tried out several recipes from online. Some were better than others. It seems, in terms of straight-up pasta, like spaghetti, semolina flour must be the way to go. I don't have any of that, but hope to try it out sometime. In the meantime, this recipe I found on a site called Annie's Eats yielded the easiest-to-work-with pasta dough to date. (Dad, I will still use your recipe for soup noodles.)

Of course, I don't strictly follow recipes, so my ingredient list was actually like this:
1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for work surfaces
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. salt
4 large eggs
1 tbsp. olive oil

The directions on the other website are great, though she dirties waaaaay too many dishes. I just hand-mixed and kneaded mine in the bowl. (And when I say "kneaded," I really mean I just played with it like you would with playdough, because "kneading" is adult work instead of kids' play.) And she has an electric pasta maker?! Psssht. Not as fun. But read what she has to say if you're looking to try it out yourself. You'll be able to go forth in confidence.

Thanks to a Superbowl produce sale, I had lots of colorful veggies on hand and wanted to use them in a filled pasta like confetti. I like the idea of small pockets of party for dinner, so ravioli it was. My filling was different than Annie's recipe, but hers was a starting place. So I displaced some of the cheese with veggies. I don't measure these things, but this is roughly what I did. Use whatever veggies (or meat, I guess...) you like.

I realized about 1/3 of the way through my meal that this was worth of sharing.
It's not a great photo, but here's what my ravioli looked like in real life.
In a medium-sized pan, saute on medium to meduim-high heat:
1/2  a medium zucchini, minced
4 portabello mushrooms, minced
1/3 cup? bell peppers, minced (I made use of bits of red, yellow, and orange ones.)
salt to taste

In a medium-sized bowl, combine:
about 1/2 a 15 oz. container of ricotta cheese
a glob (1/4 cup or so?) of cottage cheese
about 2 Tbsp. parmesan cheese (fresh is probably wonderful, but the powdered stuff was great.)
whatever herbs and spices you like to taste. I tossed in a Sundried Tomato seasoning blend I was given for Christmas. Those bread dipping seasonings at Meijer make a great gift!

Here in our town, you can get pre-made ravoili for a not-very-hungry 4 at Aldi for $2.99. I think this recipe fed five of us well. Pat and I were actually full from 11 pieces! And the cost? Roughly $3. But mine feeds more people and includes veggies and an hour or so of fun. So there.

I'm sure people go wild with what they put in stuffed pasta. I, however, am just stepping into this world. If any of you want to step in with me, consider this your invitation. For those of you further along in this sort of culinary venture, please beckon me along with your ideas.