Sunday, December 28, 2008

to santa or not to santa...?

So, this year, Israel is not old enough to know the difference. Next year, though, the issue will have to be addressed in some manner or other and some trajectory will be set for Israel's relationship with the most perfect being ever to not exist: Santa.

When the hypothetical parenting discussions between friends took place years ago, my approach was to brush off the "Santa" issue as not a big deal and not worth really thinking about. After all, I can tend to over-think things and that was one thing I didn't want to over-think. I really enjoyed Santa as a kid. And I don't think my whole "I don't believe in God anymore because God is just something my parents taught me to believe in" time of life would have been avoided had they been bluntly honest with me about Santa's non-existence. I don't think Santa is evil and I don't think celebrating Santa coming at Christmas means a person can't or doesn't also celebrate Jesus coming at Christmas. That said, we realized this year that even if we say nothing about Santa, the question will come up for Israel and we will either give him presents from the jolly old elf or we won't. Here are some of the pros and cons we talk about.

- We both REALLY liked Santa growing up. We liked the surprise element of the presents. We liked his character and we liked the adventure of trying to catch him at his work. I liked the mystery of putting out cookies and "witnessing" him having eaten them in the morning, though I slept through his visit.
- Neither Pat nor I had traumatic experiences figuring out that Santa wasn't real; in fact, neither of us remember "the" Christmas when it happened. We don't remember anyone breaking the news to us, though I seem to remember one year finding out that my older cousins didn't believe in him. I don't think I ever had a direct conversation about it with my parents. I preferred to figure things out for myself and put the question to the big guy himself one year in my letter to him, which he answered satisfactorily enough.
- We don't want to have that kid who tells all the other kids Santa isn't real and we don't want our kids to think kids who believe in Santa are stupid.
- We don't like the idea of well-meaning adults asking our kid what Santa brought them and our young child answering, "nothing," or, "We don't believe in Santa." At Christmas time, that is cultural suicide. And we don't want people to think that we miss out on fun because we celebrate Jesus's birth and not Santa during the season.

- My first inclination not to teach Israel that Santa is real was that I just didn't feel like it. I don't feel like trying to find out exactly what the kids want each year and buying that "best" present only to give the credit for that work to "Santa." If I'm going to get my kid the bomb present, I want him to know that I did it because I love him, not think that Santa brought it to him because of how good he was the previous year. Along those lines, I don't want to be stuck giving my kids the second-best present every year.
- As a kid, I did not like that, contrary to the news spread about the situation, bad kids got presents at least as cool as mine. I don't want my kids to hear that they had better be good to get presents only to have that mean kid down the street get the latest version of Nintendo. Though perhaps it is an accurate picture of the way things are on earth, it is a screwed-up version of justice, since Santa is supposed to know how everyone behaves and reward accordingly.
- The idea of a fat, bearded man knowing when I'm sleeping creeps me out.
- I don't want to have to reinforce an idea that is not true. This is strange, because I don't think it's unethical to tell your kid Santa exists and have absolutely no problem with parents playing the "Santa" game with their kids. However, I don't want to ever have to tell my child to believe in Santa. And I don't want to be put in the awkward situation of admitting, after years of reinforcing Santa's existence, that it was all a hoax and I had led my kid to believe an untruth. Even now, I like being able to ask kids in my life whether I have ever lied to them and them having to admit that I have not. I want my kids to be able to take me at my word, even though this is kind of a trivial matter in our culture. (You don't think a person is a liar just because they say Santa is real.)
- I don't want to wait in long lines places to have my kid tell Santa what he wants for Christmas or to get pictures with Santa. I haven't even paid to have Israel's pictures taken with me, for goodness's sake! Besides, Santas are scary-looking unless they have real beards.
- We want to really be able to celebrate Jesus's birth at Christmas. There are MANY distractions and obstacles to this besides Santa. We may or may not be able to overcome all of them as we look to set our family Christmas traditions. But Santa is one distraction that is pretty easy to eliminate if we want to.
- I don't like that all the magic of the season is summed up in Santa in our culture. I know we don't have to pass that aspect of Santa on to our kids even if we play the game. But it's a whole lot easier not to send the message that Santa represents all things good and right and hopeful about the world and those in it if we teach our kids that he is not real, but that God is. Santa plays a role in our culture that is a little too close to God's rightful role for my comfort. Of course, all Christians would rather our children know God as the one who knows everything, gives good gifts to people near and far, has the grip on the scales of justice and is able to do things that are physically impossible (a fat man going down the chimney? really?) or miraculous than to think that those traits are embodied in Santa. Perhaps it is not an either/or situation, but as a kid, it was a lot easier to get excited about Santa, who adults said had those traits, than it was about God, who adults said had those traits. And even if all we do is put gifts from Santa under the tree, it puts us in the awkward place of having to validate all the stories other people and the songs and all that say about him. I don't want my kids thinking Santa is the best thing ever when he doesn't even exist!

But then, there is a strong pull toward Santa and we really mean that part in the "pro" section of not wanting to be spoil-sports at Christmas. We want our kids to be excited about it and to have the same sort of magical feelings about Christmas time that we had growing up. Can that be done without Santa? Of course, it should be able to be done. We're thinking through how we could go about it. Christmas is supposed to be a celebration and Jesus certainly enjoyed those as much as the next guy when he was here. God even mandated that the Jews celebrate many holidays a year -- more than I celebrate in a given year. So a full-out celebration is in order. We have trouble figuring out how to make a celebration about Jesus, though. Things about Jesus tend to involve silence and prayer and scripture-reading and all that. They are somber and contemplative. But that is part of what Advent is for. This is Christmas we're talking about!

Some of our ideas for solutions have been:
-Writing thank-yous to Jesus in place of letters to Santa. Or even having the kids write requests to Jesus instead of to Santa (though letters like, "Dear Jesus, please bring me a Wii," would be problematic).
- Throwing a party, with presents and good food. This is already done somewhat, with the gifts and elaborate meals at Christmas time, but it could be built upon.

What is difficult is that Christmas is spent, not at church, but with family. For some reason, living rooms and sanctuaries are completely different spaces and we don't do the same things in one as we do the other. As you read in my previous post, the Christmas celebration at our church was great and I'm sure some people (kids in particular) broke a sweat in their celebration. And that time was certainly about Jesus, as celebration and worship combined. It seems odd to think about doing such a thing with extended family, though, since we never do anything spiritual together besides utter a prayer before a meal. I don't see most people's families coming together, playing great music, worshiping, and dancing in the living room before preparing and eating a feast. That is the sort of thing (some) churches do.

Now, I know that most of the people in our particular families will probably celebrate together with us in Heaven. In that way, being with blood family and being with brothers and sister in Christ has the potential to be the same thing here. But doing church at family gatherings is just...awkward. And forced. It's not what people around us do and we're not into trying to make people do things or say things or pretend things just because it's Christmas and that's as true for belief in Jesus as it is for belief in Santa. Religious topics are so divisive and somewhat taboo in families -- even Christian families -- and it's hard to think of a non-awkward way to bring religious practices into family life. But Pat points out that, though this is part of our "how do we do Christmas now that we have children" conversation, it is a digression from Santa. And we can't digress from Santa.

We left the conversation pretty open-ended this year. Maybe it will be a little less open-ended next year. Maybe we will make some decisions based on our ideas of what would be the ideal way to celebrate Christmas; maybe some of these decisions get made for us by way of convention. Maybe some of you do things you have found to be great at Christmas time that we have not thought of and will share them with us. (Maybe we'll use your ideas and maybe we won't.) Maybe we should pay closer attention to the kids, who are really good at celebrating on their own. Maybe, we'll just put gifts under the tree from "?" and when the kids ask if Santa is real, we'll say, "Maybe."

Monday, December 22, 2008

dance, dance...revolutions!

Pat says I'm blog happy, but I said I would post Israel dancing as soon as I could catch it on camera. Tonight, Israel started dancing to no music at all, so Pat put on one of the OLD Christmas records my parents brought from their house last time they were here. Israel was that much happier to be dancing and didn't mind the camera one bit. This is some of his best dancing. The only major move omitted is his clapping. Times like this turn me into one of those parents who gush about how their child is the cutest thing ever to hit the planet.

no small kindnesses here.

It is FREEZING here in Muncie. Last night the windchill was in the -30's, with the air temp. of -5. Our 1-layer wood floors are too cold and our furnace, though brand new and working its hardest, is not able to push past the 64 degree mark in the warmest part of the house at night. All that to say, it is COLD -- both inside and out.

I stayed up last night working on gifts for our neighbors and Pat had to turn in early to get up for work in the morning. I left the lights off when I crawled into bed, to discover Pat's face under my hand where my pillow should be. "What are you doing on my side of the bed?"

"Getting it warm for you."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

advent: we will celebrate.

I wish I had taken my camera to church this morning. During advent, I have planned this small part of the service: I pick a passage, ask someone to talk about it, prepare a responsive reading, and ask someone to read it. I sit back and watch what happens. This Sunday the theme was the angels and celebration. I know you hope for this to happen every Sunday, but there are some services, such as this one, when you can sense keenly that God must've organized the time.

For starters, the children were all in service for worship this Sunday, ages 1 month and up. The band played "Go, Tell it on the Mountain," to start and it was the most celebratory rendition of the song I have ever witnessed. The kids from the neighborhood added stomps and hand-clapping. Little girls in dresses, jeans, and pink camo pants spun in circles, holding each others' hands. Adults danced with babies on their hips and a 9-year-old boy clapped and sang loudly while sitting on someone's shoulders. Teenagers were smiling. The celebration took over the front part of the room, just inches (at times) from the guitar player. Normally, I would be the first to jump up and try to corral the kids off to the side, but it was clear that though they had not been asked to, they were leading worship.

The nursery (ages 1-4 at our church) sang "This Little Light of Mine" and "He's God the Whole World in His Hands." These are not Christmas songs, per se, but light is definitely one of the themes of Advent. Particularly beautiful about the time was watching one of our youth, the third of eight children in her family, holding her youngest sister. The little girl, who is less than two, pointed her finger high during "This Little Light of Mine" and stood up straight while her older sister moved her hands along to the motions of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Sometimes I despair that these particular children are raising themselves and each other in so many ways, but today the scene of the older teaching the younger brought me to joyful tears.

...As did the scene of the black children and the white children, the middle-class children and the poor chidlren, dancing together without realizing what a powerful image they were making.

...As did scanning the congregation to see adults making circles with their arms above their heads and smiling during "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands."

...As did the older children taking over the song the Sunday School workers were teaching them and doing their own stomp and clap version of "Joy to the World," complete with hip-hop echoes of each line. Only one of the children singing had parents in attendance, but we all cheered when they finished because they are all our kids.

Maybe I'm a bit more emotional than usual because I'm pregnant, but I cried off and on through nearly the whole service. It was the best celebration I have seen in quite some time...most of it impromptu.

I asked one of the "older" couples in our church (they would not be labeled such in most any other church they could attend) to lead the advent time this week. They are a zaney couple and the wife in particular is one of the best celebrators I've met. The characters for this week were the angels. I think they had quite a great job, bringing all the great news to the earthlings. Eric, the husband, read in Luke 2 of the angels making the announcement to the shepherds. Brenda spoke about the other times in Advent that angels made announcements. When Gabriel showed up to Zechariah and told him he and his wife would have a son, Zechariah did not celebrate the good news with the angel; instead, he asked for proof. That lack of belief led to Zechariah being silenced for the next many months. When Gabriel showed up to Mary and told her she would bear God's son, Mary submitted and that submission lead to a time of celebration with Elizabeth that even included Elizabeth's son in utero, who leapt for joy from his place in the womb. When the angels showed up to the shepherds, they joined the celebration and worshipped. When confronted with our good news, do we spread it by celebrating or is our joy silenced by cynicism?

We have been given so much to celebrate. Not only do we have the good news of Christmas, but we also have the good news of the cross. We have gifts in this life and milestones that are to be celebrated. We are unconditionally accepted as God's own children and loved with a love that is not affected by our bad behaviour. Brenda listed many things she is celebrating this Christmas and others, including children in the congregation, took her up on her invitation to verbally list some things they celebrate today as well. We all have many reasons, both universal and individual, to celebrate.

In the absence of a youth to read today's reading, I had my friend Lauren do it. She came up with her one-month old daughter and led us through the reading. She's the only person I know who can do justice to a reading with exclamation points in it without sounding staged. And tears streamed down her face and mine we were reminded of all the joys given and promised to us as Children of Light.


The angels received good news from the throne of God. Their joy at the news turned into a celebration that was brought to the shepherds. As we come today, let's join in the celebration that began at God's throne and will go on into eternity when we all gather at that same throne. After I read each line, please respond by saying: “We will celebrate!”

There is good news for all the people.

It is good for the poor, young, unmarried mother.

It is good for the well-dressed, old priest.

It is good for us.

The angels brought good news.

We will bring good news.

The Light has come to the world!

Children of Light, nothing is better than this!

Come, let us dance in the light of the Lord.

He gives us peace with God.

He gives us peace with each other.

We are different.

We are one in Christ.

On the street to the new Jerusalem,

On the streets of Muncie,

We will lift our voices together.

With each other,

With those around the world;

With those who have gone before us,

With those who will come after us,

With the angels;

The Spirit and the Church say, “Come!”

If you hear the invitation, say, “Come!”

When you come, Lord Jesus,

Because you come, Lord Jesus;

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

O, Christmas Tree!

About this time last year, three McCrorys headed out to a local Christmas tree farm and cut down our Christmas tree. The three years before that, there were two McCrorys; next year there will be four. It's a growing tradition for us, I suppose. Last year, Israel was small enough to be placed in a carrier and zipped up underneath Pat's coat to be kept warm. This year, we had quite a bundling job to do and he ended up looking and moving like the little brother in the movie "A Christmas Story." (You know the movie about Ralphie and the red rider b.b. gun.) Though seriously encumbered in his walking and though he fell on his face in the snow several times, Israel seemed to enjoy himself overall.

Once home, and after a nice winter's nap, we set about decorating. Israel liked "helping" by hanging as many gold rings off the same low limb as he could. (Word to the wise: don't let your 1-year-old handle the ornaments while decorating if you're going to try to tell him not to touch them once they're on the tree. He brings us gold ring ornaments every day.) Here are a couple pictures of Israel helping decorate the tree.

getting the ornaments out of the tin

hanging them on "the branch"

admiring a job well-done

Israel loves the Christmas tree. He knows how to say "lights" in sign language and will often flash his hands and point at the tree. He has a few select ornaments he loves as well. I'll let him show you his three favorites: Mickey Mouse, which I think he likes because of Pat's high-pitched impersonation of his laugh, a small snowman he calls, "maannnn," and a sheep he likes to mimic by making a sound like he's choking (which represents, "baaa...."). Enjoy!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

advent: we will worship.

This week's reading was Luke 2:8-20, the story of the shepherds and the angels. Our characters for the week were the shepherds. It took me awhile to figure out what I wanted the theme to be. On the one hand, I love what this part of the Christmas story has to say about our humble God showing Himself to humble people. However, when I read the story, worship is what stood out to me.

When Luke picks up the scene, the shepherds are just going about their work. It's quiet and still, except for maybe a sheep stirring here or there. And out of nowhere comes this spiritual being (who knows what it looked like; I hate the way angels are pictured as just really beautiful people with wings) who has to first calm their fears before making the crazy announcement: God has shown up in a human body that is hours old and wrapped up in the feeding trough at one of the local inns. The shepherds leave their important work and go to pay a visit to God. They leave, excitedly talking about it and praising God for this great thing He has done in coming, and presumably thanking Him for letting them in on the whole thing.

The man who shared in our church today pointed out that it is God who initiates these encounters. We don't initiate these intimate times with God; He does. Really, what did the shepherds do to deserve witnessing the heavenly hosts' announcement? Nothing. God decided to share the time with them. Of course, they eagerly accepted the invitation to the manger scene and left all the richer for it. God has given us an invitation to an intimate scene with Him as well. In John chapter 1, John says that anyone who accepts the Christ who showed up in the world this way is given the right to become a child of God. We are invited to join God's family. Talk about God initiating an intimate time together! This intimate time is to include the rest of our lives. Of course, we are more intimate with God at some times than at others and we have certain times set aside as "worship times," but our ability to enter into God's presence is much more dependent upon Him than it is on us. We merely accept His invitation, join in the time, and let Him change us through our time together.

I like the shepherds much more than the wise men at this point in my life. When I was in college, I preferred the wise men because I was sick of hearing about how God chose ignorant, inept, people to "shame the wise." I was happy for the example of the people who found God because they had done their homework and followed the conclusions of their studies. They brought fitting, even prophetic, gifts to the little child. They knew their stuff. Now, of course, I am still glad the "wise people" don't miss out on the chance to get to know their Saviour. However, this year, I love that the shepherds did nothing to be invited to the manger and they took no gifts with them when they went. They were not "prepared." (Chances are they did not show up looking like people I would want to handle my ordinary baby, much less put their grubby hands on God Incarnate.) But God, knowing this, was still happy to invite them. That's comforting to me as I'm feeling a little less sophisticated these days and would have to go pay my visit to God -- if not empty-handed -- at least with a second-hand gift. Seeing the shepherds lets me know that God mostly just wants people to come who will appreciate the opportunity to be with Him. This year, let's be people who leave what they'd otherwise be doing because we realize we've been extended an invitation to something really special. Let's worship our God.


The shepherds wasted no time when invited to the presence of God. They found him just as promised and left the manger praising His name. We are also invited to the presence of God to worship Him and leave with his praise on our lips.

Lord, you have made yourself known to us.
We will worship you.
You come to us even though we are not worthy to see you.
We will worship you.
If you announce your arrival with angels, as you did for the shepherds,
We will worship you.
If you announce your arrival with pain, as you did for Mary,
We will worship you.
No matter how your arrival greets us,
We will worship you.
Because when you show up, we're found empty-handed,
We will worship you.
We have nothing else to give you, so
We will worship you.
We have seen the great things you have done.
We will worship you.
We find you humble, just as you said we would.
We will worship you.
We find you mighty to save, just as you said we would.
We will worship you.
Because being in your presence leaves us with joy;
We will worship you.
We cannot keep these things to ourselves, God.
We will worship you.
In the quietness of our homes,
We will worship you.
In the streets of our city,
We will worship you.
With our voices when they sing,
We will worship you.
With our voices when they speak,
We will worship you.
With our thoughts when we are silent,
We will worship you.
With shouts of joy,
We will worship you.
With tears of pain,
We will worship you.
With our whole lives,
We will worship you.
Because of all you are,
We will worship you.
We give you all we are.
We will worship you.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Last night I had a dream that I was preparing a birthday party for an old friend from elementary school. I lived in Muncie, but it was a much cooler Muncie, where I could ride my bike with Israel in tow up and down (gasp!) hills downtown where everything from the tall windows in the buildings to the sidewalks were being refurbished. In my waking hours, I would never have known a town looking like this was supposed to be recognized as Muncie, though the familiar one-way street patterns of Charles, Adams, Jackson, Main, and Washington should give me a clue.

This morning, I wake up with a sense of loss. I want everything to be laid out exactly as it is...only better. Better and, as is often the case in my dreams, with everyone in one place.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

advent: we will forgive.

If you missed my first advent post, you may want to scroll down and become acquainted with this year's ritual. This week, the scripture reading was in Luke, Chapter 1, where we find Mary's song after the angel Gabriel tells her she is to be intimately involved with bringing forth the Hope of the world. We then flash forward to Chapter 2, where we find Christ being born and put into a feeding trough. Were Mary and Joseph prepared for his birth? Were they really?

When I was preparing to give birth to Israel, there was to be no traveling long distances close to the time of this arrival. Instead, I was to be found doing what most mothers do: nesting. There were showers where many people (you may have been one of them) gave gifts to help me prepare for his coming. We ran pretty close to the wire, but Israel's room was ready for him when he arrived, even though he wouldn't sleep there until a few months after he was born. We had blankets galore and little outfits waiting for him. We had a bathtub especially for his little body and special soaps. We had cloth diapers stacked in the bathroom along with little washcloths and towels. We were prepared. But were we really?

In some ways, I could look back at Mary and Joseph and wonder how they ended up having to put Jesus in a feeding trough in the first place. Didn't they know to expect him any day? Could they not have been a little better prepared? Not even a cloth to use as a hammock or anything? Come on. Maybe they had no choice but to travel at the time they did, but everyone knows to pack for a baby when you get to be a certain size. We are supposed to be prepared for those sorts of contingencies.

However, Mary and Joseph must've had one (or more) up on me. Mary is told she is going to have to carry a baby that will be seen as illegitimate and Joseph is supposed to still go through with marrying her? If an angel told me I was going to have to go through all that, you can bet you would not find me having my own song of gratitude to sing about it. I would be too busy worrying about all the contingencies. At best, my song would be about how great a sacrifice I was making for God. But not Mary. Her song is about the mercy God is having on the world. She praises Him for exalting the humble and scattering the proud. There isn't much in the song about her or what she is going to have to go through. Now, maybe she was like me and had days of grumbling or worrying, but scripture (which typically seems quick to point out people's flaws) doesn't mention anything about it. She was grateful that she was chosen to be the conduit of God's mercy to the world. In some very important way, Mary must've been prepared.

So we come to advent. We think about welcoming our Saviour into the world. Just as when we are expecting a baby, there is much preparation to be done. We need to get his room ready. And where is it that He has decided to come but into our very hearts? We look around and see some serious cleaning needs to be done. There are some old fixtures that need to be replaced, clutter to toss, and excesses to purge. When I see messes like that, it is hard for me to know where to start. Ack! The dust...the clutter...the pile of clothes that no longer fit...the un-made bed with dirty sheets...and the pieces of things meant to be useful that have accumulated everywhere, unused! What's the worst of the mess? I don't know.

When I looked over Mary's song, I noticed the word "mercy" a few times and thought that would be a good place to start. I know the root of Christianity is love and that without love for those around us who we do see, we cannot claim to love God, whom we have not seen. But making a resolve to love more feels pretty ambiguous to me. I often think on it too much and throw my hands up at the mess, saying, "I don't know what it means to love this person right now." If I'm going to really begin cleaning out the mess in my heart, I need some concrete step to take. Mercy is a little less slippery to define in my book and seeing that attribute of God praised in Mary's song reminds me that it is an attribute meant to be mimicked. So this week, in preparation for Jesus's advent, I invited our congregation to begin there by getting rid of that unforgiveness in the corner. Even if it's got a good reason to be there, it's really one of those things that just needs to be thrown out.


There were many ways in which Mary and Joseph were unprepared for Jesus's coming. However, they did not look over the most important preparation: the preparation of their hearts. Mary was grateful to extend God's mercy to the world. So we, too, can prepare for His coming by extending His mercy.

God, because you have had mercy on the world,
We will forgive.
Because you lift up the humble,
We will forgive.
And because you scatter those who are proud,
We will forgive.
We will be humble;
We will forgive.
Because we made your stay in this world difficult,
We will forgive.
When others make our stay in this world difficult,
We will forgive.
When we don't get the treatment we deserve,
We will forgive.
Those who always find fault,
We will forgive.
Those who are always at fault,
We will forgive.
Those who mistreated us when we were young,
We will forgive.
Those who mistreat us now,
We will forgive.
Those who will mistreat us tomorrow,
We will forgive.
Our parents who mess up,
We will forgive.
Our children who mess up,
We will forgive.
We, who mess up,
We will forgive.
Extending your mercy is hard, but
We will forgive.
Because our hearts are like noisy, dirty stables,
We will forgive.
You chose to dwell in Mary; you choose to dwell in us.
We will forgive.
We will do our best to make our hearts a home for you.
We will forgive.
We recognize your mercy, Lord.
We will forgive.
Help us prepare for your coming. We begin by saying,
We will forgive.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Can you say light?

Under any normal circumstances, I would never head out in such cold weather (it's in the teens here...) to go on a stroll after dark. However, this evening was the annual luminary walk here in Muncie. This means that there are candles in plastic containers lining the walkways in and around Minnetrista, our local cultural center.

Because of this, we all put on two layers of pants, shirts, and socks, along with hats, mittens, and coats to brave the cold. We even took the dog out for the occasion. There were horse-drawn carriages carting people in coats and a dance team performing to Christmas songs. Israel was amused by the horses, but not as much as Sophie was. He also liked the dance troop, but declined to pretend he could clap for them from inside his mittens. We used the opportunity to practice some of Israel's newer words and gestures (listed in the title), but I don't think his mouth worked any better than mine did due to the cold and it's rather difficult to sign while wearing mittens.

I wish I could honestly say the evening was as happy as this picture, but unfortunately, Israel likes the cold as much as his mom. He could be heard screaming as his dad and I took turns carrying his stiff, contorting body back to the car from the furthest point on our trek. We have since all calmed down and thawed out from the experience and, though it's not representative of our time in some ways, I couldn't wait to use my re-functioning fingers to share this token of our time. The chance at the mood conveyed in this picture will send us into the cold again about a year from now, I'm sure.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

advent: we will have hope

This marks the first week of advent. Sunday was the first Sunday of the season, so you aren't too far behind if you've missed it.

We greatly appreciate the season of advent each year as it helps us focus on the reason we have something to celebrate this time of year. By the time Christmas comes, I feel as though I have been waiting for it a long time and am ready to burst. Though, to be honest, Christmas always feels like a let-down after Advent because I'm not at some great party where we all sing songs and dance because Jesus came to earth. No, more likely than not, I'm looking for so-and-so's present and eating food I didn't even have the joy of making. (Pat and I are strange people who actually LIKE the idea of hosting large meals, except for the dishes.) Advent, however, is more what I want out of Christmas...just lacking in full-out celebration.

I love advent because of its paradoxical nature: we look both backward and forward at the comings of Christ. Both comings give us reason to hope and reason for great longing. We see so much wrong in the world and ourselves that the "then and not yet" of Christ fills us with a yearning akin to that of lovers apart. On the one hand, it is wonderful to have as your own a person so worth missing. On the other hand, to know the thing that you miss is more difficult perhaps than not knowing what you were missing to begin with. At this time every year, we take the chance to fully miss Jesus not being here while being entirely grateful that he came in the first place and looking forward to seeing him again.

This year I am in charge of the advent proceedings at our little church. After doing a bit more research online, (if you'd like to see what I saw, go here for a bit of history and here to see a newer take on the church tradition.) I decided to write responsive readings for our youth to lead after an adult shares what that week's theme and character mean in his or her own life. The character for this week was the prophets (we read Isaiah) and the theme was hope. The couple who shared their thoughts are our friends who were able to adopt a little girl this year. They had felt for years that God wanted them to adopt a little girl through no conventional means and they spoke about how being given a promise by God can make you feel crazy and going for years without seeing the promise fulfilled makes you feel even crazier for believing it in the first place, bringing up all kinds of questions about the Promise Maker and the believer alike. However, seeing one of God's promises fulfilled is an unbelievable gift -- much better than you would have dreamed based on the words of the promise alone. God gave us the promise of His Son to the prophets long ago and when we look at the world, we can still have hope because of those same promises. And we know from particular instances (such as theirs) that the way God keeps His promises doesn't tend to look the way we would imagine it to, but is instead a better fit than we could've imagined. If I am ever able to get a copy of what they wrote to share, I will happily share it with you, as it's better written than I can do justice. However, I will share what I wrote on the subject and invite you to read along with our congregation in the coming weeks of Advent.

God has given light to the world.
We will have hope.
We live in a world full of darkness.
We will have hope.
When we see problems we can't solve.
We will have hope.
When we see a problem solved.
We will have hope.
When we don't understand why.
We will have hope.
When the bad guy wins.
We will have hope.
Because the bad guy will not win in the end.
We will have hope.
When our friend has failed us again.
We will have hope.
When we have failed again.
We will have hope.
When we see the evil in the news.
We will have hope.
When we see the evil in our hearts.
We will have hope.
Even though the world is broken.
We will have hope.
We know someone who can save the world.
We will have hope.
We know someone who has saved us.
We will have hope.
We know someone who will keep saving us.
We will have hope.
Because we are broken.
We will have hope.
Our Savior has promised to come again.
We will have hope.
Advent happens more than once.
We will have hope.
Like the prophets, we look forward to His coming!
We will have hope.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ybba Raed,

So my mom tells me I need to be a writer. She is going around showing people my latest blog entry about selling Myrtle (I'm coping, thanks...) and gathering their responses to bolster her position. She then tells me one more reason that I need to be a writer: because so-and-so said so, too.

I was telling this to my English teacher friend today and she said her friend's blog was picked up by a magazine. They now pay him to write the blog he had been writing anyway as his job. Lucky guy. I laughed that someone would only pay me to run 25% of my blog; as cute as Israel is, I doubt the picture posts are of much interest to people who don't know us. Barring the unlikely good fortune of having someone just decide that they want to pay me to write this blog, (and by all means, let me know if you're interested!) I would probably have to do free-lance writing for...someone...or just decide, "Hey, I'm going to write a book!" and wait to see who would publish it. How does one become a (paid) writer? Hmm....

Here is the real snag, though: I don't know what to write about. I pretty much only write when something bad happens to me or when I'm dealing with a weighty issue, so I am nearly completely at the mercy of my life's experiences to come up with material. Supposing I had the good luck of continued misfortune or difficulty, I could write my life as a series of unfortunate events. ...Wait. Already done.

The mere mention of writing as my job gives me a block. Maybe I am a literary hypochondriac who is just always afraid she will get writer's block and, therefore, has it. Or perhaps I am just not the sort of person gifted to think through practical problems. I can only state problems more precisely. That's helpful for as far as it goes, which isn't very far. That said, here is the problem: I don't have any clue who to ask to pay me for my work and even if I knew some options, I wouldn't know what genre of writing to pursue: comedy? tragedy? arm-chair philosophy? poetry? I suppose if one of you wanted me to write about your life, I could start there. (That is, unless some great and horrible thing happened to me tomorrow, giving me a lifetime of material.) Or I could just keep writing about my life as it happens on this blog for the time being.

Or how about I do an entry on here that is a reverse-advice column? How about you give me advice on what to write -- a writing assignment! For instance, my English-teaching friend suggested I write an article on when and for what reasons it is and is not appropriate to pass another car on the right-hand side. Maybe I'll use your idea or maybe (gasp, if you know me well...) I won't have anything to say about it. Maybe someone else will have some thoughts on the matter or maybe you'll decide to take up writing about it on your own. Maybe it will give me some good practice writing and some direction on what (if anything) to do next. That's what I'll do: write a reverse-advice column. ...Wait. Already done.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

the car, the companion, and the chrysalis

Given that my treasure lies in heaven, I have a hard time explaining to anyone (even myself) my strange attachment to certain fixtures in my life. Take, for instance, my old, sheet-covered couch. I will not get rid of it. I suppose I could find another couch that comfortably seats 4 and fits under my windowsill, but it would have no personality and I wouldn't like it. It did not come from the beloved old intern house, where it made its way from the porch to the living room to my very heart. So there is my couch. I will refurbish the whole thing (pricey, I know) before I will kick it to the curb.

But today I sold one of my beloved possessions. Pat and I agreed at some point that it was the best thing to do, both for us and for the person who bought it, but somehow I don't really remember why. I know I decided to do it (finally) in order to make dealing with its parting easier, since I know the day will come sometime. I went forward with the deal in many ways just to know I could do it.

So, today, Myrtle is no longer part of the McCrory family. (Really, she had no last name, but if she did, she would've had to have married into "McCrory.") Myrtle and I have an 11-year history of adventure together. As with many of the best relationships in my life, I didn't really like Myrtle at first. She was neither trendy nor old-school cool; she was a little frumpy and I felt a little frumpy by association. But we went together most everywhere because she was, after all, my first car: a teal-ish green used 1993 corolla with rounded features. She carried me and my best friend on after-school adventures and wasn't hurt at all by the couple of minor run-ins she had with my friends' cars. She hid me when I was late for work and changed into my work clothes on my way down the road. She waited for me to take her to college the second semester of freshman year and she didn't mind the small tear I gave her door when packing my dorm refrigerator. Myrtle moved with me to Michigan that difficult summer and loved that the speed limit was faster up there just as much as I did. She was not afraid when we were lost all alone in a bad part of Chicago on a road trip. She snuck with a small group of my friends to the rock quarry to swim at night. Do not be fooled by appearances; Myrtle was tough.

She was a bit sentimental, though, and proudly wore the good-luck mouse given to me by my friend from Russia. She gently carried Katya (our cat) to my appartment for her first night's stay and Sophie (our dog) back to our house after driving to get her from New Castle. She was soft enough to listen when I cried by myself while driving the roads around Muncie after seemingly losing my future husband. Myrtle heard some of our worst fights before we were married and took my side without saying anything. (I know this because she opened her door for Pat and then took me home every time.) She later proudly drove away, decorated with paint and tin cans on our wedding day.

In latter years, though, she also wore several scars made by people who didn't care about her. I'll admit she was starting to take on somewhat of a victim's attitude as people bumped her in parking lots, bashed her on a snowy night before driving away, and carved a word that I later turned into "Pluck" on her driver's side door. She didn't really say anything about it, but I could tell she struggled with a lack of self-worth as she stopped hiding her age, letting her paint peel and her ceiling material sag. She was starting to let herself go. She was still my first choice for bringing home our new little baby boy and I think we were both glad she made it to see that milestone in our transportation needs. I was willing to stick with her, even when someone stole her ability to play music on our rides together. But when she could no longer clear her back windsheild when it became clouded with cataracts in the wintertime, we both knew she couldn't carry the car seat any longer and her time with us was coming to a close.

So today she became the companion of a 20 year old guy who will hopefully be able to restore to her some of her youthful vigor and bring out that tough side of her. Even though I know she'll have many more adventures in her life with him than she will with me, I felt sad to bid her a fond farewell. I put Armor-all on her interior again and Pat vacuumed her out. I emptied her glove box of the souvenirs we collected (whether we meant to or not) over the years. I took the high school parking passes she used to wear on her rear-view mirror, but she kept the scratch over the passenger side door from moving day. I left her with the door handle broken by someone in need of a ride in hopes someone will be able to reattach it, though I could not.

I know its really silly, but I didn't watch as she drove off. I've had a good deal of fun personifying her over the years and it's funny to think of her as a cranky old lady who cared for you when you were younger. I guess I figured I would drive her until she died. I mean, after all, we came this far. Selling her at this point feels a little like sending her to the nursing home -- not nearly the way you would like to leave someone, even if they've become cranky or feel a little sorry for themselves most of the time. So I didn't watch as she left for what would probably be the final chapter in her mechanical life.

When I've told friends that I sold my first car today, they say, "Yeah. That was a sad thing to do." Perhaps it's a kind of sad thing to most people because it's saying goodbye to a space in which their life has taken place. It's like moving out of your first house. Your family is too big and the house is too small and many days you've hated the cramped quarters and cursed the plumbing, but you also remember the craziness with fondness and are hesitant to leave the landscape of years of your memories. As you close the door behind you, you know you are closing the door on a chapter of your life -- one you won't have the key to open ever again.

Sometimes objects become a sort of chrysalis from which you have to emerge once you've grown so much, so, like the caterpillar in Israel's book, today I nibbled a hole in the cocoon.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bobby and Daddy

At 14 months old, Israel is trying to say nearly everything. Here is a sampling of some of the words he says the most. ("Please," along with "more" and "eat" are currently signed and can get him many of the things he wants without the need for a tantrum, which is wonderful.) I've been upgraded from "Bubba" to "Bobby" in recent days, which is nice. Israel also understands all kinds of things and can do lots of the things you ask him to do. I'm amazed by this daily. I know this is about the age when nearly all kids seem to make some developmental leap, but it's still amazing when your own child starts communicating with you. (For a good, though redundant, book on the subject, check out Baby Signs by Acredolo and Goodwin. I just realized I sound like one the redundant lines from that book. )

Israel has also become quite the dancer, having learned a spin move to add to his bouncing, clapping, and head-banging. I have yet to be able to catch him in the act on video, though. Rest assured we'll share it with you as soon as I catch it.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fastest growing McCrory

This afternoon, Pat and I went to our ultrasound appointment for Peanut. We thought you might want to share in the experience.

Peanut was pretty subdued during the ultrasound. (This was a great shift from my regular check-up earlier this week when we couldn't hear the heartbeat because Peanut kept kicking the monitor...probably due to my rare glass of Coke prior to my appointment. Add that to the list of things not to do again.) We were quickly able to get a face shot or two. Here they are.
Of course, Peanut looks like an alien. But there are two eyes and a nose (which looked like Pat's as we saw the image twist and turn and could get a better idea of the 3-D image) and a mouth (which yawned for us), and that 's all good. We saw a backbone and a beating heart and a diaphragm which was fully formed (which I know to count as a huge blessing, since my friend's baby died earlier this year do to complications involving a not-fully-formed diaphragm) and a brain. We saw arms (up by the face in the picture to the lower left) and fingers in a fist (pointed out in the picture to the lower right).
Peanut was all curled up tight for the photo session, as is evidenced in these last two shots. The first here is the profile picture, but the umbilical cord is up by the nose and makes it hard to distinguish the actual face. (The top of the head is on the left and the sticking-up spot is the nose and mouth and umbilical cord.) We decided to find out if Peanut is a boy or a girl. But Peanut was not very cooperative. The tech tried to nudge the legs apart, but they were crossed most of the time, either at the ankles (as in the picture on the right) or at the knees. Peanut also had a hand stuck down there for much of the time when we actually thought we could get a peek. But after some finagling around, a bathroom break, and a few extra minutes of effort on the tech's part, Peanut gave up the secret.
Peanut is a girl! (I'm not posting a picture of that evidence online.)

Before anyone goes out and buys a bunch of pink ruffles, if Peanut becomes a girly-girl, it will not be from our encouragement. And she will be sharing a room with Israel, so we don't need pink for the room. We don't think Israel would appreciate it. (Ahh...the joys of getting all gender-neutral items for your first child!) That said, we did go out and buy a girl's set of onesies to celebrate. Besides, Israel and Peanut will have birthdays opposite each other on the calendar, so only spring and fall clothes will overlap in purpose for them.

We are excited to be having a girl. I know we would be excited to be having a boy for different reasons, but we are actually pretty pumped to be having a girl. We hope Israel likes her. We already do!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The bathtub, the backyard, and beyond

We have been having a great time with Israel lately. He is quite the toddler now and is learning to do all kinds of things. A couple weekends ago, we enjoyed the Indianapolis Zoo and White River Gardens with Grandpa Mike and Grandma Alice. It was a cold day, but Israel didn't seem to mind and I loved seeing his little face peeking out at me all day from under his hat.

At the zoo

with Grandma Alice in the gardens

at the petting zoo

He has been learning all kinds of things lately. He can now give real kisses and will clean up his own toys if he hears you sing the "Clean Up" song. (I was SO impressed and surprised by that one this week!) He likes to brush his own hair and his own teeth and still goes to the potty sometimes (though not when he's sleeping, which is a drag most mornings). He says "mama" now, but after all I've done, he really calls me "Bubba," while "daddy" gets a clear, "Da-da!" He loves trying to repeat whatever you tell him to and babbles to himself constantly. He can communicate when he's "done" eating, when he wants you to turn on the record player (that's right...RECORD player...) which he loves to clap and dance to, and likes to pick out books to read, demonstrating a preference for certain books one day and other books the next. He is fascinated with putting objects inside things and taking them back out and likes playing games mimicking up and down movement. He giggles about things like discovering he can squirt water out of this bath toys and chasing the dog around the house (and he also giggles about seemingly nothing at all). He's a fun little guy who is ALWAYS on the go these days. Here are a couple of examples:

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween!

We debated taking Israel trick-or-treating, but decided in favor of it rather last-minute. Thanks to a very cute outfit a friend gave us from her trip to China, a cereal box, and a little creativity, we think we pulled it off fairly well. (...given that we started the whole process at half-hour before dinner...) We also had a little fun carving our pumpkins last night and thought we'd share the "fruits" of that labor with you as well. Enjoy!

Pat's is the symbol for Christ (left) and Lezlie's is a bird flying with a nest and egg in the background (right).

The only shot of Israel actually wearing the hat while putting on the finishing touches.

Trick-or-treating with mom

trick-or-treating with dad

Our blonde-haired, blue-eyed China doll.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Black and White and Red all over

What is black and white and red all over?
-A newspaper.-
Ha, ha.

So that joke isn't really funny. But neither is what I'm actually talking about.

Our sermon yesterday was on loving your neighbor. Most of you know that we have moved into our neighborhood to do just that in the most literal sense imaginable. We chose this "downwardly mobile" path into the economically, spiritually, and educationally depressed part of Muncie along with 10 other families in order to get to know and love the people who would be our neighbors here. So far, we know the man next door fairly well. He's an avid gardener who has been down on his luck for many years and is now in his 50's. We had him over for cake on his birthday last year and for meals sporadically. We prayed diligently for him when we found out we were friends with his son (and daughter-in-law and grandson), from whom he had been estranged for years and did all we could to facilitate their renewed relationship. We receive all kinds of gifts from him in the form of vegetables and do what we can to give back to him. Loving our neighbor? Check!

But that's not the end of it. Because he is not our only neighbor. We also have a couple with two little girls across the street with whom we have had the opportunity to become friends over the past year and a half or two. This year we went to the guy's birthday party and to the baby shower for their newest daughter. Pat even helped him land a job with his cleaning company when he got laid off. But we haven't had them come to our side of the street yet. This is because there is a lot to cross in that street. And that is because this family is black. And we're white.

When Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, the moral of the story was more than, "Be the nice person who is always willing to help someone in need." There were two races involved here: the Jews and the Samaritans (who were half-Jew and half-not-Jew and were hated because of it). Jesus told the story because a Jewish man, seeking to justify his "love of his neighbor," asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" The answer to this is of the highest importance, because Jesus tells us that loving God and our neighbor is what all "religion" should boil down to and that if we do not love our neighbor, we cannot say we love God. So it's pretty important that those of us who claim to love God get this right. In answer to, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan. It's the story of a man who gets beaten and robbed and left for dead. Two religious Jewish men pass by, while a Samaritan tends to the man's wounds and pays to have him stay somewhere safe for awhile. Jesus asks the Jewish man a question in return: "Who was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The Jewish man answered, "The one who had mercy on him." He did not say, "the Samaritan," but that's who it was. The Samaritan -- the one least like him and who his culture treated with no dignity -- was the neighbor.

It is not always easy for me to love people like me. I could spend my whole life just trying to love the people who are my friends and still fail miserably. But trying to love the person most unlike me? I find it hard to even strike up a superficial conversation. I don't think I hate the people who are most unlike me. I do a nice middle-class thing and just don't love or hate them; I avoid them. That's pretty neutral ground, right? How can you un-love someone you never spend time with? But what I was reminded of is that not spending time with those unlike me is me not loving them. I'm pretending they don't exist. And isn't that the worst? Isn't that what the two religious men in the story did? neighbors. They are good people. We actually like them. But they're not like us. And that can be intimidating. We finally invited them to come over and play dominioes this week, but it's taken us this long to extend the invitation. I've been afraid of making a complete fool of myself. I've racked my brain trying to think of anything we have in common to do, but thought there was nothing. Our skin is different and so are our cultures, even though we live in the same neighborhood and have grown up in the same country. I don't listen to the same kind of music they do. I don't use the same lingo. There are tons of hidden rules from our cultures that we're not aware of and we will step all over them without knowing it. (I've been reading a book by Ruby Payne that helps teach me what they are, though....things like everyone talking at once is not rude and the T.V. being loud is just the expected thing in a house. But man, do I value my sort of orderliness and peace and quiet!) There are plenty of little things I'll have to compromise on or be flexible with and forgiving and apologetic about if I'm going to have any sort of meaningful love for my black, across-the-street neighbors. And they'll have to accept me and my cultural weirdness, too. I mean, what if they come over and think my nerdy sense of humor is lame and that I'm just really boring? What if I'm overly-sensitive about the race issue? What if we never talk about it at all? How would we really be friends, since race plays SUCH a role in Muncie, without talking about it? But what is there to say? ...Maybe we'll all just be really into dominoes. What then? Dinner? They don't like vegetables! What'll I ever make for them?

These sound like stupid little things: what we like to eat, how we carry on conversation, what kind of music (if any) we keep going in our house all day, what style of clothes we wear, what we think is funny, what kind of atmosphere is familiar and comfortable for us. But these are the sorts of things that are hard to give up for friendship. We want our neighborliness to be comfortable. I mean, who wants to go do things and have conversations that feel awkward and easily offensive? Isn't it just easier to avoid those sorts of things?

And that's the problem. Jesus came to make a body on this earth that would represent Him. And he was pretty plain that it was to cross lines of race and money and gender and age -- things that keep us apart so easily. But if His body doesn't look like that, then it doesn't represent Him well. If the gospel we preach isn't strong enough to bond people with light skin to people with dark skin, then it surely isn't strong enough to bond crooked human beings to a Holy God. What kind of gospel are we preaching, after all?

We're here to create, in the most blunt of terms, a church that is black and white and red all over. We want our representation of Jesus to look like he meant for it to look: people who have not historically liked each other coming together under the blood of Christ. But, though some lines of financial means are slowly being crossed (and it is very hard to be friends with someone who has significantly more or less money than you do...), the race issue is proving tricky here. There is not a single church around here (and probably not in your town, either,) where blacks and whites worship together. Our church is hoping to change that, but it takes a long time to tear down walls that have been up for so long, both in our personal lives and in our racially-charged community. (Did you know Federal mediators had to come to Muncie last year just to re-name a prominent street near a black part of town Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.?) It took someone giving his life blood to make it possible and it will take us and many others laying down our lives for others to really see what He did.

Please pray for our church as we look for ways to truly partner with some African-American leaders to help heal the wounds in our community. We have a diverse generation of kids who we are discipling to be the leaders of this community in 10-15 years, but we would love it if the leadership of our church was more diverse before then. We know this will take sacrifice on our part to give up things we have had control of and it will take sacrifice on the part of whoever joins us to put up with us as we learn how to give up that control.
Pray that we (Pat and I and the other families in our church) will be good neighbors to the people around us who are not like us. It so often seems like we can't even keep tabs on each other very well, and we could easily become a church where all we do is take care of the people who started it, but if we are to really do what we all know God brought us here to do, we have to begin the slow, hard work of really getting to know and love the people into whose neighborhood we moved.
Pray for some black leadership so that we can show that the difference between our families and the families of the kids we know is not primarily a difference of white and black, or middle- and lower- class upbringing, but of having Jesus and not having Jesus. (It's just that the people who lead the church right now all happen to be white people from the middle class...and we will not have done our job until that changes.)

After all, if we can't show a gospel that bonds us together with our neighbors, we can't show a gospel worth having at all.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Greetings from Pat (who is in the process of collecting whatever fruits, nuts, or other food he can find to harvest around our neighborhood), Lezlie (not pictured here, who is in the process of collecting her thoughts on life post-college, pre-second-child, and pre-election day), and Israel (who is collecting bits of nature for the house and words for his expressive vocabulary such as dog, cat, and down verbally, and "hey, look at me," and "please" in sign language). (Wow. That was quite a sentence!)

This post will likely lack some of the coherence of its predecessors, but it's about time to put something new up here. Our family has been trying to enjoy fall to its fullest. It's strange that both Pat and I feel like we start to come alive when the plantlife starts to die, but that's how it goes for us. We love the fall and squeezing as much as we can out of the few drops of evening sunlight left.

With the financial good (as opposed to "great") depression looming ahead, this is a great time of year to renew our efforts at living frugally. It's harvest time and we're doing all we can to keep the fruits of our labor (and our neighbor's labor and the labor of the fruit trees around that no one tends) from rotting on the ground. We're still picking yellow pear tomatoes from the renegade plants that grow in our garden year after year, whether we plant them or not. As I write, I have a couple bags of them as well as a bag of actual pears that I need to save from rotting in my kitchen. I've taken to canning this year, and it's really not that hard. I've put away yellow pear tomato preserves and pear honey and Pat and I worked on canning the green salsa together. It feels good to plant seeds, water them, pick their fruit, cook it, and have it in jars in your pantry. Talk about seeing a process through!
my first small attempt at canning pear honey

I have been heading outside during the days with Israel to enjoy the moderate temperatures and the colors. Pat and I went on a nature walk with him through Christy Woods here in Muncie this weekend, which he loved, since his new favorite toy was scattered all along the path: sticks. Israel loves to pick up, turn over, carry around, chew on, spit out, and share most any stick he meets, whether it is the size of his hand or twice the length of his body. He seems to like them even more than his second-favorite toy: rocks. (They get the same treatment as sticks.) So we spend as many afternoons as possible in the native environment of his inanimate pets.

Much of Israel's time outdoors has been with his friend, Judah. The difference in their approach to nature is funny to us moms every time they go out together, as Judah likes to run and explore the whole place at once, it seems, and Israel prefers to take it slow and appreciate each little twig. Every now and then their paths cross and they "play together." Lauren and I might still have more fun with their interraction than they do (since they share good taste in sticks, apparently...) but our times together make for camera-worthy events. Here are some samples.

Israel staying close by as Judah scopes out the scene.

sharing good taste in sticks

aah...the stick.

The dogs join us for fun, too. That's Judah's dog, Max, in front, and our dog, Sophie, in the back. They share good taste in tennis balls.

"I know there's a stick in here somewhere."

There. Now that you're enjoyed some of fall indoors with us, go out and enjoy a little of it outside! And feel free to drop by if your outdoor trek brings you this way.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sweet little boy

Israel is such a sweet little boy these days. Here is just one example. I couldn't wait to post. Even though the quality isn't the best in one respect, it certainly is in another!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Waking up in Red River Gorge

This weekend, Pat and I celebrated our fifth anniversary! Wow. We combined milestones and had Israel spend his first night at his Granna and Papaw's without us. It was a little harder than I had anticipated to leave him and drive and hour and a half away to the middle of Red River Gorge, but the report is that he was even better behaved for his grandparents than he is for us at home. He had a blast -- went to bed and woke up happy every time!

Red River Gorge is our favorite place to wake up celebrating our anniversary; we have gone there four out of five years. Last year, we didn't think Israel was old enough either to go camping or go without us.... Next year, we will have a six-month old, so we will miss the Gorge again. That meant this year was to be cherished. We went on a hike on part of Rough Trail. (That's really its name.) There were parts of the trail that lend themselves easily to our joke: "Geez! This is a rough trail!" It was challenging for a pregnant woman, but the sites and the company made it all worth it. We took a nap (meaning Pat took a nap and I laid there resting) on the forest floor on our way. The ground there was even more comfortable than our camp site!

This is a rough trail!

Under one of the many rock formations along the way.

On our honeymoon in Ithaca, New York, we promised ourselves that we would return there on..oh...say, our fifth anniversary. It's strange, the way we project ourselves into the future. It felt like we were a fledgling new couple at the time, at least financially, which seems to be the primary way the world measures your stability. I figured that by our fifth year, we would be much more "stable." Pat and I both thought, at the time, that we were spiritually ready to conquer the world as we met new and interesting people in Ithaca, including a hitch-hiker we picked up who blessed us before being on her way. We felt like our whole life we would give and receive blessings from all kinds of people wherever we went (and "wherever" had a broad scope, then, it seemed). While I hope that Abrahamic promise may still prove to be true, (and I certainly can count blessings that have been given to us along our way so far) life at five years of marriage doesn't look quite like we had expected, though we also aren't sure what we expected. Maybe we thought we'd have careers. Maybe we thought we would live in a house that wasn't half undone. Maybe we thought we would be doing something really cool and ministerial, like planting an urban church community.

Life has a way of being what you thought it might be while at the same time being nothing like you'd expected.

If you would've told us that we would be a helping start a church in an urban neighborhood, working with a racially diverse group of youth and alongside a group of people who had committed to the same task for years to come, we would've found that a wonderful way to live. And of course, we knew there was an Israel McCrory in the picture at some point, so why not now? And here we are, doing exactly the work we thought sounded ideal and with not only Israel, but a cute, healthy, babbling, walking Israel and his sibling on the way! Yet our life sounds more exotic when described in a sentence than when you're mowing the weeds in the yard of your urban house or doing the dishes dirtied by the youth who just left your house. I wonder if ministry and models have that in common: they're glamorous from a distance, and less so when you wake up with them every morning. But life is all about what you wake up with every morning.

So Pat and I wrestled somewhat with the way we thought things should be at this point while we were in the Gorge. It isn't Ithaca, but it is a beloved, familiar place to us (and it doesn't cost a plane ticket to get there). We weren't hiking near waterfalls or going to the great farmer's market there or eating at one of the MANY ethnic restaurants Ithaca had to offer, but we did hike in the mountains and we did go out for Thai food a couple nights before with our good friends Josh and Michelle (and Heron, their little one). So we are where we hoped we'd be in some ways. And in many ways, we haven't even begun to dive into all the possibilities in the people around us. There is more to explore in the exotic? Muncie. Sometimes it takes going away to realize it.

We read our vows to each other on the cliff where we have re-read them times before. I am glad we wrote them as things we asked God to help us do rather than things we promised we would do, because the things you have to do to have a good marriage are too hard to be able to do on your own. Had we not prefaced our vows with words like, "I call upon God to help me to...," I would feel like a miserable failure every year. But instead, we renew our call out to God to help us love each other and live our life together well, in service to other people. And we read over some of your notes to us that you wrote at our wedding. Some notes are from people who are far away; others have since passed away. They serve as a reminder of the "cloud of witnesses" who cheer and encourage us through this life. And somewhere between the calling on God and the voices of people who have gone before, or are coming after, or are going alongside us, we are renewed to go and wake up embracing our life for another year.

On the cliff where we renewed our vows and ate some good camp-food dinner: Pat, Lezlie, and "Peanut", 98 days big.

Friday, September 19, 2008

family night

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Cold rockin' it on a Friday night. Israel was getting bored with just walking.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Israel's first birthday

Israel's birthday has been...SWEET! I had not intended for Israel to be overwhelmed with the typical sugary-sweetness of the typical birthday all of a sudden just because he turned one, but things don't always go according to a mom's theory about things. Israel didn't seem to mind one bit. So here is the low-down on the people, the food, and the new things Israel has enjoyed for his first birthday.

We wanted to stick with things and activities for his birthday that Israel would actually enjoy, but that can be a little tricky when he is pretty happy just greeting his dog in the mornings. On his actual birthday, we spent the afternoon with Judah and his mom, who you may have met in previous posts. We all ate lunch, played in the living room, and went on a bike ride together. That evening, our families went to Puerto Vallarta, a local Mexican restaurant that Israel has enjoyed in the past. He likes Mexican food (shares our fajitas and salsa and gets his own guacamole) and the music that plays in the background. We also thought he would like the employees singing to him and clapping. You can see the results of our experiment here:

His unhappiness didn't last very long, so don't worry. He had the sympathy (the "aw...'s" at the end of the video make that apparent) of the whole restaurant, and besides that, when the "noise" was over, he was left with a tortilla covered in honey, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream in the shape of a number 1. I had not expected a restaurant to present a birthday dessert to a baby (though I should've known better by the number of people in the general population who ask if they can give him lollipops...). He dug right in (with a little help from his dad).

We also had fun opening a few presents for him. He got several cards and a book on his birthday. He liked pulling the cards out of their envelopes and being allowed to play with them.

He has since received several more presents and has liked them all. His favorite thing, though, has been the mylar balloon we bought him. I've decided it might be "the" gift for a one-year-old. I hope he stays this easy to please. He has a great "I find this interesting" sort of face he puts on when exploring the new things and will often point at them and say, "daaa....." in a tone that lets you know he's patiently explaining the thing to you. He got his first puzzles and likes taking the pieces out of their spaces, if not putting them back in. He also got new clothes that we will all appreciate in future pictures when the weather gets cooler.

On Sunday, we went out to lunch with the grandparents (minus Grandma Terri and Grandpa Jim, who couldn't make a drive from Arizona in time for lunch...) and came home to enjoy carrot cake. Our dog, Sophie, seemed to have enjoyed ten of the twelve cupcakes, but we had a couple still left when we returned in addition to a small cake. (How nice of her to share!) Israel liked the small gathering and REALLY enjoyed the cake his dad had made. He ate nearly the whole cupcake in ONE BITE! (His dad was able to take a little of it away from him.) You can see some of the action in the video clip at the took him too long to chew up what he had bit off for me to record it all. Suffice it to say it was more of the same for at least a minute or two. Watching it reminded me of one of those nature videos where a snake swallows some poor creature three times the size of its mouth.

While not officially part of his birthday celebrating, Israel has been honing his walking skills and wanted to show them off to you. He goes all kinds of places using only his feet now and can walk the length of living rooms that aren't as long as ours. Tune in again for more of Israel's sweet adventures!