Friday, December 11, 2009

Eden's dedication

This past weekend, we had Eden's dedication service. Much seemed to be going against it, with Israel crouping up suddenly the day before, fever and all. I started coming down with the yuck as well. Going in to church that morning, I found out that we were moved to the smaller cabin, which was bad news since our growing group has been scrunching into the larger cabin. I had invited friends and family for the service -- which would mean more people than usual in less space. But it was precisely because I had people planning to come that I did not cancel.

We were so blessed by those who were able to be with us that day. My family came up for the weekend and Pat's dad and step-mom were at the service as well. Sue and Matt and their kids were there. It was wonderful to be able to worship with our blood family and to have them giving their smiles to the occasion.

Eldon and Louise Morehouse came as well. I'm not quite sure what words would best describe how humbled and honored we felt to have them there. They are older and wiser than most anyone else we know and their presence carries a weight that others' does not. We know them mostly from our time at Muncie Alliance, so in some way, they bring with them a blessing from our parent church.

But for some reason I can't quite articulate, I was most honored by the presence of our friends and neighbors who do not typically come inside a church. In the past, perhaps I would have been most glad to give them a reason to come to a church. Or maybe I would have spent the service hoping something would make them want to keep coming. But this time, (though I certainly want for them all the richness that Jesus gives to me...) I was more just happy for what I was receiving from them. They don't go to church, but they came for us. I am sure one man in particular was quite uncomfortable, as he really has a bad taste in his mouth when it comes to church, but he came. And because he came, I know he loves us. Our neighbors love us! What a huge blessing! They were willing to set aside their schedule and be uncomfortable in a way that the rest of our friends and family didn't have to be just for us. We feel so honored by their friendship -- so honored and grateful.

As we did with Israel, we had people come up and pray over Eden. Beautiful people prayed beautiful things over her. They thanked Jesus for her. They affirmed the peace and the quiet joy about her. Eldon prayed that she would love "the least of these." I cannot think of a more beautiful gift that could be given to her or to those around her. If my daughter lives a peaceful, quiet, joyful life characterized by a love of "the least of these," I will be one proud (in the good way), grateful mom!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Israel in words and moving pictures

This month there has been much to record in the lives of my children. It's becoming harder and harder to capture them in pictures. And as for Israel, the rule that observing things changes them certainly applies; if you are seeing him, he has most likely changed into someone else. He is easily overwhelmed by people. So I thought I would share the little boy I spend my days with with you.

Israel is in many ways still the infant I knew over two years ago. He's still very determined and easily made "mad" over things not going exactly according to his plan. He does not do things half-way. He likes things to be just so. But he is also very loving and tender and spontaneous in his own way. He speaks pretty well for himself these days, so here are a few stories from his life this month to let you in on what a great kid he is to have around.

After he had been misbehaving (being mean in word and deed toward our very patient dog), I was talking to him about what I expect of him:
"I want you to be a kind and gentle person," I said.
"No, I not," Israel said.
"Israel, I want you to be a kind and gentle person."
"No. I not a person."
"Yes, you are a person. All people are persons."
"No, I not person."
"Israel, all people are persons. If you are a people, you are a person. You're a people; you're a person. I'm a person, Daddy's a person...all people are persons." I was baffled because Israel correctly uses the word "people" all the time. Did he think I was calling him a name? What in the world was so bad about being called a person?
He got loud and emphatic: "No, I not!" He pointed at my purse hanging on the back of a chair. "I not a purse-on!"
I can't argue with that.
"I want you to be kind and gentle."
"I not a purse-on."

He is learning the colors red and green while we drive around town these days. I was recently stopped at a light, waiting to turn left. The arrow turned green. I pushed the gas and could almost anticipate what came next.
Israel started, "You ha' tuh 'top."
"It was green, Israel. I know you might not have seen it."
"We ha' tuh 'top."
"I know. The big light was red, but the little arrow was green, so it's okay. Green means go."
"We ha' tuh 'top, Mommy. We ha' tuh 'top."
I was glad when we saw the next red light. "This one is red, so we can stop now, Israel."
Everything as it should be.

Israel is deliberate. He does not leave things up to chance. While this can be frustrating or funny, it makes the way he loves that much more meaningful.

As I said, observing Israel most often changes him a lot. He clams up and tells me he "don't ha' tuh say, 'hi,'" to you or just leaves his response at, "No!" upon seeing you. It's a shame and I haven't quite figured out what to do yet. Sometimes I think he's afraid; sometimes it seems he's just being contrary for no good reason; sometimes I think he's just painfully shy. There have been only a handful of people Israel has taken to right away and he met one of those precious few this month: Ange. (He was too little to remember the last time he saw her.) She was the rare exception and it made my heart happy to see. Many of you likely remember Ange from our wedding at least, as she was my maid of honor. She's across the ocean these days, but I tell my kids to call her "aunt" so they'll know they're close to her, even if they hardly see her. She is not overwhelming in any respect, apparently. Israel was himself and played with her right away. Here's Israel's first piano duet with Aunt Ange.


Israel and I often play the "guess what" game these days. It's always playful. I started it by asking "Guess what?" before I said, "I love you." That evolved to Israel asking "Guess what, Mom. Guess what," and being entirely confused when I would answer, "What?" Now, he just anticipates my first answer for the most part and says either, "Mommy love Izzo," or "I love Mommy." But then he suddenly made it his own. I said, "Israel, guess who I like." He smiled.
"Israel, guess who I like."
"I like zou." (Zou = you)
"You like me? ...I like you!"
" I like zou, Mommy. I like zou," and he reached out to hug my face. He put his hands on my cheeks and played with my hair like I often do to him. "I like zou."
I almost cried. "I like you, too, Israel."

And tonight he came to me after I changed his sheets and made his bed and said, "Thank you...for make-ih my bed, Mommy. make me happy you make my bed."

He loves his books. He chooses the story of David and Goliath and reminds himself, "I no need be 'cared (scared)." He reads to his animals. He asked me to take this picture of him with his animals. These are his "special" ones: lion and bear. And his blanket. These are the things he loves. Before I took this picture, he had been reading to Lion and Bear. He takes care of Bear and often asks to clean his ears out for him or insists that, though he himself does not need to be sung to, I need to sing to Bear and kiss Bear goodnight. It's tender.
I thought I would let him read a book to you. I quickly realized we couldn't read the whole book in the 60 seconds allotted by the camera, but you get the idea. He's memorized nearly the whole thing!

Israel has also become quite the chef these days. Here he is, hard at work in his pajamas, making a splendid side dish to accompany the turkey that was in the "big" oven.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

a mountain becoming a mole hill

I realize I am past due for a blog for the grandparents. Sorry. Wait just a little longer.... :)

I'm still processing CCDA. Still. It's nearly a month later. It's funny how when you actually start trying to put into practice something new you've learned, you continue to think about it for a long time. It certainly helps that we returned from the conference to find ourselves studying the book of James in the Bible. For those unfamiliar with it, an over-simplified description is that it's the book in the New Testament that says, "Hey. Do those things you believe you should be doing."

There are two related beliefs I have that I'm trying to practice. (Perhaps I would more correctly say that I am "practicing"them. Sesame Street says that to practice means to try...and try.) The first was put into one of the songs we sang at the conference.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8

That walking humbly part does not come naturally, but it sure does help when trying to do justice and love mercy. It seems to me that most of the time in the Bible, when God talks about justice, it is mostly in the context of making sure those at a disadvantage in society (the poor, the orphan, and the widow) are taken care of. But when I think about justice, I mostly think about how other people -- even those at a disadvantage -- don't deserve better because they have bad habits x, y, and z. Now, I'm all for applying wisdom in helping others and am definitely in favor of empowering and against enabling, but I also am aware that I am missing out on the heart of God lots of times because of those neat-o terms I like to use.

You see, I like to judge. Sometimes I put my judging others under the name of other things that are good to do, such as "exercising judgment" or "walking the line between this and that" or "being careful," but really, it's just me reading only part of the verse. "I'll be good at the 'acting justly' part and someone else can be good at the 'loving mercy' part," I think. "I play this role in the Body of Jesus and you can play that one." Not judging someone just didn't seem like it was even an option to me. I automatically judge people all the time. "Well, it's probably okay that this bad thing happened to so-and-so. Maybe she'll learn not to do that thing she always does." "I'll give this thing to so-and-so, but I'll keep this thing to myself, because I don't want to encourage that bad habit in him." "It's okay for me to not go the extra mile for so-and-so's kids...they don't really care if their kids have this opportunity anyway." You understand. Maybe you're like me. Maybe you're not. (If you're not, don't tell me.)

But what I was shown was that, in my very act of thinking those thoughts, I became just as awful as "those people." Just as much in need of a Savior. I was missing out on the "show mercy" part of loving God just as much as other people may miss out on the "take care of your body" (and I only say that because "don't do drugs" is not explicitly in the Bible...) part. We're all missing out on the "make Jesus the Lord of your whole life" part. I am no exception. Me. I am no exception. What was that verse I memorized in Mrs. McKnight's kindergarten class? "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Sorry, Mrs. McKnight. I forgot which verse that was in Acts.) "All" includes me just like it includes the person next to me.

There's also that verse about how every valley will be exalted and every mountain will be made low and we all will see our Maker together. I'm learning to love that verse. Include me as a mountain being brought down. I'm learning to rejoice when I see the valleys rising up beside me. I'm learning that we're all on the same level when it comes to Jesus appearing in our lives. We will all see him together. And then I remember what John Perkins said, "Something about when God shows up, you do not feel overqualified."

That brings me to my second belief: we should love other people. Love. That's it. We like to put a whole bunch of "yeah, but's" after being told to love someone else. At least I do. God tells us to love people, but when I go to apply that to a particular person, I often have a "yeah, but..." and then some reason why it doesn't really matter. But it matters. Even if it doesn't matter to the other person, it certainly matters to the condition of my heart.

Bart Campolo spoke at the last night I was at the conference. He said several things that were a bit uncomfortable to hear, but most of what he said I tend to find true in practice. He talked about people whose "cards were punched" a long time ago. He talked about people who are like some of the people I know. Maybe they've been on drugs for a long time. Maybe they were so abused for years that they have hardly a mind left. Maybe they're just part of a family that has passed down the same bad habits generation after generation such that it's no surprise to find the youngest generation acting just like their parents. Maybe you know someone whose card was punched a long time ago. They are messed up. They probably won't change. You can give and give and give and their situation will stay the same. Loving them might not change a thing about them, but we are to love them anyway.

Love them. It sounds really hard, but it's not really...not if God gives you the gift of Himself. Loving them doesn't mean to change them. It doesn't mean to make sure they become moral. It doesn't mean to make sure they get their driver's license and a car. It means to treat them as your fellow human beings and to give them dignity, to listen to them and spend time with them. It means not considering yourself above them. We know what love means.

I have a hard time thinking that my love won't change people. And I think it's dangerous to walk too close to losing hope for people. But perhaps we have wrong expectations.

I mean, I know a guy who was a drunk for years. He'll tell you if you ever come meet him. He was abused as a kid -- hit in the head with a hammer -- and then drank for something like...oh, I don't know...say 40 years. And then Jesus saved him. He became sober. He's been sober for over 2 years now. It's a miracle. And we call them miracles for a reason, is what Bart said. Most people I have met in the neighborhood are more or less the same as they were when I first got here. If dramatic life changes happened all the time, they would be normal and natural. But they're not; they are miracles. Bart said they're miracles, even for God. I think he said it for shock value, but he then offered this explanation that helped me see his point: It is so rare that I actually obey and do the will of God. It is rare that you obey and do the will of God. But then for some reason we think that, when we put all of us rarely doing the will of God together, that suddenly the big picture is the will of God. We think that putting a bunch of people thwarting the will of God together equals God always getting what He wants. Well now, that does seem silly. People are truly messed up and disobedient. Of course God doesn't want that. But sometimes -- rarely -- we do the will of God. Sometimes we obey and sometimes we actually love. And that is a miracle.

If I put these trains of thought together, I come to the conclusion that me loving my neighbor is no more or less miraculous than my friend Jack being sober right now. It's no less miraculous than if we have young black boys growing up to be college graduates instead of inmates or girls realizing their value doesn't come from how they look or drug addicts becoming of sound mind. If the only thing that changes because I moved into this neighborhood is that Lezlie McCrory learns to love other people, well then, I'll be able to write about a miracle.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

While Israel is big boy enough for a three day, three night trip to Deeja and Papaw's, Eden stayed with us at the CCDA conference. She did an amazing job and we did not have to miss a single breakout session on her account. She napped in the ergo baby carrier, played quietly during the big group sessions, etc. She was the only baby-in-tow at the conference as her friends were old enough to go to the babysitters and since most everyone else in the group left their children behind for the conference, she was everyone's baby for the weekend. She liked being held by all kinds of people (though we all have our limits). Josh (pictured here) seemed to have a particular fondness for her and she enjoyed his airplane rides when she'd had enough of sitting still. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, I'd say. He got some I-miss-my-baby time and she got some "Something different, please," fun. Most of the time during the sessions, she was either strapped to me or Pat or playing with Josh.

During one of the group sessions in particular, though, Eden seemed bound and determined to interact with the stranger behind us. No matter where I sat her down to play or what toy I used to entice her to sit still, she kept crawling around or under my chair to get to whoever was sitting behind us. (I didn't want to turn around and make eye contact because it felt like an awkward situation keeping my kid away from someone she obviously wanted to see.) Finally, I heard a lady's voice say, "I can take her." It was the lady behind me...who I don't know at all. With a little bit of I'm-not-sure-this-is-really-okay grin, I handed her my kid. I tend to think small children have a sense about who is good and who is not. It's as though they have an ability to see spiritual realities we lose as we practice judging based on use of our five primary senses. I hope I'm not just naive for wanting to trust that in my kids. And I want to trust other people, even though most of the time I don't. There was that, and I figured most everyone at the conference was someone trying to be good and living the same sort of life I try to live, right? Besides, I wouldn't really know the "official" sitters for the conference either, right? Sometimes you just have to trust your kid to a stranger, right?

So there went Eden. I tried to check back behind me not so often as not to make whoever it was feel like they weren't trusted but enough to let them know I don't just expect them to be in charge of my kid for the duration. Every time I looked back, Eden was sitting perfectly happily in the lady's lap, leaned back with a big smile, looking into the woman's face. And the lady and the whole row of people sitting with her were smiling back at Eden. It seemed a perfect arrangement. I could listen to the speaker because Eden had all she wanted and so, it seemed, did the row of people behind me.

When the session was over, I turned around to meet the miracle lady who had so enchanted my Eden. Her name was Judy and she had a warm smile. When I thanked her for caring for my kid, she said, "I'm a grandma." Obviously, Eden could tell. But I'm sure Eden meets tons of grandmas in a given day and she has not ever -- before or in the weeks since -- so pursued a particular person. So we dubbed the lady Grandma Judy.

We were often late to the gatherings and did not sit in the same close-to-the-front seats during the next large session. And we didn't see Grandma Judy. But the following meeting, we were able to get our previous seats and found her there again, sitting right behind us. I said a quiet hello and she said, "I missed you the last time!" Eden quickly went to her again.

I have waited a bit to post this entry, both for lack of time and for want of thought. This little relationship was so short and strange and wonderful. It is such a beautiful thing when someone loves your kid -- I mean, really loves them. I felt totally loved by this woman because of how she loved my daughter.

And then it hit me: I bet God feels the same way about us when we love His kids. He feels loved when we love our brothers and sisters. I understood suddenly why loving God and loving your neighbor go so hand-in-hand. And I want to be good at loving my brothers and sisters, whether I know them well or not. I want people to be able to sense that about me -- to sense God's love in me -- and to be drawn to it despite all other distractions. I want to be like Grandma Judy.

Monday, October 26, 2009


This weekend, a group from my church (Urban Light) and our partner church (Deliverance Temple, a.k.a. the DT) went to the CCDA (Christian Community Development Association) conference in Cincinnati. (How's that for parentheticals in the first sentence?) I will admit that we all had been seeming a bit weary in doing good before we left. As for myself, I was down to either giving up on doing the good thing or, if I did it, all about making sure everyone knew I had done it and knew that it was not convenient for me. Sick.

I remember, as a weary teenager, going to Christian camps and the like and feeling like, when I came home, there was no way to communicate what had gone on while I was there. I wanted everyone to be as pumped up as I was. I was always disappointed and decided that adults either just didn't get it or that "mountain top" experiences, as Christians tend to call them, were something everyone expects you'll grow out of. At the first mass meeting of the conference, I kept thinking, "Why is it that all these adults are trying to do that thing that I did as a teenager? I think I may be too old for this. Except I was among the younger people there. This weekend let me know that this sort of experience is not something to grow out of, but something to mature into. When I see a bunch of people in a room, just itchin' for God to show up, I become cynical. I don't usually expect to see God, but perhaps that's because I so rarely really go trying to see Him.

The founder of CCDA is a man named Dr. John Perkins (pictured here). He is a 79 year old man from Mississippi who says things such as "she have" instead of "she has." When he talks, he has as his main points things like, "Love Jesus," and, "Love your neighbor, " and, "Read your Bible," and, "Listen to God," and, "Obey God." I have heard him speak several times in my life. The first time, I could barely get much past his horrible grammar. In later times, I listened and thought, "He is a simple-minded man. It is really sweet for Him to tell me all these things I already know." Later still, I thought, "Wow. This man has an amazing story to share and has done some great things. I have respect for that man." This time, though, I thought, "Love Jesus and my neighbor? Read my Bible? Listen to God? Obey Him? REVOLUTIONARY! I don't think I can even do it!" Hearing him talk, I felt God giving me the gift of being humble for awhile. I found myself wanting to sit and listen to these reminders all day long. I felt profoundly thankful for being told to love Jesus and to read my Bible and to do what it says. There was nothing intellectual about his talk. He had no new ideas. He offered no pats on the back for asking profound questions or looking for new insight into what the Bible really says. Instead, he said that the truth is we often ask questions looking for a way not to obey what we can tell very well what the Bible says. In the past, being the philosophy major that I am, I bristled at such talk. How dare anyone tell me not to use my intellect! However, now I find that I don't even care to try to understand any more about God. I have way too much to do trying to live according to what I understand of Him already.

He presented what has become almost a new idea to me: I am a sinner who needs to confess my sin and be forgiven of it. Ugh. Really? Me? I can be so judgmental of everyone else. I am SO GOOD at finding what is wrong with things and people. I am SO GOOD at finding what is right about myself. So good that I had almost convinced myself that there wasn't anything wrong with me. I was right not to care about the mom who doesn't dress her child properly or spend time with her, but spends her time and money to sit around and smoke weed (or whatever). I was right that I need not waste my time on her. In fact, it was wise for me to not waste time like that. I could just clothe the kid and that was enough. Right? ...Right? Alright, well, I'll just take her a cookie. That'll cover over my bad attitude, if I ever had one in the first place. My attitude was probably just righteous anger anyway.

But Dr. Perkins said that we can't just bury our sins or do something to kind of make it better. Like how his wife makes him a good meal when really she just needs to confess. And why is confession such a big deal, anyway? He said, "It's really just us telling the other person what they already know." I laughed knowingly about that. It's so easy for me to see when Pat just needs to apologize. "Hey, sorry for being such a jerk." Well, I already knew he had been a jerk. Him saying so actually made it easier to just move on. Why is it I think I should take the long way around, inch my inch convincing myself and others that I am never a jerk and that, if you think about it, I really am in the right?

Confession: telling someone else what they already know is the case. (And if they didn't already know about that bad attitude, they certainly aren't going to be mad about it after you confess and ask them to forgive you for it.) Kind of takes all that scare right out of it.

And then he did an altar call. I hate altar calls. So superficial. So something I did as a kid. So something people do just because they get emotional or something. So something that wears off after a few days. So something I really needed to do. I went up. I cried a little. I really felt sorry for my pride. I asked for words that speak life to other people instead of words that make me better than them. I admitted that I can't even talk right on my own. I asked for pity. I was made right with God...not because I had been able to explain to Him why I was right, but because I told Him what He already knew about why I was wrong. Why I am wrong. Why I will keep being wrong unless He changes me.

I am a sinner in need of a savior. So there.

There. Let's not move past that point for a bit. I have so much more to process about this weekend, but let's stop there for now. Let's revisit it over and over so we don't forget it. Remind me of it. Remind me like a simple-minded person. We will laugh and cry together about our foolishness. We'll cry because we are to be pitied. We will laugh because being called out on these matters lets us know we are known. Like I know when Pat is coming because of that annoying way he scoots his feet. God knows when I'm coming because of that annoying way I come explaining things to Him. "Lezlie, you're doing that again." "Oh, I almost didn't notice. Thanks. Sorry. Tell me if I do it again."Ad infinitum.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Among my betters

There are so many times I get discouraged living in our neighborhood. I see parents neglecting their children or abusing them. I see intelligent kids put into special ed. classes or on medication for no good reason. I see kids steal and bully. I see kids who have a horrible self-image and even worse self-esteem. So many problems we encounter every day here hinge on parents and education (not to imply that those two things should be in distinct categories). It can be a real head-scratcher trying to figure out how to do what is best for the kids while, at the same time, doing what is best for the parents.

Along these lines, however, there is now reason to rejoice in our neighborhood, thanks to the hard work and talents of many people.

Last year, a new charter school called the Hoosier Academy opened up in Muncie. It is an experimental model, set up as a hybrid between a brick-and-mortar school and an online school for students from kindergarten through 8th grade. The kids do online classes Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with their parents or learning coaches on a computer provided for them for free. Tuesdays and Thursdays, all the kids meet in graded classes and have school just like any other traditional school.

During meetings about the opening of the school, it seemed to draw mostly home-schoolish parents from as far as an hour away. And that is mostly who attended the school during its first year: white, middle-class kids. But my friends (and pastor) Andrew and Leslie Draper saw great potential for the kids in our neighborhood. One courageous, African-American 7th grader from our neighborhood decided to enroll that first year. He was the only black person in the school. Leslie Draper committed to being his learning coach, which meant that he would be at her house, receiving one-on-one instruction, transportation, and lunch every day he was with her. (Did I mention she and Andrew have a preschooler and a toddler?) Her dining room turned into a classroom. He tested into a 5th grade level for reading and math that year, even though he had been passed through to 7th grade in his previous schools. So he took science, history, and the like with 7th graders and went to the 5th grade class for reading and math. They worked very hard to get him caught up to his grade level. He endured no small number of jokes and racial slurs -- from whites and blacks, family and friends, adults and children -- for his decision. When I told him he was courageous, he said, "Everyone tells me that. I don't know why." When I tell Leslie she is a brave (and/or crazy) woman, she says, "Meh," smiles, shrugs her shoulders. Geesh.

This year, the young man, having graduated 7th grade, made what was undoubtedly a difficult decision to continue the Academy through 8th grade. So Leslie committed to being his learning coach again. But during the summer, our neighborhood elementary school (the oldest in Muncie) was closed in order to avoid being taken over by the state under No Child Left Behind. This opened the "how do we educate our children" question wide open. We, as a community, have a value for being fully part of the neighborhood and, as such, many of us had committed to sending our children to the neighborhood school. But when the neighborhood school shuts down, then what? Many parents in the neighborhood must've had the same question, because this year there are eight kids in grades K-8 who signed up for the Academy with Leslie as their learning coach!

Needless to say, there was much scrambling around to find a place to meet and people to help out, but when the dust settled recently, it seems we are left with a sustainable model for our new sort of neighborhood school that is great for the students, the parents, and the teachers. Leslie acts as principal/teacher in the building that used to house the office where Pat's company was based. The owner of the building, who is part of our church, is donating it for use as a one-room school three days a week. (Okay, so it has three small rooms, but who's counting?) Parents are required to volunteer at least one hour a week to help teach and some are doing even more than that! Other people from our community are volunteering as well and the students (at least on MWF) get to see people of various races, ages, genders, and education levels working together to bring them up. Other of us (including one of the parents) prepare and bring lunch for the kids and workers once a week. I am excited to do this on Wednesdays and have been tickled that the healthy food I make gets gobbled up. It is so gratifying to feed young minds the food they deserve!

This has brought out so much good in so many people (with room for more to come) and I am sure I know only the first hint of it. I see the Drapers sacrifice, a young man endure hardship, parents step up, break stereotypes, and boldly try something new. I see my peers come alongside to volunteer to tutor and to make meals and help tie up loose ends. A friend recently quoted C.S. Lewis in her matron-of-honor speech at my brother's wedding, and it certainly bears application here. In this endeavor, I feel a though I am among my betters.

Not the school kids, but another group of kids those courageous Drapers took on a trip to

*So many great ideas (giving kids a good education, empowering parents to educate their children, providing proper nutrition, modeling diversity, etc.) have been able to come together in this little learning center that I just have to share them! I hope this model can provide a great education for our neighborhood kids (which includes the McCrorys) as well as kids in other neighborhoods and in other cities and towns. Please get in touch with me if you want to learn more and I'll do my best to find answers to any questions you may have.

Friday, September 25, 2009

keeping current

I have a journal for each of my kids that I will give them when they are grown. I hope they are able to look back at their life through it and appreciate who they are then and how they became themselves. A couple of days ago, I wrote a little letter to Eden in her book and was amazed. I know from experience that things change quickly in the life of an infant, but Eden is moving from infant to toddler at a ridiculous speed and some days it feels to me that she has changed into an entirely different person overnight. In the last 20 days, the following things have happened:

- Eden learned to sit up straight by herself.
- Eden began sitting in a high chair and eating meals. (Thus far, they have included rice, oatmeal, pears, peaches, avocado, and green beans. She likes them all.)
- Eden's first two teeth broke through. She now has two little pointy ridges in the bottom of her mouth.
- Eden turned six months old.
- Eden learned to REALLY crawl and goes anywhere she wants.
- Eden was told "no" for the first time. (Okay, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration, but it was the first time I told her that in a pre-meditated way and not just because she had accidentally grabbed my hair or because I really meant to say, "Israel.")
- Eden was found crying, standing up in her pack'n'play; she had pulled herself up.
- Eden took her first big-girl bath.
- Eden started saying her first syllables: "Ba, ba" and "Ma, ma." (In addition to her laughs, gurgles, squeals, etc.)

What a busy month for a little one! It has all happened so quickly that I feel I am not able to reflect on it. I just keep playing catch-up to where she is. ("Oh! She is ready to do this." "Oh! She doesn't need that baby thing anymore.") I am re-finding all the places crawlers shouldn't go in the house. I am trying to remember the easy ways to make my own baby food. I'm trying to find time to sit and read books to just Eden by herself, because she is VERY interested in them at this age and can't really grab them when we're trying to share them with Israel. It is so different with a second child. With Israel, I was always reading the books, aware of what developmental step came next. With Eden, it's more of a, "Huh. She's doing THAT now. Is it time for that, yet?" It doesn't help that the little thing looks like she's about half her real age. She weighs in at a whopping 13 lbs., 13 oz. and is about 25 inches long. I had just started to be concerned that she was not growing last week when I put an outfit on her and realized I had been putting that outfit on her since she was a month old. The doctor says she's fine, that she's small, and that she acts like a nine-month-old! What a strange combination of looking young and acting old (well, for a baby). She does mind tricks on me all the time. Should she be able to handle all this toppling over when she's so little and delicate-looking? Do I think that because she's small or because she's a girl...?

Luckily, for her and for me, there is not much time for this over-analyzing. I don't even have time to remember to look for my book on child development! We're caught up in a current that is carrying us both toward more-completed versions of ourselves and I'm just trying to keep my eyes open to discover all there is to learn along the way.

Friday, September 18, 2009

these are the days

Oh, does life get fuller than this? My last post said I need more time, and I suppose that has proven to be true, as evidenced by how much time has passed between entries.

So much has happened. Life does not stop...for anything. Israel is now two years old; he is two in every sense of the word. I have decided that whining and throwing fits just happens and hope parenting can at least control the duration of the phase. We're about one week in and so far everyone is alive, if no better than that. These are the days that feel long and the days I have to remind myself why I love my job. To illustrate, here are a couple conversant moments from recent days:

First thing in the morning:
Me: Israel, who do I like? (I ask questions like this all the time and Israel usually answers, "Izoo!")
Israel: No. I

First thing another morning:
Israel: [climbs onto my lap] I hnuggle.
Me: You want to snuggle me?
Israel: Yes!

Emotions are tough things to learn about and master. Staying home with your two-year-old teaches you that we don't necessarily get much better at it as we get older. He messes up and has melt-downs. I mess up and have melt-downs (of a different sort, thankfully!). Israel and I have to apologize to each other sometimes. Here come a lot of lessons in self-control and patience for us both!

On the positive end (as though learning self-control and patience was not a good thing in the end), Israel seems to be fairly generous for a two-year-old. We have had several friends' birthdays lately and he enjoys giving presents to people. He voluntarily shares his toys with Eden. Of course, he also claims, "Mines!" about things here and there, but seems to be more naturally inclined not to be "stingy." If I'm having a hard time getting the house clean, I can enlist his help by asking him to help make Daddy happy when he comes home. He loves that idea. Israel also seems inclined to do what is polite (with the exceptions of hugging people and saying hello to someone's face rather than after they're gone). He often says, "Thank you," without being prompted. He compliments food he likes by saying, "Thank you, Mommy. It good! Very nice! I like it!" On his birthday, I told him the polite thing to do when people tell him "Happy Birthday," is to say, "Thank you." He went around all day, saying, "I tell people...Thank you!" It is fun to watch virtues emerge. There are flowers among those thorns!

As for Eden, she continues to be sweet as can be. She can fully sit up on her own (though I am happy to report that she still also does the "senior portrait" sitting-up pose often) and is eating solid food. Thus far, she has liked everything: rice cereal, oatmeal cereal, avacado, and pears. On Israel's second birthday, she turned six months old. On that very day, she began to crawl in earnest and now can make her way from the front of the house to the back of it if she is so inclined. There was almost no teaching her these things. My girl can do whatever she puts her mind to doing.

As she becomes more mobile, I get to see new areas of her personality developing. There is much toppling over these days and, while she can sometimes handle it just fine, she seems pretty sensitive over some little things. When she reaches a small barrier or feels she may be stuck in any way, she cries as though the world would end that moment. Her cries are some of the saddest, "Why is this happening to me?" cries I have ever heard. While Israel's cries nearly always came off as mad, Eden's nearly always come off as heart-broken. Those of you who have seen it can testify: She'll break your heart.

I do not cease to be amazed by how very different my two children are from each other. I enjoy watching their two personalities interact and wonder how they will shape each other as they grow. I think they will be good foils for each other.

That said, here are a few pieces of eye-candy for you.

Israel last year

Israel this year

Israel and Judah did their best to break the paper-mache pinata I made. Remarkably, no children were injured in the making of this video.

Eden showing a little bit of a crawl. She can really go quite a bit faster, but I haven't captured it...yet.

Friday, August 28, 2009

a time to tear down a time to build, and a time to need more time

So many things have happened since my last post. Monumental things. Things public and things private. Great things and terrible things. The terrible things are very difficult things happening to people all around me that are on my mind every day. I wish I could unburden them to you. But I am glad to be able to share some of the great things with you! One such thing is that the Dream Club our church purchased has been torn down. We were priviledged to be able to watch part of the process and the building you see in this picture is now just a...well...a nothing. There is nothing left. We met with contractors who are volunteering their time to help our church build a new community center on this site this week. We hope to build this fall. It's a great transformation to be even a small part of.

More monumental news: Pat is now a full-time college student, studying to be an elementary school teacher. We are proud of him and very busy as a family these days. We're one week in and I'm reminding myself that we are committed to this for a season. For a season. I have great hopes for Pat in this process and am excited that he is learning how to do what he already does better (teaching kids in our neighborhood) and that his life experience will add to his experience and his classmates'. He is also still working part time to make the money not offered to us by student loans. You can pray for us in our great juggling act.

Other good news: the kids are great. Israel can talk. Talk. About everything. He runs a constant narrative of his life and recollections of recent events. If he likes something, he will talk about it for days and weeks. I never cease to be amazed at the things he comes up with. Last night, he said he had stinky feet and then asked his dad to smell them. I'm posting a couple of videos of recent Israel activity. This one was taken this morning. I was surprised at how well he can count (when he is not asked to do it; he will not count much on demand).

Every day, Israel pretends to talk to various people (and stuffed animals) on the phone. A "phone" can be anything at all, from this hand-held game to a grocery receipt. Today, he "talked" to our friend's dog on a chestnut. I suppose phones do come in all shapes and sizes these days....

Eden is changing. At five months of age, she is almost out of size newborn onesies. What she lacks in size, though, she makes up for in speed. While she has not mastered crawling, she can do a determined belly scoot to nearby toys and other objects and she is also trying to sit up on her own. This picture is her current version of "sitting up." She is quite independent, our little Peanut.

While we are busy, we are grateful to be a healthy family, sharing life with some amazing people, being spurred on to do good things.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My, how they grow!

When we left for vacation, we had just begun to see the fruits of our labor in our garden. When we returned, we found tomato plants taller than Pat lining the wall of the "backyard house." We found salad greens that, though admittedly way behind, were salad worthy. We have picked eggplant and zucchini and spinach. Our Kung Pao chili pepper plants are burdened with their fruit and our tomatillo plants have turned into enormous bushes! So much can happen to a garden in the course of 10 days.

So much can happen in a toddler's life in the same span of time. When we left Muncie, Israel was saying all kinds of nouns -- mostly one-syllable nouns, though there was the occasional three-syllable word, like "graduate" or the one-syllable words made into two syllables, as in "too-wuck" for "truck." If there was a gradual transition, I did not notice it and one day at the lake, Israel came in the kitchen and said, "I wanna have a goldfish!" Really? Is that how this happens? I mean, the sentence sounded more like, "Iwaaah hannuh gofiss," but come on!

Returning home, we can have conversations. Of course, when a story gets really complicated, he just lists nouns and verbs until I guess what he's talking about. ("Habirday Judah! Bird, bird, peeduhbuddy!" means, "I'm remembering that I made a birdfeeder out of a pinecone, peanut butter, and birdseed at Judah's birthday party two days ago.") We talk about things he remembers. We do impressions of the noises things make. We talk about what we want for lunch and Israel can tell me, spontaneously, "I like it! I like it! Thank you, Mommy!" Admittedly, most of Israel's sentences are along the lines of, "Have some more _________. Please?!" but that is quite a bit better than trying to figure out if he really wants the banana, banana, banana or if he is just letting you know he sees it.

One of the cutest things he has done lately is read to me. He went into his room for story time, had me come in, said, "Clifford. I read it. Sit, Mommy," and proceeded to "read" the book to me. He described the pictures, as I might possibly expect, but he also recalled some of the dialogue on the pages. This was quite a paradigm shift for me in how I relate to my son. I have since tried leaving out some of the words to the Dr. Seuss book, "Put Me in the Zoo," and he can fill them in for me. Crazy. He repeats cute rhymes, sometimes only after one hearing, as was the case Pat told him, "Too bad, so sad, call my dad," which Israel thought was hilarious.

One of his favorite things to say lately is, "I proud." He is proud because he sometimes initiates going to the potty. I am proud, too, and so is his dad, (and so is Seesa and Bandi and many others) as the litany goes every time. There are been MANY times this week when he has called out the precise function for which he needs the aid of a toilet and then gone and performed that function upon request. He also will tell you when he already did such-and-such and will tell you that it is "yucky." I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this is the beginning of the end of diapers and that the road is not long from here to there.

He is growing faster than ever before.

Eden, meanwhile, just turned five months old today. She is still a very pleasant baby who smiles an ecstatic, toothless smile just because Pat or I look at her. She likes to give Israel kisses and I've started letting him give her his not-perfectly-gentle hugs because she likes it. She is still small and can still fit into her size newborn shorts. We will have her 4 month check-up next week to see how much she weighs and if I'm exaggerating her (lack of) size. (We are behind on lots of things these days....) But even she is growing up fast. She just successfully ate her first "bites" of baby cereal last night. She rid herself of her bink months ago, but she has taken to sucking on her two fingers, and sometimes her bottom lip, which remains chapped because of it. She doesn't mind, though, and grins if you smile and take her fingers away. She is full of energy, such that she does not even entertain help trying to sit up. There is far too much to do to be that still. Instead, she is trying to crawl. While it may still be awhile, she seems like she may have it figured out any day now. Just this evening, she went at least three feet backwards trying it out. (You'll be among the first to know when it happens.) She also loves it when someone helps her to stand and jump. When jumping, she always seems to say, "YES! Just what I've been waiting for!" even if she was perfectly content rolling on the floor just moments before.

Here are a couple of videos of the kids in action. First, Israel and his beat-boxing routine...

...And then Eden showing you how she tries to crawl. This was take 27, it seems, as the video kept not saving and then she kept spitting up or making some unpleasant noise at the end of a "take". (I need to learn how to edit video.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

packing in a vacation

Oh, vacation! I miss it already. This was our first attempt at a vacation with two kids and, all things considered, it went well. We are resigning ourselves to the fact that parenting never goes on vacation and...perhaps that is enough on that topic. I don't like to dwell on it. However, the up side of having your kids with you on vacation is that kids know how to REALLY enjoy being away from home and it's fun to watch them.

In addition to the kiddos, we had our pets along (which is actually easier than having someone care for them) and a booked itinerary. I hate a vacation loaded with things to do, but these were all good things that I did not want to miss. The vacation itinerary looked a little something like this:

Friday -- pack like mad, clean the whole house, and vacuum yourself out the door (remember that we did this...) in the evening. Arrive in Kentucky at your parents' house after bedtime.

Saturday morning -- get ready and head to the park to meet some of your old classmates for the precursor to your 10 year high school reunion that evening.
I did not go to the reunion for several reasons, but was glad to see a few good folks at the park. Only about eight people were there and I did not see some I had really hoped to see, but the small group was great, as I don't like large groups of people.

Saturday afternoon -- go to Sarah's personal shower. (Sarah is now my brother's wife, for those who don't know.) Laugh a lot and play a game involving cherries and whipped cream.

Saturday evening -- get treated to dinner at BD's Mongolian Grill with your parents and shop until dark.
At BD's, Israel ate squid for the first time and liked it. He tried chewing it several times, but in the end, he swallowed it whole -- tentacles and all. And he smiled. The shopping trip was for a dress for me to wear to the wedding. Mom loved taking me out, I think, which is a huge blessing. She may have fancied herself a co-host of "What Not To Wear" when she looked at me in my cute maternity tank that Pat said looked fine and said, in an I'm-putting-this-nicely voice, "I don't think you need to wear that anymore." I traded that tank for a cute dress to wear for the rehearsal dinner. This left me still without anything to wear for the wedding, but bedtime for the kids had come and gone. While I hate shopping, I love getting new clothes, and my mom is my favorite person to shop with.

Sunday -- skip church, pack up our stuff, and head to Tennessee, which was the official "vacation" part of the week. What is in Tennessee? Nothing. And that was the point. We like to get away from everything and my great-grandparents' old house by Cherokee Lake is great for that. It's outside Bean Station, which you likely have never heard of, and that also is the point. There was a little more work to do at the lake house than at other resorts, as the mice tend to care for the place when none of our relatives are visiting there. Arriving after bedtime after a drive too long for an almost-two-year-old I said, "We're here!" Israel looked out his window in the dusk and said, "Yay! I like it!" That summed it up pretty well.

Monday -- get up, see the cows. This was the case every morning at the lake. Israel loved them and so did Sophie. Pat and I pretended to have a real homestead and started laundry and cooking some meat we were able to bring with us (ah...sausage and bacon!) and tried to work on the machinery. This really just meant the riding lawnmower. I mowed part of the (big) yard before it died. Pat took its broken wheel to a shop in the next town and we left it at the bottom of the hill for the night and enjoyed the lake with the kids. Israel, it turns out, is afraid not only of getting his head wet in the bathtub, but also of getting his feet wet in a large body of water. We watched a beautiful sunset and went to bed late.

Tuesday -- get up, see the cows. Get the kids ready to go to town to get a new wheel for the mower. Discover that the people have not even looked at the wheel. The kids are asleep, so drive 2 hours to the place I grew up.
Pat and I have not been back to Benham/Cumberland/Lynch for years. It is a small mining town (or series of three towns) in a valley. I feel at once completely at home and a stranger there. (There is a growing list of places that give me that sort of feeling.) We had a good time visiting my Grandma and Aunt Shirley and even dropped in on my "aunt" Pam. It was surreal taking my children where I lived when I was their ages -- seeing the home I went to straight from the hospital (pictured on the left), the school where I went to kindergarten, the mountain I used to climb, and the road I used to walk to school in third grade. Maybe it's this way with all hometowns, but I kind of doubt many other places tug on people in the way my town does.

Wednesday -- get up, see the cows. Get the wheel for the lawnmower fixed, discover it now also needs a new spark plug. Give up and go sit on the swing and watch Eden sleep under the walnut trees. Pick blackberries out in the cow field in the pouring rain as we did a few years ago. Discover it's not nearly as romantic with a screaming toddler who does not like to play in the rain, apparently. (What?!) Dry off, sleep. Spend the evening at the lake again, watching the sun set behind Clinch Mountain and skipping rocks.

Thursday -- get up, see the cows. Pack and clean up the old "homestead," thinking you'll also have time to enjoy the lake once more before leaving. Realize that you've already pushed nap time too far and throw that thought out the window. Say good-bye to the cows (when Israel woke up in the car hours later, he was still saying, "Bye, cow.") and head to Kentucky. Get there just in time to have dinner out on the deck for my mom's birthday.

Friday -- go get a pedicure with the bridal party. Shop until you find a dress, two pairs of shoes, and two sets of jewelry for the wedding festivities. Find a dress to match the wedding colors for 40% off, comfortable dress shoes on CLEARANCE, clearance jewelery and a Christmas gift while you're at it. Go home hungry and proud. Eat, get ready for the wedding rehearsal.
If you've ever been in your own wedding, you know there is a lot that happens right at the end. There are all kinds of last-minute preparations and people you have known at various stages in your life converging at once at a crazy emotional time. The same is true when your brother gets married, only you aren't having to go through the same emotional trauma yourself. It is enough to watch others go through it. I was glad to see everyone there. Hopefully my quick smile before running off to find my kids communicated that effectively. I always wish there was more time and longer naps.

Saturday -- attend your brother's wedding. (This could serve as its own blog post, I'm sure, but I'll be brief.)
Israel was the ring bearer and I was all anxious about how my son, who does not like being touched by people with whom he is not intimately familiar, would handle holding a girl's hand and walking down an aisle in front of a lot of people he does not know...half an hour after he is supposed to take his nap. I discovered that starving him (more than I intended...oops!) and telling him I have a snack waiting at the front of the church worked very well. I was so proud of him. He was so proud of Brandon and Sarah and kept calling to them during the ceremony, despite the food in his mouth.

Most memorable moment of the ceremony: the look on the face of the father of the Bride. I've never seen someone *not cry* like that. Most comical moment of the reception: seeing Brandon fish out a large pair of granny panties from Sarah's dress to toss to the waiting eligible bachelors.
It was a beautiful day and I am very happy to have "Aunt Seesa" as the newest member of our family.

Sunday -- go to church with your parents, pack and head home. Be excited to hear that the painting being done to your house's exterior is nearly finished. Be disappointed to discover that the "stem green" color looks more like "family reunion punch green" or "minty fresh green" when it covers your whole house and not just a sample swatch. Be excited that your friend finished drywalling your hall while you were gone, just because he wanted to. Be overwhelmed to find that your whole house and all your linens are covered in drywall dust. Clean until you fall asleep.

All in all, it was a good vacation. We enjoyed each of the things we did. I think in future years, we will enjoy fewer things for longer, (we will never have Brandon's wedding again!) but the farm house was a success and a great place of freedom for the kids. I am already anticipating future vacations there and can't wait.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

If we were on Reading Rainbow...

Having finished reading THE HOBBITT, Pat and I have had to find other things to read before turning in each night. We are picking up where we left off before having kids with THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER, but we are also reading this book: THE URBAN HOMESTEAD. Now, Pat says he prefers reading fiction at night before bed, so we continue through the Chronicles of Narnia mostly. However, THE URBAN HOMESTEAD is every bit as fanciful and requires me to use my imagination every bit as much as a work of good fiction. The only difference is that I may be able to bring some of this book to reality in my own yard.

Having read this entry thus far, Pat informs me that I am a poser. However, allow me to make a disclaimer: I am not to the point of considering myself a homesteader* right now. As I said, this book does read as fiction to me. However, the ideas in it intrigue me and I'm willing to stick a toe in the homestead water to see how it is. The authors of this book are intense. I am not ready to have chickens yet or to make my whole yard into a wonderful jungle-like garden. I am not about to re-plumb my house to use grey-water to water my yard. Not there yet. But I am won over to the idea of edible landscaping and maybe having some bees around. I'm down with collecting rain water (once we can afford gutters...). I think home-grown food is vastly superior to the stuff you can get in a store. For starters, you get to brag that you grew it yourself and when you make a meal with it, you can feel like you really made the meal. But there are better reasons than that.

Perhaps the most obvious benefit is financial. Seeds and water are cheap; buying fresh organic produce is not. Gardening is the poor man's (or the wise person's) way of obtaining organic produce so that you don't have to worry about what someone else may have done to the food. No concerns about whether the person growing my eggplant is a good steward of the land. And I don't worry about what kind of stuff designed to kill other animals was sprayed on it or what effects might come from someone having done whatever to "help" nature out. I try not to think about that too much, though, since we have to buy most of our food right now and can't afford organic. "Organic" is expensive (not to mention that it has become associated with snobbery). "Home-grown" is simply what my parents and grandparents have done all their lives. Yes, it's organic, but it's also just plain practical.

And it's a great activity to do with kids. Israel, at less that two, can recognize tomatoes and associates both beans and strawberries with 'those things in Steve's garden." He eagerly picks out the raspberry plants to find the "ra-beezies" on them. Israel knows where food comes from and already knows that God made the earth such that we are intimately connected to it. It's hard to convince people who think food comes from a grocery store that it matters at all what kind of stuff we put into our dirt. But when you garden, you know that you have a relationship with the dirt and that you can either help or frustrate each other. Israel will also value life -- even the lives of things like spiders and ladybugs -- and will know that something that small can be of assistance to us. The kids from the neighborhood benefit as well. I have one boy who is learning patience as he waits and waits (and asks and asks) for the jalepenos in the pot on our front steps to be ready to eat. (I really don't know why. I tell him there is no way he just wants to pop one in his mouth and I'm having a hard time convincing myself to waste one of them on this lesson.) Kids learn there are rewards to tending and caring for something as small as a plant. We become more aware of the weather. I get to spend mornings doing nothing but holding a water hose and watching the plants grow.

So, while I am no homesteader, I am ready to get behind this book. I encourage you to read it, to take from it what is useful, and to enjoy reading the parts you don't use. Now, for something rare: Pat would like to post something on this entry as well, and he is much more of a homesteader at heart than I, so I'll let you see what he has to say.


Thus far in my life two books have utterly changed the way I see the world. The first to do so was "Diet for a New America" by John Robbins. This one changed the way I saw food and what I eat. A few years later at my sister's behest I read the Gospel of John which introduced me to the most life changing figure to ever exist and thus changed me and my life forever. This book I am now adding as the third book I've encountered that has caused a tremendous paradigm shift to occur within me.

Until now I had always thought "Man, it sure would be nice to have a farm somewhere outside of town -- raise all of your food, and maybe some animals. Too bad you would have to move out of the city though. Maybe some day we'll retire from this city work and go retreat to the country." You know these sorts of day dreams. Reading this book has made me see how much we can actually do with the space that we have. I've just always seen the "yard" as some sterile plot of grass to be maintained and weeded so that the neighbors don't get annoyed. Now I see it as potential sustenance for my family. My backyard that could maybe host a small bonfire and perhaps a dinner party is now seen as a place where my kids could learn to raise chickens and tend bees. Instead of a yard that needs the weeds pulled we have a lot of potential crop space that the kids can pull bugs and worms out of and harvest food for us to can for the winter. All of a sudden this old house that needs a good paint job and a new floor is a 90-year-old farm house, and that thought itself makes me so much more appreciative of my house (and its history) as it is. Instead of being a place is always in need of my service that I need to fix, my little parcel is a plot that gives to me that I get to tend and make fruitful.

That farm that I used to dream of - it was probably more than I really could have handled. In my saner moments I was forced to admit that to myself. But this small farm that I've been given is totally doable - complete with plenty of challenges and room to dream.

*Homesteader: (according to Lezlie) One who does things like raises their own food, tends their own land, makes their own stuff, and is not very dependent on outside help to make it in life. Some even go so far as to associate this with living "off the grid." Usually, homesteads are farms. (According to Pat) One who sees their parcel as something to tend and make fruitful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Some friends have told me that God is especially gracious with mothers of young children. I think it's also in scripture somewhere and I'm fairly certain I've looked it up just to make sure. After all, it seems a little too nice to be a "Christian" bumper sticker. But I begin to digress, and you don't want to hear what I think about most bumper stickers. Suffice it to say I remember having found it and, even if I had not found it, I would know that it is true from experience. (But wouldn't you know I can't find it today!)

While time to be quiet is nearly impossible to come by, I have had a lot of little lessons come to me by way of my kids lately. They're the sort of peeks at real insight that let you know you haven't mastered the lesson yet, but they're just enough to remind you to keep learning. And they cause me to marvel at how vast and intricate the Being who created this place must be.

As you have gathered by now, I live in a neighborhood where people's problems are all too apparent. I know most people's lives are messes. But here, I KNOW most people's lives are messes; it gets broadcast from front porch fights and shown in preschoolers roaming the streets without their parents knowing where they are. Here, the alcoholism is public and I know the moms who do drugs because they don't bother to cover it up very well. The problems many people keep to themselves are public knowledge here. I think there are certainly pros and cons to this out-in-the-openness, having grown up in a place where people keep their issues to themselves. Here I digress again, when I merely wish to point out that sometimes I get overwhelmed by knowing people's business. Sometimes, I'd rather not know and would rather not feel the burden to be involved. Victories are hard won around here and sometimes even when someone wins their own battle, I can become discouraged. I mean, look at all the work that one victory took and then you think that there are people with similar issues living in half the houses around here (the other half are abandoned...) and you know each situation would probably require that much personal effort and that much support from others and suddenly one hard-won fight can seem like small change. You have read me talking from the middle of such sentiment before.

And I have also written of singing to Israel. We sing the song, "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." I started singing it to reinforce what he learned in Sunday School one particular day, but have kept singing it every day since. Israel always asks to put certain people's names in the song and it is no small miracle that no matter whose name he brings up, it is true that God has them in His hands. Of course, I have no idea what that means in each case and I could easily become overwhelmed again trying to figure it out. I mean, does He really have the neglected kid in His hands? I suppose if He didn't, the kid would pop out of existence, so God surely has tabs on him. But sometimes it certainly seems from my vantage point that God is uninvolved and I wonder how it is that the One who can keep the whole universe going without planets and galaxies getting off-course can manage to let the affairs of one person's life go so awry. But if God is not the one ultimately holding it all together, who is? Me? Even if I could forget about my own moral failings, the dog hair that collects every day in the corners of my house would cry out that I cannot keep things together. And if I can't control the pet hair population in my living room, surely I can't control weightier matters. So, for all the finger-pointing I might find to do, it is certainly a good thing that I am not God. Things would get awfully hairy. (Sorry. I can't resist a bad pun.)

So it is that I sing this song to Israel every day. And every day it can become an act of faith on my part (unless I'm too busy rushing my child to sleep). I put the names of the kids we know in the song. I put our names in the song. It's my way of letting go and putting us all in God's hands. It's me admitting that, even if I could try to fix their problems or mine by myself, I would likely just create other problems. It's me admitting that, for all my complaining, I really am not the one who knows best. I sing it twice a day to Israel and some days that's not enough. I need reminded constantly, or else I try to hold on to things that aren't mine and get bent out of shape over things I cannot control.

He's got Israel and Eden in His hands.
He's got Judah and Naomi in His hands.
He's got Nay-nay and Schaivon in His hands.
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got the mommies and the daddies in His hands.
He's got the grandmas and the grandpas in His hands.
He's got all the little children in His hands.
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got the young and the old in His hands.
He's got the rich and the poor in His hands.
He's got the people near and far in His hands.
He's got the whole world in his hands.

He's got the moon and the stars in His hands.
He's got the sun and the rain in His hands.
He's got the beginning and the end in His hands.
He's got the whole world in His hands.

He's got you and me, brother, in His hands.
He's got you and me, sister, in His hands.
He's got everybody in His hands.
He's got the whole world in His hands.

Friday, July 3, 2009

how our garden grows

Even though none of us are in school, the summer schedule has been more relaxed and we've had good times just being around the house, watching things grow.

We have finished the project of planting a garden in our back yard (and while we were at it, we threw in a small front vegetable garden as well). I have been enjoying taking the kids out most mornings to do the watering while we're all still in our PJ's. (Wow. Who knew having a privacy fence would be so nice?) I can't really say how much I like gardening in my own yard. If you happen to be nearby, chances are I will drag you behind my house to gaze upon it. While it has yet to produce the first edible thing, I still love it and am excited to watch the blooms appear on the plants. The beauty of a flowering eggplant plant never ceases to surprise me and the promise offered by all the flowers on the pepper plants and tomatoes makes me nearly giddy. We have a cucumber that is nearly a whopping one inch long! It happens every year I garden: I work at it, and then when the fruit appears, I am surprised and find myself asking the plant, "Now what did I ever do for you that you give me food like this?"


Israel and Eden have been enjoying the whole process as well. Pat has taught Israel that there are "good plants" and weeds. From time to time, he comes over while I'm watering, pats the leaves of a few plants, and says, "Good plant." Eden enjoys being outside and looking up into the branches of a tree or watching me fiddle with the garden hose. When the sun is out, I try to show Israel the rainbow made by shooting water in the air. I can't help but feel a bit of superstitious luck that my son tells all the plants they are good while a little girl named Eden watches over our work. Israel smartly prefers our neighbor Steve's garden, though, and has fun searching for cucumbers hiding under leaves and helping to pick the green beans. He likes eating the broccoli while still standing beside the plant. Last night, when we told him it was time to come in, he looked up at me from the green bean patch and, wanting to stay, said, "More beans?"

Pat and Israel "working" in the garden
We have been eating from the bounty of our neighbor's garden, which words cannot describe. We have had many, many meals already that include his heads of broccoli and bell peppers and green beans! There are few things that make me feel so blessed as eating free produce grown about 10 feet from my own house. (Though 10 feet puts that produce in my neighbor's yard; do not be confused.) When you move to a neighborhood "with a reputation" where houses are so close together that you have nearly no yard of your own, the last thing you expect is to eat green beans picked minutes ago from right outside your window. But eating is believing, and it reinforces my assertion that we have the best neighbor of anyone we know!

Of course, the vegetables are not the only things growing around here. The kids are growing as well. Israel is making all kinds of verbal leaps and bounds as words take more of their true form. Just this week, "strawberry," went from "bee..." to "taw-beezie" and "banana" went from "diza" to "ba-nee-na." He loves to talk about events and people and is learning to sing songs. Eden has been working very hard and just today made it from her back to her belly on her own. This means she can now roll over and over and over, making her way across a room. She likes to push herself by doing full-fledged sit-ups and already loves to play while standing in the exersaucer. We expect she'll be crawling next week, just to have something new to do.

Our little cabbage patch kid
(Cabbage patch provided by Steve.)

Israel was actually VERY HAPPY in this picture and excited about making the water go everywhere. That's our raised-bed garden in the background.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

imagine meeting you here!

I have been feeling a bit scattered lately, with lots of thoughts bumping into one another inside my head. I imagine them as people at a crowded party: "Oops! Sorry, I didn't see you there." "Pardon me, just trying to make my way through...." Some step on each others' toes and others are happy to have accidentally run into each other.

Pat and I have stayed up hosting these late-night thought parties. We talk about recent events -- unexpected bumps on the road to racial reconciliation, kids we have watched grow up having children before they have even grown themselves, parents who pave the way for their children's road to deliquency, children who say they're afraid their parents don't love them (to whom I have no quick assurances), people stealing from their friends, families breaking up, and other issues some would label "dogs returning to their own vomit," as it would seem. It all feels so out-of control. Even the kids we have for youth group want to beat each other up -- at youth group or just outside our kitchen window. Now, I know it may seem ridiculous, but part of me had expected them to act better just by being in and around our home. I mean, we try to help them talk through things and to think before they act. We try to let them know we expect good things from them. We (and others) try to show them what it means when people love each other and care for each other. Heck, with all these role models just a block or two from their houses, you'd think they would all be models of success writing their own biographies about how they overcame the odds!

And then there's the reality. Kids are much more likely to grow up with the same good and bad habits of their parents and their parents are likely living the same habits they have since they were children with their own parents. One person, or even a group of people, stepping into a generational cycle is not going to suddenly undo all the years of people not expecting much of themselves. This thought often bumps into the "perhaps I need to do more" thought at my late-night thought party.

And I was relieved recently to be able to do a little more. I wrote quite awhile back about wanting to be discipled and to disciple someone else. These arrangements are precarious and require the incentive to be taken by both parties somewhat simultaneously in order for them to work. Well, if that doesn't seem highly unlikely. But I seemed to have been chosen by one girl in our neighborhood as a go-to person and decided to always open my door when she knocked and let her be part of our daily lives. If you know anything about me, you will know that idea alone is enough to stress me out for days. I like knowing what to expect around my house. However, actually welcoming her spontaneous company was not bad. Israel took to her immediately and would ask about her in her absence or yell, "Hi!" to her out our window if she was playing outside. But then, last-minute, her dad kept his promise of taking her out of state to live with him for the summer and she was gone. ("Yea!" for keeping promises, "Boo..." for the leaving and lack of stability.) And then things become entirely uncertain in the most hopeful situation I have going and I realize I have no control in that, either. It seems that Ms. Uncertainty just welcomed her friend, Mr. Doubt, to the party.

Then entered Little Miss Sunshine, humming a tune. In reality, we came across it trying to decipher what Israel was singing after church this past Sunday. He had apparently been listening to "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." Now, I don't like it when someone gives a short "right answer" to a complicated problem and I really dislike little sayings like, "Let go and let God." Yuck. ...Yuck. But as we sang the words to "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" over and over with Israel and have continued to make up our own verses, it was like welcoming comforting friend to the party. The song became less trite and more an act of faith to sing about each person we know and then end with, "He's got the whole world in His hands." Not only can I not really make a difference here in our neighborhood, but I'm not supposed to be able to. I can't hold anything in my hands; even the one girl I thought would in some respect become "mine," slipped through my fingers. So what great news it is that the job I cannot do is not even my job! I can't change anyone. There. Only God can.

It is not that suddenly the gathering of thoughts disperses. No, God's omnipotence gets its toes stepped on all the time by several of my clumsy thought-guests and there are many other awkward meetings that happen in there all the time. I'm glad, though, that when the conversation becomes mostly depressing, I still have a great old Friend who enters in without being put off by my untidy guests. "Mr. Doubt, meet Mr. Hope. Mr. Hope, here are Mr. Doubt and Ms. Uncertainty. Enjoy your chat."