Thursday, September 29, 2011

Who Is Watching Your Children? - Part II

Horray for the village! This morning I talked with the little man’s teacher, our dear friend and caregiver and the amazing physical therapist, who is helping me to turn my head to the right and left. We all had ideas. We are are paying attention. And I am feeling so grateful. Sometimes we share our hearts and they get squashed. Sometimes we share our hearts and our little trading pieces are picked up without exchange - or left on the table to dry out or get carried off by the birds. But sometimes, just sometimes, we share our hearts and someone hears. And that is beautiful. And sometimes the thing they hear is better than the thing we meant to say. And that is answered prayer.

"My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. It's also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us [or our babies] than we do ourselves." I John 3: 18-20 from The Message

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Who Is Watching Your Children?

Instead of doing homework tonight, I am distractedly processing the tummy ache that showed up with Mister's comments tonight about being left out at school. Being left out has been the nightly report for a week now, and this mama has a sudden urge to withdraw him and spend the year eating ice cream and throwing rocks. Who would want to hurt the heart of this sweet, sweet boy? Without much agency outside of a friendly e-mail, I am posting the following, as a reminder to myself that these babies are on loan, but never alone - not even at the school where my baby got left out today. :(

When my husband and I were making plans to travel to Rwanda, I was regularly asked the obvious question: “Who is watching your children?” I have often, and with distain, accused my husband of rehashing events. “Its true,” he will say. “And you pre-hash them.” So, because Rwanda was far away and it appeared we really would be going, I began The Prehash.

Prehashing helps me scour the horizon for missed details. It also takes the wheel of my heart, allowing me to lean way out of the passenger window and collect all manner of borrowed trouble. At one point in this frenzy, I found a small bit of quiet and filled it immediately with the sound of my own voice, worrying to God about the trip. Then I got distracted by a memory that filled my heart with gratitude for my little family.

“Thank you for letting me borrow your babies,” I told him. When I later found a piece of paper and I pen I wrote it down and read it again: “Thank you, Lord, for letting me borrow your babies.”

At church the next Sunday the people around me sang sappy songs. My chest started to tighten and one juicy tear fell from my right cheek only my lap. “Who is watching your babies while you are gone?” the music asked. I heard myself answer back. “Jesus is watching my babies. And we also hired someone we love and trust.” Invited to this particular worry His name sounded fresh, strong and promising. Infinitely able. Embarrassingly obvious.

He was always watching them.
He is always watching them.
He will be always watching them.
At school.
In the yard.
While they sleep.
When Mama is away.

Clean Hands

We were driving home from our daycare provider’s house on Thursday. Mister called from the back of the van, “Mom, do you know what happens if you don’t wash your hands after you go to the bathroom?”

“What happens?” I asked, curious to know what new information he had on a subject over which we have a history of frowny-faced tug-o-wars.

“If you don’t wash your hands when you go potty,” he lengthened out his words for effect, and even though I was facing forward, I could tell by his voice that he was leaning his head into his words with big saucery eyes. “If you don’t wash your hands when you go potty, you get the Throwups.”

“That sounds terrible,” I said. “I guess we better wash our hands.”
I sent up a little thanks for the village and the smarterthanmom-neverheardthatbefore authority of the other people who love my children.

This morning I woke up bleary-eyed and foggy, but with the words to a little praise song spinning around: “Give us clean hearts. Give us clean hands. Let us not turn our soul to another.” Of all the things.

My house is functionally clean, though seldom tidy. I don’t use spot remover on the kid’s clothes, because if I did, I would be living in the scary basement room with our washer and the stain stick; when three children roll down a grassy hill for half a day, there is not really that much that can be done. We take out the garbage when the lid starts popping back up after I push on it. I am quick to pick-up their toothbrushes when I find them by the toilet. I try not to vacuum too often, because all three of them hate the noise and cower, screaming on the top buck under a blanket (which is slightly different than the rest of the day that they spend yelling and giggling on the top bunk under that blanket). I have even tried to convince myself that the ring around the tub looks nice and completes the mood we were going for when we put up the chair rail that separates the blue and brown halves of the wall. I am not proud of any of these things, but confessing them showcases my confusion at waking up singing songs about cleanliness.

“Okay, God,” I said out-loudish. “I will try to hear this.” Clean hearts lead to clean hands. Washing is biblically important, biblically symbolic, part of the communal experience. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John 13). He also let that woman wash his feet with her tears and expensive perfume (Luke 7). Specific directions for a basin were part of the Tabernacle architecture outlined for Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 30). And included in the directions was a warning that the priests must wash or die. Then there was the accusation by the Pharisees when Jesus’ disciples didn’t follow Moses’ rules. Jesus draws the crowd together and decides the issue: “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” (Matthew 15:10-11). “…for the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34.

So, that is it, I guess. I want clean hands. I want a clean heart. I do not want to offer my soul to another. I want to speak a clean word, a true word, a word worth speaking. I want to speak from the heart, words seasoned with Christ. So I guess I will have to hand over the mop and bucket – a fearful act, if I am being honest.

I start to panic. I wince; tense my shoulders. And then I think He said, “You don’t have to be brave. You just have to show up. Let me do the work. I will be gentle. It really is time.”

Winning (not really), Loosing (absolultely) and Learning to Fly (I hope)

I headed out to walk a country road and “listen” for God, not because I wanted to, or because I felt lonely for His presence, but more because I knew I was stuck and mad with a thing or two to say to Him. Being stuck and mad with an agenda is not the best way to start a listening walk, I realize. But that is where I was and I want to tell the tale honest.

We talked about my shortcomings in my marriage. We talked about my insecurities about my body. And mostly I just got madder. Finally I stopped and said outloud-ish, “I don’t know what you want from me. I can’t win this one.”


Somehow, in my mid-thirties, I still think this is a game, a contest, a quest with winner and losers and prizes at the end. I have a penny pinned to my chest with my race number. I am hoping to be one of the top fifty finishers. I am hoping for a PR so I set my stopwatch.

But in marriage there are no winners. In parenting there are no winners. In loving, healthy community, there are no winners. The whole paradigm is plum broke. I have constructed all of my relationships, and my image of myself, within standard American binaries.
It has to be this or that.
Right or wrong.
Friend or enemy.
I am either smart, or I am not.
I am either pretty, or I am not.
I am skinny or I am fat.
I am present or far away.
I either know the whole answer or nothing at all.

This is making me tired. And mad. And now I have to rethink everything, including the life of Christ. We grew up singing songs of victory on Easter morning. God wins. Satan looses. Even my faith is built around notions of success. Christ died to win once and for all. Or is that all of the story?

Maybe Christ died and was raised again to break the binary. Before Christ, there was only God and man, and a great cavern between. Christ built a bridge, and bridges are never about winning. Bridges are about relationships, exchanges and access. By the great mystery that is Christ, God draws near and I can enter, trembling, the Holy of Holies. And so can the next guy who believes. No winning. No striving. No more looking out for Number One.
I chewed on all of that as I walked. The silent shadow of a little airplane hugged the hills and I looked up. And what I saw was beautiful. Airplanes don’t flap. They don’t strive. Their pilots learn a little physics, tip their hat to Bernoulli, and let the wind do the work. I want to be an airplane.

"For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ." I Tim. 2:5

Monday, September 19, 2011

Back of the Bike

I walked in the graveled edge of the road, away from the Monastery where I was attending a silent retreat. I walked, breathing and brushing off the webby mental moss that had taken over. When I had arrived, I had felt God reminded me that this was our special weekend away – just the two of us – a celebration of our life together and a chance to get reacquainted.

On the country road I mentally wrote him a little note. Not too sappy, but something understated with a black-and-white picture on the front of people in love. “I like being married to you.” I said. “You are gentle with me. You are fun. You are trustworthy. We have so many lovely memories together.” I let me mind wander around the fields while my body walked. And I felt like he was really there.

But he did not walk beside me; we were riding a tandem bicycle and I was in back. Riding a tandem is something I have had some experience with. It is something I really enjoy – it is one of the many hobbies my husband and I had before we were outnumbered by children. I like riding on the back of the tandem because it I get to enjoy being outside with the ear of my husband on which I can lay a steady stream of my thoughts. I get to look around at the scenery. I work hard. I get sweaty. I get to make observations and do lots of talking, but when I am on the tandem I never get to see exactly where I am going; what lies ahead is blocked by the back of the one who steers. But the view on either side is often breathtaking, and since I do not have to pay attention to the road, I get to really look – at houses, people, mountains, sunsets, signs, cloud formations, and everything that is stuck to the pavement.

As I thought about life on the back of the tandem, I tucked my head slightly forward, like I would have in “real life” and rested my cheek against His back, letting it shade me from the breeze and the sun. I breathed in the aroma of outdoor exercise – sweat, wind, skin, chain grease and fabric softener. I closed my eyes and said to Him, “I like it back here. Thanks for driving. Let me know if you see any potholes.”

“…He leads me…” Psalm 23

Friday, September 2, 2011

Forever Family Day

Yesterday we celebrated Forever Family Day. It is our family's own little holiday where we remember that by marriage, adoption, birth and the grace of God, we became an “us”, and that process and covenant is something worth celebrating. Sis wrapped up things we already had and gave them to us as gifts. Mister chose the balloons. Peanut ran the impromptu hallway relay races naked, and everyone laughed until we cried. It was a good day.

Often, when I feel really grateful, I think of the second book to the Corinthians, where the writer bursts out in praise to God for his indescribable gift. Because I love that verse and because the language is overly familiar, I looked up a parallel translation from Eugene Peterson. The Message says that generosity to others produces in the giver an “abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings [to] everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!” (9:12-15).

And that is our story. We have been carried, buoyed, fed and loved by so many generous hearts. And so we understand that a celebration of “us” involves a desperate gratitude for the village that has made us who we are and has prayed us into being.

So, my heart says, “Thank you, Jesus, for making us a family. And thank you, Jesus, for the circle.”