Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Little Theologians

For some reason all the children at my house think they know everything. Their father says their mother states her opinions as facts, but I don't think that has anything to do with it.

At any rate tonight at dinner the preschooler informed us, "God did not make us. He is in our hearts. So he made the earth to make us." An interesting idea. Gonna think about that one awhile.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Village

I often say that I believe in the raising of children in community. I believe in the village and feel deeply grateful for it. In the last few years, it seems that the village has been one of our greatest blessings. I can't even talk about the people who love and care for us without stringing together worn our cliches and sing-songy Hallmark sentences about warm chocolate chip cookies and puppy dogs with red ribbons. The tape runs in my mind by every unoriginal thing said about teachers and caregivers and selfless souls who invest themselves in little people. I write sentences then delete them, and eventually stop trying to say how I feel on the matter, resorting instead to the posting of pictures sent to us by one of our village favorites.

A few weekends ago the babies were able to meet up with the beautiful woman who was our childcare provider the first year I went back to school. She is awesome. And they love her. She moved away a year and a half ago and so we don't see her very often, but other obligations had us in the big city, and so she met up with the kids for a quick hello, bringing bright plastic bags with new notebooks and individual boxes of crayons. Then she sent us these pictures:

Last night Peanut sat down with her fresh notebook and decided to draw a caterpillar like unto the Hungry one made famous by Eric Carle. Then she drew a butterfly. It was the first time I had seen her little hands pull the zig-zags and huge looping O's of toddler art into a composition. It was fun to watch. Because she is getting big. And because I knew her desire to draw was born, in large part, from the gift of new crayons from a grown-up who thinks she just might be the next big thing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Becoming A Jedi

At some point in the last few months, the boy child was introduced to Star Wars. I think my husband may have brought home the 1977 original. For Mister, it was love at first sight. Space ships. Bad guys. Weapons that light up and make eerie sweeping noises. So it came to pass that the epic battle between subversive good and dominant evil came to roost in his brain, filling the dinner conversation, and car conversation, and bedtime conversation with talk of Darth Vader, X-Wing Fighters and the Dagobah system.

And since he watched Episode I a few weeks ago, there has been almost no room in his engineer brain for anything other than pod racing. He asked me with a straight face if I could give him any wires I find around. I asked him about his interest. “I am going to build a pod racer, so I will need lots of parts,” he said. By the next day he was suggesting that I remodel the downstairs bathroom (which needed to be remodeled some 30 years ago) so that he could have the materials for his pod racer. I let him know there were no plans for remodeling. He wasn’t happy about what that meant for the progress of his project.

Finally I convinced him that all engineers start by drawing their designs. So he has been drawing. Pod racers in yellow crayon with big buttons, little buttons, sliding buttons, metal buttons. Pod racers in ballpoint pen. Pod racers in pencil. And in each drawing he is in the cockpit, driving a powerful machine through harrowing courses in two dimension.

The other day I asked him to show me how much of his brain had been taken over by his pod racing plans. He used both hands, and covered everything but his left eye.

And then today, on the way to school, he yelled from the back of the van, “Mom! I can already use the force!” He had been blowing bubbles, which he was able to direct (via air current) by moving his leg. He tried to take the bubbles into school to show his friends. He told his dad all about it at dinner.

So young, yet already able to harness the power of the universe, able to move things with his mind.

All this discovery of power makes me think of the Marianne Williamson quote, made famous by its alleged connection to Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inauguration Speech. In the context of Mandela’s election, the words take on particular power:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

The argument goes on to remind the listener that they are made in the image of God Almighty, that their “playing small does not serve,” that their light will inspire more light, will gift others in the circle with permission to shine. The first time I saw this quote it stopped me in my tracks. And I think deep down I knew that something about it was true and deeply spiritual.

I often joke about what I call “Ouija board Jesus.” And I guess I mostly do that to play down what I see as the real role of the real Holy Spirit in the daily events of life. Somehow I have come to a place where I couch the power of God in the terms of teen-Halloween movies. Not cool. Does the bible not say that he will come with power? Does the bible not say that mountains can be moved with a word? Does not the faith of the blind man, stretching out his arm and voice in the direction of God himself, not bring real healing?

It does.

So, I watch my baby boy – made in the image of God – playing with the possibilities of a life lived with real power. I do want him to know that God has made him strong. And able. With a powerful mind, and steady heartbeat. And like the Jedi before him, he will have to learn to look and listen for the source of life, and bend to the difficult training which will ready both mind and body for a life attuned to the Spirit.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:2

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Love Notes

The other morning, as I was standing, barefoot on the cold tile, making kid lunches I came across a pink, heart-shaped sticky note with the following words written in my daughter's script: "I love you. Love, Mommy"

It completely undid me. Before the sun was even up. It undid me because I feel like I have been trying really hard to make our home a place of peace, which means (among other things) that I have all the laundry washed and folded and back where it goes by Monday morning so the tactically-challenged girl children can dress themselves without seizure. And food purchased and meals planned. And all the other stuff moms before me have already complained about having to do. And then there is all the energy I expend swallowing unkind words at dinner every night when the children appear to be making-out with their mugs of milk, and telling painfully long stories about who-knows-what with mouths full of food. But my relationship with my parental duties is not my daughter’s concern.

My sweet daughter wants a mom who leaves her notes in her lunchbox, and since her mom wasn’t meeting this need, she wrote the note herself. I showed my husband. He laughed, but then again he would. To him it didn’t seem like a personal critique – just another example of her go-get-it-ness. I took it out and wrote a note that was actually from me on pretty white paper with art deco cherry blossoms zig-zagging up the side. I taped it to the inside of her lunchbox lid, so that she would find it right away.

I got everybody where they needed to go.
Went for a run and felt sorry for myself.
Came home and had a good cry about my failure as a parent.
Then I called a few wise moms I know and all of them said nice things about “us” and “kids” and “girls” and “trying again.” But I couldn’t quite shake it.

By way of spilling my soul all around the town I figured out which of my lovely mom friends leaves little notes for her babies. Her daughter and my daughter often sit together at lunch, and my daughter is not a fan of being left out. I can now see, seven days past my pity party, that the note was probably 50% real need for affection, 50% real need to not be outdone in the cafeteria. So, I decided to accept that and move forward with the day-to-day work of doing my best, which isn’t always enough.

Then yesterday I had the chance to have lunch at school with Sis. I sat at one end of those long school tables that mysteriously fold into the wall of the gymnasium. But by the time Sis got back from buying chocolate milk I had been swarmed by her lunch buddies. So, there I sat, with my knees bumping the underside of the table, totally surrounded by elementary-aged girls, facing my lunch date across the table. It was really fun. I like the group of girls that Sis hangs with and they were all eager to tell me random stuff about themselves. Somewhere between the news of the 94-year old grandpa and the new baby cousin who is bottle-fed, I heard the girl whose mom writes notes say, “I wish my mom would come to lunch. I ask and ask, but she says she is too busy.”

That is when I knew for certain that the wise women who I called after my pity party last week were right. Kids are insatiable. They want everything, and then a little more. If I made it my sole quest to give my children all the attention they could possibly want in all the modes they want it, I would dead by Friday.

I looked up (again) the oft-quoted-at-weddings section of I Corinthians 13 that talks about the attributes of love. The first in the list: patience. The second is kindness. Followed by a purposeful turning away from envy, boasting and pride. Followed by much else of importance, but that it where I stopped reading this time, since my brain and my heart were already full. Love for my kid must include patience for her AND patience for myself. And kindness for both of us. And a purposeful turning away from envy, boasting and pride, since nothing good can come from those weeds that grow quickly, sending out shoots underground.

So, I tell myself again –for the seventy-seventh time – “It’s okay to pace yourself.”

And it’s also okay to leave a little stack of sticky notes by the phone in the kitchen, expressly for the purpose of reminding my babies at lunchtime that they are loved. Not because I want to “keep up.” But because it is a good idea that I learned (ungracefully) from another mom whose doing what she can with what she’s got.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” I Cor. 13:4

Library Books

The boy child often pouts and makes comments about general unfairness. This is the primary job of the middle child, I think. But his cry of foul play regarding his mother's lack of enthusiasm about his selections from the public library is justifiable. Here is this week's cohort:

I haven't been keeping exact records, but I think I could recreate a list of the books he has checked out so far this year:

Fact book about snakes with too many words per page
Pact book about rattlesnakes with too many words per page
Fact book about dinosaurs
Fact book about spiders
Fast book about natural disasters
Sharks with bloody teeth
Fresh water sharks
The snake book with the big photo of a python eating an antelope
The snake book with the big photo of a snake with mouse legs hanging out of its mouth
Another snake book
A snake chapter book
Fact book about earthquakes
The snake book with the big photo of a python eating an antelope, again
How-to-draw snakes
Fact book about spiders in South America with too many words per page
Star Wars Early reader book
A slightly different Star Wars Early reader book
The snake book with the big photo of a snake with mouse legs hanging out of its mouth, again
Fact book about bats
Fact book about fruit bats
Fact book about Asian bats
Another Star Wars Early reader book
An Early Reader book about WWF wrestling
Diamondback snake chapter book
The one with the mouse legs, again

In my heart of hearts I really love that this boy likes snakes and spiders and Star Wars and Early reading. But I also wouldn't be totally sad if the one with the mouse legs got lost or damaged.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Soccer Day = Bath Night

This is what the big kids look like playing soccer:

This is what Peanut looks like while the big kids are playing soccer:

When she runs around, the dirt flys off her in whatever direction the wind is blowing. Today my husband said, "I always thought that character in Peanuts, Pig Pen, was so dumb. No one gets that dirty. Or so I thought."

Soccer day = Bath night.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Before The Throne of God Above

My grandma, the one who had to leave her home last week, told me once that she would start her day by walking a mile and praying for all her grandchildren by name. This morning I made the lunches, drove the van around to all the schools, gave out hugs and kisses, and sent my babies into the world in much the same way I do everyday. Then I took myself and my running shoes to the bike trail and settled in for a handful of slow miles. I like running. It occupies my body so my heart can pray. And it makes me think of my grandma, starting her day lifting up her babies, even without knowing the particular concerns of their little lives. The important thing for her (and for me, I am learning) was the discipline of placing the people we love at the feet of God. Every day.

At a technical level, it is difficult for me to figure out how to pray the names of my loved ones and keep a rhythm suitable for breathing. I have tried a bunch of times, and somehow I can’t settle in, can’t get past the distraction of mixing words (even in my mind) with the need for air. But today, a little breathable phrase presented itself, and I was grateful. It gifted me the words I needed and – maybe more importantly – the image that speaks my heart, reminding me of what the words I am speaking “look” like.

And so I ran and prayed and breathed. It went a little something like this:
The name of Sis before the throne of God.
The name of Mister before the throne of God.
The name of Peanut before the throne of God.

The image of God’s throne room, and the peace and promise available therein, was made into a beautiful hymn a long time back. In 1863, Charitie Bancroft penned these words to Before The Throne of God Above, a now famous-ish hymn:

“Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea.
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.”

There is a good chance, I think, that she had in mind this promise from Hebrews 4:15-16: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

I like the way this guys sings it.

Amen. And Amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fitting In Can Be Hard Sometimes

Some very nice friends who farm asked if the kids wanted to come out last Saturday and ride along during the garbanzo harvest. Everyone was excited. Dad took the kids out to the farm and the very gracious, long-legged farmer shared the cab of his harvester with four out of the five of us.

I received this report from my husband: "Mr. Farmer is so nice. Where they farm is so beautiful. The kids didn't last long, they kept complaining about being squished.

Dang kids, I thought. So ungrateful. Don't they know what an inconvenience it is for a farmer to (literally) fit in ride-alongs? Then the very nice farmer's wife gave me a handful of great photos from the day. This one is, of course, my favorite (click on photo to enlarge):

Like my mom always said, "Fitting in can be hard sometimes."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Assisted Living

My Grandma moved into assisted living today. The gradual withering and slipping away – hazards of a beautifully long life – finally making it unsafe, finally forcing the decision. The nine hundred miles that separate me from the situation do not ease the wrenching, even if they spare me the task of helping put her belongings in the suitcases which have been hidden the last year or so. The suitcases have been hidden because the confusion that has been closing in has had my grandma packing up and looking for home – one time making it a mile and a half before a friend brought her back. The suitcases were put away, so she has made due, putting haphazard piles of things (crackers, a brush, four pair of socks) in laundry baskets or cardboard boxes. Asking for rides. Waiting by the door with her head in her hands. Sometimes home was Iowa. Sometimes it was heaven. Sometimes she couldn’t even say. Her mind has been set on leaving.

But that doesn’t make it easier.

My parents have cared for my grandma in their home for some sixteen years, and really, for most of those years it was a mutual caring. They made the meals. She did the dishes. But after awhile she stopped using dish soap, and left the knives pointing up, mixed in with the soup ladles - sharp and shiny warnings of what was coming. So there were years of half-clean dishes, and missing measuring spoons, and dinner around the table.

They had hoped that it would be her last address. They had hoped for a quiet slipping away in a familiar bed. A dignified exit. But my grandma’s care is no longer a one or two person job. Everyone agrees. Everyone knows deep down there is not another way.

But that doesn’t make it easier.

So, my mom, aunt and sister went with Grandma on the tour. Looked around. Said the people were nice. Left Grandma to play cards while they came home to pull the suitcases from the rafters. I couldn’t be there, so I went for a run and committed the efforts of my body to prayer. I ran, with my soul knotted, asking for grace for my mom, asking for grace for my grandma. I worried over the details as I tried to loosen them from my mind and hand them over to God Almighty.

And at the bottom of the first hill, at the intersection where lines of cars turn onto campus, a little promise came, sweet and sure: my grandma is a child of God.

His own child.
And known.

And my heart could finally speak the thorny worry tangled up before me. I could finally see that they followed similar lines as the worries I have had sending babies off, alone, into new situations.

What if she is scared?
What if no one notices her?
What if she doesn’t know the rules?
What if she is confused?
What if she is hurt?
What if something happens, and they call me to come, and I am not by the phone?
What if I chose the wrong place?
What if I trusted the wrong people?
Who will comfort her if she cries?
Will they try to make her laugh?
Will they see that she is beautiful?
Will they know that she is treasured?

And to each worry, the answer was the same:

I am God the Father, grieved that my child will have a hard day.
I woke up early to stand guard over her life.
I already asked the questions that parents ask.
I have already covered their answering with grace.
I will make her bed familiar with my presence.
Even in confusion, I will clothe her in dignity.
She is my child.

And so I read Psalm 121 again:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

No slumber, Lord. No sleep tonight. Stand guard. Hold her hand. You said you would.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Feeding My Children Peace, Love, Comfort

I have been waiting for the right word to pair with some photos I have of this new friend from Venezuela. I have been waiting, and waiting, and waiting, swimming in beautiful stories, but not stories that are mine to tell. Stories of love, loyalty, faith, bravery, fortitude. Stories of loss and crisis and hearts rent in good-byes. But those are not my stories. And so I sit with pictures of an amazing young man and only bit stories of my own experience of him: stories of humor, talent, laughter, patience, and translation.

For a few years now, he has been the translator for the doctor from our town who meets up with Venezuelan doctors and dentists and head into the hills around Bocono for one-day clinics. All day long he translates for mothers, and translates for the doctor, and then translates for the mothers again. And one time, between patients, he played a guitar, or at least pretended to.

He was kind to my daughter.

Ate a bullion cube on a dare.

Took lots of photos of himself (as is common of his generation).

And told us stories, all twinkly-eyed, about his baby sisters (now teens) and how he would brush their hair and get them ready for school in the mornings when his parents started work before the sun. Because he is funny, and wears cool tee-shirts, I would sometimes forget that I was talking to a sage. But then he would say something about how his parents built a home for their children where there was always peace, love, and God’s own comfort, even when there wasn’t meat. Especially because there wasn’t always meat.

So school has started, and I have been thinking about my children in the world. Going to school without me. Pushing kids. Getting pushed. Learning to read. Learning how deep school-yard talk seeps in, especially the mean kind. Figuring out who to sit by in the cafeteria. Riding bikes up and down the street, watching for cars.

We come home in the afternoon spent. Ready to eat. Ready to stop being nice, stop taking turns, stop thinking about others.

Ready to eat.
Ready to rest.
But not always ready to bend, and pick up brick and mortar, and build a house of peace. And offer to each other the sweetness of love unearned, quiet safety, and a comfort like cool water running over hot stones.

But we can do that. Because that fruit is always, already here.
God with us.
His own spirit.
Even, and especially, in the space between arriving from out there and crawling into bed.

My friend shared with me of his parents bravery and grace in times truly hard. I haven't known the hunger of my children. I haven't known a lot of things. But the lesson keeps coming to mind, nonetheless. This young man, messenger of God, reminds me that the road of love, and peace, and warming laughter, is always before me, should I choose to ask for daily grace.

“A meal of bread and water in contented peace is better than a banquet spiced with quarrels.” Proverbs 17:1
So, Brother, in case you are reading . . . que Dios te bendiga. You bring good things to this earth. Your mama told us she has known since you were very young that you were meant for big work. “Se fue,” the woman at the church told her. And the beautiful truth about turning an ear to God is that it inevitably orients the other to the ground, so that you can hear your calling from both high and low. t.q.m.

Monday, August 27, 2012


Before summer started, I dreamt of kids-much-in-need-of-bathing running amok, exploring their world. Then summer came. And went. And school started and I assumed it would be all scrub-a-dub-dub and standing in line until next June. But I forgot about afternoons. And the fact that our childcare provider is passionate about the world of children and a maker of all manner of fun. And a good photographer. So to her I say:

Thanks. I love this picture. And we appreciate you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Baby Boy, Born With Curly Hair

Tomorrow I will go to my third 1st day of Kindergarten. On my first 1st day of Kindergarten I wore a corduroy jumper. On my second 1st day of Kindergarten I held the eager hand of a daughter who wanted to go to school the day she was born. And tomorrow I will go with her baby brother who jumps when he should be walking and can talk all day about the SR-71 Blackbird.

This morning, after we dropped of the sisters, I took Mister to his barber. He got a grade-A cut while he watched the movie Antz. Then he came with me to my office. It’s a fifteen-minute walk and we needed the time to go over an important Kindergarten detail: the question about hair.

He has the same teacher as the big sis and so I know that birthdays will be celebrated in the classroom with the Birthday Kid sharing a timeline they make at home with photos of important events from their little lives. The children will sit in a huddle. Birthday Boy will hold a beach ball globe and run around the group while everyone sings, “The earth goes around the sun, the earth goes around the sun, once every year.” And then Ms. Kindergarten will ask the important question: “When you were born, were you bald or did you have hair?”

I remember this from last time. I remember this because it sent a rod of electric yuck through my heart as I anticipated my baby boy standing in front of the class without a proper answer. I didn’t meet him until he was two years old. I don’t have any pictures of him before the day his head was shaved and his mug sent out into the paperwork world of second-chances.

So I have been thinking about this question as we have collected school supplies and filled out forms. Since I had him all to myself walking to campus this morning, I decided to bring up this all-important detail lest he be caught off guard by some September celebration. I told him about all the fun things he would get to do in Kindergarten on his birthday and mentioned The Question. He looked at me confidently and smiled, “I had hair.” “Oh, good,” I said. “I have been wondering all this time. I know I wasn’t there and we don’t have a picture, but your heart knows, so if your heart says you had hair then you did. What else does your heart remember?” He told me he didn’t remember much about being born since it was a long time ago. Then he added, “And I was born with my eyes open.”

I looked at Mister and smiled. And believed him.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Good-bye Wheat and Good-bye Summer

I think probably everyone who has a camera and who lives where we live starts thinking deep thoughts this time of year and desires in their bones to capture the symbolic layers of promise, prosperity, industry, and even death that are wrapped up in the proud heads of grain that roll like an ocean away from home to everything else beyond here. Every year I watch the wheat, and thought maybe this year I would stop and take a moment and find the thing that wants to be said. But harvest always comes with the end of summer and the start of school paperwork, immunization records, new shoes, and "This is Me" picture collages. So, once again, I have photos without stories, or at least without words. But here they are anyway.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Giant Lollipop Tears

This is a photo of a little girl I know who got a giant lollipop from her swim teacher on the last day of lessons. She came home and sat down on a kid-sized bench and started munching and somehow split her lip which started to bleed about the same time she started to cry. I looked out the window at the candy-covered child, left tooth awash in red and thought to myself, "How is that even possible?"

The b-word

Just got this note from the eldest (click on image to make it bigger). At first I thought she was calling me the b-word. Then I realized the note said, "Dear Mom, You are good at biking." Considering that I was all sweaty and peddling away in the basement on the stationary bike, the second interpretation of the message makes good sense. But really, the first (and faulty) interpretation would have made sense too.

And the moment was made perfect by the background of the sticky note: Precious Moments characters with a watermark that reads, "Your love is so uplifting." You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sending Pictures

This morning I wrote our annual post-placement report, which we will send to the government of Ethiopia along with five photos. And I also wrote a letter to my baby's birthmother, which we will send with the following 12 photos that I think sum up my baby's year. We are also including a picture he drew of himself and his birthmother. In it they are blue crayon stick people holding hands.

This activity always stops my heart. I imagine her looking through the photos; I can imagine this because the one time I met her I gave her the few photos that we already had of Mister in a mostly empty photo album that I promised to fill for her over the years. She looked through them, making small gasping noises that tore through my soul. And so this morning, as I put these twelve in the mail, my heart is squeezed by an impossible love. I hope she will somehow feel blessed by the sending and know that the beautiful heart of his amazing boy was her forever gift to him.