Friday, April 30, 2010

Birthday Week

It's birthday time for us! Eastin's 10th was yesterday -- Leslie's 14th is today. People always ask me if we planned that. How do you plan the days your children are born? I guess if you do C-sections, maybe, but generally babies come when they've made up their minds to make an appearance.

Both of mine were late, Leslie much more so. She came 11 days after her due date. I had an appointment with my OB that day -- it was the day we had determined that if I didn't go by then, he would induce me. Dr. Benson came to my delivery room at 3 when I was ready to start pushing, and I said, "Hey -- I was already your 3 o'clock appointment today. This is the first time we've been on time for an appointment in months!" Yes, I did have enough presence of mind at that point to make a joke.

Eastin was only six days late. I started trying to sew a onesie for her the night before -- "started trying" because I am nothing even resembling a seamstress. I got about a third of the way through, went to bed, and my water broke in the morning. Worked like a charm -- like washing the car to make it rain. I think I still have that incomplete onesie in my sewing stuff in the basement somewhere.

When Dr. Colella came in to check on my labor with Eastin, he asked me how my labor with child number one went. I told him I pushed for 19 minutes. His face lit up, and he said, "Now, THAT's what I like to hear!" Eastin took 12 minutes. I'm a mighty woman. Or maybe it was the pitocin--got a love/hate relationship with that stuff.

This is what you all wanted to hear today, right? Labor and delivery stories? Sorry -- I write about what's on my mind. Frankly, those early days of the girls' lives are a bit of a blur. Tiny clothes with snaps in the crotch . . . warm spring sunshine . . . tiny, little fingers finding their eyes . . . nursing to the "I Love You" music tape from Aunt Karen . . . tiny nighties with the elastic around the bottom -- baby bags, Keith called them, I think . . . soft, snuggly baby blankets . . . cookies and cream ice cream every night . . . tiny diapers that seemed to swallow them up . . . bassinet by the bed and waking up groggy during the night to nurse . . tiny-ness, tiny-ness everywhere . . .

Happy birthday, my precious girls. You were my best gifts ever.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Soon To Be Ten

So, I had a request. A commenter asked that I write about "me" (meaning her) and what she says she wants to be when she grows up. I shall accommodate.

My youngest wants to be a million things when she grows up. This is a distinctive characteristic of hers -- she wants to experience EVERYTHING. Afraid to let an opportunity pass by without drinking all of the nourishment and pleasure she can get out of it. A wonderful gift from God, this enthusiasm about life (although it will need to be tempered with wisdom as less "nourishing" opportunities become more and more available to her . . .)

We've discussed this question of her future career endeavors off and on over the past couple of years. Every once in a while, she seems to have this sudden sense of urgency about getting all her ducks in order for the rest of her life -- who she's going to marry, what job she's going to have, where she's going to go to college, etc. etc. She's a planner. Like her mama.

I keep telling her she doesn't need to worry about those specifics yet; she just needs to start figuring out what her gifts are and where her passions lie. If she's learning about herself and developing her God-given abilities to their fullest, God will open doors when the time comes. Her job now is not to identify the door, but to be ready for the passing through.

As I said, she's a planner, like me. She likes to have structure and routine in her life, although she needs to shake up that routine once in a while. She's a great story-teller -- an amazing ear for dialogue and a good sense of the rhythm of natural language and how to re-create that. She has boundless energy and enthusiasm. She is able to stick to a task until it is completed, at least more so than most kids her age, I think. And she's an incurable ham.

Teaching has come up as an option for her; after all, good teaching is a combination of preparation, story-telling, diagnosis, and theater. Writing also appeals to her and would be a good fit. Frankly, the notion that stands out to me most at the moment is . . . a "television personality"! She's already a personality in her own right.

Eastin turns 10 this week. I remember the anticipation I felt when she was born. I had already watched one baby of mine develop from an infant to a four-year-old little human with her own unique personality, interests, abilities and quirks. I simply couldn't WAIT to see what this new child was going to be like! Now she's going to be 10. And my anticipation has only increased!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Friend of Sinners

An FB friend directed me this morning to the blog of Donald Miller, of Blue Like Jazz fame (I really enjoyed that book). He wrote about doctrine vs. love. "We commonly think that the Evil One wants us to teach bad theology," he writes, "and I suppose he does. But what he wants to do more is to have us teach right theology in a way that devalues human beings, insults and belittles them, and so sets them against the loving message of God."

I again am sent back to conversations with some of my fundamentalist, conservative Christian friends. Friends with whom I generally agree on doctrinal issues. But I am often so saddened by the condescension and contempt they seem to have toward the doctrinally unsound.

I almost wrote "those they disagree with" rather than "the doctrinally unsound" in that last sentence, but I changed my mind. I'm wearying a bit of the pussyfooting we do about such stuff. There are things that people believe which I think are just simply wrong. They aren't matters of interpretation or fuzzy, gray areas. Those are out there, too, but in some cases, people are just flat-out wrong.

However . . . their wrong-ness does not make them deserving of my scorn.

I have watched a wonderful thing happening in my eldest this year. One of my original concerns about homeschooling was the fact that she would be limited in the kinds of people she had significant contact with -- a good and a bad thing, actually. Nevertheless, that is no longer an issue now that she's attending public school. Her friendships run the gamut now. And I've been pleased at the results.

From what I can see, she's made wise decisions about those with whom she associates most closely. She has made friends with kids in all the various "groups" and seems to be accepted by them all. Her comments about what she sees happening in class around her show great insight into people and their social interactions and inner lives.

But what I'm most pleased about . . . she tells me about kids in her class who are not necessarily "good kids". Kids who curse, who don't follow the rules, who don't care about school, who get in trouble a lot. And she tells me what they're really like. He's witty, mom. She noticed I needed a pencil and offered me one. She's smart, she just doesn't understand why school is important. Nobody else noticed, but he was really sad, today -- I wonder why. I don't like what they do, mom, but I really like them.

She looks at them not with contempt, but with compassion. Like a man a couple millenia ago who was called a "friend of publicans and sinners" -- and called that by contemptuous, condescending Pharisees. I bet that man is as proud of my daughter as I am.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Not Quite Dead Yet

Last fall, we had the ladies who work for Keith and their husbands over. One of them brought us a plant -- some kind of orchid, I believe. It had a long skinny stem that shot straight up and then curved forward horizontal to the table, kind of like a lower case "r". Four or five beautiful blossoms were on the stem part pointing forward. It was very lovely. I knew I would kill it -- I have a black thumb.

It came with a card of instructions, which I followed to a T, yet the blossoms started to die. I didn't know if this was supposed to happen or not, but I kept following directions. Soon, the stem was just an empty green stick pointing out the window. I wondered if the thing was dead and I should dump it, but the leaves at the base of the stem were still green and flourishing, so I continued the water and fertilizer regimen. Every day, I would look with a twinge of embarrassment at this bent, bare stick in a pot sitting in front of my window. Eventually, I stopped looking too closely.

Then, one morning a few weeks ago, I noticed that, while I had been averting my eyes, a new seemingly-very-much-alive "branch" had started growing horizontally off of the vertical part stem. And pretty soon, I saw what looked like buds developing on this new branch. Three of those buds have now opened into beautiful white blossoms, and three more are apparently on the way. Whadda ya know!

The old stem remains, too -- still green, but with no other appearance of life. It's a strange little plant, this thing. Plus now, the roots are sticking up above the top of the flowerpot. Apparently, I need to replant it in a bigger pot. Whadda ya know.

Leslie and I have been reading Robert Frost this week, one of my favorite poets. I love how he describes moments of man's encounters with nature and finds metaphors for the human experience.

I wonder what he would have to say about my strange little orchid plant.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Leaving Margin

I had a friend -- a very good friend -- who called me once in the middle of the night because, in the throngs of stress, illness, and post-partum depression, she was thinking about taking her own life. I talked to her and got her to wake up her husband. We talked more in the days that followed, and she's fine today, thank the Lord.

I've considered since then that I'm grateful she thought of me as a good enough friend to call in such a time of need. But I've also considered that perhaps that good of a friend should have seen this coming. I mean, I knew she was stressed . . I knew she was going through a really rough time . . I was praying for her . . but still, I didn't really know . . .

There have been specific times in my life when I felt like I was very much let down by friends. Times when I had desperate need of them and they weren't there for me. Thing is, I have a hard time blaming them for those times. They weren't really being neglectful or thoughtless or doing anything wrong necessarily. They were actually doing a lot of right things. A whole lot of things. Many, many, many things. Too many things. And that was the problem.

A couple people I have known over the years have told me they made conscious decisions to keep their lives uncluttered and open so they were available when the Spirit came knocking. Yes! I thought. That's how to live life. Like in Richard Swenson's book Margin, leaving empty space around the edges, not filling up every inch of the page with words and projects and meetings and activities -- however consequential they may be. Because you need that space when the important stuff happens . . . or even to see that important stuff is happening.

So, why is it so hard to put that into practice?

Friday, April 16, 2010

What A Ministry Leader Needs

I just got a good scolding from the Father, and I need to write about it before I forget it.

I've been bemoaning my poor, sorry self and the struggles I'm having with this drama ministry. Mainly in terms of people power. I have a list of actors who are members of the drama team. But I'm learning over time that 1) the majority of them want to be used only on an occasional, as-needed basis -- drama isn't a priority for them either for lack of time or lack of "calling" (which is understandable - I don't begrudge them that) . . . 2) the majority of them are "personality" actors, meaning roles must be adapted to them rather than their being expected to adapt to the roles (not unusual in amateur church drama) . . . 3) few of them are as easy to get a hold of as they seem to think they are . . . 4) all of them have much busier schedules than they think they do . . . and 5) most of them are content, it seems, with their level of ability and level of involvement as it stands, and don't feel a need to work on their skills or open up their schedules to be more available. And again, I understand this. People need to be where God has called them and not be where God has not called them.

But all this means I am constantly struggling to find actors who can do the roles I have who are available on the dates I need them. And this is very, very draining and discouraging. So, I was telling God today all the things I need to make this drama ministry work. How I need him to ignite the actors in my group . . give them a passion for the ministry . . and how I need more actors . . highly gifted actors . . committed to the ministry . . committed to working on their craft . . committed to be available when needed.

And he immediately "rebuked" me, to use an annoying churchy term.

I humbled a Pharoah through a stuttery Moses, he said. I defeated a huge Midianite army with a couple hundred men and a wimp named Gideon. I used a handful of uneducated fishermen to change the world. You don't need what you think you need -- all you need is me. Stop whining over the lack of a feast to feed your crowd with; thank me for the loaves and the fish I've provided, and watch me multiply them!

So now I'm with Job -- despising myself and repenting in dust and ashes. Amen, Lord -- so be it. To your name be the glory.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cleanse Me

About 12 years ago, at a small group meeting in Springfield, a cassette tape showed up in our diaper bag. It was a recording of the speaker at the church's 4th anniversary celebration a few years earlier. I asked around everywhere and never figured out where it came from, but I ultimately came to believe that an angel dropped it in there, because it has touched my life in so many ways over the years.

The speaker was Doug Oss and he was sharing about his then-recent calling to start a church in Salt Lake City. He was a down-to-earth guy, very suspicious of anything that even appears spiritually "flaky" or put-on. But he described passionately the miraculous ways the Spirit had supernaturally manifested himself to him and prepared him for this adventure. Charismatic stuff -- stuff that, before it happened to him, he would have doubted still happens at all.

I was listening to the tape again yesterday while driving back from an appointment in Omaha. What spoke to me most this time was his description of a totally unexpected moment of "cleansing by the Spirit". A couple of his students after class said they had been prompted to stay and pray for him, and as they did, the Spirit filled the room and began to clean him out -- getting rid of anything "not of God". He said it was so amazing, he thought he was going to go right on to Glory.

I'm envious. I don't know if that's wrong of me or not, but I want an experience like that. A cleansing of the soul. To get rid of memories laden with pain that still cripple me. To get rid of stagnant patterns of thinking that bind me. To get rid of old sins that have been recognized, named, and repented of over and over, but whose fragrances still linger and pollute my life. I need a spiritual roto rooter.

Like Oss, I'm suspicious of the experience even as I long for it. I have no doubt that God can do such things . . . but I'm doubtful that he actually does. But scripture tells us that we do not have because we do not ask. So, okay -- I'll ask. Worst I can get out of it is a no, right? And -- how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him . . . ?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Keep Them Home

In Finland, whose educational system has some of the best results in the developed world, kids don't start institutionalized schooling until age 7. Contrast that with the United States, where we often have our kids in full-time day care within months of birth and start academic preparation in an "institutionalized" preschool by age 3.

Apparently, at least 9% of kids are held back from kindergarten. And mostly for behavioral reasons -- they are not yet ready to sit still and pay attention, etc. What makes us think that kids should be ready to do that kind of stuff at age 5? Even the few that are able to do it, do we really believe that is the best learning environment for the typical 5-year-old?

I have a proposal. Let's encourage parents to homeschool their kids for kindergarten. Maybe even first grade. Homeschool at that age is easy; most good parents have been "homeschooling" them for a couple of years already. All the basic skills that kids are supposed to learn at that time can be taught just as well -- and maybe even better -- in a casual, unstructured environment. And children won't be stressed out by unrealistic behavioral expectations being placed on them.

I bet that more parents would be on board with this than you think. There are many moms who struggle with the decision to put their kid on that kindergarten bus -- deep down, I think they know that their 5-year-old needs to be with them a little longer, but they don't trust their own instincts for fear of looking overprotective. Give folks permission to keep their kids home a little longer, and some direction and resources for doing it well, and they'll be on board.

Schools will need less early elementary teachers, which means those teachers can teach older grades, which facilitates better learning environments there, too. Elementary classes in Finland have 2-3 teachers in them. How much more individual attention can a child get in a room like that?

Furthermore, parents who have started out the learning process with their own kids are more likely to continue to be involved later, rather than just handing their children over to the schools blindly. And it's all voluntary. Parents not willing or able to do it can still put their kids on the kindergarten bus.

I like this idea. A lot.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Case for Modesty

I have a rather vivid memory of a certain encounter with my father when I was in high school. It was a Wednesday night, and I was practicing something on the piano before leaving for Wednesday evening church. My father happened to pass by and look at me, and he stopped and said scornfully, "Well, those are some pretty short shorts to be wearing to church!" Then he glared at me a moment and stalked away. He never did actually make me change my shorts, interestingly enough.

I was remembering that the other day while trying on summer clothes with Leslie at the mall. "No. No, no. Too short. Not buying those." I get it now, dad.

But even more, I hope my daughter gets it more than I did when I was her age. I hope I'm doing a better job of explaining to her why I set the standards I do for how she dresses.

- A guy's mind (particularly a teenage boy's mind) works like a gestalt picture exercise. Give him enough hints to the full image, his brain will fill in the missing pieces. And then you're causing your brother to sin. That's not calling all boys perverts -- that's calling them boys. We gotta stop telling boys to be good and then setting them up to fail.

- Like it or not, people do make judgments about you from the way you look and dress. And this particular judgment would have some legitimate basis -- a wise, godly young woman will take care to avoid the scenario in my last point, and a woman who doesn't take such care calls her character into question.

- You don't want anyone's first or foremost thoughts of you to be about your body. Your body is a small part of your personhood that will be fully shared with only one person, someday in the future. Your personality, your compassion, your intellect, your humor, your wisdom, your passions, your smile . . . those are God's gifts for the world today. They should take center stage.

I soooooo get it now. I hope my girls get it before they're preaching to their own daughters.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Hate Exercise -- and I'm Sure You're All Astonished

My dance teacher stopped teaching her two-morning-a-week cardio dance class that just happened to fit perfectly into my brief personal time every morning. I'm bummed. Not that I blame her -- financially, it didn't make sense for her to continue a class with only four attendees. But it was the only thing keeping me exercising on a regular basis during the week.

I hate exercise -- this intentional working of your muscles merely for the sake of working your muscles. I seek purpose in my life. Yes, I understand that there is ultimate healthy purpose to exercise, but when I'm exhausted and in pain while on a treadmill (going nowhere) or an exercise bike (ditto) or a weight machine (lifting weight just to . . lift it?) -- the short-term futility of my behavior wipes out all motivation to continue.

That's why I liked the dance class. I enjoy dance. It has inherent value all to itself for me -- the health benefits are just icing on the cake.

I wonder what Adam and Eve would have thought of this concept of "exercise". I have a feeling that they did not have to force themselves to schedule a work-out into their day while tending the Garden. Just doesn't sound very Edenic to me. Is that because, in our pre-sin state, our not-as-yet-fallen bodies didn't need as much physical activity to maintain themselves? Is it because pre-sin people had a natural affinity for physical activity and sought it out voluntarily for pleasure? Is it because their typical daily activities provided enough physical activity to meet their bodies' needs?

Somehow, I think it was the last choice there. I'm guessing they weren't as lethargic and sedentary as we are. I wish I weren't so lethargic and sedentary. However, considering my natural gifts tend to be more in the cerebral realm than the physical realm, I'm afraid lethargy is something of an occupational hazard.

Nevertheless, I'm headed downstairs to the exercise bike. Hey -- maybe I can figure out a way to blog while I exercise. A-HA! Now that would be a great thing all around! Hmmmmm......

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Holy Spirit Frenzy

One of my former students posted a link on Facebook to a youtube video called "The Holy Spirit Hokey Pokey". Insert deep sigh here. Yep . . . look it up, folks. You hardly know if you should laugh or cry at this stuff. But Charissa's reaction was more in the crying realm, and mine is too. As she said, this could be what God was talking about when he said not to take His name in vain.

I mentioned my charismatic friend in an earlier blog, and I've had others over the years -- most of them very godly people. Love them all, despite our theological differences. I'm not sure what to do with the whole speaking-in-tongues things, though.

I know better than to put God in a box and say how he does and doesn't do things. I have had sincere friends who've told me that they genuinely spoke in spiritual tongues by the power of the Holy Spirit, and I have a hard time disbelieving them. But I've also had other friends who sincerely told me that they faked it, and the church didn't know the difference.

I'm most troubled by the testimony of a Bible study leader I had once who was a former Satanist. He said that he spoke in tongues all the time in his Satanic worship. When he tried to get "saved" at an Assembly of God revival, and they were expecting him to speak in tongues, he obliged them and they whooped and praised the Lord that he was saved. He knew full well he wasn't saved -- he was demon-possessed.

Anyway, beyond the actual practice of tongues, I'm troubled by the whole charismatic worship environment. Again, I'm not going to put God in a box and say that he doesn't ever actually work in the hearts of any of those people jumping around and shaking and hollering. But people can get just as worked up at a rock concert, or a political rally, or a sports event . . . and experience similar "revelations" and "touchings" apparently. I have to say I'm more than a little skeptical. And even if these spiritual interactions are genuine, I'm convinced that God can make them happen in environments that are less open to the danger of delusion.

And I would be much more impressed if I witnessed the embodiment of Christ in their lives outside of the worship space. I don't remember reading in scripture about the frenzy of the Holy Spirit, but about the fruit of the Holy Spirit -- and "by their fruit, you shall know them."

Monday, April 5, 2010


I have a cold. Sniffle. This is not unusual for me at Easter time. I remember the year we did the group dance at Hope Church on Easter morning, I was miserable with a cold all weekend. Hard to get into the spirit of things when you're head is stuffed up and foggy.

I took a Zyrtec yesterday wondering if this is actually allergies. In New Jersey, I had to take Zyrtec daily in the spring and twice a week or so through summer and fall. But last year, I didn't need allergy meds all year long. I kind of thought maybe I'm not allergic to anything in Iowa, which would be sweet. The Zyrtec didn't help much yesterday, and this doesn't really feel like allergies -- it feels like a genuine cold.

One of the nice things about illness, however -- I can justify taking medication at night, like Nyquil. Meds that knock me out. Nyquil is wo-o-onderful stuff. I sleep all night, deeply. We've also been on spring break for the last few days, so I haven't had to get up before I felt awake and ready to get up. Put all that together, and I'm sleepin' pretty these days, so to speak.

Sometimes I wonder if there's any better feeling than waking up in the morning, drowsy and comfortable and wanting to fall back asleep again, and knowing that . . you CAN fall back asleep again! That there is nothing standing in the way between you and the thing which, at that moment, is the greatest desire of your heart. Ahhh!! I imagine heaven feeling something like that. Nothing standing in the way between you and the greatest desire of your heart. Of course, hell might be that way, too. It's all a matter of what the greatest desire of your heart is.

Tomorrow we're back to routine. And I have to drive the carpool. Eight more weeks until summer? Sniffle. Maybe I can make it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Experience Consumption

I think I've found the key to my Scrooginess.

Remember how I said I get Scroogey at the holidays anymore? How I've come to dislike the gift-giving aspect of Christmas (and Valentine's, and Easter, and Halloween, for that matter)? How I felt so bad feeling so resentful about all the "stuff" we give and get at that time?

My friend Robin has articulated to me why.

She writes the food blog at Mother Nature Network. ( And she wrote in January about the current trend (because of the recession) for people to start valuing activities more than material possessions. Experiences over stuff. It's called "experience consumption". She's been giving her readers five ideas every month for experiences they can consume rather than stuff.

I've had schooling and education on my mind all week, too. Big picture stuff, like the nature of what makes up a good education. It occurred to me this week that a well-educated person has not only knowledge and skills but an abundance of experiences. Experiences are important.

I've always said I would much rather someone take my kids on an outing than give them a toy. Visit a museum. Go to the theater. Take them to a ball game -- or give them season tickets to a local team. Or better yet, take them to a park and play ball with them.

Or if you must give them "toys", give them items that lead to active experiences -- sports equipment, art supplies, cookbooks, that kind of thing. And preferably real experiences, not vicarious ones. Building a zoo on their Zoo Tycoon computer game is better than other things they could do, but it's still not living real life. (The only exception to this: books. They can live vicariously through books all they want. In my world, they count as real experiences.)

Something I read a while back talked about giving your kids tools rather than toys. Things they can use to develop their God-given gifts. For our girls, that has meant, among other things, art supplies, cameras, costumes . . . and a play stage which is now completely worn out and busted up. A worthy purchase.

Keith and I have become weary of our lazy weekends at home with the girls this bitter cold, snowed-in winter. We're starting to try to look for active things we can do with them on our days off. Experience consumption. Much more meaningful than another stuffed bunny to sit on the shelf.