Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Faith that makes a difference

I am rereading “Irresistible Revolution” twice; aloud to my boys occasionally after supper, and with my husband whenever we get time. It is continually challenging. The question I’m left with after every reading is this: Am I living like Jesus lived---following His words?

The biggest indictment in the book is that Christianity in North America today doesn’t remotely resemble the early church or the life of Christ. We are so wealthy. We have little or no direct contact with the poor, the hungry, the prisoner, and the people on the edges of society. We give our money, at least the money we think we can spare while still hanging on to our lifestyles. We can feel good without getting our hands dirty or our lives complicated.

So I read this book and I evaluate my life.

My hands are dirty and my life is complicated by our decision to foster parent/adopt children who had lived through abuse and neglect. There isn’t a week that goes by that I am not challenged and stretched by this commitment. But I can see the ways I am lacking, the poverty of my compassion, my self-righteousness, my shortfall of empathy.

We talked last night about the book. Can you farm and still offer all you have to God? I believe that you can, but the more possessions we have, the more tempted we are to place our security in them. If we worry about money do we pull back from opportunities to serve in order to make more money? Or can we have the freedom to serve with the trust that our needs will be met somehow? Are we willing to adjust our ideas about what we think we need?

I’m not interested in guilt based faith. I am very interested in inspiration. I am drawn to stories of those who do right regardless of the personal risk. I desire a faith that is more than a rubber stamp of approval on what I am already doing. I long for a closer relationship with Jesus, one where He smiles and says, “Hey, let’s go do this together!” and I jump at the opportunity. But maybe I already have that, or at least I’m on my way to having it.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Do it for the least of these

From Sojourners Magazine, September-October 2006, Page 43
By Tobias Winright
When I lived in Des Moines, Iowa, I attended Friday evening Mass at the Bishop Dingman House of the Des Moines Catholic Worker. Many of my students at nearby Simpson College also showed up for worship, as well as to help serve meals, clean the house, and join in war protests during the week. There were usually 20 or so present at Mass, including the poor and not-so-poor, African Americans, Latinos, children and grandparents, college students, and high-school dropouts. For a while there was even a black cat that sat purring in front of the coffee table-turned altar.

One night an inebriated man came in from the street, sat down, and loudly and nonsensically interrupted everything as we tried to make our way through the order of worship. Because Mass tended to be informal and open to anyone's contribution and participation, we tried to keep things going. But when it got to the point where the service could no longer continue, Father Frank Cordaro paused and gently escorted the man to the kitchen, where he was given a seat and a warm meal. The rest of us were stunned. When Father Frank returned he said to us, "Don't you hate it when Jesus does that?" Of course, in asking this he was echoing Dorothy Day, who was deeply influenced by St. Benedict, who reminded his monks that "everyone was to be received as Christ."

* * * * * * * * *

The New Testament is the basis for this idea of receiving others as Christ. It came straight from Jesus, when he said, "To the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me."

This is grand in the theoretical sense. I have rosy visions of Mother Teresa gathering the dying and caring for them as she would care for Jesus. I can see myself along side, also offering kindness to the poor, the hungry, the motherless, the prisoner...

I'm not so holy in person, not so able to see Jesus in the faces that I look into, not so kind or so loving as I wish I were.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mentoring

I’m partnered with a fifth grade girl at church. We meet every other week to do fun stuff together at the church and to get to know each other. It is an intentional friendship that I am enjoying with a person I value.

The purpose of the program is to give adults and children who are not from the same family a chance to form relationships. I already had a relationship with this girl because I taught her Sunday School class for a year, so it is fun to extend that into other activities.

Most of the pairs find a craft or interest or hobby they can pursue together for an hour at the church. We tried knitting the first time we met. We made greeting cards last night. I’m out of ‘Thank You’ notes and really didn’t want to buy more. She was game to try something new.

I brought card stock paper, tempera paint, potatoes and paring knives, and glue. We did potato printing and I think it turned out pretty nice! Maybe I will try Christmas cards next---if I get around to sending them this year. Let’s see… How many years has it been?

This young girl is someone I have admired throughout her growing up. She has a tender heart and brutal honesty.

One Sunday, back when she was in second grade, the whole class was a bit wiggly and unsettled. It was advent and the lesson was on the angel’s appearance to Mary. I came to the part of Mary’s response and began to read the verses directly from my Bible instead of paraphrasing them. My friend stopped me. She said, “I know this part!” so I told her to go ahead. She recited the entire magnificat, and as she spoke the class became silent. It was a holy moment.

On our first evening meeting together as partners I was feeling pretty special about her having chosen me to be her partner. This is where the brutal honesty comes in. As we sat down together she said to me, “My first choice for a partner was ______________, but everyone wants her and she decided to take a break this year. Then my second and third choices couldn’t do it either, so my mom and I made a list of 20 people from church that would be good partners.” I didn’t have the nerve to ask how far down the list I was.

Humility is a good thing, right?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Nostalgia

My grandmother moved into an apartment in an assisted living facility during the summer. Last weekend her excess possessions were sold at an auction at her home.

The weather was perfect for an auction and there were quite a few people there including many of my cousins, so that was fun.

I had decided not to bid on things for memory. I have such great memories of Grandma already, and I also have a few small things from her---a print of her wedding picture, a small toy truck, an old high chair her children used. I don't want to fill my house with things I don't need just because I love their previous owner.

I do need another bedroom set. With seven children moving into adulthood, we need to trade in some of the single beds for 'couple' beds for them to use when they come to visit. I'd been looking around for a year or two already. I would go to a sale and not get there in time or leave at the wrong time or not know what to bid. I would then go to a used furniture store where I would find the exact same set that was at a sale marked to twice the price paid at the auction. But I don't have a lot of Saturdays to spend waiting at an auction for one thing to sell.

I knew I wanted to spend the day at this auction anyway. I knew that Grandma had a bedroom set I liked. I decided to bid. I was fortunate and I was the last bidder.

After the purchase one of my aunts told me that this bedroom set was a wedding gift to my grandparents from my great-grandparents (my grandma's parents). That makes the set around 75 years old, and it makes it very special, too.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Medical Fun

Last week I took my husband for his first "you are past fifty so you must..." colonoscopy. We'd been told that the worst part is drinking a gallon of stuff the night before. That proved to be true. We were also told that the sedation would cause my husband to have trouble remembering things that happened during and after the 'procedure'.

Incidentally, on the morning of the procedure the medical staff at the minor surgery clinic always refered to it as a procedure. I don't think I heard the c-word all morning. It was always time to prepare for the procedure, time to have the procedure, he is done with the procedure, he should follow these instructions after the procedure... Do people freak out if you call it what it is?

The sedation did indeed make my husband unable to remember anything. After the procedure I was told to come back to the recovery room. He looked completely out of it---the way he looks when he is in pain and wants to be left alone.

He was not in pain. He didn't want to be left alone. It was just medication.

He was hooked up to several monitors, one of which beeped whenever his heart beat. The faster his heart beat, the higher the pitch of the beep. The nurse could hear it anywhere in the recovery room. Any time the tone would lower the nurse would holler, "Take a deep breathe! Wake up! Open your eyes!" Then she would appear and vigorously pat his legs, remind him to keep his eyes open and breathe and lie on his side. He would nod and open his eyes briefly, take one deep breathe, and roll to his side. Then he would roll back to his back, close his eyes, and allow his heart rate to slip back down.

They would repeat the process.

Somewhere in there the doctor came in and explained the procedure and what they had and had not found and how to spend the rest of the day and what to watch for. My husband seemed coherant and asked good questions and answered questions sensibly. The doctor left. My husband rolled to his back, closed his eyes, and let his heart rate slip. I patted him vigorously and told him to wake up and lie on his side. He asked, "Has the doctor told you anything yet? What did he say?" We repeated this a few times too.

My husband asked when he could go home. The nurse explained the the procedure forces a lot air into your plumbing and that my husband would need to toot before he could go home. 'Toot' was her word. I'm not making this up. That was why she wanted him to lie on his side and breathe and open his eyes, etc. He closed his eyes, but managed to stay on his side.

He asked for a drink and the nurse brought some juice. She said, "Take tiny sips." He took a tiny sip. Then he took a slightly bigger sip. "I SAID TINY SIPS! THAT IS NOT A TINY SIP!"

My husband, chagrined, took much smaller sips and the nurse left. A moment later my husband began to cough. The nurse's voice rang out from another area in recovery, "That's why I told you to take tiny sips. You aren't ready for big sips yet!" I'm beginning to not like this nurse too much.

He moved the cup away from his mouth, resettled on his side, and belched the longest belch I've ever heard come from him (and he's proud of his abilities in this skill set). I began laughing. The belch was followed by a massive 'toot' which had me helpless. He is lying there with his eyes shut looking half gone but expelling air to beat the band. He belches again. He glances at me. He positions himself with his rear in my direction and says, "This one's for you."

After a day of clear liquids and then a gallon of 'stuff' his insides are so clean that there is not even the hint of a scent and I'm sure no match would ever flame up from the flow. So I'm spared paying for my indiscreet laughter.

The nurse apparently heard the tooting and comes to tell us to leave. He is still having trouble thinking clearly and is also still in a hospital gown. I'm told to go immediately to get the car and bring it to the entrance with the passenger door closest to the entrance of the clinic. I can't imagine him knowing how to get his own clothes on at this point, but the nurses seem completely unconcerned about that detail. I conclude that they think they can dress him faster than I can. They are probably right. At least I hope they are planning on him being dressed when they wheel him to the car.

He is dressed. We go for lunch. He asks me if the doctor ever came in to talk with me. I recite the doctor's speech yet again. We repeat this several times more, but we have a very nice Panera Bread lunch. He's pretty cute when he's helpless and feeling good.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

This and That

Writing seems not to be an option lately. I'm not great at writing with interruptions and since I don't feel OK about writing when I 'should' be working the only time left is when there are interruptions. It is nearly 11:00 p.m. I thought I would be able to start at 9:30 p.m. when my 13 year old son goes upstairs. He's still putz-ing around here with his lunch for tomorrow and with questions.

We've lit the wood stove for the first time this fall. Last week it was in the 80's all week. The week before we had record breaking temps in the upper 90's. And this week we need some heat. Is it just Kansas or global warming?

Last weekend was the Kansas reception for my son and his wife. We had so much fun. It was very busy and I was always a little nervous that I was going to forget something important. Nevertheless, it was a magical weekend. My daughter-in-law has a wonderful family. Fifteen of them crossed the country to be here and we had three long and pleasant evenings together.

The first night my daughter-in-law and I had made borscht, she had made a cookie dessert, and my son made herbed breadsticks to feed the crowd at their house. The house is close to the park where the high school football team was playing. There aren't marching bands where they live so many of them walked to the park during the half time show. We ate to the percussion of cannons celebrating home team touchdowns. Everyone was relaxed and mellow in the warm fall evening air.

The next evening my husband's family hosted everyone and the musical instruments came out as soon as the eating was over. It was such fun. Whenever something with words was played everyone would join in. At one point someone started an energetic rendition of 'Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road.' This was possibly in honor of our dogs who found a skunk and got properly sprayed on the first day they arrived.

Sunday we went to church together and then had take-out Chinese food for lunch at my parents' house. It was another gorgeous day and several ate outside on the lawn. Then we headed back to the church for the reception.

There was fresh sausage from our farm made up into burgers on the grill, home made baked beans, chips, veggies, and home made ice cream with toppings for dessert. My father-in-law presided over the family band as they played and sang after the program/during the dessert. Most people stayed until the end.

Afterwards a good sized group came to our house to shoot off fireworks. The men in our family are pyromaniacs, I'm afraid, and it just is too hard for them to have a celebration without some danger and heat and loud noises involved.

The next day we cleaned the church from the reception, and the day after that I was sick. It was a good kind of sick. I felt bad when I was up, but not too bad when I was in bed. So I got to stay in bed all day without being absolutely miserable. Such a gift.

I'm back on my feel again to day. Tomorrow my husband has his first colonoscopy. YEA! I'll do the driving and hand holding. He's been on clear liquids all day with a grand finale of a gallon of stuff that pretty much washes out anything that could possibly be fouling those intestines. I wonder if this could count as cleansing?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Things to do, Adoption

This is the list of things I would like to have done before tomorrow morning:

  1. Clean both showers.
  2. Sweep and wash kitchen and dining room floors.
  3. Vacuum.
  4. Finish grocery list for reception.
  5. Clean bedroom.
  6. Order materials for Sunday School.
  7. Have devotions.
  8. Finish the laundry.

It is after 11:00 p.m. so I think I will have to adjust my expectations a bit.

This weekend is the local wedding reception for my son and his wife. Her family and their friends arrive tomorrow and I would have been smarter to work ahead more. I'll probably work for a while more yet tonight, at least finishing the grocery list so that I can get an early start on the shopping tomorrow. Then if I wake up in the night with a "I have so much to do" panic attack I'll just get up and do some more. It would be best to stay away from the noisier jobs until the sun is up :-D

* * * * * * * *
I've been pondering the reality of adoption lately. Family events like weddings and receptions seem to bring out all the ambivalent feelings. We have had major emotional issues/events this week with each of our adopted children. That is how it has always been. Vacations bring it on. Christmas does too.

I am hesitant to say/write much because of how frightening it is to speak the truth about such a romantic ideal. Our culture has strong and lovely myths about adoption. We rescue innocent babes from terrible fates and our love for them is enough to erase any difficult emotions or behaviors they might carry. They are so happy with this new loving family that there is no room for anger about having once had a different family that sent them away or died or mistreated them. In fact, this new family is so great that they can just forget the other family ever existed.

A complicating factor is that our adopted children would like to live this fantasy. They want to be the children that were born into this family and did not suffer pain or rejection from another family. When they feel anger, it is us they are angry with because we haven't made those difficult feelings disappear. If we were the fantasy family they would not feel different or rejected or sad or angry. They hate it that they had to start out badly.

We are not to tell people which of our children are adopted, or even that any of them are. We are to pretend that there are no losses involved in this process. We are to be understanding and compassionate and deny/ignore the chaos and anger. Somehow we are to be able to distance ourselves from the pain and intensity of it so that we only show loving acceptance and warmth.

Now I do know adoptive parents who have lived out this happy story. I also know adoptive parents who haven't. Adoption is complicated enough that it is difficult, if not impossible, to figure out what exactly goes wrong. There are residual effects from abuse and neglect that our kids suffer from. There are the sins of the parents, both birth and adoptive, that can make things worse. The personality of the child plays its own role.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a more honest and helpful way to talk about adoption. Maybe we should stop thinking of it as an alternative way to have children. If we acknowlege that we are raising someone else's children would that be so bad?

The Bible talks about us as being adopted in to God's family, fellow heirs with Christ. That is as close as we get to equality right there. We are adopted into God's family, which means God had to rescue us from something else.

We are not looking at being equals with Jesus. That is one of the constant problems with adoption is this equality thing. I would go through hell and high water for each of my kids, no differentiation about their origin. BUT, do I feel the same about the children who take me through the hell and high water? No. I wish I was able to, but I am not...yet.

This is one of the most difficult things for me. I'm constantly having to think through this one. Feelings of warmth can't be manufactured. How do you define love? If it is how I feel then I am often on the deficit side. If it is what I do, I still have some problems but I get a bit closer. I show up every day. I am there for the child who never gets in trouble and I am there for the one who leaves the yellow puddles next to the toilet year after year. I probably laugh a good deal more with the one who doesn't get into trouble. But demonstrating love by doing the hard stuff day after day happens significantly more with my adopted children. Cleaning the bathroom may demonstrate love more strongly than laughing together.

There is so much more to think about but I'm crashing, and there is still that list...