Thursday, December 27, 2007

Expressing Anger Fully

Non-violent communication.
I read the chapter on expressing anger fully. I need to read it again. This is what I understand so far.
  • Anger is a signal that it is important to look at your own needs and feelings.
  • Anger is also a signal that you have made judgments about someone else. It may be about their attitudes, their character, their motivation, or some other aspect of their personality. There is usually not anger unless there is also another person involved, unless you are judging yourself and are angry at yourself. For example, if someone asks for a favor you may be glad they feel comfortable enough to ask, you may feel frustrated that they have enough nerve to ask, you may wonder why they are so lazy they can't do it themselves, you may feel upset that they seem to think they can tell you what to do, etc.
  • There is a four step process to anger.
  1. Breathe
  2. Identify judgmental thoughts
  3. Identify my needs
  4. Express feelings and unmet needs
  • It's way more complicated than four steps because in expressing my feelings and needs I may bring out feelings and needs in the other person. In order to be heard, I will have to be able to empathize with and fully hear that other person first. Doing that when I am angry may take quite a few breaks for breathing.
This evening I discovered that a job someone said they would do for me was left undone and out of sight. I've identified my judgments, feelings and unmet needs. My reality is that I have no confidence that the other person cares what my feelings and needs are. Do I do the job myself and forget about it or take a chance with talking? Talking, if it includes much empathizing and listening will take much longer than doing the job myself. It's a one minute job. So why do I care enough to get angry?

* * * * * * * * * *

I have to decide in the next couple of days whether to take on some new responsibilities. The timing seems bad, but it also seems bad for all the other people who could take on these responsibilities instead of me. Chuck says to pray about it. I did. No magic yet.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Stuff to do today, failing at communication

I got my Christmas letter out today by email. This is the picture I put in it. We almost never are both in the same picture, let alone a picture that turns out half decent. This picture may be in the next five Christmas letters.

I only sent to people who don’t see us much. My aunt recently updated all the family addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses so cousins who have never had a letter from me before have one now. As soon as it was sent I did the usual second guessing. Why did I say that? How could I have forgotten this? But I’m glad it’s out. I don’t have email addresses for any of Chuck’s aunts and uncles, and for only three of his cousins. I also don’t have it for all of my dad’s side of the family, so it is woefully under-distributed. Maybe I’ll have to print it and mail it yet. We’ll see.

It’s a good day. I got up to date with getting all the data from the farm checking account into our bookkeeping program on the computer. I’m nearly up to date with all our credit card expense info. The big hurdle is my home checking account where I am seven months behind. But I’m on a roll. I can do that yet this week.

I’m writing on my laptop that Chuck gave me for Christmas last year because he is playing computer games on our main computer. Minesweeper. Who would have guessed? He showed me his time. I showed him the records (which all have my name on them). His competitive spirit kicked in and he beat my record in his next game.

Anyway, I love this laptop, but I have to get adjusted to it every time I use it. The keyboard is spaced slightly smaller than normal, it takes a much firmer touch and the spacebar especially needs to be punched hard. Half the time when I’m reaching for the shift key I hit the return key so I’m using the backspace key a lot too.

The boys are in the living room watching Lethal Weapon 4 and Joe Pesci is making some kind of impassioned speech while they laugh.

* * * * * * * * * *

I’ve been reading Nonviolent Communication some more. I’ve been trying to use it with not much success. A lot of the examples deal with responding to someone who is angry and possibly aggressive. The examples show how questions asked appropriately help the person who is upset to feel understood. Once they feel that, they are able to relax and work things out. So I get that.

My problem is the listening and asking questions to understand the person who is angry with me. As soon as the person says something false and sarcastic that disparages me or my motives, I lose my desire to understand and get totally focused on setting that person straight. From there we go downhill faster than a sled on Pike’s Peak. My weekend was filled with repeated interactions like that with one of my sons. We are taking a couple of days of break. Hopefully I will be more grounded when we try again. It is definitely harder than it looks on paper.

I believe in the principles presented. You don’t corner people verbally. If you want to make a request, first you test yourself to see if you are equally OK with a ‘no’ or a ‘yes’ answer. If ‘no’ is not OK with you, you are not making a request. You are making a demand, which is probably not non-violent language.

With non-violent communication the assumption is that people make sense. Their feelings make sense. My feelings make sense. The things people say and do come from their feelings. Their feelings come from the way they interpret the things that happen, and from the needs they have. So if Chuck does something that hurts me, usually the hurt comes from the way I’ve interpreted his action in light of my own needs, rather than from an intentional desire on his part to hurt me. A lot of the time it can even come from my not understanding my own needs enough to be able to communicate them to Chuck, but still expecting him to take them into account. It’s a good thing he puts such a high priority on communication.

The next chapter I will be reading is about expressing anger fully. I’m already full of questions about how you get to express anger when you are working so hard to rise above your feelings in an attempt to understand the feelings of someone else.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Saved from sin

Today the sermon was about Christmas, of course, but specifically that Jesus comes to save us. Jesus does not save us from adversity, or violence, or poverty, or illness, or loneliness, or grief, or many other things. All these things happen to those of us who follow Him as they do to those who do not follow Him.

From what does Jesus save us? From sin.

I've thought a lot about this today. I know there is a lot in the Bible about how our forgiveness comes from the sacrifice Jesus offered. We are saved from the eternal consequences of our sin. I do not entirely understand all this. I struggle with the idea of needing shedding of blood for forgiveness to happen. I trust I will comprehend this more fully in the future. It is present in enough of the Bible that I can't really ignore it.

There is other saving that I covet, though. Two other ways of being saved that I think are not really offered to me.

I wish that the results of my sins would not hurt other people. I'm OK with taking my consequences. I wish that no one else would suffer because of me. I wish the world could be saved from my sin.

There is both an immediate and a global aspect to this. My family stands to suffer the most because they are in closest proximity. Any disrespect, pride, judgementalism, anger, laziness, etc. hits my loved ones first.

I've been working on the non-violent communication book some more today. There have been times this afternoon when it could have been helpful if I was skilled at using it. Instead I ended up saying things that didn't help, that probably made things worse.

It can be overwhelming when I think globally. As a white person in America my existence hurts other people. Every time I get into the car I think about it. When I buy stuff in plastic, when I have containers I can't recycle, when I hear about the injustices we commit around the globe and realize that I haven't written my senator, or protested, or done anything to stop it. So I wish the world could be saved from my sin.

I also wish I could be saved from sinning. When I know the right thing to do, and then mess up anyway, I wish to be saved from that. When I find out after the fact that I have been doing things wrong for a long time without knowing it, I wish to be saved from that. I would like to be saved from choosing willfully or unknowingly to do anything more that hurts me or someone else, or that dishonors God.

That's not the kind of saving I'm going to get. I'm slowly learning that God is in the business of redemption. God can take those things we give him humbly, and make them into things that are better. Brokenness is the way to God. We have free choice. We make some nasty choices. Then we have more free choice. We can choose whether to be straight with each other and God about the decisions we have made. We can choose to justify or to confess.

I have to admit that brokenness is much more fun in hindsight than it is looking forward to it. I know how much I have learned from being broken and admitting that brokenness. I'm sorry that I did the things that led to the brokenness. I'm not sorry to have received the healing God has offered, both to me, and to those around me, when I was able to admit the brokenness. But I'm still the same person who would rather just not sin, not have to admit that what I do hurts others and hurts myself, not have to see myself as less than good.

I guess maybe being saved from sinning could be a dangerous thing. I could pretty easily begin to think that the lack of sin was due to my own maturity, wisdom, and innate goodness. I could forget that it was a result of being saved. And then my hubris would lead me to be judgmental about those who still sin, which would technically be sin for me. So that would be the end of my being saved from sinning.

Taking responsibility is important here. Asking to be saved from sinning implies that I am helpless in the face of sin and that is not true. The truth is I choose to say and do things even though I know better. I could choose differently. I'm not helpless.

When I look at the people who influence me, those I respect the most are those in touch with their own fallibility. Humility lends credibility to the advice I receive.

Maybe being saved from my sin includes the mercy that God sees me as valuable, rather than as a list of offenses. God seeks me out. God enjoys my company. I think God is better at this than I am. God is able to see me for my possibilities more than for my failures. That is certainly being saved from sin.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Snow

When we have snow storms like the one we had today, I think about Laura Ingalls Wilder and wonder how we compare. Of course we are not like "The Long Winter". I'm thinking more of the stories about the snow blowing so hard that Pa had to tie a rope around himself before he went to the barn so that he would not get lost in the blinding snow. We could see the barn all day today. I could see the tall grass at the edge of the other side of the road. I couldn't see into the field beyond that grass at all.

Mattie, my dog, loves snow. Even this cold, 30-40 mph gusting wind filled with biting snow made her tremble with excitement. It is almost enough to convince me to stay out with her longer than the couple of minutes required to allow her to relieve herself. She is big and black and glorious, and the snow against her fur frosted her with sparkle. Maybe tomorrow afternoon I can take her for a run in the field across the road.

We had the kids over for supper, a birthday celebration for my son-in-law. There were games and food and movies. After everyone left my 14 year old walked the dogs and disappeared. We couldn't find him in the house at all so we started looking out the windows. He was shoveling snow. After a while the 18 year old joined him. I'm enjoying this.

Later---They just came in and are telling me how beautiful it is out there with the full moon reflecting off the snow. The wind has laid down. I think I'll walk the dog now.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Observations

In Non-violent communication, the first skill to learn is observation. It's harder than it sounds. Observations are basic facts that anyone unrelated to the situation could agree on. I am currently sitting at the computer using the keyboard at 9:30 in the morning. That is an observation. If someone came and saw me and described me as wasting time, working hard, being creative, avoiding the jobs I don't want to do, neglecting my pet chores...all of these would be evaluations.

When another person's behavior bothers me in some way, the first discipline I have to rely on is to be able to describe that behavior without evaluation. My dog could say, I see you have been at the computer for a half hour and I have not been fed yet. All of this is true and could be seen by anyone who might be watching me. If my dog would say something about how little I care about her, how selfish I am, how lazy I seem, etc.... she might feel a little better for having vented, but I would not feel more like feeding her. I might feel falsely accused.

At any rate, based on these observations, I have decided to quit writing at my computer and feed that blessed dog who is lying on the floor sleeping. ("blessed" is an evaluation!)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Put down your weapons

I bought a book on non-violent communication yesterday and read about half of it this afternoon after I got angry. It was a good thing. I was angry but alone so I couldn't communicate at all, and I could read about it without messing up, maybe. Maybe not.

The author tells about giving a training. After a half hour he asked for comments. The first person to speak told him that he was so arrogant. He began to ask questions to find out what this person was thinking before he came to the evaluation that arrogance was the problem. The person complaining believed the trainer was making this incredibly hard shift in behavior sound easy. The trainer assured the person that it has not been easy, that he struggles as well, but he finds it worth the struggle. By the end of the day, the person who made the judgment of arrogance had invited the trainer home for dinner.

So, I'll get plenty of practice, I guess. A lot of communicating goes on around here.

* * * * * * *

This evening we watched the movie "Joyeux Noel" about Christmas 1914, World War I, when soldiers stopped their battles and shared their lives with each other, sang together, played soccer and shared treats from home. I knew the story before, but it is told well here. Seeing the enemy as human breaks down barriers in miraculous ways. The story often brings tears for me, partly for the beauty of people seeing each other differently and being changed by that, but mostly for the sadness that this happens too seldom.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Good news and things to think about

There's good news today. My son's MRSA infection (the scarier staph infection that is resistant to some medications) no longer exists and he is only fighting the milder staph version---so Chuck can go back to sleeping at night instead of reviewing all the sad MRSA stories he has heard from friends and acquaintances. I don't want to make light of MRSA. I do want to celebrate that we are no longer fighting it. Yeah!

AND....drum roll please....my daughter's sonogram yesterday revealed that the placenta has moved away from the cervix and a normal birth is again a possibility.

NEXT....my son passed his driving test and now has an official license that does not require me to be present next to him every time he needs to go somewhere. He has also finished all his community service hours and is ready to begin a great full time job on Monday.

FINALLY....I did some Christmas shopping today and was somewhat successful without (hopefully) going overboard.

* * * * * * * * * *

OK, enough of that. On to things I'm thinking about.

God Grew Tired of Us. This is a documentary about the lost boys of Sudan. It is sobering. 27,000 boys left Sudan because they'd lost their families and would certainly be killed themselves if they stayed. After walking 1000 miles across desert there were 17,000 boys left, barely alive. Ten year olds were the heads of their families, caring for several younger siblings on this horrifying trek, first to Ethiopia, and then to Kenya. The film shows footage of young boys so thin that it seems impossible that they could even walk. Yet they are holding the hand of a younger child while carrying a third on their backs. The refugee camp in Kenya is where they have lived on the subsidies provided by relief agencies for more than 10 years. About three years before this movie was finished, the United States helped 1,000 of these boys to immigrate. Three of them are featured in the documentary.

Beyond the obvious (the danger, violence, starvation, etc.) that catches my attention is their reaction to Christmas in the United States. Incredulity. They try to understand how the things we do have anything to do with the birth of Christ.

The other thing that the three of them share is an unshakable commitment to making things better for those they left behind at the refugee camp. They refuse to forget their suffering, or the suffering of others.


Which brings me to an article I read in Mennonite Weekly Review this evening.
Advent Conspiracy catches on. I can't put in a link to the article because it is only in the print version, but the story is that of a pastor who gave a sermon last year encouraging his mega church to give gifts as God does---relational gifts with a heart for the poor. In concrete terms, he challenged his church to spend less on Christmas, give relational gifts, and donate the money saved to the poor. Other churches joined the effort. Three churches collected $430,000. This year there are 491 churches from 10 countries joining the conspiracy. The article is worth reading.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Painful beauty

The ice storm we had earlier this week left everything outdoors coated in at least 1/4 inch of ice. Trees were bent to the breaking point, electrical wires stretched dangerously low, tall thin grasses looked like rods of ice carelessly arranged in ditches and pastures. In the gray cloudiness it looked grotesque, misshapen, frightening, treacherous.

This morning the sun came out. It was achingly beautiful. Every surface shimmered, reflecting that sunlight, intensifying it. The electrical wires were so bright that you couldn't see the wires. They gave the illusion that it was just a continuing line of glowing electricity arcing mile after mile.

I had to drive in it this morning and my mind went in crazy directions. Why is it so beautiful to see the trees in such distress? It reminded me of how women make themselves beautiful---specifically the red carpet beauty of the Academy awards ceremonies. Women have dieted and surgically improved themselves and plucked and waxed and squeezed and taped themselves into clothes that distort their bodies into a better-than-real illusion of beauty. Their clothes are accentuated with as much shine and sparkle as any ice storm can boast and they walk with tiny steps on tinier shoes with stiletto heels causing their leg muscles to define themselves more beautifully than with more comfortable flat shoes. Their faces and nails enhanced with color, we want to look, to gaze in awe. Why is it more beautiful this way than natural?

This evening at sunset I was driving again. The redness of the sun showed the trees, now bare and dull and brown and back to their original shapes, branches akimbo, no shine, no glamour. It was over so quickly. Everything looked wet and soggy and sad.

Does Michelle Pfieffer ever not look beautiful?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas breakfast

My small group had our annual Christmas breakfast today.

Menu:
  1. Oatmeal waffles
  2. Vanilla yogurt
  3. Hot stewed apples and pears with pecans and syrup and raisins and other wonderful flavors
  4. Cheeses
  5. Almond stritzel
  6. Freshly brewed Columbian coffee.
  7. Cranberry wassail
There was ice on the road when I left this morning and I hoped that we would all be there. We were. One of us was quite bruised from a spill on the ice.

One of us was just back from a trip to Central America, Ecuador, and Columbia. She had interviewed seminary women about the importance of relationships with other women. As part of her sharing she read their responses to us and we smiled. They were describing us---the way we feel about being together---how we bring out good things in each other and find wisdom together that we didn't know we had. It is a universal thing that we enjoy, this finding strength among other women.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Being There

Today I spent the morning running. A couple of phone calls necessitated six errands beyond the three I had already done, the appointment this afternoon, and the one or two left to do this evening. I was in my car wishing to be home, waiting to be home, craving home, solitude and more control over my schedule.

“Wherever you go, there you are.” That is the catch phrase of the idea of mindfulness. The idea is that of choosing to be fully present where you are instead of living in the past, the future, or the present you are wishing for. I was not present except in the physical sense. I was listing in my mind all the things I would rather be doing, which is a good way to increase my stress level.

It would be great if I could say that I immediately took a breath, looked around me, and noticed the fullness of the place and moment I was in. I didn’t.

My life is going to be this way for a while yet. If I continue to chafe at it I’ll be giving up the opportunities I can’t see because I’m always looking for something else.

What are the opportunities? Driving time with one or another of my kids---some of the best talk time you can get. Time alone in the car (after dropping that kid off) when I can sit and think without feeling guilty about sitting and thinking.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Remedial Living

This morning I heard about something called the remedial will of God.

Sometimes when you read or hear something it puts words to truth you could feel but not speak. You think, "I knew that!" because you did. You just hadn't thought it out yet.

What is God's perfect will? That we should live in harmony with each other and the earth.

What is God's remedial will? It is that God does not give up on us when we do not live in harmony with each other and the earth. God offers us ways back into the kingdom.

I really love this whole idea because it offers grace.

This evening we watched the movie "The Mission". It has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Rodrigo, a hardened man who lives as a mercenary and slave trader in Paraguay, finally sees what he has become after he kills his brother. The reality of his depravity is too much for him. He believes there can be no forgiveness for him. But it is in this humility that he sets out on the path that will lead to his forgiveness. There is an amazing scene where finally he is released from his guilt by the same people he formerly hunted down for slavery.

It is incredible, but wholly remedial. Those he killed are still gone. Those he captured are still slaves. But he is allowed to change his life, to step back into God's will through humility, and through service to God and to those he used to enslave.

*****
We had guests over for lunch today and it was good. We got caught up with each other, saw pictures, laughed together, talked about things we think about...

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Gone but NOT forgotten...

Having grown up in the church I attend, I have a lot of memories of people much older than I. One thing I often think about is how quickly people are forgotten when they become too disabled to participate actively.

Chuck's aunt Joanna was such a person. She was my Sunday School teacher when I was in 7th grade. Because I married Chuck, I continued to have a relationship with her long after she quit driving herself to church. She had the ability to make each person she spoke with feel that there was no one she would rather be with than them. It was genuine. She loved people. We did not see each other often, but each time we did she would ask specific questions regarding the things I had told her the last time we were together. She was important enough to me that had I had another daughter, I would have named her Joanna.

She was such a vital person in our church that I was taken by surprise when I realized how few people I know remember her. Once she was no longer teaching a class or speaking up in meetings, or able to even attend, she faded from the collective memory.

That happens to anyone who is forced to quit coming. But there are some, like Joanna, whose lives demand to be remembered. These are people whose faith was more than words and emotions. They acted on their faith, took risks, treated people with compassion and respect regardless of class or appearance, gave up security or wealth for more important and lasting values. If they had died in their prime, perhaps their contributions would have been more remembered, but since they lived out their years we've 'moved on'.

Al Voth was such a person. Al was a humble and gentle man who quietly made a major impact on a lot of people for good. His gifts and his inspiration were in his realization that his faith had to make a difference in how he related to those who had needs. Al taught high school Sunday School classes and visited men at the local jail. These things led him to begin a program for young offenders, teaching them job skills and attitudes that would help them to be successful.

After Al died, I asked Cookie (his daughter) to post his life story on her web site, and she did that yesterday. It is worth a read. You can find it here.

I think one reason that Al's story so affects me is my son, James. There is a man like Al in his life. James has had the courage to make huge changes because this person treated him with respect day in and day out even when James had no respect for himself or anyone else. This man also came to James with humility, as someone who has also struggled and found his way through it. Those two things, respect and humility, won James over. Those things came from this man's faith.

It is amazing and inspiring to me what God does with people who humbly choose to follow him. I want to remember these people, and continue to be challenged by them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Serving

I haven't written in so long that when I come to this page (as I have several times) I freeze up and decide I have nothing to say that is worth reading. And that is still true, but I need to write. It is imperative. Well maybe not imperative, but it would feel good to be putting something up here regularly again.

Part of my problem is that so much of what I ponder involves other people and I'm not really willing to put their lives into my blogs.

Church Dinners.
Our church has a lot of potluck dinners. The cooks bring out their best in large quantities and there are overwhelming varieties of desserts. But church dinners are different now than they used to be.

If my memory is correct, people used to be more thoughtful at church dinners. There were always some dishes that looked especially good, desserts that were extra gooey, pies that had the 'made from scratch' look. As people went through the line they were careful to take small portions of those dishes so that as many people as possible could taste them. The dessert pans would empty in an orderly fashion. The first piece taken would be a corner piece and then pieces would be taken so that each row cut would be emptied before the next row was begun.

I think we must have assumed our children would just pick up this etiquette and forgot to tell them the unwritten rules. The best casseroles get emptied very early in the line, and the desserts are even more blatantly abused. People take all the middle pieces first leaving the slightly drier edge pieces for those who come later.

Our church is pretty good at being servant minded. This potluck behavior is the exception rather than the rule. It seems kind of weird, though, to bring home a pan of brownies with the middle gone and the edges remaining. Our servanthood doesn't seem to extend to our table.

Speaking of servanthood, we are entering a new phase of life. Our busyness has gone out of control and things are changing around here. Because I do not have gainful employment (and Chuck puts in pretty long hours on the farm) I have always been the designated driver/cook/errand runner/laundress/cleaner, etc. But now the schedule has made it impossible to be all those things at once. The transition has been amazingly smooth so far. Chuck has been offering to drive sometimes and cook other times. He starts the dishes and picks up more, sees me grab a laundry basket and jumps up to bring in the wash from the line with me, checks to see if I need anything, tells me to take a break and lie down for a while. I feel appreciated.

*******

James moved home today. It has been about six years since we have lived in the same house and I am hopeful and excited and a little scared. Right now he and Chuck just finished carrying wood for the stove and are installing mini blinds in James' bedroom windows. We bought clothes and got a driving learner's permit, and did a lot of other errands today. We will be very busy and we will be careful around each other and we will take things one day at a time.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Time for everything?

One of the things I've been thinking about these days is time use and productivity. In a culture where we are not required to spend all our waking time on survival, how do we decide what to do and what to not do?

We are told that exercise is important, that 30 minutes a day is recommended but 60 minutes would really be better.

It is good to spend time in contemplation/devotion/prayer, but how much?

Work traditionally is expected to take about 8 hours without a commute. Beyond that is still laundry, cleaning, and cooking. If there are children then there are children's activities to attend, drive to, or orchestrate.

Hobbies, friendships, church, classes....

I enjoy the privilege of not earning a monetary salary. Because I don't have to go to a job every day I am free to schedule my own time.

When I had a job as a para in the school district, there were times nearly every day when my help was not required. I had time every day when all I could do was sit and wait for the next assignment. Because I could do nothing to change that, I could have those 'nothing' moments and never feel guilty. Of course, as much as possible I tried to find ways to be helpful that were beyond my job description, but even so, I still had times when all I could do was sit.

Scheduling my own time does not leave me guilt free time. No matter what I am doing there is something else I could be doing that may or may not be more important. I find myself obsessing about it.

I garden, bake bread, preserve fruits and vegetables, visit my grandma, make phone calls, hang all our laundry out to dry, cook most of our meals from scratch, wash the dishes, file reports, do whatever cleaning gets done here, run errands, chauffeur kids, keep track of our farm and home finances, work at the church...

I also read the newspaper and a couple of magazines, do yoga (at home), watch movies and ER, occasionally take my dog for a walk, have devotions, write emails, keep up with some blogs, check out the NPR website, and otherwise waste time.

What I have trouble with is knowing if the balance is good. The temptation is to measure based on what other people do, but comparison isn't appropriate. You choose who you compare to based on whether you want to feel better or worse about your own choices.

I guess I'll have to figure this out more some other time, because right now my own choice involves a bed.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Not much, you?

There are six 14-year olds in my living room eating popcorn, drinking soda, and watching Nacho Libre. They talk and laugh as much as they watch and I'm sure all theatre goers are glad these kids are at home. It's the first time in a long time I've had high school kids gathered in my house. They are nice kids, but I think I made a mistake putting out so much pop. I'm sure one of them had at least 3 sodas and one took an extra home with him. Since we are on a food budget, it won't get replaced until there is a good sale.

This has been a good week. Chuck and I had a date night Monday---take out and a movie at home while Tim stayed with Ben and Andrea. We watched one of Chuck's favorites because it was his turn to plan the evening. Where the Heart Is with Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd is not much for realism, but it's fun and sentimental and that meets Chuck's criteria.

Chuck decided to take it easy on the farm Tuesday so he could help me do applesauce. I don't know when he's ever helped with applesauce during the day, but that was such a treat for me. We did about 2 bushels of apples and now we are nearly done putting up food for the winter. I still will dig sweet potatoes and I may freeze some chard for some winter meals. I'll probably dry some parsley and basil too.

Wednesday was applesauce again, this time with Laura, and also two bushels of apples. We had Lethal Weapon 3 to entertain us while we cut them up and waited for them to steam. Since she can't do much lifting right now it was good to have her here where we could talk and I could move the kettles and the boxes of apples, and I could work alongside her.

Thursday we helped take supper to the homeless shelter and afterwards I watched ER.

Today I made my own version of Italian wedding soup. Actually, with no meatballs it probably could not be considered Italian wedding soup at all, but I used the recipe as a springboard and I think it was great. Chicken broth simmered with garlic, onion, celery and parsley. As much chopped chard as I could fit into the kettle. Whole wheat rotini. Everything stirred together and served hot with fresh grated Parmesan cheese melting on top and whole wheat bread on the side. Tim won't eat it but I'll make it again someday for myself.

This evening I made real beef stroganoff, with steak cut in strips and fresh sliced mushrooms and beef broth and sour cream---not the hamburger and mushroom soup quick meal that we have had so many times. And I just finished the clean up when the teenagers descended upon us.

Tomorrow I'll drive four kids to Youth Symphony rehersal and then spend the afternoon with my nephews. Sunday will be a drive to the detention center to see James.

I'm just realizing that this whole entry is about spending time with people and making or enjoying food. I guess a lot of my time revolves around those two things. That's a good thing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Tesseract

Madeleine L'Engle died last week. She is best known for the book, A Wrinkle In Time, which won a Newberry award the year it was published. But I read her book, Two Part Invention, before I read any of the others.

I enjoyed the fiction she wrote for children. It is straightforward and does not talk down to them, it tackles difficult ideas and doesn't shy away from complex theological themes.

I love her personal journal writing best. I've read "Two Part Invention", the story of her marriage, several times, read parts of it out loud to my husband and other friends, quoted it in cards I gave to young people for their weddings. This is the real stuff, not emotional, happy-ever-after drivel. It includes her husband's battle with cancer and what it meant to care for him throughout that holy ordeal.

"The Summer of the Great Grandmother" is the story of the summer her mother came to live with her while facing the end of her life. Madeleine's home was a place of constant hospitality and she shared this long good-bye with her grandchildren and with her close friends, who moved in and helped care for this aging great-grandmother.

When Madeleine wrote her own stories she was at her best. I've grown from reading her and I'm sad that she is silent. But I'm glad for her too. She had so much depth to her faith. She had so much curiosity about time and space and moving beyond the limits of time and space.

I heard an interview with a woman astronaut who works for NASA. She was inspired by L'Engle's "Wrinkle in Time". In the interview she wept as she spoke of what that book had meant to her. She'd written L'Engle before going into space and Madeleine had sent a copy of the book for her to take up with her. When she finished her trip she returned the book. In return for doing this, Madeleine sent the astronaut copies of several others of her books.

The last book of her that I received was a gift from Andrea, "Walking on Water; Reflections on Faith and Art". It is excellent, as always, and written from her life.

'Tesseract' was the term L'Engle gave to time travel. As I get older I wonder if there won't someday be a time when we are somehow present in all the moments of our lives. This evening I had a moment when it seemed I was simultaneously in two parts of my life.

Laura and Ben were here for supper and a movie. Both their spouses had to be away from home for the night and the rain made it less inviting to bike home through the mud to an empty house for Ben. So I decided to invite Laura too for a 'spaghetti from a jar' supper and a movie while I canned the tomatoes. During the evening I happened to glance into a mirror and my face (it's age) caught me off guard. I'd been enjoying the conversation and the help in the kitchen and the friendship with these grown up kids of mine. My face in the mirror reminded me---I used to be their mommy. It is such a strange feeling. My arms can still feel the way the kids fit into them, it seems so near...and yet here they are in the second half of their twenties. It feels like being two ages at once. No, not two, but many ages at once.

Yesterday I met someone I had known in grade school and I could feel the way I felt then, awkward, unsure of myself, inept at making friends, self-conscious. When did I grow up? He seemed to feel those childhood feelings too and spoke of how he remembered me from those days.

I wonder if there isn't some unimaginable change from the way we experience time now to the way we will experience it after this life. If I meet Madeleine in heaven, how old will she be? How old will I be?

Friday, August 24, 2007

Give me something worth dying for

My mind is full of stuff that will take a lot of bad writing to sort out.

Yesterday on NPR there was a story about Mother Teresa and how she had felt no presence of God for the last fifty years of her life. Only twice in her writings from those fifty years did she question her faith, and then only in letters to a confessor she went to for counsel. The rest of the time, though her letters continue with her dismay at the absence of any feeling of the presence of Christ in her daily life and prayers, she still perseveres with her daily life and prayers. She treats all she meets as though she is meeting Jesus. She honors her hours for prayers.

Another article went into a lot more detail. This article is written by someone who is actively working toward the goal of sainthood for Mother Teresa. He wrote about how Mother Teresa enjoyed a vibrant and lively spiritual life during the first half of her life. This darkness was not something that clouded her early life at all.

She loved Jesus. She wanted to participate in his life fully. She wanted to participate even in his suffering. The writer believes that her later life demonstrated that period of time on the cross when Jesus felt abandoned. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

There came a time in her life when she learned to accept the distance. It seems she always kept the truth, that Jesus was worth serving, worth imitating, whether she felt close to him or far from him.

So there are many thoughts about that. I have had short times like that---several months---when I couldn't feel God at all. How would I do with something like this? Could I be faithful?

I need a lot more time to think about that.

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Then, last night I had this vivid dream.

We were choosing hymns for a service. I was with a group but I don't know who the others were. We were looking for two kinds of hymns.

We wanted some hymns about how good God is. We wanted to list the ways God cares for us and praise him for it. Those we had no trouble finding.

We also wanted hymns about our response. This was more difficult because we wanted to be honest. We found the one, "Here I am, Lord, is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." That was no good. None of us could do that. What we wanted was a song that could poetically and with heartfelt emotion say, "Jesus, I really like you and all the great stuff you do for me and I really want to do something for you but I'm just so busy, so I'll try to fit you in my schedule sometime really soon."

I've thought about that all day.

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Our church periodical came this morning. The cover article was titled "Church or Family First?". I was primed for this one.

Tim is in high school and is interested in everything. Everything has its after school component. We could be driving to town several times every day. Do we look different because we have faith? Or are we on the same track as everyone else because this is what it means to parent?

I think about those moving walkways in airports and how people run on them so that they can get places faster. That is what having a kid in high school can be like.

I watch the families in church as their children hit these years. There are so many choices. There is so much guilt. If they aren't in sports will they resent me? Will I be limiting their potential? What about sports and music? Then you have practices, lessons, rehearsals, games or matches, and performances. And there are scholastic activities. Scholars' Bowl sound fun and so does debate and robotics and pick up games of ultimate frisbee and, oh yeah, church youth group, too. There can easily be no time for homework or family if you have no plan. But what is the plan?

I need a way to discern with Tim what is important to him and to us that is more than just an arbitrary limit on how many nights I want him at home.

So I open the article. It is about how families need church. It is about how church makes families stronger by immersing them in other families who find church important. Church puts them in proximity with older families who are wise, and other adults who value our children, and people who are likely to share our values in child rearing. We then choose to spend more time with these people, increasing our children's exposure to these people we respect.

All this is good. All this is true. But somehow it misses the point for me.

Can't people get most of this from getting close to the other parents of kids in cross country or debate or youth symphony and spending time with extended family? What is different about church?

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I'm reading a book right now called "Grace Based Parenting", by Tim Kimmel. I usually don't buy these Christian parenting how-to books anymore but there was something about this that drew me to it. Grace. Grace implies more than a formula of events and consequences that if applied properly will most certainly output the exact child you ordered. Grace implies messing up and needing forgiveness. It implies seeing a child who sometimes needs forgiveness more than a logical consequence.

So that is what got the book off the shelf and into my hand. But that is not what got the money out of my credit card account.

That was a single line in the middle of the book where I flipped it open to see if this was just another fundamental Christian recipe book designed to make me feel guilty yet again for the person I have not been able to be. That was this line. "Safe Christianity is an oxymoron."

Keeping our children safe is NOT the ultimate goal??? Then what is???

Three things:
  • A sense of security. There is nothing they can do to make you love them more and nothing they can do to make you love them less.
  • A sense of purpose. They are here to make this world a better place. There are things they can do that will make this world a better place.
  • A sense of hope. They can make a difference. It is worth it to try. Failing does not equal being a failure, it means an opportunity for growth.
The book goes into the things parents can do to give children these things, but I'll think about that later.

My point right now is that we all need a sense of purpose and hope. I'm looking at Rusty and Mary Lou ready to move out of everything they have known in their lives so far in order to follow Jesus more closely. I'm seeing kids step up to join them. They crave a sense of purpose and hope based on faith in Jesus that is way more than safe.

I'm looking at Mother Teresa, who knew the goodness of God so well that she could live through 50 years of his silence and still serve him. Even Princess Diana needed to go and see what that was about.

The church is not going to fulfill it's purpose by giving us a place to feel close and safe while we raise our kids to be safe and smart and productive. The church is the place to find something big enough to give our lives to. It's a place to understand losing our lives to save them---not only understand it but know through and through why that is a good thing---that losing our lives really does save them. That it is not 'by the skin of our teeth' kind of saving but 'life lived as big as it possibly can be' kind of saving. If we are not offering that to our kids AND to ourselves, we might as well just stay on the moving sidewalk. We aren't offering people more than guilt and wishy-washy, feel good, do nothing faith.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sunday School on Wednesday

Six or seven hours today working on Sunday School class lists, letters to adult classes, planning for logistics of a special class, drafting emails to various persons involved with the above, and making phone calls.

Another person asked if I still needed teachers and offered to teach, prefers older kids. Hmmm. I mostly need teachers for older kids.

Tomorrow I'll take the morning off from this to visit Grandma and do errands. But there is still lots to do before Sunday, and I'm realizing that even though I offered to substitute teach this week, I will be needed to make all these other things happen. Those who would usually take over for me have had unavoidable events change their plans.

The lesson here is not to get desperate. If no one can help me, that doesn't mean I should panic. It means that I should do what I can and trust that either the rest doesn't matter---or if it does, God will find a way to handle it. I will try tomorrow to find a sub for that class. If I can't I will regroup and think that one through then.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Not Gleaming

I found a new favorite quote while we were on vacation in Colorado. I had been kicking myself about ways I'd messed up. Sometimes it seems like I'll still be making the same mistakes 20 years from now. Anyway, I was having my devotions and this was part of the readings for that day.

"This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be but we are on the way. The process is not finished but it is actively going on. This is not the goal but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed."
-Martin Luther

These words are so comforting. They affirm my journey---that I'm not there but I am on the way, that I don't have my life worked out but God is working it out with me right now. I need to stay aware of this.

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I have been working very hard on finding Sunday School teachers for the 2007-2008 school year. Although I truly dread beginning the calling I've found that I enjoy it once I get started. I like visiting with people. I like the challenge of trusting the outcome to God and not sweating, even though I still have one teacherless class and only one week left to go. I love telling people, "Don't do this if God is calling you to something else." And even with that sales pitch we have nearly all the teachers we need.

I still have a couple of people that want to think about teaching and I'll call them back in a few days. Until then, I have plenty of other work to do. Revise class lists. Make signs for the classrooms. Write letters to all the teachers to let them know where to find materials and to thank them for giving themselves to this. Buy supplies. And then there are the adult classes to take care of. They don't need nearly as much but there are notes that need to go out for them too, attendance books and offering envelopes purchased and labeled, etc.

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Tim is in high school. He seems to be having an easy adjustment to it. The biggest glitch is that the bus does not wait very long for kids to come after school. When he needs to stop to pick up gymn clothes or an instrument he misses the bus. Yesterday I wasn't home when he called and Chuck just happened to stop in the house when he called the third time. By then he'd already been waiting a half hour. If Chuck hadn't stopped we would not have known he needed us until two hours after school was out. We need to figure this one out because I'm not always home at that time.

He rode his bike in to play Ultimate this evening. I decided to ride in to meet him on the way home, partly because I wanted to ride and partly because I'd forgotten to have him take his lights along and it would be dusk before he got home. He's a lot faster and stronger than me, but he decided to ride at my pace so that we could ride together. That was fun.

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Mary Lou was here this week. There is nothing like an old friend.

She is starting on a new and exciting and scary venture with her husband Rusty. They are choosing to relocate to a poor section of Portland and live in intentional community while getting to know their neighborhood and finding ways to fit into life there. Look at the above link (venture) to see more about that.

It is tempting to join them, but the boys need us here right now. So this week we got to catch up with each other.

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Chuck decided not to wait for us to read the rest of Harry Potter out loud. We started it on vacation but haven't had as much time to read since we've been home. He's hooked and even though he is quite disciplined about going to bed on time, I think he'll be late tonight.

I've got the last jars of tomato sauce in the canner. I had 16 quarts today to do in between phone calls and working on Sunday School class lists.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

There has been a lot to think about this week.


Immigration...
I read this week that immigration to the U.S. from Mexico increased by 60% after the NAFTA agreements took effect. The agreements have to do with free trade, and that Mexico cannot tarriff the goods we want to sell them to protect their own interests.

Our government subsidizes our staple crops, like wheat, corn, milo, etc. They give us farmers a check when prices are low so that we can still afford to farm. Then they sell this low priced grain to other places, like Mexico, undercutting the farmers there who do not get a subsidy. Now the rural families in Mexico are forced into poverty.

I read about a couple of villages where the population has decreased significantly since NAFTA. Of those who are left, every family has a member who has left to work elsewhere and try to send money back home. Whole villages of families that are divided because of their poverty....

The families in Mexico don't want to live here. They just want to to live. Why would they want to split up and come to places where they are unwelcome and must struggle with language and must live in fear of being deported?

I read that just about every day someone dies trying to get across the desert, which is now the only way to slip into the United States.

So what I'm thinking about is this: is the check we get after harvest every year blood money? If we can't farm without it, do we quit farming? Is there a way to farm that supports us and doesn't hurt others?

I've always thought of farming as one of those livelihoods that was most connected to wholesome and conscientious living. Of course, I'm not stupid about it. I don't like the idea of factory farming, or farming that depletes the land instead of caring for it. But what could be more wholesome than raising food for a world that has so much hunger?

And now I'm hearing that the way we raise our food, or the way we are paid for raising our food, is creating hunger and hardship.

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Following Jesus...
This morning our sermon had some parts that were helpful to me. A lot of it was theological groundwork in preparation for the meaty parts that followed. I can't recreate the theological groundwork so I'm not sure how successful I will be in writing about the other things.

The speaker was saying that Christians are called children of God. Not everyone is a child of God. Everyone is a creation of God. Becoming a child of God means being in relationship with Jesus in such a way that we are becoming like Jesus, God's child. We are God's children because we are like Jesus. We love those Jesus loves. We are willing to suffer for them as Jesus did. We don't only love our family and friends, but we choose to love anyone Jesus loves. We choose to be like Jesus.

This isn't just generic love. It isn't taking care of myself and then if I have time maybe doing something nice for someone else.

One thing that came up was the idea that you can't love someone else until you love yourself. The speaker said that this isn't true. The truth is that you can't love someone else until you can fully accept being loved.

I know this is true from my experiences with adoption. Those kids who finally feel loved also find a way to be loving.

In faith, it is our acceptance of the enormity of God's love for us that makes it possible to love others the way God does.

The speaker asked the question, "When have you suffered?" He told the story of asking that question in a college class and how the students spoke of losing their cell phones and how difficult life was without the cell phone. He stated that this isn't suffering. This is inconvenience. Jesus loved us enough to leave safety and home and to live in poverty and to be tortured and killed by those he loved so much.

I think we find it hard to risk, hard to give up the comfort of our lives, because we don't have a clear picture of the depth of God's love for us. In Sunday School this morning we were looking at the story of the ungrateful servant. The servant owed an unimaginable amount of money and was being threatened with jail until he paid. He begged for mercy and his debt was forgiven---not just postponed, but forgiven. His response? He found a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount of money and demanded to be paid. When he was begged for mercy, he showed none, and had his fellow servant put in prison until the debt was repaid.

One of my fellow class members suggested that the ungrateful servant didn't really get a glimpse of the greatness of that forgiveness. He didn't really accept it. He didn't see it for what it was. So he didn't act on it.

That makes sense to me.

The story of Isaiah's calling came up. Isaiah found himself in the presence of the Lord and his immediate response was humility and fear. He was unworthy. How could he possibly survive such a meeting with holiness? The Lord touched his lips and declared him cleansed and worthy. Then the Lord asked who he could send to do a task. Isaiah did not hesitate. "Here I am. Send me."

Isaiah had a grasp of the hugeness of the gift he had received. His response was to give back---to give back with everything in him. He didn't know the task. He didn't know what it would cost him. He didn't know if he would be safe or have a place to live or anything. All he needed to know was what he already knew. That God loved him so much. That God was worth following. The rest he could leave in God's hands.

I think the reason we have such a hard time following God without guarantees is because we don't have that glimpse of how much God loves us, how good God is. If we could see that clearly, could we walk away from it?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Teaching Sunday School

I had a chance to teach Sunday School this morning. The mother who was going to teach second grade had to stay home with a sick child so I stepped in.

I love teaching second grade. This particular class is very busy. It is a complete challenge to give directions or change activities. At the same time, they have such great hearts. I always learn more than I teach when I spend the Sunday School hour with kids.

It was pretty hard to get everyone on the same page before the story so I waited just a moment to let them know I didn't want to roar over their voices. Then I started talking pretty quietly and even the most wiggly among them was instantly involved.

When I was done I asked them if they could ask God anything at all, was there anything more they would like to know about the story. This is my favorite part of every lesson. Often there is not something profound, but if there is going to be something for me to chew on later, it will be here. They haven't learned yet what is 'OK' and what is not so they will ask anything. Sometimes they dialog about what answers they think God would have for them. Sometimes we all agree that we wish we knew more.

Someday I want to get back out of committee work so that I can teach every week again. I love this stuff.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Difficult decisions

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

I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgment of God
rather than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:6

Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. Matt. 9:13

Who are my mother and my brothers?...Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother. Mark 3:33, 35

We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 3:3-5

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. II Cor. 4:16-18

These are all readings from my devotions last week while we were awaiting placing my son in a level 6 residential facility for his anger and threatening behavior. I follow a devotional guide so I'm not just choosing the hard passages because I'm a glutton for punishment. All week I have wondered if God is saying to not do this, to show mercy by not doing this.

I won't try to describe what life has been like here the last few months. I will admit that not agreeing to level 6 could have meant a very difficult summer. But is saying that 'losing heart'? Where is my perseverance? If I don't persevere will my character not develop as it should and will I not be able to move on toward hope? Jesus didn't come to take care of people who were easy to be around. Jesus came to show love to those who most have difficulty receiving it. That is my son.

But the placement is temporary...hopefully he will be home again before summer is over and will be back in school as though nothing had happened. The placement is close to home and we can keep a strong and loving relationship. I will be back to showing mercy and love to someone who has difficulty receiving it. The staff are committed to building a healthier and stronger relationship in our family and to his successful return home and are encouraging lots of nurture and contact from us with him.

No easy answers. My peace comes from knowing that God continues to work even if I may have missed the cue. Or maybe I did not miss the cue and my guilt was overactive and God is giving me a brief rest to strengthen me for the next leg. No matter what, I have not been abandoned and neither has my son.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

the least of these

More Dorothy Day combined with other thoughts from my devotions.

Some of Day's writings are nearly like a journal, full of her current emotions and struggles. There are days when she finds herself drained by the demands. There are people she finds it difficult to love. She writes about this plainly with no glossing over it with religious jargon.

And then she goes to prayer. The demands don't end. The people don't change. But somehow Dorothy can see a bigger picture. She has chosen to relate to people as though they are Christ, based on the words of Christ. "Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me."

Yesterday I was in an irrational conflict that would usually send me over the edge. Just before I spoke in anger, I remembered that verse. I gritted my teeth and thought to myself, see Jesus in him, see Jesus in him... I was mad and my teeth were gritted, but I managed a cheerful two word response instead of a scolding. At the end of the day there was one less regret to feel bad about.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What's mine is... not enough

I'm reading the writings of Dorothy Day in the book, "By Little and By Little". The introduction gives her life story. Dorothy Day was the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She was a writer who lived her life in voluntary poverty, doing works of mercy, and in working for justice and better working conditions for the poor. She spent most of her adult life living in a hospitality house, taking in the destitute, feeding the hungry, seeing them as Christ embodied in the 'least of these'.

Since I struggle so much with my much smaller part in making the world a better place, I'm reading her writings to find out what gave her the ability to see Christ in people that I would completely miss.

This is what I'm finding out.
  • She expected life to be messy
  • Her response to the poor was not dependent on any sense of gratitude or worthiness on their part, but wholly on her knowledge that they were precious in the eyes of God
  • She was grounded solidly in her desire to be like Christ which clearly included active involvement with those less fortunate than her
  • She invested heavily in her spiritual life
According to the writer of the introduction, she attended mass daily, prayed the rosary daily, and spent 2 hours daily in meditation of scripture.

Mother Teresa also spent daily hours in prayer.

Martin Luther prayed an hour a day except when he was very busy. Then he prayed two hours.

My whining about not having time seems pretty small at this point. These people accomplished huge things. Time seemed not to be a problem.

Dorothy Day wrote of a priest she knew who spoke of the principle that 'as you sow, so also shall you reap'. He was from a poor parish and often needed money. His method was simple. If he needed money for something in his parish he took all the money he had and gave it away. Then mysteriously money would come in. If it wasn't yet enough he would again give it all away. This would continue until the need was met. Here is the principle with money. If you are finding money scarce, give it away.

With time, if it is scarce, give it away in prayer. I think there is wisdom here that I'm only scratching the surface of. Clearly we let go of ownership when we follow these ideas. It isn't my time or my money. If it isn't mine I don't have to work so hard to protect it. As I let go more and more I will find some release from the tyranny of time and money. Hopefully I will also have gained wisdom to know what is important use of my time and my money as well.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Good day

It was a good day today. My husband and I had a long drive to visit our son at the juvenile detention center.

We've always loved long drives. Good conversation happens on long drives and it did again today.

At the visit we were the only family who chose to use the courtyard area. We had a lot of privacy and no distractions from the other families and the conversation was mostly real and personal. We were talking on an adult-to-adult level. He is trying to figure out his life and understand the hard parts better. We are not the enemy anymore but rather allies on a journey that intersects with his.

There are hard parts ahead of him yet, but I am learning not to lose hope. I used to think that if he ended up in prison we would lose him forever. Instead we seem to be finally getting him back.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Day 1 - Accepting Myself

All I can say is that I gave myself quite a workout today. Am I doing all the things I usually feel bad about just so I can see how strong my commitment to self acceptance really is?

I'm trying to achieve this Zen-like state that allows me to just observe without making judgements. That includes observing others as well as myself. I can observe what they do but I have to avoid the jump to assigning motives to their actions. That is quite a feat.

Most of the time strong negative emotions are caused by thinking we know why people did what they did. But that is not always true. I think that observing my child still chewing with his mouth open after five reminders at the same meal can cause strong negative emotions without having a clue as to his motives.

Oops. Judgement alert. "Negative" is a judgement. But I don't judge myself for judging, right?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Try this...

New instructions today. I am supposed to accept myself exactly the way I am for an entire week. No guilt. No shoulds. Just notice what I'm thinking, feeling, and doing without judgment. Next week I can think about changing if I want to.

I have a feeling it will be a challenge to get through a whole week without judging myself or stressing out how to do better. How will I feel at the end?

The instructions include this little sentence just for me. "If you find yourself judging yourself, don't judge yourself for judging yourself." Isn't that great?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Long Loneliness

I'm reading Dorothy Day's autobiography, copyright 1952. It was written before I was born but the writing is personal and present. She speaks of the times (I'm still in her pre-WWI days) but the issues dear to her heart are those that I struggle with.

After college she joined with communist and socialist groups in New York City. She speaks of the people they argued against.
"There was no attack on religion because people were generally indifferent to religion. They were neither hot nor cold. They were the tepid, the materialistic, who hoped that by Sunday churchgoing they would be taking care of the afterlife, if there were an afterlife. Meanwhile they would get everything they could in this.

"On the other hand, the Marxists, the I.W.W.'s who looked upon religion as the opiate of the people, who thought they had only this one life to live and then oblivion---they were the ones who were eager to sacrifice themselves here and now, thus doing without now and for all eternity the good things of the world which they were fighting to obtain for their brothers. It was then, and still is, a paradox that confounds me. God love them! And God pity the lukewarm of whom St. John said harshly (though he was the disciple of love) that God would spew them out of His mouth." p.63

And this:
"She never met a Christian. This I am sure is literally true. When we were at the university together, we never met anyone who had a vital faith, or, if he had one, was articulate or apostolic.

"There were no doubt those whose souls glowed with belief, whose hearts were warmed by the love of God, on all sides of us. But mingling as we did, in our life together, and in our life apart, with radical groups, we never met any whose personal morality was matched by a social morality or who tried to make life here of others a foretaste of the life to come." p.70-71

Dorothy Day later went on to find vital faith in the Catholic church and began the Catholic worker movement. I anticipate that her story will include Christians who lived like Christ in the pages ahead of me. She had no use for religion that did not have a vital concern for those whom Jesus had vital concern.

If we did not have to worry about money or family responsibilities would this change how we are willing to live our faith? Would I do things differently? Is there a way to truly seek God first and not worry about all these things?

I know it is simplistic and guilt ridden. I know that in one of the prophets the people are severely scolded for neglecting the poor. Then they are told to care for the poor without neglecting their own families. But I worry about caring so much for my own family that I neglect the poor, the sick, the prisoner, the refugee. At this moment, I guess I have at least three of those four in my own family or circle of close friends.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

In a hurry/Shopping

Last week when we dropped my sister off after the funeral, I noticed my left earring was missing. It has fallen out several times before, but because it is a large hoop, it has been easy to find. This time it was nowhere. It was cheap and I figured I could replace it easily.

When I got home I took out the right hoop and laid it on the table. There were things to catch up with, devotions to do, and I wanted to hear as much as I could about the funeral my husband attended. After all was said and done I went to get ready for bed.

My earring was on my dresser in my earring box. Didn't I leave it on the table? I went back to look. Yup. It was on the table AND in the earring box. I was in such a hurry getting ready to leave that morning that I only put on one earring. I have long hair so no one really noticed. I guess I could let those tiny holes grow shut and quit spending that vanity money.
*****
I had to buy jeans last week. I hate shopping---especially retail shopping. I needed to be in the city to get my bike worked on so I went to Kohl's. I walked through the Jr. jeans. It was frightening. Everything was low slung and I just don't want my lower back having air time at my age.

Against the wall in the Misses department were cubes labeled with style and size of Levi jeans. None of the jeans on the shelf matched the labels. After sorting through all the shelves I chose 5-6 pairs of jeans in a mix of short and medium lengths because I don't know what I am anymore. Off to the dressing rooms where I discovered that the same style and cut and length can fit completely differently from one pair to another. I reread labels to make sure. Why is this one baggy and short and this other one tight and long when they are both the same size, both designed to fit at the waist, both relaxed fit, both boot cut, and both short? I now knew that I could not find a pair that fit and then just pick up a second that matched from the shelf. Every pair I bought had to be checked on me.

Sadly, none of the jeans I had chosen fit well, so I went back to try the Lee's. They had the same problem with jeans that were supposedly identical fitting much differently. But I was desperate. I tried on five pairs of Lee's and chose the two I hated least and left the store. There was no way I was going to try another store and try on any more jeans.

Now that I'm home I hate them less than I did in the store. I'd really hoped to get jeans with legs cut narrow, but boot cut seems to be the thing right now. So for the next 5+ years my jeans will be boot cut. I'm hoping not to repeat this trip for at least that long.
*****
The local second hand store was much more pleasant when I needed a skirt for the funeral. They had a large assortment in my size and the shoppers there are so friendly. I'm came out of the dressing room to check the mirror and this woman smiled at me. She couldn't speak English but between her Spanish and her gestures she made herself understood. She was complimenting me for being small and wishing she could fit into the clothes I was trying on. I found two skirts, a pair of khakis and a pair of black flats and paid just over $12. Too bad they didn't have any jeans my size.

When all is said and done

In the last week we lost a niece and an uncle and attended both funerals. Grief has affected me strangely this time around, with exhaustion rather than tearfulness. One day I had a five hour nap and still slept through the night.

I've done a bit of the 'why' thinking. All those unanswerable questions...

The other thing that death does is sharpen the issue of how one lives one's life. What do I hope will be true of me on that day when no more changes can be made to my history?

Of course funerals don't really give history. Funerals are times when we look for the best in people. That is as it should be. The things we will miss so much are the good things. Those are the things we have to speak of again and again as we realize the loss.

I've accompanied people in grief before. It can be more than a year before they are able to confront the fact that this person they miss so much was hurtful to them sometimes. The funeral is much to soon and too inappropriate for total honesty.

Of course, not everyone has to do this. There are people who manage to treat others well habitually, and who make things right on the occasions when they fail. I don't want to assume that every grieving person will someday think hard things about the person they have lost.

But anyway, I've had to think a lot. What defines my life? When the funeral is over and the honesty begins, will I measure up to my own standards?

Monday, April 02, 2007

I got to hear my husband laugh out loud today. He smiles easily but almost never laughs out loud so I take note of what elicits it.

We own the movie 'Dave' because he always laughs out loud when he watches that. I love that movie, just because of his laughter.

But today we weren't watching 'Dave'. We went to the NPR website and listened to old April Fool's stories. This one was played on Sunday. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page at that link you will find several other April Fools stories. We really enjoyed the one about maple syrup.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

I'm old enough to know Dan...

The other day I heard Alison Krauss singing a Dan Fogelberg song. When I said something about it I found out that most people don't know who Dan Fogelberg is anymore. I'm old. This evening my son wanted me to tell him what things were common in the '50's. I reminded him that I was less than five when the fifties were over.

It is weird to hear a song you know sung by a different voice. I couldn't hear her separately without also hearing him. The song has been stuck in my head ever since. Unfortunately I don't know all the words so I do the same thing that has annoyed my children since they were old enough to be annoyed---I sing the words I know and hum the ones I don't know.

His most famous song is 'Leader of the Band' which is unabashedly sentimental, and I love it.

I have his 'very best of...' cd, but of course the lyrics are not printed in the little booklet insert. It is filled with photos of Dan, Dan with his guitar, Dan gazing into your eyes, Dan with his cat, Dan twenty years ago, Dan today. I guess the man is more important than his music.

Monday, March 19, 2007

More Time

Sentencing was today for the last car theft. The judge left no questions. There will be no 'good' time. There will be no early release. His nineteenth birthday will be his release date, unless he is charged with some of the other crimes he has committed. Since he was hoping for a release on his eighteenth birthday this is a big blow for him. Still, it is not the longest sentence the judge could have given. It could have been another six months longer. I'm sure that my son is not thinking grateful thoughts right now.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Searching...

Now that our children are mostly raised I spend a lot of time evaluating my 'performance' as a parent. I probably spend too much time on that.

Parenting is a constant job review. Every day provides feedback. Every day offers new dilemmas.

We decided to do parenting pretty differently, because of adopting kids who had been abused/neglected. Our relationships with those kids, whether they are adult or still growing, have been intense and stormy and full of guilt and second guessing. There are times I know I messed up. There are other times I wonder if I messed up. And there is this vague uneasy question about if things would have been different if I had just found a way to enjoy them and accept them the way they were.

I find myself pretty aware of my shortcomings. I keep thinking that we could have tried harder, known better, been more relaxed, shown more warmth, had less fear. The fear was pretty palpable. There was always the question of how we would cope if the kids keep getting bigger but they are still so angry and out of control. It made us desperate to find ways to get a handle on the behaviors and emotions while they were still small. Desperation isn't usually a good thing. It's too much like fear. And either of those lead to a lot of anger when there seems to be no success.

The other day I was going through some old stuff and I found something I had written about my day that was several years old. One of my kids had blown up. The anger had been so great that I had walked with that child for three hours before it was diffused. I had seven children. I'm trying to imagine what the other six were doing while I walked that one around the yard for three hours.

The crazy part is that I'd forgotten that. When I read it I remembered doing that many times. And then I think, how could I have tried harder than that? What more could I have done?

But his anger wasn't his fault. He had reason to rage like he did. And so when we had to find another place for him to live, it wasn't really his fault. But he felt abandoned, I'm sure of it. Three years later when he wanted to move home we could still feel that rage in him and we were afraid. How could we deal with that rage in a near adult when it had been more than we could handle in an early adolescent? And that felt even more like abandonment to him.

I hate that. I hate that my child has to feel that I abandoned him. I don't know how to work with it. How do I honor his pain and still be realistic about what we were going through? DID we try hard enough? Does it matter if we did or didn't? Can we have a real relationship now that recognizes the pain of the past but doesn't get stuck in it?

We are going to visit him in prison this weekend.

Meanwhile the other two continue to take major steps forward and backward and each day still includes the questions about whether I'm being the kind of mom I want to be. I think God has used these people to work on me. I hope that they have benefited from our relationship as well.

I feel confident in my relationships with my birth children. I know I've made mistakes there too, but there is an easiness and confidence in our relationships with each other. They are pretty gentle and forgiving with me. They've become creative and delightful people with or without me.

Monday, March 05, 2007

"I want to be a 'real' boy!"

Either my counter is off or this site has become extinct. I guess if it's the latter I can get very personal and I still won't give away anyone's secrets!

We are nearly done with the Jr. High extracurricular nightmare. This week will be a challenge yet and then we can coast. This weekend had three symphony rehearsals, one all day wrestling championship, a symphony performance, and a worship band rehearsal---all of this for one kid! He missed one of the symphony rehearsals because it is impossible to be in two cities at the same time, and he got in trouble for it at the concert. But he still hit all his cues while the other horn player missed some of them. (She claims that counting out the rest measures isn't necessary.) Oops, just slipped into petty mother behavior.

In addition to all of those things the other child who still lives at home had a nasty gastro-intestinal virus so we were tag team parenting. Since my husband had farm work that couldn't wait I did a lot of the traveling, so he was worn out from trying to work and care for a demanding child that was pretty sick half the time and begging to eat a lot and play outside the other half of the time.

After watching my son's final wrestling match I decided I don't like wrestling. If you win it is great because you only had yourself to rely on and you were successful. You took on a hard opponent and you prevailed. When you lose, you don't share that loss with anyone. It is only yours. When you are out on the mat and the other guy has you down and you can't get up, there is no one to turn to. You are alone.

My son still likes wrestling. He likes the individual effort, the testing himself to the limit of his strength and agility.

* * * * * * * * * *

My other son is working at becoming a real boy. As in Pinocchio. Real instead of fake. Today was a good day.

Much of the time he is convinced that no one will like him the way he is. He thinks he might not even like himself the way he is. So he doesn't spend any time on being himself. He looks at a group of people and tries to assess what kind of person would get their attention---a funny person? a smart person? a tough person?

Attention is a pretty important factor in the mix. Since he doesn't know if he is likable he has to be able to find that in the faces of others. He is rarely able to be part of a group. He very much needs to be the center of attention. He talks at least 50 percent of the time in groups, no matter how many people are present. He is always the one with his hand in the air during a class discussion. If people are looking at him, that means he is important. Because he doesn't know if he is important, or even worse, believes he probably isn't important, it is essential to find ways to be important.

Getting things is the other necessity. If you ask for things and people give them to you, that means that they like you, that you are important to them. So my son asks for things a lot. When he is not asking for things he is asking for people to do things for or with him. There is a lot of fear involved in this. If he stops asking and no one ever gives him anything, what will that say about him? Will that mean that no one loves him? It's a terrifying proposition.

The hard part is this: if you give him the attention or the stuff or the activity, he ends up not really knowing if he got it because he asked for it or because you really like him. So he has to keep asking for more, grabbing more. He doesn't give you the opportunity to care for him just because he exists and is valuable.

The crazy part is how long it has taken me to figure this out. He is already 13!

So we have talked about this. I have told him that I almost don't know who he is because I hardly ever see the real him. On the few occasions when I do see the real him, I like him. But I don't think he likes him. Or maybe he doesn't know what he is like and he's afraid he won't like himself when he finds out.

What I do know is that other people don't know who he is, but they do know that they don't like all the asking for stuff and the attention getting behavior. And that is sad, because he ends up not having friends. And that is sad because he is working so terribly hard at not being himself just to get friends and it isn't working for him at all.

So we are trying something new.
  • Never ask for anything. Trust me and his dad to take care of his needs.
  • Stop talking in groups for a while. Listen and get interested in other people and relax about whether they like you or not.
  • Don't offer to do things that will get attention---like read your poems to the class, or sing a solo, or start a school newspaper, etc. Find out what you like to do when you aren't trying to get attention. Do you like writing when no one is reading your stuff? Do you sing when you are alone just because you love to?
We have been working on this for about a month now and it is sad what we are seeing. He has no idea what to do when he is alone because he doesn't know how to choose an activity only based on his own interests. He has no idea what his own interests are. On these days when he has been sick he is almost beside himself with the requirement that he not ask to be entertained. The hours stretch out before him and nothing tempts him.

But today there was a pay off. Today he was 'real' nearly the whole evening. We had 'real' conversations about things we were interested in and he wasn't trying to impress me, he was just being himself. He talked about feelings without sensationalizing them. We watched a movie together and once he got over the panic about letting me choose for him (so that he would not be able to measure his worth by whether he could be in charge of it) he relaxed. He just enjoyed it.

So often he can't do that. He is up and down through the movie, checking out whether there is something better to do or to ask for, worrying about whether he would feel more liked if he asked for something else.

I know there aren't quick fixes and that tomorrow he will feel scared again and take some backward steps. But it is great to get a glimpse of what could be someday.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Sacrifice

My devotional times seem to repeat themes regularly as if there is some lesson I need to master. One of those themes is the cost of discipleship. I regularly come across passages that insist that I am not worthy to follow Jesus unless I give up everything to do that. "Sell all you have, give the money to the poor, and come follow me." "Whoever loves parents, siblings, spouse or children more than me is not worthy of me." "It is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle."

The passages, when listed like this, seem severe and harsh and demanding. But there is this other side to them that I glimpse sometimes. There is a freedom, a lightness that comes from giving up our grasp on things. Because that is what it is, grasping. We worry so much because we have so much, and the more we have, the more we convince ourselves that it is these things that keep us safe. We grasp them with both hands held so tightly that our tendons bulge and our muscles ache and our fingernails cut into our palms. And while our hands are so tightly closed they cannot receive anything that gives us relief or peace.

"Do not worry about tomorrow." "Don't worry about what you should eat or drink or wear, but seek first God's kingdom and righteousness and all these things will be added to you."

I think when we have so much we get the idea that we can control it somehow. We have four kinds of insurance to keep disaster away. They are even named after illusions. Health insurance? Life insurance?

We have lists of things that we need to be happy. We have lists of things we have to do/eat/think about in order to be healthy. We have more parenting books than we can possibly read because we are so afraid of messing up these children we love more than we love ourselves. The more afraid we are the more rules and lists we have. When I become afraid of something what do I do? I try to control it so that it can't hurt me.

We even try to control religion/faith. We make rules for ourselves with the intent of becoming closer to God through these disciplines. And disciplines DO bring us closer to God. But then we get mixed up and think that it is the rules that are saving us instead of the relationship saving us. So we make more rules and we get more judgmental of people who don't or can't share those rules and we become less and less like God.

The crux of it is finding the alternative. How do we live in that state of grace where we know with our hearts as well as our minds that none of these efforts to insure our own safety or happiness is worth anything? How do we walk into the kind of joy that knows no fear, not because danger does not exist, but because our certainty of who we are in God's eyes makes us able to face the fearful things with courage?

There is a lot more here to think about, but this brings me to the second repeating theme.

Jesus was required to die for my sins.

My experience of God is one full of mercy and grace. So when my devotions bring me again and again to this requirement of blood sacrifice for my sins I try to reconcile it with my experience. I can't throw it out. It is everywhere in the Bible. To throw it out is to throw out everything.

There are some things I ponder that relate to this.

Jesus never promised safety. He promised that following Him would likely involve very real risks. Would we have gotten that message had he not demonstrated it? But that question implies that he went looking for death to show us how it is done. That is misleading.

Jesus lived his life without fear and with freedom and truth. He was surrounded by people who had fear and bondage and lies. People like us. People who were afraid of a God who could send them to hell so they made up rules and more rules and more rules and then substituted the rules for the relationship. So Jesus comes and says no to the rules and their whole system of being right with God is threatened. They are so convinced of the rules that they get the idea that Jesus is blaspheming---telling people he is leading them to God when he is leading them to destruction. In their eyes He is destroying faith and they have to kill him for it. They are so terrified of losing their safety system that they can't even recognize God right in their midst, miracles and all.

And they are me. I've relied on my rules and found safety in my ability to control my world and the times I have been angriest at God are the times when God has made it plain that He doesn't fit into my neatly constructed box for him. I've made him too small. I've tried to be too safe. So if Jesus died because of sin, at least part of that sin was the Pharisees who couldn't see Jesus because they had built such a safe way to God that they could not accept the real way to God. I have that sin too.

This doesn't even come close to explaining all of the history and theology behind the sacrificial system. I don't pretend to get even a fraction of the meaning behind the idea of sacrifice for sin and how that is fulfilled in Jesus. This is only a start.

There is something too about finding release from the weight of guilt by doing something tangible, giving up something valuable to make things right. But this post is long enough.

There is new stuff at my other site - see 'notes from the journey' in the side bar.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Should

My retreat is nearly over now, within an hour or two. I think I should have something to show for nearly a week of retreat. I'm sure that it was not a waste. I have had almost no doubts that this was a good choice.

I almost wrote 'the right choice'. That would be a typical thought from this week. Having an extraordinary opportunity like this has been daunting at times. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get things right. Having no one to tell me what to do, I lose myself in questions about what I should do. I don't want to waste this. I don't want to come to the end of it without having made any progress in my life and faith.

Questions surround me.

I know it is important to have a mix of activities, active and contemplative, solitude and companionship, serious and playful, holy and profane (?). There are only a limited number of hours of awake time in each day. How do I create the right balance?

I'm so stuck on this rightness stuff. Sometimes I want to swing the other way and just veg out until I can't stand vegging out anymore. But I know that when choosing between contemplation and movies, tv, eating out, etc. that unless I am firmly committed to 'doing the right thing' contemplation will get pushed to the side. I also know that I love contemplation. It grounds me. It somehow gets me to the truth, or at least closer to it. If I don't do it I suffer.

Why is it so tempting to replace something I love this much with stuff that is fun but doesn't fulfill with the same depth and satisfaction? I'm sure there are a lot of answers to this. Most of them don't matter. What matters to me right now is that at this point in my life I can't just trust that doing what I want to do will end up being healthy. I know that I choose too many things that push out the healthiest things. I don't mean that these things are bad. But it's like choosing a store brand hard and dry cookie that is close to me when there are warm fresh gooey chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen if I just will get up and go get them.

I hate the word 'should' because it always makes me feel guilty. I have been on a campaign for years to replace 'should' with 'want to'. I want to do things out of choice and conviction rather than oughtness. I don't want to take pride in some kind of pseudo-holiness self-righteousness because I always do what I 'should' do. I want to keep some humility about this.

The truth is, when I let this go my attitudes get nasty. I start looking for fairness instead of justice, blame instead of solutions. I'm not doing this stuff because it is holy or righteous. I'm doing it because I'm a mess without it. Sometimes I'm even a mess with it.