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.