This Sunday we celebrated global missions at Southwood. Pastor Greg preached on Matthew 25: 31-46 – the scene in which Jesus, in his second coming, will separate the ones who will accompany him to Heaven from the ones who will not:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
Pastor Greg spoke at length about the importance of serving with your heart – that serving “the least of these” is more than simply checking off a good deed on your God to-do list.
Uh-oh. My ears perked up at this.
I think sometimes I approach serving as an “ought to” or a “have to” or a “should,” rather than a “want to.” I approach serving with my brain and my pen (for writing out the check), rather than with my heart.
Although our family sponsors two Tanzanian girls, Neema and Kantate, I admit, until recently I didn’t think about them all that much. Although their pictures hang on our fridge, and we receive a couple letters from them each year, I don’t really know Neema and Kantate. They live so far away; we’ve never met, never exchanged a greeting or an embrace. I’ve never heard the sound of their voices. They are not a part of me, a part of my family. They are not woven into my very fabric like my own children are. I don’t know what their greatest joys are, their deepest fears. I don’t know what they think about as they lie in bed at night. What their favorite color is.
There is a distance both physical and emotional.
I’ve begun to pray for Neema and Kantate just in the last couple of weeks. I don’t know why this has never occurred to me before (probably because I am terribly remiss about praying in general), and I feel guilty admitting it. Although we have sponsored them for two years, I had never actually prayed for them before.
So now I pray for Neema and Kantate every day. Simple prayers – “God, please protect them. Please keep them healthy. Please bring them joy. Please help them in their studies.” It helps me feel a little bit closer to them, a little bit more connected. It gives them a place in my life, a daily presence.
On Sunday we watched a video montage as part of Global Missions Sunday – snapshots of our Honduran and Tanzanian sisters and brothers and some of the Southwood volunteers among them. These photos did more for me in three minutes to deepen my connection to Neema and Kantate then two years of check-writing ever has.
On the screen I witnessed a young boy beaming, his eyes wide behind his first-ever pair of glasses.
A volunteer crew framing up the simple shelter that will become home to a widow and her young children.
Two young boys kicking a ball, pure exuberance evident in their sailing limbs and gleeful smiles.
And then one image in particular:
A group of uniformed students waiting to receive letters from their sponsors.
I leaned forward in the pew, craning to see if I could catch a glimpse of Neema or Kantate. I didn’t. But that didn’t matter in the end. I saw them in those pictures. I caught a glimpse of their joy. I heard their voices. They slid into my heart.
This Sunday we celebrated global missions at Southwood. Pastor Greg preached on Matthew 25: 31-46 – the scene in which Jesus, in his second coming, will separate the ones who will accompany him to Heaven from the ones who will not:
No one loves Jon’s stories more than Noah and Rowan. From the moment he walks through the door, their constant refrain throughout the weekend is the same: “Papa! Papa! Tell us a story! Will you tell us a story? Pleeeeease tell us a story, Papa!” The man hardly has time to wrestle out of his jacket before the boys are guiding Jon into the wing chair and piling onto his lap.
Frankly, I don’t know how he does it, how he can garner the enthusiasm, never mind the creativity, to spin such yarns time and time again. Brad can do it, too. Over the years he’s crafted countless bedtime tales -- the epic battles between Mean Giant and Thunderbird alone spanned nearly two years.
Me? I’d prefer to scrape hard water deposits off the bathroom faucet with a toothpick, rather than spin a clever story at the tail-end of a 14-hour day. Nothing fills me with greater dread than hearing these plaintive words from Rowan at 8 p.m. as I'm nestling in next to him: “Mommy? Will you tell me a story? Pleeeeeeeeease??????” And let me tell you, that kid won’t take no for an answer. He’ll butter me up like a bagel hot from the toaster oven.
“Well, I don’t think so…not tonight, honey,” I’ll tell him. “You know, stories really aren’t Mommy’s thing. How ‘bout we sing a song instead?”
Yeah, right. Rowan’s not going to sing some silly song if he thinks he has a chance at a story. “Oh, Mommy. Your stories are the best,” he’ll tell me in his sweetest, cutest voice. “Your stories are better than Daddy’s!” And then he’ll laugh, because we both know this is a big fat lie.
Recently Rowan even used this blog as ammunition. When I told him the usual, “Sorry, honey, not tonight. Mommy doesn’t tell stories,” he responded. “Well… you write stories on the blod…tell me one of those stories.” The kid’s going to be a lawyer some day.
Anyway, as I was saying, Jon is a gifted storyteller, and I’ve come to appreciate that much more in the last month. I came across this photo a few days ago as it flashed by in the screensaver rotation. Brad took the picture this summer through our dining room window, capturing a glimpse I always took for granted.
At the end of August Jon had a cerebral hemorrhage. It was a dire situation, and for a while none of us was sure he would survive. He spent more than three weeks in the hospital, much of it in the ICU. And although he’s home now, and is expected to make a full recovery, rehabilitation is still ongoing.
Sadly, it often takes an event of this magnitude to shake us awake. And I under-appreciate more than most people; I need more shaking than most. I think I speed through much of my life on autopilot, bent on surviving another 17-hour day; driven to get it all done. I don’t often take the time to appreciate the gifts of those around me. I take them for granted, or worse, find them tiresome or annoying. I don’t take the time to absorb the complete person, to drink in what makes him or her special.
Seeing the photograph of Jon and Rowan relaxing in the summer sun, Rowan listening raptly to his grandfather’s story, was a telling reminder. I remember that day. I distinctly recall rushing around the kitchen, preparing lunch, setting the table, filling water glasses. I distinctly recall glancing out the dining room window at that garden scene. I distinctly recall not stopping, not even for one second, to appreciate that beautiful sight. In fact, I distinctly recall being just a hair irritated with Brad, who stopped right in the midst of my bustling to snap a picture from the dining room window.
I will no longer take Jon’s stories for granted. I’ll listen in, even if it’s a tale I’m hearing for the second or third time. I’ll listen with a fresh ear. I’ll stop whatever mundane task I’m bent on accomplishing to drink in the scene -- the picture of Noah and Rowan, snuggled in the wing chair on their grandfather’s lap, their eyes fixed on his face. I will be grateful to hear another Jon Johnson original yet again.
I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?
Yet we've so narrowly missed being gods,
bright with Eden's dawn light.
You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
repeated to us your Genesis-charge,
Made us lords of sheep and cattle,
even animals out in the wild,
Birds flying and fish swimming,
whales singing in the ocean deeps.
GOD, brilliant Lord,
your name echoes around the world.
I like to watch one man in particular in Southwood’s choir. I don’t know his name. I don’t know anything about him. I don’t even know what his individual voice sounds like, whether he’s a tenor, or an alto or a bass. All I know is that he loves to sing.
When this man sings, every fiber in his body sings with him. It’s obvious that his body is just bursting with song. He bobs, sways a little bit – there’s not much room up there behind the altar, but he does what he can. I can tell just by the shape of his mouth on the long notes that he’s just belting out the lyrics.
Watching this man sing in the choir on Sunday -- witnessing his passion, his energy, his pure joy – brings me joy. And his energy is contagious. When it’s the congregation’s turn to sing, I find myself belting out the lyrics, too, really going for those high notes (and believe me, my voice is of the quality where I should not be belting, but I do it anyway).
Choir Man reminds me: this is what it’s all about. Embracing life with gusto; finding your passion and running with it. Singing – in whatever way you choose to “sing” – your praises to God.
Jeanine is one of the most open, accepting people I know. When I was in high school and using the word “gay” as an adjective (and, I’m ashamed now to admit, not as an adjective meaning “happy”), Jeanine was the one to point out that it wasn’t appropriate or kind. She was always light years ahead of the rest of us, politically correct not because she should be, but because she wanted to be, and long before that term was in vogue.
A couple of years ago, when I went all Jesus on her, she didn’t balk. She may have been slightly unnerved that her formerly irreligious sister had suddenly morphed into a Bible banger, but she didn’t let on. Instead she accepted, even engaged, my new and unfamiliar talk about “worship,” “church community” and “Bible study.” Never once did she judge or even imply an unwillingness to support me. Jeanine was behind me, one hundred percent.
She’s weathered innumerable crises with me. The “baby-won’t-stop-screaming-I-think-I-made-a-huge-mistake” crisis; the “I-have-no-friends-in-Nebraska-I’m-so-lonely” crisis; the “Oh-my-god-I’m-a-Nebraska-haus-fraus-is-this-all-there-is-to-my-life” crisis; the “if-my-husband-leaves-his-pile-of-dirty-underwear-on-the-bathroom-floor-one-more-time…” crisis; the “I’ve-been-rejected-by-another-agent-I-suck-why-did-I-write-this-stupid-book-anyway” crisis. You get the picture. No matter what, Jeanine is there, on the other end of the line, making me laugh with her caustic humor, buoying my broken ego.
I could go on and on. After all we have, as of today, 37 years of shared history. But let me say simply that I am grateful for my sister. Everyone should have a blessing this rich and wide and deep. Everyone should be so lucky to have a Jeanine. She is, in a word, the best.
Only those who obey can believe, and only those who believe can obey.
Do not say you have not got faith. You will not have it so long as you persist in disobedience and refuse to take the first step. When you are disobedient, you are trying to keep some part of your life under your own control. Somewhere in your heart you are refusing to listen to his call.
I think when we hear the word “obey” we automatically recoil. We think of obeying our parents when we were kids; obeying the law. The word “obey” sparks rebellion. When we hear the word “obey” we also might think boring. Stultifying. Suffocating. But for Bonhoeffer, obeying was the opposite. It was relinquishing control. Freedom from burden. Peace. Obeying as letting go, resting in the comforting thought that someone else, someone far more capable, is at the wheel.
Saying you don’t have faith is a cop-out, the easy road. Stagnating, refusing to take the first step, refusing to obey is the easy way out. It’s an excuse, a shield you’re using to protect yourself. I know. I chose the shield of un-belief for two decades. The irony is that I might as well have rolled myself in Saran wrap.
So think about it. Are you using inaction as a Saran wrap shield? Are you settling for the assumption that you just "don't have faith," that you "just don't believe? " Go ahead. Touch a toe into the water. Take that first step. Strip off the Saran Wrap. Obey to believe, and believe to obey.
After I'd dried off and thrown on my clothes, though, I knew I had to tell Noah the truth. I knew I had to apologize. After all, I was the one who had broken one of his favorite possessions.
I approached him in the kitchen. "Noah, honey...um...I'm really sorry, honey," I said, holding out the shards in my palm, "I'm really sorry, but I accidently knocked over your sand dollars in the tub, and this big one broke. I'm sorry."
Noah looked at the broken pieces for a split second, looked up at me, and then, without another thought, said, "It's okay, Mommy. I still have other ones that aren't broken."
Now, compare this incident with another that had transpired a couple of days earlier. It was during the morning rush hour -- you know, the frenetic hour leading up to the school-day departure. Rowan and I were in the bathroom. While I was brushing on blush, he was being his usual morning self, flailing around, jumping up and down like he was on an imaginary pogo stick, yelling at the top of his lungs and bouncing around the confined space like a superball.
At one point, in a moment of particularly frenzied energy, one of Rowan's limbs swiped a ceramic dish off the sink counter and sent it crashing to the floor, where it broke into a dozen or so pieces.
Now, I admit. This was a favorite dish. I had painted it with Noah at Paint Yourself Silly; it matched the colors of my bathroom perfectly. I often used it to hold my watch or jewelry as I washed my face or brushed my teeth. On the other hand, it's not like it was valuable or held hugely sentimental value. It's not like it was the Spode vase my best friend Andrea had given me for a wedding shower gift. It's not like it was Waterford crystal. It was just a $3.99 dish.
So, you're wondering, how did I react? Was I like Noah, quick to forgive? Ah no. I flipped out. "Rowan! Come on, give me a break!" I yelled. "Are you kidding me? How many times did I tell you to calm down? How many times did I tell you to leave Mommy alone while I was getting ready for work? Now look what happened! You were goofballing around and now look!"
I was not quick to forgive. I was not quick to overlook Rowan's flaws. Don't feel too badly, though. Rowan was not exactly contrite either. He looked at the dish, broken irreparably on the floor, and I swear I saw a twinkle in his eye. I don't know, maybe I'm just being paranoid, but I definitely did not see an inkling of remorse.
Anyway, the lesson of the day is that once again, Noah taught me compassion. As Pastor Sara said in her blog:
It all comes back to compassion. It seems to be an American trait to want to point the blame at someone else. But if we do that, an "I'm sorry" or an "I forgive you" is never even possible. As adults, one of the best things we can do for children is to admit we are wrong sometimes and ask for forgiveness. This shows far more compassion and grace than proving we were right in the first place ever could.
I eventually apologized to Rowan for reacting so harshly to his mistake. He didn't seem to care one way or the other; in fact, he looked genuinely puzzled, like he was having a hard time remembering the dish in the first place. But I did apologize. And I did forgive him for his goofbally ways. And maybe, somewhere in that little heart of his, Rowan forgave me for my overreactive tendencies. Or maybe not. To be honest, it's sort of hard to tell with that one.
One would think that a person who devotes her life to writing about faith (okay "life" might be an overstatement; how about devotes 5-7 a.m., Monday through Saturday) would be a very spiritual person indeed. And to some degree, that's true. Or at least true in that I am far more spiritual now than I was during the atheist decades (I guess that would be a no-brainer). Writing about experiencing faith in the everyday really has opened my eyes to the many blessings and gifts that are woven into my ordinary existence.
Is it just me? Or has anyone else confronted this particularly hairy beast? Come on, 'fess up! Have you ever begun with the clean-hearted intention of serving God and ended up serving yourself instead? And don't you just hate it when that happens?
My good friend Kim Turnage encouraged me to start blogging. I resisted for a while, but finally gave in. She's very convincing that way!
Last week she guest blogged about how she related to the story of Ruth and Naomi, and today I'm guest blogging on "Kimmy Does Denver."
Occasionally I get the opportunity to listen to a program called Speaking of Faith. It's on NPR, but I don't often get the chance to tune in to the broadcast (I think it airs Sundays at 7 a.m. here in Nebraska...right when we are in the midst of pre-church lunacy, throwing on the kids' clothes, gulping down coffee and whipping up Egos in the toaster oven -- no time for contemplative radio listening). Rather, I listen from my computer.
The first time I listened to Speaking of Faith was last winter. Brad walked into the office to find me stretched out on the floor, wrapped from head to toe in a blanket, my head on a pillow, a glass of Shiraz and a plate of cheese and crackers by my side. I looked like a mummy wrapped in fleece. "What in the world are you doing?" asked Brad, clearly puzzled by the scene. "Sssshhhhhh!" I'm listening to a program on mindfulness meditation...you're interrupting my zen!"
I love the variety of this program. So far I've listened to the above -mentioned piece, in which host Krista Tippett talked with meditation guru Jon Kabat-Zinn. That program was particularly blissful -- even the sound of his voice was meditative. In fact, I was so inspired I got his tome from the library (Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life) the next day. I got about halfway through before realizing Kabat-Zinn was more soothing in markedly smaller doses. Plus I figured that by the time I actually finished reading the book, I'd be about 80 and wouldn't have time to practice mindfulness anyway. So I returned the book to the library.
I've since listened to a show with Rabbi Sandy Sasso on the spirituality of parenting; a program on 13th-century Muslim mystic and poet Rumi; and this week, an interview with Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue called "The Inner Landscape of Beauty." They've all been phenomenal, but this week's program with O'Donohue was particularly mesmerizing. Maybe it was his lilting brogue, or his descriptions of the raw beauty of the coast of Ireland, his homeland, but I was transported to another realm. Sprawled out on the office floor, fleece pulled up to my chin, my mind and body loosened, relaxed, breathed.
There's something about radio that does that for me. I'm not a big TV person (except when Lost debuts each season). I find all the yakking and the yammering commercials for bifidus regularis and the like too much; it all sends me into sensory overload. But radio -- specifically public radio, and shows like Speaking of Faith -- allows me to focus, to absorb. Radio feeds my soul rather than draining it.
If you get the chance, check out Speaking of Faith online-- and listen to John O'Donohue read some of his poems. Krista Tippett closed the interview with one that he wrote for his mother, a blessing after the death of his father (below). Listening to this blessing in O'Donohue's melodic brogue was the perfect way to end a harried day. That is, until my husband made popcorn in the kitchen , the frenetic sounds of bursting kernels drowning out the last lines of the blessing and ruining my reverie. Ah well, even radio's not perfect.
On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.
Occasionally I serve as a lay reader at the 8:30 service. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with reading in church. To be honest, it scares the life out of me. Public speaking isn't really my thing (which is ironic, given the fact that I am in public relations), so I get really, really nervous. The last time I gave a presentation at work to the board, the techie guy came up to me afterwards and exclaimed, "Wow! I've never seen you that nervous before!" Leave it to the techie guy to tell it like it is.
Suffice to say, the whole time I'm standing at the lectern in front of the church, I'm wondering if the congregation can see me shaking like a quaking aspen. My legs tremble so much the hem of my skirt vibrates.
Often when I read the Bible I rush through the passages and don't allow any time for the meaning behind the language to really seep into my heart. I think I often approach my Bible study as I do most everything else in my life: as a chore to accomplish. Another item to check off my to-do list. Practicing my church reading forces me to dwell, to absorb, to focus on just a few lines, rather than an entire chapter or a whole book.
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the
neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John pointed him out and called, 'This is the One! The One I told you was coming after me but in fact was ahead of me. He has always been ahead of me, has always had the first word.' We all live off his generous bounty, gift after gift after gift. We got the basics from Moses, and then this exuberant giving and receiving, this endless knowing and understanding — all this came through Jesus, the Messiah. No one has ever seen God, not so much as a glimpse. This one-of-a-kind God-Expression, who exists at the very heart of the Father, has made him plain as day.
Like my experience at the Haukebo Reunion church service each summer. Surrounded by family, amidst the whispering white pines, I feel the presence of God.
I went for a bike ride last night after supper with Noah. This is a new activity for us. He's been off training wheels for a couple of years, but until now he was much too slow for us to ride together. Up until now I've occasionally jogged while he rode alongside, but that was really no fun, because generally running is much too laborious for me to find any enjoyment in it.
best part was? It took us more than an hour. I rode slowly enough that I could appreciate my surroundings. And of course Noah was there to point out all the unique trees along the way. In fact at one point, after nearly rear-ending him a half-dozen times, I suggested that he might not want to slam on his brakes every time he glimpsed a ginko or a black walnut tree.
Today I'm doing something a little bit different. My friend Kim, who lives in Denver, is guest blogging about her interpretation of the Book of Ruth.
I met Kim about two years ago -- she and her husband Rick were the leaders of my small group -- and it wasn't long before I realized we had a lot in common. Kim is analytical; she's a questioner, like me! It was a relief to find a kindred spirit.
Kim, Rick and their three kids moved to Colorado last January. I wept like a fool at their farewell party at Southwood. I left there and went straight to the mall, where I had to engage in two hours of retail therapy in order to regain my composure.
Honestly, though, I miss Kim. A lot. Her departure left a hole in my life that won't be filled any time soon. Luckily we have all this social networking business to help keep us connected.
So here's Kim, writing about the Book of Ruth. You can read more of her insights on Kimmy Does Denver.
I love an "aha!" moment! And that's what I got when I read Ruth last week. I found myself in Naomi. I found myself in Ruth. Their story is my story.
It helps to understand the basics of the story as a framework for what I discovered, so here's the Cliff's Notes version for you.
Once upon a time there was a woman named Naomi who had two sons. First her husband died. Then her two sons died. A woman without a husband and without children to care for her was destitute in those days. As she packed up to go back to her homeland, she released her two daughters-in-law, entreating them to make a life for themselves. But one daughter-in-law, Ruth, wouldn't leave her side. Ruth and Naomi traveled back to Naomi's homeland, and Ruth went out to the the fields to try to make a living for the two. The first field she visits just happened to belong to Boaz, a relative of her father-in-law. One thing happened, and another, and Ruth and Boaz married, had children, and lived happily ever after. And so did Naomi.
"Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!"
And since we got here eight months ago, I've had more Naomi moments than I'd like to admit:
"Don't call me Naomi; call me Bitter. The Strong One has dealt me a bitter blow. I left here full of life, and God has brought me back with nothing but the clothes on my back. Why would you call me Naomi? God certainly doesn't. The Strong One ruined me."
I wish I were as brave and as faithful as Ruth, not grousing or moping but deciding and taking action and believing in the kindness of others:
"I'm going to work; I'm going out to glean among the sheaves, following after some harvester who will treat me kindly."
The "will" has been true. In spite of my discomfort and floundering and flailing, I have found myself many times, like Ruth, on my knees, grateful for the kindnesses of new neighbors, other moms, people in my church, asking,
"How does this happen that you should pick me out and treat me so kindly—me, a foreigner? ... Such grace, such kindness—I don't deserve it. You've touched my heart, treated me like one of your own. And I don't even belong here!"Like Ruth, I am blessed to be loved and cared for by a man who, like Boaz, seeks what is right above what is easy and loves me even (and especially) when I don't deserve it.
I left Lincoln like Naomi. Fearing I was leaving some of the best parts of my life behind me. I can't imagine losing a husband or losing my children like Naomi did, but I know now what it feels like to lose myself. Naomi's friends give me hope for what it will feel like to come out on the other side of that.
"Blessed be God! He didn't leave you without family to carry on your life. May this baby grow up to be famous in Israel! He'll make you young again! He'll take care of you in old age. And this daughter-in-law who has brought him into the world and loves you so much, why, she's worth more to you than seven sons!"Naomi reminds me that my family is the best part of my life. And Ruth and Naomi help me live in hope that I will be able to say, in the end, Blessed be God! That I'll be able to someday feel that God has redeemed me through all this with a new life better than even seven of the old. Until that day comes, Ruth and Naomi give me hope.
Sunday School started again this past weekend, and I did a little leap of joy as I entered the sanctuary with just my husband, our kids happily tucked into their classrooms. I actually used the word "rejoicing" to describe my mood to a Southwood staff member, which is ironic, since a few minutes after that I discovered the day's worship theme would center around teaching our children about God.
Point your kids in the right direction -- when they're
old they won't be lost. (22:6, Message translation)
No, no, it's not what you're thinking. I'm not going to tell you I saw God at Memorial Stadium on Saturday just because the Huskers won. He wasn't wearing a corncob hat, and he didn't have a skull and crossbones emblazoned across his bare chest either.
I got off the phone, sat on the couch, held Noah and continued to watch the television. I didn't know it at the time, but my life had just been changed.
This week I wrote two letters, one to Neema and one to Kantate. Neema and Kantate are the two young women in Tanzania that we sponsor through Southwood. Neema and Kantate are orphans; their parents died of AIDS. Our annual check pays for their room, board and secondary education.
"Is God a boy or a girl?" Rowan asked me yesterday on our walk. "Here we go again," I thought. "More God questions lobbed at me while Mr. Divinity Degree is at work." I stumbled through my answer -- how do you explain to a four-year-old that God is neither man nor woman, or both man and woman, and way more than man and woman, without making God sound like a hermaphrodite or a eunuch?
I've launched a new campaign recently that I am calling "Seven Minutes of Silence."
It takes me about 12 or so minutes to drive to work (rough commute, I know). After I drop the kids off at school, the first thing I do is jump back into the minivan and turn on NPR to catch Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac. Typically Keillor's folksy, wholesome humor is not my style -- truthfully, I find A Prairie Home Companion, with all its yodeling, and fiddlin' and rambling yarns, kind of annoying. But Writer's Almanac, this tiny slice of a show, is a different story.
I expected to find God at the state fair. I've been seeing him everywhere lately, so I figured why not on the tilt-a-whirl or in line at the corn dog stand? But it really didn't happen. Instead, what I did find was presence.
For starters, the moment my rear-end even grazes a soft surface, I am so overcome with exhaustion I instantly begin to doze off. This happens every night when we read books to the kids before bed. As were all snuggled in bed (well, three of us are snuggling -- one of us is jumping up and down on the bed in a fit of pre-bedtime lunacy...this would be Rowan, just in case you didn't know) reading Max the Taxi Dog, I succumb to a paralyzing stupor. Every night I think to myself, "This is it. I can't get out of bed. I'm not going to make it." Of course every night I also miraculously get a second-wind the minute the kids' heads hit their pillows. Funny how that works.
Maybe God was at the state fair after all.
"No" is my default answer. I've realized lately that I say "no" a lot, especially to my children, and sometimes when it's not entirely necessary. It seems that I've gotten into the habit of saying "no." And that habit, combined with my slightly rigid personality (okay, rigid like a set of taut violin strings), is not a good combination.
Photo: Rowan, Mr. Bones and I at the Halloween Party, September 5, 2009.
Rowan has a cold this week. Remember a few days ago when I wrote about whining? Well let's just say the whining has reach a crescendo. I'm trying to be patient, really I am. But it's so hard.
For starters, Brad is out of town, so I'm doing "one parent, two kids" parenting, as we call it around here. And then there's the fact that Rowan, the Man of Action, does not do well when he's sick. Let me give you an example. The other night, beginning at about 11 p.m., he cried every 11.5 minutes or so, for three straight hours. I kid you not. I burned more calories in a three-hour period (out of bed, back in bed...out of bed, back in bed) than I did in a week's worth of exercise. Finally I let him come to bed with me. And don't I know better by now? Don't I know after more than eight years of parenting that my children in bed with me is never a good solution? What? Did I think this would be it -- that this would be the time Rowan would drift serenely off to sleep in the arms of his nurturing mother? Didn't happen.
nose drip, approximately every 4.6 seconds, Rowan would wail, "I need a Kleeeeeeeenex!" In between nose blows, he would make a demand: "I need Lovey! I need more waaaaaater! I need my baby blanket! I need another stuffie!" Occasionally he would yowl in despair, "My nose hurts!!!!!" And implore plaintively, "Am I going to be sick forever?" And the clincher, at 1:45 a.m.: "My voice sounds funny! I don't like how my voice sounds! Is my voice going to stay this way forever? I don't want my voice to stay this way forever! Waaaaaaaaaa!"
This, of course, was the straw that broke my back. Mind you, I had been the picture of perfect patience for 2.75 hours in the middle of the night -- not my perferred hours for mothering. But when Rowan began lamenting the sound of his voice at 1:45 a.m., I lost it. "That's it!!!!" I whisper-seethed. "I'm done with you. This is ridiculous! This is so utterly ridiculous I can't stand it. I don't care how funny your voice sounds! It's a cold for crying out loud, a cold! Get over it!"
This is all I need to hear: an open invitation to complain. And I launch into it full-steam, not missing a single detail: I have the worst cold ever, my whole body aches, my head is throbbing, I have four meetings this week, I can't call in sick to work, I really don't know how I'm going to get through it. Yada, yada, yada. Janice, of course, is nothing short of 100 percent sympathetic. And she means it; she is completely genuine. She actually feels bad for me. The woman with the cancer is consoling the woman with the sniffles.
I do keep trying though. Janice is my role model, and if she can maintain seemingly effortless good spirits, then the least I can do is to keep trying. I don't think I'll ever even come close to Janice, but she inspires me to keep striving, one Rowan cold at a time.
*Photo from Christmas 2007, when our entire family had colds. I captioned the photo: "Christmas 2007: what we really feel like."
Rowan said something the other day that made my husband and I laugh out loud, despite our best intentions.
It seems Rowan has entered the dreaded whining stage. When he's not SPEAKING IN ALL CAPS -- yelling at the top of his lungs in a "conversational" tone that makes me want to clamp my hands over my ears -- he is whining. Everything is spoken in a grating whine, from what he does or does not want for dinner -- "I tooooold youuuuuu, I don't liiiiiiiiiike carrots anymore" -- his face crumpled into a portrait of agony, to the command to head upstairs for bathtime -- "Noooooo, noooooo, I don't waaaaaaana have a baaaaaath, I waaaaaana watch Fraaaaaaanklin."
So the other night, Brad warned Rowan at dinnertime: "That's it. Enough whining. One more whine out of you, and you're upstairs in your room for the rest of dinner."
And how did Rowan respond to this threat? Thirty seconds later: "I don't waaaaaaana have miiiiiiilk. I don't even liiiiiiiiiiike milk," all furrowed brow and crinkled nose.
"A scoundrel plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire. A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." (Proverbs 16: 27-28)
Or as The Message version puts it:
"Mean people spread gossip. Their words smart and burn. Troublemakers start fights; gossips break up friendships."
God clearly does not value gossipping.
It's funny how we humans have the uncanny ability to convince ourselves that we're not sinning, that it just seems like we're sinning.
Today I face the truth: it doesn't just seem like I'm gossipping. It doesn't just seem like I'm sinning.