Friday, December 30, 2011

A Poem for the New Year

I have been really into poetry lately. Not sure why, but it has just had this profound power over me....I think because I've been in this somewhat long and semi-frustrating state of feeling like I have so much to say and write, but for various reasons I have just not had the words to do so. Often, when I find myself in this place, music speaks to me and I can point to a certain song or set of lyrics and say, "This is how I'm feeling." or "This says exactly what I am unable to." But for some reason, poems have been the thing lately. I can't tell you how many times in recent months I've been reading something and have been moved to tears by the fact that a sentiment is so beautifully, powerfully, and simply expressed. Anyway, it has been feeding my soul. Here's a poem I ran across just the other day that I thought was a good one for the New Year. The entire poem is worth reading, but here is an excerpt of just the last two stanzas. Enjoy...and Happy 2012!

Excerpt from "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning

But I need, now as then,
Thee, God, who mouldest men;
And since, not even while the whirl was worst,
Did I—to the wheel of life
With shapes and colours rife,
Bound dizzily,—mistake my end, to slake Thy thirst:

So, take and use Thy work,
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o' the stuff, what warpings past the
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete
the same!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Preparing Room

The season of advent is upon us.  Time, I suppose, for the obligatory blog post on doing Christmas the "right" way, whatever that is.  Less stuff, more meaning, less shopping, more praying?  I'm not sure.

Truth be told, it's really hard to know how to make Jesus' Christmas surpass the grandeur of Santa Claus--especially with small children.  Try as I might, Molly's favorite part of Christmas is the presents, even though she knows all about Jesus and his birthday.  What is a parent to do, really?  There's a big part of me that loves the gift giving (and receiving) part, too...

And so I struggle to figure out what this "real meaning" is that I am trying to prepare for.  Probably not the most p.c. thing to own up to, but it's true.

This morning, while listening to Christmas music, I was floored by a line from Joy to the World: "Let every heart prepare ye room."

I'm not sure why it struck me.  Why it kept circling through my mind as the rest of the song played.  Why it kept coming back as I did other things.  Why it's still stuck there, hanging on.  Let every heart prepare ye room.

Still unsure why this line clung to me as it did, I began to reflect on what it might mean to prepare room for Jesus, the baby King, the one who would save.  The only frame of reference I have for this is preparing for the birth of my own babies.  Thinking back to those times, I recall the planning, the careful shopping and selecting and readying that took place to make their rooms ready for them to come home.  Especially with Molly, the firstborn, I chose all of the things--linens, furniture, decorations--with such care.  We set things up so proudly, washed and folded things, made her some special things and placed them in the room even before she was born.

Why do we feel compelled to do this?  Why has readying a nursery become such an important part of having a new baby?  Surely, it's not because we think the baby cares about all of these things, is it?  We don't believe that the baby, upon seeing the wrong quilt, or upon realizing that the changing table is a hand-me-down, will become indignant and refuse to remain in our family, do we?  Of course not.  Setting up the nursery with care is simply a way that we communicate to the baby, to ourselves, and to the rest of the world that we are making room.  A new one is coming into our world, and we will stop everything to make a place where this new one can live and grow and make their home.  Making room shows that we are eager, we are expectant, and we realize that once the baby arrives, we will be ready and available for life to be different.

Perhaps it's a helpful metaphor for the advent season, especially in light of the fact that the One we await came as a baby.  So what might it look like to make room this season?  How are we preparing?  Are we choosing carefully the things that we are spending our time on this season?  Are we aware that the things we are preparing--the actual, physical things--aren't the important part, but what is important is that these physical things point to a heart that is eager, excited, expecting to stop everything and make room once the awaited one arrives?

The problem with the advent season, in my opinion, is that it is just the beginning, yet it gets all of the pomp.  It is like celebrating a wedding without realizing that the marriage itself is the gift.  Or having a baby shower and not knowing that the raising of the child is the fun part.  Advent is the preparation.  Advent is the beginning, the entrance, the starting gun.  It is loud and shiny and exciting, and Santa and Rudolph join in, and there is hot chocolate and ice skating.  It is all so much darn fun.

But what comes after--when the King has come--that's the point.  That's what we wait for.  Life after the Christmas tree has come down, after the New Year has rung, that's what all of this is for.  That is also the point at which we find out if we have done a good job at making room.  If life is different, if we have received Christ who has come, if we are fundamentally changed, if our priorities have shifted come December 26th....that's how we know.  That's how we know if we've truly made room.  That's how we know that the baby has arrived.

How are you making room this season?

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Transferable Treasure

I am told to ask, so I do.

It is early, and I am willing--just barely--and I ask, knowing there will be an answer.  But at this point, I'm not sure if I am ready to hear any more.

"Storing up treasures in heaven.  What does this look like?  Really?  What does this mean?  What do you want us to do?"

I hear.  But it makes no sense.

That's how I know.  These aren't my thoughts, borne from my brain.  These belong to Another.


That's it.  That's the answer.  Not the answer to everything, mind you.  But the answer to this question.  This storing up treasures question.

Not tithing more?  Not doing more?  Being more?

I am confused, but I know to wait.  I know, by now, how this works.  I just hold it loosely, keep it there floating around.  Soon the wrestling begins, as it always does.  The wrestling to take the word that's heard and bring it to life in my mind and my heart so that it makes sense, sinks in, rings true.

All day, I wonder: Worship?  Really?  That's the treasure that is transferable?

It strikes a chord.  I have been learning, thinking, mulling, these last few months.  Worship isn't a synonym for singing.  It does not always happen with a band, or a leader, or with others.

Certainly, it can.  It does.

But worship is so much more than that.


That is worship.  It's when my actions sing agreement with Him.  When their song mimics His tune, showing that I want what He wants.  Showing that I will follow, not lead.


That is worship.  Welcome worship around here.  When my body and soul lie still, knowing there is refuge from the storms.  Knowing that the worrying can cease because of the One who is standing guard.


That is worship.  That is recognizing Him for who he is.  For seeing how great, how long, how wide He is, and knowing--happily--that I will never measure up, and that I'm not expected to.


That is worship.  It is knowing that I am given good things to do, important things to do, a purpose.  And that I can make a difference in this world in a very real way because He has made me to do that.

Everything, really, can be worship.  It's not about what's going on.  It's about how it's going.

Worship is simply this: acknowledging Him as the starting point, middle point, ending point....for everything.

Worship makes me take myself off of the throne, and it allows Him to reign unchallenged.

Worship is not a moment.  Not an event.  Not a part of a service or of a life or of a religion.

Worship is the point.

Worship is the treasure.  On earth as it is in heaven.  The transferable treasure.

The one, which, if we store it up here, will be there waiting for us.  It will make us rich.  In heaven, for sure.

But here?

It might make us rich here, too.

Friday, October 28, 2011

That Lady

I promised myself that I would not blog about this.  Actually, I promised myself that I would not talk about this or really call any attention to it at all.  There were good reasons for this.  But I am feeling compelled to share...just not for the reason that it will at first appear.

Last week, Molly (4) Caroline (1), myself, and my mom went on a flight to Massachusetts to visit some dear friends.  It was Caroline's first flight, and she did great--until the end.  As soon as the plane began to descend, she began to pull at her ears and wail.  The pressure hurt.  From the amount she was screaming, the pressure really hurt.  But we made it.

On the return flight, we were as ready as we could be.  I gave Caroline some tylenol in advance.  We had plenty of things for her to eat and drink to keep the pressure from building up.  But wouldn't you know that as soon as the plane began descending, the wailing began again.  She was inconsolable.  I felt so bad for her, and sorry that my fellow passengers had to listen to her.

A few minutes into the crying, a lady about 3 rows in front of us turned around and stared at us, shaking her head back and forth.  Clearly, annoyed.  I smiled.  My mom tried to communicate that the baby's ears were hurting.  The lady just stared at us, angry.  Throw-them-off-the-plane-angry.  She even pressed the flight attendant call button at one point, presumably to complain about us.  My heart started to race.  Anger.  Frustration.  Tightness in my chest that slowly creeps upward.  Lady, can't you understand?  Can't you put yourself into our shoes?

We made it all the way down and the crying stopped.  Magically.  Poor Caroline, all blotchy faced, just lay on me in pure exhaustion, snuffling and taking deep breaths to calm down.  We stood up and got our things together, ready to deplane.  The lady--that lady, as she had now become in my mind--had her bag several rows back.  Right near us.  You'd think she'd try to avoid eye contact, try to put it behind her and just get off the plane already.  I thought that's what she was going to do, and I even moved politely so that she could get her bag more easily.  That was me being the bigger person.

And then she looked straight at me.  And snarled.

"You really shouldn't do that to that baby."

Excuse me?  Do what?  Take her on an airplane?

A number of responses, all beginning with the phrase "How dare you", came to mind.  As rushing rage wound its way through my blood, I mumbled something, desperately trying to keep myself from shouting obscenities at her and from keeping my mom from punching the lady in the eye (which was a real possibility).  How could someone be so heartless, so mean, so...shameless?

And then she was gone.

She left me, a young mother with two tiny little girls, there to absorb the sting of her words, without giving us another thought.  We had ruined 10 minutes of her flight, and we deserved it.

I hate that this lady spoiled the end of this trip for us.  We should have come out of the airport beaming and sharing stories and shouting about all of the blessings we were given in that wonderful week.  Instead, we were weighed heavily with the cruelty of someone we didn't even know.  Even though we could brush her words off as ridiculous, it is weighty to glimpse the depravity of another.

But the heaviest weight of all?

Realizing that I am just like her.

Go with me all the way back to the beginning of this post for just a second.  As I said, I really didn't want to tell this story because I didn't want to give that lady any airtime in my mind or my heart or in my words.  I just thought she was deplorable enough not to warrant any further consideration.  And it's true.  This post is not about her.  Not really.

It's about all of us.  Me first.

As this story was unravelling, I was talking to myself (not out loud, mind you).  Wrestling back and forth in my mind:  "Who does that lady think she is?"  "What is her problem?"  "I hope something horrible happens to her on the way out of the airport."  "I hope something falls on her head."  "I hope that something falls on her head and then something else falls on her legs and pins her to the dirty ground."  "I hope that at that moment, one of those little airport cars drives by and rolls right over her."  "I hope that as all of this happens, I can be standing there to watch and laugh and tell everyone not to help her because she is such an awful human being."  "Please God, do something mean to her."

Gulp.  Guilty as charged.

And this one, the thought that I hung my hat on when all was said and done.  I said it like this in my head, "God, thank you that what goes around comes around."


It has taken me several days to unpack this thought in my head.  To realize that I really meant it.  To realize that I really believed (a.) that this is how God works and (b.) that this is how I want God to work.

If what goes around comes around, I have no desire to stick around for what is coming.  Because you know what?  Goodness and compassion and understanding will not be coming my way.  Even though I may not treat someone like that lady on an airplane, I have done things equally heartless, equally cruel, equally lacking in compassion.  And I enjoyed it.  Sure, you may say that she deserves all of this.  Clearly, I agree with you on some level.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize that she is not unique.  It is not that something in her is incorrectly wired to make her a mean, heartless human being.  It's that we're all wired that way.

What makes me think that I'm any better?

Luckily, even though my mind reverts to this "what goes around comes around" philosophy, I believe in a God who is not like this.  He sees that all of us (a world full of that guy and that lady screw-ups) just don't have it together.  We can't be kind.  We can't be understanding.  We try sometimes, and sometimes we don't.  But regardless, we can't do it.  And that's okay.  Because his justice system is not a karmic one, it's a gracious one.  It's distinctly a What Goes Around Does Not Come Around sort of system.

Thank you, God, for that.  Now I can rest easier.  Now I can be assured that my moment of meanness overpowering niceness will not come back and bite me on the way out of the airport.

Also.  Now I have the strength, the ability, the perspective, with which to forgive all of the that ladies in my life.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

One Night

Waiting for dessert, the small group of us sat in the living room and talked.  The conversation started and stopped, not unpleasantly, just people getting to know one another.  A question here, an observation there.  We asked how they had liked the tacos.  They smiled, revealing gratitude but not completely answering our question.  Our refugee friends are friendly, shy, warm, intriguing.

The conversation moved to dessert--desserts we were going to have that night.  They hadn't heard of brownies.  Only one of them had tried ice cream.  We promised that they'd only have to eat what they liked.

And then I asked about them.  What desserts did they have in their country?  What sorts of sweet things did they like to eat?
A blank stare, and then a grimace.  Slowly, an answer, as if being very gentle with me.

"Kristin, we have economic problems in Nepal.  No dessert."

That sound? That was me and my sense of reality being brought down to size.

I go on, ask the obvious question.  "So what did  you have to eat?  The UN, what rations did they give you?"

The answer: rice, flour, some sugar.  The vegetables they had to grow in their garden.  The mushrooms they hunted in the forest outside the camp.  The meat was bought in tiny shops inside the camp, where they lived in makeshift homes of bamboo, mud, and tarps with their extended families.  There was a rainy season.  There was some snow.  There was no heat.

For 20 years that's how it was.  How it still is there in that camp.  In 2011.

There were many delightful things that night.  Teaching them how to use a high chair.  Watching the adorable little girl playing with a "hammer" toy and giggling each time she made contact.  Learning Nepali words.  Showing off my yoga poses to demonstrate where I learned the word "Namaste".

But we all had to wonder after they left: what do they think of us?  Of us with our overflowing tacos, gigantic bowls of food, plentiful desserts.  Our multitudes of questions, our interest in them, our warm, comfortable homes, solemn prayers.  In no way was our meal extravagant or the night one of luxury.  It was the same thing we do every week.  Do we count ourselves blessed?  Truly?  Do we?

But one question has haunted me since they left that night.  Really, it has haunted me since I met them and heard of their plight.  Honestly, it has haunted me for 10 years--the time when the Nairobi slums became a part of my story.

Not "what do they think of us" but "what do we think of us?"

And, when I'm feeling brave....

"What does He think of us?"

I don't think these are questions I can dodge forever.  I have done a decent job for a long time.  But it's as if the universe--aka God--is conspiring against me.  I don't have answers to these questions.  Not yet, anyway, and certainly not in any tangible form.  But they are things that make me uncomfortable and make me question...things.  Big things.  How-do-I-live-my-life sort of things.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Is there room in our lives for a calling?

Do our lives have unique purposes, directions, paths?  Has God ordained for us each a road?  A road that we can take--or not.  But, nonetheless, a road that is for us only?

I think so.

God does place callings on our lives.  Callings to specific things and places and people and lives.  Our callings come from the deepest parts of who we are and what we're like.  But that's not all a calling is.  A calling is God reaching out to us, meeting us (and all of our goals, dreams, passions, experiences) and merging His direction with our own.

A calling is...most obviously....God calling the best parts of us out for Himself.  God saying, "Yes, I created that wonderful talent/passion/gift in you and now you have the choice to give it back to me and see what we can really do with it.

Weren't the disciples ones who were called?  Isn't that what happened to them?  They had lives they were leading.  Good lives.  Decent lives.  Important lives.  But God called them.  He called them to stop doing what they were doing for themselves, and begin doing what they were doing for Him.  The fishermen became fishers of men.  Their skills, their talents, their very lives plucked up and redirected.  Called.

I worry a bit about all of us, though.  I fear that our lives, while decent, good, fruitful, even Godly, have left no room for a calling.  We are planners.  At least, the ones of us that I know are.  We have a plan for the month, year, and next several seasons of life, and we are doing everything we can to keep ourselves on track to accomplish our goals.  We do this because this makes sense and we want to be successful and happy and not wind up somewhere in a dead end job with a house in foreclosure and zero prospects of retirement.  I get it.  We'd be dumb to do anything else.

But if we were called, really, called.  What would we do?

Would we be willing to even consider reconsidering?  Our plans, so nicely laid and waiting for us to grow into them--would we think of abandoning them?

If God broke in and said: Stop.  Not that way.  This way.  ---would we follow?

Because I believe that not only could this happen, but it does happen.  It is  happening.  Daily.  To all of us.

We are being called.  To something, toward something.

Question is: will we answer?


Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Woman Walks into a Crowded Room and...

If I were to walk into my local mall at lunchtime on a Saturday and shout at the top of my lungs: "FIRE!" until everyone was properly worked up into a frenzy, I would surely be arrested.  And rightly so.  Making people doubt their safety, forcing hearts to beat fast and legs to scatter for no real reason, is criminal in our country.

I have often thought about this when I listen to "experts" speak on motherhood.

See, you take a room full of moms--even worse, new or particularly young moms--and tell them what they should be doing (and throw in the fact that if they aren't doing it this way they could irreparably damage their children), all they're going to think is: I am not doing that.  This will play on a repeat loop throughout the talk.  Oh no, I am not doing that.  Uh oh, I have said that so many times to my kids, and you just said that if I say that, my child is in for it.  Their hearts will beat, their legs will itch.  Anxiety will creep.

Don't get me wrong.  These speakers, I believe, have nothing but the best intentions.  They want to educate, to assist, to prevent! They would say, "I am not walking into the crowded room yelling 'fire!'  I am walking into the crowded room yelling, 'WARNING!  DANGER AHEAD!'"

But so often, the speakers shout "Fire!" when there is no fire and "Danger!" at the wrong things.  This is what irks me.  No, this is what angers me.  You see, we are being trained to react to fire when there is none, but when there really is a fire, we couldn't sense it if it were burning up our pant legs.

On this particular day, the speaker wants us to get our pens.  To listen carefully as she gives us the exact phrases we should use to address our children:  Say "like", not "love" when your child does something that pleases you.  Say "good", and not "proud". There are also some hefty examples thrown in of clients she's had that have been damaged because the parents made these exact mistakes with their words.   I understand what she is saying--we should encourage our children and be precise with our praise: "We like the good things you're doing", not, "We love you because of the good things you're doing".  She is saying that words are important.  I agree with that.  Words are powerful.

But the power of words comes from the fact that our words reflect our hearts.   While some of us have better heart-to-mouth filters than others, for the most part, we say what we feel and what we really think.  However, manufacturing words--being trained to say certain phrases over others--scares me.  It scares me because it detaches us from what our hearts are actually saying.  If I am taught to tell my children one thing, and I say it faithfully because I know it's the right thing to say, I may lose my ability to discover that my heart is not in the right place.  I am believing that the "fire" is in my words and that by changing my words, I am preventing the fire.  In reality, it is my heart that needs the change, and if I don't work on my heart, I am apt to be standing in the middle of a blazing furnace before long.

What if, that day, the speaker had gotten up in front of us moms and said essentially the same information, but gone to the real crux of the matter?  What if instead of just telling us what to say and not say, she had asked, "Ladies, when you tell your children that you love them because of what they've done, is that what you think in your heart of hearts?"  I imagine that for some people, that is what they feel--and that is a problem!  They can rearrange their words all they want, but unless they do the hard work of figuring out how to change that dangerous heart attitude, it will all be for nothing.  And isn't the heart-repair work something we need help with much more than the word-repair work?  After all, children are perceptive.  Even if you avoid telling them that your love is contingent on their actions, they can tell so easily when your heart toward them isn't all right.

Just like....if I love my child unconditionally but, after she does something particularly amazing, I happen to react with, "I love you so much because you did this so well!" is not a capital offense.  Everything will be okay.  You know why?  Because my heart and my actions all tell the child on a daily basis: I LOVE YOU NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO.   My words are not as precise and exact as they should be.  But my heart?  It shouts much more loudly.

As mothers, we have got to stop allowing people to come in and scare us with their fiery warnings.  The truth is that we're not going to do this motherhood thing perfectly.  We are going to mess up.  A lot.  Our kids are not going to be spared, either.  They are going to be hurt by us, they are going to be damaged by us, and they will inevitably grow up and wish we had done some things differently.  But that is okay.  That is being human.  We have an obligation to do the absolute best job we can, to love our children, to think about how we're doing things, to constantly try to do better, and to take all of our shortcomings to God.

And that is all we can do.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Destined for Greatness?

Recently, I had a really interesting conversation with a friend about a book that she had just finished reading.  This book (which I have not read and don't even remember the title of) was a parenting book with a unique angle.  The book itself was actually based on a research study that someone undertook on "superstar Christians" (my words--I don't have any idea what they called their research subjects).  Essentially, the researchers sought out Christians who were living obvious lives of faith, and worked backwards by interviewing these people to figure out how their parents did "the right things" that caused them to become the people they eventually became.

The results that my friend rattled off were intriguing.  The researchers were able to identify several factors that the parents had in common.  They identified things like clear boundaries in media exposure and small family size as the "ideal" factors to raising a "great Christian".  It was like they had cooked up a recipe for parents to follow if they wanted to raise a certain type of child, and at that moment, it seemed very appealing to me.  Yes, I want my children to spend their lives leading ministries or being great missionaries.  Of course!  Sounds awesome!  I am so glad to now have the checklist that will get me there!

However, being the former debate student that I am, it finally occurred to me to have my friend define her terms a bit (because I was confused).  She kept talking about wanting to raise these "great" Christians, and how this book had really uncovered something.  But I realized that I didn't fully understand what was meant by a "great" Christian.  And so I asked, and it seems that the book defined a great Christian as one who is a leader in the field of, well, Christianity.  It includes movers and shakers in ministry, in missions, in service--in a way, celebrities in their fields.  People whose lives are clearly marked by the gospel, but who are also leading the way in a visible, noticeable way. And that made sense.  That does seem "great", and as a parent, it seems like something worth aspiring to.

But then I began to get that gnawing feeling I sometimes get when something doesn't quite jive in my brain.  There was this idea, this voice, saying to me, "What are you aiming for?"  I had no idea what that meant, but I have learned to listen to these types of things.  They are way smarter than I.  So I thought about it.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my friend and I were approaching this idea of raising "great" Christian children in a backwards sort of way.  Our aim was a little off.

You see, if the whole point of us being put on this earth for eighty-odd years is for us to become great leaders, great impactors....then I think that the human race could have figured that out long ago.  The authors of this book, after all, did one research study and found pretty conclusive research about how to raise someone to be a great leader.  But the more I think about it, I don't think that's the point.

God never told us to, "Go and be great because that is what will please me.  Lead many, lead them well and with much creativity, and be loved for it."  Did he?  Being great was never His aim for us.  Being respected and honored and praised and beloved--well...those are all things that come up in the Bible...but they are in regards to God.  He is the one who is great. bad as this sounds...should I aim for my children to be "great"?  Maybe not.  But where does this leave us?  Should I teach my children to be slackers?

Luckily, though, there is some instruction.  The Bible does indeed address this question, as the disciples seemed to wrestle with it some themselves.  They were in the presence of Jesus himself, and he had just done some amazing things, but they were worried about how to become the greatest of his followers.  Sound familiar? (Maybe they could have benefited from the book?)

Jesus tells us this: "Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all" (Mark 9:35).

So are we aiming for greatness, or are we aiming for servanthood?  Do we really believe that in order to be great in Jesus' estimation, that we must be the servant of all?  We must be not just the last, but the very last? Instead of lining up the circumstances of my children's lives so that they may become "great", should I teach them about living a life of lastness and humility because that is the only way to truly become great?

And even if we believe with our whole hearts that the way to greatness--the true way to true greatness--is to become the very last, how in the world do we do that?  What does that even look like?

You must all pity my children.  I can't say that I blame you.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Parenting and Fear

What would it look like to parent our children without fear?

I think about this a lot.  I think about the decisions that I make and the things that I do in raising my daughters, and I must say, there is a lot of room for fear.  There are a lot of schemes and obstacles that lurk everyday, trying to convince me to be afraid.  Trying to motivate me with fear.

You want examples?  Okay.  I am afraid from day one that if I give my baby even one tiny drop of formula, she will be changed and ruined for life.  Nevermind all of the babies that had formula every day of their lives and turned out to be astrophysicists or brain surgeons.  Be afraid.

Want another? If I am not reading to my child every day, if he or she watches any television, if I don't find all of the right educational activities and playgroups and schools, surely my child will be behind.  She will be doomed.  I will ruin any chance that she had in life.  Be afraid.

It sounds absurd, I know.  But I'm telling you, we buy it.  We cash in the family heirlooms, we sell the farm, and we buy it with all that we've got.

The media has discovered this undercurrent of anxiety and fear in today's parents, and I've seen a number of reports on what they're calling "helicopter parenting."  Parents who 'hover'.  Parents who do every little thing for their child because they don't want them to experience any imperfection or trouble or struggle.  But the reality is that these stories tend to focus on the insanity of the parents (mainly, the mothers).  We laugh at them.  We have some fun at their expense--which is, largely, warranted because they do go and pick up their 20 year old son's laundry at college, take it home, iron his underpants, and return it--all the while he's hungover from his 4 am party.  It's sad.

However, I think that this parenting from a perspective of fear is more than just making moms everywhere look ridiculous.  I think it is actually really harmful to our kids.  There is some notion in our society that any form of pain, discomfort, is tragic.  And so we go to all lengths to avoid it.

But what if, rather than pain being tragic, it is redemptive.  What then?

Then our fear-parenting is not necessary (albeit a little silly).  Then it is devastating.

Damning, even.

More thoughts coming soon.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I am rumbling forward, full steam ahead.  My mind, my will, my heart all moving in the same direction.  That which I'm doing--reading, cleaning, thinking-has my total focus, and it is delightful and enticing in every way possible.  Intoxicating, even.

Then the dear, beautiful girl comes along.

She would like me to read her a book.

"No," I say.  Barely hearing her.  "Busy".  Not even a whole sentence for her.  Fragment merely.

She walks off.  I continue.

Then the wonderful husband, comes home, long day at work.  I am busy.  Emails.  So many things to do, and here, can you hold this one?

Fragments, if they're lucky.  Fragments of me, when who gets my whole?  My computer.  My books.  My life of one.

It's embarrassing, really.  When the heartbreak of it all wears off.

I am one who God has blessed in many ways.  I think well and hard.  I love to dwell in places deep and fascinating.  But I do not come out easily.  I begin to drown.  I must be pulled, and it is always me pulling against myself, fighting and kicking.

But I know that the ones pulling are more important.  I see that.  I believe that.  I really do.

And I wonder.  Is there Help for me in this?  Can the Maker make me over, give me the strength to focus--on what is better?  Can he shift my vision, pull me in the other direction?

Of course.

Because all the while, while I wade deep in the wrong pools, He is the one pulling me out. He is gentle, standing in front of me, saying, see Me.  See Me.  Really, truly, look.  See me.

He is grace.

He can make my fragments whole.

Even when there's kicking and screaming involved.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What are our moral obligations?

The cost of my college education exceeded $100,000.  I have a Master's degree, a brain that functions perfectly well, the ability to collaborate with others at a high level, and the desire to make the world safer, smarter, better, more just.  But here's what I did yesterday:

I woke up to baby Caroline, fed her, packed Molly's suitcase for her trip to Ohio, sat on the floor and intermittently played with Caroline and watched her play on her own, fed Caroline a few more times, went for a walk, went to the grocery store, read some books (adult books, to myself), cooked dinner, fed Caroline again, put her to bed, did some actual for-pay work, watched tv, went to bed.

It's not an atypical day.  Usually, there's a little more going on, but with Molly gone, the day is a little duller.

But here's my question: spending days like this--days at home in the monotony of young childcare--is it a waste of my time?  Even worse, am I eschewing some higher or more pressing moral obligations by choosing to be the primary caregiver for my children?  Especially in light of the education and skills that I have, am I morally obligated to do something different with my days?

This is the fascinating and challenging debate that I (and countless others on both sides of the issue) have on a daily basis (if only in my own mind), and which I was completely engaged in this morning when I listened to an episode of OnPoint with Tom Ashbrook on NPR.  You can listen to the broadcast here.

This is the basic premise of the debate: Dr. Karen Sibert recently wrote an article saying that doctors (and, often, women doctors) are beginning to see part time work as an appealing and perfectly acceptable option.   Young mothers, especially, take advantage of this option when they begin having children, and it is typically soon after they finish their residency--so at the beginning of their medical careers.  The problem with this part time option is a complex one.  As Dr. Sibert points out, there is a current and projected shortage of clinical physicians, especially in the primary care field.  You would think that the solution to this would be easy--train more doctors.  However, there is not money in medical schools or, more importantly, residency sites, to enlarge the capacity.  Therefore, when a student decides to become a doctor, he or she is taking a precious spot.  Dr. Sibert believes that the commitment to medical school and further medical training is actually a moral decision.  In her argument, medical students are in essence placing themselves under obligation to their patients' lives and to the life-saving ability of the medical profession as a whole.  However, by determining that they will only practice part time, many physicians are actually taking up a spot that could have been given to someone who would have practiced full time, thus filling a gap in the system's ability to function more adequately.

Her argument, more succinctly: Doctors who receive full medical training but practice part time leave holes in patient care and risk patients' lives.   These doctors have a moral obligation to re-examine their commitments and realize that their patients' lives are of higher priority than anything else.  She also adds that we, as a society, have an obligation to inform students prior to entering medical school that these are their forthcoming obligations.

I sincerely hope that that this summary is not an unfair communication of Dr. Sibert's point.  I really want to illustrate her argument clearly, because I do think that it is worthwhile.  I like how she avoids focusing on individual doctors and is instead looking at the issue on a big picture level.  She is right that there is a problem with the level of care available, and she foresees that the problem will worsen if part-time medicine continues to be a widely available option.

The debate on OnPoint largely focused on female doctors, and particularly mothers.  Obviously, mothers are taking advantage of the part time option in large numbers because they want the extra time to spend with their children.  Several part-time, female doctors who were mothers contributed to the arguments in the broadcast.  They all talked about how much they valued being both a doctor and a mother, about how they had struck a work-life balance, etc.  However, I was very surprised that in the hour long conversation, people who took the opposite point of view from Dr. Sibert never countered her argument with a sense of moral obligation to the family.  Dr. Sibert kept talking about this moral obligation to the patient's life, but it's like it never occurred to anyone that women might have an obligation to their family, to raising their children.

Now, let me make it very clear that I do not think that every woman should stay home with her children as the primary caregiver.  I think that this is a wildly personal decision, and one that weighs heavily no matter what is decided.   A majority of women don't even have a choice--they can either put food on the table with a full time job or stay home and starve with their children.  We are lucky that we even get to have this debate.  However,  I am perplexed that there was not even a hint of the family as a moral obligation.

Is this a sign of the times, or am I just reading way too much into this?  Have we gotten to the point where our careers take precedence over our families?  I know that in terms of actual hours spent, we were there long ago.  But we keep believing that even if our hours are spent on our careers, at least our hearts and our minds are with our families.   At least we save our most precious selves for them. They are our highest priority.  But if we as a society are going to say that doctors have an obligation to their patients first, above other things, what else does it say but that the family is less important?

I like to think that the job I hold at this moment is as important as a doctor who is in an operating room saving a life.  My job surely has to be considered a long-term task--one that will see results in 20 years if I put in the steady, daily work of raising a child.  But if we are going to say that saving patient lives is truly more important, of higher moral value, then what am I doing?  I am living a wasted life.  I am taking my mind, my education, my potential and trading it for something less important.

I hope that we don't really believe that.

More thoughts to come...

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Being Present for Others and God

One of the hardest parts of staying home with the girls all day is the temptation I constantly wrestle with to "check out".  At any given moment, I know that I could slip away for a second and check my email, read a few pages from a book, clean up a multitude of messes, etc. etc.  And clearly, these aren't bad things to be doing.  In fact, it is necessary that I do all of these things at some point.  That there are all of these things that "need" to be done makes it even harder to realize when I have departed from my primary mission--to be present with the girls, to give them my full attention---in exchange for one of these far less important tasks.

And it is a big deal.  Once I get wrapped up in a task or chore, I am often gone (in my mind or my heart or both) for a long time.  Sure, the girls are safe and going about whatever it is they're doing, but they're missing out on me and I'm missing out on them.  Additionally, it is the times where I find myself carried away by other things that I find myself most frustrated as a stay at home mom.  Rather than focusing on the girls and finding delight in them, I am preturbed that they made so much mess for me to clean up, or I am frustrated that I don't have enough time to finish that next chapter of my book.  My day becomes one annoyance after another, and surely all three of us suffer when this becomes my mindset.  My relationship with them becomes scarily conditional.

I have done various things to counteract my tendency to check out.  I decide that I'll structure my day in a certain way or make lists to keep track of things I want to do when I have some free time.  But the truth is, none of this really works.  Not for long anyway.  Before the first day is up, I find some excuse to slip away, and the cycle is renewed.  It is maddening and I end up feeling disappointed in my lack of self-discipline.

But I think that, finally, I have found the answer.  It's nothing fancy or really very earth-shattering.  It's actually the simplest thing possible.  Every day, every morning, every moment, I just choose them.  I have a running conversation, reminding myself that in this moment, I can choose what's good--and what I, ultimately, want to chose.  I give myself permission to not worry about other things, and I play.  Or I read.  Or I just sit and watch.  But while I'm doing these things, I don't let other things interrupt--in my mind or otherwise.  At first it was scary because I thought I would be bored.  But I've discovered that I actually LIKE being with my kids.  Who knew?

It's funny how there is always a lesson about God in this little life that I live.  As I've learned how to be a daily chooser of checked in motherhood, I've had some realizations about how this is all really a microcosm of what my relationship with God is like.  There, too, it's easy to check out because of distracting stuff.  There, too, can I get frustrated with God because I only see the messes and quibbles.  But there, too, is the daily, the hourly, the moment-by-moment choice I can make to truly tune in and be present.  It is when I am focused on just showing up and being present--letting go of all other expectations and agendas--that I get to know God and remember that I LIKE and BELIEVE in following Him.

Here's to God, who truly is our DAILY (and hourly, and second by second) bread!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Matter of Taste: Part Two

Psalm 34 contains an oft quoted verse that goes like this, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (verse 8).  A lot of people do "taste" the Lord.  They commit their lives to Him.  They pray.  They go to church.  Many of these people do, in fact, discover that the Lord is good.  However, I know that many people taste God and find Him unpalatable.  I'm not going to try and figure out why some people taste God for the first time and discover that it is good, while others taste him and find the opposite.  I also don't think I could explain why some people are born loving scrambled eggs and others aren't.  It's just a matter of, well, taste.  What I AM going to attempt to discuss is whether, if we don't have a "taste" for God, we can develop one.

But first, excuse me while I digress into this story.  I promise that it ties in....eventually. 

A couple of months ago, we took Caroline (who was 4 months old) into the doctor for a regular check up.  At this appointment, doctors usually go over how to introduce your baby to solid food because this is about the time in which babies start to try solids.  This doctor explained which foods to try and he told us the preferred order and all the reasons behind it.  But the most important thing he said was something that I kept going back to for days because it was something that I've never heard before.  He kept insisting that the reason why babies are introduced to solids at 4-6 months of age is not because they need the calories.  Solids don't actually contain as many calories as breast milk or formula, but we tend to think that because the babies are getting bigger, they need solids to feel more full, keep growing, etc.  Apparently, this is not the case. 

So, you ask, why even bother giving babies this age solids?  Good question.  According to our doctor, it is to help the baby develop a sense of fondness for different flavors and textures.  He actually told us to introduce solids in this way:  Pick a food to begin with (say, squash).  Give the baby the squash on day one.  Continue giving the baby squash for 3 or 4 days.  If, after 4 days or so, the baby loves squash (as evidenced by panting, drooling all over the spoon, and shoving every last bit into her mouth like our well-mannered child does) then move on to the next food.  HOWEVER, if the baby does not like squash by day 4 (as evidenced by gagging, turning away, pursing lips, etc.), CONTINUE GIVING THE BABY SQUASH, AND ONLY SQUASH,  UNTIL SHE LEARNS TO LIKE IT.  I think that the doctor even said something about only giving the baby squash until her wedding day if it takes her that long to develop a taste for it.  Hopefully we won't have that problem.

His point?  Our tastes are highly impressionable.  Sure, they begin one way, but that is not how they have to remain.  Our tastes for foods, like our tastes for other things, can be developed.  They can be changed.  Improved.  Refined.

This story tells us something more.  Something that we are already well aware of in terms of our human nature.  Nowhere on this list of "foods to introduce" does it mention candy, chocolate, or sugar of any kind.  Why?  Well, a few reasons.   First of all, these foods are obviously not healthy, so why give them to a baby?  But, I would contend that people do not generally need to develop a taste for the sugary things.  Whereas children may not grow to love carrots, they will most likely love cocoa puffs right off the bat.  It's kind of like how we have a natural taste for a lot of other things that aren't so good for us.  No need to develop those tastes!  Our sinful nature has that taken care of.

Okay, back to the point.  I think that, if when we "taste" God, as the Psalmist says, but do not discover that He is good, there are ways to change our tastes.  It is not that God is not good.  No matter what we think, God is always the same, and He is always good.  It is US.  It is that we just don't have the taste buds that like God's "flavor".

What are some of these ways to improve our tastes, or our affection, for God?  Whether we once had it and then lost it, or whether we never feel like we had it to begin with, there is nothing more crucial to our faith than having this affection for God.  That will be fodder for post #3 on this subject.  If you have thoughts you'd like to share, by golly, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Matter of Taste: Part One

I admit the following things about my television viewing habits at my own peril, but I do so for the good of the blog and for you, my lovely reader.

Lately, because of the serious demise of network television, I have been perusing for shows to keep me entertained.  I have ended up primarily watching 2 shows: Project Runway and Chopped.  For those of you with more "refined" taste, let me explain a little bit about these shows.  Project Runway challenges a group of contestants to design and make garments in a series of crazy challenges. Each episode eliminates the contestant whose design was a flop. Chopped is a cooking show that has contestants make an appetizer, main entree, and dessert, and after each course the contestant whose dish is lackluster is "chopped."  Both PR and Chopped have a panel of distinguished judges who give critical feedback and, ultimately, decide who failed to measure up.

So, I know next to nothing about either fashion or cooking.  I wear clothes and eat food, but after that, I'm pretty clueless.  Occasionally, while watching one of these shows (or others like them), I'll see a fantastic dress come down the runway.  Or I'll see someone cook an interesting-looking dish.  Before any of the judges have a chance to speak, I'll make a judgement of my own like, "Wow, the dress that the designer made out of fish net and coffee filters sure is gorgeous.   I bet the judges will love it."  Or, "I can't believe they found a way to make that amazing looking flambe out of asparagus, gelatin, and strawberries.  It must taste really great!"  I'll compare it to other contestants, sure that the judges will diss the ones I've picked as "lacking" and praise the ones I like.

 However, more often than not, the judges go in the complete opposite direction.  At first, I'm baffled.  I think to myself, "Heidi Klum, how could you possibly like that outfit made of purple goose feathers?"  But Heidi will go on and explain how it is "fashion forward" and say that it is innovative and creative and exactly what they're looking for, whereas the coffee filter dress is so 2008.

I have to say, the judges usually know what they're talking about.  By the time they explain why they did or didn't like the entry-at-hand, I am usually nodding along with them, all of a sudden able to see why the goose feathers were a better choice than the fish net and coffee filters.  The contestants themselves often experience this as well, as they develop the ability to see themselves clearly when given honest feedback in comparison to their competition.

Often on one of these shows, you get to hear a few minutes of the judges' deliberations in which they discuss the merits of various contestants.  I have heard, many times, the judges talk about certain contestants like this: "So and so has excellent technique.  He has superb knife skills and knows everything possible about the technical aspect of cooking.  But he just has no taste!  Who cares if he can cook an asparagus/gelatin/strawberry flambe to perfection if it tastes rotten?"  They have an excellent point.  One that, if it is sent off to metaphor-land, has a lot of really huge implications.

So, yes, I'm about to make a leap from reality television to my faith.  Hold on to your hats.

I am a person of faith.  Christian faith.  It is something that I think about every day.  It is something that has an impact on the way I live my life and the way I see the world.  I know a lot about what I believe.  I read about it, talk about it, wrestle with it.  I have excellent "technical knowledge".

But what good is this technical knowledge, really, if I don't have a taste for God, or the things that God has a taste for?  If I know a lot about the Bible or Christ's life or the early church, but do not, like God, have a taste for goodness, truth, and humility, what do I know?  If I know a lot about God, but have no taste for getting to know Him, should I even bother?

I know what you're going to ask me next.  Go ahead, I dare you.

"But what if I have no taste for God?  What if the reason that I spend so much time on the "technical" part of my faith is because that's the part I have the control over and can do something about?  How in the world do you become a person who has a taste for God?  Isn't that something that--like those judges--only the elite, the refined have?  Is it something that a few are born with?"

No, I don't think so at all.  Unfortunately, I'm going to leave you hanging, but come back tomorrow because my next post will address these burning questions.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Two Stone Parenting

I had this professor in my college Speech class--I think he was actually a grad student.  He was in his mid twenties, 28 or 29 at the most.  I remember very little of the class, except that I almost threw up every time I gave a speech.  However, I remember one thing that this professor said very vividly.  I don't remember what the context was, but the guy said, "How can anyone believe in original sin?  Haven't those people ever seen how innocent a newborn baby is?  I just don't know how anyone thinks humans are innately sinful after thinking about a baby."

I also clearly remember what I thought as he spoke those words.  I was confused.  I remember thinking, "Well of course there is original sin.  Haven't you ever met a human being, or tried to have a relationship with one?  We can be fairly unpleasant, and I think that's from sin."  Yet at the same time I was arguing with myself, "Well, I mean, babies really ARE cute and clueless.  How could they possibly be born with some sinful glitch in them?  Aren't we created in the image of God?"

First of all, the humor of two people, each childless, unmarried, and under the age of 30 postulating about the innate sinlessness of babies is funny to think about.  I mean, we had no idea what we were talking about.  I can say this now with confidence because I have given birth to two human beings of my own and, well, the sugarcoated image of a "baby" does not fool me one bit.

Babies are adorable.  They have chubby cheeks and roly poly legs.  They gurgle and coo and sleep like little angels.  But, boy, are babies selfish.  They take and they take and they cry and they fuss and they always want their way.  Now, I fully realize that babies must do this to survive, and it would be awful if a baby couldn't communicate in this way.  I don't actually think that these actions are "sinful".  They're instinctive.  However, there comes a point--and it's sooner than we probably think--when that baby figures out that it can manipulate people around it for the sheer pleasure of the act.  Of course, I don't think babies are plotting in their cribs about how they can send their parents through the roof, but I think that a tendency toward selfishness, manipulation, etc. exist when the person is born--it is not just learned.  Anyone with a toddler will surely back me up.  This tendency toward doing what is wrong is the whole reason that we have to discipline children.  We have to train them to do right because what is natural is the opposite.  As my dad always says, "You never hear a parent telling their kid to stop being so good."  It's true.  I wish I had that problem.

But here's the thing.  My professor was dead wrong, but he was also kind of right.  Babies are born sinless.  They are a blank slate of innocence and possibility.  They have the potential to do good in life, just like they can do bad.  They are, after all, created by God, made in His holy image.  I guess what you can say is that babies are born sinless (as in, having committed no sin), but born with a sin nature (tendency toward sin).  

I have come to realize that that this dichotomy is very important to keep in mind while parenting my children.  At times, we are overtaken with either their sheer wonderfulness (I created a word, I know).  Other times, they are simply disappointing because of choices they've made.  It's a strangle line to walk as a parent because you have to find a way to nurture and prune at the same time.  Sometimes, when disciplining, you get so angry that you forget that you are a steward of a person who was MADE IN GOD'S IMAGE.  Believe me, if I could remember this better, I'd be more careful of what I say in anger.  On the other hand, if I get too caught up in my child's loveliness, I get slack with boundaries and discipline, and then I have a problem child who does not at all resemble her heavenly roots. 

As a parent, I think that the best thing that I can do for my children is to teach them about the full picture of their "heritage".  I need to teach them about how they are made by a righteous heavenly Father who loves them and made them to be like Him.  They are children of the King of Kings.  But I also need to teach them about that other, less storied part of their heritage--their sinful human nature.   

As a rabbi put it, "A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, 'I am but dust and ashes.' On the other, 'For my sake was the world created.' And he should use each stone as he needs it."  My desire is to teach my children about these two stones, and to teach them to pull the right ones out of their pockets at the right time.  Two stone parenting will help me to raise children who understand their value as a function of God, and who understand their neediness as something that only God can fulfill.  

Friday, February 04, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Cicero!

This quote by the famous Roman orator, Cicero, always gets me:

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book.

It makes me do that thing where I shake my head in agreement and giggle at how, as much as we like to think things change, they really don't. Not really. I mean, can't you just imagine seeing this quote in the newspaper, with a curmudgeonly old man shaking his finger as he talks about today's generation:

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a blog.

Ha! I guess I just added myself to the list of the depraved by beginning this blog.

There is an odd comfort in Mr. Cicero's observation from around 2000 years ago. It sort of makes you feel that no matter how things change, no matter what new technology we find ourselves up to our eyeballs in, that really, we remain the same people. People who don't exactly have it all figured out, but sure do like to think that we do. And we like to blog about it so that everyone will know just how much we know. I know I do.

Thank you, Mr. Cicero.