Saturday, March 30, 2013

Eden, Restored

We are restored. 

To what? 

Images of heaven in the Bible are hard for me to get excited about.  I’m not all that into jewels and gold and mansions and stuff.  I don’t understand the images of horses and scrolls and angels.  Other images of heaven rendered by humans are equally unexciting or baffling. 

Let’s imagine for a moment the Thomas Kinkade, Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie version of heaven…everything has a cozy, soft glow, and flowers of every color can be found in one yard and even on one bush.  There is a perpetual sunset.  Every house is a cottage with warm glowy lights inside, beckoning you in to get toasty by the fire and drink hot cocoa with marshmallows.  Jesus is your best friend who sits by the fire to ask you attentive and caring questions about your day.  Every relationship is as dewy as the shiny lawns.  Spouses look at each other with G-rated affection and never argue.  People smile a lot.  Everyone is happy.  Children dance in the yard and wave streamers and only laugh.  Neighbors bring each other pot pies and everyone has a satisfying job with a good income.  Everyone gets along because no one disagrees. 

Is that what we were designed for?  Is that what we’re destined to? 

God, I hope not.  I think heaven is Eden 2.0.  I’ll take a few liberties in imagining heaven as Eden restored…

It’s wild.  You give the lions a respectful distance unless they approach you.  You know that there are fungi that will kill you if you eat them but you remember without a guidebook which ones they are and successfully avoid them.  You realize that rainbows have 47 different hues instead of the 7 you saw before.  Your ear can distinguish new octaves that it never heard before.  Instead of being overwhelmed by your new eyes that see and your new ears that hear, all 100% of your brain is used to process and absorb and delight in your world.  You know that your body will go to mush if you just sit around and eat twinkies all day, but you don’t want to sit around and eat twinkies.  Grapes and broccoli have more flavor than you ever noticed before and you don’t want to eat anything else.  You want to move and feel the strength of your body and enjoy it.  Some people train for and run marathons and although it’s exhausting and some are faster than others, everyone wakes up the day after the race refreshed, with no aches or lingering soreness. 

You’re vaguely aware that your Adam sometimes annoys you in the way he leaves his towel on the floor after his bath, but you’re so in love that you don’t care.  You feel wholly connected to him and petty little habits don’t bother you enough to mention.  Your love is passionate and fulfilling and complete.  You have a history together and no fear about the future and you choose every moment to love him fully.  You are blessed with kids and you always choose grace and kindness.  Your kids know no shame because you know no shame.  Your kids always choose grace and kindness because they are complete and loved. 

Jesus is the life of the party.  Literally.  His life fills up all of the empty spaces in peoples’ hearts so there are no empty spaces in peoples’ hearts anymore.  You are in awe that Jesus would ever talk to you and that he even knows your name, but at the same time you have never felt closer to anyone in your life.  You are overwhelmed with love for this God-man and gratitude and most of all, peace.  Jesus comes to your neighborhood for dinner every night and everyone gathers at a neighbor’s house and it’s a big party.  You hear that he also goes to other neighborhoods for dinner every night and you’re not quite sure how that works but it doesn’t matter. 

Nobody is poor or needs anything because everyone shares their stuff, their time, their talents.  Artists get to paint, write, design, sing, all day long and their work feeds the souls of those that work in other ways.  Some peoples’ entire job is to walk around telling other people how good they’re doing at their work.  People work because they enjoy it and it fulfills them and incidentally, it benefits others.  People don’t radiate happiness exactly, but rather contentment and purpose and peace.  Always peace.  You are at peace with yourself at all times, and your soul is at peace with your Creator, and you give peace to all that you connect with.  And Jesus himself is your peace.  People don’t always agree, but there is always peace. 

People say that heaven will be perfect, whether in the Hallmark sense of nauseating niceness or in the sense that we will be superhumans with superpowers and desire nothing other than to sing worship songs all day.  I don’t know if that’s true.  Maybe it is.  But my sense tells me that heaven will be a lot more like earth than we think.  I think there will be struggles in gardens in the night, but we will always choose life and grace.  I think there will be tears, but they will always be wiped away by a loving hand. 

For a time I didn’t believe in God.  I tried not to, at least.  But I realized after awhile that my disillusionment and disappointment with the God-story I had been given revealed a longing for a different God-story.  For God himself.  I couldn’t find a place for things like wonder, longing, and that feeling I got when I finished an amazing novel or was moved to tears by a piece of music, apart from God.  All of that belongs to this earth, yes, but I sensed that it originated somewhere outside this earth in its current state. 

Heaven reinstates the originals.  It restores us to our fullest sense, our fullest expression of humanness.  We get glimpses of heaven now, and these restore our faith in ourselves and our purpose and our God. 

Francis Schaeffer called us humans “glorious ruins.”  I have always loved this description, except I think it is more accurate in reverse.  For we are not ruins.  Not in our truest state.  We are, instead, ruinous glories.  We will be restored one day.  And we see glimpses even now. 

It is finished. 

We are restored!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Violent Communication

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I wasn't aware that the Supreme Court was considering the Defense of Marriage Act until I started seeing all of the red equals signs on facebook.  

I think this is a good indication that I need to start getting some sort of newspaper delivered.  I used to get my news from NPR on my morning and afternoon commutes, and for the first few years after having kids I could still stay in the loop that way.  But now that Eden’s old enough to pick out words like “killed” and “bomb” and ask a ton of questions I unfortunately can’t listen to news radio anymore. 

I think it’s interesting how facebook is used during times like these.  No doubt, the Court’s decision is important and momentous and matters.  But it seems that much of the virtual “conversation” surrounding the issue is angry and hurtful and unproductive.  I wonder, how many people are talking about this issue face-to-face?  Have virtual debates taken the place of personal conversations?  My guess is that the virtual argument – because it’s full of polarity, anger, and fear – discourages face-to-face conversation.

I recently was rereading one of my all-time favorite books, Nonviolent Communication.  I have to read it, along with about 4 other books, once every couple of years because it speaks truth and I am so stubborn that I can’t seem to absorb it into my life.  In case you’re not familiar, the basic steps in the process of nonviolent communication (or NVC) are

1. Observe without judgment the actions that are affecting me.
2. Identify my feeling in response to what I observe.
3. Determine my need, value, desire that creates my feelings.
4. Decide what concrete action I can request in order to enrich my life. 

The goal is to use this communication style to both express our own feelings/needs and to receive the feelings/needs of others.  The end result is to meet needs and enrich lives rather than place blame and foster resentment.  Yes, it’s very hippy and psychobabbly, but also productive and helpful.  The author has had amazing results using this process with the most vitriolic and volatile conflicts in the world (think Palestinians and Israelis, for example).  

I suck at this.  My natural style of communication is violent communication (or VC):

1. Observe what someone else did that was wrong.
2. Shame you because you made me feel bad.
3. Lament that you will never change.
4. Reserve my right to complain forever about what you just did or said. 

My guess is that my struggle to incorporate NVC into my life consistently is not because I’m an immature, mean, and spiteful person.  My guess is that it’s because I haven’t learned yet to be okay with who I am enough that I can let other people be radically different from me.  And I haven’t learned yet that it’s okay to have needs and be vulnerable enough to express them.  And I haven’t learned yet to give myself grace when I am hurtful, so I don’t give that grace to others. 

Maybe other people are like me in that.

I am in a politically diverse marriage (you like my politically correct language?).  We are one partially red, one partially blue, and together some shade of purple.  It’s hard to scream obscenities at and stereotype your political counterpart when you are married to them.  You know them too well to stereotype, and you also know you’d better be careful because you’re going to be living under the same roof for the rest of your life. 

Maybe we should all pretend to be married to those political counterparts we engage with on this issue of gay marriage.  Or maybe some nonviolent communication would help.  Either way, I think we would do well to remember that whether we’re looking at an equals sign or a photo, behind it is a real, complex, feeling human being. 

I know, it’s hard.  I know, with what some people are posting, it’s easy to think that there is no feeling human being behind it.  But there is.  “Those people” may be completely disconnected from the effects of their words, and the feelings and needs of others.  If that’s the case, they are likely equally disconnected from their own feelings and needs.  Shame begets shame.  Hurt begets hurt. 

The way forward is nonviolent words and actions.  It’s grace for ourselves and others.  And it’s equal acceptance of all. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Is There Room In The Middle?

We like labels.  Democrat, Republican.  Christian, Atheist.  Attachment parent, Authoritarian parent.  Putting people in categories in our mind is how we make sense of them, how we understand them.  This is not usually done maliciously; it’s not usually even done consciously.  We also label ourselves to give ourselves a sense of belonging, of identity.  

But what happens when the labels become constraining, limiting, and defining?  What happens when they become caricatures of real people, real positions, real thoughts?  When they become derogatory terms that we can sling at each other to avoid dialogue and solution-finding? 

Is there room in the middle? 

Is there room for a person who believes that life begins at conception and also believes that welfare programs are necessary to help the poor and unemployed live functioning lives?  Who believes that preserving life is important but just the first step?  That a life of just surviving is not a life with dignity? 

I once sat in front of a student who was describing her anguish…after having an abortion as a teenager for an unwanted baby, she had a miscarriage for a very much wanted baby as a college student.  Imagine her pain, her questioning if this was some kind of punishment or some cruel joke… the pain.  How could anyone respond but with compassion? 

Is there room for a person whose heterosexual marriage and religious beliefs about marriage are not threatened by legalizing same-sex marriage?  Who believes that a homosexual lifestyle is not God’s design and also believes that this should not be the defining belief of Christianity? 

I once sat with my friend who had just broken up with his boyfriend after learning about his infidelity.  He was heartbroken and wondered aloud if he would ever hurt less than he did right now.  I had little to offer other than the hope that in time his heart would hurt less and a hug.  How could I respond but with compassion? 

Is there room for a parent who cosleeps and responds to infant cries and also uses timeouts and teaches her children to respect her authority? 

I once left my infant to cry, trying to teach her to sleep independently.  I cried as I heard her cry, and it didn’t feel right.  We changed plans, we became more flexible, and we learned from our daughter and our mistakes.  How should I respond to other parents but with compassion? 

Is there room for a conservative Christian who also believes in social justice?  Who loves liturgy and finds stability in tradition and also sees that liturgy can become empty and tradition can become an excuse to no longer think for yourself?  For a Lutheran wannabe Catholic who reads St. Augustine and Mother Teresa along with Francis Chan and Jen Hatmaker?  Who believes that Jesus is who he said he is and also that it is each person’s inherent right and gift to travel their own spiritual journey? 

I’ve been as conservative as evangelicals can be; I’ve had a brief stint as an atheist before considering myself an agnostic for several years; and now I find myself coming to a place of peace in Christian tradition and historical theology.  I’ve done my share of judging and been judged plenty.  How can I not respond to your spiritual journey with compassion?

Is there room in the middle?  There is.  There has to be.  Even now as I quake in my boots at the thought of publishing this, I think that maybe there are some of you reading who might be relating to not quite fitting in the categories laid out for you.  When we each admit how fluid and ever-changing we are, how imperfect, how human; how can we respond to each other but with compassion?

I think more of us are actually in the middle than we realize.  If everyone everywhere fit into one big venn diagram, I think the majority of us would have at least one foot in the “same” category.  When we take away the pressure to whole-heartedly champion one political party, one religious view, one parenting approach, I think we would all realize that we’re a bit more complex than the labels allow. 

And what if we relished our complexity, and used it to find solutions to vexing problems, to show love and mercy to one another, and to discover differences as interesting and fun?  What if instead of like-mindedness, we sought out and fostered environments where everyone, and I mean everyone, was accepted and their opinions welcomed?  And what if we were brave and put our strange, probably inconsistent, not set in stone, middle opinions out there, and gave others a chance to accept and learn from us?  

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Couple Almost-Emergencies And Some Quiet Days

Remember how I was saying that I was feeling overwhelmed and overscheduled a couple days ago?  Well, the universe/God/coincidence intervened and took care of that for me. 

Tuesday night, Eden woke up with horrible stomach pains that kept her awake for a couple hours.  After that she slept fine and woke up feeling okay, but late morning the pain kept back.  After a couple hours of her laying in a tightly curled ball on the couch and whimpering in pain, I was polling friends and acquaintances for information about viruses going around, calling our nurse, and generally getting very worried.  Our nurse advised that if the pain was intermittent it was likely a virus, but if it was constant and getting worse, we should take her to the ER (probably fearing appendicitis).  So basically, don’t worry at all, or worry very much.  It’s hard to gauge someone else’s pain, but I knew it was bad. 

Right when I was on the verge of deciding to take her in just in case, she started vomiting and feeling better, being able to keep Tylenol down and sleep, and the virus started acting like a normal virus.  Phew.  Emergency averted.

Meanwhile, while the kids were napping that day, I started hearing an increasingly high-pitched whistling noise, like a giant tea kettle would make.  Well, you know what’s basically a giant tea kettle?  A hot water heater.  I sleuthed my way around the house until I got to the basement and saw the relief valve spilling out almost boiling water onto our basement floor.  The whistling had stopped for the moment so I went upstairs to try to contact Kasey and figure out what the heck was going on.  Well, whenever there’s a near emergency of any kind, the universe/God/coincidence intervenes and Kasey becomes unreachable.  Maybe this is supposed to instill some sort of confidence in my ability to handle these situations on my own.  That doesn’t tend to happen, though.  So I did the next best thing, and put an all-call out on facebook for hot water heater help and started googling. 

Then I started hearing the whistling again.  I made my way downstairs, but then the whistling got higher, and higher, and higher, into registers that only dogs can hear, and I got scared.  I ran upstairs and got in a corner far away from where the hot water tank would be blasting through the floor.  You think I’m overreacting, but mythbusters proves that a hot water tank can blast through 2 floors of a house.  Thankfully we had seen this episode and even though I didn’t recall it consciously at the time, my subconscious must have remembered and my self-protection kicked in. 

The whistling stopped, the overflowing recommenced, and my facebook peeps came through.  I shut off the gas and the water, my dad stopped by to double-check, and all was well.  Phew.  Emergency averted. 

So that was an exciting day. 

And then, instead of having days too full with too little margins, my days became one big blank space.  I love when that happens.

Since then, we’ve been in calm, vacation-like mode.  It’s nice to have an excuse to not leave the house and to watch a lot of tv.  Grandma brought over some fresh DVDs and snacks.  Kasey MacGyvers the hot water tank every morning to give us enough hot water to stay stink free and wash stomach virus laundry. 

Today my girl’s feeling a lot better so I’m trying to entice her away from the tv.  We made playdough with our favorite recipe.  We omitted the spices because she wanted it to be green, and then she and Isaac played with it for a loooooong time.  Never underestimate the power of fresh playdough.  I got a shower, made muffins, and wrote.  Ahhhh. 

Our near-emergencies acted as a giant reset button, and my kids are acting less like monkeys and more like their sweet selves.  I’m feeling little stress and am enjoying cuddles with my girl on the couch and wrestling with my boy on the floor. 

Sometimes it's hard to figure out what is a cosmic joke, what is God intervening directly, and what is coincidence.  Today I'm less interested in figuring that out and more interested in laughing at the joke and being thankful for the unexpected free time to enjoy.  Here’s to the quiet days! 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Confessions Of A Former Nanny Turned Mama

Confession:  Sometimes I think I was a better nanny than I am a mama. 

I’ve been feeling spread thin lately…I think I’ve made too many commitments and filled my calendar too full, and when the margins around my life shrink to nothing I get anxious and stressed.  I feel like I’m dabbling in everything and doing nothing well, while projects that I really care about and think about constantly sit untouched.  My stress level can be assigned a numerical value according to the number of m&ms consumed per day, and let me tell you, it’s not pretty. 

Meanwhile, the kids are in winter funk zone, where they’ve shed their normal sweet personalities in favor of crazy.  Just crazy.  You should see a mealtime around here lately.  It’s like eating with monkeys. 

When I’m feeling stressed and overcommitted and my children are feeling like monkeys, I tend to struggle being a good mama.  I tend to get impatient instead of understanding, to want to distract them instead of engage them, to count the hours until bedtime instead of living in the present moment. 

When I was a nanny in my post-college years in Chicago, it was my job.  I was paid well to watch one child for 10 hours per day, which legitimized spending my days on the carpet rolling balls back and forth, spending hours at the park, walking to the lakefront and looking at the boats.  I felt justified in having leisurely meals with my little charge and reading as many books as he wanted.  I didn’t feel like I had to have anything to show for my time, other than a happy, fed, rested boy to greet his mom at the end of the day. 

Even though he was my job, I wasn’t ultimately responsible for that boy’s life.  I was a little detached, being careful not to try to take the place of his mom and making sure to always reinforce her role in his life.  I didn’t have to make decisions about his routines; I just had to carry them out.  I didn’t worry about how my actions would shape his life into adulthood; I knew that I was a blip on the radar of his long life and I just needed to love him and care for him that day.

I also got to leave at the end of the day.  I drove or rode my bike home, relishing the aloneness and enjoying my freedom again.  I spent my evenings with Kasey however we wanted and enjoyed my weekends.  If the little boy was having a hard day or I was especially tired, I knew that I would be off duty in a matter of hours and that gave me the energy to rally for the remainder of the day. 

What if I viewed mothering more like nannying? 

What if I gave myself permission every now and then to not have anything to show for my day, other than happy, fed, rested children?  Not even a clean bathroom, or laundry finished, or a phone call made, or an errand run?  What if I legitimized playing with my kids in my own head, even put it on my to-do list?  What if I allowed myself to recognize my limits and say “no” when I’m at capacity for outside commitments? 

And what if I realized that I am not ultimately responsible for my kids’ lives?  Even now at ages 4 and 2, they are their own people and their decisions are their own.  This will only become more true as they grow.  I can keep a healthy detachment, being sure that I’m not trying to take the place of God in their lives.  While I do have to think about how my actions will shape their lives into adulthood, I don’t have to assume responsibility for their choices and see them as reflections of me and my values.  I just need to love them and care for them today. 

Now, as for the leaving at the end of the day part, well that’s just not possible.  Parenting is a 24 hour job and there is no time off the clock.  And for an introvert like me who craves solitude and silence, this can be difficult.  Yes, I know, get up an hour before your kids do and have some quiet time to yourself.  Trouble is, my kids have built-in mama’s-awake-alarms and my wake time is their wake time.  I need some serious grace to thrive in the midst of the neverendingness of parenting.  It’s my opportunity for growth, I suppose.  But parenting veterans tell me that things will not always be this intense…and someday kids will even leave your house, I hear.  

While there are lessons to be learned from my nannying days, I wouldn’t trade mothering for anything, monkey kids and all.  I may have been a better nanny than a mama, but I’d rather be a good mama than an excellent nanny.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Math According To Kids

Two kids + one snack + one 5 minute desperation shower by mama = peanut butter smeared on table, milk on floor, cracker crumbs everywhere, too much laughter and talk of bodily functions at the table

One sister + one brother + one blanket = adventures in a fort, on a plane, having a picnic, going on a trip

One trip to bank + one trip to post office + one trip to gym + 2 kids = 6 stupid suckers (or 6 tantrums)

One sister + one brother + one sound machine with a thunderstorm setting = hours of playing “thunderstorm” under the sheets of mama and dada’s bed 

Minivan with 7 seats – 4 people in seats = 3 seats left which oldest daughter thinks must be filled with siblings as soon as possible

One hour – time it takes to get 3 people fed, dressed, and in the car = 23 minutes late to everything

One fun event X 3 = meltdown

One fun event X too many kids = meltdown

One fun event X number of hours of advance notice to child of said fun event = epic meltdown

One stick /2 = Yay!  2 sticks!!

One cookie/2 = Tears, tears, tears.  I want a whole one!!! 

Two adults + offspring = Calculus (the mathematical study of how things change and how quickly they change), Game Theory (the study of mathematical models of conflict and cooperation between intelligent rational decision-makers), and E = mc2, where E = energy, m = mass, and c = children.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Today Was A Hard Day

Relatively speaking.

I have some sort of mean virus where my chest feels prickly when breathing and my throat feels needley when swallowing or talking and the whole rest of my head feels achy and squished and too full.  I wanted to lay on the couch and watch back-to-back episodes of Mad Men all day.  Alas, those days are non-existent in parentworld. 

Isaac has the same mean virus, and his coping mechanism is to spread the meanness to all who encounter him, by means of hitting and not listening and making messes that he is too tired to clean up and waking up at 5:15am. 

Eden is not sick but had an accidental up-chuck this morning which necessitated a stay away from small children day.  No gym, no playgroup, no preschool…no typical Monday routine. 

This, as you may know, is a recipe for disaster. 

In my morning fog of not enough coffee and too much time letting the interwebs warm my face, my children spread small things all over the house.  When I said to Isaac that I didn’t understand why they liked to play this way, he said, “Becud dat wat little babies and kids and boys do.”  When I asked why little babies and kids and boys do not like to put back all the small pieces where they belong, he replied, “Becud dey too tired.” 

One of my favorite lines from Sleepless in Seattle is when Tom Hanks’ character has the Annoying Laugh Lady over for dinner with his son after he’s gotten back in the saddle again.  His son does not like her and is alternately rude to her face, cloyingly sweet, and making faces at her behind her back.  Tom Hanks’ character says, “You’ll have to excuse him.  He’s 8.”  Annoying Laugh Lady says, “He’s good at it.” 

Isaac is 2 ½.  He’s very, very good at it. 

We regrouped and ran some errands which necessitated long drives.  This is sometimes my Plan B strategy, because I can listen to music that I like and the kids are contained enough that they can’t fight very well and at the very least, can’t make messes. 

Except that we listened to a Finding Nemo book on cd that barely makes sense...a 20 minute long version of a 2 hour movie, where they spliced together some of the key scenes, left some key scenes out, and changed the storyline in bizarre ways to cover the gaps, all with a horrible narrator throughout.  We listened to it 3 times. 

And except that in a moment of sheer genius, I made banana smoothies to take with us so they would be occupied and full.  I forgot that Isaac loves to pour drinks out of a straw, paint with them, and basically do everything but drink them.  We made an unscheduled stop so I could rescue his carseat from the onslaught. 

And except that while they weren’t fighting, they were entirely slap happy and shrieking, laughing, kicking seats, and generally having a grand old time at the expense of my head and ears and focus on driving.  I don’t know how many times I yelled in my screechy voice, “TOO LOUD!!!”  Because sometimes I literally have to yell to be heard.  I’m sure that my yelling at their yelling was very confusing to them, so they just kept yelling. 

Did I mention that somewhere in here I got a text from my parents?  They’re on a beach in Florida, ate fresh Florida strawberries today, and were just about to rent some Segways (which is both hilarious and awesome).  Let’s just say I had a twinge, nay a stab, nay a body slam of jealousy. 

So back home to sunshine and mud outside, and then mud inside.  And endless talk of poop and pee, because that is just what’s hilarious these days.  And a brief visit with Daddy before he went back to work this evening (did I mention Mondays are his long days?  The hits just keep on coming…). 

In a stellar parenting moment I bribed them to clean up at least two rooms of the house tonight.  I offered a “reward” for 7 minutes of full on cleaning.  Then I decided the reward would be marshmallows, because that seemed logical before bedtime.  Everyone cleaned, they ate marshmallows, and we had a relatively peaceful bedtime, due to my ongoing self-talk (“don’t say anything, don’t say anything, don’t say anything…if you don’t have anything helpful to say, just keep your mouth shut”).  I did tell Isaac that my patience was all used up and because there was none left he had to lay down and go to sleep quickly.  He didn’t seem to understand what I was saying. 

And now two beautiful, healthy, lovable kids lay asleep in their beds.  And I’m leaving the kitchen full of dirty dishes and am going to lay on the couch and watch something and drink hot tea.

Today was a hard day.  But really only relatively speaking. 

Summer 2012