Tuesday, October 20, 2009

In Praise of a Monday

Some people dread Mondays - and I get it - I used to. But every Monday I get to go to Bible study with this fantastic group of women at All Souls in Wheaton where I attend church.  We've been working on Beth Moore's study on King David called A Heart Like His, which is pushing us to look at our lives through the clarifying lens of Scripture.  The viewpoint this gives me is sometimes uncomfortable, however this happens in a wonderful circle of comfort and support and it helps me to live better.  We pray for each other and share each others' burdens and joys. 

Yesterday we did something that was totally unplanned and utterly lovely.  We went upstairs to watch the video portion of the lesson only to find that the projector wasn't working with the VCR.  So, given the gift of a suddenly open half an hour, we decided to sing. We are blessed to have, in our company, a couple of gifted pianists/organists, one of whom played several hymns for us. 

We ended with the hymn This is My Father's World.  When we were at our old church, a church battling within and without, the verse of this hymn that says "and though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet." would play in my head every time I went there.  It reminded me that God is in control, and, no matter what we are going through, that He is sovereign.  It also served to focus me on the reality that my job was to remain in the Word and to love my neighbors and not to despair.

And reveling in the hymns we'd sung yesterday morning brought me to thinking about how much I like the music at All Souls.   When we first started at this church I remember thinking I'd like some music written after, say, 1845.   I had an hour long chat about it with our pastor and about 45 minutes into the conversation, I decided I'd lost and now I'm glad I did. While I like contemporary Christian music, so much of it is about people's reactions to God, rather than about God.  The theology embedded in what we get to sing on a Sunday morning - or a Monday by surprise - is so deep.  We have these old hard bound hymnals that came from a church in Canada. I'm sure there's some story attached to how we got the hymnals;  I'll have to ask at some point.  

But yesterday morning, singing with the women, standing around the piano by the altar, where we got the books from wasn't the point.  We raised our voices in spontaneous worship to God.  Singing the songs that our parents and our grandparents before them sang, some of which were penned before their parents were born.   The quaint, familiar songs that tell of our loving, majestic and sovereign Lord.  Words that were true then, are true now, and will be true when our grandchildren sing them.  

It was a great Monday.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Prayerful Processing

One of my friends asked me a while ago how I was praying about something, which got me to thinking about prayer. The kind we come up with, not the kind which are read in church, composed, many of them, by the able hand of Cranmer. I've been mulling on the question ever since, meaning to write about it. And then there was this last week, with the death of my daughter's friend, when writing about it seems to be more necessary.

My initial answer to my friend's question was that sometimes I pour out my problems before God, tattling away on whomever richly deserves it - right up until God gently reminds me that what I'm kvetching about is, rather inconveniently, something I've also done - except probably worse or bigger. Sometimes I'm so upset that God gets to hear that I can't even find the words to pray (and probably enjoys the uncharacteristic silence). Then there are times, too, when my heart is so full of joy or gratitude or peace that I scramble to find words that are big enough to express what I'm seeing or feeling.

And sometimes, like today at the funeral for a fourteen year old, the broken request for His grace and peace wells up, overflowing the confines of my soul. It is the only thing I can do. The funeral home was filled full when her pastor presented the good news of the gospel. Kids sat, holding each other. And God's grace was present.

I'm sure there were many other people praying there today. Aching questions asked of God about why this happened, now, to her. Even if we knew the answer to that one, this beautiful child would still be separated from us, and there wasn't any way anyone could have known, or done something differently or better or anything to have saved her life. There were prayers of thanksgiving for her presence in our lives. And prayers of gratitude that this was a child who was well loved by her parents, adored by her friends, and who lived her short life well.

At the burial, one of the moms said to me that this is where the girls find out that there are things that we mothers can't fix. While our daughters already know that, it is more true right now because this isn't a matter of forgetting to do something, or be somewhere. This is too big and no one can fix it. We just have to live through it.

As her pastor said, we know where Michelle is, and we rejoice in her life and in the fact that she's safe. So the prayer now is one for us. That God's peace, which passes my feeble understanding, will be with us now and always.

Declaration of Interdependence

Perhaps because we're looking college in the eye - the reality of our family living in two places instead of one...well, three in one place and one in another...I have been wondering why we place such an emphasis on raising our children to be independent. As if living their lives separately is a good thing for either of us. So, I'm going to rebel (albeit late as my kids are teenagers) and aim for interdependent kids.

Should they be able to move out and live alone, supporting themselves and buying us a beach house with any extra that they earn? Sure. I'm not looking for them to live at home forever, exactly. I do want to take the vacations with my beloved that our children would not want to take. I want to go to the National Parks and the churches of Europe and meander around, stopping here and there with a sketch book and pencil, not that I can really draw anything worth looking at. Which wouldn't be the point. Sean will take beautiful pictures and we'll marvel at what we'd have seen that day over a glass of wine.

But I also want to spend the rest of my life with my kids and their kids and, if this low sodium diet doesn't kill me off, with their kids' kids. I need us to be part of each other's lives.

So why do we place this value on independence? It certainly isn't biblical. Honoring your father and mother doesn't involve sending them the odd e-mail and never seeing them. Raising your child up in the way he should go so that when he grows old he doesn't depart from it doesn't imply that you'll be absent as he continues on that path.

I think this whole "ideal" of raising independent children is a lie. Just like that old perfume commercial which told us that women could "bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you're a man" as if anyone, male or female, can do all that stuff and not keel over from exhaustion, no matter how nice they smell.

The fabrication goes that we should have at most two kids and the sooner we bring them up to go off and be independent, the sooner we can go back to our lives, as if children somehow make you put off living a life. So we are to start training them early to live alone by using toys that teach them to play quietly by themselves on a computer or in front of the tv while we're on the laptop, the phone, nose in a book....whatever it takes to hang on to an identity other than "Susie's mom." And I'm not innocent of the above, I'm just questioning why I've done what I've done.

We are told by the media that we are "worth it" that we "deserve" stuff - and one of those things that we deserve is our "me" time. But why is that, aside from advertisers obvious interest in getting us to buy their products? I can't see what I've done that is so remarkable that I deserve anything. I'm just a housewife. I live a nice life. I volunteer - at stuff I love doing. And if I "deserve" it - who has to give it to me? Where to I go to cash in this chip? And why is the goal to be so alone?

So how to break this cycle of independence and work on interdependence?

When they're babies, independence is impossible as their needs are too immediate and physical. You're face to face with them while nursing. Your body is tuned to theirs as cutting the umbilical cord didn't actually serve to sever much of anything.

But as they grow older, the connection is far more mental and as such is strewn with exit doors. There's the pre-teen angst of junior high boys. You hope the walls of your house survive the fists that pound on them in frustration. The slamming of doors, the forgetfulness, and the realization that you're using your Lamaze techniques far more than you did during labor. Then follows the teenage moodiness (theirs and mine), the hormonal swings and the strangeness of a generation we're not a part of. They stomp off to their rooms, where you're not really welcome despite the fact (which, by the way, you shouldn't bring up) that you paid for the room and the door, and there is more separateness. Their language is different, their music - only somewhat less so, and the technology they view as normal was inconceivable when we were their age. All obstacles to overcome on the road to interdependence.

So I'm seeking the chink in the armor. One way I've stumbled onto, is to find what they love, whether it be video games or card games or music or whatever, and work out a way to do some of it with them. Putting down my laptop, my CrackBerry (which I love and my entire family entirely hates), or my book and playing a game with them. Some games I'm horrible at and they laugh at me, but I actually beat my son at chess the other day. A game I taught him after he beat me at checkers when he was four. Things I wouldn't have thought to do, but things I'll miss doing when they're away. Things that keep us together and make us laugh.

As we get closer to sending our son to college (if the college applications ever get done), I find us all in the same room more often. I suspect it's the looming threat of separation, even though I do want him to go to learn to be a teacher because he'll be a great one.

But I never want either of my kids to think that they need to, or should, do it all on their own. There are a lot of folks who have held their hands as they've walked toward adulthood. Their teachers who helped them learn, the friends who gentled their rough edges, the family that loved and reared them are all part of the world into which God intentionally placed them. We're none of us meant to be independent or alone.

So I'm going to help them to see both the gifts God has given them and to recognize the gifts God has given to those around them so that they can weave their lives into the tapestry, supporting and being supported by it. I want them to know that they are part of the body of Christ...where neither they, nor any other part, can say "I have no need of you."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Today was one of those days when leaving the hobbit hole was hard. My daughter's friend died last Thursday. She was fourteen: a sweet, gifted child. Two of my three trips out were routine - to drop off a forgotten thing at school, a run to the grocery store for lunch supplies. The third trip was back to the high school. Back past the news van parked out to cover the kids coming back to the high school for the first time after the death, back to pick up my daughter and two of her friends to take them to the wake.

The girls chatted in the car; they'd not done what was next. I knew, though. It was like that moment last Thursday afternoon, just prior to telling my daughter of the news of her friend's death. That moment before adding one of life's truly hard experiences into a formerly innocent life. The moment a parent doesn't even think to dread when her child is little.

We went in to the funeral home and saw their teachers from Junior High. All in a cluster, teary eyed and reaching out to the girls, telling them how grown-up they looked, how beautiful. And then on into the viewing room. Into some other reality, standing in a line of people who are all either crying or staring up at the ceiling trying not to. Inching toward what cannot possibly be real. A still, young girl wearing her Homecoming dress. The one she was supposed to wear this Saturday.

The girls move forward. Touching the pictures on the easels. Holding their tissues and each other. Wearing the t-shirts that they'd made a couple of days earlier, saying in the colors lime green and purple - her colors - that they would love her always. That they would never forget her.

I remember the first time someone my age died. Junior year in high school, a couple of years ahead of where they are now. We weren't close, but I still remember his name and always will. He was the first to go home.

We approach her family - there is nothing to say in such a situation. If the pain were smaller, there would be words that could contain or somehow control it. But there are not, because the death of an only child - or any child - doesn't come with appropriate words. "I'm sorry" is all that comes out through the immense thing that has lodged itself in my throat, disabling my vocal chords.

Her father hugs my daughter and her friends. He tells them the truth - which is that we will see her again. We are Christians so we will. The separation, however, is agonizing. We were created by God to not only worship Him, but to love and to live with each other. Which is the truth too.

Tomorrow is Wednesday and the funeral. The third of the triad of experiences. The finding out, the viewing, and then the formal saying good bye. And then, starting Thursday, there is the rest. The living without. Sitting with a different lunch buddy. Not getting texts from her when she gets to school. Not hearing her laugh or seeing her smile. Learning to breathe past the hitch in your throat - to keep going. Which they will all do. And the rest of the world will go on around them as if nothing had happened.

My daughter is growing up. Sometimes I don't see it when it happens and just realize later that she's taller or more mature or somehow older. Mostly, this growing up makes me rejoice. Although I pretend to be sad about her being as tall as me, or the same shoe size, or entering high school, the reality is that I want her to thrive. To grow up into the wonderful young woman I know she will be.

I just wish, like every parent, that I could wrap her in cotton wool, mark her with a "Fragile" sign, and protect her from pain. But, I can't and so I'll do what mothers do. Walk beside her, holding a box of Kleenex, and praying for God's protection and grace over her all the days of her life.