Friday, November 27, 2009

Giving Thanks

The house is pretty quiet this morning. The dog, seeming to sense that everyone is in a turkey coma, is curled up snoring in my spot on the couch. I am relegated to the next cushion over, which is actually more comfortable to sit in, not having been compressed by years of being sat on. Thanks, Amy.

We spent Thanksgiving yesterday with my folks, just six of us, as my brother's family spent the day with his in-laws. It was a quiet meal with an overloaded table. I made a gratin of butternut squash and sweet potatoes with Gruyere and garlic infused heavy cream. I don't know if anyone else liked it, but at least I did as it was a lot of work to make. I also made green bean casserole, which everyone does like, to make up for the squash gratin, which again, I liked.

We came home to a Thursday paper the size of a Sunday paper, filled with ads for stuff I neither care about, nor, in some cases even knew existed. When my husband asked me if I was going to the store to pick up some of the computer stuff he had his eye on, I told him that if he woke me up and drove me, I'd be happy to go. As he's still sleeping and I'm typing in my pjs, my evil plan to stay in and relax worked!

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where Norman Rockwell expectations meet reality. I have friends who eagerly anticipate seeing their families and friends who dread it. For us, it's a mix.

Neither of our mothers are doing all that well. Sean's mom had a stroke last year and is in a nursing home. My mom's health is difficult and her memory is worse, which makes the holidays - and indeed any get together - a bit of a minefield to negotiate. Our kids don't spend much time at the table with us, heading down to the basement between courses, which means we don't have a lot of memories of spending time with them at the holidays.

On the brighter side, however, yesterday at All Souls, our church put on a brunch for the homeless. Fliers were passed out at the local PADS shelters and a great deal of food was donated. I didn't have much to do with it, other than picking up some of the donated food and dropping it off before the brunch started yesterday. It sounds like we didn't get as many folks as we were set up for, but there's significant movement toward doing this next year and word will get out along the way. We're in too small of a building to do much more, but I believe we're called on to work out that part, and yesterday was a start.

And it focused me on what to be thankful for: the generosity of the local grocery stores and restaurants; the blessing of a pastor's family who understands what living out faith means; a parish of people who get excited about the opportunity to serve; the security that no one will kick us out from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., leaving us to wander the city until it's time to find shelter anew; that we have both of our mothers still with us; that everyone in our family has jobs; that we could go and get the stuff from the paper in our car at 4 a.m. if we chose to do so; and that we have choices.

So it wasn't a Norman Rockwell holiday, but it'd be hard to fit all that thankfulness into a single picture frame, anyway.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Between two hard places, clinging to the Rock

We've been reading the book of Isaiah in our small group bible study over the last couple of years and are about half way through it. We're a group that's been together for the last 18 years, so when we meet for bible study we often answer about five questions from the study guide, taking our time and delving deep. And then other times, we just talk if we didn't all get the lesson done, or if something important has happened in our lives.

Last week we weren't able to meet, so I've had a couple of weeks to mull over the lesson. We are reading in Isaiah 36 and 37 about how the Assyrians sent an emissary to King Hezekiah offering "peace." From the south, there is an offer of "aid" from the Egyptians. Both offers get quotation marks around them because they come with strings attached. I'd say that the king was between a rock and a hard place, but from a Christian perspective, it's very evident that he's between two hard places and is clinging to the Rock.

I've been thinking about what the Assyrian captain of the guard said and the reaction to it. He speaks in a language that all can understand, seeking to seduce them with offers them land and food, neatly weaving lies with truth. The aid from the Egyptians can't be counted upon (true). That when the Assyrians conquered a variety of other kingdoms, the "gods" of those kingdoms didn't save them (again, true). And then, oh so smoothly, he slips in the idea that Hezekiah's God won't save his people either - blithely equating the LORD to these other "gods." Whoa, Nellie.

In response, the people remain silent. The king and his men tear their clothes in mourning over the blasphemy. King Hezekiah goes to the house of the Lord and prays, acknowledging God as the Creator of heaven and earth and laying out his concerns. And, we hear from Isaiah, God has Hezekiah's back. He causes a rumor to arise that diverts the war machine of Assyria elsewhere. Sennacherib, King of Assyria, dies by the sword when two of his sons kill him while he is in the temple of his "god."

These passages are not only reminding me how to pray in general, but to grieve over blasphemy. Not to shake my head and to be snippy about it, which I'm really good at, but to mourn. Then their example tells me to bring that sorrow to God and let Him deal with it. Seeing that, when faced with the blasphemy of the Assyrian Captain, King Hezekiah's men didn't respond directly to him at all, but went to God instead.

I understand addressing blasphemy from those who claim Christianity. It is a fine balancing act to tell the truth in love while leaving no room for question that the statements or the behavior is unacceptable, and that, left unchecked, blasphemy has severe consequences.

But here we see someone who doesn't believe insulting God, and the response of the believers is silence, mourning and prayer. I'm no theologian, but it strikes me as a good pattern to follow.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Forming His Own Bubble

Engagement, marriage, first car, second car, bird, first house, first child, second child, second house, third dog...we been adding since 1985. Then, the other day, our son received the college acceptance letter he's been waiting for. He's excited about it, and so are we, but the fact that life will be changing for us is now a reality. We will only be three around the dinner table.

His sister is thrilled. She loves the idea of being an only child. She's eyeing his room for where the best place to sit while applying her nail polish, filling his room with the noxious odor of teal or blue or whatever shade by Opi. He hates the smell of nail polish.

I've watched my friends go through this - in varying states of joy and tears. We want our children to grow and to thrive. We have dreams of what they'll do when they grow up. We just don't want them to go to colleges that are farther away than the local high school.

I do remember how exciting it was to go to college and loving the independence and the parties and even the classes. I was in charge of when I got up and went to bed - limited only by class schedules and homework. I want him to have that experience and he'll have a great time. He has friends going there and, knowing him, he'll make more friends and learn a lot and become a great teacher. I'm certain of it.

But it's so odd that's he's old enough to do so - that we're all of a sudden here. I find myself alternately not thinking about it and deluding myself that this "down-sizing" is temporary. He's going to get married, eventually, and have kids and then our family will grow. Kind of like the liquid in a lava lamp - bubbles that stretch, separate and rejoin in sometimes larger forms. We're in that stretching phase that will result in his forming his own bubble. We won't be the same and it feels kind of thin, somehow.

In the words of Proverbs, we've trained our child up on the way he should go, so that when he's old he will not depart from it. Our job, while not ending, is changing as he prepares to continue on that path. He'll be walking on it, but not holding our hands, or even walking within our sight. And I'm reminded that God gives us children like library books - on loan. They shape and change our lives and we are richer for it. But then they need to be returned - sent on to shape and change the lives of others. And, as with many things that God has for us, I pray that He'll give me joy about it, because at this moment, I confess that I'm a little sad.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


I am contemplating going back to school. Eventually my beloved would like to change jobs and do something totally different - perhaps becoming a banjo maker in the hills of Tennessee.  Which raises the inconvenient question of income, because apparently apprentice banjo makers only pull in five or six figure salaries if you count the numbers after the decimal.

So I'm thinking about re-upping my teaching certificate, long lapsed.  I'm in the process of learning Braille, which I started learning for the fun of it, as I'm a language geek.  Then the other day my friend Karen told me that there are grants that could pay for a masters' degree in Special Ed. working with children who are blind or have low vision.  And not just teaching, which I love doing, but also working out mobility and orientation issues.  Which would be kinda cool to do.

So I'm embarking on some praying and some research.  Finding out what jobs might be available, where I could do student teaching, etc.  I found a couple of universities which have the program online and could arrange local student teaching.  As I tend to move at glacial speeds, I'm pretty sure that next week will still find me in research mode. So no banjo making just yet.

The Gift of Encouragement

Our son went to a retreat at a local Catholic church this weekend.  Prior to his going, we got a call asking us to write a letter of encouragement to him and to send it with him in an envelope as a surprise.

It was a lovely thing to sit down together and talk about how much we love our firstborn, what we are excited about for him, and what we think he does well. After our conversation, we wrote a three page note.

In doing so, we put into words what we already knew but probably hadn't said to him: that the stuff that we nag him about is minor - cutting his hair, practicing his bass - nothing stuff.  We tease him and tell him that his parents are secretly Amish and that when we nag him about whatever annoys us, he should be thankful that we're not making him wear those short black pants.  And he'll sigh like he's been cursed with the parents from 1472 and roll his eyes - not that you can see that's what he's doing beneath all that hair.  In comparison to so many people we know or hear about, however, we have no problems.

I know he knows we love him, because we tell him a lot, but it's good to write things down, by hand, on paper.  It's something he can save, like I saved the letters from my parents and my grandmas that I got when I was at college.  Letters that told me that they loved me enough to sit down and write to me.  There's something about a handwritten note that is more intentional and more real somehow, particularly in an age where everything is on a screen of some sort.

So I'm going to try practicing written encouragement.  I do have to find something suitable to write on, post-it notes don't work well.  I'm thinking that this would be a nice present for each kid for Christmas...not replacing gift cards or electronics...but giving them something that won't get obsoleted or outgrown.

A few days reflection on this post prompts me to add that these notes are best done when things are going well.  When I couldn't haul Mr. Sunshine out of bed on time for church this morning because he'd been up talking to a friend until 1:30 a.m., I was very glad that we'd written the letter on Friday.