Thursday, March 31, 2011

Who will they become?

On this rainy spring break (for Brady) morning, we braved the crowds at Pump it Up to hopefully get out some energy and have some fun.  It also gave me a chance to observe the ways in which my kids are developing, particularly as I've been reading an interesting book:  Red Flags or Red Herrings?: Predicting Who Your Child Will Become by Susan Engel. The book ponders whether patterns in childhood (social skills, IQ tests, behavior, etc) transition to adulthood.  For me, it's been amazing to watch my kids grow just in the past five years (or less).  They've changed so much in the short amount of time.  We see traits that we can trace back to us, and things that are totally unique.  There are so many differences between the kids, too.

When we arrived at the inflatable bouncing party palace, I was overwhelmed by the crowds, the noise, the closed-in space.  Maryn, clutching to my leg, seemed to feel the same anxiety.  While Brady would have been the same a couple of years ago, he literally bounced into the room, regaling anyone who would listen with stories of his birthday: "I'm FIVE now.  I had a birthday on March 27th.  My sister will be 3 on April 21st."  We pushed our way through and Brady had his shoes off and was running from place to place so fast that I could barely keep up.  Maryn wanted to go on a slide, but refused to go without me.  I had to climb, half holding on for my safety, while dragging her up with me, using my feet to try to fend off attacks from other little children trying to pry their way to the top.  As soon as we flew down the slide, she was hooked...yet still was unwilling to go alone.  Sweet Brady volunteered, "I'll go with you Maryn", and took her by the hand and led her to the top.  A different Maryn emerged.  The shyness and fear was gone, and she was glowing in the attention and protection of her "big" brother.  And he shined as well, becoming a gentle leader and laughing at her delight.  He started saying, "Where's my sister?  Come on, sister, let's go together!" which was amusing as I hadn't heard him refer to her as his sister so often.  It was one of those fantastic mommy moments where all is right in the world.  These same kids that can literally be at each other's throats some days were inseparable best friends.  I hope that's a pattern that lasts forever.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Happy birthday, Brady boo!

My sweet boy, one of silly giggles and intense concentration, all elbows and knees, compactly tucked into my lap.  How he's grown in the past year, in determination and independence.  What once was "I can't, help me" has now become a proud boy who patiently helps his sister learn how to write her letters and "color in the lines."  It's hard to believe that this child, practically wordless for the first three years and shy and introverted for the fourth year is now one of constant verbal streams--questions, thoughts, arguments, connections, and memories.  He is a master of words, both written and spoken, teaching himself to read by stringing together magnetic letters, starting from sounds and progressing to words and sentences and paragraphs.  He loves order and routine and familiarity, but has delighted us in the ways he has jumped into a new school and new friends this year.  His heart is bigger than his small stature would suggest, and he is both more fragile and stronger than you would guess.

He's a puddle-jumping, rock collecting, exploring wonder, full of creativity and fun.  He's a singer and dancer, a writer and reader, a photographer and videographer, a learner and teacher, and our miracle boy forever.  I'm proud to be his mama, and am amazed and grateful for all he continues to teach me.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Yay! We're getting a new roof!!

I'm really trying hard not to be negative.  I gave up negativity for Lent, and not just because it sounded easier than giving up sweets (for me, both would likely do me in).  I set this goal, not expecting to really achieve it (see how my negativity seeps in?), but because I wanted to create a habit of recognizing it.  When I recognize it, my aim is to instead think (or write) thoughts of gratitude. 

Unless you're pretty close to me, you may not realize what a pessimistic and critical person I can be.  I try to keep it internal, or just share it with my accepting family (thanks to John, Brady, and Maryn for loving me in spite of it!)  Much of it stems from my perfectionism and my failure to reach the impossible standards I set for myself.  I know what it's about, yet I often feel powerless to change my thoughts and feelings. 

A couple of days ago, in the middle of a bad couple of weeks, John called to tell me unexpected good news: we were getting a small tax refund instead of having to pay.  This followed news from our loan refinance people that instead of having to pay over $1000 in closing costs, they were going to pay us $100 at closing.  Most people would be overjoyed.  Me?  I just wondered what emergency would crop up and take that money.  The question was answered today in water leaks--a new roof!  John's next phone call, just a few minutes later, was to report the beginning of round #4 of the stomach virus among our kids in less than two weeks.  I hate to admit that my thoughts vacillated between despair and a satisfied "I knew something would go wrong!"

Obviously, something has to change.  Over the past few months, even through some pretty dismal circumstances, God has been revealing glimpses of hope to me.  I have seen so many people acting out of kindness and love.  I keep feeling that things are on the verge of becoming better in a lot of ways.  I know how incredibly blessed I am and want to express my thanks by focusing on the many beautiful things instead of the few ugly ones.  I need new vision, but it seems impossible at times.  I struggle minute by minute to shift my attitude, my thoughts, my expectations.  Within an hour of posting my Lenten resolution on Facebook, I was "busted" for making a  not-so-positive post.  Failure is inevitable, but even failure is teaching me to stop, think, confess, and trust in God and not myself.  That's a big part of what Lent is all about.  I read this post by Ann Voskamp at just the right moment...another way God is opening my eyes to God's ongoing work in my life and the world around me.  Maybe I'm starting to have better vision after all!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

the work of prayer

One of several good books that I'm reading right now is Kate Braestrup's Beginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life.
Kate is a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service and is also author to another good book, Here If You Need Me: A True Story.
The book offers many traditional prayers as well as some that she wrote herself.  I was touched by one of her stories about a childhood friend's dad who always said a blessing over his daughter before she left the house (a "threshold prayer"). 

He used one of my favorites from Numbers 6:24--

May the Lord bless and keep you
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you
and give you peace.

Kate offered one that she wrote with which to bless her family:
May love and strength be in your hands
May love and courage be in your heart
May love and wisdom be in your mind
May God go with you and work through you
today and in all of your days. (p. 62)

I would love to offer blessings over my children instead of the frantic reminders to get shoes and HURRY OR YOU WILL BE LATE!  I count it a success if we all leave moderately dressed and without tears, hopefully with a quick kiss and "love you."  My stress level in the morning dissipates only as I'm in my car driving away.  Fortunately, Braestrup could also relate to the frustations many mothers face:

"Incidentally, I can't claim to have been the rare and saintly person possessed of the endless patience, tolerance, and attention to detail that motherhood demands.  Motherhood could demand until it was blue in the face.  I was an impatient, disorganized, restless, and resentful mother at least half the time...It's a lot of hard, boring work, and the intense emotional connection I felt to my children too often promted me to feel overwhelmed and guilty rather than affectionate and maternal.  A threshold prayer would have 'worked' the way the mealtime grace and the bedtime prayers do:  by allowing reality to rise and be acknowledged.  I don't mean the reality of the backward overalls, the irritation, and the striped socks.  I mean the real reality, the truth about who each of us was and what it meant to be lving our lives together." (p. 61)

I want to incorporate spiritual practices into the life of our family, and I want them to develop naturally, but it is hard work.  It is difficut even for us, two ordained ministers with two seminary degrees and 21 years of combined ministry experience to regularly practice spiritual disciplines within our family.  You know what they say about ministers' kids, too...

Our 4-year-old often resorts to screaming "NO, I don't want to pray!" when we begin a mealtime blessing.  Our kids were the only two talking during a prayer at a birthday party this weekend and at church this morning. 

On the other hand, our 2-year-old offered to do the blessing the other day, and I'm sure God smiled with us as she seriously said, "ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.  Amen."  She is the one to remind us, with our cheeks stuffed with food, that we forgot to pray, and to ask daily for us to pray for a young friend who's fighting cancer.  Maybe she'll be our inspiration.

For you, my friends, is another favorite blessing from Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals--

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you:  wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Famous last words

It's been said that the sentence "We've never done it that way before" can be a prelude to the death of an organization.  Or maybe I'm just making that up, but in my mind, it sounds like solid truth.  Have you ever been metaphorically stuck, blocked, unsure of the direction you should turn?  Organizations and ministries get stuck, too.  And the "joy" of this is that instead of having one person stuck, you have a multitude of sinking souls dependent on one another, yet clinging desperately for life (or dejectly resigned to death) as individuals.  Try throwing out a life preserver in the form of new ideas, and it is thrown back to you, punctured with the words, "That's not the way we do things.  We've always done it this way..." And they continue to sink.