Monthly Archives: October 2010

Why I believe in Halloween

Though I was raised evangelical, and can speak Christianese with the best of them, I doubt I’m anyone’s Evangelical Mother of the Year, especially when it comes to all the big things on the Christian No-No list. That said, I will now post about why I have celebrated Halloween my entire life, and why I think it’s Christian to do so.

  • First of all, I love the fall. Halloween encompasses all of the cozy chilliness of a lovely fall night: The sun goes down early, the leaves crunch under your feet, the childhood giddiness of dressing up combined with the shiver of being outside at night doubles the excitement. Plus, jack-o-lanterns are (mostly) warm and welcoming.
  • What other holiday invites neighbors (who are, let’s be honest, essentially strangers) to your home, and yours to theirs? When Christians boycott this holiday based on the notion that it is evil (or, as many churches do, have their own “festival” on the day of in which church children only receive candy from church adults), we miss out on the chance to meet and interact with and care for our neighbors. Whether or not our culture thinks this is important, being a neighbor was incredibly important to Jesus.
  • Children are allowed to celebrate their own creativity. (And I believe that God the Creator is honored when we copy him in the act of creation. Therefore, Halloween—especially when children are allowed to use their imaginations and play—is beautifully honoring to God.) This is where I will now stand on my soapbox and say that 12-year-old girls in slutty nurse costumes is not “celebrating” creativity. Neither is the helicopter moms’ unspoken competition to see whose child can dress the cutest. Halloween should be about kids getting to experience an opportunity to play a part, to pretend in the fullest sense. Can I just say here that my 10-year-old niece is a perfect example of using her creativity for costumes? A couple of years ago she was a “Halloween Tree,” her idea. What, you say, is a Halloween Tree? I have no idea but she got it and that’s what mattered. This year she’s one of those mushroom people from Mario Brothers.  (I’m sorry to my brother-in-law, Andy, for my Mario ignorance.) She comes up the idea and her family helps her carry it out. It’s a beautiful thing.
  • CANDY!!! Free candy, placed in your bag. How is that not good and honoring to God?
  • It’s an opportunity not only to be a neighbor, but to show kindness, hospitality, to practice the art of preparing in advance for a stranger to arrive at your door. It doesn’t happen much anymore, but as we buy our candy and make preparations for the little (and sometimes grown up…two years ago I had college student trick or treaters) creatures who arrive on our step, it’s a reminder to be prepared to welcome and make space for everyone who enters our lives. I like that.

And what do I think about the ghosts, the witches, the monsters of the holiday? Honestly, I don’t know. August has two cute Halloween books that we’ve been reading. The ghost is a friendly one with rosy cheeks. The witch flies on a broom with a sparkly pink hat. We’ve never talked about what they are or what they represent and I don’t think we need to.

I’m not afraid of allowing August to see or experience things in our culture that I don’t agree with or want to glorify. So, I’ve decided not to be afraid of his being exposed to these things. (He’s been making cute ghostly art projects at his school, as well, by the way). He will spend his childhood and young adulthood exposed to values and ideas we don’t agree with: a sexually perverted culture, greed, and inequality, to name a few. My job is to point out what we believe and why…and to steer him to a life that knows and follows Christ.

Teaching him to say hello to the neighbors is a beautiful first step…

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It’s Golden

My Mom’s Group has been studying the book of Matthew for the past several weeks. (Only 14 more to go…Sorry, I’m afraid you’re going to keep hearing about it.)

One of the things I love most about my study group is the depth of these women. I think it’s easy to forget how bright and insightful other moms can be because when we get together with our kids running around us, our brains turn to kiddy mush and we can’t seem to talk about anything but sleep patterns and social development and the never ending breastfeeding saga that is our lives.

That’s why I believe in childcare. And that’s why our church is incredibly generous to offer it freely during our small group. Suddenly, when children stop crying and sweet breads are placed in front of us, we’re new women. With brains! And senses of humor! And actual life stories!

So I never get tired of meeting with these women (and eating Nancy’s homemade pumpkin cake. Nancy, that’s a hint.). Yesterday was no exception. As we sat together and read Matthew 7, discussing the final portion of Christ’s paradigm shifting Sermon on the Mount, we came to The Golden Rule. We all know it, whether we’re churchgoers or not. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is not a new teaching. In fact, several religions have the same type of moral code written into their scriptures. What I learned yesterday, though, was that Jesus was the only teacher who put the idea into positive language. Every other religious teaching where this is found says it in its negative light: Basically, “don’t do to someone what you wouldn’t want done to you.”

What Christ’s positive spin gives us is something that points directly back to the verses immediately preceding The Golden Rule. In that passage, Jesus describes God as a father who knows how to give good gifts to his son: “Who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?”

As we discussed this, my friend Priscilla said something that may profoundly effect how I see The Golden Rule from now on. She said it was finally clicking for her what Jesus meant (two chapters earlier in Matthew) when he instructed his followers to “turn the other cheek.”  She said, “All of the sudden, I’m reading this as a mother, who knows how to give good gifts to her child.” She went on to explain that when she reads that no sensible father is going to withhold a fish (a food served daily in Jesus’ culture) from his hungry child and instead give him a venomous snake, she understands. It’s the same reason that the other day when her two-year-old hit her in frustration, she didn’t hit him back. Of course she wouldn’t. She knows what she’s doing in his life. She wants him to learn not to hit. She wants him to be his best, to be wonderful.

For her this sudden understanding pointed directly toward The Golden Rule. When Jesus asks us to do to others what we would want for ourselves, he’s asking for something far deeper than, “don’t beat somebody up and don’t smash their car with a hammer” (not my real life example!), he’s asking us to see the people in our lives with the eyes of a parent, to want them to be wonderful.

Or, as Nancy reminded us, our church loves the word: Flourish. To want others to flourish.

That means when we’re mistreated, cut off in traffic, the subject of gossip, the office scapegoat, our job is not to passively brace ourselves for more slapping (as we often often read Matthew 5:39).  It means we strive and long for the flourishing of those who mistreat us. It’s not passive. It’s active, just as my not kicking August back when his legs protest getting his diaper changed, is not passive. I’m actively teaching him, engaging with him, longing for him to learn how to live in this world as the man I hope he will be.

And so, when I do to others what I’d have them do to me, I hope what I’m doing is engaging, loving, and longing for every person I encounter (even the meanest and slowest of drivers!) to be their most wonderful.

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For Stuey

This weekend, we lost my husband’s grandfather. We spent Saturday grieving and then watched our beloved Phillies lose the NL Championship to the city we live in. Papa wouldn’t have cared. Though he lived in the Philadelphia area for the past thirty years, he never bought into their sports teams. He loved all things New England, his childhood home.

Chris cared though. He went into the game longing for a happy distraction from his loss. What we got out of it was a night of street filled whooping, reminding us on a day when it was hard to be far from family, just how far we are.

Papa went quickly and painlessly, which adds a little relief, I guess. It’s always hard to lose someone you love. And we all loved him. He was the quintessential grumpy old man, but it was all part of his charm. I like to think he and I had a special relationship. Chris was his oldest grandchild, and I was his first granddaughter-in-law.  When we met over seven years ago, he immediately struck me as my type. Look, I love “flirting” with old men, and I love when I can sense who they once were in their younger years. Papa had spunk and I imagined that he would have been my friend if we’d been in history class together.

Instead, he shared his best whiskey with me and we clinked our glasses. He let me call him “Stuey” despite his never taking kindly to nicknames. And he smiled (in his grumpy way) at my jokes. We were friends.

Saturday during August’s naptime as Chris sat with me on the couch, we talked about our two years in Philadelphia before buying a house and having August. Our apartment offered only coin operated washing machines. And Chris’ grandparents offered their washer and dryer for free.  So we seemed to spend a lot of time over there, laundry baskets in hand, grabbing dinner with Papa and Grama.

There are some things you can only learn about a couple when you’re with them, alone, without the rest of the family. We learned about their sweetness, their silly story of breaking the (ahem) bed at the inn on their honeymoon, the small ways they knew how to care for each other, the small ways they drove each other crazy. We saw the side of Papa that simply wanted us to enjoy the things he enjoyed: golf, his homemade foccacia bread, the country club’s calamari, New England clam chowder, cheddar cheese, the Canadian Brass, good whiskey.

And we learned from him about a generous love for family. He took care of his daughters, all the way till the end.

Saturday night, after I reminded August to pray for his grandma and great-grandma, because they were sad, we lay next to each other in his bed. “Tell me a story,” he said.

“What kind of story do you want me to tell?” I asked.

“About T Rex and how he’s sad.”

So I made up a story about T Rex who was sad because he wasn’t picked for the baseball team, how his mommy told him that even though it was hard to be smaller than the other dinosaurs at school, that “small” wasn’t what was true about him. What was true was how much Jesus loved him.

August said: “I want to snuggle,” and threw his left arm around my neck. There will be days when I’ll show August pictures of his baby self with Papa and tell him how Papa was the only person who was ever allow to call him “Gus” or “Gussy.” And maybe someday, when August lets someone else call him Gus (maybe a college roommate, a girl he has a crush on in history class?), he’ll think about Papa, his great-grandfather with the gruff voice.

So, in Papa’s honor, we will find an airplane to carry us across what often feels like too large a country, and we’ll tell each other how we loved him.  We’ll eat, hopefully, some good cheddar cheese, some calamari, and some well-made rolls. And we’ll miss him. Because we live on earth, and sometimes, missing is what we do.

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Sweet Thankful

My Thankful List

  • We lost Chris’ grandfather, Papa Pipe, this past weekend.  His death was unexpected. I’ll write more tomorrow about how much we love him and how he will be missed. But today I’m thankful for the way so much lined up in our family before his leaving: sweet and needed conversations between him and family members, a beloved pastor still in town (even though he’s moving soon) to care for our family throughout the weekend, a peaceful and gentle ending. It’s always hard to lose someone you love and we loved Papa, but I think the entire family is sincerely grateful for God’s kindness during the process.
  • On Saturday, a very sad day for our family, Chris took a walk with August to the park. It was overcast and soon-to-rain. So, August was happily wearing his rain boots and rain gear. They stepped outside into that gray day and August exclaimed: “What a beautiful day!” Sometimes we just need to hear that.
  • My husband cares passionately about Philadelphia sports. I’m thankful he continually gives his heart to his team, even if they shred it into fine bits by swinging at terrible pitches and send that shredded heart out into the misty San Francisco night (where the rest of the city is honking and cheering for your loss). At least we loved the Phillies well this season.
  • I’m also thankful that my husband makes me perfectly poached eggs on toast whenever there’s no food left for dinner Saturday night.
  • My son wants me to tell him stories all day long. He knows his dad is the most fun for playgrounds and wrestling, but he’s figured out that I’m way better at making up stories. Yes!!!!!
  • I’m thankful for quiet moments of sitting still and how that seems to wake little melon baby up. I love this stage when I can barely make out that he’s flipping around in there. Little does he know how tight it’s fixing to be! And how tight my pants will also be…in two months.
  • Did I mention I’m having another boy? My dream of a kitchen full of hungry teenaged boys kissing me on the cheek in order to get their bowl of pasta will soon be fulfilled!
  • Yesterday I asked August if he wanted any more blueberries in his oatmeal. His answer? “I want fourteen.” Yes, fourteen is definitely the perfect amount.
  • I’m thankful that my cat is cuddly and sits on my face when I have a headache. Sometimes it helps.
  • That Sleepless in Seattle was on just as I was sad and alone on Saturday night (and just as I discovered a package of Oreos in the fridge).
  • I’m thankful our families love us and pray for us and make sacrifices to serve us.

 

Go ahead and add your Grateful into the mix. It feels good…

 

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Stones Splitting

When I sat in front of my spiritual director last Friday, trying to relay to her how I’m overwhelmed with the sudden busyness in my life—part time job, poetry writing gig, the emotional alterations of moving, the exhaustion of pregnancy, August’s latest nap antics—I wanted to be given an answer.

I always want an answer to how to live more simply, more peacefully: If I were more organized! If I could just live with less sleep! If I only had more discipline in my life!

Instead, Debby said: “What does God have for you in this?”

I should know what to expect by now in our meetings. I wait for the encouragement to work harder, do better, pray longer, and instead, this dear woman asks me what God wants to say to me in my exhaustion.

She told me she had a mental image of me as a piece of stone with a crack down the middle, being chiseled into two pieces. On one side is the part of me that belongs to God, the part that earnestly wants to love him and find life in him. On the other side is the part of me that needs to prove myself valuable. Why am I stressed about working 10 hours a week? Because I need to do it in order to write and so far, I haven’t found the time for both. I need to write in order to give life to a book idea I’ve been tending for the past year. I need to write a book because I believe I can and because I want to. But also because I need to prove that I can; I need you to know that I have value.

Why do I need you to value me? This past year, I have written over and over (in different ways) about how difficult it’s been for my sense of my self to be a stay at home mom. It isn’t hard because I’m a woman who has to work outside the home to find joy. (I’ve never really been great at “work.”) It’s difficult because I care what our culture believes about me based on my staying home. I want to prove that I’m not lazy, I’m not oppressed, and I’m not bored. I want to have succeeded in being the writer I’ve always dreamed of being.

And in my head, I have four months to do it. Four months before this baby arrives and I’m lost in a world of breastfeeding and soothing and sleeplessness and the job of parenting two. I’m afraid I’m going to fail.

So, what does it mean to ask God what he has for me in this season of exhaustion? What does it mean to realize how little what you think of my success means to my value? What does it mean to really believe that my value is completely separate from my ability to do everything beautifully and with ease?

How do I begin to move toward a life when the other half of me is finally chipped away and all I am is God’s?

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O soothest Sleep!

I’m so frustrated with my pregnant self! I have so much I want and need to be doing. But it’s 10:45 on a Wednesday night and I can’t keep my eyes open. All my body wants to do is take naps and wear elastic. But, I’ve got work to do!

So, as I have not come up with an idea for the blog post tonight and as I am sitting in my pjs on the bed and desperately want to close my eyes, I’m going to share with you some words from my man, John Keats. Because what can be better when you want to close your eyes than reading a poem from a dying man about how sleep is really death? The “hushed Casket of my Soul”?! How good is that line?

 

To Sleep

by John Keats
O soft embalmer of the still midnight,
Shutting, with careful fingers and benign,
Our gloom-pleas’d eyes, embower’d from the light,
Enshaded in forgetfulness divine:
O soothest Sleep! if so it please thee, close
In midst of this thine hymn my willing eyes,
Or wait the “Amen,” ere thy poppy throws
Around my bed its lulling charities.
Then save me, or the passed day will shine
Upon my pillow, breeding many woes,—
Save me from curious Conscience, that still lords
Its strength for darkness, burrowing like a mole;
Turn the key deftly in the oiled wards,
And seal the hushed Casket of my Soul.

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Stay at Home Humility

Yesterday I came across a Wall Street Journal article written about the 22 women who have held or currently hold the title of CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Interestingly enough, most of those women have children. Of the twelve current female CEOs, eleven are mothers. That’s amazing to me because it so obviously goes against most of our assumptions about successful women. (That is, in order to succeed in the professional world, a woman has to choose work over family.)

One of the important points made in the article is that most of these success-driven women have major help from their husbands on the home front. Many of these husbands gave up their careers in order to care for the children. (The article tells the story of one father who gave a promising career as a tenor and now no longer sings professionally.)

I have a difficult time reading about spouses who give up work for the sake of the other spouse’s career. Part of me has wondered if that’s just because I fancy myself so pro women that the thought of a fellow double X chromosome letting go of her dream while the husband pursues his makes me a little queasy. But I realized reading this article that I feel just as sad for the husbands who let go of their dreams. Maybe I’m not so one sided as I thought; maybe I just get emotional when I read about stay-at-home-sacrifice.

Sacrifice is a funny thing. It’s easier for some of us than it is for others. But it still hurts. Maybe Mr. Stay at Home Tenor was more like me. Maybe it was easier for him to end his touring career and wipe bottoms, but I imagine it wasn’t easy. Or simple. And now, twenty years later, after his career has passed him by, I imagine the thought of that sacrifice still aches, no matter how much he loves his kids, no matter how proud he is of his CEO wife.

I’ve talked here fairly often about how Benedict charged his brothers to practice humility by accepting their own “smallness.” I understand how the act of sacrifice is a practice in humility. It’s the coming to a place of freedom where one doesn’t need to prove her own worth to the world, where she doesn’t need to receive accolades and approval based on her list of valuable accomplishments.

That’s why I like monks. They don’t accomplish much. They pray. They eat. They fix the plumbing or study or create something small (like sculpting or brewing beer). But they never get their names on walls or plaques or in newspapers. They’ve chosen that reality as a spiritual practice. And I can’t help but think that those of us (men and women) at home have chosen the same kind of practice in humility.

The question is whether or not we choose to see our time at home as a spiritual practice. My hope is that every time I consider what my talents could have accomplished for myself: recognition! impressiveness! my own false sense of worth!, I will remember that this simple life I lead is a spiritual one. That in my sacrifice, I am learning how to love, and pray, and patiently wait.

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