Monthly Archives: November 2010

Advent Thankful

  • Yesterday, for my sake, my husband did something he hates: hanging pictures. Yes, after two months of bare walls in the Hoho home, he lovingly nailed paintings and pictures on our wall, while August followed behind him with a hammer. (By the way, August + hammer = bad idea.)
  • I’m also thankful that my main squeeze did something he loves last Thursday: Cook and Host. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving with some fellow San Franciscans who also couldn’t make it back to family for the holiday. And Chris, that turkey was beautiful. Thank you for always feeding me so well.
  • I’m thankful for family traditions, especially when it comes to Christmas decorating. Our fake, Charlie Brown tree went up this past weekend. Our little family has had a tree decorating tradition for a while (even before the kid came around). It goes like this: 1) Listen to Amy Grant Christmas music (Really, is any other Christmas music ever needed?) while hanging ornaments and periodically dancing, 2) Wear our respective ugly Christmas sweaters that we pull out every year just for this event, and 3) drink wassail. YESSSSSS! I Love Christmas!
  • I’m thankful that August is really interested in the Christmas story and is participating in that story, even if yesterday he broke the angel in the Nativity set by sending her flying through the inside of the fake tree.  At least the Nativity friends are having fun.
  • I’m thankful that next year at this time, I will have a 9 month old and a 3 year old. And the four of us will (hopefully) play with a less breakable crèche.
  • I’m thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to write a series of poems for the Advent season. I love the spiritual preparation they’ve given me. And I love creating. I think I forget how much joy I find in working really hard at making something beautiful.
  • I’m thankful for how much fun I have making anything with my son in the kitchen. On Friday, we made Christmas cookies but I’m not thankful that I can’t stop eating them.
  • I’m thankful for Dave Barnes’ Christmas album, which seems to be on a continuous loop in my kitchen.
  • And I’m thankful for you, readers. Last year at this time, I couldn’t have imagined that I’d ever want to have a blog. But I love this. I love writing something meaningful (or not so meaningful) everyday and I love knowing that you care what I write. Thanks for reading this.

Happy Thankful Tuesday. (What are you thankful for?)

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The Waiting

Yesterday was the first day of Advent. The word comes from the Latin, “Adventus,” which means, “arrival, approach, coming.”

Usually, we think of this entire season leading up to the big day of Christmas as “Christmastime,” but the church throughout history has not celebrated Christ’s arrival until the actual day.  During the days of Advent, the days leading up to the 25th, we’re challenged to practice a solemn period of contemplation, almost a miniature Lent.  It’s a time of preparation, of readying our hearts and our lives for the arrival of the Messiah.

I learned that last year when I spent the first weekend of Advent at a monastery, listening to Benedictine monks share about their practice of Advent.  Some spoke of the weeks till our celebration of Christ’s birth as a journey we enter into each year (they compared it to the Wise Men), some spoke of heart preparation: quietness, contemplation, meditation.

That’s a far cry from the lives most of us will be leading for the next four weeks: parties, Christmas card scavenging, buying buying buying, traveling, eating (binging, to be exact), and listening to Mariah Carey on repeat. Now, I’m no Scrooge. In fact, the holiday season makes me giddy. I love Christmas for the following reasons: It’s fun! It’s shiny! It’s full of warm coziness! It’s full of connections with people I’d hardly hear from otherwise! Christmas movies! Christmas stories! Christmas music! Christmas musicals! Twinkle Lights! I love wassail and carols and candles and decorations.

But most of the reasons I love the Christmas season have little to do with loving Jesus. Most of them have to do with tradition, feelings, a longing for warmth and community. None of those things are bad. But I sense that I mistake them easily for the presence of God. I believe God can be in those things, but I don’t believe I’m usually seeking him out in the midst of my busy holiday brain.

The past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about Mary. I’ve been writing poems from her perspective and that work has challenged me into a place of waiting. After all, Advent belongs to Mary more than it belongs to anyone else. Who else knows the power and the longing of waiting for the Messiah than the young woman who waited as he formed inside her? Perhaps, I’ve been thinking, Advent is less a season of journeying or meditation, and more a season of pregnancy: the active work of preparing space.

There are seasons to pregnancy: There’s the hard first season of carving out room in one’s body for the child. In that season we somehow hunger and purge all at once. We build an organ (the placenta) that not only exhausts us but provides life for the child whose form is taking shape. In the second season we gain control of our stomachs again, if only to eat. We eat and eat and nourish ourselves, like bears hunkering down for some hibernation we don’t understand. We feel our bones and muscles moving, making space for the hard work of pushing our child out of us. We sit still enough to feel the small twisting, the hiccups of our two-pound eggplant baby. And in that last season, we ripen. Our bodies expand to the point of explosion. Our baby kicks into our organs with their human size feet. And eventually, the child forces its way out of us. We give in.

How is Advent like pregnancy? I like the idea that in this season we are holding something precious, making room for a child to be born, suffering and celebrating, eating and aching, growing and allowing the child to grow in us.

Maybe my love for the season is not a hindrance to the contemplative life that Advent calls me into. Perhaps in this season of preparing, I can make room for both the celebration and the ache, both the noise and the silence, both the making and the being made.

After all, pregnancy is one season, with many seasons inside.

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Thankful for Thanksgiving.

Today I’m thankful that I’ve decided to go on a Thanksgiving week hiatus. This was not originally my plan, but after spending yesterday sick as a dog and allowing my son to watch, like, eight episodes of Cailou while I floated in and out of sleepy sick mommy naps, I am making a decision.

Over the next two days, you will probably be flying/driving  and Mama:Monk is going to rest. I’m going to close my eyes and go into a deep Thankful sleep.

So, until next Monday, when I will arrive with blog posts galore, I pray your Thanksgiving is full of rest, healthy family interactions(!), and, most of all, thankfulness. Because what’s the point in eating a beautifully roasted turkey if you’re not thankful for its crispy, golden skin?

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I’ll see you next week.

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“May spelled backwards”

Of course, there are still six days left before the loveliness that is Thanksgiving presents itself to our tables. This is just to get us pumped…

 

Yam

by Bruce Guernsey

The potato that ate all its carrots,
can see in the dark like a mole,

its eyes the scars
from centuries of shovels, tines.

May spelled backwards
because it hates the light,

pawing its way, padding along,
there in the catacombs.

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Why I failed Revolutionary Parenting.

I’m usually not a prickly person. I don’t argue much because I honestly don’t have a lot to defend. Most of my opinions are moldable and if I read something different than what I believe, it usually causes me to stop and consider for a while. I’m a simmer-er. It takes a few weeks after a read or a discussion for my opinion to be fully formed. And by then, most people don’t care anymore. That means I was never interesting in my college classes. I didn’t raise my hand. It isn’t that I didn’t have anything to say. It’s just that I was always a month late to say the things. By then the rest of the world had moved into the more brilliant places.

That said, I don’t like parenting books. I think it’s because I already have opinions about little people. And they feel pretty set in stone. Now, if my mother wrote a book about parenting, I’m pretty sure I’d read it and totally buy into it. That’s basically because she’s my child development expert. If there’s an amazing toddler game, she already knows how to play it. If there’s a song that goes along with the present situation, she knows it and will break into melody. My mom is great at playing. That’s why I’d agree with her book. She’d tell me to play with my kid. She’d tell me that everything else (How advanced is his speech? Can your three-year-old count to ten in three languages?  Does she sit quietly and not make a scene?) just doesn’t matter that much. Just love your kid and play, she’d say.

My parents raised three children who have all continued to live in the faith passed down to them. According to Revolutionary Parenting, a book by George Barna that I’ve been reading for my mom’s group, we’re “spiritual champions.” That means we’ve (despite our few hiccups along the way) all become adults who are deeply committed to our faith. We are active in our churches. We pray. Our faith affects our lives on a daily basis. In fact, my brother Brooks is a licensed minister who runs an organization that cares for impoverished children. My other brother Jason writes about faith for a living. I…well, I talk about monks a lot.

My parents should know how to raise a “spiritual champion” if anyone does. And, if you asked them what they did to produce the Boyett children, I imagine they’d say, “Well, we ate dinner together and we talked about God at home. We went to church together. Our kids saw us reading our Bibles. We held them to high standards and expected a lot.” Other than that, they’d probably say they had no clue. They prayed a lot. They loved us. They hoped.

Revolutionary Parenting has some good stuff to say about the value of praying for your children, the power of love in the home, the significance of holding up high standards. But, it also says a lot of things that ticked me off. First of all, “spiritual champions”? What kind of term is that? Does that mean I’ve won the spiritual race and I get a gold medal? Because, Mr. Barna, with all due respect, I didn’t get the gold. I learned a long time ago that my attempts to win the spiritual prize were pretty screwed up and God likes me best as an honorable mention.

Secondly, there’s everything else. Barna uses a lot of legitimate research (the Barna Group is a recognized research firm that most often explores matters of faith in America) to discover the secret to raising children who are followers of Jesus. Listen, there are just some things that cannot be explored through “research.” Do you really need to mention that “spiritual champions” are more likely to come from small families? Warning! If you have a lot of kids, they won’t follow Jesus! That kind of stuff just really annoys me.

Barna talks about having a plan, a goal, a mission statement of sorts for the kind of person each child is going to become. Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t have a mission statement for August. I have hopes for him. I want him to be kind. I want him to care for the people around him. I want him to feel deeply and love people so deeply that it wounds him. I want him to believe in Jesus because he believes in the story of redemption and reconciliation and renewal. I want him to long for the world’s healing and be active in working toward it.

Is that the same as a mission statement? I guess. But I don’ think it’s what Barna is referring to. I think Barna’s research shows that I should have a spiritual formation plan for my son’s 15th year of life. That I should be intentionally instructing him daily in God’s word according to that plan for his own personal growth. I should be manipulating his relationships to make sure that as a teenager he is not spending time with the wrong kinds of kids.

Look, to an extent, I believe in these things. I want my kid to learn scripture at home. But I want it to come to him organically, because scripture is a part of our lives. I want to pray specifically for the hopes I have for my son in his teenage years. But I don’t think my job is to thrust the scripture passages I think he needs to work on in his face. (Do kids really survive this kind of parenting with their faith intact?) And I certainly don’t think I need to meddle in my child’s friendships. Now, that’s not to say it’s not a parent’s role to intervene in their child’s relationships if they are damaging, but if I understand Barna’s commentary clearly, he has no qualms about a parent’s interest in manipulating who their child hangs out with (a comment here, a nudge there) to make sure that their child is not being influenced negatively. Here’s where I draw my angry line in the sand.

After years of ministering to high school kids who have no background in faith, I know how vital it is that non-believing kids have friendships with believing kids. To deny those relationships is to deny non-believing kids any kind of picture of faith. I’ve seen both kinds of Christian kids: the ones whose parents protected them from the reality of teenage sexuality and self-destruction and alcohol abuse, and the ones whose parents allowed them to live in that world and prayed like crazy that they might thrive as a hope-bearer in a broken place.

I’ve also seen the kinds of adults those kids became. The protected teenagers may still be faithful in the terms of Barna’s research: church-goers, Bible readers, people of prayer. But, most of the time, they are shallow, not at ease in the world, afraid of any other way of thought. The teenagers whose innocence was risked in hopes of their ability to thrive in the relationships they chose for themselves? Their parents bit their nails, paced at night, and watched some of their children leave their faith. However, the ones who survived are the kinds of people I hope my kids will be—sincere, faithful, unafraid of moral stances yet loving, able to articulate why they believe in Jesus because they’ve had to make that choice for themselves in a world that didn’t make it easy.

Will I be a Revolutionary Parent? Does it involve playing and eating dinner with my kids, and possibly singing songs with them? Pacing the floor and praying? Then, yes. That’s in my mission statement.

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Thankful Time!

So I mentioned yesterday that my grandfather not only survived the week when we thought we were going to lose him, he came through with humor and gentleness. So thankful.

I’m also grateful for:

  • Our Thankful Tree. August and I have been hard at work cutting out construction paper leaves. (He has some toddler scissors and is mostly cutting strips…but they go up there too.) Though I’m not sure he necessarily understands what it means to be grateful, last week he listed by name every one of his cousins for me to write on the leaves. I love that he loves his family.
  • Even though I spend a lot of time afraid that my son is a terror who will never learn how to not steal toys out of friends’ hands or scream at me when I won’t let him eat candy at 6 in the morning, there are some moments when I get a glimpse of his kind heart. Yesterday morning we had a friend from our old neighborhood over for a playdate. He’s 21 months. As we walked him and his mom out of our apartment building and came to the two flights of stairs, my son, who always walks down stairs these days holding the rail, instinctively turned around to crawl backwards. Did he know that his little friend wasn’t as sturdy as he is? I don’t know…but it’s nice to think so.
  • I love the twenty-something girls who gather at my house every Sunday night for Bible study. They are insightful, smart, generous and have great taste in tea!
  • I got to see three old friends (Crista, Joseph and Mike) from Texas who were in San Francisco Sunday afternoon. I probably hadn’t seen them in 8 years. Wow. I love catching up. I love seeing my college friends as grown-ups.
  • Sunshine, sunshine, sunshine
  • A husband who took over cleaning the house on Sunday so I could rest and read. What a man!
  • Fall scented candles in my living room
  • The view I have of this city at night
  • Christmas music, which I may or may not be listening to already…Don’t judge me!
  • Just so you know, I’m STILL grateful for a parking spot and laundry in my house.

What are you thankful for on this fine Thankful Tuesday?

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Pregnant Sad vs Thankful

I spent this past Saturday feeling a little blue. Saturdays tend to be days that make me sad. I always have really high expectations for a day of freedom and time with my husband, but the freedom usually makes for anxiety in my mind. Usually, there’s a list of unreasonable accomplishments that I think I’m going to make happen. At the same time, there’s the hope that we’re going to do something FUN(!). By the time noon rolls around and the day if half over and I still have ten tasks to do on my mental list, I already sense my failure.

The Saturday Sad was in full effect a few years ago when I was on staff with Young Life. I’m not a planner and I tend to long for a continually changing schedule. Young Life gave me that and as much as I thought I was going to love working Monday mornings and Monday nights, Tuesdays 9 to 5, Wednesday morning to bedtime, etc. I didn’t. I longed for sameness. I wanted someone to zap my life and make it fit neatly into a regular workday so I could know when I was off and when I wasn’t. Not knowing made me feel like I should always be working. I felt guilty for nights home with my husband when I could be out with high school kids. And on Saturdays, I felt it most of all. I should be meeting kids for lunch, I’d think. I should be planning for the Saturday night leader training time. And instead of either doing those things or not doing those things and being peaceful and thankful for my time to rest, I lived in a thorny in-between. I constantly thought about my failure to do either.

I went to therapy. Not just because I was sad on Saturdays (actually, that would be kind of a funny reason to give a therapist), but because I felt like my mind was out of control. It was never at rest. It was never grateful in a full sense of the word. I was anxious.

Some day I’ll tell you all about how therapy made me into a grown-up. But for now, I’ll just say that therapy taught me that I was wrong about myself. Yes, I’m not a planner. Yes, I’m drawn to having a flexible life. But I learned that when I have flexibility, I need to know what I’m going to do with it because I’m never satisfied with rest unless I’ve made a conscious decision that Rest is what I’m going to accomplish. (By the way, I do make that decision often. Rest is good.)

So, when I sat on the couch in my pjs this past Saturday, thinking of all the work I could be doing— for my Young Life administrative job, around the house, on my poems–my heart started pounding. I breathed shorter. And I turned into a grouch.

Chris called it “Pregnant Sad,” which is probably true. I’m sure I had a surge of hormonal mayhem that made me feel a little out of control. But I’m thankful to say I didn’t simmer in it for long. I felt sorry for myself, snapped at Chris a little about how dirty our house is and how we still don’t have pictures on the wall. I worked on the Bible study I teach on Sunday nights (while lying down pathetically on the couch), and then I got dressed, walked with my little family to the park, watched my husband and son roll down the hill together.

There’s something about thankfulness that (amazingly) tends to be the antidote for all things sad in my life. Sometimes I just need to remember that my life is not a series of tasks that must be accomplished on time; it’s people. And those relationships are beautiful. I have a husband who really loves me and who knows how to love our son. I have a son who is obsessed with stories and rockets. I have a baby who swishes around my insides and makes me want to eat pickles.  (Being pregnant is the weirdest/greatest thing ever.) And my life is full.

Last week I wrote about my 88 year old Pawpaw, who was struggling in the hospital with pneumonia and heart failure. As of Tuesday last week, I was preparing myself for a last minute trip to Amarillo, in hopes of a chance to say goodbye to him for the final time. We weren’t sure he’d make it through the week.

By Thursday afternoon, he was a new man. The guy’s indestructible. I could list for you the times he probably should have died. He just keeps pushing through. He was released from the hospital on Friday and sent to a rehab facility. They allowed him to leave for the afternoon yesterday, oxygen tank in hand, to attend my mom’s family birthday dinner. Miraculous.

Yesterday morning, I stood next to my husband in church and sang, “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” a hymn that has rarely come out of my mouth since childhood, a good old-fashioned Southern gospel hymn. In my childhood, after an important family dinner, my Meemaw would have us clear everything out of the dining room and insist that all the instrument players pick theirs up. She’d sit down at the piano and start playing through her list of favorite gospel hymns. Can you believe that? My family would have sing-a-longs. Usually my brothers and I would roll our eyes when the countrified versions of  “I’ll Fly Away” and “Just a Closer Walk” began. But, seriously, is there anything more beautiful than a family singing country hymns together in the dining room?

As I sang that hymn in the middle of San Francisco on a November morning, I let myself hear Pawpaw on the bass line, Meemaw’s vibrato on the alto, my dad’s fiddle, my aunt’s cello. And I felt grateful.

Maybe this lesson is coming just in time for Thanksgiving, but lately I can’t seem to get over how true thankfulness always squishes the mean worm in my crazy head. I just have to make the choice to let it.

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