Celebrate Belonging

12/29/15


I was twelve years old, stomach full of pie and knees to my chest, wedged between my sister and brother in the order we came out of the womb. The lights on the tree were twinkling- the multi colored kind that my mama always protested were tacky but my daddy still strung every year. When it comes to children and Christmas decorations, the one gets giddier as the other gets tackier.

I cocked my head as my daddy explained why depression finds him at Christmastime like an unwelcome old foe. I pulled the cord of his words and wrapped it around my brain, winding again and again as I tried to understand. Some of the words found their place at once: words I had heard before, ones I could snap in like a puzzle piece. I knew my grandfather had been an alcoholic for much of daddy’s life. I knew his childhood wasn’t like mine; wasn’t anything close. But I also knew that grandfather who doted on me, his “Cricket”. He, bent and shaky from the Parkinson’s, who ate boiled peanuts while he watched football and let me have chocolate syrup over vanilla bean ice cream at ten o’clock at night. He never drank anything harder than sweet tea anymore. Wasn’t everything all right now?

What I couldn’t understand then is the way pain lodges into your pores and drips out with your sweat at the least desirable times. Decades later, hips widened and skin a bit worse for the wear, I uncoil the words and marvel at the man my daddy was. He set his heart on giving us magic and wonder, over and over again. Every Christmas of our lives was the Christmas he never had. His desire for redemption poured out red and green, but no day on the calendar could make up for what he’d lost. It was never enough, it was never perfect, and every Christmas his heart bled all over again. Who could celebrate?

READ THE REST AT GRACE TABLE!

About That Holy Baby

12/23/15

We were all gathered in the boys' bedroom, our four bodies strung over every soft surface not frosted with books. I was reading from Max Lucado's The Crippled Lamb, tired voice stringing together the story of a handicapped orphan lamb who would witness the birth of the King of Kings in a humble stable.

"This baby is God's son", I read aloud, "He came to teach us about God".

All true, of course.  But the words fell flat on my ears.  Has it become that rote, that audaciously normal, that God would send us His Son in the form of a baby?  Why did my heart not leap, or at least flicker at the wonders my tongue and lips had just formed?

Hanging floppy-limbed over the top bunk, my 5 year old erupted, loud and uncontainable.

"But the baby IS God!!!  The baby IS God!!!"

And just like that, up went my heart.

And just like that, up went all our hearts.  The weary world rejoices.

*

In the beginning was the Word.  
The Word was with God and the Word was God.  
And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.

The wonder isn't that a god sent down his son to dwell among men: Greek mythology gives us that.  It's not that he came to teach us about God: many great men and women have done that.  The breathtaking, heart stopping, gut wrenching wonder of the Incarnation is that God Himself became our own flesh and blood.


But couldn't he have come as a grown Man? A king, or at least a rabbi?  Could the living God not have condescended to take on human form and still retained some semblance of dignity? Of authority?  Couldn't He have come without giving everything up to do it?

But no.  He came as the weakest, the most vulnerable of us: He came as a fetus.  He came in total and complete need of His mother's nourishment and His earthly father's protection.  He came with absolutely nothing.  Even my five year old can see that this plan is more than radical: this is offensive.  And yet this is true.

So what does it mean for mankind?  How then shall we live?  What are the implications of this Great Audacity upon humanity?

It means we can never, ever, ever look upon the face of another human being as anything less than the face of Christ.  Whatever choices they've made, whatever circumstance they're in, however far they are from our own pious ideas of righteousness: their humanity has been paid for dearly.  And we can never separate who they are from who He is, was, and always will be.

One of us.



*throwback photo of Moses at a few months old
**link is an Amazon affiliate

Thoughts on Santa Claus (from a gal who's thought it all)

12/20/15

As a child, Santa Claus was a huge aspect of my Christmas experience.  My parents were firm believers in the importance of fantasy, and though they did a pretty amazing job of implementing it year-round, no season served as a better springboard than the Christmas season.  My dad in particular reveled in it: leaving boot prints in the fireplace ashes, having male friends call us on the phone pretending to be the jolly old elf, responding to our Christmas Eve notes by circling letters within our own words and having us piece them together like a puzzle.  Hard core Santa stuff here, people.

At 10 years old I'm sure I was the last child in Texas still believing in Santa.  Obviously I had had serious questions for awhile but at that point, I couldn't deny the harsh reality and when the facts lined themselves up I specifically remember lying in the bathtub crying dramatically with the door locked.  My parents took turns on the other side of the bathroom door, gently trying to coax me out, reminding me that St. Nicholas was a real person and that the Spirit of Christmas lives on.

I didn't care.  I was devastated and felt the huge weight of grief as the last of childhood magic passed me by.  My older sister and younger brother accepted the truth at more typical ages and with much less drama.  I've never understood why it was so painful for me, until this year.  But more on that later.


I got older, but didn't have reason to give much thought to what I would do about Santa as a parent until Eric and I married.  Funny enough, he had received the news at close to the same age and level of angst as I had.  Together, we came to the conclusion that we didn't want to ever lie to our future children.  So, clearly, no Santa Claus for us.  Additionally we were part of a close knit, lovely but very conservative church community that strongly emphasized that Christmas is only about Jesus.  The general consensus seemed to be that playing Santa Claus negates that.  I felt like my own childhood Christmases had always had a very strong spiritual foundation, but I could see their argument and was admittedly swayed by the attractiveness of a strong stance.

Yet over the years I've been plagued with the thought that it is an awfully big stretch to say that all this is for Jesus! The cookie baking, the gift giving, the tree lighting... is it really so bad to admit that we do it because it feels magical and beautiful and brings us joy?  These holiday traditions certainly contribute to us making much of the season, of taking time to recognize the magnitude of the Incarnation.  But is it really necessary to say we do it all for His birthday?  I don't think so.

Does it deny Jesus glory for us to give our loved ones gifts simply because we love them, or hang rainbow lights on the roof just because it makes our children gasp, or play Jingle Bells just because it brings us joy although it makes no mention of the Christ child's birth?  Call me crazy, but I think Jesus enjoys our joy for joy's own sake.  Maybe it's not all so black and white after all.

When we finally did become parents we were also embarking on a spiritual journey of finding our place within Christianity, leaving the nondenominational church and forging on to an Anglican setting.  The first few years of parenthood all but makes the Santa decision for you: no 1 or 2 year old really cares who's bringing the gifts, they just want to tear up the wrapping paper and sit in the boxes. It was easy to maintain our no-Santa stance because it really didn't matter anyway.  For Alyosha, age 3 was the same.  It wasn't until last year that we really were faced with decisions of what words to say and what tales to tell, and by then we weren't so sure we were convinced of anything anymore.

By then we had converted to Catholicism, which for us had opened the door of faith wider and towards more mystery than we had made room for in the past, and that bled over into our parenting as well.  So we talked more about St. Nicholas - the historical figure who lives in heaven with Jesus now - and we said that him delivering presents was a pretend game.  (But one we played heartily.)  It seemed like a reasonable compromise at the time but looking back it must have been awfully confusing, which is probably why Alyosha went into this year's Christmas season remembering very little about Santa at all.

But something has happened this year, his 5 year old year, that has upped the ante on the issue.  This year I have realized that this child doesn't believe in magic at all.  He is a highly logical kid; one who will spend hours on a makeshift pulley or writing his letters, but cannot sit down and play with most toys in the way they were designed for.  I used to try to help him play make-believe games with dolls or dressing up in costume, but it was so uninspired and mom-driven that I eventually gave up.  He does baby his stuffed animals sometimes, but is always quick to explain to me that it's just pretend.  He is simply wired in a very literal way, and that is absolutely fine.

However, he is also a vey sensitive child.  He usually does not enjoy reading about, watching, or playing anything that even smells violent or potentially spooky.  Epic battles, traditional types of heroes, bad guys and good guys... he avoids them like the plague.  Which again is fine by me, but the question remains: how can we as parents still give him a sense of wonder about the world?  A few months ago we were reading Mary Poppins and he flat out said, "yeah but there's really no such thing as magic in the real world".  My mama's heart broke.  He's 5 years old.

Last year, a blogger I really enjoy posted this explanation of why she and her husband feel that doing Santa is not the best choice for their oldest son, who was 5 at the time.  Her reasons seemed absolutely valid to me (many of which echoed some of my own thoughts over the years) and I support their family's decision completely.  But I think the real merit of the post is the perspective of assessing the needs and temperaments of your own children.  I've been thinking about the specific needs that Alyosha has in this area.  And the more we talk about it, the more Eric and I believe that for our particular child a practiced belief in Santa Claus could be the most beneficial thing.


What sealed the deal for me was reading famed child psychologist Bruno Bettleheim's thoughts on Santa this past Thanksgiving.  Years ago I had read and enjoyed his work The Uses of Enchantment, but at my parents' house in November I stumbled upon my dad's copy of A Good Enough Parent.  Noticing a chapter specifically devoted to Santa Claus, I cozied up and dug in curiously.  (I've only read that chapter, so I can't vouch for the merits of the entire book, though I suspect it's a worthy read.)

The best way to summarize what I took from Bettleheim's words is simply this: children need some sense of magic in order to cope with reality.  When they reach a point of development where they no longer need it, then they gradually stop using it.  Children like me who were devastated to find Santa not real were simply forced (by other children's words, parents confirmation, and other natural happenings) to relinquish magic too soon.  Even at 10 years old, I really still needed it to cope with the world.

For me personally, that explanation makes the most sense of any.  I have never felt that my parents lied to me.  Although that argument could be made, it honestly doesn't feel like a true description of what happened and I certainly never questioned our religious teachings because of it, as is the fear of many parents.  It was more like I was being tossed out of childhood, out of fantasy, before I was ready.  I was losing a coping mechanism.

Now I fully believe that some children find this sense of magic and possibility in Star Wars, or The Hobbit, or dressing up like a Princess.  Those are precious and very real expressions of our human desire for Mystery, for the Unexplainable.  For children who can cling to those fantasies on their own initiative, that may be all of the magic they need.  My son just can't.

I do recognize that there is a difference in that those children aren't usually believing that those things literally exist, but isn't that an awfully fine line in childhood?  Isn't the beauty of childhood in the very fact that possibility and reality are not entirely separate realms?  I want Otherness to nestle in to my children's hearts when they're little, so that they want to continue seeking it out when they're big.  And if they need a little help with that, well I think that's what Santa is here for.
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and invisible in the world... 
You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding... 
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
                             Francis P. Church

If You're A Sucker for A Birth Story

12/17/15

... you're in luck today.

Because today, friends, Moses Emmanuel Evans turns 2 and I can think of no better way to celebrate than to hack out words on the interwebs that will mortify the daylights out of him in 10 years.


Happy Birthday, little zucchini!!!
(fact: Alyosha called him "my little zucchini" for the first full year of his life. We never figured out why.)

And now, to deliver the goods.  *clears throat*

On December 16, 2013 - exactly a week away from my due date - Eric, Alyosha, and I spend the day at a Curious George exhibit at a nearby museum.  It was Alyosha's adoption anniversary (his "gotcha day") and the only day that I had fervently prayed to not be delivering his brother on. Neither one of them needed to deal with THAT dynamic their entire lives.

We go to bed that night, happy and relieved by the lack of uteral activity, but in separate beds because at that point ain't nobody wanna be sleeping with Big Mama, her smashed bladder, and the capillary waves produced by Her Highness rolling over every 12 seconds.

At 4 a.m. I wake up.  Was that --?  No.  Surely I just peed on myself a little.  (Let's be honest, it happens.)  Didn't they say in the birthing class that most women's water actually doesn't break before labor begins?  That Hollywood has played us for a fool for the sake of cinematic drama?  Well, better go to the bathroom anyway.  It has been 45 minutes.

Stand up.

Yeeeeeeeah.

Thoughts running through my head as I make my way to the bathroom: Can this really be happening?  But it's a week early; first time moms almost never go early.  Should I wake up Eric or let him sleep?  Should I call my mom?  Should I call the midwife?  Maybe it's just pee.  It's definitely not pee.  Maybe I should smell it?  Nope, not pee.  I think this is really happening.  But it's a week early!  That's impossible.  I haven't even gotten to the "I hate everybody and everything" stage yet.  Should I wake up Eric?  I should sleep, I should try to sleep before contractions start!  That's what I should do!

So I go to bed and (go ahead, laugh) try to sleep.  Shockingly, I am unsuccessful.  So at about 4:45 I wake up Eric.  Waking him up and telling him that my water broke and that we're going to have a baby is every bit as fun as I always imagined it would be.  We call the midwife.  Since I'm still not contracting, we arrange to meet at the birthing center at 8:30.  I call my parents, who are in East Tennessee (we were in Texas).  I already told them days ago to have their stuff packed and ready.  I deliver my news gleefully.  They are dumbfounded.  Their stuff is decidedly NOT packed and ready.  They freak out and have to go.

I'm not sure what Eric and I do for the next three hours but: something.  At 8:30 we're off to the birthing center with three year old Alyosha in tow.  He is interested, but not that interested.  Because I'm still not dilated or contracting, the midwife strips my membranes and pulls down my cervix and I want to curse the world and die.  So now, tra la la, we're free to go and come back in the afternoon.

We go to a nearby breakfast joint that we lurve and I eat a super yummy granola/coconut milk bowl.  (Heck yes I remember what I ate.)  Then I start contracting.  It's probably about 10:00 a.m.  I walk around the parking lot for a few minutes, because it seems like something women in labor should do.  Then we go home.

The midwife had told me that pumping would get contractions going, so my dear friend Bonnie came over with her pump and gave me a tutorial.  Colostrum!  Lots of it!  I was so proud.  Eric came in and was all, "that's it?" and I was all "get outta here YOU KNOW NOTHING."  Turns out, I knew nothing because why was I pumping to create contractions when I was already having contractions?  They start coming strong and steady, just 3 or 4 minutes apart.

Eric's parents (who live 45 minutes away) come to pick up Alyosha.  My mother in law is a saint and brings an amazing salad with her.  We kiss Aly Baly goodbye, eat some salad, I take a shower and then lay/sit/roll/moan on the bed.  Eric sits beside me with the precious playlist he prepared playing softly, and reads Scripture verses that his sister had sent.  (That hour is my favorite memory of labor.)

At 2 p.m. we head to the birthing center, contractions about 2.5 minutes apart.  I labor for awhile at 5 cm, still feeling good in between, chatting with the midwives and assistants.  There is one other girl there with her husband, laboring in the next room, who tells me she's been in severe pain all night.  I thank my lucky stars that it's going faster for me, and will laugh a hearty nonlaugh over that later.

Blah blah blah, when I hit 6.5 cm they finally let me get in the birthing tub, which is awesome for a little while and then BACK LABOR DEAR GOD THE BACK LABOR and tub or no tub really doesn't matter anymore.  Eventually I throw up in the water and have to get out anyway.  This part of labor is a blur and all I remember is the vomit, the exploding back, and saying "Christ have mercy" over and over again and telling my husband "I can't do this" no fewer times.  Eric is a precious little first timer, eyes wide, assuring me I can, and praying with his rosary beads beside me for hours.

When I get out of the puke, I am at a 7.  TWO HOURS for half a centimeter?  There is no shred of justice in the world.  My angel midwife offers some pain reliever and I jump on it, but can not tell ya what it is for the life of me.  (I don't exactly have strict standards at this point.)  Mercifully, I am able to sort of half doze for 30 minutes or so before they rouse me and get me moving again.  Before long, I am pushing.

Yay, I think, pushing means this is almost over!

Unless your baby's head is turned really weird and can't get passed your pelvic bone.  Then pushing means nothing except a lot of screaming.  Homegirl in the next room delivers, they cheerfully tell me.

Well la de freaking da for homegirl.

Three hours.  By this point, I can read the midwives like a book and their facial expressions would be almost comical if they weren't so soul-crushing.  Nothing happenin'.  Nada.  Eric is adorable, though, and during every push tells me excitedly, "I see his head! I see his head!"

Every push for three and a half hours, God love him.

They're monitoring Moses' heart rate closely and he's happy as a clam in there.  No state of emergency here except for the fact that I cannot physically get this child out of me.  Finally the midwife tells me that she needs to cut an episiotomy and if that doesn't work, we'll transfer to the hospital.

I am NOT going to the hospital.  Not because I don't believe in them, I do! (I do, I do, I do!)  I would have been fine with going three hours ago but at this point NOPE.  This baby is coming out of me RIGHT NOW or else I'll... well I don't know but I can be awfully bull-headed when I wanna be.

Meanwhile, my parents have completed their 17 hour drive and make it to the waiting room just as the drama hits the climax.  One of the sweet assistant midwives explains everything to them and prays with them (how awesome is that?)  and bada bing bada bang,

He came out.


11:56 pm. on December 17th
8 lbs 9 oz
22 inches
Moses Emmanuel, our Advent baby
proof that, still, "God is with us"

Eric cuts the cord looking like he's been run over by a truck, they sew me up, Moses nurses immediately, and my parents are able to come in moments later.  It is perfect.  Terribly imperfect but so very, very perfect.

And two years later, I'm still feeling pretty good about the fact that he came out.  Happy Birthday, Moshe!

<< You can find Alyosha's adoption story here and Taavi's birth story here! >>

Be Here Now

12/14/15

I'm a mashed-up tin of frosted Christmas cookies this year.  I'm the broken shards of ornaments you unearthed from the attic, that maybe you can make into a mosaic or something.  Point is, I'm all over the place this December.  Making a long trip over Thanksgiving threw me off my Advent game, both practically and emotionally, and I still haven't regained the ball.

This is what I know: a strict observance of Advent is good.  (i.e. making space for Christ through silence, reading, meditation, slowness, and caring for others)  And a joyful observance of Christmas all December is good.  (i.e. decorating, winking at children, looking for lights, buying gifts, and caring for others)  These weeks can look a thousand different ways and still be good; the trouble I'm having is figuring out what is good for my family right now.  And what maybe can wait until next year.  (I'm looking at YOU, "hanging all the lights up on St. Lucia day".  You were planned for yesterday and we remain lightless on the 14th.)

When we got home from Thanksgiving, we were all in a slump.  Advent roared right ahead without even stopping to pat us on the shoulder, and I was whiplashed and homesick.  The last thing I wanted to do was dig out the Advent/Christmas bin and deck the halls.  But then Lori posted this, and the bags under my eyes hung a little lighter.  I knew what I had to do.




I don't own a fancy camera (and by fancy I mean... a real camera) and am always happy with just using my iphone until I try to do a post like this.  Can you just agree to believe that it looks better in person?  Then we can carry on.

I was going to make my own (surely hideous) stockings and then I realized it was December and I didn't want to.  So.  A little Etsy tourism and voila, I found sweet grandma Cindi and her penchant for crochet in Katy, Texas who churned six of these puppies out (because: one to grow on) and mailed them two days later.



"5" because there really are five of us but fetuses only get their stockings hung if they will actually be making an appearance during Advent or Christmastide as established in the case of Evans v. Christmas Mantle, 2013.



The diminutive cinnamon bark reindeer was a wild and crazy Cyber Monday purchase at the Ten Thousand Villages website.  When he arrived at my doorstep, I had just pulled out this guy from the Christmas storage:


There is a 90% chance that I got him from Ten Thousand Villages last Cyber Monday.  I don't know how this happens.  Do I need an intervention between me and quirky reindeer?

I got the Haitian nativity at a local brick and mortar store, but it might be found at Ten Thousand Villages as well.  (Maybe it's not the reindeer who are the problem...)


Snatched up that crocheted blanket at the thrift store this summer because of course I did.



We got our live tree (we can't do it any other way) before St. Nicholas Day and like I said, were going to string up the lights on St. Lucia's Day (a martyr and "the saint of light") yesterday but she's still bare and proud.  Or bare and embarrassed about it, I admit I haven't asked.  We usually hang the ornaments on Christmas Eve day.  Before you throw stones and yell SCROOGE at me, it is a crazy fun time to do it, builds the Christmas anticipation beautifully, and stays up for 12 more days which is more than long enough when small children are trying to hurl glass balls and poop tinsel.  Long e. nuff.

Speaking of St. Nick, he came on December 6th and left little goodies inside the boys' shoes under the tree.  Connection to the church throughout history is important to us and is something we want to pass on to our children.  We are not part of an ahistorical church; we want them to be emboldened and inspired by Christ followers who have lived and died for two thousand years and in order for that to happen they have to actually know about them.



Poor flattened-out, hand me down couch, you have borne us well.  We love you even if your britches are saggy.

Since I covered every square inch of mantle space with every Christmas-inspired tchotchke that I own, the rest of the house got slim trimmings.  Ce la vie.


I love this handmade bamboo nativity set we got in Indonesia years ago.  I don't love that my children keep lobbing heads off wise men and goats.  There are some precarious situations going on in this picture, my friends.



Those are the beeswax candles that we made and I bet you would have never guessed that we rolled them ourselves.  The two wonkies on the right are my favorites.

This December finds me lonely, yearning, yet thankful for so much.  We live in the tension of the already/not yet and no season makes me feel it more than this one.  There are words we can speak or write, there are songs we can hear or pen, but at the end of the day the most powerful response is to open up and be here now.

I guess that's what I'm trying to do, just be present to the longing and present to the joy.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

Homesick

12/6/15

This time last year, I was groaning for reprieve.

For about 8 months our home had been the headquarters of sorts (that feels weird and political. try again, Shan?)... okay, the central location of (? better?) the Denton Catholic Worker community.  The house of hospitality had closed after a one-year lease that spring and we were the only ones in the community who really had a home, so we offered it.


All summer we had three single guys in and out of our house during the day and sleeping in their vans in our driveway at night.

(Does that sound sketch? Let me clarify: we trusted these guys with our lives.  In fact they became our sons' godfathers that summer so technically we trusted them with our children's lives, too.)



 All summer, folks came.  Our house might as well have been another city bus stop for all of the coming and going that went on in it.  The homeless, the college students, the alcoholics, the idealists, the mentally fragile.  We cooked together, ate together, prayed together, did Lectio Divinia together.  That summer was one of the sweetest times of our lives.  We always considered the safety of our children and no one we didn't trust knew where the house was, but yeah, sometimes it got messy.  But usually it was pretty darn good.

In September, two single girls moved in to our guest bedroom.  Two of the sweetest, happiest, most kid-lovin' girls you ever met.  One praying about becoming a nun, one with a then-shaved head and tattoos.  When they moved in, it was like the floodgates opened. The city bus stop became Grand Central Station and there was always someone home.  Or twelve.  (Usually more like twelve.)

At night I would put the boys down and crank up the sound machine as loud as it would go so that Moses wasn't awakened by the clanking of dishes, the roar of laughter, or the off-key singing.  We would all stay up late into the night discussing the tenants of the Catholic Worker... or watching Gilmore Girls. Half the time someone would just spend the night on the couch, someone else on the floor.  We'd step over sleeping bodies as Alyosha caught the bus in the morning, grinning at how very lucky we were to have lives so full of love.


It was the very best thing that could have happened to us.  Granted, I couldn't walk around my house in my underwear anymore.  I moved the living room armchair into our bedroom just to have a place to be alone.  I'm an introvert, and I was stretched.  Believe that.  But I was also so, so thankful.  We had known what it was to feel totally alone and we were never going back there again.  For all the ways we sacrificed, we received back just as much.

(I cooked less and ate better that year than any other year of our marriage.  And that my friends, is the way to live.)



Last December when they moved to a house to prepare to open a pay-what-you-can restaurant, I was ready.  Ready to have my house back, ready to be alone sometimes, ready for some space and sense of normalcy.  We had discerned that Alyosha really needed a break and some predictablity, too.  It was time.  We were still involved, up until literally the moment our moving van pulled out of town in July, but our home was just ours once more.

But December has rolled around again, this time finding us half a country away, and my heart is groaning yet again.  But not for reprieve.  My heart is groaning for those crazy people to bike up my driveway and walk in without knocking.  My heart is groaning for the bag of almonds Chris fished out of the dumpster... or the new dress Cindy scored for me on donation day at the church on the corner... or the pie Meghan would bring over to eat while we let the kids roll in mud.





I miss my friends.

I miss them and this post doesn't really have a point, except that I want you guys to know about them.

You should know that Peggy bakes the best gluten free chocolate cakes.
That John likes to belly dance.
That Allyson goes insane with joy when it snows.
That Andres' sarcasm cracks me up.
You should know that it's hard to stop looking at Brittany's eyes.
That Angelika is the biggest feeler I've ever met.
That Maureen is like a badass mother hen.
You should know that it takes Shawn 1,927 hours to make a decision.
That Hannah goes to mass every single day.
That Charlene has an accent I've never been able to place.
That you'd never want Emily to leave your couch.



I miss breaking bread together.  I miss loving the world together.  I miss seeking justice together.  It's December and it's cold, and I just miss my friends.

Why "Criminals Will Obtain Guns Anyway" Can't be Reason to do Nothing

12/3/15

I'm sitting in the public library as I write, and I'm looking around for the exits.  There were not one but two public shootings* yesterday in our nation, and I'm getting scared.  I recently read an article a friend posted on Facebook, detailing the response most likely to save your life in the event of a mass shooting.  So now I'm sitting in the public library, and I'm looking around for the exits.

The room I'm in is a stupid choice.  Only one entrance.  No way to run in a zig zag shape to dodge maniacal bullets.  But I stay here, because what are the odds?  If my children were with me, though, I would move.  The thought of navigating two small children to an exit with bullets flying is enough to make me piss my pants. The thought of them being at school without me if it happened, well I can't even mentally stay there for long.


I hate that I have to think about this.  (Don't try to convince me I don't have to think about it... there have been more public shootings in our nation than calendar days this year.)  I hate, hate, hate that this is becoming a bizarre kind of normal that America is beginning to accept.  You hate it too, I know you do.

The worst of it is that the weakest among us- our children, our disabled- are being sacrificed on the altar of political division.  Surely we can do better than this.  Surely we learned something in elementary school about the necessity of compromise.

Not long ago I mentioned this post by a mental health professional suggesting highly rational changes we could make to keep guns out of the hands of sociopaths without taking them out of everyone's hands.  (By the way, I hear a lot of fear-mongering about liberals wanting to take away the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms but I don't hear a lot of liberals actually proposing that as legislation, even if it would be their own personal preference.)  Most of the suggestions we hear surrounding gun control is in regards to background checks, which are good but insufficient in and of themselves.  We are a nation of brilliant minds, surely we can be more creative than that.  Among Howerton's suggestions in the post above are requiring a psychological evaluation, three references, gun violence education, and limiting the types of firearms and amount of ammo that can be purchased.

I have yet to hear a convincing argument against implementing any of these ideas.  The argument that I overwhelmingly most often hear is that "criminals will get their hands on guns one way or another" so these legislative changes are not worth the effort.

Can we think through that stance for a minute?

"If I get in a bad enough car wreck I'll die one way or another, so I never wear my seat belt."

"If a thief really wanted to break into my house he would find a way to do it, so I don't go to the trouble of locking my doors at night."

"If a sexual predator really wanted to kidnap my child they could eventually succeed, so I'm not going to teach my child how to respond to strangers."

I think most of us would agree that these are not rational trains of thought.  Obviously we will never be in complete control of our own safety or the safety of those we love, but we all take every precaution that we can anyway.  Wearing seat belts, locking our doors, and teaching stranger danger are certainly no guarantees of anything, but we do them anyway because they might just save a life.  Why would we not take the same type of precautions on a broader social scale?

To be honest, I think it's because we don't believe a shooting will ever affect us.  Not only is that a wretched mentality, but that's probably what they all thought.  And now their families are buried in grief.

Do I want to see reform in mental health care in our country?  Absolutely.  But it doesn't have to be either/or.  Don't be fooled by loud outcries on social media or politicians gunning (smirk) for a seat on one side or the other.  Gun control and mental health reform do not have to be either/or choices.  You can be an advocate for both without being a traitor to your party.

If this makes sense to you, take a few minutes to contact your state representatives and tell them so.  It's hard for us to not feel like our hands are tied, but we so often forget that our government is structured to listen to us! Write a quick letter or make a quick phone call.  The beauty of our country is that our voices matter.  Let's use them.


*To be clear: I recognize that the San Bernadino shootings are still being investigated as an act of terrorism. But with 370ish mass shootings this year, that's a bit irrelevant.

Recognizing the Pain of Adoption Loss

11/20/15

It's National Adoption Month and while I absolutely love celebrating the beauty and light that is adoption, I believe it is critically important to also recognize the grief and pain that is so often present in the world of adoption as well. Obviously first and foremost there are the birthmothers and other birth family members who are suffering. There are also the waiting families, often going through infertility, longing to have a child to love and snuggle. But then there's a third group, a group that not many of us think of, and that is those individuals and couples who have experienced adoption loss. Sometimes this means the adoption plan fell through because the birth mother had a change of heart (which is absolutely her right), or because governmental hoops could not be jumped through. Sometimes, heartbreakingly, this means that a family finds that they are truly not able to handle the severe needs of their child and relinquishment is the only way to keep everyone safe.

I have the great pleasure of introducing you all to a dear friend of mine today. Barbara was such an invaluable emotional support to me during the lowest point on our journey. She was able to listen to my despair and confusion with absolutely no judgment in a way that very few others could. Barbara has walked an extremely difficult road and yet is still an advocate of adoption and my own personal cheerleader. I hope that you all will open your hearts and minds and receive my sweet friend with all of the love in your hearts. I also hope that her words will prove helpful and educational to you.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), as Barbara mentions, is a serious condition that requires extensive training in therapeutic parenting.  Studies show that children with RAD can ultimately grow to live healthy, happy lives, when in families under professional guidance.  It is absolutely unethical for an adoption agency to neither prepare a couple for these challenges nor to provide the support necessary for facing them.

Welcome, Barbara!

source
* * *

I took the phone call in the kitchen while my husband finished eating his dinner in the dining room. My Russian teacher was excited to tell me she had found a Russian girl, who was here in the states for a month, for us to adopt. Whoa! I was NOT expecting this, but it definitely piqued my interest.

My husband and I had discussed adoption several times, but it had never worked out. To make a long story shorter, we were approved to adopt Anya, a beautiful, highly intelligent eight year old. Our dream of being parents was birthed and after months and months of paperwork, we went to Russia to bring back our daughter.

All was not as it seemed.

Anya suffered severe physical and emotional abuse as well as being abandoned by her birth mother in Russia during the first two years of her life. Consequently, her brain did not develop properly. Based on her history of abuse and her behavior with us for five years, we know now that Anya had Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).

Because of the abuse from her birth mother, Anya did not know how to trust or bond with others in a healthy way. She also did not have a strong sense of cause-and-effect nor a conscience to know right from wrong. She was a habitual, compulsive liar. In the community she was a model child and student, but at home she was abusive, manipulative and controlling. Her rage toward her birth mother became directed toward me, her new mother, in an attempt to destroy me physically and emotionally. Anya's subtle rage kept me on my toes and I dreaded going to bed at night, because I never knew what she might do.

The more love we showed, the angrier she became. Because Anya was absolutely beautiful, very smart and a great con artist, I could not get anyone to believe me when I told them how she physically hurt and abused me. I found myself exhausted and crying constantly.

Once Anya decided to turn us in for child abuse just to see what would happen. DHS investigated us and decided we were great parents who knew what we were doing. The charges were unfounded and dropped. However, we still had to go into case management and therapy. The irony is, as a licensed social worker myself, I had to train the DHS worker and the case manager about how RAD children function. They had never heard of RAD.

Things were getting worse with Anya and I was near to having a nervous breakdown. We decided to put her into respite care for two weeks to get a break. At the end of the two weeks, I decided I could not take her back. The respite family was great. They were trained to work with RAD children and said they would keep her if I was sure I wanted to give her up. I was ready.

We went to court and relinquished parental rights. We told Anya we would love her from a distance and that these people would be her new parents. It didn't faze her, but my heart was broken. As difficult as the last five years had been, I had bonded with her even if she hadn't bonded with me.

My husband and I said our final goodbyes eleven years ago, drove several hours home and threw ourselves on the floor and screamed and cried. The therapist said we needed to make our final goodbye upbeat and positive for Anya's sake. We did that, but there was no one to pick up our crushed hearts and help our souls mend. I knew this was the last time I would see my baby. Our families had turned their backs on us saying, "How could you get rid of your daughter?" We tried to explain we were not getting rid of her. We are getting her the help we can no longer provide. People shunned us in the community and whispered behind our backs.

We did everything we could to help this little girl, but it was not enough. Love is not enough either.

One of the hardest parts was the death of a dream. We had a child. We lost a child. There was no funeral. No loving arms to comfort us. No family to turn too. But God was there. On the way back from our final visit with Anya, God told me something wonderful. He said, "Barbara, I trusted you and James to go to Russia to get Anya. You thought you would have her for life, but I knew differently. I knew I could TRUST you to love her enough to obey me when the time came to let her go. That's why I gave her to you. Trust me now with her future and the rest of her healing with this new family." I heard in a sermon once these words, "I may not understand what is happening in my life; but I can trust God's heart because everything is first filtered through his love." Oh, how this comforted my heart. . .

I had Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome for almost five years after our relinquishment. My body broke and I cried for three years. I couldn't even remember what Anya looked like. But God in his grace has healed the pain of our adoption that did not work. Anya has gotten the help she needed. I didn't know if our marriage would sustain the pain, but it has. My husband and I renewed our wedding vows for our 25th anniversary. I still believe in adoption, but I strongly suggest you use a good adoption agency, have a good support system and have finances available for counseling. Do your homework and remember most of all love alone  is not enough.

What It Means to Say Yes to Adoption

11/15/15

I was 26 years old when I said yes to adoption, when a much older woman opened wide in pain and groaned my first son into existence.  I was on the other side of the planet when their world fell apart, with no way of knowing history would be rewritten while I buttered my toast.  But I'd said yes to adoption because I loved them both and because it was what I knew at the time of showing it.

Years later, my green edges have browned a bit and I know that adoption isn't the final answer to the orphan crisis.  I know a lot more about addressing the disease rather than treating the symptoms, and I know there are a million ways to fight for a cure.  Sometimes adoption is the best way, sometimes not.  International adoption is a particularly fragile bird, one that puts high ethical hopes in desperate men.


If you came to me today and you told me you wanted to adopt, I'd say to learn a helluva lot more than I did first.  But I would never stop cheering you on.

Because I would remember the longing of looking my baby in the eye for the very first time; longing to know him, longing to be known by him.  And then I would remember looking into his eyes last night before cracking open chapter 9 of Mary Poppins.  I would think of those pools of chocolate trust and I would tell you that the journey has saved my life.

And I would want that for you, too.


There is this cliche that makes adoptive parents cringe and roll our eyes at each other, and it's the popular sentiment of our nobility.  It's the "God bless you for taking in that poor child"s and the "you're such a good person"s and even the "he's so lucky to have you"s. I think honestly, people feel really positively about it all and just don't know what to say.  But I'm sure you can see why it's uncomfortable.  It makes the child something to be pitied and me the hero.

And for many, many, many adoptive parents, adoption itself has been the primary force in our lives to shatter any myth that we might be a hero.  When you say those well-intentioned phrases to us, we feel like utter liars.  Because we have been brutally confronted with the reality that we have more hate within us than we ever could have imagined.  We have stared down darkness in our very own mirrors, so if you look at us and see saints, we feel like the most shameful of phonies.

These past 5 years since becoming a parent, I have met parts of myself that lay dormant before.  I am more selfish, more impatient, more cold, more sarcastic, more egocentric than I ever believed.  Yes, some of that has been the result of secondary trauma and I recognize that clearly.  But some of it's just Shannon, under stress.  And since I had never before been under that kind of stress... well, ignorance is bliss.  (I wonder how many of us would make the very choices we're so quick to judge in others, were we also carrying the load on their backs?)



But on the other hand.

On the other hand, I have found in myself a tenacity that I didn't know was there.  I have been relieved to confirm that love is not a fuzzy feeling to me.  My claim to love has been tested and tried, and turns out, it is ironclad.  I've been proud to find that I will, in fact, fight for love.  That I won't let it wither and die.

And who is this person who keeps stepping up to the plate every single time?  Who is this person who never stops researching, never stops knocking on doors that slam in her face?  Who is this person who relentlessly fights for what her baby needs?  For years.  Where is that schlep who could barely take care of herself?  If you parent a kid who needs an advocate, you suddenly become an advocate.

(A freaking bad ass advocate.)

I have met some of the very best people of my life because of adoption.  People I would take a bullet for because they've taught me how to pull lead from my chest and keep breathing.  People who can commune with the brokenness of others, because they're not scared of the brokenness in themselves.  If you doubt that goodness still exists in the world, get together with a group of adoptive families. Not because they're "good", but because they're broken yet they hope.  They're trampled down yet they laugh at themselves.  For every foster and adoptive family that has entered our lives, we have been made exponentially the better for it.  They've taught us much about laughter.  And community.


Six years after saying yes to adoption, I say yes to it again and again every day.  The beautiful thing about adoption is that even with all of the pain and the mess, it's not about a word or a concept, it's about a child.  And through it all, loving this child has been the easy part.


*Kathryn Krueger Photography*

Why I Won't Use Stitch Fix

11/2/15

First off, for those who don't know, Stitch Fix is essentially an online personal shopping company that mails 5 items of clothing or accessories to your door.  You pay a $20 styling fee but if you purchase any item, the $20 goes directly to that.  If you purchase all 5 items, you get a 25% off discount.  Otherwise, you simply mail back what you don't love.

If you're much of a blog reader, you've probably come across Stitch Fix before because bloggers often put together posts of themselves trying on the different pieces and explaining what they kept and what they sent back, and why. And it is FUN.  It is so stinkin' fun.  It's kind of like shopping with a friend, except the person is rarely actually your friend and it all happened days ago.  But still.  It really is fun.  A lot of my very favorite bloggers do it, and I read every single time.

So with all that rah-rah toe-touch enthusiasm up there, what's with the title of this post?


1.  Using Stitch Fix is not the right fit for me because it is not a company that guarantees all of its products are ethically sourced.  With all of the dangerous working conditions and unjust labor practices in the fashion world, I personally feel very strongly about knowing my clothing items are sourced responsibly.  Now I am definitely a work in progress here.  I actually just bought a package of underwear from Target before realizing that PACT Apparel has sweatshop-free unmentionables.  But there's always next time.  The point is just that I'm intentionally working towards it.  (I also really enjoy shopping secondhand as an alternative to the more pricey fair trade companies.  That way, I'm not producing any new waste while also contributing to the local economy and often a nonprofit.)

I know that Stitch Fix lets you communicate with your personal stylist, so it might be possible to request only American-made items.  I honestly don't know.  If you're reading and you've tried this, please tell us in the comments!

2.  Another reason I've decided not to try Stitch Fix is because I know myself and my own weaknesses.  I know that I can easily justify buying something that I don't actually need.  I've written before about how I struggle with this, and having a box of cute clothes delivered to my doorstep feels like a recipe for disaster!  I know some people can use it for only very specific purchases (a high quality coat, a cocktail dress) and send the rest back, but I also know they offer a 25% discount if you purchase all 5 items in your box.  For myself, I would be awfully tempted to keep an extra shirt that I didn't even need just to get that sweet discount.

If you think about it, there are so few items of clothing that we actually need.  Most of us surely own twice as much, if not exponentially more, than we need.  And there's nothing wrong with having a few things that are just for special occasions, but I think as a society we're pretty terrible at knowing when enough's enough.  I know that for me personally, I can experience jealousy and discontent when I let myself hang too much importance on what's on my body.  I enjoy looking cute but if I spend to much time thinking about what I'm wearing, I don't feel as happy or as free.

3.  I see the consequences of consumerism not just in myself, but in the culture all around me.  We wear an item of clothing for one season before throwing it out or, if we want to feel better about it, donating it.  (Tangent: have you ever seen the donation warehouse of Goodwill? I'm pretty sure they're not needing donations at the rate we're sending 'em. If the idea of future donation is what placates our mind regarding making new purchases, we should probably rethink how to best support nonprofits and those in need.)  So then - shock! - we date a person for one season before dumping them.  We marry a person for a decade before leaving them.  We commit to a church for awhile before skipping out on them.  We care for the sick for a few years before euthanizing them.

Yeah, maybe that last one was harsh, but it cannot be denied that we as a society do not want to be inconvenienced.  We don't want to think about the grand-scheme implications of our every day choices, of the culture we are building in every little way whether we realize it or not.

ALL THAT TO SAY!

If you are reading this and you're someone who uses and loves Stitch Fix, please know that I am honestly not judging.  I think it's important for each of us to think deeply about the decisions we make, but I absolutely realize that we can come to different conclusions about those decisions based on our own individual circumstances and convictions.  I never want this blog to be a guilt-trip or a "holier than thou" place.  I want it to be a place where we think seriously about our lives and our world, and are free to disagree with one another in a friendly way.

And also, for full (if not ironic) disclosure! I actually gave my sister a Stitch Fix box for Christmas last year (meaning I paid the styling fee).  She's a hardworking teacher and was constantly bemoaning the fact that she didn't have anything to wear to work, plus I knew she's the type of person who would love a surprise personal stylist.  I figured it was up to her whether she bought anything (she did), but I was paying for the experience.  So yeah, string me up by my toes and flog me if you must! ;)

Held in the Mire

10/9/15

I looked Sheryl in the eye, face to face with her weather-worn skin, and with despair dripping from my voice I confessed, “I can’t do this. I can’t do motherhood. This is too hard.”

She stroked my hair and put her palms to my cheeks. I know. I know. But you can do this. We’re praying for you.

Tension started to leave my body at her touch, my shoulders visibly relaxed just a bit. I received her comfort, and for a moment I didn’t have to be composed or strong or any of the other impossible qualities we women manage to summon up in the cobwebbed corners of our days. Sheryl put her arms around me, and I allowed myself to be nurtured.

There are few women in this world (besides my own mama) from whom I have felt such maternal love.

Sheryl has a prison record. She has a sordid past and addictions that insist on following her like a shadow. She loves Jesus, but isn’t one of those “saved, sealed, delivered” stories we like so much to hear.

...

Read the rest at (in)courage!


Can We Talk About Our Consumerism for a Minute?

9/28/15

Consumerism.

Eeesh, that's an ugly word.  And it's one that's been on my mind a lot lately.  Can I tell you the ridiculous story of how it started?

Last week I noticed that the leaves, they are a fallin', and it's probably about time to unearth the rake and take care of bidness.  Unfortunately, the rake is no where to be found which means it's still happily sitting (sprawling? what do rakes do?) in the shed of our old abode in Texas.  So one morning I head to the thrift store with Moses to locate a $1 rake.  (I got our snow shovel there in July.  I know they're good for it.)

But alas, no rake was to be found.  And don't you think that I didn't look in the vintage books, kitchen knick knacks, and children's clothing because you just never know with rakes.  I purchased the boys some shoes that they did actually need and then slipped in a little somethin' somethin' for myself.


It's the orange one.  I will never, ever, ever read it.  I don't even know what kind of book it is.  I just like it, okay?

I felt too guilty about it to tell Eric and I still haven't, so if you're reading this babe.... hi.

I like to think of myself as a simple person.  A conscientious human being.  Relatively speaking, I don't buy a lot of things.  But when I do I put a lot of thought into where I make my purchases because I want them to be from ethical, responsible sources.  But this week I've realized something: I don't put a lot of thought into why I make my purchases.  And that's what's been on my mind lately.  That's where the concept of consumerism comes in.

I buy things when I'm sad.  I buy things when I'm bored.  I buy things on a whim when buying something else would have been much wiser.  As much as I despise our modern culture of consumerism, I would be the hypocrite of all hypocrites if I denied that it's in me too.  It's not about the stupid book (I can't say that I actually regret it.  I'm not sure yet, to be honest.) and it's not about whether I can justify any purchase with talk of "embracing beauty" and "finding balance".  You bet I can.  And not all purchases are bad, obviously.  But it's a fine line, am I right?

Last week a dear friend (and Alyosha's godfather) came to stay a few days.  This guy is quite a remarkable person in that he lives a radical life of sustainability that would make Wendell Berry* proud.  He had come straight from a workshop where people gathered to discuss sustainable farming and nonviolent communication, and on his last day at our place he told me about an interesting trend he sees. He said that often the people who show up to the kind of events he enjoys are people who live radically simple lives, people who never buy or sell anything and spend their lives intentionally opting out of capitalism.  And yet many of these people, without even realizing it, consume experiences.  They are always looking for the next thing, the next adventure, the next opportunity to travel.  My friend mused that it was one reason he enjoys hanging out with our family: that the vocation of parenthood, and particularly of adoptive parenthood, is a voluntary narrowing of options.

His observation was meaningful to me in part because it was a compliment to our family life.  But it also opened my eyes to the idea that consumerism can take many (often sneaky) forms.  None of us are fully exempt from it.  Our success in living apart from it may only be determined by our willingness to keep the question of it before us every day.

My husband Eric is one of the most low-maintenance people I know.  I swear the only reason he owns ANY clothing that doesn't have holes in it is because he has to have one foot in the professional world.  I always joke that he wants our house to look like a monastery.  He does not share my proclivity to adorn bare walls.  Yet he says that his biggest struggle with consumerism is the desire for food and drink (read: coffee).  It's a deep-rooted comfort in him that he's been battling for years.  It's not that his health has taken a toll- he's just as slim and muscular as he was the day we met, damn him.  But it bothers him because it's an area of his heart that is depriving him of contentment and furthering a throw-away culture that he wants no part of.

Because that's what it's about, isn't it?  It's about how it effects our hearts and how it effects our society.  Within us, it breeds a restlessness and discontent.  It breeds an inclination to neither fully enjoy or responsibly use that which we already own.  And around us?  Around us we see a culture that demands more products, more choices, at the expense of the dignity of human laborers and animals.  We see a culture that wants freedom of choice in relationships: boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives, even children, are used and tossed aside routinely.  We see a culture that itches to move on when human life gets inconvenient; we see it in the womb, with the handicapped, with the poor, with the elderly.  We see landfills heaped with the remains of what we no longer want.  We see rainforests stripped bare from our insatiability.  Everywhere we look, we see demand for more, more, more.

I'm guessing you don't want to create that kind of world any more than I do.  But it's hard to feel like anything we do can really make a difference.  And maybe it won't, in the grand scheme of things.  But is that any reason to not follow your conscience?  Not to me.  And maybe, just maybe, our only hope is one life at a time anyway.  Maybe that's the only hope we've ever had.

I'd love to hear your reactions to this; how you've wrestled with this issue in the past or how today has sparked new thought in your mind.  I know it's personal, but if you're so inclined, please share!


*affiliate link... but you're only doing yourself a favor 

Why Might A Christian Family Choose Public School?

9/21/15

In the past decade homeschooling has become an increasingly popular educational choice for many families and perhaps especially for Christian families, both Catholic and Protestant.  A way of life that was once looked at as (let's be honest) a bit weird is becoming more and more commonplace.  And that's a great thing!   Parents should have the right to choose how to educate their children without being seen as anti-social freaks.  There are many wonderful reasons to homeschool our children or to send them to private schools.  Please hear me say this right from the get-go: I am not implying that any type of schooling is better or worse than another, and I never will.  In fact, I reserve the right to change what our own family is doing from year to year!  There is no formula for this stuff.

However being in the Christian parenting world in the past 5 years, I have sometimes picked up on a subtle vibe that public schooling is an inferior choice to homeschooling or private schooling.  (No one in our church community has ever made me feel this personally! I just mean I feel it in the wider Christian subculture.)  I know that people do have a variety of reasons for putting their kids in public schools and sometimes it really is as simple as living in a great school district.  Nothing wrong with that!  But many of us have made the decision actually based on our Christian values, not in spite of them as some might assume. So I wanted to take some time to shed light on what exactly that means to our family.


Investing in the Heart of the Community
The idea that "our children are the hope of tomorrow" is incredibly cliche but there's a reason why: it's simply the truth.  We believe that following the way of Christ means loving the community He has put us in (and remember what D.C. Talk said: love is a verb).  The public school system is at the heart of any community, simply because children are.  What better place to actively love our neighbor and labor to make our community one that reflects God's Kingdom?

Offering Our Resources
We are not wealthy and we are not saints.  But we do have a happy marriage, my husband has a secure job, and I have been able to give most of my time to our family life.  Unlike many other parents in much more difficult circumstances, we have some financial and emotional energy to give to our children's education.  We see this as a matter of justice.  Where others are struggling, we can carry some of their share.  That single mom might be working three jobs and have no margin for helping her child sell wrapping paper, and she certainly can't buy it all herself.  So I'll do those stupid fundraisers that I hate so much, but I'll do them because it makes this place a better school for both of our kids.  

I signed up to be a parent volunteer in Alyosha's class, mostly meaning I will come a few times a year to help with the seasonal parties.  One of the requirements to be a volunteer was a background check that cost $12.  The only thing I could think of was how that may completely disqualify some parents from volunteering.  $12 is nothing to me, but I could have easily (so, so easily) seen different outcomes of my choices when I was younger and $12 would mean a lot more right now.  I don't take my privilege lightly.  And I want to ask you this: if all the families who can pay for a background check or who have time for a fundraiser pull out of public schools, what will become of the children who have less?

Building Relationships with Hurting Families
Which is a great segue into the next point, which is that you get to actually build relationships with people who are in need.  Of course there are people in need everywhere, we all know that.  And of course there are certainly many different types of need.  What I'm saying is that if following Jesus' example of seeking out the poor, the broken, those in need of Good News, is something that is a value to you, well look no further than your local public school.

Letting Our Children Meet Different People
While it is critically important to us to create a home environment that reflects our faith and to be deeply involved in our Church, we do not deem it necessary or even beneficial that our children be only surrounded by other Christians.  When I see a mom with her head covered at the elementary school, I am sincerely glad because I want my son to know she exists and that she's not scary.  I want him to see me talking to her.  And I want him to know that her children are just like him.

The same thing goes for race.  Obviously this may be more important to us as a transracial family, but I would hope that it would still be a value to me if we weren't.  I want my children to have friends who don't look like them, some who don't even talk like them.  I want it instilled in them as early as possible that we can be different and still be friends.  I honestly don't worry about my children growing up and losing their faith.  I do worry about them not doing anything with it or not being open to anyone who doesn't share it.

Supporting Our Community's Teachers
Being a teacher in any capacity is tough.  Being a public school teacher is arguably the toughest.  Our teachers manage large class sizes of students with varying abilities and backgrounds, many from broken homes or hard situations that need extra attention and encouragement.  They almost always work overtime without getting paid for it, and then they have the added pressure of those blasted standardized test results.  If all of the invested, intentional parents pull out to put their kids in other forms of schooling, who will send these teachers encouraging emails?  Who will surprise them with coffee gift cards for no reason?  Who will volunteer to organize the class parties or attend field trips?  Who will go out of their way to thank them for what they do?

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Regardless of what schooling path we choose any given year, my children will be raised enveloped in the knowledge that God loves them and is with them.  They will be educated on the tenants of our faith, as they grow we will read books and wrestle hard questions together, and I believe that the spiritual convictions of our family will one day become their own.  One of those convictions is that we don't make decisions without determining how it will effect those around us.

Autumn Leaves

9/15/15

A few weeks after we moved this summer, a dear friend from back home sent me a text message to tell me about a dream she'd had.  In the dream, she and I were in the backyard of our new home.  I was heavy, burdened, and crying. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a horse came slowly walking up to me.  In it's mane were beautiful, crisp autumn leaves of every color.  My friend said that in her dream I reached out and touched the horse's mane, touched the leaves that were tangled there, and I smiled, full of joy.



It's been a long time since I've had a dream that I really believed was from the Lord but the moment I read her text, I knew that this one was.  It was a hard summer for me and though I hadn't told her this, I was quietly holding out hope that the tide would turn come autumn.  When my friend relayed this dream to me (and thank God she didn't just write it off) it felt like reason to cling to that hope; the hope that just around the corner would be joy.


And now here we are in mid-September and though the days are still summer-warm, the nights and mornings beg for long sleeves and light jackets.  There aren't many leaves on the ground but the oak in our front yard is turning dry and brown.  We went Saturday to an orchard to pick apples because September is their month, no matter how brazenly pumpkins try to weasel their way in.  School is in full swing and gone are those first weeks of afternoon crashes off the high.  There is a rhythm in the air now, and all four of us are pulling it in through our nostrils.



I have suddenly found myself with a life as slow and wide-open as I've longed for for years, and what to do with it perplexes me.  When you've been concentrating so long on keeping your head above water, what do you do once you find yourself on sand?  I want to better integrate the values we carry into our newly found rhythm: those of slowness, local involvement, being with the poor, family prayer, sustainability,  community, the list goes on.  But I am treading softly, recognizing that the only way to incorporate these in a permanent way is to go slow.  Slow, in fact, may be my word for this fall.



A few hours ago, I told Eric that I feel the desire to write less and focus on these things more.  Yet here I am now, before you and this computer, but I can't help it.  Right now, this is my meeting place with God.  This is where I can sit and reflect and connect the glaringly obvious dots that I otherwise miss.  Those that, like a child's game, link up to reveal a picture that I should have seen before but couldn't.  At a time in my life where (to be honest) God often feels inaccessible, I know I can always find Him once I started putting down words.

Whatever it is you do that you know you can always find Him in, don't ever stop.


But before I cracked this keyboard, I decorated our living room with all the autumn goodness I could scrounge up.  Personalizing this house has been a long and slow process for us.  We're still trying to make it feel like home, like a place of comfort and joy.  There was something about hailing the advent of fall today that got me one step closer to that.  Maybe it's because it's our first season-change here.  Maybe it's because I finally feel capacity to expand, to bring in good and beautiful things for my family's joy.  Maybe it's all the reasons and none of the reasons, and is just simply a gift.


Special thanks to my little nature-lover, Alyosha Daniel, whose penchant for hoarding acorns and pine cones finally paid off. (I let the feathers be.)  Hope he doesn't mind that I raided his stash.  All non-living objects were things I had around the house, or was saving in the basement for when I found the first red leaf.  If I do these seasonal posts often enough, it will become clear that I have my own hoarding problem with crocheted blankets.  There simply is no cure.  I apologize.



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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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