pumpkin seeds and puppy training

I have been absent from here for a long time. There are some boring reasons for that. There are also some intentional reasons. I’ve been marinating in life… just trying to live it and not analyze it. Now I am feeling it’s time to write again and reflect on what has been going on inside me.

We welcomed a puppy into our family last month. She’s been a joy. She’s been annoying. I have taken on the main responsibility to train her, which is a painstakingly long process of repetition. And consistency is needed. Can you hear me sighing with impatience? We are, however, beginning to see the fruits of all my labor.

Which has me thinking about seed-planting… recently, my son and I cut open a pumpkin he specially picked out on a school field-trip. at his request, we made pumpkin pies out of it, but he also felt strongly that we should collect the seeds so that we can plant them next year. It was neat to watch him pick out each seed and carefully clean it and lay it on the paper towel to dry. He spent at least 20 minutes doing this. I was amazed at his diligence. Now the seeds are clean and dry and stored in a plastic bag, awaiting next spring. But I haven’t been able to put them away… they are still sitting on my kitchen counter. All over our 10-acre wood, things are dying and preparing to sleep for the winter. But here, in my kitchen, life awaits. The seeds are just waiting to burst. Waiting.

I feel like so much (too much?) of my life I have spent waiting… waiting for the next thing, waiting for me to be prepped and ready for whatever I’m supposed to do, waiting to see what the point of my life is. But something about watching my puppy learn and looking at these pumpkin seeds has crystalized a new thought for me. I can see fruit already! Right now. Right now I can see fruit that God has been able to bear in my life. So I wonder…. what the hell have I been waiting for??

Just in the last few days I have been able to reconnect with someone I knew and helped to teach more than 10 years ago. She remembers things I said to her, things I taught her. Just a few weeks ago, I was reminded that all the God-stories I’ve shared with my young daughter are now being shared with her teachers and friends. She remembers things I’ve planted within her. Just a few months ago, I was able to reconcile with a young adult who was in my youth group… someone I wounded. He remembered my actions. He also remembered that he could talk to me. The healing was sweet fruit.

I do not want to overestimate my impact on people’s lives, but I have lived the other mistake, when I think I have done little to nothing of value. Was I just place-holding and not planting living seeds? Is there something fearful about recognizing the significance of what I am doing here and now? It’s tragic to miss the fruit in the present and the past because I am forever looking ahead. It’s as if somewhere in the back of my mind, I refuse to believe that these seeds I am planting are worth something. I always think there is more somewhere down the road, that this is all just prep for that big something else. But this is it. This, right here and right now, is my life and my calling. Sure, there is still waiting involved. When you plant seeds they do not instantly sprout and grow and bloom. I have no magic beans here, Jack. However, my seeds are alive and they are growing. How have I missed that for so long?

Through Ben’s Eyes

A few weekends ago, we went to the cabin in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania with my husband’s family. We took the grandchildren for a walk to pick up fall leaves. It was a gorgeous October afternoon– a bit past the peak of fall colors, but still full of beauty.

My son, Ben, was the slowest of the walkers, so I hung back with him as he chose leaf after leaf after leaf for his “treasure bag.” After I watched him choose what appeared to me to be very ordinary dead leaves, with brown spots and without much color, I decided to ask him a question. “Ben, why are you choosing those leaves? They don’t have much color and they have ugly brown spots on them.” To which he replied, “Mom, God made these, too!” He twisted his face as if to say, why can’t you see what I’m seeing, Mom, because it’s so obvious!

It’s something we’ve heard a thousand times in Christian circles, that beauty is everywhere and we just need to learn to see people and things the way God sees them. But as I was sharing this story with my spiritual director and bemoaning my inability to do this well– to see with God’s eyes and appreciate all the gifts in my life, large or small, she responded in a surprising way.

“Kris Anne, it is already in you to do this. You have the eyes to see, and it’s only your unwillingness to believe in the light within you that is keeping you from blossoming into all the potential that God has placed within you. Think about your mom. You have told me before that she had little worldly beauty, yet she was beautiful to you. You loved her hands and her eyes, her spunk and mischievous wink. You know true beauty. The Spirit has given you great power… you just don’t believe that yet.” The truth struck me head-on.

I wonder sometimes if we, in the same way, underestimate God-in-us as faith communities. Do we have faith to believe that it is already in us, as the Body of Christ, to see with God’s eyes and to act in God’s power to bring the Kingdom into visible expression? Do I believe in the Spirit at work in my own church community… or, as our shortcomings and struggles rise to the surface, do I underestimate what we’re capable of?

She’s Wearing my Shoes

I was down on my hands and knees the other day, fishing around for something that was lost under the refridgerator. Suddenly, I heard Heidi saying something to Ben. She had taken his hand and was bending over, looking into his eyes as she was speaking. “Ben, I know you don’t really want to go, but it’s time for school so you need to get your shoes on now. Let’s go. Come on, honey.”  I looked up and said, “Heidi, what are you doing, why are you talking to him like that?”  To which she replied: “Look, mom, I’m wearing your shoes!”

First, let me just say, that I’m glad the first words out of her mouth, as she was pretending to be me, were NOT “Stop that! Come here now! Listen to me for once- I am your mother!!” etc., etc.  🙂   But secondly, I wonder what it is about shoes that define the person, in the eyes of children. Maybe it’s just that they are the easiest articles of clothing to find lying around. But why not my coat or my sweater? What is it about shoes that are so fascinating? Well, whatever it was that prompted her little charade, it has me pondering imitation.  Heidi longs for time with me, longs for my attention. She uses my words and tone… even my facial expressions sometimes. She constantly talks about being a mommy someday and having a daughter. Imitation comes naturally to her. It’s how she learns.

I also learn best by imitation. When I’m learning a new melody line, rather than sitting in front of pages of music, I play the song on my computer over and over again, singing and playing along– trying to get the notes, rhythm, mood, and tone of the song exactly right. I also noticed that I write in a style similar to my favorite authors (though I’m obviously not anywhere close to being as talented as they are)… I use their vocabulary, imagery, sometimes even their writing rhythm. This is not really a conscious thing, but the repetition of reading the same authors’ writings over time has imprinted their style on my brain, I think.

So here is what I am currently wondering… As a Christ-follower, how do I learn best? Currently, I spend a lot of time sitting in a classroom, talking about theology and leadership and church history (or reading textbooks and writing papers)– but do I adore my Lord so much that I strive to imitate Him? Am I learning from Him the way I learn a new song, with repetition and detailed observation– in one sense, “singing His Song” along with Him? Am I beginning to think and talk and the way He does, because I have heard His Words so many times that I don’t even realize they have become part of me?  I realize I’m probably not saying anything new here, but it hit me again when I saw my little girl wearing my shoes.

“Anyone who claims to be in Christ must walk as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:6

Journal Entry

Today, I offer this journal entry from my current seminary class on the book of Acts. We are reading a theological commentary by Jaroslav Pelikan, published by Brazos Press. I am reflecting here on his entry entitled “Mary the Theotokos,” a theme he picks up from Luke’s first chapter of Acts. Luke makes a special note of the women who are gathered with the disciples, and especially he notes the presence of Mary. Pelikan offers, in his commentary, reflection on the Tradition of Mary, based upon the theological writings of the early Church Fathers. Below is my response.

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After reading this entry, I am shocked that this is the first I have heard of the comparison between Mary the Mother of Jesus and Eve (Pelikan 2005, p. 45). This strikes me as a very foundational piece of theology; one that could actually do much to correct the male domination of American evangelicalism. I may be overstating that a bit, but it clearly raises the role of the female in the Great Story to a new level. She is the God-bearer. There is no Messiah without her humble obedience. She is the vehicle of salvation, certainly not in the same way Jesus was and is. Nonetheless, her faithfulness to her call is essential in the salvation story. She gives birth to new life, thus she is the new mother of all who live; just as Eve was the first mother of humanity. Contrasting the choices and lives of these two women, examining the way God acts through them both to bring redemption—there is so much theological meat there—and it saddens me that most of our churches have been missing out on the treasure.

How do I see this as a corrective against male domination in American evangelicalism? I don’t know that I could go so far as to revere Mary with statues in front of church, or pray to her. I do, however, wonder what it would be like to hear her name in church as much as King David’s or Solomon’s or Paul’s or Peter’s. Granted, there is not nearly as much biblical material written about her. On the other hand, if we based a character’s air time in church on their significance to the Story, Mary would have to be right up there with David and Jesus.

In addition, there is another angle to Mary’s title of God-bearer, and that is the way the Church continues to carry on Mary’s role even now. We bear God in the world as we live in it, as we are Christ’s Body on earth. We often speak of the Church as Christ’s bride, and certainly that analogy is present in scripture. However, I do not think it is too much of a stretch to also draw this parallel from scripture as well—that the Church is now God-bearer. Our task is different than Mary’s, but no less a privilege and no less a responsibility. We are invited to answer the call with her words: “I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38 ESV). If she is not a model disciple, who is?

Going even further, the imagery of birth could be used so richly in our churches. The paradox of agony and joy, pain and relief, is a wonderful way to describe the life of a Christian. There is blood, sweat and tears, along with the beauty of being reborn. One needs great patience and perseverance in order to bring forth the life of Christ—what a perfect analogy for spiritual formation! While I am certain this would push the edges of orthodoxy for most evangelicals, I also believe that the image of God giving birth brings fullness to theology, if we truly believe that our God is beyond gender, and both male and female were created in His image. He gets His Hands dirty with us. He labors right along with us to redeem creation. He deals with sin, not by remaining apart from the damage, but by entering into it and absorbing the pain and agony.

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What are you responses to this?  Have I opened a can of worms, once again? 🙂

Of liquid poop, birdseed and gravy boats

So here it is, my Thanksgiving post. It’s a few days late and actually, I wasn’t going to post anything about Thanksgiving. To be honest, I don’t find the typical Thanksgiving blog post interesting (“all the things I’m thankful for….”). I really don’t mean to criticize– it’s wonderful to remind ourselves of the countless things we have to be thankful for. But after I read about 5 Thanksgiving blog posts, they all start to sound the same. And if you know me at all, you know I tend to buck the status quo… for better or worse, that’s me. But after my family gathered for a belated Thanksgiving meal Saturday night, I just HAD to make my list! After you hear this story, you’ll understand.

My day started out very peacefully. I was rinsing the dust off my good dishes, getting out my punch bowl, had the turkey in the oven at 1:30… everything was going as planned. My kids were a little cranky, given that they didn’t have my undivided attention, but that’s to be expected on a day when one has a big meal to prepare.  My father and step-mother arrived around 2:00 and she helped me with some odds and ends. I was pleased with how smoothly all the preparations were going.  At one point we discovered that I owned no  gravy boat, and we chuckled over the fact that I decided to use one of my ceramic pitchers as a substitute– hey, we can just pour the gravy then… no spoon needed. Haha! I thought I was being rather clever (see me pat myself on the back).

My sister’s family arrived at 5:00, and we pulled the rest of the Thanksgiving side-dishes together and got everyone settled in their places. It was a lovely and delicious meal, thanks to Edith’s gravy, Jenn’s oyster stuffing and green beans and cranberry sauce, Dad’s mashed potatoes and my punch, cheeseball and crackers, turkey, corn and desserts (purchased of course!).  We shared stories and laughter and giggled about my gravy boat (it sure is unconventional, but it works beautifully!).  As often happens with big meals, the kids were finished first and ran in all directions in the house to play. At one point, while we adults were clearing dishes, I noticed that both of my children were in the downstairs bathroom while my niece was using the upstairs bathroom… hmmmmm… “oh well,” I thought, “Heidi will probably help Ben go potty when she’s finished. That will work out nicely. Then I can keep working in the kitchen.”  Haha, mommy, think again!  Not five minutes later I hear Heidi, “Um, mommy, i don’t really want to tell you this, but… um… Ben pooped NOT in the potty.”  Noooooooo…………. but, alas……… yes, yes he did! Apparently he couldn’t hold it until Heidi was finished. And this wasn’t chunky, semi-solid poop. No, this was runny, semi-diarrhea, liquid poop. Amid my lovely gagging sounds and Ben’s whining, we somehow survived the next fifteen minutes and sat down for dessert– not sure my stomach was really ready to handle that transition, but I deserved some pumpkin pie, darn it!

After some clean-up, my sister’s family was ready to head home. As the kids were gathering up their coats and shoes, I noticed my niece pull a bag of birdseed out of her coat pocket. “Hmmmm,” I wondered, “what is she going to do with that?” No sooner had the thought resounded in my mind, that her brother gave the ziplock bag a good squeeze– yep, you guessed it, a shower of tiny seeds rains down on our feet. If you aren’t familiar with a traditional birdseed mix, some of those seeds are as tiny as a pin head. Seriously. Now here is something to be thankful for– we were on a hard floor, right beside the front door. I got a broom and we swept the little seeds right out the door and then off the porch and into the grass! Problem solved. I’ll take birdseed over liquid poop ANY DAY and twice on Sundays.

With the help of my dad and step-mom, we had the house back in order before 8:30. Amazing. So here is my Thanksgiving list for 2008:

1. I am thankful for windows that open when there is uncontained poop in my bathroom.

2. I am thankful that I can breathe through my mouth instead of my nose when I need to.

3. I am thankful for the person who invited wet wipes. I would kiss them if I knew who they were!

4. I am thankful also for the person who invented brooms- what a genius!

5. I am thankful that my children will not always be preschoolers who cannot handle their own waste issues.

6. I am thankful for improvisation… including improvised gravy boats!

But mostly, this year, I am so very thankful for my family– who embraces my quirks and my intense personality, and helps me laugh through my stressed-out tears. You all “go right with my gravy boat” (inside joke) and that’s a GREAT thing!

Bedtime Prayers

When it’s my turn to put Heidi and Ben to bed at night, I say the same closing prayer, after we pray for friends and family (and dolls and stuffed animals and leaf collections and bikes and trikes, etc.) of course.  I’m not exactly sure how this prayer came to be… except that it’s my hope and dream for both of my children.  The theology behind this prayer is very intentional. It’s holisitc; it’s all-encompassing– mind, heart and body.  The faith I’m praying for involves their inner world and their outer world– belief and practice, saying and doing, agreeing to and acting on.

Ben has started to say this prayer with me now, which is such a blessing! Hopefully the theology will sink so deeply into his soul that he won’t be able to forget it! I don’t want my children to grow up thinking that saying they believe in Jesus is enough. Faith without praxis is no faith at all. Faith expressing itself in love is EVERYTHING.

On that note, for whatever it’s worth, here’s my little closing prayer:

Lord, may Heidi grow up to KNOW you and LOVE you and SERVE you, with her WHOLE HEART and her WHOLE LIFE. Amen.

Heidi’s Prayer

Since Heidi was about 1 1/2 years old, we’ve always had bedtime prayers. Jon and I alternate who puts the kids to bed at night, and this past Saturday night, it was my turn.  We read a story, and I let her chat for a minute or two (this girl’s always got something to say!! I’m pretty sure she gets that from me, although Jon’s parents have commented that he used to get chatty at bedtime when he was a kid, too). So we talked about dolls and friends and school, and then I said, “Okay, let’s pray.”

Now, I always encourage her to pray, but for some reason she usually says, “No, you pray, mom.” And not just at bedtime; she’s been hesitant to pray at dinnertime, too.  I’ve wondered why… does she think she’s too little to talk to God? Is she afraid of God? Does she just not know what to say? Does she think she needs to pray “right” for God to hear her?  Or maybe it’s the out-loud thing that freaks her out. When I ask her why she doesn’t want to pray she says, “I don’t know. I just don’t want to.”  So I gladly do it, and I wait for those rare momens when she says, “Okay, mom, I’ll pray!” Well, Saturday night was one of those times! She wanted to pray out loud, and I was so glad. I could not wait to hear what she would say.

So here it is– in all its simplicity and profundity. The prayer for a four (almost five!) year old:  “And God, make the bad people good, and please, do it right now!”

In these days and weeks of amazingly confusing politics and intense national emotion… in these days of storms that have taken people’s homes and lives… in these days– the normal ones, the crazy ones, the tragic ones and stressful ones, my daughter has reminded me of God’s power to redeem people and situations. God can change hearts! He can change circumstances! And He can do it right now! I choose to have faith. Thanks, Heidi. Once again, you’ve been my teacher.

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