Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Thy Will Be Done...

If you have been reading my blog lately, you will know that I am having some trust issues with God. The truth is, these issues have been building for a long time, and Calvin's upcoming heart procedure on May 9th have brought them to the forefront. As far as heart problems go, his is really a minor and fairly common one called an ASD. Most of the time these holes can be closed in the cath lab and only require an overnight stay in the hospital. Occasionally, they are big enough to require open heart surgery. As far as we know, his will be closed in the cath lab, though we can't know for sure until the pediatric cardiologists get in there and see the actual size of the hole.

It's funny how I have been telling people since we knew about the defect that this procedure is no big deal, but now that the date is set, I feel completely differently. I have considered calling to cancel it on many occasions, waiting until Calvin is much older to walk down this road. But the truth is that we need to take care of it before we move overseas where we won't be able to monitor it as well. And I know on some level that my soul needs to walk through this, too.

But I am really terrified. On any given day, the thoughts in my head go something like this: "God may be good and He may love me, but He wants to make life really hard for me so that I will grow in my faith. Since the scariest thing I can think of is losing one of my boys, He is probably going to make me experience that or at least come close enough to realize that He is ultimately in control of their lives. I know He is preparing me for this because of such-and-such sermon or Bible study or because of this interaction with such-and-such person. Yep, there is no other option. Something bad is going to happen to Calvin. God probably doesn't really love me. I refuse to do this. I am going to cancel the appointment and wait until God is paying attention to someone else's messed up soul."

I am not even going to begin to unpack the theological difficulties of this line of thought or what it displays about the sad, selfish state of my soul that I am so focused on avoiding my own sufferings and not thinking about others'. I know on an intellectual level how messed up this train of thought is, but I am not ready to be anywhere else.

I cannot begin to say how grateful I am for the people in my life, especially the women in my church, who are not offering platitudes and happy scriptures. Instead, they offer hugs and tears and prayers and understanding. They point me to the Psalms, where David expressed his frustrations and anger at God and was still called a man after His own heart. They know that I do not need to be cured of my bad attitude but allowed to lament and be angry and hopefully come out on the other side with a greater trust and love for the Father. And they long with me for Calvin's procedure to really be as minor as it should be and for him to be up and running the next day.

As I try to work through this and seek wisdom, one thing I do keep hearing is the need to come to a place of being able to pray "Thy will be done." At first, I got angry at that, too, thinking it was a platitude, a way of saying that I need to be okay with the way things are or with the way things turn out and still trust in God. I need to just be content with His will, whether that means suffering or joy for me at any moment. Perhaps that is how a lot of people mean it, and I know that accepting His will is important. But as I look at the greater context of that line of the Lord's prayer, I see so much more.

Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on Earth as it is in Heaven

Thy Kingdom come, a kingdom of healing and wholeness and life. On Earth as it is in Heaven, in Heaven that healing and wholeness and life are complete, while they are just beginning to be realized on Earth. It is a prayer that God's Kingdom would become manifest in the lives of His people on Earth now. It doesn't mean that people will always be healed, and it doesn't mean that if I pray that prayer Calvin will come through this procedure okay. I know there are no guarantees. I also know that prayer is powerful, and that if I look back on my own life, I see many more answered prayers than unanswered ones. So it is okay to pray for His healing spirit to break through in this instance, for His kingdom to become reality in Calvin's heart.

Or perhaps to ask people to pray that for me when I am too weak and broken to pray it myself.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Extreme Calvinism and Trusting God

A note to you Calvinists who take pleasure in scouring the internet to correct what you think are theological fallacies: This is not a post attempting to explain Calvinism at all accurately. It is merely my attempt to explain my current spiritual state. So if you can't do anything better than pick it apart for minute doctrinal inconsistencies, please don't comment. I am not in the mood to argue.

No, our Calvin did not take up extreme sports. This post has more to do with the theology than our firstborn (who was not named after the theologian, I might add, but the comic strip character).

I am most definitely, without a doubt, not even close to being a Calvinist. BUT I have decided that my life would be much better if I could adopt some extreme form of Calvinist theology. (For my readers unfamiliar with Calvinism, read here.) Calvinism, which asserts the total depravity of man and his inability to do anything good apart from the grace of God, has some appeal for me right now. There is a mindset that I often see associated with this school of theology and that Caedmon's Call summed up nicely in a song lyric once:

Lately I've been thinking...not as much about why bad things happen to good folks, and age old questions, but more about why good things happen at all...

Lately I've been thinking how much easier this always expecting bad things would be if I just created my own form of extreme Calvinist theology to adhere to. If I saw the world and it's inhabitants mainly as products of the Fall and inclined mostly to sinful actions, then it would make sense that bad things happen. We would deserve them. And anytime someone got well instead of dying, got a promotion instead of being laid off, had two healthy babies instead of one sick one...heck, anytime the sun shone and the breeze blew, I would be pleasantly surprised by God's grace and goodness in a world that deserves disease, death, drought, darkness and decay. I wouldn't lack trust in God because of the bad things that happen.

Now I do believe that the bad that happens in the world is ultimately the result of the Fall and sin entering the world, and I do acknowledge that all good ultimately comes from God. But I definitely think of the post-resurrection world as a place where the Kingdom of God has broken in. It is a place where, as the Orthodox say in their Pascha celebration, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!" Though there is still death and disease and darkness, life and healing and light have come and are being worked out on a daily basis. It is not complete, but the process has begun.

And so I find it hard to focus on the sinful nature of man, though that is not a doctrine to be discarded, because I see the ways in which all people reflect the glory and goodness and creative nature of God, whether they acknowledge that it comes from Him or not. I find it even more difficult to accept that in our fallen state we cannot reach for the Kingdom of God, everyone of us. I think there is much good in the world and it's people because God created us and He is goodness itself.

So what about when bad things happen to good people? I wish I knew. The Kingdom is here but it is not complete, and I don't know why God sometimes chooses not to act. In fact, I am pretty damn angry with Him right now about the times that He doesn't. I have come to the point of focusing so much on the bad that I just assume God is not going to show grace in the situations in my life. It is a bad place to be, a place of distrust and anger, and I am trying to find a way out. Preferably one that doesn't involve becoming a Calvinist.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Calvinisms...because you can never get enough

When my mom tried to drop him off in the preschool room at her church:

"I don't want to go in there. I want to go to regular church. It is more exciting. And more serious."

(For the record, he sat mostly still and very quiet all through a very long and non-interactive service. He is used to our liturgical service, with lots of congregational participation, so I was impressed. He did have his space shuttle to entertain him-see below.)

After waking from a nap in the car, during which he had not let go of the toy space shuttle my brother gave him:

"I want to die with this space shuttle in my hand so I can take it to heaven and show it to Jesus."

I laughed so hard at that one that I woke up poor Hobbes, who had been sleeping like a log for nearly 3 hours in the car. (Visiting their Nana wears the boys out...and their Nana, too!)

Good for the Soul

a weekend of driving curvy mountain roads

Grandma's sweet tea

celebrating April birthdays with the whole clan

seeing my dear cousin, her sweet boy, and another boy on the way

watching my niece and my boys run around in the damp, Spring grass

a surprise sighting of old friends at church on Sunday

my niece and the boys tracing their very patient great-uncle with sidewalk chalk

the same three screaming with delight as he swings them high on the porch swing

mountain air

dogwoods in bloom

listening to EFO and AP on the way back home

coming home to my husband

Terabithia and Montessori

My husband and I just watched Bridge to Terabithia this week. I'm not sure how, in my otherwise rich literary childhood and adolescence, I managed to miss this book. I definitely want to go back and read it now. Neither of us were too excited to watch the film, but it was in our Netflix queue. We were both pleasantly surprised. I won't say much, in case you haven't seen it, but if you were a child who loved stories, it is definitely worth your time. My husband summed it up well when he said that it shows the power of the imagination to help us deal with life, not escape from it.

Interestingly enough, I watched this movie in the midst of reading The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori. I have decided to start researching different educational theories to pull some ideas that might work for homeschooling my boys. Because so many of my friends send their children to Montessori schools, I decided to start there. I should frame this by saying that I have no direct experience with a Montessori school, only through the children I know who attend them and the things that their parents say.

This was a hard book to read! There is definitely a generation (or three) gap here, and reading a book written in such modernist, scientific language was difficult for this postmodern girl. But I don't think the language was my only stumbling block. While I agree with some of Dr. Montessori's methods on the practical level (such as allowing children to accomplish tasks with little intervention, spending a lot of time observing and interacting with nature, engaging in purposeful play, and making a home user-friendly for a child), I do not agree with all of the philosophy that undergirds her methods.

In other words, I think Maria Montessori made some excellent observations about how children learn and develop, but I don't think she always drew the correct conclusions, or at least not the only ones. The method she developed must be successful in raising well-educated and adjusted children. Otherwise, why would there be a half-dozen Montessori schools in my town alone? At the same time, I do not agree that children must follow her method exactly in order to reach their full potential as members of the human race. And, as a Christian, I don't think that a world full of Montessori educated people is the answer to humanity's problems. Perhaps this is just an extension of that modern/postmodern conflict, or perhaps there just wasn't enough social "science" around then and things had to be couched in scientific terms. Either way, her scientific certainty in her method bothered me. Maybe someone who knows more about the theories can help to translate them into contemporary language for me.

What, you may be asking, does Terabithia have to do with all of this? Like I said, I appreciate many of the practical applications of the Montessori method and how they foster independent, content, observant children. That said, one of my biggest oppositions to the theory comes in the realm of the imagination. According to another book I am reading, Dr. Montessori believed that imaginative stories were a waste of time and that the powers of imagination should be used in learning history and geography, subjects for which children have no direct experience and in which they must imagine things beyond their everyday interactions.

While I definitely agree that the imagination should be used in those subjects, I am wholeheartedly in favor of encouraging imaginative play and of reading imaginative stories to my children that have nothing to do with the "real world." Who of us, Christian or not, who have read the Chronicles of Narnia, have not understood our world better for having entered that one? My husband would say that his childhood would not be the same without the imaginary worlds and characters he and his siblings and friends created. And I still read The Lord of the Rings and come away saying, "This is true. Those these creatures and places are imagined, but this story is one of truth."

While it is true that some children can use imagination to escape their world and to avoid dealing with problems, many use it as a way of addressing those problems. In Bridge to Terabithia, the two main characters create a special place in the woods, complete with a treehouse fortress, where they spend their afternoons imagining a fantastical world that helps them to work out solutions to their real-life difficulties. The imagined world provides a safe place to gain confidence in fighting the class bully, a peaceful place where they can be restored to return to their less-than-peaceful lives. Far from isolating them from real life and inhibiting their development, their imaginings allow them to succeed in a world where they had previously failed.

So while I may pull some Montessori methods for instructing my children, I will always make sure that their minds are steeped good stories of imaginary places to build on and that they have plenty of space to create their own worlds.

I'm still forming my ideas on this one, so I would love to hear what you have to say, especially those of you who have experience with the Montessori model. I'm pretty sure this is a debate, even in Montessori circles. I would also love suggestions for what educational theory to explore next.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

File Under "Lost in Translation"

I've been busy and dealing with a lot around here lately, so the blog posts are scarce. It seems like I almost always say that these days.

Living with little people who are learning a first language (and in our case, one who is also learning a second) leads to all sorts of funny linguistic errors. Hobbes has been pretty slow to speak compared to his brother, who was speaking in full, complex sentences by 14 months, but his speech has taken off in the past few months. Unfortunately, all of that practice has not improved his pronunciation. I'm not sure if he just refuses to believe in consonants other than D, B, and M or if he just can't use them yet. Either way, it makes for some funny moments. He also has a funny habit of saying "my" for "I'm." I wrote earlier of his antics in trying to get out of bed at night. We have chosen to ignore him when he stands and screams, at the top of his lungs, that he is crying and we had better come get him. With his inability to use the consonant C, and his two-year-old drama, it sounds quite dire:

"My dying! My dying! Mommy! My dying!"

Who knew sleep could be so deadly?

In another funny language moment, Calvin was looking through a Chinese to English board book of colors the other day. It is one of those books that has a different color and objects of that color on each page. He loved those books when he was building his English vocabulary of essential words, like "dog," "cup," "apple," and the like. What a great way for him to build his essential Chinese vocabulary! So we read "lily," "orange," "bear," "gun." Yep. That's an important one for toddlers to know.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Trust Fall, Trust Fail

Summer church camp. Bugs, wet clothes, campfires, the constant smell of insect repellent, crushes on the life guard, and bizarre activities that were meant to shape our character. There was one activity we did almost every year, usually with our small group that met for prayer and Bible study. The Trust Fall. Anyone else remember this? We lined up in two even rows, facing each other, arms locked, while the unlucky first pick stood on a platform at the end of our row, back to us, arms crossed, knees locked, ready to fall trustingly into our scrawny, middle-schooler arms.

I was always terrified of that exercise. I hated standing up there, trusting in other people to catch me before I fell on my back in the hard dirt. Looking back, I should have seen this as a clear warning sign of my control freak nature. I do not trust well. I don't trust my husband to remember lock the front door when we leave. I don't trust anyone else to clean the bathrooms correctly (not that anyone is volunteering). I don't trust the pilot flying the plane. I don't trust other people to get the directions right. I don't even like to let other people drive. I don't trust God.

In my spiritual life, my trust fall has somehow become a trust fail. Perhaps it has to do with getting older and experiencing more of the hard side of life. I was pretty sheltered as a child. I'm not sure where it really happened, but sometime in the past few years I stopped trusting God to order my life well. Really, I stopped trusting that He was good and that He loved me.

Some might say this is a valid complaint, the age-old problem of reconciling the goodness of God with all of the suffering in the world. That is certainly part of it, though I can find a comfortable philosophical answer to that problem, or at least agree with the great Christian thinkers who have offered answers to that question. It's more personal than that. It's about letting go of my need to control.

I know that following Him does not mean that my life will be full of blessings and completely absent of suffering. In fact, the way of Christ is the way of suffering. Scripture is pretty clear on that one. I know in my head that He is good, that He loves his children, and that He works through the circumstances of our lives to mature us and to bring us into greater intimacy with Him. I know these things. I believe they are true. I have experienced their truth. But now I stand on the platform, unwilling to fall, not trusting that His arms are strong enough. I want to jump down from the other side on my own and manage this thing called life without having to depend on Him, or anyone else for that matter. If I trust Him, after all, He might just let me down.

Even as I write this, I know what a silly thought it is. I cannot control what happens to me or to those I love. I cannot "manage" this life on my own. If bad things happen, they will happen whether I trust Him or not, and how much harder to walk through them alone. So much is out of my control, and if I can't trust the Maker of all things, whom can I trust?

I can fall into Him, or I can jump off the other side of the platform, away from His strong arms, But I have a sneaking suspicion that I will find that He is right there, waiting to catch me whether I want Him to or not. All the same, I am terrified.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Hey Good Lookin'...

...whatcha got cookin?

I don't know how good lookin' I am, but Kerry did ask what I was cooking with all of that yummy food I got at the farmer's market. At the risk of turning this into a food and kids' stories blog with no deep thoughts, I thought I'd oblige. I should warn you that I don't cook from recipes very often, and when I do, I usually adapt them to what I have on hand. I'll only go into detail on one or two meals, and you can e-mail me if you want the rest.

Sunday: Lasagna, garlic bread, and salad
I have the easiest homemade lasagna recipe in the world. We buy Alexia brand garlic bread, which has none of that yucky fake butter stuff. It tastes like I made it, but I didn't have to! Bonus, each bag of bread has a coupon on the back, so once you buy one, you save every time you buy it after that. The salad used up some of our lettuce, radishes, and green onions from the market.

Monday: Sesame Beef and Asparagus Stir Fry with rice
Another easy and yummy recipe. I just coat the slices of a cheap piece of (local, ethically raised) meat with salt, pepper, and sesame seeds before stir frying in hot oil. Remove the meat when seared and stir-fry asparagus, then add meat back with some ground ginger and soy sauce. I added cooked edamame beans this time, which I picked up frozen at the grocery. I just boiled them a few minutes first. The boys loved them. Hobbes has been asking for them ever since. He calls them "Eat mommy beans."

Tuesday: Asparagus, Tomato and Feta Frittata and sausage links
The eggs, tomato, asparagus, and sausage all came from the farmer's market. Don't think my boys are super-eaters or anything. They avoided the asparagus and had cheddar on their part. I served this with a loaf of homemade bread (my mother-in-law's amazing recipe).

Wednesday: Chinese Noodles
This is a favorite and the whole reason I bought baby bok choy at the market. I browned and drained a pound of ground sausage and set half aside for pizza another night. (You could use plain ground pork, but I like the extra spice.) Put one package (16oz.) of rice noodles in hot water to soak for 25-30 minutes. Heat 2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium in a wok or frying pan. Stir-fry 1 1/2 cups sliced carrots for 3 minutes, add 3 chopped baby bok choy, and a handful of sliced green onions. Stir-fry until carrots are tender. Add cooked pork and 1-2 teaspoons of ground ginger. Add softened rice noodles (I only used 3/4 of the package for our small crew) and stir-fry until tender, adding soy sauce to taste. Stir in 1-2 teaspoons sesame oil before serving. If you want to spice it up, add some of this stuff, but be warned! One or two drops per serving will do it. I do mean drops! And don't even try it with young kids.

Thursday: Baked Chicken with root veggies
I usually bake a chicken every couple of weeks. This week I'll use up the parsnips, potatoes, and carrots I got at the market, and serve it all with a loaf of the bread I made yesterday.

Friday: Pizza and Salad
Trader Joe's has awesome garlic and herb pizza crust. I usually make my own but indulged this week. We'll top this with the rest of the sausage and some veggies, and use up the radishes and lettuce in our salad.

Saturday or Sunday: Chicken and Broccoli Casserole
We are likely to eat with the in-laws one of these two days, so I'll only plan one meal. The casserole uses up the rest of the chicken from Thursday. I usually can get two meals out of the meat and a good bit of chicken broth from boiling the carcass. For the casserole, I boil some broccoli to make it a bit tender (about 2 cups), add shredded chicken, salt and pepper, and my own concoction of chicken broth, sour cream, and milk in place of a can of cream of chicken soup. I usually make a 9x9 dish for the four of us. Top it with cheddar cheese and bread crumbs and bake until bubbly.

So there you have it. Now that you think I am an amazing planner and cook huge meals every night, it is time to confess. This is a good week. I must have been inspired by my trip to the farmer's market. Some weeks it's spaghetti, tacos, hot dogs, and mac 'n' cheese for our menu. I guess I'm saying you shouldn't expect too many of these types of posts. Do e-mail if you want more details. I definitely cook by feel and taste and not by recipes, so sharing is difficult.

Monday, April 7, 2008

"Ow! Dat Hurt Me!"

Hobbes technically turned two on March 19th, but today he decided to definitively assert his "two-ness." There have been hints of it for the past week or so, but today left no doubt. Somehow, Calvin seemed to skip much of the mischievous scheming of the two's, but I should have known Hobbes, with his charming looks and adventurous personality, would be another story.

I left them playing today, as I often do, while I put away some laundry. Calvin headed off to the bathroom and Hobbes toddled after him. Seconds later, I heard, "No, Hobbes! Mommy! Mommy! Hobbes is trying to put the cars in the potty!" Fortunately, Hobbes loves following his brother enough that he ran out of the bathroom after him, cars in hand and full confession ready.

At another point, I heard Calvin yelling, "No, Hobbes! Don't tear the book!" I ran in to see Hobbes almost ready to tear the pages of a book. When I told him we don't tear books, he looked back at me, turned around, and started to tear the page. I quickly grabbed the book from him and gave him a time out.

Those are just two of the many instances of testing the boundaries or looking for trouble today. Let me just say that I am thankful Calvin is so conscientious and that his brother copies everything he does at this stage. Otherwise, I would be in much worse trouble. I dread the mornings when Calvin is at Chinese school, and the nights where he falls asleep before Hobbes, like tonight. Currently Hobbes is out of his bed, playing with toys and heading for an unpleasant encounter with Daddy.

The most classic two-year-old moment of the day happened just a bit earlier. Hobbes was is in his bed looking for an excuse to get out. He managed to hurt his lip somehow, and screamed, "Ow! Dat hurt me!" When I went back to settle him down, he began banging his head against the rails, and crying, "Ow! Dat hurt me!", then looking up calmly to see if that was a good way to get out of bed.

If he thinks faking injuries is a good way to get out of going to bed, this kid is gonna be trouble. He might not be the only one who goes through this stage screaming, "Ow! Dat hurt me!"

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Farmer's Bounty

I'm sorry I've been away for awhile. I needed some space in my life to rest for a bit, and the blog is the first thing to go when those times come. I have been reading your blogs, though, even if you haven't heard from me. Anyway, this weekend was just too wonderful not to post about, as you can see from my basket of goodies in the opening photo.

Early in the life of this blog, I reviewed Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. While my husband and I had been thinking about starting to buy locally and ethically raised meat for a while, this book spurred me on to support local agriculture and to make visiting the farmer's market a regular part of my routine. Her description of living an agricultural lifestyle in Appalachia brought the issue home to me in so many ways. Suddenly, being tied to the earth was about connecting with my dad, who loved his backyard garden in his little corner of Appalachia, and about supporting a way of life that is essential to who I am and where I come from.

So, despite the fact that it was rainy and cold and my children were letting us sleep in, I crawled out of bed Saturday morning, pulled on some warm cloths, and snuck out to the local farmer's market to welcome in the season. I picked up the lovely goodies in my photo and much more, including some delicious sausage from locally raised pigs and a fresh baguette from a local bakery. I chatted with some of my favorite vendors and picked up a recipe for asparagus timbale to use up some of the fresh eggs and asparagus that I purchased. I stumbled upon a surprise early crop of strawberries, which my boys devoured at lunch, along with some local farmer's cheese. And I watched the community come together to support our neighbors, who work hard to grow our food. As I left, a chocolate croissant and huge basket of fresh food in hand, the chill of the morning faded, and I was thankful for the ongoing rain, which has lessened our drought and promises a good growing season for Spring.

I am so thankful to live in a state that has great respect for farmers and a thriving local economy that supports organic and sustainable farming practices. It's not perfect, but it is better than any other place we have lived. Nearly every town has a farmer's market, though I am a bit biased and think ours is the best. The mild winters allow for extended growing seasons, and our market is even open every other Saturday for limited hours during the winter months. Several of the farms that sell at our market also offer CSA subscriptions, and we are joining one this Spring. We will get a weekly box of fresh, organically grown vegetables delivered to a location five minutes from our house, and we have the option of adding on eggs, beef, and pork to our order.

If you have a market near you, I encourage you to visit. Even if you don't, you may be able to join a CSA. The prices are a bit more, but the quality and variety are worth it, and so is the chance to support a local farmer who is trying to change the way we view food and where it comes from. And now I am off to start my first ever Wendell Berry novel.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Be Still, My Soul

Thinking today of my dear friend, who is one of the most beautiful, strong, compassionate women I know.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.