Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It Doesn't Grow on Trees

I have been sort of absent around here lately. Our social calendar has been incredibly busy, and it doesn't show signs of letting up. Hopefully I'll have something thoughtful to say soon. It won't be this weekend, as I will be busy hosting family and making a space shuttle cake for Calvin's fourth birthday. In the meantime, I could use some parenting advice from those of you further down the road.

One of our favorite family outings is to go to the nearby bookstore and browse books. Well, three of us browse while Hobbes plays at the train table. On our last trip there, Calvin picked up a Tin Tin comic. (His dad may have influenced him in that decision.) As we were preparing to leave, he asked if we could buy it. My husband decided this was a great time to start teaching Calvin about earning money. They looked at the price of the book, and he explained to Calvin that he could earn the money to buy it by doing work around the house. Calvin was ecstatic.

Really, this has worked out great for me. We pay him a quarter or fifty cents for jobs like unloading the dishwasher, sweeping or dusting a room, putting away his laundry, or cleaning the sliding glass door. He even earned $1.50 for helping me to weed our front flower beds. (They haven't been touched since last Fall, but that is another post for another time.) He continues to be enthusiastic about the work, and Hobbes is catching the spirit, too. I have never seen them clean up so eagerly or so quickly. It seems great.

But, I have reservations. First of all, helping around the house is part of being in a family. I want my kids to learn that we all work together to make the home run smoothly. I am still asking them to do some things just to help me, with no reward, and they seem willing enough. I worry that paying them for doing work will make them feel entitled to it and unwilling to do chores just because they need to be done.

Second, I wonder if paying by the job is the best method. It seems that it makes more sense in the long run to have an allowance that each child receives for contributing to the work of the household each week. Just as Daddy and I have some share of the family income to spend because we contribute to the running of the house, so the children get a share.

Finally, I don't want to create greedy little consumerist monsters for children. I think this is teaching them the value of money, but I am not sure. We have emphasized that one-tenth of what they earn will be given to the church, just as Mommy and Daddy do. And we regularly donate some of their toys and books to local charities. I hope that our overall example of generosity toward those in need is enough to create a balance in their little minds between getting and giving.

So what do you do? Do your children receive an allowance or money for certain jobs? Do they get money at all? Do you allow them to spend it on whatever they want or are there guidelines? What about things like birthday money? How do you encourage wise use of money, even among little ones? I'm looking forward to your answers.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On the Anglican Communion

I hesitated to write this post, since I am new to Anglicanism and have so little knowledge, compared to others, of the history and dynamics of the movement. But I needed to write it, to help me process my growing concerns about the Anglican church and the movement within Anglicanism of which I find myself a member. Because I am no spokesperson for the church of which I am a part or of the larger AMiA movement, I ask that you please not link to, refer to, or quote any part of this post unless you ask my permission first.

With that in mind, I would love to hear feedback from my other Anglican readers or anyone who has wise things to say looking in from the outside. If you are outside of this whole argument looking in, please keep your criticism of the church to a minimum. I promise I have heard it all before, and it won't convince me. I can say from experience that the church is a messy place with broken people who often make mistakes and hurt others. But I am convinced that it is no worse than the world outside of the church and that those of us within it are thankful to have the grace of God to forgive ourselves and one another and to try again.

When my husband and I were first married and looking for a church, we stumbled across this crazy church in the Chicago suburbs that used the Anglican Book of Common Prayer but was not yet part of the Anglican Communion. Having never been part of a liturgical church before, we both found the service intriguing but perhaps a bit too Catholic feeling for our Protestant tastes. But the more we attended, the more we fell in love, with the liturgy, the rhythm of the church calendar, and the ways in which each service engaged all of our senses in worship of the Creator God. Before we knew it, we were becoming members.

Not long after we joined the church, the church leadership began looking for a larger tradition to join. In their search for accountability and communion, they decided to join the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA), under the leadership of Rwanda. Having not been part of an Anglican tradition in the past, I knew little about the movement. I did have some notion of its being a reaction to the Episcopal church's increasingly unorthodox theology, but I didn't give too much thought to the politics of it all. Mostly, I was excited about being connected to the church in Africa in such a real way. Being a student of InterCultural Studies at the time, I was excited to be a part of a church whose leadership was Rwandan, as it made real the upside-down nature of God's kingdom. Besides, I was in love with my church and the Anglican tradition by then.

When we moved back South, it seemed natural to my husband and I to join another AMiA church. Now here I am, six years into being Anglican and definitely committed to my local church body, but with many questions and concerns about the movement in which I am now involved.

It is not my intention to delve too much into the theological divide in Anglicanism, but I think it is necessary to explain where my beliefs lie. I understand and affirm the need of Episcopalians to leave their churches and find new leadership in a desire to maintain the truths of the faith. I have heard stories from many former Episcopalians of churches where the life, death and literal resurrection of Jesus are no longer preached and where the uniqueness of Christianity is denied. If the central truths of the faith are not taught, I would not want to be a part of that local church body either. On the issue of ordaining practicing homosexuals, I also disagree with the Episcopal hierarchy. I'm not going to try to defend my view here, just present it. But I will say that I know homosexuals who have accepted a call to ministry and therefore committed themselves to celibacy in order to stay within the teachings of scripture. I know the issue is complicated, and I usually try to stay out of it and just love the people around me. Maybe another post, another time. (I'm intentionally avoiding the issue of ordaining women here, as I see it as one on which believing Christians can have differing and valid opinions, and for which scripture offers objections that are specific to a particular audience.)

Why, you may ask, if I seem to side with the beliefs found within the AMiA movement, do I have concerns about where I am? I think my concerns have been growing for a while, but the recent GAFCON statement, from the leaders of my movement and others like it, as well as the controversy surrounding Lambeth, have brought things to a head. I have read the GAFCON statement, as well as Archbishop Williams' response to it, which I found to be very thoughtful and wise in it's criticisms and affirmations. I also appreciated N.T. Wright's response to the situation in the Anglican communion.

I love our local church, and I have been impressed with the spiritual vitality and genuine community I have found at every AMiA church I have visited. There are many godly and wise people involved in this movement, and I have great respect for them. I am also thankful for our leaders in Rwanda, men who have seen great evil and are working to bring healing and reconciliation to a troubled nation while still offering pastoral support to their much wealthier brothers and sisters in America. Our local church has had a lot of contact with the church in Rwanda, being instrumental in beginning a sister-parish network for the AMiA churches and Rwandan parishes. In fact, my in-laws just returned from a trip to visit our sister parish with a team from our church. I am excited about the new paradigm that is developing, in which we partner with the African church and serve one another. I think it has a great potential to heal some of the scars of colonialism and to empower the African leadership.

But while I love the people of the AMiA movement and agree that their theological stance is an orthodox one, I fear that we are making a great mistake that may do more harm than good to the Anglican Communion. There is an immediate need for pastoral oversight for those who have left the Episcopal church as a matter of conscience, and the African leadership has done a good job of fulfilling that need. But it is not a long-term solution. As Archbishop Williams suggests, Anglican leadership has historically been local, and in the long run, we cannot have two Anglicanisms in America. By holding a meeting in protest of Lambeth and issuing a statement, I fear that those involved in GAFCON have unecissarily drawn a line in the sand. While it may not be their intention, they seem to be saying that other Anglicans need to join with them or deny the historical truths of Christianity. I don't think such a push in necessary.

So what should we do? It seems to me that those of us who are part of the AMiA movement and others like it would do best to focus on building a vital and genuine community of faith among ourselves while maintaining communion with the Anglican body. If we truly believe that ours is the historical and orthodox representation of Anglicanism in American, then we should trust that it will endure. Eventually, the greater Anglican Communion will have to address the issues that are dividing the Episcopal church. Until they do and a decision is made, pressure to choose sides will only create a rift that could split a tradition I have come to love. There may come a time when the majority of Anglicans decide that the Episcopal movement is correct, and at that time, a stand may be needed. In the meantime, I fear we are pushing too hard and too soon. I pray that as we continue to work out what it means to be orthodox, Anglican, and American, we will learn greater caution and the value of keeping silent, praying and seeking wisdom over the long term in a desire to unite and not divide the communion.

Of course, this is only my opinion, as I wrestle with and pray through this issue. And I realize that those who have come out of the Episcopal movement and who remain in it have a lot of pain from a difficult history that I have not experienced. I would love to hear your thoughts, especially those of you who love the Anglican Communion.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Hippie Communist Days

When I was finishing college, I (like most English majors I know) had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I contemplated going on to grad school or being involved in some sort of campus ministry. Mostly I was just completely lost. I had had a difficult year of depression and spiritual darkness, and what I really needed was rest and a chance to find my footing, though I was the last to admit it. Once I dropped all of the mature sounding ideas, like graduate school, and started concocting plans to drive cross county and live the hippie lifestyle in San Francisco (with no money and no job prospects) some wiser, older friends stepped in with better ideas.

My InterVarsity staff worker, in particular, knew of a group of folks who were moving into a house together to form a sort of Christian commune. Sounded edgy and fun, if not like San Francisco, so I drove up to meet my potential roommate. Next thing you know, I was agreeing to move in with five people, four of whom I had never met and all of whom were older than I. When I arrived in August, I had no job, very little money, and no idea what to expect. My college roommate was attending Divinity school in the same town, so I could always run to her if these commune people turned out to be crazy.

My mom helped me move and left me, 22 years old, fresh out of college, in an old rickety house with a bunch of strangers. I'm not sure what she thought when she left me there, but I was a little nervous, especially since all of the housemates left for a meeting at church that evening while I unpacked. The one who was working came home a bit later with a grocery bag in hand. After asking me how I felt about having alcohol in the house and receiving a positive response, he pulled some Guinness out of the bag, and said, "Good. Welcome to the commune."

And so began my hippie communist years, two of the best years of my life. We were an odd mix of personalities, one married couple, two single guys and two single gals, but we were committed to this experiment of living in community, even before "community" became the buzzword in Christian circles. We shared meals, worship, prayer, and lots of laughter. My housemates were there through the dating years of with my soon-to-be-husband, offering plenty of big sibling advice and cracking plenty of jokes at our expense. The guys even "interrogated" my husband the first time he came to join us for house dinner.

It was a sad day when we moved out of our big blue house with the front porch where we spent so many hours drinking, eating dessert, and talking. But we are still connected, as people are who live together and share life for any amount of time. We are still a community, though spread across the country and grown to include ten adults and nine children under the age of four. So it was easy to pick back up where we left off, when five of the six of us came together this weekend. We reminisced, enjoyed watching our children, shared meals, and celebrated the ways in which God has been faithful in leading us, even when we didn't see where we were going. I certainly didn't know where I was going when He took me to that commune, lost and in need of a community. But sometimes God meets us through a friend with a Guinness.

Funny, that housemate and his wife (the married couple of the commune) are moving to San Francisco. Maybe I will get there after all, but this time it will be for a good reason, thanks to my fellow communists, who helped me find my footing almost eight years ago.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Like Apples and Oranges

I am pretty sure that I couldn't have two more opposite children when it comes to the world of emotions.

Hobbes is the epitome of strong will and control. He goes through most of life happy and laid back, but when he chooses to exert his will, there is not mistaking it. "Chooses" is a good word. He rarely has emotional outbursts that are not calculated, and he often lets us know that he wants to cry just a "lil' bit mo." That doesn't mean that his emotions aren't valid, just that he is in amazing control of them for a two year old.

A story from today. Right before dinner, Hobbes bit Calvin as they were fighting over something. I instantly disciplined him, as biting is one of those things I can't tolerate in a child about to begin preschool. He looked at me in anger and/or surprise, and began crying in protest. I asked him if he could tell Calvin he was sorry, and when he responded with a definite "no," I told him to sit in the chair until he could. The rest of us sat down to dinner while he protested that he was too tired to sit in his chair. I told him he could go to his bed until he was ready to apologize. After about five minutes of controlled crying in his room, he came out, happy as a clam. He apologized to Calvin and then proceeded to tell me that he would come eat in just a little bit. He returned to his room, did a puzzle, and then pranced into the dining room, pleasant as could be, to eat his dinner.

Now we turn to Calvin, whose emotional waters are so deep that I often can't navigate them. In fact, he rarely knows how to himself and often ends up shipwrecked and crying beyond control in his bed.

The boys were playing with a marble run toy this morning, and I gave them plenty of warning that we were going to pack it away soon to clean up the living room. Both Hobbes and Calvin seemed to be helping me put the pieces up, but when I told Calvin that I needed the pieces he was holding, he became hysterical. I could not control him, though he finally managed enough to give me the pieces so that I could put them away. He then ran to his room screaming and crying, presumably angry that I had taken his pieces away. We battled for some time over the need for him to learn to obey. (We've had a long few months of defiance that we are trying to curb.) Finally, he ended up in my lap, telling me that he needed to start over and put the pieces away or, in his own words, "We are going to have a very bad day." I am starting to figure it out. It is not anger that makes him lash out, but guilt and shame at himself, his desire to please contradicting his developing preschooler's mind that wants to exert independence. His boat is fighting through some powerful waves of emotion and instinct, and he gets scared of the loss of control.

Such different dispositions, but each with their own strengths, if we can only teach Hobbes to use his strong will and charming personality for good and help Calvin to learn to master his emotions without losing his sensitivity and compassion. This is why parenting is so hard!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Gettin' in Touch with My Roots

-a weekend away with my husband
-boys happily settled at their Nana's
-my uncle's cabin on the lake
-waking late to mountain air coming through the open windows
-driving back mountain roads with the windows down
-men in kilts throwing large objects
-little boys in kilts, shirtless and wrestling
-little girls in tartan and knee socks, dancing
-whole families decked out in their clan's tartan
-Yes, I'm Scottish.
-another morning of mountain air
-biscuits and gravy for breakfast on the deck
-returning to normal life, just a little more centered

Thursday, July 10, 2008

To Fix, To Fight, or To Fall on Our Knees

This post is part of Julie's Hump Day Hmmm. It's a day late, but hopefully not a dollar short. To read some other great posts on the topic of "fixing" visit her site.

My father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in August of 2003. Doctors told him he was lucky. They found it early, and with agressive treatment he had a chance of living another five to fifteen years. None of us ever even asked if not getting treatment was an option; it was just assumed that my dad would do whatever it took to live a few more years. In retrospect, I wonder if he made the right choice.

You see, even with several rounds of chemo and two stem cell transplants, my father only lived another three years. Some of that time was good, and he did get to meet three of his grandchildren, even being around Calvin long enough that Calvin still remembers his PopPop. But most of those years were not full of quality life. He and my mom spent several months at a time in Arkansas, far away from family and friends, so that my dad could get the most advanced treatment. When he was finally home and done with his transplants, my dad had about eight months of feeling pretty good until the cancer started to return. My workaholic doctor dad, who had always been fit and full of energy, spent most of his time on the couch, making the occasional outing to make memories with his family. In September of 2006, he passed into eternity.

Should my dad have gotten treatment? I don't know. I certainly don't regret the time I had with him or the memories he made with Calvin. I don't regret our last summer at the beach, when he spent time with baby Hobbes and watched Calvin and my niece play in the sand and waves. But I know that most of that time, my dad felt awful, and I believe that he only went through with later treatments for our sake. He was ready to go.

My husband and I have talked about this a lot lately, and I keep coming back with questions. Why do terminally ill people receive treatment? What would I do if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness? I am thankful for medicine and for the time it bought my dad. I also think that there is no question of receiving treatment if there is hope for a cure, or of using medicine if it can alleviate some pain and suffering in order to provide a better quality of life. But I do think that aggressive treatment in order to fight off death sometimes goes too far. Sometimes, people are ready to die. Sometimes people do not want to live in misery for just a few more months. Sometimes people are like Mrs. Dubose in To Kill a Mockinbird and just want to die in their full minds and at peace, not dependent on outside chemicals to regulate their bodies.

This is a tricky topic, and I think it extends far beyond terminal illnesses. There are so many medical treatments and medications that people use these days to lengthen life, hold off aging, "fix" a problem that may not be a problem (or at least not one that is meant to be fixed).

As I Christian, I can't help but see this pursuit of health and long life as proof that we live in a world that is not as it should be. Disease and brokenness are not part of the created order; they are a corruption of it. Death is not natural, it is the enemy. We are not meant to be comfortable with these things, but I also don't think we are ultimately meant to cure all of them. We are meant to live in this broken world and allow the brokenness to awake our longing for something more. We are meant to pray for God's kingdom to come into our brokenness and death and to bring healing and life. And ultimately, we are to look to Jesus, who was victorious over disease and death. His rule will usher in a new creation, where there is "no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4). Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

"I think I'll move to Australia."

Today was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Calvin woke up whining and being defiant and didn't stop all day.

Hobbes decided picking fights with his brother was a good way to spend the day, the whole day.

It was too hot and muggy to play outside.

I really needed a nap and a break from kids.

Calvin took a nap for the first time this week, but Hobbes woke up 15 minutes after his brother went to sleep.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

My mom says some days are like that, even in Australia.

A little Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck seems like the perfect cure.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Finding My Way

Thanks to all of you who left kind and wise comments on my post about mothering woes. It is definitely good to be reminded of the big picture. I know my children have a loving mother and father, which is a lot more than a lot of children. And I also know that if I can teach them to love God and love their neighbor then I am getting the essentials. I needed those reminders and am thankful for other people who can bring them to me.

But I do think I am in a place where God is trying to teach me something, to humble me a bit, and to bring me into a better sense of calling. You see, I don't really feel like I have grasped my calling as a mother. Sure I love my kids, feed them, dress them, get up with them at night, and occasionally even do fun things with them, but I don't see myself as a mother. I know that most moms have a desire to be involved in activities and work and relationships outside of mothering, and I think that desire is a healthy one. But my problem seems to go beyond that. I'm not sure that I can describe it well except by contrast to other mothers I know.

Many mothers I know seem to have a real sense that their priority right now is their children. Beyond just meeting their physical needs, they take time to reflect on how to parent their children well. They sincerely desire what is best for each child, worrying in a good way whether or not they are meeting each child's needs. They have an intuition about how each child will respond to a given situation, and they work to accommodate that. Of course, there is a fine line between letting the child dictate one's life and working to accommodate a child's needs, but these moms seem to have found a balance. In other words, they see themselves as the person to whom their children look for guidance and comfort and security, and they are willing to do what it takes to maintain that trust. Though mothering may no always be joyful, they find joy in seeing themselves as mothers and in doing their best to fulfill their calling. I sense this when I hear them talking about their children, and I wonder how I am missing it.

I think this is what I mean when I say I am missing a parenting gene. Or maybe I am just late getting on the boat. I know I am a mother, but I have not accepted my calling to motherhood to its fullest. I have good moments, but I have not made this role, these relationships, this calling a part of my identity in a way that allows me to truly parent selflessly and with a sense of God's leading. I don't commit time to considering my children's needs or my parenting strategies. My husband and I don't often have conversations about how we parent. We just sort of go through life hoping we don't screw our kids up too badly.

I'm not saying that all of this reflection is necessary for good parenting. People in different circumstances around the world certainly don't have the luxury to worry about their parenting styles when they just worry about having enough food. And parenting young children definitely leaves less time for reflection than I will have once they get older. But I do think God is calling me to really consider the implications of this privilege of motherhood that I have been given and to start getting serious about it in a way that I haven't before. I think it has to start in prayer, for me and for my kids, and in an ordering of my house around love of God and neighbor. I'm going to pick this book up again, since I started it months ago and never got very far.

Thanks again, for listening to this rambling topic. I think it is more for my own reflection, but if it can encourage someone else or bring encouragement to me through my readers, then I am glad.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

I know patriotism isn't popular these days, but since it is July 4th, I just wanted to let you know that I am thankful to be from the United States. I have traveled enough in various countries to know that we are immensely blessed in our country. We are blessed with abundance and freedom and peace and an overall charitable spirit among our people.

Of course we abuse these things and of course we are not perfect; no nation is. But I am very thankful to live in a place where we have the freedom to worship as we choose, where my children have access to free education all the way through high school (and where I can choose not to send them to state schools if I don't want to), where we have access to food and clean water at relatively good prices. I am even thankful that we live where we can choose to live selfishly, because a compulsive generosity is really not generous at all. I pray that we choose to live generously and wisely with what we have been given, and I ask for wisdom to see where our family does not.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone! May you find a little bit of joy in being an American today, knowing that even our ability to criticize our country is a freedom not many around the world enjoy.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Where's the Map?

I feel like I am really failing at this mothering thing lately. For the past 3 1/2 years we have been sort of coasting along without a real plan and suddenly it is catching up with us. I have no idea what my goals are for raising my children, and I certainly haven't figured out how to parent consistently and well without goals. Really, I am not being hard on myself. I am basically lost at sea on this one.

Why is it so hard? Part of the reason is that I have an incredibly sensitive and emotionally overwhelmed first child. Calvin has the biggest, most compassionate heart of any kid I know. I hate answering his questions about bad things that happen in the world because I know it will leave him sad for the rest of the day. And any bad interaction we have affects him for a long time afterward. He doesn't just feel bad because he has disobeyed but he internalizes it. He suddenly is a bad person because he had to be disciplined. It crushes him and sends him into a storm of emotion that can takes hours to subside. Loving him well takes a lot of emotional energy, and I am finding it hard to come up with that these days. Yelling, spanking, threats of consequences, and shows of disappointment and frustration all lead to bad outcomes with him. But I find myself resorting to these when I lose the patience required to deal with each little incident.

I am not a patient person by nature, nor am I incredibly in touch with my emotions. Calvin's mind and heart are territory I am not familiar with. I don't want to squelch his compassion or sensitivity. I do want to help him learn to control his emotions and to deal with disappointment. We need to go back to the beginning and redefine how we interact, but I am not sure how to do it. In the meantime, poor Hobbes is getting less attention and direction than a two-year-old needs, and he is lashing out in frustration, mostly mimicking my yucky attitude.

I look around at how intentionally other mothers seem to be parenting their children, and I wonder where I have been. We don't have any consistent enforcement of good behavior or a well-thought-out way to deal with bad behavior. We don't have a good routine. I have no goals for what I need to be teaching my children or what responsibilities they need to start taking on. I can't even seem to teach Calvin to swim or Hobbes to use the potty, for crying out loud. I know I once wrote a post about mommy guilt and what a bad thing it is, but I don't think this is it. I honestly think I am lacking in some mothering gene that most other moms I know have. I am just not good at making this a priority or at being intentional about my parenting, and God is trying to get my attention.

What about the other parents our there reading my blog? How do you find time to make goals and decide on parenting priorities? How do you do more than just coast through all of your days hoping not to pull your hair out or permanently damage your child's emotional state? Or am I just surrounded by exceptional moms?

I am lost and in desperate need of a map. Help.