Thursday, November 29, 2012

When the Wait is Not Alone

Just last week my son and I were having one of those moments. You know, those sweet, warm moments when your kid is this real person and the conversation you are having is something you could only dream of having during those screaming, tantrumy, unreasonable earlier moments in his young life.

"Mom", he said, "when are we gong to get my baby brother and sister?"
"I don't know, buddy."
"Will it be soon?"
"I don't know. I still hope so."
"I'm really ready to be a big brother."

I know you are, kid. Believe me. I see the way your eyes light up in the store when some other recently blessed family is pushing around a little baby in a stroller.

I see your hesitating steps when we pass them and how you want to reach out and touch that little one and play and dream of life with siblings.

I love the way you think of our little neighbor as your little sister. How you ask if I can invite her over to play with you, even though she is only a year old and I hear how you talk about "sweet baby May" to everyone you meet, proudly, as if she is yours somehow.

How you hold her hand and lead her around the yard and pull leaves out of her mouth so she doesn't choke and how you laugh and delight in her just like the adults do in her life.

How you read books to her when we go places together in the backseat, all the while dreaming of when that baby strapped in the middle will be your own little sibling. I see you. 

I pray along with you every night when you ask God, yet again, to "please bring us a baby brother and sister." And I ache with you those nights when you don't feel strong enough to pray it. Sometimes I don't either, so I understand. I understand.

I hear the longing in your voice when you talk about our family's future. About what we will do when it's more than just the three of us. Of what car trips and vacations and decorating the Christmas tree and simple family dinners will be like. I love that you dream all the time and that your dreams are never empty of hope.

Most of all, I love that I am not waiting alone. That you are as much a part of this as your Daddy and I. That when we suffer the disappointments that are an inevitable part of this process, you somehow know and you sweetly comfort us. How do you do that? How in the world, at 6 years old, can you possibly know what we need?

I know you can't read this yet. Maybe someday you will. Maybe by then our family will look different and you will have forgotten how long the wait was and will only remember the reality of its completion.

In the meantime, hold on little man. Keep waiting with your mama. I can't promise you anything, but I know this: it's always better not to wait alone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The First Gray

A few nights ago, exactly two weeks before my 34th birthday, I found my first gray hair. I don't normally comb my head looking for signs of impending age but it was RIGHT THERE. Sticking up off my scalp. Screaming at the mirror- "look at me, look at me!". And I panicked. I did. For at least a whole minute. My husband, of course, patiently examined it for me to confirm whether it was, in fact, a gray hair or just a random extremely blond one reflecting the light. Yeah, because I have those.

After the panic subsided, I sat back and wondered exactly why I panicked. I've been in staff work for 11 years now and something I've always told my graduating seniors is that their twenties are going to be harder than they think. That transition from having magically wonderful long breaks every few months of one's life, of a schedule that includes long meals with friends every day, easy-to-find friends and community- well, it can pretty much disappear about 24 hours after graduation.  The twenties are filled with goodbyes and transitions. I said goodbye to the best college roommates possible, a faith community that shaped me in uncountable ways, a campus I had fallen in love with, the home and town I grew up in, the idea of ever living with my parents again, being single, my personal space and the vague illusion that I was still somehow young enough to have few responsibilities. I transitioned to new homes, marriage, parenthood, jobs, friendships and an increasing awareness of my own smallness in the vast scale of the world. Much of this was good, but it is also exhausting to be in constant flux.

When I turned 30 I rejoiced. I looked forward to a potentially calmer decade. Of course, right around that time we decided that Reed would pursue grad school and we'd make another huge transition by leaving our church, neighborhood, city, jobs and friends to move from Virginia to North Carolina. Despite all the change, however, this has felt different. It has felt calmer and sweeter than most of the earlier transitions. I have felt more rooted, more relaxed about the transience of our life. My pastor recently said that he hopes our souls are more rested at 80 than they are at 25. My first thought, "Well, they'd freaking better be!" thankfully didn't fly out of my mouth. I ruminated to myself instead. How sad would it be to hit that age and be more restless than I was 10 years ago?

The thing is that when I really thought about that gray hair, after what I can only deduce to have been a full-scale-societal-pressure-influenced freakout, I thought it might actually be a little bit beautiful. Another notch on that perpetual wall where we measure how grown up we're getting. Aging has this nasty connotation to it in America -  that something wrong or bad or evil is happening to us, that it's something we have to arrest at all costs. Every beauty commercial out there is geared toward telling me how to stay young-looking. But why? Why should I yearn to look the way I did 10 years ago, why should I wish that my life would stand still or that my face and head shouldn't reflect the ups and downs of the life I'm living? If I want my soul to be more rested at the age of 80 than it was at 25, this is yet another area of change that I have to embrace. Like the craters and pock-marks my own soul has suffered, my body will have to endure some changes, too.

It's up to me not to "age gracefully" (does anyone else feel like that's a condescending term, anyway?) but to live life each day, gray hair sprouting and wrinkles forming around my eyes, with my eyes pointed in the direction of my Lord, not at what's happening to my face or what used to be in my life. Because the reality is that I wouldn't want to be 25 again. I like who I am. I like being in my mid-thirties and that my stability is not rooted right now in the fact that we've "settled" somewhere. The truth is that we haven't. There are still more adventures in our future and we know not where or when. That should terrify me. But the internal chaos that accompanied all the transitions when I was younger is increasingly absent. The ways my soul has changed make the unknowns and the growing up less painful. And way more fun. Some people say it's all downhill after 30. Well, I'll just hop on a sled and enjoy the ride, then. Sounds like a lot less work than climbing uphill all the time.

Proverbs 20:29 says "the glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old." 

I say bring on the splendor.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Christmas Creep

It's the night before Thanksgiving and I am pretty much done with my Christmas shopping. The last time I was in a store on Black Friday I was a sporting goods store employee dealing with harried, rude customers with a nasty turkey hangover fighting over the newest Columbia jacket. (You know you had one. You wore it every day to high school with jeans, hiking boots and a flannel shirt.)  I vowed as I left the mall that afternoon that I would never be responsible for subjecting any other human being to what I experienced that day. And I've kept my vow.

Here's the deal. I do my best to be done with Christmas shopping by November 1st. Sometimes that happens, sometimes life prevents it. Most years this has meant that I don't have to deal with the crowds or even the decorations and pop Christmas music being played over and over. And over. For the record, if you are sick of that music, think about the people who hear the corporate holiday cd played thousands of times over the course of the season. I'm surprised they don't all rebel and start throwing merchandise at the speakers (or us) by December 1st. Some of you might be thinking I'm crazy and why in the world wouldn't I want to shop to Justin Bieber's version of some previously sacred tune? The answer is simple: I want the Christmas season to actually be about Christmas. And the way America is going, that's getting harder and harder. The Christmas creep means that I've got to be finished shopping before Halloween to avoid the overblown Christmasland of the stores. Really, people?

I want to make something clear. I love Christmas. The reason I shop so early and am finished with that aspect of it is because I love Christmas so much that I actually want to be able to enjoy it. To remember what it's actually about. To not have December be my busiest, most stressful month of the year. To let my son see a mom who is just resting, soaking in the joy of the expectation of her Savior, rather than running from store to store frantically buying stuff, so busy that I even forget to do our advent calendar with him in the mornings. I want what he experiences in that final month before Christmas not to rile him up for what will be under the tree but to be a chance for him to continue to learn about this God who loved him enough to send his Son to earth in the form of a little baby- to really ponder that unbelievable, world-altering, life-changing good news. To cultivate in him at a young age the idea that Christmas isn't about Macy's or Santa or, to be blunt, him. I want the story of Christmas to saturate our household so much that when the day actually arrives the presents under the tree aren't the focus because it's not what we've been waiting for. Jesus is the focus because HE is what we've been waiting for. For the record, this is why we don't do Santa or Elf on the Shelf around here. I never want my son to think that Christmas morning is about him or that it's some kind of reflection of how well he has behaved this year. We give gifts because we give them. Not because he deserves them.

And I've decided that there is one kind of Christmas creep that I should be supporting. Advent is this beautiful time when we often get better about creating and implementing family traditions that point to our Savior. And why, for goodness sake, shouldn't that creep into the rest of my year? I should be creating these types of traditions for February and June and October, not just late November when we're setting up the advent calendar and manger scene and wondering, yet again, what this Jesse tree thing is. Sure, we talk about God around here, we say our prayers, we discuss what we learn in Sunday school and read the Jesus Storybook Bible to our son like everyone else our age seems to do, but what daily practices are we implementing into the life of our family to make sure that we are not just worshiping our own family life but that we are actually worshiping God?

This advent, with the shopping done and the decorations going up this coming weekend, I'm looking forward to peaceful mornings over coffee to ponder this question. How can the real Christmas creep into the rest of our year? How can I cultivate an atmosphere of joy and expectation of encountering the living God well after we take down the tree and turn off the Christmas lights?

And how, for the love of all that is good and holy, can I avoid hearing any more Justin Bieber music ever again? 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Battle of the Sexes

I started second grade in a brand new school, good old Austin Road. When you start a new school, you tend to also start a new bus route. While the bus was never my favorite form of transportation, I remember making a friend early on that year. A sweet girl by the name of Jackie. I would get on the bus before her and wait anxiously until she joined me and we could enjoy the rest of the ride together. Those first 10 minutes alone were some of the least favorite of my day because, let's be honest, you just never know what's going to happen on a school bus.

The thing about Jackie was, she was kind of a tomboy, too. She played sports and liked to spend recess running around just like I did. And I remember this one conversation we had on the way to school more than anything else we ever did together. There we were, 7 years old, talking about why the boys in our class seemed to not want to talk or play with us and how we didn't always feel comfortable hanging out with the other girls. (At the time, I didn't realize that particular conundrum would become a theme in my life.) So, we devised a plan. Our devious little minds decided that if we were to actually walk into Mrs. DelGrosso's class talking about the Yankee game the night before, the boys might actually let us play with them. It wasn't hard for either of us to talk about it, both our dads were pretty obsessed with baseball and the games were always on at home. We'd both been to Yankee Stadium(the old one in the Bronx) and seen games in person and genuinely enjoyed the game. I think the plan even worked for a time. The boys couldn't resist chiming in on our, I'm sure, startlingly poignant observations about the most recent matchup. We had moved over to their turf, the world of sports. We were interesting. We were ok. For girls, that is.

It's interesting to me how often this memory comes back to me. For years I remembered it just as a silly story, as a small triumph in manipulation, in the power of becoming all things to all people. But more recently it reminds me of a deeper issue in our world, this way in which the "things of women" are often portrayed as less interesting, more silly, certainly less worth the time for most of us than the "things of men". I use quote marks because I hate that we put these interests into gendered categories at all. It's the same problem that labeled me, an athletic girl, as a tomboy or that makes people worry when a little boy likes dance or art more than his soccer games. The same issue that made me proud of being a tomboy and terrified of being a "girly girl." That made me struggle with feeling thankful that I was born a woman. Yes, I confess it. I've added to the problem just as much as the next person.  
 Don't hear me wrong. I am not trying to argue that there are no differences between men and women. I think there are beautiful ways in which we often approach life from different angles and we need each other to understand the world more fully because of that. But when my son says things like "I can't get that, it's a girl color" or tells me that the girls won't play with him at school, I wonder why it has been so easy for this divide to take root. I wonder at which point his friends will start to make fun of girls for the things they like to play. I wonder if they'll say things that I heard from boys growing up, things about my general inferiority or silliness or those backhanded compliments along the line of "you're different from other girls, you like sports" or "you can be one of the guys".

We own a board game called "Battle of the Sexes." I have no idea who got this game for me, but whoever it was no doubt thought it would be perfect. After all, half my life could probably be summed up by that phrase. The point of the game is for men to have to answer questions that women would typically know the answer to and vice versa. Um, can anybody say stereotypes?! Here's the deal with this game: every single time we have played it with people, the women have won. And every single time the men have complained that the game is unfair. It's my opinion that it probably is unfair, but only because it's reflective of a culture that makes it necessary for me to know more about "guy stuff" than men have to know about "girl stuff." The way we do gender is, a lot of the time, messed up.

Now, as a parent, I want my little boy to feel free to be who he is. To not feel bound by certain things, like the color of a toy or shirt, to learn how to respect the differences between him and the little girls he plays with and to not grow into the perspective that one gender is inherently better than the other. I want the little girls he is friends with to be given the chance to be themselves and not be at risk of being called a tomboy or girly-girl or needing to say or do a certain thing so the boys will think they are cool enough to hang out with. I want toy manufacturers to think hard about ways to engage kids that don't just play into stereotypes, challenging kids to explore all facets of their imagination, to put things on the market like this new female-oriented engineering toy, GoldiBlox, you can read about here or watch the video below. . If I had a daughter, you'd better believe I'd be pre-ordering. I might just get it for my son, in spite of his aversion to pink as a girl color.

Mostly, I don't want my kid to ever have to feel like this is a battle, that there is some inherent war going on between him and the girls in his life. I lived like that for way too long myself. It's a whole lot easier to just go ahead and be yourself and love the people around you for who they are than to constantly fight. To speak truth when necessary and to refuse to go along with the status quo when it's wrong, to take those parenting moments when you have the opportunity to impart some huge piece of wisdom on the subject and use them well. To refuse to get into those conversations, seemingly harmless, that jokingly bash the opposite gender or perpetuate harmful stereotypes on either side. To be light in one area in a world that still has a long way to go to be a just and safe place to live for all people.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Orphan Sunday

There are a lot of made up holidays out there. National Mustache Month, Talk Like a Pirate Day, Valentine's Day. Most of these holidays that aren't really connected with something significant don't make much of an impact on the global scene. My life stays relatively unchanged even if I choose to walk around saying "argh" for one day of the year.

But last Sunday was Orphan Sunday. Yes, another truly made up day. A day initially started in Zambia that spread across the world for churches to talk about the orphan situation. To talk about the millions of children who are without families due to war, disease, natural disasters and abandonment and all the implications that go along with being alone in this world. To challenge individuals, families and churches to think about what role they might play in alleviating this tragic problem. A made-up holiday that has the potential of actually impacting millions of lives.

My church put together a video highlighting families that have already adopted as part of a way to talk about Orphan Sunday and showed it during the service. As I sat in my chair, I swung back and forth from laughter to hope to sadness at the scope of the problem. I beamed seeing several families from my own life group represented and being so honored to be a part of their lives as they've walked this incredible journey. You can see the video below.

CHBC Adoption Families

As a family who is actively waiting to adopt and one who is part of a community that is full of adoptive families, Orphan Sunday didn't feel wildly different than usual. We think about this all the time. We wonder if there are other things we can be doing while we wait. I'm so proud to be a part of a community that cares about this issue and is asking questions on a corporate scale. I'm glad that after the service, people could walk into the lobby and immediately start sponsoring a child or get information from a number of adoptive agencies. Things are happening here.

But I know it's not the same everywhere. When I hear people say things like "Wow, you're doing such a great thing" or "I don't think I could do that" I just want to ask why. Why is something that is all over the scriptures and something that is such a massive issue on the global scale something that so few families think critically about? Why is it so often "plan B" for so many of us, something we might eventually think about if we can't have biological children or only after we've had as many biological children as we want? 

Friends, don't hear me wrong. I don't necessarily think everyone should adopt. Maybe some of us aren't built for the specific types of challenges that come with this. Maybe we have children who wouldn't do well with added stress in the family. Maybe you are reading this and have a spouse who would never consider it even if you might. Who knows? What I am saying is that this problem is huge. And it's something we can't afford to ignore, especially if you call yourself a Christian. So I think it's always worth asking "How can I be involved with this issue, right here and right now."  And being open to at least laying the bigger question before God that might say "What role should I and my family play in adoption in the future? Are we meant to adopt?"

On Orphan Sunday last week, my pastor prayed a very vulnerable prayer before his sermon. He confessed to God that he was afraid of what asking some of these questions could mean for his family. He wasn't sure he would like the answer. But he was convinced by scripture and the need in the world that he still needed to ask these questions and he needed to be willing to hear the answers. And he reminded us all that God does a lot of work in us between the time when we ask a question like that and the fruition of the answer. What might be fear now could be transformed to something else in the waiting. I know this has proved true for us, even as we wait amid so much uncertainty in our own adoption process.

So, I challenge you, friends. Read about Orphan Sunday. Become aware of the huge scope of the problem every day. Check out your foster system or a local adoption agency or orphanage and see what needs they have. Be willing to ask God "What role might you have for me in all this?" and then be willing to hear the answer. Scary or not, if we trust our lives to God and care deeply for the state of the "least of these" in this world, the question is always worth asking.

Monday, November 5, 2012

For Love of Legos: Livin' the Party Life!

My son turned 6 this week. The only gifts he now asks for are legos and percussive instruments. That's it. And you can imagine that being an only grandchild and only nephew on both sides, that he tends to get what he asks for. This year, to round out the fully lego-centric year we had, he wanted a lego birthday party. I, in my delusional clinging to an increasingly elusive free schedule, obliged, meaning that I probably spent way too many hours working on creative plans to make a great event.

As a disclaimer, most of the following pictures are not necessarily completely original ideas. The internet is replete with wonderful examples of lego parties. I added my own fun spin to a few things. Mostly, it was a blast to put things together with him and to enjoy watching him share his love of legos with friends from school, church and soccer!  I decided to post this just in case any of you who have kids who are similarly obsessed might enjoy a little (very inexpensively done) inspiration! Enjoy!
The Invitation (With location specifics blurred out!)

The Invitation: I found a lego font online (legothick), discovered a legobrick background on a google image search, added the specifics and "voila!" I just addressed the other side and mailed them as postcards.

The Welcome: We had to welcome the kids to legoland! I confused one poor parent who thought that there must be a place called Legoland in Durham and tried to Mapquest it, but for the most part, it was just a clever way to describe the location.
Welcome to Legoland!

Then, of course, we had to plan for the food. I am never, nor have I claimed to be, all that into cooking. The idea of coming up with clever, lego-themed foods and actually being able to create them was a tad overwhelming. Thankfully, there were a lot of great ideas on the internet. We decided to make Lego cakes, Lego Chocolate bricks and Lego Pops.

 The lego pops: They are quite simply one large marshallow and one small one stuck together with yellow candy. Then you spread the whole thing with more yellow candy, let it harden and draw on the faces. I wrapped a piece of floral foam with tissue paper and made a label with my fun lego font and there you go.
 The choco bricks: I found a plastic mold for $1.27 on amazon and melted chocolate chips to make my own little lego shaped chocolates. Cost almost nothing. Again, made fun little labels and wrapped them up. These were in our favor bags.

The cake: I made a 9 x 13 sheet cake and shaved off the dome after cooling. Used some gel coloring to make red, yellow and blue frosting. Cut large marshmallows in half to make the dots on the "brick" and then iced the whole thing. There were two long bricks and two square bricks. The kids loved getting to choose which color lego brick they could eat!

Minifigure Head Cookie Decorating:
Decorating Cookie Heads
I made sugar cookies in the shape of lego minifigure heads. We set out a bunch of bowls of frosting and candy as well as some gel writers and let the kids have fun making their minifigure faces.

The Clues!
Putting together their cars!

The Scavenger Hunt: I broke the kids up into three teams- Blue, Red and Yellow. Good solid lego colors, of course. I came up with clues that would lead them to little bags of legos. Their final clue came with instructions on how to put their legos together into little cars. Each team had to find all their clues and then race to put together their cars. It was fun to see their brains work to find the clues, looking under tables and climbing in the backyard and then to work together following instructions to put them together. I think it was definitely a success!
Looking for clues!

Indoor Game: Anyone up for "Build-a-Minifigure? These kids were!  I just used card stock and came up with 10 different body parts to pin up. Like the traditional pin games, they were blindfolded and got to try to put the pieces up on a white piece of cardstock on the wall!

Kids Working Hard!

Our Completed Minifigure!

 And, of course, the Goody Bags! Josh had a lot of fun tracing the circles and helping me tape them to the bags. I found a pack of these cute little bags at 5 Below, made up some nametags with my favorite new font, filled them with the choco-bricks, some lego coloring pages, a lollipop and we added their minifigure cookies, nicely wrapped, to take home with them.

Overall, I think the kids had a great time. Apparently, today in Sunday school, my son offered up a prayer of thanks that his mom and dad gave him a lego party. So, we feel pretty confident he enjoyed himself!

Here's to legos, the most amazing toy in the world and the first and last thing my son wants to do every day of his life.