Friday, June 24, 2011

My conscience needs a break.

With every passing year, the list of forbidden and required behaviors grows longer. I can just imagine the Happy Days remake where Fonzie gets fined every time he pulls up to the Cunningham’s without his motorcycle helmet. In the early 80’s, I knew a four year old who had a booster seat for the car and thought her parents were nerds

Now I’m the nerd, ah-gain, and to some degree it’s my own fault. I just couldn’t have another baby without reading the updated version of What to Expect the First Year. I’ve dutifully reminded myself of all the musts and must-nots required to bring a child safely through her first year. Now I must obey, because once I know something could harm my child, I couldn’t live with myself if something happened and I wasn’t obeying the rules. The car seat straps must be snug; the dog isn’t allowed to be loose in the room with her; big sisters have to wash their hands before playing with her; the pacifier has to be sterilized once a week; no rides in the bike trailer until she can sit up on her own; the only place higher than the floor she gets to lay is in the crib. The crib - which brings me to the biggest joke on new parents the scientific community has discovered to date.

As of today, my daughter is three months old. She has slept in a crib or bassinet all of never since we left the hospital. Now that sleeping babies are to be placed exclusively on their back, on a firm, hard surface, without blankets or bedding, I can completely understand why SIDS deaths have gone down – babies don’t sleep! If they aren’t asleep, they can’t die in their sleep!

In three tries, not one of my daughters has enjoyed sleeping on her back, on a hard mattress, without blankets or bedding. The first did most of her nighttime sleeping cuddled on my chest while I was propped up in a corner of the couch, half-awake with worry that she’d roll off of me, because the book said not to sleep with the baby on my chest, but I was desperate. The second was a non-stop eater, so we’d both end up asleep by the time she finished nursing. When she’d fuss, we’d roll over and she’d latch on the other side. It’s OK, What to Expect people, we weren’t co-sleeping; we were using the side-lying nursing position. That makes it OK, right? It’s too late to complain, she survived.

Desperation drove us to try putting our third girl in her car seat one night. Every time she fell asleep in the car, she’d stay asleep in her car seat another hour, once we got home. Something must be working, right? Getting her to fall asleep and putting her in the crib or bassinette, she would only sleep for 20 minutes. Just enough for us to almost doze off, before abruptly being back on duty. So, the car seat it is. She sleeps there every night, and has, as a result, been our best sleeper of the three. The crib is just a glorified changing table and, friends, you should always borrow a bassinet. They’re a waste of money, because babies never sleep in them, anyway. Someday they’re going to make one that cradles babies like their car seats, and when they do, babies will sleep again!

I’m glad for the declining SIDS rate. I don’t take lightly the heartbroken mothers whose babies stopped breathing in their sleep. I wonder that these little creatures are wired to prefer so thoroughly the very position that endangers them – sleeping on their bellies.

It is the seriousness of the potential outcome, no matter how remote the odds against it, that keeps me following all those tyrannical rules, from bike helmets, to car seats, to belly sleeping. But some days, my conscience just needs a break!

If you have good sense, instruction will help you to have even better sense. And if you live right, education will help you to know even more. Proverbs 9:9

Friday, June 17, 2011

I’ve taken my family for granted.

It is a tremendous blessing that I have a large extended family. I have dozens of first cousins, beloved aunts and uncles, and grandparents whose longevity gave us the motivation to gather regularly and savor the great storytelling, hearty joking, and comfort of familiarity. Unfortunately, this cherished extended family lives stretched across the country, from Chicago to Arizona and from Texas to Wyoming. It is no easy task, staying close over the miles. I remember, a few months after starting college, feeling isolated and alone. I concluded that what I most needed was the comfort of a hug; something so simple, but so unavailable, in a place where my longest acquaintance was two months’.

Shortly into my college career, I began attending church. At first, I sneaked in the back unnoticed. My attendance was sporadic, and even the beloved greeter, who typically dropped by with a flower or cookie for visitors, never took notice of me. Eventually, however, I got up the courage to ask the choir director about joining the choir. She was kind and friendly and seemed happy to have me come to a rehearsal. At that first rehearsal, I was warmly welcomed and quickly found that these jolly souls, mainly my parents’ and grandparents’ age, appreciated what musical abilities I could offer, and even welcomed my weird sense of humor.

In the years since, I’ve had ups and downs with my church family. I have a deep appreciation for how they acknowledged and encouraged my call to ministry, adding me to staff and helping me get a seminary degree. Unfortunately, local church ministry can also be frustrating. Sometimes the demand to be constantly available, the sense of closeness that such a large church family feels for me and my family, can challenge my need for privacy, and my desire to be with and enjoy my biological family. Sometimes the generational differences in what effective ministry looks and feels like create barriers between us that feel insurmountable and make me question my calling. In the last year, especially with the overwhelming demands of pregnancy and newborn care, I’ve let the occasional snarky or insensitive comments of church members play on me more than usual. Even just a few abrasive people can sometimes lead me to group the whole church together as unappreciative and demanding.

Lately, I’ve been unfair. In a world where technology and distance have often disconnected people from each other, our church has offered a sanctuary of familial connection. They have surrounded my family with prayer during our trials and sorrows. Their joy in our return after maternity leave has been palpable. There are dear friends among them who demand to babysit my kids now and then while we have a dinner date, or else they complain that we’ve been hording them. My newest daughter has an exceptional collection of blankets, sleepers, rattles, and a beautiful cross-stitch birth sampler, received in equal shares from biological and church family who waited anxiously for her arrival, poised to love her heartily. I arrived home this week to find that my mailbox had been overloaded with the cards of well wishers, offering their condolences and prayers for my grandma’s death. I’ve taken for granted the love and connection that many others long for and live without. While other new mothers long for company, I must turn visitors away. While others face the burden of sorrow alone, I am humbled by an outpouring of empathy.

I am so grateful that in a lonely city, I found myself at home among people of faith, who long to love others as Jesus did. We don’t always agree on how that love should be expressed, but we do always agree on the one great source from whom it comes.

I pray that the Lord Jesus Christ will bless you and be kind to you! May God bless you with his love, and may the Holy Spirit join all your hearts together. 2 Corinthians 13:13

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pioneers are either wacky or lucky.

No one ever reads the Little House books and says, "I'd like to be Mary Ingalls." Aside from the fact that she went blind and died an old maid, being such a model of decorum and grace must have been such a bore. Like every reader, I wanted to be Laura. Imagine the freedom of roaming barefoot on the prairie, with the sky wide open above and the wind blowing through your hair. Who cares if society frowns on your tanned arms, or that you might be hijacked by buffalo wolves out there on the prairie?

On our long drive to Grandma’s funeral, my husband and I listened to By the Shores of Silver Lake. I’d checked the book on CD out for my daughters, but they quickly lost interest. We adults, however, found it fascinating to hear her first-hand account of being the very first settlers in a brand new town at the end of the railroad grade, before the tracks had even been laid that far west. It led us to ponder the motivation of the pioneers. What possesses someone to give up everything they have, to put their life and livelihood, as well as that of their children, on the line, in the mere hopes that something better might lay on the other side of the horizon? Granted, Uncle Sam was giving away 160 acre farms, but really, don’t you have to be a little wacky to take that kind of risk?

My brother works for a new kind of pioneer. He’s helping build rockets, as space exploration is becoming a privatized endeavor. His boss got rich on technology stocks and decided he wanted to go to Mars. When no one would help, he started his own company with that goal. Hence, wacky or lucky. Or maybe both.

There are things I am passionate about, no doubt. I’ve made sacrifices and worked hard for a number of different endeavors over the course of my years so far, however, I’ve never been a pioneer, by any stretch. Sometimes I dream of pioneering – finding something no one’s tried before, something about which I’m insanely passionate – and putting it all on the line to make a go of it. Maybe I’d just be wacky, but who knows? Maybe I’d be lucky, too?

I am creating something new. There it is! Do you see it? I have put roads in deserts, streams in thirsty lands. Isaiah 43:19

Friday, June 3, 2011

I don’t know what Women’s Lib even looks like.

When I was a kid, I thought the Bunkers were my grandparents. Literally. During my early childhood, on my parents’ TV each week, they appeared to be identical to my grandma and grandpa; so much so, I remember it being confusing. On visits to their house, my grandpa could be found ruling from his throne in the living room, while Grandma was always in the kitchen, making him dinner. He’d interrupt her meal preparations periodically to have her come change the channel for him, and she’d drop whatever she was doing and come flip the dial. I loved my grandparents, but I knew from a young age that I was not going to have that kind of marriage. Grandma never even got a driver’s license; she was dependent on Grandpa to take her wherever she needed to go. When I pictured my someday life, a doting, enslaved wife was the last thing I wanted to be.

 I was blessed that as I grew up, I had the chance to know Grandma better. I eventually realized that my first impression of her could not have been more wrong. The woman I first thought of disparagingly as her family’s housekeeper and cook became one of my greatest role models. My same grandma, who refused to get a driver’s license, had once hotwired a Model T with a hairpin and took her aunt on an afternoon road trip, just to spite her cranky uncle. Grandma, who served and doted on grandpa, had once assisted in his appendectomy. She likes to say she “already knew him inside out” before they dated.

Part of why Grandma had seemed so old-fashioned to me was because she was far older than my other grandparents. She was nearly an old maid, by the time she married Grandpa – thirty. She once explained to me her reason for marrying so late, “it was not for lack of opportunity,” she clarified. There was a war going on, and she wasn’t going to marry someone, just to have him go off and die in battle. Despite the pressure to conform, Grandma stood her ground. Sure enough, she married Grandpa after a short three months of courtship – once the war was over.

I also realized that if Grandma hadn’t wanted to change the channel, the TV would not have survived a day in the house. Tenacity is one of Grandma’s essential characteristics. Having waited so long to get married, becoming a mother wasn’t easily either. Her first child was a micro-preemie, born in an age when micro-preemies were miscarriages. Grandpa once described how my aunt could fit in the palm of his hand when she was born. Grandma never got big enough to wear maternity clothes. But her nurse-friends at the hospital all chipped in to get Grandma an incubator and they sent the baby home for Grandma to watch over. She pumped her milk and coddled that little baby – I believe she willed her daughter to survive. And if Grandma makes up her mind, only God can come between her and what she wants. My aunt grew up without any developmental impairments.

When the doctor delivered the news that Grandma’s second child had been born with a cleft palate, she matter-of-factly retorted that she was just going to have to love him double. Her nurse-friends came through again, with softer nipples from bottles that had already been broken in by other babies. She filled her baby’s cleft with those soft nipples, so he could suck and get the nourishment. He was another baby willed by my grandma to survival.

She kept her promise, too.  She's spent the rest of her life, loving my dad double.  And most people never guess the serious birth defect he overcame.

My grandparents, off on an adventure
 together in their younger days.
Grandma didn't become the first female astronaut or build a personal empire, but she made a way for herself, by herself when necessary.  She's been on her own again, since Grandpa died over 20 years ago.  Serving her family was a calling for her; one she pursued with all the energy and conviction she had.  She knew who she was and what she wanted and nothing would stand in her way.  I've learned from her what a gift it is to have a loving, committed marriage, and to bear and raise healthy kids - and that, as long as you have a choice, choosing to serve others is noble, not demeaning.

Grandma's 95th birthday is next month, but it looks like she'll celebrate that one with Grandpa and Jesus.  That is, of course, unless she makes up her mind not to go.

After Jesus sat down and told the twelve disciples to gather around him, he said, "If you want the place of honor, you must become a slave and serve others!" Mark 9:35