Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Jesus Bean

I'm struggling this morning. I was up way too late last night with our church moms group, and I'm not really ready to parent yet. Unfortunately, it's 11am. I should get my act in gear. Can I still blame it on post-vacation jet lag? 
Anyway, my moms group consists of some of the kindest, wisest women I know. They take their vocation as a parent very seriously, and see their task of raising children who love God as an honor and calling. But they're also scientists, healthcare providers, business women, computer programmers, teachers, etc. I admire them all greatly, and feel nourished by their support, encouragement, and practical advice. Oh, and their amazing cooking. We have some really good cooks in our church. I really love our get-togethers. 

So I'm struggling this morning. I will admit to hiding under the covers this morning and letting BestestHusband manage the kids. After clothing LittleFritter, I plopped her in her high chair with some toast and left MeToo in charge. And went back to bed. When I finally went down to the kitchen again, I was greeted by the announcement, "MeToo found my Jesus Bean!"

I bought a king cake for Mardi Gras. It didn't come with a little plastic baby, so I hid a dried bean inside, instead. This is the pre-plastic method. A chickpea, to be precise. It was supposed to represent the baby Jesus, in preparation for Ash Wednesday and Lent. And whoever got the bean in their slice of cake got to wear the Mardi Gras mask that came with the cake. Not sure how Wegmans decided to add that part to the tradition, but whatever. 

HurricaneDebbie got the bean. She was elated. And she wore the mask. She was over the moon. And the Jesus Bean became her new best friend. She carried it everywhere. And lost it about every 90 seconds. And became frantic when she couldn't find it. And rejoiced when it was found again. 
And then she couldn't find it, and eventually moved on.
Until this morning.

Me: "What are you going to do with the Jesus Bean?"
HD: "We're going to do yoga, then exercise, then play dress up, and then sing the Licker Song to Cameron."

So the Jesus Bean has a busy morning planned. I hope it survives. 
Because HurricaneDebbie wants it to go to California with BestestHusband on his business trip. 

You can't make this stuff up. You need a 3 year old to do it for you.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ashes

I wrangled my youngest two children to noontime Ash Wednesday services today. The 7pm service was in the middle of the Wednesday night gymnastics/dinner/bedtime shuffle. An infant and pre-schooler who are still jet lagged and out-of-sorts do not belong at church during their lunch and nap hours. But they don't really belong at 7pm, either. 

I can tell you that it felt like penance. It was painful. The floor looked like a war zone when we were done. And anyone looking for a place for peaceful reflection and worship should not be sitting anywhere on our side of church. Peaceful it was not.

But I truly appreciate Ash Wednesday. The Lenten season has become an increasingly important time of the year as I journey through life. It is a time to focus on weakness. We don't typically like to do that in our society. But as I get older, I feel my weakness and frailty more. No, not just the physical stuff. (Actually, my back is better than it used to be, and I enjoy exercise more than I used to.) But my weakness to control my world, to control myself. With every passing year, I become more aware of my failures, my incompetence, and the miraculous grace of God that puts the good stuff in my life and gets me from one day to the next. 

A Bible reading from a few Sundays back really stuck with me: The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians that he would boast about his weaknesses, in order to point more to God's power. Because despite pleading to God 3 times to have the tormenting thorn in his flesh removed, God refused. "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."(2 Corinthians 12:9) No one really knows what his thorn, "a messenger from Satan", really was. I suspect it was much worse than my laziness and niggling character flaws. But it reminded Paul of God's power and grace in his life.

So recently I have also come to appreciate my flaws as a reminder that I'm not in control, and never will be. I'd love to be better. More disciplined, more patient, more self-controlled... But these are fruits of the Spirit. They only come from God. I can't manufacture them by sheer will and effort. They are gifts I need to ask for and receive. And when I get them, I need to acknowledge where they come from.

The girls came to the altar rail with me to receive ashes on their foreheads. LittleFritter was a moving target for poor Pastor. But the effect of his dark smudge of ash on her little forehead was striking. Her little round, cherubic head with little blonde locks was a sharp contrast to the blackness of the ash. But it was a reminder of our sinful nature that we can't escape.  Even at that age.

I've always been told that you don't have to teach a child how to sin. It's born into us all. I know I certainly didn't teach HurricaneDebbie the shenanigans she attempts these days. Nor did I teach her sisters before her. But children are also born with the ability to receive what they need and depend on their providers. Children bring such little ability and skill into the world. They must receive everything they need. I like to say that God knows what he's doing when He makes them cute. They need a lot. All the time.

But as adults, so do we. LittleFritter has the gift of a simple faith that all that she needs will be provided. And as a loving family, we haven't let her down. But we adults have the burden of a faith corrupted by our own need for autonomy, independence, and the pride that comes along with it. Our emotional and spiritual needs are so much more complicated than a child's. Because we think we can satisfy so much of what we need by ourselves, that we forget the ability to just receive. And we wonder what went wrong when we weren't able to do it on our own.

To me, this is the gift of Lent. It is a horribly depressing season of the church year that reminds us just how depraved and evil we humans are. And how helpless we are to fix ourselves. But it also focuses our minds on how to escape the evilness of our world. And it's only through God. 

So I'll try to be thankful for my petty little thorns of the flesh. Giving up chocolate or Facebook this Lent won't help me this year. I know how much I struggle with my appetites and how much pride I feel when I abstain. I think I'll just wallow in my neediness. And try to approach the days like a child, completely aware of my need and dependence on the Giver. 

May your Lenten season be a blessing, and may the cold of winter quickly melt to the warmth (or promise of warmth!) of spring.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Season of Darkness

My heart has felt pretty heavy lately. A blanket of gloom and foreboding has settled in over my soul. I smile, I laugh with the girls, I crack jokes. But underneath, I feel an undercurrent of worry and dread. 

Some would blame it on the recent election. Perhaps that's a factor. But honestly, neither candidate gave me hope or joy. 
Maybe it's people's behavior around the election. Maybe. I've been pretty disappointed by the way people have spoken to one another before and after the election. I've lost a little hope in people. And that's not typical of me...
Maybe it's the weather. The days are getting short. Darkness settles early. The raw cold of early winter is creeping in. And winter is always my worst season.

Maybe my moods are starting to align with the church's liturgical calendar. This past Sunday marked the beginning of Advent. We spent the previous few Sundays talking about the end of the world. Pretty dark stuff. And before the world ends, it's supposed to get even scarier. Some people might say that the signs of the End Times are all around us now. Maybe. But I suspect 1st century Christians said the same thing. And the world is still here... 

But Advent is a time to look forward to the arrival of a savior. Some might say that's a happy, optimistic thing. But when do you most anticipate the arrival of a savior? When things suck. The more life makes you suffer, the more you want deliverance. The more you dwell on the heartache and hardship of this life, the more you know we need help. The more you hurt, the more you pray for relief.

Many people look to political leaders for deliverance. I am always perplexed when people speak of their political candidate as the one who will save us. "Hope", "Change we can believe in", and "Make America Great Again". Campaign slogans from the last few elections tried to convince us that voting for the right person would save us from all of our problems. And that one person would truly be our savior. Some people attributed god-like qualities to their candidates. But alas, they have all been human. And as humans, they have their foibles. And inevitably, they fail us. 

I've decided over the last few years to emphasize the season of Advent for the girls. I want the leadup to Christmas to be more than just the anticipation of gifts. We have a calendar with compartments that hold candies, Bible verses, and activities for the girls to do. We try to focus on gifting to others, rather than just anticipating packages under the tree. It's a lot of work. But I've always considered it to be an important use of my time and energy. I only have a short amount of time to set the traditions that they will carry forward to their own families, and pass along to their own children. When they are older, the anticipation can be more faith-building and less crafty. I hope. Although I'm sure they'll still demand the candy...

But I need an Advent focus for myself. I know that I'll get something out of re-reading the Christmas story in the Bible. One of the wonders of the Bible is that you can read it over and over and still learn something from it each time. But I'm thinking about how to do more. Instead of fighting the feelings of gloom and dread, maybe I should let myself sink down into it a bit more. Maybe instead of self-medicating through food or caffeine or alcohol, I should deprive myself of that comforts and just feel the frustration, the sadness, the heartache of the world. Wrap myself in the darkness so that I can more keenly yearn for the light. 

Our savior will never live in the White House. No human can completely save us. We were all born with the same sinful natures. Our salvation needs to come from a higher power. I think this season of darkness - the 4:00pm sunsets, the incidences of hate crimes, the fear of things to come - can be a preparation for the light and joy of Christmas. The darker the night, the brighter that star must have looked to those Wise Men so many years ago. I think I'm ready to face the darkness.

Friday, November 25, 2016

America the Great

For more than a day now, the people of my hometown in Texas have been on a mission. A little boy was reported missing. He had slipped, barefoot, out of the house. Nine years old, with autism, he did not have a lot of survival skills. And while I grew up in a suburb of one of the largest cities in the country, the environment has woods, fields, and small bodies of water. Creeks of varying sizes wind through the area, and ponds and catch reservoirs are common. So while there are a lot of people, there are a lot of wild places that scared little boys can hide. And get hurt.

I've been watching from a distance, via Facebook feeds of old classmates and the city police department. A message was sent out to people who lived in the area where the little boy disappeared, to keep an eye out for him. And the message spread. People set out into the night to go look for him. People were desperate to find out where they could report for search duty. After they cleaned up from a day of feasting and tucked their children into bed, parents set out to look for a neighbor's child. A stranger's son, really. It turns out he's from Connecticut, visiting family in the area. Nobody knew him or his parents.

But they knew the fear. "There but for the grace of God go I." Every parent has felt the panic of not knowing where their child is. For most of us, it lasts a moment or two. And then we find them hiding in the clothes rack in the store. Or sitting quietly in our closet, trying on all of our shoes. Or siting on the front porch. Watching the traffic fly down the street, but thankfully staying in the safe confines of the porch. We breathe a prayer of thanksgiving, and vow never to let that happen again. But we know that it can. Children are curious. And fast. And our parental attention is drawn in so many directions.

So they put gas in their ATVs, found their flashlights and lanterns, and set out to help. The police had to ask people to stop coming. There were just too many volunteers.
"I thought of his parents. How terrified they must be. I just had to do something."
"Home from the search. Barely slept. But I can't imagine his parents slept, either."
The people were worried. They needed to help.

It was the same response from neighbors in Louisiana after the flooding a few months ago. Nicknamed the "Cajun Navy", anyone with a working boat set out to check in on their neighbors. Sure, the local officials and rescue crews were hard at work plucking people from the water. But it was the noncommissioned fleet that could be everywhere at the same time. Not because they were asked to by people in charge. But because they cared about their neighbors, and needed to help them.
I have no data. But I'd make a bet that the Cajun Navy made more rescues than the National Guard did. (Nothing against our wonderful Guard members. But there are only so many of them to go around...)

The recent election has saddened me. The tone of the commentary before and after has been harsh, even cruel. Accusations of racism and all forms of hatred have flown across both sides of the aisle. I've even seen people questioning how one can even call themselves Christian if they voted for the other politician. The heightening of the "other"-ness has been frightening. Anyone who voted for your candidate is good, anyone who voted for the "other" is evil. 

But the most recent events in Pearland have encouraged me. People have responded like the missing child was one of their own. He did not belong to an "other" family. His absence was their personal loss. And they had to help. This is the America I grew up in. People house total strangers fleeing from a  hurricane. People give to those who have nothing, even if they have little to spare. People do the lawn care and winter shoveling of the frail lady next door and accept no payment but a hug. This is the America that I have always known. And despite what some might say, it still is great. It is the willingness to take on another's burdens and hurts and try to help that makes our country great. And the more we act on our empathy, even without being asked, the better we make our country.

So we obviously don't all agree on what our government's priorities should be. But each person trying to ease the burdens of those around them will do more collectively than even the most popular and powerful politician. America the Great is us. It is us setting out into the dark to find a stranger's little boy. It is us revving up the fishing boat to rescue people and pets and deter looters. It is us buying warm socks for the guy we see panhandling on our way to work every morning. It is us imagining the pain and fear of those who suddenly feel targeted by hatred and violence, and reaching out to them. It is us refusing to settle into the easy role of "me" vs. "others". 

Please pray for the family of Marcus. Please pray for the people of Pearland. They're worried, and tired, and they want to find that little boy safe and sound. And please pray for all of us. The election has left so many wounded, so many hard and cold, so many worried. We need empathy for each others' burdens. America is not our leaders. America is us. And together, we are great.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A Different Kind of Journey

Now that I'm back in Boston, I decided it's time to start another kind of journey. Unlike my last epic trip, I have no idea where the roads will take me.

Thirty-eight (ok, soon to be thirty-nine) years ago, a young woman had to make a decision. She was pregnant. She hadn't planned on starting a family yet. She hadn't gone to college yet. She hadn't started a career yet. She had plans. And having a baby wasn't really part of those plans. So she had a decision to make.

So she decided that the baby needed a family that was ready for her. A family that desperately wanted a baby. A family for whom a baby was part of the plan. So she planned to have the baby put up for adoption. She was given families to choose from. She chose one. The baby was born. And a family was called to be informed that their prayers had been answered. The baby became part of that family, and grew up to live a pretty wonderful life. She was raised by people who loved her very much, and everyone's plans seemed to work out pretty well.

And now the baby has four babies of her own. Yeah, if you haven't guessed it by now, that baby was me. I was adopted as an infant, raised by wonderful parents, and was aware of my adoption from an early age. I always figured that I'd try to find my biological mother some day. I wasn't sure when that day would come. But it would. Eventually.

Having kids really makes you think about family. Whose nose does she have? Whose ears? HeyMama looks an awful lot like BestestHusband's Aunt Marilyn. And LittleFritter looks a lot like me. HurricaneDebbie looks a lot like HeyMama. Who the heck does MeToo look like? No one on BestestHusband's side... So by process of elimination, she must look like someone I'm related to. But who am I related to?

Life is really busy. I'm really tired. Why am I starting this journey now?


I've been getting a lot of gentle nudges over the last few years. Friends who learned of the death of estranged family members said, "One day it will be too late." Friends asked "don't you want to know?" Friends linked blog posts about adoptions. It came up repeatedly in conversations. All of this was from completely unrelated people. This wasn't one person encouraging it. The encouragement has been coming from everywhere lately. Ok, but why now?


A few years ago, I had a counseling session with a social worker specializing in adoption relationships. This kind of session is a prerequisite for the organizations that organize match registries and help with reunions. We talked about different scenarios, different hazards and twists and turns in the road. Anything can happen, and she had seen a lot. I had to be prepared for a wide range of outcomes. 


It is possible that the woman closed the door on that part of her life, never to revisit the events, and would prefer to never think about the child again. I have to accept and respect that. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to bear and give up a child. I can't imagine what would be required to just lock up that time of my life and move on. To force that door open would be cruel. I wouldn't want to do that.


It is also possible that the woman thinks about that baby every October. It's possible that she wonders if she made the right decision. It's possible that she thinks about that little girl and imagines what she's doing now. Does she have children of her own? Is she ok? How have things turned out?

I have the answers to those questions. And if she wants them, I'd like to provide them.

Why right now? 


I have a baby. A very sweet baby. She's squishy and cuddly and has one little dimple. She likes to be kissed. She looks a lot like I did. I have three other sweet little girls. If that woman wonders what she missed when I was growing up, I can show her. I can't give her back those years, but I can give her the happy ending, with a hint of those missing years. None of us are getting any younger. I can't wait forever to start this process.


If nothing else, I want to say "Thank You." The woman had other options that she didn't choose. She didn't have to choose life. She could have had me removed from her body, never to bother anyone ever again. Abortion was legal then. But she didn't choose it. And for that I owe her a debt of gratitude.


I'd love to have a relationship with her and her family. Or I can remain a shadow of her past. I can accept either outcome. But I have to at least find her and let her know everything turned out ok. 


I don't know where this journey will take me. Not every road leads to somewhere nice. But I do know this is the right time to get started. The adoption happened in Nueces County, TX. I have reason to believe my biological family, including siblings of my biological mother, is still living in TX. I appreciate any help you can give in my journey, and any prayers you might have for my ride!


Friday, August 26, 2016

Coming Home

We're home. We're back in our own beds, back under our own roof. And a bit tired of driving. 
Ok, really tired of driving. 

This summer's journey was epic, in many ways. 

It will take several blog posts to truly unpack that statement. I likened it to natural birth and marathon running. It's uncomfortable and exhilarating, and I feel a bit more accomplished for doing it. And I learned a bit about myself. Will I do it again? Probably not with a baby ever again. But in a few years? Once the crying baby PTSD wears off a bit? Possibly. 

The topic of "coming home" is a surprisingly loaded one. 
I found myself crying when I realized we were back in the Eastern time zone. And again when we were on the Mass Pike, for the final hour of our journey. 
Boston is where BestestHusband was waiting for us. And two aging and neurotic shelties. "Home" is the 130 year old construction project we moved into last summer. Boston holds some of our dearest friends, and all of the plans for our immediate future. 
Why did "coming home" make me cry?

I couldn't help but notice, driving through the vast spaces in the middle of our country, how much I felt at peace. The sky was big. The roads were straight and wide. The people wherever we stopped were friendly. The expanses of green, the cornfields and forests, were soothing. 

It's important to know that I've never actually lived on a farm. Other than Boston, I've lived my life in small towns and moderate suburbs. There's no reason that the farms and ranches of the American heartland should make me feel at home. But they do. I felt a peace that I don't often feel here in Boston. Why should I feel at home driving through farmland in flyover country?

I spent my childhood near the Gulf coast, in Louisiana and Texas. Most of my memories are rooted in and around Pearland, TX, a suburb of Houston. My parents moved from there not long after I graduated from high school. My dad, a pastor, accepted calls in different churches that moved them further away from major airports. This is inconvenient when you go to school 2000 miles away. And consequently, I've only once since graduation been to the town that hosted most of my childhood. It's no longer a moderate suburb. It's pretty major now. I'm not sure I would recognize it as "home" even if I did go back regularly. Obviously, I enjoy my visits with my parents. Very much. But I call it "visiting my parents". It's not "visiting home". 

My husband's concept of "home" is very different. He spent his entire childhood in one house. This house is the one he returns to when he visits his parents. His childhood bed is the one we sleep in when we're in Minnesota. Well, actually the girls slept there this visit. But it's the exact same mattress he slept on. With some of his mementos still gracing the walls. 

BestestHusband sat on the sofa in his parents' living room, and looked out the window to the field across the street. "When I look around, nothing from this view has changed in 20 years. Except maybe the size of those trees out there." His concept of "home" is a pretty stable one.

Mine is not. I've come to terms that we won't be moving to Texas any time soon. We keep trying. But, other than just moving with no jobs waiting for us, it doesn't seem to be a reasonable option. My plan is to raise my daughters somewhere in Texas. God seems to have other plans. The job options for BestestHusband are consistently in Boston. Not Texas. So we've consciously been setting down deeper roots in Boston, establishing a stable concept of "home" for our girls. (Hence that construction project we bought last summer.) Because God seems to have plans for us in Boston. He has given us a stable livelihood, great friends, a wonderful church, a cozy school, and a bright future. It's never been my plan for us. But I work to accept God's plan for us here, and have come to terms with the idea that I might always feel a bit like an outsider, no longer how long I live here.

Somewhere during the trip, MeToo started asking questions about Heaven. What would we do there? What things would and wouldn't be there? Would we sleep? What if we really like sleeping? Would we get to eat our favorite foods? Could we watch TV? Have pets? 

I obviously don't have those answers. But we did talk a lot about it, imagining how great it would be and why. We had very different notions of a place of eternal joy.  But I've become convinced of one thing since this trip:  When I get to Heaven, then I will finally feel like I'm home. 

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Yogurt Revisited

I like to make my own yogurt. I have for quite a while now. 
Partly because I'm cheap. Partly because I'm picky. 
Mostly because it's not that hard and it's pretty cool to do. It's kitchen alchemy that makes me feel like I'm gaming the yogurt industry. I can get vanilla yogurt. Thick or thin. Without added sugar. A gallon at a time. 

A few years ago, I wrote a blog entry with pictures and details. I'm at my in-laws house. I don't want to go digging online. I have doll hair to untangle. And Olympics to watch. It's faster to just type a summary. My SIL requested it. So you can have it too.

  • I start with a gallon of milk. I pour it in a big pot. 
  • I heat the milk until it's reached 180 degrees. 
  • Then I let it cool. 
  • Yogurt cultures between 100 and 120 degrees. 
  • So as soon as the milk gets down to 120, I add yogurt culture. You can add powdered freeze dried culture. I just add existing yogurt. 
  • My favorite is Stonyfield Farms, because I like the robust flora. But other yogurts work just fine. I add around 4-8 ounces. It's a dollop. The more I add, the less time it takes to culture. If you use leftovers of your own yogurt, it has a diminishing efficacy. So I frequently buy new yogurt in a big container, and use the last serving to make a gallon of my own. 
  • I wisk in the culture, and usually a splash of vanilla extract. I've used vanilla bean when heating the milk before. That was better. But I don't always have it on hand. 
  • Then I let the milk sit. I try to keep it above 100 degrees, preferably closer to 120, for 6-12 hours. The longer it sits, the thicker it gets. 
  • Often I preheat the oven to 200, then turn it off. I put the lid on the pot, wrap the pot in a bath towel, and put it in the warm oven. 
  • Then I write myself a note to not forget the yogurt. 
  • I frequently strain it to be more like Greek yogurt. I line a strainer with a thin dish towel, and pour the  cultured yogurt in. I recommend a large bowl under he strainer, as you can really strain out a lot of liquid. I've used it in place of buttermilk before, with good results. (I add a bit of yogurt to get the right thickness). I've also used it in smoothies, too. 
  • When you chill your finished yogurt, it will continue to thicken. 
  • And then you can add as much or as little as you'd like to it. 
  • While paying less than if you bought it at the store. 
  • With not much hands-on time required. 
  • This makes me extremely happy. I know, it doesn't take much. 

You can also get a fancy yogurt maker. If you like things even simpler. 
Either way, enjoy!