Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry First Day of Christmas!

Merry Christmas! 
It's the first day of the 12 days of Christmas, and I've resolved to celebrate each and every one of those 12 days. Ok, so some might accuse me of lazy parenting. Not all of the gifts have arrived. Not all of the gifts have been made. A few gifts haven't even been shipped. But hey, we have 12 days to get it all in! And the girls are only opening 1 gift per day, so they won't miss the missing gifts for at least a week. 

But as I mentioned in my last post (hey, 2 posts in 2 days?!?!? What's going on?!?!), I'm appreciating the church calendar more and more, and think it's silly to limit Christmas to one day when it's allotted 12. Too much buildup and letdown. We're attempting a long-lasting joyful simmer instead of a Christmas morning explosion. 

Despite my previously-mentioned Pentatonix obsession, I won't fill each day of Christmas with a new Pentatonix song. But I will highlight one more Christmas song (that they happen to sing) that I've always loved, and to me demonstrates the hopeful joy of Christmas and the resolution to Advent's watchful anticipation. O Holy Night has always had the power to make me cry. I never could explain it before, other than it was just a really beautiful and touching song. But recently I realized how it so perfectly explains the joy and relief of Christ's coming at Christmas. 

O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and e'er pining
'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees O hear the angels voices.
O night divine O night when Christ was born
O night divine, O night, O night divine.

What was it like to be the shepherds that received the good news first from a multitude of angels? What was it like to be Anna or Simeon meeting the week-old Christ child for the first time at the temple? What was it like to be the Wise Men seeing the star, realizing that the long-anticipated sign had finally arrived? What does the thrill of hope feel like?

I suppose we could ask Syrian refugees finding out that they're being welcomed into a safe community in which to raise their children. I suppose we could ask a military family what it's like to hear that their loved one will be shipping home from a war zone tomorrow. I bet a wrongly-imprisoned inmate who just got their sentence overturned would understand. And certainly prospective parents who get the news that, after years of tense waiting, a baby was born yesterday, theirs to meet tomorrow and adopt. 

Long pining, weary from hoping and waiting. The good news brings a new and glorious morn. The waiting is over. Certainly their hearts are overwhelmed. They can fall to their knees, they can jump for joy. That which they feared is gone. Their worries are gone. The news changes everything. That is the news of Christ's birth. It changes everything. The waiting for a Savior is over. He has finally arrived. Advent is over. Christmas can begin.

I pray that Christmas is a joyful season for you all. All 12 days of it!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Last Day of Advent

Today is the last day of Advent. We celebrate it with Christmas pageants and candlelight services. Most people know of today as Christmas Eve. The day before Christmas. So the last day of Advent.

What is Advent? Well, Advent is to Christmas as Lent is to Easter. (Anyone remember their old SAT analogies?) In other words, it's a time of preparation. It's a time when we focus on how sinful and depraved we are, and how desperately we need salvation. 

The world has made this easy lately. What do you see in the news? People kill each other because they are the wrong religion. People kill each other because they are the wrong skin color or nationality. Or because they just had a really bad day. People kill each other because they want to be famous. People kill children because they're too full of drugs to be responsible adults. People kill children before they're born because they happen to be inconvenient. 

Or just look inside yourself to find more sin. Your goals are more important than how you treat other people. Your comfort is more important than sharing with others who are in desperate need. Your need to be right is more important than others' feelings. If someone doesn't agree with you, they're obviously wrong and not worth listening to.

We're selfish. We're lazy. We're slow to truly empathize with and listen to others. We sin. Consistently. On a small and grand scale. By what we do, and by what we don't prevent. The world is a sick, sick place. And we all share the blame in making it sicker.

Who will fix it? Sorry, not Bernie. Not Trump. Nor Clinton. Nor Cruz. No politician can turn the world around. No single human can fix it. No group of humans, no matter how large or well-funded, can fix the world. Sin is insidious, and creeps its way into the core of every person, no matter how well-intentioned or righteous-seeming that person might be. We can wipe out murderous caliphates, but sin will still remain.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you might have picked up on the fact that I have a bit of an obsession with the vocal group Pentatonix. This might be because they happen to sing some of my favorite Christmas music. They also sing one of my favorite Advent songs, O Come O Come Emmanuel. They only sing two verses of a longer hymn, but those two verses have settled into this Advent perfectly:

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Who is Israel? Us. God's people. God's people waiting for peace, waiting for deliverance from the evil depravity of our life on earth. There is much to mourn. It's all over network and cable news. Death. Destruction. Hatred. Sin. Selfishness. We need to be ransomed from our captivity here, our exile in this sinful world. 

The second verse is the verse that the children of our congregation helped sing a few Sundays ago in the worship service. We practiced it at home to help them sing it more confidently. I explained that the convoluted language was actually talking about God giving Moses the 10 Commandments, the Law that would help us follow God's will for us. They've been learning the 10 Commandments at home and in Sunday School, so I thought it was actually a good verse for them to sing. 

I did a horrible job of following my Advent prep plan this year. We never did manage to read one section of the Christmas story each night of Advent. So the other night, I read a big chunk while they munched on Christmas cookies. I read the beginning of the Christmas story in the book of Matthew. Now if you're not up on your comparative Gospel Christmas stories, I'll tell you that Matthew starts with the genealogy of Jesus. It starts at Abraham and the ancient Hebrews, and works its way through kings David and Solomon until it finally gets to Jesus. It's a long journey, a heck of a mouthful to read, and full of names that I'm pretty sure won't make it onto your baby-naming list. Unless you want a son named Azor, Zadok, or Jeconiah... Now the book of Luke does a better job of including the narrative we're used to seeing in Christmas pageants. But Matthew highlights the theme of Advent. God's people waited for Jesus' birth for a long, long time. They wandered in the desert. They were taken captive as slaves. They waited, suffering, hopeful, for many generations. Many many generations. 

And so now we wait. For many many generations, we wait for our Savior to return, to ransom us from our captivity in this cruel depraved world. To dwell on the waiting, the need for deliverance, that is Advent. To realize the sin we carry with us wherever we go, to realize how we can't completely rid ourselves of it, that is Advent. 

I'm gaining a greater appreciation as I get older for the cyclical liturgical seasons of the church year. Advent is a necessary precedent for the hopeful joy of Christmas, just as Lent is a necessary precedent for the exuberant joy of Easter. You can't appreciate a Savior unless you realize what you need to be saved from. 

Thank you media for painting the world in horrific colors. Ok, maybe not. No one should revel in the violence of the world as much as our news outlets do. But it does a good job of helping us remember what we need to be delivered from. And how badly we need our long-promised and long-awaited Savior. 

Blessed last day of Advent. I'm certainly looking forward to Christmas! We've been waiting for a long time!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

18 Weeks

I'm sitting at the computer with a hot cup of coffee. Let me repeat that. My coffee is hot. And I'm sitting while drinking it. This is worth savoring. Ok, so I'm supposed to be doing an online training thing for one of my new jobs right now. I'll get back to that in a minute. But I'm so accustomed to living with an interruption every 90 seconds that I can't really focus for longer than that any more.

In honor of my reduced attention span, I'll give you a short attention span update of life here.

I'm now 18 weeks along with Baby #4. (God help us all.) I'm still trying to dig out from the 16 weeks of nausea and exhaustion. This is why I'm doing online training today. It was due weeks ago. I have such a long backlog of stuff to do...

I'm addicted to Oreos. Obsessively addicted to Oreos. Can't eat enough Oreos. With HurricaneDebbie, I was addicted to Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls. I guess this baby's nickname will be Oreo? A co-worker is pregnant with her first, with a due date within a week of mine. The other day she lamented, "Joy, I'm vegan. I do yoga 6 times a week. Or at least I used to. All I've done for the last few months is lie on the couch and eat pizza and burgers. I can't understand it!" Yup, welcome to motherhood. I'm going to chase my Oreos down with some vitamins and not worry a thing about it. As with most things with kids, it's just a phase. And I'm going to enjoy every single minute of it.

We get regular deliveries of hand-me-downs from my friend Kathy at church. Her daughter is a few years older than HeyMama, and she doesn't really like to wear dresses. So that means that her dresses are practically (or actually) brand new when we get them. It's like Christmas every time Kathy brings a bag to church. We switched over clothes for the season earlier this week, and got to pull out some of the clothes for the first time. There was great rejoicing in the household. HeyMama was trying on outfits for school, and brought in a pair of dance leggings to me. "What size are these? They're a little funny." I explained what they were, and said, "I think they'd be fine under your skirt in this weather. But if you don't like them, they should fit MeToo." She thought for a minute, and said, "I'll give them to her. She's just not as into fashion as I am." Apparently I have a fashionista on my hands. I should have taken a picture of her outfit. It did involve a sequined top, a tulle skirt, and her new multi-hued sneakers.

Now that the weather's cooler, I revived my sourdough starter and did some baking this week. I made my first loaf of cinnamon cranberry nut sourdough, which we all love for breakfast. My homemade breads are pretty dense, and toast more slowly than store bought breads. HeyMama was standing by the toaster oven, chatting while I packed my lunch and did things to get ready for the day. I asked her "How does the toast look?" She looked into the toaster oven. "It looks pretty comfortable."

HurricaneDebbie. What can we say about her? Our summer nanny came to HeyMama's 7th birthday party and said, "I hope to live to see the day HurricaneDebbie rules the world." That child is certainly training for something... Not sure if she'll be President or a dictator, but she's certainly not going to take life lying down. Her daycare teacher asked when we plan to have her potty trained. Oh yeah. I should get on that, huh? She's been doing really well at daycare. But follow-through at home? Poor 3rd kid... We set a goal for Undies in the New Year. So I pulled them out last night and let her try them on throughout dinner so that I could monitor her very closely. She did really well! We had to leave the table for a bathroom trip, but everyone was excited about the undies. And HurricaneDebbie had no intentions of taking them off. At all. BestestHusband had the task of getting her ready for bed. I heard a great deal of screaming as I cleaned up dinner. In the end, she wore a diaper to bed. With undies over it. Under jammies, like her big sisters. I call it a win-win. I'm just excited that she's excited. I have no spare excitement when it comes to potty training.

MeToo. My impish and delightful middle child has her head in the clouds. You never know what question she'll ask next. Stars. Angels. Snakes. Flags. Fairies. She's always thinking hard about something. She loves piano lessons, and has been experimenting with improv. Yes, she's still 5. Her creativity is boundless, and her ability for sentence construction just can't keep up with the ideas in her head. So sometimes she says some pretty funny things. Without trying to. It's really hard not to laugh... But her current way of expressing her frustration with things usually sounds something like, "I wish I had a fairy who was a clothes-put-away fairy. Then I'd never have to put my clothes away ever again!" Me too, honey, me too. She loves to read the Rainbow Fairies book series. It has a pretty comprehensive assortment of specialist fairies. But MeToo has come up with quite a few fairies that the book series doesn't cover.

I've switched over to herbal tea. It's still delightful to drink it warm, even without getting a buzz. Time to get more work done. In 90 second snatches, of course.

Have a great day!

Friday, October 2, 2015

17 Weeks

It's 3:30 am. I can't sleep. I wish I could. I have a lot to do tomorrow, and the biggest factor in my daily productivity is how much sleep I get the night before. Everyone else is asleep. The house is quiet and dark. The neighborhood is quiet and dark. Our new house is further removed from the city traffic that never really stops around here. We're in one of the pockets of quiet neighborhood peace that dot the city. There are no racing ambulances or lumbering delivery trucks to disturb the silence. The commuter train isn't running yet. Early morning flights haven't started roaring up into the sky. The street lights highlight the fact that nothing is happening outside. Dark-eyed old homes are asleep. A cool early-October briskness has developed outside these walls. The early-Fall dampness has settled in. But inside is warm. Under the covers is warm. Inside the curled spoon of BestestHusband's gently-snoring embrace, all is warm. In the beds of my 3 dreaming daughters, all is warm. As far as sleeping conditions go, all is perfect. But I'm awake. 


I blame it on The Baby. At 17 weeks, The Baby usually lets me sleep through the night now. Previously, I was awake 3 times a night, with the urgent need to get out of bed. But things are quieter now. Fully into the second trimester, I'm allowed to sleep more. And I'm allowed to be awake without persistent nausea. But The Baby keeps reminding me of her (his?) growing presence. Exhaustion still rules my days. Nausea occasionally rules my evenings. I have a map of some unknown river delta developing in the vasculature of my left leg. And I've grown past the phase of "Thick around the middle" and gone well into "Good gracious. Could she be pregnant AGAIN?!?!"

The girls have started talking about The Baby to friends and teachers. They all insist it's another girl. Even HurricaneDebbie, barely 2 years old, insists to her daycare provider that it's a girl. According to her, we don't need any boys. Daddy's a boy. That's all we need in our household. We'll know in 2 weeks whether or not they're right. If I need to track down a set of baby gear that's not pink, I'd like to know in advance. 

17 weeks is a pretty good place to be. I'm not so huge yet. But I'm past the worst of it. BestestHusband and my DearFriend have been celebrating the passing of each week with me. At 6 weeks, nauseous and with a test stick in hand, 17 weeks seemed a lifetime away. A patient and supportive family tolerated my need to be horizontal. They joined me in my prayers that I would feel better at 16 weeks, like I did with the other 3 pregnancies. Each passing day brought a prayer of "Thank you." I was one day closer. Each week felt like an accomplishment. Even now that I'm feeling better, the weeks still feel like an accomplishment. But now I can start looking forward to the end of waiting to meet The Baby instead of waiting for the end of the misery. 

But laying in bed at 3:30, unable to sleep, my mind has a chance to wander. I have time for other prayers. And I'm aware that others are praying for different things with their pregnancies. I've been joining her in the prayer of "Please. Please Lord. Please." Diana's 35 weeks along with her 5th child. Three of them were lost. Her twins were lost around 20 weeks. Her 3rd son was lost after a full term delivery. I've followed her blog, Diana Wrote, since the loss of DearFriend's son, also close to the 20 week mark. Diana writes openly about her losses, her struggles with grief and faith. I've been following more closely as she nears the end of this pregnancy. I've been joining her daily prayer of "Please. Please." Please Lord, let this one live. Please Lord, allow her to raise this child. Please Lord, don't make her bury yet another child. Please. I have other friends who are currently pregnant. Friends who have lost previous children. My prayer expands out to them, as well. "Please. Please Lord. Not this time."

And my mind wanders to other children, whose mothers aren't sharing my prayers. My Facebook feed is full of both sides of the shouting match. Shout your abortion! Defund Planned Parenthood! The shouting match online is deafening. There are mothers in the middle who aren't shouting. They're also looking at their midsections full of 17 weeks of life. They aren't saying "Thanks" or "Please". They're quietly saying "No no no. Just no." They aren't thankful for each passing week. They aren't begging for the life of their child. They have plans to make The Problem go away. It's not a simple issue for them to be shouted about. But they're not thinking about planning for clothes - pink or blue. They're not engaging in the eager guessing game of who the baby looks like. Their baby is exactly like mine. Fast heart rate, delicate little fingers and toes, cartilage is changing to bone. Our babies need us to be able to survive. A surrogate, an incubator or adoptive mother, isn't enough to allow them to live. They need us, their biological mothers, to survive. To even have a chance in the world. But some babies will be denied that chance. 

The world is not a fair place. It won't be in my lifetime. Or ever on this side of Heaven. I'm aware of that. In two weeks, we'll see an image of The Baby. We'll ooh and aah at every kick, every wiggle. We'll study the facial profile. Does it look more like HeyMama? More like MeToo? Their profiles were recognizably different at 18 weeks. Do we need boy names? Girl names? We'll show ultrasound pictures to family and friends. With each passing week, we'll continue to pray "Thank you!" 

But other lives will be terminated instead. The fate of each child depends not only on the developmental health and medical status, but on the opinion of the woman whose body supports that child. Does she call it The Baby? Or think of it as The Problem? That opinion alone is enough to determine the child's right to live. This is such a challenging thought as I alternate between prayers of "Thank you" and "Please". Friends who lost children at this age named their babies and had funerals. But other babies will be labeled only as medical waste. 

The topics of Rights and Fairness are so complex. Their nuances and realities get lost in the shouting. As the result of an accidental pregnancy who was put up for adoption after birth, I have some strong opinions on the matter. I was A Problem, but was also given the chance to be A Baby. Was it fair to my biological mother that she should carry a baby she didn't want to raise? Honestly, I don't care about fair when it's my life. I'm just happy to be alive. I'm glad she wasn't too concerned about prioritizing her rights, either. The question of "Who matters more?" becomes a different question when your life is in the balance. Is it fair that my child is carried by a woman who views it as "life" instead of something that could just be medical waste? No, it's not fair at all. It's another form of privilege in our society. Our child will not only benefit from skin privilege and economic privilege, but simple birth privilege. 

The dogs have joined me here in the office, and they're snoring. Since waking me up nearly an hour ago, The Baby informed me that I needed a snack (preferably another lemon cupcake with raspberry filling and a glass of milk), and is informing me that I can go back to sleep now. And the child that was formerly dreaming in her bed apparently peed in her bed, and is now washed and sleeping in my bed. So I'll go elbow my way back into the warmth under the covers. BestestHusband authorized me to turn off the alarm when our child joined him in bed. So I may yet get some good sleep tonight. 

To all expectant mothers out there, I wish you also a restful night of sleep. To all children at 17 weeks gestation, I wish you all the gift of birth privilege. It's personally very painful to think about the alternative right now. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What Are We Doing?

I woke earlier this week to a discussion on my alarm clock radio about Baby Doe. She has a name now. Bella. Her tiny 2 year old body had been discovered on a beach over the summer. In a trash bag. Intact. Perfect. But dead. Who was she? What had happened to this precious child? Why did no one claim her? Why did no one look desperately for her, report her missing?

Vigils were held. Strangers wept around the world for a precious baby girl who was dead, but not missed. What had gone wrong? Why was she in a bag on a beach instead of scooping sand and playing in the waves?

The mystery was solved. She was one of our own, a little girl from Boston. The daughter of drug addicts. Her mother's boyfriend allegedly beat her to death because he thought she was possessed. 

The conversation on the radio the other morning centered around the failings of Child Protective Services. This organization is an easy target. Too many children have died in their custody over the years. Neglect, violence, and incompetence have been associated with the organization. Why can't this group get their act together? Should we be adding more funds to their operating budget? Or defunding them completely? Why are they so incompetent? What is someone going to do about this?

But I think we're asking the wrong question. The proper question is "What are we going to do about this?"

How do you take a child from an unsafe situation if you don't have a safer place to put them? What are we doing to help? We. You. And me. What are WE doing about this today? Tomorrow? Next week? What are we doing to help children around us who don't have a peaceful and safe bed to sleep in at night? What are we doing to provide a safe refuge when their parents are too sickened with drugs and their own histories of abuse to give them the care and love they desperately need? What are we doing to break the cycles of mental illness, abuse, and dysfunctional relationships? We. You and me. What are we going to do about this?

Because obviously we are not doing enough.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Our Victory on 9/11

It's hard to believe it was 14 years ago already. But I guess that's what our elders said 14 years after the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy. That's what they said 14 years after Pearl Harbor. That's what we said 14 years after the Challenger blew up before our stunned eyes. Horror happens, time passes, and the moments and emotions stay etched in our memory despite the passage of time.

But today I'm declaring victory over 9/11. Terrorists brought their worst. But Americans and our friends brought our best. I love that people still remember and share stories of that horrible day. And the stories they share are what have declared our victory. I have not heard one thing about the terrorists. I don't remember their names. I don't care to. But I've heard endless stories of heros - people who sacrificed their lives to save others. We remember the flight full of people who hastened their own deaths to prevent the deaths of many others. We remember whole career fields of people who rushed into the bedlam while the rest of us ran away. I've heard stories of towns that welcomed thousands of stranded passengers whose flights were waylaid when air space was shut down that day. I've heard of employers who made sure that all of the children of their deceased employees were able to go to college for free. I've heard of friends who met in the horror of that day, only to have love triumph over tragedy, with a decade of marriage and a house full of kids to show for it. Americans became kinder to each other after that day. The international community showed sympathy and love to us. 

We don't celebrate death and fear on September 11th. We celebrate sacrificial love and service. We celebrate recovery. We celebrate compassion. We celebrate what's great about our country and our people. May we never forget. And may we all be able to rise to the occasion if we're called upon to serve.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Paul's Letter to a Bunch of Dead People

Yesterday we visited Ephesus. Ever heard of it? More likely you've heard of the people who lived there, the Ephesians. St Paul wrote a famous letter to them in the New Testament. That book of the Bible is only 6 chapters long. So I re-read it this morning as our tour bus began the 3 hour journey to our next stop in Turkey. I was curious if there were any insights to be gained by re-reading it after visiting the town. 

I should clarify that the term "town" should be taken loosely. Ephesus was once the second most important city in the Roman Empire. It had a large port, and was the end of the Silk Road, and was the big city of Asia Minor. So it was a bustling and wealthy metropolis of about 250,000 people surrounded by fertile agricultural land*. It was a nice place to live at the time. 

But Turkey is prone to earthquakes and mudslides. So the city was eventually destroyed, abandoned, and covered with mud, and it disappeared for centuries. Until some archeologists came along. 

Now Ephesus boasts some long marble-paved streets lined with columns and the painstakingly reassembled facades and walls of buildings. There's a hospital, a library, some temples, shops, houses, and theaters. If you squint hard and use your imagination, you can see the bustling port city coming back to life. You do have to drive 4 miles to find a port. The once deep u-shaped port was silted in over time. The columned commercial road that led there now leads to nowhere. 

There are no more Ephesians. They're all long dead. Their once lavish city adorned with ornately carved marble fell into nothingness. All that surrounded them, their art, their objects of pride, all of the physical aspects of their daily existence were consumed by the earth. Why should a letter to these people matter to us?

Interestingly, Paul's instructions to these dead people sounded oddly contemporary. He spoke of family relationships; he gave advice for marital relationships and child-rearing. He spoke of workplace relationships - how bosses should treat their employees and how employees should work for their employers. He spoke of community relationships. His words on patience, forbearance and gentleness never fail to convict me and highlight my daily failings.  

Despite all of the differences in technology and material wealth that we experience now, our human nature is no more advanced than it was in Ephesus' heyday. That should be a bit humbling. And the glory of Ephesus, once a marvel of civilization, was consumed by dust. Can we not assume that our now-lovely cities will, as well? What will happen to the physical objects that consume our resources and energy? Will they too be claimed by dust?

Touring the ruins of Ephesus is a great reminder to me that all material things of this earth will pass away. And reading the intro to Paul's letter to the Ephesians is a great reminder to me of what will not. 

I pray that, in the grind of daily life, I can keep this in perspective. 

*This info given by our tour guide, and not independently fact checked.