On the Eve of Your Sister’s Birth

Dear Rebel,

You have been making our lives a more wonderful experience for two and a half years now. (Or more, if you consider when you danced inside my womb while at concerts and kept me company when I felt lonely at church.) Thank you for your joy and laughter, tears and tantrums, bumps and owies, and hugs and kisses through these years. Thank you for teaching me to be a mother in your own special way. Thank you for “preaching” to your daycare classmates when you were ten months old, for your newly introduced spontaneous songs, for your gentle pats on the back when I look tired, and for handing me my shoes when you want me to follow you somewhere.

Thank you for praying for me, your father, your grandparents (Gemma-Poppa & Nana-Grampa), your aunt Beth and aunt Julie, and for baby E. Thank you for holding my hand while we bless our food at the table, as you learn our family blessing (half of which you now say with us; you began by learning “Amen”). Thank you for sitting with me in worship while we listen to your daddy preach, pray, and consecrate the elements of communion. Thank you for being excited each and every time about the bread that he offers as a symbol of Jesus’ love for you and the whole gathered faith community. Even before you could speak, you signed “more eat” showing that you understood at a basic level that something intrinsically good was being offered.

Thank you for showing me my capacity for patience. I have handled far more than I could have imagined. From early tongue-tie revisions through weeks of illness, times when you seemed to cry for no reason whatsoever and times when you cried for very good reasons, in the midst of snuggles and bites, sleepless nights and seemingly endless car rides, we’ve gotten through it all. You have shown me how to offer grace to you.

I will always remember the first time you said that you loved me, shortly before Thanksgiving this past year, as you hugged me and held me close. “I yove you, Mom.” (You don’t have your “L”s down yet.)

You have always enjoyed being outside. Even when you were a day old, going out into the dappled sunlight helped you calm down. You exult in going out to the field next to our house to explore. You are always picking up rocks. You love the beach and water, as you should since you are my daughter. When we arrived at St. Simons and went to look at the ocean at the pier, you walked out to the shore and in no uncertain terms made sure that we knew there was water there, extending both your arms straight out, excited that there was water before you, as far as you could see.

Thank you for going with me to a HB2 rally, a justice candlelight vigil, the DC women’s march, and a Black Lives Matter protest. You may not remember them when you are older, but your presence was important.

Thank you for all your firsts. You are our first born child, and you will always be special and precious because of that. Your first step, word, and laugh are yours, and yours alone.

And now it is the eve of your sister’s birth. Some day soon you will become a big sister, and our love will grow to hold her in our family, too. There will be days when her needs will come before yours, and you won’t understand why. There will be days when we have to compromise and slow down because she needs a nap but you are ready to play. Our love will change, but our love for you will never diminish. We already know you will be a good, caring, and loving big sister, and we can’t wait to see how you and your sister grow and learn from each other.

From one big sister to another, little sisters are amazing: they teach us and love us and play with us and fight with us and hug us and show us how to share and love others in return. It can be a wild ride, but the journey is always worth it.

Thank you for these first two and a half years with you alone. I am grateful for each moment that you have been my only child. Life will change soon, but we will change too, and it will be wonderful.

I love you,

Mom.

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Childhood Memories of Dad

One morning I was working on my sermon for Sunday. It especially struck me this time how I learned my basic sermon construction and delivery far before I ever considered preaching on a regular basis. I learned how I like to deliver sermons from the way that my father delivers sermons.

Unlike my father, who one Christmas Eve took a Post-It note with six words on it to the pulpit for his sermon notes, I need to write out the whole manuscript of what I want to say, word for word, in order to do my best work, even if I don’t read the text word for word once I get in front of people. However, it was my father who taught me by his example of interweaving storytelling and scripture reading along with the exegetical work necessary to apply the scripture to the lives of the people who listen. It is work that draws the hearer into the narrative, and when I get it right, I know that it is because the Spirit is working through me, the same way that I’ve seen the Spirit work through Dad in some tough places.

Once he preached about Moses who had to hold his staff up while the Israelite army was fighting, if the staff lowered, the army began to lose. Moses has two of his most supportive and trusted leaders come and hold his arms up so that the army can win the day.

Dad got a limb from a tree outside, and preached the entire sermon with it over his head, asking two of his leaders who were supporting him in the midst of conflict to come hold his arms while he continued to speak. He delivered that sermon over twenty years ago, and I still remember the vision of him with his arms raised in the chancel area of that sanctuary.

The week before Christmas I made a batch of Santa’s Favorites, the chocolate chip oatmeal walnut cookies that are our family’s specialty. My mom adapted the recipe to perfection and it has carried over into vegan brilliance now that we bake that way. These are the cookies that are our personal Santa’s favorite, our Santa being our father. He always wrote back to us after we left him cookies and a note on Christmas Eve, even after we knew we were playing pretend. Our Santa, every Christmas morning, leaves a Santa Apple for every person who is in the house. I know that dad worked hard to perfect the Santa Apples, carefully placing each individual element to make a fun creation. I’ve continued the tradition in our home, even before we had children; it’s a little like Dad is here even when he is a few states away.

We eat Santa’s Favorites at other times of the year, too. They make excellent river cookies. One of my dad’s favorite things to do is to go canoeing. He took both my sister and I canoeing out on the river throughout our childhood, teaching us how to read the water and plan ahead for obstacles downstream. He is an excellent paddler, able to brave rapids in a canoe that I would never dare without a guide. I get part of my love for the outdoors from dad, in part because he shared his joy and excitement with us as he taught us the names of trees and how different birds sounded as they echoed through the woods.

I learned how to be brave and caring from my father, as he navigated the rapids of rivers and twists and turns of ministry. I learned that you can’t always avoid the rough spots, but you can enter the bend and paddle through it in a way that gets you out the other side in one piece. Maybe with a little water in the boat, but still sound. It’s not always easy, but the journey and excitement are worth it.

Childhood Memories of Momma

I was sewing this morning and as I was clipping stray threads and pausing to realign seam edges and move pins out of the way, I remembered the sounds of my mother doing the same thing, sitting at the sewing machine using the foot pedal to control the cadence of the whir of the needle as it moved along the path of fabric she was guiding between her hands. She made great dresses and costumes for my sister and I as we grew up, fitting them perfectly to us. And she taught me how to sew, enough so that I can look at a schematic and spool a bobbin and troubleshoot why my needle isn’t pulling thread.

I was cooking this afternoon and as I threw some things in a skillet and started them sizzling, I remember my mother working to prepare us good food every day, day in and day out. We rarely ate out when I was a child. I say that, and you might think, oh, you mean, at a fancy restaurant. No, we might have gone to a Burger King once a month and that counted as the time we ate out that month. Now, part of that is because momma was and continues to be a master chef, part of it was because of tight budgets and it is way cheaper to cook at home than let someone else prepare your food, and part of it is because for a time there, the closest restaurant worth eating at was thirty minutes away. (Not much unlike our current situation.)

I was praying with my daughter last night and as I joined her in her jubilant shout out of names of people she loves, I remember the nights we gathered to pray using the Pockets prayer guide. We began to pray each night, never a memorized prayer, but a prayer that encompassed more than our selves or our situation. Later, as we grew up, we would learn to keep a prayer journal and be the first to volunteer to pray out loud or read scripture in our Sunday School classes. Much of that has to do with how my mother and father raised us to pray with confidence when we were little. So I’m starting my daughter on a similar path; now she asks to pray each night at bedtime.

I was singing with my daughter in the car on the way to preschool today and as we sang “Oh-oh” and “Horse” and “Bear” (her titles, not the proper names), I remembered my mother singing with us as we rode in the car. First we started on silly songs, and we still love and know some of those silly songs about camels and ghosts and car rides, and later we learned songs together that we could sing in church, with motions and everything. I remember the silly songs she taught our girl scout troop, leading us in campfire songs about flannel sheets and singing our prayers over meals.

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 3.10.58 pI love that I have carried lessons that my mother taught through her presence and moving through her world so that I can be a good mother to my daughter (soon to be daughters). I love that I can call her and check a gut feeling that I am having and know that my decision is on the right path. I love that I can share the love that I get from my mother with my family and others around me. I love my momma.

Shadow

I took my daughter out for a walk at the state park a couple days ago so she could run and investigate freely. She likes to come back and touch base with me every so often; we were walking together when I noticed that our shadows were walking ahead of us. I waved my hands and she waved hers, both of us watching our shadows following our motions.

I’ve gotten better at paying attention to what I am doing and whether I am being copied because I’ve got a shadow that comes from the light above me and I’ve got a shadow that is the light beside me.

Are we both awake and in the house? If so, we are in the same room and playing the same game. She follows me everywhere, the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom, the den, and the laundry room.

She’s becoming a fabulous helper, in her own way. I have to watch myself to make sure that what I am doing is safe for her to copy. She even stretches with me after our walks together. (And then I become momma climbing toy as she balances on me in a final stretch.)

She’s learning new words everyday now, and I’m more aware of what I say and how I say it. I’m tending to my own grace as I share grace with her. Sometimes everything is wonderful, and sometimes nothing can go right. Sometimes the shadows seem stronger than the light. She speaks of the dark as an existential presence. When it is dark, it is Dark. She does not fear the dark, but she names its power.

She lights up my life like the moon lights the earth at night. She revolves around me and tugs me towards her like the moon pulls the tides. She shines and grows dark and always shines again.

I love my little shadow.

Laughter and Boundaries

I’m having a hard time finding joy, recently. I read a reflection today by my friend Sarah who had encountered wisdom saying that joy flows from compassion. I wonder if I am not finding enough compassion, either for myself or for others, right now. Or maybe I just see the great need for compassion and feel that the task is far too large to take on myself.

Joy is a big deal and I want to do it right.

My daughter has started a new game where she laughs and then does something that she shouldn’t do, such as hitting me in the face. I tell her no, and she does it again. Laughing again.

I love my daughter’s laugh.

I do not love being hit.

I do not want her to hit me, or learn that hitting is how we do things.

She laughs again.

I tell her not to hit. I take hold of her hand. I tell her not to hit.

I let go. She hits me again.

Still laughing.

And so I put her down out of my lap. I put space between her and me, so that she cannot reach me to hit me. She doesn’t like the space.

Nothing stops her until I do it. Saying no has not really become effective, even though she loves repeating the word.

The hitting stops.

So does the laughter.

But then she hugs me. And we are better together until she decides to try a new boundary again.

I’m wondering how she interprets the joy I share with her. Does she remember me laughing more than she remembers me teaching her a new limit?

And then, does God rejoice when I find a new game to play but is let down when I turn the game to my own destruction?

I believe God wants what is good for me, and that God wants to celebrate joy with me. I don’t believe that God is watching me to seek out an opportunity to punish me.

I am not a perfect parent. I lose my temper and get frustrated when my daughter keeps on doing what I have already asked her not to do. I have the feeling this tendency is far from over. Yay exercise of free will!

However, God is a perfect parent (among other things) and though God can and does get frustrated, God is more saddened by how I turn away from what God wants because it hurts me more than because it hurts God.

God wants what is best for me (and you) and goes out of the way to show love in whatever way possible. This is the compassion I long for in each of my relationships no matter if they are fleeting or forever.