It's an interesting thing that when God wants to get our attention about something, he seems to use multiple sources in our life to do it.
We've recently been talking about the fruit of the Spirit - God's Spirit, fruit listed in Galatians 5:22 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control - because of Abigail's entry into our life. We've noticed that there are some fruits that are less apparent in our home than others. I told Ben that I don't like the lack of patience I'm discovering in myself and Ben says he's also noticed a problem with murmuring, which is a lack of faithfulness.
While we've been discussing this, the pastor at the church we attend began basing his sermon each week on a characteristic of this fruit of the Spirit; and when we went to visit some good friends last night and had a discussion about the Bible, we again discussed the fruit of the Spirit.
Only last night we got a different perspective.
I have been disturbed by the lacking fruit because I always understood the "fruit of the Spirit" to be evidence of the presence of that Spirit in me; and if the evidence is lacking, then perhaps the Spirit is also. However, yesterday we were introduced to the perspective that the Holy Spirit - God's Spirit - is like a sapling fruit tree. The tree itself is capable of bearing fruit, but as a sapling it needs constant care and attention to grow big and strong and produce a full harvest of good fruit. As with untended fruit trees, the Spirit is capable of bearing fruit even if not very well tended...but it will be small, warped, wormy fruit rather than the bushels of prime apples God's looking for.
As our Creator, God has always been interested in fruit - in the good increase of what he's made. It seems to have been a primary purpose in creating our world in the first place because Genesis keeps pointing out how God made everything living capable of multiplying itself. At our wedding we chose to read Jesus' parable of the men who were given different amounts of treasure by the king who expected them to make it increase. We chose it because we saw ourselves - Ben in particular - as being entrusted with a family for the purpose of making it increase in Godly fruit. Godly fruit includes children, but it is also the fruit of the Spirit. We've discussed for a long time how God's first commandments were actually to "be fruitful" AND "to multiply": two separate but related commands. If God's Spirit just naturally produced the full harvest of fruit he wanted without any tending on our part, then it would be an odd thing that he commanded us to be fruitful. A command indicates there's something we're expected to do, not just sit back and let happen. We're expected to tend to our spirits in such a way that our production of God's fruit increases constantly and we don't let any little mildews or bugs or lack of fertile soil warp or damage that fruit.
Abigail is a kind of sapling also. She's not formed yet and doesn't really produce any fruit. We've multiplied, but Abigail herself is not a full harvest yet. She doesn't really do anything to please God other than to exist (which, since God created her life, must please him to some extent). Our job as parents is not only to care for our little sapling, but also keep her spirit strong and healthy so she will begin to produce fruit. To exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, and all the other characteristics of God's Spirit. Right now, cute as she is, she doesn't particularly exhibit anything (and lack of bad fruit is not the same as the production of good fruit, as any orchard farmer will tell us).
So my lack of patience and our murmuring are signs that our household fruit tree needs a little tending. But it can be tended and the spirit-tree can be strengthened so that the fruit is undamaged. It doesn't just "happen", so if it's just not happenin', we have work to do. We have to see some things differently, but we have all the tools we need.
And that is an encouraging thought.
Abigail is taking a nap. That means that I have a few minutes to actually write something - I've had a lot of minutes sitting and doing not much of anything while she's nursing, but I've discovered that I haven't yet mastered the art of typing and nursing at the same time - she keeps trying to swallow and breathe at the same time, which then means she begins turning an alarming shade of purple and I have to quickly sit her up and remind her that even though she hasn't been doing it all that long, breathing really has it's good points. This makes it difficult to balance a laptop on my lap and type at the same time.
I expect this will get better. Most people I know can get through dinner without choking every few minutes and needing a vigorous back-pounding to start breathing again. Can you imagine what a big gathering would be like if we didn't all learn how to swallow and breathe at different times? It would sound like an orchestra's percussion section.
For the past few weeks, every time Abby slept I spent time trying to get basic normal things done around here until she woke up and I needed to do the whole eat, change, walk a little, go back to sleep rounds again. I was pretty slow for the first few weeks and am really just now feeling like I can move at normal speed, though I must still be recovering because I'm usually completely wiped out and ready to go to bed at 9:00, a time when I'm normally still going strong. My brain knew that recovery after a new baby is usually about six weeks and it really takes more like three months for everything to have settled into a new routine, but knowing something in your head is a whole lot different than living it!
Things have been pretty busy around here even if Abigail weren't adding a new layer to the usual routine. Kim and Emma were in town for a bit and we celebrated Grandma's 90th birthday as well as having a "Meet the Baby" shower with the Turner side of the family. These were events that I could normally handle in my sleep, especially since Mom and Dad and Kim and Jenny did most of the work; but I think I found out a little what it must be like to be Grandma during those days because even just having people over was oddly tiring. I always wondered why older people seem so tired just from people visiting, but I guess in a weaker-than-average state, even just visiting really is tiring. I've been saying all along that when our wonderful work crew is available to start the addition, I'd really like to see it started no matter what was going on with the baby; but after last week's festivities I'm very grateful to our friends who said, "You do not want us working on the addition right after the baby's born. That's crazy. We'll aim for March instead."
Abigail herself has been as little trouble as a newborn can be. She sleeps pretty well most nights, takes good naps during the day, has taken to nursing like a champ (except for the breathe-and-swallow thing...), has not shown up with any unusual rashes, digestive issues, or any other potential concerns, and even spends a little while awake without fussing most days, which is pretty much perfect in my book. Of course, I'd like to see her awake without fussing ALL the time, but when you consider that babies as little as she is tend to wake up only when they need something, I figure a little time awake without crying is a good sign. I think she's also begun smiling the past two days, but she'll only do it when she's exactly in the right frame of mind and then only once each time: but she was wide awake and staring at me peacefully when she did it, so it wasn't one of those fleeting sleep-grins that newborns so often exhibit. She'll be four weeks old on Monday, so maybe next week we'll start seeing some more reliable smiles. I'm looking forward to that!
Ben has gotten comfortable holding and handling her and has been learning all about brand-new babies since he doesn't really remember Kim and Jenny at this age very well. She tends to be very awake in the morning and he likes to balance her on his chest and laugh as she holds her head up and stares around. He says she's adorable when she wrinkles her forehead up; the funny thing is that he's spent two years trying to get me to stop wrinkling my forehead when I'm thinking of something, which you would think would be a lost cause since I'm told I was born with that expression on my face. Just goes to show you what is adorable in a baby might not be as adorable as an adult - same goes for little pudgy fat rolls, no teeth, and hair that sticks up in all directions.
Grandma is doing well, though she gets concerned when Abigail cries and follows me around to see if I'm going to get her to stop and enquires anxiously if she should hold the baby instead. I'm not completely sure how to answer her because I do definitely want her to be able to spend a lot of time holding Abigail, but she gets very distressed whenever Abby cries and thinks someone must be doing something wrong and Abby is either in pain or very unhappy. There's also the factor that if Abby is crying for her mother, she will probably cry harder if her mother gives her away...and she's usually crying because she wants her mother to feed or change her. Even when her mother is in the middle of making dinner. As a side note, I have to say that the gift of a Baby Bjorn that we received last week has been a huge help because Abigail is much more content when she's getting dragged along with whatever I'm doing than when she's sitting in her bouncy chair watching.
Thankfully, Abigail doesn't disturb Grandma at all when she cries during the night because her cry is so soft and high that Grandma can't hear it with her hearing aids out. This is a definite relief for all of us and takes away a concern I had before Abigail's birth: that Grandma would be kept awake by the baby crying.
We've begun working on all the paperwork requirements that come with adding someone to our family. We have an appointment on Monday to get Abby checked over by a doctor so we can certify that she does indeed exist - in order to get her a social security number, we have to have two pieces of identification saying she exists and she really is our baby. One is a birth certificate, but the other is a little more difficult to come up with. It reminds me a lot of trying to get a driver's license when you're homeschooled. The system is just not set up to deal with anyone who strays a little outside the accepted norm; but I suppose that's how systems are!
Even with the resurgence in home births across the United States, everything is still geared toward hospital births and hospitals have a routine set of paperwork the government agencies are all comfortable and familiar with. The receptionist at the doctor's office scolded me a little by saying, "Well, we usually do newborn checkups two days after they come home from the hospital." Hm. Well, Eileen and Heather did the two day, one week, and two week checkups, so it didn't seem particularly important for us to take our brand-new baby out to a doctor's office in the middle of cold and flu season; and the only reason we're going now is because Abby's almost a month old and it's going to start getting trickier to get all our paperwork done if we let her get much older.
We've actually not taken Abby very many places at all: she's been to a funeral, the grocery store, and to my family's house. I'm starting to feel a little homebound, a feeling I don't think I've had too many times in my life. It's not that I have such a busy social calender, but I don't recall very many times in my life where I actually didn't leave the house for a week on end - we went to my family's house for my sisters' birthdays last Friday, so I've just been outside one time since. We aren't even going for walks. I'm beginning to look forward to warmer weather!
Ben has been going into the office again, but his wonderful schedule is that he leaves here sometime around 1 or 1:30 in the afternoon and comes home around 6:30. Tough to beat that.
I still am not totally used to the idea that we have a daughter. There's this strange sense that I've been "one of the kids" my whole life, and the concept that Ben and I are "Dad and Mom" the same way my parents were "Dad and Mom" is a little odd to adjust to. To me my parents have been parents for as long as I can remember, but I haven't been. Ben keeps looking at Abigail and saying, "Can you believe we have a daughter? I mean, she's part of you and part of me, but she's all ours and not anyone else's." It's completely normal until we stop to think about it...and then it's weird. Ben's other question is, "Was this what you imagined having your own baby to be like?"
Well, yes and no. As I said before, your head can know things, but it still feels a lot different when you're actually in a situation than when you weren't, no matter how much preparation you've had. Nursing, for example. I had really, really excellent training to nurse Abigail. Every time Mom had a new baby, she'd tell me the whole routine she used to get a newborn started (it takes a little time just to teach a baby to eat, oddly enough) and I spent way more hours than I can count sitting next to Mom while she nursed the babies. I knew what everything should look like, knew all the little noises babies make that are normal, knew the whole routine like the back of my hand. My mom was having other babies and teaching me about them from the time I was 2 until I was 22, and I wasn't even gone to school during the day. That was an incredible level of preparation that I'm only just beginning to grasp the true value of now.
But it was still new and different and unfamiliar to be the one on the spot, so to speak: the one who was responsible to teach this newborn how to nurse, the one who had to spend most of her time sitting and nursing because that's what you do with a new baby, the one who was responsible not to eat dairy because that usually makes the babies colicky (I can't tell for absolute certainty if Abby is lactose intolerant, but she does definitely show some tendencies and considering Ben and I were both probably lactose intolerant at her age...I've pretty much cut dairy out of my diet to give us all peace and calm!). The one in charge of poopy diapers and who gets the baby handed back when she's fussy. It's definitely different. Is it what I expected? Yes...with my head. But it's a bit disorienting yet.
Still...Abby is one month old, come Monday. It really does seem to take three months for things to all fall in place and be normal again - the new normal. So while we're not there yet, we're a third of the way through. If the next two months go as fast as this one did, it'll be no time at all before the last remaining vestiges of weirdness fade away and being Dad and Mom won't seem so odd and I'll know when I can and can't spend time writing blog posts and...we'll probably be in the middle of starting an addition and that'll be a whole new experience to learn!
If anyone's curious about where we plan to stash a baby around here given the limited bedroom space, here's our solution: a mini co-sleeper.
It's kind of funny because when I do a quick check on what a 36-week-old baby looks like, there are these lists of things new moms should be doing to prepare for their new baby and the top priorities seem to be preparing the nursery and getting ready for a hospital stay...and I'm not doing either one.
We did, however, carefully choose a bed that would fit next to ours in the little space in our bedroom. It's a cousin to the average pack-n-play, with a complicated fold process that allows it to be stowed away in a package about the size of violin case, but it has a mattress raised high enough to keep us from having to reach down into it, sides that lower and lock into place to make it a miniature extension of our bed, and a nice big storage space underneath so we even have dresser/diaper space.
Oddly enough, this little bed encapsulates a small facet of the solution-finding our chosen life has led us into. We're keeping everything as simple and no-nonsense as we can, both for reasons of limited space and because this baby can't occupy the same place in our life as many first-time parents expect their first child to inhabit. There are a lot of other things going on and the baby has to fit into them rather than having us rearrange life so we can fit into the "now we're parents" role. We knew this would be the case when we both chose to have Grandma Lila come live with us and then to allow ourselves to have children when it happened rather than trying to determine when the best time would be. But every so often I'm reminded of what an odd path we've taken and preparing for this baby definitely has had it's moments of making me feel like a stranger in a strange place. I've spent most of my life being weird, so that's nothing new; but right now we're doing something so different I don't even know anyone else who's trying it: we're taking care of Grandma near the end of her life at the same time as we're laying the foundation for the rest of our life together and getting ready to care for a child at the absolute beginning of his or her life.
It definitely makes for an odd mix of decisions. The bookmarks on my computer might just reflect how odd: links to hospital bed mattresses are sharing space with links to potential lighting plans (for the addition) and other links to birth kit supply websites and Amazon listings for strollers. Health links describing hiatal hernia and advanced osteoporosis are right on top of one leading to a "calculate your due date" site. Our calendar has an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to discuss ramifications of a deteriorating osteoporotic hip a few days from a midwife home visit. I've learned to manage chronic skin-breakdown sores at the same time I was figuring out how to get over morning sickness. We got an education about the health effects of Vicodin and prenatal vitamins within the same few weeks. Ben is preparing for life as a new dad by getting up several times a night with Grandma (though we haven't quite gotten the get-up-three-times-and-still-get-up-on-time-in-the-morning part down smoothly yet).
Sometimes I take a step back and look at this and shake my head in wonder. Of all the ways I would've predicted an early marriage and family to be functioning, in my wildest dreams I probably would've never pictured what is actually occurring.
In those wildest imaginings, I probably should've factored in one very, very important point: when God places us in a carefully-chosen life circumstance and we respond by actively looking to see what kind of work he has laid out for us, the results are often really surprising. Sometimes what presents itself to our hands to do is so unorthodox and yet so obviously right we have to blink and say, "Huh. So that's what we're supposed to do when we grow up." In our case, we were given the opportunity to begin our marriage while caring for Grandma Lila and then immediately given a child as well.
A good friend told us back when we were first considering entering this life that when we really seek what is good, it's often as if we get led straight off the familiar path of life into a forest of trees where there isn't even a track, let alone a path. The only thing that can keep a person on a course like that is love, because otherwise wandering through the trees gets pretty bewildering at times. Well, love and faith, which is the conviction of the truth. In this case, love for God and each other and for our families - especially Grandma - and the conviction there is a way through the trees even if we can't see it. So when we sit here scratching our heads over what we should do concerning where to put a new baby's crib, for instance, or how we should best manage Grandma's broken hip when I can't lift her without pulling all my stomach muscles, we remember that we walked off the familiar path because of love and faith...and trust that God is not going to put something in front of us to do that we can't manage.
I posted the picture of the baby's crib to show that there was a solution - and an easy one - to the problem of not having a nursery space to set up a crib. It would be a lot more complicated to post pictures showing how we're currently handling the broken-hip situation or how we'll go about caring for Grandma and a new baby, but those solutions are there too. Even the ones we haven't discovered yet are still there waiting to be found. Because we walked off the path into these trees knowing there was no way we could NOT take hold of the things God so clearly laid out for us to do and God has abundantly blessed that decision. We don't love Grandma any less than we did a year ago - in fact, we love her much more and we now have actions to back the words we said before she lived here. We don't love our baby any less than we would if all we had to do right now was prepare for his or her arrival - in fact, we love him or her much more because we're even more aware of the blessing we've been given. Our marriage isn't struggling because we've had to try to figure out a whole series of unusual circumstances: it's being knit together in a unique way we certainly couldn't have ever planned. While we certainly have encountered situations that were confusing or exasperating or even just plain weird (and we don't always know what to do about them), our life over the past year has been both interesting and highly blessed and we're looking forward to the next.
So if you were to ask me my blessing for the whole year, I think the best way I could put it would be this way: we walked off the beaten path trusting it was a good thing to do and we could find answers to the challenges put before us. And it's been a pretty amazing experience. This is something to hang onto next time something comes up we're not sure how to handle. It's something we believed would happen; and it's something we believe is going to continue happening.
It has been a very long and eventful couple of weeks.
To start with, in a weird deja vu development, Grandma Lila again has a fractured hip. Last year at this time we were just bringing her home from assisted living to deal with recovery from another fracture to a different part of the same exact joint. That was a very rough couple of weeks for a variety of reasons and the actual physical caring for Grandma is much easier this time around. For one thing, it appears the pain medicine she already takes for her neuropathy is covering whatever pain there might be from the fracture - one of our hardest tasks has actually been convincing her that she can't stand or walk on the leg because to her mind, it's fine.
The very sobering part of this news, however, is that Grandma apparently fractured her hip by doing...nothing at all that should've broken anything. Apparently the bone around the old spacer in her right hip is growing so fragile that it broke just from the strain of walking on it. This could very well mean that Grandma will no longer be walking any distance at all, walker or no walker. We knew when we brought Grandma home that this was an almost inevitable development, but it's a little shocking to have it happen so soon. We are still hopeful that this isn't the case, of course, but it's hard not to draw that conclusion given the circumstances surrounding this latest fracture. We have an appointment with the orthopedic doctor who gave us such good advice last year and we'll know more after that. In the meantime, we're being well-prepared for our imminently arriving newborn by getting up several times a night for a half-hour to help Grandma to the bathroom and back. I told Ben last night that I'm very hopeful the bell Grandma rings to tell us she needs help will wake the baby up too so we can get them on the same schedule - otherwise we are going to be even more sleep-deprived than the average new parent!
I'm also down to five weeks left before the estimated due date and the midwife tells us that the baby is already engaged and it's her opinion he/she "is either going to come early or you're going to need a bigger body" as the baby is pretty well taking up all available room. I'm beginning to be pretty uncomfortable most of the time and am starting to look forward to having the baby outside rather than inside, lack of sleep or no. I'm disgusted to note I didn't inherit my mom's genes as much as I'd hoped and my feet and ankles are definitely swelling if I spend longer than a half-hour standing on them.
All of that being a prelude to what I feel is a very important and difficult-to-phrase blog post.
Last year, with all the hustle and bustle of our wedding closely followed by moving Grandma, it somehow was not apparent that Ben and I had decided to not celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. This year things have been much more settled (fracture notwithstanding) and it came to Mom Turner's attention we were not decorating for Christmas. When she began asking why and discovered we were actually avoiding Christmas, it caused a lot of hurt feelings (including from Grandma Lila, who gave me a pretty sharp scolding about it the other day). Because it was hard on Mom, she began discussing the situation with others close and the result is a lot of people don't quite know how to approach Christmas with us this year. A dear neighbor brought us the beautiful wreath she'd purchased as a Christmas gift for us and asked humbly if we would be offended by it, for instance, and another close relative was very concerned about bothering us by sending us a Christmas card.
We are very touched by and appreciative of the concern, but we're a little distressed that we've caused so much upset, so here is our best explanation of what we think of Christmas and how we're approaching it for the time being.
We've been spending a lot of time considering what it means to have good things get mixed with bad and what that ultimately does to the good thing. In the case of Christmas, Christians a long time ago essentially took a very pagan holiday and rather than cancelling it altogether, decided to attempt redeeming it by turning the focus from having a big wild party to celebrating the birth of Jesus our Savior.
Good thing: celebrating Jesus' birth instead of having wild drunken revelries in honor of Saturn.
Bad thing: bringing methods of worshiping other gods into the worship of the One True God.
Now, as Grandma Lila has repeatedly pointed out to us, "we don't worship those things!" She's correct. We no longer bring pine trees in from the woods as symbols of fertility and put sacrifices under them to the wood-gods. We just don't. A Christmas tree in today's family living room is not being worshiped as a god.
The problem is, the whole reason for bringing it in comes from the worship of a pagan god.
One of the biggest questions Ben and I have asked ourselves when it comes to deciding how our family is going to work is pretty simple: "Do we know if this makes God happy or not?"
Sometimes we have to guess based on things God has said and done even if he never specifically addressed the situation we're looking at (homeschooling is an example of this). Other times, God is pretty clear about what he thinks (as in the case of the Sabbath). When it comes to Christmas, the thing God said that sticks in our mind is pretty straightforward: he said to his special people, "Don't you worship me in the same way the heathens worship their gods - that's completely disgusting to me!"
Deuteronomy 12:29-31 (ESV)
29“When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land,30take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. [emphasis mine]
There are more and harsher verses, but this all by itself is pretty strong evidence of what God thinks: don't add the worship of a not-god to the worship of the real God. And bringing in a Christmas tree as part of the celebration or worship of God - commemorating his Son's birth - sounds like something God would not be too thrilled about. So after considering this, our conscience begins deeply troubling us when we look at combining the pagan traditions with the celebration of Jesus' birth. Which we came to find out didn't even occur in December, let alone on the 25th, so in a weird sort of way it would almost be easier for us to consider Christmas if Jesus were left out of it altogether since he doesn't seem to belong there in the first place. This, however, is a whole sticky matter in and of itself. There are many, many opinions on this subject and all sides get pretty touchy.
Now, the tricky thing about Christmas is that there are two parts to it. There is the religious/philosophical aspect (which is the basis for why we're not decorating); and there is the simple family get-together aspect. The time we spend with our family is very precious to us and we believe it is precious to God as well. The Christmas cards that come in the mail with letters and photos of our friends and family are special and we look forward to them. It is true, as one friend we know puts it, that if we really love our family we should show it other times than just at Christmas; but it's also true that it's very hurtful to our family to absent ourselves at a time they are used to the family being together.
We also have Grandma Lila living with us in our home and she is both very offended and hurt by the suggestion we are not doing Christmas. She has absolutely made it clear that we can do whatever weird thing we're doing but she is NOT going to give up her Christmas tree or the other elements of the Christmas celebration that we were troubled about. Because she is our grandmother and is our authority, it isn't our place to determine this for her and we have done our best to honor her wishes in this respect, including putting her small tree up in her room and putting her Christmas CDs on while she's sitting in the living room and other such things.
The truth is, we don't think anyone celebrating Christmas is evil for doing so, just as we don't believe those who do not rest on the Sabbath are evil. The only reason doing or not doing those things means anything at all has to do with how we want to relate to God. A person has to be convicted of what God wants them to do or they will be acting out of empty tradition, from a sense of obligation to rules rather than out of a love for God. Doing anything without a conviction of the truth can be much more harmful than not.
We believe that there are things we can do to please or displease God and we are doing our best to understand those things for ourselves and for our children out of gratefulness for the life God has given us and the chance we have to be in the relationship with him that kids have with their daddy. Most of us actually will take some pretty extraordinary steps to get a pleased smile of approval and the comfort of knowing our parents here on Earth are happy with us. We want to have that same closeness with the Father who made us, so if there is a suggestion that something makes him happy or sad we want to be alert for it just like we would be for our dads here on Earth. This is why it wasn't difficult for us to give up a Christmas tree once we reached the conclusion that it was something God didn't want us to do.
So to please the Father who made us, we are attempting to remove the mixed-in pagan elements from worship of him; and to please our parents on Earth, we want to be available to spend the special time with them and enjoy their company and take pleasure in being together. There will be many more Christmas days for Mom to take photos of the babies growing up and us standing around the table before dinner and all the small things families do when they have deliberately set aside the time to spend together. We are not going to be sitting around the whole day thinking about how bad it is we have to be there. We do not have to have a Christmas tree or have the kids sit on Santa's lap or have exactly the same beliefs and traditions to share that specific time. And we are not going to be offended by those we love who do.
I have to report that our window of opportunity to begin really building the addition was closed due to some unforeseen circumstances and we'll be waiting a bit longer to start the excavating, which is what I was originally hoping to blog about.
The good thing about delays is that they usually result in equally unforeseen advantages in the long run, and given the perfect timing that has characterized our life since we first met, we're reminding each other that the addition is running on the same timing everything else has. I remember a little over a year ago when we weren't sure when we were actually going to get keys to our house. We were trying to figure out why there was delay after delay then and in the end, the timing worked out so beautifully that the house was able to be prepared for Grandma to live here in the two weeks before our wedding...so not only did we have a house, but we were able to get Grandma home right away when we'd been thinking there was going to be a several-month-longer delay.
That said, there have definitely been some changes around here. Ben and I have gotten motivated to work on all the little projects that have been hanging around needing to be finished, probably because we have the feeling that if we can't work on the addition, we should at least work on what we can. I've put up pictures that have been sitting around for quite a while and we've been doing things like cleaning and organizing the basement (Ben organized the pantry and it's way more usable than it used to be!). Generally, just focusing on what we can to take care of our house as it is rather than how it's going to be.
Which brings us to the kitchen faucet.
About a month ago, our faucet started leaking in a really strange way I'd never seen before: straight out the side of the faucet stem about midway between the handle and the spout. It was just a little pinhole at first and the spray of water was so fine you could only feel it, not see it. I said, "Well, we were going to get a new one in a few months anyway - I guess we'll just have to work around the leak."
Then it began leaking out the other side and both leaks got considerably stronger in no time at all. After about two weeks I had to keep a washcloth over the stem of the faucet or else everything on the counter on both sides of the sink would get soaked if we turned the water on.
Then it started getting just plain ridiculous. It wasn't a leak anymore: it was more like an imitation of Old Faithful. If we weren't careful, the water pressure would throw the washcloth off and then everything around the sink (including the unwary user) would get a surprise shower. Ben said, "There's no way that's making it a couple more months. We need a faucet."
So on Black Friday, he perused websites looking at faucets, reading reviews, and asking me questions about what styles would work best in the new kitchen. My contribution to the process was to point out one style I really didn't like and say I thought the finish should be brushed nickle since that's what we were using in all the other fixtures. Ben found a faucet that got excellent reviews and was a good style, used the right sink holes, and was being sold at a decently reduced price. I didn't realize it at the time, but one of the reasons he ordered that particular one was that it had good marks for being easy to install.
After the new faucet arrived, Ben announced, "I'm going to install this."
"Sounds wonderful!" I said. "I have only one suggestion."
"Wear old clothes. It seems like plumbing always involves yucky water at some point."
So on Sunday afternoon, Ben changed into old clothes, excavated all the stuff stored under the sink, and began removing the old faucet. He kept me busy hunting for things ("Didn't we have a channel locks around here somewhere?"), but I didn't mind because it seemed like the least I could do considering he was the one lying on his back under the sink. My favorite moment - and one that partly illustrates why I decided to marry him - was when his voice emerged from under the sink excitedly saying, "Oh, look at this - I'm getting yucky water all over me just like a real plumber!"
That's Ben. It's one of the many reasons he's a wonderful man. Not to mention one of the reasons he's very easy to live with.
He would've had the faucet all installed by 7:30 that evening, except the connector hoses that came with the sink were about six inches too short and Lowes and Home Depot close early on Sundays. He even went on a determined expedition to Walmart and Meijer looking for adapters, but ultimately had to wait until Monday evening to finish up the project.
So we have a new faucet and Ben has a new skill. He's been picking up all kinds of new stuff this year and I expect he's going to pick up even more next year (there's always the important, "Being a Father" if nothing else!). I love his willingness to take on something new he's never tried before and the way he doesn't get frustrated when he has to take the faucet off and put it back on three or four times and the way he gets excited over things other people think are problems. I've been thinking over the ways I've learned more about Ben since we were married a year ago, and this is one of them. I've had the chance to get a much deeper look at the kind of courage he has, the way he will joyously tackle things other people (including me) see as obstacles, the way he doesn't let himself get upset at things. The man I got to know a year ago hasn't become any less admirable in the past year as I've gotten to know him much better. He's only grown in stature. He's getting better with every day that goes by.
By the way, I really enjoy the new faucet. It's perfect. And I don't have to wear a raincoat to turn it on.
It seems like we have a lot of things to prepare this week. It's occurred to me that at seven months pregnant, it's probably time to start gathering a few baby things - we have coupons for a few things that we can get just for shipping fees that we planned to order over the next few months and I ordered the first of them this week. And it's looking like the addition will be getting underway any day (though I know it probably looks like nothing whatsoever is going on), so this evening Ben and I are going to clear out the sunroom in preparation for tearing it down. I'm going to miss that little room, but I keep reminding myself that a new family room will be so much more pleasant and useful!
While we've been preparing little things like this, we've also been watching things happening in the outside world and wondering...how does a person really prepare for bad things to come?
A lot of people believe that we're looking at the beginnings of complete economic collapse in our country and are preparing for scenarios like no one being able to get food or water for months or years. It's pretty amazing what is advised to stockpile: everything from ibuprofen to ammunition. It's a lot like Y2K, from my perspective. We really don't know what's going to happen, so we try to think of everything that might and prepare for it.
I've had a thought that's gradually become more cohesive this time around than it was back in 1999: what is it in the Human psyche that reacts to danger by wanting to horde things? And how much will it really protect us?
I think one answer is we always want to know what's coming next and when we don't, we often place an incredible amount of emphasis on one of two things: totally ignoring the possible threat...or trying to heavily prepare for whatever we can imagine happening. And we have very vivid imaginations. The Unknown scares us enough that we try to cover all the bases we can think of, even ones that are wildly improbable, because then we feel safe. Unfortunately, when real bad things happen I don't think even our vivid imaginations cover all the results.
For instance, I know of one woman married to a man from Russia who recently mentioned what his parents did to prepare for the bad times they foresaw coming under Communist leadership. They actually did lay by supplies and try to get ready for what was coming...and the first thing the new government did was raid houses, uncover secret storehouses, and take everything.
Not sure how you can prepare for that one.
Now granted, keeping supplies on hand to deal with problems like grocery stores not being stocked for a few weeks due to storms or earthquakes or other problems like that is a sensible thing to do. But how exactly do you prepare for the collapse of your economy? How to you get ready for the end of the world? What about girding yourself to face World War III?
I think perhaps what we need to prepare isn't so much the pantry as our minds. Because the truth is, if we find our security in stockpiling enough stuff, it's going to let us down. There really is no way to physically lay by supplies for every eventuality. So ultimately, surviving any cataclysmic event can't come down to "Did I prepare enough stuff?" The answer will always be "no." If you bought a thousand dollars worth of dried rations, you probably should've bought two thousand or five thousand. If all you did was look at the future fearfully and say, "I have to DO SOMETHING!!" you will never be able to prepare enough.
But your mind drives all that you do and every response that you make to every eventually. It really does cover everything. Focusing on physical survival is one thing: preparing your mind to take anything that comes your way is another. In my opinion, the greatest thing any of us can do to prepare for anything at all is to learn to use our minds and see clearly. Because the biggest danger of all seems to be inside us. When things don't go our way, we panic, act irrationally, forget that God made us and God is in charge. When really bad things happen, we despair, lose hope, and sometimes even do crazy things like riot and kill people. When we let our minds get corrupted by things like fear, we no longer have the wisdom or the foresight to make wise preparations for even commonplace problems, let alone big ones.
We had a conversation last week about how the term "repentance" really means "to change your mind". You can't truly and usefully repent of anything until your mind has been changed and you see clearly. I think the exact same thing applies to preparing. Preparing for anything, really, even a new addition and a new baby. Ben and I have been preparing for the birth of this child for months by getting our minds ready for what's going to happen and how we're going to respond. We don't have a bassinet or diapers or baby clothes, but we've spent a lot of time saying things like, "That's how we want our baby's spirit to look - just like that!"
We don't have rifles and ammunition laid by, but we do keep preparing for whatever could happen by constantly noting and examining how God proves he's in charge. Not because we need the proof, but because that's our version of stocking the pantry so we feel safe. Considering the first urge we often have is to DO SOMETHING, this sounds like not doing very much: but it's absolutely essential. It's the foundation for being able to handle whatever comes our way. The only way for us to make wise preparations for our future, no matter what it happens to be, is to keep our minds from being filled up with junk that will prevent us from seeing what's really happening and making decisions based on that. If we put extra things in our pantry, we want to do so because we've reasonably and thoughtfully decided to, not because we're terrified we won't survive if we don't. Fear is one of the biggest corrupters of the mind out there and it's pretty easy to let it in when we hear things like "fiscal cliff" and "war" and "major tax increases". But fear has a tough time getting a foothold if you've already prepared your mind to accept that even when fearful things occur, you don't have reason to fear because you are ultimately not in charge of what's going to happen and there is someone who is, someone who is trustworthy and good and who doesn't forget even about little things like making sure we have a house next door to Mom and Dad so we can take care of Grandma Lila. Or giving Ben a job that allows us to make money to cover what we need and still give him an incredible amount of time to spend with Grandma and me. That someone is not going to suddenly forget about us just because the stock market crashes or we go to war with Iran. We keep reminding ourselves of those kinds of things and then we're at peace.
And that kind of preparation really does cover whatever happens.
I remember the first violin lesson I had after George W. won his first term of presidency. My teacher was so despondent about the results of the election that she said she didn't see how any of us were going to survive with such an idiot in office for four years. I remember the comment because I'd become politically aware during the Clinton years and had very much hoped for Bush Jr. to win; I did, however, remember how it felt to have Clinton win his second term in office. Disappointing - but I hadn't been despairing about it, either. So I sort of understood how she felt but not quite. I pointed it out to her and she said something else I haven't forgotten: "Well, you don't understand because you're just more passive than I am: I believe in actually doing something about problems I see!"
With every election, that comment comes back to me. Not because I was stung into action by her words, but because no matter how firm my opinion about current political events, there's always something lurking in the back of my mind that makes both wins and losses more matter-of-fact to me than other people I know who are fascinated by politics. I believe God is always in charge. Always. And he is good.
And he is the God who uses talking donkeys to make a point and calls an invading pagan king, "My servant."
‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: This is what you shall say to your masters: “It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes. Then many nations and great kings shall make him their slave.' (Jeremiah 27:4-7 ESV)
It probably seemed incomprehensible in those days to any of the Jewish people worshiping God that he should call the arrogant marauding barbarian Nebuchadnezzar "my servant" and should show him favor. But God is always the one who allows or ordains leaders to gain power. Not necessarily because they are holy or because he sanctions their wickedness or beliefs, but because he has a Plan: and the Plan calls for specific people to be in control at specific times.
I believed that when Bill Clinton and George W. were in charge. I believed it when Barak Obama won his first term. I believe it now.
Does that mean I don't stick to my philosophy of life or that I'll vote for an incumbent president no matter what because, "Well, God put him there..."? No. I always vote for, as my brother Aaron puts it, "the person who most closely believes what I believe to be right." That might mean out of two guys running, one of them is only a fraction closer to my beliefs of right and wrong: but it does make it a lot easier to vote. I never vote for "the perfect candidate" but make the best choice I can between the options presented. And then I say, "Well, Lord, I answered the question as best I could and I'm glad you're deciding the end result."
Which means I feel no bitterness when the candidate I didn't vote for wins. I might say, "Uh oh. We're in for it now." But I don't despair. After all, King Herod was no joy of a leader and God chose him to be in charge when his own son was born; not to mention Julius Caesar and the Roman Empire. A little reading on the history of that time makes our complaints about higher taxes look pretty piddly, to be honest.
Of course, I'm not sure what I would've done back during the Revolutionary War days. I hope I would've said, "Yes, God places Kings in charge; but he also removes them and it looks like we're going to be a tool to do that."
But those days are not now. I firmly contributed my opinion about who should be in charge of this country and I do have to admit I'm disappointed that's not what God had in mind. But I'm sure glad he's the one ultimately deciding and I do believe whatever things come up in the next four years, it's part of the Plan. Yes, higher taxes and giving Israel the cold shoulder and being ever-more-consistently being labeled a "religious right wacko" and all. If that makes me passive, than I suppose I am. Still, I'm glad I'm continuing to have joy in life regardless of what leader happens to be in charge. Because the leader of the Kingdom I belong to doesn't change and I have every confidence he's got this, no matter what comes next.
Ben and I have had an interesting week. So far, it's included two plane trips, walking about 25 miles, watching sunrise over the Atlantic at a beach, tasting seven or eight different olive oils (hey, for those of us who don't do wine tastings...), having another double birthday celebration (Kim and I have birthdays only four days apart), and having our baby finally tip out in front. I went from looking a little pregnant at the beginning of the week to looking VERY pregnant by the end of it. My ribs are eternally grateful - on Tuesday they were so sore they were driving me crazy, which tells me the baby had grown up just about as far as he possibly could and since he had to go somewhere, now he's growing out instead.
On the downside, now when I look in the mirror I wonder where that fat girl came from and why she's wearing my clothes. Ben said, "Maybe a little too much pasta."
We've enjoyed pretty much every minute of our trip to Florida, even when we opted out of going through the body scanner at the airport and submitted ourselves to the full pat-down instead. Turns out it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected; but whatever it was, we weren't interested in taking the baby through the scanner. We haven't even made free use of a Doppler heart monitor because we were reading about what the sound waves can do to a developing baby's cells...why bombard him with whatever super-rays are used in those big body scanners? Pat downs are much safer.
Our plane trips were a lot of fun for us - we enjoy doing everything together and plane rides were no exception. We had one little hop from Detroit to Atlanta and then another little hop from Atlanta to Jacksonville, where we walked off the plane to a beautiful Florida autumn day complete with a breeze that smelled like salt water. It hasn't been particularly hot here, but we certainly aren't going to complain at 70 - 75 degree temps and sunshine after 40 and rainy had become the norm back home. It feels pretty good.
We got some good advice on the plane ride from Atlanta to Jacksonville, too. In a bland professional voice, the flight attendant advised that "in the event that our flight should become a cruise", we should stop screaming and clutching our neighbor's leg and don the life jacket located under the seat in front of us. "If you're traveling with a child or someone acting like a child, be sure you prepare yourself before helping them," she continued. "And if you're traveling with multiple children, this would be the time to pick your favorite."
I'm guessing she's had to make that safety announcement one too many times. But at least she made it interesting.
Stephen and Kim have a beautiful home in the suburbs of Jacksonville and we've agreed they have a very nice guest room bed. We have been very relaxed about the schedule of things and have basically eaten our meals peacefully, taken a lot of very long walks, done what we could to keep Emma's naptimes and bedtimes as secure and uninterrupted as possible, and enjoyed Kim and Stephen's company a lot. Stephen was unexpectedly able to be home for the week since Hurricane Sandy closed the airport he would normally fly into during business hours to do his business - which turns out to be setting up IT for very large companies. I didn't realize I was marrying into a family of computer guys, but the definite upside to this is they are very keen on new gadgets and it's a lot of fun to see all kinds of new stuff in action. Ben has gotten hooked on another new iPad game and says there is absolutely no way we can ever get an iPad. He would be much too addicted to playing on it. And the truth is, now I've been playing the games with him so we'd both be hooked. Our bed would never get made and we'd be eating TV dinners.
As for Hurricane Sandy, as Mrs. G. always said..."It's an ill wind that blows no good." Out of all the mess and mayhem, the good in this instance was extra time with the Man of the Izzo Household. Who ran twenty miles this morning instead of the fourteen he was planning on. I just can't imagine being able to run that far - it was a major accomplishment to me when I reached ONE mile!
On Thursday, Ben and I went out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory for my birthday, which was a present from Kim and Stephen. We sat outside since 75 felt plenty warm enough to us for eating outside and the rest of the clientele seemed to think it was too cold, so it was quiet in the outdoor dining room. Ben proposed again, which he pretty much does every time we go out to eat. As I get more pregnant, this either gets funnier or more embarrassing depending on how you look at it.
We've noticed that we make decisions very decisively as a team, too - there were about two dozen different cheesecakes on the menu for dessert and it took us about five minutes to pick one. Typically, I find three or four that I like the sounds of and Ben casts the deciding vote. In this instance, I said, "I think the Banana Cream, the Wild Blueberry, or the Coconut cheesecakes sound really good." Ben said, "Blueberry it is, then." He very rarely says, "Hm....none of them," though that does happen on occasion.
Friday we went out to dinner at Maggiano's with Kim and Stephen, which Kim was excited about because she said it was like a double date. That was fun; and we came home with so many leftovers we had enough for dinner last night too. (This is where Ben's comment about my suddenly much-expanded belly being due to too much pasta came from.)
Yesterday morning, we got up relatively early and drove out to Jax Beach to watch the sunrise, since it's not often we have the opportunity to see sunrise over the Atlantic and it's not even like we had to get up all that early to do so. The sun came over the horizon at 7:42 and it was only about a 10 - 15 minute ride to the beach. We left at 7:15 and got there in plenty of time. We'd already been out to the beach on Thursday afternoon and discovered it's pretty quiet out there this time of the year. Not to mention no one seems interested in wearing bikinis, which is a plus. The interesting thing I've noticed about Florida beaches before is that there's a huge percentage of the female population present in bikinis; and the percentage of women who could even think of looking reasonably un-ridiculous in a bikini is a lot lower than that. Modesty issues aside, sometimes I wonder if maybe people don't look closely in the mirror before heading out the door.
But coming to Jacksonville in November mitigates this particular issue. In fact, most people who were out even in the warm afternoon were wearing sweaters (not necessary to our Michigan way of thinking) and at sunrise, folks were out in their pants and jackets. We drank coffee and hot chocolate respectively and walked a ways down the beach keeping an eye out for some of the nice big waves that came in now and then. I haven't been up that early on a Saturday morning in years and it was absolutely worth it.
In the afternoon we went to visit Stephen's mom (his dad is out of town - and planning to visit the Jordan River today, to give you an indication of how far out of town he actually is) and had lunch with her. They've just finished some fairly major renovation on their house and it was fun to see all the results. I got some very good ideas for our kitchen in the process - I've been trying to figure out if we should try to get cupboards that go up to the ceiling to make the ceiling appear taller or if that would just be kind of pointless, but after looking at the Izzo's new kitchen it looks to me like having the cupboards go up like that really does give the sense of the ceiling being higher than it is. I also liked that Mrs. Izzo picked out an island that was stained/painted a color (a beautiful blue, in this instance) rather than using the same cabinets. I'm not positive we can do this easily in our kitchen, but I have considered what would happen if I over-finished the cabinets at the island to get this effect and I really like it, so even if we don't do it now it might be a project for the future some day.
Mrs. Izzo also told us some really good stories about things like the politics of becoming a general's wife (in the military, the capability of a wife to support her husband and take good care of other military wives and keep order in their home is actually one of the things that weighs into her husband's eventual promotion, something I found really intriguing because it reminds me of Paul talking to Timothy about choosing deacons to lead a church) and living in Germany at the time Stephen was born. She said she had to quit before we got bored. We were a long way from being bored.
Speaking of our addition, Mom told me today that she'd called MISDIG and our yard is now full of little colored flags. Ben and I picked up the building permit the day before we left for Florida, so it sounds like when we get home we're going to be heading straight into addition-building. I'm relieved and excited that things are underway, but I expect these next few months are going to be some very super-busy ones. Sometimes it's hard to believe that by this time next year we'll have a totally different house and a baby who's starting to talk!
I should probably wrap this up and go find out if we've figured out what to do today. We've been playing our days very much by ear, which means we probably aren't seeing all kinds of things there are to see...but that's okay with us. Getting to spend every day together is quite a special thing for us all by itself, and getting to spend the time with Kim and Stephen and Emma is icing on the cake. The warm weather just puts everything over the top! We're pretty glad we're the ones that came out in November and Grandma went out in September, though. While we think the weather's lovely, it's a little cool for swimming and I think Grandma would still think it was cold. Ben talked to her on the phone yesterday and she doesn't really believe him that it's only in the early 70s, but I can see her out here sitting on the patio in a jacket and blanket while I'm barefoot and in summer clothes.
So long for now...and in my next post, perhaps there'll be something new and exciting about house preparations to talk about. You know we're going to really get to it eventually!
Twenty-five years ago tonight - at ten minutes before midnight the day before my fifth birthday - my sister Elaina died.
I know. It probably seems a morbid way to begin a blog post; and this is not going to be about still grieving the loss of a baby sister who's been gone almost as long as I've been alive.
It's more about a pivotal point in my family's history and in my own philosophy.
It's amazing how much a five year old can absorb and how much some big event that happens when a person is five can really change their thinking. I was actually four when Elaina was born and in my world, babies were just a matter-of-fact event. Mom would be pregnant and eventually a new baby would come home to live with us. That's what had happened with Elizabeth and I could still remember that pretty clearly. I was much more excited for this new baby than I was for Elizabeth, though, and I was shocked and unable to grasp why my parents would've come home from the hospital without Elaina. It took a little while for it to dawn on me what was meant when they told me the new baby was very sick. Again, in my world babies didn't get sick, much less die. I still had no comprehension that Elaina might die, though I did pray very earnestly all summer for her to be healed so she could come home and live with us. I had every confidence that she would and I looked forward to it, partly because life was so topsy-turvy that summer that I couldn't wait for us all to be home and be a proper quiet family again instead of having me and Elizabeth staying with family and friends while our parents were at the hospital with Elaina.
It was during this time that I first became very suspicious of hospitals and doctors. Unfairly, to a great extent, though I did learn that when a person is in the hospital it's almost impossible to defy the rules, no matter what those rules are. In our case, children were never allowed in the NICU to visit babies. So at first, Elizabeth and I weren't even allowed in the family waiting room connected to the NICU, which meant we didn't get to see the new baby at all.
Eventually, when it became obvious Elaina's genetic condition was so severe that she was probably never going to make it out of the hospital, the administration bent the rules to allow me and Elizabeth to visit. It was a rare and massive concession and it must've made everyone nervous because little kids bring illnesses with them and there were a lot of other babies in that NICU not separated from Elaina by much. I didn't understand that at four years old, though, and as far as I was concerned, hospital rules and doctors inexplicably forbid us from seeing our baby sister and then made some weird rule that we could only see her for half an hour on Sunday afternoon after we'd asked permission.
Everyone's heard the phrase "falling in love" and I'm usually hesitant to use it. But when I finally saw Elaina, I did fall in love as much as a young child can. I wanted so fiercely for her to get better. I wanted to touch and hold her and kiss her fuzzy funny-shaped little head. Considering how fragile she was, I marvel that I was allowed to touch her and kiss her head; but I did and there are pictures to prove it. To this day, when some family members don't like to look at pictures of Elaina because it's clear how deformed she was, I still feel a surge of defensive protectiveness. I didn't care then and I don't care now that she was funny looking. I remember what she looked like and how she smelled and how I considered her my baby too. She was just Elaina, and funny-looking went with the territory. Same went for Jonathan about eighteen years later.
The strange thing is that as much as I loved her, when she died I was sad but not in any way inconsolable. It must've had something to do with how my parents responded. A good friend remembers my dad calling up the morning of my birthday - the day after Elaina died - to tell him what had happened. As they were talking, Dad heard the garbage truck turn onto the street and ended the conversation by saying, "Oh, I'd better go. Time to get the garbage out."
I learned from that. I learned that the baby can die and the garbage still has to go out. And that's a good thing. Life doesn't stop because someone dies. Life didn't stop here when Joshua died. I knew it wouldn't when we lost him. I knew because I remembered. That's quite a gift of preparation, when you think about it. It's one thing to have the philosophy that God is good and grief isn't something that should ever take away from the peace and joy that comes from his Spirit, and if I hadn't had that preparation the philosophy would've comforted me. But I also had memories. I had memories of how exactly a year later, Mom had a beautiful, healthy baby boy who's grown into my wonderful brother Aaron and where we had been sad one year on my birthday, the next year we were waiting for there to be a new baby born at any minute. Babies die; and new babies are born; and God is good.
I also learned to treasure life in a way I'm not sure I would've otherwise. Many people do treasure life deeply without losing someone - this is just how I learned. I never, ever took the birth of a healthy sibling (or even an unhealthy one, in Jonathan's case!) for granted. Looking back, the love I felt for each of them was the same love I first experienced when I saw Elaina that first time in the hospital. I don't think I experienced the same thing when Elizabeth was born, probably because I was quite a bit younger and because I didn't have the same understanding that not every baby comes home, and when they do it's something to be deeply glad of.
This year, carrying my own child and having lost one, remembering Elaina's death is a little different than it usually is. If anything, I have greater respect for my parents and how they handled the whole thing. There's a statistic with some fantastically high number indicating how many parents divorce after the death of a child, and my parents' marriage not only survived, but they had many more children afterward and continued to love each other deeply. They were not paralyzed by grief but went about having a funeral and actually comforting many people who attended with a calmness that I've taken for granted before when I think back on it. I remember they read the passage of the Bible that speaks of David when his son with Bathsheba was taken sick and died as a consequence of his terrible sin - David laid before the Lord for three days and nights and wouldn't eat or drink as he pleaded for God to heal the baby. But when he learned the baby had died, he got up and washed his face and put on clean clothes and ate a meal. His aides didn't understand him at all, but he explained to them that while the baby lived, he thought perhaps God might have mercy and heal him. When the baby died, David said, "I will go to him, but he can never return to me." And then he went to the tabernacle and worshiped the Lord.
Only someone who believes God is good can behave that way. And my parents did. To the point that I still remember how they behaved twenty-five years later and I remember that while today was a sad day, it was also a good day. It's a good day today, not one to look back on with any kind of unhappiness. If it's any indication of how our family regarded Elaina's death, we finally got a headstone for her this year just because it seemed like after twenty-five years we should probably stop remarking every year that we should mark her grave. It's odd because if you look at the baby section of the cemetery people really go all-out in decorating baby graves, even putting little Halloween decorations out and constantly putting flowers on the headstones and so on. We never did that. We just said, "What's there in the cemetery isn't really Elaina and we'll see her again someday." I look forward to seeing Elaina again someday.
In the meantime, I think I'm going to call Mom.
With the elections coming up, we've been watching debates and discussing politics probably like a lot of people around the country this week. Oddly enough, our thought process went off in a tangent from national issues to one that's seriously affecting local churches.
Christian children are abandoning their beliefs as adults.
The churches are in trouble. It's not completely obvious on the surface. There are churches all over the place and they have attendance every Sunday and lots of weekdays as well. There are activities and programs and all kinds of stuff going on.
But 50% of the kids raised in these churches and attending all the special children's programs are no longer active Christians as adults. (I did some research on this and the numbers are pretty dicey, but I found an interesting Barna Group study here that talked about how kids raised in church are affected as adults - the paragraph I'm referencing is under the sub-heading "Faith Journeys" and actually sounds positive in the context of the article...but in this instance, I'm a glass-half-empty girl).
What gives? How can we be losing half the kids in church - kids of Christian parents who were raised attending church all the time?
I'm going to say something really controversial and extremely unpopular in the church today, but please bear with me.
We're losing the kids because we're separating them from their parents.
The churches - at least, all the ones I've been to in the area over the past two years in the course of some area-wide church programs - are splitting up their attending families. The kids go to Children's Church, the teens go to their own special classes, and the parents and grandparents attend the adult service. Men and women split up to study the Bible. Everywhere you turn, you find families splitting all different ways at church.
The more Ben and I watch and discuss, the more we're concluding that this has become an incredibly destructive influence the broader culture has had on mainstream Christian philosophy.
When I was little, there was a very common feature attached to most church sanctuaries called a "Cry Room". It was usually small with a couple of rocking chairs and a glass window allowing anyone inside to be able to watch and listen to the service. It was a good place for nursing moms to be able to go if they weren't comfortable nursing in the congregation, and it encouraged something very simple: even the youngest are welcome to listen in.
But even in my fairly short lifetime, something has subtly shifted in Christian philosophy and the Cry Rooms have all but vanished. It's another step in a process that's been happening over the past two hundred years or so, a process that involves something unheard-of in the past two thousand years of Christian life: children are no longer expected to be present in service with their parents in a startling majority of churches.
At the founding of our country, those incredibly dedicated Christian parents who first made it to these shores wouldn't dream of attending a church service without their children seated quietly and neatly in the pews with them. Those children grew up simply and naturally accepting the faith of their fathers in large percentages. Families that prayed together stayed together, the saying went. Parents were somehow able to learn about God with their children all seated around them because they expected nothing less. They knew how to train them not to be disruptive because there wasn't another choice.
Sometime around the invention of our modern school system, though - right in sync with the Industrial Revolution and the concept of having masses of people separated into types to accomplish specific workforce goals - came a new idea to the churches: separating kids from the parents so they could more effectively learn about God. Sunday School became just as much a fixture of church life as the Sunday sermon.
Still, as my kind elderly neighbor Bertha was just telling me this week, even when kids back nearly a hundred years ago went to Sunday school, they joined their parents for the majority of the Sunday service, including the sermon.
Not so today.
In the church Ben and I attend, the children and teenagers are present for the beginning of the service only. After the singing and the opening prayers, they're dismissed to their separate classes where various dedicated adults from the church do their best every week to present Godly principles to the kids "at their level" while their parents stay behind and hear a sermon being preached "at their level" in the sanctuary.
The more I watch this happen, the more I want to cry every Sunday when all the kids in every family get up and leave before the serious stuff ever gets started. There are only three children left in the room, and even they are only there because they're a little young to be left in the nursery (or in the case of one very outspoken little toddler, she refuses to be parted from her parents and protests loudly when they try to put her in the nursery). Other members are ecstatic about the number of children in the church. All I feel is worry and grief when they disappear. Something is wrong. Very, very terribly wrong. The services are too quiet. Half our assembly is missing; and they're missing what their parents are hearing.
Yes, I've heard over and over, "Well, the adult sermon goes over their heads." That's only true to a point. I was one of those kids once. Yeah, it went over my head for a while. But little by little, I began understanding. I knew what my parents were talking about when they discussed things they'd heard. Even if I didn't totally understand all the time, I learned what they were hearing and what they were learning. I wasn't left behind when they made decisions because I'd been hearing the whole process of how they thought and where they were coming from. I absorbed my parents' beliefs and understanding from being exposed to what they were hearing through the filter of what they thought about it. I remember being about four or five when I first grasped the concept of "atonement"...from hearing adult discussion and matching it to constantly listening to the Bible read aloud on tape. Four or five! And I'm no genius.
Jesus was not kidding when he said his Father revealed himself to little children. Little children that were given to their parents, to grow under their leadership and be taught the things their parents know and understand.
But today in church...children aren't expected to understand. They're expected to only be able to learn if they're separated from the adults, given a special lesson tailored to their age, kept out of the way so the adults can learn the really serious stuff without them.
Where did this come from? When did it become a good idea to separate whole families during the time when perhaps they should most be together? Because from what I can see of Jesus' teaching, he found it absolutely critical that the very young children be included in what his disciples thought was much too adult for the little crumb-crunchers to be wandering around. That very famous phrase, "Let the little children come to me" came about because Jesus was chastising his closest followers from trying to shut children out of their adult discussion. Every time I see the kids get up and leave, I wonder what would happen if Jesus walked into the service and looked around. Once our three little representatives have graduated to nursery and Children's Church, where would be the little fellow he could call over and use as an example in his teaching?
We think one huge factor is that Christians today are accepting a very dangerous philosophy, one Ben and I have started calling "Babel Again".
Our whole society right now is very eager to accept the idea that only by banding together as a worldwide people will we be able to achieve the great ends we believe we're capable of. We want to end World Hunger, ensure World Peace, think of ourselves as People Without Borders, change our entire planet's climate, redefine entire Human relationship structures, rise above racial differences, decide who should live or die...all things that God himself stated are his prerogative alone. So by ambitiously staking our claim on becoming a World Society, we are in essence saying, "Let's build a tower up to the sky where God lives!"
Last time we tried that, God was so alarmed by our attitude that he broke our ability to communicate as we used to. We call that incident the "Tower of Babel" story, a gigantic warning about the consequences of trying to set ourselves up as gods. It hasn't totally stopped us, though. We're still out here tower-building; and anyone who's alarmed by it is considered irrelevant because there's been a huge system setup to inexorably continue training the youngest generations how to "think properly" and totally break from their parents if they're such sticks-in-the-mud as to think maybe this or that current philosophy isn't such a good idea. Because a Global Society only works if you get a huge majority of the world to fall in line with a specific, homogenized way of thinking. Independent thinkers can destroy the whole construct; and those who believe in a God greater than any Human institution have to be silenced or made irrelevant for the Humans-as-gods dream to succeed.
Hence, massively organized school systems designed to separate children from their parents' views so they can be remolded into whatever form the system desires to create.
And we Christians, rather than being wary of going along with our society's ambitions and philosophies, are trying to take that idea and customize it to our own purposes. We're transferring the philosophies meant to indoctrinate young children into abandoning their parents' faith onto our methods of teaching the children in our churches. We're accepting a model of schooling meant to divide children from their parents for the purpose of more easily influencing them and transferring it to teaching about God. We believe that if the purpose of this style of teaching is to train kids in Christianity, the ends justify the means. The kids will be learning what they need to know regardless of what their parents think or teach...and we even think it's a plus that we have a chance to take children of unbelieving parents and pull the parents in by working with their kids. But that's worldly philosophy, not God's! God's philosophy is to work from the parent to the child, from the authority to those under the authority. The children were brought to Jesus by their parents, not the other way around.
Separating children from their parents - and even from their siblings of different ages - was a method originally conceived to indoctrinate them away from parents, not to encourage strong, vibrant families where children are in harmony and agreement with their parents and look to their authority first. We're training children to constantly look to their teachers and give them the love and respect that should only belong to parents; and by sabotaging parents this way, we're wreaking havoc in the churches. We're sowing a wind that's reaping a whirlwind and each successive generation abandoning God in higher percentages should be a wake-up call. More and more elaborate children's programs are not solving the problem of adults abandoning the faith they were brought up in. We're losing at least half of them and that is a percentage that sends a chill up my spine. It indicates that if Ben and I have two children and follow the current model of spiritual training being advocated in the churches, we stand a high chance if losing one of those children to the world. That's not a percentage we can live with. It would be better for us not to have children than accept this.
But instead of recognizing we've let the snake into the garden, let worldly ideas poison our philosophy, we just keep trying more and more fervently to make the world's methods work for us. Jesus told us pretty plainly that we can't patch an old garment with new patches. We can't serve two masters. We can't put new wine in old wineskins. We're going to simply destroy what we're trying to fix.
The problem is not the sincerity of the church leaders. It's not the fervency of their goals or the energy they put into doing their very best to teach Godliness to the children entrusted to them. It's not the parents who diligently bring their children to church every week and conscientiously keep them involved in the programs meant to keep the kids interested in God and learning about him.
The problem is no matter how good the program and how dedicated the teachers, the children are still being separated from their parents. When it comes to children and families, God's way is to join together. The world's way is to separate. God's way unites. The world's way tears apart. God says, "I hate divorce" (divorce being a separation of what God has joined together, including parents and children as well as husbands and wives). The world says, "Separation is healthy and necessary." God says, "I have called you to be set apart, a peculiar people." The world says, "Hey, using a few of our ideas will solve all your problems!"
Over the past two hundred years, Christians have accepted the "healthy necessity" of separation and the results are increasingly stark. The marriage failure rate in our churches has exploded to match that of the general population. The failure rate of children to maintain the faith they were raised in is astronomical. Even those who carry their faith into adulthood are far too often suffering a crisis of faith for some period of time that puts them in open rebellion against their parents and what they were taught to believe. Even if they recover, it's as if they suffered a life-threatening illness and often carry the scars of it the rest of their lives. This is not successfully raising up a new generation of Godly men and women. It's a deadly serious gamble.
The definition of insanity is to keep following the same methods and expect different results.
If separating the children from the parents in churches for several generations is resulting in each generation abandoning God in greater numbers, we have to do something different. Something radical. Something unheard-of.
We need to keep the kids with their parents. Abandon the separation indoctrination model. Quit worrying about sermons going over little kids' heads so they can be one with their parents in learning and talking about and finding God.
We can't afford to be insane.
Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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