Saturday, November 29, 2008

Away in a Manger

I love Christmas. I can hardly wait to get through Thanksgiving to bust out my tree and wreaths and collection of Christmas music. I actually started listening to the Christmas music in the car about a week ago, a crime I think went unnoticed this year but usually gets me much ridicule from my husband who is NOT a fan of holiday tunes. He's a Scrooge.

I was singing along in my car yesterday to "Away in a Manger" when I remembered a shirt my friend Elizabeth wore last Christmas that made me smile. It said "THE way in a manger" and had a picture of baby Jesus. I love it because it's so Elizabeth and so true.

I've written before about John 14:6. Jesus makes it perfectly clear here that He is THE way. There are no detours or back roads. He's it--take it or leave it. It's in black and white in 1 John 5:12 too: "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life." Jesus is the only one who bore our sins and restored us to a full relationship with God. Period.

I have friends and family who do not believe in God. I wonder sometimes if this is one of the fundamental beliefs that turns them off of Christianity. It can be hard to grasp that there is only one way. We live in a society of choices: everything from the clothes we wear to the sides we get in our Happy Meal. We want to know all our options. Don't tell ME I have to have fries with my cheeseburger--I want apples! We like to call the shots. When I was in high school my youth group made my minister go gray with our constant argument that Buddhists, if they behaved themselves, could get a sort of divine pardon and a free ticket into Heaven. Looking back, I see the naivete of this. We wanted it to be so because we are products of our society that values political correctness over all else. Jesus wasn't very politically correct. I've spent some time with my Bible since my high school days. I have poured over it and just can't find a passage that supports random forgiveness. It's free--that much is true--but you have to claim it. So, those who choose not to believe in Jesus obviously do not request forgiveness and, therefore, cannot be granted it. It's simple, really. But it's hard to swallow.

THE way in a manger, indeed.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Cup Runneth Over

Jackson is my hero. I mean it. Today my 4 year old faced his biggest fear head-on. He performed in his first cello recital.

I took violin lessons from 2nd grade through college. I was never forced to go to lessons or practice or play in recitals. I chose to do all of that. I decided I wanted to play violin like Isaac Stern (a hero all 2nd graders idolize, I'm sure), and my mom obliged. My dream was to play "Flight of the Bumblebee," which was my favorite song at the time. (What? It wasn't yours? I told you I wasn't normal.) I had a number of teachers over the years (some for many years and some for only a short time), and although each of them taught very differently they all had one thing in common: recitals--not negotiable. Each time a recital approached I got that same sick feeling in my stomach. Oh, and juries in college? It makes me want to puke just thinking about them. It is basically what it sounds like: a room full of people judging your every move as your hands shake so badly you can barely hold the bow let alone play a song. So, no, I was not a performer. I never did learn to love playing in front of people. (And I never did learn to play "Flight of the Bumblebee." Maybe someday...)

So, the reason I tell you all this... I woke up this morning with that same "gonna throw up any second" feeling in my stomach that I used to get before one of my own recitals. All day I kept worrying that Jackson was experiencing the same thing, but he sure hid it well if he was. This afternoon I suggested that we practice his song once before we pack up his cello and he said, "Okay, but I'm already pretty good." Well, there's nothing wrong with his self-confidence, anyway. But then I made the mistake of calling it a recital. Okay, a little background info for you: Jackson told me he would not perform in a recital. So, when Miss Kathleen (his cello teacher) asked if he would perform with her at a retirement home, we told him that it wasn't a recital but rather an opportunity to minister to some grandmas who didn't get to see kids very much. How can you say no to that? He agreed and was happy to do so. So, when I slipped and called it a recital, he looked at me with this look of betrayal. "So, it was a recital after all?" his eyes seemed to say. I quickly corrected my language, but I think he knew something was up. When we got to the retirement home, he looked around and anxiously asked me what would happen if he made a mistake. I am so thankful that we just attended a cello recital the other night in which two of the students messed up enough that Jackson noticed. We had a lovely conversation later about how sometimes people make mistakes and no one was angry or upset with them and everyone still enjoyed their music. So, I reminded him of this conversation and he nodded knowingly. I swear this kid has a soul so much older than 4. He sucked in his cheeks and rocked on his heels as Miss Kathleen tuned his tiny cello and set up their chairs. When she told him it was time to play, he nervously walked to his little chair, sat down, and played his song like a champ. I wanted to stand up and scream, "That's my kid. See that brave little boy? He's mine!" but I restrained myself. After the recital Daddy and I took him out to eat at the restaurant of his choice and gushed all evening about what a great job he did.

I asked him what it was like playing in his first recital (and I used that word because it's over now). He said, "Well, I was pretty nervous at first. But when it was over I felt kinda proud."

I told him that he has another recital coming up in a few weeks and that he's going to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." He started to protest when Ei chimed in with, "What will I play?" I told him that he probably wouldn't play in the concert because he's only had 2 lessons, and he looked so sad. Jackson beamed at him. "Ei, when you're four you can play in concerts like me."

We have had a bad month: sick kids, hospitals, dying relatives, funerals, break ins. It's been rough. Today my little man played his cello for a room full of elderly people while his fan club cheered him on, and somehow the world seemed right again. I am so proud of him I could burst. He's my hero, I tell you.

And I leave you with a picture he drew for his cello teacher. It's of him, happily playing his cello.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Joyful Noises of All Kinds

I just got back from a women's retreat with the ladies of my church. It was really wonderful. I had some reservations about going (leaving the big boys at home, forced socialization, cold mountain weather, an already full calendar...need I go on?) but I decided it would be good for me. I took the baby. The cord doesn't reach from Tennessee to North Carolina, you know.

We had 3 mini-sessions this weekend covering prayer and worship. Aaron tired of being quiet very quickly. He banged his toys against the floor, blew raspberries, and squealed at all the ladies who smiled at him. I was embarrassed during the first session and took him out of the room so as not to interrupt the atmosphere of worship. But then we had a session in which we talked about worship and how each person experiences it in different ways. One lady mentioned that she likes to stand and raise her arms to God when she is moved but feels intimidated about doing this because it might disturb those around her. I should point out that we are Presbyterians. We don't shout amen or clap or raise our arms or deviate from the norm. It's comfortable because it's standardized and expected. Despite this, everyone immediately assured her that she should let the Spirit of God move freely in her and stand if she feels led to do so. Worship is an expression to God about how incredibly awesome He is. It doesn't involve your neighbor or what he thinks of you. Then the minister who led the retreat read from the Bible, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord..." (Psalm 100). Aaron let out a huge squeal. Everyone giggled. Don't mind him--he's just making his joyful noise. I believe that. He doesn't know who God is, but he feels joyful and uninhibited. I wish I was so uninhibited in my demonstration of joy. As his mom, it is my job to tell him about God and the source of his joy. As my child, it is his job to remind me to squeal with delight when the Spirit moves with me.

On the way home we saw a double rainbow--one directly over the other. It was so beautiful. Becca and I squealed.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Celebrate Babywearing

When Aaron was about 6 weeks old I thought I would lose my mind. He cried all the time. I couldn't put him down even long enough to brush my hair, let alone take a shower. It was a difficult time. Then I stumbled across Steph's blog (Adventures in Babywearing). A light went off in my head. This could work...

So, I bought a Peanut Shell and popped him in. He looked around, confused at first, and then closed his eyes and went to sleep. My baby, who prior to that day only slept in 15 minute increments, slept for an hour. When he woke, he looked up at me, smiled really sweetly, and leaned in close. I was immediately in love with this whole idea of babywearing. We went to DisneyWorld, and my sweet guy rode on my hip contently the entire week. I feel so bonded to him. I really regret that I didn't think of this earlier. My older two boys really missed out--and so did I.

Whenever we're out running errands, I find it really convenient to wear him. He can't reach for things, he doesn't put his mouth on the nasty shopping carts, he doesn't get cranky, and my hands are free. Wherever I go, we draw attention. While babywearing is really common in other parts of the world, it just hasn't quite caught on in full force here in the United States. I was actually surprised that my spellchecker kept flagging babywearing as a misspelled word. I understand that it's becoming trendy in some parts of the country, but it's still a very "granola" thing to do around here. I'm okay with it. I love having him close to me, and he loves it too. As soon as I pull the sling out of my bag he starts laughing and shaking his arms. Today my dad was visiting and as he watched me wear a sleeping Aaron he joked that I would eventually have to cut the cord. Maybe. But not today.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Tears and Laughter

"The main thing in one's own private world is to try to laugh as much as you cry." -Maya Angelou

Sometimes the best cure to a crappy week is to get your closest friends together and be silly. We played Quelf. We laughed until we cried. And tomorrow is Monday--a new week. It's a good time to start over. So good.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Sharps and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week

I will warn you up front: this post has no merit. I do not plan to put any moral lesson or a silver lining or anything positive at the end. So, if you are looking for inspiration today, look on. I can't help you. I'm drained.

Today marks day 11 of Croup in our house. Ei got it last Sunday night and spent Sunday and Monday nights in Children's Hospital. Then Jackson got it Friday. Fortunately he only needed a prescription for steroids and was sent home. Then last night Aaron got it. He slept no more than 90 minutes at a stretch before waking to stridor breathing and that horrible seal-like cough. I'd fill the bathroom with steam from the shower and we sat in there for as long as we both could hold our eyes open and then go back to bed and start the cycle over. We made it through the night without having to go to the ER, and that's an accomplishment, I think. This morning I took him to the doctor. Yup, Croup. And a double ear-infection, just for an extra kick in the pants.

As I was getting Aaron ready to go to the doctor this morning, my husband called me. His stepfather had died a few minutes prior to his call. His blood pressure dropped dangerously low, and he was rushed to ICU. Unfortunately they were unable to stabilize him. Mike's mother was waiting for her husband's mother to arrive at this hospital so she could break the news to her. She was understandably heartbroken, despite the fact that this was not a surprise to anyone. I was not particularly close to the man, nor were my husband or children, but my mother-in-law loved this man, and I love her. Her mom just died last year. Sometimes life is super-unfair. She was supposed to babysit the baby tonight while Mike and I took the big boys to Disney on Ice. She called and said she still planned to watch him. Can you imagine losing your husband and then volunteering to babysit that very evening? Instead, Mike is going to skip the show tonight and stay home with her. I'm sure that on the day you lose your husband you need your child there for you. I wonder if she is really hurting for her mom right now. I would be.

So, life spat on us this week. Sometimes it does. Now is when I would normally insert some bit of wisdom or clarity or even a Bible verse to tie everything up neatly with a bow. I guess I'm just feeling peevish today because, although I know all the right words, I can't bring myself to say them. My head feels like it's going to explode. I'm not sure if I'm getting sick too or if it's the stress of the world moving chaotically around me while I stand helplessly and watch (sleep-deprived, no less). I can't stop thinking about how nice it would be to dive into my bed and pull up the down comforter and wake up two weeks from now.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Look, But Don't Touch

On Halloween, kids want you to pretend to be scared of them. I saw a rather silly looking werewolf approaching my front porch last night and feigned terror. He laughed. I gave him a glow stick and some candy. We were friends for a few moments.

But when Halloween is over, it's not fun anymore.

After Ei received several breathing treatments and oxygen and steroids and was still not getting any better, the hospital posted a little sign next to our door that said we were an isolation room. This meant that Ei was not to leave the room for any reason, and anyone entering the room was to wear a paper gown and mask to protect himself from airborne germs. It would have been nice if they had shared this information with us. We woke up Monday morning (and I use the term woke loosely--it implies that we slept when we actually only closed our eyes between intruders) to find women in yellow masks and gowns hovering over our bed (we slept together in the hospital bed because he was afraid). Where the night before had been chatty nurses with big smiles, we now had sterile paper columns with eyes. They didn't speak. To do so would only prolong their time in the house of germs. With one foot out the door they offered an insincere, "Can I get you anything?"

I don't blame them. One of the nurses--a really sweet girl--had an 8 month old baby at home. Before we were red-taped I shared with her that my baby was turning 8 months that very day and we compared pictures. I was concerned about bringing the germs home to Baby Aaron. I know she must have had the same fears for her own child. But it just didn't feel good to be stuck in the infirmary while others scurried around the edges trying not to inadvertently get to close.

I love the story from the end of Mark 1 about Jesus healing the leper. If you haven't read it in a while, here it is. In Jesus' time, if a man had leprosy he was isolated from society to avoid making other people unclean. From the time his leprosy was diagnosed until his death, a person with this disease was doomed to live a life of loneliness, watching as others dashed into their homes upon seeing him approach and hearing his sad voice warning, "Unclean!" The leper in this story broke all societal rules and approached Jesus, asserting his firm belief that Jesus could make him well--if he was willing. This is the part I love. Jesus stretches out His hand and touches the man. And, if you really do some digging, you'll discover that He doesn't just touch him. The Greek word used here is haptomai, and this is literally translated to "fasten to" rather than touch. We're talking a full-on contact, folks, not a casual brush of the fingers across this guy. Can you imagine how much this guy needed to be touched? Not just by Jesus, although we could all use that, but by anyone? Can you imagine being shunned from society and living without human contact forever? No hugs, no kisses, no holding hands, no pats on the back--nothing. Jesus didn't have to touch him. He heals a man's son without ever even seeing him. So why did He? I think the key is in the words proceeding the touch: "And moved with compassion, He stretched out His hand" (Mark 1:41). Compassion. Jesus looked at this man and knew that, more than anything else, he needed someone to touch him, to feel no fear of him.

One lady came into our room with only a mask (missing the paper gown). She apologized for wearing the mask but said that she had a little case of the sniffles and didn't want to pass them on to us. She patted my son on the arm before she left. I don't know if she was telling me the truth or not. Perhaps she did have the sniffles and didn't want us to catch them. Or maybe she knew that, in the big scary hospital, we needed someone to stand near us and not be afraid so that we could stop feeling so afraid ourselves. Whatever the case, I loved her for her kindness.

I mean, does this look scary to you?