Gabriel turns Two: Happy Birthday Sweet Boy

Monday, October 30, 2006

Spiritual Lessons of a Four-Year-Old

Four-year-olds don't do well when tired (the same could be said of adults.) When Nika is due for sleep, she seems desperately unable to behave, and it confounds me how I've traveled back in time to those two-year-old tantrum days. "I don't want to!" "Uh uh! Mmph." A leg kicks, a foot stomps, an arm flails, while Nika's beautiful face contorts into an angry face that's pretty comical. But when usual measure to invoke cooperation fail, the comedy is over and I become sad annoyed and stressed. A consequence is inevitable; not only is this kind of behavior not sustainable for me, I cannot abandon her to her impulses; she must learn to practice self-control that she doesn't yet posess. And she needs to sleep.

Tonight here's the shakedown:

Me: Nika, that's one...two...three...okay, you're showing me that you're tired, so you'll need to go straight to bed after supper."

Nika: (Wailing) Naaaooo, I don't like being in bed. I don't want to, uh, mmmph (wail)

Me: Nika, if you need to cry some more, you'll need to go to your room. When you're able to calm down you can come out and sit with me while Daddy makes dinner."

Nika: But I caaaan't stop crying. Errr.

Me: I know it's hard, when you're ready c'mon out

Nika: (More sniffling, alternating with sub-wails)

Eventually Nika wanders out of her room and rubs up against me, still sniffling. "I want to stop but I can't, but I want to be out here."

I pull my daughter on my lap; I can see she's really trying. I smooth her hair and snuggle her sniffling little body. Periodically a sub-wail erupts, and I rub her back until she breathes deeply again, her small, lean body rising and falling in my arms. Now I'm not annoyed. Compassion takes over, because I see her trying, really doing her best, and I remember times I've tried to stop my own tears. And it is hard. We read a favorite story, called I Love You So... while Daddy cooks up some chicken tenders and cucumbers.

"Mom, I don't like going to bed right after supper."
"I know baby."

A few mild protests and a pullup later, Nika is tucked in bed. She's not thrilled, but the wild flailing is gone, and my sweet girl is snuggled under her covers. She requests her "baby song" -- a song I created for her while she was growing inside me.

Little one, precious one, your mama loves you
Little one, precious oe, your daddy(s) loves you
But more than all of this, there's a God in heaven who loves you so much...

And when I walk out of her room to the evening before me, I God's using this parenting adventure to teach me something about God's own heart for you, me and every other Godkid. I'm glimpsing something of the way maybe God feels during our shananigans, our best (if imperfect) recovery attempts and our moments of peaceful gratitude.

There's no formula for raising a child. Maybe there's no formula for God's parenting either.

I imagine God doing her best, trying to simultaneously hold and shake and discipline us. God wondering whether to punish us or draw near and plop us on Her lap with reassuring kisses to our little precious heads, full of hairs that only She can count. Does God ever wonder what to do with us? Does God sigh with exhaustion and love and relief when we finally surrender and soothe in Her arms?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Diary of a Baby's First Cheerio

"Pick me! Pick me!" shouted all the cheerios in an eager chorus not at all like the Booklyn Tabernacle Choir.

From fattest Os to the crumbliest, everyone wanted to be Baby's first cheerio, but who was picked? ME! A warm hand curled decisively around me, pucked me up and dangled me in the air, making all kinds of delicious, instructive cooing sounds.

"Gabe! Your very first cheerio...look at that! Would you like to try it?"

Just then I saw my buddy Samual Alfred Julius emerge from the box.

"Look at Mama...Gabe, watch this!"The lady put Sammy plop on her tongue, and with a crunch and a gulp, Samuel Alfred Julius entered the land of esophageal transformation.

Meanwhile, the lady continued to dangle me and gentle press me to the ten-month-old baby's little pink lips. Which utterly refused to budge open a crack, as though to say, "What you are trying pull on me, Ma? I know that's just a toy!"

And before I could say, "Eat me," the little boy picked me up, with remarkable dexterity and began waving me wildly, like a frisky kite, or an airy rollercoaster. Notably, the boy had an impish grin, periodically looking mischieviously at his Mama, bring me close to her face and bursting out in ridiculously joyful cackles.

I sighed. Today would not be the day I'd get to enter the pure cheerio-virgin esophagus of the ten-month-old. Finally the mother lifted the boy from his chair and placed him on the floor to play, shaking her head -- clearly amused. I slid down the tray into a little blue corner; an exiled cheerio wondering, "Will I ever enter the promised land? Or will I die in the desert of family trash, whilst someone else gets to be Baby's first cheerio?

I watched from a distance as the boy crawled off, in mad delight, wildly searching for books to topple, blocks to mouth and Sister's hair to pull with glee. The boy's mother cast a sympathetic look toward me and then turned to go, instantly scooping the boy away from a computer, where he was about to delete her blog. "Gabriel! C'mon, let's go get that blue ball!"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Have a Vent
Share a blessing

The problem with everybody is that everyone is neurotic (read: human) and today it's irritating me. I'm just so aggravated with liberals and conservatives (what the heck, Donald Rumsfel doesn't consider waterboarding torcher? If it isn't, why would using it get information out of someone who otherwise refuses to speak?) I'm annoyed with the sexist tendecies and assumptions of our society and I'm also irritated with angry feminists and I'm annoyed that blogger makes it really difficult for a technophobe like me to upload photos. Also I'm rubbed the wrong way by the fact that chocolate is fattening, as well as yummy. And I'm annoyed that I'm so judgmental and angsty and hypocritical. And I'm also being very negative, which is not healthy!

So I'm opening up this blog for anyone to write in a vent and also to write something a)has warmed their heart or b)create a prayer or blessing for someone on this post. The hope is that together we can release our angst and transform it into goodness -- or at least the precurser to goodness, which is the ability to laugh in the face of badness.

My heartwarming story:

This afternoon my son Gabriel fell asleep in my arms. It was nice to kiss his sweet, sleeping face, this little man put in my home and heart. Of course I knew as soon as I tried to put him in his crib there'd be hell to pay...or at least lower-lip trembling wails. And there was, but no one can take away the memory of that perfect sleeping little angel. And he's actually being pretty well-behaved today, except for occasionally trying to delete this blog or knock over my mocha mug.

My prayer:

My God bless you when you're bitchy
When you're alone, or glum or itchy

My God be your hero when you're in need
And on a good day, help you remember to do a good deed

May God bless Iraq, and Palestine, Israel, Sudan, America and Mexico
May God bless my enemies: Donald Rumsfeld, excessive hormones and people who make inappropriate pregnancy comments (read: Are you having twins, girl?)

May God go before you and behind you, and give you a great behind. Amen.

Let the venting and healing begin!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sin Story

I wrote this poem originally in response to Stacy's post on Open Source Theology about how we experience sin and redemption in our daily lives.

Sin is trying to look like I have wings to fly, when I should be swimming

Saying the right thing for the wrong reason

Living separate from the truth I sense

Forgetting how to love

Keeping love away somehow

Being careless with a being’s heart, even if that being is me

Wanting a better stomachfor myself more than a full stomach for a hungry person

Pretending to be small

Pretending to be big


Failing to love

Absence of love

Coldness that doesn’t seek warmth

Sin fills the spot designed for truth and grace

When that place becomes empty




Feel the need, the pull

Let the pull bring you toward the first hint

Begin turning around to face yourself

Face God

Repentance that brings joy

A child comes home

A lover returns

No longer utterly alone




It’s okay

There’s a little warm fire warming the cold parts

Time will heal



Love covers a multitude of sins
My ten month old son has no idea he's going to be a big brother soon. Nevertheless, recently he's developed a keen interest in babies. Namely an interest in hurling his big sister's baby dolls with an umph and grunt generally reserved for heavy lifters at the gym. The implications of this remain unknown.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Good News

Good news was promised and my eyes droop after hosting a playdate between two overtired four-year-olds and then supper involving three boys (ten months, six years, eight years), the two four-year-old girls and all four parents. My living room looks like a cheerful warzone, if there were such a thing. Now the abbreviated good news:

In short, the good news is that hot, sexy celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna are taking an interest in Africa's children. Now people may debate the politics of international adoption; certainly there are many valid issues to put on the table: Like how do we care for kids in need without becoming condescending to their culture and their birth families? And how do we separate the issue of upper-middle class Americans with fertility difficulties from the matter of children genuinely abandoned or orphaned in countries struggling with AIDS, sex discrimination, etc? For pete's sake, need to make sure vulnerable families are not exploited for their baby booty! Yet in spite of these serious concerns, when famous people with great bodies and botox-inhanced faces get involved in humanitarian work, "making a difference" starts to seem alot sexier. And THAT is good news.

And with the success of the new show, Ugly Betty, by next year, the perfect body and botox face may be a little passe' and the new SEXY might be a little more attainable without photoshop. Yet more good news.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Bad News and the Good News

Apparently the US government is more interested in protecting its arse than safeguarding actual American values like freedom of speech and human rights. According to Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank, our government prevented Oxford scholar, and critic of US foreign policy, Tariq Ramadan from accepting a position at Notre Dame, invoking the Patriot Act's provision for "ideological exclusion," a provision that applies to those who endorse or espouse terrorism. After failing to produce evidence of any support for terrorism, they have now denied him a visa for contributing 600 euros to French and Swiss humanitarian agencies that provide aid to Palestinians. C'mon, Ramadan, didn't you know it's bad U.S. policy to um help people? Or at least it's naughty to help people who have a beef against the people we helped get nukes!


And Tariq Ramadan's lawyer says, "Although the U.S. government has found a new pretext for denying Professor Ramadan's visa, the history of this case makes clear that the government's real concern is not with Professor Ramadan but with his ideas," said ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer, who is lead counsel in this case. "The government is using the immigration laws to silence an articulate critic and to censor political debate inside the United States."


And if you're salivating for more news to make you wish you were Canadian, this from Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank:

Jonathan Turley (Law, George Washington University), in a brief but passionate cable TV interview last night, first, on the President's new power under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (unless the courts strike the Act down) to imprison without trial anyone whom a tribunal appointed by the President himself or the Secretary of Defense declares an enemy combatant:

It's a huge sea change for our democracy. The framers created a system where we did not have to rely on the good graces or good mood of the president. In fact, Madison said that he created a system essentially to be run by devils, where they could not do harm, because we didn't rely on their good motivations. Now we must. And people have no idea how significant this is. What, really, a time of shame this is for the American system. What the Congress did and what the president signed today essentially revokes over 200 years of American principles and values. It couldn't be more significant. And the strange thing is, we've become sort of constitutional couch potatoes. I mean, the Congress just gave the president despotic powers, and you could hear the yawn across the country as people turned to, you know, "Dancing with the Stars."

So what's the good news? There is good news...or at least hopeful news. But it will have to wait til tomorrow, because Gray's Anatomy is about to come on.

Unintended irony, really. I promise good news tomorrow. And I'm not a politician, so I may even be telling the truth!
Princess Belle Is A Vagina Doctor (and other celebrity updates from a four-year-old)

My four-year-old daughter Nika ran to me, pressed her angelic face close to my ear and whispered shyly, "Princess Belle is a Vagina Doctor."

Clearly, there was a trace of mischief wrapped in that sheepish announcement.

Was it the recent memory of accompanying me to the obgyn for a prenatal checkup, or just age appropriate genital fascination? Or Nika's attraction to the medical profession could be pinned on Daddy, who is third year med student. Either way, I was amused and proud. And it seemed fitting that Belle, an ambitious bookish young lady should pursue a career in obstetrics and gynecology. I thought to myself, "Won't that be nice for Beauty to finally put her booksmarts to work! What about the vocational pursuits of the other disney princesses? Did Nika know about their career paths too? Wondering led to asking.

"Nika, what does Snow White do?"

An impish, proud-yet-embarrased grin spread across that four-year-old face as she leaned forward with the plain answer:

"Butt Doctor."

"How bout Cinderella?"

"Surgeon Doctor."

"And Princess Jasmine? What does she do?"

"She goes around. She just sits and goes around."
People Who Think Too Much Annoy Other People

Apparently some people don't think much about the meaning of life, or whether conscience is a social construct designed to provide tribal cohesion for survival, or a divine piece of our gray matter installed (or evolved) by God to help us atune to Truth, God and the American Way. Gosh, that the last part really snuck in -- turns out I've been partially brain washed like all good Americans, but back to the point. Some girls and boys go through childhood and never ponder, at two in the morning, "Do I exist, or am I merely a figment of my imagination?" I was not one those kids lucky enough to pass my childhood in blissful ignorance of the big, serious, pretty much unanswerable questions. Instead, I was the one askng stuff like, "What is a soul?"" from the time I exited the womb. Or very shortly therafter.

I seem to be one those existential, spiritually driven-yet-conflicted people who annoy others who were previously content to picnic next to the soccer field, chatting up the latest exercise equipment, their child's brilliant science project or abysmal homework habits, or a recent morsel of neghborhood gossip, like whether Jimmy and Anne have an open relationship and if anyone else saw Jessy Sue's breasts looking unnaturally perky at the Thomson's barbeque. Okay, I have a problem judging people who don't think about "the important things," and I'm a hypocrit too, because I watch Desperate Housewives. If that didn't lump me in with the best of them, here's a more embarrassing confession, when I look at belly, which, after three pregnancies looks like a cross between an elephant's ear and a map of Arkansas, I sometimes ponder getting some work done. Someday when I can afford it, of course. The difference between me and the people who don't think about "the important things" is illustrated in my very next thought process: "How can I justify a tummy tuck when people are starving in Africa?" I stroke my chin and almost start to hum as I dig fo a decent rationalization, a morally appropriate justification for plastic surgery in the face of world starvation. When I can't think of anything besides the Loreal slogan, "because you're worth it," I fil the whole concept in my mental "draft folder." Sometimes you need space from a project before inspiration hits.

So you see, I'm not better than anyone because I think about deep stuff alot; actually I'm betting someday it'll be classified as a syndrome, called Chronic Spiritual Preoccupation Disorder, or something.

But since I'm wired this way, it makes it harder to write off God. God is everwhere, even in the trees and flowers which seem to boldly proclaim both the colorful and viscious games of evolution and the Divine Song of Creation. God is everywhere, and still God plays hard to get. Really hard to get. The Israelites believed if saw God face to face you would die, almost like getting to close to the sun. I get that; the sun gives light and life, but get to close, and your toast. A few times I've felt God's presence like electricity, like pure, awesome energy, and I can say how straightup God face to face might be overload for these measely human bodies. But like Moses, I long to be close to God, to see God for who God really IS.

Or do I? The Isrealites also believe God wanted them to commit genocide because they were special and God wanted them to have a nice place to call home. And then there's the time the Old Testament pegs God as just itching to do in his OWN people and start over. I mean that's how I often feel about a painting that isn't turning out nicely, but I sure wouldn't take that approach with my kids! Talk about time to call the Department of Social Services.

Many Christians buy the violence and rage ascribed to God as an accurate portrayal of Almighty Yahweh, so holy that he cannot tolerate sin. Yet even before Jesus died for our sins, his most revolutionary quality was the love and acceptance he showed for blatantly imperfect people. And he mentioned that it's nothing special to love the people who preen your ego and reciprocate your kindness; being like God means loving your enemies too. So I wonder how to reconcile the immature and violent behavior attributed to God in the Old Testament with a God who is most holy because he loves even those who don't love him back.

In the gospels, Jesus says, if human beings, sucky as we are, know how to give good gifts to our children, would God give us a stone instead of bread? Or a snake instead of a veggie lasagna? Jesus says we have Creator who cares even for sparrows when they fall. A Christ who suffered and died, rather than exact revenge on his betrayers, who told his friends, "those who live by the sword will die by the sword." Does this fit with a God who wipes out his kids cause they're acting all adolescent on his ass? Or a God who destroys cultures and people groups because they're mistakenly worshipping wooden dolls? God is not without mercy in the Old Testament. Many times God is described as compassionate, patient, long-suffering and faithful. But isn't that the worst, when you think you can trust someone, and then boom, you screw up and now they want to kill you?

Many evangelicals use this three choice argument to tell people about Jesus: He was either Lord, Liar or Lunatic. Here's one for God the Father: Either he's gotten better with time (we can all hope to age like wine, right?) He's a capricious, sometimes loving, sometimes violent being who cycles through the stages of an abusive relationship with his people. Or the Old Testament got God wrong somewhere; there was a breakdown of communication, and we're misinterpreting God. The fourth option is that like me, God hates multiple choice questions and prefers to come up with her own answer, which is currently a secret. Please God, I promise, I won't tell. Of course, I'd probably tell, at least if I knew it wouldn't tick God off enough to send me Beyond before my time.