Thursday, October 30, 2008

Appetite Suppressant

I found this through a blogging friend's blogging friend.

Don't view it anytime around your next meal.

Bon Appetit!

http://cakewrecks.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Allegory of the Cave

So, it's been a wacky week. On our Friday Sabbath day, the boys and I headed to the Children's Museum, which is sporting a heavily publicized exhibit featuring Bob the Builder. Jackson sees the banners flying from the lightposts on Ponce each day as we drive... anywhere. He exclaims, "Mama? Can we go see Bacht the Builder?" I've explained the proper, simpler pronunciation to no avail. Apparently "Bacht" sounds way more convincing than "Bob" (no offense to any reader out there named Bob).

It was fantastic, and a great way to spend a rainy afternoon. I also channeled my inner genius by going at 11:30, just before lunch and universe-mandated naptime for all children, everywhere. By 12:15, we practically had the place to ourselves. It was strange for me because I spent most of my time trying to answer the question: "Where are your children?" I didn't get to interact with them very much, because there was so much other stuff to get their attention. I felt a little useless, but they clearly had a blast. Photographic evidence available here:

Since then, we've been on sick boy lockdown with Jackson. He's got some sort of fever/cough thing that seems low-grade until his tylenol doseage wears off and then he's a miserable little pup all over again. Mind you, I'm writing this on Wednesday and initial symptoms appeared on Saturday. Good times. We did manage to fit in a great birthday party/costume extravaganza on Sunday afternoon, which was a total blast, but may have put our little man over the edge of the balance between health and wellness.

I preached Sunday (sermon posted below!), which, for me, means that our house gets scoured on Saturday. I'm a totally productive procrastinator. Meaning, I will take other tasks that I've been procrastinating on doing and manage to complete all of them while ruminating on current task at hand. So, I took this opportunity to finish AND PUT AWAY all of our laundry and re-arrange our bedroom, office, and living room. It's like nesting, but without all of the nausea and fatigue.

In my chronic rearranging (I do this once a year or so), I scooted our comfy chair with the ottoman into the living room to make this lovely little moment in front of our picture window, right by the heating vent. It's made me start knitting again. And drinking hot beverages. The Fall in Atlanta has come unseasonably early, and we've already started cocooning, abandoning our outside toys and packing away short sleeves. There is also the side-benefit of early onset fall cold n' flu season. Yum.

It was pretty clear that Jackson wasn't going to go to school on Monday, and Cooper was less than pleased about being the only boy to be packed up into the car. He protested and begged, pleaded and yelled, to no avail. Matt and Cooper headed out and left Jackson and I in our cozy, rearranged, clean living room for the morning. That is, until about 15 minutes later when Matt called and announced:

Matt: Cooper just threw up.
Me: [Stunned silence. Replanning morning. Two sick boys. Calculating cans of chicken noodle soup and clear liquids on hand.] Wha?!
Matt: We were pulling into the Clifton School, and he said, "I wanna go home and see Mommy and Jackson." Then, he puked.
Me: [Suspiciously] Do you think he did it on purpose? Did he stick his hands in his mouth?
Matt: Nope. He just... threw up. It's the next step in the evolution of children. Puking on command... instant sick day!

So, they turned around and headed home. We spent the day quitetly and cozily napping and watching "The Incredibles," which is Jackson's new favorite activity. Matt was teaching that night, so super-efficient me got the boys upstairs and in bed by 7:25. I spent the rest of the night teaching myself how to knit again and watching bad tv.

On these days, when one of the boys is sick, Matt and I go into a revolving model of parenting, where one of us swings in as the other swings out. It's no fun, and we're both a little extra stressed about the work we're not doing and the boys we really want to be our full-selves with. I left the house yesterday for the first time in two days, and it made the whole world feel huge. It was my own personal, but far less dramatic Allegory of the Cave. Like everything that happened inside our home was the true reality, but getting outside and breathing the crisp air and moving in a fast car made everything seem questionable and new.

I've spent much of my time since Monday watching The Muppet Show (awesome!), retrieving clear liquids and soup bowls, cuddling with a feverish boy, and praying that this passes soon. Jackson, on the other hand, in between bouts of shivering and hacking, has had a blast. He's loved being home and doing... nothing.

We're on our way to the pediatrician, hoping that this crud will pass before Halloween arrives. Jackson's going as Dash from the Incredibles this year, and he's super-psyched about his SuperSuit.

I pray that he's well. I pray that I don't get awash in a backlog of ministerial responsibilities that I'm putting (temporarily) on hold. I pray that grace and love and time will abound in surprising ways.

I also pray for this puppy, who is bound and determined to change his surroundings. (Tip of the Hat to Matt for finding this on Ezra Klein's blog)



Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sermon: Who Will Be a Witness?

Matthew 22:34-46
The Greatest Commandment

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

The Question about David’s Son

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’ He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’ No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.


For the past three weeks, I've had the pleasure of facilitating a study of the Book of Romans with the Rainbow Class. We had some wonderful discussions, dug deep into the text, and wrestled with what Paul was saying, and not saying, in this important letter.
During our second meeting together, after we had broken down Paul's language in Chapter 1, we started in on Chapter 2 where Paul is instructing the Romans not to judge others, for in doing so, we condemn ourselves. In our discussion of how handy this verse would be to have in our pockets as a response to anyone who might impress their exegetical understanding of Romans 1 upon us, one of our class members raised a question. One member quietly offered: "If we have all of these things that divide us, including how we read and interpret the Bible, then what is it that unites us?"
What, then?
I will confess that I was totally stumped. The class member's observation was astute. As Christians, we are very clear about the things that divide us – our views on ordination rights for women or self-avowed, practicing homosexuals, our interpretation of Scripture and whether or not the Bible is the inerrant word of God, or inspired. We argue over how and why Jesus was born and died. We differ politically, morally, and theologically in almost every way. What, then, unites us?
Sisters and Brothers, I want you to know how concerned I am as a Minister of Jesus Christ that I am unsure what it is in the Christian community that unites us as a body. I am deeply troubled and worried. I wrestled with this question all week, posing it to other clergy friends. None of us could come up with a decent answer that made it seem like we understood what our identity as Christians should be. We got bogged down in liturgical and worship practices, whether or not we all say the Lord's Prayer or celebrate the Sacraments. But this isn't what defines us as the Body of Christ. These practices may fit us for one hour a week, but what about the other six days and 23 hours? How, then, are people to know we are Christians?
Our text in Matthew 22 drops us into a time of questioning. Jesus has been teaching and questioned repeatedly about what his presence in the world means for the people around him. The Pharisees and the Sadducees, in particular, have found themselves in a game of truth-seeking for the narrow minded. Picking up their racket, the chief priests and elders begin the match by lobbing the important question of Jesus' authority to teach such things in the temple. Jesus answers, Socratically, by matching their question with another: "Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or of human origin?" Stumped, the chief priests and elders respond indecisively. Fifteen-love.
The Pharisees served up another question, seeking to entrap him in what he said. "Tell us, impartial teacher, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" Jesus was sly and quick, and returned their point into the heart of their own territory: "Whose head is on this coin?" "The Emperor!" Able Pharisees responded. "Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." Thirty – Love. The Sadducees tried their skills by asking about whose wife a widow would be in the resurrection." "God is not God of the dead, but God of the living," Jesus swings – as if with one hand tied behind his back. Forty-Love.
As the audience, we read the end of Matthew with intrigue as each of these parties volleyed questions back and forth in a debate of dull wittedness, each side assuming that their men possessed the right question to stump this man who was looking more and more like a Prophet each day. Jesus has been saying troubling things all along, but this is where it starts getting particularly good. The Pharisees and Sadducees are endless in their pursuit of their own version of truth. Unfortunately, what they seek is not the Truth of God. Despite their flawed and mistaken motives, they do wind up asking pretty good questions. Or, at least, getting pretty good answers.
The Pharisees set up for their last shot at scoring a point. They sent forth their best man: a lawyer. He throws out a question that is dear to his own heart: "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Surely Jesus would have an answer for this. But, as we all know, devout Jews followed all of the laws in the Scriptures. All of them. So, this was it – the big one. A vote one way would support the Pharisees, the defenders of moral law. A vote the other way would imply that the Sadducees were right as defenders of ceremonial law. Jesus was finally going to show some partisan leanings in his answer.
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." Game. Set. Match. Right?
One would think. Except that Jesus takes this time to ask the Pharisees their own question. Rather than acting on the defensive, Jesus attacks: "What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?" The Pharisees, studied and prepared, respond: "He is the son of David." But Jesus, having already won the match, slams his response deep in their court: "How is it then that David, by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet."? If David calls him Lord, how can he be his son?"
No one was able to give him an answer, nor did they dare to ask him any more questions. They had tried, tested, questioned and succumbed. But their defeat was worse than the end of their inquisitiveness. After he addressed the Pharisees for the last time, he turned to the crowds and his disciples and denounced the scribes and Pharisees as hypocrites, over and over again in his own litany of rage and prophecy. This is no modest victory for the Son of Man. This was the moment where the false teachers lost their credibility and the Messiah proclaimed without apology what it meant to stand against the work of God in the world.
So, then, for us to begin our questioning again must be done with fear and trembling. For there is much we claim to understand about God and God's presence in the world. How, then, have we gotten so far from the unifying Word of Jesus Christ when he said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself." These days, it is increasingly hard to love our neighbors. Each morning, when I drive to work after dropping the boys off at school, I drive through a section of town I've dubbed "The Republicrats." Neighbors, right and left, north and south, sport signs in their yards witnessing to their choice of Presidential candidates. It is the most diverse stretch of road I've seen in Atlanta this fall. Out in Decatur, we're a pretty homogenous bunch, so our yard-witness looks more like Groupthink than personal ideology.
I admire the Republicrats on Johnson Rd. Somehow or another, they've decided to be bold about their witness for their preferred candidate, and there is a sense of harmony in their dissonance. Indeed, it's likely that the vote of one will simply cancel out the vote of the other, but I admire the fact that there is something beyond their political ideology that makes these folks neighbors. For starters, they all make a lot of money and live in lovely homes in a great area of town. So, looking out the window and seeing an opposing viewpoint can be a little less maddening behind rose-colored glasses and after a short commute. I am making assumptions about these folks that I cannot verify, but I do hold to one truth of the matter: In their differences, they are witnessing to two things: the importance of this election to them, and their choice to live in harmony with their neighbors, despite their differences.
Now, I cannot speak for these folks or their faith stories or their job situations or their familial harmony. No assumption I can make would be true or accurate. But I do know that their witness is calling me to consider my own witness in this world. Let's revisit our earlier question: What is it that unifies us, as Christians? (Spoiler alert: the answer, as we know, is LOVE. We are called to LOVE the Lord our God, and to LOVE our neighbor.) But, Sisters and Brothers in Christ… how are we doing that?
Let's first think what it means to Love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. I cannot answer this question for you. I cannot be the one to tell you what this would look like for you. But I can tell you how important it is to believe that God, who made you and calls you by name, also LOVES you to your core. Do you know how powerful this love is? That this is not a love that judges or is disingenuous? Do you know that God's love for you – you, my friends – is more powerful than any enemy's hatred, any brother's wrongdoing, any sister's unkind word, any parent's neglect, any partner's dismissal, any friend's misunderstanding… God's love is more powerful than anything else we have here that glimmers in an attempt to compare.
We, my sisters and brothers, are a pretty broken bunch. We can do our best to love with arms wide open, but we will close them slightly when worried about what others will think if we lose control and love to our fullest. But the good news is this: God's love is relentless, abiding, passionate and considerate. God's love will be present for us in all that we see and do if we are simply open to receiving it. God loves us so much that God even gives us the opportunity to realize on our own how great this love is. We're not hardwired to say "yes" to God the instant that God presses our "on" button in the womb. Rather, we're given the chance to get out into the world and to experience love from our parents and friends to see how great it can be, even though it's sometimes painful.
How, then, can we love our neighbors as ourselves? By not ripping our their candidate's sign from their yards in the dark of night? Fortunately for us, there's more to it than that, and Paul is thoughtful enough in Romans 12 to provide a short list of things that mark a true Christian, and in its pithiness, it reads a bit like advice one would give to a recent graduate. Paul writes: "Let love be genuine. Hate what is evil. Hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; out do one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in the spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you. Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not claim to be wiser than you are. If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink." (Romans 12: 9-20)
For Paul, loving one's neighbor is not difficult. It doesn't call us to donate organs or sell all we have for the sake of living in harmony together. Rather, Paul says that a true Christian does what is right, rather than what feels good. "Do not repay evil for evil. Remember that Vengeance is the Lord's, and when we give our enemies something to drink, it will heap burning coals on their heads." See, Paul understands that we want our enemies to feel it when we respond to their actions. But Paul doesn't encourage us to use actual burning coals, however much we'd like to. No – Paul says, return evil with good. And then watch 'em squirm. And beware – they just might squirm their ways into our hearts as friends, not enemies.
Let me pose another question, as well: What is it that sets us apart, as Christians? How is it that we are called to act differently than anyone else, to be in this world, but not of it? I hope that we can all claim faith in God and Jesus Christ as a unifying factor in our lives together. Today, we celebrate a baptism of an infant, and together we will promise the parents of this child that we will love him and support him and teach him about Jesus. I hope you know that we're blessed to be a part of a community that would make such a promise. Many of you heard that promise in your infancy or young adulthood. Those churches may very well have raised you up to be good Baptists or Methodists, Episcopals, Catholics, or Presbyterians. But maybe those churches said or did some things along the way that made you feel like the promise they made to you wasn't good anymore. Maybe they told you that you were no longer welcome to worship there. But today, we make a promise together to this family in saying, not only do we promise to raise up your child in the faith, but we renew the vows that were taken at our own baptism so that we will know that those promises are still good today. Here. Now.
Today, you have the chance to be a witness for this baby being baptized. Today, you have the chance to do something differently because you are a Christian. Today, you have the chance to consider what you're doing on this planet and how you can be more thoughtful, more conscientious, more consistent with your beliefs. If you believe that God created this world and called it good, then let us celebrate in the goodness of God's creation! Take today to reconsider the food you eat and the clothes you wear and where they came from and how they were made. In this brisk fall that we're enjoying so unseasonably early for Atlanta, take the time to be outside in the cool air. Try walking or biking to work or MARTA and burning a little less gasoline. Carpool. Make homemade food tonight, and eat it all week long with friends and neighbors. And if it's terrible, then hope that your friends and neighbors do the same.
These are such small steps, but God is calling us to be a little more considerate and consistent with how we treat one another and this gorgeous creation we've been given. Today, you have the opportunity to consider your witness as a Christian. What will you do? What will you do differently? How will you live out the call that God has given to you to think and to do and to be different than you were before you knew how much God loves you? Remember – you're not doing this alone. We, brothers and sisters, are in this community together, and we have made a promise to raise each other up in the faith, repay good for evil, and to Love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our souls and all of our minds. Beloved, Let us love one another.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Jerkstore.

Tonight, I arrived home from church after a long day of, well, bookshelf assembly. (For those of you Saint Markers out there: THE NAMETAGS HAVE A NEW HOME!) My friend Robert and I spent the morning at IKEA and the afternoon in the Narthex, and the evening in the fellowship hall, and then I stayed late into the evening for Theology on Tap. It's been a long, but very productive day.

So, I was sitting on our big blue Ektorp couch, catching up on my favorite blogs. I came across this great quote about undecided voters, and as Matt was joining me for some World-Series-Daily-Show watching (he's a big channel flipper), I mustered up my best reading voice and said, "Okay... who does this sound like?"

Mandy: (reading quote) "I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of sh*t with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?"

Matt: Oh, that sounds like David Sedaris to me.

Mandy: WOW! I can't believe you guessed that! Great job...you read it already, didn't you.

Matt: [Deadpan] Earlier today.

Mandy: I'm writing about this in my blog. (Pthbbbt.)

Let that be a lesson to you all.



Tuesday, October 21, 2008

From Color to Color...

Our dialogue on the way to school this morning:

Jackson: Mama - is it fall?

Me: Yes, Bear. It's fall.

J: Have the leaves fallen off the trees?

Me: No, not yet, love. But, they're changing.

J: From color to color?

Me: [silence.]

Profundity strikes again.

*****
The above photo was taken by a lovely congregant at Sunday's Blessing of the Animals. It's a rare and special treat to have all five of us in a photo.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Now Autumn's fire burns slowly...

So, my Google-diagnosis of bronchitis might have been a little overdramatic, because the hacking, terrible cough seems to have faded into the distance. Today was a gorgeous day, and the last few have been filled with an explosion of light and love, which is odd for Fall.

Until I moved to Princeton, I had no idea what this season of Fall was all about. In Knoxville, the season lept on one, cold rainy day from summer to winter, and would retreat back on a whim a few hours later. New Jersey, however, knew how to do Fall properly. As soon as school began in late September, the leaves would obediently and unapologetically change from shiny green to vibrant reds and yellows. I had to learn how to dress for this season in lightweight jackets and scarves aplenty. I began drinking cider, squeezed from a local orchard, and breathed in deeply of the fragrance of this new season. Along with the change in weather came a change in attitude, focused on intention and how things would be different this year.

But this fall has been, mercifully, different. Last weekend, I went to a baby's first birthday party, which is always a blast. Despite my recent cruddiness, a lot of Advil and expectorant got me through it. Jackson came with me, and we had a great time reconnecting and playing with someone else's toys, respectively. As soon as we arrived home, I changed clothes and hopped back in the car to go to Dahlonega for a dear friend's wedding. It was so, so beautiful, and the service, having been planned by the Rev. Bride, was thoughtful and rich and worshipful. It was church at its best, and two lovely people got married, to boot. I saw lots of friends, mostly new ones to me, and it was an incredible gift to be in the midst of all of that lovey-doviness and hope for the future.

Sunday came, and along with it, our church picnic. My family zipped home and exchanged our cars for bikes, and arrived in style at McKoy Park, which has always been special to us. Matt braved Dementor Bike for the sake of the outing, and Cooper and Jackson looked thrilled with the event. Our day was filled with good conversation, yummy fried chicken and biscuits, playgrounds, and a rockin' kickball game that featured toddlers running the bases. It was so great that we stayed way past naptime, and Cooper fell asleep in the bike seat on the way home, despite Dementor Bike's shrugging off of its chain mid-ride. I got a couple of pictures of poor Matt walking the bike with sleeping baby home.

That night, a friendship triangle got completed when a friend from seminary and a mututal friend from Georgia both came over for the evening. We've all known that we know each other, but have never been in the same space at the same time. Pitch in Matt's Presbyterian/Dutch/Calvin connections, and it was like an evening of "This is Your Life!" only fun, and not so private-investigator, "Get out of my head!"-like.

Earlier this week, another dear friend welcomed her third baby into the world, and a girl to boot. In my "I'm thinking of you and praying for your labor!" phone message, I got all weepy. October always does this to me. I think my nostalgia, longing and envy for another baby have been pretty clear throughout these posts, but I got a little overwhelmed by it all. So, my message sounded something like: "Hey! I just want you to know that I'm thinking of you and your new baby girl. I pray that all goes well for you, and wow... THREE KIDS! I can't believe it! I mean, I'm a little envious, and (sniff!) I just want you to know how much I love you and miss you and how proud I am of you and I can't wait to meet her, and just know that I'm thinking of you." (SOB!)

I hung up, sort of mid-weep, and realized that the message had stopped being about her baby and started being about me at some point. So, I promptly called her home number and left a "Hey... isn't your baby supposed to be born today? Wow, that's neat. Call me! Um, sorry about my crazy cell phone message. Ha ha ha" pseudo-detached message and tried to mask my emotion.

It's all been... a lot. Jackson turned four on Oct. 7. He writes his name when he gets to school. Cooper is fully potty trained. My children play games and have conversations together. J had a huge party at the Peachtree-DeKalb Airport, with three of four grandparents and 30 friends. There were moments every 8 seconds that made me think: "I'll write about that later!" But, of course, time gets the best of me, and I try to scramble together my most coherent and interesting thoughts past the point of recollection. All I can gather in this swirl of emotion is that October has been wonderful and overflowing with joy, including yesterday when we stood in line for 40 minutes to early-vote for Barack Obama for President. Don't tell John McCain, but I let Jackson press the button on my ballot.

In the midst of this, we've become a biking family. I've ridden my bike to work twice in the last 2 weeks. This is mostly true. In actuality, I've ridden my bike to MARTA, but let me spread the smugness for a bit: This past Wednesday, I actually rode 9.1 miles! The problem is, I only live 7.8 miles from St. Mark. The extra mileage was due to a lunch date in a slightly opposite direction and some rotten signage on the PATH, which disappeared mid-route, and resulted in me stumbling into the grassy and pleasant Candler Park before calling Matt in a fit of exhaustion and asking him to point me to the closest MARTA station (Reynoldstown, in case you're wondering). So, I rode 9.1 miles, and I still had to ride the train. Ugh. But, I'll keep trying.

Today, after masquerading as actual Winnona Park residents while attending a five-year-old friend's soccer game, J and I spent the afternoon making homemade butternut squash and beer bread. (As an aside, he ate none. That child and I are like one. I totally get that mentality.) After attempting to partake in the perfect Fall supper we'd created, Jackson and I made good on a promise which was to bike to Dr. Bombay's Underwater Tea Party in Candler Park. There, they serve Superhero Ice Cream and have a sign with a gentle reminder that "Unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy." Touche, Dr. Bombay.

So, we were on our best behavior, which was easy after a 3.5ish mile ride. Because I can only take one boy on a bike with me at a time, Matt timed it so that he and Cooper could drive and meet us there. Seriously, Dementor Bike is that bad. Earlier today, I found something called A-Trail (which, oddly enough, is the same pronounciation of my great aunt Atriele's name. Weird, huh?) that would plan out the best biking route possible for us. I took down all of the directions, most of which involved biking 53 feet on a back road before turning right onto another. Here was the tricky part: the directions suggested something about the East Lake MARTA station and "passing through." Once J and I got that far, it was clear that there was no "passing through" from the station to West Howard St., which is on the other side of the gigantic MARTA tracks. In retrospect, I think that A-Trail wanted us to go through the MARTA parking lot, then take the elevator up and pedestrian bridge across the tracks. What?! I mean, technically, that's probably the safest way, but still... a little clarity would have been nice, A-Trail. She was always an opaque conversationalist. But she made great biscuits, and managed to keep a few toys around for me when I visited, so you know... it's not all bad. But still... an elevator? On a bike?!

We concluded our evening with an impromptu living room concert, featuring Mama on guitar and actual-lyrics, Jackson on conga drums and Cooper, the semi-naked cowboy, on bass and sentence fragments. Matt was in charge of photojournalism, and caught these beauties on film. It's been such a fine, fine way for October to break in.

In the past, the fall has felt full of potential and possibility, and the winter chips in with the sudden and relentless reminder that all of that possibility was going unfulfilled. Fall felt more like longing for what life could be than what it actually was. But this year, things are different. The boys are doing so, so well. Jackson has come into his four-year-oldness with such grace and ability. We are blessed, indeed, to have two such healty and spirited children whom we love with such little effort. However the moon and stars have aligned this year, we find ourselves in the thick of loveliness and delight.

It is not to say that life is always smooth these days. Cooper, in fact, spent about 4.8 solid hours crying today, for no explicable reason except that we gave him a sailboat sippy cup instead of a Thomas sippy cup. Fools that we are. And, for some reason, that child won't eat. Ever. He subsists on Soy Milk only. I'm trying not to worry, since some of the best parenting advice I've ever gotten was from an article on our children's diets. We worry that they don't eat 3 square meals a day with a variety of foods from each food group. So, the article commented, don't worry about each day. Look at them over the course of a week or month, and then see how their tastes circle and their bodies wind up getting what they need. If they have a fruit binge in early June, know that they'll have a carbo-load mid-month. This sort of advice has guided me beyond menu planning and into the cycle of life, which is, just that: a cycle. When our needs arise, they will be met.

I think this month, we needed life to be good. And it has been, for several months now. The last six years has been packed with constant change. If you look at that "Things that Cause Stress" checklist, we've put our mark in almost every box. Twice. Thank Heavens we've not had death or illness stake their claim on us, but we've covered just about everything else. We've moved five times in six years, had two children in four years, changed jobs and locations and lost things and found different things. It's been hard. But this year, as Matt starts teaching and the boys start relying on us in different ways, it feels relieving to find some consistency and a little break in the cycle of stress.

Before heading out this afternoon, we were trying to make sure we had everything we needed. To pass the time, the boys were playing baseball. Matt pitched a ball to Jackson which made that tell-tale "tdink" sound and the ball sailed over my head and onto our roof. As Jackson rounded the bases, this exchange transpired:

Daddy: "WOW Jackson!!! HOME RUN!!!"

Jackson: "Yeah!! Home run! Put THAT in your blog, Mama!"

I will, indeed, son. I will indeed.

Blessings to you all on your days. Autumn and hereafter.

Friday, October 10, 2008

What goes around...

Tonight, Google diagnosed me with bronchitis. Acute, not chronic. And, Dr. G told me that I shouldn't mix antihistimines with expectorants or else my fluid-filled, virally affected lungs would stage a protest and walk out of my body, waving a white flag (they'd use my appendix, but it made its own exodus in 1986). Thanks, Google. Thanks.

Let's just say that today has been my own sort of sick day, but instead of rest and bad television, it involved a doctor's visit for Jackson's 4 year old checkup and a quick run to Target where I managed to spend $17. I'm not kidding. Nor am I sure how. But, I think this alone is an indicator of how rotten I actually feel that I couldn't even impulse-buy my way into healthiness. The boys and I even went to Rise n' Dine, my favorite breakfast spot, this morning and no amount of shabby chic decor, fabulous coffee or chocolate chip pancakes could squelch the fact that I. Feel. Crappy.

We got home, and had a classic Flemming duel over naptime. Cooper is usually very diligent at falling asleep without much fuss, and Jackson's happily past the days where I swaddled (read: wrestled) him into submission for the afternoon. We managed to all get about 45 minutes of downtime before picking Matt up to head to the pediatrician.

Check-ups and well visits have always been a full-family tradition. I remember going when Jackson was a week old, and the oddness of hearing his name called out by the nurse:

"Jackson Flemming?"

"HA!" I thought. "That's what I was going to name my kid! Weird, huh?"

"JACKSON FLEMMING?"

"Why is she looking at me? OH! She's talking about my baby!"

Once she got my attention, I realized that I wasn't dreaming, and the walls weren't turning into a construction site and the people in the room weren't being replaced by former pets. Rather, I was fully awake and this woman was actually talking about the real-live person that I'd birthed, who had a real-live identity and a name that was going to forever be used to refer to him. It was sobering. Good think I liked his name, 'cause other people were having the audacity to actually use it.

Today, the four of us rounded our way into the Well waiting room, and the very polite family with their two-year old son looked in mild amusement as my sons dominated the play area and their boy's personal space. Fortunately, they were called back quickly. I hacked and coughed with much less discretion than I'd like to admit, and made some self-depricating comments about my sitting in the Sick waiting room by myself. Ha ha. Ha.

Ugh.

By the time they called us back, Jackson was ready and Cooper was out of control. He spent the visit forcing Matt to run lines up and down the hallways like he was a 9th grader trying out for the basketball team. We tried to appear put-together and collected, but Cooper was having none of it. In the meantime, Jackson was weighing in as a gigantic gronk with perfect vision and hearing. He even got to listen to his own heartbeat. He was pleasant, cooperative, and thoughtful. That is, until the shots.

We negotiated our way out of two shots, 'cause I'm pushy and stubborn and refuse to let my kids be medicated beyond reason. I also always skip the flu shot. I am a neo-hippie, and I've only had to push one nurse on this in the course of my parenting. Because of the scares with mercury in vaccines and the obvious bad idea of flooding one's child with viruses in their most vulnerable states, I keep my children on an alterate and more lengthy vaccination schedule. They do get vaccinated, but on my schedule. I will add that I take particular offense to the flu shot. I just don't find it to be effective except in ensuring that your kid will come down with the flu... immediately. And, I'm pretty sure that J's not going to contract Polio before our next round. Call me naïve. Call me foolish. But, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. Also, I'm sick, so hold your feedback until I can speak without wheezing.

My negotiation from 5 shots down to 2 was not that impressive to Jackson who was terrified and vocal about his protest. In his infancy, Matt was the parent-in-charge for shots. I just couldn't handle it (to date, on the "Things Mandy defers to Matt" list are: vomit, shots). I think it's the same for parents who can't be in the same room during their child's Briss. Today, for some reason, prehaps because I was cough-y and phlegm-y and would have been cut from Cooper's top ten list of players to keep that day, I got to sit with Jackson during his shots. It was like a glimpse of old times when I, literally, had to wrestle Jackson to sleep for his naps. It had the appearance of tenderness, with me wrapping his limbs meticulously in a blanket, cooing tender words to him while he registered his protests. If the room was set to "mute" it might have looked sweet. In reality, it was like someone trying to convince a greased pig that snuggling up with a hot skillet would make for a nice way to pass the time.

There are times where I would love to bottle up some of the moments of their babyhood and re-live them later. The feeding, the cuddling, the phantom nursing, the rocking... I would do anything, some days, to repeat the rhythms of those early days. Today, my baby boy let me hold him and comfort him in ways that were utterly familiar. In both of our bones, we remembered how it felt to feel frustrated beyond words and quietly still in the pain of it all.

Matt took the boys out to the car and when I emerged, vaccination report in hand, they were still wired. Jackson had tears streaming down his face, and he was clear that his leg was not able to bear his weight, perhaps ever again. Cooper was demanding MILK (if I were to write down an entire conversation with Cooper, all of his words would appear in ALL CAPS), and Jackson was ready to go home.

When we pulled into the driveway, the balm that is home soothed these boys instantly. After emptying their bladders on our lawn, Calvin and Hobbes-style (see photo!), C was ready to play baseball, J was ready to bike. This is remarkable given the trauma to his thigh from the 3" long needles and our optimistically long ride on Tuesday evening, in which I made one of the most colossally bad parenting decisions of my life. Why, you ask? Well, I'll tell you.

[BLOG FLASHBACK!] Tues, Oct 7, 2008: For some reason, I opted to let each boy take his own bike on our ride, rather than insisting that C ride with me on the tandem. J had just received a brand new bike for his big ol' 4th birthday, and he was eager and ready. We headed out, crossing the unknown territory of Candler Rd, and into West East Lake. The three of us made it three blocks before the red lights started bleeping and the sirens warned me that we'd gone too far! Let's just say that it took us 20 minutes to make to three blocks, and 80 to make it back home. At some point, I morphed from "fun mom" into "Coach Mom." I stopped being peppy and encouraging and became, uh, pushy and scientific, saying things like, "GO, BOYS GO! DON'T LET THE SPEED SCARE YOU! SPEED IS YOUR FRIEND ON A BIKE! GO FAST, THE MOMENTUM WILL CARRY YOU! DON'T STOP! LET YOUR BIKE WORK FOR YOU, NOT AGAINST YOU! DON'T STOP! GO, GO, GO!"

The subtle nuances of my actual encouragement were lost on my boys. In all fairness, I should also admit the subtle nuances of their balking were lost on me. About 80% into our ride, it occurred to me that J couldn't use the hand brakes on his shiny, new bike, and didn't know how to use the foot breaks. Also, Tiny C didn't have any brakes at all. So, we practiced pedaling forward to GO!, and backward to STOP! Things went a lot smoother after that. I assure you that I apologized and mentally slapped my own forehead in shame without any prompting.

So today, when we arrived home, the afternoon was cool and sunny, and it was past time for my antihistimine-free expectorant. Matt played with the boys outside, biking them up and down the street, and I sat pitifully on the couch, waiting for Friday Night Pizza to arrive.

After dinner, Matt took the boys to the bathroom and I listened to the sound of three boys in the bath, which is funny because I only have two children. I eventually got drawn into the fray of all of them splashing and the boys washing Matt's hair with eagerness and more tenderness than I would have expected, since they easily could have enacted total revenge for all of the water we've ever poured into their eyes in one fell swoop. But, they were kind and we wrangled them upstairs and got them to sleep fairly quickly.

So, tonight, after the boys went to bed, I ran a bath for myself, which I haven't done since I was in labor with Cooper. I mean, I shower on a near-daily basis, I'm just not big on baths. I submerged my already floating lungs under the warmth of the water, and read my latest issue of Wondertime, a great magazine with some fantastic articles on the science of humor, particularly in children, and pregnancy dreams. It was calm, quiet, and soothing.

Today, Jackson's nurse chided me as I hacked, saying, "You know, mom, you need to take care of yourself, too." She's right, and for some reason, I rarely take the chance to do so. Sick days make me feel wimpy, self-indulgent, gluttonous. But, they also make me feel... better. Keeping the boys home today when they could have gone to school might have been a mistake, but they found ways to care for me in spite of it.

Matt rushed out to our neighborhood pharmacy this morning to get me the finest Robitussin DM money can buy, and throughout the day, Cooper ran to retreive the bottle every time I was wrecked with a paritcularly bad bought of coughing.

"MAMA, YOU SICK?"
"Yes, baby, Mama's sick."
"YOU NEED MEDICINE?!"
"Yes, baby, daddy got me medicine."
"I GO GET IT FOR YOU."

He would trot off each time to return with the bottle in hand. And tonight, as Matt and I were tucking the boys in bed, I was drop-kicked by my infested bronchioles. Jackson came over, and started rubbing my back. Cooper followed suit. If they had offered me some chicken soup and Tiger Balm, I wouldn't have been surprised.

As I soaked in my potentially-last bath of the Bush Administration, I thanked God for these boys who cared enough for me to ensure that I found my path to rest and recuperation. I saw their tenderness and compassion, and was grateful for their willing hearts and thoughtful minds. Maybe Matt and I have instilled some of this in them, maybe nature is responsible. But I know that I'm grateful for their care and love that's come back around to me.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

For Jackson, My 4 year old boy

Four years ago,

I was not yet a mother. I was a new wife and a new pastor with a new church in a new home in a new town. In the two years previous, everything about my identity had changed: my title, my last name, my occupation, and now, my girth. I hadn't changed weight or size since high school, but now, I was expanded beyond my furthest imagination.

Growing in me was a boy. A perfect, beautiful, opinionated, music-loving, focused and passionate little boy. From the moment Jackson opted to be born (and believe me, there were times that I was ready to take this choice away from him, but I hung in there for the full NINE DAYS past his due date until he decided he was ready. Four years later, I'm still not over it...), a power and force came into my world that shook me harder and grounded me faster than any other I've ever experienced.

I'm sure most other parents - perhaps mothers, in particular- would agree that having their first child was the most earth-shaking event of their lives. For me, it made two things clear: that my capacity to love you, Jackson Bear, was surpassed only by God's capacity to love all of us. That alone was a gift to me. I also learned that how to definitively understand what was truly important and, by contrast, what was truly worthless in my life. I wanted to sink all of my energy and time into being with you and there was little else that mattered beyond my care of you. I learned that my family and friends are so incredibly dear to me, and would also be dear to you. So, we've worked hard as a family to make and maintain important friendships and connections that will support all of us through our journey together. There's a picture below of you and your bestest buddy, Owen, right after you both turned 1. You're bald, unable to walk unsupported, and completely adorable.

Jackson, you are personally responsible for shaping me into the person and minister (and mother) that I am today. Your strength and determination are an inspiration to me. The photo above is of you at 11 weeks, on the verge of army-crawling off your baby play mat. You stood up in your crib at 5 1/2 months. You never, ever slept through the night. Life, for you, was far too good to let pass lying down. So you have fought and maneuvered literally tooth and nail to achieve everything for yourself in your own time. The down side is that there is no bargaining with you. You're a pretty strong-willed guy, you know? The up side? No one is taking anything from my baby that he doesn't want to give.

You are also the most compassionate person I've ever know. I hesitate to write this story here, because it's so rich with possibility for other venues, but what the heck... you only turn 4 once, right? One day, when you were about 16 months old, we were in a restaurant getting lunch. We had ordered, and were getting our drinks when you toddled over and asked for water. Being the ever-gracious mother that I am, I filled a plastic cup with approximately .65 mL of water, since you were still new to this walking thing, and I didn't want to create a mess. Instead of taking a hearty sip, you took that cup of water and turned towards a table where a woman was sitting alone. With bravery and confidence, you put your cup on her table, backed up as she surprisingly and gratefully took notice, and said, simply, "Here you go!"

A woman, dining alone, didn't have to go thirsty. You, my giving little son, offered her communion and took notice of her solitude. Without judgment or expectation, you offered her water. Then, you toddled off to your own grilled cheese.

Someday, when you're able to read this yourself, I hope you take from it how proud we are of you. To watch you love and care for everyone with such tenderness is the essence of what any good person should do for another. You're just not bogged down in all the other rottenness that seems to get in the way for the rest of us. Cooper is blessed to have you, generous soul, as an older brother. From the day he came into the world, you have been sweet and tender and kind to him. Watching your sibling relationship develop with him is endlessly fascinating. When you could have gotten crabby, you've gotten extra kind. When you could have been jealous, you chose to be nurturing.

I have to say that one of my favorite parts about you is that you're also a total goofball, but you're really clever about it. Last December, we saw Dan Zanes in Concert at the Variety Playhouse, and you were just coming into your own as a dude. A dude who loves music. And concerts. And Dan Zanes.

Your hair, which had previously been a sort of apology for what actual hair should be, was suddenly starting to grow into this glorious, ringlety jumble of blondeness. I think you were starting to get just how cool you are. After the concert, we were packing up to go home, and you swiped my sunglasses and went on an Entourage-esque parade in front of us. I can't describe how hilarious it was to watch you, full of confidence and light, enjoying the kid-ness of your day.

I hope you know how many people love and pray for you each night. Yesterday, we said goodbye to Pupa on his birthday as he flew back to Seattle. Yours is the last in the Flemming Trilogy of birthdays, and I am so glad to celebrate this day with you, my son, my boy, my joy.

I'll leave you with a benediction written by your Godmother, Aunty Kara:

Congratulations on your 4th Birthday. Being 4 is pretty cool - I remember four, it's a great year. You've got lots of really great surprises in store this year, cool things like reading and writing, bike riding and getting into carnival rides.
I know you're going to like being four.
So, sweet Jackson, as you sleep tonight, the world whispers goodbye forever to the baby Jackson, and smiles a secret happy hello to the boy.

We love you, Jackson Matthew.

Happy Birthday.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dear Matty


Dear Matt,

Today you are ... older than you were yesterday.

This morning, Cooper woke up absurdly early. There is a buzz of excitement (and anxiety) in the air because today begins the chaos that is the Flemming Birthday Bonanza!!! Right now, you are on your way to pick up your father, Pupa, and spend the day as the middle of three generations of Flemmings who are, at last, in one another's company.

I just want to tell you that I'm proud of you, and I love you. I can see the excitement that this day brings, like you really are a kid again somehow. Birthdays should have that set-apart feeling where you get to sleep late, get woken up with treats and hand-drawn cards and presents, and try to ignore the crabbiness of your wife who's been up since 6:10 with the baby. But you were patient and kind and gracious, embodying all of the goodness that one should feel and radiate on his birthday.

Today, I celebrate the day you were born. It hovers so close to when your father and our son were born that God most certainly knew was up in scheduling this mess. I look to you and I see the orbit of energy, generoisty, and effervescent love that connects you from generation to generation. You were knit together in your mother's womb and prepared for a life of fullness and emotion, joy and sorrow. I am so grateful that somehow, in some divine and mysterious way, you... a baby born in Canada got matched up with me, a little girl from Tennessee. It's impossible, unlikely, and can only be pre-ordained.

(As an aside: the Reformed theology so evidently present in this post is my birthday gift to Matt.)

I know that today, on your birthday, you will celebrate with laughter and light, company of friends and family, and you will rejoice that God has provided you with all that you need. I am so glad that I get to share this day and lifetime with you as your wife and best friend.

Happy Birthday, Boo.

Love,
Mandy