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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Accompaniment

I have been thinking about the theme of accompaniment for a few weeks now - inspired by journey stories of the Old Testament and God's accompaniment on those journeys, and my own reflections on reaching the milestone of living a year in a new place and God's accompaniment in transition.

Accompaniment is a word that has musical connotations for me. One who provides musical accompaniment has a complex role, being present in the background, sometimes supporting or enhancing, sometimes leading, and sometimes building a bridge from one section to another. If you have been to a silent movie where the piano player sets the tone of the scene through the musical score, or listened to a soloist sing a song with significant changes in tempo or key, supported through them by the instrumental accompaniment, you can recognize the work and artistry of accompaniment.

Many times the role of accompanist is deemed subordinate to the role of soloist. After all, at the end of the song, it's the soloist who takes the bow. The most gracious stars will acknowledge their accompanist but the applause is still mostly for the star - isn't he or she great for acknowledging the piano player or the chorus?

As you read the epic stories of the Old Testament, you can see God's accompaniment supporting, leading and building bridges for the main characters: going with Adam and Eve as they are banished from the garden, leading Joseph to plan and prepare for a time of famine and allowing Moses to part the waters and create a bridge of dry land to the wilderness on the way to freedom.

God has been the accompanist to my personal "Life Song" as well - supporting, leading, and providing the bridge from one section to another. And what a great accompanist: supporting me with food, shelter, relationships, work and meaning - the essentials of life. God continues to be the heartbeat that keeps me moving, leading me forward when I would linger too long or holding me back when I would rush forward too soon. God has bridged the segments of my life: from married to single, from mother to empy-nester, from a city in Texas to a small town in Minnesota. God has accompanied me, in the fullest sense of the word.

Am I, created in the image of God, supposed to provide accompaniment as well? Am I supposed to support, lead, and bridge for others? What does it look like to accompany children, spouses, siblings, parents or friends on their journeys the way that God accompanies me? I believe this may be a skill and an attitude to be cultivated in a culture that teaches us to look out for #1. While many of you may already do this as naturally as breathing (I will be watching and learning!) the rest of us will need to learn to accompany. As we seek to accompany one another, what will result? I'm thinking it may be a orchestra!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Homecoming

It's homecoming week in my little town. I don't know how many people actually come home for it, or how many people ever left but it has a lovely ring to it: homecoming. In the midst of our local celebrations I've been thinking a lot about "homecoming":

This month marks the anniversary of the death of a friend who introduced me to another use of the word homecoming: the day they brought their adopted child home. Their family celebrated Homecoming Day with all the excitement most birthdays garner.

Another homecoming happened this week: a child of my former church, now 17, abducted by her non-custodial mother 12 years ago was found in Mexico and returned to Texas. It felt like a homecoming to all of us who have waited and prayed these last 12 years, but to her it must feel as if she has been torn from her home.


Resurrection returned from its summer break and the haunting melody of its theme song adds a bit of melancholy background music to my week. Searching for the source of the theme song I found this video of the song. It's called Coming Home, Part 2, which led me to another kind of homecoming: the soldiers.

The homecoming experiences of returning soldiers must be as myriad as their service experiences; none of them are coming home unchanged. Is it still home when you are different?

Just over a week ago I "virtually" celebrated the homecoming of a friend who had a brain tumor removed. She's not home free, but she's home from the hospital and healing.

When I went to my high school class reunion this summer another reality set in - most of us had no home there any longer. Parents had moved away, passed away, or were infirm and cared for at the "nursing home". The houses we lived in back then were occupied by others, or standing empty.



Though it clearly dates me, and kind of embarrasses me, I have always resonated with the poetry of John Denver's Rocky Mountain High: 
"He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year,
Coming home, to a place he'd never been before.
Left yesterday behind him,
You might say he was born again.
Might say he'd found the key to every door."
Home is the place where we have the keys. The place where we know the rules, and where things are kept, and what the idioms and the silences mean; a place where we understand the values and the context. Sometimes home is a place we recognize, even if it's a place we've never been before.

Throughout my life, church has been home. Though my childhood was spent moving from place to place, church remained familiar. Though the buildings, the liturgies, the preachers and the hymns changed, God the source of all that is home remains. Wherever I find myself, church is coming home to a place I've never been before, and one I've never left.

I no longer live where my children grew up, but they have homes of their own, and church homes where they belong. My mother hasn't lived anywhere that I ever lived for over 35 years. When my daughters visit me, or I visit my mother, we are not coming home, but when we worship together we are at home, with God: our true home.

Where is your homecoming?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Blind Spots

This past Sunday the children at my church learned the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors. One part of this story has always left me perplexed: what was Jacob thinking, giving a fancy coat to one and not to the others?! What an extraordinary parenting gaffe! Especially given that Jacob himself was so beset by sibling rivalry that he stole his twin brother's birthright when they were young.

Unfortunately, even the best parents have blind spots. As a parent who is mostly looking in the rear view mirror these days, I can see that I probably over-shared with my children. I probably caused them to worry about things that I should have worried about alone, or with other adults. I was probably too straightforward in shooting down some of their dreams. I am also pretty sure that they told me about it while it was happening but I couldn't always see their point of view. I had parenting blind spots.

It's always easier to see other people's blind spots. I have watched parents do the same thing over and over, expecting it to work "this time." I have seen parents favoring one child, or one gender of child over the other, or conversely expecting more of one than the other.  I have seen parents live vicariously through their kids by pushing them into sports or music or even careers they wish they had had. I wonder what other people have watched me do.

I suspect that Reuben, or Dan, or one of the mothers told Jacob he was making a mistake by favoring Joseph over the others. Did they point out to the patriarch that he wasn't being fair? And did that parenting mistake imbue Joseph with the confidence he needed for the rest of his journey? Did that extra bit of love fill up his self-worth so that when his brothers later came to him in need he was able to be gracious and merciful? Jacob's blind spot caused his favorite son to be sold into slavery but it seems it may also have formed Joseph's character for a particular future.

Which brings me back to a familiar theme in my thinking: God can use evil (or failure or shortcoming or disappointment or mistakes) for good. I am not the final form-er of my child's character, an important one to be sure, but God is always present, with me and with my children.

So I can float on God's abiding presence for another day. I may have blind spots but God sees all. I can do my best, and leave the rest to God. What a wonderful way to travel through this river of parenthood!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Labor Day Musings

I love Labor Day. It's a day off that for me carries no obligation but to rest from my labors. The heyday of the union is over, unless you consider this: In Minnesota Home Health Care and Child Care Providers have just won the right to organize and unionize. These are the people who provide the services traditionally served up free within families. They are bringing to light the value of that labor which is so often uncompensated or undercompensated. I don't know where the fight will go, or what the consequences will be, but it does focus a light on family issues.

What if parents formed a Labor Union? They certainly labor! And for many, the working conditions and safety standards aren't all they might be. What if parents collectively bargained for better wages, benefits, working conditions, safety practices and respect? What if they bound themselves together for the greater good? What would that look like?

I was once employed in a workplace that was in the middle of unionizing. I remember sitting in those meetings and thinking that the zeal of the organizers echoed both the Early Church (see Acts) and the Hippies of the Sixties (see Woodstock). In my mind I was singing along with the Youngbloods:
Come on People now,
Smile on your Brother,
Everybody get together
Try to love one another
Right now.
(For you readers too young or too old to remember this song, you can listen to it here, just for grins.)
Many years later, this song sounds like an anthem for parents too. . . maybe more along the lines of:
Come on little people now,
Don't hit your brother,
Everybody stay together,
Gonna love one another
Right now. Right NOW. RIGHT NOW!
Ok, that's just facetious, but my point remains - do we need unions to protect parents, or families?

I am living closer to family farms than I have in a long while, and as I observe life in my new community I realize that families are by nature "unionized" a bit. Everyone has to get together for the common good, and sometimes love is the only glue that could get them through the mind-boggling choices that have to be made: Who stays on the farm and who gets a job in town? Who takes care of Mom or Dad in their old age or who pays for a nursing home? Should I have to pay the same rate of rent for my land to my brother as I would to a stranger? Should I charge my nephew the same price I would charge a stranger? How would the answers to those questions change if "everybody got together." Maybe it's not just families that need to organize, but whole communities. . .

What do you think?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Independence Day

Late last year I moved to a community that has a massive Independence Day celebration.  As I write this it is almost here and I have been reflecting on independence as the big day approaches. 

To become a nation America had to become independent of her "parent" state Great Britain. In order to do that, the colonies had to rebel against that "parent" and begin making her own decisions about governance, taxation, and a whole host of other topics. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Is anyone in your home rebelling? If so, rejoice! Your child is on the road to independence! Rebellion is one sign that your child believes that he or she can function independently.

At the Boston Tea Party the chant "No taxation without representation" could be heard all the way to Great Britain. Your child's cry of rebellion may also revolve around not having a say in the decisions concerning his or her own life. You may know best (Great Britain certainly believed they knew best!) but you may not. Your child may truly know better, or they may need to make some mistakes in order to learn to make better decisions. 


The American colonies, the children who grew up to become the United States of America, believed that they could form a "more perfect union" and they declared their independence, beginning with these words:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation 
The document goes on to spell out the grievances of the colonies, how Great Britain NEVER LET THEM DO ANYTHING (supply your child's particular grievances in place of those) and therefore must:
[S]olemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are . . . free and independent states;
And then comes a list of what they CAN now do: make war and peace, contract alliances and establish commerce, "and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do." (Read: get a job; pay their own rent, car insurance, and dental bills; deal with the consequences of their own decisions; and find a husband or wife to partner with them in building this new life.)

I say this with tongue-in-cheek, but what if this declaration had been taken seriously? What if Great Britain had acted in the children/colonies best interests and instead of trying to block them, encouraged them and helped them to establish their independence? The American Revolution had fifty thousand casualties.

If you consider your child's rebellion as a transition to independence, can you collaborate with them in declaring their independence? Can you listen to their grievances and evaluate their validity? Can you help them establish a list of items for which they are now responsible? Negotiate some deadlines?

It's easier to parent as Great Britain did - ruling with authority, ignoring or punishing rebellion - but this choice can be costly. Better to follow the model established by God "the Father" and love unconditionally, allow free choices, advise when consulted, and be waiting with open arms when they return to us in success or failure. Happy Independence Day!!!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Summertime. . .

Everyone is out of school by now, I think. I ran into a list of summer activities over at PBSkids and
many of the suggestions brought a flood of sweet memories. I loved summer vacation both as a child, and as a parent with children at home. Lately though, it seems that there's not much vacation in summer vacation. Vacation can take many forms - and all of them are little sabbaths. Summertime activities can be mini-vacations or mini-sabbaths. Here are some of my favorites:
  1. Catch fireflies (aka lightening bugs). This one elicited more of a parent memory than a childhood one. My girls will probably remember how the fireflies could blink in time to the Blue Danube Waltz.  Da-da-da-da blink-blink blink-blink. . .
  2. Read a book under, or in, a tree. I spent many hours reading in a treehouse during elementary school summer vacations. I never once thought to invite my mom to join me but I would have been thrilled if she had. . .
  3. Go on a family bike ride. Last week a kindergarten child arrived at Vacation Bible School on his bike. Mom was just behind, pulling a toddler trailer. Everyone was all smiles!
  4. Have a picnic. These days we have such elegant facilities at home that we don't often pack up the food and go to the park but we should, even if it's just doing the rest area instead of McD's on the family vacation. Great people-watching and interesting conversations happen when we leave the backyard. . .
  5. Go stargazing. Take a blanket and some bug repellent and look up at the sky. Wonder together about God and heaven and all of creation. Nothing inspires those conversations like stars. . .
  6. Skip stones at a creek or pond. Help your child learn to be still by bringing his or her focus to a single activity. Let the breeze and the water and your child's concentration speak to you and quiet your own soul. . .
There are 14 more ideas on the list but the point here isn't to keep you busy all summer. It is point you toward some core parenting and faith ideas:
  • Good parenting isn't an accident - it requires planning, participation, and practice. 
  • Passing on the faith is done in those regular, small, moments where you speak from your heart.
Summer will lend itself to strengthening your parenting if you allow yourself to grab some sabbath rest with your children. They are paying attention to you all the time, and never more attentively than when you are out of your routine. Take advantage, and have a great summer!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Folding Towels in a Sweet Way


"Spirituality doesn't look like sitting down and meditating. Spirituality looks like folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in the family even though you've had a long day. It's enfolded into the act of parenting. You fold the towels in a sweet way. It doesn't take extra time."


Sylvia Boorstein from “What We Nurture”

I've been sitting with this quote for a while, thinking about all its implications. . . 

"Talking kindly to the people in the family." And I would add talking to everyone kindly. This was underscored by a recent training for registering and greeting participants of a large meeting, verifying their voting credentials, etc. The woman who coordinated the meeting encouraged us to greet and welcome people with as much love and kindness as possible. Our instructions included a reminder that if a check-in doesn't go smoothly, someone made a mistake, but it can be fixed. Just reassure the person in front of you that it can be fixed, and don't worry about who messed up. That's folding towels sweetly. 

"Talking kindly to people . . . even though you've had a long day." Pretty much everyone over the age of ten has a long day, every day. To do lists are lengthy, sleep cycles are short, the calendar is full, and maintenance is almost a fulltime job for most families. It's useful to remember that we have a choice in how we respond. If we choose to respond kindly as a matter of course, we will be able to talk kindly when we're tired, or worried, or distracted. And, as she says, it doesn't take any more time. 


"You fold the towels in a sweet way." I don't usually think of folding towels as either sweet or spiritual but recently, folding napkins for an upcoming meal with people I cared for deeply, I understood. I was folding them for people I loved, and it was a joy to do it carefully, and lovingly. I was focused on the other instead of myself which made the chore a pleasure. And it didn't take any extra time.

Spirituality is a vague word. Some people would call it religion. Others would say faith. For me, spirituality is recognizing the meaning and relationships inherent in whatever we are doing. That's probably why it's impossible to be a parent without bouncing against issues of religion and faith and spirituality. Parenting must be spiritual because it is both meaningful and relational. 

So if you would be spiritual, or a loving parent, and you can't find time for "sitting down and meditating," start folding your towels sweetly. Recognize what your task means and who that task impacts. Infuse your chores, your actions, and your work with kindness. Those sweetly folded towels will enfold your child after baths, after swimming, and every time her hands are washed. Your touch is present in that sweetly folded towel, caressing your child or spouse or guest.

It may initially take some effort, but like all habits, once formed it will become part of you and you will be able to fold your towels sweetly; you will spend your "doing" time thinking of who your task will affect. That is being spiritual.