Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Living Fresh

I don't make resolutions much any more, but I usually adopt a New Year "theme" that eventually becomes a series of resolutions. So, as the old year fades away, I am contemplating themes for 2012 and I think I have settled on Living Fresh.

Children, at least before they start school, start every day fresh. Yesterday is forgotten in sleep and by morning the new day is another adventure to be lived and loved. I don't operate that way much anymore. My first thought this morning was sad, "Today's the day the kids leave." The second was fretful, "and I have to write my blog before I take them to the airport." The third was self-critical, "Oh why didn't I do that yesterday?" 

That little internal conversation pretty much summarizes what's wrong with a lot of adults: we can't stay in the moment because we think we should be in control of our days. It's not true. We control very little of what happens to us.  Children don't believe they control anything so they just taste, and sometimes savor, the moment. Though I gave up believing I could control things a long time ago, I never really broke the habits that I formed when I thought I was in control.

So Living Fresh is going to be my my theme for 2012. I want to greet each day like the psalmist who says "Fill us each morning with your constant love, so that we may sing and be glad all our life." Psalm 90:14 (TEV) I want to begin each day with that great sense of possibility that I had as a child. I suspect that this will require changing many habits, and really re-booting my prayer life, but I think it will increase both my joy in life and my trust in God.

It will be an experiment, but my hypothesis is that if I turn the past over  to God every night, and ask to be filled with God's constant love every morning, it should change the way I approach each new day. Fresh start, every day!  I want to truly live as a child, a child of God who depends on God.  A child reborn in my baptism every day, just as a child greets a new world after sleep. God can certainly order my life in ways far beyond my puny powers of organization or foresight or knowledge. The experiment may fail. Perhaps my planned method is not the right one. Still, I feel certain that I can entrust this year to God. God who is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.

Happy New Year! Happy Fresh Start!  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Celebration Season

It's getting close. The actual celebration is upon us in 48 hours or so (or already over, depending on when you read this.) I hope it's going to be a real celebration.  There are any number of elements that make Christmas a celebratory occasion: gathering of family from far and near, repeating traditions handed down from generations past, the blessing of new family members, the rich blessings of the previous year, new toys, clothes, and treats of every variety delivered by a jolly old elf driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

And the baby!  That wonderful baby who is God-with-us.

It's very hard to keep the baby at the center of the celebration.  The preparations are so overwhelming that the baby is, well, like a baby!  Tiny and helpless and easily moved from place to place; a treasure and a trial, all at the same time. Sometimes the baby gurgles and coos and calls you to come and play with him: Christmas programs, choir rehearsals, festive lights because the light of the world is coming.  Other times the baby pierces the air with screams that indicate displeasure or discomfort, inciting you to action, making you want to help: Bell ringers stand outside of stores and restaurants incessantly clanging, reminding us of people in need. Our mailboxes are flooded with appeals from a myriad of good causes all tugging at our hearts, making us wish we could make it all better. And sometimes the baby sleeps and has almost no impact on life at all but is always there, in the background, a factor that must be considered when making decisions and preparations.  How wise of God to come to earth in this fashion. It is much harder to dismiss a baby than a grown-up.

So, here are two final suggestions for the Extreme Season.  First, bake a cake. Bake, or buy, a birthday cake for the Baby Jesus. Your littlest celebrants will immediately connect the dots - cake, baby, birthday.  They know what that means! Serve your birthday cake, complete with candles, as dessert at your main Christmas Day meal.  Sing "Happy birthday dear Jesus, happy birthday to you." This one simple project puts Jesus at the center of the Christmas celebration and makes him the Guest of Honor.

My second suggestion: Revive the ancient custom of celebrating Christmas for twelve days.  Such a great event can't really be celebrated in one day.  Christmas Day can be the first day of celebration.  This year most of us will have Monday off, so celebrate again on Monday.  In the "olden days" January 26 was Boxing Day - the day when things displaced by the newly received gifts were given to the poor.  Celebrate by making room for all the new things that came into your home on Christmas. For many people, the day after Christmas is Visiting Day.  Maybe you can celebrate by making plans to visit friends as the year wanes.

When the day has passed, hold the joy close to you. Cradle it, as if it were a new baby arriving in your home. Treasure the Child, not just this one day, but every day, and the next time the season arrives you'll be prepared to be less extreme, and more serene. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Meeting Season

Yesterday, as a bunch of little kids helped me put the Christmas story together in sequence, I got to thinking about Mary and all those strangers arriving unannounced to see the new baby.  Can you imagine? First an angel shows up and announces her pregnancy. That would have been enough stranger for me already.  Then, exhausted from giving birth, huddled in a stable without her mother or sisters to welcome them and usher them in to see the baby, a batch of filthy shepherds who hadn’t bathed in weeks shows up. Then the KINGS! Well-dressed in rich clothing and driving Rolls-Royces (OK, camels, but still, all the neighbors would surely notice them parked outside and start wagging their tongues!) Can you imagine?

I don’t expect all those visitors rattled the baby Jesus in the least.  He was still blissfully unaware of the fact that He was no longer tethered to his mother’s body.  Eating and sleeping were His primary concerns; the rest was just kind of a blur behind His mother’s face and voice.  I’m guessing that was a little different by the time His first birthday arrived!  

My sister tells of her husband’s grandmother who offended her deeply by asking about my niece, “Is she strange yet?”  Turns out this is a German phrase meaning “Is she afraid of strangers yet?” I like it. Children go through periods of being fearful of strangers. It’s part of the developmental process. Are your children “strange” these days?

Who is coming to your house for Christmas?  Or who is going to be at your parents, or in-laws, or wherever you’ll be gathering?  Will there be strangers? Yep. They might even be named Grandma and Grandpa, or Aunt Laurie, or Uncle Greg. These people, whom you have loved and known all your life, may be strangers to your child.  This point was driven home at my recent visit with my family.  My niece said to one of my daughters, “I’ve only seen you like five times in my whole life.” Now, that’s not an exact count, but several of those visits WERE when she was too small to remember!

Meeting all these “strangers” can create a lot of stress for your child.  Of course it’s more stressful for some children than others, but regardless of their personalities, it can take a lot of energy to deal with all these people.  They may also resent that you are holding some strange baby cousin or that you are deep in conversation with some strange woman (like your sister), and not paying them sufficient attention. Stress then brings out the worst in your child - whining, clinging, melting down. . . and you are embarrassed.

When you take your children to church, the neighborhood pool, or  your company Christmas party, you are very aware that all these people around you are strangers, and you monitor your child closely. Do the same with your loved ones, and your child will feel a lot more secure, and warm up to the relatives faster. It’s very hard to think of our families of origin as strangers to our children but, in reality, that may be what they are, especially if we don’t live close enough to come together regularly.  Keep all this in mind and you can successfully introduce your past and present families to each other, even if a few smelly shepherds or kings on camels show up.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Remembering Season

How are your preparations coming along?  I don't even have to specify what preparations I'm talking about - you know I mean holiday preparations. Are you having any fun making them? I'm just checking because it is so easy to miss the fun - and, to quote a song from an old movie "but it's the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were." This is the season of remembering.

I was at my sister's home for Thanksgiving and all the nieces and nephews were there and we made lefse. Now making lefse is a special holiday tradition for people whose forebears came from Norway.  It's a labor intensive undertaking that yields what are essentially very thin potato tortillas. It is manna to some of us, tradition for others, and love, even to those who don't especially like it. My grandmothers and great-grandmothers (well 3 of them anyway) made lefse, and my mother is passing on the tradition to the next generation. It's messy and time-consuming and involves a lot of work and, especially when there are beginners, laughter. For the cousins, seven of them, and one recently added spouse, it was a great way to be together. They haven't grown up near each other so gatherings can be a bit awkward. Tackling this project was a way to pool their talents and splash around in the laughter. They will remember this day.

The next day, some of us filled up a couple of cars and visited the farms where my parents grew up. And we visited the churches and the graves. We felt sadness as we missed those no longer with us - but joy at all the wonderful memories. I have to say, on the whole, that it was fun to ramble through the memories. And new memories were being generated even as we waded through the old ones:  the startling sight of a llama among the sheep, the fight over the check at the restaurant, the wind, the Starbucks. There will be laughter from this day to remember as well.

This is the remembering season. Take time to share your memories with your kids and to make some new ones. Play some cards, sing some songs, and visit some relatives. Your kids won't remember most of the gifts they get this Christmas, but they will remember your stories and traditions and what made them laugh.  Find the time, and the laughter – it will add joy to your season.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Waiting Season

When my girls were small we had a favorite waiting-for-Christmas tradition: a fabric “calendar” with a little stuffed mouse that moved forward one pocket each night. Even when they were old enough to have cell phones and day planners we hung up that calendar. It was a fun and meaningful way for them to mark the passage of time. The church has designated this waiting-for-Christmas period as the season of Advent, a season of waiting. Advent is filled with texts about the coming of the Savior, and the coming-again of the Savior. It is not a passive sit back and wait – it is an active, waiting-and-watching season of life.

I spent two Advent seasons “great with child.” Pregnancy is the epitome of active waiting: preparation for an unknown but beloved person to arrive, preparation for the needs of the tiny guest and all those affected by her birth, and watching for signs of her imminent arrival. Evaluating every twitch, itch and tickle, watching for the labor pains that would deliver her to this world. Alert, watchful, making preparations, it was Advent come to life. 

In the instant culture of the 21st century, waiting is rare, and most of us don't know how to wait well. I have been driving a lot the last couple of weeks and in at least 4 states I saw signs for hospital emergency rooms with “approximate wait times” displayed in digital lights that changed with circumstances in the ER. More and more babies are induced or delivered by C-section at a time mutually convenient for doctor and mother. Kindles and Nooks make waiting for the library to open, or for Amazon to ship, a thing of the past. Waiting has become so uncommon that last week's Facebook status updates featured a lot of comments about traffic, lines and waiting – because it was unusual.

In the end, we are all waiting for the great unknowable visitor - death, whose arrival cannot be predicted, but there is a more immediately relevant reason for deliberately teaching our children to wait: it is good for them. Many years ago a study found that the ability to wait, to delay gratification, was a significant predictor of future success (measured by normal, American standards such as getting a job, finishing school, forming lasting relationships,etc.) Check out this clip from a recent repeat of The Marshmallow Test.

Can your child wait? Can you help him learn to wait? Since there is so much to wait for with Christmas coming, this is a natural time to practice.  Practice the old swimming rule of thumb - wait for 30 minutes after eating. Remember how endless that seemed? Yet all the time it was helping us learn to wait. Try meeting a “Can I” question with “I have to think about it; I will tell you in 30 minutes” or, “we'll talk about it after you've finished your homework/chores/project.” If your children have had very limited waiting experience, this may prove difficult for them, but you will be blessing them for life.

Welcome to the Waiting Season, your estimated wait time is 24 days. . .

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Gratitude Season

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the appreciation season. From now until the end of the year I will open my mailbox and find cards: from charities I've given to, my car dealership, and probably Groupons, all thanking me for the money I spent with them this year. And I will be making cards and baking for people I appreciate: the woman who cuts my hair, the maintenance guys where I live, friends who've done me special kindnesses this year. There will be a lot of appreciation flowing for the next five weeks. This is good.

Appreciation expresses who we are and what we like; what makes us happy. Gratitude, on the other hand, profoundly changes who we are and how we see and, I guess, what we appreciate. This year I find myself grateful for something I have always merely appreciated: water.

My grandparents lived within the limits of their cistern. If the cistern went dry they had to buy water and fill it. They didn't know the plentiful water that we take for granted until very near the ends of their lives. Their gratitude for water, though never verbalized, was evident in the way they handled it. Water rarely went down the drain. It was used and later returned to the earth. Hand washing was accomplished in a basin of water that grew cold as the day went on, and when it became too dirty to clean your hands, was dumped on trees. Water was scarce; scarcity made it precious.

Water has been scarce in my part of the world this year. We are experiencing a drought on par with the one during the dust bowl. Stage two restrictions are in place: No water in restaurants unless requested. You can't water your yard more than once a week. Cars can only be washed at car washes that recycle a certain percentage of the water used. We are encouraged to turn off the water when we brush our teeth, and to use our toilets more often without flushing. This is a far cry from the scarcity of my grandparent's situation, but a significant change for many of us.

Scarce as it is, water is also common. It is our first home – before we are even born water in a womb cushions us, cradles us, and nourishes us as we grow. The waters of baptism become our second home, marking us with the cross of Christ and sealing our identity as children of God forever. Tears allow us to release our deepest joys and sorrows. My body is more than 50% water. None of us can survive very long without it. In that, all of us are one. The need for water may be the most unifying of all human qualities.

Much has been written about the power of gratitude. From monks in the Middle Ages to Oprah Winfrey, thoughtful people have pointed out that being grateful changes us. Gratitude shapes our attitudes and impacts our choices. It creates awareness and empathy. Moving from appreciation to gratitude is movement toward God.

I am grateful for water this Thanksgiving; for its scarcity and its commonness. That gratitude allows me to encounter the sacred many times each day. Sacred water points me to the creator, provider, and redeemer of all. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Serving Season

Serving food, serving drinks, serving the hungry in soup kitchens, and serving our neighbors are regular hallmarks of the "extreme season." All around the church and community people are lining up volunteers and asking for donations of money,  gift cards, time, and patience. At home, this may begin to take a toll if your heart is bigger than your available hours or dollars. I remember a lot of years where I was just plain mad all through the holidays because I felt like a failure on every front - everyone needed more from me than I had to give. I used to think this was because I was a single parent on a tight budget but I have since learned that almost everyone feels this way at some point during the holidays. Here are a few things I figured out along the way:
  • Start by deciding how much money you will give ahead of time and then, as a family, DECIDE where you'll give it. Some families pick one thing and stick with it year after year but others like to mix it up and give to a lot of places. Your family members may not all agree so you may have to divide the budgeted funds between several causes. That discussion will be almost as rewarding as the giving. Depending on the ages and temperaments of your children there may be spirited debates over the merits of buying dog food for the animal shelter or toys for children whose parents are in prison. People may get passionate but that's OK - it's for a good cause!
  • Choose ONE actual hands on service project. Giving money is very helpful to recipients but less valuable to your children who really won't fully grasp the giving of money until they have earned some themselves. If your children are very small, substitute for a Meals-On-Wheels driver and take them along. Take older kids to wrap gifts at Blue Santa, help an elderly neighbor put up a tree or some lights, or serve dinner  at a soup kitchen. Wherever you serve, serve together.
  • Find a way to participate at church. Welcome guests, make cookies for the choir members who will sing multiple services on Christmas Eve, help carry all those poinsettias into the church - or offer to deliver them to shut-ins after the Christmas Day services. Check to see if someone could use a ride to church. Sing in the choir or play in the orchestra. Even offer to stay and lock up the building after the last service! Take some of your baking to a family who has had health issues or recently lost a loved one. Serving at church helps reinforce for your kids that it's really all about THE BABY.
  • Don't do things you, or your family, resent. If traveling to see relatives is more chore than joy - stay home! Go another time when you can enjoy it more.  Hate sending Christmas cards but want to stay in touch? Send a New Year's letter or a valentine or write a generic letter that can be sent with birthday cards.
I think it's easy to feel like you're in a rubber raft about to go over a waterfall as the holidays approach but try not to lose sight of the countless blessings in your life and the baby in the manger.  Holding those things at the center can help you float a little more gently down the holiday river.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Extreme Season

Not everything your child learns is taught.  Much of what they learn is absorbed through their environment.  We say it all the time - they are just little sponges!  They soak up everything, good and bad alike.  I bring this up now because we are about to enter the "extreme" season.

What we idealize as the season of love and joy can often be absorbed very differently by our children.  For pre-schoolers it is the time of year when they are left with a babysitter more often, when they are told not to touch more often, when nap times and play times and mealtimes and bedtimes become erratic.  Elementary-aged kids will be out of school, with no homework.   Their schedule will be disrupted and they will see less of their friends.  They may watch more television and get inundated with advertising, creating wants they didn't know they had.  High school kids are similarly disrupted and may be saddled with errands, chores, or care of younger siblings.  They may find you expecting them to be adults.  Your college kids are coming home to find that their friends have changed, their favorite hang-out has been redecorated, and a younger sibling has moved into their room.  They may be longing to tell you all about their life away from home but find you too tired to listen at 11pm, when they want to talk.

I will state the obvious here: As you approach the extreme season, begin with the end in mind.  As with all things related to your children, you have to figure out what your desired outcome is.  When Christmas comes again I want my children to remember ___________.

I wanted my kids to have church and the baby Jesus at the center of their memories.  I wanted them to learn the joy of giving. And I was even clearer about what I didn't want them to remember: visits to a fake Santa at the mall, enough consumer goods to fill a yacht, disappointment because they didn't get this year's "must have" toy.  Those desires ordered our days leading up to Christmas.  (It was still never as calm and loving and gentle as my dreams but that probably has something to do with my overall approach to life, which is usually loving - but rarely calm or gentle.)

Before the extreme season sets in, take a little time and look over your master plan through the eyes of your children.  Like getting down on the floor and looking at things from your baby's perspective, you might be startled at what you will discover.  Sit down with your children, physically or electronically, and ask them what their favorite Christmas traditions and memories are. Listen, really listen, and then 'ponder these things in your heart' like a certain Christmas mother.  You might even be able to upgrade the season from "extreme" to joyful!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why, but why?

One of my least admirable qualities is a tendency to answer the question I assume you are asking me, instead of the one you really asked.  There are many factors that contributed to this bad habit, but I am making no excuses and trying to overcome it.  As I struggle with this I have noticed something: I don't do this with kids, only with adults.

When I train adults to work with kids I repeat what someone taught me: that I can't read a child's mind. I always tell the same joke, because it completely exemplifies our tendency to do this:
“Daddy, where did I come from?” the seven-year-old asked. It was a moment for which her parents had carefully prepared. They took her into the living room, got out the encyclopedia and several other books, and explained all they thought she should know about sexual attraction, affection, love, and reproduction. Then they both sat back and smiled contentedly.
“Does that answer your question?” her father asked.
“Not really,” the little girl said. “Judy said she came from Detroit. I want to know where I came from.”
These parents clearly didn't answer the question being asked.  I wonder how many times I have done that to adults!

Today I was reading a blog and a woman commented "When questions are asked, they need to be received in love and curiosity; otherwise it can shut one down."  I loved this remark.  We need to RECEIVE rather than anticipate questions.  We need to receive them in LOVE AND CURIOSITY.  I think this is easier for me to do with children because I respect the fact that they are still learning.  Maybe I believe adults should already know, or be able to figure things out.  I need to learn to listen to everyone's questions with love and curiosity. Otherwise it can SHUT THEM DOWN.  I must confess that sometimes that's exactly what I am hoping to do.

Each week I lead chapel with 3- and 4-year-old preschool students.  Their questions are endless.  Why, but why?  And they tell long rambling stories - sometimes provoked by my questions but sometimes provoked by a need for attention, or because something else (a fish in the stained glass window?) made them remember and they wanted to share it before they forgot.  I try to receive them with love and curiosity, and usually I succeed.  I'm going to try and transfer this to my adult  interactions.  So if you wonder why I'm answering your question with a question. . .

Those of you who still have children around your knees, receive their questions with love and curiosity.  You will be blessed to see the world in a whole new way.  And if, like me, you suffer with a tendency to not listen to adult questions, give it a shot.  Love and curiosity will no doubt take you places you never dreamed you would go.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Doing Faith

Last week I wrote about how practice is necessary for learning.  This week I want to talk about doing FAITH.  I'm guessing that you who are reading this want children to have faith, and want children to mature into faithful adults.  In the Lutheran tradition, at a child's baptism, we promise to take on the following responsibilities:
  • to live with them among God's faithful people
  • to bring them to the word of God and the holy supper
  • to teach them the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
  • and to nurture them in faith and prayer.
Regardless of your tradition or situation you need to demonstrate to your child what a faithful person looks like.  Where better to demonstrate this than in the community of faith we call the church.  The simplest element of faith “practice” is just showing up.  Show up on Sunday morning and you will be among God’s faithful people.  Even when you aren’t feeling faithful!

Help the children participate: fold hands, say amen, stand up, and sit down. Follow the words with your finger for beginning readers. Sit where they can see what’s going on.  Point out acolytes helping lead the worship. Let them put the envelope in the plate. 
The word of God and the Lord’s Supper will be present every week.  Again, the first step is showing up.  Before long your child will want to participate in the meal with you.  One of my children indicated this by demanding “snack.” She felt left out in a place where she knew she belonged.  She was already one of God’s faithful people.

Most churches provide religious education where your child will learn the great stories of the Bible and the Ten Commandments.  They will also be nurtured in their faith by faithful teachers and practice faith together with friends who are learning beside them.

As I said at the start, doing faith requires practice.  There are two things that can best be practiced by parents and children together.  The first is faith itself.  Daily trusting, and testifying to your trust in God, helps your child learn to trust as well.  If you worry aloud, your child learns to worry. Practice trusting and your child will too. 
The second is prayer.   Pray with and for your child.  Pray over important events or decisions in your family life.  Pray your thanks for answered prayers, blessings, and life itself. Pray for the people you know, and in the face of public tragedy.  Empower your children by giving them something to do when they encounter situations they are powerless to control or repair.

When your child leaves home she becomes responsible for managing her own faith life.  Knowing how to participate in a faith community and its practices will serve her well when she faces the world without the protection of the home and family she’s always known.  Going to church, if it has been a regular practice in her life, becomes a way of going home.  It can be an extension of family, allowing her to find a family wherever she is. Trust and prayer go where she goes.

My daughter’s band director said (frequently!) that practice makes permanent.  If that is true, then practicing faith with your children is one of the most important items on your to-do list today.  Enjoy!

    Thursday, October 20, 2011

    Do After Practicing

    A couple of years ago I went to a workshop and learned the term "Legitimate Peripheral Participation in Practices." In my mind it has become LPPP and I sometimes have to struggle to remember the actual words, but the powerful concept it describes is important.  LPPP is shorthand for how children learn to do things.  So, when your child learns to brush her teeth, it starts with the parent brushing the child's teeth and coaching the child:  "Open your mouth wide so I can clean your teeth."  Later, the child puts her hand on yours and "helps" move the toothbrush.  Eventually the child brushes alone and you inspect.  Still further down the road you let them squeeze out the toothpaste.  By opening her mouth, she is LEGITIMATELY participating.  That is, you can't brush her teeth if her mouth is closed.  It is PERIPHERAL because you are starting with the simplest component of the task.  It is PARTICIPATION because the child is actually involved and not just observing, and, of course, the PRACTICE is dental care.  If you haven't yawned off yet, I'll move on to the reason I'm sharing this with you.

    This week I have had a number of conversations about why kids can't or don't do things for themselves.  The conversations have centered on kids aged 3-23. The list of things people are surprised that kids can't do is long: laundry, putting things away, making beds, tying shoes, telling time on a "regular" clock, writing a thank you note, cooking a meal, baking cookies, pumping gas, getting to school with everything they need, getting a job. 

    Helping your kids learn to DO things is an on-going process. The busy-ness of our 21st century lives has made it hard to take time to teach kids how to do things.  Think about cooking dinner.  If I make that Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and steam some green beans in the microwave we can have dinner on the table in 10 minutes.  If I have "help" it will take at least twice as long.  So I just do it so we can get to soccer practice or whatever the next thing is.  The same thing goes for laundry, cleaning, mowing the grass or washing the car.   Learning to do these tasks requires that you supervise while your child does it and give tips along the way.  Maybe your kid will make enough money to not have to do these mundane household tasks, but what about filling out a college, loan or job application?  What about going on interviews and getting along with other people?

    Parents, I know that you are drowning in demands on your time.  I don't want to sound critical but I do want to sound an alarm.  Your job as a parent is to prepare your child to live on his or her own.  You cannot care for your child forever so you have to prepare him for life without you.  While learning to play soccer will teach him to be part of a team and to compete, help him burn calories and provide endless hours of entertainment for both of you, it is not a substitute for all the other skills he will need for life. What do you want your child to know when she leaves home?  Is she practicing those skills now?

    This entry serves as a lengthy introduction to talking about how we DO faith.  Stay tuned - I'll address that next week.

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Fair Trade

    As every parent knows, "that's not fair" is a regular refrain from most middle-school-aged members of the family.  It tends to be an irritant for parents and teachers alike. In the midst of this refrain though, we get a small glimpse of the kingdom of God.  Humans were created with a fairness meter inside of us; society spends years trying to dismantle it. 

    This finely tuned Fair-o-meter also knows a good thing when it sees it.  Last night my confirmation class was treated to a lesson about fair trade chocolate. The presenter explained first how chocolate was made.  Then she worked backwards to how cocoa is grown.  The students were very surprised to learn that children were being forced to work for low pay in the cocoa business so they could enjoy low cost candy bars.  Next she explained about the four conditions required to make something fair trade: No child labor, good stewardship of the land, democratic participation by members of the cooperative, and fair and just prices.  All of this taken together helped them understand why fair trade chocolate products cost more.  Then she suggested they use social media to challenge the big candy companies to use fair trade chocolate.  The kids liked the fair-ness of this.  Later in class we made fun foam turkeys which will be sold at exorbitant prices to provide turkeys to families in need for Thanksgiving.  They understood again that it was a fair exchange.

    Imagine my surprise when during my morning blog-surfing I came across another young person thinking about chocolate, but from a different faith and fairness perspective. Cindy McPeake is living and working in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, for a year through ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission. The following is excerpted from her blog entry Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. . . and Jesus:
    At the beginning of the movie, after the Golden Ticket announcement has been made, Charlie receives his birthday present- a bar of chocolate. This will be the only bar of chocolate he gets all year. After opening the chocolate and NOT finding the Golden Ticket, he begins to share his chocolate bar with the rest of the family. His mom tells him not to, it's his only chocolate bar, it's his birthday and he should enjoy it for himself. Charlie says, “it’s my candy bar and I’ll do what I want with it.” He proceeds to break off a piece for each family member. And each one does something different with it. One inhales the delicious aroma of chocolate, one takes a large bite, and one savors the flavor slowly. For me it was obvious to make a parallel between this moment and our call as Christians. We have received a great gift and we are called to share that gift, the love of Christ, with those around us. We are Charlie.
    The Kingdom of Heaven runs on a different economy.  It is fair; actually it is beyond fair.  It is generous as only a child knows how to be generous - sharing without worrying about tomorrow, having less so that others can have a share.

    I think that's a fair trade - teaching our kids about the world while they teach us about the kingdom!  I am guessing that God planned it this way.