The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



September 2, 2009

Faith & Facebook

There's a lot of talk among parents about whether Facebook and other social networking sites are good for young teens.

Personally, I think they're great. My oldest daughter, who just started seventh grade, has kept a Facebook page for several months now. My younger kids in fourth grade and kindergarten? No way -- they'll have to wait.

When Janine launched her Facebook page, I took control of her privacy settings and set the ground rules. For starters, she's required to be "friends" with me and her dad. We've gone over various no-nos: don't approve people you don't know as friends, check with us before you request or approve friends older than you, and be smart about the pictures and links you post.

Beyond having the eyes of her parents on her Facebook page, her pastors and several other adults from our congregation are her Facebook friends, too.

Having them as my daughter's Facebook buddies is a healthy thing for intergenerational bonding. They learn more about my daughter through her posts, and she learns more about them through theirs.

I'm not saying that Facebook friendships are the same as face-to-face relationships. They're not. But I do believe that these sites are valuable and under-utilized tools for giving tweens and teens a sense of place and connectedness to the people with whom they share a community of faith.

What about you? Agree? Disagree?

For more views from parents about the pros and cons of Facebook for young teens, check out these articles by Dr. Wendy Walsh, a clinical psychologist, and Sarah Bowman, the co-Founder of Kids Off the Couch.

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July 22, 2009

Washing out my raunchy mouth

"It's hot as HELL out here!"

Yep. That was me bellowing in my driveway as the kids and I set out on yet another 100-plus-degree day in Central Texas.

Among the words that have mindlessly spilled from my mouth in front of my three children, this particular sentence wasn't my classiest moment. And if you know me, you also know that I'm not one for understatement. Rather than ending my sentence with the gentle exclamation point you read above, I instead punctuated my weather report with a four-letter word that can only be described as "lavatorial."

Suffice to say, it isn't fit for print.

Although the Lone Star State does, in fact, sometimes feel as hot as the Underworld, that's still no excuse for my foul-mouthed tirade. All too often this summer, I've found myself using words that would make me blush if I heard them echoed back by my children.

As a family and faith writer, I'd love to tell you that I never swear in front of my kids. That would be a lie. I also would love to report that I always use my words in ways that model for them the hallmarks of Christian living -- gentleness, patience, kindness and the like. But that, too, would be a lie. In fact, it would be such a lie that it would actually reach the caliber of a "damned lie."

It is time for Mommy to wash out her mouth. I decided to learn more about why I swear and how I can break my raunchy blue streak.

Timothy Jay, the author of "Cursing in America," says swearing often results when strong emotions of frustration and anger collide. He's right. Some of my most creatively profane expressions - complex sentence structures that, if diagrammed, would impress an English professor -- have resulted from that very scenario.

An online trip to the Cuss Control Academy, led by anti-swearing guru James O'Conner, also gave me some practical ideas for curbing my crudeness.

Fortunately, today's weather report calls for highs only in the mid-90s. That translates into a different type of forecast for me: lower-than-normal chances of cussing.

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July 6, 2009

Adam's Speedo and Eve's Bikini

It's harvest season for figs, which means my family's small organic orchard is in full production. By small, I mean there's only one fig tree in our backyard — and by organic, well, that's more a result of sheer laziness than a conscious choice.

Each year around the Fourth of July, hundreds of purple-brown figs ripen on the branches. In the evenings after the air has cooled, we go out to the yard and eat figs for dessert.

Jill and Ben at fig tree

I listened as Ben, 8, told his little sister, Jillian, 5, about the tree.

"These are the leaves that Adam and Eve wore," Ben said.

Jillian looked at him and raised her eyebrows.

One day in Eden, Adam and Eve figured out that they didn't have clothes and they didn't want God to see them naked, Ben explained. "So they made bathing suits," he said.

Ben plucked a leaf and stuffed it inside the waistband of his shorts to make a Speedo. It inspired Jillian to fashion a matching bikini.

"How did they make it stick?" Jillian asked, putting two leaves to her shirt and watching them fall to the ground. "Did they have tape?"

"Probably," Ben said.

I chuckled at my son's answer, but I didn't interrupt their conversation. I think it's sometimes more productive for kids to wrestle with Bible stories such as these on their own terms. With any luck, it will lead to new questions and a deeper sense of wonder.

My kids hadn't asked for my opinion. If they had, there is only one thing I would have told them that I knew for a fact.

Adam and Eve didn't have tape.

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June 30, 2009

Confessions of a VBS Slacker Mom

Jillian, my youngest daughter, spent last week at Vacation Bible School.

Like many ELCA churches across the country, my congregation used the "Discovery Canyon: Explore the Wonders of the Word" curriculum -- and like many ELCA moms and dads nationwide this summer, I was a VBS volunteer.

Volunteer, though, would be a charitable description for what I actually did.

I helped out on only two of the five days, and I wasn't the most energetic or focused assistant. I tended to take every opportunity I could for coffee breaks and snacks, and I stretched out conversations well beyond their appropriate lengths with friends in the hallway. At one point, I even went out to check the air pressure in my minivan tires.

What's more, I'm also known as "The Anticraft" within my congregation. I'm not the one to call upon for help with anything involving Elmer's glue, yarn or popsicle sticks.

If it weren't a church, I would have been fired for being a slacker.

Other moms in my congregation -- the ones I want to be like when I grow up -- have it more together. They keep VBS clicking on a tight schedule as they cheerfully and seamlessly shepherd kids from one activity to the next.

Me? Not so much. Try as I might, I'm just not that into it.

It makes me all the more thankful that others in my church enjoy working with large groups of kids, whether it's VBS or Sunday School. Their efforts this past week have had such an effect on Jillian that she immediately asked to hear the Discovery Canyon soundtrack as soon as we climbed into the minivan to run errands this morning.

"When are we going back to VBS again, Mommy?" Jillian said. "Next time, you should come every day!"

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June 11, 2009

Strangers in the far back pew

A remodeling project has displaced us from our home. For the next month, we're forced to seek shelter elsewhere.

One of the places we retreated to was South Padre Island, where my family and I rented a condominium near the beach for a week. It was a chance to rest and relax as our kitchen and bathrooms fell under the wrecking ball.

During the trip, Janine and I checked out the local Episcopal church -- a small congregation by the water where only about 50 people worshipped. Our church back home has about triple that number, minimally, on any given Sunday.

As visitors sitting in back, it was fun for us to follow along with the Common Book of Prayer, the worship book used at the white stucco St. Andrew's By the Sea. About midway through the service, the best part of the morning happened when the rector announced the Sharing of the Peace.

It lasted for more than five minutes.

Janine and I were welcomed, it seemed, by more than half the church. From our seats, we also got to watch the members hug and shake hands with each other as they moved from person to person. It was like a family reunion filled with relatives who were genuinely glad to see each other.  My daughter and I smiled and chuckled from the sheer sweetness of it.

Looking back, it was one of the best illustrations of church community that I could have scripted for my preteen daughter to see. From Sunday to Sunday at our home church, this time in the liturgy can become all too familiar as we greet those who sit around us. They're mostly the same folks week in and week out.

This particular Sunday morning as new people extended their hands and said "God's peace to you," it felt so different. It was a beautiful and powerful reminder to us of the most basic tenant of our faith: that we are to love and reach out to the strangers we encounter -- including those who show up on random summer weekends and sit quietly in the far back pew.

It's an experience that, days later, my daughter still talks about.

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April 27, 2009

Connections to the church

My family skipped worship at our home congregation this Sunday and jumped over to Austin's downtown Lutheran church instead.

The reason? It was a chance for the kids to meet ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, who was visiting St. Martin's Lutheran as part of the church's 125th anniversary celebration. I had told Janine, Ben and Jillian that Bishop Hanson was sorta-kinda like the President Obama of our denomination, and listening to what he had to say would give them some new insight about the larger church.

The best part of the morning was during Sunday school when Bishop Hanson sat with the children for a Milk & Cookies Feast. He passed around his big gold pectoral cross and asked the kids to put their fingerprints — crumbs and all — upon it. It gave each of them a chance to experience a connection with other children across the country and globe who have done the same thing. But more than that, it also sent a lasting message that their hands through the church would go on to touch others in the world outside of Austin.

Even if Bishop Hanson hadn't been at St. Martin's, visiting a different church was a good thing for the kids. It helped reinforce that there are plenty of other Lutherans outside of our church home at Gethsemane, where about 30 children come together regularly each week. My kids met and played with new friends, and they experienced worship in a place that was simultaneously the same and different. For instance, Ben learned that Lutherans say the Lord's Prayer in more than just one way (the word "debts" rather than "trespasses" started a long conversation on the way back home).

For me, the day was extra special. It was the anniversary of my baptism on April 26, 1970. I was less than six months old at that time, but the day marked the beginning of my own connection to the church — a connection that I've come to appreciate more and more now that I have children of my own.

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April 15, 2009

A surprise first communion

During the last days of Holy Week, my son had his "first communion." On Maundy Thursday, my family's congregation traditionally invites third graders to the altar for their first experience of taking the bread and the wine in community. Ben was included in a group of about a dozen kids who arrived in skirts and pressed pants with their families that night.

For my son, though, this wasn't his "real" first communion.

That experience came a few weeks earlier when he received a piece of bread at a Wednesday night service from a man I didn't recognize — a person I hadn't noticed at my church before that night, and someone I haven't seen since. Ben turned to me with a wide-eyed expression and a wafer on his palm. He looked to see whether I approved.

In my heart, there was no way I could say no. Ben was at God's table — not mine. I nodded and whispered, "Of course. It's for you."

This surprise first communion was a perfect illustration of the love of God, whose invitation to the table comes as a gift of grace for Ben and everyone else. We're not invited because we've impressed God as charming dinner guests, and there's no amount of training or preparation we can do to earn our places. Coming to God's Table is an invitation for all — it's not something you attend only after you've checked the "correct" theological boxes or you've had your mom snap a clip-on tie beneath your chin.

The sheer surprise of communion can be something we forget — and I'm thankful that Ben's first experience was a rich illustration of the openess we find there.

Churches within the ELCA are all over the map when it comes to first communion. What traditions do you have at your home congregation? Do you have a story to share about your child's first encounter at God's table?

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March 6, 2009

Our family's first loss

My husband and I picked out a puppy the same week we moved to our first home. Harpo, a 50-pound black poodle, greeted each of our three kids as they arrived in our life.

Yesterday, Janine, Ben and Jillian said good-bye to Harpo on his last day with our family.

Brain tumors rarely get better for 13-year-old dogs. After a cluster of five seizures struck Harpo in less than a day, we knew the time had come.

We took the kids to the clinic after school. Our dog was groggy and barely awake, but he knew we were there. We gathered around the blanket where he rested, and each of us cried, shared a memory, hugged him and told him we loved him. Janine, our 11-year-old, even led us in a prayer.

Until Harpo passed away, my children had only heard and talked about death in the abstract. It was little more than two weeks ago that we each had the soot of Ash Wednesday smudged across our foreheads and heard, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Those ancient words, as uncomfortable as they are, remind us that life is finite and each day is a gift beyond measure.

The Big Question came on the trip home. What are things like for Harpo now?

I was honest. I told them I didn't know all the details – and neither did anyone else.

But I also told them of a Truth I believe. Right here and right now, God is with us. God has always been with us and God always will be with us. God's connection to us never changes -- whether we live or die, or whether we're people or poodles. "Harpo isn’t alone," I told them. "You can count on it."

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February 16, 2009

Panhandling and parenting

I met my husband when I was 19 and in college, and I knew after our first date that we'd be married.

It creeps Dan out when I tell this story, even today after 15 years of marriage. He thinks it's crazy for a person to instantly know when they've met their match -- and it took Dan a few years to even think about marriage at all. (Just as a side note: I didn't tell him about my first-date premonition until after we were engaged. I'm not THAT creepy.)

My husband and I don't form opinions the same way -- I tend to make decisions quickly, and he tends to be more deliberative. Even so, we're a pretty good match when it comes to our outlooks on relationships, parenting, finances, religion and politics.

Today, though, we began sifting through our differences on panhandling - a topic that intersects all of those lines.

All it all started when Dan was driving the kids around yesterday. There was a homeless man asking for money at a street corner, and Ben, our son, called Dan out for not giving him change. "Why aren't you helping him, Daddy?" were Ben's exact words.


My kids drive around with me more often than Dan, and they see me time and again rolling down the window, gathering up change and handing it over. If I have money with me, I give it. We've idled at many stoplights and talked with many homeless folks as we've learned about their lives. My general impression has been that these panhandlers are struggling with mental illnesses and addictions that fog the clarity they need to find help from traditional places.

I'm not a fool, though. I can see the crushed beer cans near their feet and the bottles peeking out of their backpacks, but I don't see those things as reasons to give or not give. I give money because of two beliefs: the 45 cents in my cup holder has the potential to do good - it actually might go toward bus fare, a phone card or night at a hotel - and in a larger sense, my faith nudges me to give to the "undeserving" because I, too, am a recipient of grace.

Dan is genuinely conflicted about whether giving money like this is the right thing to do. Since he works downtown, he's confronted with panhandling on many more occasions than I am out here in Austin's suburbs. There's a lot of talk within the downtown business community about panhandling, so I know that my husband isn't the only one who wonders about what is right.

For the most part, the kids don't see Dan's charitable giving. They don't see when he puts his spare change each night in the little cardboard box for World Hunger. They also don't meet the pro-bono clients he represents as an attorney in criminal courts, and they don't see the online donations he makes, either.

So it hurts and bothers me that my son would call out his dad for seeming to be uncharitable.

Together as a couple, we're trying to come up with more a consistent way of demonstrating charity and talking about it with our children. Dan's now thinking about signing up with Ben when school's out to volunteer in our congregation's food pantry and clothes closet - a way of putting more action into our family's on-going conversation about how we're to serve others.

It's made me wonder about my own roadside giving - and what messages I send to my children when I give to panhandlers and their father doesn't.

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January 26, 2009

Live Reporting from National No Name-Calling Week

Live reporting from my family's experience of National No Name-Calling Week:

MONDAY MORNING (which seems to me to be an excessively difficult way to start something like this...)

7:01 a.m.: Kids are already behind schedule for getting to school on time. I haven't yet had an entire cup of coffee or read the front section of the paper. Name calling could happen any minute.

7:05 a.m.: Brief respite from potential meltdown when Ben comes out fully dressed. He heads for the freezer to find breakfast, which today will be a ham and cheese Lean Pocket. It's a new intact box and, unlike the Eggos that are spilling out beneath the icemaker, moderate effort is required to extract the food. Because of this inconvenience, Ben calls the box "stupid." I make an executive decision that boxes are not included in No Name-Calling Week, and Ben gets off on a technicality.

7:11 a.m.: A crabby Janine appears in the kitchen with nine minutes left before the bus arrives. Tensions are high -- mostly because Ben is in the same room with her and he's breathing. How irritating!

7:13 a.m.: Ben announces that Janine is eating uncooked spaghetti for breakfast. I investigate and find it is true. I'm not happy.

7:13 a.m.: Janine calls Ben a "sucker" and a "tattler." Ben retorts by calling his sister a "gorilla." He is now  referring to her as "Silverback."

Time elapsed for first infraction: 12.5 minutes.

10:45 a.m.: I made "bwak, bwak" sounds and called Jillian a "chicken" in the YMCA swimming pool. Of all the ways I could have messed up, I can't believe my first strike is for taunting my five year old. Bad mommy.

11:45 a.m.: Jillian called me a "raccoon" -- as in "See you soon, Raccoon" -- when she headed out for lunch at Chick-fil-A with her grandpa. Now we're even.


3 p.m.: I'm reluctant to post because I don't want to jinx myself or my family -- but a miracle is happening in my home! We've been 100 percent compliant for a full eight hours now. Morning came and went without incident, and Jillian and I signed a peace accord that we would no longer call each other animals. It also helps that no one has been home for the better part of the day. Unless our two dogs played "the dozens" while I was out, we've been a name-calling-free family. In two hours, though, this may change. That's when Janine and Ben see each other for the first time after a long day apart, and they'll be itching to get their digs in. What's more, their arrival back home will coincide with my Pre-Dinner Freak-Out, my daily ritual of realizing that I have planned absolutely nothing for suppertime.

4:45 p.m.: While driving Janine home from middle school, she called a guy jogging in the super-cold rain a "genius." We now are locked in a serious debate about the differences between sarcasm and name-calling.

5:45 p.m.: I hear a gianormous thud in the upstairs playroom followed by a screech and a cry. Ben fell hard on his bottom because, as he explained it, "Janine is an IDIOT!" I have no idea how this is relevant to the crashing sound from the floor above me, but all three kids are providing minimal details. I once again go over the No Name-Calling Week rules.

6:15 p.m.: Harpo, our dog, is eating out of the trash can. I'm pretty sure the kids didn't hear me name-call him, but it wouldn't be right for me not to fess up. Technically, it was more of a curse than a name-call -- but still, it was a pretty uncool thing to say to a poodle.

10:41 p.m.: Freezing rain is sweeping across Texas tonight and schools already are delaying their start times. If the Austin district cancels its classes, my kids and the dogs will be cooped up at home for the entire day. It's like a perfect storm for name-calling. Instead of blogging, I may need to switch to rapid-fire Twitter.


7:26 a.m.: We didn't get slammed by the winter storm, so school thankfully is in session. This has sharply reduced my family's odds today of name-calling chaos. We're now at the half-way point in our experiment, and I've got a good feeling about the day ahead. Is this just my elation that the kids are on their way to class? Or is this because we're eating our weekly Wednesday dinner tonight at church and the weight of meal planning is lifted from my shoulders?

8:30 p.m.: The kids are in bed and the day's name-calling tally is official. We've had only three slip-ups, each one minor. Ben called Jillian a "buffalo" and a "stingray" (read the wonderful Toys Go Out and you'll understand) and I jokingly called one of Jillian's preschool friends a "turkey." None of those names were truly mean-spirited, so I'm thrilled with the day's results. Naturally, we went for ice cream to celebrate. As we idled in the Sonic parking lot, we talked about the ways that National No Name-Calling Week relates to our faith. The kids broke it down for me in the simplest terms: "It's hard to show love when you use mean words." This slogan is now posted on our refrigerator door. It's a safe bet that we'll need to remember it tomorrow -- and the next day, and the next one, and the next one ...


7:45 a.m.: I added socks into the category of things that are exempt from National No Name-Calling Week after my husband grumbled that there was something "seriously wrong with these cheap socks" as he dressed for the day. Until a sock has fully evolved into a monkey, it hasn't achieved the same consciousness as humans, so it can't be name-called. Duh! I think I learned that back in Sunday School.

8:53 a.m.: As I've always suspected, I am disgusting. Jillian diagnosed/name-called me -- "You are disgusting, Mommy!" was her exact quote -- after she found me in the kitchen eating cottage cheese for breakfast. I kept on eating and pointed to the index card on the fridge with our slogan from last night. But the joke's on her -- she can't read yet. Ha-ha.

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January 18, 2009

What Not to Wear to Church


I'm not much of a fashionista about what my kids wear to church on Sundays.

Jeans? Fine with me. T-shirts? Sure - and bonus if they're in solid colors without slogans or cartoons. Flip flops or Crocs? Reluctant approval from mom.

Ben before churchBut sweatpants? Um, no. That's where I draw my arbitrary line.

When Ben planned to go to church this morning in the sweats he usually sleeps in, I sent him back to the dresser. He had paired his comfy bottoms with a Super Mario Galaxy t-shirt and his old black Keens -- without socks, of course, to emphasize that he doesn't give a flip about what he's wearing. From the hallway outside his room, my rumpled boy raised his eyebrows and said one word: "Why?"

It was a legitimate thing for him to ask - but I dodged the question. "Just please go change," I sighed and told him.

Ben has a few button-down oxfords - clothes that he shuns as "church shirts" - hanging in his closet. For the most part, he appears in them only on Christmas Eve and Easter, and only if I give him several days of advance notice to let him gear up for the indignity. Dress-up days are never fun for Ben, who ultimately spends those mornings in church groaning loudly through the liturgy.

At my church, it's not uncommon for disheveled homeless folks to join us for worship. Ties and dresses aren't the standard, and kids in shorts and high-tops aren't hard to find. In my family, Ben's dad almost always wears jeans and a casual shirt on Sunday mornings, a major step down from his workday suits. In Ben's mind, if Daddy dresses casually on Sundays, why shouldn't he also transition from his school-week jeans into his favorite fleece?

I feel as if I'm passing on a contradiction to my kids when I get into my pre-church episodes of "What Not to Wear." Shouldn't I be teaching them that it's all about what's on the inside rather than the outside - especially when God's in the mix? Do my son's clothes ultimately matter?

The upshot of today: Ben went to church in jeans and his ratty sandals (sans socks, but it wasn't worth the fight and it's a beautifully warm morning in Texas, anyway). He layered a light blue t-shirt over his Super Mario one, and all through church, his cowlick stood as straight as a steeple.

I bet God was happy to see him.

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January 5, 2009

"It has to feel real, authentic"

I'm always thankful when mothers wonder aloud about this faith stuff -- especially when it's in relation to the ideas and concepts they're passing on to their children. It's a conversation that, for the most part, doesn't come up in the polite company of parents at the playground.

An essay today by Susan Gregory Thomas, an investigative journalist, broadcaster and mother of two, struck a chord with me. She writes: "According to my own unscientific survey, most of us do want to offer our kids spiritual under-girding. But that survey also says that the spirituality confused and/or dissatisfied generally fall into one of three camps. The first are those who grew up with religion, but don't feel particularly connected to the associated traditions and values. The second camp is conflicted about its religion of origin; the third never had one to begin with, and is lost. The bottom line seems to be that we want it, but it has to feel real, authentic. But how do you do that? What does that even mean?"

Read more of Thomas' thoughts here.

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December 30, 2008

Of Breath and Beetles

King Tut's personal effects
, though not the mummy himself, are on display in Dallas. An exhibit about the pharaoh's life was the reason we filled the minivan to capacity yesterday with seven people -- all five from my family and both of my parents, who live in Fort Worth.

Taking my mom to the Dallas Museum of Art would have been unthinkable almost three years ago when she was waiting for a double lung transplant. Back then, she was so frail that walking more than a few paces was more than she could do. My mother was dying.

At one point during the exhibit tour, I broke off alone from our group. I found myself in front of a necklace that held a scarab beetle, a symbol that ancient Egyptians associated with rebirth. The scarab was crafted from a milky yellow-green glass that formed in the desert after a meteor fell and melted the sand. Enchanted by its beauty and meaning, I admired it for as long as I could. Then, as I turned toward the next treasure in the room, there was my mom -- the person in my life who has most fully experienced the meaning of rebirth.

The exhibit was spectacular, but there is something else in Dallas that is more precious to me than the gold of a king. The family of the teenage boy who gave my mother breath lives in this city. Someday, perhaps in the coming year, we'll meet his family -- but what do you say when you've received something as priceless as rebirth, especially when it's followed by the death of another's son?

A couple of years have passed since my mother's transplant on Easter Day in 2006, but the exhibit reminded me that I'm still unpacking the lessons, emotions and grace of that experience.

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December 27, 2008

Three Gifts: Meatloaf, Bedsheets and A Bible

My blur of holiday baking has come to an end. All told this season, I baked three pencil erasers that Ben molded with Sculpy and I whipped up two dozen waffles from scratch on Christmas morning with the assistance of a stiff Bloody Mary. The waffles, I have since learned, do not officially count as baking -- but even with that, my holiday baking tally board for 2008 far surpassed 2007, when I went bake-free for the entire season.

Although cooking has never inspired me, my family will tell you that I'm decent in the kitchen when I make the effort, which I usually don't. When I do try, I stick to a handful of dishes that I do best, including a stellar meatloaf that follows my grandmother's instructions from the early 1950s.

Aside from the meatloaf recipe, I have two other things from my grandmother. One is a hardy set of twin bed sheets decorated with Noah's Ark cartoons -- a gift she bought for me when I moved out of my crib as a toddler. Its high thread count now embraces her great-grandchildren at bedtime. The other item is a King James Bible from the 1920s with an inscription written lightly in pencil: "I received this Bible from Pastor Rorabeck when I was seven years old. I received it from going to church every Sunday for 2 years without missing church once. - R.B."

Roberta Beatty, my grandmother on my father's side, died before I turned 5. I have no memories of her separate from snapshots, stories told by my parents and moments captured on shaky bits of 16-milimeter film. But the traces of her faith that I find in her Bible give me a connection to her that I find meaningful: underlined passages in Psalms, a circled verse in Luke and, on the last page, a child's drawing of a cross with the words "God is Love" printed in uppercase letters.

Those three things -- a favorite dish for my family's meals, a soft place to tuck my children in at night and the guidance of verses that touched her heart -- are gifts from one generation to another.

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December 26, 2008

Finding "Fruit" on the Trampoline

Santa airdropped a trampoline into our backyard early yesterday morning. Not only is it a way for the kids to combine fun, exercise and the thrill of possible head injuries, it's also a laboratory for my family to learn about the "fruits of the Spirit" that Paul describes in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Jillian takes her 3-minute turnSo far, Janine, Ben and Jillian "love" playing on the trampoline, and it gives their parents great "joy" to have "peace" indoors while the young ones jump outside. However, it takes "patience" for the children to wait during their allotted 3-minute turns, and it's an act of "kindness," "goodness" and "gentleness" for the kids outside the trampoline's mesh enclosure not to screech "Get out NOW!!!!" at 180-second intervals. Of course, it also takes "faithfulness" and "self-control" on the part of the jumping child to keep his/her eyes on the watch in the first place.

While it's a far cry from Godly Play, I hope to use the trampoline in ways that build my family's skills and vocabularies for loving each as our faith calls us. Day after day, the simple act of sharing -- the close cousin of loving -- is the single biggest challenge my household faces. Our two highest profile toys - the Wii video game system and now the trampoline -- are the items most likely to test the ways my children handle conflict and love one another.

Studies show that learning how to resolve conflict helps kids succeed in life -- and learning how to love through sharing helps reinforce the messages we give to our children as we pass the faith.

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December 23, 2008

The Sheep are Restless

I know it's almost Christmas because the sheep are getting restless. A whole herd of them have crowded in a semi-circle around the expectant mother, who is propped up on a bench in the corner of the barn.

"Mary is now in labor," Janine, my sixth grader, announced this morning.

Periodically in the days leading up to Christmas, Janine orchestrates scene changes for our manger set. Each day in Advent, it's been our family's tradition to break out a new Playmobil character to add to the crèche. This year, we started out with the Angel Gabriel (which, not so coincidentally, was Janine's role in our church's Christmas pageant) and we've gradually increased the cast to include all of the supporting characters of the Nativity story. For now, the Baby Jesus figure is waiting inside a small golden box that we keep near the top of our Christmas tree. He comes out each year just before we leave for our church's candlelight worship service on Christmas Eve.

It is a joy for me to see how meaningful this tradition has become for my children. Ben, my 8-year-old, took it upon himself to count out the number of days in Advent this year so that we'd have exactly the right number of figures for each day in the season. Jillian kept track of whose turn it was to pick a daily character, and Janine saw to it that each new addition to the manger was placed just so.

When Jesus comes out of his golden box on Christmas Eve, my children will have another year of Advent stories to add to their memories. It's my hope that in the years to come, they'll create their own traditions to pass the faith to their kids, too.  

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December 3, 2008

Return of the Glow-In-The-Dark Rosary

It took less than a day for Jillian to lose her rosary. When I came to pick her up at preschool, she started crying in breathless heaves, telling me that she thought she had put it in her jacket pocket. We searched the play yard and put out an all-points bulletin for it in the preschool office, but it was no consolation for Jilly. By the time we got to the car, she was sobbing.

There's a Catholic bookstore just a few blocks from Jill's school, so we headed in that direction. I needed Advent candles, after all, and I figured that this place probably stocked them. I told the clerk that we lost a special glow-in-the-dark rosary, and he immediately pointed us to the rosary section of the store, where we found dozens wrapped in cellophane packets. Jillian picked a replacement and, for an extra 75 cents, I sprang for a pink "back-up rosary" just in case the new glow-in-the dark one went missing, too.

We used the rosary again at bedtime -- but this time with a twist. With each bead, she said a prayer for someone special and she zipped through the strand faster than I would have thought. She "God blessed" more than 60 people, including an assortment of stuffed animals and cartoon characters.

The gift for me in her prayer was realizing how many people have blessed my little girl's life with friendship and love. While I'm not sure that we used the rosary in the "right" way, the prayers said that night were among the most meaningful ones my daughter and I have shared.

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December 2, 2008

Glow-In-The-Dark Rosary

My youngest daughter came home wearing a plastic glow-in-the-dark rosary -- not the type of thing you'd expect from a Presbyterian preschool. It turned out to be a gift from a friend who passed them out to the girls in the class. Jillian adored her new piece of jewelry, especially the bead embossed with a heart and the two-inch luminescent crucifix that dangled from the end.

I didn't want Jillian to think of her rosary as just a fashion statement a la Madonna of the 1980s. After all, my brother's wife and his two young daughters are practicing Catholics, and I didn't want Jillian to whip out her rosary during princess dress-up play and shock her cousins with unintended insensitivity.

At bedtime, I told her that Catholics used rosaries to keep track of their prayers. We said The Lord's Prayer three times together, counting out a bead for each prayer. It was all that Jillian could do.

"Okay, I'm finished with that," she sighed, handing me back the rosary for safe keeping in her jewelry box.     

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December 1, 2008

Is God From Another Dimension?

"Is God from another dimension?" Ben asked me tonight. Time, space and infinity are fascinating concepts to my 8-year-old son. The idea of God's presence being everywhere, without a beginning or an end, is a source of intrigue and countless questions for him.

I find myself falling into a standard default mode as I answer Ben's questions. "God is more than we can ever imagine — and no, I don't totally understand it myself. As big as I can imagine God to be, God is even bigger than that."

Ben likes to ask me Big God Questions for two reasons. First, it's an effective stall tactic for putting off bedtime and keeping me in his room. Second, he's honestly intrigued by the concept of God. "How can God be so big to be everywhere at the same time?" and "How can God be so little to be inside of me?" are two of his favorite stumpers.

Embracing the mystery of the faith I'm passing to my children isn't always easy for me. In my pre-kid years, I was a reporter at the city's daily newspaper and my work wasn't complete until I could answer who, what, when, where, how and why in my stories. Back then, I ate up books such as "The Case for Faith" and "The Case for Christ" because they seemed to hold some answers to the questions I had about Christianity. But these days, especially in my life with children, I'm more interested in the narrative and stories of the Bible, and in the questions they inspire within me and my children.

It's a journey to another dimension for all of us. 

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November 16, 2008

The Children's Moment: A Chance to Mess with Mom

Each Sunday at church, the kids go up to the altar for a children's sermon. Sometimes, it's fun to watch -- especially if someone's kid (other than mine) is acting up or being silly. But when my children take it as a brazen opportunity to mess with mom, it makes me squirm.

Soon after she took up her normal spot at the railing and the pastor began his talk, Janine started taunting me. She stealthily held her wrist in my direction to show me that she was wearing my favorite bracelet, the one made with vintage typewriter keys. She opened the clasp, smirked and displayed it across her knee. Earlier that morning, I had given her the business for wearing my shoes without permission.

It took all I had not to yell, "That's MY bracelet! Give it back!" in the middle of the service. Throughout the pastor's time with the kids, Janine would look at me and chuckle. I spent the time in solemn contemplation of what I would do to her when she returned to the pew.

Once the children's sermon ended, she walked back and handed me my bracelet, knowing that there would be little in the way of immediate consequences from mom. She then spent the rest of the service on her best behavior and followed along with the liturgy without missing a beat.

Later that day, I asked her what she learned from the children's sermon. "The children's sermon?" she said with the look of honest amnesia on her face. "What are you talking about?"

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