Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Gifts I Wish I Could Give My Children

Dear Sami and Anna Joy,

The presents have all been unwrapped, but the tree is still shining and I can't sleep.  Thinking about the gifts we gave you for Christmas, and what things I really wish I could give you, if I could give you anything . . . 

I would give you mystery.  I hope that everything doesn't ever make perfect sense to you.  I hope you will embrace that gap, will peer into it with childlike faith and hope and imagination.

The gift of laughter.  Especially at those times when life is too serious, too dark, too ordinary.  I wish I could give you the ability to find the irony, the hilarious, the deep gut-busting soul-cleansing kind of laughter that heals you.  

Art.  Art in word or image or song or friend.  I hope, when you need it most,  you will find art that blows away the dust, sings you to sleep, shatters your idols, saves you.

The grace of failure.  If I could, I would let you fail enough for you to understand grace, how to give and to receive it, but protect you from the failures that will break your heart.

Healthy debate.  Just when you begin to think you know everything. 

A true friend.

Silence.  To hear the snow crunch.  To hear the still small voice.

Story.  Your own, the story of people, the story of God.  The ability to enter into story; to be moved, believe, become.

Language.  The strength of words, of understanding, the wealth of vocabulary.

Wonder.  I hope that storms and stars, science and art and green green grass will always take your breath away.

The ability to forgive.  This gift will always be the hardest, the most painful, the most necessary.

To see the Good, the God-image, in every person.

Simplicity.  Simplicity of faith, simplicity of wealth, simplicity of purpose, simplicity of desire.

Gratitude.  "It is gratefulness which makes the soul great."  

Freedom and rest in the unchanging, everlasting love of Christ.

I know I cannot give you these things; I am only beginning to learn how to accept them myself.  But every year when I fill your stocking, and every day these are what I hope for you to find, at the times when you need them most.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A little of what's been happening around here

Christmas . . . I didn't go crazy this year, with anything.  This year it's just the basics; a little baking,  a few presents,  some lights on the tree.  I am really, really enjoying the season this year.  I did manage to get the girls dressed in their Christmas dresses one day and my friend Summer took their pictures.  They turned out great.  (The dresses I bought after Christmas last year for EIGHT dollars!!  I've been excited all year for the girls to wear them, but, mostly to get to tell about the great deal I got!)

Here we are making sugar cookies . . . like the reindeer antlers?  She wears them everywhere.  Love it! 

I'm running low on energy this Christmas and high on trouble. My happy-go-lucky Anna Joy has recently become a tough one- whiny, irritable, wanting to be held every minute that she isn't finding something to destroy. Yesterday she took a hammer, a pen, and a fork to the walls, all in the morning, and then boycotted her nap during the time that I MOST desperately needed her to sleep, so I could meet a deadline AND get the house and dinner ready for my father-in-law's birthday dinner.  But then she wore a ridiculous scarf and hat around all day and it's hard to be mad when she's so darn funny.   Trying to remember, when she acts like this, that there is a reason and I need to try to set aside what I think needs done and give her a little extra TLC.   (She how sweet she is in this picture?  She's actually plotting how she'll grab the camera from me and throw it across the room).

I have been waiting for the day that my girls will discover  dress-up clothes!  
Little by little, since Sami was born, I've been collecting dress-up clothes: old prom and bridesmaid dresses that people were getting rid of, crazy hats and shoes, my old cheerleading outfits and waitressing aprons . . . I put it all together in a cedar chest that my grandpa made, with a full-length mirror next to it, in their basement playroom. For Christmas I've collected a few more dresses, and, the thing Sam will love the most, Amish dresses!

Finally hit my third trimester!  Every morning Sami looks at me and exclaims how BIG!  REALLY REALLY BIG!! I am.  Lovely. 

I am so so happy to be feeling so well, but my hormones this time are making me crazy!  Today someone beeped at me in the parking lot, and in the store I turned to him and said, Hey, what did I do wrong!?  (In the kindest, most Christlike way, or course!)  I have never done something like that before . . . he's lucky I didn't burst into tears!  (I don't know how my husband puts up with me).

We rented Julie and Julia last night- LOVE it- it's about my two favorite things, cooking and blogging!   

Other good things- my brother Joe is home, friends coming this weekend, and it's finally snowing!  Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Examen

My pastor's wife lent me a book, Simple Ways to Pray for Healing, by Matthew Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Dennis Linn, when I got sick.  It is a rich little book, with a lot to chew on regarding healing.  I also quoted this book here .  

At the end of the book is a chapter titled The Examen, which describes a process used to end each day. 
Every night we gather together, light a candle, look back over the day and ask ourselves two questions:  For what am I most grateful?  For what today am I least grateful?  We can ask these questions in different ways, for example,

When today did I give and receive the most love?  
When today did I give and receive the least love?  

What moment today gave me the most life?  
What moment today drained life out of me?  

This spiritual tradition is used as a way to get in touch with consolation and desolation; the two interior movements that help discern the guidance of the Spirit within us.
As a person who has often struggled with discerning my true voice, with acting upon what truly gives me life versus being led by pleasing people or keeping peace, this has been a really valuable tool for me.  It is a good way to think through any issue or problem, decision, or determining vocation.  "Because we can assume that God always wants to give us more life, the simple examen questions can guide us to greater wholeness in any situation."

Children can do the examen.  I want my girls to know what they really do want, and I find this a great way to help them to understand themselves, to notice their own feelings and have an opportunity to express them.  It also gives me an opportunity to hear and understand them, as they can express things that they may not otherwise verbalize.  I modify the questions, such as What was your happiest time today?, and What was your saddest time today?

Most nights they only want to tell me the best part of the day, and can't really think of a sad time.  But one night I had a really teachable moment with my oldest.  A person we had been with that day kept pointing out how shy she is, and they kept saying it in front of Sami, in a way that sounded negative, even though I don't think she meant it negatively.  It bothered me, because I hate when people put labels on kids; I know that kids are always changing, she can be shy at times or outgoing at times . . . anyway, I observed from her expression that it may have bothered her, but I didn't expect it to still be on her mind at bedtime that night.  When I asked her what was her saddest time, she said that it was when she was feeling shy.  I was able to talk with her about how everybody feels shy sometimes, and it's not a bad thing, that I know she isn't always shy, but when she does feel shy it's okay.   I was so glad that these questions brought out something that was weighing on her, and allowed me to talk it over with her.

The girls always want to hear the best and worst parts of my day, and I think it's a good way for them to know me, too.

The daily examen can be a really life-giving way hear the way that the Spirit leads you by reflecting on your own responses to things, learning to pick-up on patterns, negative and positive feelings, and using those signals to help discern what gives you life, and what takes life from you.  

Saturday, December 12, 2009

optimists and dreamers

I like optimists.

I like people who dream things, people who see visions, people who follow stars.

I like people who turn grief into gift, people who pray with hands and feet and wallets and cool cups of water

I like miracle-workers. 

People like this are ageless.  You meet them and their energy spills onto you.  And then life goes on, but they remain in your mind always just as they were.   And if ever you meet again, after everything has changed you find, nothing has changed.  They are still dreaming and doing impossible things and watching the sky.

And so, when some such friends are in need of a miracle of their own, and another such friend sees a vision of making a miracle happen, I want to be a part.

James and Kelly are in the process of adopting a child from Ethiopia, you can read about their journey here.  They experienced a disappointment recently related to the tremendous amount of money that they need to bring their son home.  But really it wasn't a setback, but only an opportunity for the people who love them to participate in making a miracle happen for them.

The dream is for 200 people to give $100 dollars, to raise the $20,000 needed by Christmas!  (Yes, that is now less than two weeks away).   This may seem impossible if you don't know James and Kelly.  But if your path has crossed with theirs, and you remember the grace and peace that trails after them, the amazing amount of people their lives touch, you will believe that this is not only possible, but quite certainly a miracle about to happen.

And so, if you have been blessed to have known James and Kelly and would like to offer a gift; or, if you have not known them, but are yourself an extravagant, believing star-follower, please consider donating, $100, or $5, or $10, or whatever you may have to give.  Simply contact me (jessica ellen stock at hotmail dot com)  and I will send you the address to mail your check to.  A great bundle of checks will be presented to them on Christmas morning!  Can you imagine the thrill!  Please mail your gift quickly so it can reach them by then! 

Grace and peace, wonder and joy to you this Christmas!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Links- anger, amazement, crumb cake

. . . come to think of it, this title pretty much sums up my life right now.

I painted the bathroom this weekend.  As is typical of all of my projects, I painted it once, hated the color, painted it a second time and I think I like it.  It was a good chance to listen to some good podcasts.  On Saturday I got to hear the entire program of the Splendid Table, love it!  It is always so inspiring and makes me want to devote my life to finding the perfect crumb cake, or the best cafe in the country.    Obviously, I have moved beyond running to the toilet at the the mere thought of putting a fork to my mouth.

(Speaking of, a few have asked and I am feeling extraordinarily normal for the first time that I can ever remember while pregnant.  With both of the girls, I felt what I would describe as seasick the entire nine months, and had morning sickness off and on the whole pregnancy.  Not to mention constant heartburn, etc. etc.  I am so so thankful to be able to enjoy this pregnancy, and be able to keep up with life as usual!)

On Sunday I listened to a Speaking of Faith about Abraham Joshua Heschel.  Such an inspirational life.  One of the things that stood out to me was his belief in the spirituality of amazement, that this is a real basis of belief/God/ how to live.  He marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., protested the Vietnam War, was passionate about the rights and dignity of every human being . . . he "insisted that the opposite of good is not evil, it is indifference."  

Another thing that Heschel said (paraphrasing) is that all of your beliefs are summed up in a life . . . what kind of person you are, what kind of life your beliefs cause you to live.  

Also they discussed learning from Heschel what it is to cling to one's beliefs in a pluralistic society, while at the same time respecting all people; he understood how to sensitively dialogue and work with people of a variety of different faiths, without denying his own deeply held beliefs.  There is too much to quote . . . this is my favorite by Heschel:
To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live. Who is worthy to be present at the constant unfolding of time? Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers wiser than all alphabets---clouds that die constantly for the sake of god's glory, we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature. It is so embarrassing to live! How strange we are in the world, and how presumptuous our doings! Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder, for the gift of our unearned rights to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.-Abraham Heschel
Jim read an article that said the angriest Americans tend to be young people, and parents with young children at home.  I have to admit that I have experienced a broader range of emotions, and more negative emotions, in the past few months.  Sometimes my anger takes me completely by surprise, and I overreact or can't seem to let go of things that ordinarily wouldn't bother me.  I suppose there are some pregnancy hormones at work here, but we talked about why, according to this study, people with children are most likely to be the angriest . . . once again, Ann says it best . . . it's part of receiving the gift.  (I love this woman).

Oh, and speaking of things that anger and amaze me.

I haven't gotten to go anywhere lately because the girls both have pink eye.  They look terrible! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I am really enjoying living in our sweet little town, however I have a strong suspicion that our tiny library is under some fierce censorship.  (On the positive side, if you are a fan of "Inspirational Literature", you would be very happy here).  So, simply because it was the only book I could grab that intrigued me, combined with my curiosity over all of the chatter about the series among women in their 30s . . . made me decide to see for myself what all of the fuss is about.  I read the first Twilight book, and yes, it's cheesy in parts and more than a little eye-rolling sappy . . . but, it did hold my attention and even kept me admittedly captivated by this dangerous but dreamy teenage boy- er- vampire.   Who hasn't experienced a similar crush?  I don't know that I'll read the rest of the series . . . if you don't plan to read them, or don't mind a plot spoiler, this is hilarious.

Ruth wrote a post about a series of sermon podcasts by Greg Boyd on poverty, particularly one titled "A Touch of Reality," about people in poverty perhaps greater than material poverty, those who are relationally poor, people who nobody notices.  He talked about some of the invisible people in our society, how those are the people Christ spent his time with, to tell them that they are real.  It is a really moving sermon, perhaps the best kind of "Christmas" message.

Speaking of Christmas, this is a great post: We're Expecting  
 . . . I submit that there are purposes in our stables as well.

Be well!