Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dear Fundraising Company, (Epistolary Wednesday)

Dear Fundraising Company,

I know, I know, it’s for the school. For the children and the after-school sports and the library.  But let’s be honest: it’s for the companies, too, that make a fortune on “silver” pendants ordered through glossy catalogs full of caramel corn, soup mixes and phone charging stations. Normally, my scrooge levels crank up to full power about now. I could buy better quality stuff at Target, yet you’ve somehow gotten my children so excited about the Crap They Can Win if they sell your product to me and to their grandparents and to the neighbors. Invisible ink? By golly, it’s all worth it. Canvas the neighborhood! Call the aunts and uncles! Let them know that for 19.99 they can buy a set of melamine nesting bowls in Tex-mex colors. And why wouldn’t they?

But, I'm telling you, you shocked me with the magazine sales that Oldest was asked to participate in now that she’s a seventh grader. There’s a streak of altruism running through this set-up that’s different than any other. Oldest told me that she didn’t want the "dumb prizes” you were offering kids for bringing in post cards addressed to all the members of their extended family. Instead she was given the choice to donate a live chicken to an individual in a third-world nation. Come again? A chicken in lieu of a fake mustache? And apparently, she can do this again if she sells five more subscriptions.  Who are you—the Heifer International of school fundraisers? I love you. Wait--I’m conflicted. I mean, I want South American farmers to get chickens if they need them, but does that only happen if I order Rachael Ray Everyday! and Martha Stewart Living?

I'm not sure how to live with the irony that basic food and sustenance for an under-resourced family in the third world is supplied by way of our purchasing tomes that document photoshopped first-world lives and homes and celebrities. But it seems to be a theme here in America--we implore givers to give by giving them something, albeit less valuable, in exchange. And as disturbing as it is to me that we cannot seem to request from people the same level of generosity without returns, it seems to be "working."

Maybe you've got a CEO who's keen on providing livestock to third-world families even though she's in charge of a school magazine sales fundraising company. If that's the case, I guess she's winning. And, I'll thank you for giving my daughter the option--for keeping my living room clear of one more piece of plastic-headed-for-the-trashcan, and for sending a bird to a family in South America.

***Heather Weber is the author of Dear Boy,: An Epistolary Memoir.

"Dear Boy, is a brilliant and unusual memoir of distance and absence--the absence of a beloved brother from his sister's life and the absence of healthy mothering that, over the years, drove brother and sister apart. Weber deftly shifts point of view so that, piece by piece, readers gather the sum of confusion and loss. Yet there is so much love and forgiveness in the narrator that, in a way, each character is redeemed. I'm moved by this life, this telling of it." --Fleda Brown, author of Driving with Dvorak.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (October 27)

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

Happy Monday! It's cloudy and warmish (!) in Iowa--probably one of our last mild fall days before we break out the midwestern winter wear. Whatever your climate, I hope you enjoy some of these reads from the week:

For any woman who's been pregnant after miscarriage. Sarah Bessey's Flutters and Faith.

Good advice to mothers, fathers, husbands, or wives: On Not "Firepitting" our Marriage (or our Children).

On generosity: Dear World, Let's Stop Giving Our Crap to the Poor.  This was controversial. Do you agree? Disagree? Discuss.

And, (a theme this week?) if we haven't walked in these shoes: What I Want You to Know about Being Poor.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dear Pastor's Kid, (Epistolary Wednesday)

Dear Pastor’s Kid,

You’ve heard the stories about Jesus and Abraham since you were in diapers. You know that God is Good and Jesus Loves You because The Bible Tells You So. You’ve sung the Sunday school songs, performed in the Christmas programs, and just because you’re you, have corrected the theology of the younger ones who wanted to know if angels and Santa were in cahoots, if the Easter Bunny was as real as Jesus. Also, you take science seriously; you wrestled with creation theory, held intelligent conversations about how the theories of evolution and God-as-Orignator might somehow fit together like a puzzle, and not be at odds as so many people seem to think they are.
And you know so much about the Bible—names, spouses, plot twists, dates—that I’m surprised to hear you casually recounting the stories. You don’t know it all (how could you; how could anyone?), but I’m sort of impressed. You’re invested, in other words, in figuring this whole God-and-the-Bible thing out.

But, you’re also worn out on God Stuff.

When I suggest reading the Bible out loud to you and your sister, or when there’s some new thing for kids at church who are your age, you'll sigh and say, “Do we have to? I already know everything there is to know about this stuff.” And sometimes, when you come home from youth group, or you hear about a church event other kids are going to, you sigh and say, “I’m just gonna feel guilty because they’ll tell me I should be telling people about Jesus. And I just don’t want to.” And not wanting to makes you feel like a very bad person.

I will commiserate with you because--listen--the last thing I want for you (or anyone who loves Jesus) is to feel like you have to perform for Him. It's not what anyone has meant to convey to you, but somehow the message has gotten scrambled over all these years.

Here's the problem I've started to clarify: So much knowledge about God, so much immersion in “church” and the Bible to the exclusion of knowing God with your heart just as much, is counterintuitive if not downright damaging. All of those facts and figures and names and verses could trick one into thinking that they have this God-thing all figured out, that this mass of information is all there is to gain. 

That kind of knowledge is dangerous, love, because like a vaccine, it so easily inoculates us against the most important things--it works against our Searching, against our Hunger and Finding Out With Our Hearts and our Souls who God really is. Those things, dear one, are what I most want you to inherit--not the satisfaction of memorizing verses and references, not a sense that you have "arrived" in church-land culture.

If taking back some of the Vacation Bible Schools, some of the forced Sunday school attendance when you were just not "into it" meant opening up your curiosity and encouraging your questions, I might do it. And even though it's not my first choice, that is why I'm letting you go to the junior high dance and giggle in a corner with your two girlfriends rather than make you go to the church youth conference. Maybe--and this is my prayer--your spiritual hunger will grow best in an echo-y gymnasium full of shy seventh graders. Maybe you will search for God right alongside bowls of Chex mix, cups of fruit punch, and Pharrell Williams through the sound system.

***Heather Weber is the author of Dear Boy,: An Epistolary Memoir.

"Dear Boy, is a brilliant and unusual memoir of distance and absence--the absence of a beloved brother from his sister's life and the absence of healthy mothering that, over the years, drove brother and sister apart. Weber deftly shifts point of view so that, piece by piece, readers gather the sum of confusion and loss. Yet there is so much love and forgiveness in the narrator that, in a way, each character is redeemed. I'm moved by this life, this telling of it." --Fleda Brown, author of Driving with Dvorak.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Must-Reads (October 20, 2014)

Photo: Linda Nylind for The Guardian

Happy Monday--there were lots of provocative reads that I bumped into this past week. And I'm sharing them. Much love and happy reading.

Shauna Niequist on pregnancy loss: The Pain Recedes and We Carry it Together

For those who want to don't want to lose time to Facebook: Why I'm Crazy Enough to Go for a Year Without the Internet

Because judging other people sucks: Why I don't breastfeed, if you must know...

For those who spend way too much money on Amazon: The Latte Factor: 8 Ways We Overspend

A lesson for leaders: What Mark Driscoll Teaches Us about Grace and Accountability

Enough said: women, men, & church; church: what hurts, what helps

If you suffer or you have little ones who do, here's another approach: Connecting ADHD and Nutrition

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dear Kate Hudson, (Epistolary Wednesday)

Dear Kate,

It used to be that we exercisers put on our grubbiest clothes, our holey-est shirts and the dirty sneakers we wouldn't ever wear if we were dressing for "regular" daily activities. But these days it's not enough that we are actually doing the work of exercising, that we are sweating and galloping on a treadmill or a cold wet sidewalk for forty minutes. No. Now we are supposed to look cute when we do it. But that's not news anymore. It's the reason Old Navy devotes a third of their women's clothing section to "activewear." And apparently the same reason why your new Fabletics line is showing up in my Facebook news feed twelve times a day. Like the next girl, I'm hooked by the promise of a good deal on running pants and sports bras, and Fabletics offers a first outfit for only $25. Better yet, join their VIP program and get an outfit at a reduced price, each and every month, for as low as $49. While I'm sure your husband, closet and budget can accommodate a new activewear outfit every month at $49 a pop, I'm not so sure about mine. Also, I'm finding on the message boards that "VIPs" get charged $49 whether they purchase an outfit or not. And most of them don't know this ahead of time. Should they want their money back because they neither need nor can afford a new outfit every month? Well, Fabletics will give them store credit to be used on a future purchase. (Ladies: beware.)

Kate Hudson, you're a genius or an opportunist depending on where one stands.  But your marketing bit is about "every woman": Every Woman Deserves to Look Cute in Affordable Activewear or some such spin. And this whole we'll-charge-you-for-nothing-and-not-give-your-money-back seems a bit disloyal of you, a bit antagonistic to the wellbeing of Every Woman, who as you ought to know, is for the most part working simply on making ends meet, acquiring winter coats for her children, paying dentist bills, or saving for retirement. You oughta know that Every Woman, by definition and common denominator, won't be purchasing that many pairs of yoga pants.

And I'm not sure how to even wrap my head around this statement, KH: "With Fabletics, we want to create a community...a movement, to help you live fit and achieve your passions in life." First off, joining the ranks of women duped by these monthly charges does not a community make. And second, working for clean drinking water in Africa is a movement. Civil rights for minorities is a movement. Feminism, the march on Wall Street, and breast cancer awareness are movements.

Wanna keep motivating women to exercise and purchase your products? Do it. But be straight up about it and treat us like we have some smarts and truly worthy causes to spend our money on. Because we do.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

For Tiny at Bedtime, (Epistolary Wednesday)

For Tiny at Bedtime,

It’s the ritual that I think will stay with you through all the years that lie ahead. I don’t know when we’ll stop, but for now I can’t help but believe, as I sit in your dusky bedroom at twilight, that the repetition of these requested songs every night is somehow building a solid core in you. You never sing along, and you only like the songs sung quietly while I rub your back, but I trust that their rhythms are somehow becoming the primal stuff of childhood memories--that and your mother sitting next to your bed, singing.

Be Thou my vision, O Lord of my heart.

I don’t say prayers with you regularly like all of the good church-going parents I know. I struggle enough with helping you understand my own hold on this unseen God, an invisible being who doesn’t quite “live” in any one place that I can point you to—a person you can feel but not hear or see or smell. How can I explain God to a four-year-old, to whom "going to heaven"--where God also "lives"--sounds about as appealing as visiting the dentist where she'll get to pick out a "prize" when the drilling is all over?

Naught be all else to me save that Thou art.

Other parents say their toddlers talk to Jesus like he’s sitting across the table at supper time. Not you--this family is full of doubters, literalists, skeptics, question-askers. Which is fine by me--because whatever faith we eventually do claim as our own becomes--against all odds--something textured and made sturdy by that doubt, those questions.

Thou my best thought, by day or by night.

I wonder if, when you are grown, these words will remind you of your mama, of the way she surrendered to an unseen God as her best Thought and Vision? 

Waking or sleeping, They presence my light.

I don't always hold the vision before me, though. My awareness of God ebbs and flows like the Pacific current against the west-coast shore, and sometimes my sense of God's presence is all tangled with distraction like seaweed around my feet. But my vision is there and my vision returns and subsides and visits me again. And somehow I'm changed in that process, by the many returns, by all the reminders of God-with-us. I can't explain how this works, Tiny. I can't explain God to you. I can only live before you while I try to know God--in the best way I know how.

***Heather Weber is the author of Dear Boy,: An Epistolary Memoir.

"Dear Boy, is a brilliant and unusual memoir of distance and absence--the absence of a beloved brother from his sister's life and the absence of healthy mothering that, over the years, drove brother and sister apart. Weber deftly shifts point of view so that, piece by piece, readers gather the sum of confusion and loss. Yet there is so much love and forgiveness in the narrator that, in a way, each character is redeemed. I'm moved by this life, this telling of it." --Fleda Brown, author of Driving with Dvorak.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Dear Fighting Girl, (Epistolary Wednesday)

Dear Fighting Girl,

You are so small and glowing and full of spunk and you know your own mind so well that my before-school promptings to empty the dishwasher and eat breakfast are intrusive and offensive. You can do it yourself. You can do it in the order you want to do it in. And sometimes I let you try this. Inevitably, though, I find you out-the-window gazing or fort-building with your littlest sister, your pajama bottoms still on and your teeth half brushed. Or: sitting on your bed, writing in your journal. This does not bode well for getting out the door on time. Doing It Yourself is not working for me or for school administrators. So every morning it’s the same: your obliviousness to time, my intrusions and your subsequent anger. You yell or stare at me in frosty silence, refusing to acknowledge or grant my requests.

It’s desperate enough—my desire that you learn how to cohabit with the inconvenience of Parents and People Who Care and that you learn how to make your way in the world without being forty-five minutes late everywhere you need to be—that I invoke Consequences for the disrespect and the arguing that comes in response to my requests. Screen-time privileges get revoked in thirty-minute increments until you are mute, distrusting the voice that got you into trouble in the first place. Other times, blame pours out of your mouth like a faucet. It was my fault that you lost screen time. It was my fault for starting the conversation with you that led to your displeasure, which led to your yelling and sass. You’re Never Talking to Me Again. You’re Not Going to Listen.

Sometimes I lose focus and I argue back—a losing, pointless conversation that makes me feel as old as you. I should know better than to argue, even with my calm, quiet Grown-Up Voice.

There are mornings you march off into the garage, grabbing your scooter and refusing to look me in the face or say goodbye. I swipe at you in an attempted hug; I say something like I Love You Even Though it Might Feel Like I Don’t and I Hope You Have a Good Day. You shake me off, won’t give me a backward glance as you scooter down the driveway. And I feel sad and heartbroken that you are starting your day this way, that I am starting my day this way.

I watch and wait for the weather you will bring in after school. It’s usually breezy and warm after picking acorns or leaves on the way home.  You sing hellos and you regale me with stories of bee chases on the play ground, of dogs that were visiting the class. Cautiously, I bring up the morning: Do you want to say anything about what happened this morning? I’m genuinely curious. 

And then, so quickly contrite, you soften your voice in the way you do with your littlest sister when you're getting along and say, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

“For yelling.” You let me rub your head and your back and shoulders and draw you close and I say I Forgive You like it’s no big deal.

“Can I earn screen time back?” you always ask with such hope.

“I don’t know. Maybe, but probably not. You have to get through something difficult with a good attitude in order to have screen-time again.”  I say this every time, thinking about Homework, After-Dinner Chores, and the Morning Routine the next day.

After this process gets repeated for several days in a row, after the starvation for Minecraft has gone on unbearably long, you wake up a different girl, all ready to cooperate, all ready to Do First Things First and all ready to Yes, Mom your way through breakfast and flossing and vitamins. And it’s like the sweetest relief because, from all appearances, I don’t seem to have wrecked you or destroyed our connection, despite your comments from the day before.

Some day, we will get to the other side of this canyon we are crossing; we will have taken our last shaky step on an unsteady bridge. That other side is where, I think, I will sigh in relief that we made it. We won't have lost our footing too terribly much. And I'll be calmer--because there won't be any more fear of us falling.