ben adam Climer: On Pacifism and Sons

First Baby Pics 191Guest post from…ben adam Climer lives in Eugene, OR with his wife, Selene, and son Jonas. He attends Eugene Mennonite Church, where he is involved in teaching and preaching. He works as a crisis counselor on a mobile emergency team called CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets). CAHOOTS is a unique, city-funded program which dispatches through the police non-emergency line and handles calls regarding intoxicated folks, people with mental health crises, minor medical issues, inter-agency social service transports, unhoused people in a housing crisis, death notices, people at risk of suicide, and more. He very infrequently updates his own blog at: www.messesofben.wordpress.com

Every human being is a miracle.  While I cognitively believed this, I felt it as a physical knowledge at the birth of my son.  The process from sex to a new life, albeit better understood intellectually by scientific experts, still appears infinitely complex and indescribably incredible to those of us fortunate enough to see the entire metamorphosis from conception to beginning.  It is nothing less than a miracle.

To shift gears, let us talk about the problem of Private Ryan.  In Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus, Saving Private Ryan, President Franklin Roosevelt faces a moral dilemma: Private Ryan is in immense risk behind enemy lines during the battle of Normandy. His four brothers have already died as infantrymen.  FDR learns that Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter informing a mother that all five of her sons died in combat during the American Civil War.  Not wishing to subject a mother to the loss of all her children and not wanting to write such a tragic letter, the President gives direct orders for a group of soldiers to rescue Ryan.  Nearly all of them die in the process.

Saving Private Ryan is perhaps the greatest piece of war propaganda ever made. It is our modern Iliad. Nonetheless, its presenting problem understands that the victims of war are the loved ones of the young men who die: mothers, wives, sisters, children.  In simultaneous glorification of war, Private Ryan exposes the inherent, problematic masculinity of combat that leaves behind widows, orphans, and childless mothers.  Thus, to confront war means confronting the masculine culture that creates it.

Some within Liberal Feminism often incorrectly locate violent aggression within men to how we are socialized.  This sets up many families who ascribe to anti-violent values for failure when their young sons begin acting aggressively as children.  They wonder how this could have happened when they struggled so hard to socialize their child away from violent behavior.  Too often, they blame the all-pervasive violence within our hyper-violent culture and feel powerless against it.

Truthfully, male aggression should be in no way surprising.  High testosterone levels encode aggressive behavior within us.  This makes sense as the more physically strong males most certainly served as protectors of breastfeeding mothers throughout our entire evolution.

This raises a question for those of us in faith communities where nonviolence is one of our highest spiritual values: how do we raise our young boys to forgo their deep-seeded will to violence?  This is the current question facing my wife and me with our son, Jonas.

My first inclination is to deny him his right to aggression and work hard to discipline him out of violent behaviors.  This does not guarantee against him playing with guns and swords.  I myself played with guns and swords despite my parents’ strenuous attempts to shield me from violent influences.  What my days of playing “violence” taught me is that protecting the vulnerable is good.  What I would later learn is that using violence against other miraculous human lives is a lie.

The will to war hinges on men’s desire to be involved in meaningful efforts to protect.  Attempts to socialize this desire out of our sons only demonizes their innate sense of justice.  We must encourage these desires toward aggression while teaching how to use it in a nonviolent way.  To our children we must teach this lesson: war turns our loved ones into widows/widowers, orphans, and childless parents.

Male aggression moves men toward protective behavior.  As parents, we must point this aggression toward nonviolence.  We must teach our children that all human lives are miracles, and nonviolence is the only way to confront enemies while respecting them as miraculous.

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Barbra Graber: Not even on the radar: Understanding and preventing child sexual abuse

BarbraGraberGuest post from… Barbra Graber, M.F.A. is Associate Editor of www.OurStoriesUntold.com, a website dedicated to provoking conversation and ending sexualized violence especially in Mennonite faith communities. She is a retired professor and director of theater at Eastern Mennonite University and continues to live in Harrisonburg with her husband, Dale Metzler. Other articles she has written on the topic of sexualized violence can be found online. Her detailed bio can be found at Our Stories Untold. For additional information and a free bibliography, please contact her at barbragraber@gmail.com or on Facebook. 

This post is part of a series of posts on raising children, in honor of my daughter’s second birthday last week. 

In 1985, after weeks of intensive training, I became a volunteer at the Los Angeles Rape Hotline (taking calls, accompanying victims to court, etc). After about a year on the job, it started getting to me. Every time a call came in I felt like the sound of the victim’s voice (telling me yet another horror) went through my ear, down to my gut and began churning up razor blades. I would get physically sick and could barely continue listening much less stay focused for an appropriate response.

During the same period I was meeting with a diverse group of Christian women who gathered to explore the meaning of the Divine Feminine in our lives. I took my experience to them for counsel. As we stood in a circle and I began to share, a huge wave of emotion came over me. My knees gave way and I dropped to the floor. An African American woman sat down beside me, scooped me up onto her lap, and started rocking me while the rest of the women prayed, swayed and sang around us.  After the intensity of emotion passed, she said to me quietly, “Honey, you aren’t just crying for those rape hotline clients. Something happened to you.”

Of course I didn’t believe her. I thought I’d had a wonderful childhood.  I grew up in the most pastoral setting imaginable, in a loving community among peace loving people. Such horrible acts of violence could not have been part of my life experience, I told myself.

That was the first hint, the first chipping away at the huge boulder of denial blocking me from the reality of my family’s secret.  Over the next months and years I was forced to “do or die” and pieced together the undeniable truth that indeed I was an adult victim of childhood sexual abuse. I almost didn’t survive it.  Today I am not ashamed to say I was a victim of CSA.1 No one should be ashamed. It was not our fault. And I’m now an incredibly grateful survivor/thriver, a survivor’s advocate, and committed activist. I believe we can end this plague.

We know things now that were not even on the radar screen for our parents.  And there is so much we can do now to protect our children. Most of all they need for us to accept reality and to take responsibility.  It is not only the parent’s responsibility to protect a child, it is the extended family’s responsibility and the responsibility of the community to which that child belongs.

The first step we must take to protect our children is to accept reality. Dr. Ana C. Salter, a renowned researcher said: “We will never deal effectively with the problem of sexual aggression if we do not first find, examine, and deal with the myths we use to make ourselves feel safe.”In reality, our children are not safe.  Refusing to accept that reality will not protect them. 

  • One out of 3-4 girls and one out of 5-6 boys will be sexually violated before their 18th birthday.3
  • Child sexual abuse is seventy-five times more common than pediatric cancer.4
  • One in seven children ages 10-17 have been sexually solicited online 5
  • Convicted sex offenders usually identify themselves as religious; the most egregious offenders are the ones most actively involved in churches and synagogues 6
  • Most child abuse cases involve someone the child knows and often someone the parents trust. 7  Abuse most often takes place within the child’s “safe world” of home, school, church, sports, scouting and other approved activities. 8
  • Offenders are often people you would least expect and often have many victims over a lifetime. They are very good at patiently grooming both child and parent to believe they are trustworthy before ever laying a hand on the child. And they are frighteningly adept at convincing the child to tell no one.  Too often children who tell are not believed by the adults in their world.

The taboo against talking about CSA has been far greater than any taboo against actually molesting a child. It is no wonder my mother asked her sister-in-law why her little girls had blood stains in their underwear. 9 It was not even on her radar. But before my mother’s death, she admitted to discovering the truth and her truth telling confirmed our suspicions.  We all need to accept reality, no matter how severely the truth rocks our world. Our children are worth it.

Once we accept reality, what can we actually do? As adults, we must be the ones to take responsibility for protecting the children in our immediate surroundings.  Leaving the responsibility in the hands of children to “just say no” or “stay away from strangers” or “tell an adult” has not solved the problem as we thought it would.  Here are some suggestions for ways we can move the responsibility from children to parents and other adults who love them.

  • Educate yourself on the basics.  The Common Questions page on the National Sex Offender Public Website is a concise and condensed overview.
  • Create a Family Safety Plan. Teach children that no one has the right to touch them anywhere on their bodies that would normally be covered by a swimming suit, (unless for medical reasons or at bath time, with permission) and that they should not touch anyone else’s private parts.  Assure them you want to know if anyone touches them in a way that makes them uncomfortable or asks them to touch those private places.
  • Give each one of your child’s caretakers (camp counselors, teachers, babysitters, coaches, friends and family members) a heads up that you are knowledgeable, involved, and on guard. On the first day of camp you might say or send a note to the leadership:  “Just want you to know that we have taught Mary about body boundaries and that others do not have the right to touch her in any way that makes her feel uncomfortable and that she’s to tell us if that occurs.” Remember that offenders are often people you would least expect.
  • Every now and then ask your child, “Is anyone hurting you?”
  • Consider how a well-meaning requirement of a young child to “Give Grandpa a kiss” or “Give Auntie a hug”, sends a subtle message that the child is not in control of her own body’s interaction with others. If she is not allowed to say, “I don’t want to kiss Grandpa” because it is impolite, is she also not allowed to say “Stop it!” to Uncle Bob whose friendly play suddenly makes her feel weird? Learning to shake hands and wave goodbye are other options.
  • If you are concerned about the safety of a child, trust your gut feelings. Sometimes vague feelings of discomfort or the sense that “something just isn’t right” can be an indication that something less visible is occurring in the background. StopItNow.org has a form to help keep track of the behaviors that concern you.
  • Silence is not an option anymore.  Don’t wait for “proof” of child sexual abuse. File a report of your documented suspicions and concerns by following the instructions here or by calling a confidential helpline such as Child Help USA 1.800-4-A CHILD or StopItNow.org at 1.888.PREVENT.
  • Do not confront the abuser yourself. You are not expected or qualified to become an investigator into the matter you have discovered and neither is your pastor or manager of your day care center or an elder family member. Don’t let anyone in authority stop you from reporting a reasonable cause for suspicion by telling you they’ll “handle it.”
  • Know the “red flags”: If anyone,  friend or relative, is more interested in being with your child than you are, that’s a red flag.  If your child doesn’t want to stay over with someone or be cared for by someone, don’t force him or her to do so. Abuse may not be happening, but why take the risk?  If your child’s behavior tends to become erratic and upset after staying with a relative or friend or babysitter, that’s a red flag.
  • Predators are drawn to places that serve children. Make sure churches and organizations that provide services to your child have two important policies/practices in place: 1) careful screening and required background checks on all staff and volunteers that work directly with the children and 2) the “two adult” rule (i.e. no adult is allowed to be alone with children without another adult present). If your church does not have these minimal practices in place, ask them why they do not and suggest they go through a program like Safe Church.
  • Convicted sex offenders are not “monsters” and they need communities of concerned people to help keep them from offending again. But those concerned persons dare not be naive. A set of clear and strongly enforced guidelines for accountability must be put in place if a church chooses to minister to offenders. Safe Church addresses this, as well as The Stop It Now Website.

 Our children are our most precious commodity as a human family and certainly as a faith community. Too many of them are in danger unless we change the culture of denial and apathy all around us, especially in our churches; until we begin to talk and tell and study and learn and act to protect our children. Let’s commit ourselves to doing all we can to stay vigilant; to keep learning, to act with courage, and to make our children, not our reputations, the highest priority. We’ll do that best by accepting reality and taking responsibility in each of our own communities.

This list is certainly not exhaustive. We hope you will add suggestions in your comments.   But “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Margaret Mead

Notes:

  1. Definition of child sexual abuse: When a child is used for the sexual gratification of an adult or adolescent. It includes touching and non-touching offenses. Samaritan Safe Church training manual. www.scclanc.org
  2. “Predators” by Dr. Ana C. Salter
  3. “Protecting Children from Abuse in the Church” by Basyle Tchividjian as well as multiple studies including this one from the CDC: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/
  4.  “A Snapshot of Pediatric Cancers” National Cancer Institute
  5. Janice Wolak, Kimberly Mitchell, David Finkelhor.“Online Victimization of Youth, Five Years Later,”  Crimes Against Children Research Center http://www.missingkids.com/en_US/publications?NC167.pdf
  6. Victor Vieth of the National Child Protection Training Center in a speech at the William Mitchell College of Law says 93% identify as religious. “The most egregious sex offenders–-those who have the most victims, the youngest victims and those who get away with it for the longest amount of time–are the ones most actively involved in their churches or synagogues.” https://vimeo.com/60690302
  7. A disturbing interview by Dr. Ana Salter with a convicted child molester and youth pastor. Trigger alert! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sEqWlJbEX4
  8. The Department of Justice Sex Offender website. http://www.justice.gov/ovw/sexual-assault
  9. Samaritan Safe Churchtraining manual. www.scclanc.org
  10. This story came to me from my cousin, who shared that her mother had told her that our mother had asked her this question.
  11.  Mandatory Reporting: “Persons who routinely come in contact with children in the course of their profession, employment or occupation are mandated by law to report suspected abuse of children. Volunteers working with children should be required to report any suspected child abuse to staff who are mandated reporters. Reporting is now required when you have reasonable cause to suspect that a child under your care/guidance/training or supervision OR under the care/guidance/training or supervision of an organization you are affiliated with is a victim of child abuse.” Samaritan Safe Church training materials. www.scclanc.org

 

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On Being Two: A Letter to Toddler E

Ellie

Dear little E -

Another year has come and gone, and – when you wake up this morning – you will no longer be one. You will be two whole years old. It seems only fitting, since two is your favorite number. When we count to ten, you start with two and keep repeating. It goes something like this, “Two, two, two, two, eight, nine, two!” And, for the last month or so, we’ve been teaching you how to tell people your age, so already, when they ask, you hold up “two fingers” (in truth it’s four, but who’s counting?) and say “two.” It’s as if you just couldn’t wait any longer to be two. In the same way that you bounce up and down in frustration if we keep you waiting too long, you were done with one before this official day ever came.

Last year was so much about us getting to know each other and just figuring out how to co-exist. It was a year that – frankly – felt like it was simply about survival at times. But this year…this year, we’ve gotten to know so much more about who and how you are. This year has been fun.

We know that you run everywhere. From the day that you decided that you were going to walk in earnest, a few weeks after you first starting to take those first tentative, toddling steps, we’ve had to sprint to keep up with you.

You love to eat. Truthfully, I love this about you. It may just be that I love to eat to. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as cooking a deluxe, super tasty meal and sitting down to eat it with gusto. But you are a girl who is hungry and not shy about it. You love blueberries. Pickles. Raw lemons. Black beans. Soup (you call it zup!). Noodles (noonels). Watermelon. Ice cream. Yogurt. Peaches. Granola. Eggs (but only with salsa). And the list could go on.

You are are a complex mix of fearlessness and caution. You march up playground steps and slide down the biggest slide. You jump off little ledges and would have loved to just fling yourself down the stairs were it not for the pesky safety gates we kept up. You love to ride on the big girl swings and dislike it when we help you to stay steady. You know you want to do it yourself. You’ll tackle your four-year-old cousin with reckless abandon.  But you also like to know what’s up. You don’t like to be bombarded with new people. You have to assess a situation and a person for yourself before you decide you want to be outgoing and friendly. People have to earn your trust before you’re willing to be yourself with them.

You are driven to communicate. Over the last few months, you’ve been picking up words at a breakneck pace. But even before words, you found ways to tell us – in no uncertain terms – what you needed. And since you’ve picked up words – a complex mix of your very own slang (aimee = ice cream, lemmy = lemonade, whee = swing, peeps = chickens, etc.) and real English-sounding words – you won’t stop talking when you’re in your element. When you really get excited, your eyes shine, your head flounces and you wave your arms about emphatically, telling us long stories and observations from your day.

You are not us. Whenever a new baby arrives on the scene, it’s tempting to speculate about who they look like (for the record, you look a lot your dad with your blond hair and blue eyes, but you’ve got my cheesy photo grin). It’s also easy for people to try to pinpoint the things that babies do and to peg them as similar to either their mother or father. Or maybe an aunt, uncle or grandparent. But if we’ve learned anything this year, we’ve learned that you are nothing if not your own person.

You love being in the mix, but you are not an uber-extravert like me. Your studious and serious gaze sometimes is the spitting image of your dad, but you’ve also got an impulsive, quick-to-act streak that’s all your own. I hope as your parents that we can always let you be your own person. I hope that we can find ways to set healthy limits of course, but I hope you never feel like we are pressuring you into being anyone or any way other than who and how you are.  And I hope that we can help you to be comfortable and confident enough in your own skin that you never feel like you have to compromise your sense of self for anyone either.

And there are so many other things I hope for you.

I hope that you learn to share.

I hope that you want to sleep through the night EllieandMomsometime on a regular basis.

I hope that you always want to attack me with a “chokehold hug” whenever you see me, although I know this probably won’t last forever.

I hope that you will always love soccer as much as you do now (you cried the first day after the World Cup ended and there was no “ball” on TV).

I hope that you will love your little brother, even if it feels like he’s a scene-stealer who just sleeps, eats and poops when he first gets here.

I hope that you always feel surrounded by a community who loves you.

I hope that you find ways to see God’s lure in your life, and that you would feel brave enough to follow wherever it might lead you.

And I hope that you never lose the exuberance you have now for aging. May you be ready to greet each new year with a resounding exclamation point, whether you are celebrating “two” or “twenty” or “forty” or “fifty-five.”

We love you more than you will probably ever be able to really comprehend.

Mom

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Vanessa Rios-Reyes: Seeing through my sons’ eyes

Vanessa Rios-ReyesGuest post from…Vanessa Rios-Reyes is mother to two boys and wife to Rafael. She holds a Masters of Divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology and serves as a chaplain. Vanessa and Rafael were our downstairs neighbors during our first year of parenthood, and were helpful examples to us of how to be calm, relaxed, good parents, and of just how creative a four-year-old boy can be! 

I recently read a blog about a mother who found pictures of herself on her phone.  Her children had taken the pictures, without her knowing.  When she confronted them in anger, the boy responded with “you looked so beautiful laying there” and the daughter said, “that could be a postcard mom.  You’re so beautiful, I love it.”

I must admit, this blog made me emotional.  As I read it, it reminded me of the many times that RJ (our soon to be six-year-old son) has just blown me away with his insight of beauty.  I don’t remember being so in tuned with the beauty around me when I was a child, but I do remember one time when I was struck with beauty.

I must have been about nine-years-old at the time.  My mom was accustomed to sitting us (I’m the oldest of four) around the table after breakfast on Saturday mornings to read the Bible.  I remember one day staring at her and thinking, “wow, she is so beautiful.”  I was reminded of this moment a few months ago when RJ said to me “Mommy, your lips are so beautiful” while I read to him a bedtime story.  It wasn’t until then that I shared this memory with my mother.

“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.”

I am grateful to have an opportunity to re-discover the beauty that lies around me, past and present.  At the early age of five, almost six, RJ has already taught me many things.  One of the greatest things I’m appreciative of is his awe of beauty in the simplest of things.  The beauty of one’s lips when reading a book, the splendor of a full moon surrounded by the bluish dark sky, the respect we must have of the ocean because of its magnificence.

The one that has impacted and continues to change my life is the beauty he finds in his momma every time she dresses up to go out with her boys. “Wow, Mami, you look like a princess!”  As many times as I have tried, I cannot see what he sees, but it changes me every time I hear it.  I do find myself taking time to smell the flowers and feel the raindrops as they fall on my skin.

I hope to work very hard in helping our sons continue to find the awe of beauty that surrounds them.  As a parent, I work harder in continuing to find the beauty that day-in and day-out surrounds me in the things and the people that make up my life.

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Interview with the Hurs

SueParkHurFor today’s post, I interviewed Sue Park-Hur, and her daughter, L, age 12. Sue lives with her husband, Hyun, and three kids: G, age 14; L, age 12; and Y, age 4. Sue and Hyun live in Los Angeles County, California. Together, they have started ReconciliAsian, a ministry committed to sharing the Anabaptist peace witness and teaching skills for peaceful conflict resolution in a Korean context. The Hurs also serve as the pastors of Mountain View Mennonite Church in Upland, Calif. I met the Hur family during the four and a half years that we lived in California. I was blown away by their willingness to follow God’s call on their lives, no matter how unclear the way ahead might seem.

This post is part of a week-long series on parenting in honor of my daughter’s second birthday this week.

The Femonite: When we were in California, before we were parents, I always admired the ways that you all seemed to parent in community, with other people. Obviously you all were always in charge and the parents, but you also were really open to letting other people take care of your children and be involved in their lives. Would you say this is true?

Sue: I think the kids were really shaped by having grown up in this community, which was also where we did church. It’s interesting because now we’re talking about moving and try to figure out where we do. They’ve been to some of these nicer townhouses in Los Angeles, and they’ll say, “The house is nice, but we don’t know who lives next to us.” Hyun and I realized, “Oh,  they really have a sense of what it means to live in community and are comfortable with that.” That’s unknowingly become how they understand housing and family. It’s more than just your nuclear unit and a place to live.

For the first four years of their lives, G and L were in Korea. I really loved raising them there. I wondered how people in America would do this. In Korea, the way they do ministry is grueling and Hyun [who was pastoring] was barely home. But in Korea, I could go to church and people volunteered to take the kids and play with them. That would help me to get things done for the classes I taught. I thought, “Wow, if I didn’t have that kind of community in rearing kids, it would have been really, really difficult.” Coming back and living here [in the United States] was really difficult. Even though I had parents, they weren’t close enough proximity-wise to help much, and Hyun was burned out from ministry and couldn’t help that much, so I felt kind of at a loss trying to work and have kids and raise them.

TF: What would you describe as some of the biggest joys and challenges of motherhood for you thus far?

Sue: One of the biggest joys is when I see them really showing love and respect  for each other. When we see that our children are becoming their own independent person, and when we realize that they can be respectful and understand both cultures that they are a part of. As they grow and I see the gifts that I’m discovering in them, that’s a joy of parenting. Recognizing how God wired them and what their gifts and joys are.

For instance, L loves to cook and her nose is in a cookbook. That’s how she unwinds and that’s her little niche. And it’s great and we can help her to get ingredients or pots and pans. This is her love language. When she’s bored, this is what she does. She looks at recipes and blogs and finds other people who are into that as well and helping her along the way. And G went to Korea this summer because he’s a gifted musician, and he went to music camp there so that he can connect with other kids who are very talented. He’s always holding a guitar and that’s how he unwinds.

L: Yeah, and whenhe’s really mad he plays the cello.

Sue: Some of the things that I think are challenging… When they get into fights and they have conflicts, it’s really hard because we do all these conflict transformation workshops as part of our ministry, and then it’s sometimes hard to realize that at home we don’t all have these skills. There’s this assumption that your kids will know certain things just because you do them, and that’s not always true.

I also think trying to be really present with kids is hard. There is a constant interruption from ministry: phone calls, e-mails, texts. They interrupt our time together, and they often seem very urgent. And parenting is harder with technology. It’s great that we can be more flexible. But just because you are home, you might not be “fully home.” You’re physically there, but you’re mentally elsewhere. So being mindful of having time with the kids when they are here is really hard.

TF: L, you were almost eight-years-old already when your little brother, Y, was born. What do you remember about that time? How did having a little brother change your life?

Lynn:  We’ve loved Yul since he came home. Unfortunately we could not visit him at the hospital, because there was a huge flu thing going around and we weren’t allowed to go in. But when he came home. G and I were very curious. We looked at him. We would drop our backpacks and just come in and stare at him.

When Y was born, it was a sense of responsibility I didn’t have before. G was the older one and I thought that I would be the youngest one for the rest of my life. But I didn’t really have that nervousness that my parents would have to focus on him too much. Even if they did, I knew that he had to have that focus, so I wasn’t mad or anything. Is.

Sue: We have a preschooler, preteen and teenager in the house at the same time. It’s crazy!

TF: Sue, you touched on some of the challenges of pastoring and parenting together, but L, I wonder if you could reflect on that, too. What has it been like to be a pastor’s kid? I don’t know if you know this, but I was a pastor’s kid, too. My mom became a pastor when I was 12 though, so I can remember a time when I wasn’t in that role.

L: I don’t what it’s not like to be a pastor’s kid. I think when I was younger – like in 1st grade – I didn’t really understand what my parents were doing, so I didn’t really care and wasn’t really bothered with it. Now, I understood what they are doing and sometimes I don’t want them to do it. It used to be that they would be gone and I was scared when they would leave. Now I’m used to it, but it’s just sometimes sad to have them gone again.

Sometimes if there are a lot of guests around – which is a lot – I don’t get my space and my parents don’t get their space, so that’s another reason we fight. We live in a pretty small house, so we’re always together if we’re in the house, and we can get mad at each other or blow up. Our ways to unwind are really important. For G, it’s basketball or music. For me, I bake or I read. We all need our things to calm down.

Sue: I think L has had a unique experience. Her only experience was a house church [Sue and Hun served as pastors of Church for Others, an Anabaptist house church congregation in Temple City]. With the house church, we had to share our home all day on the weekends. That was stressful.

L: But I really loved the fact that we were basically family. It was hard for us to leave that church. We had been there for four years and then we moved to a different church. At the new church, there are no children. And at Church for Others, half of the church was children.

Sue: It’s been hard for the kids to move. From a house church to a church with a building. One of the struggles for us is that Hyun and I are 1.5 generation immigrants, and we’re also first generation Mennonites. For both of us, we’re not going to be completely immersed in Anabaptist values, because we come from a different background. But we want our kids to have an Anabaptist experience. This is what they are going to consider normal.

Sometimes we wonder, do we have them go to another church where there’s a viable youth group, but the church is not Mennonite? Or do they come to our church which is Anabaptist, but doesn’t have youth? How do you raise Korean-Mennonites in this kind of setting and still continue to talk about certain values?

TF: Yeah, in many ways I realize that you all are blending so many different cultures or influences. You’ve got South Korean culture, Korean-American contexts, Anabaptism, and other things. How do all these things hold together? And, you know, in a place like Los Angeles, this kind of blending of cultures is becoming much more normal.

Sue: One of the great things is that the last couple of weeks, Hyun and I have been asked to come present to several different organizations of Korean parents, who gather for Korean cultural purposes. They gather because they want to pass on their culture to kids. These parents have heard that Hyun is doing this conflict transformation, and they want him to come do a presentation. That’s been a neat new opening for us. We hadn’t thought about this. Parents are realizing that this retributive discipline with their kids isn’t working, and they are really excited about thinking about restorative justice models for parenting.

L: I don’t think I should even really be counted as second generation. I don’t know Korean. I can understand Korean, but I can’t speak it. My dad is first generation. He has a different perspective on things. You have to emphasize respect. He might be offended by certain things that we think are normal. My mom is more Americanized, but she still knows Korean. But us, we have a different view on things.

TF: Sue, I know this is a big question, but I wonder, when you think about your kids eventually going off to do things on their own, is there one thing that you hope they’ll remember? Any sort of key nugget or memory that you really hope they carry with them?

Sue: Our kids know that we are not financially secure. In a way, we don’t know how much we can secure a certain future for them and or help them with college, etc. It’s the reality, but it’s also painful at times. As I was thinking about this conversation with you, I was thinking about the treasures that we could give to our kids, and I think it’s really the people that we’ve been able to meet. We might not be rich or influential in a circle of powerful people, but we have been around incredible people: in Mennonite circles, with Hyun’s connections with North Korea, and in other spaces, too. Even though our house is small, we have hosted countless people who are amazing workers for God’s Kingdom. I think that’s all we could do. That’s the gift we were able to give to our kids thus far.

I hope they will be able to take away the treasure of the people who have come through our home and we have hosted. That’s their heritage and that’s the gift they have received from their parents. In the future, when they see a book or faces, they might recognize them and say, “Oh, I know that person. They were at our house. ”

Our hope also, of course, is that they would find their own way of engaging in God’s kingdom. They see one model from their parents, and hopefully that we’ve given our all to do what we’re called to do, and they’ve come alongside that crazy ride. They don’t have to build a peace center or be the successor of ReconciliAsian, but I hope that they would seriously engage in Kingdom work in the way that they’re called to do. And that they would do it courageously and boldly, trusting God.

 

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Bethany Bauman Baker: My Foster Parenting Story

BethanyGuest post from…Bethany Bauman Baker is an elementary school teacher who lives and works in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her husband, Gabe. Bethany is a dear friend of Justin and I (we go all the way to high school) and I have been inspired and challenged and impressed by the ways that she and Gabe have been willing to open their house as  a safe holding space and a launching pad for children. I am grateful to her for sharing her story as part of “parenting week” on the blog. 

When my husband Gabe and I decided it was time to grow our family by trying to get pregnant, we had no idea what our journey would be or what our family would look like three years later. After over a year of not getting pregnant, we decided to take an orientation class that would train us to become foster parents. We had always pictured ourselves adopting, but were not sure how that would come about.

We were in shock after a “practice weekend” of giving other foster parents of two children a break for respite. We decided even though our house could fit two children at one time, we would definitely only be open to one. I don’t think either of us had ever been so tired.

When I got the call (I actually happened to be sitting in the infertility clinic for my first appointment at that moment) to pick up a newborn boy from the hospital, a rush of excitement and a frantic need to get ready filled us both. We were saddened, but not heartbroken, when an aunt came to take him into her care the day after we brought him home.

Exactly one week later, we got a call to take in a 2-year-old boy named Eliot*. Again came the rushed feeling of getting things ready and anticipation. Eliot truly became our son. He started calling me “Mommy” right away and my heart was at home (he actually called everyone who showed care towards him “Mommy”, but my name stuck as his language developed). We finally had a family. I remember getting my first Mother’s day gift and attending a Sunday service at church celebrating mothers and thinking that – even though I felt like I had a child and he called me “Mommy” – I really wasn’t his mother.

Four and a half months later, Eliot’s sister, Emily, was born. We had some forewarning that there was a referral made and a baby might coming, but we didn’t know until the day we picked her up  from the hospital, only five days old, that she would be joining our family. We were both giddy with excitement to actually have a newborn in our home, and their birth mother was grateful that her two children could stay together.

Emily was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen and even though she wasn’t mine, she felt like it. We loved those children harder and more than we had ever loved anyone in our lives. They were our family that we had desired for so long (this was now two years from the time when we first began trying to have a family).

When Eliot and Emily went back with their mother 8 ½ months later, we were heartbroken. I remember singing to Eliot as he went to sleep and quietly crying, thinking that I would never do it again. We had to keep telling ourselves the truth that children are better off with their biological parents if the parents can prove they are worthy of them, and their mother did. From what we saw, she grew a lot, but that did not ease the grief of letting them go. I cry as I write this now and as all those feelings come back to me. It was just five months ago.

Becoming parents of a toddler in the matter of a day put us into a new group at church (the group with kids) and morphed our house into one full of toys and booster seats; artwork on the wall and dirty diapers; plastic wear and kids music. A life I was very ready to be in. I truly love being a mom. Even if I didn’t birth these children or even if I will have to say good-bye, it was worth the heartbreak.

Since then, we have done respite care, 48 hour holds, and we took in a 9-month-old boy as a long term placement. He also happens to be named Eliot. At least we can still call his bedroom “Eliot’s room”. He is full of giggles, smiles, and energy.

And three weeks ago, we also took in a 2-year-old named Jordan who has made us think, “Can we truly handle this?” It’s easy to forget all the growth and transition that happened the first time with a 2-year-old who couldn’t yet communicate with words. I can tell that I am not letting myself get as attached to these two boys, but when they bounce up and down or run to you with a smile when you pick them up from daycare, how can my motherly desires not be filled for just that moment? If I just don’t think about the incredible unknown of the future, if I can simply be in the moment, I know that I am a mother.

*Names changed for anonymity

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Melissa Jantz: Reflections on Motherhood

MelissaJantzGuest post from…Melissa Shirk Jantz taught Language Arts to 7th and 8th graders (including Hannah Heinzekehr) for 13 years before quitting to provide more balance and structure at home for her son, Ethan.  She and her husband, Tim, called Goshen, Indiana home for almost 15 years before relocating to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 2010, where Melissa’s immediate and extended family lives.  She hopes to one day teach again, but for now is content reading as many stories as she can get her hands on.  

This post is part of a week-long series on parenting in honor of my daughter’s 2nd birthday this week. 

It was late fall of 2002, and I’d settled into my seventh year of teaching Language Arts at Bethany Christian Middle School in Goshen, Indiana.  My husband, Tim, and I had recently bought a house and were expecting our first child.  I welcomed these markers of adult life after the drama of my early twenties.  I was excited for the next phase of life.

Ethan Timothy Jantz entered our world on August 3, 2003.  After the initial euphoria and excitement of visits from our families, friends and community wore off, I soon became numb with the loss of sleep with a newborn.  My body was still aching and sore after an emergency c-section.  Fall came and for the first time in years I didn’t return to teaching.  I missed the routine of setting up my classroom, seeing students again, and having a fresh start to the school year.

Ethan was fussy and hard to calm.  He had trouble nursing at first and didn’t nap or sleep well.  My world once filled with people, activity, engagement, and doing suddenly rotated around nursing, sleeping, changing diapers and isolation.  I felt desperate to reconnect with my old world, to get outside the walls of my house.   I kept telling myself it would get better as Ethan got older.  I remember watching the neighbor girls across the street riding their bikes and playing happily outside while their mom would occasionally pop her head out of the door to check on them.  I told myself, “see, eventually Ethan will do that too, and you won’t be tethered to a chair, holding a baby all day.  The best is yet to come.”

However, things didn’t get easier for me.  The adjustment to being a new parent seemed to be taking a bigger toll on my well-being than I ever anticipated.  I struggled with feelings of shame about how hard of a time I was having, always worried someone would think I was a bad mom or didn’t love Ethan.  After more than a year of fighting and denying it, I finally admitted I was suffering from depression and needed to get some help.  Around the same time, Tim and I began to face the fact that Ethan wasn’t meeting some milestones that were red flags for delays, most connected to something I feared greatly–Autism.  After consulting with our pediatrician, we had Ethan evaluated and were accepted into an early intervention program, First Steps.  Even though we were admitting there was something “wrong,” with our beautiful boy, it brought some relief to us as new parents and gave us tools to work with Ethan’s language delays and sensory integration issues.  By the time Ethan was 3, we had the diagnosis we suspected and feared all along—Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

I wish I could reach back in time and give that confused young woman in her early 30′s some of the grace then that I have received in the years that followed from people as we came to accept the reality that our son was autistic.  There is a lot of love and support for us as a family and acceptance of Ethan from friends, family and our church communities.  He is more than a diagnosis, even though it limits him in ways I wish he didn’t have to struggle with.  Tim and I will always keep working to help him realize all his is meant to be, and we love many things about Ethan that come along with who he is with Autism.

But in that journey, there is pain as I watch other parents interacting with their fully developing children, having the experiences we imagined ourselves having with our own kids that we won’t experience in the same way.  There is also fear of the future.  I don’t assume the things most parents do—college, marriage, grandchildren.  What I worry about is who will take care of Ethan when Tim and I are unable to anymore?  How will we find a good community for him?  And then I have to root myself back in the present so I don’t become engulfed in that fear.

The journey with Ethan isn’t wrong, it is just different.  Some days we are o.k. with that, and other days, it is hard and it hurts.  As I said in my post on Facebook on Ethan’s 11th birthday, the one that prompted an invitation to write on this blog, “The journey since hasn’t been what we first imagined it would be, and it hasn’t been without its share of struggles. But there is more love than we can express for this boy who has turned our world upside down.”

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God’s Plan for Sea Turtles, Human Babies, and Grandmothers

CarolGuest post from…Carol Honderich serves as the Advancement Event Facilitator for Mennonite Mission Network. She is parent of three grown children, and grandparent to one. Carol has also built an extensive network of connections through an online quilting and devotional ministry. I got to know Carol during my time working on the Church Relations team for Mission Network. Carol’s generous spirit, dry sense of humor and gentle strength of faith were and are inspirations to me, and I’m grateful to her for sharing these reflections on The Femonite today.

This post is part of a week-long series on parenting and childraising, in honor of my daughter’s second birthday.

 I was mesmerized as I watched an online video of baby sea turtles hatching from their sandy-hole nest and scampering off for the ocean as quickly as their four tiny feet could take them.  Somehow these babies knew that dawdling on their route to the water could be hazardous to their health.  Dehydration or sea gulls can end a sea turtle’s life before it ever sets a toe in the water.

Life for a sea turtle is difficult.  One statistic I found estimated that only 1 in 1000 sea turtles survives to adulthood.  If she survives her infancy and adolescence, the adult female will return to the same beach where she hatched to lay her own eggs.  Her nest will be made in a safe secluded sandy spot where she will deposit between 80 and 120 eggs.  These eggs will hatch in approximately 60 days, long after she has returned to the sea.  The mother turtle is never present when her eggs hatch.  Those babies have only their instincts to direct them back to the safety and the hazards of life in the ocean.  This is God’s plan for sea turtles.

What a different experience for the human baby whose mother is very present at her baby’s birth.  God’s plan for our babies is to provide a mother whose arms will warm and comfort her infant, who will feed and care for this helpless being, and who can teach and love this child.  Parents, siblings, grandparents and family form the nucleus of care.  The church and surrounding community offer more care, formal education and opportunities for life experience for the growing child.

Psalm 68:6 tells us that God places the lonely in families.  This suggests to me that God’s provisions for relationships for humans extend beyond biological family.  When the natural order of God’s plan (the biological family) goes awry, God has a backup plan to provide homes and loving, accepting the communities.  Sea turtles have their instincts to count on.  Humans can depend on God’s provisions.

I see myself as part of God’s plan to be in close relationship with my grandchildren, to bridge the gap between generations, and to offer my wisdom, perspective, life experience, resources, and a sense of continuity from generation to generation for my grandchildren.  Deuteronomy 4:9 says:  “…Take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.”

I have something to offer to my grandchildren that their own parents can’t.  I have something more, something unique that can fill in the gaps in their experiences with their parents and other family members.  Here is what I believe I and other grandparents can offer as part of God’s provisions for my granddaughter.

  • Wisdom – that comes from God through life experience and dwelling in His word
  • Perspective – since we’ve spent many more years on this earth, we’ve attained a vantage point in our life that offers a unique view and understanding
  • ExperienceBeen there – done that … often more than once
  • Resources – time, money, and connections
  • Continuity – personal and family history, being able to piece together the past into story that helps my grandchildren understand who they are.

Grandmother Stories: Filling the Gaps

I asked some of my friends and colleagues to share stories of how they fill the gaps for their grandchildren.  From our own experiences in raising kids, we understand that parents can’t do it all.  We know it takes a village to raise a child.  So how do our gifts at this stage of life combine to offer something important and unique in my grandchild’s life?  Here are some examples:

IMG_0896From Carol H:  My daughter enjoys cooking in a quiet orderly kitchen where she can work methodically step-by-step as she carefully prepares a meal. My granddaughter is five.  Like her mother, she loves cooking, too, but she is messy, wants her hands in everything, wants to stir and dump, crack eggs and shape cookies. I love baking with her. I don’t mind her limited attention span, and we will deal with spills and messes as we need. Her joy in the process is my reward. I can provide kitchen time for her in a way her mother can’t.

From Linda K:  My grandchildren live at quite a distance and we only get to see each other a couple times a year. Sometimes I wonder if I have said or done anything that will make a lasting impact on their lives. Recently my daughter discovered that her first grader was writing a book, complete with illustrations. The book is entitled “Nana” and each chapter tells of a different visit to Nana’s house. Evidently our visits are important enough for him to record!

Last Christmas I was blessed to have my two grandsons spend a few days with me.  We did the regular “Nana” things: reading, play-dough, Legos. Then I brought out the gingerbread house kit I had found on clearance at Target for $5. Hours and hours of fun ensued! They just did not want to stop. That night as the four-year-old lay on his cot, he took a deep breath and whispered, “This was the BEST day of my whole life!” and instantly fell asleep. It was a reminder to me that it’s not about how much money we have or fancy vacations we take. It really is about quality time, just laughing and playing and listening.

From Marie T:  When our grandchildren were younger I often provided transportation to and from school, doctor appointments, and other activities. I had a flexible work schedule and was available to offer this kind of help to my daughters whose factory jobs were less flexible.  The regular contact with my grandchildren kept me in touch with their interests and activities and offered lots of informal sharing time.

Several years ago my young adult granddaughter developed some serious health problems which required numerous medical appointments. I provided transportation for her and sat with her during these times. When her health required a change in her living arrangements, she came and lived with us.  Again my flexible work schedule allowed me to help provide care for her. We offered a secure, loving and restful home for her during at difficult time in her life. We did not know then how short her remaining time on earth was.  We cherish the time we were able to spend during her time here.

Ann and GrandsAnn J:  Our children really need us to assist them (we are “a part of the village”). We have all sons and they each work third-shift jobs, and that requires lots of finagling for small children. While their parents offer important family time for their children, my husband and I remember how vital it was to have  breaks from our kids. And so we try to get the grandkids when we are able. We want our sons to experience their role as parents without our interference, but to know that we can offer a respite for parents and children alike.

My husband and I have four granddaughters and three grandsons, and six of the seven grandchildren live nearby.  Our oldest grandson lives in Denver. I occasionally arrange for overnight visits for the three older granddaughters (having not yet become brave enough to have the one year old come, but we will). It is fun to see how they interact, love and enjoy each other.  The other interesting thing is that the little girls are teaching each other songs they learn at church: we often sing our favorite hymns; and we design our own version of them, and that’s when we sing them the best. We create new arrangements for songs they know and they often light up when that happens. It is one of the things that they talk about when they return home.  We also chose to cook, bake, read and allow them to freely play.  We talk about things that are important to them and show lots of interest in those things.  When we repeat back to them their thoughts, it makes them feel important and confident about who they are.

When the grandsons come, they like the outside so we include them in what we call a prayer or nature walk.  They play ball, work with puzzles, and are also included in the baking and storytelling.

Because we are very selective with timing and frequency of these visits, everybody is grateful when it happens.  And when they go home my husband and I talk for days about their visit.  They are what words can hardly express.

From Carol E:  We help broaden the grandchildren’s view of the world by taking them on trips. These are some of the places they have been with us: Garden of the Gods, Pike’s Peak, Rocky Mt. National Park, Badlands, Crazy Horse, Silver Lake (the lake Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about), Acadia National Park, whale watching, Minuteman National Park, Plymouth Rock, Mayflower II, and more. They are learning about history, God’s creation and its beauty and how we need to take care of our world.

As we travel together, we listen to a variety of books like The Faults of Our Stars by John Green, the first two Hunger Game books, Alexander McCall Smith’s, Blue Shoes and Happiness, and mysteries by J.A. Jance. This exposes them to different authors and a variety of stories.

From Edith S:  We have taken several vacations with our two adolescent grandsons. Travel times have offered lots of new EdithJackandGrandsonsshared experiences and time to talk about important issues and events in their lives as they are growing up. We talk about ethical and moral issues and we reinforce our values of giving generously what God have provided to us, and consideration and care for others.  Collecting items for MCC hurricane kits helped our grandsons understand needs beyond their own community.

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On the number two

twoThis post is part of a week-long series on parenting and children, in honor of my daughter’s second birthday this week.

I don’t spend much time thinking about numbers. Lest you think I’m just falling into a stereotypical female pattern, let me assure you: I actually was good at math, when I put my mind to it. But – true to form for most humanities majors – I gave up studying math (and numbers) on a regular basis just as soon as I completed the last required statistics course in college.

But lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the number two. It seems to be cropping up everywhere. A few examples:

  •  I recently watched director Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic, Noah. Although it continued the trend of whitewashed biblical melodramas on the screen, I had to give Aronofsky props for digging into not only biblical texts, but also to midrash texts, and creating a movie that was a blend of mythical/biblical storytelling, environmentalism, trippy dreams, family-crisis-feature, and big summer blockbuster. And, as those of you who remember the story of Noah from Sunday school already know, this film features hordes of animals descending upon an ark two-by-two.
  • We’re in year two of life in a new town. This means that you can’t really even call us new anymore. Our first year of life in Kansas has come and gone just like that.
  • As I write this, I’m currently pregnant with my second child. This means that – if all goes according to plan – come December, we’ll have not one, but two children.
  • At the end of this week, the little kid that I used to affectionately call “Baby E” on this blog will turn two-years-old. I can hardly believe it.

In a really cheesy song that you may have heard last year, the band Boys like Girls (accompanied by none other than Taylor Swift) crooned the lyrics, “Two is better than one.” This phrase has been stuck in my head the last few months as some of these milestones approach.

In the case of Noah, yeah, two is probably better than one, just for simple procreation, keeping-the-world-going purposes. But beyond that, I’m not sure.

The thing about one – in so many cases – is that it’s simple. In your first year of living somewhere, you’re not supposed to feel settled. Transition is the norm. You’re novel enough that people invite you over just to figure out what in the world you’re all about. And the expectations for you are low. People are generally cautious about over-involving you. You’ve got a ready-made excuse in your back pocket if ever things feel unsettled or uncertain.

Year two is different. There are great things. Like knowing people and having established friendships and finding favorite restaurants and not always having to use the GPS to find things (because yes, I was using the GPS on the daily, even in this small town that we live in). And our house is (mostly) moved in and it feels and smells and looks like us. And we’ve got a church where we feel at home and we’ve got opportunities to participate in the life of the different communities that we touch. But being someplace for 1.5 years is – to state the obvious – not the same as being someplace for 5, 10 or 20 years. It feels like you should have things figured out, but sometimes you still don’t. That ready-made excuse that you carried around in your back pocket starts to seem a little stale when things aren’t going as you hoped. And you start to figure out the things about your new home that you maybe don’t like as much as you hoped you would. In short, some of that “new shine” wears off.

When you have only one child, you get the energy of two parents all focused on said child. As I’ve thought back to pregnancy number one, I’m amazed by all the brain power and thought energy that I dedicated to my pregnancy. I read the weekly updates religiously, and kept my friends and family up to date (whether they liked it or not) on what size “fruit” baby H was that week (i.e. a kidney bean at 10 weeks; an heirloom tomato at 20, etc.). When I was tired, I slept. I built in regular walk times and pampered myself with pedicures and soaks in the pool and all sorts of relaxing evening activities. And I worried about baby H ALL. THE. TIME. Anytime I experienced the slightest twinge or symptom, I headed to Google to make sure all was well and I wasn’t contracting some hideous sounding disease like toxoplasmosis or listeria or….

My how things have changed this time around. Until someone else informs me, or asks explicitly, I would be hard pressed to really remember what week of pregnancy I’m on. I’m delighted when I feel Baby H 2.0 moving around, but I spend much less time worrying about whether he’s ok (although, c’mon, I’m a hypochondriac: I still worry sometimes). And sometimes, if I’m really focused on work or chasing Toddler E around, I can even forget that I’m pregnant until I try to squeeze through a space where I don’t fit or realize that I need a sit and stretch break a little earlier than I would normally.

Sometimes I wonder what happens when our one-child family is joined by another. What happens with two? Right now, Toddler E can pretty much have the undivided attention of at least one adult at all times. She’s pretty used to getting a quick response and having us come when she calls. She’s got ready access to our laps whenever she wants. When no friends are over, she’s queen of the toy domain and doesn’t need to share with anyone.

I can already see the writing on the wall. We’re in for some crazy times ahead when this second child arrives. Number two will not only rock his parents’ worlds, but he just might make his strong-willed sister crazy for a while, too. And of course, I have to wonder: is there space in my heart to love a second person as much as I love my first child? Will I be overcome with awe and wonder the second time t0o? Most of the second time moms I know assure me that when you get to that moment, it’ll be just as amazing, but the idea of loving another small human as much as I love this first one is emotionally daunting, to say the least.

And one year ago, this Baby E – this little ball of fun – was still clinging to our fingers as she toddled around, snuggling up in bed with us at night, and nursing like a machine. Not so anymore. The timid steps have been replaced with a galloping non-stop run, she’s traded our bed for her own crib (on most nights), and a week-long business trip sealed the deal on breastfeeding for us somewhere around 18 months. She’s got words to tell us what she wants and needs, in no uncertain terms. This list could go on…

In all these cases, two isn’t necessarily better than one. It’s just different.

This week on the blog, I hope you’ll join in for a week-long pondering on parenthood, child-raising, community, and motherhood to mark the occasion of my daughter’s second birthday. Last year, when Baby E turned 1, I did something similar, and it sparked rich conversations which I’m hoping will be the case again. Thanks to the many people who have said “yes” to writing this week. Here we go, round two!

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A Feast for 30

10527292_614414512610_1616659194758470439_nSome of you may be aware that – in order to mark my 30th birthday (which will take place in December) – I set up monthly challenges for myself. In truth, I’ve been better at following through on some of these celebratory challenges than others. In December,  I challenged myself to do yoga every day for 30 days. I made it to about day 17, and then participated sporadically for the rest of the month. In January, I successfully completed the Whole 30 food cleanse. In February, I had challenged myself to 30 days of morning prayer and meditation, but quickly switched to evening prayers, when I realized that waking up extra early for quiet time was a surefire way to end up sleep meditating. In May, I planned a tea or skype date with a friend for each day of the month (one of my personal favorite months so far!). Anyway, you get the picture. (If you’re interested in any of my other challenges, or on what still lies ahead, you can check out the full list online.)

In a lot of ways, 30 feels like a big turning point. And, in the grand scheme of things, I’m sure it’s just one more transition in a life marked with transitions. But come December, I’ll be saying goodbye to the decade that started in college, saw me through two graduations (Bachelors and Masters, baby!), included a marriage (7 years and counting…), and the birth of my first child. And, frankly, depending on the timing of his arrival, my twenties could also hold the birth of my second child, if only by a few days. It’s been a decade of experimentation. Of job searches. Of coming into my own as a “career woman.” Of self-doubt. Of great triumphs. Of loss. Of shifting communities and learning to make new friends.

Although I know every decade will be filled with these things, it’s hard not to feel like the 20′s was special. It was life at a breakneck pace, filled with one change after another and more self-revelation than I could have ever imagined. But I would also be lying if I said I didn’t feel ready to make a transition into something new. It feels like the time is right to begin moving into a new era. I wanted this year to be one of celebrating who I’ve become throughout this past decade and also to mark where I’m headed and all the possibilities that lie ahead in the next ten years.

So today, for my July challenge, I threw a feast! A feast for 30+ people. Admittedly, I threw this feast with lots of help from others, perhaps most notably the hubs and my mother, who also spent many hours in a kitchen to make “feasting” possible, as well as all the friends who took time out of their morning to come celebrate and who brought food and drinks to share.

And in many ways, today, to me, it felt perfect. That sounds really trite, I know, but I really think it’s true. Today was a celebration of friends. It was a celebration of the connections that we’ve forged in a new community over the past year since our move.  It was a celebration of good food. It was a celebration of the outdoors, and the magnificently cool so-unlike-Kansas-July weather that we’ve been having. It was a little mini love-fest.

Now that the dishes are all (or mostly) returned to their shelves and people have returned home, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. The truth is, I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months just feeling overwhelmed. I tend to consider myself a generally happy person, but over the course of the last few months, the times when I’ve felt overwhelmed and tired and unsure and frustrated have seemed to crop up more often. So this feast couldn’t have come at a better time. It was a reminder that, in each season of life, there will be hard things. But there will also always be things and people and places worth celebrating.

I’ll leave you with a few snapshots from the day. As well as some of the “sage” advice on aging that I received from feast-goers in a “journal for my 30′s.”

“30 is so young. Enjoy!”

“It’s hell getting older, but it’s better than the alternative. Happy to see you embracing 30. That’s when my life

began!”

“Don’t buy into the lies of the culture, and be sure to eat lots of cookies (they’re good for the soul)!”

“Embrace your inner child! It helps keep things in perspective, your heart joyful, your dreams alive. Each day you grin a childlike grin you’ll live longer!”

“Party on and enjoy both excess and austerity. Enjoy yourself!”

“Wear shoes less.”

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The Menu:

And just in case you’re like me and want to know what people ate, here’s what we cooked (and guests brought more food to add). If you’re interested in recipes, you can check out my “Feast for 30″ Pinterest board:

  • Monkey Bread Muffins
  • Lemon Blueberry Bread
  • Eggs Florentine Casserole
  • Vegetable and Egg Casserole with Feta
  • Breakfast potatoes (with hot sauce on the side!)
  • Strawberry and Rhubarb Salad with Hazlenuts and Fresh Mint
  • Peach and Blueberry Tart with Moscarpone Whipped Cream (if you make only one recipe, make this!)

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