My Top 10 Influential Books

Usually I try to cultivate indifferent resistance to Facebook challenges or listmaking just because it feels a little too bandwagon-y (sorry, ALS ice bucket challenge), but after being tagged by several people and asked to identify the top 10 book that have stuck with me over time, I had to oblige. There’s been something really fascinating about watching the books that people list. Also, just one quick disclaimer. I thought about adding the Bible to this list, but decided not to. It certainly is a book and text that has been influential and has shaped so much of the narrative of my life. But it also seems not quite fair to have it compete with so many other books which have both less content and less historical significance overall…

So here, in no particular order, and many of them for reasons I can’t articulate in any rational fashion, is my list:

1. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd – Strong women. The Black Madonna. Theology. A good story. What’s not to love?

PRoverbsofashes2. Proverbs of Ashes : Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker - The book that introduced me to feminist theology and completely changed the way I understood communion and the cross.

3. The Nonviolent Atonement by J. Denny Weaver - Important partly because of the person who wrote it and his role in introducing me to theological studies, but also important because it suggests a way of making sense of Jesus’ death that fits with an Anabaptist peace ethic.

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - Don’t know why. Just classic.

5. Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland - The newest book to rock my world. Well worth a read.

6. The Phaedrus by Plato - Maybe just because it was my first taste of philosophy.

7. Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Anzaldua - The first book that helped me to really borderlandsunderstand intersectionality and the space of possibility that is the margins.

8. Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope by bell hooks - Really, bell hooks could have made this list again and again, but this book in particular seems chock full of words that are challenging and worth reminding myself of over and over again. Helpful for teaching, pastoring, and just being in community in general.

9. The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling - I feel like this is a) really stereotypical for someone my age and b) maybe cheating since this is a series, but I can’t pick just one book. It’s good because it goes together.

BodyandBook10. The Body and the Book: Writing from a Mennonite Life by Julia Kasdorf - The book that first proved to me that theopoetics must be the future of Anabaptist theology. A brilliant read.

Honorable mentions have to go to the His Dark Materials series (especially The Golden Compass), The Sexual Politics of Meat (trust me, you will never watch a Carl’s Jr. commercial the same way again), The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Eichmann in Jerusalem and many more that I just can’t think of right now…

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Pam Nath: When There is No Peace, Where are the Saints?

Nath-PamGuest post from…Pam Nath has been living and working in New Orleans, LA for the past seven years.  She works for Mennonite Central Committee Central States and is a Roots of Justice trainer. This post originally appeared on the Roots of Justice blog.  

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has annointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

“…the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these great wrongs.” W.E.B. DuBois

I traveled to Ferguson, Missouri from August 21-24 along with two other community organizers from New Orleans, La. We visited the Canfield Green apartments where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer and where beautiful memorials had been created. One sign referenced the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4: 8-10 – “And the Lord says: ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out.” And indeed, roses lined the street where traces of Michael’s blood were still evident, crying out for those with ears to hear. Photo1

We talked with Ferguson residents, including a group camped out in a parking lot across from the police station and some youth camped in the “approved assembly area” in the parking lot of an old car dealership. Both of these groups said they planned to stay until Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Michael Brown was indicted, and we brought them water and ice and fruit as a way of expressing our support and appreciation for their persistent call for justice.

That evening, we saw how West Florissant Avenue was closed to all through traffic, beginning at its intersection with Chambers Road, a full mile away from the “approved assembly area.” Anyone who wanted to join the protest had to walk a mile just to get to the protest site and then march in a spot cut off from the rest of the public, where police imposed a “5-second rule” which required protestors to keep moving, breaking up any conversations among groups of protestors who began to gather together.

This was only the most recent attempt to contain and squash people’s cries for justice. Others who had been in Ferguson earlier reported even more intense police repression. Police shot tear gas and rubber bullets at unarmed people who were in places they had every right to be including their own backyards, driveways and doorways. Purvi Shah of the Center for Constitutional Rights was part of a multigenerational crowd –including a number of children– into which police fired tear gas, with no warning and a full three hours before the midnight curfew that had recently been established. Many first person stories of encounters with police oppression are available if you look for them. What we saw in Ferguson was a community under occupation by police. No one felt safer. The constant threat of violence by police toward protestors was palpable.

Photo2The power of the state arrayed against the people of Ferguson reminds me of Desmond Tutu’s quote about an elephant with its foot on the tail of a mouse. Reverend Tutu advised us: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

What is extraordinary about Ferguson is not the killing of an unarmed black youth or the ways that institutions like the police, city government, etc. act in racist ways. That happens in New Orleans and it happens across the country. What is special and inspiring about Ferguson is that people’s thirst for justice is so strong there that they persist in protests despite the ways they are persecuted and threatened by the powerful militarized forces arrayed against them. Like Jesus, they are guided not by what is, but by their vision of what can and should be, and because of this, they, like Jesus, have found the courage to speak out in defiance of the powers of Empire, even to the point of risking their lives. They have done this now for two weeks.

Photo by Abdul Aziz, Used with permission.

Photo by Abdul Aziz, Used with permission.

The evening of Friday, August 22, the 13th day after Michael was shot, we joined protestors who had left the approved assembly area and marched three miles to the Ferguson Police Department, to drums and chants of “We want justice,” “No Justice, No Peace!” and “Indict that cop.” Despite the fact that they were met at the police department by a line of armed police who stood in formation, blocking their access to the building, people gathered across the street and continued to cry out for justice through song, drumming and conversation. One young man said on the mic, “We are not going to go over there tonight. Let’s be clear that we have a right to go over there, but we are not going to exercise that right tonight.”

I am reminded of a powerful sermon response that Vincent Harding delivered at the Eighth Mennonite World Conference in Amsterdam in the summer of 1967:

The beggars are rising – they refuse to lie on the ground, crippled, crushed, begging. They are rising in Detroit and in Harlem…. and among them is Christ, the beggar of Nazareth. Do you see him? Do you hear him in the noise of all the voices? Do you realize how his spirit blasts all bastions of security, affluence, and greed? He is there. We can hide but he is there. We can continue paying our taxes for armies and bombs, and continue to cry: ‘What can we do?’ We can call on the police and the army. Fearfully we can hide behind law and order or behind the walls of our churches. Nevertheless, there is a spirit walking freely upon the earth. There is a spirit in search of freedom. This spirit will not perish…. We should know one thing – the insurrectionist beggars are not waiting any longer. Christ has promised to help all beggars and he keeps his promise. Let us not misunderstand. He is on the side of the beggars. On which side are we as Mennonites, Christians, and humans who love humanity? ….Are we surrounded by the barricades of a status quo where we pray that the storm may pass on so that we can continue living without disturbance? …. In this case, we must admit that we are…. missionaries of law and order, defenders of a status quo, and seekers for peace without a cross.

Photo by Aziz Abdul, Used with permission.

Photo by Aziz Abdul, Used with permission.

I saw good news in Ferguson. I encountered the Spirit of Truth and Love and Hope there. As someone who has committed my life to working against racism, sometimes I despair. The systems that we fight against are huge and trap us all, including white people, and it can be hard to believe that things can change. I have often clung to words like Arundhati Roy’s: “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” In Ferguson, I heard the whispers of a new world, stirrings of the promise of Hebrews 12:27, that things will be shaken up so that “what cannot be shaken may remain.”

The message of the Gospel is that there is a Force more powerful than Empire, more powerful than White Supremacy, and these protesters are preaching the Gospel! I saw in their faces not only righteous anger and determination, but also joy, because they have discovered that they are free because, like Jesus, they no longer are walking in the fear of death. In the face of that sort of Soul-Force, the power of empire fades into the background, like the police line in the beautiful pictures my friend Aziz took of the protesters while we were in Ferguson.

As people who believe in the gospel of peace, now is a time that presents an amazing opportunity for Mennonites to give flesh to our beliefs. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past when way too few Mennonites responded to Vincent Harding’s call to join in the civil rights movement. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of the Christians to whom Martin Luther King Jr wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom….Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

In order to respond to the Gospel call for Justice coming out of Ferguson, we need to get clarity about what true peacemaking looks like. Peace is not refusing to be in open conflict or refusing to take sides in conflicts which exist. The situation in Ferguson doesn’t call for neutral mediators, bridge-builders between two sides who are in conflict, with us in the role of “peacemakers.” The “two sides” don’t have equal power, and they aren’t both right.

Like Desmond Tutu, historian and social justice worker Howard Zinn warned against neutrality in the face of oppressive power. In Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (a helpful read for those who wish not to conform to the world but instead to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” Romans 12:2), Zinn writes:
Why should we cherish “objectivity”, as if ideas were innocent, as if they don’t serve one interest or another? Surely, we want to be objective if that means telling the truth as we see it, not concealing information that may be embarrassing to our point of view. But we don’t want to be objective if it means pretending that ideas don’t play a part in the social struggles of our time, that we don’t take sides in those struggles. Indeed, it is impossible to be neutral. In a world already moving in certain directions, where wealth and power are already distributed in certain ways, neutrality means accepting the way things are now. It is a world of clashing interests – war against peace, nationalism against internationalism, equality against greed, and democracy against elitism – and it seems to me both impossible and undesirable to be neutral in those conflicts.

When we choose neutrality and are unwilling to engage conflict, we are clinging to the false peace that Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Old Testament prophets warned against.“They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,” Jeremiah warned, “saying ‘Peace, peace.’ when there is no peace (6:14).” We need to face the cracks in the very structure of our society, rather than just trying to cover up cracks in the walls, as Ezekiel warned: “…they have misled my people, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace; and … when the people build a wall, these prophets smear whitewash on it (Ezekiel 13:10).”

What would working toward a positive peace in Ferguson look like? Chris Crass, a white antiracist organizer, gives us one vision:
So I’m seeing all these pictures from last night of adults trying to convince young Black people to leave the streets and only protest during the day in Ferguson, and this is being heralded by the police and mainstream media as “helping bring peace to Ferguson.” Where are the pictures of the white community leaders, the Federal government and the United Nations standing before the police in Ferguson telling them to put their guns down, go back to their homes, to take their frustrations out in constructive ways and to stop making us (the white community and the U.S. government) look like vicious, armed to the teeth, defenders of a white supremacist society without an ounce of regard for Black lives? 

“Peace”, as defined by the state and mainstream media, in Ferguson, means a return to the, below the national radar, war against the Black community that is “normal life” in this town that the Mayor repeatedly affirms “has no racial conflict”. Conflict, we are to understand, only exists when oppressed people fight back, but when oppressors rule through racist laws, policies, culture, and violence, it’s “peace”. That is why ever since the Rodney King rebellion in Los Angeles in 1992, the slogan is “No Justice, No Peace”. The Black young people in Ferguson, bringing discipline, non-violence, and determination in the face of continued violence and media smearing, are heroes!

The positive peace that Jesus calls us to work toward requires the presence of justice. Here are just a few of my ideas about some ways to work for justice that holds the promise of real peace. I am excited to hear others’ ideas as well.

• We can support the demands of groups organizing on the ground in Ferguson through letters to the editor, letters to your governmental representatives, conversations with friends, family, church and community members
• Send money to support the organizing in Ferguson
• Join or organize a solidarity march
• Find out what is happening in your city/town to address racial inequities and support the work, particularly groups led by organizers of color
• Sign this Color of Change petition calling on GoFundMe to cancel the fundraising site for Darrin Wilson. Wilson is on paid leave and since he has not yet been charged, has no legal fees, yet donations to support him have exceeded donations to the Brown family.
• Check out other suggestions for action in this toolkit put out by Showing Up for Racial Justice, a network of white antiracist organizers

Let us not repeat the mistakes of our past. Let us join in this movement for change, this movement for justice, this movement for real peace, this movement where we will experience Jesus walking next to us and the Truth shall set us Free.

Additional Recommended Readings

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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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