23 February 2007

True Confessions

A while back, another blogger sponsored a writing contest about what raising children has taught you about God. But when I started thinking about it, the biggest lessons I've learned have been about me. How self-centered that sounds! Of course, yes, I've gained some insights on the love of God; being on the parenting side makes the "God as Father" metaphor more meaningful to me. But the daily challenges of parenting have also uncovered aspects of myself that I wasn't aware of (or perhaps, wanted to remain blind to). And the picture is not pretty.

I'm terribly impatient. All day, every day. I always thought I was just easily bored. But nothing will show up adult impatience like a preschooler. A preschooler has no concept of what it means to hurry. She lives in the moment, every moment. And the speed at which she selects her outfit for the day or puts on her shoes does not change, no matter how many times you tell her that she'll be late for school. The decision of which of several pink dresses to wear is vital. She must choose the right one, no matter how long it takes. Late? What's the point of being on time if you're wearing the wrong ensemble?

Of course, in the "getting ready for school" scenario, I have a valid reason for hurrying her. But I find myself clenching my fists and trying to bite my tongue even when there is no hurry. Will you just do it (whatever "it" is) and be done! Do we have to stop five times on the walk to the playground to look at random stuff on the ground and ask fifteen questions about it! Can't we just get there and start having fun already!

So, we must hurryto the playground, or, what? All the swings will be gone?

I also tend towards laziness. I always thought I was just physically lazy. I've never liked to exercise, especially if it involves actually breaking a sweat. (I'm working on that one, by the way. Been going to the gym at least three times a week. Sweating, even.)

But, here's the thing. When your daughter gets obsessed with, say, a video game, it is soooo easy to just let her have at it. For way longer than is really, uh, good for her. Why? Because turning it off brings with it a few consequences for me that my inner sloth doesn't like: first, the protests of the child, which can go on for, yes, the rest of the day (it is an obsession, after all); and second, I'll have to figure out an alternative activity for her. And sometimes? Not really inspired to play Cinderella or Littlest Pet Shop or several games of Candyland. (Candyland at least has a beginning and an end, even though you're in big trouble if you accidentally pick up the Princess Frostine card, because that is Katrina's favorite card and woe to anyone who would evilly keep the card from her with the lame excuse of following the rules of the game!)

Now, that's not to say that I don't value time with my daughter. Snuggling up to read a book to her? Anytime. Hanging out on the playground? Not bad at all, especially after what seems like months of rain. Dressing up teensy-tiny plastic dolls while re-enacting the Cinderella story? Not my favorite.

Sometimes when I ask Katrina to do or not do something, she says emphatically "I want to do what I want to do!" And I think, "Me, too!" Usually, what I want to do doesn't involve wiping a little one's bottom, playing repetitive games, or answering a series of twenty questions on the same topic. (This morning, it was on where the Pharoah's bad guys went when they were drowned in the Red Sea. And why did Pharoah chase God's people? But why was Pharoah mad? Why didn' t he want Moses to go? Why was Pharoah mean? Why did God put the water on the bad guys? Did they die? Is their skin peeling off in the water? Did the bad guys go to heaven? This series of questions brought to you by "Prairie Home Companion" on AFN radio, where they sang a spiritual about Pharoah being "drownded" in the sea. Thanks, Lake Woebegon!)

ANYWAY, when my (natural?) impatience and/or sloth (and don't forget plain old selfishness!) comes to the fore, my mothering suffers. When my impatience builds up, I say things I regret later...or, even if I manage to control my words, my tone of voice gives it away every time. And it's not like my sharp words help the situation or motivate her to get moving, already! Similarly, when I give in to my desire to relax just a few more minutes while Katrina stares at a big screen, she and I both get grumpy later. We lose time when we could be doing something more positive, healthier, more nuturing to our relationship and to her development.

What have I learned from mothering? I've grown in understanding my own sinful nature--and how it can affect my attitude, my habitual reaction to frustration, and my parenting. And from the time we brought Katrina home from the hospital, I gained a new and terrifying understanding of how powerful a parent is in the life of a child.

And that's the kicker. Most days, I am powerless to make my daughter really hurry up. But the words I say and the tone I use are powerful enough for her to remember forever--good or bad. They shape her. Will I use my parental power to build her up or, in my impatience and frustration, will I tear her down?

In the midst of this inward struggle, the cycle of sin and regret, the Lord's Prayer comes to mind. "Deliver us from evil," it says. And me, I always prayed that evil would not harm me or my family. But some time in the past few years, that has changed.
Now, I pray "Deliver us from evil," and what I really mean is, "deliver me from doing evil." Because I see now, the damage that can be done to children. The damage that I am capable of inflicting through thoughtless words and actions, when I operate out of sin. The power of parenting is the power to choose life or death, to nourish a little soul or to stifle it, to give in to our sin nature or to struggle against it. And these grand dichotomies are presented every day, every minute, in the most ordinary circumstances. Do I speak sharply out of my impatience, or do I take a breath and admire the fragment of rock Katrina picks up? Do I stand firm and require more out of both of us than an afternoon in front of the TV or computer screen? Do I kindly answer the twenty-fifth question about the same topic, or do I shut down her curiosity in favor of a few seconds of silence?

Deliver me from evil. Deliver my daughter from my evil. Cleanse my heart, not for me alone, but for my family. And most of all, cover my mistakes, my sin, with Your grace.

15 February 2007

Little Church in K-Town

I’m unexpectedly proud of the little church we attend, Kaiserslautern Evangelical Lutheran Church. It’s a Lutheran church for English-speakers, mostly Americans with some connection to the military here. It’s been here in some form or another since the late eighties. When we first started attending, nearly two years ago, it had been without a pastor for several months. Because of its small size, KELC can’t really afford to pay a full-time pastor. So it has hired a succession of retired pastors from the States, giving them the use of a small apartment, with a half-time salary and the hours to go with it. Despite the small salary, the position is fairly attractive for adventurous retirees who would like to live in and travel in Europe for a few years.

But last year, the church decided instead to hire the pastor who was filling in for us, who just happened to be the full-time pastor of the German Lutheran church where we meet. He is an American who married a German and has lived here for about 15 years. With the permission of the German congregation, he took on our congregation, too.

It’s a good match, I think. And hopefully a bit more permanent than the few years that an American retiree could reasonably be expected to stay. With this decision, however, came another question: what should the church do with the apartment and office space it’s been renting for at least 10 years?

The current pastor doesn’t need it. He already has the parsonage connected to the German church, as well as his own office. KELC uses the apartment perhaps once every few months as a meeting space. Other than that, it is glorified storage, and for not very many things, at that.

We’re progressing rather slowly in deciding for sure what should be done, but it looks like we’ll let some or all of the space go. We could keep it if we wanted—the money is there.

In fact, the only problem concerning money for this church (other than that it’s woefully disorganized) is figuring out what to do with it. Yes, it is a small congregation. But the expenses are small, too. We meet in the sanctuary of the German church, and for what is really a nominal fee plus sharing a few expenses, like altar candles. We have a part-time pastor, but because of German tax regulation concerning second jobs, we can’t pay him what we would have paid someone from the States. The biggest budget decision to be made at the last members’ meeting was which charities the church should contribute to.

That in itself is refreshing. A church that isn’t short of money. But here’s the other thing—even though we have the money to keep the church office and apartment, many of the members would rather give up the space. Why spend thousands of dollars a year to keep a barely-used office? We could be giving it to Orphan Grain Train (through which we support a Russian orphanage) or Lutheran World Relief. Or to the German church to help fix their aging roof or paint their sanctuary.

By contrast, a number of years back we attended a church that met in a high school auditorium. It was small, too. It was also short of money, given that rent and a pastor’s salary were both much higher there. But still, for a good number of members, the burning question was, “When are we going to get a building?”
Granted, the situation was a bit different. The ushers for each week did more than collect the offering. They arrived a half-hour early so they could unpack “church” from the storage closet and set it up: a rolling wooden altar, a sound system (which was stored inside the altar), banners to lighten up the dark space. And after the service, it took another half-hour to put it all away again. A bit of hard work that never went away.

So we don’t have that here. We meet in a lovely church already, and everything is already set up. But still. There does not seem to be the yearning for “space of our own.” Even though we fit our service times around those of the German church. Even though everyone here is a transplant.

I’m not sure why the attitude is different. Perhaps because most members are not here for the long term, it is easier to hold things with a lighter grasp, and even let them go. But I like what members are saying, and what their priorities seem to be: not “growing the church,” but being here for those who need us, and using our money to make a difference to those who need it.

06 February 2007

Taking My Medicine

I was sick. My throat hurt, or I had a fever, or a stuffed-up nose. Or all three. That’s not what I remember. Mom must have taken me to the doctor, a pale woman with cold, limp hands and a whispery voice.

When we got home, there were pills. Those I remember clearly. Capsules, maroon on one end and speckled maroon and ivory on the other end. They were huge. As soon as I saw them, coldness washed over me. Deep in my gut, I knew: I could not swallow them. I didn’t decide not to. I just knew I couldn’t. They would choke me, and I would throw up. Or they would choke me, and would stay lodged somewhere in my throat. My stomach clenched. Dread seeped from my gut to my limbs, my lungs, my tear-filled eyes. I couldn’t figure out how anyone swallowed pills without chewing. I had to chew them, or they wouldn’t go down. I knew it.

My mother didn’t seem to understand. She told me I had to take them. It would be easy. All I had to do was put one in my mouth and swallow some water.

Maybe other people could do this thing, but I could not. It was impossible. I wished I could do it easily, nonchalantly, like other people could. Didn’t she see, it was impossible?

I cried, sobs of panic and bleak inadequacy. The capsules grew larger. My throat grew smaller. I pictured it, a small thread, constricted and tight.

I think my mom yelled. I may have yelled back, trying to make her understand. I know I cried some more. Then, shaking, I stuck that maroon capsule in my mouth. It felt smooth and slippery and alien in my mouth. I was afraid it would slip down too soon, or I would accidentally bite it, and a foul taste would fill my mouth. I was afraid of losing control.

I tried, really I did. I took a gulp of water, and the thing moved, and I panicked. And I choked, and tears blinded me, and I couldn’t swallow, and water and the pill came out into the sink. And my tears were tears of fear and panic and a hollow certainty that I had failed. And I knew trying again wouldn’t matter. This thing was impossible for me.

Finally my mother gave up, and I got to walk out of the kitchen, drained and shaking. The rest of the day, I waited with awful anticipation for the next round. I knew the prescription was for twice a day.

When the time came, with no further comment, my mother handed me liquid medicine. I almost cried with relief.

Last Tuesday, Katrina said her ear hurt again. I took her to the doctor, a fast-speaking, business-like German man with exam rooms that look like a children’s wonderland. He prescribed Augmentin, a powder that you mix with water to produce a thick white liquid that smells like rotten oranges.

Bribed with candy and praise, Katrina took it faithfully for nearly a week, holding her nose and nearly gagging a time or two. But by Monday morning, she had had enough. She refused to take it. She wrinkled her nose and pulled away at a mere whiff. I could hardly blame her. But she had to take it. I had to persuade her. And quick. We needed to leave for school in 10 minutes.

I calmly told her she couldn’t go to school until she drank it. She said, “I don’t want to go to school.”

I told her if she didn’t go to school, she’d have to stay in her room all day. No TV, no computer, no games.“I know it’s yucky, but if you don’t take it your ear will start hurting again. You can do it. You are brave!”

“OK, OK, OK,” she said. She took the medicine cup in her hand. She took several deep breaths. I tensed in anticipation. She put the cup back on the table. “I just can’t do it!” she whined emphatically (you may have never heard anyone whine emphatically, but believe me, Katrina does).

After about 20 minutes of this, I lost patience. I yelled, she cried. I walked away to try to keep from yelling, and she cried. “MAMA! Don’t go! I need HELP!”

I tried to calm us both down. I made her laugh. I tried to make it a game. I tried, and she did too. She still couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Finally, I just sat in my chair at the kitchen table, with my arms crossed and my head down, mentally replanning my day if I had to follow through with keeping her home from school. I didn’t know what else to do.

She slowly picked up the medicine cup and drained it. I almost cried with relief.

She was a half-hour late to school, but I took her anyway. And as I was driving away, I thought of that giant maroon capsule.

Sorry, Mom.

03 February 2007

Why There's a Plastic Cup, a Paper Towel, and a Piece of Cardboard in my Backyard

Ah, the peace and quiet after the girl child is fast asleep. Lovely. Calm.

I walk into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Something high up on the wall catches my eye.

What is that? I look again.

Now, here's what usually happens when I see a bug in the house: I call "Jon!" in a very sweet voice and then beseech him to take care of it. He looks at me in disgust for my disgust and giant-bug-induced paralysis, and then he gets the vacuum and poof! no more bug.

Jon left on a business trip this morning.

And, I really don't want to wake my sleeping child with the sound of the vacuum.

I confess to you that I seriously thought about just turning off the light, closing the door, and going upstairs, trusting that the GIANT SPIDER in my kitchen could NOT go under three doors and up onto my daughter's bed to crawl across her while she's sleeping. Or, not climb up a flight of stairs, go through two doors, and get up on MY bed. Did I mention that the notion of bugs crawling on me while I'm asleep gives me the heebie-jeebies? Well, actually, bugs crawling on me at all. But in bed while asleep is the stuff of nightmares. [To get totally off the subject, I believe there was a scene in The Poisenwood Biblethat pushed all of these buttons. Wave after wave of bugs, and the family had to flee its home in the dead of night. At least, I think it was bugs. Great book, nasty, scary chapter.]

Anyway, so I realized I would have to deal with the GIANT SPIDER by myself, with no vacuum. Oh, and did I tell you about the extreme ookiness of squishing an insect? When you can feel the exoskeleton crunch between your fingers, even if said insect is deep within some sort of tissue? EW. And? If I hit that thing with something? HUGE nasty stain on the wall.

Hence, the plastic cup. Of course, I had to drag a chair over to stand on because the GIANT SPIDER was too high up for me to reach. Then, I tried to catch it under the cup. But it DROPS onto my KITCHEN COUNTER and scuttles back beside the coffee grinder.

Again, I contemplate just walking away, quietly.

But no. So I move the coffee grinder and gingerly look behind it. With a piece of cardboard torn from a pizza box, I block the GIANT SPIDER's only avenue of escape into the wires coiled in the corner of the counter, and it moves fast as lightning toward me. I must admit I uh, backed away. And maybe made a slightly terrified sound. And shuddered. But it stopped under the shade of a paper towel. So, me with the cup. I got it. It made the ooky rattling noise as it tried to get out. I slid the cardboard under the cup, taking the paper towel with it, and deposited everything in the backyard. Then I came inside and shut the door, tight. Never to enter the yard again.

Well, ok, I'll probably go out tomorrow and knock the cup over from a distance and then throw out the cup and the cardboard. But it's dark out now! How would I know if the GIANT KILLER SPIDER came at me if I lifted the cup now?

P.S. This post brought to you by Jen's irrational fears and vivid imagination. But really, did you SEE that thing?

P.P.S. Hi, dear! Hope you had a nice flight. Everything's fine here, other than the big giant bug. Can you get home before the angry one in the backyard sneaks its way back in and brings its friends? Love you!