* yes, there should be FIVE sets of boots but Allen ignored my advice to get adequate rain gear...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Motherhood and Jesus

I gave the devotional at my MOPS group this week.  A member asked me if I would post it so I am.  The theme for the year is "A Beautiful Mess" and the theme verse is Ephesians 2:10.

If you're interested in more information about MOPS, you can go here.  In short, it's a mother's group affiliated with churches but open to all.

The relationship between Christ and the Crucifixion is written about somewhat regularly but my line of thought was inspired by a paragraph I read 4-5 years ago.  It was another blogger commenting on yet another blogger and I have no idea where to find the original posting.  But, to that mother that wrote those many years ago, when I was staring at a c-section scar and wondering when I would ever "get my body back," thank you.


I gained insight into the power of the Holy Spirit in my early 20s.  I had stuck with a college I thoroughly disliked; worked a job I grew to hate; under a supervisor who clearly was in the wrong profession all due to some sort of internally driven, willful stubbornness that this was where I needed to be even if I didn’t much like it.  Through a series of decisions I likely really shouldn’t have made, I met my husband.

This sort of thing has happened often enough in my life that I have come to something of an understanding about the spiritual promptings of the Holy Spirit.  Whenever you find yourself on a path that seems to defy all reason but are quite sure it is the one you should be on, if you listen closely, you can hear the Holy Spirit hollering with a slight unholy glee, “Road Trip!”  The Holy Spirit is the best teacher you will encounter but the lesson plans are far from straightforward.

Pastor Chris came and spoke to our group a couple of years ago.  She touched on a number of topics but the thing that struck me was how my understanding of God had changed through my experiences of parenting.  I don’t think we can ever fully understand the decision and choices our parents made and I think God is, rightly, even more inscrutable, but, as I parent I begin to understand why you sometimes say “no,” even though you very much want to say “yes.”  I understand why sometimes, the process of keeping my children safe and healthy is in direct opposition to making them happy in that moment.  I have experienced allowing my children to feel pain even when I want nothing more than to protect them from it. I see times when the only answer is “because I have lived longer and have seen more and have more wisdom than you and because I said so.”  I do not know the mind of God but I do feel that I am closer to understanding his heart.

But, the question we are looking at today is how we can embrace our beautiful mess.  

I am looking at that even smaller question of what sort of growth does he offer in that moment that we take on the mantle of “mother?”  

If I grew closer to the Holy Spirit before motherhood, and closer to God the Father through the many acts of mothering, what did that point in which I physically became a mother, offer?

If anything is simultaneously beautiful and a huge mess, it would be having a baby.

For questions as complex as these, there are no simple answers but I once read a meditation on motherhood that seemed to contain at least a piece and now I shall share what I learned with you. 

I can only speak to my own experience and I know that some of you came to motherhood from a different path.  I most sincerely hope that you can find a bit of truth from my story to bring to yours.  

The author pointed out that sacred connection between childbirth and the Crucifixion.  Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was shed so that we could have a life transcendent past death.  He gave birth to our eternal life through pain, blood, and exhaustion.

My body was broken and my blood was shed so that my children could experience a mortal life.  When I look at my scars and my stretch marks and I consider all the things that don’t work quite as well and aren’t quite as lovely as they were before I had children, I consider the gift that they represent.  I was given the gift of offering life and for that I willing gave of my body and of my blood. 

While some mothers may not have had quite such a literal birth experience, I don’t think it could ever be debated that we have all been broken.  

We have all given far more than we thought we had to give.  

We have all had a moment where we looked to God and said “Seriously?  This is not what I signed on for.  I need an easier task.”

We have all had our time in the garden, in the darkest hours of the night, wondering if anything could possibly be worth this level of pain, deprivation, complete exhaustion and absolute isolation.  And then…

We heard that cry.  We looked at those little feet.  We counted tiny fingers and we felt that breath on our cheek and we knew that, yes, there was pain and yes, it was scary but also that yes, it was worth it and yes, we are happy we wound up on this very rocky but ever so sacred path.  

And, so, the next time you find yourself wishing that various bits worked a bit better or that various marks and scars were a bit fainter, remember that you became part of a symmetry so beautiful and so perfect, it must be divine.  

You are now in a unique position to tell and be told

“This is the body broken for you.  This is the blood, shed for you, that you might have life.”

This is the path offered long ago. 
 This is your story, written before you were even imagined.  
This is the sum of the choices you made and the choices that never seemed like choices at all.  
This is work of the Holy Spirit joined with the Father and with the Son.  

This is the broken that made us whole.
This is the bloodshed that offered us peace.

This is the love that brings forth life.

“We are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

This is the body that was broken for you and this is the blood that was shed for you and 

this is the work of Christ


 it is also the work of mothers.

The work of Christ, who is so many things but one of them was taking the form of a mortal man, was akin to that which was ever before and ever after within the unique purview of women… 

of mothers

This is the body broken so we can do the good things.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ignorance, Eggs, and Guns Part 2

So when last we left, I had put out a call on facebook for someone to teach me about guns.  I knew I had at least a few friends who were gun users but I hadn't expected the strong response I received.  The thing that most struck me was that there are a hunk of people who are gun owners, who aren't extremists, who would just like you to learn about their interests.  There are a hunk of people who realize that if we stick with our current plan of relying on the most vocal and extreme to dictate the entire discussion about guns, we will wind up with policy that is, at best, *not* of the people- at least not of *most* of the people simply because *most* of the people have no idea what is being discussed.  *Most* of the people don't even have the basic vocabulary needed to enter the discussion.  Most interestingly, there was general interest among *non* gun owners.  I didn't get any of the flames or condemnation I expected but instead, support- or at least curiosity, from all sides.  But, that is for the next post. For this one, I thought I would touch on the more personal.

I have offers from 3 friends to come and learn.  So far, I've managed to visit with 1.  I handled 2 handguns, 2 rifles, and 1 shotgun.  I came away fairly certain that if I ever owned a gun, it would be a shotgun, which really wasn't what I was expecting.  I came to the conclusion that I felt a shotgun allowed for the absolute least moral ambiguity.  You probably could shoot a shotgun by accident (and I'm sure that if I googled, I could find just such an instance) but I suspect the circumstances would be extreme.  Shotguns are big and heavy.  I struggled to hold this one steady- I can't see a child lifting one up and waving it around with any sort of ease.  You can get manual shotguns fairly easily (rather than semi-automatic) which means you have to manually shift a shell into the chamber, every time.  This one, at least, wasn't especially easy to load.  The pieces were heavy and a little awkward.  The trigger is stiff and requires significant pressure to fire.  This is a gun that you can only fire with some deliberation- especially if you store it unloaded.

Shotguns also aren't really designed for covert use.  While I'm sure you could theoretically use them for covert offense, this one, at least, would not be my first choice.  We've all heard of shotgun weddings and I'm sure that they have been (and perhaps still are?) carried off to war.  But, my general impression of a shotgun is that they are generally a defensive weapon and a weapon of last resort, at that.

In short, if I were to use a shotgun against another person, it would be in a very upfront manner.  There would be solid visual and auditory warning before a shot was fired.  It is a weapon that is forthright.

Plus, it does have some multifunctional value.  We do get the very occasional bear and somewhat frequent foxes and coyotes.  If we do decide to raise chickens, I have heard that rubber bullets can come in handy in such cases.  And, it can, after all be used to actually hunt for food should a series of really odd events occur.

The thing is that the only time I have ever wished for a gun, I don't think it would have been of any use.

When Charlie was 4, Megan 2, and Noah less than a year, I had set the children up in the kitchen with their afternoon snack.  I went into the next room to retrieve a forgotten yogurt container and heard something odd.  When I returned to the room, Charlie asked who the funny man was on our deck.

This is when you get very clever, very quickly.

I asked Charlie if the man was wearing a hat and what it looked like and glanced at the (private, gravel) road to see if there was a work truck.  Every once in a while we'll get a meter reader or the like.

He wasn't a meter reader.

Penny (our dog) was napping and hadn't noticed anything amiss.

This is what you think when you realize a strange man is wandering around just outside your home...

Our home was not designed for defense.

Our house has 6 doors and 3 levels.  The children were sitting in the middle of a sliding glass door and I had been standing in front of a picture window.  4 of the doors have windows, including 1 slider and 1 mostly window door, with 2 window panels adjacent.  The safest location was the master bath simply because I could put 2 locked doors between them and an intruder but the locks are flimsy and the master bath far from childproof and small.  We were trapped if he found us.  To get to the master bath, we had to pass 3 large windows and go up a flight of stairs.  Megan was iffy on stairs, Noah had to be carried and neither could manage to be quiet for any length of time.  I couldn't carry a butcher knife, a squirming baby, and hold Megan's hand all at the same time and none of the doors in our house would hold up against a bullet.  It would take 5 minutes for the police to arrive.  I couldn't see the man.

That put the man at the other end of the house where he couldn't see the carport.  It was a sort of long walk around the backside of the house and once he was in the front of the house, the van would no longer be an option for escape but if we were in the van and he was at the front of the house it would relatively simple to run him down or run away.

The door to the carport is adjacent to the kitchen.  If the man was going to just pick us off, he would have done it by then.  The children had been framed, alone, in the sliding glass door for at least 30 seconds.

I was very willing to use my minivan as a deadly weapon.  It offered some protection to the children- metal probably being better than hollow core wood doors.  It offered an opportunity for escape.  I could transport all 3 children- none of whom would be able to really run and hide effectively on their own.

I told the children we were playing a game and they got into the van quietly and everyone was buckled by the time I counted to 20.

We drove to the police station.

The time from Charlie reporting the man to driving away was well under 5 minutes- probably 2-3. Still long enough for something awful to have happened but also about as efficient as could possibly be expected.

After investigating, we discovered that the man had been a person looking at buying the house behind us (we live on an acre).  He had done similar things on other house tours and seemed to have no impulse control nor understanding of personal property boundaries.  Happily, he didn't buy the house but he did get a visit from the police.

The thing is that at no point in that scenario would a shotgun have made a material difference.  It's unlikely we would have kept a gun in the kitchen.  I likely would have had to go to a different room to get the gun- needing to hide the children in the process.  We could have hidden in the bathroom, my initial thought, but we still had the stairs and 3 windows to navigate.  I could have defended the bathroom but children that young couldn't be expected to remain quiet enough for it be a hiding spot- it simply would have been a fort.  I still had the problem of where to physically *put* the children while I was holding the shotgun.  Noah was just mobile enough to get himself into trouble in a place like a bathroom with razors and such and Megan was 2, not an age of the best judgement around such items *or* her baby brother and highly mobile.  Plus, there was still the possibility that I would shoot, the suspected robber would shoot and the children would witness their mother and a strange man bleeding out on the floor and be unsupervised in a home with a loaded gun sitting out until the police discovered them.

Granted, there are scenarios that would have put us at a slightly higher vulnerability but it was pretty high up there in worst case situations.  I was a mother, alone, with 3 very young children- none old enough be anything other than a liability.  There was an attacker invading from an unknown direction using an unknown level of force and no hope of immediate assistance.  The only source of intelligence was a somewhat reliable 4 year old.  Would a shotgun have been useful if there had been 2 adults or even just an 8 year old floating around?  Yes.  Would a shotgun have been a practical response if the same thing happened today with children 7, 5, and 3?  Yes.  But, the fact is that at the time I would have been mostly likely to expect to use one, it wouldn't have made a material difference in my response.  So, it makes me wonder if what I expect to be true and helpful in other crises is really what would be useful.  While I am more confident that I *would* be completely willing to injure or kill or behalf of my children, via gun or other weapon, I am left wondering at the logistical realities.  While we generally assume that you would hear the clink of broken glass, the alarmed barking of the dog, and creep towards an attacker in the dark of night, from your bedroom, is that what is really likely to happen?  If anything, it made me *less* likely to want to own a gun which is really *not* what I would have expected, presented with this as a hypothetical.  While I understand that guns can and have been used for home defense I have to wonder if it's really an option for *me* which is the only factor that really matters.  Perhaps a panic room is a more practical option for mothers with babes in arms?  At any rate, it's a tabled discussion for now but not one I would have had before last month.

Next up, learning the lingo... All the stuff I thought I could define but couldn't.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ignorance, Eggs, and Guns Part I

The Sandy Hook shootings occurred while we were in Ireland.  I was never quite so grateful to be abroad as I was then.  My husband is a professor at Virginia Tech.  I distinctly remember the feelings I had the first day he went back to the office after the incident on April 16.  Charlie and Megan were in preschool the day a police officer at a routine traffic stop on campus was shot and the gunman ran.  That was the second day I spent an afternoon staying away from the windows, praying, and checking my twitter feed; Allen was out of town.  I was so grateful when I took the children to their little Irish school, knowing that the gun violence rate in Ireland is in the low double digits... for the whole country.  On our walk to school, I thought about those parents who lost their children but I also breathed normally and dropped my children off feeling confident that they were safe from serious harm.

Then came the weekend and we rode the LUAS.   That's when I always remembered that while Ireland doesn't tend to have much gun violence now, it wasn't always the case.  The security force wear bullet proof vests, carry semi-automatic rifles (or perhaps automatic- I never asked), and look rather like you would expect security to look in a country where terrorist bombings aren't all that far in the past.

While we were in Ireland I heard about the little boy who shot a playmate as well as rumbles about the latest NRA convention, mixed feelings about the lock-down of Boston, and all manner of discussion about the need for expanding or relaxing gun control.

I spent a lot of time walking from place to place in Ireland and that meant I also spent a lot of time thinking.  And, during my walking, I realized just how very little I knew about guns.

  • I had no idea what to tell my children to do if they saw another child pick up a gun.
  • I knew to call 911 if my children found a gun but no idea what to do if we were somewhere out of reach of the cell phone towers.  I didn't even know how to safely pick one up.
  • I had no idea how to identify a gun beyond big or little; no idea if I was looking at a rifle, shotgun or pistol.
  • I had no vocabulary to even join in the conversation about what guns made sense for civilians to own and which didn't.

As I pointed out to a Swiss friend (which does quite well in the militia department), if the goal of allowing for private gun ownership is the ability to raise a well-armed and trained militia, the US is really falling down on the job.  The thing is that I had been raised with a mentality that guns were across the board bad.  There was no viable reason to own a gun.  I had the vague impression that if you touched any part of a gun it would randomly fire and kill a) a small child b) your best friend or c) your childhood pet

When it came to any element of gun ownership, I was pretty much flying blind, the victim of my own willful ignorance.  The US population seems to fall into a couple of general categories when it comes to guns.  The first group, that I was in, would pretty much like guns to just go away.  The ideal move would be to just take out the 2nd amendment- sort of like we did with slavery.  Barring that possibility, (and it's slightly terrifying implications) the first group would like to make it really hard to acquire bullets or maybe just make it hard to actually get to your gun doing some sort of complicated regulatory system involving firing ranges storing your gun.  The second category is the "take this gun out my cold, dead, hands" group that also sees any restriction in gun ownership as a decisive step down a slippery slope that ends up somewhere between The Hunger Games and North Korea.  There are a few groups with somewhat more nuanced opinions but they are, at the least, not loud enough in the political arena.

The thing is, in Ireland, where strenuous attempts have been made to limit gun violence, you still have heavily armed and armoured guards wandering around the public transit systems.  When I was teaching in rural upstate New York and even when I was living in suburban Maryland, there were families that relied on wild game to complete their basic dietary needs.  Now, in rural Virginia, I know that there are people who have to defend their hen houses from coyotes, foxes, and even the occasional bear.  We have completely decimated the predators that kept the forest ecosystems in balance and there are deer pathetically foraging amongst my hydrangeas.  A friend doing doctoral research on parasites, had to kill periodically to get vitally needed data and the most humane method, as determined by the Forestry service and Fish and Game, was a quick and decisive shot to the head.  I don't think pretending guns will go away is really a viable nor responsible method of dealing with the issue.  Further, coming to the table with many opinions but little knowledge, tends to make for fiery but unproductive conversation.

I came to the conclusion that if I learned cpr, boating safety, water safety, and air crash survival tips, in the unlikely event that I would ever need any of those parenting skills, it made just as much sense to learn some basic gun safety.  As a citizen of a country where we are actively debating gun ownership, I needed to develop some basic gun literacy.  I wanted to be able to touch a gun without hyperventilating; identify it in a basic way; be able to tell if it was loaded; and how to safely pick on up.  My focus was 2-fold.  First, I wanted to be able to respond intelligently in the highly unlikely event that I or my children came across a gun.  Second, I wanted to be able to have an informed conversation about responsible gun ownership.

I needed to find an instructor.  The NRA hunting classes are for people who actually want to shoot a gun, or, at the very least, aren't petrified of them.  I needed a class for people who really didn't like guns, didn't really want to fire one, and didn't have a goal of getting a carry licence but do want to be informed citizens and responsible parents.  So, I did what every sensible girl would do and turned to Facebook.