Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Tweens and teens

I just wrote my first "tweens and teens" blog. I really would like to do more, and should do one a week so I can accumulate enough to send off somewhere. I wrote it in Word for two reasons: 1) it doesn't quite fit here; 2) my son told me I need to save these blogs for someplace where they will be read by larger numbers of adoring fans (or just plain ole anyone), and where I will be paid! I think it's way cool to have a 15-year-old fan, even if he doesn't actually read my writing.

Now it's too bad that I am not raising any girls, because I feel lke I have a major blind spot about what it's like to raise them. It doesn't count that I come from a family of two girls, me and my sister ... things were different then, and I can't imagine what my parents thought of raising us! I do remember when my sister and I would get the giggles at the dinner table. We'd giggle, and Dad would glare. The more we giggled, the madder he got! I never did understand what he was so upset about. Maybe, just maybe, part of the fun was knowing how easy it was to get him agitated.

Well, now it's payback time. Andrew is the one who insists on acting silly, and it makes me so mad sometimes! Why? I don't know. I still don't get it! In fact, one of the kids' favorite expressions to me (especially from Andrew) is "Calm down, Mom," which oddly enough, usually has the opposite effect.
-----

Here is a coincidence where God has chosen to remain anonymous: a friend of mine is starting a Buddhist group in Floresville! Why, she might as well be starting a society to promote gay rights and abortion -- that's how startling and out-of-place this is in our small very-conservative oh-so-red-state town. I think it's amazing that I have the possibility to study Buddhism in a group, right here, when so many other things about living here seem so binding and constricted.

Don't get me wrong; there are many things I love about Floresville, the people most of all. I much prefer living somewhere where I know so many people. It's a comforting feeling to go someplace and run into people I know, especially for an introvert like me. But it's hard to have certain open-ended conversations on topics where people are likely to have strong opinions: politics, religion, what's that third one again? Oh, I guess that's a problem everywhere.
Like I wrote to a friend when I was doing Christmas cards -- one of the chief disappointments I've felt about my Bible study class so far is that there should be more questions, and fewer answers. Especially pat little answers given by people who are afraid of the deep mystery of faith.I do thank God that there hasn't been a lot of overt judgment against other people, except when someone in the group gets talking about those strange worship habits practiced by those Asian people (and a certain person sitting at the table with him).

I am learning that truth does not always reign supreme over all other considerations. There is a real need to temper truthfulness with love, and tact, which I often lack. I am finding that when someone is not ready for my version of truth, it may be better not to say it at all. But then there's Karen, who reminds me that we should not hide our lights from others -- that her spiritual growth has been through the nurturing, sometimes pushing, of her loved ones. Growth can be quite painful and uncomfortable, and I often don't want to go there in talking to other people. If someone is not ready to grow, or if I am merely trying to convert someone to my world view, pushing will make things worse and set them more firmly in rigid beliefs.

Another hopelessly rambling entry. I don't feel like deleting half of it, though, so you'll just have to forgive me.

Here's a link that explains some about Buddhism, which (I think) is best understood as a philosophy of life rather than a religion.
 http://www.buddhanet.net/4noble.htm


Friday, December 18, 2009

The great cookie-baking adventure

It was a chill Monday night, a week and a half before Christmas. All the children were snug in their beds, except mine. (Actually, it wasn't that late.) We had returned from an evening outing of Austin's, which I spent in the car reading while waiting for him.

It was about 8:30, and I was determined to attempt something that had been a beloved ritual of my Mom's ... baking sugar cookies. This night was the night, as every other night was stacking up to be at least as busy. Plus, I naively thought that we would make enough cookies to be able to treat every one of the kids' teachers, plus have oodles left. Plus, I felt the magic of the moment, a moment that would be lost forever if I didn't grab it now.

I had prepared the dough the evening before ("refrigerate at least three hours"), and I had heard of other potential sugar-cookie cooks storing their dough for much longer than that. Weeks, even. I was ahead of them already. I felt so prepared! I started gathering the supplies ... the cookie sheets, the cutting board, the flour, the rolling pin.

Hmmmm ... when was the last time I had used the rolling pin? I couldn't recall. It had definitely been more than a few months; more than a few years, even? I felt strongly that I owned a rolling pin. I seemed to remember seeing one somewhere in the depths of the cabinets, at some time in the past. I had faith that one would surface. A rolling pin, and a cookie cutter. (The round glass ends looked too big to cut out cookies.)

So I started the quest. Like other great seekers -- Ulysses, Jason, Monty Python searching for the Holy Grail -- I had complete and utter faith in my mission.That was the only possible explanation for why I had not bought a rolling pin and cookie cutters when I was buying the cookie ingredients. I knew that Mom was cheering me on, too, from somewhere.

So I started digging in the depths of the kitchen cupboards, pulling out the ancient relics from dusty corners of Christmases long ago. I discovered that we owned an unused sifter. I found a small collection of bundt pans, not that I ever cook in one. Had they been reproducing down there? There were other oddities that I might require in the future, and some odd contraption that might have been a chopper/dicer. But a rolling pin? For such a seemingly large item, it was hiding itself well.

In desperation, I asked Dwaine. I asked the kids. I was met with quizzical stares. I'm not sure if Andrew even knew what a rolling pin was. Poor child ... he'd been deprived much too long of a foodie mom.

But finally, after about 30 minutes of exhaustive and exhausting searching, my persistence paid off. I discovered a rolling pin! A light shone around it like a halo, the light of the large flashlight I was using to plumb the depths. As I pulled it out, the angels sang of the glory (on the CD). It was deep in the rear of a long, narrow cabinet. One of the kids had drawn on it with permanent marker. Other than that, it looked unused.

So now, undaunted, I mustered all my remaining strength to make cookies. And I did! They came out exactly the way Mom's always did. I was so proud! Some were skinny, some fat; some light, some dark; a few had corners missing. Sort of like all of God's children. They all had the general shape of a crescent moon, the one and only cookie cutter I was able to find. No, I'm not Russian. Why a crescent moon has anything to do with Christmas still eludes me ... is it supposed to be the backdrop for Santa's sleigh and reindeer? An oblique reference, to be sure.

My kids had fun making the frosting in creative colors and adding sprinkles. I discovered why the dough should be kept cool; if not, it oozed to gargantuan proportions, the crescent moon becoming grotesque as the warming dough spread out. This came of re-using hot cookie sheets. Again, I was so proud! I was making cookies just like my mom had. I had inherited her cooking skills. She, like me, had as many disasters in the kitchen as successes.

The end results were clearly homemade, just as homemade sugar cookies should look. The cookies were a hit with everyone. I think that for every one produced, another was eaten, because the volume was considerably less than the dozens and dozens I had anticipated.

I remember one year that someone brought to a cookie exchange perfectly identical reindeer sugar cookies that were "homemade," of uniform color, with tiny little antlers coming to perfect points, marked with teensie little silver balls on the end. This person had somehow, mysteriously and magically, solved the problem of the dough sticking to everything: the pin, the cutting board, the cookie cutter, my hand. But her cookies just didn't have that creative flair. They looked storebought. Sneer. And I bet my cookies, lovingly smeared in frosting by my kids, taste better.

In keeping with mom's tradition, the remainder of the cookies are in a large Ziploc baggie in the freezer, where everyone but me has forgotten about them. This is not a good situation.

Sorry, no pictures. Great artists do not deign to have pictures taken -- it would interrupt the flow of psychic energy while they and their children are creating. (That, and I forgot.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Giving, the gift that keeps giving

I am trying to make my entries more mono-topic and less rambling, which is one reason why the last entry was so stultifying.

I am giving myself a gift this holiday season, by helping out in the school social worker's office tomorrow morning. I technically should not "have time" to do this, but indeed I do. The time is right -- many things must be accomplished by Thursday. I got to deliver about 60 angel gifts there on Monday for distribution Thursday, and did I ever feel like Santa's elf! It was really a thrill to think of those gifts going to children for whom it may be the only gift they receive.

I also want to help with food baskets on Christmas Eve, for the first time. This is what the season is all about! Sending cards, buying gifts, are not important compared to being of service to someone in a real way. Cooking the meal and sharing it with family ... that's still important.

The kids in my Sunday school class are writing Christmas cards to those stationed overseas, and to those in nursing homes. We can do little things with great love! Hallelujah!

I have to post about how I have inherited Mom's cooking abilities ... and about the sugar cookie adventure last night. We should have taken pictures. But I really and truly don't have time, if I want to get in my beauty rest.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

A brief defense of my church

How ironic, as I come here, that everything is beeping at me ... the laundry, the eggs, not to mention *Christmas is coming!!* Beep, beep, beep, indeed!

Since I have been the first to criticize the church's failings in addressing social ills and standing for peace and justice in the world, I will also offer some things that I think local churches excel at.

Churches are outstanding at creating a community in places where other communities have crumbled. My husband and I and my children have a social circle at church. Most of my FaceBook friends are from church. My husband has grown close to the people he is in Sunday school with. I feel a real connection with the people in my Disciple Bible class. My children love to go to youth night, and my older son participates with the praise band and a new youth praise band. If anyone in our church group has a need, that person is greeted with many offers of help ... not just prayers, but transportation, food, fellowship, and more. Of course, this help is not offered broadly throughout the community but is kept largely within the walls of the church group.

The one action that led to us becoming very attached to Floresville was switching our church membership from a San Antonio church down here. That was the single largest way that we met many people in the Floresville and Poth area.

Our local church is not as diverse as I would like, in keeping with church traditions everywhere. There is a Hispanic church that meets separately, and the lines of separation go very deep. Ironically, the Hispanic church is seeing a generation of children of its members who largely do not know Spanish, which is a great loss.

I am torn about who is the most judgmental as a group, people who attend church or people who do not. I know that church-goers are often viewed as being extremely intolerant, thanks to the evangelical movement that has pounded so hard on so-called "family values" that are a disguised way of attempting to legislate intolerance for certain groups of people. I have not personally observed this extreme of intolerance from most of the people I know at church.

We have a nice blend of liberals and conservatives. Like many churches, the United Methodist Church struggles to hang on to people of differing political views. In an attempt to alienate no one, the church no longer stands for much in the way of social action and belief. Yet it does have churches and schools, like Africa University, that represent a meaningful global outreach.

On the local level, our church does meaningful work to help the less fortunate. Our church members founded the Wilson Area Housing Authority, which helps make home improvements for the needy and distributes Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets. Some members are active in the Poth food pantry and other local charitable organizations. We buy gifts for 85 local children through the Angel Tree every year, to my knowledge the largest single sponsor in the community. We routinely take up special offerings as the need arises. Recently, we have sponsored two mission trips.

Other churches have done similarly important work in the community. Another church in town offered a weekly large-scale food distribution service that required a lot of dedication and sacrifice from its members, though it stopped doing so this year, and I don't know if it will restart or not. The need is even greater right now because of the poor economy, so it was a blow for this food distribution to end when it did.

Local churches offer a place where families can find a loving community of people, and a relatively safe place for children and youth to meet. I think that on balance, churches contribute to positive spiritual growth in the world, despite the numerous human failings, corruption, and opulance that plague this human institution.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My life, the novel

When I post here about my life, I really feel more like a novelist telling a story. I think a novelist would feel the same way about his/her characters and how their lives unfold. It's dramatic and interesting, but it's not always an accurate description of what is real. It's just one person's point of view. Even then, my own point of view shifts and changes with time, so it's a snapshot of something that may be quite unreal in the larger sense.

The last post was from a place and time far, far away and not often brought to light. When I try to remember it, it is so shifting and hazy, and I remember through a thick veil, not distinctly. I have always had this really indistinct memory. Maybe I am constantly not paying attention to the external so much as the internal life. I relate to a fictional character in one of Scott Peck's novels. (He writes mostly nonfiction, but this was a work of fiction.) It was a man who was paralyzed and was asked how he could bear to live with so many limits. He answered, "I have a rich inner life." And I fear I am remembering that passage incorrectly.

So, when I post something that seems overly dramatic, or sad, or passionate -- it is a story that I tell, for reasons not always clear to me. Don't take it too seriously, and I won't either.

So, I asked (God) to help me remember my dreams last night, and I did remember some fragments. I have to be intentional about remembering dreams. It's an effort, just like everything else!

Here's what I recall. I answered my cell phone and some guy started talking. The voice sounded very familiar (like Marty, who by the way never would normally call me), but I said, jokingly, who is this? I need to know your name. And it turned out it was not who I thought it was but a stranger calling to interview me for a job, so I felt I had been overly flippant and familiar. But I still maintained that relaxed tone, talking with this person about my beliefs and values, having an interesting conversation which I now forget. I was feeling insecure, thinking I might have blown this job opportunity, but it was more important to be myself. Marty, to me, is a very serious and intense person, but I like him. He has a lot of integrity.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Tyger

I'm back from Thanksgiving break!

William Blake wrote:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
...
When the stars threw down their spears,
And water'd heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
...
Excerpted from Songs of Experience

I've been reading from the Norton Anthology of Poetry and remembering those wonderful days of reading when I was an English major. Some of the poems are so very sad. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote a very long, long poem about the death of his friend that is quite painful to read. I skipped to the end, where it was just about bearable. (Many years had passed by then and his grief had mellowed.) As I understand it, he wrote the poem over years from 1833-50.

So, most people have tigers living inside them, as well as lambs, and I am no exception. There is a little girl living inside me who is frightened and anxious, and who does not know the way or the answer to anything. If I start feeling melancholy, often it is because she wants to come out. The best thing I can do is to understand and love this little girl inside me, if at all possible. Not try to ignore her or make her grow up or stop being so fearful. Just love her and let her have some expression, somehow; give her recognition.

If I try to suppress this part of me, it pops out in unexpected ways that are not good. Then my emotions become this tangle that trips me up, because either I don't understand where they come from, or I am deliberately hiding them from myself and others.

My little-girl side comes out strongly during the holidays. There is so much expectation, so much desire this time of year. I guess I can sum up my expectations, from my earliest years, as this: Christmas is about love and family. This year, love and family will prevail in my home. My parents will stop fighting and will show how much they love each other, and me. They will do more than give me a great bounty of gifts: they will give me the love I need, in the way that I need it. I will be able to feel secure when I am home and stop worrying about what will happen next, and when the other shoe will drop.

My parents fought a whole lot when I was young. They weren't good at showing love, though I know they loved me and my sister so very much. As I remember it (and I know memories are faulty), they used most of their energy to attack each other. Mom had this way of constantly dragging Dad down and telling him what a failure he was, about everything. Usually it was really simple things that he couldn't do right. He couldn't do what was needed around the house. He couldn't get the right groceries. He was a terrible provider for the family. And on and on. Dad would reach a simmer, and then a boil, and he would explode finally and yell back at Mom.

I felt like I spent a lot of time cowering in the corner nearby. It is hard, as a child, to watch your parents seemingly hate each other, without feeling rather hated yourself, or feeling like it's your fault. As I grew, I felt like if I could do everything perfectly, the fighting would stop. Once, I ran away -- first loudly announcing, "I'm running away!" hoping that would distract them for a while and get them to focus on something together. So I ran down some streets and alleys for a while. I think my sister was very upset about me running off. I wonder if she remembers? It wasn't long before I let myself be found.

 There was one time I remember vividly, because it was so surreal. My Mom and Dad, sitting on the bed in their bedroom, smiling. My Mom saying warmly, "I love your father so much!" and caressing him. My Dad smiling, in a bemused sort of way. This only happened once, that I remember.

In high school, I spent a lot of time at my best friend's house down the street, and went off to college (for a while), and married young. Gotta get away, gotta get away ...

Oddly enough, my life has not repeated the pattern of my parents' life, though those beginnings certainly influenced me in many ways. Sometimes, I realize that I am lucky to have experienced some suffering, far less than people from truly broken and dysfunctional homes. Let's look at the things that were not true of my parents: they did not physically abuse me or one another, or abuse alcohol or drugs, or live in dire poverty, or fail to provide for our every material need, etc. etc.

My experiences led to the development of empathy for others. I can't always use it effectively with other people, but I sure feel it. I see situations from the point of view of the underdog, and from multiple angles.

The Tyger that destroyed my parents' relationship with one another, and that I saw controlling my parents so often, has persisted in me, from the brokenness of that relationship and all the sorrows that resulted. My inner Tyger sometimes rages at others, but often it starts attacking me from the inside out.


Here's a recent picture with my Dad and his Chinese wife, Han, when she cooked us a delicious meal. Everyone seems to be thinking, can we eat already??

Despite this inner Tyger, I feel that I have been able to demonstrate my love for my kids effectively. I have been able to take better care of myself than my Mom took of herself. I have been able to feel genuine self-love, the first step toward loving others.

This little girl inside, this Tyger, was crying out this holiday season. So give her a little latitude and a lot of love, please. And next week, my inner Lamb will continue posting. Said with a wink and a smile!

Here is my advice to everyone else who is plagued by a Tyger: keep going, and act like the wonderful, loved and loving person you are.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Desires and thanksgiving

If a tiger is raging inside you, release it before it eats its way out. More on that some other time.

I have a few desires. While they are supposed to be the root of all suffering, I think these are good ones to have, moving me along the right path.

First, I have been thinking how fun it would be to blog about tweens/teens, since I have two, and they are a source of endless amusement, frustration, amusement, etc. How? Could I get paid anything?

Second, I desire a job that does not involve sitting at a desk all day, or else involves writing. Hmm.

Third, I desire to have more fun! Starting today. The last time I really gave myself permission to just have fun was about 1974, and that's too long. Now, how to integrate this into my highly responsible, over-structured life as a parent/wife/employee/volunteer, etc., is the question.

Austin would be thrilled if I could just have fun and not always be giving yet another moralistic lecture to him & his brother. (Me? Preachy? Never!) He was telling me about some Super Bowl commercials on YouTube, one of which was a beer commercial about the extra powers the beer could give you, like flying -- and you see this guy flying, saying wow! this is so awesome! -- then getting sucked into the engine of a plane, and a voice says "flying ability no longer available." And I said, they should do a commercial where the extra abilities include passing out!

Austin did not appreciate that, for some mystifying reason. It's not like I am a teetotaller! I just can't turn off that "parent" mode that remembers how I and so many others abused alcohol so much in college. I was one of the lucky ones who worshipped at the altar of a porcelein toilet. My roommate, not so lucky, had an inebriated romp which she could not remember (in which she lost her virginity), got pregnant, and wound up getting an abortion. I know Austin will make the same mistakes as Dwaine and I did, but I want him to already know better!

Back to the list of desires. Fourth, I have finally realized that being spontaneous is not a bad thing, always. In fact, I am so proud of myself, because I went with Dwaine to Lost Maples last week on my one and only day off, when I had approximately 1 million other, much more productive things I could have been doing (and planned to do). We had fun!

Here's Dwaine.



And here's me and my water bottle. This was on Veterans Day, and the weather was perfect.

Dwaine is "spontaneous" -- which means he never thinks about how his own wishes might conflict with the plans of everyone else, or cause endless changes to other people's plans, etc. I just read in AARP magazine, of which I am an honorary member 'cause of my hubby, that the most resilient people are the ones who don't get too attached to their plans, but who can accept life's unexpected revisions! Ah-ha! So that's been my trouble all these years.

Here's a recent fun outing, when my boys and the Boy Scouts participated in the fall flotilla along the San Antonio River in Goliad. I came along to take pictures and camped out. We went to an 1836 battle re-enactment that happened after dark at the nearby fort.

Ending on a thankful note, I am so happy, and thankful, to be visiting my sister in Blacksburg soon! I can't wait to see her again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My faith journey

The comments on my last blog (thanks, faithful followers!) lead me to say that I am on a faith journey, but I cannot see around the corner, so to speak, to any particular destination. I have surrendered the results to a higher power than myself. I do not seek a particular outcome other than spiritual growth. It's nice to set goals for your life, but this is a path that I am walking, one step at a time. I believe in this case, the journey is more important than the outcome.

I think that the practice of Christianity is so distorted from what Jesus intended. As one of my Buddhist podcasts stated recently, Christianity in practice today is all about what you believe and have faith in; whereas Buddhism is about actions, how you live your life, no mandatory belief system attached. Ouch! The truth hurts.

I think Jesus intended his followers to be like Buddhists, to live and act out of compassion for others. He was not heavy on dogma. I've mentioned before that he had two laws that encompassed everything, and they were all about love. Love, and love, and everything else takes care of itself.

Humans are capable of distorting anything, and some people seem to have an overriding need to distort everything. (This is a way of defining evil, I think.) So even if there were no religion -- Imagine, John Lennon said -- there would be plenty of other ways for human beings to rationalize hurting and destroying one another. For one thing, there's politics and political systems that distribute resources so unevenly that conflict is guaranteed. People who are wealthy hoard their wealth; this would happen with or without religion.

So I don't think that denying the great truths that are in religions will take away the pain and suffering people cause one another. When pain and suffering result from anyone who says they are practicing one of the major religions, it is a complete perversion of that religion, whether it is Muslim or Christian or something else.

So religion should not be blamed for people acting in hateful ways. The hatred does not come from the religious practice in itself. It comes from someplace else. Where?? Possibly the fragile ego's need to defend itself. That is why all the major religions, I believe, call on us to ditch putting ourselves and our needs above all others. Sort of like a 12-step program -- we all have to end our addiction to ourselves, which we are born with.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Reading the Old Testament

This week's Bible reading is the heaviest yet. We were asked to read much of the book of 1 Samuel in two days, or around 7-8 chapters a day. I love this story of Samuel and Saul and David. Fascinating characters, and so human. Saul, Israel's first king, shows so much promise, but then he becomes a typical politician, thinking of himself all the time. Then he goes crazy with envy of David, his successor. The story is so much more readable than the rules and regulations we were reading about recently.

I find much of the Old Testament to be so harsh and outdated, particularly the Torah (first five books). These have the strict dietary and worship laws that God set up with his people.

Then, in Judges, there is an instance of actual human sacrifice where Jephthah promises to sacrifice "whatever comes out my door" upon his return home, if the Lord grants him success in battle. The people in my class reasoned that he was trying to get rid of his wife! However, it was his daughter who came out the door, and he did sacrifice her.

Then there are God's problematic instructions to the Jews to wipe out the people of Canaan, to obliterate them and leave not a trace, so that they would not contaminate his people with their religions and ways. So hauntingly like genocide.

And there are the times that God destroys people -- not just the flood, but over and over again when he is angry and they have strayed away. It's such an old-fashioned view of God as the harsh disciplinarian, and that the presence of sin makes killing somehow acceptable. What about thou shalt not murder, when there is divinely ordered killing throughout the Old Testament?

I know that Judaism is a loving religion. I'm having trouble finding evidence of it in their holy scriptures. How could you live following just the law, the prophets, and other writings? Of course, I don't understand Judaism, but I don't see how I could ever practice it.

I am learning that the study of religion, any religion, is incredibly difficult and time-consuming. I am finding I have to do it, though -- I can't just practice or have faith. Faith in what? in whom? I have to dig, dig, dig for the meaning. There are so many layers of meaning, and ritual, and history. It's the work of a lifetime, to be sure.

Monday, November 9, 2009

In brief

Brief? Me? ha, ha, ha, ha, ...

My last entry on clutter was a psychic message from God that I need to de-clutter, not my house, but my blog entries! But it's so much more fun to just do the stream-of-consciousness thing. Yeah, sometimes I hate those messages from God.

Speaking of clutter. I went into the walk-in closet to retrieve a bag, to pack for our weekend camping trip with the Boy Scouts. As I removed the bag from a high shelf, something fell down. Lo and behold! It was Andrew's iPod, which had been missing and presumed lost for approximately one year. I had apparently taken it away from him and put it in a safe place. Dwaine says that was a little overboard, to take it away for a whole year. I'm one tough momma. So, Lord only knows what else is in that closet.

Still haven't found his journal, but that was never put into time out.

I briefly lost Andrew himself this evening. He never goes out at night, being fearful of the dark and rabid wild animals and such. So I knew he was inside the house, and our house is not that big, and he was nowhere to be found. Well, I forgot his new habit is to go into his closet, close the accordian doors, and pray/meditate. So, that's where he was and what he was doing, and he was so annoyed that I interrupted him. So I told him he should just check in and let me know where he is next time, and that way, he can stay in the closet as long as he would like.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Stuff

I worked hard all day so I could come and play here for a while.

I looked in all Andrew's secret hideaways in his room for his journal. This is a small journal that I keep for him, about him, mostly, and have since he was about 2 years old. I have Austin's, but Andrew's has been lost for a while. His room is always neat, but only because he crams everything randomly into bins and chests so it is not visible. I found Asian statues (courtesy of my dad), old plastic Easter eggs, cub scout stuff, homework from probably a few years ago, shells and fossils, his fifth-grade school memory book, and lots of miscellaneous parts and pieces. Did I move or remove a single thing? Nope. That's why the kids' stuff stays the same over the years. Guess that will have to change one day, once they move out.

So I found lots of other interesting relics, but no journal. I just remembered another secret hideaway I forgot to check, if it's still in Andrew's room. It is supposed to be a red cushy footstool with storage under the pad. It's actually just another dumping ground, that used to stay hidden in his closet all the time. Maybe someone got rid of it? That's unlikely.

Now, if I were feeling really brave, I would check Austin's room too, but I'm not sure I am up to it today.

I guess I have a clutter problem. The problem is that I see clutter, and my reaction is to just feel overwhelmed and leave it all. You probably would not notice this problem, because the house looks relatively picked up in its visible areas. But don't open that one drawer under the microwave! (It's getting hard to shut again if you do.) Don't go looking in the walk-in closet! Don't, whatever you do, look under any beds in our house!

Oh, and stay out of the attic. Most of those boxes have been around since before Dwaine and I got married, and they somehow followed us from our starter home here, to find their new and permanent home in the attic. I have no idea what's in any of them.

At least I don't store anything in the oven, or refrigerator (besides food), or anything that a real clutter-disordered person would do. There's a name for that psychological disorder, but I don't know it.

My kids, unfortunately, seem to have inherited this tendency to live surrounded by hidden clutter. That, or they don't really care. I have a closet that is a sanctuary for all kinds of stuff. It draws it in and traps it, and it never, ever leaves. I have essays from college (high school?) that are stashed in that closet. I told Austin this recently, and he said, "Why?" I didn't realize I had anything to explain until he asked, and then I thought to myself, "Yeah -- why am I keeping this stuff, anyhow?" A few years back, I finally threw out shoeboxes full of notes and letters from friends and family. I don't think I stopped to read, because that is what usually happens when I get the urge to de-clutter.

Stopping to examine, review, reflect -- that is the kiss of death when you're trying to go through and get rid of stuff. You must be ruthless and cruel, and unthinking too, to dump things that might have sentimental value.  Everything potentially has sentimental value. That's the problem.

Ever since Dwaine's parents died, within about a year of each other, and we had to clear out their home, while his mom was living with us, I have been resolute that we need to get rid of stuff and not hang onto it. Hanging on to stuff creates problems for the next generation. It weighs them down. It defers the decision of what to do with it all. My kids should not ever have to go through my school essays and all my past diaries! Thank God for paperless blogs.

Dwaine's mom asked us about the unlikeliest things, after we had loaded up everything and stored it. She had an ancient wooden painted depiction of a boy and a burro that had been stored outdoors in one of their covered parking areas until it was falling apart, and she kept asking us about that boy and burro: Did you get it? Did you bring it? We always said, "Yes, Mom," which was a big, fat lie. In reality, we left it there to finish disintegrating, along with several other useless things. RIP.

She collected little lanterns, and we had many boxes of lanterns once we had packed them all. There were many other knick-knacks and china sets, not to mention thousands of arrowheads that Dwaine's parents had found along Falcon Lake. All the stuff from their mobile home was crammed into the two largest storage units that we could rent, and it took about a year to go through it all and disperse it. Lots of it is now stored at our house or Becky's, Dwaine's sister.

Is my life any richer for having stored and inherited some of this stuff? Nope, can't say that it is.

I am proud to say that I de-cluttered this posting by removing two irrelevant paragraphs at the beginning. My words are as garrulous as the items in my closets!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Musings

I have a perfectly lovely two days off work this week. This morning was lovely at Pecan Park. Mid-50s that felt quite warm by the end of my walking. The long-legged Twyla stayed ahead of me on the figure-eight loop the whole time. I wanted to catch up to her and say, Sister! Do you know your pace is 4 mph, which is about as fast as you can go without running?! She didn't even seem to be moving fast, because of those graceful long legs. (I felt squatty in comparison.) She was walking when I got there, and walking when I left, 2 miles later. She just lost her dad recently, so the walking is surely good therapy. (But then, she's been doing it a while.)

I was listening to author Mary Karr on NPR later on, and I thought, I'm not sure I can ever be a decent writer because I have not had that interesting a life! She has written three memoirs and has definitely lived an interesting life. She gave some great testimony about the power of faith in her later life and in overcoming her drinking habit. And she was a total agnostic about spirituality and religion her entire life. She said, "When you talk about spirituality to someone who is secular, it's like you are doing card tricks on the radio." It's amazing how people can go for many years without seeing God, and then, a light goes on. It's such a mystery, the mystery of faith. It is impossible to explain or to convey faith to another person.

There is something to the fact that many great artists have huge substance-abuse issues, or were abused as children, or struggle with depression and eventually take their lives. So I have to thank God for my wonderfully bland life, even if it makes it harder to be a great writer.

I wanted to talk about Austin a bit. Sometimes, I am just in awe of him, his confidence in himself. Seemingly out of the blue, he's become really interested in baseball. He decided to transfer from tennis, 1st period, to baseball, last period. Yes, it's not baseball season yet, but he and a few others can go out and practice anyhow after school, which is what he's been doing now that band is not taking up 8 hours of practice a week after school.

I immediately told him that he'd never make the baseball team! Bad Mom, Bad Mom, I know. I was just trying to be realistic, trying to prepare him for the blow of failure. But why be realistic when reality can be such a downer? That way leads to cynicism ... even spiritual death! So many kids' dreams seem like big fantasies, which is why too few adults have dreams of their own. But believing in those dreams can change the world. So who am I to not believe in my son?

Back to reality just for a moment: Austin has not played baseball since he was a wee little lad in Little League. But I really admire his guts for just trying it out, what with the extreme level of competition in sports these days. He and Andrew have been going outside to throw or for him to practice hitting, using this ancient equipment that we never got rid of. (I asked my husband the other night, "You mean we have a real baseball? Not just tennis balls?") So Austin's excited about it right now, and he is working on it. That's one thing I really admire about him. He has a lot of passion for life. He's always fully engaged in something, and has a lot of interests and talents. He has strong friendships and a delightful personality, if I do say so myself.

It's fortunate that the world series is on right now, and we've had it on. I enjoy seeing the athleticism that is involved in any sport, even baseball! It does have this stereotype of players standing around, chewing great wads of dip while scratching themselves. But then you see a player go all out to catch a fly ball, even slamming into the barricade to catch an almost-homer, or you see opposing players rolling over one another in the battle to reach the base first. Or watch the pitcher, in slow motion, looking like a space alien, his body is so contorted into the intensity of getting that 90+-mph pitch off. And another, and another.

I asked Austin today what drew him to baseball (which happened before the world series, by the way), and he said he thinks it's his kind of sport, an Austin kind of sport. OK. This may not last (probably not -- reality slipping in again), especially when all the other kids show up for baseball season, but kudos to him for having his own dream and pursuing it.

The other thing Austin is doing is participating in a youth praise band at church, which right now is just three kids: Zeke on drums, Katie (lyrics?), and Austin on guitar. So this now fills a slot on Thursday night that would have been blissfully empty. So we're up to Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening activities, and a last football game this Friday. (Then Boy Scout camping this weekend.) Oh, well.

Andrew loved the last campout at Calaveras Lake. He really was anxious about it beforehand. I think he's an anxious kid, and that gets expressed as all this negativity about doing things. He gets stressed out at school easily, then comes home and often is mentally and emotionally tuckered out. He is my son, after all! But no one can beat Andrew when it comes to affection. He can be the sweetest child alive, and often is. And his mind works like no one else's. Andrew started writing down the thoughts that come just before you fall asleep, those weird ones that the conscious mind picks up and says, hmmm ... that makes absolutely no sense! I have to record some of his thoughts and sayings in his journal, which has been missing for a few months.

I just can't believe that it is nearly 2 p.m. It should be noon. There's always so much to write about. I also wanted to write about Christianity and capitalism, how some of the most conservative Christians embrace the free market, which seems to reward unethical behavior. Ethical behavior does not seem to extend to the almighty dollar.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Reasons to worship

I knew that I would look at my last post and say, ah ha! Somebody left a comment, who could it be? It could be me!

Today, in my three-hour Disciple Bible class that requires about the same amount of reading each week (3 hours), making six hours total, which is nearly an hour a day, which is a really sacrificial act, by the way, we were talking OT stuff starting with the ark of the covenant and moving on to all the sacrifices the ancient Hebrews were ordered to do. Do you feel a giant yawn coming on? But wait -- Back in those days, if God didn't like the way you were worshipping, he would just strike you down. Zap! and you were toast. He did this to Aaron's sons because they got too close to the ark or something.

Still, I thought all the reading we had to do was largely irrelevant to my life and the life of most modern people. In fact, I felt at the brink of self-pity in my feeling that the reading was so very long and tedious. And long. And boring. And then we were going to spend three hours talking about it!

But somehow, in the commentary about the reading, it morphed into what Jews think is important about worship, and understanding began to bloom.

At least three things make communal worship important: Remembrance. Atonement. and Thanksgiving. Not to mention being smack-dab in the middle of the body of Christ, if you're at a Christian service.

The sacrifices and feasts start to make sense when viewed in this light. It even makes sense why my family and I attend church. Remembrance. Atonement. and Thanksgiving. I see the light!

Jews place a great importance on remembering certain times in their history when God saved their butts from destruction. They celebrate the Passover and Hannukah to celebrate times of peril that they overcame.

They have a solemn observance of atonement, Yom Kippur. There is even a "scapegoat" that ceremonially used to take on all the sins of the people and got cast out into the desert. (You know my reaction: poor goat. I think casting out would be much worse than being sacrificed.) I hope they no longer do this; I don't think the other animal sacrifices have been made for eons anymore, so I guess the scapegoat is gone too.

Thanksgiving is celebrated in Jewish feasts of the harvest and is a theme that runs throughout worship.

So, since we are Judeo-Christian and founded on Jewish practices originally, every Christian service has some sort of structure, and usually some parts that are repetitive. The Catholics and Lutherans have more order, while Baptists have less. We Methodists have more or less, depending on the pastoral preference. (Go ahead and say it, we're wishy-washy.) Our pastor right now likes a lot of repetition, so we say the exact same Affirmation of Faith and Confession and Pardon each week, which makes the meaning wash out quite a bit for me. But the ritual serves to remind us of our history, allow us to confess and ask forgiveness, and be reunited with our Lord and savior.

And funny, I never tire of taking communion. That act is so imbued with meaning for me. It is taking in sustenance and the Holy Spirit all together, and the emotional and spiritual bounce I get from it is of great significance.

Then there's the music of worship, which draws us closer to God. You almost feel like you are singing along with all the Angels and all the billions of people who have gone on to the hereafter, at times, and your soul is lifted higher and higher. Music is clearly one of God's most potent languages.

The remembrance part of worship is also being reminded that we are God's people; God loves us; and we need to act like we are God's people! (Certainly not just in church!)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Little helps

Mother Teresa supposedly said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." Of course, she proved herself wrong, but she could not imagine what an example she would set for the rest of us.

Then there is the example of Jesus. "Be perfect, just as my heavenly Father [and I] is[/are] perfect." Yes, that's in the Bible, with my brackets added. Jesus exhausted himself trying to minister to people. Hardly got any sleep, didn't eat much, got up at all hours to pray, and the like. He even got a little gripey a few times, no doubt due to his human body just not being able to handle the strain. And the result? Died a martyr at about 33 years of age, after an anguished, sleepless night and just three years of ministry. Thanks a lot, Jesus! You are a really hard act to follow.

Although, in terms of ratio of lifespan spent in ministry, his was about 1/11 -- one year of every 11 lived. The rest of time he was growing in wisdom and knowledge.

Then there is the Buddha. I was reading an interesting history of Buddhism online (actually, I ran across it while I was blogging here and trying to rapidly, painlessly decrease my ignorance level of Buddhism). It said that when the Buddha became enlightened, he thought to himself, these things I have learned cannot possibly be expressed in words, and no one will understand, even if I tried to explain. I think he was exactly right! So he decided to spend the rest of his life sitting under a tree in his perfectly enlightened state.

And I guess it would have all ended there, except that some Hindu god beamed down and told the Buddha he had to teach others what he had learned.So the Buddha attempted to do so. His first attempt was to tell another person who was also working on enlightenment that he, Buddha, was now perfectly enlightened. While this was a true statement, it did not go over so well with the not-quite-enlightened one, who had noticed that the Buddha had not been toeing the line of complete self-denial just prior to the time when he went off and got enlightened. So perfect truth, while true, is not always wise. I guess.

But I guess the Buddha got better with getting his message out, and does have several million followers. Nothing like Christianity, mind you, but he didn't have anything like the Great Commission in his message (go out and make disciples of all nations ...).

So, who should I emulate? I really feel more like sitting under that tree than going out and ministering to a bunch of difficult people with all their problems. I don't literally want to sit under a tree -- I'm not that enlightened! -- but I would like to live my life and not have to worry too much about how everyone else is doing.

What I intended to say in today's post is that there are small ways to help that are still meaningful. Since most of us do worry, at least a little, about the suffering of other people and our world.

Maybe one of the very best small ways to help is to act in a loving manner toward others, as often as possible ... always, if that is possible. And remember: All things are possible with God. Love everything that has breath, and everything that lives, and everything else.

Since I have a major concern about the condition of the world, I help recycle at the two places where I work. I have recycled a whole lot of paper that would have gone into the dumpster in a rural town where there is no recycling. I also recycle the paper at my other workplace. We also recycle in our house, though we have not been able to give up on paper products, just reduce the amount that we depend on them.

I carpool as much as possible. Perhaps I've mentioned before, it seems like it, that I take shorter and colder showers than ever before in my life. Though the "cold" part is relative, now that we've had a few cold fronts come through and chill us down below 70 degrees here in South Texas! Turn off the faucet while washing hands. Use reusable grocery bags, yadda yadda yadda. Really basic lifestyle changes like that can save thousands of gallons of water, or lots of plastic. The effect would become exponential if everyone did it. These types of things are so easy.

I think that service like this is more helpful than being on a thousand church committees could ever be, though there are people who love that kind of service. Which is why I refused to be the next Finance Committee chair at church. I'm not cut out to go to a bunch of meetings. Ha! The power of saying no! I finally discovered how wonderful it is to decide for myself how to use my gifts.

And my wonderful sis, who knows me well, pointed out that it's very important to be compassionate at home, with family and self, rather than just worrying about people in Third-World or war-ravaged countries. And, may I add, it's much harder. The people I live with can be so much more irritating and undeserving of compassion -- and ungrateful! -- than starving orphans I've never met.

I think many people feel overwhelmed, like their life is hard enough, and they don't feel like they can add on a lot of service to others. But what is so overwhelming? I think, in many cases, it is overscheduling and being too focused on little details of daily life that, in the big scheme of things, don't matter. Buddhists claim that nothing much matters. Even death is not dying, but transition. Suffering isn't what we think, either. It is largely (though not entirely) self-created. I think it's just a hazard of being trapped in a human body. Hey, Christians also believe that dying is not the end. Or at least, they claim to, until they or a loved one are personally involved in dying.

The important question is, what does matter? And then, why don't I focus my attention and energy on that? The answer is different for everyone, I believe.

Let me try to describe a small moment of revelation I had when I was a lot younger. I was lying on my back, looking up at the sky. Now, this is such a cool way to view the world that I would recommend it to anyone, including the Buddha. The sky is the closest thing to infinity we have here, and it is jaw-dropping gorgeous when you just look at it. And clouds are the most wonderful, ever-changing art palette. Their colors, and shades of light and dark, are infinitely varied.

I must have been a teenager at this time. I remember there was a lot of turmoil in my life, or so it seemed. (Hormones.) I remember being angry at God all the time, back then. I never stopped believing in him, but I was so mad!

So I looked, and watched the clouds, and realized that all of my life's drama would never touch them, move them, or change them one iota. The clouds don't care about me!! At all! They don't care about you, either! They will keep doing what they're doing. (At least unless we destroy the world, but that was not in my thoughts that day.) I felt a moment of great release, that I could drift with the clouds for a while and have that far-ranging perspective, with no expectations, no judgment, no "to-do" list, no passing of time, and leave my petty little problems far, far behind.

Pastor Janet said something that sounded enlightened to me. She does that, from time to time. She said that some other pastor said, when he had a particularly busy and hectic day of service work, "I need to spend a lot of time praying today." Substitute the word meditating if you wish.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rules, commandments and such

I want to reflect on the rules and commandments of Buddhism and Christianity/Judaism, because I find it fascinating to do this point-counterpoint. I know how many the Buddhists have, but I can't list them all from memory. Could I list the 10 commandments?

You will have no Gods before me; no idols; no false witness; no coveting; honor your parents; no adultery; no murder; no taking the Lord's name in vain; honor the sabbath; oh no, what's the last one? no stealing. See, 10 is a lot to remember.

While Jews and Christians have 10 "no" rules, Buddhism has only five. Woo-hoo, Buddhism definitely wins the short, sweet, simple contest there. They are the five whatever-they-are-called, of which I can list only no taking of life and no taking of intoxicating substances (drugs or alcohol), from memory. Probably no wrong thoughts. I should look these up. Hold on. The rest of the five precepts (practices): No taking of what is not given (I haven't listened to the Podcast on that one, so am clueless); no sexual misconduct; and no wrong speech, which follows from wrong thoughts, are the other three.

But here is the counterpoint. Buddhism has Four Noble Truths. Of which, I don't think I know any. Waaa. How about this: something to do with suffering and understanding it. attachment to desire and letting go of it. the cessation of suffering by not clinging. and the last noble truth really is eight-fold, so forget the idea of simplicity there! It's a bunch of "right" things to do in life to follow the right path. This gets pretty deep. You can sense, even from a superficial look, that Buddhism is thousands of years old, and Christianity is the new kid on the block. But I get confused about why compassion, or love, seems conspicuously absent from the Four Noble Truths. And, ironically, Buddhism seems very focused on self and self-improvement, yet the last stage (the fourth truth) involves becoming free from the trap of self-centeredness.

As far as the Jews go, I'm unsure of how many truths they have (or "yes" rules). But Christians? Jesus woops butt here! Only two!

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. This is the law and the prophets.

I love the simplicity of Jesus' statement, which is all-encompassing. But in a practical sense, I find I am getting more enrichment from the study of Buddhism. It explains to me how to live my life day to day, and how to nurture and advance my spiritual side in very concrete ways. For example, through mindfulness of the present moment at all times, in all situations. Through meditation. Through being aware of my thoughts, my words, my actions at all times and to see whether they are taking me down the right path or not.

Here is how a simple thing can lead to problems. Apparently, out of the five Buddhist precepts, avoiding intoxication is the orphan child, the one considered least important, perhaps. But there is a story about a monk (of course this is from Gil's Zencast) in a monastary who had to choose one precept to break. Just one. So he thought long and hard, and reasoned that four of the precepts involved other people and would hurt other people if he broke one of them. Except for intoxication, which would only hurt himself. So he drank and became quite intoxicated, whereupon he broke all of the other four rules!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Progress

This may be quite short due to time constraints.

Sometimes, all the fog and mist and clouds of life part, just for a moment, and the sun shines brilliantly through. I need dramatic music here to cue the senses to just how amazing this feels. Like, an ascending chord progression or something. I know my blog probably could be playing this music, if it weren't for me being a bit technically challenged. I need a technical adviser, and a proofreader!

Anyhow, when the rays of light penetrate my consciousness ... first, I usually think, wow! What a lovely miracle! And usually right after that, I feel stupid that I didn't see the obvious.

So, today, this sort of happened, on a small scale, driving home with Andrew. (I think it was Andrew. Some grumpy kid who looked like him, anyhow.) Andrew is often so grumpy when I pick him up after tennis that I sometimes pretend to be Mimi, our chihuahua, who Andrew just adores. I actually hop around and pant and sort of jump on him -- from my seat inside the car (away from his friends), of course. If that sounds a bit desperate, it is. This usually gets him in a decent mood till we can get home, 'cause otherwise, it's a very long 15 minutes.

So, as we were driving, the clouds parted (there weren't any actual clouds today, but imagine there were and they did). The sun flooded my mind. And I had a revelation. Why are we holding Andrew back from the magnificent freedom to make decisions, good or bad? Why can't he use bad judgment and make mistakes just like everybody else does? He's special, but he's not that special. Wow, even God let people have free will -- and that's a fine mess we've gotten ourselves into, as a result! How can Dwaine and I try to do a better job with Austin and Andrew than even God did with his children? (Of course, some would argue that God really blew it, but that's another topic.)

So I told Andrew today that he is now officially free to drop out of any activity. I'm ready to put it in writing even. (We did write a contract about chores, bed, etc., that seemed to help.) The caveat is that Andrew has to tell the adult leader(s) of that activity that he is leaving it. (P.S. I need to explain why this is a brilliant idea to Dwaine. We really have discussed this at some length already. I'm sure he will understand, once I explain it.)

I'm not sure Andrew fully comprehended what I was saying because his blood sugar was quite low, and so he was more like a raving beast than my loving guy. He was doing some rant in response, and I told him he was making no sense, because he truly wasn't. But of course that didn't help any. Don't try telling that to someone when they are making no sense -- they will never believe you. The only thing that did help was for me to stop trying to talk to him at that moment.

After dinner, my sweet, loving child returned and hugged me long and hard and kissed me on the cheek and said he loved me before going on the Boy Scout campout to Calaveras Lake that we allegedly "forced" him into.

A basic fact of life with toddlers and teenagers is this: No food = bad results. In between those ages, it actually seems to be a little bit better for a while. They can go several hours without eating and be OK. It's a very consistent equation, but sometimes it is hard to see when you're all wrapped up in duking it out (verbally) with your rambunctious teen, and you think they're being ornery just because that's how they are.

Actually, I never outgrew that equation myself. My husband can attest to this fact. Feed within 30 minutes of waking, and every three hours throughout the day, for optimal results.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Patience

Is a virtue. That I largely lack.

If taking Disciple Bible Class all year long (up to 10 months) and making that 3-hour commitment to go to class on Sundays, and doing all that reading, does nothing else, it will give me more patience. But I hate learning to be patient! I thought I obtained a sufficient amount of patience simply by being a parent the last 15+ years.

I sense others in the class feel the same sense of sacrifice, the same restlessness and readiness to depart as soon as possible. We Americans are an impatient, busy bunch of people. It is hard to get this kind of time commitment out of any group, at church or in social life. I belonged to a bunco club, not long ago, that disbanded because it is so difficult to gather 12 women together on the same night for several hours, even to play together.

We don't have much time for each other these days. That goes for neighbors, too. Our newest neighbors (third in the past 15 or so years) moved in and got right to work fixing up their yard and adding on to their house. They did come to our house once, but we never chit-chat. They are not the chatty type. You can sense them mentally looking at their watches as soon as you start up a conversation. So we never see them, unless it's accidentally while running errands.

That is hardly unique to them. It's the American way. Do it all yourself, and don't forget to hurry!

I don't think this is a particularly healthy or sustainable lifestyle. I am trying to unplug from it, myself, just a bit. Not that it's easy with kids.

We have one child, Andrew, who really does not enjoy being gone for this, that, and the other activity. He wanted to quit tennis and Scouts. And do what, dear? Sit at home and play electronic games? That seemed (perhaps) to be the answer, and so he has not quit either activity. But it is really difficult to discern what to do. I sense he would have been so happy playing outside with friends for hours, the way kids used to do. But there's no community structure, outside of the homeschool movement perhaps, that could allow that to happen anymore.

Austin talks about quitting band his senior year (which he's quite good at and enjoys), and quitting tennis any day now because he's not good enough at it. He is certainly entitled to do both, because he has put in a lot of after-school time and commitment with these activities. More, actually, than the after-school time he's spent on all his pre-AP classes put together. (Stop me now before I start ranting about what's wrong with that.) But Dwaine and I still have this letdown feeling that he wants to quit. Dwaine said, "It's dawning on me what is wrong with this picture ... no scholarships!" Ha, ha. But true, too. But who am I to make Austin do two more activities than I ever did throughout high school? By the time he's a senior, I don't think I will be making him do anything. And band is, after all, a full-time job during marching season.

Time to go and pick up the kids to take them to this, that, and the other, after both being in school activities till 5:30 or later!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Meditation adventures

Sometimes an experience will be so vivid that I just am on fire to write it here! That is the case with a recent meditation experience I had. Then life intervenes and, for example, I'm not home till after 9 o'clock in the evening and think, I can always write that tomorrow. Then, as more time passes and the memory is less vivid, I start having doubts. Why should I write that? Whatever will people think?? What was I thinking?

If you know me at all, you know that I quickly cast those cares aside and write it down anyway. I hope every writer does the same. That little doubting voice is just the ego yammering away, and it does not understand what is really important, so listen to it patiently and lovingly, and then let it go. I am writing that down the way I imagine that Gil would describe it. Not that I necessarily am, personally, so gentle with my ego. Get out of here, ya blubbering idiot!

I think people want to hear our most convicted and passionate selves, and we should not keep this side under lock and key the way so many do. Even if convicted sometimes means crazy, out of her mind! It is scary to be vulnerable to criticism, negative reactions, and so on, though. That is why my ego is always so happy that so few are reading my blog, and that my two biggest fans really love me! It has one less thing to worry about, and it loves to worry. And, I always think too that this gives me time to develop as a writer to where, some day, I can write in a less rambling way that would actually be of use to more than a few very dedicated readers.

So, I was doing a 20-minute truck meditation in the middle of a stressful Monday at work. My meditation site, other than seated inside the truck, was Pecan Park, the site of the lately disastrous encounters with mosquitoes. So I cautiously cracked the window and watched and listened, because it was just too warm to be closed up.

This meditation went very well, if I can use that terminology of judgment to describe it. First, no mosquito problems! Yay! As always, it took a while to refocus and relax. By the way, one thing I will never be, during meditation, is bored. This is a revelation to me. I always thought it would be so dull to just sit, sit, sit. But in reality, there are so many things happening. Think of all the things just going on inside the body at any given moment, that are mostly automatic functions. Talk about multitasking! The body is superb at it. And then add all the sensory information that is available, even with eyes closed. Then the thoughts and feelings, how it is when they finally simmer down, and important thoughts are able to bubble up out of the relaxed mind.

This day, I became aware of something that I will try to describe as the "eternal present." It could also be presence. I often can sense the larger reality that is so much grander than me, and this time it was also a personal experience.

I am still in the center of my life experiences, I am sitting in the center, and like spokes all around me is my entire lifespan. Birth, childhood, adulthood, the unknown future. It is all present and accessible to me here and now. None of it has passed away. My mom and my sister and my other family members are very close, so accessible to me. Just like they are, all the time, except I am usually unaware of this. I am in rapture. This is the rapture. My cup is overflowing, and of course, tears just well up the way they do whenever I feel these overrunning emotions.

I know many, many other spiritual people have had this experience, and so have I before. It is like a time of communion with God where you can have a glimpse of how things are, of the great I AM. This is why Henri Nouwen longed for death, after having a near-death experience of becoming one with Christ. He could not understand why everyone was so cheerful that he recovered from being hit by a vehicle on the road. He described it as having to put on the heavy mantle of life again (I paraphrase). This was written in "Beyond the Mirror," which has to be a reference to the apostle Paul's statement that now we see in a mirror, darkly; then we shall see face to face.

This does not mean I'm ready to die! But I recognize that the spirit is more real than what we call our daily lives. It is more important, and I do believe that it is eternal. Time is a way of experiencing a mortal life on earth that makes sense to the mortal mind, but time does not constrict the life of the spirit.

So what is most important in life? Obviously, people. But I find it amazing that the most important experience of that day, for me, happened during meditation, when I was "alone" and doing "nothing."

Human contact is essential, and it is an important window to understand God and the nature of reality better. It is also important to the soul to have loving relationships with others and to be able to care for them in tangible ways. I suppose even human conflict has its place. But this experience has helped me understand that meditation is an important spiritual discipline, not a waste of time!

I don't expect to have a mountaintop experience every time I meditate, or even often. Those experiences will be as varied as life, or like the experiences I have running or exercising. Some days are great, some so-so, and some are the pits, and the goal becomes just getting through the rough spot.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Correction

My prior blog indicated that a good Buddhist would ignore the mosquito trying to sting him/her during meditation, and that is incorrect. Gil says that ignoring problems is a major cause of karma. He just told me that recently, so I am now conveying my updated understanding. So possibly, ignoring bad stuff makes it much worse, and ignoring good stuff is also wrong. Makes sense to me. A monk would likely focus in on the mosquito and all the attendant sensations without adding to the drama with mental preconceptions.

I, on the other hand, get really worked up about mosquitoes. That little buzz instantly makes me think, "Oh no! I'm about to be eaten alive by this tiny little creature!" And the mosquito is, for the moment, the center of my universe. It is an epic battle to destroy it before it gets me. It has complete control over my emotions and my complete, undivided attention. So at least it gets me to FOCUS, for an instant!

Don't trust me to understand the "theology" of Buddhism at all. I am a total newbie! I happen to desperately need it because my mind loves to run off in all directions and drag me with it. It needs obedience training. Heel!

My son's World History textbook indicates that of the major religions, Buddhism has the fewest followers. It's supposed to be too ascetic or something. Figures I would pick the underdog religion. But his textbook is suspect, having been approved by the State Board of Education.* (*Corrected this entry called "Correction.") I notice there are several pages in his book devoted to Jesus, the savior, and I think he is the heavy out of the world religions. In that book, and in real life too.

I am being constantly interrupted by my wonderful, loving hubbie right now. Reference my prior note about interruptions.

My blog entries are getting as bad as the San Antonio Express-News. I am spending as much time correcting mistakes as actually generating new entries. I find that reading page 2A of the E-N where they do the tiny little error corrections box can be more interesting than reading the rest of the paper. Whoops, sorry, this person was actually injured and not killed in the accident. (Whew, glad that was all straightened out in a prominent place where everyone will see it.) Oh, the final tax deadline is not Monday, Oct. 12, as we reported on the business page. If you read that and panicked, too bad. Get your own facts! We're busy trying to run a newspaper here. Etc.

I guess I have to go do my Disciple reading now. Sigh.

P.S. I need a proofreader! This is ironic because I am a proofreader. But it's well-known in the writing world that you simply cannot proof your own stuff.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Meditation, not magic!

It's not easy being green. Sorry, just had to say that with my blog's new look. That is one of the best songs ever by the Sesame Street, oops Muppet, gang (thanks, CAROL), and I feel such a strong psychic connection with Kermit. Hope I'm spelling the little guy's name right!

Speaking of psychic connections, do you ever get those with your family? Here's how Andrew & I thought alike last evening at the middle school intro to its sex ed class. Every student who attended was asked to stand up at the end, and say one reason to wait to have sex (there were lots of examples posted overhead). They all did really well and had lost some of their shyness through some good role-playing and interactive activities. So Andrew said one of the reasons that were posted. But then he whispered to me, "I was really thinking that I want to save myself for that special person." I did a little dance, because that's exactly what was going through my mind at that moment. He got it!

I meditated yesterday in the truck, in the humid heat of downtown Floresville, while waiting for the kids. Waiting, waiting, waiting; Carol wrote a post about how that is a parent's life! This was an example of an unpleasant meditative experience, as I had rolled down the windows a bit and found myself attacked by countless mosquitoes, inside my truck. Sorry, I am not a monk, and I cannot ignore the feeling of being stung, although that's what a good Buddhist would do.

So that was an annoying interruption. Just like so much of life is. It was all just a series of annoying interruptions, and then I died. Put it on my tombstone!

So tonight I was indoors to do my 25-minute meditation, but it was still stiflingly hot and still and damp. That feeling before the really strong storms arrive and the strong, cold air, the dead stillness that precedes the violence. I found my mind was just bouncing around, and I could not keep it still. It was an anxious, active mind. I know you find that impossible to believe, but work with me here.

I find that my eyelids constantly waver when I try to close them while awake, and they mimic my mind. If I can get my eyelids to finally calm down, then my mind does the same. Perhaps this goes back to a scary story I remember reading as a child. There was a murderer in the house, and he was canvassing the bedrooms of each child. Somehow, the children were not a threat to him so long as they were truly asleep; but if they were awake, they would get it. He got to the child who was narrating the story, who was pretending to be asleep in bed. The murderer hovered over the child, watching him, for the longest, longest time, before deciding he was really sleeping and moving on.

See, if it were me, I would have been a goner. That's what I thought when I read that story, and it's still true today. If some murderer ever approaches my bedside to see if I'm asleep and I am not, they'll kill me for sure because my eyes will be flickering like crazy. (Unless I am wearing my eyeshades. Yes!)

It took me a while to become aware of this flickering-eye habit when I was meditating, which I consider progress. So now I have an easy focus: calm my eyes.

Tonight, I added this thought to still my mind. Wait. Wait. Waaaaaaaaiiiit. I should be used to that concept by now, being a parent and all.

This is how it is also a powerful thought, one that can connect us to the great beyond. John Milton, in his poem "On His Blindness," says,

"They also serve who only stand and wait."

This is an apt description of meditation, though Milton did not intend that meaning.

This was before Milton wrote "Paradise Lost," but he knew he was supposed to be doing a great service for the Lord. "'Does God demand day labor, light denied?' I fondly ask. But" ... I forget the rest, but it's one of the poems I carry with me always. It makes me a better person for having read this poem and loved it. Great poetry is transformative like that.

I know this entry bounced as much as my mind, tonight. My apologies to the reader.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Gone

Gone by day, not here at night,
Makes it quite a challenge to write.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Being childlike

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. Jesus

I memorized this passage along with the children in my Sunday school class. Now, in learning what Zen meditation is about, it is really about leaving behind all the preconceived ideas and judgments that have stacked up over the years of adulthood and viewing life like a child again, with mindful awareness of the present moment. Don't be reactive, but experience everything with a "beginner's mind." Enter the kingdom of heaven. Did you really think it was up there somewhere, when Jesus spoke of it constantly while he was here with us in his human form?

Do you remember what that was like --- being a child? I do. I remember experiencing the freshness of all creation, how it was all so beautiful and everything was a new experience of wonder and joy. The mind did not dwell in the past or future, because the present had such an abundance of rich novelty. I don't have specific memories of detailed incidents in my life; in fact, my memory of details is just horrible (probably because I'm living inside my head all the time). But I do remember the way it felt to discover new things, every day and every hour, as a young child.

We were living in Castle Hills when I was in grades 4-6, and those were some magical times. My back yard was a sanctuary. I built my own little refuge back there in the "woods." Exploring the concrete ditches was an amazing journey. I remember, one day, discovering some new truth and running in to explain it to my Mom. She was a bit bewildered about why I was so excited -- apparently I was not the first to "discover" this commonly understood fact -- but my brain had just put it all together, and it was as if I was the first-time inventor and owned all creative rights to whatever it was. Yeah, sorry, I have no idea what it was -- something mathematical or scientific. This is why I probably would make a lousy fiction writer; not enough attention to details out there in the world.

Buddhists believe that we create a lot of unnecessary pain for ourselves, and this is certainly true. I found myself anxious about an encounter I imagined would happen yesterday, with a person I have trouble getting along with. I did catch myself anticipating and put the brakes on. Now, if I could just get rid of those "night terrors" (anxious moments that like to dog me when I am relaxed and trying to fall asleep). I think the rational mind goes to sleep, and the irrational mind takes over.

So today during my quick little in-truck meditation, there was a horrid fly that landed on my hand. (Did you catch the reactive part of that?) It was stimulating every little hair on my hand as it rapidly crawled around, and I could hardly stand it! But part of the meditative practice, Gil says, is just experiencing life in the present moment without reacting. We may have the luxury of living right now without any real-life crises or drama, so we practice for when we will have something big to take on. And, too, the person who can tame their reactive mind is able to take on so much more work that is of real value to the world, as I've mentioned before, because the little things (the fight with my son or the problem at work or the wart on my toe, etc. etc.) fade away to reveal what is really important. That is how it is supposed to work, anyhow.

I really don't want to ever read that last post of mine again, by the way. But when all that bubbles up, it has to go somewhere, so it came here to my blog to live. There's more where that came from that will have to be written here at some point. But I have dinner to cook and a concert to attend tonight! The expression, "Saved by the bell," comes to mind. Did you know that meditation traditionally ends with the ringing of a bell?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A prophetic dream

Boy, I miss coming here. I think about it during the day, and then I'm tired in the evening. This Disciple Bible study I am taking has a lot of durn reading, which I knew it would. Out of the Bible, no less.

Good thing I wrote down this dream or it would be long gone, not that I'm in the mood NOW to write about it. But I did promise, and a promise is a promise, right? Writers can't always just dash off the things they feel like writing about at any particular moment. There is, heavy sigh, discipline involved in actually being a decent writer. No fun, once again! (Actually, it's still a lot of fun.)

Cyndi, don't read this while on your lovely Disney World vacation! I wish I were there!!

Oh yes, the dream. People were sitting around tables at a festivity or party, in a conference room sort of place probably in a hotel, since these were visitors. These people had just finished committing atrocities out in the wilds of Africa someplace. They were all white and spoke with British accents (ha, ha). They had gone through the native villages and systematically slaughtered people out there, and they were not even aware of the enormous suffering and waste of human life they had caused. Here they were, belly up to the bar, ready to have a great big party, so proud of themselves for "cleaning out the garbage" or something of that sort.

I was there as the big party pooper, and I went up to one table and started explaining to these people what they had done. You have killed all these people. They are gone forever. Their villages are marred by your violence. Their children are orphans and will forever have nightmares of seeing their parents die. I saw these smiling, laughing faces of these totally unaware people going serious as I spoke. I was talking to two ladies about it, who at first were laughing and giggling, but then had a slight dawning of comprehension that something was wrong. Very wrong.

This place where the killing happened was a tropical jungle with lots of wild animals, wild trees, a river, those jungly vines that Mowgli used to swing through (now who wrote that story?). That story was set somewhere in Asia (had to Google to check for sure, but the presence of Shere Khan the tiger really nails that location as not Africa) -- but this dream was in Africa, so just stay with me on that. It was totally the "Heart of Darkness" come alive. The horror! The horror!

So this dream has many obvious parallels to today's world that do not need to be belabored, much. The really sad thing is that atrocities are happening, somewhere in the world, right now. And now. And now. ... The fashionable thing in the Congo and elsewhere these days is to rape all the women and girls. And we Americans are like those party-goers, if not directly responsible, for sure directly irresponsible and unaware.

So just be a little bit more aware in your daily life of how fortunate, very fortunate, are those of us who will never live in a war zone, never know daily hunger, never be without a home, never see a child raped or dead of a preventable disease or malnutrition. This is heavy handed, but it needs to be. Because if every one on earth were truly tuned in to all this suffering, how could it possibly continue and escalate? I don't think it could.

The dream was somewhat unlike reality because it is more common for people from the same geographic region, but with political or ethnic or religious differences, to slaughter one another. Inotherwords, neighbors murdering neighbors is more common than people coming from far away, which is more typical of a declared war between/among countries -- when it's nothing personal. Jesus really meant it when he said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." How much better off the world would be if everyone did, or even tried to.

So, 29+12 school supply kits on their way to Iraq! I do feel good about that. This was an effort made possible by the generous donations of people at my church and by the Wilson County News.

A postscript on a lighter note (desperately needed): When I am away from home, I can never locate my own blog. I just can't remember exactly what the URL is, and of course it does not pop up under any searches I've been able to conjure. It's almost like it is not really there at all, except on my home computer. Hmmm. I need to write down the URL in my portable events schedule. So this leads to the enormous philosophical quandary: if I can't even find myself, how will anybody else? Lost: blog. Posted by a supremely generic name on a huge number of topics. If you find it, please e-mail or FB or text or something!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Blaaaaaaahs

That's what I have got. Not the flu, not even a bad cold, so I should be grateful! But the blaaaaahs make it hard to do much. I don't even feel like writing here. And there's no medicine that really effectively knocks out the blaaaaaaahs; even caffeine has its limits.

Here's what I need to do today: calculate how many more school supply packs I can buy with the $200 donated (including postage) to ship to Iraq next week, and go out and buy them. Call that pencil pack place and see if it plans to ship those zipper pouches so they will arrive before Sunday. Finish the laundry, clean the house, see the dermatologist, pick up the kids, etc.

What I want to do? Sitting here is OK. Lying in bed would be better.

Yesterday, it was decidedly worse. My sinus passages had a major attack of the drips and the blechy yellowish boogers, the ones that TV commercials love to make into giant, oozing monsters. (Would that be boogers or buggers?) And yesterday was a Monday in every sense of the word: rough day at work, long meeting in the evening, no rest for the weary.

Today, I hardly feel congested, just tired with an aching throat. I am grateful I have dodged the flu and any major colds for now, I really am. But it would have been so lovely, this coolish morning, to go run and feel the wind of that "norther" that took the temperature just below 70 for a bit. Instead, here I sit on the brink of being sick, again.

The meditation practice has created enough space in my life to allow me to take on the project of buying school supply packs to ship to Iraq. I hardly have the space, but I realize I really do. And so there will be about 4 dozen school supply kits, maybe more (gotta run the numbers and find the pencil pouches). A dozen donated by the WCN, a few from me, the rest from the Floresville UMC. I did the running around to buy everything, and I will need to finish it early next week and mail it all off.

When I sit in meditation (not every day), I smile when I realize that I need to do everything I possibly can to encourage children to get educated, here and the world over. This is my special project, and I believe it is key to solving every problem we have, from the environment to war and poverty. I thank God for this revelation. It is precious to me. I thank God for putting so many people around the world to work on this issue, people far more dedicated and worthy than me, people like Greg Mortenson, the man who wrote "Three Cups of Tea."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How health insurance is disturbing my inner peace

So I have to make this relate to spirituality, this hours-long fight I had today with my insurance companies (at least 3 of them) to cover the cost of my mammogram.

This is how it feels to fight with your insurance company, I mean companies, to cover a basic preventive procedure: tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, and achiness in the back. (So my back always feels that way? Today, it's THEIR fault.)

I discovered our new PRIVATE health insurance has a smorgasbord of companies and phone numbers on the back of the card. About seven numbers, to be exact. So I can't really explain who my insurance is with. Guardian? HealthLink? PHCS? I'm terribly confused. One company pays the claims. Another decides what is in-network. Yet another, what is in-network for the extended PPO plan. Another does lab procedures. They don't talk back and forth. You can only ask one sort of question at each number, and then decide on your own what number you need to call to actually get assistance. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the convoluted way my insurance plan works, or doesn't, today.

We also have four insurance cards: one each for medical, dental, labwork, and pharmacy.

So I finally figured out the correct phone number to call, and the magic words to use, to have them re-evaluate the claim. The magic words, for me, were "PHCS Extended PPO." All of a sudden, they agreed to re-process the claim, just like that. It was as miraculous as clicking my heels three times and chanting, "There's no place like home ..." and being back in Kansas again. Next time, I'll start by saying those three little words and see what happens.

So forgive me if I don't exactly understand why a government health plan is the new bogeyman. How could it possibly be any worse or more convoluted than the private coverage my family has?

And death panels? Oh, that woman, the damage she did with her wicked tongue before she resigned as Alaska governor. Don't get me started!

I watched my mother die in the ICU in a hospital, and my mother-in-law die here in our home. For myself, I would greatly prefer the latter option if it were possible, even if my life were shortened by a few days or weeks. It's about quality as much as anything else when the end is inevitable. The cost difference is at least tens of thousands of dollars, for one person.

For everyone who is terrified of consulting anybody, much less a professional, about end-of-life care: You're still not getting out of here alive, whether you want to make a will and a medical directive or not. You will probably live longer than generations before you did, and you may not want expensive, heroic measures to prolong your life. You may wish to die at home, without tubes sticking out of every orifice, being force-fed with a stomach tube, or with a machine breathing for you.

Or, you may wish to be hospitalized and have every possible procedure performed. But do you really want medical professionals to make this decision, instead of you and your loved ones? The medical professionals will always choose the heroic, expensive measures. They will work to keep you alive, even if you have dementia or your body is riddled with cancer, if your family does not stop them.

But people are so terrified of the mere thought of dying that they don't want to confront any of those issues.

End-of-life care can be extremely expensive and not at all helpful for the patient. Do you really think CPR is appropriate on a 90-something person with heart failure? Maybe you do, but shouldn't you have the right to decide for yourself and/or your immediate family?

Attitude toward the end of life is a spiritual issue. If you know that you have an eternal spirit; if your religious tradition tells you that life hereafter is a precious treasure that is too beautiful to even conceive of; if you have made peace with your loved ones, you should not be terrified of death. Some fear of the unknown is only human, but this complete avoidance of the issue of human mortality is just silly.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nothing terribly profound

Thanks to Steven Curtis Chapman for the title. Just the artist making a quick, rough sketch of something. What form will it take? What is waiting in this unshaped rock to be exposed by a well-placed chisel?

Meditation invites emptiness, silence. When there is this increasing space within, many things become possible. God, most of all. God is subtle. He does not typically bang down the door but stands and waits. This description is probably not Buddhist, by the way. Buddhism does not quite embrace God as a separate, supernatural being. But as I am a relative stranger to Buddhism, I hedge my bets here.

I probably fail to comprehend Buddhism's insistence on being apart from all emotions, positive or negative. I think life is difficult enough that joy deserves to be entered into completely, without reservations, when it surfaces.

My dog brought me joy today when she came and gave a gentle tap on my elbow with her wet nose, just checking in while I sat in meditative pose. Dogs are wonderful at bringing that quick, delightful energy of joy. I delight in hearing the signs of life around me while I meditate. Not mosquitos buzzing, mind you, which Gil mentions as a potential meditative object for monks who sit outdoors in Eastern countries. I refer to my indoor pets, Scout and Mimi, and the birdsong from outside that I generally can hear.

Meditation takes us back to a more childlike state where we are completely in the present moment. That is why children are so close to God and so precious. They live naturally, exuberantly here and now. As Andrew says, growing up does not look like a lot of fun compared to that!

Most grownups take on so many cares and worries. Once people become aware of all the problems in the world, it is hard to let them go. Although, lots of people I see create so many problems of their own making that they just don't have time for all the real issues out there. It seems like everyone ought to be carrying the real problems around. Jesus did say, "bear my cross," didn't he? He also said that he came that we might live life to the fullest measure. So which one is it, anyhow? Can I put that heavy thing down for a minute so I can live life fully?

I feel heavy in my own body after meditation. Grounded, in gravity. I feel as though I am attached to the entire Earth and nothing could move me from this place where I sit. I physically slow down. I couldn't possibly do anything quickly, within a few minutes of meditating. I am grooving on Andrew time, for a little while. I am like the surfer turtle in Nemo, riding a current, Duuuude! Duuuude! (Sorry, can't think of his name. It's a quick one-syllable bite of a name.)

The thoughts are harder to tame. They are like the hummingbirds I often hear. They flit around for a while, before perhaps settling down or fading to the background. That part is hard for me, the great thinker.

I have a dream to relate, in another post. Oh, goody! Something to look forward to!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Two children, two worlds

P.S. to last post: Austin got his learner's permit about a week later! By the way, I should have explained that teenagers speak a language that is mostly incomprehensible to adults, particularly parents. You may not have been around a teenager recently and so may have forgotten that handy fact. That explains why I had trouble understanding Austin on the phone, and why I didn't try harder to get him to clarify. That is an exercise in futility. Mumble-grum-mum-mm-bub-Mom! is the usual reply, growled in a deep voice.

A little about my other son, Andrew. What an interesting child. Andrew is in the unfortunate position, I believe, of living in a giant shadow cast by his over-achieving big brother, Austin, who seems to excel at everything he does. Andrew idolizes Austin, which doesn't help, because he wants to do everything that Austin does. He hasn't found his own niche, yet.

Andrew just crossed the threshold to teenagerdom, too, but for long before that, he has lived in a world of his own creation. (Now who does that sound like?) He can be doing what looks like absolute "nothing" to the untrained eye, but lots is going on inside his head. Unfortunately, it's mostly incomprehensible and none of it seems to be of a practical nature. He's our little part-Einstein and part-Buddha, except perhaps without the genius/enlightened aspects. He is, however, inscrutible. I keep calling him "little" by habit although he's quickly approaching eye-to-eye level with me.

Andrew has been diagnosed with ADD, not that it really helps. It gives him this handy crutch, but I keep trying to tell him he still will have to learn to function in the real world, someday.

The mundane realities of daily life bore him, those things that Earthbound humans must contend with ... getting up and dressed, feeding the pets, eating breakfast, going to bed, or brushing his teeth, ever. Taking a shower is an opportunity for countless science experiments, or else just feeling the lovely warm water rush over his body. Actually, I have no idea what in God's name he does in there. We usually start noticing billowing steam clouds emanating from the back bathroom, and realize that Andrew must be still in the shower.

Then we begin shouting, "Get out now!" Me, Dwaine, Austin -- separately, or in unison. This is a Smith family ritual that is repeated whenever Andrew's in the bathroom, too. It's become a time-honored tradition. Somehow, we idealistically keep on believing that this time, it finally will work. We are starry-eyed in that belief. And I tremble to think what Andrew would do, or NOT do, if he didn't hear "Get out now!!" That is his cue to get started. Without it, days could pass.

One moment, please. It dawned on me that I've been hearing water running for quite some time now, and I recall telling Andrew it was time to take a shower an hour or so back. (He always says something like, "Is it time? Do I have to?")

We are Andrew's facilitators, though we are finally catching on to that fact and withdrawing from that role a little bit. We have been his timekeepers for a long, long time, since the whole concept of time seemed either totally beneath him or beyond his grasp. (I'm really not sure which.)

Andrew, it's time to get up! Time to eat! Time to feed the pets! And on, and on. Even when I would tell him it was "time to" over the summer, he would often go till midafternoon without eating, finishing chores, or getting dressed, on a regular basis. He just forgot. These things are not important aspects of his life.

Andrew is a master at placing blame elsewhere. He recently told me that he could never become a (something) when he grew up, because I wouldn't let him! Sorry, we both promptly forgot what exact profession it was. I tried explaining the whole concept of that growing-up business and how his life would be fully, completely HIS responsibility at that point. That didn't set too well with him. He is milking this youngest-child, baby of the family thing for all it's worth.

He recently said he didn't try out for football because I did not let Austin play football. I asked if he ever considered that things might have changed, and maybe he should have checked with me and Dad before making an assumption? No, he never considered that. Frankly, I would love for him to be excited about something besides playing with the dog.

I have learned to outsmart Andrew by physically not being present when he has certain obligations to meet. Can't blame Mom if she wasn't there! For example, Austin goes in for tennis before school. No one is home after we leave, and Andrew has to get himself up, dressed, and out to the bus. He's done amazingly well, considering he spends about 25 minutes lying in bed and about 10 rushing around the house getting ready. (I have seen him in action.)

I am submitting my pink slip. This is it, really. I resign as Andrew's manager, effective immediately. He will have to manage his own life. He and I have written a contract -- no, tell the truth, Mom! I wrote it out for him. He signed it. It is everything he is responsible for on a daily basis. Now, I didn't put all the obvious things like get dressed (shirt, underwear, shorts, socks, shoes) because that would have been information overload. I don't know if I even listed taking a shower, which I still prompt him to do every evening. But eating breakfast, homework, chores (spelled out), bedtime, brushing teeth, doing what Mom & Dad say, promptly -- they're all there. And amazingly, he has discovered granola bars, healthy ones even ("Mom's" granola bars, Kashi), and has been eating one faithfully every morning before running off to catch the bus! Go, Andrew!

Andrew missed his bedtime by 15-30 minutes for the first couple of weeks, because, ya know, it involves that really insignificant concept of TIME. But, he finally got it last night, after I started making his bedtime earlier as a consequence. He was in bed on the dot at 9:45, which was last night's absolute deadline. There is hope!

I love Andrew so, so much. He's the sweetest, most loving person. He can be a little devil, too, but then he smiles that dimply smile and melts your heart. I hope this entry does him justice!

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