Sunday, February 23, 2014

Small packages

Annie had her birthday party last night which consisted of eight giggly, bouncy girls coming over and eating pizza, doing crafts, making sundaes, watching movies and then...going to sleep. In theory.

Yes, it was a sleepover. Believe me, I did everything I could to talk her out of it.

Nevertheless, they did indeed all finally fall asleep (mainly because once I called "lights out" I sat downstairs in the dark and read a book on my Kindle so they would have to be quiet and sleep- it worked).

Because the party was on a Saturday night, that meant I still had to get up the next day and be ready to head to church right about the time all of the girls were going to be picked up. I told Annie in advance that she didn't need to go to church and could just stay and hang out at home since I assumed she would be tired after her big celebration. Superdad had to head out of town, so we enlisted big brother Jack to come home and stay with Annie until I could get back (another advantage of having your child choose a college five minutes from home).

All was going as planned and I was at church practicing with the choir when I saw Jack and Annie enter the front doors of the church. I wasn't sure if there had been a misunderstanding or what was going on? I caught Jack's eye and he pointed at Annie and shrugged. It was obvious she had insisted on being brought to church. So, there she was.

Later, when I asked her why she didn't just stay home, her answer was simple.

Because I wanted to go to church.

If you are not a church-going sort of family, that might not mean much to you. But for those of you who are, you know that is music to your ears.

I was raised in a small church and attended a small church in college, so any sort of mega-church was never going to be where I settled down as an adult. Small churches can have their limitations and challenges but I would maintain so do large ones. What we can do well in a small church are sometimes the things a large church struggles to do. In my view, one of our greatest strengths as a small church is our ability to forge connections.

On any given Sunday, one of our Kindergarten-age church members seeks out one of our oldest church members. They adore one another. Little C will spot her elder friend and immediately whisper to her mother and point, asking permission to leave their pew and go join Miss Kay. Permission is granted and she dashes over to Miss Kay's pew where she is welcomed with a hug.

Not long ago Annie was going on and on to my cousin about a friend of hers at church. She was telling my cousin that she dances for him and he loves it. My cousin raised her eyebrows at me. I laughed and informed her, "This little church friend of hers is 8 months old." She cracked up.

But it's true. Some of Annie's best friends at church are a chubby baby, a 5th grade girl, and a 29 year old woman who Annie tells me is "like an aunt" to her. Where else does that happen?

In our church children are routinely included in all aspects of the life of the church by adults of all ages. It is not uncommon for a group of children to spontaneously begin helping whomever is setting up for coffee hour before the worship service. They entertain babies in the narthex. They help pass the Offering. They read the liturgy. They participate in Communion.

As the Children's Ministry Director I sometimes feel torn in my mission and goals. Of course I love to see new children enter our doors and they are always welcomed with open arms. I pray daily that any searching family might find their way to our little church on the hill and feel at home here. But I will also admit there is a part of me that doesn't relish the idea of our numbers growing too large. I love the fact that I know every child in our church not only by name, but what school they go to, what activities they love, their favorite sport, and what makes them laugh.

Each Sunday, as children begin to arrive prior to the worship service, I am often still bustling around getting things ready, making copies, and mentally rehearsing my Children's Message. But there is scarcely a week that goes by that some child does not spot me, run toward me and say excitedly, "Miss Lori! Guess what?!?"

And I can't wait to hear, "what".

Blessings to all on this cold, rainy Sunday.

"You whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work."
~Henri Nouwen

Monday, February 17, 2014

Conceding defeat

Today we all enjoyed the extra day tacked onto our weekend. While some schools are celebrating the beginning of a week-long winter break, all of our kiddos will be returning to class tomorrow. So today was a welcome respite knowing tomorrow it will be back to business.

Just before lunchtime, Tim headed off with a friend to roam around downtown. As I began to wonder how the rest of us might spend the middle part of our day off, I heard a key turn in the front door and in walked that increasingly occasional visitor known as our eldest child.

Hey! What are you doing here?

He strolled in, iced Starbucks drink in hand, and proceeded to chatter on about how work was that weekend, how empty the dorm is on this long weekend, the highlights of a business school mixer he recently attended, the upcoming meeting about studying abroad that he's going to attend, the reason he needed to grab his shorts for some dorm floor competition, the great car he got to drive at work, how bad the food is this weekend because they know everyone is gone....and on and on and on...

And Annie and I both just stood there hanging on his every word.

Annie kept sidling up to him, wrapping her arms around his waist and squeezing him. Normally Jack has a pretty rock solid personal space bubble but he was being tolerant of her irrepressible affection. At one point I caught his eye and mouthed to him, "She misses you." At that he smiled amiably and magnanimously offered her a few friendly pats on the back and a small squeeze of her shoulders. She beamed.

After a bit he sat down at the computer so he could give us a visual of the best cars he had recently gotten to drive at work (he's a valet). Annie stood at his elbow and was either truly fascinated by all of his car talk or she was doing a darn good job acting like she was, because she didn't budge as he detailed all of the technical aspects of each car and had her listen to the sound of the different exhausts. I mean, really? But she didn't move a muscle and Jack just kept engaging her.

Jack: Annie, which one of these cars would you like to have someday?

Annie: (timidly) I think I like that one but I would want it to be blue.

Jack: Blue it is! Let's find you a blue one.

And she smiled with wonder as her big brother searched the Internet to find her the perfect car in the perfect shade of blue.

I was the one who thought maybe he should go farther away to school. I was the one who worried he wouldn't have a "college experience" if he didn't leave the city he grew up in. I was the one who thought there was something inherently problematic about being able to come home and do laundry and get a good meal every now and then.

I was wrong.

I was wrong on all counts. He is happy. He is having terrific experiences independent of us and home. It took some time but he has settled into his new life and is thriving. He made a good choice, a smart choice.

And today I realized something else. For the first time I really saw that by staying close to home, his much younger sister gets to continue to have her big brother as a physical presence in her life. That is no small blessing.

This is me, waving the white flag of surrender admitting now and for all time that I WAS WRONG. For Jack's sake, for Annie's, for his longterm career goals, for the sake of his beloved car that he would have had to leave behind...I will admit that Jack's intuition was right and mine was wrong.

And maybe, just maybe...I get something out of this, too.

Because I'll admit it, when he suddenly shows up at our front door with his bag of laundry and his colorful tales to tell, I always hope he might have at least two loads of washing and drying to do.... just so he will have to stay a little bit longer.

Monday, February 10, 2014


Years ago, when the boys were young, and I had just gone ten rounds with Timothy's superior circular reasoning as to why whatever it was I was mad at him about was completely justified/unjustified, I overheard the following conversation between my two sons:

Jack: I don't get it. Why don't you just apologize?

Tim: For what?

Jack: For whatever you did.

Tim: What did I do?

Jack: Whatever mom says you did that was wrong! 

Tim: I didn't do anything wrong.

Jack: But mom thinks you did and if you just apologize it will be OVER!

Tim: I'd be happy to apologize if I did anything wrong, but I didn't. So I won't.

Jack: Alright. But that is not the direction I would go.

I can't even remember anymore what it was that Timothy did that was wrong (he was probably being argumentative) but what I do remember is their conversation actually made me smile. It reminded me of two things; 1) My boys are SO different, and 2) They have a relationship that is separate from their shared role as our sons, they are brothers.

Over the years, I watched that brotherly friendship grow and change but it wasn't until they were in high school that I truly came to realize something. They were not only brothers, they were allies. And, every once in awhile, their common enemy was me.

Let me explain.

When Tim entered high school, Jack was a senior and thus drove them both to school. They had a 30 minute drive to and from school each day in which they sat side by side and presumably spoke words to each other occasionally. Their school is not gigantic and without a doubt they frequently saw one another in the hallways, at lunch and at school gatherings. During one term they even had an art class together and I came to find out later that most days they sat at the same large table together during said class. Jack would often give rides to Tim to and from his friend's houses and, again, I'm assuming that sometimes during those car rides they spoke to one another.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Are you getting that during that one year they had together in high school they actually spent quite a lot of time together? Yes?

Uh huh, but here is how conversations would go when every now and then I would try to innocently inquire about one brother to the other.

Me: Soooo....(casually) do you know if your brother is asking anyone to the dance?

Son: (without making eye contact) What? I don't know. Why would I know?

Me: Oh, I don't know I just thought maybe he would have said something to you?

Son: Me? Why me?

Me: Because you're his brother and you spend an hour together in the car everyday and you see him at school and I just thought that maybe you might know a little something about what goes on in his life?

Son: Nope.


They know. They always know. They just won't tell me!!!

As infuriating as it was not to be able to get them to turn on one another and be the proper little spies I wanted them to be, I eventually had to admit (begrudgingly) that their loyalty was admirable. While I would have liked to have had a steady stream of information on their lives, and thought I might have been able to bribe at least one of them into being my informant, their tight-lipped, unyielding "know-nothing" schtick was commendable. I guess.

Not that they would ever admit there is a secret alliance between them. I mean, that's the whole point of a secret alliance, right? Nobody is supposed to know. And I've mentioned before that as amiable as my boys are with one another they would roll their eyes and immediately start punching each other if someone tried to suggest they are "friends". But as someone who has tried multiple interrogation tactics and hasn't been able to get one of them to break, there is no doubt some sort of unspoken non-aggression, mutual-defense treaty is in place.

But every now and then one of them lets something slip. Nothing that would qualify as top secret information or critical intelligence, but more of an unmistakable quiet admission that the alliance does in fact exist.

Jack was home doing laundry the other day and started to laugh about something he read on his phone. I inquired as to what was so funny and in an unguarded moment he just chuckled, shook his head and muttered,

Oh, it's just Tim....

And that was all I got. But it was enough. It was enough to know that even now that Jack lives out of the house and goes to college and has taken the concept of secret life to a whole new level, he is still in touch with his brother. And they are still making each other laugh.

That's all I got. But I'll take it.

Long live the alliance. (But I'm still hoping I can get one of them to crack...)

(Can't you see how cagey they can be?)