Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Trick-or-Treat Safari

We all dressed up this year for Halloween, with our safari family costumes. Neighbors repeatedly said we were the best ensemble costume they saw all night, and best of all, I didn't pay a cent for any of it!

Claire wore the monkey costume Kate wore in 2009. Kate wore the leopard costume my mom made for me back in 1985. And Matt and I borrowed the British colonial helmets from his parents.

Matt even shaved his chin to complete the "jolly good" look. He carried his pipe and I made him a monocle out of a clear plastic water bottle cap. We took the wagon, but Kate ran energetically from door to door, saying "Happy Halloween!" and "Trick or Treat!" I'm glad she got so into it. And she sweetly made sure that Claire got candy at each house too.

We stayed out a long time, and it was really fun to see the neighborhood buzzing with people. We should have block parties or something to get everybody out more! Some preteen boys took all the candy we left out in a bowl (I know this because we were only at the next house when they did it!) but that's okay because I didn't buy the really good stuff, and at least a quarter of the bowl was last year's leftover candy that has sat in our pantry all year ;0) So joke's on you, kids.
These kiddos got a reasonable amount of candy, which I'm sure will last us all year again!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Katemelia Bedelia

Remember Amelia Bedelia, the housekeeper of children's literature fame who takes everything literally? They're such funny books because they tap into this difficult shift children must make in learning turns of phrase that don't mean how they sound!

Kate has demonstrated this literal-mindedness a few times, quite preciously. Consider the following:

Me: "Kate, hang on a minute. I need to hop in the shower real quick."
Kate: "No! You WALK in a shower!"

Me: "I need to run back upstairs real quick."
Kate, seeing me walking: "That's not running. Mommy, THIS is how you run!"

Me: "This song is called 'Lean On Me.'"
Kate: "That's not a good idea. Somebody could get hurt."

Me: "That car is broken down."
Kate: "It's broken? Can they fix it with tape?"
Me: "Looks like the battery is dead."
Kate: "Cars have batteries? Can they put in new batteries?"
Me: "They'll just jump it."
Kate: "Oh. So after they jump on the car, the battery will work again?"

Finally, today on the drive home from church, Kate started singing that kids Bible song, "Be careful little eyes what you see / ears what you hear / feet where you go," etc. I asked her what that song meant, but she didn't know. So I told her, with the example of "Be careful little mouth what you say," how when bad things come out of your mouth, they can hurt people and you can't take them back.
Me: "What sort of bad things can come out of your mouth?"
Kate: "SPIT!"

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Project Life Monthly (belated Spring)

Much of my scrapbooking this year has been in the form of monthly recap spreads. I've been good about keeping up with my photos and scrapping, but lax in sharing them on the blog. (Here was January-March.) I'm caught up through August, but haven't done September yet since I've been busy making Claire's first "birthday book"—the recap-of-the-year photobook I make for the girls for each birthday. (Her first birthday is less than two weeks away!)

Today, I'm sharing April and May. My albums go chronologically, so if I do any "traditional" 12x12 pages, they go in the book at the proper spot between the monthly collage-style Project Life pages. You'll see a couple of those below, and it's not really just either/or, since I sometimes use the Project Life divided pages for "regular" scrapbooking too!

April featured two Easter egg hunts and other springtime fun. Claire turned five months, so I included her belly sticker and some milestone updates, like I do every month. Kate was just learning to write her name, so I included a 6x12 showing her letter-writing and a "footprint butterfly" she watercolored.

 Extra happenings that month included Kate's swingset acrobatics, Claire learning to creep, and meeting up with "blog friends" Kim and Kristen.

 I also included pages highlighting Kate's love of her Memory game and her weekly gymnastics class.

May's highlight was our beach vacation, so that got a few pages of its own (not to mention a whole Shutterfly photobook!). May's main collage page explained how the month was pretty much divided into "preparing for the beach," "the beach," and "wishing we were still at the beach." Matt and I went to a Derby party, and I included a shot of a typical morning in our house, the girls playing on the floor of our room while we get ready.

Lastly, our friends Lisa and Jim visited from California for Memorial Day weekend. I regret that the brackets make Lisa appear to have horns, but the whole sheet captures their fun visit, including the mini-reunion for late-90s grads of Brentwood High, where Matt and Lisa became friends.

What a blast from the past to share these now! Late as it may be, though, I like to share my scrapbooking when I can, and I'm linking up today with The Mom Creative's Project Life Tuesday. If I share a month each Tuesday, I'll catch up to myself by Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Home Mission Field

AKA, The Rest of My Foster Care Calling Story

I mentioned when sharing about my calling to foster care that there was even more back story than I initially realized, with things I now see as stepping stones on the way to this moment. Let me start ten or so years ago . . .

Ever since being awakened in college to the notion that the Christian life wasn’t just all about me and my relationship with God but about serving others as Jesus did—feeding the poor, clothing the naked, sacrificing myself for the good of others—I was “ruined for life,” as my favorite religion professor said. Over time, I’ve learned a little more what he meant. The conviction that loving Jesus meant loving those who have the least and suffer the most carries the burden, then, of doing something. And as life grew busier in adulthood and I found less time and energy to volunteer at the homeless shelter or teach ESL classes, like I did in college, I felt more weighed down by feelings of pressure and guilt that I was not doing enough. Not to “earn salvation,” or anything like that, but to do what God wanted.

I had this feeling that to be a true follower of Jesus, I would have to sell everything I had and move to Africa.

I laughed at myself when I would say this, knowing I was generalizing with this drastic example (though as Matt mentioned in his sermon last Sunday, we actually did know some people who did actually sell everything and move to Africa!) but I still found it odd that people would laugh when I said things like “I want to serve the poor.” Didn’t every Christian feel this way? (I was so glad to hear Jenny Youngman, a former colleague of mine, turned singer-songwriter, articulate this same thing about “moving to Africa.” I can’t wait for her next album, to be called “The Girl with the Good Intentions,” inspired by such similar feelings to what I’ve experienced.)

The inadequacy I felt over not taking such a radical step contributed to the spiritual malaise that has marked much of my last 7-8 years. I felt frustrated, had trouble worshiping, and felt like I was all talk and no action. A “girl with good intentions,” indeed. Sometimes Matt asked me point-blank: “Do you feel called to move to Africa?” No, I didn’t, but that was beside the point, I thought. Maybe it wasn’t Africa, but surely we had to go somewhere hard, somewhere far from my comfortable, American, middle-class life.

About two years ago, in September 2010, I went on a silent retreat for a weekend. I’d been navigating the aforementioned spiritual malaise for several years by that point, and Matt and I were in a difficult place. Kate was a toddler then, and while she brought great joy, the stresses of living in Clarksville—a place where we never really “fit,” an hour away from my work and where we wanted to be—were great. I went on the retreat seeking peace, guidance, and personal revival.

I took a large sketchbook to serve as my journal for the weekend. Earlier in life, I’d spent hours drawing in my free time. I hadn’t done it in a while, and had been feeling the urge. The image in my mind that I was itching to get out was of Kate and me, several years into the future. She was sitting at the kitchen counter, doing homework and chatting with me while I made dinner—a replication of my mom and I from my own childhood. Visible in the scene are toys and a backpack on the floor, a decorative cross on the wall, and a family portrait on the shelf.

The spiritual director on this retreat encouraged us to reflect on Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

As I read those words, and doodled them in my sketchbook, I asked myself, “what are my burdens?”

“The mission,” I wrote first, thinking of this pressure I felt to serve the poor and change the world. My anger, pride, and other life frustrations were further down the list. Praying, as the spiritual director advised, for God to lighten the burdens we identified, I said, “God, take the mission.”

At that very moment—I kid you not—a breeze swept through the monastery courtyard where I was sitting, and whipped the page where I had listed these burdens up to reveal the sketch of my home and family on the next page. It was clear in that moment: my home is my mission field.

I certainly don’t mean that in a June Cleaver sort of way, like I could only serve God as a homemaker and should leave the world’s problems to the men, the single people, or the childless people. But it calmed my soul to realize that a) for this stage of my life at least, I had enough to handle without trying to solve global poverty, and b) I needed to start smaller. I was so burdened by the big picture, I was overlooking the ministry opportunities that I encountered every day.

This was a message I now realize I’d heard several times, but I was still so determinedly farsighted. It was even part of the bishop’s homily at our wedding! I tried to remind myself of this in a blog post I wrote on our anniversary four years ago. Bishop Pennel spoke on Joshua 24, like we asked (“As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. . .”) but said we serve God by loving one another well. What a cop-out, I thought! But as I wrote four years ago:

“Loving one another well is a prerequisite for any other good we can do in the world. Why is that? Because unhappiness breeds self-centeredness. When the relationship is struggling and one or both parties is unhappy, we cannot get outside ourselves enough to focus on others and the service to which God calls us.”

I easily forget lessons I’ve learned, though, and this retreat revelation two years ago helped me be a little better to Matt, and lightened the heavy yoke I felt, but it still didn’t all come together.

This last winter/spring, my Lenten practice was to choose the Bible over the computer in the mornings and do some more reading and prayer-sketching. I am really not good with spiritual disciplines. I talk to God a lot, but I’m not good about sitting down and devoting specific time to devotions. I joke that I need to “give up Lent for Lent,” but I muddled through this time, seeking guidance from God regarding my continuing malaise. I began to wrestle more with my pride, my ambition, my need for affirmation, and I began to get a sense I was being prepared for something. I felt a sense of anticipation, and assumed that whatever I was being prepared for would become apparent very soon.

“Very soon” is relative, I guess, since I was very impatient and felt frustrated when Easter passed and summer came with no clear leading, and I forgot the feeling of preparation I’d had during my Lenten prayers. I see in retrospect that it wasn’t too long after that that foster care kept coming back to mind and I felt more of a tugging and leading to “act now,” as I described in my earlier post about this calling.

But I didn’t connect the two until just recently. There are so many things I can see in retrospect. I had the opportunity this past summer to travel abroad with a mission organization. I was very frustrated that it didn’t work out, but as it turned out, I would have missed our last week of PATH class (our foster-care training) had I gone on that trip. I could have made up the class, but the juxtaposition of missions far from and close to home was interesting. Looking further back, I had a couple other “coincidences” with foreign mission trips two years ago, and the overall picture being painted for me is a fascinating one. I think even the aforementioned retreat that was so significant to me coincided with another trip I ended up not taking.

Yes indeed, my mission is in my home. I joke that fostering makes sense because I’m lazy and introverted. Rather than leaving home to go to Africa, I’ll just bring the people in need to my own home! As the saying goes, “If Mohammed can’t go to the mountain, the mountain will come to him.” If I can’t go to the mission field, the mission field will come to me.

I’m very self-conscious in writing about all this, because I don’t want anyone else to feel that pressure I’d felt all these years. I do believe we are all called to care for people in need (as a biblical mandate and, really, just plain human decency) but how we do that varies. And if you’re called to do something specific, you’ll know. Don’t assume that just because someone else fosters—or moves to Africa!—that you should too.

A heart filled with peace and love is far more useful to God and people than one burdened by stress. Live your life. Love God. Love people. The rest w
ill follow.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Chianti and Crafts

I'm bummed that my favorite month is already half over. Fall just got here and I feel like it's flying by already! Yesterday was Matt's and my sixth anniversary. We celebrated Saturday night with a nice dinner out at a fancy Italian restaurant—caprese, bread, bottle of Chianti, pasta, dessert, cappuccino . . . multiply that by ten days and it will be obvious why we gained about 15 pounds on our Italian honeymoon!

We spent dinner doing what we usually do on dates—me asking random "get to know you" type questions and Matt playing along. A few I came up with the other night:

If you took a round-the-world trip with five stops, what five places would you visit?
If you could magically endow our children with one character trait, what would it be?
If you could magically solve one of the world's problems, which would it be?

Yesterday, during our precious few hours at home between morning church and evening church, Kate and I did two fun fall projects, both of which I'd pinned a while ago on my Fabulous Fall board.

We made pumpkin hats by painting paper bowls and gluing on a wine cork stem (see, we drank that Chianti for the kids ;), paper leaf and raffia ribbon. Kate wanted to paint hers green, rather than orange, but when it came time to model them, she wanted the orange one.

 Claire seems to enjoy putting on and taking off either of them.

We also made Candy Corn Cookies, which were really fun to make. Kate was constantly asking when she could lick the beaters, but once the dough was done and that was out of the way, she enjoyed pressing each layer down into the pan.

I should have used a smaller, deeper pan so the cookies would be bigger, but they are really cute, little bite-sized cookies.

The weekend was over far too quickly, but we had a lot of fun. Hope you did too!

On Christian Celebrity

I got a copy of this book recently—Embracing Obscurity: Becoming Nothing In Light of God's Everything. I was immediately fascinated because it was written anonymously! A book from a major publisher (Broadman-Holman, the Southern Baptist imprint) with a major marketing campaign around it (ironic, in a way) . . . and NO BIG NAME to help promote it. That's kind of the point, but in this day when you have to have a platform to even get published, I was simply intrigued. It tapped into things I'd been thinking about and personally wrestling with, so I wrote the following for Ministry Matters.

In college, there was a group I thought of as “the elite Christian crew.” They were the cool kids active in the bigger campus ministries at our formerly-Baptist liberal arts college. The guys wore Birkenstocks or flip-flops and some had longish hair and maybe a goatee. They were trying to look like Jesus, I hypothesized, with their sandals and suburban-hippie vibe.

They were great people, as far as I was aware, serious about their faith, and genuine in their desire to bring others into the fold. But they were still kind of a clique, and I wondered to myself at the irony of “popular Christians.” Among the general strata of "big men" and "big women" on campus, some were very religious and others weren’t; it wasn’t really the concept of Christians being well-known or holding campus leadership positions that seemed odd, but the idea that among the community of faith there would be a cream-of-the-crop that others couldn’t seem to touch seemed out of place for followers of someone as humble and egalitarian as Jesus.

Fast forward ten years and I work in “the biz.” Not Hollywood, not country music, but the religion biz. Christian media. And there is another elite Christian crew. There are celebrity pastors and mega-bloggers, and all those worship leaders and other cool kids still recovering from last week’s Catalyst conference. These days, it can feel as if “success” in ministry depends not just on love of God, love of people, and the ability to help those people connect to that God—but on coolness. On celebrity.

It can feel like the people who are really making a difference must be those with the overflowing auditoriums for all three Sunday morning services, or those whose books are hitting bestseller lists and being discussed in small groups nationwide, those with thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook fans.

Comparing ourselves to these “celebrity Christians” can spark feelings of inadequacy, defensiveness, resentment, cynicism, and misplaced ambition. They rear their ugly (green, monster-ish?) heads when we compare blog readership, worship attendance numbers, relative hipness of our worship style or personal fashion, compliments after the service, or even something as simple as “likes” on a Facebook status.

I was struck by the following confession I recently read in a book:

“I had taken pride in getting responses to witty things I’d post or compliments from long-lost acquaintances about my beautiful family or my relative 'success' in life.”

Reminds me of that tree falling in the woods. If something interesting happens to us and we don’t announce it on Facebook, did it really happen? Or worse, if we announce that interesting thing but no one else seems to find it interesting, was it really interesting? It’s no longer just my mother giving feedback on every element of my life and influencing my self-esteem—it’s 400 virtual acquaintances.

It’s easier than ever for our self-worth to be determined externally, and we find ourselves craving and chasing after the affirmation of people we don’t really even know.

Read the rest on Ministry Matters

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Walkin' Bear

Walkin' bear . . . walkin' bear walks . . . any other bear stops and talks . . . but the walkin' bear walks . . .

Don't know why I feel compelled to adapt and sing that James Taylor song, but nonetheless, we have a walking Claire-Bear on our hands!
Yep, she took her first steps Monday night while we were all hanging around the kitchen making dinner. Still no more than two or three steps at a time, but it's such a milestone. Here's the video we got of her second set of steps:

Must be tiring for a little bear, learning to walk, because her teacher sent us these photos today of her napping at school. Don't know how it happened, but she fell asleep leaning against the clear side of her crib!

Hark! If you listen closely to the plexiglass wall, you can hear the ocean. No, wait, that's just my little buddy Dylan snoring the next crib over!

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Autumn Delights

I love everything about fall—the cooler weather, the changing leaves, tomato soup and grilled cheese, getting out my extensive collection of fall decor, pumpkin-flavored everything—the list goes on. This weekend, though, I've been delighted by various other fall-related things that aren't so ubiquitous.

My Kids' Art

I walked through the door Friday afternoon to see this propped atop the fridge.

On top of the fridge was the proper place for this bit of school-made preciousness because already displayed there was this fun bit of handprint art Kate and I did a few weeks ago at home. (I love how some of the ghosts even seem to have noses and mouths!)

And speaking of footprints, the great swingset project continues with the groundcover/mulching phase, to which I owe these great man-sized muddy prints across the kitchen floor.

Autumn Attire

When Kate was a baby and I was an even more avid eBay shopper, I bought a fabulous 24-piece lot of fall clothes from Gymboree, size 6-12 months. (I remember calculating it was about $300 worth of clothes and shoes, and my winning bid was about $25.) Kate's wardrobe for her first fall is still among my favorite clothes in our growing collection, and now it's Claire's turn to wear those great fall outfits. Like this denim jumper and orange shirt:

And some new additions, which the girls wore to church today. For Kate, a black jumper embroidered with little pumpkins (courtesy of Granna's consignment shopping), and for Claire, a smocked bishop with pumpkins and fall leaves in the yoke.

I love dresses like this but refuse to pay full price for them! I bought this one for 75% off around Christmastime last year! (Fancy Easter dresses of this style, I've bought on eBay—I highly recommend it!)

Fun Firsts

When it comes to kids, even fairly mundane things are notable when it's the first time. Today, each of our girls had one.

Kate's first caramel apple. She really wasn't sure how to tackle the thing, but after I did the first bite to give her a starting point, she enjoyed it. She was surprised to discover there was actually an apple inside. I don't know if that's because I'd billed the item as a dessert, so fruit came as a shock, or whether she thought "candy apple" was kind of like "gummy bear"—shaped like it but not actually the thing? I don't know.

And Claire had her first wagon ride. I was worried she would try to climb out, but she did not. She sat on the floor of the wagon (rather than the seat opposite Kate) and just leaned on the side, watching things go by. Kate and I played a game of spotting trees that were starting to get a hint of yellow or red.

So that was our weekend. I hope you had a good one too.
What's something fall-y you did this weekend?

Saturday, October 06, 2012

My Calling to Foster Care

When people ask how we came to the decision to become foster parents, there is a story I tell. I've realized in the last month or so, though, that there is even more back story than I realized at first. It’s something that has been brewing and building in puzzle pieces so tiny and incremental that I did not recognize the picture being formed until it was far along.

I'll tell that tale another day. But for now, let me start just a couple years ago, at the point when fostering first came to my conscious mind.

Ministry puts a pastor with people in some of their lowest, scariest moments. I wouldn't know this personally, but being the ornery pastor's wife I am (the ornery wife, not the ornery pastor) I witness the burdens Matt carries for others when he walks through the door. A few years ago, Matt walked with a family during a particularly rough patch in which the county was considering removing an infant from the family's home. Matt was asked if we would consider taking the child for the weekend until everything could be sorted out.

Kate was a baby then as well, so we had all the necessary gear, and Matt figured I would be agreeable, but of course he called me at work to make sure. Without hesitation, I said yes.

In the end, they managed to find a solution that did not require taking the baby into custody, but that day's events planted a seed for me—one that grew virtually undetected for the next couple years.

I remember talking with friends in fairly vague terms about how Matt and I were considering foster care . . . sometime . . . in the future . . . when our own kids were a little bigger. But since moving back to Nashville last year, and even since having Claire, I started to have a growing feeling that the time was not far off. The time was now.

Matt and I kept talking about it, but reasons to wait were so obvious. Our own kids aren't even school-aged yet. We plan to have another biological child at some point. We both work full time and we're just plain busy! But the feeling persisted for me, and became deafeningly clear when Matt preached a sermon in May or June about the Israelites' exile and return. Before the fall of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah bought land in Israel, even when it was clear that the Babylonians would soon invade and his purchase would be worthless. When the exile was over, Nehemiah took charge in the rebuilding of Jerusalem even though he wasn't trained for that and there were countless reasons to leave the task to someone else. We act in faith in spite of practical concerns, sometimes. And I felt we needed to at least take the first step of attending an info session about fostering.

I told Matt how his sermon spoke to me, and his response was a half-serious, "damn; I guess I have to practice what I preach!"

We prayed together and filled out the online interest form to at least dip our toes in. When I got a call from a social worker a week or so later, I learned that the "info session" is really just the first night of a seven-week course that leads to your home study and certification. You can choose not to come back if that first night convinces you fostering isn't right for you, but they hook you in quick! Part of my willingness to start the process now came from the perception (based on one person's blog from another state!) that it took over a year to get certified. Turns out, Tennessee only takes 4-5 months, so we could have foster kids by Christmas!

From mid-July to the end of August, our Tuesday nights were spent in PATH class (Parents as Tender Healers). We watched videos and heard from experienced foster parents, social workers, and medical professionals. We filled out a gazillion forms and made copies of all our personal information. They warned us up front that "if you don't like people all up in your business, you're in the wrong place." Matt said after going through the United Methodist Church's ordination process, this would be nothing. (Though we didn't have to get fingerprinted for ordination, so fostering might be a little more invasive!)

In all seriousness, Matt has been very supportive and on board with this leading I've felt, and I finally understand a little more why Matt has put up with the frustrating parts of ministry—there's a peace and determination that makes you plug through the long, sometimes mind-numbing seminars and homework, the sacrifice of your time and energy. I'm usually pretty resentful of anything that takes me away from my time at home and with my kids, but for this, I didn't complain. It just felt right. (And Granna and Opa are quite willing babysitters! Thank you guys so much!)

As Matt said, "I know a calling when I see one," and he is a willing and enthusiastic partner. It's a family endeavor, of course, but so is Matt's calling to ministry. While we each have our areas of service, it's all part of our family's values, emphasizing compassion for people in need, including radical hospitality.
When we told Kate that there are kids out there who can't stay with their own families for a while, and that we were going to let them stay with us, she responded as if that were a perfectly natural thing to do. She shows such compassion for "the men who sleep at church" (the homeless folks who come for Room In the Inn) and now for our "guest kids" and "guest babies" who will stay with us. There will be tough moments, I'm sure, when she finds she has to share my time and lap even more than with her sister, but I think fostering will be a valuable addition to our own kids' childhoods as well.

To be honest, I've never felt like this before, and I feel like that feeling is the joy of following a call and doing what I know I am supposed to be doing.

We had our home visit last night, when our social worker came to check out our house, make sure cleaning supplies and medicines were locked away, that we weren't planning to have the child sleep in the attic or anything crazy. (It's interesting the things they ask, knowing each concern comes out of some bad experience in the past!) I was a ball of nervous energy yesterday, so excited to get things rolling, to get our new crib set up in the guest room and have everything in ship-shape, but also nervous that Kate would say something crazy, as kids are wont to do! It went wonderfully, much simpler and less invasive than I expected. (No peeking in cabinets and closets or anything like that!) The next step is 60-90 minute individual interviews for both Matt and I. Wow.

The journey is just beginning, and I have moments of anxiety, but I feel so confident this endeavor will be a blessing not just to kids in need but to our family as well. 

Monday, October 01, 2012

Zeroing in on One

Claire is just a month away from being ONE. I can't believe it. It has seemed to go faster this time, I think, and it's all relative how I think of a baby's growth now. Whereas Kate seemed "so big" by this point, Claire is still "just a baby!" I'm sure when Kate is six and Claire is three, three will seem more baby-like than it does now.

I never posted Claire's 10-month milestones. Once it got to be the 12th or so, I thought "eh, we're halfway through the month, I'll just double up next time!" So here we are with months 10 and 11.

Here I am at 11 months old!
Here's my tummy...
And here's my bear...
And here I am all dressed for school in one of my cute hand-me-down jumpers!
Flashback! Here I am a month ago. Not too much different.

Sister was still trying to cuddle/crush me at every opportunity.

So here's a little of what we've been up to lately.

Claire has gotten more and more mobile in the last two months. At nine months, she was just starting to pull up on things, and it wasn't long before we had a bonafide cruiser on our hands! She can cruise along the edge of the coffee table and couch, and will "walk" pushing her little cart or a kitchen chair or holding my finger halfway across a room! She has seemed on the verge of taking her first solo steps for about a month now, but she tends to "hang out" at stages like creeping and now cruising for a few months, in no hurry to move on. If you try to make her stand or walk hand-in-hand (as she will do voluntarily) she refuses, and sits down quite firmly, preferring to crawl.

She is saying "Dada" (sometimes even "Da-dee") and—when I'm lucky—"Na-na" for Mama. She's more verbal than Kate was at this age (though less mobile, so they've each got their strengths!) and seems to imitate sounds when we say things to her. She is pretty social too. At a playdate on Saturday with a new friend, she kept handing her playmate blocks and interacting well. 

Maybe it's the sister thing, since she's observing a bigger kid all the time. Kate loves to play Chutes and Ladders since Nala and Popi gave her the game a month ago, and Claire not only tries to get in on the action, but actually taps the game piece along the board, just as we do when we're counting spaces for our turns.

We haven't had a checkup since 9 months, but I expect she's holding at the petite-in-height, almost-average-in-weight thing. Devouring table food as she does, her weight has gone up, but she still seems petite overall. Her feet are smaller than Kate's at this point, since the shoes Kate wore constantly at this age are still a bit big on Claire.
Claire in the dress Kate wore at her first Christmas.
Claire's top two teeth have just broken through, though (thank goodness!) they are still only visible when you flip her upside down. I always mourn the loss of gummy smiles. She's had the bottom two since 8 months, but those top two make a big difference in losing that baby look. And in her ability to bite me, I imagine. I plan to stop pumping at the 1-year mark, but will nurse her for a few more months, as long as the milk holds out. She claws and pinches me to death, but biting hasn't been too much of a problem, with only those two bottom scrapers!
Wearing Nala's heirloom dress. 

Also in the last month, we met our new friend, Baby James.

Claire wasn't so sure what to make of a baby younger than she. Especially when Mommy held him or got close to him.

It's okay, Clairey! You're still my baby girl! Even if you are well on your way to toddlerhood. Tantrum-like behaviors (like putting her forehead to the ground when crying) have begun just recently, and she really seems to have shot up an inch or so in the last week! That one-year mark is closing in, and while I'll be sad to see infancy fade away, it will be fun to see my sweet second-born as a mobile, chatty little toddler!

Ode to Dr. Blackwell

In honor of Clergy Appreciation Month (October, if you weren't aware) Ministry Matters is doing a blog tour and link-up in which pastors and others share about a "minister who mattered" to them. We've got Mike Slaughter, Jessica LaGrone, Max Lucado, Adam Hamilton, Matthew Paul Turner, Grace Biskie, and others blogging over Oct. 1-14, and everyone is invited to participate. What a great way to honor someone who made a difference in your faith and life! Check it out and link up at

I've known a lot of great ministers in my time—from my home church, family friends, and now various friends and colleagues, and of course, my husband! But the person who stands out in my mind is not ordained clergy at all. You don't have to be a pastor to be a minister, remember. Arguably the person who had the greatest impact on my faith journey was one of my religion professors at Furman University, Dr. Albert Blackwell.

Sometimes, when Christian kids are headed off to college, they are warned to guard their faith, to be wary of  those evil, atheist professors who will try to educate their faith out of them. That's a bit of a caricature, of course, and I don't recall a specific warning of that nature from my very moderate faith community growing up—but I do recall that, even though I entered college with the thought of youth ministry as a possible career, I avoided taking religion classes my first semester. Maybe even my whole first year. "Academic study of religion" had a bad rap in some circles, since such classes would expose a person to views of the Bible and theology beyond the "party line" of whatever organization was doing the warning.

Once I started my religion classes, though, I found my whole world enlivened with deeper understanding of the cultures from which the Bible emerged. I was excited by theological discussions, the way different people or groups of people had different ideas about God, influenced by their context and life experience. I recall the exhilarating session of Religion in America with Dr. Helen Lee Turner when we watched a documentary about the ideological shift of the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1980s and I knew that I wanted to study evangelical and fundamentalist movements in American church history. (And that's what I indeed focused on during my M.T.S. studies at Vanderbilt!)

The religion department at Furman (perhaps unlike many other universities) was full of professors whose faith was part-and-parcel with their scholarship, whose work was fueled by a love for the church and a desire to see it better reflect the God it serves. Dr. Blackwell was no exception to that, but he was exceptional nonetheless. Tall and distinguished, he embodied an unpretentious commitment to Christ and the Christian life. When I picture him, I see him standing at the front of the classroom, a long torso with belt exactly halfway between the soles of his shoes and the crown of his head, feet planted as if thick, tangled roots connected him deep and wide to the source of the wisdom he spoke.

Classes were conducted in-the-round, encouraging discussion of the texts we'd read for the day. I was at first intimidated to speak up, feeling like whatever I said was shallow or unsubstantiated, but one day I made some sort of semi-insightful comment (I don't even remember what it was) and he responded by taking a lollipop out of his shirt pocket and presenting it to me with subtle fanfare and affirmation that gave me confidence to engage further in the class.

His career in religion began when, while finishing his degree in physics at M.I.T., he attended a lecture by theologian Paul Tillich, and decided to pursue graduate work in theology at Harvard Divinity School. With this background in science and math, and a love of music, Dr. Blackwell saw the divine element in all areas of life. Furman was not a publish-or-perish environment, so it is fitting that Dr. Blackwell's most recent book is 1999's The Sacred in Music. He directed the choir at his church and was working with his wife to compose new tunes for the Psalms, I recall. (I see online now he has choral anthems available for free use by churches.) He drew some mathematical formula on the board in class once, and being math-dumb as I am, it was completely over my head, but I recall the lesson was something about how infinity—The Infinite—changes everything.

Dr. Blackwell opened my eyes to Jesus' mandate that we serve the poor and work for justice. My politics did shift in college, as many people's do, but directly as a result of deeper engagement with Jesus' gospel. Dr. Blackwell often used the term "liberality of love" to describe the all-encompassing generosity with which Christ calls us to live our lives. "Liberal" was a dirty word in my house growing up, mainly equated with permissiveness. Rather than a synonym for libertine, I came to understand "liberal" in the same sense a recipe would call for "a liberal amount of vanilla." It's about generosity, compassion, and love for humanity.

Dr. Blackwell's teaching—nay, ministry—had an incalculable impact on my path in adulthood. He contributed to the passion for studying American religion and culture, with which I headed off to grad school and planned to become a professor myself. (My eventual decision not to pursue a Ph.D. is a post for another day!) He instilled in me concern and compassion for the poor that has transformed my Christian life and hopefully will continue to shape all I do. Not least, he also gave me a new set of eyes to see God's presence in the world around me. God didn't just make the trees and the animals—he made the particles and forces that make electricity work. He made all the stuff that is in steel and medicine and everything else that we think of as man-made. His hand is in it all. (This has come to mind a lot recently as Kate learned in school recently how "God made everything," and she comes to me with a random object like a plastic kitchen strainer, asking "Why are there holes in it? Is that how God made it?" Hmmm...)

As I wrote my final exam for Dr. Blackwell's Religious Approaches to Meaning class my last semester of college, I was surprised/amused to find I'd essentially written the same essay for both exam questions. I don't recall the questions, but my answers were both focused on the "middle way," a way of living that keeps a hand on earth and an eye on heaven. The "approaches to meaning" that were too earth-focused were devoid of eternal significance, and those that were based in spiritual ecstasy were "no earthly good," as the saying goes.

I handed in my paper and told Dr. Blackwell how both questions led me to the same answer. He responded sagely, "Perhaps you've discovered the grain of the universe." Indeed; it is more or less my version of the meaning of life, which I tend to summarize with the title refrain from Chris Rice's album "Run the earth and watch the sky."

I'd say Dr. Blackwell is an earth-runner-sky-watcher as well. He strives to make an impact here on earth, investing in the lives of countless students and working for justice through various ministries, always with God in his heart, Christ as his guide.

I was honored to be part of Dr. Blackwell's retirement festivities in 2004, the year after I graduated. The day included a panel on religion and social justice with several of Dr. Blackwell's former students, from class of 1973 to class of 2003 (me), and a musical concert that evening. The only photo I could find beyond the web-stolen one above was, of course, on the page in my scrapbook about the event. Those were the days before my digital camera (and, apparently, before lipstick and eyeliner :0) The little photo to the right was in the Furman alumni magazine, of Dr. Blackwell at the 2003 Commencement, holding a little sign that wished "Godspeed!" to the graduates processing by.

Godspeed to you, Dr. Blackwell. Thank you for your influence on my life and those of so many others. Your ministry matters!

Blog about someone who made a difference to you and link up at, any time before Oct. 14.


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