Learning from Babies

Q15 lost his passport coming home from Mexico over spring break. He claims he gave it to Guy, Guy doesn’t remember ever receiving it, neither can find it. We need a replacement since Q leaves on a Scouting canoe trip in Canada next week.

Within a certain window of time and requiring both parents meant we had to go to the Federal Passport Office in San Francisco. We had an 11 am appointment for the first full day of summer (bummer for the kiddo—we made it up to him with lunch of his choosing).

Apparently, you make an appointment to stand in line to gain access to a room where you stand in another line. More than an hour later, you talk for approximately one minute with someone who gives you a number and asks you to be seated (another line). When your number is called, it takes about ten to fifteen minutes of paperwork. By the time you have completed the process (sans passport, which we made another appointment to pick up), you have spent less than 20 minutes interacting with an official and more than 2 hours waiting.

Lots of parents had littles in tow. Poor babies, stuck indoors, waiting (curiously, I saw no parents pull out books or toys). One young mama seated next to me had a daughter of about three and an eight-month-old son. The daughter quietly entertained herself (remarkable, as my boys for sure would have made a scene). Mama dandled the baby in her lap.

Baby made eye contact. I smiled and he cautiously, then fully, smiled back. He looked away, and when he again turned to me and I smiled, he beamed. He extended his little fingers and I gave him my pointer finger to grasp. He gurgled gleefully. We played this game repeatedly.

Later, another mama sat next to me with a slightly older (maybe thirteen to fifteen months?) curly haired little girl. This darling was not afraid to make her voice heard! She squawked for joy as she stared intently into my eyes.

Another baby peeked over her mama’s shoulder at her sisters seated in the row behind her. She quietly cooed at them and squinted her entire face with her smile. She looked distressed when they looked away and delighted when they gave her attention.

While Q stared intently at his phone, I took pleasure in baby-watching. At least they made the inching minutes pass more enjoyably than similarly staring at my phone (let’s be honest: I did some of that, too).

It was easy to “chat” with the babies. I made a little effort to engage with the first mama, but she barely responded. She smiled but didn’t make eye contact. She answered my question without elaboration (hence, I know her son was eight months old).

We should learn from the babies. These healthy and well-loved babies didn’t hesitate to make eye contact, smile, and talk in their way. They trusted in the goodness of those around them. They wanted to see and be seen.

Why do we lose that openness? Why do teens and adults prefer to stare down, or away, engaging with no one and keeping their thoughts to themselves?

How might life be more fun and the world a better place if we looked at one another with the unsuspicious joy of an infant who has just learned to smile?

 

Boomerang

For Mother’s Day, I received two bouquets of flowers: one from my in-laws and another from my kids. I posted pictures on social media because I have a thing for flowers.

The next day, my neighbor and her young daughter stood on my doorstep holding a beautiful bouquet of homegrown roses. Mom had shown my pictures to Daughter; Daughter led Mom outside to pick a bouquet from their garden, carefully choosing one by one the flowers she wanted to share with me.

My former neighbor and friend planted and nurtured those roses. This simple gift felt like it connected more of us than were present in beauty and friendship.

Later that day, another neighbor dropped off a gallon bag of lemons from her tree. Two days later, still another neighbor brought over a bouquet of fresh herbs with an invitation to snip more from her front yard garden.

Humbled by these generous gestures, I wondered aloud what I could share.

Northern California has experienced odd mid-May weather: a cold front dumped rain on us. My just-blooming roses had become so heavy that I feared they might snap their stems. During a break in the weather, I ran outside and quickly cut as many blooms as I could. I shook them dry-ish and brought them inside.

As I considered what to do with them, I realized that evening would be the last gathering for our middle school group where I have served as a leader for the now-8th grade girls during their three years of participation. My two co-leaders are high school students. I set about tying up two bouquets with white satin ribbon to present to these darling girls.

One of the 8th graders pounced on the bouquets and took it upon herself to present them to the high school girls, who both choked back tears of joy. One said that she had given flowers to her teachers last week, and now she understood how they felt: honored. Loved.

I told Q15 this story at breakfast the next day and he said, “Of course. Boomerang.”

When I asked what he meant, he explained: “It’s the boomerang effect. We talk about it at Boy Scouts whenever there isn’t something else to talk about. When one person does good for another, so that person does good for another, and the good keeps flying around…”

I’m grateful they talk about such things at Boy Scouts. We should all talk about it more often.

The night after I presented the girls with bouquets, the church had a scavenger hunt/end-of-year party for the 8th grade students. I couldn’t go because I had to work. So the girls came to my workplace, and one of my high school co-leaders handed me a jewelry bag; she had purchased matching friendship bracelets for all of us. My turn to choke back tears. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Earlier that evening, my co-worker had told me a story about a BART worker he chats with when he takes BART late on weekend nights. This middle-aged gal does a great job in an under-appreciated position and often has to deal with the last-car crazies, those who have over-imbibed or are trying to hide so as to sleep overnight on the train. He said to her, “Perhaps only you and I in all the world actually know what goes down on nights like these.” She sighed in agreement.

On Mother’s Day, our wine bar gave away flowers to our guests. At closing time, he wrapped up a few blooms for his BART friend, who was genuinely moved. A few nights later, she presented him with a $10 BART pass a tourist had given her since he wouldn’t be able to use the remainder. The love keeps boomerang-ing.

Last night I trimmed a few more roses and brought them to a friend who plays piano in the bar a few nights each month. She lives alone, is facing health issues, and I thought she might like them. She smiled and exclaimed, “Oh! These are the roses I see on Facebook!” Yes, they are.

Personally, I’ve never played with an actual boomerang, but I sure am having fun watching the love fly here and there!

Mexico, Here We Come

‘Twas the week before the Mexico trip, and all through our house
Every creature was stirring, including a mouse!

Seriously, it’s been a week… Guy has been leading house building trips to Mexico for at least 18 years and participating in them regularly since he was a high school student. But this will be the first time our entire family will participate together. Now that Q14 is in high school, he is finally eligible. And since the college C20 attends has the same spring break, he and his girlfriend can go. Which means Mama has to go (gets to go), too!

Getting us all ready has been a chore. Never have I done so much laundry, and we all had to deal with complete chaos while duffel bags, cots, tents, sun showers, etc, covered every inch. Wednesday evening, as we shoved all the things into bags, Guy might have been tempted to pull his remaining hairs out as one or the other of us had a question/complaint/meltdown.

Anticipation and anxiety go hand-in-hand, right? I’m a good camper, but this trip will push my boundaries for sure. Porta potties shared by 300+ people? Yikes! And then, did I mention, 300 people? The introvert shudders…

The theme this year is ILLUMINATION, and we’re praying God will light our way and shine His light through us. Stretching boundaries is a good thing, and I expect God will show me new things about myself and Himself, my family, new friends, and this great, big, beautiful world He’s given us.

During the week, I will be on the Media Team, taking pictures and posting on the trip blog. I will not be posting here, but I’d love for you to follow along. And if you’re a praying type, please pray for us!

Sabbath 1

As we enter Lent, the season in the Church calendar in which we focus on Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for love of us, we begin a wild and wandering conversation about Sabbath.

What does Sabbath mean to you?

Sabbath, #4 of the 10 Commandments, seems to be the one the Church feels free to omit. To our detriment. We have bought in to our non-stop culture and left God and our all-around health (spiritual, emotional, and physical) as sad and shrinking images in the rear-view mirror. In love, God takes us where we’re at, and our lives make do, but to be sure it’s not God’s best for our lives.

In the Bible, God says both to “remember” and “observe” the Sabbath. Lauren Winner (in her oh-so-helpful book, Mudhouse Sabbath) explains that for a few days we remember the last Sabbath, and for a few days we prepare for the next Sabbath. Sabbath becomes the guiding light in our conception of time.

It’s also about trust. Do I trust that the world depends on God, or do I act as if I believe the universe requires every ounce of my energy every minute of every day to keep spinning? Oh my, do I ever want to believe that the universe rests in God’s hands and not mine! But do I live into that truth?

I believe that Sabbath-keeping is good, as God ended each day of His creation of the world by declaring it “good.” When God was done with six days of creation, He rested. He modeled for us that, even though God–the all-powerful spiritual Being that He is–could not possibly have needed physical rest, He still took a restorative day-long break.

Obvious fact, and one I’ve missed for way too long: God created humans on Day #6. On Day #7, both God and His people rested.

What could it have meant to those first humans, that their first day on this pristine planet involved rest?

I think of my babies. Birthing, post-Eden, is laborious. Mama and Baby (and Dad, because he was all in) needed post-partum rest. For more than just a day, our world was reduced to basic survival: sleep, eat, snuggle…eat, sleep and snuggle some more.

Adam and Eve didn’t experience that birthing trauma, and they still got to rest. And enjoy companionship with God right off the bat. Hmm, jealous!

I don’t know what Sabbath looks like for you. I don’t even know what it looks like for me! Currently, my husband works way too many hours as a pastor. I work two part-time jobs for a wonky schedule. And we parent two teen/young adults. Not for the first time, Guy and I have begun conversations about what Sabbath could look like, for us as individuals, a couple, and a family. We believe God has good things in store as we ask the questions and begin taking steps toward a Sabbath practice.

Sabbath: The Power of Rest
Genesis 2:1-3 & Exodus 20:8-11

Connect
Reflect on one of your favorite leisure activities.

Study
Read Genesis 2:1-3
Why did God rest?
What did God do on the seventh day?
What does this passage tell us about God?
Read aloud Exodus 20:8-11
How are we to keep the Sabbath holy?
Why are we commanded to remember the Sabbath?
How does God’s work differ from ours, and what does that tell us about work and rest?

Live
God created humans on Day 6, then rested on Day 7. What do you think it meant to Adam and Eve that their very first day was one of rest?
What has been your experience with Sabbath-keeping?
Why does Sabbath seem to be the one of the 10 Commandments that the Church forgets?
What makes Sabbath-keeping difficult?
What might Sabbath look like in your life?
What would it take to implement a Sabbath practice?
What is God saying to you through this study, and what will you do about it?

Pray
Ask God to help you take steps toward implementing a Sabbath practice.

Family Share
Use these questions to reflect on Exodus 20:8-10 with your family.
If you had a whole day to do anything, what would you do and why?
What could you do to help your family get work done in six days so you could enjoy a day off together?
Ask God to help your family take a day off work.

Talking with Teens

My sons have temperaments on opposite ends of the spectrum. One wears his heart on his sleeve. He’ll tell me anything (sometimes more than I want to know). The other holds his cards close, and I have to pay special attention for the times when he might feel more talkative.

Still, over their lifetimes we’ve cultivated an openness as a family. We talk about what’s going on in each of our lives–our joys and hurts, our successes and failures–so that no topic will be off the table. Our kids know that nothing they do or say will ever change our love for them, though some actions may result in consequences. They know they–and their friends–will always be welcome and safe with us, warts and all.

Recently I watched a sitcom in which two parents lamented that their teenage children had started to pull away from them. The idea arose to “date” their kids, to intentionally spend time with their kids doing things their kids liked (good idea), and to treat their children like “friends” rather than their children (bad idea).

Mom went on a shopping/lunch date with her teen daughter; Dad went with his son to hear his favorite motivational speaker. Misfires and mishaps were meant to be funny, but they made me sad.

I get it. Families are funny, and the teen years are hard on everyone. It can be terrifying to realize that the tiny you birthed and held and fed and doted on every minute is now independently in charge of their own sleep and feeding and transportation.

Teenagers change. It’s in their job description, but it’s in the parental job description to be available to help them through the changes.

I paused the TV and went to the kitchen for a cup of tea, where Q14 was reheating leftovers. I asked if he thought parents and kids truly had that much trouble communicating. He rattled off a bunch of his friends and their parents and how easily they engage, which makes me grateful that my kid knows a bunch of well-adjusted families.

Parents, please don’t wait until your kids have become teenagers to try to have  important conversations! Talk to them all the time. Listen to them, hear their fears and insecurities, help them deal with their smallness in a big and broken world. Ask them questions every chance you get. Listen without an agenda, and don’t freak out if they confide in you something you didn’t want to know. They will face situations you wish they didn’t have to (think back to when you were a teenager). Thank them for sharing. Help them find appropriate and healthy boundaries and escape routes when necessary.

Some questions to get you going:

What are you looking forward to today (tomorrow, this week or month)?
Who did you sit with at lunch? How did you choose that person/group?
What one piece of information stood out to you today?
What is going on with your friends?
What do you like about your friends?
What made you laugh today?
Which class/teacher/lesson was your favorite (or least favorite) today?
What are you grateful for?
Did anything make you sad or uncomfortable today, and if so, what and why?
What makes you glad to be you?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would you change and why?
What scares you?
If anyone ever put you in a situation that made you feel uncomfortable, how might you handle it?
What do you imagine your life might be like in five years? Ten years? 20?
How can I help you take another step toward fulfilling your dreams?
Is there anything you’d like to tell me?

Google “questions to ask kids” and you’ll find so many more options. You probably already have a quiver filled with your own favorites. Just get talking. Those conversations might be life-changing for both of you.

Ted Tuesday – Advent Hope 2018

With all that’s currently piled on my To-Do plate, it seems all I can do to stab a rolling pea here and there with the tines of my fork, barely making an impact. Hope, I remind myself, I cling to hope.

And then I remember, first world problems. Not to diminish the emotional and physical toil of the work before me, but just to put things back in perspective. I have speed bumps, while others have mountains.

Isaiah 9:2 – The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

I may encounter some darkness, but others trudge through darkness. So I found this video, this beautiful song inspired by a peace warrior who encouraged: If you’re feeling helpless, help someone. Maybe the video will help someone else today, and maybe each of us will look at others–at the world–with eyes that call us onward to be the helpers the world needs.

Connect Guest Post: Dan Seifert

In real life, not all stories have happy endings. Some stories just end, and the best we can do is find peace. I’m glad my friend Dan has found some answers and some peace in this story’s ending.

This year, I saw my deceased grandmother for the first time. No, she wasn’t a ghost, but seeing her picture was such an emotional moment that for the first time in my life I thought, “I have to sit down.” Let me explain.

My mother was adopted, and while that was never the most important fact about her, it certainly influenced the way she moved through the world; it had implications for my sister and me as well. We moved houses more often than necessary, and I believe that mom was seeking a sense of connectedness and home that she did not have because of the uncertainty about her birth parents.

I blamed the mystery bio parents, “Grandpa and Grandma X,” for things I didn’t like about myself, especially my unfortunate hairline. I would often get teary-eyed when I heard emotional stories about adopted children blissfully reuniting with their birth parents, and I would imagine what that would be like for my mom. (Spoiler: that isn’t how this story ends).

The woman I called Nana was a nurse at the Philadelphia hospital where my mother was born. A private adoption was arranged because Nana and her husband could not have children. Nana didn’t give my mom much information about her bio mom, and what she did share was not pleasant. My mom did not want to hurt Nana’s feelings, so she waited until Nana died to begin the search process. Unfortunately, my mom got diagnosed with cancer and died in 2009 before finding the answers she sought.

[Mom, six months before she died]

I have seen the folder of information she collected during her search, which covered almost 12 years, and the picture it paints is heartbreaking. The State of Pennsylvania maintained sealed adoption records and, even as a woman in her 60s, my mother could not get access to the information on her original birth certificate. Mom wrote several letters to the courts; asked my uncle who worked for the State Police to help; and even hired a private investigator. That investigator found a name, Katherine Marnell (hang on to that bit of information), with a birth date that seemed to correspond with the information from Nana, and my mom focused her attention on trying to locate that person, to no avail.

That is where things stood at the time of my mom’s death, and that is where they likely would have remained. Except things started changing about a year ago. My wife and I had our DNA evaluated by Ancestry.com. Then my wife found an online group of people who had been adopted in Pennsylvania, and we learned that the State was going to open its adoption records starting in 2018. As a surviving child, I was able to apply for a copy of my mom’s original birth certificate.

When the birth certificate arrived, it listed my grandmother’s birth name as Kathryn Marnell and the grandfather as John Lowe. Ancestry listed a Kathryn Marnell, AKA Catherine Marinelli, who had someone in their tree with a genetic link to me. And, just like that, in our minds, the mystery was solved. My wife and I waited to see if they would contact us, because they could see the genetic link, too, and must have been surprised by the story. Eventually, my wife got a phone number and called the woman I now know as Aunt Lucille, who lives in New Jersey and is married to a man who is my mother’s half-brother.

If this were a movie, this story would lead to a tearful reunion with lots of conversation and questions flowing back and forth. But this is real life, and the fact is that neither of the men who are my half-uncles seem to care that much about the fact of my mom’s existence. Their mother, whose nickname was Kit, was a reserved person who didn’t like to talk about her past. She moved away from home and changed her name as soon as she could. She got pregnant out of wedlock, then gave the baby up for adoption when the man who was going to marry her (not the baby’s father), decided he didn’t want to raise another man’s child. Then, that man went away to World War II and came back broken. The man she eventually married seems to have been a good guy, and they had two sons together.

Aunt Lucille did send some pictures, however, which leads me back to where I started. This is my grandmother:

The similarity to my mother is uncanny. And, even if the story doesn’t include a beautiful reunion, this picture proves that the mystery is solved. The answer my mom sought for so long is in front of me, and that has brought a certain amount of peace.

Strangely, I am not all that interested in tracking down John Lowe, although since there was a court proceeding in which he denied patrimony, my wife believes we can get his information. It is enough for me to know that this woman, who is part of my life story, found some measure of contentment and joy in her life after placing my mother for adoption. Whether her surviving family ever feels the need to make a stronger connection with us or not, we are at least aware of each other.

Daniel Seifert lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his wife, two daughters, two girl cats and a neutered boy dog.  Though he is an employed and responsible adult, he is still, at heart, kind of a nerd.