Sunday, March 23, 2014

Being an Instrument

When I was first married there was a series of visiting teaching messages (for the women of the church to share with one another during monthly visits) that were centered around the theme of being steadfast and immoveable. I remember one lesson in particular which had the title of "being an instrument in the hands of God by being steadfast and immoveable." I talked with the other woman I was with about the idea, and she said that it confused her. How could someone do anything if they were being immoveable? So I shared what had come to me when I read it. A sculptor, potter, painter, or writer needs a tool (chisel, brush, pen, etc) that will not move on its own. The artist needs a tool that will be reliable and still, so that s/he can guide it and have it go where s/he wants. If the painter's brush droops the paint will get in the wrong place. If the potter's tool bends then the clay will not be crafted in the way s/he wanted it to be.

In order to be a tool in the Lord's hands, our job is to be available, and to be steady, but not to try to do everything ourselves.


Somewhere in my late teens I started singing in church. Or rather, I'd been singing musical numbers in church for years, but somewhere in my late teens I got up the confidence to start singing solos. I liked singing, I liked performing, but I also have always known that singing in church is not a performance or a recital. Singing in church is about bringing the Spirit into the space. And so before I sang I always prayed that I could be a conduit for the spirit. That the Lord would use me and my voice to speak to the members of the congregation.
It has always worked.


Recently I moved to a new city and a new congregation. I had called ahead to find out when and where church meetings were, and so someone had my name...and even before I had moved the compassionate service leader Sister J had called me. She is a woman of generous size and spirit, who knows everyone's business and everyone's needs (because she calls and asks) and then she doesn't take no for an answer in taking care of people. Two weeks after my arrival she called me again, to see how we were getting settled in, and whether we needed anything. She apologized that she had not called sooner, but explained that she had been called upon to help arrange a very unexpected funeral and that that had consumed much of her time. She mentioned, almost in passing, that the one thing she still needed was a musical number, and that she was not sure what she would do for that. I responded instinctively, almost without thought. "If you can find an accompanist, I can sing."
"I can play," Sister J said. "Is 'How Great Thou Art' ok?"

And with that it was decided. I was going to sing at a stranger's funeral. Now truth be told, this was not the first  nor even the second time I have sung at a funeral where I did not know the deceased; but it was the first time where I really did not know anyone.
Especially in the context of this funeral, where a young father had died unexpectedly, I knew the grief at this funeral would be extra acute, and that music is a powerful medium. I felt awkward and I felt pressure and nervousness that I have not felt about church music in a long time. 

When I was rehearsing with Sister J, she started singing along at one point. Then she apologized. "I got caught up in it," she said, "this song moves me so much. I don't mean to steal your thunder if I start singing along at the funeral."
"Singing in church is never about thunder" I replied.
She hesitated, as though she had not thought about it that way. "You're right," she responded, "it's not." 

The rehearsal was ok, but particularly with the high note at the end I felt like I was not singing it very well. I knew this funeral was important for all the family who would be bidding a premature farewell to their son, brother, and father, so for a day and a half I did what I always do. I prayed that I could be a conduit for The Spirit...but something still felt off. I couldn't quite place it, but I knew that what needed to come through me at this gathering was not like most meetings.

As I pulled into the parking lot with ten minutes to go until the funeral, I still felt shaky. I took the key out of the ignition, bowed my head, and murmured one last prayer...and the words came to me "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace."
An instrument of peace. That was precisely what I needed to be. Calm came over me.
So I prayed St. Francis' phrase over and over as I walked into the chapel. When my turn came I walked up to the podium and started to sing...and then I gripped onto the side of the podium and just held on as the music poured through me with the words and notes all where they should be.


An instrument is a still thing. I played the flute for a couple of years as a tween, and I can tell you that no matter how shiny that flute was, it couldn't do anything unless I held it, pressed the keys, and gave it my breath.
Yesterday I was an instrument with endless potential but little possibility except in the hands and with the breath of Someone else.
I am grateful for the opportunity, and touched by the experience. Because as much as I (hope I) gave the family the peace they needed yesterday, my own soul was filled too.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Winter Gear Storage

I am currently adjusting our family of five into living in an apartment that is a little under 1000 square feet. We were already pretty minimalist about our possessions after several major moves and having to fit everything into storage. However one thing I'm still refining is fitting everything into a small space AND still being able to find what we need.

One thing we need pretty often is winter gear such as mittens, hats, scarves, and so on. The thing about this type of gear is that when a four-year-old goes out to play in the snow, his mittens get wet, so when he wants to play two hours later, he needs a second set of mittens... this makes for lots of mittens. Not to mention things like "cold weather" gear or "I'll be outside for 15 minutes" gear versus "obscenely cold weather" gear or "I'm going fishing in twenty-below" gear.

Needless to say, there is a lot of this type of gear around our house.  And for the last three or four years it has basically all just ended up in a plastic bin or box... lots of harried looking for the other mitten in the set, lots of "but I need the other hat because this one is his" and so on.

Then inspiration struck.

$11 and five minutes of effort later we have everything where we can see it. Mittens are paired with their mates, scarves, hats, earmuffs, and everything is easy to reach.

Most of these seem to be "over the door" style organizers. If you have a regular closet door, perfect! Or maybe you can hang it on the back of your entry door. If not, three little nails and a little wall space (as I did here) works pretty easily too.

Greene's "Plan B" in the Trenches

A few years ago I wrote a review of Ross Greene's "The Explosive Child" and in that I explained about Plan B. (Yeah folks, this is a parenting post, not a birth control one.)
Dr Greene discusses 3 plans: Plans A, B, and C.
Plan A is where the Adult forces his will on the child...
Plan C is where the adult capitulates and just lets the Child do what he pleases...
Plan B is to utilize what Dr Greene calls "collaborative problem solving" (CPS) to find solutions that will solve the concerns of Both adult and child.
This last weekend I had a chance to use collaborative problem solving to find a Plan B with my thirteen-year old Wolf.
The scenario was thus: I have established a household policy that food and drink (with the exception of closeable water bottles) remains in the kitchen/dining area. More especially, food is definitely not allowed in bedrooms. Wolf is well aware of this policy, and breaks it repeatedly. (I only catch him actually eating in his room occasionally, but there are often empty wrappers or crumbs in his room, so the evidence is obvious. And this has been going on since he was four. When he was little I tried to focus on teaching him better, as he got older I started punishing...the behavior has never changed.) Of course in addition to breaking the rule, he also is sneaky about it so as to be able to get away with it, so he's adding deceit to disobedience, and sometimes lying on top of the whole pile. Last week he did that (lying on top of it all) and I lost my temper at him. I decided it was time to step back and bust out some CPS about this.
oh look, he's not the only one!

CPS can be hard for a parent, because it means that *I* have to be willing to compromise too. But it's also a recognition that I can still get what is most important to me, while still giving my kid a chance to have something that is important to him, and give him some practice in collaboration, problem solving, and compromise. (Yes I like and still use the Oxford comma, bite me!)

I began by clearing the air about my outburst the other night. I asked him why he'd lied to me, and if he'd really thought he could get away with it. He said no, he was pretty sure I knew, but he knew that lying would get yelling, whereas if he had only gotten caught with the soda can--and not lied about it--then he would have gotten a lecture. He just wanted it over fast so he chose lying/yelling.


My concern
Alright. So, I had already considered my position, and I knew my most important concern in this conflict. I am concerned about mess. I don't want crumbs, or spills, or sticky spots, or wrappers, or garbage in his room. I'm concerned about it attracting insects or vermin partly, but I also just think it's really gross to have crumbs in your bed and wrappers on the floor.
His concern
Wolf considered, and concluded that he really only wants to eat in his room when he is playing games on his computer because he doesn't want to be interrupted. (The computer is only a few months old so I don't know what his excuse was for the last nine years, but we'll work with this for now and re-evaluate as necessary.) He has no problems leaving his room for a snack when he's supposed to be doing homework! But he plays some online real-time games with his cousin or other friends, and if he's absent from the game for five or ten minutes his character could get booted off the server.
Our collaborative compromise
I will get him a garbage can for his bedroom--he hasn't had one, but promises to utilize it if one is present. He will handle emptying it as well.
He is considering purchasing an anti-tipping or spill-proof cup (with his own money) to use in his room.
He has to ask an adult before taking a snack--to ensure that the food he wants isn't earmarked for something, or that dinner isn't imminent, or that sort of thing.
With those criteria met, he may take food to his room when gaming. This may be a weekends-only thing, or (depending on his homework load) an after-homework thing.

When I raised the point of having to have homework done before playing, he asked if we could adjust that a little "perhaps one late assignment per week?" I gave him a full-blown stink eye and told him I wasn't going to go for that idea. Then I nudged him to articulate his desire in a different way, and he was able to explain that after six hours at school he just wants a little break before diving into the homework. Now THAT I can support. His school day lets out at 2:30, so we've agreed that he has to get started on homework by 4. (Of course, if he is really eager to get to his games, he may change his mind about this schedule, because I'm still thinking no games before homework...but maybe that will be another Plan B for us to play with.)

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