Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On becoming real

Being "not-the-mama" hurts sometimes.  A lot. And it's not the stepkids that shell out the worst of it. It's the mom at the park who chats pleasantly until she learns that I'm the stepmom, then quickly ushers her kids away.  It's the husband's ex who is happy to use me for free childcare, but tells the kids that I'm just the babysitter and says I can't have a say in developing rules in my own home.  Or the comments from "real moms" that I will never understand what it is to be a mother until I have carried children in my body.  

I doubt that I will ever be a "real mom" in the eyes of most people.  But, I've been thinking a lot about the velveteen rabbit recently.  About how he was used, thrown away, teased by the bunnies that were blessed to have been created real from the beginning, and eventually, though broken and shredded to bits, made real himself.  I feel like that a lot of the time when I take on the burdens of parenthood without the inherent benefits that come from the biological connection. It's emotionally exhausting and heartbreaking a lot of the time.

Even if it's not universally recognized, I think I am being made real, slowly but surely, and I thank the people who help me to feel that.  My husband is a constant encourager, knowing my struggles with this step-parenting role, he constantly affirms me as a mom.  My dad, who sent me a mother's day card this year that brought me to tears.  My in-laws, who treat me with respect and offer praise and encouragement.  My stepdaughters who ask me to be a part of special events, and my stepson, who when I asked, "How was your day, my friend?" corrected me and told me that I needed to instead say "my son."  And the most surprising, though not necessarily consistent, my husband's ex-wife, who helped the kids make me something for mothers day, and has on occasion referred to the kids as "our children."  

Becoming real hurts.  But with a high pain tolerance and people to help me through it, I'm getting there.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Young Art

We made an awesome discovery on our most recent trip to the mall…Young Art.  These people do drop-in art lessons for the kids.  Their customer service was awesome and they completely drew the kids in.  Bonus: Tom and I got a few minutes to do some of our own shopping while the kids had a blast and learned some techniques.  When we came to get them, the kids all said they wanted to come back again and were even going to save their allowance to do so.  The best part was that when we got home, the kids didn't whine to watch TV.  Instead, they took out the box of long forgotten crayons and started to work on their own projects while we talked around the dining table.  Awesome!  Portland area folks, I highly recommend Young Art at the Washington Square Mall.

Christa's Sunset

Emma's Gecko

Cole's Space

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Response to Blessings, Curses and Quantum Physics

Since it wouldn't fit on Facebook…Response to Blessings, Curses and Quantum Physics

"Words are powerful."  Absolutely!  I don't know anyone who believes the childhood saying, "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me."  We all have personal experiences to disprove that claim.  Teen suicide as a result of bullying has become endemic in this country.  Those who have suffered abuse and neglect (not just physical) are at high risk for a number of emotional, psychological, and academic problems.  Additionally, we have evidence in the field of neuroscience, which shows that brain development is greatly influenced by external social influences.  It is not hard to find both anecdotal and scientific evidence to support the truth that words are powerful.

It is for this reason, the power of words, that I think it is imperative for ministers to take care to check their sources when using any evidence to support what they preach.  Being a shepherd to God's flock is a huge responsibility!  I believe that all truth is God's truth, and that science reveals who God is.  However, when Christians use false teaching to support truth, it invalidates their message.  You lose credibility with critical thinkers and non-believers who will write you off before you even get to your message, and you potentially lose followers who will toss out the baby with the bathwater when they find that what you say is not accurate.

It would be amazing if Dr. Emoto's "research" was valid.  If he used sound methodology or if others could replicate his findings, it would certainly change how we view the world and the connection between thought and nature.  Perhaps someday a connection will be made, and I hope that people continue to ask questions and do thorough research, but currently there does not appear to be any valid evidence supporting his theories.  Here is one critical review of Emoto's work with the effects of language on water.  And a very simple (you can easily replicate it at home) debunk of Emoto's work with the effects of language/negative emotion on rice.  I have not found any support for Dr. Emoto in the scientific community or any replications of his work that use sound methodology.  Entertaining the idea that Dr. Emoto's work is valid without putting any thought or research into seeing if it could be true is dangerous.  There is plenty of actual science that supports your premise without having to dip into pseudo-science.

I have to disagree with the comment, "you can have answers, or you can have Jesus."  It is true that we can't know everything, but I don't believe that God wants us to stop seeking truth.  Answers and Jesus are not mutually exclusive.  I don't think that real faith is blind or turns a blind eye on what we learn about God through studying God's creation.  And, I don't believe that anything we learn through scientific discovery will destroy our concept of God or contradict what we believe.  If it does, then maybe we don't have the right belief about God to begin with.

Now, aside from the great science vs. faith debate, I found your thoughts on what the Bible, and Jesus specifically, says about forgiveness to be interesting.  You prompted me to consider a different view and look into what Jesus actually says about forgiveness in the gospels.  Why do we forgive?  Who is forgiveness for?  Who has the power to forgive?

You start out by saying that there is a theme in Christian thought that forgiveness is not for the person forgiven, but for the one who forgives, and then say that this idea does not hold up.  After reading through the gospels to see what they say about our responsibility in regard to forgiveness, I have to disagree with you.  All three synoptic gospels support this theology.  Following Jesus' instruction on how to pray, Matthew 6:14-15 says "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."  Mark 11:25 "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."  Luke 6:37-38 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.  For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  What I found most compelling though, was the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35.  Peter asks about how many times you should forgive someone and Jesus tells a story about a servant who was forgiven his debts but then refused to forgive someone who owed him…as a result the master got angry and had the guy tortured.  "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."  Now that is pretty powerful, and it all has to do with forgiving for our own sake because we were forgiven.  C.S. Lewis says it beautifully in this way:  "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." (Essay on Forgiveness, 1960.)

You brought up John 20:23, which throws a twist into our understanding of forgiveness.  "If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven."  This verse bears similarity to Matthew 16:19 in which Jesus says to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."  This is where the Catholic church points to claim papal authority through apostolic succession (and forms the basis of the plot for one of my favorite irreverent movies, Dogma :)  I think that these are some of the most difficult verses to tackle, but that in any case, they need to be approached in context.  As modern day Christian readers, we need to note that Jesus was speaking directly to specific individuals, not necessarily to every Christian.  I'm only barely acquainted with pentecostal theology, but I would be curious to learn the pentecostal perspective on the Johannine pentecost in John 20:21-23 and what, if any, authority is given to Christians through Jesus' words to his disciples in that encounter.

In his essay, Navigating the Living Waters of the Gospel of John, Paul Anderson begins, "The Fourth Gospel has been called 'a stream in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim.'"  The gospel of John is simultaneously an accessible introduction to Christianity and a theologically challenging and highly contentious piece of literature.  It is no wonder that biblical commentators have many theories and interpretations of the verse you site.  Some say it was meant only for the disciples, some that it extends to all Christians, and to some it is not the authority to forgive or not forgive, but the commission to spread the gospel, thereby either sharing God's forgiveness by speaking, or denying it through inaction.  When you delve into it you have to consider the complexity of translating many definitions in the Greek as well as the historical context of when the book was written in relation to the synoptic gospels and the specific purpose that it is designed to fulfill.  In researching this piece of scripture, I have found more questions than answers.

I finally decided to lay the Johannine passage next to the same commissioning in the synoptics to try to gain more perspective on the event.  Matthew 28:18-20 "Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."  Mark 16:15-16 "He said to them, 'Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.  Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned."  Luke 24:46-47 "He told them, 'This is what is written:  The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem."  John 20:21-23 "Again Jesus said, 'Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.' And with that he breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.'"

In every gospel, Jesus commissions the disciples to go into the world and preach the good news.  Given this context, I don't think that Jesus is speaking about our personal authority to issue or deny divine forgiveness for personal transgressions against us, but is talking about the forgiveness that is given within the parameters of the gospel.  When it comes to personal forgiveness, Jesus is very clear that we are to forgive because we are forgiven, bestowing on others the same mercy that has been given to us.  He does not say that we have the power to "deflect judgement" or mitigate consequence for the other party.  We have the opportunity and mandate to extend grace and leave judgement to God.

I am not writing in anger or with any sort of malicious intent.  I'm not trying to embarrass, but to be involved in a dialogue.  I considered responding privately, but since you posted in a public forum, I think it's appropriate to include anyone who wants to read or participate.  Seth, thank you for challenging me to dig into both science and scripture. I feel like I have greatly benefitted from spending some time in research and have felt convicted to forgive someone who I have been reluctant to forgive. Blessings on your head.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

8 Year Old's Poetry

Recently, EJ has become obsessed with Phantom of the Opera.  She has a voice that can hit those notes too!  After watching a recording of the play about 3 times, she asked me to take dictation while she sang her own song.  She was expecting me to get down the lyrics word for word and write the music as well.  I really wish I could do that because her song was amazing.  Even though it in no way captures it, here are the lyrics that I was able to record:

Sing a song for me
Just as the stars go up
and I'll be with you no matter what.

Soon you'll be my song
All these years I've been dreaming for you

Just as the river flows
you have been sad
I'll be with you as long as you need
You are the one who I love

Sing a song as butterflies fly along
Don't be shy, I'll sing with you

The wind blows and you will shine
You will be with me
I will be with you
Nothing will matter

No matter what I'll stay with you
Just let me sing with you
For who you are, I love.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A Stepmom's Vows

My favorite part of our wedding was reading my vows to the kids.  Tom and I used the standard vows supplied by our church for each other, but we wanted the kids to be included because this was just as big of a change for them.  I found some other people's vows to their step kids on the internet, combined them, and did a little tweaking to make them fit for us.

"Thank you for sharing Daddy with me, loving me, and allowing me to love you with all of my heart.  I was not there when you took your first steps, but I promise that now I will love and support you in every step that you take in your lives.  On this day when I marry your dad, I marry you, and I promise to love and support you as my own.  I promise always to treat you with love and respect.  I promise to foster my relationship with you and always be there for you in any way I can.  I promise to support you in your relationship with both your mother and your father.  I promise to take time to listen.  I promise always to treat your father with love and respect, and model for you a healthy, loving, and supportive marriage relationship.  Please accept these gifts as a symbol of our love and devotion to the three of you."  (We presented the girls with heart necklaces and CJ with a superman watch. Tom put them on the kids while I read my vows.)

CA, I love you, and I am devoted to making your life full of happiness and accomplishments, nurturing your creativity, encouraging your independence, and making sure you always know what a gift you are to this world.

EJ, I love you, and I am devoted to making your life full of happiness and accomplishments, ensuring that you thrive to your fullest potential, and that while you reach for the sky, you remain grounded by the love of our family and our home.

CJ, I love you, and I am devoted to making your life full of happiness and accomplishments, encouraging your playfulness, building your confidence, and supporting you every step of the way as you grow into a man.

When I grow up...

At this point in our lives, my step kids and I spend a lot of time together…in the car…driving between home and school about 45 minutes away.  We're getting to know each other in this dull and confined space.  Sometimes they just fall asleep, but usually this otherwise boring commute is a time for conversation free from distractions.

This week we talked about what they want to be when they grow up.  Their personalities absolutely gleamed as they talked about their dreams…

The oldest wants to live in the country with two cats and a dog.  She thinks she might want to be a veterinarian, but after finding out how long you have to go to school, she's not so sure.  She would ideally like to live in a mansion, but since earning enough money for that takes hard work, she might settle for living in a mobile home by herself with her animals.

The middle child is all ambition.  She used to think she wanted to be a teacher, but decided that they don't make enough money (citing me as an example.)  She wants to be famous and rich.  Maybe an actress or a singer.  Her plan right now is to be a fashion designer and sell dresses in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter.  (Giving some of the money to the poor of course…she's not greedy.)

The youngest wants to be a ninja dog.

I tell them I want to be a treasure hunter when I grow up.  They laugh, but I'll show them.  It will happen…someday...

Saturday, January 4, 2014


This is a response to a post in a friend's blog, which I could just not leave alone today.

At a recent gathering of evangelical Christians, we sang a song in which one verse focused on God’s desire that we be broken. I say, “We sang,” but I didn’t sing that line. It didn’t make sense. Doesn’t make sense. Why would God want me to be broken?
Am I broken? The lyricist probably intended something like humility. But broken goes farther than that. It’s not just the wrong metaphor. It’s also harmful. It suggests that there’s something wrong with the human condition. And by association, it suggests that there’s something wrong with God.            -

I have learned a lot about brokenness in the past several years.  For me, the songs we sing about brokenness are the most powerful and are my deepest prayers.  What those songs meant to me when I was younger mean something different to me now.  There are many definitions for the verb "to break," and therefore, many ways to be broken.  Brokenness is not a bad thing.

I'm not sure I understand how you came to the conclusion that flaws in the human condition suggest something wrong with God.  While I do believe that we are made in the image of God, we are not God.  In our free will we have all sinned and fallen short.  Not already having been made perfect, pressing on toward the goal to win the prize…in my opinion, brokenness is essential, not for salvation but it is part of the process of sanctification.

It does seem absurd to break something like a bone, especially if it is functioning, but it is not unheard of.  I have known people who have had jaws broken by oral surgeons, not necessarily because they wouldn't work otherwise, but because they could work better.  The doctor doesn't leave it broken though…it's part of the transformation process.

In my former marriage, my spirit was broken by my husband's infidelity.  Packing up the rooms I had prepared for the children I would never meet broke me further.  I was hurt badly.  Then, the shame of my divorce, the distance some people put between me and them, and depression made it worse.  This brokenness did not come from God and it is not something to be longed for.  However, it was a catalyst for some of the brokenness that I needed.  God could have hardened my heart, like Pharaoh's…it would have hurt less.  But, my heart came out more fragile.  In areas where I would have responded with pride or arrogance, I became more compassionate, more empathetic, more forgiving.  The song that says "break my heart for what breaks yours" is this type of brokenness.

Another type of breaking that we need is from bad habits, addictions, sin--the things that put a wedge between us and God.  Things that destroy us.  While not all the worship songs use the word "broken," themes of refining or pruning are part of the painful yet necessary process of which breaking is also a part.

Finally, there is another definition that means "to train to obey" as in "breaking-in a horse" or "housebreaking a dog."  I like to think of it with shoes.  There is nothing wrong with a new pair of shoes.  You love them, you chose them, you have a purpose for them.  But you still need to break them in.  To mold them to the contours of your feet so they are better able to function.  Without breaking, the shoes are not entirely useless, but they aren't as good as they could be.  They could be so much better.

With this understanding of brokenness, this is my prayer:

God, Brokenness is what I long for.  Brokenness is what I need.  Brokenness is what I believe you want for me.  Take my heart and form it.  Take my mind and transform it.  Take my life and conform it to yours.  Not my will, but yours be done.  Amen.

Friday, January 3, 2014

To Make the World More Beautiful...

The other day, I was reminded of a writing/art project I did with my kindergarteners last year inspired by the book, Miss Rumphius.  I dug through my old emails and found the email I sent out to parents about it last year.  I'm hoping it will inspire me as I set goals for this year.

From: Rachel Miller
Sent: ‎4/‎12/‎2013 8:06 AM
Subject: To make the world more beautiful...

After reading the book, Miss Rumphius, the kids came up with ideas for how they would make the world more beautiful.  You can take a look at what they wrote in the hall, but I thought their ideas were so sweet that I would send them to you as well…

"If the world is ugly, you should paint it."  --N

To make the world more beautiful, I will paint the walls pink in Mom and Dad's room.
To make the world more beautiful, I will paint murals on the walls using all the colors of the rainbow.
To make the world more beautiful, I will make a home for the animals.  The home that looks like a star.
To make the world more beautiful, I will pick up litter.  I will have help from my three friends:  Michal, Noa, and Kiki.
To make the world more beautiful, I will plant flowers, paint buildings, and use kind manners.
To make the world more beautiful, I will plant trees.  I will plant trees in the forest.
To make the world more beautiful, I will plant flowers.  I will plant lupines.
To make the world more beautiful, I will plant flowers.
To make the world more beautiful, I will say please and thank you.  To make the world more beautiful, I will help people.
To make the world more beautiful, I will take care of the animals.  I will feed the animals.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The House of Aichele

The addition of 2 pets this Christmas inspired me to write the following poem…

This is the hamster that spun the wheel
That lived in the The House of Aichele
This is the dog
That stared at the hamster that spun the wheel
That lived in The House of Aichele
This is the boy with the golden hair
That wrestled the dog
That stared at the hamster that spun the wheel
That lived in The House of Aichele
This is the kitten who needs extra care
That snuck past the boy with the golden hair
That wrestled the dog
That stared at the hamster that spun the wheel
That lived in The House of Aichele
This is the girl all graceful and fair
That cuddled the kitten who needs extra care
That snuck past the boy with the golden hair
That wrestled the dog
That stared at the hamster that spun the wheel
That lived in The House of Aichele
This is the man with a beard like a bear
That twirled the girl all graceful and fair
That cuddled the kitten who needs extra care
That snuck past the boy with the golden hair
That wrestled the dog
That stared at the hamster that spun the wheel
That lived in The House of Aichele
This is the woman with the graying hair
That kissed the man with a beard like a bear
That twirled the girl all graceful and fair
That cuddled the kitten who needs extra care
That snuck past the boy with the golden hair
That wrestled the dog
That stared at the hamster that spun the wheel
That lived in The House of Aichele
This is the girl with a dramatic flair
That stole the show and helped the woman with the graying hair
That kissed the man with a beard like a bear
That twirled the girl all graceful and fair
That cuddled the kitten who needs extra care
That snuck past the boy with the golden hair
That wrestled the dog
That stared at the hamster that spun the wheel
That lived in The House of Aichele 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Christmas Stockings

One of the wonderful things about growing up in my home was that my mom made beautiful handmade decorations.  Each of our Christmas stockings were cross-stitched and personalized.  Mom was always doing about 10 things at once, and I think she felt guilty if there was any down-time.  So, while watching TV, chatting with friends, and sitting in church, my mom had her bag of handwork and kept going at it.  Unfortunately, though my mom taught me many things, I don't have the patience for that kind of work…at least to the extent that she does.

My Childhood Stocking
When I got married this year, I wanted to give my step-kids the type of homemade love my mom gave us, but I didn't have a year to make each stocking, so I found this amazing tutorial and made my own version of family stockings.  Not as personal, but they looked good, and the kids loved them.

Our Family's Christmas Stockings
Each stocking uses 1 fat quarter for the stocking and 1/2 a fat quarter for the cuff.  I found a coordinated bundle so that we could all match, but be different, then got a couple of yards of the blue for the cuffs and linings.  One more fat quarter and some heat-n-bond for the letters and that was it.  Perfect one-day project.  Step-by-step instructions and pattern are from