personal

Five reasons I’m telling the awful story about one of the worst moments of my life.

This isn’t a mommy blog, but this is a mommy story. I felt like I couldn’t not tell it.

Tonight my two year old child choked on a piece of fruit. By “choked” I don’t mean that he was coughing and sputtering and I said “whoops, careful, honey.” I mean no crying, no breathing, no sounds… nothing. It’s the type of thing that every parent fears, and it’s the type of thing I never thought would happen to me. I always cut up the hotdogs into quarters. I always slice grapes in half. I monitor the toys. No popcorn allowed in our house. Tonight I gave them some cantaloupe. I hadn’t cut it myself, so I didn’t know how hard it was, but the other cantaloupe we had the other day was soft and mushy and so I didn’t even give it a second thought as I poured it out of the container onto the tray. When it happened right away, I knew something was wrong. There was no sound at all. I’m a worrier when it comes to choking so I know: when there is noise, there is no choking, the best thing to do is to continue coughing. But in this case, there was no noise, and so I knew, and I leapt into action. I pulled the child out of his chair, draped him over my arm and started giving the thrusts on his back, right between the shoulder blades (and firmly) in my case (mercifully!) it took only two (maybe only one, I can’t remember) sharp blow, and the cantaloupe came flying out.

This is the amazing two year old in question:

sammy

Do you know what I would do without him?

Back to the choking story. The whole thing, start to finish, was less than a minute. We are blessed and lucky. Choking is the leading cause of accidental death in children under five.  If it could happen to me, me who cuts up the fruit and the grapes and doesn’t allow popcorn and worries about it a lot (more than average, I would say), well, it could happen to you.  So I’m telling my story now, even though I’d rather forget it. Here’s why.

1. I don’t want you to worry only about those foods on the “naughty” list. My child didn’t choke on a piece of hot dog or a grape or popcorn. It was cantaloupe, but it was too firm, and it was just the right size.

2. I want you to brush up on the first aid, or take a course. I’ve taken the full first aid course a couple of times, but my certification has lapsed. Mercifully, I did the right things, but if I hadn’t had those first aid courses, I’m not sure I would have done exactly what I did and, as it turns out, it was the right thing to do.

3. I want you to rejoice with me, and give thanks for our children. It’s so cliche, right? You’re going along with your day and BAM! Everything changes. I’m telling you, everything changes when something like this happens. I’m so unbelievably thankful for my child’s life this evening. Immediately after this happened he wanted to sing “the chicken on the bus goes ‘cluck, cluck, cluck'” and I thought “this is the most amazing moment of my entire life.” Because, wow. I mean, WOW.

4. I want you to hang this poster in your kitchen. I do. I really do. I’m going to hang it in mine. I don’t really care that it doesn’t go with anything. I want any babysitter, any guest, any visitor, anyone to be able to see it and know what to do if it happens to any person in my home. I don’t care. It’s going up. Tomorrow.

choking-page-0

Here is a PDF link. 

5. I don’t want you to worry too much. Yeah, it could happen to you. It happened to me, so you should take precautions, but the fact is, lots and lots of kids go through life without choking (I never did, thankfully!). I’m praying that my little 2 year old never remembers this incident. I’m positive I’ll remember it every single day for the rest of my life. (Ok, maybe not everyday, but check with me when I’m 90, because I’m guessing I’ll say “I remember it like it was yesterday”.) 

Don’t worry, but do hang the poster in your kitchen.

Let’s hope I never write another post like this ever, ever again.

 

The noisy news…

Sometimes the news just seems… loud to me. Death. Violence. Wars. Screaming. Shouting. Bills. Laws. Minority opinions. Majority opinions.

It seems to me that the only thing that can break through, sometimes, is art.

Today it was quiet enough for me to really see and hear this short poem by Khaled Juma…

 

rascal children of gaza

Birthday Blessing: A Simple Tradition

BirthdayBlessing

I can’t believe my little guys are two and three already! It really is true that the days are long and the years are short. In the book, I have a birthday tradition that is fabulous and it allows children to think about others on their birthday. This birthday blessing idea, though, is one of the things that ended up on the edit reel. Maybe I’ll but something like it if I do a second book, but I wanted to share it here in honor of Clayton and Sam’s second and third birthdays, respectively. It’s really simple. Just choose a time of the day and say this blessing (or your own variation) to your child. I think as the children grow older, we’ll tell them the remarkable stories of their births and then conclude with this blessing. It’s a simple way to remind your children how important they are and acknowledge the gifts God has given.

A Birthday Blessing 

________, Today you turned __ years old. I give thanks to God for another year of life and give you this blessing: May you always know that your mama and your papa love you. May you always know that your friends and family love you. May you always know that God and Jesus and the Spirit love you. This year, may you have peace in your heart, rest in your mind, and health in your body. May you have these things not only today, your birthday, but every day of your life. Amen.

 

sam2clayton3

 

 

On Friendship, Mentorship, and Kelly Allen for Moderator of the PCUSA

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Kelly Allen for Moderator

www.kellyformoderator.com 

OK, warning… this post might be boring if you are not Presbyterian (USA). I say might because it’s also a post mostly about friendship and what it means to be a good friend, which I think applies to everyone.

Every other year in the Presbyterian church we all get together and vote for someone to lead us. That person has a largely symbolic role. (sorry moderator candidates! It’s true!)  After all, the moderator doesn’t have much actual power. He or she can’t decree something or change the rules. Nevertheless, it’s a huge deal and what that person represents and says and does can make a lot of difference in the culture and climate of our denomination.

This week I saw the Presbyterian Outlook’s spread on the three moderator candidates and it sort of took my breath away to see the picture of my friend, colleague and mentor Kelly Allen smiling up at me. I’m so proud of her and excited about her candidacy. Though I’ve wanted to write a post about this for months, it almost feels overwhelming because there’s so much to say (hence the reason you should just read about the candidates for yourself on the article I just posted.)

There are a ton of things I could say about Kelly:  I could say she is a passionate advocate for society’s most vulnerable (it’s true). I could say she loves Jesus (true.) I could say she’s a bridge builder and a master dialogue-r (those things are true, but dialogue-r is not actually a word. Whatever.) I feel fortunate and confident that Kelly’s views on all kinds of matters in the PC(USA) align with the direction I think we need to be going, but I don’t really want to write a blog post about those things, because what took my breath away when I saw that picture smiling up at me was that this is a great friend, and mentor, and while that might not make a difference in the race for moderator, it makes a difference to me.

My first introduction to Kelly was shortly after I moved to San Antonio. She dropped by my office to welcome me to town. As in, she called me up, asked if she could come over, made an appointment and came over. That very simple fact speaks volumes. She didn’t say ‘Stop by, anytime!’ She didn’t say ‘my door is always open,’ she made the effort, and there was no real need to do that other than what I saw (and still see) as a genuine desire to be present for a new colleague At a time when we need to be reaching out to others, (and when isn’t there a time when we need to be reaching out to others) she shows what that means.

One of the things that Kelly said to me in that first meeting was this: “When I was first starting out in ministry, I had a lot of people helping me, and so if you ever need anything, I would be glad to listen and tell you what I know.” In the past two years, I’ve taken her up on that, many times. Without getting too sappy and boring and long winded, let me tell you some things that I’ve learned about Kelly as a friend and mentor that I have 100% confidence would translate over to her work as moderator:

1. She has time: I’m not going to read her impressive resume of all the impressive and fancy things she does, but she does them. Her church is big, it’s busy, it’s all of those things that people who run for moderator have. But I have never, not once, not even for a minute thought “I bet she doesn’t have time to help with my silly old problem.” I’m guessing she feels cramped for time, but I’ve never seen or felt it.

2. She’s collaborative: I’ve worked with Kelly in a number of settings and they have one thing in common: bringing people together. She makes introductions and lets people share their own gifts. She doesn’t hog the spotlight; she facilitates discussion.

3. She’s fair: Good friends and mentors don’t just listen to what you say and then rubber stamp it. They challenge you and say “I wonder if you’ve thought about that in this way.”

4. She doesn’t just regurgitate what she thinks she’s supposed to say: Kelly recently posted on her Facebook Page a long and interesting question about what it means to talk about a theological or political “spectrum.” One of the things she said was  

I am passionate about Jesus Christ being the center of my identity as a person of faith and committed to sharing this good news AND I am passionate about honoring the dignity and learning from the wisdom of people of other faiths. Does that make me a right wing evangelical or a left wing liberal or do those do just cancel each other out and put me in the muddled middle?

I love that because 1. It sounds just like the Kelly I know (asking brave and challenging questions that make a lot of sense) 2. After that she said “So help me come up with a metaphor that works. (see also: collaboration!) Love.

Ok, so what I really want to do is keep going and gushing and using words like awesome and amazing and “I want to be like her when I grow up” (true, true, and all true) but I don’t want to be like that person at a wedding that keeps yammering on at the speeches time (you know who I’m talking about). I’m sure that in the coming weeks there will be lots of endorsements and opinions coming out and running around and I wanted to put mine out now, before I start to censor it and wonder if I should write it at all. Because here’s the thing: she’s a good friend and a good mentor, and that matters. It would matter to me if I were voting in this election in Detroit this summer.  Good Luck, Kelly!

 

A Prayer for San Antonio Parents and Teachers in a Time of Fear

Single Butterfly Line Art

One of the obvious things I do as a pastor is pray. I often feel that my prayers are insufficient or incomplete, but I feel called to continue to do it. I lift up, every day, the needs of my congregation and the concerns they lay before me. It is an honor and a privilege.

This week I’ve been praying for the parents in my congregation who have children in school. Though we always pray for our children, these parents have been especially troubled this week as threats have been made against their children’s safety. What are these threats? Are they a hoax? In this context what does a “hoax” even mean? Any threat against our children is to be taken seriously. Very seriously. And so, I do what I always do, I pray.

I wanted to put a prayer on this blog for parents to share with one another tonight and tomorrow, an encouragement to stand together and come to God with our hopes and fears and solidarity.  Fear is powerful, and when we are afraid we can always come to God in prayer. Let us all come together and light candles together, and pray.

A Prayer for Parents and Teachers in a Time of Fear 

Gracious and Loving God,

We come before you with anxious and worried hearts, asking for you to hear our prayers on behalf of the children you created. When our children are threatened, our hearts are heavy and emotions run deep. We are anxious, sad, scared, tired, overwhelmed.

Draw near to parents, we pray, whether they decide to keep their children home or send them to school, help them to have peace of mind that the decisions they make are best for their family. May we support and love one another, knowing that Your Spirit leads each of us in different ways.

Draw near to teachers, we pray, give them strength and courage as they do their already difficult jobs on an even more difficult day. May they feel our support, our compassion and our love.

Draw near to our children, we pray, and give them a palpable sense of security not just today and tomorrow, but each and every day. May they know that they are loved, protected, and safe. May they know that the adults in their lives will stop at nothing to ensure their safety and security.

We trust in you, O God, and ask you to draw near to us when we feel worried and afraid. Give us strength and courage, and a knowledge of your presence. In Christ’s Name we pray, Amen.

Four Reasons Why This Pastor Encourages Egg Hunts in Churches

eastersheepandegg

The Saturday before Easter, my lovely congregation will be holding a little Easter Egg hunt with cupcakes, cascarones, music and laughter. Some pastors might argue this is liturgically, theologically or spiritually inappropriate. I don’t think so, and here are four reasons why.

1. The Easter date was chosen to coincide with a pagan festival... there’s already ample historical precedent for the church putting itself squarely in the middle of culture. The early Christians thought it was a good idea to celebrate the risen Christ in the middle of where the party already was. They contextualized it. It doesn’t make Jesus any less risen, it makes him risen at a time when people are already having a party. I’m fine with that. Eggs and bunnies, chicks and candy aren’t going anywhere, culture-wise. Children will associate Easter with bunnies and chicks and candy and eggs even if there is no egg hunt on the church lawn. So why not have a celebration that includes these things in a place where there are adults who love them and will also share the message of Jesus and resurrection and new life?

2. It’s a great way to reach out to people who don’t have a faith home. Eggs and candy and games are a very low-stress way to drop by a church. If a child and his or her parents drops by and has a great time and is inspired to come back, I see that as a huge win. If not, it’s an opportunity to share our love and joy with the community.

3. There is time for deeper reflection and Good Friday Mourning later One of the arguments against holding Egg Hunts before Easter (during lent or on Good Friday or on Holy Saturday) is that it is to be a time of penance, mourning and reflection. I agree with this, and I think that families can do a lot of age-appropriate things to teach their children about meditation and grief and restraint. At the same time, let’s let children be children, let’s let them be joyful even if we ourselves are in mourning Life is hard and our children will be adults soon enough. I believe that we, as adults, have a responsibility to shield our children from some of the darkness that is Good Friday. There is a balance here. We can’t ignore the truth of what happened on the cross, but we have to be mindful of what little heads and hearts can grasp at tender ages.

4. There is room for both. I don’t think we should baptize the Easter Bunny, but our children can have both. They can understand that Easter is about the Resurrected Lord and it’s also about celebration and joy (and sure, candy eggs, why not?) There is nothing to fear. If we do our jobs, Jesus will become more real with each interaction they have from loving adults and pastors who will stop at nothing to make sure that they grow up to be fun-loving, Jesus-following, life-giving people.

What do you think?

For Further Reading: Where Did the Easter Bunny Come From?

Some musings about getting lost, finding my way and wayfinding design…

wayfinding

I have a terrible sense of direction. What I mean is: it’s impossible to overstate how easy it is for me to get lost. I mean this in a literal sense. Without a GPS or very, very clear directions, I can lose my way to even the simplest of places, even if I’ve been there before. My mother is the same way and I either inherited it or learned it from her, I’m convinced.

One of the places I get most lost is in hospitals and my job requires me to go to a lot of different hospitals. I used to try and plan to park near the entrance that would get me closest to the parishioner I was visiting. Now, I don’t bother. I know I’m going to be spending time endlessly wandering around the halls, asking for someone to point me to the right room and then asking someone again 50 feet later. If I have to come back for a follow up visit, I have to ask again, because I don’t easily remember which way I went.

A friend once explained to me that wayfinding design is an actual thing. In other words, the system finding your way in a place like a hospital, or a stadium, or an airport or some other complex place isn’t just thrown together, someone thought about it and used clearly researched principles to help you find your way. If they did their job well, you don’t get lost.

I don’t know a lot about these principles for wayfinding design, though I am intrigued when I read about them   but I do know this: many hospitals contract wayfinding designers that aren’t very good. I know this not because I know a whole lot about design, but because I get lost there and so I know the system is bad. One could argue that I’m the exception to the rule and that because most people find their way, it’s a good system. I’m just a “lose your way” kind of girl and there’s no hope. Except that shouldn’t be true. Designers should care most about people like me because people that are good with directions can find their way without their system, just give ’em some kind of map. (The word makes me shudder. I can’t read them. Really.)  If a system is really good, it should be good for someone with a terrible sense of direction.

Thus brings me to the exciting point of this post. For the past few days I’ve been at Edward Hospital in Naperville with my mama who has had knee replacement surgery. And I haven’t gotten lost one time. Not on my way to the waiting room when we were waiting for the surgery, not to the hospital, not to the multiple parking garages when I’ve had to go there to get the cars, not when I’ve gone to the cafeteria, you get the picture. In an ordinary hospital experience, I would have gotten lost many times by now, and here, not once. I know this may be exceptionally boring and not noteworthy to many people, but to me it’s huge. I am 100% serious when I say that I want to find out which design company did the wayfinding for Edward Hospital and thank them. I think designers should hire me as a test case for their systems. If I can find my way, the system passes. This one would pass. Here are the things that I think work for this system. (Pictures above.)

1. There are ceiling flags that don’t show you just one time if you’re going the right way, they repeatedly show you. If I start to go down the hall that is not the right one, I turn around half way down the hall instead of having to get to the end (or worse, make a constant wrong turn). In other words, I’m constantly being reminded (this way, go this way, this is the way, yes, this is the way.)  As a side note, I found my way through one hospital by learning that the wing I wanted was near Starbucks and so I should just follow the one sign to Starbucks that was posted constantly to remind me. Same concept.

2. There are different colors and shapes on the flags for various places, so they look very different in more than one way. Surgery was an orange X. The North Wing is a blue N, the South Wing is a hot pink S. In other hospitals they’re all numbers in circles that look very similar and I get confused. (Was I going to 1S or 1N? Things like south and north literally mean nothing to me, and most of the time there is no other color or identifier to help me know which is which.)

3. There are GIANT symbols on end walls so I don’t have to walk all the way to the end to know if I’m at the right hallway or the wrong hallway.

Can anyone help me find the wayfinding designer for Edward Hospital? Anybody have influence in hospital wayfinding design and want me to test out your system? I’m dead serious.

 

 

Heaven… ticketed guests only?

A Ticket to Heaven... The Worst Idea I've Seen in a Long, Long Time.

A Ticket to Heaven… The Worst Idea I’ve Seen in a Long, Long Time.

Like just about anybody who works in a church, I get a lot of catalogues. I mean, a lot. I usually flip through them quickly before dumping them in the recycle bin, but this week, a particular catalog caught my eye. It’s not important which one, but it was for children’s spiritual formation-type things: Vacation Bible School, Sunday School, children’s church and other similar things. I took a look at it while I was waiting for the rice to boil and it turns out that my blood ended up boiling right alongside the rice when I came across the product pictured above (side note: I just read some sort of article that suggested I use the time waiting for water to boil to “see how much I cleaning you can get done in your kitchen.” Ha. Ha ha ha.)
                                                                                                 .
So… color your own “Jesus is my ticket to heaven” tickets for kids. Let me count the ways this product is upsetting to me. I wanted to let this one go. I really did. After all, there are a lot of Christian products for kids out there that aren’t my cup of tea. A lot of it is cheesy, or poorly made, or not my style. This “Jesus ticket” is not your run of the mill Jesus Junk, it’s actually offensive (in my oh so humble opinion). Some thoughts:
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1. I don’t want my children (or any children I minister to) to get the idea that they need a ticket to get into heaven: Not a “be good” ticket, not a “believe exactly this” ticket, not a “if you’re not doing it right you won’t get there” ticket, and certainly not a paper ticket. There is a view out there that you have to have some sort of “ticket” to get into heaven. I think it’s hogwash.

 

2. Though adults can clearly understand that this craft is meant to be “symbolic” (of a ridiculous concept, see point #1) Many young children will view this as a  literal ticket to heaven. Sound ridiculous? It’s not. This is an object lesson, and many object lessons are too complex for young minds to grasp. For more on this, see Fowler or any other writer on faith development. Young children need safety and security not an implicit “You need this or you might not get to heaven” message. If even one child leaves the ticket making activity with the impression that they need that actual piece of paper to make it in to heaven, that is one child too many.

3. Jesus as a ticket to heaven completely misses everything Jesus was and is about.

So… what do you think? What am I missing here?

You’re Not “Doing it Wrong” (A quick reminder)

A tiny human  © Traci Smith

A tiny human
© Traci Smith

Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to be reading a lot of articles and blog posts recently that imply I’m “doing it wrong.”  Reading them makes me feel like a worse parent, not a better one. Just this week I read articles that told me I’m doing it wrong with regard to the following: potty training, nutrition, and bilingualism. (Never mind all the ways I was doing it wrong last week and the week before that).  Here’s the thing though. I’m not doing it wrong. (at least not all the time.) And neither are you. In fact, I think we’re doing a lot of things right. We’re entrusted with the lives of tiny humans and it’s an impossible task. We need (God’s) help. Raising tiny humans  is made even more impossible by the constant chatter of “you’re doing it wrong.” So let me be a voice in the wilderness saying something new: Good job mamas and papas. You’re doing it right! High five!

Here’s a prayer for all of us as we try to figure it out:

Dear Lord, Forgive me when I do it wrong. Forgive me for telling others they’re doing it wrong or even implying they’re doing it wrong. Help me to recognize when I do things well when it comes to raising tiny humans. Help me to be a positive and encouraging voice for other tiny human raisers. Amen!

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“Where’s my free copy?” “How much money are you making?” and other awkward questions… answered! (sorta)

 

 

cropped-seamless_faith_cover_5th_proof.jpg

So… my book Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life is done being printed and is now available for purchase and reading. I learned a lot in the writing and publishing process. More about that next week, but for now, I thought I’d answer a few questions here about some of the nitty gritty of this book since, well… you’re asking. Some of you are asking for real and some of you are asking in your head, so I thought I’d just answer you!

Can I have a free copy? Probably not. Nope. Sorry, no. This isn’t because I don’t want you to have a free copy, it’s because I don’t have any. I really don’t. Ok, that’s a lie, I have a few free copies. You know who gets them? People who created me (hi mom and dad!) or were subject to me kicking them under the table when we were kids and then lying about it (hi Scott!) and people who smell my morning breath (Hi Elias!) and then a few people who are listed in the acknowledgements of the book because they contributed significant sweat and blood or influence to the book. Then there a few people I begged to read it in advance so they could say nice things. They get one too. That takes up all the free copies! Darn! Wish I had a free copy for everyone, but I do not. One great thing about this, though: If you sign up for my newsletter you can get some free excerpts to see what all the hubabaloo is about and decide if you want to buy a copy for yourself or your church or your friends (because you will!)

Ok, so since you’re not giving me one, I’m going to buy one. Where should I buy it? Depends. If you’re local, you should buy it from me! No shipping fees AND I can sign it and put a smiley face in it. Otherwise, get it from Chalice Press or any other big online book place. You know the ones.

How much money are you making off of this book? I’m simultaneously making not enough money and too much money from this book. Not enough money because, really, when we consider the number of hours I spent writing, editing, marketing, discussing, obsessing, emailing and organizing this book, I would definitely be making more money by doing a variety of other things. On the other hand I wrote this book and wanted it published for one reason and one reason only: I want the ideas out there. You guys, I really believe in this book. I really believe that parents who think they don’t know anything about how to teach their faith to their children really know a lot. I think that by doing really simple things as a part of every day life, parents can create a world for their children where faith is natural and normal, and just… life. So for me, making any money at all is sort of “too much” because what I really want is the platform and the opportunity to distribute these ideas to parents and ministers and churches. I’m not discussing numbers on the blog because I don’t know if it’s fair to other authors to discuss specifics like that in such a public forum, but if you know me and you want to know, ask me and I will absolutely tell you.

Are you going on a book tour? Yes! Ok, so a virtual one. In the beginning of April, I’m sending it around on a few blogs where people will write about it and review it and excerpt it. If you think your blog (or a blog you know) is a good candidate, let me know and I’ll see if we can get it on there. 

Will you sign my book? YES! You buy it, I’ll sign it. I’ll even put a smiley face or a heart in it.

Is it a good book? Tell me the truth: It really, really is. When I wrote it it was a pretty good book and then a lot of really awesome people edited it and designed it and made it into a really good book.

How can I help you make the book a success? OK, peeps, you are my peeps, so I want to tell you a secret: I want you to review the book on Amazon.  I don’t want you to say you liked it if you didn’t, I want you to say what you really think about it. You know why? Because people read those things. You’re my friends and my family and people who know me and are going to be reading it first, so put a review up! Do it! Also mark the book as “to read” on your bookshelf for Good Reads, share it on Facebook and talk to your friends about it.

Thank you for sharing my joy! Yay!