Thursday, July 30, 2009

Put 'er in Neutral

I wrote this for a Lenten devotional book put out by our church, but I'm posting it here at the request of a friend. I think it has a useful message, regardless of faith tradition, as I think the message is one we can all use once in a while.

Psalm 46: 1-3

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

* * *I will start this meditation with a short, selfish prayer that my insurance agent either a) does not read this or b) does not consider it as grounds to raise my rates.

In the words of my eldest brother, I have been an “accident happening” since my birth in the midst of a blizzard in 1975.

My mother, a staunch Catholic, was never as blunt as my brother in her assessment of my life-long propensity towards mishap. She did, however, regularly pray, on my behalf, for the intercession of St. Jude (patron saint of hopeless and desperate cases), St. Christopher (patron saint of safe travel), and St. Anthony (patron saint of lost articles).

“Child of Grace,” my mother would often intone, “I don’t know how you always get yourself into these situations, but you always seem to come out smelling like a rose. You must have an entire army of guardian angels working your case.”

As I made the transition to Lutheranism in my college years, my mother’s term of endearment took on new meaning.

Children of Grace, indeed. Aren’t we all?

With a lifetime of minor accidents and mishaps as a reference, I can confidently proclaim that the grace and love of Christ has been with me in both the best and worst of times.

The worst of those times are, for me, like they are for so many others, often too difficult to write about or speak of. They are, surely, times when God’s love has been present and powerful in my life. They are not, however, the subject of this meditation.

What strikes me about God’s love and grace in this Lenten season, is the way in which it is with us not only in our times of greatest trial and distress, but also at those times when we have simply done something stupid or gotten ourselves into a sticky situation with no clear exit strategy.

The following story is one brief example of God’s love and grace at work in my life.

It was late November of 2004. Mike and I were living in Duluth, MN with two-year-old Ethan. We both had full-time, demanding jobs, and I was also taking several night courses to complete a master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Life was so hectic that I found myself forgetting the “little things” quite often.

The “little things” such as putting gas in the car, for example.

So it was that I found myself in my gas-less car, in the fast lane, during rush hour, stranded at the top of the “high bridge” over the bay between Duluth, MN, and Superior, WI, in the middle of the first big snow storm of the season. The high winds raged, shaking my car. Icy pellets of freezing rain pelted my motionless car, as rightfully frustrated drivers whizzed by in the right lane, honking and making rude gestures.

I sat in my car with no idea what to do. I considered my options. I could get out of the car on the driver’s side, and be blown to a hypothermic, drowning death in the churning waters of Lake Superior. Alternatively, I could get out the passenger’s door, and surely be struck by oncoming traffic on the increasingly slippery bridge. I had no cell phone to call for help.

The only thing I could think to do was offer up a quick prayer. I closed my eyes and silently prayed: “Dear God. I know I’ve done a lot of stupid things in my life, and this is clearly one of them. I have no idea how you’re going to get me out of this, but, based on lots of previous experience, I’m confident you can figure it out. Please help.”

When I opened my eyes, I was shocked to see the windblown, frozen-cheeked face of a scraggly-bearded man. His truck was immediately behind my car on the bridge, and he had crawled, precariously, along the bridge wall and was knocking at my window. I opened the window a crack, thinking to myself, “I really hope he doesn’t have a gun.”

“Put her in neutral,” the man bellowed, “I got a push bumper. I’ll get you to the other side.”

So I did.

And he did.

And a few minutes later my car was sitting in a yellow “safe zone” across the street from a gas station on the Superior side of the high bridge.

Now, it would be entirely fitting if the story ended here, but this was clearly a night for putting God’s grace and love in the midst of my own stupidity to the test.

I decided to make a run for some gas. I put on the hazard lights and ran for the station. I bought a gas can and couple of gallons of ethanol blend. By the time I returned to my car, the police had shown up, and they were not happy.

“Why did you abandon the vehicle?” the officer asked.

“Uh, I just ran to get some gas.”

“Alright, then, get it into the car, and let’s get this thing off the road.”

I fumbled for my keys to open the driver’s side door and release the gas tank door.

No keys.


I went for the car door.


With my keys inside.

So, there I was, with my gas-less, keys-locked-inside car, facing two police officers in the center of four lanes of rush hour traffic.

“Uh, God . . . just one more favor??”

In the end, the police officers both took pity on me. They offered to call a towing service and even convinced the tow-truck man not to charge me the standard rate. My car was towed two blocks to the nearest service station, and the tow-truck man opened my locked car doors, put the gas in my car, charged me a token ten dollars, and sent me on my way.

So, as I consider, this Lenten season, how the love of God has been present in my life, I think of the thousands of real, everyday people, friends and strangers alike, who have shown me Christ-like love.

The police officers and their sympathy.

The tow-truck man and his charity.

And certainly the scraggly bearded man on the bridge, whose name I never knew and who didn’t stop long enough to take an offering of thanks.

I’ve often recalled the only words this man ever said to me, and I am struck by their simple wisdom in considering how the grace of God can work in our lives, particularly in times of trial.

“Put her in neutral,” he said, “I’ll get you to the other side.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Preview of My Funeral

So, it may sound morbid, but I've had death on the brain lately.

Mike's grandmother died a little over a month ago, and, less than a week later, an aunt of mine. Both were wise, no-nonsense, hard-working Midwestern farm wives and mothers who handled, with grit and grace, more chaos than I'll likely ever see. My aunt, as just one example, raised sixteen children. How's that for a dose of humility, when I can barely handle our two?

We were lucky to have made it back to Iowa for a two day visit with Great-Grandma, in her final hours. As is common in the life of a church worker, however, it was necessary for us to return to Sioux Falls for Sunday services in order for Mike to conduct Rutter's Gloria, a major work with choir and orchestra that had been the subject of extensive rehearsal in weeks prior. Great-Grandma took her last breath at approximately the same moment Mike began conducting the final movement -- apropos in light of her and Grandpa's contribution to Mike's deep love of music, beginning with the gift of his first piano, rescued from a chicken coop and lovingly restored by Grandpa Leonard so that Mike might take his first lessons.

Mike took the timing as a "sign," a trait he shares with his grandmother. A deeply devoted Catholic, Great Grandma regularly prayed novenas for the intercession of St. Theresa of Avila on behalf of whatever extended family member might be in trouble. I'll admit to being a firmly lapsed Catholic, but even I'm convinced that Grandma had something special going with her belief in the power of persistent and faithful prayer. St. Theresa's "sign" was a blooming rose. Whenever Grandma saw one out of context -- springing from a crack in the sidewalk or blooming at an odd time of year, for example -- she was assured that her prayers were being heard. Perhaps not always answered in the way we might have preferred, but certainly heard and, via those roses, acknowledged.

Ethan, our junior theologian from an early age, took the news of Great-Grandma's death much more easily than his father. Having missed a violin lesson in our efforts to make haste back to Iowa, he attended a make-up lesson the day after her death, shortly before a second trip back for the funeral was arranged. His teacher, unaware that Grandma had made the transition from gravely-ill to graveward-bound, inquired as to her status:

Maria: Ethan, how is your Great Grandma doing?

Ethan: Oh, she's MUCH better. She died.

To him, it was just that simple. He asked me, recently, if heaven was a nice place to be. "I think so," I replied, "though I've never really been there."

"Isn't heaven where Jesus fixes broken hearts?" he also once asked, several years ago, after an impromptu bird funeral in the back yard of our Duluth home. He was no more than two and a half years old, and had become morbidly fascinated with a dead bird he found in the driveway one afternoon.

"How did that bird die, Mom?"

"I don't know, buddy. Maybe its heart just broke."

"Hmm. What happens now?"

"What do you mean?"

"To the bird. What happens?"

"Well, I suppose the bird goes to bird heaven." I'll admit, I was punting here.

"Will he get a new heart?"

"Maybe," I hedged, honestly a bit befuddled at finding myself suddenly embroiled in a theological discussion with a two-year-old.

"Well, isn't heaven where Jesus fixes broken hearts?"

"I suppose so, sweetheart. Sounds good to me."

A few days later, we were eating breakfast on the back porch, when a bird flew by the big picture window.

"Hey, mom, that bird got his heart fixed," Ethan mentioned, casually, as if resurrection were as common as the peanut butter toast and orange juice sitting in front of him.

"I guess so, " I played along, smiling.

And the subject was dropped, as though a dead bird, fully risen from the dead and flying by our back window, was just the start to another run-of-the-mill day of toddlerhood.

I realize the conversation itself was pretty simple, but, I've recalled that particular exchange on several occasions in the three-plus years since. It always comforts me to realize the ease and confidence with which small children understand and accept concepts like heaven and resurrection and eternal life, when adults are prone to cynicize and complicate and scrutinize and theorize them to the brink of destruction.

A few short months after the bird conversation, I was hospitalized, at 27 weeks gestation with my daughter, for a serious and life-threatening condition. Two blood clots had made their way to my lungs, and I spent about 18 hours in atrial fibrillation before converting back to a regular heart rhythm.

Upon seeing me in the hospital bed, Ethan asked, quite innocently, "What's wrong, Mommy?"

"Well, Mom's heart isn't beating quite right," I answered, breaking my soft policy of NEVER falling into the cutesy, 3rd person, "mommy" habit.

"Are you going to go to heaven, so Jesus can fix it?" he asked, at which point my nervous husband nearly fainted.

"Well, we're going to see what the doctors can do, first, sweetie, but I'll certainly keep that in mind."

Fast forward three more years, and Ethan's peculiar fascination with death and resurrection still abides.

I'm not sure I'm still on his list of those bound for heaven, though.

Shortly after moving into our Sioux Falls home, with Ethan at age four and Abigail around 18 months, I was running to rescue my potty-fascinated daughter from the disgusting contents of an unflushed toilet,a gift from her elder brother. Unbeknownst to me, the tiled floor of the bathroom was already slick with a quarter inch of standing water. In keeping with my penchant for unintended pratfalls, I hit the water running, lost my footing, and crashed to the floor, taking a head butt from the bathtub on the way down.

Ethan, startled at the noise, wasted no time in pinning the blame.

"Abby! You KILLED her!!"

Dazed, slightly teary, and having lost the use of my twisted ankles, I lay there, semi-conscious, nowhere near a phone, mentally willing Mike to sense my ESP 911 distress call.

Meanwhile, the kids were quickly contented and seemingly quite comfortable with my untimely demise. At least they were respectful about it, though. Before returning to their super-sized Legos and Care Bears video, they both located their favorite blankies, and laid them over my face. Less work for the coroner that way, I suppose.

More recently, they seem to have lost the sense of respect that accompanied this first preview of my funeral.

About a week ago, while attempting to keep myself motivated on the treadmill, I employed the use of a knock-off iPod I had purchased a couple of years ago, but rarely used. The iPod was loaded with exactly one song, "How You Live" by contemporary Christian artists, Point of Grace. I'm not generally a big fan to Christian radio, but I heard this song at church one day, sung by a woman suffering stage four lung cancer and singing to her young daughter in the congregation, and I fell in love with it.

Driven by the climactic lyrics, "Now is the time to begin . . . " I cranked the treadmill speed a few notches higher and prepared for my first EVER "runner's high." My attempt at achieving cardio-nirvana ended abruptly, as one wrong step sent me flying, ass over armpits, off the back of the moving treadmill. My legs caught the "safety" hand rails, my head slammed into the wall, and the moving belt completed the "purging" action of my least favorite piece of exercise equipment, leaving me in a mangled heap on the floor immediately behind the beast.

Curious, but none too shocked (I suppose they've become accustomed to this kind of thing by now), the kids wandered over and casually surveyed the damage.

Without a word, but seizing their opportunity, they promptly stole the iPod off my lifeless carcass.

This time, I didn't even get the blankies.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Finding the Christmas Miracle

The following is one of the first pieces I ever wrote down on paper after one of the thousands of chaotic experiences involving my children. It's certainly longer than my average blog post will be, and I realize the timing is WAY off, but in an effort to get some content online, here goes:

Finding the Christmas Miracle

My elderly Jewish gynecologist looked at me in horror. His eyes fell on mine with a combination of disgust and sympathy, and it was clear that, in his mind, I should be finished having children. There was no medical diagnosis that prompted this silent exchange, no stirrups, no speculum, no medical facility of any kind. And while I never imagined I would be making the decision to stop having children in the balcony of a Lutheran church on Christmas Eve, they say God works in mysterious ways.

As the wife of a church music director, I had been living my church life as a “ministry widow” for several years. I’d learned how to handle two children under three in church -- lots of Cheerios, full sippy cups, fervent (though frequently interrupted) prayer, and the constant hope for the miracle of good behavior. But, I’ll admit, on this particular Christmas Eve, I was harboring a larger than usual share of resentment that my beloved is ALWAYS at church in the days surrounding major Christian holidays. To this day, he usually disappears into a blessed haze of worship planning, hymn selection, choir rehearsals, organ practice, and church meetings a few weeks before Reformation Sunday, and emerges, exhausted and spiritually drained, but proud of his efforts, sometime after Easter. His commitment to the church and our choice to live several hours from our closest relatives mean that every Sunday and every Christian holiday, as far as I’m concerned, I’m a single mother.

I was determined to use Christmas Eve of 2006 as the perfect opportunity to revise my history of always being ten minutes late for services. By sheer will and brute force, I was going to get my children to church early, lay claim to the most coveted, child friendly seats, and make it through the candle light service with no tantrums, potty breaks, or under-the-pew-and-into-the-aisle escapes. I was set to prove to myself and the world that a Christmas Eve miracle was possible.

The planning started weeks in advance. I carefully selected two beautifully matching red and black velvet Christmas Eve “costumes” for three-year-old Ethan and one-year-old Abigail. I collected tights, underpants, hair ribbons, bow tie, argyle socks, and two pairs of “his and hers” shiny, black, patent leather shoes. The entire collection hung in their closets, pressed and ready to go for weeks before the big night. I timed the car ride to church. And in an act of sheer organizational artistry, I created a specific plan to get me and the children to get to church early on Christmas Eve. The service we were attending began at seven o’clock. The carefully crafted schedule was divided into fifteen minute increments, starting at approximately noon.
By five o’clock on the big night, I was convinced I was going to pull this off. My painstakingly prepared schedule was working. Snacks prepared. Check. Sippy cups filled. Check. Diaper bag . . .wet wipes . . . “church” toys. Check, check, check. Even the baths went well (Perhaps a miracle really did occur?). It was six o’clock. The kids and I were dressed and ready for Christmas Eve. Allowing ten minutes to load the car, twenty to get to church, another ten to find a parking spot, that left us at least twenty minutes early for services. Life was good.
Deep breath. Commence loading.

Loading the car for church without losing either children or my mind had always been a problem. Do I load the baby first and let the three-year-old with a fascination for ketchup and breakables roam the house with only God to protect him? Or do I load the three-year-old, and let him scream fits in his attempts to escape the car seat, while I run back to rescue the baby, who is almost certainly mortally injured in the house? Do I attempt to load both of them simultaneously, hoping one doesn’t escape onto the busy street in front of our house? Or do I hire help . . . Superman, perhaps?

I was convinced God was on my side in this. The weather had been unseasonably warm for December in Duluth, so there was no snow to contend with. There had been a few recent, late season rains, but the temperatures were such that I could load my children into the car outside without risk of frostbite. I decided to attempt the simultaneous “double child load.” This is a dangerous technique that should not be tried without extensive training, adult (preferably grandparent) supervision, and a prescription for good anti-psychotic drugs.

I had just finished wrestling Abigail into her car seat, and was smiling at the satisfying click of the buckle, when I heard it. A light splash of water and an innocent three year old voice saying “Mommy! It’s so cold . . .” Time ground to a horrifying stop. I inhaled as though it was to be my last living breath. Then, suddenly, the physical world started to spin and time sped up as the trees and sky surrounding our driveway swirled.

Despite my premonition of doom, I forced my face around to find my son, sitting, waist deep in a mud puddle.

Abort loading. Commence full scale, mommy nuclear meltdown.

“What in the hell were you thinking??” I screamed at my son.

I followed that less-than-joyous holiday question, with a string of obscenities that could rival any modern day hip-hop star, a genetic gift for the pure poetry of no-holds-barred cussing inherited from a long line of cattlemen, most recently my father.

Ethan just smiled, proudly, back at me. He looked as though he was satisfied with himself for finally driving me into the official realm of insanity.

“It’s wet, too, Mom!” he grinned with a wink, as if he just might be revealing a secret.

So I stood there, swearing at my three year old in the driveway.

It was Christmas Eve, and I was a raving, maternal lunatic. I paused for a moment, and realized it was, indeed, Christmas Eve and I was likely disturbing several holiday meals or gift openings in the surrounding neighborhood. The thought of a visit from the police momentarily crossed my mind, as I’m sure the neighbors could only imagine a violent domestic dispute had prompted my passionate – if slightly distasteful -- verbosity.

Then, my survival instincts kicked in.

I was not going to let this dream die. I picked up my son out of the mud puddle, and didn’t even bother to change his pants. I immediately buckled him into his car seat, convinced that one good church service in a mud-puddle-soaked pair of velvet pants would teach him a good lesson. I sped to church, determined to still make it in time to find prime “mommy” seats.

One thing I had failed to realize in making my holiday plan is that A LOT of people bring children to church, and A LOT of those people know they have to get there early for the good seats. A second glitch in the plan occurred as I realized that back-to-back services on Christmas Eve meant that if we arrived too early, the previous service would not have ended yet.

When I arrived at church, there was a line outside the door reminiscent of the early morning shopping lines outside major retailers the day after Thanksgiving. I found a parking spot, unloaded the kids and all their “stuff,” and walked the ten minutes it took to get from my sub-prime parking space to the church. We joined the waiting line, and I watched my son shiver as the late December chill in the evening air froze the wet, black, velvet of his pants to his body. One of my fellow parishioners, a properly adorned, stern Lutheran woman in her sixties, looked at my son in horror and gasped.

“What happened?” she interrogated.

I felt small and scolded under her judgmental gaze, but I just grinned, stupidly, and said “Ah, we had a little accident.”

I was cold, embarrassed, and ready to turn around and head back to the car. I just wanted to go home, put the kids to bed, and celebrate the joy of Christmas all by myself with a nice fire, a good novel, and a cup of hot cocoa spiked with peppermint schnapps.

“I’ll try again next year,” I thought, “The kids will be older then, and it won’t be this hard.”
But then God intervened. The previous service let out, and the front doors of the church burst open. A Biblical flood of people poured out of the church, and met, head on, the mass of early-birds on their way in. It was like Grand Central Station at five o’clock. The kids and I, and all our “stuff” were simply swept into the church with the rushing crowd. I couldn’t have escaped if I’d tried, and I figured, in that moment, “If God wants us here so badly, we’d better stay.”
Once inside, the mad rush for mommy seats began. Somehow, the back five rows of pews, nearest the “escape” doors had already filled. All the seats near the side doors were full too.
“The balcony!” I thought, “I can trap them in a pew against one of the side walls up there, and if they get too out of control, it’s less noticeable than the main sanctuary.”

I rushed upstairs. There was one pew left against a side wall. I dashed for it, and slid in just as a family of five was eyeballing my catch. I felt as if I’d slid into home base in the winning run of the World Series.

“Christmas is saved,” I thought, naively.

As we settled in, I tried my best to hide Ethan’s now dripping pants. I pulled a fleece blanket out of the diaper bag and made him sit on it. I was in the middle of bathing him with wet wipes, when the first in a fateful series of events only God’s profound sense of humor could have set in motion, took place. As I was cleaning up Ethan, Abigail found the Cheerios and began pelting them over the back of the pew. I turned to apologize to the recipients of her whole grained affection, and there they were. Sitting immediately behind us, decked out in designer holiday duds, finished with matching, full length black, wool dress coats, were my elderly Jewish gynecologist, and his beautiful, young, wife.

We exchanged polite small talk, and they sheepishly admitted that they had to slip out early for an ecumenical holiday dinner party they were hosting with another Jewish couple and some Muslim friends. They were serving Indian food at their home, and were worried about being late to their own party. Weeks later, I discovered that my doctor's wife was a lifelong Lutheran. I had been curious about what was bringing them to a Christmas Eve service, but, in perhaps the only act of good sense I had all evening, I refrained from asking.

I turned around, slightly confused, but renewed in my determination to keep my kids under control and enjoy the beautiful candle light service that was about to start. After all, the doctor sitting behind me had helped me bring these two rug rats into the world. I wanted him to be confident he had done the right thing.

That’s when God chuckled again. Just as the opening hymn was starting, a family of six clambered up the stairs of the balcony. They stopped at my doctor’s pew, and looked around, bewildered. “Here, take our seats,” the doctor offered. He and his wife got out of their pew, and let the family in. Only then, did they realize they weren’t all going to fit. So, my well dressed, well heeled obstetrician and his equally elegant wife moved in with us. I forced Abigail to sit on my lap, and put Ethan against the wall. My kids reacted like caged animals, and the real fun began.

Halfway through “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” Ethan grabbed one of the green, hardcover hymnals stored in the rack in front of us. Perhaps I've failed to mention that we happened to be in the front pew of the balcony. As I stood to sing, balancing Abigail on one hip and my own hymnal in the opposite hand, I noticed a frightened look on Mrs. OB/GYN’s face. I turned to see what was horrifying her, only to find Ethan dangling a five pound hymnal between two, tiny, toddler fingers over the edge of the balcony. He was swinging it in time to the music, with an evil grin from ear to ear. A fantastic flash of images coursed through my consciousness . . . flying hymnals . . . head injuries . . . emergency medical technicians . . . Elmo & Patsy singing “Grandma got beheaded by a hymnal, worshipping in our church Christmas Eve . . .”

I snapped out of my momentary nightmare and rushed to grab the book from Ethan’s hands. Just as it was slipping from his fingers, I caught it and brought both hymnal and toddler safely back to the pew. I sat, dazed, amidst a sea of standing, singing Lutherans, and heaved a thoroughly Baptist “Hallelujah” under my breath. Crisis averted. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of toddlers wielding hymnals, thou art with me . . .”

The service continued with a series of musical pieces, confession and forgiveness, an old testament reading from Isaiah, and, of course, the Christmas story from the book of Luke. We settled in for the sermon, and I broke out the snacks. Ethan was busy (and hymnal free) eating his Goldfish crackers. Abigail was gulping a sippy cup of whole milk, and for one, brief moment, I could pay attention to the pastor’s words. He was commenting on the miracle of Christmas, that God was made flesh and came to live and breathe and work and suffer amongst us lowly, perpetually sinful humans. He emphasized the idea that Christmas was just the beginning of the amazing gift of Jesus’ life on Earth, a life destined for the incomprehensibly painful, yet completely voluntary death on the cross. A divinely human life born, lived, and taken, so that we, his followers, might have eternal life in Him.

The sermon ended, and I was convinced my miracle had occurred. Then God let out with a full on belly-laugh. As I stood for the hymn of the day that followed the sermon, I noticed a pale, wide-eyed look on Abigail’s face. She had long since finished her milk, and was actually drifting off to sleep when I must have jolted her awake with my standing. I went to shift her weight to my hip so that I might attempt to sing from a hymnal again, and it happened. The single most horrifying moment of my life in the church occurred, and God had a good, long laugh. As I struggled to get Abby to my hip, I turned her in the direction of Mrs. OB/GYN. In the moment it took me to turn her around and transfer her to my hip, she let out with the wretched, guttural noise that can only occur with that most nasty of bodily functions. On Christmas Eve, in the balcony of First Lutheran Church, Abigail vomited ten ounces of whole milk, bile, and Goldfish crackers all over my gynecologist’s beautiful, young, exceedingly well-dressed wife.

My elderly Jewish gynecologist looked at me in horror. His eyes fell on mine with a combination of disgust and sympathy, and it was clear that, at least in his mind, I should be finished having children. While I never imagined I would be making the decision to stop having children in the balcony of a Lutheran church on Christmas Eve, they say God works in mysterious ways. I’m convinced He just has a very well developed, perhaps slightly twisted, sense of humor. God just has to get a kick out of watching us humans try to control the universe. From the moment I’d made my official “Christmas Eve Master Plan” weeks before, God had clearly been planning, for me, a lesson in humility.

I looked at my doctor’s wife, speechless and fumbling with some wet wipes. “I’m soooo sorry,” I finally mumbled.

She forced a half-hearted smile before muttering, “Uh, we have to go. Dinner, you know. ” They rushed out of the pew, and headed down the stairs.

“Merry Christmas . . . .” I trailed after them, nearing tears.

After they left, I sat, stunned and blissfully unaware of the service continuing around me. Perhaps subconsciously trained by my long childhood in the Catholic church, by eight years of Catholic school and too many nuns to count, my thoughts turned almost immediately to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

How did she do it that cold, dark night? In a manger, no less. The visual images we see of the Holy Family on Christmas Eve are always wondrous in their peace and pastoral simplicity. The night seems quiet and magical in its divinity. But those images simply can’t tell the whole story. God was made flesh that night, after all, into a real, live, living, breathing, pooping, puking baby. And that means there was pain. There was blood and fluid, and contracting and pushing. And it all took place in a barn. There was no clean hospital bed, no anesthesiologists or epidurals, no nurses cheering her on or doctors telling her “Just one more push!” Perhaps, like me, Mary had done a little of her own screaming that blessed, holy night (minus the obscenities, I presume).

My mind wondered to thoughts of Christ’s childhood. Was he colicky? Perhaps, aware, as an infant, of the pain in store for him? Did he potty train easily? Did he eat his vegetables when he was told? How did he react when his elders chastised him to “Close that door, boy! Were you born in a barn?”

Perhaps God had shattered my master plan to remind me of just how human He was willing to become in order to save us from ourselves. I was beaten at my own game, and I realized the master plan was completely beyond my control. I was a frustrated, tattered, puked upon, woefully errant and inadequate human among humans, and I was blessed beyond measure.
I began to consider just what an amazing and truly life giving sacrifice it was for God to join this crazy, ugly, tattered human world in the flesh. For God to be born in the lowliest of states, to eat, breathe, walk, cry, scream, and teach among us humans. For God to ultimately die, a most thoroughly human ending that served as the beginning of the most important, most divine part of the story.

And there was the miracle.

Spawn of Newton

In the late 1970s, as the chunky kid sister of eleven older sibs, I was nicknamed, appropriately enough, after a character from a cookie commercial.

The Big Fig Newton.

The name sticks to this day, and though I have never actually seen the commercial (or the actual character), I've come to embrace the moniker.

What can I say? I've always loved to eat. So, why not.

But this blog isn't really about me. It's about the fact that the Big Fig Newton grew up, left the pack(age), met one hot, musical, male cookie, and reproduced. Twice.

(And believe me, twice was PLENTY.)

So, here are a few stories about my kids and my life and the overwhelming chaos that generally occurs at the nexus of the two.

I hope you enjoy.

And if you don't, write Nabisco, not me.