Míliath: on Kindness and the People Nearest to Us

I’m tired of reading children’s books that endorse that idea that brothers and sisters being awful to each other all the time is just a fact of life.

I’m realistic enough to be clear that they need to learn to work things out with one another, and that the friction between siblings is a useful and important part of the process. But within that reality, I think I can help my children to learn to disagree (discuss, argue, and yes, fight…) well. It’s tricky, but I think it’s possible. In fact, I think the skill of working out differences graciously is one of the most important relational tools I can give them.

Family relationships ought to be a safe space for children and grown-ups to be other than their best, to have their big feelings, and to feel accepted for who they are. However, I think this is often conflated with a somewhat lazy approach to relationships “I can be a jerk to them, they have to love me anway.” There is some basis for this belief. That doesn’t mean it’s the only way to do things. I also don’t like the implied, “so I don’t even have to try to be kind,” that too naturally follows on that train of thinking.

What if our daily family life together can be the very setting for us to practice all the virtues we read about or hear about? Peace, love, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control….keeping these abstracted away as ideas reserved for “out in the world” makes them much more likely to be practiced only occasionally. But what if our close relationships are the exact places we should be using as a safe space to practice being good to other people? What if my children are, in fact, capable of receiving and growing kindness within them, if I can just sow it carefully?

We are not perfect people. Weeds like selfishness, angry shouting, and other unkindnesses are a fact of life. That doesn’t mean they should be ignored. That’s how you end up with a garden choked with weeds.

With that in view, we are studying kindness this week. We’re making trips to the library to learn about it. We’re studying what wise people have said about it. We’re defining what it means to us personally, and how we can recognize and practice it in our lives. As an attempt to highlight kind actions when we recognize them, we are exclaiming “míliath!” whenever we witness a kind action. Míliath means “kindnesses” (in Sindarin, because why not?).

What has worked to help you to promote kindness within your home or important relationships?

GM courtesy brown

One of us

“If God didn’t do this to us, then what? Who’s in charge here?”

Some version of this has been rattling around in my heart for months.

I can’t read accounts of Jesus healing people right now. It hurts too much. When I read about Jesus raising the little girl from the dead, I feel deep anger and confusion.

But I went to an Evensong service last weekend, because I am not prepared to give up on the idea that God is there, God cares about me (us), and that God is involved in our lives in significant and meaningful ways.

The first lesson was from Zechariah and said, among other things, “I will turn my hand against the little ones.”

What the Hell? What. The. Hell?

 

And then in the sermon, she spoke about Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers because he didn’t want people to think about interacting with God as a transaction. We give so many pieces of silver in exchange for our safety, or for that of our loved ones. Part of me still wishes it worked that way. It would be so much less confusing.

In Evangelical Christianity, there is a rampant idea that if we

do the right things,

say the right things,

agree with the right things…then God will approve of us and our life will look a certain way.

 

It’s not usually said in so many words. And if that’s not the way your life looks, there is always a ready explanation.

“God is teaching you ________________.”

“God is protecting you from ______________.”

“God needed another angel.”

 

But really, behind all of that, when nothing bad is present that needs explaining, the idea is that if you

do the right things,

say the right things,

agree with the right things…then God will approve of you and your life will look a certain way.

 

The other thing she mentioned in the sermon was that the night before being crucified, Jesus asked not to have to go through it. I think we tend to focus on the “but not my will” part because it sounds more noble or because we are unable to deal with negative emotion or something. But you know what? Jesus was scared. He felt, and verbalized, “I don’t want to have to do this.”

And it still happened.

 

That changes God from someone who Does Things to us into someone who has Been Through Things with us.

 

And some part of me deep down, which feels very tired, thinks that is very good news.

Homemade Mondays: Lemon Balm Tincture. I mean Extract. I mean Bitters.

Happy discovery of the week: tictures, extracts, and bitters, are all very close to the same thing. They have different names depending on the application. This is good news, and makes for a wider range of options in certain areas. Obviously you would want to be careful and always do research before using an herbal tincture as a bitter or extract to make sure it’s safe (White willow bark tincture, for example, is lovely for headaches but is not recommended during pregnancy as it contains salicylates similar to those in aspirin which is not really recommended for pregnant women).

I’ll share the recipe for Lemon Balm tincture, because I have some bottled up now, but you can do many different herbal tinctures this way. In my house right now I have tinctures of elderberry, peppermint, white willow bark, and lavender.

Note: Lemon balm may interact with some SSRI’s and other anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications. Please check with your health care provider and/or do your research to make sure it’s safe before taking a medicinal dose of any herb.

wpid-20150223_120816

Lemon Balm Tincture

Ingredients:

Dried lemon balm

pint or quart sized mason jar with a tight fitting lid

vodka, everclear, or other high-proof alcohol (some sources said 40% is enough, other sources said higher, still others said higher proof is necessary but added water…I have had good luck with 80 proof vodka)

Method:

Fill the jar no more than 2/3 of the way with dried lemon balm (if using fresh herbs, consider letting them wilt for a while first–you fit more in the jar that way and will get a stronger product). Cover with alcohol by at least 2 inches. Shake well, and leave sitting in a warm bright place. Check the next day to see if the liquid is still covering the herbs. If not, add more liquid. Shake about once a day. After 4-6 weeks, strain all liquid into a bowl using cheesecloth, a wire mesh strainer, a nutmilk bag, or something similar (press herbs to get out as much as possible), bottle up, and use just as you would the tiny bottles that are very expensive at a health food store. There are many schools of thought about tincture dosing, and I don’t claim to be an expert so please do your own research. For many tinctures, a “standard suggested adult dosage for tinctures is 2 droppersful two to three times a day.” If you’re going for maximum quick absorption of the herb, put it under your tongue. For maximum flavor, add it to a hot tea. For maximum old-timey fun, add it to a hot toddy ;-)

“We Can Do Hard Things.”

My daughter was nearly bald until she was two.

See?

geen-dad

With “Geen-dad”. She called this her “Tute Face”.

vacation 2010 025

Look at those sleeping babies! Elizabeth is, uh, the one in the back in case you can’t tell…she and Rebecca took several naps in this beast of a stroller that I picked up at a rummage sale.

Beginnings of a curl...

Beginnings of a curl…

She’s never had more than an inch and a half cut off of her hair before. It has taken us a long time to get to this point (if you’ll  allow me this gratuitous number of long-hair photos):

20150201_141754

20141229_141444

angst

Don’t worry, honey, you have a few years to practice teen angst before you’re graded on it…

20140821_125643

With Avery, our back yard neighbor and another St. Baldrick’s participant.

20140828_151951

Matching hair with Josefina.

Her hair goes almost to her waist when it’s down, and for a while now she has loved having long hair. My own little Rapunzel (without me as the witch, she assures me). She said repeatedly that she wanted to grow it as long as possible, and I said she could obviously because it’s her hair and she can do as she likes. The only caveat was that brushing and washing it shouldn’t be a huge dramatic battle. We’ve mostly kept to that. Ahem.

Some friends of ours, RuthEverett, AverySean, and Seamus are shaving their heads or donating their long hair on March 15th to raise money for children’s cancer research. They are doing it in memory of their friend Rebecca who died last June due to anaplastic astrocytoma (a type of brain cancer) While they are not on the same team as far as St. Baldrick’s is concerned, these kids have been playing together since before they knew what playing was. At this event they will join together to raise money to stop the thing that killed their friend. I am honored to be in the presence of such bravery and solidarity in our children.

A few months ago Elizabeth asked if she could take all the money in her piggy bank and give it to doctors so they could figure out how to help people better. I think it was about twenty three dollars and eighty-five cents. When it was first mentioned that she could cut off her hair to raise money she replied immediately, emphatic and wide-eyed. “NO!” I figured she loved her long hair so I dropped it. Then she said she wanted to get her hair cut short. I explained that some of her friends would be doing a meaningful thing. After a lot of conversation she finally whispered with her head down, “I’m afraid of St. Baldrick’s.”

I pulled her into my lap and thanked her for sharing a hard thing with me (she read and approved this post before publishing, lest you think I’m breaking a confidence). As we continued to talk it through, I made sure she knew that whatever she decided would be ok with me, but that I didn’t want fear to be in charge of her and push her to make decisions. I continued to offer her information about what would happen at the event; who would be there, what they would do, who might cut her hair, etc. I admitted that to be honest, St. Baldrick’s scares me a bit too. These days large groups of people I don’t know (and sometimes even large groups of people I do know) make me nervous. But we can do hard things.

There are lots of ways to remember Rebecca without cutting one’s hair. When we are at a party with other families and there are two little girls playing picnic by our feet instead of three. When we get together for playdates that used to be evenly matched and instead it’s one big sister and two little brothers. After more than half a year it feels more accustomed but no more right. Sometimes I catch my friend’s eye in a group conversation and I think, I see you thinking about your girl, and I am too. Cutting hair and donating money are two of many possible ways to show solidarity; ways to say, “We went to a funeral and then we went home….but we are still nearby. We still care about you.”

Elizabeth has decided that she wants to donate her hair to help the doctors find “betr medicin”, as she typed it in her thank you emails. Because while people are working so hard and we have come so far, the best medicine we have right now is not nearly good enough.

Click here to support Elizabeth by donating to St. Baldrick’s

Homemade Mondays: Instant Fire Cider (from Herbal Prepper)

I have been intrigued by the idea of fire cider but kept forgetting about it until I was sick. The problem is, all the recipes I’d seen for it required a few weeks’ steeping time. I might try that sometime, but last week when I woke up with a sore throat and congested sinuses this “instant” version definitely did the trick. Even after I’ve felt better anytime I felt sinus-ey grossness coming on I just take a little and it’s gone very quickly.

I will say, this stuff is NOT delicious. But it is very effective and I had all these things on hand. I did use grated raw ginger instead of powdered. With this year’s especially bad cold and flu season, I know I for one am looking for as many tools as possible to promote health and chase away infections. If you are too feel free to go check it out.

Herbal Prepper’s Instant Fire Cider

Be well, friends!

Grandma

The nurse adjusted her pillow and said, “Your granddaughter’s here. Do you know Katie?”

She opened her eyes and looked at me. “Of course I do!” Faintly, but in her usual emphatic way.

The nurse nodded and left and we sat for a few seconds.

“You know that I love you.”

“I sure do, Grandma.”

“Good. I know the same thing, but about you.”

~~~~

There are a lot of stories I could tell about my Grandma. She was a firecracker of a lady. I never, ever, questioned whether or not I stood in her good graces. I never once worried that I’d inadvertently offended her and didn’t know. I can not begin to say how reassuring that is. I look earnestly for that quality in my friends, and seek to create a safe space for that dynamic in all my important relationships.

As our family prepares to gather and remember a long life well lived, here I’ll share a couple of the moments with her that were most formative or memorable for me.

Godspeed, beautiful lady. I miss you.

~~~~

During one of our visits to see her in Washington D.C., we had this conversation and it will probably remain my favorite memory of her.

“I appreciate that we have so many strong women in our family, you know?”

She raised her eyebrows. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Well, I have a pretty strong personality, I think.”

“Yes! You certainly do.”

“I think I get a lot of that from you.”

My grandma looked flabbergasted. “WHAT? What are you talking about?”

“Well, because you….um, well….because you have..a strong…personality?”

“THAT is not true. I do NOT have a strong personality. No one has EVER said that to me before.”

“Oh! OK, Grandma. Sorry. My mistake.”

~~~~

My slightly younger cousin Jeff and I were small, and playing over at his house. He hit his head on something and there was a lot of blood, so we had to go to the hospital so he could get stitches. I, with that delicate sensitivity of soul which is not uncommon to the tender age of five or six, was more concerned that I had to stop playing with all their fun toys and go to a boring place. Jeff was, understandably, more concerned with the blood and pain coming from his face. As we prepared to go, I muttered (again with the sensitive), “OK, but do we have to listen to him scream?” (Jeff, if you read this; sorry about that! And I hope your head’s ok. I’m guessing it is, by now. You’ve seemed well each time I’ve seen you all these years since.)
My Grandma drew up to her full height, looked me square in the eye, and said, “KATIE. Be kind.”
Sometimes, when I realize I am being ungenerous in my interactions, I still hear the echo of that exhortation in my mind. I’ll try, Grandma. I love you.
~~~~
VTjv5pyLn4tuCb2YCLFGMP2SICQi9cLaQG53Zwk_adw
Z2VwDcGCJG3brEJQnbkMCHw16VQFDyckPSeao4WXNnI
Great Grandma Della
DSC_0080
DSC_0077

The Dissonance of Advent

I’ve really appreciated Advent this year. I don’t mean in a Pinterest, made a hand-made ornament out of cinnamon with my children every day sort of way. I mean that the season of Advent just feels really right, somehow.

It feels good to remember that Christianity has this tension built into it because we don’t live in a world where things are all as they should be. Still we are told that God loves us and is always, always doing His best for us. There is confusion built into that, and no small amount of cognitive dissonance sometimes as I try to sort through a tangle of thoughts about God. You know the great thing about dissonance in music though? Eventually it resolves. There is a cadence. That is the promise of Advent. Advent promises that whatever modulation we find ourselves in now, we will get back to tonic eventually. It invites us to sit with tension and hope. Humans desire a deep sense of security and if that is to be found in our surroundings, we often don’t look further. Dissonance draws us out do deal with it, though. I once got my toddler to start cleaning up by playing a cadence a few times and then only playing the first chord and not resolving it until she moved to start putting her toys away. Dissonance is unstable, and even a small child can tell that our ears want unstable harmonies to resolve.

Dissonance of any type can be deafening. It can make it seem like everything’s just noise. It can be interpreted as such, if I choose. There is logic to assuming that we crave pattern and sense from the universe because we were made for it, but there is also logic to assuming that we only seem to see a pattern because we want to; sometimes circumstances seem to imply there is no intentionality governing what happens to us. Maybe, though, to judge all of reality by those moments of greatest dissonance is like trying to explain the legend of King Arthur by saying it’s about some guy who sleeps with his sister. That explanation is not without basis, but it also doesn’t really tell us the whole story.

I wish I could explain the whole story. Of everything. It would be so nice to be able to tell my friends, “This is why this is happening to you.” It would have been so comforting last year to say to my husband, “You’re sick now and it’s awful, but you’re going to be fine. I read ahead and you don’t have a lifelong debilitating illness after all.”

Advent reminds us that not being reconciled to our circumstances is allowed. We are made for more than complacency. We don’t get easy answers. We get Advent. We get a promise that we are not crazy for thinking that this is not how it’s supposed to be.

 I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor does he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing, singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!