Monday, March 26, 2007

A Great Bible Story Book

I used to feel guilty that our family did not have a family devotion time. Then I realized that we actually do, I just enjoy it so much that I did not consider it an official discipline. Each night we read a Bible story and pray together as a part of our kids' bedtime routine. We sometimes add additional activities during special times of the year like Advent and Lent. Our five-year old enjoys some parts more than others, but reading a Bible story is usually our favorite.

We have used various Bible storybooks over the past five years, but my favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible. We started reading this like we usually read Bible storybooks: pick a story and read it. After a couple of nights we realized that this book was actually intended to be read from beginning to end, so we went back and started at the beginning. Each chapter explains the story's significance as part of God's great rescue plan. The writing is simple enough for children to understand but creative enough to keep the attention of kids and adults. The illustrations are very well done, too. They reflect the ethnicity of the characters, which is something our family appreciates. Jesus is portrayed with dark hair and eyes and looks fairly ordinary, a nice break from portrayals of Jesus as strong and handsome with blond hair and blue eyes.

I love this book! I think the best feature is that each story focuses on God, which is a refreshing change from Bible stories that make each and every story about you, the reader. Instead of using the stories to convince the reader to be more obedient or faithful, these stories focus on God's redemptive work throughout history. I sometimes get a little weepy while reading. And the true test; when we get to the end of each chapter our five-year old is eager to read the next chapter. We peek at the next page, showing just a glimpse of what is to come, then close the book saying, "Oh, we can't read that yet. That story is for tomorrow."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kiss me, I'm Cute!

This St. Patrick's day I was explaining to our five-year old that he is part Irish. I was trying to get him to say, "Kiss me! I'm Irish." He refused saying, "Irish is not my favorite thing to be." So, instead he said, "Kiss me, I'm cute!" all day. I was feeling a little sad that Josiah was not embracing Irishness as a part of who he is. Finally, right before bed he said, "Kiss me, I'm Irish!" and I felt a little better.

We don't usually spend a lot of time discussing ethnicity, but when we do we tend to talk about his Asian heritage more than his Irish-German heritage. Al is a second generation Asian-American and is more in touch with his Asian identity. His mom watches our kids twice a week so they have a direct source for information about Asia. She cooks Asian food, gives our kids red envelopes for Chinese New Year and is teaching Josiah a little of the Chinese language.

I don't know much about my ethnic heritage. I know that my mom's grandparents came to the USA from Germany and that my dad's family has a mix of Irish, German and other European ancestors. My family has its own traditions and ways of doing things, but I don't know if any of them are specifically Irish or German or anything else. My grandma has mentioned that when she was growing up her family worked hard to fit into American culture to the detriment of maintaining their German culture. For example, she was encouraged to speak English all the time, even though her parents spoke German.

I wish I knew more about my family's history so that I could help my own kids better understand their ethnic heritage, but I'm not really motivated enough to start doing a lot of research. Maybe I'll try to spend more time with my grandma during our next visit and ask about her family's history.

Friday, March 16, 2007

A Sad Story

This week I met with someone from Latin America whose wife works with disabled people. One of his wife's ministries is helping churches support and encourage people with disabilities and their families. As an example of why this is such important work, he told me the story of one family. This family had two healthy children and were dedicated members of their church, which taught a "health and wealth" gospel. When they learned that their third child, who was not born yet, had a disability their pastor asked them not to bring their disabled child to church...ever. It would raise too many questions. So for ten years the family kept their disabled child at home and didn't tell anyone at their church that the child even existed.

I was appalled to hear this story! When a family learns that their child has a disability or a birth defect of some sort they need support and encouragement, not weak theology that cannot accept the reality they are living. Jesus welcomed people who were marginalized (sick people, children, sinners, etc). The church should do the same.

I am so thankful for Church of the Savior. They have prayed for and supported us when we were feeling sad and uncertain and have warmly embraced Elijah as part of our church family. Our church loves Elijah for who he is and celebrates with us when he reaches important milestones. They are aware of some of the different issues he faces, but they do not treat Elijah like a problem to be solved. They just love him just like they love the other kids at our church.

I wish all churches were as supportive as our own and pray that God will help all of us (myself included) be more accepting and loving towards people who are different from us. And may God bless the ministry of my Latin American friend and his wife.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Psalm 139

I used to like Psalm 139. You know, the one where the psalmist says,

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

In December 2004 we learned that our son, Elijah, had Down Syndrome. Since then this Psalm has made me angry. I tend to think that Down Syndrome is part of living in a fallen world rather than something God created on purpose, but this Psalm seems to indicate otherwise. So, I have been complaining to God, "If you knit Elijah together in my womb, why isn't he 'perfect'? He has a birth defect. How am I supposed to call that wonderful?"

Now, let me be clear, I love Elijah. He is a great kid with a wonderful laugh and he brings us so much joy. When we first received his diagnosis I thought he might be a burden to care for, but he isn't. Taking care of Elijah is not that much different than raising his brother Josiah.

That being said, I still irks me to think that God intentionally "knit" Elijah together with an extra chromosome and I have been quite open with God about this. I have been reading Philip Yancey's new book Prayer. His chapters on unanswered prayer have been particularly helpful. Last night I read the chapter on physical healing, which mentions Down Syndrome specifically and talks about how God usually chooses to work within the laws of nature. Miracles happen, but they are the exception rather than the rule.

When I finished the chapter I talked with God regarding Down Syndrome yet again. And this time the image that came to mind was God carefully knitting a child together, but using yarn that was dirty and broken. The yarn was not his choice, but it was what he had to work with and he made the most beautiful child he could using imperfect materials.

Elijah is a wonderful creation of God. He may not be "perfect," but God took imperfect genes and "knit together" a beautiful child. Elijah is fearfully and wonderfully made. I don't understand the mysteries of how God works in a fallen world, but I trust his goodness. And for the first time in a long time Psalm 139 brings tears of joy instead of tears of pain.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Toddler Hugs

Very few things in the world are as wonderful as hugs from my kids. We begin each day with a "good morning hug" (complete with a song now), punctuate the day with hugs and end each day with a hug. Josiah is in the "I love you so much I want to crush you" stage. Getting a hug from him is sometimes like getting run over by a bulldozer.

Elijah, on the other hand, just figured out hugs yesterday. I was sitting in the living room reading a book when he toddled over (he's starting to take a lot more steps now!) and held his arms up in the classic "pick me up" pose. I gathered him into my lap and we just sat and listened to some music together. Then he leaned into me, wrapped his little arms around my shoulders and squeezed. I said, "Thanks for the hug, Elijah." And something clicked in his little head. Before yesterday Elijah would occasionally squeeze us a bit, but there weren't any obvious hugs. Yesterday, after I thanked him for the first hug, he started giving me a hug every 30 seconds or so. He would lean over and squeeze. I would squeeze back and say, "Thanks for the hug." Then he would let go and sit for a moment before leaning back in for another hug.

Dinner was about fifteen minutes late last night. I was busy being hugged by my toddler and getting dinner ready was not important enough to interrupt us.