Friday, August 31, 2007

Different work

God's provision continues. The daycare job ended and I was asked to help with a dinner party for 30 people at a private home in a million dollar neighborhood. Let me jump right into one scene:

I am out on this rich man's patio at dusk all alone. A huge orange moon is rising and I am sweating at the gas barbeque on this hot, humid night grilling shrimp kebobs and filet mignons. I have never grilled anything outdoors in my life! A radio station is competing with the sounds of the night insects as "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" plays through the outdoor speakers. As I wait to turn the meat, I look across the field in back of the house into the wall of windows of another home, a mirror image of this one, and watch a family eating in front of a mammoth TV screen. This is wild! I would never have imagined I would be doing this tonight. I had to admit, it was kind of fun.

Earlier in the evening I had assisted the chef in setting up 4 tables, one in the windowed sunroom off the kitchen, one in the formal dining room and two in the basement next to a fully stocked bar. I had the chef show me the set-up first. I surely don't know how to do fancy table settings. I chopped scallions for a potato salad and apricots for the couscous and skewered shrimp and scallops on wooden sticks. The chef was in the midst of roasting vegetables and needed something from the store and had to leave. Panic! What do I do? (Me, who has been a cook for at least 35 years!) But it was an intimidating setting and I was worried about messing up. And I did. I was only to set the timer, turn the veggies, and then take them out on time. Well, in turning off the timer, I turned off this complicated digital convection oven and the vegetables didn't exactly roast the way they were supposed to--but all was well in the end.

When the owners of the house went upstairs to get dressed, the chef and I sneaked a peek at a few rooms in this mansion, now all aglow with candles. It was quite impressive but our footsteps echoed in the vastness. With so many rooms, what do you do with them all? Even the owners didn't know, I guess. Some rooms were totally empty of furniture.

Couples started arriving, women in colorful, strapless sundresses and spiky heels slip-sliding on the slick hardwood floors, the men in khakis and polo shirts. I've always been a people watcher and enjoyed observing the pecking order and noted the discomfort of some of the guests--where to sit, with whom to talk, what light and trivial conversation to think up. I noticed that the women who were at ease with themselves all sat together without the men and their laughter was high and musical as they told inside jokes. One woman sat apart from them, the outsider, and as I collected dishes I overheard her awkward speech, trying to sound sophisticated and smooth when she certainly was not. I felt bad for her. Why was she invited to this party and why didn't she fit in? Oh, give me a couple of good friends sharing a cup of tea at my old kitchen table over this anytime.

I am thankful I didn't drip marinade on the plush carpets as I went up and down the stairs. One guest stood on the stairs to chat with the group, sprawling leisurely across the banister, and didn't move an inch when I tried to slip by him. After all, I was only the hired help. I felt like a servant in the castle of the king from one of my girls' stories. I prayed I wouldn't drop the grilled poundcake with the broiled nectarine topping as I carried three plates at a time to serve the guests downstairs. It's been a long time since my waitressing days. I didn't break anything either as I washed a mountain of dishes. Success!

What did God require of me here? The same as he requires wherever we find ourselves--love and service to others. Well, it was service all right. The love part is a little more difficult. But I'm sure even the glamorous ladies hide hurts and the boisterous men at the bar have unfulfilled dreams and holes in their hearts.

It was late when I got home to my cozy little house. Home to my riches and treasure--my husband who rushes to greet me and tell me how much he missed me these past 8 hours and my two little girls sleeping as I kiss their golden cheeks. What more could I want?

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment." I Timothy 6:17.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Preschool lessons

With some reluctance and trepidation, the girls and I set off for daycare early in the morning. I began work by assisting the teacher in the 4-year old class. I sat on the floor so I could get to know the children. An adult is much more approachable to a child when we are low to the ground. Our lap is free and our eyes are level with theirs. What a great age! Four-year-olds are personable and wise, opinionated, yet so excited about new ideas, and still young enough to cuddle.

Arielle's one wish was that she would make a friend. What chance did she have for that at a daycare? But it turned out the director's granddaughter had been helping out there all summer and Mackenzie and Arielle became immediate friends. The two girls were constantly together and actually relieved the teachers in the 1-year old class helping to care for the babies. Arielle was immediately comfortable in her new environment. Liana, however, is a stay-at-home-girl and never did enjoy this adventure too much.

What I learned at preschool...

Lesson #1: I learned great respect for childcare workers. The work is demanding physically and mentally. These women were infinitely patient, kind, and loving to even the most exasperating child. The day-in, day-out routine of playing, feeding, toileting, getting to sleep, drying tears, and refereeing squabbles was tedious and exhausting to me and I don't know how the teachers do this full-time. These women are to be praised and honored. It is a godly profession.

Lesson #2: My daughter Arielle will one day be a great mother. She was so nurturing and loving to the babies. At the end of each day she spoke of each child with such pride in her voice, telling of little Mikey's accomplishments or how cute Michelle was. I saw her out in the hall one day with a tiny guy at her feet, arms raised, crying for Arielle to pick him up. Arielle says he cries and wants her to hold him whenever he sees her. She fed babies and entertained babies and loved every minute.

Lesson #3: For the most part, little children love each other! The ones who fought were the ones who at other times were best friends. If a child was hurt, others were sympathetic. They were very affectionate to each other most all the time, sharing kisses and hugs. Also, children notice color, but they do not care about it. They stroked the red-haired boy's loopy curls and admired the dark-skinned girl's elaborate braids. Liana's long black hair invited lots of touching too. The children were surprised to find out that I was Liana's mom, but then accepted the fact without question.

Lesson #4: Daycare is good and bad. A good program with good teachers, such as this school, was amazingly peaceful and the days are pleasant for most of the children. It is not a bad place for kids to be. The children are safe and given fun things to do. On the down side, much of the teacher's work is keeping kids civilized and preventing them from getting hurt. The children bring their issues from the home environment and nothing that goes on in school can change that situation. The teacher can only hope to provide a reprieve.

Lesson #5: I am more grateful than ever to my husband who has always worked hard so I don't have to work outside the home. The routine of getting up and out early every morning was exhausting. Then when I came home I had mountains of work waiting for me, along with cranky, tired kids. All you working moms, I give you so much credit and admiration.

Lesson #6: In whatever situation we are in, God calls us to love and serve. The service is easy when the love is there. And I grew to love each one of these precious children. It was very hard to say good-bye. On our last day, I was left with a picture of my beautiful Chinese daughter on the playground trying to bring her charges back into the building. She was holding the hand of an Indian toddler with her left hand, and an African-American child was on her right hand. Both of the babies were new walkers and kept stumbling. Arielle held tightly to them and did not let them fall. She spoke to them gently, encouraging them to keep walking along in the direction they needed to go. Isn't this what we all are called to do?

"Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." Galatians 6:2.

Monday, August 27, 2007

God's provision

Summer came to an abrupt end for us when a friend called to ask me if I wanted to help out at a daycare center. My first thought that I did not speak aloud was, "NO!" Caring for screaming children and changing dirty diapers all day? No way. Of course I couldn't, what about the girls? My friend said I could bring them along and they could help. What about the waning days of summer? We had planned some projects and some fun for the last few days before school started. I really did not want to do this.

But we needed the money. With the real estate market the way it is, we have been struggling to pay the bills. Fred needs to buy or sell a house every couple of months to keep us afloat. We have been praying diligently for business to come his way. Fred is a hard worker; he just needs some work to do. Lord, please provide for us, we often pray.

Suddenly it came to me. (I'm slow to learn.) God was providing for us--through me! That wasn't at all what I expected (or desired, to be truthful.) But there was the answer, and just in the nick of time too because we were nearing the end of the month and things were not looking good. I changed my attitude and took this job with gratitude.

A couple of weeks ago the pastor taught on idolatry. Now most Americans don't have wooden statues in their homes to worship, but an idol can be whatever we put our trust in. Our god is whatever we serve and invest our time and our lives. For our family, do we put our trust in the real estate market--or in God? Who is our provider? So the girls and I headed off to preschool. We worked 7 longs days and I learned some lessons, plus brought home a paycheck. The first lesson is that God is our faithful but sometimes he answers prayer in ways we don't expect.

At the end of my seven day stint, another friend who manages a food service business called me. Did I want to help cater a private party? I did not feel I had the energy to do that after my week at daycare. But I said yes, and worked again, thankfully, and eagerly even, knowing an adventure and an opportunity lay ahead. I'll write more on both of these adventures later. School starts tomorrow and time is very limited.

A long time ago I marked this promise from God in my Bible. It came after a devastating financial loss. God's words were true then and they remain true. "Our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace. Our barns will be filled with every kind of provision. Our sheep will increase by thousands, by tens of thousands in our fields; our oxen will draw heavy loads. There will be no breaching of walls, no going into captivity, no cry of distress in our streets. Blessed are the people of whom this is true; blessed are the people whose God is the Lord." Psalm 144:12-15.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Life goes on

The pictures of our Russian experience are all developed and carefully mounted in our scrapbook pages. Fred removed Diana's picture from the refrigerator and we put away all the worksheets of Russian phrases, even though Liana is still answering every question with "da" or "nyet." I read two books on kids with special needs and knew we made the right decision that we could not parent Diana with our limited resources and skills. We're preparing for a new year of homeschooling and finishing up summer projects we don't have time to do during the school year.

Still...I think of her. What kind of life is going on for Diana right now? I guess she's still at her so-called "summer camp." She was very tan when she came so I guess she spends a lot of time outdoors before the bitter Russian winter sets in. How does she handle the cold and snow, this girl who loves running and swimming and biking? How she must dread another school year when the tasks are so difficult for her. Will memories of her summer on the other side of the world bring her joy?

I wonder if Diana even thinks of us. Or, in her disability are we out-of sight and out-of-mind? Is she angry we did not claim her, or did she ever know there was a possibility she might find a forever family? What will she think when Alexei's family comes for him in a few months? Surely she will recognize his family and ponder the possibility she missed out on.

The girls and I still pray for her, still hope there could be a family for her somewhere. The coordinator for Lighthouse asked me to write something about her to help a future host family. I did, and I pleaded her case for another chance. I posted to my groups too, but got no response. The books I read predict her bleak future without a loving family.

Lighthouse is bringing more children to the Philadelphia area in November. Will Diana be one of them? If not now, hopefully soon--to another state, another family.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stopping time

On a beautiful, breezy Saturday morning Arielle and I harvested the rest of the corn. How did this summer go by so quickly? Not so long ago our homeschool co-op group of little girls were digging and dancing around in our freshly plowed garden plot. I hoed the furrow for the corn and they each took handfuls of seeds and carefully planted them. Now we pulled the dry stalks to begin preparing the garden bed for winter. It's hard to believe snow will soon be falling and another year will have passed.

A Russian Orthodox priest named Anthony Bloom practiced a discipline called "stopping time." He said we must deliberately stop time that is trying to move too fast. It is a crucial step in conquering impatience and creating space for God. Philip Yancey writes about him: "He concentrated on living in the present, recognizing the past is irremediably gone and the future is irrelevant because who knows whether it will happen or not. Now, a fleeting instant, represents the intersection of eternity with time."

How do we stop this frantic chaos of rushing through the day or the week, and then looking back with amazement at how the year flew by? I'm trying to learn to live in the "now." I think one reason I love the shore is the timelessness of staring out at the sea, with no agenda, no rushing, just quiet stillness except for the rhythmic sound of the waves. If we pay attention to the "now," we may find more moments like that, even in the everyday-ness of life.

Arielle has been in 4-H since January. She sewed a skirt and a bookbag and won some ribbons and her projects were on display at the annual 4-H County Fair. We spent three days at the fair--one day working and two days just fooling around visiting all the exhibits and meeting interesting people like the little red-haired girl who held a red-feathered chicken named Rachel. The girl somberly asked us if we would like to pet Rachel. We asked her several questions about her fancy chicken, and I saw she took this poultry-raising very seriously. Later Liana peeked into an incubator full of eggs and, incredibly at that moment, saw a chick hatch. She called out to tell me, and I never heard such wonder in her voice.

We met a teenage girl walking a goat named Fifi on a leash. Later we tried not to laugh during the goat judging as youngsters struggled with their rowdy animals to make them behave until the judges were finished. It is very fitting that young goats are called "kids." There are a lot of similarities. We paused while a parade of young boys with various fowl tucked under their arms marched by. We talked to a young woman who had a pony she rescued from a horse auction where neglected, starved animals were sold for the slaughterhouse. In another tent children lathered up their pigs with purple shampoo to prepare them for the competition. We petted the sleek, black lab puppies raised by children for a year or so until the pups went off to seeing-eye dog school. We marveled at the gorgeous quilts, snapping photos that would never do them justice. Even vegetables were proudly arrayed, although I think we've grown a bigger zucchini than the one that won first place.

The highlight of the fair for the girls was the huge fabric sale organized by the crafting club Arielle attends. We clocked many hours sorting and organizing fabric, patterns and craft items for the store. After a trip outdoors to see the animals, the girls kept returning to the fabric room. We worked so long that we racked up quite a bit of credit to "purchase" fabric and the girls spent a long time choosing what they wanted.

In the evening the lights in the tents came on and a live band began to play, creating a nostalgic kind of atmosphere. It reminded me of simple days on the windy plains of Oklahoma with my little boys. We noticed a man in a hay wagon giving free rides around the grounds, so we piled on just as the band began to play "Take It Easy."

"Don't let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy, lighten up while you still can..." Not exactly spiritual wisdom, but an appropriate message for me anyway. It began to rain while we rode around, but that didn't matter. As the drops drizzled down our faces, we laughed with the others on the wagon and I looked out over dusky fields and treasured this special time with my daughters. I wasn't hoping for the ride to end or thinking what we would do next. Time stopped.

When we pause for these "now" moments, we get a glimpse of the future. I wonder about the adults these kids we met will grow to be--the kind of children who have proved they have the discipline to work hard. The rambunctious puppies will one day be dignified companions to their blind owners, the lovely quilts will adorn a home or comfort a child, the newly hatched chicks may return to the fair next year, proudly displayed by freckle-faced kids.

My girls came home and dumped their specially selected scraps of fabric on the living room carpet and excitedly chattered away about their dream for this and that bit of cloth--a fashionable purse, a glittery shawl for a doll. "Mom, will you make me a skirt from this one?" Endless possibilities. Even the corn we prepared today will sweeten a winter soup in the next few months.