Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Twin Heaven (no night, lots of angels)

I'm wrapping up a second tour of northern grandparent duty this week, and my wife (who will have been with our grandblessings for two weeks) and I will be returning back down to earth again on Thursday.

Being around babies inspires belief in the miraculous. Twins Maria and David are angels for sure, and they bring out loving and angelic behavior in their admiring six-year old brother as well. Their parents likewise demonstrate a kind of 24/7 patience and good humor that seems far beyond human, even when stress and fatigue bring thoughts of purgatory as much as paradise.

These days I reflect on some behind-the-scenes players as well. I’ve been thinking a lot about the legacy the twins inherit from the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone ahead into the next life, maternal and paternal ancestors from whom the babies have inherited good DNA and the kind of faith and wisdom passed on from one generation to the next.

Take our own parents, and all eight of these twin’s great-grandparents, for example, all of whom are gone except great-grandma Irene, from whom little Maria gets her middle name (it means “peace”). I pray our grandchildren can each be mindful of all they inherit from the lives and stories of great-grandparents Michael and Alma Wert and Ben and Mary Yoder on their mother's side of their ancestry, and Howard and Irene Showalter and Roy and Mabel Heatwole on their father's side.

None of these good folks ever made headlines, but their quiet and consistent influence inhabit our space, continue to shape our actions and beliefs. There is not a crime, divorce or infidelity among them, as far as I know. They had Bibles in every room, blessings at every meal. Their lives reflected a love for God and for God’s people that was demonstrated in unselfish service to their families, churches and communities. Their integrity and generosity live on in their offspring.

I thank God for them. Without them, we would not even be here, and without their exemplary way of life, our lives would certainly not be the same.

May their spirits ever hover over us and our children, and their children's children. Like angels.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Blessed (and Stressed) by Autism

In recent years a nephew and a niece have each had a child with some form of autism, and close friends of ours have had a grandchild diagnosed with the disorder. In the latter case, his mother started a blog called “rainmom” on which she posted everyday episodes of her son’s problem behaviors and his difficulties with impulse control.

None of these three children have full-blown autism, as in the inability to speak or to show any kind of affection, and “rainmom’s” son exhibited some unusual abilities early on. For example, by age four he could name each of the American presidents and their wives.

His father recently wrote the following on his own blog: “When we first considered the possibility that our son might be autistic it mostly seemed like good news. We already knew that his speech was delayed, and that he seemed largely oblivious to other humans much of the time. We already knew he was beautiful and charming and that we loved him. So, at first the diagnosis ... seemed to promise answers to the questions that were bothering us, like Why? and What should we do? However, as we read more and more about autism, a dreadful prospect emerged, that his socially awkward behavior may never change...”

He offered the following suggestions for how others can be supportive:

Offer to help.

Be patient if you are told that the help you are offering is not wanted, and keep trying.

Read up on autism.
Interact with my child.  But do not expect (and certainly don't demand) that he will interact with you.

Tell me that you have noticed actual, observable progress my child has made (But don’t make stuff up).

Tell me that you like my child.

Tell me about resources for the parents of autistic children you’ve heard about.  But don't go on and on about them and don't get offended if I don't avail myself of them.
Offers of babysitting and suggestions of resources are always welcome. 

Then he added some don'ts:

Don’t tell me that my child seems "normal" to you. 

Don’t go on and on and on about every new diet, therapy, potential cause or miracle cure you’ve heard about.

Don’t assume that the things you do that endear other children to you will endear you to my child.

And don’t assume that because you know another autistic child well, that you know my autistic child in the slightest.

Our niece experienced some great examples of helpful things their church did for them. One member frequently spent time with their son during church services to give the parents a break. The pastoral team met with a consultant to learn more about autism and how the church could be more supportive. A flyer with their son's picture and some of his strengths, challenges and positive ways to interact with him was prepared for everyone in the congregation. It explained, for example, that his unusual noises in church were not intentional. The church also encouraged them to share with friends and with others in their cell group their sense of the "continual loss"  autism brings to a family. 

The nephew who’s the parent of an autistic child, shared the following with me in a recent email:

"Parents of recently diagnosed children should talk to other parents of autistic children about it. I had a colleague at work whose daughter was diagnosed the year before. It was very helpful to hear her perspective when I was distraught. 'It gets better,' she told me and she was right. I held on to this and to know someone else similar to me was going through the same things was immensely helpful. Find someone online, there are many support groups, ASA, etc., that can help you just when you need to talk and also to help you find resources. You will be amazed just how many people are around you are affected by autism and it can give you strength to hear their stories.

"In getting help for your child do not wait and do not be afraid to be pushy. My wife and I learned very early on that you have to be persistent and doggedly pursue services and programs for our son. Sometimes you have to be the squeaky wheel.

“And be careful about giving advice on discipline or parenting issues. Comments like ‘You just need to set some limits and be consistent!’ can be well intentioned, but to a parent can be interpreted as it being your fault.


Hearing all this reminded me that it really does take a whole village, or a whole congregation, to raise a child. And this is especially true in the case of one with special needs.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Gone With the Twins II

Father's Day weekends don't get much better than this. We got to be with our youngest (and only) daughter and husband's six-year-old son and their newborn twins (!!) near Rochester, NY. Then our oldest (singer/song writer) son Brad joined us there from Pittsburgh. Only our second son, his wife and their three very special young children (the ones who live nearby!) were missing.

And are the former little womb-mates just totally adorable or what?! And good as gold. David now weighs over nine pounds, Maria is just under eight, and they are healthy and delightful as can be. Big brother is so proud to have them.

Here's the routine for their care, repeated routinely every three or four hours:
1) Observe restlessness and slight sounds that may indicate hunger.
2) Feed whichever baby seems hungriest, then drape against shoulder to "burp".
3) Feed other baby, repeating burping procedure.
4) Check for soiled diaper ("soiled" means "large deposits in very messy Pamper").
5) Dispose of soiled diaper, clean and lotion baby's bottom, and attach new diaper, hoping no new accidents occur while doing so (frequently happens).
6) Repeat with second baby.
7) Wrap each infant in clean blanket and place face up in crib or baby seat.
8) Wait for item 1 to occur and repeat above process.
9) Do this every day and every night, 24/7.

Their mother, father and grandmother actually took care of most of this during my stay, though I tried to do my share. And they are so sweet you almost never mind. In fact, it brought back many good memories of our own babies when they were living by that ancient text, "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."

Some day the rewards are almost sure to far, far outweigh all of the investment of time, toil and tears this requires. As when your children call to warmly thank you for being their dad, and when your youngest gives you a Father's Day card with words you feel you don't deserve--but which make you want to cry anyway:

they say a man's actions
speak louder than words,
and your actions have always 
       spoken of love.
what a wonderful difference 
you've made in my life.
Happy Father's Day!

Of course, when it comes to the parenting department, my good wife deserves way over half of the credit. She gets to remain in New York for another week or so, where I'll soon rejoin her for another round of blessed grandparenting duty.

Thanks for your prayers, and for sharing our joy.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Old Order Savings and Thrift

According to an NPR story aired after the 2008 financial meltdown, not all financial institutions took a hit following that crisis. Banks in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with lots of Old Order Amish customers kept doing just fine.

"We've never lost any money on an Amish deal," noted Hometowne Heritage banker Bill O’Brien in the NPR interview. He explained that Old Order farmers and business people seldom take out loans except for major purchases like building construction or real estate, and pay for most other things by cash or from their savings or checking accounts. They use no credit cards, avoid fancy wardrobes and high tech entertainment centers, shun automobiles and most fuel guzzling farm equipment and are generally known for living a frugal and simple life. No sub prime loans here.

Banker O’Brien noted that even if his bank had wanted to, it could not have “bundled” its mortgages and resold them elsewhere for the easy profits other banks pursued. His Amish holdings wouldn't qualify anyway, he said, because in order for a mortgage to be securitized a home has to have electricity and be covered by traditional insurance. The Amish have chosen to do without electricity, and the primary insurance they have is their commitment to help each other when fellow members have any kind of major property damage or medical expenses.

Meanwhile, too many of us borrow and spend as though there were no tomorrow. The result is our nation experiencing an overall negative savings rate for the first time in American history. We have charged way more than we can afford, spent far more on instant gratification than we’ve been willing to save, and have too often accumulated debts greater than our net worth. We assumed that the value of our investments and real estate could only go up, and that there would always be a larger income and more credit where the last came from.

Those days appear to be over. More than ever we are being denied access to the bountiful buffet of easy, cheap credit and endless consumer goods we’ve been feasting on for so long. And now that it’s time to pay the piper, we find ourselves seriously short of cash.

As more of our collective bills are coming due, average American incomes are falling and unemployment rates are still unacceptably high. And to bail ourselves out and to get our economy back on track, the federal government is about to borrow even more trillions our grandchildren will be burdened with.

Maybe its time to take some lessons from our Amish and Old Order Mennonite neighbors. They, like our grandparents and great-grandparents who experienced hard times and the Great Depression, have learned to get by without expecting the good life to be handed them on a silver platter. They exercise fiscal restraint, wait to buy things until they can afford them, and routinely make and grow many of the things they need.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost Sunday

Have we departed from the model of church birthed at Pentecost nearly 2000 years ago? I'd be glad for your comments.

The Church of Pentecost (from the Acts of the apostles)

“The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because  many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”

The Church of Plenty-Cost (from the acts of the apostate?)

“The believers, when not on vacation or having more important things to do, devoted themselves to their congregation’s Sunday morning services and to participating in occasional potluck meals. Apathy came upon everyone as they were urged to give generously to pay for and maintain their well furnished church building and  to support the growing number of staff on the church's payroll. Meanwhile, lay members were scattered everywhere, each trying to make ends meet and keep up with their Visa payments, along with saving all they could for their children’s college and for their future retirement. Night after night they spent time around their home entertainment centers, enjoying all manner of good food and savoring all of the benefits of the good life. And day by day the Lord pondered over how this church could be renewed and saved.”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Four-Year-Old Talks About War

The following is a condensed version of a piece written by my wife's sister Freda Zehr of Greenwood, Delaware, describing a conversation she had some time ago with her grandson.

If only every four-year-old could be assured that there could never be a war where there were children. Meanwhile, he's just trusting that no caring, sensible adults would ever let that happen.

Dax Talks About War       - Freda Zehr

My young grandson Dax saw a picture in the paper some time ago of a football star planning to enlist in the army. Evidently he had been worrying about people having to go to war and fight, so he asked, "Do soldiers just kill the bad guys?"

Without waiting for an answer, he went on, "The reason I don't want to be a soldier is because I wouldn't know who the bad guys or the good guys are, so I might shoot the wrong person. And I wouldn’t want to even shoot a bad guy, anyway.”

Then he said, reassuringly, “There is never any war in this country. It’s only over in countries where there are no children.” His voice suggested an urgent note of “I hope so, I hope so.”

He went on, “Because the reason you can't have a war where children live is because you might kill them by accident." He then added, "Oh yes, I forgot, there was a war once in this country, but that was before any children lived here, because I saw the cannon down in Harrisonburg. They shot big things out of it, but it didn’t hit any children because there were no children living here then. It was about a million years ago."

"And anyway, I could never be a soldier,” he went on, “because you have to have millions of money to fly over in those jets  and I don't have any money, and daddy and mommy don't have enough money for me to do that. Besides, all the wars will be over by the time I grow up, right Grandma?"

“I certainly hope so,” I said.

"And you know,” he said, “I will be too short to be a soldier when I grow up, because my mom is short and my daddy is not tall."

Meanwhile, having scanned more of the article, I told him, "Oh, here it says this man didn’t have to go to war after all. It says that he had a bad knee that got hurt in a football game."

“So I don't need to worry do I, grandma, because you have to have good knees, and I have a sore knee (no one had heard this before), and you have to have lots of money and you have to be real, real tall like Uncle Jay (who is six-foot-four) and anyway, there will never be any more wars by the time I grow up."

Later when his mother came home from work, he said, "Guess what, mommy, I don't have to go to war because I have a bad knee and when I jump on it, it hurts. Watch this, mommy, see?" whereupon he climbed  up on a table and jumped off and then rubbed his knee. "See that really hurt my knee, so grandma said I don't need to go to war and be a soldier."

No one remembered ever having talked with Dax about the subject of becoming a soldier, though his parents assumed he had picked up snatches from the news and maybe from other children at day care. His mother did recall his asking about the cannon in front of the former Harrisonburg High School.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Grandblessings Alert!

At about 11 a.m. this morning, while I was meeting with some friends to help plan a memorial service, my wife called me at my office with the news that our youngest and only daughter's twins had arrived. Needless to say, we were ecstatic, along with their father and our grandson, age 6, all joyfully welcoming 7 lb., 8 oz. baby boy, and 7 lb., 6 oz. baby girl into our grand-family. They join their little Yoder cousins ages 6, 4 and almost two.

What a juxtaposition of events, I thought. One life, that of a 51-year-old former student of mine, remembered for all of the good gifts she brought to her family and many friends, and now new life was breaking out 400 miles away, a sign of hope and promise of more grand things to come.

Such is life, the bitter and the sweet mingling together, beginnings and endings overlapping each other. We are continually blessed by how precious each life is, and then mourn because all, like the wild flowers and grass of the field, wither and fade away. But life goes on and love gets passed on, one generation to the next, a part of a continued story. The best is always yet to be.

Our daughter was the youngest grandchild of both my parents and Alma Jean's, the last of dozens of cousins in her generation on each side of the family. It looks like her latest births may actually mark the last of the next generation of cousins in both clans as well. We've been told, at least, that our own number of grandchildren will likely remain at six, a fine number indeed.

One never knows for sure, of course. Thirty-five years ago we were quite certain we would have no more than two children, our sons. Then miracle daughter came along, without a doubt the very best mistake we ever made :-) !

Without her, we wouldn't be celebrating this grand event, and with twins, we feel doubly blessed.

Thanks be to God.