Monday, June 09, 2008

Celebrating 44 Years

At 9:23 this morning I will celebrate forty-four years of life. It is my birthday.

My day began early and well when at 5:00 AM my spouse roused herself from sleep, heard me ask "What time is it?" and told me. She was on her way to the YMCA for her morning exercise frenzy and I, hearing the silence of the morning, could sleep no longer. Having spent the past week engaged in numerous parental direct-care responsibilities (Claudia was out of town several days with two our kids visiting her parents in Arizona), I savored the quiet of the early morning. The birds are chirping in the cool, early morning as the sun rises.

I am at my desk in my office by 6:15 this morning, grateful for the quiet in the church and the soon-to-be busy street outside my window. In the serenity of this day I begin with my morning prayer ritual. There was a time when I had to work pretty hard to have anything resembling a growing interior life, but for the past few years I have been drawn to these important thirty-or-so minutes to begin my day. I have experimented with many models for morning prayer, from the free style of my evangelical heritage (which is often unhelpful to me because of my tendency toward distraction) to the more structured approaches found in the Catholic or Anglican traditions. Since the start of this year I have settled on a modified Anglican approach, using an Order of Daily Prayer format while freely substituting content within the structure. I find this provides me the structure I need along with the variety I must have to maintain active interest.

So, this morning I prayed the written prayers, the appointed Psalm of the day, the three daily lectionary texts (one from the Hebrew Scriptures, one from the Christian
Scriptures and one from the Gospel), sang the two hymns and focused spiritual reflection by reading from Brendan O'Malley's Lord of Creation: A Resource for Creative Celtic Spirituality.

I say all this to buffet my feelings of frustration and despair of last night. After a marvelously delightful morning in worship and study yesterday morning, and an equally pleasant lunch with our children and a family friend, the afternoon crashed, bringing one challenging interaction after another into my sphere.

If it wasn't our twelve-year-old son obsessing over money and going to the store to spend it it was one of our thirteen-year-olds (we have three right now) defiantly refusing to comply with even the most courteously offered directives. Our older kids were also not immune from whatever demon was hautning our house yesterday. From aggressive behaviors to generally annoying barbs, the de crescendo of my day was a disappointment. I spent most of last night bemoaning our plight to my spouse whose own tolerance level was minimal. It was a bleak close to a disappointing afternoon and irritating night.

To be a parent is a mysterious, ever-changing role that no one is qualified to fill. It doesn't matter whether you are a parent having given birth to children or having adopted them. It is the most exhausting, challenging task there is. It may be this alone that has driven me to the need for ways to daily restore my inner, spiritual being. I mentioned earlier that I have not always been able to maintain the disciplines necessary for developing a growing interior life, but that in the past few years I have.

I suspect the greatest incentive has been need. A healthy interior life is no longer a luxury that I may choose to develop or not. I have come to discover its absolute necessity if I am going to survive, at least, and if I am going to thrive, at best. I have come to discover how "spiritual" a work is this job of parenting. It is more than simply possessing good common sense, or an understanding of the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. There is more to parenting than simply having a stable income, or adequate shelter in which to live, or a moral enough life to pass on to your young ones. To be a parent involves the very core of one's being, and unless the core is being refreshed and restored on a regular basis, there is the certainty of despair and burnout.

To be sure there are moments of deep joy that help to sustain a parent's life as well. On Saturday night, for example, I took two of my kids to eat with me at a Chinese restaurant. Before leaving the car I turned to them both and gave them the "this is a nice place to eat, so you need to be on your best behavior" talk. I warned them that if they were inappropriate it would be the last time for a long time I would be willing to do this. With a few reminders on my part during the meal they behaved nicely. Toward the end of our meal, Dominyk (our twelve-year-old) asked me if he could get a refill on his pop. I said, "Yes, but wait until the server comes back to our table." The server in this restaurant, however, is not all that dutiful, and often requires customer assertion. Before I could intercede, Dominyk spotted our server, said, "Excuse me. Could I have a refill, please?" As she took his glass from the table he said, "Thank you." And then, beaming with pride at his accomplishment (and for someone with ADHD, OCD, and a variety of other interesting letter-combinations festooning his name this was an accomplishment), he looked at me without blinking an eye and said, "How good was that?"

"Very good, Dominyk. I am very proud of you," I smiled. And that is how I am feeling on this early morning of my forty-fourth year. Very good. And, at least for now, I am smiling.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Fletcher Family Friday Fun Day -- Year Two Day One

It is the first day of summer vacation for our children. Claudia and our two newest kids are out of state visiting her parents in Arizona (they left early on Tuesday morning and will return tomorrow, Saturday, night). The rest of us (well, except for our oldest daughter, who has pretty much been at her friends day and night) have been slogging through a very difficult day. Transitions are always so awful for our family, and I almost always forget that until the transition is upon us. I spent yesterday feeling pretty enthused about spending the first day of summer vacation with our kids, but it is not mid-afternoon, and I have endured too many moment of blatant defiance, obnoxious verbal assaults and the perpetual "I'm bored, Dad," from our second-to-the-youngest son. I am a very patient man, but today my patience has been exhausted.

In an effort to make the day a positive one I planned our first Fletcher Family Friday Fun Day -- Year Two, Day One. We began this last summer as an effort to do some positive, educational, get-out-of-the-house-so-mom-can-work-unassailed days. Most every Friday last summer we set off to a location to visit a historical site, or to camp, or to do something interesting together. We will be doing it again this summer.

Today's venture was close to home, but provided us a few hours away from the house. We visited the W. W. Mayo House in LeSueur, Minnesota, which is where the Doctors Mayo spent six of their earliest years of life. The elder Dr. Mayo (the father) emigrated to the USA from England in the early 1800s and by the mid-1800s the family found themselves in LeSueur, a small town on the Minnesota River, which at the time Minnesota became a Territory, was a bustling part of our state. The house was considered nice for its day (although it was nothing extraordinary even then), but by today's standards is quite tiny. The rooms, furniture and spaces public and private are so very miniscule compared to our expectations in the 2000's.

The Mayo Brothers would eventually move to Rochester, Minnesota, where together they would found what would become the biggest hospital in the United States. Today "Mayo Clinic" is associated with top-notch research and health care, and is often the place where US dignitaries (including presidents) and foreign heads-of-state receive medical care. It is impressive to consider what has become of their legacy.

I was also captured by what the Mayo Brothers had to say about the esteem they garnered while they were yet living. Dr. Charles Horace Mayo said, "The biggest thing Will and I ever did was to pick the father and mother we had." His brother, Will, attributed their success as follows: "We have accomplished much, my brother and I, but we should have done great things; we were given the opportunity. We were born at the right time and to the right parents."

I have been musing on these words all afternoon, considering how our children's lives have been changed because they have been adopted. To be sure some of them will have lives that are as troubled with us as they would have been had they never been adopted. Our son Mike, for example, who is now in court-ordered chemical dependency treatment (and then back to jail) may never have a life all that different. But, he had the opportunity. He had a chance that he might not have otherwise had. And, I am reminded, that at the young age of nineteen he may still have more of a chance if he decides to move beyond what he has become so recently enmeshed in.

Our oldest son Kyle had the opportunity to grasp success and took it. He left home four years after high school graduation to attend a private college, and graduated four years later with a 3.25 GPA and a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education. Would his life looked the same if he had aged out of foster care? Or if he had stayed with birthparents whose lives were ravaged by histories of neglect, chemical dependency and skirmishes with the law? I really doubt it. And, in a real sense, like the brothers Mayo, Kyle "chose" his (adopted) mother and father. He didn't have much choice as to where he would live and with whom (as he regularly has reminded us over the years), but I remember the conversation I had early after his arrival with us. I said, "Kyle, we have chosen you to be our son. You did not have a choice in that. There will be moments when both you and we will regret that. But at some point I want you to decide that we will become your mom and dad. We will wait for you to make that decision, and we will love you. In fact, we will love you whether you choose us or not, but it will certainly make things easier for all of us when you do." He decided within a number of days that I would be his dad (until that point he had called me by my first name), and later decided Claudia would be his mom (another story for another day). Kyle was adopted at the right time and with the right parents so that he could accomplish something of his life.

Our other children have similar stories, although it is probably too soon to tell with most of them. They are still at home and young enough that much is yet to come before they make their foray into young adulthood and leave the nest. But for today I am holding on to the hope that God has somehow placed these kids in our lives at just the right time so that they have a chance to accomplish more than most would predict.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Strange Things Happening Every Day

Last week at our Annual Conference our Bishop opened our first session by preaching on "Strange Things Happening Every Day," with reference to Sister Rosetta Tharp (an African-American musician who died in 1973) who popularized the gospel (some say first rock and roll) tune by that name. Bishop Sally asked us to consider how God is shaking things up in the world, in our annual conference (the geographical entity that comprises about 400 United Methodist churches in Minnesota), in our lives. Bishop Sally is a remarkable preacher, and her words have stayed with me for days now.

I've had some strange things happening over the past few days, some mundane, some more personal.

Two days ago my well-used laptop decided to freeze and refuse to start up again, so I am without my "portable office." While I do have an office computer (it is a Dell, and I am an inveterate Mac user, so you can imagine my angst) that I can use, I find it clunky and unhelpful, plus it is not exactly very portable. So I am a bit disoriented as my calendar, my address book, all my documents, planning materials and the rest are on my laptop. Fortunately I have a nearly complete backup, so that isn't an issue at this time. It is, though, a very disorienting time without my office companion.

One of the things I heard at annual conference this year spoke directly to me. I cannot remember whether it was the Bishop, a piece of legislation, or another speaker who asked the question. "When is the last time you visited someone in jail?" I am part of a spiritual tradition that has a long, rich history of reaching out to those at the margins of society. The early Methodist movement was known for its work with the poor, the "street children," the imprisoned, the "blue collar" worker, so the question was an appropriate to ask of 900 United Methodist clergy and lay people.

While a number of my clergy colleagues may have answered that they have never visited someone in prison, I cannot say that. Of course, my reason for visiting has been less about my pastoral role and more about my paternal one. It has been many months since I visited our son Michael in jail. He has been in and out of jail numerous times since turning eighteen (about fifteen months ago), so it is not always easy to know if and when he is "in," but I knew based on what I read from court administration that he was "in," although in a new county adjoining ours.

I have been hearing the question, "When is the last time you visited someone in jail?" many times in my mind over the past week, so I finally accepted the interrogative for what it is (the voice of God) an set out this morning to fulfill my responsibility, but also because I wanted to see my son once again.

It is only about a fifteen-minute drive to the law enforcement center in question. I walked into the doors to the window where visitors sign in and requested a visit. The officer said, "Let me check." Within seconds he was back. "We released him this morning to treatment. He's not here."

I sighed to myself but got the details as to where Mike's current stop will be. It is a treatment center a couple of hundred miles from us, so I doubt I will see him in person very frequently. I will, as I have been for the past few months, write to him and keep connection, but I will not be able at this point to visit him in jail.

Strange things are happening every day.