Friday, November 21, 2014

Faith Friday - My Name Used to Be Muhammad

"Tito Momen was raised Muhammad Momen. He was born in Nigeria and taught to observe the strict teachings of Islam. Beginning at age five he woke at 4:45 every morning to attend the mosque and perform dawn prayer with the other men in his village. He began training to memorize the Qur an at age six by copying the entire Qur an word for word. He was being raised to become a leader among clerics, capable of leading a jihad, or holy struggle, to convert nonbelievers to Islam. But Tito s path took an unexpected turn when he was introduced to Christianity. His decision to believe in Jesus Christ cost him his family and his freedom. Tito thought he would spend his remaining days enduring a life sentence in an uncivilized Egyptian prison. For fifteen years he suffered and waited and prayed. Tito says, I never gave up hope. I never stopped believing. Although he was falsely imprisoned, beaten, and ridiculed, Tito s remarkable true story is one of faith, forgiveness, and testimony that God does hear and answer prayers."

This week in my neighborhood book club we read My Name Used To Be Muhammad. My friend dropped off her copy one night around 8pm and by midnight I had devoured the 288 pages. I was fascinated by this man's perspective on life as a youth in a remote Nigerian village, his schooling, his Muslim view on family and women and ultimately the journey that led him to question his upbringing and the more violent and stringent tenants of his faith. 

One favorite part from the book was when Tito was in college, studying Islam, and almost against his will goes out with some fellows Muslims to a party. Muslims, according to Tito, do not drink, smoke, dress immodestly or associate with anything that is "western" in thought or practice - music, plays, dancing, dress, etc. But Tito goes to this party and hears a Michael Jackson song for the first time...and he can't get it out of his head. He was amazed in this small apartment that all these people from different races and cultures were western music. They were having a good time together. After the party, he eventually buys some Michael Jackson music and little by little starts working through some of his own prejudices and ideas. 

I love that section of the book! First, because I love that one song from one man could end up making a monumental difference in someone's life. Second, I love that it opened up Tito to explore more and more of Western ideas. As he puts it in the book, western people he met at college and in clubs were not the kind of monsters he had grown up being taught they were. 

In sociology, there is a term called the face of the other. Basically all people are different from one another. We separate each other into groups, categories and subcategories so we can judge, manage expectations and categorize our lives. However, sometimes, we can see "the face of the other" in people - their spark of beauty, creativity, of unlimited potential. We realize that though we are wildly different in thought or deed, we are all the same. We are connected somehow and reflect each other in our best moments. And in these moments we find compassion, respect and honor for one another, individually and collectively.  I think for most of us, once we see the humanity in others, it can be harder to continue our stereotypes about them. 

So if you have a couple hours and want to learn about the practices of a small Nigerian village, the corrupt ways of an Egyptian prison and the influence of Michael Jackson - this might be a good story for you! If you have read the book, I would love to hear what you thought about it as well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?

Recently, a neighbor friend of mine taught Miss S about service. That day after S came home, I found her quietly doing acts of service for her family. When I asked Mr R to take some toys upstairs, S jumped in and said, "I can do that for him!" When her dad asked for a hug, she enthusiastically jumped into his arms. While I was making dinner, she came to ask where she could help.

I watched her throughout the day and as I was tucking her in that night, I thanked her for being so helpful today and wanted her to notice that I had seen how she made others happy. She smiled and simply said, "I learned that I could give service mom."

They often say that it is from the mouth of babes we learn our greatest lessons. And so three weeks into this Thanksgiving month, my little girl reminded me of service - small, daily acts of kindness. And in truth some of my greatest moments of happiness have come while giving service.

So last night I brought out our cow jar again and had the kids count how much money was in it. For more than a year my family have been working to raise money to buy a cow through Heifer International. I admire the work they are doing and how they help people help themselves.  My kids love animals and I thought it would be a good way to help them learn to give. So I had gone to the dollar store, got a small glass jar and a small cloth cow puppet that fit over the opening of the jar. And from there we collected all our spare changes, sometimes chore money and any loose change we could find. Periodically, we would take trips to the bank to convert all our pennies and dimes into dollars. Last night as the kids counted the money, we are up to 125.00.

While not enough for a cow, our original goal, this could help us buy a goat, a pig, perhaps several flocks of chicken or honeybees. I loved seeing the looks on my kids faces as they explored the options of how we could give with the money we had saved. Here's a short video on how Heifer International's system works:
There are so many ways to give, to share, to help someone this season. Like Miss S, we can simply be more willing to love, to help, to share our lives. Also there are lots of organized ways to give, for example, our bank is collecting shoes for children and our favorite bakery is exchanging one coat for one cookie. The food pantry and domestic abuse shelters need donations of food and money.  In fact, tomorrow night we are going to the food pantry to help as a family. I am so excited to share this opportunity to serve with my kids.

And last, while I enjoy giving, I also need reminders, rituals and traditions to help me remember what Miss S taught about service. So in thinking about how to do that for my family, I found this at potterbarnkids and realized it would be perfect to start a tradition.
Each day has a small pocket on it for notes, pictures, money. I want to ritualize our families giving in November of each year. One day might be a roll of quarters to donate. One day might be the picture and short story of service given by our grandparents, friends or neighbors. One day might be a song about service we can learn or a website to look at of different kids and how they have raised money to help others.

It might not be earth shattering for my family but it is something. And I have learned that service, whether big or small still counts! So what are you going to do this Thanksgiving to show those you care? What are some ideas or traditions you have around service and giving? When was a time you felt someone give to you and it made a difference?

Friday, November 07, 2014

Faith Friday - It takes a Village

For those of you who have followed Mr R's birth story and the mess of humanity that was, it will come as no surprise that I am very fond of this kid; I destroyed and recreated part of myself in entering into motherhood with him. I might be his mom but I also believe he is my counterpart and equal.

So reaching a milestone in our family - 8 years old - was a big moment for us. Being LDS, we look forward to baptism, to become closer friends with Jesus and to get the gift of the holy ghost. With baptism we have a chance to show our obedience to the Father's commandments just as Jesus Christ was baptized to follow a commandment. And the gift of the holy ghost offers two things I was very excited for R to learn to have and use: protection and a defined "gut" feeling about things.

While there were no splashy or crafty family meetings about the topic, no Pinterest boards on the topic or fancy invitations, there were many quiet conversations in the car, cleaning the house side by side, laying in bed beside him at night chatting about the day and life in general. He would ask questions about what faith is and who I thought God was and in turn share his ideas, thoughts and concerns with me. He, one night kneeling beside me in prayer, offered his testimony. I was humbled to hear him, to get to be in on this experience as I listened to my littles heart unfold. He offered love of God and love of family.

Short and sweet and full of goodness.
At this baptism, we wanted him to be surrounded by lots of love and light. So we called in the troops - friends, family and neighbors all came to embrace this boy and show him love. Such a happy moment for our family to see so many come to celebrate and share in our day with us.

Even one of our dear neighbors and friends, J, came to support R. I love these two kids and their friendship!
 We had a simple program where cousins Stephanie Farmer gave the talk on baptism and Ben Merrill gave the talk on the gift of the Holy Ghost. Both did such a great job, Steph had Miss S help hold the pictures and Ben likened the HG to a gift of a soccer ball.

I gave a short introduction of R.

Favorite scripture story: Daniel in the lion's den. He likes that story because Daniel had the faith to prayer to God so that he wouldn't be eaten and God answered his prayers.

Favorite thing we love about R: Curiosity about life. He is always wanting to know the answers to his questions and asking about the whys and hows. He especially loves animals and learning about them. Also, he is a peacemaker in our family, happy to help, to make us laugh, to play with his sister or to give up something to help another. Also, R loves people and to be surrounded by friends. When he was little, he used to run away from playmates at the park because he was shy and concerned, but now he loves to play and gathers friends around him.

Favorite song: Jesus Came to John the Baptist from the LDS Primary Songbook

As a family, we then stood and sang acapella Riley's favorite song - Jesus Came to John the Baptist. Miss S and I sang the first verse (I love that instead of immersion Miss S always sang the word emergent), R joined in on the second verse and then Jed sang with all of us on the third verse. Apparently at the beginning of the third verse Jed and I both started in on the wrong words. R quickly stopped us, "No! That's not right" and then all finished together and yes, we figured out the correct verse! It was sweet to sing with my littles and my love beside me and I cherished that R wanted to express himself and his feelings in this way.
  At R's request, Jed baptized and confirmed him. The Gpas were witnesses.
While we were waiting for R and Jed to come back in after the baptism, we passed out papers and crayons. We asked those in attendance to write or draw something for R that he could keep to remember this day.  Here's a small sampling of what some of them created:
There were many more drawings and cards that will be good to bind into a memory book. Being a lover of words and moments, it tickles me with so much delight to be able to have these for R to remember his day. 

Afterwards the Bishop gave some remarks, along with the Primary President and then we closed the meeting. We left the church then and headed back to our house for some italian sodas, waffles with strawberries, blueberries and whip cream and other various yummy treats that people had brought. 
Rosilene and Glenn Cook and DeeAnn and Lee Merrill
  The kids of course loved playing outside together while the adults were inside chatting away.
 Aunt Evelynn
 Cousin Mindy and dear friend Missy
 Aunt Tami and cousin Stephanie
 Family friend Kurt and Jed hanging out
 Uncle Robert and cousin Michelle (don't mind the googley eye!)
Cousins Jared and Melissa with Aunt Nancy

So many thanks to those who sent cards, brought gifts, came to the baptism and to those who came to the house afterwards. We love and appreciate all of you and missed those of you who would have been here if you could have. They say it takes a village to raise a child. If that is true, we are so happy our village came with love and good intent and flooded into the baptism and our home to celebrate.  
Happy 8th birthday and baptism Mr R!

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Art of Conversation

In college, I had a roommate and friend who had a wit that was fast and sharp - and I mean that in all the best ways. I loved being around her because I swear she made me smarter. She could converse on any given subject and had a steady stream of comebacks that I so admired. We participated often in witty playful banter which over the years became full of inside jokes. 

My friendship with her snuck up on me but I was so happy that it did. We spent many delightful years conversing with each other and in return shaping my love of great conversation. I appreciate great conversationalist and love to be around them and participate with them.

Last night I had the pleasure of engaging in conversation with six women of varied backgrounds. Only two of them had I previously met but soon into the evening I found that the conversation flowed freely. Hours passed happily as we shared, gathered each other's stories and threw wit around the table back and forth to each other. It was a delightful night.

On the drive home I remembered my many hours spent in conversation with my college friend and how much I love a good conversation. It renews and inspires me in so many great and creative ways. 

Over the years, I have found myself gathering women around me. I have organized neighborhood book groups, moms clubs that focus on deliberate parenting, and local produce swaps from my own garage.  In each instance, I love watching women's lives and stories unfold. I love hearing the conversations, the laughter and even the silence as we work through things with each other. Often, after a gathering, I have looked at the clock and hours and hours have passed. What a happy feeling that is to me! 

So today is for conversations. Who do you want to get to know this week? Who do you love talking to and why? What makes a good conversation for you?