Somebody just made his therapist mom really proud.
When Five came to us a year ago, he didn’t even know what a crayon was, much less how to use one.
This is Five’s school paper, a drawing of himself, after he had been with us six months:
The next one, four months later, at the end of PreK:
And this one from this week, at the beginning of Kindergarten:
And that is why we do what we do.
Also, I cried.
Between work and a sick baby in the hospital, I have not been able to write much in the last week, and am about to spill over with words.
But for now, let me say that Nathan is my hero for finding this app:
The baby is finally sleeping, so maybe she will feel better when she wakes to eat in a couple hours, instead of losing her food as fast as she gets it!
I am so grateful she is finally asleep and resting!
Sunset tonight begins Rosh Hashana, or ראש השנה, which is the start of the new year on the Jewish calendar (see Leviticus 23). It is not just the new year like January 1 is for us, but the Jews believe it is actually the birthday of the Earth. Happy Birthday, Earth! This year will be year 5775 on the Jewish calendar. Some would argue the science question, asking how it could possibly be only almost-6,000 years when carbon dating and other things show the Earth to be much older. Most Jews would say that the 5775 is just the number of years since creation was completed, and Adam was placed on the Earth. Or others, since the time Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden to live in the world as it is now. The years before that, the first “six” days of creation, plus the period of rest (time in the Garden, which was a temple space), are considered similar to how LDS believe, as symbolic of periods or phases of creation (rather than specific actual 24 hour periods). But since the Earth was completed and ready to be inhabited by people, it has been 5775 years since Adam and Eve came to the Earth (as it is now). In fact, in the Jewish Midrash, it is taught that the earth was static those first six periods, and that the earth did not “come to life” until Adam was placed on the Earth (tellestial world) and prayed for rain. Then it began to rain, and the Earth came to life. This is the birthday of the Earth that Rosh Hoshana celebrates. So the Jews would say that the periods before that cannot be measured in time because time did not yet exist (some say the Earth literally fell away from where it was, and thus began its current orbit as we now know). But, what they do know, is that since the time of Adam, who did mark time by days and nights as we know them now, it has been 5775 years.
Like the new year in America, it is a time of making resolutions. But instead of just feeling good and celebrating with big feats and late night revelry, the Jews takes this holiday very seriously. It is a time of looking back at the past year’s mistakes, and discerning what specific changes need to be made in one’s life. There is no work permitted on this holiday, and it is a day spent in the synagogue with liturgy and prayers. There is, however, a yummy tradition of eating apples dipped in honey on this day, representing our hopes for a good (“sweet”) new year.
There is also a tradition of the shofar being blown on this day. The shofar is a ram’s horn used as a trumpet, with notes blown in a kind of morse code style. This is done to remind the people of God’s sovereignty, and is a call to repentance. Many people fill their pockets with pieces of bread, and go to a river (symbolic of the mikveh) or lake or some body of water, and pull the bread pieces out of their pockets and throw them into the water. This “casting off” is known as Tashlikh, representing the casting off of sins, or giving our iniquities to God in exchange for His righteousness.
The Torah reading on Rosh Hoshana is the story of Abraham sending away Ishamael (the father of the twelve tribes from which the Muslims descend) because of the feud between his mother and the mother of Isaac (the father of the twelve tribes from which the Jews descend). So Rosh Hoshana is also a time to remember that the long feud between brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, was put to rest when they had to reconcile to bury their father Abraham. It is a reminder that their children, all 24 tribes (the twelve tribes of Isaac and the twelve tribes of Ishmael), are cousins, and that they can follow the example of their fathers for making peace. The promises given to Abraham were for all his children. It is a time for Abraham’s children to pray for peace between Muslims and Jews, peace between cousins, peace between brothers.
To my Israeli friends, I say: L’shanah tovah tikatevi v’taihatemi. Or, for slang, just “shana tova”, which basically means “happy new year”, while the rest implies a spiritually sealing up to that good new year. It is more than just “happy new year”, but means that the new year has been ordained by God – and that if we are repentant and turn toward Him, He will bless us.
This is actually very important, because Rosh Hoshana is what prepares us for Yom Kippur. On Rosh Hoshana, we are called to repentance with the blowing of the shofar, and “cast off” our sins as evidence of our repentance (symbolically by participating in Tashlikh). Yom Kippur comes next weekend, at sunset on the 3rd, and that Sabbath (when we will be in General Conference) is the Day of Atonement – or the day when we are held accountable for our sins. That is also the 5th anniversary of me being baptized, which I find to be significant and the double holiday helps me take it seriously.
God gives us this time symbolical of creation and representing our entire lifetime in mortality, between calling us to repentance and holding us accountable for it. In this way, Rosh Hoshana represents our mortal birth on planet earth, the week represents our lifetime given to learn by experience and choose to follow God’s plan, and Yom Kippur represents our final judgment.
Yom Kippur is a serious and somber event celebrated with fasting and prayer. There is no bathing, no marital relations, and no perfume or lotion. When there was still a Temple, a sacrifice was made to cleanse the people from their sins, which were symbolically placed on the “scapegoat” and sent out into the wilderness away from the people. The goat was actually pushed off a cliff to make sure it didn’t wander its way back into camp, and I think there are times in our lives we have things we need to just push off the cliff and let go of so they don’t re-infest us.
There is a poem-prayer that is recited, reminding the people of the Thirteen Attributes of God’s Mercy, by which we obtain forgiveness:
- Hashem: He (Adonai) is merciful (to one before he/she sins).
- Hashem: He (Adonai) is merciful (to the sinner who repents).
- Ayl: He (El) is powerful and able to govern righteously.
- Rachum: He is compassionate, not putting people into situations of extreme temptation, and easing the punishment of the guilty .
- Vchanun: He is gracious, granting even undeserved favors, lifting the burden of the oppressed, and consoling the afflicted.
- Erech Ah’payim: He is slow to anger, allowing the sinner time to repent by not exacting immediate punishment and providing time for reflection and improvement.
- Vrav Chesed: He abounds in lovingkindness and leniency, even toward those who lack personal merit. He gives more gifts and blessings than we deserve. He, when judging each individual, notices when we are evenly balanced between virtue and sin, and “tips the scales” in our favor.
- Vemet: He abounds in truth and keeps His promises.
- Notzer Chesed Laalafim: He maintains lovingkindness for thousands of generations, remembering the deeds of the righteous to the benefit of their descendents – even when the descendents are less virtuous). (NOTE: This is the principle of “the merit of the Patriarchs”.)
- Nosay Avon: He forgives sins that result from temptation, caused by weakness, or resulting from disposition.
- Vafesha: He forgives sins of rebellion against Him and those who willfully sin with malicious intent, specifically giving them time and opportunity to repent.
- Vchataah: He forgives sins committed carelessly, thoughtlessly, unknowingly, or by apathy.
- Vnah’kay: He completely forgives the sinner who returns to Him in sincere repentance, but does not cleanse those who do not repent.
Repentance is actually a big, important part of this holiday. The days between Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur is a time to face the hard truths of the last year (this is very similar to the Hindu holiday of Diwali, if you want to read THIS BLOG from 2011 about the comparison). It is a time to take off the masks of ignorance by embracing knowledge and becoming enlightened, and a time of accountability where we all agree and know and understand that we can no longer feign ignorance. It is a time of letting go of old sins – through complete confession and sincere repentance and diligent restitution. It is a time of becoming enlightened by living up to the knowledge we have been given and cannot deny.
Jewish tradition says that on Yom Kippur, God has already decided the fate of each person for the coming year (based on repentance and good works of the year before culminating in the week between Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur). Cultural tradition focuses on the timing of these holidays, that unlike our new year that begins mid-winter, the Jewish new year begins with the harvest season. It is a new year because we have harvested what last year has brought, and are preparing the earth (ourselves) for the next season in our lives. It is a time of completion that is the seed of new beginnings.
This is something common to all of us, I think, but something sorely lacking in American awareness. In today’s fast-paced, immediate-gratification society, the rhythm of working hard to glean something produced over time is often lost in our culture. But I believe, whether we are aware of it or not, the Law of the Harvest still applies, and that in some way or another, we reap what we sow, get what we give, and prominently play a role in choosing our consequences far more than we are aware – but also are blessed far more than we deserve.
While a principle from ancient times, the Law of Harvest is gaining attention in a pop culture desperate for any kind of harvest. There are several principles we glean from the Law of Harvest:
We harvest only where we have planted.
Corn doesn’t grow by my mailbox because that’s not where I planted it. I am not going to wake up one morning with a skill for writing if I have not been practicing it. I am not going to win a marathon if I have not trained for it. I am not going to suddenly be gentle if I have not been practicing being humble, meek, using a quiet voice, being careful of the spirits of others, and being kind in word, tone, and deed.
We harvest only the same kind of thing we have planted.
Corn doesn’t grow from eggplant seeds. If I do interval training at the gym, that doesn’t teach me subject-verb agreement. Practice doesn’t make perfect; it just ingrains what you have practiced (including any mistakes) – only perfect practice makes perfect. If I practice being patient, then I will get better at being patient.
We harvest in a different season than when we plant.
This is a truth lost in our I-want-it-now society that demands immediate gratification. Substantial results are not immediate, but come with diligent labor and consistent nourishment. I plant my corn in spring, and it grows all summer, and I harvest it in the autumn. I do not get to plant and harvest in the same season. I can say, “I want to be nicer to my husband”, but it takes practice and effort at trying and doing and improving before I can say “I am nice to my husband”. My paycheck today is for work I did two weeks ago, or a month ago. My blog app is because of writing practice for the last twelve years, not because this morning’s blog just happened to be awesome. I qualify to be married in the temple two years ago only because of choices made three years before that.
We harvest more than what we plant.
I plant a single seed, but I get the fruit (or vegetable!) of that plant, plus many more seeds. Doing a small thing for someone else is only a tiny effort, but may mean a great deal to them in ways we may not expect or be able to measure – which is also a caution about how much damage can be done by an ugly tone, a mean face, or small neglect. When we do something healthy for ourselves, or something good for other people, we always feel better than expected. Even global economics is shocked at the incredible way this shows up in the correlation between charity (giving money, time, or service) and financial prosperity at a global level, and why it’s mathematically true that the more you give the more you make even though it feels counter-intuitive.
We harvest in proportion to what we plant.
The harvest is exponential to what was planted, true, but it is also in proportion. A lot more will come out of a small service to a friend than what I intended, but that exponentional-ity will be in proportion to my effort. If it is a random, one time visit, my friend my appreciate it and think it is sweet – or odd, or required, or have some string attached. But if I am consistently visiting and caring for my friend, then the proportion (yield of harvest) can be much greater. Consistency and and quality and amount (of time, energy, substance) yield a greater harvest.
We harvest only what we have already planted (future harvests come from what we sow today).
I cannot go outside today, cross my backyard, and pick the corn that I will plant next year. My paycheck today is not for the work I will do next week. I cannot retire today, knowing I will put in a good career over the next forty years. I cannot assume friendship with someone whom I have not yet been friendly. My friendships today, right now, are based on how I behaved and interacted and invested yesterday.
We only harvest the full harvest if we are diligent in caring for what we planted all the way until harvest time.
I can’t just plant corn and expect to get corn. There’s more to it than that. It grows first in bright green rows, and then starts to develop the husks while it stills grows taller yet. You have to protect it from invaders that eat it before it can become the sweet vegetable you hope to pick. It has to survive tornado season bashing it down with winds and hail, and it has to survive summer droughts and Oklahoma sunshines hotter than my kitchen oven. It needs water, and caresses, and good soil.
It’s hard work to grow corn, and I think it’s because it offers its vegetable so high up on its stalk. The corn waves its husk like an offering to God, with its silks and tassels sparkling in the sun and its leaves blowing in the wind. Other vegetables can bury low, or grow enough to feed the bugs, too. Other vegetables are prolific enough you don’t notice. But corn? Corn has a sacred rustling sound you can hear as you walk past, if your cochlear implants are turned on and you are paying attention.
Character traits, testimonies, and our spiritual development – and even relationships – are all present progressive experiences that must be constant, even when they are in the life-death-life cycle that is part of being creatures of season. No matter the season, there must be nourishment. No matter the season, there must be care given to ensure a good harvest. The moment we stop caring is the moment we sacrifice the harvest.
But to be brave enough to look the past in the face and learn the lessons woven in the history is to have compassion for ourselves regarding the journey we have endured. This is the gift of the harvest, beyond the blessings gleaned, to develop the gift of discerning truth and the muscles both to seek it and defend it.
It is the dosh, the part of threshing that actually separates the natural product from its natural container. It’s the separating the wheat from the chaff. It’s the taking of nourishment out of what lays before us. It’s the discernment between the noise and distractions of the world and true spiritual food that nourishes, gives life, strengthens, and uplifts. It’s the distinction between what feels good and what is good for us. It’s the knowing the difference between truth and error (1 John 4:6).
This is our harvest, the consequences of our own choices, behaviors, and interactions.
This is our harvest, what we have given to the world.
This is our harvest, how we have treated each other.
It has been a year of harvest, dishing out what we deserved, what we grew, what we planted.
The cold days are not yet here, but coming, and it will give us time to reflect on our harvest – the quality of it, whether it is enough of the right things, and what exactly we are planting in the world.
Maybe this is mercy: a little time to pull weeds and better decide what we want to plant, a little experience to better nourish our crops as they grow, and a little wisdom to glean a healthier harvest.
Maybe this is how to welcome a God: to plant, nourish, and glean a harvest worthy of Him.
Maybe this is our question, once the masks come off: What are we planting, and what are we doing – this very day – to nourish it, to protect it, and to glean it?
I think that, regardless of religion, the Law of Harvest cannot be cheated. It makes me wonder what I am planting, what we as a community are planting, and as a nation, and as a world.
What is it we are planting, creating, and giving permission to thrive?
We will see tomorrow when it blooms and grows, but I think it would be wise of us to pause and look at the little seeds we carry in our hands.
What are we creating?
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Five called it, you know. Again.
I went in to tuck him in last night, and he told me that Heavenly Father told him a new boy was coming to sleep in his bunk bed. So he asked me to be sure and let the boy sleep in the bottom bunk, so that he wouldn’t fall out of bed from the top bunk. I promised, kissed his red head, and tucked him in before sneaking out to the hallway.
We laughed about it.
Nervously, because four different times before this, he has called it before a new child came.
Sure enough, we got a call today for a three year old boy.
And he was here long enough just for a nap.
Then a kinship home – which is when someone who knows the child already, even if they are not family – opened up, and he was moved on that quickly.
That was child number 31.
This is back to our normal, that a worker could just drop of a random child while I am in the middle of treatment plans, and I can gather clothes for them from our stockpile of foster supplies, give the child a bath, de-louse his hair, get him in clean clothes, fed, and down for a nap, and then he is just gone by the time my paperwork gets done.
It was good to be helping again, especially after this season when so many have helped us.
That’s forms, I was thinking, as I pushed the toddler’s stroller as we walked home from taking Five to school this morning. I have been listening to one of those free university classes, a whole semester on Socrates, which is really a whole semester on Plato since we don’t have any surviving original writings of Socrates himself, just Plato’s writings about him.
You have to remember that Socrates was a math man, after Pythagoras. This means everything could really have meaning, because it had to equate to something. All his fancy dialogues were all about making words equal one, really. This was different than his student Plato‘s student, Aristotle, who was all about science instead of math – which meant, for him, that if everything meant something, then the next question is how do you organize those things into categories? Happy science.
So forms, really, for Socrates, ultimately meant patterns. The chair I am sitting on is made after the form, or the pattern, of the overall design of what chairs are. That’s my version, not the version of Socrates. People usually substitute “ideas” for forms, because there is no way to translate it exactly, but it wasn’t just an idea. It was more than an idea. The point, though, is that we learn more from the pattern itself – the design of a perfect chair, for example – than from our meager efforts at reproducing it. Even if I am really good at making very nice chairs, it will not be as exact or as perfect or as complete or as lovely as the best design of a chair could imply is possible.
It was a theory that had lots of problems, and even mostly falls apart in Plato’s writings.
But there is some truth that rings in forms, about there being patterns after which all things are made.
Socrates, via his student Plato, also said:
I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled poets
to write their poetry,
but a kind of instinct or inspiration,
such as you find in seers and prophets…
That’s what got me thinking about seers and prophets five years ago.
Because in the original theory, Forms don’t change. They are the pattern after which other things exist, and they are unchanging. So if even Socrates knew about seers and prophets, then there must still be prophets.
The idea of that stopped me in my tracks, years ago.
Neitzsche was still a young pup then. Maybe not a puppy, but still running with me every day. It was the last of his running years, and when this thought came, I stopped, yanking him back with me. He was fine, and wandered toward the river to smell some thistle. But I stopped to replay what I had just realized, via dialectic logic, must be true.
Even if the theory upon which my thoughts were based had holes, as I continued to process favorite ancient texts that to me taste like the smell of old books in my mother’s libraries, with their words that feel like warm quilts made by grandmothers.
It stands true in the Bible, I knew, that God had always used prophets. And if he had used prophets then, it made sense – quite suddenly – that he still used prophets. That was a scary thought to me at the time, because I knew the revelatory warnings about false prophets that meant danger or even condemnation. I could not risk my soul on fallacy, but what happens if the traditions in which I grew up were the false ones?
If God does not change, then God still works as He always has.
If God used to use prophets, then it makes sense He still uses them today.
And a true prophet, I knew, would testify of the Savior.
And a true prophet would not oppress or tell me what to do, so much as guide me and teach me how to know what to do. I would be taught to ask for myself, study for myself, and know for myself.
And if God still called prophets, just like in the Old Testament, then God would call the kind of prophets He has always called: the simple, the humble, the grateful. He called those who struggled to speak, so they would speak His words. He called those willing to serve, so that they would do what He asked. He called those willing to sacrifice their very lives, so that people who know the Savior gave His. He called those brave enough to ask bold questions, humble enough to pray, and crazy enough to pull off miraculous works of God.
Ultimately, it was this kind of thinking that led me to getting baptized. I knew I loved my Father-in-Heaven, and had always prayed, even through my worst messes in life. I grew up with many things taught to me about God and Jesus and the disciples of old, and my skin tingled with lightning power to realize this had all been restored in these last days. It was not just learning something, or drinking kool-aid. It was a remembering. It was a remembering of something that I already knew was true, somewhere deep inside me that I could almost see. I knew it was true.
That’s what I was thinking about when I was walking with the toddler this morning, and remembering the forms. It was because she did something, just in how she moved, that looked just like how Five does it, and then she turned around and laughed, just like me.
It stopped me in my tracks, just like I did that day with Neitzsche.
She is becoming her, after the form of me, who is becoming a mother, after the form of a Mother.
She is becoming herself after the pattern I set, who is becoming a mother after the pattern of a Mother.
It made me cry, right there in the hot morning sunshine in my not-best workout clothes, right there on the part of the corner where there is no sidewalk for a moment.
Somehow the gesture she made meant she had become mine.
Not mine in a possessive way, but in a this-is-my-child way.
In a she-is-one-of-me way.
And I realized, like that day five years ago, that there is truth, somehow, in this pattern of forms, and if I have any hope of becoming fully me, then it must come by following after a pattern greater than me – a pattern of my true design.
And if I am after the pattern of God, then I am made in His image.
And back on that day at the river, I knew it was true.
And this morning on the corner, I knew it was true.
I thought of the words from the Family Proclamation:
All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.
Even me, it says.
Even this toddler, it says.
And even that surprise three year old that only came to our house to get cleaned up and have a nap.
And I realized, that’s one of the reasons I do what I do for my job: because I believe people can change, and I believe people are amazing, and I believe that people who want help are people who are trying to become.
Even when they are a mess, like me five years ago.
Or like the toddler, when she first came to our house, and every day was like wrestling with Helen Keller.
And now, a year later, she is this precious child who is happy and smiley and playful and silly.
And it made me cry.
This was my moment of pondering forms, which I needed very much later in the day. This moment fed me courage and strength when we got a call, after the three year old was already gone, that we were getting a new six year old because she is deaf and know one else knows how to help her.
Do you know what happens to a deaf child that doesn’t learn language?
They just sit there, or act out, or disappear inside themselves.
They don’t learn to read. They don’t learn to express themselves well. They don’t know how to ask for what they need or want or prefer. They copy what everyone else does, whether it is good for them or not. They endure abuse, pain, suffering, and grief, without anyone telling them life could be different. They wait years to know the names of things, to describe how things are different, or to learn how to say their name.
This one was at least taken for hearing aids this week, though I will be taking her to my own audiologist and doctor because I want to be sure she has all the help she can get.
It knocked the breath out of me to see such brown ears, so silent and pure, on the same body as hands so still and quiet. There were no words on her hands, not even simple ones, and it made me cry. Rough gestures and harsh sounds that felt like a hundred years ago, as if she had fallen through time and landed here begging for letters on her hands.
Five and the toddler loved teaching her some signs, and we got as far as we could tonight. Mostly we showed her around, and they were silly, and we ate pizza because it was easy and quick while I check hair, wash clothes, and dig through our supplies (we need more winter things: size 7, shoe size 1). We got through baths, some serious ethnic hair combing, into pajamas, and ready for bed.
When we went to the green couch for family prayers, she knew to kneel down. I wonder who taught her to pray, and whether she does on her own. She folded her hands together and closed her eyes, and just stayed there. The prayer ended and she didn’t know to get up, because she can’t hear the Amen and didn’t know she could keep her eyes open and see the prayers at our house.
It was heart breaking.
She held my hand as I walked her to her new bed. It was limp. Her hand was in mine, but she didn’t hold my hand back.
She let me hug her goodnight, but didn’t hug back.
She picked the top bunk, and crawled up and as far away from us as she could, and just laid there.
It reminded me of when Five first came, and he slept for three whole days.
I went in to kiss him good night, and he was still giggling. He is always excited for new kids, as if they are pets. It gets harder when he realizes they don’t leave, and he has to share time and toys. He cried, though, when he heard he missed his little boy, and doesn’t understand why I can’t just go to the pet shop and get him one.
He might get his chance, though, because not only did we have a crazy day that ended with a little deaf girl, but the toddler’s mother is pregnant.
Yes, I said that. That’s what I said. Due in Spring.
We don’t know yet what that means for the toddler, or for us, but we have already been given three scenarios, two of which include that baby coming here.
They said, this is part of fostering and especially adoption: committing not just to the children, but also to young mothers. Five’s mother is older and will not have more children. But the toddler’s mother is not much older than our 18 year old daughter, and already there is another child on the way. Don’t fill your home with all these mothers’ children, the worker told us, because not all the children have been born yet.
That’s when we remembered how two months ago we felt that a child was coming, or was being born, or something. It was like feeling pregnant, except not in my body. It was the all-but-seeing that little spirit, and knowing it was here. It was feeling that spirit come, and knowing it would be here, in this house.
Now we know that timing: the same time she got pregnant.
We will see. We don’t know if that’s the same little one we knew was coming, or if or when that one will come here. We just know it was a day full of surprises and challenges and coming full circle, right back to Helen Keller land… without the hitting or biting or kicking or screaming (so far).
Welcome home, Six. It’s nice to meet you.