Chalice Flames and Bonfires

Chalice Flame and Bonfires

One of my fondest memories of growing up in a Unitarian Universalist church involves lighting the chalice as a part of our youth group and youth conference gatherings.

But we didn’t just light the chalice. We lit.The.Chalice.

We would gather together burnt, used leftover matches and pile them carefully into the center of the candle to create a magnificent, brilliant light. While we discussed the topic of the day, one or two of us would tend to our chalice flame, keeping it contained yet bright as possible. When we ran out of used-up match fuel for our fire, we would find a use for our broken crayon stubs and melt them in the flame, letting the colorful wax drip down the side of the candle. We thought it was more pretty this way.

Over time we learned that the bigger the flame, the quicker the candle would burn. Our beautiful fire would suffocate when the pool of wax grew too deep or when the wick simply met it’s end. We weren’t too concerned then with making the candle last through our whole gathering, though. This was more about experimentation, pushing our limits (and, as it turns out, the limits of our advisors), and the instant gratification of making that chalice REALLY shine.

Occasionally, but not often, this ritual might have gotten a little out hand; an especially overzealous youth might add a few scraps of paper in an attempt to add a little more height to our fire and discover that the now bonfire was too hard to control, or we would create a waxy mess trying to clean out the candle. Those were the times when we found we had pushed our limits a little too far and our advisors would step in to dole out the logical consequences, and sometimes we could expect to lose our fire privileges for a while.

But that seemed to be part of the role of our advisors once we reached high school- to watch us tend to our own flame (hopefully not in panic-stricken horror) and step in when it became too much for us to handle on our own. Since then, I have learned that the line between a manageable brilliant light and an out-of-control blaze is very thin, and it takes a unique individual to help youth walk that line.

Sometimes I wish I still had an advisor to help me find that line in my day-to-day life. I might wake up in the morning, feeling calm, peaceful, yet determined and focused. But I might find that by dinnertime, after encountering a day full of frustrating news– stories of children taught to recite hate, thoughtless violence, and fear-mongering politics– I have crossed the line and transformed myself into a fuming, sarcastic, out-of-control blaze.

When I have crossed that line, I respond to antagonistic articles, Facebook posts, and conversations with not an ounce of understanding; I find myself seeking out news stories filled with mudslinging and hate, just to keep that fire fueled. Then I spend hours reading the comments and adding pointless lectures that won’t be read by anyone other than the people who were trying to create a bonfire in the first place.

And I know that I am not the only one– I think that UUs in general can be pretty susceptible to crossing that line. We are a passionate people and we care a whole awful lot. But sometimes our flammability lands us exactly where we don’t want to be and we react in exactly the wrong way. We turn into blazing, out of control bonfires.

We need our congregations and fellow congregants to be our advisors; to help us discover that line and to help us sustain our calm, brilliant lights. We need to help each other remember to respond in love, and not in-kind, when someone tries to fan the flame. Most importantly, we need to hold each other accountable so that we are compelled to react responsibly, especially when the temptation not to is great.

 

Finding Meaning

sunsetBecoming a parent for the first time is a tricky business.

It really is true what they say: you are never really ready for the adventure that awaits you once you become a parent; there is nothing you can ever do to prepare, and there is no perfect time.

For as long as I can remember I have been the type of person that likes to be “the best” at everything I do; a horrible character flaw that is quite possibly related to the “overly and unnecessarily competitive” gene I seem to have also inherited. So it was only natural that when I became a mom for the first time that I was determined to be the best parent. Ever.

Of course I knew beyond any doubt that I would be able to effortlessly add “mom” to the laundry list of other things I was committed to keep doing after giving birth; hormones and sleep deprivation be damned. I would breastfeed, homeschool, be involved in my community, make all our own own baby food (from our own garden, of course!) and cloth diaper; I would also continue working and working on my career, write, continue school, take care of our home and our pets, and everything else I was already doing. Even with the wonderful partner I have in my husband, I was vowing to be super-human.

Shortly after our daughter was born, we discovered that some of the issues that we were dealing with as first-time parents were outside the realm of “normal” (whatever that looks like). Our beloved child was covered from head to toe in eczema and it never seemed to get any better, no matter what we did to treat it. As her level of discomfort increased, sleep became harder and harder to come by for all of us as we spent many of our nights trying to soothe her so she could rest. My hazy waking hours were spent searching for new answers; stressing out as new approaches consistently fell short.

Of course, after trying countless treatments and several doctors were consulted, our answer came to us after our daughter’s first taste of candy sent us to the emergency room and her life-threatening peanut allergy was revealed to us a few months after her first birthday. Upon further testing, she was diagnosed with many other “less-serious” food allergies as well.

We were scared and heart-broken, and our lives totally changed. Again.

After everything we had done “right”, none of our efforts kept this from happening to our daughter. Surely we had listened to the wrong doctors, and I MUST have eaten the wrong things when I was pregnant, or perhaps we introduced solids too early, or maybe we should have questioned the vaccines, or perhaps our house was not clean enough. In the months that followed our daughter’s first anaphylactic reaction, I found a million different ways to blame myself for her allergy. It broke my heart to know that, in all probability, the rest of her life she will not be able to enjoy a birthday cake at a friends party or eat Halloween candy; and it horrified me even more as I realized that her life would be in danger anytime we left the safety of our peanut-free home.

The three years since we learned of our daughter’s hidden disability has been filled with making new discoveries, tweaking the way we live everyday and anticipating the challenges of the future. We have learned to read labels, educated ourselves about current laws and and school policies, and made sure that among our daughter’s first phrases was “I have a peanut allergy.” We have been frustrated by the lack of understanding in some, but also moved to tears by the efforts of our family and friends to ensure that our daughter would be safe and feel included in our celebrations. We have felt anger that this has had to happen to our family and then overwhelmingly fortunate that, really, things could be a hell of a lot worse.

I have never been a fan of the whole “things happen for a reason” bit, but I have discovered through all of this that I am okay with “everything that happens can have meaning-if your mind and heart are open to it.”

My daughter’s allergies have been a challenge and a gift all at the same time; I have learned so much about the challenges of parenting, gained empathy for the range of challenges that people face every day, and, most importantly, I have been learning a thing or two about understanding (and respecting!) my own limitations. I can’t do it all, and I can’t anticipate every curve ball that will be thrown my way.

What will tomorrow bring?

I am not sure; but I think the biggest challenge for us is to not let our imagination of what is going to be or SHOULD be take away from the “is” and the lessons it brings.

Want to learn more about food allergies?

Nut Free Mom Blog

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN)