Tuesday, April 19, 2011

On Filtering Media: Parenting Fail

My six-year old son, Duzi is one of those kids who memorizes movie lines and then quotes them at the most random moment possible. In the car, at the dentist, at the doctor’s office, at the bus stop, and at baseball practice, he always has a one liner ready. He uses movies to practice American slang. Lately, he’s been experimenting with the words “sucker” and “dude.” As in, "Dude, can I have some eggs?" And, "Duuuuude - is it chore time?" And then, my favorite one - especially when he says it in public - is, "That's right, SUCKER!"
The kid will repeat anything. We sort of accidentally let him watch a movie about tornadoes that the older kids wanted to watch, completely forgetting about the foul language contained therein. The next day, as we pulled up to the grocery store, I overheard Duzi playing with his cars in the back seat. One car said to the other, “OH SHIFTS!” The car then proceeded to get sucked up by a fake tornado. I was 1) Thankful that he mispronounced the bad word and 2) Very aware that I need to closely monitor this kid’s media exposure.

So, we recently took all three kids to see RIO – the new cartoon movie about the birds.
Duzi told me that it was the funniest movie he had ever seen. He also told me that about Soul Surfer…so I’m not sure that his is the most discerning voice.

I’ve never really felt the need to view kids movies with such scrutiny, but here we are. Actually, truth be told – I sort of hate kids’ movies. Unless it’s The Incredibles. I like that one.

In spite of my aversion to kids' movies, I did like RIO. It’s a beautiful movie, colorful, alive, and the songs move. Will-I-am gives a great performance as an Angry Bird (his “romantic” song had the entire theater laughing - especially Duzi), and Tracy Morgan is classic as a bird-friendly-bulldog. The bad-bird Cockatoo was frightening and funny, and gets his just reward in an appropriately comic way. The monkeys are fantastic, and the bird-club-rave-slash-gang-brawl was brilliant.

A little…dare I say…racy for a kid’s movie? Blu bounces off a bikini’d buttocks, and the final Carnival costumes are flamboyant and buxom…accurate, I imagine, to Rio’s culture, and a stark contrast to the “MinniSNOWta” life that Blu lived until he was transported to Brazil. But just a tad…racy. Also, the plot line of getting the McCaw’s together so they could mate is a bit of grown up theme, and could cause questions for young viewers. (ie. Caleb asking us, “How does the information get from the daddy to the baby in the mommies tummy?”) Compared to Rango, there is no tobacco consumption that I noticed, but there are some adult themes that might need to be unpacked.

There’s the Howerton take on Rio.

There are not any bad words in it. 

Monday, April 11, 2011


We all need heroes. Humanity has made heroes out of some of the least likely candidates. When a person is converted into a hero in society’s collective memory, the individual is elevated to the highest places. Children’s books are written about them, statements they supposedly uttered are logged into online quote sites. Something about having heroes helps us live better, work toward goals, and care a whole lot more about each other.

But, the truth about heroes is that they are heroes because they struggled. They are heroes because of adversity. The overcoming adversity part is the part we remember, the part society celebrates. We sort of skip over the excruciating pain part. All kids dream about becoming heroes, because of the glory involved, not because of the pain that precedes victory. As an adult, I understand the pain involved in hero making and my first instinct is to run from it. To run far, far away.

The other night, the three kids and the husband and I went to see the Bethany Hamilton memoir “Soul Surfer.” We all knew the basic story (Duzi was briefed on the way to the movie and escorted to the concession stand by Dad during the shark attack scene) and our family absolutely loves the island of Kauai, where the story takes place. We had all read Bethany’s memoir, “Soul Surfer” several years ago and knew that Bethany survived having her arm bitten off by a shark while surfing. We knew that she ascribed her survival and subsequent recovery (including a career in professional surfing) to her relationship with God.

So, we were very excited to see the motion picture version. Here’s the Howerton review:

The story is powerful. The acting was mediocre. The raw emotion of the story came through in spite of some less than stellar acting moments. My children came away utterly inspired by the courage and tenacity of Bethany Hamilton. That said, we’d see it again in a heartbeat. I can’t think of many movies these days that authentically inspire. Even with the poor acting and a touch of lame special effects, we loved it.

I do think, though, that Bethany herself is even more inspiring than the movie rendition of her. I came across this video of the real lady and I sort of wished the movie had been a documentary. Bethany sounds like a surfer because well, she is one. A really good one.


Oh, and if a movie is ever made about me, I’d really like Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt to play my parents.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

On Being the Pastor's Wife

I have always had an interesting relationship with my role as a pastor’s wife. Some days I like it –mostly those are days when the role has felt fulfilling, when I get to speak into the life of our church, when the role has given me an opportunity to help or pray with someone in pain. Other days, the role feels like a shoe that just doesn’t fit. A shoe that gives you blisters or squeezes your toes too hard. A shoe that stinks.

Every pastor’s wife I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot) has struggled with the dual nature of the pastor’s wife role. It’s simultaneously exciting and fulfilling and really, really hard. Pastor’s wives discuss these things when they are alone with other pastor’s wives. Tomorrow, I’m teaching a series of workshops (with my good friend and fellow pastor’s wife, Neely) at the Northwest Ministry Conference  - for pastor’s wives. We taught it last year (not that we have this thing wired – we are seriously a pair of the least likely pastor’s wives one could imagine) and were astounded by how isolated and depressed many pastor’s wives feel on a daily basis. Well, not astounded exactly. Having had our own moments of struggling in the role, we identified with them in a big way.

Things that contribute to the pain inherent in the pastor’s wife role vary. But, the list that follows is what we heard from a packed room of pastor’s wives last year. Here goes:

There are expectations from members of the congregation and community that the pastor’s wife will be a certain way, that her children will behave a certain way, and that she will never struggle or hurt. These expectations are not always spoken – usually they are implied. She is to dress a certain way, smile a certain way and meet needs she has no clue are there. There’s little room to express individuality. Often pastor’s wives feel pressure to meet expectations without having any real authority within the church context. One woman called it “impotent authority.” Also, they report struggling with guilt when they grow tired of hearing praises about their husbands while no one knows their name. The most honest in the group of pastor’s wives said that being “the wind beneath their husband’s wings” was great, but not all there was.  Almost every pastor’s wife had experienced some kind of severely wounding betrayal brought on by lost friendship or church politics gone badly. It was also reported that there are many people who want to befriend pastor’s wives in order to know the pastor or simply be close to what they perceive as power. And, mind you, the pastor’s wife job– in most denominations – is not a paid position.

In short, this is a hurting group of women.

The core message I hope to communicate to other pastor’s wives tomorrow, and one that I still re-learn on a daily basis, is that your primary role in life is NOT to be an exemplary pastor’s wife. Your role is NOT to meet the expectations of your congregation, friends, or husband. Your role is to simply let God love you. Your role, as is the role of any Christian, is to serve out of your unique passion and giftedness. This sounds so simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s not. Whether the church a pastor’s wife is in is big or small, people are constantly watching. This pressure can feel stifling, restricting and lonely. And, when it comes down to it, exhausting.

I’ve never really fit the mold of the 1950’s pastor’s wife. And, actually, I’m quite proud of that. I have opinions on politics and theology that can be very different than my husband’s (gasp!). I am an INDIVIDUAL with my own complicated, intense faith.  From the beginning of our ministry journey, I’ve set pretty clear boundaries about family time and have tried to participate in ministry as I felt God calling me to – instead of basing my service on other people’s expectations. Well, most of the time.  Avoiding other people’s expectations can be a hard one. Especially when you are a people pleaser.

I wanted to blog about this because I wanted people to know that pastors and pastor’s wives (who have names!) are real people. Real people with hurts, hang-ups, dreams, issues, and spiritual struggles. Real people who don’t want to be put up on that impossible pedestal. Real people who sometimes fight with each other. Real people who will disappoint you ('cuz we're not Jesus).

Lest anyone interpret this honest post the wrong way, let me qualify some of the complaining with this - I love my husband and believe wholeheartedly in his gifting. I am a committed follower of Christ who is daily working out her salvation with fear and trembling. And, I am content to live in the tension.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Free Stuff Friday (VIP tickets to Soul Surfer Screening)

Once a week, at least, I have dreams about the island of Kauai. Usually, I'm dreaming that we've moved there and have become an uber-mellow hippie family that grows avocado and pineapple in the front yard. We don't have jobs in this dream, or responsibilities of any kind. No one calls us with an emergency and really, no one even knows where we are. I think this is officially called escapism. When I wake up, I'm reminded that Kauai is for vacation, when we can afford it - meaning when we can mooch a free place to stay and pay for airfare with miles. And, that Seattle is for real life, where we snowboard, hike and generally commune with the giant trees.

White sandy beaches, aquamarine sea, and consistent sunshine are pretty awesome selling points, however.  So, when I heard that the Bethany Hamilton story was coming to the big screen, I was pretty excited. Bethany is a surfer from Kauai who survived a shark attack as a young teenager and has lived to not only tell about it, but to inspire scads of people around the world to overcome adversity. And, my 11-year old daughter Alex is a big Bethany Hamilton fan. Alex read Hamilton's book, "Soul Surfer," and identified with the surfer's faith and perseverance in a big way. 

I was even more excited when I was offered the opportunity to attend an advanced screening of the movie with my family AND give away 5 free tickets to my blog readers.

Spring in Seattle is always slightly disappointing. One sees flowers blooming, but isn't guaranteed a sighting of the sun. So, SOUL SURFER, the movie will bring me the Kauai fix I desperately need, albeit without the tan.

April 6th at AMC Pacific Place in Seattle at 6:15pm. Winners will receive a SOUL SURFER mystery gift pack, as well. 

Leave a comment to enter. Winner will be randomly selected and announced on Monday morning.

Good Luck!

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Every spring that I’ve lived in Seattle, on the first consistently sunny day, the same thing happens in my soul. As I start to sweat, saying to myself, “Oh my gosh – I think it’s at least 60 degrees right now and where are my sunglasses that I bought last summer?” the tough, weathered skin around my soul begins to shed.  During the Northwest winter, callouses form around this Southern California girl’s soul for protective purposes. I can live through winter as long as careful measures have been taken, as long as I have clear expectations. You know, like – "Don’t expect to see the sun until the 4th of July. Then, if Spring ends up being awesome, you’ll be super surprised and subsequently love where you live." 

For the first 5 years I lived in the Great Northwest, I loved the irony of the rain, the melancholy, sort of literary feel it had. Year 6 brought some impatience with the weather, and this year, year 7, the protective barrier around my soul had to become downright leathery to endure the gray. I love blaming the weather for whatever emotional state I’m in. It’s so convenient. You know, it’s not the crazy adjustment of becoming adoptive parents or the often ludicrous challenges of living as leaders of a church – it’s the weather.

But, today there was sun. Lots and lots of sun. The blanket of gray that loves to cover the Puget Sound migrated somewhere else – hopefully to a place that needs rain, hopefully to a region experiencing a gigantic drought. I’m incredibly willing to share our weather with the needy.  I’m compassionate like that.

Today, I could see the mountains. Really, really see them. In the sunlight, they are their own private shade of blue and the snow-capped peaks look ethereal, almost like a cartoon.

With the sunshine today and said shedding of callouses around the soul, I was surprisingly smacked in the face with joy. Just totally and unexpectedly SMACKED.  The joy I experienced under the blessing of sunshine didn’t just look like a big dopey grin. I cried like a baby this afternoon. I should qualify this statement - I actually did an ugly adult cry. Not cute at all.  I had several epiphanies about parenting, which made me laugh and then cry again and then inexplicably hiccup. When I say, “smacked with joy,” I mean that I was flooded with all kinds of emotions, the sum total of all being powerfully positive.

Something about the gift of warmth and sunshine forced an encounter with things the leathery winter soul had been staving off. Things like, I know Duzi has some sensory issues we need to deal with, but oh my gosh I can’t believe how far we’ve come. He is my son and I am his mom and all I can think is MIRACLE. He drew this picture in our driveway with chalk today. 

Things like, Caleb needs some alone time with his parents – he just asked how the “information” from a mom and dad “come together” to decide what a baby looks like. YIKES. Time for some intentional discussion. 

Things like, in a few Springs’ time, Alex is going to wake up a woman (OK, she’s only 11 but today that seems really old), and WOW how did the time go so fast.

Under the sunshine today, I felt overwhelmingly grateful. I may have shouted out “Thank you, Jesus!” a few times in public. I'm charismatic like that (OK, not at all  - the sunshine made me do it). If you were at Greenlake today, that crazy, muttering runner was me. I took this pic of Greenlake this morning on my phone.

 It's gonna rain tomorrow. But, I think I like living without callouses on my soul.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"You're Adopted"

Duzi and I had an interesting experience in his Kindergarten classroom this morning. Every Monday morning, I volunteer to help with centers. For the third time this year, one little boy in the class felt the need to announce loudly to me, within earshot of Duzi,

 “I know Duzi is adopted. My mom told me Duzi is adopted. You just adopted Duzi.” 

This particular kid is actually very sweet, very innocent, and also very precocious. The first time he announced Duzi’s status as an adopted kid to his fellow Kindergartners, I patiently smiled and replied,

“Yes, Duzi is adopted. He has a mommy and daddy, just like you!”

He also told me he wanted to have Duzi over for a play date. The second time this kiddo mentioned this information loudly during class, I dismissed it, chalking up his comments to the fact that Duzi was probably the first adopted child he had ever met, if not the first black child. Today, though, when he announced the exact same thing, several other kids chimed in, saying things like, “I didn’t know that!” and “What’s adopted?”  This time, I was supremely annoyed.

Duzi heard the whole conversation and reacted by coming over to the table I was at and demanding, with a gleam in his eye,  

“Why didn’t you tell me that?”

He was making his silly-crazy-I want a laugh-face, which told me he didn’t know how to navigate the situation and that he felt really uncomfortable. He is obviously aware that we are an adoptive family. This wasn’t news to him. He was being sarcastic (evidence that he is a Howerton).

I had to smile at my son. If he could articulate his thoughts like a grown-up, I think they would read like this, “Duh! Of COURSE I’m adopted! Thank you SO much for stating the obvious. I am already aware of this fact and so is my mom. I don’t know you very well so, when you announce this to the class over and over again, I feel marginalized and SUPER PISSED.”

I might be projecting my own thoughts here.

I ended up hugging Duz and kissing him 10 times on the lips right before suggesting kindly to my table that they not report things about one another to the class, that they should only share their own news.

When I tucked Duzi in to bed tonight, he remarked, very seriously,

“Mom, everyone thinks I’m new.”

We talked for a long while and in his Kindergartner way, he expressed how frustrated he feels when people single him out, whether it be for positive attention or negative. We talked about how he used to be new to America, to Washington, to his family – but that now he is not new. He’s a son, a brother, a grandson, a cousin and a student. He belongs here.

He’s ready to be treated like any other American kid.

I understand that I cannot expect other, non-adopted 6-year olds to innately understand how a simple declaration about adoption can make an adoptee feel stigmatized and inferior. I don’t think this little boy meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. 

I’m debating whether or not to call the little boy’s mother and invite her over so we can chat about the whole thing over coffee. I think I will. When I think about what I knew and didn’t know about adoption 5 years ago, even 1 year ago, I only have kind thoughts about this family.

In the meantime, I’m trusting that God’s grace is vast enough to protect my little man’s heart.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Angry Birds and the Superbowl

My family (husband included) is absolutely obsessed with the game, Angry Birds.  As I write this, my husband is informing me that I’m “under-selling” the addiction. Apparently, it’s even worse than I thought. I am not a huge fan of video games and try to limit the amount of time my kids spend on technology. I usually prefer that my kids engage in other brain stimulating activities like, I don’t know, READING. But, I’m not gonna lie, Angry Birds has come in handy when we’re sitting in the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices, waiting for basketball practice to finish, or enduring other usually banal experiences. 

I don’t quite understand why these birds are so angry.  Looking over my shoulder, the husband is now informing me in a very condescending tone, “you would be angry, too, if your eggs were stolen by limbless green pigs with mustaches and construction hats.”

OH. Now I totally get it.

For all you Angry Birds fans out there, make sure you watch the Superbowl, or at least the commercials.  Angry Birds has partnered with the upcoming animated film from Twentieth Century Fox, RIO, for a special treat. You can read about it here:

“This Sunday, Twentieth Century Fox’s upcoming animated motion picture event RIO will make Super Bowl commercial history, when the 30-second RIO spot becomes the first-ever to air with an embedded code. 

Super Bowl fans in the United States watching RIO’s new commercial spot are invited to find the frame with the embedded code that will in turn direct them to a special level on ANGRY BIRDS, Rovio’s blockbuster game, which recently entered into a first-of-its kind partnership with RIO.  That level will take you to a RIO sweepstakes.

The sweepstakes winner will attend RIO’s world premiere in Rio de Janeiro on March 22.  That same day, Fox and Rovio launch the highly anticipated “Angry Birds Rio” app.

The spot will be available across the web, including youtube.com/rio, after the Super Bowl.”

You're welcome.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Six Months

The night we became a family....

I was driving around town today, dropping one kid off at basketball practice, fielding incessant questions about volcanoes from another, ignoring one child’s complaints about the lunch I had made, and trying to remember if I’d left the oven on, when I suddenly realized that we’ve been home, as a family of five, for over six months now.  Six. Months.

I cognitively knew that we had been home for that long  - we just had our final 6- month visit with our social worker. But, the emotional realization of it came today, at a random, very typical moment in the car.  Something Caleb said about volcanoes and something Duzi said, with a big, naughty grin, to antagonize him made me realize how far we have all come in this business of becoming a family. I mean, my kids all know each others’ buttons and here they were, pressing them like regular siblings, in the backseat.

Usually, when they intentionally annoy one another, and in the process royally irritate me, I pull out a line like, “That’s IT. Everyone look out a window. NO talking or making any sounds for 5 minutes. I’m SERIOUS.” Today, though, I let the banter continue. Surprisingly, the conversation didn’t descend into fighting or tears. It instead became uproarious laughter. I think one of the boys farted.

Listening to the three of them laugh really hard TOGETHER was beyond awesome.

Then, after I tucked the boys into bed tonight, I paused at the door to listen for any shenanigans.  This is what I heard:

DUZI (trying hard to conceal laughter): “Good night, Ca-Ca!”
CALEB (not trying quite as hard to conceal laughter): “Good night, Doo-doo!”

Ca-Ca and Doo-Doo are currently sleeping soundly and their mom is feeling really thankful.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Whitewashing and Fashion Magazines

It's common knowledge that fashion magazines touch up photographs of models. If this is news to you, I'm sorry to have to break this to you; the faces you see on covers of magazines in the check-out counter at the grocery store are no more real than cartoon characters. Jennifer Anniston really isn't that thin. The Kardashian cheekbones don't look like that in real life. Images in fashion magazines are conjured by artists, manipulated and carefully sculpted to deliver a message - mainly that you will never look like this but, you should try as hard you can to.

The process a model goes through to be deemed photographable and the subsequent manipulation of the photograph are well documented in this video that Dove did as part of it's Campaign for Real Beauty several years ago.

Recently there has been some new controversy over the doctoring up of photographs of minority celebrities appearing on the cover of magazines. Elle Magazine recently featured Gabourey Sidibe, winner of two Academy Awards for her performance in the movie "Precious," and and Aishwarya Rai, Bollywood star and former Ms. World, on it's cover. Both actresses have accused the magazine of whitewashing their photographs.

There are rumors of lawsuits and Elle magazine has defended it's portrayal of both women, claiming that their photographs hadn't been touched up any more than any other cover model that had appeared in the magazine.

This controversy has been very disturbing to me.  Unfortunately, depictions of models influence how we, as women, see ourselves. As much as I tell my daughter that the images are false, that they have been doctored, that they are cartoonish, they will on some level influence how she feels about her appearance and about the appearance of others. I intentionally do not have these magazines in my home but, she inevitably sees them in other places. My black son will also be exposed to these images and will not find anyone who looks like him. 

An important part of healing racism in this country is to show honest, unaltered pictures of race in the media.The message that Elle communicated when it lighted the skin of Sidibe and Rai, is that white is right, that light skin is more desirable, that there is only one way to be beautiful. The real problem is that our culture has bought into this - lighter models yield higher sales. The solution seems relatively simple: LET'S STOP BUYING THE MAGAZINES.

I'm interested in your thoughts...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Auld Lang Syne: A Third Grader’s Reflections and Resolutions

Caleb, my fearless, dirt under his fingernails, eccentric eight year old was asked to write an essay responding to the prompt, “Ring out the Old and Ring in the New!” The prompt asked him to write about his three favorite experiences in the last year and about three things he hoped would happen in 2011. I’m sharing it with his permission. He was quite proud that I thought his essay worthy of posting on the blog. He feels “published” now.

“Pssst! Would you like to hear my writing prompt? It’s about the three things that I loved about the past year and three things I hope will come in 2011! Wait! You have to hear this for yourself!

The first thing that happened in 2010 is that our family decided to adopt a child from South Africa. His name is Duzi. He fits right into our family! So, if you haven’t adopted yet, it’s hard but fun. So, why don’t you give it a try?

The second thing that happened in 2010 is that the USA troops stationed in Iraq were sent home! I think that is important because they fought in wars for our country. So, we should honor them. Let’s get a move on!

Did you hear about the earthquake in Haiti? Well, my aunt Kristen and her family were trying to adopt a boy named Kembe but, then she was trapped in Haiti with Kembe! So, we did everything in our power to help her and Kember get home. But, thankfully, they are home now!

What I hope happens in 2011: I hope that Haiti gets cleaned up and people are all right. I also hope for world peace. Because, I want no war, no violence – so people can live their lives better and not have to think of safety. I also want to help my church as a New Year’s resolution and get baptized so I can have a career as a pastor like my dad.

Did you like my writing prompt?  Well, I did! So, now you know my writing prompt.”

Notice his nice paragraph structure and proper punctuation (the English teacher in me places a high value on these things).

One always hopes they are parenting well. One always hopes that their kids are really absorbing the important things, really internalizing compassion and kindness. This little writing prompt was a gift to me because Caleb, like most 8 year old boys I know, can be quite the antagonizer in our house. He gives me a run for my money just about every day.  When I lay down at night, I often pray, “Lord, give me patience,” and it’s primarily Caleb that I need it for. I'll not go into the big fit he threw while working on the final draft of this essay.

But, this prompt gives me a window into his heart and I really, really love what I see. The wisdom of calling adoption “hard but, fun” amazed me along with how he beseeched others to also adopt. I had no idea that he was paying attention to the fact that US troops were sent home from Iraq. Looks like I’ll keep listening to NPR in the car. And, with the anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti coming up, he’s recalling how scared we were for Aunt Kristen, her baby, Karis, and son, Kembe.  I love his goals – he might end up being a little bit let down by the lofty World Peace one but, I’m not going to crush his spirit just yet.

I’d say this kid is paying attention and I’m so relieved. Tonight, when he fights me about doing his homework, going to bed, or melts down about something random, I’m going to relax and remember how important it is to keep my eyes on the big picture.