Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Waxing Spiritual: "O Holy Night"

Truly he taught us to love one another.

I'm grieving the many lives lost at the hands of those who justify their actions with law, ideology, and their knowledge of good and evil.

I am standing in solidarity with the vulnerable:

#blacklivesmatter
#icantbreathe
#illridewithyou
Pakistani students
Those in the path of ISIS
Too many caught in the conflicts of their forefathers

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

I understand why God says, "Vengeance is mine." When vengeance is left to us, we inflict painful, harmful damage--like a sibling in a rage over some perceived offense. Two wrongs do not make a right. And yet our world continues to hop on the merry-go-round of "eye for an eye" policies and "he had it coming" justifications.

Meanwhile, parents and children grieve.

No explanations or justifications assuage those voids.

Chains will he break for the slave is our brother.

I am grateful that when God saw the mess we made of our world, he did not come with weapons to repay us in kind. Rather, he came in dark skin with lungs that require oxygen as a needy, vulnerable child who would grow up within religious and political systems run by authorities concerned with self-preservation and control.

And God-as-man would subvert them not with power but with surrender, not with vengeance but with forgiveness, not with violence but with peace.

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Jesus is scandalous because his justice is accomplished by self-sacrifice, because his judgement is mercy.

Jesus is scandalous because he does not dignify the self-righteous and vilify the criminal. Jesus is scandalous because he does not believe one man's sin renders his life less valuable than another.

His is a methodology that is foolishness to our world and our culture and even our churches. Jesus would never bother over nativity scenes in front of government buildings or cashiers wishing customers a "Happy Holidays" because he's too busy bleeding with victims of actual oppression.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we.

He is nothing like us. His instinct is neither self-defense nor revenge.

Let all within us praise His holy name.

This Christmas, I grieve and lament the tragic losses we inflict upon each other.

But I celebrate Emmanuel, God with us, who lay in the street with Michael Brown and fought for air with Eric Garner and suffered with hostages in Sydney and rode trains with Muslim brothers and sisters afraid of backlash and bled alongside the children in Peshawar and knelt with the victims of ISIS, and who also descended into hell to whisper grace to the men who pulled the trigger, who swung the sword, who tightened their grip on judgement and power.

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever.

What we see now is not the end of the story.

His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Easter is coming.

O night divine, O night, O night divine. 

But for now, Merry Christmas.






Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Stay the Course


Tonight before bed, Benjamin said, "I'm tired of pretending."

The statement startled me with its vulnerability, so I said something like, "I know that feeling. Tell me more."

And he did. About how sometimes, other kids talk about books they've read or movies they've seen or things they've done that he hasn't, often because we haven't let him yet. And since he doesn't want to say his mom and dad won't let him, he sometimes plays along, pretending he knows what they're talking about.

"But I'm tired of pretending. I don't want to do that anymore."

I listened hard, restating what I heard him saying, empathizing, asking questions. It's easy to relate, because we all know that feeling of wanting to be in-the-know, of worrying that we're missing out because we lack certain knowledge or experience. We talked about which books or movies come up, with whom he has these conversations, other ways he handles the situation.

At some point he said, "I have two feelings about this, but they're kind of opposite. One is that I don't want to feel left out, like I don't know things. But also," and here he teared up with sincerity, "I really, really trust you and Daddy. I know you are making these decisions because you think they're best for me, so I don't want to read or see those things."

I was stunned: first by his ability to articulate the conflict within himself, but most of all by his faith in us.

I thanked him for his trust and shared how seriously Daddy and I take our decisions, always weighing a variety of factors. We talked and talked about how frustrating and hard it can be to feel left out and about what would happen if he was simply honest.

Eventually he came to the conclusion that there's primarily one kid around whom he feels he has to pretend. "With other kids, it's like they just want to talk about something they're interested in; it's not to make me feel bad. But with [this kid], it seems like he wants me to know how much he gets to see."

And so we discussed motives, how sometimes kids show off not to make us feel bad but to impress us, because they respect us. I shared that most often, people aren't doing things "at us" (stealing Glennon Melton's wise words); rather, their actions reflect something inside of themselves.

We trekked upstairs where he got ready for bed, and then I tucked him in, thanking him for sharing his feelings with me, reminding him that I am always willing to listen or talk.

Benjamin said, "Sometimes I don't like to talk about stuff, but when I do, it just feels so good after."

Indeed.

So here's the thing: aside from how much I enjoyed this conversation with my son, how privileged I feel that he is willing to open up to me, his confession that he really, truly trusts us was a gift of peace. A gift he doesn't even realize he gave me.

If you've been around my blog for a while, you know that as I've raised my kiddos, I've wrestled insecurity as a mama--wondering at times if I was doing this parenting job all wrong, if I was messing up my kids, if my failures would trump my love and intentions. Because let's be honest: when the kids are in the irrational and sometimes insane stages of the early years where they rail against boundaries like it's their job (because it is), no matter how cute they are, you wonder some days if all is for nought.

As we move into the relatively stable years of middle childhood, though, I'm getting to watch my kids emerge from the chaos as these truly remarkable people.

And Benjamin's statement tonight reached down deep in my soul to assure me that, yes--despite the numerous times I've reacted rather than responded, yelled rather than soothed, modeled anger rather than forbearance--my kids see that at my core, I am for them, not against them. They recognize that I love them, that I'm looking out for them, that I'm doing my best to make decisions that will benefit them.

They see that love so strongly, in fact, that Benjamin can acknowledge it even in the midst of discomfort caused by those very decisions.

It is the most intoxicating grace.

And so, parents of littles, I want to offer this encouragement: stay. the. course.

Keep doing the hard, thankless, tiresome work of loving, which sometimes looks like snuggles and other times looks like consequences; which sometimes speaks tenderly and other times speaks firmly (fiercely, even); which sometimes feels fun and fulfilling and other times feels futile and fruitless; which sometimes offers forgiveness in failure and other times fails and seeks forgiveness.

A day is coming when that railing child you're certain you've failed will look you in the eyes and say, "I trust you."

And you will realize that your messy attempts at mothering or fathering have, by grace, been received in the spirit in which they were intended.









Friday, October 10, 2014

Malala, Love, Wins


(This is a repost from last fall. Malala was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, a grand, public reminder that Love wins.)

Most nights before bed, Josh and I watch Jon Stewart's The Daily Show in order to get a chuckle from the otherwise despair-inducing lunacy of the political realm. A couple nights ago, we watched Jon Stewart interview Malala, a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban last year in retaliation for advocating for education for girls. Miraculously, she survived, and her platform has exploded. She was even nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize.

If you can watch the interview, please do (ignoring Upworthy's summary at the top...not quite accurate). About four minutes in, she makes a statement so pure, so beautiful, it stuns Jon Stewart and evokes uproarious applause from the audience. He asks her how she felt when she learned she was being targeted by the Taliban, and she responds with this:

"...even after the threat, when we saw it, I was not worried about myself that much. I was worried about my father, because we thought that the Taliban are not that much cruel that they would kill a child, because I was fourteen at the time. But then later on, I used to, like, I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come and he would just kill me. 

But then I said, 'If he comes, what would you do, Malala?' 

Then I would reply to myself, 'Malala, just take a shoe and hit him' [audience laughter]. 

But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others that much with cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.' 

Then I said, 'I'll tell him how important education is and that I even want education for your children as well,' and then I would tell him, 'That's what I want to tell you. Now do as you want.'"

In the face of imminent death, she wishes to bless her enemy. She decides she will not fight hatred and violence with the same weapons of destruction. She will not be like them. Instead, she will lay down her life for the sake of all children, even his.

Did you hear it? Did you hear the voice speaking through this precious Muslim girl, through a mouth now lopsided from the Taliban's bullet? She speaks Love. She speaks Mercy. She speaks Grace. She offers body broken and blood shed to the Taliban, to some of the hardest, cruelest of hearts who claim to act in the name of God.

The audience went wild. Jon Stewart, giving all due respect to her proud father in the wings, asked if he could adopt her. The video has since gone viral on facebook and news outlets. The world does not stand in the presence of such Love unchanged.

It's an upside down gospel. The crucified conquer, not the powerful. The last and the least become first. 

And ultimately, I believe the "first" will be won by the glorious beauty of grace, too. 

Because one day, I believe the Taliban will stand before Love and Truth. There may be weeping and gnashing of teeth as they recognize the great wounds they've inflicted upon this world. But they will find themselves before one who says, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." And if they will receive the grace, if they will not hide in fear and shame, they will put down their guns, surrendering their religious ideology to a person. Then they, too, will know Love. 

In fact, it's already happening. They've already glimpsed it in Malala.

It's such good, good news.

"Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love, does not know God, for God is love" (1 John 4:7-8).

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

History in Humility

At dinner, Abigail said, "I don't like Christopher Columbus."

Josh and I were surprised to hear this kind of declaration from a seven-year-old, so of course we asked, "Why?"

"Because he came here and took things from the people who were already here and made them sick."

We have a brief conversation about this harsh reality, about the context of Thanksgiving, about the way fear due to language gaps and cultural differences leads people to make bad decisions.

Then I pose a question to my kids: "Right now in the area we used to live, people disagree about how history should be taught. Some people think kids should learn both the good and bad parts of our history, but others say only the good parts of history should be taught. What do you think about that?"

Without hesitation, Benjamin, nine, says, "I think both should be taught so that we can learn from the mistakes."

Abigail, seven, says, "I think maybe they should just teach the good, because people might get bad ideas from the bad parts."

I realize this conversation oversimplifies the debate over the revised Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) framework currently finding its stage in Jeffco, the Colorado school district from which we hail (which is actually a misguided and misinformed debate to begin with), but the kids' responses get to the core of the discussion.

Should the history curriculum star the U.S. as a noble hero championing freedom and democracy for all? Or as a flawed, complex character influenced at times by justice and honor and other times by prejudice and self-interest?

Will kids learn to be better citizens from a history that emphasizes the ideal or from a history that acknowledges the full, messy story?

The majority on the Jeffco school board wants to create a committee--separate from the district's existing curriculum review committee--to examine the new APUSH framework. Board member Julie William's proposal defines the guidelines by which the curriculum would be assessed:


Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.


Leaving aside the conflicting notion that "factual information" presented "accurately and objectively" should also promote a point of view--and the irony that Williams is, herself, affiliated with the Tea Party, a political party named for one of our country's most iconic acts of civil disorder, social strife, and disregard of the law--I confess I don't understand the purpose of presenting only or mostly positive aspects of our heritage.

What do we have to lose by looking honestly at the travesties committed against others in our construction of a "city on a hill"? What is at stake when we acknowledge that our great democracy was, at times, established and grown at the expense of other people groups?

My senior year of high school, the year after I took A.P. U.S. History, I had a physics teacher who ranted that he couldn't stand people who talk about the negative parts of our country's history. He insisted that if people didn't like America, they should leave the country and live somewhere else--as though an honest examination of history somehow equates to a hate of country, as though patriotism requires a blind adherence to a belief in our country's infallible goodness.

Unfortunately, the sins of our forefathers are fact. Glossing over their impact does not make them less true but instead leaves us vulnerable to repeating them.

Perhaps the cost of our freedom is facing the discomfort of our less-than-blameless heritage.

Today, our country continues to wrestle issues of racism, immigration, representation in government, economic opportunity, and our role in the world. We have much to learn from the previous generations' successes and failures, but we cannot discern right action from an incomplete, artificially positive perspective.

I do not love my country less for knowing its ugliness. I love our country less when, despite centuries of toil and sacrifice and the slow slog of righting injustice, those who claim to defend its greatness would actually diminish it through a limited narrative that glorifies one group's experience over all others'.

Well, after our conversation about Jeffco's debate, Abigail asked, "So was Columbus bad or good?"

Isn't that how we tend to think? That leaders, or ideas, or countries are only one or the other? Our world view is much simpler when we can neatly categorize people and events, but real life is rarely so accommodating.

"Well, both," I said, "depending on whose perspective you're looking from. To Spain, Columbus was good. He found new land and resources that helped them. But to the Native Americans who lost their lives and land, he was bad."

When I consider both views in this APUSH discussion, I see a debate that asks whether our country's history curriculum should be rooted in pride or humility.

May I gently suggest that we know where pride goeth.

I would prefer membership in a country that admits wrong-doing, asks forgiveness, and repents of its evils while striving ever more diligently toward the ideal. A truly exceptional country would eschew horn-tooting for the steady, quiet work that accomplishes true freedom for all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Waxing Spiritual: Good News?

(Disclaimer: Part of who I am (most of who I am) is someone who loves Jesus deeply. I grew up knowing a certain version of Jesus but realized sometime in early adulthood that the way I'd come to know him was incomplete, empty, impotent. The last twelve years have profoundly changed my understanding of faith, and I believe my understanding will continue to change and evolve as I continue to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. I need a place where I can process my "before and after and now" and work out my faith with "fear and trembling." I'd like to be able to do that here sometimes. I'll preface these posts with the title "Waxing Spiritual" so you know when I'm going there. You can skip them if you want. But if you're interested in the reflections of one who used to think she had all the answers but now finds herself following one who defies answers, I'd love to have you join me. Questions, thoughts, discussion are welcome in the comments. I submit all musings in humility, knowing I cannot possibly understand the beautiful mystery of God this side of death. But I want to love him with my whole mind anyway, so here we go.)

***

"It's like this," the pastor says on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, and I've heard it a thousand times, explained it this way myself in the days before I grasped how wide and deep and long is the love of Jesus.

"God loves you. But--"

The deconstruction of the mystery always begins with a "but." Can we pause for a moment to recognize the way this "but" frames God's love as conditional? The way this "but" establishes fear? The way this "but" suggests God's Love is not sufficient?

"But...we are separated from God by our sin." Here, an explanation ensues in an attempt to convince people they are imperfect.

Side note: Does anyone really need to be convinced of their own imperfection? It seems to me that most people are generally hyper-aware of their shortcomings and are too busy trying to fix and hide their failures to argue about their existence. I don't know any other mature adult who would claim perfection, or sinlessness, and we patronize the people around us to think otherwise.

The only time I ever needed convincing of my sinfulness was when I was a teenager saturated in Christian culture, ticking all the boxes of good, clean Christian living. Ironically, I am most ashamed of that season of life due to the hurt I inflicted on others out of pride, insecurity, and judgement.

Back to the sermon: "Because we are separated from God by our sin, we must suffer the consequence of sin, which is death (or hell, eternal separation from God)." Here, we are given a metaphor of the Grand Canyon, where we are on one side of the chasm and God is on the other, and no amount of jumping, leaping, or wishful thinking will get us across to God's side. Some may jump farther than others, but all fall short.

If only there were a bridge! Enter Jesus. "But God loved us so much, he sent his son as a perfect sacrifice for our sin so that we could be made right with God. The cross is like a bridge over the Grand Canyon, allowing us to be reconciled with God."A discussion of how Jesus is the only bridge follows: "All roads don't lead to heaven!"

If a pen and paper were handy, one could draw a cliff on the left with a stick figure standing on it, and a cliff on the right with GOD written on it, and a cross would sit right in the middle, it's horizontal beam bridging the gap: The Bridge Illustration.

And the closing: "Every person must decide for himself whether he will cross the bridge God has provided. Would you like to make that decision right here, right now? To accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior so you are no longer separated from God?" And so we pray. Sometimes, people are asked to pray along silently in their heart if they want. Other times, there is an invitation to come to the front as a public declaration of faith. In this church on this Sunday, the prayer was silent, and no public declaration was required.

After hearing this life-altering good news, we sang a song and went to lunch.

Really.

Is this the message Jesus came to deliver? Is this the message that will lead terrorists to lay down their weapons, that will set the addict free from her tyrant, that will reconcile family and friends estranged by deep wounds? Is this the good news? I mean, it's nice that there's a way to escape hell, but beyond that, what can be called good?

Paraphrase of supposed good news: Hey, World, we had a good thing going in the garden until Eve screwed it up and caused every human ever born to be afflicted with sin. Sorry I have to not only banish but torture you forever now (even though I really love you) unless you demonstrate faith in Jesus alone as eternal fire retardant. (I'll know you really have faith in Jesus by the rules you follow and the time you spend reading your Bible and praying and the doctrine you subscribe to regarding evolution, abortion, homosexuality, gender roles, and the nation of Israel.) Hopefully the years of sexual abuse and famine and war and corruption and abandonment and slavery and terrorism and racism and nightly news you've witnessed or survived or perpetrated won't make it too hard for you to find and trust me.

This version of the gospel falls flat to me. Rings hollow. Smacks of something other than Love.

Since gaining some distance from this perspective, I've discovered that most of the folks around me are profoundly discouraged by their own sin and deeply wounded by others' sin. Most of the folks I know desperately want to be good parents, friends, neighbors, citizens, but they recognize their love is not perfect, that often they act from fear or insecurity. They find themselves in the paradox of existence that Paul articulates so clearly in Romans: "Sometimes, I don't do the things I know I should. Other times, I do things I know I shouldn't. Why? Help!"

Here's what I've come to believe is the truly good, subversive, counter-cultural gospel of Jesus: mercy.

A quick search for a definition of mercy brought this: "compassion or forgiveness shown to someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm."

So consider: "God consigned all men to disobedience that he might have mercy on all."

I know this doesn't sound good, but stay with me.

We could not know mercy if we did not sin. Perhaps we cannot understand God's love completely if we do not experience his mercy. What if sin did not wreck his plan? What if sin and the mess it makes in this world are the vehicle God uses to reveal his love for us? What if, somehow, the riches of mercy are worth the despair of sin?

It bends my brain, but I can kind of understand when I think of my kids.

I relish (!) seeing them enjoy each other's company and play together happily as brother and sister. There is love and joy there, certainly, and I rejoice.

But there is something far more powerful, far more profound when one is distraught or hurt or heartbroken and the other has compassion, hurts alongside, and patiently endures and forgives the anger or crankiness of their aching sibling. That is a Love that reaches deep down in this Mama soul and whispers, "This. This is it."

Mercy reveals the real love.

Being loved in perfection is not as meaningful as being loved in our imperfection. This is the reason marriage is such a powerful crucible, why parenting breaks our heart and challenges our spirit. We receive mercy over and over and over, are asked to have mercy over and over and over, and in this act, we learn and reveal the heart of God.

What if the gospel were this: God loves us. And he loves us so much he doesn't want us to believe for a second that we can do anything to earn it or deserve it. So he made imperfection a condition of humanity and then sent Jesus to model how to love each other in the midst of our imperfections.

The challenge is that we generally feel deep shame about our imperfection, so we try to hide ourselves in accomplishments or good works or power or numbing activities (fig leaves). We generally run away from anyone who wants to shine a spotlight on our drinking problem, commitment issues, facebook addiction, workaholism, over-committedness, crankiness, or judgmental nature. But this hiding and running away slowly ruins us, leaves us suffering alone.

Fortunately, Jesus was never really interested in spotlights (anachronysm aside).

Instead, Jesus drank wine with folks. He hung out with them in their jobs, in their chores, around their tables. He went to their hiding places. And to parties. He enjoyed people. He told stories and asked questions and reserved the preaching for the religious folks who thought they had it all figured out. He was a truth-teller, not because he wanted to make people feel bad about themselves so they would repent but so people could stop hiding their mess and find real life. The truth sets people free.

God loves us with the kind of Love that suffers hell for those who crucify him. And then he takes care of our sin and shame by hiding us in Jesus, allowing us to be identified by Jesus's perfection rather than our imperfection. So now we're at peace with God. Already. Without doing anything. Thanks to the cross.

Doesn't that bring relief from the merry-go-round striving we typically subject ourselves to?

Please look elsewhere for self-help strategies, tidy boxes, and easy answers.

But please feel free to pick up a cross and follow Jesus away from the folks who know a lot about what's right and wrong in search of the outcasts, the lost sheep, the last and the least.

Brace yourself for suffering. Because shame leads people to hurt each other in unspeakably cruel and violent ways. And hurting alongside those who are the victims of injustice is part of your work as a member of Christ's body.

You might want to grab your yoga mat, too, because you'll need to do a lot of deep breathing as you learn to suspend judgement. If you follow Jesus, you'll find yourself at the dinner tables of pedophiles, terrorists, Wall Street tycoons, dictators, racist cops, pimps, producers of cable news, abusive parents, human traffickers, and those who disagree with you about evolution, abortion, homosexuality, gender roles, and the nation of Israel. Because they need him.

And because this will be impossible for you at times, Jesus will also come to your table for dinner.

This unreserved mercy is the scandal of the gospel. All roads don't lead to heaven, but all roads may lead to Jesus. Or perhaps more accurately, Jesus may find all roads and take care of the mapping system himself. 

If this kind of God sounds like good news to you, well then, consider yourself dead to sin and alive to Christ, because that's how God sees you. The sooner you believe it, the sooner you'll live it and be transformed in his image in a process that will last your lifetime. That's grace.

That's gospel.

Amen.

"When the [religious leaders] saw this, they said to his disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with tax collectors and sinners?" But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick. Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:11-13






Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Beginning Again

Yesterday, the kids had their first piano lessons since we moved, and I was nervous for them.

Benjamin had taken lessons for two years before we moved, and Abigail had only played for six months by the time we had to pull them out. After nearly a year and a half without lessons or regular practice, I knew they had forgotten much.

I didn't want them to feel discouraged if they sat down to play and found it all unfamiliar and overwhelming. I also didn't want them to feel bored if she had to start them over from the beginning.

I shouldn't have worried.

Their teacher led them through the lesson expertly. She started them with an exercise that reinforced basic skills but felt absolutely doable, re-immersing them in language they once knew while building their confidence.

As they played, she asked them if they remembered certain terms or skills. "'No' is an answer," she'd say, making it perfectly acceptable to admit they had forgotten something.

My greatest surprise and relief came when she picked a song from the books where they had left off a year and a half ago, and then used that song to re-familiarize them with the basics. The songs she chose would have been too challenging to attempt unsupported, but she guided them back into the music, reorienting their hands to the appropriate keys, giving them clues and language to navigate the keyboard, breaking the song down into manageable pieces.

She didn't start them over, which would have felt patronizing. She didn't bore them with review, which would have smothered their enthusiasm.

Instead, she trusted them with a task appropriate to the skills they once had and slowly teased to life their body of knowledge, knowing that in the process of relearning this piece, the terminology and muscle memory would return.

The time and energy they invested back in Colorado was not lost. She recognized their experience is still buried in their brains, latent. It's simply a matter of time before their little minds fire the synapses enough times to re-connect the neural pathways and resurrect their skills.

I'm proud of my kids for returning to the piano: it is an act of courage and humility to endure the relearning process, but I know they stand to gain so much more from facing the temporary discomfort of re-entry than they do from avoiding something they once loved.

And their process encourages me. After a break from the gym or from writing, I am tempted to think the time and work I invested previously is lost. Beginning again can feel like starting over from nothing.

But it's not.

The foundations I built are still there, too, and while there may be a short period of reorienting and rebuilding, before long I will be growing from where I left off. 

No effort, no investment of work is ever truly lost--unless you choose not to return.

May we all be brave enough to begin again.



Friday, September 5, 2014

Less is Not Loss

This was the summer of "Mama, can I go out and play?"

Of doors opening and closing over and over while kids retrieved toys and rope and balls and paper and any other prop that might enhance their imaginary plots and schemes.

Of hours of noise while the kids and their neighbor friends invented worlds and dramas upstairs in the air-conditioned game room.

Of hours of silence while they did the same at someone else's house.

This was the first summer when they weren't always tucked securely in sight.

When they were given the freedom to roam the street and sidewalks and a few known houses provided they kept me informed of their general location.

When they could grab their bike or scooter or skateboard (and helmet) and transport themselves at-will up and down the block.

This was their first real taste of physical independence, of the responsibility that comes with privilege, of negotiating social dynamics without an ever-present adult to remind and admonish.

This was a summer characterized by good old-fashioned childhood fun: kid-organized, kid-led, kid-negotiated, kid-fueled.

They loved every minute. So did I. And not just because I had more time to myself.

Though I was out of sight much of the time, I kept watch through the windows, I listened from a distance to the tenor and content of conversation, and I heard each of them offer suggestions, clarify ideas, work out conflict, and otherwise participate in this group dynamic as kind and productive members of the community. All of the kids.

When necessary, I stepped in to help redirect or problem-solve when conflict escalated. There were moments of discord, to be sure, but they were generally short-lived and solved by a brief break and conversation with mom or dad before heading back out to make amends and begin again.

What I observed filled me with respect and gratitude for my not-so-littles and with the conviction that this kind of summer was far more productive and valuable than any camp or activity I could have signed them up for. Essentially, they received a summer intensive in working with people who differ in personality, age, objective, and skill.

They learned:

-how to invent their own fun
-how to establish rules that are fair for everyone
-how to include children ranging in age from three years to thirteen
-how to share ideas, resources, and roles
-how to compromise and reach consensus when people disagree about what to play/how to play/where to play
-how to apologize when someone's feelings are hurt

But the kids weren't the only ones to benefit.

I saw Ben and Abby for fewer hours in the day than I would have in previous summers, I had less direct influence, but they continued to learn and hone the values and skills we've spent their lifetimes cultivating.

And the time we did spend together was enriched by the wonder of observing how absolutely competent and mature and amazing these two little people are. They thrilled me and filled me with thoughts like, I just really like my kids. They're such cool people! My role was smaller, but I learned this reduction is not a loss. Rather, the freedom is pure gift, like getting all the benefits of a home-cooked meal with only half the prep.

It's been nine years of intense, daily investment, but the time and effort are paying off. And this reality gives me faith and hope that if we stay the course in the coming years, other milestones of freedom and independence like getting a driver's license and going to college will be rewarding in the same way. The quantity of time together will be less, but I have hope that the quality of relationship with these truly wonderful humans will be even greater.



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