Friday, July 31, 2009

Wrestling With The Joker

For his birthday last week, Ben received a Bat Cave complete with Batman and Robin from his friend. Before this, Ben knew no more of Batman than of Bill Gates, but now he loves the many gizmos and gadgets to spin, push, twist, and otherwise manipulate as he thoroughly explores the gratifying thrill of cause and effect. When he first opened it, we spoke briefly of Batman's penchant for heroism, focusing mostly on his daring rescues of people caught in all manner of natural disasters or accidents, intentionally skirting the issue of people needing rescue from other people.

A few days later, this same little buddy gave him the coordinating Joker in a motorcycle that sports a giant, functional mallet. Push the button, and the hammerhead extends and drops with authority. Bang, bang, bang.

"Why is there a hammer, Mommy?" Ben asked casually as our family drove to church Sunday evening. My husband and I looked at each other, not quite sure how to handle this question. "So he can smash and destroy innocent people and their possessions" didn't seem the appropriate answer for a four year old who internalizes every word we say with a pensiveness and insight more often found in people decades his senior.

In the front seat, we grapple with which direction to head. Our instinct is to play it off as innocent fun: "So he can smash nuts like a nutcracker, break up great clumps of dirt, hammer really big nails...". This would keep things easy, light. This avoids giant philosophical and theological questions regarding the nature of evil.

But as we're driving, I'm stressing (as usual). I'm wondering if it is a disservice to pretend the world is all heroes and goodness when in fact those things exist more meaningfully in contrast to the villains and badness; I'm worrying that we haven't really introduced him to any fairy tales or super hero stories or moral fables that illuminate the epic struggle of good vs. evil and that perhaps, without this knowledge, he won't begin to choose the light and associate himself with the good and that he'll grow up without thinking of himself as the hero. I'm thinking he needs to know that Batman saves people from the Joker so that the story has actual conflict, duality, struggle, and hope.

So I say, "Actually, The Joker is a bad guy, and he uses his hammer to hurt people's things (I did decide not to go into The Joker hurting actual people), so Batman comes and saves people from The Joker." There. I said it.

But I don't like it. It's so arbitrary, this black and white world view that classifies folks as bad guys or good guys, villains or heroes. It doesn't sit well with me. Frankly, I don't buy it myself. But Ben accepts the answer and from the back seat we hear him saying, "I'm going to be Batman and lock The Joker up in a cave so he can't use his hammer..." Internally, I breath a small if half-hearted sigh of relief--he's making the heroic association.

The next day, on the same road, as Ben and Abby and I are headed to the bagel shop for breakfast, he asks, "Mommy, why is The Joker a bad guy?"

Oh, God, help me. At the root of this question is the root of all theological debate. This is a question I'm still grappling with, and now to explain to a four year old.

The thing is, I can't bring myself to say that there are good people and bad people in the standard "us" vs. "them" discussion that I was brought up with--it's just not that simple. Yes, I want him to identify with Batman, but the truth is, we all have a little of The Joker in us just as we all have a longing to be Batman.

So I say, "Well, The Joker is only interested in taking care of himself, even if the people around him get hurt in the process." I recognize it's kind of lame, even as I say it.

To which he says, "But Mommy, it's good to take care of ourselves, like eating food that's good for our poopies."

I realize in a wave of pride that's he's actually embracing these values that we're trying to impart: we talk often about how important it is to take care of the amazing bodies God has given us by brushing our teeth, eating nutritiously (yes, we talk about which foods are good for our bones or good for our muscles or, gulp, good for our poopies), exercising, and getting rest.

So I scramble for a moment and respond with, "No, yes, you're right--it's good to take care of ourselves. But The Joker is willing to hurt other people to make sure he gets what he wants. Kind of like the kid in the green shirt at the Play School that you told me about who was hitting people when he wanted a toy. Do you remember that?"

"No, Mom, he was wearing a gray shirt, " Ben corrected.

"Okay, the kid in the gray shirt. Is it okay for him to hurt people to get what he wants?"

"No!" he replies in a "that's so obvious" tone.

"Exactly. So he was acting a little like The Joker when he did that. Actually, there's a little bit of Joker in all of us, I think." And I pause, holding my breath, wondering how that statement will be filtered and understood and repositioned in a four-year-old's brain. I continue, "Do you ever take something you want from someone, even if it hurts them?"

The car is quiet, but we both know the answer and after a brief moment of reflection he says honestly but thoughtfully, "Yeah." Confession. And I confess, too.

A minute later, he asks, "But Mommy, how does The Joker get in us?" Sometimes his literal mind is bewildering. He already has this picture of Jesus taking up residence in his stomach, so I'm imagining the visual in his mind of Jesus and the Joker eating, sleeping, and hanging out together. There's actually some truth there, as Jesus seemed most at home with the Joker-types, if we're to believe the Bible.

So the conversation turned to an explanation of metaphor and wandered off into less loaded realms before we arrived at The Bagelry.

I've mentally returned to our exchange all week, though. I've thought about what I believe about myself, about others, about bad guys, about villains. Are there bad guys? I mean, are there truly people in the world interested in hurting others purely for the sport of it? Or is there always motive (or mental illness) at play in varying degrees of extreme? I think this may be the exploration of The Dark Knight; I don't know--I haven't seen it.

Whatever the case, I do know wherever there is a Joker in this world, there will be Batman. But I think Batman's name is actually Jesus, who rescues us from the Joker that is ourselves.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Holy Tedium

It's a cold, wet morning in the mountains--the kind you'd expect in November, not July. The forest ground behind our house is saturated in every shade of green, redolent of some equatorial tropic, when normally the summer flora would be dried out by now: golden brown and thirsty for the moisture of the fall. At the very tip of each pine needle is a tiny water droplet, suspended in the still, cool air, quietly reflecting the gray sky above it with a brightness only Nature can achieve. Before the rain began a moment ago, everything seemed paused in perfect fullness.

Now, I hear the soft shower of rain on the roof and the sweet jabber of my kids waking from their night of slumber. Soon I will get them up, prepare a nutritious breakfast, load everyone into the car to attend my spin class, make a quick stop at the grocery store, and then return home to begin on my list of to-do's before our company arrives this afternoon. Hopefully, I will find those precious minutes to sit on the floor with my pumpkins and savor the sweetness of our lives together.

These quiet moments before the tug of the day begins are holy, sacred. But I'm learning that so are the harried moments of the day's tedium--perhaps more so, as I move into the world and encounter myriad reflections of God's image in my children, in my fellow spin enthusiasts, in Kevin, the grocery store checker who cannot help but mutter constantly under his breath in an exhausting stream of consciousness but who always greets me cheerfully by name, in you.

Holy, sacred, divine tedium: the opportunity to glimpse the fullness of God on earth, as it is in heaven.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Becoming One of Those Crazy People

Part of the reason I'm feeling so bionic these days is that I'm in the best physical shape of my life. Yesterday, my husband and I clipped into our road bikes and climbed eighteen grueling miles from our mountain town of Evergreen over Squaw Pass to Echo Lake at the base of Mt. Evans. We gained nearly 4,000 feet in elevation, putting us close to 11,000 feet when we reached the summit.

The ride was breath-taking in its grandeur: forests of pine and aspen opening to vistas of the Continental Divide and peaks upon peaks of tree-studded mountains. As we peddled, I couldn't help thinking, "People spend thousands of dollars to drive this, and we hopped on our bikes a half mile from our local grocery store."

My husband and I make it a point to drive this route annually, usually in the fall when the aspen are aflame with gold, orange, and red. Inevitably, we'll see hard-core cyclists decked out in their warm gear, grinding their way up the mountain. Inevitably, I'll say, "That's impressive. Those people are crazy," and he'll nod his assent and we'll continue our conversation from the comfort of our motorized vehicle.

You see where I'm going with this.

So as we peddled, I also couldn't help thinking, "I'm a rock star," as I watched all those sane people drive by in the comfort of their cars.

Seriously, I have never, ever been in the kind of conditioned state required to do anything endurance related. I'm athletic and coordinated, but I played sports like volleyball and softball, which require the quick, powerful bursts of energy for which my mostly fast-twitch muscle fibers were made. Liners in the gym? Steal second base? Sprint off the court to redeem a shanked ball? No problem. Run a mile or two to warm up? Problem.

I'm probably the only kid in the country who qualified for the President's Physical Fitness Award every year in every category except the mile run. I mean, there ought to be a consolation prize in elementary school for the poor people like me who could do sit-ups, pull-ups, sit-and-reach, and a record-breaking shuttle run but couldn't manage to get their bodies around the quarter mile track four times in eight minutes.

Given this history, it has been a kind of triumphant revelation to find an endurance sport I not only can do but love. For me to casually say to my husband, "Hey, maybe we should get a sitter so we can climb Squaw Pass this weekend" because I'm dying to do a training ride for the 78 mile ride traversing three mountain passes that we're signed up for next weekend is nothing short of miraculous, magical.

As we descended the mountain, rain pelting our backs, thunder rumbling ominously in the distance, my fingers numb with cold and adrenaline, the speedometer reaching 30 mph, I made the remarkable discovery that I've become one of those crazy people--and it's glorious.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Regarding Bluetooth

Tonight, as we're driving home in my husband's Mini, Benjamin asks seriously, "Mommy, why is the tooth blue and not purple?" Legitimate question. "And why isn't there a tooth?" I reply.

In the backseat, a coy grin followed by giggles.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Til Death Do Us Part" in Faith, Hope, and Love

My dear friend is officiating her friend's wedding this weekend and asked for some input as she finalized the homily. As we talked through her thoughts, I was struck by how incredibly profound marriage is meant to be--insane, really, but wonderfully so.

Consider: we enter our weddings with someone we feel finally recognizes all the wonderful and glorious aspects of ourselves. We feel beautiful, desirable, appreciated, and valued. Then as we move into life together, we find ourselves unable to hide or disguise all of the worst and most selfish aspects of ourselves from this same person. This is a delicate reality, and so we quickly learn who we've truly married--and we hope and pray it is someone who will hold this vulnerability gently but honestly. We want someone who will not simply accept with complacence our shortcomings but will call us into our better, truer selves with patience and kindness and hope.

We offer this same grace to our spouse: acknowledging their faults as they arise but always in the context of who we know them to be truly--good, well-intentioned, trying to do that which is right--the person we fell in love with.

But I realized, the best of what marriage should be is only possible when we subscribe whole-heartedly to the idea of "'til death do us part." If we have even a sliver of fear that we will be left or abandoned for our less than stellar character traits, we will cease to be fully honest and vulnerable with our spouses. We will find ourselves offering a mirage of ourselves, and eventually the facade will become too exhausting to maintain. Likewise, if we hold the threat of leaving over our spouse, we will drive them to hide from us, and we will never experience the honest, soul-level communion that, I think, marriage is supposed to nurture.

It's a crazy paradox, beautiful in its contradiction. I see and love all that is amazing about you, but even more extraordinarily, I choose not to define you by all that I see is imperfect. My incredible husband loves me this unconditionally day in and day out.

Even when we fight or disagree or feel overwhelmed by to-do's or can't see our way out of a situation or feel tired and cranky and unleash our frustration on the innocent bystander that is each other, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we're in this together. Can you imagine such love? I could not until I married him.

I think this is the same perspective with which we are to love our children, but somehow it is infinitely more difficult for me to love my kids in this way than it is for me to love my husband. I have to remind myself constantly that it is not what they do (read: how well they obey, how well they behave in front of others--basically, how well they perform) that is important in the long run but how I treat them in the process. Children will make mistakes, and they SHOULD, for this is how they learn to make the better decisions as they grow and experience greater responsibility and face greater consequences for their choices. Do I worry that my son will use way more toilet paper than is necessary twenty years from now? No. So I need to be sure that my response to this most annoying, toilet-clogging practice of his does not jeopardize our relationship twenty years from now.

However, when there are dozens of annoying or downright infuriating behaviors surfacing in a day, I am sometimes left feeling at my wits end. There are some days when I think that nothing I am doing makes a difference, but I cannot for the life of me think of anything else to do. That is the moment in which I pray for the strength to parent in faith, hope, and love--rejecting the temptation to define him by his behaviors, choosing instead to view and, in turn, treat him out of my faith that God will finish the good work He began in him, out of my hope that my parenting messes will ultimately be redeemed, and out of the crazy love I have for him that drives my desire to to see him make the good decisions so that he will have an easier go of life in this unforgiving world.

I did not realize, when I signed up for marriage and, later, parenting, how much of my selfishness would be crucified. More remarkably, I did not realize how much grace I would receive from my husband, from my kids, and I'm learning more each day, from God. Even as I write, my son is saying, "Mommy, do you know how much I love you? From the living room floor to the living room ceiling--that much." Grace.

I so desire to love them all perfectly, but I can't. Which is why we have a blessed lifetime, until death do us part, to forgive each other and move forward in faith, hope, and love.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why Did the Elk Cross the Road?

This afternoon as we drove home from a sweet, gray morning at the Farmer's Market followed by an equally sweet lunch wherein I found myself looking back and forth between my two peanuts and thinking how perfect life is in this moment, I noticed in the rearview mirror Abby's eyelids becoming heavy. We were still about ten minutes from home, the clock had just marked 1:00, and I knew keeping her awake was futile. Finally, her heavy lids drooped to a close, and she began her nap--her body still, her round cheeks slack, her eyelashes resting quietly on her smooth skin.

Ben, of course, chattered away from the back seat. We stopped to let the thirty or so elk cross the Parkway from the meadow to the hillside and discussed why they might be walking up the slope (lunch date at some new grassy elk cafe?). This led to a series of questions about the utilization of crosswalks by people vs. animals (people use them, animals don't) and concluded with a discussion of when it's okay to cross the single solid line in the middle of the road (for animals, it's okay whenever because they don't understand our rules; for people in cars, only when turning).

When we pulled into the garage and I turned off the car and the music went silent and the afternoon air revealed its soft chorus of birdsong, Ben released himself from his straps and slid out of his car seat while I stepped out of the car and opened the back door to gently unbuckle my sleeping beauty. Without prompting or second thought, he assumed a whisper voice as tender as a lullaby and asked, "Can I touch her?" It was almost reverent, the way he looked at her and then searched out my answer with the sincerest desire not to disturb her. "Sweet boy," was all I could manage at first, and then nodded. He reached over and slowly, very gently, set his fingers on her knee.

I could hardly contain my heart from bursting.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


I feel as though I’m on the cusp of something extraordinary.

And the amazing thing is, this extraordinariness has nothing to do with accomplishing something.

Rather, it is about the deep breath I’m finally getting to take after four years of stopping, pausing, holding, waiting—and hoping—as I brought my two beautiful children into this world. And now, here, I am about to exhale—all the love, beauty, life, pain, and Truth I’ve finally had time to pay attention to, been forced to pay attention to as I’ve held the hands of my little ones and watched the world go by at their unhurried, unplanned, but ever-expectant pace: at the speed of wonder.

This is not to say that in the four years of raising my babies I have not done anything or thought anything or grown as a person. But thus far, the activity has been internal, a flood of sensory and intellectual experience splashing in my mind, rolling around in great currents of faith and introspection. While my body has strolled and ambled and meandered through the world, my heart and mind and spirit have been broken open to see and understand and love in ways formerly impossible.

And now, it seems, it is time to begin sharing: the good and the bad, the sweet and the frustrating, the grandiose and the mundane, the everyday and the other-worldly, all that is True in all its glorious wonder.

So, you ask, who am I?

I am a thoughtful, intentional, informed, loving, and sometimes silly mommy who feels both immense pride and profound fear and insecurity as I attempt to raise secure, confident, empathetic, responsible citizens of the earth we’ve been given. This gift of motherhood is made possible by my husband whom I admire, respect, and adore like crazy.

I am a “recovering pharisee,” a once-legalistic/conservative/evangelical Christian who gratefully received Grace and gladly surrendered her need to perform, to have all the answers, and to live an exemplary life in exchange for the blessed freedom to love this messy and beautiful world.

And I am a spin freak. Seriously, I love cycling and can’t get enough of that one hour of sweat mingled with meditation and music on a stationary bike.

Did I mention I love to write?

So, I ask, who are you?
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