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."


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.

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