Letters to Ivan

On Raising Extroverts

A lot of life and love wonderfully fill my house. The older kids imagine, experience, and articulate continually. Looking at a brontosaurus toy, little girl named it, “Giraffe-y Dinosaur.” She learns words and then cherishes the objects: “milk-y bottle,” “blankie,” “Mama-y.” Everything ends in an -y. When she cannot talk to me about her things, she sings at the top of her voice or babbles to her baby doll-y. She takes after her older brothers, who seem to never stop talking. They tell silly stories, plot their next adventure or building project, disagree and try to persuade or out-talk the other. For example, yesterday second son was giving “tickets” to eldest son for some imaginary infraction. “I am sending them all to your mail box,” he announced. Without missing a beat, eldest son replied, ” I guess I have a bunch of junk mail, then.” Even baby boy has added to his repertoire of brilliant smiles and coos, since he now waves with big arm sweeps and finger movements that bring joy to us all. A recent visitor noted the kids’ talkative disposition and ease in interacting with adults. Looking at my quietly-disposed husband and me, he said, “you are raising a gang of extroverts.” Indeed, it does feel that way!

Two days ago, second son excitedly told my husband of a time in the future when they would be in a “Daddy’s Club” together. Naming his two brothers, his dad, and himself, he rejoiced that they could all one day be daddies. He made a side note that little girl and Mama could have their own “Mama’s Club.” His love for family makes me think I am doing something right.

Alongside my many mothering failures, I also learn how to walk my precious little ones through challenges. One saying goes something like, “Give a hungry man a fish, and he will be hungry tomorrow. Teach him how to fish, and he will never be hungry again.” I apply this to mothering, making my primary role “enabler.” I would rather my kids learn and choose wisdom, than they act well or play nice when I am present to enforce it. I would rather they make little mistakes now and learn their limitations (sleep is a necessary evil!). Yes, I do give them the “materials” with which to encounter reality. This means providing basic facts, explaining how to live out Judeo-Christian morality and the reasons for it, and inculcating logic. But a lot of learning results from their own discovery or thinking. In their quest for the good, the true, and the beautiful, then, I suppose it is no surprise that so much life happens within these four walls.

Questions

1,929 days

1,929 days. That equates to 275 weeks or 63 months. 1,929 days into this job, with only ten days and nights’ break in that entire period, and I am tired.

The walls of my home are my castle and my prison. A haven that I cultivate and a drain of physical energy and mental acuity. I glory in being at home. I long to escape its confinement.

So where do I go from here? How do relax enough to sleep, rise early for personal quiet time, and wake my four gifts from God with all the love that I feel alongside a multitude of other emotions? How do I continue in this marathon of epic proportions and eternal ramifications?

God, please help me.

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On Free Speech: Reasoning Together, Allowing Much, and Loving Always

Weeks have passed since my last post. What has happened between then and now? Lots of listening and talking, but mostly listening.

Listening to the screaming political rhetoric in our country. Watching people attribute evil motives to their opponents, accuse each other of stupidity, and, like little children, put hands over their ears to shut out explanations. These subjects seem too weighty for a mama-blog, but after encountering the same questions again and again this week, I share my thoughts and questions anyway.

At the week’s beginning, I participated in a conversation that alarmed me. People whom I admire and respect advocated for 1) restricting the free speech of a group whose message they found de-humanizing and hateful, and 2) explaining to the community why the message was shut-down. These Christians advocated this censure because they want the best for both each individual and the community as a whole. With love and compassion, they want to take action against ideas that limit the glorious life often experienced when we live the way God made us to live. They want to exhibit “tough love,” the kind of love that restricts a child’s freedom to run in the street precisely because that action could bring harm or death. The problem with the previous situation is that we are talking about adults – people who have the ability to reason, make choices, and experience the consequences of those choices. I believe that the truly compassionate action to take would involve speaking the truth in love to someone (even at the risk of being offensive), and to try and persuade them to a different idea or course of action. This is what the people in the conversation wanted to do. Yet in the public square, we must go a step further and allow people to disagree and act accordingly.*

In our First Amendment, we are guaranteed freedom of speech. As Tyson Langhofer said in the Colson Center Short Course on Freedom, “the only type of speech that needs protecting is offensive speech.” Yes! I find this statement compelling because it is the people in power that define offensiveness. Since one cannot know who will be in power, this amendment provides protection for Americans who disagree with the reigning authorities to speak anyway. The Christian message often seems offensive and hateful to those who reject Christ’s Lordship, yet with our right to free speech we can still have a place at the discussion table when people disagree with the Gospel. In a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, George Washington wrote that America’s “enlarged and liberal policy” meant that citizens should neither persecute nor begrudgingly tolerate notions they find offensive, but instead respect each other’s “inherent natural rights.” To recognize and uphold these rights, it seems important to allow much and hope that reality and conversations about the truth knock out today’s more bizarre, self-harmful, and untrue beliefs from common practice.

Can we please allow our interlocutors a place at the conversation table? Can we listen to them because we are confident of the truth, and not frightened by what they might say? Can we listen to people out of respect for their being creations of God? Can we then appeal to them with the Truth because we want their best? And then turn around and love them no matter what way these same people choose?

 

* I admit that there seems to be a fuzzy area where one asks how far can a person go without censure on their words or actions, and I have not yet worked out my own ideas of those boundaries. The “do not harm” principle is a great one, but the question of where harm begins looms large. Setting this question of detail aside for another day, the basic point is that laws and regulations should be the least restrictive possible, and that people should be able to do what they want as long as they do not harm others.

 

Ponderings · Reorienting Myself

On Suffering, Part 2

During one particularly difficult period in my life, I woke three successive mornings with the phrase “Fine china is more beautiful when broken and put back together again” on my lips. “What?!” I thought, “my treasured tea cups would be prettier broken and patched up with some glue?” In that season of life, God demonstrated how Icould become prettier when broken and put together again, not with glue but with grace.

Years later I participated in a Bible study that offered the following reflection. You can imagine what I felt as I read the first line.

The Japanese art of kintsukuroi (pronounced kint-sook-er-oy) is the repair of broken pottery through the use of a gold lacquer to fill and bind the cracks. The practice originated, according to one Japanese legend, when a servant inadvertently broke his master’s prized vase during a party. Fortunately for the servant, one of the guests assuaged the master’s anger by devising a humorous poem about the vase. Seen in this new light – that the vase now had new character and a richer story – it took on greater significance. Its brokenness became the occasion for a deeper beauty. And so for centuries, Japanese craftsmen have restored cracked vessels with gold, in order to accentuate the beauty that emerges from the scars.

One way to look at the book of Romans is as the story of a Craftsman who relentlessly brings his beauty to every kind of brokenness. In his cosmic plan, wherever there is deformity, God sculpts a new loveliness; wherever there is sorrow, God creates a new bliss; wherever there is loss, God produces gain. And it is not just that God responds with beauty wherever there is hideousness. No, the truly breathtaking nature of his work is that it is through the cracks that God brings the beauty. He does not need to scrap what is broken; he does not lose what he has already made. On the contrary, he gathers the broken shards and conceives a new glory, a better future for every part of his creation.1

Before my own season of breaking, I mostly depended on my own merit, my own effort, my own plans. I loved God and trusted in Him for salvation, but I trusted in myself to define my life. When circumstances showed me that I was not in control, when I understood that my goodness fell far short of God’s perfection, when I saw that I was a creature subject to the Creator who had plans beyond my own, my perspective changed. I learned that I had limitations. I began to recognize how much I needed grace, and this all helped me in turn share grace with the people I encountered.

So when I catch myself worrying about suffering, pain, or sorrow, I remember that the Lord God can sculpt something from the shards of brokenness, and that He is big enough to use the brokenness in my life to create something beautiful for His eternal glory.

 

1 Palmer, Steve. Romans Devotional. St. Stephen’s Church, 2018. E-mail.

Letters to Ivan

Stories

A glimpse of our life

Tired after two nights of little sleep, I napped for 2 hours instead of making dinner and completing other chores. This means that the late afternoon looked rather comical. Amidst carpet cleaning Little Girl’s latest accident, flattening a child’s treasured piece of now-crumpled paper, rescuing a miniature dinosaur from inside a pop-up toy, and reading a riveting chapter in The Silver Chair (the beautiful lady is about to reveal her true, ugly character!), I need to make dinner. This life is crazy beautiful.

*

Recent quotes and conversations

Eldest Son: “Were you ever President?”

Mama: “No, I was not ever President.”

Second Son: “Yes, yes you were. I remember when you were Pregnant.”

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A plane flies by and I hear the questions, “Are jets faster than planes?” and “Why are they faster?” and “What is the fastest object?” Oh, for that physics class I never took!

“Hmm,” I respond, “Maybe there is a supersonic something, or maybe a missile (???), or maybe we should do some research at the library.”

“Oh! I know!” my eldest exclaims, “Jesus is the fastest!” The perennial “correct” Sunday school answer 🙂

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My three-year-old son is a maturing protector who schemes to place fire ants and thistles around our home so that any robbers would be first deterred and then found out by their cries of pain. “What do fire ants do?” one interested listener inquired. “Spit fire,” my son replied.

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Eldest son: “Mama, are we rich because there are four of us kids?”

Mama: “Yes, son, we are rich.”