July 31, 2013


I could see the process drop through the toggled channels of his brain as he turned to me, appropriate doors and forms sliding into place to meet the understood requirements from past experience.

"Mom, could you please maybe get me some Lego sets for my birthday?"

I have to admire the craft that went into this one sentence. We've talked with our kids about asking for what they want instead of hinting. (Much of this, I'm sure, is my stubbornness in not wanting to become someone who jumps when my child says, "Breakfast!") We've talked about passive-aggressive behavior, the way we try to protect ourselves from hurt and rejection while putting the other person in a manipulated, impossible place. We've talked about manipulation not being real relationship but desire to control. We talk a lot in our family, come to think of it...

Not only did my adored son remember this, he also managed to work in direct address (Mom), courtesy (please), slight distancing so I'd know he was prepared for refusal (maybe), and specific request without being too specific so the gift wasn't a foregone conclusion (Lego sets).

I notice all that, and I'm glad to see that some of the 34,592 reminders have made an impression. I knew, just listening to him, that he was trying to hit that bull's-eye of communication, hitting all the requirements to increase his odds of getting what his heart wants. He wanted me to hear him. He tried to contort his heart into the shape most likely to be heard and accepted (and yes, to get what he wants).

This is so often how I ask God for things. It's less a request and more a convoluted voodoo theology of trying to hit the right format so I won't get hurt even if I don't get what I want. I don't remember the last time I just asked for what I want, without explanations and caveats. I wish we had a bigger house. I wish the yard was bigger. I wish I had more time for X. I wish we had the money to do Y. The requests are there, but they're followed by watery phrases like, but help me to be thankful for what I have or but I want what you want or but only if it's your will. None of these is bad, by the way. They're heart attitudes I want to have. But I believe God knows that without my saying anything. -I believe he knows my heart's desires better than I do, too! When I ask for them, it's not so he'll know what they are, but so I will. If I surround my asking with hedges of protection, I'm the one who ends up muddy in understanding what I think I want.

As he twisted and crafted his words to ask an acceptable question, my son has no way of knowing that we already have a Lego set that joins with one he already has. It was purchased months ago. Long before he ever thought to ask me this morning if I might possibly, maybe (please) get him one.

I'm pretty sure God has done the same for me.

July 30, 2013

Toddler Time

Before my husband & I got engaged, he set us each an assignment: go find someone who is married or has been married, and ask them for one thing they didn't expect from marriage. When I spoke with a friend who had been married and was divorced, she said the joy of tasks like laundry and meals became a chore. She said she was surprised by how quickly the fun became frustrating.

More than a decade later, and I'm still wrestling with that very thing.

Others may be luckier than I in passing through the toddler years; my toddler self never went away. When I see there's laundry to be done, another meal to make, another round of house cleaning to do, I know what's coming. In my head, grown-up meets toddler--and the toddler is frighteningly well-armed with arguments.

I've tried so many methods to MAKE myself do what ought to be done. Force (though no, I haven't tried to spank myself), threats, consequences, pleading, cajoling, and promises of reward don't work or (despite working) leave deeper scars. Please believe me when I say that making yourself feel guilty or ashamed enough to do something causes more damage than you want in the years ahead.

I tried to tell myself that clean laundry was needed or that my children needed to eat--then sneakily dragged my heels, just to see if I meant what I said. When we survived one more day in twice-worn outfits or made do with a thrown-together lunch of crackers, cold cuts, and carrots, my inner toddler took notes. I don't believe that voice in my head that says these "have" to be done a certain way. I have chapter and verse of the proof that they don't.

This morning I talked with God after a few weeks of silence. I've wrestled with teaching my small daughter that manipulating someone to get what you want isn't relationship. I realized this morning that all my interactions with my inner toddler are that: manipulation. What I need is not a fail-safe way to MAKE myself do what is needed in the moment. I need to listen to figure out what motivates my heart to relate to those I love in loving ways.

No, I don't know what this means when it comes time to make supper and empty that dishwasher behind me. I do know the more I think about doing it, the more I see myself as something to control. I know that emptying each dish from the racks will be done better if I'm not scolding myself all the while ("Why did you let these sit here so long? See how little time that took? Why were you whining about it for so long?"). Above all, I know it means I need to stop treating my inner rebel as a toddler, if only because that approach keeps me acting like one.

July 22, 2013

Yes, But

I'm fascinated by learning. We just got back from the library this morning, and among our plastic bin's worth of books, I checked out a few on Mexico's history. I read a chapter of Norton Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth to my kids, then picked up the Mexican history volume about the Spanish Conquest.

The Aztecs have intrigued me before. I've been to Mexico City and climbed a few pyramids. I've read of their amazing engineering (aqueducts, floating agricultural islands called 'chinampas' [right], military schools) and their religious ceremonies. It was a new experience to feel a pang when I started reading about them this morning.

Aztec legends told that once upon a time, their people lived in a garden paradise. They angered a great and powerful god, and were exiled from the garden. They wandered in deserts in northern Mexico, eventually migrating south to the Valley of Mexico. Hated by other tribes, they became fiercely loyal to each other and hired out as mercenary soldiers to warring tribes. They believed all of life was war: the sun didn't rise; light fought the forces of darkness every morning. Rain gods fought foes to water crops. Intervention by the gods was heavily dependent on human choice and action. The gods wanted human hearts, and so entered human sacrifice.

I see again and again that (as Solomon is supposed to have written) there isn't anything new under the sun. I used to feel comfortable reading things like this and thinking them far removed from me. I don't believe in a rain god; I don't cut open prisoners' chests to remove still-beating hearts. Today I read this and saw the our society, our culture, in the Aztecs.

Many of us believe perfection used to exist for the human race and that choices we made created all the bad things around us. Many of us live as though we could get back to perfection again, if only we find the right combination of choices and actions. Many of us believe that each day is a struggle, a fight in which the good or the bad (whether in me or those around me) triumphs.

I feel like we're so close to truth, but miss it. Yes, but... Yes, Paradise is lost, but I need to quit telling myself I can bring it back by my actions and effort. Yes, my choices matter, but I cannot manipulate God into giving me rain, a roof, or a raise by appeasing him. Yes, God wants human hearts, but not the physical tissue of one; he wants the outflow of my thoughts and feelings and impulses directed first toward him. I don't like my selfishness and pride, but I am not able to stop these by trying. They only change as I direct those feelings toward God and listen for his response once I've emptied myself of self.

I didn't expect reading about the Aztecs to make me feel homesick for heaven, but this Aztec poem did just that:
We only came to sleep/ we only came to dream
It is not true, no it is not true/ that we came to live on earth

It has me thinking of my own "yes, but" thin slices of half-truth that I believe, things that lead me to charge forward bravely to capture human hearts. My "yes, but" beliefs that end life instead.

July 12, 2013

Knowledgeable is Not Omniscient

I woke this morning at 4:30. Never mind why. While pondering other things, I decided to take advantage of some quiet in the house and read some of Galatians. This book of the Bible, particularly in the Message rendering (contemporary language) helps me greatly during devotional reading.

While reading in Galatians 4, I had the shock of seeing Adam & Eve's fruit snacking in an entirely different way. It has nothing to do with old earth vs. new earth, allegory vs. literal tale, or anything along those lines. No Lilith, I promise.

I thought about how they ate fruit from the tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil. They were drawn in by the ability to be like God, "knowing good and evil," as the snake promised.

When I'm willing to listen (which happens less often than I would like), I believe my conscience nudges me in identifying good vs. evil. If I feel uneasy about something, I don't do it. Simple enough.

The problem comes in thinking that my 'sense' of what's good and what's bad is the correct interpretation. It's pretty universal that we consider some things good (getting a raise) and some bad (losing a home in a fire). What if that isn't what things look like from God's perspective? What if winning the lottery is actually a bad thing because of the stresses and strains it puts on relationships in the years to come? What if losing that job is actually what frees me up to pursue my abiding passion, the thing I was born to do?

I started thinking along these lines because of some pretty big instances of this in my own life. It seems normal to say that falling 30 feet onto concrete is universally bad. But for our family, it brought many good things into our relationship, increased our time together, and was filled with gratitude throughout. Isn't that backwards? What about King Hezekiah, who was told by a prophet of God that he was going to die? Hezekiah pleaded with God for life, and God gave it to him. But it was after Hezekiah was healed that visitors from Babylon came, and Hezekiah bragged about all he had--paving the way for Babylon to come back and invade Israel when Hezekiah's son was on the throne. If Hezekiah had died initially, the envoys might have considered Jerusalem worth a miss. So... was it good or bad that Hezekiah lived through his illness?

Please don't misunderstand me: I do not ever think it's appropriate to go to someone diagnosed with cancer and tell them that it's a blessing. I wouldn't ever tell someone wrestling with tragedy that they have it wrong and should be rejoicing. I am saying I want room in my life for even my default definitions of what spells 'good' in my life and what is 'bad' to have longer definitions. I've been able to see some long-term harvests that have me wondering. Some of the hardest times for me have brought the greatest benefit, and I say without hesitation that I would go through it again.

Thinking I know what something will do in my life (knowledge of good & evil) is not nearly the same thing as knowing fully what will happen (omniscience).

July 11, 2013

My Son is Crying Because...

As I type wails emanate from my child's bedroom down the hall.

Why? For the simple reason that when he was told to put away some CDs a few days ago, he didn't put papers & discs back in boxes, just unloaded the stack of flotsam on top of the toy workbench in our living room. I decided to put them out of reach for a while. He's not allowed to listen to those particular CDs for today.

This is, apparently, worthy of bewailed "Nooo..... noooo....." laments interspersed with sobs.

If you haven't visited Reasons My Son is Crying on Tumblr, I strongly encourage you to. It is a breathtakingly honest window into parenting. Makes you rethink critiques about parents who "make" or "let" their children cry in public, doesn't it?

The last few days have been rough ones. Some private, difficult news for the grown-ups that wasn't appropriate to dump on the kids means split-personality sorts of days. Trying to sort through thoughts and emotions privately, but not let it change the kids' routine or more interactions with them than I can help.

Parenting means being the grown-up, even when everyone around you gets to be immature. Consider it the grad school of peer group interactions.

It means being patient and self-sacrificing without pointing out how good you are at being patient and self-sacrificing.

It means deciding in a split second what the wise response is, whether your small son exposes himself in public or your daughter accosts an elderly man about how she "could hear you better if you take those things out of your ears!" Intervene, enforce kindness, modesty, courtesy, generosity--and do it calmly, patiently, and generously yourself.

Speaking of which, I need a bit of a time-out myself. In my current frame of mind, I'm having a hard time feeling any sort of sympathy for my son, still crying because he only gets to listen to one Glee CD instead of four.

Before I try to restore my son's sense of proportion, I need to restore some of my own.