Forgotten Posts (or: It’s All Good)

Standard
14311931505_38734e85c3

Photo titled “Have no fear,” but what it says to me is “Chill. It’s all good.” Photo by Jonybraker, via Flickr

It’s been happening more regularly lately…I get to midmorning and go, “I was supposed to post a blog today!”

Lately I’ve acknowledged that my husband and I (and most of my family) are the Type As of the Type A world. Conventional wisdom around blogging is that your readers expect consistency; if I say I’m going to post on Monday, Wednesday, and sometimes Friday, I’d darned well better post on Monday, Wednesday, and sometimes Friday. In the mind of a Type A of the Type A world, spacing out is not acceptable. Weeks off are a copout.

Yet here we are. I’m contemplating a schedule that resembles, “I will post whenever I darned well feel like it.” Because the fact is, my hits already way below the threshold where it really makes any difference. I’m posting for myself and the scattered few who beg me not to stop every time I question whether it’s a good use of time anymore.

(Note to self: write a post on “learning to say, ‘It’s okay to say no.’ “)

The Conundrum of Wanting To Be a Christian Nation

Standard
6247601159_00669044c8

Bald Knob Cross, Southern Illinois. Photo by Nikonian Novice, via Flickr

Right after 9/11, a man I know shared a vision he had. His vision was of the people of the Middle East hearing American planes coming, except instead of dropping bombs, they dropped food and water and medical supplies. (He wrote it much more poetically than that, but that was the gist of it.)

At the time, I rolled my eyes. It seemed, in my infinite wisdom, hopelessly idealistic to think that giving help to people who already clearly hated us–as evidenced by what we’d just experienced–would do anything except provoke derision.

And yet, I’ve thought about it again and again and again over the years, because all our efforts to obliterate terrorism from the face of the earth via air strikes, drones, and military intervention seem to make things worse, not better. Take out Saddam and look what rises from the ashes. Cripple al Qaeda and you get ISIS. The more we sit in our ivory tower, trying to bomb bad guys out of existence, the more plentiful and more determined the bad guys seem to become.

Even the left doesn’t talk about taking my friend’s idealistic track very often. And I’ve never heard the right address it head on and say, “This is why that idea won’t work.” I really wish they would, because it’s getting harder for me to understand why we keep doing what we’re doing, when it seems all we’re doing is creating more people who don’t like us. It doesn’t make sense to me.

Periodically we get a lot of noise from certain quarters about being a Christian nation. But we don’t really act like one. The left says we can’t, because not everyone is Christian in this nation. The right says being a Christian (or at least, Judeo-Christian) nation is what made us great in the first place.

I’ve come to believe that the left is correct on this issue, even though I wish it were otherwise—because personally, I think being a Christian/Judeo-Christian nation would make us very great. The problem is, if you want to be a Christian nation, you have to embrace the whole package. The “care for the widow and orphan and alien” along with the “protect the unborn” and the “pray” thing. The example of the early Christians, who “held all things in common,” as yesterday’s Lectionary said, makes us squirm. For the first time this weekend, listening to that reading, I realized they weren’t setting up a commune, they were creating a family. To be a Christian nation, we would need to treat everyone in the country like family, and all the guests within our borders with the same level of hospitality as we would treat guests coming into our homes. (You can spin that out as far as you would like; I think the analogy holds a rational middle ground on immigration.)

But mostly, I look around the world, at all the places smoldering, needing nothing but a spark to ignite them. I think of the multitude of places where people are treating each other with horrifying disregard for human dignity—including in our own political system and on Facebook and Twitter—and I just wish we’d all stop and take a breath and think for a minute about what it really means to be a Christian, and where we personally are falling short in that regard.

Photo Friday: Go Ape

Standard

Alex and I took a travel writing day trip yesterday, to visit Go Ape in St. Louis…and although I only took pictures with Christian’s discarded iPhone (Alex simply would not believe me that it has no data service and never will) instead of the SLR, I think they’re good enough to share.

Ewok Village

Driving through Creve Coeur Park in Maryland Heights and–look! An Ewok village!

Deer and Dogwood

We were quite early, so we took a walk around the park and found a very un-skittish deer posing for a picture near a dogwood.

Creve Coeur Park 2

The juxtaposition of the red Japanese maple and the white some-sort-of-stinky-pear doesn’t really come out (needed the SLR!), but you can get an idea.

 

Rope Ladder

Headed into the treetops

Here We Go

And here we go.

Extreme

This would be the “extreme” option. The one heading off to the left would be the “moderate/easy” option.

Gymnast Rings 1

Another “extreme” option: a whole row of these gymnast footholds. I made it across without any mishaps requiring the safety cables to catch me. When I saw my shadow so clear down below me, I stopped in the middle to snap a photo. Trying to hold still on those dangling rings, I realized this activity was a lot more athletic than I’d anticipated. I could feel every muscle in my legs quivering.

Gymnast Rings

Alex on the same set of rings. Using his safety harness liberally. 🙂

Skateboard Zip

Skateboard zipline

Rope Pull

Rope pull. Not so hard, but definitely a lot of arm work, especially after three days in a row of Jazzercise, one of which was an all strength training class.

No Hands

Twisty ladder, and behind it, the Tarzan swing (off to the left). For that, see the video below.

We had to climb to a second platform for the last zipline, and as I stood waiting for Alex to unhook and clear the landing area at the far end, I thought, “This platform is really moving a lot.” Then I looked around and realized just how close I was to the top of the tree. 🙂

Treetop

Full review of our Go Ape experience coming soon on Pit Stops for Kids.

The Gifts I Didn’t Expect

Standard
3046206018_9681cbbba4

Photo by Joel Olives, via Flickr

This morning’s daily readings included the story of the man begging by the Beautiful Gate. Peter says to him, “Look at us,” and as the story says, “He paid attention to them, expecting to receive something from them.” Only they had no money. Peter pulled him to his feet and healed him instead.

I’ve always thought of this story purely from the perspective of the miracle—how wonderful for this man, crippled from birth! But this morning it really struck me that a healing like this forces a huge paradigm shift in the life of the recipient. Presumably this man had spent his life earning his living by begging, and it was socially acceptable because he couldn’t do anything else. But now that he’s healed, he has to go find work to support himself. Now the social niceties and expectations he probably could have let slide his whole life are going to come down full force.

This sparked a couple different thoughts. First, it occurred to me that I’ve never once heard anyone say about Biblical beggars the things that are said about modern-day ones. (They’ll just use it to buy drugs; I tried to give a meal to a homeless guy once and he yelled at me because he wanted money for booze, not real help, etc.) It’s like we can assume the best of those in the pages of Scripture in a way we’re not able to do with people in our own time. I’m sure there are sociological reasons for this—the existence of social safety nets, etc. I’m not trying to pick a fight; it just really struck me this morning that it would have been entirely believable that the man at the Beautiful Gate would be like, “Dude, I didn’t ask you for healing, I just asked you for money!”

But he didn’t. He embraced the gift that wasn’t the one he’d been asking for. And this brings me to my second thought, which is about people like me, utterly ordinary middle-class Americans.

It’s easy to get laser-focused on what it is I think I need, and fail to appreciate–or sometimes even recognize–the actual gift I’ve been given. Easy to get rigid in my view of the world and see only the obstacle that’s just plopped down in my path, and fail to recognize that maybe what I see as an obstacle is actually an opportunity. One thing writing has taught me is that brick walls can’t be beat through, but if I go looking for a path around it, it’s even odds that I’ll find out I’ve just stumbled on the path I was supposed to be following all along.

What if?

Standard

Photo by jumpinjimmyjava, via Flickr

The thing about being a novelist is that you spend your life devising creative ways to torment your characters. When you’re writing contemporary fiction (as opposed to fantasy, for instance), these torments are supposed to be 100% plausible for the real world. The question we are trained to ask is: What if?

I love writing fiction, and I don’t use that word flippantly, since my fiction centers around the real meaning of the word love. But I have to be honest: encouraging this question can be a real difficulty for a person who has a history of latching on to irrational fear.

I spent almost two years being afraid of bridges, because one night I imagined the bridge collapsing and myself confronted with the impossible choice of which child to try to save. (Imagine traveling anywhere at all when the Missouri River crosses the highways to the south, west, and east of my home. Crazy twisty rivers.)

It wasn’t that I refused to go anywhere. It wasn’t even that I was terribly afraid in the many moments I was crossing those big bridges. I knew it was irrational. No, it was the “wee sma’s” (inappropriate apostrophe noted), as L.M. Montgomery used to call them, that were the hardest. Unguarded moments before dropping off to sleep, or when rolling over in the middle of the night, when the entire thing would unfold before my eyes with horrible clarity.

Because what if? I live in a state, after all, that is so opposed to tax increases of any kind that one of those crime shows referenced people buying cigarettes here and reselling them in New York at significant profit. A state where the abysmal quality of the roads is a joke as perennial as the weather, and a bunch of bridges are, in fact, in very bad shape–yet just a few days ago, the legislature voted down a tax increase to fund roads and bridges.

It’s an irrational fear, but unfortunately not that irrational.

I woke up at 5 a.m. on Good Friday to an image of Alex eating something that would cause his beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful and creative mind to be riddled with holes. It doesn’t even make sense now that I write it down.

And yet… what if?

Last Wednesday, I let the three younger kids walk from the church to the nursery without me, because I was running choir practice solo and we were running late. They’re all three busybodies. Nothing is going to happen to any one of them without the others coming running to me about it, and who is going to snatch all three at once? Especially when one of them has a disability? Besides which, Nicholas is turning into a pretty responsible and delightful young man these days, for the most part, deeply cognizant of the fact that he is more advanced in every way now than the sister who was his virtual twin for so many years.

And yet… what if?

A few weeks ago, a friend posted a story by a woman who was in line at the grocery store and the person in front of her asked to hold her little one, and how she started to walk off with the child. It was deeply involved and I can’t find the link now, but the upshot was that this woman was convinced it was a group of people involved in human trafficking. It was horrifying, because I spend my life trying to make sure my kids affirm their own competence in doing things without me breathing down their neck—without feeling insecure because they’re outside my sight lines. Take this to the mailbox; take the garbage down to the compost tumbler. Yes, the two of you may play outside together. Yes, middle schooler, you can walk to the bus stop by yourself. I consciously cultivate independence in my kids because I was so insecure about leaving the familiarity and security of home and my parents.

And yet…what if?

The world is such a scary place, and yet for most of us, it’s really it’s only scary when you process the big things, the things that are elsewhere. When I look around my world, here in middle class America, I see plenty to annoy or infuriate me, but nothing to scare me. My world is filled with good people and with evidence of community members looking out for each other. We don’t live in a world where terror lurks behind every bush and within every car that drives by. It’s the very security of my life that enables me to play around with the question “What if?” If there were real terrors in my life, I wouldn’t be wasting time making them up.

This is what I have to remember, as my kids get older and spread their wings.

When Everything’s Broken…

Standard

Image by { pranav }, via Flickr

I’m having one of those days when it’s hard to look at my life and see anything worth writing about. Sure, I carried my 10-year-old on my back through downtown St. Louis, and my arms are sore. So what? What does my life matter, when the news in other parts of the world just seems so sad…tragic…horrible.

Drought and starvation and Somalia.

Continuing horrors in Syria.

The climate.

Human trafficking. Close to home, no less.

The fact that making up one’s own reality seems to be becoming the norm in politics, rather than an aberration.

And how difficult, how impossible even, it seems that we might find a way forward to a better future.

There’s just so much. Looking up those links underscores how little my in-depth news coverage out of NPR really covers.

I suppose it’s not a bad frame of mind with which to enter Triduum, the holiest weekend of the year. To recognize that the world is impossibly broken and to recognize the only hope for its healing has nothing to do with human beings at all.

This Friday, my boys and I will spend the quiet hours of Good Friday helping organize a warehouse full of donations destined to help refugees landing in my area. It seems like one small thing we can do, one small offering of self. Even if the attitude of at least one of the participants is less virtuous than I might hope.  If our actions become our reality and eventually our character, then maybe what we do matters more than the attitude we hold while doing it.

See you after Easter.

Glimpsing The Future

Standard
Alex with Michael newborn

Older images, same sentiment

Two sixth graders in black T-shirts, in a garage on a warm, windy Sunday afternoon. Their friends and their mothers (except for me, because every time I sit up I feel like throwing up) are out in the driveway, cutting and Gorilla gluing and holding pieces of cardboard together until the glue sets, to make a boat for the Food Bank race in two weeks.

 

But these two boys, in their slim black jeans and their black t-shirts advertising basketball and Marvel heroes, the utterly ordinary stuff that preoccupies preteens, have been called into the shady, cool garage by a single noise from the 6-month-old baby sister of Alex’s friend. She’s in a bouncer amusing herself while the crowd works.

Alex goes down on his knees and starts going, “Hi! Hi!” with a big smile. The baby stares at him–let’s face it, probably his glasses. Alex glances up as his friend comes in and tries to wave him off. “I got this,” he says.

“No you don’t!” says Big Brother. “I’ve been dealing with this for, like, ten months!” And because unlike Alex, he has no fear of looking like a fool, he makes truly crazy faces and noises, and thus wins the Make The Baby Smile Challenge.

Two preteen boys, on their hands and knees on a concrete floor, utterly powerless against the charms of a baby.

Alex with Michael changing table

Despite my general not-feeling-good, I enjoy a private chuckle and a big warm fuzzy, and I think, I am glimpsing the distant future.

And it is beautiful.