Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I came downstairs last night in tears after putting Tariku to bed.  As a parent, you get a few, precious moments with your children when they are feeling particularly tender and open about what's going on in their hearts.  I had snuggled down under the covers with him to say prayers and go through our night time routine. He asked me if I would tell him a story about myself when I was little.  Instead, I asked him if he wanted to hear a story about him when he was little.  We have very few of those, as we adopted Tariku from Ethiopia when he was 4 1/2.  In fact, the earliest story I know about him that wouldn't be painful for him to hear is of the day we first laid eyes on each other.  So I told him the story of a mommy and daddy who flew across the ocean to meet a precious little boy and how nervous they were.  I told him how the little boy jumped up and down when he saw us; how he came to us with open arms and kissed our faces.  I told him how he went over and got a chair for me when I was sitting on the ground and insisted I sit on it. I told him about how sweet it was that he picked flowers out of the ground and brought them to me that first day.  I told him how we were scared that maybe he wouldn't like us or want to come with us, and how overjoyed we were that he loved us right away.  

He was holding my hand and stroking it with his fingers the whole time I was telling him the story.  When I finished, he said "I'm so glad you are my mommy" in a tender, quiet voice that made my eyes fill up.  And then it all came flooding out of him.  

"Mommy, sometimes I cry for all the kids in Africa who don't have mommies or daddies.  Sometimes... about right now... I want to be a grown up so I can go to Africa and adopt as many kids as I can.  But it's hard to adopt kids, right, mom?  There are special papers you have to have and you have to go to court. Mommy, will you help me go to the court and sign all the papers to adopt the kids?  ...Mommy, what if all the kids get adopted? How will I be able to adopt then? Will there still be kids who need families?  I think there will. ...Maybe I can be President of Africa someday. Can I be President?  If I can be President of Africa then maybe I can make sure all the kids have medicine they need and clean water to drink.  Do you think I can do that, mommy?"

That's just a snapshot of the 25 minutes we spent talking together.  Much of it was too precious and intimate to put on a blog.  We both had tears running down our cheeks as we laid there with our arms wrapped around each other tightly, whispering the deepest longings of our hearts.  An 8 year old and a 39 year old... completely bound together by Love, glimpsing each other's desires, hurts and dreams...tears falling over the injustice in this world and the ache to do something about it.  

And I told him, not just with my mouth, but with all of the energy of my heart, "Yes, son. You can adopt kids.  You can help these kids. And you don't have to wait until you are an adult."  And immediately, I was smacked in the face with the reality of the challenges my son faces.  I had just come out of an IEP meeting with his teachers earlier in the week where we had talked about all the learning challenges he faces due to his severe starvation during the formative years of the brain as well as the head trauma he suffered. Our hope is that he can read some day... that his brain will start to function in such a way that the pieces will fall together for him to make the necessary connections.  
But, here is the reality - he IS making the truly necessary connections.  He is making the connections that matter.  His connection to compassion and to the very heartbeat of God is real and thriving and it WILL change the world.  It already has.  And THAT connection to compassion and love will take him places most of us adults would never dare go.  I look at my son and I see years of sadness, struggle, abuse and pain turned into fuel for love and justice and compassion.  I see how his precious heart has healed and is continuing to heal. I see in him a genuine and authentic desire to believe that he can, should, and will make a difference for suffering children in Africa.  And I see that no matter what challenges he might have on paper, God's plans for my son are real and big and bold, as they are for all of our children.    

It would serve us well to start looking past the challenges our children are faced with and truly SEE them for who they really are.  That child who lashes out at you, that child who pushes your every button, that child who retreats in fear and anxiety, that child who suffers with disabilities, that child who just can't make friends for some reason, that child who struggles with unhealthy responses, that child who doesn't seem to be attaching to you, that child who by every standard of this world seems less than the others around them... SEE them for who they really are.  See them for who they can become.  See in them the gifts that are there.  

As I was laying there next to T last night, dealing with an ocean of emotions, it struck me: This is the very thing God does for us.  He looks past my perceived hindrances.  He looks past my struggles with fear and doubt.  He sees past all my insufficiency.  And as my heart dares to whisper the question "Do you think I can?", his eyes light up and the corners of his mouth turn up and he leans in and whispers back - "Of course you can".  He looks at all our junk and baggage and says "So what?  Are you really going to let that stop you?".   He's made all of us for great things... He has put love and desire and passion in our hearts for the very things that move his own.  Tariku, at age 8 is paying attention to those things.  I truly believe he sees the potential of what he can do more than he sees any impossibility. What if we adults lived more like that?  What if we began to breathe that sort of attitude and life into our children?  

Somebody once said that we can only give what we have.  That leaves a very important question out there for me, as a parent.  How do I give the belief to my children that they have been given power to not only dream, but to act on those dreams if I don't believe it for myself?  I think I need to say this again because I can hear the virtual crickets from here. :)

How do we give the belief to our children that they have been given power to not only dream, but to act on those dreams if we don't believe it for ourselves?

At some point, our kids will begin to see the sham of us living shallow, fearful, unfulfilled lives while telling them they can do anything and that they have been set apart for a special purpose, and they will stop believing us.  

This beautiful, important encounter with my son last night caused me to stop and catch my breath.  At age 39 I've wanted to ask the same question of God that Tariku was asking of me... "Do you think I can?"  But I've been afraid to ask it because I have been certain of the answer and it's terrifying to me.  But it's time to stop being terrified and start being sure of the fact that "The One who calls us is faithful and HE WILL DO IT".  The outcome isn't on me, but the obedience to dream, to try, to dare, to risk is.  My 8 year old is ready and willing.  It's time his mama jumped on board.  

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Laying Down Our Weapons of Self Destruction

I'm quite sure I would be appalled if I truly knew how many crazy things I have given my kids permission to do while I was under the influence of my phone. You know how it goes... you are beat from a day of work, laundry, grocery shopping, bill paying, schlepping your kids from one place to another, and you reach for your phone or laptop to just disengage from life for one sweet second via social media. But it is never one sweet second. The kids come in halfway through whatever video you have been sucked into watching and all you hear come out of their mouths is some sort of sound that seems to have an inflection at the end, which tells your brain they are asking you a question, to which you mumble "sure" to them without raising an eyebrow so you can keep on concentrating on your video.  A few minutes later you slowly register that there is hysterical screaming and total chaos coming from the kitchen and you march in and ask "what in the world is going on in here?" only to be told by your children that they are "just trying to get ice cream to eat at 5:30p.m. like I said they could".  Wait.  What?  

But it really just gets worse.  My phone is always on me - literally.  It's an attachment to my body.  Whenever there's a lull in whatever might be going on in my world, I reach for it habitually.  Just a quick scroll through Instagram or email or FaceBook or Pinterest or Tumblr or... or...or...  What in the world am I looking for there???  And that, my friends, is a very hard, very worthy question.  Am I looking for proof of how great my life is compared to everyone else's?  Am I looking for approval from people?  Am I just trying to fill myself with noise so that I don't have to get quiet with myself?  In all the reaching for, the swiping, the scrolling, the "liking", the posting... what am I really doing it all for?  To stay connected with other people?  That's what we tell ourselves.  But I'm becoming more convinced there's something deeper going on there, at least for me there is. 

Comparison is indeed the thief of joy.  There is just no doubt about it. Scrolling through other people's "internet" lives can give us the feeling that we are not measuring up... that we are somehow lacking because our lives don't look like someone else's.  It even takes us to the point of being unable to rejoice with others when things are going well for them, because we are too busy thinking about all the ways our lives don't look like theirs and how we wish what happened to Suzy down the street or Fred across the country would just happen to us.  There have been days I've walked away from my FaceBook feed wondering what in the world I'm doing with my life because everyone else seems so... together.  And so technology that can be used in a healthy manner for connecting with people at some level, becomes a breeding ground for discontentment. It makes us wonder if we are doing enough... it makes us wonder if we have enough... it makes us question if we are enough.

But perhaps the bigger, deeper question I need to be asking is what I am modeling for my children.  We have these beautiful little people around us all the time.  They are watching us.  They are emulating us.  I didn't grow up with technology like this.  I have never had modeled for me what a healthy balance of it looks like.  But I don't have to have it modeled to know that I am addicted to it. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to take a look around and see that we have become connected to our technology (and all the praise or criticism that comes with it) and disconnected from the people right in front of us, or next door to us. What is this teaching my children?  How will they learn to interact in the world in a healthy way if their mommy doesn't know herself?

This isn't meant to start a debate about the wonders or evils of technology. It's meant as a confession.  As a wife, I am sorry that the glow of my phone or my iPad or my computer takes away from face to face time with the love of my life. As a mom, my heart aches that my kids may sometimes get the feeling I'm too "busy" with whatever device is within reach to stop and really see them - to really hear them.  As a friend, I long to have more face to face coffees or phone conversations instead of text exchanges.  I long to be fully present.

One of my closest friends in the world received the news over the weekend that her baby brother took his life.  She is eulogizing him the day after Valentine's Day.  I just can't imagine.  I was thinking about all this stuff the few days prior to her telling me this horrific news, and all week long I have not been able to shake this thought: Life is short.  None of us are guaranteed our next breath or a next interaction with those we love.  If ever there was a time and a need to be fully present with those around us, the time is now.  

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day... it's the day we show our love.  So this week, my family laid down our weapons.

We now have a "Be All Here" bowl.  Starting at 5:00p.m. every day, no electronics are allowed until the next afternoon.  It's only been a few days, but there have been more games played together as a family, more conversations and more snuggles than there have been in a long time.  The kids are ecstatic.  They willingly toss their iPod Touches in the bowl.  It only goes to prove the point... we hunger for real live connection, real live touch, real live words being spoken to us, real live eyes looking into our own.  

We will ask the same of people who enter our home as our guests. This bowl is a communal bowl where we collectively will choose each other over anything else.  I cannot tell you the number of times we have had people in our home and I look around and most of us are on our phones (myself included).  It's like we've forgotten how to actually BE with the people in front of our faces.  Love is presence.  Caring for each other and truly seeing each other looks like laying aside any distractions.  People matter.  They matter more than anything happening on the internet - not just sometimes, but always.

As I think of my precious friend Lindsey today and the daunting task that lies ahead of her on Saturday, I choose love.  I choose presence.  I choose people.  God, give us grace to do it more.