Posts Tagged ‘Others as Gifts’

Small Children Are Whole People -or- “What do you mean, ‘and a half’?!!!”

IMG_4653
A nearly-forgotten pet-peeve resurfaced for me the other night: It really bugs me when people talk about a baby as “half” a person!

This came up while my husband, son, and I were playing a family game. My son got a question about how many pets he would like to have. His answer was 5 1/2. Puzzled, I asked him about the “half” pet.

“Well, you know, like a little baby pet of some kind.”

And I think, or at least, I hope, I mustered a smile and an uncomfortable laugh before I gave my son my thoughts on the “half” verbiage.

I don’t think I would have thought quite so deeply about the “half a pet” explanation he gave me if, when he himself was a “little baby,” I hadn’t already thought quite a lot about how younglings are not “half” anything. When he was very young, I was keenly aware of how wholly there this tiny person was.

Back then, I always felt indignant when staff at restaurants would observe that we had “two and a half” in our party. Inside I was thinking, “What do you mean, ‘and a half’?!!!” My baby being only a fraction the size of a mature human did not mean he was only a fraction of a person!

I worked at being gracious when people referred to my son as “a half.” I didn’t want to be unkind, but I felt like I needed to say something. Quite often I used a little humor to make my point and would playfully mention that we think of him as a whole person.

On a strictly practical level, I can tell you that keeping up with the demands of an infant is no small undertaking! When sleep is scarce, showers get further apart, and conversation becomes increasingly child-related, it is clear that this small person is all there, all the time.

But on a deeper level, I’m big on the sacredness of life and part of that means that I honor and treasure the lives of even very young humans. Treating kids as whole people, respecting them as beings all their own, is really important to me.

I know that my son didn’t mean any harm by talk of half a pet, and restaurant staff don’t intend disrespect by referring to a babe in arms as “and a half.”

But how we talk about this matters. The words we use hold meaning.

It matters if we verbally discount another person (or pet, or any other living being). Even if that person is very tiny, that person is worthy of our full respect.

In fact, I would go further to say that especially if another person is tiny, or vulnerable in any way, the onus is on us to make sure that we honor the agency and dignity of that one.

So, I tried to explain some of this to my son. And I tried to do it light-heartedly enough, because it was game night, after all. I didn’t want to make it too heavy, but I do hope it gave my son something to think about.

If nothing else, my son got to hear about how his mom defended his honor when he was too young to do it himself. And I think, or at least, I hope, that matters.

For Us

Once after a speaking engagement, someone asked me if sharing hard stories helps me. I was puzzled because I ordinarily share because I want to help others know they’re not alone in the hard times.

As one who has a public dimension of speaking and writing it is an interesting question. I know that it does help me to think out loud or on paper about the hard times–but these are very private processes, usually involving tears, many, many tears. The outpouring itself is cathartic.

The public sharing though, that brings its own kind of difficulty. The choice to make the private thoughts public has to bear up under scrutiny: Does this even make sense? Does it really have the chance to help someone else? Does it make me look bad, and if so, how bad? And if it makes me look bad, what might be the costs of looking bad in that way?

After all that, then I weigh the question, am I looking for sympathy? And usually the answer involves a recognition of what a wise Deaconess once said, “There is no such thing as a truly pure motive.”

I would love to be able to stand behind my original sentiment–that I share to help others. Yet I know my altruism isn’t pure. And I wouldn’t do this public bearing of my soul if it didn’t come with at least some kind of benefit to me.

Even now I am aware of the way in which sharing here about my aimless aching just a couple of days ago has given me strength to move through this weekend. It didn’t make the ache go away–that would be far too much to ask. But pouring out the thoughts was the catharsis I so appreciate about writing. And sharing here has helped me because of the feedback from readers who have told me that I am not alone in the aching.

Does sharing help me? I have to say, yes. Does it help others? It seems to. What I’m realizing is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can be both. I hope it is both.

I think what I hope most of all is to deepen community–for you, and for me, for us together–as we share, honestly share, the hard times.

Aimless Aching

IMG_4215

I can’t even sort out what I’m feeling or thinking right now. I don’t even know if I can sort the feeling from the thinking.

Mostly I ache. And the ache cuts through my gut. I want to vomit to get that ache out of me, but I can’t.

I want to cry again and again. Except when the tears roll, I feel the ache roll, wet, down my cheeks. I want the tears to wash the ache away, but after the tears are gone the ache lingers in my face, hot from crying.

I try to use my words to talk out the ache, but they jumble and ramble and go in circles. And I want to get my thoughts around the ache, but the ache mocks my thinking–even my best thinking.

And I can’t tell anymore if I’m choking back the ache or if the ache is choking me.

I don’t even know why I ache so hard. Mostly I’m selfish with my aching–making the pain of the world about me–about the pain that I don’t understand well enough, listen to enough, or address squarely enough.

What right have I to ache when there is pain far worse than mine? So I chastise myself for my selfishness–heaping shame upon the ache which only makes it grow.

The worst ache is when I see people create more aching with hate. I try hard not to trade hate for hate. But the hate is too much for me to process. All I know to do in the midst of the hate is to ache. I ache with the hated and I ache for the hater. I ache for the brokenness and the ache upon hate upon ache upon hate.

I want to do something–to turn the ache into action. The ache is fuel, burning up, but with no engine it is wasted. It is an endlessly renewable source of energy–because there’s always something to ache about–but the energy is wasted without a place to go.

But where am I to go? What am I to do with this hot-burning fuel?

I think words will help. Words should help. I know words. I want to help with my words. I want to use my words to do good. But all I can do today is explain the ache. But what good are even the best words about the ache when so much pain is in the world?

I want to think this aimless aching is just a phase. I hope–I pray–for a time to know better my purpose, my place, my way to use this ache–to aim this passionate-hot ache to sow love so deeply that hate will fade, fail, and fall away.

Such a Time as This

GoStay

My mother-in-law has been having serious health issues that have landed her in the hospital. I’ve come to Houston (where my in-laws live) to be part of my mother-in-law’s care team.

There’s nothing like caring for a sick mother-in-law to bring out the responsible adult in me.

I’ve always enjoyed visiting with my in-laws and I love them dearly.

But, at times, I have behaved, well, like a child, around them. I’m not proud of it, but I know I can be stubborn and rebellious when my elders try to offer guidance or correction.

Now though, with my mother-in-law’s condition being so serious, I am all in.

I can’t explain how exactly I am able to be so fully present as I am now, but I have this incredible peace about being here to help.

It is as if everything in my life up to this point has worked together to prepare me to be right here, right now. I’m sure that sounds strange. But looking back on so much I have lived through and learned I can see how those threads are woven together to clothe me for this time.

The timing alone is perfect. I’m between preaching gigs and between writing deadlines. I’ve relaxed a lot about my rigid online publishing schedule. I’ve done some important delegating. All of these factors allow me the freedom to be right where I am.

But on a deeper level, my spirit is prepared to be here.

I have felt a certain restlessness lately. I came to Texas somewhat reluctantly, then I grew to appreciate it–in large part because of the support my in-laws offered me. But as the time here wore on, I began to feel bound by being here. I didn’t know what to do with myself.

And that longing in my spirit, that longing for purpose, is fulfilled in this time.

Somehow, even my resistance to being bound is oddly sated by the fact that I am but itinerant here in Houston. I go back and forth from my in-laws’ house to the hospital with a couple of bags with just enough of my worldly possessions to get by with.

My sister-in-law joked the other day about me being a gypsy. I kind-of liked that.

I can leave any time I choose.

And yet, I choose to be here.

I wish I didn’t need the freedom to “opt out” as badly as I do. But it is that freedom to go that gives weight and meaning to my decision to stay.

And as much as I love my dear husband, I have always felt like I am lucky to have him and never quite was all that certain what exactly I had to offer him. I know my worth isn’t defined by a single act and there are probably more reasons than I can understand about why he loves me back.

Still, this experience of being here now, helping as I am…I think perhaps, at least in part, that I became a Tinker for such a time as this.

 

Independence Day Reflection on Freedom

20140704-135338-50018726.jpg

I love my country. I’m proud to be an American. I cherish the freedoms we have in our nation. I celebrate our independence on July 4 every year.

But I am also aware that there are reasons to be critical of the ways in which we as a nation and we as individuals have caused harm to other people groups and nations, visitors to our country and even to citizens of our great nation.

The freedom from tyranny, hard-won by our founders, brought (still brings) new challenges.

Freedom from something oppressive brings with it freedom to do something else. Yet, the temptation is great to use our own freedom to seize power and take on the role of the oppressor over and against others.

A parable may help to make my point. Jesus tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:23-35. In this parable a king wants to settle accounts with his slaves. One is brought to him who owes an astronomical debt that he could never possibly repay.

He begs forgiveness:

The slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’  (v 26)

The king has mercy:

And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. (v 27)

He isn’t just given time to repay it, the entire astronomical amount is completely forgiven. The slate is totally wiped clean. He is free! Really and truly and beautifully free from this crushing debt.

But how does he use his freedom?

He uses it to threaten one indebted to him:

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ (v 28)

He could have used his freedom to bless others as he had been blessed. He could’ve completely forgiven the other guy’s debt, or at least given him time to repay it. But he didn’t. He used his freedom to threaten and oppress one less powerful than himself.

What does this have to do with our nation?

Well, in our wide-open landscape of opportunity, there have been times when we have used our freedom to infringe on the freedoms and rights of others.

Colonization.

Manifest destiny.

From sea to shining sea.

This all took massive levels of effort, sometimes even oppressive force.

Even today, issues of how much government is enough–but not too much, how–and whether–we welcome newcomers, and how we settle differences internally and internationally, all of these issues are opportunities to use our freedom in meaningful, constructive ways.

I am not bashing our nation. I’m not moving out. I’m not leaving. But that doesn’t mean I will sit back and nod and pray down God’s blessings on America as if we are uniquely entitled to Almighty Favor.

I celebrate what is good about our nation. We are strong and powerful and fruitful and industrious and beautiful. And I pray that we always, always use our assets to be a source of peace and a catalyst for freedom for others both within and outside of our borders.