All I Know

What a day for the pick-pick-pick-everything-apart news shows, hm? There seems to be something for everyone in Orlando’s tragedy. Terrorism, Islam, gay rights, gun rights, gun control, mental health, politics, security, freedom, racism, persecution, division…

Grief.

My own mind swirls. I have no answers. I have no admonitions to issue. I have no suggestions for how such events can be prevented. All I know is that the problem is bigger than any one of these things. (And that anyone who tells you there’s a simple solution is mistaken.)

We are human and we hurt. We hurt others and we suffer hurts ourselves. We wrestle with evil and anxiety and anger and fear, goodness and love and service and sacrifice.

I know good and loving people who are Muslim, who denounce and abhor the terrorism committed in their faith’s name and who suffer its after-effects. I hurt for them and I pray for their safety. But I think the West should be more, not less honest about the social and religious turmoil feeding terrorism today. I think we should be more active in confronting it and I think we Christians should be brave enough to offer our alternative to a theology that takes violence and domination as its central tenants.

I know good and loving people who are gay, who struggle to feel welcome and safe and loved. I grieve for the loss their community sustained in this attack and for the fears it will kindle in them. I pray for their safety and peace of mind. But I disagree with our culture’s take on love and sexuality and marriage, including its championing of homosexuality and other lifestyles too. I don’t think I should have to agree with someone to mourn their loss or pray for their wellbeing.

I know good and loving people who own guns, who abide the law even when they disagree with it, who feel scapegoated for the terrible actions of a few. I want people to understand them. But sometimes I wonder whether it’s all worth it – whether something that is overwhelmingly enjoyed as a hobby should trump the safety of those who are the targets of terrorism and domestic violence and achingly-damaged attention seekers. I just don’t know.

I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know what will work, what can be fixed, what we simply have to accept as members of a free society.

All I know is to plead:

Lord, help us.

Lord, be with us.

Lord, bless the souls of the departed and grant them eternal rest.

Lord, give comfort to those who mourn.

Lord, heal our brokenness.

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~~~

Afterthought:

When I went outside this afternoon to snap pictures of broken things for this post, I (obviously) chose a tree which had some of its top branches snapped off in a storm.

A few minutes later as I was walking on past, I noticed the base of a tall, strong-looking tree and stopped to admire it. The tree gave me a sense of peace, of well-being; I took comfort in how sturdy and resilient it looked.

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In a moment, I realized I was looking at the very same tree. The brokenness that had seemed its primary characteristic from one angle was insignificant from another.

I can’t help but think that maybe we — we humans, our world — maybe we are something like that tree.

These Walls - All I Know

 

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 13)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

Well, we survived the first day of school! Though by “survived,” I mean something different than most parents do in referencing that Big Day.

As expected, our big 3-year-old (and his parents) had no problem with the drop-off. He was so busy building with blocks that he barely even acknowledged our goodbyes. (Our 2-year-old, however, cried angry tears and shouted “No bye! No bye!”) Big boy did fine in class; I did fine without him (though it definitely felt strange to only have one child with me); and little brother did tolerably well. He was a little sullen and kept asking for “Beh boys” (his nickname for his brother), but there were no more hysterics.

So. No real problems there. It ended up being the pick-up, post pre-school day that we had to survive. While all of my boy’s classmates ran to their moms with shining, happy faces at pick-up time, my guy ran straight past me, grumbling and grumpy. As we neared the car, all became clear: “I don’t wanna go home!” Now there were tears. And wails. And refusals of my attempts to take yet more pictures of the poor kid: “You already did dat!” I had to wrestle him into his car seat (no small feat; the child weighs 40 pounds) as he continued to sob, “I DON’T WANNA GO HOME!” (What must strangers have imagined of our home life?)

On the drive home, he huffed, “But, I didn’t want to weave!” Once home, we barely made it through the door before he flung himself onto the floor – an action borne of exhaustion and an unwillingness to move himself further into the place where he did not! want! to! be! A few minutes later, when I told him that I’d missed him, he answered, “I didn’t miss you!” (Ouch!) It continued. Him: “Did Daddy miss me?” Me: “I’m sure he did!” Him: “Did my brother miss me?” Me: “He missed you very much. Did you miss him?” Him: “Nope.”

You’d think he’d take a really good nap after all that, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong. Two hours! Two hours I left those boys in their room before I finally gave in and retrieved their annoyingly-awake little selves. They talked and whined the whole time, except for the few minutes, here and there, where they’d be totally quiet, probably teasing me: “Shhh! Let’s pretend we’re asleep… Shhh… Wait for it… Wait for it… Ha! We’re awake! Fooled her!” Their beautiful behavior continued well into the evening.

I’m now torn between wanting him to go back to school again ASAP because it’s clearly where he wants to be, and never wanting him to go back again, because then he’ll never want to leave.

Here are the before pics:

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And here are the after:

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Sobbing because he doesn’t want to leave.

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— 2 —

Speaking of our 3-year-old and grumpiness… it’s been his M.O. lately. Evidence:

Nina, from the Sprout Goodnight Show: “Sproutlets, are you having a good night?”
Him: “No, I’m NOT havin’ a good night.”

He and I have been having a tough time of it the past few weeks. He shouts a mean-spirited “No!” or is otherwise obstinate in the face of my efforts to get him to… do normal things. Like go to the bathroom. Or wash his hands. Or eat. Or get in the car. So I get angry, and he gets put in time-out, so he melts down, and I get more angry… It’s been a little rough. (But please, do not tell me that “It’s not so much the terrible two’s as the terrible three’s!” At the moment, I cannot take the suggestion that this is going to last for another year.)

— 3 —

Per the above, the other day I happened to re-read a post I wrote a couple of months ago: A Love That Changes You. (If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you will. The re-read pushed it way up my list of favorites.) I wrote it right around my boy’s third birthday, and though the post hammers away at one of my favorite points – that each and every individual person is infinitely precious – it’s filled with love for this little guy in particular. It was good for me to revisit. In this season of “NO!” and “I didn’t miss you!” and “I don’t wanna go home!” it was good for me to recall that image of the rocking chair. It was good for me to read about my boy’s soft cheeks and long eyelashes. It was good for me to focus on my love for him, rather than my frustration.

— 4 —

That same post also touched me in a different, much sadder way, given recent events in Syria. More than a thousand people – many of them women and children – were killed in that chemical attack a couple of weeks ago. More than a hundred thousand have been killed in the two years since the fighting began. Millions have had to leave their homes, to live as refugees, to wander in search of safety.

I thought of them yesterday afternoon as I walked the trails of a local park with my boys. I looked out over the idyllic, peaceful scenery: forest, rolling hills, green farmland. I watched my boys run and squeal and crouch down to investigate small creatures, without a care in the world. We were safe. We were relaxed. We had the luxury of taking for granted our home and our family and our very lives.

Luxury. It’s easy to forget what a luxury such security is. But for millions of people living today, and for countless millions who lived before us, life has not been so much about seeking happiness as it has been about surviving.

There are mothers very much like me in Syria today. Mothers who dare not walk outside with their children for fear they will get caught in a crossfire. Other mothers who feel compelled to walk with their children, seeking refuge from a home that has become too dangerous. As I wrote in that post, “I hear about atrocities and I think of mothers rocking their babies.” It’s a powerful image for me.

I hope you’ll join me in answering Pope Francis’ call to prayer and fasting tomorrow, Saturday 7. Please pray for peace in Syria.

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— 5 —

The reason I re-read “A Love That Changes You” the other day is because I heard a compelling, sobering program on NPR’s Fresh Air. The story, called “Program Fights Gun Violence Bravado With ‘Story of Suffering,’” focused on a program at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. “Cradle to Grave” brings small groups of at-risk youth into the hospital to show them the repercussions of being shot. It traces the story of a 16-year-old who was killed in 2004, sharing the gritty details of the treatment he received, the instruments that were used on him, and the impact his death had on his family. To me, the piece pounded away at the “every life is precious” theme from my June post. It was at once sickening, sobering, edifying, and hopeful. It did something to recognize the victims of violence in our own country, to remember the communities in our own backyard where people can’t forget that security is a luxury.

— 6 —

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love Simcha Fischer. This week, I particularly loved her post, “The Allure of Either/Or.” In it, Simcha discusses recent debates regarding rape, modesty, men and women’s sexual attitudes towards each other. She notes how the debates tend to focus on one side or the other: either the burden for good behavior falls entirely on women or entirely on men. She writes:

Why does it have to be one or the other?  Why does it have to be either/or?  What ever happened to both/and?  I have boys and girls.  I tell my girls that they need to pay attention to what they wear, both for their own safety and sense of self-respect, and so as not to make trouble for people they meet.  And my husband tells my boys that they must respect women no matter what they wear; that somebody else’s dress or behavior, whether it’s intentional or clueless, is never an excuse for bad behavior on their part.  Both/and.

As Simcha points out, “both/and” applies to lots of issues. I feel her frustration all the time. Sometimes I shout at my radio: “Why do I have to choose a side? Why can’t both sides be a little right and a little wrong? Why can’t the answer be more nuanced?” I don’t feel that on every issue, of course, but there are an awful lot of political/societal issues that just aren’t easily answered. We shouldn’t feel compelled to answer them in an either/or fashion. I touched on this, on a very basic level, in my abortion post. One doesn’t have to be a pro-life Catholic or a social justice Catholic. It’s both/and. One is incomplete without the other.

— 7 —

Well, this 7 Quick Takes was a little heavier than my usual. So let me wrap up with a nice, simple little story.

Lately when we’ve encountered other families at the park (pretty rare, actually – we tend to go at everybody’s else’s naptime or dinnertime, I guess), we keep experiencing the same scenario: Our three-year-old is so excited to see the children that he follows them around, wanting to play with them. Inevitably he starts chasing them, roaring. He’s three. The kids, who are a few years older than him, plea to me with a whiny little “Can you tell him to stop chasing us?” I agree and then have to go break my little boy’s heart, because the wimpy eight-year-olds can’t handle some roaring. (Or more like it, they don’t want to play with a “little kid.”)

So when I saw a large group of older elementary and middle school kids, accompanied by a teenager, arrive at the park the other day, my heart sank. I braced myself for my little guy’s excitement and the big kids’ scorn. Perhaps with some disagreeable behavior and questionable language thrown in for good measure. But it never materialized. The big kids started straight in on a game and asked my boy if he wanted to play too. One took his hand and showed him what to do. They all talked to him and praised his ability on the playground equipment. (“Wow! That’s awesome! I can’t even do that!”) They commented, repeatedly, on how cute both of my boys were. Before I knew it, they’d taken the almost-two-year-old under their wings too.

Moreover, they were so nice to each other. There was no mean-spirited teasing, they were polite and kind, and they seemed genuinely concerned with each other’s wellbeing. It was enormously refreshing to witness – such a nice, simple little breath of fresh air for the middle of my week.

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Well, I guess that’s it. Have a great weekend, everyone, and don’t forget to stop by Jen’s to see all the rest of the Quick Takes!

The Best Gift A Parent Can Give

I heard a really moving story this morning on the radio. “Beating The Odds: Making The Grades Without A Mother’s Help” told about a Washington, D.C. teenager named Jennifer Hightower. Jennifer has excelled in school (earning a 3.9 GPA!) without the help of her mother, who has struggled with drug addiction and illness.

I’ll write more on it later, but I have something of a left/right ideological tug-of-war going on in my mind on some subjects. (On others there are no struggles at all – my mind is firmly on one side of the ideological divide.) Poverty-related issues most definitely fall into the “tug-of-war” category. Jennifer’s story was interesting to me in part because it satisfied both sides of my ideological leanings in this area: The left-leaning side was gratified that the story shone some light on the daunting (and often ugly) challenges that so many Americans face in their efforts to succeed – or even just to function – in our society. The right-leaning side was proud of Jennifer and her commendable efforts to excel despite those challenges. (Not to mention her happy, positive outlook on life and her forgiving attitude toward her mother.)

The story also broke my mommy heart a little. The idea of a small child taking on the responsibilities of keeping her home clean, cooking, and excelling in school without a mother’s guidance – it’s hard to take in. But a simple image is what touched me most: “I had to teach myself how to tie my own shoes,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t have somebody to sit down and tell me this bunny tie that you do. All that stuff you see on TV, I didn’t have that.”

For the umpteenth time since I became a parent, a small image of trial and deprivation took the wind out of my sails. On a daily basis, I worry about keeping my home orderly, washing the dishes, cooking decent meals for my family, getting my boys enough run-around-outside time. And yes, all of those things matter. But at the base of it, what really matters is that my husband and I love our boys powerfully, unreservedly, consistently… in all the best ways one can love. And that we take care of them in the big and the little ways. Our boys don’t have to wonder whether they are loved or whether they will have their needs met. Those thoughts don’t have to cross their innocent little minds. At times like these (thinking of Jennifer’s story), that seems like such a luxury. Countless children don’t get to have that sense of security. I feel so humbled and so very grateful that I received that gift from my parents – and that my husband and I are able to give it to our boys.