Play With Me

Watching my daughter play has reminded me of some of my favorite toys as a child. Before seeing her pull some of them out, I’m not sure I could have told you what they were, but now, after she has loved on them in the same way that I must have, I remember how much fun I had with them.

There is one toy set that I especially remember and that she is having continual fun with each day: the Sesame Street neighborhood playhouse. Burt, Ernie, Cookie Monster, and Big Bird have their little beds and nest, breakfast table and chairs, couch, slide, see-saw, and car to carry their groceries from Mr. Hooper’s store. Oscar the Grouch is in his trashcan outside. It is thirty years old. My daughter loves it. Not because it is Sesame street, but because it is an entry for her to pretend that another world exists.

She doesn’t know these characters, so she has made them her own. She cares for them. They share her crackers, they nurse when they are thirsty, they have apple and blueberry and cherry snacks whenever they can get a bite. They drive around in their little car from the Hearth Plateau to the cliffs of Mount Couch and through the pass to the Caverns of the dining room table.

I love play, because it allows people to imagine another world, one where the rules don’t always apply, where you can try things out to see how they work without being judged for not fitting in. My daughter reminds me that I need to keep playing, to keep imagining a world where things are not always what they seem. Play reminds us that there are more ways to do something than the way that everyone around us is doing it.

The world is a much bigger place when you can play in it, when a box can be stacked, or become a drum, or be a place for a baby to rest, or a hiding place, or a kitchen cabinet. We live in a fascinating place, we just miss it too often, because we expect to see what we already know. What if we looked at the world like a place to play, where we expect to be surprised by what is in store for us?

Gaps in my Heart

I think I’m missing something. I know there must be a hole or a gap or a vacant spot or a lacunae somewhere, but I don’t know where it is and so I don’t know how to begin looking for it and so I don’t know how to remedy the situation.

I’m pretty sure I’m biased.

I am deeply concerned about this. I’m concerned about my own bias because I am sure that it has been affecting how I think about those who disagree with me. It’s become more than merely thinking that those who think differently than me are wrong. I have gone so far into this thinking that I believe that they are misguided, blinded, ill-informed, dupes in a cosmic parody.

It’s not healthy.

My thinking is not healthy not only because I think I’m right, I have gone so far as to refuse to be in conversation with those who think differently with me. I am creating my own echo-chamber. I am creating a prison for my mind.

And I am missing out on seeing the image of God in others. I am missing out on the full representation of the body of Christ.

I am sinning. My bias is leading me to sin more.

I don’t want to be this way.

Changing my heart will not be easy. I cannot do it on my own. Like I said, there is a gaping hole somewhere and I have yet to identify the location.

I was offended recently by someone and it disturbed me so much that I wept deep into the night. I grieved that I was not able to speak to the offense. But even more deeply, I grieved that I struggle with seeing the offender as created in the image of God.

I lost compassion for them. It scared me. Their actions concerned me, but my reaction to them concerned me even more. If I can be affected like this and think like this, then what hope do I have to learn to be better?

It would be much more easy to return to my blissful ignorance than to work hard to move past my own biases to see the full image of the person in front of me. My love isn’t big enough. My heart isn’t open enough. I need to look through the eyes of Christ in order to love and see deeply enough.

First Tantrum

My daughter threw her first tantrum yesterday. She’s one year and five days old. It was a very simple tantrum: I was cutting her nails, and she didn’t like it. She wanted her hand back, she wanted the nail clippers, she wanted to be free. She also very much needed a nap. And so, she cried. This is the first time that I can think of that she has cried for a reason that didn’t have to do with comfort, fear, or hunger.

She was crying because she couldn’t have what she wanted and she would not be consoled. That’s a tantrum. I’m sure she will learn to step up her game in the future, with leg kicking and fist pounding and so forth. This was simply crying to the point of needing to catch her breath. Which, I have to say, it has been a while since she has cried like this. Before, this kind of cry was just in the carseat, because at the beginning, she hated her carseat.

It would have been very easy to give her what she wanted. I could have given her the nail clippers, let her go off with them, and let her play on her own. But, they are nail clippers. They are sharp. They are dangerous. They are not a toy.

They are what she wanted.

I did not give in to her want.

It was not a good thing. To her at least.

I know better than she does. I know where the dangers are.

I could have been soft in setting those boundaries, just this one time, and let her have what she wanted. But what about the next time?

I had to hold this boundary firm, so that I can be soft in other ways.

Because as she cried, I held her. Even as she twisted out of my grip, I let her stand on her own, and held myself open for her. I never let her have the dangerous thing, I didn’t give into her want, but I did offer something better.

This was our first tantrum. It will not be the last.

Because it was the first, I can say that I have done exactly what I wanted every time my daughter has had a tantrum. You can say those kind of things when you’ve only done them once.

There will be tantrums that I give in to. There will be tantrums that I lose my patience. There will be tantrums that I will do the opposite of what I want to do.

I hope to be soft on myself as I learn this parenting gig alongside my daughter. I hope I can show grace to others who are learning as well. I hope that as we learn, we may continue to live into boundaries that allow us to keep our hearts soft towards our children, and those around us.

Sweet Life

It’s ice cream season again. Yes, I suppose that it could always be season, but once summer hits I always want it just a little bit more than usual. And now, just in time for the heat to hit as hard as possible, Summer is officially here, just in time, as well, for me to hit the full term of my pregnancy and moving day. It’s not a big deal… of course not. I wonder when the energy of nesting will set in, and if I will be able to nest in my new home, or if our daughter will surprise us in the next week.

And soon, we get to meet our daughter, discover her personality, find out her favorite foods and whether she likes ice cream or not. I imagine she will. I wonder what flavor will be her favorite and if, like my own, it will change. That is the cool thing about preferences; they are allowed to change. We are allowed to decide that we like new things. It’s a good reason to keep trying new things and new ways of doing them so that we can see if there is a way that works better for us than the old way of doing it.

I wonder if my daughter will be sweet, like the poem about sugar and spice and everything nice… I hope, more than sweet, that she will be compassionate. I don’t much care if she is polite as long as she cares for those around her, for those who do not have the same privileges as her. She is being born to two employed white parents with a good marriage and a stable home. It will be part of our job as parents to teach her that she is able to do things that other boys and girls her age have a harder time at, because of different circumstances. We will teach her that she should listen before she speaks, not to be sweet, but to learn about the people around her.

These are lessons, of course, that will happen in a few years. For now, I need to learn some of these things myself, about what my privilege looks like and how I can be in conversation with those who have lived with different experiences and realities than my own. I continue to learn about how I experience the world differently. I hope to learn enough that I can help my daughter learn as well. And perhaps we will be able to sweeten the lives of others and even share some ice cream together.

Stormy Journey

The beginning of this week was filled with rain. The rain fell for the entirety of Monday, reminding me of the Kenyan rainforest and camping as a child. We kept the windows open through the day as we took our Sabbath. For a while, it felt as though we were keeping a traditional Sabbath, because all the lights were off and we only used the ambient light from the cloudy sky.

The rain fell in gentle patterns and in furious downpours. The lightning filled the sky and the thunder shook the house to its bones. The sweet smell of washed soil filled our home.

God made mud in our yard. Rivulets cascaded through the moss and formed streams of water down past the foot of our house. Water swept the dry dust of the early summer away down to join the streams downhill.

The week has since warmed and brought sweltering heat and bright sunlight to the days since. But here in the midst of the south, in the midst of the harsh summer, we received a week of cool breezes and chilly nights to remind us of the spring that has passed and the autumn that is yet to come.

With the reminders of the gentle coolness of nights of soft breezes, God granted us a space to persevere through the stifling heat of the summer sun.

Sometimes it takes a storm for me to see the calm afterwards. Sometimes it takes a storm for me to learn that I need to take shelter and find a place to weather the storm. Sometimes it takes a storm for me to understand the wonder and awe that comes from experiencing God’s presence.

Sometimes it takes a storm to wash away the dust and form the mud that creates miracles.

Sometimes all I do is stand in the storm.

… … …

When I am in the midst of difficulties, it is hard to see the gleam of God’s good work when everything is coated in a film of dust. All I can see is the dust, the dirt, the demands and burdens of the daily drudgery. Life takes a paler view when all I see is the chores of the next day or week. There is a difference between hard work and work that is hard to do. A simple task can either be the work of a moment or the work of a day, depending on the way that the task is approached.

I love to be enmeshed in work that gives me life and calls my attention. I thrive when I can see the good that comes from what I do, even if it is elusive, ambiguous, or undefined. That kind of work gives me life and joy.

But there are other times when the work before me can seem simple as ever but is as hard as pushing a ever growing stone up a mountain. I become drained merely thinking about the task before me, even before I press my shoulder to the stone to begin the climb. That kind of work leaves me numb and weary.

On occasion, it is not the work itself but the environment surrounding me. If I need to push a boulder up a mountain, it is much easier to do if the ground is firm and solid rather than loose and slick. If I cannot find a place to put my foot to support myself, all I can do is slip and tumble down to the valley again, or scrabble at roots in the crumbling soil, hoping to keep from scattering my support like so many clods of clay.

Whatever the circumstance, the work remains, so I try to take small bits of it at a time, looking at the narrow individual task, rather than be overwhelmed by the scope of the work before me. This is easier said than done, of course. I prefer to look at the wide picture, see the broad scope before me, but looking over the whole journey can stall my action and keep me from attending to the present moment.

And so I trudge on, and hope that in my continuing tenacious determination I find a new place to gain a different perspective. The mud might stick to my boots and make them a few pounds heavier, but the weight does not keep me from moving forward. I look for a stream to wash my boots, or a solid place on which to rest for a while.

My endurance grows. I become stronger as I continue to tread the path before me. The stone may not be any lighter, but I learn a new way to carry it so that it doesn’t wear me out as much.

The miracle is that sooner or later I can put it down; I no longer have to carry it. At first, without the weight of it on my shoulders I feel off balance. I forget how I held my body without the tremendous extra weight upon me. As time goes on, and as I continue to move, I remember what it felt like to not carry a burden the size of a boulder. I learn to set my feet in a new way, different than before I picked up the stone, since now I have changed from my long journey. I have grown stronger, and my new strength grants me grace.

I wish that I didn’t have to go through the hard part of the journey. I wish that I didn’t have to carry a burden in order to learn how to be strong and graceful. I wish the mud could just stay by the riverbank and off of my boots.

But the journey isn’t just about the finish. The path twists and turns and makes switchbacks so that I can learn from where I have been and prepare for where I am going. The mud is a messy reminder of the creative work of God in the midst of the harshest circumstances.

And really, truly, my path is not just about me. It is also about the people around me: those who help me bear my burdens, those who need me to help them carry theirs, and those who walk alongside me. When I find folks who can journey with me, my burden is not as heavy, and the path is not as rough.

I keep my ears open, and my eyes wide, looking for people who help me in my journey. I try not to listen too deeply to the voices that say that I cannot do it, that I will fail at whatever I try. I pay attention to the markers on the trail, listening to my fellow journeyers so that I can continue on the right path. I find shelter from the storms. But occasionally, I’ll step into the downpour, because I know that it is good to be cleansed deep into the cracks and crevices of my soul.