Hop along, Easter Bunny: I mean it.

Little ones say things that literally take my breath away. I wrote this 3 years ago, and it gave me chills to remember it. I thought I’d share with you why our family (still) has the Easter bunny tradition pass over us.

It seems that at least once a week, My eldest and I have a conversation that astounds me. She is not yet four, but the questions she asks and her grasp of things is amazing to me.

But perhaps just as amazing as her questions is how, when I am answering her questions, the words seem to take on extra gravitas as they come out of my mouth. Things that I’ve known for years suddenly become REALLY, REALLY REAL as I explain them to my daughter. It brings me to tears on occasion.

For example, last week as we were driving we were talking about the fields and trees we were passing and how God had made them all. She remembered we learned Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and asked more about creation. And as I began to explain to her that God made things by SPEAKING – as in, he just opened his mouth and said it, and then it was, the truth of that fact dawned on me again with such power that it literally made my pulse quicken. I’ve known that truth for years, but as we talked about how God didn’t make things out of wood or playdoh or paper like we do; he just said “let there be a sun”, and there was a sun! … I was filled afresh with wonder.

Or again last week, we were talking about calendars. She was complaining that it was very hard to wait until November when it would be her birthday. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I know it’s hard to wait, but if you take it one day at a time, eventually your birthday will come. The best we can do is just go day by day, and after a while it will be your birthday, and granny will be here, and then it will be Christmas, and one day even Jesus will come back. Just one day at a time.
Her: That’s silly: Jesus coming back.
Me: No really – He is coming back. One day we are going to see him face to face, just like you are looking at me now. (Again – moment of stunned realization as the gravitas of that truth hit me afresh. I got teary eyed.)
Her: But Mom, Jesus is too big to fit into our house.
Me: (laughing and amazed) Actually, Jesus is a regular sized person – so he could visit us in our house. But the bible says when he comes back he’s going to take us to be with him in the new heaven and new earth where God has made new homes for us all to live in.
Her: (thinking) Is everyone going to live there?
Me: No, only people who love Jesus and believe in Him and want to be with him now will also be with Him then.
Her: (thinking) Mom, what are the names?
Me: The names?
Her: The names of the people who don’t believe in him!!? We need to pray for them, Mom.

Oh my, between her serious little questions and articulating answers for her, the weight of eternity hung heavily over me that day. There’s something about saying these things out loud to her simple, trusting face which makes the enormous responsibility of parenting loom all the larger. I DARE not say these things to her unless I am completely and utterly convinced they are true.

Conversations with my children have forced me, again and again, to revisit why I am a Christian. Not just because it ‘works for me’ (although it does), or because God has answered prayers (although He has)… but fundamentally because I am convinced that Jesus lived, died and was who He said he was. While at law school I applied ALL of my ‘laws of evidence’ rules and all of my critical reasoning to figuring out whether there was sufficient evidence in Jesus – and came out with a mental conviction which completely overwhelmed my expectations.

And so I say these weighty things to my trusting daughter with a straight face and a full heart, and as I speak it – the truth of it is tested again for me.

Which brings me to the Easter Bunny and Santa. Before my children were born I had thought that navigating ‘what to do about Santa and the easter bunny and the tooth fairy’ would be big issues for me. As it turns out, they are not big issues at all.

Now that I find myself in real conversation with a daughter (as opposed to hypothetical ‘what would I do if I were a parent’ imagining), and the experience of ‘the gravitas of truth’ has fallen on me – I just CAN NOT, even if I wanted to, look at my daughter straight-faced and tell her that those things were true if they are not.

I tell her many things, and I read her many stories – and she needs to know from my face and tone of voice that some of those fall into the ‘pretend’ category (little red riding hood, the monster at the end of this book, sesame street and Santa), but others fall into the ‘real’ category (David and Goliath, Jesus rising from the dead, evaporation and how clouds are formed). So far, she’s had no difficulty in understanding that. She has a lively imagination, and her make-believe world and made-up stories are often hilarious patchwork narratives comprised of Aesop’s Fables and Old Testament characters… but at the end of the day, she knows that God is real, and Curious George isn’t.

And so we are happy to tell her stories which are fun and fill her in on our cultural narrative. I want her to know about Goldilocks and the three bears, Sleeping Beauty and Old Mother Goose. They form part of our rich heritage. And so, dare I say it, does Santa and the tooth fairy. They are fun, and she needs to be able to understand the symbols and pictures all around her during the year…

But as someone who feels the sharp conviction of truth when I have to speak it out loud to my daughter, I cannot and will not tell her that Santa is coming down the chimney this Christmas and wake her up with excitement to see what he’s brought. Her trust is too precious and the truth is too great to mess with those boundaries.

Note to a Junior High Student

Dear Student,

Today, I sat next to your teacher on the plane. We sat down and exchanged names and destinations. We were both returning home from the same writers conference. “Are you a writer?” I asked. “I’m an English teacher,” she said, “but I go for the love of reading.”

We settled into our flight. I dived into a bowl of pretzels; she pulled out her laptop. I confess I peeked at her screen.

She was grading your paper.

Her fingers shimmered over the keyboard: selecting text and typing notes in the margin: “use size 12 font here”, “capitalize your title”, “can you think of a way to tie these sentences together for more emphasis?” and, “this paragraph would be better if you introduced your big idea here.”

And then this: “:-)” . . . A smiley face of encouragement and enjoyment.

I think perhaps she spent more time molding your first paragraph than even you did: shaping it, clarifying it, edging it towards expression and excellence.

And I wondered, student, if you know how much your teacher loves you? Did you know that she writes all those notes not to point out your faults but to point out your future: she is shaping YOU, clarifying YOU, edging YOU towards expression and excellence.

Did you know she spent so much time on this? She was tired this morning. She could have slept or read a book, she could have read your paper and just issued you a grade. But instead, she made notes because she is investing in you. She fussed with your grammar and punctuation and sentence structure because she believes you have a voice and it is important and she wants it to be heard.

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“This is a strong paragraph,” she typed. “Make this active rather than passive,” and “add a space at the beginning of this sentence.”

I remember getting papers back in high school. I remember greedily searching for my grade. The grade was all that mattered: the teachers’ notes a supplementary thought. If the grade was a B, I was already upset. The notes, I thought, were just details to put me down.

Student, I watched your teacher grade your paper, and I want you to know she is not writing to put you down. She is writing to help you up. She loves you. She believes you matter.

Tomorrow you will get your paper back and it will be filled with the red ink of correction. Perhaps you will feel discouraged. Angry. Disappointed. Bummed.

But I write this in the hope that maybe, just for a moment, in those notes you will see something else: the time and dedication of a teacher who believes in you, wants you to succeed, wants you to fly.

She’s not on your back, she’s at your side.

Please, read her notes, and know that you are loved.

Reach

I can’t have been more than 8 years old the first time I heard an appeal to send missionaries out. “To the ends of the earth,” they said. “We have to send people to the ends of the earth before Jesus returns. With your help, we can do this before the end of the twentieth century.”

I marveled as my step-mother wrote an enormously generous check to help fund the messengers, even as I swallowed back doubts at the impossibility of the task.

I imagined little villages of little people, semi-clad with exotic piercings and clickety languages. I wondered what would happen to the villages no-one knew existed, to people groups tucked away in dark corners of closed countries. How would we reach them?

I smiled at my 8year old self this week as I listened to missionaries of over 30 years share about their experiences. Years and years in a remote location. Years and years of language study. Years and years of patient relationship building and Bible translation – the fruits of which were a copy of the New Testament, Genesis and Exodus in their heart language. With the double zinger challenges of printing difficulties and Bible-possession being illegal – precious few copies were passed out.

The missionary shrugged: “if we gave out 20 copies, it was a lot.” I sighed. Not many reached, I thought.

He continued, “but the internet… well, the internet has changed everything.” They uploaded their years of work onto a website, and marveled at the reaching power which the internet age and smart phones could muster.

He laughed as he told us some of the numbers: to date 23,000 copies of their bible translation have been downloaded digitally. “In the past, showing someone a bible could get you imprisoned. But these days, you can whip out a cellphone in the middle of a market and show a friend what you just read, and no one will bat an eyelid.”

I listened to him speak and I laughed. Laughed at how impossible the task of reaching the ends of the earth had seemed to my eight year old self. Laughed at how God, looking down on little me, must have been thinking “just you wait, little one, wait and see what I have just around the corner.”

I’m convinced that just as God was behind the invention of the printing press – a great technological leap that radically changed the world’s access to bibles – so too God had big plans for the internet.

I know we love to harp about the dangers of the web and addictions to social media, but then again – there never was a good thing which hasn’t been twisted by the tempter. A warped version of a thing should never make us assume that the thing is inherently warped. God creates good things; Satan twists them; God redeems them. It is His way.

And I marvel once again at God who is greater than Google, who is the ultimate web Master. I marvel that 23,000 bibles were safely downloaded in a tucked away corner of the globe. I marvel that this little blog of mine has been viewed in more than 100 countries worldwide in its 10 months of existence. What? Me? Playing a part in the destiny of the nations while wearing my pajamas?

I marvel at His Reach. His arm is not too short to save.

Photo credit: Getty Images
All Scripture links to Biblegateway.com

I Can Raise An Army

Please welcome Liz Mallory to the Words That Changed My World series. I met Liz through the College Ministry I served with for a few years, and got to know her as a fantastic person in real life, long before I knew she was a fantastic writer too :-) I’m delighted to have her over in my corner (pun intended!) today.

I really wanted to play soccer. So I signed up. Doesn’t sound that crazy, right?

I was 12. Long past the age when kids start soccer. In San Diego, maybe it’s the Latino influence, but everyone plays soccer and everyone starts when they’re 5 years old. Except me.

Oh, and no one starts later than 5 years old. You just don’t. Either you start as a kid and get good by the time you’re old enough to play in real leagues, or else you don’t play at all.

Except me. I wanted to play.

Soccer Field, by Shena Tschofen

Soccer Field, by Shena Tschofen

I didn’t know one thing about the rules. I didn’t know the names of the positions. I learned about throw-ins and corner kicks, forwards and sweepers. I learned how to dribble and how to aim…well, roughly.

My teammates ignored me. They were experts and I was a liability. My coach didn’t bother with me and stuck me in the goal. I had one friend who taught me almost everything; I didn’t make friends with anyone else. They didn’t want me. I was the lousy one who knew nothing.

It was a horrible season, too. We didn’t win a single game. But I was initiated now. For some reason my parents couldn’t fathom, I wanted to sign up again.

Over the course of the next four years, I went on to play 10 seasons of soccer. By the end, it didn’t matter that I’d started years too late; I was as good as the rest of them. It turned out to be my favorite sport, and my best sport, too. I never would have known if I hadn’t taken the risk.

I started playing soccer because I wanted to, not for anything else. And I reaped rewards.

But unbeknownst to me, other people were watching. Listening. My mom shared with other moms how her daughter was playing soccer even though I was by anyone’s standards too old to start. The story got around.

A few years later, an older girl who I knew from homeschool was telling me about her soccer experiences. She hadn’t started until she was 14. Whoa! I laughed with her about how hard/brave/crazy it is to start playing so late.

“You know, Liz,” she said, “I started playing because of you.”

“Me?”

“Yeah. I heard you were starting soccer and I thought, if she can start late, why can’t I?”

That comment stunned me. She was brave enough to defy soccer culture because of me? I hadn’t known she’d heard my story. I hadn’t been trying to set a precedent for late-bloomers. I just wanted to play soccer.

But what I’d done for myself had laid a path for other people. When I thought I was doing things for my own sake, I was being watched. And followed.

Even though it was just soccer, maybe because it was “just” soccer, it was that comment that made me realize what I do has an impact on other people’s actions and attitudes. I am a role model even when I don’t mean to be.

At any moment, my innocent actions could be the catalyst for someone else’s courage.

The story still heartens me. As a freedom fighter, I try to make every word and action of mine count towards ending modern-day slavery, but sometimes it doesn’t seem enough. My small actions of buying used items and trying to mention sex trafficking at every opportunity so people will be aware—how can my small voice and my one pair of hands mean anything?

But it’s not just my voice I’m raising. Every time I speak out, someone else might really be listening. They might realize for the first time what slavery means, that it’s real, and that they want to stop it. Next time, it’ll be them speaking out against slavery.

I can’t stop slavery alone. But I can help raise an army. If I can get one girl to play soccer, I know I can get people to join me in the fight against slavery and sex trafficking.

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Liz Mallory is a writer, editor, and abolitionist. When she’s not drinking tea and writing stories, she writes about how hilarious and surprising life can be. Follow her at elizmallory.com.

 

 

Angry Socks and Silences – My Messy Beautiful

I carried a pair of mismatched, dirty Angry Birds socks in my pocket all day. At breakfast, my toddler was wearing them as mittens on his hands and was frustrated that his attempts to eat a banana with them were not going as well as he had hoped. I gave the boy a hand (his hands, actually) and stuffed the banana-icky socks in my pocket. Where they stayed: All. Day.

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I thought about taking them out once or twice, but chose not to. The socks felt symbolic: representative of how I have messy, mismatched, sticky things going on in my head and my home right now. I took the socks to the store, to the park, to the school fundraiser concert. They were lumpy and hidden in my pocket, just like the other life-mess I carried with me. Sticky, but out of sight.

In truth, I kept holding on to the socks because I needed them there. I felt my pocket and my fingers could discern the shape of my sadness all balled up.

This week someone told me about their hard marriage on the phone: hard because there has been shouting and blaming and ugly-things-said. I listened and thought, “my marriage is nothing like that.”  Her marriage gets hard when the shouting is deafening. Mine gets hard when the silence is deafening. Rather than flare up, we freeze. Rather than shove, we shrivel. But our struggle is also hard in its own, private kind of way. The damage done is not as noticeable, and  perhaps such silence might even be considered by others to be signs of self-control or loving restraint. But when an iceberg sails into your living room, you would do well to remember the Titanic. Icy silence can do great damage.

I felt the socks in my pocket and I thought about our latest bout of silence. I thought about how fake I feel: a lay-leader in my church and a regular contributor to a website for engaged and newly married couples. Month after month, I write columns about healthy marriage, and I have hinted in my words that maybe “communication isn’t all there is to it”. But if people knew – if they really knew – how, even though we love each other fiercely and even though we are happy most of the time and laugh much of the time and even though he is mine and I am is – even with all that, we still get stuck. We hit a wall. We have a small handful of unsolvable problems. I hurt. I cry. I get lonely. And sometimes, there are ice-bergs in my living room.

And who can I tell, without it seeming that I am dishonoring or blaming my loved one? How can I ask for help, if the solution has to come without the requirement of us talking about it? And would saying these things out loud cause others, who see us as stable – no, need us to be stable – would it cause them worry? Would talking make it better? Or would it make it worse? It can be a lonely thing to struggle in silence in a Christian community.

Maybe I should quit writing about marriage, I thought. If the best I have to offer is a marriage with periodic Scenes of the Titanic, who needs that?

All day long, I thought about the socks. I thought about my husband and I: two angry birds ourselves, balled up together in a sticky mess. A mismatched pair, but a pair nonetheless. In it, together, even when things are hidden and icky. I felt the socks in my pocket and fingered them like prayer beads: asking God to help us fix our nest.

At the end of the day, I took the socks out my pocket and threw them in the laundry. We put the children to bed. We talked about our day. We watched an episode of Friday Night Lights. And drip by conversational drip, drop by habits-of-love drop, we started the days-long process of defrosting the iceberg.

I think maybe I won’t quit writing about marriage, after all, because we’re not quitting marriage. We may not know how to do the healthy-disagreement thing, and we have some issues, yessiree. But he’s the red sock to my yellow sock: we’re a pair of love birds, you know, even when we’re angry.

Tomorrow, those socks get a new start. Freshly laundered. Walking together.

 

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I’m excited to be participating in Momastery’s Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project with this post — To learn more, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Pick of the Clicks 4/5/14

This time next weekend I will be in Michigan, at the Festival of Faith and Writing! I am so excited to meet, in person, so many of the people whose pieces I have picked for clicking over the past months… truly, SO EXCITED! I am going to listen, to learn, and to savor the richness of on-line connections flourishing into real-life relationships! Maybe there will be a Pick of the Clicks next week, but probably not. I’m going to be chatting, not clicking!

Getting to go to the festival is exciting, but it has been scary for me too: I would still consider myself to be a beginner writer, and I don’t have well-thought out ambitions or goals or a writing “strategy”. I felt like, perhaps, going to a Writing Conference when I wasn’t a very intentional Writer might make me a bit of a fraud. But reading this: There Is No That, from Myke Cole, was probably the most encouraging thing I could have found this week. Aspiring writers, artists, dreamers – don’t miss this one.

This came out last week, but I’ve been mulling on it for a week. Jonathan Merritt’s article A Thread called Grace is an INCREDIBLE read. Truly, remarkable. It’s an excerpt from his newly released book, “Jesus is better than you imagined“, and I cannot wait to read it. His book was released a week ago, and it already has over 400 5-star reviews on Amazon! An excerpt:

“I crammed all the pain and emotions and memories into a box. I tossed the box into a bag and wrapped the bag in duct tape and rolled the whole wad with a steel chain. On this chain, I clamped a lock whose key had been thrown away. And I buried it in my memory.”

This week also saw another book release: Lisa-Jo Baker’s “Surprised by Motherhood“. I am awaiting my copy in the mail. I have been reading Lisa-Jo’s blog for a while now and love her writing. If you want a taste of Lisa-Jo and her book, watch this little movie. (Warning: kleenex alert. Also: you might cheer.)

My new friend Micha Boyett also released a book “Found” this week (what a week!!), and she is one of the people I am so excited to week at the Festival this week. I have been reading snippets of Micah’s writing all over the internet this week, and this one was my favorite – When The Joy Runs Out. Cannot wait to meet Micah. Cannot wait to read her book. Cannot. Wait.

Jessica Griffith’s piece Against Gratitude is so full of wisdom that I couldn’t even choose one quote to select for you. If you’ve thought about deliberately trying to cultivate gratitude in yourself or your children, read this. Really.

I’ve read a lot of Melody Harrison Hanson’s stuff this week: she is one brave, deep writer – writing truth from the midst of some very dark places and fighting her way to the light one keystroke at a time. I highly commend Melody’s blog Logic and Imagination, but this week wanted to link you to her piece at Today’s Christian Woman on How to Love a Drunk. Phew. For better or for worse indeed.

* Note – I subscribe online to Christianity Today. I think I paid a whopping $9 or something like that for the subscription. It was TOTALLY worth it. I think one or more of the articles above may have been “subscriber only” to read the whole thing, but I’m not sure. If so – I’m sorry, but I would like to vouch for the value of the subscription. It costs the same as two Sunday newspapers, and gives a years’ worth of incredible content.

Much has been written on the latest release of the Noah movie this week. I liked what Leslie Leyland Field had to say about it in Three Huge Things “Noah” gets right, and We Christians Have Gotten Wrong.

Then, this made me laugh and think and laugh some more, and think some more. This is a Generic Brand Video:

And these 37 pictures of first world anarchists was the hilarious highlight of my week.

On my blog – did you see the lovely Cara Strickland’s Guest Post on Wednesday – Be Well? I hope so :-) I also get to meet Cara face to face this week. (did I mentioned how wildly excited I am about this?)

Top click on my blog this week was an old post “Mommy, what’s Autistic?“, which I reposted in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. Which leads me to my final pick of the clicks for the week – a piece which was posted by two of my close friends who are moms of boys with autism: The Obsessive Joy of Autism. Julia’s post is incredible, eye-opening, and just beautiful. I hope you’ll click over and have a read.

As always, I’m curious to know what you’ve read that caught your eye? And what you wrote? Please, leave a comment below!

Happy clicking :-)

Be Well

I’ve mentioned how much I love Cara Strickland’s writing before, so you can imagine how thrilled I am to have her over as a guest for part of the Words That Changed My World Series. I think you will love her too. Yes, I am sure of it.

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I sit at a table in a favorite coffee shop, flooded with early spring sunlight. My hands wrap around a large white mug filled with a coconut latte. I am waiting for someone.

The past few months have been a lot for my heart. I’m hoping that this meeting will help me in the healing process.

She arrives, bringing her own coffee. We begin to talk.

She is the pastor of a local Lutheran church. We have a mutual friend. As I unpacked some of my pieces in front of that friend, she suggested that I meet this woman. Now, here we are. My friend was right.

I tell her my story, packing in as much as I can and making myself late for work. I tell her that I’m not sure I’m ready to go back to church yet. I tell her that I need to heal.
“What I’d really like,” she says, “Is to forge a friendship with you.” She hugs me and we part, but before I leave she says, “be well.”

I walk to my car, still wrapped in a jacket, thinking about those words. They are not a wish or a hope, or even a suggestion. They are a benediction. They are an amen.

I hear those words ring in my head as I stop for a moment, letting the sun touch my skin. I hear them as I buy a bunch of daffodils, fold my newly fluffed laundry and sit around a table of friends, eating a meal I didn’t cook. I let them float effortlessly into my subconscious as I choose to go to sleep when I am tired, or climb into yoga clothes, my car and the gym.

At different times, the Spirit has spoken in different ways. I am often caught off guard by the whispers. Lately, many of those whispers have been coming from women who are walking the journey with me, who link arms, who serve me the Eucharist, as I kneel at the rail, who remind me that sometimes, I need only to open my mouth, the words will come forth in their time. Over the years, I have embraced several women, writers and poets, as my pastors and priests. Perhaps this is why I feel so at home with this new person and her words. I have always had women offering up benedictions alongside me, whispering the words they’ve heard from the Spirit in my ear.

The days are warmer now, and I worry less about whether the sun will come out each day. I am still not ready to venture back into church, not just yet. She seems to understand. We email and set up another time to meet. Be well, she says. Try to get outside today.

We have lunch with her son. All day long, he calls me Caroline. She pauses to correct him, gently, each time.

After lunch, we walk to the park and watch as our young companion works out some of his energy. The sun warms our backs and I stand beside her as she pushes him on a swing.
As she lets me talk, it is as if she cups her hands and lets my words fall into them: safe, held and precious. She is gentle with me, and we laugh softly together sometimes, as we look at the broken places. I tell some of my stories and she tells me some of hers. Sometimes we sigh.

As she buckles her son into his carseat, she tells me that she will pray for me. We have talked about some of the things ahead, the decisions, the transitions, the hope. She hugs me once more before she leaves and says be well, three times, the way you do when you want words to linger after you’re gone, the way you say I love you, or take care. She rolls down her window so that her son can tell me goodbye. “Bye Caroline!”

I wave at him and smile.

As I drive home, I say those words: be well, aloud in my car, like a benediction, like an amen.

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A note from Cara: I’m Cara Strickland. When you first meet me, you might think that I’m quiet or reserved. I’m still learn-ing how to relax my fingers, gripping tightly to how it should look and how I should be. I’d love to have a cup of tea or a glass of wine with you, to gradually pull out a few of my broken pieces, matching them up with yours and watching them sparkle in the light. You can connect with me on my blog, Little Did She Know, or over on Twitter.