Thursday, November 26, 2009

Israel in words and moving pictures

This month there has been much to record in the lives of my children. It's becoming harder and harder to capture them in pictures. And as for Israel, the rule that observing things changes them certainly applies; if you are seeing him, he has most likely changed into someone else. He is easily overwhelmed by people. So I thought I would share the little boy I spend my days with with you.

Israel is in many ways still the infant I knew over two years ago. He's still very determined and easily made "mad" over things not going exactly according to his plan. He does not do things half-way. He likes things to be just so. But he is also very loving and tender and spontaneous in his own way. He speaks pretty well for himself these days, so here are a few stories from his life this month to let you in on what a great kid he is to have around.

After he had been misbehaving (being mean in word and deed toward our very patient dog), I was talking to him about what I expect of him:
"I want you to be a kind and gentle person," I said.
"No, I not," Israel said.
"Israel, I want you to be a kind and gentle person."
"No. I not a person."
"Yes, you are a person. All people are persons."
"No, I not person."
"Israel, all people are persons. If you are a people, you are a person. You're a people; you're a person. I'm a person, Daddy's a person...all people are persons." I was baffled because Israel correctly uses the word "people" all the time. Did he think I was calling him a name? What in the world was so bad about being called a person?
He got loud and emphatic: "No, I not!" He pointed at my purse hanging on the back of a chair. "I not a purse-on!"
I can't argue with that.
"I want you to be kind and gentle."
"I not a purse-on."

He is learning the colors red and green while we drive around town these days. I was recently stopped at a light, waiting to turn left. The arrow turned green. I pushed the gas and could almost anticipate what came next.
Israel started, "You ha' tuh 'top."
"It was green, Israel. I know you might not have seen it."
"We ha' tuh 'top."
"I know. The big light was red, but the little arrow was green, so it's okay. Green means go."
"We ha' tuh 'top, Mommy. We ha' tuh 'top."
I was glad when we saw the next red light. "This one is red, so we can stop now, Israel."
Everything as it should be.

Israel is deliberate. He does not leave things up to chance. While this can be frustrating or funny, it makes the way he loves that much more meaningful.

As I said, observing Israel most often changes him a lot. He clams up and tells me he "don't ha' tuh say, 'hi,'" to you or just leaves his response at, "No!" upon seeing you. It's a shame and I haven't quite figured out what to do yet. Sometimes I think he's afraid; sometimes it seems he's just being contrary for no good reason; sometimes I think he's just painfully shy. There have been only a handful of people Israel has taken to right away and he met one of those precious few this month: Ange. (He was too little to remember the last time he saw her.) She was the rare exception and it made my heart happy to see. Many of you likely remember Ange from our wedding at least, as she was my maid of honor. She's across the ocean these days, but I tell my kids to call her "aunt" so they'll know they're close to her, even if they hardly see her. She is not overwhelming in any respect, apparently. Israel was himself and played with her right away. Here's Israel's first piano duet with Aunt Ange.


Israel and I often play the "guess what" game these days. It's always playful. I started it by asking "Guess what?" before I said, "I love you." That evolved to Israel asking "Guess what, Mom. Guess what," and being entirely confused when I would answer, "What?" Now, he just anticipates my first answer for the most part and says either, "Mommy love Izzo," or "I love Mommy." But then he suddenly made it his own. I said, "Israel, guess who I like." He smiled.
"Israel, guess who I like."
"I like zou." (Zou = you)
"You like me? ...I like you!"
" I like zou, Mommy. I like zou," and he reached out to hug my face. He put his hands on my cheeks and played with my hair like I often do to him. "I like zou."
I almost cried. "I like you, too, Israel."

And tonight he came to me after I changed his sheets and made his bed and said, "Thank you...for make-ih my bed, Mommy. make me happy you make my bed."

He loves his books. He chooses the story of David and Goliath and reminds himself, "I no need be 'cared (scared)." He reads to his animals. He asked me to take this picture of him with his animals. These are his "special" ones: lion and bear. And his blanket. These are the things he loves. Before I took this picture, he had been reading to Lion and Bear. He takes care of Bear and often asks to clean his ears out for him or insists that, though he himself does not need to be sung to, I need to sing to Bear and kiss Bear goodnight. It's tender.
I thought I would let him read a book to you. I quickly realized we couldn't read the whole book in the 60 seconds allotted by the camera, but you get the idea. He's memorized nearly the whole thing!

Israel has also become quite the chef these days. Here he is, hard at work in his pajamas, making a splendid side dish to accompany the turkey that was in the "big" oven.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

a mountain becoming a mole hill

I realize I am past due for a blog for the grandparents. Sorry. Wait just a little longer.... :)

I'm still processing CCDA. Still. It's nearly a month later. It's funny how when you actually start trying to put into practice something new you've learned, you continue to think about it for a long time. It certainly helps that we returned from the conference to find ourselves studying the book of James in the Bible. For those unfamiliar with it, an over-simplified description is that it's the book in the New Testament that says, "Hey. Do those things you believe you should be doing."

There are two related beliefs I have that I'm trying to practice. (Perhaps I would more correctly say that I am "practicing"them. Sesame Street says that to practice means to try...and try.) The first was put into one of the songs we sang at the conference.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. - Micah 6:8

That walking humbly part does not come naturally, but it sure does help when trying to do justice and love mercy. It seems to me that most of the time in the Bible, when God talks about justice, it is mostly in the context of making sure those at a disadvantage in society (the poor, the orphan, and the widow) are taken care of. But when I think about justice, I mostly think about how other people -- even those at a disadvantage -- don't deserve better because they have bad habits x, y, and z. Now, I'm all for applying wisdom in helping others and am definitely in favor of empowering and against enabling, but I also am aware that I am missing out on the heart of God lots of times because of those neat-o terms I like to use.

You see, I like to judge. Sometimes I put my judging others under the name of other things that are good to do, such as "exercising judgment" or "walking the line between this and that" or "being careful," but really, it's just me reading only part of the verse. "I'll be good at the 'acting justly' part and someone else can be good at the 'loving mercy' part," I think. "I play this role in the Body of Jesus and you can play that one." Not judging someone just didn't seem like it was even an option to me. I automatically judge people all the time. "Well, it's probably okay that this bad thing happened to so-and-so. Maybe she'll learn not to do that thing she always does." "I'll give this thing to so-and-so, but I'll keep this thing to myself, because I don't want to encourage that bad habit in him." "It's okay for me to not go the extra mile for so-and-so's kids...they don't really care if their kids have this opportunity anyway." You understand. Maybe you're like me. Maybe you're not. (If you're not, don't tell me.)

But what I was shown was that, in my very act of thinking those thoughts, I became just as awful as "those people." Just as much in need of a Savior. I was missing out on the "show mercy" part of loving God just as much as other people may miss out on the "take care of your body" (and I only say that because "don't do drugs" is not explicitly in the Bible...) part. We're all missing out on the "make Jesus the Lord of your whole life" part. I am no exception. Me. I am no exception. What was that verse I memorized in Mrs. McKnight's kindergarten class? "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Sorry, Mrs. McKnight. I forgot which verse that was in Acts.) "All" includes me just like it includes the person next to me.

There's also that verse about how every valley will be exalted and every mountain will be made low and we all will see our Maker together. I'm learning to love that verse. Include me as a mountain being brought down. I'm learning to rejoice when I see the valleys rising up beside me. I'm learning that we're all on the same level when it comes to Jesus appearing in our lives. We will all see him together. And then I remember what John Perkins said, "Something about when God shows up, you do not feel overqualified."

That brings me to my second belief: we should love other people. Love. That's it. We like to put a whole bunch of "yeah, but's" after being told to love someone else. At least I do. God tells us to love people, but when I go to apply that to a particular person, I often have a "yeah, but..." and then some reason why it doesn't really matter. But it matters. Even if it doesn't matter to the other person, it certainly matters to the condition of my heart.

Bart Campolo spoke at the last night I was at the conference. He said several things that were a bit uncomfortable to hear, but most of what he said I tend to find true in practice. He talked about people whose "cards were punched" a long time ago. He talked about people who are like some of the people I know. Maybe they've been on drugs for a long time. Maybe they were so abused for years that they have hardly a mind left. Maybe they're just part of a family that has passed down the same bad habits generation after generation such that it's no surprise to find the youngest generation acting just like their parents. Maybe you know someone whose card was punched a long time ago. They are messed up. They probably won't change. You can give and give and give and their situation will stay the same. Loving them might not change a thing about them, but we are to love them anyway.

Love them. It sounds really hard, but it's not really...not if God gives you the gift of Himself. Loving them doesn't mean to change them. It doesn't mean to make sure they become moral. It doesn't mean to make sure they get their driver's license and a car. It means to treat them as your fellow human beings and to give them dignity, to listen to them and spend time with them. It means not considering yourself above them. We know what love means.

I have a hard time thinking that my love won't change people. And I think it's dangerous to walk too close to losing hope for people. But perhaps we have wrong expectations.

I mean, I know a guy who was a drunk for years. He'll tell you if you ever come meet him. He was abused as a kid -- hit in the head with a hammer -- and then drank for something like...oh, I don't know...say 40 years. And then Jesus saved him. He became sober. He's been sober for over 2 years now. It's a miracle. And we call them miracles for a reason, is what Bart said. Most people I have met in the neighborhood are more or less the same as they were when I first got here. If dramatic life changes happened all the time, they would be normal and natural. But they're not; they are miracles. Bart said they're miracles, even for God. I think he said it for shock value, but he then offered this explanation that helped me see his point: It is so rare that I actually obey and do the will of God. It is rare that you obey and do the will of God. But then for some reason we think that, when we put all of us rarely doing the will of God together, that suddenly the big picture is the will of God. We think that putting a bunch of people thwarting the will of God together equals God always getting what He wants. Well now, that does seem silly. People are truly messed up and disobedient. Of course God doesn't want that. But sometimes -- rarely -- we do the will of God. Sometimes we obey and sometimes we actually love. And that is a miracle.

If I put these trains of thought together, I come to the conclusion that me loving my neighbor is no more or less miraculous than my friend Jack being sober right now. It's no less miraculous than if we have young black boys growing up to be college graduates instead of inmates or girls realizing their value doesn't come from how they look or drug addicts becoming of sound mind. If the only thing that changes because I moved into this neighborhood is that Lezlie McCrory learns to love other people, well then, I'll be able to write about a miracle.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

While Israel is big boy enough for a three day, three night trip to Deeja and Papaw's, Eden stayed with us at the CCDA conference. She did an amazing job and we did not have to miss a single breakout session on her account. She napped in the ergo baby carrier, played quietly during the big group sessions, etc. She was the only baby-in-tow at the conference as her friends were old enough to go to the babysitters and since most everyone else in the group left their children behind for the conference, she was everyone's baby for the weekend. She liked being held by all kinds of people (though we all have our limits). Josh (pictured here) seemed to have a particular fondness for her and she enjoyed his airplane rides when she'd had enough of sitting still. It was a mutually beneficial relationship, I'd say. He got some I-miss-my-baby time and she got some "Something different, please," fun. Most of the time during the sessions, she was either strapped to me or Pat or playing with Josh.

During one of the group sessions in particular, though, Eden seemed bound and determined to interact with the stranger behind us. No matter where I sat her down to play or what toy I used to entice her to sit still, she kept crawling around or under my chair to get to whoever was sitting behind us. (I didn't want to turn around and make eye contact because it felt like an awkward situation keeping my kid away from someone she obviously wanted to see.) Finally, I heard a lady's voice say, "I can take her." It was the lady behind me...who I don't know at all. With a little bit of I'm-not-sure-this-is-really-okay grin, I handed her my kid. I tend to think small children have a sense about who is good and who is not. It's as though they have an ability to see spiritual realities we lose as we practice judging based on use of our five primary senses. I hope I'm not just naive for wanting to trust that in my kids. And I want to trust other people, even though most of the time I don't. There was that, and I figured most everyone at the conference was someone trying to be good and living the same sort of life I try to live, right? Besides, I wouldn't really know the "official" sitters for the conference either, right? Sometimes you just have to trust your kid to a stranger, right?

So there went Eden. I tried to check back behind me not so often as not to make whoever it was feel like they weren't trusted but enough to let them know I don't just expect them to be in charge of my kid for the duration. Every time I looked back, Eden was sitting perfectly happily in the lady's lap, leaned back with a big smile, looking into the woman's face. And the lady and the whole row of people sitting with her were smiling back at Eden. It seemed a perfect arrangement. I could listen to the speaker because Eden had all she wanted and so, it seemed, did the row of people behind me.

When the session was over, I turned around to meet the miracle lady who had so enchanted my Eden. Her name was Judy and she had a warm smile. When I thanked her for caring for my kid, she said, "I'm a grandma." Obviously, Eden could tell. But I'm sure Eden meets tons of grandmas in a given day and she has not ever -- before or in the weeks since -- so pursued a particular person. So we dubbed the lady Grandma Judy.

We were often late to the gatherings and did not sit in the same close-to-the-front seats during the next large session. And we didn't see Grandma Judy. But the following meeting, we were able to get our previous seats and found her there again, sitting right behind us. I said a quiet hello and she said, "I missed you the last time!" Eden quickly went to her again.

I have waited a bit to post this entry, both for lack of time and for want of thought. This little relationship was so short and strange and wonderful. It is such a beautiful thing when someone loves your kid -- I mean, really loves them. I felt totally loved by this woman because of how she loved my daughter.

And then it hit me: I bet God feels the same way about us when we love His kids. He feels loved when we love our brothers and sisters. I understood suddenly why loving God and loving your neighbor go so hand-in-hand. And I want to be good at loving my brothers and sisters, whether I know them well or not. I want people to be able to sense that about me -- to sense God's love in me -- and to be drawn to it despite all other distractions. I want to be like Grandma Judy.