Saturday, October 25, 2008

I'm in Love

with the three year old these days. Sometimes I say she was the best thing that could have happened to me, my husband and the six-year old. The husband and six-year-old are introverted, and I hedge on that side of the line, too. The three-year-old, however, serves as a vision caster of what we all might be at our friendliest, out-going-est, other-focused-est. She's the one who shouts at acquaintances in Hy-Vee, or turns to me, palms against her cheeks and mouth wide open, "MOM!! It's our friends!!!" (The "friends" she met for the first time five minutes ago on aisle 4). When we see them again in the check-out line, this is confirmation of the prominence they should take in our lives. She squeals. Points them out again. Asks to "go say hi!"

While the six-year-old is fully acquainted with the language of feeling like the odd-one out, the three year old has no concept of exclusion. She takes it upon herself to include everyone, to chase after every little four year old in her dance class lobby, ask them their names, ask them to dance while waiting for class to start. She squeals over and over as each child enters the building. "Mom!! It's another friend!!!" She doesn't know their names or where they live or who their siblings are. THe mothers direct their attention to her and laugh at the three-year-old's hearty welcome. The other preschoolers are sometimes ambivalent, withdrawn, curious. None of them welcome her in kind, but check her out from the safety of their mother's knees.

But the three year old just keeps on inviting. Us introverts would get tired after the first greeting, the first invitation or two--but not her. She pushes herself out into the middle of the room, dances and flings her body in all directions, eager and earnest in her vigil for others to join her.

The cool thing is that her vigilance is climate-changing. Take a room of tired out parents and tired-out kids. Put them with this three year old for five minutes, and people smile and giggle, if only at her enthusiasm and boldness. I am energized watching her. She's my hero.

On Finding Out Her Sister Was Getting a Princess Barbie for Her Birthday

the six-year old began sobbing. Why didn't she get a Barbie for her birthday? It was so unfair. All she got was bead sets!

That's an accurate description. Because the kid likes art projects, she got about 8 bead sets and a makeup kit that put her in the emergency room.

"I don't know if you've noticed," the six year old went on to say, through tears, "but I mostly play with my puppies and Barbies. I'm not really an artistic person anymore."

True as this may have felt in the moment, the six year old is one of the most artistic people I know. But I could see the desire for a Barbie drowned out her ability to accurately reflect on the big picture. It's like how when our girls open up a gift they've never even imagined receiving, and exclaim with passionate conviction: "It's just what I always wanted!!!"

Really? Dora Candyland is just what you always wanted?

Really. Your not an artistic person?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Comfort in Constellations

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ.

1 Corinthians 1:3-5

Two brothers have died this week. Not mine. But still.

One man was the brother of a friend. The other a brother of the father of a friend’s child.

I hate hearing the stories: Cancer. Car accidents. I hate knowing that somebody I know or love is at all feeling anything like what I’ve been feeling. That they have possibly just entered one of the most f$%@#-up twilight zones of existence one could enter. But death is nothing new, I tell myself, aghast at my former state of naiveté. Death is everywhere! People are dying all the time—as often as people are being born. If you don’t want a baby, you may not notice the rate at which they happen. And if nobody you love dies, you may not notice how many people disappear.

Since my brother died, I learned that many people I know have lost a brother. In my church there are a handful I know of. When we gather, I map them out like a constellation in the room. In the presence of one of these stars, I might cry without warning.

I went to one brother’s visitation today and talked to my friend. I did not know his brother, but while I was there I learned the brother was an Obama fan. He worked at the Co-op that I frequent. I might have joked with him while he bagged my groceries. There are pictures of him on his bicycle, loaded down with backpacks and road tripping gear. He’s got big shaggy chops and chin length hair. He looks like a righteous hippie. I like my friend’s brother instantly, even though he’s dead.

The weight of a life lost slams against me. I try to keep the tears just in my eyes and not rolling down my face while I’m actually talking to my friend. I leave the funeral home, shoulders shaking in the parking lot, knowing full well I’m projecting. In a year, you won’t respond like this, I self-talk. (People tell me, wait a year, like July 15, 2009 is magical. On that day, my last few droplets of grief will trickle away.) And then I talk at my brother, or the memory of him. Darn it. This feels like losing you all over again.

Sometimes when I cry, I indict Jesus. I put him on trial. Did you not say that those who mourn would be comforted? It’s really the best indictment I can give these days. I’m past the Mary and Martha lines (Well, Jesus, if you’d been here, my brother'd still be alive). My brother’s dead. He’s not coming back. So, Jesus, what can you do for the living? I arch my eyebrows at him. I beckon and gesture for him to get with the program. One order of comfort, please. Oh, dear, I’m mixing theater and restaurant metaphors. But you get the idea.

The thing is that once in a while, even when I arch my eyebrows at him in a not-so-friendly way, I feel this transcendent warm feeling creep all over me. And then, all my snarkiness turns into plain old miserable, can’t-escape-from-it sorrow. But it feels like somebody’s there to keep me company and say there, there.

It’s sort of like that with the constellation of brotherless people I was talking about. Sometimes their very presence is a there, there of sorts, although mostly I like to talk to them and hear their stories. I like to think it was a brilliant moment for Paul when he identified this link between human grief, God's comfort, and community. I want to believe he’s right on, that it's one of the few redemptive things about the process: Sometimes we're the receipient of a small, sweet cup of lemonade. Other times, we're serving it up.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

A Great Week for Books

I am so darned happy. People these days are writing about my favorite subjects in smart, quirky ways. I remember a year or more ago when Nadia Bolz-Weber announced on her blog that she'd gotten a book deal to watch and write about 24 straight hours of Christian television. I have to admit it was a project I wish I'd dreamed up just because it seems like so much fun.* Anyway, Bolz-Weber does a fabulous job of it. She even mentions the advertisements for the Holy Family Faberge-Style Egg!
Bolz-Weber is a self proclaimed "heavily tattooed Christian progressive from a liturgical denomination" (she's Lutheran--a "mission developer" at her church). So she proves to be a fascinating lens through which to view 24 straight hours of evangelical TV. To spice up the experiment she invites friends and strangers of all faiths, professions, and persuasions to join her. Bolz-Weber is not purely interested in TBN bashing; her TV hours do cause her occasion to turn the lens on her own tradition's weak spots. Yet, she does take a powerful anthopological approach to each show by giving us the "Round Up" at the end of the hour. In the round up, she lists # of OT passages cited; # of NT passages cited; Costs of products offered; Running total of products offered since she began her experiment (after 4 hours: $943.94); impression of God given during the show ("Sets up lots of tests and trials for you so that you can see who he is and earn a spiritual promotion"); and impressions of Jesus ("No mention (except in the ad to get people to sow a $70 seed)").
My husband and I have valued reading books aloud to one another since we got married 11 years go. This is the first book in YEARS that both of us wanted to read more than a few chapters in one sitting. We made it from Paula White Today (5:30 a.m.) all the way to Best of Praise the Lord (9:30 a.m.) in three hours of our date-night evening. It was hard to stop.
One other mention: This book is plugged by the author of another of my recent favorites: On the cover, AJ Jacobs, author of The Year of Living Biblically, writes, "Turn off your TV and read this book. It's enlightening and entertaining and it doesn't emit any radiation whatsoever."
*in a gleefully ironic sort of way