"If the God you believe in as an idea doesn’t start showing up in what happens to you in your own life, you have as much cause for concern as if the God you don’t believe in as an idea does start showing up. It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling." ~ Frederick Buechner

01 January 2016

One Word

Somehow, I missed the boat on this last year. I was too stressed out, too stretched thin, beginning to unravel, and deciding on a word for the year was one more decision I just couldn't make.

I am in a much better and healthier place on this first day of 2016.

I've been mulling over my word for the year since I received my prompt from Compassion last month. And recently, my beautiful friend Jamie shared her own word for the year and asked if her readers had their own words.

It came to me in the shower this afternoon, a moment of quiet solitude as my love rocked our small toddler for her nap. I was content, reflecting on the morning of gathering around the table together for our pancake breakfast, laughing and shrieking outside in the safety of our own backyard, being ever so grateful for this home, this sanctuary from the rest of the world, where we can build a safe haven together for all who dwell within these walls.

Because, you see, a couple of days ago, we were at a playground nearby. It is a very cool playground, one of our favorites around here. We've always had fun there, and because we had all been cooped up inside for several days with all the rain and we had spent longer than desirable in a long line at the post office, I made the spontaneous decision to take the kids to this playground.

I was pushing Little Lady on the swings while her brother ran off, delighted to be able to run full throttle. Suddenly, I heard an adult female voice screeching, "Hey! Back off! You! Back off right now!" Alarmed, I looked up to see Little B on a ladder, two steps below another, smaller, child. He was indeed too close to the other kid, who was wailing, clearly nervous about being up so high with a boy he didn't know so close to him. I picked up Little Lady and walked over to remind B to give other kids space. As I passed up the yelling woman, I heard her scoff to the person next to her, "Tiger mom nothing. I'm a tiger grandma. No one messes with my grandkid."

I was immediately irritated, because really. In what world is it okay for a grown adult to yell at a preschooler on a playground and then feel justified and even proud about it? Why couldn't see have just kindly said, "Hey, buddy. Johnny's just learning about climbing ladders, and you're a little too close to him. Why don't you let him climb up first?" In half a century of life on this earth, shouldn't a person have learned a little sumthin' sumthin' about basic kindness and civility?

But truly, the kicker came when three boys (Little B in the middle) went down the long tunnel slide simultaneously and the kid at the bottom got squished. He emerged wailing, and his mother began yelling at B, who had run off, "Hey! Hey, YOU. Don't you EVER hit my kid again!" Then she turned to her child and said, loudly enough for all to hear, "Stay away from that nasty kid. He isn't a nice kid at all. You just stay away from him."

It broke my heart. I had to bite my tongue to keep the tears at bay. I let Little Lady go down the slide one more time, and then I said to B, "Okay. It's time to go. We'll go home and play in the yard." I felt a God-nudge in my heart, so as I walked by that woman, I said, "I'm sorry if my son hurt yours. But it's not okay for you to label him unkindly." And with a disgusted expression on her face, she retorted, "He's not a nice kid." I said, "No, what he DID wasn't nice, but he's FOUR and he's learning about self-control, like all of us. We're working with him, but he's NOT a mean child. And you're not teaching anyone kindness by labeling him as such." Her husband jumped in and said, with that I'm-going-to-intimidate-you-and-stare-you-down-because-I'm-a-man look, "Our kids have never hit another kid. We are parenting just fine. If you're going to throw it in our face, then we'll throw it right back in yours."

I stared at him in shock, thinking, "What are we, in grade school?" Pretty much, by this point, I lost all inclination to shine my little light and felt an overwhelming urge to punch their smug faces. So as we walked away, with my voice shaking from my attempt to stay in control, I quietly said to my kids, "It's time to leave. This is not a safe place right now."

It grieved me -- and it still does -- that we live in a world where rambunctious little boys are told they are "nasty" for being a little too uninhibited for an adult world, where parks and playgrounds are not safe places for children to learn about kindness and sharing and respecting one another, that adults fight children's battles and feel proud of themselves for it, that we can't just freaking BE NICE.

I love my children fiercely, but I hate that parenting is just so damn hard in this world of every man for himself. I hate that it's made worse by people who are so consumed with protecting their own precious snowflakes that they don't consider how they are treating the people around them, what they're teaching their little ones about decency and kindness.

I recently read a white mother's plea to other white mothers to teach their children about standing up for what's right, to look out for one another, because she was legitimately worried for her black son's safety in a white world. And when I shared that on social media, it grieved me to hear a white friend tell the story of how her black husband had been treated this past Christmas during their trip back to her hometown.

How I long for a better world, friends. A world where there is no such blatant ignorance and unkindness, a world where people don't feel justified in talking down to another human being simply because their skin colors are different or they are of a different socio-economic class. Where we can all just exist on this beautiful, broken world, trying our best, and nodding to one another, "I know it's hard. Keep it up. We're going to make it."

When Little B was born on that wintry weekend in upstate NY, my mothering heart kicked into overdrive. I desperately wanted to keep him safe, wanted to protect him from the evil that I knew was out there, especially the kind of evil that attacks simply because we are the "other." For all the ways in which I was laid-back as a mom (no helicoptering here), there were just as many ways in which I have held my breath, bracing myself for the attack to come. We began praying in earnest that the Lord would open doors for us to move away from a place where I had been called names I had never before been called in my close to three decades on this earth. All because I didn't look like hardly anyone else around there.

We rejoiced when the opportunity to move to Dallas arose, and we scoured the websites of all the surrounding suburbs, determined not to move to another monocultural/monoethnic city. We resolved not to live in our current town, because from all we could gather from the city's website, it was upper class, white, and privileged. Not where we wanted to live and raise our biracial children.

And of course, week after week went by, house after house fell through, until we fell in love with our small little blue house, smack in the middle of that very town.

Last week, tornados ripped through our area, taking lives and leaving destruction and broken hearts in their wake. We sat in our hall bathroom together during the sirens, listening to the wind. I was thankful for my husband's calm, for his prayers for safety. I laughed at our small daughter's protests against her father's singing and our son's irritation at having his Christmas gift opening disrupted. I found peace in my son's suggestion that Jesus "just take us to heaven until the tornado is gone and then bring us back" because in this moment of fear, he expressed such an unwavering faith in Jesus as his ultimate hero.

I thought of how, had things gone the way we had wanted, we would have lived in Garland. We would have lived right where one of those giant tornados had grounded, ending the earthly lives of several people, instead of just a few miles further northwest, in the safety of this town we call home for now. Where our little home is still intact, even with all the issues of an older house, where we have good neighbors and a backyard oasis, with all its leaves-and-dog-poo-strewn glory.

As I stood there, I was reminded of one of my favorite verses from scripture, that there is a purpose to all things, that God does nothing randomly, that all things work together for His glory. That He places  (active verb) us exactly where we are, in the time He wants, with intentionality and purpose. That, as Ann Voskamp reminds me daily, that all is a gift from Him.

My word this year is Gift.

Today, as the hot water washed away the suds, leaving behind clean skin, I felt the anger and resentment wash away, too. And I realized that this is what I desperately need. To seek out the Gifts, big and small, in each day. To be immensely grateful at this one wild and precious life. That even as I exclaim to my husband in the middle of small children chaos, "I am NOT cherishing this moment!" there are Gifts. The gift of healthy children, the gift of a good husband, the gift of daily laughter with my best friend, even if the source of that laughter is the ludicrous irrationality of preschoolers and toddlers.

I began keeping a gratitude journal several years ago, after reading One Thousand Gifts. With the busyness of the fall and holiday seasons, I stopped keeping record a few months ago. This year, I resolve to not only make recording the Gifts a priority, but to be more of a Gift to this world, to my community, yes, even to fifty-something-year-old Mean Girls, as He intended for us all to be.

Another dear friend shared this prayer by Carter Heyward on her blog, and I felt it was an appropriate way to enter into this new beginning with hope for all good things and grace for the times in which we stumble.

Holy God, we have left undone those things 
Which we ought to have done,
And we have done those things
Which we ought not to have done.

Yet, by thy grace, there is health in us!

In thy mystery, carry us on.
As we bring unity and joy, humble us.
As we bring division and pain, forgive us.
In our struggling, strengthen us.
In our stumbling, lift us.
When we weep, comfort us.
When we laugh, enjoy us. Amen.

Want to start keeping your own journal of Gifts? DaySpring is having a $5 flash sale on some of their beautiful journals! I use these ones.*

*I don't profit from DaySpring. I just love their products! 

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