Questions Without Simple Answers

This past week, including tonight, I have seen or heard at least 10 small children crying as they stand outside my apartment. They are fixed in place, staring upward at the window above my front door. The one belonging to my upstairs neighbors. They look like they're going to pee their pants they're so scared and yet they can't look away, and they cry in that panicked sort of way that small children do when their frightened.

This is what they are looking at.

To be fair, I have heard a lot of older kids yelling, "Hey, that's really cool!"

But I don't think it makes up for all the scared little kids.

This is what I hate about Halloween. Most of the year we have a choice about what our children are exposed to, and what we expose ourselves to. But from Sept. 1 to the end of October, we have shoved into our faces, every where we go, images of death and terror. More importantly, our children who have no filters and categories yet for this kind of thing, have it shoved in their faces too.

I don't understand trick or treating because of this either. I understand the fun of dressing up and asking for candy. I don't understand why people think it's fun to scare small children with their decorations and costumes, and I don't understand why parents would take their smallest children to those scary places in return for a handful of junk. I've never actually been trick or treating, so I don't know. Maybe something happens where you learn to conquer your fear? I suspect there are better, healthier ways to teach our children that.

But even if you don't take them trick or treating to scary places, in October a simple walk to the playground can become a terrifying experience for a child, as evidenced by all those I have seen standing outside staring and crying.

I used to object because of the fear that it originated from. If you believe the spirits of the dead can come out and harass you on this night then you darken your home to make it unattractive, dress yourself as a ghost to blend in with all of the real ones and take to the streets of your village to avoid being home when they try to enter. You give money and food away to those who come threatening menace if you don't. You carve a turnip to look like a human skull and place a candle in it to trick the spirits who require human sacrifice into thinking it's already been done.

These are grisly things, and evil. But I could forget about that, since that's not what it's about these days, or so they say. Now it's about the kids, and the candy, and meeting your neighbors. Except when it's not. Fear, and frightening people is still very much the point, however much it's supposed to be the kind that you can laugh off. It's on those grounds that I still object. It's still a night of mischief, it still celebrates fear and death. And it still rubs your face in it in an inescapable way.

What to do with my objection still remains a bit of a puzzle.

There are those who respond to the day by avoiding it altogether, and hide in the back of the house with their lights out.

In response to them is the group who believe that being neighborly and joining in is more important and loving. I think they have a point, but I want to ask them what it is they do on the other 364 days of the year. It's not like you can't cross the street, knock on the door and say, "I made an extra dozen cookies today, would you like some?" on any given Wednesday afternoon.

That's the idea that I find the most compelling. Instead of joining in on a gimme or else night, if we want to care about our neighbors, we can voluntarily give out of love on a consistent basis. Why not invite our neighbors into our homes for a non-scary time of fun?

I like what our church did this year. They held a costume party. Scary costumes were discouraged. There was a climbing wall, bouncers, music, an all you can eat taco stand, and tons of games with prizes for the kids to play. In a way it's silly. Because it's another form of hiding. Everyone go and congregate together and have fun and avoid all those other people who are indulging in the scare factor. But it's also an alternate place to invite people to go, especially for those who aren't sure about opening up their own homes yet.

I have a friend at church who started a non-profit in downtown San Diego that helps refugee families get on their feet once they arrive. They give away furniture, clothes, and toys. They open their doors to let the kids come in and play while their parents find items they need to start life over again. She brought about 50 of those children, and some parents to our church party tonight. Kids from Somalia, Bhutan, and Burma. They had so much fun. There was not a person who could keep from smiling as they shrieked, ran, climbed, ate, won all the games, and paraded their makeshift costumes around.

Would that inviting people in could always be that rewarding.

As you can tell, I'm trying to discover how to take my objection to something that isn't likely to change just because I object to it and turn it into an action, or series of actions, that subverts the dark intent of Halloween. I'm just not sure yet what that is.


7 quick takes

It's been a while since I did one of these. But I read so many interesting things this week I figured here would be a good place to share them with you.

1. Against School by John Gatto is a scathing look at the historical roots and intentions of public schools and why they fail to help our children to reach their full potential. It's not just for home schoolers though. He speaks also to parents whose children are in public school about what they can do as well.

Here's a bit to catch your interest.

By the time I finally retired in 1991, 1 had more than enough reason to think of our schools-with their long-term, cell-block-style, forced confinement of both students and teachers-as virtual factories of childishness. Yet I honestly could not see why they had to be that way. My own experience had revealed to me what many other teachers must learn along the way, too, yet keep to themselves for fear of reprisal: if we wanted to we could easily and inexpensively jettison the old, stupid structures and help kids take an education rather than merely receive a schooling. We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness-curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids to truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then.
thanks Leila for the link.

2. How did I manage to go 30 years, most of them with long hair, and not know how to make "Milk Maid" braids like this? I've tried before, and done something harder that looked less pretty.

3. This little video called What is Poverty? made me cry.

thanks Ann Voskamp for the link.

4. This article about the actual effectiveness of the Gardasil Vaccine that supposedly prevents cervical cancer terrified me. 44 girls have died after getting the shot, and the stats show it has no positive impact on preventing the disease. Gardasil Researcher Drops a Bombshell

5. I have a bit of an internet crush on Veronica Mitchell. I'm enjoying her new blog The Slow Food Experiment almost as much as I enjoyed her older one. And I HAVE to read the exchanges on twitter between her and Beck because they are usually entertaining, for me. I have a closet love for the same type of wit. Yet I feel like that person who tries to jump in on your conversation at a party, isn't very funny, and you smile politely but really wish they would leave you alone. Either that or an internet stalker. But I'm convinced that if we ever met in real life she would like me, and I would like her. She could see that I'm not nearly as pompous in person as I seem to inadvertently become on the internet.

6. We watched the U2 on YouTube concert live on Sunday night. Aaron's brother was somewhere in the crowd in the inner circle right around the stage. I guess they had a bunch of people from organizations that combat human trafficking on stage there, including an acquaintance of ours, the director of Eleho. We couldn't see any of them on the feed though.

Is it just me, or does Bono have absolutely no idea of what to do with himself on stage? He just seems so... awkward. And funny. If a guy who wasn't Bono got up on stage to sing and did the same stuff we'd all laugh at him. Honestly, it was boring to watch, and listen to. I like their old stuff better.

On that note, I was thinking, as I loaded the dishwasher and cleaned the kitchen while watching a giant crowd of people with actual leisure and disposable cash for such things as rock'n'roll concerts, that I am getting old. I'm not there yet, but I'm well on the way. I think it was the juxtaposition of such domestic chores with all the excitement of the concert fans. I'm not sure I ever got excited about stuff like that, but now I know I definitely prefer a quiet night at home with my family to all the hype of a big event. I mean, just imagine getting out of the parking lot after the concert. See? Like I said.

7. I am reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down right now. It's the fascinating account of the cultural clash between the immigrant Hmong community in Merced CA and the western doctors over the care of a little girl with epilepsy. (Hmong is the name of one of the hills tribes in South East Asia. They've migrated from China into Laos, Thailand, Burma, etc over many years.) One of the things that it does very well is make apparent how vast the difference can be between the way two different groups of people view the same event. It's well written and easy to read and also a bit mind expanding.
It's particularly interesting to me because most of the children in the Charis Home are Hmong.

7 Quick Takes hosted @ Conversion Diary

Diverting myself with paint

I was inspired by The Nester last week to start yet another project. Well, that and the white paint was already out because the Girl was painting her swan puzzle.

We got a lot of interesting furniture and collectibles, when Aaron's uncle Gordon died. (OK mostly collectibles. Have you seen our apartment? It's super tiny considering the 5 people residing here. But we did finally get some things to sit on thanks to him.) He had a house full of stuff. We know several are quite valuable. But then there are all of those items that you just can't tell if they are valuable antiques, or something he just liked at a thrift store, or both.

But as Madam Nester says, "If you don't love it, why is it in your house?" Or something like that. I think it was her. I could be imagining that part.

Our apartment is pretty dark; red on the walls, dark wood tones in much of the furniture, green and brown paisley rug, red couch and chair, and saddest of all, brown fake wood veneer on all of the cabinets. I really want to lighten it up a bit. So I started with an end table. I may have defaced a valuable antique, but I figured that since there were signs of pet teeth on one corner and the finish was all scuffed I wasn't likely to make it worse.

It's a cute table though.

I was certain I had wrecked it when I got the first coat of white on. It was way too bright, didn't go well with the tile, and it worried me. So then I added some maple brown paint to my white, and some yellow, and tried again. The off white worked much better, but it wasn't until I started to sand it to give it a distressed finish, or prepare it for a completely different color if I needed to redo it, that I really fell in love with it.

You can see all of the little carved details now. And the little corner where I keep it, next to the dark red sofa, and the fake wood cabinet looks a little brighter now.

Of course, then I put the gigantic stacks of books that Aaron is currently reading or referring to back on top of it so you can hardly see it at all. But since that's it's job, in order to keep his desk a bit more clear I'll have to move the stacks to show it off if you come by and visit me. I tried that trick of turning all the bindings toward the wall so the different colors didn't show, but I noticed this morning that he's turned them all around again. It's like he doesn't even care about having an attractively arranged end table. Oh. Right.

Also I cleaned off the desk. Inspiring heights of home design I know. You should be jealous. That's mostly books under the desk too. And in our storage closet... that's right, more books. We haven't the room for anymore book shelves. And we can't get rid of them. We need them for blowing our noses. What? You thought we actually read or something. Pshaw! Who has time for that?


Thankful for a dead battery?

A week ago Aaron and the Boy were supposed to go to Mexico for the day. Aaron was meeting with an orphanage director there to consult about the self sustaining model we're working on for Thailand, and a bunch of Korean pastors were going too. (It's a really well run orphanage. They were there to learn how to set one up in N. Korea.) He decided to take the Boy along.

They woke up early, got ready to go, said goodbye and walked out the door. Fifteen minutes later they walked back in. Our not very new truck wouldn't start. While fiddling around trying to figure out the problem Aaron found a loose wire and connected it again. But the truck still wouldn't start. He called AAA, I called his parent's house. I know that they routinely head in our direction on Tuesday. His sister agreed to drive by and give him a boost, and lend him her car if necessary so he could make his meeting.

The car started, so the boys left, and lovely Fair Haven (Her blogging name. You should go and look at some of her paintings.) decided to drive the girls and I around on our get ready for the Boy's party errands.

While we were getting ready to leave Aaron called from the road to say, "I wonder how long I've been driving on only 5 cylinders."

It turns out that that the car we thought was almost dead, couldn't accelerate up hills, and had the engine light on all the time isn't as dead as we thought. That loose wire was the problem and now it's running fine.

We had to replace the battery this weekend because it was very weak, but our car is running well for the first time in months. AND we got to spend the morning with Kallee and get things done.

I never thought I could be thankful for a dead battery. Just goes to show that it is possible to give thanks in all things I suppose.

Photo by ChrisGoldNY and used under a Creative Commons license.

Conversation with my MIL


her: I read your blog last night, it was really very sweet. You do sound like the perfect mother on there though.

me: laughter. Yeah I have wonderful thoughts on motherhood on occasion. The execution on the other hand... not so perfect.

(Let's just say we both know better.)

her: Yes, they're lovely thoughts. But still, it was really sweet.

Lest you get the wrong idea about me, or something, from what I write here.


1000 Gifts-Week 37

holy experience

Foggy nights that smell like the Canadian Rockies.

All of the family that pitched in to throw the Boy a great party.

His face when he saw his new Star Wars shirt.

Work this week after a 3 week dry spell.

Good friends.

The way Aaron can always make me laugh.

Crisp fall mornings mixed with the scent of woodsmoke.

Birds at the feeder.

A sister in law who will drive me around on all of my birthday party errands.

A second hand chair for $5 at the first thrift store I went to after saying, "I need to buy a $5 chair somewhere to replace this broken desk chair."

Unexpected beauty.

Little putting on her "pitty dwess to dance" when I am playing Moonlight Sonata.

Watching Aaron and Hannah working together on her homework and laughing at calculus questions.

Stifled giggles with someone who shares my sense of humor.

Boy-I should be more responsible now that I am 8.

Watching the Boy build all of his new presents and talk nonstop about them.


The gratitude community is here.


8 years old!!!!

We both look like children in this photo.

Eight just seems so old. Only two years away from being a tween. Gah! How did this happen so quickly. I feel like I'm running out of time to get it right before you become a man, leave home, and all my spurts and mistakes and missteps are forever cemented into your image of what your mother is like; what your home and family are like. I'm not a perfect mother yet! Rather than sitting around waiting for me to become one and raise you properly your legs keep getting longer, your brain keeps getting smarter, and you take step after step away from me and into a life of your own choosing.

Sigh. All is right with the world. I will recover from the shock of having an 8 year old soon enough.
I love you.

The last 8 years with you have been full of joy. It is so much fun to watch you learn things. You read, all. the. time. If ever I wonder where you could have wandered off to I'm certain to find you, sprawled out somewhere with your nose bent to a page. You call out to me the more interesting bits of the National Geographic magazine as you are reading. It makes me happy to see you much you enjoy learning about things. You aren't in the least bit self conscious when you talk about these discoveries. You are filled with the simple enjoyment of discovering something new and interesting.

Perhaps my favorite thing is how you swell up and are so pleased when you receive some well deserved praise. Also the way you thank me for telling you that you did a good job.

You are the biggest help to me. You know how to play well with your sisters, to keep them entertained when I am busy. You are getting to be very good at your jobs now, and they are real jobs that help me out a lot. I can't imagine our family without you as the big brother. You do such a good job at it.

I like listening to you make up songs while you are playing. Your dad and I laugh together when we overhear you singing a theme from a Mozart symphony, or Star Wars, at the top of your lungs. You are naturally musical, and you seem to be completely unconscious of your gift. You don't know how much of a contrast it is to other kids you know that you are always on pitch and can carry a tune so well. I like singing with you in the mornings.

There is sweet eagerness to your approach to all of the things you pursue that blesses me to see. (With the possible exception of cleaning the bathroom and picking up your lego every day.) I love that even though most of our gifts to you today are badly needed clothes you will be delighted with every single one. When I asked you what you wanted for your birthday this year your answer was, "I want a Star Wars birthday, at Beema's house, with chicken noodle soup and angel food cake. And I want ewoks in canoes made out of carrots and celery again like last year."

I was wanting to know what to buy you for a present. But you don't usually think in those terms.

I hope you never grow too old to be sincere and earnest about life and the people around you. I hope you continue to be childlike, even as you become less childish, that the spontaneous wonder that charms me so will stay with all your life.

Tonight I will make chicken noodle soup again, as I have for the last three years, and hope this angel food cake from scratch idea works out. I can't wait to see your face when you see all the decorations we're planning to put up while you're at Seaworld with Beema. I hope you have a really great time. And I hope that this year goes a little more slowly than last year did, so I can have more time with you.

your mama


Come Away

There is this thing I try every so often with my kids. When I can see that they are on the verge of fighting with each other, or when they are in the middle of fighting, I call one of them to come to me. Rather than give them something to stop, I want to give them something to do. I want them to come to me. I want to give them a hug, talk it over, cuddle. I want to have a moment together that diffuses the conflict going on around them.

It usually doesn't work. They are too engaged in their anger, invested in winning this meaningless fight, to want to come and be with me for a moment. Which saddens me. I then have to discipline where I would rather comfort and guide.

Sometimes it also puts me in mind of all of those passages in the Old Testament where God is saying, over and over, "Come back to me. Didn't I raise you? Didn't I nurse you? Didn't I stay by your side and walk you through the wilderness? Didn't I save you time and time again? Yet you persist in this selfish, foolish behavior. You don't take care of the poor, or each other, and you are running off after everything else that you think will make you happy. Even though it's stupid. What am I going to do with you?"

Other times it makes me think of all the times it seems God is saying the same thing to me. When I am weary and worried and upset over things he says, "Come away. Come and spend a little time with me."

But I don't. I stay where I am. Worrying about the dirty floors and the ways that I am failing.

Slowly I'm learning, one day at a time, to let it all go, to walk away and spend a little time in the loving arms of my father. To be restored.

Maybe someday my children will learn the same.


Built by Love

Our family has changed a bit in the past month or two. I've not written of it before. I wasn't sure I ever would. It's not the easiest thing in the world to explain.

We have a new daughter. She's 19 years old. We have adopted her. Not legally of course, she's technically an adult. But she's a part of our family now in as permanent and real a way as if we had.

To explain I've got to back up just a bit. You see, this isn't the first time this has occurred in our family. I talk about Aaron's brother Sean, in Thailand, every so often. But he isn't technically even related to the rest of the family. Aaron's mom adopted him when he too was past the age of majority. I won't tell all of the story here. Suffice to say his childhood was one of abandonment and changing homes. He thought his sister was his mom for several years, and he reached adulthood without ever really experiencing the love of a mother.

Psalm 68 describes God like this,
A father to the fatherless, defender of widows... He sets the lonely into families.
We watched as God did exactly that with Sean, tying us all together with cords of love, and making him a brother, and a son. When he married his wife in a little Karen village in northern Thailand it was my mother in law who went to be there as his mother. Our family was his family at that wedding, the only family who loved him enough to make the journey to share in his joy. My MIL just returned this week from another trip to Thailand to be grandma to their daughter while they adjusted to a second baby in the house. She made the trip for both of their children just as faithfully as she has for me when my babies were born. She does it because whether or not she birthed him, or the law made him hers, Sean is her son, and she is his mother, and that's all there is too it. It is love that does this, and love doesn't need documents or blood ties to join us to each other.

A few months ago Hannah* came up to me in church, obviously distraught and asked if we could go somewhere and talk. I had been almost a year since we first met outside the Sunday School classroom. She was a freshman. Her North Dakota accent drew me to talk to her. It sounded so familiar, and yet so odd in the midst of all these southern Californians. We invited her to dinner a few times and got to know her a little. It's not unlike what we do with everyone else we meet and like.

We went to the enclosed coffee area out back. She told me about her week, and it was terrible. I won't recount it here. My heart ached for this girl in front of me, for the pain she was in. I wanted to comfort her and protect her, like I would my girls. So I took her hands in mine and wept, and prayed for her like she was my own.

When I told Aaron later that day his reaction was the same. He just wanted to hold her, and comfort her, like he would Little, or the Girl.

We decided together that we would be there for her if she would have us. We would walk through the next several painful weeks alongside her, and help as we were able.

When she next came over for dinner, a few days later, Aaron said, "I don't know if you understand this. This is something that makes sense to us. As far as we're concerned, if you want to be, you are part of our family now."

She responded, "Um, I'm not really sure I know what you mean by that."

So Aaron explained. "Family is there for you if you need them. If you have no place to go, you can come here. If you need help you can call us. If you have a good day and want someone to share it with we're here for you. If you need to cry, we're here. We are here for you, no matter what. You get to be part of us, and we're part of you. It means you're not alone."

As he spoke she started sobbing. When the crying subsided she said, quietly, "Yeah, I think I'd like that."

Since then we have been investing time getting to know each other. It's like how it might feel if you lost a child several years ago, and there they are in your life again. The bond is there, but you don't really know them yet. You're hungry for shared history.

We avoided defining the relationship for a while, letting the word family cover it all.

Then one Sunday, the day I was in nursery taking care of babies, Hannah found Aaron and cried on his shoulder for an hour or so. Her biological father is a broken, fearful, hurting old man. It drives him to be mean, spiteful, and pathologically co-dependent. Hannah has chosen to try to maintain a relationship with him, instead of walking away for good. That weekend while she was with him, at a Casino he dragged her to, in front of his friends, and then at his house where she was cleaning, cooking and taking care of him he spewed hateful angry bitter words all over her the entire time.

When I found them after service her eyes were red rimmed and sad. "What's wrong?" I asked. "Have you been crying?"

"Oh, Aaron has been helping me," she answered. "We've been talking about my other dad."

With that sentence she defined this new relationship and what it means to her. In the next few weeks we accepted her definition emotionally as well as mentally.

That is the story of how Hannah became part of our family.

A friend at church asked a few weeks later who Hannah was. How did we know her? "We met here," I told her, "she teaches the kids in Sunday School."

"Oh," she said, "I thought maybe she was a family member or something. You guys have such a big family."

"Well she is family, now." I responded. "We've sort of adopted her."

She laughed in understanding, having known us all for a while. "Yeah, you guys are good at that."

*not her real name

Love Thursday hosted here.
For those of you wondering, we're not trying to replace Hannah's biological parents. How this works is still really confusing for us, and we're trying to figure it out. She maintains a relationship with them. We are building a relationship with her mom. They see her more than we do. But there are things that they, in their brokenness have never been able to give to her. It's not that they don't love. I don't believe. It's because they are unable. We believe that we have been given the privilege of filling in those gaps, of loving in the ways she has yet to experience love. She has felt since she was 11 that she had no parents, that they only wanted her around to take care of them. This is probably not entirely true. But it has caused her to be unable to believe that anyone would ever really want her, just for who she is. We hope and pray that time with us will change all that.


One Thousand Gifts-Week 36

Little smiling as she moves in her sleep.

Three little girls walking abreast down the sidewalks. Each pushing her baby doll in a toy stroller.

The Boy nonchalantly performing a series of jumps on his scooter.

The Girl racing behind him, attempting the same.

Little tell stories like this, "Wemembah when we go Sea Wowd? We see dawphins and dey spwash us. Wemembah dat, Mommy? Wemembah?"

My kids all singing the same hymn, with many wild personalized variations, while playing with toys.

The Boy-Yes mommy, I would be happy to do that. Was that good mom, that I said it like that? Because I wanted to be helpful and obey fast.

Aaron calling me to tell me about something he's really excited about.

The Girl, while looking at a book of mazes-Oh, this one looks challenging.
(We all exchange meaningful glances over her five year old head so she won't notice us laughing at how adorable it is to hear her use such words so unselfconsciously.)

The impromptu girl band that sprang up at Beema's house last Friday thanks to a Coldplay song, and Hannah's presence to translate the piano score into a bass line for Ana. It was a lot of fun to play together.

The gratitude community is here.




Boy: No I'm not 7, I'm 18.

Girl: [immediately] That means you're old enough to get married. (Imagine dreamy tones as she says this. She has been to too many weddings this summer.)

Boy: Wait. Mommy? How old do you have to be to get married?


Little: The baby mwiyah come to owa house tonight. Me wuv her. Me can touch her.

Girl: Mommy, do you want to have another baby?

Me: Yes.

Girl: Oh. Can you do it tomorrow then?


1000 Gifts-Week 35

  • Early morning smiles from my kids when they just get out of bed.
  • That sometimes, just being yourself can bless and encourage someone.
  • Cuddling up on the couch to read books together.
  • The Girl washing a pear for Little.
  • The obvious delight on Little's face when she says good morning to the Girl.
  • The Girl's sleep crumples hair standing on end.
  • Conversations with Aaron after a successful day.
  • Quiet time! When they are actually quiet.
  • Crickets chirping outside my window as I fall asleep.
  • Clouds and cool breezes.
  • Not enough dirty laundry for a full load.
  • A doll house on loan from a friend that has the girl's enthralled.
  • Sun showers and rainbows.
  • Long walks together when we're not in a hurry.
  • Picnics at the park.
  • Banana loaf.
  • Sisters in law who are fun to be with.
  • Paint, in rich, warm cheerful colors.
  • My kids tucked into bed in the Sukkah at Beema's house, trying to find stars.

The gratitude community is here.
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