Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Performance and nose-piercing

My daughter has been sick, and she's been watching a lot of teen drama. Of course we all roll our eyes at teen drama. But there was a moment in this story that was useful to me.

This teenage girl was going to a poetry slam to try to impress a boy. Her poem was a piece of fluff, and she didn't advance. Afterwards she asked the judge why, and he said, "We were looking for something a little more raw." So she pierces her nose and seeks some angst to make her poetry better.

This story resonated with me because in my twenties, I wrote and sought to publish my poetry. I'm now in my forties, and I can clearly see why I was so frustrated in those days. The people who were judging my poetry held to values that were completely different than mine. We both respected the craft of language, but I was looking for meaning, and the crowd who judged what was and wasn't publishable wanted an expression of the twentieth-century crisis of meaning in our post-modern chaos. It is very hard to seek the approval of people whose standard is not something I respect.
(The audience at the All Asia Cafe reacts to scores presented for a poem in the preliminary rounds of the 2011 National Poetry Slam. Photo © 2011 Richard Beaubien. I still love poetry.)

Yet I was somehow seeking their approval, like the nose-pierced girl in the story. If they said my poetry was good, then I had a meaningful life. But in order to remain true to myself, I had to convince them that my words were powerful and my old-fashioned sense of God and truth were real, themes they largely rejected. It was like going to a beauty contest and expecting praise for my lovely flute playing but not bothering with the swimsuit and evening gown.

Then I realized that somehow, I have even been struggling with the values of American television. In another strain of the tv drama, the mother gave a morning-after pill to her son's girlfriend, whose parents would have freaked for religious reasons over her having sex. She bemoaned why he didn't use a condom, when they kept them in the bathroom and always talked with him openly about "wise" sexual choices.

In this story, I'm the wacko religious parents, who appear in every tv drama and are always belittled. However, I am not seeking to please this crowd. Even though my God is invisible, some day I will stand before Him and answer to how I have raised my children. The world may cast me as stupid, an irresponsible, head-in-the-sand parent, but someday I really believe reality will shift, and "their" opinion is not the one that matters.

This small epiphany expanded yesterday: I'm also not seeking the approval of my church friends, or family. Voices of approval or disapproval slip into my head very easily, but there is one voice I am listening for. It takes work to constantly tune in to Him. I can miss His conviction, and I can miss His direction if I do not consciously bring my parenting to His altar and listen. I have to be still, and I have to be intentional.

In this blog article, let me be one small voice encouraging you to listen to Dad. I may need to come back and reread it myself, on those days I feel like piercing my nose and performing for the poetry judges.

Monday, December 30, 2013


Reposted from December 14, 2009

This year, at my daughters' choir concert, I watched little 6-year-olds march into the church in their adorable sheep and shepherd outfits. Three teenagers carried in gifts, wearing splendid robes, like choir boys carrying the sacred items to the altar.

We know that celebrations of the nativity like this are not meant to be representations of the actual event. I started wondering...what would an American equivalent be? Joseph and Mary, good, church-attending kids, who got pregnant out of wedlock. Heads shake, because although we hope they do better, we know that so often church kids look just like the world. They drive an Aerostar, handed down in the family, to Kansas City, because Joseph hears they are hiring there, and he desperately needs a job. They don't have enough money for a hotel, and they are run out of several parking lots for vagrancy. One shop owner, locking up for the night, tells them to park behind his rental house, which hasn't been leased yet. He can't let them stay in the house, but they can sleep in their van in the driveway without fear of being run off.

In that van, in that borrowed driveway, Mary gives birth to the Savior of the world, whose head is cone-shaped, and he snorts a lot. We don't know His apgar score; they clean Him up as best they can and wrap Him in a blanket that Joseph's mom had bought for them, a beautiful new one, blue because Mary was just "sure" it would be a boy. The Savior, helpless in their arms. He's too tired to nurse, so they cuddle up as best as they can to try to sleep.

In a bar not too many streets over, some Hispanic landscape workers have stopped to have a beer before heading home. They are laughing and telling stories, the only people there except the owner and a waitress, when suddenly a brilliant light appears from the wall. A form appears in the light and speaks to them: do not be afraid, there is good news. The angel gives them an address, tells them they will find a baby newly born in an Aerostar van, and then suddenly the inside of the bar is bathed in light and angels everywhere, on every wall, across the ceiling, as if the roof has been lifted off and transported them all to heaven, giving glory to God Almighty...and then it stops. It's just a bar again. The men are stunned. They leave their drinks, their expensive equipment and run the few blocks to the place where the angels told them they would find a child. Sure enough! The beautiful blue blanket, the tiny, impoverished family, somehow just like them. The men marvel at the angel's accurate words. What a visitation! What could this mean! They tell everyone they meet, but no one understands it. The media won't even pick up the story, because it's just a group of Hispanics with a wild tale (from a bar, no less). The owner of the bar buys a picture of an angel to hang on the wall; they will never forget this night in this one run-down watering hole. This is the first place Jesus is exalted, God's choice of a church service.

Joseph does find work as a welder (his trade), and they rent a small house, and the baby grows. Mary gets a job at a fabric shop and Jesus stays with a woman next door who takes in a few neighbor kids. She's not registered with DHS, but they trust her, and she is very fond of their child. One day when Mary stops to pick up Jesus after getting off work, she finds three men in business suits talking with Jesus' caretaker. They were wanting to know if this was indeed Jesus BarJoseph, born on such and such date. Mary is puzzled and a little hesitant to answer their questions, but God somehow eases her heart, that it is safe to say yes. They have been searching for this child. The white-haired man who seems to be in charge introduces himself as Warren Buffett. Mary does not know who he is, but he says that he has been waiting for this child, and he would like to be a silent benefactor. He has set up a trust fund for the child, to provide private schooling, an allowance for necessary living expenses, and a college education. He would like to finance any venture that the child chooses when He is grown...could they sit and talk? Mr. Buffett has brought his lawyer and accountant. He assures Mary that he wants nothing in return; it is a blessing simply to silently provide what he can. Mary marvels at this. She remembers the immigrant workers who came when Jesus was born, and she stores these things in her heart. Her son will now be able to go to a good school, have decent clothes. How good of God to provide, even before the child is in preschool.

Because Mary and Joseph are not wealthy, the neighborhood where they live is a little rough. They are sometimes harassed for being Middle Eastern. When Jesus is about two, a very bad character begins asserting influence. He is an Asian gang member, recently moved to Kansas City from Los Angeles, and he has some ideas about what should be happening in their corner of the world. As his influence grows, their neighborhood becomes very frightening, and they often find themselves under attack by this new gang. One night, warned in a dream, Joseph is instructed to take their son and flee to Arkansas...

Wouldn't it be fun to set up a nativity with a tiny model Aeorstar, three figures stuffed inside, Hispanic workers running towards it, sometimes modeled with a weedeater in hand, to show their trade. A figure of Warren Buffet and two other men in suits standing to the side, with briefcases. Our version has a limo that these businessmen arrived in, and there is a stray dog cocking his head and looking in the van, curious like everyone else.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A gift finds its life

During the holidays, I think about family maybe more than usual--the gift of family in general, but also those who have passed on. And I enjoy where my kids are in the moment: preschoolers with their fascination of boxes (not the gift you actually bought), school-age children who are learning to give and not just receive, or teenagers who are finding their own path. This year, those two sentimental moments collided.

My daughter, home from college, suggested to my high school senior that they have a party. It was delightful to me to watch them plan food and activities together, contact friends, and work through obstacles. In the two days leading up to it, the girls and I shopped and cooked, and furiously cleaned the house. Yes, they cleaned the house. It was like Christmas-come-early for me, as you might imagine.

The eldest was telling me the litany of drinks, which included coffee. (Side note: I'm so glad she's the type of college student who came home passionate about coffee instead of alcohol. Way to go, girl.) She was also planning to make punch and asked if I had a bowl.

In the last year of her life, my husband's grandmother lived with us. I have so many memories of her. She was opinionated and deeply loyal to her family. She always had "suggestions," which she usually sort of forced on you, and yet you still felt loved in all her bullying. (My husband didn't always react so well to her, which is probably the difference of living with her for one year vs. having a lifetime of bossiness.) One time, she showed me this punch bowl that she had and announced, "You're going to need this, with three girls. You'll have parties and weddings and all sorts of receptions. You'll need a punch bowl."

Right. Of course, she lived decades in Tennessee, raising her daughter in the 50's and 60's. Punch bowls were probably a requirement in her world, but I just didn't see it happening in mine. The punch bowl, filled with glasses, stayed at the top of my husband's closet.

But when my daughter said, "Do we have a bowl for the punch?" I suddenly remembered it. We dug it out. It was resting on a cut glass plate, and as we unloaded all the glasses, there was something like a candy dish inside. I realized it was a tier: the bowl rested on the odd little piece and then on the tray to make a chalice. She had included hooks for the sides of the bowl, from which you could hang the cups.

And all the cups were mismatched. The bowl was this amazing contraption, but the cups were some smooth, some with glass fruit patterns, some cut in all different styles. Two of one pattern, four of another, for a total of 24. I love mismatched things. It feels a bit modern somehow, the hodgepodge of styles, held together with the punch theme.

And the first time I cared about it was my daughters' first party as young adults. The punch bowl served my eldest's favorite recipe: Hawaiian punch and Sprite, not fancy at all. It was gobbled up by the dozen teenagers in my home (mostly boys, who I'm sure didn't really care about the beautiful little glass punch cups).

And there was the memory of Grandmother, standing in my kitchen: "I told you that you would need a punch bowl."

For parties.

For weddings.

For all kinds of receptions.

I guess when I go forward in this life, I will be equipped with the punch bowl I didn't know I needed. Heritage is like that--it gives you things you never knew you would want.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mary, did you know?

At least once during the Christmas season, I spontaneously burst into tears over a Christmas song. Usually, it's "Mary, Did You Know?" but today it was something similar: "You're Here" by Francesca Battistelli.

The line, "I'll be watching when you change the world" is what started me blubbering. My children are poised on the edge of adulthood. I want to watch them change the world. I've worked to teach them what that looks like: loving people, not seeking your own glory, serving others, listening, committing. I'm not sure if any of us get a "big assignment." We're each a part of the church, this amazing organism that is Jesus Christ in a hurting world.

But what did it look like, for Mary, when Jesus changed the world?

I was talking with one of my girls about Christianity in the car the other day. We were talking about how deeply she questions her beliefs, and I simply reassured her: if you seek God, you will find Him. By asking questions, you are making sure that the foundation for your life is solid and worth building on. A solid foundation is worth having, so ask away. She knows that there are claims on your life when you follow God. She struggles with the truth that, as a Christian, you can't just do whatever you want.

We have three desires for our daughters' future spouses: 1) be kind and respectful, 2) follow Jesus, and 3) be willing and able to support a family. My daughter said that she hoped she would be attractive to a Christian, even though she questions God so much.

My heart cried out, "Oh, yes, baby. You will be attractive to the kind of man you will need." I really believe that each of my children will grow up to change the world, just because they are so alive and beautiful. They are salt and light. Wherever God takes them, they will bring healing, preservation, and a brightness that is in them because of God.

The world, however, can be harsh and ugly. And I think the world will hurt them. I've watched it already in the "safe" environment of school and church.

So when Francesca Battistelli sings, "But I'll be watching when you change the world," I think of Mary at a distance as Jesus is being scourged. I think of her watching him impaled on a cross and hanging naked like a criminal.

Because He was saving us.

She had a few people around her who were heartbroken with her, but her heart was so shattered that God warned her in advance what was coming (Luke 2:35), just so she would know that this was not beyond Him: it was actually the plan.

If I want the Lord to work in the lives of my children, my expectations should be the same as Mary's. I do not believe that they are guaranteed health, wealth, and happiness; I believe that God wants to touch people, and my child will be a part of that. And it might hurt.

"For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him" (Philippinas 1:29). It has been granted.

"Son though he was, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:8).

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you [or your children] face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (James 1:2-4).