Tuesday, August 21, 2012

compassion: he remembers that we are dust.

It was one of those mornings with my children.  Chris was leading the music at church Sunday and I stayed home since Jubilee was miserable, with coughing and fever.  We didn't have the most enjoyable time - Safran didn't seem to understand that Jubilee needed me more than he did, that I could not give him everything that he desired of me right when he wanted it.  I did my best, I wore Jubee on my back as much as she would let me, I tried to help her sleep alone (didn't really happen) but my sometimes empathetic child seemed to throw off any hints of compassion for his sister - the louder she cried, the louder he demanded. 

He followed me around, asking for cups of water (without lids, with [broken] promises of 'no big mess'), pictures of robots drawn although he wanted every pen or crayon that I tried to use, different foods in bowls that were dumped in his lap or dropped on the floor.  It was that kind of morning.  He's 2.  But I was still frustrated with him.

At one point I said, very rhetorically and under my breath, "What else do you want from me??".  He didn't miss a beat:  "The ipad!"

I started giggling and he looked surprised (I don't think he was joking) and then joined.  The tension was broken, unexpected humour built a bridge we could both cross and be reconciled.

I'm pretty sure that most of the time from God's perspective of the whole world I am that demanding toddler when there are sick babies everywhere.   I grumble about things that would be luxuries to most of the world, I hold on to small offenses when I've been forgiven of much greater, I pity myself far too often.  And I'm not 2. 

But the compassion of God is so great, so capable of "suffering-with", so without judgement and ranking and comparing and criticizing.   There is always a call to maturity, to produce the fruit of God's essence in our lives, to seek God's kingdom re-ordering in the world, to do justice, love mercy and keep walking forward.  But, as it's written in Psalm 103:

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.

Sometimes when I need more compassion for my son I remember his birth.  I imagine his little body all plugged in and on ice, how I wasn't even allowed to hold him in his first 30 hours outside of his safest place.  When I re-call my fragile baby back then, my heart and arms draw my (sometimes defiant) two year old closer.  

Maybe God does the same for us, thinks way, way back to our collective birth story, to how He knelt down, knees in the dust and scooped us up from the uncorrupted dirt, formed us in God's very image and breathed life into the first of us so powerful that it would continue to this very moment.  Even in our raging, our destruction of each other and beloved creation, even in our hatred and violence, our racism and greed, God looks on us, squints those fiery love-eyes and remembers how we began, remembers that we are made from dust.  And that other-wordly compassion is stirred again.  

He remembers that we are dust.

Bless the Lord oh my Soul.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Can I get a witness?

I read a blog the other day on the ideal spacing between children.  I did not read that blog because we are eager to become pregnant again (our hands and bed are very full at the moment, thank you) but i was curious as to what the article would say.  The writer stated the usual 18months to 4 years to become pregnant again - having less than 18 months or more than 4 years between birth and a new pregnancy can increase risks of complications in baby and mama.  I know this, in fact I've taught many a women in India and East Africa on this subject, women with difficulty accessing the nutrition that is readily available to those of us living in the west.  I remember being a bit stunned when talking with a group of Sudanese women about how they space their children; when one lady shouted, 'you have your husband take another wife', most of the group agreed.  Well, that's one way to do it I guess.

My children are 17 months and 4 days apart.  I would have never planned it this way.  If you talked to me during the pregnancy at all, while excited I was a bit stunned and also slightly terrified.  We panicked about our son's night nursing habits, I imagined long days with both children crying, the clock ticking extra slow and my husband coming home from work late.  It would probably rain everyday.  I really didn't know how I could do it. 

The first two months were a bit crazy, although we had family and friends surround us with so much support that we more than survived, and by the time Miss J was 3 months I was really enjoying it.  Now that she's 7 months (what?!) I absolutely love the closeness of my children and most of the time it's so good that I can't believe we were hoping to wait a whole 'nother year to become pregnant. 

Two children, in our family, is easier than one.  I think it's because my son Safran, now two years old, has someone to witness his life who otherwise doesn't have much else to do.  Oh I'm his witness of course, but sometimes food needs to be prepared and the floor needs to be swept and I do have fun playing with him but I just can't meet his need to be seen as much as he, well, needs to be seen. 

But Jubilee can.  She doesn't really have much else to do.  She watches him, in fact if he's in the room that's about all she watches. From early on she enjoyed tummy time and would play with a small toy next to her brother, frequently pausing to see how he does it.  As soon as she could sit up well she began to dance herself a bit as he pranced around with his guitar and shook a tambourine on the coffee table.

And he loves her - when she starts to fuss he often runs to her with a toy, or to pat her on the back.  He puts his new soccer ball in her lap and yells, 'Boobie did it!'  (Perhaps we should have considered how our young son would say our new baby's name before we gave it to her?)  She squeals with delight.  He hears her first stirs and squawks upon waking quicker than anyone - 'Boobie up!  Boobie up!'.  They meet with huge smiles reunited, their hearts at rest.  And I'm suddenly free to wash some dishes.

I noticed last week that my son asks (demands?) to be 'up' less and less these days, how he seems to be outgrowing that need - which gives me hope that there are other needs, like nursing and night-waking, that he will eventually outgrow as well.  I'm pretty sure his new love of independent play is because of his little sister's engaged presence and adoring eyes.  The boy has a witness.

I too want a witness.  I was always a 'teacher's pet' type in school - I so wanted the teachers to see my hand (semi-permanently) raised to answer the question they had thrown out, and I wanted them to see my work and tell me it was good.  That's probably why I write randomness and publish it on the internet for people to read, and maybe that's why there are 4 million 'mommy-bloggers' in the United States.  Please, tell me that I'm significant, tell me that my days are seen at least through my words, that I'm not simply toiling away here unappreciated.  So few of us are content to live as recluses, many of us want a good chunk of the world to know the most minute details of our day via Facebook status updates.  Blame it on social media and unlimited internet access but maybe we just want a witness. 

One of the holiest parts of marriage is our witnessing of each other in the sleeping and eating and laughing and sobbing and playing and doing it all again and again.   With that comes all the ugliness of course, the things we wish weren't seen, but isn't that the truth of us all anyway.  And isn't that the call of friendship and community in our lives, we aren't meant to do this all alone, we aren't meant to trudge along unnoticed.  True loneliness is a dark place and few of us could survive that way for long.  We need each other for at least this seeing, this acknowledging our existence, hopefully telling us we are loved, at least a little bit. 

I spent some months in Cape Town, South Africa and the greeting among the beautiful Xhosa people is 'Molweni' - literally meaning "I see you".  And that's it really, more than we want people to know even how we are, we want them to know that we are.

Quickly my focus can spiral inward especially with stats to check and texts to receive, compliments and Facebook likes to hope for.  Can I get a witness?  Do you see me over here?  The truth is, the eyes of the whole world will never be enough, it's a black hole this soul of mine and I will swallow it all up and still be so hungry.  Even sharing a bed, morning coffee and the evening hours with the kindest boy I know isn't enough attention for me, although as a single woman I was convinced it would be.  As much as I want to be seen and acknowledged, my deepest joy and satisfaction comes in using my own eyes to see others.  My husband and children, people in our community and neighbourhood, even friends and family far away -  they too long to be seen.  Some solid eye contact and kind words to the man ringing up my groceries, a look of compassion towards the other mom with rowdy children  at the quiet library, my full attention to my baby girl as she nurses to sleep in my arms.  It's in the giving, in the seeing others that I find my sense of place and right and love.

My son waves and says 'Ha-roe' to most people that we pass on our street.  He's good at seeing them, even when I prefer he didn't.  Sometimes that's shop owners we are getting to know but just as often it's men lurking in the afternoon doorways of our local pubs (the kind that have exploited top*less 'waitresses' on Friday nights).  Saf waves, the man smiles and we make uncomfortable eye contact.  Even you are worthy of love and belonging. Molweni, sir.  Even you are seen.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

you are two, and may you always be

To my firstborn child:

You are two today and we celebrate everything you have been and all that is to come.  We celebrate who you are right now.  Sometimes it's hard for us, so much new in your brain and body that your heart gets a bit overwhelmed and none of us have the map, none of us know the territory - we follow each other in circles, trying to stay safe and connected.  We make mistakes, we forgive and kiss and smell grace's invitation with the next breath.

You are two, and may you always be.

Two years old and you've only 'slept through the night' a handful of times and not for ages.  We're getting there, maybe, but probably not soon.  Hopefully ever.  Some day you won't need me to help you fall back asleep, but I pray that these night after nights of care have established a foundation of trust upon which our friendship will grow.  I want you to always know that we are there for you in the night, in the darkness, in the waves of desert and fear and heartache that sweep into our lives sometimes, even when we are all grown up.  You never need to cry alone.

Sometimes you scream - those pipes are impressive, devastatingly so in certain moments.  I try not to hush you as much as re-reroute that energy towards words more clear and productive.  But honestly, there are some things in this world that deserve our screaming, where too many of us keep silent and look away.  Please my child, scream with all you've got when it's the right thing to do.  Scream at injustice and apathy, scream when the fog of the empire tries to smother your passions, scream when others are in need and are not being listened to.  Rememeber that silence in the face of oppression is never neutral, it's always giving the oppressor power.  Please scream for the love of all that is right and true in the world.

You're a fighter.  As a gentle parent this perplexes me (and frustrates me) to no end.  But it's the fight in you that got you through your birth, and that's my every day grateful for the past two years.  The fight is still in you and can make it challenging to navigate play-dates when you've hit another rough patch, but I know the energy is good.  Some day you will fight for justice, fight for human rights, fight for community and love - you'll fight the urge to hate, to exclude, to isolate, to despair.  Please, let's eventually lose the shoving and the snatching, but never lose the fight.

Passion and persistence is in your bones.  It's from your father, that 'I've got summit fever and no I won't turn back' - the relentlessness is tiring, but oh the possibilities of your spirit!  Ask a thousand questions until you've lived out the answers, demand justice from the government and the church while knocking on every door, and please, never tire of making mistakes if your heart is oriented towards truth.  Let that persistence produce long-suffering love.

You love your sister, almost seven months of friendship on the grow with her eyes always fixed on you, my boy.  May you learn to love women - oh this might be my strongest prayer for you.  May you love women with real Love - Love that costs you something, that recognizes value and honour and beauty in every woman on the earth.  Love never uses people, never treats other humans as objects, never oppresses or tries to control.  When the world tells you that photo-shopped bodies in magazines are real or desirable, that pornography is no big deal, that women are weak or disposable, that sex is a commodity - I expect you to choose Love.  You love your sister as much as you can, you care when she's hurting and when she cries you help make the situation right.  Let that seed grow, my dear son.  May it mark your life for all to see. 

You are two, and may you always be.