Watching my children play, I am reminded of the wonder and beauty of small and simple things. There is enough joy in a glass of milk to send a three year old dancing around the kitchen; there is enough beauty in a well-done coloring page to keep a distractible, active four year old still and entranced watching it happen; there is enough passion in a stuffed animal to occupy the full attention and imagination of the one year old who walk around snuggling and protecting it. Continue reading “wonder”
My therapist used to tell me, “it isn’t your business what other people think of you.” I’m still not sure I completely agree with her, since what other people think can occasionally have fairly large consequences on a practical level (promotions at work, for example) – but in general it’s correct. I’m entitled to my beliefs and opinions, and other people are entitled to theirs. Someone else might think I’m antisocial or making poor parenting choices because I want to homeschool; I might think someone is arrogant and disconnected from local community because they are a snowbird. But if I choose to live my life based on the thoughts of others about me and my decisions, I’ll be miserable (just like all those snowbirds would be, sweltering here all summer without the communities they grew up in, or being shut in all winter there because they can’t shovel themselves out anymore).
I have to let it go. Continue reading “letting go”
Once upon a time there was a church which had a female pastor. Now, this pastor wasn’t the lead pastor, or even the primary teaching pastor; she led the family and children’s ministries, actually, and spent most of her ministry time with women and youth. But she had the title of pastor – Pastor Barbara.
She was beautiful. She had long, curly brown hair and a nose with that perfect spark of defiance bringing its straight lines singing up from her face. She had a gentle way of moving – never too fast or too sudden – and a gentle way of speaking – never too loud or too harsh. And when she saw the children she loved and taught and prayed for, her whole body would glow with that love and light, like an emanation of the Holy Spirit through her presence.
There was a small girl at this church who adored Pastor Barbara wholeheartedly and unstintingly, although mostly from a distance as she was a quiet child. She enjoyed above all the new songs that Pastor Barbara would sing with them! For her, songs were a release from the uncertainty of social interactions, because the songs (at least the children’s songs that she knew) would specify how you were supposed to act. Take for example “Father Abraham:” no one would ever move that way in everyday life, but the song says to do it so everyone does it and no one has to worry about being out of sync.
As the teacher walkout continues here in Arizona I feel like I’m just beginning to process the events and come to an opinion about it all. It’s an interesting topic for me, since I’ve always been an outsider to the school system and maintain that self-directed learning is better ideologically than the authoritarian traditional educational model we have in the US – and yet, at the same time, I recognize that the majority of children are in public schools and as a Christian who desires the good of my neighbors and community I want those public schools to be the best that they can be for the sake of the children in them. In a perfect world the school system would be fundamentally different, and I believe it is important to work towards those deep system-level changes – but in the meantime, there are children in the schools now who deserve the best our society can give them instead of being neglected in the pursuit of future goals, and pragmatic changes for their short-term benefit are a good thing.
One of my friends shared the following image on Facebook: Continue reading “it seems that our school system is failing everyone these days…”
“We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent. […] Being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.
“We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity. […]
“So many of us have become afraid and angry. We’ve become so fearful and vengeful that we’ve thrown away children, discarded the disabled, and sanctioned the imprisonment of the sick and the weak – not because they are a threat to public safety or beyond rehabilitation, but because we think it makes us seem tough, less broken. […] But simply punishing the broken – walking away from them or hiding them from sight – only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.”
– Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy, emphasis added
The last line from the quote above lingers in my mind, settling down slowly through my thoughts like gentle rain seeping deeper into the clay soil of our desert yard (and my thoughts are holding onto it like that clay retains the water that falls upon it).
I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’s attempt (in Mere Christianity) at explaining how one man’s sin could affect the whole human race, and how one man’s righteousness could restore it, in which he compared humanity to a tree, each individual inextricably bound to the others through time and space, biologically and spiritually, so that sickness could spread from one to all the rest, and likewise healing.
I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, where he writes that if he suffers, it is for the purpose of bringing them comfort and salvation, and that if he is comforted, that is also for their comfort and salvation. He was willing to be broken himself to help restore them to wholeness, and to share his healing with them. To be honest, I don’t think it would have been a satisfactory and complete healing for him if he knew that the church he loved was still broken and suffering, either through sin or persecution.
But I also know, from observation and experience, that vulnerability is hard, that grace is hard, that walking with another person on the path from brokenness to healing is incredibly hard. People don’t usually respond the way you might want or expect, and their journey toward wholeness tends to be circuitous and rocky. Rehabilitation isn’t a process of making over broken people into our image (or some ideal image), but rather a process of helping those people find freedom from the bonds of trauma, regret, addiction, illness, and so on. I don’t think it is possible without some amount of pain.
And as for how this might look, practically, in my life? I have no idea. There are many possibilities, obviously, since all of us are so broken, but I don’t know where to go after the basic beginnings of extending love and grace to my family and immediate community. I do know, at least, that I intend to keep my eyes and ears open to the stories and hurts of other people, so that when the opportunity to show love and mercy does arise I am prepared.
Sometimes it seems like there is a lot of pressure to do things for rather external and arbitrary reasons. Preparation for adulthood is a big one, for example – learn these math facts now so that you’ll be educated and prepared for your job as an adult; exercise and eat healthy now so that you’ll have better health when you’re older; practice a musical instrument as a child because you’ll regret not having done so when you’re older; and so on. Of course, if you attempted to prepare for adulthood in every possible way (even limiting yourself to a single culture), you would lose your childhood and probably wouldn’t be able to cover everything anyway…
Happiness is another oft-cited reason, and an even more arbitrary one, as the things which lead to a fulfilled and happy life for one individual can be radically different than the elements that are necessary for another. There might be pressure to get married and start a family when a person honestly does not want children or is not ready for the commitment of marriage. There might be a push to get off social media as a sort of “spiritual refreshment” when a person struggles to connect with their friends and communities through other means, so that the lack of social media pushes them into isolation.
And worst of all are the cultural “shoulds” – the things that people thing you ought to do, just because they are considered normal, or aspirational, or “good.” You “should” read these books, or listen to that music, or study American history in junior high, or clean your house with only vinegar and baking soda, or live in the city to fight suburban sprawl, or live in the country and try to be self-sustaining, or ride your bike as much as possible, or eat only these types of food, or dress in these types of clothes – just because that is what everyone else, in a large amorphous and vague blob, things you should do.
I’m trying to keep my kids sheltered from these “shoulds” for as long as I can.
I want them to be free from that pressure long enough to gain confidence in who they are and in how they process the world.
I want them to have the time and space to form their own goals, to explore their own interests, to decide what path makes the most sense for themselves, and to develop their own motivation.
I don’t want them to be so exhausted from trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations that they have no margin left to imagine a future of their own choosing.
I don’t want them to feel self-conscious about the judgment of others when they take a step backwards, or make a mistake, or pause to observe and analyze their course – the “shoulds” of perfection and speed are powerful and deadly.
And whatever their goal might be – if it is finding a perch to sit on to study the world in its beauty and complexity, or taking a flying leap for the rush and satisfaction of a challenge overcome, or some path that never even occurred to me before they charted their course – I hope that they continue to live free and wild and bold and uniquely themselves, whether they accomplish that goal or not.
(Images are of Limerick playing on a spiderweb-type piece of playground equipment. In each image he is a bit more confident in his body language. In the second-to-last image he sits on the corner looking away from the camera, choosing his next step; in the last image he is leaping from one step to the next, completely airborne.)
I’ve been spending a lot of time on Pinterest lately, in an effort to avoid Facebook (and while waiting for my books on hold to become available!), and I’ve found some really encouraging, helpful, and inspiring posts! I’ve also found quite a few off-the-wall recipes that I’ve made to varying familial approval… but let’s not dwell on that.
I think the following two images which I found there are amazing examples of the difference between awareness of autism and acceptance of autism (the first was uploaded directly to Pinterest by a user, and the second is from the Thirty Days of Autism blog):
Notice how in the first poster only the negative effects of autism are mentioned: meltdowns, avoidance, tears, frustration, worry, and stress. Autism is an evil, something that one needs to fight through with hope and prayer, like a sickness that needs to be overcome and that left unchecked would destroy one’s life. (And if it were a sickness, like cancer, that would be more than fine! As it is actually a neurological and developmental difference that is always going to be part of who a person is, however, this attitude can feel like a personal attack on an autistic individual’s identity.)
In contrast, the second poster focuses on the unique behaviors caused by autism – things that are different from normal, but neutral rather than negative: parallel play, a need for space, deep focus and passion, love of technology, and stimming. Autism is portrayed as a part of who that family is – something for which they love each other, not something despite which they love each other. Acceptance gives them the freedom to be themselves, however autistic that self might be, while still receiving unconditional love and support in the midst of their individual needs and struggles.
Let’s just say I know which lens I’d rather be seen through – and therefore, which perspective I want to take when raising my differently wired child.