Monday, April 22, 2013

...But for the Grace of God

Rose and Julie in a Boston race
My Rosie went to college in Boston, and often ran through its streets. She has scads of friends up there. My dear young friend Carrie is in school there now, and was actually at the Marathon. My first thought on Monday was, “Is everybody OK?” Miraculously, our friends seem to be fine, physically if not emotionally. But a gaping wound was opened with those two explosions, and it will take a lot of time for that city to really heal. Who will be held accountable for this tragedy? A 19 year old boy.  Even if he lives to be brought to justice, the lost cannot be returned. There are no do-overs when evil strikes. Nothing can be undone.

Last week at Sunday School gathering, I talked with the kids about forgiveness, Christ’s mandate for us to pardon one another “seventy times seven” times, no matter what. Yesterday, we had the opportunity to put our words into action. I gave the children pens and paper, and asked them to write two notes. One will go to Jeff Bauman, a double-amputee and the hero who helped identify the suspects for the police. Predictably, the children wrote letters of praise and encouragement to Jeff, and I know he will be cheered by reading them. The other? The other will be sent to the hospital where a young man named Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fights for his life. He is responsible for three deaths and scores of serious injuries, all possibly in the name of some hideously twisted view of the Muslim religion. His brother, by many accounts his mentor and the mastermind behind this heinous crime, is dead.  So what do you write to a murderer?

Here’s what they wrote: Jesus still loves you. You did a horrible thing, but God forgives you. Change your ways. Get well. I’m praying for you. Who knows if he will ever see these notes, and, if so, what effect could they possibly have?

Maybe, just maybe, these notes and others like them (my Lutheran colleague Rich Melheim came up with the idea and I hope many other churches will follow) will create a chink in his armored heart.  Perhaps the seeds of reconciliation will be sown, and he will become, as Rich puts it, “the most loving person in prison.” But even if he doesn’t…

I hope the kids came to understand, even a little bit, that “there but for the grace of God go I”—go us. Any of us could have a child who turns to violence, a brother, a friend. Tsarnaev could BE us, given different circumstances—let’s not kid ourselves about that. We are a hair’s breadth away from the living nightmare we cause for each other, we dreadfully flawed human beings.

Tomorrow I will mail both sets of letters, with prayers for both young men—the injurer and the injured. And I will continue to believe that no one, no one, is beyond redemption.  With the grace of our endlessly loving God.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Here, Kitty Kitty


What was that incredibly loud middle-of-the-night sound coming from downstairs? I needed to know! And so, of course, sent Steve to find out. Here's what he found out: the frisky feline we are cat-sitting for got into the upstairs bathroom, found a small opening underneath the cabinets, somehow squeezed herself through, landed above the kitchen ceiling (the clear panel over the lights), broke said panel and went crashing, panel and all, to the ground. The panel shattered. Ruthie did not (although it probably counts against those nine lives of hers). Since then, every door has been shut tight, to try and prevent another Kamikaze Kat incident while she's on our watch. I'm pretty sure Ruthie will figure out another means of putting herself in harm's way before long, though.

It was sort of the same with Evan when he was small. He could flatten himself almost to pancake width and get into seemingly inextricable spaces, including getting his head stuck between the bannisters on the staircase (a moment of sheer horror when my folks were visiting. Thank God big strong Grandpa came to the rescue and pulled the spokes apart to release my little wiggleworm). It was also Ev who introduced our family to the neighborhood on moving day in 1989. Our doorbell rang, and I opened it to find a couple of folks who'd been walking down the street. I thought they'd come to welcome us. Instead, they’d come to inform us that our tiny three year old was standing, spreadeagled, in an upstairs window in his pajamas. Thanks for the heads up, neighbors!! Yes, a terrible mother has moved to town!!

Evan and his rescuer, my dad

What is it about cats and kids and curiosity? If they truly want to get in (or out), it seems there's not a latch or gate or barrier that can keep them from reaching their destination. They are hard-wired to explore their world with every means at their disposal, and to look at that world as a safe and wonderful place. It doesn't occur to them that they might be endangering themselves, not a bit.

Moving into the risk-happy teens, with car keys and increasing freedom, our children continue to seek new and exciting experiences, and we parents are left to threaten them with...what? Grounding. Grounding for missing that curfew, for taking that terrible's what we have to do to keep them from getting hurt. But even with all of our precautions and consequences, there will be kids, as there will be cats, whose curiosity trumps our best efforts.

So there we are, forever coaxing our loved ones away from peril. We have to do this; we should do this. But let’s always leave room for a little wonder and daring in their lives. The world is, after all, a marvelous place—and cowards (like me) miss most of the fun.

I watch Ruthie, perched in the window much like Evan was that long-ago evening, plotting her next adventure. I envy her…and wish her luck.

Monday, April 1, 2013

I'm Gonna Make You Love Me

On the phone with my sister Carolyn in Hawaii last night for our Easter chat.  C confessed to being very bothered by something. Someone she’d thought of as a friend had suddenly turned ice cold and “dropped” her.  I thought my sis was better off without this person, and told her so. But I completely understood her upset. It’s how I live my life.

You see, I am a compulsive people pleaser. I come by it naturally. My mom Joanie couldn’t bear to have anyone on earth dislike her. To that end, she was constantly bending over backwards to be warm and friendly and always agreeable.  Mom, 70 years later, remembered, and OFTEN talked about, her failure to keep a classmate’s friendship in elementary school. Apparently this child was a big stinker, but that didn’t matter—little Joanie took everything she said and did incredibly to heart. In later years, our across the street neighbor took delight in switching moods on Mom: one day a delightful buddy, the next, a nasty adversary. Mom always blamed herself, and redoubled her efforts to please this un-pleasable woman.

Joanie (left) with a true friend
So that was my role model growing up, and I was an excellent student. As a result, my “friends” included a parade of girls who would invite me over to play, and then send me home in tears. I kept coming back for more, though, because my ever-shaky self-esteem ruled the day. In high school, I utterly exhausted myself in my quest to be universally loved. It never once occurred to me that there might be people who wouldn’t like me if I stood on my head and spit nickels. No, no—surely there was something I could say or do to win over the whole world!

Me at age 11--what wasn't to like?
Well, I haven’t improved all that much. At 56 I still often yearn for complete acceptance by every soul I encounter. It’s not just a matter of being generally nice to folks—there’s nothing wrong with that. But when I obsess about people who, for whatever reason, don’t care for me—well, that is a huge waste of time. And besides, why do I think I’m so swell that the entire population has to find me irresistible?

I am working on it, and there are small signs of progress. Being left off a guest list here and there is not a calamity. In fact, it may be a good thing, a sign that I’m finally beginning to own my personality, to be the real me—even when “me” rubs somebody the wrong way.

Among my kids, I have a couple of people pleasers, and I hate that I’ve been a poor role model for them in this area. If I could give them one message today, this would be it: just be yourself.  God made us all unique for a reason. Rejoice in your uniqueness. Revel in the people who truly love you. For the rest, be nice, and if they still don’t like you, let it go.