Wednesday, August 17, 2011

To a First Grade teacher

Dear teacher of my youngest child:

I met you at the school open house last night, and you seemed to be everything I want in a first grade teacher: warm, open, caring, a person who relates instantly with children, who can get my shy child to actually tell you his name! I’m looking forward to this year with you and to everything that you will teach my child.

Before I hand him off to you for nearly seven hours a day though, there are some things I want you to know about my child. Oh, I know that you had us fill out a paper at the open house “My child in a million words or less.” But I’m an introvert and I don’t process thoughts that quickly, and I’m a word person who can’t distill my child into a few short paragraphs. So here is what I would have told you about this child, one of the great loves of my life…

From the moment he was born I was sure this was going to be my extroverted child. Whatever he did he did with gusto and went after it with a single minded determination. Imagine my surprise, then, to discover a few years into his life that he takes more after his introverted mother. This child will play well with a few close friends, but everyone else gets the shy head duck. Even classmates he spent the past year with will be nearly strangers if he meets them in public.

A classic introvert, he wants to please and he craves affection. This can sometimes get him carried away with clowning around because he loves to make people laugh. He loves to get reactions from people. It has taken me several years to realize that this is his way of saying “Here I am, SEE me! Notice me!” I’m learning that what he really wants most is the connection, the hand on the shoulder, the smile, and the affirmation of who he is.

In solitude he has one of the richest imaginations I’ve ever seen. He will sit for hours by our refrigerator playing with the magnetic poetry words. Not so much reading them as turning them into characters in whatever elaborate story he happens to be making up at the moment. They are spaceships, they are monsters, and they are animals and people and a thousand other things living out their story on a white background. Give him outlets for his imagination and watch him come to life.

This desire for solitude will be your biggest challenge, as it is mine. There will be many days when he just doesn’t want to go to school. I’m beginning to suspect they are the days he just wants to hole up in the introvert cave and be silent, the days he wants it to be just him and me. Be gentle with him on those days. You will know them because he will arrive at school with tear streaked face and stubborn eyes. He’s lost the battle to stay home, and I’m counting on you to remind him that school can also be a safe and nurturing place.

Delight in and nurture his imagination.

Be patient with his frustration when he struggles to master a concept. (Anything linear; days of the week, time, math…these are the things he will struggle with.)

Be gentle but firm when he acts out. He will get carried away; he will need to be reminded.

Most of all, love him. Love him because I worry that loving him from a distance won’t be enough to carry him through his days. Love him because he is loveable. Love him because he is my child, because he is anybody’s child.

I’m giving you the sacred trust of helping to teach my child. I wouldn’t hand that over to just anybody. I wouldn’t hand HIM over to just anybody. Be worthy of that trust.

A mother

Friday, August 5, 2011

What I'm reading - August Edition

The problem with reading blogs is that occasionally frequently they will review books that sound really interesting. This is causing my 'to-read' list over at Goodreads to increase beyond what I could possibly read in at least the next six months. And every time I knock a book off, two or three more come to take its place. This could get expensive if I bought every book, fortunately we have a great library system that has most of them available. But sometimes books hover at the top of my list for awhile and the library doesn't have them and I never win any of the free copies given away on blogs, so I give up and order them. I just got an order in this week, so suddenly my pile of books has grown dramatically. Here's what I'm reading, or contemplating reading, this month.

Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. This is a library book that I'm about half-way through. So far it has been a surprisingly easy read (there are copious footnotes and references at the bottom of each page for the more scholarly minded). The book explores the roots of...well, just about EVERYTHING we do or see in church. From the set-up of the building, to what we wear to the order of service this book shows where those practices came from and how they deviate from what the 1st century church looked like and was intended to be.

OK, I wasn't naive enough to think that the early church looked like how we do things now. Still, it is eye-opening to see just how we differ and why that can hinder the church functioning in the way it was intended to function. No, I'm not ready to run out and join a house church; I love the church I'm at too much for that. But this book is making me rethink how we function as a body and wonder if there is any way to move back at all.

Following somewhat off that is the next book on my list Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh. If you know me you know that I am an introvert's introvert. There's not even any question about it. My 'I' on the Meyers Briggs is about as heavily weighted of an I as you can get. So from the moment I saw this book reviewed I knew I had to read it, because honestly the attitude of the many wonderful extroverts I know that with God's help I can exhibit my passion just like them is getting a little bit wearying. If God wanted me to act like them then wouldn't he have made me an extrovert? This book is about introverts finding our place in a church that values extroverts as the highest example of the what we should attain to. It is a book for introverts like me, struggling to find their place. It is a book for the extroverts who love us, to help them understand that we are not simply less passionate versions of themselves. It is a book for the 25% of pastors who are introverts in a position where people expect them to be extroverts. It as a book for the members of their churches wondering why their pastor doesn't act the way they think a pastor ought to act. In other words, its a book for all of us.

The next book on my list is Half the Church: Recapturing God's Global Vision for Women by Carolyn Custis James. (Are you detecting a theme here?) This book is my antidote to the teaching of 'what a Godly Christian Woman (TM) looks like'. It takes away the assumption that all women operate on the same economic or stage of life footing and examines what God really calls us to be.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Kristof and WuDunn is next on my list. (See, I just took the theme and turned a corner!) This one hit my list mainly because I am passionate about women's and children's issues and am trying to figure out how to direct that passion.

And finally Just Moms: Conveying Justice in an Unjust World, a compilation of stories from 27 authors on modeling Christian social-justice principles for our children. I will admit that so far this one is my favorite because it is SO readable. Every story is short, every story is self-contained, every story is REAL! This is the perfect book for moms like myself who are right the thick of mothering and wondering how to teach our children about things like simplicity, equality, peace, and giving. It is a book to reassure us that we don't have to follow some program and get it perfect, that we don't have to turn out perfect little activists. We just have to be real, and allow our children to be real as well.

Oh, ok, that's not the last book in my list. Lest you think I'm all about the non-fiction let me assure you that my primary delight is fiction and this month I am also reading:

Unwind which I need to pick up from the library today and also A Game of Thrones because it has been awhile since I geeked out on a good epic fantasy. I may also work a few cheesy mysteries and chick-lit books in there as well. I am so not an intellectual!

So, that's what I'm reading, what about you?

P.S. I can't possibly read all of these books at once, so if anyone in this area really wants to borrow one I will happily lend it out.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Let us not grow weary...

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Gal. 6:9 (ESV) 

I see them staring out from my computer screen. Faces of children dying of starvation in Somalia; 29,000 of them in the last three months. That is JUST the number for those under the age of five. That would be all but 7,000 of the preschoolers in Washington, DC. Half of the preschoolers in Delaware or South Dakota. 1 out of every 100 in California. I read the news stories and I glance at the comments hoping to see people moved to help. I need to stop reading the comments, because how can people look into the face of suffering like this and be so hateful, so vengeful, so unmoved?

I read the stories from bloggers currently traveling in Bolivia with World Vision. More faces of children, more stories of poverty, of children walking an hour to get to school, of fathers leaving families to find work and never returning. Stories that bring tears to my eyes and rip holes in my heart. And I hear the frustration in the words of the bloggers as they report that their blog stats are down because apparently people don't want to hear about the broken places.

The other week our family participated in the annual Minn-Kota  Festival for World Relief. This sale takes place to help support the relief, development and peace branch of our denomination's ministry, Mennonite Central Committee. Handmade quilts, wooden furnishings and a variety of other items are auctioned off, theme baskets are created for the silent auction, food abounds. But every year the sale is smaller, every year it seems that fewer people attend. People in our age group just don't make the effort.

Indy after a busy day at the sale
What's the deal? Have we grown weary of doing good? Is there too much suffering in the world for us to comprehend and so we close ourselves off because the small difference we could make doesn't seem to be enough? Are we so caught up in our lives that we just don't care enough to make the effort to help?

I wish that I could instantly help every child who needs it. I wish that I could change the world. I wish that I weren't so self-centered sometimes, that I could think more of growing the kingdom of God and less of growing my possessions. I wish that I could find more ways to consume less and give more. I wish that I didn't feel such a pull to live like everyone else around me.

And so I start small, because small is what I do best. I glue a map of Africa to a jar and set it on the kitchen table. I toss in the coins because they are just change and really I won't miss eighty cents, will I? And eighty cents grows into two dollars and then three and I start to look for more ways to make a change. I step on the scale and I'm pretty sure it's broken and I should get a new one...but do I really need something to tell me that I'm still eating too much? Couldn't that $25 feed a family instead?

I clear my closets and bag the excess to take to a thrift store. Double blessings here because maybe someone will have clothes they couldn't afford, and proceeds from this store go for world relief. My children want to know why we don't have a garage sale and all I can say is 'because we don't need to'. And we don't. I am not so poor that I can't afford to give away.

So I keep going with small. A dollar here, a dollar there. I can't change the world, but I can change the way I see it. I can change myself. I can refuse to grow weary of doing good.