Monday, September 30, 2013

Blessed Oldness.

Happy Birthday To My Baby. 

(Every year on Thys' birthday, I write a cyber-note to his birth 'rents. Here is Number Seven:)

To the parents of a baby boy born in late September, 2006 and left on the doorstep of an orphange a few days later:

Here I am again telling you all about how wonderful and precious and amazing this little man is. He is a fairly typical little boy: snarky, giggly, crabby, funny, obsessed with Pokemon, Legos, money, and play. But he's unique too: creative and intuitive, surprisingly so at times. He has an impeccable memory and he's a hard and diligent worker. He loves to help me cook, and he can sit at the piano for an hour without complaining. And he's a wicked little ice skater and hockey player, much to everyone who watches him delight. See? We're doing an okay job as his 'rents? Right? Why do I desire your blessing? And why does this partly feel like a big "I told you so letter"?

He can also be a giant pain in the ass: last night while putting him to bed, I bent over the top bunk to pray for him, and he smiled and hugged me and then asked, "Is that your oldness?" To which I replied, "WTF?" And he repeated by pointing out the lines on my neck, the wrinkles, the crevices, and he asked again, "Is that your oldness?" And I cried a little. And then we prayed, like we do each night. And after I thanked God for his innocent, childish (albeit honest and devilish) soul, he shouted out, "Thank you for mommy's oldness! In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost!" Thank you Catholic school.

This year, we decided to finally push the whole Chinese language issue more seriously than we have in the past. Partly because he seems to have a natural aptitude for new languages, and partly because he desperately wants to visit China. So I am sending both of my boys to Catholic AND Chinese School.

It began a few weeks ago. The first Saturday, I didn't think my older son would make it. He's an aggressive, articulate, and (usually) confident young man. But I found him crying at my side as we walked through the hallway of the school to the classroom, big, real tears. I asked him what was wrong, he said he felt "really uncomfortable" with all of the Chinese people (he and I were the only non-Chinese people). I asked him how he thinks his brother feels EVERY DAY at school, at Church, on the playground, etc. He said, "Ya, but he's used to it." He had a point. I vowed to stay until he felt comfortable. But then I spotted Thys, sitting in the front row, hands folded on his desk, back straightened, and a grin that said, I am here. I am ready. Teach me. And the barking, harsh sounds of Mandarin that frighten many white, European kids, fell softly on Thys' delighted countenance.

It was all rather confusing. I'm quite certain that all the parents who came in after us assumed that I was coaxing my nine-year old to stay, but had no clue who the eager young boy in the front row belonged to. Chinese adoption isn't as common here as it was in Denver. There are a small percentage of Chinese children here, but they all have Chinese parents, most of whom don't seem too familiar with the concept of adoption. I get a lot of awkward glances from them when they realize Thys is my son. As if I have upset the balance of the cultural capital and they don't know what my motives are. To make him white? To pretend I am one of them? Who am I to take one of them? Would a Chinese person ever adopt a white, North American kid and bring him to China? Is this about domination?

Here's my point, birth 'rents: I understood my own motives when I/we adopted Thys, and I still do. And I am not afraid to disrupt people's assumptions. I rather enjoy it: You don't think Christians should cuss? Listen to me. You don't think women should be assertive or have strong opinions or drink or fart? Hang out with me for a while. You don't think I can do all these things and still claim an authentic faith that I care about deeply? Talk to me. You know what happens when you put an Asian kid in a white family? Shit. Neither do I. This is where we find ourselves. In the midst of this experiment. What if Thys doesn't want to interrupt people's assumptions? What if he just wants to fit in?

This is the first year I actually wish we knew you. So that you could truly be a part of his life and teach him Chinese things. That we could share him or something, though I have no idea what that would entail.

You did not give me permission to adopt him. But. You left him. Helpless on a cold street in the middle of the night. I know you wanted good things for him because you left a bottle with him... but what did you envision his life would entail? I sometimes feel like I have a responsibility to you. To raise him well. To honor you.

I think of you often. Thys is starting to think more of you too.

Thank you for this life I get to witness. Say a prayer for us as we navigate this unknown territory.
In the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Holy Depravity

A Cynic's Sermon Notes: 1.

Our new Padre recently preached about the Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 1.

Q: What is your only comfort in life and death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong--body and soul--in life and in death--to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.

I had to memorize these lines when I was 14 or so in order to make "Profession of Faith" (a formal way to become a Member at my parent's church, cool-aid drinking rights and all). This was a strange time for me.
I'm not convinced that my motives for doing this were based on
1. fear that I would somehow miss out on a cool retreat, a youth group hike, or heaven
2. shame that as the Pastor's daughter this was expected of me
3. peer-pressure because all of my friends were doing it. I know, I'd likely have jumped off the building too...
I'm not convinced my motives weren't those listed either.

I remember standing in The Holy Council Room in front of the 25-foot wide meeting table one night during the monthly Council Meeting. It was me against 13 old, white men who smiled and nodded as I clumsily and awkwardly recited Q & A Number One. This question and answer, this question that meant nothing to me. I had lived a privileged life. My only comfort in life at that point was that I would get to sit next to Mark Mayson on the bus the next morning. And that my crimping iron was in top shape. I had no knowledge or fear of death, save for my dear Uncle Albert whose death made the adults sad, and prompted in me a reverent silence to disguise my confusion in their midst.

So, my bias in hearing the sermon topic was palpable. I sighed, and I thought, what can you possibly say about this topic that hasn't been said at least 450 times over the past 450 years? I have this same revolt when I hear certain passages from the Bible. I am bored of them. And I am tired of hearing the same old phrases that seem to exist to help people brainwash themselves: "In God's timing," or "God will provide," or "God's comfort," etc. Worn out phrases thrown around as flippantly as greeting cards and carry as much power as "Just Do It," or "I'm lovin it." As if we've made God a capitalistic venture like all of his competition.

But Padre didn't recite those.

Instead he recited a litany of real-world shitty problems, stinky shit and all. He may or may not yet know the despair of a stressed-out, sleep-deprived mother, or have heard the tension spoken and hidden in an almost-broken marriage, or recognize the thought patterns of a lonely and suicidal life. But he told some stories that sounded like he did.

And then he talked about the courage it takes for humans to face and feel and live in... this depravity, this brokenness, this loneliness. And I'm not yet sure what this means, that I am courageous if I "let the loneliness wash over me." It seems like saying I'm courageous if I feel like crap. And I don't find this particularly courageous, and neither does my family. They like it much better when I'm not... feeling the pain. So, perhaps, what he meant to say was that it is courageous when I let the pain wash over me when it doesn't affect all of the humans who depend on me for their daily bread, toilet paper, and hugs.

Then it occurred to me that maybe the adults in The Holy Council Room decades ago smiled when they heard my memorized lines because they knew. They knew I would need that comfort. Some day. Maybe they smiled because they could see that I did not need those words yet. Perhaps they saw my innocence, the kind that can provoke a sort of smiling jealousy that looks like a weird smirk.

Padre ended with this: "We may find these are the stories dreamed in the heart of God--when we see him face to face." And I don't understand why God would dream of depravity. But perhaps by "dreamed" he meant "known" the way we know someone when we look into their eyes for a long time at close range. I dare you to try it. You will walk away a different human.

I am not my own. But I've certainly worked hard for many years to convince myself that I am. I forget most of the time that I belong to someone, something else. And much like all of my household chores, exercise, and being nice to others that I forget to do, I neglect to admire the faithfulness of God. Yet, here I am, almost four decades into this game of life, this dance around objects and ideas, the tangible and the invisible... still listening to the voice of God, spoken through a conduit, wondering if God got my Change Of Address Card, and then quite sure that he did.

(And, because I am immersed in a shockingly secular academic world right now, and longing for the Spiritual, I will attempt to open up comments to hear your thoughts and hopefully offer mutual encouragement. Thanks.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Did Jesus fart?

I like to attempt satire. But. I suspect that my productions unmask my bitter side (see previous post). And worse, I think my attempts reveal more about my own jealousies and insecurities than they "seek to expose and ridicule the status quo with a desire to reform" as I used to explain it to my high schoolers. Satire is hard to teach. Even harder to write.

Alas, here's an attempt at another genre in which I like to dabble: (hopefully) humorous non-fiction.

Consumption--with life's trials and also of its bounty--often distracts me from gratitude, especially the act of it, i.e. prayer. Setting routines can be helpful, before eating, before sleeping, in hospitals, etc. I have tried to talk to my kids about God and faith and living a life of thanks, but the conversations often end up sounding something like this:

One son asks, "Do you think Jesus farted?"
The other son firmly replies without a doubt that "No. He probably pooped, but he definitely didn't fart."

Recently, my sister visited us (with four boys under the age of five in tow, well, one is technically 32). The chaos that ensued was earplug worthy, a technique that both my nine-year old and I practiced.
The moments of pleasure and relaxed conversation were snatched throughout the day and late into the night (while denying the cost to be paid in the early a.m.)...

So, tired parents, crabby kids, and, well, normal two-year olds sitting around the dinner table on the fourth night of the visit did not feel like an apt time to begin teaching about the importance and value of prayer and thankfulness.

But I do believe in a God that sneaks in despite my best efforts of ignoring him. It was after we sat down to eat when someone started to pray--I don't even remember who--and a few words of blessing and thanks were offered.

And then, perhaps what some may consider irreverence (but what I justify and perpetuate as a welcome departure from legalistic obedience to a seemingly old and crabby God) is our family habit of praying with our eyes open, as if we're having a real conversation...or maybe it was the sense of freedom and comfort we had with each other (my sister and I did sleep in the same bed throughout our entire childhood), or maybe it was the fresh Canadian air... whatever the precipitating reasons, the table erupted: The kids, unprompted, started yelling out random things they were thankful for:

"Waterfalls!" one shouted and giggled...
"Swimming!" ya, ya, lots of agreement...
"Beans!" more giggles...

It went on. And on. And on.

There was a palpable presence of God. I envisioned him smiling at us as we enjoyed him, each other, and the ease of living in a world where we can go on vacations and eat lots and whine about our first-world problems while drinking wine. I believe in a God that gets that too, who knows that regardless of the world in which we've been placed, there's always a barrier...
Until the children remind us and poke holes in it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

School Reflections, A Letter

To the mother of the student with a stick-on mirror on the inside of her locker door:

Hi. I haven't met you yet, but our children are locker neighbors and in the same class. I noticed you and your daughter on the first day of school when you parked your car in the bus lane and the bus couldn't get into the parking lot. We've all done that. Well, I haven't. But everyone who takes their child to school in a convertible Mercedes does that. It looked like your access to your baby's carseat was quite convenient. My son asked me if your mode of transport was a ferrari! Wink, wink.

When we marched (I was behind you, I could tell you work out) with our children into the whitewashed hallway and then stood around awkwardly and teary-eyed while watching them unpack their belongings from their shiny backpacks into their lockers, I noticed your four-inch heels. I was conflicted, as you obviously were, about where my child should put his "outdoor shoes," inside or outside his locker? There were no instructions for the necessity of shoe care. I also watched, as you did, as my son tied his lace shoes, ever-so-carefully (and slowly) and I noticed that your daughter had slip-on ballet shoes (also with heels!). It must be nice to have such an easy shoe option for female children.

I saw you glancing back and forth between me and my son. I get that a lot... I'm white, he's not, etc. You see, he's adopted. From China. If you have any further questions about that, please wait to ask them until I know you well enough to buy you your favorite brand of panties.

I also couldn't help but notice you helping your daughter attach her stick-on mirror to the inside door of her locker. It went on very straight. My son didn't have one. I suppose I could still buy him a mirror. I think I saw one on clearance at the dollar store. Was it on the school supply list? Shit, I should have read it more carefully. I have been trying to teach my son how to wipe his nose after he eats (especially since the hole in the roof of his mouth caused by his cleft lip causes runny food to, well, make a quick and easy exit) and a mirror might help him notice sooner if he has omitted removing an item from his face.

The problem with a mirror of his own is that I would have to teach him to look into it, which he rarely does (I don't even have any at his level in the house, perhaps I should change this). I'm not even sure he knows that Chinese people look any different than us white folk. I'm sure his classmates will educate him about this difference (and all that it implies!) very soon.

And perhaps he can take a few tips from your daughter about how to use a mirror. How did you teach her to use one? Did she watch you looking into it often? Does she check her hair? Or her face? And how did you teach her that looking at herself is so vitally important that she should have easy access to a mirror at all times? And what does she look for in her own reflection? Does she check her teeth? Her skin? Her symmetry? Surely not her blemishes. Not yet. Why did you just choose a mirror for the top of her body? Have you considered a full-length mirror?

I imagine that you carry a mirror with you (I noticed that you wear make-up and that you are very pretty) at all times (I'm not hitting on you by the way, I just notice those things). I don't (I am embarrassed that I wasn't wearing any make-up that morning, I'm sure you think I'm a slob) (I'm not) (Well, maybe compared to you, I am) (I did put on make-up recently. And when my 9-year old saw me, he promptly informed me--kind of rudely--that I "don't look any different with it on"). Maybe if we become friends, you can teach me how to wear make-up like you do, you know, in a way that truly makes a difference. And then we can talk about the things you like to talk about. What do you like to talk about?

Alas, I must tell you: if your daughter forgets to check her mirror and has a booger or stream of snot or random food particle stuck to her cheek or chin, my son will not notice. I promise.

I hope our children have a great year in Grade Two! Looking forward to our future friendship,

(FYI: All identifiable details in the previous story have been changed to protect identities, and a few snippets of actual stories have been strung together to create this fictional narrative.)