Monday, January 31, 2011

The Logic of Little Boys

A telephone ringing is, in our house, very much like the bell in a boxing arena. The minute our boys know I am on the telephone, they commence punching, wrestling, kick boxing, sword fighting, and whatever other form of violence happens to grab their fancy.

The other day I was talking on the phone to a neighbor and half listening to the ruckus downstairs. When Caleb began shrieking in genuine pain, I got off the phone and dashed down to the basement. By the time I got there, both boys were crying.

"What happened?" I demanded in my most threatening tone.

"Nathan bit meeeeeee!" Caleb wailed.

Biting is absolutely off limits in our house, so Nathan knew he was in for it.

"Nathan, did you bite Caleb?" I asked.

"Yes," he sobbed.

"You know that's mean and wrong."

"But," he cried, "I was soooo hungry!"

Sunday, January 30, 2011

In a Rut

At the dinner table last night, we were talking about Caleb starting school. Nathan looked bewildered and asked, "What about me?"

"Well," I answered, "you and Mom will get to have a special date. What should we do on our special date?"

Nathan thought for a moment. "Go to church!"

Now it was my turn to be bewildered. "And what will we do at church?" I asked.

Nathan looked at me as if it should be obvious, "Go to meetings."

Daniel and I laughed. Apparently we need to get a little more creative with our "dates."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Orphan Care--Adoption and Beyond

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."  James 1:27 (ESV)
Earlier this week I came across this testimony from the Haines family who, in the process of adopting a young girl from Ethiopia, began to wonder if there was something else they should be doing to care for orphans in parts of the world stricken by poverty. I was thankful they shared their story. Adoption is a loving and often necessary way to intervene on behalf of abandoned and vulnerable children. In adopting, parents model God's adoptive love that takes us from our sin and self-destruction to make us his children. Adoption is one way to reenact the gospel. It is one solution for orphaned children. However, as Seth and Amber Haines demonstrate, it is not the only solution.

My closest friend in Vietnam is not able to have children. Instead, she and her husband have been blessed with an ever growing ministry among the poor. A few years ago, my friend called one evening and told me that something completely unexpected had happened. They had just brought home a newborn baby. The baby boy had been born prematurely to drug-addicted parents who were living on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. A mutual acquaintance asked our friends if they would intervene and care for the baby at least for a little while.

When I first met him, Binh was so tiny I could barely hold him against my shoulder. With one hand under his bottom and the other patting his back, my elbows stuck out perpendicular to the floor as if I were playing the violin. He was small and wrinkled and his chest sometimes sucked inward indicating that his lungs were not functioning exactly as they should. My friend and her husband cared for him around the clock. They got what medical help they could without a birth certificate or any form of identification. They fed Binh and bathed him and loved him and prayed for him. Without even meaning to, they became his parents.

Every week they met Binh's birth parents at a local shopping center so the couple could see the baby and play with him. Some weeks they seemed to be really taken with their child. Other times they were barely interested. At some point, the dad disappeared and was later arrested and jailed for drug trafficking. Binh's mother admitted that she was never entirely sure who the real father was. Our friends tentatively began to suggest the possibility of adoption.

Binh's mother moved back in with her parents who encouraged her to give the baby up. Instead, she entered a drug-rehab program and found a job. In spite of several failed attempts to stay off drugs and months of ups and downs, she eventually made progress. She even began to get involved in a church near her home and was later baptized. During all of this, our friends kept Binh and cared for him. They desperately wanted to adopt the baby who had become in so many ways their own, but they also recognized that this mother loved her son.

At one point, they stopped suggesting adoption. They began to leave Binh with his mother for longer periods of time and shifted their energy to helping the mother learn how to care for her child. My friend spent countless afternoons in the tiny, ramshackle house where Binh's mother lived helping her play with her son and understand his needs. I remember many conversations with my friend as she went back and forth about what would be best for Binh. In the end, they made the very hard decision to give him back to his mother.

Adoption is one way to rescue orphans and children whose parents can not or will not care for them. It is one way to live out the gospel. Intervening in a desperate situation to lovingly restore a broken family is another way. I do not want to minimize the important role of adoption, but I think the American church can benefit from stories like Binh's and that of the Haines family. Orphans around the world are not always parent-less, but they are powerless. They need our wise and loving care demonstrated in myriad ways.      

Monday, January 24, 2011

To Make a Mom's Day

A few weeks ago Daniel and I went to a meeting at some friends' house. Because they didn't have a lot of extra space, we hosted all the children and two babysitters at our place. The babysitters often help out with these get-togethers and they have watched our boys several times. When they arrived, one of the first things they said was, "We LOVE watching your boys."

Given that some days I don't want to watch my boys, this was astonishing. I was rendered speechless. Now that I've had a few weeks to savor it, I've realized that the straightest route to encourage a mom is to enjoy her children. Compliments are nice, but genuine enjoyment is harder to dismiss. When people tell me that one boy is smart or the other is sweet, I am grateful that the pair managed to cooperate for the ten minutes that the person spent with them. I do think the boys are smart and sweet (thinking that is part of my job description), but I also know they are quite capable of being a host of other things. When a person spends an hour or more with the boys and can't wait to see them again, I am encouraged.

So, if you know a young mom and you spend any amount of time with her kids, the best way to bless her is to love her angels. When they wipe jam on your pants and sneeze in your coffee, when they throw themselves in the middle of the floor screaming because Mom said "no," when they take twenty minutes to find their shoes and put on their coats, do your best to grin and bear it. When they crawl up in your lap with a picture book or bring you their favorite toy to "share," enjoy the moment. You love a mom when you love her kids. 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Wife

I've been pondering the following poem by Emily Dickinson but am still not sure exactly what to make of it. It is interesting that the unspoken sense of loss in stanza 2 produces pearls AND weeds in stanza 3. Who is "himself" in the last stanza? I assumed the husband, but it isn't made clear. Is this a tribute to wives and the marriage relationship or a critique of those things? What do you think?

The Wife

She rose to his requirement, dropped
The playthings of her life
To take the honorable work
Of woman and of wife.

If aught she missed in her new day
Of amplitude, or awe,
Or first prospective, or the gold
In using wore away,

It lay unmentioned, as the sea
Develops pearl and weed,
But only to himself is known
The fathoms they abide.

"The Wife" by Emily Dickinson. Found in Favorite Poems of Emily Dickinson published 1978 by Avenel Books.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Cowboys and Indians

The Fort and the Encampment
When the boys tired of playing plastic cowboys and Indians, they became cowboys themselves. Caleb, always the boss, ordered Nathan to "round up the horses." Once the horses were successfully rounded, the cowboys joined efforts to lasso snakes which they proceeded to roast in the "oven" (my linen cupboard). Nathan insists that roasted snake tastes just like strawberries. I'll have to get his recipe.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top of the Pile

Every week the boys and I go to the local library and trade in one stack of books for another. The books typically end up in a precarious sort of pile beneath the table next to my bed. Our favorites migrate to the top of the pile and we read them over and over again until they are due to be returned.

Since I know many of you share my love for books in all shapes and sizes, I've decided to give a rundown each week of the two or three books that are currently on top of the pile. Eventually I may include books from my own pile (on top of the bedside table), but for now these stories are from Caleb and Nathan's pile (under the table).

How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon. I must confess that I love reading this book as much as (or maybe a little more than) the boys like listening to it. How often do we grown-ups get to say things like "Shiver me timbers!...We must have taken a wrong turn at Bora Bora" or "...just run the Jolly Roger up yonder pole"? I believe I'm perfecting my "Arrgh!" and my pirate snarl.

In summary, the story is about a boy, Jeremy Jacobs, who goes to the beach with his parents and finds himself recruited by pirates. He loves everything about the pirate life--no carrots or spinach, no please or thank you, no bedtime--until he discovers that there is also no bedtime story, no being tucked in, and no being comforted when things get scary. There is nothing profound about this story, but it is fun, and isn't that really the chief reason we read.

Doctor De Soto by William Steig. This is a clever tale about a mouse who is a dentist. When he finds himself compelled to treat a fox with a rotten bicuspid, he must come up with a crafty plan to avoid being eaten. Our boys have been running around the house all week saying, "Frank oo berry mush."

Lightning: A Cowboy's Colt by Bill and Bernard Martin. Illustrated by Edward Shenton. Found in Best in Children's Books published 1959 by Nelson Doubleday Inc. Nelson Doubleday published a series of books in the 1950s collecting the best of children's stories with full-color and two-color illustrations by some of the most well-known children's book illustrators (Does Ezra Jack Keats ring a bell?). I found two books from the series for 25 cents each at the library's used book sale a year or so ago. In hindsight, I wish I had hunted for more.

Lightning: A Cowboy's Colt is a wonderful short story for boys ages 5 and up (maybe girls too, but I am not an authority on that). Danny, the main character, is the son of a horse rancher. When his father returns from the annual round-up, Danny is allowed to pick a colt of his very own. Instead of choosing a colt, however, he is fascinated by a beautiful black mare and asks to have her. His father agrees but Danny is never able to "gentle" the horse or even get very near her. As Danny's love for the black mare deepens, a dispute arises between Danny's father and their Indian neighbors who insist the mare belongs to them. With no markings  on the mare, the Indians cannot prove ownership and Danny's father refuses to give her up. The Indians retaliate by burning the family's barn which, of course, hardens Danny's father's heart against them.

One evening Danny goes out after dark to check on his mare. He finds her quietly nuzzling an Indian boy while the boy rubs her neck. The Indian boy explains that the mare was his. Danny can see that this is true by the mare's behavior, and he willingly gives her up to the Indian boy. Danny must tell his father about the mare the next morning and his father insists that Danny has been tricked. Danny responds simply, "Horses don't lie, do they, Daddy?."

The following summer the Indian boy returns at night with a surprise for Danny--a colt--the offspring of the black mare and the lead stallion from Danny's father's herd. The next day Danny asks his father to take him to the Indian camp so he can thank them for his colt. His father agrees and the story closes with the stage set for a reconciliation between the rancher and the Indians.

One of the reasons I love books is that they allow you to see virtue with its skin on. Honesty is a boy giving up something dear to him when he knows it belongs to another. Forgiveness is a rancher thanking an Indian chief. Love is Danny relinquishing a horse he can't tame. These are virtues I want my boys to embrace. How better to teach them than through story.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

No More Excuses

Since returning to the States eighteen months ago, I have not had a portable computer. I transitioned from a cranky, ready-to-retire laptop to a desktop that has been rebuilt more times than I can count. The desktop is still a good computer and suited to my needs, but it set up permanent residence in our basement. Accomplishing anything more than a quick scan of new e-mail required convincing or cajoling both boys to play quietly in one place for more than five minutes. It goes without saying that my computer usage plummeted in 2010.

After Christmas, we discovered that we had accumulated enough reward points on our bank cards (plus some cash from Christmas gifts) for me to get a new netbook! I am finally mobile again. It is small enough and has a long enough battery life that I can carry it easily around the house. While I wander after the boys keeping them from strangling each other or setting the house on fire, I can also write a quick blog post. Three cheers for multi-tasking! I won't be churning out the next great literary novel in this fashion, but at least I can post more frequently than once every five or six months.