Friday, October 29, 2010

I don’t think Halloween is Evil.

I love the line in Goonies, where Data says he’s moving to Detroit, and Mouth informs him that it’s the murder capitol. That movie was made in 1985; the same year my family picked up and moved to the Detroit area. The other thing Detroit was famous for that year was rampant Devil’s Night arson, and sure enough, our mailbox got blown to bits with the day’s mail inside, the night of October 30th. That was the first time I’d heard of Devil’s Night or the suggestion that Halloween was something sinister. Since relocating to the heartland, I’ve found the “Beggar’s Night” tradition pretty amusing. Our fear of Halloween has us rescheduling Trick-or-Treating, to avoid the antics. If we aren’t going to Trick-or-Treat on Halloween anyway, why don’t we move Beggar’s Night to the nearest, convenient Friday night? Why still send the kids out on a school night? And why call it “Trick-or-Treat?” Shouldn’t it be “Candy Solicitation” or “Jokes for Junkfood?”

To me, Halloween isn’t about nasty pranks, serial killers, or ghoulish threats from beyond the grave. Halloween is about cowboys, princesses, and, most importantly, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. My big brother and I were actually cowboys pretty frequently, because it only required blue jeans and a bandana; something easily thrown together the morning before the school parade. My husband and I now promote family unity by coming up with silly themes that entertain and amuse our friends and neighbors. The girls were adorable as red riding hood and the big bad wolf (especially because the big bad wolf was a scary, little toddler) and Star Wars earned us a large picture in the city paper. Our masked wrestling theme last year made for a great Single Ladies Video, even though we didn’t make the cut for the big costume contest. We haven’t been a family of Undead yet, and I don’t plan on going there, but I have donned the pointy hat to complete the cast of The Wizard of Oz. And The Adams Family wouldn’t be out of the question.

The joy and the problem with Halloween, in my opinion, isn’t the scary movies or the fake blood. The problem is that evil is real every single day of the year. Every day, there are kids running around who would burn down your shed for fun. Every day, the Tempter is at work, enticing us to harm ourselves and one another. Rather than banning my children from the fun of Goosebumps and Harry Potter, rather than closing my door and plugging my ears on October 31st, I’m going to embrace the joy of exercising my imagination, getting little chills down my spine every now and then, and sharing a community experience on the streets of our neighborhood. I’m going to take this chance to connect with the kids on my block and find out what they value by their costume and joke choices. I’m going to fill their bags with Pop Rocks and hope their teenage years are joyful and fruitful enough to keep them off the streets and away from my mailbox.

More important, even than Peanut Butter Cups, I’m going to do my best to live my life, in the world, in a way that reflects the Savior and Creator, who made everything Good, who is more powerful than, and has already scored victory over, evil and the grave, rather than reject the world and isolate myself.  I will fear no evil, on Halloween or otherwise, for God is with me. I hope that if I raise my children immersed in the truth that Good is more powerful than Evil, a few sets of vampire fangs and one pointy hat won’t drive them to burn down my shed or dabble in Wicca.

You, LORD, are the light that keeps me safe. I am not afraid of anyone. You protect me, and I have no fears. Psalm 27:1

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Drive My Daughters to Prayer

A friend of mine refers to parenthood as “the guilt that keeps giving.” Generally, I try not to live that way; accepting that I have good and bad days, and trying to let the bad ones go. There are times however, when I hit a rough patch and find myself broken down and humbled by the responsibility for nurturing young life. I’m crawling out of one of those rough patches right now.

My older daughter, usually independent and capable, went through a needy spell when she learned we were going to have another child. She was fine all day, but at bedtime she would suddenly beg us to let her sleep in our room and complain of maladies that required us to administer care, attention, and occasionally Tylenol, well past when she should have been asleep. We were a little slow to catch on to the pattern, and then once we did, we were reluctant to come down on her, because we understood the source of her sudden insecurity. So, in other words, we let it get out of hand.

This bedtime nonsense culminated in a horrible night a couple weeks ago where she completely lost her mind. Our calm and calloused response to her perceived need only seemed to send her into a spiraling frenzy of tears and screams. She threw a tantrum like I haven’t seen since she was a toddler. Two hours past bedtime, I warned her firmly that we were done with the show and if she didn’t silence herself and go to sleep, my next trip to her bedroom was going to include a spanking – which, of course, I ended up having to make good on, still with no success. My husband then took the behaviorist approach we should have employed from the start, turning off her nightlight and warning her of the uncomfortable consequences if he had to return again (hall light off, door closed all the way, etc). She finally went silent as he came back into the living room.

After ten minutes of silence, knowing my younger daughter had been kept awake by the whole shenanigans and not wanting the girls to go to sleep angry or upset, I slipped back into their rooms and kissed each kid on the forehead as they dozed off.

Aside from being out of practice on toddler tantrums, I also found out this last week that I’m a lousy nurse-maid. My younger girl woke up with a hot fever, so I kept her home from school and gave her ibuprofen to keep her comfortable. She was tired and wouldn’t eat much, but the next morning, she woke up with renewed energy and scarfed down a big bowl of yogurt. I was relieved that she was on the mend. I even held off on her afternoon dose of medication, because she was getting antsy and I wanted her to feel sick enough to rest. She took a decent nap, watched a lot of PBS, and even asked me to slice an apple for her.

Then she woke up with hives on her legs. The fever was hot again. I called the walk-in clinic, and the nurse asked, “Does she have a sore throat?” She hadn’t complained of one, but I asked her. “Yes, Mommy, my throat hurts really bad.” I dragged her to a light and looked in her mouth – it was a mess! We were two days into Strep Throat before I thought to look into my kid’s mouth.

As if to finish me off, after church on Sunday, she declared to me, “Mom, God really does answer prayer.” Feeling parental pride well up inside me, I affirmed her observation and asked if there’s something that made her bring it up.

“Yes. The other night when you were hitting sis, I prayed to God that you wouldn’t be mean to your kids anymore. Then you came back and kissed us, so God answered my prayer.”

As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. Ephesians 4:1-2

Friday, October 15, 2010

I Lost Interest in the Chilean Miners on Day 2

Although I would have to have my head in a hole not to know that on Day 69, the last one was brought to the surface, the tunnel was capped, and the international community gave a rousing standing ovation to the Chilean rescue effort, none of this captured my fascination. Nice work, everybody, now back to our regular programming.

I tried to muster my compassion and at least read an article about the rescue. But I got bored and started to skim two paragraphs in, when they started giving a book-jacket type bio of each miner in the order they were rescued. For real? Are we picking out heroes and villains for the TV Movie already? Based on?? I don’t know these men. I don’t share language or culture with them. The only reason they suddenly mattered to most Americans was because of the cameras pointed at them. If I were a geologist or something, I might have taken interest in the details of drill bits and torque, in case, some day in the future, I myself was responsible to free others from a half mile below the surface. If I were a specialist in Latin American politics, I might have been captivated by the political implications of all the positive media attention on a regime no one cared about back in July. But for that matter, how much did we care about those 30 miners back in July, either?

Do we care enough to lobby for safer mining in Chile and the U.S. (where our own mining mishaps have recently been considered newsworthy, as well)? Do we care enough to cut back on our use of the non-renewable resources these man go into the ground to retrieve for us?

I’m not heartless. I’m glad those men didn’t die in the mine. But how many multiples of 30 have died or languished in the last two months, while no expense or effort was spared for these guys? How many innocent lives were lost to things that such a font of attention and money could have prevented? I don’t know for sure, but I have the feeling that it’s a cheap fix to spend our compassion and jubilation on 30 Chilean miners, when there are people in need of rescue all around us. We’ll celebrate with Chile today, but then we go back to ignoring the people around us everyday, who are neglected and trapped by their own plights.

Just in our youth group, there are such deep and compelling needs. Broken families, grave illness, and drug addiction are just three of the many troubles confronting these kids and their families. I could turn myself inside out, trying to reach them in their every need and, short of adopting half a dozen more teenagers into my family, there are some needs I can’t address. But I know that if that kind of need and pain makes its way into a small youth group on the edge of the city, there are so many, such deeper needs, right in our own neighborhoods. So rather than sit in front of the TV, dispensing hours of love and compassion on 30 Chilean strangers that NBC says I should care about, I didn’t. Sorry, but I said a prayer and moved on. I was needed elsewhere and, frankly, I think you are, too.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Matthew 9:36-37

Thursday, October 7, 2010

It's Turkey Time, Eh!

My husband and I went to Bennigan’s for lunch this week and both of us were enticed by the “Day-After-Thanksgiving” sandwich. It’s embarrassing when we order the same thing, so we coordinated, and he ordered it, while I ordered some other side item, so we could share the sandwich. I know I’m going to sound like an ad for the restaurant, but have you had this sandwich? Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberries, and turkey on a pretzel-bread bun. We ordered a side of sweet potato fries to finish off the feast. It was everything we thought it would be: a delicious preview of Thanksgiving to get us by for another month.

The idea that sandwich could tide us over until the fourth week of November completely backfired. I could think of nothing else for the rest of the afternoon. Turkey. Cranberries. Grandma Ella’s pickled beets. Green-bean casserole. So much for pickles and ice cream; I’ve been fantasizing about a feast that is still seven long weeks away.

I confessed to my husband that night. I don’t think I can wait; I am going to have to roast a turkey. It’s wrong. It’s unseasonal. We should be focused on pumpkins right now. But I cannot get that turkey breast and cranberry sauce out of my head.

Then I remembered the most important holiday on our North American-combo calendar: Canadian Thanksgiving! I’ve been told that my Southeast Michigan upbringing has left a permanent Northern imprint on my pronunciation, so why not embrace that “A”-enhanced culture? I’ve never tried Boxing Day and I’m unlikely to postpone our egg hunt to Easter Monday, but Canadian Thanksgiving…now that is a holiday I can embrace.

So, despite the three-week accumulation of housework I’ll have to overcome before guests can use my restroom or eat at my table, and the nap I will likely require while the turkey roasts - I guess I'm motivated by turkey when all else fails - we’ve invited a couple friends who seem to embrace our wacky sense of humor, and we are going to celebrate Thanksgiving with the Canadians this year. Don’t worry, we will still do our patriotic duty and overeat again on November 25th.

You give your guests a feast in your house, and you serve a tasty drink that flows like a river. Psalm 36:8

Friday, October 1, 2010

I’m Ready to Out the Tooth-Fairy

I posted a picture this week so my friends and family could see the way my younger daughter’s advancing age has ravaged her teeth. I’m not sure how she’s actually eating right now; there are so many gaps in her ragged smile. I mourn the loss of those perfect little pearly-whites that we worked so hard for, back in that first year. I remember the chipmunk smile of her first birthday and how huge those little nubs looked in her mouth.

She, on the other hand, has no such hesitation. She bounced in from school, delighted to show us the treasure box she got from the nurse when the first of her two front incisors came out at lunch time. Yesterday, she could hardly get the blood rinsed out of her mouth; she was so thrilled with the newly empty place beside the first. And this morning she woke up an hour earlier than usual to dance the celebratory dance of a new Golden Dollar. And for that, she has her father to thank.

If I were in charge of “bringing imaginary figures to life” for our family, I’d probably be sliding the golden dollar across the table and throwing the tooth in compost. At some point, we are going to have to break off this charade. A lost tooth at family camp, where no one thought to bring a golden dollar, turned into a long yarn about how tooth-fairies have different routes and we can’t be sure, but camp might be on the “Paperdollar Tooth-Fairy’s” route. No worries, because our tooth-fairy was glad to exchange that paper dollar for a golden coin the next night.

It’s the same way at Christmas with Santa. Whoever takes the role has to mask his voice and, I’m not kidding, put gray makeup on his eyebrows to hide his natural hair color. According to family tradition, gray eyebrows are the key to the magic of Santa. Santa should also have handwriting distinctly different from that of Mom and Dad.  (Of course, you can cheat at these rules, if you are desparate to get a toddler to nap.)

I’m all for the fun and games of these family traditions. It’s hilarious how the kids’ eyes light up at the magic they perceive to be happening, not just around them, but for them. I myself have helped my daughter write a note to the tooth-fairy to explain that her loose tooth fell into the toilet and couldn’t be retrieved, but could she still have a golden dollar? But there has be a point where we affirm our kids’ growing skills of reason and let them realize that this is a fun game, not the truth of how the world works. After all, if you are masking your handwriting, your kids must be old enough to read. It might be time to let them figure it out, before they embarrass themselves with the kids at school.

Maybe I shouldn’t sit them down at the table and explain that the tooth-fairy is really just Daddy. I’m sure they’ll want to realize the truth more gradually than that. But I do try to ensure that we don’t work too hard convincing them that these untrue things are true, because I don't want to sacrifice our credibility.

I want my kids to trust me, that I’m not out to fool them. It's important they know I'm not playing games when I also tell them that God came down to Earth to live among us as a human being. I tell them he died, but rose again. I tell them that living out our lives the way he told us to will bring blessing and hope to ourselves and others. They can’t actually see and touch Jesus. He doesn’t leave them money on their night stand. Their first experience of faith in their heavenly father is going to spring from their faith in their earthly parents. Maybe I take it all too seriously, but there’s too much at stake to risk leading them to doubt that the sometimes fantastic things I tell them are really true.

Then Jesus told him, "You believe because you see me. Those who believe without seeing me will be truly blessed." John 20:29