Saturday, November 29, 2008

christmas gifts

Here's where some of my Christmas gifts are coming from and going.

First, I ran across this website called LIGHT GIVES HEAT (www.lightgivesheat.org). It's an organization made up of young people who moved to Uganda to see if they could make a difference. They have entwined themselves with an African community called SUUBI. The women of SUUBI make these beautiful bead neacklaces and jewelry from recycled paper. LGH buys them from them consistently and at a better price than locals could or businesses would, and then they sell them online to wealthy people like me. The money allows allows the SUUBI women to have a sustainable income. LGH also lives among the SUUBI community and does other stuff like cooking, washing clothers, and teaching English. Anyway, I bought a few of the $20 necklaces, and they are beautiful.

SUUBI beads

Next, I was doing some shopping in Whole Foods in Austin, the original store, and came across these FEED 100 bags. Basically, it's a shopping bag replacement, an alternative to "paper or plastic". Or you could use it for a purse or gym bag or diaper bag or luggage.

FEED 100 bag

Each bag you buy for about $30 provides 100 school lunches for Rwanda children through the UN World Food Program. You can see the bags front and center on Whole Foods' website (www.wholefoodsmarket.com) or you can get the full story on the FEED 100 Project website (www.feedprojects.org). There's also a pretty cool youtube video here.

Right now I've got the boys bringing out the Christmas decorations. To get in the spirit, they surfaced the Christmas music collection, and I can hear carols filling the house. Each Christmas I really hope this will be the year I don't spend too much on myself—feeding myself, my family, my rich neighbors...buying gifts for myself, my family, my rich neighbors... Each Christmas I hope this will be the year that Jesus gets his birthday wish.

When you put on a luncheon or a banquet, don’t invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.
Jesus

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Caleb's fall

My youngest son, Caleb, gets very upset when he falls down or gets hurt. At three, most kids sit on the floor and cry until Mommy comes. Here’s how that scene plays for Caleb. First, he pauses to see if he’s really hurt. If not, he moves on. If he is, he either grits his teeth or runs out of the room screaming. If someone asks him, “Caleb, are you ok?” he runs out of the room screaming. It’s like he’s embarrassed for hurting himself, or ashamed or something. I’m not sure where this came from, but I will say that he is one tough kid! The one time he really cried was at two when he climbed up on the table and fell into the metal brads on the corner of the couch. That was a doozie. He cried as he bled all over the living room. This picture is from our recent holiday to the Smoky Mountains. The scuff on his cheek is from falling in the parking lot while his brothers were swinging him. The scar over his right eye is from the fall in the living room.

Yesterday, Caleb was at the park playing with his big brother Joshua, the one in the picture, and some other kids. A bigger boy began pushing Caleb in a swing. His mom was walking around the perimeter of the park with a friend. She could see him playing, and could see the boy was pushing him, and thought to herself that he was pushing Caleb a little too hard. She decided to tell him to get down when they got back around to the swing. Maybe the boy thought Caleb was older or stronger than he was because of his size (he’s rather big for a three year old). Whatever the case, Caleb lost his hold and went flying through the air. Now, what goes up must come down, and with Caleb that means a thud, a pause, and then that embarrassed scream.

But he didn’t scream this time. Jill wasn’t sure what happened at the time, because she looked up and saw Caleb whimpering and walking toward her. It was pretty easy to figure out when he got to her that he had fallen. She consoled him, and they went back to playing. But all day, Caleb was in his mother’s words, “edgy”.

When I got home, I said hi to him. He screamed and stomped his feet. He does this sometimes, but it’s usually for some immediate reason. I asked if I could hug him. He screamed and stomped his feet and ran out of the room. I backed off and tried again later. Usually I just try again later. He’s a very warm and friendly boy, but sometimes he’s slow to warm. Anyway, this happened several times. Later, Jill gave him a bowl of Pringles that he was walking around eating. I asked him for one. He screamed, ran into the next room, and stood with his back to me. (I asked him for one fully expecting him to say, no, which is ok. Because after he said no, I was going to share another one with him from the can, which I had. I like doing that kind of thing.) Anyway, his no was over the top. Jill, who knows Caleb very well, even wondered at this behavior. She said it was almost like Caleb is afraid of me or something. She asked me if something happened between us. I told her no.

Now, here’s one more thing about Caleb. He’s a boy. I say that to mean not that he has a penis, but that he’s a boy at heart. At night when he gets tired, he wants his juice, and he wants to lay next to his mother, rubbing her neck. He used to say, “want juice, want mommy neck” as he moved toward sleep. He’s not interested in daddy neck at all. In fact, if I lay down beside Caleb and his mom, he will often kick me out of the way. Oedipal? But one day I was spinning a top on the floor with Joshua. Caleb’s eyes filled with wonder. He came over to me, sat in my lap, and before you know it, he was touching my neck. Ever since then I have noticed that when it comes to kicking balls or throwing Frisbees or wrestling or playing catch or whatever, Caleb wants to be very close to me. There’s a real connection there with motion and strength and skill and performance.

I finally pulled Caleb back to me and forced him to look at me and tell me yes or no, through wails, to the question of the Pringle. I literally turned his face towards mine with a hand on either side of his head. Not until his mom finally came and held him in her lap to reassure him that he wasn’t in trouble did he answer. And the answer was no. I could not have a Pringle. “Well”, I asked him, “do you want one of my Pringles?” He kept crying, but you could see the wheels spinning. I asked again, and he shook his head ever so slightly yes. “Alright,” I said, and gave him one. He took it in his little fingers and stacked it snugly with his others. He was still whimpering, but he had stopped wailing. I asked him if he wanted another one. He shook his head yes again. So he got another one. And then he wiped his eyes and was quiet. Then he sat at the table in his mom’s lap, eating his stack of Pringles quietly.

So, with Caleb sitting in her lap eating Pringles, Jill starts talking about how edgy he’s been all day, and she tells me about him falling from the swing and the other events of his day. I asked Caleb about falling from the swing. He just stared at me. I asked him if the big boy pushed him too fast. I raised my arms in fists to communicate strength. He just stared at me flatly, maybe with a dazy-glazy look, hard to tell. I asked again several different ways. I kept bringing it back to the swing because I had a hunch that the fall, seemingly minor, was behind all this. Jill took my lead and asked him very tenderly if he fell from the swing when the big boy pushed him too high. And there it was. Caleb finally spoke, and when he did, this articulate little fellow, mouth full of Pringle glob, produced a jumbled mess of a sentence with swing and park and shopping and mommy and car and chips. Poor little guy. I don’t think he knew what to do with that fall. And because he didn’t know what to do with it, he didn’t know what to do with me or anyone else in his little world.

I went over to where Caleb was sitting in his mom’s lap and kneeled down so my head was on the level with his. I told him I was sorry he fell from the swing, and that it was ok, and that the big boy pushed him too high, and that I loved him. And then I kissed him on the cheek. He has such soft, chubby cheeks. I have such a prickly face.

Caleb went to bed in good spirits, and today he is back to his normal fun-loving self. He hugs and smiles and talks and makes a mess of the house.

I wondered last night, and woke up still wondering this morning, at how wounds work to shape our lives. Much is made of the father wound—whether it be violent physical abuse or shaming verbal constructs, or whether it’s a different sort of violence—abandonment, rejection, withdrawal, silence, passivity. But not all the hits we take are from our father or even from someone in our family. Some wounds come from thoughtless boys on playgrounds, and sometimes they come from actions that seem to carry no malice at all. Sometimes things just happen to us that hurt us, and we don’t know how to process them. I wonder how much bad behavior comes from this. Sometimes things happen to us that we don’t even know are hurtful immediately, like a meaningless kiss from a thoughtless boy or the first vision of a naked woman on a magazine page or a dirty joke. We enter that stunned stage where we are trying to figure out what just happened to us, and then maybe we move on. But then later, maybe we scream and stomp our feet, or get snippy and sarcastic with those we love. Maybe we lose it over something that would seem quite trivial. Maybe we slide into the other room and hide from the world.

Caleb needed to hear from his Daddy. And it was no use changing the subject. The subject was the fall. The issue was his heart. The cure was the words he desperately needed to hear.

It happened.

It hurt.

It’s not your fault.

I love you.

Caleb on the merry-go-round

we are far too easily pleased

More than anything else I have ever read, these words penned by C. S. Lewis changed my life. I came by it in little coffee table book by John Eldredge called Dare to Desire. It was basically a condensed, greeting card version of The Journey of Desire. I can't find that coffee table book for sale anywhere anymore, but I can find these words inscribed on my heart.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

We are far too easily pleased.

Monday, November 24, 2008

on jon foreman and the art of not writing

I haven’t been writing much lately. And I’ve been trying to figure out why. I think it has to do with me working more and more. This has been happening for over a year now. That and there is a certain numbness that comes with being busy. I really think the numbness is allowed to settle in like so many warts because there is no acidic joy to pierce it. And of course there is no joy where there is no grief. And grief is exactly what got drowned by the business and pettiness and drunkenness of work.

There is something else, though. I write to give voice to my soul. Many times when I write I learn how I feel, what I think, what I believe, who I am. Thoughts condense into words as they sink into black against a cool white canvas. They collect against the roof of the green house and trickle down its sides into dark, damp soil where life grows. It is good. But then, once in a decade or so something else comes along that sings my soul’s song as if God were reminding me that on the seventh day he rested and so must I. The something else this time is Jon Foreman’s little EP’s: Fall, Winter, Summer, and Spring. I list them in that order, not knowing what Jon intended, because that is the order I first listened to them, and that is the order they still sit like old friends around the communion table of my playlist, “strumming my pain with his fingers, singing my life with his words”. And it is good, too.

It really takes a lot to shock me. I’m sorry about this. I’m sure I’m the worst one to share news with. I can remember now several times when my wife or a friend has come to me all aglow with some excitement to blow me away with, only to meet a lackluster hoorah. And then there’s the moment when someone realizes I was dead on about something or someone, and they can’t wait to tell me how right my intuition was all along and roll out the wonderful “I told you so” red carpet for me to strut upon. But I think red carpet looks better on the wall. And then there’s the shock of finding out about some great crime, some great offense, some great sin, some great evil right here in River City. No snap, crackle, or pop there, either. I don’t think this is numbness in me, no matter how it actually comes across. I think it’s acceptance. I took Ayn Rand’s advice a long time ago—the advice about no one being as na├»ve as a cynic. But that’s where Jon Foreman’s words, words like these exposed the cynic hiding behind my eyes:

I'm gonna miss you, I'm gonna miss you when you're gone
She said, I love you. I'm gonna miss hearing your songs

And I said, Please, don't talk about the end—
Don't talk about how every living thing goes away. She said, Friend,

All along, thought I was learning how to take,
How to bend not how to break,
How to live not how to cry,
But really I've
Been learning how to die
I've been learning how to die.

I have been learning how to die, I really have. The classroom seems to follow me around, sitting me in a desk for another lecture or standing me up against the back wall when I’m too tired. The lesson is hard. When you’re still trying to keep from dying, that is. It’s hard to eke out a living when everyone is taking from you—payments, taxes, bills, losses, crashes—like so many leeches sucking the life out of you. But like I said, I’ve been learning how to die. Beat ‘em to the punch. Give more than they require. And it’s hard to love your friends and keep them, too. But someone will have to keep them for you when you’re dead. Again, beat ‘em to the punch.

This is just one song of the many that has been raising its voice in my stead. Maybe they'll keep it up. But it feels like a Monday morning.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

first speech

I watched for the first time Barack Obama make a speech. I wanted to hear what the next leader of the free world had to say. It was a decent speech, I think. But my first impression was that he doesn't speak from his heart. It's not his words as much as his face. He licks and purses his lips a lot. I do this when I'm nervous and concerned about how I look and what people are thinking about me. Maybe it's the same for him.

Before that I watched McCain's concession speech. I wasn't too happy with the boos in the crowd, but loved McCain by the end of the speech. He seems very sincere and appreciative of all he's received and all he's been allowed to serve. It's probably a lot easier to make a concession speech than a victory speech. Obama is already under the weight of leadership. McCain just had to say thanks, I'm done, and please everyone accept that and support your new President. This was the first time I watched John McCain make a speech, too.

Truly, Obama's speech may be his best, worst, or somewhere between. I don't know. It's just that it's my first one to see. And my reaction is a "Blink" analysis (if you've read that book).

I did wonder what he meant by saying that we were in the worst financial crisis of a hundred years. Maybe he knows we're in for something worse than the Great Depression? That could be scary.

One other thing I noticed was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, speechless, weeping. I smiled and was genuinely happy for him. I'm not sure why. I have never liked him very much. Ok, I've never liked him at all. And I'm sure that the Obama campaign made it very clear to him that he was to keep his mouth shut and stay away from the press during the campaign. And now that I think about it, I'm sure the Reverend knew the camera was on him, and so maybe he was putting on a show with the crying and all. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful picture.