Sunday, July 31, 2011

Because he loves me

I get my weekly dose of feel-good-about-myself-music in the grocery store. While I shop for food, people on the radio sing about what a wonderful human being I am. That I am amazing, and perfect -- just the way I am. There is nothing they would change, they say, because I was born this way.

I'm glad Hans doesn't tell me things of that sort.

Recently, I made a mistake. The same kind of mistake that I made for the 798th time. Except this time, Hans bore the brunt of the consequences. Because I was careless, my husband suffered.

As always, he forgave me. I married a kind man. He comforted me, and gently encouraged me -- to change.

It wasn't pleasant to hear, of course. But it was the most loving, the most hope-filled thing that he could say to me. He didn't give up on me, or leave me to be the way that I was. My husband believed that I could change because he loved me. Because he loved me, I wanted to change.

"Love yourself." This is the first commandment in the religion of self-esteem. It is the chant of our generation.

I was once a preacher of this religion, along with those singers on the radio. When I was teaching in juvenile prisons and teen pregnancy centers, I gave each girl a bookmark with the words "love yourself" on it. I now cringe at the thought that a few girls even said they were going to make tattoos of  these words. I hope they didn't. And if they did, I hope they will forgive me.

My problem is not that I don't love myself. On the contrary, my problem is that I only love myself. There are other (less flattering) words to describe this: selfish, self-centered, self-righteous. I was born this way.

I don't want to remain the way that I am. I want to change. I want to love others more than I love myself. But I don't. And on my own, I am unable to change. I make the same mistake 798 times.

When I was deep in my rebellion, Christ died in my place. He didn't give up on me, or leave me to be the way that I was. He rescued me, and set me free -- so I am able to love God and love others.

My Lord is changing me because he loves me.
Because he loves me, I want to change.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Broken when spoken

When Emeth was younger, he would (loudly) announce that he was being quiet.

Broken when spoken.

We've been teaching Emeth that he should not compliment himself. It might be cute that he praises himself now when he is only three, but I am sure it will not be cute five years, ten years, forty years down the road.

Self-praise is no praise, we would tell him. The concept is still, however, a little tricky for him to grasp at this point. After he does something kind, or when he shares a toy with his brother, he would say in his seriously voice, "Mommy, Emeth should not say that Emeth is being good. Only mommy and daddy can say that Emeth is being good."

Broken when spoken.

Adults do this all the time, here is a list of things that we break once we speak or think of them.
  • I should never think that I am prepared. When I think I am prepared, I stop thinking, and when I stop thinking, I forget things. (OK, so this only applies to me.)
  • After you tell a joke, if people respond with "that's funny!" -- this means that the joke was not funny. Because if it was funny, they would be laughing, not talking.
  • When you are waiting in line, or when you are stuck in traffic, and you think you are being patient -- you are not. It's like what they say about a watched kettle -- it never boils. So, look away! Think about other things! Have conversations! Keep busy!
  • Whenever I hear organizations talking about being "diverse" or "multicultural" or "authentic" -- I doubt that they are. If they were truly diverse or authentic, they would not need to talk about it -- they would just be. That would be the norm. Cool people don't need to call themselves cool. That would be un-cool.
  • When I think I am wise, I am not--because wisdom loves correction and rebuke. It is not enough to just accept rebukes, but we are to love them, to treasure them. Wisdom would seek correction, longing for ways to be better. The wise person would think that she is a fool.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On liberty and strength

Someone asked me the other day, what am I doing "other than being a mommy." It was a kind gesture, to be sure. But here were a few things that went through my head:

1. Um... What?!
The friend happened to be male, single, and living his dream career. Obviously, he was not a mom, or he wouldn't ask me that.

2. But how should I answer his question?
What do I do "other than being a mommy"?
Wow. I've got nothing.

3. Wait. Really? Am I just a mom?

4. Fine, but I'm not just any mom. I am a mom who cooks intelligent food.... and plays intelligent games... and makes intelligent decisions for my children.

5. You are absurd. And you say (and think) absurd things. Since when did intelligence become so important?

6. Since it became the definition of a successful woman, that's when! A strong woman. A liberated woman.

7. And that is what you want to be?

8. No... Yes... but...

9. And you were just teaching Emeth that being kind and patient is more important than being smart. Nice job at walking the talk, Mom.

10. Do they look like chains to you?
After all these years of trying to break free, I am still bound by what culture thinks about motherhood: being a mom is not enough.

Once upon a time, I worked for a feminist organization that educate girls to be "strong, smart, and bold." That was our motto. Girls can be whatever they want to be -- other than being "just a mom."

Lies that I apparently still believe.

Soul, you are very slow to learn.
Not so intelligent after all.


Here are some quotes from Chesterton that I often revisit:
(Chesterton, What's Wrong With the World, 1910)

1. Like the fire, the woman is expected to illuminate and ventilate, not by the most startling revelations or the wildest winds of thought, but better than a man can do it after breaking stones or lecturing. But she cannot be expected to endure anything like this universal duty if she is also to endure the direct cruelty of competitive or bureaucratic toil. Woman must be a cook, but not a competitive cook; a school mistress, but not a competitive schoolmistress; a house-decorator but not a competitive house-decorator; a dressmaker, but not a competitive dressmaker. She should have not one trade but twenty hobbies; she...may develop all her second bests. This is what has been really aimed at from the first in what is called the "seclusion," or even the "oppression," of women. Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad.

The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was enabled to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades. But the woman's professions, unlike the child's, were all truly and almost terribly fruitful; so tragically real that nothing but her universality and balance prevented them being merely morbid. This is the substance of the contention I offer about the historic female position.

2. Two gigantic facts of nature fixed it thus: first, that the woman who frequently fulfilled her functions literally could not be specially prominent in experiment and adventure; and second, that the same natural operation surrounded her with very young children, who require to be taught not so much anything as everything. Babies need not to be taught a trade, but to be introduced to a world. To put the matter shortly, woman is generally shut up in a house with a human being at the time when he asks all the questions that there are, and some that there aren't. It would be odd if she retained any of the narrowness of a specialist.

3. How can it be a large career to tell other people's children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one's own children about the universe?
How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman's function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

This freedom of ours

{in remembrance of the children in the African drought}

The sink was full of dirty dishes.
Books covered our floor like ill-fitted pavement.
The hand-knitted tablecloth from Afghanistan was hidden under piles of Emeth-drawings.

They were the evidences of our freedom, our abundance.

The dishes were dirty because we had food. In fact, I was free to make whatever I wanted for dinner. My only restriction was whichever meat I had defrosted this morning. I chose sausages. Long pockets of salty, spicy, (and yes, fatty) meat.

Books covered the floor because they were free. We were free to borrow as many books as we wanted from the library.

The little brother did not think he was free though. All he wanted to do was get out and disassemble big brother's train tracks.

Emeth requested that I draw a picture of our family. So I did. And I drew myself in a red skirt. As I was drawing, he exclaimed: "WHAT'S THAT?!"

I am grateful for the freedom to wear pants every day for the past two years.
Because mommy needs to run after you, darling.

Emeth is free to scribble. To his heart's content. On clean and smooth pieces of paper (he doesn't mind the letters on the other side). The drawings themselves are free in all kinds of ways. Our family can be without bodies, yet we're still holding hands. We can be armless, but we are always smiling.

Pictures, pictures everywhere! On the refrigerator. On the door. On the floor. Aren't they grand?

I am free to have a cup of coffee. At eight o'clock in the morning. Or in the case of today, eight o'clock at night.

I am free to buy mangoes. A dozen of them, in fact.

Whenever I peel one of these, I think of Ma. I've tried different ways of stripping the flesh off the seed, but I found that Ma's way was the best after all.

During mango season, my sisters and I would eagerly wait at the dinner table as she peeled fruits picked from our yard. Every mango was perfect. We especially liked loved the sour ones, young and crunchy. (I'm salivating just thinking about them) We dipped them in sugar and soy sauce. Or fish sauce. Or just salt. We loved salt.

I am free to wear white shoes. So what if they are ridiculous and impractical? Emeth steps on my feet all the time. And I somehow manage to roll Yohanan's stroller over my feet a lot. But these are washable, and if I need to -- there is always bleach.

Emeth and I were watching the BBC news report about the drought in northeastern Africa. I was not sure how he would react to the images of children with sad, sunken eyes in the Kenyan refugee camp. Afterward, Emeth kept squishing Hanan's arm and saying, "Hanan is so chubby, Mommy! Hanan is so chubby."

Yes, darling, you are so round and so chubby.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Waiting for fireworks, seeing the moon

The world was waiting for fireworks last night. Well, the world in the US of A. It was the fourth of July.

At about 9 p.m. Hans heard the faint sound of explosions from our apartment. He took the elated Emeth out of his crib and sat him on his shoulder. And off they went into the night. Within a few minutes, I heard my husband's voice beckoning me, as though I was Rapunzel. He said to come down and join them.

And so I did. I love fireworks.

It was a warm summer night with just enough breeze. There in the darkness, we watched the sky, all four of us. Well, three of us. Hanan was fast asleep on my shoulder. I was torn between standing still and dashing off to grab the camera.

But I stood still. And I'm glad I did.

Under the lights and the sparks and the grand spectacle, Emeth exclaimed: "Look at the moon! It looks like a banana!" My immediate reaction was to think, "Silly boy! The moon is there every night. Look at the fireworks! Don't you think they are so cool?"

But he was right. The moon was not outshone last night. Even next to the fireworks, it looked pretty spectacular. And to think that we get to enjoy it every night!

People make fun of parents who give the "children-in-Africa-are-starving" speech to coerce their children to eat at the dinner table.

Confession: I give those "speeches". Once in a while.

Sometimes, we talk about the children in Japan. This week, we talked about refugees in Kenya. No, not to get him to finish the food on his plate (because it would not work), but for him to learn compassion. To learn to have a grateful heart. The keyword here is "learn" because the lesson is a difficult one, for both of us.

Thankfully, I don't have to give these speeches myself, because pictures (and videos) are worth a thousand words (Thank you, Internet!). Here is one that I showed Emeth when he complained about having water in his eyes during his (clean water!) bath.

Page CXVI from Living Water International on Vimeo.

I remember the days of old when Hans and I were considering the possibility of a relationship. I was waiting for fireworks, but Hans was like the moon. Bright and steadfast.

Soul, taste and see
what is true, what is good.