Blog Archives

An Outside Glimpse

Little Boy in a BoxMy four-year-old son had been going through a whiny phase. I found it difficult to hear his words clearly, and frequently told him (probably less-than-patiently) that I could not understand a word he was saying unless he spoke more clearly. Without the high-pitch accompaniment of whines. After my reactions, he usually just stopped trying to say whatever he had been saying. So I would feel bad for shutting him down, and he probably felt worse for not being able to express whatever he wanted to say.

My mom was driving, and I sat in the passenger seat. The three kids all sat in the back seat. My son was talking aloud to himself, which he rarely does. He was going on and on in a very impassioned manner so I tuned in to hear what he might be saying.

“No one understands me!” He was exclaiming to himself, building up a whole case in his little sing-song voice. I tried to reassure him that as long as he spoke clearly, he would be understood. I left it at that, although his self-talk continued.

That weekend, my sister came for a visit with her teenage son. I entered the living room that evening and heard my son telling a story to his aunt and cousin. They were sitting captivated as he narrated the entire tale of how we traveled from India (a couple of months before), including details on the airplane ride, the things he saw, ate, experienced.

After he completed his tale, I told him it was time to get ready for bed. He turned to go, but then added a final line to his narrative: “I need to go now and that’s about all the information I have.”

My sister was laughing so hard she could barely breathe. My nephew commented, “He knows words I didn’t learn until sixth grade!”

The next day, my four-year-old told his plane traveling story to someone else, who also looked extremely impressed. He added a few details, cut out some other parts and had to double back when he forgot something, beginning the story once more from that point on. He breathlessly reached the end of the story with, “And that’s the end of my story of how we came from Bangalore to America.”

Another successful tale. Another impressed listener. My son was happy once more. And I stood in wonder at that outside glimpse. Seeing my child through someone else’s eyes. His amazing vocabulary. His gift of storytelling.

Often, without even realizing it, we put our children in a box, labeled neatly with our perceptions and our assumptions. My son: the whiny one. My son: the strong-willed one. My daughter: the complainer. The boss. The sensitive one. The spoiled one.

Sometimes we put ourselves in those boxes too. But when we’re in boxes and they’re in boxes, we can’t easily reach out and connect. Maybe it takes an outside glimpse. Maybe it takes an intentional stepping out from those labeled boxes. Perhaps a recognition of who they are and who we are beyond those labels. To help us see just how special and unique each one of us truly are.

Advertisements

Two Messages on a Mirror

message on a mirror

In the summer, as my birthday approaches, I often begin to take special notice of my figure. Or my lack of it. The belly that used to be flat … a long time ago. The backside and thighs that seem to collect far more fat cells than any other part of my body.

If I could choose where I want those extra pounds distributed, I would have the perfect hourglass figure. But I can’t. So I don’t.

During the school year, with classes and teaching, it’s a challenge to focus on my diet. So in the month leading up to my last birthday, I decided to cut out junk food. It’s not that I eat inordinate servings of chips and donuts on a daily basis or anything. I simply hoped to re-calibrate my appetite. Losing a pound or two, or ten, wouldn’t be unappreciated.

Okay, so I wanted to get down to 150 pounds. A nice, even number. My pre-mommy weight, which I dropped down to within six months after each pregnancy, was below 140. My last pregnancy had been nearly eight years ago, and I was hovering dangerously close to 160 pounds (read: 159.8).

I wrote my weight in a blue dry-erase marker on my bathroom mirror, along with the date: July 18. A month to lose ten pounds.

For the first two weeks, I avoided chips and sweet drinks, processed foods and starchy meals. I drank homemade smoothies for breakfast / lunch. (Okay, so I also drank chai every morning, but homemade chai, with ginger … that’s good for you, right?) I tried to embrace that hungry feeling in the evenings, when I usually succumb to cravings of salty or sweet foods.

At the end of July, I took my weight and marked it on the bathroom mirror: 154.6 pounds. Halfway there.

A day or two later, something else appeared on my mirror. Lyrics to a few different songs:

He loves you more than the sun and the stars that he taught how to shine.

He lives in you.

He made you flawless

Lyrics covered the mirror, except for a space in the center where a huge smiley-face was. And of course the top right corner where I had marked my weight: my slow progress toward a better figure.

A better me.

One of my greatest prayers for my children, especially my daughter, is that she will see herself as a beautiful creation of God. Flawless. A beautiful young woman made in His image and created for a unique purpose. I know how much the world and our own minds fights against this concept.

But sometimes, instead of encouraging that attitude, I focus on the opposite. Making myself better. Focusing on the externals. Sometimes, instead of teaching my kids, I need them to teach me. And that is what my daughter did with the song lyrics she wrote on my mirror.

I didn’t reach my weight-loss goal by my birthday. In fact, I gained back a couple of the pounds I thought I had said goodbye to. I look in the mirror, and I don’t see flawless. But if I focus on the words my daughter wrote, my perspective changes. Because I’m no longer looking at me. I’m looking at words that convey a different message. I’m looking at a truth I hope my children will always embrace. A truth they will use to bless others throughout their lives:

He loves you.

He lives in you.

He made you flawless.

What Did You Just Call Me?

children and name calling

On the way home from Wednesday evening church, my eight-year-old son told me a girl had called him “nerd” and “idiot.” My first reaction was indignation. I wanted to make a snide remark about the pot calling the kettle black, maybe add something about haughty daughters of fashionistas. Clearly, my heart was not on the right track, even after an evening discussing temptation and how to avoid it. Hearing that my son was called names opened a dark pathway in my mind and I began to tumble downward.

My daughter stopped my mental spiral with a logical comment to her brother: “You can’t be both nerd and idiot.” Jessica’s observation made me laugh. She was right.

Nerd has two main definitions:

  • a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious.
  • a single-minded expert in a particular technical field.

In all honesty, both descriptions can fit my son. He loves to read all manner of science books. He is not picky. One day he might be studying volcanoes in a book he got from his aunt for Christmas. The next day he will be poring through a book about the human body or marine life. When we leave the house, he always carries a book into the van. (And usually leaves them in the van.)

Not only does he love to read on those topics; he loves to share what he learns. He is not highly discerning as far as who he shares it with. He’ll start talking to some random individual on the school playground, or during free time after church, about something he learned. As his mother, I love to think about what that interest might develop into one day. He could be a professor (or at least a teacher.) He has an amazing memory, is a fast reader, and loves books that many people would leave on their bookshelf, unopened.

At the same time, he probably tends to bore people. I watched it one day, at school, when he was talking to a close friend about some scientific topic. My son was conducting a monologue and I had to suggest, “Buddy, why don’t you give your friend a chance to talk, while you listen for a while? Then you can have a turn to talk afterward.” That kind of social skill comes naturally to most people; not to my boy.

Yesterday evening, it seems, my son had been talking with another boy about sharks. The girl, a couple years older than my son, made a sarcastic comment about how “exciting” the topic of his (most likely one-way) conversation was, and called him nerd. Then idiot. He told me that he went to tell his teacher, and she suggested letting it roll off, like water off a duck’s back. I agreed wholeheartedly. My son and I discussed the way duck’s feathers are coated with a special oil that keeps them from staying wet even when they dive underwater.

My son seemed fine after that, but made a comment this morning to his sister about being called names. It seemed the words had sunk in instead of rolled off. I didn’t want to leave them there, gathering strength. So I sat down with my three kids in the living room, and gave them each a small white board and marker.

“Draw a line dividing the white board in half,” I told them. “On one side, write names that you like to be called. On the other, write names that you don’t like being called.” Within a few minutes, they all had at least a couple of names on each side of the board. They first read out the names they did not like being called, and then the names they do like being called.

I gave them some references to look up in their Bibles. John 1:12. John 15:1, 5. John 15:15. Romans 8:17. 1 Corinthians 6:19. After they took turns reading the verses, they shared some of the names we are called in the Bible:

  • Heirs with Christ
  • Children of God
  • Branches of the Vine
  • Temple of the Holy Ghost
  • Friends of Jesus

I asked them if they had anything to add to that list. My older son said, “Beloved.” I suggested sheep belonging to a Good Shepherd. I digressed from biblical application and told them about some of the names I had been called as a child. “Four-eyes.” “Bird legs.” A couple that were more offensive, but made my children laugh. I laughed along with them, though I hadn’t when those names had stung my ears and eyes as a kid.

I told them one reason we don’t allow name-calling in our home is because names are important. They help us know who we are. They shape us in many ways. We tend to live up, or down, to the names we are called. I asked my children to remember, if anyone calls them names, there are other titles they have: names that God has called them that are so much more important. I also asked them to think that, if someone calls them a name, it could be that those kids have been called names, maybe by schoolmates, maybe by members of their own family. And try to respond graciously, even when the names are hurtful or on their “names I don’t like to be called” list.

Who knows if the little discussion I had with my kids will be like water off a duck’s back? I hope not. I hope my children remember their true names, their more enduring titles. I hope they see those same names in others, even “the least of these.” I hope I remember it too.