Monday, October 23, 2017

Eternal Discovery

Scorn not eternity as a monotonous strumming of harps
Or an austere chorus endlessly bending the knee.
Cast it not aside as dull, unlike the riotous and rowdy hell,
Where the mischievous dance like an endless Halloween night.

For hell must forever be shrinking into a repetition of uniform insanity, 
While Wisdom’s haven swells with the god-men’s inventions and strength.
And if that inspires you not, muse with me then the possibilities
When Wisdom indwells man and our dreams are birthed in eternity.

Consider the untapped power then coursing through our veins, 
When God remakes us to rule without blindness or misdeed.
Then amidst a thousand dangers that hitherto we’d only feared,
We pursue without exhaustion all knowledge, strength, and design.

Might we harvest lightning, contrive alloys, and wrinkle time
To delve into seas and galaxies much deeper than sci-fi films?
Might we learn the languages that birds and reptiles and mammals speak,
And astride our own pterodactyls, teach them to dodge ocean cyclones?

Might we too study genetics, the formation of all creatures,
And bring the ancients' beasts to life: the pegasus, dragon, and griffin?
Might we lay out architectural foundations along rifts of tectonic plates
And delight in collapsing towers: a test of titanium and diamond?

Might we, the lovers of stratagem, create thousand-hour diversions
For those who revel in riddles and puzzles and mazes and clues?
Might we learn lava’s pulsations, the throb of underground rivers,
And hold back volcanic cinders to move islands and spare sea creatures?

And might I meet with my fellow muses in a marble amphitheater,
Gathering accounts from all peoples to weave a new narrative.
There we shall choose our words from all the tongues of the world
For we have time to flesh out the stories the imagination longs to tell.

All dreams stopped short by adulthood, closed doors long barred or burned
Now take flight and reopen, when to us that kingdom is given.
How my soul longs for that place where Wisdom is in us and with us.
And we the rulers bend the knee, delighting in the discovery of eternity.

"No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined,
what God has prepared
for those who love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9

Monday, October 9, 2017

Staring at Piles of Trash

The world is full of grime and foulness. Some places more than others. And I cannot help seeing it there on the parking lot asphalt at Vallarta or in the dark on the sidewalk where the cockroaches skitter past my sandaled feet. I caught sight of a bearded man pulling up his pants after squatting in the gutter last night on Beverly Boulevard. I see red-faced men standing in the check-out line with their Modelo boxes, and I see the heavily made-up ladies with their see-through blouses and hot pants pulling their significant others down the grocery store aisles. I see despondency and weariness in the sunken eyes of the security guard. On the drive home from the grocery store, I see the pile of broken furniture, papers, shoes, and glass at the bottom of our alley. That pile continues to grow and spread as people riffle through the debris that some residence left there. It makes our neighborhood feel run down.

I was paying for a decaf coffee at the Dunkin’ Donuts drive thru, and Rose from the back seat said, “That lady is pretty.” She was referring to the cashier who was rather lovely. She was young and looked like she might be from Spain with her high cheek bones and almond-shaped eyes. I agreed with Rose who then said. “You’re not a pretty lady, Mommy.” I decided to ignore that last bit. Why even address it? Children will talk, and while I could correct it, some things I must let pass. 

There is too much unpleasantness in the world to correct. Too much that can cause offense or loss of appetite. Too much dirt and rudeness. And I think I must let most of it pass me by like a thoughtless comment from a child. It is neither my responsibility nor in my best interest to point or comment or post.

This isn't some sort of blindness to the ugliness in the world or putting a smiley face on a terrible situation. Rather, it's not staring at the piles of trash for too long.

Let them pass us by. Look elsewhere.

I certainly appreciate it when other people look the other way when my children make a scene in public. And the nervous tension in me dissipates when Philip compliments something about my dinner when I know it doesn’t taste very special. I’m obliged to others when they maintain eye-contact when I’ve just discovered deodorant streaks across my shirt. And I admire those in my life who talk about prickly personalities as both fascinating and comical to meet.

When Philip and I were first married, I would complain about the service on our drive home from church. I couldn’t hear the singers because the instruments were too loud. The sermon needed more stories. The church pews were so uncomfortable. No one asked me a single question in fellowship group. And some old lady presumed I was her audience. Nothing went right.

Philip would be silent. Or reply how the Sunday service seemed to him. He’d enjoyed a particular song. He got to give his grandfather a squeeze. He appreciated the pastor’s take on that passage. He was glad to see that they finally removed the lumber that was leaning against the D-building stairwell. And the fruit on the citrus trees were turning orange.

No one needed to tell me that we saw things differently. I thought he was too easily pleased. 

“Didn’t you see anything wrong?” I’d ask.

“I guess I’m just a simple guy,” he’d reply.

I tried not to take offense, but in my mind I was turning his humble comment into an insult. I understood him to mean that I was complicated. Too difficult to please.

And though Philip said none of these things, they were somewhat true.

I had looked so long as our church's flaws that that was all I saw. I supposed that is why some people get divorced. They spend so much time reviewing their spouses mistakes that they see nothing good in them.

But to always be reviewing the good of each other is transformative. It turns the world inside-out. It makes more days delightful. It makes the company of more and more people pleasant. It adds more and more restaurants to our lists of good eats. It turns out happy homes and grateful hearts. It makes the world bigger. To name it in our minds. 

I know this because is has happened to me. I go home from church nowadays thinking, “How lovely! How encouraging! How inspiring! I'm glad I went.” I finish up most days thinking, “How homey! How restive! What fun!” And I leave the company of others thinking, “How kind! How strong! What depths!”

The change came about through reviewing the good. Not some mental exercise I do with my eyes closed while I lay in bed, but by writing down the daily blessings in my journal the Anne Voskamp way. It’s like taking good brain vitamins every day. 

Here are a few I’ve written down lately.

1. Shelves of books at the library where I can check out whatever I want for free
2. Ripe purple figs on our 3 year old fig tree
3. Joanne Clark teaching the children to do the Cha-Cha
4. Money to pay off the credit card bills every month
5. Strength to stay calm during morning temper tantrums
6. A pre-school where the children are taught by Christians
7. Rose saying, “I am a mom because I have long hair and am so beautiful,” or something to that nature
8. The children so excited to get new toothbrushes 
9. Lee praying for his tummy ache to go away
10. A list of baby sitters so Phil and I can go on dates
11. Clean clothes for the children to wear every day
12. Dentists to fix cracked teeth
13. Ryan Javier joining us for dinner and later plunging the toilet
14. A clothesline to hang sheets and mattress pads
15. Kind and friendly neighbors
16. Heavy cream in my tea
17. Friends and relatives who encourage and support my writing
18. A generation of elderly women at Granada who know me and love me and pray for me
19. Bonnie Francis’ support of my eBay sales
20. Sipping chocolate from Trader Joe’s given to me by Grandma Taylor
21. A mom and dad who know how to get down on their hands and knees and play with my children
22. Free lunches with my mom on Tuesdays
23. A background of hard workers in my and Phil’s family
24. A jar of amber-colored honey from my parents’ hive
25. Singing in the choir next to my sister, Jessica
26. Bangs on Rose
27. That the children get to know some of their great-grandparents
28. Air conditioning and heaters each in their proper time
29. People to fix leaks in the ceiling and to kill termites
30. Calculators

These aren’t lists of things I’m thankful for or things I’m happy about. These are things that were blessings. Gifts from God. Things that I may or may not have appreciated at the time, but upon reflection I see them as good.

I could go on and on, but it’s time to stop reading mine and write some yourself.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

100 Year Old House

For the last several months, I've been selling old coins on eBay from Mike Hamilton's collection and learning a bit about numismatics. I've really only dabbled very lightly in the subject as there is so much to know about mint marks and engravers and metals. So far everything is fascinating.  

The oldest coin I've sold is an 1804 half cent. That was only 28 years after America declared its independence. William Wordsworth wrote I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud that year. Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor. Thomas Jefferson was president. Ladies' dresses had empire waist lines in England. And the land that was to one day become the city of Whittier was owned by Manual Nieto of Mexico.

Lewis & Emma Shreve with son Arnold
In 1910, Edmond Otis Dickinson and Annie Elizabeth (Hayes) Dickenson, my great-great-grandparents moved into a house on Whittier Boulevard to begin their citrus ranch. 

Not long after that, Lewis and Emma Shreve, Philip's great-great-grandparents, moved from Ohio to California and lived at 543 Comstock. They ranched citrus groves near what is now Greenleaf and Mulberry where a small street still bears the name Shreve. 

I'd like to imagine the two citrus ranchers spoke to one another about leaf miner and grafting and irrigation. 

Fast forward a few years to November 28, 1917 when the Reverend and Mrs. Ernest E. Day moved in to the little bungalow house they'd built for themselves at 519 Comstock Avenue, Whittier, California. 

At that time, Whittier was a city of about 8,000 people, and the move of the Reverend of Plymouth Congregational Church was news. The newspaper clipping detailed the house warming party. Piano solos were given into the evening. The Plymouth Chorus gave a large cluster of carnations. Someone wrote a poem. And so-and-so was the guest book attendant.

The house was likely built from a Sears-Roebuck kit that cost Rev. Ernest E. Day between $800-$1,000. The kit included about 20,000 thousand pieces and included a 75 page instruction manual on how any modern man could assemble the house in 90 days.

I don't know if Ernest finished his house in 90 days or not, but I do know that the walls were still awaiting lath and plaster in October, and in November he moved in. I also know from the old Whittier newspapers that while he and his wife lived there, they hosted various church prayer meetings and events in their home. In 1925, they held a small wedding within those walls.

After 20 years, the Days listed their house for sale in the newspaper, and by 1940, Mr. and Mrs. James E. Campbell were living there. The newspapers tell of the bridal shower held there for one of their daughters. Also that year, the Campbells prevented a robber from stealing items from their garage. 

From what I gather, the house had about 3-5 more owners before we purchased it. In the 60's its address changed to conform to the county's numbering system. Among the residents were Mrs. F. W. Forbes, a member of the Sew and So Club, and Peter and Pamela Von Rasson who added a bathroom to the house, expanded the master bedroom, and added a two-storied back house that included a wood shop. Their children Eben and Meredith pressed their handprint into the cement in the backyard in several places.

96 years after the house was built, Philip and I prepared to move in. But first, a complete kitchen remodel, which included tearing up years of linoleum and knocking a hole in the wall for a pass-through. During demolition, Phil and my dad discovered a wall stud with a name and date: Ernest E. Day October 3, 1917.

Ernest E. Day
"October 3, 1917"
We saved the beam, and four years later, Phil set it in the center of our kitchen table along with the old lath encased in a layer of resin.
Today we, the great-great-grandchildren of several Whittier residences, celebrate the 100 year birthday of our house. Much of the home is still the same as when Ernest E. Day first built it: the worn and creaky wooden floors, the foundation support pillars, some old nob and tube wiring, the wavy glass, the large front door, the craftsmen-style molding around the windows and doors. 

A whole heap of living has passed within these walls: births, deaths, prayer meetings, socials, peace and turmoil. 

We have made it our home with our paint and furniture and our children's heights marked on the wall, but we too are just passers through. And maybe one day a hundred years from now, a new owner will decide to move that re-built kitchen wall, and during his demolition, he will find written on a wooden stud: "Philip L. Stevens, June 18, 2013."

Home by Edgar A. Guest

It takes a heap o' livin' in a house t' make it home,
A heap o' sun an' shadder, an' ye sometimes have t' roam
Afore ye really 'preciate the things ye lef' behind,
An' hunger fet 'em somehow, with 'em allus on yer mind.
It don't make any differunce how rich ye get t' be,
How much yer chairs an' tables cost, how great yer luxury;
It ain't home t' ye, though it be the palace of a king,
Until somehow yer soul is sort o' wrapped round everything.

Home ain’t a place that gold can buy or get up in a minute; 
Afore it’s home there’s got t’ be a heap o’ livin’ in it; 
Within the walls there’s got t’ be some babies born, and then 
Right there ye’ve got t’ bring ‘em up t’ women good, an’ men; 
And gradjerly, as time goes on, ye find ye wouldn’t part 
With anything they ever used—they’ve grown into yer heart: 
The old high chairs, the playthings, too, the little shoes they wore 
Ye hoard; an’ if ye could ye’d keep the thumbmarks on the door.

Ye’ve got t’ weep t’ make it home, ye’ve got t’ sit an’ sigh 
An’ watch beside a loved one’s bed, an’ know that Death is nigh; 
An’ in the stillness o’ the night t’ see Death’s angel come, 
An’ close the eyes o’ her that smiled, an’ leave her sweet voice dumb. 
Fer these are scenes that grip the heart, an’ when yer tears are dried, 
Ye find the home is dearer than it was, an’ sanctified; 
An’ tuggin’ at ye always are the pleasant memories 
O’ her that was an’ is no more—ye can’t escape from these.

Ye’ve got t’ sing an’ dance fer years, ye’ve got t’ romp an’ play, 
An’ learn t’ love the things ye have by usin’ ’em each day; 
Even the roses ’round the porch must blossom year by year 
Afore they ’come a part o’ ye, suggestin’ someone dear 
Who used t’ love ’em long ago, an’ trained ’em jes’ t’ run 
The way they do, so’s they would get the early mornin’ sun; 
Ye’ve got t’ love each brick an’ stone from cellar up t’ dome: 
It takes a heap o’ livin’ in a house t’ make it home.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Autumn and Pre-School

Pools of bright yellow sit in the gutters along the side of College Avenue this time of year. The Chinese Flame Tree is in bloom. They begin after the most intense heat has passed, after the saturated humidity of July and August. Also around this time, when the weather first dips down below 65 at night, the Saucer Magnolia gets very confused about the seasons and pushes out a few mystified blooms that I can just imagine looking at one another and saying, "Dear me! It isn't spring! Harold, you got it all wrong!" Don't ask me who Harold is.

We have begun a new pre-school with new teachers and a new routine. And after the awkward bustle of learning how to pack lunches and juggle pick-up times, nursing the first season's sicknesses and getting caught up with dental work, I've discovered I have a few delightful pieces of time to myself.

The children experienced a week of protestations where they told me they weren't going to school. They were nervous and had stomach aches, but now Rose has resigned herself to it and Lee positively enjoys it. They come home and tell me the most interesting things, like Rose's rendition of the season: "Mommy, there is gonna be rainbow leaves. And after the leaf fall comes winter, and snow is gonna cover the whole earth, and we'll wear jackets and boots."

Last Friday, Rose asked me if I knew Luke in her class. "No," I replied. "What's he like?"

"He likes me," Rose replied.

Today she told me that she doesn't like girls in her school. "Why?" I asked.

"Because girls are show-offs," she replied.

They bring me handprint pictures and molded clay sculptures, yarn weavings, crayon etchings, Cheerio outlines, handmade books, painted shells, an aquarium in a bottle, a miniature apple pie, and a paper cut-out of all the pirates in the Stevens' clan (which included Mr. Ryan Javier who is living with us right now).

I am delighted in the creativity and understanding of their teachers. This is what I want my children to be doing in pre-school. Not worksheets and academia but exploration and creation. What a difference holding Lee back has made! He walks onto the playground with excitement and most days forgets to say goodbye. When I pick him up, he's interested in showing me his projects and sometimes he gives me reports on what he ate for snack.

"Mama, Jacob brought a race car to school and you wind it up with a screw driver and it goes!" "Mama, we cut out lots of squares and put them on a paper and then they went through a machine and they were stuck all together." "Tomorrow my teacher said that if we're really good we can go to the park and play chase games." "My friends laughed at me when I ate my sprouts. They thought I was eating grass." That last bit of information would've concerned be except that Lee said it with satisfaction. He was quite pleased with himself at the attention and laughter he'd gained through his alfalfa sprouts.

In the car he and Rose compare notes or talk about when they see each other on campus. Once a month they get a Scholastic Book Catalogue that they look through like a newspaper and point out the books that they've read.

Last week their school held its first chapel day. "We went to a church, Mama," Rose told me. "It had beautiful windows and we sang at the front."

"Did you see Lee?" I asked.

"Yes, but we cannot turn our heads and we have to sit with our bottoms down."

I gather the school is more strict that our previous pre-school, and that is good. Lee thrives on structure and guidelines and order.

The school provides its own healthy snacks too, and they ask that parents not pack their children soda, fruit snacks, cookies, or fruit juices in their lunches.

Lee has begun sounding out words accurately and telling me what letter they start with. Rose does the same but with no accuracy at all. "B, B, B, car!" she'll say. Or "S, s, s, chair."

The other day, they were taking pats of mud and sticking them onto various objects in the backyard and saying, "You are a good bucket. Good job." "You are a fast swing. Good job." "You are a tall tree. Good job."

And just like that school has grown up my little boy. Within a few weeks he seems to be reasoning and expressing himself better. Today he asked me if fire hydrants ever run out of water. His little sense of humor is developing and he's less explosive when he doesn't get his way and more interested in cuddling when he's home. Their being at school makes me more interested in being with them too. The hours to myself in the silence of an empty house has made the times of their being here with each other and with me more sweet.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Catalina Highlights

1. Leaning my head over the railing of the Catalina Express to get the full force of ocean wind in my face

2. Phil's birthday allowing us to travel two for the price of one

3. A versatile beach hat

4. Seeing Spiderman Homecoming (which was quite good) in the Wrigley Casino theater where an organ was played prior to the movie's showing

5. Kayaking in the sapphire blue ocean and seeing marigold Garibaldis and needle-like silver fish

6. The clattering sound of the rocks being dragged out to sea by the waves

7. Dolphins' white spotted underbellies seen beneath the water seconds before they crested and jumped, playing in the Catalina Express' wake

8. Complimentary breakfast item and drink

9. Slipping into the background of a food network shot as we took our seats at the Bluewater Restaurant. Supposedly, the series comes out in six months.

10. A chilly swim in the pacific to a floating dock where we dove and jumped in the salty water

11. Shaved lemonade ices and cajun-seasoned encrusted snapper

12. Beach chairs and sunscreen and the sight of sandy babies that don't belong to me

13. An after dark stroll and the city lights reflecting on the water

14. Spiraling and spiky glass cylinders of Chihuly's creations at the island art museum

15. Educational movie in the art museum about Catalina's history

16. View of the ocean from the top of the Wrigley's memorial in the Botanical Gardens.

17. City buses to take us back into town in the heat of the day

18. A sea lion playing in the water beside out private beach

19. Parents to watch the children for two nights

20. Air conditioning in our house and early bedtimes

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Ten Years Like This

Ten years is not so long. Ten is small in comparison to the couple next to us on Star Tours at Disneyland. They were celebrating fifty years of marriage. And the couple getting onto Big Thunder Mountain with their teenagers were celebrating twenty-five years of marriage. That's what their Happily Ever After pins read.

No, ten is not so much. But it is something. And as I write at ten, I feel proud. And triumphant. Ten! And there is love left for romance and surprises and peace and respect. Ten and no malice has taken root. Ten and hope is not crushed. Ten and he still tries to call me every day at lunch to hear how my day is going. Ten and I still like him.

We have made it this far and it seems remarkable because I’ve seen wives with fewer years than ten who no longer see their husband as desirous and extraordinary but as an idiotic child or a clumsy extra appendage or a prison cell. I sorrow for them. But I do not wonder how it happened.

I've slipped and slid along the way myself, seeing the start of corrosive habits that turn me heavenward to say, "O God, No! May I not lose all awe of my husband. May I not come to despise and divide, scorning the one that I've chosen. May I not say:

‘I would love to, but you see my husband . . .’ or
‘We could, except my husband doesn’t know how to . . .’ or
‘I wish he would just be like. . .’ or
‘He can’t do it! You have no idea how hard it is . . .’”

In these ten years I have seen how the more I blame, the more I separate the “I” from “us.” The more I complain, the more appalled I become at my own union. The wind goes out of my sails and the life out of the one flesh. With my own hands I tear down the house where I'd hoped to find unwavering support, supernatural strength, unconditional love, perfect foresight, and all-knowing understanding. I tear down the temple to my gods. And go looking elsewhere.

I've seen my feet slipping down that way and I call for help, then look for another way to go. The way of laughter and tears properly placed. The way of worship and faith rightly assigned. And the way of the fight, yes the fight against worry, blame, and wishing. The less trodden way: that is the way I wish to go.

I want to be the woman that doesn't crumble at a misspoken word from her husband because she isn't relying on him for her value. I want to be the woman who believes that God is supervising in the midst of lost arguments and differing opinions and frustrations without words.

I want to be the woman who believes that her man is just as worthy and capable as herself. The woman who knows that her husband was made to reflect God in a way that she doesn't. Who trusts that God is better at shaping his heart than she is, and who proves it through prayer. Who stands back and remembers that if her husband were to shed that clumsy flesh from off his soul and to stand before her as a reborn man, then she would most likely be tempted to fall down and worship him.

I’ve seen it done. I've seen ladies look at their husbands like this. I’m surround by examples in my family and church. And the more I watch them, the more I see that this is not some special training that a wife undergoes to respect her husband. This is how she sees everyone: her brother and sister, mother, father, in-laws, friends, and enemies. She has stopped making gods of them or expecting them to treat her like a god, and instead she loves them as she loves herself.

There is no perfection in these relationships.
There is one day good and one day bad.
There are words spoken in haste followed by time and apologies.
There is chocolate ganache and candles,
Then there is broken glass and blood and doctors.
There are times of silence and times of waiting.
And times of doing what you’d rather not do but you do anyway,
and thus learn a way that's better than your own.

That is the way I pray I'll go. And you too.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Vortices of the Mind

It comes upon you after an oasis of communion, that blitz of prayer, or rise of spiritual thought. You abided and ate . . . four days ago. But today is now. Now, you have left behind that updraft and glided over the wilderness again upon your own frail wings. 

Imperceptibly, you start to sink. And such deviation of ill-fitted inclinations scrapes you against those in formation. A jostle and quiver of wings renders you liable to high winds. And the vortices that spin at this altitude come to raze all flesh to the ground. 

They implicate you with such whispers of ideas you think are your own, and if you follow the bait into the whirlwind, it’s down to the mire you go.

"Remember what you did.
Remember all who saw.
They think of it now and grimace
Wondering how could you dare.
And now you presume to speak?
Now you presume to join?
You aren't worthy of their company.
They're just too polite to say stay at home.
Save them the trouble and don't go
For you shall always be out looking in."

Her son swims without aid, 
He wrestles tough and reads words. 
But your son still sucks his fingers. 
And cries at the smallest of things. 
He’ll be at the bottom of his class
And chased by the bullies at school.
If only you hadn’t coddled so much,
He may’ve had a chance at normalcy.”

“He doesn’t care about your hurt.
He didn’t even hear what you said.
He assumed he already knew
And then advised without understanding.
He’ll never interpret you properly
Because he’s too selfish to empathize
And too condescending to comfort.
Just cut him out of your life 
Until he can get it right.”

“No heads turned your way today,
Not a man or admiring woman.
You’ve lost all your luster and vim
And fallen to the status of frump.
Maybe products or clothes.
Maybe a treatment or two.
But you’re no competition for 
What your man sees everyday.
How could anyone cherish to love you?”

James Smart "Dust"
Down in that funnel, the wings curl in, flightless and sickly and gaunt. There, debris fills the mouth while the mind is ill breeding callousness and faithlessness and contempt. It’s familiar because you've entered these vortices before and been ravaged by what that voice says. 

But today amidst the howling, you feel the slip and put up your hands. Today the prince of the power of the air will not take you in. Today you’ll not plummet to those depths because today you gasp for help.

Subtly and silently, the pressure of His wings lifts you up against His heart. You hear it beating with assurances that long ago gave you wings.

“I died for this too.
I say you are worthy.
I’ve made all things new.
I am maker, creator,
Power over all.
Let justice be mine to wield.
And above all of this abide.”

You pant as you look at the winds that’ve cast you down so oft. “But what of those?” you ask, and He replies in rhythm with His word.

“The enemy strikes in the jostling
That earth-born bodies will do.
And those jostlings are the same ones
That to me bind frail wings unto.

So like the eyes of a faithful husband
Turning from every enticement,
Bounce your thoughts off the mind’s titillations 
When the devil first makes suggestion.

Turn your thoughts then unto my words,
And I will wrench you from gravity's pull 
For I am stronger than whirlwinds aloft
And more satisfying than old habits' lull.

Give me your daily meditations.
Don’t wait for the fear to betide.
Then no thought over you will have mastery
When you in me do abide. 

“I saw then in my dream, so far as this valley reached, there was on the right hand a very deep ditch; that ditch is it into which the blind have led the blind in all ages, and have both there miserably perished. Again, behold, on the left hand, there was a very dangerous quag, into which, if even a good man falls, he can find no bottom for his foot to stand on. Into that quag King David once did fall, and had no doubt therein been smothered, had not He that is able plucked him out.” 
-John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress

Smart, James. Dust. Digital image. Independent. National Geographic, 30 Dec. 2015. Website 30 July 2017.>.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Are Children And Sonicare Toothbrushes Worth it?

When I buy an electronic toothbrush, I make an unwritten, unspoken commitment: I shall hereafter purchase Sonicare replacement toothbrush heads every four months, or whenever I get around to it, in order to maintain clean teeth and proper hygiene. 

There is now in my mind this unwritten contract, this nagging reminder, this ball tossed up that I must now catch in four or so months. And if I entirely forget my commitment, I will soon have the frayed and splayed bristles of my old toothbrush head to remind me every morning and night of what I need to do. It is a tiny mental weight. Just a small one.

Then there is the reverse osmosis system under the sink with the filters that ought to be changed every six months or whenever I notice a peculiar taste in my water. Another juggling ball goes up in the air that I must catch. Another tiny weight on the mind. Another nagging reminder.

Two tiny weights are not so much, but I have added to them the correspondence on facebook that I must maintain so that I’m not rude, and the chlorine tablets that must be put into my chlorine dispenser so that green mold doesn’t grow in the children’s pool, and the regular washings of my compact brush so that I don’t get pink eye. And that is not even mentioning the cleaning of my fridge coils and the changing of my car’s oil and the spraying off of my A.C. window units’ filters, and the regular dentist check ups and the household cleaning and the children’s vaccines and haircuts and baths and meals and vitamins. Add all those weights together, all those balls tossed up in the air and the circus act is great indeed. What am I juggling now? 150 balls? And more of them lay dropped at my feet. The unwritten, unspoken signed contracts have turned into a huge whirlwind in my mind.

It is the weight of responsibility. But it is more than that.

Some of these responsibilities, like paying the rent or going to the dentist, have an immediate consequence if I don’t do them. I may lose my apartment or my teeth. So let’s call these tasks vital responsibilities. They are part of taking care of my own space and my own body so that life will go well with me.

But there is another category of responsibility that isn't vital to my survival. Arguably, they're not necessary to my happiness either, though many of them add comfort, convenience, and beauty to life. I shall call these recreational responsibilities. They include car or body waxing, hair dying, manicures, supersonic toothbrushes, reverse osmosis systems, and the responsibilities that accompany owning a boat, pool, horse, or home. 

When we buy these extra things, we usually believe that our use or enjoyment of them will outweigh the responsibilities that accompany them. We say it was worth it. I deem our reverse osmosis system worth it because Phil and I derive pleasure in the clean taste of filtered water. I also think a yearly waxing of my car is worthwhile because I don’t like to see my car's paint peeling.

Naturally, all types of vanity and self-entitlement can creep in when we are determining what we ought to have. Quite often, we think we deserve to own a spa or a dog or a supersonic toothbrush. After all, we worked hard for our money. Why not get it? But if the recreational responsibility is beyond our capacity for management, then the boat or pool or house falls into disrepair, and the item becomes a burden or a rather absurd complaint (like a child complaining that his ice cream is too cold).

I’m afraid I fall into the complaining category more than I’d like to. I complain about the peeling paint on the side of my darling little bungalow or gripe about having to take our family’s secondary car in for an oil change or, quite frequently, I complain about the responsibility of carrying for my children. Which has prompted me to ask: what type of responsibility are children? Certainly, we can’t call them a recreational responsibility, and once they’re born, we must care for them as a vital responsibility. But they are neither required nor excess.

God seems to give children to both responsible and irresponsible, financially stable and bankrupt, nurturing and apathetic. He does not seem to have requirements in mind when he doles out children—hallelujah! because I’ve left the car unlocked and the gas on the stove running for more times than I can count.

It seems like children fall into the same category as the spring rains, which fall on both the righteous and the wicked. But does it follow that children, like the spring rain, are a blessing to all? Even the family stricken with poverty and the raped girl? What is this blessing, and does it really outweigh the responsibility? Are children worth the constant buzz in the brain?

Here are a few ways that children can be a blessing:
1) Children force us to neglect responsibilities that are not as important.
2) Children compel us to seek outside strength to be good inside and out.
3) Children invite us to give grace to our parents.
4) Children show us God in a way that no one else can.

Children can do this to both the poor and wealthy, the responsible and irresponsible, the apathetic and nurturing. And that is why they can be a blessing . . . to some. To others they are not because the children are had in vain. And by "in vain" I mean done to satisfy our cravings for love or respect or importance. Just like when we buy a home or pool or car or Supersonic toothbrush—unless the Lord is present in our transactions, the labor is all in vain and what ought to be a blessing will become a burden.

It is an excellent check to my complaints because I know that if the Lord is in it, I will rightly see that this too is a blessing from him. If I am looking at my children as the Lord would, they are a blessing. If I am disciplining with the Lord's strength, they are a blessing. If I am listening as God does, they are a blessing. If I am loving them as Christ loves us, they are a blessing. But when they become just an annoyance, a barrier or a burden, then I know I have tried to walk this day alone.

Psalm 127
Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.

Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.