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.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Singing With Disney

The invitation went out. Disney had invited Granada Heights Friends Church choir to join with other voices in singing "The Circle of Life" at D23, the ultimate Disney fan event. D23 stands for Disney and 1923, which is the year that Walt Disney came to California and founded what ultimately became the Walt Disney Company. The expo is a chance for die-hard Disney fans to get inside information on the Disneyland parks and movies.

I am not a die-hard Disney fan, but I do like to sing and have adventures, so with little more than a practice or two, I arrived at 5:30 am at the Pumbaa Parking Lot. Great big signs directed us to where we were to park, where we were to sign in, and where we were to stand in line for the shuttle that took us to the Anaheim Convention Center. They punched our names into their highly organized system on ipads. They checked our names off a list. They collected our consent forms and gave us purple entrance bracelets.
From there we followed the flow of people to clothing racks where we were sized up in one look and given golden choir robes. We filed past expo rooms all set up for the fans' enjoyment. We were not allowed to enter these parts because they were for the Disney fan club members only. But that was alright. We were jittery with excitement about our role in this event. 

In the convention's amphitheater we were assured that none of our human blunders or lack of practice could ruin the show, which was going to be the grand finale of a Lion King presentation featuring interviews with the producer, director, animators, and several actors in the movie--Don Hahn, Jim Cummings, Rob Minkoff, Ernie Sabella, and Whoopi Goldberg. 
We were to follow our assigned line leader up the aisles, crisscrossing with other lines at the intersections and thus participating in a rather daring game of frogger, until we arrived at our assigned positions. During all this we were to sing the opening verse of "The Circle of Life" and the accompanying African tribal chant. There was no need to worry about getting the words right as we would be singing along to a sweetened track with recorded voices. And there was no need to sweat the choreography either as we were to follow the choreographer herself who was elevated and lit up on a platform at the back of the amphitheater. There was really very little we could do to go wrong aside from tripping over our own feet. And some didn't even have to worry about that as I spotted several performers in wheelchairs who would be pushed into positions. One of them had a helper dog also dressed in a golden robe and stole.

The stoles were sewn up with LED lights that would turn on and blink in synchronized patterns when controlled through Blutooth by . . . somebody. Who knows how many invisible programmers and button pushers were behind our performance--sound technicians, light crew, refreshment coordinators, etc.

That is what amazes me about Disney: their excellence at logistics. Whenever we were given instructions, they were succinct and clear. Every detail was planned. When they called for the drummers, out came the drummers. When they called for the African animals, out came the animals, and when they called for Carmen Twillie, out came Carment Twillie, the original "Circle of Life" soloist. 

I suppose the kingdom of heaven is something like that. All we have to do is show up and put on the given robes and everything else is done for us by the Holy Spirit. We're lit up, given words to speak, shown how to move, led where we need to go, given refreshments, a room to rest, and a free gift at the end of the show: eternal life. That is not to say that life in the spirit is effortless and Disney did request we show up with black pants and show up on time and bring ID. I guess the analogy breaks down upon any more examination. So let's end this by saying the kingdom of heaven is even better than a Disney production.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Boy in the Suburbs

There's something different about my boy. And I don't mean he's different from your boy. I mean he's different from me. In the brain.

In the womb my boy was bathed in testosterone, which actually altered his brain completely. It made the connections between the two hemispheres of his brain less efficient. That means the locality of speech in the boy's mind is limited, making it far more difficult for his speech to link up to his beliefs and feelings (Dobson, 19-20).

So when I pick him up from pre-school and ask what happened in his class, he is silent for a long time or throws his blanket over his head or kicks my car seat or reports on what he ate for snack. 

He also has less serotonin in his brain than girls do. Serotonin facilitates good judgement, pacifies and soothes emotions, and controls impulsive behavior ("Serotonin and Judgement" as quoted in Dobson, 25). Take that coupled with a larger amygdala, which fires off irrational and electrical responses when threatened or challenged, and you get a boy's brain (Dobson, 26).

When his sister beats him to the car in the race for non-rotten-egg-ness, he says not a word but slams into her and knocks her down. "I'm so angry that I lost the race!" he says not. "I wanted to be the winner!" 

When his sister antagonizes him and he strikes back, causing said sister to scream and his mommy to punish him, he starts dumping out kitchen drawers and throwing his sippy cup on the floor at the injustice of it all. But he never mentions that little sister Rose started it.

"Testosterone is [also] a facilitator of risk—physical, criminal, person" (Sullivan as quoted in Dobson, 21). It is partially responsible for "social dominance" too. And men have ten to twenty times as much testosterone as women (Dobson, 23).

Truck and car runs with leftover fencing pieces
Perhaps that is why my boy chases our pet rabbit around the yard while wielding a PVC pipe, and why he wants to establish a pecking order whenever we invite friends over to play. With the younger boys, he is bossy, challenging, and frequently attempts to thwart their games. With the older boys, he tries desperately to keep up. And if he can't keep up, he'll put his back against a wall and watch with a mixture of fear and admiration. 

When I catch him disobeying, he will often charge at me, thrust his face into mine and glare at me like a charging bull. "Are you still the boss?" his actions say to me. "Because I want to be the boss if you don't!" If I don't daily remind him who is in charge, he will usurp me in the blink of an eye.

Yes, the risk factor also manifests itself in exploring the outer boundaries of places and objects. How far down the sidewalk can I go while Mommy is unloading baby sister? Can I cut a peep hole into the roller blinds? I bet I could climb on top of the car. What are all these things inside this box and what good would the box be without those things in it? What does dirt taste like? How can we turn this into a chasing game?

Loud noises, fire, knives, dangerous animals, ocean waves, heights, destruction. All sort of exploration can go south when unsupervised, which is why I believe that if I leave the boy to his own devises, I will probably deserve whatever he's going to do to me.

Supervision, structure, and civilization. I have to ease him in and out of change. Give him the cold hard facts. Put words to his emotions. Give grace when he rages. And love him to death: love him with hugs and words and treats and just sitting by him and watching him play with his trucks and dirt.
Tetherball with umbrella stand, PVC pipe, rope and ball in a pillowcase
Rope with knots

Peeling vegetables in, yes, a tutu

Old pumpkins and hammers

Stomp Rocket
Wood scraps and tape

Local hill climbing

Big wheels up and down the alley
Dobson, Dr. James. Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

"Serotonin and Judgement," Society for Neuroscience Brain Briefings (April 1197) as quoted in Dr. James Dobson's Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.

Sullivan, Andrew. The New York Times. As quoted by Dr. James Dobson's Bringing Up Boys: Practical Advice and Encouragement for Those Shaping the Next Generation of Men. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001.