Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
I drove down my street one afternoon this week and sure enough, there they were. My nephews, Caleb and Isaiah, zipped up and down driveways on their shiny, silver scooters. I rolled down the window to greet them, “What’s going on, guys?”
“Hey Luke!” Caleb said as he whipped past me and manually motored down the street.
Isaiah pulled to a stop at the window, his dirty blond hair blown in all directions. “How was your day at school, buddy?” I asked.
“Good. Well, not good.” His gaze drifted from me to the street. “I had to pull my clip down today.”
Ah yes, the kindergarten behavior chart of stickers and clips. I continued with my curiosity, “Oh really, I bet that made you really sad. What rule did you break?”
“I ran down the hall.”
I leaned in and softened my voice, “Was it fun?”
“No, it wasn’t fun pulling my clip down!” he yelled in disbelief at my ignorance. Why do people over six ask such stupid questions?
“No, Zay, I meant running in the hallway. Was running down the hall fun?” I asked.
His face lit with desire. “Yeah, it was really fun.”
How much do you want from your son or daughter? Tom Cruise’s passionate outburst of “I want the truth!” echoes in my head. That includes the ugly parts that would make a prison warden blush. Do you want their whole heart?
Kids don’t often get that message. The structure of our schools most often communicates that behavior is first and foremost. Most religions follow a similar path. If we can simply get people to conform, things will work. As parents know best, settling for a behavior-first approach is simply easier. It takes far less emotional investment to structure your relationship with your child around rules and discipline.
I wanted Isaiah’s whole heart. Even the part that enjoyed the thrill of running down the hallway. By caring about his heart amidst his disobedience, I put money in the bank of our relationship.
A good friend of mine plans to take his son out for a back deck cigar whenever he uncovers his son’s first use of pornography. In no way does my friend approve of pornography. But he wants his son’s whole heart. He wants to validate his son’s attraction to sin. The message is this: While sin is not okay, I completely understand your lust and enjoyment of it, and I’m with you in the struggle. Typically we look at God’s displeasure of sin and therefore determine that sin shouldn’t be fun. Sin beats Disney World and Six Flags hands down.
When Jesus encounters people filled with shame and guilt, he doesn’t chastise them or smile as they experience the natural consequences of sin. No, our Immanuel offers them a deeper, eternal drink of himself. Of course. Immanuel in Hebrew means “God with us”. Behavior is not God’s top priority; relationship brings him the most pleasure.
If God went through hell to offer us relationship with him, perhaps we as parents, mentors, teachers, and coaches can fight a little harder for the whole hearts of the kids in our care.
Relationship is always central.
Today I filled up our toddler pool in the backyard, this time with water. Last week it needed air. I went knocking on doors in search of an air compressor only to walk home empty handed. I psyched myself up to inflate the entire pool (which could double as a white water raft) with only my lungs. I only blacked out twice.
My girls have already discovered the need to make things more interesting. Splashing water and dancing under the trickling “waterfall” no longer satisfies their adventurous hearts. Now we pull a 3-foot red slide over and place the end of it into the pool. Who needs Six Flags? (I already know what you’re thinking…if you plan to come, we charge admission- a week’s supply of diapers and gift card to Bonefish Grill, for the kids of course)
Today Summer sat atop the slide and stared across at her sister. “Waterfall?” she asked.
Maren fiddled with the hose and the connecter that fed into the waterfall. Should I let Maren play with something she could break? In the midst of my deliberation, I whispered to Summer, “She’s working on it.”
Maren’s head popped up. “I’m workin’ on it!” she proudly proclaimed.
They’re always listening, I thought. In conjunction, I realized the weighty impact of my words. This goes far deeper than censoring my speech. My girls already know how to read. Not written words, but the tone of my voice and the body language I use. All the time. Just last week, I drove them home from swim lessons. That particular day, Maren refused to roll over onto her back after a simulated “falling” into the pool. The swim teacher exhorted her by dropping her off the diving board at least eight times before Maren complied. On the way home, I recounted the events aloud over the phone. “Maren is so stub…” I stopped myself. She may look like she’s staring off through the window, but she’s listening. She doesn’t know what stubborn means, but oh does she hear the passion in her daddy’s voice. Even though I think there’s a glory to her stubbornness, her commitment to stand in the midst of opposition, I shudder at the thought of her receiving a negative label as I process aloud.
I cannot entirely shelter my daughters’ hearts from labels and categories. But it brings up a good question: Can I name the gifts, glories, and dignity in my girls without boxing them?
P.S. I wish my insights did not always beget new questions.
I begin every class with background music from a selected soundtrack. Music captures the power of a story and allows us to relive it long after the credits roll. On my morning drive, the Broadway recording of Wicked continues to arrest my soul to a captivity of wonderment. I hope my students depart class with an appreciation for the vast number of stories that lurk in and around them and a hunger to further explore narratives. This means broadening their perspective on the channels of stories. Hence, the avenue of music.
Each day the students enjoy taking guesses to identify each week’s soundtrack, and I begin offering hints on Tuesdays. Irish football fanatics would smile at the glorious playing of Rudy this week, the legendary account of the not-so-intimidating student that walked on at Notre Dame. This morning the students bombarded me with pressure to reveal the movie title. I offered this hint, thinking it was almost a sheer giveaway (two other classes shouted “Rudy!” before I could take in another breath), “This movie ends with a bunch of people chanting a character’s name.”
“What?!” an exceptionally intellectual 6th grade boy that reads on a forty year-old level exclaimed, “A quarter of the movies in the world end like that!”
“Yeah, even Chinese movies,” added the girl in front of him before chanting, “Ching Chang, Ching Chang, Ching Chang!”
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.
Eve’s daughters are as flowers and none can ever say they are through unfolding.
This week I had the honor (or sentence) of introducing 8th graders to Bill Shakespeare. As a precursor to Romeo and Juliet, the literature teachers facilitated some class discussions on true love. I laughed pretty hard while dialoging with the other teachers at the end of the day. One particular teacher broke down the dynamics swirling about the classroom as the discussion dissected the essence of love. The first comments came from the future valedictorian, who despite best efforts to intellectualize love just could not do it. After a brief silence where no one knew how to respond, the girls began chirping like birds. Midway through the soliloquy, a crew-cut wrestler who aims to enter the army at eighteen interrupted, “All this love talk threatens my manhood.” The discussion raged on when my colleague looked over to the right side to see a girl with her arms wrapped back around her torso, hugging herself. She rocked gently and stared encouragingly at a friend in tears across the room. The friend had just broken up with her boyfriend, and this love talk felt like salt on a wound without the healing.
I had my own fun with the topic but also received a gift in the process. Prior the discussion, I instructed the students to fill out a “love survey”. Do you believe in love at first sight? Does true love last forever? Is true love different than regular love? I originally thought I needed to prepare for this class. Nope. As soon as I let my first question fly, it was like walking through crossfire.
“Of course there’s a difference between true love and love!”
“Yes! Love at first sight is possible. Of course!”
“True love can never end!”
These all came from the female voices, mind you. With such strong passion flaring about the room, I decided to play devil’s advocate. I learned that if a couple falls in love in their mid-twenties, marries, then gets divorced thirty years later, it was never “true love” to begin with. The differences between love and true love hinges on whether the relationship lasts, the actual feelings experienced, and whether fate involved itself. I had to challenge all the rosy aromas floating about the room. This of course became a dialogue with the girls. The guys struggled to enter the conversation, though they offered a meager attempt with a Dumb and Dumber metaphor.
In an attempt to explain true love, Tracy offered up a story from the previous night’s American Idol. Danny Gokey had tragically lost his wife just before the competition this season. According to the mini-story Idol created for the show, Danny mustered up everything he could just to appear at the try-outs, his late-wife serving as his motivation. The story won me over, to say the least, especially when he wowed the judges with his vocals. Tracy confirmed that this as true love. “But what if he remarries in the next ten years?” I asked. “Would that discredit the true love and simply make it regular love?”
Tracy, along with her entourage, would have none of that. As the objections flew my way, I began to appreciate the gift before me. This is the feminine heart. Alive still to the fairy tale, to the hope of the glass slipper’s perfect fit. The invitation delighted me, and I could almost smell the fragrance of Juliet’s innocence.
I shared the experienced with my friend Bob that evening, and I heard his heart melt. How great it would be, he said, to sit with these girls turned women twenty years from now. Their hearts won’t make it unscathed. Perhaps the quiet girls in the classroom already know the inevitable. For others it will occur like subtle erosion, pain and shattered hopes weathering away the solid belief that happily ever after exists. Others will have their tower of dreams leveled in a single smash dealt by an unloving villain. I pray none fall so far as to adopt this t-shirt, “Someone should sue Disney for making every girl believe that they have a Prince Charming.”
Last night Shannon and I were planning to watch a DVD. In the process of turning everything on, she recognized the already televised movie, A Cinderella Story. I had knelt down toward the DVD player when her shriek made me jump, “NO!” Sigh. She still has it. Her journey has been marred and tarnished, but God has rescued and healed enough that she can still announce with girlish glee, “We have to watch Cinderella at the dance!”