One Thanksgiving Question

We get in deep on Thanksgiving over here.  Leila has a drum she beats and a headdress she wears and a macaroni necklace people keep stepping on and shattering until I suggested putting the remnants inside the drum to create an Indian drum maraca effect. This did not make her stop crying.

Olivia gives me every historical detail on the pilgrims as only a 1st grade learning sponge can  and Sophia’s 3rd class walked to the post office to mail letters of gratitude.

Ruthie says “thank you.” It’s her third expression after DONE! and uh-oh. Talk about whole language. If I had to choose three expressions to get by with for the rest of my life, I think those three could make it happen. She uses “thank you,”actually as “please” because she’s confused or really maybe because she’s smarter than all of us. “Thank you” actually works as “please”.  A passionate “thank you” entices me to give her what she wants much more than a begging “please. ” I might try this strategy myself. Thank you join me.

Anyways, tonight we were reading a fine piece of literature entitled “Thanksgiving Mice.” The mice are putting on a play in which they are pilgrims and Indians. By the way, this is why children are brilliant. Mice are now anthropomorphizing into pilgrims but only as characters in the play they are producing for the other woodland creatures who arrive wearing scarves. And everyone is buying in.

The story reminded me, though, of what exactly the Pilgrims were grateful for (well, according to the mice, and a quick follow up on wikipedia.)

1. Fruit from the first harvest.

2. Plenty of it.

3. Survival.

I’d always thought of the second two but tonight the Mice struck me with the poignancy of the first. What they worked to put in the ground in the spring bore fruit in the autumn. Their labor paid off. Their work was worth it. 

I love to list things I’m thankful for – people, stuff, experiences, intangibles. But the Pilgrims, as far as we know, were not listing. They were pretty specific. I’ve said before spiritual practice for me is about getting specific. So this Thanksgiving as you are grateful for your people and the six sticks of butter in the Pioneer Woman Mashed Potatoes I am endeavoring to make, join me in pondering this Ye Old Plymouth Rock Inspired Question:

What fruit from your labor are you thankful to see? What seeds have you put into the ground with just enough hope and recently seen blossom? What really hard stuff has proven its worth recently?

Colonial Williamsburg sent me this picture in a Thanksgiving message that thrilled me. It tactfully hides all the Christmas decorations that have already been hung. When I look at this picture for exactly one more moment I’m still in autumn, surrounded by pumpkins and the joy of a harvest that only follows long hard work.

Have a wonderful holiday, friends. Rest, reflect, and beat your macaroni necklace maraca drums with thanks.


But What Do We Tell the Kids?

Two weeks ago I spent six days driving to Richmond for an Old Testament 2 Class. The “2” is key here – after  Creation, and Exodus, and David and Goliath. We focused on the Prophets. Yes. Amos, people, Micah. The stuff liturgies work to avoid. The stuff I work to avoid. It was a great class. Our professor confronted really difficult material and brought it to life. We wrestled with texts and current issues and our own biases towards Scripture. But inevitably, after studying challenging passages, topics we were being trained to teach,  someone would ask “But what do we tell the kids?” In other words, how do we make this make sense to our children, when it does not fully make sense to us?

We were out of town at a wedding on Friday. News of the Paris attacks reached our group during the rehearsal dinner. We traveled back yesterday and only in starting a new week of school and watching more news did  the question from class echo in my mind, “But what do we tell the kids?”

I’m scared. I don’t want my kids to be scared.  I’m sad and I think if I’m honest, I treat my kids like my first and favorite consumers: I’m selling them on this life  and this world as I know it, or often, as I want to know it.

I’m also trying to sell them on faith as I want to know it. I want it all to add up, no holes, and no hurts,  you know, so that they too will believe.

Except the most steady believers I know do not come from lives in which things have added up.

So here’s what I do when it comes to telling the kids. This is not expert advice. You all know that.  I made almost half my children cry this morning.

But I’m a learner, and I’m muddling through over here like so many of you and this process is important for our children, for our parenting selves, and for our faithful selves as we together journey through fear, lament, and hope.

1.) Pay attention. The more I’m available I’ve noticed the more they bring stuff up – what was said at lunch, what they heard at recess. Classroom Experts begin to emerge, and it’s always important to identify the Classroom Experts. Also, my children go to school with Professor’s kids, so do not think for a moment that existentialism has not been discussed at the first grade lunch table.

2.) Sometimes get ahead and sometimes wait. Getting ahead: You may hear about this at school. Let me tell you what I think…” Having information can empower and comfort our older kids. But sometimes I wait and take a Maria Montessori child-led approach when I think getting ahead will produce extra anxiety. But again, every situation, and child is different, and requires constant adherence to Step 1.

3.) Listen to their questions. This may seem obvious, but often we are triggered into panic as soon as we sense the subject that scares us emerging. Then we don’t even hear the question which may have a simple answer. Which leads us to point 4….

4.) Answer the question. Just the question. This is harder than you may think. Especially for me. We can’t let answering our kids become our own self-soothing. We also don’t have to cover everything they could possibly wonder in this answer. I have found if  I follow steps 1-4 consistently they will keep asking questions. Unless I kill it every time with too many words and an inability to move on.  Travis and I, we have some words between us. Even Leila, at barely three has learned to say quite directly, “I  don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

5.) Be honest about your fear and sadness. Expressing our own emotions normalizes theirs. And we know they know when we’re faking. It’s more alarming to see an adult try and hide an emotion than to hear an adult admit they feel just like children do.

6.) Confess your faith.

I was a sophomore in college in September 2001. I lived at the other end of the street where I am sitting now. For those first couple of days we hung American flags and ate communal meals with neighbors and leaned on each other and grew up a bit more than had been forecasted for that semester. But I’ll never forget showing up at a Young Life Leaders Meeting and our Area Director saying simply, “We know Who wins.” He wasn’t talking politically. He said, “We’ve been given a glimpse of how the story ends and We know Who wins.” He did not try and explain the massive horrors of that day theologically, or project meaning into the pain of so many people. He did not defend the faith we all ascribed to. He confessed, in the Presbyterian definition of stating and identifying with belief.

Deep down we were all so scared and trying not to show it. His confession, non-contrived and culturally dissonant, was a balm. Remember, always remember, the witness of faithful people is what forms us and will form our children –  not arguments, systems, and constant answers.

That same evening my friend Amanda read from Psalm 46. I offer it as a prayer now. I also must add this, the Ancient Hebrew people who wrote the Psalms were terrified of water. Will you remember that as you read? Remember that it represented the unknown and all they felt powerless against – swarming chaos and fear and darkness. Feel familiar?

Praying for you friends as you process and share hope with your people, big and small.

Psalm 46:1-3,7

God is our refuge and strength, 

an ever-present help in trouble. 

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way, 

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam 

and the mountains quake with their surging. 

The Lord Almighty is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress.