Sep 092009
 

Dear Mean Bumper Sticker Man,

My family and I stopped at a red light this weekend behind your car with the Jesus fish and the bumper sticker that said in red flaming letters….

“TURN OR BURN.”

My six year old son read it aloud and asked me what it meant. I thought about ramming my car into your bumper, just to distract everybody and serve my community, but I reconsidered because clearly you were a little angry already. So I took a deep breath and said, “Well, honey….maybe “TURN OR BURN” is the new “Stop, drop, and roll!Maybe that man is a volunteer firefighter!”My son answered with silent suspicion. I began mentally composing this post.

I am not going to discuss religion on this blog. Ever, ever, ever. Mostly because I wouldn’t have a clue what to say. Religion is VERY confusing to me.But faith isn’t. Here’s my faith:

I think God adores me. I think that He is just TICKLED PINK by me, like a parent at a preschool Christmas Pageant. And when I get really crazy and paranoid and cranky…when I doubt His very existence…I think he loves me even more. I think He’s amused…like I am when my 15 month old covers her eyes and believes this has made me disappear.

The image of God as proud, encouraging daddy works for me. It allows me to walk around, on my good days, feeling adored, understood, and calm. It means that I live inside a snow globe with my family, friends and borderline personality and even though things get shaken up and we find ourselves in the middle of a blizzard, somewhere deep down I know that the blizzard’s fake. It’ll settle. I know we’re still being watched over, and enjoyed, and in good hands. And like most kids who know that they are loved unconditionally…I end up behaving better than I did when I believed in the angry, flame throwing God. I treat people more kindly than I used to, because I’m happy, and grateful, and less afraid.

And you know what? I don’t think God’s ever been mad at me. I don’t think I’ve ever shocked Him. I think He’s loved me exactly the same before, during, and every horrible thing I’ve ever done, and still do…daily. I believe he forgives me for every mistake before I make it. I don’t think He ever turns his back, drops my hand, plots my punishment, and moves onto the next guy…I think when I’m in trouble he holds my hand even tighter, preparing my heart for the confusion and sadness that are always the fallout of big mistakes. Just like I do for my children.

So, anyway.

I just wanted to suggest that perhaps you could hold on to your “Turn or Burn” sign until and unless you move very close to an active volcano, and you are trying to warn the tourists. In that case, it would be helpful. Thank you very much.

Love, Glennon

P.S. “The only power that can effect transformation is love. Twentieth century scientists discovered that locked within the atom is the energy of the sun itself. For this energy to be released, however, the atom must be bombarded from without. So, too, locked in every human being is a store of love that partakes of the divine-the imago dei, image of God, it is sometimes called.And it, too, can be activated only through bombardment, in its case love’s bombardment.” *Huston Smith, The Worlds Religions


Or, you know, we could keep trying nasty bumper stickers. People dig those, too.

Sep 102009
 

Yesterday’s post was about God. Sometimes talking about God can hurt people’s feelings. What I want most in the world, besides a personal chef, is to not hurt your feelings. If you people knew how much I thought about you and worried about your feelings you would probably be very, very afraid.

In the future, when I refer to God, feel free to substitute the name of whatever light helps you find your way home. I usually call God well, God.I also call him Jesus, because Jesus was the First Responder to my spiritual 911 call from my bathroom floor several years ago, and because everything He said matches the truth in my heart. I also sometimes call the pizza man God because, well, families can’t live on bread alone.If you call God something different than I do, then…“to-mayto- to-mahto.” Let’s not call the whole thing off due to semantics okay?And if you believe that everyone has to call God the same name… I’d be honored if you’d stick around, too. Let’s all try to understand each other. Because with every passing year I become more suspicious that maybe we’re not really meant to spend our spiritual lives playing a never-ending game of Red Rover.“Send those PAGANS right over!”Red Rover requires a lot of choosing teams and yelling and running and winners and losers and bruised arms. Maybe instead we could all just sit down, take a deep breath and figure out what we can learn from each other. I think God, whatever He might prefer to be called, would like that.

Anyway. The point is that yesterday I wasn’t trying to assert that bumper sticker man was definitely wrong about God. BECAUSE WHO REALLY KNOWS? I was just saying that I don’t buy any theology that fits on a bumper sticker. But there are actually a lot of things I probably should buy that I don’t, like mops and new underwear and a pan, according to my sister.

She came over to cook dinner last weekend, which she does occasionally for the sake of the children, and she yelled from the kitchen:“Glennon, where are your PANS?” and I yelled back “I don’t have one.” And after that shocked silence to which I am becomingwell accustomedshe yelled something like “You don’t ownApan? How do you cook without a singlepan?”And I said, “Yeah. I know, IT’S REALLY HARD.” And then she walked into the family room and stared at me in disbelief for a good three minutes.When she finally spoke, she said something about how she had MULTIPLE PANS FOR VARIOUS PURPOSES and how I COULD SIMPLY NOT not have a single pan in my home.

WELL.

JEESH, SISTER,give me a break.So I don’t have a pan?So what? It’s not like there’s anything I cando about it. Every day I pray the serenity prayer, “allow me to accept the things I cannot change,” and then Itry to accept the fact that I do not have a pan.I’m not gonna sit around and cry about it. Also, if we’re being totally honest, I think you’re being just a teensy bit judgmental. Just because you’re a fancy pants MULTIPLE PAN OWNER, doesn’t mean that all of us have to join you in your life of excess. Sister, there are children STARVING IN AFRICA, actuallyat my house too, and you’re walking around with your head in the clouds, judging the panless and gloating about your MULTIPLE PANS.

Okay, this post is miles from where it started. I think my points were:

1. Let’s be the first group of people in the history of the world who talk about God occasionally without starting a war.

2. Please send me a pan. And a detailed note explaining what I’m supposed to do with it.

Sep 142009
 

Chase’s first real pet, Jacob, died yesterday. That’s Jacob swimming beneath a letter he sent last year when Chase went fishing at his grandpa’s house. We’ve had several of these “fighting” fish over the years. None lived long and we’d replace each without a word of explanation or a tear from the kids. But Jacob was special. He swam around in Chase’s room for two years and survived a million sticky fingers and more than a few missed meals. Jacob kept an eye on things for us. We thought him very wise and responsible. I once admitted to the kids that I loved daddy more than Jacob, and they were so hysterically horrified that I was forced to recant and promise that I did, in fact, love Daddy and Jacob exactly the same.Jacob was one of us.

We decided to tell the kids about Jacob’s death right away so that there were no accidental surprises. All three were playing together in the family room, so Craig and I sat down near them and I said, “We have some very sad news, guys.” Their bodies froze and their little heads swiveled toward me. I said solemnly and quietly… “Jacob died this morning.” I had resolved not to try to soften the blow by explaining it away prettily.

Tish immediately started to sob. I picked her up off the floor and buried my face in her hair as she curled into a teeny ball of self preservation, like a roly-poly. Chase quickly covered his mouth with his hand, but not before I noticed the hint of a grin that curled his lips. This nervous grin is his first line of defense. He asked if he could see Jacob. I moved Tish to Craig’s lap while Amanda, looking concerned, waddled over to Tish and patted her curls lovingly, and then whacked her hard on the forehead and grinned. Tish’s whimper turned into a wail. Craig and I shot each other good luck glances and I followed Chase up the stairs to view the body.

Chase walked into his room and marched like a soldier directly to the tank. When he saw Jacob’s lifeless body, he noticed that his friend’s vibrant red color had faded to gray. He asked why, but he didn’t wait for an answer. He just covered his eyes with his little first grade hands so that finally the tears could arrive. They streamed down his cheeks as his shoulders fell and shook, and he crumbled into me.

I wanted so badly to tell Chase that it was okay,that we would replace Jacob with a new fish, a bigger fish, a whole school of fish…but I didn’t. This was his first personal experience with death, and I wouldn’t falsely suggest to him that death can be cheated through replacement. I wouldn’t teach him that pain should be avoided, dodged, or danced around. He needed to learn that death is worthy of grief because it’s final, for now. So we just sat on his bottom bunk and cried and held each other tight.

After awhile, Tish walked into Chase’s room, her eyes still red and her lips still quivering, and she climbed onto the bunk and wedged herself between Chase and me. Craig and Amanda followed her in and lied down on the floor together. Tish said softly, “I want Jacob to come back to life.” Chase lifted his head and said, “Well, not here, but in heaven. So it’s not all sad, Tish.” He stopped crying.

Sometimes the only way to transcend grief is to help someone littler transcend hers.

I stepped gratefully through the door of hope that Chase had opened for us. I had been waiting for his permission. Because the one closest to the departed has to be the first to step from despair to hope. Nobody else is allowed to jump ahead and shove open the door. That’s the rule. I said, “Hey, guys, do you think in heaven, Jacob won’t be a fighting fish anymore? Maybe in heaven he’ll be a peaceful fish and finally get to swim around with his buddies and play.”

Chase’s eyes still glistened while a tiny smile emerged like a hesitant rainbow. This might be his best look. And it is my favorite moment in life. When you realize… Wow. This is bad. Really, really bad. But we’re still here. We’re gonna make it through. Not over or under or around, but through.And look, we’re even going to smile again.

Tish’s tears stopped, but her head remained resolutely in my lap. The five of us sat quietly for a little while, petting each other. Then we discussed offering Jacob a proper send off in the backyard the following morning. We’d color some pictures for him and read a prayer and a poem or two. And then Chase ended our wake by dismissing himself to hold his guinea pig, Romeo. It was his wake to end.

That’s all I know to do when death calls, I guess. Stop and answer it. Respect it, feel it, and then hold tight the ones who are left.



How do you help your children deal with loss?