erin f. wasinger

stories of loving our neighbors, discernment, & other hard things

Tag: children

When ‘radical’ faith looks a lot like the everyday

In July, Sarah and I went to my hometown to speak at the little public library where I worked when I was 14. My mom and stepdad and some of my aunts and cousins and even some strangers packed the tiny room that in the late ’90s was a garage for the village’s EMS.

Someone (unfairly) asked me (in the presence of my mom) whether I’d ever consider moving home, back to the place in Ohio where I’d graduated a decade and a half ago.

“I mean, could you do this sort of thing” — she referenced the new-monastic-like, Year of Small Things, radical-faith thing — “here in a rural place or a small town?”

Well.

Tell me.

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A small patch of stable ground

The weight of the Rubbermaids bent the wooden shelves in the garage. It was, what, 19 degrees, and I had Dave lugging them inside earlier this week.

“Why now?” he moaned. He’s been going to the gym, all that bacon, and his arms, you know.

“Because –” I started, not sure how to explain why now was the appropriate time to pitch decades’ worth of mementos I no longer wanted.

“Because Mom’s head’s going to essplode,” my four-year-old broke in, astutely.

“Yes. That. I need to do this now.” I filled a garbage cart with photographs of people whose last names I don’t know, scrapbooks untouched since high school, and more of the same. I was left with one neat shoebox of photographs I care about and high school yearbooks; the good-family-story stuff.

I get this way. My “head essplodes” with something, fast, ferociously. People back up when this happens, one huge foot backwards. Let her go; she’ll wear herself out. Don’t speak. See, I ran across someone else’s cupboards last week, filled with bread ties, decades-old owners manuals, and collectibles, and I was overcome with my own mortality. Or, maybe it’s a slow burn, kindled by my realization that though I’m a new person in Christ, I still had a lot of stuff I was lugging around.

Two hours later, the junk was gone. My shelves rejoice, but my soul’s still largely unsettled. The old is gone: where’s the new?

I am so bad at being still.

***

“Be still,” Dave tells me. It’s weird to hear him say it, because he’s rarely still. The glow from his screen, his Twitter feed alive, eerily cuts through the darkness in our bedroom before bed. He’s never doing fewer than three things at once, and one of those is listening to music, the other tapping his toes or drumming his fingers. When he’s not here, it’s so quiet.

For this guy to tell me to be still, it’s probably serious.

I’ve been reading some tough books during the day, and it’s churning up all sorts of stuff like a ladle in a pot of stew that’s been left idle too long. Weekly conversations with friends about what’s bubbling to the surface echo in my mind for days afterward as we try to practice discernment about all these words on hospitality, finances, schooling choices, and more. “Be still,” Dave says. He’s so obnoxiously right. All will be well, all manner of things, I know.

The hard thing in all this purging, in all these questions and through all these books, is feeling as if the ground underneath me won’t hold still. Discernment and prayers circle about all these things; nothing holds still, and all of it interconnects. Every piece moves and impacts another. This is chaos to my late-January soul, which really just wants to run, write, read a thick book and then maybe take a nap. I want to hold still.

Recently a friend remarked about another’s now-adult son as a boy. “I’ve never known anyone that long,” I said, “except my family, I mean.” While this was weird to a few of them, I think our culture expects a certain amount of mobility and change. I mean, I filled a garbage can with photographs of people I don’t know anymore.

For me, when I look at my kids’ eyes, those blue, those hazel eyes, I feel a certain level of holy fear. I don’t dread the catastrophic or the big stuff. I just, you know, understand there’s a solid chance they’ll be the ones around for a while. Amid all our questions, Dave’s and mine; all our What Do We Want To Do With Our Lives discussions — in all that, I know I really need to be nicer to these people. Like, movie-nights-and-pancakes-for-lunch nicer. More fun, too, like sledding down the hill in the backyard on my belly while the girls cheer. We joke that we have fifteen years to go until we’re free, but that’s a farce. We’ll never be free, nor would we want to be. They’re teaching us stability, as do marriage and prayer to the God who never changes. All these are stable for me, and maybe few other things shy of until that orange-brick dream farmhouse. Which will be never, maybe.

The allure of the farmhouse dream and in all the literature about sharing life with those in faith is all the stuff I’d expect (relationships with people whose names I will remember, whom I love and pray for, and eat with). But it’s also about creating the one thing I didn’t consider: stability. A handful of other couples and their families filled the house of a friend a few weeks ago. We laughed and talked; I left feeling that, yes, I live here now, and that’s a good thing. If liking where we are, making friends, and having these conversations are the first steps to stability and to being still, I’ve begun. Now, I just have to believe that so I can trust the ground isn’t really moving; that the questions will take care of themselves — because they will.

{“Be still, and know I am God.” I read that in a booming voice. And I start wiggling in my chair, whispering to Dave: “Be still? Like, be here? Don’t move? Like, literally don’t move, or yes-move? Rest? All of these? Is that a child crying?” I AM THE WORST BEING-STILL PERSON EVER.}

Living the same old stories

“Sometimes at night I practice telling Michael,” her elephant, “about Jesus’ best stories so I can remember to tell them to my six boys when I grow up.”

“Oh yeah? Those are some good stories to practice,” I say. We were dancing in the dark, twirling under new glow-in-the-dark stars on her ceiling. “Which one’s your favorite?”

“Feeding the five thousand.” My six-year-old dances like a character from Charlie Brown, all straight arms and fast feet. Even in the dark, I can hear her move beside me on the carpet.

“Yeah, that one is pretty crazy.”

“Which one do you like the best?”

“Hmm … I like that one, too. But mine’s probably the one where Jesus is walking with his friends after he died and they don’t know it’s him. That’s pretty funny.” And we dance.

***

“Why does everyone sound so bored?” We’ve just been to Mass, and I know. I know: as we’re going through Mass at the same church where I went to Mass three times a week for years; I know the repetition sometimes comes off as boredom. How many people are here because they feel something? I think that, because I’m a jerk. I repent: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you …

And yet I wonder: when did this bore us? These really are crazy stories, Alice is right — Why does this bore us adults; and by us, I mean humans, not one denomination over another. The problem isn’t Mass — maybe it’s a lack of imagination.

That morning’s Mass celebrated Epiphany. Epiphany! Those are readings we all know: wise men and baby Jesus. We sang “The First Noel,” and I thought about our Christmas tree already in the basement at home. Even the Christian radio station was back to playing music for ordinary time. And I thought about Richard Foster writing that rich men and poor shepherds all showed up to praise Jesus; I thought, it sounds like the same story, but we really don’t understand this story at all, do we?  

***

Monday, back at home, Alice and I read the story of Samuel anointing David. Per the Charlotte Mason method, we read a bit and pause. “Want to show me what’s going on?”

“No. I already know this story. At the end, David is king.”

“Yes, he will be. But what have I read just now?” And she tells me about Samuel and Jesse, all that. All that – what we already know; even I do this short-hand speak. Of course I do it: I’ve read through the temple’s construction in the Old Testament exactly once, one slow time, and all I took away was that God is very into details. She is my daughter.

So if He cares about the details, I pray she finds something in re-reading these stories — but novelty? Maybe not: maybe I don’t want to pray something’s always new. I’ll pray God has a new word for us in these stories, sure, but maybe the best we can give them is to say “These are the stories that say everything to us, and we read them over and over to help us understand better. We do it so we remember, and so we can know the stories well enough to tell other people about them.” Like those six sons she wants, so help her God.

I wonder if the impulse to make everything new and completely applicable has ruined us for the quiet, no-fanfare familiar — the holiness of the familiar.

Over Christmas break, we traveled to three parents’ homes, to Michigan and back into Ohio over eight days. The girls’ sleeping bags were sprawled on the floor of spare bedrooms and by the last day, I wanted nothing more than my ordinary story; my beige walls, the sound of the front door sticking, the teal dresser drawer sticking, the juice dribbles next to the sink, sticky.

There’s very little about my setting, my story that rings of novelty, especially in January, when wind chills and snow keep us rural, homebound. But maybe living the story, this familiar story, is grounding us, reminding us why we’re here: maybe especially after being away, I like to get the smell of the familiar back on my clothes.

Maybe re-reading Bible stories is important in the same way. We need to know the scent of the story; they should feel like coming home. They should feel like ours — and that should be kind of thrilling. So: May these stories feel familiar, and may that be a compliment.

Not that anyone ever considered children nuisances, ever

(When we stop ourselves from complaining about someone:) “Now he can allow the brother to exist as a completely free person, as God made him to be. His view expands and, to his amazement, for the first time he sees, shining above his brethren, the richness of God’s creative glory. God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator. Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion for joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction.

God does not will that I should fashion the other person according to the image that seems good to me, that is, in my own image; rather in his very freedom from me God made this person in His image.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together”

When I want to send myself down a deep, dark place, I only have to call to mind the sentiment of this long quote while my 2-, 4- or 6-year-old is being 2, 4 or 6 years old.

{This isn’t a moment of kid-shaming, from which I try to abstain: it’s just honest. Kids are kids, and I bet mine aren’t the only ones who squabble and complain.}

At the beginning of that skinny little book, I ignorantly hoped only that it would lead me to be a better person in community with other people — loftily: the world, that community. It did, sort of; but to a larger degree, it read, in my experience in 2014, like a book about just being a better follower of Christ. On Erin, that comes through as wife, mom, daughter and friend.

All through last winter’s quiet, lonely fury to last Friday’s midnight Bonhoeffer session, I’ve been hearing that family life is community; God’s put us together to pray for each other, take care of each other, love each other — and find Him in each other. But never have I actually stopped long enough, in midnight’s quiet, to consider that the things in my children (or myself) that rub me so painfully may just very well be the jagged edges of a divine personality trait that I have zero control over.

God didn’t make my kids as I would have — that I knew. But why? That I hadn’t asked before.

Seven years ago, I’d have dreamed for Alice to be a lot of airy, dreamy, cuddly adjectives: brave, confident, generous. Don’t we all want a child who would resolutely state, probably in a British accent, “Mummy, if it’s all right with you, I’d like to give all my birthday money to the animal shelter this year”?

Instead, though, I’ve given birth to humans — humans who look and act a lot like me (and their dad). We’re a messy sort who use our birthday money for bubble gum and a new book.

These humans also look a lot like God, though. So I hear.

I have to sit down when I think about the imprint of God on my kids. His fingerprints are all over them. Somehow, I have an easier time putting this concept to work in illustrations about caterpillars than I do my own children — hey, that caterpillar exists without my DNA, my love, my care.

I do see the God-good, disguised in what I’d call its raw, human form:

My 6-year-old’s got a heart for justice. “It’s not fair” — I hear that all day, until I’m exasperated and responding at 8 p.m. in my parched-throat retort, which begs to be taken rhetorically: “Tell me, again: WHAT’S NOT FAIR.” Of course, at 6, that sense of justice is an inwardly focused one. May God and I work to tune that to something bigger.

My 4-year-old’s sensitive, especially to the weak, be they animal, plant or person. “My heart is broken for that little buddy,” she said over a swallowtail missing part of its back wing. May I be brave enough not to shield her from bigger hurts, and let her respond to that heartache.

My 2-year-old never quits, til she humanly must. God never quits, and He’s not human. There’ll be a day I must simply move out of her way. God give me courage.

This isn’t about my kids, really, though. They’re humans, as am I. It’s also not even just about parenting or spouses or relationships with anyone. {Read Bonhoeffer. He’ll tell you.}

It’s about what God’s trying to teach us, if we’ll look beyond ourselves. Let me rewrite that for me: It’s about what God’s trying to teach me, if I’ll look beyond myself. Maybe the parts that drive me craziest about my kids … maybe all I have to do is pray and help shape the underlying trait for good.

… And I might spend years applying this Bonhoeffer thought to other people, if I’m brave enough to. Lord, make me brave enough.

 

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