How I Talk To My Daughter About Terrorists (and other tragedies)

top-10

Alison and I watched CNN together the night of the Boston Marathon bombings and the night the suspect was captured. I know that family therapists and child psychologists would probably warn against exposing a 12-year-old to coverage of such a horrific event (especially CNN coverage), but I’ve learned to happily ignore the parenting experts. We did spend a little time snickering over Anderson Cooper’s choice of attire on Night #2, so it wasn’t all heavy-loaded. But the event was tragic and there was no way to spin it otherwise. So I didn’t try. I answered her questions as honestly as I could while we watched the events unfold. Over the past week she has been especially concerned about the young man who was taken into custody that evening. For some reason, she has focused on his injuries and how he is healing. She asks about this regularly and I am unsure what to say, so I tell her that he is in a prison hospital and that is all I know about his physical state. Yesterday, she wondered if he was scared in the boat. Her tenderness towards this individual seems out of place.

I read a post from someone a few days after the event. Here’s an excerpt:

I don’t want to know his name. I don’t want to see his face. I don’t want to know his life’s history, his back-story, who his family is, where he went to school, or what he liked to do in his spare time. I don’t want to know what “cause”, if any, he was fighting for. I don’t want to know why he did it, or may have done it, or what possessed him to carry out his actions. I don’t want to know. Because that’s what he really wants. I’ll be damned if I’m going to give him what he wants.

I completely understand  and share in the anger that is felt toward this person. But when my daughter asks about him, I also understand where she is coming from. We have told her that every person is loved deeply by God whether they are the worst person in the world or the best person. We have quoted the verse “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” and then talked honestly about how near-to-impossible it is to do. But yet, we are asked to do it. We have told her that every person matters and that grace is not out of reach for anyone.

But what about terrorists? Shouldn’t we share the sentiment of the person who cheers the death of Osama Bin Laden or the person who says “I don’t want to know his name or see his face?” That seems fair, except that we are told that God cherishes his created ones so much that he knows the number of hairs on their head. This verse rolls off the tongue when we’re telling the loveable how loved they are, but it’s a little harder to comprehend when we’re talking about the unloveable. You might say to me at this point that if a relative or dear friend died at the hands of a terrorist I would feel differently. And you might be right. But according to what God says, I wouldn’t be entitled to feel differently.

So what do I tell my daughter when she expresses concern for a terrorist who perpetrated a senseless, cold-blooded killing? Do I tell her tell that we are not supposed to care about him and that it is permissible to spew hate for those who have carried out hateful actions? Do I allow her to cheer the death of those who caused death?

Here is one thing I tell my daughter about terrorists and tragedy: There is good in the world. There is also evil in the world. And God cares deeply about our response to both. 

We’ll never be able to love like God loves, but when tragedy is in front of us we have an opportunity to practice that kind of love if we will choose it. I keep going back to the prayer Jesus uttered before he died:  Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing. It is beyond comprehension that he prayed this with his back shredded and nails in his hands and feet. I easily spout off these radically difficult verses and treat them as if they are platitudes. They are not. These are the very actions that show the world what God looks like. Love. Grace. Forgiveness. And they are hard to live out, which is why most of us don’t do it. Does my daughter’s response of tenderness toward the perpetrator reflect the character of God? I can only answer with this:

“But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:44-45. That’s what Jesus said, among many other mind-blowing things, when he was sitting on the side of a mountain talking to a crowd of people. So I’m going with that, even if most of the time I find it very difficult to do. When I talk to my daughter about terrorists and the tragedy in the world, I can find no better words to use than those of Jesus. Because I’m pretty sure he was talking to us as well.

Why I’m Ditching These Accessories

IMG_1851

So it’s come to this. I can’t imagine why a dog would allow herself to be so demeaned by a 12 year-old who claims to love her, however this is too good not to share.

But there is another reason I’m posting this photo. It may be a stretch, but it illustrates something I’ve been tossing around in a jumble of thoughts over the past couple of years. Those thoughts have slowly taken shape and led me to believe that I’ve spent too many decades of my life wearing a cupcake necklace and bow headband when I should have ditched the whole ensemble. Okay, hopefully you get the point. I’ve actually never worn these accessories, but I’ve worn others. Haven’t we all? I would blame this on my gender, the part of the country I live in, and my childhood churches, but this is not unique to female Evangelicals who live in the Bible belt. Those of us who fit into those categories, however, just might have a harder time believing that God could have a different ensemble for us to wear.

Here is a for instance:

In college, I majored in journalism and went on to work for our city newspaper as a desk reporter, and then features writer. I loved the world of journalism. I was a newspaper fanatic and still treat myself to the occasional print version of The New York Times on a Sunday afternoon. But back in the days when I worked for the newspaper, I almost never talked about my job with church friends because I didn’t want to have to defend myself as a part of the “liberal media.” So when I moved in those circles, I donned my cupcake necklace and my bow headband and pretended that I wasn’t passionate about things I was passionate about. And conversely, I pretended I was passionate about things I wasn’t passionate about because they seemed more “right” than being a newspaper reporter.

Another for instance:

I don’t like Women’s Conferences. There. I said it. And I should tell you that if you love them, I have no problem with that. There isn’t any principle involved, I just don’t care for them in the same way others don’t care for New Year’s Eve parties (not saying the same things go on at both events). I would just rather stay home. But, once again, I spent a decade donning that necklace and bow and going to some Women’s Conferences because there were a bunch of Godly women there and I thought that maybe if I went it would make me Godly too. It didn’t.

It’s interesting how we assume everyone in our spiritual circle likes the same things we like, or that they believe in the same things we believe in. We’ve come to expect that we’re all on the same page, and so those who aren’t either end up slinking away or donning the ensemble to keep the peace. There was an older gentlemen in the church I grew up in who would say, “Let’s just keep the main thing the main thing.” These days, however, it’s hard for many discern what the main thing is because we’ve taken so many things that don’t matter and made them paramount to being “people of faith.”

What if our circles consisted of variety and diversity? What if our churches were filled with people of differing passions, opinions, ideas, styles of clothing, likes and dislikes? Is it okay to turn up Mumford & Sons and turn off Casting Crowns? Can I admit that I care about the environment? What if I’d rather hear Rachel Held Evans than Beth Moore? Can I like some different things? Have some different opinions and persuasions and not feel like I have to wear the accessories that everyone else has on? Or will I just end up looking out of place without them? I hope not, because I’m in the process of ditching the accessories that don’t  fit me and am trusting that all of us who say we are following God will allow one another to do the same. I want to encourage the people around me to be who God has made them to be, even if that looks different. Even if it makes some of us uncomfortable. Let’s not force anyone to wear things that don’t fit them. Sometimes, as you can see from the photo, it just looks wrong.

This Scarf and These Women

photo

I made this scarf yesterday. This is quite possibly the ugliest scarf that has ever been stitched anywhere, anytime, any place. Yes, the material is nice – you can’t go wrong with yellow and flowers – however, if you held it in your hands and looked at it closely, you would be very sad for me. It’s my first sewing project, and I think it’s clear that a seamstress I am not.

But these two ladies are on their way to becoming professional seamstresses and yesterday was their first day of apprenticeship at their sewing shop/school in Ankaase, Ghana. And so I stitched that messy scarf in honor of them.

IMG_0542

I decided that if Afia and Doris were going to learn to sew using hand-crank Butterfly sewing machines and sweating their way through days in this un-airconditioned seamstress shop, then I could learn something about sewing as well. I want to be able to have a conversation with them about sewing when I visit Ghana in May, and until about three weeks ago I knew almost nothing about it. My mother tried, bless her. But as young girl, I was more interested in writing and reading and daydreaming than learning a skill that seemed so far beyond my natural abilities. Yesterday I had to fight  the urge to run out of my newly designated sewing room and throw myself back in front of the computer. But instead, I finished that devilish scarf and conquered the evil Singer ZigZag machine, circa 1970.

photo6

Actually, the machine was free and it’s a cabinet model, which means it came with a desk that it folds into when not in use (which might be most of the time – just kidding). I am grateful for my machine because I absolutely love free stuff. I spent the first day with it learning how to thread it, which is no easy task. I’ve also learned how to wind the bobbin, replace the bobbin, and turn the hand wheel toward me ever so slowly to pull up the bobbin thread from under the throat plate below. If all of this means nothing to you, then I’m sorry. I’m just showing off. The truth is, I’ve spent quite a bit of time troubleshooting and pouring over this riveting piece of work:

photo5

I somehow feel at one with the girls in the photo as I read all about flexi-stitch discs. Switch my stitch design with the touch of a button? No ma’am. That’s for the divas with the fancy-schmansy machines purchased within the past two decades. The gals from 1970 and I have discs that must be changed in and out of the machine in four easy steps. The discs are stored in the drawer of my sewing cabinet. I have yet to touch them because after reading that four-step process, I decided to stick with the straight-stitch. For now.

And just to keep things extra nostalgic, I’m using my mother’s sewing basket.

photo3

Here’s a good story: My parents were married in 1955 and for their first Christmas as a married couple, Dad gave Mom this sewing basket. She cried. He thought that he had scored big, but unfortunately she was crying because receiving a sewing basket in 1955 as a gift from your husband was sort of like receiving an iron skillet. It was a necessity and did not send a message of romantic love, but rather a reminder that tomorrow you would be getting busy with the chores. Dad was a good man, and he learned his lesson well. I think he gave her perfume every Christmas from that point forward. But she never upgraded the sewing basket. When I opened it a few weeks ago, it still had all her sewing items in it – scissors, buttons, measuring tape, zippers, fabric scraps, etc. And I smelled the faint scent of my mother’s perfume – the kind Dad gave her every Christmas. I cried a little and left it alone, deciding that there will be a better day go through the basket. I don’t need most of that stuff yet anyway just to make ugly scarves from clearance fabric.

I’m not sure at this point if I’m more excited about the sewing or more charged up to win my victory over the machine. Either way, I’m not giving up. And I’m praying for our seamstress apprentices. For me, sewing is just a whim. I’ll make some scarves, maybe convert some t-shirts into shopping bags (found that easy-to-do project from Martha Stewart, go figure). But for our seamstress apprentices, this is an opportunity for a changed life. They’re stepping into a career, which for a woman in Ghana is like climbing a steep mountain. Fortunately, our apprentices have lots of climbing support from some other seamstresses who live here in the U.S. Thank you Diana and Janet for sponsoring them! I know that by next week, our apprentices will have far surpassed my skill level – in fact, that may have actually happened today. I’m so happy for them and excited for what the future holds.

And in May, I think I’ll take my sorry little scarf to Ghana so the three of us can have a good laugh.