I don’t understand why there is a shoe in the middle of the girls’ bathroom. Just one single shoe. Who’s wearing the other one? And I don’t understand why someone is chipping away at the window frames. It’s your bathroom. The teachers have their own, so if you make a mess on the floor or overflow a toilet, you are the ones who will have to get your feet wet while you pee. I guess I understand that your brain might not yet be capable of comprehending that.
I don’t understand how you can make faces and refuse to listen, but then come up to me at dismissal and tell me that you love my class. I don’t know why the twenty-eight of you can’t figure out that if you would just shut up and listen, we’d be able to get up and play games. I don’t know why I can trust you to work together for four minutes at a time, but not five—never five—or the entire room unravels and you lose your minds and jump on top of tables and hang from pipes.
I totally get that this is all about relationships; you have to like me to listen to me. I’m sorry I’m so bad at hitting the Quan.
I’m sorry I still don’t know all your names. I’ve decided that my brain can only hold 200 names, and I might just never learn the other 120. To be fair, some of you still can’t remember mine, and you only have eight teachers.
I don’t understand how I can have so much love for a bunch of kids who drive me crazy. I think it has something to do with the fear I see when I look into your eyes—underneath all the attitude, and the giggles, and the bravado, I see that first introduction to fear curled up behind your retinas. Sometime in the last year or two you figured out that there are things in the world that you can’t control, and your parents (if they’re around) can’t control, and even your teachers can’t control. It terrifies you, and for the first time ever, you’re trying to figure out how to avoid or cover over or disguise that fear. I have bad news for you, my scared little ones: that fear is going to be with you forever.
I know you can’t cope with the fear. I know you can’t cope with whatever is happening in your homes, or with your friends. So I will cope for you. We may not learn advanced acting techniques, or achieve all of my lofty educational goals. You won’t learn how to be an amazing artist in my class—you have high school and college to discover that. But you will know two things for sure: that you are safe in my class, and that you are loved. And that is the starting place, as storytellers and as artists. I will teach you to open your hearts and to be joyful, and if that means we watch “What Does the Fox Say” at the end of class, then so be it.
This is middle school, which means I’m catching you at a time when your hands can still be pried open, and no matter how much you pretend to hate your life, you’re still listening. I know you all secretly want that super star artist of the day award. I know that for some of you, school is the safest place in your entire world.
I can remember what it was like to be thirteen, and to have a great reason for every stupid thing I did. I remember the complicated relationship I had with my parents and teachers, and I remember what it felt like to be so young and yet feel so old. Hang in there for another ten years. It gets better.
Being a teacher is so much messier than I thought it would be. But so is anything worth doing. And if you have to be down here in the mess, I’m glad I’m here with you.
I’ve been putting off writing about my transition to teaching, mostly because I just didn’t know where to start. There have been so many changes—moving cities, starting work full time, being thrown headlong not just into teaching but into teaching high risk kids—that my head has been spinning and hasn’t really stopped since I began this adventure on July 30th.
I realized today that I needed to get something written, though. At some point it’s more important to just put fingers to keys than to have the perfect blog. And then I realized: that idea pretty much sums up my life right now. Throughout the last two months I’ve been learning, more than anything, that sometimes life hands you a season in which you just have to learn how to survive.
I mean that in the best possible sense. So much about moving to Boston and beginning my teaching job has been wonderful. I love the city of Boston, I love my new apartment and roommate (and dog!), and I love the pace of life in this city. I love the school I teach for, my fellow teachers and administration, my students, and I know I should be doing what I’m doing. And yet I also recognize that this is the hardest thing I have ever done.
Some of it is a natural exhaustion—teaching so many students every week, while creating my own curriculum, is overwhelming already. But what I wasn’t anticipating was the lack of buy in—many of my students are still unconvinced about why theater is important to them and whether or not they’re going to enjoy my class. They are pushing back, and often going into school in the morning feels like going into battle, me standing alone against 180 students. Overdramatic, of course. But an accurate summation of my feelings.
This will change. Every teacher says that the first year is the hardest, and that the first two months are the worst. Students are pushing back against all their teachers, testing boundaries, and mine are especially skeptical because this is a new program. I am confident that this will not be my teaching experience forever. Even yesterday, one of my fifth graders stopped me at dismissal and said, a big smile on his face, “Miss Snoke, I LOVE your class.”
And I’ve seen the lightbulb in some of my students’ eyes. Students who started the year combative or morose, trying their hardest to tell me with their actions that they didn’t want to be in my class will suddenly watch me with interest, raise their hand and open up about their experiences. Take a risk to stand in front of the class or play an improv game. I try to treasure these moments and recognize them, try to hold them against the weight of the feeling that I’m taking one step forward and twenty steps back.
It occurred to me just this morning that I am in the midst of a micro-metaphor for life. The unfortunate thing about the head and the heart is that no matter how clearly I know something in my head, I cannot force my heart to feel it. The unfortunate thing about going through something hard is that even if you know it will not be hard forever, you still have to do the hard thing. The effort of daily silencing the cacophony of doubts, fear, and plain old distaste is monumental, and it’s exhausting.
But that is what life is. Thank God that there are seasons of life that are less effort, but it remains true that life itself is difficult and hard and requires the reminder that it cannot and will not last forever. Just as I know these months—or perhaps this entire first year—will end, making way for something better and more beautiful, I know that this season of life is a reminder to me that what I see in this world is not the only reality present, and that I have to take it on faith that the efforts and the pain and the stickiness will eventually give way to something much better. The beauty and difficulty lies in finding the balance. I am grateful for the moments of joy, when students suddenly buy into my class, or tell me how much they like it, while always keeping in mind that the hard reality of teaching these students is not all there is. In the same way, I think we are called to fully invest and delight in the ups and downs of this life, while also remembering that this is not all we were created for.
I know in my spirit what it would be like if all of my students wanted to be in my class—if all of them were engaged, and working together, and building trust. We see pieces of what this world should be like, and it’s right to mourn the fact that we don’t see it as a reality. It’s okay to admit when something is hard, and it’s essential to recognize that we alone are not enough. But I rejoice through the difficulty because I look forward with confidence, even when all I can do is put one foot in front of the other. Perhaps that’s what I should be doing more often, because it reminds me that I am only one person. I am here not to singlehandedly change the world, but to play my part faithfully. In the good, in the bad, daily living through the grace of waiting until my head and my heart both know the joy of a reality I was created to desire.
It would perhaps make more sense to begin by talking about apologizing, and conclude by talking about forgiveness. But I'm pretty sure that until we understand true forgiveness, we are incapable of true apology.
As I said in my last post, one of the worst things about forgiving someone is knowing that even if that person apologizes, she has very little idea of what she's being forgiven for. Unless the exact same thing has happened to her in the past, how could she know? She is the perpetrator, I the wronged. I have felt the brunt of her wrong, not she. An apology is an easy thing in comparison to the wrong I've endured.
This reality is true in a broader, cultural sense, as well. We carry wrongs deep in our consciousness for generations and generations. Most of the time, no apology is even attempted, but even if it were, how could it help? White people will never understand what it felt like to be a slave, to have that identity embedded into one's idea of race and culture. Men will never understand what it is like to be a woman, to always be the "other," to have to try to assimilate in order to be treated as equals. And on and on, through every wrong done, large or small, enacted upon millions of people or by one friend to another.
Yet, as I said in my previous post, we must forgive. So we must also apologize. And just as we learn to truly forgive because of our growing understanding of our own need for forgiveness, we learn to apologize and to accept apologies by the same token. It is so much easier to create divisions—to assign blame and put up defenses. To remind each other that no matter how many times apology happens, it can never make up for the wrong. To pretend that we—whether on an individual or cultural level—are blameless. To grow strong through our self-righteousness.
But that is not true forgiveness. True forgiveness is accepting an apology for what it is, with all its holes and flaws, with its imperfections, and holding it up as an example of what it means to love. Love is so deeply embedded in forgiveness that they are sometimes confused with each other, but forgiveness is not blind love—it is the clearest sighted of all the variations of love. Forgiveness lifts up an apology to the sunlight and smiles a little at the inadequacy of it, and then takes it anyway. It recognizes that no one is blameless, least of all oneself.
And the beautiful thing about apology and forgiveness is that because we are human, we are, in fact, united through the process. The person apologizing to me may not fully understand what he has done to hurt me, but he certainly understands what it feels like to be hurt. I am reminded of a beautiful quote from Diane Setterfield's novel, The Thirteenth Tale:
He didn't know, of course. Not really. And yet that was what he said, and I was soothed to hear it. For I knew what he meant. We all have our sorrows, and although the exact delineaments, weight and dimensions of grief are different for everyone, the color of grief is common to us all. “I know,” he said, because he was human, and therefore, in a way, he did.
It's too trite to say that we must forgive because next time, we may be the one asking for forgiveness. But the root of that is very true. We don't forgive as a safeguard against any future wrongs we may commit—we forgive because we are connected to each other. We are human, and we are wrongdoers, and we are wronged, and we are all forgiven, by God and by each other. And though the way in which we must ask for forgiveness is never quite right, it is all we can do. Thankfully, it is enough.
I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness. It began when I saw an old silent movie a few weeks ago, the plot of which revolved around someone who committed a pretty massive crime that needed to be forgiven. After seeing the movie, I was aware of just how angry I was. How quick I was to reject the forgiveness extended to that character. And I began to ask myself: what does it mean to forgive?
We are not a forgiving culture. In fact, I can't think of any cultures that have been. Grace simply does not come naturally. And one of the problems is that when it comes to forgiveness, there is a whole mess of feelings and ideas vying for dominance.
One of the most difficult things about forgiveness is that the question of blame becomes so important. If I have a wrong done to me, I should be given an apology, and I should then forgive. But because we are human, this spirals into fractals of complication, and there is seldom an occasion when pride does not come into the picture. The times in my life when I have been most reluctant to forgive have been the times when someone offended me so deeply that he or she didn't fully understand the crime.
Yet what troubles me most, in situations where I must forgive, is the hardness of my anger—the “them verses me” mentality that I let myself descend into. It's as if I have never done anything wrong in my life, as if I am of a completely different sort of human than the person who wronged me. I want to divide humanity up into Mother Teresas and Hitlers, assigning everyone a slot either on the side of good or evil. It would be easier that way. I could feel secure and safe in the knowledge that I am on the good side. I don’t want to admit that I have the capacity to commit wrongs, large or small. I don’t want to admit that I have within me the same stuff that is the stuff of great evil.
But there is a voice in the back of my head reminding me that we are none of us white knights, riding against the dragons of this world. There are things I understand about myself partly because of the creeds and words in the Bible that I have devoted my soul to, but also partly because I'm just plain honest with myself. So many of my decisions and beliefs center around an awareness of the evil in my own heart, and I believe that when we are truthful with ourselves, we all know that there are no good guys and bad guys. We are on a trajectory, not opposing sides, and until we come to that realization, I’m not sure forgiveness is possible at all. We must acknowledge the wrong that was done, admit that it was not okay, and extend grace anyway.
Of course, there are those who will try to take advantage because of grace. As my brother Joshua pointed out in a recent conversation, this is an abuse of trust. “The division is not in the ability to do wrong, but in the ability to truthfully ask forgiveness,” he said. “Ignorance is understandable, but willful abuse of trust is different.” We must be wise about those who continue to do harm through supposed apologies, but we must also stop turning a blind eye upon ourselves.
It’s so much easier said than done. As much as people pay lip service to forgiveness, and remind each other that it’s impossible to move on until forgiveness has occurred, it’s just so hard to forgive. It’s the hardest thing in the entire world, sometimes. And forgiveness always feels inadequate, because the person who needs to be forgiven never really knows exactly how much they’re being forgiven for. They haven’t had it done to them, so how could they? They will never know what it cost to forgive them.
And still I go back to it: I forgive because I have been forgiven. Greatly forgiven. There was nothing at all easy about that forgiveness. It shook the sky and the Godhead. When Jesus was walking around on earth he didn’t paste on any band-aids. He turned over tables and told people to shake the dust off their feet. But he also told them, “Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) There it is: the reminder that as much as we want to set ourselves up as the innocent party—as much as we sometimes are the innocent party—we have the capacity within us to forgive because we know the depths of our own depravity.
There’s no forgiveness without those depths, and forgiving does not necessarily mean trusting someone again or pasting over the wrongs done in the world. Those evils need to be exposed and dealt with. But forgiveness does mean having a clear picture of the state of our own selves, and understanding that the muddle of human existence is filled to the brim with people who need forgiveness.
As hard as it is to admit, we all need it desperately—and must therefore extend it.
Tomorrow: thoughts on apologizing.
Sometime in the last couple of years Facebook took some kind of giant leap from being a side project that people used to stalk crushes, to being the primary source of news and connection for all of us. (Congrats, Mark Zuckerberg.) Several times over the past year my Facebook newsfeed has exploded with an even greater abundance of opinions than usual—people posting pros or cons about the news, decisions, and conflict that has gripped our nation this year.
Each time one of these above-average newsworthy events has happened, I’ve found myself incredibly conflicted. My first thought is a panicked: I must post my opinion and I must post it NOW. There is something in my subconscious that becomes anxious when I see all of the opinions thrown out there, and mine not among them. I feel compelled to toss my voice into the mix.
My second reaction is one of withdrawal. It’s far too messy to get involved, and there is so much conflict and misunderstanding online that it seems better to withhold my own opinion. So each time, I have held off. But then, like clockwork, the first voice sneaks back in and whispers: So are you ashamed of your opinion, then?
And there it is: the great Facebook lie. Really, it’s the great internet lie. Somehow, we’ve landed on this idea that if we aren’t comfortable sharing our opinion in a status, we’re ashamed or afraid. You can see it everywhere—in Twitter debates, and Facebook posts, and too-honest blogs. In YouTubers who make their living by telling all their secrets. And their friends’ secrets.
The hot button issues of the past year have gotten me thinking about this phenomenon quite a lot; thinking about how much the advent of Facebook as a forum to comment on the world has turned into some kind of strange self-bullying. Bullying ourselves into feeling compelled to share thoughts that are complex and nuanced. Bullying us into taking topics that should be week-long conversations and 200 page books, and instead collapsing them into 200 characters. Bullying us into being face to face with every opinion on every topic from every friend all at the same time.
It’s so good to have opinions, and to share them, and to engage in conflict with people who have different opinions. But it’s so bad to hide behind our keyboards and let Facebook do all the talking. My friends and I almost never talk about topics of conflict in person. If you want to know where someone stands, you have to watch their newsfeed. How is that possibly better? I have thoughts about things that I would need several hours to explain, and I would need eye contact and inflection and forgiveness. And yet instead of engaging in this kind of dialogue, I’m sitting at my computer feeling pressure to type up a status.
So I’m giving myself permission to say no to the realm of Facebook. I’m giving myself permission to have an opinion and not share it with the world, because maybe it’s not ready to be shared, or maybe it’s better shared in person. People used to have opinions about their own family and their own cities, and far off in a corner of their minds about the country as a whole. The connectedness of our world makes it possible for me to worry about what’s happening in Japan, or Mexico. That’s not a bad thing, but I think we need to acknowledge the overwhelming nature of the amount of information and anxiety we’re all accountable for now, and give ourselves permission to step back.
We are connected; we are informed. We have the ability to share our opinions freely. We must employ the responsibility to do so wisely.
Tearing soul from body in death must be like separating the egg whites
from the yolk after the egg is already scrambled
Still, it happens.
An actuality of the punctured state of grace.
To say that the spirit has been released to a better place is only searching for protection
from the weight
of the empty body, cold without its breath. Left to rot in the ground.
It cannot be made right
until it is
I covet my body (imperfect) which will someday be pulled piece by piece
from my soul. This shattering
of me is grief. It is transgression unveiled
Yesterday I drove from Pittsburgh to New York City in a rainstorm. People aren’t supposed to live like this, I thought to myself as I watched the rain beat down on my windshield. Somehow the slow-as-molasses trip felt like a reflection of my heart after spending ten days in my hometown: moving slow, churning endlessly, and dangerously close to losing control. People aren’t made for saying goodbye.
I thought about history, and how until recently, the human race has lived for the most part in isolated communities, staying put. The difficulty of travel contributed to a smaller world—people were born, lived, loved, and died in their cities and towns. Except for a few wanderers, people dug themselves into the soil and tried to minimize their goodbyes. And as I drove alone in the rain, I envied my ancestors. They seemed to know something our world has forgotten. They were smart to guard their hearts from any goodbye but the inevitable goodbye of death.
We all know the ultimate goodbye hurts the most, of course. Even while I was in Pittsburgh for ten short days, my church experienced two deaths, and I was reminded how transient life is. Especially in light of this reminder, saying goodbye to dear friends and family felt like a micro death to me, yesterday. In a much smaller way, each time I leave those I love, I feel the unnaturalness of goodbye. I say goodbye, at the very least, to the moment I was in: to those faces, in that order, at that time. I can’t get the moment back, and when I see those people again, they will have changed and aged, as will I.
Even before my trip to Pittsburgh, I’d been considering goodbyes quite a bit. As I prepare to move to Boston, I am gearing up to say another goodbye not just to my friends here in NYC, but to this time of life—to the streets I walk and the moment I am living in. Before taking the job in Boston, I remember saying, “I’d like to move back to a city I’ve already lived in. I already have so many people I love, I don’t really want to go find more people to love.”
This sentiment held me, yesterday in my car. I asked myself why on earth, when I had so many people I loved so dearly, I wouldn’t want to be near them. Why am I not seeking to spend as much time as possible with my family, or my closest friends? Why am I following a career, instead of relationships? Why am I persisting in this modern idea of individuality, instead of taking a page from my forbears’ books?
And the answer, of course, is complicated. I wrestled with myself as I drove, allowing myself to feel the feelings I was experiencing (something I’ve been learning to do more and more.) It came to me piecemeal. Of course, there is the obvious fact that my sister and brother-in-law live in Boston, so I am actually moving closer to two of the people I love most. Yet the answer is deeper than that. My ancestors may have had it right, contenting themselves largely to stay put where they were, but like a prick to my ribs, the song Painting Pictures of Egypt by Sara Groves came on as I drove.
The past is so tangible—I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy to discard
I was dying for some freedom, but now I hesitate to go
I am caught between the promise and the things I know
I cried again as the song played, but for a different reason. As much as it is important to settle down, to find where one is used and useful and fed and to commit to that place, there are no limits to the number of people the human heart can love. I will not love the people I already love any less for the people I find to love in Boston. I do not love my family in Pittsburgh any less for the kindred souls I met while in Chicago, nor do I love those dear ones less for the beautiful friends I have made while in NYC. And if God has been faithful to bring love and loved ones into my life in all these cities, why should I doubt that he will do it in Boston, or that I will in any way regret giving them my heart as I have given these others my heart?
I do not want to be flighty with my love, but I certainly do not need to be selfish with it. And I also do not need to pretend that there is no pain in love, just as there is joy. The more I love, the more the goodbye hurts—with both people and place. But I know I must not be afraid, either. Part of the pain of a goodbye is the fear of loss—the fear that whatever is coming cannot possibly be as good as what I’ve had. C.S. Lewis wrote (talking about the death of a loved one, but as I said, I think moving away from a loved one can be equated to the same emotions on a much smaller scale):
No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
As usual, Lewis hit the nail on the head. We keep on swallowing. Life is a winding path, leading around twists and turns in the road that no one can anticipate. I have spent a long time longing for it to be a stroll through an English garden, with well cultivated pathways and a map in my hand. But I am beginning to know that wanting life to follow this ideal is not only foolish, and will lead me to frustration, it is also selling life short. I go where the path takes me—where God takes me. I go with threads trailing behind me, tying me to people and places that will always pull on my heart. I go knowing that pain is before me, but there is also joy. To know both is—at least for the present—to be human.
While walking through the Village yesterday, I tried to make a list in my head of all my favorite spots in NYC.
Washington Square Park
Norma’s in Ridgewood
Fifth Avenue between 8th and 20th Streets
The New York Public Library…..
I stopped before I got very far, realizing that my list was practically endless. There are so many places in New York that I love, and for a moment, I couldn’t quite figure out why. Sure, New York has a lot of great spots. But for me to have a deep connection with so many of them? How could it be?
And then it hit me—the secret that haunts the streets of New York, making it so enticing, so rewarding, so thrilling: New York City is not about places. It’s about moments.
The more I thought this over, the more true it became. The places I hold most dear are dear because of the moment I was there, not necessarily because of the places themselves. Things began to fall into place in my mind. There are streets, or buildings, that I am stupidly fond of that I have tried to share with others, but the moment has no longer been right. The weather is just a few degrees too warm, or someone has a blister, or a jackhammer starts to chatter, and the moment is ruined. In the fading light of the wrong moment, New York City is chipped paint on a wall, a cheap trick. But in the right moment, the city rears up on its hind legs and struts down the street, garish, enticing, and glorious.
I am convinced that people who live in New York City respond to it in one of two ways: they either become softer or harder. The city presses them in its vice-like embrace, pulling them this way and that, and each person comes out the other side with either a heart that has found its way into an understanding of humanity in all its shades and variances, or a heart that has closed up around itself. You can see it on the faces of those you meet. You can see it in the way they treat people, in the way they look at you on the subway. Everyone is so naked in New York City, breathing the same air and sharing the shame and dignity of being a human.
It’s recognizing moments, and then allowing them to roll over me, that has been the most life-giving aspect of living in this city. There is one street—Madison, between 42nd and 44th—where I swear I can feel my heart growing softer every time I walk down it. I don’t know what it is about this two block area, but I have learned to walk slow, watching those around me, opening my face to them. There’s a deep love song running up and down the pavement under those streets, and I don’t know who put it there. But I know that my feet and my heart can feel it.
For every good moment in NYC, there are ten bad ones. Moments when the train is delayed, or someone calls you a bitch, or you’re just straight up tired from walking too far. But I understand, now, why people love this city, and why they become addicted to living here. Living in New York is the greatest, most thrilling game of chance ever played. Much of the time it’s hard, and expensive, and complicated. But then the moment comes—the moment when you feel strong and free, when the jackhammer is silent and the temperature is just right. When the breeze touches you just enough to encourage you to look up into the eyes of the millions of strangers passing by, letting their hearts soften or harden up. Not knowing—until you open your mouth and speak—what your own heart has become.
I love it when I see pictures of my friends' kids on Facebook. I feel like I'm sharing a little bit of their lives, seeing them grow and develop. And sometimes the posts are hilarious.
But, as with any kind of social media sharing, sometimes it becomes too much, and I grow concerned. I do not have children, so the things I say here are simply the observations of a single woman. But I am a teacher and a nanny, and I spend a lot of time with kids. I was also that kid who wrote things in her journal for her future self, just to make sure that when I was an adult, I didn’t forget what it was like to be a kid. I hope to always remember what it felt like to receive punishment that I felt was unjust (even if I know now that it wasn’t). I don’t ever want to forget those times when I closed the door to my room and tipped my head back so that my tears wouldn’t fall onto my cheeks, because I was self-conscious about my family members knowing my true feelings. Children have a narrow lens of the world, and a limited experience that makes their focus heightened, intense, and all-consuming.
It’s because of this that I feel concerned with the overuse of social media in relation to kids. As I said, I love having a window into the lives of those who are far away. But I grow concerned when my newsfeed blows up with constant posts about people's children. I grow concerned when parents ask for super personal advice in such an open forum. I especially grow concerned when a child is grumpy, or does something wrong, and a parent's first impulse is to take a photo and post it for the world to see.
My concern isn't really safety, though of course that's one issue. My concern is that we are the first generation to utilize social media in relation to our children, and I'm not sure all the ramifications are being thought through. For better or for worse, social media is what we've got, and it's going to change things. But I think it's worth considering how it'll feel for children to grow up with their entire lives—from conception onwards—documented online. As adults with access to our own profiles and active agents who are free to make our own choices, we can curate our own online image as much as we want to. Kids, on the other hand, have no say over what or how their parents post. And while some of this is par for the course as a kid—with or without social media, children have always had to come to terms with the fact that their parents will say or do what they want—parents should not be naive enough to assume that kids have no understanding of their online image, or no stake in the matter.
A friend of mine is a preschool teacher, and she shared a story with me about how one of her students—a girl who was three years old—was distraught one day, and nothing would comfort her. Finally, the teachers found her mom’s Facebook profile and let the girl scroll through photos. The girl calmed down, and my friend told me that it was apparent that there was emotional memory attached to the photos. The child made the connection that she had been happy in the pictures, and it made her feel better.
Kids have a knowledge of their own online presence from a very young age. When I was growing up the most important thing to me—far and above anything else—was what my parents thought of me. If my parents showed that they trusted me, I was relieved and proud. If my parents were unhappy with me, I was ashamed and angry. And if anyone else knew about the situation, my world came crumbling down. There are so many things that don’t seem like a big deal to adults, or just seem funny or cute. Everything is a big deal to a child. It’s worth considering the piercing embarrassment a child feels when someone other than a family member is privy to their wrongdoing or foolishness, even if it means sacrificing sharing something hilarious with online friends.
Posting pictures of kids is a blessing for those far away, and I’m certainly not advocating removing all photos and stories about kids from the internet. But we all know how embarrassing it was when our parents said or did things in front of friends. I doubt anyone wants their kid coming up to them ten years later and saying, "Remember when I was sobbing so hard I was hiccuping and you thought it was funny so you took a video and posted it online? Not funny to me, mom." Or, "Remember when I was eight and I peed my pants and you posted a picture to Facebook? Thanks, dad."
It's impossible to parent without inflicting some pain, because we're human and we're imperfect. And it's doubly hard to navigate something no parent has had to navigate before. But it seems worthwhile, to me, to not only consider when and how to allow kids their own time online, but to also consider how we represent them and ourselves on social media. It's not just their physical safety that needs to be guarded, but also their perception of themselves and the trust they place in their parents. It’s not easy to be a kid—my journal entries assure me of that. Having an online presence at such an early age must be doubly hard.
Last year, on my 25th birthday, I told my family that it would be my "Name it and claim it," year. I wanted a boyfriend and a full time job. I was kidding--mostly. But I was terrified to turn 25. I was still getting used to NYC, half way through my grad program, and for the first time without my grandfather, who had been my birthday buddy since I was born. I didn't seriously believe that I could name and claim things that symbolized security to me, but I certainly felt that if I could manage to get them, I would have found some measure of control in my life.
I'm turning 26 tomorrow, and I have neither a boyfriend nor a full time job. Periodically throughout the year my family or a friend would ask how the claiming it was going, and I'd respond with a laughing, "Only a couple months left... Gotta get moving!" But as my birthday drew closer, and I found myself in one of the most challenging seasons I've yet experienced, I began to ponder my words in a different light.
During January and February, I often felt like the widow in the book of Second Kings, putting her hand into the jars of oil and flour and finding just enough. Never more than she needed, but always enough. Through those slow, quiet winter months, when my physical longing for spring reflected the longing in my soul for direction and an understanding of where I'm meant to be, I began to learn truly what it means to wait on the Lord. To pray, "Give us this day our daily bread," and to know how dependent I am on God's provision--that had a profound impact on my soul.
I am blessed to have known that my parents, and others in my life, would have caught me if I'd fallen. I still don't know where I'll be come Fall, but I know that I have good work to do until then. And I can see already that wherever I end up in life, and whatever amount of physical security I attain, this moment in my life is going to affect me forever; when I was poor, and God provided. When I was unsure, and he told me to wait. When I learned to accept the lovingkindess of others, so that someday I can recognize and offer it myself.
Going into this new birthday year, I'm going to continue to claim. But rather than making a joke of it and claiming things beyond my control, I am claiming the promises I know I have been given. I am not promised happiness, but I am promised joy. I am not promised a spouse, but I am promised fellowship with God's people, and the boundless mystery and majesty of fellowship with God himself. I am not promised prosperity, but I am promised that my name is written on his hands. If that's the case, what have I to fear?
I did not get a boyfriend or a full time job this year. But what I did get was this: evenings on my rooftop, praying with the stars as my companions. Crying with my family, laughing with my roommates. Watching the slow rose fill the sky during summertime sunrises, and paint the tracks orange and purple during Autumn sunsets. Opening my heart and eyes to hard work, the twist of knowing I made a bad decision, the gratefulness of heartache, and more sticky fingerprints pressed into my heart. The hush of winter, the joy of knowing that sometimes, all it takes is to sit quietly, and that's enough. The knowledge that I'm not waiting for anything, that my life doesn't start in a year, or five years, or when I know where I'll live long term, or when I find someone to be with. It is now, in the confusion and the delight.
These are the things I had this year. This year and every year, these things are enough.
~ Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl, ND Wilson
~ He Held Radical Light, Christian Wiman
~ An American Childhood, Annie Dillard
~ On the Incarnation, Athanasius of Alexandria