Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tough Conversations

 Image result for pray for charleston

In the wake of the church shooting in South Carolina, I find myself struggling.  I've been reading conversations on the Internet about the history of race relations, injustice, prejudice and hatred that has brewed in this country for far too long.  The mommy blogs are on fire with beautiful ways this incident has been used to teach love and reconciliation to the younger generation.  I sit on the sidelines wondering where my place is in this sea of ugly.  But most of all I struggle with how to raise my children in such a way that they become part of the solution, and not part of the problem.

With children aged six and four, there are some conversations that I'm just not ready or willing to have yet.  We don't watch the news with the kids in the room because I hesitate to expose them to the true colors of the world in which they live.  I want them to feel safe and secure, and I don't know how to do that while including them in conversations about current events.

My husband is a combat Veteran.  While my kids know their dad was in the Army, they really have no clue what that actually means, other than the fact that they make him a card on Veterans day.   They have no understanding of war or what soldiers do. 

Our kids are blissfully unaware that 9 people were murdered while attending a church prayer meeting last week.  I haven't found the courage or the words to share the horror of this event in a way that will not give them nightmares or make them afraid to go to church.

So when I read about parents starting conversations with their kids about civil rights or war I begin to wonder.  Am I doing the right thing?  Is sheltering them from the nightmarish reality of our modern world doing them any favors?  Or am I providing them a false sense of security?  Am I inadvertently raising them to be ignorant, despondent citizens?

I don't know.

I also don't know if those kids having frank, open discussions about racial injustice or the reality of war are growing into informed, pro-active citizens or frightened skeptics. 

I do know that the conversation is important.  I am painfully aware that avoiding the conversation is not an option for those families that lost a loved one or the kids that saw their neighborhood church transformed into a horrific crime scene.  I know these conversations need to be had.  For better or worse.

Our kids will soon be of an age where they will (in spite of my ludicrous censoring efforts) hear about things on the news, at school or on their Facebook page, and begin to ask questions.  They will wonder what the correct answers are, wonder how come we haven't been able to get it right for so many years, and probably be fearful about the evil that lurks in many corners of our world.

When the time comes, and my kids grow curious, I hope I will not pretend that I have all the right answers.  I will have thoughts.  Questions.  Prayers.  I will be open for the discussion, even when it breaks my heart to help them understand the massive hurts that our fellow humans have inflicted and endured.  I will explain our history to the best of my ability.  (Actually, their dad will probably have to field the history questions.  And math.  Ain't my bag.) I will help them think of ways they can be a good neighbor, and ambassador of peace, and a champion for equality. 

It's a noble goal...growing your kids into kind, thoughtful citizens.  But it's not something for which I feel suitably prepared.  Heck, are there any aspects of parenting for which we are really prepared?!  If there really were some magic formula to raising kind, compassionate citizens, I suppose there wouldn't be any need to shelter my kids from the evening news.

But alas.  Our world is broken.

So, in the absence of all the right answers or the magic formula, I will do what I generally do when life gets me to a point where I am clueless, helpless or otherwise completely ineffective and at a loss.


When faced with the hard questions, the most important conversation starts with God.

I pray that our leaders find the stamina to work long, hard hours toward peaceful solutions.

I pray for the strength to trust God during the dark times that surpass my human understanding.

I pray that I can teach my children to be beacons of light, hope and love in their corner of the world. 

I pray that I will know the right time, and have the courage to speak truth, for the hard questions ahead. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What's Your Story?

Part of my job is to be an ambassador and promoter of the Little Free Libraries in our community.  Shasta Early Literacy Partnership gets volunteers to build the LFL's, we adopt them out to interested community members and provide used kids books to replenish the library if inventory runs low.

It's an interesting gig. 

I say that because I think the Little Free Library program is a fascinating study of human nature.  The vast majority of people love the idea, support the concept of getting books into the hands of kids, and are fired up about hosting a little box of books on their property.  Our LFL hosts come in all shapes and sizes....laundromat owners, country dwellers, public agencies, local parks, churches and banks.  They all lovingly tend their little box of literature.

And then there are the few skeptics in the crowd.  The naysayers.  The cynical.  These are the ones that don't believe a free library run on the honor system will ever work.  They worry about books being "stolen" or the Little Free Library being vandalized.  They see all the things going wrong in our world and assume the same will happen to anyone or anything that attempts to be a positive force in the community. 

I love trying to talk the cynics down from the cliff.  I convince them to give the public the benefit of the doubt.  Sure, there could be someone that would steal all the books.  But really, if our goal is to get books into every corner of the that such a bad thing?  Personally I would rather have the books be sitting in someone's home getting read than collecting dust in a Little Free Library.

Most days I'm proven right.  The honor system of "take a book, leave a book" is used honorably and Little Free Libraries recycle books at over 50 locations in Shasta County.

Today, it appeared that the cynics would have their day.  We had a Little Free Library that was wiped out completely.  One woman pulled up to the LFL with bags (The staff observed the incident through the window,  assumed she was dropping off some donated books and went about their business) and took every last one.  Adult books, children's board books, teen novels, everything.

Sometimes the system is abused.  But that doesn't mean the system is broken.

The host agency posted a simple message on their Facebook page, announcing their LFL was wiped out and asking friends to donate used books so they could keep their Little Free Library going.  The response was immediate and passionate.  After 8 hours, the simple post had been shared over 100 times.  20+ commenters promised to bring boxes and bags of donated books.  The local TV station picked up the thread and will be running a story on the evening news.

And then there were the cynics.  There was outrage, anger and plain old ugly comments directed at the perpetrator, and the community as a whole.  "Horrible idiot loser jerks." commented one.

"I'm embarrassed to call Redding home." posted another.  

Really?  Really?!

One person made a selfish choice.  One.

Over 20 others immediately responded with support and generosity in a tangible way by offering books, books and more books to replace those that were taken.  Book donors have come out of the woodwork and this Little Free Library will be stocked for MONTHS.  The overflow will be used to support another LFL in the neighborhood that gets heavy traffic. 

So, as far as I'm concerned there is no tragedy here.  There is no moral outrage to be had.  There is no reason for bashing the system, the government or the community.  Bad things happen.  Fair enough.  But is the story we tell about the ugliness or the beauty?  The bad or the good?  Do we focus on the loss or celebrate the generosity?

When I was interviewed by the news crew this afternoon, they asked me what I thought of the person that cleaned out all the books from this Little Free Library. 

"I'm just hoping she has ten kids at home that are enjoying all those books." I said. 

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.