Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Celebrating the Gift

Her life demands a conclusion.  All circumstances of life fall into one of two categories: Gifts from the hand of the loving Father OR accidents of random, even tragic origin.
 This fifth child, the one we did not anticipate, the one of whom we did not dream, at first felt like an accident.
When I learned we would have another baby in the family, I mourned the loss of many nights of sleep to come.
Then we embarked on this grand journey far from home... A tiny girl nestled against me.
Though she was utterly beautiful, still I caught myself imagining the simplicity of life with only four fairly independent big kids.  No baby to slow us down.
Do I trust God's goodness? Is this little girl a good gift to me?  Is life better with her? Wouldn't it be nice to be rested? Not to have an aching neck from toting her? To have more than three hours to myself before needing to feed?
I look into her bright blue eyes. I hear her sweet giggle. I hold her tiny hand in mine. I whisper her name, Anne Michelle, and wonder how she could be mine.
I give up my illusion of control. My life is not my own. I must rest in Tim's strength, in God's strength to care for these five children.
This little girl, now three months old, is not what I expected.  But I want her. I am overwhelmed with love for her.  
She is a splendid gift from a loving Father, who knew what I needed, what our marriage needed, what our family needed far better than I would have planned.

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Australians have an idiom: Cut down the tall poppies.  It means to criticize, attack, or resent people whose genuine merit or talent elevates them above their peers.  This is a deeply imbedded social phenomenon which powerfully influences Australian culture, as I see it, both for good and ill.
I spoke with a high school teacher this weekend, who described with disgust the lack of academic excellence which he has encountered over his many years of teaching.  It is part of school culture, he informed me, for a student to avoid distinguishing himself by his intellectual strength, lest he be labeled uncool.  The headmaster of the school where our children attend recently wrote an article lamenting the lack of opportunities for academically exceptional students within the Australian educational system.

The obvious problem with the tall poppy syndrome is the resulting drift toward mediocrity in all arenas of society.

But let's talk about the power of  cutting down the tall poppy for good... One of the first differences I noticed on arrival in Sydney was that taxi passengers ride in the front seat with the taxi driver, and they typically engage in conversation throughout the trip.  Why?

Because when no one stands out from the crowd as more talented or more powerful, we are equals.  Not just as stated in political theory, but in practice. Embedded within Australian culture is humility and respect for neighbor.  

We as Americans are known for our "beautiful abundance..."  The eloquently Aussie way of saying, Americans seem always eager for more, for overindulgence.  For this American girl who has bought the national notion that bigger is better, that striving for excellence is a virtue, I am now beginning to see the impact that has had on me.

I have never felt good enough.  There are other factors which have contributed to that feeling, but certainly a major contributor is society's claim that individual achievement is virtuous.  We have classrooms full of perfectionists who feel worthless unless the star achiever. Girls starving themselves to achieve the perfect body.  Hordes of people lining up to become the next American Idol, a superstar.  A culture that makes us believe we must be excellent in order to have value.

So here's to being just good enough.

Just good enough in my marriage.  I will never be the perfect wife which I have spent years imagining I should be.  Perfect is not real. Any effort toward perfection will end poorly, laced with resentment and delusion along the way.  I will never be the perfect mother.  If they are honest, my children will acknowledge both my love and my failings.  Never the perfect Christian.  Kind of defeats the whole purpose of the gospel.  Never achieve that longed-for feeling of contentment, toward which I expend such energy.

This side of eternity, I will only ever be good enough.  And that's good.  Because that's real. Wow. That feels good.  What a relief.  Rest from the striving.  

Just good enough.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Being carried forward

What is the point of our months away from everything familiar in Orlando? I ponder the question often. As I look back over the past few years, I realize my core is being dismantled to make way for a truer version of myself.  My true self was for many years buried beneath a moral, robotic shell of a person, and has only recently begun to be exposed.

Marguerite lives on Green Dolphin Street, also the title of the book which I am devouring. She comes to a similar place in her life... "By whatever devious and humiliating steps she had come to this place, she had nevertheless come to the right place... She was at home.  A surge of joy went through her.  If the wind was tearing the golden fruit off the trim little trees in their tidy pots, it was, with perpetual sweep of its wings, burnishing the stars."

The course of my life is not as I had expected.   In my naiveté, I thought marriage would easy and blissful.  I thought I would mother four lovely, but uncomplicated children. I though I would live in monochromatic suburban America.  I thought happy homemaking would be the sum total of my existence.  My tidy pots are having their perfect little fruits torn off.

But like Marguerite, I will not find myself, find God by my own means.  "Even in sleep, even through the night, the vessel had been carried forward by no virtue of her own;  and God had been within it all the time."

South Head, Sydney Harbor
So why are we here in Australia? Why city life? Why the unfamiliar? So that our vessels can be carried forward, not on the paths we imagined, not in our own power, not to the destination we pictured.  My prayer is that God will reveal Himself to me through his mysterious power experienced in ways I've never known before, whether in the waves crashing on rocky cliffs, the smile of a child I did not expect, the slow curving of the calligraphy pen, or in a fresh reading of the Ultimate Story.