I am practicing living in CAR, by which I mean I am drinking my coffee sans cream and sugar. It is not going well.
The most glaring flaw in this plan is that I do not actually like the coffee part of coffee. That part is merely the vehicle which carries all the hot milk laced with sugar. I feel, however, that perhaps plain coffee is an acquired taste, and I should try it out a few more times before wholeheartedly defecting to tea territory. For the record: I do already like tea, except mostly only chai, as in tea with milk and sugar.
So, yeah. Pretty much sign me up for a cow and a nice plot of sugar cane in CAR.
In a strange turn of events, I’ve become an honorary citizen of Teenage BoyLand, what with some twenty-three males between the perplexing ages of 13-18 residing under this-here roof. It is a lot of things, one of which is Sometimes Illuminating.
For instance, if you don’t currently live in a similar land, you might not realize that Teenage Boy is maybe the most fragile demographic in the human spectrum. Before, I would’ve said Junior High Girl wins this one, easy, and I do have some inside knowledge, having once been a hormonally-gifted JHG clawing for breath in an overpopulated socialscape of kindred lunatics.
But no. For all their bluff and bluster, teen boys are these shelled, exposed creatures walking a harrowing gauntlet of uncertainty. And while I’m not one to coddle my kids, I am irrationally fond of these strange fellows, so every once in a while–like twice an hour–I kind of want to inflict violence upon people who are dismissive or contemptuous in the general direction of one of my guys.
Except too often, the guilty party is me.
And the thing that is right now staring my soul down is that we are shaping men here, and what we speak or how we act (and the tone in which we do it) informs little pieces of who they think they are. Soft spots, if we’re not careful, grow calloused or barbed. Humility shields itself with bitterness, and malleable curves sharpen into edges that will break their future spouses and children.
So I’m praying for constant, blazing reminders to practice kindness. Yes, prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child, but do it with kindness. To be aware of their deep capacity for shame and doubt. To make amends when I fail them or bruise their spirits; even—especially—when they act like whatever, they don’t even care.
Because I want them to one-day-soon be men who do care, strong and sure and whole enough to act with compassion and courage.
In other news, last-last (last?) week we gathered in our cement block chapel to honor several folks retiring from work in East Africa. A few nieces and daughters concocted video slideshows, and as the series of frames blinked by I walked that smudged line between quiet weeping and a full-on ugly cry.
I guess it’s that it was all so ordinary: stubby huts, painted block, kids small and then grown, miles of dirt road, lambent smiles, calicos mixed with tribal garb, and always flocked by people. The whole of one’s life whittled down to six minutes of splintered stills, and who will even remember? These folks lived decades of sticky, bug-riddled obscurity, but I just kept seeing Jesus in all the faces, limpid and sure.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid again; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field (Matthew 13.44).
And I’m thinking of all y’all right now, and how you pray over and pour into people you’ve never met, and it’s just: thank you. Thank you for loving my people. For making them your treasure because they’re crafted in the stunning likeness of our God.
You all are the best kind of wonderful. I’m so glad you’re mine.