Imagine the scene: a big blue bowl filled with popcorn is placed in front of Elizabeth Ann, who is all of three-years old. Sandwiched between Bill and me on our king-size bed, Elizabeth’s head is angled my way. She watches me while I pick-out one kernel of popcorn at a time, savoring each morsel, only for her to turn and watch Bill, her Pop, eat his.
With his eyes on the Disney previews, Pop guides his large hand in one fell swoop through the mound of popcorn and crams the handful into his mouth. He crunches, and, I suppose, possibly savors each mouthful. For the next two minutes E’s focus moves from her left to her right and then back again, much like our piano’s metronome.
Then it comes–with the grandeur of a royal announcement, Elizabeth proclaims, “I’m going to eat like Pop!”
Burying both hands into that big blue bowl, she targets an over-ample supply of popcorn toward her wide-open mouth, munching with fervor and a huge grin on her face.
E provides an illustration about our inclinations, how we savor individual tidbits of life or how we take it all in at once. It’s also about how we make observations before selecting our own personal choices. She had two examples set before her. With her ongoing maturation, more examples of life choices will be made available for her.
Viewpoints that define us.
For decades I’ve sat in many a committee meeting and board meeting where a tennis match of ideas kept my head turning left and then right. I’d hear one person’s bandwagon stance and I’d nod, considering the valid points made, only to hear another’s thoughts opposite of the first. I’d also nod in favor to those points. In my thinking both speakers’ opinions had pros and cons. Many times I’d question, “Why couldn’t we merge the strengths and remedy the weaknesses?”
My philosophy was undergirded this past fall semester when I took a graduate class at UALR in interdisciplinary studies. The basis of the class was pulling together each one’s speciality and blending the knowledge from various fields of study for the best answer. For example, with one project we studied Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Evicted, along with his many scholarly articles that delve deeper into the issues of a national crisis in eviction rates.
His consensus: solving housing insecurity issues must pull together sociologists, social workers, city engineers, architects, government officials, landlords, as well as those in the medical community. The list continues. The professionals were not to work separately as in a multi-disciplinarian project, but mesh together and understand the others’ roles for a more cohesive solution.
When Bill and I heard Desmond speak at the Winthrop Rockefeller Lecture Series, he further humanized the people described in his book and articles. The loss of their homes severely affected their ever being able to break the cycles of poverty, stripping them of security, confidence, or hope. Simple stuff we take for granted.
Throughout the semester, I discovered something about myself, which explains why interdisciplinary projects can easily fail. I noted my apprehension to study and participate in areas where I have less knowledge, say, political science, science and history (other than art and literature). I had to work hard to score my desired A.
It can be risky to stretch to such uncomfortable lengths.
We have to ask ourselves: Are we willing to trust others in their profound wisdom and learn their roles to mesh them all together for society’s best?
When working on a complex problem, does hubris keep us from contributing to a group project because we might not ever be acknowledged for our offerings?
Isn’t that part of the downfall of America?
Example 2: The Enneagram Personalities
For Bill’s birthday, son Whit gave him a book about Enneagram personalities. After reading it, Bill determined I’m a peacemaker and helper. This explains my inclination to be a fix-it person in most arenas of life, that compulsion for me to need to try to help us all get to a peace-filled world.
Yet, this description of me had me wondering—am I so much a peacemaker I lose some of my convictions to avoid conflict?
After careful deliberation, I reconciled it’s not that I compromise and lower my standards, I compromise to raise them—to combine what works best from all sides and work even harder to brainstorm to form the best outcomes.
Stay with me here. Even if you disagree, please read to the end:
Where I hold strong is I believe in the sanctity of life. Each life is precious.
The verses from Psalm 139 share the awesome wonder of our individual designs:
“For You formed my innermost parts; You knit me [together] in my mother’s womb. … When I was being formed in secret, and intricately and skillfully formed [as if embroidered with many colors] in the depths of the earth, Your eyes have seen my unformed substance, and in Your book were written all the days of my life.”
Can we fully fathom such a plan where our days are already written?
So many have yet to know they were intricately wrought for a purpose.
Because it’s quite confusing when we regard one life over another.
What would happen if we helped to honor the unborn and ingrain within every child, teenager and adult “Your life is valuable! It is already written in God’s Book!”
If only those gang members, terrorists, and wanna be’s had those words tattooed on their hearts, so that with every beat they grasped the blood of life that keeps them.
If they absorbed their great worth in God’s eyes, would they so quickly take the life of another?
When I see past what I can’t fully realize:
In the fall of 1972 when I was in my freshman year of college, I discovered a friend was pregnant. With her boyfriend’s coercion, she chose to have an abortion. An abortion? What’s that? I asked. Upon hearing, everything about it was a nightmare. But her mind was made-up, and I cried on the day she aborted this fetus in whom was an intimately embroidered
design like no other.
Eventually, I stopped talking to her. In my corner of the world’s mindset, that’s all I knew to do when her bad choices kept her spiraling out of control. In hindsight I realize she could have used a friend, especially since her boyfriend was no longer around. Yet, I didn’t know. Only now have I said it out loud. I think of her whenever I hear about women who suffer great anguish in the aftermath of an abortion, haunted by a choice that was meant to free them. Forgiveness is still theirs.
Fast forward to 1984 when I was blessed to have my now ten-year-old daughter who had transformed my world with her birth. However, since I couldn’t have another baby, I was praying about adopting one. This was before the days of internet, and it took a lot of searching to learn about adoption agencies. At that time, DHS had a seven-year waiting list. It seemed hopeless.
One day I read in our state newspaper a dead newborn was discovered in a trash dump thirty miles from my house. I couldn’t believe it. I found myself kneeling by my bed, crying out, “God, I would have loved that baby! Why?”
Once more I was reminded what a fallen world we live in. God never wanted puppets who feigned love. Whether to love Him or not. He lets us choose good or evil, truth or lies, love or hate. Our decision. Only too many of our choices have detrimental effects that still wreak havoc decades, even centuries, later. It’s not God’s fault we decide such deadly devices.
Keep reading and hear my point:
I’ve been blessed to become reacquainted with one of my mother’s friend’s daughters. Pam is several years older than I am. She’s brilliant, creative, and she’s an advocate for women’s rights, especially for those who have limited choices. She looks for solutions to problems, one is to promote women discovering their spot in the political arena. As a documentary filmmaker, she sees a world more broadly than most.
Pam and I have had some interesting conversations—by phone, email and face-to-face when visiting her gorgeous state of Maine. In one email, Pam expressed her frustrations about pro-lifers who have been judgmental, hurtful and downright full of hate. I hear that too often from others. I responded by apologizing, but I asked her not to judge all of us who say we love the Lord. In essence—don’t judge God by my actions or others. We’ve yet to emulate Him even as Christ’s love should compel us (II Corinthians 5:14).
In another email, in her knowing my pro-life stance, she probed me with the following:
“I also would be curious about this movement that calls itself “pro-life” (in the name of Christ) and is firm about protecting the 2nd amendment in its original meaning. As one of my gun-carrying friends said, if she were faced with brandishing her gun to protect herself, she would shoot to kill. To me that is a blatant contraction. And since I challenge my own contradictions, it is hard for me to want to live under her notion of Christianity.”
I didn’t get her rationale. My train of thought was how do those two compare? Innocent babies are murdered, many times as a form of birth control, versus someone choosing to break into my private property and endanger not only my husband and me, but possibly my granddaughters? Of course I’ll protect the unprotected! I never wrote back. I figured if someone as smart as Pam didn’t get that then my explanation would never sway her.
Yet, you know how once a kernel of thought is planted,
it buries down and around to eventually grow …
With that bit of awareness, it was over the next few years I paid a different kind of attention to the news about the most vulnerable being abused and neglected. One story in particular opened my eyes to the horrors behind closed doors.
So I wrote about it in a 2015 essay. A bit of it follows:
In 2014 a six-year-old girl was raped and strangled with her pajama bottoms by 30-year-old Zachary Holly. May I emphasize this man never had a chance as a child? His aunt testified in court she witnessed the boy’s stepfather beating Zachary. The stepfather also injected drugs into the child for the fun of it. Holly’s mother testified how she was physically abused by the same man and how young Zachary, along with other step-siblings, witnessed many times her selling herself sexually for drugs.
Throughout the next couple of weeks of news-grazing, my eyes kept falling on more true-life horror stories of babies and children abused, neglected, tormented to death—raped of any remnants of hope that their lives have or had any value.
Yet, for me, in the safety of my home, I wanted to convince myself how staying blind would remedy the problem—whooshing all the ugly away from this world, or, at least, my world.
Sadly my “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy has yet to ensure a Pollyanna world.
So I ask: When will we realize we can no longer avoid facing others’ problems since their problems are becoming ours. Our being uncomfortable about others’ atrocities doesn’t make them go away; we just build a false wall soon to crumble from outside forces.
(When We Open our Eyes What a Difference We Make is complete essay.)
Yes, I wanted to hate the murderer of an innocent six-year-old. Except once I got a glimpse of his childhood, I wanted justice for him and accountability to the stepfather and the mother who didn’t protect Zachary. With more thought I began considering them as humans who upon closer inspection were also lives broken to such a point they no longer lived, only died daily with destructive distractions.
So it was I had an epiphany one morning while sitting in church. I believe it was planted by Pam’s statement about my being able to take a life to protect my family’s life. To fully honor a life first developing within the mother’s womb, we must follow through to protect the ones born into the worst of dysfunctional homes. How do we miss understanding the traumatic events of adult lives and what formed them?
In Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, protagonist Daniel says,
“One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn’t have to understand something to feel it. By the time the mind is able to comprehend what has happened, the wounds of the heart are already too deep.”
When I imagine the poverty stricken areas of Milwaukee where Desmond lived to research the destructive forces of housing insecurity, I can’t find my way to judge those who are struggling so desperately.
Yet, light overwhelms the darkness. Our God is light. Our God is love.
I can see many points of light in our small town where social workers and foster parents are working overtime to save the innocent ones born into abusive homes. For all the churches we boast filled with strong faithful families, parents with the support of their children are taking in foster babies, children and teens. They don’t have to. They could enjoy smooth sailing winds with few disruptions. Yet, Christ’s love compels them.
Yes, we can become overwhelmed by the numbers of children in need. Where does one start?
One child at a time. The unselfish roles of social workers, foster parents, and so many others who continue on with a mission.
I know whenever I leave a meeting at the Child Safety Center, I’m honored to visit with some of the heroes on the frontline: the CSC staff with advocates, forensic interviewers, therapists, facility dog, director, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), those in the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS), who all combine their efforts with law enforcement officers—on the local, county and state level—and not to forget the county prosecutors. They are working tirelessly.
Consider this: In 2018 in our county and some surrounding ones, the CSC saw 428 children ages 2-18. Four hundred and twenty eight children were cared for one child at a time. (Suggestions of what you can do wherever you live are here.)
We don’t have to follow the news to know how babies in the womb, babies outside the womb, children and teens are being robbed of their childhoods.
Yet, for me, for you, not to face what is happening because it upsets us? because it rumples our world?
Lives fall apart, and it’s never as planned. Afterwards, nothing ever fastens snugly back together again, as though a loss, an event, never happened. But even with those now disjointed pieces, we can choose to create a life system that works, honors, upholds the quality of our lives and others’ lives. We choose.
Let’s be more than kind, helping to end the disregard for life from seizing our nation, believing the lie that a life is not valuable.
And let me just mention how for several decades now I’ve watched the work of James Robison. A pastor, evangelist, James has a mission to feed, clothe and provide clean water to families in Africa and Latin America. James’ mother was raped. She decided to keep this life who in turn has saved tens of thousands of lives.
I have a 33 year-old son because his fifteen-year-old birthmother chose for him to have a better life. For her I will always be grateful.
If my people, who are called by my name,
will humble themselves and pray
and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14
And do we need healing.
In Tattered Butterflies I share a few of my favorite Langston Hughes Dream poems. Hughes offers hope even as he lived through a time of great difficulty and ignorance.
Now fathom how your design is like no other in selected verses from Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me [thoroughly] and have known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up [my entire life, everything I do];
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And You are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue [still unspoken],
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And [You have] placed Your hand upon me.
Such [infinite] knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high [above me], I cannot reach it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will take hold of me.
For You formed my innermost parts;
You knit me [together] in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks and praise to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was being formed in secret,
And intricately and skillfully formed [as if embroidered with many colors] in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book are written
The days that were appointed for me.
4 thoughts on “How Does Your Pendulum Swing?”
What a beautiful writing that pushes me to reflect and challenge myself.
Thank you, Jill. You have a heart for all of Jesus, nothing less, something I so appreciate.
It was both surprising and with appreciation that my comments from so long ago provided the opportunity for both of us to ponder our complicated society. However it was your paragraph which I included below that really put some things into perspective for me.
Your writing really calls into question ‘what is life?’ ‘ What constitutes the circumstances by which we really do get to “live“ life?’ All too often we are forced to witness those situations where due to destructive circumstances living is more to die each day.
It saddens me that our country has become one where a constructive circumstance is that immense wealth is protected for fewer and fewer as the circumstances of cyclical poverty define the lives of too many.
My biggest fear is that the pendulum may not be swinging at all as we move into a stalemate of status quo.
“Yes, I wanted to despise the murderer of an innocent six-year-old. Except once I got a glimpse of his childhood, I wanted to despise the stepfather and the mother who didn’t protect Zachary. With more thought I began considering them as humans who upon closer inspection were also lives broken to such a point they no longer lived, only died daily with destructive distractions.”
Pam, I’m not sure why my messages aren’t sending, so if you get three, it’s the computer’s fault. I appreciate you and your honesty. In our small community, I can miss seeing through the broader lens you look through as you travel the country, working with those underserved. I saved the email you sent me in 2014. I had my awakening a couple of years later. It’s only been now that I could articulate it. I still ponder. With your thoughts, I was able to add them to more areas throughout the semester in the Interdisciplinary Studies class. The two professors represented two fields of study–political science and history. Lots of light bulb moments. You would also appreciate Desmond’s books and articles. Thank you for being you–the one intricately designed with vibrant splashes of colors like no other.