Friday, September 30, 2011

Longhorn State, Long Drive!

We're here!  Yes, we have arrived in the land of one stop light towns, 10,000 Church of Christ signs, and young ladies with Daisy Duke shorts, cowboy boots, and big blond hair!  What a culture shock! 

We took 2 days to drive down here to Houston, and drove through some of the most incredibly flat, desolate land I have ever seen.  It was beautiful, in it's own way, and redundant as well.  It was almost predictable by the odometer when we would come across a grain silo, a cell phone tower, or a one horse town.  Angela commented after a few hours that these little towns were a sort of spooky, for they all looked as if no one actually lived there and as if they were put there merely for appearances for those passing through.  We seldom saw vehicles in front of any of the stores, and there was virtually no activity on the streets at all.

The kids occupied themselves well with DVD players and video games.  They gorged on them during the drive, and believe me will be going through withdrawals once we get back home when they go on a "screen diet".  But I could hardly blame them, there truly was nothing much to look at.  If you looked out the window once, 2 hours later you were assured to be viewing the exact same thing.  I remained alert by listening to one of the Great Courses on CD, one on comparative religions which was quite interesting. 

I also discovered that Matt and Kenny were not as engrossed in their computer screens as I thought they were, when they each spent time talking to me about another book on CD I listened to, "Our Endangered Values" by Jimmy Carter.  People can say what they want about the man as a politician, but I found his thoughts on faith as it intersects with the issues of our world today to be very well expressed, and he made more sense than many others I have listened to when it comes to living out your faith in a way that is true for you.  "Moderate" is a word that used to be praised, and Jimmy is a moderate which doesn't set well in our world today of passionate, over-the-top rhetoric from radio talk show hosts and extreme right and left wing politicians.  Hearing his book was like taking me back in time, to my childhood, when people could disagree in a far more agreeable fashion and without demonizing everyone who views the world differently.  Oh, I know it wasn't paradise and there was still plenty of name calling and derision, but not to the degree that we have today, and there was a level of respect that existed...perhaps because we were not all so polarized and separating ourselves into "red" and "blue" states.  His views on extremism from any side being detrimental to the cause of peace were a breath of fresh air.  I may not have agreed with all I heard, but one would be hard pressed to not find some value and truth in much of what he shared.  Today people are mocked for being considered "moderate", as if it is a four letter word.  The world is not all black and white, and somehow we have all come to miss the hues of gray that surround us on a daily basis.

I was surprised as Matthew moved to sit right behind me and said he had found the Jimmy Carter book so interesting to listen to.  That is more the sort of thing Kenny would find fascinating, as he is growing to be an astute and deep thinker in matters of faith and social concepts.  But Matt is the quiet one who lets it simmer, then surprises you when he does finally speak.  We had the most fantastic conversation as we talked about what it means to stand for something you believe in, how hard that can be to go against the crowd, and when he has faced situations in the past.

He opened up for the first time about his experiences that first couple of weeks of fifth grade prior to us deciding to give homeschooling a try.  He said "You know Mommy, already I was not liking who I was there.  It was easier to go along with everyone than to get made fun of, and I think I would have ended the year a different kid.  I'll be honest, I was playing around in class like everyone else was, even though I wanted to learn.  I tried to be a good boy, but it was too hard as that whole group of boys was already making fun of me if I acted like I cared about what we were reading about.  So I'd fake it and pretend I didn't care, but I'd still try and read the book when they weren't looking."

I asked him what he thought it would take for him to grow and become strong enough to not go along with the crowd.  He had the most interesting answer when he said "I think that it has to matter to me, and school sort of seemed to have no point other than a report card.  Maybe I was too young, because that was 2 years ago, or maybe school didn't feel enough like it mattered so I didn't really care.  Now I think everything matters a lot.  Or if I thought someone was going to get hurt, or be treated unfairly, I think that I wouldn't care if anyone made fun of me...I'd stand up for it.  But things have to matter for someone to be willing to be made fun of.   Something has changed for me though, camp made me see things differently, you've made me see things differently.  I don't know how to say it, I just care more about stuff.  I see how I can make a difference, how everyone can make a difference even in small ways.  I never felt that way before.  Maybe I was too much of a little kid then."

We went on to talk about Mr. Carter's ideas on faith and politics, his thoughts on the death penalty and his statistics to back up his statements.  We had all just viewed a movie on the death penalty at church Tuesday evening which was powerful and thought provoking, so I had inadvertently picked a good follow up tool with this book on CD.  We then moved into deeper discussion as Matthew brought up a fantastic point, that just about every American president or politician lays claim to being Christian, and yet they often leave their Christian faith behind when it comes to action.  We talked about the war in Iraq and how it departed from previous American foreign policy, and whether it was a just war or not, we spoke about the prisoners still being held at Guantanamo without due process and how that fit into Christian teachings.  He was really a pretty aware kid, surprising even me a little with points he made.  We talked about the separation of church and state and whether that is a positive or negative thing.  He was able to draw connections between power and leaving behind long held beliefs versus what God calls us to do when in positions of leadership in a country, and through our conversation he began to see that it can be a huge challenge to remain true to your faith when called to act on the will of the people. He ended the discussion feeling that often our political leaders claim Christianity but are unwilling to lead from a faithful place as their actions are often a stark departure from their faith. 

If it took us 2 days of driving through the flatlands of Texas to have this conversation, than I would say that was 2 days well spent.

Watching the kids develop critical thinking skills and apply them as they assess the world around them is one of the single most exciting things I have ever experienced as a human being.  Kenny has made some comments lately at church and at home that show he is thinking on an entirely different level than most of his peers, and is able to make connections that even adults struggle to make...and he cares deeply about those things which captivate him.  Seeing the compassion developing in all of them as they begin to tentatively explore their world on a deeper level and figure out who they are and who they want to be is something I stand by and watch with bated breath, wondering what will connect with each of them, and who they will ultimately turn out to be.  How could anyone not find parenting to be utterly fascinating?

The biggest delight of the drive down was unplanned and one of those serendipitous things that make life take on greater meaning.  I had been contacted by a lovely years long blog reader who expressed a desire to meet us if we were coming her way.  Plans were made on the fly to meet at her place for lunch, as she generously offered to host us and allow the kids time to get out and take a decent break from the drive.  How glad I am that we accepted!!  We met the most interesting woman whose hospitality was enthusiastically offered, and meeting face to face after years of "knowing" one another was a real treat.  Funny how we find kindred spirits in the most unlikely ways, and meeting this person was like visiting with an old, dear friend.  I truly regretted looking at the time and realizing we still had many more hours driving ahead of us and needed to get on the road.  This grandmother of two adopted granddaughters from China was a real dynamo, and I felt like our conversation had only just begun.  I have a sneaking suspicion that will prove to be true, and our relationship will grow over time and via email.

It is encounters like these that I wish every single person at my retreat a couple weeks ago could witness.  The power of  "social media" and the new ways in which we are building human relationships are not to be underestimated.  I had the feeling the entire weekend that my fellow participants hadn't even scratched the surface of what can develop from the use of our 21st century tools.  Oh, we see it from a marketing perspective, or for trying to build our churches, but that entirely misses the point.

It's about reaching out, it's about connecting regardless of distances, it's about very real relationships being created in cyberspace.  Having been part of this phenomena for the past 12 years or more, and watching it blossom from the inside, it is so easy for me to understand what so many others are just beginning to grasp.  You limit yourself when you have the wrong priorities.  If churches, pastors and lay people want to harness the power of social media to make a difference, they will think first about the very real human being on the other end of that screen.  They will cast aside concerns about  blog hits and numbers of "friends" on Facebook and simply do what we all are called to do in this world, love one another.  That love does not have to be hindered by text and miles, it is SO easy to offer! 

When I was told how crazy it was for us to come all the way to Houston to visit our friend, I just smiled inside.  Our family has been loved for so long by so many who have gone so far out of their way to express it, how can we not do the same??  Friends who have never met us but driven 2 hours in LA traffic to get us into Disneyland, friends we have never met who sent us a Baby Shower in a Box, friends who have hosted a family of 7 over and over again, friends who sent postcards and prayers, friends who have translated and made phone calls repeatedly for passports, friends who have sent gift cards, friends who have given up mileage and points so Kenny and I could go to Washington to advocate for the Kyrgyz kids STILL left behind.

And a 6 day trip to Houston is considered "going too far out of my way??"  Sheesh, I couldn't even BEGIN to pay the love forward if I had ten lifetimes!!  We have been beyond blessed, our kids see it and know it, and as we pulled away from our new friend's home yesterday afternoon, Angela said it best when she said "Momma, we are so always help us make nice new friends.  I am so glad we stopped to meet her.  I hope we see her again!"

Me too :-)

Now, on to the real reason for our trip...a teddy bear delivery and Big Bear Hugs this afternoon after Mr. Cbuck is done with radiation treatment!


Anonymous said...

Love the photo - but are my old eyes deceiving me? The kids look like they all have grown!
We have loved Texas the times we've driven through there when our son was stationed at Ft.Hood.And, yes, we've done some of our best communicating on car trips.
Be safe. GOD Bless, Elva

Anonymous said...

Your observation that many of these small towns seem deserted is far too true. They may not be deserted yet, but population is dwindling, services are moving further away, whole generations leave. It would be easy to say that here is the heart of morality or the depth of Christianity or something like that, but that's not true.

Children can get lost here too if there are not caring, involved adults around them. Perhaps it is easier if it is a small town or rural area because new people do not come in, and the long-term residents are known to one another.

But the children who are lucky are not necessarily the ones who live in a particular place, but the ones who have involved parents and friends reflecting and guiding the values Jimmy Carter writes about.

Your children are lucky to have you and your depth of understanding and compassion. You are blessed to have them.

Safe travels,