Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Book Empathy

Fiction is a great empathy builder, because the process of entering into a different—albeit imaginary—world forces the reader to see things from another point of view. 

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.... The man who never reads lives only once.
George R. R. Martin

This is what I've been doing. Well, reading Louise Penny and scrubbing sharpie off the kitchen cabinets with toothpaste, but the important part is the excessive reading of mystery novels. I plowed through all eleven of Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache books and did my best to not drive the librarians insane by insisting that they help me track them all down. In order. Immediately. I may or may not have acted a little like an escaped psych patient. It worked. I only had to buy book five on kindle.

I've been trying to figure out what appeals to me so much about this series. I do love a good mystery, but I shy away from any that are too gruesome. In that sense, these fit the bill. Nothing overly gory that would scar me for life. However, there is a fair amount of swearing included that might have turned me off had it not been for the fantastic writing, the believable characters, and the engaging story line. 

If I'm honest though, what I loved most about these books was the capacity to encourage empathy in me as I read. Penny's characters are varied, flawed, and multi-faceted. As I read, it helped me to step outside of myself and my limited life experience and get to be in someone else's shoes for a little while. I love my life, but I also realize that it's just one experience in a vast world. Reading allows me to get inside someone else's head. It then broadens me, enlarging my world view, and hopefully making me more loving and less judgmental as I go.

Don't tell me if it's not working. I'm going to keep reading anyway.

At any rate, if you're interested in reading the Louise Penny novels, my dad succinctly described them as "well written, intriguing, and very, very secular humanistic." Decide what you're looking for before you read (and don't expect an author who doesn't share your values to write your values), but also know that when I read them, Chief Inspector Gamache is Tom Selleck in Blue Bloods but speaking French and quoting poetry. Which should be a huge selling point. Just saying.

Also, invision me doing something sadly close to a pee-pee dance in front of the library counter while they check the archives once again to find book 6 for me so I can find out what happens without reading out of order. Girl has standards. I can't read a series out of order but I have no problem ingratiating myself to librarians.

Whatever you decide to do about Chief Inspector Gamache, I would love to know if there's a book you have read that has encouraged you to be more empathetic. Sometimes it's not always the books I expect, so feel free to surprise me!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Taking Credit

Tonight at dinner, both the twins told me "thank you for the meal" without being prompted, there was actual conversation that consisted of more than "Please chew with your mouth closed", and everyone took second helpings of salad.

Today after a spontaneous and fun picnic lunch, both twins threw massive tantrums, there was a water spitting war, and I lost my temper with the entire family (myself included).

Sometimes I want to say, "It's not them! It's me!" (in an echo of that famous break up line). It's my fault when they behave badly, and I should beat myself up for my failure! But it's also all because of me when they behave well! The truth I am starting to learn, though, is that sometimes it's not either of us.

My kids are not good kids any more than they are bad kids. I am not a good mom any more than I am a bad mom. My kids are kids--and sometimes they have moments that are better than others and sometimes they have moments that are worse. I am just a mom--and sometimes I parent better and sometimes I parent worse, and sadly, my children's behavior may be more a reflection of whether or not their tag is currently scratching the back of their neck than how well I am actually doing as their mom.

I wish I had learned early on to not try to take so much credit--for the good stuff, but also for the bad. I wish I had learned to thank God for the grace of good days, but also to thank him for the bad ones because they keep me humble and dependent on him. I love it when my kids act right. It makes my job easier. But if they were little angels all the time, I would probably think it was because I had figured out this whole parenting thing, and that would be a mistake.

A word to my past self...but also to my future self: love those kids and do your best, then let everything else go. And remember: sometimes a good nap can fix everything. If not, there's always brownies. Lastly, sometimes, it's just not about you. Really.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Whole Picture

Until the day when God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words: wait and hope. 
Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Let me begin by saying: this is not a book post. So if you are one of the habitual few who like to skip those (I will name no names--but I know who you are...), keep reading. It only starts with a book. I promise.

The big boys and I have been slowly reading through The Wind and the Willows together before bed. Recently, we came to the portion of the book where Badger, Mole, and Rat stage an intervention for automobile obsessed Toad (who is regularly wrecking those glorious machines with aplomb). After their lecture does no good, they lock him up in his bedroom to detox, taking turns guarding him so he doesn't escape.

When I closed the book for the night, I turned to Littles and asked him what he thought of Badger, Mole, and Rat. Were they being good friends or bad friends to Toad?

"Bad friends," he replied. And it does kind of look like that. They don't let him do what he wants. They essentially kidnap him. They deprive him of his rights (to drive about in motor cars that say poop-poop!).

We talked for a while about why Toad's friends were actually good friends who were looking out for his best interests (and the interests of those he might run over with aforementioned motorcars), and then I tucked the boys in for the night.

Since then, I've been thinking about the difference between a six year old perspective and a 29 year old perspective. His life experiences lends itself to a very narrow level of understanding. Twenty three years down the line, I see and understand a bit more.

I know now that sometimes what seems painful at the time can actually be for my own benefit. We see this in almost any form of discipline. Running hurts but it keeps you healthy. Practicing scales can be mind numbing, but it helps you enjoy your instrument more. Cleaning the bathrooms can be gross, but it keeps the germs away. We know these things.

Sometimes, though, because we know these things, we forget how much we still don't know. If the wisdom gap between a 6 year old and a 29 year old is this (         ) big, how huge must the gap be between our understanding and God's?

I don't know what it is in your life: job loss, depression, miscarriage, illness, death of a loved one, even something as small as an unexpected change of plans or a bad day. When faced with situations beyond our control, our gut instinct is frustration. Why is this happening? How could this be happening to me? What can I do to make this stop? And before you jump to any conclusions, no, the answer is not always that you are being disciplined.

Sometimes we're just not quite ready to understand what's really going on. We can't see enough with our limited life experience. We just aren't there yet. We're seeing this (   ). God is seeing this (                        ) times infinity. And that's okay. Much like I don't expect my 6 year old to understand at a 29 year old level, God doesn't expect us to see and understand with his magnitude of wisdom.

I included a quotation at the beginning of the blog written by Alexandre Dumas. The truth is that God hasn't yet "deign[ed] to reveal the future to man", and it might be better for everyone if we remember that our very limited wisdom can't see far past the ends of our noses. At times it looks like we've been bullied, kidnapped, and robbed of our rights. The very Best Friend doesn't look like such a good friend any more. We feel betrayed. Sometimes, even the sum total of human wisdom--wait and hope--is very hard.

This doesn't seem like much of an encouraging word, but I am saying it anyway, even if I'm saying it mostly to myself. Wait and hope, even when it's hard, especially when it's hard. The truth is that we're not seeing the whole picture yet. It's bigger than we can comprehend, and that's okay.

Today I'm praying for all of us that we can remember that even if it doesn't look that way, Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and we can wait and hope knowing that no matter how things look we are seeing one tiny piece of the whole picture--and He is seeing it all.