The Glass Darkly

Monday, January 29, 2007

Being an American Mom

I'm so tired. Even the simplest of questions seem like mountains to climb. People ask, "is your baby colicky?" I have no idea. One day she screams all day and the next she sleeps all day. All I know is that my brain is fuzzy, my eyes hurt and I wish I had some magic potion to make my daughter happy and content. Thank goodness my husband is willing to rescue me when I'm at the end of my rope. I know many women who do not have such support.

I think about what my life with a newborn would be like in a country like Cambodia. My husband would have few chances to ever help with the care of the baby. First of all, I would have women in my house all day long. I would have no choice in the matter. They would automatically come with their children and babies, snacking and giving constant snacks to the children. The older women would bestow unsolicited advice upon the younger ones who would follow every word. In fact, I know that my former land lady would not even wait until I figured out how to do what she suggested, she would just take my baby and do it. Either an older daughter or niece would be there to cook food for everyone and keep after the kitchen. If I wasn't working outside the home, I would sit around all day with them while someone else would run to the market and do the laundry. That is the way it works in that culture.

To a weary mom, this scenario sounds like heaven -- someone to give me advice and an extra pair of arms when mine can't hold my fussy baby another minute longer. As a foreigner from America, I would probably struggle at times with the lack of privacy and perhaps feeling smothered. It is important to me to manage my home, keeping it organized and running smoothly. I am sure it is a control issue with me. It took me a long time to release some of the care of my home into the hands of someone else.

Yet, I really felt like that was one unsolicited lesson God taught me that transcends culture -- to release control and let down my pride. I needed to become less concerned with my image as a homemaker and more grateful for their loving contributions. I don't have people in my home constantly here - in fact many days are pretty quiet. Yet I think God is teaching me that lesson again ... release my pride -- I am not always strong enough to handle a screaming baby myself ... and release my control -- she is her own person and I will not always be able to make her happy. In response I am learning to humbly accept and appreciate the offers of help and support my friends and family offer here -- the American way.

Monday, January 15, 2007


It is amazing how our socialization robs us of our innocence. When I observe the absolute abandonment of a newborn baby . . . no qualms whatsoever in making noises like screaming, laughing, cooing and all the sounds of normal bodily functions we adults are taught to hide or be embarrassed about . . . newborns couldn't care a bit . . . anywhere at anytime, whenever nature calls. Babies are not embarrassed about their bowed legs, bald heads, facial rashes and sour-milk breath. And they have no inhibitions in regards to expressions of pleasure, displeasure, sleepiness, stretching and waking up. Their innocence melts our hearts and enables us to tolerate those testy moments we normally would not tolerate from one another in the older stages of life. What we may term as stubborness, rudeness, selfishness or grouchiness in older children or adults, we accept as innocent dependence in a baby.

There is an earthiness about babies that is refreshing, reminding me of the fact that no matter how together and proper we try to look to one another, we all started life in the same way -- formed and birthed naked and fragile, utterly dependent, unsocialized and crude in behavior, and unaware of a world that would soon change all that. When I hear my baby screaming out to me as if to say, "life is not treating me well!" I cry silent tears in my heart, lamenting the fact that life will only get tougher for her as she gets older. Oh, the treasure of Innocence.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Safety Laws

I am not against safety laws, but I am annoyed when, from my perspective, companies lobby more in favor of profits than actual safety. PA State law requires children under 4 years of age to sit in a child car seat. From ages 4-8, children still need to be in a booster. My niece is soon 7 and can't fit in the boosters anymore. She is quite big enough to use just a seat belt, but according to the law, my brother is required to buy a seat big enough for her to sit up on.

I had to reorient my thinking when returning from overseas where we fit our whole family on a tiny 90 cc Honda motorbike.
And years ago cars didn't even have seatbelts. When we were discharged from the hospital recently with our new baby, the lady (who herself was at least 60 years old) had to let us know that the car seat we were using was "old" and the newer ones have better safety features. Ours is only a few years old, borrowed from a friend. It sounded like she was talking about a computer ... they age quickly, I know. But a big piece of plastic without a brain can hardly be said to age in the same way, in my opinion. No, it is the laws that change, requiring the seats and who needs to sit in them to change. And the more the companies lobby that these seats are needed for bigger kids, the more money they will make!
And the most ironic thing of all in the state of PA is that there are more obvious dangers of riding a motorcycle without a helmet, yet, the helmet safefy feature has now been deemed a choice ... I guess the lobbyists for the helmet companies didn't work as hard.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


It's funny how some traditions seem to last forever, woven amost unseen within the fabric of our society and culture. Then others seem to be the first threads to pull out when frays occur. I wonder, then, if they can still be considered traditions.

Even though both our families seemed to have the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree each year of our childhood, my husband and I never carried the tradition into our marriage until this past Christmas. In fact, we really have had very few set things we do for any holiday or birthday. The biggest factor was that upon our return to the US, the majority of our married life had been spent in a different culture where our tradtional American holidays, including Christmas, were not celebrated. But that factor was not our only deterent to having a Christmas tree.

My husband has never been keen on the pagan roots of the tradition and I am not fond of the thought that along with a tree is a focus on gifts. Gifts were not a huge part of my Christmas growing up. I think my fondest memories of a tree centered on the trek we children would take each year with our father into the snowy tree farm looking for just right size tree that would fit into our tiny living room. Then around the tree we would help Dad build a platform for my brother's train, the highlight of our holiday entertainment. After Christmas the tree would be set out on our front porch awaiting the thaw when we would plant the tree in our yard.

But I guess having children has changed our attitudes toward traditions. Our two oldest children have had several craft activities now where the teachers have assumed all homes have a Christmas tree. Plus the children love the lights. So this year my husband and I decided to take the plunge and bought an artificial tree ... our focus???? .... we have many old ornaments made by relatives from years past and now our children are making their own. Perhaps that will be our focus for them, helping them to think of the people who made or gave us each ornament and adding their own each year -- for the reality is that we are not going to be trekking out to dig our own tree each year and we do not wish to fill the floor with tons of gifts each year.

I guess all traditions need a focus that connects with the practice. Perhaps that is the hardest part, giving meaning to the practice that fits your perspective on life and desired values. One thing I have been learning about myself is that I'm not one to rush into traditions until I gain a meaningful understanding of their purpose. It helps me keep life simple by adding only those things that have genuine meaning, not all the frills that just help me blend in with society.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Do we TRUST enough? My 2007 Resolution

I had an interesting conversation with a couple other women yesterday which gave me food for thought as I anticipated starting out a new year. We were discussing the picture of the early church we see in the book of Acts and how the believers met together daily ... they shared all things in common; no one had a need. We commented how the Believers sold all they had and gave it to the church to be distributed to those who needed it. Those in the church and those around it stood in awe and offered praise as they saw how God provided for everyone and how unity was possible as people spent each day worshipping together.

One question we pondered yesterday was, "how do we view this scenario and what can we learn from this picture in light of our lifestyles today?" Of course I can't help thinking how our culture affects our ability to live like the Believers apparently did in the book of Acts.

First of all, our lives tend to center around ourselves. Even within our very generous and giving circles of friends, we agreed that when we give, we give, first taking into consideration how much we can give and still survive/live comfortably. We usually give out of our excess, not ALL that we have. And second, spending each day together with our church family would mean we would need to sacrifice time we spend doing other things we enjoy. Time is always an issue for families ... how much do we spend doing things we enjoy or think is good for our children or ourselves in recreation/fun/work/ministry/etc. Time ultimately is part of the sacrafice of worship we offer to God.

The words trust and commitment stood out to me in Book of Acts scenario. To live in any form of unified community (family, church Body, etc.) requires commitment. Commitment means we sacrifice not only our time and resources to meet each other's needs, but we also sacrifice our pride -- give it up -- to be honest enough to share our needs so others can reach out to us too! (Sometimes the latter takes a lot more work.) And we need a tremendous amount of TRUST. I wonder if one reason we only share out of our excess and tend to want to hide our needs is because, when it comes right down to it, we really don't trust God and one another enough. We can't give EVERYTHING to others because we need to take care of ourselves. We are trained in our culture to protect ourselves in case something happens. We need to have savings, insurance, back-ups, investments, etc. all for the sake of "taking care of ourselves" when all our regular life supports fail us. I wonder if God is only the back-up to the back-ups ... when ALL our other back-ups fail us. And do we really trust that God will use others to help us or shame us? We fear that showing needs will make us look bad or weak. Trust is not our daily attitude and mode of operation. We say we know we need to trust in God when we have difficulties, but the reality is that we say that after we have already invested lots of trust in doctors, lawyers, our savings accounts and insurance companies or family members who usually bail us out. I think we actually operate within a certain and constant level of fear or distrust, for it is what we say helps us make wise decisions about how to live. The Book of Acts was certainly a counter-cultural way to live by American standards!

I am not satisfied with the idea that I live life lacking trust in my God who says He will provide all my needs. I am not satisfied knowing that I clutter my life with so many things that distract me from committing myself to the Body of Christ. So for 2007 I want to consider what I can get rid of in my life. . .those excessive things which consume my time, money and energy. Living life like in the book of Acts means living simply and in a constant attitude of trust, knowing that God will provide for all my needs as I strive to meet the needs of those around me. I also pray that I find in my community the freedom to be honest about my own needs too, for sharing with one another is how unity and trust are nurtured and how love is experienced.