There Will Be a Door

My daughter is a smart three-and-a-half year old.  I have never said anything to her about Jesus.

This may be shocking to some people, but for me I knew there would be a “right” or best time, and that time had not come before last night.

Truth be told, I don’t speak much to her about God either.  It’s not that I don’t want her to have a rich spiritual life, in fact it’s exactly the opposite.  I know this child, and she is a scientist.  She wants to know how, and why, and what the measurements and evidence are.  I love that about her, and I try to do everything in my power to encourage this way of thinking.

For her right now, trying to explain Jesus is too much like making it a fairy tale.  Which, let’s be fair, in many ways it is like a fairy tale.  But I believe(d) one can only begin to hold the concept of the limitations of human expression in the midst of divine truth after much personal experience over many years.  Even then, the holding is delicate, and easily slips through your fingers.  I can’t even fathom going down the road of, “See that sweet baby? He’s the son of God, He loves all people, he was tortured to death as a criminal. Oh, and he rose from the dead. ‘Night, sweetie…..”

Not. Gonna. Happen.  I just kept telling myself, when the time is right, the door will open, and we will walk through it.

Enter my man, Ezra Jack Keats.

We have the classic book illustrated by Keats The Little Drummer Boy checked out from the library this week.  I’ve been reading/singing it to my child every night for three nights.  As soon as it is over she asks to hear it one more time, so we often have at least two consecutive readings before bed.

Last night, as did so many desperate parents, my husband reached for whatever he thought would work. He said to our bed-bouncing top-of-lungs yelping young’un, “Be quiet, sweetie.  The baby Jesus is trying to sleep.”

Without missing a bounce she laughed and said, “Daddy, that’s silly. The baby Jesus lived a long time ago.  He’s not alive any more. He’s like the dinosaurs.”

I can take a hint.

I took a deep breath, because this is one thing I really didn’t want to screw up. Sex, death, and God need to be as close to right as you can get them.

“Well,” I said, “That’s not exactly true.”

She looked at me seriously. I could tell I was supposed to go on.

I opened The Little Drummer Boy.  “Do you see those kings in the story, the grown ups with crowns and money and fancy presents? Doesn’t it seem a little strange that they are going all that way to give a baby those things?”  She acknowledged it was a little strange.

“Some people believe that baby Jesus was God’s way of coming to live with us on Earth. The kings believed that God sent Jesus. They weren’t just going to see a baby, they believed they were going to honor and welcome a part of God to our world.”

Total attention now.

“See how the baby appreciates the little boy the most? That’s how momma and daddy see  God. We believe God loves all people, and that bringing your truest self as a gift is the best thing you can do.”

She’s still listening to me.  I decide to go for it.  I may never get another chance.

“Momma believes Jesus is still alive. Sometimes I talk to him. (She didn’t laugh at me.)  What would you give baby Jesus as a gift do you think?”

With only a slight pause she says with great confidence, “I would give him a dragon kiss!”

I think I must have gotten something right.  Merry Christmas, everyone.

Fly Away Home

I was born in Charleston, West Virginia, over four decades ago. Before I was fourteen years old, I had been to Bermuda, Quebec, Denmark, Paris, Switzerland, and Germany. I attended college in North Carolina, and before I graduated I had back-packed Germany, Scotland, and England. I worked on Capitol Hill my first year out of college, and lived and worked in the international university community of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill for 10 years before making a conscious choice to move back to West Virginia.

Simply put, I’m a big fan of West Virginians getting out before they lock it in.

I’ve puzzled for several years since my return over the hungry – yea, desperate – plea from some contingencies here to create an environment that children don’t leave. “If we only did this…….if we only changed that……if we had a…………then our kids wouldn’t have to leave home.” This is one of the most misguided philosophies I’ve ever encountered on two fronts.

First, kids are supposed to leave home. When you reduce it down to its barest elements, the whole ideal purpose of parenting is to raise children to a level of maturity where they can take care of themselves in their developing social, physical, intellectual, and spiritual spheres. Even when children have special needs, there is a feeling that the maximum level of independence and autonomy possible should be the goal.  To suggest that there is something unnatural or undesirable about leaving the nest is a bit smothering and insecure. One of the best things that can happen to a young person is to explore the world on his or her own terms. Whether you grow up in West Virginia or Tuscany, you need to deliberately depart the confines of your small, childlike world, and put yourself in the environment of newness, diversity, challenge, and change.

Second, from an economic development standpoint, we need less a climate of existing jobs than a climate of innovation to draw the people our state needs to blossom now; and yet we still have a strong dialogue here that centers on former West Virginians coming “home” to fill job vacancies that await them. The people I have in mind that will come to make their lives in our state are looking for opportunity to build, create, and innovate. I am interested in the minds that seek an environment that supports new business creation, not simply seats for warm bodies.

I propose we give the clutching after our offspring a rest. Let’s stop worrying about getting former West Virginians back, and start strategizing about creating a place where smart, motivated people who have grown through diverse life experiences want to work and play. With all due respect to those of us who grew up here, our birth certificates do not automatically make us part of West Virginia’s bright future. What will make us part of that future is our willingness to engage the world; to embrace new people and cultural elements from outside our borders; and to stop asking for jobs and start making them.

Oh yes. And our willingness to kiss our children on the cheek and wish them well on their own journey to whatever place – maybe ultimately here – that creates a sense of home and identity for them and their best lives.

This post is adapted from the original composed for “A Better West Virginia Challenge.”

Image credit: Jamie Gaucher