Will it eat me?

When Ezra, our African-born son, first came to America, he was 5-years old. In his first five years, he had developed an understanding of the small square of Congo where he lived, showered, ate and played. Though his world was limited, he was old enough to know what was safe and whom to trust. Then he was flown across the world to a new place with a different language, people, food and customs. He had to relearn so much about this new world.

 

When we would read books to him—books about farms and dinosaurs and pigeons and everything in between—he would point to the animals in the pictures and ask, “Me touch-ee him? He eat-ee me?” Never mind the plot, characters and dialogue. Forget about the story’s underlying morals or comparison to modern life. He wanted to get to the crux of what was displayed on those pages—does that pose a danger to me? Once I had explained that dinosaurs were extinct or that cows were docile creatures which give us ice cream, he was ready for the next page.

 

Having always lived here, my understanding was so different than his. For instance, I took for granted that squirrels posed no threat to my safety, but he needed to be informed and then reassured about those meek, little acorn-gatherers.

 

I came to realize that his first year in America was about a lot of things: attachment to his new family, strengthening his body, consistency in his schedule. But the main thing we did was reassure him. You are safe. You are loved. You are not alone. You can trust us.

 

To watch him now, after more than a thousand days home with us, I see an 8-year old boy who jumps in the deep end and rides his bike downhill and throws his body on the ground to stop a soccer ball when he’s playing in the goal. He still asks a lot about the world around him, but he doesn’t hold as much fear for the unknown. His curiosity can be exhausting, so I have to remind myself that this is how he learns and with knowledge comes a decrease in his worrying.

 

I love the way the Books of Psalms and Proverbs regard knowledge. It’s not about whitewashing the truth or ignoring questions. Knowledge is a powerful tool. “Lips that speak knowledge are a rare jewel.” (Proverbs 20:15) Or take Psalm 119:65-68 – “Lord, I am overflowing with your blessings, just as you promised.  Now teach me good judgment as well as knowledge. For your laws are my guide. I used to wander off until you punished me; now I closely follow all you say. You are good and do only good; make me follow your lead.”

 

That’s such a big part of parenting: Imparting knowledge that leads to wisdom that guides us to righteous living.

Why we do difficult things

Parenting is hard. This is the eternal truth I was pondering as I rubbed the back of my ankle right after my older son slammed into it with the grocery cart. You give them a chance to prove themselves, such as saying that they can follow behind you up and down the aisles with what amounts to being a metal battering ram, and sometimes they disappoint you. Being a parent can be a really tough job, but that doesn’t make me want to quit.

 

We have a saying in our house (by we, I mean and by saying, I mean homework time mantra): “When things are hard, we try harder.” It works for memorizing multiplication facts and learning to ride a bike. When a task just seems too difficult to complete, I tell them, “Rossers don’t quit.” Those are my standard pep talk declarations.

 

Other than the obvious reasons not to give up (“Multiplication is something you will actually use your whole life! You just have to learn what 8 times 6 is!”), there are other, ongoing reasons not to quit. Each time we conquer a fear or accomplish a new skill, we add another layer to our confidence. These successes strengthen our resolve, making the next hurtle a little less daunting.

 

I love stories about people who truly overcome adversity to do really great things, people who don’t quit even when things seem impossible and the world tells them they’re no good. An example of this kind of insane rise against all odds is the story of Dr. Ben Carson, famed neurosurgeon and current HUD secretary.

 

Dr. Carson grew up in poverty in Detroit, and he was at the bottom of his class academically. The key to his eventual success was his mother. “I was fortunate enough, you know, to have a mother who believed in me when everybody else was calling me dummy,” he said in a 2005 NPR interview. “She prayed and asked God to give her wisdom. What could she do to give her sons to understand the importance of academic achievement, because we were doing terribly in school. And she came up with the idea of turning off the TV and making us read books…You know, it did incredible things for me because, you know, between the covers of those books you could be anybody, you could go anywhere, you could do anything. And it begins to broaden your horizons. And, you know, within the space of a year and a half, I went from the bottom of the class to the top of the class.”

 

Cresting that hill made the next one seem climbable, and the next one, and the next one. His mother wouldn’t let him and anyone else define him as a “dummy.” She made sure he knew it would be hard work, but it was within his grasp.

 

You have to assume that if we only do easy things, growth will be minimal. And besides, our most important tasks (like parenting) are just supposed to be difficult (like parenting at the grocery store), but we’re not alone. As C.S. Lewis said, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain but without stain.”