Best friend

Most everyone can point to an early friendship that forever shaped them. Besides my sisters, my earliest friends were Briony and Stacy.


Briony had a treasure trove of Colorform sets (those vinyl cut-outs that were like stickers except that you could peel them up and place them on a different a background), and we would play with them for hours on end. Her collection included Barbie, Holly Hobby and Monchhichi, to name a few. Not that it seemed remarkable at the time, but she was my first non-white friend. Her father was African-American and her mother was from England. Her mother’s accent plus her toy selection plus the fact that their house had a bay window (I always wanted to live in a house with a bay window) made Briony an excellent playmate.


My friend Stacy lived behind us until I was seven. Her mom had a water bed, and when I spent the night there we got to (sort of) sleep aloft the motion sickness-inducing waves of her bed. The summer my family left Louisville to move to Nashville, Stacy gave me a going-away gift. It was a belt made of wide, red elastic and a magnet latch on the front with a picture of the Louisville Cardinal’s mascot. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but it was probably her mom’s attempt at giving me something special to remember my first home.


My son Ezra was born on the other side of the world in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We have few details about his first year, but we can feel confident in saying that his first best friend was Max, a boy who’s nine months younger than Ezra. They lived in the same orphanage until they were 3-4 years old, followed by the same foster home for about 18 months, until they were able to come home to their adoptive families in the U.S.


Max’s parents live in Kentucky, and we live in Tennessee, so we don’t cross paths very frequently. Still, I know that Max will always be a part of Ezra.


A few months after Ezra arrived, if he looked sad and I asked him why he would say, “Me miss Max.” He would talk about Max and ask to watch videos with Max in them. He would pray for Max every night, asking God to help his friend to “sleep good and no cry.”


When I watch Ezra interact with other children, I am so grateful for Max. I believe that Ezra’s ability to nurture and encourage those younger than him was developed as a result of their friendship. I also believe that his closeness to his big brother Knox can be traced back to the bond he had with his “Congo Brother” Max.


In spite of difficult circumstances, God carved a path for Ezra and Max. While their American families were fretting over bringing them home, they had each other. Because when we’re lucky that’s what best friends become—family.


Somewhere around age 40 I started to read the texts on my cell phone or the small print in my Bible like a trombone player. I would slide it close to my face then back away again, attempting to find the perfect spot where I could read it.


I’ve been wearing glasses or contacts since early high school, so blurry vision wasn’t unfamiliar to me, but my issues with close-up reading was a new experience, though I seem to be right on schedule (41 years old and still hitting my milestones!).


In May I went in for my yearly appointment with the optometrist, and he suggested I try multifocal contact lenses. Now I was already familiar with the idea of bifocals. I mean, Benjamin Franklin supposedly invented them, so they’ve been around for a while. But these types of contact lenses are a more recent invention.


Each lens is designed like a bullseye with several prescriptions: one for far away, one for in the middle, one for close up and gradually varying degrees between these three. I’ve been wearing this prescription for five months, and my brain has figured out which lens to use in each situation. It can switch and tell my eyes how to see the pine needles on the trees several yards outside my window or the computer screen just inches from my face. It’s these varying layers of strengths that have improved my vision.


This same theory can be applied to other kinds of vision, too. In order to truly see a person—an explanation for his behavior, his relationships, his choices—you need the benefit of layers. Close up you get a different story than what is seen in the wider world. When someone takes a stand that you don’t understand, you can listen to his reasons. When someone reacts with an intensity you didn’t expect, you can hear what he says about his background. There’s almost always more to be seen than what first meets the eye.


When we jump to unfair conclusions without listening to the other side, we are looking at the world through a blurry lens, the only clear objects are those as familiar to us as our own hands. Anything else is unknown and therefore seemingly unknowable, unless we make an effort—out of love and empathy and basic human kindness—to try to know it.


Before you share an inflammatory article or post a pot-stirring tweet, consider what you know about those you intend to disparage. Take a breath and listen to the other side. Practice Habit #5 from Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: “SEEK FIRST TO UNDERSTAND, THEN TO BE UNDERSTOOD.”


Just as the layers in my fancy contact lenses have improved my vision, there is a strength in diversity, and this applies to humbly listening to diverse opinions and ideas.

I Pledge

One of the first lengthy English paragraphs that our African-born son (sort of) memorized was the Pledge of Allegiance. All last schoolyear, his preschool teacher (me) recited it with the class each time we met.


Ezra’s rendition gets a little garbled in places. “And to the public, witches stand…” You get the idea. If you listen to the literal telling of it, a room full of 4-year olds may unintentionally pledge their allegiances to any number of things so don’t hold them to it.


Saying the Pledge is one of those activities that’s easy to do without a lot of meaning behind it. I can guarantee that Ezra couldn’t define many of the 31 words but he somehow understands the gravity of them. Before he and his brother and his dad start a basement soccer game, Ezra pauses and—in lieu of “The Star-Spangled Banner”—he puts his hand on his heart and says, “I peg legions to the flag…” before they start the soccer match.


This week Ezra took his Pledge skills to the next level. He was asked to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the school board meeting. Since Ezra became an official U.S. citizen this summer, this was an especially poignant moment for us. As the day progressed, he grew more nervous about his role in the evening meeting. I told him that if he would just get it started by saying, “I pledge…” then everyone there would join in and he could say just about anything for the remaining 29 words.


Ezra completed his assigned task, and we drove home to dive into an authentically American supper of Sloppy Joe sandwiches.


Our participation in the event brought up a lot of questions for Ezra: What’s a school board? (Um, they make decisions for our schools.) Why are their meetings on TV? (So people can watch it at home and see what they decide.) Why did you draw a star on my hand? (So you would remember which was your right hand when it was time to cover your heart.) And so on.


I’m guessing that when it comes to educating the kids in our city, there’s often more questions than answers: How do we improve the scores? How do we afford these programs? What’s best for these kids?


I am so grateful there are people willing to meet on a Tuesday night to make plans for our schools. I’m also grateful that Ezra receives this education freely offered to him. He has loving teachers and administrators who make school a wonderful place to be. Most of all, with this education he has opportunities and endless possibilities. Education helps society live up to the promise of liberty and justice for all.

Sea Change

I have an app on my phone that sends me a “Word of the Day” every morning around 8:00 am. For the most part, I’m already familiar with about half of the words, and the other half are completely new to me.


It’s thanks to this app that I now know that a fais-dodo is a country dance party and quaquaversal is an adjective which means “sloping downward from the center in all directions.” I haven’t been able to use these newfound vocabulary words in regular conversation yet, but it might happen. If I’m ever invited to a country dance party on the top of a steep hill, I’ll be ready with my small-talk icebreaker.


Several weeks ago my phone alerted me to the word sea change. I love words, especially ones that conjure up evocative images, so this one caught my attention. The definition read: “any major transformation or alteration; a transformation brought about by the sea.”


With the devastating hurricanes and flooding we’ve seen recently, there’s no further explanation required when describing the change which can be wrought by the sea. It can be complete and overwhelming.


Along with words, I also love a good story, and nothing much beats a story of major transformation. There’s fictional ones like Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol or the selfish prince in Beauty and the Beast. These characters go from jerks who seem to have no redeemable qualities to kind and unselfish men. But you can’t skip what happens in between—the sea that brings the sea change.


The Apostle Paul is the ultimate example of transformation in the Bible. When my husband read the story of Paul’s conversion to our 6-year old last night, our son asked, “God made him blind?” We had to answer yes—God took Paul’s sight as he walked along the road, on his way to persecute more Christians. If not for the blinding light and appearance of the risen Jesus, would Paul have made a complete 180 to defend and spread the word of Christ instead of looking for ways to stifle it?


I want to believe that anyone is capable of experiencing a major transformation. I want to use my Holy Spirit Goggles to see people for what they could be and not just what they seem to be.


And I want to personally and daily experience the transformation Paul wrote about in the Book of Romans when he urged his readers to “let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”


It’s easy to ask God to make sea changes in me while I’m standing on dry ground but more remarkable to ask for it while I’m up to my knees in rising seawater. I want to have the faith to ask Him to change me despite of what it might cost.