Monday, February 16, 2009
Breaking the news gently
Do you remember when you were a child and thought the world was a wonderful, safe and happy place? There was no hint of all the ugliness that you now know exists just fun and warmth and love. Somewhere along the way we learned that if you run into the street you might get hit by a car and that some strangers are bad people. Suddenly we are initiated into the real world - a world marred by sin - broken and fallen with a lot of ugliness.
I look at my precious three year old little girl and see this process beginning in her. However, I feel like she is sort of on the fast track. Our kids are going to have a slightly different childhood than most typical American kids and part of that is exposure to some of the more ugly parts and things of this world that most Americans (not to mention American kids) never even get to see. Rhett and I reflect on our first experiences visiting the developing world when we were in our early twenties. Life changing to say the least. I came home from spending a week in Haiti when I was 21 completely wrecked with my whole idea of the world turned upside down. Rhett will tell you that the time that he spent in Haiti completely changed his entire life and relationship with God and set us on our current life course. We've both had other overseas experiences (traveling around Europe in college and a trip to Niagara Falls excluded :) that have impacted us as well. But nothing like the first time.
Being a typical American I had an idea about what it meant to be poor - dirty, down on your luck, perhaps even worthless or lazy. The images of kids in Africa with bulging bellies and swarming flies made me sad and made me want to help (I'm a nurse after all that compassion comes pretty naturally to me) but it still wasn't real. About 20 minutes after landing in Haiti it was real. A week later the smell of poverty was real. The feel of a listless starving child in my arms was real. The look on a mother's face as she watched her child slip away was real. I knew orphans by name. And loved them. I also now knew greed and corruption and saw the impact on innocent people. Most importantly I understood sin. I understood what it meant that I live in a fallen world. I felt God's love and compassion in a completely new way. I met Jesus there -in the ugly pit- in a totally new way. In a very real way. I've never been the same - praise God.
So now the conversations with my daughter have started. What does it mean to be an orphan? Why are some people hungry? Why does that little girl not have a doll? Remember she is three so I have a constant murmur of "Why?" in my ear. My first instinct is to make sugar coated answers that make it seem OK or avoid the questions but I know that isn't the right thing to do. Unfortunately she has to find out about this broken world.
Our time in Peru is her first introduction to another culture and it is a gentle transition. We live in a nice section of town and she likely won't be exposed to any of the harsher aspects of poverty that do exist here. However the other night we were in a taxi headed to my Spanish lesson when we saw a little boy about 6 years old darting between all of the stopped cars juggling and begging at the occupants of the cars for money. Of course she noticed this and asked me why he was doing it. She realized it wasn't just for fun or a game because it was dangerous to be out in the traffic. We saw another little girl doing gymnastics between all the cars at an intersection. Again tough questions. Explaining that they probably need money. (WHY?) Probably to buy food. (WHY?) She might be hungry. (WHY?) That is a great question. Why do little children have to juggle and do gymnastics in traffic to get money to buy food because they are hungry? I see her little face very concerned as she takes in the scene and the answers I'm offering to her questions. I see the facade start to crack away and her start to see the world as it really exists. I realize the questions will get tougher as the face of poverty gets closer and more raw when we move to Africa. We just wonder how her life will be different having learned about this uncomfortable reality so young in life. We pray it is a radically good thing for her and that God will use these experiences mightily in her life (and in her siblings lives too) that it gives her wisdom and maturity and spiritual insight. For now I just pray how to break the news to her gently . . .