About philfrombrasilblogs

My name is Phil. I'm a dad and soon to be husband again. Life is great. Food is wonderful and ought to be done with gusto and joy. There is but one sport and it's name is football (as in, the kind you play with your feet). Americans call it soccer. But America also gave us The Ramones, so we'll have to forgive them for that.

It’s daddy’s

Originally Posted on October 3, 2011

This has been a good weekend. Well… mostly. Saturday was rough. I’ve been coming down with something all week, and whatever it was reared its fearful head full-on that day. I was wracked with fever for most of the day. This while looking after the babies. It was a very good experience, though. I had been scared of the first really bad cold/fever thing while having to look after the kids without having any backup: mom and dad Spence were tied up with commitments and other family members were out of town. So I was alone with my illness and the kids. I had some kind of pain in my abdomen that my fever-frantic mind interpreted as acute apendicitis (yes, yes, hypochondriac. But you have your best friend and partner die on you and see what crazy crap runs through your head) and I was going to die and the kids would be without anyone to feed them and it would turn into Lord of the Flies at Casa de Jones… Anyway, the fever broke at around 4pm, just in time for bedtime, dinner, stories and bedtime. I prayed for healing and I was healed. I feel better today.

By today I mean Sunday. Church was amazing (it usually is) and we had a really great afternoon as a family. Dinner was a treat: bife à milanesa (breaded steak), rice and black beans (what is about eating rice and black beans that makes you feel that you’ve actually eaten properly? Brazilians and Latin Americans in general know this instinctively. The rest of the world is so deprived) and a lovely salad. I did the dishes while the kids cavorted in the lounge.

Then Sophie came to me with the photo you see there to your left. We have it up on our happy wall. “It’s daddy’s!” she said. Just then, Seanie shows up with the picture you see at the top of the post in hand. “Look Sophie. It’s you and mommy!” She didn’t want to interact with it, but he insisted and eventually she held it and looked at it.

 

This might be the first time I’ve seen sorrow in this little girl’s face. I was washing dishes right then, so I stopped and came over to where they were. Seanie ran off, and I was left with Sophie, looking at the picture. She put it down and picked up the other and held it out to me. “It’s daddy’s!”

Yes sweetheart, that’s Sophie and daddy. This one is Sophie and mommy.

Daddy!

No angel, that’s mommy.

Mommy… she grabs her teddy bear and burries her face in it.

I sat down on the ground next to her. The tears are running to the surface, the sadness pressing in on my heart.

That was you and mommy, Sophie.

Mommy and baby.

Yes, Sophie, you were a baby then. But that’s Sophie. Mommy and Sophie.

Mommy and Sophie…

Yes sweetheart, mommy and Sophie.

She pushes her face into the teddy bear again. She grabs the picture of her and her mother.

Sophie and daddy’s!

No angel, Sophie and mommy. This one is Sophie and daddy. You have a mommy. I’m sorry mommy isn’t here anymore sweetheart, but this is your mommy. Right here in the picture, holding you.

She walked off at that point to play with her brother.

I finished up the dishes and put the kids to bed.

I’ll probably not catalogue every single breakthrough with the kids on here, but this one was significant. Remember, Sophie is two. She still recognizes her mother from photos, but one of two things happened tonight. She either felt a disconnect with the image in the photo but knew to say that was mommy after a bit of prompting (which is probably the likeliest scenario) or she registered sorrow because she still knows that’s her mommy and misses her. There’s no doubt that what I saw in her was sorrow. Whether it comes from missing her mommy or from feeling awkward that there is supposed to be this other person, this female (she wouldn’t even know to couch it in a term like that) who is supposed to be with me, someone all the other kids at her playschool have but that she doesn’t. She has seen moms come and go, but it’s always daddy who comes and fetches her. She’ll see the same kid at school get fetched by a daddy and a mommy. She only has a daddy. She likely felt a longing for the person in the photo. She likely doesn’t remember that person, not clearly anyway.

But I could be wrong. Maybe she remembers her mommy clearly still. Maybe she longs for the touch of her mommy, something she still remembers at some level. That is the scenario I want to believe. Thing is, I don’t know. There’s no way to know. I’ll find out in the years that lie ahead.

But there’s no question in my mind that something important happened tonight. And that something came from the happy wall. I’m going to buy Seanie an ice cream at random for his contribution to this particular tale.

So what if anything am I to take from this whole experience?

Sophie has a soul. I know, I can hear everyone saying “duh!!!!!” The fact is, as a two year old, it’s pretty easy to forget that she’s able to process complex emotions and thoughts. She’s actually experiencing emotions linked to this whole disappearance of her mother from her life.

It gives me a modicum of hope in this whole thing. I am pretty sure Seanie will be able to draw upon concrete memories of his mother. I can’t say the same for Sophie, but this makes me think that there is something there, what it is I’m not sure, but it is there.

If there is something there, I can build upon that. That is my job: to make sure she has something of her mother that she can grasp onto. When she’s 16 and raging with hormones, she can draw on something of what lingers in her soul of her mother. It won’t answer all her questions during that time, but it’s something.

Not to cop out, but in the end, we all have to just make do with whatever we’ve been given. Sophie would have been better off had her mother been here now and when she’s 16. As things go, that’s not her story. She is the child of a mother that died way before we wanted her to. She will be the poorer for it. But if I can stir the embers of the fire of memory, that issomething.

So as tough as it was tonight, I’m glad it happened. One of those weird, serendipitous things. And that’s life, isn’t it? A series of unplanned opportunities to drive home the important things in life.

So as we embark into another week, keep your eyes open for the little moments when something great can be made out of the ordinary.

And here are those promised pictures:

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Just quickly before the weekend

Originally Posted on September 30, 2011

For now, I want to leave you with a thought: I received a Facebook message from a dear old friend with a link to a blog of someone else who has just lost her spouse in the last week. We are everywhere, this community of suffering.

Beth, the deceased mom, is survived by her husband Dave and their two children, aged 8 and 10. She died of pancreatic cancer. She found out she had it in October of last year. Nearly a year later, her struggle is finished. I’m pretty sure she’s met Janie by now.

It breaks my heart, but I know Dave and the kids will experience the same mind boggling groundswell of love and support the kids and I have. He and their kids will descend into the valley of sorrow too, and my prayer for them is that they’ll reach out and brawl their grief, wrestle with it until healing comes on the other side. I hope Dave and his kids will meet the same God I have on this road, one abounding in compassion and rich in love. I have a feeling they will, if they haven’t already.

The descent into this valley is terrifying and unwanted, but life happens down here too. I have had moments of raw joy so overwhelming its like staring into the sun at noon. I’ve had times when I saw God’s faithfulness burst through in ways I never knew were possible. These are the things one experiences in the valley.

So at the end of this week, if you pray, throw one up for Dave and the kids. Keep us in mind too. You have no idea what your prayers and care do for people in our situation. Above all else, pray without ceasing.

Ambivalence

Originally Posted on September 29, 2011

I should be so excited about the renovations on the house, but these last couple days I’ve been pretty ambivalent. I realized why in an email conversation with a good friend: by putting my stamp on the house, I’m taking a concrete step to “moving on,” and I’m not really ready to do so. Well, too bad. The deposits are all paid and this particular phase is going to happen. Wall to wall carpets come in next week. Then it’s the floors out in the front part of the house. Then it’s the fireplace. It’s all happenin’.

I’m sure that I’ll look back at this step as an important, necessary step along this road. Right now, though, I’d love to just slam on the brakes and hide under the covers for a week. Why can’t things just be simple? Why can’t I just get over this?

But I know the answer to that. I’m not going to get over this, only through it. That journey is still in its early stages. When I get a chance to look back, it will seem different.

But I’d give it all back if she were to return. But we all know that.

It’s all happenin’

Originally Posted on September 27, 2011

The next few weeks are going to be a little touch and go with the blog, so fair warning to y’all. Today, the electrical guys came and cut out about a thousand holes in my ceiling for little nifty down lights that will be bringing some MUCH needed illumination into this little brown house. Tomorrow the paint guy and his workers arrive to throw a little colour on the walls and repaint the ceiling. Wednesday sees the pizza oven guy arrive, and he’ll be working out back putting together what is bound to be a real winner here at Casa de Jones, our own wood burning pizza oven. I can’t wait!

I’ll try to put something up every day. I didn’t get to take any pictures today with the natural lighting, and now its too dark to take any so it will have to wait for tomorrow’s post. Hope y’all are okay with that.

The kids are in bed and I’m one very tired dad. The weekend was brilliant, but it takes it out of me as it always does. I know they won’t always be this much work, so I don’t get too discouraged. Still, those few days off last week now seem like a distant memory!

So that’s it for this post. Exciting things are underway! Will keep everyone posted. I might take these few weeks to mill over some topics and get back to the overarching purpose of this blog once everything has been completed. Shouldn’t be more than three weeks. Check back to see pictures of the work in progress!

The measure

Originally Posted on September 26, 2011

What’s life like on the other side of fear? What does it take to get there? It’s an interesting thought: is there a life without fear? It’s worth some consideration.

Fear is a necessary instinct. Without it, we’d likely get ourselves into all sorts of life-threatening situations. Fear is linked to our survival instinct and is not a bad thing in and of itself. Fear turns into a problem when someone becomes defined by it, as in, “so and so is a fearful person.” There are certainly plenty of things for which to be fearful, and South Africa is notorious for such things. Crime, rape, murder, we have it all in spades. Incidence of violent crime is supposedly on the decline, but not so much that you sometimes can’t help but feel the dread hanging in the air when you’re around certain folks.

I have always felt for such people, and I do so now more than ever. It is a terrible thing to live in such a splendid and rich land as ours and feel as though you are a prisoner in your own house, at times. Every sort of high wall, security device, rent-a-cops and large, snarling dogs do little to help some folks relax when the sun goes down. The fear that they will be burgled or worse ever sits on their minds.

Returning to our analyses of fear: what would be the antithesis of it? Some might say courage, but that is probably not true. While it takes some courage to make a conscious choice to not be governed by fear, courage is not in itself the opposite of fear. In fact, there is a fair amount of fear in courage. Courage is the conscious decision to embark upon an action or course of actions that will have adverse consequences upon that person, but he or she has elected to do so anyway because it is something that must be done. William Wilberforce is a prime example of a person of courage. For 26 years he led an unpopular cause to abolish the slave trade that had been so lucrative and pivotal in the building and establishment of the British Empire. He suffered all sorts of public ostracism, but he stuck to his convictions and was eventually vindicated. I am certain that he feared for his welfare and those of his family and associates. Nevertheless, his convictions were backed up by courage to not wilt before the barrage of criticism and antagonism that swam his way for so many years.

So courage is not in itself the opposite of fear, but it could be one of its antidotes. The other is realization. A whole category of fears can be put to the sword through the simple realization that comes by way of a singularly life-changing experience that makes one realize that the thing feared is not all it was cracked up to be. An example of this would be the person who overcomes his or her fear of heights by bungee jumping off a bridge. After the experience, that individual realizes his or her fear of heights might have been largely unfounded and no longer experiences vertigo when they stand at the edge of a building.

That is perhaps a simplistic explanation, but it is a good one. I was once a very fearful person. I was afraid of failure, of being alone, of never figuring out who I would become when I finally grew up. I was afraid of being a parent, of letting others down and of not having enough money. I was afraid of being wrong, of being found to be a hypocrite, of not measuring up. I managed to carry on with life despite these fears constantly jangling around inside my head. I felt like a perpetual failure.

Then Janie died. Suddenly, I was alone. At least that is what I thought it was. I had lost my spouse, and I was alone. But then I began to realize that “alone” is not all I thought it was. I wasn’t utterly alone at all: everyone who knew me or Janie stepped up and reminded me that there was, in fact, a very large community of well meaning people that would do just about anything within their power to help. I began to see that what I had been afraid of earlier was the thought of what I believed it meant to be alone. In the end, I was not alone in the way I had feared I would be. I had lost my spouse, so I no longer had the person I belonged to. I’m not saying it’s not so bad to lose your spouse after all. That is not what I am saying at all. Nevertheless, I now realize that so long as you know at least one other person, you are not truly alone. In times of need, people show their true worth. I have seen it time and again. I have lost my spouse, but I am not alone.

As for failure, I came to realize that this was tied to certain things in my past that I had never properly grieved. In 1996, I was expelled from a Christian college back in the States. I should say it more charitably: I was asked not to return. I hadn’t measured up to the code of conduct. I had let myself and my parents down. The shame of that event deeply scarred me, and I came to see myself as a gigantic failure. I did not want this to happen again, but having no notion of what it was I wanted to be when I eventually grew up, I simply did nothing. Like the proverbial deer in the headlights, I just stood there, paralyzed. I became a passenger in my own life and allowed events to unfold, making excuses for the bad things that “happened to me.” What Janie’s death revealed to me was that there is a worse thing than failure: not giving it a shot. Janie saved me from a life of pointlessness. The risk we took in each other bore fruit, and not only in the shape of Seanie and Sophie. She encouraged me to go back to college and finally get a degree, and she grew to become a confident young woman who was assured of her ability in her chosen field. I had a part to play in that. I did not utterly fail when it comes to Janie. Firstly, she chose me over all others. Secondly, despite my many failings, despite the fact that I wasn’t always the greatest or kindest husband to her, she loved me. It wasn’t just that charitable, long suffering love either. She believed in me and was just beginning to see me come into my own when she died. I now realize that my fear of failure was just a self-fulfilling prophecy that needed to be put to the sword. It has died now. I just don’t care anymore, I’ll give anything a shot. Except bungee jumping. That stuff is for crazy people…

As for the fear of being a parent… well, that’s tied to the fear of failure. I know better now. I cannot fail as a parent so long as I love my children and treat them with honour. I don’t always do the greatest job, but I am 100 times the parent I was just three months ago. That’s not a prideful statement, either. Being thrust into the breach will teach you a thing or two on the fly. I’m learning. And I’m loving it.

When it comes to money, the realization I have is that there are worse things than not having money. I have plenty of it right now, yet I sometimes still I get that sense of anxiety. Then I remember: so what? I have my mom and dad Spence who will do anything to make sure we’re okay. My parents would drop everything and fly out here to care for us if something were to happen to me and I couldn’t make ends meet. Our friends out here would rush to our side. In the end, so long as you have a community of people who love you, you’re not likely to suffer too terribly. It will be uncomfortable and humbling, but in the end, there are worse things.

As for the fear of being wrong, for being a hypocrite or not measuring up, those things too have been diminished. The cure to the fear of being wrong is humility. I was wrong to take Janie for granted, but I did. Everyone does. Everyone is wrong some of the time. Being wrong does not make one bad or evil or whatever, it just makes them human. I now realize that if I don’t want to be wrong, I need to admit that the possibility is there and that if I don’t want to be humiliated, I better stop pretending I’m an expert at everything. I’m one of those trivia nerds that loves useless bits of information that I can drop like a name check during social gatherings. That comes from insecurity, which in itself stems from the fear of rejection. The fear of being found out to be a hypocrite or not measuring up are all tied to this same fear of rejection. No one likes to be put out in the cold by being found out to have had their measure taken and been found wanting.

Well, I had my measure taken when Janie died. I was found wanting.

So I live on the other side of those fears. I am not ashamed because I saw so little before. I see clearer now. I don’t see everything, and that is the humility that came from this realization turning the light on in the darkened room for me to see that there were, in fact, no goblins in the closet. I had constructed fantasies of fear in my head that robbed me of my life and relationships to Janie, others and, most importantly, God.

I know better now. Nothing catches God unawares, and I am in the palm of his hand. If I am to suffer privation or humiliation, then it is what it is. There are worse things. The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippian church said that he knew the secret of being content in every situation, whether he was riding high on the hog or facedown in the slop. (Philippians 4:12) He certainly wasn’t always this way. Once he started getting beaten up for the gospel he preached, once he started being thrown out of homes and synagogues, once he was tossed in jail a few times, then a certain amount of meat was added to the skeleton of his faith.

Before Janie died, I didn’t have a clue what it meant to hurt. Now I do. There’s that saying: pain makes you real. I understand that now. I understand what Paul was saying to the church in Philippi better now. He’d been there. He’d seen the bottom, and once you’ve been there everything else is pretty tame in comparison.

He’d also seen God’s faithfulness in action when it seemed every last bit of hope had been extinguished. I too have seen some of that, not to the extent he did of course, but I have seen something of that. What I have now is not courage. It is not even faith, really, but something else. Perhaps it’s trust: trust that bottoming out happens to all of us at one point or another, and it is up to us to discover what we’re made of, what God put in us from before we took our first breaths. Faith isn’t really faith unless it’s tested. Mine has been tested and found wanting. Nevertheless, it has grown during this time, and that is the result of knowing what the bottom feels like, and realizing how much less bottom-like everything above it is. And then you have the little, daily miracles that come along the way to restore your faith in God and others. You see that people really are good, and they are good because God said so when he made them. You see that humanity at large has a bad rap, that the moral depravity that is shoved daily in our faces through the media or overly dogmatic preachers is not the whole story. People can be good: they come along side in your time of need. It’s not always the case universally. This is part of the broken state of the universe. Were that everyone who has gone through this kind of crushing had the network I do. Still, God is the same God to those who have and those who don’t. I give thanks for the good things I don’t deserve and pray for the opportunity to pay it back in kind when it’s my turn to comfort.

I’m not brave. I’m not courageous. I have been to the bottom, but I’m not there any longer. I’m also not soaring over the mountaintops. That day might come. Then again, it might not. What I do know is that today is a gift. So I leave that with you at the start of this new week. What are you afraid of? Are you right to fear it or are you just this side of a realization?

Backlift

Originally Posted on September 21, 2011

This term “backlift” has been stuck in my head all morning. I looked it up, and it’s a cricket term, meaning when the batsman lifts the bat straight back (hence the name) in preparation to hit the ball coming in his direction. Now I’m not the biggest cricket fan (more of a football, meaning soccer, fan myself), but I think I know why that word has been running around my head all day.

I’m doing an awful lot of backlifting these days. Every time Seanie asks me a question about his mommy, I need to pause and prepare my response. I can’t just blurt the first thing that comes to mind. He’s asking the question because his soul needs to know. He will carry my answer with him for some time. Other questions will follow at later stages of his development. I must prepare.

I think the cricket image is useful too. Sometimes, you don’t have to hit for six. Mostly, you just want to protect your stumps (apologies to American friends who’ve not watched any cricket… maybe I’ll explain the game to you at a later date. Hang in there, I’ll throw in a US-friendly metaphor in a bit here!). So you don’t give it a big swing, because you could miss. I want to mostly stay in the game so that I can provide something for my children in terms of putting words to their grief. I think I hit a six with the happy wall. It’s going to open up all sorts of opportunities to talk, especially with Seanie. Sophie still needs to develop her conversational skills. She’ll get there soon enough.

The goal right now is to not get bowled out. I’m playing a decent short game on a day to day basis. When I see an opening, give it a big swing and hit it for six. But to do so, I need to be prepared. My stance must be good, my backlift must be straight, my follow through must be perfect.

Sorry to flog this metaphor so much, but everything right now really does seem to fit into it. I am doing the little things right now to prepare us for the rest of our lives. Getting wills in order, putting up the happy wall, redoing the house, taking Seanie to the grief counselor, writing this blog: it is all for the future. Laying the foundations of what will be coming on down the road. The will protects my children. The wall gives them a place to commune with Janie’s spirit and to ask questions. The blog gives me a place to put down my thoughts and emotions so that one day I might be able to show Seanie and Sophie how much their mother meant to me and all of us, and the impact one life can have on so many. They will grow up with the understanding that one life well lived impacts the world from even beyond the grave. Perhaps this is why they were born. If they carry that realization in their hearts from a young age then they will know to live their lives to fullest and without regrets. That is my prayer, anyway.

This is one of those torturous gifts from this whole event: the realization that this one life we’re given is so precious and important. We really cannot waste it. So the goal now is to set everything in order that these children grow up understanding that their lives are really not theirs to hoard.

That’s a good point right there, so I’m going to segway into it. There’s this one passage in the bible that goes something like this:

“Don’t store your treasures here on earth where things rot or are eaten by worms and moths, or they can be stolen. No, rather store up your treasures in heaven, because nothing will ever rot or be ruined or taken from there by anyone else. Remember, wherever you store your treasures, that’s where you’ll find your heart.”

That’s a very paraphrased version of what you’ll find in the book of Matthew, chapter 6:19-21. The best way to interpret those versions is in context, so if you have a bible, go and read the whole of chapter 6, or go here if you don’t.

This chapter is part of what Christians call the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7 of Matthew). The whole thing is worth a read if you haven’t done so before.

Anyway, at the start of chapter 6, Jesus is speaking about certain behaviors that his followers and co-citizens in God’s kingdom are expected to do. He speaks about how to give to the needy (not a matter of if but when), praying (again, not if but when), fasting (not if but when), which then moves into the verses listed about and ends on topic of worry. An interesting progression.

I find it telling that Jesus puts the matter of giving to those in need before the matter of prayer. Much of the gripes people have with Christians is this matter of personal piety: Christians are big on the pious aspects of Christianity like a personal prayer life, a personal daily devotional time, a personal salvation, etc. But Jesus starts out more concerned with others. I think the order is important here, just as the order in the famed Lord’s Prayer (verses 9-13) is of absolute importance in ordering our conversations to God. We start out worshipping him, then move on to asking for his kingdom and will to be done on earth as a collective (which includes us but does not start there). Only then does it get into the matter of our needs. It is noteworthy to point out that only a single line is devoted to that subject. Then we get into matters of personal wrongdoing, but expiation is tied to our relationship to others.

The next part of the prayer I finally understand. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” The Anglican Book of Common Prayer’s version of this line is “save us from the time of trial.” I like that version very much indeed. I am in a time of trial like no other in my life. I understand why we’d cry out to God to save us from situations such as these. This is the crushing. Jesus himself asked God to deliver him from the cross he had to bear (Luke 22:42). There’s no shame in asking God to keep us away from dreadfully trying times. God allows them, I think, because these are the things that build steel into our faith. These are the times that open up the word of God to you in ways you’d never see otherwise.

But I digress…

In verse 14, Jesus ties it back into the community at large: you wanna be forgiven? Well forgive then, already. Christians are obsessed with their own personal salvation. We pray a little prayer and everything is supposed to be taken care of after that. Well, guess what: you want to be forgiven? Forgive, then. It’s a tough one, because some people have done things to us that do not deserve ours or anyone else’s forgiveness. I get that. It’s a tough one. But the goal here is simple: travel light. I think God wants fleet footed and nimble followers, not folks burdened with bitterness and anger. It’s hard to run a marathon with a fridge strapped to your back.

And this faith business is a marathon. It will test your soul. I’m learning that one right now.

Fasting is up next, again, again not a matter of if but when. This is one of those “odd” pious behaviors that many of those on the other side of Christianity don’t really get. Why deprive yourself of food or anything? The simple answer is that there is other food out there, food for the soul and mind and spirit that cannot be taken in through the mouth. Cutting out the physical intake of food in order to devote oneself to prayer and meditation on God’s word is a powerful way to gain insight into his character and personality and our relationship to him. I’ve experienced this firsthand on a few occasions, and it’s a discipline that will open up new horizons in ones walk with God. It really is irreplaceable. Do I do it regularly? No. Would I profit if I did? Oh yes. It’s worth a thought…

Then comes the bit we’re dealing with, on placing your precious things in heaven. By heaven, I believe Jesus isn’t just talking about the place but in the realm of God’s care. This encompasses but is not limited to doing what some Christians call “kingdom business,” such as proselytizing, ordering one’s life in accordance to the demands of being a citizen of God’s kingdom, personal piety and so forth. But there is much, much more to it.

Jesus’ focus on others throughout this monologue is key to this whole understanding. Personal piety is part of the puzzle, but is not the whole picture in itself. We are to care for the needy because they are us. We are needy: we need God’s love and forgiveness. Their physical poverty is a visual reminder of our own spiritual impoverishment. We need to forgive others before we can expect forgiveness, because we are they. Jesus at every turn thrusts us back into the mob of humanity and forces us to look around. Who is your brother? Who is your sister? That Samaritan you loathe right next to you. That leper you skip away from in order to not soil your own ceremonial cleanliness. They are us and we are they. Our personal salvation is irrevocably tied to the community at large because God didn’t come to save individuals. He came to save the world.

This all ends in a homily on worrying. Basically, there’s no point in doing so. Worry strips us of our trust in God and places it on little, futile things that will all turn to dust anyway. Worry is also very “meistic.” What’s going to happen to me? What am I going to do? How am I going to afford to pay the bills this month? Are you worried about how you will fare? Go feed the poor. It’ll change your perspective.

God’s immutable character is to sustain his creation, and he does so for all the creatures of the air, land and sea. Who among us can add a single day to their lives by worrying? Again, travel light.

So how does this all tie in to the backlift metaphor? In my opinion, the proper backlift, the straight lifting of the bat to protect the stumps or score a run, the proper technique and training in a spiritual sense, is ordered in the ways listed above. If I am to answer Seanie’s questions in a way that brings life to his soul, then I need to remember that I am raising an outwardly-focused person who is a part of a series of circles of community, be it his family, his church, his school or humanity at large.

All answers must come from a place that presses him to progressively move away from a “why did this happen to me?” sort of focus to one that opens him up to see a broader perspective that encompasses everyone. Because this didn’t just happen to him. It happened to all of us, even if in differing degrees of intensity. Much like John Donne said:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every
man is a piece of the continent, a part of the
main. If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory
were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or
of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes
me, because I am involved in mankind, and
therefore never send to know for whom the bells
tolls; it tolls for thee.”

We are involved in each other whether we like it or not. The question of why bad things happen to good people is irrelevant. Bad things happen to everyone, good or bad, as do good things. God being God, he wrings good out of bad situations. The question of “why did mommy die and leave me here without a mother?” is not the point. Sooner or later, mommy was going to die anyway. What did mommy mean to all of us? What did mommy’s life and death do for all of us? What has God done since mommy died to bring about good and show us his love?

Small circle left, small circle right.

Breathe.