To My Four Year Old Girl

Wait, didn't I just write your 3rd birthday letter? Has it already been a year?

And yet, when I look at you I can see the changes this past year has wrought, imperceptible at first from one day to the next, but looking back I wonder where my baby girl has gone.

To start with you are taller, and you are slender, barely any baby fat is left. You've suddenly started doing things independently, emerging from the bathroom wiped and washed and clothed. You've started wanting to stir your own yogurt and choose your own outfits and do your own "school work", and make your own bed, meticulously. I feel a sudden twinge whenever you come out of the bathroom as I realize that in the past month you have suddenly grown up in one more area without me saying or doing anything, besides not running to wipe you the instant you called. You got tired of waiting until I was finished whatever else I was doing before coming to help you.

You can pronounce the letter l now. Sometime this year you stopped saying Yike and yook and now you say like and look like everybody else. You still have a little tiny soft voice though, unless you are in the middle of a meltdown. And then, drama. If I nudge you just a little bit to the left when you are ready for a melt down you will throw your whole body down onto the floor as though I threw you there and wail for hours. Or if you run up to me and need a hug and I have guck all over my hands and I move around you to wash them so that I can hug you with clean hands you respond as though I've taken your little heart and stomped on it until it's bloody. In these ways, emotionally, you are still a very little girl. And I'm fine with that. It's sometimes irritating but I don't really want the time when all you need to feel better is some time on mommy's lap to end.

You love to bake and help me cook. You run to put on your apron and climb on a stool to "help me" whenever you notice I am cooking. Most of the time this is fun, but not when mommy is in a rush. Mommy needs to get even better at not being in a rush so that we can have more time to spend together in the kitchen, and with you on my lap. I think I've only got a year or so left to enjoy it before it starts to disappear. One day when you are all grown up you will finally understand the balancing act that mommy's endure, and maybe I'll have some advice for you by then. In the meantime, you now have a complete set of cookware, kid sized of course, so you can cook whenever you want.

You are a good older sister. You talk to the Baby and make her laugh and play with her and carry her around. And yet, you are the classic middle child, feeling as though you are caught in between the oldest and the baby, often feeling ignored, and demanding that I pay attention to just you. Which is good, keep on demanding it, you'll get it more often that way. Not that every single time you want something you'll get it, but you are hard to ignore though you may not know that yet.

You live deep in a pretend world of mommy and daddy and baby horses, where dinosaurs are friendly and share porridge with teddy bears and puppy dogs, where there are always princesses and dragons can be defeated with a stern talking to. You love having independent activities to do. You are a perfect mimic doing things exactly the way I show you to, the first time. I'm still in shock over that. I wonder if it's because you are a girl, or if you're just in an extremely absorbent learning stage right now. Whatever it is, I'm going to try and cram as much as you can learn into it. Alright?

When you are not tired or close to a meltdown, you are funny. You are relentlessly silly and cheery. You won't rest until you have gotten a laugh. The thing is, unlike so many kids who do this, you are often actually funny. Or maybe we're just blinded by your cuteness when you are laughing and so we just think you are funny, it's hard to decide. It's such a cliche but you really do make me think of the sun breaking through clouds when you laugh, your blue eyes sparkling, your white hair streaming around your face, your cheeks flushed pink with excitement.

You may feel, stuck in the middle as you are, that I could forget about you, that you are less special than your older brother, who gets to do all sorts of cool big boy stuff, or your younger sister who is still a baby and still gets to act like one and be carried everywhere. This is the farthest thing from the truth. In fact, in a way it's probably perfect that you are framed by other siblings because if you were an only child I think you would be completely spoiled. Your daddy and I would just remain in awe of the golden child who stormed through our lives, melt every time you smiled, and give you a pony or three just to see you smile again. We would still give you a pony if we could afford all that that involves. (Actually, this is a big secret, but you can't read yet so I'll let it slip. Your granddaddy is thinking about buying a pony that you could ride and keeping it at his house. He says it will be for all the kids, and he says it's so that it can stomp out gophers or something in the lower field, but we all know that it's really because he wants to buy you a pony and watch you ride it.) The point of course is that you are too brilliant a child to be left behind or lost in the family milieu, whether you know it or not. You are somewhat unaware of the great lengths that people will go to for you, to make you smile. This is probably a good thing. We wouldn't want you to be drunk with power or anything. Only use your power for good young lady, or to score front row seats.

I keep reaching for words that will capture how deeply in love with you I continue to be, but they keep slipping through my fingers and the words I'm left with sound trite, used, and inadequate. So, I will just end by saying how much I love you. Without you our little family would be far more dull than it is now.

Your mama


And the Teddy Bear Tea Party was Fabulous.

Well, when you are a girl who loves pretty things and girly things, it seems that the best way to celebrate your 4th birthday is with a tea party, complete with mini tarts, sandwiches, finger jello and homemade chocolates.

Thanks to a tip from Mary about oiling the poor thing the sewing machine continued to bravely soldier on, which is a good thing, because I didn't really have a back up plan of this tent didn't workout. The Girl begged to sleep in it tonight, so I let her of course. (This used to be shower curtains at my MIL's. I tried dying them to use in my living room but the color was wrong. It's a perfect tent though. What you can't see is the window at the back with white curtains that can tie back, and that you can close up the door by sewing yourself in or out. Now that's done, I can maybe get some sleep.)

Little girls on their best behavior. I've been taking cues from Montessori with the Girl and it works. If you slow down and model proper and careful behavior and tasks, very small children can do them. That little girl on the left is two, and handled a china cup and silver spoon as carefully as you or I would. It's fun to make things special and watch them appreciate it.)
And here they are making necklaces. I racked my brains for weeks trying to think of the perfect take home activity, and then I saw the Girl's necklace hoard and it hit me. It was a lot of fun.

And now, I will rest, I hope, for a day, or two.


One Year Ago Today

You emerged tiny and slippery. Your body was warm and firm. I found strength I didn't know I had birthing you. It was not the strength of stone, firm, hard, unmoving, but the strength of a young willow; the ability to bend, and not break, to yield to the storms instead of resisting them, to hold my arms up in surrender and let the forces around bend and shape me all the while trusting that it would not carry me away, trusting in the rock that holds me but no longer trying to be the rock. I learned at last not to try and uselessly fight the way things are, but to face the way they are and find a way through it instead. It's hard to believe that such a tiny bundle could bring in her wake such great wisdom and peace, but you did.

It's been really great to not have any depression this year, at all. I don't know why, but I'm grateful. Babies are a lot of fun when you're not feeling overwhelmed by life. And you are especially fun, perhaps the funnest baby ever. I hear myself laughing when you are around, all the time, and the part of me that sits removed and analyzes everything listens to that and thinks, "Wow, I must really be happy."

Mostly I am.

You seem to be too.

You've taken to laughing, a sort of fake belly laugh whenever someone else around you is laughing. You are joining in on the fun. You may not be exactly sure why it's fun, or funny, but you want to be part of the group and so you open your mouth wide and join in. And then of course we all laugh some more because you are just too adorable, and you sound silly too.

You're getting a lot of mileage out of your teeth, and you're especially fond of grinding them together. This drives your daddy insane, by the way, he can't stand the sound of grinding teeth. You don't get why sometimes he puts you down when you're sitting on him, and sometimes you cry. So stop torturing the poor guy already with that sound and he'll hold you longer.

Oh and you are busy. Busy, busy, busy. You pull out books and try to look at them. You shred toilet paper, you unload the dishwasher while I'm trying to load it. You dump blocks out of the box, then back in the box, then out of the box, over and over again. Of course, you never finish off with them all back in the box and neatly on the shelf, no, that wouldn't be exciting enough. You need to wander through the house blocks in one hand, crayon in the other, and hide them in places where it will be painful to step on them. You're grinning and giggling the whole time you are doing this, so I can't help thinking it's purposeful mischief.

You like to grab hold of my knees now when I"m trying to go somewhere, and trip me. If you think I've been standing at the counter too long in the kitchen, you'll push your body in between me and the counter and start forcing my knees backwards as hard as you can. It's really quite bossy of you, and still funny.

You watch noises and imitate sounds and sometimes your noises sound like words, beyond mumumumumumum, or dah!

You love to play with the big kids. They are your favorite people. When ever you can pretend to yourself that they are including you, or whenever they actually do you are ecstatic. You will follow them around and try to play their games for hours. And they are usually very patient and let you play along and include you and try to be careful that you don't get hurt. Something deep inside me wells up spills over with warm gushes to see the three of you play together so joyfully.

Today we went to the store to get party things. You were walking around outside with your brother while I locked the door, so instead of plopping you in the stroller as we started off, I let you walk. You toddled behind the big kids grinning proudly and laughing as you hurried along, and they encouraged you to come. You walked around the corner, past the playground around the mailboxes and down the sidewalk, a good 100 yards or more before I scooped you up and put you in the stroller for the rest of the journey. You just can't wait to be a big kid.

And today, in a way you are. You are bidding babyhood goodbye more and more taking great leaping strides into the world of toddlers and older children. My heart hurts watching you. It makes the gigantic body of your big brother even more bittersweet as I can hardly pull him onto my lap anymore. I miss the closeness that I had with him, that I still have with you for a time. I regret moving him into his own room when he was 4. Especially since the Girl still hasn't moved out of our room, granted she only turns 4 this week, but it has turned out that he is the only one who sleeps alone at night and it wrenches my heart sometimes to think of it when he asks, "Why am I sleeping by myself mom, I wish I wasn't the only one sleeping in my room." I promise him that his sister will join him soon but what I really want to do is turn back time, take it back, bring him back inside the warm circle of our bedroom, of my body, and hold him close once more. I didn't know it would hurt this much to watch my baby grow up. I guess that really doesn't belong in your birthday letter, but I don't know if I would feel that way if you weren't growing up so fast too.

I want to be the mom who lets go, who can hold my kids securely, but not stifle them and keep protecting them when it's time for them to take off on their own. I don't want to be the mom who pushes them out of the nest too early either. Maybe I'll have it figured out in time for you.

Well, my funny silly girl. I keep saying it, because it's how I feel, you are the greatest gift wrapped in soft skin and silky hair, long curly eyelashes and dimples. I sit in awe of how blessed I have been to know you, to give birth to you, to hold you in my arms everyday and night. Some people who don't have a lot of children I suppose may be surprised to hear that it works this way, but for me, rather than become more blase the more children I have, instead I feel a deepening sense of awe. The more children I am blessed with the more my awareness of just how precious this gift really is expands. I start to feel the sacredness of ordinary life, how fleetingly precious and divine these moments are. And I begin to feel that the moments holding you, teaching your siblings, serving my little family, these, these are my sacraments, my communion. And I start singing to myself the chorus of a very old hymn, "Sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble..."

I'm not worthy of such an honor, and responsibility. And yet, in His grace he gave it to me anyway. And this journey though often terrifying, is an adventure I don't deserve, and wouldn't pass on for a minute, and I hope that we all come out of it victorious.

And now, pictures of the cuteness.


My Little Hanukkah House

Christmas Tour of Homes
I've been wanting to participate in boo mama's house tour since the last time she did one. Why? Oh, for the same reason that I like to bare my soul to the internet. Who knows. Anyway, we don't really get into Christmas decorations, but here is what you would have seen if you came to my house during Hanukkah last week.

Every night they would take turns to paint another candle flame until the whole menorah was lit.

These little stars were painstakingly cut out by my 6 year old, and the the Girl embossed them with a swirly pattern using the end of a wooden spoon. The silver ones are old foil plates. (I stole this straight from this months issue of family fun magazine.) They look much prettier than I can show in the photo.

And here is this year's home made menorah. Yes it looks like I just drilled holes in a 2 by four, but really it's white birch, and has such pretty colors in it. And I loved how this years was so sturdy and solid compared to the clay ones that we made last year.

And one more shot, here is the Baby who was born last year on the 3rd night of Hanukkah. Look how she's grown.


Can't. Stop. Sewing.

I hope everyone who celebrates Hannukah had a good time because we certainly did. I'm starting to get this whole holiday thing down and find the memories in it for my kids. It's harder than you might think to do that with a holiday you didn't celebrate when you were a kid. But we baked and sang and gambled for chocolate until we were almost sick. We made cute homemade decorations and the kids got to light candles each night and take turns updating the menorah we painted on our window. There was even dancing this year.

My sewing machine is making unhappy noises that may imply that I work it too hard. I don't know why it would feel that way. I finished all of the gifts that I had planned so far, except the
pajamas I was making for the kids. It turns out those are pretty hard to throw together without a pattern. It always irks me when I can't figure out a pattern myself and have to buy one instead. I mean, what's the point of sewing gifts out of what you have on hand, that would therefore cost nothing, if you have to go out and spend $20 on patterns in order to do it. I wish I was better at sewing, then maybe I could pull this one off.

(My maternal grandma was famous for being able to go to a store, turn some garment inside out, and come home and cut and put together something identical without ever using a pattern. I aspire to her level of coolth.) It strikes me as totally weird now because I never even took a home ec. class. My brother did and even designed a blouse for me that he entered in a pattern design competition. No one taught me to sew.

The first time this seemed to be a problem was the day in 10th grade when the choir director for jazz choir handed out purple satin and patterns and told us all that our first concert was in a month and to have dresses ready by then. I waited for someone else to speak up and say what I was thinking, "You've got to be kidding right? I mean what if we can't sew, why are you assuming that that we know what to do with this?"

But no one said anything, so I didn't either. I was afraid that they would think I didn't deserve this coveted place in the "cool" choir. I took the fabric home with me, or to the neighbor's house, I don't remember. A week before I had started high school my mom left my dad and we lived at the neighbor's house for a long time before a judge told my dad he had to let us have the house to live in. We didn't own a sewing machine back then. The only other dress that had been sewn for me my mom had gotten my aunt to do it. Only she was my dad's sister, and they weren't speaking to my mom anymore.

I held on to that fabric and pattern for two weeks trying to figure out what to do. I was too proud I guess to ask anyone for help, and I wasn't going to burden my mom with it. Finally at my new best friend's house, I think, I pretended like I knew what I was doing and cut out all of the fabric, from the whole pattern, only I only left 1/4 inch seam allowance, though I didn't realize it at the time. For almost another two weeks I stared at the pieces in front of me, waiting for them to magically assemble themselves. Nothing happened. Finally, the day before the concert I told my mom everything. She was upset, especially that I had left it to the last minute. She was also upset at my choir director for assuming that everyone could just sew themselves a dress, or afford to hire someone to do it. We didn't have that option. It turns out that there are a lot of things in life that are actually quite simple and easy for other people, but my family didn't seem to know about any of them. Sometimes we needed people to spell it out.

(Like how my teachers kept telling me I needed glasses so my mom took me to the family doctor. He said, "Yep, it looks like you need glasses all right."

Then we left. My mom, who hadn't come in with me asked, "What did he say?"

"I need glasses."

"Okay", she replied, leaving me to assume that she would take care of it. Four months later I was still standing right in front of the blackboard and squinting in order to see anything.
Finally one of my teachers asked if I'd been to an optometrist yet. I told her I'd seen a doctor and that I did need glasses but I didn't know what to do now. She was the one who explained that we needed to visit an optometrist and get a prescription and purchase some eye wear. I was the one who searched the yellow pages, made an appointment, and dragged my mother along for the ride. I was 11. My folks were not very high on the life skills quotient, which still boggles my mind because my dad has worn glasses most of his life. How could they not know how to go about getting some? That little aside will help y'all understand how I turned out a control freak. :)

Anyway, I ended up calling all of the moms of the other girls in choir, who I barely knew and finally one of them took pity on me and spent all night assembling my purple satin pieces, which turned out to be skin tight because of that seam allowance I hadn't allowed for. I wore too tight purple satin for an entire semester of high school. Eventually my mom bought some more fabric and enlisted help from someone and my dress looked normal, like everyone else. Purple satin with puffed sleeves is hardly normal looking if you ask me.

I figured out how to thread a machine all by myself one day because I needed to. The first thing I ever did on a sewing machine was to sew the seam binding onto my little sister's grade 8 grad dress, back in the day when kids still dressed up for those. Why? Oh yeah, my brother didn't have time to finish it, and my mom was in college and taking off to the next province for a 6 week French immersion thingy and I was asked, so I figured out how. It turns out that it's not that hard.

Oddly enough, the next thing I tried to machine sew, (I was good at hand sewing I'll have you know), was another butt ugly choir dress. This time I was in University, second year, and had landed a spot in the coveted University Singers, the choir that recorded albums, sang at private functions, and toured Europe, on the school's dime. It's too bad the dresses looked like bath robes. I blame the fat ladies. Every classical choir it seems has at least a few in my experience. They were usually the divas as well. They had obviously chosen the dress style in an attempt to flatter their more ample frames. How else do you end up with a blue polysomething with roses worked into the weave in a monochromatic way, three quarter length sleeves, a wrap front that joined at the waist, a sash that tied around the waist, and a skirt that went to the floor. It was supposed to look like evening wear, but it really just looked like a bunch of fat ladies and a few others standing around singing in their blue polyester house robes. Classy. After landing my coveted role in this particular ensemble, I was given the dress of a girl who had graduated the year before and asked if I could alter it to fit me before the next concert. Of course. She had weighed at least 200 pounds and was a foot taller than me but sure, I'll see what I can do. You know where this is going don't you? I must be a sucker for punishment.

I was all by myself without a sewing machine in my little university town, so I arranged to tag along one weekend with an acquaintance who was returning to my hometown 4 hours away. My mom found some random friend who had a machine, and a serger, and I spent all of one Saturday at her house cutting and sewing and trimming and making a dress/bathrobe that wouldn't fall off out of the mess of blue polyester. I did a pretty good job too I'd like to add. The only place that didn't quite work was the waist. I was unacquainted with the ways of elastic, and I had not left enough give in the waistband. Once I got the thing on it looked just fine, but when I tried to get it off it got seriously hung up on my boobs and I had to struggle out of it. But I didn't care, compared to my last experience, this was a rousing success.

The day of the concert loomed, convocation I believe, and I wore the ugly dress and sang. Then, because I am a very big nerd and was also the first at my University to attempt a double major in music on two different instruments, you should have seen them salivating when I auditioned on three right after they'd gotten the program approved, I of course needed to run off and change into orchestra clothes to play the other music at the event with the orchestra. (Orchestras let their members wear whatever they want, as long as the men are in tuxes and the women are in black and it's long. Why won't choirs catch on?) I may have performed this wardrobe change more than once to keep up with the program. I do remember being in a tiny bathroom with several other choir members when suddenly my waistband got hung up on my boobs again and I was stuck for a minute or two before I got free of that dress.

On Monday the director of that choir, who was also the head of the voice department, chair of some such and other and an imposing man with white hair and a grumpy scowl asked me to come to his office for a minute. As I sat there nervously he tried to begin. "I've never, well, I don't know exactly how to go about this...I've never had to do something like this before...but something has come to my attention that I need to address..."

While I sat there wondering what on earth he could be talking about, and what had I done that was so terrible, he finally spit it out. "Several of the ladies in the choir came to me today and told me they think your dress might be too tight. NOT," he stretched his hands out defensively, "that I noticed at all, I don't even remember what it looked like, but 5 people came to me this morning and so I guess that I needed to say something."

His ears were starting to turn pink. I was so relieved I laughed out loud. "So," he continued, "I don't know, it it possible to make it less tight?"

I told him I would see what I could do, which was mainly to not change in front of anyone but I didn't tell him that, and then just because I couldn't resist I asked, "Did they happen to mention whether it was the top or bottom that was too tight?"

The pink crept from his ears to the top of his bald spot and across his cheeks as he protested, "I have no idea, they didn't say and I didn't notice."

Then he shooed me from his office as quickly as possible and I went wandering off to my locker with a look of bemusement on my face. At least, I assume it looked something like that because a friend of mine named Chantelle, a trumpet major, asked, "What happened to you?"

"Did you see my dress on Saturday, the choir one I mean?"

"Yes, they're hideous, what about it."

"Did it look too tight to you?"


"George just told me that several people in choir told him that my dress is too tight."

She burst out laughing. "That's just Karen and her friends. She's just jealous because you look better in it than she does."

Karen was the alpha soprano, and if you know anything about sopranos, you know what that means. She also fit the fat lady sings stereo type rather well.

I didn't alter the dress. I couldn't, I had used a serger to finish the seams. In the name of getting along I took a stitch ripper to an outside seam in the skirt that was a little less than an eighth of an inch from the serger seam. It made no difference whatsoever, but I could truthfully say that I tried to let it out if anyone asked. No one did. At the next concert George took a moment to put his arm on my shoulder in a grandfatherly way and whispered, "Your dress looks fine, thanks for fixing it."

That would have been the end of it, except that the Christmas performance had a number that we performed with the brass ensemble. In the final rehearsal, as the horns filed out, George said, "Okay, we're here on Saturday in concert wear."

In a stage whisper, designed so that all of the guilty parties could hear, but not George, Chantelle leaned toward me as she filed past and said, "Yeah, don't show up in that too tight dress ya big slut."

And then we convulsed in giggles, until I had to explain to the very sweet woman beside me what was going on because she was so confused. At which point she took great pains to assure me that she had never been one of the people who had said anything like that and I assured her that I had never thought that she had.

I think that was the year that my dad, of his own volition, went out and bought me a sewing machine for my birthday. I still have it, I've dragged it along with me on every move, even the year I was sleeping on a church floor. It's making sad little noises, and loud thumping noises that seem to say, "Half of my gears are plastic and you are working me to the bone, please give me a rest."

But I can't give it a rest yet, because the Girl has a birthday in one week, and the Baby turns one on Tuesday, and there are gifts to make, and slings to sew and eventually the poor thing will die. I'm very excited because I hope I'll be able to replace it with a really good machine, but I will be a bit sad, because this is the machine on which I taught myself to sew.
Perhaps on a new machine I'll get to be as good as my grandma.


And now for something completely different

I love it when I throw out deep thoughts and don't even get a comment, let alone discussion or disagreement. And since i love the thunderous silence of an empty inbox so much, here's something cute my kids are doing.

I blame it on Shrek the Third, though part of it is my fault. I mean, if they had already heard some of the great songs in the soundtrack before they watched the movie they wouldn't
keep yelling, "Mommy it's a Shrek song." whenever they hear it on the radio.

Right now the boy is in the shower singing at the top of his lungs, and carrying the tune very well I might add,

"Everybody's got soul, got so much soul....

You've got soul and I've got soul,
Everybody's got soul...

got so much soul."

In the other room the Girl is yelling, over and over again, the only line she remembers from a Beatles song.

"Live and let die!
Live and let Die!
Live and let Die!
Live and let DIE!"

She says die so gleefully that it's really hard not to laugh.
Mixed together as I hear it it goes something like this.

"Everybody got live and soul let die.
Got so much soul live and let die.
You've got soul and LIVE AND LET DIE I've got soul LET DIE
Everybody Live and let die..."

And then the Boy switches midstream

"Play that funky music white boy..

Ladies and gentleman, I think we have a new hit on our hands. Anyone want to sign them. :)?


This I Believe

During Thanksgiving Dinner I had a conversation that I'm still mulling over several weeks later. I must preface this by telling you that my MIL and my SILs are going to India in January. They are going to the province of Orissa, which is one of the poorest provinces in the country, much of it is still tribal, animistic. People live in the most primitive conditions, in the utmost poverty. In Orissa an unwanted child is dealt with by leaving it outside to die. Sometimes some midwives will slip a small stone into a new born's throat so that they gradually fade and die because they can't get enough food, but the mother will not feel as much guilt over this apparent "failure to thrive" as would be felt on leaving a child laying outside to die. In both cases the child dies, because the family doesn't feel that they are able to support another mouth to feed. In an even more evil twist, if you pick up and care for one of these abandoned children, the laws are such that you can go to jail on charges of kidnapping.

We know people who have been working in that province to change things for a long, long time. Recently they found a way, they hope, to work within the law and create an alternative for these abandoned babies. They are starting a "baby house" and my MIL the veteran baby holder extraordinaire has been asked if she would help to establish it, and train national staff volunteers in how to love babies, because it seems a foreign concept there. This was the exciting news that she shared with her guests at Thanksgiving.

Among those guests were a dear family who are from India, and have only been in the west a few years. I was talking to my friend, who is Hindu, over dinner. We started out by discussing the fact that Orissa is so poor because of the corruption that lies at every level of government. The poor are exploited, federal money is misappropriated, and it's every man, and baby, for themselves. He says this with the matter of factness that I've learned is common to the Hindu mindset. They don't think to change a situation, because they believe that everyone is where they deserve to be karmically, and that there will be many more lives for those people to live or move past this one. (I am over simplifying dreadfully, and I apologize for that but while I may miss nuances those are the basic essentials.)

We then moved on to discuss stem cell research and harvesting stem cells. He's been surprised to discover what a huge issue this is here in the US because in India no one cares what you do with dead babies, there are enough living babies who are dying because of lack of basic necessities, no one has time to worry about the ethics of using aborted fetal tissue.

I don't remember what my response was at the time, or if I responded at all. But I've been saddened by this conversation ever since. Here's what I wish I had said to my friend, and will if it ever comes up again.

What he just described is the difference between a Judeo-Christian world view and a Hindu world view. You see, with the belief that God created man in His own image comes the idea that human life is precious. If every child bears the image of God, every child's life matters. Compare ancient Roman practice with ancient Jewish practice. Roman children were left to die unless their fathers acknowledged them. Foreigners where conquered and condemned to slavery and death. The strong ruled by might. For those who weren't citizens there was no justice, no mercy, and no compassion.

Now look at what God instructs His people to do in these situations.

"Anyone who sacrifices any of his children to Moleck is to be put to death...If the members of the community close their eyes when a man sacrifices his children and fail to put him to death I will set my face against him and he will be cut off from his people."

"When foreigners reside among you in your land, do not mistreat them. (They) must be treated as your native born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt."

"Do not use dishonest weights or standards."

"Do not pervert justice."

"Do not hold back the wages of a hired man over night."

"Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute."

"Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life."

Leviticus 19-20

Whether you are Jewish, or Christian, or not, the fact that you think that these things are wrong, the fact that you consider it wrong to sell girls as prostitutes, or to murder children, or to cheat others is due to the fact that you grew up in a culture whose roots are firmly established in the Judeo-Christian mindset. The rest of the world doesn't think like this. Parents in Thailand consider it an economic opportunity to get paid by a westerner for their five year old girls to perform blow jobs. (Terrify No More, Gary A. Haugen and Gregg Hunter, International Justice Mission)

It was Gentile Christians who had encountered the Spirit of the Living God who began to change history by picking up babies off of garbage heaps of Rome, adopting unwanted children into their own families, and raising them to adulthood, just as they had been adopted into grace and love and freedom.

Of course there have been spectacular screw ups in our history: the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the witch hunts, the murder of Protestants and Anabaptists by the Catholic church for crying foul and turning from what had become pervasive corruption, and then the retaliation by the Protestants when they gained the upper hand. Basically, anytime we mixed up politics and faith, church and state, and tried by coercion to turn men's hearts to God.

Did we not read where it says, "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself blameless from the world."

It says of the early church, "All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had." Not because a Socialist state was compelling them to do so, but because they were compelled from within, by the transforming power of what they had encountered.

To my friend, and any one else, I would say that the reason people here care about fetal tissue, is because we believe life is precious, because we believe that even aborted babies bear the image of the divine and are not merely merchandise. Or at least, enough of us still do. We have fewer poor, we have less suffering, we have education for every child, we have health care, and basic needs, and a state that takes care of orphans, however imperfectly, not because we have more resources or are wealthier than in India. (India has more millionaires per capita than any other country, but they also have generations of people living in garbage dumps and in indentured servitude, modern day slavery, making bricks and cigarettes and performing the menial labor which makes others wealthy.) It's because we have not yet gotten so far outside of our heritage of faith that we can think that it's okay for things to be any other way.

We carry with us an idea of how things were meant to be. Here I quote Scott Bessenecker in The New Friars,
Never have there been thousands of people dying because they are dangerously overfed sharing the planet with billions who are dying because they cannot get enough calories to sustain life. In the economic laws that God established for the nation of Israel, there were built in safety valves designed to keep the gap between the rich and the poor small. "There should be no poor among you," God says in Deuteronomy 15:4 (NIV) Every seven years, those who had loaned out money were to forgive any borrowers who had not been able to pay them back. Can you imagine the impact of such a law today? Credit card companies are founded on the hope that you will be forever paying on your debt, but never paying it off. (my note, whole families are enslaved in this way as well.) Such a law would limit the amount of borrowing that took place to the bare minimum, and ensure that the rich had a vested interest in the poor getting back on their feet...
"If there is anyone among you who is in need...do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be" (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)...
Even more radical was the jubilee law. Every couple of generations (fifty years to be exact), all the land that one person had obtained from another was to be returned...
The old testament laws did not allow anyone to get rich out of interest income, real-estate development or usury...that is, if the laws were actually followed. Unfortunately, the laws were not obeyed, at least not for long. Perhaps that is why the very same passage that states "there should be no poor among you" also says several verses later, "There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and others who are in need." (Deuteronomy 15:11)
However poorly we have adhered to these tenants in the past, or present, they are a standard that shaped us as a society and as a culture. Although we are rapidly losing this, enough people in the west have been concerned about the welfare of more than themselves for long enough that we don't have such corrupt governments that children are left beside the street and no one blinks an eye, and those who try to help them are put in jail. We have laws to prevent the rich from exploiting the poor and we usually enforce them. We have a government that redistributes a portion of the wealth for the benefit of all. We challenged the status quo on issues like slavery, racism, and women's rights and though change has been too slow for some, it has been possible. I would bet it would be a lot harder, and in fact it has not happened yet outside of the western world.

It's been cool lately to be tolerant of everyone else, including Islam which still has radical fundamentalist groups who consider killing people who don't agree with them a righteous act, but to beat up on Christianity. And there are aspects of the way that the Christian faith is represented in this nation that I, for one, find personally embarrassing. But even those embarrassing, highly political, often judgemental, apparently backward and not so intelligent, and suffering from what seems to be a severe case of very poor exegesis representatives of Christianity have compassion. They care, they value life, and they do what they can to make sure that this nation especially, and the world at large, is a place that is safe for children, a place where the poor are helped, and no one lives in bondage.

As I write this I am very aware that the US and our economy is one of the largest oppressors on the global market. I am aware that globally we feed the problem more than we help it, by our rampant consumerism. But I don't think you can blame Christians for that, though there is a tendency for the church to buy into the consumer culture also. We deserve all the ridicule we get for the things that happen when we abandon our blueprint and look to our own comfort instead. But what is there to belittle in the practice of mercy, kindness, compassion, and selfless love? It sure beats the hell out of the alternative.

I honestly believe that there is no cure for that which ails our planet better and more all encompassing than that all of humanity encounters that same Spirit which first breathed fire into that little Jewish community more than 2 thousand years ago. Call me naive or dogmatic if you want to, but do you have a better answer?
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