Everything, Always, Everyone, and Never

Elijah came home from school excited about a coupon book today. It is his fourth fundraiser in the five weeks that make up the entirety of his school career! This seems an exhausting pace but we hope it has something to do with how new his school is and the need to raise funds to finish the playground…among other scholastic necessities!

Elijah was excited about the book because he had located a Legoland coupon inside. Andi and Eli went to KC’s new Legoland attraction less than a month ago with GG and he is hoping this coupon is his ticket to round two! Moments later, while snacking, Eli remarked that “Everyone loves Legoland right Mom?” I said, “Do you think so?” and he replied, “Yes! It’s so fun because Lego’s are so fun and everyone loves Legos!” I was baited. My adult literal-linguistic-sensitivity-meter went off. I proceeded to take 5 minutes of Elijah’s childlike wonder and optimism and drag him back into reality. Nope, didn’t let this conversation get away with a “Sure buddy” platitude. Was it the right move? Maybe not.

I went ahead and asked Eli about a couple of our friends and whether they liked Legos- I mentioned two 3 year old girls. He thoughtfully reasoned, “No, they might not like Legos now cuz they are so little but when they are older, like 5, they would love Legos for sure.” Perhaps they will, but I poured a few more dry Honey Nut Cheerios in his bowl and plowed into an explanation about opinion. I said  “loving or liking” was something everyone has a choice about. Everyone can have their own choice, their own opinion, and most of the time, people like different things. It’s okay if someone actually does not like Legos.

I steered the conversation round a bend and said maybe we could think of something that everybody “has”.  (If he would have answered “An opinion” I would have handed him a trophy!) He thought for a moment and said, “Everybody has a house!” but then we thought about people who live in apartments, motor homes, and homeless people. We talked through a few more great ideas but they all had loop holes, exceptions. Finally we settled on breath. Everyone breathes we think. Eli was done with the Cheerios and went to regain a bit of his childhood by, you guessed it, playing Legos! and eventually going outside.

Absolutes got a lot of play around my house when I was growing up.  Emphatically declared but rarely meant to be taken as actual, factual realities were such statements as:

Everyone has that new thing so can’t we have one too?

-I always do my chores and deserve a break!

-We never get to stay up late, sleep in late, eat donuts during the weekdays, watch enough TV etc…

-This will ruin everything!

I don’t think my family sounded unlike many others. We were expressive, passionate, emotive and vocal. Our language led us to deep relationships, honesty, fights, and closeness. It wasn’t perfect but it worked for us as a family.

In my marriage, my adult family, absolutes are relationship strains and conflict escalators. The defenses go up powerfully when Drew and I use absolutes to label behavior or point to character flaws in each other. I see the damage they cause and have tried to use more careful and deliberate language. However, we both acknowledge that in the moment, the issues are often bigger than the language that is being used to convey them. We offer each other semantic grace and linguist space and seek to be called back to center.

I think I wanted Eli to be aware of absolutes in language today because I want him to realize that people will be different than him in what they: like, do, enjoy, look like, and play. I want him to form strong opinions and be proud of them even if they are challenged. I  also want Eli to be okay with sometimes, some people,  and maybe.

I myself  want to be okay with sometimes, maybe, and I don’t know.  Yes, there is something to the country song, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. ” I do believe there are certain moral absolutes and fundamental truths at work in the world, but I don’t think there are as many as I once assumed. I know I’m not comfortable declaring the universality of an absolute for others. There is black and white, left and right, and right and wrong, but there is also grey, the middle, and right for you/me. Everyone has opinions but opinions are not equal to facts.

I almost lost two deep friendships in the Spring of 2008. Both relationships were shaken when I challenged my friends on something and held strongly to what I believed was right, sometimes drowning out their answers back. The healing took over two years. I realized I had held more tightly to the rule than the relationship and pursued power in the form of expressing my opinion instead of pursuing the person and the uniqueness of their situation.

I don’t want to be defined by what I do in a moment or who I am in a season. I want the flexibility, grace, and space to change, grow, and mature. On the other hand, I want some things to define me, habits to shape me, and discipline to keep me grounded. I want to grow to accept the differences between people. I know this will cost me comfort. I want to encounter and appreciate what is different than my experience. I also want to fight to uphold what I truly believe really is for everyone: love, appreciation, inclusion, justice, care, and grace to name a few.

Perhaps Eli is closer than me in this daunting task of personal growth and appreciation of the other. He wasn’t trying to change anyone today, he merely wanted to include everyone in joy. He saw way past the economics of the coupon book and simply saw an invitation, a Legoland adventure for all!


(Postscript: This is the second version of this post in 2.5 hours. My first draft was erased when the internet connection failed just as I went to post it live! After over an hour of writing and editing, it was a crushing blow. Drew came home and upon hearing of the flop, sympathetically said, “Babe, this NEVER happens to ANYONE else…ONLY, ALWAYS to you!”. He encouraged me to write again. See, sometimes, absolutes, while not literally accurate, are very comforting!)


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