Tuesday, February 19, 2013

in search of fullness

One of the joys of spacing our children 17 years apart (as if that was some master plan executed with precision) has been the variety of issues and stages we get the privilege of juggling in the course of any given evening.

For example, the other night in the period of an hour I: texted the adult child a quick hello making sure she knows I am thinking of her, talked down an over-tired five year old from her ledge of insanity, worked on a craft with the eleven year old ... All while looking at college entrance requirements with an eighteen year old and planning her departure from Haiti and the start of her new life.

Something about the juxtaposition of the irrational and crying child that will be staying another dozen years  - while sitting with the calm and pleasant child that is soon planning to leave forever  - well, it just burns a little bit.

I am a confessed early griever and a shameless one at that.  Recently Troy and I sat on the upper patio of our home in the pitch dark discussing our children and their current needs. When he talked about the three middles and wondered aloud if they might one day be ready to head out all at the same time, I burst into involuntary tears. Eight short years from now three more will be leaving. Waaaaah. A few nights removed from that ridiculous outburst I believe it was transference of Paige grief and not actually a world-record-setting early grief session.

The process of choosing and applying to and waiting on replies from colleges has been eye-opening.  Maybe it isn't actually as troubling as it seems to us, maybe it is just us and our grouchy annoyance with the systems we're observing from our safe distance. 

When we visited a bunch of institutions of higher learning last April, I wrote this:

I am reflecting on the three "official" tours we have had so far.  It seems like the point is to sell a "college experience" more than a "college EDUCATION".  If I were to come in as a foreigner that knew nothing about the American higher education system I would leave the tour thinking that the four most important things about choosing a school are:
1. The food 2. The comforts and accommodations of the housing/dorms 3. The recreational facilities and options (HELLO - HOW can I possibly go to a school with no rock  climbing wall?) 4. Sports and sporting events

The tours have literally been 90% about food, housing, and entertainment. I keep waiting for someone to tell me about the academics -about the quality education - about the depth of character that will be built - the integrity .... the amazing professors ... something. 

The tour guides keep saying things are "free" ... I am fighting my tongue and forcing myself not to be 'that guy'.  (Am I the only one that thinks the large student fees and large college tuition plus room and board is real money that is really being paid and therefore things aren't so much free as they are "covered in your fees and tuition"?) They say: 'tickets to sporting events are free'.  I think: 'tickets to sporting events are included in your $20,000  - $35,000+ a year cost'.

I'm not attempting to be offensive, it is more of a head-scratching moment for me right now.  Do American parents care that much about how nice the stinkin dorm room is and how many options their kid will have for dinner?  Is a wide variety of food choices and a large bedroom what our 18 year olds need the most? Am I the only cynical curmudgeonly jerk that doesn't get it - or is that weird?

We came home somewhat disenchanted after those tours. A few months later we began the application process. "Let's try to gain acceptance at one of those places we mocked", we said.

As we settled into waiting on a reply, we had multiple discussions about our inherent value and the truth that fitting into the box of academia doesn't a success story make. We talked about the cost of higher education and how the cost needs to be weighed against the outcome. We reiterated that being accepted or rejected by some admissions department at some university has nothing to do with how smart, capable, lovable, or valuable any one of us are.  It has a lot more to do with fitting in their box. We talked about the gift of how uniquely individual we are. We talked about the self-congratulatory self-perpetuating systems that we are entrenched in and beholden to in some ways.

American culture (knowingly or unknowingly) teaches that big name schools and big deal degrees make us important. We even created a Christian category of "prestigious" schools; prestige as unto the Lord. Hallelujah. Upon graduation, the quality of one's character is important, but not nearly as important as the name of the university engraved on the diploma. 

This probably sounds like a whole lot of generalizing on my part, and maybe it is, but the proof of the underlying tension I felt throughout the whole process became evident when we received a copy of a letter written on Paige's behalf. 

The letter was written as a favor out of kindness. A person that loves and knows Paige very well knows a person with pull at a certain christian university.  The person with pull writes a letter about Paige to a person with even more pull. That is the system. We scoff at it, all the while we actively participate in it.  (No wonder I always feel dirty. All this time I was blaming the Port au Prince dust.) 

The information presented about Paige to the letter writer shared a few basic key facts:  a good student, solid grades, SAT score, hard working, flexible.  It also went deeper: has lived cross culturally, has cared for desperately ill and malnourished children, has acted as a doula for teenage mothers in labor, has served others repeatedly.  Somewhere down the resume there was a list of translating jobs Paige has had over the last three years. Included in the list was the translating job she did one day for Miley Cyrus. 

When a copy of the letter recommending Paige was sent to her after the fact, we read it with surprise and slight embarrassment. It said a few accurate things about living in Haiti - listed the timeline of her months spent in the community where the university is located and then added, "She even translated for Oprah Winfrey." We laughed our heads off at that and wondered how in the world Miley turned into Oprah.  A bit more disconcerting than that though, we noted that the value was not placed on Paige's history of serving the hurting in Haiti. Instead of highlighting difficult work with an unknown little boy, it made mention of her single day gig turning English into Kreyol, for a famous person.  


Jesus walked the earth totally disinterested in power and fame. He hung out with the hungry, the dirty, the undesired. He showed us that we are to concern ourselves more with the unnamed orphan than the famously named Oprah.  

The truth is, we aren't as much like Jesus as we hope to be. I'm painfully aware of this in myself. We seek approval from the wrong places, for the wrong things. We want worldly validation. Even though a lot of us grew up hearing wording such as- " We are made in His image", "fearfully and wonderfully made", "God's own possession", "We have an inheritance",  "He died for us, we have infinite worth" - we also heard equally clear and even louder messages about what it takes to be successful and important in this world. Rich, powerful, educated at big-deal places, and famous is where it's at - if you cannot be that then strive to mimic it as best you can. It is taught overtly and it is taught subtly. I hear it taught to children when a woman says "I'm just a mom" or a friend says, "I only went to community college." I see it taught when we idolize certain people, elevating them to a higher plane. 

Most of us don't live in the fullness of the value God's love and sacrifice alone gives us. We don't need embossed papers from big-deal universities or lofty titles to be God's workmanship and pride. 

If nothing else, this process these last many months has been a reminder to me to actively live the truth of my worth and inheritance, and in concrete ways, with carefully chosen words and actions, exhibit that truth to my children.