Meeting People Where They Are
learning acceptance & joy through the eyes of my 5 year old
There are a few staple activities in our household in the evenings after school. The list is pretty standard for most people who have school age children roaming their hallways: playtime, dinner, bath, book, bedtime, or some combination thereof. Things might get switched up, rolled over or occasionally neglected, but we manage to make it until our heads hit the pillow and accomplish some routine along the way.
The playtime portion of our evening varies widely from some TV to some laying of mini train track to running around the yard with our dog. There’s one activity though that almost never fails to be a part of the routine - “Let’s play school mommy and I’m the teacher.” I must say that my 5 year old is well versed in the teacher lingo from knowing how to quiet her student (me!) down to how to round me up to be line leader and the entire line - gotta improvise in a classroom of one.
As any good teacher, my daughter manages to get in some reading time during our school session. Last week, her chosen book was an illustrated kid’s bible - the kind with colorful cartoon-like characters and minimized words. It is a definite "easy reader" - focused on the broader narratives and not the sea of doctrinal words we are use to in our many adult versions - a book intended for anyone big or small to understand, flowing through story after colorful story.
My daughter starts at the beginning with The Garden of Eden and a leaf claden Adam and Eve looking quite helpless in front of a winding snake wrapped around a big fruit filled tree. “The Teacher” was rolling along with her intense rendition of the story, flipping pages, pointing to important characters with her tiny little finger while telling me to “please pay attention class.” Then she got to that snake wrapped around the tree, cartoon head peeking from behind a branch with Adam and Eve wide eyed looking on.
My little girl’s teacher composure broke. She looked up with frustrated eyes at me “mommy, mommy, what’s the snakes name? the snake, the snake?” She pointed, pecking the page with a little fingernail. I didn’t quite understand. His name? Um, I thought...Satan? Herbert? Fred? No, really though...so I blurted out, matter of factly, “Satan” with a look of dismissal as if to move on to the next page now, after all, we were approaching dinner time and needed to stay on track - on routine. I thought she was asking a more philosophical question from my point of view, but really she was asking a literal question from her point of view.
She didn’t stop pecking the page though. Tap. Tap. “No, the snake, the snake.” Her actions intensified and I could see the pointed frustration rising in her voice.
“Yes, it’s a snake.” I answered back a little dumbfounded and frustrated myself not having my glasses on to clearly see the page’s words from a few feet away. Snake didn’t cut it and Satan didn’t cut it so what was its name? Then it clicked in me what we always called it growing up, attending VBS every summer - Serpent! That more old school name for that Garden snake. Not something we exactly use every day. Not something I’d shout out at the top of my lungs if seeing one in my yard (while running away hopping around like a maniac).
Nope, serpent was not in my everyday vocabulary, really never had been other than Sunday school and fun-filled VBS, but, after leaning in to actually read the page’s text, I gave her the word, excited to solve the puzzle “Serpent, serpent!” And she looked so very, very relieved that I understood, that we were on the same page again. That the snake, the serpent, more philosophically Satan, in this story - it was all the same in the broader kid’s cartoon version. It took us a little while to get there though - definitely some confusion and misunderstanding along the way, but we stuck with it and finally understood the story and each other.
My daughter went on to tell me about Noah too before dinner time. We had a few more “serpent” moments along the way, but worked it out. She left out things here and there and embellished some tiny things of her own rendition, but she never slowed down and it all made perfect sense to her. You could see it in her eyes - her intent and knowledgeable little eyes, windows to her soul. You could see the joy of just getting to tell me the story - maybe not all technically right, maybe not all understood right away, but all joyful and with such intent to share what she knew. It was beautiful from a parent’s perspective!
While I didn’t mention it in the beginning, assuming it was kind of a given for most 5 year old - my daughter can’t yet read. Everything she “read” to me was from her memory, from what she absorbed at her local Christian preschool from the (wonderful!) teachers there having reading time with their own students each day. She mimicked their physical actions, but told me exactly what she remembered and how she remembered it, never batting a doubtful little eye, as if it were that way all along. Well, until we go to that snake, er, I mean serpent, but we overcame that and got back on the same page and on with the story we went.
This experience dwelled in the back of my mind for two days. It was precious as a mommy for me to see such joy and determination in my child who couldn’t read the words like I could to see exactly what that snake really was. Did she get it all right? Sentence for sentence? Technically no, she got a lot of it very wrong according to the language on the page anyway. Did she intently do it wrong? No….no, and as a mommy, I could see that, or rather see past her incapability to understand the entire story at her age, to express it word for word in a way that I was accustom to understanding it at my age.
As her mother, whose womb she was knit together in, I know I’m, well, a wee bit biased, but I never bothered to stop her one time to correct her - her little mispronunciations or when she made up very colorful names for that raven and dove that Noah sent out of the Ark. Nope. I enjoyed every single minute of it. Why? Because as her mother who understands her little quirks, her personality, her wide eyed faces and gaping mouth, I knew that her story telling was coming from the very best place, no malice, no intentions to confuse anyone on purpose. She was telling me with an abundance of joy what she knew from her 5 year old mind, and I didn’t want to discourage her from telling the very story...to drill it into her that it is better to get it all right every time than to just tell the story itself, over and over. That’s so very important.
What did I know as her mother? Well, she’s 5. Her stories at 5 about Adam and Eve and Noah and his colorfully made up named birds will not be the same ones she tells about them at 15, 25, 45 or 75. They won’t be if she continues to stay joyful...continues to learn, and yearn to learn, and continues to tell the story, over and over again. Nor should it be told the same. It won't be understood the same either as she gets older.
So am I worried? Should I correct her at every turn to get those facts exactly right knowing where her heart is? No. And, in the moment, I never even thought to do so as her mother. Her joy, her determination and her willingness to very unknowingly get it wrong here and there to just tell the story, well it distracted me, her good intentions prevailed. I was in love with her unintentional skewed story telling and filled with pride for her determination to just finish. So, I accepted it. What else was a mommy to do in that position? Someone else may have balked at the effort, or the delivery, or the words themselves, but not a mommy.
That takes me two a couple days later after all of this occurred. It gnawed on the back of my mind until I knew why my daughter’s story was so very familiar. My Lord was tapping me on the shoulder to pay attention. Um, why? Imagine a sigh and shoulder shrug at this point. I have a hard head so it takes a lot of tapping to get through....
Often I don’t understand His language very well, although I do keep telling His story. And, my story telling is pretty skewed here and there because I am not the story maker, but I'm really not intentionally telling it skewed, no never intentionally so. I would imagine He looks at me intently, throwing me a realization here and there like my daughter’s “serpent” moment so we can meet on the same page and keep going. Knowing full well all my many mistakes, but extending me an ever abundance of grace (can’t stress that enough) to get past them while I learn a little more of the language of His story.
What is a 37 year old to an omniscient Creator who spoke life into the universe and into me? I would hope dearly that such a special Creator meets me where I am because that is my only chance. He knows my deepest intentions, is hopefully filled with joy at my own joy to try and finish telling His story, living His story, as I fumble along the way. My Creator thankfully never takes the story away from me for my misinterpreted, skewed point of view of the story, mispronounced words and faulty actions. No, my Creator gave me the story, the precious Word, knowing full well I’d fumble, I'd fall, I'd misunderstand His Word, and generally, well, make a big ol' mess of it, as I trod along trying to live it and tell and retell it to others.
No, I truly believe that my Creator has that same joy looking on at me that I have looking on at my 5 year old. My Creator knows that, hopefully I will understand more of the story, more about His Word, each time I tell it, read it, hear it or walk it - that I’m trying hard to get it and get it right. No, He thankfully won't take the story away. Won't take His Word away. He’ll continue to throw me a realization during my “serpent” moments as long as I keep telling the story. Living in the Word. For only He knows my deepest intentions about His story.
He meets me where I am, and in turn, I meet my daughter where she is and hopefully I meet others where they are, everyone with a different understanding of the story, speaking slightly different or sometimes drastically different languages, literally and philosophically. I am hopeful that, as I strive with honest intentions and live the story, that I’ll extend such abundance of grace to not only my daughter, my blood family whom I already love, but to others that I might have “serpent” moments with. For it is a hard journey and an amazing Word to follow.
An Epilogue (so to speak)...
In hindsight, I realize there is a lot of meanings you could take from this story. Now that you’ve read it (hopefully read it and not skimmed it), I want to clarify some NOT’s for you from the author’s perspective. As in “Oops! That is not what I intended for you to take away. Don’t bum me out people. Don’t bum me out.”
The author’s NOT’s list:
This is not a story about appropriate disciplining or correcting your children, nope.
This is not a story to reinforce the idea that it is okay to be namby pamby about your faith, nope.
This is not a story trying to make you weepy eyed and sentimental only to dismiss later as “that crazy fiber crafts chick has some ideas there, doesn’t she?” moment, nope.
This is a post to make you think. About yourself. About others. Think.
Disclaimer: This post portrays my personal experiences, thoughts and opinions. It is not intended as professional advice or guidance in any way.... more of a brain teaser to get you thinkin’ and thinkin’ hard. That is all.