finding the motherlode

– mining for a vein of truth in the stuff that matters –

Category: mothering

session six: letter to my mother

Geraldine Mary Robertsky Clarke 

May 28, 1935  —  September 4, 2012


Who are you apart from me? For so many years, I thought we were one and the same. Unfortunately, we made that mistake. But God, He changed all that — by setting us both free. How do I know? In my hands I hold the mirror you gave me and I see a perfect reflection of myself. Thank you.


Mater. Madre. Mère. Mum. Mom. Mommy. Mama. Ma. Mother.

Greater than an ordinary sailing vessel, larger than a merchant ship — Mother — she exists for others. Her hull is commissioned with strength to brave the high seas of life, carrying goods from afar. She maintains the spirit of the ages, takes her cues from above, has eyes in the back of her head, and can tell a storm is coming by the way the wind blows.

Her arms are of borgana softness, providing for the heads of all her children. She remembers everything, including what she was wearing 20 years ago on a certain day. All her yesterdays are kept as memento and patina is her middle name, and by which time itself is framed. She perceives beauty even in blackness and trusts God for light when there is darkness. Her kitchen is never closed even if tomorrow is another day.

Me: But what about all those storms? 

Her: Oh, those? They were just stepping-stones to the mountains I learned to climb and the Rock I learned to cling to.  

Me: You taught me that. On my right hand I wear your wedding ring.

Her: Love endures all things.

Me: Thank you.

___________________ ♦  ___________________ 

In Letter to My Mother, Barbara Kingsolver delicately scans with a silent eye every stage of her developmental life, recounting how it was, who she was, and what she saw — from her earliest memory at 3 to her gawky adolescence and those fierce, independent college years and beyond to the time when she herself became a wife and mother — where ego’s bloom finally fell off and her arms opened wide to the realization that giving supersedes taking and love truly is possible.

She’s amazed at love, really. Amazed at how her firstborn daughter’s “tiny hand is making a delicate circle, index finger to thumb, pinkie extended…” just like hers did at eight weeks of age. Amazed at how loving and being loved by a man is not horrible and how willing she is to bear the cross that is motherhood. She celebrates the event known as coming full circle and when Mother receives her reward. Sort of. Let’s face it, the need for Mother doesn’t ever really go away. And mothers and daughters don’t ever actually retire from the mother-daughter relationship. As Kingsolver admits:

“A week past my due date you are calling every day. Steven answers the phone, holds it up, and mouths, “Your mother again.” He thinks you may be bugging me. You aren’t. I am a woman lost in the weary sea of waiting, and you are the only one who really knows where I am. Your voice is keeping me afloat. I grab the phone.”

♦   ♦   ♦

We cut our teeth on the figurehead of Mother — a developmental task that extends far beyond toddlerhood. Emotional growth is painful. But it’s teeth we need and a good mother knows that. So she offers her edge and bears the pain along with us. Cries for us, too. Then she cheers us on. Through a million and one little things, she shows her love, mirrors back to us who we are. How else can we know ourselves but through the eyes of another? Children need a face to look into to know they’re loved. And they need eyes that speak back to them, “Yes, you are loved.” Through our most significant relationships do we become that person of certain expression, disposition, demeanor, stature, spirit.

Mothers are God-given.

But I am only too aware that not everyone is fortunate enough to have been fed from the spoon of a mother’s love. Sin, brokenness, sickness, absence, narcissism, selfishness — how often the effects of the fall play their role, rob us of the good things. Inasmuch as we want her to be, expect her to be, demand her to be, Mother is not perfect. But love is. And why there is forgiveness. If we are looking to Christ, He redeems the faults. Heals the wounds. Fills the gaps. Works wonders.

Kingsolver does a masterful job in this essay at capturing and conveying vivid moments of her life and the genuine love she received from and has for her mother. She writes with depth and candor, both of which I can relate to on so many levels, except for maybe the phone call her mother made tracking her down at a remote café in Beaurieux, France. Amazing how mothers have a way of knowing. They just know.


If there’s a single trait that binds mothers together the world over, it is the sacrifice of self.

I think of Eve, mother of all the living, and how she models for us the quintessential role — the woman of firsts: She was first to be second. First to be deceived, to feel guilt, shame, and fear for her sin. After Satan, she was first to stand before God in judgment to receive her sentence. First to receive a promise, to find mercy, to submit to her husband’s authority, to suffer pain in childbirth, to bear children, to lose a son. What did God require of her? Body, soul, and spirit, the sacrifice of self. 

And what of the other mothers who beckon to us?

Sarah was called to sacrifice many years while waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise of a sonHannah sacrificed on her knees in prayer, asking God for a son, only to give him back to the Lord. Rachel travailed and died in childbirth. Upon the angel’s announcement, Mary said, “May it be to me as you have said.”

These mothers have not flatlined somewhere in the annals of history.  By faith, we can receive from them still today, be fed from their spoon, receive instruction, emulate their character. Mother love is synonymous with sacrifice.

Our spiritual DNA is secure.


Next Thursday: Household Words by Diana Lovegrove 

-Please share comments, quotes, Scriptures, or views below-


session five: letter to a daughter at thirteen

Please welcome friend and sister in Christ, Melissa Jackson, blogger at Breath of Life and Out of the Ordinary, and guest contributor for today’s session on Letter to a Daughter at Thirteen. Melissa is a working mother living a quiet and simple life in Virginia with her husband and teenage daughter. She enjoys reading, writing, coffee, football, and bonfires. She ministers in her local church as a choir member and deacon’s wife. She has a passion for discipling teenage girls, especially her own.


“I’ve spent so much of my life stitching together the answers to the hard questions that it’s natural for me to want to hand them down like a glove, one that will fit neatly onto an outstretched little clone hand. I try sometimes. But that glove won’t fit.” 

-Barbara Kingsolver


Somehow, Barbara Kingsolver has crept into the innermost recesses of my mind, finding the very thoughts that I’ve never wanted to face. I couldn’t believe they were real. Yet the words find me and lay my soul bare. I have tried to make my daughter into the me I always hoped to be.

 Letter to a Daughter at Thirteen is part commendation and part confession. Commendation for the young woman Kingsolver’s daughter is becoming; confession of Kingsolver’s own past failings as a teenage girl. Its poignancy and honesty unravel the hem of the neatly sewn life I’ve stitched for myself, forcing me to remember the torment that followed me during my teens and early twenties.

She writes, “It took me years to get over being flattered and flattened by any kind of male approval.” Oh, how my poor heart knows this truth! It is the one thing I want most to protect my 13-year old daughter from, the lonely ache of not feeling good enough, beautiful enough to be loved. Kingsolver believes her daughter is much stronger than she. I could say the same. Yet sometimes it finds me, the nagging doubt that my girl feigns her confidence just as I did. Then I see it — the one shining difference between me and my girl at the rocky age of thirteen. Jesus.

The wonder of it catches my breath. The grace that found my soul, starving for attention and sick with sin, called me unto Himself. All these years later, I’m still undone. As grateful as I am that He called me in my late twenties, I am incredibly thankful that He called my girl before she started walking that same filthy dead-end path I walked during my teen years. I know her confidence is not found on any earthly accomplishment or accolade she may garner; that it is far more complete than any self-confidence she may muster; and that it has a great reward, all because it is based on Christ.


Kingsolver admits that what “saved” her from her unhealthy self-image and dependence on male attention was reading books by Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, and other feminists. As a young adult in 1973, she fell victim to the feminist movement’s inculcation of our culture. She compares reading these authors as a “soul-shattering revelation” akin to a religious salvation. As I read, I couldn’t help but think, there but for the grace of God go I.

Friedan called women to “trust no other authority than our own personal truth.” (“It Changed My Life: Writings on the Women’s Movement”.) Greer once said: “Womanpower means the self-determination of women, and that means that all the baggage of paternalistic society will have to be thrown overboard.”

The fallacy of the feminist argument is that it denies the basic truth we cannot ignore: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  In pointing to male oppression as the source of blame, feminists deny that sin has caused the problems between the sexes. By overlooking their own sin, feminists have elevated women to god-like status. They believe we have the right to question everything and the power to change anything.  They either do not realize or do not care that this right and this power is reserved only for God.

 “Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?
 Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’
or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labor?’”

 Thus says the Lord,
the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him:
“Ask me of things to come;
will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?
 I made the earth
and created man on it;
it was my hands that stretched out the heavens,
and I commanded all their host.”

(Isaiah 45:9-12, ESV)


My own girl will celebrate her 14th birthday this weekend. If I were to write her a letter, I’d say:

You are more beautiful, more loving, more compassionate, and more considerate than I could ever hope to be. You are smart, funny, and fun to be around. On days when you find these things hard to believe, remember that they are true — not because of you, but because of God. In His grace, He created you to be the perfect you, for His pleasure and His delight. Don’t ever ask why. Just trust Him. Trust Him.


Next Thursday: Letter to My Mother 

-Please share comments, quotes, Scriptures, or views below-





Lace curtain,

French urn,

You’re an

Adirondack chair

with a touch of fresh paint —

You’re ticking stripes,

a tall glass of lemonade,

shades, straw hat, and lipstick.

You’re a slew of window boxes,

  herb garden,

  honest, overflowing, and lush.



changing year to year.

Candle flame in the dark,

 laying up prayers

with your heart on your sleeve,

inviting me into your arms,

laying down your crown

        at His feet.  


© 2012 Elizabeth DeBarros  


Whenever I call my mother, we usually talk either about how she’s feeling, the weather, what she’s eating for dinner or what I’m cooking for ours. I then try to keep her up to date with the rapid pace of growth and production of testosterone going on at our house. She never fails to ask for everyone by name. If she’s up to it, the conversation moves into the past and we’ll land on a memory, chew it to bits, have a laugh or two. I love it when she roars. It strengthens her spirit. And mine. Other times, we’ll briefly touch on a current event, acknowledge the strong hand of God and end up praising Him together.

Today was different.

At one point, I stumbled over my words, then I didn’t have any. I just cried. Hot, sweet tears.

She let me.

And I could hear her thanking God.

makings of a man

This is a second revision of a memoir I wrote in 2006 entitled “What Child is This?” on the bittersweet task of mothering two sons during the hot sweaty days of their boyhood. This piece is mainly about the eldest, now 18, who has added to my cup the sweetest drop of sorrow by becoming a man seemingly overnight.

___________________ ♦ __________________

The first thing I used to devour on Sunday mornings along with my bagel and coffee was the old, now defunct “His/Hers” column in The New York Times Magazine. Host to an ever-changing string of authors, the column was my muse, providing inspiration even on the dreariest of days. One particular piece was that of a mother’s cry, at once bemoaning and exonerating her adolescent sons’ taciturn ways, amplified to what sounded in my ear like a prophetic warning.

A decade later, flanked by two boys, 9 and 4, respectively, I am that mother. The four-year-old is a regular chatterbox wherever, whenever — car seat, shower, or bedroom turned magical kingdom. Strange noises erupt from remote corners of the house, and protracted conversations with no one specific trail through the halls at all hours. He has yet to figure out that he’s male and men don’t “talk.” He considers the gurgling noise made from holding down the toilet handle bona fide chit-chat. He’s an Abrams tank en route to the next explosion. But I’m grateful. He tips the scales noise-wise. Helps me feel less outnumbered in a house whose walls are held together by testosterone.

But the nine-year-old is a different story. He began shutting down around eight and a half, simmering to a low boil before we ever had the chance for meaningful conversation. Instead, he relates by flashing hazy reports of school bus shenanigans or blurting out sports scores on TV — “Mom!” “Nats 9, Giants zip!”

To interact, he asks me to pick names, numbers, divisions, and entire teams for world-record fantasy championships played out on top of his clipboard in the kitchen. When he really wants to connect, he says, “What’s in the fridge?” He talks, but it comes out in odd ways. It’s authentic, though, so I’ll take it.

His name, Santos Joseph DeBarros, means, The Lord shall add a saint to the earth. Poetic. His father picked his first name from a baby name book and was sticking with it while I puzzled out whether we could pull off something that exotic for the rest of our lives. Together, we liked the middle name. It was safe — Biblical. And we had no say with the last. It works. Names often tell something of a person; they carry weight. His does both.

An hour after his arrival, before the expected parade of friends and relatives, a routine X-ray revealed a tiny pneumothorax of the right lung. I was a blur after having undergone an emergency C-section — lost in recovery after 16 hours of back labor — barely able to mutter a prayer. I offered up trust instead while we kept vigil. Thankfully, the small puncture, as the doctor described it, disappeared somewhere between the neonatal oxygen tent and his father’s arms. But on day three, another report indicated that his blood gases were “off.” Countless pin pricks to the heel later, the entire medical team gave up after his fifth set of labs. By day five, the doctor discharged him on grounds that his cheeks were pink, saying, “He looks good.”

___________________ ♦ ___________________

On his first birthday, we threw him a party and gave him a Native American tom-tom — Boom! Boom! Boom! — wowing the crowd on first performance. Only difference now is he pounds a lot faster and stronger, like his heart. Rhythm is in his blood; he loves numbers and is good at math.  He’s a list maker, joke teller, peacemaker. Swallows books whole but baseball is his meat. He chews and savors all 125 years of America’s favorite pastime with a bottomless appetite for more stats. He thinks in cartoons but feels and cares deeply. Smiling and slap-happy while reading Calvin and Hobbes, he rules like Garfield, pulls for Charlie Brown, but despises Lucy.  Already knows to tell his future wife “I love you” septillion times — all in one day if need be. When I asked, “Why septillion?” He said, “Because it’s a real number.”

He gets it.

Justice is his cause and Passion his middle name. No matter how much we may moralize, winning still means everything to him, but people must play fair. When they don’t, he turns slightly red in the face and I’m first to hear about it. An old soul, his knowing eyes don’t fit the rest of his body. Strangers smiled when, at three, he bopped to the beat walking into the Gap like he owned the place. Poetry in motion — a gift to the world. No claims here.

As parents do, we sang and whistled away his raw newborn nerves well into the night and taught him his three R’s. Up until sixteen, he didn’t guzzle soda or chew gum, we’ve been hoping it’s just a phase. Early on we divulged the merits of fine chocolate. He’s hooked.

But our greatest aim has been to show him how to walk in ancient paths for a future hope. It’s also been our greatest challenge. When peers demanded a reason why he hadn’t seen a certain movie yet, we supplied a plausible answer with an equal amount of salve for his wounded pride. Told him we were holding out because innocence, once lost, isn’t easily recovered. He nodded while my husband and I exchanged a wistful look from across the table, holding our breath as the teen years loomed.

We also wanted to preserve wonder, so we skipped Disneyland. We desired something with more mileage in the end. The Grand Canyon, or maybe Stonehenge. Even so, the dinner table still proves the most interesting journey. It’s a world of tempting shortcuts, but we took the longer, more scenic route, pointing out the pitfalls and valleys along the way, hoping he’ll be better prepared to get where he’s going on his own.

Fulfilling as all this was, what I really wanted was his heart. Since before he day he was born, I’ve wept over this child, knowing he was never truly mine.  It was his heart I wanted to get my hands on, examine — make sure it was right — gladden with kisses and bolster when low. Sometimes I did. But more often I’d leave him be, let him roil away, allow his heart to strengthen on its own, even break on occasion.

What did I want from him? To sit and sip tea with me, chatting until sundown?  Maybe — but God forbid. I wanted a man to walk out of that heart, so I mourned frilly desires, too. He wanted to be outdoors playing against the wind, practicing his pitch or working his layup rather than be held hostage in upholstered world. He was way too busy pounding out his frame, adding to the foundation we were so busy laying. He had no time to stop, sit, and be a nice boy. His is a vigorous soul, a “tough hombre,” as the obstetrician pronounced at delivery. So I let him hammer out a heart of God’s design, not so much mine.

Now, the time has come when I hardly recognize my own child — he’s become a man, the man I hoped for.

And mourned for.

 _____________________ ♦ ______________________ 

Well, the teen years are almost done. He turns 18 today. With a spring in his step and a gleam in his eye; the future is now. Another cup of tea and I’m getting out of the way. He’s serious.

The house is quieter, but in a good way.

“There, now. Everything’s gonna be alright.”  

If these walls could talk, they’d be smiling.



I have more dreams hanging in my closet than anywhere else. Take the teal velvet jacket with the pewter filigree buttons. Snug on first try but not unforgivably tight, its vintage feel and slashed price tag cost me a slight rise in adrenaline, while promising kindness for having rescued it from an otherwise loveless attack of thumbs at the circular rack. Plus, I needed something dressy. Those four-inch cuffs and satin floral lining confirmed this was it.

Truth is, I’ve worn it once. Second time doesn’t count. So it hangs on the rod to remind me of the nature of hopes and dreams.

Some dreams we chase, only to find out they were never meant to be. Others follow us — the ones that have no goals or direction, but stalk us and hold us hostage, reminding us that they’ve got us just one more day, if only inside the cold, locked storage unit of our minds. I’m not saying those dreams are to keep. Sometimes we need a wake up call to help us embrace reality.

But some dreams we have aren’t meant for us at all. Sure, we may carry them, give them birth even, but only to put up for adoption when time comes due. God ordains the sacrifice, as the purpose is for greater blessing.

Last week I pulled a dream out of its own form of suspended animation. Decided to give it some air, see what would give.

When I began setting up my portable French sketch box easel that had been tucked away in my closet for too many years, my youngest son instinctively knew my actions had something to do with him. “Go get some newspaper,” I said, while puzzling out the easel’s configuration. After we made an adequate floor covering, I set down two rules: “Don’t flick paint on the wall” and “Use more water than you think you’ll need.” After all, they’re water based paints. The easel drawer held my old pad of cold-pressed paper and a sizable collection of Winsor & Newton water colours: Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Antwerp Blue, Ultramarine, Permanent Sap Green, New Gamboge, Yellow Ochre, Burt Sienna, Chinese White, all pigments from a more golden age, some as yet unpierced, and a slew of high-quality brushes, largely unused.

Everything laid out before him, I said, “Go, run and fill up two cans with water!”

“And go find your smock!”

Serendipity has a way of catching people off guard. I needed a minute to dust things off.

Soothing notes of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello set the mood further. I let him be. The afternoon was both an exploration of color and an explosion of ideas. Release from the normal school day routine perhaps being my son’s greatest sense of achievement. His face beamed well into the night.

That Saturday, he attended an all-day art workshop taught by Tim Chambers to learn technique and work with acrylics. After I had picked him up, I noticed he had not only discovered the thrill of creative process but also a new dimension of himself.

Six months before he was born, my husband gave me the honor of naming him Nino Benjamin: little boy; son of my right hand — old enough now to hold a paintbrush to color in his own dreams.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Psalm 139: 13-14

“Old World Village,”  8 x 8 acrylic on paper,  Nino DeBarros

keeping watch

Through the smoke curls of his cigar, I would watch my father as he sat at the table after dinner, musing aloud in the afterglow to whoever would listen. He was funny, sardonic, and, on occasion, extraordinarily pensive. But when he said, “In 50 years, what you will have is an amoral society,” I heard the voice of a broadcaster. He emphasized amoral by clarifying that he did not mean immoral. He’d squint as though he could see into the future, like he knew that what he saw in his mind’s eye was going to happen.

He was only off by 10 years. Some things make headway sooner than we can predict.

Now, his words are the substance of my daily bread. And reason why I’ve been taking up precious minutes of my 15-year-old’s summer to study with him the book of Ecclesiastes. Getting at the big questions, searching as though we’re Solomon. Better to grapple now — before he asks — or might never bother to ask. Life’s coming at him fast and hard, he’s realizing there are no easy answers. I’m both mother and midwife, helping him find the face of Him in Whom all questions are put to rest.

So I roll up my sleeves, not willing to let a surrogate take my place.

Much of the Christian subculture offers its own ideas for evangelizing teens. Park ’em in front of a Wii and train ’em with enough pizza to keep ’em comin’ while the proclamation of the gospel suffers in silence against the din of the latest YouTube video. Then tell them God loves ’em, you love ’em and that they can all go home now.

Truth be told, teens are being amused to death and the majority of youth pastors need evangelizing themselves. I’m not willing to yield my flesh and blood to someone who, spiritually speaking, has no proven driving record. There are too many blind curves and not a lot of guard rails to adulthood. Parents are given a charge by God to train up their children, and that amounts to so much more than peering at the clock when they come tiptoeing through the door at midnight. Too many parents abdicated their authority to the powers that be a long time ago. Meanwhile, our nation’s youth are largely lost, like silent refugees standing on the side of the road, afraid to ask for directions, let alone know where to find food.

Back to amorality. My father was right. His words warned long before I knew the meaning of the word. Now, the urgency is mine to secure for my son a Biblical response to the world he’s inheriting. He sees its fractures. He dares acknowledge they’re acute, but I refuse to strive in vain against the tide that vies to pull him under. I recognize that my efforts alone are weak and powerless. Instead, I’m making it my business to serve him Truth from a steady hand, taking pains to rightly divide the Word for this reason only: His soul is at stake. But it’s the gospel that saves. I can only offer my hands to the One who will either bless or curse what I do or do not do. My obligation is plain. I’m mother to the next generation.

So I toil away in obscurity, looking through the haze of  my own smoke curls, the missionary prayers of a mother whose sole desire is to bear fruit to God. The future is in His hands, but the times and seasons are for me to watch.



Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king
who no longer knows how to take warning.

– Ecclesiastes 4:13


In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.  And one cried unto another, and said,

Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory.

 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.

 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

-Isaiah 6:1-5

angel wing

To talk about the holiness of God isn’t easy. Most adults squirm, switch topics, or worse yet—quietly leave the room. Children (mine) are different. How they respond can be astonishing. Their still-forming identities aren’t jaded by sin; their white souls easily engage. Just when I think I’ve lost them, one of them will come out with something postmarked directly from the storehouse of heaven.

When I decided to teach my sons about the holiness of God, I knew a visual would help; Isaiah 6 made good sense for such an abstract. We defined the term holy as something “set apart.” We learned why angels cry holy, holy, holy three times: for emphasis. I felt it was my duty to explain, “He’s not just holy,”…”He’s holy, holy, holy“—my nine-year old’s eyes grew wide while I was experiencing a loss for words. We discussed how the flaming angels, known as seraphim, each cover their faces and feet with two wings and fly with the other two. That’s six wings total. I next prepped for a zinger. I asked what “using all six wings” might symbolize for the believer. What gold rolled off my fourteen-year old’s tongue: “Um, give your all in worship.”

Teacher became student. In that moment, all I could say was, “Wow.”

Isaiah’s commission came on the heels of a powerful vision of God’s majestic holiness. The prophet’s response shows what a glimpse of heaven will do to a person.

“Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

-Isaiah 6:5

Another idea I threw out to them was how God is “Other Other.” The younger one sat, quiet as a bird, looking up and away with a lone fist used as a pedestal for his chin. I knew better not to rush him. He likes to take everything in, give himself time to think.

I waited.

Again I asked what he thought about the idea of  God as “Other Other.” He squinted. With a single nod, he looked me in the eye and said under his breath, “Yes.”

I was undone.

pho house

Every country has a national dish, one the people are proud of. It even may not taste very good, but it’s what they identify with and have come to love.

The first time I walked into a pho house, I knew I had entered a land of strange ritual unaware. For one thing, the Vietnamese love their pho. It’s what’s on the menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Variations of the broth abound, ranging from mild to spicy-hot, North or South, but the secret is in the onions — they’re charred. Some bowls have nothing more than a lone noodle afloat, others come with a plate of garnishes for a dozen rainbow effects. No matter, it’s pho they come for. There I sat, in a non-descript storefront, the odd American mother with toddler in tow, as people ate their pho in silence all around us. Others carried their bowls cafeteria-style to the table in solemn affair. Among the sips and stares, I was ready to taste what all the fuss was about.


Home schooling is a lot like making pho—at least it is in our house. Every morning, I throw my bones into the pot and let them simmer for hours until all the marrow leeches out. I have no idea what the end result will be, I just know I’m giving all I’ve got. Taste tests happen along the way, with non-exact measures of this and that, the means of which are constantly up for evaluation. Of this pho, the first ladling won’t be available for a while. Real flavor takes time.

Meantime, our 8-year old hacks away at nouns and their related pronouns in the kitchen or car, depending, while our 13-year old calculates how long it will take before he finishes the day’s math. He’s got better things to do. Tonight he gets to defend his title at the regional spelling bee one last time; words are all that matter today. Eighth grade looks nothing like seventh. His Doc Martens don’t fit him anymore. Nothing does. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s got something to do with all those egg sandwiches he  chows down for breakfast.

Home schooling is a massive test kitchen. It requires faith in the basic recipe and making an effort to procure ingredients that sometimes take you to exotic places, often found inside your child’s mind.

Every day is another attempt at perfecting my pho. Time to go char some onions.

ich und du

Martin Buber is my kind of guy. His keen mind was made to think things through.  He’s someone who started to dig a hole to China and actually got somewhere.

Best known for his work, Ich und Du (I and Thou), Buber’s theological and philosophical approach to the world is translated into this small treatise that reveals, by contrast, the fundamental workings of true and false relationships. Reading him gives answer to why there is often so much pain in relationships.

This powerful little book delves into a philosophical issue that might bore some and frighten others if it weren’t so good. He addresses the hidden madness behind the I-It relationship — in which the one is objectified by the other and subjected to meet his/her needs and purposes. Carefully, he probes at the problem and, by dissection, lifts up the more perfect I-Thou relationship, in which the one grants the other the fullness of their reality. This type of relationship is where one’s dignity is preserved and a person is truly encountered. The discovery of a new land, indeed.

I first heard of Buber’s observation over twenty years ago, but it has nested in my psyche ever since and it springs me free from impingement whenever I’m feeling objectified — whenever I’m treated like an “It” rather than “I.”

This distinction, however, is usually made only after I’ve been impinged or, more plainly, used as a prop to satisfy someone else’s suffering ego. The experience of being objectified is hard to put one’s finger on, but it feels like being treated as though you’re only half there. Half a face, half a body, half a world. Being objectified is when the other does not see the all of you. They do not see you in your world, your inherent giftedness or potential. There seems to be a disregard for the sanctity of life. They can only see themselves in their world and how you fit to meet their need: like being friends with Narcissus.

I see it as a subtle form of abuse. A blunt generalization, I know, but I stand by it. All too often, people are not genuinely and sufficiently cared for. It’s what all the silent screaming is about.

When I became a mother, I was met with the common parental challenge of having a screaming baby whom I could not console. The uncontrollable ever-rising pitch was an affront to my sense of control and power.

My reasoning went something like this: It’s my job to make him stop. Why won’t he stop? He must stop…I wish he would stop! STOP!

Then it dawned on me. Hey, who’s in charge here?

I soon learned in God’s school of humility that I was not so much in charge as much as I was given a human being to love and care for, and it was my job to give him sufficient air and space to be who he was: made in the image of God. Imago Dei.

Somewhere on the upswing of the learning curve, it was no longer about tears but about tears and allowing them to fall. If my soothing helped to stop them, then fine, I was doing my job as a mother. I was equally doing my job by interpreting the tears as his way of working through his infantile emotional/physical/spiritual disorganization. There is One greater than I who brings order out of chaos, and He’s in charge of both of us, tears or smiles. I didn’t need to objectify him to gain peace for myself. Instead, by giving him a little more oxygen to be himself, we both ended up breathing a little easier.

If I foist machinations upon my infant child to stop him from crying so that only I may be relieved, he’s only partially alive. If I value others only for what they can do for me or give me, they’re only partially alive. I see only half their face. They’re robbed of their full reality.

But if I can look, even by some small measure, into the light of someone’s face, enter their world as a delighted guest and allow them to do the same, we are both living a greater reality. Intimacy; what every heart yearns for.

I and Thou.