"Oh yeah? What did you make her?" I was in the kitchen loading the dishwasher so that I could finally check it off my list of things to do, yesterday.
"This!" Katie whipped her arms around from behind her back and held this up for me to see:
Huh. I wonder where she learned about that?
Turns out it was her pubic school.
Guess what, Mike Huckabee? God goes wherever He pleases. We can't keep God out of schools. God resides within us all, whatever our political persuasion. God resides within us all, whatever our religious affiliation. God resides within us all, whatever our lingual orientation. God is the creative energy within us all. Some of us might not call it God or think of it as a Deity, but few can deny the interconnection between human beings and that despite the struggles we all face, if we pay attention to God or our Inner Voice or our Self or our Guide, whatever you prefer to call it, love is always the answer.
Guess what, Mike Huckabee? You might stir up conflict by saying that horrible events such as the mass murder at Sandy Hook happen because liberals keep God out of public schools, but you're wrong. God is in public schools. God is everywhere. For one thing, at the beginning of the school day, children who attend secular schools might not gather in prayer like you want them to, but they do stand together in class reciting the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Yes, they are instructed to say, "One Nation under God." They are instructed to stand and place their hands over their hearts as they chant these words in unison. I saw it myself. Last year when I volunteered as the reading helper, several times throughout the year the teacher called upon children who were not following along to stand up and say that we are a nation under God.
Another example of how God is not kept out of public schools is this: we can't keep teachers and educational personnel from wearing symbols of their religious affiliation. We can't keep our teachers from teaching our children about their faith.
I asked Katie to explain to me what Bacca's present is.
"It's a cross," Katie explained.
"What's a cross?" Of course I know what a cross means to me, but I had never talked to Katie about it. I wanted to know what she knows. We went to a church a handful of times a couple years ago, mostly to let Katie experience some amazing live gospel music, but we quit going when the leaders began asking for donations to send the pastor and his wife on a cruise. I like my Jesus poor and shirking comfort, so it feels weird that my charitable donations would go to sending these people on a luxury vacation rather than using the money to feed hungry people in our city. Religion would be great if it didn't so often get in the way of helping needy people.
"A cross is a sign of Jesus," Katie said, stroking her finger over the plastic Legos material of Bacca's present. This made me smile. I have a certain soft-spot in my heart for plastic Jesus symbols. I keep a Buddy Christ figure on top of my stove. He guides me while I prepare meals for my family without burning down the house.
"Oh," I said. "Who told you that?" Could she remember this from her minor church experience?
"Miss B," she explained. Miss B is her first grade teacher at her secular school.
"Did Miss B bring a cross into school?" This story was getting juicy. I couldn't wait to post this on Facebook so I could annoy a few conservative friends.
"She had it around her neck. She wore a necklace and it had a cross on it."
"Oh," I said, more satisfied. That explanation made sense.
"I asked Miss B what it was and she said it's a sign of Jesus. So I thought I'd make my sister a sign of Jesus for Christmas since it's Jesus's birthday!"
It reminded me of the other day when Katie brought home this picture she drew during "free draw" time at school:
"Happy Birthday Jesus" by Katie Carleton
So no, Mike Huckabee. You can't keep God out of public schools. God goes wherever He pleases.
Later Katie found in her bedroom a small wooden cross with a hole drilled through the top. I think it had once been a Christmas tree ornament, but it long ago lost its string and usually sat with the broken bulbs and other Christmas tree rejects in the holiday storage box. Katie must have saved it since the storage box is back in the basement until after New Years when we take down the tree.
She held the wooden cross up and announced she was going to make a necklace out of it.
"Oh, nice idea. What are you going to use for the part that wraps around your neck?" I asked.
"Some thread." She spun around and went back to her project. She came back a minute later with some thread. "Mom, I can't get the thread to poke through the hole." She handed it to me.
I threaded the cross for her, then handed it back.
"Will you tie it in a knot around my neck?" She asked.
"Yes, Honey, turn around."
I don't like taking my kid to a church that takes people's money and gives it to people who don't need it, but I'll gladly help my kid wear a simple wooden cross if she wants to. Just because religion often puts me off doesn't mean I'm anti-Jesus.
When I finished tying the knot, Katie spun around so I could see it on her. It's beautiful. She traced the cross with her finger. Then she broke my silent daydream by asking, "Mom. Why is a cross a sign of Jesus?"
Oh. Uh. Um. Great. I just had to break the news of Sandy Hook to my sweet, innocent six year old a week ago. Now I have to explain execution by crucifixion? Parenting is hard.
"Because Jesus died on the cross," I said, remembering that wording from the answers my own mother gave me when I had questions about Jesus when I was Katie's age. I never liked church. It was so boring after they kicked me out of the nursery when I was seven and made me sit still with the grownups in the pews. But I always liked my mom's Bible stories.
"What does that mean?" Katie wanted to know.
Good question. Uh, um. "Well, the people in power didn't like Jesus so they executed him--"
"What's executed?" Katie interrupted.
"Murdered by the state. The leaders in charge of the area where you live kill you because they think you've done something wrong."
"What did Jesus do that was wrong?" Katie wanted to know.
"Nothing. But they didn't like Him because He was telling everyone He was the Son of God and that we're all God's children and that we should love each other instead of fighting each other and that we should take care of people who can't take care of themselves. And the leaders didn't like hearing those things because it made them feel weak and they wanted to be the ones in charge of controlling people." I felt pretty good about my ability to haul that story out of the cob-webby closet in the back of my mind.
"Were the leaders jealous of Jesus?" Katie wanted to know.
"Yes, they were. Kind of like the Wicked Queen wanted everyone to admire her and not Snow White," I explained.
"Yeah, only the opposite because the Wicked Queen dies and Snow White lives, but Jesus died on the cross."
"Yeah, but his soul lives on in our hearts. Three days after he was executed Mary Magdalene, who was a student, a follower of Jesus, went to visit his tomb to cry and pray and think about Him. But she saw the tomb stone had been moved and Jesus's body was no longer there. Then, as she walked along a path, she saw Jesus appear as an angel, and he assured her that he was in Heaven with God and at Peace. He said we can all live in Heaven with God and all our loved ones when we die if we believe in Love."
Katie smiled and traced her wooden cross with her finger. "Mommy, how did Jesus die on the cross?"
Oh great. She wants details. Well, the Disney fairy tales she watches are pretty gruesome in parts. I guess she can handle the Truth.
"Well, they nailed his hands and feet into the cross and then hammered it into the ground so his arms were raised and he hung in a position that made him slowly suffocate and all the air was out of his lungs and he stopped breathing."
"Was he in pain?" Katie wanted to know.
"I think so."
We both made disgusted faces. "I know. It's horrible," I said.
And then I remembered my favorite part of the story. I picture it just like the scene in the made for TV movie Jesus of Nazareth, which I saw on TV when I was Katie's age, back when people would complain about the bad influence on kids watching too much TV. When she's ready to see it, I'll share this clip with Katie:
I quoted my favorite line for Katie, standing there before me, wearing her small wooden cross.
"When Jesus was dying on the cross He said, 'Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.'" My eyes instantly teared up, as they always do when I remember that part of the story.
"Why are you going to cry, Mama?" Katie asked.
"Tears of joy, Sweetie. It makes me happy to think that Jesus was still loving and forgiving even when He was being killed. He believed in love and peace and forgiving people for making mistakes." Tears now fully rolled down my cheeks.
Katie grabbed me and hugged me tight. "I love, Jesus, Mama!"
I do too. It's His followers who provide me with lots of practice in the art of forgiveness.