Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Eaglets learn to fly by observing their parents. It isn't instinctive. They watch closely until, sometime between two and four months of age, they lose their baby down and grow their flight feathers.

Not all eaglets are eager to leave the warmth and safety of the nest. For those reluctant babies, the parent eagles tempt the young by flying with choice bits of food just out of reach. The parents engage the eaglets' curiosity - and hunger - encouraging them to spread their wings and fly.

I doubt the mama eagle gets all emotional and sappy about this process. I don't know much about reading the facial expressions and body cues of raptors, but somehow this look does not convey, "Oh, I can't believe my baby's all grown up and flying. Sniff, sniff, cry, cry."

Rather, I'm interpreting this as, "Girl, get your tail feathers out the house! Seriously! Thinkin' I'm the maid and the cook and the chauffeur all the time. Nuh unh!"

Today, in one small sense, my baby girl left the nest. Her flight feathers are in. She's been watching and practicing. We've been eagerly preparing for this day - tempting her curiosity (and hunger). "Once you get your license you can go to your friend's…the movies…the store…drive yourself home from practice… whenever you like, but right now I'm busy so you need to wait."

I have been EXCITED about this rite of passage because in many ways life just got easier. The 70 minute round trip plus one hour wait time I endured on Monday evening so she could catch pitching lessons for a friend? No more. The text on Tuesday at 4:50 that the practice that was meant to end at 5:30 is over so could you pick me up NOW (when we live 20 minutes away)? Done. The how to get your brother to Rock Creek and you to English Station at the same time? Not a problem!

So, yes, we've been encouraging this. But there was still a clutch in my heart when, after successfully passing her driver's test, she dropped me off at home and drove away, alone, to school.

I hope we've been good teachers - that what she's learned from observing us will carry her through the challenges of navigating tight merges and road construction and crazy drivers.

I hope home will always be a safe place to land, but not so safe that it stifles her curiosity or desire to explore what's around the next bend. (And I hope she takes that bend at a slow, steady speed on dry pavement, easing into the turn.)

I hope she soars.

But it's still hard to watch her drive away.

This Subaru commercial nailed it. "Daddy, okay!"

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Is It Safe?

Every year when our family prepares to travel to Tijuana with Sherwood Oaks Christian Church and Amor Ministries, we field lots of questions about our sanity the safety of traveling to Mexico. On our first trip to Amor in 2007, when it was just Sam and I, my main safety concerns had to do with water and rusty nails. I hadn't even contemplated thoughts of drug violence. Turns out, in 2007 Tijuana was at the height of its drug-war violence. I had no idea. None. One of the campers got a stomach upset in the middle of the night, and another bruised a fingernail with a hammer, but that was the extent of the danger during our first trip.

For several years we tried to promote the trip to a Christian community with which we're involved. We thought we would have no trouble organizing a team of families to "Come Build Hope". I did get several inquiries, and one family who was interested, but I also received no less than 30 emails/phone calls from people scolding me for promoting such a dangerous venture. Didn't I know such a mission was too dangerous for Christian families?!

Too dangerous? For Christian families? It still puzzles me. Yes, there are drug-related, and I'm sure other-related, homicides in Tijuana - 492 in 2013, up from 320 in 2012. Most of the victims were involved in street-level drug trafficking, according to KPBS news. By the same token, the number of homicides in Chicago was 415 in 2013, down from 503 in 2012, according to CNN. Yet no one thought twice when the school's music department traveled to Chicago. Theoretically, at the time of the trip, Chicago was MUCH more dangerous than Tijuana.

But is it safe?

Amor has a campsite down a long, bumpy, dirt road somewhere in rural Tijuana. Security guards on bicycles patrol the campsite 24/7. This year Paul was fascinated by the morning guard, Santiago, who always had a fire going near his post. Between Santiago's accent and Paul's accent, they had a bit of trouble communicating - "What name? Powell? Pole?" - but they struck up a relationship, nevertheless. At 64 years old, Santiago biked 2 1/2 hours one way to get to work. He loves Amor, the in-country personnel as well as the short-term teams who come to build - and he took his job patrolling the site seriously. (One morning several of the boys Paul managed to move some embers from one campfire or another to a stack of wood in hopes of starting his own blaze. Santiago came rushing to Trent. "Pole? Fire!" The incendiary science experiment was quickly extinguished.)

The team travels from the campsite to the worksite in vans or buses. Amor works through the local Mexican pastors. Those wanting an Amor house apply with a pastor, and the pastors meet regularly to discuss each family's need and circumstance. (The family for whom Sherwood Oaks built this year was living in a three-sided shack - with a curtain providing privacy - made of garage doors.) Each family must own the land on which to build, and they must put in "sweat equity" leveling the land for building. (Often more difficult than it sounds due to the rocky and mountainous terrain.) Because Amor has worked so closely and positively with Mexican churches, local government and police for the past 34 years, Amor teams are welcomed and beloved by the local residents.

The view from this year's worksite. Fairly typical of the neighborhoods in which we've worked.
Dirt, tires and shacks cobbled together with garage doors and baling wire.
But is it safe?

From a ministry standpoint, Amor has an extensive safety protocol. They have had no incidences of violence in their 34-year history, comprising scores of in-country staff and hundreds of thousands of short-term volunteers. Sherwood Oaks has taken family camp teams, including children ages five and up, for nineteen years.

They have made the across-the-border trip to the emergency room exactly three times in those 19 years. One of those trips was for dehydration. The other two? MY children.

Fifteen stitches and seven stitches respectively.

If you drink enough (purified) water, and aren't a Thompson progeny, you should be fine. As a friend commented when I shared news that Trent and Paul were on the way to the ER, "Is that some sort of rite of passage in your family?"

But is it safe?

Several recent and compelling articles explore the issue of safety and children. In "The Overprotected Kid" in The Atlantic, Dr. Sandseter writes that children "have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement; this doesn’t mean that what they do has to actually be dangerous, only that they feel they are taking a great risk." Books like Free Range Kids examine the statistical likelihood of dangers we most fear, and encourages parents to let children explore and learn free from overprotectiveness. Mrs. Gore's Diary blogs about learning to let go of fear and trusting God in spite of internet news of brain-eating amoebas and secondary drowning.

In short - what, on God's green earth, could possibly be too dangerous for Christian families?

Paul and buddies, just hanging out next to the 50-foot drop into the neighborhood dump.
Just as Sam did before him, Paul talks daily about his time in Mexico - the fun he had, the friends he made, the 24/7 community, the work he others did. When can he go back? Can he go next year? Can we all go? Can he bring his friends? The discomforts of dust, outdoor banos and seven stitches in a busted lip barely register.

But safe?

"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you." -- CS Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Safe? Who said anything about safe? But it's good, I tell you.

All smiles and bandages in front of the casa de amor.
*photo credits Brad Pontius, Sherwood Oaks Christian Church