When our oldest child Noah was three years old and our second child Peggy had recently turned one, the duplex we were renting caught fire and burned. Thankfully we were at church at the time. No one was hurt, and being a young couple fresh out of school, we had few material possessions to lose. But most of what we did have, including our son's toys, was lost.
Money was tight and our needs were great, but the highest priority in my mind was Noah. The day after our fire I took him shopping at the local toy store and told him he could pick one item to take home (as I said, money was tight.) His choice was easy. He had eyes only for a fancy plastic sword with a sheath. Nothing else in the store tempted him.
On the one hand, this was a relief. The object of his desire cost less than $5.00. On the other hand, his choice threw me into a moral crisis. Being young, we were not only poor, we were zealous idealists who had no intention of letting our children play with weapons. We valued life and could not see how pretending to kill (and what else does one do with toy guns and swords?) could be consistent with the commandment "Thou shall not kill."
I can and do deny many of my children's requests. However, that day I could not bring myself to say no. Instead, I asked to borrow the store phone (this was in the olden days, before cell phones) and called my husband at work to get his permission. I made Noah promise the clerk to bring the sword back if he ever hit anybody with it. Then we went home - a happy boy and a troubled mother.
Home at that time was with Thomas' parents. We moved in with them the night of the fire. More than once their beautiful house on 31st St. served as a refuge in time of need. At dinner that night I continued to process my doubts about the sword with John and Ann and Thomas. I must have prattled on a long time before Ann gently redirected my thoughts.
"Amy," she said. "I think that Noah is feeling out of control right now. When he carries his sword, I think he feels empowered. I think that sword helps him feel secure."
What wisdom! And what a great help! Not only did Ann give me a valuable lesson in child psychology, she showed me how important it is to look at situations through my children's eyes. She taught me that my inexperienced idealism (not my core beliefs, but my one-sided, untested opinions about their application) needed to take a back seat to my children's needs. And the obvious corollary was that I should be slow to judge other parents' choices.
I am forever grateful for those lessons. But I am even more grateful for the real, immediate covering Ann offered my son in his time of need. Noah strapped that sword to his side and it became a constant companion. Ann was exactly right. He needed to kill some imaginary dragons and bad guys. He would need to fight them for several years. At eight and nine years old, in times of stress, Noah would still strap on a sword and go jump on the trampoline.
People who know us now laugh at hearing this story. Our sons' room is a veritable arsenal of swords, bows and an odd air rifle or two. But our sons are not violent. In fact, I think they are more at peace having killed scores of imaginary enemies.
Ann passed into life eternal early Monday morning. Many people will remember her grace, her love of beauty, her music, her hospitality and her devotion to her Lord. Far fewer would imagine, I suspect, that she gave our children "permission" to have such an active fantasy life filled with war and weapons. We are forever grateful!