Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Quote of the Day - Jesus' gift


Today I was telling Ashlyn, "You are such a gift from Jesus to me, Ashlyn."

Ashlyn looked back with her wide eyes and said, "And Jesus was a gift to us when he was born."

I guess that's what it's all about...being God's gift to the world in ways that point to His gift of Jesus.

Here's to a year of life with that possibility in mind. Happy 2009!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Padre nuestro, part 4

Saying memorized prayers has its pros and cons. Engaging in any ritual can be an exercise in just going through the motions, in vain repetition.

Yet, as anyone who's endured viewing #14 of the same princess sing-along video can testify, kids love repetition, vain or otherwise.

The other night, after praying my English-language bedtime prayer--the heartfelt, personalized one recounting the blessings of the day and the beauties of our children--I paused.

The half-conscious Brielle nudged me. "In Spanish, Daddy?"

This from a girl who's more likely to tell me, "Ix-nay on the anish-Spay, Daddy" (or something like that) when I try to bless her with bilingualism. But a Spanish prayer she's heard 'most every night since birth? That's different.

I do not like conforming to fashion, doing what is expected or eating at chain restaurants. Given the choice, I'd rather have a bad time doing something funky and memorable than a good time doing something conventional. Something in me--and I'm probably to blame for this tendency in Ashlyn--despises doing what's been done.

I'm not a big Green Day fan, but I dig their chorus, "I wanna be in the minority." Rage Against the Machine is far from my favorite band either, but I absolutely love that name.

I do not like to identify with the majority machine.

How much less do I want my religion to be a memorized revisiting of things traditional?

This is all pretty sad. At twice the age of a high-schooler, I still get stuck in my teeny worship of the trinity of novelty, originality and independence.

But with my kids' help, I am just now unlearning this idolatry. I'm plugging in to prayers much bigger than me, prayed by pray-ers much older than me.

Vain repetition? Sure, sometimes.

But when Daddy's too tired, short-sighted or human to remember to pray for what is near to the heart of God, a prayer that came straight from that Heart sure is nice to have. And when a phrase from that prayer connects with my heart and becomes my own, there is a real sense that God is close.

If but for a moment, God's heart and mine are on the same page. And my sleepy (well, except for Melía) daughters are there too.

The part of the Lord's Prayer that most often brings me to this place is this:

Venga tu reino. Hágase tu voluntad, como en el cielo, así también en la tierra. (Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.)

This used to be a mere wish for Jesus to come back and clean up the mess we've made of things. And of course, it still is that. My kids and I agree that the most exciting part of God's kingdom coming will be when He shows up visibly and takes us back to His big, big house. We groan along with all of creation for the day when Jesus will come and wake the sleeping dead and carry us home to be with them, to kick it with wild animals, to fly with the angels.

It is going to be awesome.

Yet more and more, this line has become for me a cry for help making our house into God's. When they arrive at God's pad, I want my kids to feel at home--not only because God is able to make anyone feel at home, but also because the Bennie house was something like heaven.

Justice. Mercy. Peace. Delight. Glorious humility. Love.

Henri Nouwen wrote, "We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more" (from Seeds of Hope: a Henri Nouwen Reader).

When the Kingdom comes fully (and the sooner the better), I want Brielle, Melía and Ashlyn to experience it as something more of what has already begun for them. I want them to recognize the love they find in God's big, big house as something they knew an inkling of in the little mountain cabin they once called home.

The Kingdom of God is coming--in all its splendor. One day the lifestyle of the Sermon on the Mount will be real instead of ideal. God's will will be done on earth to the same degree as it is now done in heaven.

We can't wait.

But while we do, I pray with Jesus that we will wait actively, not wishfully. I pray we wait for what has already begun--right here in our humble, hopeful little home.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Padre nuestro, part 3


The Lord's Prayer (in Spanish) is the last thing my kids hear from me at night -- at least the last thing before they hear, "If your foot touches the floor you're on time out. I love you. Go to sleep. I'll miss you till the morning. Do you want to go to time out? Buenas noches, Melía. OK, I'm getting it. Cow's milk or soy milk? I DID warm it! OK, I'll dry it. There. Now go to sleep. Te quiero muchísimo, preciosa. Melía! You're on time out...."

OK, so the Lord's Prayer is ONE of the things they hear from me in the last half-hour of their day.

Anyway, I was sharing what this nocturnal last rite looks like on a typical evening, and then began reflecting on what the prayer means to me as I'm saying it.

Don't let any of this lead you to believe that I am actually thinking about the prayer each night. Some nights, it registers as gibberish even more to me than to my monolingual daughters, just a familiar game-over chant tantamount to the fat lady's song. Sometimes I literally forget the words and have to rehearse and start over to get to the Amén.

But often enough, a phrase strikes a chord, a word revives a dead branch of my soul. To use Jars of Clay's verbiage, the prayer can be "shelter from the rain or the rain to wash me away." Those nights, the words come alive on me. Or something in me comes alive on them.

Sometimes not. But often enough, I reconnect with the One who taught me to pray this way just enough to keep trying.

Santificado sea tu nombre (Hallowed be your name)

Kneeling beside my daughters' beds -- or scooting back and forth between them -- I realize once in a while that this is more than an acknowledgement that God is amazingly holy. That God is holy is plain enough to them, and to me.

They could tell you that God is taller than the roof, that He can fly, that He knows everything, is everywhere and can do anything. He is strong enough to carry all of us and our sleeping loved ones to heaven, and will when the time comes.

I could tell you how much God has grown up in my mind since I had all the answers, somewhere around adolescence. Bigger than my denomination, bigger than the Bible, bigger than Christianity, He is much taller than the ceiling under which I've often kept Him.

He is holy, and wholly other. Unbound by my expectations, unlimited by my anthropomorphizing bent, unaltered by the glass through which I see Him dimly.

I get this.

But the prayer is not saying, "Yo, God. Guess what? You are one holy Deity." This would be redundant, though not totally unhelpful. We do need reminding of the basics. Often.

But the prayer does not do this. It uses "sea" (read "SAY-uh"), the subjunctive mood of the verb be, which is nearly unheard of in English. It's suggesting, wishing, lobbying in favor of the Heavenly Father's name being holy. Maybe it's something more like, "God I want your name to be holy. I wish it were holy. Would that it were holy."

Is this blasphemous? I mean, of all things that need no intercessory prayer, you'd think God's holiness would be one of them.

But want to know why I do intercede for the holiness of God's name? Because to my princesses, I bear that name. I have the radical blessing of being "father," the metaphor God was crazy enough to use for Himself throughout the New Testament.

Like I said last time, I find peace saying, "Our Father in the heavens," because it reminds me that my kids have a Father more reliable than me. But the fact remains--their relationship to their Heavenly Father hangs heavily on my portrayal of the role of "father" in their world. If the earthly father is condemning, they might assume, how much more judgmental must the omniscient One be? If earthly Daddy is prone to rage, just how scary must the Daddy in Heaven, in all His power, be on a bad day?

Father God forbid.

God of Daddyhood, with all that I am, I dream that my fatherhood might do more good than harm to the hallowed name of "father." Whatever mistakes I may make, whether indecency, bankruptcy, idocy or whatever -- just let my girls grow up knowing that being in the arms of a Father is a good thing.

I don't know why you chose "Father" to sum up Who You are to us, Lord. I'm honored and terrified by it. But tonight, I beg You: Please let Your name, the name "Father" -- as I embody it -- be holy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Padre nuestro, part 2


Last post, I described what it looks like when I'm praying the Lord's Prayer (el Padre Nuestro) with my girls at night. This time, I want to begin sharing some of the things that have gone on in my head as I've said that prayer with them.

As a teen, I was devoutly anti-ritualistic. People repeating the Lord's Prayer in unison seemed ridiculous, and totally missed the point, I was convinced. Praying exactly the words Jesus gave his disciples seemed about as literalistic and lame as someone wearing a tunic and walking around with fisherman in an attempt to do what Jesus did. Obviously, I contended, Jesus was offering us a pattern to follow, not a liturgy to repeat.

These days, I've come to appreciate memorized prayers. After a day of work and parenting, sometimes it's nice not to have to drum up a prayer that is natural yet appropriate, heartfelt while setting a good theological example for the little listening souls.

Actually, we pray both, beginning with homemade prayers from the Mommy and the Daddy and whoever else is game. But often, the prayer that ushers in the most peace--and not just because it's the one closer to the end of the exhausting bedtime dance--is the one that comes straight from the 1960 Reina-Valera (think Spanish King James) Version of Matthew 6:9-13.

Padre nuestro, que estás en los cielos.... (Our Father, which art in heaven...)

Thank God I am not the only Daddy they have. Hard as it is to explain that I'm their father and so is God, what a relief to know my limited resources are but the hint of the aroma of the crust on the tip of the iceberg of their strength. After hours trying to love, discipline, feed, teach, referee, encourage, correct, clean up after and play with my beautiful brood of princesses, it is a grace to realize that at the end of the day, I do not have to be king.

"Our father." In these words, my wife and girls and I are on our knees together, equally childish, equally helpless to defend or make sense of ourselves. Not Brielle, Melía, Ashlyn, but it's me, oh Lord standing in the need of prayer. We all need Your Fatherhood.

With one Father, in a sense we are siblings. Sometimes the idea of being big brother to my girls seems more desirable to me even than Daddy. It allows me to love, protect and guide while acknowledging that the little ones and I have one Source. More than teacher to them, I am peer tutor, still a student, as needy as ever for wisdom from the Master.

I've always been intimidated by Bible heroes' abysmal records as fathers. (See Fathering fears, then and now.) Adam, born in perfection, raises a murderer. Noah, the one who found favor in the eyes of the Lord, ends up cursing a son and his descendants after waking up on the wrong side of the bed. David, man after God's own heart, raises one son who rapes a half-sister and another who starts a bloody rebellion against David.

I was talking through this uninspiring "cloud of witnesses" with a friend and mentor named Tracy. "I get a little freaked out realizing that most of the biggest heroes in the Bible really sucked at being fathers," I laughed nervously.

Tracy looked back at me, never missing a beat, and uttered the words that may have done more than anything else to put my heart at rest. "You're going to suck at it too, Mike." (Did he actually say that? I wondered.) "And by grace, they are going to be OK anyway."

"Padre nuestro." I am so deeply grateful that these little girls are not stuck with just this frail human father.

They have One who is in the heavens. And the old-school Spanish reminds me that it is not just "Heaven" singular, that far-away paradise where God sits on a chaise lounge with his iced tea while we suffer down in our ghetto of sin. It is "los cielos," "the heavens"--all three of them, including the sky above us and the air around us, even the breath I breathed to say this prayer. He is the Father whose kingdom is not of this world, but absolutely is in it--a kingdom within us, among us.

Our true Father is in heaven. And He is closer to us than our skin.

Thanks, Lord. I needed that.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Padre nuestro, part 1


I had this bright idea that I'd teach my kids Spanish. I'd spent years making myself into a bilingual, and I wanted to save them the sweat. Kids' minds are sponges, right? I used to take infant Brielle for walks, describing all I saw in Spanish. For a long time, it was virtually all I spoke to her.

But as the only Spanglophone in my family and among the people we usually hang out with, speaking Spanish became to my kids yet another one of Daddy's strange and generally annoying quirks. I'd try to read a book in Spanish, translating on the fly, and Brielle would reprimand me, "It's not in 'panish, Daddy!" And the books that were in Spanish she did not want to hear. The more fluent she became in English, the more adamant she was that I not speak Spanish.

One day, I considered what was probably a false dichotomy: raise a daughter who was bilingual but distant because, over her protests, I always talked to her in her weak linguistic suit, or throw in the towel and let her learn Spanish the old-fashioned way--earn it. Figuring she'd have enough to tell the therapist about her weirdo father without this, I dropped the one-man immersion agenda and switched to a new tack.

I would try to make learning Spanish seem cool.

I'll let you know how it goes.

But one last vestige of my Daddy-as-Spanish-teacher days is that at night, after praying in English with the girls, I say the Lord's Prayer in Spanish, stroking their hair and kissing cheeks along the way. In the twins' room, I walk back and forth between the beds to deliver this affection as I pray. It looks something like this:

"Padre Nuestro, que estás en los cielos--" I lightly scratch Ashlyn's scalp and walk over to Melía, who is lying upside down in her bed.

"Santificado sea tu nombre." I turn Melía upright and smooth her curls back out of her eyes before walking gingerly back to Ashlyn, hoping not to tred upon one of the many homeless toys littering the floor.

"Venga tu reino, hágase tu voluntad--" After squeezing Ashlyn's cheek tight against mine, I return to Melía. I try to run my fingernails over her scalp without pulling it out of the ponytail, since this may be the hairdo she has to live with tomorrow, depending on how late we're running.

"--como en los cielos, así también en la tierra." Back at Ashlyn's bedside, I am either amazed at how fast she falls asleep, or at my foolish commitment to praying over the kicking, screaming fury that has been the storm before her calm since babyhood.

"El pan nuestro de cada día, dánoslo hoy." I walk back across the room, stretch Melía's beloved purple Tinkerbell blanket over her and just for kicks (literally), I try pulling the nice plush bedspread that grandma made up over her legs, just to see if she'll notice. "No! Not dat wow! I don't lite that bwankit!" Duly chastised, I return the comforter to its regular location bunched up at the foot of the bed.

"Y perdónanos nuestras deudas, como nosotros también perdonamos a nuestros deudores." I come back to the face side of the child and sneak as many kisses onto her cheek as I can respectably squeeze into the middle of a prayer. Melía is OK with this.

"No nos metas en tentación, mas líbranos del mal."
I tiptoe back across the room. Ashlyn is nonresponsive now, either because of her ongoing pre-slumber fit or because she's already out. If it's the latter, I get to lay some kisses on her round cheeks. In the case of the former, I really get into this line of the prayer, for temptation is nigh.

"Porque tuyo es el reino--" I pause and make the perilous three-step journey back to Melía and plant a single kiss on her cheek.

"--y el poder--" Back to Ashlyn, who also gets a kiss on the cheek, whether she's dreaming or tantruming.

"--y la gloria--" Melía knows we're in the homestretch now, and is finalizing her plans for how to delay the end. Will it be another trip to the potty? Or a request for a beverage, followed by requests to warm/cool/dry it? Maybe both. I hug her, knowingly.

"--por todos los siglos." Ashlyn gets an indulgently tight squeeze. Unlike her skin-and-bones sisters, her solid frame feels like it can take it. And anyway, she'll sleep through it.

"Amén." One last kiss on Melía's forehead, and I tuck her in under the purple blanket, which she has mostly shed by now. I slide back over to Ashlyn.

"Amén."

A final kiss on Ashie's head, and I am the luckiest man in the world. I have three beautiful angel princess monkey daughters.

And they are now asleep.

Amén.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Of faith and flying reindeers


Driving home in the minivan, still 6 weeks away from Halloween, Christmas was on my daughter's mind.

"Daddy, can Santa's reindeers really fly, for real life?"

I sensed this was the start of another high-stakes conversation, about far more than Rudolph and friends.

"That's a hard question, Brielle," I answered, wondering what skeptical kindergarteners had planted these seeds of doubt in my 5-year-old's mind. Maybe it was her 5th grade buddy? I went with an opinion poll--raw, objective data. "I know a lot of people say that Santa's reindeer fly. But other people don't believe that."

I know how to avoid taking a stand on an important issue as well as any good politician.

Quiet in the minivan.

"I've never seen Santa's reindeer fly, Brielle."

"But Daddy, you have never seen his reindeers at all."

"That's right. I haven't. So if I haven't seen them, I can't know if they can fly or not." I paused, trying to decide if this dialog should be connected at all to any larger questions. I was pretty sure it should not. But the old Bible teacher in me couldn't resist.

"Some people only believe what they can see. They don't believe anything is real except what they can see. Just like with God. Some people like you and me believe God is real even though we can't see Him. But other people don't believe in Him.

"I believe that lots of things that I can't see are real," I continued.

"Why, Daddy?"

"Well, Brie, my eyes are very small, and the world is so big--I think there must be a lot of things in such a big world that are real even if my little eyes can't see them."

"I only believe in God," Brielle said, all smiles.

"Yes, you do, my Brie. So do I."

A quarter mile of mountain road passed under our gray Odyssey as we neared home, my better sense scolding me for having a chat about faith in God at the same time we discussed the plausibility of airborne deer. But isn't it valid to compare two myths believed in and experienced joyfully by some and laughed at by others? Is faith not required for both? There would be time later to explain how the God stories we teach her are more intellectually defensible than those about St. Nick on the North Pole--not that I am ready to make that case just yet. I have years before she gets around to asking that.

On second thought, maybe I don't. Maybe I better get to the library and check out some C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, the best apologies I can find. Isn't there a kids edition of Lee Strobel's The Case for Faith?

While I questioned myself, Brielle was devising a plan of her own. "Daddy, this Christmas Eve, I'm going to go to bed in the front room on the couch. And I'm going to sleep a little bit and stay awake a little bit."

"Why, Brie?" I asked, feigning confusion. I knew where this was going.

"I'm going to find out if Santa's reindeers are real or if they are not. And then I'm going to tell all of you guys." She was very proud of this.

"That's good, my Brie," I said, appreciative of her scientific method, the show-me spirit inherited from her Missourian grandpa, but hoping she'd forget this plan by Christmas. Since she probably would not, I was also wondering what her odds of staying asleep in the front room the entire night before Christmas might be. For a second I think visions of Benadryl danced in my head.

"I'm going to find out if they really do fly or if they just walk a long ways," she announced. A beat. "My guess is that they ride from the North Pole on an airplane, and then go back to the North Pole on that airplane with Santa. And that's what I want to do."

"You want to go to the North Pole on an airplane?"

"Yes--but with my family," she said.

This was the most liberal exegesis of the Father Christmas narrative I had ever heard from her. For better or worse, the demythologizing of the sacred Santa scripture has already begun.

What will be next?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Glorious humiliation

Parenthood is the most glorious sort of humiliation.

From its genesis, holiness and filth walk with fingers entwined, forbidden lovers born for each other. From the gooey mess of afterbirth emerges the angel face of a daughter. As I wipe muck from her year-old bottom, she giggles and launches my heart ceiling-high. Mopping up the collateral damage of her potty-training—again—I am caught between curses and praises. Waiting on tiny tables, buttoning princess dresses, washing heart-shaped dishes, breaking up kitten fights, I fight my proud resistance to this daily ordinance of humility.

Work is so much easier than this. And so much more rewarding.

Yes, more rewarding.

Work yields fast dividends: esteem, results, checks on checklists, unprompted thank-yous, a sense of accomplishment. At work I have an office space I control, where books stay neatly in line on the shelves and tools are my toys. People—nearly grown people—come and go in civilized fashion, wait their turn, say please. Stacks of work diminish in size as I solve problems using high-level mental processes. The diplomas I worked years to earn are on the wall, smiling down at me, stretching out an arm to pat me on the back.

It is really quite nice. A happy sort of limbo where neither glory nor humiliation come calling.

But home is the marriage of heaven and hell. The highs are high and the lows are low.

The question is (as it was for readers of Blake’s masterpiece), which is the real heaven and which the real hell? Is heaven when all is mellow, when the kids are napping or hugging me or playing nicely for a change? Is hell when I’m wiping up blood, urine and tears to the tune of children’s wailing?

Or is something else going on? Are the inconveniences of parenting that feel like hell purging the pent-up inferno of my self-centeredness? Are the quick rewards of work that seem so heavenly sustaining the life of my parasitic ego, the one that sucks dry the God-imaged me? Are the moments of peace paradise’s reward to me, or breaks in the boot camp in which God has lovingly enrolled me?

When did we decide that the best thing to do is the one we find most “rewarding” anyway? Did Jesus wash filthy feet for the rewards? Was Calvary his quest for paradise?

Caring for my children exposes the rawness of my nerves, the frailty of my facades, the poverty of my soul. It catches me red-handed. It brings me to my knees in ways that my rewarding job never could.

I do not like this part of the Daddy gig. It infuriates me daily. I fight against it, I whisper curses. I slam the wall with my open hand, hoping it will knock sense up through my arm into my heavy heart.

I pray desperately. I hug my girls, pressing my cheek in hard against theirs. I breathe in the bouquet of their hair and kiss the blonde curls atop their heads, hungry to be filled with the kind of love they were born to enjoy.

Through the anger of vulgar self-interest—my real hell—I emerge with a sort of peace. Humiliated. Gloriously.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Helping Daddy


One thing I love about my children is how desperately they yearn to be helpful. I have three lovely assistants for all my screw driving, tooth brushing, seatbelt buckling, word processing, DVD cleaning, tea steeping, floor sweeping, needle raking, laundry folding, cake baking, grocery shopping, Band-Aid sticking, and doll hair trimming needs.

With all this help, it’s a wonder I manage to come up with things to do with my excess leisure time.

Or something like that.

Of course, the well-intentioned help of my dear ones proves to be a routine disaster. It costs me time, money and patience. With three little women at work, less things get done in more time generating more mess and waste than even I in all my advanced klutziness could manage on my own.

Working with their help is inefficiency on steroids.

And it is beautiful.

In one of his videos, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey relates his frustrating experience working toward delegating lawn care to his son. All he asked for were two things: green and clean. Simple as that seemed to Daddy Covey, his son consistently let things slide. Green faded to tan. Trash piled up. It was taking Covey more time and stress to supervise the job his son was doing badly than it would have taken to do it well himself.

Days into the experiment, Covey was ready to fire his new gardener. But he pulled himself aside and reviewed his real purpose in the whole process: “Raising boys, not grass.”

The young gardener kept his job.

Having my children help me makes an abomination of my proverbial lawn. I get scratched DVDs, a broken computer keyboard, eggshells in my birthday cake. I take a full 15 minutes to load the minivan while they buckle their own car seats. It takes longer still if I commit the atrocity of starting the buckling myself, because then they have to undo my work and redo it themselves. It makes me crazy.

But what am I here to raise—pretty turf or helpful souls?

I have often wondered why God lets us help Him. He could self-reveal directly to people and circumvent all our human distortions of Who He is. He could feed the world with a couple loaves of Roman Meal and a few cans of tuna instead of waiting on us to share our own loaves and fishes. He could finance mission work using some of His own cattle on His own thousand hills without relying on the fickleness of our generosity. He could realize social justice with His own omnipotent hand rather than suffering the sight of our clinging to the status quo.

It must make Him sick sometimes. You can hear His impatience in the voice of the Old Testament prophets. If I get anxious waiting for my girls to buckle their seatbelts, how much more desperate He must be for us to hurry up and do the right thing for people. He cries with all the victims of all the suffering we allow to go on. This is more than a pretty lawn we’re talking about.

If the Father wants it done right, why doesn’t He just do it Himself?

Maybe this was part of Jesus’ third temptation—bow and enjoy the convenience of having things right in the world without the hassle of having to work one by one, day by excruciating day, with people who are so slow, so stubborn, so immature. Maybe it is a temptation He has to keep fending off. Or maybe He faced it and conquered it on the day He settled on the insane decision to create people in His image.

Whatever the case, I’m sure of one thing. God is definitely much more interested in growing people—with all its steroid-size inefficiency—than in getting things done right or quickly or efficiently or any of those other things I lust for when I’m letting my children help their Daddy.

I need to learn from Him the patience that relishes baby steps in my children despite the mess they make while they are learning. I want to delight in their desire to help without regard for how unhelpful their efforts may seem. I long to celebrate what they are learning to do, even when it takes longer and turns out worse than I could have done on my own.

I am here to raise girls, not grass.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Know what I did last summer?


I am on summer break--eight whopping weeks of unemployed freedom. I've been looking forward to it since Easter, planning my days. I would blog five times a week, revise last year's 3-day novel and outline this year's, accomplish a host of home projects and do all manner of cool daddy activities with the girls.

I do not know what I was thinking.

I should know from two years of experience what staying home with the kids for the summer means. It little resembles a writer's retreat or anything on the DIY channel.


Last summer, childless friends of mine were emailing from all around the globe--Paris, India, Thailand--sharing their romantic adventures. After a day that could only be called normal by a father of multiple preschoolers, I sat down and wrote about my own summer adventures. Here they are, with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy:


You may be a stay-home daddy of three toddlers if…
  • Your diet today consisted of half-eaten food including nibbled toast, soggy Cheerios, half a smashed banana, cold mac 'n' cheese, the crusts of PBJ sandwiches soaked in milk, and whatever they didn't gnaw off the broccoli stem.
  • You ate all of the above on plastic Dora the Explorer, Barbie Princess, or Care Bears plates.
  • You can disassemble, wash, refill, heat and deliver a sippy cup to a screaming child with a screaming child on your shoulders.
  • You hummed a kiddie song all morning, accented by curses.
  • You actually prayed to God for a word that would replace or clean up the four-letter mantra that kept coming up when the kids were too near…and He gave you three in one ("Fuggetaboutit").
  • You have ever reached down to pick up a crumb of stray trash and discovered it was a tiny sphere of excrement.
  • You recently cleaned Cheerios from any of the following places: mattress, floor, foot bottom, BOTTOM bottom, carpet, carport, carseat, car engine, under bed, vacuum cleaner (it can only suck so many).
  • Your IQ is inversely proportional to the number of offspring awake at the moment.
  • You have ever fished reading material from the latrine. (Baptized book titles include Prayers for Peace, and Silent Flowers: A New Collection of Japanese Haiku Poems. And yes, they dried nicely and still grace our john. Haiku submissions inspired by that scene are welcome).
  • You joined Netflix and instinctively put Elmo's Potty Time at the top of your queue.
  • You watched it the day it arrived—over breakfast.
  • You compulsively count to three when in public places.
  • You used the word "poopoo" and "peepee" more than twelve times today.
  • You cheer and dance when anyone in your home acts these words out.
  • You successfully answered the question, "Why?" six times this morning before punting with, "Because God made it that way."
  • Your working vocabulary consists 97% of "no, later, time out, be nice, please, eat, wait, I don't know, say you're sorry, time out, swat, not yet, get in the car, stop it, thank you" and "Daddy loves you A LOT."
So...where would I rather be? Nowhere. (Except it would be more fun with Mommy home from work.)

(August 8, 2007)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Hope (part 2)

Weeks ago I ranted a critique of "hope" in Hope (part 1). My children, to my chagrin, are frequent flyers on hope's wings. Have I failed to teach them to embrace the present rather than pine for what's ahead? Instead of proactive designers of their destiny, are they learning to be victims, limply hoping for change down the pike?

I hope not. (Whoops.)

Maybe I'm the one failing to learn what my children are trying to show me about hope.

I did promise to share some kid stories that help me question my questions about the value of hope. He
re is one.

---

We came home tonight to a jaybird dying on the porch. It lay there, just under the motion-sensitive light, moving too little for me to notice, but enough to give hope to the one daughter still awake.

Brielle wanted to save it.

“It will be just fine if we take care of it, Daddy. What do blue jays eat?”

“Brielle, blue jays eat other baby birds and the eggs of other birds. They’re not really a very nice kind of bird.” I was tired. A smear campaign against the species sounded easier than offering emergency veterinary services.

Brielle was shocked but quiet. The little birdie clawing the air on the porch looked too harmless to be an infanticidal egg thief.

I saw the harshness of my tack reflected in her eyes, felt its sting, and softened my approach. “Brielle, it’s probably the same one that smacked against our window yesterday. It probably is blind and won’t be able to live very long without its sight.”

“Daddy, why are blue jays not nice to other blue jays?”

“Brielle, you know, God didn’t make animals smart enough to know what is nice. They just know they need to eat and they try to find food even if they have to do not-nice things to get it. So they’re not being ‘not-nice,’ they’re just trying to eat."

She liked this. Not guilty by reason of low IQ. “So the birdie doesn’t know it’s not nice to eat other birds’ eggs. I think the birdie ate other birds' eggs and then it thought it would fly and then it hit our house and got blind and now it won't steal any other birdies' eggs."

This wasn't working.

"Brielle, you know, if this birdie dies, two good things could happen. One thing is that another hungry animal will eat it and be happy it found some food." There was that stinging, shocked look again. I hate causing that look in her eyes, even when I do it by telling the truth. "Or, if another animal doesn't eat it, its body will go into the ground and help other plants and trees grow because they will use the vitamins that were in the birdie's body."

”Daddy, maybe we can give it some water. And an egg. Maybe blue jays are not nice to other blue jays. But they are pretty sweet to us. It looked sweet and nice.”

Great.

She was right. It was a beautiful bird. Helpless. Beyond the need for judgment--guilty, not guilty...nice, not nice. At our mercy.

And truth is, resigned as I was to this creature’s place in the food chain, the inevitability of its downward slide on the circle of life, I didn’t like being out there watching it die. Euthanasia was probably the nicest thing I could have done, but even if I’d had the strength to do this, I lacked a way to do it so Brielle wouldn’t know, or a way to explain it to her if she did.

I grabbed an egg from its cardboard carton in the fridge. I filled a ketchup cap with water. Together, we went out to the still bird, set the egg and water a couple feet away on the porch. We found a stick and gently pushed them right next to the bird, urging our desperate offering toward its beak. It fluttered, and settled down again.

“Maybe the birdie will get some rest, wake up and drink the water and eat. Maybe it will fly away and be OK tomorrow,” I offered, wanting this to be true perhaps as much as Brielle wanted to believe I was telling the truth.

We both dared to hope. And our hope moved us to merciful action.

At 11:30 I heard the bird shriek. I ran across the room to see a hungry raccoon finishing the job that I lacked the courage to do. Masked and nonchalant, the raccoon dragged the jay--along with our egg--under the porch and finished off both.

Even if Brielle finds out what happened to the bird (and you BETTER not tell her), I think she will agree with me on this: I am glad she hoped. Because her hope moved me from tired resignation to actually doing something, however small, for a needy member of creation. And that moved both of us from guilt and complicity with the darkness into a place where we offered a sort of light.

Whatever the outcome, we both felt better having hoped, having tried.

Friday, June 20, 2008

My grand Father's Day

This Father’s Day was kind of sad for the ladies in my life. Our family was missing two fathers. With Rachelle’s dad and grandpa both gone, and my brothers still trying to figure out how babies are made (or something like that) it left just my dad and me to get the royal Daddy treatment.

Neither Rachelle nor Evonne has a habit of tallying losses, but on a day like Father’s Day in a year as grief-ridden as this has been, it’s hard for the fatherless and the widow not to feel the irony.

These losses make me even more aware of how fortunate I am to have my dad. He lost his father when he was still in grade school. Naturally, he imagined he would follow suit.

As kids, we lived only half-resigned to the dread of Dad’s early death. We feared it but we knew it was coming. It was as real and as expected as other unavoidable certainties like swim workouts or going away to college.

But we dreaded this most of all.

And now, against all prophecies of doom, he has survived. By God’s grace, he is cashing social security checks, yelling at the Lakers, chasing the Four Freshmen around the country with Mom as they celebrate their 60th anniversary (the Four Freshmen, that is), and working 80-hour weeks during tax season. (We still pray he’ll retire. Soon.)

Best of all, he is goofing off with my three little girlies. Listening with rapt attention as Melía tells about her prize snails and roly-polies. Making faces. Tickling his way down Ashlyn’s face saying, “Fore-bender, eye-winker, tom-tinker, nose-smeller, mouth-eater, chin-chopper, gully-gully-gully!” and cackling as raucously as she does. Playing hide-and-go-seek. Teaching Brielle how to cast with her new Barbie fishing pole (and dig that visual). Reading about Jesus calming the storm with real sound effects, the wind and waves rocking all four of them in the La-Z-Boy. (They eat this up as much as I did at their age.)

These are all things of beauty that I never imagined. Measures of soul music after movements of monotone. Breathtaking vistas out of miles of fog. They take me by surprise—as heaven will no doubt do when it comes in fullness—because I never dared to think of any of this. My vision was too short to see myself with children, much less with my dad around to enjoy them. It is unanticipated delight. Serendipity. An ambush of joy.

So thanks for sticking around, Big Dada. Life has often been tiring, and survival can be harder than its alternative. But we’re lucky you’re still with the programdespite your predictions.

“I’m wrong. I’m always wrong,” you have often lamented. You are far from always wrong. But I’m glad you were wrong on this one, Big Dada. Really glad.

We love you.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day every day


It’s always kind of funny to watch us celebrate Father’s Day.

On Mother’s Day, we cook or buy mom brunch. We care for her needs, make cards and pictures for her, think of her first when choosing entertainment.

And that is all very special. Because we don’t do these things the rest of the year. Male behavior on Mother’s day stands out like a sore thumb from male behavior the rest of the days on the calendar. And women’s lives on Mother’s Day bear precious little resemblance to how they roll on non-feast days.

Father’s Day, meanwhile, is actually kind of redundant.

I mean, this Father’s Day, I was noticing just how good I have it the rest of the year, what special treatment I get throughout Ordinary Time.

Meals prepared? Yep.

Needs cared for? Absolutely.

Handmade artwork from the kids? At least a couple times a week.

Power to choose entertainment? Well…OK, so three out of four ain’t bad. It was a nice change to enjoy the Lakers game on Father’s Day rather than something involving princesses, puppets or purple dinosaurs.

But other than that, I was mostly aware of how good dads have it almost every day. It reminded me of when I was a kid, asking my parents, “When is Children’s Day?”

You know the answer we got. “Every day is Children’s Day.”

I’m thinking every day is Father’s Day too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The day I became Daddy

Yesterday Brielle turned five. That meant she ate a cupcake for breakfast, wore her fuzzy pink “Birthday Princess” crown (not that she hasn’t worn it night and day on many other days and nights), announced, “I’m five!” to various strangers and pretty much glowed all day long.

It also meant I’ve been a daddy for a half-decade.

This is one of those things that trips me out either way I look at it. On one hand, I cannot believe that a young, free, newlywed such as myself could have been doing the parenthood thing for this enormous span of time. Nearly half of the dozen years we’ve been married, we have been married with children. In a couple months, we’ll be taking Brielle to kindergarten.

No way.

In another instant, I wonder that I have not always been a father. I think about life before Brielle, and draw a blank. What did we do for entertainment before we had live dancing girls? Where did we spend Saturday mornings before we enrolled in Cradle Roll and Tiny Tots Sabbath school classes? What cluttered my back seat before yogurt had bonded Cheerios to the upholstery?

You mean it’s only been five years? A measly seventh of my life?

On a Tuesday not unlike yesterday—a warm morning with the promise of summer vacation on the wind, the dry heat of the mountain soil injecting adventure into the air—I loaded my wife and a strange collection of baby stuff, most of which I could not name, much less use, into our white Xterra. An empty infant carseat was strapped in back (utterly devoid of Cheerios).

Rachelle was ready to have the child out of her abdomen. We had a date with our OB, who had agreed she was ripe enough to induce before the expectant grandparents left for Jamaica.

I played with the camcorder as we got into the car, readying myself to be journalist, cheerleader, Lamaze coach…and something…something else. What was it?

Oh yes, that. Somewhere in the fuzzy corners of my imagination, like a mortal trying to picture eternity in heaven—or hell—I supposed that presently, I would be a father.

We checked in, joked around on the video, and finally got down to business. Pitosin works, but works slowly, I’m convinced, on a child with a will as strong as Brielle’s. She was in no rush to say hello to the cold, cruel world, and Rachelle progressed slowly through the day and into the night.

Knowing my penchant for fainting over finger pricks and blood draws, I left the room when it was time for the epidural. We didn’t need to occupy doctors with more than one baby that night, I thought. It turned out that this was one of the hardest moments for Rachelle, and she wished I had been there.

I remember with dread leaving Rachelle’s room while she slept to correct papers and calculate grades on my laptop from about 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. The school year was over, but my least favorite part of teaching was still in my face. I have always hated the process of turning students’ thoughts, ideas, creativity and hard work into cold numbers, and then adding those numbers up to come up with one of five letters.

Here, as my wife endured holy labor, doing grades seemed especially profane.

I was just exporting all this profanity to floppy disk when the word came that Rachelle was awake and making progress. (Please pardon the Male-ese. She might put it, “I was in agony like never before, turning myself inside out and WHERE WERE YOU?!”)

The contractions came quicker and quicker, and I just wanted it to be over. I put all my energy into rubbing Rachelle’s low back so hard that it would be sore for days after she came home. Finally, the doctor was telling her to push. I was delighted. The end was in sight.

Rachelle’s pain climaxed, and my delight clashed with her torture.

But finally, a terrific cocktail of fluids and tissues began to gush from my wife. Again, I was delighted—this was almost over. I would not have to watch helplessly while Rachelle suffered anymore.

From this nasty pool emerged the most beautiful infant face I had ever seen. The severity of contrast between birth and baby added wonder to the miracle. I have come to regard that moment as a metaphor of our existence in the universe—in the midst of chaos, entropy, decay, our planet is a beautiful exception.

My Brielle. She was beautiful from the moment I saw her. Beautiful and loud.

They cleaned her off, let me cut the end off the already clipped umbilical cord and wrapped her in a hospital blanket. They put the tiny bundle in my arms, and she began to quiet down. Her blue eyes stared up at me, clear and curious, it seemed.

It was all over.

It had really begun.

Remember in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, how at the end when he sees the Whos singing even after they were ripped off, the Grinch’s heart grows three sizes? I am certain mine grew about five in that moment.

Five. I can’t believe it’s been five years already. I can’t believe it’s only been five years.

The stuff of eternity just doesn’t make sense in terms of time.

Happy birthday, sweet big Brie! Thank you for helping God grow my heart every day of your wonderful five years. I love you more than I ever imagined possible.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hope (part 1)


For a long time, I’ve had mixed feelings about hope. It’s a sparkly idea and all, and would have made a great monosyllabic middle name for our fourth daughter had we had triplets, going nicely with the twins’ “Grace” and “Faith.”

But I have a couple beefs about the whole idea of hope.

Beef #1: People hoping for change too often are people sitting on the sidelines complaining about the status quo and waiting for someone else to alter it. Rather than saying, “I hope such-and-such occurs,” I’d rather say, “Here’s what I want and here’s what I’m doing to create it.” Victims and slaves hope. As a free person, why not act instead?

And here’s Beef #2: When I’m hoping for something better down the line, I’m probably missing out on something great right here and now. C.S. Lewis wrote in his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, that in his miserable years of boarding school, perhaps the best thing he learned about the Christian walk was to live by hope—ever looking forward to the freedom and bliss of holiday. But wasn’t every moment he spent fantasizing about what was to come a moment lost on embracing what was? Isn’t every ounce of energy I spend pining for the future an ounce lost on appreciating the present? “Hope” seems like a happy, shiny word for “procrastinating happiness.” I say, why not have it now?

My kids make me think about this whole thing. Though their lives are far less miserable than schoolboy Lewis’s was, they too live by hope, always looking forward to what is next. “When is my birthday?” asks Melía daily. “What tind bir'day party I am doing have?” She savors conversation about an event that is months away, living in regular communion with the ghosts of birthday future. We think this is cute and go with it.

I’m sure I did plenty of this as a kid. But I remember my parents reminding me how precious the present was. They told me that my childhood years were the best of my life, that if anything, our growing up was happening too fast. This kind of talk did give me a certain trepidation about the onslaught of adulthood stress, but it also taught me to seize the day, because tomorrow is not likely to be any better than today. I wonder if I am doing too little of this with my kids.

I motivate my kids through difficult circumstances with hope. But I don’t like it. Last night I took the three girls to a former student’s graduation, a boring prospect even for people with attention spans longer than a Dora the Explorer episode. We swung through the evening like Tarzan from bribery to bribery: ice cream sandwiches if they got out to the car quickly, McDonald’s if they behaved during graduation, Blue’s Clues if they refrained from fighting my pajama-donning and tooth-brushing efforts. It’s embarrassing to write about. But it worked.

Is hope just something the powers that be, whether good or evil, use to manipulate us?

I have stories to tell about my kids’ hope that are making me question my questions about the value of hope. I’ll share a few next time….

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Prayer-time prayer

Lord, help.

I want our evening prayer time to be fun. But I also want my kids to stick around for the fun. They do have fun during prayer time; it's just fun completely unrelated to the prayer process. They laugh, play, box, squirm, bounce, wrestle, bite, kiss, tickle and wiggle, and that is fun.

But how do I crack down on these innocent activities so destructive of the focus I'm going for without wreaking another kind of destruction even less desirable than playing during prayer? I can explain to Brielle that God loves fun, and loves to hear us laugh, but sometimes He likes us to take a break from laughing so we can talk to Him about things that are not just laughing things. I think it made sense to her, but it sure felt like saying, "Talking with God is the vegetables, and the stuff you really want to do is dessert."

How do I draw their attention to the need for reverence, for silence, for respect, for awe, without raining on the parade of their God-given joy? Shoot, how do I even get through a modest-length bedtime prayer without sending someone to timeout or sounding like a self-interrupting idiot?

Melía, for example, has learned to pray the way we have modeled, even when there is no competing noise. "Dear Jesus--I'M PRAYING! Thank You for this wonderful--I'M PRAYING! Thank You for Mommy and Daddy and--I'M PRAYING! Thank You for Brielle and Ashlyn--MOMMY, I'M PRAYING!" These Tourette's-like utterances punctuate her prayers, just as they do ours. But, Lord, it is sad. What can we do?

OK, let's brainstorm options:
  1. Ignore the bad behavior and hope it goes away.
  2. Send all offenders to timeout on first offense, even if it means we're down to Mommy-Daddy prayer time with screaming children in various corners of the house.
  3. Don't miss a beat; simply swat children as I pray for God to help us love people even when they are not nice to us.
  4. Best of #1 and #3: Ignore misdeeds during prayer (as inaudible as they may render the prayer itself), swat child after we are all done praying for love.
  5. Scold children via God by praying for divine intervention to control their misbehavior (my least favorite option because of how often my parents prayed things like, "And please help Michael not to scratch his brother's face while we are praying to You," after which I would insist that God ignore any such entreaties).
  6. Give up on bedtime prayers till the children act appropriately (i.e. potentially not until our funeral).
I have tried all of the above except #6, and let me tell You, Lord, that one gets pretty tempting sometimes.

Maybe this all bothers me so much because I know how hard it is to settle my own soul down to pray. I have my own versions of squirming and giggling and fiddling and fussing that derail my soul from focus on its Creator: phone calls, self-congratulation, self-condemnation, NPR, blaming, worrying and Figuring It All Out, just for starters. I'm sure God has tried a list much longer than the above to get me to have the kind of fun that talking with Him can be, but so often I settle for lesser diversions.

Parents are wont to push their offspring to succeed in ways they've never been able to themselves. I guess this is a wholesome drive at times, but often it's no more than a lust for vicarious accomplishment. It's not about the kid; it's about me.

Maybe I'm so desperate for them to get this prayer thing now because I fear I've never really gotten it myself.

Be that as it may, Lord.... Help me help them. Help them. Help me. Help!

Amen.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Things I never dreamed I'd say

Everyone knows kids say the darnedest things. But only parents know how often kids lead you to speak, pause, review what you just said, and wonder at the improbable language required for childrearing. We say insane stuff every day.

When I get the time, I'd like to create a random generator of things parents of young children have either said or will eventually say. All the computer would do is select a random choice from each of these categories:
  1. Negative mandate (with implied threat) such as "stop trying to, you should never, please do not, never ever, you will go on time-out if you, I'm pulling over and it will be ouchy if I see you," etc.
  2. Verb for frequent child behaviors, including but not limited to "hit, eat, break, throw, mess up, bite, kick, fuss at, scratch, smash, inhale, cut, splash, lick, pinch, wet, hurt, fight," etc.
  3. Likely object of verb (usually something sentient, fragile, valuable or totally disgusting): "your sister, me, the carpet, my jewelry box, the kitten, poopoo, sand, peepee, the computer, the family portrait, the curtains, the toilet, your food, bathwater, my papers, the dirty gummy bear from under the car seat," and so forth.
A parent smart enough to program a robot to say these randomly generated bits of wisdom might save volumes of speech. Recording these phrases in one's own voice, randomly putting them together and then playing them at night while the child is sleeping would be a great subliminal preemptive strike on all manner of misdeeds, or at least would allow a parent to later say, with virtual truth, "I told you not to do that!"

Off the top of my head, here are just a few of the really-truly bizarrisms that we can remember saying, unaided by technology:
  • Do not eat the Band-Aid you took off your foot.
  • Never ever wipe your bottom with the hand towel.
  • No biting the chair while on time-out.
  • Please do not blow your nose onto the couch/Mommy's dress/the dishtowel.
  • Do not go poopoo in the bath tub.
  • Do not drink the bath water! It has poopoo in it!
  • Your sister/the kitten/Mommy's hair/the power screwdriver is not a toy!
  • Please do not ever stick a marble up your nose again.
  • Only eat flowers that Daddy tells you to eat.
  • No, you may not ride on top of the minivan.
  • Stop biting your Cinderella dress.
  • You can't wear your Jasmine dress to church.
  • Please take off your Snow White dress before taking a bath.
  • Do not throw diapers in the toilet.
  • Please clean the table with something besides the broom.
  • I don't think the kitty wants to eat your raisins.
The list gives you a feel for a day in the life, but is far from exhaustive. And if it were exhaustive today, it would be so no longer by tomorrow. New material is generated as often as our bathroom floor is desecrated by potty-trainers.

I would love to read other weird things parents have said in the line of duty. Maybe I can work them into my random Daddy-talk generator someday!

So, "for real life," as Brielle would say, let's hear
them! Please comment away with your own peculiar parental prose!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bedside prayer


Last night I put Brielle to bed an hour late.

This is hardly an aberration. But usually it happens because they’ve fought more, kicked the pajamas off an extra time or two, gritted the teeth harder than normal through tooth-brushing time, and come up with more creative excuses to keep us waiting on them once they’re in bed.

But this time, child and parent both lost an hour of sleep just because I could not resist lingering with Brielle for the sublime conversation she had to offer.

The twins were down, and Mommy was down the mountain at her women’s Bible study, leaving just Daddy and the girl who first named me that. Kneeling by her bed, I had just told the parable of the talents, and had broken down how God shares so much good stuff with us, and wants us to use it, not bury it.

Brielle was pensive. “We use a lot of God’s stuff,” she observed.

Verdad, Brielle. All the stuff we have is God’s, and He likes when we use it for good things,” I agreed.

“Yeah.” She laughed and stared ahead, lips pursed, her deep thinking evidenced by the tiny movements of her cheeks and jaw. “And God is even a girl too.”

I smiled. “Yeah, Brielle. God is way too big to be just a boy or just a girl. He is everything,” I chimed in, delighted that she had already surpassed most of the Christian church in her thinking on the gender of God, but wondering how.

Somehow the topic turned to the Second Coming of Christ, more popular than ever since losing two Papas and a kitty. I said something about the nonlinear growth we would experience when Jesus came and completed our ultimate transformation. Only I think I told her we would not do bad things anymore or have ouchies anymore because Jesus would do magic on us.

At this, her eyes glowed, cheeks swelling the way Ashlyn’s do when she is imagining herself to be a bride. “I can’t wait for God to do stuff to us. He might even give us wings, I think.”

“Maybe He will. Or maybe He will teach us to fly without wings, like Jesus can.” I have this irrational burden to prevent her from disillusionment if heaven’s transformations do not include wings.

Presently we were on to angels. She pointed at a spot on her pillow about six inches from where she sat. “Our angel is RIGHT-THERE,” she said, the last two words running together. She grinned—“RIGHT-THERE,” and giggled. “Our angel is right next to us and God is in our heart. And God is everywhere. God is even in my shirt.” She pulled her pajama top away from her and spoke through the neck toward her belly button. “Hi, God! Where are you? God! Where are you?” She giggled some more, and then turned back to a more sober question.

“Why is God everywhere but we can’t see Him?”

No response from Daddy beyond a mystified sigh.

“Daddy, why is God everywhere but we can’t see Him?”

I wasn’t going to get away with pleading the fifth. “I don’t know, Brielle.” I searched my heart for what I really believe about this, and realized that to this question I have no satisfying answer. Another sigh. “Maybe it’s because God is so big and strong and bright that it would scare us if we really saw Him. It would hurt our eyes. We can see God in people when they love like Jesus does. But sometimes I really do wish I could see God more right now with my eyes.”

“I think when we go to heaven God will give us eyes that are strong so we can see really bright stuff and it won’t be ouchy.”

Sí, Brielle. I think He will. Jesus even told us that if our eyes are good, our whole body will be full of light. But if they are bad our whole body will be full of darkness.” As cool as that verse is to me, it was kind of a non sequitur here, I realized, so I didn’t bother preaching it further.

Brielle offered me another paradigm. “I think God is like electricity.”

I liked this. “You do? Why?”

“Because electricity has power and God has power.”

“Yeah, Brielle. That’s right. And even though you can’t see electricity, it works—just like God.”

“Uh-huh,” said Brielle, relieved, I’m sure, that I was catching on.

Somewhere around 10 p.m, the back door opened and Rachelle walked in. Sheepish about how late I had our daughter awake, I moved toward prayer.

Actually, we moved our prayer on to its next breath.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Riverside prayer

When I think of all the things I could write about—things that have been so busy happening that they never bothered to materialize on the computer—I am overwhelmed. Every day my kids say and do things that are so cute, so disturbing, so hilarious, so instructive, that they demand being captured. Before beginning this blog, these things flowed like a waterfall, a steady stream that could be enjoyed but never caught. Beginning a project like this, I imagine myself cupping hands under that waterfall and hoping to catch it all. This, of course, would miss the point of enjoying the flow.

When I am in the mode of documenting important moments with my kids—ALL of them—I feel like Jesus’ friend Martha, so eager to get the carrots chopped up and into the soup that I neglect to be with my Guest. “Michael, Michael,” I can hear Him saying, “You are worried and upset many things [that you have missed writing about in the last several weeks]. But only one thing is needed.” (Apologies to Dr. Luke....)

I do want to spend more regular time here, where the rivers of childlike inspiration and parental desperation flow together, cupping hands, yes, but not to capture so much as to feel its shocking cold, to gawk at its transparency, to wonder and be refreshed. Much more will flow downstream than I could ever hold.

Today, despite all the unwritten stories begging to be documented, what I want more than anything is to pray for my kids.

God, please help them to be safe from all dangers—especially those more dangerous than loss of life. Deliver them from materialism, from the claustrophobia of self-absorption. Save them from the compulsion to please the audience of their peers. Rescue them from fear and its addictions: being right, looking good, coming out on top.

Make them citizens first of heaven, second of Earth, and third of their communities; may their contribution to our nation flow from these three loyalties. Teach them to value the differences in people, to crave new viewpoints and savor stories from less-heard voices. Help them to open their eyes and ears and hearts to the weirdos of the world and see, hear, love—Jesus.

Give them joy. Teach them to live for what they really want, beyond what they feel like, to set their course by the deep, silent yearning You have given them rather than the hollow cravings that shout for their attention. Help them acquire a taste for satisfying labor. When lesser options are more numerous and more obvious, instill in them the habit of choosing happiness.

Love them in ways they notice, or better yet, help them to notice all the ways You love them.

I love them so much, Lord. Help me be the kind of Daddy that makes palatable—even desirable—the idea of a Father-God.

Amen.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The bottom line


A quick vignette, brought to you again by Ashlyn.

We were poking down our food in the Chinese restaurant. We ordered it to-go, just in case our children's behavior meant we suddenly needed to. Ashlyn was sitting next to me, rolling her legs up over her head and mooning the restaurant.

"Ashlyn, we don't want to show our bottom to the whole restaurant."

"But I want to show it to them because it's beautiful."

I coughed over my explosion of laughter.

"Yes, Ashie, all of you is beautiful. It's just that there are some parts that we don't want to show everyone here in public."

"Well, I want to show them my bottom."

Amen to the God's-eye view that sees beauty where others see shame, to the heart unafraid to bare what the timid keep hidden. Love makes us free.

And that is the bottom line.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Conformed or transformed, Ashlyn edition

During our marriage retreat this weekend, we chewed on the Message version of Romans 12:1-2, which has always been more familiar to me in the NIV:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Am I conforming to a man-made pattern? Or being transformed by Someone greater?

Lying on a park bench facing shiny white yachts on Newport Back Bay, I had a good time thinking this through, massaging the challenge and promise of it into the dry, chafed skin of my soul. I even came up with a neato list of contrasts between conformity to the culture as compared to transformation by God, which you can read if you're so inclined. It was a great time.

And as seems typical of this phase of life, God used one of my children to ram home the point in even more living color than my brilliant, tranquil vantage point there on the park bench could offer. On the way home from the retreat, we took our children to their preschool spring concert. Class by class, waves of children took to the stage to dance, sing, shout or at least lip sync their way through songs their dutiful teachers and parents had toiled to teach them. Each class stood up on stage, sang their handful of songs, waved accompanying props, and filed back into auditorium seats to the relief of their cookie-wielding teachers. Illuminated by the camera flashes and proud gazes of their parents, hundreds of children engaged in this exercise.

But not my Ashlyn.

Spurred on by the promise of the cookie, she made it to the stage; I'll give her that. She even held the umbrella as her classmates sang the first song, "The rain is gently falling, falling, falling. The rain is gently falling, showing God's great love."

But from there on, she was all about Saint Paul's "be ye not conformed." She sat, she grimaced, she squirmed, she turned around. She screwed up her face in ways betraying her scorn for any activity in which many people do the same thing at once. Mommy took the stage and nearly mooned the audience trying to get Ashlyn back on her feet in a semblance of rank and file, but it lasted only seconds.

Ashie, my non-conformity sermon in shoe--one shoe, that is. The other had gone AWOL somewhere during her sit-in of the concert.

Of course, after this defiant performance, we didn't allow her to have the coveted cookie. Of course, she screamed in protest. And of course, I threw her over my shoulder fireman-style and carried her outside for a time-out that lasted as long as her tantrum and almost made us miss Brielle's part of the program.

And throughout the punishment ritual, I was glowing.

Part of me knows Ashlyn will avoid a lot of hassle if she learns to go with the flow, especially when it's a good flow, like this concert was. I suppose it is part of my job as Daddy Dearest to hammer the virtue of compliance into her ample skull.

But mostly, I hope she never does get around to picking up conformity.