Friday, February 29, 2008

Love ain't blind

My kids have me enrolled in this intensive course on what love is--and is not. Yesterday, I wrote about my discovery that love is not about making people happy. Now for Lesson #2...


Love ain't blind.

As a parent it has been bizarre and holy to experience what it's like to love a creature who is doing nothing for you. Especially those first few months, the child's contributions to your life are limited to exhaustion, noise pollution and caca. But you love her like you've never loved before.

I think love sees all the weaknesses in the beloved, but loves anyway. Liking is reasonable. Loving is unreasonable. I like you because [fill in wonderful stuff you have to offer]. I love you despite [fill in the dirty laundry scattered over the skeletons in your closet].

Even before my kids taught me this, I had an inkling of it because of God, who is love and is anything but blind. God's knowledge of me is beautiful and terrifying. And his love is beyond reason.

“The LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts.” (1 Chronicles 28:9)

"O LORD, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O LORD." (Psalm 139:1-4)

My response to this intimate knowledge ranges from "Woo hoo!" to "Yikes." But whatever my response, it's pretty clear that our weaknesses are obvious to God. Love ain’t blind.

Love would be easier if it were blind to evil. But since it's not, love must carefully chooses its focus: the common ground, the cup that is half-full, the baby steps of growth of the spirit rather than all the flaws and immaturities that still remain.

I walk around my house and I can count the messes or celebrate the neat places. In my kitchen I can whine about the dirty pots and pans in the sink or dig the smell of the homemade dinner. I can catch my kids doing wrong, or catch them being good. I can tally what is still missing in my students, or count the blessings they add to the world.

Where do my eyes of love focus when I look at my children, my wife, at myself?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Love ain't making people happy

Thirty years into life, I started to really learn about love. My kids are teaching me. The next few days I'll write about things that my kids have helped me learn that love is not.
Love ain't about making people happy. I should have known this just by reading the Old Testament, where a God who is love defined does all this stuff:
  • God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden of their dreams.
  • God promised a son to Abraham and Sarah and then made them wait till their Geritol-taking years to have and enjoy him.
  • God allowed his chosen people to be in slavery in Egypt centuries before Moses delivered them.
  • God led a generation of those people in 40 years of wilderness-wandering, allowing them to die off before taking them to their Promised Land.
"But that's God, Old Testament edition. It's a whole new deal when Jesus comes, right?" Wrong. Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. The Bible also tells me this:
  • Jesus told a man grieving his fallen father to let the dead bury their own dead, to come follow him now.
  • Jesus allowed his friend Lazarus to die, knowing the pain it would cause Mary and Martha, even though he could have gone to heal him before death.
  • Jesus proclaimed, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
  • Jesus said to his buddy Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” and later, “You will deny me thrice.”
  • When his friends and following wanted him on the throne in Rome, Jesus went to the cross on Golgotha.
God is love. If this is how a God of love rolls, there must be more to love than making people happy.

Part of the problem is my human disability in receiving love, that "break in the cup that holds love inside of me," as singer-songwriter David Wilcox puts it. (Complete lyrics to "Break in the Cup" are worth reading.)
"I try so hard to please you
To be the love that fills you up
I try to pour on sweet affection,
But I think you got a broken cup....

I cannot make you happy
I'm learning love and money never do
But I can pour myself out till I'm empty
Trying to be just who you want me to
I cannot make you happy
Even though our love is true
For there's a break in the cup that holds love
Inside of you."
This is a big relief to me as father. If love meant making my kids happy, what a failed, loveless father I would be! Come to our house and you'll notice at least two things: (1) we love our kids; (2) one or more of them is almost always crying, fussing, whining, pouting or otherwise displaying signs of unhappiness.

This can only make sense if love is about something much bigger than making people happy.

My freshman comp teacher at
Pacific Union College, Nancy LeCourt, once said, "Love does not mean always being nice." That was her take-home from a book I read for her class called The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. There, Peck defines love as "The will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth."

If I buy into this (and boy do I ever), then my job as a loving parent is not to make my kids happy. It is to extend myself to nurture the growth of their soul. This often means saying "no" to them--and to my own compulsion to please people--so they can grow.

I have a need not only to be loved, but to give love and know that it has been received. When I love expecting to make my wife or kids happy, I feel angry and rejected this inevitably does not work out. And then, hoping to avoid this, I withdraw my love.

But when I love with the intention of helping one of my girls grow, I realize that growth is difficult, a rocky road that winds its way through sorrow on its way toward joy. So if my love ain't makin' her happy, it might be just the kind of love she needs.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Gweppy rocks

Something amazing was seeing my wife as the mother of my children for the first time. She was the same woman I had always loved, but now the love had been given this three-dimensional quality. Not only did I love her because she loved me, but because she loved this new mysterious person we had brought into the world together.

It has been something like this watching my mom become grandmother to my girls. Early on, she was clear that she was too young to be called "Grandma," but would go by the moniker "Gweppy," a random name I made up for her as a kid. In honor of her birthday on Sunday, here are just a few reasons why my mom rocks as Grandm--as "Gweppy," that is.
  • She stockpiles snails for the girls to play with whenever they come over.
  • The last time we dropped the girls off for our weekend getaway, our daughters were shooing us away so they could get on with the grandparents play. This is a good sign.
  • At the end of such a weekend the girls often have more clean laundry than we brought in the first place.
  • She just got new carpet in the house and still lets our girls hang out there.
  • She works her butt off playing with them.
  • When we're over, she takes care of her four boys (you can't forget my Dad) and my three girls with an incredible grace.
  • She builds Lincoln Log cabins.
  • She still likes to color.
  • She is great at puzzles.
  • She feeds them squash and healthy stuff--and they like it.
  • She makes Christmas incredible.
  • She disciplines them.
  • She throws a bath party every time they stay with her, which our girls ask for regardless of how recently we've bathed them.
  • She and my Dad give us a great play-by-play of the girls' cute quotes and activities whenever we pick them up.
  • She pulls them in the wagon till she's dizzy.
  • She leaves the pop-up sprinklers strategically popped up when she knows we're coming over, so her granddaughters can push them down.
  • She is low-drama to no-drama, essential among my little drama princesses.
  • She knows not what it means to complain about hard work.
The list goes on. In a nutshell, she loves her family with all her heart and mind and strength and soul. And somehow, she has come up with more love the more family we've given her. For that, I love you more than ever, Gweppy.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Bride envy, preschool edition

As Rachelle and I were gearing up for our wedding, I did my best to observe a policy of "Don't ask, don't tell." I didn't ask "Why?" or "How much?" and I tried not to tell her my opinion of her wedding ideas. Let her create it however she wants. After all, I figured, women have been planning their weddings since age 3.

Today, of course, I realize that I was completely wrong about this. They actually begin planning before age 2.

Since they could talk, my girls have been talking about weddings. Though she could barely walk, by 13 months Brielle had already stumbled down the aisle twice as a flower girl. In her first four years of life Brielle watched three uncles marry: Matt in '04, Scott in '05 and Marcus in '07. It was downhill from there.

DANGER: Repeated exposure may lead to addiction in small children. This warning label was conspicuously absent from every one of the umpteen invitations we received to weddings for uncles, students, cousins and friends. As new parents, how were we to know any better? We took the impressionable young minds, and now we reap the consequences.

They are hooked on getting hitched.

Today's highlight was stumbling upon a wedding in session, there under a gazebo along the cliffs of Laguna Beach. All three girls gawked and fluttered nearly into it, like moths into the flame, shameless in their awe at the sight of the bride in her strapless white gown, the groom impeccable in his penguin suit. As the pictures finished, two flower girls walked up and shared their silk flowers with our gleesome threesome. My girls were dumbfounded, aglow with vicarious matrimonial bliss.

"Wedding" is their favorite game. And once they're over the squabble about who's stuck playing groom, it's a pretty cute sight. One popular casting features Ashlyn as groom marrying bride Melía with wedding singer and flower girl Brielle scattering petals on the way to officiant Daddy.

You never know when a wedding will break out in our house. Ashlyn will turn an ordinary Sunday morning dance session into a proposal and wedding ceremony. "Let's marry, Daddy," which is my cue to start dodging her insistent smackers, because she is not giving up till she's planted a wedding kiss on my lips. Ashlyn puts to shame any redneck jokes about family trees with no branches, having married most of the men in her family at least once.

My parents didn't help either, giving all three girls their own wedding outfits for Christmas, which they would wear every day and every night if we let them.

A decade ago, before having daughters, I remember choking up at that "Butterfly Kisses" song, where a father, having watched his little girl grow up, now must give her that last kiss before she walks down the aisle into the arms of another man. It's an unreal thought. But my girls are helping out, getting me so used to the idea of them as brides, the song leaves me dry-eyed. Well, almost.

The thing is, I don't remember a single time when my brothers and I played wedding. As much as we dog each other about dubious sexual orientation, there wasn't a time when anyone asked anyone to play bride. Maybe they were too ugly to imagine as marriage prospects. Or maybe boys just have their minds elsewhere. Little ones have Big Wheels and Tonka trucks to think of, and big boys are fixated on the honeymoon.

What I think about these days is the sort of model I'm being for the groom they will one day seek, already are seeking. When I give those final butterfly kisses at the top of the aisle, will the man at the altar reflect what they loved most about their father, or their reactionary desire for what I was not? Will I have showed them the kind of love they deserve? Will it have been enough to fill their little love tanks and fuel a forever marriage?

And what about "the other man"? Will he see the princess in Brielle? Will he recognize the angel in Melía? Will he cherish the image of God in Ashlyn?

Have mercy, Lord. My girls are going to get hitched one day, and it's going to be for real. God, make Your love what they see and feel and hear and know and love in me. Somehow. Please.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hiding from good monsters

Jars of Clay's most recent album is called Good Monsters. The song is pretty cryptic, but its title reminds me of a game of hide-and-seek with my daughters.

As I count to twenty in Spanish in the front room, the kids hide throughout the dark house. When we first played the game, Brielle would hide about 3 feet from me, lying on the floor, giggling--and then hide the exact same place the next six rounds.

These days she and her twin sisters are getting better at the hiding, managing a few moments of silence as they crouch under blankets or curtains, hunker down in the tub or squeeze into one of our tiny closets.

But they still want to be found.

If I take too long looking for them (i.e. more than about 90 seconds), I hear cries of "Daddy!" If I find someone else first, the undiscovered one calls out, "Daddy, what about me?" Giggles still come from Melia when someone seeks and doesn't quite find her. I have to be judicious about how long I hunt before the fun of being hidden decays into the fear of remaining unfound.

My favorite part is the finding too. (The rare silence preceding it is a close second.) The finding is when I get to play the good monster, who attacks its victim with kisses on the tummy and bites on that ticklish part of the knees. As the beast devours its prey, the child laughs and squirms in hysterics of joy.

When the meal is over, the miracle is that both child and monster have been fed.

There is something mystical about this experience, where love plays a game that flirts with fear. Maybe kids sense the irony of the man they look to for safety playing the role of monster. Maybe feigning fright helps them tame it. I wonder.

I just hope they never tire of it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Planting annuals, remembering presidents

A lot of household tasks just don't lend themselves to 3-year-old participation. Refinancing the house. Fixing the computer. Organizing tax data. Changing the batteries in Ashlyn's mermaid toothbrush by removing a microscopic screw whose mind-blowing gravitational pull draws it to unknown places on the floor over and over and over again.

It's not that 3-year-olds do not want to contribute to these projects. They do want to, and in my house they have. (Oh, have they ever.) But "contribute" is a different thing from "help." On projects such as these they do contribute--chaos, mess, breakage, loss, fighting, noise, entropy. It's just that they do it so cutely that I can't resist letting them, at least for a few minutes, before abandoning the project till during their sleep hours.

With all the urgent aforementioned projects on the docket for Monday, I decided instead to plant flowers.

Rachelle was working and I had President's Day off, meaning Daddy Day Care for my girls. Over oatmeal, I threw out the idea. "Do you guys want to go pick out flowers and plant them at the rental house?"

A chorus of "Yeah!"

Something inside wondered if I really had suggested this, thinking about the logistics of pushing a cart with three little girls, 4 dozen fragile flowers and a bag of decaying manure (for once a poop reference unrelated to one of my children) around Home Depot. But I had crossed the Rubicon. We were going to plant flowers.

In the end, this was a rare stroke of genius. Flower-planting was a project they sank their teeth into (not in the literal sense—thankfully the dirt-eating stage is behind us). I loosened weeds, and they yanked them out. I dug holes, and they filled them with planting soil. I found worms, and they created a worm colony that now inhabits our kitchen. Even mommy was impressed (save with the worms).

At the same time, I have always had an issue with annuals. Ever since I earned my "Flowers and Seeds" patch at age 9 in Pathfinders (the scouting group at my church), I have favored perennials over annuals. It just seems an awfully big effort for something that only lasts a few months, so high maintenance. You spend cash on the plants, weed, break up the hard ground, enrich it with planting soil, dig holes, plant, water, weed, water, weed and water, always hoping no one comes along and stomps on them--all for a season of beauty.

Sometime that day, driving around town in the Odyssey (another perk of having the day off with the girls), I was explaining to Brielle about Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday helped give us occasion to be doing all this. "Remember how Moses helped free the slaves in Egypt?"


"Well, Abraham Lincoln was a good president because he helped free slaves in our country, kind of like Moses. But remember how someone killed Martin Luther King?"

"Yeah." She did, too. We made MLK mobiles a few weeks ago, and watched everything we could find on YouTube about him. I'm pretty sure Brielle thinks he was a king, but she knows enough about him to love him. "Just like they killed Martin Luther King, someone killed Abraham Lincoln."


Then I asked a question for which I had no real answer myself, half to see what she might say and half because it was just bothering me. "Brielle, why do people want to kill lots of good people, like Jesus and Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King?"

"Why, Daddy?" asked Brielle, thinking this was a rhetorical question. This time I had only silence to share.

"I don't know, Brielle. It's sad though." I took a stab. "Maybe people who want to do bad things don't like good people because they want to keep doing their bad stuff. Maybe they don't want to hear anyone tell them to stop doing their bad stuff and be nice to people."

"Yeah." Neither of us were satisfied.

Some of the most beautiful lives that God plants on earth don't seem to last. "Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham? My old friend Martin? I just looked around and they're gone."

It bothers me. It makes me think about my annuals, whose beauty will change the world for a season and then die. It makes me think about the three souls I'm raising--beautiful, but fleeting, fragile.

I shiver. Lord, let their beauty be world-changing. But God, please let them be perennials.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Dear Brielle

This week I'm writing to my girls, first a letter to Ashlyn, our youngest by 5 minutes, then a letter to Melía, her twin sister. Now it's time for the big 4-year-old.

Dear Brielle,

From the blood and afterbirth, your beautiful face emerged and changed my name to "Daddy." A few minutes of cleaning later and you were in my arms staring up at me, clear-eyed and trusting, shell-shocked but at peace. You had me.

It didn't take long for us to see that you are a child who knows what she wants and assertively pursues it. Your will is strong, you "begin with the end in mind," and you are not afraid to express your preferences. At the age of a few weeks, this meant lots of screaming at odd hours for no reason apparent to us. At 18 months, it meant plenty of tantrums, time-outs and swats. But the more you mature, it is showing up as thoughtful, goal-directed behavior and increasingly reasonable negotiation.

We still have our share of conversations about the cardinal virtue of flexibility, choosing to be happy even when we don't get exactly what we want. There are still times when I remind you that you're acting picky--especially when we want you to wear pants or anything warmer than your princess dresses--but more and more you are becoming my flexible girl.

You are a born leader. Melía especially copies so much of what you do, repeating your words verbatim, requesting whatever food or clothes you're wearing, "like Brielle has." You set the tone for what your sisters are going to do. That is power; and more and more I'm trusting you to use it well.

You have a deep love for people, always excited when guests are coming over, whether you've met them or not. If you know we're going to a restaurant, you are on board as long as there's hope that friends might be there. You have always loved school, partly because it stimulates your amazing mind, but also because it's a day of being with a lot of friends.

Speaking of your amazing mind, we have never had any doubts about how bright you are. Your inquiries into ethics, theology, science and dental hygiene blow us away. You ask questions beyond your age, soak up my explanations of things like "photosynthesis" (which you can pronounce to a T), and can write down anything we spell out for you. The teacher in me delights in your curiosity and in offering answers that I hope you can understand. Sometimes your questions help me understand things with a new simplicity.

You are a princess. You want to do things right, and you want things done right. You are more fashion-conscious than I can keep up with. Function follows form in your hierarchy of needs, but your utility-oriented father hasn't given up yet on that one. You have superstar poise and charisma, knowing how to smile for the camera and put on a show for the audience.

Best of all, you are incredibly full of love. You give big hugs at random moments, snuggle during books, and tell us you love us. You make increasingly beautiful drawings--of people, houses, animals and even Martin Luther King, Jr., and then inscribe on them dedications to us. Just yesterday morning, you danced with me to James Taylor and learned the basic salsa step. Yesterday afternoon, you squeezed Ashlyn's leg and said, "I love you." At night, you say, "I love you, Daddy. Miss you till the morning."

I love you too, sweet Brie. I am so glad you are my firstborn big girl; you'll always be my baby too.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Dear Melía

This week I'm writing to my girls. Yesterday, I wrote a letter to Ashlyn, our youngest (by 5 minutes). Today it's Melía's turn....

Dear Melía,

You are sweetness in a powerfully tiny package. Your cries of "Hold me, hold me, hold me!" are gifts, even when we already have both hands full. In our less grateful moments Mommy and I mislabel it "clingy," but when we're thinking straight we eat up your cuddliness. I hope you never stop asking us to hold you--even when you are no longer tiny enough that your 24-month-size pants sag on your 26-pound frame.

You are my sharing and caring girl. When you get access to a treat, you make sure that there are two more for Ashlyn and Brielle. You delight in feeding us bites of your food; just don't foget to eat some yourself, little one. This weekend you were on Kleenex duty for Ashlyn, both fetching clean ones and disposing of dirties. You put up a fight when one of your sisters is trying to take a toy by force, but immediately share it when they ask nicely. You even shared the womb, enduring quietly while your zealous twin breakdanced on your head.

You are all about family togetherness. When the car starts and one of the family is not aboard, you protest vigorously, "No! Wait per Mommy!" "Where is Ashlew?" "Where is Bwielle?" "No! Wait per Daddy!" When it's time to go and Ashlyn is lagging behind playing or destroying valuable objects, we ask her (in that distinctively scary tone) if she wants to come with us or stay. You hear the thinly veiled threat to leave her behind, grab her hand and nearly drag her where she needs to be, crying, "Tome on, Ashlew."

You have no time for television. Instead, you are about doing things involving people, organizing things into bags (by a system known only to you), staying busy. You value relationships, and you have already recognized the degree to which TV can starve them. Even eating lacks that personal connection you savor, unless you can talk us into spoon feeding you. And going to sleep is such a bore for a night-owl socialite like you, especially when you can sleep in till 9 on good days.

Despite your meager food intake (excepting anything sweet), you have managed to grow a giant head of hair that is blond, curly mirth. It streams blithely down onto your face, though never enough to hide the impossible blue of your eyes, several sizes larger than your little mug might suggest. And though you are my "mini-Melía," you stand up for yourself enough to allay any fears we may have had of you being a pushover.

You are just now getting mastery of words, and we like the way you take your time growing up. It is a relief to see one of our babies who still reminds us at times of a baby--although if we slip and call you one you ferociously remind us, "I'm not a baby; I'm a bid dirl." And you're right; your potty-training prowess backs up the claim. You love to anticipate turning four. Who knows how many times you've asked, "What tind birday party I doing to have? A Belle party or a Minnie Mouse party?" Whichever answer we give, you say, "Oh," smile in your winning, bigger-than-possible-for-a-face-that-size way, and ask the question again about another ten times.

Your auntie sees a nurse in you, given your empathetic interest in people's owies. Maybe so. But I think your tender, merciful heart will thrive on any pursuit in which you are loving people the way your Heavenly Father intended we all be loved.

I just pray He helps you sense something near how much we love you, little Melía Grace.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Dear Ashlyn

I think I'll write letters to each of my girls this week.

Dear Ashlyn,

You are so far ahead of your time. You were saying things that blew our minds just weeks after you learned to walk. The time I used a diaper to wipe your nose on the changing table, you protested, "Don't wipe diapew!" You sang Happy Birthday to your Baba just a couple months after your first birthday. You were the first to pray before meals, naming every item on the table, one by one. You have a precocious knack for seeing the connections between things. And yesterday you insisted on sleeping in your beloved bridal gown.

And yet you are our baby. You are in no rush to potty train, too into whatever you're doing to hassle with all that anal retentive bother. Melía is your elder by 5 minutes, and though you outsize her by 11 pounds and a couple inches, she takes care of her "little" sister.

Your essence dances and sings. Even in the womb, you showed promise of becoming a hiphop dance star, gleefully pummeling your longsuffering sister below you. Your cradle roll Sabbath school class got weekly front-row seats for your ecstatic pirouttes around the classroom while the rest of the class engaged in more mundane activities (i.e. the planned ones). You bubble over with music, performing covers of previously produced hits (Spoonful of Sugar is one of the latest) as well as original compositions (usually a melange of words from church and Disney princess music, something like, "My dreams come true in my heart with my prince for baby Jesus"). You sing--and scream--with a strength worthy of the opera, savoring the power to produce sound (as much of it as possible). Amazingly, a lot of it is on pitch.

And your music has its own beat, changing meter every few measures, unsullied by the seduction of conformity to the rest of the orchestra. When the ballet teacher tells the class to "make a circle," the masses hold hands and form a ring on the floor; you spin in circles and giggle uncontrolably, pulling your skirt over your head, then down to your ankles. Yes, this sort of self-expression makes your Mommy and me a little nervous when you're singing in the church choir--but by the time you can read this it will be safe for you to know that we are as tickled as we are mortified by your random acts of craziness.

You are committed to having a good time, all the time--unless you've missed your nap. When other kids would cuss (or its 3-year-old equivalent), you just might crack up. You beg for tickling and giggle like a cascade of Gatorade, slaking the thirst of the dry soul. "Stop! Stop! Stop!" you cry, and pause just a beat before saying, "Do it again!" Most of your tantrums are only a silly word and a tickle away from hilarious laughter.

You are the child with whom I have been most angry. Too many times I have had to come to you, penitent for having lost my temper, heart broken, fearing that I have played a part in breaking the spirit that I so cherish in you. We are a lot alike--our individualism, focus on the moment, penchant for breaking things, playful spirit, silliness and infatuation wtih the sound of our own voice. Our similarities breed an affinity that is magical, and a frustration that is more about my own self-loathing than any fault in you.

I am sorry. I am so sorry.

And I love you more than I'll ever be able to show you.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Golgotha to Netflix

Brielle was standing by the tub from which she’d just emerged, an angel burrito there in her white towel, hair soaked, when she launched her latest theological-epistemological inquiry.

Brielle: Daddy, how do so many people know that Jesus died but they didn’t see it?

Daddy: Well, the people who saw it told other people about it and they wrote it down.

Brielle: Oh, they wrote it down. (nodding) That’s how they know. (obviously—writing is becoming a bigger and bigger part of her world every day).

Daddy: Yeah, and then the people who wrote those stories down gave them to other people who made them into a book—the Bible. And other people gave that book to us.

Brielle: And then they also gave it to Netflix.

Daddy: (unable to restrain a giggle) To Netflix?

Brielle: Yeah, Daddy, because they made a movie about it.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Since college I have been bothered and intrigued by the story of how biblical stories were recorded, preserved, crystallized into a canon and passed on to readers. It is our greatest leap of faith as Christians, I think. We trust that a transcendent God wanted to reveal Himself and relied on human storytellers to set down the truth about Him. Then he counted on history to keep the stories intact, and translators to render them accessible to the common soul. It’s quite a story.

I just failed to take it all the way to DVD.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Jesus heal it

My daughters are extremely tuned in to the owies of the world. Rachelle's aunt is quite certain that Melía is destined to be an ER nurse, given her fixation on skin wounds. "Lou dot owie wight dere?" asks our little angel of mercy, pointing out even the most minor scratches and scars.

She is even more proud of her own ouchies. Owies guarantee sympathy and a reasonable chance of getting a princess band-aid applied, complete with medicine. But it also sets her up for a declaration of a miracle a couple days later. Peeling off the band-aid, she sticks the wounded finger in your face, beams and announces, "I ha' owie wight dere, but it all done, betause Jesus heal it!"

Never is a wound healed, but that Jesus gets credit from our daughters. When they announce this, I catch myself wondering, "Who taught them this?" I'm delighted to hear them say it, and suspect that indeed, Rachelle and I have taught this to them in our better moments.

But the purity of the attribution puts me to shame. I'm the guy who preached a sermon in college called, "If Miracles are Real, Where's Mine?" I've been looking for loopholes that explain God's relative inactivity in the miracle department all my life. And here are my daughters testifying to a wonder that I have long been overlooking.

Tonight at the coffee shop, my friend Dave and I were looking at a couple miracle stories in Matthew 8, and it was striking to see how people came for healing in full belief but without the sense of entitlement we that too often marks our most urgent prayers. They knew Jesus could do whatever he chose to do, but allowed him the freedom not to. They were expectant, but not presumptuous. They desperately wanted help, but unlike others who demanded a sign and were denied, the leper and the centurion did not need God to prove anything to them.

On my end, I play it much safer. Loathe to expect too much of God, I often expect too little. I exaggerate humble submission to God's will until it's a mere cowardice to ask, fearful that I'll ask for the wrong thing, be denied and go home with less faith than I began. To this self-censorship, I add blindness to the miracles that do happen every day. This leaves me searching the Scriptures for reasons to trust God not to do much of anything tangible in the world.

Not so for the Bennie girls. For them, the mere application of the band-aid is a prayer for a miracle that three days later, they know will be real.

Melía: "I ha' owie wight dere, but it all done, betause Jesus heal it!"

Mike: "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Sermon in running shoes

Yesterday, Rachelle ran the Surf City Half Marathon, her first real distance race. She pounded out 13.1 miles in horizontal rain that bowed the palm trees lining the course and provoked the Pacific Ocean just beyond.

I took Brielle along to send Mommy off, cheer her on and pick her up. The race taught Rachelle a lot, I’m sure (not least, the blessedness of ibuprofen). But as leader of her father-daughter support team, I was thinking all day about what Brielle might learn from the day. Here are some of my top hopes:

Exercise is great fun. Enough people exercising in one place makes for parties—first the one where fitness companies give you free bites of their chocolate bars and shots of their vitamin juice, then the one where everyone pours past whooping and smiling.

Sometimes the best, healthiest thing to do is to go outside and play in the freezing rain. Getting soaked is not the end of the world; heater and dry clothes await you back in the minivan. Love constrains you out from under the eaves seeking a shot at cheering for someone who gives your world meaning—even if you cheer for a wet 45 minutes and never see Mommy.

Trying something difficult is scary but worth it. Rachelle spent the night stressing about the next day’s challenge, didn’t fancy getting out of her warm vehicle in the inclement weather, and arrived at the finish line three hours later ecstatic about it all. “Now I know why you do this,” she told me.

You’re more likely to do crazy, great things when a friend is with you—but it’s still up to you to finish. Rachelle would never have signed up for this gig if her buddy, Dori, had not been doing it. She might not have run the first 8 miles so fast if Dori were not rocking and running beside her, sharing the Beatles tunes, one ear bud each from the same MP3 player. But her last five lonely miles, after Dori pulled away, were just about personal grit.

Growing hurts. But it beats the alternative. Rachelle’s ankle pain nearly crippled her at work today, partly because mommyhood and life severely compromised her training schedule, and partly because her new control shoes were asking her feet to roll in a way to which they were unaccustomed. She was in tears by mile 10, and will be hopping around home on her left foot tomorrow. But so far, she wouldn’t trade the pain for the rush.

Fit is fun. Get wet and cold for love’s sake. Risk. Partner up, but pull your own weight. Grow through the pain.

Any luck and these lessons will be as dear to Brielle someday as Motrin is to Rachelle right now.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

What we tell expectant fathers

"It's the end of the world as we know it. (And I feel fine.)" (R.E.M.)

Guys with kids have only a few hackneyed phrases to share with guys expecting them.
  • "Life as you know it is about to end. But it's cool."
  • "Remember how things are now, because they will never be like this again. But it's amazing."
  • "It's a whole new world. But it's a good new world."
  • "There's no going back to things as they have been. But you won't want to."
Other mutations are out there, but they all sound the same to the father-to-be. The message is somewhere between a warning of unknown terrors and a promise of unfathomable blessing. Usually the details that follow these phrases give you plenty of reasons to heed the warning. "I never knew I could get by on so little sleep." "Poop and pee pee will become regular parts of your vocabulary." Stories of heroic martyrdom for the cause of child-rearing.

The promise part is harder to buy.

Half of you suspects this seasoned dad is just tacking that niceness on to avoid sounding like a total downer. The guy doesn't want to scare you into abandoning the kid. Has his wife put him up to this bubbly baby talk?

The other half wonders what the heck he is talking about. The anecdotes of stench and self-sacrifice don't square with that prophecy of great joy. What sort of insanity leads a dude to think he's better off than before, now that he has to share his time, space and wife with a little needy creature? Can sleep deprivation do that kind of damage to a man's brain?

These warning-promises get to sounding trite, ringing as hollow as the words of an astronaut explaining zero-gravity to land-bound mortals, a bird telling fish about flight. They speak of something sounding suspiciously wonderful and utterly impossible--leaving you wary. As one in the presence of God, you feel fear and love, faith and disbelief, primal longing and terror.

And then you have the kid, and the mystery unfolds. The guy was right. You are as crazy as he was. You discuss poop over burritos and don't flinch. You've tabled agenda item "sleep" till sometime around retirement.

There's no going back. And you wouldn't want to.

Things are not anything like they used to be. And it is amazing.