Friday, March 28, 2008

Who's her Daddy?

Deep inside the hospital, in critical condition, lies the man my wife calls “Daddy.” He is not long for this world. Standing at his bedside in the ICU yesterday, I watched Rachelle spoon broth into his shaking lips, wipe his chin, hold his hand, caring for him with all she had in the dwindling hours left.

I stared at father and daughter through my dull disbelief that the end could be so near. How did we get here? Was it not just a season ago that I was bringing a pot of flowers to this man, asking for his daughter’s hand? Could it be more than a few weeks since he, having watched those flowers multiply, had teased me about the omen for our fertility?

How long ago could it have been that he fed, wiped and cared for that same girl who had stolen his heart, and who grew up to steal mine?

Suddenly she was in tears. Jolted by her sobs, yet relieved to have a job to do, I hugged her while scanning the room for Kleenex. Finally, I unwound a yard of single-ply toilet paper from the restroom marked “For Patients Only,” folding it four times before it was anything like a passable snot rag. Rachelle filled it in two seconds. I returned to the toilet for more.

As I rolled out TP—the sole offering I could give my broken-hearted soul mate—my mind fluttered. We had seen it coming. We had hoped he would take better care of himself. He knew better. We hadn’t talked about it with him all that often, knowing it would likely as not make him more stubborn in challenging fate. But he knew. In fact, it could have been ending more slowly and painfully than this. It was actually merciful. And suddenly, through my righteous rationalism, a rogue thought bored its way in: A little girl is losing her Daddy.

In the room, she was pressing her forehead into his. “I love you, Daddy,” she said.

“I love you,” his trembling mouth managed to say.

I noticed that this day would come for me. My dreams, ambitions, hoping, working and tail-chasing would someday get me the same place they get all men—on my back, dying. I could only hope that whatever my flaws—and my sons-in-law will have as easy a time seeing mine as I see his—I might raise my little girls to have half the love and goodness that this daughter of his has. I could only pray that despite all the reasons not to love me, on the day they tell me goodbye, they will choose to love me anyway.

Because Dad, whatever you have to show after your years of toil, as many or as few trophies for your work in the world, however fleeting or misunderstood your life may have seemed to you, it is enough if you have this one thing: your little girl there with her hair on your neck, declaring her love to you.

God, give him grace to feel the love that he has added to the world. May he sense through this somnolent fog just how much Rachelle loves him. May be know through her something of how much You love him.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Easter Sunday

Good Friday is hard to explain to kids. It’s hard enough for me to understand for myself how and why we creatures slew our Creator. After who He made us to be, how could we have made such monsters of ourselves? I take that confusion and try to explain it to my little ones and always feel unsatisfied.

But Easter is simple.

Easter is literally a different story. “He is alive!” What must have seemed most unexplainable to the shell-shocked friends of the crucified Rabbi seems so delightfully easy for me to explain to my children. He was dead, but God raised him from the dead. Even Melía, my Princess of Why, doesn’t need to inquire about the reasons for that. Of course God raised His Son! Of course Jesus is alive!

Lent is a soul-search, a fast, a repenting. Good Friday mourns the death of God, an impossibility marking the deepest, darkest point in the history of human evil. These are things to be pondered, observed, remembered.

But Easter is to be celebrated.

In the “Bright Sadness” of Lent the body or mind may rest from some pleasure, while the heart rests from the delusion of self-sufficiency. This rest creates space for reflection on what took Jesus to the cross, including my part in the crime. This is well and good.

But after forty days of facing my own complex cries of “Crucify him!” the simple joy of saying “He is risen!” is warm sunshine on a shivering soul.

And maybe, at three and four, that’s what the simple souls under my care need most.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

I remember when Brielle first learned that Jesus died.

We were reading a book called
The Legend of the Three Trees. In the story, one sapling dreams of growing up to be a treasure chest. Another young tree looks forward to being a great ship that will carry kings. The third just wants to stand tall, point to heaven and remind people of God's beauty and love.

Each tree's future ends up looking nothing like what it envisioned. The first becomes a mere trough from which animals feed. Then one day a baby in swaddling clothes is laid in it. The second becomes a humble fishing boat. And one stormy day a passenger wakes up from his nap and silences the wind and waves.

The third tree is chopped down in its prime, cut into planks, and set aside. But it gets worse. After years gathering dust and cobwebs, men make this tree into a cross. To this cross is nailed an innocent man.

Treasure chest. King's vessel. Symbol of divine love. Each tree did nothing it had dreamed and became everything it had hoped.

I'll never forget the weight on my chest the day 2-year-old Brielle looked at the Golgotha picture near the end of this book, and I saw the recognition in her eyes. She knew what Jesus looked like, because she'd seen the pictures: Good Shepherd, Teacher, Friend. But here, Jesus--the one who loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so--was being hurt. Jesus--healer of dead girls, feeder of thousands, teacher of peace, lover of children--had enemies. How could this be?

"Daddy, why are those men hurting Jesus?"

"I don't know, Brielle." The mystery of evil still confounds me.

"Lots of people liked Jesus, but some people didn't like him, and were not nice to him at all. These people didn't like him so much--" I falter, breathe in and sigh, discomfited at the gravity of what she is about to learn about the human race into which she has been born. "They didn't like Jesus so much that they nailed him to that cross, and they hung him up until he couldn't breathe anymore. And then, Jesus died. They killed him."

"Why, Daddy?"

"I don't know, Brielle. I don't know why people are so bad that they want to hurt such a good man as Jesus."

"Oh." We are quiet.

"But Brielle, do you know what?"


"Jesus loves people so much, that even when those bad people were not being nice to him, he was still nice to them. He even prayed, 'God, please forgive them. They don't know what they are doing.'"


"And Jesus even loves us when we aren't being nice. And he forgives us too." Forgiveness is still over both of our heads, but both Daddy and daughter knew enough to sense that it is a nice thing done to people who aren't being nice. "But he can teach us to be nice."

The conversation moved on, but that moment changed so much. I was suddenly embarrassed by our species, heart-broken to have shared with Brielle the truth about humankind. I felt like an adoptive parent breaking the news to a child that her birth parents were a hooker and a crack dealer, worried she might feel guilty by association. I felt as if an innocence had been lost.

Jesus, for Brielle, was no longer just a nice guy. He was a nice guy that we killed, a God murdered by His children. He was not only the Good Shepherd. He was the sacrificial Lamb. Did she have to know? Did the perverse truth have to come so soon? Did the joyful story of baby Jesus' life have to take such a horrific twist?

Like Peter faced with the prospect of Christ's death, I want to pull Jesus aside and say, "Never, Lord! This will never happen to you!" Faced with the prophecy of our own denial, I say with Peter, "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will."

But it did happen to him. And more than deny him, I helped slay him.

Forgive me, Lord, for I do not know what I am doing. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner raising angels who are destined to fall. Let your tree point us to the loving beauty of heaven. May we find grace amidst the guilt and shame of the Friday we call "good."

Monday, March 17, 2008

Birth control

If we could bottle the first twenty minutes of our children's waking hours today, we'd have a hot new birth control product on our hands.

The house is quiet. Fresh snow carpets the ground outside, powdery and delicate. Our angels sleep in heavenly peace. Rachelle and I are dressed for the day, and at 6:00, it's time to get the angels up and ready for preschool.

I decide to take a gentle approach to waking Brielle, hoping to sneak jeans on her before she is awake enough to know she's not going to get a skirt. I slide the covers up from her feet to keep her torso warm, pull off her jammies and pull on the Dora the Explorer undies. She begins a squeaking protest, barely registering on the Richter scale. On go the jeans--lacking even sparkles or flowers to atone for their nonskirthood--and she is still half asleep, only conscious enough to crescendo the squeaking a bit. Socks are next, and she only kicks a little, but is clearly building momentum.

As if it would help stem the rising tidal wave of angst I saw on the horizon, I begin sweet-talking Brielle. "I love you, big sweet Brie. Buenos días, niñita. Te quiero mucho. You get to go to school today!"

"I don't WANT to go to school!" she whines, wriggling away from the second sock.

So much for sweet talk. I change my tack from gentle to swift and pull a shirt over her head. She screams and spins over to avoid it, but I grab a wrist and poke it through the armhole, and do the same on the other side before she can pull the first arm out. I repeat the feat with the brown pullover sweater to a soundtrack of fierce screaming protest.

Awake now, she takes her vociferous petition about the inadequacy of our wardrobe choice into the bathroom, where Mommy is finishing her hair. After a couple minutes of loud fussing, I relocate her to timeout in the rocking chair in the dark front room corner. "Brielle, you do not need to fuss like that. You are on timeout until you choose to be flexible about your clothes." I walk back to the hallway. "Some little girls don't have ANY clothes to wear." I can't resist the hackneyed guilt trip.

I begin a similar process with Melía, who is always the last one asleep, and in my favor this morning, slowest to wake. I get almost her whole outfit on before she begins to stir, and she fails to begin crying until she is out of bed and walking out of the room. At that point, she makes up for lost time, beseeching Mommy to hold her, complaining of her sorry state, lamenting woes too woeful for words and only expressible by pitiful shrieks.

Ashlyn, meanwhile, begins the wrestling, squawking and thrashing the moment Rachelle begins to dress her. Always the passionate one, she puts her strong little soul into the outcry against the injustice of these predawn exercises. (Ashlyn, that is. Rachelle manages to keep her outcries under her breath for now.) She bucks and curls and beats the bed against the cruelty of being dressed for school by her mother.

The chorus of agony echoes through the house. Hell hath no fury like preschoolers being dressed for school, and the weeping and gnashing of teeth are an infernal three-part harmony. On behalf of the neighbors, I give thanks for our new double-pane windows' ability to not only keep cold out, but to keep sound in.

Back in the front room, Brielle has had enough time to calm down, but has spent it instead getting riled up. "I HATE these clothes!" she screams. I remind her at close range in my authoritative voice that she will be on timeout until she chooses to be flexible about the clothes she wears--and that she will never be off time out while she talks like that. She avoids my gaze, squirming on the rocking chair and falling out of it. She knocks over a glass pot of stylishly dead twigs.

"I'm sorry, Daddy!" she says through her torment.

"It's OK, Brielle. They didn't break. They're dead already anyway." I hope this is the break we needed, that chink in the armor of her strong will, the blue patch between thunderheads that signals the end of the storm.

It is not.

The chaos continues until it moves mercifully out into the minivan to be delivered down the mountain, a journey during which it metamorphoses into the beauty and joy that are the Bennie babes' hallmark. They pass for the next nine hours into the care of people who would never suspect that our angels greeted the day with such fury.

Only a parent gets so thoroughly chastised so early in the morning for so routine a process. "I'm only trying to love them, to get them ready to learn today! They love school once they get there! What am I supposed to do here?" I ask myself.

I make many mistakes every day. But never, until I became a father of three, was I made so audibly aware of them in the day's first twenty minutes.

This, my friends, is birth control at its finest. Candlelight, soft music and champagne notwithstanding, any prescience of this morning could stop the most ardent husband from making advances on his wife.

If I were God, looking ahead at any given day of our whiny, ungrateful lives, I'd find birth control enough to skip Day 6 of Creation. Somehow, He did not. I am glad.

I am also glad that I didn't see this morning coming back when we chose to have a family, because at the point in my journey, I would not have seen the blessings of parenthood clearly enough to take the plunge. Ignorance is bliss. It is also good for the survival of the species.

I still wonder how a God who saw it all before it happened could be wild enough a lover to bear children on a silent, snow-blanketed planet that once slept in heavenly peace.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

On polygamy and insufficiency

I have never understood the draw of polygamy. Why would multiple women want to share the same man? And moreover, why on earth would a man want to try to keep more than one woman happy?

My incredulity at why any dude would choose such an arrangement has mushroomed since I have been living with four fair ladies.

Maybe a polygamist takes pride in being surrounded by beautiful women, accepting people’s compliments on their loveliness as if he deserved some credit for it. That’s what I do. For a man with multiple wives, loneliness would not be a problem—unless it’s the loneliness of sporting the only Y chromosome in the house. I can empathize there too. Maybe these guys enjoy the diversity of their various wives, basking in the glory of how so many different women could be married to him, the way I love pondering the contrasts among my daughters. Maybe it’s just about bragging rights with the boys, a chance for back-slapping and jokes about the absence of TV in the home—the kind I get when people see all my little girls and hand me coupons for cable.

But whether a guy is cursed with multiple wives or blessed by a wife and multiple daughters, both the polygamist and I end up with one thing in common: many, many bosses.

Sometimes I count all the bosses I have at work. Our head counselor quarterbacks the department, but the assistant principal is our real manager. Sometimes teachers tell us what to do when it comes to placing kids correctly. My principal ultimately rules the fiefdom of the high school where I work. What she says is law—until a big-wig from the district comes on campus and she kowtows like the rest of us. Sometimes we get mandates straight from the counseling gurus at the district level, or even the Governator. At the same time, I like to think that the students and their families are my real bosses--and often they act like it.

Though these many chiefs may have disparate ideas about what this little Indian should be doing at work, most of the time they let me do my thing.

My four delightful chiefs at home are a different story.

Sometimes their conflicting instructions come because they can’t agree. Ashlyn orders tofu for breakfast, but Brielle wants oatmeal. Melía insists on grits. Brielle wants to read Green Eggs and Ham, Ashlyn begs for Curious George, and Melía wants me to play wedding. Other times it’s their agreement that puts me in a catch-22, like when all three want to sit in the back of the minivan or on my lap. And there is always my dilemma over which list to neglect: the Honey-do or the Daddy-do.

Along with this is the role confusion I wrestle with as a Christian father. On the one hand, Christians tell me to be the leader of my home, to be the head as Christ is to the church. And yet Christ led by serving. I love this. But when does that mean laying me down to fulfill the requests of the family God has given me, and when does it mean saying “no” in an attempt to lead the family in what I see as the best direction, or just to keep from frying myself?

To say that I feel insufficient understates the thing, leaving me to resort to adverbs. I feel grossly insufficient, terrifically insufficient, spectacularly insufficient.

When I focus on this, it starves my love for my awesome foursome of womenfolk with whom I share a home. My eyes dart nervously from demand to conflicting demand, and my heart feels like my house often looks after a day of preschooler play—undersized, disheveled, disordered, confused…and dangerous. When will I ever get things together, weak and insufficient as I am?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

This is my only hope.

Have mercy, Lord. I need your all-sufficient grace. You know I am weak. Please let your strength be what shows up as I lead and serve my family. I choose the awesome diversity of their wants and needs. You know how this feels, God, Father of six billion needy, greedy children. Let it make me humble. Give me love and wisdom--and the courage to live these out.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

I'm Mr. Lonely

I feel lonely.

Rachelle and the girls have been two hours away in Carlsbad this week, hanging out at Legoland with her dear friend and family while I worked. Hearing of these plans, I looked forward to a week of peace and projects completed. Unfettered by family obligations, I would catch up on business, watch that Pedro Almodóvar DVD I’ve been saving for weeks, fix the electric quirk plaguing our kitchen chandelier, change the oil, rotate the tires, clean the house, write, get past Ash Wednesday in my book of Lenten readings, catch up on sleep, drink tea and just enjoy having the house to myself.


I did do some of these things. But it was with none of the relish I anticipated, and with more loneliness than I thought possible for a guy who claims to love solitude.

My brother and I have always loved to make fun of “loneliness.” There was a guy named Captain Dynamite on TV whose gig was to sort of blow himself up for the merriment of spectators. He would crawl into a box sporting an Elvis-meets-Flash-Gordon suit, close the lid and wait as the announcer counted down, “Three, two, one…” BLAM! He emerged, stunned from the blast, walking drunkenly back across the field to the delirious laughter and cheers of the crowd. Captain Dynamite was our archetypal “lonely guy,” someone who desperately needs others to notice him, who will do anything for attention, who has nothing better to do with himself other than something, well, something extremely lonely.

This theme was so prevalent in Matt’s and my joking that a couple years back I gave him a compilation of the loneliest songs of the last five decades, entitled “50 x 1: A Half-Century of Loneliness.” It featured 23 songs--everything from America’s This is For All the Lonely People to Elvis’s Heartbreak Hotel to Sound of Music’s The Lonely Goatherd to Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely to Eddie Holman’s Hey There Lonely Girl to the Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby to Yes’s Owner of a Lonely Heart all the way down to the Backstreet Boys’ Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely. Much to my brother’s amazement, I was lonely enough to follow it up with a sequel for his next birthday, called “Lonely Again: A Refill of Emptiness.”

Later I preached a sermon on the topic of loneliness featuring clips of all these songs. Matt showed up just to confirm how lonely I was.

But sitting here in a house devoid of screaming children, no one to fight me putting on her pajamas, no spitting of toothpaste onto the new carpet, no infinity of requests for milk, songs, stories, favorite blankets, etc. to calculatedly delay bedtime, I feel consumed by the silence. Going by the girls’ rooms, their beds are cold and empty. Bedtime prayers will be all in my head.

Suddenly the lonely jokes and my arsenal of lonely music seem less funny. When you get used to the overwhelming abundance of little loves that usually grace my life, even a couple nights to myself feel wrong. Loneliness is for real.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sermon on the throne

After church yesterday, Brielle had to go potty. So did I. So I took her into the can, laid down the tissue rump gasket, and lifted the princess onto her throne.

Seated there, she began a sermon that was impossible to sleep through. It began when she watched me spit my gum into the trash can.

“Daddy, how did you do that?”

“I just opened my mouth and the gum fell out.”

“But Daddy, why did the gum just go straight down like that?”

“Because of gravity. Gravity is what makes everything fall. It’s what makes us stick to the ground instead of floating away.”


“Well, everything that is anything—everything that has mass—has gravity. And that makes things pull to each other like magnets. The bigger the thing, the more gravity it has. And because our planet is so big, it pulls us to it really tight. And right now it just pulled my gum straight down.”


“And because the sun is soooo big, it has even more gravity than the earth.”

“The sun has gravity too? A lot of gravity?”


“But Daddy, God has even more gravity. God has the mostest gravity in the whole entire world.” A grin broke out on her face. “He has the mostest gravity in the whole entire planets, in the whole entire universe!”

Verdad, Brielle. That’s right, niñita.”

She was gaining momentum. “And He loves us the mostest in the whole entire world…in the whole entire universe!”

"Verdad, Brielle."

She paused to soak in this, content.

“Daddy, I love you. I love you in the whole world, in the entire planets, in the whole universe!”

Sermon complete. Amen and amen. What more could a Daddy--or anyone--hope to know?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Shopping for kindergarten and ice cream

So we’re kindergarten shopping for Brielle. The great thing is that we have so many options, and all of them are good. But the problem is, we have so many good options. I’ve heard it called “choice paralysis”—so many flavors to choose from that we stand wide-eyed at the counter, wondering what kind of ice cream would really taste best. I feel like one of my high school students who, after receiving pounds of mail from colleges around the nation, still has not applied to any one of them.

After my six years teaching at Mesa Grande Academy, I’d feel most at home having Brielle begin her scholarly career there. At a school that naturally has a family feel, the faculty are like brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles to me. Brielle would be treated with professionalism, but also like a new niece. I kind of like that idea. I have heard great things about their kindergarten, and the class size is nice and small. I trust MGA to do a good job telling Brielle the God story, and more importantly, to live out that story in the flesh. The ethnic mix (or lack thereof) at MGA reflects some of the “white flight” feel of the area, which I’m not wild about, but not because the school itself is trying to avoid diversity—it’s just a local demographics thing. Overall, if it weren’t about 20 minutes out of the way on our already long trek up the mountain, I’d love to send her to Mesa Grande.

At Redlands Adventist Academy, Brielle would literally have two aunts and an uncle there for her. My brother and his wife are middle school teachers there, and my other brother’s wife is counselor and registrar. The three of them have been surrepticiously brainwashing Brielle to “just say no” to the other options because they’d love to have her around. We would love that too. We have heard amazing things about the kindergarten program, including the way the teacher has of disciplining kids with a positive focus and the way she prepares them academically for 1st grade. I served a summer as interim youth pastor for Redlands church in 2004, and was impressed with the little faith community; I think I would trust them to disciple Brielle as a follower of Jesus. Redlands is more ethnically diverse than Mesa Grande, which I like, and Redlands is on the way to work for both Rachelle and me.

As a student at Orangewood Academy and teacher at Mesa Grande, Loma Linda Academy was our nemesis. Like the Lakers, or the Yankees, they were the giant that you loved to slay in sports. “Beat LLA!” was what we were about. We hated them because they were good, because the place was rotten with rich kids, because unlike our little 100-student high schools, they were big enough that you could date girls that didn’t already feel like sisters. And they could wear jewelry. We hated them because they were “Loma Linda.” Then I started meeting actual people from LLA and noticed they were nice chicks, decent dudes, regular people that I pretty much liked. Still, the idea of sending my daughter to Loma Linda feels like traitordom, and the mere thought of telling people about it drags my tail between my legs. But man are they slick. Last Sunday’s kindergarten recruitment open house was just about perfect, entertaining the whole family and knocking us dead. After years of overwork at smaller Adventist schools, I do appreciate how Loma Linda’s size allows them to provide more time and support to their teachers. Brielle’s buddy/cousin, Reiley is going there, and we could carpool. But still, it’s “Loma Linda.” Uggh.

A few days ago a friend of mine told me about her home-schooling and how wonderful that was. They received everything they needed for free, all the way down to art supplies and computer, got support from a mentor teacher, and had their daughter reading like a fiend. With all these other wonderful school options and Brielle’s social nature, we hadn’t really considered home school, but the more I listened the more it sounded like a perfect hybrid of the accountability and economy of public school with the spiritual nurture and individual attention that Christian schools offer.

After four years in the public school system, I’m discovering it has its own benefits beyond being free. For example, my district offers a “dual immersion” program where English-only kids learn Spanish and Spanish-only students learn English—together. With that double-dip in language, students from programs like this rock on their SAT scores. I would love my kids to be bilingual from the get-go, to marinate in a truly multicultural setting, even to be an ethnic minority for a change. The academic opportunities for advanced learners are outstanding compared to a small Christian school trying to be all things to all students.

If she attended the public elementary school we live near, right in the mountains, she would get the whole riding-the-yellow-school-bus experience, never go into the smog, and be close to home so Rachelle could easily be involved. And in a multi-grade classroom, Brielle’s bright mind could be challenged at a level beyond kindergarten whenever appropriate.

As for religious instruction, I actually see advantages to them attending a school that is not associated with church. When they’re sick of school, it wouldn’t mean they’re sick of God; when their classmates or teachers inevitably fall short of their expectations, it wouldn’t be God’s fault. Maybe I’m a little jealous or paranoid about delegating to unsupervised others the serious fun of leading my kids’ faith walk. There’s a part of me that invokes the ethic of “If you want it done right, do it yourself” when it comes to their religious education. Yet whatever I say about considering the pros of public education, I can’t escape feeling like Rachelle or Whoever thinks that I’m just making a case for being cheap. I’m really not—if anything is worth paying for, education is. I just want us to look at all the options.

Aaaaah, the options. If there were only less flavors, maybe I would be munching on a cone by now instead of dazed, nose against the glass, paralyzed by choice.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Love ain't easy

There are plenty of songs telling us what love supposedly is.
  • Love is a Many Splendoured Thing
  • Love Makes the World Go 'Round
  • Love Gets Me Every Time
  • Love is a Rose
  • Love is a Battlefield
  • Love Stinks
Appealing as all these metaphors may be, this last week I've been going with the theme of Faith Hill's song, "Love Ain't Like That."
No, love, love ain't like that.
Love ain't that easy to define....
Maybe amongst the cacophony of declarations of what love is, a few hints at what it is not could be refreshing. Perhaps more than another seed planted, the overgrown forest of love definitions needs a little pruning.

My kids have begun this pruning, teaching me that love ain't about making people happy, for example. They've showed me that love ain't blind either. And today, I will try to convince you (as my lovely ladies have managed to convince me) of this shocking insight: Love ain't easy.

Love is not easy.

You knew that already.

But did you ever catch yourself thinking something was wrong in a love relationship because it wasn’t going smoothly? “This is too much work,” I’ve thought. “This is not fun. If I have to strain so hard, do I really love this person?”

As we anticipated Brielle's birth, Rachelle and I knew we would feed her breast milk. It was natural. It was God’s plan. It was convenient, easy, simpler than buying and toting around formula. (Ladies, why the sardonic laughter?)

Brielle was born, and within minutes my wife learned how painful and difficult nursing could be. We went to “lactation consultants,” a profession that sounded laughable to me. Who needs consultants to be able to do this simple thing that God created us to do? Women have been doing it for millennia. It is core to the survival of the species, basic to who we are as mammals. It should just flow, you know?

Why should love be any different? It's natural. It is this simple thing that God created us to to, and people have been doing it for eons. It is core to the survival of our species, basic to who we are as children of God. It should just flow, right?

Here’s what I've found "just flows": affinity, attraction, lust. Liking someone comes easy. Loving them, not so much.

M. Scott Peck separates love from “cathexis,” which explains attractions to the opposite sex, the instinct for cuddling pets and pinching babies' cheeks. Cathexis come naturally. Animals naturally want to mate. I naturally like people who like me.

And then there is love. It takes effort. It is work. It’s difficult. As core as it may be to God’s design for us, we still seem to need “lactation consultants” of sorts to help us do it right—therapists, teachers, parents, pastors, books, friends and every other resource that helps us do this very tough job of loving.

Peck goes as far as to say that real love cannot begin until cathexis is over. Again, Peck's definition of love: "the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." He says I can’t really begin the work of this sort of love until the natural attraction has faded enough to make it difficult to extend myself to nurture your spiritual growth. This could mean that right around seven years, when so many couples are “falling out of love,” thinking divorce, it might be just the right time to actually begin to love.

God shows this kind of supernatural love:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8)
He did not come “being nice,” trying to make us merely happy—although his love calls us to grow toward true joy.

He did not die in blind ignorance of our evil—although his death can wash it away.

His love was anything but easy—it cost him everything.

Love ain't easy. But it's worth it. Loving three preschoolers ain't easy. But they're worth it.

Crazy thing is, loving me ain't easy either. But somehow, God thinks I'm worth it too.