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.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Conformed or transformed, Message edition

We spent hours today on our marriage retreat basking in God’s presence, which came at no extra charge with a perfect beach weather day—sunny, clear, with just enough breeze and shade to chase away the sweat. Rachelle and I spent a lot of time alone as individuals, and then as a couple, meditating on this passage (Eugene Peterson’s Message-version take on Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2):

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

It led me to a contrast between conforming to the culture and being transformed by God. Here’s some of what I pray God will teach me to discern as I grow as a person, a husband and Daddy:

Conformed to the world/culture (“so well-adjusted to the culture that I just fit in without even thinking”)

Transformed by the renewing of my mind (“attention fixed on God, changed from the inside out”)


Whole-person love





Self-righteous, taking self seriously

Humble, taking self playfully

Alcohol/caffeine for mood control

Prayer/thanksgiving to quiet or wake up the soul


Compassion, listening



Thinking of me

Thinking of God and His kids (including myself)




Love, security


Entering God’s playground

Avoiding discomfort

Embracing growth

Doing it yourself

Being it by grace







Looking good

Looking at God

Pride in what I do

Gratitude for Who God is and who he is making me to be

God grant me grace to live on the right side of these dichotomies, to refuse to conform to the mediocrity that surrounds us, and be transformed by you. Help us raise our kids in the Spirit of this transformation.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Clutter in sacred hearts

Rachelle and I are on a weird marriage retreat. Sacred Hearts Ministry is hosting our third weekend in a year with a dozen other couples, here at a hotel in Orange County. This retreat is sort of a less-is-more exercise, built around two blocks of alone time—in the morning as individuals and in the afternoon as a couple. On the fringes of these times of “extended personal communion” are worship, a date, and conversations about the outer journey of our daily lives and the inner journey of our alone time with God.

It is simply delicious.

One of my chief complaints about my life is its clutter. When I walk around my home wading through a sea of jumbled toy parts, jettisoned matchless footwear, and random princess accessories, I get a sort of material claustrophobia. When I walk my way through the schedule of a typical evening with the princesses who claim all that stuff, I feel that same cramped chaos in the realm of time. Reviewing a month’s budget, I see the clutter of expenses and wonder, “How can I clean this up? Isn’t there something I can simplify?” More difficult yet, even a cursory scan of my brain reveals a monumental mess. (Another David Wilcox fave describes this: Inside of My Head)

This weekend is simple. The space and time here—unlike so much else in our cup-runneth-over lives—are clean. Like a song too good to be overproduced, this weekend promises to be true to its melody—acoustic, unplugged, organic.

That’s what I need. Because as much as I gripe about clutter, the clutter is in my life because I allow it there, even need it there. I create clutter in my mind, in my schedule, in my heart. I may lionize the Amish, but I am still a sucker for a chance to complicate my soul with words, news, thoughts, events, technology and stuff.

So what will I do this weekend without it? Here’s what I hope to do:

  • Restore my appetite for silence
  • Renew my thirst for God
  • Reconnect my heart to Rachelle’s

My schedule, my budget, my heart need de-cluttering. The space and time are here. God always has been. All I need now is the courage to let Him clean house.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Clothes of Dad's I want to keep

Rachelle's mom, a widow of three weeks, has been doing the excruciating work of sorting through her husband's things--keeping this, giving away that. Some in her place wait months, years or a lifetime before putting themselves through this.

Not Evonne. Never one to procrastinate unsavory tasks, she sees a job, and whether or not she knows how to do it, she gets it done. As with the rest of the recurring nightmare that is grief, there is no way around this but through it. So true to form, Evonne has braved her way into the closets, sheds, cupboards and drawers of the life she shared with Don and wept good-byes to much of the stuff her soul mate owned.

The other day, before going to Goodwill, she brought over a pile of clothes she thought I might use. It was sad to see them spread there on the couch, like the disembodied plumage of a fallen bird, never again to be worn by their rightful owner. I felt guilty to be rifling through them, guilty to be profiting from Don's death when I accepted something, guilty to say "no" to the many things I didn't want. Rationally, I knew it was just a fact of life, of death. Some of our things will outlive our bodies. What else would I have done with them--have them mummified for use in the hereafter?

I kept a handful of garments: a fine medium-weight Helly Hanson jacket that his son had given him, a dark long-sleeve rugby shirt, and one other thing, I forget what. Mostly, I am trying to empty my closet, keeping only what I know I'll wear. Neither Evonne, Rachelle nor I are very sentimental about belongings anyway.

The treasures I covet are the things Don did to raise a daughter as extraordinary as Rachelle. If these things were garments, I would fight like a vulture to make them my own. As with the pile of his shirts, pants, sweaters and coats draped lifelessly on my sofa, I will respectfully decline a fair amount of his parental clothing. (If he'd been a perfect father, he might have raised a daughter too pristine to marry me.) But from his wardrobe of father finery, here is what I hope to don as I raise his granddaughters:
  • Playfulness - Don loved games, sports, adventures, travels, and all manner of play with the ones he loved most. If something practical needed done, Evonne was probably the one who did it. But when Rachelle wanted to play, she was Daddy's girl.
  • Faith - Don believed in the power of God, in the hugeness of God. Whatever his failings, he never modeled for his kids a small God.
  • Generous listening - Don loved to share, but shone best when he listened to the sharing of others. As pastor, innkeeper and father, he celebrated people and heard the best in them. I can't think of a better gift to give my own children.
  • Friendship - Rachelle learned from her dad the power of small groups, which he facilitated at most of the churches where he served. Her commitment to building small groups of friends sharing the journey together has paved the way for me to have the most meaningful friendships in my life, most of which I never would have bothered creating without her. I want to instill in my daughters a passion for nurturing deeply positive friendships that feed their life of faith.
Do I want every item in his wardrobe? Of course not.

But Goodwill, eat your heart out. By God's grace, you won't get your hands on those four.


Thanks, Don, for sharing these choice Daddy-duds. I hope you sensed during your life what beautiful things you bequeathed to your children. I'll try to wear them well for mine.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Ideal vs. Real

Plato conceived of a world of Forms or ideas whose reality transcends that of the material world that we can see. In this tradition, Gnostics glorified the perfection of things spiritual while shunning the fallen world of flesh. Stephen Covey hints at the same notion when he writes of the mental creation that precedes any physical creation. William Glasser calls it one's "Quality World," which we constantly compare to the world we actually experience.

All of the above have made clear the difference between “Ideal” and “Real”—but not a clear as my kids make it each night at bedtime. Here’s what I mean....

IDEAL Monday evening schedule:

5:00 Daddy arrives home, kicks off shoes and puts away mail and work stuff.

5:05 Turn on music, dance, play while Mommy prepares dinner.

5:30 Sit down to dinner, bless food.

5:35 Eat food.

6:00 Clear table, load dishwasher, talk about the day with wife while children play.

6:30 Children put on own pajamas for bed.

6:45 Children brush own teeth.

7:00 Parents sing praises of cooperative children, with accompanying high-fives.

7:05 Children gather on parents’ laps to listen with rapt attention to stories .

7:20 Go over lesson from Tiny Tots class at church as spellbound children absorb it like dry sponges, making mental notes for application to their future behavior.

7:25 Practice memory verse so for once they don’t have to cheat to get their sticker for saying it at church.

7:30 Say prayer as a family at bedside, each girl taking a turn to talk with God while others listen, enthralled, with all five voices closing with a unified “Amen.”

7:35 Parents kiss girls good-night, sing chorus of “Jesus Loves Me” and “Miss You Till the Morning” (by Kevin Brusett).

7:45 Parents tidy house, set out clothes for next day, get ready for bed, talk and/or engage other in extracurricular activities.

9:00 Parents retire.

Is this too much to ask of three little girls and two adults in a span of four hours? Apparently so, because this is what actually happens:

REAL Monday evening schedule:

5:00 Daddy arrives home, kicks off shoes and drops mail and work stuff in middle of living room because all four girls are too cute to pass by on the way to the proper storage locations.

5:05 After hugs to the two girls willing to receive them (Rachelle plus a randomly selected one of the three daughters), Daddy breaks up fight between other two, assigns time-out to the one who committed most blatant act of violence. During time-out, Daddy lectures other participant on how she can avoid provoking similar acts of violence in future.

5:08 Daddy releases convicted daughter when time-out sentence is complete, insists on apology.

5:10 Daddy sends daughter back to time-out after two minutes of badgering daughter to apologize correctly (i.e. looking at victim of violence, saying her name, using the word “sorry,” and naming offense for which she is apologizing, all the while avoiding silly or baby talk).

5:11 Daddy attempts to trash as much junk mail and pay as many bills as possible while child is on second time out, gets distracted by incoming email, forgets that time-out is over despite resounding beep from microwave timer, until prisoner shouts, “The timer is going off, Daddy!”

5:15 Daughter released from time-out offers apology that is adequate (or at least close enough to avoid re-sentencing).

5:16 To victim of violence, Daddy expounds the value of forgiving offender, finally abandoning effort after realizing the apologizer has moved on, already having forgotten what she apologized for in first place.

5:20 Daddy returns to email and other online business.

5:30 Mommy starts feeding 1.6 children, begins begging Daddy to eat food while hot.

5:35 Mommy reminds Daddy food is getting cold and she’s already reheated it twice.

5:40 Mommy gets a few bites of food in other 1.4 children, allows tones of desperation to enter voice as she insists Daddy eat what she has prepared.

5:42 Ashlyn sows handfuls of granola throughout kitchen.

5:45 Daddy eats cold dinner while assigning Ashlyn to clean up her mess, under threat of time-out.

5:48 Daddy puts Ashlyn on time-out for having scattered granola with broom rather than sweeping up.

5:50 Mommy checks her email, relieved to have someone else in the house so she can at least read words from other adults.

5:51 Daddy releases Ashlyn, sets microwave timer for 5 minutes, after which Ashlyn will be back on time-out if granola is still on floor, explains this deal to Ashlyn.

5:59 Ashlyn returns to time-out as Daddy laments the diffusion of granola through dining area and living room as well.

6:02 Ashlyn comes back to kitchen and works with Daddy to sweep granola as Brielle holds dustpan. Daddy realizes Ashlyn does not know how to use a broom, wonders how we’ve allowed her to get by this long without cleaning up her legion messes.

6:04 Melía hits Brielle for refusing to share dustpan, is sent to time-out.

6:05 Melía attempts escape from time-out, gets swat on hand from Daddy, is returned to time-out, screaming bloody murder.

6:08 Melía released from time-out, followed by forced apology to Brielle.

6:10 Daddy and Ashlyn continue to work on sweeping kitchen, a project that would take 3 minutes if done by adult, but which takes 30 in order to teach Ashlyn that she must clean up messes she makes.

6:40 Ashlyn dumps dustpan out onto floor, scatters it again, setting back cleaning job by a quarter hour.

6:45 Mommy has phone conversation and Melía instinctively whines at her for her attention until she cuts conversation short.

7:00 Daddy and Ashlyn finish sweeping floor, dump dustpan into trash, give high-fives.

7:05 Mommy and Daddy notice that children have barely eaten, but that it is time to get ready for bed anyway—they have to learn to eat when it’s eating time or miss out.

7:10 Daddy hunts through house for matching Disney princess pajamas that have hope of being acceptable to twins.

7:20 Daddy finds two matching sets of pajamas, pants on floor in twins’ room, one shirt in drawer, one on couch arm in living room.

7:21 Daddy walks toward Melía, she swings toy in protest of imminent bedtime, with only mild degree of malice, but hits him in privates, lightly, but not lightly enough to avoid time-out.

7:22 Daddy channels pain and rage into task of creating a walkway into twins room by kicking toys into corner behind princess castle.

7:23 Daddy grabs Ashlyn as she runs by in hall, wrestles her into pajamas.

7:25 Ashlyn kicks pajama pants off, gets a swat on the leg. Daddy puts pajamas back on as Ashlyn screams.

7:32 Melía reminds Daddy, “Set da timer, Daddy! Set da timer!” Daddy sets microwave timer for two minutes.

7:33 Daddy puts toothpaste on toothbrushes during time-out

7:34 Melía released from time-out.

7:40 Daddy calls for Melía to come, counts to five. She comes two seconds too late, is sent to time-out again, screaming bloody murder.

7:43 Melía released from time-out, now agrees to get ready for bed but throws tantrum because Daddy detached Velcro tab on Pull-ups (overpriced, underabsorbant diapers used to make toddlers imagine they are making progress potty training) while she wanted to don them with tabs attached.

7:44 Daddy attempts to help Melía with Pull-ups, but is chastised till she has finished tantruming enough to accept assistance.

7:46 Ashlyn goes into bathroom, actually opens mouth before Daddy’s threatening counting (“1…2…3……4………5”) runs out, allowing him to brush teeth with vibrating mermaid toothbrush without knocking any of her pearly whites out.

7:47 Mommy somehow convinces or forces Melía to brush teeth somewhere else in house.

7:48 Exhausted by this effort, parents call a late-4th-quarter time-out for themselves and work in kitchen and bedroom, preparing for tomorrow while children engage in hyperactive play with energy inversely proportional to that of parents.

8:25 Realizing the kids have got to get to sleep, parents try to rally children in one bedroom for prayer (too late for stories or lesson). Children argue over whose room will host bedtime prayer.

8:30 Mommy and Daddy put twins in bed. Daddy goes to kitchen to clean rancid sippy cups in anticipation of upcoming milk request.

8:34 On return to twins’ room, Daddy catches Ashlyn nibbling on a piece of thread she yanked from blanket (a favorite snack of hers). He confiscates blanket and replaces it with a blanket that is less appetizing to Ashlyn. She screams bloody murder and begs pitifully for the original blanket.

8:36 Mommy and Daddy pray with twins over their screams for blanket, milk and in general protest of our abusive habit of putting them to bed at night.

8:40 Mommy brushes Brielle’s teeth. For once, she cooperates like an angel.

8:45 Twins get out of bed to come and ask for something to drink, violating the law prohibiting rising from bed after being put down. One is put in time-out on traditional chair in corner, other placed behind door in hallway.

8:48 Microwave timer sounds, twins returned to bed. Daddy breaks them the news: we are out of cow’s milk—only water or soy milk. Melía agrees to soy milk after a couple minutes, Ashlyn screams bloody murder at the announcement that cow’s milk is not an option.

8:45 Daddy pours and warms soy milk in sippy cup for Melía, brings it to her room. Ashlyn cries for her soy milk until calming down enough to ask nicely.

8:48 Daddy returns with warm soy milk for Ashlyn, who accepts it resignedly.

8:49 Daddy snuggles and kisses both girls. Mommy, who was supposed to be in bed an hour ago because she is terribly sick (I have no idea what kept her from falling asleep in our placid home…) finally crashes. Daddy prays with twins now that they are quiet enough to hear it, first in English, then the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish.

8:55 Daddy remembers the girl who’d drawn the Easy Kid lot for the night (mercifully there is usually one), and goes to Brielle’s room to pray with her too, thanking God and girlie both for her relative cooperativeness this evening.

9:01 Daddy tells sick Mommy good-night, puts off cleaning messy kitchen and great room till morning, sits down and writes blog.

John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans.”

Thank you, Lord, for life with our little ones. Help us work and pray our way toward our plans for the ideal; and meanwhile, deliver us from begrudging the real.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Trying to stay positive, continued

My kids can sometimes be the greatest buoys for my spirit. After days of fixation on life’s end, my heavy soul, embraced by these lives just begun, knows the miracle of flotation. When I am sinking in my own bad humor, their goofy, girly love pulls me to the surface for air.

I used to think it was the height of unselfishness to have kids. But as Liz Gilbert asserted in Eat, Pray, Love, there are many very self-interested reasons to have them. Right now, one of those reasons is the hope and energy that surround me in my children. When time seems frozen at Good Friday, my little ones wake me up to Easter morning.

I want to maximize this natural spirit of hopeful energy, never spoiling it or breaking it. I worry I rain on their parades too often for the sake of prudence, as I try to help them grow up.

The other morning, I was playing the tough guy, insisting that Brielle do something for herself rather than bossing me around to get it done. She wanted a blanket, and was helplessly trembling and crying about how cold she was while the blanket she wanted was three steps away.

This went on for about a minute and I finally said the obvious. “Sweet Brie, if you’re cold, just put that blanket on you,” I told her, working on breakfast at the sink.

“No! I can’t! YOU do it!” she demanded. “Brrrrrr!”

I didn’t respond. We try not to respond to any requests unless she “asks nicely,” meaning use of the magic word and a ladylike tone.

“BRRRR! I need a blanket!” she cried.

“It’s right there, sweetheart. Grab it.”

“I can’t reach it! My arm isn’t long enough!” More screams from the neglected child.

Sarcasm time. “Hmmm. What is another way you could get that blanket? Let’s think….”

Brielle recognizes sarcasm well enough to hate it. “Stop it!” she shrieked. “You’re being MEAN to me!”

“Brielle, I’m not being mean to you. I just know you are a big girl and you know how to fix this problem by yourself so you can be warm.”

“You’re NOT being nice to me! It makes me very sad and mad when you are not nice to me!” Forlorn cries.

“Brielle, sometimes Daddy’s job is not to be nice. Sometimes my job is to teach you how to be a big girl,” I said.

In the past, we’ve used “being nice” as the ever-desired goal, although the older I get, the more convinced I am that love is not always nice. I just hadn’t tried before now to get that across to my four-year-old. Just now I was realizing why I had waited so long.

“But the way you teach me doesn’t teach me anything!” she cried, cheeks soaked. “It only makes me sad and mad when you fight me like this!”

Most of me wanted to put her on time-out for her insolence in this whole conversation. I was not cool with being bossed around by my preschooler for something she could handle on her own. I resented being chastised for taking a stand that she take care of herself rather than ask me to drop what I was doing to wait on her.

That was what most of me was saying. Yet there was this annoyingly vocal minority in my head saying, She is right. You are fighting her, not teaching her. You could easily do the nice thing here. She’s only asking for a blanket. Is this the hill you want to die on in the battle to teach her self-determination?

And then, Actually, you ARE teaching her. You’re teaching her not to help people who ask for a simple favor. You’re teaching her to be contrary and difficult, to ignore the plea of a shivering human being in the name of teaching her a lesson she is clearly not in the mood to study. Teaching her to be…mean?

I walked around the room in external quiet, defending myself against this minority voice. But it’s important to say “no” to build self-reliance instead of chronic dependency, not to enable laziness or bossiness, I insisted.

But there have got to be more positive ways to do this, whispered the minority.

I busied myself, recounting the ballots to see which voice was really me, and which the pretender. My verbal ceasefire gave her time to calm down.

The votes were tallied.

When I thought it was clear that I was not rewarding her bossiness, I brought over the soft crimson blanket Brielle had been crying for and wrapped it around her skinny pajama-clad frame. From over her shoulder, I kissed the salty cool of her right cheek.

“Thank you, Daddy,” she whimpered.

“I love you, sweet Brie. Next time, just ask nicely and I will be happy to help you.”

My kids do so much to be the light of my darkened life, the updraft that carries me above the thunderheads, the spring that thaws away my hard winter. When I think of them, I see grins, hear giggles, feel cuddling.

What more can I do to be this kind of a positive presence for them? What creative responses to difficult times might increase their experience of me as the brightness, the favorable wind, the warmth in the midst of their dark, storm and winter?

I know there must be negative moments in parenting. But I’m thinking maybe I have been resigning myself to too many of them.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Trying to stay positive

I’m struggling not to violate the cardinal rule of blogging: “Don’t let it become too negative.” (I’m trying to do the same with my parenting in general; more on that tomorrow....) It’s not like I get a kick out of life’s dark stretches. I don’t. Nor do I derive any sadistic pleasure watching my kids walk through them.

It’s just that so far in 2008, my girls have lost their More Papa, their Papa and their cat. (Please don’t mention the cat to them—they still haven’t spoken of his absence and we haven’t brought it up.) Shuffled into this was a holiday featuring the violent death of God. Watching my kids process the first death of their life at the end of January was touching and even a tearful sort of beautiful. I didn’t like that they had to go through it. At the same time, it was important, deep, inspiring.

But watching them lose their grandpa has been simply bleak.

It’s as if two deaths in as many months has left them feeling like this is routine. They felt the stress and sensed something was wrong; it showed in their hyperactive and hyperfussy behavior all last week as they spent evenings with other loved ones while we were at the hospital. But there was a grim resignation this time, something even more painful to see than the more visible grief that showed up when they lost More Papa.

The twins both took the news of Rachelle’s dad’s death in silence. Brielle didn’t even manage to cry until half a day after she’d heard, when she listened to Mommy sing “Goodbye for Now,” the same song she’d sung at More Papa’s funeral. And then, at last, Brielle fell to pieces. I was relieved.

We barely got to that point though. The evening had all the ingredients of human brokenness. We had designed it as a quiet time for the family to gather in our home and remember Don.

By 8 p.m., we had not yet begun to do this.

I had been waging a man-against-machine battle up to the last minute, trying to get the 161 photos I’d scanned of Don to play on the TV, oblivious to any human beings in the room. Don’s sisters were getting along like sisters, which at this point meant a disagreement sharp enough that one was out on the porch calming herself down before she said something regrettable. Rachelle’s recently widowed grandma had come up the mountain to share in the time, but had run out of steam by then and was begging for rides back home, convinced that she too had lost her husband that very day. In the midst of this was Rachelle’s mom, shell-shocked after the loss of the two most important men in her life, just trying to hold it together.

And in the wailing department were my three daughters, whose enthusiastic screams would have put Bible-era professional mourners to shame. So vociferous were our lovely progeny that we carried the twins off to bed in the middle of dinner. This meant leaving them out of a process I fear they really needed. It was this process that finally wrung the tears from Brielle’s eyes, the moment that her resignation gave way to real feelings.

We all need those moments. Maybe even fussy three-year-olds? Why couldn't they stay sane enough to have theirs?

Melía prayed the night before last, “Thank you for this nice day. Thank you for this wonderful day. Thank you that Jesus die and rose adain. Thank you that Papa die and rose adain. Amown.” It was sweet. It was funeral homily quotation material. But is it OK that either one of those tragic deaths should roll so routinely off the lips of a child? Is this a welcome sign that Melía is trusting in the hope of the resurrection, accurately applying Jesus’ story to that of her grandfather? Or this all too glib for a loss that is much closer to home than the one two thousand years ago? Should I be encouraged or concerned?

I am sad that my daughters have to deal with so much death right now, resentful even that Easter had to fall when it did. More than than, I'm angry that this most recent death came much sooner than necessary. I am indignant that hospital visiting rules and the twins’ own fussiness has made it so they haven’t gotten to say good-bye the way I think they needed to. I am worried that theses losses will lead to I don’t know what in their psycho-spiritual future. I am scared of how we adults may fail them as we handle our own grief.

And despite all that has been breaking in our babies’ hearts of late, I’m trying to keep my eye on what remains whole. I’m making an effort to keep things real yet positive with regard to the family we’ve lost and all of us who are left. After last Tuesday, we got out of town and spent a couple days in Carlsbad at the beach and pool. Yesterday found us at church and a birthday party. Today we all went to a play and dinner with the kids' choir. Good stuff. Hollow-feeling at times, but good.

So yeah, we’re working not to let this all get too negative. But it is work. Sometimes, it is hard work.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Who's her Daddy? - A legacy

As I watch his earthly life slip away, I’ve been thinking about everything Rachelle’s dad has given his daughter. Here are just some of the ways that Don will live on through Rachelle:

Food: This family expresses love through food and over food. Love is their food. Food is their love. The bestselling book, “Eat, Pray, Love” describes the heartbeat of the Long family—they love and they eat, the synergy of which rises up as a sort of prayer, a holy fellowship around these two essentials. Conversation over breakfast inevitably reaches back to recipes of the past and forward at least as far as dinner. Don has been speaking love via gastronomy most of his life, putting more than anyone could imagine into his recipes—growing and grinding ingredients than others would barely think to even purchase. “Taste o’ this,” he’d say, handing over a forkful of his latest creation. Rachelle, too, loves the world through her food, which, like her love, is always more abundant than necessary, more delightful than expected. Tonight when we gather to remember Don’s life together, Rachelle will be making pizza, her dad’s favorite. You can bet it will be better than anyone would guess pizza could be. You can also bet there will be leftovers.

Music: Don exults in good music—jazz, Celine Dion, the Four Tenors, and most recently, the Celtic Woman. He would record his favorites from PBS and play them for anyone who would listen when they came over. “You’ve got to hear this,” he would say, sinking into his recliner. Often he’ll be in tears minutes later, fully at the mercy of the music. He likes to get our girls dancing around the room as they listen, fancying themselves to be the singers. Of course, he loves to hear Rachelle sing. His daughter is music herself, with an essence that puts life to a melody, makes it a thing of beauty. Like her dad, Rachelle finds hope, energy, peace—God—in music.

Affection: Don is a hugger, a snuggler, a lover of cuddly animals. He gives backrubs, which must have been the family sport as a child judging by the spontaneous massages that break out at Long family get-togethers. His wife, daughter and granddaughters have always been, “Darlin’” or “Sweets.” Yet his affection is more than a family thing. He has space in his heart for all kinds of people, knowing not a stranger—only friends not yet met. Likewise, Rachelle is the kind of soul who, coming upon a row of five chairs with a single person sitting in a chair on one end, will select the chair next to that person over the other three vacant ones. Space between souls is not a good thing for her. Rachelle’s random back and foot rubbing qualifies her as a true Long, and even the roughest character may qualify as “Sweetie” in her generous language. The world will not sink into loneliness and despair while people like Don and daughter are on the loose, because they will snuggle up, give a hug, work on that knot in the shoulder and let people know that they are not as solitary as they had supposed.

Acknowledgement: Don—whether wearing the hat of pastor, innkeeper, friend, brother or dad—is an encourager. He has a prophetic eye for the best in people and a prophetic voice that puts that vision into words. He speaks to the best part of a soul, with conviction that makes believers of the people he builds up. Best of all, he listens to that best part, relishing opportunities to hear and celebrate people’s stories. Rachelle never needed that rule about saying seven nice things for every criticism; her verbal recipe pours in gallons of sincere compliments for every ounce of censure. She is the best fan I could dream of to bring to speaking engagements, showering heartfelt praise on me after every sermon or presentation I’ve given. Even in times of famine, when my character is a scorched, fruitless wasteland, she finds the one thriving plant in my soul and holds it up as the hallmark of who I am. I think I know where she learned this.

Spiritual Hunger: Don has a voracious appetite for God. He devours reading not only on biblical scholarship and archaeology, but on spirituality as described by yogis, emergent church leaders, scientists and others outside the traditional church in which his faith was forged. He is open to anything that might grow his understanding and experience of the divine. Some ten years ago he ended his employment as a minister, but he never stopped seeing and participating in the work of God. One of the first things that drew me to Rachelle was her genuine interest in things spiritual. Her heart beats to the rhythm of simple, solid faith—the lifeblood of a mind open to ideas that stretch the traditional boxes into which God has been stuffed. She works to create opportunities to learn more about relating with God and to talk about this learning with others. For Rachelle, authentic encounters with God and His people are pretty much the point of being alive.

The irony is this: I find it so easy to love her, while for him I have often found in myself as much criticism as love. How can this be when so much of who she is she learned from him? Dad, forgive me for failing so regularly to connect these dots, to see your goodness spilling over in the woman I love.

Thank you, Dad, for teaching your daughter so much of what matters. I pray for the grace to pass on as much to my little girls. We miss you already. But thank God, the best of you lives on in the people lucky enough to have known your love.