Real and fresh conversation
Me to child: Hey, go get your CD player, put in new batteries, bring it upstairs with your earphones and set them on the counter.
Child: CD player?
Me: The one in your bedroom?
Child: What? Why? It’s doesn’t need batteries. It has a plug. We can just plug it in.
Me: Maybe you aren’t going to be where there’s a plug.
Child: What? Where am I going?
Me: Hey. Go do what I asked you to do. (pause) Now.
Child: I got the player but I can’t open it to get the batteries out.
Me: Try to do it again… as if your very life depended on it.
Child: Okay. It’s all set. Now what am I going to listen to?
Me: Who said you were going to listen to something?
Child: You did.
Me: No, I didn’t. I asked you to go and get some things but I didn’t say you were going to listen to anything.
Child: Well, what am I going to do?
Me: Finish the job.
Me: Remembering what I asked you to do.
Child: But I can’t.
Child: I don’t know…
Me: Well, do you know if you finished what I asked you to do?
Child: Uh, no. I don’t know…what did you say?
Me: Put the CD player and your earphones on the counter and back away. That is all.
Sometimes, I’ll tell my kids about something we’re going to do and even though it’s all planned, they’ll begin to re-plan the event or check on me to make sure that I’ve thought of everything. Or like in the real and fresh conversation above, they won’t even begin to listen because, I guess, I speak another language or maybe they just don’t want to buy into what I’m asking until they know and trust every detail. That could be it.
Other times, I get hurt because I’m trying to help one of them with something and they just don’t want to listen. I might remember the same sort of thing happening to me. I might wish that I had thought of or known what I did afterwards but the child sort of “oh’s” me aside.
Then there’s the feeling of frustration I often experience when there is a pattern of disobedience and willfulness that is disruptive and, possibly, destructive to others or our home. When I find myself repeating the same bit of direction over and over, that’s when I tend to lose my interest in peace and neutrality to the point that I’ll lose my cool. Everyone finds it easy to back away then.
These are real feelings and I’m becoming very glad for them. Not for the sake of indulgence though, or license. Having a number of children hanging around all the time, I can go through these different emotions and scenarios over and over in rapid succession in a short amount of time and what it’s doing is creating my own personal and private tipping point of reflection. When I get the chance to step back and think it all over again, I find myself coming up against the same blunt awareness. I am very much like them.
Last week I was reading in John 14 and read verse 27. I admit that often I have skipped the first part of the verse to get to the last part of the verse because I tend to hunger and long for peace. This time, though, I noticed the counselor-who-the-father-provided part. The following is from my journal.
While I am so thankful for the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I know I do not always listen. I don’t hear him at times, until it is too late. Sometimes, I’m aware but feel unsure how to make the change or do it differently, especially in the middle of something intense.
The counsel is still there, though, and when I recognize it, so often it’s a balm, a salve and I feel relieved to sense it. I feel joined and strengthened in the Spirit’s direction and I know that it is good, the very best thing that’s ever touched my mind. Like a breeze that feels whole and welcome, I know that I am not alone and the fullest care is all about me. That is Presence and when I am aware, when I allow myself to acknowledge the Spirit is there and counseling me with effect, I want to laugh with joy, cry with gratefulness and never have it go away.
And that’s the rub. I treat the Spirit as an ‘it’, a thing instead of the Holy, Pure Conscience that this One of the Trinity is. I pretend it comes at me, all disconnected, willfully against my needs or like a miser, doling out only the littlest of offerings, yet, the Spirit, like the Son and the Father are Always. Always Present. Ready. Available. Real. Full. Faithful. I am the one who leaves, who shuts out the succor, who wanders in circles, lonely. I have a weak sense of the utter wholeness of the Presence of God, and it’s my downfall.
You know the oft-used phrase about that apple and how far it falls from the tree? It applies here. Possibly, I am missing out on the peace part that comes at the end because I am too busy trying to check on God, or get him to give me all the details so I’m sure I should trust what he’s asking me to do? Possibly, for sure. What would happen if I listened completely the first time and didn’t think too hard and just followed through? What if?
Our big-sized family took-on the big city this week. Yep, Chicago will never be the same. Okay, Chicago handled us just fine, but we will never be the same. And that’s good.
At the hotel, our family “bigness” was greeted by whispers and stares from the senior traveling club who had also chosen the same downtown accommodations. I can’t blame them for their gasps of horror as we crashed the breakfast bar that first morning. Our brood was just a wee-bit excited about the waffle station. What kid (or adult) wouldn’t be? Seriously. A device that dispenses an endless supply of liquid love positioned adjacent to an already hot waffle-maker. Dispense, pour, close, flip. Wait two-minutes, and bam! Golden, crusty deliciousness molded with deep, squared-shaped canyons anxious to receive a volume of syrup that could qualify for status as the sixth Great Lake. Ah, Heaven! (almost)
By the time breakfast festivities closed on day one, our kids had wooed the gray-hairs with their cuteness, politeness and cleanly waffle making. Speculative whispers about truancy and irresponsible parenting turned suddenly complimentary – particularly after revealing we home school. Katrina received kudos (which she should) and an amiable coexistence between the old and young was established. Katrina and I basked in a moment of parental victory while everyone got their share (and then some) of waffle wonderfulness.
Waffle making mastered, we moved on – sort of. Our children got a crash course (literally) in the use of revolving doors. Apparently the timing required for entering, revolving and exiting is an under-developed skill for one member of our family. Don’t worry; the bruises are healing nicely. Glad for but a few revolving doors here in West Michigan.
Beyond waffles and revolving doors, we had many memorable shared experiences. We consumed large quantities of deep-dish pizza and cheesecake. We made significant donations to Mr. Lego and Ms. American Girl. We saw ancient things. We saw things modern. We didn’t see everything we hoped, and at times saw more than desired. We wore ourselves silly with walking. We saw beggars and rich folk. We had conversations with Chicagoans, which were always pleasant. Conversations with our children about going to sleep in our cozy little suite were, let’s say, “pleasantly firm.”
It was good to get away – and to come home. After confinement to his crate, our dog is thankful to once again roam about his kingdom. And just in case we forgot what the non-vacationing life is like, a tube of Chap Stick – stowed-away with a load of laundry – welcomed us home. The heat of the dryer combined with damp clothing and whatever it is that comprises Chap Stick does not make a “Three’s Company.” I’m afraid to look at the results of the re-wash. Hoping the splotchy look is the rave this summer.
Now, time for a nap.
A few weeks ago, I learned the importance of loving thread when I got together with some friends to re-purpose some old t-shirts. With this project, the thread is really the thing. Carpet thread is strong and long lasting so when you layer a couple rectangles of cotton t-shirt, draw on a design, stitch the design with the thread, and add some seed beads, you have, for your daughter, a unique headband. Wah-La.
The thread, though almost perfect in its wear-ability, needs attention and focus. Loving the thread means putting it on a needle and then running your thumb and index finger down the thread, over and over. You do it until your finger tips feel a little ‘zingy’, the thread hangs a little limp and seems to be ready to do your bidding.
Five days after my thread loving introduction, I stood at a table in my basement preparing another headband for construction. All the kids were doing school, tucked away in their places and the house was first thing in the morning quiet.
One of the kids was at the same table and as I worked, we began to talk. It wasn’t a light topic. This was a long-term point of tension that has run its way through all our time together. We’ve come back to it as it’s needed attention and each time, it becomes heated and goes nowhere.
At one point we reached an understanding and I was relieved and hopeful. The conversation had been quieter and had moved forward. And the question came, Why today? Then I felt the thread I was holding and had been stitching with as we talked.
My attention to the thread had absorbed tension from the history of this problem and as we talked I took a wily object, petted it a bit and watched it settle down, having no idea how much it was settling me. In my short time using carpet thread, I knew first hand that my end product benefitted from the time I took to rub the thread and run the pressure out of it.
Later, as I looked through the book that introduced me to thread loving, I read that the intentions of thread loving match the desire I have for my kids. They are my best project and for sure, in our house there is someone wily and tense at any time. It’s not often that someone isn’t feeling jacked up about something and as the reigning adult, I seem to talk a kid ‘off the ledge’ on the hour. I realize though, that just as often, these moments feel like interruptions and I’m not sure I take the time to “infuse the work with kind intentions, …a practical step that removes excess [kid] tension and prevents pesky knotting.” (p. 21, Alabama Stitch Book)
Who wants pesky knotting? Especially in a kid. Or… a parent.
Standing with a child, who has a mind, a heart, and a soul is much bigger than a two hour project. It’s not quickly set aside and the vision for the task must be expansive and generous and committed. With some children, excess tension is a cord that surrounds and binds and then “continuing to love that thread, wishing ‘it’ all the good you can” becomes vital, a task that maybe doesn’t get completed but in the never-ending relationship, a soul is met as it is and then taken to a quieter, more settled place.
For now, I’m enjoying the immediate pleasure of making simple accessories for my girls. I wish I could always have thread in hand for the wily, pesky moments of our days. When I don’t, I pray that the promise of kind intentions will settle us all down enough that we can see past the knots of tension to the ultimate end product we long for, that love would be about us.
Colored in gaudy green and yellow, John Deere is a bulwark of Americana. Rugged. Reliable. Trusted. Even in my dreams, I never owned one. Long ago I resigned myself to a destiny of off-brand mowing drudgery.
Well, I resigned too early. Through a series of fortunate events, I was able to add a Deere to my stable of lawn care equipment. I fondly remember that first season with my Deere. With aplomb I tamed a robust crop of spring dandelions. Summer crabgrass? Child’s play. Fall leaves? Mincemeat! I was in lawn mowing ecstasy. It was joyous to manage my little piece of creation with the real deal – Mr. J.D.
You might think my affection for a lawn tractor a bit over-the-top. But if you’re a Deere owner, you know of what I speak. It’s kinda like Jeep owners who plaster on their car, “It’s a Jeep thing.” Well, I have a “Deere thing.” But my “thing” goes beyond my tractor’s turf-taming abilities.
On my desk sits a photo of my John Deere. Don’t misunderstand. This is not idolatry (and yes, a picture of Katrina is very close by). The photo is not to admire, but to remember. It’s a picture of the front grill of my tractor – cracked – shattered, really. Beyond repair. A unique photo, for sure. Why? It makes me a better father. Here’s the story.
I knew the day would come. It had to. That day when my Deere affections hit head-on with male pre-pubescent driving aspirations. I was reticent to allow my son behind the wheel of my cherished green and yellow friend. But such hand-offs are a manhood requirement – a rite of passage. Yet not everything required is simple, easy or enjoyable. After some overly-detailed and much-repeated instruction, my good ole’ J.D. launched out of the garage with it’s a rookie driver grinning uncontrollably.
I tried my best to control the experience. You know, setup my son with a confidence building first-mow. Lots of straight-away with all landscaping (and family pets) safely out of the mowing path. I paced nervously inside the house. I snuck occasional glances out the window. I listened to the speed of the engine and the hum of the blades. Not too fast; not too slow. Things were progressing nicely. My heart rate had settled and my boy was exuberant in this step toward manhood. I was growing; he was growing. Then, in the midst of this Norman Rockwell moment, it happened.
The engine slowed. The blades disengaged. The mower stopped. I found a window and cast a bug-eyed stare. My view was partially obstructed, but I could see my son circling the mower. My mind played a dozen scenarios in a matter of seconds. I sarcastically mumbled to Katrina, “This isn’t going to be good.” After several minutes of circling, kneeling, pausing and doing nothing my son was back at the helm. The engine throttled to full speed and mowing continued.
I was red-lined with curiosity. A twitch of anger raced down my temple. Worst-case scenarios continued to play on the screen of my mind. The circumstance was ripe for a potent father/son interaction. An interaction heavy with growing-up, letting-go and man-making. As the noise of the tractor echoed in the garage, and then subsided, I sighed. And waited. And prayed. Then the door opened.
The rest of the story I’ll leave to your wondering. The truth is captured in that photo on my desk. When I look at that picture, it’s like picking a scab. The pain is renewed. Selfish pain born in materialism. Vicarious pain for my son and his mistake. Soul pain because of life’s brokenness.
The pain pushes me deeper into my fathering. It broadens my view and helps me see that life is bigger than me – and my tractor. To see that I’m not in control. To see that bringing life to my son’s manhood means some things in me must die.
G.K. Chesterton said, “A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Loving what’s behind means I do the hard work of true manly living. It means I welcome being broken and the moments of clarity and self-reflection brokenness brings. It means I expand gratitude for my heavenly Father who watches me break the metaphorical grill day after day – yet responds with grace. Thanks, Abba.
The end of another spring break is upon us. True to form, we’ve had rain – and snow. Granted, we had some sun too. Temps have been mostly in the 40s, and finally above 50 today. The predicted high temp for the last day of break is 78. Figures.
The reality of snow in April, coupled with envious thoughts of friends vacationing in warmer places, began to darken our family mood. Relationships were straining. A bit of separation was necessary, so I shooed the kids outside to relieve some tension.
Once outside, our girls got busy making a fort. They crafted a wonderful little stick and pine needle abode: cozy, welcoming and warm. They were methodical, resourceful and very proud of their dwelling. They will both make excellent homemakers. Our boys, impressed and jealous, dubbed the girl’s fort, “The Unicorn Stable.” (we’ve developed a strange affinity for unicorns)
Not to be outdone, the boys started their own project. It was much less organized. There was a tear-down and relocation, bickering, name-calling and aimless wandering. There was wrestling and chasing and whipping with sticks. All the classic ingredients of boyhood play. In the end, the boys brought a teepee to life. It’s not cozy, but certainly manly. And with the top of the teepee 12-inches from the power line, opportunity is ripe for future excitement.
As a dad, it was fun to watch (and help) my children in their creative play. Snow, sand, sun or whatever, taking a break with the kids is valuable leisure time. And, it is a relief to know the unicorns finally have a place to sleep.
|The Unicorn Stable|
Secrets. Everyone’s got at least one. Some secrets are fun, like a surprise party. Others exciting, like a pregnancy. Secrets can also be heavy as they weigh on our conscience, monopolize our thoughts and blur our focus.
This week one of my children told me a secret. It was a secret held close for quite some time. It wasn’t the fun, surprise party kind of secret. It was big. Burdening. Volatile. It was festering in a cloak of darkness. A secret that had secrets of its own, which it whispered into my child’s self talk. Lies, actually. Words from the pit. Poisonous arguments meant to bind my child in silence – a silence that sustained the secret and kept it safe.
But here’s a truth about secrets: a secret revealed has no power. That’s great encouragement, especially for those secrets we want hidden forever. Secrets that we fear, once known, will make us unlovable. I saw that fear in my child as they voiced their secret with a nervous courage. As the secret found expression, wonderful moments of victory erupted. A tightly closed door opened and light raced in to chase away darkness, deception and guilt. In the telling of what was hidden, my child was freed from a silent prison. Physical and emotional expressions of relief ensued. A celebration started as the power drained from a secret held painfully tight for too long.
And then we received an unexpected gift of grace. A gift born out of our interaction. My child expected me to respond to their revelation with some level of disappointment, anger, or even a lecture. That’s Ok. I’ve earned that presupposition. But by His grace, God blessed me with a calm spirit to receive the secret the way I would want my secrets received – carefully, gently, lovingly, gracefully.
How I listened and interacted with my child in a moment of intense vulnerability resulted in a memorable moment in our relationship. A small, but wonderful victory. The type of victory I yearn for. John Piper said, “God often disapproves of his children’s behavior. But he never treats us with contempt. Imitate him in your disapproving.” Too often my disapproval has tilted toward contempt – sometimes subtle, other times overt and judgmental. When really upset, I’ve been known to launch into a rehash of a tired 3-point sermon. Those are not my best moments. And that’s not how I would want to be treated. Nor it is how God treats me.
Jesus gives me blood-washed, bottomless grace for all my nastiness. He picks me up after all my stumbles. He knows about the secrets I’ve shared, and those I still keep. He receives me, not because of what I do, but because of who He is (Titus 3:5). That kind of treatment makes me want to do the hard work of growing a greater affection for Him and His kingdom. To be a better husband, father and friend. To be a better listener to my children’s joys, hurts, questions…and secrets.