Tuesday, January 16, 2018

My Birthday Cake

My birthday is the 17th of this month. My daughter, as with most opportunities to celebrate or to honor (opportunities to honor and celebrate me or my wife or our marriage especially), gets very excited, and begins planning well in advance whatever confection for baking or celebratory event she thinks will be fitting or desired.

Regular readers of the blog will note that my daughter and I do a lot of baking together, and the times have become sacrosanct in some ways. While this moment was no different for that hallowed element it was uniquely pursued. This was my birthday cake, and she wanted to make for me what I wanted, rather than her leading the charge. Since I have been on an increasingly vegan-esque kick of late, I asked for a cake made from coconut flour and coconut sugar. Truth be told I didn't ask her not to use egg or actual butter -- like I said, "vegan-esque". Of course this required a trip to the store, but all for ingredients which would never see the cake.

One thing my daughter wanted for some odd reason was candles. It was a personal touch, her own desire and inclusion, but not really something I gave two flips about. Still, it was something she wanted in the offering she was bringing me, and the primary motivating factor for going to the store. And since my birthday falls on a weekday, and my plans are to drop the kids off with a local surrogate grandmother type, it all made sense to bake that afternoon.

For my daughter the project was one of importance, laden with tons of desire to communicate blessing, and glory, and honor, and quite simply, Love. I cherish that, and swell with pride and wonder at the picture of her heart I see in that. I really can't help but reflect upon her even in her efforts to love and honor me, despite fully receiving that honor. However, honestly, more than any and all else I sought the experience not for the honor I so crave, but for the time spent with my daughter, in a burgeoning, habitual activity we have shared together. The time with her was more precious than even the honoring, and in the honoring of myself I can't help but to look upon her in delight -- not for what I receive (though it receiving does delight me) but for her little person.

I have to think this is a picture of the father-heart of God for us all. But here is a kind of rub, as the old bard said, and definitely a nuance, the likes of which every writer appreciates: my daughter, at the end of the process, became somewhat disheartened by the sense of how much I had done. In reality I had done little but help hold the mixer, but she felt I had done all the work. She was of course thankful and honoring and gracious. In my heart I cared little for how much I had done, and neither was my sense of being blessed and honored diminished by any degree of effort on my part. It was entirely her heart on display in the idea and in the intent, effort not at all withstanding. I suspect it might take being a parent herself to understand the nuance, but I gave it my all to assuage her.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Lazer Tag

Today the kids have returned to school after an extended winter break. The timing for my church's long anticipated men's retreat -- the first in the neighborhood of a decade or so -- fell upon this past weekend. Personally, for me, I have long been feeling the need for such a retreat, of being able to lay down the responsibilities of daily caring for others and allow myself to be cared for.

At some point during the break, with all it's gift exchanging and so, the kids had received some of those pre-loaded Visa gift cards. Since the retreat had interfered with the normal flow of life, the kids had had to wait to be able to make use of the cards. I had been thankful to see the kids upon the return home from the retreat, and because of that was willing to interrupt the normal flows of Sunday afternoon and evening life to see to it they got the chance to make use of the cards (which by that point, as the old saying goes, were burning holes in their respective pockets).

My son wanted to immediately go to a store to find some toy some other child at school had had, but which I knew was not necessarily a newer item, so we got online and sought them out off Ebay. My daughter had had other ideas: she wanted to use the opportunity for time with me to go to play laser tag.

My attitude in the moment of my daughter's request (as well as in the carrying out of the activity) was one desirous to safeguard and with safeguarding intent to ensure the opportunity she wanted. Given this was an opportunity not just for her to play laser tag but to play it with me specifically, in the hopes of furthering relationship with me (through having this experience with me), well, lets just say my attitude was nigh on warrior-like to ensure she got it.

It wasn't even a question of my own interests in the matter, or of getting my needs for catching up on sleep, or of anything else -- I wanted this experience as much as she did. My heart became what was her heart in the matter: I wanted to play laser tag with her. In the fullest, most mysterious, mystery-imbued way of the heart, so it was.

This very certainly is a picture of the father-heart of God for us all, the warrior-like bent to ensure an opportunity for a beloved child's desires for relationship, and the further choosing to want for Himself what the child desires for relationship with Him. I would say it is a complete loving of my daughter I felt, and surely that is a picture of the father-heart of God beyond any other picture. But be sure, it is a complete loving with a warrior-heart behind it to see it come to pass.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Time

Christmas time... well, Holiday Season now, now that Christmas is officially passed (and past). The kids' Christmas break began last Friday (Friday being the first official day of the break), which meant the Thursday prior was all day party in the classrooms. Of course my daughter was going to bake something for the event and we decided to bake chocolate chip banana bread from scratch. I thought it came out delightfully, and was happy to find most children had elected to eat the overly sugary things at the party, leaving more banana bread for us at home. It didn't last long.

So, kids out on break and it remains a good four days till I can finally sate their expectant desires for opening the presents beneath the tree, which, well, let's face it, was a practical eternity for them and us parents. Humor aside, I welcomed the time with them. My daughter had really driven the Christmas traditions this year. She wrapped the bulk of the gifts (all except her own, actually), had led out in searching online for the gifts for everyone, so on and so on. It was right and good, a stepping into role, the effects of being in said role I wanted for her. It expands her sense of identity and place and empowers her, all while conferring value and esteem (esteem her worthy of the place/role).

To that the specific end of esteeming her, it became very important not only for her to move in this, but to ensure she was able to do so -- from the practical little efforts of buying more creating different little Amazon wish lists and showing her how to access them, to being the one to order what gifts she chose, so on and so on. I believe in her, I believe in her worthiness, and her moving in the role(s) she moves accords her that sense.

In some ways this is just the same as I have been doing in baking with her, but in a context which is for the family, for that body to whom she belongs. I want for her to be developed in a sense of her importance and a sense of her worthiness, senses which most foundationally are built within the biological family. I would go to lengths to ensure that sense of worthiness, to provide for it, and if it needs be to welcome it back in and restore it, just as the father did in the parable of the prodigal son -- because she is worthy of being valued and honored for all that she in herself is worth.

When the new testament scriptures say it is to the Father's glory that the Son be lifted up, I kind of see that, now: no other work (save that work which makes for my child to be built up in all that she is and to be able to be all she is fully able to be) is higher; no other work is worth her, and she worth all the work.

In this is the father-heart of God for us all, and what a babe in a manger should remind us of.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Blue Santa

So, this past Saturday my family and I elected to do Blue Santa, a tradition started back in the 70's by two Austin, Texas police officers. Since the inception the event has become an organized and massive undertaking, well orchestrated. Somehow through signing up or through being signed up by a teacher children get to give the police department a Christmas list. The lists are collected, items purchased directly off the list, and then boxed for delivery. On the day of the event volunteers (from officers and their families to community members at large) arrive in a long line extending for blocks. The volunteer drives up, gets a box and an address, and is sent on their way.

I'll be entirely honest: I looked forward to this event more than to my own children's Christmas morning. Maybe it is just the place I was in, maybe it is something more, something about the happiness that comes of being able to bring happiness. Sounds selfish, but only because I can barely grasp at how to describe the joy of seeing goodness received. I suspect it is an onion skin slice of heaven, rejoicing in the goodness of Goodness.

This year I wanted for my children to be part of this more so than I had in years past. I wanted for my children this joy of rejoicing in goodness, in the something outside of merely the consumerist receiving. I have seen, however, my daughter's driving delight in giving gifts this year, and the delight in being the one to wrap the presents all herself, so I am pretty sure that what I wanted for them through doing Blue Santa she was already experiencing in her gift shopping for her mother and I.

It was a choice this year between this event and going to a retreat we normally attend. This retreat, for all intents and purposes, is like going to extended family. It is put on by a community associated with our church via some long standing members of both communities, and is entirely geared towards praying and living towards reconciliation between Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Messianic Jewish streams of Christianity. Their annual Advent retreat involves, among so much more,  candle-making which the children love.

As it turns out there would have been the opportunity to attend the retreat, some 40 miles away, for a period of time at least, after we delivered the presents. I had half thought to maybe make the effort to do so. My daughter, however, was developing a migraine, and was really wanting to rest. She had been a trooper all morning, ready to be a part and asking to carry the box upstairs or to the door of the recipients (we went to two homes).

Here's the thing. I wanted for my daughter the space to rest, the release from doing. Christmas time is tiring, quite honestly, and I cherish the time spent around her, within her presence. I had no need for her to have to do anything on my account. There was in heart for her a release from doing, and a thankfulness for her having been such a trooper earlier. Indeed, I was thankful beyond measure she participated, and wanted whatever honoring of her efforts which she wanted -- that was why I was willing to go to the retreat in the first place.

I think the father-heart of God is seen for me in this moment, this picture of my thankfulness to my children for their participating in my undertakings. Invariably so, I would say, is this the case. He wants the good and is thankful for the participation.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Baking with Dear Old Dad

Last Saturday was a full day for my daughter, with the day starting off with her third horseback riding lesson, then a friend's birthday party a little later. Honestly, when I consider what really speaks to her core sense of worth, I think perhaps a previous day's efforts to run to the store to acquire items needed for a father-daughter baking session made for more quality time together. I at least felt more life and life-filled connection with her in that moment of baking muffins for her classroom "potluck". It was life being lived together, simple and non-complex, but thoroughly enjoyable. However, horseback riding lessons are fun in their own right, and how much they play into developing her core person ( a la indulging her core interests) I don't guess I have to know about right now. It is helping develop her sense of being around an animal she necessarily has to develop trust and respect for, which I can see translating into future work in animal rescue -- and even if we don't do animal rescue as a career at all, horseback lessons are still valuable. And maybe a quick reader will pick up on the question here: am I doing what is most profitable for my daughter, in terms of building up her person and spending myself in the having of best possible life and time together? 

I suppose I could have written a whole post on the significance of baking those chocolate chip muffins together. I could have written on: how I let her lead on the recipe choice, and followed her into her project, electing to drive her to the store and then to serve her in the baking chore, all as an effort to build her sense of worth by being servant in a project for which she led out on; how this revealed father-heart sees a set of significances to a project only to then swell with pride over a child's accomplishments the reality of which were entirely contingent on things for which only I could have done for her; how this is entirely a picture of the father-heart of God for us.

I could write, and should, and maybe just did, but there's more that I want to say here. There is no other motivation, in the father-heart, than that which is for the child. It is wanting for the child all the love, the honor, the care due the child, beyond even what the child has wrought for itself (or could under it's own ability). There is a carving out of space for more honor or recognition of the child, where that honor and the parental effort may overlap. I was motivated by time spent with my child, the opportunity to make the most of a moment wherein the project (of the classroom dessert potluck) mattered to my child and reflected socially upon her. The afternoon after the potluck I was near craven to know if the other kids loved the muffins my daughter had made, thrilled those children would think she was amazing for her baking. A parent motivated by how they themselves appear for their efforts misses more than the mark, because they have lost the life found of enjoying the moment spent with the child, and lost the moment of rejoicing for the child in the reception of their efforts. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Baking with Auntie

 Part of the time spent time with my sister over the Thanksgiving Holiday was, understandably, time spent preparing the meal. My sister was making my favorite dessert (pineapple upside-down cake), it turned out, in place of the traditional pies normally served with the meal, and my daughter got the chance to aide her in the baking process. If you are a regular ready of the blog you'll know that baking is one of my daughter's beloved pastimes. 

It was understood, I suppose, at some point in the planning of the visit the opportunity for both of them to bake together was available. I don't recall exactly. What I do recall is that it is (and was then) extremely important to me that my daughter got to share a beloved activity with her aunt. My daughter is more than her relationship with me; she is that very hub of all her relationships which make her her. More saliently, however, this relationship with my sister is something I want for her as a thing so right, so good, it goes without saying she (my daughter) should have that relationship for herself. Part of my daughter's being and part of her identity is who she is as defined by others aside from myself. Point blank, categorically, let me say that there is no way denying my daughter this greater body of relationship (here with extended family) isn't selfish on my part. (Put simpler, without any double-negative artifice: it is only selfless parenting by me when I allow and even seek out my daughter's sharing in beloved experience with a greater body of extended family, not cloistering her solely within my influence.) Were I (in all my limited ability) to want to be the only source of identity impartation, or personal enrichment, I would be acting not for her but for myself alone.

I want my daughter enriched and expanded in her being and identity there, in that place of extended family. Surely that is a picture of the selfless father-heart of God for us, at least (a picture of) His seeking the opportunity of our persons beyond our persons for His own identity. Furthermore, the rejoicing in that selfless act for what such interaction brings my daughter and my sister is entirely in line with the father-heart of God -- as is a mourning in the loss or absence of said same.

It turns out, rather happily for me, my sister is able to approximate the way my mother and grandmother cook the dessert, and now my daughter knows whatever little trick they have. Had only my daughter been able to learn from my paternal grandmother the making of her famous scrambled egg sandwich then my gastronomical life would be nigh complete. (Completion would only come with learning my maternal grandmother's secret for frying okra. And now I am off to go eat.)

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Gingerbread Prophecies

It's the Thanksgiving Break, my children having had a whole week off from school. Today is actually Thanksgiving itself, and the second of three dinners of this holiday now wrapped up. The first such dinner was with my maternal family in my hometown at our family ranch, held earlier in the week (prior to the actual holiday). Part of that visit involved, while on the way through town, stopping in at their workplace to see my father's widow (my stepmother) and my half-sister. It was a happy occasion to see them, and I was filled with thanksgiving for the friendship of both. The experience was very much a small homecoming, and I liken this to the open and accepting embrace long ago offered in my father's last words of blessing to me. My thoughts, or my feelings, tarry at moments in remembrance of those few moments of reunion, likening them to that "first" homecoming which shall occur when the elect come, finally, to the long-awaited fatherland of our Lord.

While at the family ranch my wife and children got to enjoy quality time with my sister and her family, in an experience which has been repeated, after varying fashions, all my life and now theirs. Indeed, and of late (but especially in this extended filial context), I have been considering the future lives of my children and their families. Just as I have straddled two worlds all my life -- that of small town rural life, and that of urban life -- so my thoughts straddle the intellectual landscapes of the not-yet-eternity and the present-continual-temporary. At some point the meeting with my stepmother had me thinking of my father's blessing to me, and whether I might one day give such a parting blessing to my daughter. I suspect that rumination might be the basis for living forwardly, but this is a thought for another time.

Before even this vacation week began, and all the preparations were being made in my mind a regular trip to the store had found me looking forward to this vacation week and the time with my children this week would allow me. I purchased a single gingerbread house kit for both children to work on together. While I was eagerly looking forward to the concentrated time with the children, and gingerbread house making has become something of an ad hoc family tradition this time of year, my purchasing the kit really only had my children's delights in mind. I wasn't intentionally perpetuating a family tradition, though the desire to do so always hovers at the periphery of my heart. No, I was more aiming at providing for my children something I knew they delighted in and found to be significant, even actively seeking to so provide before they asked.

In this way my heart inclines to my children in moments away from them as with them, and I knew providing this kit in advance was a sort of going before and preparing the way even for what they find important to them. (Note, this is beyond even my thoughts of its significance as a family tradition.) When the opportunity finally presented itself -- which is to say, when all the traveling had subsided and the numerous tasks been sufficiently completed, I released the kit (and thus the task, or the experience) to my daughter's hands, to do with as she pleased. (My son decided it was not worth trying to work with her, lol, so it became all her project.) She didn't feel the need for my help, and so the thing was given to her to enjoy and do with as she pleased. There is, on one level a delicious symbolizing of all my thoughts of her future in the picture I have in my mind of her building this house -- a symbolizing by which I just can't help but be bemused.

Suffice it to say, this willing and desiring and forward thinking heart of a father which lovingly goes before and enables that opportunity and experience for his children which he knows they desire as significant (beyond what he desires for them) is very much a picture of the father-heart of God for us all.

As an afterthought: this Thanksgiving, it could be considered, is a remembrance of all that the Lord has done, in terms of going forward (in advance) to prepare the way for us, and for which I (we) now rejoice and give thanks. thus doubly a thanksgiving in many levels. For me at least, and especially as my thoughts turn back and forth between the Now and the Not Yet.