Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Brownie Detours, or, He Delights With Us

When my daughter and I had shopped for the ingredients for (I think it was) my birthday cake, we also purchased ingredients for a secondary brownie project. My daughter had never made brownies and the idea was appealing to her. For me, well, baking with her has become how we spend time together, how I connect with her in her areas of deep interest, but that shopping trip had been about materials necessary for the cake. As an aside, and I don't know how salient this point might be, but it turns out my father and myself individually both enjoyed cooking at various points in our lives. 

My daughter's enjoyment of baking, as a regular reader will know, is an area in which I actively and intentionally try to connect with her. Those moments are for me an opportunity to be with her, and I capture them even as I cherish them. Cherish her. The project of the brownies, however, while provided for in advance, had not been a project which I was considering the day we were shopping for items needed for my birthday cake. I simply love my daughter, and just bought the extra ingredients because I figured it would come in handy for her somewhere down the road, and because I wanted her well supplied. 

Well, as it turned out, I hand been only been planning to take the kids to their beloved burger joint that day, just as a matter of course to spend time with them and to bless them. I began to look forward to it, even, despite being vegetarian and uncertain if there was anything there which I could eat. But those were the only plans I had intending to make happen.

So when she asked if she could bake the brownies (for which we had the ingredients already on hand), it was not even a question if we would, despite it being a project for which I had had no prior inclinations towards, nor had it fit into my plans for the day. 

In that moment there was nothing more expected than that we would do that very thing, nothing more natural to come about or to occur than that we would bake the brownies, together -- as if I had been planning to do that all along. But that is the subtle nuance, the rub (so to speak): the specific activity of baking -- being "our thing," being what WE do together -- became folded into my very plan to bless the children. Baking, put differently, is what I wanted to do because it is baking with her, and thus what I wanted to do for the day, despite having more which I wanted for them.
And I enjoyed doing it, being fully there in the moment, baking together with my daughter; I delighted, and delighted in the project itself. I got into the moment and I had fun. I hadn't even needed to make it anything other than what it was --that is, time spent with her -- but I did use it as a teaching moment, when she began to obsess a little over her performance with and inability to use the mixer. I explained how it was that I really only did a tiny part, and she had actually brought it all together, and that performance isn't reducible to what she can not do well in. But my purpose was the spending of time with her, the being with her. As a matter of fact, I did the best job I could do because it was important to her. I found it important to really pour myself into its success as if it were own project, simply because it was important to her (and thus worth doing well). And all of this aside from the plan I had had for the day.

Bottom lining all of this: what my daughter wants to do and delights in doing I want to do, because it means doing it with her, but more so (and since it is worth it to her) it is important to me to pour myself into, for it to become my project. While the big picture of the day and it's plans hadn't included it, my daughter's project was every bit my own, and for no other nor less a reason than because it is important to her, and to no less a degree of delight for myself. Just as last week (see last post / entry) her friend became a part of the family in the moment, so this week her plans and delights became my plans and delights.

In this opening up (and seeking to open up) to what my daughter finds important, in this shoehorning of something and shoehorning of myself into something (to the very extent of enjoying myself in it) all because of my daughter finding it important, in all this I see a model of the father-heart of God for us. "Delight yourselves in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart," fascinatingly, finds God the Father In Heaven Himself delighting alongside of us, giving us the desires of our (and of His) hearts. He delights with us in our delights -- at least in so far as they are those good things He gives us to delight in together with Him, which is quite a bit. No good thing does He withhold, though practically some things come before others, yet in all good things He delights alongside of us in them, intentionally doing so.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Arcades and Friends

My daughter and son, for Christmas, were gifted some of those refillable "credit card" gift cards. Somewhat amusingly I have to observe that those $25 (a piece) gift cards have resulted in about $75-$100 (a piece) total giftings from me, if simply because paying for something online with my account and the efforts to be fair bungled it all out of proportion. If the giver's intent had been nefarious I would have had to say they had achieved their ends. But I (bemusedly) digress...

My daughter had some monies left on the card, almost the whole sum, point of fact. She decided that what she wanted to do with it was to share the card with a beloved little friend, by paying her way to a local arcade. This of course required I set up the playdate with the parents, which was done fairly quickly upon the heels of her decision.

The particular arcade to which we went served food, and functioned in the manner of providing pre-loaded cards with which gamers scanned in lieu of tokens being directly deposited into machines. As we stood in line awaiting our chance to get the cards, I wanted to provide food for the event, which included not just my daughter and her friend, but myself and my son (necessarily brought along because I am stay-at-home dad whose wife works nights) as well. My attitude, while this was my daughter's efforts to bless a friend and to share, was that the friend was part of the family, part of the oikos; adopted even into our family as an equal part. Just as I was providing for my children and biological family, so was the friend included in that moment, unflinchingly so. It was not even a question, and it seemed the blessing of my boundaries expanding even in the doing so. The friend became welcomed and a cherished member of the family, and for the rest of the time spent at the arcade was fully every part of the family. To whit even, I watched out for her and took delight in the little friend's enjoyment as surely as I did for my own daughter.

It was a willing acceptance, a delightful inclusion, a cherished shouldering and folding into of this girl into the "community" of our family.

This strikes me rather trenchantly and encompassingly as the very father-heart of God, so willing and delightfully accepting and folding us into His family and trinitarian God-head. What is lacking in this picture is the infinite capacity for joy in the "extending of tent stakes" felt by God, the likes of which I assuredly tasted of in the moment, but scarcely can be approximated in my fathoming. Surely He delights in us as he does in everyone of His adopted children -- such delighting especially as predicated upon His ability to know each of His children infinitely intimately.

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.