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.







Thursday, November 16, 2017

Backgrounds

Local art galleries and artists partner together every year in this area, roughly the same weekend each year, to put on an event wherein the public can move through the studios and meet the artists, and view their work. It is something like a pub crawl for art galleries. In years past I have led tours for our art group in this event, and have frequented galleries with couple-friends and their children. It is an event which stirs my creative soul.

This year we were all able to go as a family, my wife being temporarily off her night-shift duties. However, right beforehand (and while we were waiting on Mom to gear up for the day), I honored my children's request to order this year's school pictures -- a chore I had simply not gotten around to. I have never been big on the whole yearly school portrait thing, especially when I did them as an elementary school-aged child.

I didn't really have much of a compelling reason for doing them this year, but when my daughter or my son (I don't recall who) asked to order them, well, Saturday morning I set myself to the task. Unlike when I grew up this is the digital age, and there were choices of backgrounds and so forth, all easily previewed on the website. Rather than deciding myself I turned the decision over to my daughter, thusly going through the ordering process with her.

It was a simple little moment of her having an agenda, the specific elements of which she defined for herself, and my (buying) power executed. She had earlier mentioned the style of background, and we together went through the choices within that category. I had had no direction for her, and minimized even how I defined the relative importance of the various attributes to each option. I merely was the functionary which, like a tailor asking preferences from his client, served my daughter in going before her in the project. When she was satisfied I ordered the packages for both children, and concluded the chore.

My heart was to see that my daughter did not go without her project, or her project coming off any way other than the way she intended for it to come off. Her self-determination, to whatever extent she found it important or relevant to enact through the project, to me, was a matter the way forward for which I would make come to pass, to the extent she wanted. 

Maybe this is nuanced but, her project and her desires became my will that my ability was bent towards to bring about, in a purely serving way (whereby I adopted its ends as my ends). There is in this a picture of the father-heart of God, most pointedly for the attitude towards us, and the valuing of us, as displayed or found in His partnership with us, in going before us on our behalf. It is His feeling for us, towards us, that He takes upon Himself out of an esteeming of us.

So, when Mom was sufficiently awake we made our way out to the gallery I always enjoy starting at. We went various places, all the while I was exultant at what I could only imagine was the creative or personal fertilization going on in my children's creative souls (as it was for me). When we finally came to a gallery space too crowded for my daughter, her limits for crowds having been reached, again her project became my own -- this time her project to remove herself from the people-saturated environment. We transitioned into other plans, and made the most of those, having had a fairly full day, all told.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Candles and Wax and Loos

We had had a candle burning in the bathroom, a religious candle of narrow base and taller height perched precariously atop the back of loo. As one might expect it tumbled off when my daughter sat down upon the closed lid to tie her shoe. She came rushing in to the other room, frantically telling us of the incident. I immediately worried the candle had fallen and had caught something on fire, and my daughter's recount left out any mention of it being extinguished. I snapped questions at her (causing her only fear and increased anxiety at her mistake) and rushed to the restroom expecting to find it ablaze. I didn't stop to consider I smelled no smoke at all.

As it turned out our restroom had the evidence of a great deal of candle wax coating various surfaces, but no evidence of fire. Relieved, I explained to my daughter my reaction, admitting I was sorry I added to her anxiety. It was, for me, like when you yell at a child as it attempts to cross the road while a car zooms along, but still that required some reparation of feelings, some assuaging of guilt. 

My daughter nonetheless, being the admirable child she is, wanted to set to cleaning the restroom poste haste, making amends as best she could. 

Here's the thing: the candle being set where it had been set, the candle being allowed to remain burning, that was on us as parents who set it. It was our responsibility first, and ultimately. My daughter's actions, at most, amounted to plopping down ungracefully, which, let's be honest, doesn't even come close to err, or our err. Our daughter really had no responsibility for the accident, even though she could have acted in a more controlled and mindful way. And as we surveyed the wax coated loo, walls, shower curtain, and floor, I very intentionally and expressly owned that culpability to her. 

See, here's where this little story just causes my heart to swell for my daughter. I wanted her to understand fully her absolution of fault, which in some way in my mind works out to her knowing her own autonomy and responsibility, verily her righteousness in things, along with her worth beyond things / material possessions. She is more important than a wall or floor which can be cleaned, and she is worth not being encumbered with unnecessary guilt or culpability for my own actions. I wanted her to know she was free of guilt, and sought for her safety when I analyzed the situation and her actions within it. As a parent, as a father, I can not help but see my own actions, my own responsibility first and foremost, and want my daughter free of the guilt where my err has caused situations to arise.

Here's the rub of this post, the part where I feel we find a model of the father-heart of God for us (though honestly I struggle for the word to apply to it): when she later came back and requested the opportunity to clean the mess, predicated on the basis of her involvement and fact there was something she could have done better, I wanted for only that sense of self-determination / autonomy / responsibility, that sense of respectability and admirability and honor for her having done so. It was my (as the parent's) place to assume the cost of our negligence, to assume the loss of it, but I wanted for her the place of not minimizing her (where she, having been cleared of guilt, self-determined a place to have done better). Where she didn't need to, she had assumed a role, out of character and admirable quality, and I was set and determined she should receive the honor of that choice and of those actions. There was an according of independence to her even in that, a humbling of myself and an elevation of her, in my intention at least. An honoring of her which allowed her that place and role to feel as though she had redeemed the situation -- and that necessarily valued her and accorded her worth. I met her as an equal, and deferred to her in that equality. I let her redeem the moment for which I bore the blame, to play the part of the blessing agent.

Maybe put more directly, I think the father-heart of God is, simply, to absolve us of guilt and to bring a freedom in action which emboldens us to play parts within situations (especially in the redeeming of those situations).  


Thursday, November 2, 2017

Reading

One of my kid's two favorite aunts came into town with her sons to treat my daughter and my son to a day. As usual the kids had a stellar good time, and I was exceptionally blessed. In thankfulness I have to talk mention it, if only for all their sakes, and the worthiness of it being known: there was goodness and love in which they all participated, and I am thankful. I could likely end today's writing right there.

For whatever reasons -- be it the annual requests from my family for the kids' Christmas gift lists , the Fall semester's Scholastic Book Fair order forms, the release of the newest title in a series, or the fact we recently had gone to the State Teen Fiction Book Fair (I think I might have mentioned) -- my daughter has been frequently mentioning this or that new book (or series) she is reading. It has become almost a staple facet of our daily conversations. As a writer I see clearly the correlation between reading and writing (writing as a calling), and I know my daughter's interests and abilities in writing stories, and so the significance of my daughter's statements rings out on a variety of levels.

One thing about it, simply, is that it is something she is enjoying, and it enlivens her to read and to talk about it; she flowers. I know somehow it enriches her soul like fingers going into rich earth, turning it over, mixing into it the humus of style, and idea, and pacing, and character, and of Story itself. As soil is aerated with turning over, so is her mind being opened up with reading.

She has made statements which, as a writer, I understand in their nuanced reality to indicate that really, beyond merely as an enjoyed past time my daughter loves writing, and loves good writing as another writer might love it. She appreciates the skill of an author. It goes beyond enjoying the experience of getting caught up in a good book: it is an appreciation for the ability of an author to catch someone up with their writing.

I want to feed into this, because I see it is a recursive function: encouraging her reading encourages her writing. I want her to pursue what is at her core of who she is. I want her to know what she values is valued/valuable to me, if simply because she values it, and what she values is good. In this way I understand the selfless father-heart of God: He is Good/Goodness, and He values (selflessly) goodness (which, by virtue of itself is in part defined by selflessness). He wants goodness for us. He wants himself for us. I know my daughter has my genes, which include the bents to loving writing as she does, and I would want for her to carry on in that, which is how I understand being created in the image of God and His father-heart for wanting goodness for us, and for our carrying on in Goodness, carrying on in Himself.

At any rate, there is in the fatherly heart a desire for seeing the child's having what is good for goodness sake, out of selfless, even self-sacrificing and self-abasing, drive.

((To try to imagine the selfless love in His wanting such goodness for us get's me to a weepy place in myself, and has me wanting to declare "He is Good!" -- damn the torpedoes of disdain, I say He is Good... and I reckon it is out of love for you I don't deter in my open-handed assertions of His Goodness. ))


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Make the Call

This past weekend was the local community's annual ... Halloween (time) Festival. They (being the M.U.D. we live in, which could have incorporated into its own town at one point but chose not to) have various events like this through out the year. It strikes me the laudably impressive degree of successfulness in achieving a true sense of community accomplished by these events, and they have come to be regular facets of our personal lives, speaking for my family. Community ritual, community tradition. I am thankful to the M.U.D., and its workers, and I am growing certain that to have any sense of community, on the part of the individual, there has to be this willful relating to the community through the attitude / heart-posture of receiving -- and not receiving as if I am due it, but receiving the effort/event for the gift and the kindness of it intended in the giving. You have to be in relationship (or, at least be willing to be in relationship) to it to receive from it, and receiving from it, well, you remain in relationship to it --whatever or whoever that "it" is, but now I am speaking more generally.

Needless to say I am writing this morning from that place of gratitude for (and feeling because of) the experience of having enjoyed myself with my community in a yearly tradition. As I am growing older I recognize that my current existential experience is informing my sense of the value and the character of History and of things past. My dad is dead. I am not "over that," just further away from it. I am growing in a sense that in the present moment the moment itself is more than just a linear sequence that lead up to the moment (therein defining that moment merely as the consequence of previous moments). The present moment, rather, (I am growingly aware) is a massive narrative collecting even disparate and unrelated narratives relating to the present moment if only because all stories are Story, and what Story itself is about really is found in all stories. I am thankful to Story in today's stories.

In previous but recent posts I've told the story of my father's last words, words of blessing to me, and  have told of the trip to Missouri in which I processed that event of my father's death. In the moment of those final words, for a minute or two, I had a father. I had an earthly father that loved me, freely, utterly accepting me and utterly respecting my boundaries. Oddly, respecting those boundaries, in some ways, erased the need for them. Whatever, at any rate... on a sunny morning, the coolness and cloudless-ness of which abate somewhat the light's heat but amplify somewhat it's sharpness, the awarenesses that I had had a father (if only for a moment), and the (awarenesses of the) lengthening of distance from and absence of that momentary completion of relationship both stand out starkly in my mind, like the trees and their shadows which this morning I see out my window.

Continuing an ongoing narrative from the previous posts, in a jarring sharp-turn sort of way: We had received the ATM card for my daughter's new bank account in the mail earlier in the week. I had waited in allowing her to activate it for when I could sit with her on Saturday morning. I wanted for her to do it all on her own, especially given that it was hers after all, but I also wanted to sit next to her merely and (only) to provide her what she wanted or felt she needed if she got stuck. I was going to keep her protected, while also letting her carry onward, move forward within this area in which she was given self-definition and autonomy. In the big-picture sense I was letting her move into the land meant for her to be the person she would define herself to be, while also going alongside where she might have legitimate need of aid. Yes, from a purely parental standpoint I wanted her to have the experience of the call and going through automation, and in part I wanted her to have full ownership of her own account by being the one to activate the card. Goes without saying that in good parenting you let the kid do, however, in big picture of fostering her identity, it was more: in all I wanted for her in terms of her exploring her establishment, in terms of  her establishing of herself, in those terms then all where there is a personal boundary of her own (even where she doesn't know to set it) I want and will to respect that boundary. In this case that looked like letting her be the one to call and activate her own bank card.

Yes, a bank account and activating an ATM card is just that, but it is also a first step, the likes of so many of which she will come to take in defining herself in the future. I wanted for her to have the freedom of having her own boundaries a la exploring that space in which she is (being) established, necessarily meaning I have to back off to let her "do". I shouldn't do it for her; I shouldn't enable her in dependance on me. This is her account, her freedom, and one area of many in which she self-determines, therefore I should respect this (and every other) boundary in which it is hers to self-determine. Those boundaries she doesn't know to set, and especially in those boundaries she specifically sets. It is to her glory, in one sense, that she self-determines on her own, and it would be wrong for me to not allow her that glory/right in the doing of it.

God made the world, and then sent Man to have dominion over it. Aside from a fairly clear set of safety instructions, well, I think -- with Adam and Even, and within my heart to honor my child's boundaries in the carrying out of her establishing herself -- we see a very clear picture of the father-heart of God to love and to actively seek to love His children. It is definitely the righteousness of God, actively allowing for the child to experience all the fullness of being established in the land.

Somewhere in earshot of my office window wind chimes sound as high and low pressure zones and cool air and warm air invert across the landscape.

Being further away from my father's death it seems in some ways I am coming closer to his life, if only for the absence of it. On the one hand I think I don't know what he would have thought of this or that matter. On the other hand I look at some unrelated narrative going on around my own life, and I can't help but find his, my father's narrative, no less relevant. The stories of the family of strangers in the park across the street, and that of my own father's life, we all participate in Story itself, and Story is about what all our lives surround.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Boundaries or Silty Words

I want my daughter to know I love her, and to know she knows I love her. I want her to know that freedom which comes from my love, my love freely and non-contingently given. Given without expectation upon her (or from her as a result of receiving) of any kind. So, I guess it is saying that I want my daughter to know she is loved, and to know that she is free of any debt for that love.

I want her to know that love because I love her, and want her built up knowing that love, knowing that she is loved, knowing that she is worthy, because knowing those things are good for her, and I esteem her undeniably worthy of being loved.

I don't want for anything from her for this love I give to her.

Philosophically I could wonder if I even have a choice to not love her, because I can not fathom not doing so, or not being overcome by love for her. I can, philosophically, wonder if the only real choice in the matter is in a choice of how I act out or respond to that overwhelming drive to love my daughter. But I suppose these could be considered many words in my head which, like increasing silt and sand in a stream, cause the water to be no less water in nature but certainly more cloudy in appearance.

Because I love my daughter, it seems I must necessarily require nothing of her, and must respect her boundaries while exerting no selfish influence over her, respect her defining of who she is and the relationship she will have to me, if only and in order to allow her in perceived safety to receive all the love which I have for her. I must require nothing in order to ensure the value of what she gives, ergo, respecting her boundaries are that much more important -- not to mention therein she is/will be effectively built up. Indeed, respecting her boundaries is tantamount to her being and feeling loved.

Obviously the same goes for my son.

So.... what? Normally you would notice, if you are regular reader, that many of these thoughts come couched in some more existential experience through which I relate my point. Honestly, though, that's what I want to say. That's what a father does, and that is a picture of the father-heart of God for sure. Certainly you just don't exert influence over them simply as the cost of their receiving love supposedly given freely, but, more importantly, the only way to really love them (children) is to respect ... their personhood, their individuality, their boundaries, call it what you will. (Silty words, remember.)

Part of that is trusting my daughter to know herself well enough, trusting her ability to define herself... and relinquishing control. What she defines herself to individually be her won't change the fact that it is her that I love, and loving her is ... silty words maybe but a marriage of will and love, intention and drive. What grand and magnificent effect when such love, such intention and drive elects, seeks to limit its power and ability on the other's behalf?

At any rate, that's what I got this morning, for this post.