Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Race Day

     The elementary school which my children attend had its annual race day this past Friday. Kindergartners only had to run one mile, while third graders had to run two. My daughter asked me to come to the event. I would like to say I gave it the "ole college try." What I ended up doing is running / walking a quarter of the distance, and then hanging on the sidelines cheering until my daughter was in the final stretch, and then I walked it with her -- she was at the stage of walking, with a good clip only to her level of complaining.

     Now, I enjoyed the sideline cheering. My church closes on the Sunday of the annual Austin marathon, and mans a water-stop across the street. I have come to be known by many for my booming, ex-power-lifter, drill sergeant-like voice which strains itself to the point of croaky hoarseness. I get into it, cheering. I look them in the eyes; I call them by name, number, or some identifying element (like to the runners from the A&M Corps I call out "Corps strong"). I pull as much with my voice and enthusiasm and commitment to their efforts as can be done. I think it encourages many, rattles some to action, amuses most, and causes only a few some degree of (their own) self-conscious, priggish annoyance. Thus, cheering for the kids (in a lessened volume and more demur manner) was a subdued delight.

     I was... surprised, and definitely touched, by my daughter's expression of gratefulness for my coming to cheer her on. Admittedly I had thought I needed to run it all with her, and that my cheering was the "loser" route. However, the cheering was sufficient in her mind, and all she had wanted. Makes sense, especially given how during volleyball (practices and games both) she looks towards me at the end of each play, seeking my response, and delighted with my non-verbal "thumbs up" gesture. I mean, I had noticed how some children were "quickened" by my encouragement at the race, but never thought to assume it would do the same for my daughter.

     The obvious biblical metaphors of the "race of faith" and of "training and discipline" withstanding here, I see in this how the encouragement of the earthly father, and of the Heavenly Father, is needed and wanted, a very relied upon touchstone of support. And immediately I see how the support I have seen in what may sound to you (the regular reader) like a broken record (of re-iteration upon re-iteration) of God's support and confirmation of my season of writing and the rightness of my writing is just as very much needed by me. Simply, I have needed this constant cheering on.

     The rub, the good and great rub here is that God, our Heavenly Father, has been present in my life to do so. And just as much as I may have yearned to pull along with my voice my daughter running self so too, so much more so, has He yearned and "pulled" for me... pulls for me, cheers for me even now as I write these words. In this I can say I see: yes, it is His Will that I write. Just as it was my will for my daughter to keep encouraged, to keep running, to succeed and triumph, if only personally in the run.

     And maybe the following is me shoe-horning in a subject matter about which I am "needing" to write, somehow seeing it connect (albeit I don't know if it necessarily connects). We have some friends in from Colorado, our dearest couple friends, with whom our children are best friends, and with whom we vacation together if possible. I have been trying to explain how over this past six months since visiting them in Boulder that the I have been grieving, mourning the loss of a family which I never had. This is something to which I have only in the last two weeks been able to put words to, and even now am not well able to explain. My father left my family when I was four, and for decades I suffered under the misconception I had caused him to leave, that my behavior did it. I have also felt abandoned for that time. Recently he contracted a certain stage four cancer, a treatable kind, but the revelation of which sparked the period of grieving. Then a step-grandfather (the only remaining "grandfather") died, stirring in me the apprehension of the only remaining grandmother dying. I am coming to realize the grieving concerns the loss of family, and not just of the specific family dead from death-by-divorce, but of the family which could and should be. The family which goes deep together in relationship, the family which instills a component of identity, the family which experiences and grows together, weathering trial and success and all transitions together.

     But God is fathering me, even as I am fathering my children. I need the confirmation of a father about my projects, and He comes along because I have asked Him to come and cheer me on. He knows my heart, and shows me His heart for me as I father. And I have to say, He is good and gentle and kind, not just because of this, but even in these things, these experiences. And I am thankful.I need it. And during this "Season of Fathering" this is what He is doing, that is, teaching me about fathering and His heart for me.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

of Terminators & Promises

     There is said that there is an old African proverb which states that it takes a village to raise a child. The little church I attend has this little ritual which, in part, grows out of the church's affirmation of the value of children, their importance and place and worth. The ritual also grows from a vague connection to ancient traditions, though the degrees to which and natures (of varying traditional sources) is irrelevant. What is important is that we practice a communal, corporate celebration and affirmation of children, and their import to the community, along with the community's role is rearing them.
     I have tried to consider what my role and relationship with the neighbor kids (whom I watch) is to be, but this mainly because I feel a bit lost in the lack of relational structure. I suppose I need structure even in relationships, as I equally do in the routine(s) of my day(s). I mean, I spent some time getting a degree in providing structure to (my) thoughts, and no small amount time daily in doing so. Those are ever evolving thoughts (the thoughts of my daily routine-structure, and so on), and perhaps less important to the understanding of how best to connect with the neighbor-children.
     I offered to the oldest that we could watch the newest Terminator movie, to which he quickly agreed. Turns out he had not seen the original or subsequent sequels, so I loaned him my copies, promising to re-rent the newest story (and to provide the requested bottle of pop) once he seen the original and its immediate sequel. Sadly I could not follow through on my promise. the movie being checked out each time I went to my closest Redbox. I felt bad it would seem I had not kept my word, understanding it is important to keep your word to a child, so I texted his father with an apology and renewed promise.
     Just yesterday I rented a movie for the younger children, and thought to check to see if the Terminator movie was in, which it was, and so I was finally able to keep my word. The younger children seemed rather pleased with having a movie for themselves, and thus something was confirmed for me: these children appreciate the language of gift-giving. When the middle-aged child tore open a mailed parcel from grandmother, who had sent gifts to them, I suppose it should have dawned on me (rather than now as I write this).
     What strikes me in all this is something which I have observed in myself, yet never really put words to: I enjoy giving little gifts, little blessings -- it is a delight, and in this instance there was a "rightness" to it -- but it is not how I communicate most effectively my love for someone. I communicate love primarily through acts of serving.  I see both how my daughter is very good at sharing and wanting to give to needs/wants (especially in terms acts of service), but my son communicates with gift giving. So, I guess one could say I am most like my daughter in terms of how I communicate love. And when I hear complaints from my wife, this "serving" bent explains my often frustrating (for my wife) response to quick, corrected action (to/at the expense of firstly acknowledging her feelings).
     Bottom lining it, so to speak,.. Hurm... Hmmm... Loving others, God loving us, in the ways needed, this is the grant and the boon and the blessing of the transmission of (the) value we as people have in the eyes of God.God wants and is able to speak to us in those ways we best receive, and moves in the world to bring this (transmission) about. Still working this one out, I suppose.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

No Hamburger For You

So, today I am driving a friend two hours away today, so fours turn around total. Saturday was a double header and I failed to be responsible afterwards and go shopping like I needed. I know that I missed an opportunity. These days I am having a hard time letting myself be loved, especially even by God. All this to say that my fathering has crash-dived a bit, I am not as "clued in to the Almighty's workings" in my life (read: i am being an inattentive son), I don't have a blog post coming today by 12:30pm, (as I do every Tuesday and Thursday), but likely some exploration of my allowing myself to be loved could potentially figure into a blogpost. Or maybe it won't, but there is potential for it to be.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Connection with Neighbor-Kids, and Writing

     It is a crisp morning here. It's not the first crisp morning of the year, but for those familiar with these parts they understand that crisp morning don't often follow one another, and are more like a seasonal weather treat (the way some pies are, around some tables): you don't expect to get one every day, and it is not certain that each cool day will be anything like the last cool day.

    But I like cool days, I really do. I like them so much I am apt to bundle myself up just so I can open the window and have the cold wash over me, to immerse myself in it. It is slightly ironic (to me) that such enjoyable weather comes in seasons I so desperately need yet also dread. These are seasons which (for the agrarian and spiritual both) tend to be times of harvest, bounty, relationship, rest, reflection -- and I need rest, bounty, and reflection time. I think the difficulty of the season revolves around hurt and wounding which other peoples desires for and expectations of sociability bang against like a low table against a soar, bent knee. Even if I could remove all stain of the consumerist and materialistic culture from it all I still think I would find the season hard -- maybe just not so distasteful.

     Suffice it all to say, all my epicurean and hedonistic delights are before me, just as is the lip, maw, and dropping-away walls of a gaping emotional crag. Seasonally speaking. Right now, as I write, well, it is enjoyable here at my window, sitting at my old desk, with the old and heavy Royal typewriter's cool metal neglectedly sitting next to me as my fingers warm the keys of my laptop.

    I have taken to watching the three children (ages 6, 10, 13) of some dear neighbors -- neighbors who are struggling through the transitions of new jobs and trying to get their financial sea-legs beneath them. It is a delight, really it is, though admittedly I am more tired at the end of each day to be sure. I would say that as I get to know these kids I am coming to "parentally" love them, if only by seeing their awesomeness as creations made in the image of God and the beauty of their characters / persons. To run off their energy after school I take them and mine to the little pocket park across from my house, viewable even now as I type.

    It is fascinating to watch my children interacting with the other children, and then to see the neighbor-children do the same with mine. My children, just as my neighbor's children, watch intently. My children, and theirs, seem to expand in areas (of personality, of character, definitely in activity and interests). They are more, or they grow, or they stretch individually, but then also they form (together) something.

    I suppose I can even now see how God the Father in Heaven does, is delighting in and actively wanting for His children to come together -- and how that (in itself) is also an affirmation of cultural tradition and communal activity. I suppose I can say that, just how I delight in seeing the good produced, the change and growth coming from these interactions, so to must it be beautiful to God in seeing the same for me.

    I know that I am growing, forced to grow through this experience. I am coming to accept I (am having to and am) wanting to open myself up to the desire for these other children's good, to (the desire to be) loving them, to wanting for them (even to having a want for their good to be grown in me). And this means, this looks like, I guess, firstly, wanting goodness for them openly (ie accepting I want, then actively wanting goodness for them, actually saying I do) ... then figuring out what that point of connection (from which they receive blessing) is for each. (And here is a thought: could there be points of connection for the children with each other, and what role do I play there in making those happen?)

    God seeks us out. He looks for those connections, and as the author and perfecter of our faith He astutely makes those connections with us. The connections He is seeking are those connections which are most uniquely that most like Him in me, I suppose. And I want to be that, and need to realize I am being made into that, being called and asked into that. He is doing some work, and it goes without saying the key is to seek out which work He is doing, and to be a part of that work. And no doubt He is doing a work in me.  

     I suppose the rub here is recognizing He, the Lord God, really does want that connection with us. And ours is to respond, to wait and listen perhaps for that to which to respond, but really merely to just respond.He has giving me this opportunity, and thus it is a chance around which to connect with Him, just are the other things going on in life right, not the least of which is in writing. Writing is the opportunity through which He seeks to connect with me, and thus it is a good thing to do, it is a validated thing to do. ((There is presumably that activity, vocation, career which is that way for all of us.))

     I think I just need to be writing, plain and simple, but all the activity around this is necessary, even watching neighbor-kids a few hours each day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Pickle Slices, and blessed feet

     Last Saturday was picture day for the volleyball team. It was, to say the least, an experience I shall dread repeating come the start of every new season. Irrespective of the experience, what is important about the event was that I had intended to purchase a small pennant with both individual and team pictures and let that be that -- I am not much on the whole "picture of every moment" thing. I would much rather be participating in the moment than worrying with photoing it. At any rate, I did not see the reasoning for the collection of wallet sizes and trading card sizes and so on, and was overwhelmed by the thronging crowds and the sheer assortment of choices of photo packages.

     Leave it to my wife, groggy though she were after a night's work, to wisely tell me simply to let my daughter decide. With as little steering as I could possibly do (though steer a little I had to), my daughter ended up picking a more expensive plaque version of the pennant. However, because it had been such a confusing moment, and I had not known to send the paperwork in with her as she got her photo, we had to wait until she could be "slipped in" to get the single, "self" shot -- but I did make sure it happened.

     Afterwards we made our way home to drop mom off to bed, and then we set off to the grocery store for some veggie hamburger patties -- the chosen "victor's celebration feast". If any of you reading this haven't read the earlier post about me going to Academy to get the knee pads and missing the chance to pray for the random stranger of a dad, and if you as the reader haven't read my "Gym Pastor" series, then let me just say it is who I am that I pray for people, and often feel the Lord puts it upon my heart to pray for particular people. A burden for and an excited joy for them by which I know to pray with them (by which I know to ask them if I may pray with them). Well, we encountered a dad (with his daughter) in the store whom I first encountered a year or more ago at a Chik Fil-A "Daddy / Daughter Valentine Date Night" event. I don't know how often since that I have been oblivious to the desire to pray for the man when I saw him, if I have been.

     We exchanged some brief pleasantries and discussed the rain-related mold allergies to which his daughter and I were both succumbing, as well as an upcoming family trip upon which he was taking her. We then parted ways as my son became insistent on leaving. By the time we had checked out and I had gotten to the car with the groceries I knew I felt that heaviness to pray, that excitement to pray, and concocted the ruse of "forgetting the pickles" to get my children acquiescently back into the store.

     Seeking this fellow out I approached him and fumblingly asked him if I could please pray for him. The desire to not miss an opportunity to partake in God's presence compelled me beyond my fear of the social awkwardness, for those mistakenly thinking I am somehow brave. More so, or rather, less so -- less admirable -- I had "conned" my children into being a part of something for which I wanted them to be a part of, to witness their father doing, and to include them in under the safety and emotional-security umbrella of my leading. Nonetheless, I prayed for the fellow, there on the isle in the way of many trying to get their coffee or Keurig cups, my children sort of shuffling in wait. I prayed for strength in his family, both physical / health-wise, as well as in unity, and prayed for the trip to go "smashingly in Christ".

     And while, yes, the prayer was received with thanksgiving and a sense for all of having been in the presence of a Loving God concerned with our earthly lives (and its vacations) was entered into, there was something else more important which occurred for me as a parent. On the way to the car and then going home I admitted to my "ruse" and explained to my children why I had done as I had done, in conspiring to get them back into the store and in praying and in doing so with them. I explained how it was a blessing to get to pray for others. I failed to go into how we are all a part of a larger body of Christ beyond even being in the same church body, and that that greater community should be just as embraced in our daily life.

     There is something more to draw out, about how the connection and blessing linked two men, both of whom share the concerns and cares of being fathers, and fathers wanting good things for their children and families and times spent together; there is something about the connecting and the longing for connection within community which finds each other being safe harbors, even for those fatherly concerns.

     We got home and had our victory lunch of veggie hamburgers (complete with pickle slices), and later in the day I actually kept my word (from last week) to do "Fashion" with my daughter.

     I think there are lessons to draw here, and maybe there might prove to be insight in the specific will of God in my life. The verse which comes to my heart is "blessed are the feet of those that bring good news." I think, I feel the Lord is trying to tell me that I am blessed and a blessing to others, therein confirming that my activities in writing (fathering in / through writing), more than just being good, [they] serve purpose, His purpose(s). That, maybe, it is so that my writing is exactly how I am to be "bringing the good news" -- the good news of His love, His willing-to-sacrifice-all love for us and efforts to have relationship NOW, IN THIS LIFE, with Him (that we may only then share in infinite and eternal life after death), His healing-and-ongoing-healing-work good news,  -- to lonely, hurting, broken people.

{Afterthought} :

   That my writing could be as my prayers are, that my writing could be connecting and connection for others, just as prayer can be, well, that for a writer is a dream, a gracious blessing. What value would writing serve if it not do at least that? How odd to partake in so solitary an activity devoted to plumbing the depths of Life and our connections, in an art form which traces connections through stories, only to produce so little as narratives which do not bring us all a sense of living connected lives? What would be the point otherwise? Art is never for the artist, just as a gift is not for the giver, while yet giving is. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Knocking at the Door

     It was Sunday night after the time change, and already a full day after having gone to a birthday party and (prior to that) church. Actually, it had been a full weekend, Halloween and my daughter's volleyball game the day before (see last post). My wife had just left for work (as she currently works an overnight shift) and my daughter began pleading to watch a movie.

     It seemed an important moment, one when she was desiring connection. While I normally find little opportunity for connection through passive activity like watching a movie, it seemed the experience of watching a movie together was the exact form of connection that fit the moment.

     My children's want to connect with me are precious to me, honoring me and filling of me. As a father I wait for them to be in that humble enough and secure enough and loving enough place to want to come to me for what I have to offer. I know frequently it has to be their choice to receive it (whatever "it" is which I have to give them, be it love, wisdom, something else), and often they will only receive it when they want it.

     In the book Revelation (NOTE: it is a singular revelation, not revelations) 3:18-21, in the address to the Church of Laodicea, the Lord says,

"18I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me 21'He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.… "
     In wanting to grow as a father He, our Lord, is wanting to grow me, and waits for me, ready to "dine with me, and I with Him". It strikes me how that is a mutuality, and that we are not alone in this "dining".

     I guess the emphasis is on seeking the growth for which He waits at the door to be welcomed in, growth with which He thusly shares in with us. I suppose I could say, simply, H wants to be a part of it with me, just as I wanted to be with my children as they wanted to be with me -- but (as I) was also with them because I knew it was good and building of them. I was wanting them to be in a place where they want for things outside of themselves for others, and to want for higher things, like growth (and what growth produces). As part of that I am wanting them to be in a place where they seek it out, seeking me out only to find me "standing at the door knocking".

     To be painfully honest, and transparent (and vulnerable, as the transparency and vulnerability go hand in hand), I feel there is more to this lesson than that at which I am grasping. That may even show in the writing above. I know for certain that this verse is upon my heart to write about. I also know I feel a certain ... ??? ... about it all. And given the difficulty in putting a word to how I feel about it all, it makes it hard to discuss what this verse means for me, especially as it regards the question "what is God doing in my life, and specifically in regards to fathering through writing, and in being fathered through my own writing".

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Rains, or, a "washing of humiliation"

I am sitting at my window, in the room called "the office" within our house. It looks upon our front yard and the quiet residential cul-de-sac bubbled out along the quiet, looping residential street. Across the street is a small "pocket park". I sit at an old, small, wooden desk, very common and once commonly the sort of desk used in smaller rooms of smaller, wooden pier-and-beam homes. On this old, rickety, scarred desk is a desk fan and a Royal typewriter from the 1940's, both sitting on either side next to laptop upon which I type this blog. And, despite this solid immediacy around my hands, and the constancy of that outside my window, my thoughts are drawn to the corner of Memory holding a morning's answered promise.

There have been a lot of rains recently in this area. Because of the risk of flooding, my daughter's volleyball practice on Friday had been cancelled, but not her game on Halloween Saturday. (Recall from last weeks post that the reverse had happened.) Throughout the entire game I wanted to run down after each play and "give some advice". One parent had read an article which she discussed with me at a practice earlier in the year, pertaining to the phenomena of youth athletes leaving athletic activities. Many interviewed athletes said that the ride home, with arm-chair quarterbacking parents was the major cause for quitting sports. Since this discussion with this parent I have made a pointed effort only to point out my daughter's strengths in the game, and encourage her (if I say anything). I want for this experience (which she cares so much about) to be good for her. The advice giving can wait till the times we practice together.

Well, after this particular game she thanked me for my comments in a way which was not so much receiving the comments (in and of themselves) as it was recognizing the effort I was making in making the comments (but not dismissing the pith of the comments either). It was admirably mature of her, I felt. Sort of thanking me for the effort of being encouraging.

Days prior to the game both children had received a holiday card from my grandmother, their great-grandmother, which had "a little something for them to get candy with". I had promised them we would go to the local grocery store to spend it, and elected to do so after the game. Still in the uniform, we went to the grocery store and they got to pick out what they wanted.

So, there is something about keeping my promises (to the children)... something which is stirring about in my soul. I think it is because, this time, I was keeping the promise because I had made it, and the fact that I made it was the basis for me keeping it was something which is good for my children. It is more than it is just good to honor my word. But my honoring my word is something which itself is good for my children, and that goodness (for my children) is as much why I will honor it, as is the mere goodness of honoring my word.

Hebrews 6:16-20

"16For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. 17In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.  19This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. "

For someone like myself who, even a few hours before sitting down to write, rebelled in my heart and elected to have not the goodness of life in the spirit but momentary fulfillment of sin (which, as the scripture says, crucifies Christ all over again and holds Him up to public shame), there is a great source of humility to be found here. Because God will keep His promises, despite me and my actions, well, that is a statement entirely about God, about His goodness, and with full focus on Him. He is doing it because He is good, it is just plain good and praiseworthy; He is a championing strength which chooses and elects to do the good; He is, His is an unfailing love. And that love is able to keep us from falling away. so long as we stay in that place of humility which looks ever only at His goodness.

But, maybe more to the point of this post, He wants to keep His promises for my good, His is a love for me. It is certain that He will keep His promises, and His love is certain. I am dependent on that love, because there is a form of growth which can only come from that love which keeps its word to me.

Yes -- His promises are "yes and amen in Christ Jesus," honored and (my sins forgiven) in the death 2000 years ago; honored in the promises of forgiveness and life; honored in the redemption from death; and with a deposit of the Holy Spirit with all its fruit of love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.

Yes -- His keeping His promises (beyond even the promises themselves) is the goodness being brought to my life.

No -- I don't want to have hurt Him, but I did. My not hurting Him doesn't make me worthy of His gifts, but thank God in Heaven I can (I am equipped not to) hurt Him again, enabled to resist such rebellion which hurts Him as I do not wish to hurt Him (but have done, and do).

But, maybe more to the point of this post (again): He not only keeps His promises for my benefit, but even in the promises of this life, and to this end (of certainty within my soul) the immediacies and consistencies of this world pale in comparison, serving only as reminders in the corner of this "Earthly Moment" .