Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Chess Lesson, and The Surprise

     My daughter has been asking for me to give her lessons in how to play Chess. I am at best a beginner, knowing everything I know from having been beaten at the game. Indeed, even the board we have is cardboard with plastic pieces, something quite unlike the hand-hewn rock figure pieces I had as a boy. I wasn't even quite sure we had all the pieces we needed with the plastic set.

     The thought of teaching her to play the game seemed actually kind of fun, and not only because finally I would be equally matched. What actually captured my heart, however, was the fact that she was asking me for some lesson, and it necessarily involved more time spent with her in an activity a bit more to my liking. She was excited, and demurely persistent in the requests for a lesson.

     Simultaneously to these requests she has been making other requests of me, and discussing "planning". You see, my anniversary with my wife is nigh approaching, and my daughter has entirely on her own concocted an elaborate surprise which I gather involves decorations and likely some form of baking.

     It is a task entirely important to her, and she has been insistent for weeks now about getting to the store, and going through the permutations of how to get to the store with our help while still maintaining the surprise. Each permutation on how has grown successively more complicated, and I honestly chuckle with warmth and delight at how earnestly committed she is to keeping the surprise a surprise. To further complicate matters for my daughter, the kids' god-grandmother has provided for the kids to go to a day-camp which concludes on the date of our anniversary, and the kids will be spending that night with a friend  (seeing us only the morning before the camp).

     While recognizing my daughter needs my help, and enjoys the discussion of plans, I have nonetheless maintained a quieted aloofness to the discussion (maybe even too much so) for the sake of allowing her a sense of ownership, of dominion, and even of accomplishment in the matter. I want for this be "her own," and to be entirely "free" to do as she envisions and sets out. I want for her to able to provide the honor she craves to provide, and that fact is the most salient, most important aspect of this entire matter. I am so committed to this sense of her ownership and accomplishment of honoring us that I am fiercely committed to her project with her (albeit maintaining my hands-off place).

    This certainly is a picture for me of the father-heart of God to us all.

     To finish the story, and maybe to put more flesh on the bones of the point, we went to the store to purchase a back-up Chess board, and while there I lead my daughter in a productive and efficient effort of "secretly" purchasing the items she needed. It was far less cumbersome in execution any of her proposed scenarios, to be certain. I went so far as to inform the lady at the register of our efforts, and turned from her as she scanned and rang up our items. (She was good enough to fold up the receipt so I could not see the items purchased.)

    We got home, and with supplies squirreled away, began our Chess lesson. I have my undergraduate in Philosophy, which means, specifically for this matter, I am well versed in being able to "see" peoples' thought processes and logic. I have to say that I was impressed with and proud of my daughter's thought processes through our games. Aside from picking the mechanics of the game up fairly quickly, she definitely thought through her moves in appreciably logical fashion.

     My daughter is still planning certain things, and still needs another trip to the store, but I am confident she is feeling supported and enabled. I look forward to seeing it all.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Tiny Tokens

     We were in the store the other day, I think Monday afternoon, and my son asked for a particular mini-Minecraft figure, and that particular thing itself in part because there were no interesting Lego things and in part because this was a novelty which he had yet to experience having.

     As a parent it is a fine, fine line to walk between unduly gifting your child and blessing them, and I know few parents (but I do know some) who don't want to exorbitantly gift their children. It is one of the delights of parenthood, albeit a superficial and "entry level" delight, and one which is often selfishly enjoyed. It is actually something of a self-discipline for me to not buy every possible toy I think my child would enjoy, a self-discipline I have had to develop.

     Like most things, however, it is a greater self-discipline to not automatically and unreflectively default to a (self)discipline in a moment of decision, abjuring decision-making intentionally in the process. Put simply, in this moment with my son, while I was aware of both my inclination to buy him every toy I could and of my default discipline which resists (on principle alone) such urges, it was a moment of a decision: to buy, or not to buy.

     In that moment I knew, just knew, it was a moment that my son was asking for a love-statement. The matter had far less to do with some childish desires for possessions than it did with a need to experience love from his father. The moment was not a moment for a lesson, but for meeting a need. He asked if he could have it since his sister "had gotten a haircut" (see earlier post "Little Fashionista") -- a haircut which has brought her much attention from just about everyone, including moms and teachers she hardly knows.

     Beyond even my personal delight in giving gifts (gift-giving is actually not my "love giving language") I want infinitely more for my son to know and feel that he is loved, and thus I wanted for him to have that gift even before he had asked for it, quite honestly speaking. Even more so, his need to feel loved was important to me, was of primary importance to me in that moment, and buying a gift for him (blessing him) with that for which he had asked was unqualifiedly guaranteed. My son could has asked for a piggy-back ride in the store, a poem about himself, a candy bar, it would all have been unqualifiedly, carte-blanche given.

     In this valuing and prioritising and readiness (being primed) to confirm and affirm that we are loved (a readiness to the point of taking no gift, no thing off the table), and the unstinting willingness to express that love, I see very much the father-heart of God.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Little Fashionista

     Saturday's end of the season volleyball tournament went about as expected. We were the last place team, pitted in single-elimination game right off the bat against the undefeated first place team, best three of five matches winning that game. After three rough matches/rounds the other team advanced as we retired to the snack area to receive our recreational league participation medal and say our final goodbyes. I think that while we (and by we I mean the team) all had fun, there was a certain relief that it was over, that no one had really wanted to do any more this season than just have fun, and the burden of competition was now thankfully done.

     Summer is encroaching, and my daughter has been mentioning wanting a haircut. Now, personally, I am a child of the 70's and 80's, and find long hair beautiful, and my daughter's hair has grown long since last we cut it. In that same breath I have to say that all my artistic inclinations came rushing to the fore as I envisioned all the possible styles which my daughter could get.

     I knew in the moment that, for all my desires to have my daughter pick the style I found "coolest" and beautiful, what mattered was for her to have a say and a sense of having a say in what amounts to some self-definition. This could also be called a sense of self-determination. I don't want to be a parent that pushes, but that supports, and by supporting while honoring boundaries to win the right of a voice in her life -- which necessarily means not forcing her decisions.

     It goes without needing to be said that I want my daughter to be considered beautiful, and to be known for her beauty. I took some degree of fatherly pride as each of the three stylists clamoured over how beautiful her long hair was and just what an incredible color it was. What I delighted about most in the moment though was that, here it was, my daughter was being affirmed. While it was affirmation of a superficial thing, it was still affirmation, and she was being made to feel pretty by it.

     Before we had even gone to the stylists, I had asked my daughter what she wanted, finding pictures online of various styles and showing them to her. Trying to not force the issue I let her steer the choice, and made sure the stylist understood what she wanted by going so far as to show her the picture.


      The stylist was a very good stylist and worked to incrementally arrive at the desired end, ensuring that my daughter was happy along each stage of the cutting process. Several times from the seat at which I beamed proudly I came over to offer clarification or show the picture again, always mindful to orient to my daughters desires, deferring to her preferences. I found myself eager to participate, to help in ensuring that my daughter got what she wanted. This eagerness was not a choice, yet its enthusiasm drove me in choosing to be as available and helpful as I could be.

     More than this desire to provide an opportunity for self determination, more than the recognition of the rightness and goodness of respecting those boundaries, the enthusiasm and eagerness to do those things I feel reveal the father-heart of God to me. And surely He takes as much delight in seeing His children delighted in and affirmed as I do, though admittedly for those true and truer things about us than superficial attributes (though, no doubt, He sees the deeper things like self-determination behind superficial demonstrations, i.e. He sees the heart).




   

Field Day Friday -- bonus post














     Friday was Field Day at the kids' school. Of course I went because I knew they wanted me there. They didn't ask, nor did they need to ask. I went merely because what is important to them is important to me, and because I knew my presence would bless them. There bouncy slides, water slides, obstacle courses, tog-o-war, and various races of different forms -- all in all a grand event.

     My son's class was on the field first, and given that his substitute teacher herself was recovering from a springtime flu (and happens to be a dear friend of mine and fellow artist), and given the middle school student helpers were themselves slightly overwhelmed, I stepped up (in my normal assertiveness) to help with the rather large class. I became the rather loud, booming voice for the helpers, issuing instructions over the din of excitement and frenetic energy.

     It worked out that my son's class was heading in just as my daughter's class was coming onto the field, and as had been worked into the system of the day, the teacher got to retire inside for a brief break as the classroom mom led the class around. I was greatly impressed by the classroom mom. And while I was my usual assertive self with loud, booming voice, I found I wanted to defer to her leadership, demonstrating a humility to my daughter. Granted, this may have occurred over only two of so events, still, it was on my heart to do so: the classroom mom has worked hard to provide support and a positive experience for the children, and for this she should be honored and has my gratitude.

     I think this desire to show humility (this trait of humility even) to serving that which blesses my child, and the recognition of and respect paid to that which blesses my child (lending in a sense an honor to my child for my having done so) is very much in keeping with the father-heart of God. Honestly, I am just grateful and respect the commitment to ensuring a deeper blessing for the children, as was demonstrated by the classroom mom, that I feel that is the more salient picture of the father-heart of God to be seen here -- a fact which should put some spin on my heart in the moment. Put differently, my heart of deference to the blessing-heart of the classroom mom may only refractingly underscore the father-heart of God -- she really demonstrated the father-heart in this particular moment for me, and I think for my daughter.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

"Move Up!!!"

     I have a booming, baritone voice which few fail to hear when I find it necessary to be heard. For this reason the volleyball coach asked me to be the one call out certain ... "plays and commands" from the sidelines at practice on Monday. There would be no question as to what the team was supposed to do in each moment with me booming from the sidelines. Likewise the loud voicing served to condition them, no doubt.

     I stepped into the role readily, seeing how this aided my daughter, and aided my daughter by aiding her team. It was a minor matter, but one I poured the full effect of my voice into. Kind of like the way water works to fill in every crevice and crag it finds at the bottom of a deep underground lake, so did I seek to fill this particular role, simply for her sake. I did so fully, and unilaterally well for each player, as I did for my own daughter, but doing so ultimately for my daughter.

     In this desire to assist in even minor matters which work to the overall good and goal, as a servant-like ancillary aid, for His children do I readily see the father-heart of God, willing to help as He can, even when such small help is all that is needed or asked of Him. "How would He who gave us His Son not willingly give us all good things," to paraphrase the verse.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Getting Cat Food and Paper Towels

     My daughter's Saturday volleyball game came, and went. It was by far the most exciting game, with numerous rounds of extended volleys back-and-forth over the net, as well as a goodly number of team assists in the volleys. The score(s) stayed always within roughly five points of each other, though often more like three points at a time. Any breaking gap ended up being closed fairly quickly. By the end of the first of the five games in the Saturday match (and I may be wrong in my sports terminology), the girls were obviously rattled at the work it had taken, and by the last game they were euphorically worn out -- they had had a lot of fun playing.

     More importantly than their playing at their highest skill level, more importantly even than their playing as a tighter team was their enjoyment of the game, their enjoyment in playing. It's a third and fourth grade recreational league, after all, and not meant as a college scout's resource pool.

    But, honestly, I was feeling we (our family) had been fairly busy of late (in a greater scheme of things), and thus looked forward to just "chilling out" at home, with no plans for the rainy day beyond recreational leisure activities. This very much fit the mood of both my children, and as I became aware of that, it struck me as important. There is a weightiness to business and activity, and I want that my children not "spin themselves out" in unnecessary or unproductive activity. Said in the positive, I want for my children to be involved in the importantly good things, and not in every or just any old good thing.

    Now, all that is the context, the narrative flow in which the following occurs. It puts just "the right spin on the cue ball" of the story (which is now) begun in the statement: we needed to go buy groceries, and to get my wife's car gassed up.

     What had happened was we had gone to the store merely to get my wife's car gassed up for her long drive into work later that evening, but since it was raining I decided it made sense to go shopping. We weren't going to do anything else "outside," and didn't want to have to do more that day.

     While we shopped I intentionally brought my daughter into "the conversation" of what we needed. Allowing her to say what we needed I felt gave her a sense of dominion and co-laboring in the process of taking care of the household. The importance of such a sense (of role, of place) for my children I take (and took) very seriously, so much so I did not just ask my daughter what we needed, but let her pick out the kind and brand for many things. And, I was not going to construct some elaborate production to make the point which I found I could do in the "mundane moment".

     I very much see in this moment -- in this desire to build up and impart a sense of value and of relevance in even common moments (such that additional moments aren't frittered away unnecessarily) -- the father-heart of God. He wants to take what we are "creaturely" and "mundanely"doing, and use them even to impart a sense of place and of relevance. More saliently than just "making the most of a moment" is the point that He wants us to have this sense of partnering, condescending (in the original and greater sense of the word) to bring us into collaboration and co-laboring with Him in His much larger narrative.



   

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ad Hoc Coach

     Monday afternoon found the volleyball team without the presence of the coach, her daughter having gotten sick somewhat last minute. The assistant coach herself was likewise saddled with some scheduling difficulties which would make being on time to practice a challenge for her. So the coach sent out an email suggested the parents on hand lead the girls in some drills until the assistant coach could arrive.

     Originally I had almost signed up to be the coach when no other parent had stepped forward at the beginning of the season. Keep in mind that this is a recreational, third and fourth grade girls league -- it is more about fun and exposure to athletics than garnering college scouting recognition. Still, despite the fact, I didn't feel I understood enough about the game or training, and was relieved when the coach had, last-minute, come forward before I was asked to step up. Assuredly, as the season progressed, I payed extra attention at the pre-practice volleyball clinic we had signed my daughter up for as well -- the clinic led by the professional coach, it needs to be added. I was learning along with my daughter, no doubt.

     So as Monday practice time rolled around, and being my somewhat assertive self, I took charge with another parent (a mom), and immediately we had the girls running "suicides" and putting them through their paces. Rather, that was the manner in which I got the girls going, but what drove me to step up, what was in my heart, was that this was my daughter's team, her ... athletic "oikos," her athletic community. I see that, at least in regards to her as a volleyball player, my daughter is more than just herself: she is also part of her team, and thus her team is part of her. Wanting for my daughter to have a good practice I wanted for the team to have a good practice, and wanting a good practice for the team effectively wanted a good practice for my daughter.

    It might be simplistic to say this, but in the moment, my daughter was her team, and her team members were each my daughters. I wanted good for them all as I wanted good for my daughter. While admittedly I did so because, as my daughter's father, she is most precious to me and it was good for her, a good to her, I still chose they should be as precious as if they were my daughter.

     I cast around the team my fatherly concern and fatherly heart for good. As I encouraged each girl as if she were my daughter (encouraging as I would and do encourage my own daughter, with patience and kindness and belief in her), I wanted for the whole team to be strong and "tight," knowing such was good for my daughter, and for each of them.

     Most certainly in this looking to serving community, wanting on behalf of each that the whole be strong as each member is built up, even on behalf of a single beloved child, I see the father-heart of God. Admittedly this fatherly heart is feeling that way for each of His children, and thus is ... more "dimensional" than mine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

A Full Saturday

     So, there was no volleyball game this past Saturday of Mother's Day weekend. The recreational center had its annual barbecue cook-off slated for later in the day, and I had vaguely planned to attend that community function, and later, a birthday party for one of my daughter's classmates. A dear friend texted early that Saturday, however, and suggested a playdate. Since I needed to keep the house quiet, my wife having returned to her night schedule at work, this sounded like a perfect spur-of-the-moment outing to me.

     While the eldest child and my son's best friend wasn't going to be available to play, the younger sisters were, and both my children find them to be very dear and precious. So, we set out for the playdate. As an aside, I have to say it is precious to me to watch my son and my daughter both engage in gentle care-taking of these two younger girls, and allows me to see a little more depth to their characters I am otherwise not allowed to see at home.

     We clamoured around on iconic (for the area) sculptures -- sculptures meant to be clamoured upon (which is part of the iconic nature) -- and strode along a trail leading to a duck pond, where we actually got to see up close some very cute ducklings. The visit was interrupted by our friend's need to run a pressing errand for her spouse, and I agreed to watch the older of the two girls at a local eatery with a contained playscape area. It was lunch time, and my children I knew were hungry.

     In my mind I was seeing this as an opportunity not merely to bless only my friend (by watching her child), but to also allow my children the opportunities both for a blessing themselves (at the eatery) and for honoring this friend of theirs, folding this friend into their blessing. It was more than just a meal, it was surprising them with something I knew they wanted, and making it more than just the thing in itself. No doubt my children would have asked of me for their friend this blessing they themselves received, but I wanted for them in the moment something more than just meeting a need (which could have been done in less fun fashion). In a very real sense my children were acting as emissaries, and while it was through my provision they themselves were nonetheless "hosting" their friend, as I intended for them to so do. Thusly I think even community, for my children, was attained (or made) even in that moment.

    And in this I see the father-heart of God, to want not just a surprise blessing for His children, but to want that blessing to be deep, layered, and "more than". I see as well the fatherly heart to condescend in service (in this case, service through provision) of elevating His children in positions of honor -- like that of enabling them as emissaries.

     Well, since we had already intended to go to the friend's birthday party in the afternoon, and since the morning had altered my plans (or lack thereof) somewhat, after the meal and parting ways with the friend (whom had been collected by the returning mother shortly into the meal time) I took my daughter shopping for a birthday present (for the friend) and Mother's Day gifts (for Mom) instead of going to the barbecue cook-off. It had been important to my daughter to go shopping for a gift for her mother, though I was driving somewhat the birthday party participation.

     My daughter, knowing well my wife's interests, planned to purchase some art canvases for her mother, hoping to honor her mother. While we got the canvases I also steered the purchases somewhat, remembering some art-specific requests made by my wife (i.e. an exacto knife and an easel), as well as steering my daughter to picking some primary colors of paint which I knew mom could use to mix and make other colors, along with picking out a few shades of purple (just because I liked them).

     Whether the rest of day after lunch (the shopping, the party, ect.) necessarily was as intentionally geared to making community and "enabling the emissarial" -- even providing for (the blessing of) being an emissary -- I still see how the events could be seen to reinforce those lessons. That reinforcement, however, had not been an intentional product of my actions, and I just think it cool to see as an after thought.

     In herself my daughter identified what would bless her mother, and wanted to bless her mother. I wanted to honor her desire to bless her mother, and I wanted for that blessing to be all which my daughter wanted it to be. I felt it would have blessed my wife as my daughter hoped it would even without my steering the decision making process. My steering the additional choices were my desire to aid my daughter in providing a blessing which was specific and mindful in ways in which my daughter couldn't be aware: ways which met a specific requests and conditions she couldn't know.

     In these desires to "round out" a blessing, to honor ones desires to honor another, I think the caring aspects of the father-heart of God are shown -- He cares, and He cares about the details even. More so, I think the fatherly aspect of seeing the good in its greater degrees (like seeing not just a canvas but the paints, knife, easel) definitely illustrates the Lord desires not just a good but as full a good as can be, the Good itself. Art and creation, for instance, are good, good in themselves, and thus He seeks to provide for them, for their happening.
   

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Teacher Appreciation Week

 



     So, I was contacted by my daughter's teacher, for whom I share a high regard and with whom I enjoy a friendly acquaintanceship.  It seems that there was a contest going on for the teachers (who are part of teams), a sort of pictoral scavenger hunt: get your photos on a slide, have a photo with a bearded guy, so on and so forth. Since I am indeed bearded, well, you can see why the teacher approached me with the request to get a picture with me.

     As it turned out there was a teacher from the team standing where I pick the kids up and my daughter mentioned going up to her and asking if we should take the picture with her. Since I didn't know the situation or the teacher, and because I saw it an opportunity for my daughter to practice a mature activity of approaching an authority figure and initiating conversation, I let my child make the introductions and broach the topic. She did, and after a pleasant moment of chit-chat we took the selfie together.

     This moment put upon my emotional radar the fact that teacher appreciation was something important to my daughter (regardless even of how supportive I am of the idea). So, as my daughter was hand-making a card and gift, and because I was going to the store later, I asked her what she wanted to get for the teacher.

     In retrospect I might should have taken the children to the store with me, especially when it came to picking something out for my son's teacher. Regardless, while in the store I scoured it for what my daughter had said the teacher liked, and what my daughter wanted to get for the teacher, as well as something from my son for his teacher. My children wanted to show honor to those whom meant a good deal to each of them respectively, and it helps I was so thankful and appreciative and admiring of these teachers I shared these same desires. I bent and inclined my heart, as the sayings go, to this end, missionally in degree.

     For my son I wanted to pick something out like what I suspected he would have picked out, and intended that it appear at least that he had purchased it himself (or, at least, drove the idea). When I saw the fancy chocolate bar with animal conservation theme, and given I had just recently attended with him his class trip to the zoo, I thought it fitting. As an aside, the trip to the zoo had been a thing I did mainly because my son evidenced a good deal of desire for me to go, but which I thoroughly wanted to experience with him. While on the zoo trip I delighted in experiencing his wonder with him, having more fun than I ever have at a zoo, honestly, as a result. Hence, the selection of the chocolate bar was fun as well on that level.

     My son, being the honest character he is, let it slip that he had not bought the chocolate bar, but his dad had. No doubt in that moment the teacher would have known that likely the parent purchased the bar. The point of it all is that, knowing my son's heart to honor (especially to honor those for whom I share a great deal of admiration and respect and gratitude) I was intent not just to provide the resources but to do so in a way which would underscore the honor being paid (as from my son to his teacher) itself. I wanted for my children the enabling opportunity to show honor, to be "resourced" to show honor.

     Somehow, in this desire to enable my children's participation in honoring I see the father heart of God for us, and in His provision of resources in our efforts to honor and to love upon others.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Graduation

     We've managed to reintegrate into routine life after vacation, though admittedly everything seems remarkably faster paced than before vacation. After volleyball last Saturday, we took a short day trip to attend a cousin's high school graduation. To me, well, it was important to attend this young man's graduation because such events are the closest thing our culture has to rites of passage -- institutionally-based though it is.

     This event confers upon the young nephew a socially accepted conference of adulthood, manhood. It marks a transition, and a transitional time for both him and his single mother. His mother  has accomplished the rearing and the educating (as a homeschooler) of her eldest son, and faces the stage of life when both her relationship to her son takes on a new form, and her identity as a parent changes, grows somewhat.

     For my nephew it is an extremely important event, almost singularly the most self-defining event (besides marriage in our culture) in which his narrative takes preeminence to any others surrounding him. It is good to honor him, and to honor his mother. And I wanted my children to see that, and to be a part of that self-sacrificing, full-focus-on-another moment. I wanted them to participate in it.

     While, yes, there is something about participating in honoring another (in a collectively agreed upon practice) which completes the future moment when one receives that very same honor, I wanted for my children more to have the honor of attending the moment, the joy and rejoicing of one sub-narrative culminating and taking a new direction. I wanted for them to have the opportunity to rejoice with their cousin in what is perhaps one of the largest moments of rejoicing in his life. Likewise, dependently, to honor their aunt.

     In this desire for corporate inclusion, for opportunities to participate in honoring and for honor itself, and opportunities for a chance to rejoice with dear family, I can easily see the father-heart of God expressed.