Thursday, September 29, 2016

Cornbread and Beans

So, Monday I was needing to go to the store to restock the larder. I had planned to sandwich the run inbetwixt lunch and the time needed to collect the kids from school in the afternoon. A few days earlier I had already decided I would purchase the components for one of the meals my daughter really enjoys eating: cornbread and black beans. I knew it was something she liked, and we had not had it for a while, and so when Monday rolled around the ingredients were already added to my mental list.

 I don't recall the exact exchange that Monday morning, but somewhere in between getting the kids off to school and my wife down for bed (after her night shift) I mentioned I was going to the store that day, and did my wife need anything specifically. My daughter pipped up and asked if I could get the ingredients to make cornbread and beans.

When I finally did make it to the store it was almost as if those were the only items I had gone to get, and all the other larder-stock was incidental. Indeed, though not asked for I also got a large bag of shredded cheese to go along with the meal. I also went ahead and got some relish, because my daughter likes making tuna fish salad, and putting diced pickle in it, and I wanted to make the process easier for her.

The thing is this: I wanted in that moment at the store, and even long before, to give my daughter what I knew she wanted, to supply her needs for sustenance with that very kind of food she likes, long before she ever asked it of me. And likewise, the intent and decision to supply her thus was made long before she ever asked me, and I wanted to do it without her having to ask, to surprise her even.

Beyond even just this tiny meal I am doing the same in other areas, considering my daughter's needs and her desires long before she asks. I don't need her to ask me, nor do I wait for her to ask, but seek on my own and as if they were my very needs and wants themselves (before she even knew there was an opportunity to ask for it).

Though it may seem an inordinately tiny thing about which to write -- and thus seemingly a stretch to make from it -- to me this tiny picture captures the very father-heart of God for us all -- His heart and His intention to provide even before asked to do so. My trip to the store was to provide for the family need and stores, and I was going to do so with what I knew would be enjoyed, even irrespective of it being asked for. Likening this to the father-heart of God I say it is making our desires His very will. Small example, but the implications of its lesson can not be overstated enough: His father-heart really is for us.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gifts, Receiving,& Trinkets

My grandmother is one of these old world Texas grandmothers who remembers the Great Depression and having to out paste board in the soles of her shoes when she wore a hole in them. Every major, traditionally American Christian holiday (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter) and birthdays she remembers to send a card, normally with some small amount of cash, to all of her grandchildren, and now, to her great grandchildren (my children). We have our mailbox located in a central community mailbox location, unlike the the individual mailboxes on posts I had growing up. That fact of the mailbox not being at the end of the drive, and the fact that most of our modern exchanges occur online in one form or another both lead me to only "go and get the mail" once a week (if that frequently). So, suffice it to say, we had gotten my son's birthday card a few days past his birthday.

For my son's birthday she sent him a nice card, along with the small amount of money. My daughter is my little money saver, whereas my son normally spends it if he has it to spend. This time however, and maybe because of his heart being primed from the previous birthday dotage, my son stored up the money. I waited to see what he would do with it, and made no move to take him immediately to the store as he historically has asked to do.

I want to back track a bit, or diverge in the narrative and go on a bunny trail. Normally that suggests bad writing or stream of consciousness writing, and that is not the sort of writing at which I aim. But in this case, however, disjunct as it may seem this aside is like the accompanying artistically injected notes of a woodwind to an otherwise string quartet. In other words, I am about to shoehorn in something that isn't part of the narrative, but fits into my personal narrative coinciding with this narrative. I do so with a point I will later get to.

Shortly after we had opened my son's presents from my wife's aunt and my sister two days before his birthday my son rummaged through the toys in his room, and came up with several small trinkets which he then gave to me. My son expresses love often through gift giving like this, and the trinkets he bestowed upon me (like so many of his gifts) were things some would consider trash or unwanted / unused items -- for instance, the spent glow-in-the-dark glowsticks, the decorative shell picked up from some beach trip gift shop, a rubber 2inch dolphin toy.

Here's the thing though. My son intended that I would use the used-up glow-in-the-dark glowsticks to attach to some improvised pretend gun, much like the kind he frequently makes on his own, and which we have made together with pvc piping or cardboard tubes; he thought I would like the shell because we all like the beach. Each of the trinkets had an intent behind them and which brought me into his pretend play-world, and were given in an expression of overwhelming joy and love. I can not claim to love my son and not accept these trinkets as the treasure they were meant to be, or as the treasure of his love and honoring he intends... and, most assuredly, I did receive them in that heart:I wanted to honor that honor by doing honorably and recognizing, in a desiring spirit of truth, the honoring which was coming to me. There is a picture of the father-heart of God for us in that, I believe, one which I personally need to dwell on.

So, when my daughter asked on what thing my son desired to spend his birthday money from his great grandmother I, in my mind, immediately pledged to take my son to the local sporting goods store where I knew they had toy-guns he has often admired. My son didn't even have a say in the plans, meaning he didn't have to ask to go do so, and was told he were going if he wanted. He did not protest in the slightest, and became enthused. At the store he picked out just the style of toy-gun, complete with realistic design and lights and sounds and attachments.

From the store we immediately set off to a family friend's house. This friend was trying to support another family's adoption efforts by having an event in her home. This friend of ours -- we'll call "M" -- is someone about my wife's age, and someone to whom my daughter has developed a good deal of attachment. "M" I felt deserved support in her efforts, and my daughter was excited to get the chance to see her. I would have supported "M" regardless of my daughter's feelings, but because my daughter desired to visit with her friend then honoring my daughters feelings and enabling the visit became part of my desire, adding to the importance of going for me. My desire to honor my daughter's heart combined and multiplied my desire. It is hard to put into words, but knowing my daughter wanted to go became the reason for my going, even though I was going to go because I thought it right and good to support my friend. Indeed, I even wanted the honor from showing support to fall to my daughter.

I think in that incorporating of my different desires for "M" and my daughter, to the end of increasing those desires for both, is very much a picture of the father-heart of God for us -- and, while He may be intending to bless someone, when we pray for that person, that someone I believe God's desire for us becomes as much His goal as is His goal to bless the other person.

Remember from earlier the bunny trail about the father-heart of God in the humility of receiving? I am reminded of a verse: the Word of God does not go forth and return void, but accomplishes the purposes for which it was sent. Well, that experience set of contextualized my mindset and heart-posture when we went to the store with my son. Also, the moment of the bunny trail set the same tone / heart-posture for my daughter's request and her subsequent gratitude for going to the event.  I feel it is God's desire we would have that same heart of His, and the moment with my son effectively produced it in me, as I think all of the moments in which God speaks in the "words" of our lives.

Well, the story of the day can not be concluded without mention that, later, after we returned home from the engagement, we found my son had been sent a birthday present from my wife's sister and her teenage sons. My son opened his present -- a space-age ant farm, and a "gross things" make-up kit. My daughter couldn't contain her little science-geek self, and was pouring over the instructions for both, wasting no time giving her brother a "make-up bruise". I personally made sure the kids were enabled to call the aunt and thank her, and then we transitioned to preparing for the next day, especially the bath-time part of the routine. Pleasantly I can say my son did not go to church the next day with the remnants of a fake, make-up bruise still showing on his hand.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Extra Cupcakes

Monday of course was my son's long anticipated seventh birthday, as the previous post discussed. We woke up, sang "Happy Birthday," had cake for breakfast and opened the gifts, taking an opportunity to try the one out. We did all this forgetting we had woken up late, and really hadn't the time before school. At any rate, in the haste and rush, my son made the heart-felt plea to come have lunch at the school with him, and to not forget to bring the class the perfunctory treat (cupcakes).

In the moment all I wanted to do was to honor him, feeling and believing in the worthiness of him and (the worthiness) of the project of honoring him. While at the store I made extra certain to have purchased ample supply of cupcakes, going so far as to have an extra dozen. I also picked up some packaged kids meals which I know both my children enjoy, and enough for both, despite it being something I wouldn't normally purchase. I like to make their lunches to ensure as much nutritive value as possible. At any rate.

The teacher, after I had spent lunch with my son and a little friend he wanted me to meet, allowed me to bring the cupcakes out to their normal "birthday spot" with the class at recess, and to spend the moment with my son. I had been intending to drop off the cupcakes only, and have lunch with both children. My daughter found me, and was able to get her lunch thing from me while I was wrapping up the cupcake festivities with my son's class.

We had some cupcakes left over, as well as a bit of time left on my daughter's lunch period, so I took the extra to her lunch table, and shared them with those children I knew (not knowing, as it turned out, that such was against more than just cafeteria rules). In that moment, I knew I wanted my son honored fully, and I wanted my daughter to know and feel that she was loved and valuable to me. It was something which went beyond just feeling such love and value for my daughter, and beyond even wanting to show it. In that particular moment that, while we were actively acknowledging her brother (thus underscoring and highlighting his worthiness to be honored), I willed for her the knowledge of her value. And, simply, I was thankful for her.

In this picture of loving "both / and" I feel is the smallest glimpse of God's father-heart towards us all.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Birthday Gifts

Yesterday was my son's 7th birthday. All last week was spent looking emotionally and scheduling-wise towards the event. In my family we take birthdays seriously, being days of remembrance of the beginning of a lifelong narrative which intersects with and blesses other narratives; being both its own full narrative and also being an element which enriches countless other lives. We do presents, certainly, and try to have parties if we can, but we also include spoken "blessings," along with other honorings. I believe so strongly in the importance of birthdays (as a moment of remembering the blessing of the person themselves) that I make them akin to any other tradition (like rites of passage, or other).

Being excited as I was over this years birthday for my son I had gone to the local sporting goods store early in the week, just to be certain to be prepared. While there I had noticed a likely secondary gift, and noted in my mind to tell my daughter about what I had found, thinking she may seek that as a gift for her brother.

When Saturday rolled around (and we again had that concentrated and extended moment for quality time unfettered by a schedule and obligations) we took to using the morning to build even more marshmallow shooters, this time having a fancy rubber-band firing mechanism in addition to their dart gun capability. I was even more intentional about the whole affair than my son, for whom I was specifically building the thing. Lest the full project which had been begun last weekend go unfinished, however, I applied myself to the task, with the understanding that at the end I would then take my daughter to the sporting goods store for the present she agreed she wanted to get her brother.

My daughter, in her typical fashion, was wanting to bless her brother extravagantly, and was asking permission to use her own funds, but was needing assistance to find a good price on an additional item. We got online together and searched for the additional item and came across a secondary item which she thought would make a better gift than the one from the sporting goods store. Well, not only did I aid her in ordering it online but also insisted I pay for it.

In the moment my attitude was one of providing the fullest assistance to my daughter I (in my greater capacity) could provide, but simultaneously wanting it to be her decision, her choices. I "allowed" her relational knowledge of her brother to define for her what would make a great gift. Put differently, I wanted her ideas to be validated (ideas in which I saw were not bad ideas), and wanted to assist in the process of their playing out. I ensured she got what she wanted to get him, not so much making her responsible for the choice as I was making sure her desires we absolutely attained and carried out.

Beyond even that, however, I desired (that is to say, it was vitally important to me) that she was equipped to bless her brother from out of my resources, that it came freely and fully from my abundance. I wanted for her the blessing to herself of blessing her brother, and so I "footed the bill" for that the reason that I so desired that blessing for her. It is a blessing to bless others, and that blessing I earnestly, emphatically, wanted for her.

This is very much how I understand the father-heart of God to be for us, and the situation in which we stand when He gives it to us to bless others.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Marshmallow Dart Guns

 I believe it was my sister's idea (and that even was offered in passing) that I might make the kids a blowdart gun, looking on YouTube for instructions. I had thought the idea had some merit, but like a lot of ideas it had needed to simmer a bit, I suppose. What likely generated the idea was an offhand comment to the effect that my son had been talking about having a potato gun, and could we make them. We have been streaming MacGyver as a family. I am not surprised either one of my children had an interest in "MacGyvered" apparatus as a result: the show has definitely kicked off an interest in the practical side of science and chemistry.

I had asked an organic gardener buddy down the street if he had any left over pvc pipe, and would he be willing to part with any of it. He had, and was, and willingly supplied the tools necessary for the cutting of the lengths of pipe. As it turned out my wife was going to be out at the store while we were making our blowguns, and so I even had her pick up "the ammo," which amounted to two bags of the smaller sized marshmallows.

And thus our Saturday morning, which had no pressing constraints or agenda, turned into a project-morning, where that project turned into a good deal of extended fun.

What made this slightly different and unique experience is that I had not allowed my kids in on the dart gun aspect, and definitely not the marshmallow aspect, until we were well underway. They just thought we were making pretend gun shapes out of pvc. Once I did let the kids in on the idea, it was thoroughly pursued, with vigor.

For me, in the moment, I wanted to stack as much rewarding fun into the moments we had together as I could. I think the idea was a perfect one, and my sister deserves props for suggesting it. It was important to me to not merely let the Saturday go to waste, but that the preciousness of the time together be capitalized upon, that we make the most out it. The season we are in is a short one, its moments precious and worth "having their marrow sucked clean". I wanted the experience and the fun to match the preciousness of being with them; I wanted to fill fully the moment. Surely this is a picture of the father-heart of God for us.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bread, Sparrow, Hair

I've not posted in a while. It is because there seems so much to do with the kids, there is less time. Last week, starting on the Labor Day holiday, we began visiting with my wife's aunt. The kids were looking forward to the visit, with no knowledge of the plans I had for the visit, or the intent behind the visit. They were just excited to see the aunt. Even before the aunt's visit, however, I was still very intentional in my interactions with the children, making the most of the moments.

With school dominating the schedule, and thus an externally imposed routine in effect, I have wanted the intentional interactions to be organic, and not just another activity for activity sake. This is pretty much my modus operandi anyways, but it became more important -- important enough to safeguard its happening. I did not want to let the limited time and opportunity for experiences together drive me to forcing experiences as the expense of the real enjoyment. Necessarily this meant (means) really choosing those activities which my children love the most, and in which they most delight.

At the moment I can not recall the activities of the Saturday before the Labor Day holiday. I am not sure for the sake of this post that that matters -- whatever we did my goal was that it be safeguarded as a moment from the impetus of business, the over-emphasis on activity and doing for the doing's sake. There is a value to the event or doing beyond the event in itself, while simultaneously a value to the time with the children manifested in and through the activity (meaning just being with them is not enough). A "place of tension" perhaps, but an easy and comfortable tension.

In this most definitely do I see the father-heart of God for us, especially the earnest and intentional mindfulness to quality of the event and time together. "Which of you if his son asked for bread would give him a stone," sort of thing.We are "worth more than two sparrows," and, so intimately are we known and so exquisitely valued are we that "every hair on our head is numbered." (The paraphrasing in the quotes coming directly from the synoptic gospels.)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Playlists & Reading Lists

My daughter has been waking herself up early every morning to have a "quiet time," wherein she reads from the Biblical book of Proverbs (known as "wisdom literature," composed of axiomatic sayings), and listening to worship music. Before going to bed we normally have our little routine (because routines help transition, and children need structured transitioning, as do many adults), wherein we read a chapter of the Bible in a trek of reading all the way through the scriptures. We then pray what I have taken to calling "3-2-1" prayer: we give thanks for 3 things, express 2 true things about God's character, and then ask 1 thing for someone else. At that point it is fair game, they can pray as they like. Then it is "lights out".

As the kids were (supposed to be) in bed, my daughter approaches me and asks (if it would be fitting and wise) if she can make an alteration to the program she has put herself upon. I came to learn she had only had one album to which to listen, and was growing a bit burnt out on it. Excitedly, delightedly, and wanting for her to have more breadth of music I quickly downloaded a worship compilation with which I was very familiar, it having been something to arise out of the time of my nascent spiritual walk. I stepped it up, however, and made her a playlist which, as any child of the 80's onward would tell you, is no small thing. Given that my daughter has taken an interest in the things of my past this gesture went even beyond just honoring her requests: it put the "english," the top-spin of connection to the cue ball of the gesture.

In my mind this little experience dovetails into what may be the central narrative and thrust of this post. My daughter came home the other day with a booklist, explaining that the student who read a certain percentage of the books listed received some form of recognition, and higher forms of recognition for higher percentages of books read. My daughter mentioned she had decided to change the book she elected to read first.

In that moment it was very important to me to listen (well, first to hear she was being openly communicative, and then to listen) to her disclosure, seeing she was sharing with me something of her heart. My desire was to safeguard that gesture, firstly by applying myself to listen, to engage her in the topic. I find my daughter not merely worth knowing, but worthy of getting to know.

And on the heels of (or maybe just right along with) this desire to safeguard her disclosure and to get to know her, was the desire to be a part of it with her, as well as taking an interest in her interests. In this case it amounted to knowing her decision process. As with the worship music (and this is where we see the dovetailing) and knowing her interests in things of my past, it is important to understand her interests as they themselves are developing.

Not only do I see in this the father-heart of God for us, but I see the depth (and gentleness) of that fatherly heart is as deep as is His capacity to feel for us.