Thursday, December 22, 2016

Gingerbread Men

Monday my daughter asked if she could bake gingerbread men. You'll see one in the picture above, on the left. (On the right is a lemon icebox cookie, the dough for which was made on a previous day and stored in the freezer until such a time as we wanted to make cookies.)

Before even the sound of the words had died upon my ear the project became one for which I was entirely committed. It was my project, at merely even her request for permission to do so. We had most of the ingredients on hand anyways, but I knew we would need a few things no doubt. I went to the cupboard and the spice rack, digging out ever spice we had for which I suspected the recipe called, even before my daughter brought me the ingredients list. I was almost on my way out the door to the store to get the remaining ingredients as soon as she rambled off the ingredients which we would need.

In my ever increasing desire to provide healthier, near-vegan-like food I made sure the recipe was for something that used almond flour and low glycemic coconut sugar.   My daughter actually wanted and desired to make cookies which would be that healthy, by her own admission when she presented the idea. To aid her desires for something for the family I obviously leapt at the opportunity, and suggested ideas for healthy features which she had not considered, like sugar-free gum drop buttons.

My daughter called the shot on this one, and she led the charge. I followed suit because I loved her, and because it was in my desires to bring health to the family in what we ate. The thing about it is this, however: as much as I have wanted to provide and have provided for her skills in volleyball, so to in her baking have I wanted to provide the resources necessary to make it happen, but her interests in baking were led out in by her. In the past I saw her equipped for the pursuits in which I allowed her, and now in a pursuit of her choosing I see her resourced. So much so is this the case that in my desires to her provided for I made alterations in the stock items on my shopping list. End of the day and most importantly, what she wanted to do, I wanted to be a part of, and to resource it -- perhaps all the more so because it was oriented around consideration for the family, inline with good (i.e. health) desires.

Undeniably this is a picture to me of the father-heart of God for all of us.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One Family Date

Last Saturday evening we went on a family date night to go see Star Wars Rogue One. Quite Simply put, it was the best Star Wars movie of all time -- and I think one of the top 5 most important films in all my lifetime. That's all really neither here nor there. What was important is that we went to see it as a family, and that we all wanted to see it. For my children it was an absolute surprise, a treat to get to see and to see it within an eatery movie house.

Before I get into that I want to build the day just a little. Earlier we had done the Blue Santa initiative, which delivers toys to needy children. When we arrived to pick up our first (and what turned out to be our only) delivery, there were already 150 cars in line waiting to pick up deliveries. Some 50+ more cars showed up at least by the time we finally got to the front of the line. It was my wife's initiative, and my driving of the commitment afterwards which got us to the police substation that day. We delivered to a precious family who spoke no English, or where English was a second language for the children. There was no intended lesson for our children. It was something we wanted to do, and were happy that they were allowed to be a part of it, but it was something we the parents did. Personally I have seen the heart I wanted to be acting in exhibited countless times by my children, and would deign to even think I was teaching them any lesson at all, but hopefully keeping pace with them.

My children play the X-Box video game "Star Wars Battlefront," and a year ago we went with our adoptive family (the family who adopted the kids as there surrogate grandkids, and surrogate nieces and nephews and cousins) to go see "Star Wars The Force Awakens." Just as with Disney's "Finding Dory"  it was something I wanted all of us to be able to do, all of us to et to experience together. It was something for which I wanted us together, bottom line.

It was something I knew the children were excited to see, and wanted. It was also something that was an extravagant blessing they had not anticipated, especially getting see it in their beloved eatery movie house (Flix Brewhouse). My son wanted popcorn and a soda, my daughter a soda, and yet when there I wanted nothing more than for them to have what they wanted and for us to even share a meal together (beyond just the soda and popcorn, and albeit 4 separate dishes). It was all above and beyond every hope and desire, and I wanted it all for them, and wanted it should be an above and beyond type of blessing we all shared in together.

The emphasis which I can not stress enough is that I wanted this ampleness for the whole family to experience, not just as a matter of blessing my individual children I loved. I wanted such a blessing to be had by them as part of something more.

It should readily go without saying that this is clearly the father heart of God for us all, wanting an extravagant blessing we each receive (beyond our personal desires) as part of a greater body itself being extravagantly blessed. "

who doesn't love a forced-upon-first-waking grumpy kid picture?

Thursday, December 15, 2016


It is a hard day on which to blog, subject matter-wise. It has been a surprisingly short week, with today being the last day of school for the Fall Semester at the kids' school. It seems this week has been one of "daily grind" and lots of preparatory sort of activity. In it all the daily rhythm of life coheres, amidst which there have been various and several small moments of considering my children, my thoughts going before them; my thoughts being for them.

Last Sunday after church a friend of mine offered to the children to watch them overnight, playing ping pong and dipping candles. The context of that is that this friend, who owns something like a retreat center geared towards the ministry of reconciliation among the varying streams of Christendom (Messianic, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant (High and Low)), has hosted a yearly Christmas tradition which involves candle-making and a visit from the "real Saint Nicholas". In years passed I have played the Saint Nicholas part, blessing the children with bags of chocolate gold coins and a spoken blessing / sign of the cross over them. This year we missed the day of the tradition.

Monday evening, after getting mom off to work, we ran an errand over to a friends house to drop off a gift of some of mom's art, and then came home to have dinner around a beloved television show.

Tuesday I followed up the invitation email our friend had sent us later that Sunday afternoon, following up with my own email response and scheduling as best I could my side of things. It is something I know my daughter would enjoy, and my son would flip for. Responding to the email was, however, more a matter of doing something for my kids which I know they would like.

Likewise, later that Tuesday, I went shopping at the local market, again with my children's interest and desires in mind, but with my "deeper" desires for their health determining my selections. When they got home from school I set them to their chores but when asked afterwards if we could watch a particularly beloved show together I agreed easily. I made a dinner I knew they would enjoy.

Again, when my daughter frivolously asked if we could have breakfast for dinner last night I agreed, delighting my daughter.

And since today is the class party, and the children are allowed to wear pajamas to school, I hatched the plan that my daughter could wear her Chewbacca halloween costume as her pajamas -- technically the costume somewhat is double-billed as pajamas anyways, and it was all "kosher". When I informed her this morning of the option she giggled in delight, and enthusiastically put it on. A little context, the costume is hot and it is just now getting cold enough to wear comfortably anyways.

Meanwhile, at the same time, in various little conversations here and there I have helped my daughter to more rationally consider her desires (to go immediately to buy a Christmas treat for the dog rather than to wait for the day when Christmas shopping together was planned), answered various "why" questions (with an intentionality exceeding that of the question itself), as well as took time to explain things which opened me up as a person up a bit more to her.

Honestly, there is a heart here for my children, and I feel it is very much reflective of the father-heart of God for us all. I think maybe it is most trenchantly seen in me going before my children and emailing my friend to schedule the promised visit. It is a desire to serve, to go before, and especially to ensure something for my daughter. Very, very clearly we see this desire and work in going before to ensure something for beloved children as reflective of the father-heart of God for us all. And while the example here is small, the incarnational effort made in the coming of Christ in the form of a babe into the world is very much the exact picture indeed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christmas Tree, O' Christmas Tree

As promised to my children (and explained in an earlier post), Saturday morning (and most of the afternoon) were spent making cookies and playing with some friends -- a couple with daughters slightly younger than Caleb, and just watchable age for my daughter. As it turns out the making of cookies is something which marks the season for our mom-friend, who is also someone my daughter connects with well and with whom has a great relationship. The mom and Kiaya both enjoy baking and so this was a nice treat. And while this all has several layers of goodness to it, what I wanted for our Saturday was to come afterwards, when I took the kids, together with mom, to get the family Christmas tree.

In years past we have made do with a synthetic tree, but this year we decided to get a real tree. Much as with school shopping marks a certain time of year for us, so decorating the tree also marks another time of year. Unlike with school shopping, which is itself a rite of passage as well as tradition, getting and decorating a tree has as its emphasis tradition. Tradition and ritual; an ownership through the incorporation and folding into the tradition. Christmas is not just "for the kids," but "with" them.

The tree itself is decorated according to our individual manner(s), and adorned with ornaments all of which have story to them, intimating at both the narrative-thread of their own significance and (intimating at) the grander meta-narrative of the family. As a result the tree, itself a Christian symbol in our household --a symbol appropriated back from our culture, and a long tradition that began with appropriating the pagan symbol in worship with a tree -- stands as an artwork suggestive of (and a symbol suggestive of) the narratives of our lives as part of a grander meta-narrative of the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is a tradition I want for my family, a tradition of narrative remembrance and reflection, of coming together equally a part of the tradition.

And this may just be me but I can not (could not) get away from the thoughts of my daughter one day performing this ritual all on her own with her family, and thusly doing this had an overtone (or undertone) to it of both a modeling for her and a looking forward. 

Now, personally speaking, I could go without a tree per se, replacing it with a similar ritual or tradition, and be just fine because I care less for the form as much as for the heart within keeping the tradition. Having said that I enjoy the way a christmas tree "roots" us into a longer, grander cultural tradition within Christendom. I especially like that aspect.

At any rate it was important for me to take the kids with me to get the tree -- which I could easily (and maybe more conveniently) have gotten on my own, especially since my wife had less desire to go than to decorate. It was important if for no better reason than getting it together is the opening part of that ritual and tradition, as well as important for how it gives them "buy in".

There is a focus that they are a part of the affair just as much as I am (and mom is); just as equally a part of this tradition and ritual, and that it is theirs and ours. For my daughter especially, whose love-languages (the unique manner(s) in which she gives and receives love) are quality time and acts of service, she felt served and that time was spent in a manner she desired. For my son, whose love language is gift-giving, he likewise felt blessed.

I feel this heart for wanting to have tradition that is theirs, a tradition in which they participate in as their own -- and all that comes from that, especially the identity and identifying -- is very much at the heart of the father-heart of God. I feel the father-heart desires it's children to feel ownership in (and equality as a part of) the tradition. 

The artist in me wants to say, as an aside, something, but if you have patiently read this far you should be allowed to stop. I am good with that. You may stop reading now, the rest I say just to say, and not as part of anything else. For the reader wanting more mental rumination cud, however, and chooses to read on, here you go:

The family christmas tree is a worshipful remembrance. Arguably (easily enough for myself) the family christmas tree, which goes from a "bare" tree and is "birthed into a decorated tree, undergoing the process of transformation, is itself reflective of the incarnational process of Christ, who underwent leaving the Kingdom of Heaven to birthed first into a man, and then into a savior. Hung upon this tree are moments and narratives (all in the form of ornaments) of those good things for which we celebrate, and by which we know ourselves, thus, unspokenly, the tree subtly reminds us of the rejoicing in the Kingdom of Heaven and is worshipful in that regard as well. A tree upon whose branches hangs narrative crowns and the jewels of remembrance and thanksgiving.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Nutcracker Suite

If you have been following my posts at all recently you know the saga of my daughter going to the Nutcracker Suite ballet, by Tchaikovsky. Well, yesterday was the performance, and she came home ecstatic, already hoping to see more ballets. As she put it, "It was more than great, with all the colors, and motion, and pageantry..."

 When I received the email from the teacher which informed us of the upcoming event and the requests for type of clothing, and thus learned I had been mistaken in thinking we had missed the event, I was ecstatic and anticipatory. Immediately I set about laundering an outfit for her, making sure it was ready by the time she was to get dressed. I wanted the preparations to be in place, ensuring (just as I had done with last week's doctor visit) that nothing would come in the way of her opportunity. I did so this time not with concern for the potentially missed opportunity but with excitement and joy in the certainty of it.

Such excitement and joy (and peace and trust ) in the certainty of something unseen but promised is the very notion of Hope itself, as conveyed in the Christian scriptures. I was not drumming up the wishful and rightly positive attitude (as hope is so often considered to be), I was joyously expectant right along with my daughter, and joyous for my daughter and her opportunity. I fantasized about what this would mean, in terms of her being artistically/creatively inspired and wanting to go together throughout the years to more ballets, and how much richness would be had from enjoying ballet and other "high art" together.

I think this is the very picture of the father-heart of God for us all, and is the picture communicated in the words and life of Jesus Christ (as set forth in the Christian canonical texts), of whom it is said (he) IS "the very representation of God," and who did, "for the JOY set before him endured the agony of the cross so that none should perish but that all may come to ever lasting life."

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Nutcracker Update

Well, just as I finished writing the last post, which was one of two or three in which I was under the wrong impression of the date of the class trip to see the Nutcracker, I received an email about what the children should wear tomorrow to the event.

I am literally vibrating with excitement that I was incorrect, and that my daughter will get to go with her class. I still plan to make it a family affair as well and go as a family some other time.

What I want to add in this, however, is that while I was incorrect in my understanding of the date, the fatherly heart I had for my daughter is not in question (even though my understanding of information is), and thus the understandings / pictures of the fatherly-heart of God in each of those posts are not in question either. I was not giving a prophetic utterance / voice that this was God's heart in this specific situation at this specific time. I was saying I could see the fatherly-heart of God mirrored in my own -- despite it's mistaken understanding.

To me this is important, not in defense of what I have written, but because it shows something else about God: He so desires to be known and to know us that He doesn't make the mirroring of His heart for us dependent upon ourselves and our being perfect, or our being perfectly accurate. It is simpler, but more far reaching. The parables of Jesus Christ, as with the parable of the Prodigal Son, do not require the parable to match a specific situation in reality, but to accurately match reality itself. There are fathers who yearn to see the return of their sons beyond a focus on their sons' sins; there are jealous brothers and beguiling basis for returns; misunderstanding all around.

Baking Cookies

Every year the church I attend has a tradition: it is a night of Carols and Lessons (based on the King's College format), including children's performances and a cookie buffet afterwards. Before the cookies, but after the performances we are lead in a raucously fun rendition of the "12 Days of Christmas," wherein at each month those in the congregation with a birthday in that month stand up and sing. My sense of the Christmas holidays do not begin until this event. Normally, everyone brings hand-baked cookies and we retire to cookie-feasting and warm communing. It is a moment where all stress and thought of any other day is released, for me at least and seemingly for all, and we just enjoy one another, and enjoy goodness with no defenses up.

As per this tradition we would normally spend the Saturday before the event attending the rehearsal and then baking cookies from scratch. This Saturday, which would have been the day after my daughter's first experience of the Nutcracker had she not been home sick, would also have been the Saturday before the Lessons and Carols event. So, it was forgone that we would not be attending the event, nor baking cookies.

What I did end up doing was running to the grocery store several times throughout the day, for various little things requested by my hacking, coughing daughter. Sadly a dear friend called and invited us over to bake cookies even, and we had to decline, even as I was buying store-bought cookies for Mom who would be attending the event without any of the rest of us -- she was on her way to work that evening, and so, it made sense she would go, and go alone.

Meanwhile, like I said, I was actively trying to care-take my daughter in any and all those little things, being present in a moment when really it was all just riding out the situation. It was being sensitive to the momentary needs and situation in which she found herself healing. Being present; being there, just as she was removed from what everyone else was getting to enjoy.

I think this is undeniably a picture of the father-heart of God for us all, and for each of us in those moments when we feel "outside" of everyone else as we suffer, or as we wait upon the Lord.

Having said all this, I have to add: nor was I going to allow a momentary disruption like this sickness to get in the way of the interaction I knew would bless my daughter. There is another opportunity for her to visit with this friend and to bake cookies next weekend, and I have committed in my mind to ensuring that opportunity. And just as my daughter was excited and anxious to return to the schooling she enjoyed, so I longed along with her for that return.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Seeing the Doctor

Starting around Thanksgiving my daughter came down with a cough, a cough which by the recommencement of school had turned into a little viral head cold, complete with intermittent fever. As a nervous first time parent we used to take our newborn daughter in to see the doctor at every sniffle. As "old hat" parents of two elementary age children we have come to have a better gage of those moments when a trip to the doctor is called for, and when it is not. Head colds, small viral infections, are simply not those things (in our household) necessitating as frantic trip in to the doctor as they once had been.

The problem with this cold however was that the mild fever was keeping her out of school, where school has a rule that she had to be fever free for a full 24 hours before returning, and this week happened to be the week wherein her class was going to the college's performance center to see the ballet company's annual "Nutcracker" performance -- the famous Tchaikovsky piece. Along with it being a field trip, which is just plain fun, and this performance being something I have gone to see at least four times in my own life, it was opportunity for my daughter to get exposure to what is very well considered high art -- something very highly regarded among all in my household.

With the mild and intermittent fever not breaking in a timely enough manner (i.e. with the fever returning within a 24 hour period) for her return to school and ensure her making the performance I decided to take her to the doctor. My mind was set on ensuring that, if there were some treatment she needed, antibiotics or otherwise, which would arrest the recurrences of fever, all for the sake of the enrichment and blessing I intended, that she would get that treatment. Schools are not like they were in my day, and field trips like this are rarer, and thus the shared experiences of my youth are rarer today.

We went to the doctor, and surely enough, being a mild head cold with no other symptoms other than a cough and mild, intermittent fever, there was not to do but ride it out, yet the prognosis was a positive one that she would likely return to school in time for the trip. Suffice it all to say, however, the intentional and committed effort to obtain whatever healing was necessary to ensure whatever blessing I had intended is very much the picture of the father-heart of God for us all.

Sadly, in this case, the day my daughter returned to school was the day before the field trip to the ballet, and midway through the school day the fever resurged with a vehemence, and thus she was forced to stay home the day of the ballet. No sooner had I received the call from the school nurse that she was feverish had I resolved that, somehow, we would as a family go to the ballet. There is a picture in that as well of the father-heart of God, but such is a different story, perhaps for another time.