Letters to my Children: You Talk too Much

Dear Adeline,adeline

From the time you were born, you have always had so much to say.  Each morning, before the first bite of syrup-soaked waffle brushes your lips, you have already burned through a small book of observations, comments, songs, questions, random thoughts and unusual mouth sounds.  Each night you spend your last moments, using any unspent words from the day to reject the advances of sleep.

The daylight between those two moments find your brother and I staring at each other in confused disbelief as your mind rotates from one line of thinking to another without missing a beat…. while your Mother just smiles at you like a woman who is on the inside of a secret.

Lately, you have been learning a lot about Jesus, His death on the cross and His resurrection.  You have been talking all about it:

“Daddy, did you know that Jesus died on the cross for our sins??”

 “Three days later he just rose again from the tomb!”

 “Jesus took all of our sin and POOF, they’re gone daddy!”

 “When Jesus died on the cross he broke our sins and we are free!”

 “Can you believe that Jesus died on the cross?”

 “No matter what we do, God still loves us.”

You’re voice is so animated; your eyes are wide and wild. You speak with a smile as you repeat this surprise over and over to anyone and everyone who will listen.  You talk about Jesus as though He is the greatest person who has ever lived, as though the cross and empty tomb was the greatest event in all of history.  When I hear you tell the story, I actually believe it is good news.

As people get older, they don’t talk about Jesus…. at least not like you talk about Him.  You speak so matter-of-fact about Him, you seem genuinely surprised at this unexpected gift, and you assume that others want to hear this amazing story.  But we grown-ups tend to talk about the cross in muted tones and in “appropriate” places.  We know that the answer is Jesus, we just aren’t as amazed as we used to be.

I don’t know why we don’t talk more about Jesus.  I suppose you talk about someone to the extent that you have let him in to your life and allowed him to reshape who you are.  I know for me, the moment my life intersected with your Mother’s, it has never been the same. Then we had, Evan, and a few years later you came along.  Then the surprise that is, Malina, happened and now I find myself forever changed. I don’t know a life that is outside of the one shaped by my family and I welcome any opportunity to talk about you guys to anyone who will listen.

Your brother and I might be tempted to say you talk too much right now. But in your impressive display of words are cradled the very depth and length and width and height of God’s love.  The reason you seem so surprised and amazed and filled with Joy is because the good news of, Jesus, is surprising and amazing and the source of lasting joy.

May you always see the wonder that is Jesus, and never stop talking about Him.

Love,

Your Dad.

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My Broken Home

I was a grown man when I learned my parent’s were getting a divorce. One would assume I had plenty of life experience from which to draw on in order to cope with the sudden changes….but age does not always predict how well you will “manage” the unforeseen events in your life.
This past summer I was at a writing seminar in Minnesota, and we were working on complete metaphors — where your writing appears to be all about one thing, when it is really about something else. I found myself alone one night, writing about my experience with my parent’s divorce. I was sitting at a desk, crying uncontrollably as I wrote out in a story so much of what I have tried to hold back. It was a cathartic and freeing experience as I continued the process of understanding, reconnecting, and moving forward.
Whether good or bad, I rarely share personal struggles that cannot be wrapped up in 300 words – which would explain why my fingers have hovered over the “post” button for 20 minutes. I only pray it will be helpful to someone else just as it was helpful to me.

“By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.” Apostle Paul

broken home

Our Chevy Malibu galloped up Interstate 65 through Indiana as the landscape rolled out into flat, open spaces. The hills faded away, leaving us with crops and fields and rows and barns. We were pressing toward the prize of this 14-hour trip – home, to Illinois, to my home. I was told my home was unfixable now – that years of neglect had left professionals with nothing to work with and it was time to find another home; I knew that to be impossible.

I had memorized every square inch of that house; I knew it’s story, it’s strengths and it’s weaknesses. I even knew the places that needed repair and reinforcements. This was not the sort of thing you paid much attention to as a child, but in retrospect you can see the signs of dysfunction just below the surface – a crack here, some mold there, left without attention anything is liable to decay and brokenness. But I could fix it, I just needed to walk around the old neighborhood, stand on the porch for a while, then I could see what needed to be fixed, explain what to do next, and save this house – save our house.

The next morning I slipped out of bed, meandered around my children asleep in piles of blankets on the floor, and drove off in my car alone.

I made my way toward Bel- Aire Subdivision – turning left on Kathy drive, right on Ardith, and then another left on to Anita. I decided to park down at the end of the street and double back to the house. I stepped out of the car and in to the cold, damp, heavy morning air. Before me an intrusive strip mall complete with nail salon and a dollar store, disfigured the field that played host to so many afternoon ball games. I walked the sidewalks, now broken by extreme temperatures, bleeding out weeds and dandelions. Houses looked small and lifeless; fences bowed; what once was the neighborhood you wanted to live in now became the neighborhood you drove through, to get to the neighborhood you wanted to live in.

Lost in the memories of a former life, picturing friends, remembering adventures, recalling neighbors long since departed, I stumbled upon 136 Anita Drive. I stopped frozen to the pavement, afraid to move any closer. This used to be the home I knew, but what stood before me was only a house – sagging and strained under the pressures of life. The grass and weeds conspired to take it over. The shutters hung loose and the roof had long since peeled its protective skin. The thoughts and questions in my head mixed with the cry of my heart and spilled out of my mouth. “With a little work this could’ve been saved” I informed God. “Why did no one fight for this house – it was worth fighting for!” Tears patiently repelled down the grooves of my face and on to my t-shirt. I knelt down to feel the grass one last time. I climbed the steps to the front porch and sat for a moment, fearing I was the last one to say goodbye, to walk away and to move on.

The cool wind picked up again, nudging me from my grief, and reminding me that my children would be awake soon. So I stepped down from the porch, followed the path of the sidewalk onto the driveway, where another sidewalk was waiting to show me the way back to my car, the way to move forward.

Arriving at the room, I kissed my children on the forehead and pulled the blankets back up over their tiny bodies. I slipped back under the covers, slid over to my wife’s side, wrapped my cold arm around her warm body, and held her close. She stirred briefly; I kissed her gently on the temple and whispered, “it’s worth fighting for” then slowly drifted off to sleep.

Letters to my Children: It should come with a warning….

Evan, Adeline, and Malina,100_5419

It happened again the other day. I was at home after a full day of work. We were in the basement playing and you (Evan) started calling my name. I had no idea that you had called my name several times earlier and finally gave up. But you really wanted me to play so you tried again. I wish I could say I heard you the first time, or the second, or the third. It wasn’t until you yelled my name that I looked up from my phone.

I was in the room but nowhere near any of you.  I was around but not fully present. In that moment I surrendered and allowed myself to be controlled by a device I carry in my back pocket.

Your face was a mixture of frustration and confusion, wondering what I was reading that was more important than the Lego Ninjago you were trying to assemble and needed help with.  It wasn’t until I saw your face that I wondered the same thing.

The technology I have in my life right now is amazing. The technology you will have when you are my age is hard to imagine. I am saying all of this to you three because I believe that for your generation, one of the greatest challenges to following Jesus, living in community with others and engaging the world will be to be fully present  — to God, to one another, and to others you will encounter in your life.

The more technology develops the more it seems to implant itself in the fabric of daily life. This is not a bad thing, but it should come with a warning….be present, engage people fully, quiet yourself before God. Nothing will be more important than being completely in the moment, lost in a conversation or an experience or great beauty….without distraction.

When it comes to responding to you or responding to the flashing green light on my hand-held device….may you never have to wonder who will win.

Love,

Your Dad.

Fish Funerals and Talking Death to Children….

The Cosby Show Fish Funeral

My children’s fish, Shimmer, died the other day after spending approximately 13 days with our family….it was a rich, full life.

None of them seemed too upset by the whole thing. They were more intrigued with the manner in which we were going to dispose of him.  I can still see their three little heads peering over the edge of the toilet bowl, faces reflecting in the tranquil waters, waiting for me to empty the cup that held their new friend.

I asked the three of them if there were any final words they wanted to say about their fish….they said no. I asked if any of them would like to say a prayer….again they said no. Finally, one of the three spoke up and said….”just drop him in the toilet”.

So I did….shimmer circled rapidly and then disappeared.  Our three children marched out of the bathroom and picked up with the batman adventure this “funeral” had interrupted.

It’s hard for a parent to know how much to say about death to their children.  One big reason is that the term “death” in their world  does not (for our children) come burdened with the feelings of loss, hurt, pain, and sadness….not yet.  I know some day this must be a part of their life experience, as it is for all people of all ages.  But right now they seem as innocent as the garden before humanity’s awful choice gave us such words as “death”.

Ever since the “funeral” they have been asking more questions about getting older, and about death.  My wife and I are trying our best to speak clearly and honestly about the subject.  That is until the other night, when our six-year-old was lying in his bed and I was saying good night.  He was asking me why I have “white hairs” starting to appear on my head. I told him it was because I was getting older. You could almost see the connections taking place in his brain. His voice then got quiet, and weak, and he asked me, “when are you going to die?”

“oh….not for a long, long, long, time.”

My eyes started to well with tears.  It was true….well mostly….kind of…..In that moment I felt so small, having so much less control over life than I pretended to have.  My answer reflected my hope and prayer, but not necessarily the reality. I realized I am prepared to face the reality of death at any moment and in every aspect of my life, except when it comes to my children.

So I kissed his forehead, and gave him a big hug. He laughed about the stubble on my face scratching his cheek.  We said goodnight, and I left the room. Walking down the hall, I repeated the lyrics to an old song I had heard many times in the bible:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90: 12

That’s where I’m at….this is not a fixed post with a typical opening, stating of problem, and solution to problem. This is just the confession of a young parent, who realized something about my life from watching a Beta fish disappear into our toilet.

Letter to My Daughter: We’re more than Friends

Dear Malina,

There is a tricycle that you love to ride even though you can’t touch the pedals. The only way for you to ride with your brother and sister, is for me to stand on the back of the tricycle, lean over you to hold the handle bars, and push with one foot like a skateboard….You love it.

But recently, while we were out cruising the streets around our house, you kept pushing my hands away from the handle bars.  You wanted to steer, and if you were going to steer, then I had to let go. But you weren’t ready for me to let go. I had already caught you several times to keep you from falling.  You could barely sit in the seat and reach the handle bars, let alone steer.  But you insisted, and when I wouldn’t let go, you threw a pretty impressive fit in the middle of the road.

While you were stomping your feet, my developing “parental brain” was running the calculations — evaluating the risk of letting you go your own way compared to the expected outcome, measured against the “show” you were putting on for people driving by our little “display”.  In the end, I decided to steer….and you decided to fall down from the bike and flop like a fish….You didn’t like me very much in that moment.

This is something I’m learning about parents.  Sometimes, parents think that getting their children to “like” them is the sign of a good parent. So instead of doing what they know is best for their children, they give them control, let them steer their lives before they are ready.

But Malina, Your Mommy and I love you too much to simply give you what you want, or to be just one of your friends.  The responsibility that God has given us, is not simply to make you a friend, but to train you up, and guide you, and correct you. We’ve been told to help you grow and prepare, to challenge you, protect you, and celebrate all that you are becoming.

Eventually you got back on the tricycle, we made our way back home and you liked me again.

Eventually, I know I will have to let you steer, and fall down…on tricycles and in life. With God’s help, your Mommy and I will do all that we can to prepare you to live a life loving God, other people, and the world around you. And as your friends, we will walk with you every step of the way, for as long as we can.

Love,

Your Dad.

Next Friday my “Letters to My Children” series will move to its own site. I hope you will make plans to check it out, invite others and follow along.

Breakfast for my 3 children….Bill Cosby Style

So last night it was just me and my three children. This morning, they awoke from their peaceful slumber seeking something to eat.

Now I’m not able to say exactly what they had for breakfast this morning, because my wife reads these blog posts. But I think my time with our children this morning would best be illustrated by the brilliant comedy of Mr. Bill Cosby….

Everything is fine honey….

Letter to my Children: But that was the Style!

Dear Evan, Adeline, and Malina,

A few years from now, while you are doing your Saturday chores (hint hint) you will stumble upon some pictures of your Mom and I.  You’ll stare at those pictures as if you were holding an ancient artifact. Oh you’ll have a great time laughing at the way we dressed, wondering if we were just as embarrassed to be seen in those clothes then as you would be now.

What you don’t realize is at the time those photographs were taken, the clothes we were wearing were actually the clothes that everyone was wearing.  What you now see as ridiculous was considered, “in style”.  As teenagers, we beg, borrow, and steal to be “in”, only to find out (just a few years later) that we are now “out” only to realize a few years after that (somehow) we are back “in” again. That’s the thing about popular fashion, it’s a constantly moving target designed to keep you ready to spend your parent’s money so you can look like everyone else.

So have a great laugh at our expense, but never forget this children….that one day….

One day someone will look at you in a picture, and see you in those clothes that you just had to have, and they will laugh and laugh. You see time is the great equalizer, and given enough time, you too will find yourself trying to defend your fashion choices to a group of teenagers who look at you like you were wearing a clown suit.  You will try to explain to them that you were actually “in” and “cool”…. but it won’t work.

I look forward to that day, children, when a younger generation looks at your skinny jeans and neck scarves and Toms shoes and says to you the immortal words of every passing generation, “what were you thinking?”

Enjoy those pictures.

Love,

Your Dad.

This post is part of a continuing series entitled, “Letters to my Children.” You can learn more by clicking here.