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Friday, February 28, 2014

I have a feeling I make too much of feelings...

I have a feeling I make too much of feelings.

If I don’t feel close to God, I hastily conclude I must not be. How could you actually be close to God without feeling so?

If I don’t feel good about my message from the weekend I have a hard time believing it was anything but a waste of time for everyone who sat under the sound of my voice.

If I don’t feel in love with my wife—well then—we must have lost that lovin’ feeling. I remember youthful feelings and conclude that we’re on the slide toward the great divide. Bogus.

If I don’t feel happy on my day off then I’m prone to sulk at the first brush up against bad news. I rush to the conclusion that “I can’t get no satisfaction” no matter my successes.

If I don’t feel like my daughters are as responsive to my presence as they used to be it’s easy for me to retreat to mindless activities that make me feel better about myself…or at least nothing about myself. I certainly don’t want to feel bad about myself.

If I don’t feel that people are growing as a result of my ministry, then I must not be doing something right that makes people feel connected and I can retreat to a sad and ever saddening place of futility.

If I don’t feel like I have consistent friendships that provide mutual and natural encouragement I easily begin to feel like people don’t have time for such things anymore or that friendship is a myth.

If I don’t feel like anyone really cares about the real me and they’re only interested in what I can do for them, I begin to close off my heart to feel as deeply for the souls of people so they can’t hurt me.

If I don’t feel like I’m measuring up to my own unspoken and unwritten standards of excellence then I need to do something more, better, or different.

If I don’t feel enjoyment in the simple things of life I probably am losing the nerve endings of my spirit as the world steamrolls my innards with the gravity of it all.

If I don’t feel as moved today by people’s pain as I used to I must not care about human hurt anymore and should probably be looking for a different occupation.

If I don’t feel as many feelings as I once did I must be losing heart and sliding down the slippery slope of resignation.

Isn’t it funny how pathos can morph into something pathetic?

"Lord, guard me from being governed by my feelings. Help me to bring my emotions to you and submit them to your tender truths. I love my feelings. Thank you for making them so strong and stout. Now I ask you to guide them with the rudder of reality, reality as defined by You, God. I put my vacillating heart into Your fascinating hand. Hold it and help it along."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

We took Taylor to counseling...

So we took Taylor to counseling this week.

I know it might seem weird seeing how I’m a pastor and my wife graduated from college with a degree in ministry.  But I’ve learned something over the years: it never hurts to get more help.  No matter how much we love our kids, we need others to come along side them with us.   Teachers, coaches, mentors, pastors, counselors, friends, family…it takes a village to raise a child, so I’ve heard.

As we sat with our daughter and let another caring adult handle her delicate heart, it felt so peaceful.  She listened and spoke differently.  I wondered a couple things about the experience…

1. Did just the simple step of taking her to a counselor show her that we took her seriously?  It felt like it made her feel like we knew she wasn’t lying and that her feelings were important to us.  I’m just making that up, but I sensed that.

2. I wonder if hearing another adult identify with her difficulties, listening to her feelings, and affirming her in the midst of them made her feel like she wasn’t alone?  It felt like she softened once she knew that other people out there go through the same stuff and that everything is going to be ok.  We can say that everything is going to be ok, but she knows we’re biased, so it doesn’t hold the same meaning as someone else saying it.

It felt good to be a father and to give someone else the reins of my child’s heart.  To be by her side instead of in her face.  To quietly sit with her was a statement of solidarity.  We were on her side of the table.  We were listening with her and learning with her.  We were submitting to wisdom with her and assuming a place of “vulnerability” with her.  It wasn’t just her admitting she didn’t have it all together, we were, in effect, saying, “We as parents don’t know all the ins and outs of life and we need help, too.”  We were on her side facing the same direction as her.

I wonder if this is more than half of the healing pilgrimage for my daughter.  I wonder if positioning ourselves “with her” is what will give her the strength she needs to overcome her personal obstacles.  We all have impasses in life where we come to a certain gridlock in our spirit.  The power to move through those invisible barriers is often found in the knowledge that “we’re not annoying”, “we’re not odd”, and “we’re not alone”.  When someone will come and sit on our side of the table dwelling with us as we learn those simple truths, the truth we’re discovering begins to stick.  Solidarity is like glue.  It’s sticky.

Our hearts are so very fragile.  We can’t afford to think otherwise and our children certainly haven’t the time for us to let our pride get in the way of humbly asking for help.

I never want to stop sitting next to my daughter and learning how we can get better together.

Friday, February 21, 2014

"home"...Joshua's first word.


This was Joshua’s first word at the age of three.  We were on the plane returning home (for us)/leaving home (for him) in between the Detroit and Grand Rapids airports.
I’ll never forget that evening.

He was stir crazy and entirely done with seatbelts at this point in the 30+ hours air travel from Ethiopia, so we broke the rules and let him roam free in his seat.  He was looking out the windows, playing with the retractable tray, eating pretzels, learning to drink out of a straw, and looking through the seats gawking at our fellow travelers.  He wouldn’t sit still, and I didn’t blame him.
But as if taken by a spell, he sat still with his feet pointing straight as we made our decent into Grand Rapids.  He would occasionally prop himself up and look out the window at the lights below and make noises of curiosity.  I didn’t know what he understood, but I kept saying a word that would become the first I heard him utter.

“We’re home, buddy.  This is home.”

He would recline against the seat back and gaze forward in a daze of sorts.  His mumbles and mutterings muffled into silence and with piercing clarity he sighed out his first word…

“Hooomme.”  “Hoome.”  “Hooooooome.”

He said it with a settled serenity that we hadn’t seen since the day we picked him up from the orphanage.  I don’t know this for sure, but I think it’s the first concept he understood.

It’s like there is a homing signal in the heart.  A thing that isn’t taught.  A longing.

When we finally settled into our home on 121 Parnell Ave, the word remained the first and—for some time—the only word he caught on to as we would slow down and pull into our gravel driveway.

“Hoooomee.” he would say as we bended into the driveway.

“That’s right buddy, we’re home.  This is your home.”

Day after day we would stay there, eat there, play there, sleep there…then leave there…but in time return there. (I think this was the most staggering orientation of his spirit…to leave and return to the same place with the same people again and again and again and again.)  Home became felt.  Home became known. Home became constant. Home became real.

I think we all are looking for home.  Shalom.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Dad, can I sit on your lap?

“Dad, can I sit on your lap?”

I was on a daddy daughter date with Taylor and the movie had just started.  When she was younger, she always wanted to sit on my lap during movies, but I didn’t want to force anything.  These things change quickly, you know.  The theater was pretty much empty and we were sitting side by side getting settled in.  I folded up the armrest that separated us just in case she wanted to lean on my shoulder or even tuck herself under my arm.  I thought at least that initiative would communicate that I would take whatever affection she felt comfortable to offer.

It may seem odd that I’m thinking through affection with my youngest to this degree of nuance, but of all the girls, she’s the deepest and most abstract thinker of them all.  She can tell when I’m changing the conversation and can literally start answering my probing fatherly question before I complete it?  She can feel when I’m moving toward her for a hug.  She can smell any move I make before I make it.  When she holds my hand, it’s methodical.  When she snuggles at bedtime, it’s mechanical.  When she speaks her mind, it’s measured.  Put it this way, I don’t pull any fast ones on this girl.

As she’s gotten older and wiser, her personality has made it more difficult for me to stay affectionate with her and she with me.  She’s very tender, don’t get me wrong, but she thinks so hard and so much that I wonder if it makes every spontaneous occurrence almost predestined in her mind.  She knows things are going to happen before they do, almost like she’s gone to the future and come back to live it a second time. 

So she knows that when we go to dinner, I’m going to ask her questions.  She knows what the questions are going to be (at least most of the questions) and has answers (edited though they are) polished and pure, ready for delivery.  Sometimes I catch her off guard, but that’s just it…she’s on guard.  It makes natural conversation and natural interaction much less so when the guardedness is there.

So sitting in a theater pretty much by ourselves after dinner is somewhat predictable for her.  She loves that we’re alone (no survival of the fittest between her sisters to expend energy on) and that the night is about her (I keep saying things like, ‘If you want to’… ‘If that’s what you want’… ‘whatever you feel like’).  But she also has probably already lived the whole night out in her head and is on high alert for my next move and how she can “do what I want her to do” (did I mention she’s a pleaser on top of everything else).  This complicates matters all the more.  It’s hard to know what she wants cause she wants what will make the other party happy, whomever they may be.  She wants what I want.  In fact, she said no less than two times already on our date, “But is that what you want to do?”  You see how complicated even simple things are for her beautiful little mind?

So as we’re sitting in the theater, I am careful not to do anything that makes her feel like I want something, like she needs to do something to make me happy.  I don’t want her to hold my hand if she isn’t inclined to or to lean on my arm if she’s not in the mood.  I want her to relax into what she most naturally needs in the moment.  But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m watching out the corner of my eye wondering what she’s thinking and what she’s wanting.  It’s a cat and mouse game, really.

“Dad, can I sit on your lap?”

Those words reach my ears and send a signal down into the center of my soul like an electric current from a lightning bolt!  She wants to sit on my lap.  She wants to. 

I scoop her up into my arms and place her on my legs allowing her to shift and wiggle her body into a comfortable position, which she does for almost a minute before she finds the perfect contour that lets her reline back against my chest and see the movie without any imperfection.  (Did I mention she’s a perfectionist?)  So if something looks off, feels odd, or is slightly incongruent or out of place, it’s hard for her to relax and lose herself in the moment.  I could tell when she found the perfect position because her body went limp.  She was unconscious of her surroundings.  This is the perfect place for her little heart, a place she isn’t in very often.

It was a movie she had already seen (and I hadn’t), so every now and again she would lean back and say, “I love this part” or “I don’t like this part”.  After the scene would end, she would re-say the phrase of a particular character than she found intriguing.  It was beautiful.  I would also whisper into ear little lines from the movie that were unique, and she would smirk in agreement.

One time she grabbed my hand and put her fingers in between all my fingers forming a firm lock.  I’ve heard it described as “interdigitated” handholding.  This rarely happens with her for some reason.  She usually will hold my hand, but stiffly and stoically, like she’s holding a railing or a vacuum handle.  To be intertwined with her little hand was a gift that I received with great honor.  It was hard for me at times to concentrate on the movie because I was so immersed in these small movements within the story of Taylor and my life happening in real time.  I would move in and out of the movie, back and forth between its plot and my own, trying to make the most of every moment afforded me.

She was letting my rub my whiskers softly through her hair, combing it like a bristled brush.  I would kiss her forehead and her cheek without so much as a flinch.  She was open to my affection.  She was lost in the movie and the moment.  No pretention, no tension.  She was present.  No then or there, only here. 

Every 20 minutes she would shift her whole body around to find another position and I would fear that she’d snap out of the freedom and into a place of “trying” again, but she would seamlessly and thoughtlessly move into another trance which is called the “suspense of disbelief” in storytelling.  It is that place where you forget that you are doing something because you’re so enthralled and immersed in the thing itself.  Her body felt light and her limbs, limber.  Over and over again I wished to myself that I could freeze-frame time and stay there longer.  More than that even, I wished I could take this moment of child-like freedom and make her feel it all the time.  I know this to be a flight of fancy, but I couldn’t help but feeling the strength of that thought overtaking me.  I so much want her to be free.  She’s only ten and it seems her soul at times lives as if she’s carrying the weight of the world, the burdens of a 45 yr old widow.  I long to create moments where she can be young and juvenile even.  I want her to make mistakes because she’s not thinking about each and every consequence, paralyzed by “what if’s” and “if only’s”. 

If only but for a couple hours, we sat woven together like two peas in a pod, father and daughter, unfettered by the cares of this world. 

She sat on my lap last night.  And that’s saying a lot.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

You just don't get it, Dad."

"You just don't get it, Dad."

We were riding to school and I made a comment about something that to me is self-evident.  So obvious you'd have to be inhuman not to notice.  Dare I say ignorant to not agree with.  But I forgot just one thing...I'm a dad and my daughter is 14.  Translated: "I don't get it."

I've heard of other teens saying this to their parents.  I don't remember saying it to mine, but I remember thinking it.  I wondered if I would be able to avoid this phase as a parent.  I wondered if I could be that rare dad that relates at such a unique level in such a relevant way that I would sidestep the scourge of adolescent chastisement.  Nope.  "I don't get it."

(Kami just walked in and told me a story about school today.  After she explained something to me that frustrated her about the day, she said, "It's such a joke."  Yet another classic pubescent sentiment.)

It's weird to begin to feel "written off" as your daughters test their wobbly independence--to feel you could be "a joke" to them on certain days when you "just don't get it".

I never thought I'd be that dad, but alas, I am.


Dad the Dinosaur