Category Archives: Personal

To Aidan, Who Is Three Years Old

Hey, kid–

I started this right after your birthday, but it took me more than a month to get it finished.  Sorry for the delay.  Life is busy with the three of you right now.  Plus, I never felt that this quite captured everything I want to say to you.  But it’s close, and sometimes close is the best we can do.  Whatever I say in here about what you mean to me, quadruple that and you’ll be starting to get the idea.

Dad

——-

Dear Aidan,

We are back home in Laredo after a busy Spring Break trip to celebrate your third birthday.  We went up to Cleburne for a few days, where Uncle Kasey hosted your party, which was cowboy-themed.  You decided some weeks ago that you wanted a cowboy hat cake, a choice influenced partially by Woody from Toy Story, but largely by the cowboy-themed episodes of Dora the Explorer, which is still your favorite TV show.  So we made you a cowboy hat cake, and bought you a black hat of your own, and Uncle Kasey provided a big cowboy boot piñata filled with candy.  You might also see some pictures of a badly formed cowboy boot cake, which was a spontaneous creation built from the leftover pieces when we cut the hat shape out of the main cake.  It looks less like a boot than an out-of-fashion stocking, or some kind of orthopedic device, and we never brought it out of the kitchen.  It was worth a shot, but things don’t always work out.

The things you liked most about the party were your new hat, which you absolutely refused to take off, and the rock climbing wall on the playset in Kasey’s backyard.  You had never tried scaling it before, and after making it up a few times with some help, you mastered your technique and climbed it over and over, probably a dozen times all together.  It was the big accomplishment of your day, and really an impressive demonstration of skill and balance from a kid who just turned three. As far as presents go, you were appreciative of everything, but seemed most delighted with the Toy Story car Uncle Kasey and Tia Maria gave you, the toy drill from me and your mom, and the new Chuggington story for your V Reader from Grammy and Granddaddy.  (I hope you remember the V Reader when you are grown–it’s been your bedtime companion every night for a long, long time now.  Like Aletheia, you call it your Kindle, because you read stories on it, like I do with my Kindle.)

Rock Climbing on his Third Birthday
It is difficult on your birthday to avoid thinking about your rough start, your two weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, and the weekly physical therapy sessions after your release to overcome your hypotonia.  No one who sees you today–the feisty, fearless, and remarkably nimble Climber of Barriers and Jumper from Furniture Although It Has Been Forbidden–no one would ever guess how fragile you were at the start.  I wish I had known back then, looking at you through the transparent shield of the oxygen tent, your pale skin illuminated by the red blinking lights of the sensors and alarms all around you, that just three years later my biggest worry for you would be that we will have to rush you to the emergency room to heal a broken bone if your play becomes a little too vigorous.

I know that someday you won’t be able to remember these years–strange thought that our three years together will be, at most, a vague impression in your adult mind!–so I want to record a few things about the three-year-old Aidan that the grown up version might like to know.   First, the simple things: in addition to being a very athletic child, you are a very quick learner.  Already you know all your colors, shapes, letters and letter sounds.  You can count to ten well and to twenty with a mistake or two along the way.  I’m pretty sure you have some sight words as well.  For the past several months, you have occasionally insisted on reading your own bedtime stories.  You are and always have been a healthy eater, and even though you have a horrible sweet tooth, you usually ask for nutritious snacks–especially apples.  You have eaten hundreds and hundreds of apples. Your favorite food is probably macaroni and hot dogs, although you also have shown great fondness for pizza, hamburgers, and spaghetti.  At the moment, your favorite movie is Puss N Boots, which you have easily watched twenty times in the last two weeks.  Your favorite books are the collections of Dora stories you inherited from your big sister. It’s hard to say what your favorite toy is, outside of the V Reader.  You love to play “restaurant” with Aletheia, using her kitchen and food toys as you take our food orders, ask for money, and then bring us what we asked for.  You like the little blue scooter you have, also a hand-me-down, and you like to color.  You are also very fond of the toy dinosaurs you have.  In fact, you just knocked on your bedroom door (it’s nighttime as I write this) to ask me to bring you your “T. Rex and ‘Ceratops.” I couldn’t find them, but you took the bad news pretty well.

Now, for the harder things to describe.

You are a natural optimist and encourager.  When someone else starts to get frustrated with a task, you chime in quickly and say “You can do it!” You especially do that for Aletheia–we must have heard “You can do it, sister!” dozens and dozens of times by now.  And you are very quick to smile and laugh.  Last night your mommy was reading you a story with a sad scene in it, and she asked you to make a sad face.  “I can’t do it, Mommy!” you said.  “I’m Aidan! I’m always happy!”  I find it fascinating that perpetual happiness is already a part of your self-image, and you’re pretty much right.  Aidan is always happy.

Maybe because of Aletheia’s interest in space, you are interested, too.  You often point to the wallpaper on my computer, the galaxy background that is the default setting for the current Macintoshes, and say “That’s the Milky Way!”  And there’s a bit of imaginative play that you and I and Aletheia do where we pretend to be going into space.  As it has developed, we start by choosing the colors of our space suits, and you will often come to me and say “Daddy! I’m going into space.  I have a yellow space suit.”  And then you’ll choose the colors for everyone else in the family, even Tessa.

Speaking of Tessa, you are very sweet to her, but I do wish you’d be a little more careful!  That baby has shed a lot of tears because you didn’t notice that she was in the way–but you are usually quick to try to make it up to her.  And I am glad that you never seemed to resent having a younger kid in the house, the way some children do, but have always been very welcoming to her.  You are unusually confident of your own place in the universe, though.  I don’t think something like an extra baby or two would ever throw you off kilter.  And maybe one advantage of being the only boy is a sense that your place in the family is unrivalled. 

I always wanted a sister and never got one, so I’m interested in seeing how you respond to being surrounded by girls in your family.  I always tell people that I think you’re lucky: you have a big sister to give you advice about girls, and a younger sister whose friends you can date.  At the very least, girls won’t be the weird, mysterious creatures that they always seemed like to me.  At worse, they’ll be weird and familiar, which should be of some benefit to you.

But beyond all that, I think what I wanted to say most–the thing I wanted to get down in words before these early childhood years become relegated to faulty, flickering memory–is how much I treasure the boisterous, intensely bonded relationship we have right now.  I wasn’t expecting that.  We especially enjoy rough play–tickle fights and pretend boxing and me swinging you upside down or throwing you through the air onto your bed.  It’s a different kind of play than I did with Aletheia at the same age, and is rewarding in a different kind of way.  You’ve brought a lot of energy into the family, which more than makes up for things like coating your bedroom door in black crayon last week.  Cleaning up some crayon graffiti is a small price to pay for the chance to share a home with a high-energy, endlessly optimistic, bold and daring encouragement machine. 

Your third year of life was a blast, kiddo.  Here’s looking forward to the rest of year four.

I love you.

Dad

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To Aletheia, Who is Five Years Old Today

This was the year that you fell headlong into princess culture, which is not something that I had encouraged.  I wanted to be sure that you had room to discover your own interests, and not just have the default expectations handed to you by your parents.  I’ve never called you “my little princess,” just Aletheia, Allie, or A.J.—sometimes Monkey Lips or (and I swear this is meant with all the affection in the world) Nerdface McGillicuddy.  At three you were a pick-up truck and dinosaur girl—in some ways you still are.  But the other little girls in your preschool class, Anna and Kennedi, are precious pink princesses, so now you are too.  It’s been interesting watching you start to feel your way into the world of school, and negotiate the pressure to fit in while still trying to hold on to a sense of your own individuality.  That conflict starts early, and it’s only going to get trickier from here, at least for the next thirteen years or so.  I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to you starting Kindergarten this fall.  I don’t think I’m ready to hand you over to someone else’s care five days a week.  But you are growing up and learning to face new situations bravely, and so must I.  All I can say is that I’ll be around every night to hear how things went, and if a tricky situation comes up, we’ll craft a strategy together.  I remember those years better than you might think.

Actually, now that I think about it, just running headlong with the princess stuff for a while might be a good strategy in itself.  A lot of people around here aren’t sure what to do with dinosaur girls, but princess girls are a known quantity.  It doesn’t hurt to fit in on the surface, to know what the other kids are talking about.  Your princess T-shirts and Rapunzel lunchbox might be an excellent kind of social armor.  Maybe you won’t need it very often, but it’s good to be prepared.

I wish I knew what school you were going to be at so we could both start to get acclimated to the idea.  But Mommy and I are hoping that we will move soon—just as soon as a better job comes through for one of us.  I’m tired of being a minister, and I’m looking for something new to do.  I’ve been teaching college part-time, and I might be able to do that full-time somewhere.  Or maybe get one of those jobs where you sit at a desk and write reports for a big company.  I discovered that it was difficult for me to be a minister and really be myself, and it gets very tiring always trying to be what other people think you ought to be.  Even if who you are is 85% of what they want you to be, trying to adjust that other 15% all the time is a steady drain on a person’s energy.  Much better to find a place where you can be you.  This, I think, is happiness: someone asks you a question and you say what you honestly think, and they tell you what they honestly think in return, and both of you are still friends when the conversation is over.  If you can find that, you’re doing well.

You don’t know yet that there are some ways in which you are going to be different from most of the kids in your class.  Not everyone starts Kindergarten able to read as well as you can.  Not everyone can do simple addition.  Very few of your friends will start off knowing that the Statue of Liberty is in New York City and the Eiffel Tower in France.  Some will recognize a picture of the planet Earth, but I’d be surprised if any others can recognize Saturn or Jupiter from a picture, as you can.  It’s been clear for a long time that you are the sort of person who learns certain kinds of things very easily, and who is interested in many different things.  I’m that kind of person, too, and I know that it can be a tricky thing to deal with.  Some days it feels good to be able to learn easily, and some days it feels lonely to have interests that so few others share.  You might be tempted to feel pride about something that you didn’t actually earn—it was just the particular gift that was given to you.  Or you might wish you could trade in your ability to learn things quickly for the ability to know exactly the right thing to say when someone is upset, or the ability to always know what kind of clothes are going to be popular this month.   And those are things we can work on together, if you think there’s something you’re not quite getting.  For every person on Earth some things are easy and some things are hard.  I can deliver a speech to 1000 people and feel completely at ease, but I hate to read my email.  That doesn’t make sense to me, either, but you learn to play to your strengths and shore up your weaknesses.

I already know one thing that you and I are going to work on this year: you, kiddo, are a champion worrier.  I hope by the time you read this you will have developed into such a confident young woman that it’s hard to imagine that you were ever like this, but if they gave medals for unnecessary anxiety, we wouldn’t have room to display all of yours.  Your big fear is that we will leave you alone.  Every single time I buckle you into the car seat, you say “are you going to get in your seat now, Daddy?”  Every.  Single. Time. And if I have to run back into the house to get something, even though I tell you I’ll be right back in a minute, you’ll have started to cry by the time I return.  This is my goal for your interpersonal development in this next year: you can wait by yourself for three minutes, certain that I will return and everything will be okay.  I just started reading Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: The Heart of Parenting by John Gottman, which seems like it will be very helpful for both of us.  That’s my birthday gift to you: learning how to coach you better in those situations.  Well, that and a scooter and a Tangled playset and your princess knee pads.

I must admit, I inadvertently made things worse.  Early this spring, I took you to the movies to watch Tangled again. It was near the end of its run, so you and I were the only people in the theater that day. You said that you were thirsty, and I told you that I would go get us a bottle of water.  I thought you understood that I had to leave for a few minutes.  But when I got back from the concession stand—which was right outside our theater, I was watching the door the whole time, I promise–you were running up and down the aisles, weeping, and you cried out “Daddy!” and ran into my arms.  It must have taken you ten minutes to stop shaking, and most of the time you kept saying “You left me all alone!”  It felt like I was being simultaneously stabbed in the guts with a rusty spoon and pummeled about the head by someone calling me an idiot.  Not my best parenting moment.   Until then, I could say, “Aletheia, no one has ever, ever, left you all alone!”  Now when I say that, you reply “You left me all alone when we saw Tangled!”  In fact, I think you’ve told everyone you know that Daddy left you all alone at the theater.  The story is out: I’m nice enough, but not to be completely trusted.  Still, I wish you would believe that when I buckle you in, it’s because I am about to go someplace with you, not because it’s easier for the monsters to feed on you when you are in the driveway and restrained.

But here’s something that I’m going to work on in the next year: I need to remember that you are still a little, little kid.  I know we tell you what a big girl you are, and it’s true that you are way ahead of two-year-old Aidan and seven-week-old Tessa.  But a five-year-old, especially one who is precisely five years and forty minutes old, which is what you are as I type this sentence, is still a little kid by any reasonable measure, and I forget that sometimes.  Too often.  I expect too much of you.  I think it’s because you’re tall for your age and you’ve basically talked like an adult since you were three—and I don’t just mean your grammar and pronunciation, although that’s part of it.  I also mean your ability to deal with abstract concepts, your sense of humor, your verbal wordplay.  Sometimes talking to you is like talking with another adult, and I forget how young you really are, how fresh and sometimes scary things are for you, and how hard it is to keep it together when life is challenging and you haven’t had a nap.  Better awareness, more patience: my goals as a parent next year.

In spite of how little things can trip your worry-sensors sometimes, I am very proud of the way you have rolled with big life changes.  Last year’s big move, your surprise little sister (she was a surprise to me and your mommy, anyway!) and having to share your room and a lot of your things with your little brother.  Most days, most of the time, you have been incredibly gracious about it all, and you just adapt and keep moving in a way that I appreciate more than I can tell you, and more than you could understand if I tried.  You are always so eager to help with Aidan and Tessa, and so happy to be a big sister!  It’s a role that suits you well, and I’m glad you got the little sister that you wanted.  (“I want a sister now, I already have a brother,” you said when we told you the news.)  Aidan and Tessa are very blessed to have you looking out for them.  I sometimes joke that we are raising you and and letting you raise the next two, but that’s pretty close to the truth some days.  Watching you love your siblings is the most gratifying thing in my life, because I like to believe that you learned how by seeing the way that we love you, and it makes me feel like, overall, things are going okay in the parenting department.

Aidan could be a real blessing to you, too, down the road.  He is fearless where you are anxious—always ready to jump in to a new experience, completely unaware that he is smaller than anyone else, at ease either by himself or in a crowd, and always ready to smile and say something funny.  I hope the two of you find ways to work together in the future, because an Aletheia-Aidan partnership could be virtually unstoppable.  If you can teach him how to be aware of potential pitfalls and he can encourage you to step out of your shell a little, you’ll both be better off for it.  He’ll have fewer hospital visits and you’ll go to more dances.  Your love for each other and enjoyment of each other is immense, and I hope it stays that way.  I never had a sister, and sometimes I’m a little envious that you guys get to grow up with an opposite-sex sibling to help demystify the other half of humanity.  That is another big advantage you’ll have.

What else might Future You want to know about the five-year-old version?

You draw princesses incessantly: sidewalk chalk princesses, notebook paper princesses, church bulletin princesses…it’s a never ending parade of young royalty.

The music you listen to most often comes from the princess movies you love: the soundtracks to Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, and The Princess and the Frog.  But you also like some of my music, especially “Kick Drum Heart” by the Avett Brothers and “Atheists Don’t Got No Songs” by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.  You call it “the song with the yelling,” and you like to repeat the part where they “watch football in their underpants.”  You think that’s funny. I do, too.

You still like Dora, although not as much as you did when you were younger.  I think you’ve learned about everything you can from that show.  Current favorite shows are Fresh Beat Band, Wild Kratts and Bubble Guppies.

You and Aidan play a lot with the kitchen set in your room.  Recently you’ve started pretending that you are running a restaurant together.  When I walk in, you’ll pretend I’m a customer and ask Aidan to take a plate of food to me.

You also got into Lego this year, and you are really good at following the directions to build specific items.  You’ve had an airport set for a while and you just got a set for your birthday that makes a castle and a dragon.

Your preschool this year was at the big  Baptist church downtown.  Your teacher was named Mrs. Erin.  Her husband is the youth minister there.  The boys in your class were Toby, Sammy and Reed.  You might have some memories of Reed—he was kind of a bully, and he somehow picked you to focus most of his attention on.  I know it bothered you to be around him too much.  Part of it was because you aren’t used to kind of violent imaginative play some kids enjoy.  It upset you one day when he and some other kids were pretending to kill people on the playground.  But other times he was actually picking on you, and in some very unacceptable ways.  After one bad incident, Erin had a big talk with Reed’s daddy, and we didn’t see Reed at school again for the next two weeks.  I was glad to see that the other adults were taking his behavior seriously.

You’ve always been fond of your cousin Coben–after Aidan was born, you used to say “Now I have two baby boys, Coben and Aidan!”  This year you’ve gotten even more attached to him, and he feels the same about you.  Living in the same town with other family has been good for you.  You and Aidan and Coben were all in Kindermusik together last fall, and that was a lot of fun for everyone.

You’re sitting right beside me now, so I’m going to ask some questions and see what you say.

What’s your favorite song?  My favorite song is the one at the beginning of Tangled.

What’s your favorite movie?  Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella–the one that I don’t have yet.  Cinderella and Jasmine are the two princess movies we don’t have yet.  I want to have Cinderella, Daddy!  We already have Cinderalla cups, but we need a Cinderella movie.  Can we go to the store and buy a movie called Cinderella? (You don’t normally sound as greedy as it looks like here, and you weren’t upset when I said we weren’t going to buy Cinderella today.)

What is your favorite book?  I like the Rapunzel one.

What will Aidan be when he grows up?  Maybe he’s going to be a doctor.

What will Tessa be?  A police officer.  I wonder what she’s going to look like when she’s big?

What are you going to be?  I want to be a princess—an actor in a princess story.  I want to be Cinderella.

What’s your favorite game?   My favorite game is soccer.

What’s your favorite toy?  My favorite toy is a Tangled playset.

What’s you favorite food?  My favorite food is spaghetti.

What do you like to play with Aidan?  I like to play with blocks with him.

What do you like to do with Memaw?  I like to hug her.

What do you like to do with Grammy?  I like to help her cook.

What do you like to do with Granddaddy? I like to…I don’t know what I do with Granddaddy!  I think I like going on a trip with him to the store.

What do you like to do with Mommy?  I like to wash Tessa with her.

What do you like to do with me?  I like to…I like to…I like to play games with you. Like Doors and Max the Cat and the Rhyme Time game and I like playing the Dora game with you.  [“Doors” is “The Secret Door.”]

What do you like to do with Coben?  I like to play with my Tangled playset with him.  But I actually like playing on his playground.

What do you like to do with Uncle Kasey?  I like to hug him.

Do you like to hug me?  YES!

Can I have a hug right now?

[Hug.]

Time to end the interview.  Tessa just started crying, so you found her bottle and started feeding her.  No one asked you to do that—you help her because you want to, because you love her, and maybe because it makes you feel grown up.

You are very aware of your own growth.  We were talking about birthdays this morning, you and I.  Next year, I’ll be six, you said.  And then seven, and then eight and nine.  Someday I’ll be fourteen.

And then you paused.  How many birthdays will I have?

“Oh, a lot,” I said.  “About a hundred.”

Right, a hundred.  And then after that, I won’t have any more birthdays.

“Probably not.  But a hundred is a lot of birthdays.  A hundred would be good.”

I hope you do get a hundred birthdays, and I hope they’re all happy days.  I am very happy to have shared this one with you.

I love you.

Daddy

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Aidan is Two

My son just turned two years old this week.  He is happy, healthy, funny and full of energy.  The kid is a constant delight to me, except when he starts yelling because the food isn’t coming fast enough.  It’s truly amazing how much that boy can eat.

I don’t think a single birthday of his will come without me thinking about his rough beginning, and the two weeks he spend in NICU.  I thought I remembered blogging something about it, and it turns out that I did.  The as-it-was-happening report is here, “What I Learned After Four Days of Visiting the Intensive Care Nursery.”

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Tsunamis and the Irksomeness of Prayer

This is the continuation of a conversation that began with my frustrated (and none-too-gently worded) outburst on Facebook that I’m not going to pray for Japan because the best thing that God could have done is prevent the tragedy to begin with, and if he’s not interested in doing that, I don’t see the point in trying to talk him into helping with the clean-up.  Yes–shocking, I know.  Please feel free to assign me whatever label seems fitting.

One of my friends wrote something in response which prompted me to write a string of sentences too long for Facebook, so I’m posting it here, with everyone’s names omitted or obscured so I don’t implicate innocents in my own heresy.

Your comparison of the church’s explanations for God’s lack of visible activity to the explanations that allow children to maintain belief in a non-existent Santa Claus—which I denounce as heretical and well beyond the bounds of civil discourse, and for which I label you a heathen and miscreant—gets close to what is troubling me.  Everyone’s belief system is internally consistent.  It might have huge gaps, it might be based on error, it might pointedly fail to notice certain phenomena and it might consign a great deal of important questions to the category of unknowable mystery, but it’s internally consistent.  This is true of Republicans and Democrats, Anarchists and Fascists, Hindus and Buddhists and Christians whether fundamentalist, evangelical or liberal.  I once preached for a church that had two members who were diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.  Their beliefs were irrational, but completely consistent.  One dropped by my office on a pleasant Monday, complaining of having been shot by a spy who had taken over the body of one of our elders.  I was willing to go along with the idea that the elder in question was an enemy agent bent on destroying the church—it explained a lot of what I had experienced, too—but it was obvious that my troubled friend had not actually been shot.  When I asked him to show me the wound so I could help him bandage it (because I’m sneaky that way) he told me that it was a new kind of bullet whose wounds closed immediately, leaving no trace.  Completely internally consistent.  There weren’t in cracks in his worldview; or if there were, they didn’t last long before an explanation was devised.  The human mind is remarkably good at resolving inconsistency.  That’s even true for very troubled minds.  Actually, it’s probably especially true for very troubled minds.  Healthy people can temporarily carry inconsistent conclusions around before they find a way to resolve them, but they will resolve them, eventually.

I’m open to persuasion (maybe too open, some would say) and I’d be happy to reassess this conclusion, but it looks to me like what most Christians say about the work of God in the world is exactly what they would say if there were no God at all.  Well, no, he doesn’t intervene to prevent tragedy because (1) he honors our free will, (2) he wants us to learn from our suffering, (3) he works through the church to love and comfort people, (4) the age of miracles has passed.…etc.  Well, no, there’s no obvious sign of his existence because (1) you have to have the eyes of faith to see it, (2) he doesn’t want to coerce anyone’s faith, (3) faith does mean believing in the unseen, after all….etc.  You ask me how I know he lives?  He lives within my heart.  Several times I’ve been in a situation where a young (under 45) person was dealing with a potentially fatal illness or accident, and, inevitably, every possible sign of good news was taken as evidence that God was healing the beloved person.  Most of the time, the patient eventually died, and when he or she did, the new story was that “God has answered our prayers by healing our friend completely, and taking them into the presence of Jesus.”  No one ever seems to notice that just yesterday, death would have been seen as a complete failure on the part of God to give us what we were asking for, which was full, physical, right-here-on-earth healing.  Once death comes, it’s like we all agree to forget what we really wanted, and act like that’s what we had in mind all along.  No one says (even me, although I’m thinking it) “just two days ago, the consensus was that the new test results meant that God was healing our beloved!  Either God was just toying with us, (in which case, he’s a sadist more deserving of rebellion than worship) or we were interpreting ordinary, natural fluctuations as divine intervention without sufficient cause to do so.  We were prayerfully, honorably, reverently wrong.”

Well, it’s a new kind of bullet, you see.  Not one that you’ve heard of before.  This is the kind of bullet that leaves no wound.  This is the kind of healing that looks just like death.  This is the kind of love that looks just like apathy.  This is the kind of intervention that looks just like stillness.

Once you decide to accept the truth of Christianity, you learn to make these little adjustments.  Nothing can disprove the faith, because either we’ve already got an orthodox reason why it looks (to people who don’t have the eyes of faith!)  like God isn’t doing anything or we announce that we don’t need to try to defend or explain God anyway, and it’s ultimately a mystery.

But if you step outside of the internally consistent Christian worldview (of whichever variety) and ask: what about other ways of viewing the world?  If I adopt the mindset of an atheist—just to try it on for a second and see how things look—it turns out that’s it’s internally consistent, too!  It also accounts for everything I see.  It also explains the world.

And, as everyone now knows, I get a little frustrated on occasion (just a teensy bit, mind you) with pious pronouncements in the wake of horrific tragedy.  This week, I’m even frustrated with prayer.  Not yours or D—’s or anyone else’s, but certainly with mine.  I look at the images coming in from Japan and start to try to form some petition to a God that, if he exists, certainly could have stopped it all from happening, and I don’t even know what to say.  His kind of caring is so different and alien from anything that I know as caring that communication seems impossible.  (Yes, I know, we have an answer for that one too–the Holy Spirit will intercede on my behalf, with groanings I can’t hear.)  What I want to pray is for him to undo the whole mess, and maybe give us that unshakeable Earth that the psalmists are always singing about.  But we all know that that isn’t going to happen, so we’re left praying for things that we can’t see either fulfilled or unfulfilled, or things that are sufficiently vague that we can interpret the evidence to fit our desired outcomes—comfort, peace, healing.  If you’re the kind of person who is calmed and made peaceful by prayer anyway (i.e. the polar opposite of me), then your outcome is sure from the start.

I’m more like the pastor that Annie Dillard describes in Holy the Firm except not so obviously full of Jesus.  She writes:

There is one church here, so I go to it. On Sunday mornings I quit the house and wander down the hill to the white frame church in the firs. On a big Sunday there might be twenty of us there; often I am the only person under sixty, and feel as though I’m on an archaeological tour of Soviet Russia. The members are of mixed denominations; the minister is a Congregationalist, and wears a white shirt. The man knows God. Once, in the middle of the long pastoral prayer of intercession for the whole world–for the gift of wisdom to its leaders, for hope and mercy to the grieving and pained, succor to the oppressed, and God’s grace to all–in the middle of this he stopped, and burst out, “Lord, we bring you these same petitions every week.” After a shocked pause, he continued reading the prayer. Because of this, I like him very much.

I’m having my own outburst at the moment, “Lord we bring you these same petitions every week!”  And yet this week looks like last week, and like the one before that, and the one before that, and on and on and on for as far into the past as we can see.

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Filed under Church Culture, Personal, Rants, Reflections

The Santa Claus Dilemma

Santa Claus with a little girl

Image via Wikipedia

Speaking of problems that too much theological education creates: our household is having some difficulty getting our story straight on Christmas.

It’s important to understand that I have been self-diagnosed with hyperaletheiality, a condition which makes it psychologically painful for me to knowingly deceive my children.  And while I am a huge fan of imaginative play and happy to be a dinosaur, pirate or alien, it crosses a line for me to tell my kids that their presents are actually from an old man who lives in the North Pole.  The line between imagination and reality gets blurred, and I move from joining my child’s pretend world to creating a deception.

Naively, I thought that it would be relatively simple to sideline Santa Claus.  My plan was to tell the kids that we give gifts to each other to remember the gifts that were brought to Jesus as a child, and because God wants us to be generous and to share with each other.  Easy peasy, that’s Christmas at the Cowell house.

The problem is that my daughter is now four.  And she’s talking to other kids, who are all excited about Santa. And the Hollywood-North Pole alliance is killing us.  You’d almost have to cut her off from all kids’ shows this month to avoid her seeing one that strongly emphasizes how important it is to believe that Santa is real.  Isn’t that the last act of every single Santa movie?  Christmas was almost ruined, but then people believed in Santa again!  The kid heard the jingle bell ring!  The reindeer were able to fly over Central Park!  Just believe!

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that pushes belief in Jesus as hard as the Polar Express pushes belief in Santa.

This is complicating my plans.  I had hoped to just be Santa-agnostic and not really even mention the jolly old elf, but then my beloved daughter, the apple of my eye, my never-waning delight, asked me, with hope-filled eyes, “is Santa coming to our house?”

This is an development I hadn’t anticipated.  Now we can’t just ignore Santa and do our own thing.  We have to take some kind of a stand.

I was put on the spot by the question and wasn’t willing to just say “yes,” (and a simple “no” wouldn’t have worked either!)  So we had a little conversation in which I told her that a long, long time ago there was a person named Nicholas, and he loved God and cared about other people, so he gave good gifts to families that couldn’t afford to buy nice things.  He was such a good man that people have told stories about him for hundreds and hundreds of years, but in different parts of the world they called him different names.  Now, a lot of people call him Santa Claus.  But there isn’t just one Santa Claus, there are thousands and thousands of people who do the same thing that Nicholas did: they take the extra things and money they have and give them to people who need them.  So this Christmas, Mommy and Daddy and Grammy and Grandaddy and Uncle Kasey will be Santa Claus for her, and also for some poorer families who need our help.  It’s our turn to do what Nicholas did.

I admit, this is all a bit much for a four-year-old, even the world’s brightest four-year-old, which is what we’re dealing with here, but I did manage to avoid pointing out that the modern conception of Santa Claus is largely the creation of the Coca-Cola company, and is basically an advertising gimmick which has further been co-opted and twisted for the benefit of the entire capitalist world and the aforementioned Hollywood-North Pole complex.  Sure, I’m a compulsive truth-teller, but some things are just to horrible to expose to the innocents.

And then I ordered Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend, which I hope will help us navigate this conversation next time.

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Unexpected Good News

It’s been a very busy time in our part of the world.  I’m enjoying teaching college part-time, but I’m covering content that I’ve never taught before, so it’s requiring a lot of preparation–which is hard to do with a four-year-old and a nineteen-month-old at home!  Coffee shops are my friend.

The future is still hard to discern, but a few things have come sharply into focus recently.  We have found out that we will be the parents of a new baby late next spring.  Now, our current low-income, homeless state isn’t one in which we expected to carry on with the family-increasing business.  In fact, we had thought that we had closed up shop, and we sold all of our infant things (car seat, changing table, toys, clothes) to a poor family for $20 when we moved last May.  Oops!  And I’ll go ahead and tear up the Ph.D. applications sitting on the table.  Maybe someday, but now we don’t have the luxury of letting me go much longer without a job.  The longer I stay out of ministry, the less interest I have in going back into it, so I need to find something more lucrative than college adjunct (which is almost anything, really), and that isn’t ministry but can be done without too much additional training.  In the spring I’ll do alternative teaching certification through the regional educational service center and see if I can find a public school job.  I always considered that a possibility, and from what I hear there are a lot of elementary principals who would like more men on staff.  I certainly don’t mind working with the little ones–I have a fair amount of first-hand experience now.  But high school’s fine, too.  Just not, dear Lord, middle school.  My wife loves 11 and 12 year olds, but I’d much rather have the ones who are definitely little or definitely teens.  Someone else can help them navigate the initial shifts of early puberty.  I’ve got my hands full managing my own personal transitions right now.

Speaking of which, I’m just delighted about this upcoming kiddo.  I really always wanted three, but we had decided that stopping at two was the responsible choice given all that’s gone on (and the fact that I’ll be 39 next year!) But in spite of being conscientious about taking precautions, I was elated the moment we discovered that the barriers had been breached.  I assume the new baby will be an excellent swimmer.  It’s nice to have to do the irresponsible thing for a change.  I imagine that we’ll find a way to continue providing food and shelter for the kids.

When we found out that baby number two was going to be a boy, I was disappointed.  I thought I didn’t care either way, but I realized that I was enjoying my daughter so much it was hard not to want another little girl.  Now that I have both a boy and a girl who constantly delight me, I think I really, genuinely don’t care what number three is.  (Except we do have a girl’s name we really like that has gone unused….)

And step by step, into the future we go, the five of us.

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Filed under Personal