Rhyme As Reason

A collective gasp, then the room erupts. People are out of their chairs; the roar of shouts and screams is deafening. And I just have to laugh.

This was a few years ago. Sixty or so of my friends and co-workers were on a retreat, a couple days of glamping, all of us in cabins tucked into the folds of the hills that stretch down to meet the Pacific near Santa Barbara. At night we could hear the ocean, and the insects, and the occasional scurry of a skunk crossing the cabin’s porch. We enjoyed all the retreat classics: campfires, s’mores, bocce tournaments, etc. On the last night was the talent show, a mix of bad skits, bad raps, bad costumes, and all in good fun.

Near the end of the night, just when everyone was getting tired of laughing or groaning, this guy gets up, this unassuming guy. He’s the guy you’ve said hello to a hundred times but haven’t really talked to. He’s the guy who’s fairly quiet but who everyone likes.

And suddenly, he’s someone else. He’s doing magic. He’s charming, and polished, and funny, and he’s doing full-on magic. He’s calling cards and making things disappear and reappear, and after every illusion the room erupts in chaos. People are losing... their... minds.

Granted, it was some pretty great magic. But the real kicker was that we just never saw it coming.

That is the power of surprise and delight.

It’s different from shock and awe. Shock and awe renders us wide-eyed, dumbfounded, speechless. But surprise and delight feels like a gift, one that's been personally wrapped and marked with our name. Surprise and delight is exhilarating, and warming, and it leaves us deeply, powerfully grateful.

We love surprise and delight. So does God. I often think of the Holy Spirit as the bringer of conviction, intuition, power, or comfort, and he is all of those things. But I think the Spirit is also the bearer of those twin gifts of surprise and delight, constantly causing good things to spring up in the places we least expect them.

When you send forth your Spirit, [living things] are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
Psalm 104:30

I haven’t been writing much lately, at least not much personal writing. I’ve said before that a dry-spell in my writing is usually the indicator of a bit of some parched ground elsewhere in my life.

A few days ago I sat down at my computer, opened the app that I use to journal, and guiltily tapped out…

I haven’t been doing much writing…

Blinking cursor. Blinking cursor. Blinking cursor.

And then… a word suddenly popped into my head. Inviting.

A rhyme. Writing and Inviting. I knew that inviting was the word that needed to end the next line. And I smiled. I smiled because I realized God was aiming to surprise and delight me again. You see, for years now he’s been using rhymes. Sometimes they’ll come out of the blue, phrases or whole stanzas, but far more often they come one line at a time. It’s as if he’ll whisper the last word and then grin as I find my way there. Inevitably, by the time I’ve written up to the rhyme the whole reason for the line will come as a revelation—the answer to something I’ve been puzzling over, the feeling I didn’t have words for, the diagnosis of what’s really going on. It’s like a conversation. Although, I suppose it’s not like one; it is one.

The rest of the conversation went like this:

I haven’t been doing much writing…
I haven’t been inviting
in the supernatural muse
who longs to infuse
my myopic views
with so much more
than the bore
of just getting by.

For weeks I’d been just getting by. My view of my world had narrowed down to the point that everyday was just a telescopic view toward the finish line. So here God was, gently reminding me why. For the sake of getting things done I’d written God off as a luxury, dismissed quiet, solitude, and study as the activities of those who’d never seen a deadline. I felt convicted and sorry.

But I also felt seen and loved because God had gotten my attention in the most personal and wonderful way. I’d written a single line just so I could say that I’d tried to write something, and then he’d used a rhyme to guide me back to reason. I hadn’t seen it coming. He had surprised and delighted me. He does it all the time. And I just have to laugh.

Learn As You Grow

I remember standing alongside Karen's bed in the delivery room in La Jolla, California. In the moments before our first kid was born I held her hand and wondered if, through all her pain and effort, she could tell how sweaty my palms were. In my head I was cycling through all the ways life was about to change, all the ways I needed to change if I was ever going to have any hope of being good at this fathering thing. 

In that hospital room I let all the fears of the coming years crowd in at once. They  jammed together and overlapped so that my unease over changing diapers smashed right up against my concern of how I'd help him navigate the world of dating. My fear of holding babies kept company with the worry that I'd never be able to help him with math homework more advanced than long division. To say nothing of colleges, weddings, careers and the natural hardships, feelings, and healing that life brings our way.

The tears I shed that day were an equal concoction of awe and panic.

Today, the most frequent advice I give to new fathers and fathers-to-be is: Relax. You'll learn as you go. 

We don't have to figure out fathering all at once. Those first couple weeks all they need is to be held. And then to be changed, fed, and put back to bed. And trust me, that's enough. Those tasks will feel like more than enough. 

Then they'll become second nature, and just when you've begun to master them you'll find you need another skill. You'll learn to interpret fussing from crying. You'll learn the difference between hungry cries and hurting cries and angry cries and just crying to cry cries. (There's a lot of crying.)

And later you'll learn how they like to be loved. How they need to be disciplined. How they best receive encouragement. All three of my kids help me know what they need and what they need me to be for them. Bit by bit they've taught me how to be a father.

But throughout a really wonderful Father's Day weekend, I realized that my kids have taught me so much more. 

A few days earlier Finnden and I were in the basement together. I was working on some things, and he was in the corner by himself, quietly playing with Legos. Just before we went upstairs he turned to me and said, "Dad, I have something for you." He came over, took my hand, and led me to where he'd been working. I looked down to see that he'd spelled out Happy Father's Day out of Legos. 

He looked at me with a huge grin and said, "I did it because we both like Legos so much." 

Finn is one of the most kind and empathetic people I've ever known. He sees people. He sees the things that mean something, and then he imagines ways to make those things mean even more. He teaches me—with a hug, or a word, or a drawing—what God's love likely looks like.

We went to the pool this weekend where I spent more than an hour wading in four feet of water so that Ellis could jump to me over and over and over again. She's still learning to swim, so she didn't want me going an inch further than her jump could carry her. To tease her I'd take tiny backward steps, and she'd say, "No, no, no. No farther." Half an hour into this game she said, "Stop, Daddy! Stop right there." I laughed and went a little further, to which she finally stamped her foot and shouted loud enough for the whole pool to hear, "Stop right there in the name of the Lord!"

That little girl is fearless and ferocious. She knows her mind and she speaks it. And she teaches me that maybe I don't need to always run my thoughts through an endless loop of what will they say? or the filter of what will they think? before those thoughts form into words. She teaches me to be brave.

On Sunday we were coming back from errands, and I opened the door next to Ona's car seat to find her beaming at me. Then she squealed and reached for me. As if that wasn't enough, when I scooped her up she nestled her little nose into the crook of my neck and held it there for a rare cuddle. When she pulled back I smiled, and then I watched her close her eyes and lean forward until her forehead touched mine. We stood like that, motionless—I barely dared to breathe—until she suddenly wriggled to get down. 

I set her in the grass to toddle off, my heart filled to the brim. I've never seen someone so quick to smile, that bright, big, whole-faced kind of smile. She teaches me what it looks like to spread joy and how just a few moments of intention can fill a heart to overflowing.

As I said before, somewhere along the way I realized that in fathering, my kids help stagger the lessons. We learn to be parents as we go. But this weekend God pointed out how often my kids are helping me learn to grow. They're teaching me how to be a better human. My children are teaching me how to be a child of God. 

New Season. New Ingredients.

This isn’t a post about cooking. Or food. Well, maybe a little. But mostly not. The weather is changing, finally. Buds are breaking open. The lawns are growing in uneven mounds. The sun seems to stay around a little longer every day. And the sunsets are less buried behind mounds of grey clouds. Spring is showing her face, and she’s grinning ear to ear.

Suddenly I’m in the mood for green bean salads, corn on the cob, peaches, and anything accompanied by charcoal smoke. I want cocktails laced with mint and blackberries. I’m craving lemon bars and strawberry shortcake. These are the vittles of spring and summer, and the sunshine makes me want them.

Only in the last couple years have I begun to enjoy cooking. (What really happened is that I stopped being intimidated by the stove and cookware and kitchen timers.) But one of the things I love most is how new seasons bring new ingredients. You wouldn’t make peach cobbler in the winter. Who would prepare pumpkin pie in July? No, each season has ingredients that are best in that season.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was picking produce, and the thought suddenly struck me: When was the last time I changed my life-giving ingredients? When did I last stir up the things I use to give life it’s flavor?

I’m a big believer in having disciplines. Our home is often chaos with three kids running (or crawling… or falling) amok. My work is a brand new challenge nearly every day. So my habits, my practices, they keep me on the level. But I recently wrote about how I feel like I’ve been waiting on spring to spring up in my own heart, and now I’m thinking that one way to help that along might be to change up the ingredients a little bit.

I’m looking at each of the things I regularly do and asking:

How can I mess with that?

I’ve been reading mostly non-fiction. I need to read some novels.

I’ve been watching mostly TV shows. Maybe I need some movies.

I’ve been listening to podcasts. Time to find some new music.

I’ve been keeping a journal. Tomorrow I should take up drawing again.

I’ve been diving deep into just a couple verses of scripture at a time. Maybe it’s time to take in whole chapters or books.

A couple weeks ago, when spring was still unsteady on her feet, I jumped the gun and started cooking up spring-like things. I laid out the welcome mat for her, and now she’s at the door. Whose to say we can’t hasten our hearts toward the next season of life too with a little precocious planning?

Fight the Headlines

Have you looked at the news of late, at what new calamities the world can create all plastered on the front page as if we're all upon the stage of some Greek tragedy?

There is a crazed racket of noise voiced by the newspapers and news anchors on televisions, all repeating renditions of doom and gloom that leave little room for hope.

Wars rage on the very first page, and the page after that asserts that this or that spat will in fact become a war tomorrow.

And on page three are the refugees who flee those wars only to wash up on shores where they're not wanted.

Page four has more, from terrorist acts to economic collapse lined up by first drafts of a peace accord that went ignored while everyone went on fighting.

And all of this unease has high degrees of complexities, which means that we can't easily solve the world's pollutions with simple conclusions or quick-fix solutions. And so all of my disillusions only grow.

And I ask: What have we done to the world we come from? When hopelessness pervades the prayer that I've prayed is that we won't we have to lie in the bed that we've made.

And we cry out to God for Mercy. And his answer to us is His son, Jesus.

For on Friday a crown of thorns sat upon his brow but by Sunday an empty tomb held the promise that now the worst of kinds of news can be redeemed and infused with hope.

Jesus, Silence the news and the views of those who would tell us that the world will come to nothing for you are the thing the world will come to. You. Only you.

These headlines that roll on will not be the words that I stand on for my hope is built on the one who gave me breath and whose power conquered death!

Yes, death has been swallowed up in victory! So fear and these headlines have nothing on me. And in the face of whatever news I might be given I will declare this one headline: "Jesus has risen!"