Family

Sundays Are For Dancing

There has to be a day for dancing. Everyone needs a day for letting go and letting down, for getting up to get down. A few months ago I wrote about traditions, how they can be hard to form and to keep, how they interfere with convenience and normalcy, and how they’re absolutely essential. I mostly meant traditions around holidays, but I’ve been seeing the need for traditions around other things lately.

I need a tradition around sabbath, for one.

After I returned from my first trip to Israel (I’m sorry I can’t stop talking/writing about it), I had a renewed respect for the beauty and necessity of the sabbath. Our family very easily falls into the variable routines of errands, projects, and binge-watching Netflix throughout the weekend without taking the care to cultivate a sense of indispensability toward true and meaningful rest, the kind of rest that's so much more than time not beholden to the job that pays the bills. What I saw in Israel was that rest takes work. I saw the table set with care and precision, guests welcomed with hospitality and joy, and liturgy kept with faithfulness, and I recognized the considerable intentionality behind every nuance.

They were resting on purpose.

Karen and I began trying to reclaim our sabbath. We picked a day (Sundays seemed to work best for us) and developed some ideas. We would not work on any projects around the house or run any errands on Sundays, and at the end of the day our whole family would share a special kind of meal, keeping the kids up a little later and making the time count. None of these ideas became hard and fast rules, and that may be why we enjoyed our new routine for two glorious weeks before it dissolved away.

But God kept whispering, and my resolve has returned.

I was on a plane the other day, and there wasn’t a plug for any of my electronics, all of which were down to their last 5 percent. I was belted in for a few hours with no distractions except SkyMall. I had to sit still, something which Leonard Bernstein would tell me is not a bad idea now and then:

Stillness is our most intense mode of action. It is in our moments of deep quiet that is born every idea, emotion, and drive which we eventually honor with the name of action. We reach highest in meditation, and farthest in prayer. In stillness every human being is great.

In all that stillness I got to thinking about what I would want a perfect Sabbath to look like. Instead of starting with particulars I started with the feelings, the themes, the values that I hoped would characterize the day: Laughter. Fun. Peace. Holy space. Play. Listening. Noticing. Wondering. Decreased speed. Increased attention. These were a few of my words.

Then I started adding the things: Breakfasts of omelettes, coffee or tea, and a little something sweet. Reading. Adventures and explorations. Long bouts of daydreaming. Writing. Music and quiet. Lunch in the sunshine. Naps. Games. Prayer. Picking out produce. Meal-making. Wine. Dinner by candlelight. Campfires. Ignored bedtimes. And, of course, dance parties; our kids love dance parties. These things became a menu of sorts, a choose-your-own-rest of all those things I wish I’d done every time I click off the TV at the end of an evening. These are things that feed my soul and feed a sense of connectedness with the people who are my tribe.

With these themes and things in mind we’ve begun endeavoring to reinvigorate the sabbath around here. God knows we need it.

Marred

We moved into our home a little more than a year ago, and it feels like we're finally getting to know it. The floorboards creek fiercely at the end of the hallway, something you may not notice in the afternoon, but when the whole house is fast asleep you may as well have dropped a box full of china. There's a railroad line right across the street. Big freight trains pass through every couple hours. This was certainly something we were aware of before we purchased the home, but you don't know it know it until it rumbles through a few hundred times. Rather than the annoyance it could be, the deep growl of it has become a source of comfort, a reminder that things keep moving.

Older homes in particular require an extra level of patience in learning what makes them tick (and creak, and groan, and make all manner of noises), and a certain amount of diligence in maintenance, including the patching of every minor crack and hole to keep it from becoming a hostel for field mice. But even with all of this attention and care, there are bound to be surprises, some minor and some major. After all, this home has seen a lot of life and a lot of lives, having been around longer than most people I know. Some of the people who have lived here have been tender, I'm sure, and some have been less so.

A couple of months ago I was entering the living room when I noticed a little patch of paint missing from the white trim around the doorway. The spot was just a little less than a foot off the ground. The paint underneath was yellowed and glossy. I assumed that whoever last painted the trim hadn't prepped the area well beforehand, and with two little ones bumping toys and bodies into all things at all times, I wasn't exactly surprised.

A couple weeks later I passed by the same spot, and it had grown just a bit. I may have cursed the painter under my breath. I can't be certain.

Another couple weeks went by, and the spot had grown even larger. This time I bent over to really inspect it, and I noticed a few chips of paint lying along the baseboard. I had my suspicions.

When a few more days had passed and the spot had become even larger I called Finnden over to me. Given that the spot in question stood just outside his bedroom door, he seemed the most likely culprit.

"Finnden, have you been peeling away the paint from the doorway?"

"Huh?"

I took him over to the spot and pointed, "Here. Is this your doing?"

"No."

"You're sure? I won't be mad." (I was mad.)

"Mm-hmm. It wasn't me, Dad."

I took a deep breath and decided to let it go. I couldn't prove it was him, so I chose to trust him.

A few days later I got home from work, and Finnden was playing on the floor of the family room while Karen was making dinner. She looked up from her cookbook. "Finn has something he needs to tell you."

"Oh really," I said as I hung up my coat. "What's that?"

Finnden looked at me briefly, and then back at his Legos. "I've been picking at the paint."

"He told me today," Karen said. "He didn't want to tell you. He was afraid you'd be mad." (He was right.) She went on. "He does it during nap time. When he can't sleep, he sits just outside his bedroom door and picks at the paint.

"I'm sorry, Dad."

I sighed deeply before answering. "You're forgiven. And you won't do it anymore?"

"No."

"Okay then."

A week later he and I were on the couch in the living room reading a book before bed. He was squirming terribly until he finally stopped my reading and told me he had to go to the bathroom. "It's a 'mergency!" I shooed him off to the restroom with a promise that I wouldn't read ahead without him, but my eyes flicked to the spot on the trim as he passed by. It had doubled, nay tripled in size!

What had once appeared as a medium-sized abstracted seashell was now an entire scene. A seahorse now appeared to be kissing the shell. There was no mystery this time. And I was mad.

I stared at it. Glowered, really. I began to formulate the stern words he'd receive when he returned. Thank goodness that kid takes forever to wash his hands.

"That's you."

Those were the first words that came up out of the fog of my fury. What do you mean that's me?

"He does the same thing you do. You pick. When you think no one is watching and no one will notice, you pick."

I suddenly recognized that voice. And He was right.

I have marks on my soul. I have wounds that haven't healed, and spots that tend to show. We all do. The shape and color of mine may be different, but in a way they're all the same because they mar the us the Father makes us.

When I get scared, or bored, or tired, or stressed, or distracted I start to pick. I pry at the edges and reopen old wounds. And I hope no one will notice. I hope that maybe the spots are just inconspicuous enough that they'll be glanced over or given other, easier explanations. But my Father knows. He knows, and he still looks at me with love. He sees my compulsion and still regards me with compassion. He looks at me with understanding and a deep desire for me to know the me he sees, whole and spotless.

When Finn finally returned we had a very different conversation than the one we might have had if he didn't think a running faucet were so worthy of fascination. We're a lot alike.

Sleep & Resist

Oh little ones,
dozing is done,
and dreams have come
to carry you away.

Is this when games are devised
and songs improvised—
made up and stored
in the closets and beneath floorboards
or lined up on the secret shelves
of your unmeddled mind?

Or is this when you devise your disobedience,
plot your willful resistance
to authority and maturity?

By all means, resist!
May these dreams consist
of playful joys
for a day will foist
upon you the burdens of adulthood
in time.

Resist! My son and my daughters,
close fists
against the coming of logic and reason, 
giving reasons for disparaging these seasons
of dreams
in the day and not just night.

If growing up
is growing out
of daydreams
and made-up-things
then rebel!
Fume and marshall fury
against the onslaught of worries
that we hurry toward when we grow old.

So, little ones,
sleep and resist
and dream.

Say What You Want

I woke up to darkness, the silvery moonlight told me the hour was long before dawn. My throat was parched from the dryness of the Santa Ana winds that had been gusting throughout the warm, late-autumn in southern California. I rolled out of bed, opening my eyes only halfway, willing myself to remain mostly asleep as I went to get a glass of water. Then, somewhere in the distance between the bedroom and the kitchen, a question that I'd been asking myself profoundly changed, as if a light bulb had flickered on in the darkness of that hallway, sudden and illuminating.

For a long time I'd been silently asking: Should we have another baby?

Karen and I had asked this question before. The result was two children who filled our home with joyful laughter and who often filled my eyes with tears at the beauty and wonder and joy of living. Life was very full. So were our hands. Full enough that we hadn't quite gotten around to asking the question again before God gave us an answer. Quite unexpectedly, he began a new life. We hadn't known we'd wanted another child, but we suddenly discovered we desperately did.

A few months later, in a fifth-floor sonogram room in California, we held our breath while they searched for the heartbeat we'd never hear again.

In the difficult weeks that followed, the question of whether or not we would have another child crawled into a cave along with many other questions we couldn't answer… or couldn't bring ourselves to ask. Occasionally, one of us would whisper into that cold darkness, asking "will we or won't we?" One time Karen coaxed the question out of its den, and we both stared at it for awhile. Then, like the groundhog, it crawled back inside waiting for the end of that long, cold, hard winter.

"Not yet," we said. "See your shadow and return to safety. The thaw is still a little ways off."

So there I was several months later, on a midnight shuffle from the bedroom to the kitchen, and the question of whether or not we should have another baby became an entirely different one.

Might there be… something… that God wants to add to the world through a… someone… he might bring into the world through us?

Suddenly the question wasn't about me, which is what made me realize I probably wasn't the one asking.

All my questions were pretty focused on us: Are we ready? How would it change us? What would Finnden and Ellis think? Could we afford it? And even... Would we need a different car?

But if I'm being really honest. Really and truly honest. The real question was: Will I trust him?

Because I was hurt. And I felt I'd been cheated. And I was already having enough trouble saying goodbye to a child to which I'd never said hello.

And I just didn't want to do it again.

But at the same time, I did want to. I knew I wanted us to have another child. I knew it. But I wouldn't say it. I pretended to hem and haw hoping that the mystery of whether or not the bottom could drop out again might be magically solved in the meantime. I buried the real question under the pile of all the other questions, the safe ones, unable to tell the truth.

I remember being at a birthday party when I was little. It was a hot and sticky summer day, and I looked up from my picnic table to see the birthday boy's mom emerging from the house carrying a box of popsicles. Before anyone else noticed her I shouted, "I want a green one!" My shout was followed a moment later by a stampede of squealing children, and due to the impossible task of extracting oneself from the center seat of a full picnic table I ended up last in line. By the time I reached her only one popsicle was left. Purple. I hate purple. As I dejectedly took my purple popsicle from her hand I looked around at the other kids, most of whom quickly looked away, not wanting a share in my disappointment. Everyone knew I'd wanted a green one. I'd shouted it, for goodness sake. If I'd just kept my mouth shut I could have played it off like no big deal. I could have pretended to be okay with purple. But suddenly I was feeling sorry for myself, and everyone else was feeling sorry for me, and the embarrassment of it was making my eyes fill with tears I couldn't conceal. Saying exactly what I'd wanted had made the loss of it that much harder.

So twenty-seven years later there I was, an adult, trying to make a major life decision with my wife, and I was afraid to say anything for the fear that the admission of it might make a possible disappointment that much more impossible to bear.

Should we have another child? I couldn't answer. I couldn't say what I wanted.

So God changed the question. He made it about something other than what I wanted. He made it about what it should have been about the whole time. He asked me to ask what he wanted.

So, in less than the distance between the bedroom and the hallway, my thinking changed direction. It would take many months for me to ask that question aloud. Longer still to admit I already knew the answer. There were many steps in between, tentative steps, slow, and deliberate, testing the ground to make sure it didn't fall away. But bit by bit, we kept going. Karen arrived there long before me and began asking the question in earnest. Will we or won't we?

Eventually we decided.

We will.

If you haven't already heard (or seen)… in the very-merry month of May we are expecting a new addition to our family, and last week in a second-floor sonogram room in Illinois we learned that we're expecting a little girl.