Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Weary, burdened and blessed beyond words

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
I am not as exhausted as I’d expected, let’s start there. The lion’s share of the credit goes to Kristie’s mom, who got to our house a few hours after we got back from the hospital with Baby Four and spent the next seven nights taking care of both Kristie and Isaac, not to mention the insane amount of housekeeping and big kid feeding she mastered during the daylight hours. By the time she left Monday afternoon, the house was in better shape than before our sewer explosion, the fridge was full of good food and the older boys, at least, hadn’t had much interruption in the regular routines. A blessing beyond words.

Even before our bundle of joy arrived, an almost unfathomable amount of stress and anxiety dissipated when it became clear scheduling would allow the older boys to essentially move in with my parents for a four-day weekend. While I knew they’d be comfortable there and able to adapt to routines (on account of the week we lived there in early September), I also knew what remarkable effort would be required of my parents to act as ringmasters for our traveling circus. Again, no one’s vocabulary is sufficient to express our gratitude.

This should happen less in the day and more at night. But still adorable.
Though I’ve committed to stay home the rest of this work week while Kristie continues to gain strength and stamina and the boys continue to adjust to the new normal, it already does feel we’re slowly finding our way. This is helped along by what’s becoming a somewhat predictable sleep-and-eat pattern for Isaac. He’s not sleeping through the night or anything, but when patterns emerge, the body adapts. This is why I’ve long maintained a preference for dealing with babies at night over the uncertainties of toddlers who can’t decide whether or not to stay in their own bed all night long.

Still, weary and burdened are apt descriptors. We chose this road and knew it well before setting out a fourth time, but that makes rest no less welcome. I’m trying my best to help Kristie in her recovery, and am thankful and fortunate she is so skilled at walking the line between the rest she needs and the steps she must take on the path that leads back to normal. So much of what I do these days is following cues, from her, the baby, the other kids — at times it can be exhausting to live in a state of reaction, but the tax on the body doesn’t exceed the benefit to the mind and the soul that comes from responding to the instincts that lead me to care for the people I most love.

And, of course, my body is fine. Sure, I haven’t gotten real exercise for nearly two weeks, and I’ve been eating a bunch more than usual, so my jeans are a hair more snug than usual. But I’m not recovering from a second major abdominal surgery or providing the sole source of nourishment for a human being. Toting an eight-pound fart machine for a few minutes a day doesn’t even register on the scale of people in this house who have earned the right to complain of physical fatigue.

But that’s 530 words about the physical stuff, and a hair of the mental. None of it mentions the deeply spiritual, which is where God enters the picture. At no point along the way the last few weeks have I felt anything but sustained, supported and loved by our family, friends and faith community. I cannot imagine the challenge of parenting a newborn without the kind of extraordinary outpouring of aid and concern from all corners we’ve been blessed to experience. That our joy is shared by so many, that the offers of assistance are so numerous are gifts we’re somehow still overwhelmed to enjoy. Not to brag or anything, but it is wonderful to feel loved.

As often is the case when I feel surrounded by blessings, I hope I can both turn them into praise for the giver of all good things as well as commit myself to be a blessing for other when the time arises. Maybe that will be as simple as inviting someone else to lay their worries at God’s feet and to feel the rest when the yoke is lifted. Maybe it will be a much more daunting task. But just as God as blessed me and my family, so too will God give me whatever tools I need to answer the call to serve as needed — for God’s glory alone.

A prayer for October 22:

Lord, thank you for the gift of so much time with my family. Please continue to help me take care of the many needs we all have, and open my eyes to my own limitations that we may go to you together for deeper care, guidance, sustenance and lasting provisions for life and love. May we continue to adjust smoothly and remember your role at the center of our lives. Amen.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What's in a name?

1 Corinthians 14:15 (NIV)

So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding.
A few things to put on the table. The first is a bit of clarification. When last I wrote, wee in the early morning hours the day after our fourth son entered the world, I attempted to explain the pronunciation of his middle name, Evert. It’s Kristie’s father’s father’s middle name, as noted earlier, and he’s always pronounced it like the last name of the famous tennis player. But Kristie, wanting to both honor her grandfather and that entire side of the family’s Dutch heritage, wants it to be pronounced as the Dutch would.

And how is that exactly? Well, what I typed was EH-vert. But then my music teacher sister and my lifelong singer mother and my exasperated wife informed me that just because Canadians add an “eh” to the end of many sentences and it sounds like the letter a does not mean me typing “eh” conveys the same phonetic notion. Rather “eh” is like the e at the beginning of the word edge or extra.

What I should have conveyed is the entire vowel sound of the name. So that’s Evert as in saver or waver. Perhaps AY-vert would have been more accurate. But the T at the end is there, loud and proud, so that’s vert as in vertical, without the ical. Got it? Again, in my defense, it was very, very late and I was very, very tired. I’m sorry son (and wife). Won’t let it happen again.

That said, as I was recounting the reasons we chose to name our son Isaac, I neglected to add the tipping point that brought me around to the name. As covered months ago, landing on a mutually agreeable name was difficult for this child. We’d gotten so used to calling him Floyd at one point I was convinced it wouldn’t be such a bad name to hang on a child born in 2013, despite the fact it has not been in the Social Security Administration’s top 1,000 baby boy names since 1998, when it checked in at 981.

But the moment I walked into church Sunday morning, I remembered a night a few months ago when I awakened to the idea of Isaac being so suitable. Kristie suggested it months earlier. Heck, we both suggested just about anything one could imagine. I’d never totally ruled it out, but the night I remembered the name and legacy of Isaac Watts, the pieces fell into place.

Watts is one of the most significant writers of hymns in the English language. Many times in the course of the 500 entries I’ve composed for this project I’ve reflected briefly on a classic hymn, or simply written an entire post on one beloved old songs. Time and again I’ve expressed how close I feel to God when surrounded by a jubilant congregation and skilled choir, loudly singing a great old song of the faith. Many times I can’t make my voice function, as I’m too busy choking back tears of joy to actually sing.

And so on Sunday morning, where every time I turned a corner another dear friend offered a congratulatory hug or handshake, when Max sang with his kindergarten choir at the front of the sanctuary, when baptisms formally welcomed other families’ little ones into the family of faith, when a sermon about the ten lepers drove home the message of the one who lived in complete gratitude for what the Lord had done for him, where all of those things happened and my eyes welled with tears each time, I managed to find a few moments to flip through our congregation’s current hymnal and make note of a few of the words of Isaac Watts that so deeply touch my soul. Such as:

From “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun”:
People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on His love with sweetest song;
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on His name.
From “I Love the Lord; He Heard My Cries”:
I love the Lord; He heard my cries,
And pitied every groan;
Long as I live, when troubles rise,
I’ll hasten to His throne.

I love the Lord; He bowed His ear,
And chased my griefs away;
O let my heart no more despair,
While I have breath to pray!

My God hath saved my soul from death,
And dried my falling tears;
Now to His praise I’ll spend my breath,
And my remaining years.
From “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”:
I sing the goodness of the Lord, who filled the earth with food,
Who formed the creatures through the Word, and then pronounced them good.
Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed, where’er I turn my eye,
If I survey the ground I tread, or gaze upon the sky.

There’s not a plant or flower below, but makes Thy glories known,
And clouds arise, and tempests blow, by order from Thy throne;
While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care;
And everywhere that we can be, Thou, God art present there.
From “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”:
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.
From “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”:
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
From “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed”:
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.
Those are just a smattering. Watts, after all, is credited with writing nearly 800 hymns. Some of those lines probably tweaked me a bit more as the father of a child not yet alive for 48 hours as I read them in the balcony. Of them all, I think the one I like best is “While all that borrows life from Thee is ever in Thy care.” Thinking about my life as something borrowed from God sets it apart from the notion of life as a gift. It somehow helps deepen my desire to make the most of my chances here on Earth. We’re all on borrowed time, in a way, and thus increases the urge to be positive, to seek and strengthen lasting relationships and to walk proudly the path set before me by my creator.

And then, of course, are two other verses from a well-known Watts hymn. I adore the entire song for numerous reasons. But the two verses in mind are even more special because of what happened Friday afternoon. After the lengthy pre-operative process, the nurses ushered my very pregnant wife into the surgical suite. They’d instructed me to don scrubs — a first in my four childbirth experiences — and asked me to wait in an isolated hallway.

Behind me were the nurseries (regular and higher risk) and I could see a bit of activity. In front of me was a door with no handles, and I was just waiting to see it open. They told me it would take ten or fifteen minutes, but I had no way of marking the time. It certainly felt longer, but time always slows when I’m left entirely with my own thoughts.

All l could think to do was pray. Yet I could not find any of my own words to use. So I turned directly to Isaac Watts, found words already imprinted on my heart and offered them there to my maker:
Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.
Mere minutes later, I heard my new son’s cry for the first time, and again my eyes welled with tears of joy. May God guard him as well, and may my son find peace in knowing what it means to be home.

A prayer for October 16:

Lord, dissolve my heart into thankfulness. All around me are examples of the glory of your creation, the wonders of your love and the blessings of this life I am so lucky to live. May all my work be praise to you. Not just in the words I say and write, but through my interactions with people, the relationships you have encouraged me to build and the children you’ve trusted me to raise. And may my children grow to understand the way your love and protection allow us to see the world through your eyes. May we be lights of your love. Grant us peace, and help us to promote peace. Amen.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Baby update

Psalm 51:15 (NIV)

Open my lips, Lord,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
Isaac Evert Holland was born at 2:43 p.m. at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, Ill.

At birth, Isaac weighed eight pounds, twelve ounces, and measured twenty and one-half inches long.

The catch of the day, bigger at birth than all his older brothers.

These dimensions are notable, because as both of Kristie’s obstetricians noted while wrapping up the Caesarean section, he most likely wasn’t going to fit the normal way. And so a planned surgery, while never the intended option, proved the most logical. The entire process was altogether different than the way his older brothers entered the world, but it ended with a crying, healthy baby and you’ll find no complaints here about that outcome.

After three prior trips to the maternity ward, resulting in the lights of our lives who now are ages nine, five and two, I have gotten somewhat used to seeing my wife struggle with labor pains. But those experiences did little to prepare me to offer wise words as she battled a flood of pre-op emotions this afternoon. But like always, she dug her heels in and rose to the occasion (you will forgive some mixed metaphors here — it is early in the morning and I have not slept well for a decade) and if I accomplish one thing in life it will be to make sure my four sons exactly how much their mother sacrificed to give them life.

The former baby of the family meets the new guy.
We had all four of those sons together for the first time this evening. The older three, staying with my parents, came over after dinner. Charlie entered the room with a big smile on his face, walked right up to his baby brother and patted his tummy, then rubbed his hair. Apparently the way to greet a baby is much like how you engage my parents’ Cairn terrier. But he also bent over and kissed Isaac on top of his hairy little head, and I think I might have hurt my face smiling.

Max and Jack were very curious what name we’d chosen. Kristie and I settled on a first name a few weeks ago, and nailed down the middle name when, with Kristie torn between two choices today, I deferred and reminded her she was the one about to undergo surgery. And she still waited a few hours to make up her mind. But Jack and Max were not concerned with middle names. They just wanted to make sure we were not actually naming their new brother Floyd, which we’d been calling him for months inside the family just to have a reference point.

Isaac, we learned after deciding to go with the name, pops up at least once a few branches up my mother’s family tree. It also is from the Bible, and it just so happens the boys have been learning about the patriarchs of Israel in Sunday school. Max chimed right up today with the story of Abram and Sarai, and how God changed their names. Last week after church he explained to Kristie how Esau’s arms were hairy but Jacob’s were not. And Charlie, who still would prefer to call the baby Floyd, is able to pronounce the name just fine.

But there are lots of names in the Bible. Hundreds, if not thousands, in fact. Yet Isaac is the name associated with laughter, and laughter is something vitally important in our family. There’s no pressure on this hours-old child to grow into the life of the party. Even if that is his chosen path, he’ll need to elbow his way into dominance over some other outsized personalities who double as the source of all his hand-me-downs. But in a way, I think we wanted this fourth (and final) baby to know he is, was and always will be a source of joy to his parents.

Isaac’s middle name is Evert, and you’re all under strict orders to pronounce it as the Dutch would, which is EH-vert. It’s also the middle name of Kristie’s father’s father, which is the most personal connection, but in the broader sense it is a tribute to the family’s Dutch heritage. I have written before about her grandfather as well as the importance of a house filled with laughter, but bleariness prevents me from barking too far up either tree at this point.

As I wrote the morning after Charlie arrived, the Internet and email and text messages and cell phones have kept us connected with friends and family near and far, and it is a wonderful treat to hear and read words of encouragement and congratulations from so many people. It confirms my belief that, for all its challenges, the world Isaac is born into is one where love reigns supreme, where relationships can grow, deepen and endure such that no one is ever alone unless they choose to be, where friends become family and family becomes the safety net that binds, protects and steadies us all.

So many people have offered thoughts, prayers and support that throughout the day, even far away from my trusty laptop and with phones that could not pick up a signal deep inside the hospital, the names and faces of these dear people kept coming to mind, usually when I most needed a reminder of the wide network of people who fill our lives with love. I hope and pray I can be part of the web of support for them, but on days like today I need to focus more on receiving than giving.

Peace. Love. Motherhood.
Usually when I stare into little eyes as they flicker open for the first time, I think all sorts of things about the future. What will his voice sound like? Will he enjoy music? Will we watch baseball together like we did all night tonight? Will he take to reading quietly or prefer to play loudly in the front yard with the rest of the crew? I could write questions probably for another hour, but none of them would be anything that actually came to my mind today.

I wasn’t thinking about tomorrow or a few months from now or kindergarten or college. I was just content in the moment. We felt the need to have one more baby and now, finally, here he was. We wanted him to be healthy and the doctors said he is. We wanted the birth to go well, and there wasn’t a single complication. We wanted his older brothers to accept the new arrival, and they literally opened their arms. Why focus any attention on tomorrow when everything you ever wanted is in one tiny room, bound together by a love better felt than described?

Thankful does not begin to explain my heart tonight. This is our last first day of life as parents, and I will treasure it until the seas run dry. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Amen.

A prayer for October 11:

Lord, thank you for a happy, healthy baby, and for the woman who carried him in her womb and will continue to sacrifice for him more than he will ever comprehend. Please help us both to give to our children our best effort, to further deepen our marriage bonds and to show us how our partnership, through you, can build a strong foundation to prepare our boys to go and live lives worthy of you. Help me be the husband and father my family deserves, and thank you so much for your amazing grace. Amen.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

It wasn't, but it will

Psalm 33:10-11 (NIV)

The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
   he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
   the purposes of his heart through all generations.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. No, Baby 4 was supposed to arrive like Baby 1 and Baby 3, a more or less traditional labor and delivery process. We figured it would be just like every other time, water breaking in the dark of some weekend night, drive to the hospital and follow orders. Anything less dire than what we experience with Baby 2 — an emergency c-section, a collapsed lung and an ambulance ride to the neonatal intensive care unit — would have been considered a success.

But that’s not how it’s going to go down. On account of a few medical issues that need not be detailed, and barring a radical change in condition between now and then, Baby 4 is going to enter the world surgically Friday afternoon. I’ve long maintained herding three children going back to April 2004 is not nearly a large enough sample size for us to have experienced every possible parenting scenario, and Baby 4 has proven that to be correct many times already, and his arrival will be an exclamation point.

But having a long-held belief is not the same as actually encountering it in real life. And so I sit here tonight in a position I’ve never occupied, and one I quite frankly never fully anticipated even as evidence mounted it would be inevitable. We’ve been given a time to report to the hospital and, provided things go as is generally the case, it’s fairly easy to map out our next few days. That it coincides with a four-day weekend for the older boys and a long-planned visit from my California sister is an added benefit — we likely couldn’t have planned the whole thing much better.

So why does it feel so weird? Why can I not get my brain around the reality of the situation? I now have enough time, and a deadline, to accomplish the last-minute tasks we need to take care of to be fully ready. I can pick out clothes days in advance for the older boys. No one should have to drop plans at the last minute to shuttle Max to his soccer game or one of the two birthday parties he’s been invited to Saturday afternoon. No midnight phone calls. No waking up Jack to give him the news so he’s not upset in the morning when we’re gone (fool him once, shame on us; fool him twice, swear up and down it won’t happen a third time).

Maybe the other three times there was some comfort in the element of surprise? I know the fact I was watching “Saturday Night Live” when Kristie told me “it’s time” for both Max and Charlie was pure coincidence, but a large part of me expected her to give me the same message last weekend.

There’s just something weird about knowing, and I’m likely never going to be able to fully understand or explain. I know I get twitchy when encountering people who discuss their unborn children by name, and this feels kind of similar. In many ways it’s no different from having a milestone event on the calendar, like a wedding or graduation, but it’s never been off-putting to discuss things like those as certainties. A lot of my perceptions changed the day Max was born, and I’ll probably never see the world the same way.

But we have a date and a time and a place and a name (we’re not telling) and now I have about 36 hours to get ready. I will wash all the dishes and the clothes and pick up as best as possible and transfer car seats and for the love of all things holy take a vacuum to the minivan. We will sit down with Babies 1, 2 and 3 to discuss what’s going to happen over the next couple of days and answer any possible questions. We will go to sleep Thursday knowing it is our last night as a family of five. And by Friday night we’ll have two in diapers, pictures to share and a name to reveal and the long process of recovery from surgery while also caring for the most adorably helpless of creatures.

I’m going to do the best I can to clear my mind, to seek God and to open myself fully that I might have wisdom, strength, patience and peace far beyond my own abilities — whatever I may need to not just get by but to effectively lead my family through the days ahead. We are not alone, and we are blessed with enough family and dear friends to make sure we never feel isolated. And woven through it all is God’s love, uplifting and redeeming. Even when nothing else makes sense, of this I can be sure.

A prayer for October 9:

Lord, I want to surrender myself to you. I need to let go of my worry, fear, anxiety and whatever else might be clouding my heart and mind. I need to make room for peace, for clarity, for strength and patience. As we inch ever closer to the day, the hour, the minute when our family forever changes, I want to be made like new in your eyes. I want to welcome our child into a house filled with laughter and love. And I want all of us to be healthy and safe. Watch over us now and always. Amen.

Monday, October 7, 2013

'I'm just doing what you do!'

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NIV)

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
We were driving home from church Sunday, moderately rocking out to Fall Out Boy’s “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark,” which is, for a variety of reasons, very popular in our house. Even Charlie knows the chorus, and he and Max were in the back seat singling along and bopping their heads happily.

Our of nowhere, and for no apparent reason, Charlie started crying. My best bet is maybe he bit his tongue a bit while letting his freak flag fly, but the reason isn’t important. I turned down the radio to try to see if he could or would tell me the problem. Jack decided he would contribute by screaming, “Charlie!” as if that would make things better.

I tried, as calmly as possible at the time, to tell Jack that was not helpful. His retort was quick and cutting: “I’m just doing what you do!”

I let that one marinate for a while, turned my attention to the little guy and eventually he soothed himself. After a few more deep breaths, I reminded everyone in the car, politely, it doesn’t do any good to scream at a crying toddler. As expected, Jack took that bait and restated his position, reminding me I have been known to yell at him.

He’s right, of course. I raise my voice. Certainly more than I should, but I am sincerely trying to cut back, especially since we’re about to have a baby in the house and I’d rather he not think of me as just “Tall Loud Guy.” However, as I explained to my oldest and most contrarian son, sometimes when his parents try speaking to him, he acts as if he cannot hear us. When we feel we’re being ignored, we raise our voices until we get a response.

My main point, which I am sure was heard but cannot be certain was understood, is that far too often our children will act disrespectfully, fueling parental frustration, and then act completely dumbfounded when we lose our temper. There is no way to calculate how many times I have asked them how it can be possible they have no sense of when they’re fraying our nerves. Sometimes I’ll come right out and say something like, “Do you need me to yell at you so you understand I’m serious?”

I don’t like yelling at them. I generally get mad at myself for doing so, which only serves to compound my frustration on top of whatever it was that got me riled up in the first place. I accept I need to do a much better job of setting an example for them to follow, and I actually appreciate it when Jack’s brutal, blunt honesty holds me accountable for actions I’d like to correct. I’ve yet to find anything more effective at instigating inward reflection and analysis.

That said, I’m on a constant crusade for a method that will communicate my intent to the kids effectively. I want them to know they’re being treated with respect, but I realize it’s all too easy for them to perceive muted language and delivery as a permissive attitude that more or less communicates a lack of parental seriousness. Maybe I dug that hole for myself over several years of speaking (often loudly) before thinking, but I can’t undo any of that, I can only make things better going forward.

Every day is its own challenge. And just because something works Monday through Thursday is no guarantee it’ll have any effect on Friday. Parenting is a constantly, rapidly evolving task, but these kids make me want to be a better person. I want to inspire them to walk proudly the paths I have not always been able to follow, and that requires me to force myself to try harder than I ever would on my own. Fatherhood is a blessing and a responsibility, and I am trying to do my best to handle both aspects appropriately. God, give me the strength.

A prayer for October 7:

Lord, help me follow your example. I know I’m imperfect, prone to mistakes and quick to stray from the path you set before me. I need you to draw me back to you, to have patience with me and to keep me pointed in the right direction. I need to be a better husband and father, and I need for my family to see in me a person who is truly transformed by your love and grace. Help me break down my stubbornness and impulses and rebuild me fully in your image, answering your call without fail. Guide me, love me and forgive me. Amen.

Friday, October 4, 2013

In need of peace, pronto

2 Kings 19:1-4 (NIV)

When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord. He sent Eliakim the palace administrator, Shebna the secretary and the leading priests, all wearing sackcloth, to the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz. They told him, “This is what Hezekiah says: This day is a day of distress and rebuke and disgrace, as when children come to the moment of birth and there is no strength to deliver them. …”
I want this baby to come out. This is the fourth time my wife has been pregnant, and although we’re still almost a week shy of her due date, I have never been more ready for her to go into labor. I can’t fully explain why, but it is time for this baby to be born.

Anxiety is not a regular presence in my mind. Anticipation, sure, but this feels different. As I stood in the shower earlier today, my mind would simply not stop racing with all sorts of best- and worst-case scenarios. I’ve experienced enough to know we’re not guaranteed the good or immune from the bad, but at this juncture if there are going to be difficulties I would rather be in the process of overcoming them than simply waiting to see if they might arrive.

All along, nearly since the beginning, Kristie has said this pregnancy physically feels different than the others. The longer it goes, the more that intensifies. Last weekend we were scrolling through some old pictures and paid special attention to images from the last six weeks or so before Charlie arrived. The differences between then and now are obvious and striking. I attribute a lot of my anxiety to concern for her well being and frustration over my inability to make any difference in her physical or mental comfort.

The challenges of rebuilding our house are fairly well documented. Kristie’s mom came in yesterday and stayed the night. By the time she left after dinner today it’s almost like an entirely new place. The basement is almost entirely put back together, we’re back to being able to use as much of our first floor as ever and she picked up, neatened, wiped down and vacuumed to an astounding extent. We still have some nesting tasks — things we’d likely have banged out over the last few weeks were we not dealing with larger issues — but I never thought we’d be put back together to this degree before the baby arrives. Perhaps part of my anxiety is owed to feeling as if we are physically ready in a way we were not before.

This is a very busy weekend in the life of our church, and I’ve had to scale back all of our involvement on account of trying to be as ready as possible when go time begins. In both my full- and part-time jobs there are ongoing issues that are fighting for my mental attention at a time when I’d prefer to focus solely on labor and delivery. But the career stuff can’t be ignored, and so far we’re not checked in to a maternity suite, so no sense forcing my mind into a place it need not go. Like two weather fronts meeting, the storms in my head are increasing the anxiety.

Layering on top is the terrible resolution to an ongoing local news story hitting fairly close to come, mentally and geographically. The details are exceedingly difficult to even consider, let alone think or write about. Suffice it to say it is the kind of story that makes parents want to huge each other and their children a little tighter and make sure everyone knows how much they are loved. That I’m unable to reach my newest little guy with a hug or a kiss or an “I love you” is eating away at me like never before. I realize if he were born right now it would be weeks or months before my words made any sense to him. But the touch of his parents could mean everything, and I am flat out guaranteeing I will be a blubbering, sobbing mess the second I see his gross little newborn face.

I know the counter to all this anxiety is God’s peace. It’s therefore no coincidence I am repeating that word, peace, over and over again in my head, and have been for several hours now. I don’t know what the future holds, tonight, tomorrow or 18 years from now. But I do know I can’t control that future, only how I react to whatever actually happens. Further, I know my ability to react appropriately depends entirely on my ability to let go of that anxiety and let God’s peace wash my worry away.

I need that peace, tonight and every night. I’m sure I’m not alone.

A prayer for October 4:

Lord, calm my worried heart. Put my mind at ease. You have promised to bear my burdens, to love me unconditionally. I know I am letting the things I can’t control take over my mind, but I need that to stop. I need to clearly focus on ways I can be productive and useful, the chances I have to delight in my many blessings and to share your love with others. Work in me and through me. I want and need to be fully yours. Grant me peace. Amen.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Free from concern? No thanks

1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (NIV)

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs — how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world — how he can please his wife — and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world — how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
As a married man for more than 11 of my 34 years, I am here to report I am indeed concerned about the affairs of the world and, more importantly, how to make my wife happy. There are plenty of times I am thinking about my wife and children before I’m concerned with the Lord’s affairs, though I realize logically I am a much better husband and father when I view the former through the lens of the latter. But still, I get what Paul is saying, to a point.

Because for nearly 23 of my 34 years I was not a married man. And for a great, great deal of those 23 years, I was heavily engaged in thinking about what it might take to one day become a married man. In fact, I would suggest on balance I’ve been more concerned with the Lord’s affairs in the third third of my life so far than the first two thirds. It’s not unheard of to suggest young people are more inclined to think beyond their own interests — and often that includes a turn or return to faith — once children enter the picture.

On the simplest level, I want to be someone my children can be proud to call their dad, and I hope to raise them to be better citizens of the world than I have been. I don’t think that makes me special or unique. Part of the way I hope to accomplish these goals, a personal choice, is to seek God’s direction and will. This is not to say “I go to church to be a better husband and dad.” That’s far too simplistic. But I am trying to let faith drive the train, to keep the Lord’s intent at top of mind and through that devotion to live as the type of person God wants me to be.

Does it work? Some days better than others. Has it ever let me down? No, but I’ve failed to hold up my end plenty of times. Living in a right way, in undivided devotion, is monumentally difficult. Many folks would suggest it’s an impossible feat given the limitations of being human, and I’m not sure I disagree.

I don’t find these lines from Paul’s letter too difficult to swallow. If I’m devoted to God and actively seeking guidance and direction, I’m going to be able to please my wife and help care for our children. If I’m not properly caring for my wife and kids, I’m no longer right with the Lord. I’m not advocating for trickle-down parenting or anything, but I have been able to clearly identify in my own life the ways I live and love better if I am paying attention to what God wants on a consistent basis.

I would love to be free from concern. But anyone — single, married, parents or otherwise — truly lives a life free from concern. We can say no concerns of this life amount to the matter of our eternal soul, and that’s true, but when there are people in our life to love deeply and care for, well, concerns are a part of that deal. And so on we go, day after day, trying to make the right choices and just be good people. At least that’s what I hope we’re all doing. It’s certainly how I hope my sons view the world as they grow into maturity. And it’s my job to lead them by example. May God help us all.

A prayer for October 1:

Lord, I am thankful for the concerns in my life. There are so many important people for whom I care deeply — and who in turn show their care for me — I now realize the occasional heaviness in my heart is the reward that comes from loving and being loved. And yet I imagine it pales in comparison to the love you have for us, whom you lovingly made. How many times have I let you down? How many ways have I been a disappointment? I am so sorry for my shortcomings. Please help make me whole, set me on the right path and guide me each step of the way. Amen.