Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Today: The Warm Red Chair

I have on my desktop at work a picture of Ivy asleep in the red leather chair in my bedroom. She’s curled up in an almost sitting position. One arm, bent at the elbow, is tucked up behind her ear. The other folds gently across her lap. There’s a fan in the window and a patch of warm sun on the floor near the chair. The window radiates warmth and light and all is still.

There’s a story behind the picture. At the time of the picture, I had been very sick for two weeks and no improvement seemed on the horizon. Life and its associated responsibilities weighed heavily on my mind and I wondered if I would ever feel happy again. Right in the moment, I was trying to work up the energy to fold a pile of laundry on the bed. I felt tired, misunderstood, isolated, alone, and overwhelmed by all that needed my attention.

Suddenly, these dark, self-absorbed thoughts were punctuated by screaming, yelling, kicking, stomping, rampaging in the streets, and the terrorizing of small animals. I walked out of the bedroom to investigate and discovered Ivy—the smallest of the small ones—throwing an epic fit. Evidently, a sibling misappropriated a toy of questionable economic value, but tremendous emotional value. In an effort to ease tensions and prevent imminent bloodshed, I intervened.

For those who do not know Ivy, she’s small, but she’s strong and, more importantly, determined. As a result, it took some effort to disengage her from the melee and move her to the red chair in my room. Once ensconced in its warm leathery comfort, the wailing subsided to crying, which gave way to wimpering, which in turn ended in sleep and blessed release.

I watched the entire incident unfold in a matter of minutes. And I was struck—as I almost always am when teaching a child—by how the Lord speaks to me through my children. Turns out Ivy’s only problem was she was tired. What she needed was a warm peaceful place to take a nap. As I stood there watching her sleep, I could feel my Heavenly Father place his arms around me, pull me from my tantrum, and settle me into His warm red chair. I remember feeling impressed by the sunlight streaming through the window and how the light itself felt like a tangible manifestation of God’s love for me.

Significantly, the issues I confronted at that time did not go away. In fact, if I remember correctly, months passed before I fully navigated that ocean. But that divine act of comfort, that very real reminder of God’s love for me, gave me the courage to continue trying. And the peace or joy I felt in that moment reminded me that our Father’s exceeding great and precious promises are worth the 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Today: Pining for the Ponderosa

I don’t believe I’m one of those sentimental types that pines for the “good ole” days. While my teenage years were mostly free of trouble, you won’t find me running to embrace the future with arms wide open and head thrown back, especially in light of troubling current societal trends. Look for me, solidly staked against most of the winds of change, in the traditionalist camp. Life has taken on a much rosier hue following my exit of the teenage years. And yet embeddedhidden deep within my psychethere persists a boxed spark of nostalgia, a part of me that does fondly peer back through the mist of time upon those years. Every now and then, some external stimulus will crack the lid on the soul box and allow the spark to momentarily flash free. For example, “Allison Road,” by Gin Blossoms, “What’s the Frequency Kenneth,” by R.E.M., and today the image of Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy album cover. Not that I have a particular fondness for these artists any longer. They don’t represent, even in a small way, my views on the world. And I am not so shallow as to willingly associate something so ephemeral as pop music, and grunge rock at that, with one of the most formative phases of my life. Still, we both inhabited the same space for a time. No, there are deeper symbols of that age. On my work desktop today, I find a picture of my two youngest children, Ivy and Grace, standing in the back of my 1995 Nissan pickup (also a relic of that age). They stand braced against a strong easterly wind, eyes wincing and hair streaming behind them. Above the girls and truck rises the ragged form of what has become perhaps the greatest symbol of those early golden years of my life, the Ponderosa Pine, and so too those places where I find the Ponderosa. Due in large part to my own insecurity and immaturity, the last three years of High School were little better than the first and middle school. But they were better. So even though 20 years have passed since I lived in Spokane, Washington, and even though I only lived in Spokane or anywhere on Washington’s Eastside for a mere three years, and even though I have lived in Western Washington for a solid third of my life, I continue describe myself as an Eastern Washingtonian. It was there I first came into myself as a young adult. The irony, the punishment of nostalgia is that it is doubly inaccessible. Not only are we bereft of Uncle Rico’s time-transporting crystals, but even if we could get the machine to work, the place we are seeking never existed. It is only beautiful because of the eyes through which we gaze upon it. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Today: Phad Thai, and Spicy Garlic Chicken

So for the last month, I’ve been sick, really sick. Sick enough, that I lost a few pounds, which translates into more pull-ups at night and clothes that are a little less tight. As my condition has improved, I have begun eating again—almost instinctively eating for two, which may work for pregnant women, but has not worked for me. 

Saturday, I got my first long ride in since the illness and came home weak and ravenously hungry. Ellie, our second, made lemon poppyseed muffins with icing. I had six. SIX. Then, for date night, Rachael and I went out for Thai. I agreed to Thai, as opposed to something more in keeping with my unimaginative pedestrian tastes, because I was still full from brunch. And then proceeded to eat most of the Phad Thai and Spicy Garlic Chicken, followed by a maple bar and apple-fritter chaser. 

Needless to say (or maybe it is needful), I woke up at 3:00 a.m. on the verge of vomiting. I do not vomit well. It is an ordeal more so for those who are subjected to my moaning and sniveling. I soldiered through and managed to get back in bed in time for Ivy (our youngest) to come in and let me know that she “peed the bed.” 

As disappointing as this may sound, it actually represents a huge step forward for our curl-bedecked blondie. The last two times this happened, she woke up observing she got “very sweaty in bed last night.” Evidently, realizing that sweat is not the same as urine is a difficult lesson for some children. As my mother would say, “it is a sign you’re growing up, love.” I added the “love,” my mother never would have said that. She repeatedly observed that had she named me [insert your favorite mild expletive here] it would have saved her the time. And I digress yet again.

Sunday dawned sunny and cool. And as I clawed my way out of bed, in time to see a flock of geese headed south and bright yellow leaves dropping from the gingko, I was grateful the night was over. I did not eat yesterday. At least, I did not eat until 6:00 p.m. which was an abbreviated affair due to the headache that ensued probably due to the fact I hadn’t had anything to drink after the spicy garlic chicken. And now I feel weak and light-headed again, which makes me want to eat.

And the moral of this story is that sometimes illness becomes cyclical. I got so weak in August and September that my body attempted to compensate last week by overeating. Said over-eating (I still insist it was the Thai, but Rachael’s having none it) got me sick enough that I did not eat until I became weak again. And for breakfast, I consumed plain Greek yogurt and oats, a Lara bar, a fig bar, and . . . the last poppy-seed muffin. The icing is so good.  

Some people never learn. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Today: On Loan

Today my desktop shows a younger, fitter me---arms poised over my upturned head. Even with my back to the camera, you can see my head tilted up, way up. Several inches span the distance between the top of my outstretched arms and the tip of her extended toes. There above me hangs Ivy, suspended in time and mid-flight by the magic of digital photography. She gazes down at me, her smile frozen and blurred in her rapid descent. If you suspend disbelief long enough, it almost looks as if she falling from heaven. In which case, it’s a good thing someone is there to catch her. Every time I see these pictures (there is more than one, and this is not the most spectacular), even living it as I have, I can’t help wondering if this time somehow she’ll slip through my hands. That in turn reminds me how a trusting Father has dropped her to me. Have I caught her as He hoped? Will I catch her?

Monday, March 14, 2016

Today: Training Wheels

I have on my desktop a picture of Grace learning to ride her bike. You can see her biting her lip. The bike tips a bit to her left, but the blur of the tread confirms that she is airborne and a thrilled gaze of determination shines in her eyes. It is my image that draws my attention today. Hovering behind her with my arms outspread like hen wings, I trail her by a step—ready at any moment to catch her before she falls. Today, as I contemplate the joyful burden of discipleship, it feels as if He has removed the training wheels. My heart aches full at the echo of His feet behind me. And hope, just short of courage, springs up when, hovering in my peripheral vision, I catch glimpses of His outstretched hands.

Parenting has taught me more about my relationship with Him than any other experience. Usually it feels corrective. I find myself asking if I would want my Father to respond to my tears, my whining, or my disobedience in the way I respond to my children. Today, the memory of that experience approaches my parenting from a kinder, more oblique angle. Instead of wishing I had His wisdom and His patience with my children. I wish instead I had Grace’s conviction and joyful anticipation in my own risky ventures without training wheels. And look how far she's come.

Grace, three years later

Monday, February 1, 2016

An Early Birthday Present

She's sleeping as I write this. But she wasn't last night. I’m not sure what first triggered it, but recently Ivy has been waking up in the middle of the night with bad dreams. Last night, for the first time in as long as I can remember, Rachael heard her cries before me. She took the first shift. Ivy wasn’t quiet long before the tears started again and I had a chance to redeem myself. I popped up and stumbled into her bedroom. 

“I’m afraid, Daddy.” She says over and over again until I reach her. 

We pray together, and I’m surprised to hear her use complete sentences and better grammar than I’ve heard in earlier prayers and this at 1:30 a.m. Not bad. Her tears and cries return, and they are the real thing. 

She wails: “I’m afraid.” Then, standing, clutching at three stuffed animals, she asks: “Can I sleep with you, daddy?” In a former time, I may have relented at such a heart-rending request. But even in my midnight stupor, I know that kids in bed with parents does not a good long-term solution make.

“No honey,” I say. And the tears begin afresh.

“I’m afraid, Daddy.”

“What are you afraid of, sweetheart?”

“Scary monsters,” she says choking back sobs.

The other two who share a bedroom with her are awake now. Not that I expected to find them sleeping after Ivy’s siren-like outbursts, but I can detect the tell-tale signs. The steady breathing is missing. They shift subtly now and then. There was a time when the mere threat of waking slumbering siblings would have nearly unhinged me, but I am mellowing. That realization comforts me.

“I don’t want to sleep alone.” She continues.

Half-kneeling, half prostrate against the edge of her trundle, I begin singing “I Am A Child of God.” Ivy, the caboose of our five children, has a predilection for music. She can pick out a tune and retain it after hearing a song one time through. Music also sooths her more than it has our other children. Part way into the verse, she settles down. I sing all three verses partly for her, partly for me, and partly for the other two. Then, I crawl over her now relaxed form and lay beside her on top of her covers. I’m chilled, but the cool air feels good after the warmth of my bed.

Due to the lack of space and the preponderance of children in the middle bedroom, Rachael arranged Ivy’s trundle perpendicular to Grace’s bed above it. This way, the kids can hoard their toys and we can amass quantities of food storage under the now-vacant lower half of Grace’s bed. Additionally, because Ivy—almost Grace’s height—is still quite small, we can leave the trundle partially and permanently extending at right angles into the room from underneath the upper half of Grace’s bed. It also means that, lying next to Ivy, my knees nearly touch my ears.

Between the cool air from the window above and the contortions I’m forced to assume to fit beside Ivy, I know I will not sleep here. Fortunately, Ivy will. A few minutes pass and a soft rhythmic breathing issues from the bundle beside me. About the time I plan to stand up and return to my room, Carver suddenly, and without warning, springs from his bed. Without saying a word, he stumbles, jerky like, over to the edge of Ivy’s trundle. He towers groggily above us and I half expect him to collapse on top of us. He stops, wobbling still, and looks down to verify (I assume) that I am in Ivy’s bed. Confirming my presence, without a word, he totters back to his own bed.

“That’s my cue,” I think. After waiting for another minute or two to ensure that Ivy truly sleeps, I crawl out of the trundle, kiss Ivy on the cheek, touch Carver’s head gently on the way out, and navigate the darkened rooms back to my bed. Before slipping in next to Rachael, I kneel and pray that Ivy will feel comfort. It occurs to me that she’s right to be afraid of monsters. I consider myself an optimist, but there’s no denying a fair number of monsters inhabit this world. I trust that my Father watches over this family.

As I rise from my knees, I think: “How would I capture this experience if I were Michael Perry.” The words, the phrases, and thoughtful forms of expression all come easily to mind right now at a quarter to 2:00 a.m. “It won’t be so easy tomorrow morning,” I realize as Rachael sighs gently, I shift a few times and remember nothing else until 5:00 a.m.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Today: Eyes to See

Sixteen years ago last month, we met. She thought she needed help with Spanish. She could not see her strength. Could I?  

I see her now. She is running on my desktop. She’s running up a hill into the rising sun. The early morning sun electrifies the horizon mist washing out and blurring all distinction in a fiery glory. She runs resolutely, steadily toward that glory. Acceptance or hunger, which of you draw her onward? Already she’s 100 feet ahead of me. Will I ever catch her?

Is it the rain, the rain that fruitlessly yet incessantly and unyielding in its efforts to pierce my glass barrier and staunch the warm drive within, is it this rain that tempers my heart? That gives rise to the tremulous thoughts of stumbling and slipping into solitude? And what do I do with these thoughts? Do I embrace them and wallow in their stickiness? Do I reject them and heedlessly proceed knowing in Whom I trust?

He comforts me. He reminds me that her constancy runs deeper than my fears. Her depth, like the stamina on which she draws to run that hill and pull away from me, humbles me. How do I complement someone so strong in so many ways. She forgives when in my calloused pride I fail to recognize my offense. She absorbs the manifestations of my pain. Somehow, miraculously He helps her recognize the pain of others. And she listens while she runs. She can hear Him. She absorbs the pain of so many.

Wilt Thou extend to me Thy strength? I want to reach that hilltop with her. I imagine the fire. I imagine the message. I too want to hear. Can I absorb and deflect with equanimity as she does? I hunger for this. My knees and chest ache. My strength alone will not get me up this hill. Wilt Thou share Thy strength?