Subtraction

Red and gray lego bricks sprawl out across his floor. Piles neatly sorted by color and size are evidence of the order with which he approaches his life. Throughout the day in his spare minutes, he retreats to his room, diligently picking away at the fire station he is so excited to rebuild. He asks me if this can count as math for today.

And I pause and think a hesitant “yes.” Yes. I don’t mind if we skip the math book today. Because today you shoveled the driveway and you hauled the trash cans to and from the curb. And you showered and combed your hair and made your bed. And you interacted politely at the dentist appointment. And later you’ll pick up after your sister without being asked, and you’ll keep an eye on the hurricane that is your baby brother. You’ll pepper me with questions all day, about every possible topic. You’ll brainstorm news ways to earn money for latest interest you’re saving for. And then you’ll clear the table and help with the dishes and end your day with a prayer.

So yes. Today I don’t mind if we skip over the page of three digit subtraction because today you are too busy growing into a smart, kind, hard-working, self-giving, honest man.

Today the subtraction that you do will not be done on pencil and paper. It will be done inside you. Eventually you plow through things heavier than the snow in your shovel. The little ones you watch out for now will one day be your own. Your questions won’t always have answers. And someday you’ll crunch the numbers to see that they don’t add up and that you’ve fallen short. Maybe because of a mistake you made. Maybe because life is just unfair sometimes. But one day soon, you will have to rebuild things a lot harder than legos.

One day you’ll find that subtraction is really just sacrifice on paper; the taking away from a whole to give to other parts. And isn’t that what being a man is really all about?

So go and build your fire station. Sort the pieces, fit and refit them together, envision the final product. Enjoy the process. Enjoy being seven. One day you’ll need to subtract things from yourself and from your life that are so much bigger and far less quantifiable numbers in a math problem. And no text book can teach you that.

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Constellations

When you were a baby, I sang you this song. A familiar childhood melody drifting over you, a simple anthem that held all the things I thought of you as I rocked you to sleep each night. Questions about who you were, and are, and would one day become.

Tomorrow marks another journey around the sun for you, and you are still a wonderful mystery. At times I am in awe of you, glittering in front of me, lighting up my life as the stars illuminate a night sky. Sparkling, spinning, dancing around the moon, a delicate and yet brilliant performance that only a daughter can give. Your whole self a constellation of diamonds, the most precious picture of who you are.

And at other times I watch you in complete bewilderment, as one watches exploding balls of fire whirling a billion miles away. I find myself asking the same questions, wondering who you are and who you have yet to become. What shape will your life take in the end? Which influences now will you pattern yourself after? And what is the raging fury producing that will one day shine so brightly?

You are a star, my sweet. A beautiful, complex illumination in the expanse that is my life, lighting up my whole world and leaving me breathless as I watch you take shape. Even though you don’t need lullabies anymore, I still sing this to you when you sleep and will sing it forever in my heart, so that one day when you are all grown up and feel lost in your life, the words will remind you of home, calling you back to the people and the One who loves you most.

Twinkle, twinkle little star

How I wonder who you are?

Laying in my arms so sweet,

Drifting quietly to sleep.

Twinkle, twinkle little star,

Do you know how loved you are?

Do you know how loved you are?

Happy birthday, little star. Thank you for filling my life with so many glittering moments.

The Window

Baby-sized shrieks of excitement fill the otherwise quiet room. His hands clap together while a big-belly giggle gurgles up out of his soul and sugars the air between us. Our eyes meet in mutual glee. His in anticipation of my next move; mine in full delight of being in this moment with him.

Right now, my tiniest stone is in a rare window of time. He is fully mobile now, active and busy. Sure on his feet, he regularly bursts forth in a toddley run, splashing through space to keep up with his brother and sister. He climbs stairs as if they are mountains, seeking the summit with every step. And he descends them carefully, slowing evaluating the steep drop as he lowers himself down the slope. Ducking and dodging, rolling and pushing, he navigates obstacles in his way. The garden hose is his ocean; the sandbox his glittering shores. A daily ride in the wagon puts him at the helm of the vessel that takes him into the unknown, and the backyard swing is his ticket to soar into the blue, like the birds who fascinate his curious mind.

The whole world is his playground, and he subdues it with great pride. He brings his rule and reign, like a little king, learning how the environment around him responds to his plans. My arms can no longer contain his abundant nature–the purpose knit into his makeup–to take hold of this very good place. In this window, I watch his babyhood fade more each day, and notice the promise of childhood coming into view.

But when he wanders near danger–a low-hanging branch, desirable to him–I am still able to pull him back. For the most part, we have not yet arrived at the days of kicking and screaming in a tantrum; the days of rebellion, shame, and hiding. He hears the sound of my voice; he notices the goodness I offer him instead, and he is content with my definition of right and wrong. Of danger and safety. Of good and evil.

It is a window we all pass through. A place in time where we no longer cling to our mothers like an extension of their bodies. Somehow we recognize our own individual identities as separate people capable of responding to our whims and environments as we please. But it is also a place in time where we have no knowledge of evil at all; no knowledge of the sin crouching at our doors. What a small, small window it is.

The beauty of the window is the view that it frames. Lush, inviting, dripping with goodness. A kingdom-garden for us, ready and brimming with possibility.

And the tragedy of the window is that we are unconscious to it. Unaware of our own innocence, unable to remember the day in which we played at the threshold of Eden.

Looking into the window, we see ourselves. Children captivated by a taste of our full, perfected humanity with no knowledge of the heinous system we will willingly become participants in. And looking through the window, we glimpse the future. Outlined by the walls of this life, these windows let in just enough light to brighten the darkness. A single pane of glass separating us from the fullness that awaits.

In watching my beloved son pass through this precious season of life, I find myself inching closer and closer to the window in my own life. Gazing longingly at the view it frames. Pressing my hand upon the crystalized glass. Lifting it open, bit by bit, letting in the breeze and myself dance with the wind. The Ruach–the Spirit–from just beyond, breathing into me the life I am made to live.

Untitled Psalm

He is torn from sternum to navel. Staples like a zipper, holding in what belongs until his skin repairs the damage with a scar. The tumors they removed lay lifeless in a pan next to the operating table. Tragic, their size. Even more tragic is the fate they have simply delayed. He is dying from the inside out.

Two orphans in the lands of the north cry out in their own pain. They are no longer boys and not yet men; that precarious transition known for swallowing its prey whole. The streets have spit them out. The world tuned out their vulnerable pleas. They are the downtrodden. The oppressed. Dying at the hand not of disease, but desertion.

And meanwhile in middle class America, the desire of her eyes led her to the arms of another. Her husband left standing with the broken pieces of his own heart and their young marriage. A headfull of lies she fed him. Deception he believed—perhaps became blind to—himself. Now he cries alone, silently, every night laying in an empty bed knowing he has broken something he was suppose to make whole. A fatal failure.

And so our cries rise to you, oh Yahweh. How loud Your throne must be. Is it what you hear?

Because I can hear the voice in Ramah. It’s Rachel weeping for her children. (Jer. 31:15) Weeping for all the children, exiled in the world. Dying the slow and painful death of life apart from You. (Gen. 3)

Most do not recognize You. (Ex. 5:2) Yahweh is not the god of their anscestors. Not the god of their past or even their present. They come, stumbling and alone, abused and fallen at Your doorstep. At my doorstep. (Jud. 19:25-37)

Bring them in, oh Yahweh. Lift them from the threshold of your loving kindness and bring them into the family. Let the blood of the Lamb be ever over the door posts of their hearts, and love of God bound to their very core.

Victims of Babylon. Victims of evil. Victims of the human system which I participate in. Draw us of the chaotic waters that engulf us. Let Your Spirit hover over us. (Gen. 8; John 1:29-33)

In repentance and rest is our salvation, In quietness and trust is our strength. (Is. 30:15)

We may be lost. We may be broken. We may be rotten and bitter. Have mercy and remember Your promises, for the sake of Your great Name.

Like the baby crying in the basket. Like the Your people crying in Egypt. (Ex. 2) The crying here is so great, my King. So great that my heart is breaking. How much more is yours, Oh Yahweh? How much more is yours?

“Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and see the Lord’s salvation…” Ex. 14:13

The Hours and the Miles

We’re in a season of miles

that stretch across our hearts.

Pulling us together

across the wide, wide sky.

 

And we’re in a season of hours

that don’t want to end.

Some would take a break,

we’ve got to take the work.

 

You’ve been gone so long.

I know you’re tired of the flights

and the calls.

The job keeps you up way too late.

Day turns to night and it starts all again.

The haul never gets any shorter.

Work you love, void without me.

 

And I’ve been home so long.

I’m tired of their fights

and these walls

This job gets me up way too soon.

Night turns to day and they need me again.

The trenches and frontline of motherhood.

A 24/7 shift, for weeks without you.

 

I can’t talk right now. And you’ll be asleep by my tomorrow.

How do two stay one when the sun on my face

has already passed over you?

 

I know this is how it goes.

And I know it’s what we chose.

I know there will be a day

we sit at the beach and watch the waves

play at their toes.

But today is not that day, and you are far from home.

And I am here, alone.

 

But these miles we walk aren’t in vain.

The time you spend away

will come back to us one day.

And I am here with them.

Investing my every breath so they will grow up

and do the same.

 

But these miles are vast and these hours are long.

And tonight the lump in my throat won’t leave me alone.

 

So call me when you get to where you’re going.

Maybe we can talk a little while.

Or at least until the baby cries.

Or we both cave to the lull of needed sleep.

Shoes

Clumsily she struts around in my shoes, a pair of black high heels that I rarely ware, dug out of the back of my closet. Her smile is wide as she announces that the fashion show has begun. Dragging her feet through the carpet to the mirror, she admires her look, then falls, laughing as she makes her way back to the closet for another pair.

This behavior–playing fashion show–is new to us. I have vivid memories of doing the same thing as a little girl, but her older brother never played games like this. And so watching her fascination with my shoes is fascinating to me.

They are far too big for her little growing feet. Not to mention uncomfortable and hard to walk in. They don’t fit her yet, and if I expected her to wear them, she would surely fall and injure herself. The time for filling shoes like this has not come for her.

She loves to play with them though. There is something about pretending to be grown up that draws her back each time, trying out a new pair. Seeing how she looks; how she feels.

Curiously she has never put on her Dad’s shoes. Though we share a closet, our shoes lined up neatly next to each other’s, she always plays with mine.

As she plays I begin to notice how much she is watching me. She is not pretending to be a grown-up; she’s pretending to be me.

An image of me–not an exact replica–but in her own mind, I am the closest thing to a grown up girl she will ever experience until she becomes one herself. I am her definition of a woman. I am the mirror she looks to to glimpse her future. How funny that she has taught me so much about being a mother and yet I am the very person she will learn to be a mother from.

The weight of it all hit me while she pranced around in my shoes. My beautiful girl. My precious daughter. I have the power to raise her to amazing heights as a daughter of the King, and also the power to damage her perceptions of real womanhood beyond recognition. It is a weighty, exhilarating, and scary moment when you realize all your daughter wants is to grow up to be you.

That day is not far off. One day she will no longer be a child, and I can only I hope she sees herself as I see her now. Fearless, mighty, brave, tender, observant, creative, curious, and above all else craving the deepest affection and the most outlandish love. I know that I will let her down, as all mothers do. And when I do I hope and pray with all my heart that she will run to the One who will never let her go, who can tend her heart in ways no human ever can.

Yes, I know I will let her down. But oh how I never want to.

Of Games and Cinderblock

White washed cinderblock walls climb three stories up. Hanging above us a green glow hovers from the fluorescent light, static and artificial. Nothing good ever came from a tube suspended in mid air. A shiny gym floor squeaks with the sound of rubber soles running back and forth across the boards.

It’s all so drab. So lackluster. So manmade. And yet we are lucky to have this place. In a land where the alternative is a harsh, wintry environment six months out of the year, a big warm room to let them run is nothing to take for granted. But today the room itself has this longing filling the air. Everything from the lighting, to the walls, to the shoes made across the Pacific Ocean seem cold and imperfect. It’s all this feeble attempt to make something nice from this crude world. Something to soften its blow. And it’s excentuated by the only good thing in it: the boys.

My son races around the gym, weaving and dodging, trying to outrun his friend who is chasing him in a friendly game of tag. He is six–almost seven–and his friend just a bit older. Watching two school-aged boys play tag is really a site to behold. Incredible, actually.

Their legs pump up and down, blood flowing swiftly to the long fibers that connect their muscles together and animate their movements. Their chests expand, heaving and broadening, a miniature image of how they will look in just a few short years. They are agile, quick, and full of life. Breath. But perhaps most beautiful is the smile on their winded faces. They know no limits, no care. Their world is complete for a moment because they are doing everything they were made to do. Running from one place to another, they look as if any moment they will just lift off the ground and go chase each other around the moon. For a fraction in time there is no limit to their world; nothing holding them back from everything they are suppose to be. In here, in this cold, manmade cage, it is so plain to me how captive they are.

This may be the only world they know, but it is starkly obvious to me that this is not their home.

Later, I watch my princess gallop around the room. She dodges the furniture, giving a whinny here and a neigh there, as she rounds the corner by the dining room table. It’s a daily occurnace, her pretending to be a horse. We indulge her terribly, playing along and calling her “Sparkling Lights,” her splendid pony name. I’ll often feed her carrots by hand, or pretend to brush her sleek coat. I wrap scarves around her middle, a make-shift saddle to add to her delight. After all, how many years of your life do you really get away with fully believing you are such a majestic creature? She prances by, toffee hair floating behind her like a beautiful sun-kissed mane. “Good girl. Easy girl. You’re a beautiful horse, Sparkling Lights,” I soothe. That night I tuck her into her little bed and sing a song of horses running free, and tell her to dream of the day He comes back, riding on His white horse, ready for her to go riding with Him. Her eyes glass over and she says she can’t wait.

And for the second time that day, I see again how inadequate this place is and how exiled we are.

These precious stones of mine are brilliant. They are shining beacons in a world of bitterness, injustice, and cruelty. And for now–thankfully–they do not know much of those things. And until that day comes, they are my evidence of hope. They remind me how someday the Restoration will come, and our home will be a paradise. Our bodies will not break down, never decompose. Our joy will be complete, perfected in being everything we want to be. In everything we are made to be: completely and uniquely human. Royalty. Sons and daughters of the King, reigning and ruling in our real home.