Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Change

It was supposed to be normal. It was supposed to be uncomplicated, easy, and so utterly textbook-like that it was somewhat comedic. The doctor had laughed about how by-the-numbers everything had gone so far. But after about 30 minutes of struggling in the delivery room, eight words were uttered that changed everything:

"I think there's something wrong with the baby."

In the span of under a minute the room changed from a tranquil birthing room to being filled with nurses acting with military precision to rush Ashley to the operating room for an emergency cesarian. The umbilical cord was wrapped around him. His heart rate was dropping. It was not - currently - life threatening, but that would change during the birthing procedure. So we had to change our prepared, planned-for method of delivery.

And in what felt like a shorter time period than a commercial break during a sitcom, my family structure changed from being a duo to a trio.

While Ashley was being stitched up, I walked him to the nursery. Still in a daze, still in shock, but somehow able to push a cart with a newborn in it. But before the nurse took him inside, she turned and spoke seven words that changed my arms from being free to forever being full:

"Would you like to hold him, daddy?"

After a brief period of getting weighed, measured, and cleaned, he was wheeled back into our room. While still slightly loopy from the anesthetic, after nursing him Ashley asked me five words that changed me from being unsure, insecure, and uncertain if I could actually be a father. Five words that led to an action that changed me to find courage, strength, and surety to be able to handle the life before me.

"Do you want to change him?"

My first diaper.

I changed you, and in the process of simply being you, you changed me. Forever.

For the better.

Happy fourth birthday, Malakai.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Back to the Gender

I love Back to the Future. It's one of those movies that just screams "quintessential 80s flick," and as a card-carrying member of Gen X, it holds a dear place in my heart. I'm surprised at how many people I know who didn't grow up in that era who also have a soft spot in their heart for DeLoreans, Doc Brown, and Marty McFly. 

I mean, Eric Stoltz was just amazing as Marty McFly, right?


Not so much.

Not everyone knows this, but Eric Stoltz was the first actor cast as Marty McFly. They filmed a good number of scenes with him, and - as the legend goes - after seeing the lack of chemistry on screen between him and Christopher Lloyd, they recast the role. At a considerable cost to both the schedule and budget, they reshot all the scenes already completed - this time, with Michael J. Fox in the lead role.

And the rest, as they say, is heavy.

This isn't to say that Eric Stoltz was then or is today a bad actor. He's actually quite talented, and the recasting was not meant as a strike against his abilities. It's that he simply didn't fit the role. He wasn't right for the part. And with all due respect to every other character he's played on television or in the movies, Marty McFly was the role Michael J. Fox was born play.

Eric Stoltz? Good actor. The role of Marty McFly? Good role. Stoltz as McFly? It simply wan't in his nature to be that character.

A natural dissonance occurs when we try to fit something or someone into a role that goes against their nature. For example, I'm not the manliest of men. I have the athletic ability of a garden slug. My wife, even currently at six months pregnant, could easily kick my butt in any sport - especially basketball - we might participate in. It's not in my nature to be "that" kind of guy. Could I study the plays, memorize the stats, and even execute myself as a player with some level of competency? Yes, but my heart wouldn't be in it.

Now - drop me in a kitchen, give me free reign in the pantry and with the spice racks, and watch the magic happen. Sit me down with my journal for a few hours and life will emerge from the blank pages. Give me time with Kai and (soon) Kid #2, and my soul soars.

These examples illustrate how in my life what I do on a daily basis flies in the face of the roles men are expected to play in their families and in society. But, they're where my nature lies. They're what I was born to be and do. Arguing that societal norms should not dictate what we should or not should do is a touchy enough subject. 

Add faith into the mix, and the discussions skew quickly towards how heretical or unBiblical the voices speaking against bucking what is accepted without any spiritual foundation are.

When men try and quantify Biblically how we are supposed to "act like men," without the masses stopping to give pause and even consider if those who are yelling the loudest about how we are to act are the most qualified to speak on the issue or even if they are taking into account that not all men are the same, we assume theology and Western traditional gender roles are interconnected and can be swapped out so much like a battery without any problems. 

When a woman comedically but sincerely tries to open a dialogue on the fact that "Biblical womanhood" is far more layered, complex and difficult to pigeonhole than the average one-day retreat complete with complimentary pastel-colored T-shirt might lead one to believe, we attack them, claiming they're twisting Scripture out of context.

You know. The same action we don't take against the guys.

This isn't to say that there isn't a place for gender roles. The roles, however, must be something that the individual is willing to act on and is led by their nature to participate in. It's got to fit. Ashley can cook - and cook well - but she always follows a recipe. She doesn't have the heart to be a chef. I'm good (laughably so) with a budget. But I always tend to wriggle within the margins a bit. I don't have the analytical mind she has and is needed for working with money.

Theoretically, any actor could have walked onto set and begun acting as Marty McFly. Odds are, though, that without Michael J. Fox in the role, we never would have come back for two additional installments of the franchise. We'd be without hoverboards, knowing that calling someone "chicken" can change their life for the worse, and that throughout generations, dumping manure on your enemy was a time-honored way of dealing with bullies.

Theoretically, any man could act as the head of the house, while the woman submits meekly to his Biblical authority. Odds are, though, without the voices of those who question the accepted "norm," or those who speak the truth in love against oppression, the enforcement of biased and unbalanced modesty or sexual biases, or those who stand firm for justice, ending discrimination in all its forms, and work to bring love as an action and not just words to the ones whose souls lie wounded...

...we'd have a pretty good snapshot of a great deal of modern Christianity.

And GREAT SCOTT, that's just not how it is supposed to be.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Guest Blogging Here and There

Every so often, I get asked (or I beg) to guest post for a friend or website. In fact, if you take a look at the list on the right, you'll find links to them all - but every so often, I have to take a moment to highlight a few of the ones that mean a lot to me.

The last week in February, my friend Renee graced me with the ability to speak publicly about something most guys - especially guys in the church - stay silent on: dealing with depression. This is actually something I may write about more here at some point, but for now, you can read part of my story about being A Wounded Healer.

Today, I'm leading out Jessica's new series on Faithful Parenting (and I'm going to point my kids to this post time and again to remind them that I parent gently). This may raise a few eyebrows, but...eh. 

And lest I forget, my continuing posts for Prodigal Magazine: 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Holy Ground

It was one of those days where - quite honestly - at the outset, I dreaded that I was going to be home with Kai all day.

The day began poorly enough: bad sleep due to my going to bed late coupled with having to tuck the boy back in to bed at least four times during the night; cold, rainy weather outside which meant the dog and I would both get soaked when I took her out to pee; and the realization that it was only Tuesday, which meant three more days of a 9-10 hour shift each day in parenting with no break. I could feel my frustration level rising while my patience dropped proportionately with each passing tick of the clock.

By 7:00 am, he was already hyper and kept telling me where he wanted to go, which clearly was not in his room at his house to play with all his toys. Because that would have been, you know, easy.

I tried to mentally justify my stance of not wanting to take him anywhere: it was raining; it was too far away; we'd have to be home for lunch which meant we'd not be able to be gone long; I really, really didn't want to be around any other kids; and I really, really didn't want to be around any other parents. Besides, we could always go later. Or not.

I'm not sure what changed my mind. Maybe it was the recognition that the days of he and I being able to drop everything and go off on an adventure are rapidly drawing to a close and will end once his brother is born this summer. Maybe it was due to my One Word for this year consistently coming back to nudge my heart and mind at the most "inconvenient" of times. Maybe it was the realization that I didn't want to have him spend the bulk of the day playing alone or watching a disproportionate amount of TV just because dad was in a bad mood and had less of a desire to interact with anyone.

So I dressed him. I dressed me. We grabbed our respective drinks (coffee and carrot juice) and got in the car to head to Monkey Joes.

And while I was driving, I started smiling. Cracks in my angry, tired veneer started to widen. We laughed. We talked like robots. We debated what to eat for lunch (beetles or socks). We made up songs, changing the lyrics to reflect a story about dinosaurs who can't dance.

And like a cold breeze blowing across my heart, snapping it to attention, I felt as much as heard the words:

"This is holy."

We often fall into the trap of thinking that everything - from a worship service to a group of friends just hanging out - has to be event driven. I was convinced that with Kai, that was how parenting had to unfold: there always has to be a new craft made, a new park to play in, a new book at the library to be discovered in order to make memories and have him be emotionally healthy. I forget that when Ashley and I dated, we sucked at "dating:" most of our happy memories come in recalling the moments when we did...stuff, not when went to restaurants, movies, or did anything normally associated with what couples do. Our marriage may seem positively catatonic when compared to others. But the immeasurable times of quiet, bonding, and simply being that we have had works for us.

There's a reason still, small voices sound the loudest and can be heard better than a shout.

My taking Kai to go and play was not an inconvenience for me (as much as I thought it was going to be). It was an opportunity for connection. For communion. For us to spend an hour and a half looking into each others' faces, laughing together, and simply being.

If I hadn't been driving when the thought first hit me, I would have taken my shoes off. For symbolism.

As it was, I was left with the desire to metaphorically remove whatever covering I had across my mind, my heart, my emotions.

Because this moment was holy.

God was here with us, joining in on the conversation about if beetles or socks would make a better lunch. Staring into our eyes. Laughing with us. I AM caught in a state of being in a moment.

It was a thing of beauty.

Sure, it may have involved a red-faced, sweaty kid at the end of it all (who also managed to score five new plastic army figures - can't imagine what soft-hearted sucker helped him to win those). But it was no less holy.

And although the day began with dread, it didn't end with regret.

It was holy.

Monday, March 04, 2013

One Word 2013.2 - Now Don't

Thankfully, February was only 28 days long. This meant I had even less time than usual to screw up.

When my word for this year - "Now" - discovered me (it was not the other way around, I assure you), I logically presumed it was to spur me to action. There are numerous things I put off, defer, or ignore hoping they'll just go away out of fear, presuming they'll be an inconvenience, or because I simply don't wanna do them.

On one extreme, there's interacting with my family, and the notion (okay, confession time: it was more like a realization) that it's easier to just stare at a marathon of STORAGE WARS than talk, really talk, with Ashley (because at the end of the day, we're both just tired) or that it's easier to ask Kai to play alone in his room while I log in to the 87 quintillion forms of social media I use than to play another game with him (because after doing so for most of the day, I'm just tired).

On the other end of the spectrum are the things that if I don't do, I have no one to blame except myself: writing, talking with friends, and doing the occasional thing for me. It's probably the easiest to not do something for myself, because nine times out of ten it feels like I'm being selfish when I do.

This past month has had me NOW-ing a great deal - and actually enjoying it. I'm fairly certain Kai has enjoyed going outside to play tag in the backyard over taking a trip to the grocery store that could justifiably be put off until later. And I'm willing to bet that Ashley has appreciated the times we've cut the TV off in favor of just going to the bedroom to lay down, cuddle, and giggle with each other (and not just because she's pregnant and sleep is a beautiful thing). 

The days when Kai has awoken to discover it's "Happy Hulk Day" - and everything we eat and wear is green - and the times when I look at Maggie and willingly, lovingly take her on an extended walk around the neighborhood have been great. I've been acting and engaging intentionally a lot more than usual, and it's been awesome.


God's also been working on my heart with what NOW can mean when I intentionally DON'T act on something. Something potentially dangerous - emotionally, spiritually, or physically:

That person who is toxic to you? You know how you want to text them?
Now don't do it.

That desire to sit and eat the entire container of fudge or ice cream because you're depressed? You know it's not good for your aging self.
Now don't eat it.

You know that store you want to go to? Let's be realistic about your budget. You don't need to shop there now.
Now don't go buy anything.

You know that website you and I both know you shouldn't log into again?
Now don't.

I'm discovering that sometimes, the inaction I take towards something dangerous leads to greater and more opportunities to act on something healthy instead. That, and when I'm in the throes of doing and being in the NOW of what I need to do, I don't have time - or even the desire - to do the things I don't need to do.

So, basically, I thought I knew what my word was about. And God took the shortest month in the calendar to upend my belief.

I think this means March is going to come in like a lion to my heart.