The Simple Joys

I love watching my two-month-old son. Truth be told, there is a lot he still doesn’t do. He eats, he sleeps, he poops, he cries… Though he’s begun to make various sounds, the first of his “baby talk,” and he smiles and grabs, and he’s starting to hold his head up a little more.

But there’s one thing he does that seems to be his favorite. When he’s not tired or hungry (i.e. he’s in a good mood), we can lay him down and he gets a content look on his face as he swings his arms wildly and kicks his legs.

The blur means he’s happy.

Now, we would think it strange if we walked up on an adult doing the same. As we grow, there are childish things that we, rightfully, leave behind. At the same time, watching my son is a reminder of the contentment and joy that can be found in the simple.

It’s an idea contrary to our consumer culture. The whole point of most commercials we see on TV or pop-up ads online is to create within us a sense of dissatisfaction. “Oh, you think you’re happy–well check out this new car, home, toy, restaurant, computer, exercise bike, whatever–you’re missing out!”

If those behind the advertising are good at their jobs, then at the end of the commercial we are less happy and satisfied than when it began. Jealousy kicks in at what our neighbor has and we don’t. The seed gets planted and we can’t get it out of our minds until we purchase the new thing.

And it satisfies, at least for a minute, until the next commercial airs with the next model of whatever we just bought.

Truth be told, though, there is more lasting joy in the simple things; a sense of satisfaction that can be found walking a trail, sitting by a lake, staring at the stars, or watching a two-month-old wildly swing his arms without a care in the world.

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He looks like me…

We first saw our son on the ultrasound at 6-weeks. A tiny human being developing in what looked like a speck. Yet, his heart beat as a rapid flash on the screen, pumping blood to what would soon be arms and legs, a mouth, eyes, and a brain. We didn’t even know he was a he, but my imagination still soared–who would this child look like? What would his personality be?

We saw him again at 13-weeks. It was still too early to know his gender, but he looked clearly more like a human should. We saw his head and nose, and little arms and legs. Two months passed and we learned we were having a boy. A tiny person jumped and spun in black and white on the screen. Still, I wondered, What will he look like?

Nine months of wondering as he grew in the womb. When he was born, from the moment I first laid eyes on him, it was obvious: He looked like me.

This is not unusual, as many sons resemble their fathers. It’s still weird at times, though, staring down while I hold him in my arms, seeing a face that looks so familiar, sans age and a beard, yet belongs to someone else.

He looks like me and now I wonder how much he will act like me.

I ponder four decades, and there are plenty of highs yet also some deep lows. There are things I have done well, yet things I could have done much better or said better and people that I should have treated better.

I want him to have my strengths and avoid my mistakes.

Although, I know, even if he does, there will be plenty of mistakes he will make on his own.

But this is what fathering is, right? Guiding a child toward adulthood, my boy as he grows to be a man, trying to direct him to wise choices, to love people well, and to think more of others than he does of himself. Yet also seeing him stumble and fall, seeing him make mistakes–some that are new and some that seem all too familiar. But then offering him a hand to help him back up and keep pressing on to become the man he is meant to be.

He looks like me. At times, I’m sure, he’ll act like me for better or worse. My hope is he ends up a much better man than me.

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That Helpless Feeling

A few weeks ago, we faced the unexpected: Our not-even-three-week-old baby spiked a fever that wouldn’t break. A trip to the emergency room was followed by being admitted into a children’s hospital for a three-day stay. Fortunately, the problem proved to be a virus that simply needed time to pass.

But in the midst of the wait, there was one feeling, for me at least, that was strong: helplessness.

Life is precious. Life is also vulnerable. You learn both as a new parent.

We like to think that we are strong and in control. We like to think that we can provide safe spaces for our children where no harm will befall them. But then things happen in life and our illusions of strength shatter.

I watched as they poked, prodded, and drew blood and spinal fluid from my baby boy. I listened as the doctors explained how they would aggressively treat his condition as they waited for test results, in case their worst fears were realized. I sat awkwardly in a chair and held my son with wires and tubes running from him to machines.

I was present but I was helpless. I couldn’t make his fever break. I couldn’t speed up the clock for answers. I couldn’t make my boy better.

I could hold him. I could sit with my wife as she held him. And I could pray.

One positive that came from that helpless feeling was the reminder that even though I’m not in control, God is. That reminder deepens the reality of the prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come your will be done.”

Not every moment in life resolves positively, at least in a way that we can see in the here-and-now. Thank God for those moments that do, but the fact they don’t is part of the reality of living in a broken world. Yet, in those moments of deep helplessness, however they resolve, God is there for his children and God will carry us through.

That is the essence of Psalm 23, after all. There’s quiet plains and still waters but there’s also the dark valleys of the shadow of death, yet, God is there.

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Confessions of a “New” Dad

I’m about to hit the two week mark of being a “new” dad. I put new in quotes, because as a foster dad, I’ve been a dad-for-a-season to five kids, but mid-June my wife gave birth to our firstborn. The youngest foster kid we’ve had was nine months old, but I get the privilege of being daddy to H since birth.

Here’s a few things that I’ve learned over these past two weeks:

1. Diapers aren’t that bad. Granted, I’ve had the experience of other kids in diapers, so I’m not new to the game. Some individual diapers are pretty nasty, but as a whole, changing diapers isn’t horrible. It’s a reality. You gotta deal with them, so you deal.

2. Nothing prepares you for the one-in-the-morning scream fests. You know it happens. Every parent talks about it. You’re asleep, finally able to get some rest, and then the baby goes full-bore into scream mode. You change his diaper, he screams. You rock him, he screams. You sing to him, he screams. You feed him, he eats, seems satisfied, you lay him back in the crib, and he screams. Yeah. It doesn’t matter how many stories you’ve heard, it’s a shock to the system.

3. My wife is a whole lot stronger than me. She carried our little man for nine months. For our six day, five night stay in the hospital, she did all the work. I held her hand and offered words of support. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. She’s been the rock star in this thing, I’m the roadie. Husbands, appreciate your wives.

4. It’s weird holding a mini version of me. Sometimes kids look like their dads. Sometimes they look like their moms. Sometimes they look like Great Uncle Jack or Second Cousin Sue. H is a spitting image of me. There are times when I’m holding him that I’ll look down and see the infant version of my face staring back (or the closest thing possible to the infant version of my face). It’s kinda fun and it’s also kinda weird.

5. The sweet moments are some of the best parts of life. No, I’m not talking about the scream-fests above. There’s the quiet moments where I’m reclining in the chair with H on my chest, passed out and cuddled close. It’s pretty darn sweet.

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A Letter to My Newborn Son

Dear H,

Welcome to the world. Nine months of waiting and anticipating while you grew inside your mama, and now I’ve met you face-to-face. Your eyes have opened to the newness. You’re hearing things you’ve never heard before. Your tiny fingers get to grip mine.

I’m looking forward to seeing the person you’ll become–to meet your personality and help you discover your gifts and talents.

Three things that I wish for you as you grow and learn:

Be the best you you can be. The world can be a confusing place and a trying place. Sometimes it feels the easiest to conform and go with the flow–to be what other people want you to be. Honestly, though, that’s exhausting. Even if you match one person’s expectations, you’ll never match them all. God has given you your personality and abilities. Hone them and use them well. But be you. And if someone doesn’t like you, then smile, be kind, and keep being you.

Be the best you you can be in Jesus. The world can be a messed up place. But that’s not the way it was meant to be nor the way it will always be. God created us to be in a relationship with him, loving him, enjoying him, and loving others. But in a tale as old as humanity, we rebel against him and seek to live without him (or with our own tamed version of him). One day God is going to remake the world so there is no evil, death, or disease. Everyone there will love him, enjoy him, and love others without fail. The way we get there is through Jesus. He died and then, amazingly, rose from the grave to reverse our rebellion and set us right with God. If you trust in him, then he will take your heart, personality, and talents and use them in this life to love God, enjoy God, and love others.

Be the most loving you you can be. The world can be a cold place, a mean place. Though I use social media, I’m glad that I didn’t have to grow up in a world of social media. I was bullied at times and it was hurtful enough without a bunch of people piling on in a public forum. Some people hurt others because they have been hurt. They need compassion and grace. Some people hurt others because they’re just mean. They need compassion and grace. Some people struggle under the pain of hurt. They need compassion and grace. You can’t be everyone’s best friend, but you can be kind and loving to everyone you meet. Jesus overcame evil with love and he calls us to do the same. Some people are hard to love, and the Lord knows that I myself have failed plenty at loving others like I should. But if you make it your ambition to love well, even though you won’t be perfect at it, you’ll be able to make a little piece of the world just that much brighter. And it might even change the course of someone’s life or eternity.

I know right now that you won’t be able to read or understand a single word of this, at least for a while. That’s okay. Even if you never read these actual words, it’s going to be my job to help you learn these lessons. I pray that I do that well.

Love you Little Man.

Dad

What These Pictures Represent

We moved into our home a year and a half ago. One of the reasons we bought this particular house was our desire to be foster parents and have plenty of room for kids to live, sleep, and play.

There were some pressing needs with the house, so decorating was hit and miss. We had some pictures we wanted to hang, and they spent the entire time in a pile on our bedroom floor until today.

The pictures represent our family but they also represent the craziness and unexpectedness of life.

When we first moved in, it was us and our dog. A couple of months later, we welcomed our first foster child. A month and a half after that, two more foster children. A month more and we decided it would be a good idea to get a puppy. Then we said goodbye to all three kids on the same day. Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

We spent the summer trying to train the puppy as we waited for our next placement. We got a call asking if we could take a sibling group of five. We said yes, bought some extra beds and secured a crib. Then we were told, “Actually, we’re not moving them yet.” Another month passed and we were asked if we could take the siblings again. This time we bought a car. Only again to have the situation change. So we sold the car. Then the car broke down (sorry, dad). Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

Along the way, we went from two dogs to one dog. We had to say goodbye to our 13-year-old furry friend as age and health caught up to him. Then, September came. We got a call asking if we could take another foster placement, this time a sibling set of two. Absolutely. The children moved in with us. A couple of weeks later, we found out we were expecting. Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

Winter came. Then spring appeared on the horizon. We realized we weren’t able to give our very large puppy the attention he needed between working, caring for two young kids, and being pregnant. We gave him away to a good home. We were sad about that, but he is happy and getting plenty of attention. Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

May arrived. The kids returned home. Being a month away from our baby’s due date, we decided to hold off on accepting any more foster placements, at least until we’re through the summer. The house seemed a lot quieter, but it gave us time to get the baby’s room ready and work on some other things around the house. Still, the pictures sat on the floor.

Today is the day after our baby’s due date. We’re still waiting for him to make his appearance. He seems as stubborn as his daddy. But, we finally brought the pictures down from the bedroom. I grabbed the hammer, nails, and level, and we went to work. For a year and a half the pictures sat on the floor, but now they hang on the wall. My wife says it makes it feel that much more like home.

A year and a half passed. We went from one dog to two dogs back to one dog to no dog. We went from one kid to three kids to no kids to two kids to two kids and expecting to baby almost here.

Life is crazy and unexpected. It has its twist and turns, but that’s part of what makes it fun. Sometimes in the craziness pictures collect dust in a corner for far too long, but eventually they end up on the wall where they belong.

Embrace the chaos and the unexpected.

(Now, maybe, the stairs will get painted that we ripped out and replaced six months ago…)

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I Feel Old (and young)

You’re only as old as you feel, they say.

I’m a year from forty and most days I feel well past that. I feel it in how much my body aches and how hard it is to lose weight. Things weren’t like this when I was in my twenties.

I feel old but I also feel young.

My wife and I are a few days away from having our first biological child. I’ve been a dad as we have fostered. I’ve ran around the yard and kicked soccer balls. I’ve crawled on the floor and given piggy back rides. And then I went for the medicine cabinet to get the ibuprofen, knowing that I’d be stiff in the morning.

And yet, here we are. I’m 39 and about to hold my newborn child for the first time. I have friends my age who are the parents of teenagers. I sometimes think that’s where I should be. A newborn just might kill me.

I feel old but I’m also about to become a baby boy’s daddy. I dream of holding him, praying over him, reading to him. I dream of helping him learn to roll over, crawl, and then walk. I dream of running around the yard with him, teaching him to ride his bike, and how to throw a football or kick a soccer ball.

I’m old enough to know that it all will fly by too fast, but, Lord willing, there’s a lot of life on this earth left to live.

My body will still ache more than it did in my twenties, but I feel young as I think about being a little boy’s daddy. I’ll just need to remember to stretch extra before giving his first piggy back ride.