Thursday, May 17, 2018

The "Joy" of Parenting

Over the past several years, I've learned that parents have, shall we say, somewhat varied goals for their children.  Actually that's not true.  Everyone wants their children to grow up and be fulfilled, well-adjusted, and above average.  Successful even (whatever that means).

No, it's not the goals for the children that vary.  It's the goal for the parenting.  Shoot, sometimes the parenting goals change depending on which child you're talking about.  The first child comes along and the parents swear up and down that they will be the best parents ever, faithfully guarding against the evils of BPA, slathering in this ointment and that to prevent even the mildest discomfort, rushing in at the slightest peep to pat and comfort.  Reaching out an unwavering, unflinching hand to catch projectile vomite that will wind up covering the hand, arm, and chest (and probably a significant part of the floor).  I know of a parent that once called the doctor when his first child slept through the night at a week and a half, to which the doctor patiently replied, "Dad, usually we don't complain when the children sleep through the night."  "Right.  I'm not complaining...but is it...ok?"  "Yes, Dad."

Image result for doctor on phone
Spoiler alert.  It was me.
But then the second one comes along, and it's all different.  You don't worry quite as much because you messed up so many times with the first one that you realize if children were fragile they wouldn't survive.  You'd feed the second kid out of a solo cup if you could get a nipple on that thing, and you'd strongly consider something other than milk if the child wasn't sleeping.  On Christmas Eve night you might even give them, uh, strong eggnog to get them to sleep (ok, I want to go on record here: that last one wasn't me at all...I was on the receiving end of the eggnog, and I required a Snicker's bar to chase it down).

If you have a third, all bets are completely off.  "How old do you have to be to warm your own bottle?" you ask yourself.  Sure, the kid can't walk yet, but she can probably bathe herself and get ready for bed tonight.

I'm pretty sure anyone who has four winds up subscribing to "free-range parenting" for the whole lot of 'em.  "Fend fer yerselves, kiddos!  Daddy's going to have some eggnog!"

Of course, I made up the third and fourth.  We stopped at two because we figured that way we could "man up on 'em."  I don't care how good your zone defense is, there's always a seam, and children are exceptionally good at finding it.  Thats' when they start licking the TV or unloading the dishwasher [into the floor] or fail-testing the integrity of your $1000 cabinet-lock system.

Image result for child safety lock magnet
Impervious to adults.
Minor inconvenience to children.
I digress.  What I mean to suggest is that the goals of parenting vary, that's all.  For me, I'm mostly a "keep 'er between the ditches" kind of parent.  I just try really hard not to damage them, trusting that if I can just keep this thing on the road we'll eventually get where we're going.  Fortunately I have a fantastic wife who is much more capable than I am at this game.  She is helping them become...good people, and actually that's why I'm writing this.  Today her hard work paid off.

See, I wasn't having a great day.  I was running behind most of the day.  Five minutes late to everything.  It's not that stuff wasn't getting done.  It was.  It's just...everything was a struggle.  I kept making mistakes that I needed to correct.  Traffic was...straight up STOOOOOPID.  I dropped my daughter off at dance, feeling mildly accomplished that we arrived by 5:07; she was only seven minutes late.  Then my phone rang.

"Are you going to be able to pick up Lucy?"
"Sure.  I just dropped her off, so I can get Wesley changed and then get back."
"You have to pick her up at 5:30...wait...you just dropped her off?"
"Yes...it's 5-6 today, right?"
"No, that's Monday.  She was supposed to be there at 4:45."
"Well, no problem picking her up at 5:30.  That's in 15 minutes."

I was still two minutes late picking her up, by the way, even though the van never left the dance school parking lot.

She got in the car, and I really felt bad.  So I explained.  "You were right, Lucy.  I should have picked you up sooner.  I got the wrong time for dance, so you were very late, and it's all my fault.  I'm sorry."

At that very moment, the clouds parted, the rays of the Divine came down, and the angels sang.  My children did not complain our grouch at me.  They didn't smack each other or me.  Though they were disappointed in the way things were going, from my children I received...grace.  "It's ok, Dad.  Everyone has bad days sometimes."

My kids have done some pretty great things over the years.  I'd list them here, but I'd be bragging because I know it's probably more than your kids (ha!).  Nothing has made me more proud than the times I have seen them show compassion to others.  As a parent, I am used to offering compassion to them--that's just part of the gig.  But as a parent, I never really expected to receive it from them.

I was objectively proud of them for extending compassion to me.  But it as more than that.  For just a moment I wasn't their parent.  I was subordinate.  In need of forgiveness.  They saw what I was feeling, looked past my yelling at slow-moving traffic in the van and my complete failure to get anyone anywhere on time, and they comforted me.  I wasn't expecting that until they have to pick out my nursing home.  All I'm aiming for was to keep 'em between the ditches, y'all, and a lot of times I feel like we're dropping onto the shoulder.  But today...today was really something.

That's how it is with kids, I guess.  Right now my very patient, grace-filled child is hovering around me asking if I'm FINISHED WITH THAT YET YOU'VE BEEN WORKING ON IT SO LONG!  But somewhere, deep inside, there is a fulfilled, well-adjusted, above-average person.  Successful even.  More importantly, inside there is a Divine Spark.  I saw it today.  Today I saw the face of God in the face of my two kids.  I wasn't really ready for that...but then, are we ever really ready for a divine encounter?

Now if  you'll excuse me...the children are yelling at each other in the bathroom.  Does anyone know if the Geneva Convention applies in unincorporated DeKalb County?

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

To know...or be known. That is the question.

Several years ago someone used me as a guinea pig for a course he was taking.  He was taking a course on research.  In particular he was learning about interviewing people, among other things.  So basically all he wanted to do was sit down with me, ask me questions, and let me talk all about my life as a music minister.  As you can imagine, I jumped on the opportunity.

Related image
No, it wasn't that kind of course.
One of his questions to me was, "What is something you have learned from your experience?"  I had a ready answer (of course).  I've worked with kids as young as 3 years old and adults as old as 90+.  What is most interesting to me is how similar people are, regardless of age or station in life.  We all have a similar set of needs--both basic and, to some degree, beyond basic.  We have to eat.  We have to drink.  We have to rest.  But we also all have a need of acceptance and love.  As it turns out, choir is one place where people seek to meet those second tier basic needs (I'm sure there's a fancy name for those...).  Sure, how we set about meeting those needs varies widely based on the age of the person involved, but the needs...they are near universal.

Maybe that's why some prayers, regardless of how removed they are from our current circumstance, resonate deeply within us.  I don't have all that much in common with Saint Francis of Assisi, but ever since I first learned it in high school (3.62 million years ago), the Prayer of Saint Francis has been one of my favorite prayers.

Lord make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy.

O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Full disclosure here.  While the prayer is traditionally associated with Saint Francis, it isn't found in his writings at all, and actually hasn't been confirmed in writing any earlier than 1912.  So there's that, but still...

Image result for st francis of assisi
So he didn't write it,
but he does have interesting hair.
Initially I was most drawn to the first half of the prayer.  It is a list of things that I can do to shine the light of Christ into the world.  It's active.  More importantly, as an extrovert it resonates with me at a deep level because it means I can put myself out there.  It comes fairly naturally to me.

Over time, though, I've come to value the second half of the prayer even more.  I find it much more difficult to live up to...and much more rewarding.  One of my flaws (of which there are many) is that I desperately want to be consoled and understood and loved.  It would take years on a therapist's couch to unpack why exactly that is.  In the prayer, though, I ask to seek to console and understand and love.  The math is simple, really.  In a world where everyone seeks consolation and nobody seeks to console, there will be no consolation.  In a world where everyone seeks to be understood and nobody seeks to understand, there will be no understanding.  And in a world where everyone seeks to be loved while nobody seeks to love, there will be no love.  On the other hand, if we all seek to console, understand, and love, then we will all receive the same!  Thus it is only in seeking the well-being of others that we can find it for ourselves.  A worthy goal, and a personal struggle.

In the years I've been doing music ministry, I've discovered that most people aren't in it for the music.  They're in it for the relationships.  They're in it for the esprit de corps.  They're in it to be a part of something beyond themselves.  They are in it...to be known.  Not to be known like a celebrity, to be known by a friend as a friend.  To be cared for and missed.  To be valued.  To be...well, to be consoled, and understood, and loved.

So I'd like to think that serving in music ministry is my way of living out this prayer, both the first part and the second.  I'd like to think it's my way of being a source of light in the world and seeking to love others more than I need to be loved myself.  On my best days, I think maybe it's true.  If I'm honest, there are other days on which I wonder if the only reason I do this is because of my pervasive need to be loved myself.  As is so often the case...the truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

Either way, the prayer is a helpful reminder of how I should be in the world...how I want to be in the world...and with God's help how I can be in the world.

O divine master grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console
to be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it's in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Amen.