Tuesday, January 24

Poor Annie

We should think through advice before we take it. No expert advice-giver is beyond reproach. If we’d only pause a moment to think, we might avoid calamity. Take, for instance, the advice we received concerning our firstborn, Annie-dog. We all knew it was going to be a huge shock to her when we brought Cannon home and she lost her only-child status.

For those who don’t know Annie, she’s our three year old Great Dane. She lives a charmed life, sleeping most of the time. When she’s not sleeping, she enjoys the most domesticated life a dog can have. She has spent about half the nights in her 21 dog-years sleeping on our bed (my side, drooling). She is the only dog in the extended family that gets to eat as much as she wants, anytime she wants, so when her cousins are visiting, they have to sit and watch as she eats in front of them. She has a high-pitched whine that is always tended to promptly. She won’t go outside to pee in the rain. She’s a beautiful dog, but I’m pretty sure she knows it. Anyway, Annie has it made.

Perhaps the best thing Annie has (or had) going for her is that for three years, she was the only child, the baby. Kris doted on her constantly- talking to her in a pouty, baby-voice, rubbing her itchy ears, taking her for walks, giving her treats. They had certain routines that were special. For instance, every time we went out, Kris would hold her pee so that she could go to the bathroom with Annie when we got home. Actually, I think Kris just prefers a familiar, clean toilet. But she did like to pee with Annie. Every time we came home from being out a few hours, Kris would let Annie out of her crate, then the two of them would go in the bathroom together. I think it was a special bonding time for them. I mean, I never enjoyed pee time with our dog. Or with Kris, for that matter.

Anyway, there has never been a stronger maternal bond between dog and master. After we drove the many hours to Oklahoma and gave the many dollars to the breeder to take Annie home, Kris held her in her arms in the passenger seat and said, “I just love her.”

So with a baby on the way, we sought advice on how to cushion the blow that would inevitably send Annie reeling. The experts suggested that we set aside a special blanket in the delivery room and use it to wipe off the baby at delivery. Then we could bring the blanket home with the baby’s scent and let Annie get used to the smell a couple days before bringing Cannon home. This sounded like a great idea, so we did it.

Why didn’t we think it through?!

Imagine you are an only child and your mother is the center of your world. One day in December, she jumps up for no reason and leaves in a rush, with no explanation. You try to remain calm, but you become concerned when she doesn’t return for days. Is she ok? She wouldn’t leave me- she must be detained! Could she be hurt? Then, your fears are confirmed when someone shows up at your house with a blanket covered in your mother’s blood. Would that make you excited to meet the owner of the blanket? No, of course it wouldn’t. It would freak you out, like in some mafia movie where the don sends you your bodyguard’s severed thumbs in a takeout box.

I’m sure Annie was relieved to see that her mother was alive when she came home from the hospital, but any feelings of relief were overshadowed by her fear of the stranger who sent her the bloody blanket warning message.

Eventually, fear turned to sadness as Annie realized that she was no longer the cat’s knees or even the bee’s pajamas. She has begun to realize for the first time in her life that she is a dog, not the Queen of Earth. I have tried to console her in my own way, scratching her ears and giving her bacon fat, but I fear Annie’s Paradise will never be restored. A telling moment occurred in her crate, when I came to visit her in the throes of depression. As I sat there petting her, Kris was in the next room changing the baby. As she cleaned his dirty butt, she began talking to him using the pouty, baby-voice she had been using exclusively with Annie for the past three years. I actually felt sorry for the dog as she listened to Kris speaking in this way to another creature. With every word, her head literally sank lower and lower. Sorry, Annie.

All I can do now is offer Annie my Love and Tenderness, hoping that in tandem with Time they will be enough to heal her broken heart (a la soft rocker Michael Bolton).

Monday, January 9

December 16 - Part Three


Here's the final act.

Annie took a few minutes to teach Naani, Mom and me the basics of pushing out a baby. I held one leg, Naani held the other, and Annie counted to ten while Kris pushed. The same instructions might have been given for a not so popular Olympic sport, Team Pooping. Everyone had a job and we all did it well. I remember having two thoughts: First, “Where is the doctor?” Second, “Why do I have such an up close view of the action?” As for my intimate vantage point, I was expecting to be standing by your mom’s head when you emerged, but this position had me right in the thick of the action. I just looked your mom in the eye and gave her my most encouraging words (“You have a real gift for child-bearing! You have a huge talent!”) and tried not to look to closely at what was going on south of the border. It wasn’t long before Annie could see your little head poking through. She said, “I see the head- he’s bald!” Fortunately, your ears were not yet exposed. Otherwise you might have heard and grown up with a complex.

After about thirty minutes of timed pushing at Annie’s behest, the doctor came in for the final surge. He set up shop at your mom’s feet and I moved to my expected position by her head. Poor mom was pretty spent at this point, but she as hanging tough. Remember, at this point she hadn’t eaten anything at all in 12 hours, most of which had been full of stress and exertion. Fortunately, that last meal had been dad’s hearty beans and rice. She proved to be a warrior with a particular talent for birthing humans.

By the time the doctor was ready at 9:10, you were literally one push away. Sensing that the moment was upon us, I grabbed the camera with my left hand while my right hand held mom’s. I pushed record just in time to capture the footage of the doctor catching you and spinning you around, untangling the umbilical cord and removing the fluid from your nose and mouth. The footage is miraculous, as you have seen, and the soundtrack is a mixture of your first screams and me weep-laughing with the greatest joy I have or will ever experience again. Although I can never again in life experience such joy in quantity, I can experience it in kind by simply holding you and looking at your face.

Amidst the emotion of your birth, I had two confusing moments. At first sight, I would have sworn you were black. Though I would never question your mother’s faithfulness, my eyes perceived a son that did not match my race. I later learned that you were just a little low on oxygen at the time, while you were figuring out how to use your lungs without mooching oxygen from your mom’s bloodstream.

My second misconception came only seconds later, when a nurse was wiping fluid off of your hind parts on the other side of the room. I could have sworn that I saw a tail right above your baby butt. Though concerned, I thought it best to carry a light tone in my voice when I said, “He has a little tail, doesn’t he?” The nurse promptly responded, “Yes, he has a tail.” Her tone was not as light as mine, which to me confirmed that my eyes had not deceived me. Due to the health checks and blood draws that were necessary in subsequent hours, it was a long while before I was allowed to flip you over and examine your rump. It turns out you never had a tail at all. Evidently the nurse who confirmed the appendage thought I was talking about your tally whacker (penis).

Speaking of your binkie, I tried to save your foreskin. Sadly, the pediatrician would not hear my suggestion to preserve it in formaldehyde for posterity.

You were born at 9:10 and by 3:00pm you were in the recovery room with us where we spent the next couple days getting used to life together. You were tested multiple times over that period and you passed every exam with very high marks. You scored a 9.9 out of 10 on the APGAR, which tests your tactical agility and ability to make quick decisions under duress. We’ll be sure to put that on your college applications. You also passed your hearing exam and impressed us all when you slept through your circumcision.

We received further evidence of your toughness when you got your first heel prick. The technician said you were the best baby he had drawn blood from all day. You didn’t cry at all. In fact, I think I heard you giggle. Already you were distancing yourself from your peers. If that didn’t earn you an early membership to the man club, the pediatrician’s revelation did- while feeling your bones, she discovered your collarbone had been broken at delivery. After briefly entertaining the assassination of your delivery doctor, we gawked at your tolerance for pain.

The family gathered around and joined hands to thank the Lord for granting you safe passage into the world. From beginning to end, everything went as smoothly as it could possibly go. Lots of things can go wrong when delivering a child, but the Lord was a shield from these complications. At the end of a long couple of days, we had a beautiful, healthy boy and every reason to celebrate and glorify the Lord, who gave us the best early Christmas gift ever.

Wednesday, January 4

December 16 - Part Two

We parked in clergy parking- I tried to park at the ER entrance, but your mom insisted on walking. So we walked from the parking garage to the maternity ward. Well, I walked. Your mom sort of swayed side to side with gradual forward progress. It wasn’t from the pain- at this point she felt none. It was because she was straddling a towel, laughing and repeating phrases like, “Water is pouring out of me,” “It won’t stop,” “I feel like I’m peeing myself.” Fortunately, a kind night shift janitor followed us with a mop.

We finally reached elevator D and went straight to triage, as we were told to do on the hospital tour. A nurse met us at the door and asked what we needed. What could a waddling pregnant woman riding a wet towel possibly need? Kris just said, “I think my water broke.”

The nurse’s name was My. She became a good friend of ours and even came by our room a couple days later to meet you before we left the hospital. She was very reassuring and gave us the good news that you were healthy, happy and ready to come out. By 10:30, your mom was dressed in a hospital gown and having her contractions timed. By 11:00, we were wheeling her into our labor and delivery suite. Your Naani and Podiddy were there waiting for us.

We said goodbye to My and hello to Debra, our new nurse. Her main task was starting your mom on a magic potion that would make her contractions come faster and harder. Though I have never experienced them myself, son, I believe these contractions are like doing crunches while nursing a stubborn bowel movement. These contractions are evidently pretty uncomfortable. Nurse Debra quickly fell in your mother’s esteem, since every fifteen minutes she revisited our room and increased the dose of magic contraction pain potion. By 1:00am, we were getting your mom popsicles and crushed ice and encouraging her through contractions.

Now, there are lots of women in the world, many of whom have successfully delivered children, but your mother surpasses them all. Up and down the halls, women moaned and groaned and screamed obscenities. Not your mom. Even though the mother to be in the next room was screaming in what sounded like Japanese, your mother simply closed her eyes and breathed through the pain. She was really something.

At 2:30, nurse Debra returned with good news. It was time to call the anesthesiologist to administer the epidural.

I had a lot of misconceptions about the epidural. The epidural is not a shot in the back. It is the insertion of a wire down the spine through a pipe that is burrowed between two vertebra. Nurse Debra said most of the dads who faint in the delivery room faint during the administration of the epidural.

Dr. Millar appeared in the doorway around 2:40 with a cart heavy laden with medieval torture devices. Our confidence was shaken when he began speaking in a very groggy voice. I thanked him for waking up from his nap to help us. He parked his cart next to the bed and set up his sterile working zone. My confidence in Dr. Millar was climbing until he asked the nurse on three separate occasions what time he had come in the room for the epidural. He was too tired to remember the time, but was alert enough to shove a pipe in my wife’s spine? After he asked a third time, I told him I would be happy to write it down.

When I saw the foot-long needle approaching your mom’s back, I decided it was not the time to prove my manhood, so I turned away. Your mom, though, ever the soldier, never flinched. Soon, the good stuff was coursing through her lower body and her legs went numb and heavy. Dr. Millar kindly reminded her not to tense up at the cool sensation running down her legs, because there was still a needle in her spine. “Great,” I thought, “hiccup and you’re paralyzed from the waist down.” But no one was paralyzed. Everything went perfectly.

Contractions continued pain free for the next several hours and a shift change. At 8:00, our new nurse, Annie, introduced herself. Annie came just in time to see your birth. She said we were on the cusp of pushing time. More on that later.

Wednesday, December 28

December 16 - Part One


Welcome to the world, son.

Here, we breathe air and eat with our mouths, not tubes attached to our navels. I guess you already figured that out. Would you like to know the story of your birth? It was a great day of days. We laughed, we cried, we saw you buck-naked.

The story of December 16 starts with December 15. Actually, it started nine months before that, but we can save that talk for later. By December first, your mom was ready to cut you out of her belly with a wooden spoon. It’s not that she didn’t enjoy being pregnant with you, it’s just that in the final days of pregnancy it’s hard to get comfortable. She wasn’t sleeping well, her hands and feet were swollen and she felt as though her abdomen might split open with a poorly timed sneeze or flatulence.

So your mom searched the internet, hoping to find a way to coax you out of the womb and into the world as soon as possible. She had been eating spicy food, driving over speed bumps and giving me special hugs, but none of the conventional methods were working. It was like you were clinging to her bottom ribs with your monkey toes. Finally, she came across some advice from a few of her college friends. Three of them told her that they had delivered their babies the day after eating eggplant.

Kris arranged for us to have eggplant parmesan the very next day, December 15. I don’t know if she expected a mysterious tingling or if she thought you would immediately start burrowing south, but nothing actually happened right away. In fact, we left the restaurant and went straight to our appointment at the doctor’s office, where the she checked to see how soon you would be coming. Only an hour after the eggplant, Dr. Steidl said you were still a couple weeks from joining us. Your mom was disappointed.

That night, we had a couple of your aunts and uncles over for a Christmas party. I made my famous red beans and rice and your mom baked a pumpkin cheesecake. Kris added extra Tobasco to drive you out of her belly.

After dinner we started watching It’s A Wonderful Life. George Bailey was just about to give up his honeymoon money to save the Building and Loan when Kris suddenly said, “Oh,” then hurdled the end of the couch and ran high knees down the hall. The impact of this feat was magnified by the fact that it had been weeks since she attempted anything more than a tender, waddling gait.

Through the closed bathroom door, Auntie Em and I confirmed that her water had indeed broken, which sent us into a euphoric chaos. Emily retrieved the Jacksons, who had not yet left the driveway. Aunt Kristen is a nurse, so she was helpful to your mom. Emily and I packed a bag for the hospital while James and Jared cleaned up the kitchen and powered down the movie, still in progress. In a matter of minutes, we were en route to the hospital. It was about 10:00pm.

My first disappointment was the lack of traffic. I had imagined myself turning on the hazard lights and zooming through traffic, glancing both ways as I flew through red lights. I was hoping to be pulled over by a cop so that I could explain the urgent situation and get a police escort to the ER. But at 10:00 on a Thursday night, there were only a few cars on the road. The hazards were flashing, but not from necessity. We were the only ones on the road. The chaotic scene I had imagined and emotionally prepped for was replaced by something much more serene. Your mom was completely calm. Though she was slowly leaking birthing fluid on a towel, she was not having painful contractions. So we drove in relative silence, enjoying the surreal moment. As we neared Arlington Memorial Hospital, I cautiously ran a red light just because. Your mom just laughed.

Ok, I'll tell you the rest later.

Thursday, May 26

Being With Teens

Two posts ago, we established the problem we have in relating to teens. They make us anxious and we make them anxious. With all of our good intentions, we want to work on them like projects. In their humanness, they resist this form of manipulation. We need to learn how to simply be with our teens in a healthy way. After establishing the problem, the next post addressed part of the solution, learning to be present with God as training for being present with teens. I hope you took some time to enter God's presence and simply be with him. If not, please go back to the previous post and give it a shot.

In part three of three, we'll apply what we learned about being present with God to our relationships with young people.

In John 6, Jesus tells his disciples that no one can come to him unless the Father calls him. No one comes to Jesus unless God calls them. As a minister and a missionary, no other passage provides so much relief. It is not my eloquence or hipness or charisma that brings people to Jesus, but God's call. What a relief that this is out of my hands! When we relate to our teens, we sometimes feel a deep urge from within to push them where we want them to go. With the best of intentions, we point them in the right direction, then gently push. Then the push becomes a shove, then a kick. Then we try dragging them in the right direction. Naturally, they resist. We would probably do the same thing. We probably did the same thing when our parents tried the same stunts. When we're tempted to do this with our teens, we can remember the words of Jesus here, when he reminds us that God is the one who will call our teens and bring them to Jesus. Can we have the faith to let God be God? Can we surrender the notion that we need to somehow make our teens love God?

If we were spending time with teens without trying to constantly "mold" or "influence" or "direct" or "fix" them, constantly looking for those teachable moments, what would our time together look like? Do we think teens are unaware of ulterior motives to shape them? They know what we're up to, and they don't like it! If we were to surrender these ulterior motives, perhaps we would see walls start to come down. Perhaps we would see relationships deepen. Perhaps teens would begin to learn from our actions what we could never teach them with our words.

When they choose to speak, let's listen to our teens. Look for the subjects that they get excited about, and get excited about it with them. Delight in their energy and passion. Point out the good things they do, not to manipulate them into more good behavior, but simply to praise them for their goodness. Try to notice where teens come alive and follow that thread. If our teens are accustomed to hearing us sell our agenda to them all the time, it will take time for them to notice that something has changed. However, if we continue to practice presence, we will begin to see a positive change.

Friday, May 6

God's Presence

Last post, I wrote about being present with our teens. It's not easy, but it can be more beneficial and less stressful than the other alternative, in which all our time with our teens is spent trying to manage them in some way. This post will explore the idea of making ourselves present to God. Learning to dwell in his presence will prepare us to be present to others, including our teens.

How do you approach God in prayer? Do you come to him with a list of thanks and requests? Do you pray in the shower? In the car? In bed at night? Maybe you get up in the morning and pray, or pray throughout the day. I find that sometimes praying just wears me out. I once determined to pray for a long period of time each day. I wrote out a long list of names and situations that I wanted to bring before God. I got myself in a prayerful mindset and sat in a lonely place and prayed through my list. After a few days, this process became exhausting! Also, to my shame, the prayers quickly grew cold and business-like.

More recently, I've tried to approach prayer less as "talking to God" and more as "time with God." This has been so much more refreshing! I still pray through lists sometimes, but most often I will just sit and be with God. Maybe I can tell him what is on my mind and ask him to intercede in the lives of others, or maybe I can just sit in silence, trusting that it is enough to simply place myself in his midst.

I apologize for all the first person singular pronouns. Let me share what a friend recently told me. He said sometimes when he is driving in the car, he will clear off the passenger seat so that Jesus has a place to sit and ride with him. They don't talk constantly- maybe the radio is even on. Even when he's not "praying" he is consciously spending time in his "presence."

I urge you to take time to consciously enter God's presence. Don't worry about what you need to pray about. Don't scold yourself if your mind wanders. Just give that to God. Don't worry about waxing eloquent or running down a list of needs or thanks. Don't come to him with an agenda, just come to him. Don't believe God will meet you in silence? Remember his last words spoken in Matthew: "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Can you find satisfaction in this non-judgemental, no-pressure place?

Friday, April 22

The Gift of Presence

Teenagers make adults anxious.

When we look at them, we see that they are fidgety. They are sweaty. They don't sit still and they fiddle with things. They sometimes seem to have little sense of what is going on outside of their immediate vicinity.

Adults make teenagers anxious.

When they look at us, they see that we have no friends, no passions, and we are always stressed out. We sometimes are so concerned with monitoring everything else that we seem to have little sense of what is going on in our immediate vicinity.

Teens are about energy and movement. They have emotions to express that are very important to them. They want to live, and sometimes adults seem to be doing anything but living. Adults are often about maintaining the status quo. We want children to "Liten!" "Behave!" "Be still!" and "Stop talking!" We want them to soothe our fears that they will turn out rotten. We want to know that they will not get themselves in trouble. We want assurance that they will not embarrass us.

The sum of all of these anxieties is that we are prevented from being present with teens. Most teens experience adults as either absent or lecturing. What if we were able to completely set aside our agenda and simply be with young people? How would we treat teens if we weren't trying to convince them of something or impart some lesson or ingrain in them some morsel of our wisdom? The truth is, teens learn from adults' example far more than their words anyway! What would it be like if we just made ourselves available to sit and listen?

Consider this quote from a youth volunteer:

"When I first started working with youth, I felt I had to ask them a lot of questions, make jokes and make them feel good. Now I plop down next to them and sigh and ask, "How are you?" Whether theri response is just a word or a five minute dialogue, I can sit with them knowing my full attention to them in that five seconds or five minutes is enough."

Our teens are not fully mature. They need adults to help them through the maturation process. However, we need to deprogram ourselves from thinking of them as projects that need managing rather than people who need our company and sometimes, our undivided attention.

Next week, I'll share some thoughts on being present with God. Before we can truly be present with anyone else, it is important to open ourselves up to him.