Where have you been? Where are you going? And why?
I drove down my street one afternoon this week and sure enough, there they were. My nephews, Caleb and Isaiah, zipped up and down driveways on their shiny, silver scooters. I rolled down the window to greet them, “What’s going on, guys?”
“Hey Luke!” Caleb said as he whipped past me and manually motored down the street.
Isaiah pulled to a stop at the window, his dirty blond hair blown in all directions. “How was your day at school, buddy?” I asked.
“Good. Well, not good.” His gaze drifted from me to the street. “I had to pull my clip down today.”
Ah yes, the kindergarten behavior chart of stickers and clips. I continued with my curiosity, “Oh really, I bet that made you really sad. What rule did you break?”
“I ran down the hall.”
I leaned in and softened my voice, “Was it fun?”
“No, it wasn’t fun pulling my clip down!” he yelled in disbelief at my ignorance. Why do people over six ask such stupid questions?
“No, Zay, I meant running in the hallway. Was running down the hall fun?” I asked.
His face lit with desire. “Yeah, it was really fun.”
How much do you want from your son or daughter? Tom Cruise’s passionate outburst of “I want the truth!” echoes in my head. That includes the ugly parts that would make a prison warden blush. Do you want their whole heart?
Kids don’t often get that message. The structure of our schools most often communicates that behavior is first and foremost. Most religions follow a similar path. If we can simply get people to conform, things will work. As parents know best, settling for a behavior-first approach is simply easier. It takes far less emotional investment to structure your relationship with your child around rules and discipline.
I wanted Isaiah’s whole heart. Even the part that enjoyed the thrill of running down the hallway. By caring about his heart amidst his disobedience, I put money in the bank of our relationship.
A good friend of mine plans to take his son out for a back deck cigar whenever he uncovers his son’s first use of pornography. In no way does my friend approve of pornography. But he wants his son’s whole heart. He wants to validate his son’s attraction to sin. The message is this: While sin is not okay, I completely understand your lust and enjoyment of it, and I’m with you in the struggle. Typically we look at God’s displeasure of sin and therefore determine that sin shouldn’t be fun. Sin beats Disney World and Six Flags hands down.
When Jesus encounters people filled with shame and guilt, he doesn’t chastise them or smile as they experience the natural consequences of sin. No, our Immanuel offers them a deeper, eternal drink of himself. Of course. Immanuel in Hebrew means “God with us”. Behavior is not God’s top priority; relationship brings him the most pleasure.
If God went through hell to offer us relationship with him, perhaps we as parents, mentors, teachers, and coaches can fight a little harder for the whole hearts of the kids in our care.
Relationship is always central.
Why Having a Toddler is Like Being at a Frat Party
10. There are half-full, brightly-colored plastic cups on the floor in every room. Three are in the bathtub.
9. There’s always that one girl, bawling her eyes out in a corner.
8. It’s best not to assume that the person closest to you has any control over their digestive function.
7. You sneak off to the bathroom knowing that as soon as you sit down, someone’s going to start banging on the door.
6. Probably 80% of the stains on the furniture contain DNA.
5. You’ve got someone in your face at 3 a.m. looking for a drink.
4. There’s definitely going to be a fight.
3. You’re not sure whether anything you’re doing is right, you just hope it won’t get you arrested.
2. There are crumpled-up underpants everywhere.
1. You wake up wondering exactly how and when the person in bed with you got there.
Original posting found here. Thanks Robin!
The swim teacher handed me two dripping and giggling girls. I led them over the lollipops for their post-traumatic reward. Both girls focused on getting to the bowl of suckers. As I toweled them off, they decorated the poolside with Dum-Dum wrappers. Another swim teacher, Kelsey, questioned me on what I’d fed the girls prior to lessons. Not because they tore into the candy like starved lions, but because they actually made it through the hour without the neighbors mistaking them for ambulance sirens. You see, my girls hate swim lessons. Hate is a strong word, you’re thinking, dislike would be far godlier language. No, my girls hate swim lessons. Maren protested with a panicked wail for the entire thirty minute drive earlier in the week. Sometimes we don’t tell them where we’re going until we’re close. That works less and less as Summer now recognizes the airport and surroundings schools as signs. “No, Kelsey, no Kelsey.” This starts composed and evolves into a whimper. By the time she sees the red paved driveway, you’d think we just told her that Chik-fil-a was tearing down all indoor playgrounds and canceling chicken nuggets. Parents are not allowed to sit poolside during lessons for obvious reasons, so we hide on the other side of the fence and peer through the cracks. Our orphans frantically search for their redeemers while the swim teachers splash, throw, and dunk them. Okay, that’s a little extreme. But only a little. Trust me, the headmaster of the program has earned the unofficial reputation as Swim Nazi. To end the class period, the SS force the young tadpoles to walk the plank otherwise known as a diving board. In this simulated accidental drowning exercise, the kids must roll over onto their backs. Thankfully for our girls, they keep the piranhas out of the water until the students turn three.
So you have a small picture of the terror we subject our girls to during Shark Swim Week. All of this to illustrate the context for Thursday’s miracle: the girls may have actually had fun. I peeked in a couple times to see the girls resting on the pool’s edge, up to their own mischief. They traded life jackets back and forth, clipping and unclipping them. Kelsey even asked Maren what she was doing. “I’m cleaning the house!” she replied. Later, the girls walked over on cue to the diving board. They had to be restrained from climbing up. When it was their turn, they launched themselves like frogs off lily pads.
On Wednesday, the girls liked the water about as much as the Wicked Witch of the West when Dorothy melted her with the bucketful. On Thursday they more resembled Michael Phelps. What changed?
During Wednesday’s commute, we talked about swim lessons: how they would only last an hour, how much fun they normally have in the pool, and how the world wasn’t going to end. “Talked” sounds more like a dialogue. My attempt at encouragement evaporated into their cries. On Thursday, we talked about Grandma’s birthday party, the candles that would need to be blown out, the presents that would need opening, and the family that would be there. Summer even reminded her sister at one point, “Guess what Marsie, Grandma’s birthday!” Upon arrival at swim lessons, we went over the plan for the day: swim lessons, lunch, nap, and the birthday party. One hour later, I pulled two girls from the pool, not as their rescuer but as their chauffer to Grandma’s Ball. Maren laughed.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard her laugh,” exclaimed the teacher.
Sometimes we just need to know the bigger story.
I’m sitting on the balcony enjoying last night’s leftovers. Not dinner, but fireworks. A cool wind encircles me as the waves crash over one another. An occasional blast of pink and gold glitter illumines the beach below. Tonight, only a couple of people launch fireworks into the Florida night. Last night’s display put Disney World to shame. The sweet aroma of smoke drifted above us like clouds. Blasts of red, white, blue, and the rest of the rainbow danced in the sky. The booms just off the balcony brought back memories of an artillery bombardment that I’ve never seen. For brief moments, the beach would illuminate to reveal pockets of people huddled in awe. I could look to the right and left and see at least a mile’s worth of fireworks exploding simultaneously. By far the beach has become my new favorite place to celebrate the 4th of July. Below is a glimpse of the view from yesterday.
For those of you wondering, Summer and Maren did not last long. In fact, the sun had not yet given up when Summer, then Maren, begged for refuge inside. The experience was not without some redeeming moments, though. Maren verbalized her fear, “I scared. Fireworks too loud”. My girls have been learning to match emotions with experiences. My heart smiled to know that Maren had the awareness and freedom to express her fear attached to its stimulus. We watched through the windows, cuddled together in a line on the coach. Thankfully the blasts and booms did not penetrate their bedroom walls. This morning we went to wake them up. Maren popped her up and said, “Fireworks?” She jumped out of my arms and ran into the living room as if Santa had come six months early. There were no presents in the morning sky. Her face revealed her devastation that the firework show had ended. Her only consolation? This video, which I put on repeat for her to watch all the way through breakfast.
Today I filled up our toddler pool in the backyard, this time with water. Last week it needed air. I went knocking on doors in search of an air compressor only to walk home empty handed. I psyched myself up to inflate the entire pool (which could double as a white water raft) with only my lungs. I only blacked out twice.
My girls have already discovered the need to make things more interesting. Splashing water and dancing under the trickling “waterfall” no longer satisfies their adventurous hearts. Now we pull a 3-foot red slide over and place the end of it into the pool. Who needs Six Flags? (I already know what you’re thinking…if you plan to come, we charge admission- a week’s supply of diapers and gift card to Bonefish Grill, for the kids of course)
Today Summer sat atop the slide and stared across at her sister. “Waterfall?” she asked.
Maren fiddled with the hose and the connecter that fed into the waterfall. Should I let Maren play with something she could break? In the midst of my deliberation, I whispered to Summer, “She’s working on it.”
Maren’s head popped up. “I’m workin’ on it!” she proudly proclaimed.
They’re always listening, I thought. In conjunction, I realized the weighty impact of my words. This goes far deeper than censoring my speech. My girls already know how to read. Not written words, but the tone of my voice and the body language I use. All the time. Just last week, I drove them home from swim lessons. That particular day, Maren refused to roll over onto her back after a simulated “falling” into the pool. The swim teacher exhorted her by dropping her off the diving board at least eight times before Maren complied. On the way home, I recounted the events aloud over the phone. “Maren is so stub…” I stopped myself. She may look like she’s staring off through the window, but she’s listening. She doesn’t know what stubborn means, but oh does she hear the passion in her daddy’s voice. Even though I think there’s a glory to her stubbornness, her commitment to stand in the midst of opposition, I shudder at the thought of her receiving a negative label as I process aloud.
I cannot entirely shelter my daughters’ hearts from labels and categories. But it brings up a good question: Can I name the gifts, glories, and dignity in my girls without boxing them?
P.S. I wish my insights did not always beget new questions.