If I only leave one thing behind…

If I only leave one thing behind – for my children, my grandchildren, all of my people now, and all those who ever hear my name in distance times – may it be a story. A story of a messy life, clouded with sorrow and uncertainty. A life like a wild and over-grown garden, where seeds of hope were planted. Seeds of the Gospel, seeds of mystery,  seeds of faith and of love. Seeds that miraculously took root, watered by community, warmed and called forth by the brilliance of the Son, breaking the surface of the dirt…

And blossoming into joy.

Joy so overwhelming and beautiful it would make their heart ache to know of it, wishing one day to experience it for themselves, and wanting it so badly they would begin to plant seeds of their own. The ancient process would continue. And Joy would grow stronger, higher, and more resplendent throughout the ages.

Always stretching toward the Son.

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unknown kiss

He lay suspended between two worlds. In foggy space between consciousness and unconsciousness, between sleep and awake. Something is happening, barely perceptible, almost tangible, still undefinable.

Contact.

What is it? The soft impression of two tiny lips on his cheek. The familiar, soft click sound of a kiss. Little hands on his shoulders for support. Love emanating white hot from a simple, anonymous gesture. From the tender mouth of a child to the rough face of a father. Yes, something is happening. Is it real, or just a dream? Shaking off the clutches of a nap like a dog shaking off water, eyes remaining closed, still groggy, but the experience becomes more clear. Yes, finally a conscious understanding of what has taken place…

My daughter approached me and kissed me on the cheek while I was sleeping on the oversized chair in the TV room.

The act may be seem insignificant, small, unworthy of mention. Maybe. But maybe it’s something more. Perhaps something much more.

A kiss on the cheek of a sleeping person may be one of the truest expressions of affection for another human being.

I know this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. The cheek kiss is often relegated as the “friend” kiss, the passionless gesture, completely devoid of feeling.

But I disagree.

There are nights when I don’t get home from work until after my daughter has fallen asleep. I don’t like these nights. Not at all. No reading. No silliness. No snuggling. But I always go into her room, make sure she’s comfortable, check to make sure her breathing passages are clear (she’s nine, and I’m still doing this?), and then I lean down, ever so quietly. Careful to keep my balance, slowly moving towards her perfect little face.

The rough impression of two lips on her cheek. The familiar, soft click sound of a kiss. Grown hands bracing on either side of her for support. Love emanating white hot from a simple, anonymous gesture. From the chapped lips of a father to the soft cheek of a child. The moment is…

Perfect.

What makes it so perfect is the anonymity of it all. I spend so much time, consciously or subconsciously, attempting to get people to notice my acts of love for them. It’s shameful, I know.  But we all do this, whether we admit it or not. So many of our loving acts appear selfless, when, in fact, they are not. Not really. But this act, this unknown kiss, is pure, raw, unbridled affection. It is love expressed, but undetected. She doesn’t notice, nobody notices. But I cannot help myself. I love her so much, so deeply, I must kiss her face.

There are times in all of our lives where it is natural, and necessary, to show people how much we care. And then there are times within the bonds of a mutual relationship where we must give love anonymously, undetected, with no awareness on the part of the one receiving  it. And it’s in these times when we know for sure our love is pure, right, true, and good. When we express love in such a way that we cannot receive any attention or reciprocation, we find out where our heart really is. And we know we are capable of caring for someone in the deepest way, in the way only mothers, fathers, and lovers know.

If there’s a sleeping child in your house tonight, thank God above you have the privilege of loving and leading and nurturing such a precious gift. Then sneak in and give them a kiss on the cheek, being careful not to wake them. Then you will experience the sweet manifestation of affection in its purest form.

Then, you will know.

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good for the soul

*photo courtesy of Stock Exchange (sxc.hu)

*photo courtesy of Stock Exchange (sxc.hu)

Have I mentioned this parenting thing is difficult?

My 9-year old daughter didn’t want to go to school this morning. It was her stomach, she said. My wife decided to let her sleep a little bit longer and then we would re-evaluate.

Then she discovered it.

Not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE “Missing Homework” slips in my daughter’s book bag. She greeted me at the door as I was coming back in from an early-morning workout with my son, holding them fanned out and at my eye-level like she’d just been dealt a terrible poker hand. The look of concern and frustration on her face was clear: we have a problem here. Something is going on with our daughter and we are really going to earn our parenting money to work our way through it.

When it was time to take my son to school, I woke my daughter up and she crawled up in the backseat. “I’m going to go back to sleep when I get back home. I just don’t feel well.” When I press about what’s wrong, she again talked of having an upset stomach. I drop my oldest off in carpool, and on the way back I begin to probe, trying to peel back the outer layers and get to the real issue at hand. I explain as tenderly and firmly as I can that her mother and I are aware of the missing homework sheets, aware she hasn’t been being responsible with her school work, asking her questions about how she is feeling and why she is letting things slip like she has.

The tears began to fall as she talks of how she misses her old friends (we moved recently), how fourth grade is harder than she thought it would be, how her teachers give too much homework (not true, but she was on a roll). The conversation continued as we made our way back into the house. Finally, after about thirty minutes of talking things through, she confessed through more tears: “I didn’t want to go to school today because my teacher said if I didn’t turn in my science and social studies homework she was going to call mom.”

And there it was.

The dreaded secret, the horrible thing she was afraid to tell us, the mistake that was eating her up inside and causing major stomach trouble, was out on the table. She was no longer hiding her transgression. It was out in the open. She was at the mercy of her father, but whatever happened now couldn’t be any worse than the inner turmoil she had already experienced. She sat there on the couch, tears running down her cheeks, waiting for her Daddy to confirm her worst fears.

And my heart broke for her little heart.

What I felt wasn’t anger or disappointment, what I felt was tenderness and compassion, frustration for her that she had experienced so much foreboding and angst over something that was relatively minor in the long term and certainly fixable. I imagined all of the anxiety and fear and shame she must have been holding onto for the last few days. (She had “forgotten” her binder at school for at least the previous two days). How long must she have been harboring this knowledge? How the minutes must have felt like hours, the hours like days, the days like weeks.

We talked through the implications of her choices, how I wanted what’s best for her, how change is hard and life is even harder and that’s just the way it is. How we still have to do things even when they are difficult. I e-mailed her teacher while she sat leaning up against my arm, and then she got ready for school. In the car on the way, I let her know there was nothing she couldn’t tell me, no matter what. That, as her Father, I will always love her and we would always find a way to work through it and make it right. No matter what.

Parenting is such a difficult thing. But it is in the difficult times, I think, more than the easy times, I learn something more about God and how He relates to me. See, I’ve always thought of confession as telling God I’m sorry for what I’ve done because I sinned against Him. Confession was agreeing with God that I was a terrible sinner and He is a Holy God. And that may be part of it. But what I learned today surprised me and helped me.

Confession isn’t as much about acknowledging something I’ve done to God, it’s about acknowledging something I’ve done to myself.

Sin is destructive. It takes us off of the fulfilling and challenging paths God has created for us into dark and anxiety-ridden places our Father never meant for us to live. And I believe when we confess, He’s sitting across from us, regretting all of the unnecessary pain and foreboding and fear we’ve experienced, all because we didn’t do it His way in the first place. Change is hard, and life is even harder, and that’s just the way it is. I’m clinging to the hope my heavenly Father understands this, and His tenderness and compassion are deep enough and strong enough and true enough to override the many mistakes I’ve made along the way. Always lovingly leading me back to the path I was created to walk.

I’m grateful I can tell Him anything, anytime, and He will always love me. No matter what. And when I look up at Him through tear-soaked eyes, feeling all the shame of the universe bearing down on me, I see tears in His eyes, too. Tears of understanding and forgiveness and grace.

No longer hiding. Out in the open. On the path to healing.

Free.

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