from son to father, part 3

The third part of my seemingly endless series will be the first entry that will not be poop-related. You're welcome. 

I started the year with the hope that I would blog at least once a week this year. It was to be an act of spiritual discipline and prayer. Looking over my entries for the year I did... ok. There are pretty big gaps where I didn't write much at all. This, of course, points to one of my biggest weaknesses (if not THE biggest) which is my lack of discipline. Its nothing new. When I look back even to my junior and senior high days, I remember that I was smart but lazy and that sometimes you can get by on smart. Getting by often means being happy with a "B" when a little work could have earned an "A". It meant being happy to be on the team instead of doing the extra work to be a real athlete. It meant being happy to be in the band without doing the work to be a real musician. It also meant walking away from a thing or two when things got harder than I wanted to deal with. 

One thing that has changed since the high school years is that I've discovered the joy of finishing things. There is certainly something about the feeling of accomplishment. Still, there's a difference between crossing the finish line and staggering across it. I tend to do the latter. It's the difference between a job well done and a job that's, well, done. 

So what does that have to do with the boy? The week before Thanksgiving, the whole house was sick. Thomas' sickness seemed to have thrown off his sleeping schedule because he was back to waking up every couple of hours in the middle of the night. It was like he had regressed a few months and it was truly frustrating not to mention exhausting. Last week a book was recommended to us. The author suggested a couple of important things: one that we let him cry it out in the middle of the night. This had been suggested to us before and we had hoped that had avoided this. The second was that we create a routine for his naps throughout the day. So, we resolved that we had to endure a few rough nights to get things back to where we were sleeping through the night. 

The first night was brutal. It was nearly three hours (from almost midnight to almost 3am) of pretty regular crying. And not just crying. Screaming, howling, "why do my evil parents hate me so much?" kind of crying. We resisted the urge to run in and save him, which would have been more for our comfort than his, and after a pretty agonizing couple of hours he passed out. The next day we informed the babysitter of the new sleep schedule. We began a new routine. Earlier bed time. More low key night time activities (he had been getting pretty hyper at night. We discovered that this is a result of fatigue. Who knew? Smartypants pediatrician, that's who.) The second night was bad, but not as bad. The third night was amazing. And he's been going down for his naps. He's started going down for bed with no fuss. He railed against all of this at first, but now he's sleeping better and more often, he's happier when he wakes, and he's dealing with well-rested parents in the morning.

Interesting that I can create a routine for someone else and not for myself. Despite all the testimonials I had heard, I have to say that even I am a little surprised by how the simple act of having a routine, and parents who at least for a week have been disciplined enough to keep to a the routine, has changed the boy's mood and behavior. He's cute when he's tired and hyper, but I'll take that loss to make sure that he's well rested and that he doesn't have sleep problems throughout his life like his dad does.  

There's something kind of old fashioned about discipline. There's something that is seemingly very boring in the idea of routine. And yet anyone who achieves anything on a high level has these old fashioned, boring elements as a part of their lives. Athletes run drills, musicians play scales, actors rehearse. We tend to romanticize the ability to improvise in life. We like it when things come down to the wire. But a jazz musician knows their scales. I read a biography of John Coltrane last year and one of the things that foolishly caught me off guard was what a student of music theory he was. He was able to improvise the way he did because he had disciplined himself to do the seemingly little things well. 

My life lacks discipline. It lacks routine. In the past, that has been one of the things that I have enjoyed about my life. I like the freedom of a flexible schedule and limited accountability. I pride myself on my ability to get by without structure or a plan. And yet there is always a nagging inside of me that says "this isn't nearly as good as it could have been if you would have just worked harder beforehand". I hate that voice. 

So what could more routine look like in my life? Well, first and foremost it could mean my being a better husband and father. I have a routine about when I take out the garbage (right after "How I Met Your Mother, if you were wondering) but what about a dishes routine or a laundry routine. I'm sure my wife would love that. (See, I'm counting on the fact she's stopped reading my blog.) I have something of a routine about how I manage our finances. I know that could be tightened up. I certainly could be more disciplined about my health. I've secretly been patting myself on the back about the fact that I've lost weight this year with little (to no) exercise, but the truth of the matter is that I do the opposite of stress eating. When I'm stressed, I forget about food. That's probably not healthy either. Having an eating and exercise routine wouldn't be the worst thing. Professionally, I could certainly be more disciplined about my sermon prep. My office could use a little more structure. (That might be a bit of an understatement). I could always be more organized on the administrative end, but even on the relational end of my job, there could certainly be more routine. When do I visit shut ins? When do I check up on members who haven't been to worship in awhile? When I spend time with officers and staff? How do I balance denominational activities, community activities, and congregational activities? 

And then personally... am I writing as often as I'd like? Am I praying as often as I should? Am I studying scripture for my own edification? Am I reading for pleasure as much as I read for work? Am I dating my wife enough? (again, counting on her not reading this!) All of these things are things that need to be scheduled. They need to become a part of a routine. 

If having a routine can turn a hyperactive, sleep deprived, moody gremlin (no exaggeration) into a mild mannered, 12 hour sleeping, cuddly little angel (slight exaggeration), then imagine what it can do for a well meaning, but lazy slacker who's tired of getting by on doing the bare minimum. Time to add some pieces of flare. ("Office Space" anyone?) 

from son to father, part 2

Part one is here

My son has developed a new habit that only be described as utterly annoying. When he's on the changing table, he now rolls while he's being changed. This, of course, usually results in the contents of his dirty diapers being spread far more than is necessary. He gets in a position like he's about to crawl off the changing table. This would be a bad thing considering the table's height. Today, I needed my wife to hold him down while I changed him. He thinks it's hysterical. I disagree. I got so frustrated with him this morning that I kinda yelled at him, " I can't help you if you keep moving!"

Being the expert theologian that I am, I immediately thought of Psalm 46:10 "‘Be still, and know that I am God!". Psalm 37:7 came to me later, "Be still before the Lord, and wait patiently for him"

I like the idea of being more of a contemplative. I really do. I'm not wired for it though. I thrive off of being busy. I'm always distracted, always moving. Sometimes not stopping long enough to realize that I'm a mess. Sometimes moving so quickly that I spread my mess to others, who then have my mess on their hands. (sorry if this is getting too graphic. it was a rough morning.) 

Anyway, I've just ben thinking about what it would look like for me to sit still long enough for God to take care of my mess. Not the messes that I need to take care of, which usually involve my saying "I'm sorry" (or "I forgive you"). The messes that can only be handled by taking a look at my own broken-ness, my own fallibility, my own short-comings and being honest about who I am. The messes that are created by my own insecurity and selfishness. The mess that is my still grieving heart. When I sit still for too long, I'm reminded of these things. They wash over me. Sometimes the hurt comes out in a deep sigh. Sometimes in actual tears....

... and that's when my mess gets cleaned. Not in the hurried busyness, but in the solitude and silence. In those times when I acknowledge that the mess is there. When I slow down long enough to realize that the one who deals with my mess loves me deeply and just wants me to get out of it. When I realize that my mess does not define who I am, that's where the fresh start begins. 

I've learned a lot from my son over the last nine months. I seem to only write down the lessons that are diaper related. There's no pretense when changing a diaper. No denial. There's nothing fake about it. I'm sure one day he will hate me for writing this stuff. Hopefully when he's done hating me, he'll realize that his daddy loved him and was so grateful for all that he learned. 

from grief to comfort (eventually)

It's been awhile since I have written anything here. Some of that is because I've been busy. Some is that I have so many thoughts in my head that I haven't been able to organize them into words. Now seemed like as good a time as any to actually purge some thoughts from my brain. 

My grandmother passed away just a few days ago. I am profoundly sad. I'm fairly certain that this is the most significant experience of death that I have had. Definitely the most significant since my grandfather died 16 years ago. I actually feel a heaviness in my chest. In some ways, I'm glad that sadness is all I feel. I'm not angry. I've had flashes of guilt, but I don't feel guilty about anything. I'm just sad. 

Of course, part of the challenge in dealing with a death in the family is balancing the sadness you feel with the sadness of others in the family. There's a selfish part of me that just wants to hoard all of the grief for myself, but that's not realistic. I guess there's enough sad to go around. Still, there's a tug of war going on between the little boy who just lost his Granny and the pastor who helps people through their grief. It's kind of a messy tug of war. Both sides are fairly stubborn. I feel compelled to keep my pastor hat on, but honestly don't think I can keep that up. In fact, I'm probably not doing nearly as good of a job of being a pastoral presence as I imagine that I am. 

Theology is really important to me right now. I've realized that one's true theology becomes very apparent at times of crisis. I very much believe in an "afterlife". I believe that my grandparents are reunited right now and that makes me happy. I believe that the lives they lead were purposeful and not simply to keep the species going. I believe that I will see them again.

I also believe that God is sad too. God is able to take a long view of things and realize that things all work out, but God is also able to enter into time and realize that right now I am hurting. If I am capable of being empathetic with hurting people then God is even more so. Many have reminded me that God is with me in the midst of my suffering and I have been grateful for that reminder. 

I realize that to an atheist or an agnostic (and even some Christians) that much of what I wrote above seems naive, like a weak-minded crutch. I hope that you will forgive me for needing a crutch. Grief makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. It reminds you of certain inevitabilities. It reminds me that though this may be my most significant experience of death to date, it won't be my last significant one. There will most likely be my parents, possibly siblings, good friends, maybe my wife, God forbid my children. There will be my own personal encounter with death to deal with. While I don't dwell on those things, they are real. Each will be accompanied with a significant feeling of loss. 

All of that said, I am very grateful. I am grateful that my grandmother was as much a part of my life as she was. I am grateful that she showered me with unearned, unconditional love. I am grateful that she taught me to strive for excellent things. I am grateful for her finicky voice echoing in my head. I am grateful for her E.T. like ability to resurrect dying plants, which I think I may have inherited in some small quantity. I am grateful for her Steelers fanaticism which I inherited almost in its fullness. I am grateful for her wunderlust, which I think I have more of than I let on. I am grateful that she expressed her love through physical gifts that let you know that I was never far from her thoughts. I am grateful for her love expressed in gleeful hugs that communicated how glad she was to see me. I always felt like she was glad to see me...

At some point in the next couple of weeks, things will go back to "normal". I will be busy at work. My son will continue to grow and laugh and learn new things and I will be totally captivated by it. I will continue to share my life with a beautiful, funny, intelligent woman who makes me feel like life couldn't be any better. There will be continue to be good food, and good drinks, and good movies, and good music and all of things will fill me with joy. I look forward to that time, but I shouldn't rush through this time even though I'd like to. It's hard to feel sad, which is why we have so many ways to numb ourselves from sadness. Difficult as it is, I am grateful for the full range of emotions. This moment of sadness will form me if I let it. It will help me to be more available to others in the midst of their sadness. All of that will happen in time. 

Right now, I'm sad. 

from son to father - the first in what could be an infinite series on lessons fatherhood is teaching me

Diapers. They have become, seemingly overnight, a massive part of my life. it is weird to have your schedule dominated by another person's digestive system. Daiper changes are frequent. They are messy. God gave little boys an extra piece of equipment that makes them seem far more hostile in the diaper changing process. It's like he's trying to ward me off. While changing my son is one of those bonding experiences, I do have to say that all in all, it is fairly unpleasant. And this is before his diapers have really started to stink.

Knowing the unpleasantness, and the hazards that go along with the process, I at times put off changing him. I see the discomfort in his face, I hear the rumble in his belly, I feel the diaper filling and I say to myself "this can wait until after he eats". Of course, as someone who has spent little time with infants I had to be schooled on a couple things. Not only is my son's wallowing in his own filth disgusting conceptually, it is also not good for him. That is, I learned, where diaper rashes come from. I'm learning that the dirty diaper really is something that should be attended to with as much haste as possible. I'm sure I'll feel this with more urgency once odor enters the picture.

I am, by nature, an avoider. I don't like conflict. This might be a byproduct of years of being wrong about things. It may also come from growing up in a place where there was a fair share of yelling. Whatever the case, I prefer compromise, silence, or out right retreat in many scenarios. I don't think of myself as a coward (though I might be), I just truly believe that most conflicts can be avoided...

... but some can't. Some conflicts grow when they are left unattended. Some breed new problems. Some leave us wallowing in our own mess (see the connection now?). How many things in my life could have been avoided if I would have dealt with conflict when it first presented itself? How many relationships could have been salvaged if I had spoken up about what I was feeling, particularly when I was angry or disappointed? How many fires could have been put out when they were just sparks?

It takes courage to deal with issues before they become problems. For me, it means risking being wrong (which might be my least favorite thing). It means risking embarrassment or hurting someone else's feelings. I realize some people don't think about these sorts of things, but I think most do. It also takes foresight to realize that things can snowball on you if you let them.

The slightly ironic thing about this is that I dno't have this problem when it comes to organizations or structures. I usually jump right into structural conflicts. It's only when they become personal that I have difficulty.

So this is one of my blind spots and I always try to work on my blind spots. Can I deal with cries before they become a rash? I guess I just have to risk getting peed on. End metaphor.

from my deepest sorrow to my greatest joy

I was supposed to be in Louisville this past weekend. I was supposed to be there for this. I'll save a fuller discussion on my feelings after having worked on this committee for another date. I will say that I have made what I hope will be lifelong friendships/connections in my work with this group. I am sorry that I missed the opportunity to spend time with people about whom I care deeply. I feel a bit like I let people down. I don't feel like I contributed much to begin with and then I missed the concluding session. I'm beating myself up a bit.

The real frustration is the feeling of anti-climax. It's just kind of over and out of our hands. I don't feel much closure. I needed the closure. I wanted this to be the experience that gave me hope and faith for te inner workings of the church at large were meaningful and productive. Instead, I feel like I was a part of a politcal process. That is not why I got involved in ministry. I understand that there will always be some politics in church life. There has been since the beginning. That doesn't mean I have to like it. I know it's naive, but I feel like the church should play by a different set of rules. No winners and losers. No defeated opponents, no bragging victors. What we tried to express in our final recommendations, I believe, was the value of unity. I take unity very seriously. I think it's so important that Jesus made it the focus of his final prayer before being crucified. (John 17:20-23) I certainly would have found something else to pray about at that time. And yet for many, unity is not a value. For many, it is better to be right than to be reconciled. I don't think theological integrity is more important than relationships. There are many people that I agree with intellectually that I would have a hard time working with. There are some who don't see eye-to-eye with me on the "issues", who I know have my back. The fact that my beloved Mother/Whore the Church is a place that values being right over being in relationship breaks my heart.

I missed the proceedings of this weekend to witness the birth of my son. And when I say "witness the birth", I mean it. Much to my chagrin, I saw him being pulled out. Yikes. That trauma aside, I can't adequately put into words how having here makes me feel. I guess love at first sight would be the appropriate cliche. To name someone, to witness their beginnings, to watch them figure out the world, to be empowered by their dependence you, to be humbled by their dependence on you... it's all too much. I don't deserve it. It is the epitome of grace. However many years we have together are a gift. In the early years of being married, I feared having children because I feared the responsibility. In recent years, strange as it may sound, I feared loving someone the way that I've often heard even the toughest of men say that they loved their children. Both fears had legitimacy to them. I'm sure both will creep back up. Neither is strong enough to override the sheer joy I have felt, even in my sleep deprived state. Still, I'm not sure if I would have appreciated it as much earlier. His timing, like so much about him, was perfect.

from "Weston Global" to "Weston Local"

Pretty much since the Holidays, I have been dealing with family stuff. Well, I've been dealing with it at times, and other times I have not, both with traumatic effect. There are some hard things in my family history. Since mid-January I have been discussing these hard things with a counselor. He has helped me a great deal. He has helped me realize that I have some compulsive behaviors that have developed as coping mechanisms from my childhood. Those things, which may have served as adaptations when I was in my youth are now maladaptive as an adult. For some reason it is hard for me to accept that my childhood may have been traumatic. I have this illusion that everyone grew up with the kind of stuff that I did. Even now I hesitate to use the word "abuse". Maybe more folks have had abusive childhoods than I think and we have all coped in different ways.

In any case, I have been thinking about this in terms of my re-entry into family life in Pittsburgh. One of the best things that has come out of counseling is the realization that I need to create very firm boundaries with my family when I move back to Pittsburgh. By the time we move home, Marnie and I will have spent more time as a married couple in California than we did in Pittsburgh. People really don't know us as a couple. We have developed habits and rhythms. We have a culture. It has some flaws, but overall, it is a healthy culture where we are both nurtured and are happy. One of my main priorities when I move home will be to protect that culture. I'm not saying that our marriage is an impenetrable fortress...well, in some ways I am. Or at least I want it to be. My point is that there are alot of pathologies that I would like to protect our relationship from. I am growing in an understanding that as a husband, and hopefully sometime soon as a father, my primary concern is to protect my household and sometimes that means protecting them from my family. That's a hard thing for me to say. I don't want to close the door to my extended family. My deepest desire is to be a healing presence in my family, but I have some of my own healing to do first. Some of that includes expressing some anger, and I'm not good at that.

Anyway, like all of my thoughts, this one is still in motion.  I guess what I'm dealing with is the definition of "family". I guess I've been dealing with that for awhile.