Archive for September, 2010

Three years ago today, Clara Jane Fisher, literally burst into the world. I suppose we expected her to gradually emerge like a normal newborn, but with an innate flair for the dramatic, her entire little body flew out in one final push.  I distinctly remember Nana’s gasp of “A whole baby!” upon witnessing Clara’s arrival. Three years later she still has people excitedly exclaiming due to her unpredictability and sheer cuteness. I distinctly recall falling in love when she smiled at me just minutes after she was born. And although she lived her first day without a name, labeled as “Baby Girl Fisher” in the hospital, Clara Jane has lived up to her name and demonstrated on a daily basis that it is clear that God is gracious.

Clara has always seemed to be ahead of the game, and this has brought about some quotable quotes and great memories. Like the time 18 month old Clara informed me in the middle of the night while attempting to change her diaper, “Dad, I want a choice.” Of course, I told her no, but who has to tell an 18 month old she doesn’t get a choice anyway?

In part because she is verbally and intellectually advanced, she often has hung out with older children, and attempting to watch her socialize with the big kids has often been humorous. One of my favorite stories occurred while at a park in Cheshire when Clara was just shy of two years old. A boy around four or five years old was playing with Clara on a merry go round when he said to Clara, “Have you seen this movie called Casper the Friendly Ghost? Remember the part where the uncle gets sucked into the vacuum cleaner and he says ‘This sucks!’?” The boy laughed hard and without skipping a beat Clara bent over laughing and responded by pointing to her feet before she giggled, “I wear socks too!”

The kid is full of enthusiasm, just like her mom, and often makes us laugh. Like the time at 21 months when driving from Connecticut to New York to go camping, that we made a pit stop in Massachusetts an hour into the trip and immediately heard Clara’s victory cry of “Camping! We made it! I did it! Yeah!” with hands fully extended into the sky. In the weeks leading up to her birthday, Clara was super pumped about having a “Bayou Birthday” in a tribute to Princess Tiana of The Princess and the Frog and literally took to jumping for joy when telling others about her New Orleans themed party and the planned menu including gumbo and beignets.

Sometimes it is her unexpected skills that bring us joy like the famous “moonwalk” video taken at 15 months. And given her dancing and the fact that she is my genetic offspring, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised by the following conversation we had just last week:

Clara: What should we name the new baby?

Me: I don’t know. What do you think we should name it?

Clara: How about Michael Jackson?

Me: Who told you to say that?

Clara: Nobody. I just made that name up myself.

Her wit has always impressed me as has her logic, far beyond the capability of the average toddler, as evidenced by this exchange in a Department store around 26 months:

Clara: “What’s that? Movies?”

Me: “Video games.”

Clara: “Can I play video games?”

Me: “Maybe when you’re older.”

Clara: “Can I be older?

So clearly, we have our hands full and it is just the beginning. Luckily, she takes great pride in being a big sister as evidenced in her leadership in naming the still unborn third child, but she wasn’t always so eager. When Shepard first arrived in August 2009, her first words upon seeing him for the first time in the hospital were, “That’s okay.  I don’t think I like this one. We’ll come back another time.” Never without an opinion.

But perhaps my favorite part of our little girl is her spiritual nature. She often will run over to Jaime and I when we are praying together and form a huddle by grasping our legs. It is a common occurrence these days to hear Clara pray for “the new baby, this home we live in, (and) this wonderful meal we just had.” Once at 26 months, I witnessed her pretending to dribble and asked her if she was playing basketball. Clara replied, ““Yeah. I love basketball. Everybody loves basketball. Daddy loves basketball. Nana loves basketball. Jesus loves basketball. Mom loves basketball. Everybody loves basketball.” Yep, everybody does love basketball and Jesus is a part of the family. Can you believe this chica even asked me at the age of 24 months, “Dad, what is your foundation?” I’m pretty sure she didn’t quite comprehend what she was asking, but it challenged me nonetheless.

Clearly, I would die for this young lady and am preparing to do so on a daily basis as is my duty as a father. After becoming a father to a girl, Bryan Douglass encouraged me to read Meg Meeker’s “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” which I did and also highly recommend. Dr. Meeker writes, “Love isn’t just about feeling good. It’s about doing what you don’t want to do, over and over again, if it needs to be done, for the sake of someone else.” This seems to sum up love, life and parenting. Perhaps more poetically, as Switchfoot sings, “If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love. If it doesn’t break your heart it’s not enough.”

And so, I am preparing to fight for her and to show affection to her, even and especially during the awkward teen years. I am preparing to make the tough decisions that will not earn me immediate respect, but will protect my little one, even and especially as she becomes not so little. All in hope that through the mountaintop experiences and valley lows, that a strong woman in the Lord will emerge ready to exhibit the unique blend of a tough mind and a tender heart, an independent thinker willing to trust and depend on God alone. I love you Clara Jane. Happy birthday.

For those of you who know her, feel free to add your own favorite memories in the comment section.

P.S. Also thanks to Mark Wade for the picture directly above. Check out his photography at http://bluemarblephotography.smugmug.com/

It may be because I didn’t fly on a plane until the age of 18, but I believe there is something mystical about airports. Agreeably, there is little awe inspiring in the security lines or the baggage checks. But the magic exists in the terminal. To start, the place is filled with a diverse group of people from all over the world, gathered in one place with one purpose, yet with no evident relational connections to each other. But people attempt to manufacture relationships with strangers or end up on the phone with people not physically present, making the terminal a fantastic place to people watch. Here you can overhear phrases such as “environmental services boot camp” or pick up shards of conversations like, “Cleavage is all over the place. It’s a bit different from Burlington.” Fascinating.

People crave relational connection and naturally want to share things they’re excited about, so out of the airport’s vacuum of relationship arise genuine moments of people connecting over stories. The terminal provides opportunities to meet people like Linda, a 40 year school speech therapy veteran, who just travelled to Budapest with her two adult daughters in search of relatives who had opted not to immigrate to the Unites States three generations ago. Linda beamed as she told me that she and her children ended up finding their Hungarian family and a vineyard their relatives own and how they drank wine out of old coke bottles for two weeks while communicating through gestures. How’s that for a vacation?

Perhaps my favorite part of the terminal is that it’s the closest thing our muggle world has to a Portkey. There are alphanumeric portals taking people worlds away to places like Miami, Beijing, Jackson Hole, Zurich, Honolulu and Halifax. Where the heck is Halifax anyway? And that’s the point. Walk a few yards this way and you could possibly hop on a plane to visit an old friend, a few feet that way and you can go to a country you cannot even locate on a map (if TSA would only allow gate hopping). But one gate always makes my heart leap while walking past or hearing a last call for boarding. You guessed it, San Diego. There’s no place like home, especially when you don’t live there anymore and aren’t scheduled to go back anytime soon. The idea of walking down that particular breezeway and  just a few hours later stepping out into the salty ocean air is always very appealing.

Perhaps my hometown allegiance can be blamed for the strong emotion I experienced upon arriving at Dulles International in Washington D.C. on Thursday to find a man wearing a LaDainian Tomlinson Jets shirt. LT, perhaps the greatest San Diego Charger of all time, recently signed with New York after spending nearly a decade in America’s Finest City. And in sports, fan-player loyalty is a powerful thing. Ask Red Sox Nation. Go ahead, ask ’em. So, as much as I like LaDainian, it still hurt to read the story this offseason that he had tattooed the Jets logo onto his leg. And while at Matt and Kristin’s last Sunday night, it didn’t seem right to see him sprinting around wearing green, helping to defeat the Patriots (which he never seemed to be able to do in a Bolts uniform). I will admit, it was kind of fun to see a healthy Tomlinson running around like a younger and less brooding version of himself. It caused me to believe this must be how spurned lovers feel when they see their “ex” genuinely happy in a new relationship. Although likely depressed yourself, somewhere inside you might just feel a hint of joy on their behalf. But being happy for someone you still have feelings for is quite different than being happy for their new boyfriend. And the last thing you want to see is a t-shirt that advertises the fact that your relationship was severed and a new one has begun. I think I audibly grunted upon seeing the shirt, realizing that the once happy athlete-fan relationship we once shared is now itself terminal. Yet, wanting to do the right thing, I tried to engage the guy in conversation. You know, to see how LT is doing, to make sure he’s being taken care of properly and appreciated by the Jets fans. Yeah, breaking up is tough. But here I go again, attempting to create some semblance of relationship in a place where none would seem to naturally exist.

But could it be that a relationship actually does exist between us all? I think beyond our fear, beyond our comfort zones, beyond our deep-seated individualism, we know that we are all connected. Maybe it is in the times we enter into a shared space such as the terminal, when we leave our homogenized neighborhoods and workplaces, that we feel the mystery of a deeper truth begging to be discovered. In Acts 2, the church is birthed after the “Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs” are gathered in one place with one purpose, but have no evident relational connections to each other. But after Peter tells them of Jesus, three thousand of these folks then become united in baptism into God’s one family, a reconciliation of the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel in which one united people was dispersed. Maybe one would disagree or prefer their individual bubble not be contaminated by outsiders, but I believe Mother Teresa was onto something when she said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Like I said, there is something mystical about airports.

Today my job brought me back to the Osborn Correctional Facility in Somers, CT near the Connecticut-Massachusetts border for the first time since late 2008. Upon entering the parking lot, I was reminded of a bumper sticker that I took a picture of there nearly two years ago:

I remember my reaction upon first seeing this sticker largely consisted of wanting to defend God. As if the Almighty was somehow in need of assistance from me in the Kingdom’s Department of Justice. But I also found some joy in the creativity of the sticker’s author in manufacturing phrases such as “Cosmic Jewish Zombie” and the absurdity of faith from an outside perspective. I remember my next thought was wanting to find the owner of the vehicle to address each of the sticker’s allegations with a corresponding apologetic lesson. I even thought about doing a series of devotionals with the teens at church that would address some of the myths (and truths) that the sticker proclaims.

But today I realize my initial reaction was largely consistent with a Western cultural response, not necessarily a Gospel response. A desire to confront inaccuracy with “absolute truth” over love. Please understand, I am not saying there are not absolute truths, only that I am sure I have been far more effective at times in communicating my distaste for those in disagreement with me than I was effective at preaching the “good” news. And herein lies a different truth, no one places the above bumper sticker on their car because they have read the Bible and patently found it false and despise Jesus. No, the reality is that those who would put this sticker on their car likely have had negative experiences with Christians and the church, perhaps directly correlated to a cultural belief within the church that to confront people with “truth” is a higher priority than the posture we take with them. That is to say, that somehow we feel God is pleased when we tell people of His supreme authority even if this message is delivered in an unloving manner that would prevent anyone from wanting a relationship with His church.

So what would an alternative response or approach even potentially look like? I listened to a podcast today in which Irish author Peter Rollins told a parable about a Jewish rabbi and a prospective disciple that sheds some light. The story was paraphrased along the following lines:

A young man wished to train under a learned old Rabbi and said, “I wish to learn the wisdom of God, please teach it to me.” The rabbi replied, “You are much too young, come back in ten years.” The young man arrogantly responded that he had studied and mastered various forms of logic and that he was now ready to learn the logic of God. The rabbi responded, “Okay, I will test you. I will ask you one question and if you answer it correctly, you will prove yourself ready to learn.” The young man eagerly agreed to the terms.

The Rabbi then said to the young man, “Two men go down a chimney. One comes out and washes his face and the other one doesn’t. Tell me, which one washed his face?” The young man thought and said, “Well, the one with soot on his face washed up.” The rabbi said, “I told you that you were not ready. The exact opposite occurred. The clean one looked at the dirty one and thought he was also dirty, and he went to wash up. The dirty one, on the other hand, looked at the clean one and thought he was also clean and, therefore, did not go to wash up.”

The young man was not ready to give up and begged for another chance. The rabbi agreed to pose another question.“Two men go down a chimney. One comes out and washes his face and the other one doesn’t. Tell me, which one washed his face?” The young man smiled confidently and answered,  “The clean one looked at the dirty one and thought he was also dirty and went to wash up. The dirty one, on the other hand, looked at the clean one and thought he was also clean and, therefore, did not go to wash up.” The rabbi responded, “Stop trying to be clever. Of course not. The man with the soot on his face had it in his eyes and could taste it in his mouth and see it on his hands. Of course, he is the one who washed up.”

The young man was stunned, but asked for one last chance. The rabbi consented and asked the same question a third time. The young man this time replied, “Well, is it the man without the soot on his face who washes up? But this time for a different reason?” The rabbi chastised him saying, “Tell me, how is it possible for two men to go down a chimney and for one to come out dirty and for the other to come out clean?”

The point of the parable is that the young man was seeking a singular “right” answer, an absolute truth to the question, and the rabbi’s teaching indicated that embracing a life of faith necessitates that there isn’t always a “right” answer to grab hold of. Rollins expounded on the parable by saying that a life of faith is a journey of transformation, a shared life of belief, ritual and belonging. If we’re always solely focused on finding the “right” answer, perhaps we’re missing the point of the growth that occurs in the context of the shared journey.

What if we were able to adapt a posture of humility, an attitude that perhaps we don’t have everything figured out? Yet in faith still confidently proclaim Jesus as Lord? What if  I was able to see in that bumper sticker not a person in need of correction, but an opportunity to share in the wonder and mystery of the good news of Kingdom with a fellow created being? I don’t have this all figured out, but I’d like to believe that embracing a communal journey of transformation in Christ would make us an attractive people to the world. Perhaps even to the extent that nonbelievers who do not understand or agree with our theology wouldn’t feel it necessary to place bumper stickers on their cars to advertise their dislike of the church. What do you think?

Dad Time

Posted: September 18, 2010 in Family, Kids
Tags: , ,

Dad Time. Defined as the period, no matter how long, in which Mom is not present and Dad is left with the kids. Inevitably, Dad Time invokes incidents that simply do not occur if Mom is present.

For example, there was the time I was attempting to transfer six month old Clara from a pack ‘n play to her crib, in the dark, but did so by picking her up upside down and then holding her away from my body while trying to figure out what happened to her head. You can imagine Jaime’s reaction when she walked in at that exact moment to witness her baby dangling by her legs, fast asleep.

Or the time just a few weeks ago, when just moments after Jaime left the house, I underestimated Shepard’s crawling speed, then underestimated his ability to pry open doors, and then watched helplessly as he found a bottle of Pine Sol and with break neck speed untwisted the cap and let the the bottle’s contents fly onto the kitchen floor while he giggled with delight. No joke, the way he put the Pine Sol in a headlock and twisted off the cap while releasing the bottle to the ground in one motion would have made Jason Bourne jealous. Boy, did it smell clean in the apartment that night.

Jaime is away for the weekend at the Ganderbrook Ladies’ Retreat in Maine, which means I have had the kids to myself for a couple days and fortunately for the kids there are no great stories to tell. But just a couple days of Dad Time reinforces both how much I love these kids and how grateful I am that my wife is able and willing to stay home and raise them.

Clara, Shep and I visited Sweet Treats on Center Street yesterday to pick up some candy (also a part of Dad Time) and the store manager commented how fast the time goes by with little ones. She had a look of longing in her eyes that suggested she wished she could return to such a time as I am currently enjoying. Just an hour before, the cashier at Walgreens noted she wasn’t even sure if she could remember her girls, now 11 and 6, ever being as cute as Clara. I don’t think she meant to say Clara was especially cute, as much as she was trying to lament the fact that she simply doesn’t have clear memories of her children as toddlers. These interactions made me appreciate my blessings all the more.

So not to brag, but in hopes that I will someday remember, Shepard is incredibly cute at 13 months. He just learned how to walk and his gait-in-progress reminds us of Jack Sparrow looking for the last of the rum. He frequently comes up behind us while doing the dishes just to snuggle the back of our legs, complete with a humming sound effect to express his love. And there can be few things better in life than to return home from work to your son ecstatically flipping out with excitement upon your arrival screaming “Dada!”.

Clara continues to be a trip at nearly three years old. She did an amazing job as flower girl in Ty and Andrea’s wedding over Labor Day weekend. I think it may be impossible for a Dad’s eyes not to well up with tears when you see your beautiful little girl go down the aisle, even if she’s only two and just the flower girl. After she very seriously and thoroughly placed the flower petals on the aisle she came back to hang out with me near the back of the venue so as not to cause a distraction.

I fed the kids animal crackers to keep them quiet and when I found a sheep cracker I pointed it out to Clara. Clara then picked up a rock and informed me that I should have the sheep stand on the rock. I complied. Then she instructed me to have the sheep drink water from the rock. This took me aback, because as many Bible stories as we have read to her, I don’t ever recall telling her about Moses and the water from the rock in Exodus and I couldn’t think what may have possessed her imagination to think that a rock could produce water.

I began to think that perhaps out of the mouth of babes I was to receive an inspirational message from God or some type of instruction. I eagerly awaited what she would say next as I envisioned myself as a sheep in need of both God as my rock and foundation and Jesus as the living water foreshadowed in those Exodus passages. Clara then squinted her eyes and cocked her head appearing ready to deliver a profound insight. And then she asked me very seriously, ” Now, Daddy… Do you have to go potty?” Good stuff.

Well, Jaime is due back in a few hours, and while I have successfully kept the kids alive, the house is a wreck. Dad time.

Wishing To Be Past The Wishing

Posted: September 18, 2010 in Motivational
Tags:

Ten years ago upon completing my junior year of high school, my English teacher wrote me the following note:

“Behind every good writer is a good thinker, and that describes you to a tee. You have an innate quality of seeing to the heart of a matter, and as a junior in high school, this is impressive. Once you find your passion in life, you will excel past your current successes. Enjoy that time!”

I am beginning this blog with this quote, because ten years later, I am still contemplating passion and how to truly enjoy life. Truth be told, I spend the majority of my time looking forward to moments that haven’t yet occurred, reliving past accomplishments or attempting to escape from and cover up mistakes. It seems Jesus was One who was able to fully live in the moment. One who showed the glory of God by demonstrating what man looks like fully alive.

I do not know what I was meant to accomplish, but I do know I am here for a purpose. I believe writing is an integral part of my destiny. I have believed this for some time, but avoided it to a great extent out of fear. So here I am. Writing.

Not that I haven’t been here before. There have been journals, academic accolades, previous blogs, professional accomplishments. But much of what I produce has often, if not always, been polished to reflect only a part of my soul. Jaime has rarely been impressed as she knows me well and has told me my public writing is both self-important and dishonest (expressing this idea in love and not in those exact words). And she is right, as most spouses are, most of the time.

I do enjoy being in relationships in which I am the one to dispense advice and offer a helping hand; I don’t much like to be on the receiving end. But to “give” and never “receive” in this fashion is a failure to be vulnerable. A failure to demonstrate humility. A failure to experience relationships. So,while I imagine that much of what I write here will have a similar style to my previous work, I hope to improve my honesty and vulnerability, and in so doing move closer to whatever destiny may be calling and to the people who may be reading. For thus far, I have been nothing if not consistently inconsistent, largely due to an unwillingness to shed perfectionism.

While watching “Letters to Juliet” the other night with Jaime, a particular scene spoke to me in ways previous films have before. The film’s protagonist, a twenty-something aspiring writer explains she has never submitted her work for publishing as she has never felt it was finished. I have often felt the same way, but realize now that by never “being finished”, nothing has begun. Here’s to a new beginning, one where I will write more frequently as I attempt to put out of my mind potential criticisms, controversies and more importantly my own “standards.” In hope that I can both improve my writing and still assist some folks along the way.

I am horribly out of writing practice, and feel much the way I used to during the first week of baseball in the Spring after skipping a season of hitting due to basketball. I never doubted I could hit fastballs in those early sessions, but also had to make peace with the fact that I wouldn’t hit one for a while until my timing was honed. So please bear with me, your time and willingness to read any of this means a lot.

All this reminds me of a Sara Groves song entitled “Past the Wishing,” in which Sara sings:

“I wish that I were closer to Jesus
But not enough to get me out of bed
For an early morning prayer before the
Rushes of my life take me instead

You’ve shown me my man of Macedonia
You’re calling me further on
And I’m tired of saying it’s a nice idea
I wish it could be done

I don’t wish that I could go I am going
I don’t wish that I could be I am being
I don’t wish that I could do it I am doing
By the grace of God I am doing

I’m past the wishing
Past the wishing”

I wish to be past the wishing. How I long deep inside to be able to sing those last verses in truth, not theory. Please join me in this journey.Your thoughts, comments, prayers, feedback and criticisms are all welcomed and necessary. Subscribe. Tell your friends. Get on my case if I am not writing, because I need the practice. Destiny awaits.

(http://www.saragroves.com/lyrics/)