This & That

Growing Pains

A week ago Jacque, the younger of our two daughters, celebrated her tenth birthday. For lunch after church, she picked Red Lobster, much to the chagrin of her sister Lindsay, who deeply disdains seafood. While Lindsay chose a passable chicken entrée, Jacque selected shrimp and broiled fish, quite palatable for her tastes, which usually suggest the sophistication of one older than her sister.

While juggling between Micah and our little adoptee, whom I refer to as The Monkey, I found myself frequently eyeing a table near us, where a younger family dined—at least the parents of the three little ones were attempting to eat. Dressed in their Sunday church clothes were a little boy about six and his two younger sisters, all of whom seemed quite close in age. I watched one of the girls who in her flouncy dress reminded me a lot of Jacque five years ago. Though she still is fond of dresses, they aren’t usually the flouncy type with elaborate purple ribbons that match well with white tights (how many times did I have to buy replacements?). These days she prefers jeans of the skinny variety—ten year olds are just about the only ones who can wear them well anyway—and layering blouses like her aunt Amy, who is 25 and whose style Jacque endeavors to emulate.

A couple posts ago I lamented Micah’s strong preference for his mother, forgetting that Jacque’s was even more fervid than her brother’s. Almost a year into our relationship—or lack of—Jacque finally came around, and we haven’t looked back. I remember returning from a long day at work, opening the front door and seeing her beaming face, a child newly in love with her father, excited about his arrival. Not yet able to run, she would drop to her knees and crawl to the door, look up, and attempt to scale my legs. Her world was at peace with Daddy home, and mine was complete.

Like I did the little girl at the seafood chain, I’ve caught myself staring at Jacque this past week, contemplating how much more grown up she’s appearing and how much more she’s resembling Cindy. I’ve been mesmerized by her chocolate eyes and thinking soon a boy about her age will find himself lost in those same eyes. I’m not sure how I feel about this enlightenment, though hopefully because of our close relationship she’s been developing standards set by me her father.

I love to banter with Jacque, as she’s developing a sense of humor not unlike her father’s, a wittiness her teacher made notice of last semester at a parent conference. She doesn’t claim my genes as the source of her humor, however. Perhaps someday she’ll realize that I am indeed funny, much like I eventually found Alan Alda to be hilarious on M*A*S*H, one of Dad’s favorites, which I hated as a kid.

I’ve been considering how our relationships with our children change over the years—thinking about this because The Monkey’s been with us for a week and my mother’s in town. Because I’ve taken a few vacation days, I’ve been home more to interact with all our children—and also with Mom.

Playing with Micah, who is nine months, is wonderful, though there’s little conversation. It’s almost entirely one-sided, though his smiles communicate much more than words. He’s quite polar, actually. If he’s not upset about something, he’s almost always deliriously happy. Not much in between. Lindsay as a baby was rather quiet and contented, while Jacque was pretty much distressed constantly.

Conversing with The Monkey, who is two-and-a-half, oftentimes is like interacting with a foreigner. The little English he knows is nearly indecipherable due to his toddler accent. And the awkward dialogues usually involve a lot of gaps and staring at one another, each of us hoping to articulate more clearly by use of facial expressions. There is also a lot of repetition. He simply utters the same few words he’s sure of, while I, usually in vain, query the thesaurus in my brain for another word that could offer a better explanation.

With the girls conversation is less cumbersome and much more satisfying. Since they’re older we can explore abstract concepts about the world and God and each other. We’ll talk about the day’s sermon or discuss a Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast we listened to in the minivan. We teach them more effective ways to express their thoughts and feelings, that word selection and tone are terribly significant in relating to others.

All this led me to think about how we relate and converse with God.

If you’ve ever tried to read the book of Hebrews, then you know it’s one of the more difficult books of the New Testament. And those who usually avoid the Old Testament also avoid Hebrews—and Revelation. The writing is quite scholarly, leading some to believe the author is Paul, a Hebrew intellectual himself and Roman citizen. One could imagine Paul if not for the shipwrecks, jailings, and floggings, sitting in his study smoking a pipe, sipping cognac, and writing the book of Hebrews.

After addressing some heady issues, the writer says:

There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. —Hebrews 5:11-14 nlt

I love that Micah is crawling now and starting to stand with the aid of the coffee table, though his falls are frequent, offering opportunities for comfort. Pain and accompanying bruises often engender growth. The Monkey, two years Micah’s senior, is much further along, able to play a little on the piano, though he too fell yesterday while trying to work the pedals simultaneously with the keys. Just yesterday The Monkey exclaimed “I did it!” on the potty and moments later Jacque walked in excitedly informing she’d aced a history quiz. Both great accomplishments.

As a Father God desires for us to grow, but many of us are stunted in our growth. We shout “I did it!” for things God expects us to move beyond. The ease of milk, so tenderly offered and received, should progress to the complexity of solid food. Micah is now enjoying foods prepared by Chef Mommy, who is so proudly making use of the Beaba Babycook she purchased on eBay. He still likes Mama’s Milk but his face lights up at the new tastes. The Monkey eats very well, much like our girls did—and do. Last night we cut his meat and broccoli into small pieces like usual, while the mashed potatoes went down easy. No wonder he asked for more. With the girls we’ve been teaching them how to properly (and safely) cut their steak. And of course, they can make their own breakfast and lunch and often help with preparing dinner.

We can continue to cry out “I did it” but for more advanced achievements. Let’s dig into the solid food of God’s Word and help the “newborn babies” in the faith with their milk (1 Peter 2:2). For spiritual growth we need the nutrition found in solid food where we’ll discover remarkable new tastes. Just as I look forward to our kids’ continuing to grow physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and relationally, so God wants us to grow in knowing Him, ourselves, others, and the world He created.

Fully a tween, Jacque can’t wait to grow up, and while in some ways I want her to remain my little girl, I sometimes imagine what she’ll be like all grown up. Hopefully she’s a lot like her mom and funny like me.

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