Saturday, April 29, 2006

Babbling Our Way through Mysteries

"Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask -- half the great theological and metaphysical problems -- are like that."
- C. S. Lewis, “A Grief Observed”

In seminary I would spend hours pursuing shadow answers for endless enigmas – trying to overcome or ignore the fact which C. S. Lewis so poignantly realized: God is beyond our comprehension. Therefore, much of our intellectual pursuit of God may turn out to be nothing more than mere absurdity … babble and silly children’s conceptions.

I am reminded of the nature and ascent (or descent) of Christian theology in the Scholastic or medieval period when many a theologian tried to determine just how many angels would fit on top of a pinhead. Seriously. Countless numbers of hours and precious ink and pages were used in an honest attempt to solve this problem.

Seminary at its worst is an attempt to trap God in a box – reducing God down to a systematic method of activity or revelation. But the longer you struggle to get God’s infinite and amazing grandeur down to something clear and definite the more it begins to feel like putting a gallon of oil inside an ounce of steel.

I spent a great amount of my final year in seminary wrestling with God’s sovereignty. More specifically, I asked myself time and again a number of troubling questions. If God is in complete control, how or why did Satan manage to rebel? Is God not ultimately accountable for evil in the world? What of the freedom of humanity versus the sovereignty of God?

These kinds of questions are forever to be talked around and never to be figured out. Eventually, I realized this and began my faith journey with a renewed determination to experience God rather than explain God. I realized the futility of getting answers from the God who speaks in riddles – “the first shall be last” – and who is content with being named “I am who I am” and being revealed in a burning bush.

But now that Wyatt has come along I’ve discovered a dangerous trend. I’ve begun to transfer my desire to figure God out to a more practical if not grand desire to figure Wyatt out.

Let me back up for a moment and say that Wyatt is crying more. Sometimes it is a minor whimper. Other times it is a downright howl. This past week, he had two terrible days, including complete breakdowns that would last for up to an hour at a time.

These new developments in his personality propelled Anna and I into an exhaustive and anxious search to find answers … any answers. We scoured baby books as if preparing for a medical exam. We consulted friends as if every person might be a sage or the possessor of some lost secret from ancient cultures (“you just need to use a little tarragon extract” or something foolish like that). Our mind was intent on pursuing every possible irritant. Could it be Anna’s diet, the way we hold him, the feeding schedule or perhaps the degree at which he is inclined when he sleeps? Of course, our desire to find an answer was magnified and intensified when Wyatt’s fitful moments occurred during the early hours of morning or after a long day.

Keep in mind that Anna and I are both rather contemplative individuals which means our theories and experiments have been many these past couple of days. Anna even began keeping a log of the food she was consuming and how Wyatt would react accordingly. Another article I read from a pediatrician suggested that Wyatt should be videotaped so that tendencies can be noted and patterns observed. I took every piece of advice hook, line and sinker.

But the more I’ve talked with people and the more I’ve been around Wyatt, the more I’ve begun to realize that he is not going to be figured out … at least not in the first month. I think parenting involves a ton of experiencing to get a little bit of learning.

So I don’t know what to tell you right now. I can tell you Wyatt is sleeping right now. That is a blessing. I can tell you that there will be moments in the near future when his temperament will undoubtedly challenge all the virtues I claim to possess such as patience and gentleness. That will be a test of my faith, my character.

As far as I know, asking the question, “why is Wyatt crying?” is not too much different than asking the question, “how tall is God?” Any answer, as Lewis would assert, is more likely to be nonsense than truth.

In matters of relationship, it’s probably best to put the postulations and conjectures aside and let experiences shape and guide us.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Baby Steps

Today marks the second complete week of young Wyatt’s life. All in all we’ve managed these first few days of the voyage with a good deal of vitality and calm. Anna’s parents have been out for the past week, which has helped tremendously. Even as I write Papa Joe is in the background with Wyatt. Papa Joe is reading the newspaper – learning how the Western side of the US sees the world and its dramas. Wyatt lies quiet … except for the occasional grunt or murmur. A picture of domesticity arises.

True to what I said earlier, the pace and manner of our life remains largely reduced. Our hours continue to be dominated by cycles of feeding, rest and brief moments of activity and unrest. Couple this new pace with the fact that our apartment is rather small and simple, and most days pass with a sense that little has been accomplished. There are no major cleaning projects to orchestrate. And since Wyatt passes through each day disturbing little more than a few diapers and a few minutes of potential sleep, there are no rooms to restore after his curious hands have laid waste … yet.

The one significant event in Wyatt’s life recently was his circumcision, which was performed on Tuesday. Anna and I elected to pass on having Wyatt circumcised at the hospital since the method typically employed there tends to be the most painful (there are three different methods of circumcision – a fact I was unaware of until two months ago). Instead, we elected to have Wyatt circumcised by a Mohel who also happens to be an urologist and thus falls under our health insurance plan.

There was something quite bizarre and unsettling about taking our sleeping son into a sterile office fully equipped for a procedure that was sure to awaken and horrify him. This was actually a double horror for me. First of all, there was the impending reality of pain and suffering in the near future for Wyatt – a scenario that I’ve already learned is the worst for any parent. But, added to that was my own intense fear of being around anything surgical.

Now you must realize the progressive and compassionate side of California has tried to make the doctor’s office more accommodating and welcoming. So much so that Dr. Frydman – the Mohel who was to perform the circumcision – offered to let one of us stay in the office during the operation. Anna, firmly aware of how difficult this would be and also aware of her own nature to question anyone and anything, jumped at the offer and quickly denied it. She said she would be outside, leaving me standing in the room on an involuntary basis. I was left to make small talk with the man whose hands would be perilously close to altering and perhaps destroying my own son’s fate. Seemed kinda ridiculous to talk about sports or the weather, so I just went to the side of the small table where Wyatt lay as Dr. Frydman and the nurse prepared their utensils.

I got through it. Wyatt did too. Although, I was the one who almost passed out during the circumcision. Five minutes into the prep and scrubbing and restraining and clamping and cutting, I began to realize that (a) I was backed into a corner … literally and (b) I was obsessing and forgetting to breathe. I started to think back to high school anatomy and the terrible day I passed out while casually observing an autopsy on film. Breathe. I started to wonder how much longer this was going to last. Breathe. I started to focus my eyes on Wyatt’s face – hoping my attention would be drawn away from that other half of his body. Breathe.

Thankfully, I knew my limits and had the nerve to finally speak up, “I need to sit down.” At this point Dr. Frydman and the nurse probably saw how ghostly my appearance had become as they told me to put my head between my legs and breathe slowly. I didn’t see their faces though. I was intent on making five easy steps over to a chair that would save me from hitting the floor in complete collapse – baby steps for this grown man.

But, like I said, I got through it. Dr. Frydman performed his duty with deft hands, and while I can’t say Wyatt wasn’t affected by the whole thing, I can say it was a minor drama made worse by the weak stomach of his father.

Let’s hope Wyatt doesn’t have an appendicitis.


Sunday, April 16, 2006

Ten Things I love about You

After one week with our little tyke, here are my top 10 favorite things about him:

10. He’s got a mullet. That’s right; he came out of the womb sporting everything but a mesh hat to top it off.

9. Sneezes. Anytime he sneezes he just looks so darn cute. First he raises his hands up in the air mimicking a victory pose; then his face and nose scrunch up as he prepares for the violent expulsion. Finally, he sneezes – a little rush of air that’s more mouse than man.

8. The faux sneeze. Every once in a while (appr. 1 out of 10) Wyatt gets all geared up for a sneeze – hands and arms raise, face scrunches – but right at the moment of engagement he trails off into a prolonged exhale combined with a slight cry. You’ve got to hear it to fully appreciate it, but it’s cute as puppy dogs and pigtails.

7. Rooting for food. Speaking of pigs … come supper time Wyatt is known to open his mouth wide in anticipation, which is fun in itself. But, to top it off, he also begins swiveling his head around like a baby bird.

6. Burps. There’s been a couple of burps so far that I swear have resulted from massive pockets of air filling his insides from throat to stomach – loud, volcanic things of surprising intensity.

5. The unconscious smile. We’ve yet to see him break out in a full-blown smile, but he has produced a few momentary smiles as he drifts off into sleep.

4. “I’m stoned.” It’s terrible to say, but the only way to describe his appearance occasionally is that he looks stoned.

3. The “sucker” poop. On rare instances Wyatt has gone hours without so much as producing a tiny fart. But, alas, just when I get done changing his diaper so he can sleep in good hygiene, he manages to let loose and soil his new diaper – all but shouting to me in jest, “SUCKER!”

2. Bright eyed and bushy haired. Usually about three hours of the day (and about two hours of the night) Wyatt is wide awake, and his eyes dance around the room taking in vague shapes. His hair also sticks up most of the time, which when coupled with the mullet makes him look something like a very young Rod Stewart.

1. Whenever he sleeps, but specifically when he falls asleep with me on the couch or cradled in my arm.


Monday, April 10, 2006

No Assembly Required?

The human lungs must be the only organ that requires no maturation or development. As best as I can tell, Wyatt's lungs are fully developed and fully capable of producing quite mature (aka loud) sounds and expressions.


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Unto Us

As I write, Anna has our baby boy cradled on her right arm. He is sleeping after enjoying a satisfying meal. I’m looking at him right now … in awe really. It is such a beautiful gift to receive a child, to have him serve as a constant reminder of God’s love for us.

Wyatt Addison Kendall was born on April 7, 2006 – arriving a mere 26 minutes after the turn of a new day. He came quickly, stunning both mother and father with his haste. In fact, after months of preparing for a long labor and preparing to endure a marathon of spirit and strength, Anna and I found ourselves looking in disbelief at the nurse when she confidently told us that it was time for Anna to push – to bring forth this new life.

There are so many things that come to mind when I think back upon the last three days, unending avenues to pursue and ponder. I am mindful of how beautiful and yet also extremely earthy the delivery was: the strains and deep cries arising from Anna’s core when every contraction came, the surrender of her energy that seemed to drain her of life, the emergence of a new life followed by elation in Anna. I think back upon how deep was the affection – the attraction – towards this baby that was only a promised gift until his birth. I found myself looking at him and sensing his image falling into my heart and mind – engraving itself in a way I never knew possible.

I am also mindful that such a radical shift in our family has reduced us to essentials. When Wyatt arrived, everything seemed drastically reduced: food, shelter, care, sleep – and not just for him. Anna and I also, wearied from the emotional investment and taxation, were stripped down to a simple, yet enjoyable pattern of life. We still seem nestled in this new place – taking life at a much slower place, observing and learning again rhythms of nourishment and work.

I’ve discovered a confidence I was afraid I would always lack when it came to caring for my son: his head naturally dropping into my open palm, his cries being silenced by swaddling a blanket around his torso and legs. And, I also discovered how painful it is to hear my child cry a ripping cry that pierces my heart more than it does my ears. There was a moment early, early Saturday morning when Wyatt was struggling to pass his first bowl movement and nothing could console him. There in the dark, tired hours of a foreign room I found myself at a loss. For all my genuine goodwill, I was clueless, which was frustrating and exhausting. Then and there I felt tired, immeasurably so.

Wyatt is his first name, a name that means water. It is meant to remind him of the gift of life, often represented by water. It is meant as an allusion to the fact that God saves us through water, just as God did with the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh and just as God does with the waters of baptism. It is also meant to remind us that although he is our child, he is not ours to guide. Water has never been mastered by man. This humbles me. But, the encouragement comes again by remembering that God controls the waters. God will control Wyatt.

Addison is his middle name, a name that means the son of Adam - Adam as in the original father of humanity, the source of our great family tree, the source also of our fallen nature. This is to remind Wyatt that, yes, he too is only human after all. It is meant to remind him that he will stumble, but that invariably and always he is God’s creation. And, most importantly, it is to remind him that God does not forget us. No, instead, God has worked our brokenness into redemption. The children of Adam can still be the children of God. Thanks be to God through the work of Christ Jesus.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Never Alone when the TV's on

Per Anna's request, we're watching American Idol tonight - (I'm glad to see Ryan Seacrest has decided to join the land of the beardsman). We got sucked in way back when the show was more freak show than talent show, but we’ve hung on to where we are now: nine contestants and one Simon (he’s the reason I watch).

Time out. Anna just handed me a bowl of “ice cream.” Funny thing is, this bowl contains absolutely no milk. One of the many natural endeavors Anna has dabbled in over the last couple of years. Yes, I used the verb dabble, as in some form of witchcraft, which I figure is the appropriate way to describe how a person makes ice cream without milk. I could, I suppose, describe the creation as some form of hippy alchemy. Either way, I’ve just ingested six spoonfuls, and I must admit … it’s not bad.

Anyway, American Idol is, like, soo quintessentially American. The people on the show are as varied as our coasts are from the heartland. The performances are over the top, cheesy, fake and at the same time attractive and endearing. The endless verbal wars between Simon and Abdul or Simon and Seacrest are ego-driven, middle school dramas that are won by the cheers or jeers of the audience rather than the rational mind. And, of course, the most American part of it all is that we – the American public – get to choose the winners … and forget the losers.

Need further proof that we like to pick our winners? How about March Madness and the over 3 million “brackets” that were filled out on – two of which were mine? I felt the fool after picking Kansas – along with many experts mind you – to make the Final Four in one bracket. I felt like a genius after riding the tournament out in front of forty other people for the first four rounds. Then, I felt the pain of defeat and the anonymity of second place when UCLA took down LSU in the semi-finals. For three weeks, I’ve been glued to CBS watching fate and blind luck unfold basketball history far different than I or many other Americans foresaw.

Meanwhile, we’re now watching the new show “Sons & Daughters” on ABC, which was created by Lauren Michaels from Saturday Night Live. Geesh, this stuff is funny. Granted, 90% of the show is about sex. It’s also full of improv, dysfunction and highly enmeshed, blurred familial roles, which, yes, is definitely American.

Enough is enough. It’s time I returned to the couch. The Dodgers are into the bottom of the 7th with a 5-1 lead and Vin Scully is working his magic. Take me home Vin.