A Prayer In Anticipation of A Friend’s Son

I offer this prayer today as we await and expect the arrival of Joseph Byron Durham, III:

Dear God,

Grant Byron the steady gaze to see everything good thing you do today.  Make him able to live fully, to feel fully, from joy to fear to awe to surprise to gladness to love.  May he feel everything between these and other stirring movements.  Give him the ability to help Karen and grant that he might be filled with every necessary gift for all that awaits.  Help him listen and act with grace and tenderness and with more love than his best actions before today.  Give him gifts for this day and for each day following.  Walk out the paths before him, and when he looks ahead, let him see your footprints in every possible direction.  Shine light in dark places for the rest of his life because his life is different after Joe comes.  It is already different with the baby on the other side of all that skin and muscle and warmth, waiting to come down through all those contractions.  Hover over Byron so that he might sense you in places that he hasn’t.  Give him witnesses of your abiding, unconditional  love.  Convince him again and again that what he does matters greatly but that your love comes despite his best or his worst.

For Karen, give her a full sense of your nearness.  Keep company with her and grant that she may feel closer to you—and not only to her son or her husband—than she ever has.  Pull her into the experience of labor.  Shower her with good words and impressions and nudges and pictures as she does what is the tough work of receiving this next joyous gift from you.  Sprinkle her throughout this day with more than hope for the good future you’ve assured.  Help her to receive every help and gesture as from your hand.  Give her strong gratitude.  Give her ever stronger peace that is unshakable.  Through the movements of this day, give her vision for all the tomorrows you’ve prepared for her, for them.  Inspire her.  Build in her increasing courage.  May her breaths be prayers.  Each one a tiny theophany.  Grant her the splendid and sparkling blessing of closeness with you, her God and her Rock.  May she and Byron be strength for one another.  May Karen get all the grace she needs for every next step.

Will you bless Joe with all the memories necessary to live the rest of his life with and for you?  Collect in his ears, his heart, and his spirit, the voice of your spirit, the abiding comfort of your company, and the life that always comes from you.  Send him into this side of life with increasing joy and purpose, both coming from you.  You have counted his days before this day.  May even he come knowing that in unsearchable, deep ways.  Lay within his belly an appetite for you and your things.  Lift his vision to you, even as he looks through the good models of his parents and his family and his friends.  May he know that his life has been surrounded by words spoken in your ears about him.  May he never feel alone or unloved or unwanted.  Grant that he will accept all the love you’ve provided.  May he follow the instructions you give, through his parents and through every other good gift that comes from you.  Protect him from the plans of all his enemies.  Make them your enemies because you win all your battles.  Kiss him righteousness and bravery and set his face in the direction of fruitfulness.  Be his present and his future.

In Christ’s name,

Amen.

Crawling Before You Climb

My son started crawling a few months ago.  It’s been a treat to hear him slapping the floor, to watch him pull away with one leg constantly raised.  I told Dawn that he’d walk early back when I’d change his diaper in those first weeks and his legs would stretch straight.  The little things would feel like sticks.  Try changing a nasty diaper with two stubborn sticks for legs. 

I’d gently tickle the backs of his knees, asking him to bend.  Sometimes he cooperated quickly.  Sometimes he laughed at me and made cleaning time much longer.  Did the boy think I enjoyed the scents of his bottom?  Dawn talked about how a baby smells.  “I want him to smell like a baby,” she said at random times.  As if babies come smelling like powder or lavender or Eucerin.  No, not my kid.  He smells the way I last remember him.  And I’ve changed a lot of diapers.  But I digress.

I knew he’d move quickly with those limbs.  But I didn’t think he’d start to climb stairs before he actually knew how to walk.  We don’t have stairs at home.  We live on a floor and take the elevator.  So, we were visiting a relative, Grammie Joseph, when he did it. 

His mother jumped up the stairs, vanishing before him.  You don’t think about things like stair-climbing unless you’re at a gym watching the unnatural exericse called stair masters or unless you’re a nine-month old, I guess.  This kid went after his mother.  He climbed the stairs, one at a time.  What I do?  I watched and climbed, from a very close step behind him, offering mumbles of surprise and praise and curiosity and encouragement. 

He’d stop on a random step.  He tried to descend too, but I wasn’t ready for that.  I don’t think he was either.  So, he’s not walking.  He’s standing, sometimes on his own.  He’s clenching pulling himself up on pant legs or just legs.  And he’s climbing stairs.  We’ll try walking later.

Finding New Ways to Slam a Phone

The boy amazes me because everyday he finds a new way to slam the phone.  He doesn’t slam his play phone.  He pushes it until it scrapes or scoots across the floor but he won’t slam it.  No, he slams the real phone.  Everyday for minutes and minutes and not quite hours he slams the phone.

He started right before we had to buy a new one.  We had two handsets.  One broke months ago.  When we replaced the whole phone system, the second, now unused, real cordless phone became his latest delight.  It joined the ranks of teethers and remotes and sits in his basket of favorite things, waiting for him to tip it over so that everything from books to toys spills on the floor to offer a personal joy-filled greeting to the kid who came back to play.

He takes the phone, pushing it in front of him as he crawls.  In between pushes, he’ll glance up or to the side.  He’ll look for me or his mother.  He’s getting clingy, as Dawn says, so he wants to know where we are.  He’ll moan and whine and pretend to cry until he sees us.  But there he is with the phone.  He’ll stop crawling, sit up and lift the phone to his mouth.

I remember when it mattered what he put in his mouth.  I remember pulling boots from his hands.  I remember running in front of him to remove purses from his path.  I remember taking the soft rubber covers off the bathroom doors so he couldn’t pull them up and try to taste them.  They still wait on the bathroom counter, hoping to find their homes again, and Dawn reminds me to be careful because the tub and walls can get scratched easily.

It still matters that the boy wants to eat shoes.  That’s my limit.  I mean, they are shoes.  But it matters less since he puts everything in his mouth.  Everything.  I’m told it’s his way of learning the world.  Part of what makes this stage so funny is that it makes me remember some of the stuff my family said I ate.  Which you couldn’t pay me to post on a blog.

Aside from his diet of all things reachable, he lifts his phone, beating it on the floor in general and on the concrete slab at the balcony window sill.  He pounds it against the fireplace until the mounting echoes a hollow tone, contrasting the slap and scape of the phone against the wood floor.  He’ll pull it and clap that thing in his hands like a tambourine.  He’s making music already.

Reasons I Get Nervous When My Son Smiles At Me

Everyday my son smiles at me, at least three times.  He smiles when I come into the room I’ve loaned him to give him that last bottle at night.  He smiles and sometimes giggles when I come home from work.  He smiles when I sing or play with him.  He even bucks and kicks and tries to jump when I come in after being gone during long stretches in the day. 

I tell my wife that I’m very aware that one day this will stop.  I told her that the first smiles were mostly hers.  During those days when I felt like he didn’t recognize me, or, worse, that he recognized me as some wierd, hairy big guy who kept returning to his space.  I tell Dawn that those days traded themselves for the mornings where, if you look at how he acts, you’d think I was the best person on earth.  Still, this is the same little boy who will one day disobey me on purpose, conduct himself in ways that make me sick or mad or crazy.  He will one day do things that make me just about forget these splendid smiles.  So I suck up these moments, and each time I walk away I bit more human.

But I’m a little nervous.  I’ll tell you why.

1) I’m not as good as he thinks I am.  I’ve spent the last six plus months responding to this person’s needs.  Somewhere in his brain he’s concluded that I’m a good guy.  I’m not as good and delightful as he thinks.  I know that already.  One day he’ll get it, and I think he’ll smile less.

2) I’ve made mistakes that’s he’s already forgotten.  I remember things he can’t because his memory structures are yet to be fully formed.  He clearly remembers that I belong.  I think he’s finished with stage where he’s asking himself why we’re always around and never seem to stay away.  Still, he doesn’t recall the little wrongs, the missteps and mistakes, the mumbles under my breath at 2AM or those several hours later when I still haven’t had my required allotment of sleep.

3) I’m slow at matching my life with his grin.  In some ways, each time the boy delights in my company or laughs at something I said that really wasn’t funny or giggles because I tickled him or just because he is truly happy I’m with him, I see the distance between whatever’s happening in those eyes and what’s happening inside me.  Having a child, one who lives where I live and doesn’t go away–not that I have any other kind, just to be clear–makes you grow.  You see the kid, identify the praise in that smile, and walk away saying, “I’ve got a lot to live up to.” 

4) I will certainly screw something up soon enough.  Maybe even later today.  Even if I’m a good dad, even if I get some marks for all the things only God saw–things the boy will one day devalue in some stubborn fit and grasp for independence–I am certain to mess up.  A lot.  I can see it already.  Some embarassing comment made at the wrong time in the company of his friends.  A misguided response to some secret he’s told me.  Making him wear the wrong set of clothes for a field trip.  Making him do anything. 

There is so much room for him to reserve those beautiful smiles.  I’m nervous.  And I’m collecting each smile the best way I can.  I’m trying to see his presence in my life as a gift like those stencils boast on the wall in my used-to-be-office-now-turned-baby-space.  I’m trying to notice how God is using him to change me and make me a man who lives up toward something as a big as a boy’s smile and as wide the world around him.