It took me a minute, but then I figured it out.

I used to feel like a substandard Mom.

When we first had our daughter Jubilee, I took my cues from my wife on how to interact with her. Jubilee’s mother would read books to her, sing her songs, cuddle with her and stare into her eyes… She could do this for hours.

So I tried it. On mornings when it was my wife’s turn to sleep in, or when she went back to work and I had a day off, I would do all the things i thought a parent was supposed to do.

Unfortunately, it drove me crazy. It was fun for about ten minues and after that it was really boring. Every day the nagging feeling that I really wasn’t enjoying this grew stronger. The only logical conclusion was that I was a bad Dad who didn’t really like hanging out with his daughter.

One morning I got up with Jubilee at 7:00am and really gave it my best shot. We cuddled, we rocked, we cooed at each other, read books, sang songs. After resisting the urge for a very long time I finally looked at the clock. It was 7:15.

This was not sustainable.

“Jubilee.” I said. “We are going on an adventure.”

This is why you don't need baby toysI packed Jubilee up in her stroller, loaded it up with the necessary supplies and equipment (it’s kinda like playing Oregon Trail) and left the house. Nothing was open yet, so we walked around the neighbourhood and I showed her different trees and their leaves. We went past our old apartment that “worked just fine until you happened.” At 8:00, we went and got a table at a cafe and I ate breakfast, read my Bible, and journaled a bit. Jubilee was endlessly entertained by my keys taped to her stroller. Afterwards we went to the park and lay on the grass and watched clouds. We ran into friends while we were there and hung out with them for a while. The time flew by, and it was the best day I’d ever had with my daughter.

I realized that morning that when my wife and I hang out with our adult friends, it looks very different. She can sit with her friends talking for hours. I can, too, and sometimes do. But more often my friends and I do something together. We get out of the house and go somewhere. We play a board game or video game. We have a project we’re working on. It makes sense that the time I spend with my daughter would also look different.

This isn’t to say that as Jubilee grows up she won’t need her father to sit and talk with her for hours – I am excited for that day! It’s just that I often get the feeling that when we talk about “parenting” we consider it synonymous with “mothering.” But I am not just a substandard Mom. I am, in fact, a standard Dad. “Fathering” is a whole separate art in of itself, and it’s one in which I need to grow and develop in order to be the father that Jubilee needs me to be.

I sometimes hear other fathers refer to the days they have to watch the kids as “mommy days” and I couldn’t disagree more. That’s called a “daddy day” and you and your kids will have a much better time and a much better relationship if you make it your own. Ever since I took ownership of figuring out my own ways to spend time with Jubilee – how to make her laugh, comfort her when she cries, teach her about love, about God, and about the world – I have enjoyed the role of being a father so much more immensely. I’d also like to think I’m doing a much better job at it.

(As I write this, my wife hands our daughter to me, saying “go to Daddy!” My response: “I can’t be Daddy right now. I’m writing a blog post about it.” This is an example of doing it wrong.)

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The Kingdom of God is like…

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.

But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”

Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

Usually, when Christians reference the mustard seed metaphor they use it to say this: “Mustard seeds are TINY! Mustard trees are HUGE! The kingdom of God starts out small but it grows and grows from a tiny seed into a HUGE tree!”

True. But I don’t believe this is the point that Jesus is making. First, because mustard plants are not. that. big. From what I can tell, they’ve got a similar size range to sunflowers. They aren’t trees, and they aren’t nearly the biggest plant around in Palestine (which would probably be the olive tree).

“He said therefore…” The parable of the mustard seed is a direct response to the events surrounding his healing of the crippled woman. The reason Jesus stops to explain what the Kingdom of God is like is that he just witnessed a perfect example of what the Kingdom of God is NOT like.

Let’s call the ruler of the synagogue “Steve.” Steve’s job is to teach, guide, comfort, and heal the people of his synagogue. Jesus shows up at Steve’s church and heals a woman who has been crippled for years and now Steve is upset. Why? Because Jesus is making Steve look bad. “The sabbath isn’t for healing!” Steve cries. “It’s for praying and reading your Bible!” What Steve would like to say is “Get out of here, Jesus. You’re actually doing my job right, with the heart that I should have, and you’re showing me up for a fraud and a hypocrite.” Unable to criticize the obviously good thing that Jesus has done, he instead turns his abuse on the people he is supposed to shepherd: “You’re doing it wrong! Come on the other days of the week for healing, not during my church service.”

“No, Steve.” Jesus says. “You’re doing it wrong.”

Jesus wants to explain what the Kingdom of God should look like, and as he racks his mind for a suitable metaphor, he comes up with two pictures: one in which a small seed grows into a home for birds, and one in which a bit of yeast makes a meal of bread. What is the kingdom of God like? It is like food for the hungry and a home for the wanderer. It grows from tiny beginnings into ordinary but life-giving means of love.

Literally, yes – there are homeless and hungry people on the streets of my city. And there are also other kinds of hunger, other ways to be without a place to rest and belong. Jesus’ call, before anything else, is a call for his people to meet those needs in love. I think it is not out of line to say that if, like Steve, our vision for the Kingdom of God doesn’t place this first and foremost, we’re doing it wrong. We have missed the point of the Kingdom, and we are just as deserving of Jesus’ criticism as Steve the Synagogue Leader.

Christians today feel beset by troubles. Diminishing influence in society. Hypocrisy on one side and fanatacism on the other. The gay marriage debate (and which side of it we’re supposed to be on). We’re losing the young people – no wait, we’re losing the old people! It is genuinely hard to know what the way forward looks like, where there is solid ground to stand.

But I encourage you to stand on Christ the solid rock. And to agree with him that before all these things, we are a church that is a home and a meal to those who need them. Our first and highest calling is to give life and love to the people God puts in our lives each day. The other questions are not unimportant, but they are secondary and count for nothing if we do not first love like Jesus did.

Poem

Take a walk in your city
Skim your fingers on the concrete
The bricks, the stones, the wooden rails
As you pass by

On your fingertips
An amalgamation of soots and ashes
Dust from our coloured skins
Precipitated from the air we breathe together

At home you will wash the grime from your hands
Scrub until the flesh is clean, bright, and your own
It will stay like that only until the next time
Even if you only skim the surface
It cannot be helped, and it needn’t be.

Nurse Ferris

I’ve decided that I am not myself on night shift. I am an alter ego named “Nurse Ferris.” Nurse Ferris is pretty much me except more sleep deprived and curmudgeony.

For example:

Nursing Assistant: “What did you bring to eat tonight?”
Nurse Ferris: “Oh, some sandwiches, a banana… some kind of cake.”
Overly Interested Nursing Assistant: “What kind of cake?”
Nurse Ferris: “I don’t know, some kind of cake.”
Food-Preoccupied Nursing Assistant: “But what kind of cake?”
Nurse Ferris: “Some NOT YOURS kind of cake! Jeez.”

or

Nurse Ferris: “I want to die of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.”
Naive Nurse Sarah: “But before it ruptures you’re just sitting around waiting to die!”
Nurse Ferris: “Sarah. We are all sitting around waiting to die.”

Margie said I should share some examples of grumpy things I’ve said to her while on night shift. But then we realized that I don’t say funny grumpy things to her when I’m sleep-confused and miserable. I’m just kind of mean and bitchy.

I’m working on that.

we are here to be Ourselves

There’s an exercise I created for my senior thesis in nursing school. I put up a picture of a hospital patient in an intensive care unit. Clustered around the bed are the legions of medical equipment and devices used to sustain life at its most fragile moments: ventilator, cardiac monitor, IV pump, oxygen, defibrillator. A nurse is hanging an IV medication – stethoscope around her neck and a plethora of medical supplies in her many pocketed scrubs.
“What is the most important tool in this picture?” I ask. The audience’s answers vary, but eventually someone gets the one I’m shooting for, which is “the nurse.”

My mother has a little trouble with the fact that I get into cage-matches every once in a while. I’ve been training in Muay Thai for a couple years now and last night I wrote her a long email after a tough sparring session trying to capture why I love it so much. What it comes down to is this: You bring nothing into the cage but yourself – what you have made yourself capable of, what you can force your body do, the depths of fatigue, pain, and fear that your mind and your spirit have the power to overcome. The other man in the cage is not your opponent. He is your teacher and he is testing you to see, quite literally, what you are made of.

Ten months ago I became a father. It’s a wonderful adventure and it also brings up a mess of previously unknown anxieties and responsibilities. Am I making healthy choices for my daughter? Am I raising her right? Am I providing enough for my family – now and for the future? How do I balance time with her against other responsibilities? Am I pulling my weight alongside my wife in terms of child care.
At the end of the day, however, I know that none of these questions are Jubilee’s questions. My daughter wants just one thing from me. She wants me to be her Daddy; one simple thing that I will spend the rest of my life being and becoming. The world is full of fully grown adults who still mourn their fathers’ relational absence, regardless of what their father may have achieved or done for them. But a father who loves and thoughtfully cares for his children can and will be forgiven many failings and shortcomings.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. I’m still trying to figure that out, and much of it seems to be discovering all the things that I have backwards. I wasted a lot of time thinking that God wanted me to become someone else before I found out that he wants me to become myself. And lately I’m learning that even this is only part of it. We are indeed meant to become ourselves, but it is not for ourselves. We are here to be ourselves for our neighbours and for our maker.

Not to do, to act, or even to dream, but to be.