David C. Hughes, Writer

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Archive for the month “May, 2015”

All I Ever Learned I Learned from My Seven-Year-Old (2015-05-26 Daily)

“Through the praise of children and infants

    You have established a stronghold

        against your enemies,

To silence the foe and the avenger.”

                                     —Psalm 8:2 NIV® 

 

I stood in the craft room silently, arms crossed, and watched Hannah draw hearts across a piece of white paper with a red washable marker. As she finished the corazón chorus line, she traded the marker for a mechanical pencil and wrote “remember that you have more faith and corage than fear Love Hannah” then added the girl’s name. Leaving no space behind, she squirted white glue around the hearts and sprinkled the page with a copious amount of gold glitter. Satisfied, she set it aside, fetched a piece of brown construction paper this time and began crafting another word of encouragement. She wrote the word “JOY” in hollow block letters, filled in the red outline with a brown sawtooth pattern, penciled “Be Joyful” above the capital J’s crossbar, dotted the paper from corner-to-corner with red polka dots, and stuffed the center of the O with more gold sprinkles.

“It’s beautiful,” I told her. “Who’s this for?”

“It’s for you,” she said, handing me the masterpiece. “Because of The Epiphany of Joy.” The Epiphany of Joy is my three-year answer to God’s request to write a book about joy, something I still struggle with.

I accepted the custom-made artwork with a smile and the lesson I learn fresh practically every day: If you want to know what it really means to live a joy-filled life, watch a kid. “‘Truly I tell you,’” Jesus said in Matthew 18, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:3 NIV®). Hannah demonstrates that truth every day.

“Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up,” the Apostle Paul exhorted in his letter to the Romans (15:2 NIV®). A few days ago Hannah told me she’d made me something. “It’s sitting on the floor next to your bed,” she declared. When I got home from work I retrieved a light purple gift bag sitting on the floor in front of my nightstand. Mary sat on the edge of the bed and watched as I took out a handmade card crafted from blue construction paper. “TO DAD from HANNAH!” it shouted. Beneath that she’d written “I ♥ YOU” in black and red crayon. Inside, with a silver glitter pen, she’d written,  “I love you to the moon and back. Awesome. This is a PRESENT just because I ♥ you.” A glittery smile emblazoned the page. I then dug out the pile of multi-colored tissue paper from the top of the bag and found: 1) a miniature foam basketball, 2) a jar of Slime, 3) an octopus made of rubber bands, 4) a knit finger puppet (I think it’s a lamb with a black face and green whiskers, and 5) a small cylindrical box stuffed with candy. I cherished my gift bag filled with meaningful randomness, given to me . . . just because she ♥ me.

Just because she cares about me. Just because she thinks about me. Just because . . . . As adults, how often do we do something with the hopes of receiving something in return, sort of twisting the Golden Rule for our own edification? “I’ll do unto you as long as you do unto me back,” we say. How often do we thread the golden strings of expectation through our gifts, then find ourselves disappointed when the gift is not reciprocated? Hannah’s selfless thoughtfulness demonstrates Jesus’ command to love one another because, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:25 NIV®). She crafts, she gives, she smiles, she expects nothing in return except maybe a little of our attention.

I love my daughter’s heart of giving and service, a heart she shares with her Mama, but I think what amazes me even more than her heart of service is her heart of gratitude. As part of our bedtime ritual, Mary and I pray over Hannah, each in turn thanking the Father for the stewardship He’s given us over this true daughter of the Most High God. Lately I’ve tried to be more intentional about encouraging Hannah to pray out loud. “Thank You, Daddy, for this day,” she begins without fail, “and thank You for all You’ve given to us. Thank You for my mom and my dad, and thank you for the dogs and the fish.” It blows me away how this four-foot tall, 40 pound seven-year-old demonstrates Biblical truth so naturally. By being herself, by opening up her heart to the One Who Created her, she speaks that truth unburdened by the worry, shame, guilt, legalism, and fear that too often grip the hearts of those who’ve been around a lot longer.

What we make so complicated and burdensome she demonstrates so simply and easily. When Hannah prays, every word goes straight to my heart because it’s straight from hers. When Hannah prays I feel the power of that gratitude as angels, smiling, carry her words and place them into God’s bosom. It’s a message so simple it’s often lost on those of us who have let our hearts become hardened by a world that can be so cruel, so harsh, so unfair but so beautiful, so filled with joy, so . . . good. When Hannah prays, the lessons of the Word spill out into the open. In the July/August 2015 issue of Writer’s Digest magazine, editor Jessica Strawser reminded her readers about the importance of being childlike with our craft?

 

To watch a child at play is to witness creativity at its purest. What would we create if we didn’t have so many preconceived notions about the world around us? If we didn’t ascribe meanings to certain words or situations, if we didn’t already know the purpose of actions and objects and even the role of particular people in society or our lives, how might we interpret things differently? What kind of magic might we bring to the stories we put on the page?[1]

 

To answer her questions, turn to a child for guidance.

I’m convinced God placed Hannah into our lives to be a walking, talking demonstration of Biblical truth, and I’m both awed and humbled by the responsibility to raise her up in the way she should go. As she prays prayers of thankfulness, as she speaks words of encouragement, as she lifts up friends with cards written in silver glitter pen and decorated with hearts and dog stickers, as she dances around the house to songs by Lori Line,  Taio Cruz and Bruno Mars, I’m reminded, again, of Jesus’ words to the disciples when they tried to peel the children off his lap: “‘Truly I tell you,” He scolded, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Matthew 18:1-5 NIV®).

“Most of what I really need /” wrote Robert Fulghum,  “To know about how to live / And what to do and how to be / I learned in kindergarten. / Wisdom was not at the top / Of the graduate school mountain, / But there in the sandpile at Sunday school.”[2] Want to see how God intends for us to live? Pick up a child, put her on your lap, and simply ask. I guarantee you’ll learn something new.

 

Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes

 

[1] Strawser, Jessica. “The X Factor.” Writer’s Digest magazine, July/August 2015. Volume 95, No. 5: 5. Print.

[2] Fulghum, Robert. “All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.” Scrapbook.com. n.d. 23 May 2015. http://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/842.html (please also visit Robert Fulghum’s amazing website at http://www.robertfulghum.com/).

Meandering on the River Walk–With a Stick (2015-05-19 Daily)

NOTE: The following article took 1st place in the 2015 Oklahoma Writers Federation Incorporated (OWFI) “Inspirational Article” category. Thank you, Lord, for the talent, drive, and ability, and thank you, Hannah, for continuing to supply the inspiration for these anecdotes!

 

MEANDERING ON THE RIVER WALK—WITH A STICK

 

    Be still, and know that I am God.

         –Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)

 

We stepped through the glass doorway onto the cobblestone patio behind El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel in downtown San Antonio. Bright sunshine danced with the dieffenbachias and arching palms, casting festive shadows across the sidewalk above the San Antonio River. As we left the retro hotel, complete with primary-colored rotary phones hanging on the lobby wall, Sunday morning greeted us with the warm coolness of mid-January in the Texas Hill Country.

We skirted the back of the hotel, crossed Lexington Avenue and descended the stairs to the River Walk, beginning our short trek to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, where our daughter, Hannah, would compete as a Level 3 gymnast later that afternoon. In an hour, though, Hannah’s friend, Trevyn, would march out and contend as a Level 6 competitor; we’d committed to arrive early to cheer her on. It was only a mile walk, and we’d have plenty of time to do it in. Or so I thought. What’s that oft-quoted couplet in Robert Burns’ poem? “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.” Yep. . . .

Immediately Hannah set the pace, falling behind as her half-mile-per-hour meandering didn’t match my three-mile-per-hour determination. She weaved back-and-forth between the edges of the sidewalk, collecting bits of palm fronds, stopping to look at sweetgum pods and bending down to grab a purple-tinged fig. Along the way she picked up a small stick, which she used to jab and point at things. She paid no attention to the oncoming pedestrian traffic walking dogs, hiking or just enjoying the still, fresh air. More than once we had to snap her out of her reverie long enough to jump out of the way of a focused runner or resolute walker. Immersed in a world of her own, she strolled along, answering the beckoning finger of nature to come and investigate.

I tried not to hurry too much. I tried to soak up the morning’s calmness. I tried to observe Hannah as she demonstrated what it meant to be a kid lost in the wonder of God’s creation and man’s sublimity. But my aggravation started to percolate. So I started to poke. And prod. And push. My impatience slipped out of its dark place to take the shine off the day. “Hannah, we need to move it along,” I barked. “We’re gonna be late.”

As my attitude shifted from excitement to quiet tolerance to irritation, my wife, Mary, burst through my annoyance and reminded me there was no hurry, that we’d get there. I took a breath, dropped my shoulders and focused on Hannah’s own poking and prodding as she soaked in God’s beauty, asked questions and wore her curiosity on her sleeve. She spied a squirrel and excitedly pointed it out. She filled her hands with biomass, eventually dropping the stick in favor of wood chips and decomposing leaves. We danced between date palm fruit splattered on the sidewalk. We watched mallard ducks and wondered how cold and how deep the pea-soup green water was. We stopped to observe a stalagmite growing on the sidewalk from water seeping through a concrete bridge overhead. The water dripped from a six-inch long “manmade” stalactite hanging from the belly of the bridge, a gray, slimy, mineral icicle. In those moments nature’s wonders mixed with man’s capacity for the transcendent, disrupting my futile pursuit of time’s spinning hands.

It’s not in my nature to linger. When I go shopping I know exactly what I want—I drive to the store, beeline to the entrance, grab what I came for, and leave. When I set out to repair a broken faucet, install laminate flooring or build a chicken run, I plan, focus, move forward, and accomplish, with very little tolerance for disruption. When pieces don’t fit together as expected, when the chicken wire isn’t aligned with the corners, when a moulding footer is hanging too low, I lift up my saw and slice my way through the obstacle. The lessons patience offers are lost in the din of hammer blows and echoing cuss words. In those moments God’s still small voice is drowned out by my exasperation; the wonders of life go unnoticed, the mystery of creation remains ignored. What God presents as a pleasant meandering I turn into a bullet train speeding from point A to point Z. Life hurries by in smeary blur … until God uses a precocious seven-year-old wielding a small stick and an insatiable curiosity to stop me in my tracks and open my eyes once again to His awesome presence.

We had church on the River Walk that Sunday morning. We allowed ourselves to rest a bit, to enjoy God’s nature and man’s capacity for the magnificent in all the little details and nuances of the River Walk. From the tiny portraits painted on the rough limestone faces of rocks at our feet to the waxy-leafed bromeliads smiling at the sun, from concrete benches in the shape and texture of driftwood to the ancient bald cypress standing guard over the San Antonio River, God celebrated us. We, in turn, glorified Him.

One hour and fifteen minutes later we arrived at the Convention Center just in time to watch Trevyn warm up. And Hannah, setting aside the meandering and putting on the precision of a competitive gymnast, took first in uneven bars and balance beam. Her timing, as always, was perfect.

God calls us to rest. To be aware of and completely immersed in His presence. To live one day at a time. To not worry. To be still. To wait. God wears the beauty of nature and dresses in the sublimity of man. Stop. Breathe. Meander. And if necessary, carry a small stick.

 

Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes

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