David C. Hughes, Writer

“Whatever you do, do from the heart, as for the Lord and not for others” –Colossians 3:23 NABRE

Archive for the tag “Parenthood”

K.I.S.S. (2016-01-20 Daily)

              Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.

—Confucius

 

“Dad,” Hannah called excitedly. “There are fourteen gifts under the tree for me! Fourteen!

“Yes, love,” I acknowledged, crossing my arms and eying the pile of wrapped packages hugging the base of the tree. After all, this was two weeks before Christmas, and every gift lying there had been purchased by Mary and me, my parents, or my in-laws. Santa hadn’t even stopped by yet. Had we gone overboard this year? I wondered. Had we diluted—or, God forbid, distorted—the true meaning of Christmas? Had we crossed the line and succumbed to the rampant commercialism oft lamented by Christians trying to hang on to the hope, joy, peace, and love that Christmas represents? Had we set a new precedent in expectation? Had we made the celebration of Christ’s incarnation confusing? Or worse, meaningless? I pushed away the nagging thoughts. “Remember, sweet pea, it’s not about the number of presents you get but about the birth of Jesus.” I sounded like a cheesy Christmas card.

Christmas morning Hannah dived into the trove with relish, unwrapping package after package while Mary and I juggled the camera and the iPad, hoping to capture the moment in way too many formats we’ll never consolidate. “Yay!” Hannah squealed. “A Q-BA-Maze!” Glad she knew what it was. I hadn’t even heard of it ‘til we ordered it on Amazon. “Wow!” she shouted. “Another robot!” Grandma and Grandpa had loaded her up with four robot kits. The kid loves technology and she’s all about the science. “Dad! It’s Simon!” she yelled, holding up a gift from Santa Claus. That and Battleship and Spirograph stirred up memories of Christmases past. Finally she gutted her stocking. “Just what I wanted!” she laughed. “Nano Bugs!”

Hannah opening Christmas gifts 2015

Without a moment’s pause to consider the morning’s haul, Hannah and I jumped right into figuring out what the Q-BA-Maze thing was all about. Then we built a domino run with her two domino sets. Next, she constructed a Lego Space Needle. Then we sat down to watch Inside Out. “Why don’t we play with your Nano Bugs?” I suggested after the movie finished.

“I didn’t get a track,” Hannah said.

“We can play with them without a track, right? I mean, we can just let them loose on the floor and see what they do. Right?”

“I guess,” she relented. She peeled a Nano Bug out of the package, switched it on, and placed it on the floor. Immediately it bee lined for the oven and disappeared into the netherworld underneath. When we finally fished it out, we discovered, much to Hannah’s disgust, that it had captured a rather large clump of dog hair complete with a mummified wolf spider embedded in it.

“Eww!” she screamed. “See, Dad, this is why we need a track.” Or rather, this is why Daddy needs to pull the stove out from the wall more often to let Mommy clean behind it.

Three weeks passed. One afternoon Hannah interrupted me as I passed through the house on my way from the attic to the bathroom. We were taking advantage of the cool weather and a string of unfettered days to declutter the space above the garage and improve its storage capability (and prevent me from stepping through the drywall again).

Winter 2015 Attic Project

“Dad, can I play with the boxes on the back porch?” Hannah asked. I’d piled dozens of boxes we’d cleared out of the attic onto the back patio to be burned.

I shrugged. Several robots sat on her craft table, unopened and untouched. A kitchen science kit, a gift from at least a year ago, mingled with the stack of new presents, still wrapped in clear plastic. I hadn’t seen the Q-BA-Maze since Christmas day, and most of the other gifts she’d been so excited about had disappeared altogether. I’m sure most of them ended up on the Island of Misfit Toys.

“That’s fine,” I answered. “Just be sure to put the boxes up when you’re done.”

Excitedly she ran out the back door and spent the next hour or two building what looked like an elaborate Habitrail fashioned from discarded cardboard and masking tape. A few days later, Hannah transformed a large cookie sheet and several boxes into a functioning Nano Bug habitat. I watched, fascinated, as the cockroach-like toys scuttled around the track, dodging in and out of an inverted box’s rough-hewn hidey holes.

Hannah working on a Nano Bug habitat

Watching those bugs reminded me of Hannah’s fascination with paper wads and cardboard boxes when she was two or three. A simple ball of paper could keep her contented for hours. A playhouse I’d constructed out of an unwanted carton entertained her for months. Heck, it entertained me for months! As the Nano Bugs buzzed and dodged and hid and re-emerged, I was reminded that life is best enjoyed when lived simply, when intent is stripped down to nothing more than loving God, loving others, and delighting in the life He so graciously entrusted us with. “Our life is frittered away by detail,” Henry David Thoreau wrote. “Simplify. Simplify.”

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have,” advised the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, “because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV®). When I first read that passage so long ago it shot straight to my heart and has been lodged there ever since. “Be content with what you have.” Yes . . . .  Be content with the roof over your head, the food on the table, the clothes on your back, the labor you’ve been given. Be happy with where you are in the moment, with the blessings God has already rained down on you, with the relationships He’s placed in your life, with the surprises He’s planned for you and is revealing even now. For what is life but the day-to-day triumph of simple moments lived fully?

By the end of this year I hope to have the attic organized and the junk occupying it pared down to what we actually use. I plan to clean out my garden shed, purge our closets, and, to Mary’s delight, downsize the sentimental detritus I’ve accumulated over the last 40 years. I plan to spend time more intentionally with my family, just enjoying who we are and who God made us to be. I want to live life with a more intentional simplicity to make room for what really matters, to cast off the “stuff”—all the stuff—that so easily entangles. And as for Christmas this year, well, I don’t know how easy a paper wad will be to wrap, but an old cardboard box should be a cinch.

 

 

Copyright © 2016 by David C Hughes

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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/).

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