Thoughts on Fatherhood.

The moment had arrived. My wife was ready, after three location changes and over a day of waiting and hospital care, to deliver our first child. I look over at the first doctor on the scene and rather sheepishly ask, “Do I have time to go to the bathroom?” I did and I did. Less than 30 minutes later I was a father.

I’ll be frank about this entry. It is more for me than for others. My first child was born just under two weeks ago and I simply want to remember everything. The memories I write here may seem a bit all over the map and disjointed but they are glimpses of the monumental experience we had in four days at a hospital in Boston.

We went to the hospital Tuesday morning, a day I completely thought I would go to work.    Instead we spent the morning in sort of a holding room as we began the process of inducing a pregnancy. Within the first two hours of sitting there two women were wheeled out for C-sections and than wheeled back in, babies in their hands. There unseen cries made me impatient. I was ready to meet our little one!

A brief aside about my in-laws. They are fantastically intentional and supportive of their kids. They showed up at 8:30AM that first morning and were there until the moment of birth the following afternoon. They spent that first night in the hospital in incredibly awful chairs in our delivery room. In retrospect, they could have gone home that night, but my wife told me she needed them and so they stayed. I’m so grateful they were there but also grateful that they happened to have a vacation planned for a few days later!

I confess to having felt fairly sheepish in the hospital. I know I was the impending father and had an official visitors sticker and totally belonged there but I couldn’t walk through the Labor and Delivery unit without feeling completely in the way. I really didn’t want to bump into a doctor or nurse who were about to bring a life into the world as I was fetching more water for my wife. This is a good time to give a shoutout to our hospital and how good our experience was. Nurses are unsung heroes, full stop. They do so much, work 12-hour shifts and not once did I percieve that they were tired. I feel very fortunate that we live near Boston and were able to deliver at such a well-regarded hospital.

It’s hard to express how I felt those first moments as the delivery process began. I ran competitively in college and have run in countless road races, long and short. I’ve traveled overseas and got married four years ago. None of those experiences came close to the pure rush of adrenaline that flowed through me as I put my hand on my wife’s forehead and waited to meet our daughter.

I did not know the gender of our baby until birth. My wife did but was able to resist telling me for months. I know that this provokes a lot of questions and interest but I’ll just say this: From the start I was going to be ecstatic with either a boy or girl. It did not matter to me what they were as long as he/she was healthy. And so in the minutes after her birth I went over to where doctors were cleaning our baby off and had to identify the gender. With all the emotion and adrenaline of the moment it was a significantly more difficult task than I might of thought. I focused really hard, looked at our child and made the announcement: we had a baby girl. Her name was Eleanor Joy.

She was pink, and crying, and healthy. She was perfect. After two hectic days in the hospital we were able to go home as scheduled. I won’t go into all the details here but this was a miracle baby. I couldn’t have expected how perfect she is and yet knew it all the same. The amount of prayer and support that brought this little girl into the world is too numerous to mention but know that it mattered and know that we are so grateful for you all. It gave us so much comfort and even confidence as we prepared to welcome our little one.

There is so much left to say but I’ll finish with this. We are home, adjusting to life with our little one. She is eating, and growing, and crying, and that other thing babies do. It is tiring but awesome. It’s still hard to believe but I’m a dad now. I’m grateful for almost a month at home before returning to work and the many visitors and gifts that have graced our address. I’m mindful that many do not have the support or resources we have enjoyed. Thank you to everyone who have supported us so well. I’m just starting this journey but I can’t wait to continue.

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Four years in.

One of the most surprising things about adulthood is the number of things you experience for the first time and than you feel like you have become an expert on. You knew absolutely NOTHING about something and then suddenly you are able to carry on a conversation for a solid 20 minutes about it. If I can find someone else with the same experience? Well this introvert just became a Nobel Prize winning orator. Mortgages, sump pumps, or lawn mowers? Please let me regale you with my knowledge.

The topic that most exemplifies this trend though in my life is my marriage. Being married is still something that pervades our society with expectations and advice even as many are uncertain about and delaying the experience. While I realize that people get many messages about marriage from their family and society it’s funny how blind you can go into it. It’s hard to envision exactly what it will look like to commit your life to someone and then make good on it. Despite the inherent difficulty here, it’s my fourth anniversary on Thursday so I thought I would offer a few thoughts based on my experience.

Four years in it is my conviction that my decision to make a lifelong commitment to my wife in marriage is the best I have ever made. Endless caveats could be made here before I continue but I’ll just throw out a few that feel more obvious to me. Plenty of people get married who probably should not. Plenty get married but for the wrong reasons. Many single people may feel the need and desire to get married but in fact being single is perfectly OK for the time-being or perhaps their life. My goal here is not to encourage anyone to get or stay married who should not but simply to relay a brief slice of my experience.

Four years in my wife and I know each other really well. We have learned our likes and dislikes. We have established routines. We find ways to compromise on many things. We even fight better than we used too. My wife especially has made it a huge value to establish ways to grow our relationship and communicate that have allowed us to love each other while avoiding lasting resentments. If I had one piece of advice in this entry it would be that communication is absolutely critical. There are a million reasons your partner might not realize something they are doing grates at you. Talk to them about it. Over time, I think good communication breeds countless dividends.

Four years in we support each other (and get support from others) in countless ways. We look out for each other. We cook for each other. We comfort each other. We pay for things for each other. We worry about each other. As a relatively not anxious person this has been one of the most ridiculous things to happen to me in marriage. One moment I am bingeing on Netflix blissfully unaware of anything and then, suddenly, my wife hasn’t texted me enough during the day and so she must be in a ditch on the side of the road somewhere. Just as we support each other, our commitment has also brought together a incredible network of family, friends, and church folks who love us so well. So many examples could be said here but I’ll simply say I’m grateful and thankful for all of you.

Four years in I’m writing this in a hospital awaiting the birth of our first child. Children don’t fix marriages and it will certainly make ours more complex but damn am I excited for us to be parents. There are a wide array of families in society today and all have value but I am so grateful and fortunate to have my wife by my side as we start this new adventure. Marriage is not a panacea for the unhappy or a goal for all but, four years in, I can’t imagine doing life any other way than what has happened so far.

A Fairy Tale?

A few months ago a student I had in the Czech Republic messaged me on Facebook. Our conversation was brief but at the end she said, “It seems you are living fairytale life.”

Tomorrow is my wife’s and my third wedding anniversary. By all accounts we have a very blessed life. We love each other, we have meaningful employment, we have close and caring friends and family. I am very thankful. But on an occasion like this it seemed appropriate to write about, while I deeply appreciate my former student’s sentiment, I do not think I would use the term “fairy tale” to describe any marriage, let alone my own.

Marriage is hard because you voluntarily decide to give up a life of doing basically whatever you feel like as an adult and live with another adult. Ideally for the rest of your lives. It literally not about you anymore but about US. You sacrifice your freedom and independence because you think your life will be better living with this other person. I’ll explain in a bit why it is worth it but it is certainly not a fairy tale.

When I got married I was waking up at 5:15AM and driving an hour to teach a group of students who gradually over six months became almost impossible to teach. If I rushed home for school I could get home by four but I was not happy newlywed Matt. I was an exhausted, emotional wreck. I did not know all that marriage required and even if I did I was not in a place to give it. That was our first three months of marriage.

Life is complicated. In the past three years we have moved once and gone through multiple job and position changes. My knees decided to start hurting when I run for the first time in my life. My wife got a cat. Going through all this change (we both detest change) is inherently stressful. We have had to lean on and support each other all the while learning how to do that. Every time I mention I’ve gone to therapy people act a little strange so maybe this is not normal but we have both been to therapy. Together and separate, during engagement, and off and on during the past three years. Marriage takes work and if you don’t invest in the relationship it will not work.

I feel like I have been profoundly negative so far so lets get to the good part. Three years in I can say with absolute confidence the following: marriage is worth it. I can hardly do justice to the commitment I feel to this woman who I decided to marry. Every step of the way as we progressed from dating, to engagement, to marriage I expected to feel worried and unsure. But I didn’t. I simply made the calculation that my life would be so much better with her in it. So I kept going. And it has.

Those first few months when I was a braindead zombie teacher? My wife made my lunch almost everyday and often woke up when I did. Just because we were married. And solidarity or something. I still don’t always get it. Everyday my wife pushes me to be a better man and husband. We don’t always hit the mark. We disagree, we fight, we irritate the crap out of each other. That is life. But our commitment to love each other is still there and we push through.

Our society likes to push the idea that getting married is a fairy tale. That’s a lie. You can be happy and fulfilled single and you can be miserable and frustrated married. The reality is more complex. Marriage takes a lot of work to be successful and to weather all the storms life brings. But, fairy tale or something else entirely, tomorrow my wife and I will be celebrating.

Perspective

As I started teaching in January I came across a bigger theme repeatedly. My goal was always to give my students the big idea or theme, the one word or phrase that they could turn over in their head and then I would hit on that word again. and again. and again. As I started my unit on the Revolutionary War the word “perspective” was that theme. We all know as Americans what the war meant but how did the British feel? What were the Native Americans thoughts? Where did slaves motivations lie? It was all a matter of perspective. I realized i had stumbled upon something interesting and important, an anchor for my teaching. I touched on that word repeatedly over the next six months.

I read an article yesterday that got me thinking about perspective again. I almost did not read it but at the last moment of my 15-second, twitter-influenced attention span, I clicked it. You can read it here. The story highlights the struggles of Janette Navarro to make a better life for herself and her son while working at Starbucks. My wife was a Starbucks barista in college and loves the place so I kept reading.

Ms. Navarro is 22 years old. She has a 4-year old son whose father disappeared sans child-support. A boyfriend who is a refuge and strength for her and her son does not last the article. Her mother passed away from an overdose. Her father was not around growing up. She has an aunt and a $9/hour job at Starbucks. She is trying to take classes but her erratic schedule and 3-hour(!!!) commute makes this increasingly impossible. Ms. Navarro’s life is so different from mine it borders on absurdity. And yet as I read I felt ever more involved and connected to her story.

Over the past 8 months I have worked a temporary job without benefits while seeking a full-time job for this fall. I woke up at 5:15am on weekdays and drove over 65 miles to get to my incredibly challenging students. Since that ended in late June I have had 7 interviews. None led to a second round until yesterday (for a part-time position). During this time I have been tempted to get frustrated and feel sorry about how challenging my life has been. And than I read about Ms. Navarro and I realize I am a idiot.

Perspective is everything in history as in life. Every advantage that I have enjoyed in my life: school, family, income, stable relationships, has seemingly been denied to Ms. Navarro. And yet I feel sorry for myself? I am not trying to romanticize Ms. Navarro’s struggles or throw her a pity party. She is evidently an incredibly resilient young women who is holding on to the hope of giving her son a better life by working incredibly hard. I was incredibly pleased to see Starbucks respond almost immediately to the article here.

Perspective gives us humility. Regardless of where I end up job-wise in the next week or so I will be fine. I have faced challenges and will continue to do so. But for today I am thankful for Ms. Navarro’s story and the perspective it has given me as I move ahead. 

A year of Jubilee

I really like the idea of years of Jubilee mentioned in the Bible. A very brief (and incomplete) explanation is that every 50 years, there would be a year of Jubilee to the Lord. What this meant is that in the 50th year no planting would be done. All debts would be forgiven and all slaves would be released. Foreseeing the possibility of abuse in this system, God made sure to note that prices for land should reflect how near or far to the year of Jubilee it was and then be sold accordingly. Years of Jubilee were to be years of rest, rejuvenation, and fresh starts.

I like this idea not only because it is explained in Leviticus (and who knew there was anything worth reading in Leviticus?) but because there is no record of anyone following the years of Jubilee ever. No one has ever seen a need or practical way to actually put these radical ideas into practice even though as much as any other scripture they are pretty straightforward.

Obviously actually making the year of Jubilee work in today’s society would be completely unfeasible, but I feel like it has something to teach us nonetheless. As I continue to walk that long, windy road into full blown adulthood I feel a lot of conflicting expectations on my life. American society seems rather obsessed with the idea of settling down, starting a family, buying a house and getting the job that supports all these glorious endeavors. The good life or the “American Dream”, if you will.

However, my life since college has not really reflected those values. I have been overwhelmingly nomadic. I have lived overseas twice for a year each time, possessing only what I could fit into two large checked bags, plus my backpack and laptop. I have worked at a camp for 3 summers, fitting all I would need for two months in my car. During in-between times I have lived at home, worked part-time and seasonal jobs and gone to school. I have lived cheaply and I have enjoyed it. Each time I have gone to or left a place has been like a year of Jubilee for me. I have had to pack up and clear out. I have had to decide what to take, leave behind, and throw away. It is freeing in many ways to realize how little one needs and it is also unsurprisingly cheaper.

There are downsides of course. Everywhere I have gone I have met wonderful people who I have to bid goodbye. A few I will see again but the vast majority are simply great memories. Perhaps this is why the year of Jubilee has never been practiced; it is just too hard to always leave that which you have come to know and love.

Lord willing, at this time next year I will have a job as a teacher. I will have a school to work at and will need to find housing near that school. By any definition I will have to start the lifelong process of settling down. I cannot wait to finally teach again but I just hope that even as I do I don’t lose my perspective on settling. I hope I keep an open mind to the opportunities that exist for me and places I can go. I may never have an actual year of Jubilee but perhaps, if I am lucky, I can make it a small reality throughout my life.

Not a Strategy, the Cornerstone.

This past Sunday there was a great article about Evangelicals in the paper. Being one myself it caught my eye and I read it with great interest. You can read it here. It gives a balanced portrayal of why evangelicals often get such a bad wrap in many circles while noting that many actually do a significant amount of good in the world. I think it was an article I would write if I was a journalist of a world famous newspaper. But I’m not so I’m happy to read such things for free.

I gravitated towards the comments section not because I care much for this section typically but because I wanted to see what people’s thoughts were on my faith and way of life. Predictably their was a whole grab bag of negative and postive thoughts. Some were interesting and thought-provoking. Many were worthless polemical dreck. One theme that stuck out to me though was the confusion from many about why Evangelicals couldn’t just do nice things apart from Jesus, religion etc. People need help, it feels nice to help, why get all messy with the Bible? Added to this was the generalization that Christians “only” do good works to further proselytizing efforts. I feel like a few short comments are warranted.

Jesus is not my strategy. He is not a gimmick, a selling point or a product that I am trying to purvey. He is the central cornerstone of  my life. His life,  example and existence informs everything that I believe and every action I decide (or don’t decide) to do. Having Jesus exist outside any good works I may do is simply not an option. I don’t tell people about Jesus because it makes me feel good, I do it because it just comes up. I will applaud good works wherever I see them and I will call out bigotry, hatred, homophobia, stupidity, sexism or anything else that is contrary to God’s incredible love for humanity.

I imagine that first sentence in my last paragraph lost a lot of you but if your still reading know this: I’m not asking, forcing, persuading, or trying to manipulate you into a false sense of religious security. I am living my life  for someone, something incredibly bigger then myself. In fact it is bigger than all of us. I have no idea what that will look for you. I do know that if Jesus is not in the picture it will be less than what it can be. We have been created to do good works not to glory in ourselves and our goodness but to exalt and proclaim Jesus.

One more personal example. This summer I have worked at a Christian camp for boys and girls ages 7-15. In my position of leadership I have been the one that my counselors have come to when they have a camper with an issue, serious or otherwise. I have talked to kids dealing with homesickness, bullying, and trouble in their home life. Just last week I spent 45 minutes consoling a boy who was literally cowering in the darkness because he was exhausted and scared of his cabin mates and any potential judgement they might dole out to him. It took every ounce of my patience and energy to console this camper enough for him to go to bed.

It should be noted that I would console a camper, child, person, human being regardless of their race, socioeconomic status, appearance, religion, political leaning or sexual orientation. I have no idea if this kid was a christian or if and when he will ever become one. But the important question is really “Does God love them?” Then I better do my best to mimic that the best I can. God is the cornerstone of my life and I hope it will be evident to whoever I come across.

My Journey with Camp (Part 3 of 3)

The next morning after my epiphany I got the news that the two biggest antagonists in my CIT program were being sent home for transgressions on their day off. A bit of me was sad; I didn’t want people to be sent home. But a larger side of me said, “Wow…God must really want me to pass this thing.” And so I set out to do it.

I gave devotions to my fellow CITS and even spoke to the whole camp as part of a chapel we did. The last week I shadowed a chief and stayed in a cabin. No major issues arose. When I sat down with my CIT director for my final evaluation I was confident. I got the sense he was not enormously impressed with me but it didn’t matter. I told him I had done what was expected of me as well as if not better than any of my peers. I think the big change here was not anything tangible it was simply a slight mental shift on my part. People were never going to treat me awesome everywhere, but that was not my responsibility. I simply had to do my best no matter what at all times. People could take it or leave it.

I passed my CIT.

My LIT was 11 summers ago. Since then I have been a chief all or parts of 6 summers. This summer I am a unit director. I plan activities and games, chapels and cabin bibles and am directly responsible for half the chiefs and campers in camp each week. It is in a word, unbelievable. Camp is amazing and fun, difficult and heartbreaking all at the same time. Without a doubt though, I love it. It is not the most glamorous or high-paying job and I realize many people may look at me and wonder why I am still doing this at 26. But overall I have gotten a tremendous amount of joy out of working at camp and will continue here for as long as I can.

My journey has not been short or simple. It has been marked by trials and missteps at every turn. But to close this long-winded episode of my life I’ll say this. God is there, however unnoticeably, working to turn you and me into the tools he desires to glorify him. And in that work, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.—Romans 8:28