Monday, December 26, 2011


Today, we hit fifty-six degrees. In England. In York. On December 26. Fifty-six degrees.

And in honor of this remarkable occurrence, Tyler and I went to nearby Rowntree Park on the bike-and-trailer. While there are swings, slides, rope ladders, more swings, more slides, and more rope ladders at Rowntree Park, Tyler found the most joy in having an intellectually stimulating conversation with an ancient man named Hemojababala.

You may have heard of Hemojababala. He's well-known in many parts of the world. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I had not met him "officially" until today. Yet I always knew he existed. Knew it in that deep place inside of me where oatmeal chocolate chip cookies go to hibernate. Where water evaporates. Where you can stretch out your intestines to incredible lengths.

Hemojababala is known for many sage sayings, such as this one: If you are standing under an apple tree and you are hoping a mango will fall into your outstretched palms, and then you look up at the sky and lightning flashes, and then you hear thunder, then you had better get inside, because being outside in a thunderstorm while standing under an apple tree (or any tree for that matter) is a very bad idea.

But Hemojababala is perhaps best known for his ability to reason with toddlers. Some have called him the Toddler Whisperer, while others have simply called him Weirdo.

I include the following real-action footage of Tyler's discussion with Hemojababala today so that you can make your own, educated decision.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

What Did I Do, Daddy?

Tonight, during goodnight kisses and hugs, I said to Tyler, "I'm so proud of you son, and I love you so much." Jennifer and I both tell him this every night--we believe that his knowing these two things is essential. That no matter what has happened during the day, we still love him; we're still proud of who he is.

But tonight, the look in Tyler's eyes told me, essentially, this: frontal lobes, dude. Frontal lobes are kicking in. It's true. All the toddler books say that around the third birthday, the frontal lobes of a child's brain really start coming in strong. (The frontal lobes, by the way, are the area of the brain that involve reasoning and step-thinking and action-result analysis, in other words, the parent's Hallelujah! lobes of a child's brain.)

So tonight, on Christmas Eve, as I said the words to Tyler, he looked back at me and I could see his frontal lobes doing somersaults. Olympic rings. Synchronized swimming. And Tyler said to me, "What did I do, Daddy?"

"You mean, what am I so proud of you for?"

"Mm-hmm."  Tyler's wide eyes really wanted to know. The lobes had spoken.

I returned Tyler's gaze and said, "Because you are you. I am proud of you and I love you no matter what, because you are Tyler and you are my son."

He smiled, asked for another kiss, and that was that.

Walking out of his bedroom, it struck me as highly appropriate on the night before we celebrate Christ's birth--the fact that Tyler's frontal lobes decided to really kick up just now. Because the Creator of the universe loves me and you and all of us in exactly this way--unconditionally and because we're His kids.

Not because of how much money we have or don't have; not because of the fact that we haven't cursed at all in the last seven years and three months (or because we have cursed every day of the last seven years and three months); not because of our successes or our failures.

There is no other love like this--so unconditional that it encompasses all we have ever done or thought and all we ever will do or think and it fully holds us just the same. Few modern books have been able to really touch the heart of the gospel message in this regard as poignantly and boldly as Francis Chan's Crazy Love or Shane Caliborne's The Irresistable Revolution. They reveal the wonderful absurdity of this kind of love and return a question to us: what will we do with it? How will we receive and use this love to help heal, grow, and restore the earth? How will we use this unconditional love of God to care for the broken, the poor, the hungry?

God's love is crazy because it is freely given with no measures and no standards. A love like that can't be contained--it can't be measured by hours on a Sunday, or group meetings on a Wednesday. Instead, a love like that throws logic to the wind, bids propriety adieu, and says to the status quo, No. Instead, a love that responds to this kind of crazy love does one thing: it keeps going.

This Christmas, I want to look at my Creator and ask the same question Tyler asked me--my frontal lobes kicking in, all my reason, all my logic, all my measure-for-measure standards--What did I do, Daddy? Why are you so proud of me? Why do you love me?

I want to ask so I can hear the words in reply--those glorious, unearned words: I love. I love. I love. You.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

You Know What?

Sleep, in all its grandeur, has once again become a part of our lives. I'm reluctant to write too confidently, as it is still a new found friend in these last few months, but Tyler had made it straight through numerous nights, and though he wakes up at 5:15 ready for action, still.


Today, by ten in the morning, Tyler's eyes were rolling around his head like ice cubes in water, and his eyelids grew pink and heavy, so I decided to take him out in the stroller for a walk in order to hopefully lead into sleep. We walked by our church, and Tyler immediately wanted to head inside--to thew warmth of the Village Cafe they run three mornings a week--where great coffee, juice, and biscuits are offered cheaply and a corner houses toys and coloring books.

"Daddy! Let's go to the church and get one juice! It will be great!"

"See, we've got to keep walking right now. We'll go to the church later."

"Then can I get out and walk? I am a good walker."

My mind sees both possibilities--the good in each.

1) Tyler stays in stroller, possibly naps. Sleep = positivity. Positivity = aaahhhh. Aaahhh = happy family.

2) Tyler walks, gets good exercise. Exercise = positivity. Positivity = aaahhh. Aaahhh = happy family.

While my mind plays ping-pong against itself trying to determine which parenting choice is the best one, I trump myself. A third ping-pong competitor enters the match and claims, inside my head, but Tyler doesn't have his winter coat on now. He's buried beneath his go-on-a-walk-and-hopefully-fall-asleep-blanket.

"But Tyler, you don't have your winter coat on now. You're buried beneath your go-on-a-walk-and-hopefully-fall-asleep-blanket."

"Daddy, I have this sweater, see?" Tyler points to his red fleece, gloriously proud that he has found a way to combat each of my initiatives.

"But Tyler, you don't have your winter coat." Broken record, baby. It's all about the broken record.

"Daddy, you know what?"

"What, son?"

"Sometimes sweaters can keep people warm, too." Tyler smiles this glorious smile. The kind of smile that feels like waking up after twelve hours of sleep to a cup of strong Sidamo fair trade coffee with loads of cream.


He knows it. I know it.

Tyler and I both walk to the church. We get the juice, the coffee, the biscuit. We color. We play.

Afterwards, Tyler climbs back into his stroller, and I tuck him in under his go-on-a-walk-and-hopefully-fall-asleep-blanket.

And you know what? On the way home, he falls asleep.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Early Doors

The night began with two of my "woods" going clear off the indoor lawn mat. Usually, at bowls, I can manage to get close enough to the jack--the tiny yellow ball we're all trying to sidle up next to--to make the game interesting. This particular night, though, I was all over the place, unable to find that groove and bowl with a sense of peace.

Tony, a man in his early seventies, comes beside me and puts his arm around my shoulders. He smiles big. We're on opposing teams tonight, though that doesn't stop him from sending a little encouragement my way.

"We have an old saying in South Yorkshire, Luke." He smiles even wider and squeezes my shoulders again.

"Yeah?" I ask, glad for anything to take my mind off my egregious bowling tonight.

"Early doors." Then Tony tilts his head back and laughs like those two words unlock some kind of deep secret of the universe. I laugh, too, even though he might as well have said pumpkin pie for all I can figure.

He notes the quizzical look on my face. Tony always wears a sweater with a collared shirt beneath. As do most of the guys who bowl. They wear ties, ironed and pleated khakis and shoes that shine like the moon on a night that is the purest black we know. I think momentarily of my grandfather, Harold Fenton, who spent his own life building houses all over Bloomfield, Connecticut. Worked from sun-up to sun-down and held a hammer as if it was a permanent appendage. Now, Grandpa wears a shirt and tie every day of his life.

"I never had to wear one in all my work, now it's nice to do so," Grandpa once told me.

And I look at Tony, wondering what he used his forty years of work to do--building, teaching, banking, doctoring, parenting? All the bowling men come dressed like it's a banquet; they bowl ready to meet the most important audience of their lives.

Tony's smile warms me. It welcomes me in like Grandpa's, like grace.

"Early doors simply means that it's only the beginning, Luke. It means, don't worry about it--the game is long. Things change." Tony winks at me, straightens his collar, and collects his next wood to roll it down the mat.

It stops leaning against the jack. He smiles wide.

With my next wood, I end up alongside him, a measure for who's closest to the jack. "There you go, kid," he tells me.

Another wink.

As we walk to the other end of the mat, I take stock of my own sweater and collared shirt beneath it. My own khakis. Granted, mine are un-ironed, and purchased from a charity shop for about four pounds in total. But these guys are rubbing off on me. It's a long cry from when I came to bowls dressed in my pajama pants, a T-shirt and hiking boots.

Something about them suggests that every moment is important--and why waste a single one not preparing for the banquet, not preparing for the finest introduction you might ever have?

Early doors.

And throughout the rest of the evening, each time a wood rolls away off the mat, it's all I can think. Early doors. And the truth is that it's all early doors. Even late in the game, there's still time. It's something a guy like Tony--in his seventies, knows.

It's something I imagine all these bowling guys know: that's it's never too late. Never too late to turn the game around with a wood that saunters up to the jack and hangs close. Never too late to become the kind of father you always wanted to be. Never too late to write the kind of book you always hoped you had inside of you. Never too late to start believing that the mistakes of our pasts don't need to be imbibed for the duration of our future.

Or, as George Eliot put it, more eloquently, "It's never too late to be what you might have been."

As I consider the wonder of whether a book I write will ever make it out into the big wide world, doing well enough to help support our family, or whether I'll learn to be the kind of father who discerns those two poles of love, grace and truth, with great clarity, or whether this journey we're on is more logic than craze, more faith than fear--as I consider all these possibilities, I know Tony's words are true. Early doors.

No matter how much time passes, the thing is to keep playing, to keep believing that this next time down the mat, you just might dance with the jack. And if not, there's always another bowl inside of you. Inside of me. No matter how many chances we've squandered before.

Each time down, hope beckons us to consider the possibility anew.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How We Know

This is the sound a poem makes:
Flapping wings pushing air;
But the air, too:
Fleeing for new space.

A poem aches
With the kind of grace
That arrives only from
Suffering we can taste.

Because our hunger is so acute.
So finite.

In one number,
A poem moves a thousand ways--
Dancing not just for me or you.
It has to: unanalyzed.

We know when we meet it
Because its stubborness
Is quiet, unrelenting--
As our stomachs, hearts.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Safe Place

Tonight, during the tea break at Bowls, I sat next to a man named Trevor who is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He smiles. he looks at me when I ask questions--watches my forehead, then my eyes. His face searches, and then he answers, sometimes with the same responses over and over.

Each time, I give him a thumbs up and smile wide. Trevor returns the thumbs up to me.

Around us, older men and women drink their tea, take small bites of their biscuits. The heating in the church hall is on. Strong. Tonight, we are forecasted a freeze.

In a few minutes, when we all rise from our chairs and play the second hour of Bowls, the subtle teasing begins. If I am playing well, it's "Let's buy the American a ticket back to his own country." If I am playing poorly, it's "Square woods tonight, oy ay?" And then a chuckle.

A chuckle that is safe.

Safe for a man like Trevor.

Safe for a man like me.

Safe for a whole army of the elderly who gather here each Thursday to send a ball down an indoor lawn mat, fully knowing that with each bowl, they affirm their belief in the power of life moving on. The power of themselves, to keep believing in the beauty even after knees are replaced, bones are mended, brains slowly fail.

They gather like a crowd around a fire on a cold night camping. They warm their hands on the hearth of camaraderie and fun. And I'm grateful to tag along, a few decades early, and be a part of their circle.