good morning, beloved
It’s as though every day is the first time I’ve met God, the first time I’ve loved Him.
I wake up and I can’t remember who I am, or that I’m abundantly blessed. I feel trapped in the weary, aware of the walls that surround me, boxed in and dull. And then He shows me all over again, opens my eyes. He leaves me speechless, face flushed with the adventure He’s chosen for me.
And that’s why 50 First Dates is my favorite movie. And if you’ve never seen it, well, you really must.
This morning, as I’m talking to my dad on the phone and I’m thinking, what a gift, he tells me that he’s realized that this movie expresses something about us and God, the way we forget everyday and need to be reminded, the way He uses our time spent in relationship with Him to show us who we are, where He’s taken us, how much and how dearly we are loved. He loves us in spite of our traumas, even though every day we wake up and at first, we don’t remember.
And because of this forgetfulness, my mom and dad have started every day the same way for years. Before they lift their bodies off the bed, before they shrug off sleep, before they do exercises or shower or wander into the kitchen for coffee, they curl into each other and pray, my dad’s voice softly sounding in the still-dark room. Even when the night is yet full and they wake alone, when their bodies ache and they can’t sleep, they pray. And then in the morning, the together-talking to Him, before the day can begin, just as the squirrels begin to scamper over the skylight above them. Dad says it’s like opening his eyes and seeing that video tape, the one labeled, “Good morning,” the one that reveals the story of him and them and God—all the beauty, the tragedy, the truth, the blessing, the love, the possibility, the hope. They keep the date, treasure the romance of it, a needed beginning. Because every day, we wake up forgetting, clouded, our confidence fleeting as light shines on all our inadequacy. And every day, we need His hands on our eyes, on our hearts, and His breath saturating every cell. He is life (Colossians 3:3,4).
And yet, sometimes I’m conned into skipping the date. It’s too easy to be convinced to short change the love affair, as though this life with all it’s details could somehow be more important, more grand, more pressing than moments intertwined with the holy. Sometimes I live blindly, hardly seeing, the spiritual amnesia binding up my heart in paralysis.
I love discussing things like this with my dad.
And as the conversation weaves, knitting together threads of things God has said to me, I think of Adam and the way we all force him to say Good morning—me, Kevin, Riley, his teachers dotting the hallway at school all the way from the doorway to his classroom. We insist that he begin the day at least with a greeting. One of our first efforts in encouraging him to communicate, it still sets the expectation for the day. It’s still his reminder that we expect a connection. And if he fails to respond, we stand calling, repeating, insisting. “Good morning, Adam. Good morning.”
Riley is best at this, perhaps because the power feels good to her. She will follow him, even tell him what to say. “Adam, Adam. You need to say, ‘Good morning, Riley.'”
And when he replies, she congratulates him as though the idea had been his own, as though she’d never insisted. Smiling because I know that the Sovereign One does precisely this for me, I recognize yet again that He has also given every relationship that I might know Him.
Nearly every day, Adam tells me he doesn’t want to go to school. He wakes up forgetting that he’s happy when he’s there, that he enjoys his friends, that he likes learning. He feels trapped in the weary.
In between reminders about how to brush his teeth and me standing there helping; in the middle of “Aaaa’s and Eeee’s” to get him to open his mouth wide enough to move the brush in circles; in between the kisses I can’t help but plant on his crinkled forehead, he says, “No school, today.”
And usually, I sigh, knowing that this will only escalate, that Adam will grow grumpier that more he says it, watching his own anguish in the mirror as it develops. I turn his face back toward mine, away from the self-study that will undermine my guidance.
Adam and I have worked long on anger. In rage, Adam used to beat his own head against walls, doors, any unforgiving surface. The ugly, heavy thud punctuated his sobs and stabbed me, the pain sharp. In our worst moments, we’re all dangerously self destructive.
Back in those dark days, we started what I called Adam’s anger management classes. The title gave me a way to laugh instead of cry about all the times I had to serve up consequences for behavior I knew exploded out of wordless frustration. I’d make Adam sit on the bench at the top of the stairs until he calmed down so that he couldn’t make good theater out of his tears, and then I’d hide close by so that I could stop him if he got up or tried to hit his head again. At first, recognizing that no walls were in easy proximity for pounding, Adam substituted his own hand. Slap! Slap! Slap! He’d make his forehead red, crying louder with the sting of every blow, flesh popping against flesh and bone. This too, I refused to allow. I knew Adam simply didn’t know how to show his anger, but I insisted he find other ways. When he calmed down, I’d sit next to him and slowly enunciate short sentences to teach.
“No wall,” I’d say, pointing to the wall. “No wall.” And placing his hand in mine, touching it, “No hand. No hand, Adam.” And then, pushing his hair back gently, “No head. Adam, no head. No head.” Then, pointing to my lips, “Talk. Use words.”
After many, many repetitions, he started repeating the things I said. And eventually, the word “no” replaced all that self destruction. Instead of hurting himself, he did as I asked. He learned to use words, the words I gave him, particularly, “no.” And now, as you know if you follow the blog and read my last post, using words has deteriorated into screaming them and tantruming. The more Adam expresses his angst, the worse his mood becomes. And I’m sure a good part of this is that he says “no,” and then the adults in his life say, “but you have to,” and he’s as angry as all the rest of us when we feel as though we.never.have.a.choice. So, Adam and I continue our work, and this time the goal is to teach him what he can say instead of “NO,” and how he can say it.
At the beginning of the week, I told him things like, “Don’t say ‘no school today,’ say ‘I don’t want to go to school today.’ Don’t say ‘no vegetables,’ say ‘I don’t like vegetables.'” But then I realized that eventually those expressions would also become a problem, just one negative, poisonous dart replacing another. And Adam’s frustration would remain and grow, because the whole situation would still leave him with no choice. And this problem has heart-deep roots.
Praying, running, sweating, breathing God’s name, all week I have asked how, how?
Inspired by Adam’s teacher’s encouragement to give Adam positive reinforcement for positive behaviors to counteract his negativity, I wanted to find the wise course, to see it all with new perspective.
And Love has wrapped me up and drawn me in deep. Love has spoken simple, certain things:
I have asked you to tell me everything you need, everything you want, everything you dream to know. And I have promised you,
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:11)!
Faithfully, YHWH has touched my eyes, has helped me see that our talking, His and mine, has always been about the relationship more than the words, about me remembering, about Him showing me that what I long for matters deeply to Him. It has always been about Him redeeming my view, over and over, every day. Gently, gently He teaches. Deftly, He transforms. Faithfully, He reminds, and by grace, He offers amazing gifts, pouring them out.
“Good morning, Beloved. When you’re ready, come outside…”
So this week, I tried something new.
When Adam pulled his tongue away from the toothbrush long enough to say, “No school today,” with that awful, frustrated lilt, I said, “I know. I know you don’t want to go today. What do you want to do?”
Doing questions are difficult for Adam, so I offered some suggestions. “Do you want to play in your room today?”
“Do you want a break?”
“I know, son. I know. Say, ‘I want to play in my room today.'”
“I want to play…room today,” he repeated, looking at me.
“Say, ‘I need a break.'”
“I need a break,” he said, thrown off by the new path.
“I know. I’m sorry. Today you have school. But you are tracked-out on your birthday.”
“Yes,” he said.
“Adam, when is your birthday? What day?”
Bright, sharp blue eyes connected with mine as he said the month, the day. “Yes. You are tracked-out on your birthday! And what would you like to eat for your birthday?”
He smiled at me, but no words came.
“Would you like cake?”
“What kind of cake would you like?”
A smile. No words.
I chose not to press. “Won’t that be fun? You’ll have cake on your birthday.”
The tooth brushing over, I left the bathroom, moving to the next thing that had to happen before I could get everyone to school. I didn’t want to risk a return to frustration. I wanted to exit on a positive note.
“Time to put your shoes on,” I told Adam happily, heading for the stairs.
Before I had reached the fifth step, he came up behind me. “Piece of cake on my birthday,” he initiated, with some enthusiasm.
“Absolutely,” I said, “you will have a piece of cake.”
“Chicken nuggets on my birthday,” he continued.
“Do you want chicken nuggets? I thought you’d want spaghetti! Do you want chicken nuggets, or pizza, or spaghetti, or hot dogs, or…”
“Three hot dogs on my birthday!” He said, excitement mounting.
“Three? Wow. Okay, what else?”
“Fries on my birthday,” he added.
“Okay. Sure. You can have fries on your birthday.”
“Sweet potato fries.”
“Sure. What else? What kinds of presents do you want for your birthday?”
Adam lifted a finger in the air, moving it in circles, the way he does when he’s choosing. He loves choosing. And this is why He gave us a choice. Adam tried hard, mumbling a little, as if working up to it or creating a verbal slide on which to ease out the language. In the midst of the sounds, I heard “Grandma” clearly, and then he ran over to his communication notebook and flipped to the page about colors.
He pointed decisively at the page. “Blue. Blue present.”
“Okay, but what do you want inside the present,” I asked him, gesturing with my arms, pretending to unwrap and discover.
“I want it Grandma. Grandma in it present.”
I laughed out loud. Seeing Mom would indeed be the gift he’d choose. Adam just doesn’t care that much about stuff. But he loves his grandma. And one of her gifts to him, a gift all Grandmas should be entitled to bestow, is that she lets him choose. Discovering his desire is how she loves him.
“You want Grandma for your birthday?” I questioned, smiling widely.
“Yes!” He said.
“Adam, you can’t have Grandma for your birthday present,” Riley said from the couch, in her best older sister you-are-so-silly voice.
“I miss Grandma too, Buddy,” I said, welling a little, touching his back with my hand, grabbing my phone to send Mom a quick text. Don’t let me forget to tell you what Adam says he wants for his birthday, I typed. And all the while, I’m thinking, Oh Father, how faithful you are. I can be so blind. But you help me see.
In the space of a morning, in place of frustration, tears, and little choice, my son and I found communication and the joy of possibility. I had succeeded in showing Adam that although today he would not get to choose what he wished, I cared deeply about what he wanted. And one day, I would be able to soothe the longing he felt. Together, we celebrated the coming of that day. His birthday.
That afternoon, as I shared all of this with Adam’s teacher, we contrived a new idea together. If it helped Adam to look forward to a choice day, perhaps that could be his reward in the future, long after all the birthday possibilities floated away for another year. And when he comes to me, frustrated, I can help him to see beyond the present difficulty to the possibility ahead.
Because every day, in just this way, God shows me the vast beauty of all the possibility ahead, reminding me that He loves to know my heart’s desires. He redirects me gently, promising a day when all longing will cease.
“Good morning, Beloved. When you’re ready, come outside. It’s a little cold today, so you might want to wear your jacket…”
The voice leads me to the window, to look beyond, and suddenly I see all over again, His love all new. And I’m not really standing in an ordinary room, trapped within temporal walls. I’m sailing free on the first rays of the dawn, carried along by grace that is deeper than the ocean, wider than the sea, higher than the mountains, brighter than the sun.
“Good morning, Beloved. I love you. This is our life together. And by the way, would you like to meet your children?”