Before Finnden was born I knew I wanted to create something for his room. Something special. Something no other kid in the world would have. Something that, years from now, he could look back on and say, “My dad made that for me. He loved me before he knew me.”
For Finn I created two prints that hang in his room, geometric ABC’s and 123’s. Many nights before he goes to bed he insists on stopping at the framed ABC’s on his wall and hearing us sing the tune as he points to each letter. There’s nothing so gratifying in the world as that.
Since we’re expecting another little one in February, I wanted to create something equally as personal and special for her space as well.
(As a second child, I can attest to the fact that most second-born children generally get considerably less…um…excitement surrounding them. Now understand, I know it didn’t mean that I was less wanted or loved, but…well…the newness wears off. The second one isn’t the first. First birthdays. First steps. First teeth. It’s all been seen before. Snapshots alone are proof of that. For every one picture of me ages birth through about six there are fifteen of my older brother before the age of one, drooling, sleeping, and generally being a bump on a log. But it was all so new.)
All that to say, I wanted to create something for the new baby.
I’ve had a very cool, gnarled branch I’d happened upon (for free) that’s been sitting in my garage awaiting inspiration for a few months. Add to that the fact that Karen and I are a bit enamored with owls lately, and I had the impetus for a project.
(Yes, I know owls are trendy right now. I don’t care.)
I’m not the best at hand-sewing, but with a little patience and the determination not to quit, I came up with something I hope she will treasure for a long time. And something that will remind her that she was loved long before we laid eyes on her.
(Her arrival will be sometime this week. Pretty excited about that.)
My son is by no means immune to logic…at least no more than the next two-and-a-half-year-old. If he can stop squirming long enough to listen, he’s often able to comprehend the whys and why-nots of a given situation.
"No, Finn, I don’t want you to poke the dog in the eye. Yes, I know you think it’s funny, but would you want her to poke you in the eye? No? Then you probably shouldn’t do it."
He gets it. But again, the key is getting him to sit still long enough to listen to logic. If he can’t or won’t listen, things go downhill fast.
Lately, his greatest joy has been kicking around a soccer ball in the front yard. He runs after it, squealing and giggling. He lines it up just right. He announces, “I kick it.” And then he proceeds to do just that. Then the running and squealing and giggling begin again.
Just the other day I asked him if he wanted to go out front and kick the soccer ball. Before I had even finished asking the question he was at the front door, twisting the doorknob with both little hands, saying, “Go kick. Go kick!” But before we could go outside I needed him to put on his shoes. Logical, right? Well, this is one of those examples where logic fails because he’s just not hearing it. The conversation went something like this:
Finn: Go kick! Me: Yup, we’re going to go play with the ball, but first I need you to get your shoes and… Finn: Go kick! Me: I know, and we will, but… Finn: (with concern) Kick? Me: Mm-hmm, but… Finn: (growing desperate) Please? Me: Yeah, buddy, we will but your shoes… Finn: (the tears are filling his eyes) Please go play? Me: Yeah, just put on…
And then it’s over. He’s beside himself. It’s not really a tantrum. He’s not demanding his way. But suddenly he believes that what he’s been promised will not happen, that the thing he’s pleading for is going ignored. It’s absolute, crushing, and pitiful disappointment.
The logic was sound. The answer was there. He just couldn’t listen.
But this “not listening thing” is not just the territory of two-year olds. We do the same thing, and often we do it with God. There have been many times when I have made my questions known to God, when I have pleaded, when I have demanded justice, or answers, or clarity. And then I have just kept on pleading and demanding and the like. I haven’t stopped to take a breath, much less listen. Then I conclude that God doesn’t have an answer for me or that he hasn’t been listening when, really, I’m the one who hasn’t been listening.
Habakkuk shows us another way. He does his fair share of questioning and pleading and demanding justice, but then he stops and he listens. He asks his questions, and then he waits; he waits intently and with purpose.
I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint. Habakkuk 2:1
You get this image of Habakkuk standing on the highest point of the city walls, face to the wind, squinting against the sun, eyes scanning the horizon, awaiting a messenger who might come at any moment. He is quiet, but he is expectant and searching. And he gets his answer. And while it may not be the answer he was hoping for, he has had a conversation with God. He has heard the logic of heaven above.
We all lament the pace of our lives. Despite our best efforts to slow down it seems we often crowd so much into our lives that we cannot settle, we cannot enjoy, we cannot slow, and we certainly cannot stop.
Whenever my son, Finnden, is trying to pretend he is not getting sleepy he overcompensates by rushing from one thing to the next. He turns into a bit of a maniac, bouncing about endlessly, shifting from one leg to the the other, shouting for no discernible reason, and generally being terribly disobedient. Sometimes I feel like that manic child.
But today I was fascinated to watch Finnden playing with his wooden train set. I helped him lay a track that coursed through the barren wheat-field of our living room carpet, and as soon as I connected the last piece I was ready to set a battery-operated train engine on it, press the button, and watch it go a few rounds.
But not Finn.
Finnden wanted to push the train. Forget the buttons or the speed. He wanted to slowly connect other cars to the engine and fill them with their cargo. He wanted to painstakingly push the lumbering train around the track, head lying low the ground, watching every slow turn of the engine’s wheels from eye level.
When he came to the windmill he wanted to spin it. When he came to the mountain, he slowly chugged up its slope and down the other. When he came to the crossing, he pressed buttons and listened to the noises and opened and closed the gates again and again.
I watched in amazement as it took him a full half hour before his little “choo-choo” had made it all the way around the little track. Such concentration, such deliberation, such wonder and enjoyment.
Certainly, we all need to get better at learning the things we should shoulder and the things we should refuse. But if we’ve mastered the word “no” and have not learned to slacken our pace a little…well…
There will always be things that compete for our attention. There will always be ideas or engagements or projects to which we cannot say no. There will always be deadlines and work to do. But when we discover wonder it is as though time stops even when it hasn’t. When we are captivated by what we have in front of us and around us—peering into things from eye level, attending to the details, enjoying the process—we will suddenly find that our business can become quite endurable, even enjoyable, like a child at play. Perhaps the only way to slow down is not to find more time but to find more wonder, to find more play, to find more enjoyment in the things we encounter along our way.
Writing this was one of the things that helped me lay claim to Joy this season.
Through many ups and downs and questions and answers I came a little closer to understanding Joy as something that is permanent, inexhaustible, and steadfast, a new status that is Truth. Truth that is independent of the circumstances, stations and skepticisms from which I may view it.
O little town of Bethlehem How still we see thee lie; Within thy heart, Thy humblest parts, A tale began. A plan began— Began again— To counteract the fall of man That had began At man’s own hand
At the beginning When we were still brimming With joy from His presence, Before we had a sense That the world only made sense Because of His presence.
Like spoiled adolescents, We spoiled the essence of Him in us.
In a bite of rebellion We invented the hellion, And the curse, oh it fell in, On us.
As His presence departed, And the joy He brought was thwarted, A sick cycle started.
Cuz our world took to spinning, And we kept on sinning. Then the ark went a skimming As our sin sent us swimming, And put us back at the beginning Again.
Then God made a promise: That He would not destroy us. The He would not forget us.
And he embarked on a plan To bridge the great span, And later called on a man Named Abraham So that he Would be The father of a nation. That through some Would come Demonstrations And declarations For all populations Of who God was, So that all would be abuzz
To raise expectations, To make preparations, For one whose vibrations Would shake the foundations Of everything, Of every being.
God was coming for them, For the condemned, To the little town of Bethlehem.
For God had made that promise That he would not forget us Or leave us To our own devices Or to make poor sacrifices. For only grace suffices.
And so one silent night Some shepherds had a fright, And angels declared— With those shepherds they shared— The good news of great joy For there had been born a little boy. And this joy Was for the whole world For God’s great plan had been unfurled.
So into the bleakness, To creation so grievous Came Jesus.
And riding on his coattails, Gliding in his full sails Was joy.
The Lord, The one adored, Restored His presence among us That his promises to us Might at last Reach their purpose.
And they cannot be taken For we’ll not be forsaken Whilst he is making Us new.
And so I have joy. In His promise, In His presence, I’ve been given entrance.
He’s told me I’ll be new; His presence makes it true, And I have joy.
Though mountains may crumble And my dreams, they may tumble Into the bottoms of the sea, I’ll be Marked by the joy He’s given me. Because He Is within me I have joy.
I have it. I HAVE it. Despair, it is absent. In Him I am content. Not because the trials won’t come, But because the curse is undone. And I’ve become His precious one, And his work in me’s not done! I have joy.
I recently started reading Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s a biography of an olympic runner and World War II survivor named Louis Zamperini.
(If you haven’t gotten a copy of this book yet, you really should. I haven’t traditionally turned to histories or biographies for my recreational reading, but a year or so ago I thought I might—likely the result of feeling embarrassingly uncouth after reading a dozen editors’ choices for the best books of last year or something. The book languished on my Kindle for nearly a year before I finally began reading, but now I can’t stop. It’s a superbly written and realized story that is at once both fascinating in its detail and thrilling in its pace.)
Louis Zamperini started out as a bit of a hoodlum, living in the shadow of his popular, athletic and charismatic older brother in Depression-era Torrance, CA. When his brother, Pete, suggested that he turn his fleet-footed getaways from the local police into a more structured pursuit on the high school track team, Louis scoffed and begrudgingly plodded through a race or two only to learn that he had a bit of a talent for speed.
Like many people who earn a bit of recognition or encouragement in a particular pursuit, running became his sole pleasure and ambition. Louis went on to become one of the greatest runners of his day.
(I promise I haven’t ruined anything. This all happens in the first couple chapters. The saga gets much larger, and I’m not even halfway through!)
As I was reading the other day I began to think, what if Pete had never made Louis join the track team? What if Louis had never been encouraged in his pursuit? What if he’d never had a chance to train, and strategize and dream? Louis Zamperini could very well have lived his entire life not knowing that he had the potential to be one of the fastest long-distance runners in the world.
And then I began to wonder if there might be other things that Louis Zamperini could do that he’d simply never tried? Perhaps he had the makings of a classical guitarist, or a world-class animator or a molecular biologist.
My thoughts soon turned (as always) to myself. Of what things am I capable that I’ve not yet been made aware? What gifts and passions or abilities lie dormant in me? With each new challenge that comes my way I will—over the course of my lifetime—continue to adapt and change and call new abilities and sensibilities to the forefront of my arsenal. But will I ever see all that I can be?
I believe there is a great deal of untapped potential in each of us. I believe there are things that each of us can do that would astound those we know, that may even astound us.
But many of these abilities may forever lie dormant. They may never be needed. They may never be called into service.
Some might lament the untapped potential in each of us, but I think it’s something to celebrate. In my mind, our unrealized potential means that there is always a potential adventure ahead. Though our bodies may begin dying from the moment we begin living, our understanding of who we are and what we can do and what we are meant to do can expand ever outward until we are no more.
I don’t believe any of us will ever exhaust all that we can be.
And once again…I find the mark of our Creator in each of us.
For just as we each carry with us the talents to overcome obstacles we will never face, to excel in races we will never run, to create things we’ll never dream, our God is exponentially more inexhaustible. If we can never reach the end of ourselves, how much more will we never reach the end of our God?
He can save us from perils we will never face. He can wow us with beauty we’ll never see. He can stagger us with power we’ll never feel. But even the amount of God that we will know in the circumstances, the victories, the pitfalls and the minutia of our lives will be more than we can absorb.
So in the new year I raise a glass to potential, both realized and unrealized. For life lays before us as a grand adventure through which we might still discover what we can be and what our God can do.
As with any true collaboration, I can’t draw clear lines around who came up with what and when. I can’t pinpoint exactly how this idea came about, but the goal of our creative team was to tell the very traditional Christmas story in a distinctive way. What we stumbled upon—through the use of shadow puppetry, traditional puppetry and video—was a fusion of both old and new that made for an incredibly profound and fascinating experience.
From beginning to end, this was a labor of love for all of us involved. There were many points at which the project seemed impossible, but God proved to us again and again that He makes the impossible possible.
There are far too many people to thank for a collaboration like this one, but in brief: Thank you to TJ Hill for the beautiful music, Liz Hetzel for her talented direction, Frankie Franco III for his stunning artwork, Dannah Christensen for her tireless assistance, Dave Terrell for his leadership and construction prowess, David Higgins and Kayla Sanders for their artistry, Brandon Setter for his video animation, and the fantastic cast who made magic time and time again.