Advent, the Fourth Week

This weekend, we had 36 hours of snow and snow and snow. The boys have some nice sled runs carved down the hill behind our house, and Seth even took to riding his snowboard style (pretty well, I must say).

But now we are here, this morning where the pinkish-orange sky rises above Carter’s Mountain and the fiery sun comes to take back more of the whiteness that covers everything. We are here, in the final week of Advent. And I want to touch on one idea that has been hovering with me for some time.

As we all know and as most of us have grown accustomed to saying often, indeed, greed is a problem. Indeed, rampant, thoughtless consumerism plagues us. Yes, we ought resist the lust for more! more! more!

Still…

The very heart of the Good News is reckless generosity. The gospel is immensely powerful, reality-shattering, because it declares a truth so extravagant that it borders on the absurd: God, Creator and Ruler of all, came to us…to us. And came as a squalling, helpless baby…a baby. This moment Bruno Forte describes as the impossible occasion “when the Whole, the All, offers itself to us in the fragment, when the Infinite makes itself little.” Extravagance unbounded.

When the angel came to Mary, he offered a gift, to her and to the world. A gift beyond our wildest dreams. A gift we could never have arranged for on our own. And God gives this gift still…now. This Christmas, in honor of and in the spirit of the Great Gift, I’ll be giving gifts too. I want to give more of my time, myself, my attention and words and prayers and hugs. But also, I’ll be giving two boys a few gifts that are unnecessary, things that make them laugh and jump up and down and run around the room like someone lit a fire to their tail. And I’ll be giving a gift or two to Miska (though less than I’d like this year), gifts that tell her that she is loved and desired and that if I had a kingdom to give away, it would all be hers.

Because I know a King who does have a Kingdom, and we see what he did…

_____

And I want to give another gift away here, too. This will be our final drawing, so jump in. Scot McKnight has written a wonderful little introduction to the Church’s practices on prayer, Praying with the Church. Here, McKnight offers an overview of the various traditions on prayer and guides us into our own rhythms for following Jesus via prayer. As last week’s book, I think this will be a helpful resource for the new year.

So, leave a comment and a way to contact you – and you will be in the drawing. Per the usual, the deadline is Tuesday night at midnight. Check back here to see if you’ve won.

She Would Always Come

We went to Wyatt and Seth’s school tonight for the Reading Cafe. Wyatt’s teacher, Mr. Bow (who is a rock star in Wyatt’s eyes – and not far behind that with Miska and me), had each kid record a poem they had written. When I heard Wyatt’s voice, well, I don’t think I can describe it.

The last paragraph tells a million stories. Wyatt has struggled much with fear, particularly this past year. We’ve been with him, held him, slept by his bed (and in his bed – and him by our bed) many nights. We’ve gotten frustrated, reached – and been pushed over (far over) – our limit, yelled more than we should.

But there it was in print, that last line – “She would always come.” You wonder if your kids ever know how much they are loved, if they have any idea of the tenacity of your devotion for them and your commitment to all things good for them. You wonder if they know that they can relax in this world because our heart is on guard for them, all the time, every moment. Miska choked down a few tears tonight, listening in on the gift Wyatt gave her (and us).

“I guess he gets it,” Miska said. I guess he does.

Burning Silver and Gold

My mom told me I was born in the night
When I was walking up the wall
Her blood was my blood and
Her food was my food.
I was soaking in the sweet dreams,
Sleeping in the hospital.
The next morning
I was an inch taller and
I was growing…

My eyes were a burning silver and gold.

The next night I had a nightmare,
I called, “Mamma.”
She would always come.

Seth

Seth turns 6 today, this joy of mine moves another year toward manhood. I have to tell you, I love this boy. I’m happy today, happiness mixed with a twinge of sorrow too.

I’m happy because I am overwhelmed with gratitude. For all his years, this one no less, Seth has offered me the gifts of laughter (like with his break-dancing) and mercy (his “I forgive you”) and honesty (“Dad, you hurt me”) and cuddles (still) – not to mention being my most faithful coffee pal. Seth (his innocence, his tenderness, his recklessness, his wide-hearted abandonment, his questions) remind me of what is good and wholesome in this world, that the whole botched thing actually isn’t irrevocably shot to pieces.

Seth helps me believe in God.

But I also feel sadness. Not for a year passed by or because of sentimental nostalgia. I am a bit melancholy because I realize that I have not been all I want to be for him this past year. I have not been as present, as generous, as playful, as courageous toward him as I long to be.

The thing about longing, though, is that it flings open the door to tomorrow. Regret pulls us back into the gloomy what-might-have-been, but longing invites us out into the sunshine of what-we-hope-yet-to-become. I’m choosing the longing.

And, Seth, I long to be your dad. Not just your authority figure or the old man who pays the bills. I don’t just want to be your chummy sidekick either. Far more than all that, I want to be your dad, the dad who loves you with all his heart and who believes in you, even more than you believe in yourself.

Happy Birthday, Son!

your dad – always.

Collier Men

Miska is away to Richmond Hill for a short retreat, which means the Collier house is all men all the time.

Here is a short schedule:
(1) A game of UNO with our shirts off (Wyatt’s request)

(2) Wacky photo session (view to the left)

(3) The boys making their first blog entries:

Wyatt: Don’t be dumb. Be cool!
Seth: My dad rocks!! (with only minor coaching)

And up next:

(4) Guy’s movie – I thought it was going to be Rocky, but I was outvoted – Eragon

(5) Playing with power tools (a power washer to be exact)

Jokes on Me

This week, I feel as though I entered into a cliche, Christian subculture joke: You know your kids have been raised in an emerging* church if

On Tuesday, the fam went into Starbucks on The Corner at UVA. When Wyatt went into Bucks’ upstairs, taking in the warm, earth-tone walls, the ambient light, the numerous chairs around tables, the art on the walls, the leather couches, he said, “Mommy, is this a church?”

I’m still pondering what I think about that, a lot there actually.

*for those fortunate enough to be unfamiliar with all the nuance of Christian subcultures, emerging has often become a catch-all world for new forms of Christian theology and worship – a word that, in actuality, mainly means nothing. But emerging does own the annoying stereotype of being fascinated with all things hip and trendy, a “relational authenticity” that can very much be its own version of plastic.

Little Bo…

We’ve been talking at our house about how Easter is a season, not a day. Fifty days to revel in fresh hope, fresh life, new beginnings.

Yesterday, at the Cville Market, we happened upon a large bin of 1/2 price Easter candy, the crate overflowing with boxes of pink and yellow Peeps (one of Miska’s and the boy’s favorites).

Overcome by the joy and the possibility, Wyatt exclaimed: “Look! Peeps for 50 days!” That’s the spirit.

Belonging

//breakfast conversation with Seth (5)//

Seth: What day is it – am I going to school today?

Miska: Yes, it’s Tuesday.

Seth (smile breaking across his face): Tuesday?! Today is sharing day!

Me: What are you supposed to bring to share?

Seth: Something that begins with the letter “D”

Me (grinning): Well…you could bring…“D”addy.

Seth: No, you wouldn’t fit in my cubby.

Seth’s right, you know. I wouldn’t fit in his cubby.

However, there’s lots of places I do fit, places that are my places. I fit at that breakfast table each morning, sharing the breakfast I’ve made for my family. I fit on our worn, brown leather couch with my wife Miska, sitting close so we are sure to touch. I fit drinking coffee with Seth and playing Uno with Wyatt. I fit walking up and down the streets in my neighborhood, waving to neighbors and finding myself in all kinds of conversations. I fit with my spiritual community, All Souls, praying prayers and asking questions and hearing stories and hoping in the gospel. I fit with a few soul friends who know the real me – and who keep coming back for more. I fit around our dinner table with our family and friends where there is laughter and wine and where we are all telling our “high/low.”

For a guy who’s spent much of his life feeling like the proverbial square peg, it’s good to remember all the places where my heart is at home. In the years ahead, I’m looking forward to become more “me.” And to resting more fully into all these places (and the ones I’ve yet to discover) where I belong.

Morning Surprise

Two “doesn’t get any better” moments in a row. Truly, it doesn’t

This morning, Seth said he wanted to run with me. He has the day off preschool, and so we had some daddy/Seth time planned. Most days, that means a trip to the coffee shop, Mudhouse usually (btw, Seth recently declared that he does not like Starbucks. He likes Mudhouse. Score one more for the local, independent against The Man*).

However, Seth surprised me with the announcement that he wanted to join me on my run. I’m no madcap runner, but my route is a little over two miles. And 50 yards is about the longest distance I’ve seen Seth run – I mean, he’s 5. This is the kid, mind you, who simply can not stop thumping and jumping and bouncing and catapulting any waking hour – but as soon as we start a walk, it takes him the whole of 30 seconds to begin with: “Daddy, can you pleeeaaasssseee carry me on your shoulders? I’m soooooooo tired.”

At first I resisted, thinking the whole escapade would be futile and I’d end up frustrated. But heck, he was so eager, who could resist. So we said we would run to Mudhouse (about halfway on my route), me fully expecting we would make it about a whole 2 blocks and then walk the rest.

Dangit if that kid didn’t take it all the way, never letting up steam. Our pace wasn’t blazing, but steady. About every fourth step, Seth would say, “Daddy, this is so much fun / Daddy, I love this / Daddy, I’ve never gotten to jog before / Daddy, can we do this to Mudhouse other days? / Daddy, why do you run like a gazelle?” (okay, I made that last one up)

It was a blast. Running with my 5 year old son at my side. It was a little interesting to have slug-bugging** interjected into my running routine, but hey, spice it up, I say.

Crazy thing is that once we landed at Mudhouse and finished the strawberry-banana smoothie we shared, he said he wanted to run the whole way back. And we did.

Seth’s very first run: 2 miles. I’m impressed. And, mainly, filled with joy.

*Seth’s vehemance against the so-called “Man” is selective. He is still quite willing to imbibe a java chip light frappuccino whenever another family member has one he can scarf.

**Slug-bugging, for those unitiated, is the constant, ongoing game of punching the nearest family member in the arm at the sight of any Volkswagon Bug and declaring, post-hit, “Slug Bug.”

Bedtime Surprise

Wyatt, our first grader, has made the turn and dived headlong into reading. Most nights, we let him and Seth grab a book or two – and a flashlight – to take to bed. Tonight, I was pretty surprised when Wyatt pulled Holy Curiosity off the shelf. While walking back to his room, book in hand, Wyatt said, “Daddy, I like reading your books.”

A few minutes ago, I overheard Wyatt reading the dedication, out loud: To Wyatt and Seth…I pray you always have the courage to ask true questions; and I pray your heart is bold and patient to listen for God’s reply.

Hearing my six-year-old son read those words … it doesn’t get any better.

We Have a Reader

Backdrop: Wyatt’s two schools – Ravenel Elementary for kindergarten and Jackson-Via Elementary (woot jackrabbits!) for first grade – have both had these ramped-up 100 Book Challenges. Each night, the school sends home an easy-reader for Wyatt to “read.” (the quotation marks are because in the early days, it was us reading to him). Much of this has been of the “See Jane Run” variety, mind you. He’s progressed some these days, but still…

So, that is the necessary background for the following dialogue. However, when the question first came, I made no connection to these educational rituals.

seth (out of the blue): dad, have you read 100 books?
me: yeah, I think I’ve read 100 books.
wyatt: when?
me: well, just over my lifetime.
wyatt (unimpressed): hmm. I read 100 books in kindergarten.