Crying out, and crying it out

by the Night Writer

20 years ago I started to experience strange stress reactions that hit me like bouts of food poisoning. The first couple of times it happened I thought it was food poisoning. Whenever it hit, I knew I was going to have to stick close to a bathroom for the next 8 to 12 hours. I soon twigged to the stress triggers, though, that were really behind it. My brain would seek to sublimate and compartmentalize things that were going on at work, but my body would only put up with so much of that before it insisted on purging.What I recognized was that there was an area of my life that I hadn’t given the care over to God, and that holding onto this myself was becoming toxic. Once I recognized that, and released these stress factors to Him, the attacks stopped. Even the year that I lived with a death sentence spoken over my life, I never had another attack.

Until yesterday afternoon and throughout the night last night, that is.

When the attack started I again thought it was food poisoning from the slice of pizza I’d had at a corner shop by our apartment. I soon recognized my old, familiar, “friend.” As the waves wracked my body I tried to identify the source, to put my finger on what it was I’d been ignoring. It wasn’t work; I’ve got a great job that lets me “work from home” from anywhere I can cadge WiFi. I “pushed” various buttons to check the response, and knew I had hit the right one when the tears started pouring down my face. Can you guess what it was?

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All our best

by the Night Writer

As with Job, that which I have feared came upon me.

Today was the day that had long been foretold and expected; my oldest daughter’s last day in our church. I had originally had a vision of this day coming about 11 years ago, and 18 months ago we had had a preview of this as the Mall Diva and Son@Night prepared to begin his pastoral internship (see the link for details) at a church in Savage, MN, but today was the real thing. S@N was officially ordained last weekend in a ceremony in his home church in Alexandria and they are leaving on Tuesday for their new ministry in Iowa. Today was the day our church finally laid our hands on them to impart our blessing in sending them on their way, hopefully lacking in nothing.

Despite the ample warning I was having trouble this week preparing for the inevitable. It began at last week’s ordination service as I met a group from the Iowa congregation that had come to Alex for the ceremony. Given the way I feel about my daughters, I started to say to the leader of the group, “We are giving you our best” but my throat got too tight. Perhaps it’s better for them to come to this revelation for themselves. A couple of times at work this week I was nearly overcome as I thought about today, but fortunately no one came into my office at those times and my phone didn’t ring. My wife and I have always tried to have the perspective that our parenting is a stewardship of what God has given us, knowing that we’d have to pass them on at some point. It’s a worthy objective, but when you start to get close to that time the mix gets lean on theory and long on reality and sometimes your thoughts close in on yourself.

This morning I was thinking about all of this and asking for strength for the service when I felt God say to me, “Your problem is you are looking at this in terms of what you are losing, when you should be looking at it as what you are giving.”

Of course. Ah, of course.

I’ve experienced the spiritual phenomenon — so contrary to the “natural” way of the world — of giving time and money and seeing these multiplied back to me so often in so many ways that there’s almost never a second thought now when an opportunity to do one or the other arises. But Matthew 6:21 also tells us that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Time and money are one thing, but perhaps now we were getting down to the treasure closest to the heart and hardest to part with. But truly, I could no more withhold this than any of the other, nor expect any less to come back to me in return. In truth, I had given this long ago when we had set our feet on this path, putting in motion the desire of our heart to see God glorified and his plan come to pass; a path that also included my daughter making her own choices and embracing her destiny. And all of this in the realization of how much we had already received even before we had given a thing.

The reason for grandchildren

by the Night Writer

Down among the reeds and rushes
A baby boy was found
His eyes as clear as centuries
His silky hair was brown

Never been lonely
Never been lied to
Never had to scuffle in fear
Nothing denied to
Born at the instant
The church bells chime
And the whole world whispering
Born at the right time

Our pastor likes to say, “God gives you children so that you can grow up.” The point is that your thinking changes when you realize the long-term responsibility you have, and your behavior (hopefully) changes when you start to recognize your less admirable traits showing up in your children. Unless, of course, you don’t mind your child turning into a despicable evil genius.

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A second thought along this line occurred to me the other day: “and God gives you grandchildren so you can mature.” By that I mean the satisfaction that comes from seeing all the things you worked so hard to put into your child manifest itself in and around your grandchild. It’s the pay-off for the blood, sweat, tears and unpopular decisions you made to strengthen your own character as well as your son or daughter’s and it comes when you see how they love and teach their own children in turn, perhaps even with a greater patience and discipline than you yourself possessed at the same stage in your life. It’s at this point that you realize that your hopes for the future are bearing fruit and your work has passed from your hands.

I also realized that the same thing applies not just to the natural children you’ve borne or created, but to the “supernatural” or spiritual children you’ve discipled in the faith. How warm and glorious a feeling it is to see these children living on and sharing the things they’ve learned with others. Whether with natural or supernatural children, this is the point where you are truly overcome with the realization that something of you really is going to live on.

As an aside, this revelation may have germinated with me last week at the Bible study I lead at the Red Wing correctional facility. As it happens, each of the men in the study will be released at some point this year and I was moved to read the short chapter of Isaiah 61:1 to them. The first verse — “the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound…” — was what had first caught my attention, but it was the rest of the chapter that was the most powerful because it deals with what can happen for those that receive that word and that liberty. Among these is in verse 3 — “that they may be called trees of righteousness” — and especially verse 9: “Their descendants shall be known among the Gentiles, And their offspring among the people. All who see them shall acknowledge them, That they are the posterity whom the LORD has blessed.”

The mens’ faces were a bit gob-smacked as I challenged them to be those trees and I saw the realization soaking into them of the effect they could have into the next generation and the next in the families they had yet to create. “You have the chance,” I told them, “to have your grandchildren say of you either that ‘Grandpa did 10 to 20’ or that ‘Grandpa was a mighty man of righteousness who was an example to our family and set my feet on the path.'”

And T. added, “Or they could say both.”

As for my own grandson, now five and a half months old, his face often has gobs of different things on it, but it is almost invariably smiling. And why shouldn’t he? He is literally surrounded by people who love him and are happy to see him and quick to want to hold him. As Paul Simon said at the beginning of this post, he’s never been lonely, never been lied to, never had to scuffle for fear or had anything he needs denied to him.  If called upon I would gladly and readily pour everything I am and everything I have into him, but I can relax because I see that my daughter and her husband already know what it is they have to impart. My heart overflows with joy when I watch my grandson or hold him close and at the same time I feel an ache knowing that every day the news brings stories of babies that are resented, cursed and abused.

I look into his eyes, as clear as centuries, and stroke his silky brown hair and think of those born into suffering now and the deprivation they face that goes beyond mere food, clothing and shelter. I think of their lives and future paths leading into captivity and the need for someone, someday, to bring the words of liberty. And I hold my grandson even closer and whisper into his ear, “Born at the right time.”

First Christmas, Last Christmas

By the Night Writer

Christmas card file

This time last year the Christmas presents represented only a portion of everything that was under wraps. We had learned a couple of weeks earlier that the Mall Diva and Son@Night, looking forward to celebrating their first Christmas together, were also going to be looking forward to their first-born child. In due season their son Benjamin, aka Baby Moose, was born and it has seemed as if the summer and fall have flown by as we’ve watched him grow prodigiously in size and charm. As he has gotten bigger, and his first Christmas has gotten nearer, I’ve tried to hold the passing days as closely as I’ve held him; he has been full of giggles, the days not so much.

This year, as we count down the days until Christmas with the usual excitement I am also counting the dwindling days of what could likely be our last Christmas together, at least as we’ve come to know it. The Diva and the Senior Moose have lived with us since they were married as Ben finished seminary and renovated our porch to hold their unexpectedly growing family. While we waited for the baby to come he finished his classes and his internship and awaited his call to ministry. Just as Christmas and babies do, this too arrived at last and they will be moving to Iowa early in the new year to begin an exciting time in the life of their new family, even if it’s in a career field where your employers somehow don’t expect you to take Christmas off.  Tomorrow we’ll wake up one more time as the Mall Diva and Tiger Lilly romp downstairs to collect the stockings and bring them into my wife’s and my bedroom for the “appetizers” before we go downstairs to rip open the rest of the presents. That has become our tradition, though with twists; this year, for example, both Ben and our new friend from China, Lynx, will join us upstairs and there might be a baby as well. As for next year…

This year’s Christmas card photo is different from ones we’ve done in the past where we’re usually bunched up. I don’t know if it was intentional (you’ll have to ask the Reverend Mother who art-directed the photo) but symbolically as I look at it you can see the young family moving away, even as my youngest daughter herself has taken steps in the past year along a path that may wind itself far away. Standing together, of course, are my wife and I on our home turf. We’re not lonely, however – at least, not yet. Let’s not overlook our “adopted daughter”, Lynx, who is working on a Master’s degree in Accounting at the University of Minnesota. Her future and career are apt to lie far away but she stands in the gap in this picture to represent the new people who will come into our lives, perhaps even from unexpected places.

Last night I sat with the men in the Bible Study at Red Wing Correctional. For each of them, as well, this a “last” Christmas, as each is scheduled to be released in 2011. A couple of them have been in prison for around twenty years, and one man told me he actually feels a certain warmth and nostalgia about this Christmas. “As terrible as it is to be here,” he said, “I know that I have friends here who know me and understand what I’ve been through in a way that no one else in my life will likely ever be able to do. I want to be out, but at the same time I appreciate what I have here in a way that I never would have expected.” He’s looking at this Christmas as his best ever, and though he’s especially looking forward to next Christmas as well, there’s some nervousness about that. It can be hard, after all, to know how to go about starting a new tradition.

I can relate.

Come to think of it, though, we didn’t put a lot of thought into the traditions we started. We just did what seemed natural to us as we kept our eyes on a special future and somehow it all came together. I wouldn’t change a thing, and while I may hold my breath, I look forward to what is to come, confident that our vision is intact and the future we are standing on is as bright as the snow in our Christmas photo.

Exciting News!

by the Night Writer
Shadow of the Reapers Photo - smaller

We just learned today that Tiger Lilly’s first book, “Shadow of the Reapers”, which was serialized here, won first prize in the category Middle Grades/Young Adult fiction in a Self-Published book contest put on by The Writer’s Digest. Along with the award she picks up a nice little chunk of cash, some writerly swag, and a cool sticker she can put on the cover of her book, proclaiming her prowess. She’ll also get some coverage/promotion in The Writer’s Digest magazine next spring.

Woo-hoo! There’s gonna be some ice cream tonight!!!

No snoose, please

by the Night Writer

I used to tell the Mall Diva that she couldn’t go to Keegan’s with me unless she blogged something that week. Apparently the lesson became so ingrained — or Keegan’s appeal so great — that the baby has taken the message to heart. With the MOB summer party coming up on August 14th, little Moose took advantage of all the free time he has to launch his own blog.

I’m not surprised, given the pedigree, but I thought he’d hang around here with the rest of the family. Oh well, if you want short, first-person accounts of his take on this brave new world he’s encountered be sure to bookmark and visit MooSnooze.

With arms wide open

by the Night Writer

On Friday night, two weeks past his due date and as his mother was enjoying a kitchen-sink burger at the Groveland Tap, my grandson started to indicate that he was finally serious about moving out. As the pre-labor contractions firmed up we all headed for home to wait. According to Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part, but then he never gave birth. Make no mistake, the waiting is pretty hard but while one’s butt might get tired and sore from sitting around, it doesn’t compare to one’s body preparing itself to expel another living human.

We went to bed Friday night with some restless anticipation, but nothing significant transpired. Saturday morning Faith (aka, “Mall Diva” and “Mom”) had an appointment with Dr. Sharon, who the Reverend Mother dubbed “the Spin Doctor”. She’s a chiropractor with a specialty in “spinning” babies into position. I went with Faith and Ben to the appointment as Faith had “silent” contractions. That is, she’d stop talking in mid-sentence and close her eyes as the wave passed. Dr. Sharon did her thing and put Faith on a special table for about an hour and a half where she was able to really relax; it was an important break because Faith hadn’t slept much Friday night and it was going to be awhile before she could again. By Saturday afternoon the contractions were “louder” in that Faith managed the pain by using lower-pitched groans. It was upsetting for me at first because it triggered the “Dad the Defender” synapses but once I realized it was a useful technique I settled down. A little. Faith’s voice and breath training as a singer paid off; she stayed in key and projected, though her normal contralto was now more alto. The mid-wives, Maureen and Allie, arrived about 10:30 Saturday night to take over. Great – let’s have a baby, right? Not so fast (believe me, not so fast).

Anyway, things went along pretty much according to nature and God’s timing, and it appeared (to me, anyway) that we were on-track for a delivery sometime after daybreak on Sunday. I mostly kept myself out of the way but would come upstairs every couple of hours Saturday night/Sunday morning to check on the situation. The Reverend Mother, Tiger Lilly and another friend, Anna, took turns laying next to Faith and rubbing her back while Papa Ben stayed face-to-Faith. I’d pop my head in and say things like, “I love you” and “You’re doing great!” or “What’s taking so long?” (Everybody’s got to have a job, after all). About 6:30 in the morning I went out to get doughnuts for the team, thinking we’d be ready for a celebration or otherwise need a sugar-rush to power through at the end. This ever-so-reluctant-baby, though, was still not finding things to his liking. Allie called Dr. Sharon and asked if she could make a house-call, which she was happy to do. Turns out that the mother’s pelvis was not at the right angle and it was keeping the baby’s head from dropping down into the delivery channel. With a little show and tell, Dr. Sharon fixed the situation and — Voila — the baby was ready to hit the beach. Well, again, not quite. It was late morning by now and Faith was exhausted. Her and the baby’s vital signs were all good (except for the brief moment when the baby’s heart-rate plunged while everyone else’s tripled but all went back to normal after a shift in position) but Maureen said that Faith needed a couple of hours of rest, now that the baby was in position, so she could have the strength for the delivery itself. (We’re pretty certain, btw, that if Faith had been in a hospital and the baby wasn’t getting into position that the doctor would have been calling for a C-section). We discussed the situation and contingency plans with Maureen for “if-then” scenarios. Since mother and baby weren’t in any distress, however, and Faith was adamant about having the baby at home, Faith would take some Benadryl and rest for a couple of hours. After that, the hospital was a distinct option, but only if there was a problem.

After the nap it was back into production mode. It wasn’t entirely smooth but Faith was so courageous and composed throughout. She never got angry or said anything nasty and even when she was totally exhausted she had the inner resources and determination to push through, with her mother and sister close at hand. Finally, at 5:58 my youngest daughter, Tiger Lilly, hollered downstairs, “Daddy, come see your new grandson!” As I thundered up the stairs I heard a brand new voice — crying at the top of his new but strong lungs — and that’s when my head nearly spun off of my body at the enormity of what had actually happened, right here in my own home, to my own daughter. Just moments ago the only thing we could hear of him was the heatbeat on the monitor, and now — a voice! I’d already well-imagined a face, hair, little fists and feet — but never thought about hearing him for the first time! The stairway seemed to contract on me for a moment as if I were making my own way out into a new world and then I joined the crowd in the bedroom, shouldering my place into line to wait, with arms wide-open, for my turn to hold him.


Benjamin West Worley, 8 pounds, 13 ounces, and 21 3/4″ long, born at 5:58 p.m. on July 25, year of our Lord 2010.

For Faith and Ben:

Your bright baby blues

by the Night Writer

One of my favorite albums when I was in college was Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender”. While I preferred my music fast and loud back then, I usually listened to this album on my headphones while laying on the couch with my eyes closed. One of the best cuts, for me, was the song “Your Bright Baby Blues”.

‘Cause I’ve been up and down this highway
Far as my eyes can see
No matter how fast I run
I can never seem to get away from me
No matter where I am
I can’t help feeling I’m just a day away
From where I want to be
Now I’m running home, baby
Like a river to the sea

Some 20 years later — and some 15 years ago — I came across the album on CD and bought it and brought it home. After dinner I dropped it in the stereo and stretched out on the couch and closed my eyes. That time, however, I could also hear from down the hall my wife’s gentle tones and the high-pitched talking and giggles of my daughters as my wife bathed them. It was a dizzying, almost out-of-body experience as I listened to the old tune and old words while the best part of my new life ebbed and flowed around me like the fresh bath water.

It’s so hard to come by
That feeling of peace
This friend of mine said
“Close your eyes, and try a few of these”
I thought I was flying like a bird
So far above my sorrow
But when I looked down
I was standing on my knees
Now I need someone to help me
Someone to help me please

Ah, the things we will desperately pursue when real peace is already close at hand and really not so hard to come by after all. And how hard it is to let go of the nominal comforts of the present to grasp the change and greater joy we know not of.

I thought of that long-ago magic bubble of a moment again this morning — and of those little girl voices — when “Your Bright Baby Blues” shuffled up on my Touch as I took the train to work. The last few days have been full of anticipation as the oldest of those once little girls is now due to deliver her first child at any time. We are all waiting in eager anticipation as the little one dawdles and takes his sweet time, apparently in no rush to leave his comfy quarters with all the amenities to which he’s become accustomed.

Baby if you can hear me
Turn down your radio
There’s just one thing
I want you to know
When you’ve been near me
I’ve felt the love stirring in my soul

Come, child, it’s time and there are songs to sing out here and yours is just beginning.

Grandfather’s Day

by the Night Writer

I was moved by the story yesterday of the Mentor, MN man who was killed when he used his own body to protect his 25-year-old daughter from debris during a tornado. The man, Wes Michaels, was the owner of the Cenex station in Mentor and was taking the day off to celebrate his 58th birthday. His daughter was covering for him at the station. When he heard the news reports of severe weather headed their direction he went to his business to check on things and to warn his daughter and their customers. Shortly after arriving he saw the tornado coming right at them, and directed everyone into the business’s walk-in cooler, finally laying himself down on top of his daughter as the tornado hit. She survived with bruises and some stiffness … and an eternal reminder of a father’s love.

It symbolizes for me the ideal of a father literally laying down his life for his child; I’d even imagine that Mr. Michaels didn’t even think twice in the moment but reacted automatically as he would have done if his daughter were five instead of 25. I will even imagine that any father I know would do the same thing, even though we may never come face to face with a tornado. This morning, however, as I spoke to our Inside Outfitters group (consisting mainly of men going through drug and/or chemical rehab at Minnesota Teen Challenge) I wanted them to understand that the willingness to give up your life in a sudden instant is merely a dramatic part of what it means to lay down your life as a father.

Several years ago I wrote an essay on marriage where I suggested that most husbands, if it came down to it, would be willing to take a bullet for their wives. The real question, I said, is “Will you give her the last doughnut?” The point I was getting at is that we need to “die” to ourselves daily by putting aside our selfish interests (and newspapers) to do what is necessary to support our wives. It’s not as romantic as going out in a blaze of glory, but it is more beneficial to long-term happiness. Similarly, what I wanted the men to grasp today is that being a father bears a quite similar obligation; to put aside our self-interests as needed in order to provide a better life for our children. In the case of these men, for example, that means denying our desires or rationalizations to drink or do drugs in order to create a stable environment and so we can “be there” — as opposed to prison — when our children (and wives) need us.

I elaborated a bit on Mr. Michaels’ example, noting how he saw the storm coming, and how he put himself into position to protect his daughter. Similarly, we need to recognize the storms that can come and put ourselves in a position to love, nurture and protect…even if our inclination is do something else. Even if we didn’t receive an example of that ourselves growing up. I know that that is an ideal that my wife and I have tried to live up to for our children, and it has shaped the way we invested our time and spent our money. I can’t say that I’ve never indulged myself or that I’ve been totally self-sacrificing, or that I’ve always been cheerful about the responsibility, but it is an obligation that I recognize as being very real and even tangible.

So, anyway, I shared these thoughts with the men this morning and, as often happens, meditated upon them for myself after I went back to my seat. I did a little check-up to see if I’m still trying to live up to this ideal now that my children are older; now that, in fact, one of my daugthers is about to have a child of her own. And, as it often happens, I was immediately confronted with a situation where I have been harboring my own selfish thoughts and thinking about my own comfort and not about what others needed from me.

As my daughter shared the other day, she is planning on a home birth (which means — since she and Ben are living with us while he finishes his internship and last semester of seminary — my home). She has acquired the necessary accessories and assembled a crack team of her husband, mother, close friends and an experienced mid-wife all ready to swing into action at any moment day or night. For my part, as much as I am eager to see my first grandchild, I don’t want to be anywhere close to the action as the labor takes place and the baby arrives. I was there in person with my wife as our children were born and it was something I wouldn’t have dreamed of missing. The thought of hearing my own daughter’s travail, however, makes me weak in the knees. After all these years of looking out for her, it just seems so counter-intuitive. Of course, I was thinking only of what it meant to me, and not to her. I have said that I wanted to be playing 36 holes of golf while this was going on, or waiting a mile away at Buffalo Wild Wings to get the news and, bless her heart, my daughter has merely nodded and guarded her expression, though I believe I could tell it hurt her to some extent, even though I’ve tried to deny it to myself.

As I confronted this in myself today I knew that my place is here. Not in the same room, but close by, praying, jingling car keys, lifting furniture…just — as I’ve always promised my girls — being there. Even if I’d rather face down a tornado.

Here’s more about Wes Michaels. Sounds like he was a great example in so many ways.

I’m getting back in practice

by the Night Writer

My grandson is scheduled to arrive in July and will join his parents in residence at the Night Chateu, no doubt soaking up most of the attention in the household that is currently being devoted to Sly, the Family Rat. Or perhaps receiving even more attention than Sly. After all, I haven’t yet waltzed through the house with Sly, singing, the way I did with my children when they were little…or the way I’ll do with the beh-beh.

And of course, I will sing the same song I sang to his mother and auntie.