I ended up spending the 3rd of this month in the hospital. In the weeks before that I’d had plenty of things bouncing around in my head to say to you, but they have all been escaping me in the bustle. And, I’m beginning to suspect, because I’m too lazy to write them down as they come. Still, this rhythm of reflection has become so important to me and I don’t want to let February go by unmarked.
We’ve done so much the last two months. Claire visited us while Daddy was in Alabama the first time. Laura visited us while Daddy was in Alabama the second time. Daddy was in Alabama twice. Did I mention that? He was on an installation job with his organ building company. We missed him so much but we made the best of it and spent a lot of sweet, quiet time together. I kept my expectations low.
When Laura visited she took a train into Chicago and we drove north to fetch her. We were supposed to drive her back, too, but that’s when I wound up in the hospital. Anyway, on our drive up we stayed the night at your cousin’s house. It was loads of fun, except for the part where you explained to me that you didn’t want to go to bed. I asked why. You said you didn’t want to have a slumber party. I asked why. You said, well, you wanted to sleep with Merry, just not with Hilary. It was because you were expecting Hilary to cry. Sure enough, she did. I love your sweet, tender heart. You’ve barely changed since those first days when Meredith was a newborn and her tears always invoked your own. So I snuggled you on the couch while Hilary sorted herself out and got comfy with the idea of a slumber party in the room she usually inhabits alone.
Then we drove into the city to meet the train. Only I forgot to actually consult my calendar for the arrival time, so when I sent Auntie Laura a text at 1:55 saying “we’re driving around downtown by the station. You still due for 2:15?” She wrote back “Umm… My train is due in at 3:55.” Yes, it was. So we went for an adventure and you got to taste a little of the fever your mommy always has when in the heart of a big city. Oh, I love it. You did, too, watching all its workings in wonder and talking about everything you saw. Sometimes my best guess is that you are going to grow up to be a civil engineer. We drove twenty minutes up the coast of Lake Michigan and twenty minutes back down. Then we meandered amongst the skyscrapers and trains and buses and business-people. On that drive you serenaded us with a complete rendition of our washing machine’s wash cycle. This is normal. I’m not exaggerating. It’s just what you were thinking about. You’ve got it memorized, pitch-perfect. Eventually we paid to park and huddled deep into our coats as we walked a few blocks in the Windy City in search of a bathroom. From there we met Auntie Laura at the train station, stopped for a snack, and began the long drive home. It was a good day.
The week following is all a blur to me because I was in a lot of pain. We spent lots of happy, simple time with dear Auntie Laura, reconnecting. She loves you so much, Jacob, and she has since you were tinier than the baby brother in my belly. She brought you a present, and it couldn’t have been more perfect: a big board book called Katy and the Big Snow. The book has maps in it, and you and Laura poured over the maps as she read it to you. Then one day we went to the library and afterwards, while I ran a quick errand at the grocery store, you and Laura and Meredith walked a block south to the fire station. I arrived to fetch you but you were just getting warmed up, so I stood there in wonder and delight as you interviewed the firefighters and marveled at everything you saw. You had a lot to say, as usual, and most of it was in the form of questions about how things worked and how they related to each other. And as everyone who spends any time talking with you remarks, the firefighters turned to me: “He’s gonna be an engineer, isn’t he?”
Yes. Yes he is.
The next day I didn’t see you at all since kids aren’t allowed to visit the hospital during flu season. After ignoring pain for a week I finally hauled myself to the emergency room in the middle of the night, when I was waking from pain every half hour. I couldn’t imagine what was wrong. I just knew it was “bad pain.” I’d stopped insisting to myself that it was just a muscle spasm triggered by the drive to Chicago and back. The hospital admitted me, and then laughed at me when I asked if I’d be able to go home when morning came. They hooked me up to an IV and pumped me full of liquid, antibiotics, and narcotic. I was dehydrated and I had a kidney infection. They let me go home the next day. I slept a lot. I stayed in bed all day. I drank so much water. And I felt so, so good, lying there in the dark and silence, taking care of nothing but myself.
We are in a stressful season of life, Jacob. As if Daddy being on the road for three weeks in a single month weren’t enough, now we are in high gear working on our wonderful new house, renovating it as fast as we can in hopes of settling into it before your brother (yes, it’s a boy) arrives. This means Daddy is taking a lot of time off work, which means we will, once again, be eating so, so many beans. And it means all my time and energy is being spent designing and planning and researching. I tend to always carry a tape measure in my purse now just in case. And Daddy spends all his time at the house. You find it all fascinating, and often while we’re talking you interrupt: “Are you talking about the new house or the old house right now?” You referred to “our contractor” this morning when we were at a play group. We don’t eat very interesting food these days and the house (I’m talking about the old house) is usually pretty dirty. (Then, so is the new one.) I feel like I never have time for anything else, and balusters were the last thing I thought about as I fell asleep last night and the first thing I thought about when I woke up.
This morning I got thinking about leisure. The only effective antidote to the stress level these days is to visualize this summer and fall when life will feel so simple by comparison to this season. As I prayed and reflected this morning I realized that leisure is something that I idolize. It was a sudden epiphany, as I tried for the millionth time to manage a quarrel I was overhearing between you and Meredith by giving orders for behavior instead of getting up off my butt to go enter into where your hearts were. This recognition of my own laziness surprised me since I have always been a highly-driven, highly-productive person. I want to share the ensuing thought process with you, because I expect you’ll grow up with the same Type-A personality that Daddy and I live out every day. I’m beginning to recognize that our personality traits are no replacement for real spiritual disciplines. Cultivating actual virtue is difficult business, and a natural penchant within yourself will not give you a free pass.
In fact, I got to thinking this morning that it’s kind of like perfect pitch in a musician. I’ll follow this analogy here because I expect you’ll know what I’m talking about. Everyone thinks it’s an asset. And while it’s true that you can take a melodic dictation, or rapidly parse out a harmonic dictation by hearing all the components individually with great certainty and clarity, while it can give you good, strong intonation and tuning in performance situations, it is very far from the same thing as a strong ear. Because of my perfect pitch it is almost impossible for my brain to hear harmonic color. I can’t listen to a symphony and hear a German augmented chord or a flat-VI or a Neapolitan and recognize those distinct harmonies for their tonal quality. I can only hear their members and do the instant math in my head, which only works when I am routinely maintaining that language. It’s as if you were to spend your whole life reading letters instead of words.
To return to the spiritual equivalent, I’m realizing that my lack of diligence is disguised by my productive personality. I’m realizing that in many ways I am weak spiritually because I rely on my own nature instead of the Holy Spirit, creating a distortion of something that, when it comes from the Holy Spirit, is holy. I need wisdom to see into my own heart and realize where I am choosing leisure at the expense of good, sabotaging the life that God invites me to and asks me to create. If I rely on my own inclinations, the desire for leisure gets twisted, overgrown with selfishness. I am beginning to recognize that my own personality and its natural tendencies towards things that, abstractly, may appear to be virtues, has made me weak in relying on the Holy Spirit. I consider myself a hard-working, driven, Type-A person, motivated and conscientious. But this is different from diligence and self-control. I never thought before that my strengths could become crutches, making me atrophied instead of strong.
I don’t know what this may look like for you in months and years to come. But I do know that I want for you so much more than what can grow naturally from a strong personality and character. There is no substitute for daily, moment-by-moment dependence on the Holy Spirit, denying your own flesh, putting off the old man and putting on the new. Anything easier than that is counterfeit and susceptible to all kinds of distortion. It will not make you happy and it will not make anyone you love happy, either. And, sweet boy, I so dearly want you to be happy.
I love you.