As I write you are lying just a few feet from me, pumping your arms and legs as you enjoy your activity mat. It is definitely your favorite place these days, though you are becoming a huge mama’s boy so every time you catch me in the act of actually putting you down you scream. It only takes a minute before you realize you’re in a good place and then you are agreeable enough.
You’re growing fast and you are solid weight – so heavy. In the last month the way your face seems to be a perfect clone of Meredith’s is being tempered a little by bits of Jacob’s features emerging. It’s fascinating, having a third child. Often I find myself reasoning that of course you’ll either be like Jacob or like Meredith, or somewhere in between, and then I realize that they do not define a spectrum onto which you fit, rather, you are wholly other: a point on a triangle full of mysterious little ways and quirks and personalities and looks. You are you, not them. Of course, you are them too, and it is fun to see the mash-up that a third is.
These days you’re sleeping a lot in your crib but impressing me with your flexibility by sleeping out of it, too. All it seems you need to make your eyes go heavy is your yellow blankie rubbed up against your face. It’s pure magic. You don’t want to have your arms swaddled down anymore and you’re developing a love for two or three fingers stuck in your mouth. Sometimes if we’ve swaddled you I’ll come to find the swaddle loosened and sopping with slobber from your fist reaching your face through it. In your crib you are happy awake, too, and I love to catch those quiet moments where I’ve put you to rest and find you staring up at those birdies I made. Somehow they got the name Stupid Birdies this summer, but now that you are serenading them with stories of your own woes and escapades, there’s a new name emerging: Bitchin’ Birdies. I just can’t help it.
There’s a lot of cranky going on the last week or so. I’m trying to be patient with it, knowing that in large part I have created it by our travels and several other disrupted nights, like the night I should’ve been writing your journal over the weekend that I spent on a midnight trip to the ER instead because of a migraine. You came with us since we didn’t know how long we’d be, and you were pretty pleased with the expedition, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. We were not entertained despite your best efforts.
Speaking of cranky, there you go again…
And now here you are next to my desk feasting your eyes on my face, you stinker. Your smile is BEYOND. People always comment on it, and especially on your amazing eyebrows, and how you can smile with one half of your face at a time if you want. That, combined with your big, big ears and the way you grasp your hands together in front of you – that’s a pretty good verbal snapshot of your not-crying self. It’s hard to look away.
This month was pretty wonderful, even if it was punctuated over and over with sickness. You had another big cold a few weeks ago, and then on Sunday you had a low fever and a very bad attitude. Now that you’re exactly the age Jacob was in our first days in Indiana all kinds of memories are returning of how he was at that stage, so it’s making me feel that your thrice-nightly wakings and all your grumping is probably just a normal phase. I recall a desperate conversation with some new mom friends about that very thing four years ago.
So I’m trying to ride it out patiently, but I’m also trying to shepherd you into some sane practices, like sleeping at night. Basically just that. You’ve been waking over and over at night and putting up a huge bedtime fuss and while I love you dearly, it is very much time for me to catch up on sleep since you are a generous 16-17 pounds and I am experiencing things like migraines that send me to the hospital. So you’ll forgive me if I let you cry it out a couple nights this week until we get some healthier patterns going. I am not going to be much good to you if I don’t get a few hours off every night.
Unless you want to smile all the time, in which case, I’m all in.
I didn’t think so.
As I was saying, this month was wonderful. There’s been so much simplicity and space to enjoy each other and there’s been so much adventure and good company, starting with the day after you were 3 months, when Auntie Becks arrived for a week of unending fun. She brought with her the most stunning handmade quilt, just for you. Your name is even hand-printed on a tag. It is blues and yellows like your nursery and just as happy as could possibly be. Appliquéd onto it are fishies, sunshine, a sailboat… It couldn’t be more darling.
Now that quilt hangs on our stair banister along with the two belonging to Jacob and Merry, which had been on a dusty shelf before the arrival of yours inspired me to revisit them. Together they complete our “gallery wall” complete with gallery lighting. I never tire of looking at the scene in the evenings when things are quiet: above the banister on the back wall, my mom’s oil paintings of Africa, scenes from just before Daddy & I were married. Now along with them, in the foreground and at a child’s height, the child-artwork – heirlooms no less than the paintings. I love this because it rounds out the identity of our home: You three live here, too. Full citizens. Our gallery wall gives that away.
More about citizenship in a little while. For now, the rest of those aforementioned wonderful things:
The discovery of your very own hands and feet (you’re talking to your fingers earnestly right now) and the coming-of-age day when you first joined dinner sitting atop the table in your big yellow bumbo chair, filling in the circle of us. Jacob and I sometimes hold your feet at prayers, finishing the chain begun by all our hands.
There are noisy, squeaky, hilarious giggles now. There’s been lots of quiet and snuggles, too, and lots of napping on people (you pampered thing), and even one nap on your tummy that you pretended to like just long enough for a couple adorable photos before you raised hell about it. And your vision is developing and you can watch me from across the room.
You’re learning to love the attention of Jacob & Meredith, and you get plenty of it, though Meredith’s attention almost always comes with a side of “Sorry, Joshua” when we notice just how hard she’s yanking on your arm or drumming on your belly.
You’re getting more and more baths these days (read: more than once every two weeks) and this week I am trying to implement a strategy another mom friend related to me: household bedtime is a single number on the clock, but the big kids go see to themselves in their space for awhile while the baby gets Mommy (and Daddy if you’re lucky) to himself. I have high hopes for you in this regard, and delusional visions fueled by my nostalgia from Jacob’s infancy, when, after his nightly bath, Daddy & I held him between us and rocked him back and forth, back and forth, while we sang a quiet hymn, prayed, and gave him our last kisses. We’re a long way from there, but at least we’re trying?
Someday when you think you have Jacob to be jealous of we can talk about how he didn’t get an ounce of attention out of me between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. starting when he was barely three months old. You’re not doing half-bad for yourself, you third child you.
You went on your first road trip this month and met all kinds of aunties and uncles. It was the celebration of Uncle Peter & Auntie Lyssi’s marriage, and we loaded up the van and, along with Auntie Becks, drove the 11 hours to Minneapolis. Did I say 11? That didn’t include stops. We left at 4:15 a.m., lost an hour to time zones, and arrived in time for a 6:30 p.m. dinner at the home of our honorary Grandma Lynne & Grandpa Al. You did so much better than I thought you would spending the whole day in the carseat, but even still, your limit was 90 minutes before you would tell us all very frankly just how disgusted you were with this new way of life. We tried to make it up to you with the lavish affection of an actual grownup sitting beside you, and once you even got to take the steering wheel for a few boring minutes in a parking lot.
Over the course of our short-but-sweet visit to the place that was home for Daddy & me, one very monumental moment took place: you got to meet your namesake. How we looked forward to that moment with eager anticipation! We’ve imagined it since long before you were born. And it did not disappoint. It felt almost too good to be true, but there it was: real; so much realer even than our daydreams five years ago that maybe we’d have a son someday and maybe we’d name him Joshua. Well, we did, and that is why: because you share that name with one of the best friends we’ve ever known, one of the truest Jesus-disciples we’ve had the honor and pleasure of witnessing. Truth be told, you need to know we did this almost as much for him as we did for you, because he is a man worthy of honor, and we wanted him and anyone else who cared to notice to know we thought so: And there you are. That meeting was a deeper joy than we could’ve imagined it. There were some pretty great smiles.
What I mostly want to tell you about is something I alluded to before: citizenship. But let me begin with the gift you received from Josh & his family. It is a beautifully illustrated collection of poetry, but not just any poetry. It is poetry for Easter. This is significant simply because it is the heart – the very life-blood – of the Christian story and identity. But it’s doubly significant because every year near Easter we have been in the practice of honoring the memory of our dear friend’s precious children, “awaiting the resurrection.” That story is theirs and not mine, so I will keep my story moving, but the point is that the resurrection is not a small concept in our world or theirs. Or yours.
Resurrection. As my friend Hannah reminded me the other night, Gandalf speaks of this time and place where “everything bad becomes untrue.” I hardly know a better way to explain what resurrection means; to capture the enormous scope of its power. Like tender grass growing with enough determination to break thick concrete, resurrection is nothing if not life-force. It is God’s currency: It is his identity. Our God is the author of and Chief celebrator of Life. Nothing is truer than life. Nothing is stronger. Because of the resurrection, the curse reversed, nothing can stop this force. Not concrete and not deep evil. I’ve been reflecting on this daily for weeks now, not only contemplating it abstractly but recognizing it all over the death-marked terrain of my own world. I feel it in my bones, and some days it erupts right out of my face and I can feel myself smiling for no other reason than Life. And somehow, my son, you – your life, your presence, your name, your timing – is taking all this on as meaning.
But I said this is about citizenship, and I’m getting there. September 13 was a special day in our world. Daddy took one of his two annual Sundays off from his church job and we gathered with a group of believers that we’ve been growing with over the last year. In this weird season we’re in with two churches, they are becoming our Christian “family.” Usually I go alone with you kids while Daddy plays second service at his church-of-employment. This time Daddy came with us, too, a rare chance for us to be nothing but a family at worship together. We took membership vows at that church on that day, and that alone was monumental for us. But better still, we witnessed your baptism, and this is what I’ve been thinking about it in these last few days:
Whatever stripe your theology happens to be, it’s easy to agree across Christendom that baptism is the rite of citizenship. “You belong here,” it says. I like the way Psalm 87 puts it: “This one was born there.” So what does it mean, this citizenship that we’ve claimed for you before you can even say your own name? It means we’ve claimed that resurrection life-force for you. I can’t help but think of Gandalf’s words about bad things coming untrue as I reflect on those words in the baptism liturgy:
“I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, to reject sin, and to confess the faith of Christ’s church throughout all cultures and ages. Do you renounce the devil and all the forces that defy God? Do you renounce the powers of this world that rebel against God? Do you renounce the ways of sin that draw you from God?”
Claiming this citizenship means standing up and claiming that all the bad things will become untrue. That, at very least, they are not as true as the good things. We are not so much claiming for you a way of life as we are claiming for you Life. Unstoppable, unquenchable, grass-growing-through-concrete Life.
So Pastor Dan prayed, “By the baptism of Jesus’ death and resurrection, You set us free from the power of sin and death and raise us up to live with You. Pour out your Holy Spirit, the power of Your Living Word, that those who are washed in the waters of baptism may be given new life, because of your everlasting covenant.”
And we met this question with a sure and happy Yes: “Do you now unreservedly dedicate your children to God and promise in humble reliance upon divine grace that you will endeavor to teach them the doctrines of our holy religion and strive by all the means of God’s appointment to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?” That same friend who reminded me of Gandalf the other day said there was a word that jumped out at her as she saw you baptized. It was that word “unreservedly.” That’s a big claim, and it makes you wonder – what are we getting into? What are we getting YOU into? Do we have any reservations?
Again I say, what we’re claiming for you is life. What we’re renouncing is Satan and His power and the forces of evil and the things that draw us from God. No. I don’t have any reservations about this, because I have seen more than I care to see of all these evil things already in thirty years and, Yes. I renounce them. I renounce them for you. And I unreservedly claim this Life Force as true and as something to which you belong. Something which belongs to you.
This is citizenship in God’s kingdom. The Life-Kingdom. Are there sweeter words than these? “Joshua Levi, child of the covenant, you’ve been given the sign of God’s promise of grace through Christ. We welcome you into the Body of Christ and the mission we share. Join us in giving thanks and praise to God and bearing the creative and redeeming gospel of Christ to the world.”
My son, you have received the water of baptism and been marked with the sign of the cross forever. You belong to Jesus. Life is yours and you are His. Welcome to the party. It never ends. All the bad things become untrue. All the good things are unstoppably alive.
I love you, it’s true. But Jesus loves you. Oh, how He loves you! And nothing else is truer.