Love Song to a 3-Year Old

We named our third son Gabriel. In his three-and-a-half years on this planet, he has failed to live up to his Biblical namesake, the archangel and pillar of uprightness who usually showed up as a representative of the Lord of Hosts. You would think Gabe would be tall and strong, full of integrity and honor, slow to speak, wise beyond knowing, calm and collected and sure.

This is not the case.

Gabe is a handful. He often requires one parent or other responsible adult assigned specifically to him. He’s either really happy or really upset — and he can get pretty upset. It’s all out there for anyone to see. Joy or devastation, and not much in between.

He’s the kid who will commit some egregious offense — throwing down his brother’s carefully built Lego creation, for instance — and then while getting a lecture and/or other discipline, will pucker up and plant one on you with a laugh. It’s impossible to keep a straight face when he does that.

When he walks up to you sometimes, you’re not sure if he’s going to hit you or hug you, so you have to brace yourself. He’ll also try to talk his way out of getting in trouble. “I’m going to be nicer,” he’ll say. “I’m not going to do that anymore.”

The dimple in his left cheek makes him impossibly cute when he smiles. That’s probably gonna save him a few times. He loves to make other people laugh, often at the dinner table, and often instead of partaking in the food he’s supposed to be eating. (Unless it’s chips. He really loves chips.) He’s usually darting glances at his siblings, trying to get their attention, trying to amuse them, trying to distract them when we’re talking. I’ve already preemptively apologized to his future teachers for the class clown  headed their way.

He talks endlessly, saying the same thing over and over, his voice getting higher and higher, talking right over you and then talking some more until something in your brain finally snaps and you (gently, gently) take his chubby little face between your hands and somehow spit out just one word: “STOP!”

If he’s not happy with something you’ve said, he’ll go, “Aw, nuts!” When he’s mad, it’s full-fledged fury, arms folded, crying, yelling, fussing, pouting, loud. Did I mention he has red hair? Could be part of the problem.

But lately, he’s been sweeter. He wants more hugs. When you tell him to do something he says, “Okay!” in a cheerful voice and runs off to do it. He comes into the room and waves a quiet, sweet little wave that melts your heart. He gives real kisses now, instead of trying to fake you out by pretending he’s going to kiss you and instead sticking out his tongue and licking your cheek, laughing the whole time.

He rubs your back. He lays beside you. He smiles more. He tells the truth instead of lying about what he did. He talks in sentences. He says “Thanks!” when you hand him just about anything.

He’s very cute these days, and he’s winning our hearts. He’s going to be a hero or a clown someday, but he won’t be middle-of-the-road. He still has a long ways to go to live up to his namesake, but there’s really only one way for that to happen, and we need to spend much time on our knees asking for that.

In the meantime, we’ll love him and laugh with him — but always with one eye out for trouble.

Broken Plans

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”

What a couple of weeks. As someone on Twitter said, you know it’s been a crazy week when someone sends a poisoned letter to the President and your reaction is, “Oh yeah, I forgot all about that!”
The bombing of the Boston Marathon. A city’s anguished response. A massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas. (Just be glad you’re not this guy, who survived both explosions.) A manhunt that shut down a city and transfixed a country, millions staring at their television screens just like we watched O.J. try to outrun the police in a white Bronco so many years ago.
For our house, it was the continuation of more than a week of craziness. I had a work trip to Kansas City the week before all of this, so we planned for Kelsey to go with me for some peace and quiet in the hotel. We farmed our three boys out to my parents and the girls to respite care. My mom teaches during the day, so Kelsey lined up various friends each morning to watch the two boys not yet in school.
And then all our carefully-laid plans went to pot. Two boys got croup and fevers before we left. We got them to the doctor, got meds going, but it turned out the fevers stuck around for a while, so none of the babysitting options worked out. My mom and dad took off work at various times over a couple of days to watch them, monitored temps, kept pumping meds.
One of the girls started a cough and fever, so she went to the doctor, where she was diagnosed with the flu. Super fun for the foster mom (who was a great sport). Then our other son threw up at school and had to go home to the grandparents’ house. Then the flu settled in L’s hip, causing a limp, which meant she had to go back to the doctor for x-rays because maybe it was another problem entirely (turned out to be just the flu, but still …).
My wife is on the phone the whole time, directing traffic, giving advice, comforting kids, apologizing for sickness. My parents and the foster parents were troopers. Then I woke up the last night of the trip with the flu. Fever, cough, chills, nausea, etc., so Kelsey had to drive the whole way home, then take care of the kids all weekend.
The adjustment back to real life was a little nuts. Kids weren’t behaving great after we had been gone. Laundry was everywhere. House was a mess. Schedules were wacked out. I was sick, so I couldn’t help with soccer, church, etc.
We did have a good time away. But it most definitely did not go according to plan.
Then, this past week, which also did not go according to plan. Not for the marathoners, not for those killed and injured, not for their families, not for a nation watching in horror. The dad who ran the marathon and then found his 8-year old son dead, his wife and daughter seriously injured … that wasn’t his plan.
The two suspects who carried out the bombing — that wasn’t their parents’ plan either. Who looks at their baby boys and says, “I hope you grow up to cause unimaginable horror”?
The families of the workers at the fertilizer plant did not plan for a fireball to change their lives. But it did.
“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”
Our family sickness is minor compared to national events this week. It didn’t make much ultimate difference that we got sick. For others, their lives have changed irrevocably.
None of it was according to our plans.
God directs our steps, plans our ways, brings his purposes to pass. I don’t pretend to know how some of those purposes are good when they seem so awful. But I know the alternative — to believe that there’s no purpose, no control, no hope — is even worse. I know that God calls us to trust him. I know that whether our broken plans involve brief sickness or utter tragedy, our minds — and hearts — must still cling to what we know is true.
And sometimes even in the midst of difficulty, there are glimpses of joy, of hope, of good triumphing over evil, like these Boston fans reminded us in this epic, full-throated rendition of the national anthem at a hockey game after the bombings:

The One-Year Mark

One year ago today (April 2), two little girls were dropped off at our house. They were a little bedraggled, but sweet and quiet, holding their arms out right away, needing love.

Those first few days were crazy. Appointments, new clothes and toys, getting used to girls — GIRLS!! — in the house. Our boys did well with the adjustment and even helped out. We didn’t know how long they would be here, only that their parents couldn’t take care of them and they needed a place to stay.
So they stayed. Hard to believe it’s been a year already. Their parents still can’t take care of them, or at least haven’t done what’s required to get them back. They’re making a little progress, but at this point, it’s about 50-50 whether they’ll get it together or whether the girls will need somewhere to stay for the rest of their lives.
We’re ready for that — at least as ready as we can be. We want them here. At some level, we love them. You can’t have two little humans be a part of every moment for 365 days without getting attached to them. But yeah, we’re holding back. We have to. Otherwise, if they leave, well …
If they leave now, we’ll be fine. We have three incredible boys to focus on. Yes, we’ll be sad, but it will be more of a sadness for them, for what they’ll be going back to, for what they’ll miss out on. Not that we’re all that and a bag of chips, but we’ve gotten glimpses of the world they come from. It’s not a pretty place.
If they stay, yes, it will continue to be a madhouse around here. But the good kind of madhouse, the kind that God gives new grace every morning for, the kind that sucks you in until you realize that you actually like your own special brand of madness.

We’ve learned how to live with five kids. You have to do things a little differently sometimes.  And you have to have help. The times we’ve been ready to throw in the towel, encouragement has always come — meals, gift cards, babysitting. You can’t do this kind of thing alone.

I know a lot more about girls now. They’re not as active as boys, but they can hold their own. They don’t eat as much. They cry (A LOT) more. They’re moody. They’re motherly. They’re pretty darn cute.
I can wash girls’ hair and even blow dry it, as long as no styling is required. Actually fixing hair? Hopeless. Still not sure about the difference in tights and leggings, even though my wife has told me about 500 times. Still get paralyzed looking at all the clothing options. Still not sure if that is a shirt or a dress, so what in the world goes with it? And which shoes are they supposed to wear again?
I love how happy they get when you give them a smile. Love how much they’ve grown, how they say, “That’s MY Mommy!” Love their simple joy. Love that they don’t know (yet) how much their parents screwed up. Love listening to them sing. Love that they can know love. Love that they have a ball playing with the boys. Love that the boys take care of them. 
One year down … not sure how many to go. Those days, though, they’re numbered in a place far deeper than I can tread. He knows, and that’s enough.