• Happy Chinese New Year to all of you.  The year of the pig.  Tomorrow night Jie and I will celebrate the Chinese New Year's Eve.  And then on Friday we will head to Lisle to celebrate the New Year (the festival lasts more than two weeks) with Scarlette, Tristan, and Sean.  
  • My parents drove to Texas and made it safely there this past week.  They'll be there until first of March or so.
  • My brother Steve had gall bladder surgery this past week and did fine.
  • Reading John Grisham's latest novel, The Reckoning.  It's a little disconcerting since it starts out with the local Methodist preacher getting shot in the head.  But...I haven't been scared off it yet and am looking forward to working the rest of my way through.

February  3, 2018
One Tough Baby
We were invited to babysit Isobel this past Friday night.  She's our five-month old granddaughter, and we don't get to see much of her since she lives in Madison, Wisconsin.  All week long I kept stealing glances at the screen saver on my phone:  her smiling face!  Each glance at her picture made it harder and harder to wait for Friday night.  
The plan was simple enough. Alison/Nelson/Isobel would get into Champaign about four and relax a little in Mindy's apartment.  Jie and I would be there, and we would all go out together for a leisurely supper.  Then we would all mosey back to Mindy's apartment, and after a liberal amount of time, Alison and Nelson would slip away to watch Mindy in the play.  They would probably be home before the baby needed to go to bed.
But sometimes traveling with a baby slows things down.  They barely made it in from Wisconsin in time for supper.  We all ate together, and Isobel seemed fine, letting us hold her, smiling, and acting cute.  But time was moving quickly and we all had to rush back to the apartment.  There was barely time for Alison and Nelson to give us some quick instructions before they had to rush off for the start of the play.  
They are great parents and quickly briefed us on all the tricks we needed to know.  They explained the bottles and the diapers.  They told us how 
notto hold her.  They set up a baby-bungee seat in a bedroom doorway...enthused that it was one of her happiest recreational toys.  They even installed an app on my phone for "white noise" to calm the baby in case she got fussy. And they emphasized repeatedly that one of the things Isobel liked the most was looking at herself in the mirror: that she could wonder and smile at her own face for an amazingly long time.
And then they left. Things seemed so well in hand that I even sent Jie off to finish up a little grocery shopping we needed to do while we were in Champaign.  It seemed like the evening would go fine for 
I was delighted to be left alone...and trusted with my cute granddaughter.  It was time for a little quality time with grandpa.  And I had ample self-confidence.  After all, I'd already raised two daughters.  
But my granddaughter is really smart for a five-month old.  It took her only a few minutes after her parents left to figure out that she'd been snookered into something strange.  And she started to cry.  
But  'no problem' I thought.  'Babies do this.' 'After a few minutes she'll get distracted and be fine.' 
At least that's what the church nursery workers tell me when parents drop off fussy babies.  They say, "As soon as mom and dad are out of earshot, the kids settle in and are fine." 
But evidently no one told Isobel this.  
Of course, a cry could mean hunger.  So, I tried to feed her a bottle, but she just got louder.  
Of course, a cry could mean time for a diaper change.  So, I checked, and she had not literally pissed, but figuratively speaking....well...let's just say my checking her didn't help any.  
So, I tried singing to her, but she evidently has different musical tastes than I, and the crying got louder.  
So, I tried taking her into the bathroom so she could see herself in the mirror.  But the angry baby she saw in the mirror only made her wail louder.  
So, I tried putting her in the bungee seat, where she could push her legs against the floor and bounce up and down.  And it turned out that her legs were as angry as her face. (I don't think I could jump four times 
myheight in one of those contraptions.)
Finally, after 45 minutes of things not getting better, I finally texted Alison and told her that she needed to come home.  I hated to do that to Alison...she really had needed a night out...and really wanted to see Mindy in the play.  But family takes care of its most vulnerable members first.  And when I texted, Alison and Nelson came right away.  
And when Isobel at long last nestled in her mother's arms, she stopped crying in less than a minute, look 
right at me,and got a silly grin on her face.  She doesn't use words yet.  But that look definitely said, "I win you lose!" 
So this Sunday letter is mostly to my daughter Alison, who is really upset that her dad hasn't yet seen the best side of her daughter...and who is afraid that her dad may think that her kid is a loser.  
Kid:  you've got a great kid.  Let's go through the list.  I don't know what she'll eventually do with that set of lungs she has...maybe an opera singer...or a champion swimmer.  And those legs!  Maybe she'll be a gymnast.  And the drama.  Maybe she'll take after her Aunt Mindy and be an actress.  And the sense of outrage.  Maybe we'll send her to Washington to set them straight.  At the very least, when it comes to voice, muscles, glands, eyesight, hearing...all systems are 'go' with Isobel.
But when I think of our mutual descendent, I'm not thinking "well...at least she..."  
Not at all.  I'm thinking that here is a child who is extraordinarily confident of her mother's love.  
Here is a child who has a wicked sense of humor (like her mother.)  
Here is a child who is incredibly alert to the environment around her and responds appropriately. 
Here is a child who doesn't at all think she is a victim to circumstances, but plans to fight until she drops.  
Here is a child who demands that the adults around her do the right thing...such as her grandpa texting her mom and getting things back to normal.  
I love children.  And I always get along famously with them...over time...on 
their terms, not mine.  
That grin she gave me?...the one that seemed like a smirk?...the one that seemed to say, "I win; you lose?" She was half wrong.  I didn't lose.  Little Isobel doesn't know it yet, but the game's barely begun.  It wasn't an easy session for me Friday night, but it was just enough to know that I have
exactly the kind of granddaughter I want. 
So, kid:  one of these days... sooner than you think...you will no longer worry whether your daughter is impressing your dad. You will be worrying instead about what kind of strange plan the two of us have concocted...while you and Nelson were out for the evening.  I'm very patient...I don't rush a flower bud, or a gourmet meal...or a child. I'll wait.  It will be worth it.

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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