Saturday, August 30, 2014

Monkey Madness!

"Benjamin, is that a monkey? What does a monkey say? Ooo, Ooo, Ooo, Aah, Aah, Aah!" With a stuffed monkey in hand, I then pretend the toy is giving my son kisses, and he explodes with laughter. We discovered the "monkey game" a few years ago while I was playing with Benjamin in his room. At that time his favorite stuffed animal was a neon multi-colored gorilla that reminded me of an Easter egg. In his collection Benjamin also had a striped sock monkey and a realistic looking brown chimpanzee we had picked up from a zoo gift shop early in our marriage. As you can tell, my son's stuffed animals were very diverse in appearance, so I was impressed when he started making the association between the three toys. I would make monkey sounds and give him kisses with the gorilla, and on his own initiative he would grab the sock monkey. After that he would grab the chimp and then repeat the cycle. I was thrilled because it seemed we were beginning to build a bridge over to imaginative play. It was a breakthrough!

As time went on, we added more monkeys to his collection, and a few of them met their demise (usually a failed cycle through the washing machine and dryer). Benjamin is typically resistant to any new toy at first, but if we gave him a new stuffed monkey it was an immediate success. The monkey game became so popular, I went into auto-pilot mode when we played. Eventually, we added lions to his repertoire as well, though they have never been as exciting as monkeys! One day Benjamin wanted to go back and forth between the two animals. I forgot what I was doing, and the lion started making monkey sounds. Benjamin gave me a quizzical look, and I was encouraged by his perceptiveness.

The monkey game is still popular at our house, especially with Grandma Jan. She has only to enter the front door and Benjamin is waiting for her, monkey in hand, exploding with giggles. Monkeys are such a daily part of life in the Hemminger household that Joelle only has to hear the word "monkey," and she begins bobbing up and down saying "Ooo, Ooo, Ooo!" Some days we hide the monkeys for a while, just to ensure a break from the repetitive play.

Benjamin's initial breakthrough in imaginative play has now become more of a crutch in his play time. The toys and games that have fascinated him for the last few years are beginning to grow dull for him, but he is not yet willing to progress into the next level. He quickly becomes bored and agitated, but he resists attempts at something fresh and new. So what does he ultimately do? He reverts to what is familiar.

My son's life has often served as a parable to teach me valuable lessons, and I have been pondering another one this morning. We all experience different seasons of breakthrough in our lives, whether they are subtle or extreme. Sometimes the breakthrough is internal--a shifting in emotions or mindsets that brings us to a healthier state of being. Sometimes the breakthrough is external--a new opportunity, an increase in provision, a restored relationship. Sometimes the breakthrough is spiritual--a greater understanding of the heart of God or a deeper experience of His presence and power. When breakthrough comes it is fresh and alive, and it is meant to propel us forward. If we "camp out" in our place of breakthrough, over time we will discover that it has become stale and stagnant.

Now, I want to be clear about what I am saying and what I am not saying. I am not saying that we should constantly be moving from thing to thing, place to place, or job to job to stay fresh. That pattern is often evidence of an inner restlessness and lack of stability. I am saying that we should always be seeking to grow in wisdom, maturity, skillfulness, and creative expression. This continual forward motion is what will keep us fresh.

As for my son, I do see forward motion in him, but it is often at a slower pace than I would desire. However, I am so proud of him for the progress he is making and all that he has overcome so far. There is another valuable lesson in this as well. Father God knows where we've been, where we are, and where we are going. What may look like slow progress to some may be significant progress to another. He knows us, and He enjoys us every step of the way!


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Affectionate Embrace

Heart swelling with love, I watch my five-year-old treasure leaning at his "movie spot" on the living room recliner, happily watching his beloved "Elmo's World." Unable to contain the affection I feel, I pull him down on my lap and smother him with hugs and kisses. Benjamin is definitely an affectionate boy, but right now he's focused, and Mommy's cuddles seem to be more of a disruption. He wiggles his way out of my arms and resumes his post. Later he will approach me with out-stretched arms and laugh with delight as I pick him up and hold him close. Whichever response I receive from my son, my love for him and desire to pour my affection on him are unchanging. He WILL be showered with love, and there's nothing he can do about it!

I've been contemplating these dynamics this week as I consider the nurturing love of the Holy Spirit. He is not some ethereal cloud out there somewhere; He is not some mystical mist; He is not an "it." Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, equal in love and power to the Father and the Son, and He desires our fellowship. Indeed, He is God on earth, and He is the Presence we feel as we draw near to God. I've realized how easy it is to fall into striving to get closer to God, but all He's asking is that I yield myself to His love. He is so eager to embrace me and pour His affection on me. I don't have to convince Him to do so; He can't help Himself but to love me crazy! I wonder how often my response is the same as my son when he's watching his movies. The Holy Spirit is seeking to draw me close, but I am distracted and focused on other things. I unknowingly pull away from Him, eager to engage with the activity or entertainment in front of me, missing the opportunity for deepening intimacy. However, my distraction does not dampen His pursuit, and when I reach out my arms to Him, desiring to be held, He is right there to embrace me and shower me with His affections.

I am learning bit by bit to yield myself more to the all-encompassing love in His heart. In the middle of cooking dinner, or cleaning house, or playing on the floor with my kids I can pause, turn my heart to Him and whisper, "I love you." He's right there every time. The truth is He's always present; I'm just learning to recognize His presence more. I'm learning to receive His love that's unconditional and eager to embrace me.

I can't help but love the little "treasures" the Lord has given Shawn and me. My children don't have to do anything to earn my love. I love them because I love them because I love them! If this is the love of a created being for her offspring, how much more the love of the Uncreated One for His creation? Take a moment today to quiet your mind, turn your heart, and allow the affectionate embrace of the One who loves you perfectly to surround you. There is nothing more satisfying!