What I’ve Learned So Far as a New Dad

I’ve heard many stories about the experience of men becoming fathers. At the birth some felt nothing. Others were overwhelmed by instant love and connection. Each man is unique, and so is his experience as a father.

Will is now four months old. Here I want to share a few of my experiences as a first-time father (so far).

THE JOYS!

When William was born – even the day after – I cried. I was a dad. I had a son…it was hard to put into words. All I could do was thank God. The first weeks watching him sleep, wake up, and eat were the most amazing things ever! When he started holding up his head I couldn’t believe it. When he started lifting up his head while on his tummy we kneeled around him cheering him on like he was a professional athlete. When he was able to stand up on his own (with help balancing) we cheered him on again. Further along in his development he would giggle and smile at us causing us to respond even more ecstatically. When I first saw him smile (for reasons other than having gas) it was like I had been hit by a freight train of joy, WHAM! It was unreal. I also get to make up songs all the time to sing to him when putting him to bed, getting him ready to leave, feeding him, and so on. So fun! 🙂

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THE CHALLENGES

The milestones and development surely have been exciting and what makes being a father well-worth the ride. Yet this is just one side of the coin.

Sometimes, when William wasn’t going to sleep I would get frustrated with him, even angry. (Embarrassing, I know. How can I be angry at this ball of cuteness for not sleeping?). Well, sleep is kind of like oxygen. If you don’t get enough of it, you can start to get frantic, at least inside. Some of my most desperate prayers were asking God to help him simply to stay asleep. You can’t really know what it’s like until you’ve been there.

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When he wasn’t getting enough food or gaining weight I wasn’t sure how best to support Amanda. It was really stressful. She was his food source, and that was it. I couldn’t just say, “Ok, I’ll take a turn now.” She was the one to get up with him throughout the night. Imagine feeding someone ever couple hours 24/7. Then to find he wasn’t gaining weight because he wasn’t getting enough food! Oh yeah, and this is your newborn baby and your main job is to keep him alive for the first years of his life. The pressure was real, and I wasn’t always sure how best to help her. Thank God for the support we found from the friends, family and professionals we’ve connected with (not to mention the “Mom’s WhatsApp Group” with YWAM) to encourage and help us! We couldn’t have done it without them.

Finally, I can be pretty selfish. Fatherhood tests this side of me on a whole new level. Sometimes I lay in bed knowing Amanda’s exhausted and needs me to help her with Will and I just keep sleeping. Or she’s nursing Will and asks me to get her something (again) because she can’t get up, and I get annoyed. Or sometimes I don’t do the dishes when it’s the least I could do. Or I get annoyed at Will for waking up and disrupting my time to myself… I think you get the picture. As much as I want to be a great dad, I don’t alway make selfless choices. The inner-battle is real.

SOME SURPRISES

Processed with VSCO with hb2 presetChanging diapers was more-or-less a breeze. I wasn’t as disgusted or uncertain about it as I thought I might be. What’s funny is Amanda and I will congratulate him for pooping. We would say, “Good job buddy! Great poop!” We would do this even if it was a ‘poonami’, exploding beyond his diaper. And when we finish changing his diaper we congratulate him again for cooperating and not peeing on us. 😛

We cheer Will on for everything. Pooping. Eating. Sleeping. Farting. Burping. Sitting in his car seat. Imagine cheering your friends on for things like that! Hilarious.

I thought I would have a hard time with spit-up because I like to have clean clothes. Usually, if anything gets on my clothes, I’ll go immediately and clean the spot to make sure I don’t get a stain. Turns out I just don’t care. If he spits up on me I might wipe it with something, but I don’t even go clean it with water and soap. It’s just become a normal part of life. In fact, as I was writing this blog I took a break and he spit up into my beard (for the first time ever) and onto my favorite shirt. It’s still sitting there…well not in the beard. 🙂

TO FINISH

Fatherhood is full of joys, challenges, and surprises. It’s a journey that is unique for every dad out there. Here are some final thoughts:

  • Finding support is really important – emotional and practical support for you and your wife as you take on the journey. For instance, connect with other dads who you can reach out to if you need help or encouragement.
  • Fatherhood isn’t about perfection, it’s about learning how to deal with, walk through and embrace your imperfections and the challenges you face as you grow into being a dad. Give yourself grace.
  • Check your anger when you notice it. Don’t just hide and suppress it. I don’t know the science, but sometimes I could tell that William was picking up on frustration I had, even if I wasn’t expressing it – particularly in those desperate times I was trying to get him to sleep. Learning to be aware of my emotions and how to calm them has been really helpful. I can then re-enter the moment with Will rather than staying stuck in my self.
  • Be fully present. I try to pause and be fully present with Will as often as I can. If I’m in the middle of something and Amanda needs me to hold him for a bit, I’ll sometimes pause what I was doing until Amanda takes him again.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others. You may be the quiet dad, the loud dad, the clumsy dad, the athletic dad…whichever dad you are, be that dad. Like I said: every dad is different. And on top of that, every baby is different. Walk your own journey of fatherhood. With that…
  • Invite God into fathering your child with you. Ask Holy Spirit not only to help you with the journey, but to actually work in and raise your child with you, filling in the gaps and teaching him as he grows up.
  • Speak “good things” over your child. We’ve prayed and had others pray over Will and through this we’ve discovered some things from God about him. When I speak over Will, “You’re beautiful. You’re a gift. You’re loved and cherished.” or  “You are a quiet, gentle, and strong leader. You are a safe place for people…” and so on – he will actually zone in on me, as if he’s taking it all in. These are really special moments.

Final Note: I can’t say enough how thankful I am for Amanda. She has worked so much harder than me at caring for William. As a father, I’ve had much less work to do thus far. Though it’s Father’s day, I just have to honor Amanda too. Without her, I wouldn’t be as good of a dad.

Warning: sleeping while holding a baby is not advisable
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Passover: New Meaning for an Old Tradition

Over the course of my Christian life I’ve taken part in countless communion services with people from many denominations all around the world, and I have never heard what I am about to tell you regarding Jesus’ words, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

It was during the Passover feast that Jesus shared his final meal with his disciples, the Last Supper. And it’s when he said his famous words now read aloud regularly in churches throughout the world, “This is my body broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” and “This is my blood shed for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

One morning I was practicing Ignatian prayer with this passage, closing my eyes and imagining I was there in the room with Jesus, reclining at the table with his disciples. I began to imagine what I might have thought as a Jew during the Passover feast, breaking bread and sharing wine, as Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”

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The Passover feast was a unique and sacred time set aside each year for the Jewish people. It was a time to remember God’s divine protection over them as slaves in Egypt, waiting for Yahweh to deliver them. In that time their ancestors killed a lamb without any deformities, a perfect lamb, and spread its blood over the top and sides of their doors as instructed by Yahweh. The blood of the lamb protected them from the angel of death who “passed over” each home that had carried out these instructions. And in remembrance of these events Israel was to eat a Passover meal each year which included bread without yeast and wine (among other foods and rituals practiced). In summary, it was a time to remember how the blood of an unblemished lamb saved them from the angel of death and ultimately how Yahweh brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

There’s a reason Jesus is saying “Do this in remembrance of me” during the Passover feast and not just at a normal meal.

Imagining myself within the context of the Last Supper I realized that Jesus was not instigating a communion service. He was teaching his Jewish disciples to celebrate the Passover feast with a new remembrance. He was intending that the Passover would continue with the disciples, but in a new way under a New Covenant (a New Testament). Rather than remember the passover lamb saving Israel from the angel of death in Egypt, they were to remember Jesus as the Sacrificial Lamb saving the world from sin and death. “Do this in remembrance of me,” that is, “Celebrate Passover in remembrance of me.”

This moment would have been revolutionary – a radical shift for Jewish people in the 1st century context. It would be sort of like a pastor standing up and saying “Celebrate Christmas from now on in remembrance of me” at a Christmas Eve service.

Today, in the 21st century, I have yet to meet a Christian who celebrates the Passover in remembrance of Jesus, particularly in response to these instructions (though I know they exist). Rather, most Christians take holy communion (a wafer and sip of juice or wine – or Coca Cola, as they do in some parts of Colombia) on a weekly, monthly, or yearly-ish basis.

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A few thoughts…

First, I think we miss out on the depth of Jesus’ statement when we read it without recognizing the context of the Passover meal and the significance of it to the Jewish audience of that time. We miss out on the incredible meaning of Jesus’ words when he says, “Do this in remembrance of me”, connecting it with Israel’s history of the Passover in Egypt.

Second, I believe Jesus clearly expresses the importance of remembering what he’s done. While it seems the common interpretation is “incorrect” (communion as we know it today is not necessarily what he’s teaching), I’m not sure Jesus would want us to make a rule out of these instructions to his disciples. I believe any sincere remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice for our redemption from sin and death is a beautiful and sacred thing. And probably the more we practice remembrance, the better.

So how do you practice remembering Jesus’ sacrifice?

Personally, this new understanding motivates me to be more intentional in remembering Jesus’ sacrifice on Maundy Thursday. It encourages me to create a special tradition with my family (maybe Passover-like, maybe not), where we remember his body that was broken and his blood that was poured out for us. It also adds more layers of meaning and significance to taking communion, a tradition that is already meaningful to me. Even today I cried as I took the wafer and the cup.

April 17th – An Amendment: More Perspective of the Passage

Today I spoke to a Bible scholar named Daniel Lewis, a very humble, kind, and well-studied man. I asked him about the Passover meal and Jesus’ words “Do this in remembrance of me” and was enlightened enough to feel I should add some understanding to my last post.

When I asked Dan about the feast and Jesus’ words he pointed out to me that during the Seder meal there are four cups of wine. Based on the language used in the scriptures we can resolve that Jesus is speaking these words during the third cup. He explained that if Jesus meant to refer to the Passover in its entirety he would have said these words at the closing of the meal. In light of this, Dan pointed out that to interpret Jesus’ words as saying “Celebrate the Passover meal in remembrance of me” is an incorrect interpretation. This means that the disciples would not necessarily have taken Jesus’ words as a declaration over the whole Passover meal.

It is likely that the disciples and Jewish Christians continued to celebrate the Passover (as was Jewish custom), but there is no evidence or record that the practice moved on into the Gentile Christian world. Rather, as Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians, a different meal is mentioned as a practice related to what Jesus said in the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 10:16, 11:25-28). The book of Acts also refers to a ceremonial “breaking of bread” practiced by the early church, though we’re unsure of its connection to Jesus’ words during the Last Supper (Acts 2:42-44, 20:7). Today Christians celebrate what we call communion in remembrance of Jesus’ instructions.

If you’re interested in more specifics regarding common practices of the early church Dan mentioned an ancient document called the Didache. It was put together in 110AD (only ten or so years after the last of Jesus’ disciples had died) explaining how the church was to practice communion as well as other things such as baptism. Some other documents I found was 1 Clement and letters from Ignatius of Antiochan early Christian writer and bishop of Antioch born in 35AD, just as Christianity was being spread by the disciples. Also, an early Christian apologist and saint from the 2nd century named Justin Martyr in his First Apology wrote one of the oldest description of an early church Eucharist. You can check any of these things out if you’re interested in more info.

The conclusion is the same. Any sincere remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice is noteworthy. I believe the truth we must understand from Jesus’ words is the importance of remembering his body broken and his blood spilled for us. A meal is a good way to do this together — as long as it is practiced in light of Christ (unlike the Corinthians) — but it is not the only way. We must remember Jesus’ sacrifice in a sincere and considerate way, however we do it.

What is your greatest lesson from 2017?

After spending a good amount of time writing about lessons learned last year I saw a Facebook post reading,

“Let’s learn from each other. What was your greatest lesson learned this year?”

When asked this question the first thing I thought of was, “What will get the most amount of likes? What’s good enough to post for all to see? How can I look good?” This of course happened subconsciously. I hesitated to post, unsure how to ensure I would “meet expectations.”

This train of thought is one of my more difficult weaknesses to navigate – my need to perform well. Because without the “right” performance, I’m nothing. I won’t be accepted or loved by people. I’ll have little or no value. I won’t matter. This is the subconscious part of my mind speaking.

I shut off Facebook, looked up at the lake in front of me and paused. It didn’t take long before something clicked. The next thing I knew I was saying to myself, “Hey Joel, performance set aside, what is the greatest lesson you’ve learned during this year? You don’t have to impress anyone or meet some kind of expectations. Just be you. What comes to mind?”

As ironic as this may sound I came to this: I don’t have to perform well to be loved, have value, or be accepted by people.

While it may not be a new lesson, it is the most important lesson that I’ve grown deeper in. It’s a lesson I want to intentionally practice living.

So I re-opened Facebook, went to the page, and wrote this one thing that I’ve learned, unconcerned with getting “likes” or sounding eloquent. I did it for me, putting into practice this lesson I struggle so much with.

I am still a work in progress thankfully walking in the immeasurable love and grace of God.

What do we do with death, growing old, and saying goodbye? We

What do we do with death, growing old, and saying goodbye?

In my EP “Into the Light” I explore these things. Below are brief descriptions of the heart behind each song. (listen at noisetrade.com/joellemaire)

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In the End: When I was in university I would visit a nursing home regularly. While I was young, in prime years of life, entering that world gave me eyes to see beyond it. I saw people close to and waiting for death. The sadness of where many of the people I met found themselves as they neared the end of their journey on earth got me thinking and wondering, where is there hope for them? This song is mostly an entering into their world with a final word regarding hope.

With You: Many people I’ve met are terrified to get old. Some cry for a week when they reach twenty-five. Twenty-five! That’s still a young, strong age. It’s sad when such lively years are lost in sorrow instead of celebration because of the fear of getting old. I first noticed this tendency when I was in high school and so I committed to be excited about each year of my life. Embrace the process and journey of life on earth. Embrace what I cannot change, and celebrate it instead of mourn it. There are things to mourn, but not your age. Age is a beautiful thing. In this song I present what I believe Jesus is saying as a comfort to those afraid of growing old, of walking the whole journey.

When You Wake: Death is a mysterious thing. And with mystery comes fear, at least for most. What’s going to happen? Will I be safe? Will I be alone? Will I be saved? Will I be judged? What will I see? What will it be like? So many unanswered questions. So where can we as humans with our limited understanding find peace? Most think of death as a falling into darkness, but in my spiritual journey I’ve come to a different understanding – a stepping into light. In this song Jesus shares his perspective on death and he expresses his invitation to humanity.

Hope For: Over the course of my life I’ve had to let go of a lot of people for varying reasons. It’s painful, as I’m sure many who read this fully understand. We meet people, grow close to them, and then we have to say goodbye. Whether it’s traveling, moving to a new place, finding a new job, finishing school, a death…letting go is a big part of our lives on earth. In the midst of a particularly difficult time of letting go I wrote this song. Here I express what hope I have in the letting go and continuing the journey of faith I am on with that person absent or far away.

To You: This song simply is a prayer. It’s an expression of my thankfulness to God, and to Jesus, for what he’s done for me. It’s personal and it’s honest. It reveals aspects of my relationship with God that are important to me, not in detail, but in simple phrases. Each line represents very real and powerful parts of my story, things I’ve experienced along my life journey, and the promises God has given me.

To listen to or download the EP go to noisetrade.com/joellemaire. And if you like it, share it…and consider leaving a tip 😉

Bad Days

“What do we do when we have bad days?”

I’m tired. Any loud noise makes me feel anxious. I feel exhausted. My mind is like mud, slow and sloppy. My emotions are bleh. I feel nothing.

The natural question is, “How do I get out of this?” I want to feel good.

So I take time to breathe. I take time to meditate and process. I listen to uplifting music. I spend some time in the quiet of our hotel room. I’m trying to get out.

Finally I stop… I close my eyes, settle into the darkness, and pray. And what I sense God saying isn’t a solution.

The words are clear. “Be with me.” I’m reminded of the Psalmist’s words, “even darkness is not dark to You; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.” He leads me through the valley, not around it.

So I sit. I close my eyes, and I focus simply on being with Him in my groggy, overwhelmed state. No answers. No solutions. No direction. Slowly, like dust settling, peace sinks in. It’s as if I’ve stopped next to a river in this valley and found rest.

“He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul.” I’ve let go of instincts to thrive. Instead I’ve embraced the reality of His presence in my darkness and that things are ok even here. He is with me. And now I am with Him.

– Joel

His faithful, our fickle

Just a thought as I’m coming up for air after 7 months of studying the Bible. One of my favorite things about the SBS (School of Biblical Studies) is getting to know the people for whom each book of the Bible was originally written. I love connecting the dots between their situation and the message of each book – it was exactly what they needed to hear! Since January we’ve been working through the Old Testament, so we’ve learned all about the people of Israel and how God called them and taught them his design for the world and walked with them through their ups and downs. I’ve been blown away by the contrast between God’s faithfulness and man’s fickleness. From the beginning, we’ve wanted to do our own thing and God has stuck with us, always wanting to be with us, knowing that he’s the best thing for us. It’s such crazy love! I keep getting little glimpses of it in the middle of studying and I just sit there – there are no words.

When I relax I feel guilty

When I Relax I Feel Guilty – this was one of the (many) books on my parent’s shelves while I was growing up. I remember thinking, how strange, why in the world would you feel guilty for relaxing? I felt guilty for telling a lie, disobeying my parents, being mean to my brother, but definitely not relaxing.

Things have changed. The adult world is a very different place.

Three weeks ago, I finished an internship at a preschool. And 3 months before that, I finished a training on working with Children at Risk. And 4 months before that, I moved across the world to South Africa. It’s been a busy year.

In just over a month, we head to the States for a joyous and full time with friends and family. Then we come back and I start one of the most intensive schools in YWAM (Youth With A Mission) where you study the Bible day and night for 9 months. Goodbye life as we know it.

As I’ve been still and listened to God’s heart for me in this time, I’ve felt Him say rest. Take this time. Don’t go rushing to find ways to fill the days. Just be. This is your time to rest.

So here I am, supposed to be resting, and all I can do is find ways to keep myself busy. The other day I had to sit down and make a list of my passions and gifts and dreams, because I can’t seem to stop  running errands and cleaning and baking and finding ministries to join and planning meetings and fine tuning our budget (again). All these things are fine, and I enjoy them, but I think something deeper is going on.

I’m trying to make myself useful. Baking bread and making applesauce make me a good wife. Joining a team that reaches out to prostitutes means I’m a real missionary worth supporting. Planning meetings means I’m taking initiative and reaching out and I’m an asset to our missions base. Basically, filling my time helps me feel like a worthwhile human being.

But what about my dream of being a doula someday? Or my passion for child development? What about the books I’ve been collecting on the subjects? Am I worthwhile if I spend the day reading?

But even pursuing my dreams and passions are justifiable in my mind, there are much harder things – am I worthwhile if I end up daydreaming or looking for a dress for my best friend’s wedding or reading a novel or dare I say it, on Facebook?

What will my supporters say then?

It comes down to this – I feel guilty. I have constructed an elaborate mosaic of doing stuff to cover me and make me look and feel valuable, and now it’s gone. And it’s just me.

And why do I feel guilty? Once again, I’ve been listening to the world – our culture that asks, “What do you do?” to define value – and I’m drowning out the still small voice that says, “You are mine. I love you. You are valuable.” The end.

Why is it so hard to live by His voice and who He tells me I am and what He tells me to do? Why is it so hard to let Him take care of whether my supporters think I’m a worthwhile missionary, or whether my husband thinks I’m a good wife, or whether our base thinks I’m an asset to the team?

Why is it so hard to TRUST? That’s what I want to know.

If you have any answers, I’ll be here. Resting. Right after I make granola. 😉

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