Happy Waitangi Day

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You can be forgiven if the salutation above means relatively little. If I hadn’t the day off, it’s quite likely the day would have passed from my radar too. Even so, Waitangi Day is New Zealand’s celebration of its founding document the Treaty of Waitangi. The treaty marked an 1840 agreement between the Māori peoples and the “Queen of England” that permitted the Brits to establish a civil government in New Zealand in exchange for the recognition of Māori ownership over their lands and other property interests. 

Unsurprisingly, there has been much disagreement on the contents of the treaty – the lot of which makes my job here possible. Of principle importance is what exactly both sides ceded in the original understanding of the treaty. The Māori contend that they did not give up complete sovereignty to the Crown such that their traditional governance entities would be rendered moot. The British Government and, subsequently, New Zealand’s constitutional monarchy contends that, in fact, the Māori did just this.

Of course, the the matter isn’t quite so black and white. Consider that the New Zealand Government established the Waitangi Tribunal in 1975 to hear Māori claims of violations of the treaty. To date, some $700 million have been spent by the Government on reparations to the Māori in the form of land and property transfers, and formal apologies for violations of the treaty, all with the consent of the British Monarchy. Such payments, however, have stoked the resentment of some non-Māori New Zealanders who allege that the Māori are simply exploiting the treaty to obtain special privileges from the Government. The Māori claim that such concessions by the Government are simply what is appropriate given the destruction of their culture and governing structures.

As an aside, my work here will focus on the restoration of traditional Māori governance structures and their long-term viability. To wit, concerns about extant Māori governance entities have reached such a pressing level that the University of Waikato’s Māori and Indigenous Governance Centre has committed significant resources for examining the best practices of tribal governance from around the world in hopes strengthening Māori governmental institutions at home. All of which is a very long way of saying that my work here will focus on finding ways to help create stable governing entities for Māori peoples. 

Taking a step back, as an American in New Zealand, it’s a bit odd celebrating another country’s founding. But I tried to get in the spirit by having a lunch of what the locals call fish and chips – or what I routinely call fish and freedom fries much to the confusion of my local restauranteur – who happens to be a Vietnamese immigrant that speaks only limited English. To compensate for my foolishness, I make it a point to leave a tip. Unfortunately, I think this further confuses him since New Zealand isn’t a country that tips its service industry workers. Strange, I know. 

In all, it has been a relatively agreeable Waitangi Day. I met a number of colorful characters, including a neighbor named Jared who tells me that he has an aunt who is Sioux. Incidentally, I met Jared when he dropped by and woke me up, around 8am this morning asking to for a spoonful of instant coffee for his coffee mug. I suppose I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead – although sleeping in would have been quite nice today. I was also pleased to make the acquaintance of Syd, a local, Indian entrepreneur who runs the quick-mart only a couple of blocks away. The Simpsons would be proud.

And with such august company, I have to say that the national holiday/day off has been quite nice. From the Southern Hemisphere to you, Happy Waitangi Day.

Public Transportation, The Original New Zealand Excursion

I decided to venture out yesterday. This was not an easy thing for me to do. As my wife would attest, I prefer habit over adventure and tend to stick close to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used to, quoting the immortal TLC.

That said, I am also particularly loathe to use public transportation, especially busses. I’m not sure where this phobia came from but most of my experiences with bus systems have been bad. Some of this stems from a personal incompetence at reading the bus grid, with its complex schedule of fares and timetables, not to mention that no bus in the history of busses has ever run on time. Given that its the middle of summer here and a balmy 78 degrees with 50% humidity, I was also more than a bit frightened at the thought of a crowded bus with poor AC.

Nevertheless, I made the 20 minute walk to my local Walmart equivalent, affectionately called The Warehouse. One can call New Zealanders many things but ostentatious isn’t among them. After finding my various necessities, I ambled along toward the local bus stop. Having studied the bus grid before I left, I felt confident that my luck with public transport would turn for the better.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when it didn’t. Rather than taking me toward my destination, I inadvertently boarded the wrong bus due to New Zealand’s affinity for driving on the wrong side of the road. Two hours later, after taking the entire bus loop, I arrived at the stop nearest my residence. My twenty minute trip by foot turned into an afternoon-long tour. As it happened, poor AC and crowded seats were very real, though very negligible, concerns.

In all, I learned a valuable lesson from my excursion. Busses are cursed. Avoid them if at all possible. When taking local public transportation becomes necessary, take the train or a cab. You’re welcome.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Savoring Life…

It’s a drop past 9AM here on the farm. Looking out my office window, the frost in the fields is slowly giving way to the warmth of the sun. My wife and son are snuggled in our bed while my faithful hound guards the house against the miscreant rabbits of her dreams. What a swell morning it is.

One of the blogs I’ve been drawn to over the past year is Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits. As the name suggests, the blog details a number of habits one can cultivate to develop a more mindful approach to living. In his latest piece, Leo suggests tips for how to savor life. Based on the excerpt below, the act of savoring life can readily be defined as mindfulness:

It’s still dark out and the world remains asleep as I write these words, and I’ve just finished my morning meditation.

I sip my coffee, and savor the stillness, the quietude, the space of being able to think without distractions of the Internet or others.

This savoring … it’s a magical act.

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Given how frenetic life has been the past several weeks, I appreciate the idea of savoring life a great deal. But I’ve found that as simple as the notion of mindfulness is, it’s still more than a bit difficult to implement into my routine. 

The mundane things are the most difficult to savor because they simply aren’t that interesting. For example, all the mindfulness in the world will not fool me into thinking that vacuuming is a savorable act because it isn’t. Vacuuming is a chore that needs to be done because the living room is hideous and my in-laws are en route to see their daughter and grandson. In fact, they arrive in a few hours. But the same can be said for driving, paying bills, sitting in class, etc. 

The irony of our lot is that so much of our lives are spent doing the mundane things we are indifferent toward. How does one savor the unsavorable?

Winter Books Reviews – 2013

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It seems no sooner did I resolve to post more often then the first week of the new year slipped away.

Much is afoot here in the Sooner State. My family and I are planning a temporary relocation to New Zealand (more on that later) and it seems like the paperwork for our visa applications will never end.

Closer to home, I am planning three book reviews for the winter months – all of which look quite promising. Here’s a brief run down of coming attractions:

Ron Rash’s The Cove debuted in the Spring of 2012. The paperback came out recently, reprinting the haunting tale of an outcast girl, and a mysterious wanderer who happens upon her isolated homestead.

Alexander Snegirev’s Petroleum Venus is set for release next month. The book is on he shortlist for the Russian National Bestseller Prize. The novel depicts the relationship between a single father and his soon who was born with Down’s syndrome.

Finally, Nell Leyshon’s The Colour of Milk was released in late December. The slim book explores the temptations of a young father’s daughter as she leaves the family farm to work for an aging couple living nearby. The young girl is introduced to knowledge of the intellectual and carnal variety as she is forced to grapple with the consequences of both.

In all, a busy schedule but one that hopefully generates many more conversations to come. As always, stay tuned.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

A Few Resolutions

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It’s sad but I tend to be more consistent in making resolutions than in actually following through with them. As a quick recap from last year, I accomplished a meager 6 of the 14 goals I set last January:

Wins: 1) confirmed in the Episcopal Church, 2) memorized the Nicene Creed, 3) finished Ten Book Reviews, 4) finished my dissertation, 5) moved back to Oklahoma, 6) found gainful employment – more on this later.

Losses: 1) failed to read the Bible in one year, 2) failed to blog four times per week, 3) failed to ride my bike twice per week, 4) failed to drink less alcohol, 5) failed to reclaim my high school weight, 6) failed to finish War and Peace, 7) failed to finish The Brothers Karamazov, 8) failed to take a celebratory vacation – but for a good reason.

Naturally, the tally isn’t exactly an inspiring reason to set goals for the new year. But they say misery loves company and, indeed, research shows that my failure puts me in the good company of four-fifths of all people who make resolutions.

For 2013, my list and motivations are a little different. Most of my resolutions are fairly specific but I feel what was lacking this year was an aspirational goal to motivate me at points in the year when life seemed flat. To correct this, I’ve added a theme for the year summarized by the phrase, “Do good. Keep it simple.”

What makes this year’s theme exciting to me is that it combines service aspects of my faith that are important to me with the zen concept of living minimalism. Life is challenging enough without my adding any unnecessary complications to the mix and I feel this theme is already reflected in a number of the goals I’ve set for this year:

1. Faith. Get back to the basics. Focus less on theological problems and look for ways to obey God by serving others. Application not theory.

2. Drink less alcohol. This is starting to sound like a broken record. I managed to cut back since Clark was born, so really I just need to carry this momentum into 2013.

3. Fitness. My goal is to lose 30lbs. No excuses. Play like a champion.

4. Kindness. Surprise. I’m an extremely sarcastic person. I think I could be a lot kinder to people if I weren’t such a smartass all the time.

5. Writing. I am the biggest obstacle to my creative writing outlet. My creative writing goal is to write one page per day.

6. Bible. My goal is to read the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office readings each day.

7. Blogging. As my grandfather might say, my goal of four posts per week went over like a lead balloon. I’m reducing that wayward aim to twice per week with hope for more.

8. Time. For reasons associated with my new position, a point requiring its own post, time management is going to be crucial skill for me to continue to develop. I’d like to set aside at least one hour per day for family time every day. I realize this number sounds slight and I expect the balance to be much larger, but for those days where time is scarce, this will be a fine goal to keep in mind.

9. Cycling. I plan to ride my bike regularly as circumstances allow.

10. Finances. My goal for the year, in keeping with the idea of minimalism, is to purchase less things and to spend my money on memories and things of lasting value. I do not know how this will work out in practice, but God knows we don’t need any more ‘stuff’.

And that, friends and fiends, is my list of new year’s resolutions. May the worst of your 2013 be better than the best of your 2012.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

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Christmas has come and gone here in the ‘ole Fodder Family boarding house. The home place was filled with presents and people, making it difficult to imagine that not so very long ago we celebrated with only six members in our immediate family (In order of age: Grandpa, Dad, Mom, Me, Andrea and Chelsey). This year our ranks ballooned to ten (Grandpa, Dad, Mom, my wife Gwyn, Me, Andrea’s husband Jacob, Andrea, Chelsey, our nephew Garrett, and our son Clark). 

Despite the blessing, in the weeks preceding Christmas, I found myself more disposed to reside on Mt. Crumpit than Whoville. For those who know me, this is an odd departure from the natural state of things. I wouldn’t fancy myself a Buddy the Elf. But insofar as elves have counterparts in their human cousins, well, I’m at least a George Bailey after his brush with Clarence the Angel. 

I think what changed for me this year, aside from the obvious pitfalls of relocating to a new state and welcoming a newborn into the world, was the added pressure I felt to make Christmas as idyllic for Baby Clark as I remembered it being as a child. I realize now how irrational this was. Even if all were calm and bright, Clark wouldn’t have remembered it anyway. He snoozed soundly through most of our gift giving.

Still, as a new father, I thought a lot about what I needed to do to make Clark’s Christmas extra special. From balancing our finances, to selecting the perfect Christmas music (Bing Crosby and Michael Bublé), to purchasing the appropriate “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament (Baby Block ornament), I tried and failed to plan every detail of the holiday. And when plans went awry, as they inevitably do with my family, my nerves quickly followed suit. 

I think my efforts to micromanage Christmas stemmed from an idealized memory of Christmases past – a strange specter of all of the best Christmases lumped into one. The result was that I tried to impose a litany of unrealistic expectations on my son and everyone else. See below:

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As the unfortunate photo above shows, no self-respecting dog should ever have to wear a Santa hat. And no one should have Christmas dictated to them. 

In retrospect, my shenanigans aside, we had a grand Christmas.

Our family was together. We are all in good health. We celebrated the Lord’s birth with our perfect baby boy and my rambunctious, smiling nephew. Even materially, I can’t complain about my new Keurig Coffee Maker

Next year, I will aim to put the Ghosts of Christmas Past to rest. 

Tales from the Road


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Today finds me encamped at the local Denny’s here in Joplin, MO. My wife and I are en route to Bloomington, IN for Thanksgiving with her family. The place is filled with travelers taking a break from the grind along I-44, hailing from all walks of life.

Our waitress is a friendly sort, coming from good, Midwestern stock. She’s friendly but not overly so and seems to execute her job with a refreshing efficiency.

There’s an interesting gaggle of locals perched at the bar watching TV, sipping coffee without a care in the world. It’s a bit like a throwback to the cafes of old, when the coffee was strong and the people were stronger. The men wear blue jeans and baseball caps while the lone woman dons a Sons of Anarchy t-shirt. I can’t comment on their sartorial choices but the camaraderie is impressive. They clearly all know each other and the scene I am witnessing has repeated itself numerous times before.

Our son Clark was hungry and angry a bit earlier. As my wife rose to make a hasty retreat for the baby changing station in the adjacent Flying J Truck stop, we received a number of sympathetic nods from our fellow customers. We replied with appreciative smiles.

When I looked at Clark’s empty carseat, I couldn’t help but appreciate such a place that brings so many disparate people together. How strange to find community while randomly traveling down the road.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Fatherhood: First Impressions

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This past Monday, on October 15, 2012, after a protracted, thirty-hour labor, Gwyn and I welcomed our first-born son into the world. Clark William Fodder was born at 9:52 AM here in Tucson, weighing in at 7 lbs on the nose. It’s strange to think of instantly loving a child, but the parenting instincts really kicked in without a problem. A few years ago, I called children parasites, as of Monday I called this one my “little buddy” and my Son. Naturally, much has changed in the past week. 

As a quick example, it’s about 12:30AM on Sunday night as I sit down to write this. Clark is snoozing in his bassinet, a structure I am very much tempted to call a crate à la our Pooch Alexas. Though the hour draws late, it’s really only the beginning of my night. In a surprise to no one but me, late nights over the past week have delayed my ability to do much of anything. So many friends and family had warned us about the coming dearth of sleep but I stubbornly assumed that any spawn of mine would prove the exception rather than the rule. The result of tempting these fates is that Baby Clark seems to have inherited, in manifold, my penchant for late nights. This party is just getting started.

Clark’s typical “night” includes waking up around 11PM/12AM for dinner. After 10 to 15 minutes of feeding, he falls back asleep for an hour or so, before waking up for yet another meal. The scenario repeats itself until around 7AM when he finally drifts off for good until breakfast around 10AM. Sleep for me and Gwyn occurs between feedings, leaving us in a zomboid trance most of the day, mindlessly wandering between Clark’s crate and the kitchen in search of coffee (brains!). 

The Mayo Clinic actually offers a number of helpful tips to soothe the disconsolate newborn, but at 4AM our ability to think rationally is usually fairly well gone. I find that I’ve developed a number of superstitions to help me cope with the uncertainty. My ritual when putting Clark to bed includes gently placing him in the bassinet and gingerly walking backwards as if the slightest wrong move might trigger the baby bomb’s explosive mechanism. And when Clark successfully remains asleep, James Bond has nothing on this sleep deprived father. 

I’m not sure that my rituals help but like so many tricks of parenting, they impose a bit of order on what is in reality a muddled process, adding structure to something that is utterly beyond my control anyway. This is the hardest part of being a parent really. Nothing and everything is simultaneously within my control. As first-time parents, there are any number of things that could go wrong at any point and none of these exigencies are within my ambit of control (illness, acts of god, diapers that don’t quite keeping exterior clothing dry, etc.). And yet all of the choices related to Clark’s rearing are within my control (selecting a pediatrician, purchasing a safe car seat, buying a different brand of diaper, etc.). It’s really a maddening dichotomy when you think about it.  

The crux of what I’ve learned in the past week is that the only way to navigate the contrariety of Fatherhood is give it the old college try. Do the best you can. Give it a go. “Keep Calm and Carry On” as the meme says. But don’t get caught in the lie of believing that there’s a best or even better way of doing things. For every opinion given, there are completely different schools of thought that say the opposite. So, just pick one. Everyone who has ever parented a kid and whole segments of the population who haven’t, seem to have theories about the best way to swaddle a newborn. Accordingly, there are no less than ten different websites selling wares meant for swaddling newborns, with each company claiming to sell the best product for swaddling (and let’s be honest, the Miracle Blanket is really the best product on the market). Yet, the same act can be accomplished by a bit of folding trickery with a receiving blanket, $10 for a pack of 4 at Target. There’s no right way. Just your way. 

Anyway, in case you missed the lead I just buried, the point is just that there’s really no right, better or best way to rear a kid. This realization makes me appreciate the decisions that my own parents faced when I was a child. And in retrospect, I have to say that most parents (mine included) end up doing a pretty good job – even when they’ve had to turn chicken shit into chicken salad.  

And so, with already 6 days on the job and roughly 6,564 days until Clark turns 18, as the hymn says, time is now fleeting, the moments are passing. Here’s hoping that when the bell tolls, we’ll have done a pretty good job too.

Thoughts of an Anxious Father

An Anxious Father

“The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.”

– Ecclesiastes 1.11

We had our weekly doctor’s appointment today. I’ll do my best not to reveal too much information although this is surprisingly difficult to do when discussing a pregnancy. In brief, Gwyn is progressing quite well and is nearing the stages of early delivery. In terms of timeframe, Baby Clark could arrive any day now. 

Being the eternal ray of sunshine that I am, his birth triggers a lot of conflicting thoughts for me. Naturally, I’ll start with the more melancholic.

I suppose I turned to the passage above from Ecclesiastes because it reminds me of our collective lot, set amid the vast pantheon of begins who have lived and died on this terrestrial plane, and are now forgotten. Thinking of my son, I want him to exceed this very low bar set by Ecclesiastes. I want his life to have meaning. I don’t want his name relegated to the dusty annals of history. I want him to be…great!

Of course, greatness, by definition, is rare. When I think of the great men of history, I think of Jesus. Thomas Jefferson. John Locke. Bing Crosby. William F. Buckley. Henry Ford. Steve Jobs and even Ernest Hemingway. Just a few names. But all men who lived lives of consequence. Hoping that Clark will assume a post among the great men of time is surely the blind ambitions of a joyful father. Yes, I know that the humble, appropriate thing to do is to pray that he lives a life of character – and I will pray for that. But just for good measure, I’ll tack on a prayer that he live a life of consequence. However that is defined.

I suspect such prayers are what most parents want for their children. Given my present station in life, I feel that this is a bit like the blind leading the blind. But the arrival of children does a strange thing to us parents to be. My life has become less important to me than the reality of my child having a better future. This sentiment so often struck me as a cliché. I’m amazed to know this is what parents really feel. For myself, I merely pray for the vision to help make these things a reality for Clark, even as he charts his own course. 

Not all of my thoughts are so morose. The second section of Ecclesiastes takes what has become a circumspect, existential view of life. For me, this means that the best I can do is live in the present – not in hopes of what things might come. The present reality is that my son will be here very, very soon. 

As the sun streams through my kitchen window, I have to smile when I think about his tiny feet. Feet that have yet to set foot on this ancient sphere. I think of his tiny fists – fists not clenched in anger but in warmth and love. I can imagine his tiny eyes, not yet fully able to take in his surroundings. Sleepy eyes that have never seen the evil and sorrows of this world.

Simply put, he is pure. Pure in every conceivable, normative sense of the word. An angel. Better still, a son.  

One day, we will throw passes in the yard, just as my Father and Grandfather did with me. Perhaps when he’s able to, we’ll read a book together, or settle in for a game of Call of Duty. Maybe when he’s much older we’ll have cigars and scotch on the porch. I hope he likes that sort of thing. For that matter, I hope he will like our pooch, Alexas. She can be rambunctious. Unrelated, I also hope he is a Republican so that we can complain to one another between election cycles. And I hope that I don’t drive him away. But when I do, because it’s inevitable that I will, I hope that he will come back.

So many hopes. So many joys. So many worries.

But for now, we wait. 

Take your time, Dear Son. Enjoy the love of your Mother’s belly. We’ll be waiting to care for you when you come into our World. 

October Skies

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With Baby Clark’s birth so near, today seemed like as good a day as any to give a quick update on life, as opposed to the book reviews I’ve lately been posting.

I suppose this is true of any couple, but Gwyn and I have spent much time preparing for our Son’s arrival. We obviously have a name picked out but we didn’t do a big announcement – at least until he actually comes into the world. I don’t much believe in Karma but better not to take any chances. One of the more interesting aspects of our preparations (besides nearly weekly trips to Babies “R” Us) has been coordinating travel plans with our respective families. Gwyn’s family has plans to depart from Indianapolis, while my family will make the trek from Southwest Oklahoma. Given that the baby is not nearly so interested in advance planning as we are, coordinating things has been quite the feat. We’ve more or less accepted the fact that it’s entirely possible no one will be here when he’s born, except for me and Gwyn – unless, of course, the stars align, itineraries converge, and Baby Fodder proves to be every bit the Type-A planner his father is. And really, no one would wish that on him at all. 

On my afternoon bike rides, I find my mind wandering more and more toward the type of world our Baby Boy will soon enter. As an erstwhile political junkie, given that we are in the midst of the Presidential Election, it’s impossible not to think about the type of country my Son will grow up in. By any fair measure, the political/economic/social state of our union is at a crucial juncture. With my generation facing massive debt, fewer financial opportunities than the generation before us, and a stagnant political system that has offered no solutions, I am convinced that this election will have tremendous ramifications for our Nation going forward. And as a partisan, I’m also quite convinced that the Nation needs a new vision other than the one offered by the current Administration. Naturally, I was quite pleased with Gov. Romney’s performance during the first debate on Wednesday. I think the AP Photo here, more or less sums up the feelings of both sides following the 90 minute skirmish.

But setting aside partisanship for a moment, it’s interesting for me to think about this election in terms of how it will affect my very near-future offspring. I’ve heard politicians and wannabe politicians clamor for years and years about how elections are all about the kind of future we want to leave for our children. More often than not, I wrote off the remark as that of an older generation trying to kiss up to a younger generation. Maybe a lame attempt to keep granny out of the home for a couple of years, who knows? But as a soon-to-be Father, I find myself asking, “Who would run our ship of state better? Who can I trust to steer us in a direction that will allow my Son to have opportunities that I could not, say 18 – 20 years from now?” Having never really done it before, it’s a strange thing to think with the mind of a parent. 

And of course, I’ve had many thoughts about the greater world – mostly at night while having a cigar on the porch. Overseas, the war drums beat, though perhaps not quite so loudly, between Israel and Iran. The world watches to see what position, if any, the U.S. will take. Meanwhile, the American embassy in Lybia burns and our FBI teams have only just entered the country, some three weeks after the assassination of our Ambassador by terrorists. The latest question to arise over the incident this week is whether our government actually ordered a cover-up of the whole thing.   

To be sure, our Son will be born during a critical hour in history. As a captive of my moment, I would like to think that these challenges are unique but if I give my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation any credit, it’s clear that each has faced its own critical moments. But as a future parent, the status quo simply isn’t acceptable to me. I actually want my Son to grow up in a peaceful world. Strange, isn’t it? I’d like him to travel and explore other cultures that are currently restricted by the tensions of world powers (e.g., Egypt, Venezuela, even Iran). Of course, there’s actually a self-interested element in all of this as well – for all I know, my Son could pursue a career in the armed forces; he could command a fighter jet over the Pacific (although with his mother’s eyesight, I highly doubt this). He might even join the special ops, and genuinely mean that he would have to kill me if he told me what he actually did. Suffice it to say, if I were a military parent, I’d rather my Son serve during a time of peace with his missions more akin to Johnny English than Jason Bourne

As a fall air gradually begins to blow across Tucson’s alluvial plain, the only certainty I have of late is the blue, October sky above. As a would be parent, this leaves me extremely unsettled. So much is out of my control and I can’t help but think that I know so little about life. And yet this little life, due in two weeks or so, needs me to help him make it make sense. 

And so I do the only thing I can: I pray that my Son might flourish, even in the desert of our age.