Wild middle man Eli J just turned the big 6 this week. And what a week it was. He and I felt a myriad of emotions this week, all of which culminated in a Ninjago Birthday Party featuring 11 little ninjas wreaking beautiful havoc in our home and backyard. But I am getting ahead of myself. I need to set up some serious context.
My sweet Eli and I couldn’t be more different. I’m a melancholy, so I feel emotions deeply and often. At any given moment in time, I could easily describe to you what emotions I am feeling and why I am feeling them. According to one of my favorite books, How Am I Smart?, I am self-smart but socially stupid. I kid, but I don’t kid.
Eli J, on the other hand, is happy-go-lucky and people-smart, just like his daddy. He can read people intuitively, work a crowd, and set people at ease. That being said, he is not always perceptive to what is going on inside his own little heart and mind. And if he is feeling things deeply and does know what they are, he has a harder time expressing what he is feeling. Mostly his feelings just come out as anger. Mostly his anger just comes out at me.
I knew my little man was wrestling deeply with some identity questions that are really significant. He has been trying to figure out who he is, what he is good at, and where he fits into our family. That is a lot on any little heart or mind. Needless to say, there were lots of confused, angry statements, lots of grumpy looks, lots of storms coming out of his fiery little self this week.
Normally I am able to translate between our two languages with a minimum amount of crying. I can usually read behind the anger to help him figure out what is going on and do my part to restore him to his normal Eli happiness (which contagiously leaks from his ear to ear smirks). But this week we were speaking different languages. No translations were getting through on either side.
He was wrestling and confused and couldn’t express what was going on. I was hurt because of the compound interest of being the brunt of his anger, which is the painful side and privileged coin of being a child’s safe place. All the while, I was planning his birthday party, gathering presents, making treats tailor-made for my little Ninjago Eli. I found myself subconsciously pouring every bit of frustration and sadness into planning his birthday party.
I didn’t realize this until his birthday party planning started looking like the Pinterest birthday parties I typically avoid and judge in my heart. I took a break from my therapeutic, insanely-detailed party game planning and sat down on the couch. I started to pray to God honestly about how I was feeling. I was growing bitter that Eli was being so mean to me while I have been planning a birthday party just for him. Didn’t he know that I was running around town, stalking Asian restaurants for chopsticks and fortune cookies because I love him so much? As he was inadvertently blaming me and pointing his finger at me, I couldn’t help but think of the little presents I had been gathering for him for months. It hurt even worse to know that I was actively going out of my way to love him and serve him, all the while he was hurling mean looks and insults my way.
Then this crazy thing happened. I started to cry. I realized that for the past few weeks I had been treating God the way Eli had been treating me. We were doing the exact same thing.
I, too, have been wrestling deeply with my own identity questions. Every six months or so, I spiral into a wee-little-valley of “Who am i? What makes me unique? What is my unique contribution to the world?” And my guttural response is often just like Eli’s, except that I am pointing my finger at God, hurling my unuttered but very real insults at Him, doubting His love, questioning His provision.
And all the while, as I took the brunt of my confusion out on Him, He calmly, lovingly (far more than me) continued to gather good things for me, sustain me and secure tailor-made blessings for me. He gently let me rage and distance myself as He buzzed through time and space to prepare the lavish feast of His presence for me.
That was my turning point.
I can’t say that Eli is now completely secure in his identity or that he will never have an outburst of anger again. But I saw him the way the Lord sees me. I saw in my terribly imperfect, albeit real love for Eli a tiny glimpse of God’s tremendously perfect love for me.
Now that is a reason for celebrating. So celebrate we did. Ninjago-style.
I am so thankful for this little Ninja in my life. Oftentimes, he ends up being more of a Sensei to me than anyone else ever could be. I learn so much from doing life with him. You are loved by a perfect Father and an imperfect mother. Happy 6th Birthday, my little Sensei