Ian went through a phase a while back in which he labeled everything. He was learning new words every day, and by golly, he was going to use them. We drove around town and he exclaimed from the backseat, “House! Car! Truck! Tree! Moon!” In the Meijer produce section, he’d shout, “Apple! Nana! ‘Mato! Pepper!” I don’t know the official, scientific name for this developmental phase. I could dig out my childhood development textbooks from the basement and read about the cognitive and linguistic significance of it all, but I’m slowly figuring it out for myself.
In some ways, he still does this labeling thing, but he embellishes more: “Mama! I saw a pick-up truck! I saw a blue pick-up truck, Mama. It so big!”
Evan’s lab building is in the heart of downtown, right across the street from a hospital. Ian loves going to pick him up after work, because it’s very likely we’ll see a bus, ambulance, or construction vehicle. On the way home the other day, Ian was trying so badly to say, “I saw two ambulances and a police car,” but he could not even get the words out because was so over-the-moon excited. He was just yelling and sputtering random syllables, and Evan and I could not stop laughing.
Sometimes it drives me crazy, but it doesn’t matter how many ambulances or pick-up trucks or police cars we see. He remains exuberant at each and every sighting, as if they were ancient fossils, once-in-a-lifetime discoveries.
Back in November, our small group was talking about gratitude (as one does that time of year). Counting gifts is still one of my favorite spiritual practices; it never fails to bring my focus back around to Jesus. It’s how I abide, how I pray without ceasing, how I choose the better way.
Our group talked about this practice, reflecting on how it can sometimes be insincere or legalistic, and wondering if we miss the bigger story God is writing when we’re so focused on the minute details of our lives.
One friend said, “Sometimes, it makes me feel like a little kid saying grace, you know what I mean? Like, ‘Thank you for my chicken, and for my french fries, and for my puppy, and for Sesame Street, and thank you for my friend Sarah, and for my ketchup, and…’”
I get that. In the years I spent serving in children’s ministry, I heard so many prayers that were offered up for no reason but the simple desire to be just like the other girl in class or to have one’s voice heard. And sometimes, we would end up praying for everyone’s goldfish (all of which mysteriously died within the same week). My four year-old nephew loves to say grace before family dinners right now. When the time comes, everyone waits with baited breath. You just never know what kind of prayer you’re going to get with a four year-old.
I remember, though, that Jesus said we should receive the kingdom like a child, making ourselves simple and lowly. I used to think this meant accepting without question or believing without logic. Now I think Jesus was talking about joy and curiosity and love.
Ian’s world is coming more alive to him everyday. He might not know it, but he makes it clear though his excitement and his questions. Every moment is ripe with new discoveries.
I want to see the world more this way, with never-ceasing joy and never-waning enthusiasm. Just like Ian notices every single pick-up truck in the Target parking lot, I want to take note and give thanks for every single gift God gives. Maybe it’s childish to do so. Maybe that’s good.
Tomorrow’s gifts might be the same as they are today, but Ian teaches me that familiarity doesn’t make them any less wonderful or miraculous. And indeed, there are gifts today that I don’t even have the words for yet.
In the meantime:
hot cup of coffee
throaty newborn giggle
slobbery toddler kiss
pot of spaghetti on the stove
tulips sprouting out front
house, car, truck, tree, moon