Monday, May 11, 2009

Living in Awe (by Billy Coffey)


My daughter points to the night sky from the back deck of our house, leaping from the not-so-sturdy chair and knocking it over.

Then, a few moments later, my son jumps and claps: “I SEE IT ISEEIT!”

Both stand in front of my wife and me, eyes wide and jaws slack. Though the heavens above us are awash in sparkling dots and faint wisps of the Milky Way, I’m not paying much attention to stars. But I am paying attention to the two small people in front of me. I’ve seen my share of falling stars in my life, seen enough that I thought I didn’t need to watch any more. What was more beautiful, more compelling, was watching my children watch them.

They’ve heard of falling stars, of course. They are plentiful in their bedtime stories. They’ve shown up in most of their Disney movies. They’ve even drawn them with red and purple crayons on construction paper.

But they’ve never seen one. Not until tonight. Not until just now.

My children evoke in me the sort of emotions that one would normally expect from a parent. Love, of course. And joy. Pride and confidence and loyalty, too. But as I stare at them and bathe in their sense of awe, I find another emotion welling up inside of me:


I am rarely awed. Seldom wide-eyed and slack-jawed. And that is a shame because it is a blessing to be as such, and as often as possible. My kids are experts at awe. I am no longer.

It is life’s greatest irony that the young only desire to grow old, while the old only desire to grow young again. We’re never satisfied, us humans. We’re always either looking for what we think we don’t have or what we once had but never appreciated. My kids are adamant that they be treated as adults, believing that distinction renders them a certain freedom. Not true. They don’t know it, but right now they are as free as they will ever be.

Which is why I want to capture this moment, to bottle it in my mind and cork it tight so the memory doesn’t leak out. I want to sit on the back porch years from now and watch their children do this, and I want to tell them the story of when their mother or father saw their first falling star.

Because I suspect that by then my children’s awe will likely have faded just as mine has. They will have seen too much by then. Too much evil and hurt and violence. Too much bad. This world will jade them as it jades us all and make the edges of their hearts rough. The bright tints of magic and wonder in their eyes will be replaced by the grays and browns of knowledge. Time will force them to bite the proverbial apple, and they will be introduced to the true nature of life; far from the beautiful garden they see existence as now, it will undoubtedly turn into a valley of doubt and danger.

This is the price of living. One that demands the penance of our wonder.

There is no going back for them. For us all. “The first time’s a one time feeling,” says the song, and there is much truth in that. My children have just seen their first falling star, and that euphoric feeling that is rushing through them now won’t be there when they see the next.

But must it be this way? Must my children suffer through such an awakening? Must they grow into this world and sacrifice their wonder and awe to join the ranks of the rest of humanity?

For that matter, must I?

“Truly I say to you,” Jesus said, “unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

A powerful warning. Yet while there is no doubt that I long to have the heart and eyes of my children, to experience the world as if I am seeing it for the first time, I can’t.

I’ve seen too much already.

But maybe that’s not the point. Christ doesn’t seem like the sort of God Who tells us to turn around and go back. No, He’s the sort of God Who turns us around and says, “No, it’s that way. You live forward, not back.”

I cannot see like my children. I cannot live like them. But I can become like them.

I can have their awe.

Not by seeing and living this day as if it were my first, but by seeing and living it as if it were my last.

To read more of Billy's work, check out his blog, What I Learned Today.


Warren Baldwin said...

I'm in awe of how some people can capture the essense and emotion of a common occurence, as you have done here. Good job.

But, if we can maintain a sense of awe, even the common can be uncommon, can't it? We can always look for that little spark, the question, the inexplicable. That's what makes kids so excited about things, and makes them so exciting to us.

Good encouragement for us to continue to look for the "awe." I think we can nurture that by studying, observing, thinking. God's universe, God's Word, and God's people are so deep, so incredibly complex and too "awesome" for us to ever lose the sense of awe. Good job. WB

Peter P said...

I shall call this the "Benjamin Button" post - and it is awesome!

I have that issue of not appreciating the things that my children get in awe about. I try to show them things that will generate those feelings but, in the end, I find it a drudgery to take the time to do so.

I wish I could experience the same awe as they do, or even experience awe that THEY are experiencing awe...

PPBottle said...

I wish I typed faster... that was going to be the second day in a row that I posted the first comment. I missed out to Warren by one lousy minute!

Beth in NC said...

Oh Billy, that is beautiful!

One true gift of being a parent is seeing the world again through the eyes of a child. Excitement and wonder over the most simple things -- a clover flower in the grass, a rock that sparkles. God is good!

Love ya Brother,

Annie K said...

You are right that the kids want to grow up too fast (we joke that my daughter is 16 going on 26.) I coach HS volleyball and I don't see a lot of awe and wonder in the girls. Sometimes I think they've seen too much in their 15 years - and they've lived through some pretty rough stuff - so 'growing up' is what they think they want and how they are going to escape their situation.

If they only knew just how tough grownupdom is...

Beth said...

Excellent post, Billy. I am fortunate to have a mom that is very good at imagination and living in awe even as a grown-up (and she's a writer!). As a teenager I always thought how silly and sentimental she was, but when I see her play with my kids, I'm always reminded of what a great quality that is. It's far too easy to be cynical, because that is what most of the world encourages and applauds. But I think I've held on to a little of that awe passed down from my mom, and I am very grateful for seeing that example!

Bob said...

Wonder and awe are among the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Young children don't have has many voices crowding out the Holy Spirit as adults do.
This was a wonderful post, Billy.

Lianne said...

Love it!

I promise you, I have been writing this same kind of post (minus your visual flair. Yes I'm jealous.) in my head for about two weeks. I may still write it...

I get in such a hurry that I forget to savor the moments like that with my kids. Thanks for the reminder.

Candace Jean July 16 said...

Awesome, Billy! I guess that's one of the things I miss about my kids - watching their awe in all things new. I intend to be very intentional about that today, whilst digging amongst the dirt and new spring shoots. It's not too late. Thanks for the reminder.

April said...

I'm speechless...Billy, you ROCK!!!

Julie said...

I loved this post by Billy. I truly enjoy his blog and am glad to see him featured here.

This is my first visit... I have enjoyed it much. Love your creativity shown here. OK, so tell me how the name came about....

Hope to visit here again soon!

Annie said...


Anonymous said...


The Hebrew word for worship. I like to think of it as Shock and Awe (yeah.. I borrowed it from a war effort).

There are times when God leads us to a true brand of worship that comes from a shock and awe of Him.

In those moments we remember what it means to be like children as we cry out "Abba" in a way that mirrors your children's excitement... "Daddy!! look at that!"

jasonS said...

I wrote about excitement today and I think it has to do with what you described here. Faith, wonder, excitment- these are where kids live. That's what God calls us to.

Thanks, billy!

christy rose said...

Becoming like a child is a work that only God can do in us. As adults it is sad to say that the trials and hardships of life do sometimes take the excitement and awe out of the little, or even sometimes big, things in our lives.

But He is a God of restoration and He can bring us to the place of living our lives in this world with the awe of a child whose trust is in his Father to provide for him in every way.

"unless you are converted"

Thanks for the reminder Billy to recognize the beauty of God's provision for us in everything around us.

Helen said...

I agree with of the Holy Spirit and all...

Beth E. said...

Very thought-provoking, Billy. What you say is so true. I have been guilty of being cynical and doubtful at times. But, I'm striving to maintain that spirit of awe!

sharilyn said...

it's all about the awe, billy! i find i must continue to open my eyes to the amazing things around me and open my heart to the wonder of it... for me, it is absolutely key to being grateful... and that is what keeps me ok with this world and with my God... i pray our loving Father will put so many amazing and wondrous things in your path this week that you cannot help but be in awe!

Keystone said...

Thanks for the memories!
Daughters Karli and Kelli have August birthdays (3rd and 29th). In between each year, the Earth is visited with the Perseids meteor shower.

It is summer; they can stay up late. I golf way out in the country at Elk Valley Golf Course.
The 18th green is huge, but I do not want imprints, so we use the fairway at midnight. We lay a heavy blanket down (if there is dew), otherwise the short soft grass is fine.
It is dark.

Laying flat on our backs, we look up into darkness sprinkled with specks of starlight. Suddenly, swoosh...and a meteor appears to remind us we forgot to make a wish.
We try to see who can spot the most, first, in any given minute.

Shooting stars are raining down everywhere (this year, August 12th is prime time). The nightime wildlife generally makes an appearance during the 3 hours or so we watch this miracle. And we do it every year together, same spot, same time of month.

Late in August, school starts up. In their first year, we had to vaccinate each child and be able to prove it before they could enter. Rubella, cruella, whatever....they were protected.

The shots were necessary to innoculate them from anything a crowd of kids could bring in to school and make them sick.
My girls were not keen on shots, but understood that it provided protection from anything that could make them have a major sickness.

Our annual forays to the golf course to watch meteor showers were just like immunization shots for life later on.

The more we did kid stuff together, the longer they stayed kids, and I got to repeat being one too.

Karli got out of diapers and into training pants called "Pull Ups".
She was thrilled to run to me and tell me "Look daddy! I have tulips!", while pointing at her Pull Ups. So we scheduled a trip to a flower observatory and she learned of real tulips.
(Phipps in Pittsburgh; go if you can).

We learned fairness and rules watching football (I was a Cleveland Browns fan until Art Model snuck the team out of town).
Kellie played with dolls in her room as a game began and I shouted plays to the TV for the coach to use. A scream went out from me at the action on field and Kellie ran out into the living room and said; "Who's playing dad?"

"Cleveland and Miami".

Back to the dolls she went until a new scream went up from me....TOUCHDOWN!

Kellie bolted from her room at this new yell and asked in all earnestness:

"Is your Ami winning?"

My face went quizzical until I recalled telling her, the teams playing were Cleveland and "My Ami".
She was rooting for the wrong team.

The more kid time you pack into your children, the better innoculated and immune they are to the adversities to come later.

My younger brother Doug sucked his thumb clear into 5th grade (at home), and believed by placing his entire left arm over the thumbsucking of a right thumb, no one could see.
Years later, married and with three children, I casually mentioned that story to his wife.
She replied:
"Oh, he still does that!"

We roared in laughter, for if you pack enough kid into a kid, they never wear it out.

Mark your calendars for August meteor memories every year.

Cheer for Cleveland not My Ami.
And keep it all alive with laughter.

Thanks for those memories again.

Tea With Tiffany said...

Turning 40 helped me become even more like a child than ever before. I lost my childhood due to trauma. Living with awe as an adult is so much fun! God is good.

Thank you for sharing, Billy.

What fun to find you over at chicken's blog. You know I love chickens.

katdish said...

Julie, Tiffany -

I like chickens (I suppose). I have roosters in my kitchen. But the name of my blog comes from a t-shirt I saw years ago:

"They say I have A.D.D...people just don't understand...Hey look a chicken!"

I am easily distracted and a bit scatterbrained...

Annie said...

Every day is awe inspiring for me. I learned to see with different eyes when my dad almost died two years ago. Thankfully and for the love of Christ, he is still living.
We only get one try and I plan on not missing out. Even if I do embarrass my kids :)

Julie said...

Thanks Katdish, for your explanation. .

I'd love to have you stop by for a visit if you have time. I love meeting new people!


Nitewrit said...

hey, Billy,

I'm going to take exception to a couple of things probably because I am quiet older than you. i disagree you are free as you'll ever be as a child. I am the most free now than I have ever been. Growing old can unlock many prison doors within one's mind. Part of this is by senior years you have seen so much of this world's ways you're not fooled by every new Chicken Little (no offense to Katdish, but your statement becomes, "hey look a chicken. Ah, it's just a chicken.).

And i find the awe comes back. There is so much variety built into this creation of God's there is always something surprising and exciting to discover. I think what happens inbetween childhood and oldage is we don't have the time to stop and realize something is awesome. We have jobs to do, families to raise and provide for and classes to attend, and they become blinders on our brain that block out distractions.

It also helps a lot if one turns off the constant talking heads on TV harping upon all the negative.

Larry E.