This piece comes to us from Andrew Taylor-Troutman.

When I say Asa,
I sing Asa

– Bry Webb, “Asa”

Our middle child is named Asa, which means Healer in Hebrew. His biblical namesake was the fifth ruler in the House of David, the third king of Judah. In his two and a half years, our Asa has had more days with a royally running nose than without. (His big brother passes down everything from t-shirts to germs.) So, chances are high that Asa’s nose will drip with what I call “The Slimer”—a green, gelatinous gob like the lovable yet disgusting character from Ghostbusters. Asa will hold still only long enough for me to smear the ectoplasm across his cheeks, leaving a stickiness that will later collect dirt, graham cracker crumbs, and strawberry pulp.

Our Asa recently went over the handlebars on his balance bike and surfed the asphalt on his top lip. But by the evening bath, our child named Healer was already proud of his “boo-boos,” pointing them out to his baby sister. Rumi claimed that your wound is the place where the light enters you. Healing, then, takes many forms.

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Asa is our middle child, and the type of kid who stops only when he sleeps. He loves to play doctor, toting his plastic medical toys in his little green bag, then checking your reflexes with a swift karate chop on your knee. A moment later, he is a firefighter, racing through the kitchen shouting siren noises. Occasionally, Asa is Pastor Pete, scrawling his sermons in crayons. (His mom and dad are both ordained ministers.)

More often, Asa calls himself Mail-Mail Pete. Fishing an imaginary key from his back pocket, he pretends to crank the ignition on his scooter—his Mail-Mail Truck—before kicking off down the sidewalk. He skitters to a stop at a neighbor’s front step, lobbing an imaginary package onto the porch. Mister Rogers, a fellow Presbyterian pastor, claimed that play is really the work of childhood, for children pretend in order to comprehend their true identities. Our Healer is a true giver, a generous heart.

But the shadow side to Asa’s imagination occurs in the middle of the night. Sometimes he cries out in terror: he’d been dreaming of a big brown dog in his bed or a scary lion chasing him or a bunch of gray spiders coming down onto his face. He tells me these details as I hold him still in the bottom bunk. My hand is upon his chest, and I can feel his heart thump-thump-thumping as through a stethoscope.

*

Whether healthy or hurting, Asa is always our middle child. As people have fewer children, middles are becoming increasingly rare. And middles have their own syndrome! Think Jan Brady: Marsha, Marsha, Marsha! Middles are often judged by comparison to their siblings; middles have to compete for their caregivers’ attention.

The Good King Asa ruled Judah for forty-one years of relative peace and prosperity. By our Asa’s hands, our household abode occasionally spirals into a nightmarish chaos. As his sister began to crawl and his brother started school, our middle child commenced hurling all the pillows off the couch and dumping all the Tinker Toys down the stairs. Without warning, he’d pour out all his milk upon the table and then chuck the glass, dashing it against the floor into a thousand shards. Last week, Asa colored his belly button so darkly that, even though this marker was washable, it took several days for his skin to return to normal. More lasting damage has been inflicted upon his siblings. Asa bounced a hefty rock off his brother’s head and a knot swelled up like a weather balloon. He crawled under the table and bit his baby sister’s foot, leaving a half-circle of tiny bruises after the teeth marks faded. Asa, Asa, Asa! What’s a parent to do?

*

In her memoir Still, Lauren F. Winner writes poignantly about the students at her divinity school learning the middle voice in New Testament Greek. This means that the subject is acting upon itself. English does not have an exact equivalent, but many translators render the Greek middle voice into a reflexive verb, just like Asa’s favorite sentence: “I do it myself.”

At two-and-a-half years, our middle child can pour his own cereal. He can put on his own rain boots. He can use the potty by himself (although I am quick to thank the Lord God Almighty for his grace). Asa can ride his scooter by himself, zipping uphill with no hands or zooming downhill with one leg hanging Zen-like in the air. Yesterday he climbed by himself to the top of the playground, then careened down a winding slide, landing on his bottom with a thump into the mulch. Asa got up and brushed himself off, obviously proud. Yes, he’d done that by himself.

The Old Testament gives a glowing overall report of his namesake’s rule. When the king named Healer became old, however, there’s one sharp critique: This Asa did not seek help for his foot disease from the LORD (2 Chr 16:12). I take this to mean that you can’t do everything by yourself.

In the song “Asa” by Bry Webb, the father tells his son: Let the shadows grow / to the end of the road / I will carry you home. When he was even younger, our Asa would run down the street until his little legs could go no further. Then, he’d utter his own unique construction: “Carry you me.” Like Webb’s song, I hear this as the language of grace.

*

I am less troubled about King Asa’s lapse in judgment regarding his own health than I am with the report that he deposed the Queen Mother. King Asa removed his mother, Maacah, from her place in the royal court because she had made an idol dedicated to Asherah, a fertility goddess (2 Chr 15:16). Granted, the kings of Israel are known to rise, or fall, based on their absolute loyalty to the Lord God. King Asa was right to tear down the idols in the high places; but did he have to be so hard on his mama?

Our Asa is always in the middle, but the child walks in his mother’s footsteps. My wife is athletic, a high school varsity letter winner in three sports. She’s at home in her body and good with her hands. In Myers-Briggs terms, part of her personality is Sensing (S), meaning she focuses on physical realities like sights, sounds, tastes, and smells. She is attuned with what is present and real. As a girl, she had the same favorite sentence as Asa: “I do it myself.” They also have the same fire! Our middle child’s destructive ways towards glassware and siblings sometimes evoke screams from his mother and, later in private, a string of obscenities that would make dear Fred Rogers blush. Asa and his mom also have the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen. There’s never any doubt what my loves are thinking. I know exactly when I am found in the middle between them.

I find comfort in that Jesus promised to be present when two or three are gathered. Most often, I’ve heard this passage cited at a small gathering, say, a new Bible study. Uttered with a shrug or even a sigh, the implication is that numbers are not that important. But in the context of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus promises to be in the middle of disagreements among members of the same church family (Mt 18:15–20). Transgressions are meant to be forgiven so that relationships may be healed, then unity restored. If only King Asa had known this teaching! “Healing” in the New Testament often connotes a sense of wholeness, which is a grace if you are caught in the middle and pulled in different directions. Jesus promises to be there, so it’s not simply about what you can or cannot do. The true grace is that it is the shepherd’s work to carry the lost lamb home (Mt 18:12–14). Carry you me.

It was the middle of the afternoon when I came home for a late lunch and found Asa snoozing in the bottom bunk next to his mother. From the bedroom door, I quietly watched her watching Asa sleep. In my mind, I carry the look of peace on both their faces.

*

Our middle child is an early riser. (Maybe we let him nap too long.) I’m usually awake, drinking coffee and writing. As Intuitive (N), I tend to focus on the big picture, as well as the future. But I am present enough to answer Asa’s summons to the bedroom, so that my nursing wife can rest as long as our baby. Big Brother rolls over in the top bunk, settling back in. I take Asa for a walk through the dawn light.

Our middle child sits in the stroller, a bowl of cereal in his lap, naming things he sees. Fire hydrant. Squirrel. Minivan. He pops a piece of Kashi cereal into his mouth. While he chews, my mind begins to ruminate upon what I am supposed to do today and the upcoming water bill and the rather pointed critique I received after Sunday’s sermon and … Asa calls me back to the present: “Oh, look! There a rabbit! He a Daddy Rabbit!”

He reminds me once again of Bry Webb’s song: Let your errands wait / until tomorrow / carry on and play / let the day be long.

After this morning’s stroll, Asa—excuse me—Mail-Mail Pete asked for his helmet. Then he climbed on his scooter, ahem, Mail-Mail Truck and coasted down the middle of the street. The day looms ahead. Will there be difficulties, trials, and pain? Conflicts to negotiate? Forgiveness to give and reconciliation to work towards? I know there are many things to do until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes. But, in this ordinary holy moment, Asa looks back over his shoulder. Our Healer laughs, and I can’t help but join him. I sing Asa.