Follow by Email

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Kami's 18th birthday letter...

Kami,

I know today doesn't seem like the ideal birthday for you, but I think it says a lot about you.

Usually a birthday is a day cleared out for friends and family to dote on you, planning parties, coffee dates, after school pedicures, cake, and piles of gifts.  This day is a bit different.  The minute you get out of school you were mentioning last night how you have to rush home and lock yourself in your room to go over your message notes for tonight.  Leave it to you to agree to speak in youth group on your 18th birthday on Selflessness.

Instead of relaxing at home before going to ISM, you have to go early to speak to the Middle Schoolers first and then the High Schoolers later on in the evening.  I'm sure by the time 9:00pm rolls around and youth group wraps up, you'll be more than a little tuckered out.  That's kinda what happens when you pour out your heart and share all the things that you've studied.  What an awesome way to spend your special day...preaching your little heart out to your peers and hoping to have an impact on their lives.  I'm praying for you even now.

I hope the message you're sharing on 'selflessness' becomes the anthem of your life.  In a world consumed with self and selfies, what a rare jewel you would be if you would but let God make you humble and kind, patient and flexible.  With every day that goes by leading to your departure for college in August, I'm watching you catch a vision for the selfless life.  Even last week when you were down in the living room talking to your mother and I, it was evident that you are hungry to be openhearted and kindhearted.  I know it's not easy for you...it's not easy for me or anyone.  That's why it takes a daily discipline of "dying to yourself" and "coming alive" to the interests, desires, needs, and dreams of others.  It is my prayer that this kind of life would envelope you in the years to come so that when people talk about Kami they can't help but say, "She is such a giving and gracious person."  Can you think of anything more satisfying than that...to be known for your selfless love?  I can't.

More than anything today, I want you to know that I'm proud of you.  I'm proud that you have volunteered for Campus Life that last two years faithfully pouring your heart into some pretty difficult kids...it shows your perseverance.  I'm proud that you have found a couple places of employment and have worked hard even on some nights when you're tired and wishing you could just veg at home...it shows your responsibility.  I'm proud of the friends you have surrounded yourself with especially when you went through many years of struggling to find good friends...it shows your discernment.  I'm proud of your eye for photography and your passion for capturing beauty...it shows your artistry.  I'm proud of how clean, organized, and planned out you like to be...it shows your orderliness.  I'm proud of your love of all things social and relational...it shows your love of life.  I'm proud of your passion to confront conflict...it shows your courage.  I'm proud that you're leaving the nest and heading off to college out of state...it shows your strength and appetite for risk.  I'm proud of how affectionate you are...it shows your tenderheartedness.  I'm proud of how so many people talk to you about their struggles and problems...is shows that you're a sympathetic listener.

I love so many things about you. I love how you tell people the truth even if it means putting the friendship at risk...it shows that you have unbreakable values.  I love how you have little verses and sayings plastered up around your room...it shows that you care about God's heart and your own.  I love that you love coffee...it shows that you have a brain...hehehe.  I love that you love meaningful late-night conversations with your friends...it shows that you're deep.  I love that you love movies that make you cry...it shows that you care about good stories.  I love that you enjoy getting together with our extended families...it show that you have an appreciation for our heritage.  I love that we've been able to go on hundreds of little dates since you were born...it shows that you're not embarrassed of being with me...hehehe. (I'll always cherish those from the time we shared a milkshake at McDonalds when you were one and a half to sitting across from each other at Blue Water Grill and trying new food...you foodie!)  I love to watch you worship as you lead people in worship...it shows your passion for the heart of God.  I love to see you laugh hard with your sisters in the back seat coming home from long trips...it shows your value of sisterhood.  I love watching you snuggle the boys and kissing them on the cheek over and over again...it shows how you've welcomed them into our family.  I love your sense of fashion...it shows your eye for colors & designs and the ability you have to coordinate them.  (I don't have that.)  More than anything...I love that you love your mom and I.  There is nothing that would hurt me more than being shut out of on of my children's lives and you continue to let us into your heart and to care about our hearts.  I hope it's always like that.

So, I'm proud of you.  And I love you deeply.

I always will even when you're gone.  I will always carry you close to my heart and I'll be a text or phone call away.

I look forward to watching you fly in the months to come.

You got this.

Happy 18th birthday, Rose.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Doing wood with my dad today...

Wood and my Dad

There are some special pastimes
that wake the boy in me,
but few can touch the unique thrill
of cutting down a tree.

It starts with mixing up the fuel
and sharpening the saw,
oiling up the bar and chain
just like I did with pa.

"Get the tractor filled with fuel
then go and get the wagon,
Don't forget our leather gloves
and water when we're draggin'."

I still can hear by father's voice
giving these reminders,
for I was just a little boy
with adolescent blinders.

In time I didn't need his words,
the prep was second nature,
the woods became my habitat
almost my second culture.

With that we'd promptly hit the trail
that led into the wild,
Evoking almost everything
that stimulates a child.

My dad would spot the perfect tree
that needed to be felled,
he'd notch it out and cut with care
and all our plans just gelled.

The tree would crash onto the ground
falling in the clearing,
And every time dad cried, "Timber",
I'd find myself just cheering.

Smiling from ear to ear
and backing up the tractor,
I'd hook the chain around the log
Becoming the extractor.

I'd lift the drawbar nice and high
to keep it off the ground,
and just like that I'd pull it out,
the power was profound.

Some logs were probably a ton
a yet our little Ford
would make light work of most of 'em
acting almost bored.

The smell of earth mixed with exhaust
was etched into my mind
and to this day when I catch that whiff
my soul becomes aligned.

It isn't long before it's time
to cut the wood to pieces,
filling up the wagon high,
here's where my soul releases.

I can't tell you how it feels
to see your labor's fruit,
As piles of wood accumulate
the joy is absolute.

The more we get the more I want
addiction setting in,
I'll gladly beat my body up
to feel this kind of 'win'.

And then comes time to split it up
and stack it in the shed,
to get it dried before the cold
bears down with winter's dread.

And this is where my dad comes in,
at least in my mind's eye,
remembering the joy I brought
him as his little guy.

It was the woods where I felt closest
to my father's heart,
the place where everything made sense
and nothing was apart.

Connection that I can't explain,
a synergy bone-deep
was felt, i think, by both of us
some nights it makes me weep.

And that's what brings me to today,
and to this reverie,
my father's coming to my house
to relive this memory.

We're splitting wood out on my lot,
of this I'm truly glad,
returning to my roots again
and working with my dad.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Spiritual Warfare...this is life or death.

My sabbatical coach shared a story with me from the Bible that I had apparently blown by before.  It is found in the Minor Prophets in the obscure book of Zechariah in the 3rd Chapter.  I just want to share a short part of the story focused on a guy named Joshua, the high priest at the time who seemed to be under some sort of spiritual attack.

When I talk of spiritual warfare, I am often speechless when it comes time to definitively describe what's occurring.  I feel like most of my rationale is conjecture at best.  I'm swinging in the dark hoping to land a punch, but I'm not sure if I'm making it up or telling the truth.

But I know this, I undoubtedly face spiritual attack and it's brutal.

That's where this passage comes along to give us a picture of what is often only a hunch...
____________

Zechariah 3:1-5

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan!  The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!  Is not this man a burning stick snatched from a fire?"

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.  The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes."  Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you."

Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head."  So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.
_____________

There are days where I can't explain it, but it feels every bit as if Satan is standing right next to me whispering dark speech into my ear and bringing accusations against me so fast and furious that I can hardly stand the barrage of bullcrap.  I know that I have all authority to rebuke Satan in the name of Jesus, but I stand there paralyzed with the nagging feeling that part of what he's saying is true. I'm dead in the water.

I can't deny that I'm standing there covered in the filthy garments of my own sin.  I can't pretend that I haven't wavered or faltered or wandered.  I'm not perfect and I know that, but there's something about him piling on the condemnation that neutralizes me on a good many days.  I feel no right to lead.  No authority to represent God.  No confidence whatsoever that I deserve to be anything more than a withering wallflower...simply existing to stay out of people's way and not screw anything up.

I stand there in the presence of God and Satan fearing that the prosecution against me is air tight and that the verdict will come back, "I find Jason guilt on all counts."  I slog through the day leading with the fumes of what used to be fuel.  I sputter and get by, but there is no torque, no power.  And I think that is the point of accusation, not so much to find you guilty, but to make you feel guilty even if there's nothing there.  If Satan can accomplish that, he nullifies your contribution taking minutes, hours, days and weeks away from your very short life.  Could this all really be about simply stealing precious and fleeting time from us?  The great Pilferer seeks to rob us blind.

But the LORD doesn't wait for Joshua to get "his priest on" in this passage.  He steps in to defend and vouch for him.  He gets aggressive which shows God's depth of feeling for people who are being maligned.  He is not an unfeeling bystander, he is an active participant running interference on our behalf.  He chases Satan away like a Shepherd chases away a predator.  He rebukes him which is to say he shouts him down.  He puts him in his place.  He silences him and then humiliates him.  He sends him away cowering by turning his words against him.  And then he does the unimaginable...

He speaks up for us and into us at the same time.

"Is not this man a burning stick snatched from a fire?"

He asked the Accuser a question about the identity of the Accused.  He uses a metaphor to let Joshua know how he feels about him.  He calls him a burning stick snatched from the fire.  On the one hand he validates that this guy is burning up, soon to be ash if things don't change and fast.  He acknowledges the trajectory of Joshua's life apart from his "snatching power".

This is important for me to understand: I don't save myself apart from the saving hand of God snatching me from the jaws of death.  And I'm not just talking about burning in hell, I'm talking about burning out in life.  I know what it's like to be a burning stick and to see the hand writing on the wall of a premature expiration date.  And here's the deal...I need God to save me from myself and my sin.  It doesn't take long for a burning stick to turn into a heap of ash.  I know all to well.

But God is a 'snatcher'.  Alway has been.  He sees us burning out and reaches in his hand and grabs us right out of the inferno.  As his hands blister, he holds us in his arms scorched, yet saved.  Nothing can separate us from his love.  His love runs back into the burning house to get us out.  This is his character.  I can't tell you how many times throughout my life he's snatched me from the fire and salvaged what was on the brink of death in me.  I couldn't get out on my own...I couldn't snatch myself from my own fiery fate...he was the Fireman who put his life on the line for mine.

If that wasn't enough, he goes even further.  Grace always does.  He speaks again...

"Take off his filthy clothes...put fine garments on him."

He doesn't just save us from our sin, he takes off our shame.  He knows that Satan loves to pester us about the filthy clothes we're standing there wearing.  It's better than being naked, but not much better.  Our clothes serve as a reminder that we are scum and need never forget it.  I think some religions actually want us to get saved but stay shamed.  This is not our God.  Joshua didn't ask for it, didn't even deserve it, but God said, "Take off the sin and shame and replace it all with purity and righteousness."  This is the love of our God...extravagant and and expansive.  Not stingy in the least.  His desire is for forgiveness and freedom.  Not just forgiveness...freedom!  He wants us to walk away healed, clean, pure, and alive.  Oh, how desperately the church needs the freedom beyond forgiveness!  I do!

But the vision shared in this passage is sort of interesting in that while Zechariah is downloading this revelation from God, he actually speaks into the vision and adds his own two cents...

Then I said"Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.

What?  The audacity of this prophet to want even more for Joshua.  The gull to ask God for even more mercy and bounty.  He saw that his head covering was still charred smelling of smoke and soot. He was standing up for Joshua in that moment and asking for everything God had to offer, going to the mat for him.  Man, do I love having friends that truly want all that God has to offer and are willing to fight for my heart.  It is rarified air this thing called friendship, true fellowship.  It is uncommon to have people standing in the gap for you wanting things for your life that you don't even know to want in the moment.

How astonishing that Zechariah gets so personally attached to the vision that he wants to make a suggestion...a revision to the vision.  He noticed that Joshua was mostly free, but not entirely.  He boldly approached God for more and God responded.  He didn't respond as a threatened deity or a territorial king, he granted him his humble request as the angel stood by.

And we have have angels on stand by.  All of us.  They are dispatched to guard and guide us.  To accompany us when we feel alone.  The strengthen us when we feel assailed.  They fight demons for us and stand as watchmen on the walls looking for the ever-circling lion who seeks to devour us.

The characters in the larger story are:

God
Angels
Satan
Demons
Me
Others

And we see in this story how they all interact in the unseen world to bring seen changes to our lives.

I hope this story encouraged you today as much it encouraged me.  Take heart, my friends.

(if my daughters and sons every read this in the future...I hope you are coming to realize the reality of spiritual warfare and how it effects us.  Know that I'm praying for you today, but also praying for your future that you will let God snatch you out of whatever is seeking to scorch you letting Him reclothe you in the garments of his salvation and love.  So much hangs in the balance of understanding this transaction with God.  If you don't know what's happening to you when you're being accused and abused by Satan, you will suffer in sin and shame all the while God is seeking to forgive and free you with his love.  I love you, my children.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

An ordained conversation with a gay man...

There are times when I know that I know that I know I am having an ordained encounter.  Some would call it a divine appointment.  This morning happened to be one of those holy moments.

I had just doctored up my Starbucks coffee and was getting settled into a plush leather arm chair in the corner when I saw a guy sit down next to me in the other matching chair to my left.  Sometimes I will lift my head from my book and say hi, other times I will keep my head down and mind my own business.  For some reason I lifted my head, smiled, and nodded with a nonverbal 'hello'.  One reason, come to think of it, was the salmon jeans he was wearing that almost glowed in my peripheral.  I'm a color guy and happen to have salmon pants myself, so I had to greet this guy.

To say that I initiated this conversation would be giving myself too much credit.  He was the one who opened his mouth and asked me if I had come from the gym.  He saw my running shoes and shorts and put two and two together.  I told him that I was going to the YMCA after spending some time reading and writing desperately trying to steer clear of a 'health and fitness" conversation...to no avail.  I didn't let the exercise conversation go very far before I let him know that I only started working out a couple weeks ago and don't know diddly squat about it, really.  He probably already new that since my shorts are actually swimming trunks.  That's a dead give away that I'm a hack...an ignorant wanna be.

I think he sensed my honesty and vulnerability and reached out his hand introducing himself and asking me my name.  His face was aglow and his interest in my life was palpable.  He had the coolest glasses and when I shook his hand I couldn't help but notice this massive ring he was wearing.  I inquired about it and asked if it had any particular significance.  He pulled it off and handed it to me sharing the story of the group of bikers he rides with and the jewelry and accessories that this particular biker gang wears.  He didn't strike me as a biker guy, but then again, I've learned you can't judge a book by it's cover after all these years.

I gave him back his ring and that's when he asked me what I did.

I don't know why, but I'm always reticent to just blurt out, "I'm a pastor".  For every conversation it creates, it shuts down thrice as many.  There is something stifling about playing that card...it seems to trump every other interesting thing that was naturally occurring up to that point in the conversation.  I think a lot of it has to do with people's previous experience with church or a fallacious idea they have about pastors that they may have learned from The Simpsons.  Whatever may be the case, it often is associated with previous hurt, usually by someone close to them that they trusted an felt betrayed by or used by.  Whether it's real or perceived, it becomes their truth and that makes it true to them, so it's not for me to always know who the antagonist or protagonist was in their backstory...I just listen and try to understand giving them the benefit of the doubt.  A cursory conversation in a coffee shop doesn't afford me much more than that.  It's my best shot at meaningful interaction I guess is what I'm trying to say.

When I shared that I was a pastor and I was taking a sabbatical, I watched his countenance change.  It wasn't that he was shutting down, he was just reorienting himself...at least that's what it looked like from the outside looking in.  I told him that I had been in ministry for 20 years and my church felt it was important for me to take some time away to care for my own soul and the heart of my family so that I could be healthy for the long haul.  He nodded his head in agreement and then went on to share with me that he used to be in ministry himself.  This caught me a little off guard simply because the conversation up to that point hadn't a hint of that reality.  Usually I can feel that sort of thing.

"I've sort of had to reinvent myself since then.  I got a divorce and left the church."

Rather than bending the conversation toward pain, I decided to ask about what led him to ministry back in the day.  He shared about his gift of music and how he led worship in the church.  He said those 7 years were the best years of his life.  He loved the staff he worked with and the church he served.  We spent some time talking about the senior pastor of the church and how genuine and good he was.  He truly felt so much gratitude for his time at that church.

In my mind my brain was telling me to circle back to the "reinventing himself" description he shared earlier.  Some thing told me that would be a natural segue into what brought him to the present, the place where I was meeting him.

"What did you mean when you said you had to reinvent yourself?"

I thought he was going to talk about a career change...in fact, I knew that's where we were going next in the conversation.  I couldn't have been more dead wrong or more shocked by the next thing that came out of his mouth.

"I'm a gay man and so my whole life changed in a moment."

He went on to describe how he had suppressed his desires since he was a little boy growing up in a Baptist home with awesome parents.  I grew up in a Baptist home with great parents, for the record. As I asked him about what it was like for him to exist with a duality of identity for all those years, he teared up just a little bit.  He said the thing he felt the worst about was all the people who he hurt in the process.  I told him that usually when I talk to people who 'come out' there is an ache, but it's about how people have hurt them in the process.  He acknowledged that with the nodding of his head, but reiterated that he felt bad about how much pain he had caused the people he loved.  I wish I could have dug a bit deep into that, but he took the conversation in a different direction at that point.

He began to talk about how free he felt and how it took him a while to feel that freedom.  But even as he talked about this freedom, he stopped and paused looking around the coffee shop.

"I just don't feel like I fit anywhere."

He waved his hand and pointed around the coffee shop.

"You mean, even here today you don't feel like you fit?"

"No.  I mean, nobody is making me feel that way, but anywhere I go I feel some sense of not fitting in."

"Do you feel lonely a lot?"

"Oh, yeah.  Very lonely.  Don't get me wrong, I have a great relationship with my x-wife and my two girls.  They are my greatest accomplishment in life.  I was just with my daughter last weekend.  I'm really blessed with some great family and friends."

We went on to talk about that feeling of being on the outside looking in and despite all his blessings how he feels displaced.

"There is no place for me in evangelical Christianity and I get that."

As I began to form a response to that statement, he turned and saw his client walk in.  He got out of his seat and greeted him grabbing his stuff and taking it to a nearby table.  As his client was getting settled in, he turned to me and reached out his hand.

"So great to meet you today, Jason.  God bless you and your sabbatical."

"Thanks brother.  So good to meet you, too."

And with that, I watched him climb into business mode and integrate back into the rhythms of the work week.  Since I'm not working right now, it's interesting to watch people all around me grinding and hustling.  When I'm in the rat race with them, I don't notice how all-consuming work can be.  I saw him functioning in his reinvented life and wondered if he was ok.  I just didn't have enough time or conversation to get at whether he was truly ok.  I don't care who it is...I care about finding out if that person is really ok.  For some reason I feel compelled to know that when I'm around people.  It's a passion of mine.  If they are, I want to know why.  If they aren't, I want to know why not.

I never really got to find that out...we were just getting past skin deep and were slicing through the red meat when we got interrupted just short of bone deep.  I had so many questions and I could tell he did, too.  But life happened and he had to get moving on.  I wish I got his name and number now, but I've got no contact info and since I'm 25 minutes from my home town there's a slim chance of ever seeing him again. Dang.

It was definitely the most intriguing conversation I've had since starting my sabbatical.  He was a gracious and inquisitive man.  He was so friendly and concerned for me.  His words were so full of life and his storytelling was so interesting.  His questions were so thoughtful and the way he listened so genuine.  He carried himself with such poise and passion.  In our 25 minute conversation, I found him to be truly remarkable.  I feel like I could have learned a great deal from this man had I a bit more time to spend in his presence.  He seemed like a wellspring of wisdom.  I spend a lot of time with a lot of people, and he was a unique soul.

I will be praying for him today and I hope for the rest of my life as God brings him to mind.  May God continue to pursue him with His relentless love.

God, keep bringing people into my life to grow my heart so that it's as big and beautiful as Yours.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"I've put a lot of pressure on the Scripture"...

I've noticed something as I've been reading the Bible on my Sabbatical.  I don't think I would have discovered it had I not stepped away from preaching for a while.  The thought came to mind as I talked with my wife today.

I think I put a lot of pressure on the Scripture when I read it.

Have you ever been talking to someone and you feel so much pressure you can't even be yourself?  Have you ever needed something to be certain way so bad that you believe it into being?  Have you ever felt so under the gun that you are forced to find a way...no matter what...at all costs?

Pressure does some crazy stuff to us.  It does some weird stuff to the things we interact with as well.  It's hard to tell what is actually real when pressure's part of the equation.

When I say I put pressure on the Scriptures, I mean that I need them to perform for me.  I need them to be something for me in order for me to succeed.  I need them to be fresh and new and novel and inspirational.  When you need something bad enough, your demand can be so urgent that you twist truth and read between the lines or even color outside the lines.  The Scriptures become an ingredient for your own Sculptures.  It's amazing the sculptures you can form out of the scriptures.  Beautiful works of art.  Attractive to eye and ear.  Crafty craftsmanship.

But the Scriptures are not to be tampered or trifled with as a means to my preferred end.  I don't have the right to create revisionist history or theology.  I can't let my pressure as a preacher to cause me to come at the text with an agenda or angle.  The Word is not paint and I am not a painter...The Word is the masterpiece and I am the tour guide.  This is important to distinguish these days where artistry is preferred over theology.

Let me make it a little more personal.  I can't put pressure on Jacob (I was reading him and about him last week) in our relationship.  When I am purusing his life, I can't make him something he's not...I have to let him be who he is.  Just because I might need him to be something different than I see him being, I can't embellish his story to make up my own about him.  I can't pressure the text into conforming to my sermon series.  I can't pick Jacob apart so barbarically that he's hardly noticeable after I get done with him.  He needs to resemble the person that the Scriptures describe him to be.  He needs me to treat him fairly and let him speak for himself.  He certainly would take the same offense I would if someone grabbed one thing I did or said and made a big "to do" out of it that didn't represent me in the slightest.  I'd be ticked.

He deserves fair treatment just like anybody else.  I don't get to underestimate or overreach.  I don't get to carve out a word and make a mountain out of molehill, not do I get to dismiss a section and make a molehill out of mountain.  It's either a molehill or a mountain and all I'm commissioned to do is display the masterpiece of his life that's already curated.

This isn't to say that I'm not allowed to look deeply at what the Scriptures say or dig deeply into Jacob's heart to discover something that might be hiding right there in plain sight.  The best communicators are the ones who are magnifying what was there all along.  They aren't the ones who have an interpretation of something no one has every thought of before. (unless they are a rare luminary)  I'm not trying to rain on anybody's theological parade, but I think I've spent too much time trying to find something original that I end up making something unnatural.  But this is only a part of the story.

When you're a preacher preparing a new sermon every week, there is this intrinsic and extrinsic pressure to share something no one has heard before or at least to present it in a way that no one has every thought of before.  This is a dangerous premise with which to approach/attack the text.  The pressure I can put on myself and then on the Scripture is unfair which can lead to content that is unfounded.  I can make a silk purse out of sow's ear and no one would be the wiser.  I could use my 'sanctified imagination' and create some fascinating fiction.  More terrifying, I could believe that what I'm sharing is truth just because it's "based on a true story".  That is the most palatable heresy to be digested by the masses...the stuff that mixes fact and fiction into a cocktail of contemporary, relevant preaching, well-meaning as it might be.

I say this because as I've read the Bible during my sabbatical without the expectation of needing to come up with something to say about it, I've become aware of how I've gotten used to reading the Scripture with pressure and presumptions.  I've felt rushed and so I rush to conclusions.  I've felt expectations that have led to projections.  My ulterior motives force conclusions instead of letting things develop naturally, normally.  In the same way a relationship cannot be healthy with this approach, my relationship with the Word of God and the God of the Word cannot be healthy under these strained conditions.  Just as a prisoner of war will say anything under duress and forceful interrogations, a preacher can begin to say (and see) anything under the stress of forcible expectations.

As I've relaxed with the Scriptures without the need to produce a Sculpture, it's been refreshing to interact with the characters of the Bible. Take Jacob for example...what a guy...what a story.  Or Elisha whom I've struck up a pretty good friendship with in the last couple weeks...didn't know that dude very well until last week.  Or David...the narrative of his life is like a Six Flags rollercoaster that makes you nauseous when you finally finish and stagger away from his story.  He's nothing like I've always thought, and just like I've sometimes wondered...which is to say, He's himself.

I'm just me reading about just him...no pretenses.  I don't need him to give me anything.  I don't use him for my purposes.  I don't require his story to fit my series.  I don't want him to be anything other than who he is...and that, my friends, is something you don't realize you're missing until you're sitting there reading your Bible without prepping for any message.

I've heard that you know you're good friends with someone when you're with them and nobody feels awkward with long stretches of silence.  No one needs to entertain.  No one needs to be the conversationalist.  No one needs to say anything because you're friends and there's no pressure to be anything in particular.

I want to be that way with the Word.  I want to be that way with God.  I don't want pressure to ruin our relationship cause I think we got a good thing goin'.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Aly's 16th Birthday...a perfect night.

When it comes to a 16th birthday for your kid, you almost are forced to have the surprise party planned days or weeks in advance of the actual birthday to keep your kid off the scent.  Even then, they have a 6th sense that something's coming, and with every child that hits the milestone, they are more aware then ever that there is a collective conspiracy.

So even though Aly's birthday is today, the celebration of it happened in earnest last Thursday.  It had been planned before the foundation of the world, which is to say that Heidi has been stewing on it for months on end, scheming and dreaming about how it could all come together like a fairytale.  I don't know if you've ever tried to create a fairytale in real life, but it's no cakewalk.  That being said, Heidi is a master of creating fairytale-like days for our children.  

The first prerequisite to pulling off a great surprise party is to manufacture a believable lie.  In this case Heidi had told Aly that she was watching the boys so that her mom and dad could have a long overdue date night.  It had been some time since she'd done that, so she was down with it.  She knew she had soccer practice and then was going to be coming home to hold down the fort with the "little lions".  Her brain was thoroughly washed.

What she didn't know is that it was all an elaborate fib.  When Heidi went to pick her up from practice, she gave her a little envelope with a card in it that said, "Be our guest".  Aly loves "all things Disney", but her favorite animation by far is "Beauty and the Beast".  She has memorized all the songs and she simply is bewitched with the storyline.  Heidi knew that all she had was her grubby practice gear, so she brought two changes of clothes for her to choose from and then took her to have a pedicure. While that was happening, she was going to straighten her hair and get her all dolled up to take her out to eat.  What she didn't know is that Heidi had arranged for all her friends to be at Mangiamos, an old mansion in Grand Rapids that has been converted into a magnificent Italian restaurant.  Each friend would be one of the Disney princesses when she turned the corner into the special dinner area held in the old library. (Aly loves the library scene in Beauty and the Beast)

When she and her mom arrived at the restaurant, they walked into the dining room and Aly burst into tears when she saw everyone.  She cries just like her mom, half smiling, half wincing in apparent pain trying to wipe the tears from her eyes so that her makeup doesn't run and smear.  It's a precious thing to behold.  

Heidi had purchased a glass globe that was covering a single red rose just like the movie.  There were decorations and the "Be our guest" theme was woven throughout the night.  There were lots of happy tears but there was also hearty laughter that filled that old library with mirth and merriment.  The fairytale was unfolding.

Sometimes when you plan something like this, there are other surprises that you couldn't anticipate or even afford that put the cherry on top!  One of those serendipitous delicacies was live music right there in the room.  These two guys were actually playing one of Aly's favorite love songs when she finally got settled into the bustling atmosphere.  She looked over at her mom and said, "Did you hire a live band?"  Heidi is more holy than I, cause I would have owned it, winked, and nodded my head.  But she shook her head and admitted that was even a surprise to her.  That was one of Aly's favorite aspects of the night.  The two guys kept playing all her favorite songs...and if there is one thing that defines Aly it is music.  She loves good music from all eras and what's crazy is that she has all the lyrics memorized.  She said that every song they played were her favorites...not surprising since these guys were playing popular cover songs.  (but we don't need to tell her that and ruin the fairytale)  They even stopped when they found out it was Aly's 16th birthday and got the whole room full of friends and strangers to sing her happy birthday together.  The night just kept getting better.

Where was I while this was happening?  Glad you asked.  The crucial part I played was being with the boys so this all could happen without a hitch.  Cause nothing says hitch like throwing two little boys into the dream of creating a fairytale.  They tear fairytales apart and eat them like turkey legs at the state fair.  So we hung out at home climbing trees, cutting wood, taking tractor rides, and staying active.  I put them to bed around 8:15pm knowing that Aly and her friends would be coming to our house around 9pm.  I stopped hearing noise around 8:50pm and moved onto the next part of the evening.

It was my responsibility to tidy up the house and then get a fire started down in the fire pit.  It's hard to believe, but it's the first fire we've had this year.  I collected a bunch of wood in a wagon and hauled it over to the campfire.  I wanted to get it raging just in time for them to step out of their cars and see it blazing in the backyard.  The sunset was unreal.  It had rained momentarily and then the clouds lifted and the sun broke through with brilliance.  The backyard was verdant and pungent.  The word that comes to mind is idyllic. 

I heard the cars crowding into our driveway and the girls hopped out and made their way into the house.  I got to hug Aly and hear firsthand her reactions to all the surprises...she was talking a mile and minute.  

Her friends brought her presents and she took time to read the cards and open them around our kitchen table.  I love seeing our kitchen table being used for community...the sound of cross-conversation, shotgun-giggles, and story-telling is intoxicating to me.  One time I just backed away over near the kitchen sink and took it all in trying to capture it searing the memory in my mind forever.  Some of the cards brought tears to Aly's eyes....one made her ball like a baby.  Her friends took time to share their deep heart for her.  Many days she doesn't know if she is making any difference in their lives and today she was picking the fruit of her faithfulness.  Nights like this are to die for.

While they were finishing their brownies and ice cream, I stoked the fire again to get it good and hot, and invited them to go down and get warmed up.  After they all got down to the fire pit, I slipped away under the cover of the night and left them to enjoy the freedom of girly campfire conversation.  Again, I stood on the deck overlooking them down by the fire and soaked in the moment.  These nights come and go so quickly and I didn't want to miss a second of the sacredness I feel when time seems to stand still so you can take it in with large gulps.  I drank deep of the sights, sounds, and smells of that Thursday night.

It wasn't long before the girls headed home and we were left with the after party mess.  But the mess is so worth it on nights like this.  We didn't care about the mess so much as talking to Aly about what she loved and remembered...retelling stories is my favorite part of story telling. Aly gushed with joy.  We smiled with satisfaction.

What a night.

I love my second born girl with all my heart.  My hope is that she will never forget this night because I know I won't.

I love you, Gracie Grace.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mother's Day and my wife...

This weekend is Mother's Day and my wife is speaking at church.  I love when she gets to stand in front of our body and bear her soul and share her story.  She has so much to say and so much wisdom to offer.  She's a good woman...an amazing wife...but she's a great mom.

Here's what makes her great...

She lets the kids affect her.  She gets a pit in her stomach for them and with them.  When they are feeling something, she is feeling it with sympathy pains as well.

She does whatever she can to support each our children's ambitions.  If it is soccer, she paves the way.  If it is cello, she gets the rental.  If it is superheroes, she buys the cape (on consignment).  If it is some hobby, she gets the ingredients.  She literally lives to make their dreams come true if at all possible.

She cleans up after every. single. one. of. our. children. & ME.  It's daily.  I watch her slave away in the shadows as the kids carry on thanklessly creating a perpetual mess.  She will tell them what she's doing for them...about 10% of the time.  The other 90% is done because it needs to be...no credit, no thanks, no second-thought.

She continually follows behind them and makes sure the things that they forget are taken care of.  If they forget their lunch...she brings it to school.  If they forget a piece of homework, she takes it to the office.  If they forget they had a project due tomorrow, she gets what they need and basically does it with (for) them.  If they forget their uniform, she makes the extra run to the field to bring it to them, if they forget their tampons, water bottles, money for whatever, breath mints, change of clothes, putting gas in the car, candy for the movies....she is there to fill the gap with grace.  It's not that she doesn't admonish them and challenge their memory lapses...but she is always the safety net...the security blanket.

She makes sure we have food in the cupboards and clothes in our closets.  She even thinks ahead of time when she's washing clothes making sure she washes the ones needed first...it's like "clothes triage".  It's crazy.  Before we think about what we need, she already knows and has 'taken care of it'.

She constantly is asking the girls about their day, their conversations, their friendships, their feelings, their reactions, their hurt, their joys, their plans, their disappointments.  She always follows up on things that they are doing or people they are hanging out with.  She is the hound of their heart.  They tell her everything and will sit up on their beds and share the most recent drama that's occurring at school and with their peers.  They share their crushes and she doesn't crush the conversation (like me).  She sits in their stories entering into their perceptions and perspectives with compassion.  She relates to them.

She makes a big deal of big days in our kids lives.  I struggle to care about holidays and birthdays in the sense that I try to create an opportunity to celebrate or commemorate what the day represents.  She makes much of these moments...and our kids love it.  If the boys have a "crazy sock day" or a "dress like your favorite superhero day"...she's on it like stink on a monkey.  She is sowing outfits the night before or browsing Pinterest for ideas of how to make something cheap that feels meaningful.  It's nuts!  She goes out of her way to make our children feel special.  That's what she lives for.

She is always keeping the girls accountable.  She is asking them tough questions and disciplining them when they are caught in a compromise of morals.  She demands honesty above all and says over and over again, "you can admit any mistake, but don't lie to me.  That is the worst thing you could ever do in our relationship."  I think the girls get it...now we'll see if the boys come along in time.  It's powerful to watch how consistently demanding responsibility and accountability demonstrates that you actually really care about the other person.  If you didn't care, you would let things go...but she cares and our kids feel it. She doesn't take the easy route...she is always putting herself in harm's way to protect their hearts.

She is human.  She doesn't pretend to have it all together.  She makes mistakes, admits them, and apologizes.  She is constantly asking, "Should I have reacted like that?"  "Am I making a bigger deal out of that than it is?"  "Was I wrong for saying that?"  She is wanting feedback and will admit failure if it's justified.  I'll say it like this...she's not afraid to be wrong.  She doesn't like to be, but she's not afraid to be.  She snaps sometimes and yells and melts down like we all do, but she is quick to realize how her actions might have hurt someone and makes amends by asking forgiveness.  This honesty is a foundation and fortress for our kids...they don't think they have to be perfect because their mom doesn't pretend to be or expect them to be.  She keeps it real.  I love her for this.

She has a tender heart.  She cries in front of the kids when something affects her.  She will cry about her extended family and something they are going through, she will cry about how she's feeling about something she is facing, she will cry about something that touches her heart in the world.  She is moved by life and that is a great example to our kids that it's ok to let life matter enough to you and people to matter enough to you that you let them get to you in the deep places.  You shed the shell of composure and risk the exposure of your vulnerable heart.  I love that she lets our kids see her soft side and will cry for our kids and with them when it hits her.  What a gift to them...she's a gift to them.

I could go on and on...

More than anything...she stays committed to Jesus in every season, good or bad.  She is always reading books that are laying out on the bed or the sofa that are challenging her faith.  Our home is filled with spiritual reminders that there is a presence in our house beyond the 7 of us that physically live there.  There is an 8th party that we call the Holy Spirit that resides and presides in our house.  He is the one we are trying to honor, please, and glorify.  He is the one we are trying to follow and emulate.  He is the one who we default to when we have lost our way and He is the one we go with when our feelings are all over the map.  She lives with creeds that form the core of our home and our kids notice this and know this about her.  She is a woman of honor above all.

So today I thought I'd take a moment to honor her on this Mother's Day.  She is as special as she makes everyone else feel.  I love you, Babe.