Letters to my Children: Most Women do it!

Dear Malina,

The other night I laid down with you while you fell asleep.  As I covered you up and took my place on the pillow beside you, there was an instant change. You went from being half awake to bursting with life, and energy, and words. You kept talking and talking, sometimes about something in the room, sometimes a quote from your favorite movie. As I lay there, warm and tired, your words fade into the background.

Moments later, something startled me and I realized I had dozed off. I also realized that you were still talking. Only now you were on your side, facing me with your head propped up by one hand, just talking away.

I never knew it started so young, and I started to laugh.photo

When your Mom and I first got married, I discovered that her brain and communicative functions became increasingly active as soon as she was lying down.  Even now there are days when we fall in to bed, exhausted from a grueling day of work, children, schedules, and commitments.  And yet, as soon as we lay down, your Mother turns on her side, and wants to know my opinion on immigration, or share thoughts about how to grow our relationship, or the best strategy for planning for your future. In the stillness and quiet of the night, she is alive with hopes and dreams and to-do lists, and friendly banter, while I do my best to emit very  thoughtful and caring grunts to show I am still engaged. After a while, I pretend to reach up to the top of her head, and feel around for the “off” switch. She says, “ok….I’m done” and we drift off to sleep.

I don’t understand this behavior, as it is obviously the sign of a higher functioning species than me.  And I don’t know if this is true of all women, I only know that when I share this observation, it is usually met with agreeing nods and smiles.

So I kiss your forehead and tell you to lie back down.  Turning over, I pretend to go back to sleep. You continue talking to yourself for a few minutes, and then, having spoken enough words for the day, you fall asleep.

When I see you, Malina, I see your Mother in so many ways, and the other night was yet another reminder.

So keep talking honey, and I’ll do my best to always keep listening.

Love,

Dad.

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For Couples Getting Married: Don’t Save Yourself for your Wedding Night!

The day I was married ended up being the hottest day of the summer in Illinois. The tuxedos we ordered were better suited for winter weddings. The air conditioning in the church was failing, and hundreds of warm bodies in the pews didn’t help.

Penny and I never expected it to be that hot and to sweat that much.

The service went great and the reception was a blast. The banquet hall echoed with laughter and clinking glasses and the young and elderly all dancing to, “You Know you Make Me Want to Shout.” By the end of the night, Penny and I said our final goodbye’s, and collapsed into the limo. Our day began just before 5AM and it was non-stop emotion and movement, and smiling (so much smiling)

Penny and I never expected to be that exhausted.

We made the hour drive up to the Hilton at O’Hare airport, carried our luggage in, found our way to the room, and walked in for the first time as Husband and Wife.  We sat down on the bed, and took a deep breath, looked at each other, and smiled at the situation we found ourselves in.  I leaned over for a kiss, and Penny whispered, “Bobby pins”.  “What?” I said. Now granted I didn’t have any experience with wedding nights, but it still seemed like an odd thing to say.  “In my hair” she explained.  She turned her head to explain further.

My wife’s hair was pulled up for the day, in a way that beautifully highlighted the curve of her face and her slender neck….it was gorgeous. What I did not realize was that to accomplish this feat required an intricate network of little steel girders providing support to the entire structure….300 of them to be exact.

So there we were, sweaty, exhausted, emotionally drained, sitting on the bed as I located and removed 300 Bobby pins.

Penny and I never expected our first night together to look like that.store-bobby-pins-2

I was told early on by my Sunday school and youth group teachers that I should wait to have sex until I was married.  I was told to save myself for the wedding night, and if I did, that night would be the most amazing night of my life.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I was a 22-year-old guy alone with my wife, the night was still great.  But looking back, I now know that I was not saving myself for the wedding night. The wedding night (as good as it was) was not the physical culmination of our relationship, it was the beginning of a life-long journey of discovery and intimacy, and awkwardness, and joy. I was saving myself for every night that would follow.

With patience and attention, many of the expectations we have for physical intimacy can be realized.  But this, I would argue, is not the point and purpose of the wedding night. Those kinds of expectations can only lead to disappointment, misunderstanding, and hurt — all of which go against God’s original design of sex.

So for all of the couples out there preparing for your wedding day, I would say this about your wedding night: Have fun, no pressure and no expectations. You are at the beginning, it gets better, you have time, and please, PLEASE discuss the use of “hair scaffolding” before you get to the hotel room! 

 

 

Letters to my Children: If it’s too hard, just quit!

Dear Evan,

Recently you learned to ride your bike, on your own, without training wheels.  We stood in awe as you placed your feet on the pedals, slipped past the surly bonds of earth, and touched the face of God (it’s a quote….look it up.)

But that incredible moment almost didn’t happen. You wanted your training wheels, we couldn’t find them. You pouted and kicked the dirt, we still couldn’t locate them. We told you to bring your bike anyway, you threw a fit.  Eventually you walked your bike up our gravel driveway and out to the black top.

You tried one time, wobbled, fell, and you were done.  Seeing your sisters buzzing around on their kids bikes with training wheels, you tried again.

This time you wobbled, pedaled harder, straightened out, and you were off; we were screaming, you were laughing, it was beautiful.

For the rest of your life this will be true – the most meaningful, life-shaping, true and noble decisions you will make will also be the most difficult and challenging. You’ll want to quit, you will ask to quit (or try to give yourself permission); you will try to explain to yourself that something this difficult could not be what God has for your life, and that this must not be the direction you should take.  In those moments, the way you choose to respond, will mean the difference between soaring around the parking lot with the spring wind in your face, or walking your bike, that was too hard to ride, back to the garage.

But bikes don’t belong in the garage, and God made you to fly.

Love,

Dad.

P.S. Later that night, you handed your Mom and I this piece of paper with your own “tweet” on it:

bike tweetSo since I cannot tweet, I wrote it down. Here’s what it says, “Today I learned to ride my bike.”

 

Parents: Read BEFORE your next Family Dinner.

As all parents of young children, my Wife and I  look forward to the possibility of sitting down to a dinner free from yelling or fighting, or falling off chairs, or crying about food they don’t like, or allowing noises to escape their little bodies at inappropriate times.

This hope begins every night at our house…. with a prayer….family-dinner

It’s quiet, almost peaceful around the table as our 3-year-old settles in…. hands together, eyes closed, preparing her thoughts internally before she voices her prayer.

“Dear Jesus, thank you for this day…and thank you for…. I hope you had a good day today….”

I open my eyes to watch her and I am immediately drawn to our 5-year-old watching the food on her plate. Her finger heads toward the mashed potatoes.   I open my eyes wide in her direction.

“Please be with everyone who doesn’t have any food….”

Our 5-year-old inserts her finger into the potatoes and licks them clean. I point my eyebrows at her and mouth the word, “STOP”. She puts her hands back in her lap. Our 7-year-old, eyes squinting in prayer, grabs his cup for a quick drink. I grab his hand and motion for him to set it down.

“Thank you for our house and our toys and our grass….”

In the meantime the 5-year-old bows her head…. and starts sucking up grapes from her plate. I snap my finger at her and she looks up at me, cheeks bulging. By now the 3-year-old, growing tired of her own prayer, has picked up a green bean, and continues to pray as she chews. My wife stops her in the middle of her snack break and asks her to finish the prayer.

“Help Adeline and Evan to be nice to each other”….

I hear tapping…. why is there tapping??? The 7-year-old is now unconsciously playing drums with his spoon. Seeing I am distracted, the 5-year-old reaches for her milk, only to be blocked by my wife.

“Thank you for my precious mommy…. I love her so much, and thank you for Daddy, and Evan, and Adeline. And God, just…. thank you for sending your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross….”

For a moment, a holy hush descends on the table. My wife looks at me, I grin at her as tears well up in her eyes.

At the same moment, a cartoon-like noise escapes the body of one of the children on my left. Everyone looks up like a startled brood of chickens. The 7 and 5 year olds smile and start to laugh. Penny gives them each a look and they hold their cheeks down, as if that will stop the inevitable.  The 7-year-old, locked in a silent but violent laugh, slips off his chair and on to the floor. The 5-year-old, spits milk out of her mouth and joins her brother under the table.

Penny looks over at me, our eyes meet, and I burst into laughter. My Wife now stares at me with wide eyes, fighting back the smile that is overpowering her face.  We shake our heads and close our eyes.

“And God, thank you for this food….AAAAAMEN!”

 We didn’t want to laugh. In the moment we felt like struggling parents losing another battle to make our kids a little more “Von-Trapp”- like.

But we laughed, because as much as we love discipline at the table, we could not fight the infectious laughter of three children living through this learning process with all the joy, craziness, and bodily noises they had in them.

In some strange way, there was something sacred about that night with our three kids.  Sacred in a way that made us stop and mentally record such moments, before we come back to the table one day and find well-behaved young adults in their place.

“I Suck at Reading the Bible….”

Well that statement brought a nervous hush over the group that had gathered to study the Bible!

We were talking about a particular passage, when somehow the conversation drifted in to reading the Bible.  While the initial shock of her words kept things quiet for a moment, the more this person went on to explain previous attempts at reading the bible, constant “failures”, and a whole list of reasons they were not “good” at it, the room was soon buzzing with feedback from others who also sucked at reading the Bible.

Every summer at Church camp, usually at the Thursday night service, I walked forward and “rededicated” my life to Jesus.  I was sent home with sound advice: “Be sure to read your bible everyday and pray, and keep going to church.  With little more than that we jump in to the journey only to discover the Bible is quite long, and old, and confusing, and our attention spans are short, we are tired, and way too busy.  What starts as a walk of grace becomes the “Green Mile of faith” — full of struggle, shame, and regret.

I’d like to offer a few alternatives to our regular approach to the bible, and some suggestions on how to begin again.dusty-bible

1. The Approach: Textbook or Date Night

To start, we must change our mindset when it comes to reading the Bible.  We have grown up with informational reading — finding answers in the pages of a book that we write down, memorize, and repeat back in order to earn a grade.  But we must begin to approach the reading of scripture, not as a textbook, but as an invitation to come to the table and eat.  Occasionally, when my Wife and I get a night away from the children, we find ourselves eating at a nice restaurant (or at least one that is a step up from fast food).  When I am having a good meal with my Wife, I can sit for hours; I’m relaxed and enjoying the moment. I eat my food slowly, trying to savor each bite. When I am done eating, I find myself just sitting at the table, still talking about “what a great meal that was”, reminiscing on my favorite parts. A call to encounter the Holy Spirit in the reading of the Bible is not a call to skim, find facts, or inspiring verses that can be shared and are less than 140 characters….it is an invitation to come to the table, to eat and share and listen and wait and be renewed. This is a different approach – one that brings life and joy.

2. You Must be Specific!

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said the words (with great confidence), “I’m going to start reading my Bible every day this year.”  But without a specific plan, those words, while well-intentioned, are empty and we are back at church camp.  What will you read? When in your day will you read? Where is the best place for you to read? These specifics are not meant to box you in, but rather to give you specific next steps. The church I am a part of is reading through the bible chronologically in one year.  You can find the plan we are using by clicking here. Again, having a reading plan should not push us to rush past passages that require more time, which is why I appreciate the “catch me up” button that they offer. I can take the time I need, but still have a specific plan for approaching bible reading.

3. Does anyone else know what you are reading?

We like to take so much of our spiritual journey and make it private, a completely solo endeavor. But to be formed into the image of Christ, involves those around me who are also on this journey. So who knows about your new plan? Who is checking on you, or asking you about what you are discovering in the reading of Scripture? If you are serious about allowing Scripture to shape your heart and mind, you will find someone else to join you and walk with you.

Final Thoughts

I pray that this approach to scripture will set you free from guilt and shame. I meet too many people who see their Bible reading as a way to earn God’s pleasure, another way to study hard and do good on the “test”. I also meet many who see their Bible reading record as just another reason they don’t measure up, and the guilt they carry is because God is once again disappointed in their efforts.  Both of these mindsets fail to see the inexhaustible love and grace of God in Jesus Christ, given freely and inviting all who will to, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Jesus, has already carried your guilt and shame on the cross. You are now free as a child of God, to grow and experience all that God has for you. The Holy Spirit is ready and waiting to meet you, to shape you, and lovingly recreate you into the image of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I would love to hear where you are at on this journey, and if you have taken the steps mentioned above, please feel free to comment and tell us: 1. What is your plan? 2. Who are you inviting to walk with you and offer accountability?

Week of Silence Day 7: My First Words….

So my week of silence has come to an end.

For Zechariah, 9 months of silence ends with the cries of His newborn baby boy.

He began this silence with the words, “how can I be sure of this?” A kind of “what-you-talkin-bout-Willis” response to the Angel of God.

But he ends his silence, filled with the joy of a Father, who through no goodness of his own, received a gift, and this gift would prepare the way for Jesus, and the world would never be the same….I will never be the same.

So I figured you might as well hear my first words, as the first words of Zechariah:

 

Merry Christmas.

Week of Silence Day 6: It’s like that Christmas Movie….

Pick one….most of them follow the same story line: It’s A Wonderful Life, The Grinch, A Christmas Carol, Home Alone.

A Character is going about life, taking people for granted, wasting time, lost in some sort of selfish shame spiral. Cue crisis, or misfortune, or bad parenting, and suddenly said Character sees life differently and if given the chance, vows to never go back to the old way of life; The Character is given that chance, seeks forgiveness, renews lost relationships, and sends a random boy to buy the prized turkey, do you know the one? that hangs at the Poulterer’s, in the next street but one, at the corner? (sorry)

Zechariah walked in to the temple 9 months earlier, performing His Priestly duties. Years of www-St-Takla-org--Domenico-Ghirlandaio-Annuncio-dell-Angelo-a-Aaccaria-02-detailsexperience had determined what he should expect during his time in the temple. But surely God was in that place, and he was not aware of it. But nothing was routine that day, from the Angel to the words of promise.

His final words that day were one of doubt, words that begged for clarification, for verification. 9 Months later, his Wife was about to deliver their one and only child. Zechariah was determined to make sure his first words were not a continuation of his last. Things would be different now.

So what do you say when you finally have a chance to say it? This is our question as well. What has changed in our lives? What will be different? What will we choose to do with our words, either be speaking or by remaining silent. Oh that we should be trusted with such power as the power of human words; The power to rebuild or to destroy; power to bless or to curse; to bring justice and hope and love and healing and forgiveness.

This is no ordinary gift.

Please. Don’t. Waste. It.