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! 

 

 

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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.

Week of Silence Day 5: Silent Dads

So Zechariah walks out of the temple, down the steps, to greet a few anxious people now waiting for him, wondering what has taken so long.

He has encountered the messenger of God, sent to tell Him that the shame He and Elizabeth once endured, is now over. God was beginning a new work, and  their Son would prepare the way. His response to that announcement is the reason he will be silent for the next nine months.  www-St-Takla-org--Domenico-Ghirlandaio-Annuncio-dell-Angelo-a-Aaccaria-02-details

Unlike my situation, Zechariah does not have a choice, he will be silent for 9 months.  Every day, His silence, though awkward, disruptive, and frustrating, will also serve as a daily reminder that God is in control, that God will keep his promise, and that our best response can only be, “Let it be to me, according to your word. “

Strange how the hardship of being unable to speak is at the same time a reminder of God’s power and faithfulness.  That somehow the consequence for unbelief will daily point Zechariah to the arrival of their first Child, and to the God who has mercy and hears the prayers of the hopeless.  Could it be that consequences, or hardships, or unwelcome life experiences, can be both corrective and redemptive — and that both can actually point to the Love of God?

I wonder how those months of silence, shaped the way Zechariah raised John the Baptist.

I wonder if the humility that comes with silent living, can be found in His Son, John, when he said, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie (Luke 3).

I wonder how the daily reminder that Zechariah, was not in control, was passed on to His Son, who would later say, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30)

I wonder if somewhere in the quiet that we work so hard to fill up with noise, God is preparing you and I in such a way that our lives point to “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” (John 1:29)

Week of Silence Day 4: Arguing with your Wife

The Last 24 Hours

Occasionally, my Wife and I will have  a little “discussion”, which is a fine, Christian way of saying we had an argument.  Last night was one such “discussion”.  Have you ever tried having a “discussion” with a spouse who was trying to “discuss” without using words? I have to imagine I looked pretty ridiculous — sweeping arm motions, flexing eyebrows, texting my point and pointing to my mouth as I say the words (as if that helps her understand me any better).  I even resorted to my Smartphone app that speaks whatever I text….and I used the Hugh Grant voice….how can you lose an argument with an English accent??? (trust me, it’s entirely possible)

What I’ve Learnedwww-St-Takla-org--Domenico-Ghirlandaio-Annuncio-dell-Angelo-a-Aaccaria-02-details

Listening. There is nothing passive about listening. In fact, it’s one of the most active ways we can communicate.  When you aren’t speaking, then you don’t have to reply immediately to what someone is saying. When you don’t have to reply, you have time….time to….listen.  Typically, we have a conversation or argument or discussion, by half listening to the other person, gleaning just enough information to formulate our own response. We fire off a few rounds of sound argument, and then in the time it takes the other person to respond, we reload and prepare to fire as soon as they are done speaking. We are not focusing on the words being said, and the emotions attached to those words, we are simply waiting for the other person to stop talking so that we can start again.

This is true within Washington, D.C., as well as the Church; Between family members and long time friends.Between children and parents, and Husbands and Wives.  We have entire segments of the population who have forgotten how to listen; who believe they already know what the “other side” has to say, and they already disagree with it. People who would rather keep talking so they don’t have to listen. Listening is not only vital to communication, it is itself an act of love, honor, humility, and good faith.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19

Week of Silence Day 3: I’m Not Crazy!

The Last 24 Hours

While people who know me are still having a good time with my new “condition”,  for me the novelty is wearing off. My children are starting to ask how much longer before I can talk again. My wife patiently walks through my fumbling hand motions and frustrated explanations. Today, without even thinking, I went through a drive thru, and when the voice came on asking for my order, I sat there….and then quickly drove away.

I’m finding I tend to avoid situations that require too much interaction….it’s just easier to be alone than to try to explain that you’re not talking on purpose because of some guy in the bible.  I was at a supermarket today when I tried to hand a lady one of the cards I made up explaining why I wasn’t answering her, and she waved me off like I was trying to sell her something. At least look at the card! I wanted to scream, I’m not nearly as weird as I look right now!

What I’m Learning

I’m 3 days in…..Zechariah….9 months. Where was God going with this silence? Didn’t God see that not being able to talk didn’t just affect Zechariah, but everyone that Zechariah was connected to?

Silence doesn’t work….not today.www-St-Takla-org--Domenico-Ghirlandaio-Annuncio-dell-Angelo-a-Aaccaria-02-details

With the rise of 24 hour news, and the hundreds of millions of people offering rambling opinions on multiple social media channels every day, silence is no longer golden, it has become a sign of weakness. It is no longer, “better to be silent and thought a fool….” Now you are a fool to leave any thoughts left unsaid – because surely somebody cares and wants to hear them.

There are so many examples in my life of times when I needed to say something, to speak up and be heard. But there are just as many times in my life when the wisest, most loving, most honorable decision I could have made was to leave it unsaid, to stay quiet, and refuse to use my words to manipulate people, make much of myself, and little of the Jesus I follow.

Week of Silence Day 2: I Don’t Want to Talk….

The Last 24 Hours

Last night it was our three children and I, for the entire night. Actually, it went pretty well. I find that our oldest, Evan, is not only very good at charades, but also enjoys relaying my instructions to His sisters, and making sure they carry out my bidding….we’re working on that.

www-St-Takla-org--Domenico-Ghirlandaio-Annuncio-dell-Angelo-a-Aaccaria-02-details

My Wife and I tried to make the most of conversation when she got home. I found myself speaking more frequently than I did throughout the day, but she throws in so many questions in the course of a conversation that it would catch me off guard.

I wonder how many questions Zechariah’s elderly wife, now a mom-to-be, asked her aging husband? I wonder if Zechariah, found himself (as I do now) making bigger and bigger facial expressions, as if that would help His Wife understand the words He was trying to say? I imagine, after several months had gone by, Zechariah would simply sit next to Elizabeth, rest His hand on her stomach, and hold her close….sometimes, that’s the only communication you need. But with the guys in my office, trust me, that did not work the same way….

Today I did pretty well, navigating a conversation with my mechanic, and several voicemail messages without speaking.  Usually, it’s when I don’t see an encounter coming, that I talk more; a random question, bumping in to someone at the gas station. It’s like if I don’t see it coming, I forget I’m not suppose to speak – it’s definitely not a habit yet.

What I’m Learning

I miss speaking, communicating with words and interacting in a conversation. Sometimes the barrier can be frustrating.  While silence is so important in a culture gone loud, it has also forced me to look at the words I choose to speak. I’ve been around several conversations, in which what I wanted to say, but couldn’t, wasn’t really worth saying.  So many times what I would have injected into a conversation would only serve to make certain that I had the last laugh; or steer the conversation toward me, in a way that makes me look better than I really am. In some conversations, I don’t want to talk, I just want to have control. But in silence, you are no longer in control; no steering, directing, distracting or covering up.

Maybe this is why, when we read about how we are to approach God, the recommendation in the Bible is often silence. It’s a reminder that we do not steer or direct or have control. Maybe this is what silence taught, Zechariah….I know it is what silence is teaching me.

For God alone, Oh my soul, wait in silence. For my hope is in Him. Psalm 62:5

Week of Silence Day 1: I May have Made a Mistake….

(If you missed the first blog post in this series, you can catch up by clicking here.)

End of the Day Yesterday

I had one more conversation with our Children. We talked about Zechariah again and about what the next week might be like. Our middle child was concerned that if I couldn’t talk I wouldn’t be able to send her to the corner for bad behavior….I quickly reassured her that was not the case.

They seemed to understand as much as they could with an almost, “Well that’s just Dad being Dad” kind of quality to their reactions.

Waking up this Morningwww-St-Takla-org--Domenico-Ghirlandaio-Annuncio-dell-Angelo-a-Aaccaria-02-details

“I may have made a mistake” are the first thoughts I had this morning. Like most of the Spiritual Habits, the idea of them seems so easy, almost glamorous. I typically start Spiritual  journeys with unrealistic thoughts like, “I’m going to read 12 chapters in my bible everyday….heck I might make my own handwritten copy of those twelve chapters, which is sure to help with my memorization of said chapters!”  Or I tell myself,  “I’m going to rise at 5AM, brew some General Foods International Coffee (remember that? in the little coffee tin?) sit in front of the picture window, and pray for an hour every morning. Then I actually start that journey and find it looks nothing like the picture in my mind.

So when it came to being silent for a week, I thought, “What a great way to climb inside the story of Zechariah as well as explore a Spiritual Discipline that is rarely practiced in this culture.

Then I woke up this morning, and any glamour was replaced with the reality that silence is hard.

The kids did great for the most part. There was, however, one moment where I had to break up a dispute between the girls. So there I was snapping and clapping and clicking, all while dancing around, pointing my finger and mouthing words they could not understand. They stared at me….fascinated….the same stare they get when they stand at the glass wall of the  monkey habitat at the Zoo. They don’t know what is going on in there, but all the jumping up and down and running all over is mesmerizing.

Before I went silent, I made up some short videos of some of my most common phrases that I use on the children: “Stop please!” “Come upstairs it’s time for dinner!” “Time to brush your teeth!” “Don’t put anything in your nose but your elbow!” I haven’t decided if this is cheating or not so I’m not sure if I will use them.

Heading in to the Office

Something that is cheating is an app I found for my phone, that allows you to text, and then turns that text into an audible voice. You can even change the voice to a guy with an English accent.  I think the assistants enjoyed it….it was like listening to Hugh Grant talk all day.  I probably won’t use that on a regular basis.  The rest of the time I communicated through emails, texts, and head nods.

Today was our staff Christmas lunch, and as you can imagine, I made for horrible company.  But those at my table were gracious and had some fun with my situation. I accidentally spoke on several occasions, usually when someone would ask me a question and I would simply react.  It’s like when the power goes out at your house, but you still turn on the light switch every time you walk in to a room. I did have some small cards made up that explain what I’m doing that I can hand out to people I run in to in public (like our waitress, who after reading the card, referred to me as “the mute guy”).

One Thing I learned Today

There seems to be built-in to the subconscious of many people, a general fear of silence. The most common phrases I’ve heard today from people who found out what I was doing were, “I could NEVER do that!” “I would just die if I couldn’t talk!” “That would be miserable!”

I wonder what it is, specifically, that we fear about being silent? Why is silence to be avoided? I’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions.

But if you want to have something to fear….how about knowing that tonight your Wife is going out (always well deserved) and you will need to silently feed, bathe, and put to bed your three children! :)

But, Penny, if you’re reading this….I look forward to listening to you talk all about your day when you get home….and not just because that’s all I can do!

A Week of Silence (My Nod to Zechariah)

For the next week I am going to try to live without speaking….

I’ve spent a lot of time recently on the story of Zechariah in Luke 1.  www-St-Takla-org--Domenico-Ghirlandaio-Annuncio-dell-Angelo-a-Aaccaria-02-details

A priest, a holy and righteous man who by all accounts has served God faithfully for many years.  But even that was not enough to earn from God what they wanted most….a child.  Now they were old, and the desire that burned so bright early in their lives still remained an ember in their hearts.

He’s in the temple of the Lord when the angel, Gabriel, stands before him talking about answered prayers and joy and wine and the Holy Spirit. Amidst the shock and awe of the announcement Zechariah makes out that his wife, Elizabeth, will have a baby boy.

His response?

“How can I be sure of this? For I am an old man; my wife too is….well on in years.”

I guess it’s one thing to stand in the presence of God on behalf of others, and something altogether different to have God come to you with an answer to your own prayers and longings.

Gabriel’s response?

“I’m Gabriel! I stand in the presence of God and He sent me to tell you the good news.”

As if that wasn’t enough, the Angel informs Zechariah that because he did not believe, he would be unable to speak until the day His Son is born.

In our typical way of reading the bible, we pass by this silence quickly, we still have the story of Jesus’ birth to get to, and besides, Zechariah speaks again before the chapter is over!

But 9 months….9 months of silence….don’t move too quickly past this point.  Zechariah stops speaking (vs. 18) with the words, “How can I be sure of this?” and 9 months later, He starts speaking again with the words, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and redeemed His people.” (vs. 68)

I’ve often thought of this silence as simply a punishment for his unbelief. But maybe there is more to learn in silence than we ever could by speaking.

So, to experience in a very small way the silence of Zechariah, I have decided to stop speaking for one week, beginning tonight, Monday, December 16.

I know, there are all sorts of questions that come with being silent for a week:

How will you deal with work?  What if there is an emergency?  How do you interact with three young children?

What if you’re in the upstairs bathroom and you run out of toilet paper? (I actually had not thought about that until my Wife mentioned it)

These are all good questions, and I suppose I will figure it out as I go (that was not a bathroom joke).

You can join me on this week of silence by checking my blog each day for complete updates and observations.

To listen to a message from my Pastor (Brad Hoffmann) on this story, click here.

Suffocating with a Smile: Church Volunteers and the Spiritual Practice of Asphyxiation

I was walking down a busy hallway at church a few weeks ago, escorting my sleepy-eyed children to their classrooms.  I stopped to remove coats, wipe the toast crumbs from their mouths, and make one more attempt at correcting the rogue hairs on my son’s head that were way out of line.

As I did this I overheard two teachers talking. For the record I was not eavesdropping. They were talking to one another from across the hallway. “Did you say you went to bible study this morning?” He asked in shock. “Oh no!” She answered. “I haven’t been to my bible study in 7 years.” He laughed and said, “I hear you”.  I finished saying goodbye, that conversation still in my ears. As I walked away from the moment, I hoped that what she said was grossly exaggerated. I hoped that while she was not part of a small group of people on Sunday, that maybe she sought out other opportunities on a different day of the week.

It’s easy isn’t it? To spend so much of your time serving and giving and teaching and solving problems and wiping noses and singing songs and making crafts with way too much crazy glue, all the while sacrificing your own need for community, for accountability, for honest relationships and the power that comes from having someone else lift your head up to rediscover the calling of God on your life.

There is a rhythm to this life, a breathing in and a breathing out. Spend your time doing one of those things without the other, and the results are always the same….suffocation.  Your leaders love you and are thankful for your willingness to serve; Your Pastor is genuinely concerned for your spiritual well-being, and the people you serve are better for it….but none of them can make you breath.Breathe

Spiritual asphyxiation has many causes.  Maybe the thought of growing in community through being in open and honest relationships, and submitting to the instruction and guidance of others, is worse than standing in a room full of ravenous 4 year olds with a box of fish crackers in your hands.

So we breath out….

Maybe we convince ourselves that there is no one else to help, or to lead, or to do things the way we do things.

So we breath out….

Maybe we begin to associate the words, “no”, “not right now”,  or “I cannot”, with “I hate the church”, “I hope this ministry fails” or “yes, I am a disobedient child of God, got a problem?”

So we breath out….

Eventually we learn to suffocate with a smile, turning it into some kind of twisted spiritual discipline.

This is a struggle. It is a struggle for leaders, for paid Ministers, and for just about anyone who serves.

Is this your struggle? How did you learn to breath? How would you encourage others? What can churches do to encourage a healthy pattern of inhale/exhale (taking in and giving out) for the people who serve?

I would really appreciate your thoughts, encouragement, suggestions, etc….And if you could send this to someone else to get their feedback, I would be so thankful.

Blog Repost: Halloween was made for the Church!

Im sorry what??

You’re telling me that there is an entire afternoon recognized by practically everyone in North America? An afternoon in which it is acceptable, nay expected that you will leave your house and walk all over the neighborhood? A night where not only will your neighbors be outside to talk to you, but you are allowed to knock on their door and talk to them with your entire family?

BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!trick-or-treaters

Not only are you expected to walk to your neighbor’s house with your family and knock on their door….BUT THEY GIVE YOU CANDY FOR DOING IT!!!

Unbelievable….why have churches been running from this day??? Why have we been working so hard to create alternatives while our neighbors roll out the welcome mats for our arrival?

Isn’t it ironic that the holiday labeled by many Christians to be “ungodly” is the very same holiday that puts us closer in line with the mission of God — to move out from our homes into our neighborhoods, loving and serving and building relationships with others.

I know one thing: I go knocking on people’s doors on November 1 and I get curious eyes looking through the blinds to see who is knocking. But one day earlier, I am greeted with smiles and conversation….and candy!

Halloween was made for the Church….We can NOT miss this opportunity (….and did I mention candy?)

Summertime Part III: Banana Seat Vengeance

With the ending of summer, I decided to do a series of posts reflecting on what the summer months taught me, that my years in school never could. If you missed the first 2 posts in this series, you can read them by clicking here and here.

 

Matt lived one block over, was 4 years older than me, and made my life, the lives of my friends, and anyone he happened to trip over walking down the aisle of the bus, miserable.  He sat in the back and barked orders to the minions who danced around him ready to do his bidding and execute his judgments against the common people.

I hated Matt.

I used to watch him in action; squeezing my friend Aaron’s neck until he cried and then laughing at him the entire bus ride home. I wondered what his parents were like….if he even had parents. I wondered if he ever cried at night? What made him tick? What made him explode with such fierce anger?  Where did he get all that leather and those AC/DC t-shirts?  

One afternoon, at the start of summer, my older sister and I were arguing,  which transitioned nicely into wrestling. She pinned me to the floor and then finally let me go and stormed off to her room, leaving me fighting back tears as I cursed her name.

I ran outside and stood in the garage, kicking random objects and telling my sister things I could never say to her face.  I kicked the tire of her bike and mumbled, “stupid sister” under my breath. The bike was pink and white, with white handle grips, and pink and white streamers that poured from the ends of the handle bars.  Pink, purple and white polka dots decorated the banana seat and a white plastic-weaved basket sat on the front.

My sister needed to pay….and the bike was right there.

131922802_schwinn-vintage-banana-seat-bicycle--classic-pink-bike-

I ran inside to my parent’s desk drawer found the plastic container, pulled out a couple of items and slipped them in to my pocket.

I stood in front of her bike and stared at the tires. I rehearsed in my mind the crime I was about to commit….I took a deep breath….and knelt down.

Hours later, I was inside watching an episode of The Great Space Coaster when I heard Jennifer screaming. I jumped up and looked around. My dad came running down the steps and looked at me for an explanation. I gave him a look that said, “honestly Father, I too am puzzled by the cries of distress coming from the next room….shall we go inquire about it together?”

We ran outside and into the garage to find my sister kneeling by her bicycle that now had 2 flat tires.  She was crying as my Dad explained to her that the tires could be fixed in a few days.

My Dad looked at me, calculating my response to his gaze so as to determine if I had a part in this injustice.  My look back said, “Oh Papa, surely you don’t believe that I would stoop to such a level and deprive my eldest sister of the joy that comes from riding her bike in the warmth of summer?”

“What did you do??” my sister shouted at me through clenched teeth. “It wasn’t me” I screamed back.” “yeah right!” she said.

And that’s when I played the best card in my hand.   Years of injustice and abuse were about to be made right with just a few words.

“All I know is that I saw Matt walking by our house just a little while ago, and he was staring into the garage.” “Maybe it was Matt.”

“What a jerk” she yelled as she ran into the house crying.  “Who is this Matt kid?” My Dad asked me. I looked at him as if to say, “dearest Father….I am not one to bring accusation against my neighbor unjustly….how can you now ask me to…”

“You are not in trouble, just tell me….”

I spelled his last name slowly and clearly.  “I’m not sure, but I think he lives on Karen Drive” I said.

With that my Dad walked in to the house to find a phone book.

The next day my friends and I were riding our bikes down Karen Drive, and we passed by Matt’s house.  He was outside staring into his mom’s car, holding the light while his Mom’s boyfriend worked on the alternator. He looked up to see who was riding by and I locked eyes with him. Even with a dirty face I could easily make out the dull bruise on the side of his face. He stared at me for a moment, and then looked back down at the alternator.

That summer I learned that while I say I want justice, too often I am perfectly willing to settle for vengeance.  Justice is the long hard earthly fight that ultimately cries out to the God we believe will have the final word and make all things right.  Vengeance is the cheap imitation that is more about me than about making right any wrongs.  Left in my hands, vengeance gives me the power to “win” for the moment even if I must use injustice to do so – be it with the bully on the block or the gossiping, scheming, know it all in the next cubicle.

I never told my sister that I was the thumb tack terrorist until about 15 years later. I guess there is always time to make things right. Matt, I can’t imagine  you are reading this, but I’m sorry….please forgive me….wherever you are.

Summertime Part II: When I Learned about Sex….

With the ending of summer, I decided to do a series of posts reflecting on what the summer months taught me, that my years in school never could. If you missed the first post in this series, you can read it by clicking here.

I can’t remember which summer it was that my Dad decided he needed to talk to me about sex. But I do remember a point in my life, just before I jumped into the rapids of puberty, when almost overnight the girls I played with went from being long-haired boys, to females, and eventually to women. Their eyes took on color, their faces took on structure; where once was a simple human form, now had curves and dimensions. It is a strange thing to go to bed one night with girl friends, and wake up the next day, surrounded by potential girlfriends.

Recognizing the times and the seasons, my parents decided to orchestrate “the talk” with me under the guise of a father-son fishing day. We woke up early on a Saturday, and made our way to the state park. After an hour or so of fishing, we put the poles back in the car, and decided to go for a hike. Ten minutes in, we found an outcropping of rocks overlooking a bend in the creek, and agreed to sit for a while. A few minutes passed with small observations about the creek and comments about the poor fishing. Finally my Dad began the conversation with the words, “so….you are getting older now….and….I wanted to talk with you for a few minutes about sex….”

RockCreek

For the next several minutes I sat and listened to Him talk, explain, warn, and define. It was an open and frank conversation filled with fascinating answers to questions I did not know to ask yet but certainly appreciated the heads up. It wasn’t that I needed him to tell me what sex was, as much as I needed him to fill in the gaping holes left from culture, television, church, and the discussions that went on in the back seat of the school bus. What I needed was someone to explain the framework, the context, the plan and purpose of sex. I needed to hear that it was a gift, and that every good gift has been given by God and meant to be enjoyed. That the physical and spiritual are inexplicably intertwined so that one will always affect the other.

As we talked it suddenly dawned on me the number of adult figures in my life I was convinced had already had sex – teachers at school, Sunday school teachers at church, my school bus driver with the missing front teeth, that man with the cane living two doors down who yelled at us for walking on his grass…..THE PASTOR AND HIS WIFE?!?!?

This is what summer is all about….discovery, rites of passage, insider information that suddenly changes your view of the world and reconciles in your mind what your body has already started telling you. I may have been educated during the school year, but I learned so much during the summer.

And just like that, the talk was over. We walked back down the trail, found our way to the car, and headed home. I felt older, as though I was on the inside of a secret society, possessing information that could be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. I walked past couples holding hands and I nodded to them, a smirk on my face, as if to say, “I know….I know….” At the time there was absolutely nothing more I could do with the information I had been given, but it was good to know and I was sure it would come in handy some day….like Monday in the conversation happening in the last seat of the school bus.

I was Saved in the Summertime: Charcoal Living in a Propane World

This post is the first in the return of my blogging season (which strangely follows the schedule of Network TV).  With the ending of summer, I decided to do a series of posts reflecting on what the summer months taught me, that my years in school never could.

I learned early on to watch my Father closely when he arrived home from work. I tapered my response to him based on recognizing the signs of happiness or stress,  sadness or contentment that shaped the lines on his face.  It wasn’t that he was moody, as much as it was that I was a child, and as such I had the innate ability to study, download, and cross check the body language of my parents.  I learned to recognize the smile on his face, put on for my behalf, that  betrayed the reality of a long, hard day.   I’ve learned to imitate that same form of facial camouflage with my own children.

In the summertime, our family stayed alive by grilling.

This was my Dad’s responsibility. He worked very hard to convince my Mom that grilling was hard and dangerous work.  This one lie has been upheld for thousands of years. Most men willingly join in this deception for fear that if their wives actually came outside, stood around the grill, and saw what little work it was to cook meat, then women all over the world would head outside to start the grill while the Fathers were left to prepare the rest of the food, set the table, break up fights between the children, all while talking on the phone to their mothers. No, it was best to carry on the illusion that sitting on the driveway watching coals ash over was some kind of sacrifice performed for the good of the family.

I followed my Dad out to the garage, watching him wheel the black, round grill out to the driveway. He grabbed a vinyl tube strap lawn chair, carried it out next to the grill, and sat down. I followed close behind, grabbing another chair, dragging it out of the garage and setting it up next to him.  My Father was an architect when it came to charcoal placement. He meticulously placed each briquette in the bottom of the grill; replacing broken pieces with better looking ones; constructing and deconstructing until a replica of the pyramids of Giza stood before us.  He poured a quart of lighter fluid on the structure, lit a match, and set it ablaze. He sat down in his chair, put his toothpick in his mouth, and opened The Daily Journal newspaper.

I sat next to him, in silence, and studied Him as though He was someone I had never met yet seemed so familiar.  I watched his eyes through the thick lenses of his glasses, roaming back and forth across the pages of the newspaper.  I noticed His fat, flat fingers grasping the thin pages. His jean shorts, once a pair of pants, had tentacles of white thread that hung down his legs.  The hair on his legs was thick but tapered off toward the bottom of his calf. Years of wearing the same length socks day after day had left the area around his ankles hairless.  He had no idea how much I studied him as we sat in the stillness of those afternoons, the cooing of the mourning doves and cries of cicadas forming the soundtrack of my examination. Little was said in those moments, it was enough to sit next to him, feeling as though I had a place in the long line of flat-fingered Dupuis men providing food for the family.

charcoal-grill-i16

Of course, when you cook with charcoal you are forced to sit, to wait, to anticipate and respond.  The extra time needed to prepare to grill provides  just enough space for you to lift your head, see the world around you, and take a deep breath.  In the waiting, in the quiet, you see and hear all of the things you miss in the rush of life – listening to the far off voices of children riding bikes down the street, waving to neighbors driving home (before pulling in to the garage and closing the door behind them).  You begin to notice the trees with thick trunks and gangly roots pushing the sidewalk up a little more each year.  This is lost with the rise of propane grills.  Now I walk outside, push a button, turn a knob, and 15 minutes later we are eating dinner. Convenience has once again trumped the intentional, production has conquered the experience of producing.

So last week, I went out to start the grill for dinner. After I pushed the button and adjusted the temperature, I grabbed a lawn chair, and sat down beside our propane grill. A few minutes later, my Son found my hiding spot, walked outside, grabbed his lawn chair, and set it up next to mine.  I was staring out into the woods, trying to triangulate the position of a noisy woodpecker, when I could feel I was  being watched. I looked over to find my son, staring at me….studying me….curious. I smiled at him and rubbed his head. “What?” he asked with a grin. “Nothing “ I said.

I don’t think there will ever be a wholesale return to charcoal grilling. But maybe, maybe we can return to charcoal living, even in a propane world.  In a culture that thrives and feeds on business and schedules, and productivity; a world in which one’s self worth is derived from how many plates one has spinning at the same time.

Maybe in this world, there is still space to be found, silence to be heard, and life to be observed, even as it is lived out.

Letter to my Children: It’s not Boring….It’s Summer Vacation. {Repost}

Dear Evan, Adeline, and Malina

You are about to enter in to an amazing time of year….summer vacation. The days are long, the weather is warm, and the bedtime is negotiable.  You will soon have even more time to play and explore, and hopefully….time to be bored.

I used to love summer vacation so much when I was a kid. Every day I would walk outside to find friends riding bikes, playing ball, or chasing each other for no particular reason.  Some days we would play all day, moving from sport to sport and backyard to backyard.  But other days, I couldn’t find any of my friends around the neighborhood, and so I was left to being bored.

But in being bored a world of opportunity opened up for me.  I didn’t realize the that what I considered boredom was actually freedom. Freedom to make up alien worlds and fight bad guys, freedom to ride my back with the wind at my face. Freedom to push down a row of corn in order to create the perfect hiding spot.

storm

You will probably come to me one day during the summer and complain that “you’re bored” and have “nothing to do”. Just know that your Mother and I will not try to “script” every moment of your summer….create a schedule for you that constantly keeps you moving from one planned activity to another.

I know that you (like me) will not like it that much at first .  When you’re young you spend lots of time running from boredom, only to look back years later and long for one of those long, uneventful days.  But in your boredom you may have the privilege of standing before a summer thunderstorm as it rolls toward you, or spread out in the grass, lay on your back, and stare up at the sky….realizing how small you are in this great big universe. In your boredom you may just learn more than you every could in your busyness.

It’s not boring kids….it’s summer vacation.

Love,

Your Dad.

Letter to my children: I’m Only a Dad

Dear Evan, Adeline, and Malina.

It must be an old childhood secret, passed on from one child to the next for centuries.  I did the same thing when I was your age, so what you were trying to do was easy to recognize.

You’re riding home, strapped in to your car seat like an astronaut, talking and laughing, and fighting and kicking the back of your Mom’s seat.And then we turn off of the main road on to a side road that leads to our driveway.

Suddenly….it’s quiet.

As I look back to investigate the silence, I can see you with your eyes closed…..opening slightly to see if we are close to home yet, and then closing again….I can see the whole thing. As we pull in to the driveway, you even slump over in your seat for dramatic effect.  You’ve learned that if you appear to be asleep, I will gently unbuckle you, and softly pull your limp body from the car and carry you inside.

So while we are placing our secrets on the table….let me tell you mine.

The truth is, I would carry you anyway.

As much as I want you to walk, and as often as I fight your advances to be held, what I’ve realized is that one of the many passing pleasures in my life as a Father is to carry you in my arms. Few things can compete with having your little legs wrapped around my body, your tiny hands around my neck, your head on my shoulder and your heart beating against mine. I’m only a Dad, taunted by faults and insecurities and feeling grossly inadequate for the task I’ve been given….but I can carry you, if only for a short time.100_6029

For I know this cannot last….I know that in time….given your growth pattern and my aging back (not to mention the odd looks from your friends) my days of carrying you will come to an end.  But I cannot  promise that the desire to carry you will ever go away — through breakups and disappointments; in heartache and loss and downsizing. I have no doubt there will be many times in a life such as this, where I will want so badly to keep you safe and protect you from all that I know living can sometimes mean.

In those moments, I know I must trust you to the care of another Father, the one who spoke you in to existence, placed you in my arms, and promises to never leave you.  I pray that I would live my life as a Father in such a way that the transition from my arms to His is both obvious and slightly familiar.

But on this Father’s Day, please know that for as long as I can, and as long as you’ll let me….I will carry you….even if you are only pretending to sleep.

Love,

Your Dad.

Mother’s Day Monologue: Hell is Real.

I had the privilege of serving as Pastor of a church in Lexington, Kentucky for several years.  Each Mother’s day, instead of an official sermon, I would write and perform a monologue. Reading through an old moleskine recently I found my notes and thought I would post the yearly monologue here.
[An elderly man walks on stage with a cane in hand. He is in his living room. He sets his cap on a stand, drops his cane in the holder by the door, and shuffles to the tweed couch with a crocheted afghan draped across the back.  He slowly bends over, and feeling for the landing below, gently lowers his frame down on the couch.]

[he stares off into the distance as though looking back through time....and then finally, slowly begins to speak in careful, thoughtful tones.]  I remember when we took our firstborn Son to church on mother’s day 35 years ago.  Oh my wife and I had been trying for 20 years to be obedient to the Lord’s command to “go forth and multiply”….but it seems like God thought it might be more interesting to wait until we reached our 40′s to become parents.

Which wasn’t necessarily a bad idea….by the time you reach your 40′s some things just aren’t as big a deal as they would’ve been in your 20′s or 30′s….you’re not as interested in impressing others with your parenting skills and you start to be thankful for what really matters to a new parent in their 40′s, namely, that being a new parent in your 40′s has not killed you yet.

Our first Mother’s Day at church came when our son, Michael, was 2 years old. Now due to an unfortunate baking  accident, my wife was wearing a wig at the time.  We were sitting in the middle of the crowded church listening to the Minister talk about Mothers and about how “HELL IS REAL!”  It seems it did not matter what the sermon was on any given Sunday, he could always bring it back to the fact that, “hell is real!”

This Mother’s day he was talking about the story of the birth of Moses. How Pharaoh had condemned all of the Hebrew males to be killed to reduce their numbers. Jochebed gave birth to Moses and hid him for three months to try to protect her boy from the world around him – a world that didn’t care a lick about him. To everyone else he was nothing but a slave child….but to Jochebed….he was her boy.

Well as the story goes, she realizes she can no longer hide Moses, but she wasn’t done protecting him either.  So she made a basket, put her son inside, and took that basket to the river….and gently let it go.  The basket floated slowly from the river bank, spinning as it gradually picked up speed….and then disappeared round the bend.  And Moses’ Mother experienced what I reckon every Mother goes through when you’ve done all you can do to protect your child, and yet there comes a time when you simply must let them go….and trust that God is somehow in the middle of it all.

Well the preacher went on talking like this and our boy was getting restless.  You see we didn’t have a nursery back then….kids were expected to be in church and listen no matter how old they were….So that they would also learn that “hell is real” I suppose. Well our boy was not going to sit still any longer. He climbed on to my wife’s lap and started pulling on her necklace, he then moved to her dangling ear rings, and tried to grab for her eyebrows.

Now if my parenting skills were keener back then I would’ve taken the boy from her, but right about the time I though of it, our son’s little hands moved up my wife’s face until he came to her hair.  He yanked that wig as hard as he could and pulled the side of it clean round to the front and over her face.  My wife started to flail around as though she were drowning. She tossed our son at me as she got her head together.  You could hear gasps and giggles rising all around us.  It was about this time when the preacher cried out from the pulpit, “and make no mistake about it my friends, hell is real!” Through grated teeth my wife whispered sharply at me, “you don’t have to tell me hell is real….I just experienced it!”  “Honey, I’m sure no one noticed” I whispered back.  “Why didn’t you just hand him to me if you couldn’t control him?”

Needless to say it was not the most uplifting Mother’s Day service….we left quietly….my wife put that wig away and never wore it again.  But make no mistake about it, Mother’s are the protectors of the family. Seems my wife would go through any pain, put up with any discomfort, rejection, and sorrow, just as long as our son didn’t have to. Sometimes I think the title, “Mother” is given out a little too easy these days, but my wife….she earned it.

moses' mother

Course there came a time when we had to let Michael go, not because we wanted to mind you, but because he insisted, and an 18-year-old can wear you down….but my wife….she never stopped watching….even if it was from the sidelines. And our boy, well he went off and lost his head as far as we were concerned. Did all the things you don’t speak about in public places.  I can’t tell you how many times I would pass by our bedroom and hear the muffled cries of my wife praying for the our Son, praying that he would be protected, that he would remember how much he was loved, and that he would realize he could always come home….still trying to protect him, as she watched him spin around, pick up speed, and disappear around the bend, into a world that didn’t care whether he lived or died. You see to everyone else our son was just another man lost in the world….but to us he was our boy.

She’s been gone for 10 years now….my wife….and each Mother’s day I like to gather with friends and family to honor her memory and tell the story of her life. My son picks me up so I can go with him to church and I….[The ringing of a rotary phone interrupts him and he reaches to answer]….Hello?….oh morning Michael….yes I’m ready….just waiting for you….well that sounds nice….I hope we can get a table….course we could if you would keep your preaching short this year like I told ya….I can’t help it I get as restless as a child anymore….ok….I’ll be on the porch watching for you…[Places the phone back down on the receiver]….Guess I better get out there….Happy Mother’s Day.