God Speaks Through Bushes & DreamWorks Animation

Some weeks we live at the grocery store and occasionally check in at home…we’ve made our peace with it.

The other day I was sitting in the car with our three children, trying to keep them occupied while my wife ran in for a “few things”. It’s taken me a while but I now know that a “few things” is a distraction, a little smoke and mirrors in order to lull you in to a false sense of security. No a “few things” stems from a Greek phrase which means to sit in a small running car keeping your children from turning on each other, while your wife takes longer and buys more than you thought possible.”

My reaction to this situation is to talk out loud like she could hear me in the store.

“Come on! hurry up Penny!” I say in frustrated tones.

“Is Mommy here?” my children ask, confused.

“No, I’m just telling her to hurry but she’s not…. never mind.”

The wait has been made a little easier by the introduction of smart phones. While when I was growing up you passed the time by breathing on the window and writing messages, now we can just turn on a movie. I put on, “The Prince of Egypt” for my children to watch and we settled in together. We came to the scene of the burning bush. You can watch it here:

 

At the end of the scene my children stared at me as I wiped away the tears.

Something about the presentation of that scene spoke to me in ways I was not expecting from an animated movie. The force and Glory of God coupled with God’s comfort and reassurance. In that scene, I was reminded of the fact that each day, in a million unexpected ways, we catch glimpses of the Everlasting and the All-Powerful in the midst of the temporal and frail.

That God speaks through burning bushes and also through DreamWorks Animation.

That God is speaking in this very moment to go and display God’s wonders.

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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 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.