Fish Funerals and Talking Death to Children….

The Cosby Show Fish Funeral

My children’s fish, Shimmer, died the other day after spending approximately 13 days with our family….it was a rich, full life.

None of them seemed too upset by the whole thing. They were more intrigued with the manner in which we were going to dispose of him.  I can still see their three little heads peering over the edge of the toilet bowl, faces reflecting in the tranquil waters, waiting for me to empty the cup that held their new friend.

I asked the three of them if there were any final words they wanted to say about their fish….they said no. I asked if any of them would like to say a prayer….again they said no. Finally, one of the three spoke up and said….”just drop him in the toilet”.

So I did….shimmer circled rapidly and then disappeared.  Our three children marched out of the bathroom and picked up with the batman adventure this “funeral” had interrupted.

It’s hard for a parent to know how much to say about death to their children.  One big reason is that the term “death” in their world  does not (for our children) come burdened with the feelings of loss, hurt, pain, and sadness….not yet.  I know some day this must be a part of their life experience, as it is for all people of all ages.  But right now they seem as innocent as the garden before humanity’s awful choice gave us such words as “death”.

Ever since the “funeral” they have been asking more questions about getting older, and about death.  My wife and I are trying our best to speak clearly and honestly about the subject.  That is until the other night, when our six-year-old was lying in his bed and I was saying good night.  He was asking me why I have “white hairs” starting to appear on my head. I told him it was because I was getting older. You could almost see the connections taking place in his brain. His voice then got quiet, and weak, and he asked me, “when are you going to die?”

“oh….not for a long, long, long, time.”

My eyes started to well with tears.  It was true….well mostly….kind of…..In that moment I felt so small, having so much less control over life than I pretended to have.  My answer reflected my hope and prayer, but not necessarily the reality. I realized I am prepared to face the reality of death at any moment and in every aspect of my life, except when it comes to my children.

So I kissed his forehead, and gave him a big hug. He laughed about the stubble on my face scratching his cheek.  We said goodnight, and I left the room. Walking down the hall, I repeated the lyrics to an old song I had heard many times in the bible:

“Teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90: 12

That’s where I’m at….this is not a fixed post with a typical opening, stating of problem, and solution to problem. This is just the confession of a young parent, who realized something about my life from watching a Beta fish disappear into our toilet.

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To my Wife: 5 things I remember about our wedding day

Well it was hot….                                                                             

The church was packed, it was over one hundred degrees outside, and part of our decorating was obstructing the intake for the air conditioning units.  Not to mention the fact that we had unknowingly ordered winter tuxedos that appeared to be lined with the latest North Face warming technology.  Some assumed I was crying….they just couldn’t see the sweat rolling down my young face.  But through the sweat and the tears, I could easily see you as you walked toward me.

And you were beautiful….

It wasn’t just how you looked in the dress or the way you wore your hair up. You were beaming, from every look and each smile, you lit up the room that day….as you still do today.

We were so young….

I look at the pictures and I see a couple just out of college, with little knowledge about anything further than the moment we were enjoying. Before jobs and bills and ministry and moving it was just you and I surrounded by friends and family and in the presence of the One who brought us together.  Many years from now, we will again be together — just you and I. When that time comes, I want you to  know you will still be my bride and my best friend.

And so broke….

Some things never change. I remember coming back from our honeymoon and packing all of our belongings into the smallest Uhaul that was available….with room to spare.  Most of what we filled our first apartment with were still in boxes, having received them as wedding presents.  That first apartment would now fit in our basement.

But God has been so faithful….

What an amazing journey so far….so much more than I expected and far more than I deserve.  Marriage and then fatherhood is forever shaping and sharpening me into more than I ever would’ve become on my own.

And you’re still so beautiful….

You are so much more than that picture from our wedding day.  The passing of time, having children, and the changes of life do not make you inferior to that young girl in the photo….to me, they make me love you so much more.

Happy Anniversary.

Bryan

Letter to My Daughter: We’re more than Friends

Dear Malina,

There is a tricycle that you love to ride even though you can’t touch the pedals. The only way for you to ride with your brother and sister, is for me to stand on the back of the tricycle, lean over you to hold the handle bars, and push with one foot like a skateboard….You love it.

But recently, while we were out cruising the streets around our house, you kept pushing my hands away from the handle bars.  You wanted to steer, and if you were going to steer, then I had to let go. But you weren’t ready for me to let go. I had already caught you several times to keep you from falling.  You could barely sit in the seat and reach the handle bars, let alone steer.  But you insisted, and when I wouldn’t let go, you threw a pretty impressive fit in the middle of the road.

While you were stomping your feet, my developing “parental brain” was running the calculations — evaluating the risk of letting you go your own way compared to the expected outcome, measured against the “show” you were putting on for people driving by our little “display”.  In the end, I decided to steer….and you decided to fall down from the bike and flop like a fish….You didn’t like me very much in that moment.

This is something I’m learning about parents.  Sometimes, parents think that getting their children to “like” them is the sign of a good parent. So instead of doing what they know is best for their children, they give them control, let them steer their lives before they are ready.

But Malina, Your Mommy and I love you too much to simply give you what you want, or to be just one of your friends.  The responsibility that God has given us, is not simply to make you a friend, but to train you up, and guide you, and correct you. We’ve been told to help you grow and prepare, to challenge you, protect you, and celebrate all that you are becoming.

Eventually you got back on the tricycle, we made our way back home and you liked me again.

Eventually, I know I will have to let you steer, and fall down…on tricycles and in life. With God’s help, your Mommy and I will do all that we can to prepare you to live a life loving God, other people, and the world around you. And as your friends, we will walk with you every step of the way, for as long as we can.

Love,

Your Dad.

Next Friday my “Letters to My Children” series will move to its own site. I hope you will make plans to check it out, invite others and follow along.

A Letter to My Son: Don’t Take the Easy Laugh

(This post is part of my “Letters to My Children” series. You can learn about it by             clicking here).

Dear Evan,

Your Dad loves to make people laugh….or at least I enjoy trying.  Maybe it goes back to being a middle child, always fighting for attention. Or maybe it reflects the insecurities that I have and try to hide. Or Maybe it’s just that I enjoy comedy…just like you.  At this stage in your life the bar is a little lower in the comedy department.  I’m almost guaranteed a laugh as long as there is a story that ends with the words “booger” or “toot”.  And if that doesn’t work, there is always the classic trip and fall routine.

But, Evan, there will come a time where in your own attempt to say something funny, or make people laugh, you will be tempted to turn your focus toward a single person, to make him the target of your jokes. It’s an easy laugh. We’re all awkward and different and we have plenty of soft spots in our lives where a joke can land.  But, Evan,…don’t do it.  Of all the times I’ve tried to be funny, the times I regret the most are the jokes that came at the expense of someone else.  Some of those moments I still remember to this day.

You will meet all kinds of people in life who seem to know of no other way to talk to each other than to hurl insults and put-downs, dressed in a joke.  People like that are not as strong as they appear. Most likely they are covering up their own hurts and fears. So if you become their target, just know that about them, and love them anyway. But never, never go through your life making your own targets out of others….This is not who you are.

I’m writing this to you and not your sisters (though they should probably read it too!) because at a certain age, this tends to be the way that boys “assert dominance” or gain respect, and though it will be hard to see at the time, those same boys end up neither dominating nor being respected.

Evan, You have infinite value to your Father in Heaven, and you are priceless to your Mother and I.  So make people laugh, and find the humor that is everywhere. Your Mom and I love the way you come up with just the right line, seemingly out of no where, that makes us laugh out loud.

This is a special gift….Just don’t waste it.

We love you Son,

Your Dad.

Open Letter to 18-25 year olds (cont’d)

The fallacy of the straight line (the audacity of the scribble).

Page 2 (If you missed page 1 please click here to catch up)       

So throughout the stories of the bible you find the audacity of the scribble. Abraham’s life was headed in a straight line until God calls him to leave his home and bring his family to a new land. Moses had a nice career….you know….building stuff….and then he is on the run for murder and finds himself talking to some shrubs on fire.  David was just a shepherd boy, and then an old guy (Samuel) pours oil on his head, and his life begins to spin — forward and then seemingly backward, and then upside down, and then the bottom drops out, only to be raised up again. There is Noah, and Jonah, and Solomon, and Hosea.  There are the Israelites wandering in the wilderness (which is actually a giant scribble in the sand) and Ezekiel, and Peter, and Paul, and John the Baptist. Even the life of Jesus seems to be following safe, familiar patterns for the most part, until around 30 when he is baptized and starts to preach the Kingdom of God. Everything spins out of control until he ends up in the scribble of betrayal, hate, flying fists and spit….ending with a cross, and nails, and execution.  Jesus shared in all that we are, including the scribble of life. 

And then 3 days later….

You and I no longer have to fear the unknown, the unclear, or the scribble of life. Jesus, the risen Son of God walks with us in and through the scribble, using that scribble to show us a new way to live, to think, to work and love and play. Now we embrace Jesus in the middle of what looks like scribble, throwing away all hopes of a straight line.

So our plans do not work out the way we thought, but Jesus is leading us, and we would rather follow Him in the scribble than walk a straight line of disobedience. You still plan, you work hard, you hope and dream, but you offer all of that to your real master, one who may lead you away from all of those things, into a life you could not have imagined.

Finally, a few observations as I finish this letter:

1. You don’t get to see the end from the beginning, but you will see the beginning from the end. One of the downfalls of living life forward, is that you don’t get all of the details, you can’t see all that God is doing, before you take your first step. But, it is a beautiful thing to be able to stop at a point in your life, look back at the direction God has led you, and be in awe of his care and purpose.

2. You are not called to wait until all lines become straight. You must follow Jesus now, even though your life is unclear and God seems distant. God is not far away, and it is often in the feeling of distance that God is doing His best work in our lives. Martin Luther would look at the scribble of Jesus on the cross and say that where God seems most hidden, there God is revealed….the same is true in our lives.

3. Call your parents. I know, you didn’t see that one coming! Call them. I get it, your busy and you don’t always think of it and they should understand….but they don’t. I can’t imagine having one the main goals in your life as a parent (to see your kids off) is also the most painful.   So put the letter down, call one of them right now, tell them you can’t talk long, you’re in a bad coverage area, but you just wanted to say hey! No reason, no money, just hey, and once they come to and pick up the phone, they will be happy.

Talk to you soon….if you ever call (just practicing)

Peace,

Bryan

Open Letter to 18-25 Year Olds: The Fallacy of the Straight Line (the Audacity of the Scribble)

Dear 18-25 year old,                                                                                                       

I know it’s kind of awkward getting a letter like this from me, either because you have no idea who I am, or you find it strange that I would write random letters to whole groups of people….I can see your point.  I only know that I’ve had the opportunity to spend more time with your age group (not that I am too far away from it!) and there are a few things I feel like I need to share with you before you go any further.

These are not new ideas and you probably know all of this already, so just humor me and keep reading. What I’m about to say is written from a heart that believes in you, or more importantly, believes in what God wants to do in your life….if you will only learn not to fear the scribble (yeah you need to keep reading if that’s going to make any sense)

Most of us love straight lines. We like to make plans, set goals, create situations, and then we like to see those plans, goals, and situations play out, exactly as we planned, goaled, and created (goaled is a word to me).

What we secretly long for in our lives is for every plan we make to have a line that moves from point A (where we are) to point B (where we plan to go).

Like it or not, while straight lines exist on paper, they can rarely be found in real life. But this truth does not keep us from trying.  So you plan to graduate from High school and move on to the college of your choice. You graduate in 4 years and then you get married, to the spouse of your choice. You immediately move in to the career of your choice and soon you buy the house of your choice. Then the dog (the test baby) and if that goes well you have a child (the real baby) and so on and so forth.

we take comfort in straight lines

we love them

we have faith in them.

And then you don’t get in to your college, or you graduate without a spouse, or you move back home with your parents, or no one is hiring, or you are not doing the kind of work you really want to be doing. There is a tragedy in your family, or you struggle to have children. Suddenly we start to see the fallacy of the straight line. If we were to map out our lives it would look more like a scribble. A scribble has loops, it rises and falls and goes backward and forward and even diagonally. It looks messy and yet beautiful at the same time.

Now you must plan and even talk about and work toward your hopes and dreams. But even those plans must come with the understanding that for every time your life moves from A to B, it will move back to A, and then over to C, only to move around to B again.

I think about a guy from the bible named Joseph.

Joseph was loved by his Father, and blessed by God. But follow the path of his life. He gets betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery – not exactly A to B. He gets to Egypt, and eventually rises in the ranks, becoming the CEO of Potiphar’s house. What’s next? He gets solicited for sex by his owner’s wife! Next she frames him, and her husband throws Joseph in prison. God’s hand is on him, and eventually he leaves prison and becomes second in command of Egypt.  To make things more complicated, Joseph has a run in with his jerk brothers. when he finally reveals himself to them, this is what he says:

And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. Genesis 45:5

God sent him? The betrayal? the pit? Slavery? Egypt? The Sexual advances? The lies? Prison???? This was God sending Joseph to Egypt to be in a position to save his family? Seems like God could have moved Joseph from A to B and avoided all the mess.

Later, when Joseph’s Father had died and his brothers were expecting revenge, Joseph reassured them by saying this:

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:19-20

We want to run from the scribble in our lives, assuring ourselves it is not God’s plan….unless it is. Unless in the middle of the loops and rises and falls — right in the middle of all of the scribble there is God, shaping and forming our hearts, so that at the end of the scribble we are at the right place, at the right time, to be used by God to glorify Him, and share life and light with others.

As I finish up this letter, I have 4 final thoughts on this subject I’d like to share with you, but I think I will save those for tomorrow…oh come on….it will be like turning to page 2 of the letter….Just a really long turn.

Until tomorrow, I’d love to get your thoughts, comments, and testimonies on how God has led you in the scribble, and if you’d be so kind as to share this with someone else, that would be just swell.

I Rule Kindergarten

We decided to drop our 5-year-old off at school this year. I wish I could say that decision was made for noble reasons. Honestly, we did this because if we drop him off at school we get an extra 45 minutes in the morning. I wish I could also say we used that 45 minutes for noble purposes; to cook a hearty breakfast, prepare Evan for the day ahead, maybe a few thoughts for the day and a brief time of silent, contemplative prayer.

Here is what actually happens.

The alarm goes off…again. Our bed explodes in a flurry of activity — sheets and covers go flying, legs flailing as we realize we have 2o minutes. We grab our son and dress his limp body. Will he be too cold? too hot? None of that is as important as our ultimate goal in the morning — get that boy in the school door by 8 AM.

You see at 8 AM the door closes like the gate to a maximum security prison. This electronic alarm sounds, and if your child is not in the door by that time, you are LATE. This “being late” means very little to our son, he moves to his own, slower beat.  But to parents, the stigma of being late, seeing the little eyes on the other side of the school door looking back at us, as if to say, “poor, poor little boy, if only there was something we could do, but there is a great chasm between us” is more than most grown-ups can handle.

So we drop something frozen in a toaster, grab a sip to drink, brush teeth, find shoes, and finish it off with a coat. My wife and I run from room to room, throwing various items at our son followed by instructions. “Evan, put this on!” “Evan, take that shirt off and put this on!” “Evan, your coat, your coat” He is unaffected by all of this, no concern, no need to rush. Children are the only creatures on earth where the urgency of a situation actually causes them to move slower.

Eventually, we grab everything that he needs, I carry him to the car, strap him in, and we head out.

The time: 7:50 AM.

We play a game on the way to school. No, it’s not “eye spy with my little eye”. Our game is called, “help daddy  find an opening in the parade of cars the size of a Chevy Malibu.” He loves it, he’s very good at it now. Eventually, we find an opening and dart in to the line of traffic.

The time: 7:54 AM

Navigating this stretch of road to the school is more of an art form really. You have to time the lights, follow close to the car in front of you, but not too close. It involves a lot of strategy, and talking to the windshield. Then there is the volunteer guy directing traffic. I am convinced he is out to get me. He holds out his hand and traffic stops.

The time: 7:57 AM

We turn on to a side road and then into the parking lot of the school. We are met by a line of cars anxious to enter the turnabout and drop their child off. I can see the faces of the moms in their car windows. From the looks of their hair,they just woke up also.  They look terrified and frantic.   As if they realize they might be late, and they did not dress appropriately to enter the school office and sign their child in. I scan the parking lot, and decide that our best chance at getting in would be to park and run for the door.

The time: 7:59 AM

“Unbuckle your belt and grab your bag son.” The urgency in my voice shakes him to action. We jump out together, and I yell, “Runnnnnn!” We start running, as I throw his backpack on his little body.  The volunteers standing outside put up one finger, and yell, “one minute, hurry, hurry!” With those words I grab Evan, lift him off the ground, and start running. The volunteers start walking in, reality turns to slow motion, and it is just the sound of my out of breath body, the steps of my shoes on the concrete, and the sight of that door, that is now starting to close.

We get to the half-open door, and after considering all of my options, I decide for the sake of honor and good parenting to gently toss him in the door. The floor is slick in there, and the treads on his shoes don’t hold.  He slides a good 5 feet, stops himself at the wall, and looks back with a smile and thumbs up…the door closes, the alarm sounds.

Uncontrollably, I raise my hands in the air, striking the “Rocky Balboa” pose when he runs up the steps to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.. I look at the elderly volunteer next to me and yell out, “that’s right, that’s what I’m talking about!”. My hands are still raised as I dance around the door. She smiles nervously at me, and enters the building.

I skip back to the car, still hopped up on adrenaline. Along the way, I pass mothers wearing pajama pants and their husband’s coat walking the trail of shame with their child to the office. I try to make eye contact and give them a look that says, “don’t give up…you don’t have to live life this way.”

As for me, I drive home with a new outlook on the day. Sure, for a few moments the thought creeps in that tossing your child in a closing school door like a game of cornhole and then celebrating is probably not the most healthy area of my parenting. I convince myself I’ll try harder tomorrow.

The next day — wake time: 7:32AM

Time to shine.