Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Thank You for Listening

I never would have remembered this, if not for Facebook memories.

Apparently, four years ago today, when our younger son was six years old, he said something I wanted to remember. Trying to wrap his mind around God's ability to hear the prayers of everyone in the entire world, Jonathan theorized that, perhaps, every time a new baby is born, God grows a new ear.

I like the sound of that.

A special place for every single voice to be heard.

How exactly does He hear us, each one of us, every day?

I don't know, but I wish more people understood that He does, that He has an ear for you, that He wants you to cry out to Him, pour it all out before Him, the way a child assumes their parents want to hear their every thought.

Unlike us, He never grows weary of listening.

His ear for you is attentive and eager.

The words don't have to be right.

Just let Him hear your voice.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

While Your Little One Sleeps

My wife and I don't plan on offering anyone parenting advice unless they ask.

But there is one thing we will say, if we're ever asked:

We will tell new parents how much it has meant to us for our children to go to sleep while we are still awake, how much God has blessed us during the hours we have spent awake while our children are sleeping, how we have pondered them, talked about them, treasured them, prayed for them, rested in the quiet, and yes, how we have gotten chores and projects done in the extra time, but how that has never been what we have remembered about this special time, how it has really been about the awe we have experienced, the honor we have felt at the privilege of being trusted with providing these little ones (not so little anymore, but it feels the same) with the safety and provision, comfort and peace it takes to fall asleep and rest well, how it has been about how humbled we feel that this privilege would be ours, this, the slightest little peek into the Father's perspective on His creation, the feeling of having someone trust you so much that they are willing to receive the place of rest you have provided them, be warmed with the covers you chose for them, be comforted by your kiss, be enveloped in your prayers, and then release their consciousness in the blind trust that you will never leave them alone, that you will be there to welcome them when they awake to a new day, with yesterday's blunders behind them, so much more to learn.

Oh, this fragile moment!

Grasp it, parents!

Like your own life, it is a vapor that vanishes so fast. How easily it could be lost forever, this moment. How easily the trust needed for this moment to flourish could be destroyed, and how differently we might behave if we were to picture this moment at drop-off for school, at midday, upon our return home from work, at the dinner table, during evening time...all the time.

Be in awe that your Creator lets you see what it is like to be Him, to provide all for someone who depends on you completely, without any shame, and without any promise to appreciate it or even love you in return.

Be in awe that your Creator, the Infinite Giver, who watches over you while you sleep, gives you these moments to watch over your babies while they sleep, no matter how old those babies have grown, no matter how grown they think they are.

Savor the privilege of providing your child's place of rest, your son or daughter's safe time to sleep.

And in your savoring, ask yourself whether you savor the rest your Father provides to you.

Not giving advice, but I wouldn't be surprised if He also savors the moments when you trust Him enough to leave everything in His hands and go to sleep.

Monday, November 6, 2017

An Old Perv

Not long ago, my ten year-old son and I walked into a store together.

Near the entrance, we walked past a parked car that stood out because of several provocative stickers on the back window:  middle fingers, outlines of naked women, stuff like that. But the one that stood out the most was a large sticker featuring a full sentence, a dozen words long.

The sentence was a sexual joke so vulgar that it was disturbing. I actually had to think for a moment before I was sure I understood it, then hoped my son would not be curious enough to ask what it meant.

It wasn't the kind of joke that you knew not to laugh at, even though you could see the humor in it; it was the kind of joke that made you think, "Who would ever say that?"; "What company would ever print that on a bumper sticker?"; "Who on earth would find that joke so special as to deserve such rare real estate?"

And, ultimately, "Who is this pervert?"

The word that came to my mind was "immaturity". That's the only explanation for why anyone would decorate their car with this mess.

My son and I got to the entrance of the store, realized I had left my wallet in our car, walked back past the perv-mobile, got my wallet from our car, then returned for one last pass by this vehicle. This time, however, the driver of the car was there, stowing his purchase in his trunk, and walking around to the drivers'-side door.

I have to admit, I had pictured a few possible profiles for this person:

*Male (Of course, right?)

*Maybe a dude just barely old enough to be on his own, but carrying too much of adolescence into  his early 20's?

*Maybe a smarmy, leering thirty-something, offering Sandra Bullock tickets to the Ice Capades in While You Were Sleeping?

*Maybe just a flat-out, middle-aged creepo?

An Old Perv

Imagine my surprise when I actually saw him, an elderly, tottering man, wearing a windsuit, socks and slippers, gray-white hair combed back like he was stylin' in the 50's. I caught a glimpse of the side of his pointed face, and his eyes seemed to possess vitality in spite of his stooped posture and stiff gait, not an empty shell dribbling out the clock till death. Kind of reminded me of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons.

And so, the internal dialogue began:

*What?!?

*Is this his car?

*Surely this is someone else's car, right? And this poor old man is having to borrow it?

*But one of the window stickers admonishes all passengers never to eat, drink, or apply makeup while cruising in the perv-mobile, so would someone this particular about their passengers ever lend their car out to someone else?

*And, yes, this guy is ancient, but he is obviously driving on his own...so...forgive the generalization, but don't most elderly people who don't have their own cars just get rides from other people?

*I don't know...seems like this really could be his car...

*And, even if it isn't his car, is this seriously his only option for transportation? Has he not thought through the impression this vehicle will make on most who see it, and what they might think of him?

Again, guarding against the chance that this could all be some huge misinterpretation: How ironic that a behavior whose most critical fuel is immaturity would be modeled by someone old enough to have great-granchildren.

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What assumptions do we tend to make about old age?

Wisdom? Perspective? Maturity? Grace?

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control?

Sure, there is a common stereotype of the grumpy old person (Pixar's Up, or James Earl Jones in The Sandlot), but this stereotype is often paired with the origin story of the old person's bitterness, followed by a restoration of Grandpa/Grandma's happy spirit once the wound is acknowledged. There is also the occasional, outlying portrayal of a raunchy senior citizen (a Bad Grandpa, Bad Santa type of thing), but the fact that this portrayal is meant as ironic comedy shows how out of step it is from our real expectations of our elders.

In general, we assume elderly people have moved past the follies of youth, the ambitions of young adulthood, the crossroads of middle age, every fleshly passion, and the many victories and disappointments along the way, to arrive at a place of perspective and peace, overflowing with hard-earned, homespun wisdom, able to unravel life's dilemmas with thoughtful reflection, and not in a hurry about anything.

At least, that's what I assume...and what I want for myself, if I get to grow old in this life.

Which is why this old man in the Home Depot parking lot was so startling to me.

Who in the world would grow up to become an old perv?

Well....maybe a young perv?

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Who would grow up to be an immature old person?

A hateful old person?

A hot-headed old person?

A judgmental old person?

A selfish old person?

A greedy old person?

A lazy old person?

A racist old person?

A faithless old person?

Is it possible that, apart from prayer, apart from any decision, apart from any repentance, apart from any pursuit, apart from any discipline, apart from any accountability, our elderly versions of ourselves could be little more than slower, less-filtered versions of our younger selves?

Could it be that we're all going to remain what we are, until we decide something has to change?

Might it help us, as we consider our vices, to imagine how they will look on us when we are old?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

He Never Wanted to Party Anyway

The older son's complaint is not unfamiliar:

"I've busted my hump for you all this time, and you've never thrown a party for me."

He Never Wanted to Party Anyway

Sure, we've all had moments when we felt unappreciated, and no, that doesn't feel good. But this is something different. This is not someone who ever felt, in the moment, that he was being overlooked or neglected.

This is someone who had always lived right in the sweet middle of his father's safe space, where he had everything he needed, and probably everything he wanted, including a sense of superiority over his long-lost loser of a brother, about whom he couldn't just be critical, but had to be specifically critical, not just mourning the wasted money, not just grieving the lost inheritance, not just taking up for his father's honor in a way his father never did, certainly not missing the lost years of fellowship, but making a pointed and intentional mention of the prostitutes, as though they alone accounted for the entire lost fortune, instead of just being useful as an easy way to embarrass the prodigal son, the blood relation the older son wouldn't even own, insisting on referring to him as "this son of yours" when rebuffing his father's pleas to join the celebration, only to have the father put it right back in his face, referring to the ruined one as "your brother", leaving no misunderstanding about the expectation to celebrate the return of even the one who has treated your family name like a roll of toilet paper.

When we're honest, we acknowledge that we identify with the older brother, even as we see how:

*He fails to be gracious to the one who repents.

*He fails to respect his father's love, his father's joy, and his father's forgiveness toward the undeserving.

*He resentfully refers to his life's work as though it only served his father's ends.

*He wounds his father in a new place, at the very moment when the father's long-bleeding wound was finally healed.

All this we see, both in the older brother and in ourselves, but do we also notice (and relate to) the older brother's dishonesty? Or, at least, his disingenuousness?

He never got to celebrate with his friends.

This is his complaint.

But is this really what he is so mad about?

No.

The father's response is more generous than the older brother deserves:

"My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours."

The older brother has always known this, but the trouble is, this has never been the point.

The older brother has never partied over his presence with his father, because he has never viewed his presence with his father as something to party about. He has never celebrated with his friends over what he has with his father, because he has never rejoiced within himself over what he has with his father.

He is saying he's mad because he never got to party, but the truth is, he never wanted to party anyway.

And he doesn't want to party now.

What he has wanted all this time, and what he has received all this time, is the satisfaction of being right. Being approved. Being the good son. Being the upstanding citizen who pulls his own weight. Being the one whose actions justify himself.

Being better than his brother.

And, while the older brother watches his father reduce himself to sprinting to embrace the loser, he has his reward.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Weakness

Oh, Father...

Thank you for the ways I can see Your Spirit changing me from the inside out.

There are bad things I used to do that I don't do anymore, and I know it's only because of You. But at the same time, the stronger I become, the more I feel the evil one having to develop new strategies against me, the more I think it's me and my own strength that has him on the run.

I wonder what Paul's thorn in the flesh was. He pleaded with You to remove it, whatever it was, but You reassured him that Your grace was all he needed, and that his weakness was the perfect venue for Your strength to be shown.

Amen to that!

This makes me want to stand up and shout, "Don't make me strong! Keep me weak! But work through me in a powerful way, so powerfully that I know it can't possibly be me and my strength!"

Oh, Father...

I ask for two things at the same time, to have this cake and eat it, too.

I want to be so strong in You that "all the vain things that charm me most" will blow away like dead leaves. But I want to be so weak on my own that I have nothing in which to take pride.

I want the devil to see how much harder I am to get to, but to also destroy his temptation to view my bigger muscles as my own handiwork.

Can we swing that?

Sunday, October 22, 2017

He Made This Bed

Reputation, Expectation, Perception.

You can't separate them.

He Made This Bed

I once dealt with a middle school student in a disciplinary situation, and remember vividly the student pleading with me, "I know I've lied a lot before, but this time, I swear, I'm telling the truth!"

Maybe he was.

I didn't know for sure, because the facts of that specific case were not certain. But what was certain was the accuracy of the student's assessment of his own credibility: He didn't have any. He truly did lie all the time. Intentionally, despite numerous instances in which his lies had been exposed.

That's just who this kid was at that stage of his life. You couldn't rely on a thing he ever said, because you knew he lied all the time.

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The Los Angeles Lakers were fortunate to win the 1988 NBA Finals against the Detroit Pistons, and the play that saved their chances to eke out the victory came late in Game 6, when the notorious Bill Laimbeer was called for a shooting foul on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who hit both free throws to win the game and force Game 7.

Replays show the call to be dubious at best, and that Laimbeer was very likely called for a foul he did not commit in that particular case.

A commentator recently stated about that play, "Laimbeer didn't shove Jabbar on that play, but he was called for the 2,000 other previous times when he did shove somebody."

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As you follow the controversy surrounding President Trump's phone call to Sgt. Johnson's widow, consider how we reap what we sow.

At first glance, you might take this story as evidence for your opinion of President Trump, whether you consider him unfit for office, or an unfairly demonized patriot.

Whichever of these best fits your view of President Trump, neither is the heart of the matter in this case.

The heart of the matter is not which presidents have been better at comforting families of fallen service members. It is not a matter of phone calls vs. letters vs. in-person visits. Despite General Kelly's lecture, it is not a matter of whether those who have never served in the Armed Forces can understand what it feels like to lose a soldier in combat. It is not a matter of whether a congresswoman is accurate in her rendering of a conversation, or whether she should have been listening in. It is not a matter of whether a specific quote, in this specific case, is being taken out of its full context and portrayed differently than it was intended.

The heart of the story of the ill-fated phone call to Mrs. Johnson is simply this:

President Trump routinely and needlessly insults, offends, and alienates people, often intentionally, and we should never be surprised by this, though it seems to happen in new ways all the time. This happens because this behavior has been his chosen currency for all the years the world has known him. President Trump has, for his entire adult life, dealt with people in precisely this way, and has gained notoriety for doing so.

It is quite often people of color and those who are marginalized who are the most hurt by President Trump's comments and tweets, and though this pattern is needless and entirely avoidable, and though it is maddening beyond belief, there is nothing new about this.

It isn't about the details of every single specific incident.

It's about the kind of person an individual is known to be.

And the fact that President Trump has not sought to make amends for this offense, even if it was unintentional, the fact that a vulnerable person being hurt was not enough to inspire a conciliatory move, tells us all we need to know.

Please don't spend your precious credibility trying to gaslight us with any notion that President Trump is anything other than routinely and deliberately hurtful to others, or that we are crazy for thinking he is.

Please don't waste your finite voice trying to contort yourself around this story to cast President Trump as any kind of victim.

Please don't burn your limited words scrambling to pick up the pieces from this incident, or make the case that there was nothing to be offended about in this specific case.

The story of this phone call and the offense it caused was made possible only by the longstanding pattern of behavior of President Trump himself.

No one can hurt people indefinitely without consequence.

No one is so special as to be able to make their way in the world by making light of people, without reaching a point where people expect the worst of them, and see the worst in them, even in some specific cases when their intentions might have been good, or at least neutral.

It is the chronic abuser who expects those around him to validate his bad behavior, cast him as a victim, and make excuses for the hurts he causes, without any change on his part.

It is the chronic abuser who is arrogant enough to plant seeds and water them, and then become indignant when those seeds take root and bear fruit beyond the abuser's control.

President Trump could set about trying to change his reputation, and people's reactions to him, if he wanted to.

He made this bed. Let him lie in it.

And if you believe the Spirit is moving you to climb into this bed with him, at least don't pretend that anyone else made it for him.

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Oh, Heavenly Father, we repent of our mockery of You, in our failure to respect Your reminder that we will reap what we sow, that there is no such thing as planting one seed, and expecting something different to grow.

Father, we are being torn apart, and we need You.

Please comfort the family of Sgt. Johnson, and the families of the other soldiers killed in Niger.

Please comfort the families of all who have fallen in our wars, and in all wars.

Please comfort and heal all who have been hurt by President Trump's words, even in those cases when his intentions were not to hurt, and please, since he claims to be a believer, let Your Spirit move in his heart to create change.

We need You, Father.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

When Good Times Come

Big night.

A Time to Rejoice

It's not every year your team is going to the World Series!

Whether your celebration comes after decades of waiting, or whether the dry spell hasn't been quite so long, or even if the fireworks are for a first-time achievement, savor it. You never know whether a moment like this will come again.

Moments of rejoicing tell us a lot:

*Did we have faith through the famine, that a feast would eventually return?

*How low did we allow our spirits to fall when times were bleak?

*Are we honest enough to acknowledge the times when we lost hope, or interest?

*Are we appreciative enough to enjoy the moment without thinking too far ahead, borrowing anxiety about how long we will be able to remain on the mountaintop?

*Are we disciplined enough to enjoy the feast without becoming greedy?

*Do we have grace for those who do not share our joy, or those for whom our celebration is their disappointment?

*Are we joyful enough to celebrate with others when they celebrate, even if it isn't our party?

*Are we happy enough to rejoice in this moment, right in the midst of a world full of sorrow and sin?

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Oh, when good times come, rejoice! In Jesus' name, rejoice!

And...Go, Dodgers!