gratitude

George Heath

Tuesday I attended a funeral service for a man I had never met. He was 97 years old and had lived an active, full life – factors that tend to shift the familiar mix of grief and hope, sadness and relief, toward the celebratory. I was there because he was also the father of one of the finest women I have ever had the pleasure of calling a friend. She called him “Daddy” and loved him dearly. The effects of his illness and inevitable end settled on her face and shoulders, making the answer to the weekly question, “How is your dad?” redundant. We all knew, and each of us struggled with what exactly we were praying for. The impossible battle with the government agencies for aid/military benefits which everyone agreed he deserved but which no one could actually manage to procure weighed heavily. (I’ll just leave that there – I’ve been wrestling with what all to say about that, have written and erased words for far too long. Maybe that means it’s not my story to tell. What I will say is that it is often very difficult to find help for people who desperately need it. —— )

When I began to lead small groups in my previous church, I started to notice a too-rare occurrence was any reference to a father as hero or positive role model. Usually, a father provides an obstacle to healthy relationships, more often absent than engaged. One of the first questions I ask is “how was your relationship with your dad?” and the answers are depressingly similar. But my friend Cathy had a unicorn, those lovely, mythical creatures we have all heard of but haven’t really seen. 

She (and her sisters) remained devoted to him, giving care and money and prayers and time and energy to him every day of his life. She loved him without limit, as he had loved her. (I know he must have had faults, as we all do, but those faults were buried deeply under all of the love and honor they shared.) Who she is is the ideal eulogy for a life well lived, and I wish I could’ve told him so.

I wish I could’ve thanked him while he was still here.

I love her dad, I love my dad, I love all dads. I used the word unicorn to describe those engaged, compassionate, generous, beautiful men in our midst, but that was a poor choice. Unicorns don’t exist. These men are everywhere, we just need to open our eyes to see and appreciate them for what they do and who they’re are. This funeral was inspiring and completely hopeful, (for what was possible when a man lives with purpose, wisdom, strength and a heart that loves passionately), as was his life.

My friend’s Daddy doesn’t make me want to be more like him, it’s much better than that. He makes me want to be more like me, more like the me I was created to be.

He wrote songs, and the service ended with all of us standing, singing his ‘Words for the  Closing Chorus:’

May the Lord who reigns above

Bring to you His peace and love

Give us strength to carry on

Light to show us the way

Walking ever in His grace

Lift your eyes and see His face

And live in His love evermore 

My Speedo

This is going to be a very personal, difficult post to write…but I’m going to write it anyway. Maybe I’m just like ‘the kids’ today, where all of life is meant to be online, where it didn’t happen if it’s not on social media. It’s a logical extension of a movement that truly began in Madonna’s illuminating (and completely insufferable) documentary Truth or Dare, where Warren Beatty says, after Madonna refuses to talk to her doctor off-camera: “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing?” Or maybe I just want to be honest with my life. If I’m going to write a blog where we relate authentically, why would I hold such a meaningful piece of me back? (I want it to be that 2nd one. I don’t want to be Madonna or a Kardashian, so let’s all just agree and say it’s the 2nd and go from there, ok?)  

I started in the sand at Rehoboth beach: As I lay here in my Speedo, I remember all of the time I spent fully dressed – self-conscious and embarrassed. I’d wear t-shirts in community pools, lakes, oceans…if I’d even go at all. Usually, I would lie about some made-up excuse and decline invitations. My body wasn’t perfect, lumpy where it should be flat and flat where it should have curves. [Who was it that decided what my body “should” look like? Who knows?]

How many times? How much did I miss?

I wouldn’t dig holes and make castles with my boys – something they absolutely LOVE to do (again, who knows why? The point is, they do) – because of how I would fold and my skin would roll. So they dug alone, and I watched from under layers of clothes and the chair extended enough to not scrunch my belly too much, sweaty and uncomfortable.

And for what? Why why why why why?????

Because THEY might think…um, what might they think?

That I wasn’t a professional athlete, bodybuilder or Abercrombie & Fitch model? That they might think I was just a person who is a child of the Living God, who leads a full life, loves his wife and children, works, writes, reads, eats great meals, likes jeans with a little stretch, and has no idea what his body fat percentage is or what his biceps measure?  

That’s ok, because that’s precisely what I am. (Except for the biceps measurement – I know that.)

How much time and energy have I spent distracted, wishing I were someone else, with someone else’s waistline or skin or paycheck or wit or whatever, while another beautiful moment of my life passed right on by. The number on a scale or letter(s) on a shirt taking precedence to the people and the places around me. What a crushing tragedy!

How much of my life have I not been present?

I’m finishing on my sofa in Cleona: So. I’ve been coming along with this, finding some deliverance from the stern body image monster whispering in my ear, until Angel decides to post a few pictures on Facebook. She shows me first, because she’s kind and respectful and the sweetest  woman this planet has ever known, and there it is…In the middle of a handful of perfectly lovely photos, there I am in, kind of sideways, more than kind of unflattering. You know how you sometimes see a picture of you and you ask, “do I really look like that?” The answer is always yes, and unflattering or not, this one is me, too. I wanted to un-check the box, but instead I handed her phone back and smiled, “They’re great!” Because they really, really are.

And I guess it’s small insignificant acts like those that are the things that really change us. We step out one tiny step further than we’ve ever gone, then there’s a brand new line waaaaay up there that’s scary and intimidating and we think, ok, we did this, but could never do THAT. Then we do, except it’s now just a small step because we’ve taken 100 microscopic tiptoes before this. Then another. And another.

And before we know it, this is our life and there we are, living it. 

Answers

Yesterday I received a text message that said, “Is this Chad Slabach?” What a strange, interesting text – it could be anyone, about anything, and begs so many questions. Who is this? How did you get my number, and why? It’s like a big open door leading to who knows where. How exciting! 

So, I couldn’t do what I always do when I don’t recognize a number and ignore it (there are soooo many telemarketing garbage calls). This person knew my name, which immediately placed them in a different, more personal, category than the callers who don’t know my name but have an urgent message from a random electric provider regarding my Wells Fargo account (which I don’t have) or my nonexistent Medicare eligibility. I replied with a quick “Who are you?” 

As it turns out, it was a friend from high school.

A few things about that. I haven’t really kept in touch with anyone from high school because I hated most everything about high school and decided years ago that I would leave it behind. Now that I am a bit older and wiser, I wish a little that I hadn’t made that decision. There are a handful of people with whom I would quite like to see again, and this text message came from one of them. I later told her that she was “a very good friend to me,” and that’s 100% true. In that sea of dark isolation, far more Lord Of The Flies than Acts 2, she was always a wonderfully kind, loving ray of light.

How did she get my number? Because she read my book and I put it in there!!!! So many exclamation points, because everything about that sentence is astonishing. She read my book! How did she even know about it to seek it out and order it? As fate would have it, Facebook told her about the Bridge and Chronicles, Nehemiah and Other Books Nobody Reads. How it knew to tell her – I don’t have my own account, I use my wife’s – I have no idea. Facebook, with their fancy algorithm, probably knows more about me than I do.

So, she read it, and I put my phone number in so I could continue a conversation with whoever was reading it on just how much Jesus loves us. She didn’t know if it was really my number, and if wouldn’t have been if I had taken the smart advice I was given, but Bob Goff included his number in his book Love Does, and if it’s good enough for him, it would be for me, too. I didn’t exactly anticipate my book going all over the world, either, to where I would be getting calls at all hours of the night, asking about this Jesus and His amazing love.      

And here she was, texting, asking if it was me.

I coached a legion baseball team in the neighborhood of 20 years ago and while I was doing it, I met the kind of young man who makes you stop questioning, for a second, why you’re coaching in the first place. He was cool, quirky, and had a trouble-making reputation. That year wasn’t too awesome, but he was, and when I think of him, I hope he has a great life. I hope he is happy and full of peace. 

I tell you this because last night at the high school football game – my sweet boy Samuel plays the trombone in the marching band – I saw this not-so-young-anymore man with his wife. I met his lovely wife and we all spoke for a few minutes about his 4 daughters, how he coaches their sports and the problem with travel sports. He does have a great life and is happy, peaceful.

I think most of our prayers are mostly our hearts aching for connection. We’re made for each other, made for relationship, and the reason our desires for money or things or position can’t ever satisfy our holy longings is because they don’t breathe and smile and hold our hands. 

I’ll sometimes pray for circumstances to change, illnesses or pain to stop, but when I see my wife or you and we sit together and you say “me too” or nothing at all, I can breathe again. I can see the light through the cracks. I realize that I was praying for you all along. Maybe God’s “plans to prosper [us]…plans to give [us] a hope and a future” are not big bank accounts and comfy chairs at all. Maybe they’re each other. 

Maybe these Kelly’s and Nate’s are answers to prayers we haven’t the vision to ask. They are the perfect miracles, gifts from a God Who hasn’t forgotten, Who knows exactly what we need.    

Notes From A “Try Hard”

This morning I played competitive basketball, which means my ankles, knees, calves, well…every single part of me is asking me why? Why would we do that?? Saturday mornings in the winter of either 1983, 84, or 85 (I don’t exactly remember which) was the last time I played sort-of competitive basketball, so I can forgive my muscles for forgetting. My brain forgot, too. 

Last week was my first, and it was a very pleasant surprise. I was able to endure the hour and a half without blacking out or calling an ambulance. Whether board games or foot races, I’ve always been awfully serious about competition, but winning and losing hold far less significance when survival is your primary goal. That was the big win for me. As far as the actual sport, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t terrible. I didn’t embarrass my boys too much.

On that note, to compete alongside your own children is one of the most rewarding experiences a man like me can have. All of those hours I spend in the gym were validated on the court, as we gave all we had, standing side by side, encouraging each other to persevere, winning and losing together.        

But we won a bunch and I made a few jump shots. In fact, some looked so good I considered that maybe it wasn’t too late to make a run at a semi-pro league. I played hard, sweaty defense and hustled.

Elisha informed me afterwards that I was what the kids at school call a “Try Hard,” which is a playground slur for those who aren’t cool enough to pretend to not care. Like the kids that actually dance at school dances or study for exams. It’s pretty jarring to find out that one of the virtues you’ve spent years trying to instill is one of the things that will get them mocked and ridiculed at recess. Go figure. 

This week, this Try Hard couldn’t make much of anything, so I’m putting the semi-pro idea on the shelf for now, but even if your shots don’t fall, you can play hard, sweaty defense and hustle. My team lost all of the games this week, too.

Sports. 

I started this post in a white rocking chair on my porch, feeling every day of my nearly 44 years, not knowing what I would write for this Bridge blog, just knowing that I would. Then, “basketball” came out of my fingers and what does that have to do with God or church or spirituality? I always like to have some kind of bigger point that ties everything up nicely. 

I don’t have any, though. Hmm. Do I really need a fancy big idea? I guess not. 

Now that we’re here, though, I think probably basketball and writing and being someone’s daddy and prayer and living a good life are pretty much the same things. We show up not knowing if we can do it, (and before too long, there we are, doing it!!!), and sometimes we’re AWESOME and the next second we’re THE ABSOLUTE WORST, no one has ever been worse, we’ve ruined it. But we haven’t – not even close – because we keep showing up with what we have been given – which is always enough – and we Try Hard. 

Basketball was super fun, hurts and leaves me exhausted and weak. And there, in that exhaustion, weakness, and pain, I learned more and more about me and my boys, the virtues of trying hard, gratitude and the overflowing gifts of the Divine, lessons I might not have learned elsewhere. 

So, ankles, knees and poor tired feet, that is why we would do that.       

Salvador Dalí, pt 2

Last Monday, before the deluge of riverboat posts, I shared a post written by Cristian Mihai (his blog is pretty great and it’s located at cristianmihai.net if you want to read his work) and a comment written by Mr Wapojif (I have no idea if he has a blog, I’m not sure I’m his target audience.) (My post is called Salvador Dalí if you wanted to catch up.) (SO MANY PARENTHESES!!!!) At the end, I promised some thoughts on “success and if it actually takes a ‘great deal of luck.’” These are those thoughts.

I attended a church for years that abruptly closed its doors one Sunday. Abruptly isn’t exactly the best choice of words, it was a surprise to me, but all of the signs were there to be noticed. I just didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to believe my home church would ever end. Instead, I wanted it to go forever and ever. Now, that church had a pretty standard curve – we opened, grew, had a pretty significant dramatic split, and then slowly diminished until New Song Community Church was in the past tense and we were without a church. 

Now, in hindsight, we can ask the compelling question, was it a failure?

I love competitive sports. I played, lived and breathed sports. If a team lost, they had failed. It seemed so simple, but now I see that may have been an oversimplification, at best, and a colossal misconception, at worst. 

If you take the shot and miss, you fail, right? If the church doesn’t become mega- and meet in an arena, if the church closes because it can’t pay the rent, hasn’t it failed?

Now, in the realm of the spiritual, there is a theory that if God is in something, it will succeed. But what does that mean? Will it grow? Will it be profitable? Will it provide private jets and luxury cars? 

Was God no longer behind New Song because numbers shrank? Was God no longer behind the disciples who were martyred in various horrible ways? Is success illustrated by financial prosperity and status? Is success measured by wins and made shots and attendance and account balances?

I coached 2 teams this year. One was regularly thumped, and the other had its share of wins. But it can be no doubt at all that the one who had all the talent and wins was far less successful than our team of lovable losers. That’s strange. Unless God’s idea of success has always been unrelated to ours.

Maybe God doesn’t care if we make the shot, as long as we take it. Maybe God doesn’t care about the shot at all, just about the one who takes it.

Success might be about courage and risk and obedience – better yet, subjection – and following Him, no matter where that leads. Success might not be about how long New Song lasted, but that it’s impact be felt for generations through the people profoundly transformed there. As Vision says in Age Of Ultron, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” And a thing isn’t successful because it lasts or because it wears the nicest jeans and has the most followers or likes.

I wrote a book and it broke even and that’s about it. (That’s good news for you because I still have some, if you want one;) Maybe the people who bought it read it, maybe some of those even like it. But that it isn’t Harry Potter or I’m not the Next Big Thing on Amazon yet doesn’t make it worthless or unimportant. I followed a dream that was inside me and in following that dream and the God that put it there, I changed. I became something different than I was before. Maybe it’s a missed shot…

…But I shot. New Song was awesome. My bad 14u team was the greatest. 

Maybe God doesn’t want me to sell a bajillion copies, but wants me to continue to be transformed. 

Maybe God just wants all of us. Maybe He wants us to show up and shoot and trust Him to take our missed shots and make exactly what He always intended. So Mr Wapojif, I think you’re wrong, there isn’t any luck at all involved in that. 

The Best Chicken I’ve Ever Had

After the riverboat docked and we were safely aground, we shared a meal, inviting everyone who was on the boat and whoever happened to be walking close enough to accost. I always make the joke (which is actually only half a joke) that one of the things we do best is eat. So, all of us ate the food we offered together at heavy stone tables across from our friends and, until recently, strangers. It is and has always been so valuable to me because, in addition to how deeply I love to eat, it is where all of the walls and barriers we concoct to separate us fall away and we can simply be ourselves, enjoying the blessings of God. (Now, I understand school lunches and dinner parties and business lunches and… well, I understand not ALL meals are about unity and blessing and instead focus on power, prestige, image, popularity and who is sitting where, with whom, but that’s gross and a perversion of the very idea of the table. We’ll talk about those distortions another day. Today, we will talk about when food and the table are right.)

The pavilion that covered us was full of laughter, noisy conversation, and full bellies. Everything was just as it should be.

Clean up was easy, the food was nearly gone. 

As we turned out of City Island and back onto Market Street, I realized just how exhausted I was. Big weeks take a toll in much the same way that sledgehammers take a toll, so I was ready, counting the seconds until I could collapse onto my very soft, very comfy couch and put a movie on that I wouldn’t see. And that’s just what I did, the lone exception being that the movie was replaced by the HGTV program Good Bones – I am married to a woman who strangely feels that there is more to entertainment than superheroes. Go figure. 

We were satisfied, peaceful, soaking in God’s lovely grace, half-awake.

Angel’s phone interrupted our lethargy with a dinner invitation that we would obviously decline.

Yes Man is a pretty good book, written by Danny Wallace, that was adapted into a completely average movie starring Jim Carrey. I only mention it because I have been taking steps (sometimes small and imperceptible) to say Yes to things I would regularly refuse. The thing is, my ‘natural’ bend is towards a hermit-like isolation, which has cost me many friends and experiences. I’d like to change that, don’t think it’s ‘natural’ at all to crawl into a hole where I am the only resident. I think my ‘nature’ is more like laziness and apathy and doesn’t deserve to survive the next metamorphosis of my evolution.

So, we said yes to dinner with some new friends (so new that it would be the first social interaction I would have with this beautiful family). They had a gorgeous home, great dogs, an easy openness, and far more food than I was prepared for. I count calories for everything I put in my mouth (you can judge me if you like, I certainly do), and when I saw the amount of pure deliciousness that would be served, there was a decision to make. I haven’t eaten a cheeseburger in a looong time, my friends. Where does a caloric threshold fit into saying Yes?

I’ll tell you, at least last Sunday, it doesn’t. 

I ate a huge juicy cheeseburger and chips and something called dump cake (exactly as awesome as it sounds) and then there was the chicken. As I was wrist deep in burger and macaroni salad, a plate of chicken was set before me, as if it were delivered by angels. Now, chicken is not something I would usually comment on, it is mostly fuel: bland, dry and laced with protein. But this chicken was marinated in God’s love and herbs harvested from the garden of Eden. I ate until I was sick in gratitude, deciding that these people were amazing and chicken was now my favorite food.  

The calories would have to wait to be tracked.

****

So, Now what?

This is the last post on this riverboat/chicken adventure and now I can see that they (including the message I shared, though I couldn’t have guessed at the time) are all tied in the willingness to show up, to open ourselves to possibility, to imagine that this hurting world can be (in fact, IS) beautiful if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hands to hold and hearts to love and be loved, if only we have the courage to say Yes. A tapestry of chicken and new friends and swimming pools and Shukran and riverboats and Gisy’s voice and Mephibosheth all sewn together by a God who has not left us, not even for a second, who is just waiting with wide-open arms for us to sit down at His table

Shukran

We boarded the riverboat around 9:30, and by 10 she was full. Our Bridge community comprised only about half of the total on the boat, and this allows an interesting amalgam of 2 contrasting emotions to hold hands and enjoy each other, despite their obvious differences. 

On the one hand, new faces and hearts brings me into a fairly anxious space, where I feel the familiar fear of, “what if I’m terrible?” Or if I’m not terrible, “what if they hate me anyway?” This sounds self-absorbed and probably is, but it’s also a desire to introduce someone new to the God who rescued me, who gave me life (generally, capital L Life, and also specifically, this beautiful life of mine.) The baggage that comes with that is, fair or not, that someone new could possibly mistake me for God and the Bridge for The Church – I know that makes me seem like I have a complex, the biggest delusion of grandeur EVER, but how many of us or those we know have walked away from church or God because of something a Christian did, or didn’t do? What if the person sitting next to you in church was the person you saw be rude to the server at the table next to yours last night? What if the pastor said something dumb on his blog, or in an off-handed comment at a youth baseball game? What if 2 women on the church board dropped off offering envelopes at your house because you hadn’t attended in several weeks? What if the drummer on the worship team has an addiction? Now it’s not so far-fetched, right? 

So that can be heavy if I think about it too long, but the opportunity to point to the actual Living God who loves you now, has always loved you, no matter who you were/are, who you think you are, what you’ve done, how far you think you are from Him, is so fantastically exhilarating, it’s why I get out of bed and onto a riverboat in the first place.   

It’s a swirl of emotion, and is compounded by the fact that many of the new faces were Muslims there for the Eid al-Adha gathering. What will they think of me, of us, in our shorts and sunglasses? So many questions, will they think us disrespectful of Our Jesus? Will they find our worship not, um, well…not enough? The truth is, it doesn’t actually matter, our worship is for only One, we do not do anything for, as it says in the Bible, the praises of man. But again, we would like to not be off-putting and a reason (irrational though it may be) to turn away.

Here’s another question: How many Muslim services have we been to? How many would we attend? What about the open hearted spirits of those who joined us, though they may have been taught our separate faiths, our separate cultures, our separate lifestyles, could not under any circumstances coexist, and certainly not for something so trivial as a free boat ride?

Yet they did, and as I began, I wondered how they would receive my message…

I wrote the message years ago – with the changes it required. (I once heard that we never read the same book twice, and I find that true of most everything. The book might not change, but we do. So, I could look at a message I wrote last Tuesday and be affected by something entirely different today. All the more when we speak of months and years instead of days and weeks.) I often use the Old Testament as a jumping off point, and did here as well, discussing the story of Mephibosheth. It’s a wonderful illustration of grace; Mephibosheth didn’t do anything to deserve it, but was invited to sit and eat at the table of the King forever. 

But beginning with the Old Testament allowed those of us with different faiths some common ground, like an open door to a deeper universal conversation. I wrestled with this topic for some weeks, even as I worked to prepare the concepts, and was immediately thankful the book of 2nd Samuel and Mephibosheth won. Often, I find if we can stop being “us” and “them,” or generalizations, labels and sound bites, we’ll usually find similarities (like bosses and kids and car trouble and back pain and promotions and Morrissey and the Avengers and how lovely my wife is) and if we can find similarities, we’ll start to like, then maybe even care about and ultimately love each other. This is often surprising, but it shouldn’t be, we’ve all been created by the same God, in His image. Sometimes, though, it takes a free ride on a riverboat to see it.

I’ve promise the next post will be about food, including the Best Chicken I’ve Ever Had. But one more thing on the impact of our shared humanity on that boat: As one man (very near my age, holding his child while his wife held another) left the boat, he purposefully turned, found me, and said, “Shukran.” I had no idea what that meant and, since we had shared such a sacred space together, had no interest in doing what we usually do and nod and pretend to understand, so I asked, “What does that mean?” 

Of course, it means “Thank you.”

Graduation 2

My youngest nephew graduated from high school last night. The plan was for this gigantic school to hold this ceremony at 6pm outside, but the rain appeared to have other plans. The forecast was for 90% chance of rain, and as of 4 o’clock, it was still pouring down. At 5, as we drove in, the sun began to peek from behind dark clouds and the drops slowed, then stopped. They began at 5:30, just in case, and ended just before 7, when we hurried to our cars as the rain began again. There was a 2 hour window or calm, clear skies for our celebration. A gift from God to my nephew and his classmates.

Now, last week I wrote a post on graduations, sadness and celebration, presence and attention, so I won’t do that again. What I will talk about is bleachers and space.

We sat in the metal bleachers, crammed in like sardines, and when we should’ve been thinking about the moments we’ve spent with Nathan and the man he’s becoming and how significant this moment is, we were instead thinking about the heat and sweaty forearms and being careful not to shove our knees into the backs of the grandparents in front of us.

It’s easy to underestimate how important those small details are, like the music in the background or the temperature.

When the Bridge moved into our current building, we were buried under an avalanche of sound problems. Then, once they were fixed, we enjoyed about a year of quiet before the heating system attacked. It is impossible to underestimate how disruptive a deafening shriek of feedback can be, or how distracting a 90 degree sanctuary is.

Last year, during this same weekend when my other nephew graduated, I wrote a post about hot HIIT yoga. This year, my torturous sister treated me to another class of hers; this time, plain old boiling hot yoga. It was hotter this time, like the surface of the sun, but the movements and workout just as uncomfortable. The music was loud and perfectly mixed, the instructor’s voice constant and encouraging – 2 huge details that allowed us to endure.

[2 things about the instructor, Mona (who looks exactly like you think she would.) Before the class, she said to me, “If you can’t do the movements or go on, just stay in the room,” which is terrific advice for a life of growth and becoming. Then, during the class, we were twisted like pretzels and my muscles were threatening to be torn from my bones, and I felt her hands on my hips, gently, firmly, nudging me even further in the direction I could not go. Except that I could go further. I may have whimpered or cried a little, but sometimes it takes someone to ‘help’ us stretch.]       

My sister’s house is comfortable and her dog is amazing, The Best Dog On Earth, and she had lots of food on the counter. 

It’s these small details of our lives that make our lives. These ‘small’ details make obstacles and trials manageable or unconquerable monsters. That make relationships new and fresh or misery. That make workouts challenging and fun or boring boxes on our “things I have to do” lists. They’re the difference between existing and living. 

It’s the reason the Bible spends so much time and so many words on what we can mistake as irrelevant minutiae. These details are the bricks upon which we build our world. 

Chuck Palahniuk writes, in Choke: 

“Paige and I just look at each other, at who each other is for real. For the first time.

We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are.

Letting our past decide our future.

Or we can decide for ourselves.

And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

In the trees, a mourning dove calls. It must be midnight.

And Denny says, “Hey, we could use some help here.”

Paige goes, and I go. The four of us dig with our hands under the edge of the rock. In the dark, the feeling is rough and cold and takes forever, and all of us together, we struggle to just put one rock on top of another.

….

It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.

What it’s going to be, I don’t know.

Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”

What we build could be anything. We should probably pay attention to these little rocks.

Graduation

Today my youngest son will graduate from 6th grade and move on from the elementary school into junior high. I’ll just let that sit for a second and allow the weight of that statement to wash over me.

My oldest son is moving out of junior high into the high school, as well.

I have no children in elementary school.

Yesterday they were sleeping on my chest, or nursing, or needing a diaper change. Last night I was spoon-feeding them from a jar. And this morning, Samuel (the soon to be 9th grader) drove his shoulder into my belly (probably breaking 3 ribs,) lifting me off my feet and into the couch.

I can no longer throw him over my head and into the air, drawing the concerned gasp from their mom. As long as we’re at it, she is now “mom” exclusively, no longer “mommy.” It would be the sweetest song to hear the word “daddy” again. I tried to throw Samuel over my head like I used to at the pool last week and I’m pretty sure I tore several muscles in my back. 

I have no children in elementary school. 

[Now it’s 2 days later and the graduation is over. Summer vacation has begun!]

Yesterday, during the music/photo montage at graduation,  I had absolutely no hope of holding back tears as I saw that sweet 1st grade boy smiling and running and laughing. To tell you the truth, I didn’t really want to, either.

Elisha (the graduate) is growing into a really wonderful human being, I love who he is and watching him become who he will be is overwhelming. He is kind (mostly;) and polite and self-assured and grounded and hilarious and has moves on a basketball court that only show me how old and slow I’m getting. He’s so handsome and lovely it would break your heart. He gets the haircut and wears whatever he wants – which only the most stylish can/will do – and sings out loud. He reads, tells jokes he makes up, can run like a deer and would rather eat nails than let you win. At anything. He’s not always nice and he’s not always concerned with your feelings; He has rough edges, which only makes me like him more. 

The boy that he was is gone and isn’t coming back, and that fact must be mourned, an offering of salty tears. But the young man that he is becoming, and the man that he will become, are worthy of euphoric celebration, also an offering of salty tears. Both of these are 100% true.

My heart works exactly as it should. In that graduation, I was fully present, engaged, feeling all of the emotions of this beautiful gift of life. I am so, so thankful. How could I not weep?? Why would I hold anything in? 

2 of my favorite people in the world gave birth to twins this week. All four of them are unbelievably lucky and blessed. And I know the tears they will cry as the pictures of babies in car seats will transform into teenagers in the drivers seat, the cribs into graduations, and the loss and the hope and the mourning and dancing and the times for weeping and laughing and the times for tearing down and building. And I wish them everything. I hope nothing more for them than that they are there for all of it and hold nothing in.

Holy Hell

Last year, my family made a switch to DirecTV from Comcast to save some money, and it would be impossible to understate the mountain of regret it caused. I was happy to tell them about my poor decision (in emails, phone calls, customer surveys, etc…all of them completely unacknowledged. For example: “Mr Slabach, is there anything else I can do for you?” “Yes, I have rued the day I chose to become a customer, hostage to you monsters, so if you could roll back time and prevent me from making the terrible change to DirecTV and your horrible customer service, that would be great. Or you could release me from my contract so I can go somewhere else TODAY. That’s something else you could do for me, but I don’t guess your script has a generic response with up-sell for that.” And without even a pause: “Well, if there’s nothing else, thank you for choosing AT&T and DirecTV. Have a great day.”) I’d be happy to tell you about it, too, but not here. The point of mentioning the woeful telecommunications behemoth is to tell you the nightmare is over. I paid the ransom to release myself from it’s grip and returned to Comcast and, in the process, gained Netflix. With this marvelous addition, we also gained it’s treasure trove of documentaries.

Today I had some free time and chose to spend it watching one called Holy Hell, about a religious cult called Buddhafield. What began as a beautiful space of community and belonging was revealed to have been a blanket covering a bottomless pit of spiritual and sexual abuse that damaged some members for over 20 years. 20 years!!! To tell you the truth, there was nothing surprising about any of it, you could see where it was going from the opening shots. Probably, anyone watching this group function at the time would’ve easily seen it as well. As is pretty standard, the only ones who couldn’t see the group (and it’s despicable leader) for what it was, were the ones on the inside being victimized. But it was the closing interviews that were very interesting, where they reflected on their experience. It had been 10 years since their escape, would they still be full of rage, hatred, resentment? Would they blame the others? Were they able to move past these atrocities? Were they able to have healthy relationships, jobs, careers, and spiritual lives? 

Of course they were angry and wounded, they wept while they told the story. Or at least they were angry, then. As they recounted the horrific details, clearly painful, it was swirled with a peaceful acceptance that was shocking. Each one spoke honestly, never avoiding even the worst of the abuses, but each one used words like thankful and gratitude. The true, lasting sadness was in the mourning over the loss of the community they all shared that was taken from them by the evil of the guru. 

In Jeremiah 24:5-7 “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Like these good figs, I regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Babylonians. My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the Lord. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.” The worst thing that could happen was exile. They were removed from everything that mattered to them; their land, history, name, their temple and their God. Yet this perspective was as one of beauty and grace.

Maybe the DirecTV debacle was actually a good thing? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t have been offered the package with Netflix if I was a current customer. (I wish it wasn’t that way – it’s like marriages, all too often. Once you get the girl, you let yourself go and take her for granted, stop pursuing her. Like telecommunications companies.) When I look back at the worst things that happened to me… I don’t hate them as much anymore. In fact, I’m almost thankful they happened, because they changed me in profound ways. They taught me lessons I might not have learned otherwise. 

As usual, it’s never the circumstance, it’s our response to the circumstance.

We’ve all been victims of someone’s violence, we’ve all been exiles, we’ve all experienced DirecTV. It’s how God uses these trials to grow us that can be the most astonishing gift… Now, if we can only be open to the transformation.