Spirituality

Eyes To See

I wrote this for my other blog, lovewithacapitall.com, and I think you might like it, too. Incidentally, the site that publishes our sites (now called Jetpack) gives a writing prompt every day. Today it’s, “What word best describes you?” and in light of the following, it’s clear I’d like to say grateful. And not so incidentally, today is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 79 today. I miss him more some days than others, and today is one of those. Maybe that is why I feel this post so deeply. Or maybe I would feel this post so deeply everyday, because I’m the man he raised everyday. Yes, very very grateful.

I go to a local store for something called creamed pearl tapioca pudding on Tuesdays. Every Tuesday. And then I drop it off with the Angel at her office, along with a fountain soda as thanks. What I tell her is that it needs to be refrigerated and I’m unable to access our fridge. I don’t need to take it to her. I take it all through the winter, when my car is colder than any available appliance, mostly so I can see her for those 30 seconds.

Yesterday was Tuesday, and while I was there, I was overwhelmed, speechless and in awe of this woman. I sent her a text from the parking lot that read, “No kidding, I can not believe I get to be married to you. You are a KNOCKOUT,” and then I added 2 emoji faces with hearts for eyes. We’ll only talk about how she looks today, but as you probably already know, the beauty on the outside isn’t close to how lovely she is on the inside. She’s pretty far out of my league, but that’s her problem, not mine.

The point is that sometimes we can be so familiar with something that we take it for granted, easily and often. I live with this Angel, see her everyday, in pajamas and in heels, I know she’s gorgeous. I know her smile in my sleep, the way her eyes shine, how her laugh sounds, her skin feels. I know all of this, but there are surely lots of moments where I don’t truly appreciate all of this.

And there are so many things just like her (well, not just like her), but equally overlooked, or dismissed as common when they are anything but.

Pizza, Lord of the Rings, vinyl, this blanket, Catfish, creamed pearl tapioca. There are things we couldn’t wait to get, absolutely had to have, and changed our lives, that we don’t even give a second thought today. I’m not sure we need a change of scenery nearly as much as we need to open our eyes to the current scenery, because at some point that new scenery is going to be the current scenery we are looking to change.

I haven’t listened to The Queen Is Dead in months, and the last time I did, I skipped some tracks. It’s a perfect album, and I treat it so cavalierly that I skip tracks. We eat in front of the tv or in the car, concentrating and appreciating nothing. We see sunrises and sunsets everyday more perfect than the finest art. The Angel is so stunning she could stop clocks. 

How and when did we get so distracted and jaded that we miss all of this splendor? Somewhere we were sold the lie that there was anything in this fantastic world that is “ordinary.” Ordinary is for the blind and imagination-less. In the Bible, scales fall from the apostle Paul’s eyes and he can finally see things as they are, see reality as it is. Maybe our scales need to fall, as well. I don’t really want to take anything for granted anymore, and I certainly don’t want to take people for granted ever again. I don’t want to become so familiar with laying like spoons with the Angel that it loses it’s tender warmth and simply becomes something we do. It IS something we do, but it’s not simple at all, it’s also significant and perfect.

I wonder how many other things in our everyday lives are significant and perfect, if we only had eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel them.

The Grass-Eating Ox We’ve Chosen

Psalm 106:20 says, “They traded their glorious God for a statue of a grass-eating ox!” I totally recognize we discussed this verse yesterday, but it’s so good, I wanted to share it again.

The Israelites, the chosen people of the Living God, who had just been rescued from slavery, at the first opportunity, coerce (really, it didn’t take too much coercion, they mostly just asked) Aaron to make them a statue of a golden calf to worship, which he does. They are the people He’s chosen. This is the lump of melted bling they’ve chosen.

I don’t imagine we have many golden calves in our homes, not too many statues we kneel in front of. This story is factual history, the golden calf was a real thing, but it’s also a metaphor. We are Israelites. We are afraid. We are asking where God is, will He come back, are we safe, what are we supposed to do now??? We still have golden calves, even if they’re not golden calves. So, the questions yesterday were, “What is our grass-eating ox? Where have we traded our glorious God for something much much less? Where have we set our hearts?”

Today, the question is, where has our fear deteriorated our faith, broken our state of love & trust, and led us to replace the True God with junk, just as the Israelites did in the wilderness thousands of years ago?

Maybe not junk, but certainly junk in comparison. Our work isn’t junk. Our children aren’t junk. Our spouses aren’t junk. But they don’t provide salvation, they don’t save. They don’t instill us with worth, they don’t give us the answer for the vital question we’re all asking, “Who am I?” They fade. They let us down. Statues break.

In the fish tank in front of me as I write, my son has a statue of a mechanical panther that is as awesome as any fish tank decoration you’ll ever see. I always had a No Fishing sign in my aquariums (aquaria? aquarii?) as a boy, and that was pretty awesome. This is even better. The fish swim through it, some lay along the base, the plecostomus (plecostomi?) suck on the legs, they really enjoy it. It gives texture, detail, pleasure. If it was gone, we’d all miss it a lot. When it wasn’t in there, I thought I could see longing in the gourami’s eyes. But if I reached into the water, took it out right now, and dropped on the kitchen floor, it would break. Our No Fishing signs broke from time to time. And that dumb golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai broke, too. So I ask those questions only to say, it doesn’t matter. Abraham destroyed his dad’s idols and Moses ground the calf into powder. That’s the other thing about statues (idols), they can be removed. We can throw them out with the trash – symbolically, of course. We don’t need to actually throw our kids away, leave our spouses, or quit our jobs. They make the tanks we swim in so much cooler. We simply have to throw away their position at the top of our lives. We have to strip their ability to push the buttons or dictate our value.

(I make that sound easier than it is. It’s simple, but certainly not easy.)

We can decide today, each moment, over and over or for the first time, to set them on SomeOne Who doesn’t fade, change, break, or fail. SomeOne Who can tell us who we are, and why. We can let Him love us into a new reality, where statues can be relieved of the pressure of completing us. A new reality, where our missing pieces are found and we can stop looking for them in empty holes and hollow spaces. A new reality, where we will be free.

Trust Falls

As I’m working, studying, preparing, it’s very hard to focus on the small verses because today I’m preoccupied with the macro-view. The entire finished puzzle is obscuring the individual pieces. And that’s ok. But here’s where I am:

Last week, 1 Corinthians, chapter 10 began a historical account of Israel during the Exodus. That was strange, random, but we talked about why (a reminder as well as a warning) and that’s probably right, but now I think there’s another reason.

Earlier in this letter, Paul had been walking us through a way of life where we can subject our wants, desires, rights, our selves, in the service of another. That we should either eat or not eat idol-sacrificed meat, either accept or not accept payment for our ministry work. We have these rights, but the story doesn’t end with what we have, it’s only the beginning. What will we do with these rights of ours? And sometimes, what we are called to do is to not exercise them.

And that is overwhelming to even consider. The point is no longer to win, and we love to win. It’s not to be right, and we get so much of our value from our right-ness. It’s not to get anything. Seminal 80’s band Depeche Mode sings, “The grabbing hands grab all they can. All for themselves, after all. It’s a competitive world.” What are we grabbing?? What are we competing for??? In a culture that measures our worth in status, money, and power, how does a 2,000 year-old letter play that asks us to give those things away willingly? Not well. It’s not hard to see why the Scriptures are more and more marginalized, even inside the church. The theology of the prosperity gospel has so much more in common with the American Dream than the Sermon on the Mount and almost nothing in common with chapters 8 & 9 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.

If our worth isn’t measured in wins and losses, or net worth, or square feet, then how is it measured? How do I prove myself?

Paul answers that with a history. He acknowledges our fragile insecurities and desperate need to win with stories of clouds, seas, and communion. Whaaat?

The big ask is that we put ourselves second or third or last on purpose. It’s a trust fall, right? What if we do that, what if we lose, give up our right, release our white-knuckled grip on image-making and control? What if we stop running and everyone passes us, and Paul was wrong???? What if there isn’t enough, if we aren’t enough, and we are stripped bare and empty? What if we close our eyes, fall backwards and there’s no one to catch us?

Faith is not simply faith in anything. If I put my faith in my bunny, there’s a great chance she won’t come through in crisis. It matters absolutely in what (or Whom) we put that faith. So as Paul details manna, water, provision, rescue and salvation, he’s making the argument for faith in Jesus Christ. To follow Paul’s utterly terrifying counter-cultural invitation, there has to be someOne trustworthy to catch us. Is there?

So, yes, Paul, through the Exodus, reminds us to stay awake to the blessings and privileges crackling all around, warns us of the obstacles that we refuse to give up, AND also continues to frame all of human history as a series of glorious illustrations of God’s faithfulness. Our eyes are closed, we’re only waiting for the courage to fall into His arms and start living.

Yes’s & Nos

I officiated a wedding Saturday morning in a county a few hours north of the one in which I live. The wedding was for a co-worker and friend, she chose to have it up there where she and her now husband have a cabin. There was no “venue,” they instead chose to have it on a public road in front of a covered bridge. I had never been in this county, so of course this sounded strange and a little dangerous. It was neither, almost no one lives in that county. The snow on the roads was untouched until our vehicles made tracks, and we were uninterrupted.

The last hour of my trip there was on snow covered roads as more snow fell. This is not ideal. I was raised with an unhealthy fear of inclement weather. For years and years and years, I’d obsessively study forecasts and storm patterns and if they were tracking into my area, my life would be upended. I couldn’t sleep, would get headaches (or more accurately, just 1 headache that lasted until the roads were cleared afterwards), miss work or school, and become more and more irritable. I am considerably better now, but I wouldn’t say I like snow.

Winter had become spring several weeks ago, last week was 70 degrees on Wednesday!!! Except for Saturday morning. The forecast was dry, warm (very warm for the season), and sunny, except Saturday morning, when it would be cold and snowing. We all make big jokes about how weather people are always wrong, but that’s simply not true. They are significantly wrong maybe a half a dozen times a year, but I was beyond hopeful that one of those six would be Saturday morning.

I prayed for the snow to miss my path. Yes, I recognize this is probably a very selfish prayer, but I give everything to God (I know He values honesty and wants the authentic me) and let Him sort it all out, “if it’s His will.” This prayer was either left unanswered or met with a No. They both look exactly the same, right? And on this drive and since, my mind began to wander down a path where I was thinking about unanswered prayers and how many times this kind of thing becomes a real obstacle for us in our walks of faith: God doesn’t listen, doesn’t care, and on and on down these same roads.

In that particular county, at the same time, there was a woman who was getting married Saturday morning outside in front of a covered bridge. This woman had been praying to the same God, asking for a snowy wedding ceremony. The last 2 weeks, she continued to update me on the forecast, saying with overflowing excitement, “it’s still supposed to snow!” I pretended to agree and feel the same hope for a fluffy white blanket under our feet.

My No was her Yes.

And now I wonder what that means. The second I arrived, I was thrilled she got her Yes, the day was gorgeous, as was she, the pictures perfect. She deserved the day that existed in her dreams, and if I wasn’t quite so selfish, I would’ve prayed with her and also gotten a resounding Yes.

Very often, our scope of vision begins and ends with our own experience. In tragedy, we say things like, “why me/them/us???” I suppose wishing the tragedy to fall upon someone else. We pray for our team, against others, for our side and against theirs, for sunny skies and against the snow, thinking we know everything there is to know, see everything there is to see.

And they are honest – we absolutely should be praying these prayers, we should give God the truth, as it is, and as we are, right now. But maybe the real answers are the ones that expand our perspective, that blow up our limited view, and expand our hearts to include more and more interests besides our own. Maybe we shouldn’t be quite so quick to conclude what Yes’s, No’s and Wait’s are, or to assume we could tell the difference at all.

I wouldn’t pray the same prayer again. I would be the person I pretended to be, petitioning God for a slow sketchy drive AND a lovely ceremony that would last forever. I’m different today, in many ways. I’m grateful. And as it turns out, for me it wasn’t a No at all. Not even close.

A Messy Process

This morning I made a dumb joke. This is not, in itself, unusual. I make dumb jokes all the time, but this one was a little at the expense of my family and it’s been resting heavy on my heart. This joke in question was funny, mostly because everyone knows exactly how I feel about everyone who lives in this house, especially The Angel. She wasn’t angry or anything, she made a public face as if she were, because she plays along. But I don’t need her in pain to know I’ve strayed from the path, the messy hard to follow process I choose to walk.

What I do in situations like this is ask forgiveness, of her (which she gave easily), of Jesus (which He gave a long time ago), and of me (which always proves much harder to come by).

And then I ask why. Why did I make a joke like that?

A big part of what made it funny was particularly biting to me. She is my very special, very valued, sweet lady, and she deserves to be honored with my every thought, word, and action. This is something that comes naturally, as I am very well aware that she is a divine gift and a blessing to the world around her. You know this, you’ve seen the way I look at her, the way I speak about her, no one needs to tell you how much she means to me. If I thought she was (or if there was any question that I might think she was) “the bags in the other car,” it is decidedly not funny. We’ve all been in situations like that, where jokes aren’t jokes and hit too close to their intended mark. This was not that. But this was also not something that held her carefully.

So the next thing I do is ask a different why. Our words come from somewhere, usually the overflow of our hearts. In this case, I am not feeling any type of negative way about her, so where is my heart? Why is it overflowing with dirty water?

2 weeks ago I wrote, “I was apart, my heart felt muddy, confused, a little restless, distracted, and needed to be pulled back together.” This is even more true today, with one big addition. I am overwhelmingly sad, as you heard and felt before the message began. My insides swirled and my emotions vacillated wildly, I felt like I was either going to scream, cry, run away or all 3. I wished the opening silent prayer would continue for the rest of the morning (and it almost did). But I think the message made sense, and that had little to do with me, because I didn’t make any sense to me.

If it didn’t make sense, it was about authenticity, of living a wide open life of honesty and genuine engagement, and how that helps us connect with each other and destroy any and all obstacles. This is who I am, you get the ups and downs, and you get them all on the outside. But the real point is Who Jesus is. He loves me, even now, even in my missteps and dumb jokes. He forgives me before I ask, and then holds me tightly until I can forgive me, too. He says ‘those who ask, receive, and those who seek, find,’ and I believe Him. I am asking, I’m seeking, and He is faithful. Psalm 73:21-23 still says, “Yet I still belong to You, You are holding my right hand. You will keep on guiding me, leading me…” He shows me Himself, and through that lens (instead of my own), He shows me me, too.

Of course I wish I wouldn’t have said it, The Angel and these 2 amazing boys aren’t punchlines to deflect from my raw vulnerability. I wish I wouldn’t be so sad, but that is the high cost of relationship and I would never have it any other way. I wish I wouldn’t absentmindedly veer from the path, that He’d put some guardrails or something to contain me, but it wouldn’t be as meaningful that way. It wouldn’t be ours.

The circle at the end left me with few words. We ask, seek, and knock, and we hold each other’s hands as they hold ours. Sometimes we’re the ones who fall apart and others we’re the ones that hold each other together. And, as it says in one of my very favorite books, the beautiful Dr Seuss classic Horton Hatches The Egg, “It should be, it should be, it SHOULD be like that!”

Encouragement

I think the passages we’ve been swimming in lately are very convicting. The Scriptures pierce our skin and souls and explode from the inside out, scattering our long-held notions, ideas and beliefs all over the floor, leaving us to decide what we’ll recover, if anything at all. The writer of Hebrews says (in 4:12), “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Alive, active, sharp, penetrating, dividing, judging – all of those things are not exactly what we particularly like. We do things for lots of reasons, but being penetrated, divided by words sharper than a double-edged sword is not an easy Sunday morning. Or any morning, for that matter.

These chapters in Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians tell us to value others over ourselves and our desires, our rights. Nothing about this is a default setting, is it? We don’t wake up thinking how we can serve our neighbor, how we can allow the traffic to merge in front of us, how we can make ourselves smaller, make ourselves last. Yes, He said the last will be first, but that takes a gargantuan leap of faith. We have to be last first, and in a culture where last is nothing to be, it feels like a rigged game.

Of course, it is, but not in the ways in which we are accustomed.

So we come and read, listen and hang on by our fingernails. We go, sometimes kicking and screaming. We are in a rushing river, knowing we are supposed to be swimming upstream, but simply staying where we are is enough for today.

I’m calling this Encouragement, and it’s different from other posts. (I wrote a book once where I collected these posts and they made up the 2nd half, I’ll do that again with the 2nd book which is fairly close to finished – this will not be included, this is just for us, today.) I’m thinking about you, how you continue to come and open yourselves up to these words written hundreds of years ago, even though it requires an extraordinary vulnerability. You are courageous beyond measure. It’s funny, I’m writing that you are immeasurably courageous in acknowledge that you have been wrong, misguided, lost, that you are not in fact perfect. In a culture that takes such great pride in a viciously desperate need to be right, you are the exception.

You follow. You serve. You plug into a community not to get, but to give, as He did. You would much rather tie the towel around your waist and wash dirty feet than have yours washed. Do you know how remarkable that is? You say, sure, I have the right… Sure, I can, but should I? How will that affect my brothers and sisters?

We have been conditioned to climb the ladder by any means necessary, stepping on all those in our way. You wonder how to lift them, how to keep them from stumbling.

You are creating a whole new world, where faith, hope and love are the primary values. It’s hard, and super scary to stand so counter-culturally in a tsunami of opposition. That’s why we have each other. When we hold hands and reference lyrics from a punk-rock song, we affirm that even though we are scared, we are not alone. We are here, now, today, and the greatest of these, then, now, and forever, is love.

You are beautiful and wildly inspiring in your exceptional devotion to Jesus. So, continue, fam (as the kids say), let’s take this one step at a time, I’ll hold your hand if you hold mine, and we’ll keep moving forward together.

Tapioca Pudding

Sunday morning, as I was giving the message, I had a thought: “You have got to pull yourself together.” This sort of inner dialogue is not unusual. In fact, it’s not even that unusual to have them during the service. I prepare the way I do so that I can be sensitive to any promptings, instead of hyper-focusing on what I’ve said and what I have to say next. But this week, the “dialogue” was more like a scolding. And the voice in my head was absolutely right. I was apart, my heart felt muddy, confused, a little restless, distracted, and needed to be pulled back together.

Now, my history is one where I get moving down a path like this that inevitably leads to a deep freezing pool of self-loathing, telling myself I’m a mess, totally undisciplined, and I’ll never become anything other than who and what I am right now. So I overreact wildly. To address a perceived lack of time in the Scriptures, I’ll commit to an hour every morning, than an hour every afternoon, followed by a hour or 2 of meditation on what I’ve read. Or if I feel rotten, puffy, lethargic, and the number on the scale keeps climbing (which is, incidentally, what is happening the last few weeks), then I’ll decide to completely cut out all sugar, desserts, eliminate all snacks and maybe a meal, then increase my workout times from an hour to 3. And on and on.

For a few weeks, there has been one emergency after another dictating my schedule and attention. Instead of sheep, I’m counting phone calls and to-do items, and not surprisingly wake with a headache. Then, when people do and say the things that people say and do – we are the best, and we are the worst, right? – I feel a certain type of way, and all of that easily spills over into Sunday mornings until the Spirit chastises me and tells me to get it together, man. So naturally, I have the automatic reactive overdrive and decide all of the things I need to do to “get it together.”

I really love the creamed pearl tapioca pudding at Laudermilch’s, and this insanity got so bad that part of all the new me silliness was a life without creamed pearl tapioca. Insanity.

Like I said, this has been my history. And Jesus has already began the New Me transformation and will see it through (it says that in Philippians, and I believe it), so the first thing I do now is to turn my phone off and sit down to pray with my Bible. Where to start to get a word that would make sense of any of this, my fuzzy spinning head and heart, and bring the world outside into some semblance of focus? Just continue, is what we did. I’m working through the Psalms, so my reading began with Psalm 70 and, in verse 4, “But may all who search for You be filled with love and gladness.” I’m searching and would really appreciate being filled, that’s a good beginning.

Then I got to 74 and will spare you the pages and pages of journaling, but 74 is about getting off track, wrapped up in other circumstances, other people, unimportant questions, distracted wonderings, and self-pity. In other words, apparently I wrote it. It says somebody named Asaph did, but I’m not too sure. (Incidentally, there aren’t enough Asaph’s in the world anymore.)

(V.21-23) “Then I realized how bitter I had become..I was so foolish and ignorant…I must have seemed like a senseless animal…” Can we relate to those words or what?

But then, “Yet I still belong to You, You are holding my right hand. You will keep on guiding me, leading me…

See, we create our lives, holding His hand, intentionally. Sometimes the decisions we make are bad ones, but other times, they’re not, and we simply need to be patient, take a breath and chill out for a minute. Getting it together doesn’t have to mean a wrecking ball – maybe it does – but it might just mean counting to 10. A knee-jerk reaction is rarely helpful or wise.

But this all hinges on the intentionality of creation. If we choose to be blown about by home repairs, unexpected bills and interpersonal friction, then we are prisoners of The Here and Now and The Here and Now gets the keys to who we are and will be.

It’s entirely possible that this post is messy and hard to follow, and that’s ok. I am messy and so are you, probably. And this beautiful process is messy and often hard to follow, with lots of stops and starts. The point is that we engage with us (our hearts, relationships, everything that matters) and figure out the weight of things, before we get stressed by the inevitable tension of living great, authentic lives. Then we don’t have to overreact, set unrealistic demands on ourselves, or even consider giving up that fantastic tapioca ever again

Senior Night

Tonight is Senior Night for the basketball team. There are 3 games left, and this is the last home game. Maybe there will be playoffs, but I don’t have anywhere close to the intellectual capacity to figure that out – the districts, sections, and classes have never made any sense to me. I imagine someone will tell me if we have more games.

This team is much much better than previous years. There was a toxic class to pass through the school and their influence will take time to dissipate, so this year was the first in rebuilding an entire culture and, playoffs or not, has been an almost total success. “Learning to win” is a tired sports cliche and the reason it’s tired is because it’s so often true. These boys are beginning to learn to win. Tonight, that isn’t an issue, they will probably not have to worry about winning. But the great thing about sports is that you never know. In the 1988 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat an unbeatable Oakland A’s team in 5 games. It was impossible, yet it happened. So maybe…but the result hardly matters.

Tonight is the first senior night for my oldest son (there will be another one for baseball in the spring.) We’ll walk him out to the middle of the court and smile and barely keep it together. Or we won’t and the Angel and I will cry like babies. Either way, we will be there, fully present, with each other and with all of the emotions surging in our hearts and souls.

I’m remembering the night I learned he was no longer an idea. The Angel took a test on the phone with me, of course I couldn’t wait to get home, and she gave me the news. I was on 422 coming through Lebanon and pulled over in front of the community college and wept, equal parts terror and elation. Well, not exactly equal parts. We had prayed for him and now he actually existed, it was more celebration and gratitude. But there was certainly terror, swirled in like the cream cheese filling in a pumpkin roll. What kind of daddy would I be? Was I ready? What kind of boy would he be? And the hundred million more questions that flood in once the doors have been opened.

If you’ve met him, you know how amazing he is. If you haven’t, I’m sorry, you really should.

We often refer to a 2 hands theology, and a 2 hands life. Nothing is usually just 1 thing, it’s a combination, more like a hurricane, of different, sometimes wildly conflicting, emotions. Tonight, I’ll be proud of my boy, happy for the boy he’s been, the guy he is, and the man he’s becoming and grateful that I got to watch him so closely and know him so well. I’ll also be heartbroken, crushed that he’ll not nap on my chest again, and frustrated that each day couldn’t have been forever. What a 2 hand anything requires is honesty. We show up as we are, feel what we feel, no hiding, no images. We don’t miss a thing. We don’t wake up and say “God was in this place and I was unaware.” We show up.

I think back to all of the moments that brought us here. I didn’t want to go to Lebanon Valley College, but somehow I found myself there, a business major in 2 classes with the Angel, who had a boyfriend for nearly all 4 years. She happened to drop him right on time. I happened to be in the computer lab one evening, and she happened to be there, too. I happened to talk to her, even though she was ridiculously far out of my league. I happened to be on a plan that took more than 4 years – the last semester, which I shouldn’t have had, was when we met and went on our first date. We happened to go on that date, happened to get married, and happened to make this person who will have his senior night tonight.

I say “happened to” and “make” with the same posture. It all seems so orchestrated, almost as if there was a wonderfully loving God making paths, moving feet and softening so many hearts, which of course, He was. We didn’t make Samuel alone, couldn’t have ever made Samuel without the Creator of the Universe making him first.

So now, I want to tell you my answer, with 18 years of hindsight, to the question if I was a good daddy. Maybe. What I do know is that I was intentional. Everything I did (even the mistakes I made) I did on purpose. When he sits down with a therapist to complain about me, what he’ll say is that I hugged, kissed, and told him I loved him too much and too often. And I can live with that.

There are other places where I’ve written to him (beginning with that positive test on his first night), much more detail I could, and will, dive into, but those are only for him and I. Here, tonight is senior night and I will do the 2 things I have done every day of his life; I will be there, authentically, embarrassingly me, present and engaged, and more than that, more than anything else, I will love him.

A Woman I Know

A woman I’ve recently met lost her husband last year. I didn’t know her then, I never met him. She began coming to a small group after her tragedy, as a broken-hearted widow trying to hold on to God, to other people, to meaning, to today, to life. She sometimes looked tired, sometimes like she had just finished weeping (which she probably had), yet she always shows up.

I stay quiet, muted in my Zoom box, watching and listening, fully present to her suffering. You know, in the book of Lamentations, the author wails “Look! See!”, simply seeking a witness to this searing pain. The crushing hurt of loss and abandonment has overtaken her, “Look at this affliction!” In Lamentations, the God she knows has “broken my teeth with gravel; He has trampled me in the dust.”

This woman I know understands Lamentations, I bet, only too well. She said last week, “I don’t trust God so much right now.” I don’t know how she felt about saying it. Sometimes, we can get so wrapped up in what we are “supposed to” say, “supposed to” do, who we “should” be, that we ignore who we are. And from behind that facade, we ignore who God is.

When I was in seminary, studying the Bible and writing research paper after research paper, more than any particular story or verse, I was surprised at what I was finding over and over. The overwhelming theme was God’s desire for honesty. Even as He was commanding rites and rituals, He was reminding us that the rites and rituals meant nothing at all without heart. If they were just sacrifices, just songs sung and hands raised in church, just plastered smiles and rote prayers, they were nothing more than hypocritical performance. The Scripture tells of a God who wants us, who we are, how we are, right here, right now, instead of our hollow dog and pony shows.

This woman I know sees the value in showing up in her weary brokenness. Which looks exactly like grace, His grace as well as her own. I think when she says, “I don’t trust God so much right now,” He probably smiles, because in her courageous authenticity, she is displaying that she does. She trusts Him enough to tell Him the truth, confident He won’t leave her, that He’ll keep His arms around her. And if she doesn’t feel it this second, she will.

And she has chosen to trust us. We have been this woman’s witnesses. We almost never get the answers we think we want, but we do get hands to hold. We get people to love us and hold us up when we just can’t do it ourselves anymore.

This is an online Bridge post, but it’s also a love letter to her (that she may never read). I want to thank her. I want to tell her how much she’s meant to me, how she’s inspired me, how she’s given me courage and strength by simply being a warrior everyday and letting me watch. I guess that’s why we were given The Church. Showing up and taking one more step is nothing to do alone, our gift is that we get to take those steps and live these lives as a community. And if we keep showing up, keep opening our eyes, hearts and hands to each other, we get to experience these moments of immeasurable beauty and love up close.

Into The Light

Sunday we discussed marriage, single-ness (if that is even a word…it doesn’t feel like it is), and sex. The Apostle Paul writes about these subjects often, they’re found in many other spaces in the Bible, yet every time a sermon in church is based around sex, it’s met with a certain level of surprise and/or uncomfortability. This unease increases even more when the topic becomes sex between married couples. I suppose I know why, but it’s points to an early breakdown that has led us all down many different, unhealthy paths having little to do with sex at all.

The cracks begin with a bizarre learned aversion to conversation, especially about the most important topics. This aversion leads to a pathetic lack of communication that gives rise to the lie that sex is dirty and obscene and should be kept out of view. Obviously, this secrecy (like all secrecy) is the doorway into any number of dark rooms that are steal our dignity and are dishonoring to our hearts, souls, bodies & spirits.

When we build entire structures around the notion that some things need to be hidden in the darkest places, guilt and shame grow like mushrooms. Shame isolates us, and we stay sick with imaginary diseases. Sex isn’t shameful, isn’t dirty or obscene. It can be, but just because something can be misused doesn’t mean the thing is defective.

I can’t say the first talk I gave on sex didn’t give me deep pangs of anxiety, but I can absolutely tell you that it doesn’t now (any more than anything else. I still get butterflies of excitement every single Sunday, and I hope they never stop.)

The more we talk openly & respectfully about anything, the less power it has over us, the less fear-inducing it is. The more we can drag into the light, the less mold can spread. The 30th difficult boundary conversation is much less threatening than the first, and as it loses power, we can much more treat ourselves and each other with kindness instead of control. That need for control is rooted in fear. And control and love simply cannot coexist, so the more we can remove that fear, the more love we can display, the more love we can freely give.

If I don’t need you to see everything my way, vote for my candidate, behave the way I want you to, I can then allow you to be you, listen, actually listen, and maybe exercise some empathy (in some cases long dormant) and find the common ground that is always there. Common ground and understanding are nearly impossible to discover from behind thick walls of fear.

If we can talk honestly about marital sex and it’s many gifts (intimacy, connection, affection, I could go on and on), then maybe it won’t be a monster in the corners of the church. The Church has long been afraid of human sexuality, maybe she should be more concerned with secrecy and isolation. But again, just because the Church & religion have been misused, doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Quite the opposite. They are perhaps more valuable, more important, now than ever. But we can’t ever get to reclaiming the actual divine picture of The Church if we’re too proud or too frightened to mention Her and/or address the ways She’s been defaced. Think about the violence done in the name of Jesus, and imagine the horror and hopelessness if we threw Him away because of the offenses done in His lovely Name.

So we’ll keep talking about the beautiful purity of sex and the way it’s been dragged through muddy alleys. We’ll keep screaming about the immeasurable joy of marriage and mourning the damage too often done in the context of a lesser view. We’ll keep having these discussions with hands open in love, reclaiming these life-giving words and concepts, and we’ll do this all together.