Gratitude, Hope, and Hospitals

Today my brother, Roger has travelled down to Lake Jackson by himself to visit us. (We’ve been in this house for close to 15 years and this is his first time to see it.) I’m grateful for the time we spent going to church, watching football, going out to eat, and just hanging out. He is not out of the woods yet, but he has come a long way. Today, he a different man than he was just a few months ago. He has a renewed faith. We are able to carry on great conversations.

Today, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for my brother. I’m grateful for our new relationship. I’m grateful for his effort to come down to see us. I’m grateful to God for progress and for hope.  Today, I praise God for all He has done and for His promise to be with us through all of our circumstances.

Matthew 28:20b – (Jesus speaking) – I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

1 Corinthians 13:7 – [Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Romans 5:3-4 –  . . . we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Reclaimed Wood – Reclaimed Hearts

Reclaimed Wood Fireplace at my House

I clutch the head tightly with the claw and strain to pry the nail out of the flesh leaving an open wound. Sometimes it splinters even more. The bent nails must be hammered from the opposite side in order to be removed. Reclaimed wood is rough, marred, scarred, scratched, discolored, beaten, and weathered. It’s not very pretty. However, when used in the right context, it can be beautiful. The scars give it character and tell a story. It has rich history. The wood cannot reclaim itself. I must do the work.

My heart is the same. God has been reclaiming my heart piece by piece since the day I chose to follow Him back in 1985. Like the nails that must be hammered from the opposite side, He works from the inside out. It’s a painful process. He is hammering, ripping, tearing, and prying out the damage that I’ve done to myself with my sin. It hurts. It’s not an easy process and sometimes I recognize new splinters in the painful ways that my sin had affected me without my knowledge. The Holy Spirit convicts me and He opens wounds within me, but then Jesus offers healing and has already provided the salve by covering my sin with His own blood.

Like the wood, I am rough, marred, scarred, scratched, discolored, beaten, and weathered. However, when I submit and let God put me in the right context, I become beautiful. I cannot do this on my own, but in His hands, I have character, a story, and a rich history that He can use for His glory. I become His creation as He molds me into His likeness in spite of my sin and in spite of my wounds. I am His and that makes all the difference.

He died. I sighed.

(written in Dec 2014)

It’s a week before Christmas. There’s lots to do. I’ve been working all week and finally get to come home. I’m so ready for the holidays away from students – away from work. I’m tired. As I drive home, I start to get excited about being home, being with my kids, having good family time.

I walk through the door and notice the lights are off. My bride is asleep on the couch and my kids are snuggled up beside her watching Mr Bean. They start talking to me and it disrupts Miranda’s sleep. I “shhh” them, but it doesn’t last long. I can tell they’re going to be talkative now that I’m here, so I get up and gently help Miranda to her feet and walk her to bed so the kids can be themselves without disrupting her.

I spend the next hour with kids bouncing up and down on top of me while we watch more Mr Bean. I try to relax and read a little, but the kids keep interrupting. I know it’s important to listen to Kesleigh telling me which coloring book picture is her favorite, but I really just wanna rest. I need a little “cave” time. When Miranda gets up, she sighs and says she wishes I could have gotten Kasen a haircut before we go see Santa tonight. She hasn’t been very subtle with her hints at taking him for a haircut for the past 2 weeks. I even took him one night earlier this week, but the wait was too long. I also remember that she had asked me to go to Best Buy to check on getting a phone for my mom, so I decide to try and get these things done before the 5 o’clock crowd is off work. Kasen and I leave right away, but when we arrive, we’ve still got an hour wait. I go to Best Buy and get the information we needed and then return to Supercuts. We timed it well, ’cause they called Kasen’s name from the hour long list just a few minutes after we arrive.

By the time we’re done, it’s time to meet Miranda and Kesleigh at the mall for dinner and Santa pics. We have a great time and the wait for Santa wasn’t bad. After that, we go driving around town to look at Christmas lights and stop to get the kids a McDonalds shake and then head to BrewNBake for hot chocolate for Miranda and I. The kids are getting restless in the car. They were downright annoying in BrewNBake and continued to be that way once we arrived home. I try to watch a tv show to unwind a bit, but I find myself hitting pause on the remote ’cause I can’t hear. Arguments over who is gonna take a bath first and whining about not being able to find the toothpaste lid – these are normal activities in our house. I’m tired of it. Miranda is tired of these things. I love my kids, but it’s definitely time for bed.

Finally, the kids are down and we’ve both kissed them goodnight. Now I can watch……wait, I still gotta call my mom about the phone. Oh, and get those contacts out of my eyes. Well, I’ll watch for 10 minutes and then do those things. As soon as the 10min are up, I get the contacts out and call mom. The whole time I’m talking, Miranda is correcting me. I don’t have the details quite right, but the gist of my message was the same. If she wanted to be so involved, why did she want me to call in the first place? OK – I hand the phone to her and she handles the situation with mom, masterfully. She’s good.

Now I can finally settle and rest….huh? Oh, you want me to come look at the stuff you bought people for Christmas?? I say “OK,” but I must have said it with some sort of sigh or frustration. Miranda is now mad and explains that I’ve taken “all the fun” out of it for her. She’s right, I shouldn’t have responded with a frustrated tone. I hate that I made it “not fun” for her ’cause she really does enjoy shopping and finding deals. She loves when she gets to show off her purchases and is proud of her work. She does a great job and I love that she takes care of it, ’cause it’s so much easier for me. I shouldn’t have acted that way. I’m the husband who is supposed to “die” for his bride. In our marriage, I’m in the Jesus role and am called to love her as Christ loves the church. He died. I sighed…….I sighed. I know, you may say it’s not that big of a deal. You may say, “Steve, you did so many things right. You died to your own stuff lots of times throughout the day.” Maybe, but Christ died completely, and I didn’t. I’m called to love like He does, but I failed tonight.

LORD, please forgive me. Teach me to love like you. Teach me to be fully present with my children and not just listen half-heartedly to Kesleigh’s stories about coloring books or whatever topic she is currently ranting about. Help me to put down my devices and “do” with my kids – and with Miranda. Give me more patience or a higher tolerance for “annoying behaviors.” Show me how to train my kids away from those behaviors. Give me wisdom to recognize the subtle ways I react ’cause Miranda picks up on them all and I truly want to communicate my love for her in all my actions. LORD, make this season special and help us all to encounter You in each experience – with each family, with each other, in travel, in meals, in gift giving, and in all our interactions with each other. AMEN.

Me too

“Me too.”

I believe these are incredibly powerful words. These words connect us to other people. They build bridges, communicate love and support. These words demonstrate empathy and bring us together. When I think about it, the people I have to most “me too’s” with are the people I am closest to in this world. Our shared experiences, our commonalities, draw us together and hold us together. “Me too’s” are important.

When someone is struggling, the words “me too” help others to see that they are not alone. When we say it, we’re saying that we are with them, that we understand, that we care and can see why they’d feel the way they do. Even if we have never been in their situation, we can almost always try to put on their shoes and say, “Me too. I understand why you’d feel that way.” We may not ever be able to imagine HOW it feels, but we can seek to understand WHY they’d feel that way. Either way, “Me too.” is powerful. Sometimes (I’m thinking about grief in particular) we don’t even need to say “me too.” Our presence alone communicates it.

When someone is celebrating, a “me too” celebrates too. It strengthens our relationship. When I was a youth minister, it became more and more clear that one of the best things I could do for a student was to show up at a game they were playing or a concert where they were performing. Those experiences, “being with” them became “me too’s” between us and helped draw us closer to one another.

Romans 12:15 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

My hope is that I can become more aware of the moments I have. I want to say “me too” more often. I also want to live in a way that creates more “me too’s.” Of course I can’t be at everything I’d like, but I plan to be more intentional about “being with” people. My prayer is that you guys can all join me and say, “Yeah, me too.”

Home and Hurricanes

Home is where my family gathers. We laugh. We play. We cry. Home is where we settle our lives and work through our difficulties. Home calls us away from strife and beckons us into its’ safety. It’s where we find true rest. It’s where we find peace. Home is where we’re fed and filled and find satisfaction. Home is where we are meant to be. I love home.

My house is not my home. As we evacuated our house and our town this week, these things became much more clear to me. I looked in the rearview mirror and watched all of our earthly possessions grow small and smaller, shrinking as we distanced ourselves from the path of the hurricane. It was very surreal. This week, I have struggled between the fear of losing everything and the knowledge that we already have all that we need in Jesus. We have our family and yet, my faith is intermingled with unbelief.

“Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” – Mark 9:24

When we drove away, I made some decisions. I decided that I was willing to lose everything that we left behind. I “let go” of our house. I now understand, that I was able to make that decision with confidence because I knew that we would always have a home. Jesus is our home and He has promised to never leave us. He is with us even in the midst of the hurricane. Would I miss certain things? Of course. Mostly things with sentimental value…. Items that are “more” than they actually are. However, in the end, even those things fall short of what Jesus Himself can provide.

Read my first paragraph again:

Jesus is where my family gathers. We laugh. We play. We cry. Jesus is where we settle our lives and work through our difficulties. Jesus calls us away from strife and beckons us into His safety. He is where we find true rest. He is where we find peace. Jesus is where we’re fed and filled and find satisfaction. Jesus is where we are meant to be. I love Him. 

 


PS – We have returned from our evacuation and our house has remained dry. Everything has remained the same. However, I have not remained the same. I have been changed. As a community, we have much work to do. I plan to help my neighbors. I’m praying that together we will experience this true “home” as we work side by side. Pray for us.

 

Crash – Kesleigh’s Tree

While skiing during Spring Break, Kesleigh hit a tree with her head! She was flying down the slope and was out of control, but she was too scared to just lay down and fall. Instead she sped down the slope, crossed another run and ran straight into a tree. As a dad, I watched in horror  and screamed. My heart sunk as her head bounced off the tree. She was wearing a helmet, but I could see her little eyes close as she fell to the ground and then she didn’t move. I imagined the worst. Was she alive? Was she paralyzed? I was there in just a couple seconds, but those seconds were long, difficult, and frightening. She was conscious. She was crying and scared, but she was alive and appeared to be functioning in every way. I was relieved and thanked God as I grabbed her little body and held it close to mine. I just held her for a while. I was grateful for helmets. Hers had a dent about the size of a softball on it.

Someone came by on a snowmobile and asked if we needed Ski Patrol. I declined and said that I thought she was OK. I was right. She was OK physically, but emotionally, she was not OK. She didn’t want to ski again. She was done and I must admit that I understood why. She had experienced something that would have shaken anyone.

Together, with many tears, and at a very slow pace, we worked our way back down to the lift and then back to the house where we were staying. She opted out of skiing the rest of the day. I didn’t blame her.

The next day, she wanted to try again and so we went out with her cousins and everyone. She was a different skier. A slower skier. A more controlled skier. Unfortunately, at her new pace, she couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group. We had to let them go on without us and so she cried. Grandma stayed with me as I watched over Kesleigh. She didn’t enjoy herself that day. She was sad that everyone went on without her, but she was too scared to speed up. She cried that her legs hurt. She whined saying she couldn’t go any further. She laid on the slopes and refused to get up over and over again. I don’t think she smiled the whole time we were on the mountain together. Skiing was not fun for her anymore. As her dad, that broke my heart, but I must admit that I was not having any fun either. I was growing weary and impatient with her whining and complaining. Yes, I knew she came by it honestly, but I also knew her potential, and I didn’t want to let her settle for staying home and not skiing. She had already fallen in love with skiing and I didn’t want to allow her to deprive herself of all the fun she could have simply ’cause she was scared. Fear can do that, but I felt like this was a perfect time for a lesson in perseverance. (It would test my own as well.)

For the rest of the day, we struggled. She didn’t want to stop, but her pace, her whining and complaining and crying made me want to stop. Even grandma grew weary and tired of Kesleigh’s attitude. When we got home at the end of the day, my mom told me that she thought I should win the “Best Son” and “Best Daddy” award for staying back and watching over them on the slopes. I was shocked ’cause I didn’t feel like I had been a good dad at all. I was really feeling impatient and tired. I felt like I had been short with Kesleigh and maybe even pushed her too hard a few times. Mom thought I had been patient, but mom didn’t know the thoughts that I had been fighting all day.

Here’s what I realized. I can be really patient and I don’t mind going slow when there is effort being made. As long as we’re moving forward, I’m OK with slow and methodical. I struggle when there’s complaining and whining and excuses. At those times, I’m not patient at all. I just want to keep moving forward and none of those things helps the process so I grow weary and lose patience.

Here’s my plea: If you need someone to be patient, put forth some effort. Don’t whine, complain, or make excuses. Just keep working toward the goal.

I can be patient when there is effort. I think we all can.

PS – The 3rd day, Kasen chose join us to help his sister and she did much better. By the end of that day, Kesleigh was back to her normal pace, but wiser with controlling her speed. That’s my girl!!! Proud of my boy too for sacrificing some of his ski time to help his little sister.

Worst Dad

Kesleigh told me I was her “Worst Dad.” She went on to explain that her other dad was God. I guess that means I’m OK with being her “worst dad.” Maybe that should even be my goal? Keep propping up God and showing her how great He is so that I sort of fade into the background of her life. Wow….it’s hard to say that, but that’s truly what I want. I want her to be so in love with Him that I’m secondary. I want her to know that in Him, life goes on and she can find everything she needs with or without me.

Presence

The word “love” has been hijacked by our culture. It’s misused all the time. We “love” certain foods and as culture defines it, “love” changes with our emotions. This is why divorce is accepted and rampant. Even with all the talk about it and obsession with it, we don’t know what “love” is.

When Jesus left the earth, it was his “presence” that He expressed to us, not his love. I wonder, “Is presence the full expression of love? Jesus presence on the cross in our place – His presence in our sin.” The people who have the strongest marriages our our world are those who have been “present” with each other the longest. When my own marriage is at it’s best, it’s when we are fully “present” with each other. The closest relationships I have in this world are those people who I have been with the most – That includes both family and friends. Maybe “presence” is more important than love? (Probably not, but considering the way our culture has defined love, maybe this is a better way to think about it?)

I wonder what our world would be like if we started valuing “presence?” Would our marriages last longer? Would we put down our cell phones more and be with the ones we’re with?

In times of grief, Jewish people “sit shiva.” They just make themselves present with those who are mourning. They aren’t expected to say anything or do anything – simply “be” with each other. This is an example of valuing “presence.”

In his story “The Places Outside the Maps,” Doug McKelvey speaks of a man who has gone through many struggles and says of him, “It had never been answers he had sought in his sufferings, but presence, and that presence was here and was itself the thing that had always stood – from the foundations of the world and even before and even after – in the place that answers could not. Before the questions had been asked, the presence had already been given.”

I’m really just asking questions today. This idea was thought provoking for me.

What do you guys think?

Quiet – The Internet Can’t Do This

Quiet – The internet doesn’t do quiet. It’s good for a lot of things, but quiet is not one of them. The internet overflows with information. It is loud and noisy. It’s a million voices. It’s full of people. (Many who would never be so obnoxious in person.) This can be a great thing. Sometimes, we need sensory overload and we need to fill our brains. Only then, can we sort through it all and make sense of the world around us.

Unfortunately, we need quiet for that part to happen. We can’t live our lives fully online, ’cause the internet doesn’t do quiet. When we’re online, we don’t see the long, quiet, thoughtful moments where people wrestled with themselves or with God or with other people. No one communicates the deep unsure quiet space where they work through things…..where they pray or where they seek guidance, but we need these times to sort through all the noise and settle in on the quiet where we find the “still small voice.”

I studied under Mike Ayers in college and he used to say, “A leader needs time to sit and stare out the window.” We’ve all got to have time to stare and imagine what life “could” be like and maybe more importantly, how it “should” be. Staring out the window gives us a chance to imagine and create a way to get to these new places, how build something new, to develop a new strategy. It allows us space to dream. Maybe daydreaming should be a bit of a discipline? When we need to make big/important decisions we need space and margin. We need quiet. Internet can’t do this.

Confession: Quiet is what I need. Soccer games, and football practices, and dance classes, and church responsibilities, and work, and family, and lifegroup, and, and, and. It all just overwhelms me. My life seems like a lot of noise. Then I come home to the internet……and it’s just more noise, more information, more, more, more. The stress builds and just piles on. I feel like screaming. I just want it to stop. I need quiet. I need margin and space so I am working on it. As a family, we are taking January off from sports – no soccer games or practices. We didn’t sign up for basketball. We’re planning to go camping. I’m also refraining from tv and much of the internet – planning to read more and write (on this blog) – to contemplate and sit and “stare out the window.” Pray for me.

I’d also encourage you to do the same – take a break from the internet. Disconnect and I believe you’ll find real connections – deep connections which the internet cannot provide. Get quiet. Listen to God. He is so much better than the internet. He has real answers without the booming voice – without all the sensory overload and confusion. He is the “still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:12)

Handle It

“God won’t give me anything I can’t handle.” – Ugh! I hate it when I hear this statement. I don’t think Noah could have handled the flood without God’s intervention and instruction. Moses wouldn’t have gotten Israel out of Egypt without the plagues that God provided. The walls of Jericho didn’t fall ’cause Joshua could handle it. They fell ’cause God handled it and Joshua obeyed. Would David have said, “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle?” He cries out to God regularly in the Psalms. He understood that he couldn’t handle it. We can’t “handle it” either.

The phrase is not a horrible thing to say. It’s not that it’s completely wrong. It just strikes something in me strangely. When people say this, they are trying to say that they trust God. They recognize that He is in control. However, it also makes me think that they might be confused about something. I mean – Do they think they can handle the situation? Do they think that God knows how awesome they are and that He is trusting them to handle it? Do they think God is acting as some sort of self-esteem booster giving them a vote of confidence in their own strength? ‘Cause I think that’s what our culture hears when we say it. Listen to it again – “God won’t give me anything ‘I’ can’t handle.” – It sort of implies ’cause “I am strong.”

I think God allows us into all kinds of situations that we can’t handle on our own. Sometimes I even wonder if He puts us into situations that we can’t handle? The key is – we can’t handle them “on our own.” We need His intervention. We aren’t relying on our own strength. We rely on Him. He is the provider. He is our strength. Yes – we can handle it, but only when we’ve got Him. The phrase we use leaves Him out of it in some ways. It places the power to overcome in the hands of “I.”

You see, when people use this phrase, some believe they are quoting Scripture. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says,

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you will be able to endure it.”

This passage in context is talking about the temptation of idolatry – not every life situation that you find yourself in. Temptation, not circumstances. Yes – of course almost every circumstance can be reduced to some sort of idolatry so it sort of applies, but the critical part of the verse is not the part about our own “ability.” It’s the part about God’s provision and intervention on our behalf. We are to watch for His action – his “way of escape”, trusting that it will come, and then walk in faith into the “way of escape” that He provides. The power in this verse is in God’s hands, not our own. We are in need and He intervenes – providing a “way of escape.”

I’ve been through some things that I couldn’t handle. God allowed those things to happen to me. I couldn’t handle it when my dad died of leukemia. I couldn’t handle it when I lost my job and couldn’t provide for my family. I can’t even handle it when the lady in front of me at the grocery store has a bunch of coupons. The point is – I need God’s intervention. I need the “way of escape.” God gives me lots of things I can’t handle and I can choose to either let those things drive me closer to Him or drive a wedge between us. If I believe that the power to handle the situation is in my own hands, then I’m more likely to abandon God and go it alone. On the other hand, with a right understanding of this verse, I will look for His actions and be drawn closer to Him.

Friends, this is just sort of a pet peeve of mine. Instead of saying “God won’t give me anything I can’t handle,” please just say “God will help me through this one.” This way, my mind won’t launch into some ill-conceived idea that you don’t understand the Scriptures and that it’s my job to make you see it my way. I’m pathetic.

OK – My rant is over now. What do you guys think? Am I crazy? Am I reading too much into what people are saying or do you think there might be some misunderstanding as well? Are we communicating something unintentionally when we use this phrase?