Tuesday, December 17, 2013


A FB friend posted this article the other day. She’s a mom, and the article definitely follows the trend of the dozens like it that are pushing the message that mom’s need to stop being so hard on themselves. It’s a good message, and one that most moms today probably need to hear…repeatedly. And, to be honest, I don’t think her “confession” is as shocking as the title article says it is.

The truth is, I didn’t read it for “what it is.” Duh, I’m a dude. It’s not written for me, specifically. But I noticed one thing, in the first two paragraphs in particular, that really stuck out to me.

The whole blog post starts out talking about how she copes with her two little boys who refuse to go to bed and stay in bed. She lists off many of the discipline techniques she has tried…but it felt like there was one thing missing from the list.


She either doesn’t spank her kids when they are stubborn/purposeful in their disobedience or she left spanking off the list on purpose. I don’t understand either of those motives. Why is spanking not a viable option? Or, if she did try it, why leave it off the list?

I know that I have just offended half of you and you’ll probably stop reading right here, but I wish you wouldn’t. You either:

  1. …think spanking is a horrible and violent form of discipline. You feel like it is abuse, which I get, really, I do, but I think you’re part of the problem. I get it because I grew up in a house where spanking wasn’t always done appropriately. It was often done in anger. It was often far more than just a couple of swats with a spoon or a hairbrush. It was often used for some pretty petty and minor issues. It was often used with little or no warning. And you most often knew it was coming because you could hear dad’s belt whipping out of the loops on his pants behind you. I get it. That’s just not right. No one should want to raise, or discipline, his or her kid that way. To be honest, for most of us that grew up in that kind of house, I don’t think it was how our parents “wanted” to raise us; I think they just didn’t try to figure out a better way. That doesn’t excuse what they did, or make it ok, but it doesn’t make eliminating it as a discipline option OK either. I don't feel like I grew up in an abusive home, just one where spanking was not done in a manner that elicited change through proper motivation and understanding.
  2. …are thinking, “you don’t have kids, so just shut up.” To which I reply, “thank you for being a horribly insensitive jerk.” My daughter may have only lived three days, but I can put myself in your shoes at the drop of the hat as I think about how I would have had to deal with the same issues you do. Also, taking a six year old boy into my home has brought a huge does of reality with it, too, and I’m able to take the parenting ideas I have developed over the years, watching my friends and relatives raise their children, and put them to the test.

Here’s the deal, the kind of spanking you’re thinking of is not the kind of spanking I’m talking about. You don’t have to be a famous child psychologist to know and understand that the kind of spankings many of us grew up receiving only created an atmosphere of fear and left us feeling like we needed to “perform” well, or in specific ways, to receive the approval of our parents. That kind of atmosphere is why children don’t tell their parents they’re being sexually abused or bullied, because they think their parents will be angry at them instead of the person who is hurting them. It’s the kind of atmosphere where children feel guilty about things their parents should be comforting them over. It’s not the kind of spanking anyone “deserved.”

What I am talking about is the kind of spanking that is only given after a warning has been clearly given and the consequences of further disobedience have been clearly laid out. I’m talking about the kind of spanking that takes place long before you have “had it up to here!” I’m talking about the kind of spanking that is given when you are in full control of both your emotions and your physical abilities. I’m talking about the kind of spanking that is reserved for stubborn and purposeful disobedience, not every minor discipline issue. I’m talking about the kind of spanking where you use a wooden spoon, because hands were made for holding and loving and hugging after the spanking. I’m talking about the kind of spanking where the real pain the child feels is more the sting of pride than the sting on their bottom…because as you spank them, you’re crying--on the inside, if not the outside--because you hurt just as much as they do.

Why are we so afraid of that kind of spanking?

If you’re like me, you know a bevy of non-spankers these days. You also know that many of them do actually spank their kids…but only when all the other things they “believe in” have failed and they just don’t know what else to do. They end up spanking the wrong way and reinforcing the idea that ALL spanking is wrong, no matter how it’s approached. Like I said…part of the problem.

So, back to our blogger, I don’t know if she’s a spanker or not. I’m not going to take the time to read her whole blog to try and find out. All I know is she left it off her list for one of the two reason above: she either doesn’t do it or she does and doesn’t want to admit it. She’s just like a lot of people I know.

Here’s what I see when I read those first two paragraphs. Her boys have a nightly game with mommy and they are most definitely winning. They go to sleep on their terms, not hers. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if she would lay it on the line and explain to them that every time they get out of bed they will get a swat on their bottom. I hypothesize there would be a couple of nights with a lot of tears. I also hypothesize that within a week or two, she wouldn’t have to sit outside their door until they finally fell asleep. Finally, I hypothesize that she would feel less frustration about it, in the long run, by addressing it in an appropriate manner where she is in control of the situation, taking the control away from her sons.

Sometimes it takes a painful experience to make us change our ways.
Proverbs 20:30 GNB

Don't hesitate to discipline children. A good spanking won't kill them. As a matter of fact, it may save their lives.
Proverbs 23:13, 14 GNB


I really don't want people to think I'm claiming to have been abused as a child, by spanking, because of this blog post.

Yes, I was spanked.

Often. Even for things I didn't do once or twice. That happens with 4 rambunctious boys in a small house.

However, ultimately, I'm glad I grew up in a home where spanking happened. I have three brothers and I think there were many times when we probably truly deserved a good spanking. Today, all four of us know that wrong is wrong because it's wrong, not just because you get caught. We understand that if we make poor choices, we deserve the consequences, no matter how bad they are. None of have been in jail. We all grew up to be good people (I think.)

But that doesn't mean I agree with the way we were spanked. I do think there is an appropriate way to spank and that way was not usually the norm in our home. I realize many of you know my family, and no, I haven't talked to them about this, yet. It's probably a huge can of worms to open, especially just before Christmas, but we're all adults now and I know we can "deal with it" if we need to. I love my parents, my siblings, their wives, and their children. When they say, "love covers a multitude of sins" this is what they're talking about. The past IS the past; that doesn't mean it didn't happen, it just means none of us can let it rule today.

Sally forth in good spirit.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve will be here soon. A wonderful night when Christians (and even some non-Christians) will gather together in churches around the country, and around the globe, to celebrate the coming of Christ. 

In many of those churches, the attendees will celebrate with the traditional Christmas story. You know the one: Mary is in labor, riding into town on a donkey, it’s cold and snowy, all the local inn keepers turn them away, they spend the night in a dirty cave (or barn) where Joseph delivers the baby, he is named Jesus, wrapped in swaddling cloths, and spends the night in a manger full of hay so shepherds and wise men can come and worship him. Yeah! That one…the nativity story that’s not really in the Bible…at least not most of it.

Really. Honest Injun’. Get your Bible out and check. There was no donkey. There was no inn, nor an inn keeper. They’d already been in town for at least a few days, if not weeks, when Jesus was born. And Joseph probably didn’t have much to do with the actual birthing process. 

Based on the culture and customs of the time, they were probably staying with some of Joseph’s relatives and, due to the census, it was a packed house. It is likely there were plenty of female relatives on hand to assist with the birth. Because the guest room was full, Joseph, Mary, and the baby, Jesus, were relegated to sleeping out in a common room, near where the animals were kept in the home (also a normal thing back in first century Bethlehem) hence the necessity of putting Jesus in the manger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to “bah humbug” your Christmas. But I also feel like the Nativity scene most of us grew up thinking was the the “Gospel” truth is just about as real as Santa Claus.

You CAN find a donkey and a cave in the story if you want to stray from the Biblical canon. Do a Google search for The Protoevangelium of James. There’s a donkey and cave in that one. Joseph is also an aging widower and Jesus isn’t so much born as he is delivered via a supernatural, non-surgical, c-section…oh, and Mary was confirmed to be a virgin and remained so until she died. Some of the traditions we celebrate have their roots in extra-biblical books/stories that have long been rejected by the church.

So what’s my point?

I think it would be great to celebrate the story that IS actually in the Bible. It’s a story of brokenness, fear, and shame. It’s also a story of great joy, angelic hosts, heavenly choirs, the birth of a Savior, and it's one that doesn’t need any sensationalism to make it better.

If you want the Biblical Christmas story, here it is (in a nut shell):

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
 and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Luke 1:26-38 & 2:1-20 (NIV)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Snow blower...

So, I've had a snow blower with an electric starter for the past two winters. I consider myself to be a "man" and have chosen to ignore that feature...because a real "man" will give himself a hernia or wrench his back using the pull start before acting like a girl and using the electric start.

I went out to the garage this morning and cleaned it up just enough to get the snow blower out, check the oil, and get it gassed up for the coming snowpacalypse. Every man knows that Murphy's Law says you actually need to start the thing up prior to the first snow. If you don't, it won't start when you really do need it.

I pushed the primer button a half dozen times, inserted the "key," moved the choke lever over, and started pulling that starter rope. I decided to push the primer button a few more times after the first 20 or so pulls didn't work. I took the key out, moved the choke lever back, and started over from scratch after the next 20 pulls didn't work. A few minutes later, after I'd stripped down to my t-shirt and underwear and punched 911 into the phone, just in case, I gave up.

As I lay on the icy garage floor, gasping for my last elusive breath, I looked up and, for the first time, settled my gaze on the 3 pronged plug embedded in the back of the snow blower. As the feeling began to return to my left arm and the black edges of unconsciousness ebbed away, I slowly got up, collected myself; and grabbed an extension cord off the shelf on the other side of the garage.

Female plug to male outlet, male plug to female outlet, all plugged in and ready to hand in my man card...I pushed the starter button.

Screw my man card! That extension cord is staying plugged in and right where it is all winter long.

Wisdom found through giving up is still wisdom.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Lesson learned...

I learned a good lesson yesterday...

Not long after I woke up, I came to the realization that I just couldn't put off the job of dragging the humidifier out any longer. I don't know what spurred me to action. It could have been the haboob (Google it if you have to) that tried to exit my body when I blew my nose. It could have been the dry hacking cough which has been plaguing me for the past month. It could have been any number of things; regardless of the reason, I sprinted into action and finally found my Kenmore Quiet Comfort 12 gallon humidifier hiding in the basement.

I hauled the KQC12g up to the main floor, cleaned it, put it back together, ran out to Sears and picked up a new filter for it, and found a nice place to put it...right in the corner of the dining room. It really did seem like the perfect spot. The KQC12g humidifier is rated for a 2,500 square foot home. Mine is only about half that and, to top it off, this corner is almost in the exact middle of the house. It is the perfect spot for an even distribution of humidity throughout the whole house...and it has an outlet. Besides, I have yet to find anything else to put in this corner. It's in the dining room in that awkward spot between the hallway going to the basement and bedrooms and the door way to the kitchen. It's not big enough for a nice piece of furniture...so it exists as an empty column of space in my already cramped little home.

When I got the KQC12g up and running, it would only flash a 25% as the humidity level. This is the KQC12g's calm and quiet way of letting me know the humidity level in the home is significantly low. I filled it up, then refilled it immediately, since the first filling almost instantly drains from the holding tank, and let the KQC12g do it's work.

At about half-time, during the Lions game, I noticed the area around the chair I was enjoying watching the game from was getting kind of warm. In all honesty it was getting hot. Well, that chair sits directly in front of the register for that room. I closed the register and solved my problem post haste. A little later, I stood up to walk to the kitchen and was greeted by an extraordinary amount of heated air from the waist up. I made note of the changing climate conditions via a verbal exchange with my bride, who was sitting at our tall dinning room table, only to find she had been cognizant of this issue for quiet some time while I huddled down in the lower altitudes, watching the game. Being a normal man, I quickly discharged all concerns about the issue from my brain and returned to watching the game.

As the game came to a close, and I watched the Lions jiggle the handle to the toilet they are in the midst of flushing themselves down, I stood upright to find that my house felt both more humid and really warm. Not just pleasantly warm, but "do-you-have-an-80-year-old-woman-living here?!" hot! A quick walk around the house proved this to be true in every single room. What in blue blazes was going on here? The furnace had been running non-stop for nearly 6 hours, which only now seemed odd. True, it was cold outside, but not THAT cold.

My investigation lead me to the thermostat, in the dining room, which was proudly telling me it was only 67 degrees in my house. "LIAR!" I shouted at the thermostat at the top of my lungs and reached over to see if the temperature settings had been changed...and that's when I felt that stream of moist cool air blowing straight up from the KQC12g and in front of the thermostat....

...needless to say, the KQC12g is now humming away over on the other side of the room. My house finally cooled back down to something less than "sleeping-in-a-tent-on-a-hot-muggy-night-in-July" hot at some point during the night and I learned to pay more attention when doing something as simple as setting the humidifier up.

The infamous corner.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Bible In A Year

Today is day 330 of the year 2013; my Bible-In-A-Year plan told me so. All I have left to read are the Minor Prophets, a couple chapters of Proverbs, a rehash of the last 30 Psalms (you read them all twice in this plan), and the last few books of the New Testament. Three hundred and thirty days down, thirty five to go.

I will admit that it has been harder than I thought it would be, for several reasons:
  • The experts tell us if we do something regularly, at the same time every day, for a certain number of days in a row it will become a habit. I don’t know why, but reading the Bible just doesn’t seem to want to fit that mold for me. I started off reading every morning, then I switched to every night, and then I swapped back and forth intermittently. It has never become a “habit.” Reading the Bible is/was/has been something that I have to make myself do each and every day. It is not that I don’t want to read it, I just frequently “find” easier or more interesting things to do. At this point, I am realizing that may just be how it was intended to be, something intentional as opposed to a mindless act.
  • It can be a very hard book to read. No, I’m not talking about the reading level, I’m talking about the content. 
    • Most people complain about books like Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, but I breezed through the Pentateuch without much problem. The books that bogged me down were the major prophets; Isaiah and Ezekiel were the toughest. They are looooonnnnnngggg and tend to get very repetitive. In addition, they really can twist your brain in a lot of different directions with difficult concepts, images, and content. Some of what’s in there is just “hard” to read in an “I want to poke my eyes out” kind of way.
    • There are many uncomfortable parts, especially in the Old Testament. It is a book (or many books) filled with stories of murder, rape, incest, violence, genocide, and expectations and/or laws that just seem unjust or oppressive. Those parts are uncomfortable because God is often represented as being the very opposite of the loving, white-bearded, golden-aura-shrouded, grandfatherly, geriatric, passive, forgiving, and almost senile God that so many of us in Western Christendom WANT our God to be.
I’ll be honest, if I hadn’t taken a course in Biblical Interpretation last spring…I might have given up back on day 39 or 40…most certainly by day 52. I would have quit for the same reason(s) that so many others who have tried to read the entire Bible give up; it IS hard, it makes me feel uncomfortable (often in a bad way), it is sometimes boring, and it really challenges me from a faith perspective to KNOW what this foundation my faith is built on is really about. In class I learned that I have to read the Bible through at least three main “lenses”:
  1. The world in behind the Bible: the historical context/understanding of the world that preceded the writing of whatever portion I may be reading.
  2. The world inside the Bible: the historical context/understanding of the world at the time of the writing of whatever portion I may be reading.
  3. The world in front of the Bible: the context/understanding of today.
Focusing on those first two lenses helped me get through some of the parts that were most difficult. They are passages written to/about a people with whom I have little to no historical context. I can study up on them and their time, but I can’t “know” it the way I know my own context today. This doesn’t mean those passage can’t/don’t hold meaning for me, just that I need to try to understand what it meant to them first.

In all this reading, there is one passage that has come up three times and, as such, stands out to me as a guide for “being a better Christian.” I first studied it in class as part of a lesson in exegesis, then Pastor Mark preached on it twice this past month (November 3 and November 10), and I read it yesterday as part of my plan. The passage is from 1 Peter 3:8-18, and I really feel like it sums up the message of what I’ve been reading for the past 330 days, how I really want to live the rest of my life, and how I hope other Christians want to live, too. Allow me to paraphrase (probably poorly):

As Christians we should be:
  • Agreeable
  • Sympathetic
  • Loving
  • Compassionate
  • Humble
This goes for ALL Christians! There are no exceptions.

There should be no room in our lives for retaliation.
There should be no room in our lives for sharp-tongued sarcasm.
Instead, we should bless others…that’s our job! To bless!
If we can practice living this way we’ll be a blessing and get a blessing!

You want to embrace life? You want to see your day fill up with good? Try doing these things:
  • Say nothing evil or hurtful.
  • Snub evil and cultivate good.
  • Seek peace with every ounce of your energy!
God approves this message!

God listens and responds when we talk to Him, but He also turns his back on those who do evil things!

If you practice living this way, do you really think people will ask you to stop?
Even if people respond to your kindness, goodness, and good living with hatred or persecution, you’ll be better off!
Stop worry about what non-Christians think about you or say about you! 
God will deal with them in his own time, so don’t worry about it or respond negatively or inappropriately!

Just keep your focus on Christ…no matter what!

If people do get curious about your life, or challenge you about the way you are living, make sure you understand your faith so you can respond correctly; however, make sure you respond respectfully!

If people want to mistreat you for doing good things, that’s their problem and God will deal with them. At some point they’ll realize they are in the wrong, even if it’s only at their final judgement. If you respond to their attacks with attacks of your own, your conscience won’t be clear.

If you’re truly suffering because of your faith and good living, if that’s the place where God has put you, just remember that you’re way better off than those who will be punished for ignoring and/or disobeying God.

Christ’s role in all this is definitive! He suffered because of other people’s (including your, my, and our) sins! He was righteous and suffered for our unrighteousness. Remember, Christ went through it all—suffering, death, and resurrection—to bring us closer to God!

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Pardon me, for just a moment, as I'm about to step on your toes.


I am one. It is a title I earned through marriage. It is a title I wear proudly. It comes with responsibility I take seriously. It is not just a word to describe my legal standing in a relationship with a woman; it is part of my identity. I am a husband. I long to hear my wife use that word both in public and in our quiet moments together at home. It describes a unique position in life. It carries significant meaning and weight, enough so that many non-heterosexual people are fighting in court to be able to use it.

That being the case, I'd like to politely ask the growing throngs of unmarried, but dating or engaged, young women to stop using it to describe the man you are currently with...especially if you call yourself a Christian.

When you use it, before it has been earned, you do a disservice to the title and more importantly to what it stands for in a truly Christian marriage.

Trust me, I get it.

You bought a house together or you're sharing an apartment. You both drink straight out of the milk container. You eat off each others plates when you go out. You might even share a toothbrush in an emergency. You may even have fur babies together that you call your "children." Sadly, you're  also sharing his bed. Those things don't make him your husband. However, calling him that helps the take the sting out of knowing you're living a life that should be reserved for marriage, doesn't it? It helps you justify your decisions to live against the belief system you were brought up with.

He is your boyfriend or fiancé.

He won't be your husband until you stand before God, family, and friends (or a justice of the peace, your choice) and make a commitment to marriage.

Every time you call the man you are not married to your "hubby" or "husband," you cheapen the word, you water it down, and you remove the responsibility and weight that comes along with it. Using it prematurely means that the "D" word will be all that much easier to use when you have finally gotten married and it doesn't met your Hollywood expectations, especially if you're using it during an on again/off again romance.

For someone like me, who has been through "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health", it makes me believe you don't truly have an understanding of what that word means and what comes with it when it has been earned.

Oh, and tell your fiancé, or boyfriend, that I think he's weak. He allows you to use the word husband and won't ask you stop. After all, he wouldn't want to make you mad, or upset you. He's allowing his genitals to lead the way in your relationship instead of waiting to earn the title that some of us actually respect and cherish. If he was really your husband, he'd respect himself and His God enough to wait for marriage to be called that.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Coffee With Jesus

If you pay any attention to my Facebook timeline, you’ll see me share the Coffee With Jesus comic strips, from Radio Free Babylon, on a pretty regular basis. The author, David Wilke, has published a Coffee With Jesus book, which will be available in paperback on December 1, 2013. However, you can buy it today in several different electronic formats. I bought a copy last night to read on my Kindle app and find myself having to put it down so that I can enjoy it over time rather than just gobbling the whole thing up all at once.

I am a Christian. I’m not ashamed of that; but, I also know I’m not always the best example or role model. I want to be, but my humanity sometimes gets in the way.

So why do I share those comic strips? Because they really do represent the Jesus I know today…the one I wish everyone knew.

I wish this was the Jesus I had known for the first four decades of my life. Regardless of how He may have been presented to me, I spent most of my life thinking I wasn’t good enough, couldn’t be good enough, and felt like there was no way He could love me. The burden of salvation rested on my shoulders and I was failing miserably at achieving Heaven. My spiritual life consisted of a bunch of “do’s” that I wasn’t doing enough, if at all, and a bunch of “do not’s” that I too often found myself doing. My vision of the final judgement was pretty bleak. It was me, standing in front of God, alone, and He was pretty angry about it all.

I’ve got a new perspective today. One that gives me hope.

The Jesus I know today doesn’t say, “you must.” He reaches out and says, “let me.”
The Jesus I know today doesn’t say, “do not.” He reaches out and says, “I have a better plan.”
The Jesus I know today doesn’t waggle His finger at me and shake His head from side to side with that “I told you so” look we all dread. No, He’s the Jesus who jumps up off the porch when He sees me off in the distance, trudging back home in my rags that smell of pig manure and other waste, a lost and hopeless look on my face, desperation in my plea, and He runs, as fast as He can, swooping me up in His arms, a smile on His face, with joy and love and compassion in His voice, giving orders for the preparation of a feast of celebration, all the while shouting, “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:11-32)

That’s the Jesus I know today. My vision of the final judgement looks a lot different. I’m still standing there in front of God, but Jesus is standing in front of me. That is all God sees, His blameless son, taking on my sin, advocating for His client, paying the price, absorbing the wrath that was supposed to be for me.

“As a Christian, I wanted to show people a practical savior, one who used humor, sarcasm and gentle ribbing to address their concerns. Through various social media, the comic took off, and I soon felt the need and obligation to portray Jesus as I know him. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Revelation 3: 19 NASB) is a verse that came to mind whenever I had Jesus speaking a stinging rebuke, but it was time to show that he is, above all, merciful. Does he care about your first-world problems while other believers are being martyred in the third world? Yes, but he might put your problems in perspective for you. He’s going to question your motives, examine your heart and reveal to you some ugly things you might be overlooking, all while loving you.” (Wilke, David (2013-02-19). Coffee with Jesus (Kindle Locations 98-105). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Gate

Full disclosure dictates that I be open and honest in admitting that I am no craftsman. I'm a guy who barely passed woodshop in 7th grade by burning my name onto a piece of pine and coating it in varnish.

That's not to say I can't swing a hammer. I have been known to build things from time to time in my life. Functional things, mostly: a stand for an aquarium, shelves in my basement and garage, stuff that doesn't have to look pretty…as long as it works.

I'm getting married in a little more than a week. In addition to my beautiful bride-to-be, I'm adding a rambunctious six year old and two dogs to my household. As such, I decided it was time to work on a few projects to get ready for this welcomed invasion.

One of said projects involves building a gate to keep the dogs in the yard when they go out to do their doggy business. I decide to finish this project first--I already started replacing my deck and that's another story in and of itself--since it really is one that needs to be done prior to said dogs arriving on the scene. I also figured it might be the easiest, due to the fact that my yard is already 90% fenced in and the posts for a gate were planted by my late wife about 7 years ago.

While I may not be a craftsman, I do fancy that I'm relatively good at the maths. I needed to build a gate to span the 94.5 inch space between the previously mentioned gate posts. My basic math brain tells me that each half of the gate can be no more than 47.25 inches wide. As such, said brain decides that each half will be cut to 47.125 inches wide, assuring a 1/4 inch gap between the halves to allow space for opening and closing.

I begin the project on Monday morning and head to the lumber yard to get all the supplies I'm going to need. When I get home, I head back to get all the stuff I forgot the first time. After spending almost an hour preparing my work area, I'm ready to begin. It's now time for lunch. After lunch, I get out my trusty miter saw and start sawing away.

By the middle of the day on Tuesday, I have two gate halves measuring 47.125 inches wide by 48 inches tall; they look beautifully functional, really. I attach the hinges and begin the process of attaching the gates to the gate posts. The first half goes on with no problem and I'm ready to put the second half on its post and call it a day. It's 90 degrees out…again…there's not a dry piece of clothing on my body. I'm already on my third 64 oz. container of water. It will be good to get this gate hung, attach the latch, and head inside for a cold shower!

It doesn't fit. No matter what I do, I can't get the second half of the gate in place. I measure both halves…47.125 inches. I measure them again. Then I measure the space between the posts…94.125 inches. What! It occurs to me that I made my first measurement prior to putting the header across the top of the gate. In that process, I had to pull the two gate posts together so that the outside measurement at the top was the same as that at the bottom…d'oh.

I handled the situation as well as any grown man. I got in my car, turned the air-conditioner on high, drove to Cascades Ice Cream and got a small chocolate cone, returned home, and ate the ice cream in my car while weeping quietly.

I finally nut up and decide to fix this problem like a boss. The simplest solution will be to take the aforementioned header off and let the two posts return to their natural positions, thus ensuring that my gate will fit. I remove the lag bolts from one end of the header and notice nothing moved. Oh, yes, I had held the header up with a decking screw when drilling the holes for the lag screws…said screw having been driven deep enough into the board that I can't "find" it with the drill bit. No problem, I'll get an old fashioned screwdriver and have that deck screw out in a jiffy.

Fifteen minutes later, after I finally found a screwdriver, I inserted it into the hole where the screw was hiding and started turning slowly until I felt it catch. Twist, twist, twist…the header pops off the post drops down and lands on my head. I feel blessed to have been born with a thicker than normal skull at this point. I screw the deck screw back in a few turns and head to the other end of the header to take the lag screws out of that end. In a time saving measure, I already had the screwdriver available to remove the deck screw on that end once the lags were out…twist, twist, twist, and down comes the header board on top of my head. I'm feeling a little less blessed at this point.

OK, the header is down and now that other half of the gate should fit just fine…but it doesn't. The whole thing is still too wide. Well, this just won't do. Where is my mallet? I wedge the second half of the gate in and start whacking it into alignment with the first half. Then I finish screwing the hinges into place. Lastly I add the latch!

I have no idea if this gate will ever open. Tomorrow I'm going to try to build a sandbox. The playground set comes next Monday.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Grief and Social Media

I recently finished up a GriefShare class, something I should have probably gone through a while ago and I'm glad that I finally did. It was a good reminder that even as the overwhelming effects of grief ebb, they don't go away, nor should we expect them to. As we were wrapping our sessions up, it occurred to me that the materials had not covered any aspects of grieving in the world of social media.

I guess this shouldn't be a huge surprise. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, WordPress, Blogger, et al are still relatively young. They'll likely have peaked and been replaced by something new before anyone can investigate the effects of social media on the bereaved in full and complete study. It wasn't something I was even consciously aware of until about a year into my own grieving process.

In my own experience, social media is a double-edged sword in regards to grief; a blade of rescue and a blade of pain.

The one blade, rescue, is almost entirely positive, allowing the bereaved to have an outlet for their grief. One of the things GriefShare encourages participants to do is to write a grief letter to family and friends. This gives the bereaved an opportunity to explain how they are feeling while letting their friends and family know how to help them through the process. For many grieving individuals today--those who have lost jobs, family, friends, struggle with infertility, etc.--social media fulfills the role of the grief letter. It can allow a person to express the things they may not be able to share as easily when sitting face to face with those who care about them.

The other blade, pain, I'm not sue whether it's good or bad. In some ways I wonder if involvement in social media prolongs certain aspects of the grieving process or if it helps speed them up. I can attest to the fact that is is often acutely painful to log into Facebook and Instagram. Feeling the stabs of grief with each status update detailing the funny antics of a friend's child, pictures of happy families, silly love notes posted between spouses...but it also shows me that life is, can be, and will be good again. Does seeing other people enjoying the aspects of life which we have lost help or harm?

I'm certainly not saying that social media users need to stop posting all the happy moments in their lives in order to stay connected with their grieving friends without causing them pain. That would be both unfair and ridiculous. Rather, it is up to those who grieve to figure out how to navigate the waters of social media without exacerbating their own grief, especially in a negative way. Someone should write a book about this, just saying. :)

Friday, May 31, 2013

One of those days...

Ever have one of those days...

It started when I was running errands this morning.

The songs on my normal Sirius XM channel of choice just sounded too familiar; so, I flipped the channel to Classic Rewind. Hearing music from my late elementary through high school years referred to as "classics" just didn't sit well. It made me feel old...but not in a proud or wise way. I began to wonder if this was how my dad felt when we would be listening to Oldies 94.1, back when I was a kid; the music from his teens and early 20's being referred to as "golden oldies." He was only in his mid-to-late 30's at the time. I'm 41. It made me think about how I remember his 40th birthday party, I was 14 at the time. If I'm lucky enough to ever have kid(s), they might remember my 60th the same way. Did I mention I was feeling old?

A little while later, I stopped at the credit union drive through to get some cash from the ATM. Whoever used the machine before I did left their receipt dangling from the dispenser...
...seeing a $30.00 withdrawal and the remaining $43.83 got me thinking about two things: 1) there are probably lots of people out there making withdrawals today and seeing balances like this, and 2) it took me back to the early years of my marriage to Sara, when we lived this picture for far too long, and that got me reminiscing, which in turn added a thick blanket of sadness to my already "old" state of mind.

I'll spare you the gray details of all that I've been thinking about today. Some things are best kept private just to keep them special. I also don't want to give people the impression that I'm not happy these days, because I am. I have much to be happy about and much to be thankful for...but that doesn't stop the clouds from rolling in every once in a while.

Remember to take your ATM slip with you the next time you grab some quick cash...you never know what can happen if you leave it behind.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Alarm Clock Anxiety Disorder

Among family and friends, I have jokingly referred to my "alarm clock anxiety disorder" from time to time. This morning I reached a point where it's just not funny anymore. My head hurts, my vision is blurred, and I feel exhausted. Before starting this post, I did an internet search (yes, I Googled it) for "alarm clock anxiety." Low and behold, this seems to be a real issue that affects a lot of people. Unfortunately, it's an umbrella term, covering many different aspects and types of alarm clock anxiety. My experience doesn't really fit into most of what I read about panic disorders and people who wake up and repeatedly check to make sure their alarm is set; so, I doubt the mental health industry is overly concerned for my well-being at this point.

I wake up because I hear my alarm going off. And then, when I am fully awake, realize it's not going off and it's still the middle of the night. I'm not afraid it won't go off or that it isn't set, I just keep thinking I hear it. The key in my situation is that this is clearly tied into stress, specifically work/school related stress. I have noticed that the two go hand-in-hand and are only experienced in combination with one another.

For me, work/school related stress manifests in dreams. I remember when I was working in technology in the K-12 education environment...where I was trying to perform the work of 2, or more, people in a regular work week (after all, "we can't hire people just because we need them"...yes, that's a quote...I actually heard those words.) Most mornings, I woke up feeling like I had already worked an 8 hour shift. I would, quite literally, spend my night dreaming that I was at work, solving problems, responding to help desk tickets, and tackling complex programming issues. On more than one occasion, I woke up in the morning with an answer to a serious problem I had been struggling with at work for several days, or even weeks. As thankful as I was for having found my answer, the stress of sleep was compounding the stress of work...and that's where the alarm clock anxiety disorder comes in. 

I'm not afraid I didn't set my alarm, or that it won't go off, I'm afraid I'm going to sleep through it. It's a phenomenon that has only happened two or three times in the nearly 30 years I've been using an alarm clock to wake up. I know, and I mean I KNOW, that I will wake up when my alarm goes off.  Even if I forget to turn on the ringer on my phone (who doesn't use their phone as their alarm clock these days?) the phone will vibrate and that is enough to wake me up. I WILL hear it (or even feel it if the phone is lying on the bed next to me) and wake up. There's no rational reason for me to think my alarm won't wake me up AND that fear doesn't exist when I'm not stressed out by work/school.

I don't want you to think I'm complaining about school. I mean...I am...but not necessary in that whiny "school sucks" way we're all used to hearing from children. School is hard, especially for a 41 year old internet ravaged brain (see The Shallows); but, it's the kind of hard that is rewarding. I am being challenged socially, theologically, academically, and spiritually AND I'm enjoying that...but it doesn't mean it isn't causing some stress in my life. The light at the end of the tunnel, the end of the semester, is only a little over a week away and it's both a blessing and a curse. I have far too much work to do to get it all done in time, but I know it will get done...somehow...eventually. #stress

I know that in just over two weeks I'll be able to set my alarm and sleep relatively soundly through the night...light at the end of the tunnel. No more dreams about papers, discussion board posts, 40 page chapters on Biblical interpretation, world religions, or the creation and fall of mankind. I might not even set my alarm, not that that will make any difference in how I sleep.

The other aspect of this is that I realize it's not something I have ever taken to the Lord in prayer (aside from the middle of the night plea of "Please, God, let me just sleep through the night!") Much like Paul's thorn in the flesh, this is a stressful and bothersome issue for me and if I'm not taking it to God in prayer, I'm not doing myself any favors. I'll pray about it tonight, and even if I wake up stressed out tomorrow, I will try to "take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Testimony (The Great Wall of Text)

I was privileged to share my testimony in both services at the Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church on April 21. The process of preparing to share was both difficult and rewarding. Reflecting on the past two years of my life grates against wounds covered in fresh pink skin while at the same time allowing me to see where God has moved in my life.

If you're not into reading, you can watch and/or listen as I read it for you:

For the academics among you, below is the text of what I was reading. The one thing I wish I could have done is presented my testimony through song, a musical as it were. Music has played a vital role in both my grieving and my spiritual journey. Even as I type this up, iTunes is pumping out the soundtrack of the past two years for me:
  • God is God - Steven Curtis Chapman
  • Come Thou Fount - David Crowder Band
  • How Deep the Father's Love for us - Kendall Payne
  • In Christ Alone - Owl City
  • Leaning on the Everlasting Arms/'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus - David Crowder Band
  • O Love That Will Not Let Me Go - Christ Rice
  • You Are My Vision - Rend Collective Experiment
  • Before the Throne of God Above - Chris Rice
  • 10,000 Reasons - Rend Collective Experiment
  • Build Your Kingdom Here - Rend Collective Experiment
It's a soundtrack that takes me from the miry pit to the pinnacle of asking God to help remind me to build His Kingdom here on earth. These are songs that bring me comfort, hope, and great joy. The are filled with some good theology, filled with the Christology of the resurrected King of Kings.

If you have time to read, and for some weird reason prefer that to listening to me drone on in the background, have at it:

Good morning! A few of you already know me, know who I am, and know where I come from. A larger number of you know who I am in the “your family has gone to church here for a long time” way of knowing someone. And some of you might not know me at all. If you’re a Spring Arbor University student who was in chapel on April 8, I’m the guy who fell off the horse in Belize.

Those of you who know me the best know that I’m incredibly uncomfortable right now. Not so much because I’m speaking, but because I’m not wearing a t-shirt and jeans or shorts. Of course, I’d be even more comfortable wearing a motorcycle helmet and listening to the sound of pavement passing beneath me. I can feel comfortably at home just about anywhere if I’m riding on my motorcycle.

The good news is I’m not here to preach today. I don’t really feel qualified to preach. I’m not trained to be a preacher, I haven’t studied to be a preacher, and at this point in my life I don’t feel called to be a preacher. I’m just a guy who sat down to lunch with Pastor Mark, 61 days ago, and was asked to share the testimony of how God has been working in my life with you today.

And I pray that I can do that in the vein of Micah 6:8, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Whether you know me or not, my goal today is to humbly allow God to show you what He has been doing in my life over the past couple of years.

For those of you who may not know me, let me introduce myself. I’m Chad Cole. I have three brothers, Ryan, Jared, and Aaron, and two parents, Jim and Kathy. Over the past 17 years I’ve managed to pick up a couple of sisters-in-law, an adopted sister from Estonia, and some wonderful nieces and nephews.

The Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church has been the home church for my family since my parents first moved to Spring Arbor back in 1969. Like a number or you, I first started attending the Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church as a small bundle of cells being knit together in my mother’s womb. That was back in 1971. I grew up in the nursery, attended Sunday School, children’s church, and CYC on Wednesday nights. I went to young teens and senior teens. I even remember the old stone church. I remember when the chapel was the sanctuary. I remember the day when we celebrated the opening of this sanctuary; I was seven years old and there were lots of balloons. I have been on mission trips with the youth group to the Ozark Mountains and have been to Rancho Betania, in Mexico, twice. I graduated from Western High School and went to Spring Arbor College. I dropped out of college when education just didn’t agree with me and I went back when it did. By the time I finished the course work for my degree it become Spring Arbor University.

Like a lot of college students, I met my wife at Spring Arbor. Our first official date was October 27, 1995. On January 11, 1996, I asked her to marry me when I took her out to dinner to celebrate her 20th birthday. It wasn’t planned, it just happened.  We were married on August 10, 1996…288 days after that magical first date.

A few years later, I took the like opportunity to open the discussion about family. Her response was not what I expected. When we were engaged and first married, we’d always talked about having children. She had changed her mind. There were some extenuating circumstances with the health of one of her family members, she had come to conclude that having children was not something she could do, and even if she could, she shouldn’t. In addition, she felt too young, there was too much life left to live to worry about having kids when she was only 23.

I would bring the subject up, a couple times a year after that, but the conversations were short, and always ended the same. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t want a family; she just didn’t think it would be possible to have children. As my 20s gave way to my 30s, I asked about it less and less. By the time I had reached my mid-30s, it wasn’t something we discussed anymore. I had come to accept the possibility that we might never have children. I was resolved to a life of being a good husband and a good uncle. For the first time in my life it really kind of felt like life is not fair…

Early in 2009, when I was 37 and Sara was 33, as we crawled into bed on a cold winters night Sara said, “There’s something I need to talk to you about.” My heart started racing. We had been married 12 and one half years at this point and I don’t think Sara had ever said those words to me, ever, about anything. My hesitant “OK” was followed by a long silence…a very long silence. After a while, I asked her if she was going to let me in on the secret or if she wanted me to guess…she thought guessing might be the faster route. I loved this woman with everything in me and I could only think of two things she would tell me we needed to talk about at 11PM on a work night…she either had been lying to me about how she felt about me and wanted to leave me or she wanted to have a baby. I quickly and quietly told her I was going to pick the more positive of the two things I was thinking and I asked her if she wanted to have a baby…she said yes…and my whole future changed. It took everything in me to not jump out of bed, shouting with joy, and run out into the street and let everyone who could hear know about this wonderful change of heart. Instead, I hugged her close, told her that it was wonderful, and we both fell asleep happy.

However, the joy of wanting a baby turned quickly to frustration. Even though there were documented and persuasive reasons to suspect fertility might be an issue, her doctor did not want to test anything until we had tried all the natural methods for a least a year. And so we tried…and month after month after month went by with the same results…negative…negative…negative. The following spring after a year of trying and 3 months of tests and referrals…the doctors prescribed the treatment we had been seeking for over a year. And we tried. Negative. And tried. Negative. And tried. Negative. It was now mid-June 2010…after almost a year and a half, our joy had been replaced with a sense of resignation…it wasn’t going to work. Life is not fair...

On Saturday night, June 19, Sara took one last test, just to affirm the last negative test. On Monday morning she was going to call the doctor and let him know we were done. We wouldn’t be pursuing IVF due to personal convictions. Our desire to be parents was not going to be fulfilled. For the first time in over a year, I didn’t sit and wait with Sara for the test to display its results. I waited in the family room, head down, emotions clouded, discouraged, dismayed, and disappointed. Life is not fair...

Sara’s shouts startled me out of my sad stupor. She was screaming that I needed to come to the bathroom. I wondered if she’d somehow fallen and hurt herself. As I rounded the corner to the bathroom, my concern dissolved as I saw the joy on her face as she jumped up and down waving that little white stick in the air like a pennant. I grabbed it from her hand and looked…two pink lines. We were going to be parents…

Despite the immense joy and pride we felt, we managed to keep the pregnancy secret until late August. We had wanted to make it to Grandparents Day in September to make the announcement, but Sara had finally grown tired of sucking it in all day at work. The announcement was greeted with bewildered joy. I was 38 and Sara was 34, we’d been married for 14 years. I think most people had just started to assume children were not on the docket for us. Our due date was late February 2011. Registries were created. Quilts were sewn. We had a baby shower at Thanksgiving. Holidays and birthdays came and went, each one drawing us closer to that impending due date.

On February 4, we drove over to the Toy House, in Jackson, and picked up the baby seat for the car. Here is my Facebook post from that night.

…and then you blink…and life changes. In the span of less than 1 minute you can go from bliss…to blank…from a future full of joy, challenges, and delight…to a future that seems as black as night. A reality where life is not fair…here is my Facebook post from the next night.

One minute I was sitting next to my 37-week pregnant wife, having a pleasant conversation with her parents. The next minute the minivan we were passengers in was a crumpled tin can and I was lifting her chin and asking her if she was OK. I watched as her pupil dilated, her lips and face lost their color and I found false hope as the primal reflex that causes a baby to take its first breath caused her to take her last. The seatbelt designed to save Sara’s life had held firm during our accident. It held her in place as a semi pushed us down the snow-banked median of I-94 crawling farther and farther into the back of our vehicle. The pressure caused her uterus, designed by God to protect the life within to rupture. She was gone…in an instant…and that small life within her would fade in the minutes that followed. The safety measures, both man made and God designed, put in place to save life, had taken it.

It took almost an hour to get Sara to the emergency room. Miranda was delivered less than 1 minute after arriving at the hospital. The doctors and nurses were able to miraculously start her heart and get her on a ventilator. She had already been moved to labor and delivery when they rolled me into the emergency room, strapped down to a gurney, unable to turn my head. They let me hold Sara’s hand as the staff continued to perform CPR, everyone knowing it was in vain but refusing to give up, eventually the chaos stopped, the room got quiet, and what I had known in my heart for over an hour was officially declared…she was gone. Life is not fair…life just is.

Even though the hospital staff had been able to revive Miranda, she had been without oxygen for too long. A little more than 72 hours later, late in the evening on February 8, after all the other family members had filed through and taken time to hold her, I held my daughter, Miranda Evangelene Cole, in my arms as the life support systems were disconnected. I held her and waited…waited for her perfect tiny little heart to beat its final beat. All of my hopes, all of the joy of the previous 9 months, the expectations of a lifetime, the family I had always wanted…were gone. My future was an empty and bleak wasteland. Life is not fair…life just is.

I remember waking up the next morning and staring into the mirror for what seemed like forever. I did not recognize the man standing and staring back at me. A man who felt like everything he had been living for had been taken away from him. His eyes were vacant, with barely a glimmer of life in them. I did not know who he was. The rest of that week was a whirlwind of numb activity. The hours spent planning visitations and a memorial service, taking care of loose ends at the hospital in regards to birth documentation, taking visitors, and sharing in meals provided by caring members of the community at my parents home here in Spring Arbor.

On Friday, as I got into my car to head to the church for the visitation, I did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I turned on my car radio and switched it over from ESPN to a local Christian radio station. The first song that came on was a decade old song by Steven Curtis Chapman. I heard these words that morning:

And the pain falls like a curtain, 
on the things I once called certain
And I have to say the words I fear the most…I just don't know
And the questions without answers,
come and paralyze the dancer
So I stand here on the stage afraid to move, 
afraid to fall, oh, but fall I must
On this truth that my life has been formed from the dust

God is God and I am not, I can only see a part
Of the picture He's painting. God is God and I am man
So, I'll never understand it all; For only God is God

God is God...and I am not. Those words got me through two visitations and the memorial service the following day. For the first time in my life I had an experience with the Peace that Passes All Understanding. I was also starting to understand the message behind life’s not fair…life just is. When I was earning my degree in communication from Spring Arbor back in the early 90s, we had a professor who would always respond to the repeated pleadings of his students cries of “that’s not fair” with the simple phrase, “life’s not fair…life just is.” In looking back on this, nearly 20 years later, I now have eyes to see and ears to hear, and I can hear the story behind the phrase. I had heard his testimony 20 years ago this very month, as he shared about the pain of losing his son before he himself came to know Christ. Now, I can understand the truth of “life’s not fair, life just is.” It takes on a whole different meaning when you’ve lost like that. You see, life isn’t fair. We were never promised fair. Fair is what you get in a fairy tale, not in this life. I had a new appreciation for, a new perspective on “life is not fair…life just is.” But in that unfairness God is still God, and I am not…he is still sovereign…and the story isn’t finished.

As the following days turned into weeks, I would hear Steven Curtis Chapman’s song in my head over and over again. God is God and I am not…and I soon realized that I had a choice to make. As the numbness and the nearness of the loss wore off, as my new reality caved in on me, I had to make a choice. I could sense two options for me to choose from, I could choose to stand with my fist raised asking “why?” and “how could you?” and shouting “this isn’t fair” or I could lay my broken and battered heart at the foot of the cross, crawl into the lap of Jesus, and ask him to carry me through the storm. I chose the route of the broken and battered heart because I didn’t have the strength to wrestle with God or be angry with Him…and I didn’t see any reason to do so. For me the story of Job had already been written. I didn’t need to ask those questions again. I want to make sure you understand that even if I had raised my fist and demanded answers that would likely have never come, that wouldn’t have been the “wrong path.” There are few wrong ways to grieve and for many people part of grief is anger at God. And guess what, He’s big enough to handle that anger…it was just not the path that made sense for me. I found I only had strength enough to ask God to carry me through and to put my hope in the resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. That choice didn’t take the pain away. That choice didn’t alleviate my grief. It doesn’t ease the anxiety when a semi is coming up on me at a stop light, or when I have to drive west on I-94, or every time is snows. It doesn't take away the hurt when I see everyone posting pictures on Facebook of their smiling families, their happy children, and the celebrations of life events I will never get to experience with Sara and Miranda. That choice didn’t put a smile on my face, because life’s not fair, life just is. But...it did change my perspective, and it did open me up to His love, His grace, and His mercy in ways I have never felt before. As I look back on the events of the past 2 years, I can see God’s movement and blessing in my life.

Over the course of the past couple of months, as I have slowly prepared for today, I have been able to see that in the course of my life God has surrounded me with the people who helped me the most during my darkest hour. I have a loving family and together we have clung to the promises of faith. When tragedies like this hit, many families fall apart; but because we were able to turn to God, focusing on His goodness in our time of need, we drew closer. We have cried together, laughed together, and celebrated together the time that we had with our loved ones.

In addition to my immediate family, I have an unusual “extended family.” God has blessed me with six friends from college. These men are not just friends, they are brothers; they are as close as family. My friends did not try to console me with empty words. When we would meet later on, we talked about the weather, life events, and if I wanted to talk about Sara and Miranda, they listened…I now realize they had all been down this road already, and whether they knew it or not their words meant less than their actions. You see, each of my closest friends had experienced either the loss of a parent or a child. They had all already tasted the bitter tears of grief. As I look back today, I can see God’s hand in their actions as they helped me adapt to my new normal. In response to this loss, they did not offer me platitudes of faith, they did not try to console me with their own grief, and they did not abandon me; instead, they offered me their lives and their time. They helped me clean my house. They invited me over for dinner. They put together 12 months of activities as a purposeful attempt to bring our whole group closer together and show their love and support. My friends, without realizing, took the lessons of Job chapter 2 to heart:

“When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was.”
Job 2:11-13 (NIV84)

No one said a word to him…that’s some good advice on how to deal with the bereaved, especially in a tragic loss. It’s advice my friends followed instinctively and it’s advice we would all do well to consider. Over the past two years I have learned that in our rush to console the bereaved, Christians sometimes say the dumbest and most hurtful things to each other and to non-believers. We feel like we HAVE to speak at a time when our mere presence and a hug would be sufficient; this compulsion to open our mouths comes out of a desire to avoid an awkward silence and we end up doing more damage than good. I find this is especially true in the tragic situations of life where both the bereaved and those looking on are left wondering why? When we are all left asking why bad things happen to good people? If we take the time to be silent, to eat a quiet meal with those who suffer, to just sit with them and let them cry when they need to cry and allow them to talk when they want to talk it can change our whole perspective on life and suffering. In one of his sermons dealing with the suffering of creation, John Wesley expressed a belief that suffering exists “by the wise permission of God, determining to draw eternal good out of this temporary evil.” Athol Dickson said essentially the same thing in his book The Gospel According to Moses: What My Jewish Friends Taught Me about Jesus, “I believe sometimes bad things happen to good people so we can watch God turn the greatest tragedies into the purest love.” Life’s not fair…life just is. Through my experiences of the past two years God has opened my eyes and ears and taught me that if we’re busy trying to make ourselves feel better about someone else’s loss, we’re going to miss out on a great opportunity to experience the love of God. Being surrounded by Godly people has gone a long way towards bringing me through “the valley of the shadow of death.” Yet, God has done other things in my life, too.

Being plunged into the depths of despair has a tendency to strip away all the things you think you believe about God and leave you with the truth of what you actually believe about him. In the course of my life, I have memories of being taught the tenets of the Christian faith by people like Oletha Johnston, Donelda Clevenger, Joann Cleveland, Lorain Whiteman, Dave Johnson, Janice Chilcote, Oreon Trickey, Mark Bain, Larry Angus, Carl Spring, Ron Kopico and many, many others. I heard the preaching of three pastors filling this pulpit in my lifetime…not many churches can claim to have only had 3 pastors in a span of 4 decades…yet, for all those people, and the godly messages they brought, I feel like I took the wrong message away…and that’s my fault. I had ears to hear and eyes to see, but my relationship with God was all about me. I spent a significant portion of my life telling God why I wasn’t qualified to serve Him. I couldn’t be the man he needed me to be.

I don’t know about you, but I live in a performance based society. I got good grades as a child to make my parents happy. I got good grades when I was older to earn scholarships. I worked hard at my job so that I could get a raise or a good evaluation. In my relationships with other people I have often “performed” for love and acceptance…and I don’t know about you, but I carried that into my relationship with God.

For most of my life, my relationship with God has been about me trying to please Him. I have spent most of my life traveling a path of good intentions. “God, I want to serve you, but I need to get my life in order first. I need to start reading my Bible every day. I need to start praying every day. I need to stop swearing when I stub my toe or hit my thumb with a hammer. I need to get out and exercise more to take care of your temple. I need to do this and I need to stop doing that because there’s no possible way you could love me or want to use me until I can clean this up and cross that chasm that exists between us.” I’ve been focused on looking at the mess that is my life, the life I see, not necessarily the life the public sees, and in that focus Christ is somewhere over there. I have lived my life thinking that my job, my duty, was to get rid of all the bad things in my life…I had a lot of work to do if I wanted to appear spotless when I reached my judgment. I was stuck in the last 10 verses of Romans 7. The problem with that way of thinking is that I fail, a lot. I can’t be perfect, not matter how hard I try. But it was what I kept thinking I had to be, and it kept me from having a growing relationship with God.

Last June, I finally went through some counseling. I had reached a point of realizing that even though I was working through my grief in mostly good and healthy ways I had other issues that needed to be dealt with. I scheduled myself for a 4 day, one-on-one counseling retreat with a Godly couple, Jerry and Denise, who run a faith based counseling ministry out of their home in Georgia. I flew down thinking I needed to work on some anger and other relationship issues. By the end of my first day with them, those issues had been put on the back burner. Jerry and Denise had quickly cut through the mustard and made me realize that my bigger issue was putting my trust in God, trusting in His grace. I didn’t understand it, it wasn’t part of my life, and it wasn’t part of my relationship with Him. I understood the concept that grace meant receiving something I didn’t deserve and that mercy meant I didn’t get what I had coming to me, but I had never really figured out how that worked in my life.

It turns out I’m a little bit of a control freak. I don’t like not feeling 100% in control. Jerry and Denise spent the next three days guiding me toward the Father. Helping me strip away my presuppositions about who He is, based on my life experiences, setting aside who I thought He was, based on my perceptions of the people in my life, and teaching me that if I’m willing to walk the path of trusting God, the path of God’s grace, the other issues I had been struggling with would be things He would start to take care of. For almost a year and a half I had been grieving with the hope of the resurrection, but I hadn’t REALLY learned how to make that hope part of my own life. I still struggle with this, and will for the rest of my life. Giving up control is not natural, it’s not what my humanness desires, but I have finally learned that giving Him control, living in His grace, allowing Him to wrap his arms around me and stand beside me is the only way I’ll make it through life. He is here, standing beside me, looking at the mess of my life with me, and promising that He will carry me through the minefield.

The last thing I want to share with you today is how hope, and my journey of grief, have impacted the way I live. The biggest thing I have learned about the hope of the resurrection is that salvation is for today. It’s not just fire insurance. The hope of the resurrection changes how I interact with the world around me. It puts a whole new spin on “thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” The hope of the resurrection is for right here, right now, it is for every single little moment I live in. Grief has opened my eyes to how much pain exists in the world around me…the hope of the resurrection gives me the power to do something about it. The hope of the resurrection causes me to pick up hitchhikers and drive them an hour out of my way just to make sure they’re safe and to have an opportunity to pray with them. That might not be the wisest thing for some of you, but I tend to feel pretty safe around the rest of you puny humans. The hope of the resurrection directs me to invite the guy at the corner of Boardman and Airport Roads to get in my car and let me take him grocery shopping and then drive him back to his apartment, instead of making him walk, so the two kids he’s trying to feed can have some food.  The hope of the resurrection shows me that it is the small day to day opportunities that most of us let pass by that really would be doing His will here on earth.

In January, God worked through Pastor Mark and brought us a great series about generosity. As the end of the month came around, a little more than two weeks before the second anniversary of the birth of my daughter and the accident that took her and her mother from me, I was struggling to come up with ways to remember Miranda. I wanted to find something special to do for her birthday. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that as I was driving to church on January 27, on a day when Pastor Mark was preaching about the Liturgy of Abundance, I got the idea that the best way to remember my daughter would be to do something special for other people…and The Miranda Gift was born.

I created an event and invited my family and friends to it. The next thing I knew they were inviting their friends to it. By February 5, over 1,700 people had been invited and nearly 500 said they were going to participate. On a day when grief could have beat me up, sent me back to bed, and left me waiting for February 6, God provided a way for the hope of the resurrection to triumph over the grave. I spent my day running errands and looking for the perfect opportunities to hand out my own Miranda gifts. Instead of tears, God had given me purpose. Instead of pain, He was giving me joy. The hope of the resurrection was offering beauty for ashes. When I got home that afternoon, I logged onto Facebook and the reality of God’s greatness came flooding in as I saw examples of people reaching out and offering something to complete strangers all over the country.

The world inside Facebook saw a woman in Jackson who had gone to East Side Meijer to cash in her spare change in order to help make ends meet. With her last few pennies she was treating her 3-year-old daughter to a ride on the horse at the front of the store when she received a Miranda Gift. She took her daughter to the toy department and let her pick out a tricycle. The rest of the money helped them with their other needs.

There was the cashier at a store in the mall who was given a Miranda Gift to hand out to the next person who came up to the counter to buy something. One of you was that person; you shared the story of Sara and Miranda with that clerk and asked her to give it to someone else. You posted about the encounter without even knowing what the Miranda Gift was. Later the clerk you had given the gift back to posted on Facebook, telling her part in the story, and the joy she had found in handing the gift to a young mother pushing a stroller through the mall. That young mother posted on Facebook when she got home, her sons birthday was the next day and she was overwhelmed with the generosity and blessings of others.

There was a father who received a card while pumping gas; the woman whose daughter brought a card with a gift certificate home from school; the mother whose son had found a card in his school locker; the woman at Target who found a card had mysteriously appeared in her shopping cart; the parents of the babies born at Allegiance Hospital on February 5th; the person who saw a friend post on Facebook about receiving a Miranda gift, and then started sharing the event with their friends; the young mom at Airport Road Meijer who was handed a gift as she was checking out and then proceeded to head back out once she got home and figured out what was going on so she could give a Miranda Gift to someone, too…hope, handed from one hand to another; hope given freely and without expectation.  And you know what I learned…there is VICTORY in the hope of the resurrection.

I want you want to take you back to my professor from college. “Life’s not fair, life just is” wasn’t the end of the story. He had another catch phrase, I’ll never forget, and somehow I never made the connection between “ life’s not fair, life just is” and his question of greeting, “You got the victory?” When he asked, I would always answer in the affirmative, no different than if he’d asked if I was having a good day. I now see the question behind the question, “Do you have the hope of the resurrection?” Folks, there’s victory in hope. “You got the Victory?” isn’t about my day…it’s about my soul. I get that now and I better understand the way he ended many of his conversations, “Keep the Victory.” Life’s not fair, life just is. BUT there is VICTORY in the hope of the resurrection.

And that VICTORY can be overwhelming. The hope of the resurrection is what pulls me back and allows me to get out of my pew most Sundays after I listen to Pastor  Mark bring us God’s words. Have you ever seen Schindler’s List? I was a big deal about 20 years ago. It was a movie about the Holocaust and one man’s role in saving some of the Jews from Hitler’s genocide. At the end of the movie, the main character, Oskar Schindler, is preparing to flee in fear of his life. He is standing outside the factory where he saved 1,100 Jews from certain death by employing them. These people of little means, present him with a gold ring, made from the fillings and crowns in their own teeth. In a time when Oskar Schindler should be raising his arms in celebration of the 1,100 lives he has saved, he breaks down. He is overwhelmed at the thought of all those who he did not save. His last scenes in the movie are of him sobbing uncontrollably realizing he could have used his wealth and power to save even one more person. Folks, I have that moment sitting right here in this sanctuary almost every Sunday. I am so overwhelmed by the grace of God and the hope of the resurrection that I can’t help but feel like I wasted a significant portion of my life. I wasn’t living in sin, I just wasn’t living in the grace of God with the hope of the resurrection.

The hope of the resurrection calls me to serve my fellow man, to be Jesus in human skin. Here I am, at the age of 41, climbing out of the miry clay, out of the pitch black dark of grief and I’m finally starting to understand the full extent of the power of God’s grace and the hope of the resurrection. Life’s not fair, life just is. But there is Victory in the hope found in Jesus Christ.

My testimony is that I live with the hope of the resurrection, a hope born of the Grace of God. I live with the promise that my daughter and wife are rejoicing in Heaven, worshipping the Living God with the angels and all those who have gone before. I live with the promise that they are made whole, recreated, resurrected with perfected physical bodies, as God fully intended them to be. I live knowing that I, and all those who believe, will join them in that resurrection when our time here is through. I live knowing that my only responsibility is to lay my brokenness at the feet of Jesus every day and say here I am Lord, use me in whatever way you see fit. That is my testimony.
Life’s not fair, life just is…but do YOU have the Victory?

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen. 
1 Peter 5:10-11 (NIV)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

April 21

Well, I'm not gonna lie, school is kicking my butt. I find I'm struggling (but still getting A's) with two areas:

  1. Time management - this is something I have never really mastered in my life. I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator anyway but I also tend to get overwhelmed if I spend too much time staring at the big picture, which causes me to lose focus and get sidetracked on minor issues.
  2. Internet brain - back in February, I posted about how the internet is changing the way our brains work in regards to learning...at least for those of us who use the internet regularly. School means a big transition back to reading books...lots of books...and I'm finding that the neural pathways which help turn academic reading into academic learning have suffered a bit of atrophy over the past 15 years. This makes it difficult to sit down and focus on learning for any length of time (more than about 10 minutes) without the learned impulse to check email, Facebook, text messages, etc., etc. kicking in. I typically find myself spending 6 hours in the library trying to accomplish 3 to 4 hours of work. I am carefully evaluating the means necessary to overcome this and think a Facebook blackout might be on the near horizon. I'm not too bad with email and I don't have enough people texting me to make that a real issue...my biggest problem is Facebook. It both consumes a lot of time and the way it is designed contributes to the atrophy of the pathways needed for book learning'. Ultimately, this issue has the biggest impact on item #1.
I know I will make it through the semester and probably have my best academic showing ever...it's just mentally exhausting. I'm starting to think I need to put a nice 3 to 5 day excursion on my calendar for May to get away once exam week is done.

In other news, and the main reason for this post, I have been invited to share my testimony during both services at the Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church on Sunday, April 21. Many of you have been praying for me, encouraging me, and lifting me up over the past two years and I sincerely appreciate that. If you're in the area, feel free to come to either the 9:00AM or 11:15AM service and listen in person. If you live out of town and would live to watch or listen, set your alarm and head over to the church website where both services are streamed live and can be listened to later in the archive at the Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church online.

I'm anxious and nervous and ask that those of you who pray ask God to speak His love through me and through my life on April 21.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Justice, Mercy, and Humility

It's spring break, which means I have a least as much homework to do as I would if it wasn't spring break...d'oh. Two chapters to read for one class , 140+ pages for another, two chapters for an online class that starts on Monday, discussion board postings,  a 6 to 8 page mid-term exam to write...it's already Wednesday, I guess should get working on this stuff.

In one of my classes the discussion board assignment for the week is to read the prophetic text of Micah 6:8. We are supposed to use our imagination to write a short essay on what our church/community or institution might be like if this text were its motto.

Here is Micah 6:8 in parallel:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (NRSV)

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (NIV)

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (NLT)

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously. (MSG)

My thoughts on Justice, Mercy, and Humility

What would my church look like if Micah 6:8 was its motto?

A church where people do justice, act justly, do what is right, and do what is fair and just would be a church where those who are poor, oppressed, and/or wronged not only feel welcome, but feel like they have a purpose. A church where the needs of others come before our own needs. A church where those who have wronged and/or oppressed are welcomed, too (see mercy, kindness, and compassion)--a community of forgiveness and healing.

A church where people love kindness, love mercy, and are compassionate and loyal would be a church where a person's wrongs are not held against them. Instead they would feel compelled, by love and forgiveness, to right whatever wrongs they can. It would be a church where those who feel lost feel found. It would be a church where those who feel unloved would feel true love, God's love, through God's people. It would be a place where unkind words have no place. A church where correction is offered with gentleness and respect, saving judgement for God.

A church where people walk humbly with their God and take God seriously would be a church where people are encouraged to live a life of trusting God instead of trying to please God. It would be a church that understands that we approach the grace of the cross with nothing to offer but our brokenness; there is nothing we can do or say to make God love us more than He already does. It would be a church where people understand their brokenness--mental, physical, and spiritual--and know that God's greatest desire is that we offer that brokenness to Him so that He can make us whole and His glory will shine through His people.

What would my church look like if Micah 6:8 was its motto? Not just as a motto but the philosophy of lifestyle behind every thought and action of the members of the church? I think it would be a place that people would flock to in droves.

Humility is also about acknowledging that these are MY thoughts on the passage. That doesn't mean they are your thoughts.

The more I learn about the Bible, faith, and my God the less complex I want my faith to be (and the less I seem to know.) Instead of coming up with lists of do's and don'ts, I'm trying to learn to ask myself a more simple question: Does this bring glory to God? If the answer is no, don't do it. If the answer is yes, do it with justice, mercy, and humility.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Side Note

There is still snow on the north facing roof of my well insulated house. My yard is covered in a blanket a couple inches deep. It's 42 degrees outside. Technically, spring is still almost two weeks away...but for me, today is THE day.

It's sunny, a warm the earth kind of sunny.
People are driving around with their windows down; some just a crack, others all the way down.
A few brave souls are out in shorts and t-shirts (it's how some of us roll.)
Drivers are willing to wait in line for 30 minutes, or more, for a trip through the car wash.

For me, today is the first day that Spring really seems like a coming reality. Today has the emotional impact of the scene in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when meadow gets slushy, the green and colorful things start poking up through the snow, and the animals all realize...ASLAN IS BACK!

The world feels different today...better...more alive...fresher. It's that day when you want to open all your windows and doors but the small voice in the back of your head assures you that it's not quite time for that yet...but soon!

It's the day when those of us who have spent our lives in the "snowbelt" realize that there's probably one more big snow storm left, probably on Easter weekend, but it won't stay long and it will signify that Winter's back is broken and life will be oozing out all around us for the next few weeks.

Yes, today is that day, for me, here in Jackson, Michigan. If you're in the "snowbelt" I hope you have that day soon, if you haven't already.