All Joy//No Fun

It has been a while since I’ve posted here. One of my goals for the new year is to get back into a rhythm of blogging.

So we begin with a new reflection on parenting. Since the last time I posted anything both of our kids had birthdays, and so we now have a 3-year old and a 1-year old. Which is crazy. Where did the time go.

Anytime I think about parenting I think about the title from Jennifer Senior’s excellent book.

Some people freak out about this title because it feels sacrilegious to question being a parent at any level. Others roll their eyes in a jaded, sort of, “tell-me-something-I-don’t-know” way.

I find most parents, especially of younger kids, tend to go to one of these extremes. Happy-to-be-doing-this roboticness, or totally unsubtle resentment that these little people have robbed them of their “old life.”

Is there a better way to hold the tension?

Parenting is certainly not “no fun.” I have so much fun with my kids. Especially now that they are able to do a lot more and play and jump and talk (well more so the older than the younger, but they are both very interactive in their own ways).

But it is hard.

Our youngest has had a much more difficult time with teething than the older and I’ve spent a few midnight moments in the kitchen trying to rock him to sleep with the help of the humming refrigerator. Precious moments in some ways, but not exactly fun.

Discipline: incredibly important, but not a hoot!

Parenting is also not “all joyful.” There are some painful moments of recognizing one’s own selfishness and broken patterns of behavior.

There are painful moments of seeing those patterns show up in your kids.

There are painful moments of seeing selfish and broken patterns show up in your kids that you know didn’t come from you. They’re just there.

There’s an incredible potential in these tiny humans to break our hearts and if you have any kind of imagination you can see that potential early on.

And yet, there is so much joy. Dessert Friday. Visiting Grammy and Papa and G. Going to the park. Playing catch. Jumping Jacks. Reading books. Dinner together. When the oldest disobeys and then says to you: “Daddy, I want to be in right relationship.”

Live with that paradox parents. The old life is gone, this is a new stage, a new season. And it’s messy and frustrating and thrilling and boring and good.

And it will be transformative, if you let it.

The Gift of Good Words

I am absolutely convinced, as an avid reader, that books find me more than I find them. They find me in all sorts of ways (Amazon’s crazy algorithms, word of mouth, browsing a good bookstore), but they are finding me a lot, these days, through the recommendations of my wife.

A book she shared with me that has been speaking to us in this time of moving and transition is Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. The book is a meditation on change: change that comes through loss and pain and gaining and growing.

Her words have been a good gift to us.

Here’s some fun words about California:

I have a thing for California, possibly because the four years I lived there during college were the wildest and most disorienting years, punctuated by some of the sweetest moments in all my life. Possibly because California, both in its geography and its personality, is so many worlds away from the Midwest that just being there makes the world feel bigger. I love California for its otherness…

Amen.

Many of the life events she reflects on, miscarriage, parenting, leaving a church/church job, finding new community, moving “home,” are very similar to the big things we’ve been through in the last 3 years.

Sometimes there’s only so much processing you can do on your own, and you need someone else’s words to express what you’ve been through. Or, you just need to read and know that someone else has been through the same thing and felt the same things you’ve felt.

Anne Lamott says the best sermon is: “Me too.”

And in all the truthiness of that thought, Bittersweet has been the best kind of sermon for us at this season of life. I resonate deeply with this:

I wanted for this bittersweet season to be over. I felt so strongly…I’d be free to move into another season, one of life and celebration. But this is what I know: they’re the same thing, and that’s all there is. The most bittersweet season of my life so far is still life, still beautiful, still sparkling with celebration. There is no one or the other, as desperately as I want that to be true. This season wasn’t bittersweet. Life itself is bittersweet. There’s always life and death, always beauty and blood…Life after death…I’ll celebrate the resurrection of Christ with everything in me this year, pleading for a resurrection inside my own battered heart as well.

Experts, Critical Thinking, and Naps

“The immediate access to information that Wikipedia, Google, Bing, and other Internet tools provide has created a new problem that few of us are trained to solve, and this has to be our collective mission in training the next generation of citizens. This has to be what we teach our children: how to evaluate the hordes of information that are out there, to discern what is true and what is not, to identify biases and half-truths, and to know how to be critical, independent thinkers. In short, the primary mission of teachers must shift from the dissemination of raw information to training a cluster of mental skills that revolve around critical thinking. And one of the first and most important lessons that should accompany this shift is an understanding that there exist in the world experts in many domains who know more than we do. They should not be trusted blindly, but their knowledge and opinions, if they pass certain tests of face validity and bias, should be held in higher regard than those who lack specialized training. The need for education and the development of expertise has never been greater. One of the things that experts spend a great deal of time doing is figuring out which sources of information are credible and which are not, and figuring out what they know versus what they don’t know. And these two skills are perhaps the most important things we can teach our children in this post-Wikipedia, post-Google world. What else? To be conscientious and agreeable. To be tolerant of others. To help those less fortunate than they. To take naps.”

– Daniel J. Levitan The Organized Mind  

It Does Happen

One of M’s new lines is “it does happen.”

As in, Daddy is walking through the kitchen and drops his cookie on the ground and begins to grumble under his breath. At which point, M swoops in, pats me on the back, and says:

It does happen.”

This weekend as we’ve reflected on Good Friday I was reminded in many ways that “it does happen.”
Sin, death, heartbreak, tragedy, dysfunction, deterioration, on and on it goes.
It does happen.

Yesterday morning, Easter Sunday, I was reminded that even while “it does happen,” something else is happening too.

Resurrection.

Sometimes blindingly, amazingly, obviously.
Most of the time, though, in a million tiny, mundane ways.
In the sacrificial hands of a good servant,
in the kind words of a wise friend,
in bread and wine,
in rain on Easter morning.

You can see it if you have the eyes: new life bursting forth right here and right now.

That’s the next step for M as she grows in wisdom.

Step one: recognize that it does happen.
Step two: develop the eyes to see another reality.
To hold Good Friday and Easter Sunday in a healthy tension.
And to know and believe in resurrection.

Donald Miller on Parenting

“It’s funny what happens to you when part of your heart gets born inside somebody else.

God doesn’t give us crying, pooping children because he wants to advance our careers. He gives them to us for the same reason he confused language at the Tower of Babel, to create chaos and deter us from investing too much energy in the gluttonous idols of self-absorption.”

-from Scary Close

Check Your Mouth

I had the opportunity to share some thoughts on words at a church in California last weekend. Words have been on mind.

Which is partly why I find the following to be so fascinating:

Our two-year old daughter is growing more and more verbal with each passing day, but still struggles to fully express herself, the way that toddlers struggle with their emerging vocabularies. It can be frustrating at times. Super cute at others. And, incredible enlightening as well.

For example, whenever Marina is struggling with her attitude, or obedience, or just general human politeness we will ask her:

“Where are your manners?”

Or,

“Where is your happy heart?”

And she will point to her tongue and say: “Mouth.”

This, as I mentioned, is super cute. It is also deeply profound.

In fact, I think there is a proverb about this: [I actually enjoy the King James version here.]

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” [Pr. 4:23]

I also think Jesus had something to say about this:

“…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:45]

Many times we are asked to examine our hearts. And this is a good and worthwhile practice. But, perhaps we also need to examine our words. Because our words reveal what is in our hearts.

So what are you talking about? What are you complaining about? What are you dwelling on? What subject can you never drop? What conversation do you always find yourself in? Are your words bringing life and joy and peace, or death and frustration?

Where is your happy heart? Check your mouth!

Happy Birthday!

Marina turns two today which, among other things, serves as the proverbial, cliched reminder that time does, indeed fly. Today I hit pause for a moment to reflect on two years of parenthood.

The first thing I would like say by way of observation is that nothing has been more disruptive to my life than becoming a parent. College was a time of transitioning and developing. Post-college brought new adulty realities into my life. Moving to Colorado to plant a church required a different level of growing up. And then marriage and moving to Boston accelerated the maturity process in all kinds of new ways.

But, nothing has been more disruptive than fatherhood.

The second thing I want to say is that this disruption has proven to be one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

I say this because parenting has challenged me, has stretched me, has disrupted my selfishness and self-centeredness like nothing else. Nothing has revealed the dark parts of my soul quite as brightly as parenting.

I used to roll my eyes when my dad would say things to this effect. And certainly, I know many single people (or non-parents) who are incredibly mature and are light-years ahead of me in terms of character development.

I also want to say that I know many people who for whatever reasons are unable to have kids. Having experienced some challenges with fertility ourselves, I can also say that that challenge is every bit as forming as having kids. Maybe more so.

But, for me, and for many people I’ve talked to and pestered with questions, I understand like never before how important parenting is to becoming a mature adult with a character that has been tested and refined in the crucible of poop and fatigue and disciplining and trying to reason with a tiny, emotional human being.

God, I believe, gives us children to make us more like him.

Now, I know also know many people who had poor parental examples. I know and have heard so many stories of parenting done poorly. I know that simply reproducing doesn’t make you a better person.

But it does reveal what’s there unlike anything else. Some people look at what is revealed and choose to ignore it, run away from it, or deny it.

But if the revelation is embraced it can bring transformation. This I have also seen personally and in the lives of countless friends and family who have become incredibly beautiful people through embracing the challenges of parenting.

The last thing I would like to say, is that beyond life lessons and maturing, I am simply grateful for Marina. At two years old she is already a remarkable person, and we love discovering more about her all the time.

Happy Birthday, Kiddo! We love you!

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Getting Used to Joy

Greg Boyle writes: “Delighting is what occupies God, and God’s hope is that we join in. That God’s joy may be in us and this may be complete. We just happen to be God’s joy. That takes some getting used to.”

—–

A common theme of this blog has turned out to be joy: losing it, finding it, maintaining it.

Some things that rob me of joy:
Car maintenance (and the cost thereof)
Fixing gadgets (and the cost thereof)

Especially the car. I love driving and I appreciate the opportunities a car affords, but I hate affording the car. It makes me grumpy and joyless in no time at all.

——

We read to our daughter from The Jesus storybook Bible every night. Some would say this is not a “real” Bible, but it is God’s word to us more often than not. I’m not sure how much Marina gets out of it, but I am cut to the heart almost every time we read.

Without fail, it seems, we come across a section called “The Singer” whenever I begin to worry about money, fundraising, our car, something that needs to be fixed, our budget, you name it. Without fail.

The Singer is essentially the sermon on the mount, with a special focus on Jesus’ admonition to “not worry”.

Conviction via the children’s Bible.

—–

I met with a student who graduated recently yesterday and she said, in the middle of pontificating on many things, a sort of off-handed comment: “when was the last time you were really surprised by something? I don’t want to lose my ability to be surprised.”

We got Marina some new silverware and bibs, and she got to try them out a few days ago. Her face lit up like Taylor Swift winning a Grammy.

Pure joy.
Total Surprise.
Joining in God’s delight.

Marina has an ability to be surprised, to not worry about stuff, and to delight that continues to rub the edges off my hard heart.

Those things that rob you of joy: conflict, cars, computer, whatever it might be, name them, but don’t allow them to kill your ability to be surprised, to delight.

We happen to be God’s joy. Get used to it.

Reality, Grace, Obedience [part 2]

I have a friend who has a daughter a few months older than Marina. He told me recently that they have started spanking. I know this day is coming for us, and so I asked how it was going.

My friend told me spanking is hard, but, in a strange way, his daughter draws closer to him afterwards. It might take a few moments, but post-spanking there is more affection, hugs, and snuggling than before.

Interesting.

—–

Our community group spent some time in conversation around the story in I Samuel 15 where King Saul blows it and essentially loses his Kingdom (which will eventually be turned over to David).

Saul is supposed to defeat an enemy and keep nothing (no slaves, no cattle, no good stuff). Saul does go on a rampage but he decides to take the enemy king alive and bring back all that is good (cattle and sheep and whatever else he liked).

The prophet Samuel shows up after this and asks Saul how it went. Saul tells Samuel everything went really well. And Samuel, brilliantly, asks “What is this bleating of sheep in my ears?”

I love this question. It is a reminder to me that I need Samuel’s in my life to ask the obvious question.

Sometimes we need people around us to just say: “Hey, I know you keep saying everything is fine and you are handling it, but I see this and this (I hear sheep bleating) and it doesn’t add up to ‘doing great.’ What’s the real story?”

—–

Grace is fundamental to the Christian worldview. Without God’s grace the world ceases to exist.

But, I find that many, many people misunderstand grace. Grace is not opposed to making wise decisions, maturity, or doing hard, unpleasant things.

Grace is actually what makes wisdom and maturity possible.

Back to Saul. After he realizes he screws up, he begs Samuel to come with him, make a sacrifice for him, and essentially bail him out of his trouble.

Samuel says, “No.”

God says, through Samuel: Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

My very human interpretation of this is: “Hey dude, if you had just done the right thing, the first time, we wouldn’t need to do all this work to make up for it.”

Grace is the fundamental reality that we don’t need to live in anxiety. That our identity and destiny are set.

But grace is not opposed to saying: “There is something better. You can do better.”

—–

Reality, obedience, grace.

I understand these words so much more as a parent. I don’t want to punish my daughter. But she has to learn, grow, and mature. It’s vital to her survival, and, more importantly, to her ability to thrive and excel at life.

So, is climbing the bookshelf the biggest deal in the world? Not really at one level (although if she continues to climb, she will fall and she will get hurt).

On another level, though, this is part of the process: learning what is in bounds and out-of-bounds, and, here’s the main point, learning the importance of obedience. Learning to trust.

When she screws up I want her to know that she is forgiven, and nothing about my love for her or her identity is ever in question.

But, I also don’t want her stuck in an endless cycle of “sacrifice.” I want her to mature and make decisions that are wise.

Because there are consequences to the choices we make. Grace certainly covers our sin, but it doesn’t eliminate the consequences of our decisions.

Grace calls us to be better, to grow, to mature.

So, a couple of questions:

  1. Are you stuck in a cycle of sacrifice?
  2. Who is your Samuel?
  3. Are you living in reality?

All Wounds and No Scars (Thoughts on A Culture of Grievance)

The title (all wounds/no scars) comes from Erwin McManus’s new book The Artisan Soul, and sums up perfectly some thoughts that have been brewing for a while. Also, what follows is, in many ways, a follow-up to my last post, so check that out if you haven’t seen it.

One of the great gifts of post-modernity has been the resurgence in the importance of story. I have found thinking about the elements of story, seeing my life as a story, and even reading scripture (and doing theology) from a narrative perspective to be immensely helpful.

But, there is a dark side to the elevation of story. That dark side manifests itself in all sorts of ways: from social media/selfie narcissism to an agenda based hybridization of the gospel (a tactic used by those on the left and the right both politically and theologically).

In other words, stories are important, and thinking narratively is helpful, but when your story becomes THE story, we are right back at the same old problem we’ve always had.

We are not the hero of The story.

When we are the hero of the story, life is all about us and what we have experienced, and we end up with a culture of grievance.

Let me give you an example. In liberation theology, much good work has been done to bring the stories of the oppressed to light. But when getting the story out is the ultimate goal, or if expressing my story and all the pain I’ve experienced is the end, we don’t leave a lot of room for Jesus to work. It might be a gnarly story, and it might make a great movie, but if there’s no resurrection there’s no life.

To use the parenting example from the previous post: both examples of parenting stances I cited end up making the child the Hero. So, let me say it again: we (nor our children) are the hero of The story.

What’s fascinating to me about all of this, is that when we make discipleship in the way of Jesus about causes or projects…when we reduce parenting (or governing, or leading, or anything) to an either/or paradigm of rules vs. total freedom…we commit the worst mistake of the Pharisees.

The Pharisees are these characters in the story of Jesus who get a bad reputation for rule-sticklers and judgmental (which they deserve, and which, as we have seen, both miss the point completely). But, if you read the stories of Jesus you will notice a phrase pop up from time to time: wanting to justify themselves (see Luke 16:15 for an example).

The real problem of the Pharisees wasn’t being judgmental, it was wanting to justify themselves.

And this is the danger of story. We end up creating stories that seek only to justify ourselves.

Which is the antithesis of the gospel, the good news that Jesus does the justifying for us.

McManus writes that there are two kinds of “uninteresting people”: those who have never suffered, and those who have suffered and that suffering is all they know.

He writes: “They are trapped in their pain; they wallow in their despair; they are all wounds and no scarsAll they can talk about is their pain.”

It is good to tell our stories. It is good to share our pain and experiences.

But may we move past our suffering and our stoires to something deeper and more beautiful.

“These are the most compelling people: the ones who have overcome tragedy and found beauty; the ones who have drowned in despair but found hope; the ones who should have forever remained trapped in this rubble of their failures and yet found courage and resolve to rise from the dead.