restraining my judgments: pandemic version

A few days ago I found myself at a new park, Calabazas, a city park in Cupertino just south of Apple’s famed headquarters.

I had been up since just after 6am with our two rowdy preschool boys. Having already coached them through a short hike at a nature preserve, this was my second stop of the day. My face held the emotional and physical exhaustion from the full day with the littles; my forehead was a knot.

As we explored the park, a small remote controlled vehicle approached, followed by a man. From behind his mask, he appeared to be within a few years of my age. Soon, another man appeared, manning the controls of another dust-spewing vehicle.

Naturally, the boys were fascinated. What 3 or 5 year old kid wouldn’t be?

I had to make sure the boys didn’t get hit; the vehicles were fairly large. As I coached the boys on avoiding them, I also had to explain that they needed to stay in a certain area – an island made up of a large tree and its roots. There was some struggle for them to listen, but for the most part we seemed to be getting along ok, the boys happily watching the small trucks as they sped around, tumbling over rocks, hopping over berms.

There was some mumbling, a sense of discontent that I began to pick up from the two men. As another joined, I could hear a few of the complaints. They were unsure whether to speak directly to me or confront my kids, but internally I realized they felt some claim over this place and that we had unknowingly impinged on a remote controlled ritual.

“Buddy, come on, that’s the only jump in the neighborhood!” one of the drivers said brusquely through his face mask, barely looking my direction. This was the first comment that clearly marked out their position.

“I understand” was my terse response.

Walking down to where the boys were, I let them know it might be a good idea to find a new place to play. It was dusty, loud, and I was feeling the awkwardness of getting in the way of their fun, their afternoon activity – driving little remote controlled cars.

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As I walked out with Silas and Maelin, part of me was still perturbed at the man’s comment. The one jump in the neighborhood? Really? Glancing around, I noticed countless places to drive the little vehicles – and we were there first! For heaven’s sake, it’s virus season and I have three kids to raise, a marriage to maintain, and a full time job.

You’re a grown man driving a remote controlled car, and you can’t let a tired dad soak in the afternoon with his kids without verbally staving him away from your precious racetrack? 

Amidst those thoughts, I tried to imagine their situation. What are their lives like? And what is their experience amidst the pandemic?

Maybe, even though this clearly isn’t the only jump in the neighborhood, it’s the best one. 

Maybe rc cars is the primary – or only way – these guys connect as friends. 

Maybe they have no idea what it’s like to raise kids. 

Maybe they’re fighting depression, anxiety. 

Maybe they’re single.

Maybe.  

I could be totally off. Maybe they’re just jerks. But whatever made that guy want to come take over my spot at the park, they had a high value for driving their little cars.

COVID-19 related challenges also fit squarely into this interaction at Calabazas Park. If those gentlemen do indeed lead single lives, the pressures [and joys] of parenting are simply unknown to them. If my experience is, in fact, entirely outside theirs, no wonder there is confusion.

My faith tells me I’m supposed to bear with other people’s burdens. It’s right there in Galatians chapter six, go look it up. In this case, I found myself the one who needed to assess the needs of the car guys and parent accordingly.

One chapter earlier in Galatians, Paul speaks to how we can sum up God’s call on us with one simple concept: loving others as we love ourselves. Jesus takes it a step further and calls us to love even our enemies. 

Enemy love was the tipping point for me, but my spiritual guides leave me with no excuse, so I yield [even if I’m a bit resistant as I do!].

Drive on, remote controlled car guys.

***

 

 

 

5 Lessons the Pandemic is Teaching Me

Not many of us were planning on waiting out a pandemic, but here we are. And here’s what I am learning.

1. No person is an island [even in quarantine]

The illustrious English poet John Donne penned these words several hundred years ago. The exact phraseology fit with the time but is no less striking all these centuries later: “no man is an island entire of itself.”

Paul wrote to the church in Rome, …none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 

Ultimately, we belong to God. And God has entrusted us to one another, each of us with different roles to play.

It’s impossible not to witness the myriad ways we depend on one another for virtually everything. Several weeks ago I discovered, to my delight, that Jester D, a garbageman who has taken to Twitter, was honestly and defiantly letting the world know how he was sticking to his post, continuing his job, serving his city.

Everyone supports this kind of dedication. In the same way, we are all noticing how much we depend on the stockers, managers, and cashiers at our local grocery stores; our nurses and doctors; our mail delivery people; our church communities; our pastors; our families and dear friends.

My prayer and hope is that the pandemic we are experiencing allows us to humble ourselves, practice gratitude for all people and all things, and establish new patterns of interdependence that we needed all along – though we mightn’t have known.

2. Being a good neighbor really counts [and not just when things are rough!]

It’s hard to list the support my family and I have received over the past six weeks. Of course some of the care was because of Junia’s entrance into our family, but much of it was strictly virus-related.

Suddenly the topography of human relationships matters just a little more. 

I have imagined what it might be like months or years from now if a pandemic were to hit the planet but with a higher casualty rate. What if human lives on the planet were taken not in the tens of thousands but in the tens of millions? What if economies were not only challenged or shaken, but leveled entirely?

On a podcast I listened to a few days ago, the guest – a survivalist – shared how his fellow survivalists maintain a saying that seems to promote zeal for their cause: “America is 9 meals away from anarchy.” That’s about what we have in the fridge right now, to be honest, and beyond that we depend on farmers, grocers, truck drivers, and everyone else in the supply chain. If things got desperate, the scenario could be really frightening.

These awful thoughts occasionally haunt me.

At the same time, there is much to celebrate. Supply chains are holding steady [though on a personal note, I still haven’t found toilet paper], people are getting creative, and there are some good signs of resiliency coming into view.

However the pandemic is playing out for us, the place we live has become all the more important. Neighbors have become vital – much more so than before. I pray and hope this becomes a new normal, especially for those of us with a stubborn sense of independence [read: me].

3. Being informed is good [binging on news is not]

That pretty much says it all. It’s easy to scroll away through articles and social media feeds. We are all looking for answers, for hope, for an end to this strange quarantined existence.

My mom said it this way: “I haven’t kept up with the news as much recently. I mean, I can’t change anything!” 

True, mom. At the same time, she is making a difference!

She and my dad are doing all the same things any other responsible person is doing: hand washing, masks, distancing practices, limited trips, only the essentials. That’s what most of us are doing.

And the sum of our efforts, we pray and hope, is making a difference.

Watching the news is helpful to the extent that we gain information about how to care for our neighbors. Beyond that, it can become an obsession, and it can lead to anxiety and unhelpful fears. It can even be, simply, an unhelpful distraction.

Get the facts, and get on with your best life possible right now.

4. Good parenting seems about 1000% as important as before [and every minute is an opportunity to grow]

I have had several bad moments recently, moments of impatience with my sons. There are some big ways I can improve my parenting, before the pandemic – but more so in the present, since there is even more time with the littles.

My wife has really impressed me with her skills. She has all three kids on her own several days every week, allowing me to quarantine in my office and crush the work I have to do.

What I am doing isn’t terribly complicated. I’m listening to Kaile’s insights, breathing deeply, getting down at their level, putting a hand on their arm as I speak to them, using some Love and Logic ideas, and making sure they know my rules are for their good.

There are lots of moments when I hear myself wonder – almost out loud – whether things will suddenly click, fall into place, work out. It’s when they’re both crying, when they run out of the gate against my order, when things are rough. Other moments are quite the opposite – an unexpected kiss on the cheek from Silas, a special toy or drawing that Maelin makes for me. There is a lot of good to celebrate.

I am doing my best to follow through and be consistent, and trying to have fun. I love my littles a lot, and parenting strategies are all the more useful during this unprecedented time we are experiencing.

The parenting strategies help me love them more.

5. Grace is more important than ever [for myself as much as for others]

God’s grace seems exceptionally generous right now.

Whatever failures, foibles, sins large or small, God forgives. Jesus showed up on planet earth and took grace so seriously that he was willing to die to ransom us from evil [see the New Testament!].

Of course this doesn’t mean we abuse the grace – by no means! Grace leads us to gratitude, and gratitude leads us to action. It’s a response.

But back to grace.

As many of us come up against the limits of our own resiliency, it is family and friends and God who often grant us grace.

Yet there is also the need for we ourselves to accept the grace.

Too often we know, cerebrally, that there’s grace. But we don’t always grant ourselves the grace we cognitively know is available.

I wrote more extensively on this grace thing recently. Grace a gift God is giving us that we need to receive, unwrap, and begin to use

about every day, by my estimate.

***

speaking to our soul amidst chaos

For several thousand years, the Jewish community and, was time has gone on, people from all faith backgrounds have resonated with the Hebrew Psalms.

It’s hard not to connect when we hear how ancient people interacted with a living God. Every emotion, from love and longing to pain and loss, finds its expression somewhere in the corpus.

The beginning of Psalm 42 has really connected for me recently:

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
    so my soul longs for you, O God.

2My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and behold
    the face of God?

Growing up in West Michigan, I saw my fair share of these creatures; the local species is the whitetail variety. On many occasions I have witnessed deer licking up fresh water from a stream or still pond. The text here recognizes the subtle difference between these creatures and myself, at least as far as I could comprehend, for I had and still have more than enough water and food; but I long for a larger sense of connection to my maker, not just the next meal. Maybe that’s true too for the creature too; but I suppose for now, at least, I cannot know.

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Also, seemingly unlike the woodland creature, I am sometimes crushed with sadness and acquainted with loss. Virtual church, for all our efforts, isn’t the same as the sustaining gift of person-to-person connection. Virtual hugs are not real hugs, as nice of a gesture as they are. FaceTime is nice, it’s just not quite face time. For all our talk of health, I do think we should consider our mental and spiritual health alongside our hand washing habits; it’s not an either-or but a both-and. No apology for that digression!

Returning to both our physical, spiritual, and mental health, it is impossible not to wonder where God is in all aspects of our wellness.  Continue reading “speaking to our soul amidst chaos”

the meaning of home

Every weekend since we moved to Silicon Valley, we notice moving trucks in our neighborhood.

The San Francisco Bay Area is transient. There is so much here! It’s incredible! There are few places in the world where one can make hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, yet drive a half hour or less to surf. Or hike. Or check out an amazing museum. Ir have a world class meal. Drive a couple hours and you’re in the Sierra Nevada mountains – Lake Tahoe has limitless fun [though it typically comes with a hefty price tag].

The Bay Area has its challenges, to be sure, but one look at the topography is enough; it’s drop dead gorgeous.

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one of Lake Tahoe’s beaches [credit: benedek/Getty Images]
There is a reason people stream from across the country to live here. It’s an amazing place to live, pure and simple.

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Pearl 6101 [credit: Patricia Chang]
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San Francisco skyline from the west looking east [credit: Unsplash/Hardik Pandya]
Once they get here, however, the difficulties can be intimidating for people from any station in life. A couple years ago, 46% of Bay Area residents were planning on leaving within a few years. But why leave?  Continue reading “the meaning of home”

baby #3: Junia’s dramatic birth story

For about as long as Kaile was pregnant with our third child, we have fielded the question, “where will you guys go for delivery?”

Our answer would begin with our hopes to be at the Nightingale Birth Center in San Mateo, the most relaxing setting for Kaile. She has given birth naturally without any medications twice already, and apart from low iron and uncomfortable feelings in abundance, she hasn’t experienced significant pre-natal problems.

The truth was, we didn’t know how it would all work out. We put together our plan, made backup plans, and waited. In the modern world, this is certainly not always the case, but birth, in our limited experience, involves a lot of unknowing.

When Kaile began to feel strong contractions on Tuesday of this week, we dutifully headed to the birth center, knowing her body was preparing for delivery. We were aware that there could be a journey ahead. After about seven hours of labor, things slowed down and we headed home.

Those hours spent pacing the room, breathing deeply through each surge of her uterus, leaning on balance balls, and relaxing in the birth pool were meaningful for me; I was able to genuinely support Kaile during this taxing time.

I realize the pictures aren’t great, but they at least offer a taste of the experience! 

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pacing during act I of labor

She was so joyful throughout, surprising our doula, Dasha, and all the midwives with her overwhelmingly positive attitude.

Heading home Tuesday evening was the right move. After a quiet night’s rest, we got up feeling refreshed. I took the boys to preschool and headed home to help Kaile relax.

By this point, anyone reading is probably falling on one side or the other of a spectrum; on the one side, it’s the natural birth crowd, the granola people – maybe the term hippie even applies! On the other side, it’s folks who rely heavily on the standard medical system.

No judgment here regarding what feels comfortable for any other individual or family, but we are definitely on the natural side of the spectrum, not militantly, but with conviction. We recognize the gift it is for Kaile not to have experienced any of the myriad pre-natal challenges common to pregnancy, and we do not take that lightly. Continue reading “baby #3: Junia’s dramatic birth story”

living within my limitations

Friends on Instagram people keep sharing these 2009-2019 posts, typically featuring a picture of them then [bad] and a current pic [good]. The text reads variably, but usually people identify some significant life changes, some highs and maybe some lows.

Here’s a simplified version of what mine could read:

2009-2019: Change and stability. I started seminary and parish ministry with youth; I continued a degree program to pursue an M. Div; I traveled a lot; I met an amazing woman and we got married; we bought a house; Silas joined our family; we moved to San Francisco; I was ordained; Kaile started grad school; Maelin joined our family; I lost a job; I got a new job; we moved to the Silicon Valley; Kaile got a job and finished grad school; we prepped for baby number three. Phew! It has been a full decade!

As I reflect more seriously on what the last ten years have contained, I realize my responsibilities have increased significantly. Soon I will be bound not only to my wife and our two boys, but also to a N E W B O R N!

The more I’ve lived as a married person – and now with children – the more I’ve recognized the limitations I have. Let me break down my experience of being a dad in terms of what feels like a day of accomplishments. Continue reading “living within my limitations”

my new [tech] rule of life:

Life in 2019 is complicated, and I bet 2020 will be too.

Maybe you’ve felt it? A barrage of information floods us constantly, even if we’re trying to be intentional about how we live. A notification from my news app will inform me about political protests in Hong Kong. Friends ping me on Snapchat or iMessage as I peruse a Twitter feed.

I recently had to turn off the sound on my work computer because the email notifications were coming in so alarmingly fast. Sometimes I close Apple mail for that same reason.

Sometimes I literally lose my train of thought because of some kind of notification, and I need to re-center by shutting down all devices and entering into prayer. This is not a good sign! Our devices should serve us – not we them!

Alas, our psychology often cripples us. Facebook did not always have the *like* button. Of course now we can slide our finger for a love, laugh, or cry emoji, and even an anger option. These little digital affirmations from others get at the parts of our neurology that seek social approval. The effects are staggering. Some of us do almost anything to get noticed, to gain approval, to earn *likes*.

A few months ago I read Andy Crouch’s Tech Wise Family. I recommend that little book, and it inspired to begin a few new practices:

1. Putting my phone to bed. Literally, my phone sleeps in the kitchen now next to the family iPad and Kaile’s phone.

2. No screens in our main living space. My iMac, which used to camp out in our living room, is now my work computer.  Continue reading “my new [tech] rule of life:”

the cycle of hope: parenting edition

Parenting, much like the rest of life, seems much like trying to cook five separate foods on a four burner stove. It’s remarkably difficult to know how to prioritize the many moving parts of which family and work life consist.

In my family, like so many others, my partner Kaile [pronounced Kay-lah] and I both work. She’s also finishing graduate school. We live in a small, two-bedroom apartment, and she’s pregnant with our third child – due in February of next year.

Oh yeah – and I work full time!

Recently Silas [4], our older son, has been acting out – regressing – for the past couple weeks. He’ll yell, tantrum, throw something, hit Maelin [2], or lash out at his daddy. Part of it, I think, is the intensity of upcoming change [they both began preschool this week] and his need for structure [which we hope for preschool to provide].

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For most of Silas’s life, change has more or less been a constant. Born in Grand Rapids, he moved right after he turned one to San Francisco where he lived in our walk-in closet. Six months later we found another place on the west side of SF where we lived for a year. Next, we packed it up and headed to the Silicon Valley, and have been in the same apartment for a record-breaking two years [except we did move downstairs to a different unit in the same building; does this officially count as a move?].

My love for him is strong. My hopes for him are high. And yet, I realize I am simply not some perfect parent who does the right thing every time. My skills are still growing as I get impatient, as I catch myself being inconsistent, as I’m sometimes too relaxed yet other times too strict. Consistency is supposed to be good, but it’s not easy to maintain!fullsizeoutput_1468

Now where does that leave me as I continue to seek the best ways to do what I sense God has called me to do [husband-ing! pastoring! parenting! friend-ing! neighbor-ing!]?

There seem to be a couple paths. I’ve written about this elsewhere from a different life experience if you’re interested. Anyway, the first path is what I call the cycle of cynicism, with a few key markers:

1. lack of control over one’s life
2. consistent feeling of overwhelm
3. overstating or hyperbolizing one’s challenges [sometimes called catastrophizing].

On the other side, there’s the cycle of hope, characterized by a hopeful sense that God* will preserve and encourage – even in the challenges [or most especially amidst the challenges!] there are opportunities to transform and grow.

Honestly, there have been seasons where my faith has pressed me to do new things, times when being connected in a relationship with Jesus and sensing the Spirit’s guidance has pushed me to take new risks and do really challenging things. But presently, my faith is an incredible resource that gives me a whole lot of hope [that whole *cycle of hope* thing].

Some clever pastor said Jesus afflicts the comfortable and comforts the afflicted.

Saint Ignatius, father of the Jesuit order, refers to seasons of consolation and desolation, getting at the same idea.

That is certainly the case in the New Testament, and it has proven to be true in the lives of many people around me. And it’s proved true in my own life. When things are easy, I tend to tune into the ways my faith challenges me; when things are more difficult, I tend to emphasize the comforts. And it all seems to happen internally – I just need to pay attention to where the Spirit is guiding me.

Here are some words from Jesus that have often served as a spiritual on-ramp back toward that cycle of hope. Maybe they will serve to encourage you today:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. [Matthew 11:28-30 MSG]

I am leaning on this invitation as I look to stay on that cycle of hope.

May we all experience these unforced rhythms of grace.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*For other faiths and philosophies this can vary to some degree; I’m speaking as a Christian.

old self: dying / new self: rising up

If you happened to read my last post, you may have noticed an emphasis on death.

Well, I’m at it again!

This post contains darkness too, but [spoiler alert!] also finishes with a whole lot of hope.

***

Flash back to Good Friday [April 19th of this year]. I found myself in tears as I reflected on one of the stations of the cross we had for Good Friday worship that evening.

The station was really simple: wheat grass seeds in a bowl, a tasteful piece of art, a handout to read, and some bright green sprouted wheat grass growing. A dear woman named Daniela at our church put it together, and I sensed her wisdom as I began to read the handout.

Reading it, I felt all these connections coming on strong. It was a short reflection from the vantage point of a seed being buried under deep soil. The seed lamented being placed underground, cried out as it was cracked and broken apart; the tiny seed protested its experience.

Then came the hopeful turn: the seed realized its death meant new life for the plant she was becoming. Having grown up helping my dad in our big Michigan garden, seeds are not foreign to me; the analogy is a familiar one, an image my heart fathoms and my experiences recount.

Speaking of Good Friday [an attempt at a segue?], Jesus spoke a number of times about seeds. In his agrarian world, these images would certainly have made sense. In reference to his own death he said this:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. [John 12:23-26a / NIV]

There isn’t much to add here: Jesus insinuates [it’s fairly clear to us now, but was it so clear to them back then?] that he was going to die, but through death he would produce many seeds, and it’s probably best to interpret this as followers.

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Relating to the experience of the seed – and of my Savior – touched a part of my journey that I had not yet reflected on deeply: the past five years.

Ever since August 17th, 2013 I’ve been a proud husband to Kaile; and ever since January 31st, 2015 I’ve been a proud dad to Silas. We were prouder still to welcome in another son, Maelin on September 30th, 2016.

Amidst all this change, I finished an MDiv program, we also sold our first home, moved across the country, Kaile was accepted into and has since started [and now has nearly completed] grad school, moved again, I lost a job, we moved yet another time as I got another job, and Kaile has begun private practice therapy work in the Bay Area. The changes have kept coming and my ability to honestly reflect on them has been limited.

With the shifting seasons and new frontiers, my job has recently been rather challenging. Prioritizing youth ministry can be no easy task for a busy family in a buzzing metropolis. At the same time, I am indeed responsible for shepherding the young people in our church as well as, in some ways, their families. I’m also tasked with leading a missions board. We work to activate people to invest in our various local, domestic, and international missions partners, and we help to manage about $150k/year.

It’s good work, but it’s work that requires real attentiveness to timing. It’s work that I feel called to and passionate for, but it has pushed me in a lot of new ways.

One part of my job right now is helping support some seniors as they graduate not only from high school but also from our church context. Yes, they’ll always be loved and supported, but they’re off to new things. One of them, Laurel, is singing a song with me on June 2nd on the Sunday we’re praying the seniors into their next season in life.

Laurel is talented, thoughtful, and really loves Jesus. Her faith is strong yet tested; she’s been through a lot, especially considering her youthfulness. And she suggested singing this song, Seasons, on a day we’re celebrating the change and transition to something new.

It’s better to just listen to it on YouTube, but the lyrics are also below. Seldom do I find a piece of art that so perfectly connects the narrative of Jesus and the powerful promises of God to the everyday scenes of nature and of human experience. Despite my occasional allergy to megachurchy kinds of vibes, this song, with its authenticity and organic imagery, strikes me quite differently.

____________________________________________________________________________________________
Seasons
[Verse I]
Like the frost on a rose
Winter comes for us all
Oh how nature acquaints us
With the nature of patience
Like a seed in the snow
I’ve been buried to grow
For Your promise is loyal
From seed to sequoia
[Chorus] 
I know
Though the winter is long even richer
The harvest it brings
Though my waiting prolongs even greater
Your promise for me like a seed
I believe that my season will come
[Verse II] 
Lord I think of Your love
Like the low winter sun
And as I gaze I am blinded
In the light of Your brightness
And like a fire to the snow
I’m renewed in Your warmth
Melt the ice of this wild soul
Till the barren is beautiful [Chorus] 
[Bridge]
I can see the promise
I can see the future
You’re the God of seasons
And I’m just in the winter
If all I know of harvest
Is that it’s worth my patience
Then if You’re not done working
God I’m not done waiting
You can see my promise
Even in the winter
Cause You’re the God of greatness
Even in a manger
For all I know of seasons
Is that You take Your time
You could have saved us in a second
Instead You sent a child [Chorus] 
[Verse III] 
Like a seed you were sown 
For the sake of us all 
From Bethlehem’s soil
To Calvary’s sequoia 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

fullsizeoutput_94bIn the context of the song, it is not difficult to make the myriad connections between the text from John 12. From death, at least from Jesus’s perspective, comes new life. That’s meant literally and as metaphor.

Flash back to that moment getting married at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and indeed the months leading up to it! It was almost six years ago, but that was the death of my single self. Those moments ushering Silas – then Maelin – into the world, that was the death of our childless selves. Kaile and Ben became “they,” a little family with all the joy and busyness of family life. That moment we sold our house and moved 2400 miles away, that was the death of our comfortable, anchored selves.

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I haven’t had much time to lament those losses, honestly, because the next steps in life have been successively faster and more intense. I don’t have the time I used to, the mental wherewithal I remember having ten years ago. The faces of people I knew and loved in high school, college, even seminary, are getting blurrier; sometimes they allude me entirely. Often I’m bone-tired, aching sore from lifting kids, walking 12,528 steps in a day, emotionally worn out from the cycle of kids-work-church-marriage [and… repeat].

IMG_7713The song, the student’s life experiences, and the story about the seed losing its old self struck me at a deep, emotional level because of the many levels to which I find myself relating. My parents and some of their friends, in their late 60s, have spoken from time to time about how difficult their 30s were.

Maybe it’s winter for me right now; maybe it’ll be even more intense with each successive decade. At this point I just don’t know.

Now let me just pause to say this: I know every human being goes through challenges and struggles; and mine are so common. They are not unique – but they are my own. Comparing my story to someone else may put my experiences into perspective, and it’s indeed helpful. Counting my blessings and practicing gratitude is an enormous aspect of my spiritual growth [you can even ask my spiritual director – he will vouch for that!]. But it’s simply dishonest to pretend things are easy by saying, perennially, “there’s someone else going through something worse!” That will always be the case! There will always be someone doing worse and better than me – and that goes for all of us. Except, maybe, the 2 people out there are really are at the *top* and *bottom* which requires too much mental calculus to determine anyway!

And so, I am trying to acknowledge what parts of me have died. At the same time I’m observing how God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, is bringing new things to life in me.

My married self, though exhausted, is more patient, less self-absorbed, more loving, humbler. My parental self is more compassionate, more generous, sacrificial in new ways, loving in imperfect way yet still more loving than I was before. My working self is is less self-seeking and more open to correction and accountability. My faith has moved from a set of unquestionable beliefs to a journey with a loving and supportive friend – and the emphasis has shifted much toward spiritual practices, less so on the list of unquestionable things to believe.

Just like a seed, God is putting to death so much in me. But as Paul teaches us in Romans 6, I was buried with Christ in baptism, and I am being raised to new life with him.

Like Jesus dying then being raised to new life, God is bringing out new things from the ashes of what perished.

Goodbye, old self. You’re buried. Hello new self! You’re being raised with Christ! The kingdom of heaven is coming, even in the cracks and corners of my little life.

I’m making the lyrics my prayer:

Melt the ice of this wild soul
Till the barren is beautiful

*** 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’d welcome any thoughts or comments or reflections. My email is benvidetich@gmail.com or you can leave a public comment below.

 

 

 

 

Charlotte’s Web / Death / Hope / Love

A little while back, our family watched a classic 1973 film: Charlotte’s Web.

How rare is it to find a movie that a two year old can enjoy as much as his thirty-something parents?

Anyway, Charlotte’s Web is a fun yet powerful exploration of friendship, change and transience, death, and coming-of-age.

Death is a theme that isn’t much fun to talk about, but it’s a reality. Not one of us can honestly expect to escape death, though we Christians insist there is hope beyond the grave. We call that New Creation, a time when God brings all things fully back into right order, a time when heaven merges with earth and we experience restoration of all that had been lost. Heaven comes down.

But death sits between that eventual hope that lies beyond us.

And death is Silly as it probably sounds to someone older than me, I’m noticing how sore my 31 year old body gets after just a few minutes of an exercise I’m not used to – recently I ran just a few city blocks and ended up sore in quads and shins for no less than a full week!

Soreness, sickness, stiff joints, tiredness; all of these are the waypoints that point to our eventual grave.

ARE YOU DONE READING THIS YET!? I PROMISE IT GETS WORSE BEFORE IT GETS BETTER!!

There was a scene in Charlotte’s Web where Charlotte, who had befriended Wilbur the piglet, finally died. She had always encouraged Wilbur about his concerns that he’d be slaughtered for meat, always advocating for her large pink companion.

In the film, the music swelled as she ducked behind a rafter in the barn. Her final web blew away in a gust of wind, and all trace of her physical self disappeared. Even as she left indelible memories behind, she herself was no longer there. Check out the clip on YouTube here.

gallery-1483030117-tc-charlottes-web-03-paramount-pictures

As I tucked Silas into bed, he was clearly in a reflective mood. The movie was clearly a lot for a four year old to imbibe. Laying next to him and staring into his bright blue eyes, he asked a question:

“Where did she go, daddy?” 

At once I loved and hated the question.

And I cried [sorta surprisingly hard!] for some time with Kaile after I prayed with him and tucked him in for the evening.

Silas, in his own little way, was grappling with the concept of death and finality of living beings, arachnid and otherwise. And though I am filled with hope for his God-given future, I am yet distraught as I watch him wrestle with the pain and brokenness of our world.

I didn’t [and still don’t] know the perfect age to speak to him about the reality of death, but I know he’s asking questions about some central aspects of the human experience.

My wife Kaile pointed out to me during my sad post-Silas’s-bedtime moment that part of my sadness may have been stemming from seeing the connection between my own coming-of-age and Silas’s: I lost my grandmother right around the same age as Silas is now.

I’ll never forget the trip to my grandparents home in Northwest Arkansas – the Ozarks. It was 1991. Grandma was sick – that was all my brothers and I knew. But it was altogether evident when she vomited at lunchtime. I don’t know how exactly I dealt with the feelings at the time; I was four. But it hit me at some level that grandma was really sick – and though I didn’t know what eventually happened to sick people, I knew it couldn’t be good.

After my grandma died, I think somehow I changed, though I cannot pin down precisely how. There was an inner melancholy that surfaced deep in my soul, a quiet recognition that things around me were apt to shift without my permission.

I’ll never forget the sleeplessness I experienced one summer evening after a family trip. We had gone to the Carolinas, just my brothers and parents, and visited beautiful beaches and bays and – naturally – Charleston.

Sleep eluded me because I had a sense that I’d never again experience those things again.

When I was halfway through high school, my brother was making the shift to college, and wrote a beautiful poem about his shift away from the intimacy of our family life and into a life of his own. He likened himself to a deer braving new meadows and forests, also hinting at the possibility of eventual return to his former pastures.

After he read it, my mom thought I was laughing, but as I retreated to my room, sobbing into my pillow, she quickly realized she had mistaken my loud cry for some kind of giggle. I ended up having a really meaningful conversation with her later about things of the heart.

So back to my Silas, some nights ago, asking where Charlotte went.

If you click the link to the scene from the movie, you’ll notice that toward the beginning that Wilbur offers to give his life for Charlotte. She had sacrificed for him, and he reciprocated.

“But you’ve saved me, and I would gladly give my life for you.” 

All at once, I am reminded of the love of God made clear through the sacrificial love of Jesus, God’s dearly beloved son. I am also reminded of my love for my own sons. I am reminded of the temporality of life, of my own limitations and foibles as a father.

Instead of despair, though, I’m filled with hope. God is making all things new, all things right and good, eventually reuniting heaven and earth. All the sadness and loss will eventually be swallowed up in Christ’s victory over death. The love God showed us in Christ is too big, too strong, and relentless against any and all opposition. Love wins the day, in and through Jesus.

Amidst the changes and chances of life, may we lean into the eternal changelessness of our loving God.