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Thursday, February 21, 2013

The night you hope happens in your child's life...

There is a night that I think all God-loving parents dream about almost daily from the time their children are born.  I'm not talking about the day of their salvation (prayer) which often happens between 4-7 if they are raised in a home that talks about God, participates in church, prays with them, and teaches them the childlike truths of the Christian faith.

I'm talking about what I think is an equally, if not more important night.  It is a night that validates whether the first experience was even real.  It usually comes somewhere in early adolescence if it comes at all.

I remember for me it happened when I was about 13 yrs. old.  Up to that point I gave my parents every reason to believe I was a pagan reprobate, heathen and hell-bound.  My mom has told me she wondered about my faith based on my attitude and actions throughout my elementary and early middle school years.  I don't blame her.  I broke every rule...lying, stealing, cheating, pornography, language, smoking, chewing, vandalism, anger, meanness, obnoxious behavior, back-talker...disobedience was my native way of life it would have seemed.  I remember my dad quoting an obscure verse in the O.T. that said, "Rebellion was as the sin of witchcraft".  So on top of it all, I suppose I was into witchcraft as well.

But on one Wed. evening, something happened.  I remember it vividly.

I was supposed to pick apples after school before prayer meeting that night, but when my mom dropped me off, I left the orchard and went salmon fishing with some older deviants who led me astray.  I wasn't the hardest kid to lead astray.  I knew when my mom was picking me back up for Prayer Meeting, so I made sure to get back to the orchard and look like I was picking apples when she arrived.

As I climbed into the passenger seat of the van she was driving, I remember her peppering me with questions about apple-picking.  "So how was the apple-picking today?"  "Who else was picking with you?"  "Did you pick more than usual?"  "How many bins did you pick?"  "Were they 12 bushel bins or 20?"  -- I thought to myself with every lie, "Come on already!  You never ask me questions...leave me alone!"  With each lie leading to another, I could feel my stomach churning.  We got home and headed off to prayer meeting at church.  I remember feeling sick to my stomach the whole evening there.  I'd felt some conviction over the years, but this was like nothing I'd experienced up to this point.  I knew I had to tell my parents when we got home.

And that is what I did.  I told them I wanted to talk to them in my bedroom and before I sat down on the edge of the bed I was crying with head in hands.  Through tears and sobs I told them that I, in fact, was not picking drops for apple cider but instead was salmon fishing with the "Field's boys" in a nearby river.  I remember expecting them to ride me like a rodeo bull and dish out corporal punishment, maybe even capital punishment, but that didn't happen.  I remember seeing a soothing peace fill my mom's face and smile of sympathetic pain cover my father's countenance.  I didn't know it at the time, but later on in life they told me that this was the day they knew that God lived inside my heart.  This moment for them was among their favorite memories of my childhood...the day they saw the convicting work of the Spirit of God actively causing repentance.

I share this story, because this happened a couple of weeks ago with my daughter, Kami.

It was a Wed. night and she had gotten home from youth group, done her homework, and performed her pre-bedtime rituals.  I went upstairs and climbed into bed with all the girls like I do every night.  While I was laying there with Kami I asked her about youth group and she said that it was good.  I asked her why and she gave me a few vague answers.  After snuggling for a bit, I gave her a kiss goodnight and went downstairs.  Heidi and I were talking on the couch about the day when Kami came down the stairs and sat on a chair in the living room.  Her face looked as if she'd seen a ghost and she was starting to tear up as she tried to utter a word.  As she tried to talk, she began to weep and we moved closer to her and asked her what was the matter.  It took a couple minutes but she finally began to string together some words.

"Remember how I told you that at youth group we had an opportunity to come forward and write out something we struggle with on the chalkboard and I said I wrote 'words' down?"

"Yeah?"

(weeping, sobbing, tears)

"Well...um..."

(head buried in her hands...like when I was younger)

"Well, I didn't tell you everything."

"What do you mean?  What's wrong?"

"Um...I have been struggling with words, but it's more than that.  I've been swearing under my breath."

(an absolute dam broke and the tears rained down like a waterfall)

"What kind of words? The A-word, the D-word, the S-word?"

"Yeah..."

"Even the F-word?"

"Sometimes..."

We sat there and let her just sob and share her burden.  She went on to say that she hasn't said them out loud around her friends, but she has whispered them under breath and sometimes says them at home when she is alone upstairs and she's mad at us.  She went on to share about what God was convicting her of in her devotional and how that had really softened her heart.  She also shared that at the end of the night they sang a song called "All things new" and she cried and felt God speaking to her about how he was making her new.  We sat there overjoyed while she confessed her sins to us like we were Catholic priests.  Joy flooded my heart as I saw God working in her little heart.

The conversation went on for probably another 15 minutes as Heidi spoke into her heart and I told her how proud I was of her.  I shared that it was moments like this that made us trust her more and have more confidence in her heart and that she never had to be afraid to talk to us about what she was feeling or what she did wrong...that we would always love her and be with her through anything.

We talked about the environments she's around and how they influence her thoughts and words and she agreed.  It was important for us to let her know that we couldn't protect her from every aspect of the world...that she would have to learn how to work through temptation and friendships and peer pressure and sin...but that we would do everything we could to support her so she could be honest with us.  I especially wanted to take a little time to let her know that just because she was a PK (Preacher's Kid) I knew that she would make mistakes and I didn't want her to feel like her struggles and difficulties reflected negatively on me, making her close up and hide.  There is nothing so damaging to a PK as a secret life borne out of people-pleasing and playing the part without getting real about the heart.  I told her that there was nothing she could do that would cause us not to love her...nothing.

So, to make a long story semi-long, this was a good night.  This is the kind of night you dream of having, hoping it happens to you as it happened to you back when you were young and felt the Holy Ghost move you to do what you wouldn't do otherwise.  This is the power of God.

Thank you, God.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The reason for my writer's block...


I haven't written much in the past 6 months.  No reason comes to mind.  It wasn't an intentional move on my part.  It just sort of happened.

I've been writing pretty regularly for the last 7 years, actually quite a bit before that, it just didn't show up in the blogsphere and it was harder to archive as a result.  Writing has always been very recreational for me.  I've loved recording my story, bearing witness to my heart's twists and turns, naming things that often remain ineffable feelings, noting shifts in the scenery of my life, taking a regular pulse on my perspectives, giving myself self-checks by taking a personal inventory of my actions and attitudes...heck, I could go on an on.

As I sit here and think of what has taken me out of this routine, I suppose there were bigger fish to fry that could be blamed.  We did adopt in the last several months taking two trips to Africa and eventually bring home to boys, insta-sons.  That rearrangement of life has taken up significant reserves of energy I typically draw on.  I wouldn't have it any other way.  But I don't feel that explains it entirely.

I do sense that I've lost the recreational part of myself and it isn't just busyness that has stripped me of amusement.  I don't know what I love to do right now.  I find myself just drifting to easy amusements like television shows, surfing the net, or doing research for ministry.  But whatever I'm doing, while I'm doing it, I feel aimless and listless.  I'll be reading and reflecting on what I'm participating in and I'll catch myself just feeling lost.  This feels sad to admit, but it's true.

I used to be very athletic and that was an outlet of activity that kept me quite diversified.  I used to love the outdoors and I would find a plot of land and take an exploratory hike even imagining myself in a different era of time, a much simpler and antiquated time and place.  It was fun to play in my mind while I roamed the woods in a boyish daydream.  But those times are few and far between.

I enjoyed reading books and would revel in a trip to Barnes and Noble or a local coffee shop to browse and muse over words and stories and concepts and ideas presented by some author.  I would even buy books on words and their origin luxuriating in the simple pleasure of etymology.  I loved new words and increasing my vocabulary, even if I never used the words in actual conversations, it was fun to know there were thousands of dormant words created to express infinitesimal details in life.  I don't know where that all went.

Date nights with my wife used to be more regular even a couple months ago, but recently the adoption of our sons has, rightfully so, put a kibosh on extended times out with my bride watching a movie, frequenting a new restaurant, walking around mall, or just being with each other alone.  The time with my girls has been rushed and fractured into fragments of time that I'm having a hard time assembling into a meaningful form.  I feel like I'm just taking them to school, having hit or miss time with them in the evenings as they venture to school and church and friend-activities, and then putting them to bed in a jiffy because it's so late or I'm so tired.  This rat race is getting old fast.  So the meaning of marriage and the fulfillment of family has been suddenly upended and indefinitely suspended.  I believe it will find a new normal in time, but the months of this helter-skelter, topsy-turvy existence is taking a toll. 

Sports seem like a cheap form of entertainment.  I'm interested, but not all that moved or stimulated.  News is predicable and depressing, so though I have to keep up with where culture is at, it almost feels obligatory, like I'm staying abreast of the goings on of society to be relevant.  I'm not captured by many noble themes going on out there in the world...I should be, cause there are some, I'm just not.

Ministry is going well, but one week leads to the next and whatever you do one day seems like a lifetime away the next.  It's hard to live in contentment when you're always thinking about movement.  If you're taking joy in a great weekend, it isn't long into Sunday afternoon that you're thinking about having another great weekend in 7 days.  To soak in the goodness almost takes time away from trouble-shooting the badness which will overtake the goodness if you don't make the preemptive strike.  In an effort to protect the good that is happening there is a fair bit of time anticipating the bad that is threatening it and working to avert it if possible.  You know, preventive maintenance and quality control.  So while others are enjoying things, you're thinking about how to nurse those environments so that experience can continue...for them.  It starts to feel like you're in a hamster wheel of sorts...or better yet, a greyhound chasing a mechanical bunny around an oval track, going fast and making headway only to be circling back to where you began and never catching "the thing" you were supposedly chasing after in the first place.  Futility sort of gets at the feeling, but it's different than that, because I see the good and the growth and the God in it all, I just feel like a ministry machine at some point...the human-me leaking out as I serve God and people.  That's not at all what I desire.

And so there are some words to put out there to explain my silence.  I'm a 38 year old guy quite frankly using all the energy at my disposal right now to just be a good leader at work and a good leader at home.  There isn't much time for life outside of that right now and I know some of that is temporary due to drastic shifts in my home life, but I'm not stupid enough to think this drift couldn't turning into drifting, and that a couple months couldn't turn into a couple years.  

My closing thought would be that I want life in my living.  I don't want to just perform duties and complete tasks, I want to feel my blood stir with adventure and excitement.  I want to have an identity that knows what recreation fills my "enjoyment tank".  Cause if I don't it will turn into a shark tank...and I'll be hollowed out.  I just know it.  

I used to like lots of stuff.  I used to find deep enjoyment in several random activities.  I used to feel motivated to move toward things with vim and vigor.  I need that gumption back.  That internal fortitude and attitude of attacking stuff and squeezing the life out of it.  It might be silly to think I can have what I had cause you can't ever go back, but I want to find the new things that do what some of those old things used to do in me, to me, for me.

I'm also taking my father's recent nosedive physically pretty hard.  It only deepens my need to find things to take my mind off of heavy things and to lift my head and eyes to hearty things.  If I don't find the hearty side of life, I fear I'll be consumed with the heavy side of it.

Please don't think I'm depressed...I'm just breaking the silence and lobbing some language into the air.  There's some chaff, there's some wheat.  That's what I love about writing, letting the "first fresh flash" hit the clean white screen and seeing what takes shape.

At the very least, just participating in this dormant delight has reminded me of what I've missed about it that last several months.  That's a start.