The Privileged Avenue

There’s a peace lily on a stand in the corner of our dining room that’s twice the size it was the last time I took notice of it. It has new, white flowers unfurling themselves. I stopped and admired it for a few moments. 

I stopped and looked.

The alarm goes off. The day flies by. Breakfast together. Drive to work. Home from work. Dinner together. Stories. Bed. Our rhythms are the stuff life is made of, but the familiarity means I can all too easily miss the beauty. 

Looking and seeing aren’t exactly the same thing. Everyday I look at my family, my kids. I don’t always see them. This week I’ve had a few moments when I’ve stopped and really admired my kids for a moment. I’ve seen them. 

Finnden: Dad, can I tell you a joke?
Me: (Half listening) Sure. 

My expectations were low. His jokes are usually ones he makes up, things like What did the moon say to the sun? Stop shining! You’re too bright! They’re not really funny because they’re not really jokes. But this one…

Finnden: What do you call a pirate with two eyes, two hands and two legs?
Me: I don’t know.
Finnden: A beginner. 

A little laugh escaped my lips, not so much at the joke but at my astonishment. When did you learn to tell a joke?

I came home from work and Ona, the youngest, barely two, came running from the kitchen, yelling, Daddy, hurry, I hungry for dinner!

I paused in the process of putting down my bag and looked at her. That was a full sentence, I thought. Sure it was a garbled mess, unintelligible to anyone but Karen and me, but she’d given us a glimpse of just how much her mind was at work. 

The most profound moment came while I was putting together a little photo book to send to both grandpas for Father’s Day. I scoured through all our pictures over the past year or so and put them in an album, and as I looked at them all there together I was seeing my kids anew. I saw them when they thought no one was watching and when they were putting on a show. I saw them being silly and being kind. I saw them being pensive and deliciously weird. Each of them came through so clearly, and in a way that was so definitively them, that it took my breath away. Frozen in place like that I finally stopped and saw and admired them in all their created glory, marveling at how much they were not mine but their own.

Perhaps there is nothing in this world as powerful to break selfishness as is the simple act of looking at our own children. In our love for them we are given a privileged avenue to feel as God feels—to burst in unselfishness, in joy, in delight, and in the desire to let another’s life be more real and important than our own.
-Ronald Rolheiser

Say What You Want

I woke up to darkness, the silvery moonlight told me the hour was long before dawn. My throat was parched from the dryness of the Santa Ana winds that had been gusting throughout the warm, late-autumn in southern California. I rolled out of bed, opening my eyes only halfway, willing myself to remain mostly asleep as I went to get a glass of water. Then, somewhere in the distance between the bedroom and the kitchen, a question that I'd been asking myself profoundly changed, as if a light bulb had flickered on in the darkness of that hallway, sudden and illuminating.

For a long time I'd been silently asking: Should we have another baby?

Karen and I had asked this question before. The result was two children who filled our home with joyful laughter and who often filled my eyes with tears at the beauty and wonder and joy of living. Life was very full. So were our hands. Full enough that we hadn't quite gotten around to asking the question again before God gave us an answer. Quite unexpectedly, he began a new life. We hadn't known we'd wanted another child, but we suddenly discovered we desperately did.

A few months later, in a fifth-floor sonogram room in California, we held our breath while they searched for the heartbeat we'd never hear again.

In the difficult weeks that followed, the question of whether or not we would have another child crawled into a cave along with many other questions we couldn't answer… or couldn't bring ourselves to ask. Occasionally, one of us would whisper into that cold darkness, asking "will we or won't we?" One time Karen coaxed the question out of its den, and we both stared at it for awhile. Then, like the groundhog, it crawled back inside waiting for the end of that long, cold, hard winter.

"Not yet," we said. "See your shadow and return to safety. The thaw is still a little ways off."

So there I was several months later, on a midnight shuffle from the bedroom to the kitchen, and the question of whether or not we should have another baby became an entirely different one.

Might there be… something… that God wants to add to the world through a… someone… he might bring into the world through us?

Suddenly the question wasn't about me, which is what made me realize I probably wasn't the one asking.

All my questions were pretty focused on us: Are we ready? How would it change us? What would Finnden and Ellis think? Could we afford it? And even... Would we need a different car?

But if I'm being really honest. Really and truly honest. The real question was: Will I trust him?

Because I was hurt. And I felt I'd been cheated. And I was already having enough trouble saying goodbye to a child to which I'd never said hello.

And I just didn't want to do it again.

But at the same time, I did want to. I knew I wanted us to have another child. I knew it. But I wouldn't say it. I pretended to hem and haw hoping that the mystery of whether or not the bottom could drop out again might be magically solved in the meantime. I buried the real question under the pile of all the other questions, the safe ones, unable to tell the truth.

I remember being at a birthday party when I was little. It was a hot and sticky summer day, and I looked up from my picnic table to see the birthday boy's mom emerging from the house carrying a box of popsicles. Before anyone else noticed her I shouted, "I want a green one!" My shout was followed a moment later by a stampede of squealing children, and due to the impossible task of extracting oneself from the center seat of a full picnic table I ended up last in line. By the time I reached her only one popsicle was left. Purple. I hate purple. As I dejectedly took my purple popsicle from her hand I looked around at the other kids, most of whom quickly looked away, not wanting a share in my disappointment. Everyone knew I'd wanted a green one. I'd shouted it, for goodness sake. If I'd just kept my mouth shut I could have played it off like no big deal. I could have pretended to be okay with purple. But suddenly I was feeling sorry for myself, and everyone else was feeling sorry for me, and the embarrassment of it was making my eyes fill with tears I couldn't conceal. Saying exactly what I'd wanted had made the loss of it that much harder.

So twenty-seven years later there I was, an adult, trying to make a major life decision with my wife, and I was afraid to say anything for the fear that the admission of it might make a possible disappointment that much more impossible to bear.

Should we have another child? I couldn't answer. I couldn't say what I wanted.

So God changed the question. He made it about something other than what I wanted. He made it about what it should have been about the whole time. He asked me to ask what he wanted.

So, in less than the distance between the bedroom and the hallway, my thinking changed direction. It would take many months for me to ask that question aloud. Longer still to admit I already knew the answer. There were many steps in between, tentative steps, slow, and deliberate, testing the ground to make sure it didn't fall away. But bit by bit, we kept going. Karen arrived there long before me and began asking the question in earnest. Will we or won't we?

Eventually we decided.

We will.

If you haven't already heard (or seen)… in the very-merry month of May we are expecting a new addition to our family, and last week in a second-floor sonogram room in Illinois we learned that we're expecting a little girl.

Why We Tell Stories

We are storytellers. That's what we do. That's what we were made to do.

And each year, around this time, I'm reminded that the the story that I'm made to tell, the one that echoes in every cavern of my life, is also the greatest story the world has ever known. In the next few days, all around the world, we get to tell the story of Easter. At ROCKHARBOR we get to tell that story in unique ways, ways that stretch us, exhaust us, and revive us all at the same time.

As storytellers, we are remarkably blessed to do what we do, to be entrusted with this story. The honor of it is exhilarating and humbling.

But sometimes I forget. Amidst the pace, the panic, and the pressure I too easily forget.

Telling stories is hard work. And telling stories well is very hard work. In the middle of the process we sometimes lose the scent of the purpose we're chasing and, occasionally, forget that it's a privilege. For this reason, it's important to hold onto certain moments we've witnessed as we've told stories, those moments that have reminded us that what we do is so much bigger than us.

As I sat on the stage yesterday in the dark and the cold of a late-night rehearsal I was reminded of one of these moments. It took place a little less than a year ago, just a few weeks after Easter.

That morning the whole family sat at the breakfast table. I'd made bad coffee and failed pancakes, and I was frustrated. One of those metaphorical dark and stormy cloud loomed over my head. Then Finnden, our then-two-year-old son, looked at Karen and I and said, “I want to watch Daddy's words.” (“Daddy's words” is what he called the creative storytelling piece from last year because it featured a spoken word I performed.)

He'd seen it twice on Easter morning. The first time he'd watched it he'd sat silently, taking it all in, but as he saw it again during the second service Karen said he was very scared when “sin” appeared. There was something he'd intrinsically understood.

Since then, Karen told me that he'd asked to see the video of the performance at least a dozen times, but he usually asked while I was at work, thus I'd never had the chance to observe him as he watched.

He was entranced by what he saw, his eyes scanning the screen. But what was even more amazing was what he would say. From time to time he would quote a line along with the video or he would narrate a portion, talking to no one in particular. When dancers who represented the fall of humankind entered the scene he said with a frown, “Bad sin come now.”

But a moment later he smiled and said, “Jesus come.”

When the story talked about Jesus' death he shook his finger at the screen and said, “Jesus not done.”

And a few moments later, when Jesus rose from the dead, he exclaimed, “Sin go away!”

“People happy. Sin not hurting them!”

And finally, lifting his hands in the air, he shouted “I am new!”

The dark cloud above me disappeared, and in a sudden rush of emotion I realized my two-year-old son had, in his own way, just articulated the gospel. We had set out to tell the most meaningful story in the world to thousands of people, and one of the people who had heard it was my son.

That is one of those moments that I hold onto when, in the midst of the process, I lose sight of the purpose and the privilege of being a storyteller. We all need moments like these, and when we receive these gifts of grace, these stories, we must remember them, treasure them, and tell them.

Good News & Bad News: The Tension of Advent

A few weeks ago I woke to Finnden, our 3-year-old, sitting at the foot of our bed at 6:30 in the morning. I didn't know how long he'd been there. With bleary eyes I looked at him, and he returned my look under furrowed brows. Suddenly, he announced, “I have good news, and I have bad news.”

Thinking it too early for bad news, I said, “Okay. What's the good news?”

“The good news is that I found my Crack In the Track book.” The Crack In the Track is his favorite Thomas the Train book. It had been MIA for about a week.

“Okay then,” I said. And, bracing myself, I asked, “So what's the bad news?”

With a deep sigh, he answered, “I also found my caterpillar book.” The Very Hungry Caterpillar is another favorite of his.

“And that's bad news?” I asked.

“No. That's good news.”

“Oh, okay. Then what's the bad news?”

And quite matter-of-factly, he answered, “There is no bad news, only good news.”

I laughed, and he simply smiled back at me. There's only good news. In Finnden's world there is only good news.

But the fact of the matter—as he will all too soon discover—is that there is bad news. In our world there is all kinds of bad news, and that fact has become all the more apparent in recent days and weeks.

Each morning I spend a little time reading the news, and lately I've found myself struggling to read those words through the blur of tears.

On those days, as my heart grows heavy with the weight of brokenness playing out all around me, I find myself leaning back in my chair, lifting my face to the sky, and asking God to remind me that he is in charge. And in his grace he does remind me. He reminds me that his kingdom has come but his perfect will is yet to be fully done. We live in the in-between, and there we find ourselves restless and discontent. As we should. This longing is what the Advent season has brought into focus for me.

We celebrate Christmas because Jesus has come, and we should also celebrate the day after Christmas and the day after that because he's coming again. On that day he will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Jesus had good reasons for telling us that we need to become like children. In one sense my little boy may be living in a dream world, a world of naiveté and fantasy from which he will one day be shaken. But in another sense, he is already living in the world to come, in the mindset that things are as they were mean to be. That morning, as he shared his good news I got a little peek, a tiny window into the world we have all been promised.

Because every single day we are marching closer, drawing a little nearer to the fullness of God's promises. And that's good news. It's good news because we're promised that in the end the children of God will each be able to see with the eyes of my son and say, “There is no bad news, only good news.”