Friday, July 25, 2008

New Song...

Here's a new song I just finished... it's about how Jesus wants our whole life and how we can't serve Him and other stuff... and by the way, just what would happen if we decided to give Him everything?

You can click here to listen to or even download the song for free.

Here I Am

Here I am, where should I go?
These open hands are yours to command, should You say so
What would You do with a life fully given to You
Does anyone really know?

I’ve spent so much time holding on to this life
Just grasping for my piece of everything
But You gave it all
And You’re calling me to follow You in the same way

He took the wisdom we thought was sound
And turned it right upside down
He said the last will be first, love of money’s the worst
And the greatest is the slave of all
What if you gain the world but lose yourself instead
Wouldn’t you have rather said:

Cleaning Up

Potty training is hard stuff. By the way, before we go any further with this, I realize this isn't the world's most pleasant subject. I know, you probably don't need to read all about this fairly awkward subject, but I assure you, I'm going somewhere with all this, so bear with me... As I said, Potty training is hard stuff. It's one of those parenting things about which there are seven million opinions and everyone is an expert. It's one of things as a parent where you're constantly second guessing yourself and never fully convinced you've got it right. It's one of those things parents quietly compete about... Like, “Well one day little Jimmy just tore off his diapers and never looked back, and he was only three months old...” yeah, right, whatever. Our experience has been that potty training is a difficult and long process rife with successes and setbacks, anxiety and applause.

Right now Norah is smack dab in the middle of the storm. She has good days and bad days. Sometimes she’ll wake up dry as a bone, and use the potty all day long, staying dry right up until bedtime. Other days, we use every single pair of panties in the house and have to do laundry twice just to keep her clean. Some days you’re thinking, “Man, this girl has got it down! She’s totally potty trained!” and then the next day you’re like, “Just give me the ibuprofen and get outta my way!” It’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or something… we go from Potty Pro to Suzy pees-a-lot in no time… and if you ask her anything related to the potty, no matter what her state, the answer is always, “No.” If you say, “Do you need to go potty?” She says, “No.” If you say, “Are you dry?” She says, “No.” If you say, “Well then, are you wet?” She continues to say, “No.”

The problem is that you’re not allowed to freak out, fly off the handle and tear your eyeballs out of their sockets while inventing new ways to cuss under your breath. Day in and day out I watch my amazing wife just keep her cool and continue this steady stream of relaxed encouragement; so as not to plague Norah with ‘potty accident guilt’ and I’m just mystified… How does she do it? When Norah has an accident, (especially when it’s about the fourth one in an hour) my brain feels like someone is shoving bamboo shoots up my fingernails and I want nothing more than to lose control! I’m thinking, “Are you joking me?! Again!? I have to clean this up again?”

This morning was one of Norah’s bad days and as I was soaking and scrubbing some undies with a steadily rising temperature, I remembered something… My Father never loses His cool on my bad days. That’s right, I have good days and bad days and sometimes; like Norah, I’m not even a good judge of whether or not I’m clean, but my Heavenly Father never flies off the handle… nope, He just cleans me up, and that’s because of Jesus. Precious blood was spilled for me and because of that, I’m clean; and if I mess up in some way, I’m cleansed again. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” This is not some kind of carte blanche for more and more sin; no, it’s because of His loving tenderness and forgiveness that I want to grow. Now, if I can only learn to be more like Him for my sweet little Norah…

Here are a couple pics of the girls c hillin' at church, playing the piano and just being cute:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Our House... officially 'on the market.' By the way, Christy may have designed and planted the window boxes, but i hung them on the house with all of my handy skills.

A Sign in the Yard and Tears in the Eyes

This week our house officially went on the market. We’re praying that it sells quickly and that just the right place is ready for us… we’ve even got the kids praying about it. Anna always asks me if we’re going to get another house and I always tell her that we will if the Lord gives us the money. As a result, I heard her pray this yesterday: “Dear Lord, oh please give Daddy money so we can get a new house and an orange van!” Yeah, for some reason she not only wants to get a van, but an orange van. I told her that I didn’t think they made orange vans and she told me, “Dad, they can make whatever color they want,” which I suppose is technically true.

Anyway, when I drove home from church yesterday, I rounded the corner and saw the realty sign in the yard, complete with a name and phone number on it. My stomach lurched when I saw it. I had known for months that this day was coming, but it made me sad to see that sign. I was sad to leave this awesome neighborhood… sad to leave our incredible next-door neighbors Jack and Jo. Not only that, but all our best memories are there. Years ago, before college, Christy and her sister rented that house. It was grey then, and we used to call it “Stonehenge.” It was in my car outside that house that I first kissed Christy… And then we were married and bought that house. As I’ve said before, we brought our newborns to that house… that’s where all the sleepless nights, baby teeth, first steps and bubble baths happened. It kinda tears me up to even type this stuff…

Well, a few weeks ago Christy told Jack and Jo that we would probably be moving away… We love Jack and Jo. They are the sweetest neighbors anyone ever had; just a precious old couple who love to walk around our quiet circle two or three times every day. Mrs. Jo makes the best fried chicken and pinto beans with cornbread on the planet, and she always brings it over to us at just the right moment. They always loan us everything and they always bring fresh watermelon. Our kids absolutely love Jack and Jo… (Norah always says “Jo Jo”) and it’s honestly hard to imagine life without them being right next door.

As I was saying, a few weeks ago Christy told Jack and Jo that we would probably be moving away… Jack began to nod his head and say that they figured we would need more space now that the third baby was on the way, but Mrs. Jo just began to weep. In fact, she sort of fell apart and ran into her house. It was the news she dreaded to hear, and even now, weeks later, she still cries when she thinks about Christy and our girls leaving. I saw Jack and Jo yesterday when I needed to borrow some Tylenol and after Jack remarked about the sign in our yard, Jo became upset and told him not to talk about it because it made her cry.

There is a place in Acts 20 where Paul is leaving a group of believers who loved him so much that as he turned to go, Luke tells us that, “They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him.” The scene actually spills over into chapter 21 where Luke tells us that in order to leave, they had to “tear” themselves away from these people. They loved him so much that it broke their hearts to see him go… One time Tony Campolo quoted his pastor saying this in a message to high school graduates: “When you were born you were the only one who cried; everyone else was happy. That’s not important. Here’s what’s important: When you die, will you be the only one that’s happy while everyone else is crying?” I want to live the kind of love-filled life that will make people sad to see me go. That’s the way Jo feels about Christy, and it’s the way you’re going to want the people in your life to feel about you when there’s a sign in your yard.

Bonus pic: Here's Christy giving Norah her first haircut!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baby Pictures!

Ultrasound that is... Christy's Aunt Jodie gave us a sneak peak of our baby boy in 4D! 

Here he is resting his chin on his elbow like a GQ pose:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Norah and Cousin Josiah on 'The Fourth' watching the fireworks in Knoxville...

They Will Know

Well, we are going to have to move into a new house, which means we have to sell this one, which could be a problem… See, we’ve got this sixty-five year old house with lots of emotional issues. It’s less than 950 square feet, it doesn’t have a breaker box and it’s less energy efficient than a wet cardboard box; so who’s going to buy the thing? On the other hand, it’s about the cutest little house ever on the quietest street full of the nicest neighbors in the best school district in the whole city; so, who wouldn’t buy it? When we bought it five and a half years ago, it was a dump. In fact, that’s overstating it. It was an absolute train wreck… in fact, if a train had derailed and wrecked into it, the property value would have gone up. We got the house for a song (thanks to some benevolent friends) and poured our hearts into it. We painted, sanded, mudded, hammered, measured, ripped out and built up. We moved in, hung our pictures, played our music, laughed, danced, cried, partied and raised two babies. We loved on this house and it loved us back, but now we have to move on and part of that includes passing it on.

So we got a realtor to come check it out and she said it looks great but then gave us a laundry list of things the house needed to really make it pop. Christy and I looked at this list thinking we could probably handle it over a period of a couple of months when the realtor said, “By the way, we need to get that stuff done in ten days.” WHAT!? Ten days?!

After my brain exploded, I picked up the pieces and then picked up the phone. I called Tom who sent out an email… one little email to some folks at church and guess what happened… an all out army of our sweet church folks showed up on Sunday afternoon and transformed this house. It was the body of Christ doing what they do best… coming together to serve someone out of love. You should have seen it! I had a list of jobs that needed to be done and every time I turned around, another person was in my grill with sweat on their brow and paint in their hair saying, “What’s next, Lee?” Joe was thirty feet up in the black walnut tree with a climbing harness and a chainsaw hacking off branches and brightening up the yard; and that was after ripping a humongous tree stump out of the yard with his bare hands! Mollie and Jeremy were among the three or four trucks taking load after load of brush and branches to the dump. My old high school guys like Robert and Paul were weed eating and scraping paint… Brad, Todd and Lucas painted my porch while Abbey and Meg spent the whole day doing touch-up and trim paint all up in the house.

In John 13 Jesus said, “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” All day on Sunday my neighbors drove by slowly, watching the smiling faces of the saints who served us so sweetly. I got to tell them later about how that was my friend George wielding that pressure washer, my family doctor Barry with all that mulch and my friend Bo with the third chainsaw… about how Patrick fixed our shed and Erica and Brenna painted our porch after Sam and Gee scraped it off… and about all the other work done by Matt, Taylor, Brittany, Thomas, Tina and Tom. It was an awesome day that I won’t soon forget.

One of the biggest jobs of the day was hanging trim in my foyer, and after Ben finished doing it, I told him how grateful I was for all he had done and he said, “It was nothing, man. You’ve been such a great brother to me.” That’s it... That's what my whole neighborhood got to see that day. That’s what the body of Christ, the family of God is supposed to look like: brothers and sisters giving and serving each other out of love for one another.

Well, here are a few more pics from the weekend of the Fourth:

Norah and Anna enjoying some ice cream cones on Patrick's boat:

Paba and Abby... (you can click here to go check out Paba's awesomely awesome blog.)

A very pumped Anna with me on the dock:

And here we are watching fireworks later that night... it was really loud and the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra was wailing on the 1812 Overture as the fireworks boomed and sizzled.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Feeling Foreign

Around eight years ago Christy and I traveled to China to visit her parents who have been living and working there for the past 21 years. It was an amazing trip for me for a number of reasons. For one thing, Christy had grown up in China and I was finally going to get to connect with that part of her past. I was finally going to put faces with all the names and stories I had heard for years. This trip was also a big deal for me because I had never left the U.S. before; in fact, Nashville was about the biggest city I had ever seen. When we landed in Beijing I was completely blown away. I should have been wiped out from the sheer ridiculous length of the journey, but adrenaline was coursing through my veins as our taxi passed Tian An Men Square and I saw more humans and kites in one place than at any other time in my life. Over the next few days we stood on the Great Wall, walked through the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven. We haggled the prices of American branded products in the Beijing silk alley and ate the most interesting and amazing food ever.

We journeyed south to the island where my wife lived as a little girl and I walked through the alleys and down the cobbled streets where she rode her first bike over the toes of an unsuspecting woman carrying her groceries. I met people who had previously only existed in stories… I saw Lao Zhou’s piano and actually heard him play and sing Silent Night in 4/4 time as advertised. I ate “bang bang bing” and held Christy’s hand as we walked past “The Rock” which was her favorite play place as a little girl. It was so cool to be able to enter into Christy’s story in this way, but it was also hard…

My Chinese is very, very limited and the Fu Zhou province is no East Tennessee. After a few days I got used to the sweltering heat and the total lack of air conditioning, but it took a little longer to get used to the absence of real-live coke products. Everywhere I went in Southern China I felt strange. I couldn’t have many conversations and I was a head and a half taller than everyone (and there were a lot of everyones to be taller than). One time we needed directions to a certain place and I suggested (in Chinese) that we ask the hotel employee across the room. Everyone started to laugh at me… apparently I had actually suggested that we kiss the hotel employee rather than ask him. Ha ha.

During this trip I learned what it is to feel like a foreigner. I know what it is to not belong. I know how it feels to be on the outside of the jokes, and I know how it feels to be the punch line. I loved China, but I didn’t really fit there.

I was reading this week in John 15 where Jesus said, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” I realized in reading these words again that I don’t really want to ‘fit’ in this world... not even here in East Tennessee. I want my life to belong to Christ and be so identified with Him that I am on the outside here. I want my love and compassion to be so outrageous and otherworldly that I seem like some kind of alien… like a foreigner on this planet, even if it means being hated. I want to be on the outside because if I am, I know for sure that I am His.

Here are a few pics from that trip... by the way, my old (and quite nostalgic) camera displayed the date as being 1994 no matter what year it actually was. Here we are at Christy's old house on the island of Gulangyu right off of the southern coast of Xiamen:

Christy at the Temple of Heaven:

I look photoshopped in here, but it's the real deal at the Summer Palace I think:

Here we are at the Forbidden City, which by the way was called that not because people were forbidden from coming in, but because the emperor was forbidden from leaving... weird huh?

At the Temple of Heaven... All of the outrageous detail on every square inch of these structures was crafted out of wood and hand painted in the 14th century... no smoking please:

Cluster Map