Thursday, January 29, 2009

Patient Love

Yesterday at pre-school Anna had to take a test… already… it’s pre-school, people! Anyway, it was this Kindergarten readiness test where they ask kids to identify letters and numbers, colors and shapes and body parts. They have to write their name, know their parents’ names and recite their address and phone number. Anna did great on the test and is really pretty pumped to talk about all about it, including what she got right and what she missed. Fortunately her teachers didn’t tell her it was a test until the end of the school day, because otherwise she may have freaked out and refused to do any of it. When we got in the car I asked her if it was fun taking a test and she said, “I didn’t know it was a test. I just thought it was my regular school work… so, yeah.” I realized that this was brilliant because some kids like Anna do not like being evaluated… even at age five.

Sometimes when I try to work with Anna on learning to read, she feels tested or pushed and simply shuts down. I’ll be reading along and come to a word she knows and say, “Anna, what word is this?” She’ll usually identify a couple words before she figures out what’s happening and raises her voice, saying, “Dad, I don’t want to do sight words! I just want you to read it, okay?!” Whenever this happens, I find myself getting frustrated because I know she’s right on the threshold of reading and I just keep waiting for her to cross over, but it’s as if she doesn’t want it. All of a sudden there’s this tension because I feel like she’s totally ready to read, but just doesn’t want to, so she just chooses to hold back and stay in the land of non-readers. I don’t push her to try and read after this happens, but in my heart I totally want to and this week I’ve been feeling really bad about that.

I was looking at 1 Corinthians 13:4, that most familiar of verses, that says, “Love is patient” and was trying to understand what that means. It turns out that the word for patient is a word that means ‘long-tempered.’ I know we don’t really use the word long tempered, but we do use the word ‘short-tempered’ and this just means the opposite. A person who loves well doesn’t have a short fuse… they don’t get all frustrated and heated up quickly. This same word ‘long-tempered’ is used in a bunch of places in the New Testament and translated ‘patient.’ I decided to look at some of these to figure out more about what it means to have patient love.

James uses this word in chapter 5 when he says, “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains?” When I read that I thought about farmers and how they can’t speed up the growth of what it is they want to see… they can only wait for it. They can’t go over to a sprouting corn stalk and start tugging and pulling on it just because they want it to be six-feet tall. They just have to wait. That’s patience, and that’s what my love is supposed to look like. I shouldn’t be pushing and pulling my little girl just because there are things I want to see in her! And when I realized this, I wondered if this is what my love looks like across the board… Do I have a program in mind for everyone in my life? And, am I bringing tension when people don’t line up with my program? We need to have patient love… the love of a farmer. He knows he wants a crop, but he doesn’t push, pull or uproot, he just waits. That’s the way I want to be.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Our Girls kickin' it on the Snow Day... and check it out, we made a 17" snow man. If you wanna see a video of it, check it out on Christy's blog.

The Last Laugh

Last week we reached a parental milestone. We’ve been here three times now and I remember each one very clearly. In fact, every parent I know remembers this particular moment very clearly… Last week Jack slept through the night for the first time. He nodded off at around 8:30 PM and slept until 6:00 AM!! That night was both awesome and stressful: awesome because there wasn’t a tiny human screaming at us multiple times in the dead of night and stressful because well, there wasn’t a tiny human screaming at us multiple times in the dead of night!!! You see, not only does every parent clearly remember the first time their kid slept through the night, but we all remember it for the same reason… when your kid first sleeps through the night, you wake up wondering if they’re still alive!

When my alarm clock woke me up before my son did, I reached over to shut it off in disbelief… “No way it’s time to wake up… Jack hasn’t woken up yet.” When I noticed the time, I silently freaked out and said a quick but extremely intense prayer. Then I snuck into Jack’s room, leaned down into his crib and waited to hear those precious little breaths. When I heard them, I told my pounding, adrenalized heart to chill out and said a prayer of thanks. Parents, you know what I’m talking about… It’s just that life is so fragile for all of us, but especially for babies. You spend literally all of your time just keeping them alive and you always hear stories about SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) which could be caused by anything and happen at any time! Sometimes when Jack’s little head flops around because of his undeveloped neck muscles I just think, “Oh, please make it out of this fragile state, little guy!” Not only that, but kids are dying… everywhere, from hunger, disease, war and all kinds of other stuff. It’s just so scary and so sad that it can be completely oppressive… until you remember Jesus.

The other day I was reading in Matthew 9 where Jairus’ daughter died and Jesus went to the house. It says, “When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, He said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Him. After the crowd had been put outside, He went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.” It struck me that the folks who came to the house to comfort Jairus and his wife in their loss were laughing at Jesus. Right there, in the midst of the saddest thing ever, they were laughing. For us, death is so scary, so powerful, but Jesus said it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be… it was more like sleeping. So they laughed. Out of discomfort and fear, they laughed and Jesus asked them to leave.

But they didn’t have the last laugh… what were they thinking when Jairus shouted for joy and his wife gasped from behind that closed door? How do you think they felt when all of a sudden they heard the laughter of a little girl? Death may frighten us now, but it won’t always be so scary. One day we’ll have the last laugh! One day all the dead in Christ will rise to praise Him filled with the careless joy of indestructible, everlasting life and all those babies will be there! In the words of Samwise Gamgee, one day ‘every sad thing will become untrue.’ In the words of Sally Lloyd Jones, one day ‘even death is going to die.’ Everything scary will become a joke and the last laugh of little boys and girls will fill the universe forever and ever and ever and ever.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No Quitting!

It’s really cold today. I mean, really cold. I did not want to go running in this weather, but I did anyway because I need to. I was talking to Tom about it and he said that running in the freezing cold is the best. He said the only way it could be any better is when you run in the pouring rain and bitter cold. I wondered how on earth this could possibly be a good thing and he said that when you run in those conditions you know for a fact that you are alive… and fully alive. Not like those folks all warm and comfy in their offices with central heating… no, those folks are protecting themselves from life, but not you; you’re in it, feeling it and knowing that you’re fully alive… well I say, “Whatever.” I got out there in that ridiculousness and let me tell you, it’s mainly just really cold.

So there I was, freezing my tail off with sore legs and tired eyes from lack of sleep jogging up and down the relentless hills of Outer Drive when a delicious temptation to stop running came over me like a wave. Look, my entire run was only going to be three miles, and I know that’s not a ton, but I was exhausted and sore with chapped lips and icicles in my lungs. Not only that, but my run was about to go from somewhat hard to really stinking hard. You see, the last few tenths of this particular run are a climb… and not just a climb, but this intense uphill that punishes me without a second thought. I was getting close to the intersection of Outer and Georgia with the big climb looming ahead while this germ of an idea to just walk the rest of the way back was growing stronger every second. I would quit… no big deal, it was just a run. I’ll finish it another day. I can quit…

Then something happened… something changed my plans and pumped me so full of adrenaline that I destroyed that hill with joyful determination! Something went from the depths of my iPod straight into the depths of my Spirit and super-charged me to make it to the end. No, it wasn’t The Eye of The Tiger or Jock Jams. It was an audio Bible… it was someone simply reading the Scriptures that got me, but it wasn’t the end of Isaiah 40 about eagles wings and all that; it was the end of the book of Colossians where Paul sends the greetings of his companions to the church at Colossae. In chapter 4, amid the shout-outs of guys like Mark and Epaphras, Paul says, “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings.”

So, what was it about that verse that got me so fired up to finish? Well, when I first heard it I just felt really sad. You see, Colossians 4 is not the only time Paul mentions Demas… Later on, at the end of 2 Timothy (and the end of Paul’s life) he says, “Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” Demas was a quitter. He fell away because he fell in love with this world! He didn’t make it to the finish line! When I heard Paul so sweetly give the greeting of Demas to the Colossians, I thought about how he didn’t know at that time that Demas would eventually quit and fall away, but I did! I’ve read 2 Timothy and I don’t want to be like Demas! When I heard that greeting, I decided I would never quit walking this walk! Never fall away by loving this stupid old world! And never stop running until I got to the top of this hill! Let’s not quit! Let’s make it, right to the very last.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Counting Stars

One of the things I absolutely love about Anna is how excitable she is. As far as Anna is concerned, everything is a big deal. To her, whatever is going on is a reason to jump up and down, raise your voice or let your face break open in the biggest smile of all time. The other day I discovered that Anna’s preschool was starting back up even though we didn’t know it… I called Christy and told her Anna was going to go to school that day and Christy told Anna… what followed was a complete distortion of the phone speaker due to Anna going absolutely insane with glee at the thought of going back to school in less than an hour! On Norah’s birthday we took the girls to the movies, and most of the time I was just watching Anna’s face explode with incredulous mirth as her mind was being blown at 24 frames per second by the biggest screen she’d ever seen. On Christmas morning our house couldn’t have been any louder if a fire truck had rolled through the living room, blaring its siren; such was the merry making of my little girl.

She just gets so pumped about everything! I’ve grown to love this part of her personality so much that I try to build things up and spring them on her in such a way as to cause one of these outbursts… like when we’re going to the zoo, Christy and I will go in the girls’ room when they wake up and really slowly say, “Guess what guys?” And the girls start to giggle while Anna starts bouncing in place and says, “What… what?” (with increasing volume) So we spread the next sentence out with a pause in between each word for dramatic effect: “Today… we… are… going… to… the………” “To the what, Dad?! Today we’re going to the what?!” “To the ZOO!” And everyone bursts into raucous screams and laughter! It’s awesome, and as a dad, few things get me more pumped than seeing my girl giddy with delight.

I thought about Anna today when I was reading in Genesis 15 about Abraham. I thought about his long life full of dashed hopes and crushed dreams… I mean, a guy with a name that means ‘exalted father’ who has no kids? Come on! I thought about how it had probably been years and years… maybe even decades and decades since he had his mind blown by unexpected joy. God told him, “I am your very great reward.” But Ole’ Abe was grumpy that day and he wasn’t having any of it… he said, “What reward? What can you give me since I have no kids and will never have any kids because You didn’t give me any kids?!” It says then that God took him outside and said this: “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them… so shall your offspring be.”

The old man walked outside his tent, craned his neck and peered up into the black sky… what must a cloudless night of stars have looked like 4,000 years before the industrial revolution? What was it like to stare up into thousands upon thousands; no, hundreds of thousands of shining beacons of bright in the middle of the dark knowing that they were there for you? I don’t know, but I bet you anything he didn’t stand there for too long. I bet he laid down on his back in the grass and just watched, counted and laughed. Somewhere in that night of stargazing, faith was born, and I bet it was that super excited faith of a child. It says that Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. That night God blew his mind… the plans God had for him were so outrageously bigger than anything Abe would have ever dared hope for that it made him giddy and full of faith. Here at the beginning of a new year, I hope you’re ready for God to blow your mind. The stuff He has planned for you is so much bigger, so much cooler and more amazing than you could ever invent or ask for. Get ready.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Jack and I both thought Penn State would make a better game of it than all that...

Trusty and her boy the day after Christmas...

Anna, Norah and Josiah at Christmas breakfast!

That’s It!

So, Christmas is over once again. You don’t hear as much Elvis or Bing Crosby as you did last week, and no one seems to be wearing crazy felt hats out in broad daylight anymore. The bows have been unbowed, the packages have been unpacked and the stockings have been unstocked. It’s now time for returns, exchanges and after-Christmas sales. If you’re like me, you’re drowning in what seems to be an endless ocean of delicious and chocolaty temptations and you’re on the verge of overdose. After so much anticipation and excitement, Christmas came and once the dust settled through a cloud of wrapping paper scraps and double A batteries, I realized something: No one needs to remind me to remember the real reason for Christmas.

Every year after Thanksgiving church marquees, Christian bookstores and individuals with tons of little silver fishies on their cars work hard to campaign for the true meaning of Christmas. Folks put little red and green signs in their yards that say, “Jesus: The Reason for the Season.” They print this on t-shirts and bumper stickers and even knit it into Christmas sweaters so that everyone will remember (as the Grinch learned) that maybe “Christmas perhaps means a little bit more” than gifts, trees and legends of flying reindeer. And look, its not that I have a problem with this campaign… it’s fine. I think it’s great that they are spreading the word about what we ought to be celebrating; it’s just that I’ve realized it might not be so necessary to be telling everyone all the time what to focus on. See, I think the whole commercial Christmas thing does the job just fine… I mean, haven’t you ever been sitting there at the end of the all the presents thinking, “Is that it? Is that what all the preparation and decoration was about? Is this all there is to it?”

I bet most people walk away from expensive and fancy Christmases feeling as though they are missing something; feeling unsatisfied, like they are thirsting for more. I bet Christmas itself can do a fine job of leading people to desire Christ, simply because Christmas on its own is not very fulfilling. I was reading this week about how a trip to a well made a woman realize how thirsty she was… She went to the well to draw water in the middle of the day so no one would be there. She was hiding. Jesus was there though. He started to talk to her about water and would up talking about life… her life and what it takes to have satisfying, full and eternal life. He offered her water that takes away your thirst forever and ever and she wanted it. She mentioned the Messiah and then He told her He was the Messiah. Then an interesting thing happened… John says, “Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town…”

She came to the well because she was thirsty and everyday she had to come back for more water. On this day she met Jesus and after meeting Him, she left her water jar sitting at the well. She didn’t need it anymore because she wasn’t thirsty anymore. When Jesus’ disciples tried to get Him some food, He said He didn’t need food because He was filled with something different. So was this woman. Every day she walked to the well for water, drank it and wondered, “Is this it?” Until one day she met the One who gives living water and said, “That’s it!” So, if you find yourself surrounded by new toys and treats but still feel empty and thirsty, it’s because Christmas itself is telling you something… you’re thirsty for a reason. You’re looking for the water that won’t run out, and the One who gave it at a well so many years ago still gives it now to those who thirst.

P.S. today is Norah's birthday!!! She's 3, and she's awesome!

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