Friday, May 31, 2013

Is Jesus revealed in me?

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 (NIV)

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.
The power is from God, not from us. Replace power with other words — wisdom, peace, courage and so on — and there is no less truth. I don’t expect me or my children to be called to a life like Paul’s, but I would very much like to be able to say the resurrection is visible within and through us, that we live differently because of God’s saving grace.

It’s not easy for me to explain how this concept is actually manifested in my daily life. It’s harder still to predict what it might look like in my boys as they grow into young men. I do know all of them will go through periods where they feel hard pressed, perplexed and struck down. I most certainly have walked those roads and will again, likely more than once. But it’s how we get through those challenges, the way in which we rely on God to keep from being crushed, in despair or destroyed, that reveal a person who has been changed through faith.

As I write, I feel the struggle of communicating in vague terms a sentiment best felt by an individual in a specific situation. So much of this is deeply personal — what feels like persecution to one soul is of little significance to another — and the way in which God provides those tools like wisdom or power is specific to each person. But the larger themes of Paul’s words here, as far as I can tell, are to be broadly inspiring. They are meant to be open to interpretation by one person embroiled in one scenario.

Following that, as it relates to my kids, I hope I’m able to think back on this point as I try to guide and counsel them toward maturity. They’ll have very similar upbringings, sure, but each will have his own unique path. Already I can clearly see how different they are from each other in terms of personality and starting to guess how that might affect the way in which they respond to the world. But God, and faith, ought to be a constant, an unwavering source of strength and inspiration.

It can be difficult to consider myself as a clay jar, to fully accept my human limitations and the reality that no matter how much I want it to be true, I simply won’t be here forever. I’ve lost some very important people in my life and been sad every time. We celebrate life and sing praises for the resurrection. I know where my hope lies, what God has promised, and I believe fully. But there is so much to do here, so many people to love. I know this world pales in comparison to what God offers. If we weren’t mortal, there would be no death for God to conquer. And life, eternal life, is indeed at work in everyone who allows it to be so.

Big thoughts for a guy with little kids. Some day, not any time soon, I hope, we’re going to sit up late and talk about these things, pick each other’s brains and ask challenging questions. But until then, we’ll focus more regularly on the uplifting messages like the one conveyed in this passage. God can give strength, more than we can imagine, and it can take us through any struggle. A good lesson regardless of age or experience.

A prayer for May 31:

Lord, let the life of Jesus be revealed in me. Let people see not just someone who lives in gratitude for your grace, but someone who truly loves as Jesus taught. I don’t want to wrap myself in the blanket of salvation, I want to be out and about, showing people kindness, respect, compassion and love that comes directly from you. I want my children to be known as people who care for others as much as their own well being. I hope that we, working through you, can be agents of true Christian love. Amen.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Advice for a day — or a lifetime

Deuteronomy 4:39-40 (NIV)

Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other. Keep his decrees and commands, which I am giving you today, so that it may go well with you and your children after you and that you may live long in the land the Lord your God gives you for all time.
Tomorrow is the last day of third grade. Jack thinks he still has class on Monday, but I don’t have any supporting evidence. I suppose we’ll find out definitively based on how much stuff he brings home tomorrow. We know for sure preschool is over for Max since he hasn’t had to go for the last two weeks. I would love Charlie to graduate form the toilet training academy, but he’s opted for a deferred enrollment. Baby comes in October, champ. I only change one kid’s diapers at a time.

As usual, the end of the school year signals a sea of change in our family dynamic. There’s less urgency before bedtime and no rushing out the door in the morning (both of which make it even harder to get to church on time each Sunday). The grocery bills go up as we have a third grazer on the premises at all times, and more hours spent playing outdoors don’t cut back on the eating — they just leave a bag of Goldfish on the driveway and get a dirty handful whenever the mood strikes.

Our changes, though, are not incredibly significant. Despite starting at a new building, fourth grade won’t be all that much different from third. Kindergarten will be new for Max but old hat for the family. And that new baby in October? A change to be sure, but it’s several months away. And it’s not like we’ve never lived with a new baby in the house.

Still, the end of school and start of summer forces me to confront the reality of my kids growing up, slowly but surely. Sometimes it still staggers me to realize Max is now older than Jack was when we first moved here four years ago. Nearly every day Charlie wears an outfit I closely associate with one of his older brothers. Time marches on. This truth is neither surprising nor overwhelming, but it was heavy on my mind when I read these verses from Deuteronomy.

The command at first seemed to me like the sort of thing that might be good to tell someone who is embarking on a new phase of life — perhaps written by hand on a nice piece of stationery to kept at the ready for when the going gets tough and the tough needs a bit of help to get going. It may well serve that purpose one day for me as it relates to my kids, though in the time I’ve been working on this project I’ve come up with several good examples such that it will be a challenge to pick a favorite.

But as I read them over and again, I realize these verses fit neatly into another collection that’s been picking up steam over the last 13 or so months: nuggets I really ought to read and reflect on regularly — weekly, perhaps, if not more frequently. All I really want in this world is for life to go well with me and for my children. It appears that’s what God wants for us as well. For everyone, really. It shouldn’t be so hard to get along with one another, life shouldn’t be filled with as much stress as we’ve put upon ourselves as a culture.

But it is hard. Life is filled with stress. My hope is in the Lord and nowhere else. So far, that’s been more than enough to get by.

A prayer for May 30:

Lord, I acknowledge you this day and every day as my creator, my redeemer, my hope and my strength. You alone can give me a peace that defies logic. Only you can forgive my sins, which are many. I can do my best to obey your decrees and commands, but I will always need your love to carry me all the way back to you, where I truly belong. Please don’t ever let me go. Amen.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What to do when there's nothing to do

Psalm 48:9-10 (NIV)

Within your temple, O God,
   we meditate on your unfailing love.
Like your name, O God,
   your praise reaches to the ends of the earth;
   your right hand is filled with righteousness.
We count among our dear friends one of our church’s associate pastors, his wonderful wife and their adorable daughter, who is six months to the day older than Charlie. As of the end of Sunday he is on a sabbatical for most of the next three months. There will be lots of travel involved, both for personal and professional reasons, all of it centered around a lifetime of faith. I’m very happy for them as they embark on what surely will be a series of journeys that build a lifetime of memories.

Since the couple is close to ours in age, and our children are very similar in size, my mind has wandered over the last few days to what exactly I would do if he opportunity for a sabbatical came my direction.

I need to suspend some disbelief. With Kristie firmly in the second trimester of pregnancy, not to mention the three boys to consider, we’re not up for anything like our friends’ ambitious itinerary. And not only have I not been at my day job as long as my pal (me roughly four years, he more than seven) my line of work does not lend itself to the kind of experiences the word sabbatical conjures for a pastor or academic. There were some times in my journalism career when I thought about special projects I could only undertake if given total freedom from my regular responsibilities, but there’s not enough of me in that world any more to fully form any such thoughts.

There are plenty of things I would like to do. I am painfully behind on editing and blogging of family photos. Our DVR is nearly crushed under the weight of all the shows I need to finish watching. I could spend all of tomorrow’s sunlight pulling weeds and stray grass from our yard. Both cars could stand to be cleaned inside and out. If we could offload the kids, Kristie and I could spend the better part of a week sorting all the old clothes we have for the boys and getting them ready for summer, which appears determined to stick around for a few months.

But that’s just a to-do list. And while it’s only the tip of that particular iceberg, those projects certainly aren’t the sort of thing you’re supposed to do during a sabbatical. It might feel good to cross off a few items, but they’re not going to offer a sense of renewal or get me back in touch with my original motivations and goals. Especially since most of the things on my to-do list are only temporary fixes: I’m always taking new pictures, the weeds come right back, the cars never stay clean for more than a few days.

I suppose I could take a few months off from writing, but I’d have to replace the time I spend each day with reading something of similar relevance. I can’t think of anywhere I’d especially need to go, though we do have long-term goals of visiting relatives in Montana and San Francisco some time before Jack graduates high school. But we’ve got nine years to squeeze in one or both of those adventures.

In the end, I can’t waste too much time and energy dreaming about this sort of thing — it’s just not in the cards, nor does it need to be. But I will spend some time thinking and praying about our friends, that this time and the experiences they’ve planned will do exactly what they hope. Our congregation and especially worship experiences will be noticeably altered by their absence. And really, no one needs a specified time away from the office to praise God to the ends of the Earth.

Life is what we make of it regardless of circumstance. I just try to do my best every day. Some are better than others, which is a truth I’ve come to accept with the same gladness I accept the gift of life itself. To God be the glory.

A prayer for May 29:

Lord, thank you for the quiet moments in each day when I can reflect on life and the people who make a difference to me. Thank you for guiding my thoughts, for listening when I come to you and for the peace that washes over me when difficulties arise. Grant that I may never forget the value of a little time spent in solitude, the worth of a few quick seconds of prayer. Let me not be alone in trying to praise your name far and wide. Amen.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Will they be proud of me?

2 Corinthians 1:12-14, 18-22 (NIV)

Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.

But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us — by me and Silas and Timothy — was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
Will my children be as proud of me as I am of them? Paul asks the question of the church in Corinth as it relates to standing before the Lord in judgment. But when I consider it as it regards to raising my kids, it slams into me at least as hard as the tailgate of the minivan the time Kristie pushed the door closing button before checking to see if I was back there.

I tend to stick to one translation of the Bible for this project, but I found the way The Voice phrases verse 14 to be illuminating:
You have already begun to grasp what we mean in part; but on the day when our Lord Jesus returns, we will be as proud of you as you are of us.
I’ve been a dad for more than nine years now. We’re only a few months away from the 10th anniversary of the day I first saw a positive pregnancy test. That we have spent the great majority of the ensuing decade changing diapers, not to mention bottle-feeding or nursing babies, and will not be out of the woods until the son due in October approaches his third birthday some time in 2016, hopefully says something about the joy with which I have accepted the call to be a father. It at least says something about my mental and physical endurance. It should also be evidence I am paired with the ideal partner for this journey, without home none of this would be possible.

Over those years, I have been proud of my children many, many times. The older two have brought uncontrollable smiles to my face while performing at church or in school. Jack’s feats sometime mix pride with astonishment, such as when he was very little and it took him more time to pull himself up into the desk chair than it did to log on to the Internet, or recently when he disassembled his child-specific headphones so as to remove the volume restrictor. Max has exhibited fierce bravery from his first breath, continuing even now as he is subjected to allergy tests and shrugs off most physical pain. All three boys now have such good ways of showing their affection for dear family members, I fairly well beam when I see them building bonds one hug at a time.

God willing, there are many more moments to come. Someone’s going to bring home a fantastic grade on a difficult assignment. Someone is going to earn their drivers license on the first pass. Someone will get hired for a competitive job. Someone will get into the college of their dreams. Someone will find real love. Someone will choose fatherhood. Someone will rise up and meet the challenges of life with a courage beyond their means.

These, of course, are the easy ones to predict. Maybe each of my boys will hit all the banner moments for which the greeting card industry is ably prepared. Maybe only one will choose a certain path I might have expected to be open to all. I will love them all regardless because they’re here to live the life God set before them, not make checks on a to-do list their mother and I crafted in the delivery room.

What excites me more, though, is the potential to be proud on the in-between days. Like the time at social hour at church where Jack was teaching the young daughter of our friends how to walk. Or when Max greets his friends by name, and thanks them without prompting. Or when Charlie sticks up for himself when an older brother tries to take advantage of the pipsqueak.

Those are the things I’ve seen. There are countless possibilities for what lies ahead. Finding something lost and returning it without question. Resisting peer pressure to engage in illegal or immoral activity. Accepting a leadership role at school or church. Being the loudest kid in the marching band. Offering to shovel a neighbor’s driveway not for money, but because she just needs the help. Writing a thank you note to generous relatives. Saying “I love you,” just because.

But — will they be proud of me? Will they one day look back at childhood and think they turned out OK because of me or in spite of me? Will they have any examples of times they saw me say or do something that filled them with the same kind of joy I get from seeing them at their best?

I am certain I will embarrass my children. I have plenty of experience in being embarrassed by my dad, and perhaps even more experience embarrassing my wife. I think this trait is as common as it is unavoidable. But in the best-case scenario, it’s surface material, and all the players know it rests atop deep layers of unshakeable love, admiration and respect.

I know I’m very proud of my parents for several reasons, both for the lives they have lived, which is what the world sees, and also for the types of parents they have chosen to be, which is more personal. But on both fronts, I count myself incredibly lucky to have been blessed with such loving, devoted Christians as parents, mentors and models, and it is my earnest prayer to follow in their footsteps. I strive to both follow the trail they blazed before me while also clearing a path I would be honored for my children to hope to pursue.

This hope and striving comes with the knowledge that humanity will take us only so far. My parents are not carving their own route through life so much as trying their level best to seek God’s will, to answer that call in the truest way possible. In Jesus it is always “Yes,” the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise. That is where my true hope lies, in knowing that for generations we’ve all been reaching for the same goal, hearing the same voice, seeking the same guidance and wrapped in the same love.

Will my children be proud of me? If my creator and redeemer are proud of me, I’ll have done my job, in the manner of all the saints gone before. I consider my wife and our children my greatest blessings on this planet, and I intend to live every day in gratitude for them and in the hopes of being both a worthy father and worthy of the Father’s love. It is not easy, but it is worth every ounce of energy and devotion. I will never waver from that belief.

A prayer for May 28:

Lord, I want to make you proud of me. I want you to see me as a good and faithful servant. I want to make good use of the many blessings and responsibilities in my life, to be a good steward of my talents, resources and family near and far. I ask you to guide me, daily, in pursuit of the goals you have set before me. I hope you will endow me with the gifts I need to be a light of your love in this world — gifts of peace, strength, patience, wisdom, courage, whatever you see fit. Use me as you need me, God, and make me your own. Amen.

Monday, May 27, 2013

On remembering a lesson once it's learned

Deuteronomy 4:9 (NIV)

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.
One of the well-known phenomena of the junior high or high school youth group experience is the way retreats or mission trips inflame student passions for faith and living a Godly life, only for the emotions to dissipate fairly quickly upon getting home and back to school, if not on the return bus trip.

I would like to think the important life lessons I’ve learned in adulthood are not so fleeting, that I’ve actually been permanently changed for the better over the course of the last decade or so. But to be honest, there certainly are things I have seen and forgotten or lessons that have faded from my heart. I’d make a quick list of the bigger ones, but it’s hard to itemize all the things no longer in my memory bank.

It would be simpler, then, to collect the wisdom I’ve gained from my life’s experiences that still rests in a corner of my mind, able to leap to the forefront when a relevant situation arises. But it’s late on the Monday of a holiday weekend and my brain isn’t quite in that kind of place at the moment.

Each year on Jack’s birthday I write a newspaper column about the lessons I’ve learned in the preceding year, a tradition I started just a few days after he was born. But the vast majority of those bullet points are related to the day in, day out lessons of parenthood, and specifically in being his parent, which is by nature a unique experience, even compared to either of his brothers. Each kid is capable of teaching me widely different lessons regardless of their age or developmental stages.

Part of the reason I keep at this writing project past its one-year benchmark goal is so, on the odd occasion I do have an experience worth remembering and later passing on to my children and their (hypothetical) children, I’ve got an outlet to log and save it for later. Some days I come to an understanding while I’m writing, but there are times when the stereotypical “aha moment” happens during the day, and I know that night I can put finger to keyboard and, if for no one else, convey my lesson in a format that might serve me well days, weeks or months down the road.

But the verse in question is not asking for me to create a spiritual time capsule. These lessons are not relics to be accessed on some distant future date. They are supposed to actually change the way I see the world and how I think, act and speak. I’m to be taught and then to live as an educated guy, keeping these truths relevant and evident each day. That’s a far taller task, and one I’m sad to admit I frequently fail to fully complete.

Much like forgetting the name of the 14th vice president or the purpose of the 24th amendment, I am just too good at learning an important truth about myself or the world, then eventually carrying on as if I’d never been taught in the first place. I just need to get better, to actually change instead of simply saying I am or feeling it’s true. After all, if I’m not actually learning anything from life, what kind of teacher can my children expect me to be?

A prayer for May 27:

Lord, thank you for continuing to teach me, day in and day out, about what it means to live in faith. Your patience with me is astounding. I know there are so many times it seems I’m refusing to accept what I know to be true, or simply ignoring something plainly in front of my face. I don’t want to be so stubborn or blind, and I am trying to chip away at those tendencies and give myself fully to your will. Please don’t give up on me. My hope is in you. Amen.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Discussions for another day

John 1:1-14 (NIV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Today is Trinity Sunday on the Western Christian calendar. I did not even attempt to explain to my children what exactly that means or how the Trinity works. Their main concern was the hot dog picnic after worship service and the “games” on the adjacent football field, which amounted to running around with tiny plungers and whacking people with beach balls.

And Monday is Memorial Day. I have not even considered explaining to the kids the concept of war or compulsory military service — what it means to serve and die for one’s country. I’m sure by third grade there have been lessons about America’s wars and people who lost their lives in such conflicts, but there’s simply no way for me to explain the tragedy of a person going off to war and not coming home, or the way the people who did come back might feel about those who never returned, or how the bodies may have survived while innocence departed forever.

I would very much like to one day have discussions about the trinity with my boys. Such a talk might help me further cement my own understanding, which runs along the lines of God who made us, Jesus who walked among us and died to save us and the spirit that came to live among us until such time as we are directly united with all three.

I would very much like to never need to have a serious discussion about war or battles or killing other people for any reason. I say this not to disrespect our military or those who gave their life for this country, but out of a desire that peace would reign, war would cease and killing our fellow humans, for any reason, could one day be a thing of the past.

The darkness has not overcome the light, and I believe it never will. But there are some days it is pretty tough to hold firm to that stronghold. Still, the light ever shines. When I start looking for all the places it shines in my corner of the planet, hope is restored. When I am able to encourage my children to seek as well, hope is bolstered. And when I find the light inside my children, or shining through their words and deeds, hope soars like a mighty hawk, coasting high above and seeing the world from a perspective I can only dream of sharing.

Trinity Sunday, Memorial Day and three days off from school and work to spend time strengthening the family bonds. May “the true light that gives light to everyone” drive darkness from our lives.

A prayer for May 26:

Lord, I pray my children believe and receive you, that they may live as your children in this world. We presented them to you for baptism and are trying to encourage and increase their understanding of your glory, grace and truth, that they may one day claim their faith as their own, not inherited but intentional and internal. I know the world did not and in many ways does not recognize or receive you. But I do, and my hope is for my children to do the same. Lead us all along your path. Amen.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The good life vs. 'life that is truly life'

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19 (NIV)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
We had the delightful opportunity today to attend a family and friends Memorial Day weekend cookout in a lovely home a literal stone’s throw from Lake Michigan. The home and the neighboring properties were beautiful and in addition to the great food and fantastic company, it was something of a treat to be able to be in and around the type of home we’d usually just drive by while taking the scenic route toward a different destination.

But while we were clearly in a different tax bracket, only the backdrop was different. It was beyond obvious, from the pictures and mementos covering every flat service to the way family and friends greeted each other warmly and spoke glowingly throughout the day, that this was no shrine to money. It was a place for people to enjoy being together. It was not unlike the Labor Day fish fry we enjoyed last summer on a Mississippi River sandbar. Good friends, good food, laughter and love all around.

The thing about money and arrogance is it’s entirely possible to have one without the other. No one should be defined by what they own or what they lack, but the larger point, as Paul explains, is the danger of putting hope in wealth versus putting hope in God. I’ve had the privilege to know people, from wealthy to poor, with a seemingly boundless generosity and willingness to share. What they started from isn’t as important as their desire to give to others.

Of course, it’s far more easy to be generous when you’ve got an abundance of something. But there are so many people whose abundance is not in wealth or possessions, but something less tangible, like free time, musical or artistic talent, or the simple gift of a caring heart and eyes and ears for people in need of emotional support. Financial gifts can go a long way toward a better world as well, but I feel Paul, building off of some of Jesus’ teachings, is making a solid statement about the value of being a good person above all else.

Society, of course, is quick to label people rich or poor or lower middle class or upper middle class or any other classification that helps create groups of folks we don’t actually have to get to know because we’ve got a good understanding of what it means to fit our preconceptions. I am as good at judging books by their covers as anyone, no matter how much I try to repress that instinct. Yet I know I should be looking at the world as God does instead of trying to worry what other people are thinking.

Taking “hold of the life that is truly life” sounds like an incredible opportunity, exactly the sort of thing God wants for me, for everyone. Being surrounded by so many people who clearly care deeply for one another, whether in a beautiful lake house or gathered on a riverside sandbar, leads to the sentiment that God finds way to give us glimpses on Earth of what it really means to be encompassed in true life, true love and true, complete togetherness.

A prayer for May 25:

Lord, thank you for the generous people in my life, those who have given so much to help get me to this place. Through gifts of time, money or simply trying to understand me and make the world a better place, I have opportunities each day to be grateful for another person who enriches my life. Help me also to be a blessing to others, and to show my children the importance of putting hope in you and nothing else. Amen.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The dangers of being a 'good kid'

1 Timothy 5:24-25 (NIV)

The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.
One of the things I struggled with in childhood was the notion of myself as a “good kid.” While my religious education convinced me all of humanity was imperfect, that no person should be elevated above the rest of us, I admit to having a hard time processing my place in the big picture as it related to the “bad kids.”

I think my family, generally, and most of my teachers would label me a “good kid.” I was never in danger of being arrested (because I was clean, not because I was good at not getting caught), my grades were always good enough and I always made it to all my games, performances, church events and so on. I’m not ashamed of the reputation. What I struggled with at the time, however, is allowing that label to creep into my psyche.

When you consider yourself a “good kid,” that means you’ve decided there are a class of “bad kids.” These are the kids who swear at teachers, earn detentions, ditch class, smoke cigarettes just off school property and so on. They commit what Paul might refer to as obvious sins. By avoiding those infractions, I was able to believe I was good — too good. My sins were more the “trail behind” type. They affected my personality, my world view, my relationships. I didn’t land in the police blotter, but I was not always the person I wanted, or claimed, to be.

If I were, at the time, more honest with myself, I would have realized there are no “good kids” or “bad kids.” There are just kids, and people, and we all have our own burdens. Whether our sins race out in front of us or bring up the rear, they are inescapable. Convincing myself I was good allowed me to turn a blind eye or two to my very obvious shortcomings for far too long. It was a mentality that enabled me to sit in judgment of others when I should have been working on improving my own life.

To an extent, I’m not sure how much I’ve changed. I like to brand myself an optimist, but sometimes that manifests itself in thoughts like, “Yeah, I know I shouldn’t have yelled during bedtime… but at least I wasn’t out all night getting plastered!” What good does that accomplish? It simply allows me to equivocate, to let myself off the hook. If I was a lesser dad than God calls me to be, it doesn’t matter which direction or how far I strayed from the path. There’s a right way, God’s way, and everything else is wrong. Degrees are not important.

Likewise, being a “good kid” can be a lot more about seeking the reward for obvious goodness than it is about making right choices for the sake of following where I’m led. But those rewards are from other people, and they don’t mean much in the long run, at least not compared to finding favor with God. Back then, it was about setting myself apart from the “bad kids” in the eyes of peers and adults. Now, such behavior is obviously shallow and misguided. I don’t deserve to be set apart, and I’d get a lot more benefit out of trying to push for equality instead of pushing for isolation and preferential treatment.

This also will be a good lesson for my children. We’re all capable of doing good things and bad things. We can’t tell how someone else lives their life just by what we see on the surface, nor should we care. What’s important is focusing within, thinking about the choices we face each day and what it will take to choose to listen to God’s voice above everything else.

I’m sure that was taught to me as a kid time and time again. I’m also sure I wasn’t a real good listener. But if I had listened and learned, I think I would have been much better off for doing so.

A prayer for May 24:

Lord, I try to keep humble. Sometimes I’m not very good at remembering to come to you openly about the ways I have fallen short. My heart knows I need you to forgive me, and somehow I let my mind get in the way and start to believe I can be just fine on my own. But I know it’s not true — I know how much I need you to heal me, guide me, love me and hold me close to you. Thank you for your patience with me, and for always giving me the chance to get it right. Amen.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Youth is no barrier

1 Timothy 4:8-12 (NIV)

For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
Every night before bed I read Max a page from the Veggie Tales devotional book he got for Christmas. I’m pretty sure Jack listens, but he rarely speaks. A fair amount of the lessons are slightly over Max’s head, though sometimes it’s not the lesson so much as the language. But we keep going, night after night. Part of the persistence can be attributed to Max’s love of routine — he won’t let me forget.

But another part is my use of this book as something of a crutch. It gives me, each night, an opportunity to discuss with my kids something a little more serious than I might otherwise mention. Sure, the boys might not be old enough for deep theological conversation. But their religious education, such as it is, need not be limited to stories like Noah’s Ark and Zaccheus climbing the tree to hear Jesus.

There’s no need for me to look down on them spiritually simply because they are young. I encourage them to rise to their skill level (and not be constrained by age) in other endeavors, so why not matters of faith? Surely they could set an example for their peers in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity.

But that’s only going to happen on two conditions. One is if they understand those concepts and why they’re important. It runs a lot deeper than just pretending to be loving and pure in the same way they might don a fireman’s coat and demand to be called “chief.” The second condition is the presence of reliable adults to model these attributes — and for them to understand it is not humanity’s general instinct to be exemplary is each area of concern.

Tonight’s lesson for me is to remember my kids are not too young to be taught lessons of faith, nor are they too young to live, labor and strive in gratitude for the hope God provides. Godliness holds promise for this life and the life to come. Since we never know when the transition will happen from one to the next, it only makes sense to commit now to what it means to live a life of faith.

A prayer for May 23:

Lord, thank you for the reminder to take my children seriously. It can be all too easy to forget how important it is for me to carry myself in a manner they might be able to emulate, or to overlook my obligation to teach them about you simply because of their young age. It’s been made clear to me I’ll always have more to learn, always have room to grow, always have sin to scrub from my life. But just because it will go on as long as my body goes on does not mean I shouldn’t be striving hard right now. The same is true for my kids, and sometimes I need to be reminded their youth is no barrier to faith and hopefully gratitude for the ramifications of your love and redemption. Thank you for opening my eyes again. Amen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

'Worthy of full respect'

1 Timothy 3:1-7 (NIV)

Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
Paul does a pretty god job of fleshing out the ideal candidate for the position of overseer in the young Christian church. And perhaps on a church polity blog I would write at length about the type of person who makes a good elder or deacon. On another night I might reflect on the laundry list of desired positive qualities cited and weigh myself against each item. But given a desire to focus on parenting, I can’t escape this one sentence:
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.
There are a few things to get past. A woman is just as qualified to hold a church leadership post as a man. A man is not alone in managing a family — that needs to be a partnership. In modern society, it’s presumptuous to assume all adults would have a family in need of management. A single adult could be qualified to lead, as could either half of a childless couple. All that considered, when viewing the message through those filters, it’s not difficult to agree with Paul’s larger point: someone who is a lousy family member is probably not a suitable church leader.

But what I really like about this verse is the qualifier at the end. Yes, the elder must manage their own family. Yes, he (or she) should have a reputation for raising obedient children. But neither of those is worth anything if the person accomplishes either goal in a disrespectful fashion.

Though I struggle to recall specific examples, I clearly recall a good deal of grade school playground discussion revolving around parenting strategies. We didn’t see it as such at the time, but at the core, that’s where the gossip originated. Which of our peers had a crazy early bedtime? Who was allowed to watch certain shows or movies? Whose parents offered paid incentives for good report cards? Who got grounded routinely, and for what infractions?

This kind of discussion continued well into high school as the permissions and punishments got more severe. In college, surrounded by people we never knew until they turned 18, we shared even more openly the stories of how our parents, or those of our friends back home, ruled with either an iron fist or a noticeable lack of interest. Several factors were at play: birth order, age of parents, the type of town or school environment and so on.

When I was younger, the tales of what certain friends enjoyed were of great interest. Be it the type of toys under the Christmas tree or how much the tooth fairy paid for a molar, I was sure other kids had a much cushier ride through life than I enjoyed. As I got older, though, I started to question why certain parents would be so lax on curfew, or what business a sixth-grader had watching R-rated movies on the family VCR.

Shortly after I became a parent myself, I developed a severe distaste for the practice of judging other parents of any age. Not that I’ve scrubbed the bad habit entirely, but it does not take long for an open-minded parent to realize each child deserves his or her own parental approach. What works for your kids might not work for mine for about eighty-seven billion reasons, and we’re all going to be better parents if we support each other in the pursuit of doing what we feel is right for our situations — situations we know better than anyone else.

As such, parenting in a manner “worthy of full respect” is not clearly quantifiable. There are some tactics most folks can agree run counter to the notion of respectable parenting, but the finer points are perhaps best left to the parents to decide with each other. For families where faith is a component, it’s a good bet prayer, meditation and trying to seek God’s will are key ingredients in the process. For me, the goal is being worthy of God’s respect. If I can approach that goal, humanity’s respect should follow. And even if it doesn’t, I’m only here to serve one master anyway.

Further, my takeaway lesson is parenting is not a “by any means necessary” exercise. The ends do not always justify the means. That’s enough clich├ęs for now, but the point is made: try to figure out the right way. As with so many things related to this monumental task, it’s good to know I’m never alone.

A prayer for May 22:

Lord, thank you for trusting me with these children. They are such joys to be around, filled with so much energy and potential and zest for life. Please help me to be the kind of father they deserve, to become the best dad my gifts and talents allow. Help me be kind, loving, fair and forgiving. Help me be patient, respectful, humble and uplifting. Help me to always see them as not just my gifts but as your creation, unique and special in their own ways — ways you saw fit. Show me, in all circumstances, how to live a life worthy of you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

'A people not yet created'

Psalm 106:18-20 (NIV)

Let this be written for a future generation,
   that a people not yet created may praise the Lord:
“The Lord looked down from his sanctuary on high,
   from heaven he viewed the earth,
to hear the groans of the prisoners
   and release those condemned to death.”
I don’t have any misconceptions about anything I write being someday valued by future generations, but I do occasionally consider the way the generations of my own family overlap, the legacies each of us might be able to leave and how memories can linger.

My mom’s maternal grandmother was born in 1901. She had seven great-grandchildren. Although she lived until 1995, only four of us had been born by then. At 16, I had plenty of time to establish a relationship with her and build up a bank of memories to last my lifetime. For my young siblings and cousins, however, that’s a much taller order. This doesn’t make me special, of course, just older. My youngest cousin turns nine at the end of this year. Hopefully she lives a life as long and full as our Nana, and who knows what special relatives she might get to know and love over the next eight decades or so.

The idea of “a people not yet created” is perhaps more poignant at a time when we’re counting down the months until a new baby arrives in our family. Though we’re in the phase where the biggest impact of pregnancy is Kristie being unable to accompany the boys on a single roller coaster, the notion of a growing family is inescapable — and pleasantly so. Thinking about how life will be this time next year, when we’ll be completely consumed with a tiny person we don’t know today, is something of a window into the longer-term future as well.

Chances are at least one of our boys will get married. Odds are good we’ll be grandparents some day — far into the future, but still possible — and to consider the partners who might one day join our family, the bonds we might form with the families that raised them and ultimately the children those unions could produce is the kind of mind fodder that makes me realize how important it is to do as good a job as possible raising our children now.

No pressure or anything, but we are shaping future husbands and fathers and grandfathers, perhaps establishing traditions or opinions that will long outlive our humble bodies. The flip side is the potential to be remembers as a monumental “how not to” example and living on only in infamy.

It also makes me feel quite small in relation to the vast number of people walking the planet, the billions who have come before and the billions more who will follow, and how all of us humans pale in comparison to the permanence of God. That we’re even able to be here in the first place, much less form deep relationships, lasting bonds and perhaps contribute positively to future generations is a mind-boggling gift.

In much the same way as folks feel it’s important to be good stewards of the planet (I tend to agree), it seems at least as important, if not far more so, to try to be good stewards of humanity — to accept the gift of life and make the most of it by doing it right, being good to one another, choosing to love first and trying to leave things better than they were upon arrival. I hope I’m up to the task.

A prayer for May 21:

Lord, your power and majesty are beyond my understanding. The scope of creation is far too grand for me to imagine. That I am here at all is a blessing, that I have so many special people with whom to share life is even more special and to know of your love for me is almost impossible to fathom. Thank you for today and the chance to make the most of life. Help me do my best to make the most out of tomorrow as well. Amen.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A truly humble prayer

1 Timothy 1:15-17 (NIV)

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners — of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
It’s been a while since I ran across a passage that doubled as inspiration for one of my favorite hymns, but I can’t read Paul’s words in this letter to Timothy without hearing the melody to “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.”

If I remember correctly, this is the first (perhaps only?) hymn my mother learned to play on the piano. That’s one of the reasons I chose it to be the first song I taught to the tone chime choir I directed when we lived in Fulton. (That the fourth-graders who started with me are graduating high school this weekend makes me feel far older than my own kid being nine years old.) The melody still stirs my soul.

The lyrics, a truly humble prayer, also serve as useful in my faith life. Reading, reflecting on and even singing the words (when no one can hear, of course) helps center my mind on the kind of person I want to be, helps define my beliefs and the relationship I intend to have between myself and God. And if you don’t mind the archaic pronouns (thy, thou, thee and so on), the entire thing holds up incredibly well.
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish — but naught changeth Thee.

Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
Of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart
Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.

All laud we would render; O help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee,
And so let Thy glory, almighty, impart,
Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.
Take the veil from my face, take the vile from my heart. Poetry. So, too, is Paul’s hope his life might be a testament to God’s patience, that he might live for God’s glory. Sometimes when I don’t know what to pray or write about, passages like this come along and fill my heart and mind with the exact words I didn’t know I was seeking. I consider this its own gift from God, and I hope I can in some small way take that blessing and turn it into praise.

A prayer for May 20:

Lord, powerful creator, you have given life to everything. But not only do we have this life on Earth to enjoy and fulfill, but you also have promised life beyond our human existence. I don’t understand why I should be so privileged as to be a beneficiary of your love and forgiveness, given my many imperfections, but I have faith in your steadfastness, your permanence, your glory. Guide me through this life and into the next, and help me, as I am able, to be one of your lights in the world. Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A bit of family news

1 Corinthians 2:10b-13

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.
And then there were four. Or six, depending on how you’re counting. Either way, come October there will be one more Holland in our house. Our next baby, another boy, is going to fill our house, our minivan and the camera’s memory card, going to push our refrigerator and laundry machines to the brink, going to finally wear out the elbows and knees on a robust collection of hand-me-downs started nearly a decade ago and going to be absolutely adored by a loving nuclear and extended family.

We are not trying to populate a basketball team or start a family bluegrass gospel troupe. We are not just “trying for a girl,” and not because there’s a good chance such a feat may be scientifically impossible. We are not unaware of the cause of all these little tax deductions, though that is my go-to joke whenever someone gives me a look that screams, “You know you’re a crazy person, right?”

Well, I might be a crazy person. But not because I signed up for a fourth baby. I am well aware of all that’s in store — good, bad and otherwise. This won’t be our first rodeo. We’ve got to dig the crib out of the basement and maybe borrow (again) the changing table from my parents. Unless we can get Charlie toilet trained sometime in the next five months, we’ll have two in diapers simultaneously. Sleep is already just a rumor for me, so why not let the trend be my friend?

But just because it’ll be the fourth baby in less than ten years, and another boy at that, doesn’t mean it’s all old hat. Each of the older boys came home to a different house, but Number 4 won’t have that distinction. He will, however, be born in a different hospital from his brothers. After welcoming children in February, March and April, it will be quite different to have an October birthday. It also will be a new, perhaps unpleasant, experience for Kristie to be in the late stages of pregnancy during a hot Illinois summer.

And of course our new baby will have his own, independent personality. When I think about Jack’s technical skills and ability to quietly outthink everyone in the room, or Max’s boundless energy and astounding vocabulary, or Charlie’s hug-and-kiss routine and the way he masters puzzles, I almost can’t wait to meet the new guy and see what makes him tick or how he fits into our family dynamic.

Yet I realize the next few months are important as well. All the kids, especially Charlie, need to be involved as much as possible in the process of welcoming a new family member. Jack is already considering the video gaming implications (the Wii only incorporates four remotes, after all) while Max knows he’ll get to move to the back row of the van. Charlie knows there’s a baby in mom’s tummy, but there are plenty of indications he’s not yet willing to share his parents any more than he already does.

It’s a funny thing, to be all at once perfectly content with life as you know it, yet still be open to a drastic change. We’ve known about this new arrival for quite some time — since the night Charlie went to the ER, actually — and there are moments when I am as big a bundle of excited nerves as I was before my first kid was born, and other moments where I am completely terrified and wonder if I really understand what we’ve gotten ourselves into. There are times I feel blessed with our abundance, like a farmer bringing in a record yield, and times when I feel guilty because so many people struggle to have even one child, let alone four.

Ultimately, we both felt, quite strongly, the window was still open for us to welcome another child into the world. We never prayed about it as a couple, but I’m entirely certain the decision was not made lightly. It felt God was telling us — not with literal, audible words, but deep, inescapable emotions — to take one more step. This just feels like the right thing to do, and I’ve tried all along to make sure I’m not projecting my desires and instead am actually seeking a call, following the path set before me.

I have many blessings in my life, many more than I deserve, demanding gratitude far beyond what I could ever hope to convey. And near the top of that list are my children — the three who fill our home with joy and now the one who gets to join the party in just a few months. To be a father is such a joy, honor, privilege and responsibility. To be the father of these boys especially is a gift beyond words. May our home and our still-growing family forever be built on the foundation of God’s love.

A prayer for May 19:

Lord, I thank you for the gift of my wife and each of my children. I am completely overcome with joy at having them in my life, and it stuns me even more to consider how many people there are who care so deeply about our little family. Thank you for the family with whom I share a home, the extended family spread across the country and all the people who let us know what it’s like to be loved. It feels like a taste of heaven on Earth, and we owe it all to you. Amen.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Back in the creative groove

Psalm 149:1-3 9NIV)

Praise the Lord.

Sing to the Lord a new song,
   his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.

Let Israel rejoice in their Maker;
   let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
Let them praise his name with dancing
   and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
I need to take more pictures — at least that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. My personal blog, which I now mostly use as a dumping ground for adorable family photos so as not to clog up Facebook and also reach the family members who don’t use social media, has been borderline dormant since the holidays, with the exception of birthday slideshows for the boys. And while I do have nearly a thousand photos in need of editing and posting, I still feel like I’m not doing the same good job of documenting everyday life as has been my style in the past.

Maybe it’s because we don’t have a baby in the house changing every day. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent more time reflecting with words than trying to capture life in images. Maybe it’s because the awareness of the giant backlog makes me hesitant to add to the “to do” pile. Maybe I just haven’t been motivated.

Each time New Year’s Day rolls around I consider tackling Project 365, in which I would take and post at least one photo each day of the year, but so far I’ve lacked the willpower to commit. I don’t miss big events, like holidays, school events or birthday celebrations, but I do feel I’m dropping the ball on the special moments that just kind of happen around the house. But again, with 700 unedited photos since February 6, I’m probably not as negligent as I fear.

Saturday. In the Park. And so on...
Today, though, was a different story. Kristie set up a playdate with some friends at a local park, and I made sure to grab the camera bag as we headed out the door. I was back in my creative element, using the playground like my own personal photo studio. With a quick enough shutter speed I have gotten pretty adept at chasing the boys around jungle gyms and swing sets, snapping at precisely the right moment to catch a genuine smile, a carefree expression or just the right amount of pensive reflection.

Paired with a few great lessons learned from conversations with (and careful study of) the photojournalists I’ve been honored to call professional colleagues, I’m pretty darn satisfied with the fruits of my labor. Not to the point of smugness or snobbery where I feel I’m the best-equipped parent at the park — though today I did see a young couple snapping poorly framed smart phone pictures of a baby in a swing and briefly considered offering to take some “real” pictures and email them later — but it’s more a sense of satisfaction that comes with enjoying time spent with my kids and using my creative talents to create lasting images. It’s like a combo platter of gifts and blessings.

I fully realize the pictures are special because they’re of my kids. I don’t claim to be a genuine camera wizard, just someone who knows how to capture a moment or expression or event that makes me feel like I’ve entered into posterity a memory of my kids I want to keep forever. The experience just fills me with a sense of gratitude for all the good things in my life. My life is not all good things, but the good far outweighs the bad and it is right to give thanks and praise.

The sun, the warmth, the squeals of laughter, the snapshots I know will make the grandmothers smile — it all adds up to a perfectly delightful Saturday. Happy doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

A prayer for May 18:

Lord, tonight I go to sleep with a smile on my face, a song in my heart and an abundance of joy for a day well spent doing little aside from enjoying my family. Even when we don’t have a jam-packed schedule or a milestone to celebrate, I’m always able to bask in the warmth of a loving family, to appreciate my numerous blessings and to try my best to turn it all back to you in praise. Life is good when I remember what your love really means. Amen.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Preschool graduation

Ezekiel 34:27 (NIV)

The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them.
Preschool graduations are not my thing. When Max was sick the day of his “graduation” from the three-year-old class last spring, I wasn’t exactly heartbroken. But despite being ill Monday this week, he was in full health today and after lunch we headed off to celebrate the end of his preschool career.

While the mortarboards and “Pomp and Circumstance” were still a bit much for me, I will admit enjoying the afternoon. How could I be anything but happy to see such a genuine smile on my kid’s face? He was excited about the ceremony itself — it was clear he was a little nervous trying to remember all the words to his songs, where to walk when and so forth. But as he stood on the little platform to accept his “diploma” and pose for pictures with his teachers, it was clear he somehow grasped the significance of the day.

Max, his teachers and a 2012-2013 preschool scrapbook.
Plus, after all the birthday parties I’ve taken him to this year, I’m starting to know a lot of the parents and kids in his class. Not on a deep level of course. Most of them I know only as “Madison’s mom” or “Evan’s Dad,” but I don’t suppose they know much more about me. But despite the wide age range among the parents, the fact some of us are experienced in sending our kids off to school and others are going through this for the first and perhaps only time, we all share the bond of having a little one ready for kindergarten.

My favorite part of the event was returning to the classroom after the ceremony. The teachers made scrapbooks for each kid with a year’s worth of photographs and art projects. After Max showed Kristie every page, he turned to some of his classmates. “See? This is a picture of me in my penguin costume and you in your cat costume!” They all know his name (he’s Max H. in order to be different from Max Y.) and he knows theirs, and some of their parents and grandparents, and it’s just such a thrill to see any of our kids have age-appropriate peer interactions. Something about those fleeting, substance-free conversations somehow makes me more aware of the growing up process.

So Max is now ready for kindergarten. In a few weeks Jack will be done with the elementary school and ready for the intermediate (fourth and fifth grade) building. It’s not quite as dramatic what we expect in 2022, when Jack graduates high school while Max is finishing eighth grade and Charlie wraps up fifth grade, but still, we’re clearly in another point of transition. Standing at the brink of summer it seems we’ve got a long way to go, but I know it’ll seem like only a few days have elapsed by the time we’re putting two kids on a school bus each day.

When I see the kids making progress and moving into different life phases, it does somewhat feel like a tree yielding its fruit. Not in the spiritual sense of course, but these little moments like today are significant because they give parents another milestone to observe. The first few years of life are all about big occasions — rolling over, sitting up, crawling, walking, talking first solid food, first tooth, first trip to the emergency room (I didn’t say they were all positive — and then, gradually, the red-letter events start to be a “few and far between” proposition. I don’t think I’ve had my own “big day” since I turned 30, and that was almost four years ago. Our ten-year anniversary last June elapsed almost without fanfare.

Not that I’m complaining. Life is all about the kids these days, and that’s how we wanted it to be. We’ve been parents for more than nine years ago, the larger majority of our married life. These children are our everything, and a day like today, when one of them has a smile plastered on their face, is a day worth remembering. “Kindergarten,” as Max’s class sang today, “here we come.”

A prayer for May 17:

Lord, thank you for special occasions and the chance to celebrate our children’s accomplishments. Thank you for the feeling of security that comes with a life of faith. Thank you for the strength of family ties and for being not just an overseer, but an active, essential element of our relationships. Help me as we again enter a period of transition and open my eyes to anything I might do or say to keep you and your love front and center as our routines and responsibilities evolve. Amen.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Seeing myself in them

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 19-20 (NIV)

The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
“ ‘The parents eat sour grapes,
   and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child — both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die. …

“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them. …”
Today was our final IEP meeting of the school year. As we sat there discussing past, present and future, I once again encountered the reality of just how much of my own personality is reflected in my kids. There are times as well where Kristie can chime in with, “He gets that from me,” so it’s not like they’re all total clones of just one parent.

We’re also able to break down which traits might have skipped a generation, or which run hard through family lines as far back as we can tell. If all three children could be established as a Venn diagram, there would be times when two of three intersect, but not always the same two, and in a few special instances all three are in the tiny circle in the middle.

These topics make for excellent discussions on long car rides when the boys are asleep and can’t hear their parents breaking down their genetic makeup. It’s part of the fun of parenting, getting to think about all of the intricate, uncontrollable circumstances by which each child was created and how they’re not just unique people but our unique people who both complete us and also leave open the question of what future generations might become.

IEP meetings, of course, are less pleasant. But even so there are times when something in the conversation can fill me with pride. And yes, there are parts of the discussion that make me feel I’ve passed on some trait I’d just as soon keep to myself. It’s not exactly a “sins of the father” type of situation as described in Ezekiel, but I can’t escape feeling guilty when I see any of my kids doing or saying something they clearly either inherited from me or picked up from watching my own questionable behavior.

It’s a weird thing, to love someone so much because they’re literally a part of me, yet to also sometimes feel so bad for them because they’re unable to escape the things about me I don’t like about myself. I’m sure this is going to continue happening in different ways as each boy grows into adulthood as well. All along the road there will be happy occurrences and frustrating epiphanies. There was never any doubt these kids are the biological product of their parents, and also of the environment they’re being raised in, but they have a way of proving the truth year in and year out.

But, as Ezekiel writes, we all belong to God. Our good days, our bad days, our best traits, our tallest hurdles — God accepts us always. If there’s anything I have in common with my kids that will always bring me joy, it’s the comfort that comes with being created and redeemed by the same loving God. That trumps everything.

A prayer for May 16:

Lord, thank you again for the opportunity to be a father. Some days I can’t understand why I would be trusted with this enormous responsibility, but I am always grateful to have these children in my life, and to be so lucky as to have found the perfect partner for the rest of my days. As we wrap up another school year, please help us appreciate the break from the regular routine. Show me ways to make summer special for our family, and may we always remember the peace and comfort that come when we surround ourselves with your love. Amen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

'An undivided heart'

Ezekiel 11:19-21 (NIV)

“…I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
An undivided heart is a fascinating, appealing concept. To the extent the mind can be distinct from the heart, I suppose an undivided heart is attainable. An undivided mind, at least at this stage of my life, seems impossible.

Whenever I’m at home and even one child is awake, I can’t count on getting anything accomplished without an interruption. I’ll start to make food for one kid when another wants water. Packing Jack’s lunch each morning seems to be an invitation for Charlie to come downstairs to get his diaper changed. Max has a fantastic ability to get me started on one task for his benefit and then interrupt me with a second request.

Whenever I’m at work I’m deep into my expertise as a multi-tasker. Heck, half the time when asked to list my job title I just write down “miscellaneous,” and that’s not a complaint. The phone doesn’t often ring for me, but it happens and that requires a complete shift in my attention. This doesn’t even factor all the times my mind wanders toward the same tiny people who interrupt anything I try to accomplish at home.

I don’t consider myself unique, of course. Lots of people have jobs and families and hobbies and social groups and so on. A divided mind is more or less expected of a functioning adult in modern society. It starts in school when teachers and guidance counselors push involvement in music, athletics, drama or other extracurricular activities. They suggest well-rounded students are attractive to college admissions counselors, and they’re probably right.

It’s more of the same once you actually get to college. During my junior year I was president of the fraternity, editor of the student newspaper and, for a month or so, general manager of the campus radio station. I was involved in the startup and leadership of our drumline the same year, but that didn’t require much effort spring semester. I was in the concert band and the show choir band. I worked six hours a week in the music department office. I also was working on maintaining a maturing relationship with a young lady who probably was busier than me on account of her classroom requirements — plus they started construction underneath her dorm room right after spring break. And I also went to class myself, and occasionally did the assigned work.

Again, not unique. Just like the high school guidance counselors, college academic advisers are not afraid to explain how spinning all these plates is simply a prerequisite for life in the real world. And again, they’re probably right. I’ve often said, meaning no disrespect to my classes or professors, the most important lessons of my college years were learned outside the classroom — how to deal with other people, how to be accountable for my commitments and how to stay true to myself regardless of how crazy or busy life became.

And that’s how it comes full circle. The divided mind is a given, but the divided heart? It need not be so. If I’m able to really tap into the focus and clarity God can provide, I can rest my heart in Him and see everything else in my life through that perspective. If I try to be divisive, to love things that conflict with God’s will for me, I invite my own peril. But when I make God’s will my own, everything becomes clear. It makes me a better husband, a better father and simply a better human.

The transformation is part of allowing God to mold me into what I’m supposed to become. I will gladly surrender my heart of stone.

A prayer for May 15:

Lord, I am trying to keep an undivided heart. I know if I establish you as the foundation of my life that everything else will fall into place. I know the hectic nature of being a working parent is supposed to be mentally taxing, but I also trust you to keep me in check. I have faith that if my heart is saved for you above all else, my mind will not lead me astray. Guide me, use me, make me yours. Amen.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

'Like lambs among wolves.'

Luke 10:3, 5 (NLT)

“Go on your way. Listen! I send you out like lambs among wolves. … When you go into a house, say that you hope peace will come to them.”
I don’t want my kids to be wolves, but neither do I want them to be slaughtered like lambs. I’ve got quite a few years to worry about the whole “sending them out” business, but now is the time for establishing the foundations on which they’ll build their adult lives. It’s probably best to accept and acknowledge the world is a fairly brutal place and they’ll always, to some degree, be subject to forces far beyond their control. But there’s no reason I can’t do my best to get them ready for life beyond the walls of our home.

A greater fear than failing to prepare them adequately is for me to screw up badly enough that I’m turning out the wolves and contributing to a bad deal for the lambs. It might be unhealthy for me to put this kind of pressure on myself, but it seems to come with the territory of parenting. Now they’re fairly young and I’m worrying if I can do enough to build them up. Give me a decade when the oldest will be out of high school and I’ll just be looking in the past and wondering what I could have done better along the way. I have a sneaking suspicion the worrying never goes away, it’s just a matter of shifting focus.

This fretting, which is not constant, but regular enough for me to notice and consider it a going concern, is a big reason why I have come to put such a priority on peace. Peace of mind, peace between siblings, being at peace with things I can’t control, praying for these and other types of peace for those going through turmoil — I have a lot of questions about God and the way the world works and what we’re all doing here and why we can’t seem to get along. But one thing I’m sure of, something I know I’ve felt on many occasion, is a peace that defies logic, a peace that can only come from the trust I placed in my creator and redeemer.

This peace doesn’t fix problems. It doesn’t heal the sick or put money in my bank account or repair my broken car. But it calms the voices in my head, brings me to a place of rest where I can almost see the worldly concerns fade into the background. I know that when it matters — the singular time in my existence when it actually matters — God will bring me home. Nothing can be more important, and feeling that belief to my core is what allows me to construct the positive relationships I have with other people.

Can I raise children who are lambs among wolves and brave enough to forge ahead regardless? Can my boys not just offer the hope of peace but actually be advocates for peace in their scopes of influence? Anything is possible when God is involved, and that faith is what allows my worries and concerns to take a back seat. I can’t repress them entirely, nor do I feel I should. But when the intensity increases and I near a breaking point, that’s when the peace of God makes all the difference. Every time.

A prayer for May 14:

Lord, send me out like a lamb among wolves. Use me to offer hope for peace to those in need. Give me the strength to answer your call for me, and help me teach my children what it means to seek your will. Amen.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Raining fire from heaven

Luke 9:51-56 (NIV)

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
Call it what you like — attacking a fly with a sledgehammer, bringing a gun to a knife fight, etc., — but the reaction of James and John in this story is entirely out of line with the reality of the situation. I’m no expert on Middle Eastern history, but it doesn’t entirely surprise me Jesus, at this point in his ministry, wasn’t welcome in Samaria. Yet here come the disciples, suggesting God’s power be used to literally rain fir from the sky to wipe out a population. Have they been listening to Jesus at all by this point?

I write this realizing there are plenty of times in my life where James or John or any other disciple could look at me and ask the same question: Have I been listening at all? If only overreacting were a marketable skill, perhaps we could have bought a car with a sunroof like I’ve always wanted. It’s nice to read the stories where the disciples have moments of putting their humanity on unfiltered display. It reminds me that even those who walked side by side with Jesus as he spoke the words that would change the world could still trip on their own feet and make entirely preventable mistakes.

Of course the real goal is to not make those mistakes in the first place. But I’ve been trying that model for about thirty years now, and it’s not working out so great. Falling short is inevitable. Not every time, of course, but often enough to accept I’ll never be perfect. I’m just glad no one tries to call fire down from heaven to destroy me — and that Jesus is always willing to go with me to the next village where I can try again.

In thinking about this story as it relates to my children, I have two desires. One is for God to grant me the patience to offer my children as many second chances as they need, to be able to create a home where they can always return after a mistake, seek forgiveness knowing it will be granted, dust themselves off and try again. The second is for my children to never do something so horrible that I have to tap into that serious reserve just to grit my teeth through an, “It’s OK, we forgive you” concession.

I’m certain I’ve already overreacted to something my kids have done — too many times to try to count. And I’m sure I’ll do so another too many times. It’s enough of a problem I’m constantly working on reining myself in to the point where on occasion I worry if I might be reacting with less intensity than is warranted, thereby giving the impression the situation isn’t actually serious.

As quick as I might be with a pun or joke, I’m really quite bad at thinking in the moment when it comes to dealing with the kids in most of their abnormal states. Whether they’re aggressively fighting or exceedingly excited about some upcoming event, the farther away they get from their baseline, the more likely I am to ignore my own center. I’d like to think being aware of the issue has helped me address my flaws and try to repair them, but it’s an uphill climb.

Still, I won’t be asking for fire from heaven. Even I have my limitations. The key is to remember to bring God into the moment instead of dealing with it through prayer hours after the fact. I don’t yet know what it will take to get me to shift my focus immediately when tensions rise, but I pray those answers will come, and soon.

A prayer for May 13:

Lord, thank you for your patience with me. I wish everyone in my life was as tolerant as my missteps, and I further wish I had the clarity of mind to stop wandering off the path you set before me. I know you are with me every moment, but sometimes I need something to make me aware of your presence. I have to be shaken away from my inward focus to see the world as you do and to respond accordingly. I wish I weren’t like this so often, and I need your help to change. Mold me as you see fit. Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

Matthew 10:24 (NIV)

“The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. …”
I wrote last night about the desire to keep learning as long as I keep breathing. And while I wasn’t thinking along these lines at the time, I should have drawn the very obvious connection to Mother’s Day. Because who is a person’s first teacher if not their mother? The very lessons that sustain life are indeed an education. Perhaps not in the classical sense, and mothers for countless generations have simply done what comes naturally. But it is teaching regardless, and it continues day after day, year after year.

I am blessed beyond words to be able to see my mom almost every day of the week. It would be embellishment to say she teaches me something each day, but neither do I think I’ve stopped learning from her. Surely I, the son as student, am not above the teacher. Maybe she’d me kind and say she has learned something from me. Heck, I wrote last night how much our children teach us about ourselves, and I can’t be the only one who thinks that way. But I’m always going to consider my parents in some degree to be my teachers.

The first inclination is to run off a laundry list of life skills my parents have passed down, and highlighting the topics I’ve not bothered to learn simply because I know mom and dad can do the job better. The second inclination is to get philosophical, to think less about practical skills and more about big-picture life lessons. In truth, both categories are important. For what good is ability without understanding — and what good is depth of mind with no way to contribute to society or care for oneself?

Perceiving correctly I would not get a chance to start today’s writing until fairly late, O preemptively took to social media to ask people to share the best advice they received from their mothers or grandmothers. That I got responses from people who remember lessons from long departed relatives gives credence to my theory that we’re always able to learn from our parents — not as long as they live, but as long as we live, too.

But that also calls to mind the realization this is the first Mother’s Day when neither of my parents has a mother to call. And just because my mom has been living in that reality for 15 years doesn’t make it any easier. I also can’t escape, as I wrote last year, the challenges facing two of my younger cousins whose mothers are gone, whose losses were terribly sad. For them, and others dealing with loss, I feel immense sadness that nothing anyone can do can give them the kind of fullness I feel today. That emptiness must be devastating.

I also know it is a deeply difficult day for those who long to be mothers but have not been blessed with the opportunity. I try to be respectful of everyone for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness and give full thanks for my blessings of a mother, mother-in-law and the mother of my children who all enrich my life in so many ways. It is in the spirit of those women, without whom I would in no way be the person I am today, I look at the collected advice of a few other folks I know who really love the moms in their lives, too:
  • She always said: “Travel, enjoy life and don’t take things too seriously.”
  • Use your brain. My mom took stickers and put that saying on the rearview mirror of my first car.
  • Nothing good happens after midnight.
  • No babies, no diseases.
  • Learn Spanish.
  • “Friends will come and go, but your sisters will always be your friends.”- told to us kids while we were fighting with each other as kids or got upset when we lost a friend.
  • Fight nicely. Whatever that meant...
  • I learned from her to love music.
  • Try something at least once before deciding whether or not you like it.
  • From my grandmother: 1. Learn to like coffee. It’s a social drink! 2. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything. 3. Dress like you belong in first class and maybe you’ll get upgraded.
  • Any time I take a road trip my mom tells me to watch out for the (jerks). I feel like it applies to more than just driving. Also she told me it’s good to be weird. She says it’s the people who are not weird who you really have to watch out for.
  • You’re a catch, you’re good looking, smart, you can cook and you’re tidy, any woman would be lucky to have you. Not sure if it’s advice, but it always made me feel good, AND I use it as my go to story to get out of trouble with the wife…
  • She always told me to stop and smell the roses.
  • Grandma always said if you don’t laugh you cry. It’s been a go to for years!
  • “Don’t get divorced, okay?”
  • From my Scottish grandmother: don’t use the sugar spoon to stir your tea!
  • Freeze candles before a dinner party. They drip much less wax. It works!
  • Whenever I had boy issues, (my mom) would say, “You know, honey, we’re all pretty much fully formed at this point.” At the time, it was not exactly comforting but it did get me out of some reaaaaally crappy relationships. And Nana Estelle’s best advice? Make the matzo balls from the Manieschewitz boxed mix. “We alllll use the box these days, my dear.”
  • If you make that face too much it’ll stay that way… I should have listened!
For someone who likes to collect such lists, I’m not sure what I’d contribute from my own experience. My mom doesn’t tend to speak in proverbs, adages or fortune cookie wisdom. But I do know she worked very, very hard to make sure each of us knew we were valued as full members of the family even from our earliest days, that our opinions mattered and that we should be free to learn who we really are and not what society might dictate we should pretend to be.

That kind of freedom, oddly enough, is what led me to end up a lot like my parents. But it’s because of that freedom I know this very familiar lifestyle (churchgoing parents raise three kids in northern suburbs with a single-income household) is not the default option, but something I sought intentionally because it became clear to me this is what God intended for my life. This, right now, is where I can best use the skills and experience accumulated going back to day one from my first teacher.

I love this day because so many mothers have been so very special to me, and because I’m blessed with the opportunity to tell most of them so in person. I wish it could be that way for everyone. As many wonderful moms as there are in this world, we could always use a few more. You can never have too much of that kind of love.

A prayer for May 12:

Lord, I thank you for mothers. I thank you for my mother, who loves me as much as anything on this planet and who continues to be a daily presence in my life. I thank you for my mother-in-law, who from the first day accepted me and made me feel as if I were her own son. I thank you for my grandmothers, whom I miss dearly. I thank you for those mothers no longer with us and the love they shared when we were together. And I thank you for my wife, my angel, my all, my very self. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Learning as a lifelong endeavor

Hebrews 5:11-14 (NIV)

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
It would not be a great surprise to find myself reciting verse 11 to a son of ours in his teenage years, sitting at the dining room table refusing to take ownership of a mistake he’s made time and time again. I’m sure my parents, especially my mother, could easily come up with a handful of lessons they tried to impart quite regularly, only I made it clear I was unwilling to give their opinion the time of day. I would like to think I finally came around on all of the pertinent points, but maybe they’re still scratching their heads at my stubbornness in a few key areas.

But it’s verse 12 that cuts in on me tonight. By this time, three months away from my 34th birthday, I probably ought to be a better teacher than I am. Yet I still feel I can benefit from being taught the truths of God’s word over and again. While I do rather enjoy getting deep into discussion about challenging theology or exploring concepts I’ve rarely encountered, it seems the most memorable lessons are the ones focused on the elementary topics.

Perhaps that’s more a comment on sermons than it is on a class or small group discussion. As much as I enjoy someone commanding the pulpit who gets my mind working a few new gears, I think I’m most moved by a preacher’s thoughts on the foundations of faith, the cornerstone topics that define a life lived through the filter of God’s saving grace.

Can I always distinguish good from evil? I might know what’s not good for me, but I don’t always know how to keep myself on the straight path. Can I teach my kids about righteousness? I would like to think so, though I’m always worried about raising kids who are self righteous — and of acting in that manner myself. Will I ever not need to be taught the truths of God’s word? Of course not. I’ll always be able to learn more, and hopefully I’ll always want to learn.

There’s always room for improvement in my life — in any aspect of my life. I can be a better writer. I can get my body in better shape. I can sleep more. I can learn to do a few more things around the house. I can make better use of the time I spend with my kids. I can pray more. I can do more to show my wife how much I love her. I can seek God’s desire for me before I act instead of making dumb mistakes and seeking forgiveness. I will always, every day, have opportunities to grow and change, and I sincerely hope I never get to a point where I’ve decided to just stop learning, because that’s the day I stop trying.

Solid food is great. But, as a pretty smart guy once said, man does not live by bread alone. Milk won’t ever leave my diet. I think in this passage God is really calling me to balance — to learn enough to teach, but to never consider myself above learning a few more lessons of my own. And as any experienced parent knows, sometimes the kids do a better job of teaching us about ourselves than we could ever hope to do teaching them about life.

A prayer for May 11:

Lord, open my mind wide to the wonders of your world. Make me ever curious to learn more, to know exactly what it is you are trying to communicate. Never let me become fully satisfied with myself because I know as long as I have breath you are calling me to a specific purpose. But also please help me share what you have taught me with others, especially my kids. Let me speak with your words and wisdom, that I may be a channel for what you want the world to know. Fill me with your love and then let it pour out to anyone in need. Amen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The value of respect for everyone

Psalm 138:6-8 (NIV)

Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly;
   though lofty, he sees them from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
   you preserve my life.
You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes;
   with your right hand you save me.
The Lord will vindicate me;
   your love, Lord, endures forever —
   do not abandon the works of your hands.
The more I explore my faith through the lens of parenting, the more I see the holes in my world view that ought to be patched before I consider myself someone who sets a good example for my kids. These verses from Psalm 138 provide a fantastic example. Reading through them quickly, they are individually empowering. God preserves me, saves me, vindicates me, shields me from the anger of enemies. Good news, right?

But I go back to verse 6 and pause. Yes, the exalted God looks with kindness on the lowly. And certainly I qualify as lowly, especially when compared to the Almighty. But I must guard myself against looking at all the things God is doing for me and thinking that makes me special as it relates to other people.

If I am going to state a belief that God is the creator of everything and everyone, then I have to acknowledge God also is responsible for the “foes” from whose anger I seek protection. If I beg with God to not abandon the works of his hands, that means not just me and the things I like, but everything, including the parts of the world I can’t understand or don’t care to encounter.

I’ve long maintained that the sooner we as humans start seeing similarities in one another instead of magnifying the differences, the sooner it will be easier for us all to share the same planet. But that’s one of those things so very easy to write when sitting at a keyboard thinking idealistically and so very difficult to remember when directly confronted with a person or thing that drives me up a wall.

In the same vein, I can’t look at the idea of God seeing the lowly from afar and being thankful I’m not among them. As I understand life, there’s God and there’s creation. As long as I have breath, I’m lumped in with creation, all of it, which means there’s no real sense trying to rank myself, or anyone else, above anything else mortal. None of us are God, and only God is deserving of the highest praise and glory. This belief doesn’t require me to sing hymns and cast about hosannas through all my waking hours, but it does get to the notion of remaining humble and remembering life is a blessing, that I am called to live in a manner worthy of God.

All of which is to say I need to be careful how I carry myself around my kids. I need to teach them to respect everyone and everything because it’s all the work of God’s hands. (I realize you can teach respect for others without a religious component, and I am glad certain nonbelievers take this approach. But to me it takes it a step further to try to see everything as created by the same God to whom we pray thankfully for giving us life and each other.) And more importantly than teaching them this through words is to show it through my actions. Which means I need to make sure I actually believe these concepts with all my heart, not just prop them up as some sort of talking point for conversations with impressionable little people.

Say it. Do it. Mean it. Live it. My kids will know when I’m being dishonest, and giving them reason to doubt my sincerity is the last thing I should be doing. Life takes on a bigger meaning when I think about those little eyes watching my every move.

A prayer for May 10:

Lord, look kindly on me, lowly as I am. I am thankful beyond words for your promise of salvation, but I need to be reminded I am still just me, flawed and looking to you to be made right. As abundant as your love is, as far as you’re willing to go for me, I will always be in need. I will always be incomplete until you decide I am ready to be fully in your presence. But I don’t want to like a broken life, rather I aim to be your humble servant. Use me as you need me, today and always. Amen.