Roller Coasters

The greatest stories that I know, be they movies or sitcoms, are the ones that capture the essence of life and truth in a two hour bottle.  They brilliantly depict life in a way that “The Brady Bunch” and “Leave It to Beaver” never quite did.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Bradys and the Cleavers, but the world of the 50s and 60 is certainly behind us.  Our world looks more and more like the Bluths of “Arrested Development” or the Pritchetts and Dunphys of “Modern Family.”rollercoaster-islands-of-adventure-hulk-2

There are certain movies which are “Old Standbys” for me as well.  They seem timeless in their own little way.  No matter when I go back to them to watch, the simple truths and stories that come through seem to be as relevant as they were when I first discovered them (my constant visits to the Bible have an even greater impact on me, revealing new mysteries and truths every time that I come to it).

One such movie for me is “Parenthood.”  20+ years after the movie came out, it was made into a television show, which I have never watched.  The movie was enough for me.  Interestingly, Ron Howard is associated with it in the same way that he is associate with “Arrested Development.”  It certainly has its moments of dating itself to the mid-80s, but overall, the characters are fresh and vivid, depicting personalities which we’ve either experienced in our own families or families close to our own.

There is a moment in the film when Steve Martin’s character and his wife are speaking about their children.  Steve Martin is talking about his son’s conquest in catching a fly ball at his little league game.  He wonders what would have happened had he not caught it.  Having earlier in the film imagined his parenting mistakes to cause his eventually college-aged son to snap and begin a shootout from a bell tower on a college campus, Steve Martin is fairly sensitive to his own mistakes and failures as a parent.  He comes to realize that the influence he has on his children is significant and he feels the pressure of that.

His wife, on the other hand, sees that kids are more resilient than he thinks.  They enter into life as an adventure and when they fall, they pick themselves up and move on, rather than dwelling on it like so many adults.  As they banter back and forth together, Martin’s grandmother comes in and makes a random statement about her husband taking her on a roller coaster when she was nineteen.  She describes it like this:

“Up, down, up, down, oh, what a ride.  I always wanted to go again.  It was just interesting to me that a ride could make me so, so frightened, so scared, so sick, so, so excited, and so thrilled altogether.  Some didn’t like it, they went on the merry-go-round.  That just goes around.  Nothing.  I like the roller coaster, you get more out of it.”

After she leaves, Martin and his wife both have varied perspectives of his grandmother’s wisdom/insanity.  As I think about it, she’s fairly brilliant as she makes the comparison between life and a roller coaster.  How could one ride make you so frightened, scared, excited, and thrilled at the same time?  That seems to sum it up, doesn’t it?  And that’s the ride that she wants to be on.

I’m not sure that I can say the same thing, but day after day, I keep coming back to it.  How about you?

Here’s the clip from “Parenthood” in case you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxsQ3QlAK00

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It’s Gonna Get Messy

Life-Is-Messy-657x309_02Life is messy, anyone who says differently has been living in a cave, under a rock, or in a bubble somewhere.  Following after Jesus doesn’t change the messiness of life, it’s just that there’s a new approach towards handling the messiness of it all.

Nowhere can this be seen clearer than in the local church.  If churches really seek to be genuine and authentic, they will begin to experience the brokenness of this world on display for all to see.  If we truly seek to allow for God’s restoration to reach us, we are going to experience the messiness and rawness of life.  We will begin to see the brokenness in ourselves as well as those around us.

I took a pastoral care class in seminary in which we used a book called “Facing Messy Stuff in the Church.”  Over the past few weeks, I have seen that messiness come to the forefront.  Church members who are bipolar and struggling with alcoholism.  Church members who find themselves caught in inappropriate circumstances and are guilty by association.  Church members struggling with the abuse that they endured years before at the hands of a father or brother.  Church members whose lives have been disrupted by cancer.  And these are only a few of the stories.

When some people come to church, they don’t want to experience these kinds of things.  They want to find solace from the world, to escape from reality for a while and get lost in a mountaintop experience.  They want to find comfort and encouragement from what God says in His word and sometimes they prefer to get it from only select places in the Bible.  They want to live in a place that seems more like an episode of “Leave It To Beaver” than “Arrested Development.”  Living on the mountaintop can be fun and peaceful, but the problem with mountaintop experiences is that at some point, you’ve got to come down from the mountain.

I’ve spent too much time in the church to think that there is anyone there who is perfect, certainly not me.  Those who understand their own brokenness are one step towards understanding their need for a savior.  When we struggle with that brokenness and that need, it gets messy, ugly, dirty, and raw.  While we might want to show up and experience a nice and comfortable time, church should imitate life….kind of like art, right?  We’ve got to keep it real.

When we come to that place of rawness and honesty, we also begin to see our own circumstances through a different lens, the things that we struggle with seem to come into perspective as we realize that things might not be as bad as we once thought they were.  At the same time, when we see the rawness and struggles of others, we find that we’re not alone, that the struggles in which we found we were alone are now struggles that are shared by others.

Of course, there will always be those who still don’t get it, who just haven’t really experienced significant difficulties in life and still want a nice pretty package with a bow on it.  At some point, the brokenness of this world will be on full display for them and I want to be around for that, not so that I can gloat, but so that I can encourage them in the midst of the storm.

I told someone the other day that ministry isn’t for the squeamish or the faint of heart.  In my the past decade of full-time vocational ministry, I have ministered to a registered sex offender, visited him in prison, and eventually performed his funeral when he succumbed to the disease which had taken his mother.  I’ve stood in the hospital rooms with the bodies of loved ones who had passed away, struggling with the family to know what kind of relationship that person had with God.  I’ve sat with friends who had lost infants and cried with them.  I’ve sat with friends who were being treated for cancer in hopes that we would see another day where we could visit together.  I’ve watched the families of those same friends try to come to terms with the loss of a husband and father, a brother and friend.

Ministry is not for the squeamish, but neither is life, but we do not grieve as those with no hope.  We do not experience difficulties the same as those who have no hope, we find our hope in Christ, our rock, our salvation.  It’s not a guarantee of candy canes and rainbows, in fact, it’s probably an invitation to the contrary, but it’s a journey that is not entered into alone.  My hope is build on nothing less than Jesus’ love and righteousness.  If I put my hope anywhere else, I’ll be disappointed.  If my hope were anywhere else, I’m not sure what I would do.  After all, it’s gonna get messy, and how will I respond when it does?

The Wrong Job

My wife and I have been married for 12 years.  When we first got married, we were probably like most young couples, we didn’t have a whole heck of a lot.  So, naturally, when it came time for registering for gifts, we did what most people would do, we registered for all of the things that we knew we would never afford ourselves in hopes that our generous family and friends might start picking things off of our list.  One of those things was a Kitchen Aid blender.

This Kitchen Aid blender was really talked up to me by my wife.  She told me all of the things that it could do, told me how her parents had their blender for a long time, and told me that it would last us a while.  The day it broke the first time was a frustrating day for me.  How could it have broken?  Well, the part that they call the coupling, which actually causes the blender to blend, is made of rubber.  During the blending of something, I picked up the canister and it basically shredded the rubber coupling.couplings

Fast forward a few years.  My wife enjoys making a lot of things that she finds on the internet.  She’s been a champ in trying to find new and interesting gluten free options for our family as well.  In the age of Pinterest and Etsy, there are so many options to explore.  A few weeks back, she found a recipe for mango sorbet that she wanted to try out.  The recipe didn’t call for a blender though, it called for a food processor.  My wife decided to try the blender anyway.

The results were similar to my own experience of moving the canister off of the base, in an effort to work harder than it ever worked before, the coupling was overloaded and began to fray, rendering our blender, once again, useless (at least temporarily).

Knowing that this wasn’t the end of the world (or our blender), I went online and ordered some new couplings.  As I sat down at the computer to search for the parts, I began to think and process in my head all that this meant.  I know, I know, I’m a little over-analytical at times, but bear with me.  The key to this mishap was the directions, the recipe, which had specifically instructed the reader to use a food processor.  In fairness to my wife, she simply wanted to work with what we had rather than going out and spending money on a new appliance.

Since I have spent all of my life within the church and the last 9 years in full-time vocational ministry, I constantly see life through that lens.  So naturally, as I thought about the misuse of the blender, my thoughts went back to the church.  The situation with the mixer reminded me of a situation that we so often see in the church.  We have to fill a position and we have a warm body, therefore, the two can be matched together, regardless of whether or not they actually fit together or were made to be together.

A person comes into the church and there is a position open.  The person shows that they are reliable, kind, and somewhat spiritual.  The plotting ministry leader approaches the unsuspecting person to offer them the opportunity to fill a position that they weren’t created to fill.  There is no assessment done other than a brief and cursory once over.  The once over results in the discovery that this person is very nice, smiles a lot, comes regularly, and seems reliable.  Match!  They are instantly thrust into a volunteer position.

The problem is, the recipe said something different.  In due time, the most likely result will be that the person becomes frustrated at best and jaded at worst.  They have been filling a position that they were not created to fill and they’re beginning to show signs of burnout.  Their gifting lies somewhere else, but they instead continue to try to fill a hole that doesn’t match how God created them.

Don’t misunderstand me, I fully believe that we all need to feel a little unprepared, ill-equipped, and unqualified to work for God.  If we didn’t, would we really be trusting Him and relying on Him?  But there’s a difference between being unprepared, ill-equipped, and unqualified versus lacking the gifts necessary to passionately serve.

We’ve all been given certain gifts and abilities with which we can serve.  The problem is, there seems to be a disconnect many times when it comes to using those gifts and abilities within the church.  We don’t need THOSE gifts, we need THESE gifts.  Well, you’ve got THOSE gifts, so I think we can make it work in order that you can fill THIS position.  The inevitable result is that when we place people in positions about which they are not passionate or gifted in some way, we end up with a mess and a miserable person.  People get burned out when they operate outside of the place where their passion and gifting lies.

Again, don’t misunderstand me, I fully believe that God equips us with everything that we need to accomplish His will, but I also believe that God created us with gifts, talents, and abilities in order that we might use those very things to bring glory to Him.  When we operate outside of those things, those gifts, talents, and abilities lie untouched while we struggle and strive to love what we’re doing despite the fact that it flies in the face of all of our gifting.

I read a phrase a in a book a few weeks ago that has haunted me since I read it: start where you are, not where you want to be.  I have not gone a day since I read that phrase where I haven’t at least uttered that once in the course of the day.  It’s a simple phrase of truth that can be really helpful if we apply it, especially to situations like these.  We’re constantly trying to get somewhere else, wishing that we had this or that and failing to see what we’ve been given.

It’s a lesson that I have had to learn over and over again in the course of ministry.  You are never handed an ideal situation, perfect and ready to be seized.  Textbook scenarios are rarely experienced (unless your textbook is the DSM, but that’s the subject of another post), yet we constantly try to force the situation to match what we want rather than what’s right before us.

What would happen if every time a person came into the local church they were asked where their heart lies?  What would happen if they were given the opportunity to share their passions and strengths rather than being forced into positions that hardly seemed appropriate?  What would happen if people’s gifts were paired with the position that they were filling?  I think we would see less burnout in the church.

Sure, we might not have all of the fancy programs and activities that we’d like to have, but if gifting drives what we offer, we will find ourselves being way more organic and will find our people feeling a lot better and more fulfilled about being used as they were created rather than as we wish they were created.

This is all still a work in progress for me.  I’m constantly trying to figure out what it means to start where I am rather than where I want to be.  I have to be careful not to be defeatist and settle into where I am rather than striving to move forward, but I think this kernel of truth can be helpful if I take it seriously, if we take it seriously, within the church.  I guess I’ll have to let you know how it’s going in 6 months.

Heart

impossiblePastors don’t get out much unless they are intentional about it.  If we’re not careful, we can spend all of our time cooped up in an office being the furthest thing from in touch and relevant.  In order to move out of the walls, an environment of grace needs to be created that allows us to have more flexibility and freedom.

It’s not always easy for those within our churches to understand that the very relationships that can come so easily to them through the natural intersections of life sometimes need to be created for pastors.  Thankfully, I have felt that the longer I am in ministry, the more open the places where I serve are to this idea.

My church has been talking a lot about the idea of missionality over the last 4 months since its inception.  Missionality means we move beyond programs to relationships.  It means that we seek to meet people where they are, to build relationships with them, and seek God’s guidance, direction, and grace in the midst of those relationships and intersections.

It’s also pretty easy for pastors to come across as “experts” in everything rather than fellow sojourners.  The pastors that I have resonated with the most in my lifetime have been the ones who are genuine, real, and authentic, the ones who admit that they are humans too, they simply have a different call on their lives than everyone else.  If pastors aren’t careful, we can preach a lot about things and end up coming across or becoming more like professors and experts in the process rather in the praxis.

But praxis is key.  If we can understand things in theory or through books, it doesn’t really matter if we never put them into practice.  I can stand up and talk about car repair until I’m blue in the face, but until I’ve actually gotten my hands dirty and repaired a few cars, it’s just like I’m breathing hot air, it’s not beneficial for anyone.

With all of this in mind, my wife and I have looked at our lives through a different lens.  We have to filter our decisions through this lens.  If we make a decisions as a family to do something, how will it help us to live missionally?  How will it provide opportunities for us to build relationships with people who are not part of the church?  How will it give us opportunities for us to love people as Christ loves without making them feel like we’re trying to beat them over the head with a Bible?

Enter my children.  One of the greatest tools for being missional that I have found is my children.  They force me to enter into places where I will meet people who I might not normally hang out with.  They force me to spend time with them as they take part in extracurricular activities that take time.  And it’s all of those things that really led our family to take part in the swim team in our neighborhood.

To be honest with you, I was sort of hoping that it would slip under my son’s radar.  I had heard the stories of 6 hour long swim meets and the waiting…….and as I have said in past posts, waiting is not my thing.  Of course, during that waiting, you either let yourself get bored, or you get off your butt and build relationships.

So, when my son came home from school and announced his desire to take part in swim team, my heart sank just a little bit.  I knew the commitment from hearing about it.  After coming to grips with his desire, I chastised myself for my crappy attitude.  How could I really expect to be taken seriously as a follower of Christ if I wasn’t willing to do the things that he was willing to do?  How could I expect to be taken seriously as a pastor if all of my knowledge came from books and classes instead of from actual experience?

That’s what led me to taking my son to his first swim meet.  The anticipation, excitement, and nerves were all racing….for the both of us.  We enjoyed a father-son dinner at Chick-Fil-A beforehand and then we went to the meet.  His nervousness spread to me and I was really concerned for my son.  Every parent worries about their kids, I was no exception.  His warm-up made me a little more concerned as he spent more time treading water than moving forward in the pool.  But I just encouraged him, told him to do his best, and then prayed with him.

Thanks to some other really great kids, my son was great.  He made it through his heat, his nerves calmed (as did mine…..finally), and he was excited and proud of himself.  But the thing about life is that there are so many lessons to learn along the journey that you need to be paying attention.  While God was using the time with my son to shape and form our relationship with each other, he also used it to continue to shape and mold me to be a better follower and example of Christ.

As my son’s event approached, we made our way to the pool to watch one of the other events.  I had no idea what would happen next.  Earlier during the meet, I had seen a boy with crutches fall on the hard concrete as he was making his way around.  My heart broke for him as he was helped up.  As I looked to the starting blocks, I saw that same boy being carried by his father to the pool.  He had flippers on his feet to help propel him along because of his physical need.  The father dropped him in the pool and then stepped back to watch.  I was fascinated to watch this play out.

As the gun went off for the start of the event, I watched this boy make his way across the pool.  He paddled and stroked and struggled and kicked.  Meter by meter, he slowly made his way from one side to the other.  He reached the other side as the other two swimmers in the meet were well ahead of him and nearing the finish line.

As I stood there, my eyes riveted to the pool and swimmer, I realized that the majority of people on the sidelines were intently looking on as well.  My heart went out to this boy and I listened as some people had begun to call his name.  Once I knew his name, I knew what I had to do.  I began clapping and cheering him on by name.  As he made his way to the halfway point of the pool, everyone on the pool deck began to shout his name and cheer him on.  As he slowly came to the finish line, everyone erupted in applause to see this little boy with a ton of heart finish the race.

I was incredibly emotional, and it wasn’t even my son.  To me, this boy had just exhibited what I had been trying to get across to my son.  It wasn’t about where he placed, it was about finishing that race.  That boy showed me his heart at that swim meet.  He showed me that he could do something that might have come easily to others, but not to him.  No, it didn’t come easily, but he did it with all of his effort and heart and motivation.  I was stunned at what I had just seen.  The heart that this boy had showed was something that some people work their whole lives to try to gain.  Unfortunately, some of them never get there, they never achieve it.

In that moment, I cheered.  But I don’t think that I was just cheering for that little boy.  I was cheering for everyone who has had an impossible obstacle before them.  I was cheering for everyone who stood in the face of doubt and proved that with a lot of heart, they could accomplish a lot.  I was cheering for everyone who had overcome in the face of difficulty.  I know that I’ve stood in the face of less intimidating and impossible situations and done it, not through my own strength, but through the strength that Christ affords me.  In that moment, I was changed and I will never be the same.  I hope that boy knows that his heart is making a difference, if for no one else, at least for me.

Soundtrack, 2.0

soundtrackThis is a revisit of a post that I did a few years ago.  As I sat down to write, I realized that I may have said some of what I was thinking before.  Instead of reinventing the wheel, I figured that I would just edit what had already been said by me.

Music has always been such a powerful part of my life.  Through all of life’s important events, music has accompanied me.  Through weddings, through funerals, through college, through break-ups, and on and on the list goes.  It ends up being the soundtrack in front of which I live my life.  Thus the title.

I have a pretty vast music collection. There’s not that much that I don’t listen to. I guess as I get older, I’m showing some of my preferences. I’ve been a big Dylan fan for a while, enough to have one of his songs sung at my wedding and to name my firstborn after him. Also been a fan of Miles Davis, though I am not impressed with his misogynistic ways, he played a mean trumpet and could always do a lot with just a few notes.

One of the sections of my music collection that is always growing is movie soundtracks. I would have to say that my two favorite soundtrack composers are John Williams and Danny Elfman. Both are unique in their styles and are probably fairly opposite of one another. John Williams writes sweeping orchestral scores while Danny Elfman is a former progressive 80’s rock band frontman (he used to sing lead vocals for Oingo Boingo, you know, “It’s a dead man’s party….”).

The thing about movie soundtracks is that, for anyone who pays attention, the good ones can take you right back to that movie. Who hasn’t looked for a whip and a fedora after hearing the Raiders March from Raiders of the Lost Ark? Who doesn’t start doing their best Darth Vader impression when they heard the Imperial March from Star Wars? Who doesn’t say, “E.T. phone home” after hearing that movie’s theme song? Who doesn’t get pumped for the underdog to win when you hear the theme song from “Rocky” or somehow decide that you want to pound on a big, blonde-haired Russian named Drago after hearing “Eye of the Tiger”?  Maybe I’m the weird one, but I do it all the time.

Dick Clark said, “Music is the soundtrack of your life.” I would have to agree. I legitimately think that it’s possible to choose the wrong song for a moment. As a melancholic, one who is easily drawn into the emotion of the moment, I have to be pretty careful about what I listen to and when.  Once upon a time, as a young and naive kid, I believed that the kind of music I listened to was inconsequential and that it didn’t impact my mood or how I lived my life.  I have lived too much of life and experienced more of the contrary to still believe that to be true.  While I won’t go blaming music for my behavior, I do know that it can be a very powerful influence in my attitude and demeanor.  I need to be careful what I listen to because music has the potential of pushing me deeper into a mood that I am in or helping to pull me out of that same funk.

When I was making regular trips to northern Virginia for school, I would strategically load my car CD player so as to have all of the rockin’ fast music come while I was on my way home at 10PM at night. There was less of a chance of me falling asleep. Also, when driving to church on Sunday mornings, preparing to lead people in worship, Ozzy Osbourne doesn’t seem like the most strategic choice to me. To be honest, silence works well during those moments.

But I echo Dick Clark’s statement because I have seen how true it is in my life. I can remember the song that my wife and I danced to for our first dance at our wedding. I can remember the songs that we had sung at our wedding. I can remember songs that were meaningful when I was in high school, ones that were “my song” with girls that I dated back then. I can remember songs that have been sung at funerals or other occasions that have stirred my heart. Music has the ability to sweep me away from the moment that I am in to a moment that I experienced once upon a time.

To be honest, I have to be careful too, with my tendency to be driven into a state of melancholy, that I don’t listen to certain music during certain periods of my life. It’s just not a good idea. It’s sort of like those two guys in City Slickers who make ice cream (a play on Ben and Jerry). The one can pick the perfect flavor for whatever kind of food someone might suggest. They test him on it and he proves himself with flying colors. Now, I’m not saying that I can pick the perfect song for any occasion, but I definitely know when songs fit and when they don’t. In some ways, I’m constructing the soundtrack of my life.

To some people, music is background noise. Others need complete silence to hear every note in order that they don’t miss something. Regardless of how you listen to music, it probably has a greater impact on you than you really knew. Not all music is good to listen to all the time.

As you walk through life, making memories, take note of the kind of music that you hear. Is it happy? Is it sad? Is it majestic and sweeping? Does it make you want to dance? If not, what can you do to change the soundtrack? What can you do to make sure that the music matches the moment as completely as possible? What kind of music are you making with your life?

Reminders

As the 2 year anniversary of my mom’s passing approaches, I find myself surrounded by reminders of her.  Most of them were intentionally placed there by me, but there were others who either intentionally or inadvertently helped to set these reminders up for me.

2013-06-18 17.37.15My mom’s favorite flower was the gardenia.  Every Mother’s Day, my father would go to the florist and buy Mom a corsage that she could wear.  It was made of gardenias.  My aunt and uncle, who live not far from where my parents lived for their brief time in Williamsburg, have a gardenia bush in their front yard.  After Mom died, some people whom I serve with in my church asked my wife what they could do to help me remember my mom.  Her suggestion was to buy a gardenia bush to plant in our backyard.  After they came out and planted it, someone sent me a plaque that I put right underneath it to remind me every day of my mom.2013-06-18 17.36.05

My mom loved lighthouses.  I think they were a reminder to her that even in the midst of the darkest, stormiest, foggiest night, there was still the light of Christ shining through in the midst of the storm.  She had lighthouse soap dispensers, lighthouse candles, lighthouse tissue holders, lighthouse stained glass ornaments, and tons of other things throughout the house.  In fact, the house was decorated solely by her, and she made it her own.  Lighthouses were a big part of that decoration.

After she died, I found this picture of one of the lighthouses in North Carolina.  I thought that a good way to honor her would be to have it framed and then to put it up on the wall in our house.  It’s a constant reminder of the same thing to me that I think lighthouses were to her, that in the darkest and stormiest of times, God is still there shining light in the midst of it all.

Mom loved the beach too and the theme of lighthouses and the beach together bring a smile to my face.  I have some great memories of going to the beach with her during the summertime growing up.  She always prided herself on how long she could make things last and she had this beach chair that she had for what seemed like 20 years.  Somehow or another, she managed to keep it in great shape.

Not too long ago, a friend of mine who didn’t know my mom gave me a gift.  It was at a time when I was particularly struggling with my own grief and loss.  All that she knew of my mom was what she had read in my blog or shared in social media.  Needless to say, when I opened up the gift, I was incredibly surprised to find a set of windchimes.  Tears came to my eyes as I recalled the many times that I had sat in the kitchen or living room of my parents’ house in Connecticut and listened to the windchimes that my mom had hung up out on her porch.  She loved windchimes and it was such a fitting tribute to her.  But the amazing thing was that my friend had no idea how fitting it was, she just saw them and felt like she had to get them for me.

2013-06-18 17.34.52In the midst of grief, it’s really easy for those who haven’t experienced it to say, “Just move on, get past it.”  It’s easy for others to condemn the stories and the tributes and reminders that we have of those we have lost.  But once you experience it for yourself, you have a deeper understanding, it makes you much more sensitive to what loss is all about.

I don’t think that these reminders are a bad thing.  I don’t see them as means by which I hang on to the past, they just act as reminders of all that I had with my mom, all the love that we shared together.  But they also serve as reminders to me that death is not the end.  Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”  We have this hope in Jesus Christ that we will once again be reunited.  As I look at all of these reminders, that thought alone can bring a smile to my face.

The Loss of Anticipation

wait for itWho really likes to wait for anything?  We want what we want, when we want it, right?  If I know what I want, what it looks like, how it should go, is there really any reason why I should have to wait for it?

That’s exactly what we have become, a people who really hates to wait.  We have drive-through everything.  Get your “fast food” from a window.  Drive-through banking.  Drive-through Starbucks.  We even have the potential of having drive-through groceries if we set it up right, order online and then swing by the store.  Everything we want can get delivered us with no hesitation.  We hate to wait.

I’m a major culprit of this myself.  I can’t stand waiting.  A few weeks ago, I blogged about my lack of patience and what it cost me (read it here).  I can’t stand waiting, but I can tell you about a number of times in my life when waiting was exactly what I needed.  I might not have wanted it, but I needed to wait, I needed to go through the process because the process did something to me, it changed me.

I find myself overly conscious of the concept of waiting as I raise my own children.  They want what they want and usually don’t understand what is involved in getting it.  Mostly, they don’t get the concept of things costing money or time or effort.  They’re young, so I don’t consider it a lost cause by any stretch of the imagination, but I want to make sure that I seize the teaching moments along the way to help them understand how things happen.

We’ve made our kids wait for things and they have seen the benefit of that.  Wait for a video game to be on the market for 6 months and you will be pay a significantly lower price than you would pay if you bought it immediately.  Wait until you have the money to buy something and it might go on sale.  Wait until everyone is free to go on a trip so that we can enjoy it together.

Those are the easier and less significant things, how about the more important things in life?  If we’ve lived enough of life ourselves, we probably have a pretty good concept of this.  Maybe we’ve seen what happened when we got what we wanted right away.  When that happens, there can be a loss of appreciation for whatever it is that we get.

Not only is there a loss of appreciation, but there is also a loss of anticipation.  When we know what we want and reach out and grab it right away, do we ever anticipate anything?  Especially our children.  When they get everything that they want right away, do they really learn the value of waiting, do they really learn the value of anticipation?  They have no concept of the growing excitement that comes when you finally get something that you have anticipated for days, weeks, months, or even years.

I know that I will fail in this area, but I also know how important it is for my kids to learn to anticipate.  Wait for it……wait for it…….wait for it.  Waiting kind of sucks, but it’s also pretty formative, it shapes and molds us and we grow to appreciate those things that we have waited for the most.

One day, my children will hopefully get married.  I hope that there is a growing sense of anticipation for them on that day.  I hope that the sense of anticipation that they have had for that day will lead to a great appreciation for all that the day means to them.  I hope that they learn the value of waiting for something.  They will experience other things in life that they have anticipated for a long time.  Turning 16.  Turning 21.  Getting out of the house.  Going on vacations.  Finishing school.  Lots of things.  The things that I value the most are the things that took me the longest time to finally achieve.  That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate certain gifts and other things, but those don’t come along every day, so I definitely appreciate them.

What do you appreciate?  What have you had to wait for?  What have you had given to you without having to wait at all?  Do you look at all things the same?  Maybe it’s just me that sees things this way, but I think I’ve seen it enough in other people to know that there is a deeper truth to the sense of anticipation and appreciation that comes from waiting.  Next time you want something right away, ask yourself what might be gained if you simply wait for it.

Summertime

Summertime.  Just the word alone is enough to conjure up images of sprinklers in the yard, picnics at the beach, family trips, watermelon, 4th of July, and so much more.  I was made for summertime.  I always wanted to move to California because I thought that it was the only place where you could experience summertime all year long.  I guess you can do that in Florida as well, it’s just got a very different demographic.summertime

What is it about summertime that seems so attractive?  Other than the nostalgia, what is it that makes that time between Memorial Day and Labor Day seem so special and coveted?

I think it has to do with the fact that the pace slows down.  We are a fast moving people, moving frenetically from activity to activity to see if we can somehow outsmart the day by creating one more hour or minute that didn’t exist before.  We see an 8 hour day and we wonder if we can pack 12 hours into those 8 hours.  We want to take advantage of the opportunity, but we’re not satisfied in taking what we get, trying to conjure up more time somehow.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that people still don’t try to do that during the summer.  In a society that operates at 120% most of the time, you would expect that it would begin to bleed over, and it does.  You can easily find a way to continue your frenetic pace throughout the summer, if you so desire.  You can send your kids to camps every day, schedule a “fun-filled” vacation full of activities, and pretend that it’s just the same as any other time of the year.  But what will you miss?

I kind of look at summer like an airplane trip versus a roadtrip.  When you travel by airplane, you’ll probably get there faster.  You don’t have to do the work of figuring out routes, filling up the car, or even carrying your luggage.  You don’t have to pay much attention or even stay awake if you don’t want.  The trip is entirely out of your hands and you have the benefit of sitting back and enjoying the ride.  There are some minor inconveniences along the way like flight delays, security, and airport parking, but they aren’t always experienced.  The airplane has windows, and you can see what you’re flying over, take a snapshot for posterity, and experience things from a bird’s eye view.  Airplane trips are generally for those who are most seeking to be efficient with their time.

Roadtrips are different though.  They aren’t for those who want to rush.  While you can still rush through a roadtrip, there are means by which to slow you down.  You’ve got to drive the speed limit (or at least close if you want to avoid tickets).  It’s hard to drive and sleep at the same time.  There are tolls.  You might miss your exit, hit traffic, run out of gas.  But your view is very different.  You can see things up close and personal.  You stop for gas and you meet interesting people.  You picnic in a rest area.  You take a different route because it’s more scenic.  You do things for the experience not for the efficiency.  You’ll get there eventually, but there’s no rush.  Rushing through a roadtrip is like going into a 3D movie without the glasses, you can do it, but everything will be pretty fuzzy and you’ll wonder why you spent the extra money.

Summertime and roadtrips can have a way of forcing us to slow down and take things in rather than rushing through.  Sure, we might be efficiently maneuvering our way through either one of these things, but what are we really getting out of it?  Roadtrips aren’t for the faint of heart or those in a rush, and neither is summertime.  If you want to rush around, you might as well just find a place where it’s perpetually Fall.

A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words

Yesterday was the first Father’s Day without my dad.  It was met with mixed emotions.  Of course, I am glad that he isn’t suffering through all that he was experiencing in the last few years, but selfishly, I was certainly missing him tremendously.  Although we were supposed to go to Williamsburg to spend the afternoon with my family over there, it was too much for me to deal with as I continued to navigate through my own grief and emotion.dad and dylan - fair

As I spent time on the computer yesterday afternoon, I came to it while the screen saver was on, showing pictures from our hard drive.  A picture popped up of my dad and my oldest son on a ride at a carnival.  The one drawback of this kind of screensaver is that it’s hard to locate the picture that you just saw, at least for me.  I don’t know of a way to easily get to it unless you have a pretty good idea when it was taken, which I kind of did.  So, I went on a search.

After a few minutes, success, I found it.  I did a little editing to get a close-up view of the two of them together.  The faces of the both of them tell a story.  My son’s face has a look of sheer delight.  He looks overjoyed to be on the ride.  His mouth is a gape as they ride this simple, little roller coaster.   He was barely 3 years old and everything he experienced was new and different, the first time.  I’m sure this was one of those times.

My dad’s face tells a different story.  As I looked closer at his face, I realized that I had seen that look a thousand times before.  It was one of those faces that said, “I’m going to pretend that I am enjoying myself, but inside, I’m scared as hell.”  Not everybody who knew my dad knew that face, but I had seen it enough and I knew him well enough to be able to decipher that those were most likely his emotions.  He wasn’t big on moving rides, especially adventurous ones.  I can’t quite remember why I wasn’t with him that day other than the fact that I might have been taking a nap at their house.  Regardless, he was elected to take the ride with his grandson, and he did it.

It might not seem like a big deal, but for him, anything that was different or scary was a challenge.  Dad didn’t like change and as much as he had once had dreams of being a pilot, heights and roller coasters were not his forte.  He preferred to stand with both feet firmly planted on the ground with as little jerky movement as possible.  This was a big deal for him to make the sacrifice for his grandson, and the day that it happened, I missed it.

In fact, the picture was taken nearly four years ago, and it was only yesterday that I discovered it.  How appropriate though, to discover it on Father’s Day, the first one without him.  It was also appropriate that my dad and his grandson were together.  You see, while my son struggles some times to try new things, he’s come a long way in his six and a half years.  He assesses the situation and then decides whether it’s worth the risk.  If it’s not, he just won’t try it, until his mom and I prod him along.

Once upon a time, my dad was six and a half years old.  Once upon a time, he encountered adventures and risky situations and had to make the decision as to whether or not to jump in or to turn away and be safe.  His father, however, was not around much (and eventually at all) for him to prod and push my dad to embrace that sense of adventure.  Eventually, Dad learned to embrace the safety of the familiar.  Eventually, Dad learned that risk was scary and not something to be bothered with, it was too uncomfortable, too unknown, too unfamiliar.

I don’t think that I can really blame him.  He did what he knew best to do, just as I have done, and just as my children will do.  What will I teach them?  Will I teach them to risk?  It’s better to try and fail than never to have tried at all.  Much better to get into the ring and get knocked out than to simply give instructions from the outside without ever having experienced it yourself.  Most of our lessons are learned not from our accomplishments but from the failures that lead up to the accomplishments.

As I look at my kids, I realize the influence that I have on them, not only by what I say and do but also by what I don’t say and don’t do.  Sins of commission and sins of omission.  What am I leaving out?  What am I neglecting to do that will make a difference?

All that from a picture?  Yup.  They say that a picture’s worth a thousand words.  Next time you look at a picture, see what you can get out of it.

Thanks, Dad!

Dear Dad,

I thought I would write you just to follow up on the conversation we had the other day.  I told you how much I loved you and how thankful that I was for you.  I also told you how I couldn’t have asked for a better father.  I meant everything that I said, but even though I knew that you were leaving, I guess it always comes sooner than we expect, and that’s just what happened.  So, let me say a little more that I didn’t get to say the other day.

Thanks for being a model of a man of integrity to me.  You always showed me to be consistent and to always live as the child of God that I claim to be.  You were always honest and truthful, even when it wasn’t the easiest thing.  People might have looked at you funny when you showed that integrity, but I was looking too, and you showed me a lot.  Thanks for standing up for your convictions.  While we didn’t always agree, I am thankful that you stood for things and that you did it with grace and integrity.

Thanks for caring for Mom.  I know that you always struggled to find the right words to say, but your words were more right than you r3 Generations of Gibsonsealized.  You relied on cards and letters to say things that you felt like you couldn’t say face to face, and Steve and I have found more and more examples of just how much you loved Mom.  Thanks for always striving to be a better husband and for admitting your shortfalls.  I know that things at the end were hard, but you had been through an awful lot and I don’t fault you for being tired.

Thanks for showing me that my call to ministry was from God and that people’s opinions of me shouldn’t sway that.  You never considered yourself an eloquent preacher yet you preached with determination and focus.  You never considered yourself a brilliant man, but the size of your heart made anyone forget that (even though I don’t think it was very true…..Dr.!).  You pressed on despite the many obstacles that you faced all along the way.  Over the course of 40+ years in ministry, you took your fair share of licks, but you continued to press on.  Over the course of 9 years in ministry, I’ve taken my own share, but I am constantly reminded of you and it helps me to push on.

Thanks for being transparent.  You were always honest with me about what you saw as your shortfalls.  That’s not something that you encounter every day and I have done my best to use you as a model.  While I never idealized you, I always thought that you were pretty special.  I remember the compassion that you showed when Grandma was sick and you broke down at the kitchen table because it reminded you of all that you had been through with your own mother.  Thanks for not hiding your tears, they spoke to me in volumes that have left an indelible mark on my life.  In fact, when we said “good-bye” to you at the cemetery, your grandsons and your other son came around me when I shed tears of my own.  Thanks for giving me permission to cry in life’s difficult situations.

Thanks for being forgiving.  I remember when I hit the house with the car on my 15th birthday.  When I confessed that it was me and not Steve’s friend, you simply said, “You’re a jerk, go to bed.”  That line has gone down in our family folklore and I expect it will continue.  I also remember when someone bought tainted grape juice from the CVS next to your church and some people got sick during communion.  Police investigations finally  discovered that the bottle was tainted by a disgruntled employee.  Instead of meting out justice on him, you offered him the same forgiveness that we have received through Jesus Christ, even calling the employee’s mother and offering words of comfort and encouragement to her.  You were forgiving to a fault sometimes, even when Mom thought that you should have spoken up more, you took the same approach that Jesus did, humbly receiving what was thrown at you without opening your mouth in defense.

Last week, I read a note that you had written to me just a few months after my first son was born.  You said that you hoped that I would avoid some of the mistakes that you had made.  Considering all that you came from and all that you had been through, I think that you did a pretty good job.  Like I said to you, I could not have asked for a better dad.  You always showed mejon tony - wedding day unconditional love and, even though it was slightly embarrassing, thanks for kissing me good-bye every time that you dropped me off at school, even into middle school and high school.  I can only hope that my boys allow me the same luxury.  I am so thankful that I never wondered whether or not you loved me.

Well, I could probably write a whole lot more, but I’m going to close now.  Thanks again for all that you did.  I look forward to telling my kids all about their grandpa and how much he meant in my life.  I did my best to always tell you how much you meant and you did the same thing for me.  Thanks for always telling me how thankful you were for what I did for you, especially towards the end.  I always wished that I could do more, but I thank you for understanding.

I will miss you until I see you again.  I’m glad to know where you are, but it’s hard not picking up the phone to call you, hard to not be able to hear your voice.  I’ve got a few voicemails from you that will have to suffice for now.

Enjoy the rewards that you have earned and the gift that you have received by grace.  Give Mom and everyone else hugs for me.  I’ll look forward to the day when I can tell you all of this face to face.

I love you!

Jonathan