How Do We Disagree?

In the early hours of the morning on Sunday, a gunman entered the Pulse bar in Orlando and began shooting. By the time that the dust had settled from the attack, 49 people were killed in addition to the gunman himself. He was eventually killed as well by the police.

As details of the attack begin to emerge, some things are becoming clear. The gunman identified himself with ISIS, the terrorist group. The gunman had been interviewed by the FBI because of sympathies he had expressed in the past. The gunman exhibited unstable behavior in the past and his motives and anti-LGBT attitude seems to have been driven by his association with ISIS and their views.

Any shooting, in my opinion, is a horrific tragedy. This shooting is no exception. We’ve seen this happen too often over the past years, people going about their lives in their schools, in clubs, in theaters, and other places before their lives are upended by someone choosing to use violence to express their views and allow that violence to speak for them.

Why is violence the way that some choose to express their disagreement? That seems to be the $1,000,000 question. Is there no other way that we can express disagreement over issues than using violence? As I think through this tragedy and the 49 killed as well as all of the wounded, I can’t help but wonder about how we disagree with one another?

Granted, it seems that this shooter had a lot more underlying issues than seeming disagreements, but I think that the question of how we disagree still remains. Are we allowing for places in our culture and our society in which people can disagree and actually dialogue about those disagreements? Are there forums in which people with differing opinions can engage with one another in healthy and productive means?

Social media has been both a help and a hindrance for people to express their opinions. When we voice our opinions simply to make them known, we don’t invite conversation. At the same time, I think that we’ve gotten a little lax in engaging each other over differences, choosing instead to simply state that it’s fine for you to believe what you believe and me to believe what I believe, as long as we don’t end up working out our disagreements with violence.

But as I consider my own children, I have to think that how they are taught to disagree will be heavily dependent on what I teach them, both in word and action. That’s not to say that they won’t learn from what’s around them, but nurture and nature are both instrumental in our formation. How are my children learning to disagree?

Diversity can be a good thing, but if we all don’t understand the differences or seek to try to understand the differences, diversity is just another word that we throw around. To simply hold to beliefs because it’s “what we know” or “it’s the societal norm” is not a sufficient reason. If we believe something, hold firm to it as a belief and ideology, we should understand why we believe it. Can we become an apologist for our viewpoints and beliefs?

Not only should we be able to defend and affirm our beliefs, but if we have done the hard work of thinking for ourselves, we shouldn’t feel threatened when we encounter someone who disagrees with our beliefs. The one exception is when the someone that we meet who disagrees with our beliefs takes it upon themselves to use violence to do their convincing, as was the case with this man in Orlando.

I have many friends who hold differing opinions than I hold, but I’d like to think that we can agree to disagree and still engage in meaningful conversations without violence or hate. I don’t know that I will ever convince them of my beliefs and vice versa, but I don’t think that should prevent us from continuing our friendships.

How do you disagree? How well can you defend what you believe? Is social media simply a platform for you to trumpet your beliefs? Or do you seek to grow in your understanding of your beliefs as well as the beliefs of others?

There is an irony in a blog post like this. I fully understand that this has the potential of being the very thing that I don’t want it to be, but I’m also trying to ask more questions to point all of us towards the process of working out the answers for ourselves.

I pray for the people of Orlando. I pray that all of those impacted by this tragedy, especially those in the LGBT community, might realize that there are those out there whose differing views don’t prevent them from still sharing in friendship and love with them. I pray that the peace and comfort of Jesus Christ might be made known in a real and palpable way to those who are suffering and I pray that we can continue to seek ways to peaceably disagree with one another. May those who are mourning and hurting know that they are not alone in their mourning and hurting.

Speaking of Now

Having eulogized both of my parents at their respective funerals, I know a little bit of something about speaking words of someone when they’re gone. I consider myself fairly fortunate to have had an open and honest relationship with my parents, enough that not many things were left unsaid between us when they finally died. There were no major regrets felt by me, nothing that I felt I should or shouldn’t have said. Sure, there are always things you wish you could have said more, but I don’t feel like I missed saying anything important to them.

The thing is, while I know they aren’t wasted words, speaking kind memories after someone has gone, they sometimes feel as if they could have been even more significant if the person of whom they are about had been present at the time of their speaking. Like I said, I said all the things that I really needed to say to my parents, but I never stood in front of them and gave them one big tribute the way that I did at their funerals.

It kind of makes you think about the value of words said while people are still alive. Do we reserve the strongest and most powerful words for people once they’ve passed or are we honest with them while they sit across the table, room, computer, or phone line from us? Do we tell them the things that they need to hear or just what they want to hear? Do we encourage them and tell them how much they mean to us?

I’ve had two fairly distinct situations in the last week where encouraging words were spoken over someone who is still here. I shared about one of those experiences the other day, celebrating the 85th birthday of my wife’s grandmother. It was neat to hear the legacy tributes that were shared, the encouragement to her of her faithfulness, devotion, faith, and selflessness. It was probably also great for her to hear those things. While she exudes confidence, I am sure that in her 85 years of life, she’s had some doubts here and there, wondering whether or not all the sacrifices that she was making were really worth the efforts and, well, the sacrifice.

But those words were spoken over her, not over her lifeless body, over her life-filled body with ears that can hear, eyes that can cry, and a brain that can process. Those words will mean the same and still hold their power and strength either way, but they are so much more satisfying to the giver when the receiver can actually hear them.

The other distinct situation was the small birthday gathering of a friend who turned 40. A bunch of guys gathered around a firepit to just talk and hang out. While I had had grand plans of having everyone share stories, I realized in the midst of the time that co-opting it from what it had organically become would have turned it into something that it was not and most likely would have devalued it in some way.

As the time wound down as these men stood around a fire celebrating this brother and friend who is moving into a new decade of his life, the one who was being celebrated looked around the circle and spoke encouraging words over each and every person there. I had to chuckle to myself as I thought, “Wait a minute, this is supposed to be about him, not all of us.” That’s just him though, always wanting to spur others along.

I couldn’t resist co-opting the moment after he had finished his journey of encouragement around that circle. I spoke words over him and we all circled up around him, laid hands on him, and prayed over him. It was a holy and sacred moment, a moment of which you don’t experience many in life. Heaven touched earth and I had a sense that the Father was pleased by what he was seeing.

Not only was the Father pleased, but I am pretty sure that the one who was being celebrated was pleased as well. I think he was glad to have been the recipient of this time and celebration. I think he enjoyed it far more than he would have had he not been there, right?

Words are important. It was a stark reminder to me throughout all of these events, a reminder that I sadly need more than I’d like to admit. We can be quick with words or we can be slow with words. Sometime we wait too long to share them, sometimes we share before we’ve really had the chance to think through just what it is that we plan to say. Either way, words can hurt. In the words of INXS, “Words are weapons, sharper than knives.”

But words can lift up, they can lift us out of the pit, the ash heap on which we currently reside, and carry us up to the mountain, or at least out of the muck and mire in which we find ourselves. It’s important that we share them, especially those encouraging ones, now rather than waiting until tomorrow. After all, none of us knows what today or tomorrow holds.

If you’ve got something to say, say it, don’t wait until it’s too late. The words will be much sweeter for you when they’re shared with someone who can be physically and emotionally present to hear them and appreciate them. Everyone likes to hear an encouraging word, so why not share one today!

Gathering Together

This past weekend, my family and I traveled up to Mystic, Connecticut to celebrate the 85th birthday of my wife’s grandmother. Although I got a cold on the way that was eventually shared with others in my family and everyone was a little cranky from all the traveling, the time together was nothing short of celebratory and even a taste of heaven.

Having lost both of my grandmothers when I was in college, having my wife’s grandmother has been special not only to me and my wife, but to our children as well. She turned 85 last week, but she certainly doesn’t show lots of signs of her age. Sure, she’s slowed down a lot in the time that I’ve known her, but she’s as witty and wise as that day. She’s thoughtful and loving as well, thinking so much of others. She’s always quick to send a card for special occasions but also just to encourage people and to let them know that they are being prayed for and thought about by her.

It’s moments like the ones that we spent last weekend that remind me what a celebration we will experience one day when we will be united together with all of those who have gone before us. Thinking about the laughter and the shared memories, the stories, and the fun only give a glimpse of what we will experience when we one day stand before our Savior.

I chuckled during the weekend at the fact that I’m about halfway to 85 myself. I could only look, act, and feel half as good as my grandmother-in-law if and when that day actually arrives for me.

With 85 years of memories, there are lots to share, but I was struck by the fact that many of the memories and stories that were shared were stories of encouragement, love, prayer, and faith. Her children and grandchildren shared of the faith that had been instilled in them through her. She and her husband had put a priority on that faith and it was evident throughout all of the generations represented this weekend.

As the years swiftly move past, it seems that time acts as a filter of sorts, filtering out the less important things so that what remains is what you can hold closest to your heart. That theory was affirmed this weekend. All five of my grandmother-in-law’s children were there along with all twelve of her grandchildren and all but four of her sixteen great-grandchildren.

Sitting in the lobby of the hotel, passersby would stop to observe the whole family, wondering what on earth was going on. What was this crowd that had gathered? So many strangers came up and wished the “birthday girl” a happy birthday. The celebration was infectious and contagious, it was neat to watch the smiles spread on the faces of those walking by, especially when they discovered what the celebration was all about.

The celebration of a life that is lived is usually reserved for after a person passes. I was so glad to be part of such a celebration that took place while we can still enjoy the company and presence of the one being celebrated. I don’t know how many more celebrations that we can have with my grandmother-in-law, but I look forward to every single one, no matter how far we have to travel, how tired we are, and how cranky everyone gets (including me).

I don’t know how long I’ll be here on this earth, but I do know that I’ve watched a number of people go before me who have set the bar high on standards for living. I’m not talking about how much money they made or how monetarily rich they were, but how rich they were in their relationships with others. Those who serve as examples for me have shown me what is valuable and I can only hope and pray that the example I set for my kids and their kids might be a fraction of what’s been passed on to me.

No Fear In Love – A Book Review

no fear in loveAndy Braner grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist church and it seems that his adult journey has been spent trying to overcome its effect on him. He realized that he had spent a lot of time getting to know about God rather than actually trying to know God and let him influence the way that he lived. As he unpacked his own experiences and why he was taught to respond to certain things in certain ways, he realized that much of the response that he had been taught was governed and fueled by fear.

Braner writes, “We are far too concerned with the outward appearances of daily life without really addressing the core fears brewing deep inside ourselves.” Instead of questioning and spending time in relationship with those with whom we disagree, he says, we attack. We don’t build relationships but build walls instead. He asks his reader to ponder what might happen if Christians began to look at people as people and relationships rather than battles to be won or arguments in which to triumph.

Somewhere along the way, Braner claims, Christians excelled in becoming defenders of the Gospel and of God rather than becoming examples of Christ to the world. In these efforts to protect God and the Gospel, we have actually created places where sin is prohibited and managed to such an extent that people can’t be open and honest with their struggle and where they can’t confess to one another because of the fear that’s driving them. God is not a sales pitch, Braner adds.

In embracing a culture of protection, we have feared the “other,” anyone who is different than us. We have failed to engage them and find common places of thought as starting points. Instead, we have created walls, building them up instead of building the relationships that are so important in which God could work. Braner suggests that we enter into relationships free of agendas and with a simple desire to know the other person and where they are coming from, regardless of the differences in opinions, beliefs, and ideologies.

Throughout this book, Braner shares personal stories about how he has found success in confronting his own fears and found ways to engage the “other” in his life. He shares of praying in a mosque, of engaging a whole group of Jehovah’s Witnesses and inviting them to dinner, of boldly mixing Christian and Muslim teenagers for a week of summer camp, and other stories. He says that, “The most compelling adventures are those that happen when we recognize fear, address it, and move to a place of reliance on what God is doing in the hearts and minds of others.”

Braner questions where Christians are known more by what they are against or by what they are for. In our media-saturated culture, he sees that we have lost the art of healthy dialogue, instead tending to trade it for brief shouting matches between experts in which the winner is the one who yelled the loudest. He adds that, “This practice has done nothing to help us reach out and discuss things in a civilized disagreement. It promotes anger, yelling, and extremism.”

Overall, I didn’t walk away from this book feeling as if Braner had shared anything groundbreaking with the reader. In some ways, he dwelt heavily in generalizations to the point that he made it seem as if there are no Christians out there who are making in-roads in building relationships with those with whom they don’t see eye to eye. In fact, there were times that I felt his stories were shared more for their shock value than because the readers could actually benefit from them. If the average Christian falls into most of the generalizations which Braner lays out, chances are that they wouldn’t be impressed with his stories as much as they might be shocked and turned away.

I appreciate Braner’s heart shining throughout this book. The reader can tell that he is passionate about which he writes. He is passionate about building relationships with those with whom he doesn’t see eye to eye. If you have sought a third way, a way to engage the “other” without offending, turning off, or defeating, Braner offers his own stories as possible suggestions. If you fit into the generalizations of Christians that Braner shares, you might be better served looking elsewhere for a safer and more comfortable read. Braner doesn’t pull any punches and he does so with a purpose. While this book didn’t “wow” me, I don’t feel that it was a waste of time either.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Papa Bear

When I was a little boy, I was the youngest kid in the neighborhood. Most of the kids were at least a year older than me, if not more. Even my brother is four years older than me. While I wasn’t a small child, I was still the youngest.

There was a kid down the street who might have been labeled the neighborhood bully. He was the one wearing the heavy metal T-shirts. He lived with his mom, and to the best of my knowledge had no siblings. He had a reputation, at least with my family.

One day, I was being a four or five year old kid, riding my little plastic, orange push motorcycle and the next minute, I had gotten clocked in the head with it by this kid. Naturally, I cried and ran home.

As the youngest child, I was always the one to get sympathy. I was the baby and there were plenty of times that my mom would coddle me as the baby. On this day, I don’t know if I ever saw my mom so mad in my life. While all of the details remain blurry, I do remember being dragged down the street to this kid’s house. I remember his mom answering the door and my mom showing her the welt on my head from my plastic motorcycle. It seems to me that my mom’s concern was met with indifference from the mom, but don’t quote me on it.

I learned an incredible lesson that day: most parents love and care deeply for their children. In fact, they will do just about anything for them and when you mess with those kids, the hackles will come out and you’ll find yourself facing a very angry animal.

As a parent myself now, I can understand better my mom’s reaction. If you want to see the bear claws come out, mess with my kids.

I’m not naïve enough to think that my kids are perfect. Heck, I’ve spent fourteen hours in the car with them, if there’s anyone who knows better than me (other than my wife) that they are fallible and imperfect, it’s me.

But I know my kids. I know how they usually act. I know how they usually talk. I know when things just aren’t right. When I see something done to them that was not justified, when I see them being treated unfairly, when I see them hurting, I will respond.

At the end of this past little league baseball season, I wrote an email to the coaches for my older son’s team. I wanted to thank them for taking a kid who isn’t the most athletically gifted kid in the world and doing their best to make sure that he was encouraged, that he was educated and taught the game, and that he had a good time and enjoyed himself. I was grateful for their time and efforts and the investment that they had made in my son.

Recently, something happened with one of my children and I responded. As I reflected on my reaction, I think that I was a little surprised at just how much love that I have for my children. I’m not surprised that I love them, I was just surprised just how much I felt the burning within me at the thought of anything bad happening to them.

Continuing to reflect upon it, I thought about that love that I have for my children multiplied. How much does God love us? If I respond so passionately when someone messes with my kids, how much more will God respond because of his great love for us?

As a friend of mine said the other day, “Parenting is the most rewarding thing in the world.” He followed that statement by admitting how incredibly difficult it is as well. Your kids will challenge you, they will love you, they will test you, they will show you just what’s inside of you.

I’m grateful for my children, but I’m equally grateful for my parents, the ones who stood up for me, who loved me, who went to the mat for me. I’m also grateful for a Father who still does the same day after day!

Among the Best

2015-02-27 10.22.3315 years ago today, I made one of the best decisions of my life. Well, technically, the decision was made before that day, but the culmination of that decision happened on that day. On March 3, 2000, I asked my wife to marry me. My life has never been the same since, and for that, I am grateful.

Now, granted, I’ve made a whole lot of bad decisions in my life, but I’d like to think that some of my better decisions might counteract those bad decisions, and this is certainly one of those decisions that I’d like to think that about.

She was still in school at the University of Connecticut at the time, so I had conspired with her roommates. Although there were a number of people present, it was only her roommates and me who were in on the plan. It was not uncommon for us to have game nights with our friends. She wasn’t into the party scene by the time that she got to college, so hanging out with friends was a perfectly acceptable way to spend a Friday night. So, we planned it out that her sister, who was at the same school, and her brother, and a few other close friends would come over to the apartment on that Friday night.

I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do it all so I was talking to one of her roommates who informed me that she was expecting that music would be involved, in other words, she thought that I might sing her a song.

No pressure, right?

Forcing creativity is a bit intimidating, but I concocted the whole plan assuming that it would come at some point. We would be playing a game where I would make up a question and then sing a song that I had written. No problem at all, as long as I could actually get the song written.

I’m generally a planner, so this was all in place about a month or more before the date actually came. I would set aside time every week to work on the song in hopes that it would be finally ready by the time the date came.

But time ticked on. 4 weeks……..3 weeks………2 weeks………1 week…….

It came down to days before this whole thing was to take place and the well continued to be dry…..I mean, BONE DRY! Nothing would come. I couldn’t get anything written, I mean, nothing. It seemed that the harder I tried, the harder it became. At that point, I knew that I needed some diving intervention.

I wasn’t going to settle for using somebody else’s song, it just wasn’t “me” to do something like that. It seems fitting, in retrospect, that the place where I would generally do most of my writing was in the sanctuary of the little Baptist church where my dad served as pastor for nearly 40 years. I would spend many a late night in there, playing the piano or guitar, hoping that the “muse” would find me. I had a key and would come and go as I needed to and I wasn’t afraid of disturbing anyone but the church mice.

So, I prayed and prayed for something that would be acceptable….

And it finally came, on February 29, 2000, just three days before the planned date. Talk about cutting it close. At some point, in the wee hours of the morning, ideas began to flow and they kept coming until I was finally finished.

Over the next few days, I did what I could to polish things up. I practiced until my fingers ached to get it just right. Everything was in place.

At the last minute, things always get even more hectic. This was no exception. M I practiced until my fingers ached to get it just right. Everything was in place.2015-03-02 08.14.43

At the last minute, things always get even more hectic. This was no exception. My wife’s sister decided she wasn’t so certain that she would be coming at the last minute. I told her that she really needed to be there, it was important, but I still never revealed the truth of what would be happening.

The day finally came, after coaxing and convincing, everyone was there, a few showed up a little late, but we were all there. We finally got around to the game and as we were going around playing, my brother-in-law nearly won the game right before my turn. Hadn’t thought of that possibility. My turn came and in the form of a question in the game, I asked my wife to marry me and told her that she needed to listen to a song that I had written.

When all was said and done, she said, “Yes.” We celebrated with our families the next day. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The other day, I found the notebook in which I had written the song. It’s always fascinating to watch the genesis of a song, especially one like this that meant so much to me. Good memories and I am grateful that I have a record of it all.

All along the way during the evening of the engagement, I had her roommates taking pictures to document the moment. I was so glad that we did that. Not long after we were engaged, my mom put together a collage of the pictures surrounding the words of the song that I had written for my wife. This is a picture of it. And in case you can’t read the words, here they are:

 

Your Love Makes Me by Jon Gibson

Chorus

Your love makes me more than I dreamed of

More than I wished for or ever thought I could be.

Your love makes me more than I could ever imagine

Your love is setting me free.

I always knew that God’s promise was true

When He said He’d provide all that I need.

But I never dreamed I could find such a love

That come straight from a story you’d read.

There was a day when I looked at you

And I saw a girl, no more than a friend.

Then something changed, how I looked, how I felt,

And I knew I’d found a love with no end.

Repeat Chorus

In your eyes lie the answers to questions

I ask of myself about who I should be.

You’re always there with the words

That can show me all of the things I can’t see.

A gentle touch or a warm embrace

Can change stormy skies from gray to bright blue.

Nothing could replace or compare to the love

That I am sharing with you.

Repeat Chorus

Bridge

When the seasons grow cold

And the storms cloud our way

When we can’t find the words

Or the right things to say

I will be there for you

I’ll show you my love by the things that I do

‘Cause your love is making me into all I can be.

When I open my eyes to the sunset

And see all the beauty of God’s mighty hand

I realize that the gift I’ve been giv’n

Is a woman intended to complete this man.

I see in you the true reflection of the One

Who once died to make us His own.

I stop and think what the world might be like

If I had to face it alone.

Repeat Chorus

 

Funny to look back at those words 15 years later. Some of them make me cringe at the “cheesy” factor while others seem as appropriate today as they were back then.

Today I am grateful for that day and the outcome of it. I’m glad that it turned out the way that it did and I’m looking forward to celebrating this day again and again, along with all of the other days that we can share together.

I love you, Carrie!

When Did Love and Sex Become Synonymous?

This weekend marks one of Hallmark’s most successful holidays (next to Christmas): Valentine’s Day. So why not spend it watching a good romantic comedy or a classic love story? I mean, it’s a holiday whose sole purpose is to celebrate love, right? Better yet, you can go to your local theater and watch a little movie (based on the largely successful book) about S & M between clean cut, young, white people called “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, methinks you’ve been living under a rock. Since its publication in 2012, the book has sold more than 10 million copies and the film version has finally arrived. Desperate housewives and husbands as well as those with curiosities killing them like cats have flocked to the book and will most likely flock to the movie in much the same way. There is a deep irony in this movie being released on Valentine’s Day weekend, a holiday as I mentioned which is purportedly focused on love.

The movie, despite bad reviews from many critics, will most likely have a big opening weekend. Just the hype alone is drawing more attention to the movie than it would if it were to have to rely on its sheer brilliance, which based on the reviews so far, is non-existent. In fact, I hesitated to even mention it within this post for fear of perpetuating such drivel.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” in both book and movie form represents a bigger problem seen across our culture. Somewhere along the way, we’ve cast aside good old fashioned love stories and love songs and replaced them with seductive stories of one night stands, of sexual escapades in the back of limousines, of drunken experiences that still remain hazy in the heads of those who have experienced them. We’ve replaced the notion of love with a cheap imitation.

Consider the recent Grammy event where many of the songs nominated for awards were focused on sex. “Take Me To Church” isn’t really about wanting to get up on Sunday morning and go listen to a sermon. Many may have read about Kanye West’s further antics of standing up when Beck was awarded album of the year. Kanye thought that Beyonce’s album was more deserving because of its artistry. Containing songs like “Blow”, “Drunk In Love” and “Partition,” Queen Bey’s album contains enough material to make the prudish among us blush. Is it really necessary for us to sing about our sexual experiences? What Jay-Z and Beyonce do in the privacy of their bedroom is not really something that I’m particularly interested in. Should the rest of the world be?

The list could go on and on. These are just some examples of a bigger picture of the fact that there has been a radical shift in our society. I’m not exactly sure when it happened. It might have been something subtle. It would be easy to simply point to the free love of the ‘60s as the cause. Regardless of where it had its genesis, there seems to be a problem within our culture and our world. Our terminology has been skewed and jaded. We’ve lost sight of real definitions and embraced vague terms which become too interchangeable to have any real meaning. Somewhere along the way, we got confused and someone thought that it was a good idea to unite love and sex together in such a way that the two became synonymous.

As I see it, there are some severe problems with this. The first of which is that we make love shallow when it is so inherently tied to an act. If love is defined by the sex act, it’s really no wonder that marriages are failing and commitments are waning. If love prevails because of the sex act, when the sex act becomes boring or unfulfilling, because our notion of love is so tied to it, we will abandon that “love” for something which better resembles our faulty definition. We will move from relationship to relationship thinking that those relationships are defined by their sexuality rather than something deeper.

We are holistic creatures, we are not simply physical and sexual creatures. If our relationships are not holistic, then they will fail us, or we will fail them. We will simply seek out things that will fulfill the physical and sexual rather than seeking out the longer lasting emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of our relationships.

But what happens when their sexual experiences slow down? What happens when the urge isn’t there anymore? Sure, it may be many years down the road, but if our relationships are built upon the foundation of sexual experiences, what happens when that foundation is removed? Will what has been built on top of that foundation be strong enough to withstand the collapse of the foundation?

For me, there is nothing like walking in a public place and seeing an elderly couple walking hand in hand. My eyes will inevitably fall upon them and become glued. I’m watching. I’m listening. I’m observing what I see to try to get an idea as to how they got to that point. While Viagra can go so far, I think we would be foolish to think that the same passionate sex that one might have experienced in their earlier years would be as easily achievable in the twilight of life. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist, but I can guarantee you that if you were to talk with a couple like this to find out the secret of their longevity, they would most likely not point to the fact that they had defined their relationship simply by how much they “loved” each other through their sexual relationship. In fact, I would guess that if that had been their focus, they would most likely have abandoned that relationship a long time ago.

The other disturbing thing about this is that it doesn’t really work both ways. We might say that love can only be fulfilled through sex, but the opposite is not true. It’s possible, and even likely in this day and age, that sex can be completely loveless. We can have sex without love but we can’t have love without sex? Is that right? Can this be true?

The more that I see this distortion, the more I wonder what I’m missing.

I want to be one of those elderly couples that young people look at and wonder about our secret. I want to have a relationship that incorporates sex but is not defined by it. If my marriage relationship and my love for my wife is simply defined by the sexual aspect of it, then I don’t think we’ll make it to those twilight years! My foundation will crumble when the very thing on which I’ve built my relationship is taken away.

I’m sure there will be some who will accuse me of being a prude, but such an accusation is missing the point of what I am trying to get at here. What you do in the confines of your bedroom are your business, don’t make them everyone else’s business too.

Somehow or another, we have to redeem the notion of love as something much greater than an act, something much bigger than a few moments of pleasure. The oversexualization of our culture isn’t going to do anything to move towards that redemption.

Mom

I realized irene and jon - carrie and jon weddingthis morning that there are many people who have come to this blog within the last 3 years.  Having done that, they never read all about my mom which had been posted at my previous blog site.  So, as I sat and contemplated this morning, I figured that I would share what I posted over there nearly 3 years ago to help readers to better understand what I am talking about when I mention my mom, how much she meant to me, and the deep hole that I feel in my heart at her absence.

After a nearly 6 month battle with pancreatic cancer, my mother, Irene Gibson, passed away on July 19, 2011. This is what I read at her funeral:

There aren’t many 38 year old men who would stand up in public and say that their mom is one of their best friends. Yet I stand here today and say that without a doubt, my mom has always been one of the most important people in my life and among my best friends. The relationship that we have shared together is unique and special and it’s the same relationship that I wish for my boys to have with their mother.

I think that my mom always secretly wished that she had at least had one little girl. It was just my brother and me, I don’t think she ever wanted anymore than us two. God knows that we were probably more than enough for her to have to deal with as well. In some ways, I guess I became the daughter that she never had as we formed a relationship between mother and son that probably better resembled the relationship that some mothers have with their daughters.

Whenever something significant happened in my life, whether it was good or bad, exciting or depressing, there were always two people that I would call: my wife and my mother. My mom always listened, interjecting where she felt necessary. She shared in my joy or in my sorrow. When I would shed tears, so would she. When I would laugh, so would she. I always knew that whenever I made a phone call to her, she would join me and come alongside me, wherever I was. My love of the Psalms, reliance on prayer, and knowledge of Scripture are a result of my Mom’s fervent prayer and instruction.

I always knew what silence on the other end of the phone meant as well. Our family has always been honest with each other, no exceptions. My mom learned this from her family and it’s a trait that all of my aunts and uncles share. Honesty has been our best policy, speaking truth to each other, regardless of how difficult it is, has always helped our family survive. When my mom didn’t agree with something that I said, I would know pretty quickly that was the case.

My mom grew up with a stern father and a mother who was a rock, sweet and loving, but resilient. My uncle was a marine, another uncle a pastor. My mom’s two sisters, one older and one younger, also learned the strength and resiliency that my mom learned. Her sister, Marge, learned resiliency through life experience in the loss of her first husband. My grandfather, after being abusive with his wife and children, finally gave his life to Christ and became a different person, enjoyable and fun.

Mom has been the epitome of servanthood and unconditional love to me, my brother, my dad, and our family. She has always sacrificed herself for whatever would be best for her husband and sons. She might not have always been happy about it, but it never really showed. She would silently forge on, continuing to love and serve in the way that Christ instructed us to love and serve, with all of our hearts, minds, souls, and strength.

Wherever she went, whatever she did, Mom exuded the love of Christ. She worked in the Darien Public School system for over 20 years as a teacher’s aide. All of the teachers that she worked with were thrilled to have her as their aide. She went above and beyond what they expected and was always an incredible encouragement and support to them. I would hear of many of them whenever we talked on the phone, hearing about the things that were happening in their lives and the ways that my mom was praying for them, in hopes that they too would know the life-changing love of Jesus Christ. In fact, one of the last people to see Mom alive was a teacher that she had worked with in Darien who had just had a baby last month. Mom had been praying for both mother and child and was so excited for this baby’s arrival.

In November of 2010, my parents left Calvary Baptist Church in Darien, CT after serving there for more than 36 years. They left a sense of security and familiarity to step out into the unknown. They moved down to Williamsburg, VA to be close to my mom’s sister, Audrey, and brother-in-law, Roy, as well as me, my wife, and their grandsons. Life changed dramatically on January 31, 2011 when my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

In the six months that followed, we journeyed through cancer’s roller coaster ride, the ups and downs of hope and dread. As we waited on God to direct us in next steps, it still seemed that Mom was willing to pursue whatever everybody else might have wanted her to pursue. Every step we took, Mom would walk in resiliency and faith. While she expressed her fears now and then, we also shared together the hope in Jesus Christ that believers share together. Mom’s body had been breaking down for years, she always looked forward to the day when all things would be made new again.

Mom’s desire throughout her journey through cancer was that she not be a “wimp.” Just like her Marine brother who battled cancer before her, she wouldn’t let it get the best of her, and if it did, she wouldn’t let anyone but those close to her see. When she was a little girl, whenever she would get hit with the belt, she would defiantly tell her parents, “That didn’t hurt” and would stand strong, willing herself to not cry. She faced this cancer with the same defiance. In fact, the night before she went into the hospital for the last time, although she was tired and not feeling good, she went to her sister and brother-in-law’s to celebrate their anniversary, followed by a big bowl of frozen yogurt over at Sweet FROG’s in New Town.

But Mom’s resilience was not something that came simply from within herself. Her reliance was on Christ Jesus, the One who had suffered and died for the redemption of the world. As I spent hours with her in her last days, I looked on her nightstand to find this prayer, based on Isaiah 61, written out in her own hand:

Lord, anoint me with the oil of gladness instead of mourning, bestow on me a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. May I be a planting of the Lord for the display of Your splendor.

Mom was truly what she had prayed, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. I am reminded of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The seed of my mother has died, but what remains is in the life that was planted in others and the example of faith that she shared with all those around her. She was truly one who gave her life for others as an example of Jesus Christ and she is now experiencing eternal life with him.

In some ways, my mom’s wish to have a girl was fulfilled when my brother and I got married. She was always thrilled to have two daughters-in-love, as she would call them, who have supported, encouraged, and loved her sons. Mom welcomed both Karen and Carrie into her family the way that she would welcome two daughters of her own. A few weeks before my mom was diagnosed with cancer, my wife, Carrie, and I found out that we were expecting a third child. Already having two boys, we decided to not let this baby be a surprise, in the off chance that it actually might be a girl. Sure enough, the ultrasound confirmed that it’s a girl.

Mom had a bucket list of things that she would be able to experience. One of those was to see her first granddaughter and hold her. The girl that she had longed for would finally come through her son. When this little girl finally arrives, she will be named Chloe Irene Joy Gibson, in honor of her grandmother. Carrie and I pray that she might grow up in the legacy that her grandmother left, loving and serving Jesus, her family, and everyone that she comes into contact with.

One of the other things Mom wanted to see was me finally graduate from seminary with my Master’s of Divinity degree. She knew how hard I had been working and always told me how proud of me she was. I laughed at the fact that my preaching magically improved in her eyes as soon as I entered seminary. Whenever I would call her and update her on my grades and progress, she would always say, “I don’t know how you do it.” I have always been able to do it because of the example that she set for me, never relying completely on myself, but relying on the strength that I am given from the One who saves me.

Not only did Mom have a list of things that she wanted to experience herself but she had a list of things that she wanted others to do as well, particularly me and my brother. My wife and I recently celebrated 10 years of marriage and from the day that we were married until a week ago, I grew my hair long. Having already had to endure long hair with my brother, my mom was none too happy about me growing my hair. So every chance that she got to ask me when I was cutting my hair, she would do it.

This past Saturday, after I left my house in Mechanicsville, I went right to the hair salon and told them to cut it all off. I wanted Mom to see her little boy with the haircut that she had been wanting him to have before she passed from this life.

For my brother it was different. Mom was a fervent prayer warrior and she prayed for years and years that my brother would return to the faith that had been instilled in him early in his life. Although others might have given up on him, Mom prayed continuously. She would often quote 3 John 1:4 to me, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” Her greatest desire was that she would be united with her children when we all stand before Jesus, face to face. Thankfully, Mom was able to see this and experience this in the last months that she had even before she was diagnosed. As usual, Mom’s persistence had the last word.

For my dad, she wanted him to be okay and to make it. He’s had a rough time since he retired in November, dealing with more life transitions and change than someone half his age could deal with. In the last week, my father has stepped up to the plate and risen to the occasion in the midst of adversity. As difficult as it has been, he’s held himself high and done what he needed to do for Mom. I am proud of him, Steve is proud of him, and I am sure Mom would have been proud of him too.

I have a frame on my desk that my mom made for me. She wrote out Luke 1:14, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth.” She would quote that verse to me often, especially after I became a pastor. She always wanted me to know how proud she was of me. Mom has left a legacy in her husband, her children, her grandchildren, and every single person whose life she has touched.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 says, ” 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” These words of Paul, that he spoke to Timothy as his life came to an end are the same words that I encouraged Mom with as she neared the end of her life. Mom taught us how to live, love, and laugh, but she also taught us how to die. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that there will be for her a crown of righteousness. She has fought the good fight, she has finished the race, she has kept the faith. Her legacy will live on and I know we will meet again, in a place where cancer can no longer ravage the body, where tears are wiped away, and where we will worship Jesus, the One who gave himself up for us, forever. I love you, Mom.

Lucky 13

Carrie and Jon wedding bubblesToday, my wife and I celebrate 13 years of marriage together.

As I look back over the pictures from that hot and humid day in Woodstock, Connecticut all those years ago, it’s hard to not get emotional as I see so many faces of loved ones who aren’t here anymore. Life has changed since we got married. Friends have changed since we got married. We have changed since we got married.

A little less than 3 months after we got married, the world changed on September 11th, 2001. It’s interesting to think about our honeymoon in Bermuda and how it would have been different had it come a few months later.

We’ve wanted to celebrate our anniversaries more significantly than we have. We’ve wanted to take another trip, but life hasn’t afforded us that privilege. The last three years have been a roller coaster, not between us, but in our family, in our church, in our life.

Through it all, I can’t think of a better person with whom to spend this time. When I need a laugh, she is there. When I need to cry, there is her shoulder. When I need a gentle word, she speaks it. When I need silence, she offers it.

She has endured much through these 13 years. She married an engineer who turned into a pastor. She left her family behind to move states away. She finished her Master’s degree by distance and travel, enduring much of the home stretch through the sickness of pregnancy. She supported my seminary education and ordination process and made it possible for me to be gone for studies and classes.

In some ways, it feels like yesterday, in other ways, as I look back over this landscape of our lives, it feels like 13 years. God has done work in both of us, we are different, I think and hope that we are better.

Yes, today we celebrate. God has made my world brighter because of who he’s given me. God has made me stronger because of the training partner that I have had. God has made me gentler because of the precious and tender gift that he has given me through my wife.  We’ve been blessed with three great kids that always keep us on our toes, pushing us, challenging us, and making us laugh.

I’m looking forward to celebrating more with you in the future.  Today, here’s to you and all that you do!

With all of my love!

The Fog

fog lighthouseHave you ever experienced “the fog”? It’s not a literal fog, like when it rains or the temperature changes dramatically. It’s the fog of life, it’s what happens when it seems that everything begins to cave in around you. You feel lost, you feel alone, you feel as if the oppressive fog can actually begin to suffocate you if you don’t find some clarity, if you don’t find some space.

I have a few friends who have been going through an awful lot. One of these friends’ wife and son had cancer. They’ve been cleared for now, but there are always little scares that come along the way. Every status update that I read stops my heart for a split second and that’s what happened the other day. Surgery in their family has become a minor thing considering some of the other stuff that they’ve been through and I wonder how they get through the fog they’re in, I wonder how they can sustain just one more thing.

I have another friend whose wife is being treated for breast cancer, the same cancer that took his mom. They have hope and from the pictures that I have seen, it looks as if they try to laugh as often as possible. I imagine that they are in a fog.

Another friend’s daughter went in to the hospital with what they thought was the flu and hasn’t left since. She has an infection that is being stubborn and inconsiderate, it just won’t leave. He and his wife spend hours upon hours at the hospital. They’re moving towards a potential surgery that they hope will bring some resolution and healing. They are in a fog.

One of my best friends from seminary was burned by a grease fire in Haiti. He was moved to Florida and then back to his home in Iowa to get the best treatment. He has been separated from his kids, has had to have surgery, and is finally being released to continue the healing process. He’s in a place that used to be home, but Haiti is where his heart is. His family is in a fog.

It’s too easy to get consumed by the fog, but the amazing thing as I watch all of these situations play out from my own vantage point is the faith, hope, and love that emanates from my friends. Sure, it’s hard to see in the fog, but they somehow manage to fight the fog with the Light and Hope that they find in Christ. It doesn’t mean that the pain goes away. It doesn’t mean that things are normal and perfect. It simply means that they know that they are not alone.

Can you see the Light in the fog? Do you know that you aren’t alone? Do you trust? Do you have faith? Do you have hope? Those things don’t take the pain and uncertainty away, but when you know the One who gives us faith, who gives us hope, who holds our faith, the fog can sometimes begin to clear or at least there might be a light shining through that thick fog.

I’ve been trying to crawl out of my own fog. I am grateful for the inspiration of friends who walk so boldly before me. I am grateful to call them my friends and grateful that they have shown me faith, hope, and love in new ways. Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Selah