Today will be spectacular. For the first time in decades, a total solar eclipse will be visible for a substantial portion of the United States. My family is among the thousands who have made road trips to get a better view. For astronomy enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike, this is a special day. For many it’s a once in a lifetime event, and it is a much-needed opportunity to gather together in unity and celebrate a shared experience.
But I have a bold prediction. The world will not end today. This solar eclipse is not a sign of the beginning of the end. I realize this doesn’t conform to the expectations of what an evangelical Christian is supposed to say on days like today. Truth be told, I’ve seen the posts and read the articles about how eclipses and earthquakes will lead to tribulation and second coming, and it all begins today…August 21, 2017.
The truth is, I do believe God has a purpose in this. The alarmists have it wrong, though. Instead of turning to the book of Revelation, today is a Psalm 19 and Romans 1 moment.
As we stand in awe of the moment when Day becomes night, reflect on the fact that the sun is approximately 400 times the size of the moon, but is also approximately 400 times the distance from the earth. Those ratios are the only reason the teeny tiny moon can occasionally block the massive ball of nuclear energy we call the sun. While contemplating those ratios, think about the fact that our planet is the only planet in the known universe where a solar eclipse can be seen from the surface. Why could that be? Psalm 19 tells us “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the works of His hands.”
Think about the history of man made religions. How many have worship the sun? Countless. But these enormous orbs flying through space bring us more than life. They move us to a states of awe, wonder, and even occasionally fear. Even so, the unique design of the heavens is such that our planet receives regular reminders that even the sun can disappear. Every object in the universe is moving in an ordered way, and it all is submitting to and singing the praises of something more majestic and powerful than anything within creation. It all points to the uncreated One, who designed and created it all.
I’ve heard it said countless times, “if God is real, why does He remain so hidden?” For decades that was my go-to objection to theism. But today, as we stare to the sky and marvel at the unlikely and spectacular convergence of heavenly bodies above us, pause a moment to contemplate Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Paul goes on to warn that people “have exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator.”
So yes, I believe that today’s eclipse is Biblical. I believe it’s a sign. But it isn’t the end. For many who look to the sky in amazement and for the first time comprehend that this isn’t simply random chance but is instead our Creator once again reaching out to us, putting on a glorious display for us in yet another effort to call us to Him… today is a glorious beginning.
As I stood worshipping during the final chapel at Moriah Christian Academy, one single, simple quote came to mind. “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” Quickly grabbing my phone, I took a pic to capture this moment. Both my boys were up on stage, one strumming and singing, the other pounding the keys. This bittersweet moment was fleeting and would never come again.
“I want to hear voices of angels above singing as one, ‘hallelujah, holy, holy.’” As those words echoed through the sanctuary, gratitude overwhelmed me. Smile because it happened, indeed. Our eight years at MCA have been miraculous. We were told on our first visit the school was named for the biblical Mount Moriah, which means “the Lord will provide.” He has.
The music fades. The last reverberation of this fleeting moment slowly becomes silent. Through the years I have often stood outside with my back to doors that God has closed. Jobs, ministries, and even friendships. “What’s next” is a question I face with uncanny frequency. The experience is familiar but never easy. Each ending is a reminder that life is a journey and each season is only for a time. Smile because it happened.
But oh, these precious times and memories go deep. Tears carve a canyon in our soul. The heart longs to return to treasures of the past. Remembering first days, first friends, and first adventures….Science fairs and talent shows. Yes, we smile because it happened. We thank God for the incredible times we have had. Letting go is oh, so hard, though. The smiles we now share are through tears. Even as we rejoice for all God has in front of us, we grieve for those times that will never come again. We mourn that these halls will soon be empty and “what’s next” for each of us lie down different paths.
Our oldest son is graduating, which is a beautiful thing. At last week’s chapel I mentioned that He “who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20) certainly did so with my sons. Each are unique, but each is immeasurably more than I could have ever dared to ask or imagine. I’m often humbly driven to my knees, wondering what I ever did to deserve this kind of blessing. These young men are like “arrows in the hands of a warrior,” (Ps 127:4) ready to be launched into the world, guided by divine providence to make an impact on the world. Now is their time. First one, followed quickly by the other. My role is quickly transforming from coach to cheerleader to spectator as they step fully into manhood.
Tears meander toward the earth as I turn for one last look at that closed door. I smile. Unlike that famous quote, though, I believe it’s okay to cry because it’s over while you smile because it happened. We carry both grief and joy on our travels down the road to where He is leading us next. Denying one or the other is an injustice to our past and undermines our future. We trust that it will be as profound, impactful, and significant as the roads we have traveled so far.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but …against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Eph 6:12
As a kid one of our favorite games was to have breath-holding competitions. It was generally a battle of wills. We learned the human body can go longer without breathing than one would think. Somebody always won, nobody ever passed out, and we didn’t have any fatalities. Oh, but that first victorious deep breath after the contest ended was sweet.
In the journey of life, there will be moments that take our breath away. There will also be moments that find us frantically gasping for air. I have exercised induced asthma that is triggered by cold. So, while it only happens rarely, I am intimately familiar with the feeling of my body betraying me, closing down my airways as I gasp to take in the oxygen that so abundantly surrounds me. What happens when life is that way?
There is fuel for our soul…just out of reach. We are gasping for breath but disconnected from the source.
When running, the most effective response is to slow down. Open the airways. Rest. When it’s time to return to the fight, work into it slowly. Our battle is not the road or the race, it’s our airways.
In our life, too, our battle is often not what it seems. When we find ourselves gasping, our gut reaction is to try fight harder. We pull back from relationships and positive habits to focus on regaining our footing. But our struggle isn’t against flesh and blood. We easily forget the battle against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Our struggle blinds us.
Let’s draw a lesson from my asthma…
Slow down, but keep moving forward. Don’t wander from the path.
Open the airways. “All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.” (1 John 4:15) God is never far from you. Recenter on Him. Breathe in grace. Breathe out praise. Pray.
Rest. Even God rested. Not because He had to, but as an example to us. Trust Him.
Plod forward. God has called you to something. But He didn’t say you had to get there today. Small steps are still forward progress. Forward progress is better than quitting the race. Trust His guidance and strength.
Find a running partner. When we can’t find God, our trusted companions can point us to Him. Speaking the truth in love can challenge us, but reorients us.
The moments of panicked gasping never last. We can learn to navigate them. God has called us to boldly step into His plan. Keep. Moving. Forward.
This post is the fourth entry of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.” You can visit part one here, part two here, and part three on my Facebook page here.
Journeys have twists and turns, hills and valleys. Moments are spent basking in the warmth of the sun after a spring rain. Others are moments of panic, desperately grasping for an anchor…something…anything…in the blackest night. Most of the journey is somewhere in between. We move forward one small, inconsequential step at a time, our eyes on our feet and the path immediately in front of us.
Most people I encounter believe God has a plan for their lives. The journey is leading somewhere. Their eyes get serious as they contemplate the mystery, “sure, God has a plan for me. I just don’t know what it is yet.” We tend to think God has big but elusive things in store, perhaps just around the next bend in the road. Meanwhile, we plod along trusting God with our tomorrow while we focus on our daily tasks. What if we’ve got it backwards? Could our perspective be upside down?
“I look up to the mountains–does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.” Ps 121:1-3 NLT
Stop. Right there. Breathe. Lift your eyes to the mountains. Their creator is your creator. God’s plan is not a someday endeavor, it is an everyday infusion. Instead of concentrating on our steps and hoping for the future, look to the future and trust Him with each step. Focusing on the eternal makes today’s obstacles insignificant.
We don’t find God’s plan by waiting. We find it by stepping into it with Him, learning that someday is merely an accumulation of todays. The big plan is accomplished by stitching together a tapestry of countless small plans. Invite Him into your everything. Surrender each moment and each breath to Him. Enjoy the beauty. Treasure the journey.
This post is the second of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.” You can visit part one here.
“…then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Gen 2:7
The words of a fictional scientist decades ago stuck with me. Long before Jeff Goldblum brought the character of Ian Malcolm to the silver screen, the phrase “life will find a way” leapt from the pages of a borrowed book and lodged in my cranium. Life will find a way. It doesn’t just apply to dinosaurs, but to you and I.
As life finds its way, how do we find it? How does this general inevitability become personal and passionate?
Let’s take a step back. For those of us who are radical enough to believe that in the beginning God created, every object in this universe exists for a purpose. That purpose has more depth and richness than our textbooks present. For example, rain is much more than the arrows drawn in an Earth Science textbook can convey. Sunset is more than masses in motion and energy interfering with molecules in the atmosphere. You and I both know it at a level ingrained deep in whatever make us “us.” Afternoon summer showers and quiet evenings watching the sun fade can be profound. We experience a touch of the divine. That’s where we find life…In our creator, the source of it all.
Let’s step forward now. Like the clouds at sunset, you and I are also much more than simply molecules in motion. To think we are merely a complex set of chemical reactions responding to stimuli is to miss the profound purpose our lives are and can be. It diminishes our significance and misses our own intersection with the divine and the possibility of knowing Him. Just like the earth, birds, and the trees, our lives were created to point to the one who made us all.
In the beginning, God breathed life into mankind. Man knew the creator personally and intimately. We knew our purpose and delighted in it. Then we turned from it. Now we seek purpose and fulfillment everywhere but Him. Jobs, relationships, art, entertainment, diversions, education, and a myriad of other pursuits. All fall short of fully filling us, because all fall short of what we were created to be filled by.
Let that sink in. Breathe in deeply. Exhale slowly. Whatever you’ve thought about God in the past, consider this now…He created you. Lovingly. He cherishes you. The One who splattered the Milky Way across the night sky also knit you together. His creativity shines through you when you are grounded in Him. His plans for us are always more incredible than our plans for ourselves. He sees in full what we only see in part, and He is the architect, artist, and engine for it all. When we return to Him, we learn that He freely gives. We find purpose, creativity, and meaning. We find life.
Breathe in. Breathe in and live.
This post is the first of a #5ForFive challenge by the Rev1211 community. This year, the group theme is “breathe,” and my theme is “Finding Life.”
Below is the text of my Launch Out St. Louis presentation. I’ve had a few people request I post it somewhere. Although it is written specifically to be delivered verbally, hopefully it makes sense as text. The cadence and inflection were an important component of the delivery. If you’d like the full experience, the video is here.
Pondering Purpose: Perspectives of a polymath paralyzed by potential and possibilities
(this presentation is brought to you by the letter “u”)
As a young child I woke up at the crack of dawn every Saturday morning. I would bolt out of bed and sit under the glow of the television, eating my cinnamon toast and watching cartoons. After solving crimes as I rode with the gang in the Mystery Machine, I’d get together with my super friends to battle the legion of doom. I’d grab a picnic basket with Yogi before running through the desert with the Roadrunner. This life was full of adventure…it was a good life. A simple life. And then… then I would find myself in space. Zooming into the earth, I discovered a city built on stilts. In those houses in the clouds, a car would fly by. This car held one of my favorite families. The Jetsons.
Even as a young boy, my head was in the clouds. I love looking to the future and imagining the possibilities of all the things that could be. In the world of George, Jane, Judy, and Elroy, not only were there flying cars, but robots would brush your teeth or clean your house. People moved from room to room by being sucked through large tubes, often while a machine dressed them for the day. There were moving sidewalks. Kids could actually talk to each other through their televisions. The future was Rosie, so to speak.
As enamored as I was with this shiny future, I always felt sorry for George. It wasn’t because his boss yelled at him so much or because he was accident prone. No, I pitied George because of the work he had to do. George’s job was to push a button. One button. Sure, he might have been good at his job, but that’s all his job was. Even sitting on the floor in my batman underoos wearing my Chewbacca house shoes under the glimmer of that cathode ray tube, I knew I wasn’t wired that way.
When I grew up, I wanted to be a duck, flying freely through the sky and floating lazily on the ponds. I wanted to be an astronaut, exploring space. Discovering new life and new civilizations. I would be an inventor and automotive engineer, shepherding in a new era of technology. I wanted to be a marine biologist, sailing on the Calypso and diving to the unexplored depths of the seas. These weren’t phases I went through, I wanted to be all of them at the same time. You see, we aren’t all wired to be like George.
I’m a polymath. A polymath is someone who passionately pursues many different things. It’s different than ADD, but there are similarities. If you ask my community of friends what it is that I do, you’re likely to hear that I’m a photographer. Someone else might tell you I’m a pastor, or maybe a missionary. A different person might tell you I’m a writer. Someone might say I work in information security. So which is it? All of the above. That’s what a polymath looks like.
All my life people have asked me what I want to be when I grow up. People are still asking. As if I have to pick. As if there is one thing. To tell you the truth, I still haven’t decided and I know now that I never will. I’m perpetually undecided.
From my perspective, I was paralyzed. Those infinite possibilities have that effect on a polymath. Our cultural narrative tells all of us we should find one thing to do. Find that one thing and master it. They tell us that is the secret to finding value, meaning, and significance in life. The world tells you to find that one button to push and then push it with all of your might for all of your days. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell observed that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to be world-class at any one thing. But what if I’m not wired that way? What if you’re not? When I focus on just one thing, something tragic happens. I’m fighting against my built-in programming. If I sell my camera to buy a typewriter, a piece of my soul dies. When that happens, I’m not as good a writer. Because I’m a polymath, I need the interplay between all these different disciplines in order for any of them to be good. That tension must exist, it provides the spark for creativity and the fuel for the journey.
My perspective had to change. Paralyzed is no way to live. But what can I give up? What one thing should I choose? I wasted years this way.
When I quit my day job to be a writer, I experienced the longest dry spell of my life. When I stopped writing to focus on photography, words burned in my head and in my hands, consuming me until they found an outlet.
It was only when I accepted myself as I am–the way that I was knit together by our creator–it was only then that I discovered the joy of being a polymath. Within the tension created by balancing writing, photography, preaching, and information security, I found life. Exhilaration. Instead of feeling pulled in a thousand different directions, I looked for the common thread uniting them all. In this new exploration, I discovered the beautiful journey my life was designed to be. I became unstuck. I became free.
Perspective. That common thread I found was that our lives have significance and meaning. We were each created for a purpose. Everything I do points to that truth in some way.
That first step…the one that took years to discover…is acceptance.
To step into a life of meaning, we begin by accepting the beautiful tapestry that we each are. You were designed to shine, but first you have to step away from the things that hinder. For me, it was that big button George Jetson pushed his whole life. I had to stop looking for that button that would complete me and instead look at myself. I had to discover my own unique shape and then accept it.
I had to accept my polymathedness. I had to understand my own composition and trust the one who created me. I had to accept that I’ll never be the best at any one thing, even though I could be pretty good at many. That was a difficult truth to swallow, but I found freedom on the other side. I discovered room to flourish. A space to be me. That freedom to explore flows from self-acceptance. Instead of trying to be like someone else or living up to someone else’s expectation I learned to trust God with the way He wired me.
All my life I’ve heard it repeated: you can be anything you want to be. The uncomfortable truth is, you can’t. You see, we are each uniquely designed. We’re customized. When we accept that the possibilities aren’t truly infinite, we begin to understand that the options still left on the table mesh with our internal composition. Instead of mourning the loss of all you can’t be, embrace the satisfaction of doing what you were created to do.
Moving forward into a life of meaning, even after we have accepted our own uniqueness, is still a struggle. For me, even when I accept that I can juggle multiple gifts, I still think I need to focus on a single one. I’m a high achiever, I want to be the best at what I do. Over the years I found myself turning opportunities down because I feared failure. I feared I would never be the best. I sat on the sidelines, waiting for the day I would discover my true calling. Waiting to discover what I could be the best at. Eventually, I found it. I overcame that paralysis when I understood that the only thing I could be the best at is being me. When that clicked into place, I found even more freedom. Freedom to truly explore my own unique design and purpose.
This is integration.
We naturally tend toward elimination instead of integration. We try to cut out all the little things in our lives that don’t contribute directly to our dream. But all of us here are human, and humans are complex.
In my journey, when I focused solely on writing, my perspective was that my day job was hindering me. It was my big obstacle, so I eliminate it. What I found out, though, is that income helps. Later, I thought photography took me away from graduate studies. Public speaking interferes with my ministry. My struggles with physical pain and clinical depression undermine everything. But I learned to integrate it all into my message and my mission. It is all part of my story, and that story is glorious. Through everything I do the core message remains…life has purpose. Life has meaning. I believe that. And I believe in you.
My words, photos, ministry, and entire life are crafted to point to the truth about our creator and ourselves. We were custom crafted by a glorious and beautiful creator who loves us very much. As we learn to embrace this, we learn to step boldly into all we were designed to do. There is nothing as satisfying as integrating all you are into all you do.
Even our obstacles. Those things that seem to so painfully hinder us…lack of money, lack of time, lack of support, sickness, loss… all those things shape us. They refine us if we let them. The struggles give our lives focus. They help us prioritize. As we persistently push through the pain, we emerge stronger and wiser. If our perspective lets us. A healthy perspective tells us that every obstacle is temporary. Even our darkest and most painful moments can be endured. They can be integrated into our story.
Perspective. Acceptance. Integration.
After gaining this new perspective of acceptance and integration, another struggle still remains. This one is particularly troublesome for the polymath. Distraction.
A polymath that has accepted his own design easily rationalizes a lack of focus. It can resemble an attention disorder. It’s easy to only write when inspiration strikes. To only minister when on a mission trip. To only take pictures when conditions are perfect. If every aspect isn’t ideal, we always have something different to tinker with. What I’ve learned, though, is that discipline is the one habit that differentiates between average and exceptional. Significance versus meaningless. And who wants to live a meaningless life? I certainly don’t.
Hopefully none of us do.
So once we discover that common thread connecting all our various pursuits, it’s important to find the discipline to focus. It can be okay to jump from thing to thing, as long as each is working toward the larger vision, allowing the natural tension between disciplines to feed each other and the message. Andy Stanley once said that our direction…not our intentions…determines our destination. We can’t let our diverse interests divert our eyes from the end goal, a life of significance that impacts the world in a positive way.
Perspective. Acceptance. Integration. Discipline.
That’s the point of this presentation about polymaths, potential, possibilities, and paralysis. The truth is, you might not be a polymath at all. But, just like me, you have a unique design. You have a purpose…a work to do that is significant and meaningful. You might feel the tension …between what you’ve got to do and what you’d like to do. You can’t let go of your current circumstances to step into the new, but you can’t let go of the new stuff either. All of us end up there some time.
And when you do, remember to adjust your perspective. Accept who you are. Integrate everything you have into everything you do. Keep stepping in the direction of your dream.
I love filling Instagram and Facebook with pictures of light and beauty…scenes from where my journey takes me. This past year we saw the beaches of Texas and the mountains of Brazil. Even with this, my favorite views are in my own home state of Oklahoma. This year, I’m bringing a hand-picked assortment of these photos from your screens to your walls.
This calendar is special. Not only does it feature all twelve months of 2017 (which, according to my sources is supposed to be a phenomenal year), it also features one of my photos on each of the twelve months.
I first did a calendar in 2016 as a fundraiser for my family’s mission trip to Brazil. The calendars completely sold out and I even had to turn a few people away. This year I’ve printed a few more, but they are still a limited quantity.
Below is a gallery of the pictures in this year’s calendar. If you’d like one, shoot me a message on the social media of your preference: Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. They are $20, plus shipping (typically $5).
Brazil 2016 was phenomenal, but I’ve written about it elsewhere. Brazil 2017 looks like it will be another incredible trip, with a return to the state of Sergipe and passage through Aracaju on our way to our to our final destination in Itabi. It’s always a special time time to partner with the local congregation to help build a chapel in a week! The impact we have on the community, kingdom, and each other is immeasurable. As always, I appreciate any and all support I can get. Every prayer and every dollar counts.
The morning news has broken my heart. Every day. It isn’t that he won the election or that she could have. It is the division and divisiveness. Tears. Grief. Riots. People claim our country will return to the dark ages, or perhaps worse. They say bigotry will once again be the law of the land and fundamental individual rights will cease to exist. Millions across the nation are living in fear, wondering if our country can survive this.
As the nation reacts on social media, I continue to be confronted by one question: What is the response of the Christian? Although I know many Christians who voted for each candidate (including third parties), everything that people fear will happen in the next four years is being placed at the feet of the evangelical Christian. Regardless of how we actually voted, we are being looked to for guidance in making sense of the mess we’re in and finding a path forward. So where do we go from here? How do we heal a nation? How do we avoid repeating the mistakes of the now infamous “moral majority” movement from decades ago?
Interestingly enough, who sits in the Oval Office does not change the mandate of the Christian. God’s kingdom is much bigger than our country. But, since a nation is looking for answers, let’s revisit a few key points of our faith.
As believers, we our response is informed by Scripture. At times like these, my Bible naturally opens to Micah 6:8:
“He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”
Before I was a believer, I would have guessed this verse was a mandate for believers to judge others and punish them for violating God’s standards. When read in context, though, a deeper meaning is revealed. God has always commanded His people to look out for the downtrodden and oppressed. We are to find those who are being discriminated against or overlooked in society and advocate for them. We are often reminded to take care of the widows and orphans, but that is only the starting point. Our understanding of humanity and the human condition is that ALL humans have an inherent and infinite value. The implication is that not only do we personally seek to refrain from oppressing the basic human rights of ANYONE, we also sacrificially stand up to combat oppression everywhere we see it. Yes, that means that I absolutely will take a stand to defend the rights of my Muslim neighbors to freely practice their beliefs. It means I adamantly fight racism, bigotry, discrimination, xenophobia, and misogyny everywhere I find it and by any method I can. It also means if you disagree with me on my political, religious, social, or other beliefs, you have nothing to fear from me. This is how the believer is designed to live. Anything less is not Christianity.
Once again, this is fueled by our deeply held belief that every person is of infinite value. When things get heated, take a deep breath. Take a look around. Every individual you see was uniquely and lovingly hand crafted by our Creator. Each person is deeply loved and each life has meaning and purpose. As Christians, we believe that God loves “that person” so deeply that He willingly paid the ultimate price to reconcile that relationship. With that in mind, how can we not treat our fellow humans with kindness? Yes, we are still human and prone to outbursts fueled by anger and outrage. But love kindness. Seek reconciliation. Apologize quickly and seek deeper connections with those who aren’t like you.
Many of my evangelical friends had deep and valid concerns about the election. There was nothing about this year’s voting choice that was clear cut or easy. I have quite a few friends breathing a sigh of relief right now. Right or wrong, their perception was that the country would take an irreversible turn away from issues that they held dear if the result had been different (and the issues they care about are not the ones making the news). Even so, God reminds us to walk humbly. That means entering into the fray not to gloat but instead to understand those who are hurting, to let them know they are deeply valued and truly loved. We humbly reach out to those who grieve and assure them that there is hope and that they are not forgotten. If our posture is not humble, our posture is not Christian.
These three themes are present from Genesis through Revelation. This is the ideal and standard for a believer’s life. Yes, we aren’t perfect, but striving to embody these principles are how we outwardly display our internal beliefs. We don’t look to politicians or even celebrity pastors to lead us in this, we look to God alone and then walk this out together. The church, like the country, is still at its best when we work together as “we the people,” finding common ground and moving forward with unity.
To my fellow Christians…
Yes, we believe in absolute truth. We believe in right and wrong, even if we don’t always agree on every nuance. But I ask you to remember your own past and journey…show others the grace you have been shown. There isn’t a single Christian who has “behaved” into a right relationship with God. We were saved by grace and our lives were transformed by grace. Let’s not expect those outside the faith to embrace our own ideals. Our greatest goal is to win people for Christ. We do that relationally, often listening more than we speak. If the perception others have of Christians is of a hate-filled bigot who spews judgmental and ignorant rhetoric, they will certainly miss the beauty of God’s love for them. This is the image we must fight against. With our lives. We must be painfully aware that we are ambassadors of Christ, sent to bring good news. We are not His mercenaries. We are not the judge, jury, or executioner. We are messengers. Never lose sight of the bigger picture and the deeper calling on our lives.
To those who don’t yet share my faith…
I hear your cries. I understand that you are grieving and worried, and it breaks my heart. I value your perspective and deeply want to know it more fully. I readily admit that there have been Christians on the wrong side of oppression and injustice at every era of history. But those who take our beliefs seriously instead of politically have been on the right side of it. Remember people like Williams Wilberforce who, compelled by his belief in the Christian God, spent his life ending the British slave trade. People like that still exist. They just don’t make the headlines.
I’m not going to ask you to trust us. I’m certain you have stories of deep hurt inflicted by people claiming to be on God’s side. I do, too. Honestly, that’s what kept me an atheist for 20 years. But I ask you to hold us accountable to standing up for injustice and oppression. Reach out to us. As you fight, you will find many of us standing beside you. As a Christian and an American, I wholeheartedly believe that all people were created equal. Equal value, equal worth, and equal rights. No matter who is in the White House, this is something for which I pledge to always stand and for which am willing to die.
My mom recently celebrated her 70th birthday. Being a writer, I wrote this for her and narrated it at the party. She spend her life immersed in children’s literature so I thought it would be fun to use some of my most treasured quotes to emphasize the feelings in the text. See how many you recognize.
In a great green room there was a telephone and a red balloon and a picture of the cow jumping over the moon.
My memories of books and stories are among my oldest and most cherished. This is a side-effect of a life spent with Becky. Growing up the son of a librarian, books were plentiful and reading was something we did together.
I remember our adventures at the public library. Maybe we went every week. Maybe it was more often than that. I don’t remember how many books I would leave there with on every single visit, but I’m certain it was right at the legal limit. She’d help me carry out my stack of 15 or 20 books, knowing full well it would be impossible to read them all before they were due. That wasn’t important. What was important was that curiosity. The love of learning. Finding both adventure and wisdom between the title page and back cover.
To tell you the truth, Becky is known as a no-nonsense person who gets stuff done. She’s a go-getter, having been highly successful in starting and building multiple libraries in diverse school districts and circumstances. She’s always been willing to take a stand against the powers that be in order to do what is right. And what is right generally happens to mean defending both books and children. The two are inextricably intertwined.
Even more, she always has fought for “the one.” Her life and career have been punctuated by the hundreds of stories of little ones who had the trajectory of their lives changed by a librarian with a puppet and a book. She has consistently given people hope when they had never known it was an option for them. She changed their perspectives and helped them embrace a life of significance and meaning. Books generally were the means…they were a tool to help the kids to understand and embrace a vision for their lives that was much grander than they ever would have imagined on their own. It was the vision she knew was possible. She knew because she had lived it. But that’s not my story to tell.
To me, she was always mom. She was the person who walked me to first grade having filled my head with things like these from Winnie the Pooh:
“Promise me you’ll remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think.”
And then she walked home, alone, with another Pooh-bear thought… “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
After school, I would hang out with some friends. Once I had a group, I felt like a king. It’s good to be king. But then another feeling would hit, perhaps best described by Maurice Sendak.
“Then from far away across the world he smelled good things to eat, so he gave up being king of the wild things.” (from: Where the Wild Things Are)
I’d walk home.
She would be waiting for me on the front porch swing. She’d be singing “Mama’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread.” I didn’t even know what shortnin’ bread was, but I have since learned that I do indeed love it. But it wasn’t her wisdom, guidance, cooking, or singing that was so special. It was her presence. Looking back, I can appreciate it quite a bit. So many of my friends simply didn’t have that. I did. Always. And I still do.
When she returned to teaching, I went with her. This meant transferring to a school where I didn’t know anyone. It meant a school with kids from a different echelon of society than I had been with previously. It was worth it. It was important. Not only did I learn valuable lessons about a person’s worth meaning so much more than their family situation or social standing, I also got to spend a bunch of time with my mom. I got to see her build a library and transform lives. And I got to play Oregon trail on the Apple IIe. And watch Superfriends in the library after school. These were all incredibly important events in my life! Oh, and I got to see the look on my dad’s face when she locked her keys in her car one morning. With the engine running. All day. Priceless.
Throughout life…through the ups and downs… going to schools where I didn’t know anyone… the first girlfriend and first breakup. Changing majors. Getting married. Changing jobs. Having kids. Through it all, she’s there. She’s present. And no matter what, she believes in me. That doesn’t mean she’s always silent. Love never is. She always has advice, wisdom, and guidance. But even when I go down my own path, she believes in me.
As I fought to carve out my place in this world, the wisdom from my past would come back to me…
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child, listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves. Then listen close to me — anything can happen, child, anything can be.” –Shel Silverstein
Oh, but it can be so hard. There are so many doubts to deal with, so many conflicting priorities pulling in so many different directions… how can I find my way?
And then the wisdom from my past would speak…
“Believing takes practice.” –Madeleine L’Engle
And it did. I wasn’t good at it at first. There were critical voices always telling me I was doing it wrong. Telling me to take the safe route through life. Telling me not to take a risk. But into that, love would speak.
“Man does not simply exist, but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment.” “What a man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task.” –Viktor Frankl.
I’d find myself stopping by the woods on a snowy evening, considering turning down the road not taken…. And there she would be, reminding me that we didn’t go to the moon because it was easy, but because it was hard. And it was worth the journey.
So, just like the other kids she helped, she managed to get a grander vision into my life. Unlike the others, I have been fortunate enough to have it infused consistently for 42 years. I guess I needed the extra attention. But in spite of those things…the vision, the presence, the most important thing is love. And love is something I learned about from an old and tattered rabbit, who said:
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” (The Velveteen Rabbit)
When we love deeply, we risk deeply too. Deep love risks deep loss and pain. And all of us who have loved deeply have felt it. And we think it’s worth it. Atul Gawande (Being Mortal) said “courage is strength in the face of knowledge of what is to be feared or hoped. Wisdom is prudent strength.” That prudent strength tells us that “The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.” –Lois Lowry, The Giver
So we share. We share life. We share love. We rejoice with each other when things go well…new babies, new jobs, new dreams coming true. And we cling to each other in the hard times, when we lose a family member or dear friend. And I’m sure each of us has had one of those moments when we look up and say this…
“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’ ‘You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.’” (Charlotte’s Web)
It all goes back to those books. Books, in the hand of the right person, change lives. It has been said that “sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars) Becky had lots of books like that. She used them to change lives. She has made a difference in this world and continues to do so today, though not just her devotion to the next generation of family members, but through her volunteer work as well.
Although her story is still coming true, this speech is winding down. This is the point where I tell Becky, my mom, how thankful I am for who she is and all she has done. I’m both extremely thankful and proud of her. And so on this, her 70th birthday, I must say…
As long as I’m living, my mommy you’ll be. I’ll love you forever. (Love you Forever)
Goodnight stars, goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.
This is Derek. I met him a few years ago at a pumpkin patch. Although I’ve seen his family around these parts my entire life, I guess I never got to know any of them very well. The look on Derek’s face intrigued me. I pulled up a bale of hay and struck up a conversation.
“Hello, young one. I’m Derek. What can I do for you today?”
“You looked lonely. I thought you might like some company.”
“I’ve been in this field for years. Through thunderstorms and blizzards, tornadoes and earthquakes. I watch the pumpkins grow. I see the people rush by. After all these years, a touch of melancholy has set in.”
“But Derek, you’ve seen countless beautiful sunsets from where you stand. Plus, the work you do brings warmth to the people of this land. Things can’t be all that bad, right?”
“Young one, I do not grow melancholy for myself, but for those I see hurry by. Look at that family over there, tell me what you see.”
“Well, there’s a mom and dad with their toddler. I saw them pose for a picture with scarecrow just a moment ago, now they’re hunting for the perfect pumpkin. It’s actually a sweet sight.”
“Ah…but did you see how they rushed? This pumpkin patch is a mere checklist item for them, a chance to capture a picture, not a memory. Did you see their daughter? There was a butterfly on the scarecrow. She was enthralled by its beauty. Perhaps she lives in an apartment in the city and has never seen one before. Her parents didn’t see the butterfly…they hollered at her to look at the camera and then made her move on as soon as the shutter clicked. The picture was more important than the moment, so the moment was missed.”
“Gee, Derek. Surely it isn’t that bad. Look at them enjoying the pumpkins!”
“Watch the little girl. See her staring longingly at that cute little pumpkin with the discolored stripe? She sees the beauty in the imperfection. But dad tugs her away. He’s finding the biggest, most perfect specimen. He’s missing the beauty of the young lady’s perspective.”
“Okay, Derek, now I’m getting a little melancholy, too. I see myself in that situation, and I hesitate to tell you which side of that relationship I’m on.”
“I’ve seen you, too. You’ve been here many times, but this is the first time you’ve noticed me. You’re learning, young one. You’re growing. You’re slowing down. In a good way. There is still hope for you. There is still time.
Listen, young one. Most people walk through life with their head down. They hyper-focus on what they don’t have and neglect what gifts have already been given. A single hardship overshadows a hundred blessings. Young one, take a step back from the moment you’re in. Seek a long view on life. In ten years, the overwhelming hardship you face today will no longer matter. However it resolves, it will be in the distant past. Why worry so much about it today if it will not matter at all tomorrow? What will still matter are the relationships you have and the memories you make. Play more freely. Love more deeply. Rest more frequently. You will discover your days are full of beauty and love. You will learn to truly soak in a sunset. Even your cloudy days and darkest nights will retain a glimmer of hope, love, and beauty.
Some days you will be sad. Some days you will cry. With a longer perspective, you are free to fully feel, knowing it is simply for a time or a season. The sadness and tears will pass, and the sunshine will return.”
“But Derek, when we love deeply, we hurt deeply, too.”
“It’s worth it young one. Every time. It’s worth it.”
I walked away from Derek deeply pondering his words.. As I walked my boys over to the pumpkin patch, we meandered a bit. For the first time, I noticed the family of red-headed woodpeckers nesting in a telephone pole. The setting sun broke through the grove of trees that were now between Derek and me. After a brief pause, I picked up my pumpkin…slightly lopsided with a discolored streak right up the front. Like life, it was imperfect but beautiful.