A Nap-time Note…

So, I suppose I should apologize up front that this blog entry will not be as eloquently written or thought-provokingly interesting; Brian has asked me, Sarah, to write an entry.

So, sorry.

I even asked for a suggested topic to address in the blog, however, Brian didn’t provide much inspiration or direction in that area either.

So, sorry.

Stylistically speaking, this post will be different from the norm as Brian and I don’t agree on usage of commas, colons and semi-colons (I say he could use more, he says I could use less); that is a post for another day, perhaps.

So, sorry.

In fact, I fully understand if you suddenly feel the urge to stop reading and give the usatoday.com crossword puzzle a try instead; that’s probably where I’m headed after I’m done here.

In fact, I’m a bit distracted while trying to figure out what to write as little Miss Eden is twirling herself around inside a blanket on the couch, singing her own version of the Elmo song, and trying to convince herself she’s not tired enough to take a nap.

In fact, she is tired enough to nap. I am tired enough to nap, so she has to be tired enough to nap. Who isn’t tired enough to take a nap after playing indoors all day on such a gloomy day?

Let’s face it, she’s so stinkin’ cute that I can’t help but laugh at her trying to charm and smile her way out of a nap. See, and now she just came over to give me a kiss and a fake drink from her cup. How can I suggest she go back to the couch for her nap when she just wants to snuggle and play with mommy?

Let’s face it, this girl has me wrapped around her cute little fingers and can get a laugh, a smile or fake food nibble out of me at any time.

Let’s face it, I would’ve never guessed I could love someone so much as him. As her. As Him. Because of Him. Through Him. For Him.

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A Father’s Day Request

Last year’s Father’s Day was quite different for me in that it was my first as a father.

This year’s Father’s Day will be quite different in that it is my first without my father.

And because of what makes this year so different than previous years, I suspect there will be a mixture of sadness and thankfulness. I hope the greatest of these is thankfulness. It should be. But the reality is that I’m still in the stage of not knowing when the grieving side of things will have a little more sway than the celebrative side of things.

I do know there will at least be some sadness on Sunday. I know this because last night we had our first official launch team meeting for the new church. I don’t think I’m being overly dramatic when I say it was one of the most joyful moments I’ve had in ministry. And I can’t even begin to tell you just how badly I wanted to call Dad to tell him about it. I know there will be sadness because I see that Bob Dylan’s Neverending Tour is going to do a U.S. swing this summer and fall, and I don’t know what it looks like to buy a ticket for just one. I know there will be sadness because in the very near future we will be boxing up Dad’s office at the seminary, and I know that in the middle bottom cabinet drawer of the hutch system that lines his side wall there is a red Frisbee that Dad always kept for my sister and me to play with during long summer days. To know he kept it there to this very day undoes me.

But still I know there will be deep thankfulness because I thank my God everyday that I had a dad who would spend hours on the phone with me, who would stand in the pouring rain to hear Dylan just one more time with his son, who clung to Frisbees long after we’d outgrown them—you know, just in case.

Again, I don’t know which I’ll feel more — the sadness or the thankfulness. I’m going to do my best to at least reach 50/50 this first time around and hopefully watch the percentages skew in the right direction in years to come.

But here’s why I’m writing all of this, really — and I make this turn with no small amount of trembling because so many bear scars from terrible fathers and so many never even had a father. Forgive me for any wound I tear open by doing this. Though I feel it for different reasons, I alongside you feel the pain of that absence. That being said with deep love and concern, I do suspect a good many of you still have your father with you, and a good many of you have decent-to-wonderful relationships with your father (not without its ups and downs, but decent-to-wonderful still, and even because of those ups and downs). I really don’t know if I can tell you just how important it is that you look that man deep in the eyes and tell him that you love him and are thankful for him.

Please do take the opportunity this Sunday to talk on the phone for hours.

Please do decide it’s long past due to go to a concert with him or catch a matinee.

Please do toss a Frisbee around if the weather’s nice.

You will be so very, very glad you did – this Sunday, on Monday, for many days to come, including the days you would love to have that Sunday once more, all over again.

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For Sunday – and Beyond

O God, who on the day of Pentecost taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things, and evermore rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen.

-from Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime

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Unwavering Lovers of Christ, Part Two

Those final few days with Dad, what I desired more than most anything else was a break in the medicinal clouds and the fury of his pain so that we could talk as we had always talked in the car, over the phone, at a Dylan concert, in a driveway. I’d had a few great conversations with him since I’d gotten into town, but I wanted more. Monday, April 25th, was my turn to spend the night with Dad in his hospital room, so most of that Monday morning and afternoon was spent praying for a “break” to come that evening. From about 9:00 on that night, it was just me and him. He had been in a deep sleep since late afternoon, so I simply waited by his bedside for him to awake, volleying between remembering, reading, drinking coffee, talking to the nursing staff, praying, and eating way too many of the cookies the hospital had set out on a table in the room. Dad would wake up for a minute, say a few things through a thick fog, and then he was out again. Soon it was 10:00, then 11:00, then midnight. It was somewhere between midnight and 1:00, with no signs of Dad waking up for any duration of time suitable for conversation, that I completely crumbled. I started to cry, and trying to stifle the sobbing so the nurses just outside the door couldn’t hear it made it worse, almost to the point of feeling like I was going to hyperventilate. I just wanted to talk to Dad. I hadn’t spent the day asking God for a miracle. I’d merely wrapped on his door to a bloody-knuckled state in hopes of simple conversation. That was all.

I was mad, I was sad, I was a mess about it all, and I heard a knock at the door. It was one of the nurses.

“You have a guest.”

“A guest?”

“Yes.”

“It’s nearly 1:00 in the morning.”

“I know. It’s a little odd. Do you want me to tell them to leave?”

“Well. Um. No. You know, let me just pop out and see who it is.”

I stood up, the nurse held the door open for me, I walked out of the room, and there was our guest, standing there, looking me deep in the eyes.

Now, I don’t know what all else is appropriate for me to share with you about this moment. Though only a small slice of this blog’s readership would know and recognize who was standing there that night just outside the door to my dad’s room, because there is a small slice, I’ll go ahead and let his identity be anonymous, because I feel that’s appropriate. I will tell you this: He is easily one of the single most influential people in my life, and I hadn’t seen him since 1996, the night of my high school graduation. I didn’t know what to say when I first saw him, so I just walked over and hugged him. When I eventually found my voice again, I asked him what on earth he was doing there.

“Well,” he started, “I was sitting at home tonight, winding down from the day, and I turned to my wife and said, ‘I need to head to Lincoln.’ She asked me if it was to see Bob in the hospital. I told her yes – and whoever else might be there with him. So, I got in my truck and drove here. She asked me whether or not the hospital would take visitors at this time at night. I told her I really didn’t know, but I would figure it out.”

And so I invited him in to the room and he stood with me for a little while that night, talking, laughing, listening, before he returned to his truck in the parking lot and slept for a few hours before he headed home.

It is a rather overwhelming thing to be falling apart at the seams alone in a hospital room at 1:00 in the morning, begging for the presence of, if not your father, anyone, and to immediately have God send someone quite unexpected to your doorstep to speak peace and comfort into your life. Some would be tempted to file it all away as “Coincidence,” but the label reads “Providence.”

But then the label can also read “Church,” can’t it? Here was the church arriving right on time at 1:00. Consider again that Piper quote I threw up on the blog a few days ago: “For people who are passing through the dark night of the soul, turnaround will come because God brings unwavering lovers of Christ into their lives who do not give up on them.” For me, turnaround came as God brought the church into my life to speak once more the hope of resurrection in a room filled with machines that endlessly and only beeped and buzzed messages of mortality.

The moment that night was chiefly pastoral, but all good pastoral moments are also instructional moments, commissioning moments. So, in the last few weeks that moment has served as a reminder for why we plant, why we need new churches. We do this to partner with God in giving birth to a new Spirit-led people that, among many, many other things, will show up at 1:00 in the morning at the doorways of rooms where death has been doing its best to speak only of death. Do we get it wrong? Sure. And often. How many people at 1:00 in the morning have thrown open the doors to find no one there? And how devastating is it for me to know that surely I’ve sometimes been the one they’ve hoped to see there for them. But when we get it right – when we lean into the wind of a Spirit with an openness and faithfulness to go every which way he calls us – there are few things more stunning, more beautiful, more prone to pull back from the edge a world exhausted by news that often offers nothing.

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Unwavering Lovers of Christ

I have no idea what the original context of this quote is, but either way, it seems like a potent call to church planting to me:

For people who are passing through the dark night of the soul, turnaround will come because God brings unwavering lovers of Christ into their lives who do not give up on them. – John Piper

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Brings Me To My Knees

I read it days ago for my reading plan, but I find myself returning again and again to Isaiah 30. Terrifying. Sobering. Challenging. Encouraging. Beautiful. So many things in a scattering of verses. I’ve been tempted to tear loose the more beautiful, warmer parts in the middle and the tail-end, but everything must and needs to be taken in – from the sweeter fragrance of mercy unearned to the stink of the sulfur. This is such a stunning moment in Isaiah’s prophecy, in all of God’s Word. A whiplash of a journey that just brings you to your knees for so many reasons – for repentance, for praise, for commissioning…

1″Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD, “who carry out a plan, but not mine,and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
2 who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!
3 Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame,
and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.
4For though his officials are at Zoan
and his envoys reach Hanes,
5everyone comes to shame
through a people that cannot profit them,
that brings neither help nor profit,
but shame and disgrace.”
6An oracle on the beasts of the Negeb.

Through a land of trouble and anguish,
from where come the lioness and the lion,
the adder and the flying fiery serpent,
they carry their riches on the backs of donkeys,
and their treasures on the humps of camels,
to a people that cannot profit them.

7Egypt’s help is worthless and empty;
therefore I have called her
“Rahab who sits still.”

8And now, go, write it before them on a tablet
and inscribe it in a book,
that it may be for the time to come
as a witness forever.
9 For they are a rebellious people,
lying children,
children unwilling to hear
the instruction of the LORD;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
prophesy illusions,
11leave the way, turn aside from the path,
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
12Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,”Because you despise this word
and trust in oppression and perverseness
and rely on them,
13therefore this iniquity shall be to you
like a breach in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse,
whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;
14and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel
that is smashed so ruthlessly
that among its fragments not a shard is found
with which to take fire from the hearth,
or to dip up water out of the cistern.”
15For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,”In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, 16and you said,”No! We will flee upon horses”;
therefore you shall flee away;
and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;
therefore your pursuers shall be swift.
17 A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;
at the threat of five you shall flee,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,
like a signal on a hill.
18Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.

19For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. 22Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!”

23 And he will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and bread, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. In that day your livestock will graze in large pastures, 24and the oxen and the donkeys that work the ground will eat seasoned fodder, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. 25And on every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water, in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. 26 Moreover, the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day when the LORD binds up the brokenness of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.

27 Behold, the name of the LORD comes from afar,
burning with his anger, and in thick rising smoke;
his lips are full of fury,
and his tongue is like a devouring fire;
28 his breath is like an overflowing stream
that reaches up to the neck;
to sift the nations with the sieve of destruction,
and to place on the jaws of the peoples a bridle that leads astray.

29You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the LORD, to the Rock of Israel. 30And the LORD will cause his majestic voice to be heard and the descending blow of his arm to be seen, in furious anger and a flame of devouring fire, with a cloudburst and storm and hailstones. 31The Assyrians will be terror-stricken at the voice of the LORD, when he strikes with his rod. 32And every stroke of the appointed staff that the LORD lays on them will be to the sound of tambourines and lyres. Battling with brandished arm, he will fight with them. 33For a burning place has long been prepared; indeed, for the king it is made ready, its pyre made deep and wide, with fire and wood in abundance; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of sulfur, kindles it.

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Back

We just returned from a week-long vacation in Tennessee, which explains the silence on the blog. Sorry about that. I would have given you a heads up, but seeing as a blog is a public platform, that would have meant me telling the world that our house was going to be empty for a week. Not that I think there are thieves lurking every which way, but to proclaim from the mountaintops a prolonged absence seems sort of foolish. But we’re back, and it was a much-need, good time away. We had a nice mixture of seclusion and excursion. We ate some really great food. We watched five movies in the evenings when Eden went down for bed – which is five more than we’ve watched since Eden was born. And we had plenty of time to talk about a whole host of things going on in life – the good, the bad, the sad, the ugly. So, again: it was a much-needed, good time away. The only negatives I can spot when looking back on it all was that on the first day I was stung by a scorpion (there were tiny, [non-poisonous], brown scorpions all over the place in Tennessee) and on the last day, while packing up our things, we realized that we weren’t the only ones renting the cabin that week. In the middle of the living room, on a chest that was used to hold blankets, sat a spider roughly the same size as Montana. I killed it with a phonebook after briefly looking throughout the cabin for a shotgun.

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