Our Child

His was an epic submission to a radical promise. A cosmic exchange: the pleasures of paradise for life as a humble earth dweller. Glory for Golgotha. Life for lives.

Eternity’s Son, He was divinely conceived and prophetically birthed.

What child is this who, laid to rest,
on Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?*

Announced by angelic flash mob was that Child. The Child. Our Child. Heaven’s merciful endowment, brought into real-time through a scandalous duo. Obedient outcasts, forced to hold quarters with beasts in a stable.

Why lies he in such mean estate
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
the silent Word is pleading.*

Mary’s lap nestled the infinite, incomparable Word. Salvation in infant form. Our righteous rescue. Our holy advocate. His glad desire was to deliver an explosive, sufficient, ever-fresh but unrepeatable expression of selfless love.

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
come, peasant, king, to own him;
the King of kings salvation brings,
let loving hearts enthrone him.*

This, this is Christ the King,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
haste, haste to bring him laud,
the babe, the son of Mary.*

Babe. Then boy. Then man. But always King.

What Child is this?

Jesus. 

The God-Man baby of Christmas who humbled himself to be our humiliation. Who experienced humanity’s worst so that we might taste glory. Who set aside everything to make something of our nothing. Our Messiah.

May we never cease to laud His immeasurable worth.

*Lyrics from the hymn, “What Child is This?”

Alone with my Friends

Peace and quiet. I collect them. In my home they’re readily found before the sun rises, mixed with the scent of freshly brewed coffee. They prefer a dimly lit room. They also have an affinity for my desk – the one I’ve pieced together like Frankenstein from mismatched chunks of walnut-colored tabletop. I hoard as many peaceful, quiet moments as I can before they’re chased into seclusion by bright lights and waking children.

Despite my propensity for introversion, I’m not anti-social or a recluse. I think people are great. I just enjoy moments without them.

Regular infusions of solitude refresh my perspective. They energize my work. Silence helps unclutter noisy thoughts and smooth pathways to clarity. Quiet mornings lead me toward spiritual renewal and reorientation.

But sometimes my solitary re-creation becomes conflicted, even paradoxical as my mind fills with thoughts of…people. Faces and conversations and shared experiences. In the serenity of my solo time I drift into pondering the mystery and wonder of being with people.

Sitting this week at Franken-desk in the pre-dawn stillness I’ve been rehashing a collection of recent experiences. A montage of relational highlights that include soccer games and a poetry reading. Wiring three-way switches, installing can lights, and rerouting furnace duct. A video parody. A pair of playful beavers. Eating half-chickens and tailgating through a Chicago rush hour. Comedy that wasn’t, goose poop that was (sort of) and a hotel fire alarm.

Broken trust. Tears of lament. Soulful petitions in a rain-spattered parking lot. The embrace of authentic friendship.

Confessions, celebrations, classic literature, and an ancient language. A highly viscous (but tasty) squash soup. A tale of providence and obedience. Children and their prayers of blessing. New connections and shared passions. A common faith.

We are made to relate. Be together: face-to-face, hand-in-hand, soul with soul. It is good to participate in humanity’s sacred solidarity. To be communal. To give and take.

I like my alone time. I like people more.

Thanks, friends.

“What’s friendship, when all’s done, but the giving and taking of wounds?”
~ Frederick Buechner, Godric, p.7

A Eulogy

Monday, my father died.

Then Tuesday came. Just like every other day. It didn’t seem right. It felt rude and cold. Disrespectful. Shouldn’t there be something different about Tuesday? About today? My father is gone, and life won’t ever be the same.

Despite my desire for cosmic recognition, the sun rose again this morning. It has every day since dad’s passing. The days will cycle in apparent ignorance of this week’s events. Even so, I know the impact of Sam De Man sings into eternity.

It has been wonderfully difficult to look back upon my dad’s life. The beauty of a life well lived is an abundance of fond memories. The struggle of eulogizing a great man is brevity.

I’ll begin with memories I’ve rehashed many times over the years. Even before my father’s death, I enjoyed reflecting on the late September and early October Saturdays from my childhood. Those fall weekends were packed with football. I loved the game, and so did dad. Starting my kindergarten year, dad showed amazing patience as he coached and cheered and encouraged this underweight, overly shy son who tried to play the game. He helped me strap-on my oversized battle gear then slapped my backside launching me into an awkward trot out onto the field. Dad would clap and coach from the sidelines, adorned in his ‘Forest Hills Youth Football’ coaching jacket, which he proudly wore many years after I stopped playing.

Our post-game routine included talk over cider and donuts. Memories bring back the smell of dirt and rain and grass. I recall images of dad cupping his hands to shout instructions and encouragement. After shouting he would blow into his hands, trying to stay warm. He served me well in my desire to play ball.

Those Saturday morning ball games were followed by Saturday afternoon chores—and a bit more football. Dad would pace through his ‘to-do’ list accompanied by Bob Ufer, the play-by-play broadcaster for University of Michigan football. Dad would drag his well-worn black and silver radio around the yard so as not to miss a play. I’d glean a listen while tossing and kicking a maize and blue Nerf football to myself. Although occupied in our own activities, dad and I were together. He worked. I played. Yet, all the while I was stealing glances at my father, pondering the day I would grow to be just like him. To do manly work. To serve my family.

The smell of freshly cut grass in the cool of fall has always freshened those memories of my dad and football. Those memories will feel different now, but are nonetheless sacred. I’m forever bound to my father through those unique times we shared. Despite being an average player, he cheered like I was the best. His shouts for number 88 still reverberate in my soul. My father’s words of affirmation continue to have a profound impact on my manhood. He blessed me in ways that continue to bolster me in my marriage, my parenting and my work.

Beyond football, dad also loved to fish. His success varied, but his passion did not. He was infamous for his ‘black grub’ and ‘purple worm’ lures – which often caught more wind-burn than fish. I recall a time of poking fun at a yellow lure he inherited from his dad. It was big, beat-up and ugly. In my opinion, it was good only for catching weeds and submerged logs. Dad absorbed our pessimism without saying a word. He calmly tied-on the lure with an “I’ll show you” look in his eye. Once secure, dad cast ‘Mr. Ugly Lure’ a mile out…and promptly deceived a behemoth from the depths of Lake Cadillac.

We never did get whatever it was into the boat. From my perspective, that was a good thing for two reasons. One, I was young and scared of whatever it was dad was dragging toward our rowboat—a boat that suddenly seemed much too small. Two, because if he landed the scaly beast we’d never hear then end of how we mocked his lure which landed the catch of a lifetime.

For a while, dad fished year round. He, and his best friend David Haaksma made a habit of venturing out onto the winter ice of Reeds Lake in the dark of Saturday mornings. He and David had many adventures together – from eating 3 lbs of taco meet in one sitting to other things best not mentioned in a eulogy. Death came for David years ago. For those who loved him, it was much too early. Just like it seems my father’s death is premature. Yet, they both left us right on time. My guess is they have already recounted the days gone by. David was always coaxing my dad toward having fun. They could be a rascally pair. Much fun will be had in eternity by those two. Trusted, manly friendship is like buried treasure. Search it out. Find it. Savor it. Protect it. My dad had a good friend in David Haaksma. My dad had many good friends—because he was a good friend.

My father’s joy of football and fishing found close company with a chainsaw. He often mentioned the great satisfaction he felt when a hot stream of woodchips would pound upon his pant leg as he deftly sliced through a fallen tree. If there was a tree to be cut, he was there. Then after the cutting, in typical Sam De Man fashion, he’d head home and take all the necessary time to return the chainsaw to a pristine state. Just like he did with all his tools. Clean. Organized. Catalogued. Ready for use. It was impressive, if not compulsive. But it endeared us to him. He served us by always doing—and I mean always doing a job right and doing it right the first time. He was fond of saying “a job worth doing is worth doing right” and “never do half a job.” Thank you, dad, for blessing us with a second-to-none work ethic.

But dad was not all work, just like he wasn’t all play. The same man who coached ball, fished, bowled, laid tile, played softball, tore-down and hung drywall, dug-out stumps, soldered copper pipes, cut down rogue trees and has pictures of John Wayne lining his workshop was gentle, sensitive and caring. At his core he was a man who felt life deeply. Even in his propensity for wanting everything just so, he mustered the patience to teach his children how to drive a stick around the quiet roads of a cemetery. He sat quietly with a frustrated eight-grader and brought understanding to Algebraic equations scrawled on tear-stained paper. And I’m forever grateful for the time he calmly walked me to the bench on our front porch. There, we both cried unashamed over an uncertain future as I was in the midst of my own wrestling with cancer.

In his softness, my dad found courage. Courage to haul his family of five around the country.  We were rather conspicuous in our brown and tan van, green and white striped camper and mom’s handcrafted shirts that said “Let’s go camping.” Dad led us through the collecting of experiences and the building of cherished memories. Memories that have forever embossed themselves on our family psyche. We won’t ever exhaust the laughter from the memory of our wave-saturated Pictured Rocks boat tour complete with regurgitated bologna sandwiches and grape pop. In these, and many other ways my dad sacrificially served our family.

Someone recently asked my father how he managed to stay married for almost 45 years. His answer? “You serve your mate.” And he did. Dad married his high school sweetheart and became a lifetime one-woman man. He was faithful to his covenant with my mother till his dying breath. And while he had breath, every day he told her, “You’re special.” A healthy, vibrant, Christ-centered marriage was the best gift my father ever gave to my mom, and to us children. I pray his example will echo through the marriages of his children, grandchildren and beyond. Thanks, dad, for being a loving, faithful, trustworthy husband.

In so many ways, my dad made others feel valued and honored. He was a man well loved because he loved well. He was a man of impeccable integrity. A man who could be trusted – completely. A man who gave unconditionally. A man who was loyal – to an employer for almost 40 years – and to His God.

A bit more than sixteen years ago, my wife and I spread our wings and flew from the church of my youth and landed a few miles north of here. Dad and I reconnected in a spiritual sense through the men’s ministry at that church. He and I had the special pleasure of growing together in our effort to live as biblically authentic men. We worked-out our faith side-by-side. We built a legacy together. He watched me grow through the tensions of marriage and parenting.

As I grew into my own ministry settings, he blew winds of confidence over my fragile ego. He smiled as he listened to me teach. I could feel his fatherly pride. It warmed my soul. It filled my spirit in a way only a father can for his children. He told me often what a good dad I was. I reflected the compliment back to him. We spoke words of affection for each other. The spoken word is powerful. I treasure my father’s words to me.

Going forward, Thursday mornings at my church will be different. Incomplete and lonely – at least for a while. I will miss seeing dad arrive – 15 minutes early, of course – with his Bible, 3-ring binder, pen and highlighter. I long for just one more of his hearty handshakes coupled with his rye smile. My ears ache to hear him greet me just one more time – not with “hello” but his special blessing of, “my son.” He made me feel valued. Important. Honored. Thank you, dad.

One result from our shared spiritual journey the past several years came on Father’s Day in 2005. Dad wrote me a letter that accompanied a gift. In the opening his letter, he said this: “I have been contemplating writing this note and giving you some token to commemorate our relationship – something that would be a remembrance of some significance. I have agonized over this and had multiple second thoughts about what would be just right. I settled on a gift that would remind you of the direction that you should go and who should be your guide. Hopefully, when I am no longer around, it will bring to mind the good times we have shared and the father/son bond that we have developed.”

My gift was a compass. A poignant reminder to stay the course. To not drift. To walk wisely down the narrow path. My father knew where he was headed. He wanted to help me go there too, and in the best shape possible.

In the journey of life, we are all headed somewhere.

The question is: where are you headed?

Many would say my dad was a good man. Indeed, he was. The overriding theme of his life was gracious service. He was never afraid to go last. He always got the last hobo pie from the campfire. He was frequently last in line at church potlucks. For many years, he was the guy who turned-off the lights. But being good and doing good for the sake of goodness is empty. A long dead-end street. A journey that drifts and heads along a wide path to nowhere. Outside the context of faith in Jesus Christ, the good works of the best men have no lasting value.

What motivated my father was love. Love for God, and love for people. One man defined biblical masculinity as,”the glad assumption of sacrificial responsibility.” That was my father. He joyfully accepted responsibility. He sacrificed. And he did it because his Lord asked him to. He lived-out the instruction of I John 3:16: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”

My father didn’t serve to receive kudos or pats on the back. He didn’t give his best to get something in return. He gave now, to gain later. He worked hard to glorify the sacrifice of Jesus who gave his life for our gain. My dad lived in ways that led people to Jesus—literally and practically. He knew where he was headed. His heart’s compass pointed toward Jesus Christ.

So when dad’s perfect draftsmen’s print declined to illegible scrawls, when his hair went from never being out of place to not being there, when he could no longer communicate with words, he continued down the path of faith. Until the end, he lived-out his life verse:

Isaiah 40:30–31 (NIV)
“Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

My compass reminds me where I’m headed. I’m headed where dad is now.

As each of us ponders where we’re headed, we have to wonder if we’re good enough for heaven. Perhaps right now you’re wondering how to make-up for all the bad things you’ve done? The good news is that Jesus answers those questions for us. We aren’t good enough—but He is. We can’t make-up for the bad things we’ve done—but He can.

Through his death, Jesus made it possible to have a restored and good relationship with God. It doesn’t matter what you’ve said, done or thought. We’ve all got our junk. And doing a lot of good things, like my father, is not enough to cleanup the mess. Only faith in Jesus Christ and His ability to take care of our wrong-doing—our sin—puts us on good terms with the God of the Bible. Only by believing and receiving God’s forgiveness and grace can any of us enter heaven. The heaven where my father now rests and enjoys the reward of his labor. You can be assured of going there, too. By believing in the forgiveness of sin through Jesus. God’s Word, the Bible, tells us…

“But God is faithful and fair. If we admit that we have sinned, he will forgive us our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure.” 1 John 1:9 (NIrV)

Our hope – which is dad’s hope – is Jesus Christ. The truth of who Jesus is and what He’s done for each of us is why my father gave away so much. Why he served so many. Why he is remembered as a good man.

So, as we say a concluding goodbye to a wonderful man of God, I find comfort in the words of Martin Luther’s hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God.’ Luther reminds us of the battle we fight against a dark, powerful, ancient foe. He also insures we not forget who fights for us against our enemy. The One who give us hope—our Great Hope. Hope in the truth that just “one little word” brings victory. That Word is Jesus Christ. Here’s how Luther said it:

That word above all earthly powers,
no thanks to them, abideth;
the Spirit and the gifts are ours,
thru him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go,
this mortal life also;
the body they may kill;
God’s truth abideth still;
his kingdom is forever.

Dad now sees that Kingdom with clarity. He is again talking with his dad, whom he adored. He laughs about the ‘good ole’ days’ with his best friend. He walks and talks with Jesus. What a conversation that must be. I’m sure there’s a “well done” in there somewhere.

Sure, I’ve got lots of “why” questions.Sixty-six years seems but a short time to tarry here in this world. If I can live my own years half as well as Sam De Man, I will have lived well.

The tears come and go. I suspect they will for a while. In some ways, I hope they never stop. They honor my father, who was a great man. They acknowledge the pain of life. And they intensify a longing in my heart for the day when the vision of the Apostle John is made realty:

Revelation 21:3–4 (NIV)

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’  or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Lord Jesus—come quickly!

One Year Ago

One year ago, with our first post, this blog came to life.

We came out of the gate a bit tenuous, feeling
small. But we soon found our rhythm. Now, blogging is part of our weekly ritual. With each post we are stretched as we work-out our theology in the common things of life. Things like helping our kids see the value of reading good literature. Or explaining what belly buttons are for. Or making it through the hug line unscathed. Or applying financial leverage to shape long-term character – or simply influence behavior in the moment.

Conversations
with our children provide much material for our writings. Parenting is a very humbling experience. Despite our best efforts, there’s always the possibility our kids will find us old-fashioned, or even (gulp) puritanical. But we love our little sweeties (Katrina’s term of endearment). Each day we pray over them as we lovingly weave our threads of influence into their souls.

But with weaving comes tension. A tension that needs breaking once in a while – with humor.


A little levity helps balance the frustration of
dog-chewed earphones , broken lawn tractors and a long weekend of painting. A herd of galloping unicorns brings welcome laughter to a stressful moment (even Scrooge can’t help but smile at a unicorn – real, stuffed or imagined). At times our humor leads to a bit of mischief, but we never cross the line of looney. And, what better way to keep zombies at bay than periodic bursts of giggling?

Food was a consistent theme this year. With some trepidation I shared my “
fruit tree” moniker. I followed that by comparing myself to a coconut. We ate waffles in Chicago and waxed eloquent about our Family Stew. And just recently we discovered that donuts not only taste great, they also work well on issues of the heart.

Not content to stay at home, we went international. We plumbed the depths of middle earth with Chilean miners, only to return to Earth’s surface with questions about
life. We went to war for the fatherless in Ethiopia. We crossed “The Pond” to peek-in on a royal wedding. Our journeying finally brought us back to the States where we considered the life of an American icon, wondering what her life would have been like if she had tarried longer.

During this past year we learned more about our unwelcome, but necessary
companion. The company of struggle and pain has taught us to pray audaciously. And in this praying we found – again – that God is juice and joy. His goodness fuels our praise and fosters a longing for the day of restoration. But in the present, we rest in Jesus Christ for strength and courage to do the hard work of redemptive relationships.

Like our blog title suggests, we are privileged to relate with a God who loves us. Who is jealous for us. Who wants our deepest
affection. And our time. We must arrange our busyness around Him – our epicenter. His Spirit speaks to our spirit, imploring us to stand firm in our faith. To be honest about our brokenness. To not be duped by a feel-good theology.

The rookie season of Dwelling Under a Friendly Sky has been a blessing – for us, and hopefully for you. We write out of gratitude for choices made in a
garden long ago. A choice to obey. To sacrifice. To love. Choices made by a Man who knew what it was to struggle. Be tempted. Feel pain.  Work hard. Be part of a family. That Man – the God-Man Jesus – was our pioneer. As you dwell under His friendly sky, may you become infatuated with who He is and what He’s done.

A Good Hard Decision

If I meet you and we have some time to talk, one thing will come out about me. I love books. One of my driving forces is fiction that captures me and meets me someplace deep. Deep in my heart. Deep in my funny bone. Deep in my hopes. Doesn’t matter, just needs to be deep.
There’s a new book out, ”A Good Hard Look” by Ann Napolitano, and one of the characters is Flannery O’Connor, a southern writer who died young and wrote stark, feel-heavy stories that you either appreciated or didn’t.
I am devoted to Flannery O’Connor. I have the peacock feathers on my desk to prove it. She raised peacocks and shares quite a few stories about their antics and challenges. Growing up, my mom had a vase of peacock feathers in our living room and I used to run my hands up their straggly, iridescent lines. Put the two together and I couldn’t resist having some of my own.
Flannery’s letters were delicious to me and I felt as though I sat with a friend whenever I pulled the book into my lap. As the weight of the book’s pages flipped from one side of my lap to another, I began to read very slowly. I knew I was getting to her last letter and then the book would be done because Flannery was done and I would lose these moments of insight and humor and friendship. I began to regret that there would be an end and I began to try to mess with the inevitable and keep her alive by pretending the book wasn’t there. I let it get covered up by other books even. Finally, I read quickly through the last two dozen pages because I just had to get it over and deal with it. There were no tears then but as I write this now, I feel them setting at the edges of my eyes.
I know. Some of you are thinking, get back to writing about the kids, Katrina, and taking their money.  But others know what I’m talking about because you know an author this way and you go seeking out their words like a comforting quilt or a picture that used to hang in your grandparents’ house but got sold at a garage sale.
And it’s not just that I actually like her fiction, I found instruction about writing and reading in her essays and letters. One of my favorite quotes from her is this: The fact is that if the writer’s attention is on producing…a work that is good in itself, he is going to take great pains to control every excess.  He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses.  They call attention to themselves and distract from the work as a whole. When I found this quote it put some things together for me about finishing a book and being dissatisfied. It’s why I don’t sprint to the library when a new Nicholas Sparks’ book comes out. It’s why I couldn’t completely appreciate “The Shack”.
So now an author has written a book with Flannery O’Connor as a character. If you’ve read Flannery—her letters, essays and stories you’d know: that’s bold. But if I read it, will I feel like I’m getting the chance to sit with my friend again—will the character she’s written truly be Flannery?
In the news of this book, I find myself wanting to go outside the norm of my book buying habits. Usually, I get in line at the library and read it. If I get it again, it’s a keeper. If I can’t stop telling people about it, I know it should end up on my shelf. I let it sit around in my brain a bit and then I take what I call, The Plunge—irony embraced—and buy it.  
Now this book by this author I don’t know. Ms. Napolitano has given Flannery words, thoughts, actions. If she’s done it poorly, well, that’s to be expected, right? I can scoff and rant for a few days and tell everyone off the book. If she’s done it right, then I get to hang out with Flannery O’Connor again and I can barely control my interest in that.
I’ll stop my discourse about a book I haven’t read and one that, obviously, bears a large weight for me. I’ve seen the glowing reviews come in every day for weeks. I’m really happy for the author. You can tell she’s glowing at the press and the attention as every author should. I’m just left wondering, will her book glow for me?
As soon as Amazon delivers, I’ll find out. I hope it’s so.

A Rodent’s Wrath

The Groundhog Day Dump. That’s the moniker given to this Midwest blizzard by a local weather man. I like it. Humor lightens the frustrations of days like this. Unfortunately, it doesn’t lighten the load of snow in my driveway.

In the spirit of bringing some levity to this day, here are a sampling of some comical interactions with our kids.

~ One of our daughters went to the dress-up box and came back as a lady “astronut.”
~ After telling our daughter she could not play with the neighbor boy, she immediately went back outside and said to him, “My mom said I cannot be near you.”
~ Parent: “Did you brush your teeth?”
      Child: “Yes.”
      Parent: “All of them, on all sides?”
      Child: “Does that include the back side?”
~ Child: “The dentist said I am getting my ultimate teeth!” (translation: adult teeth)
~ Child:  “Dad, why do you pay cactuses?” (translation: taxes)
~ Chris is home from work, sick. Child: “Dad? Why are you home? Did you lose your job?”

One more funny. Several months ago we introduced many of you to The Doug & Jon Show. Here’s another of our favorites: Alan the Overly Angry Pirate. Enjoy, and don’t forget that in the midst of their silliness, Doug and Jon are all about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Our Friend Joe

Actually, yes. We find this funny.

We heartily LOL’d the first time we saw it. Our children memorized it right then and now run about the house with happy voices saying things like “Don’t eat that it’s toxic!” and “Never run with scissors!”

We’ve LOL’d each and everytime we’ve watched it since.

It’s just for laughs…or is it?

The Doug & Jon Show is about laughs and much more. It has an effective purpose.

We are glad for people like Doug & Jon who use their gifts, unusually, for Kingdom work.

Go ahead. You can laugh, too. It’s pretty funny.