Staying true to a literal rendering of Labor Day, I did much laboring. Painting, specifically.
Changing wall color is fresh meat for the interior decorating monster. I’ve encountered the ID monster before. Just took me 18 years to realize he lives at the paint store. He’s the master of suggestion, planting ideas in the minds of gleeful wives fresh from convincing their husband some painting would be in his best interest.
Ideas like, “Hey, those curtains don’t really match the hue of that new wall color.” Or, “that new bedding doesn’t coordinate with the wall decorations.” Such diabolical suggestions can unleash an onslaught of decorating madness (or euphoria, depending on perspective). In the case of this past weekend, the paint brush suddenly found itself lonely as the search for new curtains took priority.
Curtains were purchased. Curtains were returned. Repeat, ad nauseam. Arguments brewed over what colors coordinate. My temper simmered from an overspent “painting” budget. And out of nowhere a tongue-in-cheek disagreement started as to whether one of us is color blind. As Katrina shared our painting fun with some facebook friends, someone commented, “Don’t forget, painting starts with ‘pain’.” Man, do I give an “Amen!” to that.
Despite attacks from the decorating monster, I do find joy in bringing newness through paint and other accessories. There’s a part of me, peeking from behind the dormant engineer, that appreciates colors that compliment. And well-placed accents. And when the dust settles, a room that is warm, peaceful and beckons, “dwell here.”
However, my appreciation for tasteful décor does not preclude times this past weekend when I wanted to drop-kick the paint can. Or scream at the sun as it blazed into the room in which I was cutting-in yellow paint next to white. Or rant about the first mark on my new paint job (I should be entitled to at least 24-hours with walls unmarked by children, right?). There were several moments I was cursing the curse, wanting to have words with Adam. At a minimum, I was certainly having words with myself.
My frustrations sent me tumbling head-long into the swamp of self pity. With each brush stroke I concocted another scenario of being underappreciated. Disrespected. Ignored. Used. My painting looked great, but my heart was ugly.
While waxing eloquent on another stanza of my miserable monologue, my wife jabbed me – verbally. It was a punch out of nowhere. Not a sucker punch, just a surprise. A sweet surprise. As she patiently listened to my grousing, she very simply stated, “But what you’re doing for us makes us happy.”
Happy? Hah! My first response (which I wisely kept to myself) was, “How nice for you. What’s anyone doing to make me happy?” It was then I received another punch. This one less sweet. And very direct. The Holy Spirit leveled a right-cross that rocked me. I put the brush down. Sat on my little painting stool. Breathed deep. And listened.
Moments like that still shock me. Even when I’m fully aware of being in a bad way, there’s times I keeping humming along to my sorry tune. I buy into the pitiful story that I deserve something I’m not getting. On the outside, I’m the helpful and cordial Dr. Jekyll. But inside, Mr. Hyde is raging. With Mr. Hyde around, I risk having my good actions sullied by selfishness. By demandingness. No matter how great the painted room might look, the lies of Mr. Hyde threaten to rob joy from the experience – both in the moment, and for months to come.
In those stool-sitting moments with God, I confronted the pain in my painting. I found that it wasn’t the painting that pained me. It was my desires. The desire for perennially fresh, unmarked walls. The desire for extended down time during a holiday weekend. The desire for more kudos for the way I was bustin’ it early in the morning and late at night. The desire for more money (or less spending). But such wanting reflects misplaced affections.
John Piper said, “Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil.” In those moments of self-pitied painting, I loved me most. My wife did not feel my love. Neither did my children. And my esteem for a well painted room pulled rank on my love for God. Sad, I know. Such is the struggle with life’s greatest tension: who, or what do I love – most?
I doubt the “pain” of painting will ever go away this side of heaven. I know my future holds many more run-ins with the ID monster. Knowing this to be true, I must guard against misplaced affections. Loving God is better than perfectly applied paint. Loving my family and enjoying their happiness is to be treasured more than marked-up walls. Still, there are moments when that’s easier said, than done.

Tour de Stress

Peloton. I added that word to my vocabulary this month compliments of the Tour de France. Not sure if I’ll be able to use it in a context outside of bike racing, but I welcome the challenge.
Besides learning a new word, there are other things I’ve gleaned from the Tour. First, I have very skinny legs. Second, I want muscular legs. Third, I will never shave my legs – no matter what. Fourth, European bike racing fans have an affinity for cheering and chasing bikers while wearing Speedos. Sixth, Speedos are obscene.
Watching the Tour, I’ve gained a sense for the danger of professional biking. The crashes can be horrific. I also have a renewed appreciation for the endurance required to ride 150+ KM in a few hours. Those guys are machines.
Endurance has been a theme of late in our home. We’ve been working through a planned disruption. It’s required all of us to be agile with our routines. We’ve had to lay aside personal desires to serve the greater good. It’s been fine. We’ve tarried well. But in the midst of experiencing the abnormal, we’ve also been preparing for our big summer vacation.
For me, vacation prep is a Tour de Stress. A journey filled with mountains and few straight-aways. But that’s reality. Stress is a part of rallying our little peloton. It can be difficult to unify our team when so much excitement and anticipation abounds. My “riders” care little for how many shirts and pairs of socks to pack. They just want to ride. And so do I. But things must get done or we’re going nowhere. That tension requires a special mustering of patient endurance – for all of us.
Of course, the stress-fires get stoked with things like last minute car repairs, finding a dog-sitter, a final mowing of the lawn, a trip to the bank and 42 last minute jaunts to the store. Ah, vacation.
So what do I do? How do I cheer my peloton without deflating their tires? How do I grow a desire to serve, instead of being served? How do I muster courage to squelch the energy I want to put towards having the right number of underwear? How do I strangle nudges toward anger and not demand that I get a break?
Well, life doesn’t offer breaks. Sure, there are times for refreshment and relaxation, but I’m never excused from being a husband and father. From leading, serving and loving. Life’s stresses never abate.
I’m learning anew that in life’s stresses there is opportunity. Opportunity to lay aside my wish dreams. To trust that God has my back. That He can handle my anxieties. That in His strength, I can be a tail-wind for my peloton. That whether I’m stressed or calm, He brings the rest I’m longing for.
Soon we’ll be off to new fun and adventures. As I progress through the stages of my Tour de Stress, I’m keeping my wife’s homeschooling mantra very close:  “Attitude is everything – pick a good one!” I’m grateful for renewed mercies – from God, and my family. And lastly, if I thought it would help, I might consider shaving my legs.

My Inner Scrooge

Christmas gift-giving in our home means each person receives three gifts. The wise men established this pattern for us. It has simplified gift buying and paid dividends of sanity while purchasing online or otherwise.

Each October, in preparation for the buying, Katrina and I open our version of the Middle East Peace Talks. I’m to blame for them being “peace” talks. You see, deep inside me lives a hint of Ebenezer Scrooge. Like Scrooge, I can be grumpy, edgy, easily annoyed and sometimes overly “careful” with money (yes, I’m a tightwad). That’s hard to admit. I do enjoy giving gifts, but my inner Scrooge lives to rob that joy. And it troubles me – greatly.

As I continue, you need to know two things. First, I always pray while driving to work. Second, we had our first snow this week. I’ll start with the snow.

A by-product of earning an engineering degree from Michigan Tech is you also earn a minor in extreme winter weather driving. Thus, I tend to be over-confident, even cocky when it comes to winter driving where we live in West Michigan. My confidence expressed itself this week while traversing an “S” curve at a rate of speed that was a bit – how shall I say it – “aggressive” for the conditions. Frankly, it may have been aggressive at any time (particularly in a minivan).

True to my routine, I was also praying while negotiating the aforementioned “S” curve (no, my eyes weren’t closed). Specifically, I was thanking God for His sovereign care and watchful eye on everything – a baby going through chemo, my father with health complications, my wife, my kids. A normal morning, normal prayers. So I thought. Cue the black ice.

I’ll spare you the details of my slipping and sliding through the curve. Each telling is more harrowing and my recovery more remarkable. Let’s just say there was lots of grabbing and turning of the steering wheel. Frantic brake pumping was accompanied by the “growl” of the antilock brakes. But, I’m happy to report that my winter driving prowess was again confirmed. I’m also proud to say there were no unmanly screams or colorful language. I was cool, calm and victorious. I scoffed at the car-hungry ditch and drove on (a bit more slowly) with thoughts of changing my middle name to “Mario.”

Back to praying. Where was I…oh yes, God’s watchful eye.

Hmmm. Watchful eye…sovereign care…over everything.

What’s that? Yes, I hear you, Lord. Forgive me. Thank you for watching – and caring – back there. For protecting me from hurt or at least a frustrating morning.

Yes? No, Scrooge is not in the car with me. No, really, he’s not. And what’s he got to do…

I’ll stop talking. Yes, I’m listening.

Hmmm. You’re right. Oh, boy. Go on…

The rest of the conversation was personal, revealing and humbling. My early morning ice dance was prologue to a word God needed to speak to me and my inner Scrooge. That word exposed my scrooginess for what it is – pride. Over inflated thoughts of self. Thoughts that, over time, yield dissatisfaction, selfishness, indulgence, moodiness and neediness.

Since that morning of slip-sliding, the Spirit has brought spiritual “medicine” to wither my Scrooge. The first dose came from Scripture. The context is King David making preparation for his son Solomon to build a temple for the Lord. Here are some words from David: “But who am I…for all things come from you… O LORD our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.”  (from 1 Chronicles 29:14-17)

My Scrooge thrives on the lie that who I am, what I have or what I do is because of me (like my winter driving skills). David’s words wake me from that foolish wish dream. There is nothing I call “mine” that was not first God’s. He gives me everything. No room for pride there. Take that, Scrooge.

A second dose of help arrived via this quote from G.K. Chesterson: “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” That’s convicting. How often are my thoughts wrapped with thankfulness? Do I wonder at the gift of my mysterious union with Jesus Christ? Am I happier about my driving abilities, or the daily grace that is given to me freely, willingly and joyfully?

In the story, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge makes a redemptive comeback. I want the same for me. This blog post is a personal Ebenezer, a reminder that, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:17) Christmas is about giving – giving because we have been given to. Giving because we are loved, and because we love. I am humbled. Grateful. Thankful. Joyful.

Goodbye, Scrooge.