Aha!

September has been packed with momentous happenings for my clan.

Last week, our big to-do was the acquisition of a driver’s license for my second son. He completed the rigors of training and passed his final driving test with unexpected excellence. The “unexpected” qualifier is fair. My son agrees.

For many months, he and I have been like alley cats shut tight in a room together. Confined in our four-wheeled cage, instructional drive times exposed our best and worst. His fear and anxiety led to paralyzing uncertainty. His uncertainty met my underdeveloped relational patience, instigating several tense, emotional interactions. Voices were raised, feelings were hurt, the steering wheel was grabbed — by both of us. I was expert at inflaming his anxieties. He was a master at initiating migraines. Squabbling cats, we were.

Together, week after week, we worked to condition his on-the-road actions and reactions. Our key phrase was “drive defensively confident.” Start. Stop. Repeat. Again and again. Speed control, braking distance, parallel parking, and the “simple made difficult” four-way stop. But things weren’t clicking. I’d show him and tell him dozens of times. I had him read the driving manual — twice. He knew the rules; why couldn’t he just do it?

Great question.

Ever have an “Aha!” moment? That flash of inspiration or fresh idea you can’t wait to activate? Today I had an “Aha.” An epiphany, sort of. A revelation that brought me not a novel idea or problem solution, but something that has everything — and nothing — to do with my son and driving.

For a long time, decades really, I’ve known God’s call upon me to be generous. To give quickly,  willingly, and wisely of my time, talent, and financial resource. I’m fully onboard with that principle. Benevolence should be core to the Christ-follower. Yep, count me in.

Yet, for all the messages I’ve heard, books I’ve read, and teaching I’ve delivered, my Father in Heaven needed to bring a personalized intersection of my head, heart, and behavior. A divinely crafted flash of enlightenment.

His “Aha!” from this morning leaves me grateful, and sad.

Grateful for His patient, careful tending to my soul. Sadness for my stunted growth toward being a whole-hearted, generous man. Waves of regret roil as I replay episodes of stingy relating. Moments when I allowed my fear to blanket God’s invitation to trust. To give — even a little. To be an obedient Kingdom partner with what He has entrusted to my stewardship.

In two months my family will be in Kenya for a short stint. It’s an experience that requires us to link arms with friends and family, asking for their participation in our adventure through fervent prayer and generous giving. I’m discovering, with God’s “Aha,” that I’m an eager advocate for generosity when soliciting for my cause. But when others make similar requests of me, eagerness battles reticence. 

Is it pride? Stubbornness? Control? A hint of Scrooge? Whatever the root, it’s serious enough to warrant divine intervention. What I know is out of sync with what I do. It’s like I’m at a four-way stop, hesitant to move. I know what I’m supposed to do; why can’t I just do it? (Where have I heard that before?)

Dane Ortlund said, “We will, every day, be hypocritical in some way. Our creed outpaces our behavior.” Truth — knowledge for right living — requires action. It suffocates when confined to the realm of the mind. If what I know fails to penetrate my heart and activate my hands and feet, it is useless, lonely, and incomplete.

My “Aha!” was a generous gift from my Father in Heaven. A well-timed reminder. Like my son with his driving, I’m a bit slow with assimilation. But there’s forgiveness and fresh starts.

Despite a bumpy beginning, my son progressed to near perfection when tested on his driving skill. I’m proud of him. I hope to progress similarly, pleasing my Lord at the next opportunity to be generous with His resources.

My Friend Puddles

I’m not a fan of fireworks. At one time, I was quite afraid of them.

My fear blossomed early in childhood. Fourth of July pyrotechnic displays would send me scrambling for the comfort of my mother’s lap. I’d lay covered by a blanket and eyes squeezed shut. Amidst the ooh’s and aah’s I would press my hands on my ears, desperate to adequately muffle the sound of bombs bursting in air. During the show, I’d unceasingly pray the next explosion would be the beginning of the end. Come quickly, grand finale!

Thankfully, I’ve matured beyond the need for motherly comfort to endure colorful, celebratory explosions. That’s a good thing because our neighborhood collectively celebrates the Fourth of July with a home-grown fireworks display sponsored by the owners of those white tents that pop mid-June like mushrooms after rain. I question the wisdom behind granting anyone with the dexterity to trigger a butane lighter the right to propel hot balls of fire over, around, and next to the people and things we value most. This is fun, right? Opinion aside, my neighbors are careful and safe (mostly). The laughter and relationships that precipitate amidst the fiery display assists with overcoming my firework fears.

We all have fears. Spiders, heights, dark alleys, a bad cup of coffee. I’ve come to understand that dogs have fears, too. My dog, Nacho, is afraid of thunderstorms. Less specific, Nacho is afraid of loud noises. During the recent Fourth of July season, we discovered that for Nacho the pop and crack and boom of fireworks spark the same anxiety as thunderstorms. Our means of this discovery was rather unfortunate.

Shortly after returning home from the neighborhood party, my son asked that I smell something. Him asking me to smell something only “smelled” like the prelude to an unhappy circumstance. I was tired, over-stimulated, and wanted to smell nothing beyond the cover of my pillow. With no other dad available for smell duty, I complied and followed.

Nearing our destination, we came upon another of my children, who was motionless and staring at a conspicuous, oddly-shaped, dark-colored spot on the carpet. In that moment, I presumed that I’d been summoned to investigate the spot. To… smell it.

Did I mention the carpet upon which the spot resided was installed on July 3? Yep, less than a day old.

The three of us stood silent for a tenuous ten-seconds. “It could be a water spill from when we carried our glasses upstairs after watching a movie earlier?” Such a hopeful child. I appreciated his optimism, but nothing could change the reality pooled before us. We all knew it wasn’t water. No need to smell.

Nacho’s new name is Puddles.

Do you ponder the purpose of life’s frustrations? I sometimes wonder at God’s intent with the nuance and timing of difficult circumstances. I beat into my soul James 1:2-4. I need to. God’s Word is always true. We live in the midst of trouble. Yet sometimes my quick-slap, theoretical dismissal of life’s difficulties doesn’t allow room for growth. It can take time to dig for the seed of my tension, frustration, disappointment, or anger. To settle into a humility that allows theology to effectively inform my reality.

“Despite everything you have achieved, life refuses to grant you, and always will refuse to grant you, immunity from its difficulties.” (David Whyte, The Heart Aroused, p. 27) Whyte suggests we might believe that because of what we’ve done, we deserve better than what life is bringing us. I think he’s right. I’ve caught my thoughts drifting toward the idea that I’ve earned a “pass” on soiled carpets and ‘friady-cat dogs. Or that my relationships ought to flourish free of conflict because I’m a terrific person. Or that I should simply have what I want because I deserve it and it makes me happy.

God’s goodness is not beholden to our happiness. He continually renews His mercy, even as He provides a mix of joy, sorrow, and frustration that invite us to experience more of Him. He absorbs our fear and grants us peace. In Him is happiness, gladness, and joy — always.

I’m still bothered by the carpet. I’d really, really like a stain-free, dent-free, pain-free, ice cream every night kind of life. But when I qualify my happiness by unrestrained, trouble-free living I miss the surprise of joy that runs parallel to the difficult stretches of life.

By the way, Puddles is still my little buddy. Together, we’re working through his fear of loud noises. Besides, what’s a bit of urine between friends?