Perfectly Scripted

For one hour each week, everyone in the room had to acknowledge my amazingness. For sixty minutes I lived in celebrity. Elevated and set apart from every other classmate. I was a fourth-grade prodigy. Not of math or music or English, but penmanship.

I was the King of Curves. The Sultan of Script. A veritable Michelangelo of the big fat pencil.

My mastery bought me exemption from those monotonous, mind-numbing exercises of tracing-out row upon row of alphabet soup. While my buddies toiled, their hands cramping from the perplexities of capital ‘Q’ and lower case ‘b’, I sat aloof. Distanced by my special skill, I contentedly surveyed the hoard of scribblers, peacefully counting the minutes until recess.

I remember those moments with satisfaction. An appropriate pride in something I could do well. I felt special, distinct, unique. And those feelings were legitimized through peer review and an authoritative declaration from Mr. Olthoff. I had achieved success!

Now here I sit, thirty-five years later, reliving tales from fourth grade that mean…nothing? The spotlight is gone. My calligraphic skill has atrophied. And the memory of my triumph lives only in the annals of my mind. But those elementary school experiences affect me still. Through those recollected scenes I interact with what’s true and good about me.

I’d like to dwell there.

But juxtaposed against my scripting finesse is a string of disappointments and embarrassments. Frustrations and regrets. Moments of remorse and shame. And a collection of caustic words that cling to me like hot tar.

Is there sense to be made of life’s dichotomy?

In his Institutes, John Calvin said, “…we are impelled by our miseries to reflect on the Lord’s good gifts, and we cannot sincerely yearn for him until we have first begun to cease being pleased with ourselves.”* I would enjoy walking around this day, acknowledged repeatedly for my neat handwriting. To hear from random strangers, “Hey! I’ve heard you can craft a sweet lower case ‘z’!” Instead, reality is a blend of good coffee and dirty diapers. Sunset walks and orthodontics. Birthday parties and chemotherapy.

Why? Because both grace and misery lead us to majesty.

Calvin reminds us that we were made to live for more than accomplishments or accolades. Certainly, it is right to celebrate beautiful handwriting. But such things should be not an end, but touch points that propel us higher, and farther, and deeper into our desire for God. After all, what’s pleasurable about my penmanship is sourced from Who is truly pleasurable. And through enjoyment of Him and his generous gifting we learn to love Him. To trust Him. To give back to Him as we persevere through frustration and sickness, discouragement and tragedy, name-calling and lies.

I’ve never learned so much by not doing schoolwork. Don’t tell my kids…


*John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translation by Robert White, p.1

Shoo, Lie – Don’t Bother Me!

I never mow alone.

But I wish I could.

Mowing isn’t work for me – it’s solitude. The ear-muffled drone of the mower’s engine while traversing a patterned course around my property is peaceful. With the precision of a figure skater I glide along the terrain, restoring a sense of order. Slowly. Carefully. Methodically. It’s wonderful.

But such tranquility can be destroyed – by them.

Flies.

They perch in my apples trees, glaring with iridescent eyes while crafting their aerial torment. They flit around in the tall field grass, pausing to preen their monster-like leg barbs. Inaudible insect communications cascade around me as a platoon of winged warriors coordinate their assault upon my peace-filled mowing.

But I’m a fighter. I’ve strategized a defense that has required me to become an excellent one-armed driver. With one hand, I can deftly turn the tightest radius while engaging safety switches and gear selectors. This technique frees my other arm for maniacal waving to ward off those fiendish intruders. Still, those little devils kindle my rage as I flail intensely, hoping to thwart their space invasion.

Whether mowing or picnicking or even sitting indoors, badgering flies are a picture of a deeper torment. A tension strung deep in the soul. A clash between what’s true, and what’s not. Like a fly that won’t leave me alone are the lies I believe about myself.

My lies plague me. Every day. They buzz about my thought life, whispering that I’m a runner-up, not a winner. That I’m not good enough. I don’t measure up. I have nothing to offer. These lies of inadequacy pester and plague. They seek to preoccupy my activities with thoughts of disappointment and pain – pain that tempts me toward a silent withdrawal or prods me to anger while eroding my joy.

Lies mar our self-image and steal opportunities for us to flourish. When we’re absorbed with the nuisance of deception, it’s difficult to be an engaged, faithful spouse. A sensitive, patient parent. A trusted, available friend. It’s like driving a lawn mower with one hand. Our relationships are worthy of a diligent care that one-handed driving can’t provide.

The strategy for lie-swatting? God’s Word, His Spirit, and His people.

A consistent feasting on the truth of God’s Word is excellent lie repellent. Praying and listening in the Spirit is a sure way to crowd-out whispers of inadequacy. Trusted, God-centered, deeply honest relationships bolster spiritual resilience and help with embracing life whole-heartedly – both hands on the wheel. The lies may still stir exasperation, but the buzz lessens as we tune into the One who rejoices over His children with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

If I were Lord of the Flies, my kingdom would be fly-free. Alas, I must accept the accompaniment of my mowing buddies. Even more, I must face the reality of the enemy’s lies that perturb me with tireless persistence and tempt me toward disbelief in the goodness of God. But thanks be to Jesus, who is Truth and offers grace sufficient for every moment of struggle.
 
So, in the name of Jesus, “Shoo lies – don’t bother me!”

For more on the real-life struggle of truth and lies watch this panel discussion recorded at Blythefield Hills Baptist Church, Rockford, MI

Elementary, My Dear Watson?

This week we had a family mystery. There was a missing item. Several suspects. Conflicting stories. A jury. A judge. And thankfully, no weapon.
I played the roles of prosecutor and judge (that’s the privilege of being “dad”). My assistant, Watson (a.k.a. Katrina) provided me with excellent back-story and evidence from the scene. Feeling well-equipped, I questioned the witnesses – who also happened to be my prime suspects. I tactfully stepped them through some leading questions. I listened. They spilled.
As the “trial” processed, the testimonies and evidence pointed strongly toward a particular conclusion. Although mostly circumstantial, the inevitable verdict had plenty of staying power. An open and closed case. Elementary. Sherlock would be proud.
But not so fast.
Despite the solution to our mystery, the “convicted” remained steadfast in their innocence. They stood vehement against our collective verdict with firm and repeated statements of denial. Justice was questioned. An appeal filed. Happens all the time with court cases, right? Backlash is expected, but quickly shrugged-off. But this is a family, not a court. So our goal is truth, understanding and reconciliation – not prosecution.
So what’s to be done? There I was: the judge. Investigation conducted, verdict delivered. Then there’s my child. Accusation refuted, appeal filed. They sat rock solid in their conviction. As I looked into their eyes across the table, the scene of Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms flashed through my mind: “Here I stand, I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
I felt stuck. Paralyzed. Frozen in an uncomfortable parenting moment. We were at an impasse. Clearly only one of us was right. I could make this go away, if I wanted to. My bag of consequences is quite full. But would stripping my child of privilege accomplish what I desired? Maybe I should dig-out the hard-backed, unpadded chair from the basement and string-up a spot light? Pressure my child with facts. Wear them down. Give them the silent treatment. Persuade with charm? Whatever it takes to make them see my way.
Which begs this question: is the extraction of a confession my goal? Would a verbal “Alright! I did it!” bring closure? It will, in a way. But it would be an unhealthy resolution. Unwilling compliance only hardens a heart and brews rebellion. Such resignation gives words to a story of self protection, disengagement and lies. I know the truth. My child does too. Still, knowledge is one thing: acceptance another. I’ve been known to be stubborn with accepting the truth, too.
But I wanted this done. Over. Resolved. I’d listen to an appeal if necessary – but make it quick!
After a night of sleep I calmed enough to consider what was really going on. My child was (and still is) clinging to their story like a boa constrictor. They’re afraid. And in their fear they find comfort behind a façade of lies. To admit and accept the truth would push them to a place of painful vulnerability. It’s a ‘catch 22’ of sorts. I’ve been there. Exposure is scary. Precarious. Humbling. The lie seems safer.
While asking God how to handle this dilemma, I was led to a quote from Thomas Watson. He said, “When men and their sins are congealed together, the best way to separate them is by the fire of love.” Bingo! How much better the fire of love than the heat of a spot light. When trapped in sin, will interrogation or pressure yield the desired result? For me, I want someone to come alongside who is patient, loving and encouraging. Someone who listens and prays with, and for me. Not a prosecutor, but an advocate.
Redirected and reenergized, I whisked my child away on a “donut date.” A donut to a child is a sugary way of saying “I love you.” Donuts bring smiles and laughter. They loosen closed mouths. They open opportunities to speak about issues – big and small. I doubt Sherlock ever used donuts with his clients. This morning, I found they work wonders.

Dear Jesus-
Warm me by the fire of your love;
May my child be warmed by me.
Melt the ice from our hearts like the snows of spring.
Even when right, remind me of grace;
Grace greater than all my sin.