We’re Old

My memory is quite faint of that 40th birthday party. It was a party for one of my parents, or maybe a friend of theirs. Doesn’t matter. What I do recall with clarity is how old my parents and their friends seemed to me then. I was disturbed by their raucous, red-faced laughter. That couldn’t be good for their hearts. At their age they should be careful. I marveled at their stamina as they partied hearty. They must have taken a nap.

Yet, here I am, just a few days past celebrating the 40th birthday of a friend. We had a loud and wild time, strapped into four-wheeled metal projectiles riding Lake Michigan sand dunes like crazy men. My parents and their friends ain’t got nothin’ on us. We felt so young and virile – no nap required.

Yesterday, my wife and I transported our eldest child to his first rented room. On a college campus. He begins his freshman year in five days.

We’re old.

Relatively speaking, we’re just entering middle age. My wife looks terrific. Me? Seasoning right on schedule. I’m glad she’s fond of thin, gray hair.

The release of our child to adult living is a wonderful grief. This morning, the open door to my son’s bedroom left an unobstructed view of a bed in which no one slept last night. The room is clean, but lifeless. Empty but for a few visual tokens, which I mentally redeem for good memories strung along nineteen years of vivacious existence. I meander through trial, triumph, experimentation, and failure while gathering armfuls of laughter and wisps of wisdom. 

Transplanted into academia, our man-child is anxious to unfold his wings. He’s freshly immersed into quick-made community, seeking safe familiarity while curious with the untried and unknown.

My parental mind frets: “So young!” Yet, I’ve lived enough to lightly grasp the relative nature of age. Each transition in our time-stamped march grants a natural pause to reflect and remember. To grieve and be grateful. To recollect and rest peacefully in the story we each write upon eternity. To value and savor our lives.

So tonight, the second night of undesired separation, I celebrate the release of my son to the development of his person. To the expansion of his soul for his Creator’s pleasure. To the joyful stewardship of his image bearing.

And all the while I wait, with great expectation, for the gift of joy that will come to this middle-age man as I release myself – and my son – to the Greatest Good. In that relinquishment comes rich delight.

In time.

Bumblebee Pilots

Side-by side we sat in a Chevy Chevette.

In a cemetery.

Two men. Confident and scared. Teacher and student. Father and son.

Tree-filtered breezes meandered across the polished yellow hood and through windows hand-cranked to full openness. The contrast of the car’s deep space black vinyl interior gave the impression we were pilots of a man-sized bumblebee. A masculine carriage, it was not. But that was of little concern.

Because I was under siege, pinned-down by a series of moments strung together with a thread of terror. I could not master the mechanical dance between the brake, clutch, and accelerator. Stooges, those three. Starts and stops and stalls was their schtick. A humiliating assembly of cyclic failure – which I didn’t find funny.

Succumbing to numerous resets, I struggled to gain ground toward acquiring stick-shifting skill. During each re-collecting, I’d direct my gaze past the windshield and upon the root-heaved asphalt further along. I yearned to cruise the curvy paths, deftly marching through the gears. But that required something I did not have. And at the time, I was beginning to think never would.

Amidst this battle between man and machine, my passenger-seated father was calm, fully immersed in saintly patience. From the noisy barrage of a high-revved engine and grinding gears emerged phrases of gentle instruction and well placed encouragement. Over and over, he renewed his commitment after each false start. He loved me well.

That scene from my 16th summer is a highlight, still vivid in the present because of its ongoing effect. I now fill the office of father and have spent time in the passenger seat. That seat is revelatory. It has brought forth some of my finest, and most despicable behaviors. It has frustrated and badgered. It has made me laugh and wonder and cry. That seat demands much – day after day.

There are many tasks and requirements we as students and spouses and parents and professionals do because we must. That’s our reality, and it is good. Even so, how we engage our compulsory duties is a strong indicator of who we are, what we value, and how we grant our trust.
 
Recalling my rough road to mastering a manual transmission brings to mind this quote from Thomas Watson: “To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.” (All Things for Good, p.88) My father had a duty to teach me how to drive a stick shift. But in that necessity, he chose long-suffering, patient love. He went beyond himself, and through his risk of releasing control I felt his side-by-side care for my development as a young man.

I have wandered into loveless duty and found – indeed – it is punishing. A snare of ungrateful effort. A joyless enduring, pock-marked by missed opportunity.

Yet, today is new! Mercy abounds, and each relational intersection is a divinely planned setup for us to love with patient kindness. To give not only because we should, but because it is our desire.

With the onset of a new season of school and activities and fresh routines, my desire that those things I want to do – as well as my duties – be done with tangible, sincere, freely-gifted love.

Like that which was given to me on a breezy afternoon in a car the color of sunflowers.

Birds, Bees, and Burgers

Strange terms, fresh imaginings, embarrassed moments and puzzled looks. And for some extra intrigue, a batch of fried pickles. 

My son and I spent some time this past weekend in the quiet of a county park. On a grassy knoll (no, not that one) under a budding oak tree we talked about (drumroll, please…) sex.

We also talked boundaries, purity, dating and exclusivity. For fun we tossed in marriage, commitment, and self-control. We discussed allurement and our curious minds. We were honest about beauty and wandering eyes. It was entertaining to observe my boy’s expressions of wonder, confusion, and realization. Our time together wasn’t the end of innocence – it was a gentle awakening to the beautiful work of our Master Craftsman.

The enormity of our conversational topics necessitated frequent doses of refreshment. My son’s choice for lunchtime refueling? Burger – in a 1/3-pound slab. Plus onion rings and bottled root beer. I partook of a similar spread, which was almost too much for me. But my boy proudly devoured every crumb. His conquest required that we email a photo of his plate back home so the whole family could share in his triumph. At the time I didn’t realize this was only the first half of his gastronomic ‘super bowl.’

My son chased lunch with a man-sized box of cookie dough candy and 32 ounces of Mountain Dew at the movie theatre. Then, because theater snacks are not an adequate substitute for a real meal, we grabbed – you got it – a burger. My son ordered an ‘All-Everything’ Burger. I grimaced. I thought it might be time to be all-done with everything. Nevertheless, I paid. He grinned. We waited.

He got two bites down…then turned pale. He paused, then muttered, “I feel sick.” Together we raised a white flag signaling our desperate need for a to-go box. Had this been an episode of ‘Man vs. Food’ we would have gladly declared food the winner. I was grateful for my son’s restraint. I did not want to spoon chewed burger, onion rings, root beer, chocolate covered cookie dough and mountain dew from the interior of my car.

I was impressed by my boy’s stomach capacity. Yet my real amazement came in the midst of our sex education. He surprised me with the strength of his commitment to God’s design and desires. He encouraged me in his personal convictions. As he considered the range of behaviors and attitudes and perspectives about his body and how he plans to relate to the opposite sex, he willingly accepted responsibility to act with respect and restraint. And the more we talked, the more he fortified. His commitment strengthened. I didn’t coerce or prod. Instead, I watched and learned.

Sure, my boy’s still naïve in many ways. Knowing of birds and bees and associated issues doesn’t guarantee chaste living. The Tempter lurks. But having a plan and a firm resolve are fine traveling companions down the path of purity. I wish I had a bit more of my son’s ‘God said it, I believe it’ confidence when it comes to the rigors of life.

For the times I wake with worry. Or am held captive to a manipulating relationship. In moments when I surrender my joy instead of fighting for it. And for the many days I skirmish with the monster of self-pity. Such things erode my courageous resolve. They weaken my soul and increase my craving for sin’s bait. They deafen my ears to God’s voice.

While pondering these tensions, I thought of my son. As we talked last weekend, my boy took me higher than the flight of birds and bees. He lifted my spirit into the transcendent through his whole-hearted trust in God’s good plan. I was attracted to the confident innocence of his young faith. I have faith, too. But when I give audience to my inner skeptic instead of digging in with Christ-centered confidence, my perspective gets jaded. I speculate and assume as my foundation of faith shifts from God to my own limited reality.
 
My heart yearns for a deeper, more radically-trusting faith. A faith that steps-out with strength and courage. That faith is mine to claim, “for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” (2 Timothy 1:7, ESV)

Kudos to my son for his God-inspired confidence and burger eating abilities. His no-nonsense trust in our Creator’s plan for sexuality has inspired my own rejuvenation toward a God-glorifying trust and obedience in all things.

And I thought I already knew all there was to know about the birds and the bees…

How Big Are Your Ears?

I found another one today, resting on my dresser. It lay softly on a pile of receipts that await entry into our budgeting spreadsheet. Somewhat crinkled, dog-eared and covered halfway with penciled words was a sheet of lined paper. It was host to a writing assignment, now complete. My wife placed the paper there, offering me a chance to sample some homeschooling fruit. And this day, the fruit was sweet.

The assignment I ingested required one of our ‘students’ to write a descriptive paragraph about someone. My son chose to write about himself. A brave boy, he is. Below is what he wrote. As part of my “I won’t embarrass you on my blog” agreement, I’ll refer to my child as ‘Freddy.’

Freddy writes…


“Freddy’s general appearance is blonde hair, green eyes, roundish face, and an ear size difference. He is a born-again Christian and has a slight habit of eating paper. He is rather creative when it comes to making jokes off of what people say and is very intellectual. He’s not very good at drawing or art in general. He is rather accustomed to rules and does his best to follow them. He is also logical and, of his siblings, is most like his dad. Freddy lives in a modest family which always seems to have enough – and maybe a little more.”



Okay, stop. Just go do it. Go ahead. It’s okay. I did it too. Find the nearest mirror and compare the size of your ears. Yes, mine are different sizes. At least I know where my son gets his asymmetry. Unfortunately, this revelation has fostered an urge to stare at other people’s ears.

Ears and all, I appreciate the honest observations my boy made of himself. He’s done well with grasping not just his physical characteristics, but some of his behaviors too. I’m slightly disturbed by the paper eating (yes, we do feed him) but moved to gratitude at his recognition of God’s provision for the basics – and then some.

Not long ago, I met a super hero – and he was me. In the discovery of my hero, I learned how I’m tempted toward the innocuous comfort of mild-mannered citizenry instead of robust living in my God-given ‘superness.’ (read here for more super hero context) My son’s simple musings in his writing assignment entice me to know more about him. They also energize me to a quicker walk down my own path of self-discovery. I’ve been walking that path with intentionality as of late, and his words offer me freshness for the next leg.

I need that freshness because exploring who I am seems big. Intimidating. Unruly. Raw. But I’m coaxed through my fear by the promise that unsettled ground will soon level into a wide meadow of freedom. 



We are made to be known. Not known as in eye color or the proclivity to snack on tree pulp. But known emotionally. Known by our passions and desires. Known through experiences and relationships. Know in our longings and fulfillment. Known in our delights and in being delightful. Known for our being, not just our doing. 



Such deep knowing seems far off. Airy. Theoretical. But it’s not. In fact, I’m already known. Fully and wonderfully and delightfully.

By whom?

Jesus.



Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” (John 10:14–15a, ESV) Jesus knows those who love and trust Him. Not casually, but to the core. His knowledge of his followers is just like how He and the Father know each other. Pure. Whole. Trustworthy. Complete. Lovely. Peaceful. That level of knowing is spectacular. And it is ours. In God’s safe care, it is life.

God invites each of us to know Him in His knowing us. To bring Him our joy and grief and laughter and longings. To meditate and listen and rest and sing and write. To experience His presence in the mundane and the magnificent. To flourish as His craftsmanship without regret or shame or shyness of fear. To be super, not suppressed.

I am known, and I am grateful. From the secure place of Christ’s love, I can open myself to being known, and to knowing others. Knowing more, that is, than ear sizes.

All Knotted-up

Memories of the small Baptist church where I was raised crowd my mind. One oversized recollection contains a carpeted floor with a multi-colored duct tape circle, a bean bag, a bowling pin and lots of sweating and screaming. Mix those elements with Scripture memorization and some kitschy uniforms and you’ve got AWANA.

In short, AWANA is a Bible club for kids. Growing up, it was a Wednesday night staple of my spiritual diet. Besides the biblical emphasis, AWANA was flavored with a hint of Scouting (i.e. Boy and Girl Scouts). In addition to committing God’s Word to memory, male clubbers were required to tie knots. The square, the bowline, the hitch, the figure-8 and the dreaded fisherman’s knot haunted me. My carefully planned gyrations with a strand of hemp often unraveled into a nameless mess. I found more success getting a knot in the laces of my red colored Keds while running around that sadistically tight-radiused AWANA circle.

The past few entries in this blog have extracted some parenting principles from Deuteronomy 6. So far, we’ve unpacked the words ‘teach’ and ‘talk’ from verse 7. This time around we’re going to tie ourselves to the word ‘bind.’

“You shall bind them [God’s commands] as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 6:8, ESV)

The word ‘bind’ conjures images of my knot tying struggles. But more important than my lack of dexterity with rope is this instruction from God to bind his Word to our bodies. It’s a curious metaphor. Or is it?

Some see this verse not as literary device, but as literal. For millennia, Jewish priests have crafted small leather boxes called phylacteries. They fill these boxes with bits of Scripture and tie (bind) them to their arm and forehead (I wonder what knot they use?). Even though it would make for great water cooler conversation, the strapping of small boxes to our person is a bit unusual. Still, the command to bind deserves serious attention.

Binding can be bad, like the shackles of slavery. It can be wonderful, like the covenant of marriage. It can be neutral, like the binding of a book.

Syntax aside, what’s fascinating is that God wants His truth stuck to us. It’s to be part of who we are and how we live. This suggests God’s Word is more than paper and ink. It’s has life outside small boxes. God’s Word is living, active, useful and profitable (see Hebrews 4:12 & 2 Timothy 3:16). And the places God tells us to bind it are wonderfully strategic.

Look at your hands. What are they doing right now? What were they doing this morning? Who or what have they touched in the last 24-hours? What gestures have you made? Have you held, hit, hugged or hoarded? Has the work of your hands been directed by God’s principles? If you saw a phylactery on your forearm, would it cause you pause? Remember the WWJD bracelet craze? Those bracelets were a 20-century phylactery. In the time I donned mine, it can attest to the power it had over my behavior – at least for a while.

Consider your eyes. Eyes are extraordinary receptors. They pipe an unending stream of information. What our eyes gather has the power to influence our words, thoughts, deeds and attitudes. What have you looked at today? If you had a Bible verse taped to your forehead, what would you focus on more? Less? Not at all? There is power in the phylactery. It’s an outward indicator of our faith commitment. It demands accountability. Like WWJD garb.

These thoughts of binding remind me of a song I often sang in my pre-AWANA years:

O be careful little eyes what you see

O be careful little eyes what you see
There’s a Father up above
And He’s looking down with love
So, be careful little eyes what you see.
O be careful little ears what you hear…
O be careful little hands what you do…
O be careful little feet where you go…
O be careful little mouth what you say…

Yes, it’s a cute song. But it mustn’t over-sentimentalize my need as a follower of Jesus to act as such. Metaphor or not, I can’t go wrong as a person, partner, parent or professional when I’m bound to the truth and love of God’s written word. I want to be fastened to Scripture so its timeless truth might seep into my pores and season to a Christ-exalting savory-ness.

And I’m grateful no knots are required.

Can We Talk?

Well, I did it again this week. I ventured into territory that can make a father tremble.

To prepare, I didn’t shave. Then I strapped-on my man pants, refined my John Wayne swagger and donned a steely stare. And then, I did it.

I had “the talk” with son number three.

I survived. So did he. We both got a bit embarrassed, but that’s okay. I think we successfully launched into what I hope is a long thread of conversation about biblically authentic masculinity.

As I walked my son into the wonderfully strange world of sex, I savored the moment. Between bites of blueberry fritter and gulps of pink lemonade (his choices, not mine) I watched his circuits buzz. His world was rocked. I’d pursue him with a question; he’d deflect. I’d redirect; he’d chew quietly. I talked to fill the voids while he sat and visualized. I was sweating. I bet he was too. It was like a five-hour Wimbledon final.

You see, my son likes to ponder. He considers things carefully. He needs space. And time.

But as we talked that morning, I realized that until he put words to his ponderings, we weren’t able to interact meaningfully. Thoughts are wonderful, but until they find expression they are untested and vulnerable. I couldn’t just deliver the facts to my boy and consider the task complete. We needed to talk. And we did – eventually.

If you’ve been following this blog recently, you’ll recall we’re in the midst of a mini-series on parenting. To get caught up, start here.

Last time we plunged into Deuteronomy 6. Specifically, we looked at the first part of verse seven and extracted the word “teach.” This time, I want to focus on the same verse, different word: “talk.” For refreshment, here’s the verse:

“You shall teach them [God’s commands] diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:7 ESV)

Teaching devoid of talking is to not really teaching. Some might define teaching as the transfer of information, knowledge or ideas. In my opinion, stocking intellectual warehouses just for the sake of filling empty spaces is futile. Conversation is required to ripen cognitive collections.

When we talk with each other, we process. Our interactions add living color to the black and white of fact. Talking through ideas and observations with others softens dogmatic tendencies and aids digestion of our brokenness. It broadens perspective as theories hit the wall of collective experience.

It makes sense that God instructs parents to talk with their children. If you’re a parent like me, we can’t just do a data-dump of life’s instructions on our children. We must talk and process – a lot. Spiritually speaking, talking about God helps make His story personal. It helps bring the requirements of following Jesus into everyday contexts. As we talk through sibling squabbles, hurt feelings, game-winning shots, playground bullying, first-place finishes, failed tests and jilted relationships our kids – and us – will grow to understand more of God’s character. Talking about life opens opportunities to engage our individual stories with God’s story in ways matter-of-fact teaching or isolated pondering cannot.

I’m not a talker. Like my son, I prefer to ponder. So for me, talking isn’t easy. It’s work. Work that requires patience and a determined disposition. Work that requires alertness hours after my desired bedtime. Work that demands freshness and grace when re-engaging an oft-had dialogue. But God asks me to talk with my children about life, and Him. So I will – gladly.

Not all conversations require a furrowed brow and 5 O’ clock shadow. But whether talking “birds and bees”, Donald Trump’s hair or the meaning of life, talk with your kids. About everything. All the time.