Well, it’s over. Our much anticipated time away has come and gone. Slivers of sorrow lined our parting with the sun, sand, shady campsite, copious amounts of indulgent snacks and great times with friends. But we’ve comforted ourselves by scheming a repeat performance next year.
In my last post I ruminated on stress. Those pre-trip musings proved invaluable. This past week I was presented with many “opportunities” to trust God in the midst of tenuous situations. Situations in which I wasn’t getting what I wanted. But God strengthened, and provided. Thankfully, His provision did not require me to shave my legs (read this for context on my leg shaving).
As a parent, I often don’t get what I want. Why? Children. If you have one (or more) you know what I’m talking about. Parental life is a constant outflow. A non-stop providing for little men and women-in-training who need to be clothed, taught, fed, disciplined and loved. Sacrificial care for cherished dependents. As the father of a nicely full quiver of five, my purpose is to give of myself so they might flourish. It’s a privilege. But it often means l don’t get what I want.
Like sleep. A clean car. An uninterrupted conversation. A garage to put my vehicles in. A plump bank account. Sure wish I could increase my debt ceiling to meet my family’s (and my) presumed entitlements. 
The demands of parenting can be taxing. When I’m stretched thin and pummeled by reality, deep-seated feelings of discontent become irritated. This irritation leads to grumbling. Grumbling to self-pity. Then I grasp. Grasp for things I hope will relieve my pain, or at least cause others to acknowledge my pain. To pity me. 
My grasping has a deep-rutted history. When discontent, I habitually back-into old behaviors that lead to over-played scenes of selfishness. Such scenes unfold to a scripted cadence in which I move – zombie-like – through well-rehearsed motions. I spiral down into a self-absorbed, narrow-minded place of neediness. In this zombie state, I’m pathetic. Putrid. Ugly. Even if I could dance like the zombies in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, I’m still worthless when dead to myself, and dead to others. 
In her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard said, “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Each day, scenes of beauty and grace live on the stage of life alongside the horror of staggering zombies. It’s a stark juxtaposition. 
Moment-by-moment, I’m living a story. It can be a beautiful story. It can also be a tale of the dead who won’t die. When the zombie hoard beckons will I march like Frankenstein? Or, will I cling to this truth: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8) Abundant grace. Anytime. For anything. No grasping at my desires, just giving from the beauty and grace that flows from a generous Father. 
So, after last week’s Tour de Stress, I’m freshening my senses to beauty and opening my heart, mind and soul to grace. I can’t always get what I want. And that’s how it should be.

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.

A Last "Huzzah!" for the Puritans

Our fun with the Puritans in our last post generated some interesting feedback. We stirred the pot beyond this blog when Katrina, my son and I changed our photos on facebook to those with Puritan-like qualities. We had a good time with it. The best bit of feedback arrived in a small box. Inside were seven little Pilgrim hats made from marshmallow, chocolate and a fudge-striped cookie. For those little goodies I was, like our Pilgrim (Puritan) forefathers, thankful.
Before we return the Puritans to the history books, I want to ruminate just a little more on what my son’s moniker has stirred for me.
(Note: If you have no idea what I’m talking about, reading this might help).
Over the past few years, it has been interesting to receive feedback from those little angels Katrina and I parent. For sure, our children have never failed to let us know what they’re thinking. Thrown food, rolled-eyes, vitamins thrown in the trash, fake showers, opening ink pens on the carpet and slammed doors have been some favorite means of expression. But with teens and pre-teens now in our home, their feedback is becoming more sophisticated. Almost coherent.
In his story, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde said, “Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older, they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” That quote encapsulates why parenting is a venture requiring utmost courage. Being a parent is humbling. Sometimes humiliating. Wonderful and terrible. Joyous and heartbreaking. The tension of familial love strung between a parent and child can feel one minute like a noose, the next a delightful embrace.
As I process feedback on my parenting – from friends, family and my own dear children – I pray for ears to listen. I beg God for humility to receive things true. I pray for protection from lies and false accusations. I seek discernment to know when it’s good to be puritanical, and when the big black hat and funny shoes need to stay in the closet. To know when to be a friend, and when to be a parent. To say “yes” when the only reason for “no” is because it’s easier. To let go of a few bucks because money spent on my kids yields long-term dividends. To squelch caustic words before they leave my mouth. To be a dad who blows wind into young sails.
Of course I want my kids to love me. But that can’t be my goal. They will judge and evaluate the kind of dad I am. Some days the Puritan, other days…?  I’m cool with that. My hope is they forgive my mistakes…and that I would be quick to do the same.

Puritanical Parenting

The Puritans. Remember them? Think Pilgrims. Clothes of black and white. Big buckles. Big hats. Big Bibles. Lots of rules. Pious. Stoic. Rigid.
Some of those descriptors fit. Some are speculative. Whatever the truth about the Puritans, their lifestyle was perceived as ultra conservative socially, practically and theologically. The epitome of separateness. Strict. Stuffy. Stodgy.
Well, not long ago, I was labeled a Puritan. By whom? Someone very close and dear: my son.
My son’s affectionate moniker for his father is not the result of me wearing knickers and long white socks. It’s not because I have shoulder-length hair or won’t mow the lawn on Sunday. I would have to plead guilty to spontaneous preaching, but that’s not the reason either. Instead, I’ve been relegated to the Puritan tribe because of my conservative approach to all things media.
My thoughtful and careful (i.e. Puritanical) tendencies have created a tension. A tension between my son and me over the timing and depth of his cultural engagements. It’s a tension all parents face with differing degrees of concern. My desire is to let my son stick his toe into the varied pools of life as his age and maturity warrant. He, on the other hand, wants to swan dive into each pool, going deep to explore the depths. Sure, many pools are accessible, even for the youngest of children. But not all pools are profitable, practical or good for swimming. So, as a dad I must be on round-the-clock lifeguard duty.
As my children age, I’ve found that for pools of all types there’s pressure to jump in and swim. Pressure from peers – theirs, and mine. That pressure produces conflict. Conflict that isn’t just about right and wrong, but also when, where and why. When is it OK to jump in? Where are the safe pools? Why can’t I swim in that pool – they are? Pools like email, facebook, music, movies and social events with the opposite sex. Pools that require discernment before, during and after the swim. Many pools look inviting, refreshing, normal and safe. Yet, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
And that’s when this “Puritan” dad goes toe-to-toe against the mythic “everyone else.” It can be lonely, frustrating and draining. There are times I’ve wanted to loosen my belt of conviction (yes, the one with the big buckle). To be honest, I’ve needed some loosening as some preferences have morphed into non-negotiables. But in other instances, the tightness is just right. Appropriate, no matter what.
Traversing the landscape of our culture is not easy. I do understand what my son might feel as “Puritan Boy.” I’ve given him permission to make me the scapegoat for his stunted social life. Standing on conviction means there will be times of feeling like the outsider. In those times, when the spotlight shines on our uncomfortable uniqueness, both he and I must beg God for a deeper trust of each other as we live-out our convictions. 
All in all, I’m not upset about my new term of endearment. Katrina (who has also been banished to the tribe Puritan) and I both got a laugh out of it. Frankly, I deserve some of my boy’s good-natured ribbing. I enjoy being his dad and pacing with him as he grows. He is refining my theology. He is helping bring clarity to my preferences, convictions and non-negotiables. He may not agree with my boundaries, but that’s OK. It fuels some excellent conversation. Conversation that requires courage and stamina. There are no days-off for the purposeful parent. So, this Puritan is re-doubling his effort to be a parent who leads with grace, followed gently by truth.
By the way, I go for my hat and big buckle fitting next week.

Possibilities with the Spirit

But the counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – John 14:27

Real and fresh conversation
Me to child: Hey, go get your CD player, put in new batteries, bring it upstairs with your earphones and set them on the counter.
Child: CD player?
Me: The one in your bedroom?
Child: What? Why? It’s doesn’t need batteries. It has a plug. We can just plug it in.
Me: Maybe you aren’t going to be where there’s a plug.
Child: What? Where am I going?
Me: Hey. Go do what I asked you to do. (pause) Now.
Child: oooookay…
(time passes)
Child: I got the player but I can’t open it to get the batteries out.
Me: Try to do it again… as if your very life depended on it.
(time  passes)
Child: Okay. It’s all set. Now what am I going to listen to?
Me: Who said you were going to listen to something?
Child: You did.
Me: No, I didn’t. I asked you to go and get some things but I didn’t say you were going to listen to anything.
Child: Well, what am I going to do?
Me: Finish the job.
Child: How?
Me: Remembering what I asked you to do.
Child: But I can’t.
Me: Because…
Child: I don’t know…
Me: Well, do you know if you finished what I asked you to do?
Child: Uh, no. I don’t know…what did you say?
Me: Put the CD player and your earphones on the counter and back away. That is all.

Sometimes, I’ll tell my kids about something we’re going to do and even though it’s all planned, they’ll begin to re-plan the event or check on me to make sure that I’ve thought of everything. Or like in the real and fresh conversation above, they won’t even begin to listen because, I guess, I speak another language or maybe they just don’t want to buy into what I’m asking until they know and trust every detail. That could be it.

Other times, I get hurt because I’m trying to help one of them with something and they just don’t want to listen. I might remember the same sort of thing happening to me. I might wish that I had thought of or known what I did afterwards but the child sort of “oh’s” me aside.

Then there’s the feeling of frustration I often experience when there is a pattern of disobedience and willfulness that is disruptive and, possibly, destructive to others or our home. When I find myself repeating the same bit of direction over and over, that’s when I tend to lose my interest in peace and neutrality to the point that I’ll lose my cool. Everyone finds it easy to back away then.

These are real feelings and I’m becoming very glad for them. Not for the sake of indulgence though, or license. Having a number of children hanging around all the time, I can go through these different emotions and scenarios over and over in rapid succession in a short amount of time and what it’s doing is creating my own personal and private tipping point of reflection. When I get the chance to step back and think it all over again, I find myself coming up against the same blunt awareness. I am very much like them.

Last week I was reading in John 14 and read verse 27. I admit that often I have skipped the first part of the verse to get to the last part of the verse because I tend to hunger and long for peace. This time, though, I noticed the counselor-who-the-father-provided part. The following is from my journal.

While I am so thankful for the counsel of the Holy Spirit, I know I do not always listen. I don’t hear him at times, until it is too late. Sometimes, I’m aware but feel unsure how to make the change or do it differently, especially in the middle of something intense. 

The counsel is still there, though, and when I recognize it, so often it’s a balm, a salve and I feel relieved to sense it. I feel joined and strengthened in the Spirit’s direction and I know that it is good, the very best thing that’s ever touched my mind. Like a breeze that feels whole and welcome, I know that I am not alone and the fullest care is all about me. That is Presence and when I am aware, when I allow myself to acknowledge the Spirit is there and counseling me with effect, I want to laugh with joy, cry with gratefulness and never have it go away. 

And that’s the rub. I treat the Spirit as an ‘it’, a thing instead of the Holy, Pure Conscience that this One of the Trinity is. I pretend it comes at me, all disconnected, willfully against my needs or like a miser, doling out only the littlest of offerings, yet, the Spirit, like the Son and the Father are Always. Always Present. Ready. Available. Real. Full. Faithful. I am the one who leaves, who shuts out the succor, who wanders in circles, lonely. I have a weak sense of the utter wholeness of the Presence of God, and it’s my downfall.

You know the oft-used phrase about that apple and how far it falls from the tree? It applies here. Possibly, I am missing out on the peace part that comes at the end because I am too busy trying to check on God, or get him to give me all the details so I’m sure I should trust what he’s asking me to do? Possibly, for sure. What would happen if I listened completely the first time and didn’t think too hard and just followed through? What if?

Windy City Waffles

Our big-sized family took-on the big city this week. Yep, Chicago will never be the same. Okay, Chicago handled us just fine, but we will never be the same. And that’s good.

At the hotel, our family “bigness” was greeted by whispers and stares from the senior traveling club who had also chosen the same downtown accommodations. I can’t blame them for their gasps of horror as we crashed the breakfast bar that first morning. Our brood was just a wee-bit excited about the waffle station. What kid (or adult) wouldn’t be? Seriously. A device that dispenses an endless supply of liquid love positioned adjacent to an already hot waffle-maker. Dispense, pour, close, flip. Wait two-minutes, and bam! Golden, crusty deliciousness molded with deep, squared-shaped canyons anxious to receive a volume of syrup that could qualify for status as the sixth Great Lake. Ah, Heaven! (almost)

By the time breakfast festivities closed on day one, our kids had wooed the gray-hairs with their cuteness, politeness and cleanly waffle making. Speculative whispers about truancy and irresponsible parenting turned suddenly complimentary – particularly after revealing we home school. Katrina received kudos (which she should) and an amiable coexistence between the old and young was established. Katrina and I basked in a moment of parental victory while everyone got their share (and then some) of waffle wonderfulness.

Waffle making mastered, we moved on – sort of. Our children got a crash course (literally) in the use of revolving doors. Apparently the timing required for entering, revolving and exiting is an under-developed skill for one member of our family. Don’t worry; the bruises are healing nicely. Glad for but a few revolving doors here in West Michigan.

Beyond waffles and revolving doors, we had many memorable shared experiences. We consumed large quantities of deep-dish pizza and cheesecake. We made significant donations to Mr. Lego and Ms. American Girl. We saw ancient things. We saw things modern. We didn’t see everything we hoped, and at times saw more than desired. We wore ourselves silly with walking. We saw beggars and rich folk. We had conversations with Chicagoans, which were always pleasant. Conversations with our children about going to sleep in our cozy little suite were, let’s say, “pleasantly firm.”

It was good to get away – and to come home. After confinement to his crate, our dog is thankful to once again roam about his kingdom. And just in case we forgot what the non-vacationing life is like, a tube of Chap Stick – stowed-away with a load of laundry – welcomed us home. The heat of the dryer combined with damp clothing and whatever it is that comprises Chap Stick does not make a “Three’s Company.” I’m afraid to look at the results of the re-wash. Hoping the splotchy look is the rave this summer.

Now, time for a nap.

Loving Thread

Continue loving that thread, wishing it all the good that you can think of, and running it through your fingers again and again. What you’re actually doing is working the tension out of the tightly twisted thread with rubbing, pressure, and the natural oils in your fingers. In the process, you’ve also taken a moment to calm the tension in your mind, concentrate on the task at hand, and add just a little bit of love to your garment or project. (Natalie Chanin, Alabama Stitch Book)

A few weeks ago, I learned the importance of loving thread when I got together with some friends to re-purpose some old t-shirts. With this project, the thread is really the thing. Carpet thread is strong and long lasting so when you layer a couple rectangles of cotton t-shirt, draw on a design, stitch the design with the thread, and add some seed beads, you have, for your daughter, a unique headband. Wah-La.

The thread, though almost perfect in its wear-ability, needs attention and focus. Loving the thread means putting it on a needle and then running your thumb and index finger down the thread, over and over. You do it until your finger tips feel a little ‘zingy’, the thread hangs a little limp and seems to be ready to do your bidding.

Five days after my thread loving introduction, I stood at a table in my basement preparing another headband for construction. All the kids were doing school, tucked away in their places and the house was first thing in the morning quiet.

One of the kids was at the same table and as I worked, we began to talk. It wasn’t a light topic. This was a long-term point of tension that has run its way through all our time together. We’ve come back to it as it’s needed attention and each time, it becomes heated and goes nowhere.

At one point we reached an understanding and I was relieved and hopeful. The conversation had been quieter and had moved forward. And the question came, Why today? Then I felt the thread I was holding and had been stitching with as we talked.

My attention to the thread had absorbed tension from the history of this problem and as we talked I took a wily object, petted it a bit and watched it settle down, having no idea how much it was settling me. In my short time using carpet thread, I knew first hand that my end product benefitted from the time I took to rub the thread and run the pressure out of it.

Later, as I looked through the book that introduced me to thread loving, I read that the intentions of thread loving match the desire I have for my kids. They are my best project and for sure, in our house there is someone wily and tense at any time. It’s not often that someone isn’t feeling jacked up about something and as the reigning adult, I seem to talk a kid ‘off the ledge’ on the hour. I realize though, that just as often, these moments feel like interruptions and I’m not sure I take the time to “infuse the work with kind intentions, …a practical step that removes excess [kid] tension and prevents pesky knotting.” (p. 21, Alabama Stitch Book)

Who wants pesky knotting? Especially in a kid. Or… a parent.

Standing with a child, who has a mind, a heart, and a soul is much bigger than a two hour project. It’s not quickly set aside and the vision for the task must be expansive and generous and committed. With some children, excess tension is a cord that surrounds and binds and then “continuing to love that thread, wishing ‘it’ all the good you can” becomes vital, a task that maybe doesn’t get completed but in the never-ending relationship, a soul is met as it is and then taken to a quieter, more settled place.

For now, I’m enjoying the immediate pleasure of making simple accessories for my girls. I wish I could always have thread in hand for the wily, pesky moments of our days. When I don’t, I pray that the promise of kind intentions will settle us all down enough that we can see past the knots of tension to the ultimate end product we long for, that love would be about us.

Deere Strike

Colored in gaudy green and yellow, John Deere is a bulwark of Americana. Rugged. Reliable. Trusted. Even in my dreams, I never owned one. Long ago I resigned myself to a destiny of off-brand mowing drudgery.

Well, I resigned too early. Through a series of fortunate events, I was able to add a Deere to my stable of lawn care equipment. I fondly remember that first season with my Deere. With aplomb I tamed a robust crop of spring dandelions. Summer crabgrass? Child’s play. Fall leaves? Mincemeat! I was in lawn mowing ecstasy. It was joyous to manage my little piece of creation with the real deal – Mr. J.D.

You might think my affection for a lawn tractor a bit over-the-top. But if you’re a Deere owner, you know of what I speak. It’s kinda like Jeep owners who plaster on their car, “It’s a Jeep thing.” Well, I have a “Deere thing.” But my “thing” goes beyond my tractor’s turf-taming abilities.

On my desk sits a photo of my John Deere. Don’t misunderstand. This is not idolatry (and yes, a picture of Katrina is very close by). The photo is not to admire, but to remember. It’s a picture of the front grill of my tractor – cracked – shattered, really. Beyond repair. A unique photo, for sure. Why? It makes me a better father. Here’s the story.

I knew the day would come. It had to. That day when my Deere affections hit head-on with male pre-pubescent driving aspirations. I was reticent to allow my son behind the wheel of my cherished green and yellow friend. But such hand-offs are a manhood requirement – a rite of passage. Yet not everything required is simple, easy or enjoyable. After some overly-detailed and much-repeated instruction, my good ole’ J.D. launched out of the garage with it’s a rookie driver grinning uncontrollably.

I tried my best to control the experience. You know, setup my son with a confidence building first-mow. Lots of straight-away with all landscaping (and family pets) safely out of the mowing path. I paced nervously inside the house. I snuck occasional glances out the window. I listened to the speed of the engine and the hum of the blades. Not too fast; not too slow. Things were progressing nicely. My heart rate had settled and my boy was exuberant in this step toward manhood. I was growing; he was growing. Then, in the midst of this Norman Rockwell moment, it happened.

The engine slowed. The blades disengaged. The mower stopped. I found a window and cast a bug-eyed stare. My view was partially obstructed, but I could see my son circling the mower. My mind played a dozen scenarios in a matter of seconds. I sarcastically mumbled to Katrina, “This isn’t going to be good.” After several minutes of circling, kneeling, pausing and doing nothing my son was back at the helm. The engine throttled to full speed and mowing continued.

I was red-lined with curiosity. A twitch of anger raced down my temple. Worst-case scenarios continued to play on the screen of my mind. The circumstance was ripe for a potent father/son interaction. An interaction heavy with growing-up, letting-go and man-making. As the noise of the tractor echoed in the garage, and then subsided, I sighed. And waited. And prayed. Then the door opened.

The rest of the story I’ll leave to your wondering. The truth is captured in that photo on my desk. When I look at that picture, it’s like picking a scab. The pain is renewed. Selfish pain born in materialism. Vicarious pain for my son and his mistake. Soul pain because of life’s brokenness.

The pain pushes me deeper into my fathering. It broadens my view and helps me see that life is bigger than me – and my tractor. To see that I’m not in control. To see that bringing life to my son’s manhood means some things in me must die.

G.K. Chesterton said, “A true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Loving what’s behind means I do the hard work of true manly living. It means I welcome being broken and the moments of clarity and self-reflection brokenness brings. It means I expand gratitude for my heavenly Father who watches me break the metaphorical grill day after day – yet responds with grace. Thanks, Abba.

Unicorns and a Teepee

The end of another spring break is upon us. True to form, we’ve had rain – and snow. Granted, we had some sun too. Temps have been mostly in the 40s, and finally above 50 today. The predicted high temp for the last day of break is 78. Figures.

The reality of snow in April, coupled with envious thoughts of friends vacationing in warmer places, began to darken our family mood. Relationships were straining. A bit of separation was necessary, so I shooed the kids outside to relieve some tension.

Once outside, our girls got busy making a fort. They crafted a wonderful little stick and pine needle abode: cozy, welcoming and warm. They were methodical, resourceful and very proud of their dwelling. They will both make excellent homemakers. Our boys, impressed and jealous, dubbed the girl’s fort, “The Unicorn Stable.” (we’ve developed a strange affinity for unicorns)

Not to be outdone, the boys started their own project. It was much less organized. There was a tear-down and relocation, bickering, name-calling and aimless wandering. There was wrestling and chasing and whipping with sticks. All the classic ingredients of boyhood play. In the end, the boys brought a teepee to life. It’s not cozy, but certainly manly. And with the top of the teepee 12-inches from the power line, opportunity is ripe for future excitement.

As a dad, it was fun to watch (and help) my children in their creative play. Snow, sand, sun or whatever, taking a break with the kids is valuable leisure time. And, it is a relief to know the unicorns finally have a place to sleep.

The Unicorn Stable

The Teepee

Shhh…it’s a Secret

Secrets. Everyone’s got at least one. Some secrets are fun, like a surprise party. Others exciting, like a pregnancy. Secrets can also be heavy as they weigh on our conscience, monopolize our thoughts and blur our focus.

This week one of my children told me a secret. It was a secret held close for quite some time. It wasn’t the fun, surprise party kind of secret. It was big. Burdening. Volatile. It was festering in a cloak of darkness. A secret that had secrets of its own, which it whispered into my child’s self talk. Lies, actually. Words from the pit. Poisonous arguments meant to bind my child in silence – a silence that sustained the secret and kept it safe.

But here’s a truth about secrets: a secret revealed has no power. That’s great encouragement, especially for those secrets we want hidden forever. Secrets that we fear, once known, will make us unlovable. I saw that fear in my child as they voiced their secret with a nervous courage. As the secret found expression, wonderful moments of victory erupted. A tightly closed door opened and light raced in to chase away darkness, deception and guilt. In the telling of what was hidden, my child was freed from a silent prison. Physical and emotional expressions of relief ensued. A celebration started as the power drained from a secret held painfully tight for too long.

And then we received an unexpected gift of grace. A gift born out of our interaction. My child expected me to respond to their revelation with some level of disappointment, anger, or even a lecture. That’s Ok. I’ve earned that presupposition. But by His grace, God blessed me with a calm spirit to receive the secret the way I would want my secrets received – carefully, gently, lovingly, gracefully.

How I listened and interacted with my child in a moment of intense vulnerability resulted in a memorable moment in our relationship. A small, but wonderful victory. The type of victory I yearn for. John Piper said, “God often disapproves of his children’s behavior. But he never treats us with contempt. Imitate him in your disapproving.” Too often my disapproval has tilted toward contempt – sometimes subtle, other times overt and judgmental. When really upset, I’ve been known to launch into a rehash of a tired 3-point sermon. Those are not my best moments. And that’s not how I would want to be treated. Nor it is how God treats me.

Jesus gives me blood-washed, bottomless grace for all my nastiness. He picks me up after all my stumbles. He knows about the secrets I’ve shared, and those I still keep. He receives me, not because of what I do, but because of who He is (Titus 3:5). That kind of treatment makes me want to do the hard work of growing a greater affection for Him and His kingdom. To be a better husband, father and friend. To be a better listener to my children’s joys, hurts, questions…and secrets.