You Don’t Even Know

You don’t even know how beautiful she is. Sure she puts effort into looking good, but she doesn’t need to. She could dress up or not; makeup or not; hair up or down. She’s most beautiful when she’s happy. It pierces my eyes and tattoos my memories.

You don’t even know how much she needs the sun. Not loves, likes, or enjoys the sun. Needs it. She’s like a plant whose flower naturally gazes at the sun in the morning and instinctively follows it all the way across the sky. Her heart rate, blood pressure, and endorphins all change at the first hint of warmth from the light. The ocean has the same effect on her. Giving her both annually is how she survives the winter.

You don’t even know how she’s honest to the core. She wouldn’t take a penny that wasn’t hers, skip a line, or even accept something for free. It makes me blush for every little thing I’ve ever tried to get away with. To be loved by someone so genuine makes you feel pure and comfortable.

You don’t even know how hard she works. If it’s hers to do, it will be done. Mostly with ease, sometimes with tears, but you’ll never want anyone else to do next time.

You don’t know how determined she can be. Not necessarily stubborn, not selfish. She’s determined because she knows the answer already. You might as well give up. She’s too smart, honest, and willing to do what needs done, so there’s nothing that can stand in her way.

You don’t know how smart she is. She hasn’t filled up on endless encyclopedias of useless knowledge just to know it, but she could. She hated math growing up, but has mastered it for a job. She “gets it.” She’s not naive or ignorant; she’s quick and thoughtful. She will challenge you, and eventually you’ll realize she was right.

You don’t even know how funny she is. It won’t come out as a pun or a joke, but to laugh with her is like the satisfaction of a good meal and the relief after a workout.

You don’t even know her restraint. She could cut you with words and you’d have a scar for life. But she doesn’t. She wouldn’t. It’s not in her to do that to someone else. In fact, she’ll do the opposite, and in kindness heap coals of fire on your head.

You don’t even know her heart. You may have seen it or felt it, but you don’t know how sincere it is. For the vulnerable and abused, the forgotten and lonely, her heart beats for them. She would make a million dollars to have something to give away. She would build the biggest house to give them a place to live. She would hire chefs to feed them all (because she’s not cooking).

She’s a great mother and friend. She sees God in creation and music. She loves mornings and food. You may know her likes and dislikes. You may know her preferences and opinions. You may know her quirks and tendencies.

You don’t even know her like I do. In a way I wish everyone understood her fully, because she’s that amazing and you would love it. But I also know this knowledge is safe with me. I’ll protect it and defend its integrity. It will be my pleasure to spend the rest of my life getting to know her more.

Absolutely No Reason

This morning I actually got out of the house a little early to make it to work on time. I thought if I could get an hour’s worth of work in before our standup meeting, then I could basically do the grown-up version of finishing my homework the morning before school. I headed to the interstate since it looked like “normal” traffic.

Then I broke rule #1 of Nashville Traffic: don’t veer off the path you’re on. I know I should always take either the Interstate or the Highway; never try and mix it up to avoid a wreck because so does everyone else.

I head down a side road all confident (like a fool) where I’m met by a train which has come to a complete stop right across the street. People are standing around, looking at it like someone just hit a cow and they don’t know what to do about it. So now I spend another 30 minutes just meandering around side streets like Pac-Man in Nashville. I arrive… defeated.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason.


After having had a rough morning already, I decided to treat myself to a coffee. It’s warm outside, the rain hasn’t started yet, and I’m walking with a little excitement in my step. (This is the grownup version of going to the candy store). I head over to The Well Coffeehouse. It’s been a while and they donate to provide clean water in impoverished countries. So extra kudos for me.

What I should’ve said was “One decaf latte, please.” I’m not supposed to have caffeine; trying not to do sugar. Instead my eyes went blurry over the menu and I picked the first thing that didn’t appear sweetened: “a Cortado!” It’s a double espresso drink with an ounce of milk. Comes in a little dixie cup. Not quite my jam but lately I’ve been headed in the direction of black coffee. A far cry from my days of only being able to handle coffee-flavored melted ice cream a decade ago.

It starts to rain. I head out the door to make it back dry, but stumble a little. Coffee sloshes out and smears over my hand. Probably lost a dollar of good espresso right there. And now my heart is racing cause I forgot all about this stupid decaf thing.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason.


All I can think about now is getting home. The past couple years the best thing I get to do is see my toddler scream “DADDY!” and run to me when he hears the door open. I grab him tight and tackle him to the floor and we wrestle and hug. Sometimes he asks questions like “Did you go to work!?”  and “Do you still have a beard?” For a moment I forget whatever else was bothering me an hour before.

Then my pre-teen daughter finally realizes I’m here. She’s also excited but takes her longer to notice these days. “Oh! Hi Dad! You have GOT to hear what we did in class today…” I eventually weave my way to the kitchen where my wife and I hug. It’s a simultaneous emotional flush of all the bad and a recharge of all the good. We attempt to recap everything that happen since last we were together, but usually get interrupted by something.

Why do I tell you that story?

Absolutely No Reason…

Except to say this.

Life is full of these little moments. Some good, some bad. Some worth telling about later, some not. I’m busy. I’m distracted by all the things.

Distracted from what? – From the thing I’m supposed to be doing.

What am I supposed to be doing? – I guess all the things!

And around and around we go till we all fall down.

If I’m not careful, this becomes the story of my life. It’s not the worst life to have. But in the end, my eulogy states “He loved a good coffee on his way to work in the morning and was pretty nice to his family.”

I feel in my gut I should have more purpose in my days. Even in my moments. Taking care of my family is one of those. So instead of just wrestling my boy for fun, I do it knowing I’m creating a strong bond between us. And when I listen to my daughter, I give her undivided attention so she feels important and becomes confident. I hug my wife knowing she needs it as much as I do, and if through the chaos we can at least make that moment happen every day, we’ll be alright.

But all the little moments shouldn’t be distractions from what you’d rather do, they should be a part of your daily purpose: to love and good works. You can turn moments of traffic into opportunities to appreciate music and scenery. And getting coffee into opportunities to show genuine interest in people. But more importantly, you can and should insert effort and time in your life dedicated to a higher calling. So when the day is done, you have a good story worth telling.

We can live our whole lives busy and full of activity and have nothing to show for it. So busy that we never even realized there was something to be missed.

Don’t live your life for Absolutely No Reason.

Maundy Thursday

The cross: the single most pivotal moment in all of history. Even the cross by its design, or in thinking of things crossing each other, there’s a moment of impact where things change. Before it everything was one way, after everything was different. The cross is the only thing you’ll encounter that demands all of you. Nothing else — work, sickness, marriage — demands your entire being. This cross is significant only because of the one who bore it. The name that is known above all names. The person by which we tell time, is the same person who created time, is the one who knows all time…

and Jesus knew this time was coming near. He knew his purpose all along, but on this Thursday he knew it was ending tomorrow.


We have moments in our life of significance, ones where we know something huge is about to happen. In the moments before our children were born, I knew I was really excited, but I didn’t want to mess anything up. So I just tried to hover in a “what can I do?” anxiety.  The morning of my daughter’s first day of school, she was totally cool about it. No big deal. But something in me wanted it to be a tear-jerker of a movie moment. In either case I don’t remember saying anything poignant or doing anything mind-blowing.  

But we have these pivotal moments, these rites of passage, these opportunities for a life lesson. We’ve all had a few, sometimes we can see it coming. Jesus is in his final hours. And John records his words and conversations with the apostles in grand detail. And this is how John prefaces that moments before the cross…

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,

This is the pivotal moment. It’s coming down to the hour where the world for all eternity changes. Everything was lined up and ready to go. Jesus has just a few hours left, before Judas betrays him, to spend with his apostles, the ones to carry this legacy. This is where a coach gives the big pep talk before the game. This is kneeling down to give my kid encouragement before the first day at school. This is the foyer before you walk her down the aisle. This is being blessed with a few minutes beside a deathbed. This is all those things…

but infinitely more.

So what does Jesus do…

got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

That’s it. That’s what He chose to do. Now they talked plenty after this moment, it wasn’t like He did a mic drop and left the room. But Peter is obviously confused and doesn’t know what to do about it. “Don’t Wash my feet, No, Wash all of me!” But Jesus knows this and even says, “you don’t understand what I’m doing, but soon you will.”

If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.

He tells them to serve each other. Over in Luke, he doesn’t mention the feet washing, but the apostles are arguing over who’s the greatest (of course they are *sigh*), and Jesus says

For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Which do you remember more: words or actions? I can’t think of my own words to use most the time, let alone what other people have said. My parents have said wise things to me I’m sure, couldn’t tell you one of them. But I know they love me and can give you dozens of example when they served. I can tell you story upon story of things people have done for me, and not a word of the conversation. 

By doing this act at this time, Jesus elevates servanthood to a new level of importance. But like speaking to toddlers, you can’t just say it, you have to show them. “See? Do like this, yes, be nice…”


This is Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin derivative, which means “commandment.” Jesus says…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another,

Then the apostles could’ve said “New Commandment? No, this isn’t new. We already know this one! Love one another. That’s old!”

But there’s a world of difference between what was already said and how Jesus phrased it here. If you read the original verse in Leviticus:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s a really specific law regarding love. We would tend to skim the love part and just remember to not hold grudges.

Well then we also know this from the Greatest commandment story in Matt 22 and Mark 12. “Love God. Love others as yourself. On this hang all the Law and the Prophets.” This sounds like a much broader interpretation, but some would say this simply encompasses the 613 commands in Jewish Law. So still limited in some ways. Whether Jesus intended that to be more than the laws or not, Jesus says it specifically here.

that you love one another.  Even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

God in loving us so much, didn’t just tell us to love, but brought a part of Himself down to our level, to show us what true love is. What it looks like, What it does.

But there’s a big difference between loving others as yourself and loving as Christ did.

Loving as yourself is: Well, I would want my feet washed. *snap snap* “Hey Servant, wash my friend’s feet!”. Loving as Jesus, is picking up the towel and doing it yourself.

Loving as yourself would be to send someone a card. Loving as Jesus would be to go to the grave site and mourn.

Loving as yourself is to hand out a dollar. Loving as Jesus would be giving the blind their sight back, maybe not in a miraculous way, but in physically caring for needs.

Loving as yourself is to give an answer. Loving as Jesus is to seek for a better understanding.

Loving as yourself is to not retaliate. Loving as Jesus is forgive indefinitely.

Loving as yourself would be a portion of these proceeds go to feed the hungry. Loving as Jesus feeds the hungry.

Loving as yourself is being nice to others. Loving as Jesus is to recognize the value and worth in children, women, men, widows, and orphans.

 

This amplifies love. It magnifies love. It encompasses what it truly means to love. To lay down your life for each other, just as Jesus did.

Sunday we’ll Praise the resurrection, Saturday is a day of reflection, Friday a day of mourning, Thursday – might it be a day of Service. I would encourage you to take time today to start, not just a single act, but to begin a life of loving service to others.

Not out of obligation. Not just to fulfill a commandment, but in response to already having been loved yourself.

“Congratulations” and other misguided remarks

This past week we got the call we’ve been waiting for since September. Would we be willing to take two boys in as foster kids? Really, we’ve been waiting for almost three years, since our last placement was a month before we began expecting a baby, which put foster care on a hiatus. This would unofficially make our seventh placement. Unofficially – since one was only 24 hours for respite care (more-or-less babysitting) and one was not through the system.

My wife texted me “we may be getting 2 boys.” After she found more details, I stepped out of a meeting, called her, we talked, we agreed, and she left to pick them up. I walked back in the meeting and apologized that I might be a little distracted since we just found out we’re getting foster kids. There was a bit of a reaction from the five people in the room, and I remember someone saying “Congratulations!” and “How exciting!”

Soon after, it came up at a business lunch and the room applauded. I’m not sure why. But lots of “That’s great!” and “Congratulations!” were shared. The waiter had even overheard me talking about it and offered his own “Congratulations” as we left.

Afterward, I felt strange about their reaction. I didn’t share the news as if I just found out we were expecting another baby. Trust me, foster care is not worth it to simply be in it for attention. At the moment it was heavy in my mind. The only reason I shared the information was because that’s all that was in my head. I wasn’t much for casual conversation either. But still, the reaction didn’t match how I was feeling. “Congratulations” didn’t seem… appropriate.

I feel really bad for knocking someone’s genuine excitement. It’s not their fault they don’t know my perception of the situation. I probably wouldn’t know what to say either. Especially since I seem to lose my entire vocabulary when someone mentions a death in their family. “Oh, wow, man, hmmm.” For some reason, “Sorry to hear that” doesn’t want to escape my voice box.

The snobby-foster-care-insider in me, now that we’ve been through this before, knows that this is not a congratulatory situation. Especially since the agency gets kids from DCS and not a voluntary placement, if you’re called on for foster care, something bad happened. I once heard a story of a single mom needing help with kids only because the she was going for a major medical procedure and had no one else that could care for them. But even though she didn’t DO something bad, something bad still happened.

Most of the reasons for a child’s removal are neglect, abuse, abandonment, incarceration, and substance abuse. If we get a call, one of those things happened. “Congratulations” isn’t the best word.

I don’t think down on anyone who might have said that to me. What else are you really supposed to say?


The next night I had already agreed to participate in the Thanksgiving Service at church, so we risked ultimate chaos and went with our new additions. Of course, everyone was excited to meet them and say hi. In the parking lot afterward, a friend walked out with us. He knows our story, what we do and why, and has adopted, too. While I was buckling the kids in the car, he stood by with this huge smile. The same look he had when they were introducing themselves inside. He stuttered, nearly dumbfounded, he managed to get out, “I… don’t know what to say, but congratulations.”

I realized then that he might really know why we do foster care. And his use of “congratulations” might be spot on.


A few days later we went out to eat with friends and they said, “we talked about doing foster care but just don’t see being able to handle more kids right now.” And we responded with a resounding “Tell me about it! Hopefully, we’ll get daycare set up real soon. We’re not in this just cause we love kids.”

*awkward silence*

“….then why DO you do it?”

Oh, yeah I guess that sounded strange. The why is the same reason for how “Congratulations” might be an appropriate saying. We don’t want a large family necessarily. Our initial thought would be to adopt out of the foster care system. But after our first placement, we only want to foster, and we realized why we were chosen for this service.

Kids, if at all possible, need to be with their parents. Even in the worst situation, terminating parental rights still leaves the child with a loss. Better than the alternative, but a loss. We could all agree on the world being a better place if houses were made up of strong, healthy, together families. Foster care is an opportunity to take a struggling family unit and breathe new life back into it.

Adoption is a different story altogether. But in foster care, as much as we love these children, and as much we try to do a good job parenting, they are not our kids. And I don’t want them to be. Because if I did, I would be dishonest to our ultimate goal, which is to reunify the family. I want these kids to be with their mommy and daddy. I want their parents to be thriving in a healthy and stable environment and to take their kids back with full confidence.

Our two placements that were the longest were the easiest to let go. Because the process worked. Because in the end, we happily, with full confidence, gave the kids back to where they belong: to a mommy who worked hard to get her life back, and get her kids back. This is the moment where “Congratulations” was welcome a word.

So when foster parents get a call to take in kids, “Congratulations!” on the opportunity to take a family in a bad situation and give them a chance to thrive.

Mentoring Matters

After moving to Nashville, I kept trying to fill the void of knowing there’s something more I should be doing. I was restless with religion and church. We tried finding a church that fit us and switching a couple times over the years. I also jumped into the neighborhood association, donated blood on a regular basis, and we began foster care, among various other things. Of them all, foster care was the standout in what seemed to make a significant life-changing difference in someone’s life. Well, I suppose receiving blood when you have none could be pretty life-changing, too.

Around 2010-2012, there were a number of news stories about youth violence. This was about the time I stopped discussing politics on social media. Online arguing typically doesn’t make a positive difference in anyone’s life. I can’t learn empathy and awareness by simply holding on to my preconceived notions. Simply wishing these youth made better choices is about as effective as 13-year-old me wishing for a girlfriend to fall from the sky. Smugly saying that people deserve what they get and consequences are fair, certainly doesn’t help the innocent victims.

After seeing the stories, reading the stats, and hearing the cyclical nonsense of political mouths, I felt compelled to do something, specifically for male teens. But foster care wouldn’t do it since we agreed the kids would only be younger than our daughter who was then about 5.

At work, I had attended on two occasions a lunch-and-learn about Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), pretty much for the free lunch (read: only for the free lunch.) I loved the concept but knew I didn’t have the time. On top of standard life events, I had a second job delivering pizzas. It was wise to only use my limited free time with my family. But I liked the concept so much, I even organized an event for the speaker to give the same presentation for our neighborhood.

In our Bible class, my wife was saying she felt worried and helpless when it came to terrorism. A friend of ours was reflecting on a Mother Theresa quote “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Then said to take the biggest problem you can think of, what’s the smallest thing you can do about it. That concept has been a constant encouragement ever since.

About the same time, the non-profit my wife works at started counseling new fathers and I really wanted to do that, too. But besides the fact that my regular work schedule wouldn’t allow me, I don’t think I fit the mold for being either young-and-hip enough or old-and-wise enough. So one day we’re chatting online about it:

me: “that’s awesome, i wanna help with fatherhood stuff. just don’t know how”
her: “I’d say signing up for big brothers big sisters is a start. we have 2 male counselors that are available to us, but we haven’t used them for a while, lately. I want you to tell me about BB/BS later.”
“what about?”
“just ask you about it.”
“what about it? Is it serious? Do I need to ask HR about something?
“what? just talk. bc you’re my husband. and we talk.”
“I thought you had a question like where to deliver a baby.”
“huh? no. not Blue Cross Blue Shield… BBBS. Not insurance, big brothers.”
“ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh! my bad. I had HR on speed-dial. Thought we were having a baby.”

My wife then had that conversation with me and it kicked me in the butt, which is about the only time I do something out of my comfort zone. The second job had come to a close. I had a friend who had already signed up as a mentor and suggested I do it as well. So, I sent the initial email and got the ball rolling.

I was impressed with the process and how thorough BBBS was. They do not take this lightly. A couple meetings, a lengthy interview, then paperwork and references (ones they really do call), and a background check. They care about making this successful. Many of the kids they’re matching have undergone some kind of loss. Most are in single parent homes or living with relatives. They don’t want to get the kid’s hopes up and be let down again.

They asked what kind of kid I thought I would fit well with. My first hesitation. I feared I’d get a kid that wanted to do nothing but play rough sports. I don’t mind a game or two, but please don’t make me run more than I have to. So I said maybe a shy kid, one that likes computers and movies. After being approved, it took a couple months to find the right Little for me, and I think they made a great choice. We’ve now been matched for 3 years.

He’s a great kid with a caring mom. We’ve done a little bit of everything: movies, YMCA, cooking, disc golf, museums, work on cars, shopping, watch games on TV, go out to eat, we’ve seen just about every sports team in Nashville, he helped us move… oh yeah. There was moving….

BBBS asked in the interview process if you’re planning any big events in the next year with the concern that a major life event will distract you from being able to get together. Foster care was the only thing I had thought about, and we talked at length about that. Little did I know that I would end up with foster kids (twice), competing in multiple speech contests which ended with me traveling to Malaysia for the Semi-Finals, running and campaigning for a city council position, my wife getting pregnant, and moving houses, neighborhoods, and churches. All within the first year of me and my Little getting matched. And I remember my petty excuse for not getting involved earlier: not having enough time.

But it’s like we say with having foster kids, they just become part of your routine. Part of your family life. It’s another entry on your calendar. BBBS asks for 4-12 hours a month. My Little and I average a few hours every couple weeks. Honestly, if you have time for TV, you have time for this. Even if you don’t have a lot of “TV time”, you just incorporate them into your life. I see him on lunch breaks, late at night, on the way from here to there. It all works out.

I wish I had a miraculous, life-transformational story about being a mentor, but I don’t. He was a good kid before I came along. I just hope to be another good influence. Someone to help him experience new and different things. Maybe throw in a life-lesson once in a while. Something as simple as last night’s trip to the indoor trampoline park, where we spent most of our time playing dodgeball. It was obvious most kids were either skipping line to play or not leaving when they got out. Not a big deal, it’s just a silly game. But it was an opportunity to talk about honesty.

Maybe something like that sticks. Maybe there will be a big moment where I get a call from him to help make a big decision. Maybe we’ll just be friends. But that’s one kid who I won’t let slip through the cracks. If I ever see him on the news, it’ll be for a good reason. This is the small thing I can do with great love.

If we all did this one small thing, it would certainly be a great thing.

Taylor, for your wedding

Taylor,

The highest honor I have ever been afforded was to baptize you when you gave your life to Christ. One of my greatest privileges will be to see you give your hand in marriage. I am thrilled for you. You have had a special place in my heart all these years. You’re constantly on my mind and in my prayers. So it’s a huge comfort to know you have found the perfect man for you.

Marriage advice is not hard to find. But the greatest way to learn is through experience: failures and victories, stumbles and success. Rarely are words worth more than the paper they’re written on, but maybe it won’t hurt for me to try anyway. Distance has kept us from having regular conversations, otherwise, most of this would’ve already been spoken. Still, I’d like to give my perspective of marriage, as much as 14 years experience has given me, and hopefully, it inspires your relationship.

The major benefit/blessing to marriage is companionship. It may even be the entire purpose God intended. To know someone will be home when I get there; to have someone to drive to the store with, sit next to at church, to walk beside, to watch TV beside, to watch the sunset beside, to sit together comfortably in silence, to have so much to say to each other there’s not enough time in the day for it. It’s like having money in the bank at all times. In the worst of circumstances, I know in the back of my mind that I have her.

There’s no secret to making a marriage last; you just do it. The fact you dated means you like each other; step one. Now what? Commitment. Both sides. If both are truly committed, there’s nothing short of dying that could tear you away. I remember before we were even engaged, Heather pretty much threatened me with an “end it now or never” agreement. I happily obliged to stay. I don’t remember our wedding vows verbatim, but I know them in summary: I’m committed to her forever. And I have a ring I never take off that’s a reminder to me and symbol to everyone else of that promise.

Sure promises can be broken. Too many marriages have failed. You have to be intentionally and perpetually committed. Every morning, every night, after every fight, and every blissful moment. We saw too many couples split up; surprisingly many were friends of ours in the first few years after we were married. After every instance, Heather grabs my hand and sincerely asks, “are we good?” Sometimes I mess with her and say “depends on what’s for dinner.” (not advisable). Most of the time I know she’s serious then reassure her “we’re good.”

Learn how to fight. Disagreements will happen. You put two people together for that amount of time, someone’s going to disagree with the temperature of the room or how to handle money. So when it happens, it’s best to know how to deal with it. Understand how the other one handles an argument. It’s possible one wants to talk it out and the other needs to cool off first. Some say more than they mean, some say nothing and keep it inside. Don’t manipulate. Ask for advice if needed, but don’t speak ill of each other (even jokingly). Compromise. Be open and honest. Honest: don’t say things you don’t mean, do say the things you should.

Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. It keeps you going. Actually, it seems to center you back to where you belong. It reminds you of the dating days. Life will get mundane at times and laughing is the spark that recalls all the reasons you’re in this relationship. It makes you sigh with relief. In marriage, it’s a smile not just at the moment, but for the life you’re living.

Need each other. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit you need, but a humble awareness that together you’re stronger, better. Both of you have strengths and weaknesses that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle; two pieces that don’t fit or belong anywhere else. And if you have children in the future, may they be an extension of the strong relationship you’ve already created.

Build each other up. Enjoy life together. Be on the same page. Don’t expect too much. Have each other’s interests in mind. Surprise. Delight. Enjoy. Never take it for granted. Put God first. Love down to your core. Love to the point words can’t describe it.

Enjoy your wedding day and every day after. Marriage is the best. May yours feel like a dream come true, and every day you pinch yourself knowing yours is the kind to thrive for a lifetime.

Dichotomy Around The Cross

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

I’ve never read A Tale of Two Cities, but I like to quote it as if I had. But this quote surfaced in my mind when I considered the perspective of people who were there the week of the trial and execution of Jesus. Those who were close to him or even the curious followers must have been confused, scared. This was not what they had in mind. He was supposed to be the King of the Jews to bring their nation back to its rightful place, but here he is being dragged away by guards.  It was the best of times, it was suddenly the worst of times.

He taught us so much, did all of that mean nothing?  It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.

There was the Perfect one, treated as a criminal?  It was the spring of hope, it was suddenly the winter of despair.

The more I analyze all the aspects of that week, there’s chaos, dichotomy, so many contradicting events, back-and-forth, and contrasting scenes.

 

  • It was the most depressing of scenes, but hopeful if you knew the purpose
  • They Feared who Jesus was, contrasted with his bravery and steadiness
  • You had Judas betray and Peter deny, but John and Mary never left His side
  • There’s filthiness of our sin, the cleansing power of His blood
  • The stubbornness of the crowds and the forgiveness given to them
  • It was an Ugly scene, and beautiful
  • They thought they defeated Him, but he triumphed over sin
  • They took his life, He gave His life
  • Crowds were angry, Jesus was at peace
  • They were full of hate, Jesus is love
  • While he was hurting, he was healing us
  • A crown… of thorns
  • A Robe… to mock him
  • Buried then risen
  • The accusation was he claimed to be God, and that’s exactly who He is
  • It was seemingly the End, but really just the beginning

The good news for us is that we don’t have to be confused or scared, we’re not in the days before the cross, we’re in the days after He rose. We have the full picture of what He did and why. There is no more dichotomy. There is no conflict. It was exactly as it needed to be. And in comparing the actions of Jesus to all the actions and situations around him, it only makes his glory shine that much brighter. Death has become life. Night has become day. Lost has become found. 

The Paper Cut of Homelessness

As I write this I’m currently serving as an ‘innkeeper’ at our church’s Room In The Inn. It’s a city-wide program that gives shelter to homeless people at a network of churches through the winter months. They transport groups to that day’s locations, feed them, provide showers, supplies, laundry, cots, and, of course, a roof. Please do not think I’m giving myself a halo here, I pretty much signed up out of moral obligation, while wondering about how uncomfortable it would be.

And of course, reality hit me in a couple ways. First, I happened to notice my various thoughts and tasks on my way over here today:

It’s unseasonably warm, I’m almost sweating on my commute home
Need to remember to charge my phone ahead of time
Better grab my laptop to stay busy while everyone’s sleeping
I think I’m lightheaded from sitting at my desk too long today
Should get a snack to take with me
Should eat something before, who knows when we serve food
I’ll dress down so I don’t stick out
Do I take this pillow or that one?
This blanket or that one?
Maybe I’ll hit the local coffee shop in the morning

And then I realized, none of these guys would’ve had any of those thoughts.

Now, I know better than to look down on people. People are just people (for the most part). Same with these men. Some down on their luck, some struggling with their past, some just don’t have a support system. So I view my role as treating others as you would have them treat you. I don’t look at them with pity; I don’t see myself as high and mighty. They need a shower and a meal. I can be one of 15 volunteers to help with that.

The vans pull up and the men walk in like they’ve done this all winter. They know the drill better than I understand the written instructions. As it unfolds I’m just people-watching and trying to be available. They already know what they want to accomplish first. Some need a shower, some need clothes, some want to pick the prime sleeping spots. When dinner’s served they’re patient in line, and pause just a second to see if one of the plates has a slightly larger portion (I would too).

I must have done well with dressing down because I was mistaken as a guest instead of a volunteer. Three times by church members who didn’t recognize me, and at least once when a guest said, “you one of them or one of us,” before asking his question.

I took the opportunity to sit and eat with a few of the 24 men. They were in the middle of a political conversation and I knew my preconceived expectations were about to be flipped when the first comment I heard was “The responsibility is on the viewer to know whether the program they’re watching is news or opinion.” I nodded my head in agreement and perked up my ears.

They discussed the political race, “Rubio will drop out if he doesn’t win FL.”

They debated economics, “There were 270,000 jobs added last month; if you can’t find a job, that’s on you!”

They argued over war and gas prices, “OPEC controls the price of oil, it has nothing to do with the President.”

Race even came up: “Now I’m from California, I don’t see color.” “Of course you see color. And if you see me purple, you better be calling 911!”

I only wish I were able to transcribe the whole conversation between these four. One guy loved getting things riled up, the other almost couldn’t handle it and his friend quietly calmed him down, “you’re letting him get to you, you know better.”

Just delightful. I mostly nodded and chuckled. I failed at attempting to change the heated topic to sports with a “How ’bout them Titans!” They laughed but no one took the bait.

The rest of the night has been quiet. There are no less than five unique snores right now. I’m feeling a little uneasy. I know their lives have to be worse than they’re letting on, but maybe not. One said while defending the President, “Unemployment’s at 4.6%. You don’t see people starving on the streets. I mean, we’re in here, but somebody got money for this.” I know that I don’t have the ability to magically fix everything for them, whether or not I should even if I could. Because the point we’ve been tasked with isn’t ultimately to make sure everyone’s situation is pain-free. Pain is going to happen regardless of your financial state. My reaction to someone’s pain is the nucleus.

I heard a story (from radio’s “The Wally Show” I think), where they returned to a regular mission trip and told one of the locals “we’ve been praying for you.” To which the 3rd-world-country man replied “no, we pray for God to be with you. You have nothing but distractions and problems in America. Here… all we have is God.” It’s all about perspective. I thought about this recently when I heard a statistic about how few were afflicted with a certain illness. But if you’re the one with the illness, it’s a big stinkin’ deal to you! Doesn’t matter if it touches .01% of people. Your problem, no matter what it is, is still a problem.

Homelessness stinks. It’s as frustrating as hunger, which is as agonizing as depression, which is as sad as loneliness, which is as isolated as the death of a loved one, which is as debilitating as finding cancer, which is as empty as losing as a job, which to some threatens homelessness.

Paper cuts are the worst. Especially the bad ones. How can something so small hurt so bad? It controls your thoughts, can nearly immobilize you till the pain subsides, will annoy you till the skin fuses back together. I get shivers thinking about it. But no one would say that a papercut is worse than living in a shelter. “Would you rather have a paper cut or be alone and not know where you’re going to sleep and how you’re going to eat tonight?” Hand me the paper. But I know that tonight if I suddenly got a bad cut, these guys would stop and be concerned for me. They’re still just people. Good and bad like the rest of us. Willing and capable of giving and receiving friendship.

In one way or another, we’re all struggling with something. We’re tasked to love and show kindness. A roof or a bandaid means the world to the person who needs it.

The fruit of the Spirit (the outcome, the result, the action) is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.