Monday, July 28, 2008

Saying "No" and The Turtle Life


There are some questions in life that you need to say, “no” to.  Here’s a short list:

1.     This milk smells bad.  Can you smell it? No.

2.     Mom, can you transform?  No. (or “yes”…depending on how freaked out you want to make your kid)

3.     Dad, can I drink your coffee?  No.  Your head will spin around and pop off.

4.     Can my brother breathe under water?  No, no, no, no!

While this is anything but an exhaustive list, it's made up of questions Laura and I’ve been asked and have, in fact, said “no” to.  In these cases, it really isn’t a problem.  However, I’ve been noticing that saying “no” is becoming a habit.  It’s not the word itself.  It’s the feeling that goes with it that’s becoming habitual.  Fear.  

I’ve been living afraid. 

Now, I’m not talking about phobias (my favorite of which is Arachibutyrophobia: The fear of having peanut butter stick to the roof of your mouth).  I’m not talking about fear of the boogy-man or anything on the list that my kids have come up with for bed-time prayers.

            “…And Lord, protect us from the very squeaky stroller……and rattle snakes.  In Jesus name…Amen!”

It’s actually a fear of my kids getting hurt or, frankly, a fear of being inconvenienced.  So while I should “just say no” to questions like, 

“can I touch my brain by shoving this stick up my nose?”

I’ve been saying no to questions like,

 “can we swim to that buoy?”  

And THAT is the problem.  

My brain thinks of all of the possible ways that swimming to a buoy can result in irreparable harm to my son.  I can’t seem to stop it.  He could drown (regardless of the fact that he is wearing a life jacket), he could be eaten by Jaws, he could get sucked into a fourth dimension by an underwater time-matter vortex.  I mean, come on!  Anything is possible. 

And so my gut is to say, “no” instead of seeing it for the adventure that it really is.  But I’m working on it.  I’m learning to change some of my “nos” into “yeses” and see danger as an opportunity for courage.  After all…I can’t keep my kids in a protective shell forever.  



As many of you know, a few weeks ago, my son, Brehm, went to Vacation Bible School for the first time.   In one of their activities they learned movements to go with the songs they were singing during the week.  The movements are kind of like the distant cousin to sign language.  By that I mean that they have some actual sign language and other gestures that are just for show.  

That doesn’t mean that they don’t mean something in sign.  

An example: “you are holy” ended up, unintentionally looking like, “you are snakey”.  

But they’re kids and it’s cute.  

One of the songs was called, “Get Up! Get Up!”   Imagine Hannah Montana singing about The Great Commission.  Some of the lyrics say, “Jesus paid the price, so we could have eternal life.”  Fast forward to this past week.

Brehm is running around the house singing every song he can remember from VBS.  But they are the Brehm versions.  He’s singing the words HE heard, which is a strange blend of phonetics and his available vocabulary.  So, I was being informed by my singing four and half year old, that Jesus, apparently, paid the price so I could have “the turtle life”.

At first I laughed.  

Then I almost cried.  

Because, in the same way I’ve been in the habit of saying “no” to my kids, I realized that most Christians, myself included, are in the habit of saying “no” to God out of fear and not living in faith.  You see, I’ve lived as if I’ve been given the “turtle life” and not “eternal life”.  I’ve lived as if Jesus died on the Cross so that I can create my perfect, protective shell and then hide whenever things get hard or when I feel threatened.  I’m not talking about being confrontational or arguing.  A snapping turtle is still a turtle when it actually counts.  I’m talking about walking in humility but truly apprehending the truths that Jesus allows us to live forever and His perfect love casts out all fear.  This is an area that God has been stretching Laura and me in for almost seven years.  Some of that time, we rose to the challenge.  Other times, we pulled in our heads, arms, and legs and tried to wait God out.  But He’s been persistent because He loves us.  He doesn’t want us to stay in our protective shells forever.  He’s calling us, all of us, to something greater than the turtle life: To His wild, and dangerous adventure of faith.  And, as scary as it can be, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Monday, July 21, 2008

José and The Birthday Bagel


I have always wanted to be a super hero.  I know it sounds childish but I think, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ve dreamed of being one too.  Granted, the type of hero I’ve fantasized about being has evolved over the years.  When I was young I prayed to be bitten by a radioactive spider and wore a cape under my clothes (I wish that was a lie…but it’s not).  Now I just wish I could be Jack Bauer from the show "24".  Recently, my imaginary world broke through and I discovered that I am, in fact, a super hero.  Unfortunately, my “super” name is Captain Failure. 

You see, last week was my wife’s birthday.  I can already hear the women readers groaning, digitally, through cyberspace.

In my favor: Last year I whisked her away on a surprise, romantic weekend. 

Not in my favor: This year she got a last minute, poorly made card and a birthday bagel.

Overall (and Laura will attest to this) I’m a good husband.  While it’s hard to find time, both of us still try to “date” each other (even after three kids and almost nine years of marriage).  I can say, with the utmost honesty, that I’m more in love with her now than I was when we met.  I can’t imagine being with anyone else.  She’s perfect for me.  So how did I make the jump from mild-mannered and bespectacled Adam to Captain Failure?  Here’s the story.

Both my family and I are spoiled by the fact that, in Nashville, I’m self-employed. This means several things:

1. Sweatpants and ratty t-shirt = acceptable work attire.

2. I get to be home as much as I want.  

Even though I travel, and am away for as much as a month at a time, my kids, my wife and I spend a lot of time with each other.  We genuinely love being together as a family.  So when we trek to Cape Cod for the summer, it’s a little bit of a shocker when Daddy has to go to the church office everyday.  That being said, we were all very excited when we discovered that my day off was on Laura’s birthday.  We had talked about what would be reasonable to spend this year (since last year was pretty extravagant) and she had said that we didn’t need to do anything.  She was just happy I had the day off.  And I believed her.

Now guys, before you start laughing at my apparent “newlywed” mistake, I have to defend my wife.  She is not a liar.  She says what she means.  And she really did mean it.  It was what she said AFTER that that began my slow descent into “failureness”. 

“All I want is a cake with candles.” 

Somehow, in those words, I heard, “All I want is to get away from the kids and be alone with you and have dessert.”  Which, for anyone less brain-challenged than I, is obviously NOT what she said. 

So we took Brehm to Vacation Bible School, and went to the beach with the other two kids.  Lunch was sweet and our children went down for a nap.  And so did I. 

Batman has The Bat Cave, Superman has that weird crystal place he goes to, and I have the downstairs bedroom.  The only difference is that I didn’t use my super hero cocoon to plan ways of fighting crime.  I used it to sleep away my chance to go to the store and make my bride’s one birthday wish come true.  And so I emerged in a groggy stupor with the transformation complete.  

Behold:  Captain Failure.

Once the kids woke up, Laura, tried, again, to get through to me.

“Now would be a great time to go do SOMETHING with the boys.” 

Which my super-sonic, decoder ears translated into, “I’d love a handmade card from you and the kids.”  So, faster than a speeding dump truck, I got the markers and headed downstairs with the boys.  We made cards, which she accepted graciously, and then we took her out to dinner. 

To a restaurant that doesn’t serve cake. 

When we got home, Brehm asked if we were going to have a cake for mommy.  Thinking quickly, I stuck an old Hanukah candle into a cinnamon bagel and we sang happy birthday.  The kids went to bed and I took Laura out for dessert.  When we got to the parking lot, she very sweetly said, “You’ve done everything but what I asked for.” 




I used to work at a school for the deaf and multiply handicapped.  I lived in the dorm with the residential kids and was, along with the other staff, a parent to them.  We got them up and off to school, we had dinner with them, we took them to activities and did all the things that they would have done if they had been home.  This also meant that discipline was an issue.  Enter José: Cute, affectionate and insanely manipulative.  The most common problem we had with him was this: When you asked him to do something he didn’t want to do he would smile, sign “I love you” and give you a huge, disarming hug.  And that’s what was wrong.  As sweet as the hug was, it wasn’t what I had asked of him.  He did everything but what I wanted.



I love my wife and was doing what I thought would make her happy, but I ignored what she actually said.  José was lovingly disobedient.  Saul was like that too.  For those of you who don’t know Saul, he was King of Israel just before King David (who most people know).  If you do know Saul, then you know he had a sad life.  He was famous for doing what seemed right to him regardless of what God said.  And so Samuel, the prophet, had to come knock some sense into him.  He said, “You keep making sacrifices thinking you’re making God happy, but you’re not obeying the simplest things he’s asked you to do!  Just obey!  That’s all He wants!” (1Sam 15:22 my paraphrase) 

And so Captain Failure had to do what Saul was told to do.

I had to repent. 

Literally.  I had to turn the car around and go in the opposite direction (which is what “repent” means).

Last week I wrote about how God’s been bringing me back to the basics.  This week is no different.  You see, in my attempts to live “Christianly” I’ve done a lot of things, good things mostly, that were not what God has asked of me.  I’ve given money when He wanted me to give myself (and vice versa).  I’ve sung loud songs when He wanted my silent worship.  I’ve worked long hours when He wanted me to enjoy Him in rest, and I’ve been self-righteous and spiritual when he wanted mercy, justice, and humility.  Still He says, very sweetly, “You’re doing everything but what I asked for.”  And so, by His grace, I’ve been turning my car around.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Going Under

If you read Toy Train New Toothbrush every week, you might get the impression that I’m a particularly accident-prone dad, especially after last week’s posting.  It’s not that I’m accident-prone.  I just have two boys.  And “boys” mean “pain”.  Sometimes that pain comes in family-sized, assortment packages.  You see, something I mentioned last week, as a side note, is, in fact, a story of its own.  I mentioned that one of the ways my “unmentionables” had been traumatized was while my son was jumping off the dock at the lake.  That, however, is not the only injury I endured.  Oh yes.  There’s more.

Almost every day, after work, and before dinner, we walk down to the neighborhood beach to take a swim in the lake.  The snakes that I’ve written about previously have, for anyone who’s concerned, consumed a nest full of baby birds and moved on to a less splashy and kid frequented home.  Now that they’re gone and the dock has been moved out to its mooring, it really is a great place to go and play with the family.  So, we go and swim.   My oldest son, lifejacket-clad and full of energy, and I play on the dock. 

Now, the water sport Brehm enjoys most is taking flying leaps off the dock into my waiting arms as I tread water.  I have affectionately dubbed this game, “Kick Daddy In the Face and Drown Him”.  It's all the rage.  I think that this sport is going to be added to the roster for the Beijing Olympics.  Now THAT will make great television.

This is what a round of the game looks like.  We run into the water. 

Let’s stop there. 

I must make note that my son is part polar bear and, despite having no visible body fat, would dive head first into a frozen lake if it meant he got to go swimming.  I, on the other hand, despite having quite visible body fat, prefer my lake water temperature to be somewhere between kiddy pool and Jacuzzi. 

OK…I continue. 

After running into the water, regardless of temperature, we have a race to the dock.  I use the term “race” very loosely since the object of this game is for my son to win.  Said "win" is then followed with copious amounts of "smack talk".  I’m not kidding.  We’re working on his being a good winner as well as a good loser, but he’s one competitive kid.  Here’s a real conversation:

(I’m working or cooking dinner and he walks in the room)

“Hey Dad!  I beat you!  I win!!”

“Uh…..what did you win at, Buddy?”

“I said ‘I win’ first!  I beat you!”

So, anyway…I let him win, and then he gets on the dock.  This is where the fun begins.  He crouches down and springs up and out toward me.  He looks kind of like one of those flying squirrels you see on the Discovery Channel.  Except, unlike those squirrels, this “squirrel” weighs 40 pounds and is laughing maniacally. Since he still hasn’t figured out how to go underwater without flushing his sinus and filling his lungs, MY job is to catch him, mid-air, and absorb his fall.  This, obviously, shoves me underwater.  Hard.  Most times, no matter how hard I blow out my nose, I get a pretty solid dunking.  Then, as I try and surface, he turns to swim back to the dock, thus kicking my still submerged face.  I haven’t bled yet, but I have high hopes for the future. 

So why do I do it?  Well…because I love my son and he can’t do it on his own.  Also, I’m a good swimmer.  You see, I grew up, as they say in Tennessee, “round these parts” and spent most of my life in the water or on boats.  So I know that, no matter how hard he shoves me under, I can come back up.  And when we race, I let him win because I know that, if I’m going to play with him, if I want to relate to him, I need to play with him at his level not mine.  It wouldn’t be any great accomplishment for a 31 year-old to beat a 4 ½ year-old in a swimming race.  So I voluntarily humble myself to swim with him and then I go under so he can stay up, knowing that, no matter what he dishes out to me, I’ll resurface. 

Lately I’ve been really moved by the simplicity of The Gospel.  Maybe it’s because, after years of making my faith complicated, I’m trying to get back to basics.  Maybe it’s because my oldest son is, as I write, attending his first Vacation Bible School and has been asking lots of questions.  There’s nothing like trying to explain what you believe to a child to get you to see how silly and “adult” your faith has become.  Because, when I boil it down, The Gospel is as simple as why I let my son drown me everyday and beat me at swimming.  The Bible says that Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!” 

God knew that if he was going to have relationship with us, it had to be at our level not his.  We wouldn't have understood it any other way.

And so he came.

He came knowing that regardless of what we did, even to the point of death, he would be able to resurface.

He came, voluntarily, humbling himself, knowing that we can’t stay afloat on our own. Knowing that he would have to go under so we could stay up.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Unmentionables and Newton's Law

I feel compelled to begin this post with a warning.  The following content may shock women into tears and cause men to collapse on the floor and rock back and forth in the fetal position.  

I offer my apologies to both genders. 

When I was in college I wanted to be a doctor.  Three years, and a “D” in physics later, I decided that no sane person would want me to cut them open and try to fix their insides.  Despite the aforementioned academic blemish, I did learn a few things about physics that have bearing on the past week, specifically Newton’s second law.  This law is stated in a formula “F=ma” which can be summed up as follows * :  The heavier something is (its mass or “m”), and the faster it’s accelerating (or “a”), the more force (or F) it will have when it hits something.  So let’s apply that to the events of the past week.  Take two children with a combined weight of 70lbs and multiply that times, roughly, the speed of light and you get a VERY large amount of force.  THAT is the force that has been applied, about four times, everyday this week, to my special “man” place.  It’s true.  Do the math.  This week I’ve taken it square in the unmentionables twenty-eight times.  Men…commence writhing. 

OK…breath and think happy thoughts.

From my extensive research (i.e. talking to another dad at the beach) I’ve discovered that this is a very common occurrence when you’re raising boys.  Especially when they’re little and don’t know the blinding pain they are causing.  Perhaps that’s why America’s Funniest Home Videos never seems to run out of that kind of clip.  Lest any of the women reading this think I’m exaggerating, allow me to offer this proof.

Pro hockey players have blades on their feet, sticks in their hands and the average hockey puck travels at 98 mph.  These same players shun the use of facemasks, exposing their eyes, teeth and overall appearance to countless abuses.  They wear a cup.

Pro baseball players have bats, cleats, and pitchers that hurl a hard ball, on average, as fast as 100 mph.  THEY wear no padding at all.  But they wear a cup. 

Most men will endure marring, battering, and injury to any other part of their body.  But “there”?  Protect it like Fort Knox.  I think I’ve made my point. 

My boys don’t do it maliciously.  It’s always an accident during activities in which they’re jumping on me...wrestling on the couch, catching them as they dive off the dock at the lake, etc…  Regardless, I consider it a miracle of God that I haven’t been walking like a cowboy all week. 

The funny thing is, that if anyone else did that to me, that many times, I would fly into a rage (imagine “rabid water buffalo” meets Braveheart meets Gladiator).  I mean I’d go medieval…in Christian love, of course.  But with my boys it seems natural to forgive them. 

(Playing and Laughing)


“Daddy, why did your eyes get really big and then roll back in your skull?”

“It’s OK, Buddy.”

I look at my children who are causing me pain and the first thing I want to do is extend grace because I know that they don’t know what they’re doing to me.  Of course I’m teaching them not to hit people there, but some things take time to sink in.

As I began writing this, I initially recoiled at the thought of comparing my accidental pain to the suffering of Jesus on the cross.  And so I won’t.  As much as men cringe at the slightest mention of a hit to the “nethers”, we should cringe at the cross even more.  That kind of suffering was so bad that people created a word to describe it.  Excruciating. That word literally means, “of the cross”.   No.  My “random connection to meaning” is not to that. 

It’s to God’s heart.  It’s to Jesus’ cry from the cross, “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they’re doing.”  And they didn’t.  

And we don’t.  

And I don’t.  

I don’t think I truly understand the gravity of what I do when I sin.  If I did, I would like to imagine that I would simply stop.  And yet, I don’t.  I can’t.  And that’s what moves me as I write.  Because, as Jesus’ words asked for forgiveness for those who don’t know what they’re doing, his body was making a way for those of us who do know and can’t help ourselves.  I write, “can’t help ourselves”, not to remove responsibility, but in the literal sense.  We are incapable of helping ourselves.  And that’s why Jesus died.  And that is the grace of God.






*For any physicists out there…I know I’ve taken liberty with these formulas and their definitions.  I also know that V = sqrt(2F/M * D) is probably the formula I wanted but you’re the only people who will notice. I hide behind God’s grace, artistic license, and my “D” in second semester physics.  I beg your forgiveness.