Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pox and Pax

A pox was upon our house this week. 

Yes, despite both of my sons being traumatized by the inoculation shots to prevent it, they still got the chicken pox. 

Please note that I said “both”. 

I’m not sure how they got it.  We asked them if they had been kissing chickens and they assured us, with utter sincerity, that they had not kissed any domestic fowl.

Regardless, we still got shown the “secret, special exit” at the doctor’s office. 

You know. 

The door in the back, by the dumpsters, that doesn’t send us through the waiting room.

So, I was “Mr. Mom” all week.  

Most days it was just me and the boys, but for a couple of  days I had Alanna too, since daycare thought that her mosquito bites looked suspiciously like The Plague. 

We were home and quarantined.

Let me count my blessings first.  Both boys HAVE received the inoculation shots and so their cases of The Pox were very mild. 

Let me complain now.  Both of their cases were mild and so they were at full energy and we couldn’t go anywhere with other kids.  Plus our middle child is being potty trained.  That means accidents. 

Laura came home, one day, to find me angry and speaking gibberish under my breath.

I held a shovel.

“What are you doing and…um….where are the boys?”

“I never thought I would have to do it.”

“Umm……do what?  And……where are the boys?”

“I never thought that I would have to shovel my own son’s poo out of the yard.  I want to throw up.”

Laura convulsing in uncontrollable laughter. 

I was not amused.

But I was apparently prophetic since we all came down with the stomach flu a few days later. 

Ahhh…the irony.

Needless to say, I found myself loosing my cool multiple times.  

As I’ve written before, I tend to try and organize my exterior world when my interior world feels out of control.  That meant trying to keep three children, under five, quiet and orderly. 

Fat chance. 

And so I yelled. 

I yelled more than I would like to admit. 

I yelled at my kids, I snipped at my wife, and I was, overall, a bear to be around. 

I wanted everything where it was supposed to be.

I wanted order. 

What I needed was peace.  

To use a little Latin: I had The Pox but I needed Pax. 

More than that, I needed Pax Domini.  

The Peace of The Lord. 

“The Peace of The Lord” is not synonymous with order, quiet, sleep, cleanliness, or any of the numerous things I set up as idols in place of it. 

It’s both a gift of God and a deep trust in His goodness and His sovereignty. 

You see, 90% of my frustration was due to the fact that I felt out of control of my life.  My kids had gotten sick and I had to drop everything to take care of them. 

The nerve! 

And if that sounds selfish….it’s because it is.

Welcome to the yuck in my heart. 

That is not an expression of is a deep and abiding commitment to care for my kids.  It also doesn't reflect my desire to be a father who reflects the heart of God, The Father. 

It’s an insistence that whatever I had planned for that week was of such cosmic significance that God couldn’t have other plans for me (i.e. learning what a selfish dad I was or simply being a father in general).  I was angry that my dominion of my life had been disrupted.  Please note how many times the word “my” appears in that last sentence.

The strange thing is that I experienced The Peace of God a few days later when it was 3 AM and I was throwing up. 

At that point, I had no illusions that I was in control of anything.  Not even my own body.  And so there, snotty nosed and bloodshot eyed in my bathroom, I began to experience God’s Peace.  Not quiet, rest or order (by any means) but a peace that surpassed my understanding. 

And so, while I don’t wish a pox or the stomach flu upon you, I do hope for this:

“pax domini sit semper vobiscum”

The Peace of The Lord be with you always.    

Monday, September 22, 2008


I hate Bermuda. 

Allow me to explain that statement so I don’t start a war with a British territory. 

I hate things that bear the name “Bermuda” with the lone exception of Bermuda shorts.  Those, I’m thankful for.  The 1970’s style short-shorts look terrible on me. 

OK…maybe I should clarify further. 

I hate two things that bear the name “Bermuda”. 

First is the Bermuda triangle a.k.a. the bane of sailors near and far. 

The second is Bermuda grass a.k.a. the bane of my yard care existence.

Those of you living north of the Mason-Dixon line are fortunate to avoid this demonic ground cover due to the fact that it thrives in hot climates.  In The South though, when a contractor wants to seed your yard on the cheap, he’ll lay down a combination of fescue, rye, and, you guessed it, Bermuda grass.  He’s banking on the fact that one of the three will germinate and give his client something green in the front yard. 

He’s also banking on the fact that you won’t ever want to have flower beds or a garden.  

If you go to Bermudagrass.com, you will find several pages explaining all the wonderful things about this kind of grass.  Then you get to the bottom of the page and there is a section entitled, “The Down Side”.  There it uses the word, “aggressive” to describe how it spreads across your lawn.  That is, in my opinion, an egregious understatement unless, by the term “aggressive” they mean “Attila The Hun” and by “lawn” they mean “Central Asia and Eastern Europe”. 

Let me explain what I mean. 

It can spread by seed, by above ground runners, as well as by vast networks of root runners.  When you try to dig it out, it will break off at weaker “nodes” leaving the majority of the root behind.  If there is even a millimeter of root in the ground, it will grow a new plant.  Basically…if you ignore it, it will eventually grow over your house and pull it into the ground. 

Also, if this grass were personified, it would be George Patton or maybe Bruce Willis in the movie “Die Hard”.  Anyway, it acts like it has a strategy and it takes no prisoners.  It will wrap itself around the roots of other plants so that the only way to dig it up is to damage or destroy the plants you want. 

It’s also a liar.  It doesn’t even come from Bermuda.

I used to think that gardening was a slightly less than masculine hobby.  Now I’m convinced of this truth:  Gardening = War. 

Every time I go out to tend my landscaping, I’m walking onto the battlefield.

For the plants it’s a life or death struggle and they fight as if they know it.  I just came inside from pulling ten miles of Bermuda from my raspberry patch and my arms bear the scars of that skirmish.  

Now it’s personal.  

I’m contemplating adding the phrase, “with a vengeance” to all my gardening activities.  For example,

“Honey, I’m going to mow the lawn….with a vengeance.”  Or, “I have my garden fork and I’m going weeding…..with a vengeance.”. 

If this rant sounds angry, it’s because it is.  I’ve been battling this noxious plant since we moved in and I know that the only way to win is to apply a scorched Earth policy.  

Total botanical annihilation…

with a vengeance.  

Every time I’m fighting this stuff I think of sin.

I think about how the sins in my life are just like that Bermuda trying to aggressively spread in my soul.  

I think about how this is a life or death struggle I’m in and how, in the same way that plant lies about where it comes from, my sin is never forthright about its origin.  It will try to hide its roots by mingling them with the roots of good and virtuous “growth”.  And the only way to deal with it is to let Jesus take his trowel, dig down, and pull out the roots.  

This is not a passive thing on our end.  

It will take time and it will hurt.  

But, just like the garden, this is war and I, for one, do not want that Bermuda sin to win.  And so I’ll let Jesus dig, and I’ll keep weeding…

with a vengeance.  

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Economy Of Words

From all accounts, I’m a talker.

It’s gotten much better as I’ve aged but apparently, when I was younger, I suffered from a near incurable case of “verbalus diarrheus” also known as motor mouth syndrome.

I talked so much that my second grade teacher put me at a desk, all by myself, facing the wall.  There was a map of Cape Cod hanging there that indicated the location of all the pirate ships that are sunken off the coast.  

So then I talked about pirates.

I was a fast talker too.  So instead of sounding like a machine gun (where there is some discernable space between sounds), I sounded more like the emergency broadcast test tone. EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. 

Eventually, my friend Peter (I love you Pete!) began to teach me the economy of words.  He would ask me a question and then say, “OK.  You have five words to answer.  I’m not listening to any more than that.”  It sounds harsh but he actually got my mind to slow down enough to think about what I wanted to say. 

It really helped. 

Well, it seems that this disease is genetic because my children, particularly my oldest son, never stops talking. 

I mean never. 

Last night, at two in the morning, we even heard him talking in his sleep. 

Sometimes what he is saying is a running commentary on what he’s doing.  Sometimes he’s singing songs, or books he’s memorized, or making up stories.  Once I thought I heard him reciting the Magna Carta.  It was either that or, after all the talking…the never ending talking….my inner ear was feeding back. 

The interesting thing is this: All of it is meant to be heard. 

He’s talking to Laura and me most of the time.  And so, our home is filled, from sun-up to sun-down, with conversation.  Non-stop conversation. 

Recently, I had to ask him to stop for five minutes because I was tired and my brain hurt. 

Don’t get me wrong. 

I love his little voice. 

When I’m traveling and have to be away from my family, I enjoy the silence, yes, but I can’t wait to get back to “The Conversation”. 

As strange as it sounds, I desperately miss my kid’s verbosity (please note my nice use of the word verbosity). 

When I step out of my fatigue or frustration, when I boil it down, I’m thrilled that they all want to share every little thought, observation and emotion. And I love the fact that, at least for the moment, they want to hear what I have to say too.  Every random fact, or correction, or encouragement means the world to them.

So while the tired part of me longs for the day when, he too, will learn the economy of words, part of me hopes that it’s a lesson he never learns.  Because I know that, sooner than I want, he’ll grow up and stop talking.  And so I hope that before it’s too late, someone invents a “time-freezer-thingy” that will keep him a little kid forever.

I think that’s why Jesus said that we had to be like little children. 

Obviously there are many applications to that verse but I believe this is one of them. 

In light of the command to pray without ceasing, I think that, when Jesus calls us to be like children, it’s an invitation to an eternal conversation with our Heavenly Father. 

It’s a call to constantly share our lives with God in prayer and to hang on every word He says. 

Because, in the same way He calls us to this ceaseless conversation, He is always speaking. 

And so while, for obvious social reasons, it’s often necessary to learn the economy of words, in our relationship with God The Father, no such thriftiness exists.  

Monday, September 8, 2008


My wife has a secret.

I, of course, felt that the best way to honor that secret was to turn it into blog fodder and put it on the internet. 

Actually, I cleared this “outing” with her first.  The deal was that I had to share something equally embarrassing.  I really wanted to write this particular blog and so I bit that worm, hook and all.  And so here I am, thrashing at the end of a proverbial fishing line, wishing that I hadn’t agreed to do that.

But here it goes.

OK, first a prologue (or “prolong” if I’m honest)

Spring Hill, Tennessee, where I live, was rated the third skinniest city in America. 

I know! 

I didn’t believe it either, what with the cheese grits and sausage gravy and all.  But it’s true. 

There are several reasons for this. 

Part of it is because the average age here is 32 and people in that age bracket tend to be more heath conscious.  The other part is that most of those thirty-two year-olds are parents of little kids who DRASTICALLY skew the body mass index report for the city.  My son Brehm might actually have a BMI in the negative numbers and thus, statistically speaking, suck fat off of other people like a cellulite mosquito. 

Why am I sharing this? 

Because I want to put my past, current and future comments about my weight in context.  I’ve been very honest about my recent dealings with my weight and diet.  I know that I’m not “husky” and have already lost twenty-five pounds, but I live in a city that has been recognized for its skinniness.  I might as well live on the cover of Cosmo or Men’s Health. That would give anybody a slight case of body dysmorphia just by shear osmosis. 

Well…that and the stretch marks. 

OK.  There’s my “equally embarrassing” tidbit. 

During the last several years I had an ongoing affair with my mistress Krispy Kreme as well as several other culinary trysts.  For you deprived Northerners who may not know the lure of Krispy Kreme: imagine Dunkin Donuts with twice the fat and sugar, and served fresh, hot out of the oil.  The store even has a sign that says “Hot Now” that glows illicitly from the window.  Anyway, I had expanded enough to get some stretch marks around the "love handle" region.

So regardless of what my environment may have contributed to my recent focus on personal fitness, I have scars on my skin to prove that I needed to do something. 

So why is that equally embarrassing? 

Because, my wife’s secret is that she has stretch marks too.

Hers came courtesy of her last pregnancy not from secret rendezvous with Ben and Jerry. 

I think hers are cool. 

This is probably because I’m a man and I view her stretch marks the way I would view a battle scar.  If you see a guy with a big scar on his face, for example, you know he’s got a story. 

And it’s gonna be a good one.  Knife fight or shark attack.  Not something like “knitting mishap”. 

Though that might be a cool story too, now that I think of it. 

The point is that, as a man, when I see “scar” I see “story”. 

So that is how I view my wife’s stretch marks.  They’re cool because I know the story they tell.  They tell the story of three beautiful kids and her cute basketball belly, and gestational diabetes and labor.

They’re a sign of a journey. 

So are mine. 

Mine may be self-inflicted reminders of my personal demons but they still show where I’ve been.  And for both of us, they’re proof that we’ve been stretched more than we (or our skin) thought we could be. 

God has had a funny way of doing that in my spiritual life too. 

He’s never been afraid of stretching me more than I thought I could take.  But like Laura’s stretch mark story, God’s stretching is always the result of new life growing on the inside. It’s always hard, always scary, and it always leaves a mark.  It’s the kind of mark that will remind us of what God has done and how far He’s brought us.  Quite literally, as the guest preacher at Osterville Baptist Church shared a few weeks ago, when we’re stretched beyond what we can take, when we come to the end of ourselves, that’s where we’ll find God.  And those are stretch marks I want. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

Traffic, Panzers, and Fruit

Today, I’m going home.  After three months away, I’m about to get on a plane bound for Tennessee knowing that I get to stay there for a while.  It’s a wonderful feeling.

Of course there are several hurdles I must jump before I can get there: Traffic, lines, and taxiing.  This post will start off sounding grouchy because all three of these hurdles are basically the same.  They all involve other people getting in the way of my going where I want to go.

The nerve. 

What’s the world coming to? 

I’m not one particularly prone to road rage but, when the desire to see my family is met with the stubborn donkey called Labor Day traffic, I find myself wishing I could tempt that donkey to move forward with a carrot. 

And by “carrot”, I mean “cattle prod attached to a Panzer tank”. 

And then, once the traffic donkey has been slain and sent to the glue factory, I have to contend with airport security lines. 

This is where I shine. 

You see, I’ve flown more since 9/11 than I ever did before and so I know the drill.

I try to act nonchalant as I take off my shoes.  I thank the security personnel for keeping me safe and I truly mean it.  I allow myself to be funneled into the nylon-strap, security switchback that makes me think of Disney Land…except less fun.  And I make sure that I’m not carrying any of the prohibited items listed on the obviously posted signage. 

It’s this last point that is often the source of my frustration. 

Not because I’ve ever had to throw away a fifty dollar bottle of cologne, but because other people have to do that.  And that makes the line move slower.

I’m on my way to see my family and, of course, I wind up behind the one person with thigh-high lace up boots, a steel plate replacing their left-side ribs and a complete case of soda in their carry-on bag. 

So I wait, inwardly cursing. 

Yes.  Even worship leaders struggle with that sometimes. 

Then, after the security lines, comes the Southwest boarding line.  These I don’t mind because, in general, Southwest customers are friendly and like to chat.  They’re also loyal and know what they’re doing.  But then, once we’re all packed like Vienna sausages on the plane, they pull away from the gate and then park on the tarmac. 

“This is the captain.  Uhhhhh…it looks like there are just a couple of planes ahead of us here so, it’s just be a few minutes before we’ll be ready for take-off.  For your comfort, I’m going to tell the flight attendants to strap into their seats, rendering them incapable of helping you,  and then I’ll turn of the air conditioning.  HAHAHAHAHAHHA (continued maniacal laughter).” 

Of course the second part of that isn’t true. 

I know several pilots and I don’t think any of them have maniacal laughs. 

Anyway, after that, we take off and I’m on my way home.  There’s just that little problem of time. 

For those of you not familiar, “time” is that pesky part of creation that involves things like waiting, and after three months away, I’m severely lacking in my ability to do that well.

In the Bible there are these things called “The Fruit of The Spirit”.  What that’s talking about is the characteristics that will be evident when God’s Spirit takes root or “indwells” in one’s heart.  While most of us don’t live in farming communities, it’s pretty much common sense that you don’t get apples from a peach tree.  Why?  Because the fruit will match the type of tree.

So what does this have to do with my waiting in lines and getting stuck in traffic? 

Let’s see if you can figure it out.  I’ll give you a hint. 

The Fruit of the Spirit are:  Love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

Is there anything wrong with me wanting to see my family?  No.  In fact, I believe that desire is a good and godly thing.  It’s more of a longing than impatience. 

Is it wrong for me to get mad at everyone for the fact that they don’t step out of my way and let me pass, unhindered, through the lines?  More than likely…yes. 

Why is patience such a big deal? 

Because, impatience is all about pride.

It’s about me getting what I want, when I want it, regardless of anyone else. 

Sometimes this is subtle but, as I write this, I’m being convicted that it’s true. 

Patience requires me to step out of the center of my little universe and to look around.  It requires that I trust God and His timing for things.  It means that I stop trying to be god of my world and let God be the one in charge.  In a very real way, it’s about obeying the first commandment: You will have no other Gods before me.  And so, my godly longing to see my family runs into God’s sovereignty and that’s not even a fair fight. So I pray that, even though I’m counting the seconds, God will change me while I wait a little more.