Monday, January 26, 2009

Sleeping Bags, Staircases, and The Tango


This past Friday we had dinner with some old friends. 

Hopefully you know the kind of friends I’m talking about. 

They’re those people with whom we have a long history of laughter, tears, major fights and reconciliation, and the comfort of knowing that, at the end of the day, we love each other. 

Even though their kids are older than our kids, Brehm, Elijah, and Alanna LOVE playing with them.

This is always good when the parents want to hang out and talk in the kitchen. 

**Side note**

Why is it that people always wind up in the kitchen? 

And, considering that this seems to be a universal given, why do architects insist on designing homes with formal living rooms? 

I’ve never understood that. 

Just make a giant kitchen with comfortable chairs. 

But I digress. 

So, like every other “hang” time, the adults were in the kitchen when we heard:

THUMP THUMP THUMP then laughter.

THUMP THUMP THUMP then more laughter. 

We investigated. 

The kids were “Staircase Sledding”. 

If you have children and you have never heard of this game, then allow me to explain.


Before I do, I’ll issue this warning:

If you’re a worrywart like me, you might want to pre-dial “9-1” and have your finger ready to push the final “1” before you continue reading. 


Everyone ready? 


Staircase Sledding involves two kids getting into a sleeping bag together and flinging themselves down a flight of stairs. 

All parents of small children can press that “1” now. 

We came around the corner just in time to see Elijah (who was shoved into the bottom of the sleeping bag) and Brehm flip, roll and bounce down a very long staircase, then crash into our friend’s youngest daughter who was covered in another sleeping bag at the bottom of the stairs. 

Of course our boys thought this was great fun. 

I thought this game should be called “Kill Daddy With A Heart Attack”. 

We told them to stop and explained to them that they could get REALLY hurt or dead.

They looked at us as if the only thing that was getting hurt or dead was their good time. 



Several years ago, Laura and I served at a camp in Northern California called the JH Ranch. 

Besides playing on the worship team, during the day, I was a “Tree Lizard”. 

That meant that I spent my days harnessed, forty feet in the air, on a small platform helping campers transition from the ground to the high ropes challenges. 

One of the events was called The Tango.

It consisted of two wires that got further and further apart. 

The campers had to lean on each other for balance. 

When they started, their hands were on one another’s shoulders.  By the time they reached the other end, they were almost parallel to the ground, arms stretched out, and leaning their full body weight on their partner’s hands. 

I’ve done it.

It’s terrifying.  

The interesting thing about it is, that the most natural thing to do is bend at the waist to keep your balance. 

This is also the one thing that will make you fall.



Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 both say the same thing:

“There is a way that seems to right to man but in the end it leads to death.”

I used to share those verses with campers who were about to do The Tango. 

It’s also the verse I thought of when my kids were staircase sledding. 

In both cases, the most dangerous thing was the thing that seemed like a good idea.

And so, what’s scary to me about this verse is the phrase, “seems right”. 

It’s scary because, if I’m honest, there have been too many times that I’ve assumed that the “Christian” thing to do was whatever made sense, was logical, or seemed wise to me.

I’ve trusted in my gut and not trusted in my God.

And that’s the “gospel” of common sense. 

Not The Gospel.

It’s following my instinct instead of following Jesus.

And those verses are clear.

Listening to that “good head on my shoulders” will find me in a sleeping bag….

..tumbling down the stairs. 

Monday, January 19, 2009


This weekend, Laura and I went away. 

It was the first time that we’ve been away from the kids for more than one night. 

And yes...we do know that it’s kinda pathetic that our idea of a “getaway” is an intensive job interview weekend. 

My mom flew down to watch the kids. 

Because it’s been a while since she’s had them to herself (and since Elijah is going through the terrible threes) we devised a covert code with our neighbors so we could keep tabs on how things were going.  We often borrow things from each other, and so we used a basic color system. 

If my mom told us that they borrowed something green like, say, broccoli, it was “code green” and we would know that everything was OK. 

If they borrowed some bananas, we would know that things were “iffy” but otherwise OK. 

Tomatoes?  That was getting into “Lord Of The Flies” territory. 

Of course this was the weekend that they borrowed the black and blue shop vac. 

After our frantic phone call, they reassured us that using the shop vac was code for “messy van” and nothing more. 

So, knowing that things were copacetic on the home front, we relaxed and enjoyed our time in North Carolina. 

While we were there, we had some time to explore the area with the aid of our guide “Penny”. 

Penny is what we called the Tom Tom™ brand GPS that our host lent us. 

We called her that because the GPS’s voice mode was set on “British female”. 

She said things like, “take the next right and proceed onto the motorway” and, “turn right in 300 yards” and, “silly American, the pound is stronger than the dollar”. 

She also couldn’t seem to find any Starbucks but could easily find the quickest route to the local gourmet teashop. 

Go figure. 

So, Penny directed us around town. 

But we weren’t so sure about Penny. 

Sometimes she would take us through the winding back roads as a “short cut” instead of keeping to the main streets. 

While I’m sure that she was just trying to take the quickest route, it made us very skeptical. 

Was she, perhaps, going to get us lost just to get even for the Revolutionary War? 

We didn’t know. 

But we had no choice but to follow her commands.

Even when they seemed crazy. 

And thankfully we discovered that, despite her mildly sinister politeness, she was a very reliable guide.

Even when we had our bearings and deviated from her course, she faithfully persisted to speak directions that would bring us back to where we were supposed to go. 

And I thought about Exodus.

In The Bible, God was always leading His people.

The most familiar example of this is the Exodus story. 

God freed His people from slavery and then led them in the wilderness for forty years.

He gave very specific directions but when Israel deviated from His course, He was always faithful to lead them back. 

He continually spoke, guiding His people, quite literally, to His destination. 

And that is amazingly encouraging to me right now. 

As Laura and I seek God’s directions in this new season, we rest in the knowledge that, even if it seems crazy, He is a worthy and faithful guide. 

We can trust where He leads, even if it takes unexpected turns. 

And, unlike Penny, He will always persist in speaking.

Penny has a power button we can use to shut her up.

God does not.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hans and The Magical Half-Bath Of Wonder And Mystery

One of the greatest things about being a dad is that you continually get to see things through your kid’s eyes. 

The average things of life take on a new and unexpected sense of excitement. 

Things like seeing snow for the first time, discovering their little voices, or, my favorite, “The Magical Half Bath of Wonder And Mystery –ry  -ry  -ry” 

Yes, the echoing announcer voice said it right. 

My baby girl is enamored…nay…obsessed with our downstairs half bathroom. 

She loves it. 

She’ll walk toward the door, look back with a smile, and then run as fast as she can into the “powder room” laughing hysterically. 

I’ll rush in behind her to make sure that the toilet is closed and she isn’t splashing playfully again. 

And yes….I said “again”. 

Lately I’ll catch up with her and she’s looking, awestruck, at the handle on the commode, her lips making a perfect “O” as if to say, “DADDY….HAVE YOU SEEN THIS CHAIR?!?!  IT’S GOT SHINY SILVER JEWELRY ON IT!!  AND IT RATTLES!  I SAID HAVE YOU SEEN THIS CHAIR!?!?!” 

I truly can’t remember the last time I marveled at the lever on the toilet. 

But man! Does she marvel. 

And then there’s Hans. 

He’s the wind-up, back-flipping dog we got at the penny candy store on Cape Cod. 

You wind him up and he does back-flips. 

Kind of like a canine Mary Lou Retton except Hans only “sticks” the landing forty percent of the time.

When he does make the landing I’m always disappointed that he doesn’t arch his back and throw up his arms.

10 point deduction from the American judge.

We call him Hans because he has that word impressed on his plastic doggy hindquarters.

Anyway, all he does is wind up, flip, miss the landing, fall on his side and then repeatedly kick his legs. 

Every time. 

And every time, Alanna’s eyes blink in surprise as if, at any moment, Hans would leap straight into her face. 

Of course he never does but her constant surprise was fascinating to me. 

It made me think about the last time I was surprised, and what ought to surprise me.

Anyone who knows Laura and me knows that we keep a journal of how God has provided for our family. 

We call it our Ebenezer because in Hebrew, that word means “Rock Of Help”. 

Without sounding too preachy, EVERY Christian should keep a journal like this. 

No exceptions. 

OK.  The soapbox is being stowed. 

The funny thing about it, though, is that we’ve been truly shocked every time God’s provided for us. 

But should we be?

I think that this is another one of God’s mysteries…one of His glorious tensions. 

On the one hand, I think that it’s only right that we’re amazed and bewildered every time God does something miraculous. 

On the other hand, most of what amazes us is merely God being God. 

It’s Him being who He said He would be.

When He’s good, when He provides, when He’s gracious, when He heals, when He disciplines and when He does the impossible.

He’s just being faithfully Him. 

And our posture should be like Alanna with Hans: constant amazement at the repetition of a consistent nature. 

In other words…

We should be awed by His faithfulness.   

Monday, January 5, 2009

Taunting With Baby Jesus

For whatever reason, this year, people seemed very eager to be through with Christmas.

In fact, in our neighborhood, several houses had removed their decorations on the 26th.

I’m not sure why it was. 

Maybe it’s because of the unusually warm weather we’re having here in Middle Tennessee where even the trees are being lulled into budding by temperatures in the mid-sixties. 

Or maybe they’re preparing even earlier, this year, for St. Eastentine Fool’s of July.

Regardless, this year, I kinda felt that way too. 

And so the day after New Year’s Laura and I began to put Christmas decorations away.

As I was packing up ornaments, I reached into the tree and pulled out a present that had been stuck into its boughs. 

It was a craft that Elijah had made at church. 

Inside the little, unassuming brown box was yellow, yarn “straw”, a paper Baby Jesus (clearly reflecting the diversity of His creation by donning purple and orange crayon colored skin), and a paper angel in the lid. 

Elijah, who sees EVERYTHING, cried out, “Baby Jesus!!  I want Him!”

So, I handed the present to him.

“I love baby Jesus,” he said, (sounding more like he said, “I lub baby Jeebus”) and then went to show Brehm.  Who turned, Incredible Hulk like, into the green-eyed monster. 

BREHM: “I want Baby Jesus!” 

ELIJAH: “No! MY Baby Jesus.” 

BREHM: “But I want him!!”

ELIJAH (holding the present out to Alanna): “You want him?”

ALANNA: “yes.”

ELIJAH: “no!”

And then he ran around the living room taunting his older brother and little sister with The Baby Jesus. 

Alanna got so frustrated that she would burst into tears every time she saw the box.

Despite the growing lists posted in cyberspace containing all the things that make Baby Jesus cry, apparently, Baby Jesus makes my daughter cry.  Great!  Just great.

Finally, I shouted, “ENOUGH!” and took the present from Elijah and packed it away to wait, faithfully, with the rest of the decorations, until next year. 

And so I, the guy who had had his mind completely blown by the incarnation this Advent, took this symbol of God’s Christmas gift and put it, unceremoniously, in a blue Rubbermaid tub. 

Then I paused. 

In my hurry to "get on with things", I realized that I didn’t want to put the baby Jesus away for another year. 

I didn’t want to have unpacked him this December, gawked at him for a month, and then packed him away again. 

I didn’t want to move on to the crucified and risen Jesus of Easter while being forgetful of the baby in a manger.

In the same way that Christmas doesn’t make sense with out The Cross, Easter doesn’t make sense without the incarnation.

So, today I dug that present out of the blue tub before it got lost in that sea of forgetfulness called “the attic”. 

I’m thinking of putting it somewhere really annoying. 

Like in the cup holder of my car or on the floor by my bed. 

Anywhere that I will continually trip and stumble over it so I will constantly be reminded of God’s mind bending, miraculous, and priceless gift.

For more than one month of the year.