Nice mud

13 05 2010

 A few weeks ago Jeni was inspired to become a gardener. Mrs. Nita goes to our church and she volunteered to help Jeni get started. True to her word she showed up one afternoon with a “tear up the ground machine” (see picture over there) and some gifts for our boys to put in the garden.

By the time those eager ladies were done we had not one, but two plots. Each of them large enough to park a couple of cars on! So the gardening began. Jeni bought a bunch of seeds and plants and went about planting in both plots. Flowers in the front and food in the back. The boys helped her rake up rows and then plant the plants. Just like that, the planting was done and the watering began.

Have you ever been in a large stadium that was only partially full, that gives you an idea of what our garden’s look like. A fair amount of plants within a huge plot… sparse a best. The picture above depicts our gardens quite well. But after a few days Mrs. Nita came back over and she said the darndest thing. “Jeni, your gardens are beautiful!”

Ummmm, have you actually seen the gardens? Those gaping rectangles of mud where lush green sod once grew, those gardens? Those plots that more closely resemble Popeye’s chest hair than a fertile garden, are you sure you saw those? Are you sure you didn’t mean to say, “good start,”  “those have potential,” or “nice mud?” Beautiful?? Really?

She was sincere. And she is a knowledgeable farmeresque lady. Her words haunted me for a couple of days.

How could she say that?
How could she believe that?

Then it hit me. She appreciated the garden for what it was right then and wasn’t judging it on what it might be one day. It was a perfectly plowed, perfectly planted, and thoroughly watered garden complete with the cute little signs and everything. It wasn’t fully in bloom, but it was beautiful. Do you believe her?

This truth slugged me in the kidney. I tend to expect the people around me to be in full bloom, and think of them as ugly. Instead of seeing people as they are… on their way to bloom and beautiful in the moment.

The person I am most guilty of this with is my wife, Jeni. I might be the only jerk in the world-wide web who does this, but if I’m not hopefully you can learn from our beautiful garden’s too. You see, instead of appreciating my wife as a maturing garden; I just get upset that she isn’t Eden yet. Instead of celebrating the shoots that are growing and the plants that are filling out; I stubbornly demand fruit. Instead of savoring the process of watering her and cultivating growth; I withhold what she needs and get mad at her for not appearing lush. Are you convinced I’m a jerk yet?

Husbands this lesson it for you. Parents this lesson is for you. Coaches, you too. Anyone who has people in their life that aren’t perfect yet should find this applicable. Even as you look at yourself in the mirror each morning.

We are a work in progress, but there is beauty in the work already accomplished. Just like a plant, first breaking through the soil as it strives to be close to the sun is beautiful; so is your wife as she strives to be what God made her to be.

A budding plant might be surrounded by tons of dirt. Your wife is surrounded by piling laundry, sinks full of dishes, mouths demanding food, groceries yearning to be bought, diapers needing to be changed, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on some more.

It is easy for us to swoop in and only notice the “dirt” and fail to see the flower that is trying to survive in the midst of it all. We can get angry with that flower for being a little dirty, instead of brushing her off and appreciating who she is. Does it sting yet? I feel sick writing it, because it is true of me. Although, my prayer is that Lord willing, it was true of me.

Thankfully the flower blooming in my home already has branch of forgiveness and the leaves of love. I am thankful that she doesn’t see me as dirty and immature, but as beautiful just where I am and hopeful of who I am growing to be. Hopefully, we can see each other as Mrs. Nita sees a new garden. Hopefully, we can forgive those who see us like I have been guilty of doing.

Hopefully, we know that the master gardener, Jesus Christ, loves us just as we are and offers us the trellis of His Word to grow to full maturity and bear fruit for His glory. Amen.



12 05 2010

I often am the one who picks up Caedmon from his kindergarten. He goes for a couple of hours, three days a week and he loves it. When I arrived today his friend Gabriel was reading to him and Caedmon began desperately attempting to tell me something.

His teacher saw us talking and came over to share what Caedmon was so excited about. He had driven his wheelchair from his desk over to the table (about 10 feet) all by himself! (not exactly all by himself, but you’ll understand in a minute)

He wanted to show me so we wheeled him over to his desk so that he could perform his “trick” again. Caedmon has not been very successful driving his wheelchair to date because CP has had a more significant impact on the left side of Caedmon’s body so he is very right-handed. Whenever I have seen him drive his chair he would go in circles because he would only use his right hand on the right wheel. Not today!

He got a good push with his right hand and the chair began on its path towards the desk… with a slight slice. But then he bent down and reached across his body, gripping the left wheel with his right hand and tried to push.

This was a struggle for him and he was working at it for a few seconds before the help arrived. (grab your kleenex) In unison, his classmates stopped what they were doing and began chanting, “GO CAEDMON! GO CAEDMON! GO CAEDMON!” It was so sincere and so wonderful. He tried a little harder and he was able to get that left wheel to turn, “GO CAEDMON!” Then he popped his body upright with a Cheshire cat grin and effortlessly pushed the right wheel, “GO CAEDMON!” He bent back over and worked the left wheel, “GO CAEDMON!” In just a couple of minutes he had manipulated his chair over to the table and parked it smoothly into place, “YEEEEEAAAAAHHHH CAEDMON!” Yeah Caedmon for sure… but WAY TO GO CLASS!!

This blog isn’t so much about Caedmon but about the kids in his class and their incredible encouragement. I don’t know that we fully appreciate how powerful our words can be when people in our lives are struggling. Caedmon has a hard time with some physical things, but who of us doesn’t have hard times be they physical or otherwise?

Maybe we know someone who is struggling emotionally? Maybe a friend has lost someone? Maybe a family member is stuck and can’t get themselves where they want to go? Do you know someone who feels like they just keep going in circles and can’t get any traction in life? Maybe they need some encouragement.

The Bible teaches us that we need to “spur one another on” and “encourage one another.” God knows what he’s talking about, he created us after all. We all need encouragement because we all struggle.

Who among us wouldn’t want to see our hurting friend get out of the rut and begin moving again. To see them advance from feeling powerless to believing that they can do it! This is where the encouragement comes in. You are that momentum. You are that rooting audience.

Nobody put a hand on Caedmon’s chair, no one offered to push. Instead, everyone was generous with encouragement! At one point his teacher tried to help him steer and Caedmon moved her hand away and insisted on doing it himself; what a contrast to one minute prior when he was stuck and struggling.

The simplicity of the kids cheers were profound. No one coached, no one said “use you left hand.” Just, “GO CAEDMON!” To the kids, the goal was simple, get across the room. We, in our “maturity” can sometimes lose sight of the goals.
We demand perfection, when maybe our friend just needs to get across the room.
We expect sobriety, when maybe our loved one just needs to make it one more day.

Am I saying we should settle? Not at all. You better believe we want Caedmon to use that left hand. But, the kids don’t have that job. The kids job is to lovingly encourage their friend. The Physical Therapist will work on the left hand. PT’s make Caedmon work, encouragement fuels him for that work.

Not all of us are therapists, pastors, counselors, or addiction specialists; but all of us are friends. All of us can help by providing that fuel of encouragement. Who can you encourage today? Who can you write the note to? Who can you cheer?

Remember one very important thing. Those kids didn’t wait for Caedmon to have success to begin their chant… they cheered believing that their encouragement would help him succeed!

Let’s encourage someone today.

“It Doesn’t Taste Good Without Raisins”

5 05 2010

Our son Jack-Jack was excited (OK, maybe not that excited but who’s counting) about eating Raisin Bran for breakfast this morning. First off, does anyone else know a 4-year-old who would choose Raisin Bran over Honeycombs? This is the kind of person who actually enjoyed Indiana Jones 4. (I still love ya Matt)

Anyway, as he neared the end of his foray into fiber he found the bowl filled with only milk and bran, to which he exclaimed “It doesn’t taste good without raisins.” Little did he know that his statement of the obvious would become fodder for this blog.
(The alliteration in the preceeding paragraph was Fantastic!)

The Bible tells us we need to be “speaking the truth in love,” which basically means, “If you are gonna give a kid his fiber, make sure you include the raisins!”

If you think of truth as the doctrine of the Bible, then loves becomes the raisins or that “spoonful of sugar.”

We tend to swing back and forth between two extremes. In one corner you have the “truth first Bible bashers” while in the other you find the” just love everybody and it will work itself out” group. As you might surmise, this is basically comparing eating a bowl of bran with eating a bowl of raisins. I don’t know which food represents which ideal, but I don’t want to eat either one of  ’em.

Without love our offering of truth becomes a “resounding gong,” according to the Bible. Basically, we becoming an annoying nuisance to society and to our circle of influence in particular. But, failing to offer truth, by buying into the lie that pointing out a person’s blind spots is unloving or judgemental is equally detrimental. The Bible tells us that we are supposed to address sin in peoples lives, contrast the God of the Bible with the false religion of the world, and present Jesus as the Christ including His death, burial and resurrection (offer truth); but not to the neglect of love.  (here are a few examples)

Here’s how I see it. The Bible teaches that we love because He first loved us. It also teaches that God is love, and that no greater  loves exists that someone who would lay down their life for a friend. All of those statements are statements of doctrine… or truth. The whole idea of love is rooted in Christian theology. Without a truly selfless heart our “love” is self-serving and shallow. It doesn’t really consider others as better than us (as the Bible teaches). This “love” serves the one acting and not the one receiving… it’s not true love.

It is borderline evil to observe someone killing themselves with their choices and choose to avoid addressing those choices with them. Basically, we are loving ourselves by avoiding the more difficult path of conflict and reconciliation. Authentic, Biblical love gets involved.

The love of Christianity looks with compassion on those who are struggling and willingly gets into their mess to help them out. That’s what Jesus did. He entered our mess, even allowed our mess to be thrown upon Him in order to lovingly offer the truth of His forgiveness. That guy rocks!

Let’s remember today that our world needs raisins and bran.

My dad used to always say, in an effort to manage the house with 6 selfish kids living in it, “If you see something that needs to be done, do it.” He was referring to folding laundry, turning off a light, or unloading a dish washer; but I would like to offer similar more relational advice. “If you see someone who needs their raisins or their bran… give it to them.”

Your world is riddled with folks who need love through encouragement or sympathy and equally full of folks who need love through a swift kick in the pants.” You can be that love. You should be that love. The most unloving thing we can do is… nothing.

Hopefully this little thought was an enjoyable bowl of cereal 🙂 Enjoy your breakfast!


27 04 2010

On April 27th, 1968 my mom and dad began their marriage. 42 years ago they stood and told one another “for better, for worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health, till death do us part… I do”

Unfortunately, more than half of the marriages that begin these days begin with one or both parties lying to each other. I say that because more than half of the marriages that begin these days end in divorce… not death. Basically, what more than half of the people really mean to say is, “for better, richer, healthy, and as long as you make me happy I will stay with you unless I “fall in love” with someone else.” It’s a terrible indictment on our culture and our character but it is not the thrust of this blog. 42 years is the thrust of this blog.

Were all 42 years hunky dory? At least one of them wasn’t and that would be when yours truly was 2! Were all their years richer? Nope. Were they always the picture of health? Sure weren’t. So why didn’t they quit? 5 words… “till death do us part.”

They made a promise to one another, a committment. When they didn’t feel happy, healthy, or wealthy they harkened back to their transcendent committment to one another and to marriage. They didn’t always feel love for one another but because of their committment to one another they chose to love one another anyway.

This is the picture God wanted painted when he used marriage as a metaphor for His love for us. And God displayed this for us time and time again.

Our relationship with God was perfect in the beginning until we destroyed it… but God remained steadfast.

We abused the Earth, one another, and God so much that God regretted creating usbut He remained steadfast.

God warned us against our desire for a king; yet we insisted and rejected God… but He remained steadfast.

We rejected God’s gift of Jesus by crucifying Him… but He remained steadfast.

God’s committment to His plan of redemption for mankind is beyond our capacity to appreciate. We (humanity) have not historically been easy to love (see here, and here, and here). If we are honest, we must admit that we as individuals are not real loveable either.

I am sure glad that God doesn’t view and practice “love” the way we have perverted it in our day. If God loved the way you and I love we would be in a bad way. Needless to say, God’s love is profoundly different from ours and the word that best describes it is committment.

42 years is impressive.
42+ generations is glorious.

My parents made a promise and committed to one another for life.
God made a promise and He is committed to you for eternity.

Each of my parents responded to the other’s pledge of love with the words “I do.”
God has made His pledge of love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus… what do you say?

Thank you mom and dad for being married still today. Thank you for not being like the majority. Thank you for the stability you provide for your 6 kids. Thank you for the counter-cultural example you are to your 10 grand kids. Thank you for 42 strong years!

Way to go dad and mom, congratulations!!

That’s MY seat!

26 04 2010

I took Caedmon to one of the FSU vs. Miami baseball games this weekend. Two of those three games were won by the ‘Noles by walk-off hits in the ninth inning… we went to the other one 😦 This is not the point of my tale.

At one point in the game a couple of college students attempted to sit in some seats in the row in front of us. No one was sitting in them, but there was a purse in one. The kids asked the people in our row if they were saving the seats and one older lady glared at them at said, “that’s my purse and that’s my seat.” Geeze lady! Do you really need a seat for your purse? C’mon you old bag, move your old bag!

Had I not had the privilege of deeper insight those would have been my thoughts Had I not had the benefit of years those might have been my words. Thank God for both.

An inning or two earlier, Jeni’s dad told me about the old lady next to us. She had been a season ticket holder to FSU baseball games for many years… with her husband. Her husband had recently passed away and in remembrance of him she still bought his seat and kept it empty to honor him. Pretty cool actually. Reminiscent of the air force and their “missing man formation.” 

With that knowledge, I didn’t look so sourly on that widow paying respect to her husband. I didn’t fully comprehend her method; but I fully appreciated her motivation.

I will often come across a passage of scripture that leaves me scratching my head and ready to call God out for being mean or unmerciful. I’ll read about God’s unrelenting wrath and I am tempted to dismiss the Bible and all that it asserts about this tyrant of a God. But, thankfully I have the benefit of deeper insight. While I might not fully comprehend God’s methods, I do fully appreciate His motivation.

At first glance that old widow seemed a crotchety curmudgeon (that, my friends, is world-class alliteration), but the truth is that she is a devoted lover who is totally justified in her behavior. At first glance I totally understand when people believe God is a narcissistic dictator, but I know that’s not the truth.

The truth is that God is gracious. He is abounding in love. He desires that no one would perish. He is, at the same time, holy. He is pure. That holiness and purity require that he also be just which leads to wrath. We flinch at this idea when it is attributed to God. Yet, when I listen to political radio I hear people clamor for “accountability,” and “holding people responsible for their actions.” We believe that there is a right way and when our politicians violate that “right way” our view of constitutional “purity” requires that “justice” be expressed in the “wrath” of voting for someone else.

We totally get this idea and wield it ourselves. We just don’t like God doing the same.

The beauty of God is that this issue of His wrath is reconciled. This is the deeper insight that I am privildged to know. You see, God poured all the wrath that was due us onto Himself in the person of Jesus. The cross is the perfect picture of wrath and love united in one act for the redemption of all who would believe. It is the glory of God.

He is the devoted lover who is totally justified. You are the object of the love where Jesus became the object of His wrath. God has bought your seat with the blood of His son and He is holding it for you.