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.

The Light Under The Door

11 05 2010

Early in the morning, when I am meeting with God by reading His word and praying, I am often interrupted by a knocking at my office door. It isn’t an insistent knock, but a soft “I’m out here in case you are wondering” knock. The sun is just coming up so I will open the blinds and turn off the lights in the room. The little person knocking in my door can be spared the rude brightness of manufactured light in exchange for the welcoming illumination provided personally by God.

I know who’s out there. It’s always the same little boy. When the other boys get up they head straight through the kitchen and towards our bedroom to jump in bed with Jeni. But not this boy; this boy has a different perspective. When he comes out of his room he sees the light underneath my office door so he scoots right over to it and begins knocking. I can almost see his light coming underneath my office door too. “Good morning Caedmon!”

I will pick him up and he will lay on the bed next to my desk and look out the window as the day dawns before him. I will go back to my first appointment of the day, with God. This morning while I was praying for Caedmon I opened my eyes and looked at him. Instantly I stopped what I was saying and reflected on the blessing  laying just a few feet from me.

I often struggle with how to pray for him. As many of you know he has cerebral palsy which affects the development of his motor skills. Do I pray for God to let him be “normal?” HOW DARE I DO THAT!! I don’t want him to be normal. In fact, I’d rather be more like him than be more normal.

My prayers this morning “for him” instantly became prayers “for me.” As I looked at him laying on his tummy with his knees pulled up by his ribs just looking out the window content and calm, I envied him.

I thought of the night before when he had one of his laughing moments that took his breath away. “God, please let me laugh like Caedmon.”

I thought of how passionately he loves his “best buddies.” “God, please let me love as deeply as Caedmon.”

I thought of how he loves food, all food and starts saying “mmmmm”(yum) before it even gets in his mouth. “God, please let me savor life and express gratitude like Caedmon.”

I thought of all the people he has inspired and touched. “God please grant me a positive influence like Caedmon.”

Then I thought again of his body. I though about that borderline hateful word, “normal.”

Oh that I could be more like God and look at people’s hearts and not their outward appearance. Would I really want a son who had a sense of entitlement? That took his family for granted? That complained about the abundance in his life? That was disrespectful? But, walked “normal.”

As a dad who is ignorant and a christian who is aware that, the more I learn the less I know; I still wrestle. I look at Lebron James, Michael Phelps, and Lionel Messi and covet their athleticism and accomplishments on behalf of my boys. I know how much I love my Seminoles, Atlanta teams, and US Soccer and imagine how awesome it would be to have my boys competing on one of them.

At the same time, I see the lives of many of those guys. Lives full of broken relationships and despair. Boys with the responsibilities of men, acting like… boys. I see these elite athletes with their better than “normal” abilities and all too normal lives.*

What does that say about me? Is that what I want for my kids? “God forbid.”

I have lost my way a little here. This isn’t a blog about what’s wrong in sports, or the dangers of fame and fortune. This is a blog about me recognizing that I wish I were more like my son than I wish he were more like me. About me realizing that “normal” is ugly and God is more creative than that. I can’t explain why Toby crawls better than Caedmon. But even more bewildering (and unsettling), is why Caedmon loves people better than I do.

“God, please let me be more like Caedmon… please.”

*(authors disclaimer. The paragraph about athletes bad choices was not speaking directly about James, Phelps, or Messi, but a generalization of the world of professional athletics. Those guys may be pillars of integrity, I don’t know them.)

** (authors disclaimer #2. I believe with every bit of my understanding of God that He absolutely can restore my son’s body to function… I can’t even write this. Function “normally?” What even is that? Function “like everyone elses?” What would that look like? It’s not the same even in my own family. Function “as God intended?” Who’s to say that Caedmon isn’t functioning exactly as God intended? I can’t. So, what do I believe? I believe in a perfect creator who makes no mistakes. I believe in a God who has a plan for Paul, David, Peter, Rahab, and Solomon all of whom were morally handicapped and He also has a plan for those with physical handicaps. He heals some, he doesn’t heal others but it is all for His Glory. So, I pray. I pray that Caedmon could run and jump. That he could play the sports he so loves. I pray that he will be able to go to the bathroom without our help. At the same time, I pray that he won’t be “normal.”)

Bloody Elbow

7 05 2010

He must have been excited to get in the house because Jackson shot out of the car and hit the ground running. Unfortunately he only got about 3 feet before he tripped and was introduced to the law of gravity. Scrapes on his hands and knees hurt but he was doing OK until he looked at his elbow and saw… blood. As my dear old friend Isaac used to say, “for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction.” He wasn’t thinking about toddlers though. It could be re-written, “for every action there’s a disproportionate over reaction.”

Man, did he cry hard.

He thought he was hurt, but it wasn’t until he saw the effects of his injury that he became truly sad. This is true of us with our mistakes as well.

We will often times make choices that hurt ourselves or others and we fail to realize their implications until we see the “blood.” Maybe it is a heartbroken child, perhaps an unresponsive spouse, or maybe a friend who won’t return our calls. There are countless other scenarios but I think you get the point.

In dealing with addicts, AA refers to this place of finally realizing the “blood” in our lives as “hitting bottom.” For some it is when a spouse walks out. I knew a guy who was fired from his job. For some it may be killing someone in a drunk driving accident. The hope is that someone’s “bottom” is as high as possible. It is tragic to see someone lose everything that is truly important because they can’t see the “blood” that their choices are creating.

David got real close. In the Bible we can read of his adultery with Bathsheba. Unfortunately he could have stopped many times but he failed to see the “blood” and he made the matter much worse. He had others lie for him. He tried to seduce Bathsheba’s husband into compromising his integrity. Finally he had Uriah, her husband, killed. If only he had looked at his elbow!

After his treachery was over, Nathan rebuked David with a swift kick in the pants and David finally saw the “blood.” David’s response was swift and he penned his contrition in Psalm 51. You need to read that before reading on in this post.

Just like Jackson, when David saw the effects of his error he was heart-broken. Truly contrite he begged God to forgive him and redeem his wayward heart. Back in 2 Samuel, you can read of his pleading with God for the life of his child. David knew he had done wrong and that he deserved everything he received. If he had just looked at his elbow sooner!

Have you been there? Has there been a time in your life you wish you could do over? Can you look back and see that there were signs that you missed? That blood was dripping from your elbow but you didn’t realize it?

We all tend to overlook our errors. We justify ourselves to make us feel OK. We gloss over our sin and hope everything will work itself out. We just don’t address it and convince ourselves that “time heals all wounds.” Rubbish.

The truth is that we are so prideful that we believe that we don’t hurt anybody. Sure, others hurt and offend us all the time, but we don’t. Even those that read this and don’t want to admit it… it’s true of you too. We are ego-aholics. Oh that we could see our elbows.

My hope for this post is that we would stop and reflect. That we would ask God, as David did, to search our hearts. That we would stand up to ourselves and reject the lie of our own pride. Can we draw the proverbial line in the sand and leave the delusion of our perfection on the other side? We hurt people. With our words, actions, and passivity. We are not perfect… but no one expects us to be.

The Bible calls David “a man after God’s own heart.” Not because he was perfect, but because of things like Psalm 51. We  can be just like David by acknowledging our frailty, rejecting our arrogance and humbly accepting God’s reconciliation through Christ and actively working to reconciliation with others.

News flash… your elbows bleeding. Go and see the doctor.

“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!

Scared of Fear

4 05 2010

Caedmon and I were a little late getting to school the other day and as we were walking towards the building another tardy tot was coming from the other direction. He was running towards us while looking to his left as his dad or mom drove the car that he was trying to keep up with. The little Liddell turned towards the school just before us and I playfully said “racing your dad huh?”

He must have misheard me because his facial expression went from innocent, childhood fancy to writhing fear in quicker than you can say Jason Voorhees. His pace instantly quickened as I (from his perspective) stalked him towards the door. He grabbed the door handle and opened the door just enough to allow his wiry frame to squeeze through and pulled the door shut behind him. Frighteningly enough I too opened the door and followed him into the school of horror. He had sprinted to the counter to stamp his tardy slip and was out the next door faster than a Ricky Vaughn fastball. But, I was unrelenting and as soon as our tardy pass was stamped the chase continued. As I stepped out into the corridor his horrified eyes found mine as he was walking backwards away from me like a cornerback dropping into coverage. Finally he turned to escape and began to run; only to walk as he passed in front of room windows. SPRINT…walk briskly…SPRINT…walk briskly… until I graciously entered Caedmon’s classroom and let the child survive.

That little boy got me thinking about fear. defines fear this way… “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to be in fear. This idea of fear gives us pause when we hear the Bible talking about fearing God.

When the Bible talks about fearing God, it isn’t referring the definition above. The words used, like “yare,” had reverence in mind when they were penned. defines reverence as…a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration. Now that’s more like it.

Do you ever watch the people who work with lions and alligators who do ridiculous things like stick their heads in these creatures mouths and think…”that guy deserves whatever he gets!”

Every time we think that, we understand the Biblical idea of fear. It is one thing to train a lion to hop onto a platform it is a whole different jar of salsa to place your cranium into his gazelle-hole. It lacks respect for the fact that the animal is a designed killer and at any moment it could decide you are dinner. It’s foolish. Entertaining I guess… but foolish none the less.

Our posture should be with God one of incredible respect, awe, and reverence…fear. We must appreciate that He is God and can do powerful things beyond our imagination because He made everything. We must also appreciate that He would be totally justified should He decide to end things this moment because He made everything. It’s His game.

We don’t need to walk around terrified of some supernatural dictator of pain; but we do need to respect that He is holy and powerful.

While it is absolutely true that God is holy, powerful, wrathful, and just. It is equally true that He is righteous, servant minded, loving, and kind.

This video displays profoundly the idea of our awesome, powerful God and the love He has for us…

Wasn’t that wild?

Just be encouraged today that the most powerful force our universe will ever know desires to be your friend. We have no need to be scared of fear, on the contrary, we must embrace fear. I don’t know about you but when I end up face to muzzle with the Lion of Judah I want Him to see me as the Lion up there saw that lady and not like an enemy. The only way that can happen is if we accept his offer of friendship. That offer is the gift of His Son, Jesus… and I ain’t lion! (sorry, I couldn’t help myself)

Masters Perfect

30 04 2010

Growing up in Augusta, GA provided our family the opportunity to rent our house out to patrons coming in town for The Masters golf tournament. Renting our house out provided my mom the opportunity to enslave me and my 5 siblings for an intense, cram session of spring cleaning. It was brutal. We had to clean the depths of our closets, scrub grout lines, and other tasks normally reserved for moving out. I can still hear my mom yelling at one of us complaining, mediocrity driven serfs; with her teeth clenched and blood pressure skyrocketing… “MASTERS PEEERFECT!”

Oh, how we hated that term. More significantly, I hated what it represented. The idea of cleaning our house like an over zealous dental hygienest on her first case of plaque was bad enough; but knowing that it was being done to impress someone else made me mad. I understand a little better now, of course. Those renters paid for our family vacation every year, but I still didn’t like cleaning for them.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I found myself spring cleaning in my own home. Jeni, Caedmon, Jackson, and Andrew all spent the afternoon eradicating pollen fall-out from our back porch. It is a big porch with lots of toys, a grill, lawn furniture, tables, rubber floor mats, and rugs which translates into a lot of scrubbing. We were hosing off everything, then hitting it all up with brushes and sponges. We cleaned all the window sills, door frames, and hand rails. We hosed off all the spider webs from the side of the house and finally removed the Christmas tree from the back yard. It was verging on, dare I say it, “Masters Perfect.”

But the crazy thing was that I enjoyed every bit of it. It was surreal, I guess it is the same disoriented sensation that people who eat oysters must feel as they enjoy something that is so obviously unpleasant. Why was I suddenly enjoying something that for years was the bane of my existence? I think I might know.

When cleaning in Augusta, my efforts were for the benefit of others. In Tallahassee, my efforts were for the benefit of my family.
In Augusta, the family slaved and never enjoyed it while others experienced a false presentation of our home.
In Tallahassee, the family labored so that they could enjoy it and others will benefit from it too.

This is a great key to spiritual and moral maturity. Back in Jesus day there were a group of moral high brows called the Pharisees. These clowns spent their days trying to obey the law perfectly while chastising others for anything less than perfection. Jesus pointed out their obvious falsehood when he called them “white washed tombs.” Clean on the outside yet filthy on the inside.

It is easy for us to fall prey to the idea of building a facade of morality and holiness while inside we are broken and unclean. Sure we may not have an affair, but our thought life is despicable. Maybe we drop cash in the offering plate, but drop even more on horse races. Maybe we sound righteous publically, but privately we gossip and slander with passion. We fake, we pretend… we lie.

We are quick to point it out in others and throw out the hypocrite word like beads in a Mardi gras parade. Truth be told, most of us struggle with inconsistency between our lives and out intentions.

Here’s my point. We need to view our spiritual and moral development much like we viewed our porch cleaning. Our lives are dirty and cluttered and a thorough cleaning would be very helpful. We don’t scrub the surface to present ourselves to others, we deep clean for the changing of ourselves.

If I allow God, His word, and the counsel of others to lead me through internal change; my wife, kids, and friends will benefit from me being a more mature person. If I try to force change in order to impress people; nobody benefits.

What if we spent more time in self-reflection and self-transformation and less time in public evaluation and self-presentation? What if we were more concerned with our true spiritual and moral condition and less about our public perception? What if we lived honest, self-critical lives instead of pretend, self-preserving lives?

We all need to clean off our porches, so let’s do it already. But, we don’t need to worry about making ourselves “Masters Perfect;” instead we need to trust the Word of God, be honest with our true condition, and let the Master make us perfect.