Peace

So this is how the big city folks do it.

I’m on a train from Kansas City to Chicago. Right now, I’m in a quiet coach car. Everyone is either reading, sleeping, or in the observation or dining cars, and I now have time, in the morning when I’m fresh, to do some writing.  I think it was Scott Turow, or maybe J.K. Rowling, who said they wrote entire novels while commuting to and from work on the train. Now I get it, how someone could do that.

Can’t do much writing driving home on the interstate.  And once in the office or at home, the work begins.

Writing on a train was, and maybe still is, a daily experience for Scott and J.K. It’s a brand-new, first-time thing for me.

But the northern Missouri scenery is beautiful, the ride smooth, and the peacefulness of the traincar welcome.

As I get older, I find that peace is the one thing I yearn for the most.  No, not “world peace.” Athletes change their names for it (remember “Metta World Peace” in the NBA?), and it’s a cliché answer for beauty pageant contestants (“If you’re chosen Miss Universe, what’s your platform?”), but it means something different for everyone.  As long as that’s the case, “world peace” won’t happen.

The peace I crave is an inner calm.

Life will disrupt your peace. Money gets tight, friends and family become ill and die, divorce happens, jobs are lost. Those are facts, and can’t be avoided. So what then? Those of us who have lived long enough can attest to times in our lives when the old saying that “God will never give you more than you can handle” just doesn’t ring true.

So before I criticize that old saying for not being Biblical, let me step back. It may not be a quote from the Bible, but it’s really only incomplete.

God didn’t intend for us to face all of our struggles alone. What is impossible for man is possible with God.  Paul put it differently: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Romans 8:28)

So maybe the old saying should be changed to read like this:  God never gives you something you can’t handle, because with God, you can handle anything. It changes that peace-taker in your life into a peace-maker, as you realize who has control over everything, and that any circumstance is no match for his mighty power.

So rest on God’s ability to handle whatever is robbing you of peace.  If you can’t find any peace of your own, take his, through his son Jesus Christ.  It’s a gift, free for the asking.

I’ve always been intrigued by Jesus’ greeting to his disciples: “Peace I bring to you; my peace I leave with you.”

Now I get it.

It Starts

You know that thing you knew would happen, you just didn’t know when?

That’s happening to me, right now.

And whenever this kind of thing happens, I hear the voice of the inimitable Nathan Lane, as Timon the meerkat in Disney’s The Lion King, in his best street-wise Brooklyn accent:

It starts.

For Timon and his rotund sidekick Pumbaa the warthog, the dreaded event was their buddy Simba the lion growing up, falling in love, and returning to his pride.

For me, it’s helping my parents synthesize 60 years of married life into a one- or two-bedroom assisted living apartment.

I’m an only child, I love my parents dearly, and I’m so happy they’re moving closer than the 400+ miles away where they currently live.  And I’m rejoicing that they may be able to actually attend our oldest daughter’s wedding this summer, as they missed our youngest daughter’s wedding this past March because they couldn’t travel.

But I didn’t count on the emotional toll this change would take. On them, or on me.

They live in the third house the’ve owned since I left home 38 years ago.  So for me, it’s not the place they are leaving that’s difficult. I never lived there. It’s their home for now, but it wasn’t my childhood home. (Thanks to the U.S. Marine Corps, my “childhood home” would be in about 15 different places.)

It’s what this change represents that hits the hardest.

These are the people who have given me everything. I never had to wait for them to deal with anyone else’s issues, as there never was anyone else.  I’ve lived my entire life up until now with a remarkable sense of security, because I could be certain of two things: One, they were always there for me. Not to bail me out of a jam, not to protect me from whatever bad might happen.  But just to talk and offer whatever wisdom they had. And two: They always, always accepted me for who I am. There was never even a hint of rejection.

So how do I now ask them to do something we all know needs to happen, but none of us want to happen? Is this how you “honor your father and mother” as God requires in the fifth commandment?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

But I do know this: I will cherish their remaining years.

 

 

 

On a Cross Beside Jesus (Luke 24:32-43)

I’m thankful every minute of my life that Jesus died for me on that cross.  I know that if God had chosen, he could have punished me for my sins instead of punishing Jesus.  But Christ’s atoning death satisfied my sin debt, and the debt of everyone else in the world who believes in Him.  Because Jesus chose to do it, I don’t have to take my place on a cross.

Nevertheless, someone like me was on a cross, that very day, at “the place of the skull.”  In fact, someone like each and every one of us was there. You may think I’m referring to Jesus himself — he took on human flesh and form, was tempted as we are, and suffered as a man.  But I’m not.  No, as Luke the physician points out in his Gospel, there were two others on the hill that day.  Two criminals, condemned to die, hanging on crosses to Jesus’ left and right.

Am I calling each of us a criminal?  Not per se, in that most of us have done nothing to warrant punishment under man’s law, especially a death sentence.  Still, we each share something with one, or the other, of the criminals who like Jesus drew their last breaths on that hill.  But what?  I’ll answer that question with another question: What is your approach to Jesus?  Or, as Jesus asked Peter, who do you say he is?

One of the criminals (I’ll call him the “first criminal”) joined the crowd and the soldiers, mocking Jesus and calling on Him to save Himself, if He was indeed the Christ.  The second criminal recognized that Jesus had done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve to die.  And in recognition of his Kingship, that criminal asked the creator of the universe simply to remember him when Jesus came into His kingdom.  He was not disappointed with Jesus’ answer.

You see, there’s just no middle ground with Jesus.  Either you join the second criminal in proclaiming Him to be who He said He was, or you will join the first criminal in questioning and doubting Him.  Riding the fence is just not possible — Jesus said so Himself.

Here’s the amazing thing:  Yes, Christ could have easily taken Himself off that cross and chosen to save Himself, just as the first criminal suggested. But, by staying on that cross, He chose to save…you.  And me.  And the rest of us.

Yes, it may indeed have been a Friday on Golgotha…..but Sunday’s coming.

The Water, The Bowl, and the Teachable Moment

For my #ThrowbackThursday offering, here’s a Maundy Thursday post, originally published last year.  This lesson is one all Christians, and especially Christian leaders, need today more than ever.  May you all have a blessed Easter!

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Jesus had a lot of opportunities to teach his disciples while on Earth. Object lessons, lessons that couldn’t be learned in any way other than being in his presence. Like Peter walking on the water, but then sinking when he took his eyes off Jesus. There were miraculous creations of wine and food, healings, and raising others from the dead. And oh yes, the sermons.

And yet, he saved one of his greatest lessons on leadership for one of his final teaching opportunities, that Last Supper night more than 2000 years ago.

Jesus — the only begotten Son, the Creator, who in just three days would defeat death and Hell itself — took on the garb of a servant and washed his disciples dirty, dusty feet.

So why did Jesus wait until the end of his ministry to wash his disciples feet? Why wait until his time on Earth with his disciples was almost over to drive home the point that leaders serve, and aren’t just served? He had talked with the disciples about this before (see Mark 10:43-44).  So why deliver this message in such a powerful way at the end?

We don’t know for sure, because the Bible doesn’t say. One thing we do know: This message was important to Jesus.

Peter, if I don’t wash your feet, you have no part with me. – John 13:8

Maybe it’s because the disciples took the opportunity in the Upper Room to squabble about which of them would be greater in the Kingdom (see Luke 22:24-30). Maybe it was clear that the lessons Jesus taught earlier just hadn’t sunk in.

And perhaps there was yet another reason, one based on simple human nature.

Modern educators often reference the principle of “primacy and recency.” Learners tend to remember best what they heard first, and what they heard last. 

The very word “disciple” means “follower.” The disciples had been followers of Jesus for three years. And they had heard a lot of messages from Jesus up until that point.

But this time was different.  Jesus knew the time for His arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection was near.  And, the disciples’ time for merely following was nearly over. Their time to lead was about to begin. And a refresher of what it meant to be a leader was in order.

In a span of just a few weeks, these men would cease being just “disciples” and become “Apostles.” Message carriers. Holy Spirit bearers. Called by Jesus Himself to take the good news of His Gospel to the ends of the Earth, and to show the infant church by example what it really means to follow Jesus.

Perhaps Jesus saved this lesson for the end because this time, it really needed to stick. The young church would face enough obstacles to its survival for its leaders to act superior to its members.

Leaders of today, no matter who you lead, pay heed. Serving those who follow you is your leadership.

 

Coming Up for Air

Some life events just stop you in your tracks. Like my daughter’s wedding this past weekend, for example.  I wanted to continue writing lots of blog posts during the weeks leading up to the wedding day, really, I did.

But for some reason, I couldn’t.

Did I have time?  Yes, there were always times when I could pull myself away to write.

I was physically well, planning and preparation for the big day was stressful but moving forward, and the bride (and her Mom) seemed happy.

So why couldn’t I write during those weeks?  I just don’t know.

I was able to eke out one of my weaker posts, Talking to Myself, in those weeks, but it was unsatisfying and largely misunderstood. And I’m not saying the post you’re reading now is a lot better.

But writing today just feels different than it has for the past month.

I really like Mark Gungor’s description of the compartmentalized male psyche as a bunch of boxes that can never touch one another, and that each man can access only one of his boxes at a time.  To borrow his description, for the past month, it’s as if my “Writing” box wasn’t only closed, it had been moved off the premises.

Miraculously, my Writing box has returned, as quietly and mysteriously as it left. And I plan to spend a lot of time there in the coming weeks.

And in the Nothing box. Gotta spend some quality time there, too.

 

Talking to Myself

How I wanted to be the person immune to getting older.

I didn’t want the passage of time to matter to me.

But it does.

Stay active and engaged with life, keep your weight down, and age won’t really matter, right?

My wife warns me about “acting like an old person” before I really am old. But the feelings are real.

Children leave. Parents fail. And the world moves on without you.

My oldest son turns 28 today. Almost 30. My Dad’s battle with Parkinson’s disease is ramping up. And my youngest daughter is getting married in 11 days.

And I’m just so tired.

I need Jesus now more than ever. So my prayer? To have His perspective to see that I still have contributions to make, and that I’m not irrelevant. For His guidance and strength to build into younger generations while I still can. And for His wisdom to know best how to reach them. Not by diluting His message to be acceptable in today’s culture, but to really reach their hearts.

So that I won’t be just another middle-aged man, talking to myself.

On a November Saturday

It was the late fall of 1982. The first semester of my junior year at the University of Kansas was almost finished, and my girlfriend’s sorority’s fall service project was to help with the Lawrence Special Olympics bowling competition. They were short on help, so my future wife asked me to tag along.

What follows was what I like to call “God’s audition to be parents of a disabled child.“ We had a wonderful time bowling, laughing, and eating with these young adults. Most of them had Down syndrome, but several others had different cognitive or physical disabilities. Regardless, my future wife and I left that event very happy that we had been involved, and wondering whether we should volunteer for future Special Olympics activities.

Little did we know what God had in store for us.

Helping with that bowling tournament was like being a grandparent. It was great fun while it lasted, but the kids weren’t really “yours.“

But once that disabled child comes home with you from the hospital, things begin to change. Slowly and imperceptibly at first. The first time we went to a Down Syndrome Guild meeting was just after our oldest son was born, seven years and a few months after that fateful Saturday in November 1982. I distinctly remember walking into the Guild meeting room, full of families who had also just entered the world of special-needs children, and experiencing a very familiar feeling.

I was instantly transported back to the 6th grade, when the class of disabled kids was in the self-contained classroom next door to my homeroom.  As they walked by our door, from lunch or the playground, I remember feeling an uneasy mixture of fear and pity. Fear, in not knowing what “those kids“ might do. And pity, at once thankful that I was not among them, and believing that their lives must be something less than mine.

Thankfully, over the years that all changed. It started with events like Special Olympics, where I could actually meet disabled kids, and grow to like them.

And then, I joined their dads.

Within a span of just a few short months, all those kids in the Down Syndrome Guild became my kids. It was impossible to know them all well, but 28 years later, I still know their names. William, Sean, Matthew, another Stephen, Kyle, Paul.

And their parents became some of our very best friends.

How appropriate it is, then, that our son’s favorite activity is….

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I’d love to hear from you about your experiences with a disabled person in your life.  Please take a few moments to leave a comment. It only takes a few seconds!

May I Have This Dance

Has the weight of just a thought ever taken your breath away?

Happened to me just this morning.

Maybe it’s the fact that my daughter’s wedding is now less than two months away, and she was in town this past weekend for her first bridal shower. Maybe it’s this fact that this afternoon, my wife and I are attending a funeral for a long-time family friend who lost her battle with cancer. Her two kids are the same age as my middle two kids.

No matter the reason, here’s the thought that left me struggling to breathe:

A husband and wife, in their 80s, dancing cheek-to-cheek in their kitchen.

It’s so easy to say, “Aren’t they cute? They still love each other, after all these years.” But have you thought about what that dance really represents?

  • Millions of miles together in the same car.
  • Tens of thousands of nights together in the same bed.
  • Depending on how many kids they had, thousands, or tens of thousands, of diaper changes.
  • Countless ER visits, late nights with sick kids, and broken hearts.
  • Graduations, weddings, births, and then round two of graduations, weddings, and births.
  • Deaths of their grandparents, their parents, their siblings, and occasionally, their children and even grandchildren.
  • Several major health scares, surgeries, and treatments.

Those of you who have lived it know that this list isn’t even close to exhaustive. And to top it all off, society has changed so extensively, and so rapidly, that the elderly couple can be left wondering if they’re even still relevant.

As my thoughts sunk in, a physical weight rested on my chest. The sheer magnitude of two lifetimes, lived together and for each other, was more than I could bear.

Anyone looking for miracles in the modern age need look no farther than the couple celebrating an anniversary of 50 years or more.  God’s design for marriage, and God himself, for those who choose Him, make it possible to complete the journey.

Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. – Isaiah 46.4

And for another post: What the elderly still have to give to their families and communities. Here’s a hint: They’re not only still relevant, they’re the missing link to sustaining our society.

I’ll never look at an elderly couple dancing the same way again.

Courage

What does real courage look like to you?

To me, right now, it looks like a sister-in-law who is going through cancer treatment for a second time in 10 years.

It’s knowing the suffering she’s sure to face during the treatments, and choosing to go through them anyway, because the desired result is the best for those she loves.

Even though she’s near the end of her chemo treatment, the suffering is still real.  And intense.

Where does courage like that come from? Knowing her deep, abiding faith in Jesus Christ, the easy Sunday-school answer is readily apparent.

But that’s only part of the story.

For faith to mean anything in our lives, we have to allow our faith to move us to a conviction to act.

Once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. — Muhammad Ali

It’s on us to incorporate our faith into our lives. And the conviction that grows out of living out our faith — that we’re doing the right thing — leads to courage.

I can do all things through Jesus Christ, who strengthens me.  — Phillipians 4:13

My sister-in-law is living this out beautifully, today, right now.

By the way, haven’t we heard another story about someone who knew the suffering he would face, and yet chose to endure that suffering because the end result was the best for those he loves?

Yeah, I thought so.

 

Lunchtime Musings: Giftedness

I know I’ve written a lot about my daughter who had a traumatic brain injury (the youngest), and my son who has Down syndrome (the oldest). But God has blessed my wife and I with two other children as well, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t write about them, too.

Our two middle children, a 25-year old young man and a 23-year-old young lady, haven’t faced the types of challenges the other two have. That’s not to say their lives are without struggles, but theirs (to date, at least) don’t have weighty names like “Down syndrome” or “TBI.”

No, this post is to praise God and celebrate their giftedness. And to brag on them, just a little bit.

We’ll start with my world-travelling daughter, who studied abroad for six months a couple of years ago, and has already spent more time around the Mediterranean Sea than I will in my lifetime. One of God’s greatest gifts to her, like her mother and grandmother before her, is the ability to teach. While her Mom is probably the best teacher I’ve ever known, my daughter is a close second. Their ability to teach their curriculum to each and every student in their class, regardless of that student’s ability or disposition, sets them apart.  My daughter’s chosen to teach upper-level math in high school, another amazing gift from God.

My son is a “people magnet.” When taking care of the little kids at church, my son is the first one to become a human jungle gym, a walking piece of playground equipment. Their dads come to him for advice and support. He’s studying to be a pastor, and from where I’m sitting, he looks to be perfectly suited for that. He and his beautiful wife will have been married for three years this coming May.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. – James 1:17

My wife and I are thankful for all four of our children, and we are proud of them and love them for who they are, and who God made them to be.