treasure stumbled upon

Our doctor said “I’ll be shocked if you’re not in the hospital tonight with contractions.” It was Monday, January 26, 2015 and we were thinking about life and babies and the future and our marriage and our home. We high-fived leaving the Doctor’s office, we’re high-fivers from time to time, don’t judge. Casey and I were preparing for our first child, a laughable idea really, “preparing” for children. How does one prepare for the world to change?

The day went by and nothing of consequence took place. We had seen the doctor and then gotten some food. Casey had been contracting for weeks and was slightly dilated but nothing seemed imminent. We played some card games and relaxed, watching tv. I was busy cleaning the dishes and picking up when Casey said, “so I’ve been having contractions for a half hour now.”

“What?!?”

“They’re happening pretty frequently.”

“What?!?”

Casey was tired, and considered just going to bed. That wasn’t going to happen! I insisted we start timing the contractions. There’s nothing easy about knowing when it’s time to go to the hospital. I know the movies say there is. And sure, if your water breaks or if your having painful contractions then it’s a sure fire sign to get your butt down there. But often times neither of those occur. Instead Casey was calm and relaxed and sleepy. But their frequency increased. Every five minutes, every four minutes, every three minutes. After over an hour of timing contractions she looked at me and said, “ok, let’s go to the hospital.” We high-fived and started loading up the car.

Even at the hospital the reality doesn’t fully sink in. Sure we fill out some paperwork and get checked into the room.  There are monitors, nurses, and hospital gowns but we still sat waiting to be told it wasn’t time yet, you can go home. We checked in at midnight and saw the doctor a little after 5am. The doctor told us it was going to happen today, no doubt.

That’s a surreal experience. There were many things leading up to this moment: meeting Casey, winning her heart, keeping her heart, marriage, navigating marriage. So many clear steps and life happenings and it still feels like you just stumble into this moment. Like I tripped and here I was in the hospital waiting and high-fiving my beautiful wife, mother to be.

Just a pinch before 8am I walked into our room from talking to a friend in the hallway, and Casey says, “I’m at 9cm.”

“What?!?”

Nurses start to file into the room like we walked into a play. Actors shifting from spot to spot, talking and moving props. All of them part of some elaborate scene that Casey was in middle of but neither of us had the script. Ha! That was probably best. There is pushing and breathing and waiting and calling the doctor and more pushing and more breathing and then there is a child. Seconds ago we were two and then, as if the all the time before had vanished, we were three.

On Tuesday morning, January 27, 2015, after a long night and no less than six high-fives my daughter, Raegan Eve, was born. Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure stumbled upon by a man in a field; who then goes and buys the field. I have wondered how anyone might stumble upon treasure. Now I know.

 

tortilla soup and hidden grief

I made tortilla soup last week. It was a vegetarian dish with tomatoes, onions, cumin, chili powder, garlic, corn, and jalapeños. All of it tossed into a crock pot and cooked for eight hours. The recipe called for what I considered to be too few peppers, so I added a bit more. Upon the tasting the seasoning was perfect, the flavor was bold, and the heat was striking. So striking that it caught my breath and I sought out sour cream to add to the bowls. I didn’t realize how much heat was in there. We don’t always know how much we’re going to be affected by what’s inside.

Grief can be that way too. Sure you know it’s there, it was added to the crock pot after all. But time goes by, life goes on, and you think that you’ve moved past it. Or perhaps, when we are really honest, we realize that we never faced our own grief. Too much, too fast, too painful; so we avoid it. The friend that betrayed you, that hurtful remark you thought you’d forgotten, the anger you buried; all of these things are still there. And when people come to you and expect you to be ok, for reason’s you cannot explain – you are not ok. Because, the truth is, you’re still healing. The scar has yet to form and more time is needed. Hidden grief can manifest at the worst moments, far hotter and off-putting than jalapeños.

If you’re going to start off this new year the right way, then take time to deal with your hidden grief. If you don’t, you might take out that pain on someone you love, or a stranger, or yourself. Often times we’ll get angry about something unrelated but the truth knows that our pain is about our grief. It is ok to admit that you haven’t healed as fast as the world wants you too. There is nothing wrong with that. So take your time, admit your hurt, grieve, and let God heal you.

That soup, by the way, turned out to be pretty good. Add enough sour cream, cheese, and tortillas – well you get the point. The heat didn’t go away completely, but it never does. That’s life I suppose.

Psalm 30:2 “Lord, my God, I cried out to you for help, and you healed me.”

 

a new year, a new beginning

Across the inter-webs people are talking about the new year. Some are thankful for a wonderful year while others cannot wait to put 2014 behind them. I can understand both. Some had children, some lost children. Two passersby could be unknowingly facing the same dilemma, both have lost their jobs. One of them finds a new job in days, the other still searches. It is a strange world, filled with both light and darkness at seemingly exact moments.

A year ago I wrote about my year in 2013, a blog called Noes and Toes. Suffice it to say that it was a difficult year. And I don’t want to be cliché when I say that 2014 was much better. Casey and I served in Guatemala, traveled to Paris, got pregnant, she finished her masters, another nephew born. A great year. But does it really work that way? Do the years seriously flow from good to bad and back again? Is there something magical or mystical about the moments between December 31 and January 1? Surely not! Right?

Perhaps it’s all about perspective or mood or attitude; I don’t know. I will admit that there is something powerful and intriguing about the chance to start over. A fresh start, a new beginning, a new creation that inspires and fosters hope. So claim this year. We all have someone that isn’t here anymore to claim the year, likely someone you love that won’t be here very long. Claim the year. Admit your hurts, apologize when you’re hateful, and stand up for the weak. Speak kind words, take long walks. So whether 2014 was a nightmare or a dream, Happy New Year. A new year and a new beginning for all of us.

worry wheel

My father makes ferris wheels. Not the big kind used at county fairs and carnivals, but small ones. It started years ago with a bicycle wheel and some pans. Dad, an iron worker by trade, welded old pans to the axle of the wheel and mounted it to the top of a pole in the back yard. A strong gust of wind sent it spinning. He called it the “pan fan.” He was, and still is, proud of his pan fan. That led to him making his first miniature ferris wheel. Today, if you visit our house, you can see a scrap metal ferris wheel standing 4 1/2 feet tall in the front yard. It has railroad spikes for cars and a rebar, Texas star at its base. Each morning, as I leave for work, I spin it. For luck I guess, I’m not really sure. But it is a daily ritual.

At church on Sunday, Bro. Robby White told the familiar story about the worry tree. The story goes that a man having a terribly unlucky day stops at a tree in his yard. He stands there and grabs its leaves with both hands. After a minute he walks through the front door and embraces his family. When a friend asks him, “what’s the deal with the tree? Why’d you do that?” The man tells him, “that’s my worry tree. Before I see my wife and kids, I walk over to it and leave my worries there on that tree.”

I came home that night, after a long day of multiple church services, small group studies, meetings, and planning. Not a stressful day, not really; but there was plenty on my mind. I sat in my truck looking at the tree in my front yard. I tend to struggle with letting go of work before I get home. It isn’t always a bad thing, but at times, it is the cause of anxiety and worry. I decided to try the worry tree. There, in the night, I stood in my own front yard holding the leaves a tree. I felt ridiculous. I’m sure that I looked ridiculous. And it didn’t work. I dropped my hands in frustration and said to the night sky, “I’m not a tree guy.” My eyes drifted to the ferris wheel.

Hands on the ferris wheel, I closed my eyes and cast my worries. Anything that could wait till tomorrow, I tried to lay there. I opened my eyes, spun the wheel, and went inside. The next morning I passed by the ferris wheel and spun it as I walked to my truck, like every morning. While I backed out of the drive way I noticed the wheel still spinning and all of the sudden remembered that I had laid my worries there. I had forgotten.

 

To the statues

There’s an old monastery deep in the hills of Kentucky that has been the home of countless monks, weary travelers, and soul searching followers for a 166 years. It is the oldest operating monastery in the U.S.. The famous writer and monk Thomas Merton spent much of his life there. In 2012 Casey and I traveled to this monastery, the Abbey of Gethsemane. I had always wanted to go there for two nerdy reasons. The first, I love Thomas Merton, one his quotes hangs framed in my office. The second, there’s an Andrew Peterson song, “Silence of God,” that sings about Jesus facing the same sorrows that we face in life. In that song there’s a line about “a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll in the hills of Kentucky” and I was told that I could find that statue at the Abbey of Gethsemane. So Casey and I went on an adventure. We toured the Abbey. We read it’s history. We walked silently though a beautiful garden, visiting the stations of the cross. We hiked up a hill to see the view. I didn’t see the statue anywhere though. It was by chance that we noticed a trailhead across from the Abbey. We walked over to it and there was this little sign, no bigger than a bumper sticker, it had an arrow pointing into the woods and the phrase “to the statues.”

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escape

I am now a handful of months separated from my journey to Central America, a temporary escape from some everyday pressures. While there and working with pastors, educators, and leaders in rural Guatemala, it was an escape from the norm. With that trip behind me, a youth mission trip starting next week, and Casey and I planning a vacation for July in front of me, “escape” is on my mind! But while in Guatemala, I encountered other things too. I saw ruinous poverty and struggle, from which so many people are trying to escape. Their “escape” and my “escape” are quite different.

In Frederick Buechner’s book, Wishful Thinking, he talks about “freedom” and “escape” connecting them in an enlightening way. He says that freedom in Christ is “freedom not from responsibility but for it. Escape not from reality but into it.” (emphasis mine)  These moments, Buechner says, are “the best moments we, any of us, have as human beings.”

I always believed that escape consisted only of getting away from something. But sometimes escape can cause us to discover something as well. We can discover truth, life, hope, grace. We can also discover pain, hurt, darkness, and fear. Escape leads to discovery. I need to learn to escape into reality, not from it. Perhaps we could all use more of that in our lives. Whether on vacation, or resting on a park bench, or eating a sandwich in the break room at work – escaping into the moment can be a powerful thing!

So how about it, where do you want to escape to? And what do you want to escape into?

You want to race?

Do you remember racing as a kid? Ready, set, go! First one to the fence wins. Streaming down the road on bicycles, those epic races that led to victory or, often times, crashes. Most adults don’t race. Save professional athletes, I don’t expect to witness two grown men or women arguing about who’s faster. We loose those kid-like qualities, life seems to do that to us. That is something we should not take lightly. While maturing and growing in our faith is vastly important, I’m not convinced that loosing all of our kid-like traits is a good thing. Take, for example, the class passage from Luke 18:15-17, revealing this wonderful moment in the life and ministry of Christ. Continue reading

trece

Day Six in Guatemala.

The first job I ever had was working for the Salvation Army. They paid minimum wage to anyone that would stand outside of a Walmart or shopping mall, ring a bell, and collect donations. I was fourteen years old and I worked everyday of Thanksgiving break, as well as each Saturday leading up to Christmas. I enjoyed it, loved it even. I chose it.

The first jobs of children in Guatemala are quite different from my experience. (I imagine that is the case for many children throughout the world.) Guatemalan educators struggle to keep kids in school. The demand for extra hands in the fields or selling trinkets in the tourist towns engulfs the schools throughout Guatemala. I knew all of this. I had heard the testimonies, I’ve read the stories, I’ve been to Cairo and Cozumel and seen plenty of kids working. Intellectually, up in my brain I knew this already. But not in my heart, not yet. I had shielded my heart from knowing it, perhaps on accident, or subconsciously, but shielded nonetheless. One could call me blind, if they so desired.

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School Supplies

Day Five in Guatemala.

I don’t miss school. The weight of homework and writing assignments and bells controlling my everyday schedule, I don’t miss it at all. But I remember the joy of getting school supplies before the new school year began. It was a joy that lasted through most of elementary school. Picking out pencils and pens, choosing notebooks, picking a trapper keeper – yep, loved those moments. I had to get the supplies because I needed it for school. And even though there were years in my family’s life that were sparse financially, we always, always had what we needed.

On Wednesday, in Guatemala, I had the chance to sit down with the Principal for the school in Chuluc. Together with a few other missionaries, Pastor Jorge, Principal Moses, and our mission guide Jake we met for nearly three hours. We talked about a ton of stuff. Mostly we were trying to listen and learn. Mission work is always tough, but in a foreign country, with foreign customs, a great idea could actually be a terrible mistake. So we met, we asked questions, lots of them, and listened to long, informative answers. The meeting was a blessing for all involved. We learned about the Guatemalan school system, water issues, and cultural struggles with keeping children in school. We also learned about school supplies.

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barefoot traveler

Day Four in Guatemala.

I saw a woman walking barefoot on the streets of Antigua. She wasn’t a native there. She wasn’t a tourist either. I discovered while being here how many people end up backpacking through central America. I’ve seen tons of them in Antigua, Guatemala. Most of them young adults, scrapping by, finding jobs as they need them, moving from city to city, from country to country. This young lady walked barefoot by choice. She strolled down the street with a dog on a leash and a hiking stick in the other hand. Beside her was another “traveler,” what I’ve been calling them being as “tourist” seems entirely inappropriate a term, talking about his decision to live in Guatemala for a season. The crowded streets make it easy to hear one another’s conversations, and seeing as how they spoke English, it was the only conversation of interest at the time.

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