Letters to Holden and Nolan

HN Sam's babysittingLittle Goofballs…

I haven’t written you for a while.  Sometimes I get really busy with important things that need to be handled.  That’s kind of the way it’s been for the past few months.  I’m really sorry.  I’ll try to do better.

For some reason, I woke up this morning thinking about you guys.  Maybe because we had such a great time together the other night at Chili’s.  I can’t believe how much fun you guys have going to the bathroom!  Maybe next time we can just ask them to set up a table for us in there, instead…

I want to give you a little lesson in theology this morning.  It’s a lesson I have learned over the course of my lifeand one I am still learning about even right now.  Theology is all about what we know about God.

I love listening to you pray to God at meal times and I’m still pretty blown away that both of you can say the Lord’s prayer.  Your daddy and Uncle Corey couldn’t come close to saying it at your ages!  I know you say your prayers at night with your mommy and daddy and you ask God to take care of the ones you love and you thank Him for the great things in your life.

I love watching your faith grow like a little seed in the ground grows.  But it won’t always be this simple and childlike.  It won’t always be easy to simply believe in God.  There will come a time when you get older and smarter and you begin to think deeper thoughts about the way people act and the things that happen in the world.

And the trusting faith you have right now will probably get pretty complicated, and even confusing.

Life is full of bad things that happen.  Things that will make your little hearts hurt and you’ll cry because you don’t understand why those things had to happen the way they did.  Here’s where your theology lesson comes in…

People tend to fall into one of two groups when they have to deal with really bad things that happen.  The first groupand by far the biggest groupbelieves that since really bad things happen, there must not be a God at all.  They think that if there was really a God, he would have stopped the bad thing from happening.

The other group that people fall into is the group that says, “No matter what, God is in control.”   They say that no matter what bad thing people have to go through, it is because that is what God wants to happeneven if we can’t understand why, God has his reasons and we need to trust Him that He knows what is best.  

I’ve always had a problem with that second group and the way they think.  It’s almost as if they are saying that God is the one making the bad things happenthat since He’s in control of everything and He’s our great and powerful Father in heaven (which I totally believe), He must have a reason for wanting, and even making those bad things happen.  

I guess I’ve just come to think that there will always be some mystery to why things happen.  Things we will never understand.  Bad things that just look and feel painful and even senseless.  So rather than asking God why those things had to happen (and even letting myself believe that He was the one behind the bad stuff, making it happen), I choose to focus on what I know for sure.

No matter what, the Bible is totally clear that God is good.  God is good every moment of every day.  He can be trusted.  He will never, ever leave you or turn His back on you guys.  He is consistent.  He never changes.  He promises to give you the strength to handle any bad thing you will ever have to face.  And He will always welcome you backeven if your doubts and fears get the best of you and you get mad at Him or grow distant.   And they will sometimes.

And best of all, He promises to bring good out of every bad situation for those who love Him and trust Him.  I don’t know everything about how all of that works, but I know it’s true.  It has been for every day of my lifeand it can be the same for you guys, too.

That was some pretty deep stuff for today.  Next time we’ll have some bathroom conversation.

Be wise, grasshoppers.  Love, Papi.

The doctrinal dance

Doctrinetheologians and bible scholars and pastors are a funny lot.

each one studies god’s word and comes to conclusions.  they are certainly not the only ones who do that.  in fact, anybody with a bible and a little time can do the same thing.  and all of us , no matter how much or how little we study…no matter how well or how poorly we understand language and history and culture and even biblical criticism…have interpretations of god’s word that are our own.

and we stand by them.

the bible is a collection of books and letters that were all written at least 2000 years ago.  there is great diversity in it.  time.  culture.  language.  structure.  intended audience.  purpose.  authorship.  historical setting.  style.  a lot to consider.

one of the things we do is create filters or lenses that we look through to better understand the meaning of the things we read.  in a simple way, it looks something like this:

“if  (this)  is true, then  (this)  and  (this)  and  (this)  must be true (or false), also.”   this is one of the ways doctrine is formed and perpetuated.

…and this is all the introduction to what i’m thinking today.

“god will never give us more than we can handle.”  

do you believe that?  i don’t, but most people who believe in god do.  it comes primarily from their understanding of this passage:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.  1 Corinthians 10:13

first, this passage says nothing about god never giving us more than we can handle.  it says there will be no temptation to sin we cannot say “no” to.  it says there is no sin we cannot walk away from…there is a way out of every temptation.  always.

but that passage says nothing about overwhelming situations that can wreck us.

just ask the parents of the 22,000 kids who die everyday from preventable disease, malnutrition or dehydration.

(side note:  according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization, it would take about 30 billion dollars to solve the world’s water crisis.  this year,  people in the united states will spend over 100 billion dollars on bottled water.  YOU DO THE MATH.  the staggering death totals could be…would be…dramatically reduced.)

is it all part of god’s plan for these little ones to die in this way?  does god truly never give us more than we can handle?

what about the survivor of auschwitz?   what about the family living in the car because dad lost his job?  what about the people whose home was washed away in the flood?  what about the little girl who was raped…or the addict who cannot find release from the grip of the substance…or the kid living with daily abuse and rejection at school?

  • do we tell them GOD WON’T GIVE THEM more than they can handle?
  • and if we believe that god won’t give them TOO MUCH, does that mean he’s the one GIVING them all they are going through right now?
  • is all of this happening for some greater reason that god is orchestrating?
  • does god really GIVE and TAKE AWAY at his own whim?
  • if i am being crushed by the weight of everything coming my way, why won’t god stop it?  does he keep pouring it on simply because he knows i can handle it?
  • and if i’m still breathing, am i supposed to console myself by saying, “well, i guess god didn’t give me more than i can handle?”

and your theology dictates how you answer those questions.

for the record, you will NEVER hear me say, god will never give you more than you can handle…or this is all happening for a reason…or this is all part of god’s will…in response to your crushing situation.

but you will hear me remind you that god cares about your loss and promises to bring peace and healing and comfort to your heart.  he will never leave you.  he is the good shepherd who will lead you beside still waters again.

that is how my understanding of scripture requires me to respond.

Prayers and Condolences

this is not the first time i’ve ever written about this issue.  but it needs to be stated again.

i’m not sure why this affected me the way it did this evening.  maybe because it seems like a lot of people near me are getting their fair share of tragedy these days.  or maybe because i’ve been preparing for my christmas season sermons on dealing with pain and suffering.

or maybe just because i’ve been thinking a lot about my life as a dad when my boys were younger…something i’ve been doing quite a bit the past couple of months.

no matter the reason, here’s what grabbed my heart this evening:

i turned on the tnt basketball pre-game show and it was obvious there was something wrong.  the announcers were not speaking with their usual joviality.  yup.  something was seriously wrong.  each of the four announcers were taking their turn offering their sympathy to kevin mchale, the head coach of the houston rockets.

his 23 year-old daughter, sasha, died saturday of complications from lupus, a chronic and sometimes-deadly auto immune disease.

it was obvious the four announcers knew kevin personally…as a player, a coach, and a friend.  they each spoke of their love for him and the deep sadness they were feeling because of his loss.  each one spoke “directly” to mchale and promised that their deepest thoughts and prayers would be with him.

after charles barkley, kenny smith and shag had shared their sincere condolences (“our thoughts and prayers go out to you…”), ernie johnson, the white guy who’s the studio host of the program, said some words on live television that shocked me.

“kevin, i am praying that you and your family will experience the peace that passes understanding.”  what?

i know that ernie johnson is a believer.  he’s active with the fellowship of christian athletes and the missionary organization, athletes in action.  but his words to kevin mchale were not the words of a high-profile celebrity christian.  they were the words of a brother.

i am so grateful to know that i have real words of comfort during times of unspeakable tragedy and sadness.  i’m so glad that i have more to say than “i’ll be thinking of you”, or “sending good thoughts your way” or “passing some positivity in your direction”, when what people need is truth and real hope to hold on to.

in a world full of suffering and fears that come with sickness and deep disappointment, my heart truly breaks for people who don’t believe in the reality of a living, personal, interactive and compassionate creator-god.

do you have words of life to pass on to others?  i’m sure you will have plenty of opportunities to share them in the future.

You gotta be kidding me…

my last week has been interesting.   last thursday,  i began the restoration project on my living room ceiling.   in the demolition,  i got old,  soiled fiberglass insulation all over my arms and head.   i also had a nail poke me in the head.   nothing seemed to be life-threatening.

over the next couple of days,  i began to develop a rash on my head.   it got worse on saturday as i spent a lot of time in the sun…hatless.   idiot.

my only relief was coming from rubbing aloe into my noggin every hour or so.

on sunday afternoon,  i started to get nervous.   the rash really started to hurt.   and it was spreading.   it got on to my eyelid.   the pain and stinging was bad.   really bad.   i kept cleaning it and hoping it would get better.   yeah,  right.

on monday morning,  i woke up with my eye shut.   the right side of my head was bright red.   but there was more.   the right side of my face,  where my ear and jaw connect was swollen…like i had the mumps.   i couldn’t swallow.   it felt like strep throat.   the pain in my head was getting out of control.   my jaw felt like i had been in a prize fight.

i was finally able to get a doctor’s appointment on tuesday.   but not until i followed some rabbit trails on webMD.   that website  should be blown up.   i had my own funeral planned by lunch on tuesday.

within ten seconds of seeing my head,  my doctor had a diagnosis.   shingles.   what?

yup.   shingles.

apparently,  most people have a dormant chicken pox virus inside of us,  left over from our youth…and doctors have no conclusive explanation why it suddenly activates.   but it did in my head.   (which is pretty unusual because it normally effects the side, back, arms or legs.)

officially,  what i have is called herpes zoster.   sweet.   at least it’s not that kind  of herpes.   when i read the explanations of symptoms and potential side effects,  it’s not pleasant.   when the doctor said the pain in the rash is like little razor blades constantly cutting,  well…let’s just say he knows what he’s talking about.   and the head and ear aches are amazing.

i went to the eye doc today and so far,  i don’t have any damage to my cornea.   this is great news.

the infection meds i’m on are powerful.   the pain meds knock me out.   i look like a chipmunk on half my face.   my eyelid may droop for a while.   we’re hoping there’s not longer lasting nerve damage.   sheesh.

the good news?   if all goes well,  it only takes about 2-3 weeks to get back to normal.   and it’s not contagious unless we bump heads.    in the meantime,  life will go on.

at least i have a legit excuse for being loopy and not getting things done on time.

The High Road

many years ago,  some people hurt us really bad.

we were accused of things that were not true.   our character was questioned.   our calling was questioned.   even our abilities and motives were called into question.   it was all based on a wrong perception of a small issue…and that perception was given space and fuel to grow by people in positions of influence over others.

the attack on our reputation and character could not be stopped.   no matter how we tried to defend ourselves,  the damage continued to escalate.   and so did our pain.

eventually  (like most everything in life),  it passed.   we held on to each other.   we leaned on people who knew the truth about us and spoke truth into our lives.   the power and presence of a loving and benevolent god always loomed faithfully over us.   that chapter of our life came to and end.   we moved on…with lessons learned.

we decided to take the high road.   

the natural side of us wanted to retaliate.   we wanted to call them out.   we wanted those people to be seen for who they were and what they did to us.   we wanted revenge.   we wanted them to know and feel our pain…and have more than a little  of their own,  for what they had done  to us.

but we chose  another road.   we chose silence.   we chose to let god be god.   we chose to believe that the wrong would be righted…if god wanted that to happen.   we chose to believe that anything we did to balance the scales might end up making everything worse.

we chose to pray for the strength and openness to forgive.   eventually (though not immediately),  that happened.   we chose to ask god to give us wisdom on how to proceed…and for him to teach us lessons that would sustain our lives through future pain that would inevitably come in the years ahead.

we chose the high road.

we’re not heroes.   faaaaaar from it!   things still hurt.   emotions still get raw.   we are often left to struggle in the silence of personal dark  places.   we find ourselves wrestling with the mechanics of forgiving.   sometimes it feels like nothing more than gutting it out,  until the pain subsides…but we’ll take this road over the other option every time!

sometimes hurt comes because people are ignorant or clueless.   sometimes hurt comes because people are powerless to keep it from happening…or they just don’t know what to do to avoid it.   sometimes people are insensitive or careless.   sometimes people are mean and vindictive.

i’ve said it before.   i’ll hold on to this truth as tightly and carefully as i do any others in my life:   hurt people hurt people.

the high road is not about assuming a morally or spiritually superior position.   it’s about climbing up to a spot that allows us to see the biggest picture possible…and stay close enough to the one who’s been there before us.

Pain meds

i’ve had nine surgeries in my life.   five ankle reconstructions.   one ankle “clean out”.   two knee arthroscopies.   one ruptured achilles tendon repair.   none of them were particularly fun.   i would like to avoid another surgery…of any kind.   i’m not holding my breath…

looking back,  the best part about the surgeries was always the pain medication.   being a non-drinker and having limited my drug use to legal prescriptions and the basic,  over-the-counter kind…well,  let’s just say my surgeries were where i got to taste the joy of intoxication.

the happy juice they give before the anesthesia is very cool.   i can actually see how people can get addicted to the buzz from alcohol and drugs.

don’t get me wrong.   this is no advocation.   i am not lobbying for the legalization of anything.   i’m just saying…

but better than the happy juice are the pain meds.   definitely everything they’re cracked up to be.   i’ve never really understood the high road that some people take.   “i’m not putting any chemicals into my body.”   “i just want to get off the pain medication as soon as possible.”

whatever.   not me.   gimme the stuff.

anyway,  the point is not about my drug use.   i’ll give equal time to the morality police some other day.   no…there’s something way more important.

we all use  pain meds.   the question is what are yours?   what do you use to mask your pain?   what is your medication?

you may not self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.   you may be using something far more deceptive and just as harmful.   are you using denial?   are you using anger?   do you push away the pain with sarcasm?   are you cynical?   do you gossip about others to cover your hurt?   do you carry around a judgmental spirit or attitude of superiority?

do you give others the silent treatment?   are you passive-aggressive and manipulative?   are you a workaholic?   are you habitual time waster? do you put up walls? do you blame others?

do you run from commitment?   do you cultivate an unforgiving heart?  do you hide behind busyness?   are you immersed in hobbies?

all of these actions are pain meds. they are all things we use to avoid the pain…to avoid facing the realities of our lives.

ruthless honesty with yourself and with god is the beginning of breaking your addictive behavior.   without it,  you will continue to hide the pain,  instead of experiencing healing.

maybe it’s time to get serious about your pain…and what you’re doing to hide it.

Life is difficult

this is definitely one of those weeks.   i should be writing about the exhilaration of some amazing sports moments from the past couple of days,  but i just can’t bring myself to do it.

this morning i’m feeling the pain of friends.

i’m side by side with people who are hurting.   devastating news from doctors…lost jobs…marriages that are struggling… drug abuse…suicide threat…death of loved ones…major disappointments and betrayals…family dysfunction… homelessness…dwindling finances…dibilitating injury…

and it’s only wednesday.

two thoughts this morning:   i’ve said it before,  but it’s a privilege to walk with people through their struggle.   it’s not always easy.   most of the time, i struggle for words of comfort.   i refuse to give positive mental attitude quotes or make promises for god.   there are no simple answers or mystical fixes.   but there is presence.   the more,  the better.   for all of us.

the other thought i have is a reminder of how easy it is to sink into bad theology.  “if god is good, why does he let bad things happen to me?” as much as i desperately want to make god’s goodness the defining standard for all the things i want to happen,  i can’t.   nor can you.   good and bad co-exist in a broken world.

god’s essential goodness means i now have a standard for seeing good…and bad…and keeping them in perspective.   i don’t make (and ascribe) value.   god’s character does.   changing the situations we find ourselves in,  is not nearly as important as viewing the situations we find ourselves in.

joy will come again.