Month: April 2013

Parenting: Treasure the Doing

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“They grow up so fast.” Does that cliché drive you crazy? It does me. I hate it. I feel somehow responsible for wanting to prove the warning label wrong. “Well, YOUR child may have grown up fast, but my child will stay little longer!” We don’t want to believe it to be true. This statement is often made in lament and is often heard in denial. So we fight it, resist it and somehow try to control it.

We run as fast as any family does these days…which is pretty fast. I look at pictures of my children on my wall, ages 3 months, three, and four, and I wonder where those little people have gone. They were just here moments ago with preschool toys and Elmo. Today they are 6, 9 and 11. Today Star Wars, One Direction and the Disney Channel are the thing. We have busy lives of sports, school, music and friends. Everything requires time.
Read for fifteen minutes,
practice for 20,
brush teeth for three,
do flash cards for ten,
wash hands for one,
play outside for sixty,
pray together,
read the Bible,
spend quality time,
turn off the TV.
Holy cow that’s a lot of pressure on time.

I love how Anna Quindlen puts it: But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less. Even today I’m not sure what worked and what didn’t, what was me and what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be.

“Treasure the doing a little bit more and the getting it done a little less.” I love that. It’s not about what’s next on the calendar it’s about living the calendar. “Live tomorrow’s life today,” the hymn sings. We decided to get a puppy this week and yes I feel somewhat crazy for doing it. Like we have TIME for one more thing!
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But that’s what parenting does. It throws all logic to the wind and it says, “Live! Live today!” Live each day not to get through it, but with the intention of knowing they were full joy and adventure. It will be messy, poopy, silly, exhausting, exhilarating and painful. It’s life, and its meant to be lived.

A wonderful man in our congregation is dying. He and his wife have been married for 65 years. They have two girls and a boy, just as we do. As we sat on her sofa, while her darling husband drifted off to sleep in the next room she shared her family photos with me and told stories of raising their children. There she was putting on shoes. There she was reading a book. There he was, holding up a trout on a summer vacation. There she was standing at the door, wishing them well as they set off for the day.

“You see,” she said, “it’s really been a wonderful life.”

“Yes,” I said. “It is.”

Turtles, Mountains and Crazy Ladies, I one of them

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I spent a week in North Carolina at a retreat called Credo. The word Credo is Latin and means “I believe,” or as William Slone Coffin said, it means “to ascribe to.” “Ascribe to The Lord!” the Psalmist writes. “Faith is a verb,” one preacher said. Faith is a verb, a response. An action.

I promised myself I would not get too carried away this week. No crying and carrying on. Nope. I would be stoic. Put together.

God had other plans.

Prayer I

The first prayer came on the first flight to Atlanta.I thought I would have a whole row of seats to myself only to discover just as the doors were shutting, a loud-voiced woman and smaller man walking down the aisle. The woman crammed next to me, as she shouted at her husband to “sit down!” And “watch where you are going!!” The small man obliged. I plastered myself against the plane window as we flew into dark clouds and potential storm as the woman berated her husband, I prayed, “please God, don’t let me die next to this horrible woman.”

As the flight came to an end I heard more about their story. They were talking about her medication and her wig and her tumor and their family and I prayed, “please God, heal this woman.”

Prayer ii

Every evening after dinner, I would take my devotional book for a walk and pray. One evening I sat on a hill and asked God to silence all the voices that kept me from Him. I asked God to turn off all the swinging thoughts that kept me off-balance. “Shut me up, Lord, so I can hear you!” “Dear God, I want to be close to you, please show up!” I stood up, walked back to the lodge, not really looking where I was going. Suddenly I heard, “aauchh” or something like that. I looked down and there was this huge turtle right in front of me saying, “look where you are going!” I jumped back and screamed and then started to laugh. I laughed and laughed at myself for being afraid of a turtle. “I’m so sorry!” I said. “I didn’t see you there!” “I’m so sorry dear Lord, I didn’t see you there. You see I was moving too fast and you were always there.”

The next day I visited a Native American store. Turtles mean perseverance, resiliency and adaptability. If a turtle crosses your path you are to slow down. I bought a little onyx turtle.

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Prayer iii

One morning we had a service for wholeness and healing. We could, if we wanted, go to prayer corners and ask for prayer. I found a prayer stone, held it in my hand, and braved myself to a corner. “How can we pray for you?” They asked as they looked upon me, with earnest love. “Oh, I’m ok,” I said. “I can be lonely sometimes.” And then I cried and I cried and I cried. I cried so hard the name on my name tag was smeared with tears. I confessed that I missed God so deeply. I wondered if He had given up on me. I wouldn’t blame Him if he did. It had been so long. They told me to step out of the darkness into the light. One step at a time. They told me God had been waiting for me all this time and that He still loved me, always had, always will. Loved me so. Loved me so. Loved me so.

Prayer iv

The next day in worship a friend of mine and I were talking about all the processing and intensity of the week. It was a serious conversation, but something I said struck him as funny and he started to laugh. The music was starting, the room was somber, he was laughing. I started laughing. I could not contain myself. I laughed so hard I bit down on my knuckle and thought about when my dog died. I could not stop laughing. He was laughing. Worship peers around us started giggling. Suddenly we were all laughing. With great joy.
Best prayer of the week.

Prayer v

Sabbath day. I hiked a mountain. When I reached the top I practiced yoga. Doing a sun salutation thanking God for the beauty of the day. A friend said as we hiked the mountain,
“To have a meaningful life with God we must have the courage to See. The courage to Feel. And the courage to Act.” We sang the Doxology as we descended the mountain. This is what I believe.

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Psalm 29

A Psalm of David.
1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,*
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendour.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,*
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king for ever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!

Civility, Or….was that a think it or a speak it?

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“People who cannot restrain their own baser instincts, who cannot treat one another with civility, are not capable of self-government… without virtue, a society can be ruled only by fear, a truth that tyrants understand all too well”
― Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live?

“Was that a think it or a speak it?” That’s the question we ask our kids when they are fighting with each other, and they say something that was hurtful. “Was that a think it or a speak it?” It’s a question we need to be asking ourselves as adults too. Sometimes I get tired, overly annoyed, or just fed up and speak before I think. I always regret it. I always wish those words hasn’t come out of my mouth. When that happens I feel like I turn a different color. Like my soul turns the color of vomit. It’s not attractive.

When I think before I speak and I choose how I respond in a more conscientious way, I find that my soul and my sense of self is more translucent, free and content.

Here’s the thing, we have a lot of comments out there on the web, in emails and on Facebook, where people have chosen to vomit on each other. They have not thought before they wrote or thought about the energy, feelings or impacts the comments will have on other people or society as a whole.

What kind of people do we want to be?

I don’t have an answer for this. I’m a big advocate for Freedom of Speech. I understand how easy it is to write a snarky comment without worrying about accountability.

But here’s the thing, at the end of the day there is always accountability. We are always accountable to our souls, our inner self, and ultimately each other, and when we express hurtful things, we are really ultimately hurting ourselves, and all of society whether we know it or not.

I think our society needs to call people accountable to rude, hurtful behavior. I think we need to be assertive when we see comments that are pukey. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be critical, angry or assertive. I’m saying that we can be all of those things without being a jerk.

We need to teach society to stop and think, “was that a think it or a speak it?” We need leaders to model civility.

“Aspire to decency. Practice civility toward one another. Admire and emulate ethical behavior wherever you find it. Apply a rigid standard of morality to your lives; and if, periodically, you fail ­ as you surely will ­ adjust your lives, not the standards.”
― Ted Koppel

The Ministry of Making Music


I learned today that my piano teacher passed away. I rode my bike to her house every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 from the age of 10 to 17. I would sit in her living room and wait for my lesson, trying to remember what it was I was supposed to practice, feverishly scrambling to finish my theory assignment, and hoping she wouldn’t ask me to play Chopin.

I was not a skilled pianist. It did not come easy, or naturally. I did, and still do love music. I give her much credit for my appreciation for music and for the fact that I can still play, a little. My piano teacher was an accomplished first soprano as well as a skilled pianist. She was also wheel chair bound from childhood polio. I never really thought about her wheelchair, and I certainly never thought of her as disabled. She could sing higher than I ever could and play beautifully. She taught me more than how to hold my hands on the piano or how to count off beats. She taught me to appreciate and respect the discipline of creating beautiful music. Wasn’t I lucky?

She was never overly complimentary, nor was she ever overly critical. We just came together, after school…after long days of lunch rooms and, PE and math, and smelly boys and catty girls and we would play music in her living room. We would look at the notes and try to find what the composer intended for that particular piece of music. I would leave her house, committed to practicing longer and better than I had the week before. At the end of the day, our time together was less about succeeding or failing, it was simply about making music.

I think about our children and how we, or at least I, am always trying to tell them to  “do their best,”  “to reach for the stars,”  “to work their hardest.” I think about the fact that my kids are taking standardized tests all day today and then will come home and practice their instruments and we will pull papers from their backpacks and if they got a star on their paper, we will put their paper on the refrigerator and if they play well we will say “great job,” and I think “this is crazy!” The question should be: “Did you have fun?”  “Did you fall down and get back up?” “Did you help a friend along the way?”  “Did you think about the kid on the play ground who is left out?”  “Did you pray for your teacher?”  “Did you eat ONE vegetable?”  “Did you take care of yourself?” Then, that was a successful day. You made music.

I preach every Sunday and I try to get people to think about their faith. I try to encourage them to move closer to the Divine. I try to encourage them to think about God when they are emptying the dishwasher or getting gas, and sometimes I don’t know if I make any difference in that area. Sometimes I feel like I completely fail. It’s not the failing that matters, it’s the honest, hopeful, desire to make music. – Or in my line of work, we call it Grace.

It’s then that I just have to sit at the piano, and simply play music. Maybe I will miss a note, who cares! Maybe I will only play the right hand, good for me! Maybe I will only make it through the first page, right on!

Go fail something today. Go make a mistake. Go attempt, fall down and attempt again. Don’t be your best. Just be. It’s enough. Play beautiful music for the joy and beauty of music and teach your children to do the same.