Tuesday, November 27, 2018

It's the Happiest Place in the World, kids (watch out for meltdowns)

It's not about the mouse. I think Walt knew that. I'm not sure he'd approve of the extortionate $4.50 that I paid for a twenty ounce Coke Zero, but then again, his Coca-Cola was made with pure cane sugar and chilled in a bottle of glass. I handed over my credit card and car title and asked the young girl at the register, "Seriously?" She said, "I know, right?" I smiled as I twisted off the cap and let the heavenly beverage pour down my throat.

Maybe it's a little about the ears? There's a little magic that happens when your daughters put on the ears. Something unseen shifts and life gets a layer of wonderdust. There simply is no other place on the planet where it is acceptable to wear those bedazzled ears, and yet here... they include you in an inclusive-exclusive club of smiles and enchantment.

It's about family. Relationship. Flashbulb time-stamped moments of image-specific, life-perspective filters that forever change how we see one-another and remind us how we are created to see life. Imagination. Thrill. Hope. Contentment.

We soared through the atmosphere, we rocketed to Mars, we danced around the world with a song in our hearts, we fought pirates, dreamed with Mermaids, battled aliens, and felt the adrenaline of a race-track. We shared laughter, smiles, and the compulsory conversation of line-waiting. Somehow those in-between attraction turnstile crawls were the best part.

It was a pretty good twenty dollar cheeseburger, I appreciated that the topping bar had jalapenos, and the authentic (plastic) German beer stein that I lifted was somehow worth the $10.50 at the end of the day... but it was all mere backdrop to what I believe was the vision of the man behind the mouse so many years ago... a place where a family can again feel the magic of the heart, and the wonder of living this life together. 

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears
It's a world of hopes and a world of fears
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all 

I love how my son loves his little sis.

My father, the Viking King looks perfectly at home with the horns. 

This girl's design won second overall of the day.

Eat it, Emperor Zurg. Calamity & Hickok won the day!

Our family and Mr. Morales (who forgot his t-shirt).

Friday, November 9, 2018

Where Is God and How to Find Him

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
or let the fish of the sea inform you.

Which of all these things does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In His hand is the life of every living creature
and the breath of all humankind.
(Job 12:7-10)

The presence of God is to be found in the present. He identified Himself to Moses as "I AM." Jesus described Himself through statements of "I am," using the words: "the bread of life," "the light of the world," "the gate," "the good shepherd," the resurrection and the life, "the way the truth and the life," and "the vine."

These are all things that sustain or guide in this present moment. God is here. He said to Moses that His word is not so far away that it must be carried down from the sky, or carried across the sea, but that it is right here in our hearts, minds, and even in our mouths. Present.

When His identity was questioned by religious leaders, Jesus answered, "Before Abraham was born, I AM." 

Jesus went farther to even describe those who love and follow Him the same way, saying "You are the light of the world." The very presence of the present God filled His son, Jesus and it fills His children even yet it this moment.

It is only in the present that we quiet our souls and look inward to find our identity. We are daughters and sons of the living, present God. Even in the silence of nature, if we listen, we will find His deep and indescribable presence and truth. There is so much to be seen that we often cannot see and this ever-present, omni-temporal covering of God in and through all things is available to calm our souls, guide our hearts, and restore our strength when we are still enough to find his present presence.

This past Sunday afternoon we spent some time at Tawawa Park in Sidney, Ohio. We stood on an overlook and simply listened to the sounds around us. The birds sang, the squirrels scampered, a distant lawn mower hummed, and families passed by below us with chatter. But more than that, we calmed our day enough to connect into the moment. And in that place, we found the Great ever-present God who restores our souls. 

Have you heard Him? Have you taken the time to listen?

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Sterling Takes Bronze (She kissed me this morning)

She kissed me this morning before getting out of the car. We'd shared a lot of laughs during breakfast and our morning routine. Sirius our dog hopped on my lap, I pressed down the accelerator, and we pulled out of Anna Elementary School. Sterling was off to a sunny Wednesday.

It's now been four days since her first gymnastics meet at the Kettering, Ohio YMCA. We had no idea of what to expect. Her training sessions are closed (probably so the kids aren't constantly monkeying and pulling faces at their parents, or maybe because most parents can't shut their pie-holes and are constantly shouting out bad advice) and so we hadn't see if she'd been progressing or just goofing off and talking.

Maybe she'd be a train wreck and we'd have some funny stories to tell her boyfriends when they come to dinner. Or, maybe she'll shock us and actually do well. Aren't I the positive one? Kellie says that I am an idealist... and I'll admit, secretly I'm expecting that she'll launch a career that leads to Olympic Gold. I mean, someone has to win it, and I figure it might as well be her.

She kissed me this morning. That's the first time and it broke my heart in the best of ways. She has such a spirit and light in her that is undeniable. She shines so bright that I'm often annoyed and you'll see me squinting and blocking my eyes. 

Today though, I sat squinting in the rising sunlight as she climbed up into the front seat, leaned over, and gently kissed my cheek. "I love you Dad." 

It was one of those unexpected moments in life that transcend our mortal perception. There was something there that was intensely present, undeniably real, and thus a pivot point of awareness that broke through the facade of routine and pierced my soul.

When they called her name at the awards ceremony, she was in absolute shock. Her teammates were poking her, pulling her toward the podium, and trying to explain that she was a winner. It happened five times and she was in disbelief every single time. I smiled to the point of face-hurt.

Her best finish was unexpected. We thought floor would be her strongest, and it was her weakest.* She stunned us with a great beam routine. Her only boggle coming after a loud CRASH from some unknown source across the room, a quick look to where we sat on the stands, and then a wobble and a quick balance check. 

Then, like a champ she recovered, completed the routine, and absolutely killed the dismount. Seven year old Sterling, at her very first competitive meet, in front of the eyes of hundreds of parents and competitors, snatched a third-place finish on the most nerve-racking of apparatus (or apparatuses if you're partial to archaic english).

But, what I love most about her, is that she kissed me this morning.

* Her floor routine was missing a key element that she has not yet learned. The omission of that element resulted in an automatic deduction. Apart from that deduction, her score was very strong.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sterling and the Crystal King (A Venture into Ohio Caverns)

The alarm woke me at 6 A.M. I found myself in the kitchen standing over a smoky frying pan of bacon and eggs. Four breakfast burritos steamed on the counter top, neatly cut in half, revealing the molten egg, crispy bacon, and gooey sharp cheddar cheese. 

Kellie and Aleks were the out the door and I rested on the couch until Sterling began to stir in her bed. "OK Sterling, I need you to brush your teeth, wash your face, comb your hair, put on jeans, a long-sleeve t-shirt, socks and sneakers. We are going to take a surprise trip."

As we wound up and down various central Ohio state routes, Sterling tried to guess our destination. I heard her huff before she said, "Dad, I KNOW that you're taking me to the woods because I see your backpack. I don't like the woods and if THAT is my surprise, I am not going to be happy. The woods is full of bugs and spiders and mud and I don't like those things."

I just smiled as I glanced at her through the rear-view mirror and said, "Well... maybe. You've just got to wait and see."

Our red Ford Focus rounded a curve, taking it for all that it would give, and I pointed, "Sterling, do you see that big, red sign? What does it say?" She looked up, still fussing about spiders and how often I take her to the woods... and then her chatter paused... "OHIO CAVERNS? Dad, are we going to OHIO CAVERNS? If so, this is the GREATEST SURPRISE E-VER!"

I replied evenly, "Well, you'll just have to wait and see, you know, you might just be going to a park or the woods."

Of course our destination was at the end of a series of those road signs and she became more confident of her hope along the way. A stop at the ticket desk and a tour through the gift shop left me $33.00 lighter in my pocket and a giant smile brighter on her face.

All that was left to do was to go through the doorway. A small wooden door stood unmarked against the side wall. The guide slowly opened it and we stepped into a cool draft and began our descent.

Stalagmites grow at the rate of one inch in 500 to 1000 years according to our guide. Our footsteps broke the silence of these calcite sentinels of time. A stalactite and a stalagmite just a hairs breadth away would take 40 years of dipping to meet. Our life passing through this place is swallowed in the scope of history.

And yet, we stood there nonetheless and marveled at the handiwork of creation. There are great beauties and secrets hidden in the depth of the earth and surly within the depths of ourselves. Today was a day of encountered beauty, but the real find wasn't the caverns, it was a day spend together by a daughter and a dad.

And that, as they say... is timeless.

7 year old Sterling in front of the Crystal King,
a 400 lb stalactite that is estimated to be over 200,000 years old.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

She Is Not Afraid of the Snow

 She is not afraid of the snow for her household; for all her household are clothed in scarlet.

In the contour of her face I see her character. Spirited eyes above cheekbones wink with a vivacious view of a life meant to be caught. The line of her mouth can temper the emotion of an entire room with a mere upturn or frown. A resilient tenacity dares anyone to cross her and is set in the silhouette of her jawline and neck.  

Raspberry drizzled cheesecake on white china reminds me of another so dear to my primal heart. I close my eyes in the dim light and and smile as I ever so faintly hear the warm memory of her laugh. My soul is warmed to a shiver as I realize that the universe has placed the best parts of my beloved Mammaw deep in the being of my daughter.

A calm peace covers my mind as the chaos and noise that often dominate my thoughts ware gone as if covered by a thick blanket of freshly fallen snow. The crimson of the raspberry sauce fills my tastes and covers my senses. This moment is sealed in memory as one of those eternally captured snow-globe panoramas of reminiscence.

Reaching back in my mind I see a snow covered day with my Mammaw Ruth filled with a plastic disc sled, a bounding golden retriever, a risky road-trip adventure to Wendy's and the warmth of loving what the day could offer with her. She opened my eyes to the beauty found in the every day of living. She covered the mundane bleakness of life with crashing waves of fierce crimson, dished out as drizzled cheesecake, laughter, and kisses.

I look up to the face of my daughter, Aleks. I am amazed by her ability to laugh and find beauty in all circumstances. I watch her movements as candles reflect on her face. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the times to come. 

I nearly weep with the realization that my life is so richly blessed by these two women of virtue. 

Proverbs 31: 21 and 25.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Calling Back the Past

Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God calls back the past.

In the darkness I write with rain falling against the glass. This week has been life and death, promise and despair, both shadow and sunlight. I've basked in the light and I've asked the darkness to hide me.

I've prayed bold prayers, felt immediate assurance, and seen impossible solutions. A happenstance meeting on a street corner resulting in a prayer with a desolate despondent who became rescued and loved.

I have of late stared at the enemy of all things good as he leers at me from across the chasm. I remember the day when I realized that the enemy of souls took note of me. It was terrifying. Sure, evil has always pursued me, but I was part of a more general target. 

As part of a local task force I've been able to reach into some of the most devastated lives in the county and spread real hope. We've seen miracles. We've lost more lives than we've seen changed, but every changed life is exponential with hope. 

There is no fair in warfare. The enemy of my soul has failed against my savior, and so he prowls over those things that are still within his reach, and most precious to me. From all that I've seen lost on the streets, I've learned to hold my family all that much closer.

Too many lives that I've crossed began with a happy little family that became destroyed by a choice or a series of choices. We are all so weak. There are none of us who are as strong as we think we are. And so this humility and recognition of vulnerability must result in a self-less abandonment of status quo, replaced by an all-out yield to the way of my creator.

There is nothing that is too big, no chasm too wide, no wandered path that is too far. As Moses said to the people, God is not so far that He must somehow be retrieved, rather He abides in our mouths and hearts. He is our God and we are His people.

And so each day is a renewal of the mind as I freshly abandon the things of self: pride, anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, lust, and take on those things of His Spirit: the true, the noble, the authentic, the reputable, the compelling, the beautiful, and in an attitude of thankfulness.

Surely what I have already been saved from is far greater than those things I fear in the darkness. There is a light that shines in the darkness and it illuminates today, burning out the shadows of past and painting the horizon of tomorrow.

And so with the fierce brow of a father protecting his children I return that stare across the chasm into the face of the destroyer and I say, "Not here. Not now. Not today. The One who fills me makes me strong enough to withstand. 

I know who I am and I call back the past... all the way to the beginning when the One spoke out light, truth, and life to place everything into being. 

And on my knees I find strength.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

How to Drop Your Son off at University and Flash Thirty People

It was a day that I'd imagined a hundred times, and it was a day that somehow appeared out of nowhere. How can something exist only in the distant future and stare you in the face without warning? I think I was a little rattled.

I remember these images: hugging him goodbye in his dorm, snapping a photo of Sterling as she watched him register for his parking pass and entry codes, laughing as Aleksandra applied a Cedarville logo to his car... and then I remember the quiet drive away from that campus. 

Stunned. Time has never felt fast to me, but the clarity of this moment is intense like a lightening strike. Flash... and gone.

Earlier in the day we stood in the bookstore for the fourth time. We'd walked and driven in circles for the past three hours, trying to figure out what to do next as we collectively remained calm and privately fought panic in our minds. Surely Caleb was the most sane of us all.

When Kellie asked him if he was "ok", he said something to the effect that, "the only thing that makes me nervous is all of you." I smiled. He was going to be just fine.

And then there was me. Something inside of me decided that I needed a Cedarville shirt. Not just the "Cedarville Dad" shirt that was on sale for $9.99, I mean seriously... are all Dad's cheapskates? I decided I'd look like a dork. And so I ventered over to the student apparel.

There has been a phenomenon that occurred since I went to college. Sizes shrank to "skinny" and materials changed from cotton to some nasty poly blend that is called, "wicking." Hello universe... polyester is cheap, we're all getting ripped off. Wicking only means that your sweat can't escape!

But I stood with three options and I squeezed into the first. It was too small. I had a t-shirt on underneath so I just grabbed the shirt tail and pulled up. The wicking shirt unexpectedly held onto my trusty cotton t-shirt and there I stood with my hands over my head and my chest exposed to my neck. I was inexplicably bound, both unable to remove the shirt or roll it back down.

To my horror... I looked up to see no less than thirty students, parents, and bookstore staff all staring at me in shock. There I stood... flashing them all. In desperation, I said to Kellie and Aleksandra, "Help me" because I was dreadfully stuck. I did a 360 so my back was to the audience as they rolled the shirt down my body and then helped me escape from its wicking clutches. 

You should have seen the sideways glances when I approached the counter to purchase a hooded shirt... one size larger. I'm not a pot-bellied Dad, but I'm not a waif student either! I might have muttered, "sorry about the show" as I was handed my receipt.

Well... Caleb, I hope things are going well for you. I also hope my picture isn't posted along with the Campus Security warnings. Next time I visit, I plan to try on some pants.

Love, Dad.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Sidney Outback to School in My Yard

Tom Planck, life-long friend asked me today, "So Shep, how are you doing?" I took a quick self-inventory (I was breathing, not bleeding, not in pain, under no duress), and I said, "Well, pretty good." 

He looked at me with skepticism and said, "Really?" I returned his expression and said, "Yeah." He leaned in and peered into my heart a bit and said, "Look, I know what you're going through right now because I'm there too."

There it was, reality cascading into my facade. My oldest, Caleb is at Cedarville University. It's been a big week of transition. It was harder than I thought to leave him there and drive away. Even so, it is very good. I am so pleased with him.

How am I really? I'm pretty good. Tonight was a little different than ever before though. It was the first night before the first day of school that Caleb isn't with us... the first since 2005.

Aleksandra asked me if we could have a last night of summer bonfire. Folks up here in Anna like to burn things. I'll add it to my "Recents List". I've learned to love: country music, soccer, and burning things. Well, I've always loved to burn things.

Last year she made the same requests and I fired up the pit while the rain fell down. This year we're minus Caleb but we still have the rain. I flipped an old chair upside down to shield the fledgling fire. The rain fell down my face as I reflected on the past twelve years of being Caleb's Dad. 

I am so thankful and blessed and just overwhelmed. He is such an unexpected best part of my existence. I was so afraid when he was born, but I've just held him ever since. He knows that I'm not perfect, but he and I can laugh together and enjoy life like we're almost reading each other's thoughts.

And so I hold extra tight onto this beautiful soul. So tightly at times that it's uncomfortable for her as I desperately want to fill her with all the good that has ever crossed my path. When I look at her I know that I'd give my life for her without a moment's hesitation. I am so thankful that I have two more years with her before we drive away leaving her at Anderson University (Soar Ravens Soar).

And Sterling... when your big sister leaves, I am going to be a little wrecked. I thank God that I'll have a second round of bringing a child through adolescence. I'll get to live it all again with a new-found appreciation as your big sibs begin to carve out their lives. Don't you worry, once they take off, you'll be the "only child in residence." You're going to have it made kiddo. Just don't push it. There's no princesses in this family, and you're boyfriends are going to have a really hard time. 

And so this is our recorded snapshot at this point in life. A few folks will read it and a couple might even tear up a bit. But most importantly, I just wanted to capture this night, this moment, and my aware heart as I answer the question asked by a dear friend, "So Shep, how are you really doing?"

I am beautifully, irrevocably, hopelessly thankful.
The rain falls, we pop umbrellas & bust out s'mores.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Succeed a Little, Fail a Lot

I suppose its intrinsic to you that emotion comes on like waves, but that doesn't change the fact that sometimes the surf pounds me unaware and drives me into the sand. The force of the ocean dragged me out to sea today. I am a castaway drifting now in the tide.

It all happened in the most unlikely of likely places. We were all in a nice little row, like a Norman Rockwell painting. Myself, my nearly 18 year old son, my wife of some 23 years, my seven and a half year old daughter, and my nearly 15 year old daughter. 

The Connection Point Band led worship and we all were there in a line... the final Sunday before things unexpectedly changed just as we'd planned them. How could this happen, this thing that I've always known would happen? What kind of madness is this... this chronologically, logical day?

We stood there in worship, singing about the enduring love of our good God, and suddenly I was forced to consider that those words were manifested in this life that I share with those beside me. This is the final Sunday service that our family will share together before Caleb leaves home for university.

Life suddenly is making a shift and my own identity is changing... my relationship with my son is changing... the daily ebb and flow of my household... it all just changed.

I'm overwhelmed in the moment and I'm being rolled by the wave. It's knocked me off my feet with a swift sort of violence, and yet I'm smiling in the torrent while the salt of the ocean joins the tears from my face. 

"You are good, you are good, and your love endures..." the words roll off of my tongue and I am now sobbing with my hands held high... because I know that I do not deserve this moment... and yet, here we are.

There was a time not so long ago that marriage and family seemed so bleak. There was a time not so long ago that our faith journey seemed abandoned. There was a time not so long ago that we nearly surrendered everything to our enemy. And yet... by the grace of God we are here today.

"You are good, you are good and your love endures today."

I am forever lost in the flotsam of the ocean. What seemed to be pain, God has used to make something beautiful. While I was aware that people behind us would be watching and drawing conclusions... I knew that I had to be real in the moment and I brought my arm up around the shoulders of my son and I hugged him ever so tightly as I sent up a torrent of thanks to my God.

He is good. He is good and His love is alive in my life today. I am overwhelmed. I do not deserve to be here, and yet I embrace it with every cell of my body! Thank you God. Thank you God. Thank you God.

Caleb, my dear son... you'll find these words online eventually. I don't know when, but I do know that when you do it will be no mistake. I need to tell you that is ok to find some success in this life you now pursue. Success is tricky. It whispers into your ear insidious little lies. You have to fight to keep it real. Humility is a better life-raft than pride. 

But find some success and thank God for the moment. He will be there to greet you in your thankfulness. I found that to be true even today.

More importantly though my son, I give you permission to fail... and to fail a lot. There is nothing better than failure. Failure means you were bold enough to try. Failure means that you are reaching out into undiscovered oceans. Failure means that you've gained experience and knowledge that you didn't have before... and that is now unique to your experience. 

Succeed a little, and fail a lot. Failure is our greatest strength. It reminds us of our place in the universe, our reliance on God, and gives us great confidence to know that we still can exist and float on the other side. 

So let the waves come at you. Let them knock you off of your feet and roll you. Let their undertow transport you. And when you come back up, breath in that salty air and wipe your eyes.

God is good, God is good and His love endures... today.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Lifting Up the Serpent From Across the Abyss

"So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it upon a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live."
The book of Numbers, chapter 21, verse 9

The text came through today at 5:32 PM. We lost another one. The four of us are each going about our lives today in separate places, but in this moment we mourn together. It is more than a death, it is a loss and a blow dealt by our enemy. Make no mistake, we know that we stare across a dark, bottomless chasm with lives that hang in the balance.

Our team of four is nothing more than ordinary people who have come together to face the cold stare of an ancient adversary who stares us down from across the expanse. A police officer, a social worker, an advocate, and a chaplain... we hold up a bronze serpent of hope to one of our nation's most desperate populations.

Addiction is nothing less than deep fanged puncture of the bite of Satan. Like the story of the Garden, he still whispers in ears to ensnare. Promises made and death delivered, after that first injection or snort... innocence is lost and the poison seizes a mind hostage with the violence of a terrorist at the helm of a 747.

It can feel hopeless to a human soul that is gripped by its hold. Society fears them, they damage the ones they love, and the abyss draws them forever down. 

Sometimes the enemy wins. 

He stares at me from across that dark chasm and he sneers. He seems to say, "Where is your Jesus now?" 

Death feels like the hot slice of a paper cut. So quick, so sudden, so shocking. It is such a violation. It's foreign. I wasn't created to experience this rape.

I was created to walk with God in the cool of the garden. So were each and every one of those lost lives. God made them. God made me. There is value in every single life. Jesus, where are you now? You are evidenced in every intake of breath and every beating heart. You are even here with me, holding me as I stare boldly into the eyes of my enemy.

Light shatters darkness. Always.

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be 
lifted up, that whoever believes in Him 
may have eternal life."
The Gospel according to John, Chapter 3, verses 14-15

Yesterday I found myself in the chair of Katie Hutchins at Wells and Co. Tattoo. Katie has been my artist for over a decade and she was laying down the ink on my ninth tattoo. It is a serpent. 

My time in Guatemala certainly influenced the design. It reminds me of my good friend, Antony, who was born under that Mayan symbol. It reminds me of the strong faith in Jesus that we found in the stories of so many lives we encountered there. And the serpent reminds me that we have hope in the most unlikely of places.

Conversations of hope shatter the silence of a jail. I now tell the story of Jesus through the ink on my arm. How do you give hope to the hopeless? Listen to their story and share your own. 

Why do I have a tattoo of a snake on my arm? There once was a people who were enslaved by an evil king. They escaped, only to find themselves dying in the wilderness. They believed they had no way out, and they cursed God and thought that they'd be better off dead.

But their leader talked to God. He raised a bronze serpent up on a staff and when the people looked at that serpent, they found healing and hope even though they were dying. 

There was once a man who was both human and God. He knew this story from his childhood. His name was Jesus. He said that when people are hurting, without hope, and dying, they can look up to him just like those slaves looked up to the bronze serpent, and if they believe in him, they may have eternal life. 

It is time to look up. It is time to believe. I look across the chasm at my adversary and I stare deep into his eyes. I feel the pain of his destruction, but I have a greater awareness of the one who continues to offer life and rescue from the pit.

And so I roll up my sleeves and I lift up the serpent. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Last Day of Vacation (A Beach Holiday)

Ah, there sits my adversary of the week. Daily contests of wit and luck over domino tiles. She bested me three out of four, I carried only the final match. I've raised her to find value in winning. Sure it's how you play, but it's also learning to win. She won with grace, I lost with humility. Well, for the most part. We also bully a bit and make good natured fun of one another. I think that can be healthy too. 

There are vacations that end with a feeling of relief. You're glad to be returning to your home. Then, there are those vacations that you say goodbye to with a bit of pain. It just doesn't feel like it's time to leave quite yet. 

Oh, to add another day. That would feel like a gift. We've done that before, but it is not for this trip.

I like how the Europeans call vacations a holiday. This has been a holiday in the literal sense of the word. It has been holy, set apart. Time taken specifically to be together. To laugh, to disagree, to play... to find each other again as we all contine to grow and change. 

We've reflected on the past year and we like where we've been. We appreciate the path. Our little family, myself, Kellie, Caleb, Aleksandra, and Sterling all now share memories of the past six years. Our family and our life-long friends, the Roh family, now share some twelve years of memories together. We've lost count of our times of holiday together.

And so I sit on the patio, beneath an umbrella table as the rain falls and drips behind my bare back. This falling water feels right. I'm mourning the leaving a bit, even though I'm anticipating our arrival home and greetings by our dogs. 

The vaction, the holiday. We all need a time of rest. A cycle of work and reflective recreation. It's how we're made. 

I am thankful for this time. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

No Trespassing

Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you. You must travel it by yourself. It is not far. It is within reach. Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know. Perhaps it is everywhere - on water and land.
Walt Whitman

Aren't all the great breakthroughs of history a sort of trespassing? A disregard of stated barriers to reach a new discovery, a new land, or a new people? You may have heard people say something like, "Well, God shut that door and so I knew that this just wasn't His plan for my life." 

Phooey on that!

He is the God who shuts the mouths of lions, drops giants with a stone, parts the waters, flattens city walls, wipes out armies by His hand, and walks within the fiery furnace. He is the God who meets us on the battlefield and forgives us even as He hangs on a cross.

He is the God who makes a way, even when there seems to be no way. When we walk with Him, nothing is bigger.

In a conversation with our friends yesterday, Kayci & Shawn, Kellie and I were reminded of a line shouted by Frank in the movie, As Good as it Gets, with Jack Nicholson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Helen Hunt, & Greg Kinnear. 
You may think you can intimidate 
the whole world with your 
attitude, but I grew up in Hell. 
My grandmother had more attitude. 
You don't intimidate me.
God can make a way from our brokenness. Those hard experiences that we remember can ready you to face greater things ahead. When we know where we've come from, who created us, and what we've already overcome, then we can rip down the "No Tresspassing" sign that seeks to block our way.

So did Aleksandra and I hop that fence? It would be an admission of a felony if I said that we did, and so I'll leave it to you to guess. There are barriers that should remain uncrossed. The wisdom is discerning the difference.

Perhaps you've been on a journey since you were born... yes, I see that. Walk with God and claim your territory. You can't tresspass on your Father's land.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Reflected Beams of Crimson and Amber

The evening sun fell into a familiar embrace with the ocean, staining the clouds with reflected beams of crimson and amber. Salt-water air kissed our faces with a soothing wind. There was something nearly primal that felt unseen at that colision of land, sea, and heaven. It was as if some deep part of my soul and even my skin was somehow drawing life into a buried part of me. 

This sunset silhouettes our lives in this right now, never to be duplicated moment. It is our notice of a snapshot that captures: Sterling at age seven, newly added as a competing member of the local gymnastics team, Aleksandra on the verge of her quinceanera, secretly taking driving lessons in abandoned parking lots, Caleb fresh returned from seven weeks at Camp Marengo, home only a few weeks before setting off in the Suzuki Esteem to Cedarville University, and Kellie and I standing (or running) in the midst, learning to take it all in and savor it as we refuse to see the days as slipping and instead grasp the moments as forever.

I am grateful to experience this sunset and to pause long enough to see my own place in its panorama. I realize both the weight of how I live my days, and the downy-lightness of a sunset that helps me to realize that there is a universe that is expansive beyond the scope of my vision, and a God who holds it all... from the primal unspoken healings, to the eternal spoken words of the beginning.