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May 31, 2010

Madison Graduates!

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It has been a holiday weekend of graduation festivities. On Friday night, Grandpa and Grandma drove down from Des Moines with Uncle Bud to gather for Madison's commencement. It was a beautiful, warm night. Taylor and Clayton joined us, along with Madison's boyfriend, Phil. Earlier that day, Madison had been voted by her class as having "the best hair" (I told her she can thank her mother's genes for that one). Maddy Kate was beaming as she crossed the stage and received her diploma.

On Saturday, we headed to Des Moines for our nephew, Solomon's, graduation party.

On Sunday afternoon, we held Madison's graduation party in the basement of Third Reformed Church. Wendy outdid herself making three cheesecakes, two chocolate cakes and a mess of ham sandwiches (that everyone raved about). Grandma Wanda brought gorgeous flowers from her garden to adorn the tables. We had a full house of family and friends from all over. Wendy's family ventured down from Boone. The whole Des Moines crew were present including Tim and his girlfriend Kumi. Madison was well celebrated.

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May 28, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 50

It's your sins that put you here, your wrongs that got you shipped out. Isaiah 50:1b (MSG)

We wouldn't have a healthcare problem, were it not for these bodies slowly returning to dust.
We wouldn't have war, were it not for hatred, prejudice, covetousness, and pride.
We wouldn't have a welfare and poverty problem, were it not for selfishness, greed, sloth and corruption.
We wouldn't have divorce, were it not for self-centeredness, resentment, brokenness and infidelity.
We wouldn't have an problem with obesity or STDs, were it not for appetites out of control.
We wouldn't have tragedies, were it not for poor choices married to imperfection.

We wouldn't be lost if our own imperfect actions, words, choices, thoughts, and motivations hadn't brought us to this place.

Lord, have mercy on us.

May 27, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 49

Tantrum But Zion said, "I don't get it. God has left me.
   My Master has forgotten I even exist."
Isaiah 49:14 (MSG)

What an interesting contrast this verse gives to the previous section. God paints a beautiful word picture of all that He is doing for his children to provide, protect, honor and establish them. Then, in a one verse temper tantrum, the children turn their backs and cry out that they are victim of a Father God who has abandoned them and done them harm.

Wait a minute. I know this one. I've experienced it on both sides of the relational ledger.

I've been the child crying "foul!" in my circumstantial pain, blinders over my eyes that keep me from seeing so many things around me. Ignoring the part my own choices played in finding myself in that particular place. Ignorant of the larger perspective my parents and my Heavenly Father possessed. Relishing, for the moment, the deceptive satisfaction and empathetic attention I receive from choosing my victim status.

I've also been a father hearing his children cry out in anger and resentment. I've witnessed the tears. I've seen the icy stares and received the relational indictment. I understand the frustrating mixture of compassion, confusion, and consternation that a father feels with an irrational child.

Today, I'm reminded that in life's painful moments there is a larger perspective. God has a bigger picture He's painting. We can choose to believe it, step back from our temporarily powerful negative emotions, and wait for the picture to emerge and reveal itself. We can also choose to deny it, turn our back, and resentfully lick our wounds. I've tried both. The former, a more difficult choice in the heat of the moment, has proven itself more beneficial in the long run than the latter.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and jakevol2

May 26, 2010

"I'm done!!!"

22771_1118094252653_1835919990_241087_2740015_n I got the text message on my phone at 12:53 p.m. yesterday: "I'm done!!!"

Madison finished her final high school class. She walks across the stage on Friday, and on Sunday afternoon we gather with family and friends to celebrate her accomplishment and this rite of passage.

Last night was a smaller celebration as Wendy, Taylor, Clayton and I took Madison out for dinner. It was fun to gather and sprinkle Madison with cards, gifts and encouragement. It's fun to watch her finish well and to have all of the fun that goes with graduation. I'm proud of her, and pleased to see all of her well-deserved excitement.

I've been reflecting on this moment for the past few weeks. I'm struck at how amazing both of the girls are in their own unique ways. It's hard to believe that the day has arrived that our youngest is through high school. Parenting changes at a million different stages in a child's development, but this one is a pretty major shift of life's tectonic plates. Letting go is, at once, satisfying and terrifying. You realize in a moment that your child is capable of acheiving anything they set their heart and mind to accomplish while being unbelievably clueless about how life really works. You think about all the things you may have forgotten to teach them, and all of the lessons they will have to learn on their own.

Her path now branches off from mine in a very real way. She will learn. She will grow. The good work God began in her will continue until it's completion. It's all part of the journey.

You go, Maddy Kate. You go.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 48

Sleep better. "There is no peace," says God, "for the wicked." Isaiah 48:22 (MSG)

The pizza joint was packed after a high school basketball gang and I was there with a bunch of my friends. I was the youngest of the group of teen boys. It was loud. It was smokey (you could smoke anywhere in public in those days), and it was extremely busy with teenagers and families celebrating the basketball team's victory.

I don't remember there being any discussion. In the midst of the din, the eldest of my group of friends looked around and said "Let's go." We got up and followed him out of the restaurant without paying the check. I still remember the look on his face and his laughter as the group reveled in pulling one over on the restaurant. We all laughed as we sprinted towards my friend's house, but underneath the laughter my conscience had already kicked in.

I remember hating that night. Guilt and shame have a way of magnifying paranoia, anxiety and fear to ridiculously huge proportions. I spent the night at my friends house in utter fear of police raiding the house and hauling me off to jail. I can still remember the panic in my head each time I heard a police siren in the distance.

There is no peace for the wicked.

It was about four years later that I stopped by the pizza joint after school and asked to speak with the manager. I still remember his confused expression as I explained what I'd done and handed him money from my paycheck to cover the old debt, and then some. The look on his face told me he thought I was crazy. I'm sure people walk out on checks regularly, especially teenagers, and it's all part of the daily routine of the restaurant business. Looking back now, 30 years later, I laugh at the silliness of it myself. But it taught me a good lesson.

Do the right thing. You sleep better.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and drakeguan

May 25, 2010

5th Annual Summer Kick-Off

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After five years, it has become an annual "rite of seasonal passage." Late in May we head to the lake with our friends Kevin & Becky to spend a weekend relaxing and kicking off the summer. This past weekend was certainly one to remember. It was the first kick-off weekend spent in the new Playhouse, and the weather cooperated. It was a wonderful weekend.

While Wendy and I have made numerous trips to the lake already this year, they have not been relaxing. We've been finishing the lower level, dealing with construction issues, organizing, moving, and cleaning. With Kevin and Becky, we ignored the half-finished lower level and simply relaxed (props, however, to Kevin who helped me do a few light chores!).

Much of the weekend was spent on the deck under the umbrella, though we couldn't help enjoying the sun and getting out on the water. We had both waverunners going and enjoyed darting around the lake. On Saturday night, the waxing moon was more than half full and we took a slow, moonlight cruise around the lake in the boat. As usual, we brought way more food and drink than we could possibly consume, and still had to make our requisite stop at Captain Ron's for dinner.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 47

One phone call away. Ruin descends— you can't charm it away.
Disaster strikes— you can't cast it off with spells.
Catastrophe, sudden and total— and you're totally at sea, totally bewildered!
Isaiah 47:11 (MSG)

The phone call came on a warm summer evening. I was in the basement (where it was cool), watching television.

Pack something quick. Get in the car. We're going

Grandpa and grandma were on a walk. There was an accident. They were struck by a car. We don't know anything more. Let's go.

There are scenes from that night that are indelibly etched in my memory. I remember the long drive to northwest Iowa. In pre-cell phone days there was no instant communication. You drove. You waited to find out. You agonized. You prayed. I remember hearing the nurse at St. Luke's hospital say that my grandma was dead. What a strange concept for my ten year old brain to grasp. I'd just seen grandma weeks before, and now I'd never see her again. I remember seeing my father cry for the first time and my mother comforting him. My vision of parents expanded that night. I saw humanity in them that I'd never perceived before.

I learned an important life lesson that warm summer evening. It was not anything that any person said. Experience was my teacher. I learned that we are all, every one of use, just one heartbeat, one breath, one teenager's momentary distraction, one unexpected phone call from tragic, life altering circumstances beyond our control.

It's good to know who holds the future.

It's good each night that I lay my head on the pillow and can thank God that the phone didn't ring that day.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and qole

May 24, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 46

More. So to whom will you compare me, the Incomparable? Can you picture me without reducing me? Isaiah 46:5a (MSG)

No. That's the answer to God's rhetorical question. We can't picture Him without reducing him. Human metaphors catch a part of the picture, but only a fraction of His person. The only way God could be embodied was for Him to reduce Himself in the form of Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
  did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
  being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
  he humbled himself
  and became obedient to death—
 even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8 (NIV)

Just when you think you've finally got a handle on God, you find that God is infinitely bigger than your handle.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and blueforce4116

May 20, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 45

Stage Manger at work backstage. "Clearly, you are a God who works behind the scenes...." Isaiah 45:15a (MSG)

I have been involved in stage productions since my youth and have spent the last five years in leadership of our local community theater organization. In fact, just last night Wendy and I found ourselves helping with auditions for the summer production. It never ceases to amaze me the number of people involved who the audience never see on stage. The audience sees and enjoys the actors' performance but they never see the Writer, Producer, Director, Stage Manager, Costumer, Lighting Director, Audio Director, Marketing team, Make-up Artist, and Production Assistants.

A month ago, I was acting in a show. At the end of one scene I needed to make an exit and come right back in at the beginning of the following scene. My coat was on a coat hook at the opposite end of the stage and it was my responsibility to exit through that far door and grab my coat. I made my exit through the nearest door without thinking about my coat which was now abandoned stage. I was going to look really silly entering a few minutes later without my coat when the audience could see it was still hanging on the hook by the door.

I scrambled around backstage, cursing myself for my mental lapse. As I approached, the opposite end of the set, I found my coat hanging on a hook backstage. In the scene change, one of the backstage crew had noticed I'd left the coat. They immediately ran to grab it and put it back stage where I would find it. Crisis averted. Without a a crew backstage making sure everything was under control, I'd have looked really silly.

When I read "you are a God who works behind the scenes," I really appreciate what that means.

Yesterday I wrote about a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day I had the previous day. It would have been easy to say to myself, "God, why are you absent?" I could have looked at the evidence of what I saw and concluded that God had let me down. I know that's not true. God is at work. In the spotlight, on the stage of my everyday life, things appear to be going wrong, but backstage God is actively at work. I may not see it until after the scene is over, but the Great Stage Manager is behind the scenes administrating far more than I can comprehend. He is aware of more than I see, and actively engaged to make sure I don't blow my next entrance.

Relax. We've got the best possible Stage Manager at work behind the scenes of our life.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Ervin Noordin

May 19, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 44

Day in the desert. "For I will pour water on the thirsty ground and send streams coursing through the parched earth." Isaiah 44:3a (MSG)

There are individual days within life's journey that, in and of themselves, feel like a sojourn through the desert. Yesterday was one of those days for me. I won't bore you with all the details. Let's just say that from beginning to end it was complete with organizational pain, relational pain, financial pain, and physical pain. From threatened lawsuits, to a loved one chewing me a new one, to a dental filling and extraction. By the end of it all, I felt spiritually parched. I could almost feel life draining from me. I went to bed last night feeling the life tank on empty.

Along with the verse from today's chapter in Isaiah, I am reminded this morning of the words of Jeremiah, the prophet, as he found himself in far worse circumstances than I:

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

It's a new day. Still feel like I'm standing in the desert. I'm looking for a stream.