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Folks, a simple phrase, “I’m alright,” has shaped much of my life in more ways than I care to admit, or will readily acknowledge. The simple truth is: I’m not alright, else why did Jesus have to die for me?

Yet it was this very phrase that my parents taught me to say when, as a small child I would fall, get scraped, be upset. I know they meant well, but it was cold comfort to a little boy.

Until the little boy grew, and internalized it, made it a life philosophy. I suppose it’s why, now, I’m so accepting of the brokenness I see all around me, and why I have such a hard time fessing up when I’ve done wrong.

Because, you see, “I’m alright.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The genesis of this philosophy predates me, of course, and goes all the way back to the garden. But as pertains to my particular ancestry, I would say it has its origins with my mom.

Mom was raised in church, knew the Bible, won awards for Scripture memorization. But she tells me that upon hearing a particular sermon about how wretched we are (while true, it’s my conviction that she came of age in a very legastic church–thus the truth was communicated sans love), she said to herself “I’m not that bad.” Thus began the slippery slope leading to “I’m alright.”

Thing is, though Kenny Loggins sang of it (“I’m alright, don’t nobody worry ’bout me. Why you got to give me a fight? Why can’t you just let me be?’), it’s a poor way to live. We–you, me, everybody–don’t exist in a vacuum, and our choices effect other folks. The fact is: we don’t grow through the easy times–when things are “alright.” We grow through rubbing up against one another, when it’s hard, when we’re forced to work things out.

“I’m alright” not only denies the pains life brings our way, it also shortcuts the conflict by which we confront those pains, one another, and the process of working things out. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the countenance of another” is what the Scriptures say.

“I’m alright” denies the need for any such sharpening. It basically says “I’m okay–you should be, too.” Then seeks to go on about its merry way, not caring for the devastation it leaves in its wake.

For myself, God has been faithful to not leave me so blithely ignorant to the hurts I’ve caused. It’s not been easy, and I often kick against the goads–struggling to admit my wrongs–but it has been worth it.

So I say here–now, today–I’m not alright.

And that’s okay.

How about you? Are you alright?

So. It’s “Father’s Day.”

At least here in the U.S. of A. anyway.

I would like to write for you a deeply sentimental post about what my dad means to me, but I’m prevented by honesty. Anne Lamott said it well when she said “If people wanted you to write warmly of them, they should have behaved better.”

They should have…

He should have…

You see where I’m going with this. (I’m sorry for telegraphing, but I have something to say, and won’t let myself sleep until it’s written).

My dad was a man who:

When trying to play catch with me as a youngster, threw the ball at me harder and harder, and then derided me for my poor catching skills.

Walked away from me in frustration when, in his estimation, I didn’t learn how to bat quickly enough via the Johnny Bench Batter Up he’d installed in our back yard.

I could go on. Suffice it to say that he was a man who left me, and our family, just as I was entering my teen years. When I needed him most, needed help navigating questions of identity, the changes of puberty, he took a breeze.

True, or not, intended, or not–the message came through loud and clear: you don’t have what it takes, you’re no good to me.

I believed those bullshit lies for most of my life, and subsequently tried to appease him, earn his approval. To the detriment of myself, my wife, and family. But it never came. Like Kimbra sings to Gotye in Somebody That I Used To Know:

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
But I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say…

When I sought merely his acceptance, I didn’t get it. All I wanted was his love, but he didn’t get me. I don’t hate him, but I’m no longer a little boy hanging on his every word. “The cat’s in the cradle, and the silver spoon…”

I’ve moved on, and my dad is just somebody that I used to know.

My Heavenly Father loves me, and sent His Son to die for me.

But that’s not the end of the story. No, I seem to suffer with some of the same inadequacies when it comes to relating to my own now teenaged son. It’s harder than it should be. this goes back generationally:

My dad didn’t equip me, wasn’t equipped by his dad, who in turn wasn’t equipped by his own father (my great grandfather). Divorce is a curse that has plagued my family for decades. Whether there was good reason for it, or not, we have nothing but men who don’t know the first thing about being just that: men.

Which is why I was overjoyed recently to learn that I’d been accepted in the lottery to attend a Wild At Heart boot camp in Colorado this August. If John Eldredge, and his ministry, Ransomed Heart, know how to do anything it’s to equip men. Here’s the rub: it costs $475 to attend.

To some of you, this may seem like a lot of money; to others, not. In any case, Lisa (my wife) and I prayed about, and subsequently decided, to forgo a second income. So she could be home with the kids, provide discipline and stability. All of which is to say that there isn’t $475 in the budget for me to go to the retreat.

Which is why I am appealing to you, my readers. I hate asking in this way, but if each of you have a few dollars to spare I’m sure we can reach the goal.

The catch is that Ransomed Heart wants payment by Friday, June 22nd. Thus, we need to reach the $475 mark by this Thursday, the 21st.

I wouldn’t appeal to you in this way at all if I didn’t feel so strongly that it was something I needed to do.

Thank-you very much for your prayerful consideration!

You can PayPal me at gandalf239 [at] gmail [dot] com

If we don’t meet the goal all donations will be refunded.

A very special person came into my life almost fourteen years ago. He’s my son, and he’s special for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that my wife and never thought we would have him. You see, we were told, repeatedly, that we wouldn’t be having any children.

But God…

But God had other plans. Which started with my wife, Lisa, suffering from flu-like symptoms in the wake of Thanksgiving, 1998. In fact, what we thought we were abdominal cramps got so bad that we went to the E.R. one evening. Pregnancy was the furthest thing from our minds.

But the doctor…

But the doctor was a wise enough man that he, after examining her, ordered an ultrasound. To rule out an ectopic pregnancy. And that sonogram showed, instead of an ectopic pregnancy, or other malady, a baby growing in Lisa’s womb.

A tiny baby, at just a few weeks gestation. We were stunned to silence, and then wept tears of you. After seven years (at that time) of marriage, after being told “Sorry, not for you” over and over again, after the fact settled our bones… What had stayed out of our grasp was unexpectedly becoming a reality.

Overjoyed doesn’t even begin to do the feeling adequate justice. My stock and trade is words, and I’m at a loss…

I’m at a loss to tell you just what that precious little baby meant to us, to know that he was coming. Oh, as with all joys in this world, this was tinged with sadness, too: her’s was not an easy pregnancy. Not by any stretch. Even so, we wouldn’t trade that time for anything. Not for the world, not for the secrets of the pharaohs, not for all the proverbial tea in China.

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Because…

Because it brought us our son, Jonathan. Our wonderful son, in whom we are well pleased. Many years have come and gone since he was a baby, and the young couple in their twenties awestruck by his impending arrival have given way to a couple in their early forties; a couple in the throes of parenting not just a teenager, but a little girl as well (that is a story for another time).

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In any case, I’m writing today to celebrate the fine young man that our firstborn has become. I’m writing to tell you how proud his mother and I are of him. I’m writing because that little baby I once held in my arms is growing up, has just completed the eighth grade.

This past year has not been without its challenges–both for Jonathan, and for us. But he stayed the course, worked hard, and finished well. We’re proud of you, son!

Would you please join us in congratulating this fine young man on this momentous occasion?

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If you’ve been around here recently, you will have noticed that I’ve been feeling a bit squeezed.

Well, ok–a little more than a bit: quite a lot, actually. And there are reasons for this; chiefly:

The lack of margin. I have a life–as you do, too–that’s rather full of pressing urgencies–the tyranny of the merely urgent, if you will.

Mine have to do with work, family, parenting–in short, normal life life obligations that seem to have taken over, and squeezed the life out of me. (Don’t get me wrong: I love my family).

For example, when my wife and I don’t take the time to slow down, spend some quiet together, things get… (If you’re married, you know). We get short, terse–there’s a palpable tension coloring the tenor of our home.

Why is this? I suspect, again like you, that we are so busy doing our respective duties that we forget to breath. We lay aside the things that nourish our souls for the sake of getting that next thing done, making that next play in Words With Friends. 😉 We are living in the margins–instead of building in a margin.

Filling our lives with marginalia, rather than filling in the page. I suspect we are not alone in this.

How about you? Are you in the margin, or building in margins?

First, an apology:

If I used to comment regularly on your blog, and haven’t lately (or in awhile), I’m sorry.

Second:

Due to a vast confluence of circumstances–trials, tribulations, and indeed some victories–I’ve been in “Head Down” mode.

What’s that, you ask?

It’s like this:

Say that life is like a football (American style) game, and a receiver has just snatched the ball from the air. That ball becomes his life, and he must do everything possible to power through the crushing throng of defenders. He goes “head down,” and does his utmost to get to the goal.

Let’s further say that I’m that receiver; lately, it’s all I can do to hold onto that ball. Forget moving forward for right now. The crushing tide of the “defenders”–illnesses, obligations–just, you know, life–has got me down.

Stupid as it is, when my character–Sam Gamgee–was knocked out of Clay Morgan’s March Movie Madness 2, that really bummed me out.

It was just one more thing. One more defeat.

I feel stupid and weak admitting this.

—————-

Concomitant with my struggle, I had a child who desperately wanted to go on an eighth grade trip. For which I had no way to pay. And for which my wife and I both felt bad about.

The kicker here is that all I could do was bemoan the fact that I didn’t get to go to the Killer Tribes conference. Which I actually asked God to please work out somehow. Did I ask Him to provide for my son’s need?

No–I did not. (It seems that God had plans of His own on that score, and my wife and I are both profoundly humbled by, and extremely grateful for, how unexpectedly He came through for Jonathan. God knows he needed it).

That, my friends, is for me yet another aspect of that “head down” mode–when I can’t see past my own skin.

Which we also know as: depression.

So, as I indicated at the beginning, if I seem to have gone underground, not been around, or acted out in weird ways, now you know why.

Has life ever felt like too much to you? Have you ever struggled with the demon of depression?