Category Archives: Family

Marriage: Great Risk, Great Reward It's not in what you get, but what you give. And give up.

Marriage is hard.

If you’re soon to be wed and you hear those words, you eschew them as the trite acrimony of bitter people. That will never be true for us, you say to yourself, sure of the truth of your conviction.

Without fail, you discover that the union of two lives into one is never smooth, easy, care-free, or any other blissful thought we hold before marriage.

I love my wife. I love her more than anyone ever. (Sorry, Mom…) She is so special to me, everything about her. It is truly difficult for me to imagine my life without her. I love her laugh, her smell, her eyes, her joy; her long, beautiful hair, her passion—be prepared for fiery discussion if you hit upon one of her passionate topics, of which there are many—and I love her gentle spirit maybe most of all.

But some days are so hard! So hard. When two people share life, it is not a 50/50 split. In marriage, the math doesn’t make sense. It’s one hundred percent, each way. Well, that’s hard to do! (It doesn’t “make sense”, remember?) But it’s the only way it works.

With that math, you are completely in the hands of another. That is the greatest risk of marriage. You are 100% vulnerable. All of you, with none in reserve. In that equation, you are giving up control. To work well, a marriage requires both spouses to contribute their all—100%—to the other.

Thus, success depends as much on your spouse as it does on you.

That is the great risk.

And, that is the great reward.

If marital success could be achieved by your own efforts (i.e. the things you have control of) then it would stand to reason that many more marriages would succeed. Why not “try” to have a great marriage, if all it takes it to “try harder”. That is obviously not the case, and most would agree, doesn’t make sense. Even if you are giving your all—and, likely, that’s an exaggeration of your own ego, more than a factual truth—your marriage could be a shambles if your spouse is not also fully in.

The risk, then, is entering into to this life-long commitment, knowing that you are actually giving up control. You can not produce a great marriage simply by your own efforts.

But…

The reward of giving yourself fully to another, whom you are then trusting to do the same is, even in concept, astounding. The joy in that journey is incredible. To share all of life’s moments—euphoric, crushing, and in between—with another, as one…

As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Ephesians 5:31-33 NLT

That quote is so often misused. It is not to require submission, or assign dominance. In the paragraphs before that one, Paul explains how a wife respecting her husband is like the church submitting to Jesus’ lead—in essence, trusting—and how the husband’s love is to be like Christ, who died for his bride (the church).

Both husband and wife are giving up themselves for the other.

I like how Paul refers to marriage as “a great mystery”. It is mysterious. How can two individual lives become one? There are still two individuals, but there is one new creation. A mystery.

We can have a great marriage. But the greatness comes—as in all of our relationships in life—by humble submission to one another. Giving up control, placing trust in the other, and enjoying the fruits of that rich soil.

[agree] wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:2-4

The great reward of marriage comes not from what you get, but what you give. And also what you give up.

Speaking Of Death The difference between not fearing death, and not really living.

cemetery

A good friend remarked recently that death or dying came up frequently in our family’s conversations. His comment was more a good-natured jab, I think, as we were all enjoying funny thoughts and stories, joking around.

But I have thought about that since. I wondered if we perhaps give death—one of God’s enemies, defeated by Jesus on the cross1—too much air-time in our daily conversations and thoughts?

I do not imagine us to be morbid, by any definition. But neither do we fear or avoid the biological fact that each of us will expire at some point in the unknown future. The passing of our good friends, family, and friends of friends is, of course, a constant reminder of that fact of life, just as it is for you.

One reason we can so confidently discuss our own deaths without fear is that we are confident in what lies beyond. When we die we are with him in paradise2; to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord3; this world is not our home4. All of those truths (and more) assure our hearts that death is nothing to be feared, rather it will be a welcome door to our true, eternal home.

On the other hand, while it is right to so fully trust God with our souls that we do not too tightly grasp this life, a point can be made that too much focus on the next life will cause us to miss where we are right now. Where God has placed you, and is with you, right now.

We just released a new song last month. (My wife and I are musicians, working on a new album.) The song is called This Journey. I sometimes wonder if people will interpret the lyric of this song incorrectly.

“All along this path of life is where the real treasures are”

I know that our true home—that goal toward which Paul reminded us we press forward, our whole lives—is heaven, eternity with God and his people. I know that. That is the “real treasure”. What I hope to inspire with the words (and music) of that song is a renewed joy in sensing, seeing where God is right now, right here, right where we are. In the beauty of the things he has made, in the people whom he has surrounded us with, in the very fact that we are breathing, our hearts beating.

There are two extremes. One focuses entirely on the eternal and misses the present, while the other focuses entirely on the present (which will pass away, just as we will) and misses the eternal. I think there is a balance found between the two, where God is with us all along our journey.

A quick, related aside:

There is a man we know from our college days at Cincinnati Bible College (now Cincinnati Christian University) who has battled physical ailments for quite a while now. His name is Rod. Rod is always smiling, always loving other people (like, beyond-your-imagination loving), that’s just who he is. I happened to catch a Facebook post of his (actually posted by another on his behalf) that was essentially a good-bye to all his friends. It seemed his body was most likely ready to give out, and he would be home with Jesus soon. He wrote that he was not afraid, but would also be glad to stay, much like Paul in his letter to the Philippian church.

The short version of the rest of Rod’s story—which, as far as I can understand, is amazing—is that God has brought him through that! For now, he has much (or all?) of his health back. He is grateful to God for more time to serve him here, with the people he loves.

And this is my point. While we can be fully, confidently, supremely unafraid of death because Jesus has overcome that, and death is not our end… there is still an amazing joy (even in hard times) of waking up to a new day God has given us here, now.

I’m sure that when I die, whenever, however that will come to me, there are seven people in this home who will miss me. (They seem to be rather fond of me.) There are others, too, I know. (Hi Mom and Dad!) But my hope is that I can, do, and will live my life in such a way that it is fully known that I will be where I am made to be, and any sadness will only last for a short time. And, mostly, that all would know I lived my life to its full, with and in Jesus.5

It may be after I pass a hundred years in this body, or it may be next week. We can’t know, and I understand that is what can cause us to fear. But if our trust, our hope, our life is in Jesus, we have nothing to fear.

And we will also truly live here. And forever.

Generations The changing nature of fathering through many seasons

It seems like I am entering a new stage as a father. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m already in the middle of it.

ian-papa-tom

Today is Father’s Day, and that has me thinking of what it means to be a father.

It’s certainly not just this particular holiday that stirred these thoughts. My conversations lately have been laden with question, wondering, weighing, judging my own thoughts and actions toward my children. This has been equalled by a deeper appreciation for the two men who are fathers to me. (And maybe even the generations before me, though the perceived impact is less direct.)

To raise a person is a humbling process.

The most notable changes (to me) deal completely with personhood. Years ago, I was mostly relied upon to change diapers, feed mouths, and manage the funding to pay for daily and yearly needs. As the Small Ones grew, so did my input to their lives. Reading, teaching, listening, discussing, reprimanding, exhorting, challenging, cheering. All these things I have done, and still do.

And through each stage, I have consistently—in times of reflection—become more aware of what my father not only did for me, but also felt and experienced, too.

ian-driving

Now I look at a young man—who, not coincidentally, mirrors my teenage visage—and wonder at how I am to continue to father him. Do I continue to decide for him, protect him, do for him? Yes. I think. But all the more (and he feels it, too) I feel a strong pull to release. To allow more and greater freedoms, to choose his own way—even if he is damaged, or damages in the releasing.

That goes against all I have done for a time that spans nearly seventeen years now. How can I change?

Then I look around me and see a boy of thirteen, his brother’s shadow, who longs to escape both that shadow and the close oversight of his father; and mother. Not merely to reject; nor rebel. More so to be. To be a person. Himself.

It is even becoming evident in my first daughter. She is “only” eleven, but wanting to be all of her oldest brother’s age, experience, freedoms. She can not. Time has not made her an equal with him. She will forever be chasing him. (Unless she relinquishes the chase of her own choosing.)

Beyond those Children-Becoming-People, we have three more Small Ones who laugh and play and love (and fight, and fight back) … and remind me of the familiar stage of fathering.

Through all of this, maybe especially as I am noticing the markedly different stage of relationship with my oldest children, I truly do grow in appreciation for my own father, and the father of my children’s mother. I often see the differences between each of them and myself—that’s so easy to do, no?—but in such times, I see the mirror of me. I smile at the thought that they have been here, too—and, on the whole, all is well beyond.

I am not yet old, but I’m moving toward it. I have less hair than I did before I was a father. My beard shows a few gray hairs, perhaps. But the men whom I call Dad proudly display in their faces and bodies the years of experience I hope to have. Watching their own children become and be People. Learning to navigate the new stages of relationship, as Dad.

It’s not bad. It’s more good than I probably realize. It’s not easy. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

All I hope is that my kids know—without doubt—that I will always love them, more than they can know (maybe until they have offspring of their own), and far beyond that, they are loved beyond knowing by their Creator.

If I can help them to know that, and to live in love because of that, these challenges will have all been worth whatever cost they have levied.

Then, blessing beyond blessing, the Ones God has given me to raise would know the same things I am knowing now.

If Jesus does not return, may that be so.

IMG_3257

Twelve Years

cd-caya-2This is the week for remembering, it would seem. Just days ago I marked the eleventh year since the start of this blog, and today, August 29th, we passed another special day in our family’s history.

In the year 2002, our music had become the primary focus of our days and weeks, and even years. Our young family—married less than five years, with boys aged nearly-three and almost-one—we had begun to accept invitations to share our music with people around the entire country. Weeks and months were spent on the road performing the songs I had written previously, as well as leading groups of Christians in worship music composed by others. This often led to more songs being written by me (including some more worship songs to lead more people in singing) and it eventually led us to produce another album-full of these songs in recorded form.

That summer we had spent a few weeks in the studio, after a few weeks in various practice locations, after a few years of crafting and “learning” the songs ourselves. The culmination of these weeks produced our third full-length studio album: Come As You Are. And on August 29th, at Crosswinds Wesleyan Church in Canandaigua, NY, with our friend Paul Robert Jones opening the evening by performing some of his own music, we celebrated the finished work of this album with a hundred or two of our friends. It was a great, fun, memorable night.

Through the years, the songs we recorded that summer have spread across the globe. The CDs and cassettes have made their way through postal services, and carried by hands to far away lands. They have been downloaded to computers and other digital music devices. And they have impacted hearts and minds and lives with the message from our Father: come as you are, not who you will be; it’s rough from the start, you might think you are beat. But it’s not the righteous I want, for I came to seek and save the lost. Just come to me!

The song—the whole album—was a collection of the words God spoke (even still speaks) to me. His invitation to a broken soul, well aware of his inabilities and shortcomings and failures, to a life of freedom with him. Free to be my broken self. Free to hope for better, to know he accepts me and wants to show me, lead me to the Life that I’m meant to have with him—in him.

We listened to it again tonight. Most of my kids and I. (Mom and oldest daughter were off sorting clothing for a community clothing give-away, and scoring some that would also help our family.) We listened, and sang. I told stories from the recording days. I thought through the words. I think they did the same.

The message still resounds in my heart. All of these songs. I want to know you better Lord. I want nothing less, nothing more.1 And, I don’t want this to end here; my life for you just in a song. Please change my heart, Lord, and let me words speak for you. I give my life to you.2 And, songs like The Mountain To The Sea, and My Visible, See-Through Friend, and Because… all of them, really. All reminding me of my life, found in him.

If you’ve not heard the album, you can listen to all the songs here. Or, we’re on Spotify. And iTunes. And Amazon. You’ll find us out there. I would love for you to hear the whole thing. All the better if you can find a quiet time to listen to not just my voice, and Jen’s voice… but the voice of The One who made you, loves you, and invites you:

Come as you are.

  1. The One – basic – Come As You Are
  2. Heart Of Mine” – basic – Come As You Are

I’m (Not) The Awesomest Person Ever

superman

I’m really good at a lot of things. I think I always have been. My sister-in-law once called me “golden boy”, or something like that (even before I was her sister-in-law), because everything I touched “turned to gold”.

And yet, I’m really not awesome.

I wish I was. I would have lots of uses for supreme awesomeness. I think of what a fantastic Dad I could be; always there for each of my kids with complete understanding, compassion, enthusiasm—whatever they need, exactly when they need it. I know I could be the perfect husband to my wife; empathetic, again understanding and compassionate, kind, gentle, humble, gracious, and always considering each moment from her perspective, and for her good.

If I was really awesome, I’d treat every person I spent time with each day as though they were indeed the Son or Daughter of the King—which they are. It wouldn’t matter what they looked like on the outside, or whether I was in a good mood at the moment, or even if I had time in my day to give to them. I would see them, and know them, and listen to them, and give them the honor they are due as another of His Masterpieces.

I’d also probably do some pretty amazing things along the way; whether through my music, or writing, or even through some tasty culinary creations. If I was the awesomest person ever, the world would be full of my most amazing works.

But I am definitely NOT the Most Awesome Person Ever.

(Just ask any of those people listed above.)

And I’m glad I’m not. I’m glad for the reminders that my life is only full, complete, real, meaningful… LIFE… with, and in, and through Jesus, who IS the Awesomest Person Ever. (See Colossians, Hebrews, and several other sections of the New Testament for more on that.)

I fail my wife all the time. When she needs me to show her grace, I’m often at (or past) the end of my own reserves, and instead I offer her insecurity; words and actions originating in my own lacking. I fail my kids even more (if only because there are more of them to fail) with busyness, tiredness, selfishness, all taking me from them more than I care to admit.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Matt 5:3)

Jesus said that.

And this:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

As I was reminded by the book I recently recommended here, Jesus is clearly, far-and-away, without-rival, The Most Awesomest Person Ever.

Remember what Paul said, when he wrestled with wanting to be better (more awesome)?

That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:5-10)

No. I am not awesome. Neither was Paul (who was likely more awesome than me… even if he might not admit to it), and neither are any of us who are not Jesus, the full embodiment of God the Father.

His grace is all I need. All we need.

We may not be awesome, but he is. And that IS awesome!

Frozen

This past weekend we watched the Disney movie, Frozen. Twice, actually. (I know, we’re a bit behind.)

Both times as the end credits were rolling (even knowing what was coming the second time) I felt impressed. Not by any technology or effects, though the animation was flawless. It was the story.

frozen

The princesses are beautiful and “princessy”, but flawed. The “act of true love” is one of giving, not receiving. The “villain” is Self, Fear, and Worry about what others will think of you. (And so, you end up legitimately liking the “bad guy”. Well, not the one who turns out to be a bad guy, but… don’t want to give too much away!)

I’m pretty sure it just leapt up to the top of my favorite family movies list. Spots previously only held by Pixar. (Up, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, etc. It’s likely no coincidence, as John Lasseter (of Pixar) is the Executive Producer.) As I thought about how well they told this story (which was based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Snow Queen), and as we discussed it together, I only became more impressed.

There are really funny moments, too. Olaf the snowman was a highlight, and Sven the reindeer. (We liked when Kristoff would “do” Sven’s voice!) There are trolls, and magic, and other things you might expect in a Disney movie.

For me, the difference with Frozen is the tumultuous inner battle in Elsa. She pushes everyone else away—including her sister, Anna, who is her best/closest friend—all in the name of doing the “right” thing. Being the “good” girl. But when she tries to break free from this iron-fisted self-righteousness, she (literally) freezes the entire village.

In the end, the one whom we think must receive an “act of true love” is the one who gives it, which breaks Elsa free from her own, lonely, frozen prison. Love always wins.

The imagery and truths in this story are just fantastic. Well done, writers.

If you haven’t seen it yet, we definitely think it’s worth owning. (We will be buying a copy very soon!)

(Bonus: The music is really good and fun, too. Lots of singing happening around here now, inspired by the movie!)

I’m Just A Bus Driver

school-bus

Well, not just

But, as of today, I’m officially authorized by the State of New York to transport students in large, yellow vehicles. Again. (I previously drove school busses for two different school districts more than fifteen years ago now!)

Last fall, as I contemplated ways that I could feasibly bring in a little more income for our family, I remembered the transportation industry. (That makes it sound very important. Because it is!) I checked our school district’s website to see if they were in need of drivers, and in fact, there was a job posting for School Bus Driver! I stopped in the next day to meet the transportation director and see about reinstating my license, and what other steps would be necessary to get me back in the fold. He said they definitely need drivers, and when could I start?

He also assured me that driving a school bus is just like riding a bike. (I think he meant that very figuratively…) 🙂

Strangely, scheduling a commercial driver’s license road test is a lengthy process these days. Although I scheduled my road test in early February, after going through several other steps in the process, the earliest (only!) date available to me via the DMV website was March 18th. I think it was five or six weeks out from that date!

The local district here brought me in for refresher training (still a tiny bit more to complete) and I took and passed my (second) CDL road test just this morning. So now, after a few more steps—I’m not actually, officially hired as of yet!—I’ll be behind the wheel of a school bus as many mornings as I am needed.

It’s fun to be back in the big seat again. I’m enjoying meeting a new group of people, too. Looking forward to what new adventures lie ahead in my second stint as a school bus driver. I am imagining it will be different as an almost-forty, dad of six than it was as a barely-twenty, single (and then, just-married) lad in the late twentieth century. But I’m sure a lot will be the same, too.

A new chapter begins!

I leave you with this song, that I can’t help but sing as I embark on this next amber mission. Enjoy 🙂