It seemed irrational to me at first

It seemed irrational to me at first — the energy of his response. I try to keep a neutral face in these moments, not wanting to convey that an 11-year-old-sized problem is suddenly now a 47-year-old-sized problem too. I wish to be like a detective in these moments of parenting, to try to search for that thing under the thing. So, I took a deep breath, looked down at the ground where he was looking, and said, “what’s wrong, buddy?” 

“YOU COULDN’T EVEN SEE ME!” he said, with that fiercest of face that was a collision of mad and sad with tears about to rush out from behind his eyes. 

We had just left the spring musical at school and he had danced with a girl. They were in the back row, so I had to really stretch my neck to glimpse them through the song. He saw me stretching to see him. They had been practicing for weeks, and even though he kept a cool front about it, I knew he was proud of those dance moves they had learned. 

(Dear reader, I want you to know that I did see him. But no amount of explaining could reach his heart at that moment.)

And then it occurred to me like a voice from heaven, it is not irrational at all actually. The intensity of those emotions. Perhaps adulting means to pretend otherwise, I’m not sure. But what was clear was this — He wanted me to see him. He didn’t feel seen. That is not irrational, that is human. Curt Thompson says, “We are all born looking for someone who is looking for us.” Even at 11 years old he is still looking for my eyes to see him. Even at 47 years old, so am I.

We are all looking for a compassionate witness; in our joys and in our pain. 

Do you see me?

Do you care? 

Can I trust you are good?

God came searching for those first humans in the garden and he comes searching for us still now. 

“Where are you?” God asks. 

“Who told you that you were naked?

Soon after these questions, God is seen sewing clothes for Adam and Eve. One of the first acts of the creator of the universe in the wake of sin and shame is not a lecture. It is not a hurried attempt to move on to more pleasant things. It is not 3 points for achieving that miracle morning tomorrow. God’s first response is to become a seamstress, to start sewing something of worth, to create a covering for their shame. What tenderness, what compassionate care, what a God!

A voice that doesn’t use words

I’m sitting here in the Arizona shade. It’s spring and the desert is in bloom. Yesterday I was in Denver, and if you have allergies this might not be your favorite time of year. Flowers everywhere, so many colors and smells all over the place. 

I’m turning over the words of Rumi this morning when he said, “There is a voice that doesn’t use words, listen.” Ironic that I am now typing words about this quote! Perhaps I haven’t yet embraced what he meant. 

As I sit here looking at the bougainvillea, I wonder, is it the voice of flowers? Is it the voice of the Creator communicating without words through the beauty of creation? I wish I could ask Rumi if the voice that doesn’t use words that he was speaking of was the voice of the flowers. Jesus said, “consider the lilies of the field.” I imagine Christ meant the tulips and the daffodils and the peonies too. Does the earth have any better scent than spring lilacs? It’s like heaven on earth that smell of spring lilacs (with a side of Claritan for some of you, of course)! 

Maybe flowers are speaking to me because my soul is sore these days. I’m weary on the inside and, at times, a stranger to myself. I need the care of silence and flowers. I need bird watching to bring me back to God and to my own heart. I hear so many birds singing right now, an array of songs from here in the desert.  Right here where there is so little water, the birds still sing and the flowers still bloom. It’s a miracle really, a sight to behold — this desert in spring, full of birds and blooms. If God cares for them like this, how much more will he care for me? That’s what Jesus said. It’s the best theology I know today. 

I told my friend Kate that I feel like I am being ambushed by the beauty of spring these days. We were in New York over spring break and everything was bursting with color there. I find myself walking around Platt Park — all up in my head about whatever worries or plans I’m making — and suddenly I am sideswiped by some incoming sighting of spring. 

Did you see the Coughlin’s tree? Literally, I saw people stopping on the sidewalk to photograph it. Curt Thompson writes on the importance of putting yourself in the path of oncoming beauty. Oh, how I need exactly that these days! Nature’s beauty seems to be the only way God can reach me sometimes. Thank you, Lord, for these good gifts! Our tired hearts receive them and we thank you, Creator of it all.

Last Sunday our kids got baptized

Last Sunday our kids got baptized.

They were nervous. They both wanted to be baptized, but they were unsure about the public part – being in front of a bunch of people. They wanted to know which service had fewer people in it. “The first service at 9am,” I told them. Even moments before the baptism, while eating breakfast in my office, I wasn’t sure if they would go through with it. I wondered if they would kind of chicken out. I repeatedly told them, “there is no pressure here at all, you do not have to do this today, I am not pressuring you, no one is pressuring you, this is totally up to you” but I could see in their still-developing faces a desire to go public with their faith.

I knew they both wanted to be baptized. They have both been talking about it for a while. The day before, they had both written out statements saying why they wanted to be baptized. “I want to be baptized because I love Jesus.” “I want to be baptized because I am a citizen of God.”

In the end, they both stood before the gathered church and were asked, “have you trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior?” And after saying “yes” they were submerged in the waters of baptism. This ancient symbol of our faith. Dead to sin, alive in Christ. Baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was a picture of dying with Christ in his death, and then — in coming up out of the waters — being raised to new life in Christ’s resurrection power.

What an absolute joy to witness. What a treasure to share in the life of Christ. What a gift to have a community of people surrounding our kids with love and support and encouragement. How stirring to hear everyone applaud and cheer them on in their journey of faith. It is a moment we will not soon forget. Thank you Platt Park Church, for bearing witness to our family’s journey.  For your encouragement and love, we give thanks to God, and we love you.

We did not think we were cat people

We did not think we were cat people. Then our daughter Lyla started begging us for a cat. We told her we have too many people in our home and didn’t want the allergy concern. She kept persisting in her request. Every night when I would do the “Daily temperature reading” with the kids (which is a PAIRS skill that many of you remember from our premarital or marriage classes) Lyla would say her “wishes, hopes, and dreams” are to get a cat. She would literally say every single night for months, “I wish we could get a cat. I hope we will get a cat. I dream of getting a cat.” Essentially, she wore us down. Tim and I eventually caved and got her a cat. 

Our openness to even considering a cat was in part because our friends Matt and Monica told us that Matt is allergic to cats, but that they had found this certain kind of cat, a Siberian forest cat, that is more hypoallergenic than most cats, and it did not trigger his allergies. After they introduced us to the lady they knew who breeds these hypoallergenic cats, we got on the list for getting a cat like that for Lyla.

We put a picture of the little brown mackerel torbie cat in a Christmas ornament that Lyla unwrapped on Christmas morning 2021. The kitten wouldn’t be ready to bring home for a few weeks, but Lyla studied that little photo of her new kitten as much as any spelling list for school. 

Tim and I didn’t really want a cat, but we did want Lyla to have the support of a furry companion as a friend in her childhood. We imagined we would be stuck with this creature long after she launched, but that it would be worth it for Lyla to have the experience of loving and being loved by an animal. We imagined her coming home from college someday to see her childhood pet. On January 19, 2022 I drove to south Denver with Lyla to bring home her new kitty. She named her Mildred. 

To our total surprise, Mildred wiggled and purred her way straight into all of our hearts. We all fell in love with her. 

Then last Saturday we had a vet appointment for Mildred because we noticed she wasn’t quite acting herself. Normally when we came home, Mildred would run to greet us. She would lay down, belly in the air, as if to say, “rub my tummy please.” In the mornings she would hop up on our laps and purr us as we drank our morning coffee. Then a week or so ago, we noticed that she just seemed a little lethargic and not eating as much. So we went to the vet thinking this might be a mild cold or something. As it turned out, it was not mild. Mildred’s little 16-month-old lungs had somehow filled with fluid that they could not drain. The vet told us the kindest thing to do was to say goodbye. 

I thought we would never stop crying. It’s funny how pets become such a part of your family. 

So late Saturday afternoon I sent an SOS text to my dear friend Cari Jenkins saying, “Lyla’s cat just died unexpectedly, and we are all crushed. Any chance you’d be willing to preach on anything tomorrow?” She replied right away, “Sure I can do that.” Thank God for friends like Cari, willing to step in at a moment of need, totally last minute. 

Our family spent Saturday night and Sunday until our noon elder meeting just being constantly together. We cried, looked at pictures, wrote letters, distracted ourselves, and made space for this sudden loss. There is nothing like losing a childhood pet. For many, it is the first real experience with grief and loss. We went up to the Cow eatery in Morrison for breakfast Sunday morning, and walked along the river there. Then we came home and painted a rock that said, “R.I.P. Mildred 2021-2023” We dug a hole in the garden and put some of her favorite cat toys in it, along with our letters, and we said goodbye. Then we set the rock on top. 

I know in my head that we will not cry about this forever, but in those immediate moments, it sure feels like the tears will never cease. I told the kids, “There are no rules to grief. If you cry, that is ok, and if you do not cry, that is ok. There are no rules. Everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way.” Lyla wanted to go see Mildred’s dead body, but Russell did not. I told them that grief has no rules, and one way was not better than the other, each person grieves differently. We talked about how we will need to be extra patient and kind to each other in these days following the loss of Mildred because even when someone doesn’t appear to be hurting, they might be hurting inside. 

I am grateful that God, friends, and our gracious church community are a source of strength in the highs and lows of life. Last weekend was one of those lows for us. 

You cannot ignore what is under the surface

Denver Water has been digging up the streets around the church for what feels like forever. In reality, it has been going on for close to a year. This digging underneath the surface is in order to address something that needs attention. They have been digging in order to remove and replace old, lead pipes that will negatively impact drinking water if left in place.

The whole Denver Water project is like a picture of our lives. It is like a living metaphor, every single day, for those of us who live in Platt Park. There reaches a point where you simply cannot ignore what is under the surface anymore. So very often you and I have things going on “under the surface” of our lives that we try to ignore. If we ignore these things for too long, they will eventually rise to the surface, usually causing bigger problems.

The digging, the repairs, and the work always seems to take soooooo much longer than we had hoped. The process is often soooo much messier than we plan. The patience required to address what lies below the surface is grueling work. Most days we wish we could just have our streets back, even if that means ignoring problems that need addressing.

So it is with our interior lives. God is so patient with us. May we have the patience and courage to not ignore what is under the surface. May we allow the love and light of Jesus to be our guide in excavating those tender places that are in need of care. 

Simone Weil says, “Compassion directed toward oneself is true humility.” I pray God will give us this sort of humility as we face the things that need tending under the surface of our lives. 

How do you feel about Lent?

I wonder, what are your feelings about Lent? What did your church tradition teach you about Lent? Was that something you were told “the Catholics” did to try to earn salvation? Was that something “liturgical churches” did to try to shed a few bad habits? Was Lent the time of year for people to give up meat and share in “fish fry Fridays?” Do you feel like Lent is a little depressing? 

I grew up in an evangelical megachurch in the 1980’s in the midwest. In that context, there was a big emphasis on the Bible and Jesus and a personal relationship with God and a fair amount of suspicion towards tradition, plus an anti-liturgical sentiment. So my church growing up did not observe Lent. I never had ashes smeared on my forehead until recent years. During seminary, I worshiped and worked at a church that embraced the worldwide liturgical calendar and I began to learn about and came to value the collective wisdom of the global church in developing a time each year, in preparation for Easter, that intentionally carves out space for repentance and renewal. My experience today with Lent is not at all in conflict with my childhood roots of prioritizing the Bible, Jesus, and a personal relationship with God — in fact, it has deepened those very values in me.  Lent (and the liturgical calendar) has also expanded my horizons to include practices that I only gave a momentary head nod towards growing up. By honoring the liturgical seasons of the year, I am learning a way of placing myself in the stream of spiritual formation in areas I might otherwise seek to avoid – areas such as reflection, repentance, and renewal in my relationship with Jesus. 

Mark 1:15 says, “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the gospel.’”

Lent is a season of the year that is about Jesus’ words: “repent and believe the gospel.” 

Lent assumes we are going to mess up. Did I just hear a huge exhale?!? I think a lot of times in the church, people think that if they start following Jesus, then everything is going to be a constant ascending upward until perfection is found in heaven someday. 

Lent reminds us that we are going to mess up, and that is actually good news! Lent reminds us that the journey of faith is not a constant ascending. There are mountains and valleys. There are mistakes we make; regrets, sin, and shame along the way. Lent reminds us that repentance is the way to renewal in our relationship with Jesus. Lent invites us to take off our masks, to stop masquerading around like we have it all together. To pause and make space for the grief of our alienation and separation. Lent reminds us that we do not come to Christ by doing everything right. We actually come to Jesus (and grow in Jesus) by seeing his perfect beauty, realizing we are alienated in a myriad of ways, and then throwing ourselves upon his grace, mercy, and forgiveness over and over again. We receive God’s eager absolution, his deep healing, and we are built up in his loving-kindness. Thank God for such a season; thank God for Lent!

Historically, Lent was a time for new converts who wanted to be baptized into the church to prepare for their baptism on Easter. The preparation time was 40 days. Later on, wise followers of Jesus observed that this wasn’t just a time for new converts only, but also a time for those who had fallen away from the church to return. Later on still, the collective wisdom of the church realized that it wasn’t just new converts or people who had fallen away from the church who needed renewal, but rather everyone needed seasons of repentance and renewal. We all need times when we reset, and return to the Lord. And so this season we now call “Lent” was born. 

I wonder, has there ever been a time in your life when you felt the need to renew your spiritual life? How did you handle that?

If you have mixed feelings about the season of Lent, I pray that you will keep an open mind. There is no “right way” to do Lent. The heart of this season is repentance and renewal in your relationship with the Lord.  What might that look like for you?  I pray for our Lenten journey, as we seek to acknowledge where we are alienated and disconnected and ask God to renew our spiritual vitality in this season we share. 

A word on relational ruptures

We are in a season of the year that the church has long referred to as Epiphany. One pastor describes it like this:

“The season of epiphany is a reminder to the church of her vocation to face outward, toward the other, to share the Light of Christ.”

— A.J. Sherrill

But the truth is, when we turn outward toward the other, we often find there the remains of an ancient wound that shows up in a whole host of relational cracks and ruptures.

We all want to be seen and known. We all want to be connected in a loving community. Yet despite all our best attempts at relationships, somehow relational ruptures seem to find us. These ruptures are like an ancient echo of a more primal rupture. An echo reverberating forth from a garden long ago. These relational strains and divisions find their way into our lives despite our best parenting and all our best investments in therapy, and we find we cannot fix them on our own. This is why we need the bread and the wine; this is why we need the real presence of Christ Jesus. 

We all want to be seen and known as we are; not as we act. We all want to be seen and known as ourselves; not just as we are on our best days or worst days, but in our entirety. We want a witness to our lives. Author Curt Thompson put it this way “You were born into this world looking for someone who is looking for you.” Yet the soul is shy and we’ve all learned ways of hiding our true selves. We hide ourselves from ourselves, we hide from each other, and we hide from God. We’ve all been hiding since the near beginning of time. 

Within the first few pages of scripture we meet people longing to be known and hiding their true selves in the Garden of Eden. In the story, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a perfect garden where they lived in a close, connected relationship with God. Fully known, fully loved, no fear of rejection. But when they ate from the tree that God told them not to eat from, they became aware of their nakedness and felt a sense of shame, so they hid from God. We’ve all been experiencing shame and hiding ever since. In his kindness, God called out to them and asked them what had happened, and they confessed their sin. Again in his kindness, God provided them with clothing to cover their nakedness, but their relationship with God and with all of creation had changed forever.

This story is about the fall of humanity, but it is also a story about the importance of being known and accepted by God. It is a picture of how — in spite of all our hiding — nothing can separate us from the great love of God. Nothing. Not our sin, or our shame. Not our best efforts to cover our true selves. God sees you and knows you and loves you. Jesus came to redeem all that is broken and restore all that has been lost.

May this foundation of eternal love ground you, strengthen you, and help you to turn outward towards others in your life today with the same sort of love you have received from heaven.

Crickets & Coins

The call to follow Jesus is not just about what we do, it’s also about who we become. Perhaps the most important thing God is doing in your life is not what he is doing through you but rather what he is doing in you. The scriptures say that people look at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. Who you are becoming is God’s most important work in your life. We tend to focus our time and attention on what we are doing – what we are accomplishing – the projects of our lives –  our accumulation of possessions, our development of our careers, our achievements in life. But following Jesus is not just about what we do, it’s also about who we become. Are you becoming a person of fervent prayer?  Are you growing in generosity? Are you seeing more of the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control in your life – or less? Who are you becoming?  

If you want to know who you are becoming, look at your desires. What is it that your heart desires? What are your eyes and ears attuned to see and want? What does your body crave? Jesus would sometimes ask people, what do you want? Because our wants, our desires kind of reveal what and who we worship. I read a great story recently….

It’s a story about a farmer from a rural part of the country. And this farmer comes to visit a relative in a major city. They’re walking down the busy and noisy main street, amidst the clamor and confusion and traffic and general hubbub of the city at rush hour. And just then, a fire truck goes by, siren blazing. And the farmer says, “Listen: I hear a cricket over yonder.” The relative — the carefully conditioned city dweller — replies, “How can you hear a cricket in the middle of all this?” The chirp of a cricket in the very core of a buzzing city — we can’t hear that, right? But the farmer, unfazed, says, “I figure you hear what you’re listening for.” And with that, he takes the spare change from his pants pocket and drops it on the ground. And at the almost imperceptible sound of a few coins hitting the sidewalk, children stop in their tracks, heads turn, notice is taken.

Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Most of us would hear the coins and miss the crickets.

Taylor Swift is leading us in lament

“When I stopped trying to block my sadness and let it move me instead, it led me to a bridge with people on the other side.” … I learned that sadness does not sink a person; it is the energy a person spends trying to avoid sadness that does that.”

― Barbara Brown Taylor

I had gone on a solo overnight to Frisco the night that Taylor Swift released her latest album, Midnights. I had planned to drive down early in the morning to get the kids off to school. As a bandwagon fan of Taylor’s work, I naturally found myself listening to her songs just hours after their release, in the dark of early morning driving home from the mountains all alone. 

Sometimes the Holy Spirit uses a song to just hit you over the head, and that happened for me with track 15. I am regularly amazed by how God gives poets and writers of songs the ability to speak to our hearts and move us in a given moment of time. So often they give us what we didn’t even know we needed. Like prophets, they speak to cultural moments in a universal way that is also profoundly personal. Without an ounce of coercive power, an artist can sing to us, and move us, and we change. 

As I listened to “Bigger Than The Whole Sky” I couldn’t help but feel that Taylor Swift is leading us all in lament. She is showing us how to let “salt streams out of my eyes and into my ears.” We have all experienced so much loss, personally and collectively. Yet we have pressed on, pushed through, pivoted. We do what we need to do to survive. We are resilient. But the time comes when you must lament because your body keeps the score. There comes a time when all that grief and ache and loss catches up with you. There comes a time when you need a good cry for all you’ve lost and all you’ve been, and all the friends who were and weren’t and may not be again. There comes a time for lament.

God invites us to lament. The Psalms are filled with lament. Our culture just isn’t always the biggest fan. We like to push sadness underwater like a giant beach ball that inevitably pops up again, hitting us in the face with tears in the grocery aisle at Target. From time to time, God brings us a word, or a song that helps us grieve all that has been lost. I pray you may find yourself in the kingdom of heaven where “blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” 

Thank you, God, for giving us this song and for giving artists songs that lead us in a worldwide lament. Click here to listen to Taylor Swifts song, “Bigger Than The Whole Sky”.

If you’d like to explore lament in the scriptures, check out these 5 psalms of lament: 

  1. Psalm 130 / Key verse: Psalm 130:1, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice!”
  2. Psalm 6 / Key verse: Psalm 6:3, “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?”
  3. Psalm 38 / Key verses: Psalm 38:9-11, “All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes. My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away.”
  4. Psalm 10 / Key verse: Psalm 10:1, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?”
  5. Psalms 42-43 / Key verse: Psalm 42:7, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.”

The leaves are so vulnerable

I am sitting in my chair looking at the trees outside my window. They are bursting with vivid colors, yellow and red and every shade of green and orange. It strikes me that the leaves are so vulnerable. In all their glory they are about to die. Just the slightest breeze and so many come falling down. A big gust and it looks like we will be raking again today. 

These leaves remind me of my own shy soul and the shy souls that I have encountered in every person I have ever known. We are all vulnerable. Despite our best posturing and performance, we are at any moment mere mortals. We are amygdala-dependent humans. When we do not feel safe we will automatically move to fight, flight, freeze or fawn in our response. We are dependent even on our best of days on the next breath as gift from God. 

The wind is blowing strong now and the vulnerable beauty of fall is fluttering to its own death. Consenting to the ground where snow will fall and all will appear dead. Nature will teach us over and over again that death, and winter eventually give way to spring. And so it is with you and I. May the leaves be our teacher today.