Saturday, February 23, 2013

On Relationships, Babies and Dogs

There are two steps in entering into transforming relationships.  The first is to decide whether to form the relationship. The second step is to decide how to make the relationship meaningful.  I think the best relationships are the unplanned ones (at least unplanned by us.)  So, to illustrate my point, sometimes I am asked, “Pastor, when is the right time for new parents to try to have a baby?”  You see, in our case, we did no such detailed planning. One day there were not two treasured children, and the next day there were. Sort of like that.  If there was planning involved, I was unaware of it (the planning part that is.) So, when is the best time to start a relationship with a child in your marriage?  Be surprised!  If you both want to have a child for the right reasons, then let a little serendipity in your life. Today is the right day for your new relationship. 

But how do we make our new, surprise relationships work?  Let me illustrate with the “family dog.” If I had a say in the decision to get out family dog, I don’t remember it. But,  I didn’t fight the idea because, famous last words, “don’t worry, we will take care of him.” When our dog came into my life I looked up the breeding history of our dog and  I found it was an “indoor guard dog” for royalty in India.  Which meant he growled at people in our house and ate my pizza.  My mistake, I think, was that I missed the point of the family dog. The children didn’t want a pet to be a guard, they wanted someone to treasure.  If I had looked at  the relationship with the family dog in the context of forming family relationships maybe it would have been a more positive experience.  One writer recalls how when they had the “family discussion” about dogs, he insisted that any time he took the dog for a walk one of his children or his wife had to go on the walk with him.  That led to 30 minutes a day of time spent with someone he loved that created some lifetime memories. He transformed the issue of the relationship with the dog into a way to form a relationship with his family, dog included.

What new relationships do you desire in your life? If you wait for the perfect moment or the perfect person, you will wait a long, long time.  Let life surprise you. How can you make your new relationship a transforming one?  No relationship is perfect, but it can be made more perfect if you create disciplines that will allow for treasured moments that you value.  In the end our discipline should be to create space and time so that the surprising relationships life brings us can be transformed.  There is someone who desires a relationship with you, one that can change your life.  Enter into this transforming relationship that will bless you with treasured moments. Be surprised!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

On Being Thankful for Maya

I awoke tired.  The long week won and my body lost. Caffeine didn’t help. Being tired makes me cranky, just like with little kids when they  wake up after a night of too little sleep. Being cranky in turn makes me anxious, and I can say “Don’t worry about tomorrow” a thousand times and I still am anxious.  Being anxious makes it impossible to be  creative, so there is no point in doing the work I had planned for the day. I tried to relieve my symptoms at the piano, but to no avail.  So, at 3:45 p.m., being tired, cranky, anxious and dull,  I got up, left my study and headed for the movies.

I settled in on Zero Dark Thirty, the story of the hunt for Osama bin Laden.  I am not a movie reviewer. I do not recommend movies.  The “interrogation scenes” made it tough to get through the first hour. Two grown men left the theatre, and I don’t think it was to go to the bathroom.  I am not saying what I took away from the film is what the movie is about, or what the writers wanted me to see. But, what I saw is a young woman, Maya, who is a CIA spy trying to break the ring of criminals who live to destroy the United States, my religion, and everything else they have been brain-washed to think we stand for. When Maya is spared from death by a suicide bomber she sets out on a personal mission to find and kill bin Laden. Her motives become personal and her passion for revenge deepens. As I sit all alone in the theatre watching the credits roll I am thinking these things: -there are people who hate me because of my skin color, my religion, where I live, and if they could, they would destroy my family and my home; -there is a real Maya, and many like her, who make it their business to make sure that doesn’t happen.  I want wars to end. If there is no Maya evil triumphs.

I went home and my wife, visiting our grandsons, called me and invited me to tell my “da Boyz” a story via Skype, which I happily did.  When the story was over, and as the last image of those little boys faded from the screen I thanked God for Maya.  That seems wrong to me on many levels.  But, Maya’s singular passion, her overwhelming sense of being “called” to redeem the memory of her friends killed by the enemy bomber, seems so essential to me.  I hate that we need Maya.  I love that Maya lives. If Lent is about anything, it is about learning that we all need someone who will make a personal, passionate sacrifice and engage in a relentless commitment to disciplines because of a  love so intense that one would do anything, even die for people, people you love.  And we should try to be like that Someone.  I went to bed tired. Conflicted. Thankful.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"How Can I Say Thanks?"

I marvel at how many of my “older” friends keep on smiling. Things don’t move the way they used to, inside or outside.  Bones creak. Muscles spasm. Joints ache, even after a few pills and a generous dose of ointments.  Inevitably, as the sands of time are much less in the top of the glass than in the bottom, just getting up out of a chair can be a major challenge. So, I said to a friend, smiling as she was struggling to get up, “Probably a good time to get one of those chairs that lifts you up.”  You know the sort I mean, right? The variety that tilts your bottom forward so that you can more easily defy gravity’s relentless pull.     

“Oh, my brother has one of those, but he doesn’t really like it.” “Why is that?”, I asked. “Well, he went to his mailbox one day and found a letter with a note telling him that he should go to the local furniture store to get one of those chairs. He didn’t think he needed one, but the letter said it was free. All he needed to do is show up to pick out his very own.” Well, the brother, shall we call him Harry, goes to the local furniture store in his little town and takes out the letter and shows it to the man in charge. “Yes, Harry, here is your chair. Would you like it delivered?”  Harry says, “Well, how come I am getting it? Who is paying for this fancy chair anyway? I’m not, you know.”  “Yes, Harry, we know that. Let’s just say that we know but we can’t tell. You will just have to receive the gift!”  Harry heads home and his chair arrives. His sister, shall we call her Mary, sees the chair and asks, “So, Harry, where did you get the money to buy that chair?” Harry says he didn’t buy it, and worse than that, he doesn’t know who did. Mary says, “Why is that a problem, Harry? “Well, now I have to be nice to everyone!”  Mary, not missing a beat, says, “Well, you don’t have to be nice to me. I didn’t buy it!”  If you see Harry in the parking lot or grocery store and you see him smiling at you, or the checkout girl, he isn’t making time. He is just covering his bases.

Mary and me, we laughed pretty hard as she, now fully upright, walked me to her door.  I kept thinking about Harry though, wondering if the world would be a better place if we didn’t know who to thank. Maybe then we actually would. With a smile.  Have so many, old and young, stopped saying “thanks” because they know or don’t know?

“Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.”  How can I say thanks? Mary, through the creaks, keeps on smiling because she knows the Gift and the Giver.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Who Do You Want to Be? (Part 2)

Terry and Rick started their married life in Wisconsin.  They suffered the heartbreak of losing two infant sons, both of whom had congenital heart defects.  They had two healthy children, a boy and a girl, but the doctors counseled the couple that they should stop bearing children.  Terry always wanted a larger family though. So, for six years, this nurse and dairy plant manager worked through the adoption process.  Then, one day, they were blessed to have their new five-week-old child join their family. He came to them with some health concerns.  Mom, the nurse, thought her new son might even have cystic fibrosis.  But, as it turned out, he was just, in her words, “kind of sickly.”

About four years later the family moved to California where Dad, the dairy plant manager, found a new job.  Being from Wisconsin, and having caught the Packers fever, they took with them all sorts of Packers gear, cheeseheads and jerseys and bobbleheads.  So it was that their youngest son grew up surrounded by fans and gear of two professional football teams, the Packers and the Niners.  The sickly little boy grew out of his health problems and enjoyed living the childhood dreams of many American boys.  He wrote a letter to himself as a fourth-grader in which he expressed his own dream: to go to college to play football and then to play for either the Packers or the Niners.  A fine dream, young lad, but, let’s get real, son, these dreams are just childhood fantasies. Right?

Here is the mysterious thing about dreaming who we want to be. Sometimes, if we really believe it, and if we really work harder than everyone else at making the dream come true, the dream dies unfulfilled.  I mean, I was as certain as a fourth-grade boy could be that I was going to be President of the United States, and look how that turned out!  But, after years of pondering how God could have failed to deliver on my dream, I have now concluded that the secret to happiness is discovering not who I want to be, but to be the person God wants me to be. And to live God’s dream for me to the fullest. The secret to happiness is discovering God’s dream for us and then living it.

And sometimes God’s dream and little boys dreams align perfectly.  So, when you see Terry and Rick cheering for their son, Kyle Kaepernick, as he takes the field as a Niner in the Super Bowl, think about how God does make God’s dream for boys and girls and women and men come true.  What is God’s dream for you? Discover it. Live the dream.