I will always be your dad…

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I have watched over you since before you were born, reading to you over the phone when you were still in your mother’s belly, watching you with your mother in the hospital and for every year afterwards.  I volunteered to take over raising you not because I wanted to take something from your mother, but because I honestly thought I could help provide a safe and stable environment for you, and because I wanted the chance to be a dad.

You were unexpected.  You were unplanned.  But you were not and have never been, unloved.

And while I cannot rescue you from the choices you have made to this point, I still love you.  And I am still your dad.  That’s why this hurts so very much.  I know we have not always had the easiest of times communicating with each other.  I don’t like expressing or talking about the feelings I struggle with, your step-mother and both my ex-wives can attest to that.  It was even harder to share with you, watching you struggle without knowing for sure what all was going on.  I still remember the first time I really really knew how bad things were for you when I got a call from the counselor at school.  She told me to ask you about something you had written in her office that day.

So when you came home, I asked, and you showed me a piece of paper that said “Sometimes I wish I was dead.”  You were 10.

And in that instant my heart broke… and has remained that way for years.

I am not your friend.  I am not a “yes” man.  I am not going to give you everything you want and let you do everything you think you want to do.  I am your dad.  That means that it is my job to teach you, to care for you and to raise you to the best of my ability.  I made mistakes, like all parents.  I was not perfect, but I did and have and will always love you.

I wrestled with you to help let the emotions out when they were just too much.  I dried your tears in so many of my shirts, I don’t think I have a one left that hasn’t had tears or snot on it.  We read together, listened to old radio shows together…  I thought I was doing okay.  And maybe I did…

But somewhere along the way things went sideways.

Whatever the cause, illegal drugs replaced the ones the doctor proscribed to help your mood.  Lying became the norm and you stole.  Not just from me, but from family, friends and stores.  Nothing like being surrounded by store staff demanding you to empty your pockets.  We yelled, we cried.  We fought, but I tried to never let go.  Even in the end when I sent you out of the house to your mother’s, I never let you go completely.  But to keep the rest of us, including your baby sister safe, I had to make the hard choice.  That has bothered me every day these last couple years, especially as I am still seeing patterns of behavior that concern me.

It is like nothing we did, or fought for, or spent time trying to talk about or fix matters.  And I cannot tell you how much that hurts.  If you would believe them you can ask my friends how many hours, days, weeks, I spent agonizing over the questions of if I was doing right as a parent, how to help show you how much I loved you, how to raise you right.  I cried more nights than I can remember, worried about the future.  Seeing it happen now is like a nightmare I can’t wake up from.  Not because it’s inescapable.  You can still pull out of it.  You can still fly.

But I can’t fix it anymore.  It’s up to you.  And for any parent, that’s a terrifying thing to face.

I love you D.

I know it probably doesn’t feel like it, especially right now, with everything that has happened lately.  But I do.  Sometimes love means protecting people from themselves.  And it’s not fun…for anybody. I still hope you can pull yourself up out of the hole you are in.  But I won’t help you dig further down.  I am your dad…and that’s why this hurts so much.

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Loving the little (and not-so-little) ones…

I am having a hard time with the whole growing up thing.  Not for me you understand, I am pretty sure most people who know me gave up on that a long time ago.  But for my children Boo and D, both for entirely different reasons.

It is perhaps a bit easier to explain in Boo’s case than D’s.  For Boo, for the first time, I am getting to experience fully the joy of being a full-time parent from birth onward.  I have been there for her first steps, her first words, teething, midnight feedings and the like.  But now, suddenly out of nowhere it feels like, I have a 2-yr old toddler who is convinced that she is ready now to take on the world.  And as much as I love watching her brain grown and her personality develop (although I am panicking a little bit at how to successfully raise a strong-headed girl), I miss the quiet times with her curled up on my chest, carrying her around everywhere and watching her grow.  If I could I think I would go through this with her 10 times and probably still find new things to marvel over.  And no, I don’t really want 10 more kids… I’m fine with the ones I’ve got thank you very much.

Boo_driving

As for D, the challenge comes in many more complex flavors.  D turns 18 this year and has successfully completed the HiSet test (which is the state replacement of the old GED for people who drop out of school).  D scored high enough on most categories that D is considered college ready and I really don’t feel old enough to have a college student yet.  Then there have been my recent conversations with D lately.  They are beginning to show glimmers of the adult that I had always hoped D would be, but that had gotten lost in the drugs and other poor choices D had been making.  It gives me hope that D will eventually come to terms with whomever D decides to be and that D can grow out of the past mistakes.  I just hope that when that time comes that both of us are in a place where I don’t miss the chance to reconnect with the person blooming now and that the consequences we have had to put in place to protect all of us don’t stay between us forever.

D auto-repairing

I sometimes wonder if I’m a good parent.  I think most any parent worth their salt does at least once every now and then.  But sometimes, I wish there was a way to know ahead of time, you know like a test.  Something empirical and scientific.  But then you have the results…  what happens if you get an “F”?

Part of me wonders about all this I think because I have had several acquaintances (friends of friends) lose their teenage children to suicide. And if I go back to look, the reason I started this blog in the first place was because my fifth grader handed me a note after school one day that said “Sometimes I think about killing myself.”  I have been most blessed in that D decided to NOT take that final fatal step.

Another part of me wonders about all this because of what happened to that little Syrian boy who drowned while trying to cross to Europe with his family.  What would I NOT do to help my little girl?  I am so very very grateful that my life has never been so desperate for safety, shelter and peace that I have had to make the decision to flee to somewhere else and face the many challenges that come with that, nor that I have ever had to pay the price these parents did…

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……

When will we learn that our anger, our intransigence, our pride are what are killing these precious ones?  As surely as any bullets fired from a gun.  Shame on us for acting otherwise.  Shame on us for not doing more.

As I start raising Boo, restarting the process as it were, and keep trying to build a positive relationship with my oldest, I look back on my previous mistakes and hope that I can learn from them.  I hope both my children grow into the promising young people I see when I look at them.  I hope they know how much they are still loved, even when they drive me nuts.

I hope the little boy’s family find their peace.  I hope he knew how much he was loved.

Because at the end of the day, I want my children to help create a world where pictures like the one above never happen again.  Where ALL people are welcomed as part of our common human family.  Where we can ALL find peace.  And where ALL people can come together in a moment of tragedy to say join in one voice and say, “No more!”

Puppy Love

You ever have one of those moments when your heart rushes in and the brain follows along more slowly, like a sloth admiring the flowers?  Unless you’re dead or under 12 of course you have.  We call it puppy love, crushes, infatuations, different names to try and convince ourselves it isn’t “real” love.  That somehow this attraction isn’t really worth our time nor will it last.  It can happen between people, but it can also happen between people and pets… in my case dogs.

So N and I had been discussing for a while whether we wanted a dog, another baby or both or neither.  It took us a while but we finally agreed that while we want another baby to go with Boo, we were okay with waiting for a while.  And we both like dogs, so that seemed like a good compromise for now.  Until that is, both came home.

Sometimes things work like peanut butter & jelly.  They just go together so easily you can’t really understand why everybody doesn’t just get it.  Others though are a bit more like oil & vinegar.  They don’t mix no matter how hard you shake.  Oh, they may work out for a while, but eventually they separate themselves out.  That seems to be the case with Pepper and Riley (the dogs in question).  Personally I am convinced that given some time, training and a little bit of work, the dogs can work it out to be together.  But in the meantime, it will be stressful for all concerned….

And that’s where the real love is…

In the middle of all that stress and work and frustration, to continue on anyway because you believe in something better, you believe in something good that can come out of the situation.  That’s when that initial puppy love that swept you away starts to transform into something greater.

It’s the same way with marriages, children and friendships.  What often starts out easy and thrilling becomes work after a while.  This is not a down-side, or a bug as a friend of mine would say, it’s a feature.  Real relationship, whether with loved ones, people in the community or between animals, takes work, forgiveness and understanding.  But it all starts with those big puppy eyes and the rush to the heart.

Riley

Advent 2012

God has done great things….

Why is this so hard for me to find the words to say?  I know God has done great things in my life.  Me standing here is a great thing God has done.  He did not give up on me even when I did.

Advent… is about anticipation.  We celebrate the birth of Jesus.  We celebrate the gift of the one who came to show us the way and to give us ever lasting life.  But He did that through the cross.  This is also the beginning of the journey to the crucifixion.  Think about that a minute.  All the mania and crazy shopping lines, the funny/silly tv specials, food, parties and waaaay too much of our extended families….  All to celebrate the death and resurrection of the baby born tonight.

It’s often so easy to take for granted the blessings we receive the rest of the year.  I saw a tag line part of me wants to put up in my office to remind me; it said “Christmas, the time of year Christians act like they’re supposed to.”  And it made me laugh and take a minute to reflect upon this year.  The thought sobered me.  Have there been times when I have looked upon my brothers and sisters who needed help and turned away?  I’m sorry to say there have been.  Have I heard people who claim Christ as their savior talk about how certain people should be excluded from His love or turned away?  Yes.  Just turn on the tv.

But this time of year is about celebrating the absolute leveling of the playing field.  “Life’s not fair~!”  How often do we hear that?  Anybody who’s ever been a kid has heard it at least once, coming from their own lips if no other time.  But Jesus came to show us that life is absolutely fair.  Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people, good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to bad people.  God loves everybody, the nice, the mean, the laughing ones, the crying ones.  And He loves us equally.  To prove it He sent His son to live, breath, die and live again for us.  The great equalizing fact of this season is that no one is alone or unloved.  We may feel that way.  The weight of the world may feel like it’s crashing down on us but the truth is, there is still hope for the future, peace is still available to everyone who searches, joy is present in every moment and love is coming.  Despite our best efforts to prove otherwise at times God continues to move in our lives and provides countless blessings we often are not even aware of.

This does not mean life is easy or that things won’t get rough.  We are not promised that.  The scripture today talks about how God has done great things for us.  But that’s only part of it.  It also speaks of those who go out weeping carrying seeds to sow.  One of the interpretations I read of this indicated that it meant the people were taking out the last of their seeds, the last of their food, to plant.  It was being given as an offering with the hope that they would be able to last until the harvest and have more than enough to eat.  The next verse reflects this hope with the response that those who weeped will return with songs of joy.  We are not offered a safe sure road.  God requests that we give our all, just as He has.  We are not called to be part-time workers for Him.  The joy comes in living full-time in God’s love.

But what is this thing called joy?  Too often in our society joy equals happiness and I’d like to set the record straight.  While they are definitely related, in that after someone has experienced one they want more of it, happiness is a fleeting thing, requiring satisfaction of some sort, having a need met.  Joy is more nuanced and complicated and is deeper.  Joy is about finding the good in any situation.  And there is good in any situation, I honestly believe that.  When my nephew died, there was nothing I wanted more than to have him back.  I don’t feel like he died for a cause or that there was some deeper plan behind it… but there have been joyful moments remembering our life together and in those times when what has happened has opened doors for me to talk to people I otherwise would not have been able to bring a ministry to.  Do I still miss him?  Absolutely.  Do I still grieve?  Yes.  But neither of those things can take away the joy of his life, even if they can take some of the happiness away for a while.

The same was true when my grandfather died.  We spent the day visiting with my grandmother and other extended family members.  Telling stories about him, sharing memories.  It was one of the most wonderful times of my life.  I got to hear things about this man I had never heard before, hilarious episodes from his past before I was born.  I got to spend time sharing with family I rarely got to see.  But he was dying.  And it was in the dying that my grandfather taught me the greatest lesson about joy, because I will stand here and tell you again today that the day he died, his life brought more joy to my heart that it ever had before, or will again.  I finally got it, in my gut, what he meant, when he told me as a young man that man is that he might have joy.

Nothing is for certain, other than the love God bears each one of us.  That love was on full display that day and it was that love that lifted the joy from the bottom of my heart to the top.  And it’s that joy that we celebrate here today.  God’s joy in this moment and season of advent is bittersweet.  On the one hand He is giving us the greatest gift of all, the life of His son.  On the other He is going to have to watch Jesus grow, suffer and die, before the resurrection.  This moment is still going on.  It is still being lived out.  Only we who are finite beings experience it as being in the past.  God loves us.  God’s greatest act is one of selfless love.  It’s to bring us up out of the darkness of the places we find ourselves, for whatever reason.  Maybe not in our time or in the way we want, the primary definition of “fair,” but in God’s time.  I have struggled with God my whole life.  Not in believing that He existed but that He could love someone like me or that if He did, what did all this bad stuff seem to keep happening to me.  I have stood the brink, trying to die and because of the gift offered here today, His love and the love His son showed to us, I was brought back.  I would run and run again throughout my life, still do sometimes.  But God continues to pursue and Jesus continues to open His arms to me.  To bring me home, to offer me the joy of His presence.  Tears, warts, mistakes, anger and all.  Jesus is our companion on the journey, not our magic wand.  But that’s the greatness of it, in something as small as a little baby.  God’s joy is alive in every moment of every day.  WE are blessed because He lives.  He lives~!

Long overdue on silence…

It was recommended to me that I blog about my experiences several weeks ago at a silent retreat before they escaped into the recesses of memory.  Admittedly part of the reason I have not yet felt overly compelled to do so was because some of the experience of change was still flowing so powerfully through me.  The rest though… part of that was just plain laziness I think.  Or me being passive aggressive again.

So…

I don’t know that I’ll detail everything yet, some things I still feel like I’m processing, but one thing I definitely wanted to share was my time as a fisherman.  Or rather, what it meant/means to follow in the footsteps of a fisherman of God.

I started off the weekend with a strong sense of expectancy and for those who have never attended a silent retreat, you go the entire time without speaking, for however long the session is, in this case a little over 36 hours.  It starts on a Friday night, all day Saturday and then Sunday till early afternoon.  It’s at a campground far removed from road noise, cell phone signals and the like.  I leave my music, internet, tv, etc behind and bring just me, my bible (and this time St. Augustine as well, although we didn’t get to rekindle our conversation, he had to move aside for Peter) and stuff to wear.

I didn’t think I had an agenda in coming, other than to get away from all that is my life for a bit and re-connect, re-fresh with the source of all my joy and peace.  I thought I didn’t have an agenda…but I did.

I may not have wanted to recognize it, but it was there… and it made it difficult for the beginning of the weekend to get myself into the mood.  I don’t know that I have good words to describe what my agenda was, but what happened to me was I was reminded of and directed to consider two very important words – Forgiveness and Trust.

FORGIVENESS –noun

1.

act of forgiving; state of being forgiven.
2.

disposition or willingness to forgive.

TRUST –noun

1.

reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence.
2.

confident expectation of something; hope.
3.

confidence in the certainty of future payment for property or goods received; credit: to sell merchandise on trust.
4.

a person on whom or thing on which one relies: God is my trust.
Both these words resound in my mind and won’t leave me alone.  As I’ve stated before the first declaration I need to learn, to feel the truth of in my bones is the fact that I can be forgiven, that I can forgive myself, and that I can forgive those who have hurt me most.  I was reminded that in some cases the act of forgiveness is a matter of acknowledging to God that I can’t do it on my own, but to express a willing desire to allow God to move into that part of my life and begin to make it whole.  Forgiveness is a process, not an end product and it doesn’t mean all is forgotten, nor that the slate is wiped clean.  What it means, to me, is that the weight of the pain and anger et al is no longer chains binding me down, holding me back.  I don’t have to go be best friends with the people who have hurt me, but I can let go of my own responses and give them over to God who is big enough to handle it all and fill the space in my heart with God’s peace and love.  And if I’m going to keep moving forward on this desert journey, that’s one thing I have to do… let go and ask for God’s assistance, cause some things I am too human to forgive on my own.  But I am willing to allow God to work in my life to bring healing, and that’s a step forward.
Trust is something else altogether…
I suppose were I being completely upfront I’m not sure it’s something entirely different, but it too has been something I have really struggled with.  Trusting myself, trusting others…or not as the case may be.  Putting limits on the amount of trust I was willing to hand out, capped the amount of trust I was willing to receive back.  It made it hard to trust the one in whom I should have had the most trust.  To truly believe in where I was heading and the things I have been called to do.  See also me asking forgiveness for this…
Making the realization that these two watchwords need to be special attention in my mind I started doing a lot of praying and continued reading in my daily Bible.  I’m working on making all the way through the whole book in a year… so far I’m only a week behind… not bad all things considered.
During this time however, at the retreat, my father brought to my attention a book on St. Peter and the trials he faced and the struggles he failed to overcome and the ones with God’s assistance he triumphed over.  I started reading it and as if scales dropped from my eyes (and it’s the first time I’ve ever understood that phrase) the devotional prayers and the story of this man from Galilee hit me like a ton of bricks.  One of my earlier posts referenced Jesus’ call to Peter that first day when he called to him from the shore to toss his nets on the other side of the boat.  Upon reaching the shore I imagine Peter and I know me, struggled with taking  that first step off the boat to follow this Messiah.  I’ve written some more I’ll share on here later, but for now I wanted to share this.
After that weekend I’ve stepped off the boat…
My shore legs are still wobbly and I’m not sure how this all will turn out.  But I’m finally following the footsteps of one who wants to dance along the shore with me and bring me into the joy of a true fellowship with my fellow human beings.
The path begins here…

Still struggling with Single…but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it…

I had about ten people over last night.  May not seem like much to some and a really big event to others.  I threw the idea together for dinner and hanging out in about two hours.  Had food, had the time, had the desire.  It was also a realization for me…as weird as that may sound.  I’ve done things like this several times since the ex left.  I don’t need to ask anyone’s permission.  I don’t have to worry about double-scheduling (beyond what I do to myself).  I don’t have to think about if someone is in the mood to have people over or not.

I can just do it.

It’s a simple simple thing.  But something that for so much of my adult life I have not had the freedom to do.  I relax by hosting events and having people over.  This can be stressful for other people, I realize this, and as such was not able to do it much while I was married.  I like this.  I love my circle of friends, the ease with which they accept my invites, and the fact that if I want one or one hundred (although that might be a little much) over, I can do so.  I can go places, make plans, do things I enjoy (little things, or big things), hang out with people I want to.

I can have a full life.  And I don’t have to have someone’s permission to do so.

Do I miss being in a partnership?  Yeah.  But something else I’m learning is that most of what I miss from a partnership I can have in the relationships with the people I chose to surround myself with.  I’m still learning the dance, still make mistakes, still do too little or too much.  It’s a process.  But now it’s more of  a process of learning to be single, than perhaps the struggle it was a while back.  Maybe not a lot has changed.  But my perspective has… and that can make all the difference.

Single and likin’ it.

Thoughts on a Thursday night…never did get the hang of Thursdays…

Hear O Israel the voice of one crying in the wilderness…

the one crying may not be the one you think…

I know it’s been a while since I threw anything up here, it’s been a little crazy.  Work hasn’t been busy, but there’s always stuff going on that needs attention, which is good (job security), but after a days work I don’t really want to come  home to another dozen or so chores and things that need to get done.  Life… well, life is at the moment.  I think it’s funny that almost all my close friends tell me that their social calendar becomes fuller and busier the longer they hang out with me.  I don’t mean to do it, it just sort of swirls around me I suppose.  So why write those phrases at the beginning of this post?  What’s the big topic for discussion up tonight?  Well… it’s complicated… in part because people are complicated and peoples with theology even more so.

I was moved to put some thoughts up on one of my social network sites today in part to the way some members of my world church had been expressing their feelings about a piece of what we believe to be divine counsel to us, and what it means for our church.  The comment follows:  all our talk of toleration and inclusion is for naught if, in the midst of our celebration, we marginalize those who disagree. Remember our years as strangers in the land and be sure to treat them the way we wish they had treated us.

I was wrong to refer to the passing of support for the document as a victory.  Victory implies a loser and in this case I don’t believe there was, there are simply those who are accepting of this counsel and those who are not – honest, well intentioned people on both sides.  So how do we stay in community?  How can we?  How can those of us for whom this day was a wonderful blessing keep our hearts open and sensitive to those of our brothers and sisters for whom this was a major step in the wrong direction?  How can those who disagree so strongly keep the love of God for all of us in their hearts and keep fellowship with us?

The simple answer is “I don’t know.”

This is not something I’m good at determining, I only know I feel it needs to happen.  My friends who are more conservative help keep me grounded in the roots and traditions of my forerunners, keep me on the path of what has come before and how that shapes where we are heading.  They help provide me with a firm foundation from which to reach for the stars.  My more liberal friends are the ones who are standing on that foundation with me, lifting me up and encouraging me to stand upon their shoulders to reach for the stars, the ones who open my eyes to the wonder of creation in unexpected areas.

I need both to flourish.

I can survive with one or the other… but that’s not the point… not when we have the opportunity to do more than simply survive.

I am not always comfortable with either end of the spectrum.  To my conservative friends I’m too liberal.  To my liberal friends I’m too conservative.  To me I just feel a bit mixed and saddened by the sense I have that those on the fringe want to pull things so tightly to them that it rips apart the middle.  Fortunately we have avoided that thus far… but I’m walking on emotional eggshells as what has happened before still follows me, and shadows my thoughts on these issues.  I was just a child when it was finally passed…the counsel allowing women to be in the priesthood.  I watched over 3/5’s of the people I knew and loved… from a place that should be safe above all others…walk out, turn their backs and harden their hearts.  It made my relationship with God and my church very difficult for many years.  I still have problems with those dissenters sometimes.  But others are very very dear friends.  It’s crazy, but one of my best friends is Democratic, one is Republican and the other is an Independent.  We all know each other and we all get along.  How do we build bridges like that in our everyday lives?  To me, the mission of Christ is to build relationships.  Being in relationship with someone, whether intimate, friend, family or something else, is an opportunity to share, to learn, to grow, to love.  It’s what we are called to do and to be.

I’ve been humbled greatly by some of the things people I’ve seen for the first time in a long time, and some I see regularly, have shared with me this week.  Humbled and nervous.

I struggle still with the outcome of my life.  The long term goal, projections, etc.  I’m still trying to figure out what I want from this.  I’ve made many new friends, found a voice for the first time I feel like I can call my own, can occassionally be involved in things that impact more than just my own life.  I have witnessed miracles every day, both big and small.  I have seen the love of God made manifest in my life and in the life of those around me, through the smallest acts of kindness.

Why then do I still struggle so?  Part of me wonders if this isn’t part of the great mystery that is God, that Mother Teresa and others spoke of.  The sense that the closer we get to God the more alone we feel as the inadequacy of our finite vessel becomes clearer and clearer to us.  We are made to appreciate the mystery more and have to cling to hope and faith ever more the harder.  Faith…

“A belief in things hoped for but unseen”

I could share many testimonies of God’s love in my life.  But the truth of the matter is, I don’t need to know God exists.  I’ve had experiences that can’t be quantified, measured, etc.  I believe God exists… it is the faith that is a gift from God’s Holy Spirit.  A gift I don’t need science to answer.   And since I’m still more or less on the topic of conservative/liberal…sort of…I can talk briefly about this.

One of the things that drives me nuts about people is that they try to force religion and science to answer each other’s questions.  Religion and Science are not in opposition, but concert.  Science tells me how I got here, how the things around us in the wonderful creation act/work, the laws they follow.  Science tells me when things happen and how…and they can answer the little “why?”  But they can’t tell me why I matter, what the purpose of my life is, how to treat my fellow human being and the earth.  That is Religion’s purvue.  Religion answers the big “Why?”  That is not to say one is more important than the other.  I think it is too easily forgotten that some of the most influential early scientists in Europe were priests, men of God who wanted to better understand in our finite and limited way the glories of the world around us.  I think how wonderful that is… and how wonderful it could be again.

My denomination has just started a dialogue on several difficult issues, including homosexuality, baptisim and others.  It’s not the big dramatic step some hoped for and it’s too big for others… It is my earnest prayer that that means it could be just right… for all of us.  All of us are children of God.

http://www.cofchrist.org/wc2010/counsel/default.asp