I Am Not What I Do

Five years ago, I was sitting at the pool, trying to read. Some kids were laughing in the water, others were crying, and some were eating Goldfish crackers. My three boys were engaged in a full-on water gun war offensive. The kiddie pool can be a violent place; when you’re seven, you squirt kids in the eyes to gain ground. That’s how it works. Good dads happily take their kids to the pool in June, and I showed up, but I was not doing well.

It wasn’t the smell of musty chlorine, mildewed towels, or the sight of the whistle-happy lifeguard perched on his tower. I confronted him that summer about his petty rules, and for the record, nothing was found in The Book about “launching your own child into the deep end.” Apparently, lifeguards make their own laws these days.

In the bright sun, at the Westside YMCA, my heart was screaming with pain and fear. I was thirty-four, struggling as a dad, husband, pastor, provider, and friend. A previous decade of tense church-planting and full-time ministry had taken a toll on me. There was a lot of pressure to get everything right and grow the church, and it seemed like there was always more to do. Also, I felt the need to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Like I had it all together. Like I wasn’t tired. I was in fifth gear for too long, broken-down on the side of the road, my engine smoking with no oil.

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The Person in the Telling

My granddad used to tell us war stories during holidays. He talked about World War II, about the Germans, Christmas in the snow (when his feet turned black in his boots), and the Battle of the Bulge. I was more interested in playing with my cousins back then or sneaking extra dessert in the kitchen, but before it was too late, I requested he write some of his stories down. After he finally did, that treasured journal went into safe keeping with me. When Granddad passed away a few years ago, I pulled out his old stories and cried through every page. One of the things he wrote was this: “If you didn’t know how to pray when you got in the Army, it sure didn’t take long to learn”—wisdom from the 99th infantry.

There’s a lonely place in every person in which he or she hopes to share the journey with someone who will listen.

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More Than Muscles

“Show me your muscles!” I say.

My boys shrivel up their faces with a scowl, strike a pose, and conjure up their pre-hormone physiques. The experience is similar to that of a Jedi warrior invoking the force.

“Look at those strong boys!” I say as I examine their arms.

Every time, my young men smile back. They usually bounce away with their chests a little higher and hearts fuller. I am too proud for words—with or without notable muscles. They are mine. My sons.

I turned thirty-six last year, and I can subtly sense the creeping shadow of a mid-life crisis looming over me. It’s probably much more about longing to see Jesus face to face than sports cars and cheap thrills. Those things never satisfy middle-aged people anyway, and I’m not interested in that kind of emptiness. Whatever the shadow is, it won’t find me waiting on a couch of discontent. I’m after something deeper.

I’m still asking the question: is the Lord really proud of me? 

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Weep Together

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The woman in the purple dress said, “My eight-year-old granddaughter was diagnosed with cancer this week—and I wanted a drink so bad.”  The room fell silent.  Suddenly I could feel my heart stand at attention.  It was like a queen had entered, speaking to her most trusted advisers. We all listened close.

Tears fell down her face as she shared her story. When she finished, I looked across the room at an older man shaking his head in the corner. He whispered in an honorable tone, “That’s horrible, just horrible—but I’m glad you didn’t take a drink.”

It was my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.

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Leaving Should-Town

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Should happens everywhere.

You should floss, you should lose weight, you should make your bed, and you should read this biography. You should see this new movie (it’s soooo good). You should love cottage cheese and enjoy broccoli and brussels sprouts. You should eat super foods like kale (even though they don’t taste super unless cheese is involved).

You’ve heard the infamous imperative, “You should drink less coffee”—yeah, right. You should go to church more, put your kids in a certain school, read the Old Testament more, and you should go to that birthday party wearing a smile. You know, just make an appearance, at least. You should.

And the should-ing continues.

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