Naptime and Suffering

Putting Ellie to bed these days (she’s two and a half) is one of the highlights of my life. She has a knack for curing what ails you. If Democrats and Republicans each took turns putting her down for her nap on consecutive days, they would peacefully resolve their differences. You think I’m kidding, but something about a two-year old’s earnest sweetness strips away everything extra so you focus on what really matters.

She holds your hand as you walk her down the stairs to her bedroom. She stops two steps from the bottom (“wanna jump”) and leaps the rest of the way, landing perfectly, her curly hair flying behind her. She wants to sleep in her older sister’s bed instead of her crib, so you snuggle her down with her pillow and blanket and then lie beside her, a supply of books ready, because one story is never enough. (“‘Nother one”).

You read to her and she squeals with happiness when she sees the moon or mama llama or an ice cream cone in the pictures. She rubs her small hand over the soft sheep and the hairy lion and the sticky frog tongue. She leans into you, and all is well.

You tell her you love her and she says back, just as natural as you please, “I wuv you tooo,” and your heart is a puddle.

She wants a hug and a kiss, and then when you get up from the bed, she says, “one more big hug” and stretches her tiny arms up and you reach down to squeeze her tight, and then she says, “Night night, daddy” and the puddle turns into a lake.

You come out of the room deliriously happy, almost weak-kneed at the realization that this little person’s whole world is wrapped up in you. She trusts you utterly and completely. Without you, she falls apart. With you, she’s secure and content.

It takes so little to make her light up with happiness, those big expressive eyes gleaming with delight or maybe mischief. When her chubby hands grab your cheeks and pull your face right in front of hers, well, nothing else matters.

We need more of these moments. We’re so divided. We scream at each other in public and online because our politics are different. We can’t even conceive of basic decency because we are right and they are not and we must tell them, loudly and repeatedly.

And if we’re not fighting, we’re suffering. It seems like there is so much these days that makes you wonder what God is doing and how any of it can possibly be good. Pregnancies end far too early, while others don’t even get started, despite years of yearning. Icons you looked up to for years reveal they are not who you thought, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake. Women and children are abused and tossed aside, their dignity and humanity in shreds. Kids are ripped away from their parents and stashed in tents in the desert – maybe they’ll be reunited and maybe they won’t. Addiction takes over. A teenager fights for his life, healthy one day, gripped with infection the next. Parents worry about their kids: will they pass that test, will they make friends, will they get made fun of, will they learn, will they be okay?

These days are hard. There aren’t any easy answers.

But as my daughter puts her hand in mine to walk down the stairs to bed, as she rests her head on me while I read a story, as she hugs and kisses me, as she trusts me with everything in her – even when she doesn’t understand, even when it’s dark, even when she’s upset and scared – I’m reminded that we have Someone to trust too.

He will take our hands and whisper peace in the midst of the storm because he knows what the storm is like. He was human. He suffered. He knows, and he cares. He won’t take it all away, but he will be with you. Sometimes, that’s all the answer we get.

Though we may walk in valleys and shadows, we follow the One who spoke light into existence.

Oh, and if you get a chance, put a two-year old down for a nap – you will feel much better about life.

The Far Country

Moving is, to put it mildly, a royal pain in the rear. You attempt to pack all your belongings, many of which fit in boxes and many of which don’t. You end up with tons of boxes, a bunch of furniture and a few awkward piles that you don’t know what to do with until they finally just get thrown on the moving truck and then unloaded into new awkward piles that may or may not be put away in the next several months.

You also realize how much stuff you actually have. How did this happen? We got rid of so much as we packed, and it still overwhelms. Do all our kids really need beds? Most of them still get excited about sleeping on the floor. Maybe we should make that permanent.

This is not meant to complain – in this case, moving means a bigger house with more room for the growing munchkins. (Growing up, not growing in number. That ship has sailed.) This is just the way the process works. Every stage seems impossible – you really think you might not make it through – until you reach the next impossible stage: finding a house, selling your house, packing, loading, unloading, unpacking.

And when you move in while you are still doing renovations, things get even hairier. You’re trying to only live in a few rooms, and nothing is in its right place. How am I supposed to know where your clean underwear is, kid? I don’t even know where the dirty ones are. I don’t know where food and silverware and last night’s homework are hiding. I don’t know where you’re supposed to put that Lego creation you somehow just made. No, the wi-fi is not working yet. The tv isn’t hooked up either. Don’t step in that paint can! I know you’re tired. I know you’re frustrated. Me too, kid, me too.

When every waking moment is harried and you don’t know where to turn and your baby is screaming and you can’t find the box with your pants (because you really should wear pants to work) and you’ve just snapped at your kids (again) because they happened to voice the same frustration you’re battling, it’s hard.

Being unsettled is, well, unsettling.

Maybe home is more important than we think it is. The normal, everyday grind of living can sometimes wear on us and make us tired and whiny. The truth is that this normal everydayness is our life, and we don’t realize it until we don’t have it. I just want to know where to set my keys when I walk in the door. I want to not have to dig through boxes to find a pan or the iron (still not located) or paper towels. I want to know where my kids’ toothbrushes are. I want to cook a regular dinner and sit around the table with my family. I want to be home.

God created us with a sense of belonging. When that need is not fulfilled, we struggle. I cannot wait until we are settled in this house – and right now, it’s just a house. It’s not our home yet, although I can see glimpses that it will be a wonderful place we will fill with memories and joy.

This world is not our home either, and while we can make a place here, something tells us it’s not quite right. There’s too much sin, too much pain, too much evil, too much mess. Deep down, we are unsettled because we are made for more. The far country beckons, a world that is beyond imagining and yet somehow closer and more real than we know. The longer we live, the more it calls to us. We are welcome there, if we come by faith in the One who left his eternal home for this world where he did not have a home.

While we wait, let’s make our homes on Earth full of light and love and hope so that those who visit them will feel the winds of heaven on their face and want to know more about the place where morning will gather forever as we gaze upon the King in his beauty.

Our family will get right on that – as soon as we find our light bulbs.

To Our Kids On the First Day of School

Here we go – another summer behind you, another school year ahead. Some of you are excited and can’t wait to get back to the classroom. Others of you … not so much. Either way, here are five things your mom and I want you to remember:

Take Advantage
You are in a position that many kids around the world can only dream about. You get to go to a school where teachers care about you, where you don’t have to be afraid, where you you can learn about anything that interests you (and a few things that don’t interest you but you need to know anyway).

You don’t realize it because you have never known anything else, but you have every advantage, so take advantage. Work hard. Do your best. Use the talents God has given you. Respect your teachers. When you’re tempted to take shortcuts or skip work because fun is waiting, don’t. The four walls of your classroom may seem confining, but they will take you farther than you know. Do the work, and you’ll be rewarded.

It’s Okay to Be Uncomfortable
You know that funny little feeling you get when your teacher starts to talk about a new topic or a new skill and you don’t know how to do it and you’re worried you won’t do it right and you’re not really sure what to do next?

Feeling that way usually means you’re about to become a better person. You’re going to learn something new that will improve your game, build your skills and move you forward. If everything is always exactly the way you like it, you will never grow or change.

(Here’s a secret – we get that feeling pretty much every day as parents.)

Focus on others
Most kids think only about what they want, what’s good for them and how they can get it before anyone else. We want you to think of others as more important than yourself. Let someone else go first. Save the best birthday cupcake for your friend. Ask other kids questions about themselves instead of talking endlessly about yourself.

Some of you have lots of really good friends, and some are starting with a new class. Either way, be aware of everyone else around you. Find the kid who’s playing by himself at recess and ask if you can play too. Make sure the new girl who’s shy has someone to talk to.

By the way, this starts at home with your siblings. I know, I know. Just do it anyway. 

Build Character
Learn to do what’s right now, when you’re small and the consequences are small. Build the habits that will stick with you through the rest of your life. Then when the consequences are big, you won’t even have to think about it – you’ll automatically do the right thing. Don’t wait – even kids are known by their actions, and we want you to build a reputation now for being honorable, having integrity and doing what’s right. Tell the truth, even when it might get you in trouble. When things go wrong – and they will – don’t be bitter. Keep your head up, your eyes clear and your heart full.

There’s More Than You Can See
You head off to school today in a world full of good and evil. Your sense of that world is small. You don’t know what’s out there yet – what experiences wait for you, what you like, what you don’t like, what you will be and do. You will learn so much this year about how everything in that world works, from science to language to the history that brought us to this point.

As you begin to explore, remember there is more to this life than you can see. Put your faith not just in objects you can touch, but in things unseen. Remember that something – Someone – has to keep it all going. Remember that you were created for a purpose, and you won’t feel quite right until you fill that purpose. Remember that you can see examples of redemption in all of creation, but there is only one place to find true Redemption.

And remember that your mom and I love you. We can’t wait to see what you accomplish this year. Now go get ’em.

Mom and Dad

Notes from a Kid-Free Trip to the Beach


A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I took a 15th anniversary trip to the beach in Florida. It was a fantastic and much-needed time of relaxing and breathing deep and being away from kids for a few days. And now, some thoughts regarding the entire process of going on vacation and leaving your six kids at home:

1. No matter how much you plan and prepare and set up child care and book condos and rental cars and arrange rides to and from school and sports and set out clothes and stock up on every medicine known to man, something can and will go wrong before you leave.

2. Case in point: when you have six children, a simple stomach bug becomes immediate cause for concern because who know how many children it will infect before it runs its course. The answer in this case, starting a week before we left and running until the day we were supposed to leave: all of them.

3. A 13-month old throwing up in the middle of the night is one of the saddest things you have ever seen. Her tiny little body somehow makes the exact same throwing-up noise that adults make. And yet, she probably handled it the best out everyone.

4. Six children all have different throwing up styles. (I promise to stop talking about vomit soon.) Some are quiet, some are loud. Some are independent, some need their heads and their buckets held in the just right position. Most did pretty well hitting the toilet and/or the buckets. (Nothing will ever be as bad as the time a few months ago when one of the little angels made it as far as the top of the carpeted stairs before losing everything. Down the stairs.)

5. Okay, moving on. Thankful for both a rental place and a mother-in-law with the flexibility to move everything back a day. Alabama is a long state to drive from top to bottom, but time on a road trip to decompress and actually talk to your spouse without being interrupted and listen to cool podcasts is really nice. Also, I’m not sure who in Alabama is causing so many injuries, but there are approximately a million billboards advertising personal injury attorneys throughout the entire southern half of the state. I advise not hurting anyone there.

6. There is nothing like the ocean to remind you of God’s might and man’s smallness.

7. A few days away from the responsibilities and urgency of everyday life does wonders for your soul. There’s value in slowing down, in not having to be somewhere every second, in giving yourself time to breathe.

Having that time with your spouse is important too. You can laugh at each other’s jokes, you can sit in silence without feeling like you have to say something every second (when usually if you don’t say it right now you won’t get to say it because the munchkins will drown you out), you can remember what you like to do together, you can just be in each other’s presence. Your kids and their needs are important. So is your marriage.

8. The sound of the sea waves breaking on the beach is the best sleep aid there is.

9. You get to meet and watch interesting people on trips. Just ask a question or two – people like to talk about themselves. People like Mister Ed, an 84-year old veteran from St. Louis who has been married for 61 years. He and his wife retired to the beach and he has to visit the boardwalk to grab the railing with both hands and lean, stretching out a bad back as a result of getting hit by a bike. He’ll order better weather, he tells you with a smile and a nod at the cloudy sky.

People like the tan 20-something college kid named John who sets out dozens of beach umbrellas and chairs every day, every motion practiced, efficient, deceptively simple. He’s been doing it since he was 12 and is now saving up to finish college. He wants to be an engineer, loves to surf, loves baseball and is ready to get out of a town everyone else wants to visit.

People like the older couple who spent their beach vacation putting together a puzzle of a town on a mountainside in Italy. They glued it together and are taking it home, pushing it out to their car on a flat cart.

People like Charlie, who moved to Florida from Illinois eight years ago. He and his wife came so much on vacation, they just told their kids they were moving. He runs a hole-in-the-wall breakfast joint that sells the best coffee and breakfast in town. We went twice.

People like the older folks at the beach who have zero flips to give about life and could not care less what you think about them. Their wrinkled skin and pot bellies and tattoos and gray ponytails and vapor pens and yes, even their bikinis, tell you they are confident in who they are, they have lived their life and now they are going to enjoy the beach.

People obsessed with their looks, people chasing kids, people splashing in the waves, people hunting crabs at night with flashlights, people who give you restaurant recommendations, people who have never met a stranger and talk to everyone they meet, people who hide behind their books, people who fill up the thousands of rooms and houses at the beach, people who dangle giant fishing rods off the pier, people who are like you and people who are not. Made in the image of God, every one.

10. When parents go on vacation without their kids, you know what they talk about the most? Their kids.

Thankful for 15 years of marriage, for time away, for six crazy kids and especially for two sets of parents and a few friends who watched the shop while we were gone. Who’s ready to watch them again??

I’ve Never Had My Own Bed

When you sit on hard plastic chairs across a laminated table from a social worker who is telling a woman the state is terminating her God-given rights as a parent, that memory doesn’t go away. You can still see the tears track down her face as she realizes the awful consequences of her life choices have left her no more time and no more hope.

When you adopt two of her daughters into your family, you don’t know how to figure out if you will let her continue to see them, but you decide it’s better not to hide, better to allow twice-a-year visits, better to let the girls know there are more people who love them.

When she begins making good choices in her life, she shows up at visits with arms full of presents and a heart full of excitement. When she leaves two hours later with fresh realization of past failures spilling more tears from her eyes, your heart breaks again.

Then you think about how from the first time you met her, you just wanted to help her. You felt like you needed to be a parent to both her and her children, but the girls came first.

Now, two years post-adoption, the girls are settled – they are part of your family. They love you without reserve, but part of the tragedy of orphan care is that kids experience ultimate rejection, which means that even when they land in a loving home, not everything works as it was designed. Every corner of our world is crying out for redemption, and it comes more quickly to some than others. The kids are fine for now, but nothing comes easy for their mom.

She sometimes texts you with questions about parenting and life. She has no one else. After she lost her girls, she landed with a new boyfriend whose chief attraction was a place to live. Now the father of her two-year old son and the baby boy growing in her belly, he abuses and manipulates her, but she can’t break free from his grip and their dingy, one-room apartment.

Still, she begins to take small steps. She finds a solid job and keeps it for a year and counting. She gets on a waiting list for subsidized housing. She saves a little. She builds a life. And then she gets a call that an apartment is open for her, but it’s too soon – she doesn’t have enough saved, and she doesn’t own anything to make a home other than a few clothes and toys.

She doesn’t ask you for help, but she so obviously could use it, and here you are with access to the two things she needs most: Jesus and stuff. How can you not make the leap? How can you keep her from people who care – and a God who cares – because it might get a little messy? How can you not want to invite her to church just because your girls might give their biological mom a few more hugs?

If you truly want to reach the ends of the earth – and the dark corners of your own cities – with the hope of the Gospel of Christ, you have to do it with no guarantees. You have to take a risk. You have to know that even if your plan does not work out, there are ways and plans and thoughts higher than yours.

So you jump in to help. You put out the call for beds, couches, lamps, chairs, food, decorations – whatever makes an apartment livable. Your church family responds, and your garage turns into a used furniture store with everyone’s donations. Your neighbors are astonished at the crew who loads it on a trailer in 10 minutes flat and then heads to her new apartment.

You help gather her things and take her to the new home. She is overwhelmed. When she sees her donated bedroom furniture awash in the warm glow of a lamp, fresh new sheets waiting quietly, she says, “I’ve never had my own bed before,” and your heart breaks again.

She responds to the generosity with grace, arranging her new world nicely. You see belonging, independence and hope in her eyes, and you learn not to underestimate the power of a place to call your own, a place to feel safe, a place to inspire.

She’s never seen love like this, she says, and you answer with the only thing you can say: you love because you have first been loved.

You wonder what it will be like to visit, but you see her again a week later, and she’s still doing well. She has hung pictures of the girls all over her apartment. It actually feels normal – at least as normal as it can. Maybe this is the new normal. The girls hug her and then just start playing. Their half-brother plays too. Their mom talks to you about her pregnancy and her new life.

A funny thing happens when you yield to what God wants. The hesitation about getting involved goes away. Your love grows. You’re proud of your kids for jumping in to help. You’re amazed at what He can do when you get out of the way. You start to wonder what the future might hold – this could be just the beginning.

You’re still not sure how it will turn out. There are no guarantees. She will need help for a long time. Maybe you’re getting played. Maybe she’ll slip back into old habits. But then again, maybe she won’t. There’s risk. But in the risk and in the obedience, there’s life. The Lion isn’t tame. You shouldn’t be either.

Glasses and Grace

Sometimes you can have everything prepared perfectly – clothes picked out, lunches packed, backpacks ready – and the morning is going well and then in a split second, one tiny detail you overlooked rears its head and the morning is headed off the rails. In this case, we couldn’t find one child’s glasses that she needed for school. Looking everywhere, knowing the clock is ticking and she’s gonna be late and you’re gonna be late to work and you’re getting hot and frustrated and ALL YOU NEED IS THE GLASSES SO WHERE ARE THEY AND WHY CAN’T YOU KEEP UP WITH THEM DEAR SWEET CHILD AT WHOM I AM NOT AT ALL MAD?!?! And then another kid thinks like a kid and finds them in the toy mailbox by her bed and you make it to school and work and all is well.

I’m glad our salvation doesn’t depend on getting every detail right. We would mess it up, every time. We would think we had everything covered and that one pesky sin would pop up and we’d be done. We would live in anxiety and fear, always wondering what we had missed and what more we should be doing. We could never rest.

Instead, we have salvation by grace through faith, full and free and sweet. What a gift. Our lives are covered with Christ’s blood, and even when new sin surprises us – or old sin frustrates us – we can rest in God’s past, present and future grace given without cost to his undeserving children. We don’t have to frantically scramble to meet a performance standard. We simply repent and believe, and God’s inexhaustible grace is there, as often as we need it, day after day, a treasure trove of mercy.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us …”

The Hope of Christmas

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child … And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” – Luke 2:15-20

When the angels went away from them into heaven …

Imagine the looks the shepherds must have given each other that night when the last angel soared away through the sky.

Did that just happen?

They had heard the most wondrous announcement of the ages – a Savior is born! – and then they were left alone. From blazing glory to the dead of night. From thunderous song to eerie silence. From angels to sheep.

What must have rushed through their minds? The prophecies fulfilled, the long silence broken, a Messiah come to Earth – and they are the first to know?

The lowly and foolish of the world had been chosen to shame the wise. And they had work to do.

“Let us go,” they said, and they did.

And they went with haste …

What did they talk about on the way? What else could they talk about? These rough, dusty men must have chattered like schoolgirls.

God becoming man? Really? If it were true, these shepherds were key players in the grand cosmic story of redemption. They were a piece of the puzzle that had been so confusing for so many silent years but now, in the fullness of time, was clicking into place with startling speed.

When they arrived at the stable in the prophetic town so small among Judah and saw that it was true, that the infinite God, who was in the beginning – who was, in fact, before the beginning – was now lying where cattle snouts had been the day before.

They couldn’t help it then, they burst forth with a torrent of words telling anyone who would listen about the angels’ message, that this baby was the Messiah, sent to redeem those under the law, to make propitiation for their sins and to adopt them into his family. He was God, and now he was man too.

And the shepherds returned …

You know what the shepherds did when it was all over? They went home. They went back to their lives and their sheep. They didn’t cash in on their 15 minutes of fame. They didn’t build a personal brand and launch a website and give $25,000 speeches recounting their extraordinary experience. They did tell people about what they had seen, but they did so as it had been told them, with the emphasis on the miraculous baby, not on themselves.

They returned home to live quiet, faithful, ordinary lives. They herded sheep. They raised kids. They made their way.

From the outside, their lives looked like they did before the sky split open that night. But in reality, everything had changed. They now had a reason to live. They knew God had become man – an unthinkable proposition the day before.

So when their kids yelled at them and they stepped in sheep dung and they forgot to pick up the milk on the way home and the umpteenth thing broke in their house and the shepherding didn’t bring in quite enough money and their kids threw up down the stairs and everywhere, well, there was an underlying peace amid the mundane frustration. God became man.

Maybe some of the shepherds were dealing with tragedy and hurt and loss that first Christmas. Maybe they didn’t understand why they had to travel a dark road, but they found a glimmer of light when they saw that newborn baby. Maybe somewhere deep inside, in the midst of the hurt and pain of their fallen world, they knew that his presence signaled a beginning to the end of the suffering.

2,000 years later, we’re still not at the end, but when the baby in a manger comes again as a conquering King, well, he’ll be surrounded by those angels and no sin or tragedy or pain or grief will stand in his way as he brings his children home to glory.

Trying to comprehend the incomprehensible could occupy the shepherds’ minds while they went back to the monotony of sheep. Their attempts at comprehension inevitably turned then, as ours do now, to adoration because they – and we – cannot understand, but they – and we – can come and adore him, Christ the Lord.

Random thoughts from Fall Break about life, death and family

Random thoughts from a Fall Break spent in Owensboro, Louisville and Nashville, on playgrounds and roller rinks, at farms and funeral homes, with kids and babies and cats …

  • We somehow managed to hit two restaurants with free dessert during the week. My conclusion: more restaurants should offer free dessert. Kids are happy because ice cream, parents are happy because they don’t have to pay for it, and the restaurant is happy because the family spent money on dinner. Win-win-win.
  • Open Table is one of the greatest inventions of our time. You can make a reservation – and cancel if you need to – without talking to ANYONE.
  • A baby’s laughter is the purest and best sound you will ever hear. Unless the baby and all of your other children are asleep. Then the quiet is the best sound ever.
  • Like spy fiction? Need a good series? Try Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series. Fantastic books, and you might even learn a few things.
  • If you want people to talk to you and smile at you, just carry a baby around. They will make all sorts of unsolicited comments. The baby is cute, for instance, or she’s so big or so smart. They might even say as they walk past you, “How do I get one of those?” and you might reply with a grin, “You have to make them!”
  • Or, a wise old woman might hypothetically happen upon you in the soup aisle at the grocery store when your beautiful, perfect baby is crying uncontrollably. She stops and says, “Let me try something” and holds her hands out and you just hand her your baby because, well, it seemed like the thing to do. She holds the baby up and rubs her butt and … nothing happens. “That’s worked on every other baby I’ve ever tried,” she says, before giving her back and moving on. You’re left shaking your head, your other kids are wondering what just happened and you have to explain to your wife that you handed your baby to a complete stranger. Hypothetically, that is.
  • We were surrounded by unexpected death this Fall Break. In about a week’s time, the following people in our little corner of the world unexpectedly stepped into eternity:- Our friend, a 36-year old wife and mother of six, went to bed one night and didn’t wake up.

    – The 57-year old doctor who delivered all four of our biological kids and helped us through miscarriages and health challenges died of a heart attack.
    – A 26-year old wife and mom who had been battling cancer since my wife and I taught her in middle school 15 years ago finally slipped away.
    – Our trash didn’t get picked up on its normal day during Fall Break. Then we found out one of the workers, a 20-something dad, was hit and killed by another truck as he worked his route in the pre-dawn hours.

    This is loss. This is death that is sudden and violent and shocking. This is a bad dream that somehow doesn’t end. This is heart-rending. To leave kids without a mom? To head to work like any other day and not come home? To leave hundreds of patients without the reassuring presence they desperately need at such a vulnerable time in their lives? The holes left behind are huge and empty and unfillable.

    And yet, in the grief, there is a peace that truly passes understanding. There is unexpected grace. Most of all, there is a longing for the day when all things will be made new, when our world is redeemed, when death is defeated and Jesus reigns.

    We are reminded that nothing in this life is guaranteed. Nothing can give you security. When it’s all stripped away, the only thing that’s left is Christ. Put your hope and trust in him – nothing else matters.

    Events like this can bring about conversations with your children about eternity and salvation and life and death; they are disturbing illustrations of truth that bring them one step closer to the kingdom. Don’t waste what our friends gave you in their deaths, kids. Don’t wait. Turn now.

  • For the past couple of years, we have gone to the beach for Fall Break. This year we stayed home and treated the kids to fun activities around town we don’t normally get to do. We were together and happy, and even the days that featured a little too much togetherness were the perfect antidote to death. These ordinary days as a family – every moment, every laugh, every meal – meant so much more against a backdrop of darkness, and we were grateful for each of them.


You get to experience several mountaintop days in your life. The day you get married, the days your kids are born, when you move into your first house, when you get that big promotion, finally go on that long-awaited adventure or complete a goal years in the making. Those days are fantastic, and we should celebrate every one.

But you know what most of life is? It’s the hike through the valleys between those mountaintops. Not that all of life is depressing – far from it. But it ain’t always exciting. In fact, most of it is downright ordinary.

The eye doctor appointment for one kid the day after the asthma doctor appointment (that you forgot about) for another kid. The third trip to the grocery store – in one day. The baby who just will. not. go. to. sleep. Sweeping the floor for the 17th time today. Laundry without end. Sweeping the floor again. Getting the oil changed. Calling about that bill. Cooking dinner after you finally figure out what you’re having. Going to church.

We do much of the same thing over and over, and we get tired. So tired. But those moments are what make us. It’s not the mountaintops – it’s the getting there. I don’t want to be the guy who only shows up on the great days. I want to be the guy who’s there every day, even when it’s dark and rainy and all you can think about is burying your head under the covers. Even when the sink is clogged and you know it’s going to be all kinds of nasty in the drainpipe, but you gotta clean it anyway because the water backs up when the kids brush their teeth. Even when you get interrupted every three seconds when you’re trying to talk to your spouse. Even when you’re not sure how the money’s going to stretch as far as it needs to go. Even when you just told your kid for the third time in the last five minutes to change his attitude and he’s not getting it and you’re frustrated, but you know you have to dig deeper. These are the moments when your character shows. 

A few weeks ago, I attended a workshop by the Ritz-Carlton on how to provide excellent and memorable customer service. The company is legendary for how they treat their guests. You know what they tell you their secret is? They consistently do the ordinary, extraordinarily well. The infernal wake-up call is a great example. At most hotels, you get an automated call at the appointed hour. Not at the Ritz. You get a real, live person calling you cheerfully, asking if they can bring you coffee or a paper or whatever you need. They even offer to call back in 15 minutes – a human snooze button!

You know what that is? Doing the ordinary extraordinarily well.

You get a few mountaintop days in your life – it’s not hard to find joy there. Finding joy in the mundane, however, is much harder. But it’s worth it. Do the little things well, and you’ll have a deep, abiding joy. In the midst of the busyness and fatigue and overwhelm, keep your head. Show up. Be there. Do the next right thing. That’s what God calls us to do – and what he gives us grace to do. Take your ordinary day, and be consistently extraordinary.

I cannot give an answer

As many times as I’ve sung “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us,” I had a new thought as we sang it recently at church. We got to the line that says, “Why should I gain from his reward? / I cannot give an answer” and here’s what struck me:

There are people in this world who must have an answer for everything. If there’s not a rational explanation for something, they refuse to believe in it or think it is acceptable. Their own intellect is their highest authority.

As Christians, we subscribe to a coherent system of beliefs. Yes, we think there is evidence to support our beliefs, but at the foundational level, we have faith in things unseen.

That’s actually the case for any belief system, even a system of no beliefs. If you’re a Christian, you believe in God. If you’re an atheist, you believe there is no God. You believe either way – your belief just focuses on different objects.

Some discount Christianity because they don’t understand how a good God could allow bad things to happen. They think there is no possible answer to the questions of why children die or why cancer strikes or why terrible car accidents occur. I don’t claim to have solutions for those difficult problems except to say that bigger purposes exist that we can possibly understand. I’m 40. God is eternal. He has a better perspective than I do.

I really can’t give an answer for why God would sacrifice his only Son to save me, his sworn enemy. It makes no sense. It’s not conceivable by any human framework. But that’s the thing – it’s not my framework. It’s God’s, and it’s infinitely better than anything I could conceive.

I am fascinated by how things work. I just finished reading about how the Wright Brothers discovered the secret of flight, and now I’m reading about the founding of Twitter. I love knowing the process Wilbur and Orville went through to build their planes. I’m riveted by the personalities of the guys who started Twitter and how they were their own worst enemies despite their fantastic invention. I want to explain to my kids how everything around them works.

But despite that interest, I am also okay knowing there are things I don’t know. On days when the world seems to turn upside down, we hurt and we cry, but in the end, we trust a God who laid the foundations of that world. I’m glad he’s deeper and more mysterious than I can ever figure out. Otherwise, what’s the point of believing in him?

Without that, we should all quit right now. But if there’s something bigger and better that we can be part of? Well, that’s a reason to get up every day.

I cannot give an answer why God sent his Son on a rescue mission, other than his deep love for us and his own good pleasure. I can’t explain it, but I can rejoice in it. Join me.