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The Dining Room Table

We have a kitchen table with a built-in leaf that allows the table to expand and contract. As a family of four we really only need the table to be on its smallest size. But because we regularly have folks over for meals, we keep it at its largest size to accommodate as many people as possible.

            We had to do some work on the kitchen floor this week, which required us to move the table. To make things easy, we reduced the table to its smallest size. When the kitchen repair work was complete we moved everything back to its original place. I was about to elongate the kitchen table when I realized that we won’t be having anyone over. I stood there staring at the table thinking of all the friends and family who have sat around it. The meals we’ve served and the stories that have been told. The messes that have been made and the laughter that has filled the kitchen and spilled out into the entire house.

As I looked at the little round table, it seemed so strange. So small. Sure, there’s a lot more space now to maneuver in the kitchen, but I would trade the inconvenience in a heartbeat to have friends back around the table. To shake hands, hug, share life shoulder to shoulder.

The increased space in the kitchen feels symbolic of the increased space that we are facing as a country. Social distance, physical distance, and separation creep into our ordinary conversations. Wide spaces that can make our homes and routines and lives feel lacking and empty.

In the days ahead, whenever I sit down at the kitchen table to eat I’m going to be intentional about praying for one of the families that has sat around the table with us. When you notice the spaces where things and people are missing because of the current pandemic, I invite you this week to take time to pray. Pray for the people who come to mind. Friends who you regularly see at your gym or yoga class, your colleagues from work, church family…

The time is coming when we will one day sit around tables together. In the meantime may we fill the empty seats and spaces with prayers for those we love. May we continue to live with hope and gratitude.

A Grieving Generation

I am blessed to work as a chaplain at a Christian international school in Nairobi, Kenya. This past week during our weekly chapel I invited students to enter into the tension of grief and gratitude. As a community of middle school and high school students we held a stone in one hand to symbolize the heavy things that we are carrying. In the other hand students held a piece of candy as a reminder of the sweetness and goodness of God. 

We felt the weight of the stone and tasted the sweetness of the candy, experiencing in our bodies the tension of these realities. After a time of worship, students were invited to take part in a variety of stations. At one station there were hundreds of sticky notes where student could name their grief from the past 18 months of Covid and then put them up on the wall. By the end of our time together the wall was plastered with notes. 

As I read the sticky notes, tears sprang to my eyes. I was overwhelmed by the grief on display. There was a rawness to them, brutally honest words scribbled by the hands of hundreds of hurting students. Students carrying weights and burdens beyond their years. The wall was a collective psalm of lament crying out, “where are you God? How long will you stay far away?”

As I took the sticky notes down after chapel I realized that I’d been given a glimpse into the inner lives of my students. Each note was sacred, a fragment of a greater story. A story that God yearns to redeem. As someone actively working with teenagers I do a lot of reading about Gen Z, and most of what I read is unflattering at best. There are plenty of labels that have been slapped on these young lives. So let me add one more label. This is a grieving generation. They are growing up and coming of age in a world on fire. Over the past 18 months they have been separated from friends and lost loved ones to Covid. They have seen parents lose jobs, had vacations and graduations, sports seasons and theatre productions cancelled. They have watched wealthy nations hoard vaccines while poor nations go without. They have internalized the pain and confusion of a world on fire. Their grief runs deep. These same kids who post crazy videos on Tiktok and instagram are silently struggling and suffering. Where do they go with their grief? Where do they find hope as even now a new variant of Covid is beginning to spread around the globe?

Today is the first day of Advent. This season of waiting, watching, looking for the coming Messiah. The one who will save us. As I write, my family’s first Advent candle sits lit on the coffee table in front of me; the candle of hope. A flickering flame burning in the darkness. Hope feels fragile against the darkness and grief of the world.  It feels small in light of all the weighty words written and shared by my students. Hope feels small this evening as countries once again shut their borders, and the stock markets tumble and more loss looms. There will be more sticky notes to post. Stories of sadness to be told, and I confess that I too wait and cry out, “Where are you God?”

But then I remember the story. The story of Emmanuel. Hope made flesh. A tiny candle glowing in the darkness. Tonight, when the darkness looms and laps about my heart I choose to hold on to hope. To place my hope in Emmanuel. Would you join me in holding on to hope? Would you pray for those who have lost it? Would you pray for this grieving generation. May the hope of Emmanuel fill their hearts. 


To the Moon and Back Again

“Do you want to dress up all fancy for the play?” 

Lydia nodded her head and jumped up and down. “Yes, Daddy!”

It was the Friday night showing of the high school play, Sense and Sensibility. When Sam found out that there would be romance in the play he immediately opted for a sleepover at a friend’s house. So it was just me, Lydia and Ali, all dressed to the nines. I had my fancy suit on, Ali had a lovely black dress looking like a supermodel and then Lydia rolled out. She had on her sparkliest dress with blue stockings, white strappy sandals, pink sunglasses and her little Vera Bradley purse filled with all manner of eclectic items she might need. Her hair was done up in two giant pig tails, flapping all about. While waiting for Mommy to put the finishing touches on her makeup, Lydia decided she was hungry. She snatched an apple and started chomping away looking like some sort of character out of a cartoon movie. 

Lydia was practically bouncing up and down with excitement, little bits of apple spewing out of her mouth as she chattered away unable to contain her anticipation. We were going to see a real show! When we arrived at the auditorium we were greeted with live music and a real red carpet. Lydia did a twirl and then dragged me inside before I could start, as she calls it, “chit chatting.” She wanted to find our seats so we’d be ready. 

The play began, and she was completely immersed, bouncing back and forth between her seat and Mommy’s lap, but by the end of the first act she was losing steam. A cinnamon roll at intermission briefly picked up her spirits, but it was way past her bedtime. Then came the sugar crash, and when it became clear that she wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep on Mommy. It was time for our exit. The lights went dim, and we made a break for it. By the time we got to the back of the auditorium her little legs were moving in slow motion, so I picked her up. She grinned.

Outside, Lydia glittered in the soft light of the full moon shining overhead. She rested her head on my shoulder whispering into my ear about her favorite parts of the show. Her eyes were getting droopy. 

“I love you to the moon and back again,” I whispered. 

“I know.” She smiled.

We walked in silence across the soccer field towards home, and stared up at the brilliant moon illuminating our path. My arms were exhausted, but there was no way I was going to put down this little pigtailed darling. The day is going to come when she’ll be able to sit through an entire show and won’t need me to carry her home; when she won’t want to dress up and coordinate our outfits. So I treasured the moment. I took a picture in my mind of the moonlight and her little body nestled into my chest. 

There are so many days where parenting is exhausting and difficult, and I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. In the midst of the hubbub of doing life I often forget to appreciate the gift of parenthood. I’m just trying to make sure everybody is fed and relatively clean. Homework and piano practice are a bonus. Then moments like last night filled with unexpected beauty and joy happen. Sparkly dresses, lingering in the moonlight, and joy breaking forth. I’m reminded of the gift I’ve been given to be a dad, and I am grateful.

“I love you to the moon and back again, Lydia. I always will. Just don’t grow up too fast.”


Reflections from being unemployed

About nine months ago I stepped down from my position as a pastor at a wonderful small church because our family was headed for Kenya, or so we thought. The world turned upside down due to Covid, and our Kenya plans fell through. Thankfully, Ali found a job teaching music locally, but for the first time as an adult I found myself unemployed.

The past nine months have been the longest that I have gone without steady work since I was in high school, and without work I have been given the unexpected gift of having time and space to reflect. This was certainly not a gift I wanted, but in God’s grace I believe it was a gift that I needed. I would like to share the most significant thing I have learned about myself during this season in hopes that it will be helpful for you as well. So here goes.

Somewhere in my childhood I picked up on the message that I should live my life in such a way that when I died I would hear God say to me, “well done my good and faithful servant.” The desire to hear those words and to please God was burned into my psyche, and they drove me to incessantly need to be doing something productive. There was always more to be done if I wanted to get the eternal divine “attaboy” someday.

This drive became so strong that at one point in high school my parents sat me down because they were concerned I was doing too much. I promptly informed them that the Holy Spirit had told me to do each and every one of the things I was involved in, to which they had no reply. I got up and kept right on doing, and I didn’t stop until nine months ago when I suddenly and unexpectedly found myself out of work.

When it sunk in that I didn’t have a job to go to, I kind of panicked. At first, I told myself I was panicking because we needed money and health insurance, but that was only part of the truth. When I was finally able to be honest with myself, which took a while, I realized I was panicked because without having what I deemed to be “important” things to do, I felt completely lost. I felt guilty. I felt like I was wasting my life. Like I was going to miss out on hearing those words which I had spent so many years striving for.

What I didn’t realize in my panic was that God was inviting me into an intentional season of sitting with my uncomfortableness of not-doing. And after nine long months, this week I had somewhat of an epiphany moment. It struck me that I have been longing to hear God say the wrong thing. I have been yearning to hear God validate a single part of my existence, the things that I do. But the things that I do are not a complete or accurate reflection of who I am as a person, although I often fall into the trap of letting my work define my personhood.

As I sat silently in a small chapel waiting for my daughter to get done with preschool so I could take her home and make her lunch and tidy the house and play make believe games and do silly crafts all afternoon something dawned on me. What I want to hear from God someday is not “well DONE my good and faithful servant,” but rather “well LIVED my beloved son.”

I am slowly coming to understand that God cares about the fullness of my being. I am more than what I DO and what I accomplish. I sense an invitation by the Holy Spirit to think less one-dimensionally about what matters to God and by extension what should matter to us as followers of Jesus.

I found myself wondering this week if the Church’s emphasis on the tangible, physical growth of the Kingdom of God is a reflection of our spiritual blindness to the hidden and mysterious nature of God’s Kingdom. I wonder about the ways that we are blind to the unquantifiable importance of stillness, peace, attentive listening, beauty and rest. I wonder if our emphasis on God’s words, “well done my good and faithful servant,” is a way of justifying our Western obsession with being busy and our need for validation and achievement.

At Jesus’ baptism, before his ministry had even begun, God declared “This is my Son whom I love, and with him I am well pleased.” Before Jesus does anything, God affirms His love for him. God’s love is not based on what Jesus has done, is doing, or will one day do. When God’s voice thunders from the Heavens, He has nothing to say about doing. Instead he says, “this is my beloved son.” What matters is relationship not resume. Relationship, the very thing that often gets put aside because we are so busy doing and building and working to build our eternal resume.

So friends, if you too have grown up longing to hear God say, “well done my good and faithful servant,” I challenge you to stop and think and reflect. Maybe there’s more to the story. Maybe there’s more to God. Maybe there’s more to you. Maybe there’s more to living than building our resume. Maybe there’s space in the life abundant for relationship and rest and reflection and a for whole life well lived.


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Market Mayhem


On Friday my wife and I went on a lovely date, our first here in Kenya, and after eating dinner we made our way to a small market selling local souvenirs. Before we even reached the market, the vendors spotted us walking across the parking lot. It was nearly closing time, and they were hungry for a final sale before packing up shop for the night.

In an instant we were swarmed. “Come see this,” “Look here,” “I give you good price,” “Come this way…”  Desperate hands pulled us through the rows of magnificently handcrafted wooden masks, stone carvings and brightly beaded jewelry. There was so much to see I couldn’t take it all in at once.

Over and over I said, “We are just looking and will come back another time to buy,” but they weren’t buying it. They persisted, trying every trick in the book to make a sale. When Ali and I finally emerged from the chaos, it took us a minute to get our bearings. It felt like we’d been tossed around by a giant ocean wave and thrown onto the shore struggling to breathe.

As we walked away I was really sad that we were not able to truly appreciate and experience the beauty of the items laid out before us in the market because of the aggressiveness of the sellers and the frenzied environment. We swept by stands filled with fascinating items that I really wanted to look at and ask questions about, but in the end we were not able to enjoy anything the market had to offer. We exited with empty hands and weary hearts.

I can’t help but think there is a strong parallel between the Maasai market we visited and the larger world we are living in. Daily we find ourselves amidst God’s magnificent creations, but we do not take time to notice. People, marvelously crafted in God’s image, pass us by, vast skies hover over us and the sound of songbirds fill the air. The spark of our creative God is made manifest all around us, but we are too overwhelmed to notice. We are overwhelmed by a world that is constantly tugging at us, shouting, trying to sell us things, pulling us this way and that. There is no time to tarry. No time to ask questions. No time to stop and admire the beauty and creativity around us.

I came across a great quote this week that said, “Life now requires tenacious mindfulness and discipline to match our choices with our values.” I love this notion of tenacious mindfulness. In world that would rather us live in constant chaos in the pursuit of more stuff and more schooling and more this and more that, it is not enough to simply say, “I don’t want to be a part of that kind of lifestyle.” It is too easy to get sucked in. Too easy to lose sight of our core values that differ from those being impressed upon us at every corner on every sign and pop up ad.

So friends, I invite you this day to take hold of and live with tenacious mindfulness. To be aware of yourself and your surroundings and the deepest yearnings of your heart that cannot be filled by consumerism. I encourage you to find a moment and come up for air and breathe and be at peace in the presence of your Creator. I invite you to not get sucked into the market and and miss the beauty of what God has for you. I encourage you to evaluate if your current lifestyle matches your core values or if you are living in a state of tension that makes peace and contentment evasive fantasies.

May we be a people of tenacious mindfulness rather than a people of constant mayhem. I know that in my own life I have much to learn about mindfulness.

The questions of Advent

I’ve been packing up our house over the past couple of weeks. Endless boxes of books (seriously, I need to get rid of some theology books), paintings coming down off the walls, trash bags of clothes, heirlooms and artifacts carefully wrapped then disappearing into plastic tubs. Our home slowly becoming more and more sparse, barren, like the day we first moved in. Like a light slowly dimming. Soon all that will be left are memories as we lock the yellow front door for the final time and drive away.

In the midst of all the sorting and taping and labeling with my faithful sharpie, I have found myself wondering what it was like for Mary and Joseph as they prepared to head to Bethlehem all those years ago. How long did they have to pack up their home? Did they even have a home? Did they agonize over what to bring and what to leave behind? Were they lucky enough to have family who were willing to watch their things while they were away, or had the scandal of Mary’s pregnancy caused too big a rift for such a kindness?  Were they planning to be gone for a week, a month, a year? How much stuff could Joseph fit on the donkey alongside pregnant Mary? What travel snacks did they bring?

As the days before their departure dwindled, was their enough time to say their good byes, or were their old friends painfully absent, afraid to be connected with the scandalous couple? Did they have any inkling of just how much their lives were about to change as they embarked on this new journey?

How did Mary and Joseph handle the stress of packing up their lives at such a tenuous moment? Did their anxiety slip out in snippy comments and huffy looks (this never happens in our house…). Did Joseph find himself waking up in the middle of the night with his mind racing with a million questions and things to add to his to-do list? Was there the ever-looming dread about finances and how they could afford this unexpected trip?

I find myself carrying many questions as our family prepares for our journey to Kenya. Will we be safe? Will we like our new home? Will we make friends? Are we crazy for uprooting ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic? Will it be worth it?

Maybe this is twisted, but I have found comfort this Advent in imagining that Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem was fraught with questions. Not just the question of where they would stay, but all the other questions along the way. The questions that could not be neatly boxed up, labeled and packed away.

We find ourselves living in a year and a world filled with questions, and I’m grateful that there is space in the Christmas story for our questions. Jesus arrives in a sea of questions and unknowns with all manner of unexpected twists and turns. When he is born they don’t even know where to put him! Immanuel, God with us, is not a guarantee that we will get all the answers we want. It is a promise that for those of us who are willing to embark on the journey of faith, God is with us in the midst of our many questions.

Perhaps this year you are not journeying to Kenya. Perhaps due to Covid this is the first time in recent memory that Christmas will not involve any sort of a journey at all. No going to visit friends or families, no Christmas parties, no caroling. More staying and sitting and staring at screens that you are used to. More unanswered questions and uncertainty than normal and a harder time finding hope, and peace and joy than in Advents past.

Friends, may we be reminded that God was present in the mist of the uncertainties and the hardships of that first Christmas, and in the midst of this difficult Advent season God is with us still. So, bring your boxes of questions and fears and disappointments and place them at the foot of the manger. Immanuel is waiting.






The Stories We Carry

The Stories we carry end up carrying us. They shape us and form us like clay. I am grateful to carry many incredible stories from my childhood. Stories of seeing the world and growing up in a diverse, multi-cultural community amidst the breathtaking mountains of Papua New Guinea. These stories have formed my view of myself, the world, and my place in it.

These stories are sacred. They are the stories that have carried me through the difficult times. I go back to them when I need to find myself. Over the past few months I have been part of a diverse community of adult third culture kids (TCK’s) who grew up in Papua New Guinea. Together we have been looking at the ways in which race and privilege impacted our experiences growing up and permeated our most sacred stories and memories.

Much of the work we have been doing is intentionally looking back at our sacred, formative stories through a new lens. We have been challenged to ask new questions that we didn’t know to ask before. We have been encouraged to see things that we were blind to, and we have been forced to reckon with the painful truth that there is more to our sacred stories than we ever imagined. There are layers and complexities that many of us were woefully unaware of, or turned a blind eye to. There are ways in which our sacred stories and beautiful memories came at the expense of others, leaving them with scars inside and out.

This work of reflection is soul-wearying. I can only imagine the toll on those who lived out the injustices I am just now learning about and coming to reckon with. It has been heart-breaking to hear the stories of others who grew up in the same space I did, but experienced a very different reality than the rosy one I grew up with. As stories have been shared and voices have emerged to speak that have long been silenced and marginalized, I have been forced to question and re-evaluate my own stories. Under closer scrutiny I have found that the sacred stories I carry are cracked and incomplete. There are pages and chapters missing that tell a much bigger much more challenging narrative.

I find myself, along with others, asking new and challenging questions. How do I affirm the good of my childhood while also acknowledging the bad? How do I truthfully reshape my stories and resculpt the world I knew? Now that I see with new eyes and know in new ways, what am I called to do?

In the midst of asking these questions about growing up overseas in public forums there has been some backlash. People have demanded that we stop meddling, stop ruining their pristine childhoods, stop questioning their sacred stories. Some current missionaries have reached out saying we should stop focusing on the bad and just focus on the good. We should stop asking these types of questions and be grateful for the opportunity that we were given, but their words and demands ring hollow: fake, afraid, dishonest.

It is precisely this type of thinking that is so damaging, this need to label something as all good or all bad. This isn’t Disney. Real life just isn’t that simple or neat. Life is messy, and we as humans, despite the stories we might carry about ourselves, are a mixture of good and evil.

My hope is that we will learn to walk the middle path of celebrating the good parts of our stories while also wrestling with the ways in which our lives have and continue to cause damage to others. I pray that we, no matter where we grew up or where we live now, would look and see that no stories are so sacred that they cannot be questioned and re-evaluated. If our stories are so fragile, then perhaps they are already broken.

So friends, in the midst of the growing global awareness of the pervasive evils of racial injustice and systemic poverty, may we not turn a blind eye to the painful and difficult stories swirling around us. May we not ignorantly overlook the ways in which our sacred stories intermingle with the stories of others’ suffering and dehumanization. May we not use the privilege afforded us to focus only on that which is good and beautiful, but may we instead turn and listen and learn and grow.

May we surrender our sacred stories. May we add to them, amend them and pick up new stories to carry. I’m slowly coming to realize that my stories are too small. I need the stories of others to carry me into the future that I hope for and imagine. A future that is bigger and brighter and more beautiful than the sacred stories of my past.

And so it begins…

Lydia informed me this morning as we were driving to her preschool that she didn’t need me to walk her to her classroom. She was ready to do it by herself. This took me by surprise. This newfound confidence and independence were a far cry from last year’s version of Lydia who often did not want to let go when I gave her a goodbye hug at drop off. The little girl standing in front of me was different. She’d picked out her outfit, dressed herself, gotten her own cereal, and belted herself into her car seat.

We arrived at preschool, and I was curious to see if she’d follow through with her words. We held hands, as we always do, and walked to the outside door. Lydia stopped, let go of my hand and faced me. “Daddy, why don’t I just give you my hug now.”

“OK, Sweetie.”  She wrapped her tiny little arms around me and gave me a quick squeeze. Then we stepped into the large lobby where the check-in lady took her temperature. She was good to go. Her classroom was down the long hall and around the corner. This was the moment.

Lydia looked at me. I looked back. She didn’t move.

“Do you want me to walk with you?” I asked.

She tugged on the straps of her bright pink, sparkly backpack. “No, I’m OK.”

With that, she was off. Her tiny legs striding down the hall not once looking back. I watched her go until she rounded the corner; then I burst into tears.

OK, I didn’t burst into tears, but on the inside I did. Big, ugly dad tears. And so it begins, I thought to myself, and so it begins.

 I walked back to the car and sat there for a few silent minutes. This felt like a massive moment. It happened so unexpectedly. I wasn’t prepared, and yet as a parent this is what I’ve been preparing Lydia for. Preparing her to become her own person. Preparing her to be brave and venture out into the world and down the long halls of life and around the corners into the unknown without me.

It’s such a strange thing this whole parenting experience. I feel within myself the yearning for my kids to grow up and become independent people. I see that as part of my role as a parent. It’s my job to help launch them, but I also long to be needed and central in their lives. There are moments when I swear I cannot play one more round of Candyland or house, and I just want Lydia to go and play by herself. Today I wanted the opposite. I wanted her to need me to make it down the hall and around the corner. I wasn’t ready for her newfound level of independence.

As a parent, I wrestle with those competing forces inside me. The pull to protect and control and the desire to release and empower. The struggle is real. The fear is real. The wondering if I’m doing it right is real. Being a parent is hard work- emotionally, physically, spiritually. You name it.

So as I’m sitting here writing I have to remind myself that Lydia did something brave today. She stepped out and took a risk. Now I have to do something brave too. I have to let her keep walking and keep growing and keep blossoming because that is love.

Knotty Hair

These are the reflections of a stay-at-home dad, or soon to be mostly stay-at-home dad. Beginning this week, I have a small part-time gig lined up at a local church. One of the parts of my daily routine with Lydia is to brush her hair. Lydia has inherited her mother’s wild, curly hair. I learned early in my marriage not to call it “frizzy!”

Lydia has this little pink spray bottle and comb that sit atop her dresser, and every morning we engage in the ritual of taming her tangled locks. It can be quite the time-consuming endeavor. It’s like a miracle in reverse the way her hair manages to tie itself into knots while she sleeps each night. Every morning she wakes, and her hair needs assistance. A few squirts of water, some good chit chat, and the working of the brush through her hair to get out all the tangles.

Each day brings with it the need for more brushing. More untangling. More work and effort so that she can have beautiful hair. After the 4th day of doing this, I found myself getting annoyed. Isn’t there some way to just fix this so that her hair doesn’t keep getting tangled? (maybe there is and feel free to share) Isn’t there some simple one-time fix that will work forever so that she wakes up without knots?

As I sat impatiently brushing her hair I realized that this was a perfect metaphor for sin. I so often wish that I could just sprits my sin away with a quick prayer, read a few Bible verses and have it disappear forever. I often wish it was that easy, but the truth is that it’s not. The tangles of sin, pride, fear, the need for control, unforgiveness and racism show up each morning. The temptation to love myself and not my neighbor is a knot in my soul that doesn’t disappear once and for all. It is a daily challenge. It requires work and time and is sometimes painful. The knots in my soul are far more unruly and messy than the knots in Lydia’s hair.

As I reflected further, I recognized that Lydia needs someone to help her with her hair. There are some parts that she can brush by herself, but to get out all the knots she needs someone else. There are places that she cannot see. There are areas that she is blind too,  so there is partnership and trust required for the daily eradication of knots.

It is the same with sin. Overcoming sin is not something I can do by myself. I too have blind spots and places I can’t reach. I need the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. I need Godly friends who will pick up the brush and point out areas that I have overlooked or have been unwilling or unable to see. And it’s not enough to do this every once in a while. I need daily communion with God and others.

So, I’m choosing to make the ritual of hair brushing a sacred one. A daily reminder of my own need for help and healing and wholeness so that I might live the good and beautiful life to which God has called me. I pray that you too will find small, sacred spaces to connect with God and recognize your need for help. A knotty soul is much worse than knotty hair.

Lesson #1 of a stay-at-home dad

Yesterday marked the start of my second week being a stay-at-home dad. Something my wife did for years, and now the roles are flipped as she’s working. I can tell already that this new gig is going to teach me a lot about myself, and not necessarily all things I want to learn. It seems that school has begun for everyone now, myself included.

One of the first moments for learning and self-reflection took place in the afternoon. Lydia and I were outside playing make-believe. Per usual, she was princess Leia, I was Han Solo, and we were getting married. Lydia was busy preparing the slushies for our wedding while I got fitted for my tux. I set my phone down on the front stoop to fully embrace my role as Leia commanded me to go to the dressing room located by one of our giant oak trees.

Off I ambled, and by the time I returned decked out in my fancy invisible duds, I noticed that my phone was gone. I looked around, patted my pockets. I swear I’d put it right on the stoop. I looked at Lydia and asked if she’d seen my phone. She smiled at me, put her hands on her hips, and then declared with great sass. “No phones allowed at the wedding. They are much too distracting for adults. I put it away. You can have it back when we are done.” She punctuated this statement with an emphatic stare down.

I took a sharp inhale of breath. Was she being Lydia or was she being Leia? Was she talking to Han or was she talking to me? Perhaps she was talking to both.

I’m only a few days into this stay-at-home gig, but already I have felt the growing itch for connection to the outside world. It’s amazing how easily my phone finds its way into my hands when there is a spare second. Gotta check Facebook or Instagram or ESPN. Gotta make sure the world is still out there beyond the four walls of the house.

Sadly, the constant need for those external connections stops me from being present. So much so, that Lydia has already picked up on it. Is she not more valuable than a like on Facebook or an article on a random sports athlete? Is this time and space with her not sacred space waiting to be claimed? It doesn’t necessarily feel that way when I’m playing Han for the thousandth time chugging back another invisible gravity grape slushy.

Lesson 1 of week 1 is the importance of presence. Not just for Lydia but also for me. To regain and recapture the ability to be fully in the moment. To notice and enjoy the small but beautiful things that take place in the midst of the ordinary: playing make believe, folding clothes and packing lunches. It’s too easy and too natural for me to look to escape these moments. Escape to social media platforms and other people’s lives and other people’s stories all the while missing out on my own life and my own story and the goodness of God.

I’m going to work on putting down my phone so Lydia doesn’t have to hide it. I’m going to work on embracing this unexpected season at home that I have been given. Raise your invisible glass of slushy, and join me in a toast. “To being present.” May we each strive to be more present right where God has placed us.

Stuck in the mud

I was sitting in the back of a Gator vehicle with a couple of kids this morning at a friend’s farm. We were doing some solid off-roading down by a little creek when the driver swerved to miss the low-hanging branches of the tree in front of us. Next thing we knew, we found ourselves with the vehicle completely stuck in a muddy bog hidden by tall grass. No matter what we tried, the Gator was sunk good and deep. It wasn’t going anywhere without major assistance.

So, I ferried the kids two at a time through the swamp sinking up to my ankles in mud. My new running shoes, probably ruined now, squished and squelched as mud flicking up the back of my calves and clothes. By the time everyone was on solid ground, the muddy mire had left its mark. We trudged the rest of the way home to finish our unexpected adventure with a round of popsicles.

Driving home, my feet still soaked and toes starting to turn all wrinkly, I reflected on that moment in the mud. That moment of being stuck, of watching the wheels on the Gator spin but go nowhere. No traction, no forward movement, no getting out of the mud and getting free. As I thought about that image I realized it was a fitting image for how I’ve been feeling.

I feel like there is plenty of mud in my life. Plenty of stuff that sucks me in and holds me down stopping me from moving forward, stops me from being free- material things, old wounds, sin, and more. How often I try to push and pull myself out of the mud, but all I do is spin the tires and sink a little deeper. I rev the engine, make a lot of noise, spray mud all over the place, but inevitably I’m still stuck. Still in the same place, just a little dirtier and worse for wear.

Today, we quickly realized that there was nothing we could do to get the Gator vehicle unstuck. We realized that we needed help. Someone with a truck and a tow rope. Someone with more horsepower than we could muster. Someone who wasn’t stuck in the mud but could pull from dry ground, and help us get free.

I was reminded today that getting out of the muddy messes we so easily get ourselves into requires recognizing that we need help. We have to recognize that just trying harder might not be enough. While we might be content to spin our wheels and feel self-justified that we are trying to get free, we know deep down that we really aren’t. We’re going through the motions. Pretending, avoiding what really needs to be done.

 To get to dry ground and freedom requires humility and a willingness to confess to God and others our need for help. It requires community, connection, self-reflection. It requires reaching out and directing our energies in new healthy directions.

Most of us, if we’re honest, have some serious mud in our lives. Most of us are really good at spinning our tires and complaining about how things aren’t changing, and we can’t seem to get to dry ground and freedom. I hope this image will help you as it has helped me. It’s time to stop spinning our wheels. We were created to be free. We’ll still carry the mud spatters with us to dry ground. Our shoes may be wet and muddy for a while, but they’ll dry and clean up. We were not created for the quagmire, friends. Let’s not stay there. Let’s reach out and reach up. Together there is hope. The dry ground is calling.