Just Keep Showing Up, Young Dads

fatherDuring my second year of teaching at that remote rural high school I’ve spoken of, one of the school’s premiere couples broke up.

They’d produced a son by then. His mother carried him in her eighth grade. As a toddler, he liked to crawl around on my classroom floor (it was that kind of school) and tear his mom’s algebra homework riiight down the middle, with an evil grin directed right at me. Pretty cute.

Then his father changed girlfriends. He broke the news to her halfway through the school day. The sight of her face coming down the hallway will stay etched in my memory.

I lost track of them once I left the school; I don’t know whether this young man stayed in his son’s life. I’d like to think he did. He certainly seemed to adore his little boy whenever I saw them together.

The story played out again at a job a couple years ago (this film’s been remade more than Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and like most remakes, it never gets better). This teenage couple had a baby girl early on, and the dad always seemed to have one foot outside the relationship. Recently I learned the mom is single. I’d like to think the dad is still playing a role (I didn’t know this one at all), but I don’t know.

I’m happy for the successful families celebrating Father’s Day. But for me, when the holiday comes, it’s these little ones I think about.

Like many singles, I used to think I’d be a natural at the family thing. I’m a Christian, I’m a nice guy, I don’t waste my money…put me in the game, Coach, I’m ready!

Time has cautioned me. Time, and seeing my friends have kids, and the extraordinary slate of unremitting work it takes to raise children. Your attention span is forfeit. Your schedule is carved in stone. Your gross-out reflex…well, it’ll just learn to deal. And suddenly, the future is ominous. It’s not just you on the line as you pivot and adapt. Now there’s a little one dependent on everything you do.

And that’s for older dads.

For a father in his teens, who’s barely figuring out the world to begin with, who has no idea where to start…wow. I can’t imagine.

So I’m rooting for young dads today.

And I’d humbly say, just keep showing up.

If you don’t know jack about being a dad, just keep showing up.

There isn’t some shining manual resting on a mystical perch somewhere, emblazoned with all the ancient fatherhood wisdom, that you haven’t read. Truth is, even older dads are freaked out by the responsibility. They don’t know what they’re doing, either.

But they’re showing up.

When the medical bills pile on, keep showing up.

When the fights with the baby’s mom wear you out, keep showing up.

When you buy all the wrong crib materials and want to punch your steering wheel, keep showing up.

When you see those other guys killing the dad-craft on social media, keep showing up.

When the wisdom eludes you and the energy leaves you and the future seems set against you, keep showing up.

Everything else will come. Eventually the fog will clear, you’ll look down at your own two feet and realize, you’re still running. You’re still in the fight.

As I think of all the little tykes in the world giggling and looking around for their dads, I’m rooting for them. To keep showing up – as God does for us.

Yes, You Learned Math You’ll Never Use After High School. Here’s Why.

mathI see it all the time – some character on the internet asking why they were taught (fill in the blank algebra) they never used after high school instead of (fill in the blank practical math like budgeting or taxes or mortgage math).

Having served in the teaching profession, this question is really mine to answer. I now oblige.

Beyond the fact that many schools do offer alternative courses in such math (I’ve taught them)…

…or the fact that practical math is far easier for someone to self-teach, so we reserve algebra for professionals…

…or lines like “it’s about problem-solving” or “we could use more trade schools” or “because federal agencies are dictating our content #lessgovernment #murica”…

…the answer is simple.

You learned math you’ll never use after high school – because your teachers believe in you.

You’re welcome.

Contrary to popular opinion, teachers have no crystal ball revealing exactly what each student will grow up to be. We have no way of knowing a future environmental researcher or mechanical engineer from a future office receptionist or restaurant manager.

And since we don’t know, teachers labor to equip students for as many choices as possible. Perhaps for when that space exploration video smacks your eyeballs in junior year and launches your imagination into overdrive, or when you read about that ecological crisis brewing in the Solomons and suddenly feel driven to find solutions. Darned if teachers are about to bar you from those possibilities by not teaching the basics.

Students might think we should know. “Can’t you see the loser I am? Can’t you see I have no capacity for that great stuff?”

No. We don’t. That’s not our job. Teachers believe in every human that sits before them – even when they don’t believe in themselves. How can they do their jobs with any passion otherwise? We will not count you out, even when you count yourself out.

Even if you do become a stay-at-home mom, had you chosen a path of research at Cal Tech, you at least had the option. That is not a waste of your time. For you were not a waste of their time. You may not have understood the lesson then, but it gives you limitless options later. 

You could say much the same of God – except he knows exactly where you’ll end up.

Perhaps you’re currently wondering, when on earth am I going to need these heartbreaking lessons I’m learning? Perhaps your current circumstances are stretching you to the breaking point, beyond what you thought you could bear. The fear and depression don’t lift. Money stays suffocatingly tight. The loneliness bears down like a fog. Month in and month out, year in and year out, no matter how many “things are about to change!” sermons you hear, nothing ever does.

Know that it is not in vain. Nothing on God’s blackboard smartboard is ever wasted. 

Imagine being admitted to a NASA engineering internship only to find out you haven’t the slightest math skills. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

God is averting you from that fate. He loves you fiercely and is arranging the strength and knowledge, professionally taught, that you will need for your destiny. When it arrives, you will be ready.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you find this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

No More Apologizing for the Faith

miracleSomething stunning has happened at our church.

The story has been rising towards climax for months as our congregation wearied itself in prayer. This month, it was finally confirmed.

Until I’m given blessing to share more, I’ll limit the facts to two: it is unquestionably miraculous, and many have come to a powerful, swiftly mature faith in Jesus Christ through it – such that our firmly grounded Baptist pastor has compared it to “something out of the book of Acts”.

Sorry to be a tease.

But one thing on which I can confidently speak is what this miracle has done in my life: thrown into a sharp relief a wall in my heart. One built of a composite of materials, one that I let block me every time I consider sharing my faith in Christ. A wall of apologizing.

Apologizing for bad churches.

Apologizing for cosmically tough questions.

Apologizing for the idea of sin.

Apologizing for the ugliness of certain corners of my political party.

Apologizing for the cliches we throw around.

Apologizing for difficult doctrines that require great objectivity and surrender to consider.

Apologizing for others’ suffering and unanswered prayer.

Apologizing for the way God hasn’t made himself as evident as he could.

Apologizing for my flaws, which I fear disqualify me.

Apologizing, apologizing.

And so rarely sharing.

I do believe God is patient and has answers for these things – or comfort when answers cannot come.

But if I allow these considerations to suppress my witness of the very Jesus who claims victory over these things, to leave me walking on others’ eggshells, then something is off.

I’m afraid of what others will think.

It’s no more complicated than that. I fear reprisal. The loss of friends. The assault of a world that won’t abide the Gospel’s aroma. That unspoken instinct is really what’s at the bottom.

So I tiptoe. I trade in a mincing, eggshell-treading testimony that’s trying to placate rather than confidently proclaim.

There’s nothing like a miracle to jolt your faith. Jesus has taken a running start, lowered his head, and smashed through my hesitation like the Hulk through a twenty-foot clay bulkhead. Where is your boldness? he’s asking. In light of this incredible happening, why do you hesitate?

To those who do not yet know Jesus, bring your doubts and questions and worst mistakes if you must, but Jesus is real. He moves. He delivers. There is no difficulty to which he cannot respond with power, wisdom, and comfort. There is no sin you can mention that he is not willing to forgive.

So…you will be hearing from me. I’m now further than ever in my life from being able to keep silent. Even if I never get to share more about this particular miracle, I have others to tell of. He is real.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

Why Churches Should Have Graveyards Again

cemetery

Russell Moore wrote this blog post for me. I could never in an eternity have put it better. (Hope you don’t mind a post in the form of a tweetstorm.)

Snow and Suffering Can Melt Fast

evergreen-1802157_1280The last two winters have been brutal.

More specifically, this last one was mild and forgetful of its job right up until February and then got brutal to catch up (reminds me of the Seahawks offense). Constant negative temperatures, almost daily blizzards. Considering my fifteen-mile daily commute, this was immensely tiresome. I’d say something melodramatic like “I nearly died three times a week in this weather”, except frankly we Montanans are so used to roadside near-death experiences that they’re routine now.

But I was amazed by this: weather can change awful fast.

Theoretically, fall and spring are transitional seasons. That’s not really how it works here. It’s summer, summer, summer, then BOOM maybe a week or two of something in between before the snow comes. It’s winter, winter, winter, then BOOM it’s pretty warm and the flowers start blooming.

All of a sudden, this week, the brutal cold just evaporated. The sun was suddenly shining, the average temperature jumped by twenty degrees, and not even the highest heaps of snow in parking lots are withstanding the healing radiation. It is melting swiftly, and soon the world will look as if winter never happened.

God can do this, too – with suffering.

Jesus heals people whose winter of discontent has lasted over a decade. It just comes out of nowhere. Long after they’ve exhausted every avenue and come to the end of themselves, these people find Jesus on their doorstep and dive for the hem of his robe. BOOM. No gradual change, just…sudden wholeness.

In Acts 3, Peter heals a man crippled from birth. The man had never even known how to walk, yet there he is after his encounter with Peter, leaping and praising God like he’d never missed a day of ambulation.

How surreal, how stunning such sudden transformation must have been!

God does not always bring such whiplash-inducing changes into our lives, but these stories serve to teach us that sometimes he does. And it needn’t be instantaneous to bring whiplash. Change that comes in weeks or months can be just as dizzying, just as joyful. As some say, “once God does move, he hits the throttle.”

God makes up for suffering. These people had remarkable faith to remember it, to dive for Jesus’ robe even after years of disappointment. May their example teach us.

The Problem With Both “He Will” And He “Won’t”

800px-Cloudy_sky_1_(Unsplash)I’ve had my share of unanswered prayers.

Let me rephrase. No prayer goes unanswered; there are answers we like, answers we don’t, and answers we’re still awaiting. It’s better to say, I’ve had my share of answers I’ve disliked.

Some I still dislike. We must carry some bitter answers for years before we glimpse the Romans 8:28 in them.

Fortunately, this didn’t drive me away from God, just turned me into a bookworm. I read much fine academia on why God doesn’t grant every prayer. I also absorbed my share of theological self-righteousness, because some of those writings are so steeped in nastiness towards spiritual error that their authors probably aren’t much closer to God than those they criticize. (As the man said in Ratatouille, negative criticism is fun to write.)

I emerged from that leg of my race with a solid theology of suffering and an expectation of nothing from God.

Especially when it comes to faith.

I know why God doesn’t grant every prayer, even if prayed in faith. It comes down to what he wants to do in a situation. He’s more qualified and better positioned to pick the best path for us. He is also running 7,399,999,999 other plans that have nothing to do with us (!).

But I can get too far into this.

If we’re bad at knowing what’s good, and if (to be honest) denial and disappointment have such spiritual value, why would he ever grant a prayer? Why bother asking for anything at all?

Veteran followers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ve won prestigious awards from the International Overthinking Society, but this really is where my thoughts ended up. I’d approach every prayer with skepticism – without exception. I wasn’t making myself expect a “no”; it was just my gravitational pull.

To explicitly say “God never grants prayers” would have been ridiculous to my own ears. But, well, sometimes the lies we’re believing aren’t evident, showing up only at crunch time.

I knew something was off. But in my overly literal mind, surrender was the only honesty I knew.

So I felt stuck between two paradigms.

Between “he will, just have faith!” and “he won’t, grow up”.

Then I arrived at a revelation for which I can only credit the Holy Spirit.

Neither paradigm requires relationship with God.

You can go through your entire life “believing in faith” for any impermanent, worthless thing you desire, and never hear a word from God. Some do.

You can go through your life praying for very little, beating your desires down harshly, justifying it all with theology – and never hear a word from God. Some do.

But engaging him – seeking his will, listening for answers, accepting both possibilities, trusting that sometimes it glorifies God to fulfill a desire, sometimes to supply something better – is what requires relationship. 

So God makes that kind of prayer the most effective. It’s a brilliant setup. Otherwise we’d content ourselves with one of the two paradigms and walk away without relationship.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

Not doubt…what?

Generously.”

Not doubt his character.

That’s the application of faith that can be trusted. No matter the answer, we can trust his character and must not doubt it.

 

 

The Student Who Disappeared

6840_NRCS_projects.jpgShe was the first student to ask me a math question.

I was being introduced briefly to my first classroom, in a remote reservation school. The semester was already underway, but I wouldn’t begin teaching until the following Monday (for reasons). But she asked if she could raise a quick math question while I was there.

I jokingly said “no”. She grinned and asked anyway.

Her name was Ashley, and we spent most of her sophomore and junior years tugging against each other’s wills like a pair of mules. She wore her heart on her sleeve. Neither her past nor her present were easy, and it’s tough as a teenager to hide the storms inside, so she was often decidedly outside a math mood when she walked into my class. Kneeling down by her desk and willing her through assignments was a common thing (though she was fully capable).

I’d do it all over again. Because with a few students, no matter how stubborn the will, you still have a grin for each other at the end of the day. She was one of them for me.

During my final year at that school, Ashley transferred away. I saw her only a couple of times that year when she’d come back for a visit. Unexpectedly, I saw her again years later, two hours’ distance away, when I delivered pizza to the hotel at which she and some family were staying. She recognized my voice and came running – a delightful little reunion.

Then, some time later, I heard she had disappeared.

She’d been at a party in her hometown and then – didn’t come home. Scarce leads, no immediately apparent motive.

It was then that I learned how much less attention missing persons cases tend to receive on reservations than off, especially with younger women. In an environment where local law enforcement is stretched to the limit and evidence was mishandled, Ashley slipped through the cracks. Her family even ended up testifying before Congress on how difficult it can be to marshal up effective resources to help these cases.

A year and a half later, Ashley is still missing.

This sort of thing wrenches my heart out. There isn’t a single former student whose future I don’t wonder over and worry about, so when it’s something like a disappearance…well. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since, hoping against hope even after all this time.

I wonder if you might say a prayer for Ashley today, and for her family. Though I lack the pay grade to explain why God allows these things to happen, I know he is powerful and loaded with resources. These is nothing he cannot do, and nobody he cannot find.