Wednesday, May 12, 2010


I had to chuckle at my six-year-old son, Grady. He's wearing a black velvet mask/headpiece that's cooler than Zorro's. He has a black shirt, pants, gloves and cape. The only part of him that doesn't look like midnight is his pale, freckly cheeks, nose and chin, and his tooth-deprived grin.

"Dad," he says, "can you think of a good superhero name for me?"

"Hmmm," I respond thoughtfully. "It depends. What are your super powers?"

"Oh, I haven't decided yet," he replies casually. "I'll think about that AFTER I finish my costume and come up with a cool name."

That's modern culture. Form first, then function. Image, then impact. Perception, then purpose. Appearances, then accomplishments. Covers, then content. Many seem more concerned with the packaging than the product.

Back in the day, wasn't actually DOING something super or heroic a prerequisite for being called a superhero?

Grace Misunderstood

It was a nice hotel suite. Nicely decorated, comfortable, well-equipped, and clean...or so it appeared. But in the middle of our second night, my daughter's foot felt something under the covers. Imagine her shock when she pulled back the covers to reveal a dirty pair of men's underwear! This sweet, reserved little girl was instantly traumatized at the thought of having slept in the same dirty sheets as a strange, naked man. As time passed, her repulsion turned to anger as she considered how such a thing could have happened. Surely, everyone makes mistakes. But this was clearly no mistake, as though an employee simply forgot to clean something thoroughly. No, this bed was intentionally made with dirty sheets. Someone deliberately tried to cut a corner and get away with it. This was not a simple human error; it was a calculated decision to give the impression that dirty sheets were clean. It was not an issue of competency, but character; not a matter of inexperience, but of integrity.

As we reported the issue to the management, we tried to remain courteous and calm, of course, while expressing our deep disapproval. And to the manager's credit, she understood that the issue went far beyond cleanliness. The far greater issue was TRUST. If a hotel employee cuts corners in one room, how many other sheets went unchanged? For every man who leaves his underwear behind, there are probably thousands who don't. Were the sheets changed after each of them?

Some people seem to think that granting grace means there are no lasting effects, but I know this to be untrue. Grace does restore relationships, but not always at the previous level of trust. Grace heals wounds, but not necessarily without scars. Grace removes shame, but not responsibility. Grace allows life to flow forward once again, but often it must cut a new path. For those who think that real grace means never remembering the past, I am intrigued by the dealings of God (the epitome of the most amazing grace) with King David. He said, "Your sin I have put away". Yet, this same God actually inspired the recording of David's evil deeds for all future generations to discuss and learn from for the next 3,000 years. Is God lacking in grace because He doesn't erase His memory (or ours) of David's past? Of course not, and David's relationship with Him is fully restored. But life for David has changed forever; his family, his kingdom, and his reputation are all affected. And as a result, David himself is changed...for the better. Interestingly, this changed, refined man never accuses God of being ungracious or unforgiving. His understanding of grace has matured tremendously. The reminder of my past is not necessarily an unloving thing. On the contrary, it can provide ongoing lessons, and be a continual motivator to avoid certain patterns, watch for dangers ahead, and aspire to healthier living. In fact, the lessons of my past are the allies of my future.

The hotel expressed remorse and backed up its apology by not charging for our stay. I expressed my appreciation for the manager's professionalism in the midst of a very unpleasant and embarrassing situation. Were they repentant? Yes. Were we gracious? I definitely think so.

Will we ever forget this incident? I strongly doubt it.

Do we have a vendetta against their hotel chain? No.

Do I trust them enough to stay there again? I guess I'll know the answer to that when we visit that town again.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sudden Change in Plans

Yesterday, I was supposed to leave on vacation with Jan and six of our kids. We had been planning this vacation for a long time. The eight of us were going to visit family in Tennessee, Mammoth Cave, the Memphis Zoo, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, and the St. Louis Arch. Not only were our plans set, but we were actually packed two days before departure (a miraculous proof that this vacation must be of God, right?). But the evening before departure, a cardiologist dared to mess with my plans. So yesterday, instead of heading down the highway, I was wheeled down a hospital corridor for a heart catheterization.

My symptoms, to me, seemed mild enough -- no big deal really. But they were of enough concern to several medical professionals, my wife, and my kids to warrant postponing the family vacation. It was quite a bummer for me, so I can only imagine how it might seem to a six-year-old. But it was also a no-brainer. For me to disregard the concerns of so many about visible symptoms and proceed full-steam-ahead with the plans I’ve been so excited about for so long would be…well, foolish, short-sighted, and blatantly self-centered. Yes, it’s my decision. But my decision affects many others in a profound and lasting way. It's not just about me and my dreams.

I confess, however, that as I listened to the cardiologist and my wife urging me to cancel my plans and go with the heart cath, I felt numb. My mind raced as to how I could still make it work. Inwardly, I felt sour, sullen, mopey. This trip had been planned so carefully, and the details fell into place so perfectly. The thought flashed through my mind to thank my doctor for his well-intentioned opinion, then go out and find another who would tell me what I wanted to hear -- that I could still proceed with my plans and deal with my symptoms after my trip.

But no. Love forbade me. Why would I stubbornly and recklessly plunge ahead, ignoring the truth that others can clearly see? Why put my family's future at risk? I can always pursue my plan later if the procedure shows me to be healthy enough. And deep down inside, I know that the people who care most about me...people who care enough to sound the alarm...people who would dare to mess with my plans...are the ones I can trust the most. By listening and heeding their concerns, I can improve my chances of having a lifetime of healthier vacations down the road.

By the way, the doctor was right. They found four blockages, three of them in the main artery to my heart. One was 90% blocked. And there are some complications. I'll hear today what it means (possibly by-pass surgery). I'm glad I found out now rather than at the bottom of Mammoth Cave.

It really never hurts to slow down and listen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Whole New World

You know a baby is small when you have to fold down a "preemie" diaper. That's our newest grandbaby, 4 lb. 7 oz. Inga Jane. (She's our 3rd granddaughter in seven months.) Born in her 34th week on December 30, she's still in NICU. Our daughter Tabitha has been camping out beside Inga's incubator twelve hours a day for two weeks. Inga is eating better, gaining strength, and growing little by little. She seems content in her own little world that is roughly the size of a laundry basket. It's the only world she's ever known. But there's a much bigger world out there, and her eyes will see it soon enough.

We all sometimes forget that our tiny "worlds" are not all there is. We each live in a world made up of our circle, our business, our problems, our needs. I was reminded of that just a moment ago as I read about the earthquake in Haiti. I won't even bother to mention what I considered my "problems" yesterday.

There is also another world out there, and some have no awareness of its existence. The Bible calls it Heaven. Mainstream science has no interest in, nor means of, exploring it. To skeptics, it is merely a myth, an attempt to escape reality. And many of us who are aware of this world frequently live like we forget that it exists. But it does exist, and our eyes will see it soon enough.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pondering the Old and the New

I was puzzled by a recent cryptogram in our local newspaper. Oh, I solved it quickly enough; decoding it was a cinch. What made me ponder was its message:

"Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson: You find the present tense, but the past perfect."

Was the past better than the present? Or is the "New" more often better than the "Old"? Certainly a case can be made for both. Think of the excitement of a newborn baby; the smell of a new car; the benefits of state-of-the-art equipment; the importance of up-to-date information; the excitement of a hot new rookie; the inspiration of a fresh idea; a new release; a new perspective; a new beginning; a new ray of hope...

On the other hand, "Old" has a proven track record. The taste of an old-fashioned recipe; the comfort of an old shirt or pair of shoes; the warmth and understanding of an old friend; the value of an antique like an old coin, clock, or piece of furniture; the wisdom of an old adage; the strength of character that comes from embracing old-fashioned values.

In daily living, I am interested in finding new ways to apply old truths to new situations. For example, for Christmas we bought some DVD collections of old TV series. It was a "new" gift (certainly new to the kids, who never heard of this show or its actors) with relatively new digital technology. Our motivation? The incredible old-fashioned values they reinforce in our home. Similarly, I am using up-to-date software to create a new book with a fresh story idea which will be printed and bound by state-of-the-art equipment. But the central truth of this new book is as old as the hills. I haven't changed the time-tested principle; I just gave it a fresh voice.

Unfortunately, many foolishly abandon the old...the tried and true...and run to the newest philosophy, fad, or fashion, though it be unproven, without merit, or even downright foolish. They get "creative" in their financing, or "enlightened" in their parenting, or "open" in their relationships. These new approaches are nothing more than bad ideas that are doomed to fail and leave hurting people in their wake. So much that is called "new" is neither new, nor intellectually honest. Often, it is repackaged failure that steals from careless or ignorant people and puts money in the pockets of greedy people with no conscience. Like comdedians who rely on cheap laughs at crudity because they're too lazy to make the effort to come up with something that's both clever and clean. Like performers who rely on shock value because apparently they don't think they can compete otherwise. Like authors who make millions by concocting ludicrous drivel about the historical Jesus, unconcerned about the gullible who swallow fiction as fact.

As for me, I remain devoted to finding new ways to effectively promote old values. And in my spare time, I will get cozy with my family and a big old-fashioned bowl of popcorn and watch a black-and-white episode of "The Rifleman" as Lucas McCain plants yet another new seed of character in his son, Mark. (Or is it the Doris Day Show tonight?)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Best Birth Plan

This morning I became a Grandpa again. (That's two weddings and two new grandchildren for us in 2009.) My son Nathan and his adorable wife Jenny have waited five years for their first child. But the seeming eternity of the wait disappeared like a vapor the moment they saw their new baby girl. The past is over. The joy of now is what seems most relevant and real.

Lots of careful thought had gone into the birth plan. The location, surroundings, birth attendants, and dozens of other details were put on paper and communicated to the participants. What could not be scripted, of course, were all the unforseeable elements. In the end, very little actually ended up going according to the script. In fact, most of this drama was improvised. No one planned on over 50 hours of labor, three sleepless nights, a large team of medical personnel, and unfamiliar medical devices. The baby scrapbook had a place for a photo of "Baby's First Bath", but no place to record baby's first feeding tube. The pregnancy books showed serene pictures of happy mothers bonding with their babies, but no pictures of mothers looking at their babies through an acrylic barrier.

And yet, despite the deviation of the plan, the fact remains that our entire family is all smiles and basking in the wonder of our new addition. Little Maylin has captured our hearts already, and the "birth plan" is now irrelevant. It's history. Only the baby matters.

On eternity's stage, I've seen the same thing happen. I've had my ideas of the perfect script for how God should perform on behalf of people I care about. I pray my ideals and preferences, and often forget that God is not nearly as interested in my plans as He is in the well-being of the person. God is not a publisher of warm, fuzzy scrapbooks. God is in the people business. His work concerns life and death. And He will do whatever it takes on behalf of my loved ones...your loved see that a new life is safely delivered. I must remind myself to stop telling God how to do His job, and trust Him to do what He needs to do. He says, "My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts."

I'll go with His plan. After all, He's been delivering people since the dawn of time.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Things Look Different From the Front

A foggy mist kept me upright and alert last night. It was 2am and I was in the final hour of the 375 mile trip home from Chicago. The unlit, poorly marked two-lane road and good sense demanded that I stay safely under the 55 mph speed limit. Suddenly, a pair of headlights appeared in my rear-view mirror, and in mere seconds the vehicle was impatiently tailgating me.

I'm not going to be pressured into speeding up, I told myself. I knew this winding road very well; I knew the slippery low spots, the places where deer were most likely to cross, rough patches and the uneven shoulder. I recalled the deer I had hit on this road, and the horrible seventeen car pile up I had been a part of 23 years before. Nobody else's impatience was going to make me increase my speed beyond what I knew to be safe for the conditions.

The other driver could stand it no longer. Racing his engine and whipping around me, he sped away...for about fifty yards. Without my red taillights to follow, he hit his brakes. I chuckled at what had obviously happened; all of a sudden things didn't seem so clear anymore.

The final miles of my trip were filled with prayers of thanks for my kids. I have kids who are wise and humble enough to follow their parents' lead. Although our decisions don't always make obvious sense to them, they usually are able to appreciate the fact that we have traveled this road for a while. They know that their day will come when they take the lead in their own families.

That's when they'll see how things look from the front.