Memorial Day

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What a blessed people we really are. We get the wonderful blessing from God to live in this wonderful country we called the United States of America. For almost 238 years we as a nation have seeming had the hand of God supporting our nation. We are easily one of the wealthiest nations in the history of the world. We are so blessed that we actually help support other nations that are not so easily blessed. We have sent money, politicians and on many occasions, our soldiers to help fight for those that are unable to fight for themselves. And today, on Memorial Day we get to be reminded of those that have fought and died for Freedom’s sake.

            I have had family fight in nearly every way this great country has fought in. I had family fighting for freedom in the Revolutionary War. I had family fight on both sides of the Civil War. I had family fighting in both World Wars and every war since then. And while most of my family returned home, there are some who never did. So today is special to me. And the more I am reminded of the sacrifices my forefathers made for me the more this day is special to me.

            And yet, for some reason our country has seem to forget what this day really is all about. I imagine that there are many of you, your family, and your neighbors celebrating this day in typical 21st century American fashion. You will be firing up your grills, some of you for the 1st time since winter arrived. There will be the smell of hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, etc in the air. And for many it will be just another opportunity to drink to the point of intoxication. During the summers when I was in college I worked at the gas station just down the street from my parents. I learned that the three biggest days in that store happened in the summer; Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. In a small little town of 2000 people we would sell more than $10,000 dollars in beer alone (on just those days, let alone the whole 3 day weekends). It was staggering to me to see the coolers stocked full on Thursday night and nearly empty by Tuesday morning. I was shocked because I never envisioned Memorial Day as a day to consume. It was supposed to be a day to remember.

            I challenge you to do just that. Remember. Remember a whole lot more than just whether or not you bought enough hotdog buns. Remember those that gave their life so that you can have that grilled hamburger. Remember those that lost moms and dads, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters in the line of duty so that you can grill those hotdogs. And as you remember them, remember to thank God for their sacrifice. Remember to thank God for the blessing you have. Remember Memorial Day is not a day to honor yourself, but to honor the fallen that have paid the ultimate price.

 

A Word or Two of Advice

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This morning as I went out for my morning run I was faced with a great deal of obstacles. I have been running the same route for about a month or so now with a few variations to add in a mile here or two miles there. For the most part I have been running on the route that the Grinnell Games ½ marathon will be ran upon. I thought the best way to train for the little hills (and I do mean little) that are found on the route is to go out and run the route itself. Most mornings are met with little to no opposition to running this route. Sure, I might occasionally have to wait on traffic as I have to cross 2 major roads here in town where traffic is rather high, but that just provides me with an opportunity to stretch, catch my breath, grab a swig of water and get back to finishing my run. This morning though was much harder. The town is in the process of beautifying the route. This means that all the pot holes, sidewalks, etc that were damaged during the hard winter we just experienced are being fixed. My first obstacle was with a block of my home. It forced me to change direction before I normally would. I was able to quickly get back on track and did rather well for the next mile. However, it wouldn’t be long before that would change. This lap here in town is shaped like the letter C. Part of the run nearly overlaps and I can see that rough roads were ahead. I kept going hoping that maybe the sidewalks would be usable. I neared campus and came face to face with my next obstacle, Grinnell College’s graduation ceremonies are today. Great I thought. The course I set out to run had me running right through campus. I was forced to make changes yet again, and as I finally go through the campus area I ran right into the road construction I was trying to avoid. So much for avoiding it as my altered route through campus ran me right into all the construction. I am not really sure how many miles I actually ran, but I know I ran more than I intended. But such is life.

As I ran through campus, I began to realize that it has been 14 years since I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from Florida College. Most of these kids were just starting school when I finished mine. Most of these kids hadn’t even thought of going to Grinnell College when I was starting my life without college. This got me thinking again, (when you are running you have a lot of time to think) I wander what words of advice they would receive. It is inevitable at every graduation the graduates will receive several “pep” talks. One of their fellow graduates will offer words of encouragement. Some other speaker, who has already traveled this road we call life will also offer up some words of encouragement telling these young men and women the world is theirs now go take it by the horn.

Looking back on my life over the last 14 years I have a few things that I wish someone would have told me when I was graduating. So, if you are one of the thousands that will/have walked away from college for the last time here in recent weeks I implore you to listen closely.

Life is filled with detours. Like my run this morning, life does not always end up the way you planned. When I graduated college I was hit with a massive detour. The woman I loved broke up with me. She wouldn’t even talk to me to even so good bye. It shook me up, because I really thought that I was going to marry that girl. As I went home, I intended on going back to school to receive my master’s degree. I wanted to take a semester off to save up a little money for basic living expenses so that I could focus on school full time. A semester came and went and then another, and another and 14 years later I still haven’t gone back. What did happen? I ended up marrying that girl that broke up with me. I couldn’t get her out of my head or my heart so I moved back to Florida where she was going to school, got a job and waited until she graduated so we could get married. In the years that followed I was hit with several other detours. I remember my wife telling me that the last thing we wanted to be was a preacher’s wife. 6 months after we were married I was preaching. Another detour came when we found out she was pregnant and then she lost the baby shortly thereafter. This moved us to actually plan for a pregnancy. Something we didn’t want to do until after we had been married a few years. More detours have come since then. As a result I have lived in Illinois, Missouri, Virginia, and now Iowa. I have traveled out of the country preaching the Gospel in Norway. And I now have 4 wonderful children. My life is nothing like what I thought it would be. Chances are, yours won’t be either. That is not a bad thing. My life is so much better than what I thought it could be. My life is so much fuller than I could possible imagine. This leads me to my second point of advice…

Embrace the detours. Detours aren’t a bad thing. Sure, they can be challenging. Sure, they can break you down to your very core. But detours can make you stronger. I ran further than I intended today. I got a better workout than I had planned. That is not a bad thing. James stated that we are to consider our trials (our detours) as joy because of what they will do for us. He wanted us to consider them joy because as a result of them they will give us endurance and strengthen our character (James 1:2-4). I never thought I would have 4 kids, but I wouldn’t exchange them for anything. I never thought I would live in Iowa, but it is the best place I have ever lived. I don’t know what life has in store for you, but embrace it. Love every minute of it. If it is an unexpected pregnancy, an expected job offer, an unexpected journey. Love them all. They will make your stronger.

Finally, don’t quit. Some of these detours will be hard. After awhile I wanted to quit. I just wanted to find my quickest route home. I imagine when I run that ½ marathon those thought will come to mind, especially since the route runs past my house twice. But I can’t quit. I have to keep going. I will never know the joys of finishing the hardest thing I have ever done if I quit. So I tell you don’t quit. I know life gets hard. I know life gets you down. I was one who once felt that not only had life knocked me off of my feet but that life was kicking me while I was down. You don’t quit. If you can’t find a job, and chances are good you won’t, don’t quit. Keep looking, keep trying, look for the detour you weren’t expecting. I can’t tell you where you will end up, but what I can tell you is that by perseverance you can be made stronger, better, and even happier.

Good luck doesn’t seem to be the right expression to end this thought, so I will simply say… good journey.

Fashionable or Faithful

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    This morning I got up, had breakfast and jumped on-line to catch the sports scores from last night. As my homepage loaded (I use yahoo!) several news stories popped up as they always do. There were all sorts of news stories concerning the NFL draft, politics, and Hollywood all of which has seemingly had a never ending supply of “news.” Then a story popped up that was unrelated to the others. My Sesame Street roots kicked in. One of these is not like the others and I took interest. My eyes stopped glancing just quick enough to learn what the story was about. It was about an 11 year old dancing protégé. While I didn’t watch the video, she apparently had moves that stunned talent scouts. What I did catch was the still image of the video. It was an 11 year old girl, wearing nothing but a nude leotard. To be honest at 1st glance I didn’t think she was wearing anything at all. This got me thinking, when did the sexualization of our children become a positive thing? This one video is not all that there is. There are countless movies and TV shows out there where teenagers are highly sexualized. What is ironic is that Hollywood knows that can’t exploit real teenagers so they hire actors and actresses in their 20s to portray teenagers. What it is really doing is encouraging teenagers to dress, act, and behave in ways that no young person should ever do AND it encourages older men to gawk, lust and stare at real teenagers.

As a father of 4 (including two daughters) I take how the world looks at my children very seriously. I want to know that when my girls grow up (one of them is as old as that girl in the article) that they will find a man who will marry them for who they are, not what they look like. I want to know my boys to treat women like human beings, not pieces of meat there to satisfy their carnal appetites. I pray that others would be willing to do the same. It starts in the home.

For those of you that have been following me you have read several articles about my changing of how I was raising my children. One of the things I have been challenged with is shaping my children’s wardrobe. It baffles my mind how truly hard it is to find clothing for a pre-teen that does not accentuate her body. Skinny Jeans, yoga pants, and other tight fitting pants seem to be the norm anymore. My eldest daughter loves to run, and finding pants for her to run in this winter was exceptionally difficult. So much so, that if we ever find something appropriate we buy several different colors so that she has more than one. I mean who knows when we will find another. And don’t get me started on shorts. I don’t want her wearing clothing that barely covers her bottom. Even finding modest dresses is difficult. Why just the other day I was looking through dresses for my youngest, who is 2 and I found a backless dress that was barely long enough to cover her diaper. I was in shock? How could this ever be deemed as appropriate to sexualize a 2 year old?!?

This is not meant to be the rantings of an old-fashioned dad who doesn’t get what it means to be hip and cool. I know that I don’t get what it means to be hip and cool. I wasn’t cool when I was in school. I wasn’t cool in college. And my children think I have a highly unusual sense of humor and for the most part I am just plain weird. My opinions about clothing don’t stem from my parents. They don’t stem from a desire for past days. (I am a child of the 1990s). I feel this way about clothing because of how I feel about my God. Nakedness is something that we should be ashamed of. God often used this shame to describe what he would do to Israel as a result of their sins. “Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your disgrace shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one (Isa. 47:3).” Mankind used to be ashamed that someone would see their nakedness and now it is being flashed all over the internet in what is deemed as a selfie. But, here is the real kicker. God does not deem nakedness is full on nudity. When we are not dressed modestly, the scriptures say that we are naked. Look at the following illustrations. Isa. 20:4 says that if the bottom is uncovered it is nakedness. Many modern swimsuits and athletic apparel don’t cover the bottom. Thus, it is nakedness. Isa. 47:2, the verse that preceded God’s explanation of Israel’s disgrace, He explains what made Israel naked… the thigh was exposed. The thigh is not hard to figure out. It is the upper leg. In the bible that meant anything above the knee was considered the thigh. This was of such importance to keep covered, the priests were required to cover theirs with breeches whenever they came near the tabernacle to minister (Ex. 28:42-43). The tunics they wore alone were insufficient for service in God’s house. They would be standing upon a mount, above the people. They would be bending, lifting, twisting, etc. God wanted no “accidental” nakedness in his house! But, perhaps the most telling of all these passages is the very first time man put on clothing. Adam and Eve made for themselves loincloths (Gen. 3:7) after they had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. When God asked why they were hiding they replied, “I was naked so I hid myself (Gen. 3:10). Even then, man understood that merely covering up ones loins was not enough to cover one’s nakedness. Later in the chapter God gave Adam and Eve tunics to wear tunics to wear (Gen. 3:27). The tunic was a long shirt like garment. Some had short sleeves, others had long sleeves, and still some had none at all. What was consistent was that they were know for covering everything from the collarbone to the knee. Once they put these on, the scriptures say they were clothed. God gave them exactly what was needed to be properly clothed. Now, this does not mean that we ought to wear tunics. But, it ought to say something about what parts of the body God expected us to cover lest our nakedness be exposed. The midriff, the bottom, the thigh, the chest for men and woman alike were to be covered.

I want my children to grow up to be godly people. I am not so interested in whether or not they are fashionable people. “Good looks” won’t get them anywhere with God. He is interested in a goodly, righteous heart. When I teach my children about modesty I tell them it isn’t my opinion. It is God’s will. I’m not being old-fashioned and not up with the times. I am trying to lead them towards purity and righteousness.

A Love that Endures

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     13 years ago on May 4th I picked up my on again of again girlfriend. Our relationship had gone through many ups and downs since we first started dating. Over the last year the relationship was volatile at best. She was still living in Florida going to college (she was Junior in college). I had already graduated and was working as a lab technician for the incoming quality control department of a local factory in Illinois where I grew up. I had gone done to see her twice that year, neither of which ended up the way either of us had hoped. We broke up both times. The long distance relationship was just too hard and she still had another year of college to go. To be honest when I left Florida in late March of that year I never expected to see her again. I was ready to move on with my life. She called me and said she wanted to come and see me as soon as the school year was over. She actually wanted me to go up to Chicago with her for the week. I had to work and told her if she wanted to see me, she would have to come done to where I lived. She agreed so long as I went to Chicago over the weekend. So, I picked her up at the airport in Indianapolis and began our journey to Chicago. On our way there, she asked me to marry her. I didn’t respond. In fact, I think I nearly ran the car of the road. It was a pretty quiet drive up I-65 that Friday evening. I spent many hours in prayer over the next couple of days and by Tuesday I told her yes. On May 4, 2002 my wife and I got married. In the 12 years that have followed we have had 4 children. Each of these children have been born in different states. I have lived in 4 different states, and I have lived in 7 different homes. The only constants I have had is my God and my wife. She has been there through it all. I would be lying if I told you the marriage has not had problems. It has. We have had good days and bad days. We have had good years and bad ones. But one thing we have always had is each other.

      I realize that 12 years of marriage is nothing compared to the 35 years that good friends of ours celebrated on May 4th. But it is 12 more years than I had 12 years ago. What I can tell you is that the secret to a strong marriage is having a strong relationship with God. Psa. 127:1 reads, “Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it.” Unless God is the center of your home, it is not guaranteed to stand the test of time. Divorce is the leading cause of the death of a marriage (it is not same-sex marriage as many seem to be claiming). What brings about that divorce might vary. It might have been infidelity. It might be that you fell “out of love.” It might be that you can’t stand the in-laws. It might be that he just isn’t the guy you married. But, unless you get divorced the marriage is still there, it might be on life support, but it is still alive. Only divorce can finally kill it. And God clearly states that he hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Let that sink in. God hates divorce; just like he hates a lying tongue, feet that run swiftly to wickedness, and hands that shed innocent blood (Prov. 6:16-19). If we make God the builder of our homes, or our marriages then it begins by proclaiming that I hate marriage. On the day I got married, Kenny Chumbley, the man who performed the ceremony said something I will never forget. He told us to let the word be stricken from our vocabulary. Never let it enter our minds. While life has not always been rose tinted gardens we have never slept under different roofs because we were angry. She has never ran home to dad. I have never ran home to mom. Divorce has never been an option. When we said, “til death do us part” we took that vow seriously. And since divorce is not an option it forced us to grow up, to realize that we are going to have to learn how to work through our differences with peace, love and understanding. I know that a marriage is not a job, but it seems any more that people have greater loyalty to their job than they do to their marriage, especially since the economy has been struggling. We wouldn’t dare walk out on our job because we know we need it. We know that we cannot afford to not have it. So, we put up with a ton at work. We let our boss walk over us. We live with the fact we don’t get along with our co-workers. Because at the end of the day, having that job is too important. So, we find a way to deal with the differences with our boss. We find a way to be more understanding with our co-workers. When we first get married we certainly feel that way about our spouses. We can’t imagine life without him/her. That is why we get married. But, when trials come, when that “honeymoon” period is over many think that it is okay just to walk out. It isn’t. You made a vow. You made a promise not just to her/him, but to God. Find a way to make it work.

While I am sure that I have given her a few of her grey hairs and I am sure that I am a little thinner on top due to our disagreements, we still have each other. When the argument was over we laid in each other’s arms. We said I love you. After these 12 years I still can’t imagine life without her. After 12 years I still need her. And I hope and pray that God gives us another 50+ more years together.