Thirty years ago, when I was working as a teller for a local bank, we were asked to promote a new product to the customers that came to our windows: The Club 55. If memory serves, this was a fee-free account to our ‘senior’ patrons (those over 55 years of age). At the time, I thought that an account like this made sense; the bank was doing the right thing in offering those frail retirees financial benefits appropriate for their advanced ages. Now, having turned 55 this past Sunday, I take offense at the uninformed attitude borne by my 25-year-old self.
While I would not consider myself young any longer, I also would not consider myself old; my guess is that I currently find myself in the category of comfortably middle-aged – the reality is that there are a few generations before me and a few generations behind me. This contemplation of generations has caused me to give pause: what have I carried from those who have gone before me and what am I leaving for those who come after me? What have I gained from engaging with my mother-in-law (in her 90s, a member of the builder generation) or my parents (in their 80s, members of the boomer generation)? What am I handing to my children (in their teens and 20s, representing the millennial and Z generations)?
Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. Joel 1:3 (NIV84)
And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Timothy 2:2 (NIV84)
These two passages form a framework for our intergenerational conversations. In Joel, the word of God commands the prophet to share with those coming behind him to share the devastation which disobedience delivers while holding out the hope of God’s restoration. In 2 Timothy, Paul is encouraging his young protégé to equip the next generation of leaders with the whole counsel of Scripture that he had heard from those more mature than himself. No matter what age we are, we are expected to be a pipeline of the unvarnished truth, from one generation to another, and not a pool of stagnant and situational knowledge.
As I stand today, in a stage of life that is not fully growing and not fully grown, I am reminded that we learn through experiences shared – knowing the consequences of the sins in our past so that we need not repeat them and knowing the blessings of the faithfulness in our past so that we can emulate them. As I get older, I want to share my story and hear your story, the story of rebellion and restoration, the story of hurt and healing. I want to listen to the wisdom of the older generations and relate that wisdom to the younger generation.
Standing here, in the center of middle-age, is a blessed place to be – old enough to know better and young enough to learn. Whatever our age, we all have something to share with one another and learn from one another. What can I learn from you?
Yesterday, our unexpected blessing, our bonus baby – a surprise to all but God – turned thirteen. My youngest, Joshua, following the faith of His savior, is now a man. If we were contemporaries of Jesus, yesterday would have been his Bar Mitzvah (bar [בר] is a Jewish-Aramaic word meaning ‘son’ and mitzvah [מצוה] is a Jewish word meaning ‘a commandment’). Joshua would have been seen not as a seventh-grader but as a “son of the commandment” – he would be responsible for keeping the Law of God. This leaves me, as his father, with a nagging question: have I done enough to prepare him for adulthood.
Thankfully, we do not live in a non-adolescent culture and Joshua will not be an adult for another 5 years (legally) or more (culturally). That said, I have been slowly realizing that how I see this boy – as my defenseless and impressionable baby and as my child in need of protection and correction – is not the way the world outside our front door sees this young man. While I would seek to isolate him from the culture of the age, the societal gates of social media have been, with the change of a date, opened to him with its beckoning siren song. In my head, I know that all these coming changes are natural and beneficial steps in his healthy maturity, but in my heart, I worry for he is still just a boy to me and his mother.
Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6
The above-quoted verse is typically mentioned when the topic of parenting comes around. It makes sense since the command of training is good advice for new moms and dads and the promise of faithfulness is comforting during those rebellious stages. As my boy enters manhood, I ask, as I said before, if I did a good enough job training him? Ironically, that might not be the right question for the term Solomon uses for ‘train’ is not translated as ‘train’ anywhere else in the Scriptures; it is translated as “dedicate’. The four other times the Hebrew Bible uses the term חנך, it is in reference to the temple. This admonition is not, as I see it, to prepare my child for the world and hope that I have done enough, but to proclaim my child to the world and trust that he will remember who he is, and whose he is.
Today, I am wrestling with letting go of the precious blessing of my baby boy. Today, you may be struggling with letting go of another blessing. Can God be trusted to keep His word and continue to provide for His people? My friend, the answer is yes. As my son Joshua’s name declares, the Lord is salvation (or deliverance or redemption). The Lord will carry all of us who trust His promises and bring us safely through to the other side.
Happy Birthday, Joshua. Enjoy the beginning stages of adulthood. Remember who you are.
It was the best of plans: I had wrapped my son’s birthday present (his first cell phone) and placed it with the others on the dining room table, and then I typed up a text to the family giving out his number but was waiting until the right moment push ‘send’. We proceeded with his party (the menu for our freshly minted 12 year-old’s festivities was Ring Dings and Wattamelon Roll), which we enjoyed before the opening of the gifts. As we were about to get on with the gift-giving, there was a muffled ring coming from the pile. It was the phone. Had I mistakenly sent out the text? (I quickly checked, and I had not.) It turns out a telemarketer had ruined our surprise, but in the process created an unexpectedly wonderful birthday memory.
“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is a Yiddish proverb which means, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” No matter how much we plan, life is messy and things often do not go as imagined. Josh’s birthday party made me think about Jesus’ birthday; the life his parents experienced was certainly not as planned. There was an unplanned pregnancy (from their perspective), a thwarted divorce, a rejected reservation, an unexpected visit (or two) from strangers and an unforeseen move. It was a year (or two) of chaos and confusion that neither Mary nor Joseph could have imagined. Yet, God was with them and was creating something unexpectedly wonderful.
If ever there was a time in human history when God orchestrated a course correction in the affairs of His creation, the birth of the Messiah was that time. God sent Gabriel to Mary to tell her, “Do not be afraid…” God sent an angel in a dream to Joseph to tell him, “Do not be afraid….”, and another (also in a dream) to tell him to travel to Egypt to protect his family. God sent angels to the shepherds to tell them, “Do not be afraid….” God warned the Magi, in a dream, to return home by another way so as to avoid Herod and protect the Lord.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
As I see it, we all have a choice to make when things do not seem to go as planned: we can scowl and think that all is ruined, or we can smile and thank God for His intercession. Our reaction when “things don’t go our way” reveals who we think is in charge of the details of our lives. Especially during this season, we need to face the facts that our plans may not go as expected: cookies will burn, airlines will have delays, products will be back-ordered, illnesses will invade our homes and sentimental ornaments will break. These things might be God’s way of correcting your course, adjusting your plans and preparing you for something unexpectedly wonderful.
“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht”. I hope you hear Him.
Yesterday, at exactly 11:16PM, my middle son, David, turned 18 and in so doing became a legal adult. He is able to vote for the next elected official and enter into binding contracts. He is able to sign himself out of class if he chooses and he will now be reported by name on census forms. He is more than a big boy; he is a man, physically and statutorily. I wonder, as I reflect upon this momentous occasion, if he is ready for the adult world and if he has the character of an adult in the world today.
As I reflect upon his life, I pray that he will continue to develop his character of:
- Charity – David and I had the opportunity to visit the former Charlestown Navy Yard on a regular basis. As we made our way to weekly appointments, we would walk by expired parking meters. After a few weeks, we scoured the car for loose change (and then filled our pockets before we left the house) so that we could anonymously refill the meters. I pray that he will continue to be that kind of man.
- Hospitality – David regularly invited friends to our home for afternoons of video gaming. He’d ask, on their behalf, for his mom to procure snacks and soda so that his guests would be cared for (they even ate, over a week or two, a case of Vidalia-flavored potato chips). I pray that he will continue to be that kind of man.
- Accomplishment – As part of your participation in the scouts, I remember the courts of honor I attended, celebrating David’s advancement through the ranks and his proficiency in certain skills worthy of merit badges. He has a treasure trove of skills and abilities that he ought to be proud of. I pray that he will continue to be that kind of man.
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. Titus 2:6–8
- Adventure – Through storming through the front door like a warrior or through playing in the driveway with abandon, David receive stitches in his palm on one occasion and his leg on another. I hope my son will, forsaking recklessness, will risk something to taste life fully. I pray that he will continue to be that kind of man.
- Responsibility – one formative experience, as he is oft to repeat, was when his mom gave a “time-out” to David’s favorite toy (Dusty, the talking Vacuum Cleaner). With glee, he recounts that there are consequences to bad behavior (even when performed by the inanimate). He learned that he was responsible for himself and those he leads. I pray that he will continue to be that kind of man.
- Whimsy – I have a picture in my office of my now adult son in a banana suit while volunteering at VBS. He also wore the suit at a recent PAX East Expo. It was funny, quirky and unexpected. I pray that he will continue to be that kind of man.
- Service – David has been active in the church; as an usher, as a representative for the “Got Goat” program, working the sound board. He has utilized his skills in service to God and others. I pray that he will continue to be that kind of man.
May we all strive to be adults of character, as I pray my middle boy will.
Happy Birthday, David.
One hundred sixty-one weeks ago, my firstborn, my son, turned twenty-one. At the time, a full three years and 30 days ago, I wrote a blog urging his responsible alcohol use. Earlier this week a similar thing happened again: my daughter, my only daughter, turned twenty-one. This time, however, her alcohol consumption was not my primary concern. I am worried and afraid of so much more. Perhaps these fears are attributable to their differing temperaments or their differing experiences. Whatever the reason, I am more concerned, more melancholic, about Rebekah becoming a full-fledged adult than I did about Jonathan.
As I write this, I am left wondering why. It is not as if I have ever ascribed to a double-standard; I would never say apologetically that ‘boys will be boys’, nor that ‘a woman’s place is in the home’. Yet, in light of all that is swirling around in the world (not the least of which is the #metoo movement), I am worried about the world we have created and the environment we have fostered for the women we love. I want my adult daughter – no, all our adult daughters – to be valued for her character and nothing else.
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. Philippians 2:14-16
My hope for my adult daughter, who, with every passing birthday, moves further away from the little girl I remember, is that she will shine like a star in this warped generation. I pray that she will be light in the darkness. As she steps ever closer into the spheres of grown-upness, I trust that she will not let anyone but God alone define her, let no one on earth demean her and allow no man to destroy her by refusing to take no for an answer.
You have been made in the very image of God. You are His workmanship, created to accomplish the work He wants you to do. You are, therefore, perfectly quirky, perfectly suited to do what you do. If anyone tells you otherwise, they are a liar.
You are a child of God. You have a royal inheritance. You are somebody. Again, if anyone tells you otherwise, they are a liar.
You are precious in His sight. You, just being you, have an inestimable value to God. You need not do anything to prove you are worthy of love or to prove you are capable of loving. And again, if anyone tells you otherwise…you know…liar.
I wish the world were a different place, but then again, I wish I had the riches to buy you a pony when you were eight. The world is full of broken hurting people, some of whom are happiest making more broken hurting people: do not become one of them. Run from those who seek you harm. Refuse to entertain ungodly advances. Remember that you are here to shine. Remain as wonderful as we all know you are.
Tomorrow is my father’s 80th birthday. Happy birthday, Dad!
Sunday is Oscar® day, when the Academy Awards are presented. Hooray for Hollywood!
The above-stated occasions may seem to most as two random calendar entries, but to me, they are inextricably linked. For those who are unaware of my upbringing, my parents separated and divorced when I was in grade school. While the intervening years have dulled my memory, I do recall a number of weekend matinees that my dad took us to see: “Robin Hood”, “Pete’s Dragon”, “Superman”, “Star Trek” and more. I remember the hours in the dark at the General Cinema Theater at Westgate Mall and the Brockton East Twin Cinema. It was in those moments that I gained a love for movies – good movies, bad movies, all movies.
In thinking about these memories, some more than four decades old, I am reminded of the love my dad had (and has) for my siblings and me, and the love I have for him. While we spent few nights under the same roof, we spent hours together every weekend. I remember waiting for him to pick us up (making a game of counting cars of a randomly particular color) and I cannot recall ever being disappointed when he never arrived. We had inside jokes (ordering “pine tree floats” at MerMac’s and trying to spell the name one of his old bosses, S. Gunnar Myrbeck), ate hundreds of hamburgers and watched dozens of movies.
A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son brings grief to his mother. – Proverbs 10:1
As the years have passed and the miles have grown between us, my meetings with my dad have grew more infrequent, but my love for my dad and my love for the movies have remained. I appreciate all those afternoons, with or without popcorn, that we shared watching the silver screen. I think about that as I take my children to the movies, tell the same corny jokes and buy the same fast food. I love you, Dad.
Thinking about my dad taking me to the movies all those years ago makes me wonder why I love the movies so much. I am sure it has something to do with those deep-seated emotions of my childhood. It also has something to do with the escape the darkened theater provides: a diversion from the daily grind to exotic and fantastic places. Mostly, I reckon, it has to do with the story – dozens of accounts of love and loss, risk and rescue, life and death. Thank you, Dad, for giving me all that. I carry a part of you every time I buy a ticket. Happy Birthday! Maybe one day soon we can catch one more movie together.
For what it is worth, after seeing most of the nominated films (there’s still time to finish the challenge), I would give the Oscars to “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri”, Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell. Knowing my track-record, I’m due to be right.
Our baby turns ten this weekend. Our youngest, our last, our smallest is growing up and before we know it, he will be a young man. I wonder how much longer we have before he is an adolescent. How many more times will we walk home from school (me on the sidewalk and Josh on the retaining walls) and he will use a stick as a sword? How many more unsolicited hugs will my wife and I receive? How many more nights will he choose to wear Minions© pajamas? Having been through this process of watching my child grow up three times before, I know that when the ‘last time’ for all these activities will come, and we will not recognize what is happening or what we will be losing.
I still have time. Josh still wants toys and games as gifts for his birthday and Christmas. He still likes to color and play board games (frequently asking to have a F.G.N. – family game night). But one day all that will have changed. It will not happen overnight, but one day it will all be gone; the snuggling, the wild imagination and the carefree play will be replaced with tacit acknowledgment, pragmatism and smart phone usage. So, this week I will celebrate my youngest child’s childhood. We will have a party (with cake and ice cream) with games around his chosen Pokemon© theme, and we will appreciate our boy.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 1 Corinthians 13:11
I have to admit that I have a tough time accepting the reality that my children are getting older. I still worry (just a bit) when one of my children is not at home. I still want to offer fatherly advice and get a laugh from dad jokes. I still want the unsolicited hugs and the early morning raids into my bedroom. They are my kids, even though they are 23, 20, 17 and (on Sunday) 10.
So, excuse me if I encourage my youngest to continue to wear the one-piece pajamas that are too small. Forgive me if I let him sit in my lap in the recliner as we watch Wheel of Fortune (and let him think that he solved one of the puzzles before me). Apologies if I laugh at his jokes, which may have been shared three (or three hundred) times before, as if it were the first time I had heard them. Mea culpa if I let him swing that stick (or rake or bat or broom) and allow him to pretend for a while. Let me say, for just a little longer, “He’s just a boy.”
Before I know it, my youngest son will be a man and the days of childhood things will have passed. That is not a day I look forward to seeing anytime soon. Happy 10th birthday, Joshua.
On Monday of this week we celebrated my wife’s birthday. Without sharing a specific number (a woman never tells her age), I will say that it was a ‘milestone’. She and I went ‘in town’ to a fancy restaurant for lunch, then returned home for presents and cake with the kids, and finally had supper together (all the while enduring the hottest June 12th on record). While some may say that our festivities were meager given the circumstances for celebration, it was exactly what the birthday girl wanted – a time to break from the routine of laundry, dishes and ‘taxi service’ and simply enjoy the blessings of life with those we love.
I don’t believe I am ‘telling tales out of school’ in saying that milestone birthday can be hard. In the days leading up to her birthday, as was the case 16 months ago with my milestone birthday, my wife voiced some uneasiness in acknowledging another candle was being added to the cake. It is at these times that we all tend to reflect on those missed opportunities, regret those unwise decisions and recalibrate to what now seems possible. We joke with one another about being “over the hill” (as long as it isn’t our birthday we’re talking about) and wonder if our best days are behind us.
Milestones, like big birthdays, also remind us of where we’ve been and how far we’ve travelled. I have known my wife since she was sixteen and celebrated it with her ever since she was eighteen. We’ve celebrated a few times during summer break from college, once while planning our wedding and as even newlyweds and new parents. We’ve celebrated at her parents’ home, at our six different homes and at dozens of diverse restaurants. We’ve celebrated some birthdays after long days at work, others on warm weekends and one at a High School awards ceremony. Each year has been different. All those celebrations have now become mental snapshots of a life well lived and a life well loved.
I know that I have given Jeanine a present or two each of the years we’ve been together, but, for the life of me, I cannot remember a single one with any specificity. I think this is because, in my opinion, the best gift given on her birthday is not the one she receives from us but the one she is to us. She is the anchor of our family, preventing us from drifting toward disaster. She is the glue in her relationships, keeping us together. She is the optimist in the most pessimistic of predicaments. All those who know Jeanine understand that the world is a better, kinder, sweeter place because she is in it.
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. Proverbs 5:18
As the cliché goes, age is just a number. While that may be true, birthdays are special; it celebrates the day God gave us one another. I praise God that I could spend so many days celebrating the important people in my life, especially Jeanine. Happy Birthday to you.
Everywhere I go, I find evidence that people are jerks (mind you, I’m not speaking about the spiritual content of their character but only the behavioral expressions of their character). We are all witnesses of the big stories – the accounts of shootings in the street, of abusive treatment of all of God’s creation and of acts of terrorism around the globe – and we all witness the little affronts – getting cut off at a stop light while the driver gestures and shouts obscenities to your minivan or getting elbowed out of your chance at the cashier by a fellow shopper. But not everyone is a jerk; a few people I know are genuinely good.
One such genuinely good person is my wife, Jeanine. As a way of explaining, let me share what her day will be like on Sunday. She will get up at 6:00 AM when her husband’s alarm goes off and then try, likely unsuccessfully, to try to catch a few more winks of sleep. At about 7:30, just as her husband leaves for work, her 8 year-old will get up and ask for breakfast, which she will provide dutifully. Then, for the next 110 minutes, she will awaken and reawaken her two middle children, making sure that they are fed and dressed for church. At 9:30 she will teach Sunday School, then attend worship whilst wrangling a rambunctious young boy who will reluctantly sit beside her. After church, she will assist in an Ice Cream Social. This will take her to 1 PM.
At 1 she will leave church, ride home with the family, insure that the majority of children (and her mother-in-law) have some idea about lunch. At that point my wife, myself and our daughter will rush over to Cambridge to attend Rebekah’s High School Prize Ceremony scheduled to begin at 2. Assuming it will be over by 4, and we can get through past the Sunday drivers, we will be home around 5 PM. Then, and only then, will we all gather together as a family to celebrate her birthday – oh, did I forget to mention that Sunday, June 12th is Jeanine’s birthday?
There will be no complaints about schedules or grumblings about plans; Jeanine is genuinely good because she genuinely loves those around her. She follows the ‘golden rule’ –
Do to others as you would have them do to you. Luke 6:31 (NIV)
She will treat her husband, her children and the myriad of others who cross her path as she would want to be treated: as harried, hurried and (occasionally) hurting human beings worthy of respect, recognition and (occasionally) rescue. She will not retaliate or seek revenge; she will care for those close to her, even on her birthday.
Happy birthday, Jeanine, a few days early. We are all looking forward to sharing some cake and ice cream on your special day. But know this: on Sunday there will be a time when you will open some presents, yet, for those of us who have the privilege to know you, we are the ones who have received the gift.
On Sunday, I entered the second half of my first century and celebrated my fiftieth birthday. For some reason that I cannot really explain, this milestone in my journey of life feels to me like a checkpoint, like a high vantage point where I can see all the places through which I have passed. Instead of focusing on all the wonderful experiences I have had during my travels, my thoughts for the last few months have gravitated upon all the places I thought I’d have gone but never reached. I thought I’d be a home-owner, be successful in my chosen career and be financially stable with some savings for retirement. I must have been distracted when I drove past all those exits on the highway of my life.
I feel as if I have fallen victim to the theological truth expressed by John Lennon:
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
At various times I wanted to be a school teacher, a lawyer, a financial planner and a bank vice-president. Instead, I became a Baptist minister and in the process taught children during vacation Bible school, became an expert in the Law of Moses, managed charitable funds and offered insights on how to store up treasures in heaven. I want to ask myself if I have been successful, but I think that is the wrong question. Have I used the gifts, talents and abilities I have been blessed with to the best of my ability? From this vantage point I can say that it is likely.
I wanted to have sufficient disposable income to travel the world – to see the Grand Canyon, the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Sydney Opera House. While I have been to Tijuana, the Bahamas, more than half of the US states and a few places in Canada, my greatest memories are insignificant spots. There is an outdoor chapel in my hometown with my fingerprints on it. There is a restaurant, no doubt now closed, in Worcester where I asked Jeanine to marry me. There were four delivery suites at Brigham and Women’s where the loves of my life took their first breaths. There were trips the Disney, Lakeside, Shawme Crowell, and a hotel in Chattanooga where the kids acted like prairie dogs. I want to ask myself why I haven’t seen more, but I think that is the wrong question. Have I seen the things and the places that matter? From this vantage point I can say that it is likely.
I wanted to have my own house. That will likely never happen and that is okay with me. I have become the beneficiary of something better – I have been given a home. I have lived in seven houses in my life and every one of them has been a home; I have always lived in a place of love and laughter, a place crammed with family and friends and fun. I don’t need a deed or a mortgage to give my life meaning. I have a home filled with loved ones and lovely memories for that.
All in all, I thank God for the way the first fifty years have developed. These days were much better than I would have planned. And now I cannot wait for what He will reveal in the next fifty years.
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way…. Psalm 37:23 (ESV)