Seasons of celebration and grief

As a new parent, one of the lessons I feel as if I am learning is that parenting is a continual process of celebration and grief. Every day I celebrate Jimmie’s latest development; discovering her hands and feet, learning to coo and use her voice, sleeping for longer stretches at night and being able to self soothe. 

Yet, every day I find myself also grieving; fighting to get Jimmie to sleep for 30 minutes and reading about how other’s babies nap for hours at a time, struggling to get Jimmie to finish a bottle and seeing posts about how easy breast feeding has been for someone else, being absolutely exhausted at 4am/4pm every day when all Jimmie wants to do is cry and seeing pictures describing how easy the whole newborn/infant thing has been for others. 

Learning to be grateful is both a daily choice and a daily lesson. Such is the whole of life right? Social media has made it much easier to stay connected with those we love but for makes it’s also easier for me to compare, complain, and be discontent. 

Alright, that’s my cue. J is fussy after yet another 30 minute nap.

10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)

I am settling in to my role as the primary stay at home parent. Each time I put Jimmie down to sleep, I sing her the same song (I have sung this song a lot over the past month or so). I picked a song I thought we could sing together one day, that teaches (what I think is) good theology, and that helps her get to know the God I know. There are lots of songs out there but I settled on 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord). Here are the lyrics and a video link:

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name, sing like never before, oh my soul, I’ll worship your holy name

The sun comes up It’s a new day dawning, It’s time to sing your song again, whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name, sing like never before, oh my soul, I’ll worship your holy name 

You’re rich in love and  you’re slow to anger, Your name is great and your heart is kind, for all Your goodness I will keep on singing, ten thousand reasons for my heart to find (I always tell J this is my favorite verse of the song)

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name, sing like never before, oh my soul, I’ll worship your holy name 

And on that day when my strength is failing, the end draws near and my time has come, still my soul will sing Your praise unending, ten thousand years and then forevermore, forevermore

Bless the Lord oh my soul, oh my soul, worship his holy name, sing like never before, oh my soul, I’ll worship your holy name

So, I sang this song to Jimmie about 20 minutes ago and I will sing with to her at least 5 more times today. Funny, I think I am helping her know the God I know but the more I sing this song, I am convinced that J is actually helping me.

The right way to play the game?

The Texas Rangers were recently on the losing end of one of the most exciting baseball games of the last few years. As a life long baseball fanatic and fan of the Atlanta Braves, I cannot forget the ’92 and ’93 Blue Jays and Joe Carter’s famous walk of home run.

The recent “bat flip heard ’round the world” brought forth some interesting comments from Rangers pitcher Sam Dyson. You can read them here:

In essence, Dyson did not feel Bautista was respecting the game and playing the right way. I can’t help but wonder if these comments stem from a deeper issue in both baseball and American culture. It seems as if Dyson is implying the right way to play the game is the white way?

Chris Rock highlights this issue in powerful monologue. Be warned, there is some strong language:

So is it possible I am just reading too much into Dyson’s comments? Sure. But when you see how Dyson responded to both Bautista and Encarnacion, it does make you wonder. 

As a baseball fan, I think Bautista’s actions were well within the spirit and the intensity of the game. I hope he helped inspire a new generation of baseball fans and continues to be a positive role model for young fans like “mini Jose Bautista.” I wish him and the Toronto Blue Jays well in the next round of the playoffs.

New beginnings and fresh starts. 

Today began with donuts, Sonic drinks, and Starbucks frappacinos (don’t worry, I managed to squeeze in my regular run). Heather wanted to mark this new season of life with a few of our favorite things (and apparently a sugar high).

A few minutes ago, Heather left to go back to work as she is transitioning back into her role as minister of missions at Wilshire. A few weeks back I began a new part time (T, Th) position at BUMC in transplant and neurology. My new primary gig is that of stay at home dad (M, W, and F) to little Jimmie Kat.

We are grateful to have this kind of flexibility and I am grateful for a partner who embraces with me non-traditional gender roles, expectations, and life partnership. This is something we hope to teach J as well.

So as I type (thank God for iPhones), I have a sleeping baby on my chest, for a few more minutes at least. The tears and challenging times I will primarily face in the days and months ahead won’t be as much because of a poor diagnosis or loss of a loved one but rather from a curious, almost three month old who doesn’t like to nap and suffers from acid reflux, bad gas, and hiccups.

You know what, I am scared to death to be a stay at home dad. That’s the first time I have admitted that. The fate of our little girl is quite literally in my hands. Will I like it? Will I go board out of my mind? Will I ever have a moment to myself? Who knows? One thing I learned quite quickly is that a baby has revealed the depth of my own selfishness and self-centered desires. So, Jimmie and I will figure this whole thing out together, one day at a time, one moment at a time as we teach and shape each other.

I am grateful for all those who have journeyed with us to this point and for all those who continue the pilgrimage with us. I am convinced more and more every day it takes a village to raise a child and that community is the cure for us all.

Do my stories scare you: Silencing voices that make us uncomfortable

I have heard from more than a few people that my stories of our parenting journey scare them. Or maybe it makes them nervous about having kids. Or that they wish I could be a be more positive and share more happy stories.

Please know, I am incredibly grateful to have a healthy baby girl who is growing and developing and has many happy moments throughout the day. I know there are many out there who are having trouble conceiving or are waiting to adopt or have a child that is more challenging than ours. By sharing our story and experience, I am in no way trying to invalidate or one up yours.

I’m simply sharing our story and experience because that is what it is, our story.

Overall, we have actually had a very good week (knock on wood). Jimmie is beginning to smile more, she is very curious and observant, and she is much more content to just sit on your lap, lay on her play mat etc. It’s also been a tough week for other reasons but this week there seem to be many more little victories to celebrate.

Here’s the deal though; I think my experience of people sharing that my stories scare them, make them uncomfortable, or wish I could be more positive speaks to a deeper issue in our country and in North American Christianity. We don’t like stories that challenge (what we think is) the dominant narrative or cultural ideals. We are all living the American dream, right? Well actually, for far too many, they are living the American nightmare.

#blacklivesmatter makes us uncomfortable so we try to cover it up and silence it with the response #alllivesmatter on Twitter and Facebook. While a war rages in Syria and more and more families flee for their lives and children are found washed up on the shore, we are outraged that pictures are shared on social media and the news . . . because it makes us uncomfortable. Sure, we call it respecting the privacy of others or their grief but really, it’s about what those images stir within us that we don’t want to face.

While we remember September 11th and the thousands of American lives that we were lost, we are outraged when attention is drawn to the stories of our Muslim brothers and sisters in our country and around the world by the hashtag #afterSeptember11. Are we even aware or do we even care that hundreds of thousands of innocent people have lost their lives as a result of attacks that were not their fault? I heard it said this week that when the U.S. is attacked it’s called terrorism but when the U.S. attacks others it’s called foreign policy. We create the narratives that support our causes.

I come back to one of my favorite quotes I discovered in a slave castle museum in Ghana: “Until the lion has his historian, the hunter will always be the hero.”

When people ask me what it is like being a chaplain, the know there is lot’s of pain and grief but they only want me to share the success stories. When I’ve witness a miraculous recovery, when the cancer is gone, and when the transplant was received just in the nick of time. But what about the countless stories I experience every week when a family and their church and thousands and thousands of people all over the world are claiming and believing in a miracle and it doesn’t come? What about when the cancer isn’t cured? What about when their isn’t a match for a transplant or even calling to mind in prayer and conversation that while one family is celebrating a new liver, that means another family is grieving the loss of their loved one who provided that liver? Are their stories any less valuable, meaningful, or needed?

We need to create more space for stories that scare us. We need to have eyes to see and ears to hear voices and stories and experiences that make us uncomfortable. We need to make room for all of our voices and stories and experiences at the table of grace and love and learning.

Today I was out running and there was a group that was hosting a small race and the volunteers were handing out water. Most of the time these groups only provide water to those that are a part of the race, their group that have a number. That was not the case with the group that provided water today. They were handing out water to those participating in the race and those who just needed a drink. The volunteers offered me water and encouraged me to finish strong. I received water from the volunteers and I thanked them for their hospitality.

They are my neighbors. They are my brothers and sisters. And they happened to be Muslims.

Let us rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Let us share our stories of a struggles and our strengths. May there always be room for stories of death and resurrection. After all, that is the way of Jesus.

Oh, that’s a lot of shoes: vulnerable living outside of the closet

Over the last 5 weeks or so, we’ve had a lot of visitors to our apartment. Without a doubt, one of the very first things people say upon entering our humble abode is “ooh, that’s a lot of shoes.” You see, here’s the deal, we live in about a 1,000 square foot apartment (we love it and we love living literally RIGHT ON White Rock Lake). We don’t have large closets and thus no where to really hide our shoes. We also don’t want to track germs all through our place so we leave our shoes on a rack by the door. I just counted and there are about 35 pairs of shoes (and that is not even counting my work/hospital shoes that I keep downstairs in our garage).

Here is what I am learning, far too many people live closeted lives. This is especially true in the church.

**Please note, I am in no way trying to be insensitive or make light of an important term/phrase to my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I actually believe the LGBTQ community can help us, and most importantly the church, learn the significance of freedom, joy, and the vulnerability of not living closeted lives.**

A while back one of my good friends asked me: “What is the distinct witness that [the LGBTQ community] can offer about the gospel?” This is such an important question because my LGBTQ friends and acquaintances are the most courageous, vulnerable, and authentic people I know. We (the church) have so much to learn from our LGBTQ brothers and sisters!

Parenting and newborn/infant life with Jimmie has been far more difficult than we could have ever imagined. We have somehow experienced both our brightest and darkest days over the last 5 weeks. We have shed more tears and said more curse words than I care to think about or count.

Instead of putting on a happy face and only sharing the good moments on social media, we’ve embraced vulnerability and we have been very open about our joys and struggles. It was incredibly scary to do this and we experienced some vulnerability regret (most of my thoughts about vulnerability come from Brene’ Brown’s book: Daring Greatly).

Here is what we are learning though: there is freedom in vulnerability. Vulnerability is not weakness or throwing in the towel. In fact, I believe vulnerability is the most courageous thing any of us can do.

I cannot tell you the number of people who have joined us in vulnerability and said, “me too.” I believe our embracing vulnerability has given others room and freedom they have never felt before to be vulnerable too. Continually people have shared with us “I never had anyone to talk about this with when I was going through (fill in the blank).” My friends, this should not be so!

This got me thinking, how many of us, including those of us who follow the way of Christ, live a closeted life in some form or fashion? I am guessing nearly all of us have something we are fearful might spill out of our closet. Yet, in the midst of the fear, it is really our deepest longing and desire (this is one thing I have learned from my LGBTQ brothers and sisters) to be fully known and loved! We are not meant to live in the closet! We are meant to live in FREEDOM!! We are not meant to live in darkness and isolation. We are meant to live in light and community!

We are choosing to embrace vulnerability and freedom regarding our struggles figuring out parenting and life with a newborn/infant. In the last five weeks I have had people come out to me about their own struggles with parenting, alcohol, their sex life, depression, loneliness, doubts about God, public image, finances, and many other areas where they have for far too long lived in shame and fear but are now embracing vulnerability and freedom.

Vulnerability is courageous and vulnerability is contagious.

So yes, we do have a lot of shoes by our front door. We will leave them there unashamedly as we figure out this whole new season of life, one day at a time.

Here’s to vulnerable living outside of the closet.

Reflection Round Up

I tried to come up with something witty or profound or both to title this blog while I was running this morning but I came up with nothing.

As I was running, I was reflecting on the tensions of life. If we are honest, life and spirituality are truly a series of tensions, paradoxes, and both/ands.

Love and risk, joy and pain, order and chaos, vulnerability and inauthenticity, saint and sinner to name a few.

Parenting a infant is full of these tensions as well. How can can a baby that is so sweet one moment create so much anxiety as she screams two seconds later? How can a little bundle of cuddly goodness turn around and do so much destruction to a diaper and a onesie?

Over the past week or two, I’ve been blogging about my (and really our) experience as a parent. It is has been a beautiful tension and paradox. We’ve experience unimaginable joy and wonder and utter exhaustion and helplessness.

These are some of my reflections, shared from a place of vulnerability and gratitude. I hope you’ll share them with someone who might need some encouragement or just to hear the words “me too.”

8.29.15 Fake it ’till you make it? Nah, let’s just be vulnerable:

8.26.15 Barf, poop, and pee:

**8.23.15 Parenting and Loneliness: (This is my most read blog ever!) **

8.21.15 Introducing a daughter into the world and into the church:

8.15.15 The pictures we share: a moment of vulnerability:

8.8.15 That’s an interesting name:

So, there you have it. These six blogs posts are probably the most vulnerable I have ever been in about 10 years of blogging. This vulnerability is the culmination of a lot of things but the tipping point was reading the book “Daring Greatly” by Brene’ Brown. I highly recommend it! At the conclusion of the book, she shares “The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto.” You can download a neat graphic of it from her website. We printed it out and have it framed over our glider in the living room. We are trying to allow these words shape how we parent. I close with Brown’s beautiful words. Have a blessed Sunday!

The Wholehearted Parenting Manifesto

“Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions–the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself.

I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections.

We will practice courage in our family by showing up, letting ourselves be seen, and honoring vulnerability. We will share our stories of struggle and strength. There will always be room in our home for both.

We will teach you compassion by practicing compassion with ourselves first; then with each other. We will set and respect boundaries; we will honor hard work, hope, and perseverance. Rest and play will be family values, as well as family practices.

You will learn accountability and respect by watching me make mistakes and make amends, and by watching how I ask for what I need and talk about how I feel.

I want you to know joy, so together we will practice gratitude.

I want you to feel joy, so together we will learn how to be vulnerable.

When uncertainty and scarcity visit, you will be able to draw from the spirit that is a part of our everyday life.

Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.

We will laugh and sing and dance and create. We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other. No matter what, you will always belong here.

As you begin your Wholehearted journey, the greatest gift that I can give to you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly.

I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly, deeply, seeing you.” –Brene’ Brown, Daring Greatly, 244-5