Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Responding to Grace

While there are beautiful analogies between God's love and faithfulness toward us and our relationships with our own children, we receive God's grace as men and women - not as children.

And we cannot afford to forget it.

We relate with God maturely, as he's created us to do. Therefore, we make decisions freely, for better or worse, that affect our relationship with him. He is faithful; he is ever faithful, but we are free. That is not to say that our decisions are not empowered or motivated or enabled by his grace, they certainly are - but they remain our decisions. And we must, as men and women, receive Christ this day and each day into our hearts and lives.

I don't believe God's grace can be over-inflated, but we can misunderstand and pervert it if we try to revise the story we are in, the story that God's grace has been written into.

. . . . .

I'm trying to order my thoughts on grace and our response to it - or how we respond to it (in snatches, moments stolen away from the children). And while many of you are scratching your heads on this one since I've failed to contextualize my thinking, I'm simply beginning to write in response to Calvinism and a kind of Universalism, both of which seem to be gaining some momentum in our pews. I'm thinking out loud on this one. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, August 28, 2006


My wife is 35 today.

Laura loves well. She is lovely and lovely and lovelier. She is beyond compare; she satisfies my heart.

Laura is pregnant with our sixth child, which brings the Mongol Horde up to five, since our daughter Torey lives with Jesus. She's about 14-weeks pregnant and is due near the end of February. These children are blessed to have such a mother.

Alack! what poverty my Muse brings forth
That having such a scope to show her pride,
The argument, all bare, is of more worth
Than when it hath my added praise beside!
O! blame me not, if I no more can write!
Look in your glass, and there appears a face
That over-goes my blunt invention quite,
Dulling my lines and doing me disgrace.
Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well?
For to no other pass my verses tend
Than of your graces and your gifts to tell;
And more, much more, than in my verse can sit,
Your own glass shows you when you look in it.

- Shakespeare, Sonnet 103

Laura, my life, I love you.

Montezuma, You Blackguard

Let me make a general note: Childcare with the flux sucks. They mix as well as oil and water, neither of which I want mentioned in my presence at the moment.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Tyndale Articles: A Quick Note

True asked about my Tyndale articles on spiritual disciplines/spiritual journeys. So if you're interested, here's the information: The articles consist of two columns on the following Web site (I also have it linked under "Links" on the right-hand side of my blog, "NLT: Spiritual Disciplines"). Each column runs for two weeks, alternating, so that there is a new article up each week. I'm not sure which day the new article is posted, but I imagine if you checked the same day every week, you'd find a new article in one of the columns. Currently there are two articles posted: One article concerns Stewardship, the other Evangelism.

You can also rate the articles, which I'd love for you to do - and not just by giving me five stars because it's me. Some don't deserve five stars, so be honest. I'd also, even more, love to hear your feedback via an e-mail - What appealed to you? What stunk? What would you like to see different? Is there a discipline you'd like to see discussed, or one that I discussed but went in a different direction?

Another nice thing in each column is the ability to look at the archives for that column - so you can read on Confession or Fasting or Compassion whenever you'd like.

I hope you enjoy the articles.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Head, the Heart

I find it sadly ironic that in order to prepare to write or speak or preach about prayer, we busy ourselves with books and journals and lectures rather than quiet ourselves in the mystery and rest of prayer.

It's as if we believe that God can be quantified, demystified. As if we believe that we can explain the journey without ever having walked the road. We cannot give what we do not have. So we must be careful not to make an idol of study, or knowing; and we must pray.

. . . . .

Mysticism is necessary in our relationship to Mystery. It is necessary in our union with Mystery.

. . . . .

Our relationship with God is a relationship with the Other. And while friendship or marriage are wonderful metaphors for such a relationship, they can only take us so far into the mystery of the Other. Stories will always reveal more about God than propositions. But even stories are inadequate. We go deeper into Mystery only to realize that we are where we began. And so we pray with the Church, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me."

On Blogging

I haven't been blogging much lately due to several factors: (1) I'm very busy with freelance work now, (2) I no longer have the convenience of my iBook - the children don't like Daddy spending time on the machine upstairs, and (3) I'm making cookies.

And even when I have been adding to my blog, the additions are more informational than they are explorational, which is frustrating for me.

I should have more free time in about a month, though I still won't have the convenience of a laptop. That's probably for the best, however, allowing me to spend some time with these little hoodlums-in-the-making.

On a positive note, I have been reading some excellent books.

Ack! The kids have found me and I've gotta go get those cookies out of the oven. Until later, imagine that you've read something funny or thoughtful or thought-provoking while you were here.

(And browse my links - there's some funny, thoughtful, and thought-provoking stuff out there.)

Sunday, August 20, 2006

iBook News, Final Installment?

The Apple Genius opened up my stickly little laptop. He peered inside and said that it was at least tier-3 damage, which means repairs would cost anywhere from $800-$1,000. And it could even be worse. So I'm selling the laptop on eBay, for parts, and hope to get $200-$300 for it. (The display alone, he said, was worth about $400 and the battery and keypad are also still functional.) It's what we non-tinkerers must do with our machines that no longer function. After all, for the price of repairs - especially added to the profit of the sale of the iBook for parts - I could easily get a new MacBook. Repairing it is not cost-effective. I will lose some work and some photographs, but it's simply not worth the price.

It appears a MacBook or a used PowerBook is on the horizon - though perhaps not for a few months. While a laptop is far more useful and convenient for freelance work than my iMac, it may need to wait while we recuperate from summer expenses.

So here ends my iBook odyssey. Goodbye, little computer. My memories of you will be short-lived, but sweet.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Color Me Stupid

I sent a short note on a Sticky to Sophie's teacher yesterday about some problem-solving Sophie was required to do in her math homework. It involved knowing words like digit and being able to understand the concepts of division and multiplication. I told the teacher of the problems' complexities and wondered about the process she used to teach these second graders how to solve such problems - in order that I might use the same process at home. You know, consistency and all.

Today a note was in Sophie's folder assuring me that I had gotten the answers correct and that such questions were "to help Sophie (and [parents]) better problem-solve."

I suppose the next time I write a note, I may need to specify that the problems are difficult for a second grader so that the teacher doesn't assume I'm a complete idiot.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

iBook Down - Mayday! Mayday!

The homeowner's insurance won't cover the iBook. So I'm going to run the sticky thing down to the Apple Store in the next day or two and see what the damage is. That trip will take me down to Charlotte - about an hour or an hour and a half from here. And, hey, won't that be fun with the kids!

I'm thinking it might have to get listed on eBay for parts (not the kids).

The good news is that when I become rich I can trade up to a MacBook or maybe even a MacBook Pro (since I'll be rich and all). Interestingly, while it's all rather disappointing, that's all it's been. It just hasn't blipped that loudly on my emotional radar. And while I'm not certain whether that's good news or bad news, I'm going with good.

. . . . .

In other news, the yellow-haired child is now receiving medication for Swimmer's Ear just like me, and her sister before her. I took her in to the pediatrician today and she has officially joined the club.

Did I walk under a ladder or something?


Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Today I learn more about the fate of my iBook. It is definitely stone-dead as of now, though I haven't taken it in to the Apple Store yet for them to examine the extent of its deadness. I have, however, put in a call to my insurance company and they said they'd let me know today whether its covered.

I'm hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A Catholigism: Ritual and Justifisanctification

It strikes me, concerning the liturgical calendar, how our whole lives are being sanctified within its ritual.

(Whoa, I see that flag. Yes, I see that red flag in the front. And I see several in the balcony. Red flags are popping up all over the place at the mention of liturgical calendar and ritual, and cords of wood are being gathered as I speak of sanctification occurring in ritual. But hold off on the matches for a moment, if you would.)

What I mean by my statement is that when we live our lives consciously within the liturgical calendar, within liturgy, our lives begin to keep step with the Church. The patterns of the Church then become the patterns of our lives. Every Friday becomes not, principally, about the weekend, but a remembrance of Jesus' passion and death. We become participants in the life of Christ when we become participants in the life of the Church.

And through this participation we receive grace, not because of some magical mumbo-jumbo, or because of something we have earned, but because we have become fixed upon our God - the source of all graces. By His grace, we participate in His life and so become more like Him. (It is not a matter of 42 years of liturgical participation + 5,000 Eucharists + 1 baptism + 1 confirmation + 600 reconciliations + 1 anointing of the sick = a justified life. It is not mathematics or economics, but it is friendship with Christ - which leads to repentance and reconciliation and peace.) And as Moses' face shone from YHWH's presence, so our lives begin to shine in the presence of Christ and as His Body.

Fridays fix our minds on the resurrection we celebrate on Sundays. And so - week after week, season after season, year after year - our lives begin to beat with the rhythm of Christ's.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Thing 3 and Thing 4

A two and a three year old are not to be trifled with. They are not nothing. They are elemental forces of nature, moving from one hemisphere of the home to the next. None are safe. The Raccoon and the yellow-haired child, creatures of destruction and curiosity, move with deliberation. All things must be learned hands-on, and no thing shall be left unturned lest they be deprived of their precious knowing.

They drink all my soda, and for that, even when they are 80 and I am 115, they are indebted to me. What is more, they consume large amounts of pizza. I wake some nights in a cold sweat thinking of it.

The yellow-haired child spends the day plotting in her panties while the Raccoon forages for sticks and steel bars.

They root for Captain Hook.

It is true that I am not without my own powers. I have data on these creatures: I know their weaknesses, their greatest desires, their fears; I know where they are ticklish. And I am bigger - for now that is sometimes sufficient. But these urchins are intelligent and their data changes with the rapidity of the Raccoon's diapers.

I wake some nights in a cold sweat.

I sit hear, typing furiously, wondering what they're doing now, afraid of what they're doing downstairs. Three eyebrow hairs pop into gray thinking of it. I am frightened. Where is their mother?

Drums, drums in the deep. They are coming. I cannot get out.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Academicians: Firsts and a First

Anna: Paper Towel and Horsefly

So here's Anna when she got home. Not only was it her first day of Kindergarten, but she also lost her first tooth today. This picture was taken about two hours after it happened - she wouldn't let me take the paper towel. I finally had to tell her that the Tooth Fairy was pretty strict about not leaving her fairy coins with kids with paper towels in their mouths. She lost the tooth at school and that's why the paper towel is vintage brown-industrial. I bet you can almost smell and taste that paper towel, can't you? (She drew a horsefly when she got home. I'm not sure where that came from, but it was pretty funny.)

Anna: First Lost Tooth

To the right is Anna without the paper towel. You can see which tooth she lost and her beautiful silver crowns. She's still a little concerned about that "red spot," but I hope the novelty of tasting her own blood will wear off soon.

Sophie: First Day in Second Grade

And Sophie is looking all growed up in this picture. The pretty girl had a good day in second grade even though half her class are hoodlums. She's our social butterfly, and going back to school is a real bonus for her. She's starting out with a sub this year until her just-had-a-baby, real teacher can get off her lazy backside and get to school.

(That's just a joke, Laura. Don't hurt me.)

A Big Day

Today I dropped off Anna at her Kindergarten room. She was a little shy, but all business. As soon as we got to the room, she marched in and found her desk and began unpacking her supplies. Earlier, she had almost lost control of that sea of emotion as she tried to unfold her new mat and in doing so knocked over a can of pens and pencils in her mommy's room. But she didn't cry. It's a big day.

I remember my first day of Kindergarten. I cried, I'm sure. My mom cried, I'm sure - her baby, her little caboose, was entering school.

Kindergarten is a big step.

Then I took Sophie to her second-grade classroom. These are strange times, growing up. She was fine, of course, and I'm sure more than a little happy about the beginning of school. She was interested to see who would be in her class, looking forward to seeing her compadres.

First Day of School is tough on the entire family. Laura is being introduced to a whole new batch of kids herself today while working under the rule of a young, new administrator. Sophie and Anna are faced with new situations. Avery is the oldest at home now and no longer has her sister to play with. She'll have her own responsibilities and stresses to deal with.

Not much has changed for the Raccoon - too much to do, to explore, to destroy.

It's an emotional day for me. It's nice having only two around. They are the work-intensive two, however, so I'm not sure it'll be any easier. It's hard, however, not having Anna around - wondering what she's doing, how she's doing. And I was getting used to having Sophie around again, but with only a month off, Summer flies.

So here I am. I think I'm ready for this year. I have more freelance work than I've ever had before (overwhelmingly so at times). But that's a good problem.

I'll try to get pictures of the two academicians when they get home. I hope they're all smiles.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Jaws, the Raccoon, and the Mighty Kraken

So Shark Week 2006 is over. In the short span of a week, I've restructured, intensified, and ever-so-slightly re-formed my quite-rational fears of swimming in the ocean (fears first formed while watching Jaws at six - so deep-seated were my fears that swimming alone in our pool frightened me). Sure we humans kill millions of sharks a year. But the real questions are, "Do sharks know this fact?" and, "Are they going to exact vengeange upon me?" Important questions as we wade into waters, even waist deep, that are filled with sharks big enough to rip your limbs off of you - to drag you out into the ocean for some Sue-shi or Scott-shi or You-shi.

Granted, when I go to the ocean, I swim. No matter how murky the water, or how close to the pier, I swim. This past beach trip, however, I swam in the ocean only twice. First, because the beach house had its own pool and watching the Raccoon try to swim in the pool beat the ocean hands down.

Digression: The Raccoon is crazy aquatic. He's two and he'd jump into the water whether or not I was looking or even around. He'd push my hands away from him and try to dog paddle while holding squirt guns and squeeze toys in his hands. By the end of the week, he was able to swim from the shallow end of the pool to the deep end and back by himself (with a noodle). Pretty good for two. The fearlessness with the water surprised me. I'd like to say it's because he trusts me intrinsically, but I fear it's because there's something wrong with his instinct toward self-preservation. I'm wondering if the Raccoon will be BASE jumping from the garage when he's four.

The second reason I stuck to the pool was because the ocean was freezing for most of the week (Sand = 150°F, Water = 25°F). The only reason there weren't floes of ice in the ocean, I imagine, was due to its eye-ball-scalding salinity. The pool on the other hand was warm as a bathtub (there were, after all, twelve kids swimming in it).

And the third reason, I get out to the ocean more than I ever have before since my in-laws live in Virginia Beach. It no longer has the basic attraction of a once-per-every-couple-of-years event.

So sharks do not keep me out of the ocean, though they probably ought to. I figure if I ever am attacked by a shark, which is probable given their love of blubbery animals, and if I survive said attack, then what a story! I'm considering chumming myself. I could be on Shark Week someday talking about how I bear no animosity toward the mindless killing machine that attacked me and that I was aware of the risk I was taking wading into the bastard's backyard. Mea culpa.

And finally, tonight, I got to see the first pictures ever taken of a giant squid. Very cool. They brought the tentacle up on the hook, which the monster had ripped off of its own body in order to be free of the hook, and the giant tentacle, though detached, was still moving and the toothy suckers were still suckering. I can't muster up fears of the mighty Kraken the same way I can my shark fears though. If the monsters came nearer the surface and started attacking boats and people again, well maybe then.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fifteen (or so) of my Favorites

I think the food items are mostly carryovers from childhood.

  1. Candy: Gummy Bears (the harder variety, such as the Haribo brand) and Tootsie Pops; chocolate in general
  2. Ice Cream: Orange Cream (Orange Sherbet and Vanilla Ice Cream)
  3. Foods: Pizza (Now there are other foods that I would probably like better than pizza with more complex flavors, but I'd sit down to a pizza any day of the week. Eating pizza makes my brain giggle; it makes me want to dance), Cheeses, Toasted and buttered Polish Rye bread, Poached Eggs on Toast
  4. Drink: Diet Coke, alas no more - the caffeine, it hurts
  5. Computer: My Mac, of course
  6. Car: Corvette
  7. Color: Blue
  8. Video Games: Halo (currently, not that I play video games), but I loved Quake, Doom, Donkey Kong (and the whole Mario Bros. franchise), Pac Man, Joust, Frogger, and Asteroids in their days
  9. TV Shows: 24 and Lost
  10. Movies: The Mission; Braveheart; Lord of the Rings; The Passion of the Christ; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; and loads of others
  11. Most Nostalgic Movies: Karate Kid, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Goonies
  12. Books: Shakespeare's plays, Lord of the Rings, Till We Have Faces by Lewis
  13. Poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins, Shakespeare (his plays), and Emily Dickinson; Contemporary poets: Seamus Heaney and Billy Collins
  14. Musicians/Bands: U2, Nicklecreek, Sufjan Stevens, David Crowder* Band
  15. Songs: "With or Without You," "Beautiful Day" (U2); "The Fox," "Sweet Afton" (Nicklecreek); "Kathy's Song" (Simon & Garfunkel); "Carolina in My Mind" (James Taylor)

Mock away, dear reader. Did I miss anything?

The Raccoon, 4:15-5:00 A.M.

He was up four more times. Measures must be taken; traps must be set.

Raccoon Attack

The boy has skillz is all I'm saying. At the beach, he slept in the same bedroom as his sisters and parents in his wonderfully portable, though seriously out-of-style, Pack-n-Play. He learned, the very first night that with a heave-ho and a jaunty leg toss that he could escape his tiny prison, much to his parents' dismay.

Now the beach trip is over. Tonight, he remembered his grand beach achievements and crawled out of his crib five times. He finally stayed down around 10:00 after multiple conversations involving some light Biscuit Straight Talk (BST). The BST will have to become a little more "persuasive" if he continues this behavior.

The Jig Is Up

I wish I had a picture of the little Raccoon. He would come downstairs and sit in the corner chair with his blankey and play quietly as I watched Shark Week on the Discovery Channel. When I would look at him, he would lower his face and look at me shamefaced through the top of his eyes. He couldn't fool me. I knew on the inside that he was really opening wide his eyes and waving his hands like Skipper the Penguin from Madagascar: "You [don't] see anything . . ."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Every Day Is Saturday® No More: The Beach Trip and Hope

This afternoon I opened my eyes long enough to discover that I was dead. I am joyless, hopeless, and, it is entirely possible, depressed. I have placed my hope and found my joy in entirely the wrong places. No person has the strength to sustain me.

. . . . .

I won't bore you with the litany of problems that I am either truly or imaginatively weighed down by. But right now, with a double ear infection (Swimmer's Ear) that hurts like the dickens - which, in consequence, has given me four or five consecutive nights with very little sleep due to the pain - I find myself to be someone whom I do not like very much.

Monday, Laura went back to school. Tuesday, Sophie and Anna will be in school (second grade and kindergarten). This week it is just me, the kids, and my Swimmer's Ears. I've had no patience with my children, even though they have no one else to be patient with them.

I've had no desire to do anything, really. I only wish I could wake up from, what has become, a strange distortion of what I thought life was.

Anna's Last Day

Last week, we had our family vacation in Nags Head. The picture was taken Sunday morning before we left. Anna appears wistful in the picture, though it is, perhaps, only my projection onto her.

I wish I could say the beach trip was relaxing and generally incredible, but I'd be lying. The anticipation of the trip was far better than the actual trip. I would take the anticipation over the trip any day. It was the family's Christmas present this year from my parents. Honestly, far more than they could afford, but we appreciate their generosity and have been looking forward to the trip for nine months or more.

I expected a lot from the trip - I anticipated a lot to happen relationally more than anything. I'm close to my family and love spending time with them. But this trip was not a "close" trip, or at least it didn't seem so to me. Time was when we got together we'd stay up late each night playing Trivial Pursuit and talking. This trip saw everyone going to their rooms by roughly 9:30 each night. There was a felt distance among us. And I imagine I am to blame for some of it.

One of the conversations that did not happen, that I desperately needed to happen, was the Catholic conversation. I did not want to spend the entire week talking about Catholicism, by no means. But this is the first time I've been face-to-face with family (an evangelical family) since my conversion to Catholicism. I expected it to come up. It didn't.

My oldest brother, with whom I can usually talk for hours, was oddly distant, at least from me. We never really sat down and talked but maybe once or twice. Awkward.

Several times at mealtimes the old family prejudices were hung out in front of God and everyone - so I'm glad you were not there. I tried to stay quiet, but had to say something once or twice - by the time I spoke, I was angry enough to forestall any true conversation. And so I must apologize to them for my bluntness. But I hate to hear that kind of hatred, however passive, coming from my family, who proclaims Christ. (I am not trying to sound as if I smell of roses - I have my share of prejudgments that I routinely, though quietly, make. Lord, have mercy. And there were others at the table less-inclined to engage in the discussion.)

And so it went. Several hurtful comments were said to or about me, which I'd rather completely forget. Which I'm trying to completely forget.

My laptop was killed, which hasn't angered me nearly as much as I imagined it would (perhaps an indication of my world right now). My oldest daughter and I, by the end of the week, were suffering from Swimmer's Ear. And everything was so quiet. So quiet.

I did read two books my oldest brother brought by Ted Dekker: House, which Dekker co-wrote with Frank Peretti, and The Martyr's Song. The first two-thirds of House was fairly engaging, but right around Chapter 35, it all went to pot as thriller became conversion story. I hate that. There's really nothing worse, in my opinion, than a good yarn of one genre being yanked into a stilted tract - however creative. The Martyr's Song, however, is altogether different because, though fiction, it's a Christian story all along - and it's quite a powerful one at that. It had me crying through most of the hour or so that it took to read. A good, made-up martyr story. And while the fact that the martyr story is fiction only detracts from the total read fractionally. I think my wife felt it detracted more than me, but I found it quite moving.

. . . . .

And so this afternoon, I awoke for a moment, while reading Henri Nouwen, and realized that my joy and my hope have been misplaced. And because of the misplacement, I have become dead. I realized that the beautiful people around me were not made to sustain me. Reality, even a reality of which you are always intellectually aware, can be shockingly harsh.

It's been a rough few months, this waking-up process. I pray, and hope - I must hope in order to come alive again - that it is purposeful. It's as if God has opened up a divine can of Whup-Ass on me - and relationships have shifted. People treat me differently now, there's no denying it. Most, I believe, just feel awkward around me.

I pray someday that they will feel less awkward and more confident in their knowledge of who I am. But it may be a long road. It's worth it, though, for these relationships. I will wait for them gladly. In the meantime, I will begin to hope again.