Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Birthday Party of Cataclysmic Effects

Another birthday invitation filtered its way to our mailbox. Those things just seem to ruin our Saturdays. So each year we respond in kind by making other parents suffer through two hours of pandemonium at our own parties – haHA!

When the invitation was unveiled, you can imagine our pain at the words “Chuck E. Cheese.” Is there any worse prospect? I’d gladly accept another root canal or eye brow waxing – figuratively I’m speaking. Jana said, “Too bad I’m at work for this one. But at least it’s not on a Saturday!”

So off I went with three children in tow, knowing full well what the end results were going to be. It’s tough to decide what the worst moment of the evening was, so I’ll just spit it out. We arrived in the Vegas casino-like atmosphere: bells, sirens, screaming…at least there wasn’t any second hand smoke to inhale.

The plan was to let my middle child attend the party while the three of us hung out on the fringes, doing our own thing. Well, I ended up watching her much of the time along with Usain Bolt and his big sister. The youngest ran around the place with such speed it was tough to keep track. My head whipped back and forth keeping the three moving objects in site at all times. That kid (my son) must have run 5 miles that night. At least he’d be seated for 15 of the 120 minutes to eat pizza, right?

I put in my order at 4:15. One hour later I inquired about it. “Oh it’s in the oven right now,” responded the semi-interested employee. Hmmm. Why am I making a stink about pizza I don’t even want? Well, the middle child had already downed a piece of cake, soda, and pizza while the other two went without. Tick, tick, tick. At 5:45 I requested my money back from the pizza that never arrived. Their response was slightly apologetic, yet inquisitive as to why I wouldn’t want to wait another 20 minutes for their cheese covered cardboard.

Fortunately the two non-party attenders were given a piece of cake to satiate their appetites temporarily. We left with dozens of skee-bowling tickets yet to be redeemed and headed to McDonalds. Too bad their meal was another 30 minutes away – 6:00pm traffic! We get to the drive thru when #1 son yanks his sister’s brand new book (a fancy party favor) out of her hands, rips out a page, and annihilates it. So, only one child ate McDonalds in the car while the offender screamed at a near dog whistle pitch and the party-goer sobbed over her mangled book.

When the kids were in bed hours later I kept thinking…“What was I thinking?” Who in their right mind takes three kids to Chuck E. Cheese at all, let alone by themselves? And now I wonder, why do we ever put ourselves in that kind of circumstance? Why do we put our kids into situations we know that disaster will occur? There’s a great sermon illustration here somewhere. People ask me from time to time, “Why did God create humanity with free will knowing that they’d sin?” My best theologically-trained answer: “I don’t know.” But this I know: God loves me. He loves me when I’m at Chuck E. Cheese and at church. He loves my kids. Sometimes he lets me run around screaming among further chaos of bells and sirens. Sometimes I get to eat cake, play video games, and wrestle with my kids. Sometimes I wipe tears and dirty rears. Sometimes I get to enter people’s pain with no comforting answers. Sometimes I do that same stupid sin for the 9th time that day. But no matter where I find myself, put myself, follow others, or carry my family, this I know – Jesus loves me.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When Life Gives You Lemons...Go Play in the Snow

We just walked in from the front yard - the high octane snowball fight is now over. Well, maybe high octane is a bit of a fabrication. My wife instigated it. My girls participated. I gladly jumped in. The male child just whined about his cold hands (having refused to wear gloves). I've never played in the snow in my front yard. It's great! Now we're inside getting ready for dinner, sitting by the fire and checking our Facebook statuses (stati?).

Tonight's plans were changed. We were a bit disappointed. You see, today is "Gotcha Day." Two years ago today we met our son. I'll never forget it. Our annual tradition (at least we went last year) is to go out to Ethiopian food for the big day, parade him around the restaurant, and puff up our chests like proud parents. But it snowed. So we're having chicken alfredo. Good stuff, but that Ethiopian cuisine is quite tasty.

The nuttiness of the day brought out increased traffic, thousands of coffee house patrons, and crazy after school parent drivers. On the way back to the office (read: Starbucks) after picking up the eldest from school, my car skidded ever so slightly on the main road. The weather was getting worse and I quickly realized I wouldn't be able to finish my sermon prep this evening (It may not surprise you that uninterrupted study is difficult in a house of three children.).

I turned around and headed home and "made lemonade" - translation: played in the snow with my family. Oops, read carefully. No yellow snow was involved! Though I'm a bit behind on sermon prep, we had a blast and I'll remember tonight for a long time. I'm missing out on "doro wat" and "injera", but chicken alfredo is sounding pretty good too.

How often are your plans changed? Are you ever forced to postpone your to-do list? Can you survive without your Google calendar? I'm not here as an expert, just someone learning. After all, if you live up here too tomorrow's forecast is for cold, icy weather. We may all be making lemonade...or playing in the snow...or on the ice...or ____________ (fill in probable inclement weather activity).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Worth the Early Wake-up

On the Eastside of Seattle we live the good life: nice houses, nice cars, decent weather (ask a Minnesotan in February), museums, restaurants, cool toys, and coffee houses with attitude. We're all bombarded with ways to spend time together and look for ways to fill our weekends specifically. It's easy to forget about people who suffer when it doesn't happen as much in your backyard.

But some families here are doing things differently. Take this past Saturday for example. In lieu of sleeping in on the one day a week I'm oft-afforded to do so, I brought my two girls to a church in downtown with five other families from my church. We prepared breakfast for about 50 homeless men and women. And for about 90 minutes came face to face with the faceless. I did my best to say hello, look people in the eye, shake hands, and convey their value as fellow humans made in the image of God.

Though I'm only 20 miles from Seattle, the homeless aren't seen in my town. It takes a car ride and a little effort to see this community. I watched my kids and about 8 others serve eggs, wipe tables, and take down chairs. I didn't do much work myself, but did enjoy watching the families at work. In the few days since I've learned of other families that routinely bring their kids to this breakfast. The conversations with my eldest since Saturday have been great. The older she gets, the more accountable she keeps me. It was definitely worth the wake-up. My hat's off to those who've dedicated more than an annual morning of inconvenience to living out their faith. I pray that the trail they blaze will be an example for all of us.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Pink Guitar

Our first baby turned 8 last week. Man, it goes by fast! Because she had begun to show interest in playing the guitar for a few months, I figured it was about time to give the option of developing her own musical skill set. And what better gift for a girl who dreams in pink, than for a Pink Guitar?

Watching her unwrap it was too cool. She was genuinely excited and mezmorized by it. Throw in a few pink picks, a pink amp cable, and a Barbie-sized amp, and you've got a future rock-n-roller. I wonder if 20 years from now whether or not she'll remember her 8th birthday present.

There are a few toys I remember. That Star Wars Christmas comes to mind a few years back. I have come to realize that the gifts Jana and I give our kids won’t meet the standards with many who live near us. I can guarantee that eight years from now she won’t be given a BMW of any kind for her sweet sixteen. After a conversation with a gentleman from church today, I realized that many of my neighbors will think far less of my children because they won’t be driving German imports. I’ll let my children know they should get used to disappointment. For whatever reason, many teenagers here drive cars more expensive than my first house.

Even if I were to discover oil in my backyard or something, I still wouldn’t buy my kid anything like that anyway. Either way I will be able to say, “Remember that pink guitar?”

For whatever reason I find myself always wanting a little bit more than I have: “x” coffees per week, “y” house in “z” neighborhood, etc. It’s easy to quickly forget not having a job just a year ago. Of course there may be some who look at me and say, "Why would somebody buy his kid a guitar of her own? Can't he just share?"

What does God think of my covetous heart? James 1:17 says, “Every good and perfect give comes from the Father.” So whether I make $5 million playing for the Mariners or $2 per day scavenging for scraps in Manila, God looks at my heart. Even though I make more money than 95% of the world, I frequently pine for what I don’t have. This is when I realize I’m in the wrong. So while I hope my daughter always treasures her pink guitar, my true hope for her is to be content – something I struggle with daily.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Crazy Story

And I thought I had a crazy route to Seattle. I met a guy recently from Africa. He's been living State-side for about a year. Because of his faith in God, he refused to join his country's civil war. For his stance he landed in prison. Imagine that, refusing to kill your enemy because of your personal conviction and being punished for it.

He was able to escape - quite a crazy story. He slowly moved from country to county in what I can guess took a few months. Along the way he was beaten by a 3rd party - not his countrymen and not our fellow Americans. He arrived in Seattle with no money, fortunately with family to care for him. He has found work and he has found a church. He has enough money to pay rent in a modest apartment - a building in which most in my town would cringe. But he is free.

Sadly his mother is in her home country and will probably die of old age without any of her children anywhere near. His siblings have escaped the war too. And his friends are in the same position he was in. He misses them and his mom.
I miss my family. I miss my friends. But to think that anything I've lived compares to the horrors he's experienced, I'm grossly self-centered.

My new friend praises God daily for his freedom. I marvel at his loneliness and incredible journey. I pray for his safety and life in a new country. Thinking of Luke chapter 4 when Jesus proclaims freedom to the captives, I can only imagine how much more my friend can savor this freedom. The hardest thing I've had to do was wash the dishes. And I thought my life was tough.