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December 26, 2011

lying to the kids about santa

The Santa issue can be tough for parents. The dilemma is often presented as two choices: remove some of the fun and magic of childhood or possibly foster confusion and distrust in important spiritual matters. 

I doubt that believing in Santa as a child will automatically result in growing up into a God hater. Kids like to pretend. They mix things up all the time. Two of my boys attend Sunday school every week and still confuse Mary the mother of Jesus with Queen Galadriel from Lord of the Rings. I'm not afraid of them denouncing their faith when they find out that Queen Galadriel is not real.

But I am afraid of a few things:

Blowing the Santa issue out of proportion. I'm cool with Santa. Really, I have no problem with the guy, up to a point where fun turns into fiasco. I'm just not up for the effort of two parents keeping every word and deed straight when being cross examined times four (Claire can't talk yet). Have you tried planning stealth shopping trips and sneaking boxes and bags into the bedroom closet past 10 little eyes?

On the other hand, trying to steer completely clear of Santa or trash talking him for stealing the spotlight from Jesus requires just as much effort and explaining. I'm not up for that either. Kids are perceptive to see that slinging mud at others gets your own hands dirty. Besides, you can't run from Santa. Not in December. Which leads to my second fear.


I'm sorry, but I feel that actively promoting the whole Santa thing does come at a cost. Children and adults alike hold great potential for distraction from reflective waiting and celebration of God with us.

There were certainly presents under our tree and wild squeaks of excitement on Christmas morning. But we try to moderate it and steer clear of the big hype Santa focus that moves us toward the fatigued and frantic, perspective lacking cultural event that is opposite of anything remotely related to Jesus. By noon the typically cooperative and content children are suddenly fighting and asking for more, with the parents saying in unison, "I'm glad it's almost over."

Maybe other parents can pull off Santa in a more balanced and meaningful fashion. But this has been our experience. And it sickens us.

A few years back we decided to let it go. When a friend or relative wants to talk to the kids about Santa, they have all dealt just fine. But me? I can't keep track of who believes what at the moment and how they might best be approached. And so I've came up with the perfect solution.

As for me and my house, we will lie about Santa. 

No, really. When the issue arises, I play along fast and direct by speaking big fat lies, my face clearly speaking to each child what they need to hear.

Luke: So when do we open presents from Santa?

Me (With all eyes on, fairly sure that Luke doesn't believe, Owen and Ben probably do not, and Maggie really could care less at this point):

[Inhale deep, push out belly, retract head for double chin effect, put on old face and voice.]

"Well, I'll have to check my list twice, and run it past the chief elf, so that when all the children wake up on Christmas morning...hey, wait a minute, have youuu been a good boy this year?"

Luke: (smiles) Oh yes!

Me: Well then, what do YOU want for Christmas, little boyyyyyy?

And four children proceed to roll with laughter, squirm for their place in line to see Santa. I lift and place Luke across my lap, interview him in exaggerated tones. His visit culminates in getting plopped off the leg and heel shoved in the back, Christmas Story style, with Santa snickering "Ho. Ho....HO!"

The next child takes their place, and the fun continues, on and on squared, until Santa has finally had enough and must declare "Last child of the evening, Santa must catch the Polar Express to get back home for dinner." Each child gets what they need from their dad, along with affirmation on everything they know and need to know regarding Santa.

Speaking big fat lies about Santa keeps the magic and the sanity. Keeps the trust, the focus, and most certainly the fun.

ho     HO      HO 

December 22, 2011

the question

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Who stands before a 20-year old man, looks him in the eye, fires off the question at point blank range? 

"Do you believe in God?"

With no warning. No caution. No pretense. My curious, mostly innocent 5-year old son can pull that off.

It was just two days ago that Owen and I talked about how not everybody goes to church. Or even believes in God. We talked about how they're not all bad people either, or at least no worse than us. Like some of our family and friends. Whom we love.

I obliged his wide eyed need for names, answering with a string of"yes, no, I don't know." Which apparently did not rest well with the boy. And now he waits. Just stands there. Expecting nothing more or less than an answer. The young man replies.

"I'm really not sure...."

Owen flashes his shy smile, pauses to take in. He sees that this question of his is something important, wants to say more. But he turns away, head stand flops into the couch.

I stand to the side, surprised by it all. Owen stating a sincere question. Cory answering him gently and honestly instead of brushing him off or saying what he thought was right. I tell you that I have greater respect for both of those boys.

It turns out that Cory and I both have a hard time reconciling a God of love, purpose, and design with cold brutality and random suffering. Design? What of suicide and whirlwinds, terrorists and earthquakes? What of the creepy things of the natural world that were apparently designed specifically to inflict pain and death?

The truth is that sometimes, I'm really not sure. I want to avoid the whole issue. But head stand flops onto the couch don't cut it when you're a big boy.

I try to remember that living faithfully and consistently is a more meaningful and difficult thing than making claims about faith. I wait out the skepticism. Cozy up to uncertainty. The truth of the matter simply cannot hinge upon transient feelings and emotions that often seem to appeal to whatever side of the fence we're not on.

And in the mean time I choose to live faithfully.

It may be a glimpse of beauty in a smile, a scenic view, or a song that dislodges the doubt. It may be an obligation or a cry. Sometimes a hunch is all it takes.

I may catch wind from the scientists. They say that our universe had a beginning, a fact which seems to beg for a cause. I just don't have enough faith in nothing to believe that all this something came from nothing. With new understanding of the quantum world, the scientists and philosophers agree that freedom reigns throughout nature, from our collective conscious down through the smallest units of matter. And with true freedom comes the potential for pain and consequences, along with meaning, joy, and love.

Love, serving and unconditional? Where on earth did that come from? What is the agnostics answer to the problem of all - this - beauty? Our ideas of courage, truth, justice, and mercy? Why do we have some transcendent appeal for the way things are supposed to be, and cry tears or "no fair" when they are not so?

This lack of reasonable explanation for so many things, it pushes me back to faith. And I know, without a doubt, how this faith pushes me away from my tendency of a fearful, vanilla, self concerned suckah.

I was nearly moved to tears before going to bed, when Owen asked me to pray for Cory, our not really sure, honest friend. I wasn't exactly certain..., but we did thank God for the chance to experience this life with Cory. We prayed that we would be good friends to Cory, that all of us would have our eyes open to see.

And I can't shake it. Can't contain the meaning of a child's simple faith and care with an appeal to science or reason. Can you see how God is with Owen on this? Jesus did say that his kingdom, the very place where God dwells, belongs to such as these.


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December 02, 2011

pure and faultless

Wow. That was something. Too much to take in, to process. I'm unsure of all that is safe and necessary in terms of names when it comes to closed adoptions through a state foster system.

But today we flooded the Dauphin County Courthouse. Bum-rushed the show. With children - I believe there were 23 of them from five families. With a community of family and real, messy-life-with-you friends. With overwhelming joy.

There was a stereotypically snarky, playful attorney who brought doughnuts and drinks. There were cut flowers, fists holding the smell of spring, of new life. There was a call to order and a swearing in. There were questions under oath and tears and testimony from witnesses and a fidgety, sticky faced, petal pulling jury.

There were mouths hung agape and wide smiles, full frontal hugs, bonked heads on turn-stays, and reprimands about free-running in the courtroom. There were horse-play halting reminders of watchful police standing guard at the doors.

There was prayer, well thought words of a pastor that must have echoed straight through every chamber of that government entity. There was a beautiful, even gleeful man behind large sturdy mohagany; a judge who labeled this no small miracle and quoted chapter, number, and verse in his concluding remarks.

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
      -Proverbs 31:8 

Why was this not plastered all over the news? Why are no mobs marching through the streets of Steelton, carrying full size cardboard cut-outs, repeating chorus cheers of pride and encouragement?

Portions of scripture specifically differentiates worthless Jesus talkers from the truly faithful based on what they do for orphans and widows. And if you don't prefer the works-based inspiration of James, other authors record Jesus talking about the same thing - true and false disciples. I wonder if this marks the line  between those who say "Lord, Lord," and those who do the will of God?

Please, this is no guilt push for everyone to adopt. There are plenty of ways to serve orphans and widows. It's just that you don't expect to walk into such an official, historical, and stark setting to experience that depth of community and prayers, laughter and chocolate milk. So much of that hour was unexpected to the extreme. Upside down (this family of 7 willingly bringing on two more). Maybe even heavenly.

Not that any of us entered into that court room to save our own souls or to get face time with Jesus. For sure, T and S are officially family now, already unconditionally loved. This life, with them, is certainly enough. 

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[I later shook hands and exchanged a few brief comments with the judge. He mentioned that this hearing was significant and quiet emotional for him, for in only a few days will two key players in the PSU child abuse scandal take to the same witness stand. "Stark contrast," are the words he repeated.]

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October 30, 2011

Happy Entropy

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Last week at the Dillsburg Farmers Fair, Luke pointed to a series of dilapidated houses lining Main Street. "Look dad, they made their whole house a Halloween decoration." I flashed a hearty smile and nodded my head in agreement.

Looking down to the porch, their rotten granny faced Jack-o-lantern gave me pause. I felt tangential rays of the sun battle a crisp breeze on my face. Second-hand cigar smoke socked my nose, overwhelmed the appealing smell of decaying leaves.

One way or another, Halloween seems to be all about entropy. About systems winding down to the end of their cycle. It is about dark, rot, rust, cold, death, and decay. Do we deny these things that are not good or bad, but simply are? Should we fear that God is anti-autumn?

I've chosen to see Halloween as a time to recognize, deal with, and even celebrate the reality of entropy. I see the (literal) dark and creepy crawlies as humbling reminders of our brevity, our limitations, and the ultimate fate of our corporeal being. This is reality, not dabbling in the occult. There is too much evil during all season among the living to worry about the October undead.

Must we deconstruct the heebie jeebies? The demons that we think of, you can simply tell that their physical form and function would never work anatomically, at least not in this world. Why should ghosts ever be seen in clothing? Did they take it with them? If they are able to reflect or omit light (and therefore be seen) then they cannot be exempt from the basic laws of action-reaction. If they can switch lights on and knock books off shelves, then they should have to use windows and doors, just like the rest of us.

The cultural side of Halloween? From what I witnessed last Thursday, it's as if Trick-or-Treat is the new Christmas. There's simple family tradition and togetherness without all the pressure and obligation. There's a fraction of the materialism and politically correct controversy. In our small development, neighbors that have their porch light off and drive by our house without so much as a nod all year are suddenly welcoming and generous with their time.

I don't mean to say that evil is a cultural construct to be taken lightly. Or that the pagan holiday in October is more important and prominent than the day we celebrate the coming and birth of Jesus (a day which was, ironically, specifically retrofit over another pagan holiday). Or that scaring the piss out of people doesn't have the potential for some serious pitfalls.

Our ability to sit here and think about mortality and wonder what's next - this I take seriously. A world where entropy eternal, cold, and black is the bottom line - this is hideous and frightening. This I can deconstruct only by asking why and from where the light came.

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October 08, 2011

ice, bait, and kindling

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"That's not frugal, it's just nasty," Amy comments as I twist a plastic grocery store bag around my sandwiches. I've been stuffing sandwiches directly into those sturdy, abundant, and free bags for years to no ill effect.

There are certain items that I simply cannot bring myself to buy. Like small garbage bags. I've stepped off the viscous bag cycle where you use a small plastic grocery store bag to carry your box of small garbage bags home, then in the kitchen open the box of garbage bags in order to have a place to discard the grocery bag. 

While convenient on-the-go, bottled water is usually unnecessary indoors. No, you couldn't tell the difference in a taste test that controlled for temperature and aeration. And don't get me started on gravy ladles.

I readily admit that the sandwich on raw grocery bag is a bit extreme. My disdain for thoughtlessness and waste comes easy. Even in his late, financially secure years, my grandfather Tom Minick always said that you should never buy ice, bait, or kindling. Why pay for these items when just a little planning and effort would turn them up for free?

Did Pap (pronounced Paaahp) actually say that? I'm not sure it matters because he definitely lived it. Perhaps one of his daughters or sons could clear the air. Pap was more frugal, thoughtful, and slow to speak than I. Despite his midlife struggles, all the family loved him, now practically canonize him a saint.

Pap. Worked. Hard. Yet what I remember most from my comings and goings is Pap sitting in the evenings at his kitchen table or on the front porch for extended periods, leaning forward, head hung, massive forearms propped on knees, staring, staring, staring down.

Pap was neither slow nor quick to engage me with a question or few. He was one of the few people who referred to me as Robert.

"So whattya think, Robert?"

I always thought that Pap must be awfully bored just sitting there for so long. I remember looking over his shoulder at the spot on the kitchen floor, trying to probe the spot for answers, searching with a gaze fit for deep sky. As an adolescent, I got little but floor out of Paps exercise.

For all his intelligence and work ethic, pap never came to Jesus until near the end, after the second or third time he passed out while sitting with his family. Though he was always both frugal and generous, his tired eyes finally shown joy.

I'm thankful to have inherited more than Paps thick head of hair. I see him all over my parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins because I'm watching and reflecting. We are actually all watchful and reflective, in the odd Minick sort of way, to a large extent because of you-know-who.

The Pap in me has a hard time budging when the girls at work request to order specific pens, when the kids want to drink bottled water at home and buy crickets to feed their frogs, and when Amy knows to add a "zip-lock please" when it's my turn to pack the sandwiches. These are my ice, bait, and kindling.

Sometimes at night when I manage to pry myself away from reading and trying to write at this computer, gazing long into this screen, I'm oddly drawn to sit a while more with face to the floor. Something compels me to fit in a good floor session before heading off to bed.

Staring at the floor, doing nothing, nothing doing, bliss.

That spot - I'm starting to see it now.

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September 28, 2011

that socialization thing

The boy loves bikes. Luke constantly rides at home, rides with his brothers and cousins, his dad and uncle Tim. He tucks into bead with miniature flix tricks bikes.

Luke recognizes the uniform. He knows that skinny jeans and skate shoes are functional and not a statement of anti-athletes, as his dad once suspected. He studies bmx videos, imagines that every gangly teenager drooped over a bike spends his days flying around the globe defying physical laws of the universe with pedals and wheels. 

Luke has rode skate parks on a few occasions. The unsocialized, home educated boy has managed to find his way among what has the potential to be a pretty rough crowd. He quickly learned why and how to respect the space of both highly skilled and highly unskilled riders. He hasn't been conditioned to feel intimidated and self-conscious around older peers. Compliments roll freely off his tongue. The majority of them have been kind, and any mopey awkward attitudes smooth out when Luke asks them about their skills.

Surely the bmx community offers both positive and negative influences to a starstruck 7-year old. I had some concern about him idolizing these guys and getting caught up in the cultural riff-raff. Until last week.

Luke, his brothers, and I pedaled down a nearly empty boardwalk to meet up with Tim in the September dusk. "Bmxers!", he exclaimed, spotting several young men that appeared to be riding the skate park in Ocean City NJ. We meandered through the gate and past them, Luke with a twinkle in his eye, noting their style and tricked out bikes. We proceeded to ride, our amateur moves on the various ramps and jumps going mostly unnoticed by the bikers.

Ten minutes later Luke paused to catch his breath. "Hey Uncle Tim, did you see those bikers do any awesome tricks? Let's go ask them to do something?"

Leave it to Tim to not mince words.

"Don't think so Luke. I haven't seen them do anything except sit on their bikes, cussing and smoking cigarettes."

Luke sat on his bike stunned, watching the young men proceed to do exactly that. I rode over to him, tempted to cover his ears. Instead I subtly mocked their second-hand smoke, mentioned to Luke how you don't even need a bike or skate park to do that, and shifted his attention to the skill uncle Tim was working on.

"Let's go try some of those with uncle Tim."

Uncle Tim who doesn't act like that; doesn't talk like that, and is generally awesome, right there in front of you.

Luke is going to hear and see a lot of things in this world, much of it outside the presence of his dad. Who, what, and how will he engage? Each ride is an opportunity to show him how we roll. Every adventure out of the front door is a right-of-passage.

I'm thankful for Lukes uncle, cousins, and "big" friends. And for doing stuff...together. Such a worthy excuse for this grown boy to love bikes.

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September 09, 2011

the addition

Claire and the other kids are doing great. Amy is tired but feeling so much better after having the 9 months of nausea. 

The baby Claire experience, when she's not eating or sleeping:

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September 01, 2011

communion miracles

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And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

I sat in Lighthouse Baptist Church, staring down at the small piece of bread in my right hand, somehow oblivious to anything around me.

Where have I came from? What have I done? What am I to do with the days I've been granted? In light of the one who offered sinners grace, called us his friend, laid down his life so that we may live this life to the full? 

And we will live again.

When did I ever start buying into this impossible math? How did I begin to comprehend the story where one person offers free rescue to the whole ship of fools? 

There was the time when I decided that sitting still for 55 minutes was too much for God to ask of a 10-year old. So I signed up to be an alter boy at our little church in the woods of Chestnut Ridge. 

Ah, free to move. For God, of course.

One of my responsibilities was to help smooth out one of the most challenging priestly demands: estimating how many wafers to consecrate during the rite of communion. Too few leaves some parishioners out of luck. Too many leaves the priest with a...substantial problem. You can't just toss the transubstantiated body of Jesus out for the squirrels or hide it in the trash under random donut fragments.

With communion underway, the parishoners filed up to the priest. Another alter boy and I guarded close by to catch any wafers fumbled toward the floor. We maintained the athletic ready position, dreaming of the chance to make a diving save. Sadly, that never happened.

The alter boys and priest were always the last to receive communion. I'd rate the priests aptitude after the congregation, the ushers, the organist, and finally the small choir headed back to their seats. I often received a halved wafer and initially felt slighted when it was a measly quarter. 

I once assisted a "substitute" priest who grossly overestimated wafer requirments for the day. It was just the three of us left, looking down on about 25 wafers strewn across the gold plate. He paused, stacked around ten of them up like poker chips, smashed them together ala Dagwood Bumstead, and stashed them into my mouth.

The stack expanded, clung to everything. I worked on that stack for the remainder of mass, chiseling an index finger toward the roof of my mouf. I had just finished my communion by the time dad met me to walk to the car. He said that I should be extra holy, but I mostly felt thirsty.

Those years of up-close communion taught me some things about the math of God. I began to appreciate that it counted the same whether I was called to a quarter wafer or ten. I saw the possibility that it really is best to give and to receive no more or less than your portion. Doing something for God felt good, was good, even when it meant stuffing down communion wafers. 

These days I'm slightly better at sitting. Slightly. Instead of trying to determine the right way to do communion and exactly how the body of Jesus is involved, I'm attempting simple thankfulness for my daily quarter and 10-stacks. 

Ah, the peace. I'm finding that a miracle certainly does take place by moving in obedience and by being still, remembering in thankfulness.

"Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle." 

-Ann Voskamp

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August 28, 2011


After watching a pretty cool vid, this consumed their minds and bodies today.

"Wow that's cool. We HAVE to make a video."

Slow rainy Saturday, waiting on Irene. Yeah, okay.

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July 12, 2011

The ANIMAL video

This is their passion right now, what we have to show for our spring and summer labor.

Credit to Luke for putting much of this together while dad helped.

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June 14, 2011

Time sensitive material

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"Right" priorities balance on some razor thin, probably imaginary edge. It always feels like I'm sliding one way or another.

I'm typically at my physical therapy office from 8 to 7:30 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Those are the days when I rush home at about noon for a quick lunch before the afternoon shift.

I pull into my driveway, usually happy and hungry. I see needs. Needs everywhere. There's so much that I could be doing with the fifteen or forty minutes I'm granted to be home.

The kids want to show me the mornings labor. A written story, a drawn picture, a new frog or "bike jump." They are scurrying around land mines the dogs have left lying in the grass. Removing them before disaster strikes a shoe and spreads through the house is a priority.

I notice plants calling for a drink. I walk through our disorganized, sometimes disastrous garage, down wall smudged hallway, make my lunch amongst stacks of folded laundry and dishes piled high. I see my dear wife, patiently waiting to catch up with me. My cell phone rings.

Some parts of me enjoy this pace and others do not. In some ways, I've most certainly asked for it, this family. And work? I could be trying to manage my own business. Sheeyah. I could be at my current office doing paperwork, "marketing," or getting caught up on "developments" in the field.

But I've made choices and have been blessed with the opportunity to work in the community where I live. I've traveled 2.4 miles to my home to receive hugs, instruction, and a bit of spaghetti-Os and bicycle grime on my work clothes. 

The garage can be purged and organized, every wall painted, every twig, leaf, and blade in the yard uprooted and replanted, some day. I can research and hustle and pour myself into reinventing my presence in the workplace. All that can be accomplished in a few weeks or months. If need be. That's not so with spouses and children, with mental and physical health. NOT SO. There are important, time sensitive developments and opportunities happening with Amy, with the kids, and within me, that demand regular attention.

It may not happen during a lunch break on long work days. Seasons come and go with shifting priorities, but nobody can afford to regularly neglect the health of their family and their body.

I take my work seriously, honestly, and usually enjoy it. Yet sometimes I can't see the line between being a responsible provider and being caught up in the rat race. Where there are decisions to be made in the face of uncertainty, events and consequences that push one way or another, you know which way I'll be leaning.

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June 04, 2011

love your neighbor

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In the dark is where the really big huge monster bull frogs appear. So they waited all day for night to fall, the three brothers, the dad, and the neighbor girl. We began our third hunt in as many weeks, eager to see what kind of Nessies may be found croaking in the deep.

We approached the (now) legendary Grantham pond, each of us armed with net and flashlight. The sliver moon hung low, reflecting off water, moss, and muck. We were sneaking, excited but whispering to each other going into turn one of the pond, when from the corner of the pond we heard a...

A voice. Of a person. With a pretty alarmist tone for four kids and a dad quietly hunting frogs.

"'S"cuse me, the park is closed at 9:00."

Oh. My. Frog. Of COURSE. Of course someone would have a problem with this, four kids and a dad hunting critters together on a Friday night and letting them go a day or two later in their backyard one mile up-stream.

I pulled out my phone.

"Yeah look at that, it's 9:20. Were we bothering you?"

"Well the neighborhood around here keeps watch of the park at night and the park closes at 9:00."

I stood there silent, staring at the shadowy figure, a middle aged woman trying to catch her breath.

"I thought that meant the pavilion and the playground. So we're not allowed to be here, even for catching frogs with nets?"

"No your not. And we like having some frogs around, ya know?"

I thought of the hundreds if not thousands of frogs and tadpoles that we've seen or caught at the pond over the last few years, many of which probably find their way back when we release them.

I looked over at the small campfire she had going about halfway between her town home and the pond, wondering if it was placed on park property. Upper Allen Township prohibits campfires without a permit from the fire warden, recalled the one with a small ring of stones in the far reaches of his own back yard.

"Okay guys, lets head back toward the car."

We made our way back along waters edge. I caught a glimpse and paused to point out an almost wholly submerged monster bully. Seeing that we weren't moving out at a pace suited to her liking, the woman pretended to call the police. This had the effect of me wanting to go ape shit, especially since I had plenty of leverage with the illegitimate camp fire likely on park grounds.

I'm just a concerned citizen. And rules are rules.

And so I moved more slowly toward the car. Pausing here, listening there, not attempting to net anything. Rounding up four kids takes a while, you know? I somehow managed to keep my mouth completely shut. Not a word about the frogs. Or the rules on campfires. Or my disappointed children.

Is it wrong for me to smile at the thought that tomorrow, Lord willing, we will be there an hour earlier?

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May 26, 2011

Depressed/Under Stress

[I'm not qualified to diagnose or treat depression. Well, at least not directly; not as a health care professional. These are simply the thoughts of a guy who signed up for a free blog.]

The most common condition in my physical therapy clinic, by a long shot, is depression. Those two little boxes on our health history questionnaire are almost always checked off. "Who's not under stress or depressed?" said the patient with low back pain as she completed her paperwork today.

On one hand, clinical depression is a mystery to me. I haven't studied it formally, and I've never been particularly depressed or anxious. Some of us just don't have that bend to us. No, some of us are too arrogant, stubborn, prideful, or dishonest with ourselves to be depressed. We fall, for sure, just not in the direction of depression. I do question if any minister, mental health specialist (or anyone else who does deal directly with depression) is very well qualified to understand or treat depression if they haven't experienced it themselves.

On the other hand, I do claim to know at least something about depression. Anyone who pays a lick of attention should know something, because it's everywhere.

I know that bringing up perspective and poor decisions and God's sovereignty is not exactly therapeutic when someone is stuck under a crushing cloud.

I know that there is a significant genetic predisposition to depression. Or is it environmental. Does it matter which it is, if we recognize that depressed people have absolutely not always brought it on themselves?

I know that three days of gnawing back pain and lost sleep will make anyone quite emotional if not substantially depressed. Stress and anxiety and depression absolutely effects pain perception, cycles the misery, ups the ante.

I know that a lot of beautiful, intelligent, genuine Christians suffer from depression. They bare witness to the fact that faith or lack of faith is not the bottom line here.

I ask why. Why so much depression so often affecting so many different types of people? Is there anything we can do about it? How may I actually help someone suffering depression, or at least not further hinder them?  How, where, what can we do to save our children from this thing where they grow up and the vast majority of them are checking the "stress/depressed" box on their health history questionnaire?

In 50 or 500 years, will our ancestors remember our age as the second great depression? Do you imagine there's some element(s) of modern living that are highly damaging to the human psyche? What's really going on here? Is it our expectations, our knowledge base? Are there choices we're all making, seemingly sane and good choices, that bite us in the butt 10 months or years later?

I just can't imagine that it's only due to improved diagnoses and social acceptance of depression. In the old days, people may have been hungry or persecuted or oppressed or dead at a young age. But I can't imagine that so many suffered from depression.

There have been times when I've  been able to help friends. A little movement, a little less arthritic pain, a little lighthearted laughter. There have been more times when I've struggled to do nothing more than be present, listening. There are times when I pray for less understanding and more gentleness and compassion.

"Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. But they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can take them, our share in the passion of Christ." -CS Lewis

May 15, 2011


just another free saturday - what we try to do when not catching frogs.

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May 03, 2011

the life cycle of frogs

It's a warm spring day with nothing scheduled. The dad has worked hard to give his children the gift of a free morning.

I ask them what they'd like to do today. Play ball, go to the park, anything at all? Of course they want to catch frogs and other creatures. They've repeatedly asked for nothing more or less since the last time we came home with two bucket loads of tadpoles.

Off we drive with nets and buckets, to one of the many local watering holes; swamps and ditches and vernal ponds. Along the way we spot daffodils and tulips marking a season of new life, celebrating them with the excitement of Christmas lights in December.

For the next 50 minutes we scoop and slosh, collecting frogs, small fish, a turtle, and most of all, mud. Maggie never learns that thing about slimy frog eggs being gross. Ben nets his first tadpole; a moment that I never want to forget. You would have thought he netted Moby Dick.

Owen catches a frog and Maggie releases it. Luke turns up a small catfish. The excitement almost makes me forget about the organic smell that will linger in the car and the hours Amy and I will spend cleaning kids and shoes and laundry.

I know it's worth it - the time, the smelly car, the inspection for tics. I remember countless hours spent in the woods behind my parents home making new "old shoes," learning lessons in a small, mucky sanctuary of life known as "the swamp." The swamp was my favorite place to go until about the age of 13.

Then I had other things to do. I recall, a little later, riding my bike during college years at Slippery Rock. I was off to important places, and never had the courage to actually go poke around in the bogs and small ponds in and around campus. But I stared at cat tails with deep longing. The call of spring peepers was an instant reminder of the simple, joyful wonder of youth.

I've fished for trout, like dad did when he took me all over creation with net in hand. But that's just goofing around. I'm so thankful for the four tadpoles with me. I almost forgot how spectacular frogs are. For a minute there I thought there was something better to do than muck around in a swamp.


 - - - - -


 - - - - -

This past Sunday at LBC, Pastor Fedor spoke to us about leaving a lasting legacy, structured from a quote by Dr. Crawford Loritts Jr.

"Out of struggle comes strength."
Comfort and wealth have the potential to turn us into the walking dead.

"Out of strength comes discipline."
 Discipline starts when we realize, in humility, that we have no strength of our own. Truly blessed are the meek.

"Out of discipline comes integrity."
Consistency establishes trust. There are no short cuts because we instill values primarily by example - how we live.

"Out of integrity comes your inheritance."
What will be left on the day you die; on the day the last memory of you winks out of existence? Hopefully much more than a certain "standard of living."

Do you "buy" this order of things? Hearing the story of Fedor's past, and considering how he lives now - it makes me want to pay attention, and gain understanding.

- - - - -

April 26, 2011

Easter blank

 - - - - -

This past Sunday, pastor Kevin spoke about Easter as a CELEBRATION of the resurrection of Jesus. And you? 

Easter is  _______.

[I'm not asking you to reply by e-mail or anything, though you can if you like.]

What is Easter to you? Is it hope and peace and renewal and forgiveness? Or is it rules or hypocrisy or just high fives for the American Confectioners Association?

What do you say Easter is? What does your life say?

Easter is life *abundant*.

 - - - - -

April 20, 2011


This past Sunday at Lighthouse, Pastor Kevin delivered the second part of a two-part series entitled Red Letter Day.

Jesus claimed that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And he actually did it, as men tortured him on the cross because of his goodness and mercy.

"Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

During his final painful moments, at the pinnacle of injustice, Jesus prayed. Is that not a miracle in itself? The miracle continues when we choose to have mercy and forgive others as we have been forgiven.
The alternative? As Pastor Kevin mentioned, unforgiveness drags us down and keeps kicking us in the face.

Thanks be to God's grace, which is bigger than all of our offenses, and a lot easier on my face.

 - - - - - -

April 11, 2011


Last Sunday at Lighthouse, Pastor Brown delivered a message about...ugh.

That place. The place of darkness we will all face (or already have faced), where we see poorly and trust is fading. We feel stranded on one tragic, painful moment, and we don't understand.

Jesus himself, King of kings and Lord of lords, felt forsaken by God.

There's good news! The way we live now, how we think and what we do on a daily basis - it all matters on the day(s) when life is not sunshine and lollipops. Have we chosen to live in humility, with a confident trust in the Lord? Have we nurtured our relationship with God, knowing that He is always good, always for us, and always with us?

Last Sundays message helped me drop some of the fear and uncertainty that I was carrying toward the inevitable, temporary darkness.

 - - - - -

April 04, 2011

Know Peace

[I'm filling in as a sub - the mid-week reflection for our church.]

This past Sunday, Pastor Kevin delivered the final message of a four-part series entitled Joy. This weeks message focused on peace.

In the Lord we find relational peace.
In the Lord we find inward peace.
In the Lord we find circumstantial peace.

Imagine that! How wonderful...

...You go back to business as usual, "real life" outside of Sunday morning. Your grace and gentleness is evident to everyone. Trust has replaced worry, opening the door for genuine selflessness and generosity. You have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, filled with gratitude, noticing the riches of each moment...


Pastors sermon reminded me that contrary to popular opinion (including mine sometimes), peace is really not so elusive.

Peace is a person.

I am leaving you with a gift - peace of mind and heart.

And the peace I give

is a gift the world cannot give.

                                                                                                              John 14:27

March 18, 2011

I'm Not Lady Gaga

For some reason I feel fairly ridiculous when I type the name Gaga, or the word gaga, for that matter. Two or three years ago it made me think of nothing except drooling babies. My parents and grandparents use to call me Goo when I was that age.

By about the age of 3, I HATED being called Goo.

I paused and laughed to myself last week, overhearing Owen and Luke as they wrestled in the living room, each of them volleying, back and forth, "No, YOU'RE Lady Gaga." I dropped what I was doing and dove into the tangle of arms and legs tumbleweeding across the living room floor.

"YOU'RE BOTH Lady Gaga."

Yes. I called my kids Lady Gaga and proceeded to rough them up with flat punches and tickles. 

Minutes later, breathing heavy and lying on the floor, I asked them where they heard about Lady Gaga.

"From you and mommy."

Okay, well that's good. I guess.

Amy despises most teenybopper pop, as she calls it. I find some of it catchy and interesting and mostly not, uh...profitable. The boys probably heard Amy and I comment about something on the radio or TV. We have talked about being shocked by Lady-you-know-who's eccentricity, in disagreement with pretty much everything she stands for, and definitely stuck on the hooks in some of the songs we hear.

I'm definitely not Lady Gaga.

Baby, I was born this way. My version would look a little different.

[If you haven't heard the song Born This Way playing a million times a day on the radio, you can easily look up the lyrics.]

Often impatient
Easily distracted
Chronically late
(These being particular manifestations of selfishness.)
Adrenalin and caffeine addicted
Short on confidence
Overly analytical
Seeking truth
Stubborn towards repentance
Wildly hopeful
Blessed beyond belief
Wanting respect and acceptance
Desiring justice and mercy
Needing redemption name a few.

I'm definitely not always on the right track. I'm not often proud of the way I was "born." Yes, of course there are regrets. Just today I talked too much when I probably should have listened.

Lady Gaga can and will issue here decrees while shocking and entertaining millions if not billions. Like me, most of them will go on to reflect on her words and deeds. None of us are Lady Gaga. Well, except Lady Gaga of course. 

I'm RWG, thinking about keeping my own act together before I worry too much about anyone else. This is me, sharing my thoughts with maybe a handful of friends, denying neither how I was "born" nor my first nick-name.

There's much to be gained by accepting who we are, not so much in the braggart, "I have arrived" sense. Owning up to the whole truth about ourselves, including the fact that sometimes we all suck – it’s not a new idea. Spiritual poverty is a beginning, not an end. A beginning on the way toward the best things, like lasting joy and peace.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

      Matthew 5

 - - - - -

March 04, 2011

aches and prayers

"Do you hear it?"

Ryan stands teetering on his left leg as I lower an ear toward his right knee. A group of children slow their way through the church lobby, watching me listen to Ryan bend and straighten, bend and straighten, bend and straighten his knee. 

"Seems like your kneecap is slipping over the edge of the femur."

I don't have ears to diagnose a creek from a pop. But I do know what problems are typically exposed when the knee is locked straight with the foot off the ground.

"So what should I do?"

I pause, thinking hard, not about functional anatomy. I'm usually glad, even honored to try and help. But in the past I've assumed too much, ready to talk biomechanics when friends and family are just looking for low pitched "hmmms" and common sense advice. 

I'm not sure what's behind the noisy knee. Kneecaps grind unevenly on femurs all the time for various reasons. If I had knowledge of a fool proof technique or set of instruction that would immediately relieve the misery of a dear friend, by all means, I'd eagerly share that.

But getting to the root of any matter takes time. We must prod, strain, and explore what precipitates the problem. We have to check strength and mobility at the foot, ankle, and hip. Then we scrutinize the details of basic activities like walking and squatting.
And that's just the evaluation. Correcting the issue usually takes time. It's an investment, never without effort, rarely a simple matter of "in" versus "out," crack, clunk, and you're all fixed. 

Oh, right. Ryan is still in front of me, waiting through my though pause with a look of expectation.

"Do you want to take a few minutes to look at the details?

"Or maybe, hmmm, you should rest and take it easy for a few days." 

- - - - -

I don't blame anyone for not wanting to go there - with all the detailed investigation. I'm pretty sure that I've done this in my prayer life. I'd like simple clarity on an issue. Some specific instructions or divine intervention would be nice.

Or would it? It just seems so...improbable...that the full complexity of any life issue can be holistically addressed by a simple, pain free granting. How are we to be reformed by quick answers and miraculous fixes? I'm not saying God can't, or that we shouldn't bring our concerns before him. Who am I to tell anyone how to pray? But it does seem that a shift in emphasis is in order.

Ugh. Who has time for all the self examination, the seeking, the deliberate waiting and watching as things unfold? Who wants all the prodding of sensitive areas when a knee brace and some ibuprofin may do the trick?

Who brings themselves still and quiet before the Lord with no agenda? Who humbly listens and prays for patience and the ability to be at peace while actually engaging the uncertainties, challenges, and pains of real living? 

I say that anyone who pulls this off can move mountains.

- - - - - - 

February 24, 2011

Consumer Confessional

I mumble to myself and corral three young children towards BJs Wholesale warehouse. Reciting the grocery list aloud has proven beneficial for the 40 (or so) minute challenge that's to come. With simultaneous kid management, cart maneuvering, comparative pricing, and shooting down an infinite need for cartooned based fruit snacks, I simply can't afford much aisle backtracking.

Here's a partial account of our ridiculous grocery list, a list created by husband and wife who are both allied health professionals:

"Pretzels, syrup, waffles, bread, butter, dishwasher detergent, fish crackers, diet soda, granola..."

Don't get me wrong. The granola is the fully loaded, sugared-up type. The "wheat" bread is basically delicious white bread with brown dye. If I recall, the only healthy and whole items on the list were blueberries and yogurt. Most yogurts are still good for you, right?

Amy does plan and prepare home cooked meals that include vegetables and all that. But waffles and cheerios are a battle worth fighting only once per day. Okay, Honey Nut cheerios. I throw some fruit in and call it a meal.

This is not a misrepresentation of our typical shopping experience. Nothing on our list is organic or certified anything. Kid friendly finger foods outnumber truly healthy fare by at least 3 to 1. Denials outnumbering requests by 30 to 1. There's anticipation, surprise, laughing, crying, adventurous grocery cart antics, and free cheese. There's friendly and not so friendly gawks from innocent store patrons caught up in our situation through no fault of their own.

Are we careful consumer?  Is our lifestyle and the votes we make with our dollars harmful to our health and our neighbors health? There are reasons why we choose not to worry too much about the conditions of the workers and animals that produced our Progresso chicken noodle soup.

Wholesale big boxes are just so convenient. A few weeks ago my "grocery" list included underwear and a new digital camera. I'm plainly unsophisticated and simply don't care too much about the finer details of these items. Going by history, I'll ruin both of them in less than a year, probably while mountain biking. 

They're also cheap. We're no "foodies." We simply don't have the desire (or demand) to cook strictly healthy, unprocessed meals three times per day.The six (going on seven) of us are a fairly genetically blessed bunch who tend not to overeat for our activity levels. BMIs and cholesterol counts are well in check. We really try not to buy what we do not need, and try not to waste what we buy.

I'd love to take a few hours every few days to drive up to the Central PA Farmers Market for fresh, locally grown goods. I've never been there, but I'm sure it would be an awesome and meaningful rhythm to the day. We would commune with vendors who know us by name, buying ground meat from a burly guy named Hoss and home made jam from a bonnet-wearing lady who goes by Granny Howard.

I can rarely afford time for that. We've made decisions on our work, leisure, home educating the children, and related areas. Although our income is sufficient, I'm certain that we cannot financially afford to support our large family on organic, fair trade, free range foods AND pay back student loans AND generously share our blessings with those in need both here and abroad.

I'd like to think we're at least moving in the direction of "doing the best we can with what we have." But I'm far from sure that big warehouse shopping can be compatible with good stewardship. There will always be something that we could be doing better.

My coffee. I could probably afford to make a better statement with my coffee...

- - - - -

February 20, 2011

most pics the video were taken by Luke, on a cold winter's day.  

February 12, 2011

Our Adoption Paradox

 - - - - -

Amy and I never planned on having a large family, and yet our fifth child is due in August. Sometimes I wake up wondering how this happened.

[Full post over at The High Calling.]

 - - - - -

January 22, 2011

cake and ice packs

 - - - - -

The birthday party was scheduled months in advance. But that day arrives when the mamma and CEO of family parties is on the down low due to illness. The show must go on. It's a kid's birthday party - dad style.

Theme? Uh. The theme is bikes and scooters and roller blades at a skate park. 

Don't reach too far when you're a one man show in a skate park. Invite kids and "kids" that can help out and hopefully not get too injured. All you have to do is enjoy what the they do, or more accurately, get the kids into something that you enjoy. Win - win.

Pick up a few pizzas on the way home, sing in front of a themed birthday cake, and call it a day.

The following is a set of my very own detailed instructions, in case you're ever in need of a bike/skatepark themed birthday cake:

Step 1) 1 cake
Step 2) 1 toy bike and ramp - apply to top of cake
Step 3) Oh yeah, rinse bike and ramp thoroughly beforehand

Here's a compilation of the shabby amount of pictures and videos on the camera by the end of the night. I truly feel bad that I didn't get a picture of Elijah braving the slopes and Buggies jumping all over the place on his pedal-less Thomas bike and about a dozen other cool images. Please have grace that what was captured was captured:

Goody bags? Don't get me started. Do ice packs count? I sent most of the kids home with an ice pack. They come complimentary with your 2-hour rental of the Underground Skate Park. Really.

I'm going to be sore tomorrow.

 - - - - - -

"Can we PLEASE do that again dad?"

 - - - - - -

January 02, 2011


Sermons are by far my favorite part of a church service. They make me laugh and learn and think over the most meaningful things in this life. But sermons are also a bit odd, with the man putting on his prophetic voice, standing up in front, talking as if he knows something.

He does know something. Does he? I've said before that seeing how someone lives tends to make me want to take in or disregard what's being "preached." It's the whole "you will know them by their fruit" thing.

Well today I learned a lot about Pastor Brown. His stake went up in my eyes, and it had little to do with the content of the sermon (which was hilarious, by the way).

Today after some announcements and general greetings, Kevin stood up in front of everyone, made a few fat boy jokes, and shrugged off holiday treats. But then he turned, with a sober face, to ask the roomful of friends to pray for him, for his resolution of getting his life together in the way of physical health.

That's a tremendous thing, coming from the leader. Coming from the guy who really does have so many other areas of life pegged. Ugh, to be vulnerable and risk failure in this way before his own flock. What kind of person does that? The kind I want to listen to.

I even appreciate the way he worded the request.

"Pray for me to get my life together in this way..."

He didn't focus on himself for too long. He didn't ask for miraculous intervention or willpower or suggestions on an effective diet and exercise plan. He just put it out there. And that takes courage.

Maybe courage is one of the things we should pray for ourselves. I believe in the other important virtues, and humility certainly ties into this. I believe that God can intervene miraculously. But I also know that the floodgates of heaven seem to open up on those with the courage to hold their own feet to the fire.