T.

The Longest Shadow

It’s almost poetic that my dad would die on the day of the winter solstice, or sometimes called “the longest night of the year.” Only he and I would likely find it so. Because for years he has called me, almost without fail, to remind me that the days are either getting longer or shorter. I’ve come to expect the calls from him telling me that “from now on the sun will stay up a little longer every day” or “well, now the days are getting shorter.” He always like the longer days. I’m gonna miss those phone calls.

December 21–that is the date in which the winter solstice usually lands–will now be for me not only the day when I can cast my longest shadow of the year because of the sun’s low height in the sky, but a day that casts a longer shadow in my mind because it’s the day my dad died.

My boys with my dad, August 2021

I shared at his funeral a few weeks ago that I had thought about that day often. For some reason, especially over the last few years, I’ve thought a lot about my dad’s death. Part of the reason, I suppose, is that I’ve been trying to prepare myself for it. But anyone who’s lost a loved one knows that’s pretty tough to do. Yet I still tried. Sometimes I found myself just sitting at my desk imagining myself speaking in front of my family with eloquent words, sharing how much my dad impacted me, and why I thought he and I had a special relationship–even different than his many other children. And while I did get to speak at his funeral, it wasn’t what I imagined. Is it ever?

My dad used to call me his shadow. He commuted to Los Angeles every day when I was a kid and often this meant long hours of which I didn’t get to see him. That’s why he would sometimes take me to work with him, just so we could spend time together. Those were some of my favorite days growing up. I loved the Big City. I loved the hustle and bustle, the traffic on the freeways (I usually slept through it), and watching the sun rise as we came into the San Fernando Valley. Almost always people at my dad’s “buildings” as we called them (he was a maintenance engineer on the skyscrapers)–almost always they would ask, “Is this your son?” Without hesitation he would say yes, and add something like, “He’s my little shadow today.”

My dad talking to Bethany and me at our wedding, December 2005

Shadow him I did. For years I tried to be like him in so many ways, even going so far as asking for a pager (yes, that little thing people used to wear on the belts before cell phones) for my 9th birthday. Somehow I got one. You should’ve seen how proud I was with my lime green see through pager case just like dad’s red one. I would page him and he would page me and man it was the best. We even had a code system: it was 54. It meant, “Car 54 where are you?” Dad said it was from an old show, but I didn’t care. It just meant that I could page dad and ask him where he was. When would he be home from L.A.? Is he coming to my game tonight? Car 54, where are you!?

A farmer friend of mine says the best thing a farmer can do is cast his shadow. All he means is that he’s gotta be on his fields checking things, or looking for problems, and making sure it’s going well. Simply put: he’s gotta show up. My dad always showed up. Often he was late, but he got there as much as he could. I have one distinct memory of pitching from the mound in a Little League game and seeing him walk up probably around the 3rd of 4th inning. Something in me just wanted to throw a little hard and little straighter after he arrived. Then when the inning ended he usually he would slide something through the fence for me–a Gatorade or some seeds from the snack bar. Sometimes he would give me a little scouting report on the next hitters, and always he would encourage me. If it wasn’t at the baseball diamond it was at the soccer field (and even at the bowling alley for a time!). He always cast his shadow. I wish he still could. How am I casting mine?

The Bible compares our lives to shadows. A number of verses talk about life as a shadow, but here’s a few:

Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.

Psalm 144:4

For who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow? For who can tell man what will be after him under the sun?

Ecclesiastes 6:12

We get the point: our lives are just passing shadows because they pass by so quickly. They are as the Psalmist says, “like a breath.” On January 28 my dad would’ve been 79 years old. But even then, Psalm 90:10 says

The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.

Soon gone. That’s exactly it. Even if we get seventy or eighty years, they are still go by so fast. We know this to be our experience because we often hear people speak like this: “You blink and your kids are graduating college.” “You blink and…[fill in the blank].” Soon gone…like a breath…like a passing shadow. While the Biblical authors didn’t have advanced film technology, it’s as if they understood that life is like a time-lapse video where the shadows pass from one end to the other of the screen. A friend of mine one said he hates time-lapse videos because they remind him of the brevity of life. I think he was on to something.

All I’m really trying to say is that I’m gonna miss my dad. I called him often in recent years to ask how to fix my car, how to install a light in the house, which aisle at Home Depot has the star bit for my drill that I need, or even FaceTimed him just to talk while only seeing the top of his head since he never seemed to know how to hold the phone. He was always so helpful. I see now I was just still tying to be his shadow all these years later, or maybe resting in his shadow? There was a definite ease and comfort in knowing I could call him any time and hear him ask,”What can I help you with now?” I’ll miss those calls too.

O.

On Being Fragile and Calling 9-1-1

“Call 9-1-1”

Bethany had never told me that before so I knew this was serious.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“Yeah, hi… my wife is on the ground and she’s experiencing some kind of chest pain. I don’t know what to do.”

After some basic questions about my location the operator asked: “How old is she?”

“Thirty-nine”

“What is she doing? Is she breathing?…”

“Yes, I think so… I don’t know. Yes… It’s hard to know. She’s breathing…”

“It’s OK. EMTs are on the way. You will hear lights and sirens. Make sure you stay with your wife… remove any pillows. Make sure the front door is open. Stay on this line.”

Just writing that brings me to tears. Because I don’t know exactly what I was doing or saying between that time and the arrival of the paramedics, but I remember being calm as Bethany turned pale and was in incredible pain. I think I asked my four-year-old son to help me unlock the front door and clear a path in the hallway to our bedroom, but it all kind of blurs together even just 36 hours later.

Don’t know why I took this photo, but I did.

Five EMTs made their way into our house. Bethany was still coherent, but in pain. They asked her a million questions, some of which I answered because she couldn’t. The one I remember loud and clear was “What is your pain level on a scale of 0-10, if 0 is nothing and 10 is the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?” Without hesitation Bethany said “8!” As they loaded her in the ambulance one of the EMTs said to me, “Go get her cell phone and charger.” I ran inside, grabbed it, ran back outside, laid it on Bethany’s lap in the ambulance, they shut the doors, and then they were gone.

I didn’t really cry until about nine hours later when I was driving home by myself from the hospital. Sure, I was tired. Yes, I was frustrated that the last time I had seen my wife that day was in the ambulance because Covid restrictions kept me out of the hospital. Yes, I didn’t love that most of the information I got that day was through Bethany having to text me because I couldn’t be there to get information directly. But it finally hit me… Bethany could’ve died.

By the time the ambulance arrived at the hospital Bethany’s pain had lessened, but she was still hurting. Her chest pain came and went most of the day. They ran EKGs and they were normal. They did a chest X-ray and found nothing. They did three rounds of bloodwork and saw “something” they didn’t like. Then Bethany texted me,

Spending the night😕possible start of a heart attack

“I’m really glad you told me to call 911” I texted back.

After a CT angiogram, it was determined that Bethany had a “spontaneous dissection” of one of her arteries. Without getting too specific here, it just means there’s something there that was restricting blood flow to her heart. Though uncommon, these can actually heal themselves and/or be healed through medication. Although relieved that we had some kind of answer, we recognized that this could’ve been worse and this entire day could’ve gone differently.

That’s why I cried on the way home. My friend Jeff called me and asked if Bethany was OK. I said yes, but… “I’m starting to get emotional. She’s doing great now, but I think it all just hit me.”

Life is fragile. We say it and we hear it said. I even preach it from time to time, especially to the high school students I get to serve at the church. But we forget it. There are so many days that go well, that run normal, and of which very little happens that causes us to consider just how fragile we are. I praise God for that in my life while I recognize that my experience is different than many even in my own church. Not everyone gets long periods of time where they are not reminded of their fragility. As a pastor I get a front row seat to the hurting and the long-term care that comes with it, both physical and spiritual. But because this is not my personal experience, and because life tends to just keep on going, I don’t always have to be confronted with the thin barrier between this life and the next.

Bethany is asleep right now in our bed. After spending two days in the hospital we were able to pull a Shawshank Redemption move and bust her out of there (OK, not exactly, but that’s how it felt!). Almost immediately after we got home she told our kids “I’m going to bed.” She was tired and weak and in need of rest. We ended up talking for a few minutes in bed before she fell asleep and Bethany admitted she was ready to meet Jesus. Maybe it was the meds talking, but I know my wife. She was and is ready.

I told her I’m glad it wasn’t today, but in the back of my mind I thought about what the the apostle Paul said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Then he adds, “I am hard pressed between the two [that is, between living and dying]. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (1:23-24). He wrestled between his own impending death and the thought of being with Christ. He loved the church, but he loved Jesus more. That, I think, is what was behind what Bethany said. She loves me and our kids, but she loves Jesus more.

While studying the book of Ecclesiastes last year I came across a quote from a preacher who said, “None of us are getting out of this alive.” He was talking about this life and was just repeating essentially what Solomon wrote in chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die…” We all know this to be true whether we want to talk about it or not: there is a time to die. And that’s exactly why in Solomon’s wisdom he wrote this a few verses later,

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Ecclesiastes 3:11-13

Solomon’s advice is simply to enjoy life while you can. In light of the reality of death–whether it be today, tomorrow, or in the distant future–enjoy it all. Enjoy even the simple pleasure of a meal–this is God’s gift to man. That’s wisdom from God because you don’t know when the time will be.

S.

Somewhere Between an Artist and an Engineer

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity.

Dad was a building engineer. I say “was” because he’s technically retired, but not because he’s stopped. To this day he continues to build. His 5 acres in the rolling hills of Kentucky are filled with barns and buildings of which he and my mom have designed and constructed. Even now he’s got two more cabins he’s building on a small lake. One is for sale but “we don’t care if we sell it” my mom says. He also fix just about anything so I’m constantly calling him for help. Just a few weeks ago we fixed my toiled via FaceTime. When I call him he’ll say, “OK, what broke?”

My dad and mom designed and built my mom’s “art studio” in the backyard in Kentucky

Mom is an artist. I try to tell people that her work rivals some of the best painters they’ve seen, but you won’t find her paintings up in her house. Most of her friends have absconded with them over the years. Yet you will find her work throughout her home. The house itself is her work, including the custom bathroom she designed and my dad built that’s probably the size of my master bedroom. She has an “art studio” in the backyard full of painted wood pieces, crafts, and furniture of which she’s working on. To what end, I don’t know, but she makes beautiful things.

One of the few drawings my mom did when she was young that I found in my parent’s attic.

I have my father’s name and his height. He’s six-foot-one or as he says, “Six-two with shoes on.” I’m six-four without shoes on. But I have my mom’s nose, I think. Growing up people said I looked like my dad, but I’ve grown into my mom’s nose, eyes, and complexion. What does this have to do with identity?

History reveals identity.

Klyne R. Snodgrass, Who God Says You Are (p. 82)

Who our parents are does not determine who we will be, but as Klyne Snodgrass says, “History reveals identity.” As we spent some time with my parents this summer, I realized just how much I’m like them and how much I’m not. Mostly though, I saw how much I’m like them. I really do want to make beautiful, creative art like my mom, but I can’t draw. I love dimension and order and figuring out how things work, but I can’t build or even maintain my house. It’s probably why I got into digital graphic design years ago. I found in the computer a tool to create things that my hands couldn’t. All I had to do as figure out how the computer worked (engineer) and tell it to create what I wanted in my heart (artist). Sometimes I wish I had more identity as an artist than I do. Other times I wish I was more of an engineer. But in the end I’m somewhere between an artist and an engineer–longing for the ability to create by hand beautiful works while settling for the help of a machine to create what I can’t on my own.

L.

Lemonade and Hanging at the River

Today was much needed. Actually, I think the last two days have been what we have needed for a while. I don’t know if it’s because we have been so busy, but just some time as a family doing fun things and being together has been good for my soul.

The last few weeks have just been busy. We have had a lot of ministry things going on of late from different conferences to special services, and it’s just been hard to have some focused time as a family. Some of that just comes with the territory of ministry, but it’s always my desire to make sure we get time to be a family and enjoy each other.

I want to brief, but here’s a few photos from Friday when Avery decided to open a lemonade stand. She talked about it for a couple of weeks and did a great job of helping prepare everything. It was actually a lot of fun and she saw about 17 different customers (that’s by her count) and we had fun helping sell cookies and lemonade. Here’s a few photos.

Avery's Lemonade Stand

Avery's Lemonade Stand

Avery's Lemonade Stand

And today (Saturday) we had the joy of joining some friends at their house to meet their new baby goats and spend some time playing by the King’s near right near their house. It was such a fun and relaxing time and I’m so thankful for it. Here’s a few photos of our time today.

Hanging at the River

Hanging at the River

Hanging at the River

Hanging at the River

Hanging at the River

Hanging at the River

Hanging at the River

But watch out for snakes! (photo below)

Hanging at the River

Hanging at the River

Thanks friends for being so nice to us and letting us hang today!

C.

Carpet Cleaning on New Year’s Eve

I just spent most of New Year’s Eve shampooing the carpet of my rental house on a cold, wet, winter day. Oh, and I slept in the hallway last night on a temporary bed pad. What do these two things have in common? Puke.

The entire family is sick and have been for three days now. It started on Thursday with Karis throwing up, then Titus, then Bethany, and then Avery. I’m the only one still standing. Even as I type there are fans and heaters running all around the house trying to dry the carpet, Bethany and Karis are sleeping, and I’m hoping the washer and dryer will make it through “Pukapocalypse 2016.” (as one friend called it). Tomorrow I’m leading the singing at church and I’m hopeful that I can hang on long enough to actually get through that before this thing hits me too.

It’s all kind of ironic really. The day before the sickness hit we were with some friends who are pregnant with their first child. They were just asking questions about raising kids and tips and insights and Biblical thoughts and we had a good discussion I thought. One of the things that Bethany brought up was being selfless. There’s something about parenting that reveals just how selfish we are and we have to fight it every day. And that’s exactly what I have been having to fight the past three days.

Every time I have to put on some rubber gloves to clean something or empty a bowl or clean the floor or wash a towel or change a bed sheet…I have to fight my selfishness. I have felt that more in the past three days then most. Did I plan for my week of “vacation” to be like this? Of course not. But it’s what the Lord knew I needed. For sure we hate sickness, but worse than throwing up all day is the sin that clings to our hearts week in and week out. Where the stomach flu lasts for a day or two, sin continues to kill and destroy throughout the year.

I woke up in the hallway this morning not ready for another day of sickness. I could tell my own attitude was not one that reflected the light of Christ, which is probably why the Lord had planned for this to continue today. Because just like I was cleaning the carpet of the filth, the Lord is “cleaning up” (so to speak) my heart. I come to this conclusion often when I reflect and write, but I think it’s one of the themes of the New Testament: God is trying to make us look more like Christ each day! He wants us to “…be transformed by the renewal of our minds” (Romans 12:2). That takes time, it takes work, it takes seflessness, and sometimes it takes a little (or a lot of!) puke to remind me of that.