Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Always Greener

It comes in the form of texts I get from friends. It comes in photos uploaded to Facebook and Instagram. It comes in blog posts, phone calls, Tweets, and in person conversations.

That other side of the fence.

Man but sometimes that grass looks relaxing.

Homebodies

When I made the transition from full-time workaholic to full-time stay-at-home dad, Ashley and I realized relatively quickly that allowing me to go out every so often to socialize with my friends was in the best interest of my mental health. Even though there may have been people I worked with that I was less than enthusiastic about seeing on a day to day basis, I still saw them and was able to interact them along with other adults in my division. As a SAHD, my human contact was reduced to hanging out primarily with two people, one of whom really couldn't hold down a conversation beyond saying "ah."

Now that Elias is here and we once again have a functioning diaper pail in the house, my time spent away from home has decreased exponentially. Whereas I was going out once a week for several hours at a stretch (usually to the public library to write and take advantage of the free wi-fi), now if I can get away, it's at sporadic intervals lasting only for an hour and some change at the most - not counting trips to the grocery store, Target, or the like.

I realize that part of this is due to the fact we have an infant. Staying "grounded" is the nature of the beast. And I'm okay with this on almost every level.

But man.

There are times.

Misdirection

I'll get invited to events. I'll get invited to go on road trips.

And time and again, out of love, I say no.

I say no, because I can't even pass by dirty dishes in the sink at night without stopping to wash them, no matter how tired I am. Because washing them then is easier than washing them in the morning when I already have to take care of getting breakfast ready and giving Kai his breathing treatment and getting him ready for school. And to ask Ashley to wash them is unfair to her after she's been at work and has been helping to take care of Eli after she comes home.

I say no, because my kids depend on me to be there. When diapers are wet, when dreams are bad, when epic light saber battles are supposed to take place, when songs need to be sung to help them fall asleep, or when silly things just need to take place.

I say no, because doing laundry, walking the dog, cleaning the house, shopping for body lotion when she's just about to run out, cooking meals, making the bed, taking out the recycling and trash, and scrubbing clean the bathtub and the toilet aren't done due to nagging but to help Ashley not worry about anything.

I say no, because my responsibilities are rooted in love, not obligation.

I say no, because it's not fair for me to ask Ashley to take care of both of the boys while I go off and relax or have fun.

I say no, because making memories - positive, loving memories - with my family is important. Showing my sons the example of a dad who chooses to spend the majority of his time with his family and not regretting it is of paramount importance to me.

Parenting is the most selfless act an individual can engage in. It's like reverse tithing: you keep 10% of your time while the other 90% is dedicated to a higher purpose and calling.

And yet.

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That

I read blog posts from friends about why they are choosing to either not have kids or not have kids now, and I'm proud of them. Genuinely. Having one or more small people tethered to you decreases your ability to engage in other activities you may be called to do or be in for a season. Volunteering, going on service projects, or spending time with other adults in service to them is much, much easier when your time - to say nothing of your heart - isn't divided between poles. Already every time I'm away from Ashley & the boys I almost mentally begin to start to drive home to be with them.

I witness other dads. The ones who seemingly have no issue with being able to spend huge stretches of time away from their kids. The ones who for whatever reason are able to leave and not blink if it means that their partners have to find a way to cook, feed, clean, and care for their kids.

I know. I know it's healthy to take a break every now and again - both on your own and as a couple. I know that it's good to step back, catch your breath, and look at the beauty in front of you.

And I know. I know and believe that what I am doing is done in a balance of love and self sacrifice, and done so on a healthy level. I know that my staying in with Ashley and the boys is what I am called to do, what I am supposed to do, and what I need to do.

But man.

That other side of the fence.

I have no regrets about my side of the fence. None. At all.

But I'd be lying to myself if sometimes I didn't stop and look at the other side of the fence, and for a brief moment think "Lucky."

As do those on the other side who sometimes look at me and think the same thing.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My Bad

Looking back on many of the church related escapades I was involved in during high school and into my first year of college - all in the name of advancing the name of Christ, mind you - carries with it the same level of embarrassment I experience when people find photographs of me as a teenager. I roll my eyes as the words of justification come almost immediately rolling off my lips: "You don't understand; that was the way everyone looked and acted back then." Yet there's nostalgia woven through this confession, because that was me. All the stumbles, fumbles, and missteps which make me half-smile as I remember them.

It began sometime around my sophomore year of high school. It was 1988. I had heard the clarion call ring out from theological luminaries - Petra, DeGarmo & Key, Michael W. Smith, and the like - who knew how to sum up the entirety of Jesus' message into a four-and-a-half minute song with a catchy hook. And although I may have grasped in my limited scope my genuine desire to share my faith, it's the "how" it was done by me instead of the "why" that was the issue.

It all started with T-shirts. I felt a sense of empowerment whenever I would leave my house, boldly proclaiming God's love and message of salvation through the use of a witty play on words scrawled across my chest. A favorite of mine was one that read: "Heavenly Metal: It'll Rock the Hell Out of You." My mother, who was obviously not paying the first bit of attention to what I was wearing that day, let me wear this particular shirt to school morning. Not long after I pulled up in my 1985 Chevy Nova and strolled haughtily into the school building, I was called into the office of the Assistant Principal. He asked me to either turn my shirt inside-out or go home to change, because I couldn't very well walk around school with a shirt that said "hell" on it.

Fearing more the wrath of my mother than disappointing my Father, I opted to turn the shirt inside-out. This ultimately brought more notice to the shirt than it probably would have gotten had I simply worn the thing the other way around. My peers, inquisitive teenagers all, stopped me in the hallway to try and make out the words on the shirt I was wearing. I was hailed and lauded by my friends - in the church youth group - for my brazen and daring stance to advance the Gospel through the use of my screen-printed message. Others who weren't in my closed circle of fellow believers either stated "I don't get it," or worse, paid me no heed. The very people who I believed needed to hear this message bared walked past me with nary a blink.

But it wasn't just in clothing options that my peers and I sought to combat the ills and temptations of our culture. We had someplace on Sunday and Wednesday nights to invite our friends to, often with the added benefit of free food offered, provided they didn't mind coming to a church. And there were Bible studies that met on Tuesday nights in people's homes we could offer as a refuge against the storms of boredom found so often in small towns. But the weekends were another story. What could we offer to our friends to counter the dangers to be found at the skating rink, the bowling alley, or cruising around the mall?

The answer came when an adult from a local church rented out a building front in a strip mall and converted it to...The Rock. A Christian coffee shop and concert venue, open exclusively on Friday and Saturday nights (but not too late on Saturday, because we all obviously had to go to church the next morning). All for the benefit of us poor, wayward teens so that we could have a safe place to hang out. Never mind that it was located on a darkened side street adjacent to the local discount store (which is how he got the space so cheaply), it had no signage out front to designate what it was (which probably looked great, dozens of teenagers hanging out in a storefront on a Friday night), and that the parking lot was always littered with questionable bottles and other sundry items. We were hip and emergent before skinny jeans ever came on to the postmodern preaching platform.

The adult benefactor, "Steve," was always present, serving as chaperone, spiritual leader, and seller of overpriced by-the-slice pizza, moderately flat soda, and popcorn of questionable birthdate. He booked the bands, he selected the music played overhead (not to DANCE to, mind you), and led us in prayer and a quick message every week. It was so radically different from our stagnant youth groups.

...except it wasn't.

It was a great hangout for our unchurched friends who needed to see we could be "cool" outside of the church.

...except they didn't come.

It was a great outreach and missional tool we used to share our faith.

...except we were quite literally at times preaching to the choir.

We had music, food, fellowship, and I invited people time and again to come and join in the fun, but no one took me up on the offer. If they did, they certainly didn't return.

Decades of growth and introspection has helped me to understand the how and why of my failed clothing campaign as well as why The Rock eventually crumbled: I was trying to engage a culture without engaging individuals.

Which is something all modern, seeker-friendly or emergent churches have all grown out of stumbling through, right?
While there are numerous stories of individuals coming to know Christ through the use of Bibles left in hotel rooms or being lobbed at them by strangers on sidewalks, through the voices of manic street preachers "bullhorning" their message at them, or even through well-intentioned teenagers adorned in a train wreck of clothing destined for What Not To Wear, I personally never reached out to anyone. I held a metaphorical door open and invited people to come inside but didn't offer a hand TO them on this journey. While I have no doubt even my actions taken in innocence ("Yes. Just read the ten or so words on my shirt and God will reveal Himself to you.") had and still hold the potential to bear fruit, I was offering an image without interaction, and I thought that was enough.

Maybe I was scared that I might not have the "right" answer to a question poised to me. Maybe I was simply following the pattern of witnessing and outreach patterned by the generations before me ("Just read this tract..."). Maybe it's that my faith was still young, passionate but lacking focus. This is not to say that I am a "better" Christian now than I was then. It simply is that I now understand the way in which I reached out was surface-level, and not heart-deep. What good is it to tell someone to "taste and see" when you keep the bread and wine behind a display window?

I was little more than a mute sign, inviting others to engage with God when I wasn't engaging with them in any way, shape, form or fashion other than pointing to myself as a way to point to Him. Now I understand the importance in meeting people where they are - sometimes literally. It is far more meaningful and illustrates that you care when and if you show love, grace and mercy to someone rather than try to hand them off a platitude that is so cheesy Hallmark would have rejected it. Having a dialogue WITH an individual and not just barking a soundbite AT them all but insures I am heard, and it absolutely insures that I hear the other person.

And these days, it's done without a mullet or stonewashed jeans.