Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Night Driving: Growing Pains

This post is part of a synchroblog event celebtrating the release of Addie Zierman's new book Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. You owe it to yourself to go buy a copy of this book today. My review of Addie's newest tome will be published soon. 

Growing up in church was easy - mainly because we never really grew up. We got older, moved from class to class and small group to small group depending on our age, but growing up, maturing in our faith and learning to think for ourselves, was not something that was actively encouraged. There were lines to toe, standards and denominational doctrines to uphold, and elder/older members of the congregation that kept the system in place by keeping the collection plates spinning. 

We were taught what to believe, Whom to believe in, and that God was our Father, Jesus was our brother, and - sing it with me - the blessed Holy Spirit was our guide. We were taught that Jesus was the answer to everything. We were taught that prayer answered everything.

We were given answers but not allowed questions. We were told to do the mathematically and theologically difficult by reducing the Trinity to a binary system of "black" and "white" answers. We were told what to collectively believe, but never why as individuals we believed what we did. 

Questions were what kept us from the light. Questions led us to dark places. 



This in part explains why while many of my peers were taking refuge in their faith by attending a private religiously-affiliated college or finding sanctuary in the buffets of the BSU (or BCM if you prefer), I recall many nights in the residence hall I spent questioning my faith in the literal and spiritual dark. Like a toddler testing their limits of what they can do, I found myself half flinching while looking up every time I said or did something that ran counter to the answers I had been given. There were no lightning bolts that struck me down when I didn't do my quiet time. No soap appeared in my mouth when I dropped an f-bomb. No boils appeared on my skin and no signs of leprosy showed up when I touched a girl's boob. 

I had answers, but not ones that fit the questions I was asking. And what really was screwing with my mind was that I felt these questions weren't keeping me in the dark; counter to what I was told they would do, they were instead trying to illuminate the way for me. 

I remember in perfect detail the day I sat on the floor in the house of a friend, propped up by a doorway, and with a feeling of numbness in my chest asked the question of my faith that had been nudging at me for years: did I believe in anything? The simplicity of my Christian upbringing was butting up against the complexities of living a life in the world with other people. I was curious about a spirituality that existed beyond the words in hymnals and on projector screens. 

I questioned, and no stones were thrown. But then again, no pat answers were given, either. 

And so, I went dark. I went radio silent in my faith. 

Two years later, I fell asleep on the floor of a different house, crying with tears that wouldn't stop. Years of pent-up frustrations, pain, dashed hope and dreams, and struggles in the dark manifested in questions of why and how, as I pounded my fists on the linoleum until they were bruised. I knew I was crying out for someone, but I wasn't sure if anyone was listening. I yearned for any sign of the faith of my youth, the faith that had stalled in arrested development. The faith that had gone through a far-too-long delayed growth spurt, resulting in bruised and sore, strained muscles.

The faith that had grown into belief and hope. No longer blind faith, but one that stared into the sun. Unflinchingly. 

I awoke on that same linoleum, peeling my face from the cold floor where tears and snot had combined and dried to make my cheek stick to the tiles. I walked to the bathroom, feeling numb and empty. I had finally let everything drain from me. And in that moment of harsh reality from the morning light, seeing my reflection in the mirror, looking and feeling like I had taken a cue from Jacob and wrestled with an angel (preferring a bruised thigh to my hands), I heard - felt - a Voice. A Voice that didn't question back the why of what all I had done, how could I have done it, or what was I thinking. 

All I felt was a Voice telling me "You are made for more than this. This is not who you are supposed to be."

A Voice showing love with a statement I needed to hear in response to my questions. It may not have been the direct answer I wanted in response to my questions, but it was the answer I needed. 

In the interim decade-plus since that night, that Voice has remained consistent, even though I haven't. Questions still arise, doubts still stand and sting, and still like a toddler, I touch the stove  even though I've been told - and learned from first-hand experience - that it can burn. But that's what growing up, what maturing is ultimately all about: making mistakes, sometimes repeatedly, and learning from them.

And that all great Teachers enjoy it when you ask questions. 


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Doctor StrangeGlove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and "Love" the NFL

Pennsylvania is trying to kill me. Yes. The whole state. 

Not the weather, mind you. I'm the lunatic who giggles when he walks outside to be slapped in the face by temperatures in the teens. I'm the nutjob who wants a snowblower because it JUST LOOKS SO DARN COOL! I'm the moron who is busy practicing his fire-building skills in our wood-burning fireplace so that I can keep everyone warm.

No, the weather isn't going to do me in.

It's the mentality and culture surrounding professional sports. Football in particular. 

Ashley and I both grew up appreciating football the way God intended it: at the collegiate level and in the SEC. Granted, her zeal and passion for Auburn eclipses my own for Mississippi State (and probably single-handedly dwarfs up to a third of the passion of the entire alumni base), but we still know what Saturdays are made for: tailgating. So both Kai and Eli come with a natural genetic tilt towards appreciating sports, if not participating in them (again, a gift from their mothers' side). 

From the time both boys were able to speak, they chanted "Wa Eagoo HEY!" and "Hayel Tate!" We purchased the most adorable shirts for them. We gave them pompoms to shake and cowbells to ring. We even begrudgingly tolerated Kai's brief love affair with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. We smiled as he and his classmates would craft games at the park, playing each other as the teams they love. But again: this was football at the collegiate level. 

I lived in Athens, GA, but never saw a Falcons game in Atlanta. I lived in Coral Gables, but never saw the Dolphins play in Miami. I lived in Columbia, SC, but never went to go see the Panthers play. The closest I ever came to watching the NFL as I was growing up was when I would switch the channel on the TV to a cartoon after my dad fell asleep watching a game. As an teenager and into my adult years, the greatest appreciation I have for the NFL was is watching the commercials during the Super Bowl. 

I knew that things would change once we migrated north of the Mason-Dixon line, but an entire paradigm shift in the mentality and fervor of Kai? Never saw it coming.

Every day - EVERY day - he "plays" football in the family room. He tosses the football in the air, catches it, runs plays, falls to the ground, skids across the carpet, and calls imaginary plays aloud. He provides his own replays. He acts as the referee. He collects miniature football helmets. He collects miniature football player figures. He wants to get a flag for the New England Patriots to go out in front of our house. And he has started memorizing players' names and statistics.

Gone is the boy who wanted to always play superheroes. Gone are the forts and castles in Narnia we would build. Gone is the boy who would run into the room every time he heard the theme from DOCTOR WHO playing on TV. 

Gone is my mini-me. 

Oh, there are still glimpses of my little geek that come out every so often: excitement over digging through back issues of comic books; excitement over the newest STAR WARS film (and the BB-8 he has slept with every night since Christmas); and requests to listen to Steve Taylor and the Perfect Foil in the car. 

But my sidekick has turned into a place kicker. He's becoming himself. He's imprinting on his friends just like I did. He's finding his own identity and groove.

He's growing up. 

Dammit.

So, I'm trying to learn these teams along with him. I'm trying to at least have a baseline understanding of what the crap he's talking about most of the time. I'm trying to let some of the crazed mania for all these...non-collegiate...football teams he has rub off on me. 

Because I remember. I remember the blank stares, the half-hearted attempts at conversation, and the ways in which my dad listened to me babble on endlessly about Richie Rich, the DC Comics Multiverse, who was cooler between Luke and Han, why I liked Spock over Kirk, and whatever else gripped my mind at the time. Just like Kai is doing with me, I spoke a language foreign to my dad. 

But I'm going to attempt and become bilingual. I''m going to celebrate the things he celebrates. This is either going to be a phase he will grow out of and go back to wanting to build a TARDIS with me, or this is going to shape the core of who he will be for decades to come. 

Either way, I'll be there with him. As much as he will let me.

And if he continues to want to watch football on TV, I'll just keep flipping back over to the FIREFLY marathon during the commercials. 

Saturday, January 09, 2016

OneWord365 for 2016

As a parent, it is deceptively easy to relegate the chaotic free-form howls, screeches, and repeated utterances of "DAAAAAADDDDD!!!!" to nothing more than white noise. I hear them, the neighbors hear them, the fire department two blocks away probably hears them as well - but I can (and do) tune them out at times. It's when things get silent that terror grips me, and I walk/jog to wherever my wild things are to see what is happening.

Because I can hear something a thousand times (again: "DAAAAAADDDDD!!!!") and it loses some of its effect. But when I see - when I truly see - what I am supposed to look at (the small human producing the clarion call of "DAAAAAADDDDD!!!!" for instance), I begin to pay attention. 

The whispers of a still, small Voice beckoning my heart sometimes gets drowned out by the hectic pace of life. Sometimes it gets drowned out because I choose to defer listening to it. But when I see - when I truly see - how I act and what I say when my voice takes precedence, I stop. And I begin to pay attention. 

Because I know me. Because I know how I tend to take some things for granted. And those times when I stop and truly, deeply observe the world around me, the focus of my soul shifts along with the focus of my eyes:

The mountains, stretching towards the horizon, beckoning adventure.

The skies, ablaze with life, as the sun takes pause to end the day.

The faces of the people I see as I am out and about, remembering they are souls of value. 

The eyes of my two year old, as he furrows his brow and arches one eyebrow when learning something new.

The eyes of my six year old, alive with passion and joy over everything except vegetables. 

The eyes of my wife, the eyes that have not aged a day since I first looked into them and saw love reflected back to me.

I can read and gain knowledge. I can hear a song and have it move me. I can take an active role in something and grow from it. 

But when I look - when I truly, truly look - and when I do more than simply observe?

I connect. 

My #OneWord365 for 2016?


Look.