Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Herman's sermon: a tribute to a faithful man

What a marvelous thing for Herman to "be promoted" at Christmastime.

Many deaths at Christmas are tragic, as car crashes, illness, or senselessness leave presents unwrapped under trees - symbols of hopes and expectations that will never be realized. Certainly no time is ever convenient or welcome for anyone to die, but if we all must go, Christmastime was befitting of Herman.

Herman believed, nee believes, in what Christmas really means, not the Santa Claus or even love and kindness meaning sold in department stores and on TV, the real meaning. I don't know when Herman internalized the truth of Christmas, that God came down and brought light into darkness and sacrificed himself to redeem humankind whom He loves, but it was clearly long before I met him 27 years ago.

Some of my earliest memories of Herman were in his home that he shared with his wonderful wife, Mrs. Judy, and their daughter Jenny. They would host Bible studies that were the core of Kingsway Christian Church, which their living room helped birth nearly three decades ago.

Jenny, with her bright smile and talent with puppets, would teach us children (and build giant Lego towers with us when the studies inevitably ran long).

Judy owned the nursery on Sunday morning more than any "volunteer" has ever owned a nursery. She still does, and it is still the best nursery I've ever seen.

Herman. Well, Herman did whatever was needed. I can't remember if I ever heard Herman preach from a stage on Sunday morning, but I know for sure that I saw him set up chairs, vacuum, shovel snow, take out garbage, and lovingly greet every single person he could.  Unlike many of his generation, Herman was not dutiful and stoic as he lowered himself to serve others. Instead, nearly every time, even well into his last decade on earth, Herman stooped with a smile, as though he was not accommodating a stranger, or even a warm acquaintance, but as if it were for his very best friend. And indeed it was.

If a pastor is the mouth of a church, or even the brain, eyes, or heart, surely Herman was the backbone or legs or some other essential part without which a body could not stand. If no one bellows "Amen" from behind the last pew in his sing-song cadence at his funeral, I will feel obliged.

Almost weekly, he took communion to elderly, sick, or shut-ins, reminding them tangibly that no infirmity could separate them from the love of Christ or his church.

His life, as it turns out, is his sermon.

I have learned in the long day since his passing that Herman prayed daily for my father, a man who is not a Christian but nevertheless a friend loved by Herman.

So why is it fitting that Herman should pass away at Christmastime?

Years ago, a little over ten years, when Herman had his first heart attack, our church leaders fell face down in front of God to beg for an extension on their friend's life. After Herman miraculously recovered from that massive cardiac episode, he returned somehow different.

His face read with a gratitude for each day present in his body and an eager expectation that one day he would leave it.

My wife recalled that even though she only ever stood in front of Herman once in church, she could tell that he loved to sing in worship and always did so joyfully.

During advent, the season leading up to Christmas, we pause and reflect on our anticipation and need for Jesus' arrival in our world. We imagine how cold, dark, and hopeless must have been the world before his incarnation, and we take stock of the shadows in our world where his light still needs shined.

Today in one of our chapel services at Nebraska Christian College, I shed a few tears as we sang a song quoting the angels' song in revelation, declaring the worthiness and holiness of Jesus who was slain. I knew that Herman was likely singing a similar song, with a smile wider than any I had ever seen him crack on earth, as he soaked in the joy of finally meeting his savior face to face.

I am sad for Judy, Jenny, Curt, the grandchildren, and all of the rest of us left behind, but I am joyful for Herman. As we break out our warmest carols and songs, as we light candles during these dark winter months, we remember the savior who came down to us from heaven. And Herman, one of the most faithful men I have ever met, got to go up to meet him.

We will miss you Herman, and we look forward to seeing you again. We will bring with us the thousands who met Jesus because of how your faithfulness touched our lives, we touched others, and so on. 

Congratulations on your great promotion!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

i'm responsible for this . . . thoughts on fatherhood before #2 arrives

photo: me

I am treated to a joyful sound on a regular basis in my home.

Though much of our time is spent together in our 900 square foot apartment, occasionally a change of outfit or cal from mother nature will momentarily split me off from our small brood.  Often, in those brief moments, I will hear giggles, chuckles, and/or chortles erupt from one of the adjacent rooms.

This doesn't happen every time. Most often, Charlotte - my 17-month-old, will pursue me whenever I depart the room to intently study the proper application of deodorant, push-up form, or tooth-brushing technique.  She then mimics these behaviors back to me later to remind me that she will have proclivities toward both my best and worst habits.  Judging from her speaking patterns, apparently I growl a lot.

But when Charlotte doesn't chase me, she stays with Lindsey, my wonderful wife of five years, in another room of the apartment.  This is when they crack each other up.

I don't know what causes it most of the time, though I have my suspicions.  Charlotte likes to try on Lindsey's eyeglasses.  Lindsey makes funny faces that greatly amuse our daughter.  Any one of Charlotte's daily escapades would make a hilarious youtube series.

Whatever the cause of the laughter, it always swells a great joy in me to hear it.

Over the last week or so, each time I have heard Lindsey and Charlotte incite each other to guffaw, I have thought to myself, "I am responsible for this."

Then the phrase rings in my head slowly like a schoolteacher's voice breaking through a child's daydream.

"I am responsible for this."

This isn't a statement of theological arrogance, supposing I somehow made this by will or spoken word, so please don't misinterpret me.

It is also only barely related to the obvious interpretation of the phrase.  I do consider my place in putting food on their table and a roof over their head, but only to the degree that I briefly and gratefully recognize that we are blessed with these things.

Rather, these moments have created an acute awareness that these unpremeditated bursts of joy in my day are the direct result of timid e-mails sent to a sweet young woman in California nearly six years ago.  They stem from a whirlwind courtship with said young woman, through most of which I grinned like a child receiving a free extra scoop of ice cream on a hot summer day.  They are the fruit of a nervous question in an empty Starbucks and a vow made in a church with yellow walls and blue pews.

These moments wash over the struggles for personal significance that keep my eyes open for a moment longer when my head hits the pillow at night.  I don't yet know what my tombstone will read, but I do know that I made each of those laughs possible.

Fatherhood, real fatherhood anyway, isn't just a donation of DNA.  Fatherhood is the faithful and loving cultivation of an environment in which love, peace, joy, and laughter grow abundantly, even in your momentary absence.  It takes careful pruning, discipline, vigilance, and hard work, but the harvest is bountiful and ever rewarding.

Sometimes I am torn between these moments and my duty to report to the office in the morning, but I am reminded by them that things are good and will be that way when I return home.  We are blessed far beyond what we deserve.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

where have I been?

My blog has been sorely neglected this year.

In January, I was promoted to Communications Director at Nebraska Christian College.  I never knew it, but I have been waiting for a job like this for a long time.

This job fits me in ways that I didn't even know I needed/wanted:
- It fits my faith and personal mission.
- It is thoroughly creative.
- It allows me both solitude and collaboration.
- It challenges me to achieve things I didn't know I could do.
- It involves a lot of visual art (photography and graphic design) that I can accomplish even though I am terrible at drawing.
- It has both accountability and autonomy built in.

The down side, for my blog, is that it leaves little time for personal creative pursuits.  Thankfully, I enjoy my work so much that I am okay with taking the occasional hiatus from my blog, personal photography, etc.

While I hope that this small explanation helps jumpstart my creative flow here on my own blog, I would like to leave you with some interesting things in case my absence continues.

Here is one of the things I have been working on: Lead Magazine.

If you, like me, haven't found every job opportunity completely satisfying and are looking to find out some insight about who you are and where you fit, I highly recommend:
- Strengths Finder 2.0
- Myers-Briggs Personality Test (also known as Jung typology test in some places online)

I intend to return soon, but if somewhere in the course of managing multiple Twitter accounts, facebook pages, a website, and several print pieces, I don't make it back around here for a while, I hope you will understand.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

to Charlotte, on the occasion of turning one year old

Don't judge me.  I like cake.  photo: Raj Lulla Photography

Dear Charlotte,

You just celebrated the first anniversary of your birth.

This has posed a dilemma for me as your father because you know I hate cliches, but I find myself uttering phrases such as: "They grow up too fast," and "Time flies."

I could regale you with stories of your birth, about how you didn't cry but instead looked very concerned and had a furrowed brow about being born, much the way I imagine the innermost Russian nesting doll would react after being abruptly exposed to the outside world were such a thing properly anthropomorphized.  But I will spare you because I love you and also because I plan on embarrassing you in front of your friends someday when the time is right.

You took your first unaided steps just a few days after your first birthday.  I assume this is because you needed the proper motivation of cake and balloons in order to complete entirely pedestrian stages of development.  This does not at all strike me as unhealthy and is in no way a reflection of your mother and me.  Neither is the heaping dose of sarcasm from the last statement, which you will also likely inherit.

It has been amazing to watch your little personality develop, from the way that you respond when I walk in the door when I come home from work, to the way that you will play hard to get when I ask you to hand me something that you shouldn't be playing with.

While these things may only represent a small fraction of the time that you will live in our home, one thing has become inescapably clear during your first year on this planet: you will outgrow your need of us long before we cease taking joy in caring for you.

You are loved more today than the day you joined our family, and you have been a constant source of joy in our lives every day in between.

I know you won't remember, but we had a birthday party for you anyway.  Our friends came with their kids.  Grandma made JELL-O cake.  It was fairly low-key, but we celebrate your presence everyday, so I don't think it will be a problem.  Your mom often jokes that you won't be short on confidence.  I'm inclined to agree.

I love you.  Thank you for a first year filled with smiles, laughs, hugs, kisses, and sweet rockings to sleep.  Here's to many more.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

there's help

For those that struggle with pornography, which statistics suggest is about every other male in the church (and probably higher outside the church), I recommend XXXchurch.  You can find them here:
 XXXchurch fights porn addiction

Disclosure: I was prompted to do this because of a contest they are running, but I have directed friends here before and seen real life change.  Whether I win or lose the contest, pointing friends to this resource is a worthy endeavor that I would have gladly undertaken anyway.

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