Life in a Long Holy Saturday

Good Friday this year would have been my dad's 70th birthday. I had noticed that ahead of time on the calendar, and was aware of it, but I didn’t really think it would be a big deal to me. While he was alive, my father made the least fuss about birthdays of anyone I’ve ever known, so making a big deal about his birthday in the few years since his death has always seemed a bit unfitting. 

One of the things I’ve learned about losing someone you love is that you never can predict what the things will be that will pop up and make you suddenly miss them intensely (like I wrote about a while back as I almost lost it over a Spam sandwich). On the morning of Good Friday, I woke up fine, expecting to give a good deal of my thoughts to the day’s stories about Jesus, but it didn’t take long for one of those kinds of surprises to catch me and leave me also spending a lot of the remainder of the day thinking about my dad. 

It happened when I first saw my two-year-old daughter that morning. Dad never got to meet her, but one week before he died, we were able to tell him that my wife was pregnant. He would have loved this little girl like crazy, and she would have soaked his love in and then returned every bit of it in a way that only she can do.

She’s in a stage now where anything that we call a “special day” is a major event to be exhilarated about, and then if we use the word, “party,” she’s likely to blow an adrenaline circuit. She’s always looking for any excuse to put on her tutu and eat cake or candy, and the special days and parties are obvious opportunities to do such things. So, when I saw her that morning, what we would have been doing if her granddad had still been here instantly flashed before my mind. She would have worn her favorite pink tutu, opened the door at his house, run to him with pigtails bouncing and given him a happy birthday hug and kiss, giving a big grin to my dad and all of us with her incomparable laugh.

Read More

My Preschoolers' Interpretation of a 16th Century Saint

photo-9 Last week, I was driving home from the ranch with my kids in the back seat of my pickup truck. We were about halfway home when I heard my 22-month-old daughter in the back seat begin to say with gusto, "Uhh! Uhh! Uhh!" I looked back to see what she was talking about and saw her pointing out the window at our favorite place to get a burger (Whataburger, of course).

Me: "Do you see Whataburger?" Her: "Yes!" [Pause] Her: "Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat!"

The mention of Whataburger got my 4-year-old son's attention. The boy sincerely loves that place. Earlier this year, while on a trip to visit my wife's family in Missouri (where, regrettably, there are no Whataburgers), we were eating cereal at breakfast, and we had this conversation:

Him: "Hey Dad, how much longer til we get back to Texas?" Me: "It's still going to be a while. Our trip just started. How come?" Him: "It's just–I'm really missing Whataburger." Me [smiling]: "Me too, buddy. But it will still be there when we get back to Texas." Him [frowning]: "I just don't think I can wait that long."

So, back to the conversation after my daughter's, "Eat! Eat! Eat!..." When he heard her saying that, my son looked up from the toys he'd been playing with and realized with a sad resignation that–once again–we were driving so close to his favorite establishment, but instead of stopping we were continuing on right past it on our way home. Then came the memorable question/commentary:

Him: "Dad, why are we spending all of our time not eating at Whataburger?" Me: "Good question, buddy."

He had a good point. He's now been in this world four and a half years, and though (obviously) we're no strangers to Whataburger, he could see that he was letting his life go by, spending virtually all of his time on other things. Why, Daddy, why?

For a long time, I lived my life essentially asking the adult equivalent of my son's question. I had things that were pretty deeply-seated desires in me, but still I spent all of my time not doing them. For example, for years, I thought it would be great to spend a day alone with God–even to make a habit of doing so. I even attended conferences where I chose workshops that talked about doing it, and always left inspired. Yet I still never did it.

It applied to other desires too. I wanted to spend more time with my family. I wanted to spend more time outdoors and less time in an office. I wanted to spend more time in boots and less time in dress shoes. Perhaps most of all, I wanted to live more prayerfully than I was.

You probably have desires like those too, and my son's question about Whataburger applies just as well. Why are we spending all of our time not doing them?

St. Teresa of Ávila wrote about this in the 1500s:

If we have the hope of enjoying this blessing [communion with God] while we are still in this life, what are we doing about it and why are we waiting? What sufficient reason is there for delaying even a short time instead of seeking the Lord...? (From Interior Castle)

It was both a great relief and a scary challenge to me when I realized that the huge majority of the obstacles that were keeping me from living according to those desires were not nearly as external as I'd thought. When it came down to it, my lack of those things was not due to anyone else's fault, but simply to the fact that I had never really intended to arrange all of the parts of my life around them (and, perhaps that desperation hadn't yet driven me to make any drastic changes). It didn't take any nerve to keep living like I always had and continue wishing that things were different.

A huge step for me was my participation in a Transforming Community. I felt like it gave me permission to live the way I'd always wanted, but in the process I discovered that I had never actually needed anyone's permission in the first place. All I needed was God's invitation and some reliable guidance along the way. The invitation had already been given to me, just as it has to you, and good guidance is readily available to us.

(This is where the analogy breaks down, because in this stage of their lives, my kids certainly do need my permission to go to Whataburger.)


Something I've prayed this week:

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Fifth Sunday of Easter from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is the 27th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]

Downgrading My Patience Rating

I can be a remarkably patient father for about three minutes.

In fact, for a certain time period of my life, I thought of myself as someone who was always patient, and that streak lasted 23 years, until I got married. I have a wonderful wife, so that's not an insult to her, but rather just a statement with which anyone who's ever been married to an actual human being can probably identify. Any self-illusions that we are patient and selfless people get thrown out the window when we marry someone and our selfishness suddenly can't find anywhere to hide.

So after getting married, I downgraded my own patience rating from outstanding to above average. That lasted exactly seven more years, until the day I became a parent. The patience rating took another major hit three years later when the second little one came along. Now, I find myself in the same patience class as Bobby Knight and the Tazmanian Devil.

I'm reminded how much I deserve this low patience rating each time my kids get dressed. It's amazing how close the wrestling match can be between my 6'7" body and that of my 19-month-old daughter when trying to put a shirt on her. And my four-year-old might hold the world, olympic, and Texas state records for longest time getting dressed. I never cease to be amazed by how many other things can catch his attention between getting the first and second arms through their sleeves.

The most humbling part of it is that whenever I watch him in the height of his dilly-dallying and he exceeds that patience limit, I know I'm staring at myself. It isn't just that I see so much of myself in him that I'm sure I was just like that at four years old, but I see so much of my 34-year-old self in the things he does at this age. I get frustrated at his distractions, then fifteen minutes later (by which time he might have his head through the appropriate hole in his shirt), I've probably told my wife, "Okay, I'll be right there," only to get distracted by five or six other things on the way to whatever it is I said I'd do.

Thanks be to God that his patience lasts more than three minutes! In this year-long experiment in prayer, I'm enjoying the luxury of carving out time each day to do nothing but be with God, and when I do so, my distractions affect me so much that I'm well aware how much my attempts at being with God are like my little boy's attempts at trying to get dressed. My attention flies from one thing to the next, but thankfully I've read some good things through the years and am convinced that God is much more patient than I am and those distractions bother me more than they bother God. And I have hope–I'm quite sure that as my son grows, the time required for him to get dressed will decrease, but nonetheless–he does end up with clothes on. So maybe my attention span will increase and I'll get better at this, but even if not, the limited attention that I can give to God as part of this experiment is surely better than none at all.


Something I've prayed this week:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is 18th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully.]

My Daughter Thinks My Name is Gaga

IMG_3187 My daughter has gone the first nineteen months of her life without calling me anything close to "daddy." She's been able to say "dada" for a long time, but it's always been clear that term refers to diapers instead of me. Until about a month ago, I was just "Uh." We would play the game around the table at meals: point to my wife, and she would say her name; point to my son, and she would say his name; point to me... "Uh."

I guess I bugged her about it enough that around a month ago, she decided to give me a name, though it certainly isn't one I would've chosen for myself. Now I am "gaga." I really hope this is temporary. I'm extremely uninformed when it comes to pop culture, but from the tiny bit I know of my namesake, I'll be really glad whenever the first time comes that my little girl looks at me and uses any of the more traditional affectionate names for her dad.

Thankfully she's young enough that this doesn't bother me, but only gives me something to joke about. It does really matter to me, however, that even though I know her so well at this point in her young life, that as she grows, she'll also know me better along with time. An important step in that process of her growing to know me will be the day when she realizes, "Hey, I bet this guy would like being called daddy more than gaga." But right now–at nineteen months–she's still pretty limited in her capacity to know me, so I'll continue to delight in every "gaga" she says when she looks at me. 


I've come to believe that knowing God isn't as clear-cut of a thing as we've often made it out to be. I do believe it's possible, and that it is meant for every person, but after having studied the process of spiritual formation for quite a while now, I really don't think that it's as simple as you may have heard it described–at least not for me nor for most of us. It's likely that at some point you, like me, have heard a preacher or some other well-meaning person say that we need to have "an intimate personal relationship with Jesus" and then give a description of how that comes about, which sounds something like meeting a stranger on the street who already knows everything about us and instantly becoming best friends with him.

I'm sure there are exceptions, but for most of us, relationships don't work that way–and I think we do ourselves and others a disservice to expect it to work differently with God. It's true that the scriptures communicate an invitation to know God in very close ways, but as often as "intimate personal relationship" gets used, you would think it's a direct quotation from a passage of the Bible. (It isn't.) The Bible uses a lot of metaphors to describe the nature of our relationship to God, but I don't think any metaphor is used more often than that of God being a loving father, and us being God's children. This metaphor is throughout the teachings of Jesus, and in many other passages, such as this:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son... It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them. (Hosea 11:1,3-4)


When we talk about knowing God, maybe we can find a better way of doing so than the usual "intimate personal relationship" description. Perhaps it's more helpful to talk about it in ways that are dominant throughout the bible–such as God being a loving father and us being his beloved children.

Considering things in that light helps us to see a bit differently. We can realize that the primary reality of the relationship between us and God, rather than being our "intimate personal" knowledge of God or lack thereof, is God's steadfastly loving knowledge of us. Just like children who are still very limited in their capacity to really know their parents, though they can surely love their parents and express that love in different meaningful ways, our knowledge of God doesn't instantly go from being strangers to best friends. Our knowledge of God will always have a different quality to it than our knowledge of other people. Regardless of how much I ever mature, I don't sit down and eat a burrito with God in the same way that I do with my friends.


As a child, I spent a lot of time with my dad. He knew me, and I knew him as well as little ones can know their parents. Before his death, though, I never really paid attention to how limited my knowledge of him was. There are many questions I would love to ask him now.

Yet even though my knowledge of him was limited by my being a child and his being my parent, I have still found myself becoming more and more like him as I've grown. Because of the time that I spent with him as a little one, then as a teenager, then as an adult, I'm still becoming more like him even though I never see him anymore, never hug him anymore, never ride around in the truck or eat a burrito with him anymore.

Maybe our knowledge of God is much more like that than the encounter with a stranger on the street who already knows everything about us, then with whom we instantly become best friends. For thousands of years, the ones who have known God best have insisted that we are his children and he is our loving father. So if the way that you know God can't be described as intimate and personal, I don't think I'd worry about it too much. Maybe it's more important to let it sink in to the core of our beings that we are known, loved, and welcome to spend time with a God whose is present everywhere. After years, even decades, of doing so, I'm sure that–because of the time spent with him, knowing him to whatever childish degree we were capable–we'll notice ourselves becoming more like him.

And to wrap our minds around this: the promise of scripture is that one day, God will finally set us–and everything–right, and the limits will be gone. "I know in part, for now; But then I’ll know completely, through and through, even as I’m completely known." (1 Corinthians 13:12, Kingdom New Testament)


Something I've prayed this week:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights.For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. (Psalm 36:5-7)

[This is 17th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully.]

"But Dad, We Were Having So Much Fun!"

Last night, my wife and I were going through the routine of getting our kids ready for bed. She took care of the little one, our daughter, and I was taking care of our son. The usual routine with him is that one of us will read a couple of books to him before bed. We read our books, and then–because it was a little earlier in the evening than he has been going to bed lately and I knew he wouldn't like going to lay down yet–I told him that I still needed to read my evening prayers and that I would sit in his room with him while I did so and he could look at some books in his bed. He was excited to have been told anything other than that it was time for him to go to sleep.

So I sat on the floor of his room read the prayers from my prayer book while he was in his bed looking at books with a flashlight. After reading the prayers with other people's words, I still needed some time for the day to practice praying without words, so I layed on his floor and tried to do so. Whenever I can, I give this practice twenty minutes, so it was a decent amount of time that I was laying on his floor being very quiet while he was in his bed still looking at books with his flashlight. When the twenty minutes were up, I started to get off of his floor and say goodnight to him, but he objected: "But Dad, we were having so much fun!"

We really hadn't interacted at all for the previous twenty minutes, so I was a bit puzzled at what the "so much fun" was that he was referring to, and I know him well enough to recognize in those words a four-year-old's attempt to avoid going to sleep. But I think there was another level to it also.

Looking at books with a flashlight in his bed is something he does nearly every night. It's part of a regular day for him. But it's interesting that he was able to notice the difference it made to do that regular thing while also on another level being very aware that his daddy who loved him very much was in the room with him.

Though as his parents we are careful to help him learn some boundaries and understand that it's okay for him to be alone in his room right across the hall from us, and even though part of him was surely trying to avoid going to sleep, I'm sure that there was another part of him that was legitimately having more fun reading a book by flashlight on his bed while I was on the floor than he would have doing the same thing without his daddy there next to him.

John Ortberg writes, "Spiritual growth, in a sense, is simply increasing our capacity to experience the presence of God." Or, in the terms my son would be more likely to put it, we have more fun when he's in the room with us.

A good part of what I'm trying to accomplish in living out the things I wrote in Live Prayerfully is to increase my capacity to do the things I regularly do in a day while being very aware at another level that my loving father is with me as I do them. My son is right; doing things that way certainly beats doing them alone.

Perhaps there are a number of people out there (maybe even some of you who will read this) who can live with that kind of awareness of God's presence during the things they regularly do without having to take some relatively drastic measures to practice being aware of God's presence, like I'm doing in this year's experiment. Not me. My attention flies all over the place, and I can so easily forget God, that I'm desperately in need of these four-times-per-day reminders of how, regardless of what I'm doing in the rest of the day, a very loving father is right there with me.

Something I've prayed this week:

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Prayer for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is 16th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully.]

The Look on My Face

I can literally still feel the look on my face from these two moments, even though each of them were years ago: CIMG11282 - Delivery 19

The top picture is of the first time I held our son, our firstborn. The bottom picture is of the first time I held our daughter. I can still feel the smile on my face holding her for the first time. Her birth was a real celebration for us. Everything went pretty smoothly with her, and we were ready for her. We had three years of practice at parenthood under our belts, a bedroom in our house ready for her to live in, and it was all smiles when she came.

Holding my son for the first time was no less joyous, but it was very different, and the look on my face with him was less about big smiles and more about trying not to completely lose it. Things didn’t go as smoothly with him, and so the fact that he was there, alive, healthy... I can’t put it into words.

And there were other factors that went into the expression on my face at that moment. We weren’t nearly as ready for him, having just moved back to the U.S. when my wife was eight months pregnant. When he came, we didn't yet have our own place to live, or even clothes that would fit a newborn.

The emotions behind my facial expression when I held him that first time went back farther than that. Before moving back from Guatemala, my wife spent more than a month on bed rest during her pregnancy, and there were times we doubted whether we would ever see him. Back farther: we found out she was expecting when she was in an ER with pneumonia, so he had a rough start from the beginning.

And back even farther: We had been married for six years before my wife became pregnant. We waited a long time, and we were more excited than we ever had been before when we found out she was expecting. But neither of us ever held that baby as the pregnancy ended early in a miscarriage, and our hopes that had built over the years and went through the roof when she was expecting came crashing down with one visit to her doctor when all of the sudden there was no heartbeat. We were crushed, and the waiting continued.

All of that and more went into the look on my face when I held my son for the first time. I had waited- painfully waited- for that boy... until finally the day came, and I held him in my arms. The expression on my face when I did so was full of a lot of waiting, a lot of hope, and a lot of joy.


As I look back to those moments when I first held my kids, and how I can still feel the expressions that were on my face with each of them, I've wondered what Simeon's face looked like when he held in his arms the baby boy of a peasant couple from Nazareth. The eyes that stared at that baby boy had seen plenty of suffering during Simeon's long lifetime. Simeon is described as "waiting for the consolation of Israel," and he had waited through a lot. His lifetime in Jerusalem likely included Israel's suffering under the brutal rules of the Hasmoneans, then the Romans, then through them, Herod.

And back even farther: Simeon's people had been desperate for God to intervene and make things right ever since they were carried off to Babylon as captives around 600 years before the day that Simeon held that baby boy in his arms. We don't know a lot about Simeon, but from the way that Luke tells his story, we can tell that he soaked in the writings of the book of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah from around the time of that exile. The few words that we have recorded from Simeon drip with Isaiah 40-55's prophecies which spoke of God’s return to Israel, and Israel’s return to God. They told of the suffering servant who would take God’s people’s punishment upon himself and bring about their healing. They spoke of God’s promise coming to fulfillment of blessing all the nations of the world through Israel.

So when I wonder what the expression on Simeon’s face was at that moment, I think about how deeply Simeon had soaked Isaiah's message into his soul, and then added his own lifetime of waiting on to the centuries of waiting that had preceded him. At that moment, when he saw that baby- the baby who by some means God had told him was to be the King of Israel, the King of the world, his knowledge of those Scriptures bubbled up and poured out, combined with his faith that they would be fulfilled, and his joy that right there- in that baby whom he held and at whom he surely stared... it was all reaching its climax, it was all coming to pass, it was all going to happen. In that peasant baby boy.

Simeon had waited- painfully waited- for that boy... until finally the day came, and he held the long-expected Messiah in his arms. The expression on his face when he did so surely showed a lot of waiting, a lot of hope, and a lot of joy, as well as a lot of pain, since the Isaiah prophecies he knew so well also spoke of the suffering that surely awaited the child.

All of that has helped me to understand more of why this prayer of Simeon, which he spoke when he held the infant Jesus in his arms, is included every day in the prayers that I am reading throughout this year when I pray with other people's words:

Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised. For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for the world to see: a Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.

I want to live like Simeon. I want to wait on God, and wait on God, and wait on God, and soak in the Scriptures, and listen, and I want to do so for the entirety of the rest of my life until I too can go in peace just as God had promised Simeon.

(Read Simeon's story in Luke 2:22-35.)

Something I've prayed this week:

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (A Prayer for the First Sunday after Christmas Day from The Book of Common Prayer)

[This is 12th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully.]