The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done

There’s been so little good going on in the world lately, today I decided that was what I wanted to talk about–something good. Except what had I done that was good? What was the best thing I’d done? I knew I’d made a ton of mistakes.

What was the best thing I could think of? What was the best decision I’ve ever made? What that I have done has made my life better? For that, I go back to December of 2008.

Ken and Linda came to San Diego for a visit, and we went to Old Town to look at the sites and have some Mexican food. I decided that would be the day I said something to them about wanting to marry Jenny.

We did Old Town for a while, and we had lunch at some place whose name escapes me. I think that night, we also took in the Christmas program at Shadow Mountain Community Church, where David Jeremiah preaches. I remember when I attended there, the Christmas programs were quite extraordinary. I don’t remember the one we saw with Jenny’s parents, though, because I was kind of nervous, knowing what was coming later.

We stopped to get something to eat at Denny’s on the way back–it was the first place Jenny and I had eaten together–right before going to the zoo, and we had breakfast. So that night, it seemed like a good enough place to go with her folks for a late dinner. About halfway through, I decided that Jenny needed to take David to the restroom, and I would text her after I talked to her mom and dad.

After a minute or two, I mumbled something out–I don’t remember what I said. I do remember that Linda did one of those fist pumps people do. “Yes!” The only problem was that I forgot to text Jenny and tell her to come back. She must have waited five minutes in the Denny’s bathroom with her chicken sandwich getting cold.

Worked out for the best, though. At least I think so.

Now that the talking part was out of the way, we actually had to get engaged. I began formulating big plans for that. There would be a horse. An expensive dinner at Seaport Village. Clowns and balloons–Ok, maybe not that. But if you have a cliché in mind regarding a marriage proposal, I was going to do it.

It would be December 22, 2008.

Only one problem–I found out a couple days later, that was the annual Whitson family Christmas. There was nothing I could do–I couldn’t tell her that it was marriage proposal weekend. It would have ruined the surprise. So I drove to Yuma that Saturday, as I always did. It was around lunch time, and I knew everyone was already there, or would be soon.

I had to pick up the ring at the jewelers (it had been sized), and it wasn’t ready yet. So I walked over to the Walmart a couple of stores over to kill some time. I stood in the book aisle and read the ending of Marley & Me (see, I have a dark side. But I didn’t know what would happen to the darn dog at that point), and was soon puffy-eyed and teared up over the grave-digging scene. Big mistake.

Eventually, I secured the ring and went to Ken and Linda’s. The party was already on, and soon after it was time for gifts. The ring was in my pocket in a little ziplock baggie, wrapped in white tissue paper. Jenny and I were sitting on the blue and white “love seat,” and eventually, I figured “what the heck?” I went into the bathroom to fish the ring out of my pocket. I came back and gifts were just about done. David was across the room, and Jenny’s brother and wife were standing with their back to us. Her grandma was on the big couch, but wasn’t looking at us. I told her I had one gift left. I started to kneel, and said something stupid, like asking her what she was doing for the next 50 years or so. 4 year old David crashed into us right then–exactly then. I realized Grandma Marie HAD been looking after all. I slipped the ring on her finger, and that was the beginning of the best thing I’ve ever done. The smartest thing I’ve ever done.

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Ok, 2017. Here I Come

What a year this has been. So much loss, as we all get older. Famous people, family and friends alike all went on to their reward. Jen and I grew closer–I swear I love her more every day. We took foster parent classes, and Jose joined John and David as our kids.

I’ve got two classes left for my MA in Christian studies, and I’m excited to see what’s next. I’m just trying to be obedient. 2016 has been tough, and cathartic, and sometimes quite tragic, but I have my kids, and my beautiful wife, and everything I need. I am known and loved by a big God.

I’m ready for 2017.

George Michael and 90 Seconds in Hell

Anyone who’s seen much of 2016 would have to acknowledge that quite a few celebrities have checked out this year–and there’s still almost a week to go, so there could be more. What I’m thinking about today, having just heard about Carrie Fisher, is not Princess Leia. It’s George Michael. Why, you might be wondering? I know little of his music, and that video with the “Choose Life” shirts? My goodness. Before I continue, watch/listen to this…and think of the portly doofus in that picture below.

My George Michael/Wham! memory is from an audition for a musical I did back in high school. I did OK on the acting part, and didn’t embarrass myself singing–as part of the chorus, anyway–I didn’t do a solo. The problem was the dancing.

Anyone who knows me knows I lack even the smallest gracefulness.

HS

Yes, I’m that guy. Many pounds and many years later. But dancing was part of the audition. One of the cheerleaders (Mona Nicholson) came up with a short, choreographed routine to the Wham! song Wake me up Before You Go-Go, which was a pretty big hit for George and his silent, guitar “playing” partner. I’m sure he had a name, but I don’t want to look it up.

So there we are–a handful of guys–on the tarmac outside the gym where the play would be performed. We’re standing there while Mona (yes, she was attractive) demonstrated the few steps for us. All I could think of at the time was to pray that no one saw me. The finger-snapping, “Jitterbug!” intro to the song came on and my humiliation began.

My hands/arms were held out from my sides like I was playing a drunken airplane running in a loose circle. I put the “boom-boom” into no hearts that day. I am tall. I am clumsy. And I demonstrated that fully on that 80’s afternoon. 85? 86? I can’t remember that part.

Maybe if any of my friends from those days read this, they can help me fill in some time gaps. I feel like it was springtime of 1986. Anyway, I’ll remember that time as long as I live, even if it isn’t the most masculine thing I’ve ever done.

I also remember there was this big number toward the end of the title song, “The Pajama Game.” We all had to wear pajamas for that last song. Someone (I have my suspicions) decided it would be funny to hide my pajama top. I searched frantically for it, but in the end had to “borrow” one from somebody that was about five sizes smaller than my own. Years later I would see Chris Farley crooning “Fat Guy in a Little Coat,” and it made me think of that. I had to raise my arms and do jazz hands at the end, looking like an obese genie that had just popped out of a bottle of Crisco.

I think my sisters came to the performance, but my mom didn’t, that I can remember. She was alive, but without much health or energy left. Probably a good thing–I put a hurtin’ on that pajama top.

So when I think about George Michael, I think it’s sad he’s gone–I think it’s sad when anyone shuffles off this mortal coil. But I don’t think of his hit songs from the early 90’s when his image comes to mind. I think of that white tee-shirt emblazoned with “Choose Life.” I think of stuffing my midriff into a third grader’s pajama top.

So “adios,” George. Thanks for making my 90 seconds of horror possible.

 

Thanks for the Opportunity

To the men who are the “fathers” of my kids:

I want to tell you something. Science may tell you that you are responsible for the lives of these two young men. You might believe that, and it might even be true—but only in the biological sense. They do not belong to you anymore, if they ever did. They belong to God, and to my wife and I, in that order.

You see, being a father is not just contributing DNA. At most, I believe that is a catalyst for what follows. Being biologically responsible for their lives and being in their lives is not the same, and the former is not worth nearly as much as the latter. For 8 years, I have watched one of my boys grow strongly toward manhood. And as the former Senator from New York once said, it took a village—in this instance, a village named Whitson.

This kid is special: a natural athlete and musician, more talented in every way than I could ever hope to be. I’m sorry for whatever occurred in your life that caused you to become the sort of man—the sort of father—who would eschew any sort of responsibility, and I could not care less if it was because his mother asked you to.

You find a way, in a family. You lead the way.

Yet when I think about the fact that you did shirk that and every responsibility you had with this young man, I am glad for it. Because through it, God called me into this family. I met the love of my life, and her amazing heart has been part of my own healing journey. I get to be the man and father I didn’t have personally, and always wished to be. I didn’t think I would ever have the chance.

I claim the responsibility of raising this young man to know the Lord, and to know me, in all my imperfections and brokenness. To know the real me; the one I’ve been both chasing and running away from my whole life. Now I’m found, and a lot of it had to do with my son. And in the smallest of ways, you are partially responsible for that, too.

And you, unknown father. Your many ignored responsibilities and rampant selfishness make me want to abandon the values I treasure and know to be true and worthwhile for the brief moment of satisfaction I would get from knocking your two or three remaining teeth down your irresponsible throat.

I don’t get to do that, and I am glad. It took me a long time to find peace in my life, and I would not give it up for anything. Instead, I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray you find the absolution you may not have even been seeking after. Brother, you need it, and it is the only peace you will ever find, should you decide you want to really know what life is about, which is loving and protecting those under your roof—and teaching them about what matters most in life, which is knowing and serving the God of the universe, made real in the person of Jesus. Also, I might add, the best place to find healing.

He will not know that because of you. If I do right by him, he will know it because of me, and my wife. Let me tell you something about this boy you left by the wayside. He has a strong will, and an artistic sensibility I can only wish for. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s learning how to loved and more importantly, be loved. No nine year old boy should have to learn how to be loved.

Let me tell you something, and I want to make sure you understand, because I barely understand it myself. Whether or not you support it is up to you. As a father—as a man—if you have a family it is your responsibility to fight for it. Ignoring that responsibility should be criminal. It teaches the kid they aren’t worth fighting for, and that’s what we’re dealing with now. Nine years of abandoned parental responsibility—on both sides of that coin. He doesn’t really even know what love is, but we’re going to teach him.

Do you know what my wife and I did a couple of nights ago? We got on our knees beside this young man’s bed and we comforted him, or tried to. My wife has this amazing and God-given ability to comfort, and even when it feels impossible, she does her best. She tells him every day that he is beautiful and loved. She strokes his hair, and says soft and loving things. I’d like it to be, but that’s not really me. I’m more of a brute. I suppose my wife and I are both strong, but in different ways. We may be weak apart, but we are strong together. We intercede for this beautiful young man every day. That same night I just spoke of?

A very good but relatively new friend pointed out that what I needed to do was fight for my kids, in a very real and literal way. From my knees. I’ll tell you the truth—it was and remains exhausting. I claim that responsibility, too. I will love and protect and pray for my family, my kids.

I’m no warrior. I’m probably nowhere near as tough as you. Yet I will fight the only way I know how, and give my kids the best shot I can. I may have to fight that battle every single night of my life, but it’s got to be the best reason to fight there is.

Neither one of you two did that. May you one day live to realize that, and become the men you can be. That, however, is not my responsibility.

It’s yours.

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If It Takes All Night…

In the course of my adult life, I have dealt quite a bit with those who have suffered many different types of trauma. Typically, this was in the context of a semi-charismatic prayer group, and the trauma sufferers were men and women who had experienced it as a child. They had a different perspective and a lot of years between who they were when the incidents occurred and who they are now. In all cases, they had at least a relatively good support network and a working knowledge of who Jesus was, and how he did things.

I never expected–some ten years later–to be a foster parent on the way to becoming an adoptive parent of a very active young man who in his short lifetime had likely suffered much–certainly much more than most kids his age. My wife and I did twelve weeks of foster training, and it prepared us for some of the things we’ve encountered.

That doesn’t mean it is easy. But what it has done is to make us wholly dependent on God for wisdom, and comfort, and guidance. I believe it’s human nature to want to feel loved in return when you give love, or when you give anything of yourself. It doesn’t always happen. Luke 6 says this about who we should love: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.”

I have to remind myself there’s a good chance our boy has not had much experience in a loving home, with a loving family. He probably hasn’t had any experience with discipline out of love. Could be he doesn’t know how to be loved at all; how to accept that love is something he has now, in abundance.

He may have some rudimentary head knowledge of Jesus, but if it doesn’t come out of love, it won’t become heart knowledge at all. So what we have to do is show this young man Jesus in a practical way. We make Jesus real to him by showing he is real to us. We do not hide our imperfections and blemishes–rather, we reveal them in the way of edification.

We do not simply pray for, we also pray with him. We show him what a loving family looks like by loving. My wife and I demonstrate what a healthy and Godly marriage looks like.  We discipline because we care, rather than simply punish because we do not. We show affection, and we acknowledge our feelings and their feelings.

We also acknowledge our feelings and our fears and our doubts because they are real and they happen. We acknowledge them from the position of supplicant, because that is what we really all are in the first place. We can talk differences all day, but the truth is that at our cores we are also all the same. Like this young man newly added to our life and family, we are all broken in our own way. Yet we are also repaired in his way, and we need to share that it is a process, and it will take some time, hard as it is to endure.

Everyone knows the story of Moses, fleeing the forces of Pharoah, and parting the Red Sea so his people can escape, and finally be free. Yet do we know the whole story, as described in Exodus? Do we know that Moses, ever obedient to the Lord, was made to set up camp for his people, essentially giving time for Egypt to catch up? God convinces Egypt that the Israelites are lost and wandering: it doesn’t make sense to stop. But then Moses related a message from the Lord, “The Lord, will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14, ESV)

That victory did not come in an instant. And there was still the Red Sea before them, and Pharoah. Rather, the Lord told Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea. The water would take care of the rest.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:21-22, NIV)

One of the great miracles related in the Old Testament–the parting of the Red Sea and the escape of the Israelites from bondage.

all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land.”

It took all night.

Not that God couldn’t have done whatever he needed to in an instant, but he didn’t, because he had something for Israel to learn. For us to learn. For me to learn.

He is God. I am not. There is something to learn in all this going on right now. There is something we can take away, even now.

Loving and expecting returns isn’t really love. Loving because we’ve been loved is. Loving as a verb, loving with all our hearts, even when they seem to feel completely the opposite.

We sure don’t always act like we love Jesus.

I think that what we need to do is stretch our hands out over the Sea. It might take all night, but in the end we will cross.

And we will have all of our family, including our newest, with us.

Because he is God. We are not.

 

 

 

 

 

This is my Ministry

For a little while, it bothered me that I didn’t have time to do anything extra-curricular at Church. No home group or ministry involvement-just too much going on with kids, and work, and football, and all that. Then I realized “all that” is what mattered most. We worship, and we pray, and we have great friends and a terrific support network. God brought my family to my life, and I wouldn’t change any of it. They are my ministry right now.

Paradoxical Illogicalities and Limp Bizkit

limpbizkitThere’s been a great deal of conversation lately (if you can call it that) regarding the 2016 election and the behavior of each of the candidates—both current and past. This person is dishonest and corrupt. That person is an unrepentant sexual predator. The truth is that there exists credible (and in-credible) evidence to legitimize each viewpoint, depending on how you roll.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

What I’m wondering is what is it about the ardent supporters for each person that makes them willing to overlook such obvious…character flaws in the person they support, while calling for the metaphorical heads of the opposition. The truth is that when you take a good and close look at each candidate one thing (to me) becomes appallingly clear.

They’re people. They’re fallible people like us, albeit with a lot more money, and as such each also seems to have that same tendency everyone else does: they do stupid things about as often as the average person.

They make mistakes.

That said, what is behind the everyday person’s willingness to overlook mistakes with a light shining on them brighter than Kleig lights on a movie set?

Some of these fallacies are not very nice. Some illegal. Some resulted in death and other traumas. In either case, the people involved are proven to be crass and inconsiderate—even profanely so—on more than one occasion.

Yet even so we carry blue signs and wear red hats. I don’t get it. It seems like nothing matters to anyone—nothing real.

Rather, to quote the 90’s philosopher/poets Limp Bizkit, “It’s all about the he-says, she-says bull—“

Why? People don’t even seem to know what they’re for anymore, in any way they can explain. They can tell you what they’re against, though.

“Never Trump.”

“Jail her.”

[Insert slogan here]

What matters to you?