Love Will Be What You Let It Be

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Fuzzy blond-haired boys roll into my kitchen every day around 7:00 and proceed to order food as if they were regulars at a local breakfast dive.

More often than not, they opt for eggs, not because of taste or nutrition, but because little boys rarely get the chance to break small fragile objects or unleash gooey yellow globs…legally.

I know posting about mundane kitchen tasks like cracking eggs is choosing to memorialize a little bit of daily nothing. It doesn’t solve social injustice, it doesn’t right bad theology, it doesn’t produce landmark books or art or events.

But the substance of that moment is ripe with the sort of things that do.

Feelings of love and family. Happily embedded in moments of “home.”

My toddlers, of course, don’t know that MH370 has been declared lost, or that the U.S. is freezing Russian leaders’ assets. They don’t know that Mark Driscoll has been accused or that he apologized or that the entire Christian spectrum is up in arms about Noah or Hobby Lobby or World Vision’s hiring policies. Somehow, though, in spite of the more meta social strains, these kids are whole and well and know deep in their little cores that they’re loved.

As much as this sounds like the set-up to a mommy blogger post, let me insert here that I think the work that goes on in my kitchen every morning is the exact same work I’m drawn to everywhere else.

That, at life’s core, the challenge is always about assembling and reassembling family from the people and circumstances I find myself in. About gathering people. About loving like it matters, like it’s needed, like if we loved boldly enough it’d create more moments of “home”–where we move toward wholeness and well-being in walking this planet (despite all its strains) together.

This has been a good, full month that way.

I’ve escaped to dates at giant plastic playlands, not only to watch toddlers scurry around plastic tunnels, but to talk to the various moms perched around me. To make scattered eye contact, over toddler spills and tantrums, with Tracy–a friend I first grew accustomed to talking to while laying out high school yearbook pages or performing in spring plays 22 years ago. Or with Bethany–mother of Eli–who together with her sister Jennie, have played dozens or roles in my life over the last 15 years–roommates, fellow small group leaders, co-workers, bridesmaids–and beyond all that sisters.

There was our third annual writing retreat–a hyper-small collection of friends who hole away in a giant hunting lodge to eat and talk…and to lay the foundation for our next year of writing. All while tucked away in the icy woods.

There’s sneaking out to meet our neighbor, Jamie, from down the way to wonder aloud together about career and family and friends and personal growth…and the piles of snow that have plagued our neighborhood for far too long.

There’s the conferences that rise up like little temporary towns, gatherings of tribes returning to bits of the homeland. That bring with them the chance, for at least fleeting moments, for their attenders to be with people who spend most moments believing toward better worlds from their separate, more distant corners of this one.

There was a single, calming and orienting conversation over lobster rolls with college friend Joe and two indulgent meals with a couple of 20-something siblings who snuck into my heart as children many years ago.

There’s been family birthday parties, where little sister-in-law Jill gifted me with a healing box of chai k-cups–not because it was my birthday, but because the 18 month old had crashed and been surgically glued back together just that morning…and chai makes at least a small dent in fixing everything.

There were three straight days of March Madness, days I absorb like a recycling of Thanksgiving or Christmas, where my brothers–my real genetic, flesh-and-blood, look-like-me brothers–take up residence in our house, lugging in with them multiple TV screens and copies of NCAA brackets and food with scary amounts of preservatives. And we all lay around in sweats, just barely talking, and then heatedly talking, in cycles, as we go to great lengths to do something we could do alone…together.

And for sure, yes, there were moments of career climbing and producing, producing, producing, woven through all of these. I signed off on the back cover copy of a book that’s being re-released in April. I smiled like a little kid as a I flipped through mock-ups of a children’s book and toy that will hit the shelves in September. I plotted who knows how many campaigns to help advance who knows how many projects I believe in.

But in the end, I guess, the ordinary, bits-of-nothing moments that mean nothing to blog readers or to agents or to movers-and-shakers in this or that industry, seem just as worth telling as the others. Because as much as we try to pull the pieces of the world together through big ideas, philosophies, theology, and so-much-plotting *which clearly I do*, I am pretty sure we stir wholeness and well being just as boldly in the softer more ordinary moments. When we look at everything spiraling around us–the lost planes and Russia, Driscoll and World Vision–and we choose not to relegate our active fostering of love to meal-making with toddlers around kitchen counters.

When we extend vulnerability and belief to those who weren’t born to us, but who are bound to us by our daily experiences just the same.

When we choose to be the one who takes responsibility for loving people, whoever they are, who we find standing next to us. Not because we’re the parent, but because we believe–as deeply as any belief we hold–that the world needs more of it.

When we adamantly refuse, in the face of ongoing cycles of disappointment and accusations of idealism, to become so detached from hope that we stop being known as people of… faith.

When we decide that reality is too harsh, and society is too apathetic, that we can’t afford not to foster family wherever we go.

As adults, knowing all the dysfunctions and realities of this world that our children may sometimes be blissfully naive to, it’s so easy to become numb and emotionally afraid creatures with muted hope.  To look at the world mostly through lenses of cynicism or bitterness or loss–lenses forged and continually validated through our suffering. It’s easy to shore up around self-protection and busyness, in the determined advancement of ourselves and whatever fierce battles we wage with all things wrong.

But what awakens a sometimes sleep-walking world to feeling again, to sifting out meaning again, to moments of spiritual “home” we could live alone but we choose to live together…I think it’s choosing to extend the same sort of unapologetic, fierce, everyday love often relegated to our homes to the people who come to us outside of them.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about in March anyways.

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Until we meet again…

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I’ve sat down several times to plot the course of this blog. To figure out how to move from a loose collection of posts on friendship toward some of the more important ideas and audacious claims stirring inside me.

There is far more I’d like to explore concerning how human beings relate to each other, both in the faith and in our western culture. And I’d like, also, to think more about what these relationships say about our understanding of God. 

Even though I’ve been dabbling in these subjects a while, I know I can’t do these topics justice right now.

I don’t want to just create filler posts to plug up the empty space on my blog. Nor do I want to pour myself into research to produce, produce, produce content at a faster rate than I can internalize or grow my own soul.

But I think I will get there eventually.

For now, though, I am going to give myself a six or seven month blogging sabbatical, to make space to think more carefully and to think in a more dedicated way about these subjects.

While I will likely contribute a few pieces–cultural commentary on the Huffington Post or maybe more children’s pieces a la The Donkey In the Living Room, I‘m cutting back to just one blog update per month until this fall.

Until then, if you’d like to stay in touch, I post nearly every weekday on Facebook and Twitter. And you can also subscribe to this blog via email (see the sidebar) so that you are alerted about the monthly update post and also about my eventual return to more regular blogging.

Good things are ahead, friends. I can’t wait to see you there.

Photo Credit

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Making Friends in Adulthood: What’s the Trick?

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In high school, you sat for hours in the same classrooms or ran the gym for hours on the same sports teams. In college, you lived in the same buildings–”dorms”–where for four years, you didn’t need to do anything but walk out the door to find yourself surrounded with friends and acquaintances.

But many people are taken by surprise how the nature of friendship can change as they age. Alex Williams recently took on this phenomena in his New York Times piece, “Why Is It Hard to Make Friends After 30?”

It was like one of those magical blind-date scenes out of a Hollywood rom-com, without the “rom.” I met Brian, a New York screenwriter, a few years ago through work, which led to dinner with our wives and friend chemistry that was instant and obvious.

We liked the same songs off Dylan’s “Blonde on Blonde,” the same lines from “Chinatown.” By the time the green curry shrimp had arrived, we were finishing each other’s sentences. Our wives were forced to cut in: “Hey, guys, want to come up for air?”

As Brian and his wife wandered off toward the No. 2 train afterward, it crossed my mind that he was the kind of guy who might have ended up a groomsman at my wedding if we had met in college.

That was four years ago. We’ve seen each other four times since. We are “friends,” but not quite friends. We keep trying to get over the hump, but life gets in the way.

Read the rest of the article here.

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But We Stand In Life at Midnight, On the Threshold of a New Dawn

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“If we are arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love. We must have the compassion and understanding for those who hate us. We must realize so many people are taught to hate us that they are not totally responsible for their hate. But we stand in life at midnight, we are always on the threshold of a new dawn.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. 24th February, 1956

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Tony Campolo Retiring? I Don’t Know If I Buy It.

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“Tony Campolo, a progressive evangelical leader … announced Tuesday (Jan. 14) that the organization he founded nearly 40 years ago will close on June 30.”

So began an article chronicling Tony’s step away from the organization that has been his public face for longer than I’ve been alive.

I have to admit, I receive the news with mixed feelings. I am happy that Tony may be able to move more freely in this stage of life, unencumbered by the burdens that come with administering an organization. But, too, it felt sad to see the EAPE waving goodbye. It feels like the beginning of an end of a Campolo-marked era that is coming all too soon.

Of course I, like anyone who knows Tony, was not surprised that his definition of retirement included the words “…he will continue to write and speak, with nearly 200 engagements scheduled for 2014.”

200 engagements in Tony Campolo’s retirement year? Yeah. That sounds about right.

For about five years now, I’ve had the privilege of being involved with Red Letter Christians, the organization where Tony spends most of his time now according to the article. And I have to tell you, to go from a save-the-world teenager listening to a colorful evangelist tell churches to stop buying $100,000 sound systems when people are starving…to go to sitting in a room with him every winter, to having him endorse my books…has been a beautiful, meaningful, unforgettable turn of events.

The Church should be the only club in the world that exists for the benefits of its non-members. In this book, Sarah Cunningham spells out concrete, practical ways to make that happen. Using Biblical directives she lays out how the local church can be THE CHURCH. – Tony Campolo, PhD. Eastern University

So I sit there with Tony and the others he has gathered. And we circle up to listen to him tell favorite, cherished stories that we’ve heard him tell before…about Clarence and the casket, for example. And we, many adults with our organizations and published books, are rendered grandchildren around a table listening to a patriarch tell family stories we’ve grown to love. We lean forward as if it is the first time we have heard the story, we listen intently, and we mouth the words with him, “Good night, Clarence!” as the finale of his familiar narrative breaks.

And we applaud not because we are being kind, but because something in his spirit has been planted in ours. So when he asks us to sing Joy to the World for the third time that day, we sing it as if it is the first time, because we know these requests are bits of his legacy of the hope for this planet he intends–very intentionally–to leave behind in us.

Tony Campolo is, for sure, a gust of wind at many backs, including mine.

Which is why my favorite part of the article was this:

“Too often, we old guys hang on too long and steal the spotlight from the new, bright, shining stars emerging as speakers and leaders,” Campolo said. “We keep occupying leadership without stepping aside and getting behind these speakers.”

And I just want you to know that when he says this, about stealing the spotlight, you might think it goes against the grain of the lively, attention-grabbing voice you’ve known and loved, but I want you to know that it is real.

Tony Campolo has repeatedly told me, with the kind of sincerity that brings tears to my eyes, that he wants to end well. That he wants to disperse influence to those coming up under him, to help them get the speaking engagements he once took more of, to help them find their voices in the publishing industry, to help them work together to accomplish more.

And he has put his energy behind that.

Whether the EAPE closes or not, parts of it will continue on with us. After all, I aspire to be controversial as Jesus was controversial. But I also aspire to end well as Tony Campolo is ending well.

Read the rest of the article about Tony’s retirement here.

 

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Introverted Extroverts or Extroverted Introverts

I can never fit myself neatly into one category. Can you?

Sometimes I feel so extroverted. I’m often one of the first people to speak up in a discussion group or team meeting. And with strangers, I’m quick to take initiative–to cross a room to introduce myself or to go out of my way to help other people meet each other.

I prioritize staying socially connected to a wide range of people. And periodically, I like to rally people to gather, to hang out, to do something.

My number one love language is quality time.

Not to mention I am a public speaker, and after a lifetime as an oldest child, pastor’s daughter and teacher, I feel at home on most stages.

But…truth be told, I’d enjoy being on a panel or doing a casual Q&A more than I’d enjoy giving a keynote. And organizing events and movements, making things happen behind the scenes, comes even more naturally to me.

Plus…even though I like to be around a lot of people all at once, I am not the life-of-the-party-type. I don’t try to claim the center space in the room, I don’t tell loud, animated stories or jokes with funny sound effects. I’m way more likely to hole away in a corner talking with one or two people, and then to move to another corner and talk to one or two more, rotating around the room all night.

And I really do have some serious introverted qualities. I could (and do) camp inside my house for days without going out. I like to seclude myself away and get lost in a book. I use the ATM machine so I don’t have to go in and make a deposit. I skip voicemails. I wait for the package delivery man to leave the parcel before going out to retrieve it.

I think a lot of us are some mix of the two. We’re extroverted introverts, or introverted extroverts. We have seasons of life and moods that bring out some qualities over others.

Even so, I enjoy reading pieces like the one below from Dr.Carmella. It sheds light on my (and your) introverted moments–whether that is a temporary or permanent state of being. And it helps us understand those who identify as fully-introverted most of the time.

Plus it’s a cartoon. Beat that.

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When Humility and Privlege Collide

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Recently, I’ve been writing about bravery and humility.

How in an ideal world, in my most sane moments, the two go together.

So it was hard for me to resist a recent post called On Humility and Privilege by Richard Beck. I hope you’re as intrigued by his words as I am.

Somewhat paradoxically, it takes a lot of ego-strength to be humble–to let others go first, to take the last place, to “wash feet,” and to allow others to get the praise, recognition, and accolades. We struggle with this. Not because we are wicked but because our sense of self-worth is built upon praise, compliments, attention, respect and popularity. Thus we engage in what psychologists have called “excessive reassurance seeking,” constantly taking the temperature of our social network to verify that we are being noticed, approved of, and included.

You can read the rest of this post on humility and privilege here.

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I Hardly Blog at Christmas

I hardly blog at Christmas.

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We sled. With our cousins. Down the hill outside the window.

The kids manage to go down… twice. Each time, they beg us to carry them back up, but we force them–like mean parents do–to walk using the two functional legs God gave them. After twenty minutes of prodding, cajoling, and dragging them by one mittened-hand, we manage to reach the top of a hill that should take 30 seconds to climb.

Around this time, the four year old Emperor declares he is done. He declares this, not so much in words, but by removing his boots and wet socks as he crouches in a snow pile. I carry the pink-footed him inside, and we cheer for other sledders as they glide by the kitchen window while we sort marshmallows into rows of hot chocolate cups.

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We go tree-hunting. We point to several, one-eye squinting at their heights and widths and various bare spots. We talk about maybe someday getting a super-duper-tall-tree to reach up to our tippy-toe-tall living room ceiling, but then we get too cold to compare and contrast any longer. So we just cut down the nearest and most mangy oblonged-eight-footer right in front of us.

It is a tree of bare spots.

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We bake pies. Pumpkin and apple. Peach and cherry. And blackberry. Sometimes we cover every last inch of the kitchen in flour and work our wobbly rolling pin to its near-death to proudly press out our very own homemade crusts. Other times we donate two crisp dollar bills to the grocery store to score the perfectly-stretched crust circles from Pillsbury’s freezer section. In either case, the four year old manages to work tiny thumbrint sized holes into each pie top. So we don’t bother with knife slits anymore.

We fashion little Rudolph cake pops. Which end up being too spicy for the Emperor and too crumbly for his 16-month-old Chief of Staff. The dog, however, is a big fan. The dog loves reindeer-shaped cake pops, it turns out. So there’s a win here somewhere.

We employ the massive architectural and fine motor skills every toddler is born with to smush together a gingerbread house.  I would describe it’s style as “disheveled; post-earthquake.” We’re pretty sure a disaster-relief team of elves have been dispatched.

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We decorate using lots of Dollar Store candles. And we manage (so far) not to set fire to anything.

We watch Christmas specials. Everything from the Grinch to the Griswolds. We make kettlecorn and sit under plush, fuzzy blankets with the lights off and Christmas bulb reflections dancing around the wall.

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We shovel and snowblow and throw salt. And by we, I mean Chuck. The rest of us just sort of scoot the snow around using over-sized shovels the first time it snows.

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We attend holiday preschool functions where a local teacher is Santa’s doppelganger. And there is free pizza and a bouncy-house–both of which arguably have nothing to do with Christmas, but are the best idea ever for a Christmas party with toddlers.

We make hot dishes and cart them over to parties in spilly crockpots, where we are always destined to catch at least one flu bug per season. Then we nap the sickness away.

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We do our nativity tradition, adding a new figure to the ever-filling plastic stable each day. Our book reached the top of the Amazon holiday lists again this year (you can download it here free for a limited time).

We smile and chatter about it. There are such fun plans for this book in the works for 2014.

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We scour the internet and various stores for odd toys that our eccentric oldest child fancies–for tiny lego Ninja turtles, and exactly 5 inch tall plastic Luigis, and fluorescent yellow Mutagen Ooze in which there is hidden a small ordinary turtle pre-Ninja-turtle transformation.

We wrangle plastic toys from their anti-shoplifting boxes where the manufacturers barb-wire them in using a Rubix-cube of twisties, zip ties, and jagged sharp plastic that requires hedge clippers and/or bomb-disarming skills to penetrate.

Then we assemble various playsets, each of which comes with one 4×6 card of instructions written in size 4 font by someone who has never even seen the actual toy. Each of which also come with a minimum of 100 decal stickers all roughly the size of a grain of salt. Thankfully, the four year old Emperor immediately alerts us when we’ve positioned any 4mm part or sticker incorrectly.

We lose and find, pick up and injuriously step on various billions of pieces included in said toys (repeat 100 times). We literally wrote the manufacturer asking for a replacement missile for the Shellraiser vehicle. These things are important, people.

We force various miniature weapons into tiny ninja turtle hands. Over and over and over again. Because four year olds cannot make their motor functions work that finely, which is something the manufacturer of every single toy in existence somehow doesn’t seem to know.

We replace any debit cards rendered extinct by the great Target Credit Massacre of 2013.

We take hundreds of cheesy and nostalgic Christmasey pictures.

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We bake cookies, we bowl, we watch sporting events, we visit family and near-family, we have breakfast with old friends.

We play Christmas music, we dance incessantly, we laugh, we cry, we say No, no, no, those are ornaments; NOT balls.

But, unashamedly, we hardly blog at Christmas.

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from all of us to you and yours!

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