February 29 lacks a Hallmark card, as far as I know. Still, I look forward to each February 29. It is not for me an extra day but a needed day, a day that symbolizes restoration. Rituals of the day should include organizing the sock drawer and synchronizing clocks.
Without a February 29 every four years, our local shortest day of the year would drift from December 21 into January in just 41 years, dragging winter along. No joke. At five hundred years with no February 29, we could throw snowballs on July 4 and celebrate Christmas by the pool. Despite those dire consequences, February 29 doesn't get much respect. When I am late, no one ever accepts calendar drift as an excuse.
Jonathan Larson in the musical Rent observed how inadequately clocks and calendars measure time:
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear.
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights,
In cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
How do you measure a year in the life?
Larson was not the first to notice two kinds of time. The ancients distinguished kronos time, time reckoned by the sun and moon, by hour glasses, and by marks on the wall. They made kronos into a person, the precursor of our Father Time. In their statues of him, Kronos is an aged baby-eating giant bearing a grass cutter, cold toward human concerns.
By contrast with scary old Mr. Clock Time Kronos, consider pleasant Mr. Right Time. His name is Kairos. Depictions of Kairos show him as a running youth.
I would like to hang out with kid Kairos, to prolong his visit. To do time with Mr. Right Time would be a good time. But look at the wings on his feet. The Right Time can easily zoom by! You might catch him by his forelock. But when he's gone, he's gone.
In Mark 1 Jesus announces: "The right time has come. The kingdom of God is near! Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!" Paul uses the term: "But when the right time came, God sent his Son who was born of a woman and lived under the law." "Be wise in the way you act with people who are not believers, making the most of every opportunity." How do we catch the right time? Paul tells the Galatian believers, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." Peter says: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."
I am surrounded by calendars and clocks, flawed in that they need a February 29 and other occasional corrections. These technologies rarely help me recognize the right time to speak and the right time to shut up. For discerning the right time, I need alert patience.
We're all a little broken
Probably would have opted out of the hard copy version, but the Washington Post keeps pitching me lower and lower prices when I try to cancel, so I just keep it coming. And now that the ink stays on the page and not on your hand--think M&M commercial here--it's actually a good experience, especially with a cup of joe. And every once in a while you come across a truth that makes synapses start firing in directions other than "What in the world is going to happen in Syria?" or "Will the European economic crisis curtail the flow of Greek yogurt?"
Such was the article on 17 February, entitled "A genetic news flash: We're all a little bit broken." Here's the text that got my attention:
"We've all had cars with a bunch of broken parts that get us where we want to go for years with no obvious problem. Does the human genome have the same tolerance for permanent damage? The answer is: Sure.
A study estimates the average person goes through life with 20 genes permanently out of commission. With each of us possession about 20,000 genes, that's means 0.1 percent of our endowment is broken from the start--and we don't even know it. Whether being born with 20 broken genes is horrifying ("Get me customer service!") or reassuring ("Whew, only 20!") depends on one's expectation of perfection."
So, what if the Washington Post is right? What if we don't enter this planet in perfect working order? What if what you and I are today isn't just the culmination of our experiences once we come barreling down the birth canal or the stork dropped us off? What if we enter the scene here broken, damaged goods? What if we are "seconds" on the discount clothing rack of humanity?
Actually, I was fascinated that this bible I've been preaching through on Sundays has a thought on this topic. It tells us something very anti-cultural in the second chapter of Ephesians (New Testament). It has the audacity to say that that little spark of goodness that we all like to think we have--well, it's nonexistent, it's a mirage, it's an invention. It says that not only did we come out a little broken. It says we came out irreparably messed up. And we remain in that condition unless it's interrupted. Whoa, Nellie!! Who wants to hear that, eh?
So, I wondered. Does this make sense? And then I remembered. Yep, my granddaughter, Reese, actually did take the tortilla chip out of my hand and push me away from the chip tray at Tortilla Factory in Herndon yesterday. She surveyed the landscape and figured there wouldn't be enough, and so I needed to stop eating any more. Telling her, at almost 3 years old, that we could get more, availed nothing. I wasn't getting another chip. Now, who taught her to hoard chips? Did she see her parents doing this? Was it just her environment that taught her this? Or. . . or. . . or. . . did she come into this world a little broken--just like the rest of us--and this was just another data point for it.
Man, if this is true, it makes me think that I'd better be careful arguing that "I was born that way" as a justification for any of my behaviors. In the end, it's actually more of an admission of guilt than anything. Maybe, I should focus on the fix, zero in on what can be done to repair the irreparable, if that is possible. For me, that's where this Jesus comes into the fray. But you knew that was coming, right? After all, I'm a preacher man. But who knows? Maybe even the editors of the Washington Post would line up with me, given that we agree now that we're all broken? Here's hoping. It'll give me an excuse to check out the Post again tomorrow morning.
My cousin leaned forward on the sofa and spoke softly, “We want our boys to like civilized activities.”
Her husband elaborated, “We don’t get them violent toys like guns or G.I. Joes.”
I expected that. For my visit I brought the boys a Where’s Waldo? book and a gyroscope. Fortunately, these gifts were in my car. For yes,there on the coffee table was the very same Where’s Waldo? book. Under the table? A huge gyroscope.
Remembering the nearby Toys R' Expensive store, I subtly asked, "what do the boys like?"
After a half hour of chatting about parenting, Blue's Clues, and violin lessons, I left the other adults and sought the boys in the backyard. The lads were busy.
“EH EH EH EH EH!” proclaimed one. With a tree branch, held machine gun style, he strafed his brother.
“Byow! Byow! Byow!” returned the younger one, firing his trusty index-finger side arm.
What could I say? I took ‘em out for ice cream.
Parents have high hopes for their kids. Teachers and pedantic Christians like me have high hopes for people generally. But sincerity is not enough. The best-laid lesson plans often prove unengaging. The strategy that has yielded the most lasting results for me goes something like this: Soak myself in God's principles. Go out back or wherever the people are. Watch, listen, and be taught! Start forward on common ground. Head toward higher ground.
"To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak," said Paul in 1 Corinthians 9. "I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some."
Hey, who likes ice cream?
It's a favorite quote of mine from a series of novels I first encountered as a kid. Even then those words hit me with the truth and implication they reflected. Whenever I've re-read the Dune series this particular quote always makes me pause. Like any good proverb, it doesn't get old in the retelling.
The pebble at the mouth of the river pushes the trickle of water this way instead of that. The downstream impact may be miles in the difference of the river's eventual course. A town will be built here, instead of there, to take advantage of the waterway. Isn't that amazing? That the first drops of water pushing a certain direction help set the course of a thousand thousand decisions later. The small decisions we make and act upon magnify in significance as we go. My prayer is that this wouldn't paralyze us, but that it would heighten our awareness that the things we do and the things we say matter more than we often realize.
Here are a few of my favorite beginnings:
- The moment the orchestra tunes to the principle instrument. Everyone is warming up their instruments in a quiet cacophany, structureless overall with a little snippets of melody ringing out and intertwining. Then they all fall silent and wait for the single note that they all tune into. Once tuned, the room falls completely silent. You'll catch yourself not even breathing, trying not to break the spell. The wandering, the silence, the unity of presence and focus. It's the promise of music, even though it hasn't started yet... I adore that moment.
- The pause before a baseball player steals a base. Coiled like a spring and ready to sprint or dive back to the bag... there is a tensity (and yes, I know that isn't a real word), like a gun cocked and ready to fire. It's the ready and set, before the go. Baseball slows time down in mystical ways for those who believe in it.
- Movie previews. It's harder to tell if the movie will be good, or if you've just seen the only 90 seconds worth watching... but is there anything better than sitting next to a friend, eating tasty buttered popcorn and smiling at the thought of the cool movie you've been waiting to see... knowing that Christopher Nolan's next Batman is almost here?
- Playing with a puppy... and watching them discover something new. It's the best thing ever! Then they find something else new and that is also, the best thing ever! It's life affirming to see that kind of experience and we remember our first love.
- Pretty much anything Evangeline does at any moment. Seeing the world through her eyes has been a wonderful, wonderful adventure.
- New car smell. That's an easy one :)
- The first page of a new book I've been looking forward to, or the opening sequence of a new video game. Both are fun moments for something I know I'll enjoy for hours to come. But it is the moment of sitting down, getting my tasty beverage set and ready to go... that I almost enjoy as much as the activity itself.
- Listening to Karen rehearse a new piece. It is fun for me to hear her step into a part and be able to play even the most difficult of pieces at about 90% just from her amazing ability to sight read. But from there, you'll hear her stop, mentally adjust and hit it again and it gets better. Then she'll hit it again and it's there. And it stays there the next time she goes through it. That's ridiculous for us mere mortals, but she's very good at the musical stuff. What on the inside of her head has to be 17 things... listening from the outside, it seems more like a tumbler turning, then clicking into place.
I haven't helped plant a church as one of the primary launch team before, but I fully intend to add it to this list very soon.
May God give us eyes to see a wonderful beginning.
It's begun. We successfully navigated this journey with our own kids. But now, it's the twin grandsquirts that have become the obsession. How to persuade them that there is actual beauty in offloading waste product in a location other than a diaper? They will be three on 15 April--tax day. The date makes it easy to remember. And tax day is creeping up on us again, no?
And this is the second major assault on this hill. The first stalled out soon after it was announced, forced into retreat by parental expectations trumped completely by the total lack of interest within the target audience.
But this launch, with an early success, and the resulting bowl of celebratory ice cream, seems to have propelled the girls into a "I wanna do this" mode. And we all know from our management strategy books than transformational change is always given a boost when there's an early success in the story. Me? I'm pretty convinced dumb luck and fortuitous timing were far more at play than strategery, but we'll take success regardless of the root cause.
I shared some of this story in a recent message at The Surge, and it struck me that when the girls first arrived on the scene, as preemies, this messing in their pants thing was actually heralded as a relief. We were delighted to clean up the pooh in those early days because its arrival proved that the plumbing worked, and this was fantastic news. That was then. It's funny, no, how 2 years makes all the difference? Now, what was once cute has lost a good bit of its aura. It also struck me that if this second effort fails, we'll no doubt do a third and, if necessary, a fourth. And eventually, they'll get it. There may have to be some conversations, some training, some enticement, some encouragement, but they'll eventually get it. I know this because I have met many 15 year olds. None of them were wearing diapers.
So, we won't give up on them. We're not going to cast them out of the family because we know they'll get there. And while they are getting there, we'll still love 'em to pieces, no matter how long it takes. Our love for them isn't the result of their success delivering waste product into the proper receptacle. And because we love them, we'll endure the training regimen with them because we can see down the road. In one week, two weeks, a month, two months, they are going to grow out of this. We know it. We can see what they will grow into.
And it hit me. Maybe that's why God doesn't just crush me like a bug when I mess up, like I pretty much do every day. Maybe He was serious that my coming to Him through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection would mean that I was an adopted child of His. That somehow, I'm not longer an enemy, but a kid who is loved to pieces by this Creator of all things that called himself, tenderly, my dad. And that when he sees the mess in my pants, as it were, he's going to work on helping me get potty trained. Why? Because he already loves me. That love isn't there because I did the right thing, stopped making mistakes.
So, enveloped in that love, there may well be some false starts, some conversations, some training, some enticement, some encouragement. But he doesn't throw me out. Why? Well, like we do with our grandkids, he puts up with the immediate crazies because he is able to see down the road. He knows I'm going to grow out of it. He sees what I will become as his child, as I grow up.
I'm not sure the actual reality of living under the mercy and grace of God ever made as much sense to me as it has this week. I also know this. Like the twins, His love makes me "wanna do this," and it's a lot more fun than a bunch of rules.
You can check out the message this story was a part of on www.thesurge.cc. Click on Media, then Messages, and then the 5 February message.
We have some great things coming up in the next few days!
That's it for this week! Everyone try to stay warm out there today!
I’ve had a lot of beginnings in my day. I’ve lived in nine states and two foreign countries in the last 17 years. Three states and two countries have been with children. A couple years ago, we had two international moves in about ten months. With three kids.
It’s fun. It makes me tired.
The thing about beginnings is they are responsible for endless amounts of both stress and joy.
Will all the details work out? Will our kids adjust? Will our families understand? Will I find my place? Will I make friends? Will it feel like home? Am I ready?
These answers are just as mysterious to me now as they were when I headed off to college. I. Don’t. Know.
I can tell you this, though. An exciting beginning starts in your attitude. What will you do to make the most of your opportunity? The scary might not go away, but it doesn’t have to. It can move over a little to make room for exciting, for fun, for adventure.
The prospect of a new beginning can be the wall holding you back. In all my new beginnings, though, I’ve come to realize this: I rarely regret trying, only not trying. Anyone can keep doing the same thing day in and day out, but finding the courage for a new beginning - whatever it may be - can change your life.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.