Transitions

Last Thursday, my wife and I took our middle child two hours away … and left her there. It was the first time we had done something so drastic, but also so inevitable. For we took my daughter to college … and then came home without her.

Honestly, I was surprised at how well I handled it. I was pleased at how smoothly things went (well, except for the long line to drop off her stuff at the dorm). But even that was painless, with all the friendly faces that were there to help.

After everything was in the room (though hardly in its place), we dashed off for lunch before we said goodbye. Our farewell hugs were long and full of longing, but then it was time for her to go her way. And she did. And so did we.

As we headed home, I was glad that the day went so well. Not much stress, and not as much emotion as I expected. All in all, I’d give myself an “A-” for how I handled things.

But then we got home. And something about being home made it hit home. Being in the house with only 1/3 of my children proceeded to shatter the “I’m good” feeling I had felt all day. If the process of dropping-off was easier than I expected, the process of arriving-back was harder than I could have anticipated.

Emotions are a funny thing. They are a vital part of life, but they are so hard to predict. What seems simple sometimes hits hard. What seems signficant sometimes goes off without a hitch. But one thing is certain: when emotions do surface, they indicate not just the feeling of the moment; they also reflect something deeper down coming out.

I think about all of this not simply because of the transition my daughter faces as she begins college; I think about it myself as I transition from my current ministry. As I announced Sunday to the folks at Fern Creek Christian, I believe it is time for a change. For me. For the church. For what God wants to do through this congregation. And so, as of August 27, I will conclude my ministry at Fern Creek.

This church has been my family’s home for nearly 20 years. It’s been where I’ve pursued my career for 16 years, but now it’s time to start a new chapter. And I’m learning that saying goodbye is hard. But not always in the ways I expect.

I find that, just like taking my daughter to college, it’s not the obvious places where emotion reaches up and grabs me. It’s in a random thought, or a song that brings a thought to mind. It’s in a conversation with someone. It’s in the anticipation of what’s to come.

But even though emotions are challenging, and sometimes not welcome, they are necessary. For what I feel reveals something about what is going on inside of me. And what I feel tells me something about what matters. If I felt nothing, it might be a sign that I’m not fully measuring the weight of what I’m facing. Or that I’m simply leaving a job — as opposed to a calling. Instead, the feelings I face remind me that I love my church, and feel incredibly blessed to have done what I’ve done.

Let me put it this way: If leaving isn’t hard, then was I ever really, fully here

But I was. And I am a better man, and a better follower of Jesus, because of it. So, thank you, Fern Creek family, for 20 life-changing years. And even as we say ‘goodbye’, we can do so confident that God has more in store for us — in this age, and in the age to come.

Lessons Learned from My Mom

Toward the end of 1968, Clara Dye gave birth to her fifth child. He came before Christmas, even though he wasn’t supposed to be born until the first day of 1969. The early arrival messed up Christmas for the other 4 Dye children — but, hey, that’s what babies do.

Now, 48+ years later, my mom would still tell you that I’m her baby — though I am the tallest of her 5 kids. I’m sure when I was a teenager, I rolled my eyes at such comments. Now, I don’t. I’m glad to still be her baby.

With Mother’s Day coming, it seemed a good time to consider lessons this 48-year-old baby has learned from his mom — a woman who turns 84 next month, and then 2 months later celebrates her 63rd wedding anniversary.

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Mom, on her wedding day

Lesson #1: Keep your promises. When mom finished high school in Buffalo, NY, where she grew up, she decided to follow her brother to a small college in Illinois. One of mom’s sisters, meanwhile, went the opposite direction — heading to Eastern Christian College in New Jersey. Mom told her: If it’s a good school, I’ll join you there my sophomore year.

Well, as it turns out, Aunt Dorothy liked the school. She told mom that. But there was one problem. Mom had grown to like the school she was attending in Illinois. She wanted to stay. But she had made a promise, and so she joined her sister at Eastern. It was there she met my dad. They fairly quickly became an item, and on August 1, 1954 joined their lives together in marriage.

Needless to say, I’m glad mom was a woman of her word. I’m grateful she kept her promise. Not only did it give me life, it gave me an example of how to live, and speak.

Lesson #2: Be faithful. Mom didn’t grow up in a family that lived out its faith. It wasn’t until she was a teenager that faith, and God, became real to her. But when mom made a commitment to Christ, she took it seriously. For most of her adult life, mom has served alongside my dad in ministry. This has included untold acts of service that all ministry spouses undertake: teaching, cooking, cleaning, supporting, ministering, and facing the long hours and low pay that was their reality for all of my dad’s working years. But through it all, mom was faithful, serving with dad wherever God took them.

There was one exception, though: music. Mom avoided that, because, even though most minister’s wives of her day played the piano and led choirs, mom didn’t. Even there, even in what she didn’t do, mom is still teaching me this truth: a part of faithfulness is knowing what you can do, and what you can’t.

Lesson #3: Watch what you put in your head. When I was growing up, mom had very clear standards. Secular music was off-limits. Foul language was not tolerated (But mom, all I said was ‘fart’…). And TV was carefully monitored.

For as long as I can remember, mom has enjoyed watching the evening news. As a kid, we would watch the 10:00 news, and on the weekends, or when I got older, we’d leave it on to watch the show after the news. Oftentimes it was Leave it to Beaver. Other times it was MASH. Occasionally, it was Saturday Night Live.

For Leave it to Beaver, we never had to worry about what was said or shown (though mom definitely agreed with June that you had to watch out for that Eddie Haskell). But when we were watching MASH, I knew that there was a good chance we wouldn’t make it through the whole show. Klinger would say something over the line, or Hawkeye would do something that was out-of-bounds, and we’d change the channel. And Saturday Night Live? Well, I’m not sure why mom even let us start that show. I think it was just inertia; if we were watching the NBC local news, SNL automatically came on. But we knew it wouldn’t stay there long.

Mom has always had a strong sense of right and wrong. And she really believed that it matters what you fill your mind with. That’s a lesson that has stuck with me, and one I try to pass on to my kids (though, sadly, they have no appreciation for the humor and life lessons from the Beav).

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Mom & Dad at their 60th anniversary celebration

Lesson #4: Good food brings a family together. Mom has always been a good cook. Whether it was the spaghetti recipe she picked up from our Italian neighbors in New Jersey, or her chicken pantalba that is layers of tasty goodness, or the Rigatoni a la Seventh Street whose taste is only surpassed by its fancy name, mom has always put lots of love and work into her kitchen creations. (And I haven’t even mentioned her killer pies….)

But for mom, food was about more than food. It was a part of what it meant to be family, to share life, to be together. For mom, dinner time was an essential part of family life; it was simply assumed that we would eat supper together. And in the eating, mom didn’t just show us love by lavishing delicious delights on us — she also gave us the opportunity to come together, to do the daily work of being family.

Thanks, mom, for teaching me lessons that matter. I only ask that you continue to be patient with me. Though I am 48, I’m still learning. After all, I am just the baby.

Christmas Traditions

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things was having my aunt come visit us at Christmas. She lived in the frozen tundra of Buffalo, NY, and so I’m guessing she didn’t mind heading south to the (relative) warmth of balmy St. Louis. I remember with great anticipation standing at the baggage carousel, waiting for her luggage to slide down the metal ramp — for she always brought Christmas treats. Some of it we could eat (like amazing sponge candySponge Candy, a Buffalo specialty), and some of it was wrapped, ready to be opened and enjoyed.

Christmas is truly a time for tradition and holiday memories. I have a friend who grew up in a setting where traditions were a bit different than what I experienced. As he described it, he didn’t have any church- or faith-based traditions in his family. The tradition he remembered, he said, was making sure he picked up the right Coke on the table, smelling it, so that he got just Coke – and not Coke and Jack. He also mentioned another tradition he remembered: watching his grandma cook while smoking, and hoping the ash from her cigarette didn’t fall into the food she was preparing. When it did, she would curse as she got a ladle and scooped it out.

Ah, Christmas memories. We all have them. Some good. Some not. But all memorable.

In a recent email, I asked folks some of their traditions. They were all tamer, and perhaps less interesting, then the one I just mentioned:

(My wife’s) family has everyone sit in a circle and open all of the presents one by one as people sit and watch. I have no idea how to react because my family would NEVER have done this. So I’ve had to learn how to fake being super excited about socks without coming off as sarcastic.

In my family we have always done advent with a small devotion and singing a few songs together every night. My parents would spice it up at times (or maybe they were just trying to find something to convince teenagers to come spend family time) by having a special snack or dessert with advent. When my younger siblings were little they would play with a nativity scene toy during advent and they always wanted to tell the Christmas story in their own words.
We started doing advent with (our oldest daughter) a couple of years ago, and now both girls love it. Not only does it help us put the focus back on Christ, it forces us to slow down for a few minutes and enjoy a little bit of family time.

We bake a birthday cake for Jesus and have it for breakfast. We stay in our pajamas all day on Christmas day and never leave the house. We buy each of the kids one big gift and then we spend the rest of our Christmas budget on a family trip. The kids will open up clues (a puzzle, a riddle, etc) and then collectively try to figure out what the trip is. The way we figure it, our kids will have many more lasting memories of the time we spent together doing something fun rather than the stuff they got.

So, what Christmas traditions do you remember? Better yet, what Christmas traditions are you starting? Are they the kind that help you, and those you love, remember the Reason for the Season?