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.

Letter to My Daughter Upon Her Graduation

So, last week, I looked at commencement speeches, and what they say about us. This week, I want to continue on the graduation theme — but on a much more personal level.

Today, I write a letter to my 18-year-old daughter who will, in 3 days, graduate from high school. Consider this my commencement speech — for one.

Dear Ruthie,

There are few things in life a guy can point to and smile broadly. Work accomplishments: rarely. Bank account or house size: not hardly. Sports team accomplishments: big deal.

But I am proud and grateful that I can point to you. You and your brother and sister are a source of joy and gratitude for your mother and me. It’s truly amazing to have a front-row seat to watch you grow. I love your sense of humor. I marvel at your vibrant self-expression. I’m impressed to see you come alive on stage.

But now, of course, the scene changes, as you move from high school to college and life beyond. You are incredibly gifted, and I look forward to seeing how your gifts will come together for you, and for those around you.

And as you prepare to take this next step, let me offer these humble reminders:

  1. Remember you are loved. Nothing compares to this truth, and nothing can change this truth. You are deeply loved — by God, by me and mom, by so many people who have been a part of helping you reach this point. That love, which begins and ends with God, is the source of your greatest identity. Don’t ever let circumstances, or people, or struggles, or successes keep you from this vital truth: You are loved. Deeply, eternally loved.
  2. Love sets you free. Because of this truth, you are set free to roam around in the great big embrace of God’s love. This Love opens doors to meaning and purpose that this silly world with all its silly concerns, simply cannot. Because you are loved, you have the freedom to explore who you are in this love. One of the things that graduates often get told, is: Do what you love. Let me modify that slightly: Do what you love because you are loved. Life isn’t about simply pursuing whatever you want; it’s about understanding that because you are loved, you are free to explore what that love sets you free to become.
  3. So, don’t settle. Don’t go the easy path, or walk the wide way that most everyone else is. Don’t be afraid to do the hard work of finding God’s path for you. And keep walking it, even when it’s hard to see far ahead, and when the way gets steep. The popular path is popular because everyone’s walking it. And everyone is walking it because it’s easy. But the most important things in life, including walking the way of faith, are a challenge. But it’s in the challenges that you find who you are — and who God is calling you to be.
  4. With that in mind, don’t be afraid of mistakes. You’ll stumble. Maybe even fall hard. As your dad, I really don’t want this for you. But I also understand that the failures and struggles in life are often what teach us the most. So, when you do hit a wall, or fall flat on your face, get up. Learn from it. And keep going.
  5. To do this, you’re going to need faithful friends for the journey. The longer I live, the more I realize I can’t do life on my own. I need friends to walk with me, to walk alongside me — challenging me, encouraging me, and picking me up when I don’t feel like getting up. Don’t ever go through life without at least 2 friends who are faithful, full of faith, and with you whatever you face.
  6. Remember grace. Don’t ever let go of grace — the powerful life-giving presence of God that is as essential as air. When you stumble, grace is there to pick you up. When you feel elated at your successes, grace is there to ground you. When you’re not sure what’s next, or where to turn, grace is the whisper of God that says: I’m here. I know you can’t see very far ahead. That’s ok. Just trust me for the next step. I’m here. Without grace, you’ll just spin your wheels. With grace, life’s successes and failures always come into perspective — for grace gives meaning to all of life.
  7. Finally, remember this: mom and I are always here for you. No matter where life takes you, or where you choose to go, we’re here. Our love won’t ever run out. Our listening ear will always be available. And though our love is imperfect and incomplete, it’s a glimpse of the Love that is perfect and complete.

So, never forget, and always remember: We love you!

Dad & Mom

Parenting, Kids, & Guarantees

Someone once said: It kills you to see your children grow up. But I guess it would kill you quicker if they didn’t.

It’s hard watching your kids grow up, especially as they work their way through the difficulty of the challenges they face. Sometimes, we who are parents & grandparents can step in; other times, we can’t (and shouldn’t) protect them from the realities of life. With three teenagers, I get to see this just about every day. But some weeks, there are just more challenges than normal. And there are no magic words to speak that will make everything better.

It reminds me of the joke about the young preacher, just married, who begins a new ministry, and one of his first sermon series is “The Ten Commandments of Parenting.” Then he and his wife have their first child, and when he comes around to another series on parenting, this time he calls it: “Five Suggestions for Parents.” He and his wife go on to have a couple more children, and the oldest reaches pre-teen status. This time, instead of a whole series, the minister does a one-week message on parenting: “One Suggestion You Might Try.” Then his kids become teenagers, and the minister can’t pull together a series, let alone one sermon. Instead, on the day he wants to talk about parenting, he stands up in church, and simply says: “Anybody got any ideas?”

Raising kids is one of the best jobs a person will ever do, and one of the hardest. And for Christians, it is a powerful opportunity to share our faith and shape the faith of our children. But beware of those who have simple answers, great theories, easy solutions. Parenting, like life, should not be tackled without faith. But parenting, like life, should also be approached humbly, constantly trusting, learning, and loving.

I have a friend who says that Proverbs 22.6 is not a promise, but a principle. Oftentimes, we like to quote that verse as an assurance — if we simply put our kids on the right path, they will stay on it (or eventually come back to it). But the Proverbs are not meant to be guarantees, but guidelines. This is the way life is meant to work; this is how we believe that a God-centered life will usually turn out. But kids are people, and people have the freedom to choose, to live, to go where and do what they want. Perhaps this is the hardest thing to learn to do as parents: to love, and let go. To rear, and release.

  • I’m still learning. But I can promise you this: I won’t ever do a “Ten Guarantees of Parenting” series. Instead of guarantees, there are guidelines — where we as parents, and grandparents, and aunts & uncles, love, pray, stay connected, and point our kids to Jesus. Where we don’t give up, but also don’t give in. Where we make hard choices, where we lose sleep, where we pour our heart and soul into our kids. Because parenting ultimately is about love, and who ever said that love would be easy? Come to think of it, isn’t that what we see in our Heavenly Father? A love that doesn’t come easy, but doesn’t give up. And continues to guide us, call us, and is there for us; no matter what.

That’s the kind of parenting I need. And the kind I want to give. Even in a house full of teenagers.