Restoration!

As longtime readers of this humble internet outpost may recall, several years ago I lost more than five years of blogging output that I had poured out on the old “Blather. Wince. Repeat.” site after a server hacking incident.

The database holding everything I’d written between March of 2007 and July of 2012 became corrupted and seemingly irrepairable.

Frankly it was nearly-heartbreaking to think all of that writing might be lost forever. In that span of time I’d not only written about current events, the culture, and theology, I’d mused about and processed a lot of big life milestones—including my father’s battle with Alzheimers disease and his passing, as well as watching daughters growing up, moving them off to college, and walking them down an aisle.

After more than a year of blogging silence I gave up and launched this new blog in March of 2014. Even so, I never completely abandoned hope of finding a way to repair and restore all that writing.

Today, that hope became a reality. Scoll down on the home page and look in the right column, you’ll see that all those lost months have now been indexed. The prodigal posts have come home.

Now, where did I stash that fatted calf?

 

The Circle of Life

Our oldest had a birthday a few days ago but we’re finally getting a chance to celebrate it tonight. This was her 28 years ago this week, just a few hours old:

This was the last time I had more hair than she did.

Roughly six months ago we learned that she and our wonderful son-in-law were expecting their first baby—more importantly our first grandchild! A few weeks after that wonderful revelation, we learned that we actually have not one, but two on the way. Girls. (of course!)

I should be pointing with two fingers.

She’s going to be an awesome mom. She’s had the very best of mentors and models.

To be honest, the 28-year space between the moments these two photos were captured is a dizzy blur. That space is filled with countless good days. Really, really good days. But there are few days as monumentally life changing as the one in which you welcome your first child into this extraordinary world.

On one side of that day, everything in your life is one way—essentially the way it has always been. Twenty-four hours later everything has changed. Everything. Your routines. Your priorities. Your thoughts. Your view of the world and the dangers it holds. Your hopes.

All of this and more shifts seismically with the breaking of some water and the crossing of a simple line on a calendar.

Mrs. H has been making preparations to help with the new arrivals. She’s prepping with a zeal and logistical ferocity that would have shamed General Eisenhower with his comparitively lackadaisacal approach to the D-day invasion of Normandy.

As for me . . . I never really knew either of my grandfathers. I was too young when they passed to carry any directly imparted wisdom or influence from them. Anything I have from them came secondhand.  So I am profoundly grateful and more excited than I can express to play some role in the lives of these little girls and all the siblings and cousins that come after them.

And the earth continues to spin and wobble around the sun like a blue top, with no time outs and no “pause” button to hit. The circle closes and the tracing of another one begins.

Lost in Time

Ah, yes. Now I remember. That’s what a night sky is supposed to look like. So many stars . . . scores of familiar constellations . . . sparkling against a black velvet backdrop. There you are Milky Way, hung across the sky like a sash. There you are, Seven Sisters. It’s been a long time, ladies.

I know I’m far away from the city when I can see the Pleiades.

I’m back at the ancestral estate—the rural Oklahoma hill country acreage where I grew up. Like a salmon, I fought my way upstream from Dallas-Fort Worth on asphalt rivers called U.S. 75 and U.S. 69 to the place of my childhood. But I’m not here to spawn and die. I’m here to sort and cry.

It’s not just the night sky that’s different here. As I stand in the field in front of the house I grew up in, I’m aware of a strange sensation in my ears. Oh, right. It’s the quiet. I’ve grown so accustomed to the thrummy, low-frequency drone of freeway traffic in the distance and jets in the sky that I don’t even notice the noise until it’s missing.

Sound travels a long way out here. I’m actively listening. (Is this what the modern hippies call mindfulness?) From more than a mile away I hear a bull bellowing mightily, sounding like a Hebrew shofar calling the Israelites to battle against the Philistines. From a quarter-mile down the road I hear a woodpecker rapping on a tree.

And there’s bird song. So much bird song. It’s the next morning and I’m on the front porch trying to count how many distinct species of bird I can hear. I get to eighteen. What else can I hear? The breeze picks up and in a barely audible way, the tops of the pine trees begin whispering secrets to one another.

We have a history, those pines and I. My brother and I “helped” our father plant them when we first built the house and moved out here. Is it possible that our afternoon of tree planting will have been fifty years ago, next year? When we put them in the ground they were about a foot tall and no bigger around than my pinkie finger. They looked like sad little Charlie Brown Christmas trees. They survived.

Here they are today . . .

My Pines

Mom and Dad built this place about twenty years ago . . . about 100 paces from the two-story house they built in ’68. I was eight when the first house was finished, my brother six, and two sisters had not yet arrived. We all grew up in the that house over yonder. But this one was their empty nest—one story only, in anticipation of the feebler legs that eventually showed up.

Both homes sit on the same five-acre slice of rural southeastern Oklahoma I roamed freely as a boy—nestled in a valley where the Sans Bois and Kiamichi mountains serve as the front gate to the Ouachita Mountains and the Ouachita National Forest.

All these names are French. Or to be more accurate, French transliterations of Indian names. The first white people to explore this area were French trappers and traders. I’m reminded of that every time I drive out here. Right before you get to the old family place I cross a familiar old bridge over a creek named Fourche Maline—French for “treacherous fork.”

I’ve crossed that bridge thousands of times in my life and never witnessed any treachery along the creek. But then my crossings have all come about three hundred years after Bernard De La Harpe and friends first paddled their way into this neighborhood by heading upstream from the Mississippi River, the Red River, and so forth. Who am I to say that that the old stream wasn’t a little more malevolent back then.

After Dad passed away several years ago, Mom lived here alone as long as she possibly could. But it eventually became clear to all of us, her included, that living alone out here in the sticks no longer made sense. So she moved out of the house a couple of months ago with the help of my sisters. She is now safely and happily ensconced in a little efficiency apartment in a great retirement village in Oklahoma City.

However, only a small portion of her things could make the trip to the new place. A big part of the accumulation of a lifetime was left behind for us to sort through.

The contents will fall into four categories.

First, things one of us kids or grandkids wants to keep. Many of these items are keepsakes, mementos and sentimental treasures.  Some are practical items that the numerous grandchildren now setting up housekeeping for the first time will find useful.

From what remains, things to sell. What doesn’t sell will be donated or given. What absolutely no one will take, will be disposed of in some way.

So, I’ve been digging and sorting. It’s a bit like archeology. The deeper I go, the more ancient the finds. I’m uncovering things I didn’t know existed. Like a bulging, rubberband-wrapped envelope with a Missoula, Montana postmark dated the Summer of 1963. Inside was a stack of handwritten letters from my Dad to my Mom.

I dimly recall that when I was about four years old my Dad spent a couple of months away from us one summer, working on his Masters degree at the University of Montana. What I didn’t know was that he’d written her while he was away. As I noted the date on each letter in the stack, I saw that, in fact, he had written her every three or four days for his entire absence.

This in itself was a stunning revelation. My Dad was kind and sweet, but he was no romantic. At least that I could tell. I’d never perceived him to be the guy who thoughtfully and dutifully wrote his wife every other day while away from his young family. But he was that guy. We just didn’t know it.

Then I thought about the fact that she’d kept them—tucked away with a small cache of other precious mementos. And here I was, 54 years later, learning of their existence for the very first time.

I’ll share a few more of my finds in the days ahead. For now, just know that I’ve spent a weekend lost in time.

And trying to get my arms and mind and heart around the task of curating the remnants of two lives well lived.

 

A Personal Reflection on a New Year’s Day

As I sit down to tap out a few lines here in the opening hours of 2017, I’m mindful of some sage, three-fold advice from Benjamin Franklin.

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.”

On those first two items . . . “Check” and “Check.” But that third challenge? Am I, today, “a better man” than I was before this most recent orbit of the sun? Frankly, I’m the wrong person to render that assessment. Better to ask the woman who’s lived with me the past 29 solar orbits. Or my friends and co-workers. They know truths to which I am blind.

Of course, my hope is that this deep winter solstice finds me at least a click fairer, kinder and less self-sufficient than the last one. Those being the three key metrics of the Micah 6:8 scale:

“. . . the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

By the way, I hope to do more writing in this space in the months ahead. My pitifully infrequent offerings over the last ten years have tended to fall into one of four broad categories:

  • Theology and Spiritual Things
  • Public Policy; Current Events and Cultural Trends
  • History
  • Family (musings about milestones, life, etc.)

A savvier blogger than I would focus on just one of these areas and forget the others. This is precisely what all the experts recommend to those who desire to find fame and fortune in blogging. “Pick a topic you’re passionate about,” they say. “And write frequently and briefly on it.” In other words, specialize.

Well, I obviously don’t do that. I read with ravenous interest across a  crazy variety of subjects every day—faith, science, tech, history, archeology, psychology, economics, geopolitics, etc.—and love to share synthesized insights about the same in writing.

In other words, I’m a generalist, not a specialist, and it seems the world increasingly belongs to the specialists.

What’s more, I’ve come to grips with the reality that I’m not actually a blogger. I am an essayist at my core. I can’t write short. Well, I can, I just have little interest in doing so. This, too, limits my readership.

I’m at peace with the fact that many people will glance at the length of even this relatively short post and skim it or skip it . . . even as social media has our attention spans shriveling further like grapes in the West Texas summer sun.

Nevertheless, I hope to do more of this over the next 12 months, and even crank out a book or two. I’m working on one right now. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, we are well and grateful. My bride and I have launched three offspring into the world with happy results. I really like and admire the people our children have become. We’ll become grandparents for the first time in a few short months. Twin girls are on the way.

But enough about me. As Alfred, Lord Tennyson once wrote: “Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, “It will be happier.”

I’ve heard Hope’s whisper. And I believe her.

 

There She Goes . . . Again

OffAgain Every child is different. No matter how many offspring you have, it seems each one springs from the womb with a unique, heaven-crafted bent. For example, our middle daughter emerged with an innate impulse for adventure with a strong streak of self-sufficiency. new doc 14_1 new doc 10_1

As a toddler she preferred crawling around to cuddling on our laps. At four or five she revealed she’d taught herself to tie her own shoes. At seven she called us outside to demonstrate that she’d just mastered riding a bike without training wheels.

Crawling. Shoes. Wheels. A theme emerges. This one was wired to wander. new doc 7_1 I’m convinced that the temperament, gifts, and even the seeming quirks that each child is born with are directly connected to the call God envisioned for her or him before He even began the process of construction. Her’s includes a call to the nations. There has always been a resilient, fierce, tenaciousness in her. She’s tough as nails, this one. Although when out with an older bald man, she could effect a startling impression of a delicate princess. Formal At seventeen, as high school graduation approached, she let us know she wanted to delay college for a semester or two and instead go work at an orphanage in Kenya. A “gap year,” as it’s known in the UK.  Getting approval for this plan required some epic salesmanship to overcome the worries of an understandably cautious mother.

This challenge, too, was met and mastered. Grayson 2 Once “out of Africa,” she completed a four-year linguistics degree in three-and-a-half years. In that span there was a semester of study in Argentina and a summer in Costa Rica, once again, at an orphanage. Another theme emerges.

As a college graduation gift, we sent her to Australia to visit her younger sister. She stayed for two years, working multiple jobs to pay her own way. It seems we have spent a good part of the last seven years seeing her off or communicating through dicey internet connections across some vast distance. GandJ

I should mention that while in Australia, she met a young man. A good man—Jesus-loving and with a ministry call upon his life as well.  We instantly liked him and quickly came to love him. We know that capturing her heart was no easy task. Her standards are high and her emotional defenses formidable. But he won her, and to us that spoke volumes.

Thankfully, he is of Miami not Melbourne. And about six months ago he—adorably nervous—asked me for permission to ask for her hand.

It was an easy “yes.” Her mother and I had clearly seen God’s invisible hand of providential grace on this relationship. From half a world away, we caught the unmistakable fragrance of His presence in their courtship.

Four short weeks from today, in a small, intimate gathering in Miami, I will walk her down an aisle and place her hand in his—to have and to hold from that day forward. But for now . . . for just a little while longer . . .  she is still mine. Even so, a few days ago, the young man flew to Dallas to help load her up and drive her to a new apartment in Miami so she can begin a job search. We filled every cubic inch of her car with all her belongings.

The accumulated things that had always comfortingly remained behind with us—even while she jetted off with a couple of suitcases to Kenya or Argentina or  Costa Rica or Sydney—all these were boxed or bagged, and stuffed into the little Ford.

Yes, this goodbye was different. But it’s all good. It is all the way it should be. The way it must be.

There she goes. Again. This time, in a forever sort of way. GoodBye

Crowdsourcing Bad Information

 

FindingYourRoots

Here at Hacienda Holland,  we enjoy watching the PBS show “Finding Your Roots”—where each week three celebrities, politicians and other people of note have their family trees researched by professionals and learn previously unknown and often startling facts about their ancestors. It’s a fascinating and often quite moving viewing experience.

For example, this week’s episode profiled the genealogies of Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear, and Bill Hader (formerly of SNL.) You can watch that episode here.

Lear learned that several branches of his direct Jewish ancestors came to America fleeing horrific, genocidal pogroms in Russia. He also discovered he carries the Cohanim gene, meaning that he is likely descended from the priestly Hebrew tribe of Levi.

Hader, who hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, was stunned to discover he is a direct descendant of the 9th Century emperor Charlemagne.

FamilyTreeA few years ago I bought Mrs. H a subscription to Ancestry dot com for her birthday after she’d expressed some curiosity about her roots (she’s half Czech).

Research, however, is one of my super-powers, not hers (she has many others). As a result, I have been the one who has spent the most time online trying to fill in blanks on our respective family trees.

Originally, the Ancestry dot com site simply allowed subscribers to search record archives (births, deaths, baptisms, census records, etc.) and then start building a family tree based on the information they discovered. Eventually, the site—due to popular demand from users, no doubt—began to let members share their family trees and related research with others.

This is where it all went horribly, hilariously wrong.

Oh sure, this feature was great at first. It allowed you to glom onto the hours of painstaking work some diligent, meticulous researcher had put in determining the parentage of some common ancestor. With a couple of mouse clicks you could grab all that information and watch it pop right into your own tree.

The problem is that this same feature also allows bad information to go viral, spreading through Ancestry dot com family trees like Dutch Elm disease.

And the internet’s genealogy sites are awash in bad information. Really, really bad. Why?

Because, when researching one’s genealogy, there’s nothing more frustrating than hitting a dead end. Human nature being what it is, many people address that frustration by attaching their family line to a branch to which it doesn’t belong.

This is doubly tempting when that branch has some cool factor. You see, everyone wants to be Bill Hader, tracing his or her lineage back to the European royalty or a famous person in history.

It only takes one person erroneously connecting their ancestor to the wrong person to lead astray thousands of others who share that same ancestor. And clearly people are easily led astray—just uncritically assuming everything presented to them is correct.

Anytime I’m researching my family lines, I’m presented with countless suggestions—based on other users’ trees—that contain one or more of the following based on the associated dates:

  • Men who became fathers when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth when they were three or four years old.
  • Women who gave birth with they were 73 or 74 or 104 years old.
  • People who are older than their parents.
  • Couples who give two of their children the same first name.

The greatest safeguard against falling prey to these errors is the ability to do simple math (subtraction mainly) and a rudimentary understanding of the human reproductive cycle–two skills that are clearly rarer than I’d previously presumed.

growthcurveNevertheless, it’s fascinating to see how one individual’s mistake can snowball into something huge and seemingly universally accepted. Two or three people replicate that one person’s error. Then others observe that three or four people seem to all agree. Soon it seems like hundreds of people have all reached the same conclusion. It must be true!

Which reminds me . . .

Something very similar roughly seventeen centuries ago may be the reason we’ve all been taught that John, the Beloved discipled, penned the book of Revelation in the A.D. 90s when John was in his 90s.

But I’ll save that for another day.

Pondering Pumpkin Pie

A confession. I don’t care for pumpkin pie. Never have.

I found myself nodding in agreement this week with a person on Twitter who wrote, “The best piece of pumpkin pie I’ve ever had was not all that much better than the worst piece I’ve ever had.” It’s a simple recipe with a pretty narrow range of outcomes, it seems.

If you love it  . . . more power to you. You can have mine. But the fact that most people feel compelled to ladle copious quantities of whipped cream on every slice they consume isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of how it tastes on its own. Just sayin’, as they say.

Pecan? Coconut Cream? Buttermilk? Chocolate? Include me in.

In fact, heading to the kitchen now for some pre-emptive eating. Why wait for hunger?

Blessings to you here at Thanksgiving. I’m grateful for the patient, long-suffering readers of this blog.

 

 

Why Saying, “God won’t give you more than you can bear” Is Pretty Much The Worst Comfort Advice Ever

Job and Friends

Job and Comforters

A few days ago I posted a quick, scold-y note on Facebook after reading this heart-felt and transparent piece by ESPN writer/host Jason Wilde.

In it, Wilde opens up about battling darkness and depression after he and his wife lost a baby about halfway through the pregnancy. In it, without anger or bitterness, he mentions how profoundly unhelpful it was to have well-meaning Christians (he is not one) come up to him and try to help by saying things like, “God only gives you as much as you can handle.”

On Facebook, I linked to his essay and wrote:

Fellow Christians of planet earth: Stop trying to comfort the grieving by saying “God only gives you as much as you can handle.” It’s crappy theology. And it’s not comforting. Stop. It.

I meant that. And here’s why.

The advice (falsely) positions God  as the great cosmic dispenser of misery and suffering. What’s worse, it depicts Him as carefully monitoring just how much misery and suffering we each can handle without completely collapsing under the weight, to keep Himself from over-doing it.

It encourages us to imagine Him viewing our misery capacity as some sort of dashed line at the top of a measuring cup. Should our capacity to handle heartache increase a bit . . . well, then God is surely there with an eyedropper of pain ready to add more until we’re topped off, but never to the point that it rises above the line.

Prometheus, Handling Suffering

Prometheus, Handling Suffering

It’s hard to count how many ways this is wrong. But let me hit a few of the highlights.

1. It misidentifies the source of evil and suffering.

We live in a fallen creation filled with fallen humans operating with the gift/power of free will. The flooded home; the miscarried pregnancy; the child lost to the drunk driver, the housewife with the swollen black eye, the stolen iPhone, and the irritable bowel  . . . all of these and an endless list of other heartaches and headaches are a result of either the one (broken creation) or the other (broken people). And of course there’s God’s raging enemy, Satan, who is actively at work in and through both.

2. God is all about healing pain, not causing it. Restoring, not destroying.

Jesus told us that if we’ve seen Him we’ve seen the Father. (Jn. 14:9) He said that He only did the things He saw the Father doing. (Jn 5:19) Thus, it’s revealing that Jesus broke up every funeral he ever came across. Healed every person who requested it. Wherever he encountered human suffering, He relieved it.

He said the thief (Satan) comes only to steal, kill and destroy. But that He had come to provide abundant life. (Jn. 10:10)

 3. It distorts the concept of God’s sovereignty.

The sad young man from ESPN really believes God took the life of his baby. And every would-be comforter who offered up, “This was part of God’s plan,” or “He won’t give you more than you can handle,” seems to agree. “God did this to you,” they’re affirming. “But cheer up. It’s all for the best!”

One of the most common and disastrous theological concepts loose in the world is the child’s cartoon view of God’s sovereignty that suggests that God is getting exactly what He wants every second of every day in every place on planet Earth. Dear friend, He isn’t.

I wish I could link to a 4-part series of blog posts I did several years ago titled, “Tragedy: The Mother of All Bad Theology” because I addressed this topic in quite a bit of detail there. (Alas, it was lost, along with seven full years of blogging output, in a web site corruption.)

I call this a cartoon view of God’s sovereignty because it’s the way God is depicted in cartoons, Hollywood movies and sitcoms. That He is exercising direct causative or allow-ative control of everything, and can therefore justifiably be blamed for everything.

God gets blamed for a ton of horrific stuff He didn’t do. As some have heard me say on numerous occasions, Romans 8:28 does not say, “God causes all things.” It says God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called . . .”

That’s a very different proposition.

A lost, hurting, dying world is understandably reluctant to run to a God whom they believe to be the author of their deepest pain. But that’s simply not an accurate picture of who He is or why they’ve been hurt.

He is good. And He has gone to extraordinary lengths, at unspeakable personal cost, to meet us at the point of our suffering and offer healing and hope.

jesus on the cross

 

Perhaps the next time an unbeliever has his or her heart shattered by loss, a more comforting  (and more theologically sound) response might be:

“I’m so sorry that happened. How painful that must be. Let me walk through this with you. And please know that you can take that pain to a God who loves you. Because He’s not your problem. He’s your only hope for healing.”