God Places the Lonely in Families . . .

 

 

It’s Thanksgiving night and the house that was full a few hours ago is quiet again. Now it’s me that’s full. I’m full in stomach and heart. Mrs. H outdid herself. And our family was together.

“Family.”

God created family as the most powerful and effective institution on earth for creating and maintaining well-being. It is His richest gift to mankind. (Aside from the gift of His own Son, of course.)

Yes, I know that in our broken, fallen world not everyone experiences the blessings, protections, and benefits that God meant the family structure to provide. Families can be and often are dysfunctional and even toxic. But that doesn’t change the fact that when a family is whole and operating as God designed, it offers the closest thing to heaven we can experience on earth.

Family is the heart of God. Psalm 68:6 speaks of God’s redemptive, restorative nature. The psalmist reminds us that “God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.” 

If God had his way, every lonely, isolated person would be in a loving, functional family. That’s because He’s good and kind.

And for that, I’m truly thankful.

21 Ways to Say “No” or Disagree–and Still be a Nice Person

Several years ago our youngest daughter, half a world away at college, was feeling overwhelmed because she was over-committing. She was suffering badly from “nice person’s disease,” a genetic malady she inherited from both parents. She felt compelled to say “yes” to every request and opportunity that came her way.

I just came across a “cheat sheet” I created for her at that time. (I recently learned that she still carries it around to this day.)

I found it to be a good reminder for me, today. Perhaps you’ll find it helpful, too.

 

Saying No

  1. Forgive me but I just can’t commit to that. I’m working on keeping my priorities straight and I’m hearing my Dad’s voice in my head right now saying, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” But thank you for the opportunity.
  2. Hey, you know I love you like a brother/sister, but that’s just not something I can commit to right now. I hope you’ll understand.
  3. Thank you so much for thinking about me. But God has been dealing with me strongly about over-committing lately. I’m going to have to pass.
  4. Wow, I’m so blessed by the invitation. But I’m working really hard on not spreading my self too thin. I’m going to have to decline. Please forgive me.
  5. That sounds so fun, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to pass. I’m so sorry. I hope you’ll give me an opportunity on the next one.
  6. I’m flattered that you want me, but for personal reasons I’m not in a situation where I can take this on. Can we talk again if my circumstances change?
  7. I’m so sorry, but I just can’t. The reasons are complicated but I hope you’ll believe me when I say I really wish I could.
  8. Thank you so much for asking. Sadly, I just can’t. I wish I could!
  9. This week is not a good time for me as I’m in the middle of XYZ. How about next week?
  10. I’d love to do that but I can’t. Mr. Schedule and Mr. Budget both said “no.” They’re very cranky.
  11. I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m having to make some very hard choices about my time right now. It’s painful but I’m going to have to say no.

 

When You’re Being Pressured to Change Your “No” to a “Yes”

  1. I was just reading what Jesus said about “letting your yes be yes, and your no be no.” I’m sorry, this really is a “no.” But I hope you’ll not be mad at me.
  2. Seriously, I’d love to participate. But I can’t. And if I let myself be pressured into it I’ll just feel guilty the whole time and be resentful later when I’m paying the price.
  3. I know you don’t mean to pressure me or make me feel bad, but I really need you to trust me right now when I tell you I can’t.
  4. I can tell this means a lot to you, but I’m going to disappoint you here. But I love you.

 

Disagreeing

  1. That’s an interesting perspective. But that’s not the way I see it.
  2. That’s not been true in my experience.
  3. I’m not so sure about that.
  4. (This is the “feel, felt, found” method) I can understand why you’d feel that way. I’ve felt the same way in the past. But here’ what I’ve found . . .
  5. I just don’t see that the same way as you. But to each his own!
  6. You think? Huh! Interesting!

A Glance Back in Gratitude. Forward in Hope.

Mrs. H and I are suffering from Full Heart Syndrome here on this morning after Christmas Day. The last few days have been rich and sweet. In fact, the whole year gifted us with things for which we are profoundly grateful.

Yes, they’re real. And they really are that cute.

2017 was a year of four milestones.

April brought our first grandchildren into our lives. That’s right—plural—as our oldest and her sweet husband blessed us, and the world, with twin girls.

Meet Instagram stars, Cora Lee and Winnie Ruth. Many immediately remarked that they resembled yours truly. It’s possible. But I’ve discovered that when you’re bald and doughy, there is a sense in which nearly all newborns resemble you.

In any event, I can say without fear of contradiction that they are the cutest little things on the planet.

If we can get the names to stick, Mrs. H and I will be “Gigi and Pop.” Of course you never know. I’ve observed that the adorable mispronunciation that comes out of a todder’s mouth often becomes the moniker that endures for the rest of your grandparenting career. So it’s very much a theoretical possiblity that we will end up as “Gaggy and Poop.” These are the risks you take in life.

Around their six-month birthday, the little ladies got to attend their first formal affiar—the wedding of their auntie Olivia. This was the second major milestone event in our 2017. As I explained in a previous post, our youngest was married a few weeks ago, in October—our third and final chickadee to leave the nest.

Speaking of nests . . . In the midst of that celebration, we learned the wonderful news that our middle daughter, who was married the previous October, was expecting as well. This was milestone three. (See my previous post about this blessing.)

Over the last few days we had the opporunity to have all four households together under one roof. This is no small blessing, of course, as our sons-in-law have wonderful extended families of their own who want and deserve to have some time with them as well.

Thus we were delighted and grateful, here on our first Christmas with three married daughters and two girly grands, to observe our cherished traditions together. And particularly happy to have Tracy’s mom with us to savor the history-making, memory-making milestone.

Not Pictured: Me, two baby girls, five dogs.

We spent a good chunk of Christmas day watching old home movies so the sons-in-law could see how cute their brides were when they were little. For a couple of decades I, like many dads of the 90s, viewed every major family gathering and church/school event with one eye through the tiny viewfinder of a bulky camcorder. But it was worth it to be able to preserve those moments for days like yesterday.

Lots of lights begin to come on when you grow up and get married. Even more pop on when you have kids of your own (or are about to). You can find yourself viewing well-remembered events through a new lens. So, as the happy ghosts of Christmases 20-years-past danced across our television screen yesterday, Mrs. H and I enjoyed watching the girls see themselves (and their parents) with new, adult eyes and grown up understanding.

What I believe they saw and heard on those videos were two people who adore and respect each other, doing their best to love well the children God had placed in their care.

They saw a mother who went to extraordinary lengths to create a home filled with beauty, warmth, order, harmony, and delight. A woman who transformed every place we landed into a cozy little echo of the garden of Eden on earth. Who made every day a party, and every party a grand affair.

They saw two people striving, as best they knew how, to teach them gratitude and selflessness and generosity and empathy. To help them feel both safe and courageous. To instill in them confidence, character, and compassion.

Most of all, to initiate them into the most vital mysteries of all:

  • That God is.
  • That He is good.
  • That He unfailingly rewards those who seek Him by allowing Himself to be found.
  • That we’re all born broken, flawed, and in desperate need of a Savior.
  • And that such a Savior—the wonderful Jesus—ever stands at the door knocking; ready to come in and feast with all who will simply open to Him.

All these thoughts and many others swirled in my mind as Mrs. H and I crawled into bed last night. We talked of how precious the last few days had been to us. And of how quickly this just-completed chapter of our lives seemed to pass. How is it possible that many of those events we watched on video transpired 25 years ago?

In that moment last night, I looked across the bed at my God-given life’s companion and spoke the truth my heart was holding:

“Honey, I’ve adored every day of it. I have absolutely loved living this adventure with you more than I can express, and wouldn’t trade a single minute of it. I’ve loved being your husband. I’ve loved being their dad.”

Hand to heaven, it’s the truth. From the “I do” to the “It’s a girl” (three times) to the “Sir, I want to marry your daughter” (three times) . . . every thread of it is pure gold to me, and I have no regrets. Certainly not about the husband-father aspect of my life and choices.

Our fourth milestone came just a few days ago as we celelbrated our 30th wedding anniversary.

Of course, this adventure isn’t over. As I’ve noted previously, life is a play in three acts. Act 1 is Birth to Marriage. Mrs. H and I have just completed Act 2—Marriage to Empty Nest.

The curtain has just risen on Act 3.

I have some specific hopes for this next leg of the voyage. I believe days of impact, influence, and legacy-building lie in the decades ahead. Days of teaching and writing and mentoring. They will be good days. But if it all ended today, I’d be okay. I’d head home with a heart filled with gratitude for the abundance of gifts already received. And for the legacy already in motion.

Merry Christmas. And blessings in the new year.

 

 

 

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.