Being in seminary is a strange process. There is a reason it comes to be known as “cemetery” rather than seminary for those who have run that gauntlet. I came into seminary with hopes and dreams. Now, I’m not saying that seminary has sucked the life out of those hopes and dreams. Yet, at every turn I see how easy it is for that exact thing to happen. I am closer every day to a distant dream turning into a reality. At the same time, my life seems farther from that dream than when I first began to pursue it. And not just for me, but for my whole family.
At the end of every semester we pick up the shattered and worn pieces of our life and try to make them fit again. By the end of the semester, we are like a marathon runner: exhausted, cramped, dehydrated, and in desperate need of refueling. Term after term the pieces seem to fit a little less perfectly. Things that went together smoothly are now worn and ragged. When life goes into emergency mode, you develop habits that sustain you through the trial. But, these same life-preserving habits can turn into life draining routines. Joy is replaced by resilience. Love gives way to commitment.
Of course, we have to remember that it is joy and love that are life-sustaining gifts from God. God is love; God gives of himself to us. We need to remember the source of resilience and commitment, rather than reduce the love in our hearts to their effects. I am reminded time and again that the peace of Christ is found in the belly of the ship in the midst of a storm, that the joy of Christ is seen most perfectly in the cross.
And I realize in this moment that I am being transformed by God in this. I am like Dorothy in the midst of the twister. I will land. I will lose my way. I will return. But the world will not be as it was when I set out on the adventure. The world will not have changed. I will; which means the world has changed. So, of course it is natural that, as I am being formed anew, the pieces will not seem to fit right. Of course, in the midst of sorting out a puzzle I will see glimpses of the picture at the end. But, of course, it will be a jumbled mess with trial and error.
And then I remember, I am not the one who designed the puzzle. I am not the one who is transforming it. I am the object of God’s love. In his love and joy, I am being made anew. And so, I recommit myself to this process, with hope that the twister will land, that I will find my way, and I will return other than when I left.
About 2 months ago as I pulled the car into our parking space I noticed a little boy peering through the window of the vacant apartment next door. I quickly found out that his name was Silas and he belonged to our new neighbors. The best part is that he had just turned 2 and was only a few months older than Imogen. I went and got Imogen so she could meet Silas, who was waiting in our shared backyard. Imogen came out in nothing but a cloth diaper and Silas was dressed in the same. I turned on the sprinklers and the rest is
Not just any friendship, the sweetest, purest most adorable friendship. Imogen and Silas. As I have watched their friendship grow over these last 2 months I have thought about what we could learn from them. These 2 toddlers have a lot to teach us about how to love one another, how to put others needs above our own and how our friends can bring out the best in us, as well as the worst.
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What does it mean to be a man?
I was talking with my neighbor the other day about his father and this subject came up. I’ve seen my fair share of books and heard more than a few sermons about what it means to be a man. There are people like the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood whose beliefs are at times quite contrary to how I understand the Bible.
Growing up I was pretty ignorant of what it meant to be a man. My father died when I was young. My stepfathers were far from ideal role models. In fact, the one thing I can say about being a man is that I knew whatever man I would become, I wanted it to be nothing like them. Nor, for that matter, did I want to become like many of the men I saw around me.
I can’t say I have spent a lot of time thinking about what it is to be a man. Though I have thought about it considerably more since becoming a stay at home dad. There are those in the church, like Mark Driscoll or the Biblical Manhood people, who would say that I deserve church discipline for forsaking my role as man of the house. I tend to reject the idea that there is some clear eternal idea of manhood. I do know that a lot of what the people around me think it means to be a man is informed by our shared culture. Manhood is often more defined by what men have done than what men ought to do. The way I read scripture, there is no clear picture, no checklist given of what it means to be a man.
In our conversation my friend brought up three roles he had been taught that men ought to have: protector, provider and priest. I have heard these categories before. But, I have not chewed on them much since exchaning paychecks for tea parties and play dates.
I struggled with the idea of being a provider. My cultures, Asian and American, tell me that this is fundamental to what it means to be a man. When I quit earning a paycheck, did I quit being a man? After all, whether it is tilling the land or toiling behind a desk, is that not what a man ought to do? According to some, I have lost sight of what it means to be a man. Of course, by provider they mean the provision of resources for survival: shelter, food and so on.
I have to reject this idea. I had to reject this idea to become a stay at home dad or the shame would have crushed me. I had to learn that my value was not tied to how I contributed to the marketplace. But that is the prime lie that our culture tells us. We are what we earn. We are what we are worth. But worth to whom? I had to learn that, while many men provide paychecks for their families, far too few fathers provide love. I am providing for my child in ways most fathers will never have the time for.
Besides, is a woman not also to provide resources for the home? The woman of valor in Proverbs 31,a woman to be honored, works very hard to provide for the home financially. So, provider cannot be a uniquely male role.
When my father died I was six years old. I don’t remember much of the funeral. But I do remember some of my families members coming up to me and telling me “you are the man of the house now. You must be the man of the family.” I was freaking six years old! In many ways, that was the death of my childhood. Even though I had no idea what it meant to be a man, I had received my charge. I knew I couldn’t get a job. So, in my little mind I was supposed to protect my family. But, of course, I was incapable of that as well.
I reject the idea that a man’s identity is tied to how he protects those he loves. Throughout scripture we see men who were not able to protect their families through no fault of their own. What should we say of Job? Should we question his manhood? What scripture does tell us again and again is that it is the Lord who both provides and protects. This does not mean that I am unwilling or unresponsible to protect my family. But, it does mean that protector is not who I am. To say so is to put myself in God’s place, making myself an idol.
Here, you would think scripture is clearer. A man is the priest of his household, right? Perhaps, depending on how you understand scripture, but the way it is often used undermines an important biblical truth, the priesthood of all believers. If you are in the body of Christ, whether man or woman, you are a priest. What I mean to point out by this is to say that a woman is no less a priest than a man. So, priesthood is not a unique role a man has in society or in the home. I, in Christ, am a priest, not because I am a man, but because I am in Christ. So, while priest may be something that I am, and something that I do, it doesn’t specifically help me understand what it means to be a man.
The more I reflect on these categories, the more I question how important it is for me to understand what it is to be a man, biblically speaking. What does interest me is what it means to be truly human. I am far more interested in living into what it is to be human, than what it is to be a man. Jesus became human so that we, men and women, can be as he is. That is not to say that we become God. Rather, it means that by God’s grace and through God we can be what we were made to be. A theology of manhood interests me slightly. A theology of humanity made whole by Jesus interests me a lot. I do my best as a son, father and husband to be a priest who provides and protects. But, they do not define me. Christ defines me, as he defines my wife and my daughter. While I do not want to neglect what God has to say about being a man, I would rather focus most of my effort on what God has said it means to be human, an image bearer of God, joined with Christ in transforming the universe back into the good creation God made.
It was late afternoon when I walked into Supercuts. All of the chairs were empty, so I sat right down to get my hair cut.
The stylist asked me if I had just gotten off of work. “Kinda,” I replied. “I’m a stay at home dad.” She looked a bit puzzled, as if she wasn’t sure how to proceed.
I’m not sure if what she said afterward was offensive or affirming. She went to her stylist playbook and started breaking out all of her stay at home mommy jokes. She went on about how difficult it is to get away. She asked me who was watching the little one. I replied that my wife had just gotten home from work. She laughed and made jokes about never getting to get out of the house.
She asked me if I used hair product. I replied” Yeah… sometimes.” She giggled and said “what’s the point of getting dressed up for a baby, right?!” I laughed, because she was right. Now that school is out most of the dirty laundry is Regi’s. Sometimes she comes home and both of us are still in pajamas.
I walked out of Supercuts not sure how to feel. But, I think it was nice to be treated like any other stay at home parent for a change, rather than some freak show performer. Usually I feel like a platypus in the zoo. You know, not some cool animal like a lion that everyone appreciates. No, stay at home dads are the equivalent of some venomous web-footed egg-laying oddity of nature to be gawked at and perplexed by its very existence.
At least I left the place smiling, and no bonbon jokes were made.
As parents we are at a place in our journey of raising little person that we have to begin to look at discipline. I am a firm believer that there is no one size fits all when it comes to discipline. There are a lot of factors, 2 main ones being personal convictions and child’s personality. I believe that we as parents may discipline our children different than our neighbors. Neither way will be right or wrong, but will be in line with what we as parents feel comfortable doing.
Recently I saw a friend post on Facebook an incident she had with her toddler, in the post she spoke of giving her daughter a spanking. One of her friends freaked out the mention of spanking. She began to plead with my friend about how terrible and shaming it is, referring to her experiences of being spanked as a child. My friend very healthily and clearly explained her conviction behind spanking and how she feels that time outs are shaming. I was really proud of my friend for how she handled the situation; I can’t say I would have done it with such grace.
Discipline is a loaded topic to bring up, everyone has an opinion and thinks that their opinion is the only possible thing that will work. Personally I’m not a big fan of talking about it, especially with Christians. So many Christians relate every little thing their child does to “the fall” and their “sin nature”. To be honest sometimes when I hear a parent talk about their child’s “sin nature” I want to scream.
As I have thought over this topic of discipline, I have read parts of a couple different books, talked to quite a few people; people who believe in discipline styles I know I want to shy away from and those that perhaps I want to try. Daniel and I have shared with one another the things we have done when Imogen does something that needs a discipline follow-up of some sort. Overall, I have really tried to think about where my own convictions lay on the topic. What am I comfortable doing with Imogen in response to her choosing not to listen.
First I felt like I have had to ask myself a question. What is the difference between Imogen’s “sin nature” (or choosing to disobey) and what is experiential learning? Here’s an example: If I tell Imogen to sit and the table and eat her apple and she’s continually gets up and trys to walk around, what will be my action that will give the best long term results? Do I put her in time-out or spank her for not listening? My intuition tells me that this will serve to solve the not listening in that moment. Do I continually redirect her back to the table, each time reminding her that I asked her eat at the table? This requires a lot more patience and time on my part, and let’s faces it, as parents it’s not uncommon to lack both. And yet, my gut tells me that this is the latter option that will teach Imogen more in the long run.
If I caulk up her continually getting up from the table as her “sin nature” run wild, am I robbing her of the chance to learn a new concept?
Recently we moved some furniture and exposed a socket that has some string lights plugged into it. Imogen immediately went over went to play with the lights and I continually went over to tell her “No, Danger” and redirect her attention elsewhere. This went on for quite some time. At one point I thought to myself, this is where a parent may flick their child’s hand, spank them or put them in time out, but I just didn’t feel that doing any of those would be effective. Eventually she started doing other things, success! And then there she was, back over at the lights and before I could get to her, zap!! 110 volts to her finger and she was sobbing. Daniel and I felt terrible. We scooped her up and held her close while she cried. As we talked through the situation, we asked ourselves if we chose the wrong option, but honestly, I don’t think we did. I don’t’ believe that any amount of discipline was going to convince Imogen that those string lights were not the best toy ever. But you can bet she didn’t go near them again; experiential learning.
Now believe me, I do not wish Imogen to learn all from experience in her life. When I tell her that running out in the street is dangerous I want her to believe me. In her short life she has heard us refer to many things as “danger”, but we always shielded her from the danger, she likely had no concept of what danger really meant. Now hopefully she can connect the “danger” to that 110 volt shock and see that “danger” means she can get hurt. Time will tell. And just for the record, we have fixed the string lights so this would not happen again.
Part of what has made me thinking so much about this, is reading the book of Matthew. Daniel and I started reading Matthew together. As we read through the birth of Christ and him as a little boy, we got to talking about how Christ “Committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth” 1 Peter 2:22. When people talk about Christ not sinning they often refer to the toddler Jesus; saying that it means he never got out of bed after his parents told him to go to bed, never threw his food on the ground or got upset because he wanted to run around naked. But what if he did do these things as a toddler? Does that mean they are not sin? Ultimately, we have no way of knowing.
As a parent watching my toddler learning how to navigate life, I find it hard to believe that toddler Jesus wouldn’t have done those things. So often I watch Imogen do things that many people would call “throwing a fit” and I just don’t see it that way. I watch her getting upset about something and I can see; it’s not out blatant disobedience, but out of her lack of ability to communicate her needs or her lack of understanding of what to do with her emotions. What’s my job in that moment? To address the behavior or help her understand what’s causing the behavior?
I want to be the kind of parent that teaches my children about emotions. That they are normal, not to be feared and that it is our responsibility to act on our emotions appropriately. If Imogen is angry and she hits or throws something, how is spanking her teaching her that it’s ok to be angry, but that we need to find another way to express it.
A friend recently told me about something that happened when her daughter started kindergarten. She would come home each day and begin to lose it; struggling to appropriately interact with her siblings. They got exhausted “dealing” with her behavior after school. Until they realized something about her; She is an introvert, she wasn’t “acting out” she was exhausted from having to be around people all day. They immediately instituted “quiet time” for her when she came home from school. It solved the issue instantly. Ultimately she wasn’t being disobedient, she wasn’t purposely hurting her siblings, she just needed to learn what was happening with her emotions. Now a few years later, she’s an incredible kid. She understands herself and that when she starts struggling with interacting with people, it likely means that she needs to spend some time alone. At 8 yrs old, she understands emotion regulation.
I’m not so naive to think that addressing Imogen’s behavior will always be as cut and dry as that example. Nor that what works on an 18month old will work on a 3 yr old will work on a 13 yr old. But as Daniel and I unpackage what discipline will look like in our house I always want us to first look at what is happening inside Imogen that could be causing the behavior. Is there something that we have not taught her about who she is that she needs to learn, instead of going straight to pointing out her “bad” behavior.
Like all parents we don’t know what we’re doing, and in this process of learning for ourselves we may chose the wrong option; thus causing a minor electrocution.
We have not forgotten our blog. We have just been under a lot of pressure and haven’t had time to update as we would like.
Regina got a big promotion at work. I am so proud of her. Seeing what she does everyday in the lives of hurting woman makes me delighted to be her support staff, staying home and caring for Imogen. Regina is now, in essence, second in charge of women’s ministries at the Rescue Mission. God has really gifted her in this capacity, and I am thankful to see the fruits God’s gifts are producing.
I have been overwhelmed with my studies and my teaching fellowship. I ended up dropping a class earlier in the semester because I found myself sinking rather than floating or swimming. It was a hard decision to make, but I received tremendous confirmation afterwards that it was the right decision to make.
My teaching fellowship has been going very well. I have been participating in the research for my supervisor’s next book, which is great experience for an aspiring author. My supervisor left town for about a week, which meant I was given the opportunity to take his place. It was a lot of work. I had the opportunity to spend about 8 hours teaching, which required a lot of preperation. The experience showed me just how much I have to learn about the craft of teaching. But, it was also an affirmation. I walked away from the experience feeling that, with the grace of God and by the gifts he has given me, I can do this. But, I am thankful to be returning to my “regular” hectic schedule of study and research.
I have been participating in a series of interfaith dialogues that have been really interesting. I have been gathering with several other Christians to meet with Buddhist friends. We gather to talk about our different faith traditions. From our perspective, we are learning what it means to love our neighbor, when our neighbor is very different from us. If you are interested in reading up on it, there are several posts over on my theology blog – http://fromeverlasting.com.
Imogen has been doing well. Well, that is if you discount all of the sickness. This is our first whole winter in the cold Northwest, and Imogen’s first year in daycare. So, most weeks someone at home is sick, if not everyone. We feel like we just can’t catch a break. We are hoping the impending arrival of spring will bring better health to us all.
But, Imogen has been learning and changing so quickly we are daily amazed by our little girl. The other day, she almost repeated the entire alphabet (Darn you Double-U). She is learning new words and phrases daily, and starting to learn to assert herself (for better and worse). She has started sleeping in her own bed, and has begun to refuse being placed in the high chair for want of sitting at her big girl table.
Basho is starting to settle in at the homeless shelter. He still misses us an awful lot, but is beginning to develop a routine. There is certainly no lack of love showered upon him at the shelter.
Our school had its big missions conference this last week. We began seriously speaking to different missions organizations, trying to get a feel for who we would like to partner with. There are a few organizations that are rising to the top of our list. They are all very impressed with Regina’s resume. We would appreciate your prayers as we try to figure out what we should do once school is over. There are a lot of big decisions that we want to get the ball rolling on. We would also love your prayers for our limited time together as a family and the pressure to run well the race God has for us.
Well, I suppose that is all for now. We love you all and are thankful to have you along for our journey.