Monday, February 27, 2012


Every day, I get to experience my two boys interacting with each other. They’re only 23 months apart, so it can be interesting at times. Sometimes, they play well together. They might be playing with their cars, or trains, or LEGOs. They might be playing a game on Wii. Then there are the other times, when things don’t go quite as well. Wii controllers turn into weapons, LEGOs turn into ammunition, and the whole thing turns into chaos faster than you can say, “brother’s keeper.”

Yesterday, my oldest was invited to a birthday party for one of his friends. Both of my boys are at an age where they haven’t distinguished between each others’ friends. If one of them has a friend, then that friend must be the other’s friend as well. As the time approached for the party, my wife and I were sensing that an explanation would need to be given as it seemed that there was an anticipation that both boys were going to said party.

I called my youngest over and sat him on my lap to try to explain, in 3 year old language, that he would not be going to the party. Anticipating tears, I knew that I would need some kind of alternative that would somehow supersede his disappointment. A trip to Best Buy and Sweet Frog seemed like it might work, even if there were some residual tears.

As I explained all of this to my younger son, my wife tried to explain it to our oldest. As she told him that his brother was not going to the party because he was not invited, the oldest gave her a quizzical look and asked, “Why not?” There was some deep concern as to why he and his brother would be broken up during this time.

That’s my boy, though. He’s got a huge heart. When we first started our family, we talked about how far apart we wanted to try to have our children. Obviously, there is only so much that can be done in this area. We felt incredibly blessed and fortunate that things worked out the way that they did. My brother is four years older than me and it’s taken a good number of years for us to finally have the connection that my two sons have with each other. Four years can be an awfully big time span when you’re young. As you grow older, it doesn’t seem to matter as much though.

Our hope all along was that the boys would have this kind of special relationship. I see so many differences in the ways that they interact with each other. They’re not afraid to sleep in the same bed together. They don’t mind sharing most of their toys with one another. They genuinely care for one another.

I’ve seen some pretty rough sibling relationships before. Thankfully, I’ve not experienced them firsthand. In the midst of everything that my brother and I have been through in the 18 months, I’m glad that we have each other. While we don’t always agree, we talk often and feel free to be open and honest with one another. There is a mutual respect and love that we share and for which I am grateful.

I’ve often heard it said that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. The most ideal situation is when you family becomes your friends. I’ve always enjoyed this and am thankful that this has been my experience. My mom and dad became more than parents to me, they became friends. They never tried hard to be my friend when I was younger, and that is not a criticism. They understood that parenting came before friendship, not vice versa.

I don’t know if my boys will always have the same relationship that they enjoy now. I certainly hope that they do. My prayer for them is that they will continue to grow closer together as brothers and friends as the years go by. Right now, I am their parent and if I am their friend, that’s a bonus. One day, I hope to be their friend who happens to be their parent as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Nostalgic Journey

Four years ago this summer, I began a journey. I started my seminary degree with more than a little bit of trepidation. After 2 engineering degrees, I was very familiar with what I needed to do to survive and thrive in that world, but I was entering a foreign world, one that I wasn’t sure that I was prepared for.

I remember so well the night before I flew to Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. It was the first time that I would be away from my only son (at the time) and I was incredibly emotional. I was questioning whether or not I should really be embarking on the journey on which I was getting ready to embark. I didn’t know what to expect.

I had only been in my new job in Mechanicsville, Virginia for 7 months. Things were still new. I knew that I would not be able to afford to do the program the way that everyone else was, so I was only going to be out of town for a week. My wife and I had also made a commitment that I would take some classes in D.C. so that I wouldn’t have to be away for so long.

I knew no one in my program, so I had to take a shuttle from the airport to the seminary. I had no idea where to go, so I ended up telling the shuttle to let me off about a quarter of a mile from where the building where I was staying. I walked the rest of the way in the July warmth with all of my bags. When I got into the building, I began to meet a bunch of the people with whom I would spend the next 4+ years with.

My first class was a deconstruction of sorts as my professor began to tear down much of what I had thought I had understood and believed. The conversations in class were stimulating, but the ones outside of class were life-giving. A few of us connected and began some deeper conversations together. We continued those conversations over nachos and drinks on Thursday night, the night before we would all return home.

As I continued to take classes in D.C., I went off track from my friends, but we continued to connect every time that we took classes in St. Paul. It became a tradition for us to go to Grumpy’s and continue the vein of conversation that had started in the summer of 2008. We affectionately called ourselves “The Nachos.”

As the program continued on, I had fewer classes with my friends, sometimes not even seeing them if our class schedules did not bring us to St. Paul at the same time. We connected via Facebook and Skype and did our best to stay in touch with one another.

Last Sunday, I flew out to St. Paul for my final week of classes before I finish up this coming December. I knew that I would only see one of my friends as the rest of them were here the first of the two weeks. I knew that I would have to rent a car for the first time and get used to the roads around St. Paul. No big deal really, I’ve driven in New York City before, but it still made me a little nervous.

Now, I sit here typing at my computer, the same computer that I had four years ago. I’m sitting on the floor of a room at Luther Seminary, where I have stayed the past 4 winter intensives. I have to continue studying for an exam that I will have in the morning. Once that exam is done, so are my intensives, and my time in St. Paul will be coming to a close. It’s a very nostalgic feeling for me.

It’s been one of those times when I wanted to press the ‘record’ button on my brain so that I can keep a record of every moment, every picture, every feeling that I have been experiencing. The week has flown by and tomorrow it will be over. While I’m overjoyed to get home and see my family, there’s a part of me that is sad.

There has been much blood, sweat, and tears shed over this journey. I’ve lost someone that I love. My family has increased in size. My wife continues to grow more beautiful to me every day. As much as I have learned, I have realized even more that I have so much more to learn.

Sometime tomorrow morning, this somewhat monumental event in my life will pass by with nothing but a whisper. There will be no shouting; that will come next December when I turn in my final assignment. There may be some tears and I know that there will be no small amount of rejoicing as I inch closer to the end of this journey.

I don’t know what the future holds. Many people consider me gone from my church when the degree is done, but that has never been my intent. No one told me that I had to get this degree, I did it for myself. I know that I have learned a lot and that I still have so much more that I could learn. As much as I would love to stay and work on another degree, my whole family and I need a break. Any further education won’t be happening really soon.

Yes, tomorrow will mark the beginning of the end of an era, a chapter, of my life. With every end there is sorrow and mourning, but there is also a beginning. At the end of every road, another one can start. I don’t know where that road will lead, but I know who is with me on the journey. I am fortunate to have a lot of people in my life who love me. Although I might not be the richest or the smartest man, I am blessed and very rich beyond compare. I know that I’ll continue to grow as I walk along this road. I look forward to seeing where it leads me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Journey Is Near Its End

This week has felt very surreal to me. I left on Sunday after a morning where I didn’t lead music or preach. I had the privilege of spending the day with my family before I set off on my trip. I got pretty confused after landing in Chicago as the flight attendant announced the wrong time, and since my watch and phone were still on East Coast time, I panicked, thinking I had very little time between flights.

This is my 8th time out to St. Paul, Minnesota since the summer of 2008. So much has happened in that time. I remember the night before I flew out, we were staying with my parents in Connecticut. We were only a family of 3 at the time, getting ready to be a family of 4 in a few short months.

As I near the completion of this journey, we are a family of 5. My parents moved to Williamsburg and my mom was diagnosed with and succumbed to cancer in the span of 6 months. I have been thrown so many curveballs in the midst of this journey that you would really think that I would be an expert at hitting them by now. But when life throws curveballs at us, I’m not so sure that we get good at hitting them so much as we adjust to the circumstances that change.

This is the first time in all 8 of my trips that I have actually driven while I was out here. I have been fortunate enough to have had friends drive me around and had never needed a car. Yet in the midst of this new freedom, I have had 2 exams to study for, so I have not had the time or energy to go sightseeing in the evenings. One exam is done while the other one isn’t until Friday.

As close as December is, it still feels a million miles away to me. I still have a long journey between here and there. While I was never really guilty of succumbing to “senioritis” while in high school, college, or graduate school (the first time around), I have felt more than just nudging or pulling since January. I feel as if I will be one of those marathon runners who barely gets over the finished line, bloodied and beaten, merely able to muster the strength and energy to collapse after the 26 mile journey.

There have been so many incredibly supportive people in the process. My church has been a great support to me. People have spoken words of kindness and encouragement to me through the process. The missions team has helped to financially support me. My colleagues have opened up their libraries to me.

My wife has had to endure a few Valentine’s Days without me, and although we’ve never been big on the day ourselves, I know it’s been hard. She’s taken on the task of caring for our incredible children. She has supported me, prayed for me, endured me, comforted me, loved me, and just been a friend through the process. I don’t know what I would have done through all of this had I not had her by my side.

The rest of my family has been great as well. My brother has constantly told me how proud he is of me. My dad has continued the Friday night conversations that we used to have while my mom was alive and I was driving home from my D.C. class. But as the journey comes to a close, it does feel a little incomplete without my mom. With all of these instrumental people in my life, it’s hard to think that she didn’t have a large hand in getting me to the place where I am. She bragged about me and all that I was doing.

I have come pretty far and I still have a long way to go. The end is almost in sight, but I sure am looking forward to collapsing after I cross that finish line though. Thanks for all of your prayers and support, all of you who have done so. Please continue to do so. I am forever grateful.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Going Out

I had a rare Tuesday night free and was able to take advantage of one of the various "kids eat free" nights at our local Chick-Fil-A. To top it off, it was a special event night, celebrating Star Wars with Wii Lego Star Wars, crafts, and even Star Wars characters at this location. My boys were ecstatic about the thought of seeing some Star Wars characters.

The whole family took a trek to Toys R Us first to pick up the new release of "Lady and the Tramp" on Blu Ray. We managed to get all that we bought for under $5 and they gave us a $5 gift card. So, we pretty much broke even. Afterwards, we drove to Chick-Fil-A and didn't realize that kids eat free. So, with the help of a gift card that someone had given us, we spent a whopping $3 for our dinner and even got the receipt with the online survey for a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Again, we pretty much broke even.

Somehow we managed to have had the worst possible timing for our arrival at the restaurant. It seemed that everyone else decided that it would be a good time to get there as well. The line was to the door and there were no tables available. We have always appreciated Chick-Fil-A for the kindness and courteousness of their employees, and tonight was no exception. One of the women working there saw my wife with our daughter in the infant carrier as well as the 2 boys and started looking for a table for us. She found one and motioned to my wife while she cleaned it off for us.

When we were finally able to sit down and enjoy our food, a woman who we had passed a few times earlier while searching for a table saw us sitting and said, "Wow! You're persistent!" My wife looked at me and said, "When we go out to dinner, we expect to find a seat," to which I replied with laughter. I smiled and said, "Funny how that term "out to dinner" changes depending on your situation." We both had a good laugh.

I've been reminiscing a lot about life before kids lately. I haven't been doing it in a "those were the days" kind of way, just in reflection. It's very funny how perspectives change as your life changes. Traveling on airplanes prior to kids usually involves hoping and praying that you don't get stuck next to the family with the screaming kids. Traveling on planes after kids usually involves hoping and praying that your kids aren't the screaming kids that other travelers get stuck sitting next to. Eating in restaurants prior to kids means longing for a nice quiet place to gaze into each others' eyes, free of any screaming kids. Depending on the scenario, eating in restaurants prior to kids can mean anything from hoping that nothing falls on the floor, and if it does, that it isn't eaten. It could mean hoping your kids aren't the loudest ones in the restaurant or even, if the kids are at home with a sitter, actually having a conversation with your spouse that doesn't involve crayons, diapers, poop, or any one of a variety of other kid-related topics.

As I sat to enjoy my meal, fast food or not, I fully appreciated the experience that I was having at that moment. These moments are the moments that don't last forever, they need to be seized because they become fewer and further between as kids get older. For all the chaos that we experienced, I wouldn't change a thing. My kids loved it, at least the older two did.

As we drove home and heard our 5 year old lament the absence of Chewbacca, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker, we also heard that the Stormtrooper was pretty nice to both of my sons, causing a little confusion as to whose side they were really on anyway.

Yes, tomorrow they'll wake up, want to play Wii Lego Star Wars, color Boba Fett and Darth Vader, and even make a paper lightsaber from materials around the house. And that's fine with me. It wasn't hiking a mountain, walking through a park, going to a museum, or anything spectacular, but it meant a lot to my kids that we all shared this together, and that's good enough for me. At some point, we hope to go for a hike on a mountain, a walk through a park, a tour of a museum, or do some other spectacular thing. in the meantime, we'll settle for the simple moments that are thrown our way, taking advantage of them when we can, making the most of the opportunities before they're gone.

After all, unless my name is Marty McFly, I'm never going to experience this day again. So I might as well make the most of it.