A Grand Idea

It was a grand idea: joining our son, his wife, and their three kids on a New Year’s cruise. Our grandkids are growing like weeds; you know, that accelerated kind of growth when one day they’re four feet tall and the next taller than you? We try to get together at least annually, which is a challenge since we live in Arizona and they in Alabama. They had decided to switch gears this year. The kids were tired of their annual post-Christmas freeze on the ski slopes and wanted to go where it was warm. One thing led to another and suddenly we were going with them. Fantastic! We would leave Mobile, Alabama and cruise to the Yucatán.

jon, ms, kids, ds, & ks jan. 2019

From the first I dreamed of it: five days of blissful, sunny travel; delicious, gourmet food; delightful ports of call; pampering by an attentive staff, and, best of all, time to play games, roam Mexican ruins, and catch up with family.  Karon and I had only cruised once before – thirty years ago. It could be that we viewed that twenty-fifth anniversary cruise through rose-colored glasses. In any case, we were excited and started packing a month ahead of time.

 

Let me say right here that spending time with family is the very best and this was no exception. We had a great room, unbelievably comfortable beds, and an ocean view. Our son and his wife had a suite where we spent happy hours playing games, watching the sunset from their balcony, and planning each day’s adventures. We thoroughly enjoyed our day of tramping together through some Mayan ruins and touring the beautiful coastline of Cozumel. We met great friends at dinner and enjoyed wonderful service by the wait staff, who remembered our names from the get-go and kept Karon’s coffee hot.

 

But then…

Right off the bat my dream of a blissful, sunny cruise was severely challenged the moment we arrived on board. We were herded with thousands of others out onto the Lido Deck where it was cold, drizzly, and there wasn’t much shelter.  Fake palm trees drooped by the pool and a lone, dreadlocked musician thumped out steel band music so loud that it rattled my teeth. We found the buffet, but, being new, didn’t realize how large it was and ended up at the taco bar where most of the condiments were already gone. By 1:30 our rooms were ready and we all gratefully trooped into the passageways to find them. Our spotless room with a clever towel-animal created by Alaine, our stewardess, awaited us. Unfortunately, the air conditioning worked way too well and it was freezing. Nevertheless, we figured out how to turn it off and took a nap.

 

In the afternoon we roamed the deck under leaden skies while sailing south. Where was the turquoise blue water? Where were the seagulls wheeling behind the ship? Where was the sunshine? I realized—sadly—that I had packed too many shorts and too few sweaters. Brave souls overcrowded the hot tubs and a few adventurous ones donned their bathing suits to get a cloud tan. We decided to explore the ship’s interior, which was beautiful. Unfortunately, it was freezing everywhere and I retreated to our stateroom to find a sweater. That night, as I got into bed, I told Karon, “Well, the worst is behind us. The sun will surely be out tomorrow.” Wrong. When we ventured outside the next day, we discovered that our “fun day at sea” was a repeat of the day before: gray skies and chilly temperatures. At least it wasn’t raining. All day long our cruise director reminded us about what a fantastic time we were was having.

 

So, you’re probably thinking, “what a whiner!” Yep. That’s exactly what I was doing. Just like the reviews you read of other people’s cruise experiences, some have a great time and others find something wrong everywhere. Some people complain about the shower head size and that their cruise to Hawaii plays Hawaiian music. For some the food is inedible sludge, but for others it’s delectable! Some rhapsodize about how beautiful everything is, yet another writes an entire paragraph about how dirty the windows are. How can these wildly divergent views describe the very same ship?

 

I think it’s expectations. Mine proved to be totally unrealistic. In my mind I had created an imaginary ship and destination where everything was perfect. When my expectations were not met, I felt sorry for myself. Once you start that game, it’s all downhill. Years ago, a good friend told me and Karon that, when you travel, you must be “infinitely flexible” and expect the unexpected. Then, when things happen, you’re emotionally prepared and can laugh about it. Very wise advice. Too bad I didn’t remember it for the cruise.

 

Perhaps the same could be said for life. Very rarely, it seems, does life turn out the way we had planned. Having specific expectations of how our lives will turn out leads to disappointment. Even expecting a certain day to be a certain way is preparing for frustration. Better to approach each day with “infinite flexibility.”

 

Expectations of what God will do and how He will act can also lead to disillusionment and depression. We pray that so and so will be healed, and they are not healed. We pray to find a mate, and we never do. We pray for work, yet time goes by without a job. Doesn’t the Bible tell us to believe, and that God answers prayer? Yes, of course. And He does. But God feels no compulsion to conform to our expectations or timetable. He has reasons and plans beyond our comprehension. We know He is good and that He loves us. Let us, instead of expecting him to do thus and so, simply live expectantly, watching and waiting for Him and learning to know Him in the process.

 

Expectancy—not expectations. This is how I need to live.

 

In retrospect, it was a great cruise (even though I came home with a terrible cold after spending five days with over two thousand of our closest friends). It was great because we got to spend quality time with our family with no ball practice, school schedules, work hours, gymnastic meets, or anything else. We played games, and laughed around the dining room table. We stood by the deck railing, played shuffleboard, ate ourselves silly, and connected in the very best way—in person. This is and will remain a treasured memory long after we have forgotten the less than perfect weather and the air conditioning.

 

PS We did have two sunny, warm days in Mexico with those turquoise blue waters and gulls wheeling behind the ship. And I finally learned where the dining room was.

In Praise of Letters

When did you last receive a personal letter? Not an email. Not a text. Not a voice mail. And especially not a plea for your money or your vote. But a letter—in which someone sat down, thoughtfully considered what they wanted to say, got out a pen and paper, and wrote to you in longhand? It’s a grand feeling, getting a letter like that. Just seeing it in your mailbox makes your heart glad, and you can’t wait to see what they said.

I grew up in the world of letter writing. The 1950s were simpler and less complicated. The only phone that rang was on the hallway table, and it had neither an extension nor an answering machine. Since we lived in the British West Indies, we had no television: just a radio for local stations and a short-wave radio if we wanted news from the States. We could hear the birds sing through the always-open windows and across the street was the park where we played and on whose sidewalks we roller skated. People sat on their wide verandas in the evenings, catching up on the day’s events and discussing the mail that day. On a normal day my parents would receive letters from the Missionary Board (our employers in the States) and maybe a magazine. On good days, we received personal mail. On extra special days, I got a letter from my sister in Minnesota, who had left Trinidad to attend high school when I was seven. Air Mail EnvelopeI examined each air mail envelope with its red and blue rectangles around the edge. The paper was usually light blue and in the upper right-hand corner were stamps: beautiful stamps, hand cancelled, and whispering of exotic places and distant lands. We now and then received letters from missionary friends in Africa, Egypt, or Europe. Letters took about two weeks to reach America, and interminably long to arrive from anywhere else.  But they came, like friends dropping in for a visit.

Mail was our lifeline. We could call long-distance, of course, but only in dire emergencies.  But in those days before cell phones and computers, mail was the only way to communicate with family and friends.

The Little Mailman of...When I was five or six, one of my favorite books was, The Little Mailman of Bayberry Lane, by Ian Munn. The little mailman was a chipmunk who delivered letters to his animal neighbors. Some neighbors received lots of letters and some only a few. One neighbor never got any letters. The little mailman organized a letter writing campaign which cheered up the lonely neighbor immeasurably and brought everyone together. Strange, the things you remember from one’s childhood. Come to think of it, this little book is probably one of the reasons I write lots of letters and cards today. I love to hear from someone months, maybe years, later, telling me how my letter came at just the right moment or that my card was just what they needed at the time.

Mail is very important to me now because it is so personal. A personal letter still is one of the best ways to get someone’s attention. Mass mailers know this. That’s why they cleverly disguise their mailings to look like personal letters. One charity onto whose mailing list I was somehow unfortunately added even hires minimum wagers to hand write the address. They use real stamps, colored envelopes that look like a Hallmark card, and home return addresses to cajole you into opening it. And then—wham! The disappointing realization smacks you in the face that you’ve been suckered again. Ours is an impersonal world where things are made to seem personal when they’re really just an algorithm in a computer created to use your first name, as though the national offices of a political party care about anything more than getting your money. They don’t know you. It’s just business. It’s a cold world where one of life’s dearest joys is shanghaied by commercialization.

personal decorated envelopes2A personal letter means that somebody is thinking about you and wants you to know. Personal letters are rare, for one thing. And they’re from a live person who has taken out some paper and an envelope, checked on your address, sat down and wrote your name to tell you things that nobody else will know except you. There is no accidental copying it to a third party. There are no emojis decorating every other thought, as though words were so difficult to create that our society has to communicate with pictures. There is no ugly swearing or obscenity. Just simple words created for you. Above all, it is personal. The handwriting may be untidy, but it is unique to the sender. Perhaps the message is the same time after time, but, even so, it is for you. How are you doing? How’s your garden coming? Aunt Hilda just had hip replacement surgery. Our dog had pups. Fifteen! When can you come and see me? I’m going to visit you next Christmas. How was your trip to Budapest? (or Omaha)

My mother had incredibly precise penmanship until it got shaky in her 90s. She always used a fine point pen and could get more words on a sheet of paper than anyone else. (After all, postage was expensive.) My Dad’s handwriting was always a challenge to interpret, somewhat like his typing, that was filled with strikeouts. When, as a teenager, I lived in Seattle and they in Jamaica, their letters were a lifeline to me. The main body of the letter was typed, but before it concluded, each of them wrote a paragraph or two in their distinctive handwriting which I knew so well. My mother, especially, was amazingly observant and always included descriptions of her travels, the neighborhood children, or some recent event she’d been to, and even what people were wearing. I still remember one letter she wrote while flying across the USA. She drew little diagrams of the irrigation circles below that she’d never seen before.

Karon @ 15 - front shotAll my life I got personal letters. In college I met a captivating blonde with a knockout smile who stole my heart. For two years we wrote letters each summer while separated, she in California and I traveling. She still has those letters I wrote from Seattle, Barbados, and from across the USA. She, too, was a faithful letter writer. She joked about how their mailman commented every day, “Another letter from that young man in Seattle!” and told me a lot about her job and family. Any time I see her handwriting I see in my mind’s eye her lovely hands so soft to hold. The two are inseparable.

I don’t get many letters these days. I’m sad to say the writing letters is a dying art form. This lovely and altogether delightful way to communicate is vanishing in a culture that’s too fast and too electronic to be bothered with anything that takes time. Sending a text or email is fast and convenient, after all. I will admit that Facebook and the social media are fun and useful. But they’re still kind of impersonal, like Siri, that calls you by your first name. We respond with a thumbs up or maybe even a little comment like “Way to go!” or “Congratulations.” But likely others are reading it and adding their two cents worth; rather like having a conversation in the checkout line.

Me? I still love writing and receiving letters. Every week I drop notes and cards to people around the country. Even if they don’t respond, I know that receiving a personal note will brighten their day.

It just occurs to me that God has written letters, also: to us—to me. The Bible is filled with all kinds of literature. I believe that it’s no coincidence that the easiest to understand and also the most memorable are personally written: journal entries such as the Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, and the letters in the New Testament. The true value of letters now stands revealed: one can ready them again and again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Father’s Day Hurts

A Special Message for Brokenhearted Dads

By Tom and Dena Yohe

 

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Father’s Day is today. Are you a dad with a broken heart? Is it weighed down with pain, worry, fear, and rejection? If so, Father’s Day can be hard. Positive memories from when your son or daughter was young and innocent flood your mind. Negative memories and their associated emotions overwhelm you.

Men tend to hide their emotions, but this is different. Tears are close to the surface 24/7. Oh God, please don’t let anyone ask me about ________, or how I’m doing. There’s a lump in your throat—but you hold back those salty rivers. You can’t let anyone see you cry. You’re a macho man, right? Besides, if you let them come, you might not be able to stop those salty rivers.

Can’t I get a free pass for Father’s Day? you wonder. Most of your friends have plans with their families. How you envy them. Their children enjoy being with them: cookouts, camping and fishing trips, beach or boat outings, theme parks, gifts, dinners . . . except for you. Perhaps you have other children who will be thoughtful, but not them—the one you ache over and can’t stop thinking about.

“What are you doing for Father’s Day?” Change the subject as fast as possible. Hope they don’t notice your avoidance maneuver.

On Monday, co-workers will most likely inquire, “How was your Father’s Day?” That’s the open door for you to brag on how loving your children were. Everything in you wants to slam that door and run. A made-up response slips from your lips as you slink away with a fake smile on your face.

You’d give anything to be reconciled to your child or just hear their voice.

Some of you don’t even know if they’re alive. It’s agony.

I remember how difficult Father’s Day could be for my husband. If he didn’t hear from our daughter my heart would ache for him. At first he tried not show his true feelings, but it was hard to hide them. Knowing he was in pain hurt me, too.

The day became a bitter reminder of what he didn’t have anymore—of the one who was missing. It made him long for the past when our daughter wanted to be with him. When he was her hero.

Can you remember those days? What happened to our beloved children?

Drugs and alcohol happened.

Bad friends happened.

Depression and self-injury happened.

Suicide attempts happened.

Arrests and jail time happened.

Rebellion happened.

Lying and cruel, wounding words happened.

Same-Sex attraction and pornography happened.

Anger and resentment happened.

Everything changed.

Nothing’s the same anymore.

Hurting dad, I hope your son or daughter will at least call to wish you a Happy Father’s Day, even if they aren’t ready to say “I love you”. But if not, remember this is just one chapter in their life. It’s not the end of the story—not yet.

Like in the parable Jesus told about the Lost Son (Luke 15: 11-32), there’s always hope.

Always.

One day your child could come to their senses, do a turn-about and be restored. Next month they could come to you and say, “I love you, dad. Please forgive me. I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk.”

However, you may not hear those words next month. The wait could be long. You might wonder if it will ever end.

When I was on the verge of despair, a wise friend said, “As long as your child’s still breathing, there’s still hope!”

Dear dad, step-dad or grandpa, keep on keeping on. Don’t throw in the towel and walk away. Don’t despair or quit praying. Trust God and learn how to fight for their lives on your knees. Thank him for what you do have to be grateful for. Get busy helping someone else to take the focus off your situation. Limit the amount of time you allow yourself to worry and never give up. You have no idea what Father’s Day next year could bring.

I really like this Bible verse. It gives me a tremendous amount of hope:

“This land that was laid waste has become like the Garden of Eden” (Ezekiel 36:35).

Anything is possible.

And two great books that offer hope in life’s trials are Holding on to Hope and The One Year Book of Hope by Nancy Guthrie.

 

Heavenly Father, comfort every hurting, disillusioned dad who reads this today. Remind him that you see his pain. You understand and you care. Renew his hope that better days may be ahead. But if not, help him continue to trust, pray with faith, and keep his eyes on you. With you anything can happen. A ruined life can become something beautiful again.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Dena is co-founder of Hope For Hurting Parents and is affiliate staff with CRU. You can follow her blog or sign up for her encouraging emails on their website: click here

Green Thumbs and Parenting

I love plants. I always have. From infancy our homes in the tropics were surrounded by glossy, split-leaf philodendrons winding up the trees in whose shade Anthurium lilies grew. My mother often had hanging baskets of orchids on the verandah where their exotic colors and shapes swayed in the warm breezes. Our neighbor’s house was hung with gigantic, lush ferns that she watered every morning. Riotous hibiscus plants bloomed outside our dentist’s windows. Whenever I catch the heavy, moist fragrance of growing things I get homesick for those idyllic days.

2014-06-16 12.29.34Perhaps my love of plants stems from wanting to recreate this green environment. In any case, everywhere we have lived I have planted, fertilized, landscaped, mowed, pruned, and potted. And nature has richly rewarded me with bright nodding flowers bordering our houses, brilliant daffodils heralding the arrival of spring, and fragrant crab apple trees along the driveways.

People have told me I have a green thumb. They mean it as a compliment and it makes me happy to think I may have some special ability to help plants flourish. But, if truth be told, I don’t really have any unique gift. What I do have is a love of plants that motivates me to learn what they need to flourish and work hard to provide it. We have lived in many climates and I am always rewarded with a beautiful yard because I study up on climates, rainfall, hardiness zones, and the individual needs of various plants and flowers. Then I try to meet those requirements.

I remember reading in a gardening magazine that the difference between a nice yard and a beautiful yard is whether or not the gardener will get up off the couch and water the clematis when it’s dry. And perhaps people who shrug as they smile, saying they have a “brown thumb” are describing someone who has other priorities than not overwatering or underwatering a plant and making sure it is getting the proper amount of light.

Parenting is a lot like gardening

Sometimes we look at families who love each other, support each other, and in which everyone flourishes and we think “they must have a special gift.” We see well-disciplined children and young adults who readily pitch in around the house and wonder how it happens. It’s not rocket science. Good parents work hard to understand their children. They study psychology and understand how important it is for Mom and Dad to always present a united front. They read the Bible and have incorporated the dignity and worth of the marriage relationship into the home. They are committed to discipline even when they’re tired and it’s late. They set good examples for their children in their devotional lives. They plan family times together. They attend their kids’ events and programs. In other words, like a gardener studies plants, good parents learn what makes children flourish and then work consistently to ensure that their family’s needs will be met.2014-03-25 06.42.38

My wife, Karon, has helped me learn this lesson. The girls were in high school and middle school and Jon was in elementary school when my job required a lot of travel. I was gone almost more than I was home, sometimes for three or more weeks at a time. One time after a weekend trip, I drove home from the airport, walked into the house, and saw Karon and the kids playing Monopoly on the floor. The dishes were still on the counter and my obsessive-compulsive nature surfaced. I said something like, “When are you going to do these dishes?” Karon never moved from the floor and sweetly said as she locked her gaze onto me. “Somebody has to raise these children.” It hit me like a bombshell. The lesson was doubly powerful because I deeply loved my children and was working hard to provide for them. Yet I was failing the family because of my absence. I was out of touch with what they were doing and with whom. Worse, distance was growing between us all. Not too long after that we had a family council. It was unanimous. I should return to pastoral ministry so that I would be home with the family.

Several years later I was again consumed. This time it wasn’t traveling, but a building program. They girls were older and pretty much on their own. This left Jon with lots of time alone after school and I was in meetings almost every night. We were blindsided when a good friend of ours from church confided that Jon was planning to run away and stay at their house. We cleared our calendar, took him out to dinner, and tried to understand what was going on. The upshot of his thinking was that he was not needed in our house. We both had our careers and were too busy for him. I get choked up just reading about this, and I am deeply grateful that Jon was open with us and gave us a second chance. It can happen so innocently. But it’s a lot like gardening: if somebody doesn’t get up off the couch and water the clematis, don’t be surprised when it’s dead the next time you look for it.

Assault

Never before have our families been under such assault by a hyper-busy culture further intensified by electronic communication on every side. If they are to survive, parents will have to break the cycle and value their children. Now, don’t get me wrong. Many parents who deeply love their children are practically slaving to provide for them. But are they giving them what they really need? They do not need entertainment, gaming, or the latest cell phone. They need family time around the table when everyone sits down and electronics are banned until the next morning. Parents are often the worst offenders, always available to the office but never available to their kids. Children and teenagers need consistent discipline and loving role models. They will survive without designer jeans, but they will not survive your absence. They are very forgiving when they know you love them. Sometimes that love must be tough.

A-family-pray-before-bedtimeOne exemplary family I know did not allow their kids—even in high school—to own a cell phone. There are many reasons for kids to have phones, but here’s the point: the good influence of their family was being destroyed by the constant effluence of disrespect and godlessness pouring into their minds, and so they removed the source of the garbage. Another powerful habit that was nonnegotiable was church attendance. They always sat together every service; Mom, Dad, and the kids. One might expect those children would be rebellious and eager to get away from home as soon as possible. Just the opposite. They are wonderful young adults.

Don’t feel guilty

As I write this I am keenly aware that many parents—and many of them are raising their children by themselves– are fighting to keep their heads above water. The pressures of society are staggering. Peer pressure in the teen world can be suffocatingly powerful. If you are one of these parents, my heart goes out to you. Please don’t feel guilty about anything that I have said. Pour out your heart before God and He will help you. Even a few moments each day in His Word and in prayer will keep you steady and provide emotional energy. Bring your kids before him constantly. Ask Him to send his angels to guard them. Pray for your kids. Pray with them. Do the right thing. Seek support if you need it. Be consistent.

At the end of the day

There are times our kids make poor choices and we can’t do a thing about it. We can love them, pray for them, and do our best, but they will leave us, embrace sin, or make a mess of their lives. Just as the best gardener loses plants, flowers, and even trees, the best parent may lose children. I can’t think of anything more painful than this. For such parents I say, do not play the “If only” game. Do not keep asking, “Where did I go wrong?” Think about this. Even Jesus was singularly unsuccessful with some people. Judas was his trusted confidante but turned against him. Many Pharisees never understood Jesus and until his death they were convinced His miracles were empowered by the devil. And, like the Father, we keep praying, waiting, and hoping that someday the prodigals will come home.