Leaving a Legacy

I’ve been wanting to write this post for nearly 17 months now, but, honestly, I’ve been trying to figure out what to say and how to say it.  How does one summarize the impact of a man like Dr. Ray Robinson?

Doc (as we all called him) was the choir conductor during my undergraduate years at Palm Beach Atlantic University, then Palm Beach Atlantic College (PBA).  I studied under his tutelage from 1995-1999.  But for many of us who knew Doc, he was so much more than just a teacher.  What I learned from him was more than a deep love of music, it was more than the ability to be a world-class scholar or an expert musician.  No one ever doubted Doc’s ability, his skill, or his leadership.  Like most college professors he had written numerous articles, and, like most world-renowned musicians, he was in a league of his own.  Yes, he had been the president of Westminster Choir College for nearly 20 years – the second-longest serving president in the college’s history.  Yes, the book he authored on choral conducting has been a standard textbook for conductors in training for decades.  Yes, he was arguably the leading world scholar on the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki.  And, yes, the list of professional accomplishments goes on and on.

But to only talk about these accomplishments is to do Doc a terrible disservice.

This weekend I’m attending an event in West Palm Beach to honor Doc and his contributions to my alma mater; alumni of the music program have been invited back to PBA to perform in the Oratorio Choir’s performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Last night was our first rehearsal with the group, and after the rehearsal many of us gathered for a social time to reconnect, speak with Doc’s family, and share some of our memories of him.  As I sat there and listed to others talk I was both reminded of Doc’s impact, and struck by the unique place he held in each of our lives.  Here were people who had come together literally from all over the world (I believe there were at least three countries and multiple states represented among those in attendance at the social), and it seemed that almost every person spoke of Doc as someone who made them feel extremely unique and special – like they had one-of-a-kind relationship with him – and that they would not be who or where they are today if it had not been for him.

I would say this was a characteristic that was true for many of us in attendance (and even many that were not there whom I still stay in contact with today).  Doc had this ability to make you feel special – no, that’s not the right way to say it…  Doc had this way of communicating to you his belief that you actually were special, that you were important, and at the same time you never once felt like you were so special the world revolved around you.  By the time I knew Doc, he used wisdom to somehow give you a confidence in yourself and your abilities that was not arrogance but was ultimately founded on a deep understanding of your role and place in the world as a deeply loved child of God.  Artists are often (accurately) accused of believing themselves to be almost god-like, or at the very least “God’s-gift-to” then fill in the blank; one of the things Doc taught me was that it was in God, specifically in Jesus – not in my art – that I found my my value and my identity.

For whatever reason Doc latched on to me – or maybe I should say he latched me on to him.  Now to be completely honest I know that my parents had met with him prior to my moving to Florida from Illinois and made him provide a personal assurance he would look out for me and watch over me in my time at Florida; they didn’t know him before I moved away from him, so there was no connection they were trying to take advantage of.  But for whatever reason, he agreed – and I will never know why Doc did so. What was it about some 18 year old, arrogant boy who grew up outside Chicago that caused Doc to look at me and say, “I want to lead that one.  I want to invest in him.”?  It had to be more than a conversation with my parents and it certainly had to be more than my musical or dramatic talent.

I have to believe it had more to do with Doc than it did with me.

During the school years Doc would have me come meet with him every week.  It started informally – he would ask me about my program of studies, we would discuss options for classes, we discussed people and friends.  Even though Doc wasn’t my advisor, he wanted to know how my classes were going, which classes I was taking and with whom.  But over time our conversations shifted.  We started having deeply theological discussions – we talked about books we had read (or were reading) by people like JI Packer, CS Lewis, or Francis Schaeffer, or we would talk about what we were learning and studying in our private prayer and Bible study times.  Doc used to call it our “devotions” – I’m not sure where the term came from, but I never argued with him about it; after-all, who was I to argue with him?

Then he would invite me to his home.  Being a college student from Chicago but studying in Florida I only went home once or twice a year.  So for 3 or 4 years I spent Thanksgiving with him at his house.  I not only got to meet his wife Ruth, but also some of his children and grandchildren – and those I didn’t meet I heard about – often – and I almost felt like I knew them as well!

Doc and Ruth became like another set of parents to me; they accepted me not just into their home, but into their family.  Every summer Doc and Ruth would travel to Poland for him to continue his studies on and with Penderecki, so it was well-known among the music students that he would have students house-sit for him for the months of May through August while they were away.  Those students were responsible to take care of the home while they lived in Europe, and, for several years, I was fortunate enough to have that responsibility.

But what many people did not understand is that when you took care of the house you didn’t just live there on your own – you lived there with Doc and Ruth.  They typically would spend part of the summer going to visit their children in Colorado and South Carolina, then they’d spend part of the summer in Poland, and then they’d often spend time visiting friends and family in other locations (South Carolina and Princeton, NJ were two regulars when I was with them).  And in between those visits they would come home – home to West Palm Beach.  But when they came home they didn’t kick you out of their house until the next trip, you stayed with them and lived with them.  So even though I would “house-sit” for them for four months, there were at least 3 or 4 weeks of that time every summer where I lived with them.

There were even multiple spring breaks where I remained in Florida (after-all, who lives in Florida and goes to Chicago for a week in February or March) and, because the dorms were closed, I lived with them.  Doc was more than a teacher, more than a mentor – he and Ruth invited me into their family and so became family.

How does one share what was learned sitting around the dinner table having conversations about politics, theology, or history?  How does one communicate the impact of evenings on the back patio talking with a mature couple what they have learned about marriage or parenting or life in general?  How can you share the impact of two people opening up not just their home but their lives to you?  That was my experience with Doc, and that was the impact I was reminded of last night listening to others talk.

I remember he and Ruth showing me which plants in the back garden needed watering while they were away – and which ones were the most precious plants and needed the most attention.  And then I remember standing out there every morning for 30 minutes a day tending the garden.  I remember painting the wall along the sidewalk in front of their house with Doc during spring break – we actually talked about the famous conductor Robert Shaw out there.  Or the times we spent together tending to the bushes in the front yard; there was a large bougainvillea vine (or tree or bush) that Doc and I would work on – resulting in both of us looking beat up as we would be covered in blood from cutting and carrying the branches filled with large thorns.  I remember painting the car port for them multiple times (one of many “projects” left behind to take care of while they were away).

I also will never forget the grace, wisdom, and even mercy they showed me in our interactions.  I know I wasn’t your stereotypical party student (okay, so I wasn’t anything close to the stereotypical party student!), but I was a kid.  Their was a security system on the home, and whichever one of us was the last person to go to bed at night was responsible to set it – so, as was normally the case, one night I went to bed late and set the system before going upstairs.  But it was a particularly beautiful night that evening and I decided after getting upstairs I wanted to go out on the second-floor balcony off his desk, so I opened the door to the patio to do so – forgetting the alarm was on.  Oops!  They came out of their bedroom around 1:00am as the burglar alarm was blaring only to find me in the hallway (because I had run back inside) and I had to apologize for waking them up.

Then there was the year I had the fish tank in the formal living room; I didn’t realize it has leaking, but when I moved out at the end of the summer there was a large mildew spot on (actually in) the hardwood floor.  Ruth mentioned it to me, but didn’t say anything else.  I remember paying to have the hardwood floors sanded and refinished throughout the entire house as a result of that mistake – though I know whatever it was that I paid (even though it was a considerable amount of money, especially for a college student in the late 90’s) was probably only a small portion of what was most likely the final bill. But they never talked about it again with me – even though I lived in the house other summers after that and then rented the house for a full year after Melissa and I married and Doc took a full 12 month sabbatical to Europe.

When things like that happened I knew I had disappointed both of them, and I also knew that even in their disappointment they still trusted me, they still respected me, and they showed me incredible grace and love.

We spent countless evenings sitting in the back room together.  We’d watch 60 Minutes or some other news program – Doc in his big chair and Ruth on the couch reading a book with me sitting there between them.  Many nights around 10:00 Doc would get up to get a “snack” – either a bowl of cereal (I think it may have been bran flakes, if memory serves), or.a bowl of butter pecan ice cream – and, many times, after finishing that snack he’d get up and come back with a second bowl of whatever his choice for the evening was.  And we’d laugh and joke about it.

When my younger sister was first diagnosed with cancer, Doc and Ruth were the first to know.  I don’t remember if I got the call when I was at their home or if I talked with my parents just before I went to there, but it was Thanksgiving of 1997.  Doc and Ruth were people who loved me, who listened to me, who ministered to me, and who prayed with me over the years of Erin’s battle with cancer and after her death in 1999.  How does one communicate the impact that that has on an individual?  They showed me true empathy – it was as if they hurt because I heart; or, more accurately, they hurt with me.

What I learned then – though I may not have been able to say until recently – is that it wasn’t just Doc I admired and learned from, it was Ruth as much as anyone.  She was the quiet, firm, consistent strength behind and under him that empower and allowed him to do what he did so well.  And, equally, it was his care, love, concern for, and service to her that allowed her to be the woman she was.  Their relationship was marked by a mutual love and respect for each other, a deep and abiding friendship that had withstood the test of time.  While I don’t know of the struggles they faced over the years, looking back I can see that their relationship was one marked by years of shared victories and probably even shared defeats, but they had come out on the other side of all those trials (whatever they were) stronger, more united, and more deeply in love with each other.  While they never shared or talked about those trails, my life experience has taught me it would be impossible for any couple go through life together without having life scars that were unseen but who made them into the people and couple they were.

Unfortunately, I was never able to communicate any of this to Doc before he died.  After I moved away from Florida I lost contact with them (meaning I stopped communicating with them) and it wasn’t until I learned of his passing that I had an opportunity to think back more clearly on the impact he had on my life, and I regret I was never able to share this with him and thank him for it.

Yet, today, I realize that it wasn’t just him – it was also Ruth.  She accepted and loved me like a son, and together they, in many ways, raised me during my college years as much as anyone did.  And for that I am both thankful and incredibly blessed.  It would be easy to say that Doc made me a better musician and teacher; he absolutely did – he allowed me to be one of his student conductors for a year and provided me some musical opportunities I would have never even dreamed of before moving to Florida.  But that would only be the smallest part of what I learned from him.

Doc and Ruth taught me how to lead, how to be responsible, how to serve, how to love, how to be faithful to other people and to Jesus in even the darkest of times.  They taught me what it was to accept someone unconditionally, to mentor him, and to invest in him.

Now, don’t get me wrong – my parents were (and still are) wonderful parents and I learned all those things from them as well; I think what I’m trying to say here is that while my parents taught and introduced these concepts and beliefs to me throughout my childhood and teen years, it was Doc and Ruth who guided my development as a young adult because they were the ones right there with me.  They took what my parents had planted that had started to grow and worked to make sure I bore fruit; just as I tended the garden while Doc and Ruth traveled, so they tended the garden my parents had planted – they watered, they weeded, and they even planted new seeds.  I would not be the person I am today without their influence and investment.  And I don’t just mean not the teacher and leader I am, but – and more importantly – I would not be the husband, the father, the friend, or the follower of Jesus I am today without them.  Their legacy in my life made an impact far beyond the 4 1/2 years I spent in school at PBA.

So, to both Doc and Ruth, thank you.  Thank you for your willingness to accept, love, trust, and invest in an 18 year old kid from Chicago.  You have made a difference in my life and, as evidenced from what I saw even last night, into the lives of countless others over the years.  And that’s just the direct impact you had, but as I think through all the people I have impacted as a result of your ministry to me (and the people whom others have impacted as a result of your ministry to them), I realize your influence has been exponential.  You both have given me much to strive for, much to aspire to.  Perhaps one day someone will say of me and my life what I am saying of you and yours.

I do miss Doc, but I look forward to seeing him again in Heaven where we will both be part of the heavenly choir.  If you happen to be in the West Palm Beach area on April 4 I would invite you to attend the concert to honor him and Ruth and their legacy.  Information can be found here.


Whom Do You Envy?

“Don’t let your heart envy sinners” is what I read in Proverbs.  Sinners?  Really?  Who envies “sinners”?  I mean, I can understand being envious of others who have more money, a bigger house, a nicer car, higher-paying job, better health, etc.  But “sinners”?  Really?


Yet as I reflect I realize that too often I fall into this trap – if I’m honest, I have to confess I too often envy the life the lost live, mistakenly thinking I’ve missed out on something.  And I don’t think I’m alone in this…  I hear this type of talk all the time from those who became Christians later in life (rather than early on) – they talk about the “sins of youthful indiscretion” when they were younger, but they talk about it as “yea, those were the good ol’ days when I had lots of fun, but now that I’m older I need to start acting my age and be mature and responsible.”  There’s almost a sense that, given the choice, the person would make the same mistakes again because it really was so much fun and the consequences were not so bad after all – it’s almost an attitude of pride towards their sin. Now I certainly can’t judge what another person really feels or thinks, so I am making an assumption here; I’m just making that assumption by what I see and hear.

0608-the-upside-oe-0941I’m reading through the book of Proverbs with the leadership group from my church, something I first mentioned in this post, and when I read the 23:17-18 it really challenged me.  I actually like the way the New Message puts the verse: “Don’t for a minute envy careless rebels.”  Too many times I look around and go, “Wow, how come I work so hard and try to do what God has called me to do, to live honorably and obey his will, and that person there is living so far from God and yet they have a better paying job, a bigger house, and a new car.  How come they don’t seem to struggle with <fill in the blank>?  How come none of their family members ever get sick?  Why doesn’t their car break down and need a repair and mine does? It just doesn’t seem fair.”  (and before you go there with the comments I know that life’s not fair, so you don’t need to remind me of that :))

I see this happening not just with individuals, but also within families – even church families.  I can not even count the number of churches I’ve know that have pastor envy, youth group envy, band envy, building envy, ministry envy, and so on – and the negative results that come from that envy…  They look at how God is moving through another pastor or church and think, “We need to have and then our church could be better.”Envy-2

But these attitudes and thoughts are not what scripture promises nor is it what this proverb advises.  We (I?) are (am) to focus on building a healthy fear of the Lord – of living in an abiding respect, admiration, and love of God through the grace given us in Jesus Christ.  Because our (my) future is ultimately not contingent upon my house, my car, my job, or even my health; it’s contingent upon my relationship with God through Jesus.  3-Blessings

And through that relationship, I am reminded, God has given me “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” and made me a “co-heir with Christ” (see Rom 8:17 and Eph 1:3).  And for that reason the lost will one day envy us.

It’s All About Grace

It’s Holy Week; more specifically, it’s Wednesday of Holy Week (also known as Spy Wednesday or Holy Wednesday).  Over the past several weeks I’ve been reading through the book Deeply Loved by Kerry Wyatt Kent as part of a Lent devotional, and today I want to take a few minutes to reflect on the importance of Holy Week.

Deeply Loved Cover

Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday), which is the Sunday before Easter, and continues through until Easter morning.  In traditional and liturgical circles there are generally a bunch of services this week and, for the first time in a decade I won’t get to participate in all of them (for the record, I have class on Thursday night and so I won’t be attending the Maundy Thursday service and on Good Friday we’ll be traveling so I’ll visit a church for their evening service).

As an arts person with a background in both music and theatre part of me just loves the drama and pageantry of Holy Week – from celebrating the triumphal entry on Palm Sunday (complete with waving of palms and processing into the sanctuary) to experiencing communion (the night of the Last Supper) and leaving a darkened and stripped sanctuary on Thursday to the quiet reflection of Good Friday to the sunrise service on Easter morning, there’s just something about going through the process that helps remind me of what Jesus did, particularly that last week of his life on Earth.

Perhaps more than anything, though, I’m reminded of the awesome grace of God that is demonstrated this week.  I’m reminded that regardless of how many times I fail – whether I say things I shouldn’t at work or fail to do my daily quiet time or whatever – regardless of what I do or don’t do God has paid the price for my sin and I’m clean before him through Jesus.  For me, Holy Week is the reminder of grace – free grace; it’s a reminder that there is nothing – nothing – I can do to earn God’s love or favor.  He did it all.  He rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to the praises of people who would later betray him; he washed the feet of the disciples who would just hours later abandon him; he suffered the betrayal of one of his closest friends who turned him over to the authorities; he suffered through an unjust and illegal trial, endured flogging at the hands of Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers, was literally nailed to a cross, and then he died.  All for me (and you, too!).  There’s nothing I can do to earn that type of love or deserve that type of love – God gave freely to me.  The drama and pageantry of Holy Week reminds me of that grace.

And after all that, Easter is when everything changes.  Jesus “done got up” from the grave – “he is not here”, but he is risen!  Grace wins!  Not only does God punish Jesus for my sins and failings (instead of punishing me), he provides a rescue by defeating death and granting me victory over death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  “Grace, grace, God’s grace” is truly “amazing grace”.

What’s Holy Week mean to me?  It means that “because of Jesus I’m alive”; it reminds me of grace.  Deeply Loved has proven a wonderful tool over the past several weeks to remind me of that love as I’ve encountered and practiced different ways to interact with and experience the presence of Jesus in my life.  I’m not perfect (at least not yet – but just wait until I get to Heaven!); I mess up every day.  But I know that because of Holy Week – because of grace – God forgives, accepts, loves, and is working to change me into the image of his son.


This is the third post reflecting on Kerry Wyatt Kent’s book Deeply Loved; if you’d like to read my first two reflections click here and here.  Today I want to reflect on her thoughts regarding service.

Kent’s words were, to me, comforting to read.  In some ways for me they almost “lowered the bar”, so to speak in regarding expectations for service, but the more I thought about it I realize how difficult what she’s writing about can be.  I’ll just be honest and say that one of the things that drives me crazy is always being asked to serve – I get tired of hearing it.  This isn’t directed at anyone in particular, so if you’re reading it and find yourself thinking, “He’s talking about me” rest assured I’m not.  Here’s my gripe though – we seem to have defined “service” as only doing some sort of formal work for the church or some community organization.  And while that’s important, service is so much more than that.  I get tired of the implication that when I don’t serve in some “official” capacity I’m not serving.

I really believe that I have three main acts of service God has given me – so when someone asks me to serve in another capacity I have to weigh it against those priorities.  I suppose it’s cliché to say it, but I take Colossians 3:23 literally – I don’t work for anyone but the Lord.  And right now he’s given me three primary responsibilities: my family, my job, and my school.  That means that I need to value family time with my wife and girls, I need to be devoted to my job and give it everything I have, and when it’s time to study I need to do that to the best of my ability.  Some people have accused me of using that to avoid service, but I don’t think it is – I truly believe I’m focusing on what is important and serving where God has called me to serve.  I will be the first to tell you I often struggle to give my wife and girls the best part of my time, which to me says I don’t need to add anything else to my plate right now.

But more than that, service is what we do every moment of every day.  It’s letting someone get off the elevator before me, or opening the door as I walk into a building.  Read what Kent writes:

“The simple things you do to care for your family, the work you do to provide for others, the way you treat customers or coworkers – all of this can be service to God, if you choose to see it that way.”

This is what I meant when I said that when I first read the chapter I felt like the bar got lowered – I was reminded that I need to view every act I do every day as service and I felt like I did that, so I felt vindicated against those who would try to convict me – here was a quote I could use to prove to them I was correct.  But then I got to the application part of the chapter, and that’s when the bar got raised again:

“A simple way to practice service is to be open to interruptions, to give your attention to those who ask for it.  When you are interrupted, decide that you will see that interruption as one that comes not from the person before you but from God.”

Well there went my feel-good moment!  I hate to be interrupted.  I’ll let the phone right (voicemail can answer) or close the office door to avoid interruptions.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but too often I’ll put off something with the girls until I finish what I’m doing.  I hate to be interrupted.    And, worse than that, I let people know I don’t like to be interrupted.  I don’t do it intentionally, but I recognize that my tone of voice and my body language communicate loud and clear that I’m not happy with the interruption.  I’m selfish, and there’s no getting around it when it glares me in the face.  Yet according to Kent, allowing for the interruption can be an act of service in itself.

Deeply Loved Cover

Last week I posted a link on my Facebook wall that someone had shared with me about the “iPhone Mom”.  I thought it was a great reminder to live in the moment, to literally allow for the interruption.  And, in all honesty, when I read it I didn’t read it as written to “mom” but to “dad” (since I’m a dad) – I wasn’t trying to put down mothers or say anything negative about them.  But boy was that a mistake – I quickly found out there was a massive back-lash against the author for writing what she wrote (you can read two of the responses here and here).  I’m not here to support or defend the post, since obviously sharing the original one got me in trouble!  But as I reflect back on it I think the reason it struck a chord with me was that author was trying to say is what Kent was saying in this application section – open yourself up to the interruption (at least that’s how I read it).

I have a long, long way to g(r)o(w) here, and I rest in the grace knowing that God is working in me, he is molding me into the person he wants me to be.  This particular day made me re-evaluate (again) my priorities, and recognize where I needed to change and improve.  And, with God’s grace, tomorrow will be better than today.

The Present

I’ve been working hard lately on this idea of being present where I am at.  It is so easy to get caught up in the next text message that comes through on the cell phone, “checking in” on Facebook when I’m out, or becoming focused on describing an experience in 140 characters or less so I can make it tweet-worthy.  Don’t get me wrong – I love social networking and I believe it is a powerful force for good, but I’ve noticed that too often I miss what’s going on around me for the sake of trying to preserve it for other people to experience by reading about on Facebook or Twitter.

This weekend I had the honor and privilege to take both my daughters out on very special Daddy-Daughter dates.  This past Monday Celeste, my 3 year old, and I attended our local Chick-fila for their annual Daddy-Daughter night.  I had to make a reservation a couple of weeks ago, and when I “asked her on a date” last weekend she was so excited.  I picked her up straight from work, and the two of us arrived at the restaurant (she in her fancy, red and black dress and me in my fancy work clothes).  I gave my name to the hostess, who then escorted us to a reserved table and we ordered chicken nuggets, french fries, and chocolate milk from the server (well, I had tea instead of milk :)).  We chatted and talked for about 15-20 solid minutes about her day, about my day, and about our plans for the rest of the evening.  Then we found out there was a limo ride!

So when it was our turn, Celeste and I got into the stretch-SUV limo, rode in it to the local convention center (about 1/2 a mile), and they dropped us off.  Once inside we did a craft project (making a ring), had our picture taken, then got back into the limo to return to the restaurant.  The entire time I made a point to not check my cell phone because I wanted to just spend time with her (though I think I took about 4 pictures); at the end of the evening we went out to one of our favorite frozen-yogurt places for desert.

Tonight Chloe (five) and I got to go on our date – this time to the Daddy-Daughter Dance put on by American Heritage Girls (which she joined this past fall).  She got all fancied up (Melissa did her hair and nails and I got her a corsage), I put on a suit, and we arrived at the location right at 6:30 when it started.  As we walked in she said, “Daddy, what do we do at a Daddy-Daughter Dance?”  Then, for the next two hours, she found out!  We danced (if you could call it that) fast songs and slow songs (at one point she looked at me when we were “slow dancing” and asked, “Daddy, are we waltzing?”).  Again, I tried to make a point of not looking at or using my cell phone while we were there (okay, I used it once, when she said, “I want to dance by myself and you sit her” to make a comment on Facebook about the music).  One thing I noticed, though, was that I was so focused on her and having fun with her that the thought of picking up my phone – even to take pictures – rarely crossed my mind; I found myself more interested in making a memory than taking a picture of a memory I was missing. (granted, it helped that I knew there were photographers all around taking pictures for us, but every time I thought “I need to get a picture of this” I literally found myself saying, “I don’t have time, because it will only distract me from her”).

I love spending time with my girls – partly because they’re just fun to be with, and partly because I really believe it’s important for them and for me.  Several weeks ago Chloe was playing Legos when I woke up from my nap (yes, I fell asleep and she was awake!), and so I went to see what she was doing.  I sat down and just watched her and chatted with her (even though I “needed” to be doing some other things, like fold laundry and read homework), but when she said, “Daddy, will you play with me?” I immediately said, “Sure – I’d love to play with you.”  So often – and I’m as guilty of this as the next person – we get distracted from what’s really important for what “needs” to be done.  When Chloe asks me a question like, “Daddy, when I get sick does that mean God’s up in heaven saying, ‘Hey – Chloe needs to be sick – so bam! now she’s sick’?” or Celeste climbs in my lap to “tell me a secret” (which is generally something along the lines of “Daddy, I love you sooooooooooo much”, I have to believe that one of the reasons they feel comfortable doing so is because we’ve spent time together.  Time together doing Legos and swinging at the park, and time together going out on Daddy-Daughter dates.

I get discouraged easily about families in my line of work (public schools) because I see so many kids without fathers, or from homes where they spend more time with a TV than they do with a person.  But tonight, holding Chloe and dancing to Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman, I was encouraged to see a room full of Dads pouring into their daughters’ lives.  I was on that “dance floor” with dozens of other guys, and I could see them moving their mouths to the words, I could hear them around me singing the lyrics to the song, as they did the same thing I did – danced with their Cinderella.

Why do I do it?  Why do I take the time to take the girls out on dates?  It used to be simply so that some day when some guy comes up to them and asks them out, they’ll know what a date should look like and how a guy should treat a girl.  But I’ve come to realize it’s more than that – it’s about investing in them, spending time with them, and letting them know they are cherished and loved – that they are special.

And one way to do that is being present where they are when they are.  It’s more than just taking them out one on one; it’s about focusing on them, turning off the cell phone, and just being present.  I realize I don’t need to tweet about it, I don’t need to check-in on Facebook about it – at least not while it’s going on – because when I do that I’m ultimately not doing it for them, but I’m doing it for me as a way to say, “Look how good a Dad I am.” to all the people who follow me (many whom I barely know).  I’m robbing from them to feed my own ego.

Yet we do it all the time – I do it all the time.  I do it with my kids when we’re playing at the park and I’m checking email, I do it with my wife when she’s trying to talk and I’m texting at the same time, I do it at my job when I’m trying to read an email while talking on the phone and responding to a question via Google chat, I even do it to God when I’m praying and I start thinking about other things instead of focusing on Him.  I need to just stop – stop and be present.  And, at least on two occasions this week, I did.

I would encourage you to do the same.  Just be where you are at when you are there – don’t worry about sharing the experience with everyone else in the world while it happens, focus on sharing it with the ones you’re with and share it with others later.  And, yes, that includes putting down the camera phone and just making the memory – don’t try to record everything, simply experience it.  That way when you think back on it and remember it you’ll remember the experience, rather than remember taking the picture of the experience you wish you had been involved in.  Stop standing on the sidelines and get in the game.  I’m not great at it – not even sure I’m any good at it most of the time – but I can tell you it’s the best place to be.

A Love Letter

At the church I attended while growing up our pastor’s wife always had a phrase I hated to hear…  Whenever she wanted to ask anyone (including me) to do something, she’d say “Don’t you want to be a helper for Jesus?” (of course, since she was from the South and had that thick accent “Jesus” was emphasized and drawn out!).  It wasn’t that I hated the phrase – it was that I knew I couldn’t ever say no because, well, after all, how could I say know to Jesus!?!?

Last year while we visited churches I found myself evaluating some churches based on people I knew who attended there.  Melissa and I had several conversations that, “I’m not sure I want to go to that church because I know some of those people outside of church and I know how they live; if that’s what kind of people attend that church, well….”  I think you get the idea.  What I was struggling with was really not people’s lifestyles but rather the issue of being “religious” on Sunday but then living the rest of the week anyway you want.  Well, that and being overly judgmental….

Then I started thinking (or maybe God started asking), “But what about me?  What do people see in me?  Do they see Jesus in me, or would they not want to come to church if I invited them because, well, I don’t do a very good job of showing people him?”  Paul says in 2 Corinthians that we are, literally, “Christ’s ambassadors” (5:20), even going so far to suggest that we are “a letter from Christ…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (3:3)  So it’s not about being a “helper for Jesus” but a “letter from Jesus”.  Which gives me pause…  What type of ambassador am I?  Would people describe me and my life as a “love letter” from God written to them?

Or would they see me as hypocritical and judgmental?  Do I operate like the world wants me to operate or as God wants me to operate?  If they visited my church and saw me standing there would they immediately go, “Wow!  So if this is where Tom goes then I want to go here too!” or would their response be, “Wow!  If this is where Tom goes maybe I need to go someplace else.”  I’m not suggesting Christians are perfect and we need to be perfect for other people, and I am absolutely in agreement that Church is for sinners – sinners saved by grace, redeemed sinners (imperfect saints).  I’m simply remembering inviting a friend to church years ago in another state and her response was, “I would never go to that church – I know for a fact several of the ‘elders’ are cheating on their wives because they’re cheating with friends of mine!”  Not exactly the response I was hoping for…

Which brings me to what happened tonight…  I was watching a little TV with Melissa and she turned on the most recent episode of one of her new favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy.  One main theme in the episode was a 19 year old who needed a blood transfusion but couldn’t get one because of his religious beliefs.  At one point a friend of his comments to one of the doctor’s that even though they hang out “every day” his friend (the patient) never “once mentioned to me that he was a Jehovah’s witness.  He never talked about it.  I kinda don’t think he is.” (his being a JW is why he can’t get a blood transfusion).  The doctor responds that maybe he’s just a private person, to which the friend says, “If you believed in something so hard you would die for it, would you keep it a secret?  Wouldn’t you at least tell your friends?”

And you could have just smacked me upside the face.   Which raised the question to me, “Would my friends even know I’m a follower of Jesus based on how I live my life?”  Would they know what I’m living for?  Would they know what I’m willing to die for?  When God writes them a love letter, don’t you think he wants them to know what he lived and died for?  And yet I’m the letter; I’m the ambassador.  What message are others receiving?  Am I keeping him a secret?

Here’s the thing with ambassadors – everyone knows who they represent.  If I at a party and someone introduces themselves to me and says, “I’m the ambassador for Argentina,” or “I’m the Saudia Arabian ambassador” I know without a shadow of a doubt who they represent (oh, by the way, I don’t foresee ever attending a party with an ambassador from another country).  Which means that for those of us who are followers of Jesus, people should know who we represent.  Sometimes that’s communicated by our actions, but it also needs to be communicated by our words.  And this is where I struggle the most – sharing my faith through my words.  The last thing I want someone to do is say I kept a secret from them.  Because, in fact, I have the greatest secret ever told – but it’s a secret that’s not supposed to be a secret; it’s a secret I’m supposed to tell.

And what’s that secret?  That I’m an ambassador for Jesus.  What’s that mean?  Jesus died to repair a broken relationship between us and God, and then he rose again from the dead so that we could experience a new relationship with God.  That’s the secret: God loves us and sent his son to die for us.  And in him we can have eternal life and the forgiveness of sins.  And part of that love letter from God to others is me – my life; they need to both hear the secret but also see it lived out in front of them.  We are the love letter.

If our friends and family don’t hear the secret from us, from who will they hear it?