Together We Go

ImageI’m fortunate to be married to an exceptional woman. Case in point: I had to re-submit my book manuscripts to Amazon and Barnes & Noble because I accidentally misspelled my son’s name in the dedication (the curse of typing too fast and arrogantly thinking you don’t need to proof the stupid dedication; let that be a lesson to you writers out there), and I noticed that for $25, Amazon would add your book to the distribution list for bookstores, libraries, and academic institutions. I mentioned that fact to Rachel.

“Let’s do it!” she said.

I looked at her. She was smiling. She was serious. I laughed and told her I would rather spend the money on getting my own website.

“Let’s do it!” she chirped.

She is the world’s greatest wife. Polish the trophy, engrave her name, hand it to her tomorrow. Game over.

It’s funny because a lot of people have only heard my side of the story lately; that we stepped away from everything that we knew because I felt strongly that now was the time to focus on my writing career. But we also stepped away from the familiar so Rachel could pursue her dreams, find her purpose. She’s an exceptional administrator and manager, a bold yet kind voice in the midst of chaos who can take the swirling vortex of creative ideas and pull them down into the corporeal world, giving them form and weight and substance.

In short, she can take the poop storm you and I encounter everyday and turn it into a sensible, productive reality. It’s darn near a superpower.

She’s been doing this her whole life, of course, but she’s always followed a different path, because she believed her purpose was teaching. Seven years in public schools and even more in church settings have taught her that teaching is a great skill she possesses, but it’s not her purpose. And that’s okay, because it means that she’s on the verge of something great herself.

Which brings me back to the happily married part. Most people would be freaking out during times like these, times when neither of us have a secured job, when we’re both waiting on God to deliver something amazing instead of chasing something average. And that’s the key: we’re both waiting. We’re both searching. We’re both in a position to make this leap of faith, so wherever we go, we go together.

Together, no matter where we land. Like it’s supposed to be.

Hopefully, you can say the same.


A Quiet Citizen

EqualIt’s been a big week for expressing your opinion on the state of things in our country. With the Supreme Court hearing arguments on Prop 8 and DOMA, lots of people are making their sentiments known via Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media. I know in my feeds, an awful lot of people have changed their profile pic to the red equal sign. While my social network isn’t a microcosm of society at large, it does show that things have changed in the past few years.

Of course, there are also those friends who’ve changed their profile pic to a red plus sign, or to a red man and woman. But despite the pictorial tit-for-tat, I’ve not come across any ugly exchanges. In fact, the attitude seems to be detente – each side has stated their case, and the court will decide.

I’m not here to rehash old arguments, nor am I really interested in the issue at all. I think it’s a significant moment in our national history – and I think it likely that the SCOTUS will decide against Prop 8 and DOMA in some shape or form – but personally it doesn’t get me riled up. It actually gives me a headache. Kind of like the Starbucks boycott some people are trying to get off the ground.

So why the post? Well, I’ve been teaching about morality the past couple of weeks. I expected it to be a big deal, a point of discussion for my students that created passionate exchanges and conversations that carried over for days. I pictured a classroom full of gravitas and insight.

Instead, I got a big fat face full of “Eh.”

First, a caveat – I teach this class at 7:30 in the morning, and sometimes it’s all I can do to show up and remain awake. I’m well aware that I’m essentially asking for the moon, but a man with dreams can set his sights high, can’t he? So, the lack of discussion doesn’t exactly surprise me.

What has caught me off guard is that the students I teach don’t labor under the same hindrances as me. Whereas I’m learning a crap ton about what God has to say about morality and its impact and influence on our lives (and how we approach others on matters of morality), my students have a “been there, heard that” look in their eyes that makes me feel like an antiquated dope.

They don’t wrestle with the issue of God’s sovereignty and His authority to determine morality on His terms. They don’t question God’s fairness. They don’t wrestle with legalism or delusions of moral superiority. They understand that their main moral objective is to live obediently, taking a stand with grace and forgiveness when such a stand is called for. They feel no pressure to try and solve the world’s problems; they truly believe that when it’s their turn they’ll do what they can, and trust God for the rest. They wish to be quiet citizens.

And I’m like: dang, dudes. Guess we’ll finish up a little earlier than I anticipated. Good job!

I’m generalizing, of course; there is some push back on certain issues, but for the most part, everyone seems to have the same attitude – that they’ll stand for the Lord when such a stand is necessary, not when someone panics and wants to start a movement. Curiously, they’ve not panicked over the past couple of days. I find that fascinating.

I just saw a Facebook post from Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, and while I know Dr. Mohler is decidedly pro-traditional marriage, his statement carries much wisdom – a wisdom I find reflected in my students. I leave it with you as a closing statement.

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Another Year Gone By…

ImageToday is my 37th birthday. Or at least that’s what Facebook would have me believe. Over 125 birthday well-wishes thus far, so I guess I’ll face the facts: I’m middle-aged.

Thirty-seven. Three years away from 40. Thirteen away from fifty. Twenty-three away from sixty. As my grandfather used to say, “Lord, where does the time go?”

When I was a kid, I figured I’d be an astronaut by now. Then I learned that astronauts had to be good at math, so that dream died a horrific death. Next up was cowboy; but you have to be good with guns and enjoy camping out a lot for that gig. So I moved on: fighter pilot (poor eyesight); superhero (too skinny); super villain (too risk-averse); actor (too much in love in with not starving to death).

Eventually, I settled on writer. Naturally, I settled on that about 15 years too late. But better late than never, right? And this year is shaping up to be my best yet as a professional writer – I’m already near the half-way mark for highest annual earnings, and it’s not even February yet. Plus, people are actually liking what I’m writing and asking me to write for them again. How cool is that?

Thirty-seven has also brought family into focus. Never would I have imagined myself as a husband; the idea of a woman allowing me to sleep next to her for the rest of her natural life was a idea so far removed from reality that I filed it next to “Government Proposals That Make Sense” in the Snowball’s Chance department. But I met Rachel and life wonderfully changed. She wished me a happy birthday this morning, and I quite honestly pointed out that everyday she’s been with me has been happy – just because she’s there. That’s a nice feeling.

Marriage has led to family, and if you’ve read even a couple of my other blogs, you know fatherhood doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. But Ella and Jon make my life so worth living that other things pale in comparison (even if my son is currently hitting me in the head with a foam bat while whispering, “I want you to throw me the ball!”). Each day has its share of challenge and reward, and while I might collapse into bed exhausted, it’s definitely worth it.

Recently, the youth of my church threw a benefit concert in honor of my family to help with our medical expenses. Over 200 people came. The youth completely organized the event from start to finish (with special help from my brother, Ryan Brooks, whom I love dearly) and pulled off a great evening. It’s humbling and challenging to know that so many people love you like that. It’s like having your funeral before you die; you get to see how much your life mattered. And now, I get to go out and make it count even more.

That’s a gift.

So another year has gone by. One more page turned in the calendar, one more chapter in the proverbial story of my life complete. I feel like I’m just getting to the good stuff; and while there will be many challenges ahead (braces, first dates, proms, weddings, incontinence), there will be plenty of reward too. And God willing, I’ll get to go through it all being who I’m meant to be, loving whom I love the most, doing my part to make the world a little better than it was yesterday.

Like I said: a gift.

Happy birthday to me. On to thirty-eight.


MawMaw and Pop, on their 50th wedding anniversary. Today marks an anniversary of a much different sort.

In my grandmother’s house is a little brown desk. It sits in front of two windows that look out on her front yard and the cars that race precariously by on Lenora Church Road. The desk is what you might call charming – a polite Southern word that means it’s old but not antique, nice but not expensive. My grandmother has topped it with a handmade lace doily, a little lamp, and her laptop computer.

Of all the things that I thought I would never see in my grandmother’s house, a sleek black laptop had to be near the top of the list. And yet there it sits, closed and reverent, an electronic monk just waiting for its daily exercise.

Each night, when she’s tired of tossing and turning in her bed, my grandmother gets up, turns the computer on, and visits the world of Cyberspace. And the little computer goes to work.

Mostly it takes her to Facebook, where she can look at the faces of the people she loves: her sons, her daughter, all of her grandkids and great-grandkids too. Sometimes she’ll leave a comment, a little verbal graffiti to let the world know she’s watching, but mostly she just glides silently through the gigabites of information like a tourist: interested, but far from home.

She’ll play a game or two – puzzles mostly – and the little computer moves with enough speed to let her get engrossed, sparing her the tiny but aggravating frustration of having to wait for refresh. Blocks will fall into place, words will go in their correct spaces, and time will pass unnoticed, which for her is a gift. Lost in an entirely different world, the pains of this one seem smaller somehow.

After a while she’ll go back to bed to toss and turn some more. Soon enough the sun is up, which means that the day and all of its regular worries and chores and minutes awaits. She gets busy so the day can get lost.

Others encourage her to get out, to travel, to live. And MawMaw does; she’s not cloistered herself away by any means. Her spirit, her will to live, is simply too strong for her to just lay down and do nothing. But after 62 years of routines – work routines, home routines, garden routines, health routines – it’s not easy to just throw the rhythm of your life to the wind willy nilly.

And without your companion of those 62 years to share life with, it’s sometimes downright impossible.

That’s what makes the little brown desk, with its sleek black portal of escape, such a comforting place. It’s a way to connect, to get out, minus the hardship.

If that were all to the story, it would be enough. But there’s more.

I hadn’t thought about it until I went to visit my grandmother last week. We were sitting at the kitchen table, which is on a diagonal across the room from the little brown desk. We chatted about everything under the sun – family, her garden, some upcoming trips – but spent most of our time talking about today, August 29th.

The first anniversary of my grandfather’s death.

As we talked – well, as she talked; I just listened – the pain and anxiety came up into her face, and I knew that today would be the hardest day she’s faced since the same day last year. She would have to say goodbye all over again. She would have to relive her greatest heartache, and in a life full of painful memories, that’s saying something. She would be powerfully reminded that she is now alone.

And as she was saying all of this, it hit me: the little brown desk and its sleek black computer sit in the exact same spot where my grandfather’s hospice bed stood. In the middle of the night, when she can’t feel his body next to hers in bed, she retreats to the last place his presence was felt, the last physical space she occupied with the love of her life.

And as she sits there, connected to the Internet, she connects to him too.

I’m no fool. I know that one day in the future that little brown desk will stand empty, the sleek black computer unused. One day, she will leave us too, and when she does I believe with all my heart that she will find herself in his arms, dancing across eternity, in a place where death is a powerless dream.

God help me, I hope that’s years from now.

But when that time does come, my heart will simultaneously weep and laugh, because that small spot in that small house on Lenora Church Road will radiate with memories, will radiate with both of their presences. When she is gone too, I’ll stand in that spot and feel connected – with her, with him, with my entire history. I’ll stare at the little brown desk and think of her, whiling away the hours in an imaginary world while dreaming of seeing Pop again in a world that exists beyond our imaginations.

Today, on a painful anniversary, that blessed hope of connection to loved ones present and passed is what makes the day bearable.

And it is enough.

As Much As I Love Her

Now THAT’S love. Or brain damage. Of course, some might argue they’re one and the same…

This is a picture of my wife and I kissing.

Yeah, underneath all of that flour and chocolate syrup and whatever flying insects managed to get trapped in the goo are myself and my bride, Rachel. We volunteered to be human sundaes if the kids at our VBS could raise $1800 for a mission project. It was a boys vs. girls competition; if the boys won, Rachel would get gunked. If the girls won, I was to go under the drizzle of death.

They raised $2000. $1000 per team. Dead even.

So everybody won. Our mission team got money to do some good work in the Dominican Republic, our VBS workers and kids got to have fun getting the two of us messy, and we got to do something outrageously fun together.

Of course, it’s only natural for us to do this. Saturday marks our 11th wedding anniversary and I believe that we have celebrated our anniversary by doing VBS every single year. Without fail. We’ve never taken a trip, never gone out to dinner, never really done much of anything because we’ve been doing VBS. And loving every minute of it.

As a minister, this is my role. My purpose. To serve the church and its people, to sacrifice myself for the greater good. I’m happy to do it because I believe in the God I proclaim, and feel like it’s the best way to spend my life.

But I also know that I am incredibly blessed to have a wife who’ll not only tolerate my job, not merely support me, but will stand toe to toe with me in ministry. I’ve known plenty of men who sacrificed their marriage on the altar of ministry; some because they let the ministry become more important than their marriage, others because their spouse just couldn’t stay. I’m not judging any of those who’ve gone through that – I’m just saying that I am eternally grateful for a wife who works beside me.

And that’s the point of a marriage, isn’t it? To be in a relationship with that one person you can’t live without, to celebrate the joys and share the sorrows of life with someone who knows you in the most intimate ways possible?

While you may not go in for what the Bible has to say about marriage, the point of the institution is lay bare the human heart – to teach us how to be open and vulnerable with someone else. To be an illustration of what a relationship with God is meant to be: for better or worse, for rich or poor, in sickness and health.

Marriage is, in essence, a life of faith.

I know for me, I could not have put my faith in someone else besides Rachel. I don’t claim to know everything, but I’m pretty darn certain that no one else could have ever been better suited to be my partner for the rest of our lives. And over the past eleven years, that truth has be affirmed and reaffirmed so much that I can’t picture myself ever loving someone as much as I love her.

I mean, we can’t even sleep if the other one isn’t nearby.

I remember something I read about the late John Wooden, legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins, and his wife, Nellie. After her death, Coach Wooden would write her a letter every month and add it to a stack on her side of their bed. At the time the article was written, the stack was over three feet high. Coach Wooden slept in the bed he shared with his wife, but only on his side, and only beneath the cover – never between the sheets.

His reason? He wanted what he shared with his beloved wife to remain theirs.

Some people call that kind of devotion antiquated, impractical, unrealistic. I call it true love.

And I’m grateful that’s what Rachel and I have. Happy anniversary, Rachel, if a few days early.

I’m glad we’re together, forever, for better or worse, rich or poor, chocolate syrup or flour.