Our quirky landlord said something to me the day Lydia was born. “I learned once they come out, you can’t put them back in.”
Thoughts flooded my mind. She, was our responsibility for the next 20 some years. She is totally dependent on us. She needed me now. No more running down to the South Side for a Sox game. No more pickup basketball games at Lombard Chapel. (Actually marriage had somewhat eliminated some of these youthful pursuits of mine) Will I be able to provide an adequate income to feed her/clothe her/house her/educate her/spiritually train her? God, am I adequate for this? He answered, yes of course, “children are a gift from the LORD” scripture says in Psalm 127:3. If He, in His perfect wisdom gave me a child, wouldn’t He also give me what I need to carry out this overwhelming task as a father?
That day was 22 years ago. Three more kids, three more moments of am I adequate? More questions, boys? I hear they’re a different animal. Where’s the instruction manual?
Thursday we took Jamie to college. At least he’ll be close. This morning we took John to the airport to go off to college for another year. Lydia is a working adult, praise God, but far away too. We do have Grace left for another two years unless she decides she would just like to live with her parents. Everything was cool until I walked into what was the boys shared bedroom for most of their life.
The boys still have what I’ll call a bookcase of memories. It contains trophies of athletics (go Antigo little league champion Red Sox!) academics, and some Awana trophies. There’s a picture of a living (well dead) trophy largemouth bass John caught after ignoring my advice of where to dangle his worm! There are souvenirs, a sharks tooth, dinosaurs made of clay, items that would never bring more than a few cents on one of those pawn shows but of great value in this house. There’s a baseball, a game ball awarded to Jamie for “his first homerun”, a classic little league homerun on a batted ball that traveled 3 or 4 feet and then was thrown all over the park.
As I looked through the shelf a sense of nostalgia kicked in, but also a sense of satisfaction. All those day of birth questions have been answered, or at least mostly answered. God in His great and awesome strength had seen us through this process. It’s been joyful, fun, hilarious, (“how bad do you have to go” we asked John in the car during hurricane season. He replied, it’s a category 5 urinecane!) a great adventure. I know our job as parents never ends, but you know when we drop kids off at the airport and watch them fly away for the next 4 months, well, it’s mostly over!
So these thoughts have been rolling through my brain this week. And then I watch the news, read the newspaper and thoughts of fathering shifts. It’s been a tragic week. A 9 year old boy in Chicago, playing in his yard, shot. A 7 year old boy riding in his car with his mom here in Baton Rouge, shot. A five year old, also at home here, beat to death by his father. Three boys no longer with us adding to their own bookcase of memories.
“How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save.” These are not my words but of a little known prophet named Habakkuk. He questioned God. God answered him. I will take care of the violence among you. It will happen in a way you may not like, but I will take care of it.
Since my kids have been very little I have prayed for their protection. I pray for protection from serious accidents, illnesses, harm at the hands of others and even protection from the ways of this world. But I have also prayed for God to give us His grace to comfort us and strengthen us should we need it in a case of extreme hardship regarding the children.
Please pray for children. Not just your own. Pray for the children who are in harms way in this dangerous world. Better yet, get involved, particularly with children who don’t have a father, or a mother. You probably don’t have to go far. There’s probably kids in your church who fit this category. Tutor if you’re able. If you’re looking for something to do, go to your local elementary school or high school, and ask. Counsel at camp. Look up the boys and girls club in your town and find out if volunteers are needed. Coach if you can. Teach Sunday School.
But don’t forget these children have parents. When possible, come alongside them, not in an intimidating way, ie, “I’ve got it together and I’m here to help you”, but in a way that maintains their dignity, ie, “I’m a parent too, what do you do that works?” Establishing relationships with people is a scriptural model. Look at these words of Paul and tell me if this happens without relationships: “We urge you brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
As a father of children who are approaching adulthood, I now encourage them to do the same.
Have you ever had the experience of seeing something for the first time that has been right in front of you for many years? I lived in a pink bedroom for a year once and didn’t notice it until my wife mentioned she was surprised I’d tolerated a pink bedroom for that year, granted it wasn’t hot pink, but I was still oblivious.
This has been happening to me a lot lately it seems. In Louisiana we have these wonderful little creatures called Anoles, they’re a small lizard. I’ve enjoyed watching them, getting them out of the house, once with his squirming little tail still left in my hand. As I’ve watched them I’ve seen them do things that I’ve never stopped and said ‘Wow’! Anoles are like chameleon’s. They change color! They can instantly change to blend into the background of where they are. I’m not sure if they’d gotten into our pink bedroom that they would have had that ability. Another amazing ability of the anole is what you can see in the picture. The anole is ‘standing’ on the ceiling of our front porch. I guess hanging is the more appropriate term. Not sure what he’s hanging on. The vinyl is very smooth. If I’d reach up it’d scurry away upside down and change red as it hits the red brick on the house. What we take for granted is truly amazing. God, I believe, had designed these amazing little common creatures to confound us, and I’m sure many have as they ponder how they ‘adapted’ these abilities.
Something else I’ve not thought of lately is the lyrics of words that are on the radio. I recall just out of high school I was driving with some of my high school buddies. A song came on with a chorus of “feel like making love”. Needless to say it wasn’t Christian radio, and really to that point in my transition to adulthood I sure hadn’t thought of what these words are really saying. Well, it’s still happening to me with songs on the radio, now with Christian radio, or songs about Christianity on the radio. A few years back it was a song with a line “I am a flower quickly fading”. Well I hear something about me being a flower and I’m tuning out. Give me songs with words like “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “A mighty fortress…” and my attention is fully engaged, but not some flowery song. Well at youth group this song pops up on the powerpoint. I listened in awe of these words. The song is called Who Am I? Here’s what the song says:
Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt.
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart.
Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are
What had been background noise on the radio as I scurried around in the car was enlightened by the Holy Spirit in my mind as I watched a roomful of junior highers sing these tremendous words. How could I have missed this for years because I hear something about flowers and tune out?
Well I didn’t learn my lesson. It happened again Saturday night. We attended the last session of a wonderful conference called the CCDA. The Christian Community Development Association is an organization that works with underserved and oppressed peoples around the world. The CCDA has some family connections and is at least partially responsible for us moving to Baton Rouge. One of the highlights of the conference are the times of joyous worship. We sang another one of these radio songs Saturday night. Just on in the background of my trips around town or in the house, I never stopped to hear the words. But listen to these!
“Your Great Name”
All condemned; feel no shame, at the sound of your great name
Every fear; has no place; at the sound of your great name
The enemy; he has to leave; at the sound of your great name
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name
Hungry souls; receive grace; at the sound of your great name
The fatherless; they find their rest; at the sound of your great name
Sick are healed; and the dead are raised; at the sound of your great name
You are high and lifted up; that all the world will praise your great name
My savior, Defender, You are My KingYou can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCg3HU1jhVAWhen will I learn? I wonder how many times I’ve heard this song before singing it Saturday night? Probably more than 10. A song that extols the amazing love and saving grace and might of Jesus Christ is just background noise? I pray this won’t happen again, although it probably will.
One last realization I’ve recently had. I am beginning my 20th year of teaching students in many challenging settings. 20 years, the number struck me. God has sustained me for 20 years. 20 years ago I would have said I could not do this for 20 years. I’ll just do my time for a year or two so that I can brag that I taught some tough kids for a couple years, then move on to one of the Glenbards or Wheaton schools and settle in for a nice comfortable career. Except that’s not what happened. Now I have acknowledged God’s role in all of this before this 20 year benchmark, but it struck me the other day. 20 years, not by my strength, but by His. I know I can’t go on for another year doing this, but I do know that He will empower me to go on for many more years! I’m young! And I’m learning to see what He wants me to see!
What is justice? To a Chicagoan, it’s a southwest suburb of the city, to a baseball fan he’s a superstar of the 90’s. To a Superman fan it’s what he’s all about. To most Americans it’s something that’s supposed to take place in court. To a Christian it’s an attribute of God that He desires for mankind.
Take a poll out on a street corner and ask this question. What is the book of Proverbs about? Even to the non churchgoer out there, they probably know that it’s a book about wisdom for living. It’s a bunch of really good advice so that you can get along with others, not get fired, and generally live a contented life. Certainly this is true about Proverbs. However a recent re-reading of the book revealed many verses about the way in which we should work for justice for the poor.
“I walk in the way of righteousness, In the midst of the paths of justice” Proverbs 8:10
“To do righteousness and justice Is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.” 21:3
“The exercise of justice is joy for the righteous.” 21:15
How do you exercise justice? Let me describe two examples here that involve our political system.
Example 1. Baton Rouge has a public transit system called Capitol Area Transit System (CATS) CATS is a vital lifeline to thousands of poor here in Baton Rouge and its’ suburbs. CATS has not done the best job in running the system. They need more money, and so it appeared on our ballots for a vote recently. A vote against the CATS tax would threaten to shut it down permanently. Obviously this is a gut-wrenching decision. A vote for it will, if city leaders are to be believed, would lead to an improved system. The people who depend on CATS (mainly the poor) won’t have to endure hour waits at bus stops (did I mention Baton Rouge is very hot, and very rainy?).
The CATS tax is a hefty one to pay for property owners. On a house like ours we’d have about 200 bucks added to our taxes. (Our property taxes are extremely low here in Louisiana so it really isn’t that big of a deal). A vote against CATS is a vote against an infefficient city ‘business’ that will probably squander the money we pay them in taxes.
Vote for the poor, or vote for taxes to stay low for us? Doing justice, a mandate for Christ followers helps inform our choice.
The second issue involves the schools of Baton Rouge. Louisiana schools are organized by Parish. There are not city school districts or town districts like in many parts of the country. For example, there are Chicago Public Schools. In a system like Louisiana there’d be Cook County Public Schools. There is a procedure that allows the people of town to secede from the parish school system. This has happened several times in the Baton Rouge area.
There is a new attempt to secede from the Parish school system. The state legislature is in the process of putting it on the ballot for the people of Louisiana to vote to allow for the new school district to form. Baton Rouge schools are a large city system (I happen to be employed by them). They’ve got quite a few failing schools. It experienced a desegregation/bussing controversy that lasted 40 some years. Ironically bussing led to white flight (and middle class flight) and the parish school system became overwhelmingly African American.
The new school system will undergo an interesting demographic change. According to preliminary estimates, it will be about 75% white. Currently there is a large poor community in south Baton Rouge that attend the schools in the area that will secede. Those seceding will not include students from the large poor community who will then be absorbed into other schools which aren’t as successful as the ones they will be forced to leave. We will be given the opportunity to vote to allow this part of Baton Rouge to secede. A vote to allow it is a vote to doom poor students to low performing schools.
Two votes for justice for the poor. One vote occurred already. The CATS tax passed in Baton Rouge. 1 for 1 thus far. The vote breakdown revealed that it was widely voted against in middle class areas and widely supported in poor areas. Another vote for the school issue is forthcoming. Let’s hope that voters in Louisiana will vote with justice in mind regarding the schools.
These are justice issues that Christians are expected to be concerned about. Too often I have thought of my own well being when voting. But these issues prove that voting can be a simple but effective way to act justly.