Happy Birthday to My Beloved

#33

 

Lindsey,

You are a joy in spite of having been pregnant for the last five years. I can’t even imagine the struggle you’ve put your body and emotions through. I know it has a mental effect because milk doesn’t go in the pantry. You’ve excelled at being mom. I go back and look at the pictures that mark our journey over the last 9 years and am blown away to see how you’ve become more beautiful inside and out….and when I say beautiful on the outside I’m talking hot, caliente, en fuego! (I’d put a chili pepper emoji here). Inside of course, it’s your love for the Lord and His kingdom that has grown and blossomed that has made all the difference.

Marriage is a sanctifying force unlike any other, and we’re both closer to the image of Christ because of it. He’s used you to reveal where I’ve tried to shut the Spirit out. He’s used you to make me a better preacher, teacher, pastor, and friend. You challenge me when others are silent, and it’s so sweet to my soul. Somehow I’ve come home everyday and you haven’t thrown all of my stuff in the yard, which is miraculous considering how many times I’ve been a jerk and antagonist and just flat out selfish.

Here we are on this amazing road together, part of one another’s story in the most beautiful of ways. We could never or would have never written it the way it’s gone. It’s scary to think how much easier of a story we would’ve chosen to write, but how much less fun would it have been to read?

I know people hear us talk sometimes and must think, “Why’d they have all these kids if they drive ’em crazy all the time?” To which we say, ” Come into our home and experience the cyclone of emotion that is 4.5, 3, and 1.5 + third trimester pregnant. We have some tough moments. But we love the madness. And while you’re at it, keep your judgment to yourself.” Yes, we say all that.

You do you, babe. Because there’s only one of you and you’re the only one I want. Have some of those Snickers bites and pound some decaf caramel frappes and get your nails done and binge on some Grey’s Anatomy (it’s not real, just a reminder). Here’s to you and us–growing older, earning wrinkles, wondering how we’ll survive at times, wishing we knew where Caroline is hiding all the caps to the markers, a dirty van, lots of ‘for the loves’, and a general sense of desperation. Life with you is incredible. Happy 33.

 

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Our newest snow bunny

 

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Dear Leader, Become Irrelevant

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. ~ Henri Nouwen

These words were penned by one who made himself irrelevant by serving in an out of the way community for the last years of his life. Though highly capable and aptly credentialed, Henri Nouwen died caring for men and women with developmental disabilities.

His words reminded me of Eugene Peterson’s counsel for pastors to avoid wanting to be “where the action is.” In layman’s terms, be wary of the spotlight. Above all, don’t seek it out. Seeking such things opens the door to a monstrous world of soul-deep evils.

How do you keep from seeking center stage? Or have your eyes opened if those grotesque evils start seeping through?

It takes being known. The moment you begin closing yourself off to being truly known and WANTING to be known, be certain that your desire for relevance and subsequent invulnerability will distance you from good leaders and potential co-laborers.

Before long you will have a ‘yes’ team around you that doesn’t bother challenging or prodding. Or, if they do, you’ll ignore their counsel and do what you want regardless. And you’ll be weaker for it. The body will be weaker for it.

But Christ will not be stalled. His work will endure.

Sincerely,

A recovering spotlight seeker

Taking EVERY Though Captive, Really?

One of the positives of being a dreamer is the possibility of what could be.

One of the negatives of being a dreamer is the possibility of what could be.

It’s one thing to dream about making something better or starting something fresh, but it’s another thing to try to live that out before it happens–if it’s going to happen at all–and to imagine that whatever you’re dreaming actually exists and is being enjoyed by others right now. That’s the part I have trouble with.

I imagine the imaginary future, the possibilities, all the what ifs and so on. Result?

Discouragement, dissatisfaction, and discontentment with the present. Yep, all the d-words…

So I was expressing these feelings the other day, and Lindsey reminded me that I need to take every thought captive.

The nerve of my wife to throw Scripture at me! Right?? She didn’t go to seminary like me. Which is probably why she’s more in tune with reality than me (only seminarians and seminary spouses would understand).

The apostle Paul writes about “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, HCSB).

EVERY THOUGHT. That’s just exhausting. But like Paul writes just before, “For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds…(verses 3-4).  Love that last part I underlined. Demolition. There’s nothing gentle or sweet about that.

I would easily say that my dreaming and subsequent discontentment has been a stronghold. The lie of something better, grass that’s greener, or whatever analogy floats your boat. It’s exhausting. I want to live into what Jim Elliot urged, “Wherever you are, be all there!” I want to demolish those strongholds by the power of the Spirit of Truth.

Jesus said today has its own troubles. Today has more than enough to keep you occupied. Stop worrying about tomorrow and your five-year plan. Just be obedient to Jesus today. And the next day. And repeat.

As thoughts arise, measure them against the truth of God’s Word.

  • Is this thought leading me closer to Christ?
  • Is it stirring affections for the Lord?
  • OR is it leading me into one of those d-words?
  • Ultimately, if I run with this thought and let it linger, will I end up in sin of some sort?

God be with you (and me) in taking EVERY thought captive to obey Christ today.

 

God of the Lost

Nothing crazy happened.

I didn’t have a radical experience.

I was just driving along in my car.

That’s the thing about God. He can get to you anywhere and at any time.

See, I’ve been a hypocrite. Who hasn’t, right?

I’ve preached and pleaded for people to care about the lost, those who are far from God. What I really meant was invite them to church and I’ll do the evangelizing.

Then I thought about Luke 15. I hadn’t read Luke 15 in a long time, but if you’re churched enough it kind of sticks with you. It’s a trilogy of lost things: a sheep, a coin, and a son.

  • God is the one who leaves the 99 sheep to find the 1 lost sheep.
  • God is the one who turns the house upside down to find 1 lost coin and then calls and mass texts everybody in His contact list to invite them to rejoice with Him. (And there are lots of emojis)
  • God is the one who grabs the bottom of His garment and runs shamelessly to embrace the son who once was lost but now is found. And then He throws a party that makes the Kardashians look like toothless kids having a tea party.

He’s the God of the lost. He wants the never-been-here and the used-to-be-here souls.

I can’t be near to God and not have a heart for people far from God. That has been my hypocrisy for too long.

 

Majoring on the Marginal and Marginalizing the Majors

full_good-news-of-great-joyTo begin my devotional time each morning leading up to Christmas, I’ve been reading the brief, daily entries in John Piper’s Advent devotional Good News of Great Joy (free to download). This morning’s reading centered on the supernatural star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem and the manger.

Like Piper, I have heard possible explanations of how such a star could have appeared and why this phenomenon is explainable.

The caution that Pastor John gives is something I needed to hear 10 years ago when I was getting sidetracked with non-central pursuits in theology and biblical studies:

“I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance…People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal.”

Full disclosure here: I was THAT guy in seminary and for some time thereafter.

The subsequent truth Piper pens was true for me: “You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel–the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book.There is little centered rejoicing.”

For all the pontificating, in other words, there is very little praising. For all of the ‘scholarly’ reasoning, there is very little rejoicing. They / I / we slowly and subtly begin majoring on the marginal and marginalizing the majors. 

If the objects and subjects of our study and thinking do not influence the way we live, chances are they are marginal–tentative in the end, with very little spiritual significance.

Cherish deeply the central things of the gospel this Christmas.

Christ be with you.

Letter to My Little Buddy (For Whenever He Can Read Complex Sentences)

halloween 2015If you haven’t heard, we’re having another girl. As my wife put it, “We’re hanging another pink ornament on our family tree.” We love our girls.

But we both also wanted another boy. We prayed for a boy. The Lord had different plans.

Lindsey and I weren’t alone in wanting another shot of testosterone in the mix. Ben REALLY wanted a little brother. In fact, telling B mommy’s pregnant with a girl was one of those, “How are we going to break it to him” things. He was devastated. He just didn’t understand why God chose for him to have another sister. He slept in our bed that night, which only slightly assuaged his heartbreak.

Here’s a letter that, in due time, I hope will help my 4 year old little buddy understand how important his roles as brother is.

 

Little Buddy,

You told mommy and daddy for weeks that you want a baby brother. You wanted to tackle and play guns and Star Wars with him. That’s why it was so hard for us to tell you that mommy is having a girl…another sister. I know you love your sisters. Even though you get frustrated when Caroline messes up your neatly engineered train tracks or Nora Jane steals your drink when you turn your back, you love them. I see it. And they know it, too.

Like you, I thought about how much fun three Mitchell guys could have together and all the things you’d want to show a little brother. Even now, it’s hard to think that we won’t have another little boy. But mommy and daddy trust that God knows what’s best for our family and for His family.

When I saw mommy’s super mommy announcement picture telling everyone “IT’S A GIRL!”, I had a deep sense of gratitude. I wLetter to My Little Buddyas grateful that God gave us a boy first. I’m so thankful He gave you to us, little buddy. I love being your dad. I love that you’re my son. You have mommy’s eyes and face and hair, but you have the lack of a rear to prove that you’re mine too. You don’t like loud noises, and I never have either.

It’s amazing how much influence you have with your sisters. Nora Jane wants to do WHATEVER you’re doing. When she runs into the living room so proud that she has your far too large pajamas on, I melt. She adores you. And she protects me from your light saber attacks and sniper shots. When you have a great attitude and are obedient, Nora Jane follows suit, and I think Caroline will do the same very soon.

You have been entrusted with a great deal of responsibility, buddy. God is giving you three girls to look out for, to set the pace for, and to help point to Jesus. I can’t fathom now how much your walk with the Lord as a young man will color how Nora Jane, Caroline, and baby girl view Jesus. That’s why mommy and daddy pray with you everyday, for your heart to be sensitive to the leading of the Spirit and for your wife to be a godly woman from a godly family (preferably one we know and love).

I had a lot of theological ideas about the love of God several years ago. But you put flesh on those otherwise heady, lifeless ideas. It rocked my world to hold my boy, to give you a name and call you my own. And that’s what I pray the Lord does in your life–that He calls you by name, adopts you as His own son, and you walk with Him in obedience.

Love those little girls well, buddy. I’m going to need your help at school because they’re going to be drop dead gorgeous, just like mommy.

There’s no boy I would rather call my little buddy than you, Ben Mitchell.  There’s not another one like you.

Love you with all my heart,

Daddy

 

That Time I Wanted to Name Our Son Benjamin Franklin Mitchell

The creative writing teacher at the school where I teach put up a flyer for a contest, and on that flyer is a quote from Benjamin Franklin–“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

“Easy for you to say,” Ben. That’s what I think anyway. A world-traveler. One of the most brilliant men of his day, perhaps of this day as well. An innovator. Inventor. I wanted to name our firstborn Benjamin Franklin Mitchell. I got the Benjamin, but Patrick would have to suffice for that mysterious middle place. Ben wrote and did something worth writing, many somethings.

You may not know but I suffer from what’s called “Golden Age Syndrome.” At least that what’s the pedantic, self-consumed character in the movie Midnight in Paris calls it. When suffering from this affliction one believes that he or she would be happier or more fulfilled in a different age of history. I don’t have a particular age, preferably one where I wouldn’t die from the slightest infection or have to skin a beast for breakfast.

In the minds of dreamers–of which I am terribly given to–the present generally seems most dissatisfying. The past is tempting…mainly because it is known. And I can imagine myself in that already traversed landscape, usually as someone far more accomplished that the present me. The future, though, well that’s a vast unconquered land of bogeymen. Oh the possibilities! Oh what might I be in the land of “what ifs” and “one days”.  I’m an incredible vision caster in my head; you should see it.

But I find myself here today. What would a life worth writing look like? What about a life worth reading? Thinking cumulatively is when I start stressing, feeling anxious about not having done something truly great…like Chia Pet great. I mean, come on, the grass grows like the animal’s hair.

How do I live a more writable life? My conclusion is this, and feel free to push or prod: Living today and its multitude of moments given over to the leading of the very Spirit of God.

Give this. Go there. Say that…no, not that, that other thing. Get up. Put the book down. Pray. Pray more. Pray for her right now. Ask this question. Don’t speak at all. Seriously, shut your mouth.

The Holy Spirit says more each day than I care to hear, which is probably why I don’t listen two-thirds of the time. Should I do all that the Spirit says, my days would look dramatically different. I mean like Chia Pet different. Only God knows how differently my story would’ve read by now.

What if for one day you and I did everything we sensed the Spirit telling us to do, or not do? String together a week’s worth of those kinds of days. Maybe our blogs and facebook pages and tweets and vineagramchats would be more interesting, at least worth reading.