Things to Remember After the Storm

Be careful: those steps out the back door are slippery when they’re wet; the last thing you’d want right now is a nasty fall.

Take walks whenever the weather permits: sometimes that slow pace is exactly what you will need; other times the simple, miraculous act of putting one foot in front of the other will be good for your soul.

There is a difference between belief and believing: the former is a reserve to be drawn upon now and then; the latter is the act of carrying that reserve from here to there—and the bigger the load, the bigger the challenge.

Replace some of the canned goods and emergency supplies for the next time you can’t make it out to the store.

A downed power line could kill you in an instant.

People were very kind, some of them went out of their way, and others even had flat tires themselves but still showed up anyway.

You sunburn easily, and there’s some history of skin cancer in your family, so don’t think a sunny day isn’t—in a way—its own danger.

There are seasons for fruit-bearing; and then there are times when the best that can happen is that your leaves don’t wither and fall off: Hold on to your leaves.

There’s work to be done after a storm; take that work very seriously. All of it.

But there’s also no need to rush from the door to the car or to give yourself extra time on the road; stop and talk. People matter.

Lightning separates nitrogen molecules, which then become part of the plants we and the animals we eat; our bodies can’t do that alone.

Thinking metaphorically about lightning—along with just about everything else—can be exhausting, but so is a good workout.

Storms are forgotten, and while no one ever complains about a beautiful sunny day, nice weather has its own way of spoiling you, making you lazy, and lulling you into some really dark places*; if that doesn’t tell you what a weak and pathetic creature you are, nothing will.

There will be other storms; but, one day, there will be no more storms.

ancient monks recognized this and called it acedia

Don’t Call That Dog Lifesaver

Disciplined (as a transitive verb, or a verb that requires an object to receive the action): The father disciplined the child.

Conviction: a final declaration of guilt

3D_Judges_Gavel The voice that spoke in the middle of the night said, yes, indeed it was God’s punishment. The voice, I would come to recognize, had the same sadistically sympathetic tone of the impaled pig’s head that spoke to Simon in Lord of the Flies.

In the daylight a different sense overtook me: this form of punishment and of punishing didn’t seem like the God I know. I’d suffered an injustice, that was all, a life-altering and a question-everything-you-know injustice. I deserved pity, not punishment; compassion, not correction.

Was God punishing Joseph for the arrogance of his dreams—the dreams that, in the end, were prophetic? That never seemed to come up in Sunday school. The Bible glosses over how agonizing it must have been for Joseph in that pit, his brothers plotting his fate above ground.

I’d more or less decided “no.” God wasn’t punishing me for any particular sin or strain of sin (most likely of omission).

Then I turned to the Bible and read what I didn’t want to hear. Oh, I shied away from the Old Testament; I didn’t need any fire-and-brimstone God. Like many Christians in adversity, I’d been cherry-picking verses as if I were picking out clothes based on the day’s weather: I went to Hebrews 12—Turn your eyes on Jesus. A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. I should have stopped there.

But I kept reading: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children… God disciplines us for our good… No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.

Conviction: the act of moving a person by argument or evidence to belief, agreement, consent, or a course of action

dunce-cap1The word disciplined has negative connotations. I automatically associated it with punishment, of being sent to some spiritual corner to “think about what I’ve done.” I associated it with be a child.

Mostly, I didn’t like thinking I was wrong, especially about something like the very nature of God.

What followed got me thinking about myself as a father: “For what children are not disciplined by their father?” I wondered, do I really discipline my children? I’ve hidden IPods. There were some timeouts. I yelled. A lot.

Now, however, it more often it goes like this.

One of my children accuses another of being mean or unfair. The other says that’s not true, and this goes on until I step in and mediate. Sometimes somebody says, “You’re just trying to get me in trouble.”

And I laugh. “Who said anything about being in trouble? What ‘trouble’ have I ever really gotten you in? We’re just figuring this out together, that’s all.”

What I’m saying to them, essentially, is that I want them to see some bigger picture, that whatever issue they are fighting over is trivial—that they need to be able to work out, collectively and individually, the problem facing them, because there will be others, many, many others. And I am here to help them.

Disciplined (participle). He is disciplined. The disciplined runner…

Conviction: the state of being convinced

The voice that comes to me now sounds more like my own, as I both comfort and discipline my children: “Who said anything about being in trouble? What ‘trouble’ have I ever really gotten you in? We’re just figuring this out together, that’s all.” It’s the voice of a father. To His child. I’m more than all right with that.

“God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.” Hebrews 12, The Message

Torii Hunter and Max Scherzer Don’t Know My Name

I stood back and watched as my children waited 2013-08-16 12.11.10along the fence seeking Max Scherzer’s autograph. They were crowded in with everyone else, arms raised, holding out baseballs or cards or something else to be signed. Annie, Jack and Charlie had only their printed tickets from Stubhub, not a very special souvenir. But they succeeded and were thrilled.

Our seats, as usual, were considerably more removed from the game: upper deck, down the third base line, where players are recognizable for their position more than anything else. These are the seats we generally afford.

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Because it’s the sort of thing fathers do with their children, I struck up a conversation: Which of the players, I asked them, would they want sitting next to them, right now, watching the game? The obvious answer was Miguel Cabrera, but after discussing other possibilities, we agreed on Torii Hunter, based on star quality but also personality: it was easy to imagine having a conversation with him, sitting high up in the stands with empty seats all around us, no one crowding around to compete for his attention.

As we watched the game, I found myself wishing that Torii Hunter was sitting next to me. I would break the ice by telling him that we once ate at the same Cheesecake Factory in Chicago back when he was with the Twins except the waiter told us that he was the backup quarterback for Minnesota and we never realized it was him until we left. And we would laugh. We could talk about baseball and being dads and find other things we had in common, and it wouldn’t be about autographs or fame or anything—except he was still the Tigers’ right fielder and would be rejoining the team. But when he waved from right field like he often does, it wouldn’t be just him waving to the crowd, he’d also be waving to me and acknowledging the time we’d spent together, high up in the stands surrounded by empty seats watching a ballgame together.

I’m only slightly exaggerating.

I was struck by the disparity of those two images: Max Scherzer on the other side of the fence, flanked by security and facing dozens of autograph seekers; and Torii Hunter hanging out next to me in the cheap seats. The first is my default image of God, and to Him I am just one of many needy people holding something out hoping to get his signature so I can take it home as some sort of proof of something. The second, though, might be how He views things: the two of us sitting at a ballgame, surrounded by empty seats and talking about baseball and fatherhood and how evil the Yankees are and Torii Hunter’s near-miraculous catch into the Fenway bullpen.

How It Looks Around the Corner

I thought I was standing in a spot I’d never been, even though I’ve lived in Grand Rapids all my life.

I’d been walking around all afternoon on a writing marathon, stopping at various locations with fellow writers Erica and Colleen to write, and have a beverage. They were younger, hipper, city-dwellers, so they graciously lead me around until I finally looked up—and felt lost, displaced.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been in this very spot,” I said, more realization than admission.

The building straight ahead, which didn’t look like anything I’d seen in Grand Rapids, reminded me of Boston—where I’d been twice, but only briefly, with my family. Very Bostonian, I may have thought, proud of myself for being so well-traveled and architecturally astute: yes, I do believe it was from the Bostonian period.

But apart from my pathetic, worldly hubris, it was oddly unsettling being in such an unexpectedly unfamiliar place, a sudden alien in my own hometown.

Then we reached the end of the street and turned the corner.

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The building in question is to the left of me. I have no idea if there is anything Bostonian about it.

A few weekends before, there was a festival with food and art and music. Streets closed to traffic filled with people walking or waiting in line forfood or listening to one band or another. I’d gone on Friday afternoon, and there, directly across the street from the corner where I was standing—my two writing companions at my side—I had been captured on local television, cramming souvlaki into my mouth.

All I had done was turn the corner and voila! I instantly went from being somewhere I’d never been to a place I’d been often—and just recently.

Of course, not really. Really I’m just pretty stupid—and unaccustomed to having a beer at lunch. But also: perspective can be a tricky little wench. She turns out the lights and silences all the voices calling out “We’re here, we are here!” And that darkness becomes our world, our past-present-future. Oh, then, if only we would turn the corner and search the wall with hopeful fingertips for that switch that would change everything.


I needed the reminder this past year. Thanks for the magnet, Erica.

All I had done was turn the corner, and I went from being somewhere I’d never been to a place I’d been often—and recently.

Note to self: remember, turn the corner.

Note to my children, my students, and you, patient reader: turn the corner.