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

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The Two People in Every Room, Even If It Is Only You

This is my theory: There are always two types of people in the room, and each of them needs to hear the opposite message.

This is more likely to be true as the number of people in the room increases. However, it can be true when there is as few as one: because sometimes we need to hear contradictory words of wisdom to keep us sane and balanced.

Here are some examples of the two types of people who might be in the room:

The one over here needs to be reminded not to worry so much what other people think. Confidence, after all, not insecurity, is an attractive and desirable trait.

But the one over here needs to be reminded that he shouldn’t pick his nose in public or start clapping spontaneously in the grocery store.

This person should also be reminded not to wear a Dos Equis shirt with cut off sleeves when he's taking a selfie in the broken bathroom mirror.

This person should also be reminded not to wear a Dos Equis shirt with cut off sleeves when he’s taking a selfie in the broken bathroom mirror.

There is someone who needs to hear something like, “Chin up, things are going to be okay”; then there is someone else who should be reminded that, if you don’t change something soon, you’re screwed. There’s a student writer who needs to be told, “Just keep writing, without worrying about how things sound”; but that is terrible advice to the one who has already filled several pages and could be reminded to stop and think every once in a while before turning in a “finished draft.” There is some hurting soul who needs the reminders of grace and forgiveness; and just down the row is some smug ass in need of a little verbal slapping to straighten things out.

Exercise is healthy. You’re getting obsessed.

Write more. Write less.

Clean your house. Put down that rag before you wipe down that counter for a fourteenth time today.

Think before you act. Enough already, Hamlet: be, or don’t be, but do something.

It’s not your fault. You could have done things differently.

I try to remember the two people in every room, that my wisdom may be folly for some, that my praise to one may be condemnation to another. But more often, the two people in the room are simply the two sides of myself: the one who needs encouragement, reassurance, kindness, and a mother to spoil him; and the other who needs reprimand, discipline, orders, and someone to tell him that sleeveless shirts are only, barely, okay for working out (thanks, Kristen!).

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Who are the two people you find yourself talking to? What are the contradictory words of wisdom you need to hear?

Devil’s Den, Broken Drawers and Third Poopers

2010 Vacation 089

I’ve written more poetically about this trip for my author page in an upcoming issue  (92) of Glimmer Train.

In 2010, we took a trip out East. One of the stops was Gettysburg, which we toured in our van, a voice from a CD providing details of the gruesome and pivotal battle, guiding us from stop to stop, one of which was Devil’s Den. The history of the place was almost entirely lost on my children, the ground no more hallowed than our back yard. To them, these were just fields. But Devil’s Den had something our back yard didn’t: giant rocks to climb and explore. They had no idea how many had suffered and died on these rocks; this was a chance to be out of the van.


Our house has one bathroom. While this indoor plumbing puts us ahead of billions of people who rely on pit toilets or less, it isn’t ideal.

In a house with only one bathroom,replacing the toilet is a time-sensitive project.

In a house with only one bathroom,replacing the toilet is a time-sensitive project.

Driving home with the family, usually by the time we turn onto our street, it isn’t unlikely for someone to call out, “I’m first for the bathroom!” This can be followed with calls of second and third, but it can also lead to some negotiations, such as who has to go worse and the particular nature of your visit, the clear logic being that number one takes less time than number two, so that now it is common to position yourself in the hierarchy of need by calling out first pee-er or first, second, or even third pooper–which is not, let me tell you, an enviable position.


For far too long, we lived with a broken drawer—the exact kind of household project I find every excuse to avoid. The metal track under the drawer kept falling off, so the drawer rested on nothing but the frame of the cabinet. It was a pain to pull out and push in, and if you weren’t careful you could pull the whole drawer right out and dump everything on the floor. It was the drawer that held, among other things, the baggies for the kids’ lunches. So each school night, when they made their lunches, they dealt with the drawer.

When the broken drawer finally snapped the cabinet board beneath, leaving a gaping hole, the project was no longer avoidable.

When the broken drawer finally snapped the cabinet board beneath, leaving a gaping hole, the project was no longer avoidable.

One night my daughter asked something like, “Why do we live with a broken drawer?” Or maybe she said, “Nobody else’s house has broken drawers.” Although, now that I think about it, she may have been more philosophical: “Why do we live in a world where drawers break?” [That is not how she remembers it.]

I turned to her and said, “I’m glad for broken drawers because they make me thankful for everything that isn’t broken.” I can be insufferable at times–and my nuggets of wisdom aren’t always appreciated.


If we aren’t careful, all the beautiful scenery and smooth-gliding drawers and indoor plumbing in our lives can belie the horrors that hallow the brokenness of this world. Yet it can all be too much at times, the suffering and the waiting. I want to protect my kids from the worst of it. I want them to jump, carefree, from rock to rock.

We haven’t shielded our children from the world. When their grandma was dying of cancer, they knew basically what we knew. When news of the outside world filters in, of killing and natural disasters, we’ll talk about it. But their lives, thank God, have been sheltered. And I’m all right with that. As long as they learn to appreciate the unbroken things and to live graciously with broken drawers and standing in line to poop.

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.

2013-06-07 18.15.10

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.

corner

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.