Kite Flying

Listen, O daughter, give attention and incline your ear: forget your people and your father’s house; then the King will desire your beauty. – Psalm 45:10-11

Parenting teenagers has a lot in common with flying kites. If you’ve ever flown a kite, you know that there is a specific way to make it soar. On the one hand, you cannot leave it sitting on a shelf, protected and never used. That’s not what it were made for; it was made for flight.

On the other hand, stepping into the wind and tossing a kite up, willy-nilly, will ultimately lead nowhere. The kite may tumble in the breeze for a few moments, but ultimately it will crash.

In order for a kite to work properly, it needs to be set aloft in the wind, but tethered with a string to the ground. The only way a kite will truly function as a kite, the only way it can beautifully fly and dip and swoop is when it is placed under some restraint. Total restraint will not do, neither total freedom; just the right amount of tension creates something of singular beauty.

I recently told my daughter, “Your job is to continue to stretch yourself into the wind and discover how to fly. Our job, as your parents, is to discover just the right amount of tension to put on the string to best aid your flight (and keep you out of the powerlines). When it gets really windy, our team effort at being anchor and kite can become treacherous. A significant part of me wants to reel in the line and pull you out of the storms of life, but that isn’t what you were made for. You were made to fly, and Mom and I are doing our best to help you become the best flyer you can be so that when we eventually must let go of the string, you will be able to fly just fine on your own.”

Raising Immanuel

I’m just a lowly carpenter,
building things of wood;
I put my heart and soul in this,
my buildings firm and good.

I’ve asked a girl to be my wife,
young Mary, sweet and kind;
a flower so pure and lovely,
I was blessed to find.

With longing anticipation,
I’ll await our wedding day;
I’ll protect the virtue of this girl
and keep my desire at bay.

The whisperings I hear in town
say “Mary is with child.”
“It can’t be true” I tell myself
my fears are running wild.

O God, I’m hurt and weeping
this pain, I cannot bear;
she dashed my heart upon the rocks
leaving fragments of despair.

Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace
I cry to you for aid;
the law says I should stone her
but I can’t. I am afraid.

I will divorce her quietly
the most mercy I can show;
A woman deserving death
will just be left alone.

I’ll buckle down, back to work
forget about our plans;
swinging a hammer is what I know,
not being a married man.

Tonight I dreamed a wondrous dream,
God’s angel spoke to me;
rekindling my cooling fire,
he said “let the marriage be.”

“Don’t be afraid, strong Joseph
to take Mary as your wife;
the life that grows inside her
is the Messiah’s life.”

I awoke excited and with dread
the Christ will be my son;
what can this lowly carpenter
teach the Maker of the Sun?

I’ll take the girl as my wife
we’ll raise Immanuel;
“God with us” will live with us
the Savior come to dwell.

-December 2016

Learning to say no

At least once each year, I will reach a state of mental exhaustion, where I am running largely on fumes and stubbornness. I last felt that way in mid-October. I was serving as a staff member at a men’s conference in Kentucky and I had nothing left to give. I was grateful for the leadership; a few of them checked in with me, encouraging me to make sure to care for myself.

Admittedly, these times are largely the result of my own choices. In October, I chose to go to Kentucky two weeks after returning from Nashville, with intermingled ministry work in between. I choose busyness, increasingly aware of its toll. I love my day job. I work as a clinical neuropsychologist, so I spend my days helping people unravel why they think, feel, and act the way they do. I help them to understand their brains so that these things begin to make sense. But I am also a pastor, what some call a “bi-vocational” or “tentmaking” pastor. I felt called to this work before I had ever even heard the term “neuropsychology.” I serve my church with joy. Though working with the embodied brain is a remarkably unique and fulfilling career, it cannot hold a candle to helping people to know Jesus better. I am privileged to preach frequently, every few weeks on average. I just finished four weeks in the pulpit, first teaching on “daily rhythms” and then preaching one of my favorite series ever (truth-goodness-beauty). But just as neuropsychology involves a lot of “behind the scenes” work, so too does pastoring. There is preaching, of course, but also sermon preparation, spiritual direction, meetings, and prayer for the congregation.

I was reflecting with my wife this morning that each of the last four days, I have been out of the house by 6:00AM or shortly thereafter, and I am typically home by 5:00. I do not envy my medical colleagues who must do evening and weekend call. However, this time of the year, evenings are often occupied as well–high school group, life group, leadership training, and Friday church when we decide to go. Certain weeks, it’s hard to catch my breath.

Having said all that, I am increasingly recognizing how elements of my personality contribute to these patterns. I am a 2 on the enneagram, which suggests that I like to help. At its best I can be encouraging, giving, and other-centered in a way that is not self-damaging. However, I can also have a hard time saying no to people. I thrive on needing to be needed. I am a people-pleaser. When attending to the needs of others without caring for one’s own needs, a host of difficulties may arise from bitterness to physical illness. I am also sensitive to the potential effect upon family, the people lest likely to express their desire for time with me.

As I continue to learn about myself, I recognize that one of the most important spiritual disciplines I could practice would be learning to say “no,” to recognize that I do not have to be…even cannot be…all things to all people. Time is finite. If I fail to set limits if I do not prioritize my commitments, if I do not learn to say no, I fear the damage will not be limited to me alone.

Why do I share this? Perhaps in hopes that you will pray for me. Perhaps in offering me grace when I say to no to you. Perhaps it is simply an acknowledgement, to myself principally, that I too am finite.

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Heavenly Father,

We thank you today for your relentlessness.

As often as we wander from your presence

you lovingly bring us back.

When indwelling sin rears its ugly head,

your steadfast love never fails.

Let us live with confidence and gratitude,

thankfully remembering that your son Jesus

once and for all crushed death to death,

and with hope that one day

all remaining remnants of sin

shall one day disappear.

Let us live today

and everyday

with a thankful awareness

of your presence in all things:

the gathering of your saints,

a conversation with good friends,

the enjoyment of a good meal,

whether a sumptuous feast

or simple piece of bread.

Let us remember that all creation

attests to your glory,

raising hands and hearts

in grateful praise every moment

of every day.

To you be all glory and honor and praise.

Amen

Go gently today, don’t hurry

or think about the next thing. Walk

with the quiet trees. Can you believe

how brave they are—how kind? 

Model your life after theirs. 

—Julia Fehrenbacher

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