Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Lilia, Year Two (Oklahoma to Charlotte)

Two years ago Thursday, I was in a hotel in Norman, Oklahoma with a couple of hours to go before I had to hit I-35 to Ada.

I went out for a run, got back and saw my cell phone blinking.

Message, Miranda.

"Baby, call me please, they can't find a heartbeat. Just please call me."

From 17 minutes before.

We had a little girl, 17 weeks in utero - not an eternity in, but something in.

She died.

Not a new story, not a unique story, but our story.

We do boys really well. As I write this, five of them, ranging in age from college sophomore to eleven months old.

Relentless boys.

But Lilia died.

I knew it from the first second I heard Miranda's call.

But I was helped.

My friends at TAG covered for me and got me home, early the next day, before the procedure the following day. They were kind, and awesome.

I had to stay in Norman that night and Terry and Shane - colleagues- went to dinner with me.

I remember. Steak, rare - no starch please - just an extra helping of the broccoli and carrots and cauliflower.

I was drinking substantially then, so I may have gotten a little drunk.

God, I was sad.

Terry drove to the restaurant, Shane came in after and squeezed my shoulder when he got in. I am not a squeezer or a hugger yet Shane's shoulder squeeze I remember today.

We ate, Shane drove me back to the Embassy Suites, I got out, haltingly,  and Terry hugged me.

I am not sure he is much more of a hugger than I am.

Maybe what he did was reciprocate my hug.

At any rate, I got hugged. And I felt loved.

TAG  bent over backwards to get me home, substituting someone for my engagement; the Chickasaw Nation (my goodness, what great people) were kind. It may have been Shane, maybe Rich, who filled in for me.

I got home and we went to the clinic, the clinicians were awesome and Miranda spoke at the end of the procedure, the end of the day, these words when she woke up:

"Is my baby gone?"

So, you and I know we got off easy.

There are awful stories - even in my family - of stillbirths and unexpected dying. Just here in Charlotte, these last two days, a story of a seeming random car crash that is too awful to contemplate with a mama and babies dying.

But this was Lilia.

I kind of suck at remembering things, even watering trees. I have this sort of cauterizing ability hard-wired in my soul. I come across as distant to others, removed and unfeeling, and hard. I honest to God care, but I am not good at demonstrating so.

I know this.

A colleague at the time gave us - beautifully - a dogwood tree to remember Lilia by.

We have a pretty awesome backyard, where Lilia's tree is planted and occasionally I take #4 boy - Beckett - out there to water it.

But not always.

I sort of suck at the things that matter most.

I can express myself well with a MacBook Pro keyboard or a smooth legal pad surface and a Lamy pen. Aside from that, I fumble and fuss and almost always say the wrong thing unless I am in professional mode.

I am redeemed by the fact that I know this is true and that Jesus makes up for my lack and he has been doing that forever. Jesus fills in my every gap.

He has always been doing this for you and me, on I-35 and on our back roads and on the screaming highways and strangled nightmares and silent mornings of our lives.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Monday Mugs - Your Real Name

A few weeks ago, I declared that I was ready to start a new blog series, inspired by our mug shelf at home:

Which, by the way, has welcomed some new friends since then.

The idea is that if you are a mug hoarder (ahem, collector) like we are than mugs represent something to you. They tell some sort of story.

In telling those stories I'll lead off with this one:

It's a mug with my initial on it that Miranda got me once for a gift.

It often sits near her "M" mug in our counter, because I have an occasional blessed rage for order.

My name could have been more than one name.

I was adopted, very soon after birth. My guess is that, unborn, I had some name in my birth mother's mind's eye.

My adoptive parents tried on several names before they settled on Todd (because they liked it) Armon (because it ran in the family, and was in turn given to my oldest son as well).

I had nicknames as a kid I won't tell you about, and a college nickname that I sure won't tell you about.

My wife calls me a pet name (odd phrase, 'pet name') that is not extraordinary, but is personal and intimate.

I get called "Mr", "Pastor", "Son", "Daddy".

I suspect there are a few who call me names unprintable in a family blog.

It's extraordinary, the amount of names we acquire through the years, most of us.

But there is one name that matters most.

It's a name that is a secret to everyone but you.

It's the name that in your heart of hearts you most hope God calls you when he is thinking about you.

As you read that, you know the name for you, right?




"One of us"?




"You're OK now"?


The Bible starts with naming - the first man and woman, and their sacred call to name the animals.

It continues with naming, where whole nations are summed up in the names of men who were pretty sure they didn't have what it took and in re-named men who had failed beyond comprehension yet were given names upon which the whole Story of the world would hinge.

And the Bible ends with naming, in this terribly mysterious and achingly beautiful passage where we all of us are handed a white stone upon which is inscribed a new name that only we, and He, know.

That Name is what you have been longing for your whole life, whether you know it or not, whether you have ever heard of it or not.

And it is the Name that is hinted at in that name that you most hope God is thinking about when he thinks about you.

That's what a simple "T" on a mug evokes for me - my name...and my Name.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robin Williams, Depression, and Me

I don't remember the world ever being so brutal, brittle, bitter, and breaking than it is now.

The words are starting to run together, aren't they?


And, in the middle of all of this, the suicide of an American actor/comic elicits incredible reaction.

Does this show we are hopelessly superficial?


It's the most natural thing in the world.

The horrors in Gaza and Iraq are unfathomable. Few of us have the capacity to stare them down without flinching. They are not 'scalable' for most of us.

But Robin Williams we can feel.

Many of us grew up watching and laughing with him. And all of us can relate to the tragedy of one person. We may not be able to absorb the tragedy of an entire racial or ethnic group, of kids dying of dehydration in their parents' arms. But we can get one sad, funny, tortured guy.

And we all know someone who is depressed. Or we are depressed ourselves.

One of the only happy things to come out of Robin Williams' sad death is a sparked discussion of depression and mental illness. I suspect it will fade soon, but better lightning-quick than never.

I suffer from depression, and I have not been honest about it.

In sermons and in writings I have safely, glancingly referred to my struggle.

"Hey, I know many of you today are struggling with depression or love someone who is. I want you to know that I have as well. I've been there. As a matter of fact, at one point Welbutrin saved my life. So, you don't have to run or be ashamed. Lots of us are there".

Well-meaning words. Wholly inadequate words.

I have preached some crap sermons through the years.

I was first diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of 32. I am 45 now.

The therapist that had put me through my paces was a crusty sort, not given to compassion, at least overtly.

But he looked at me with something approaching kindness and said "You have no idea what it is like to feel OK, do you?"

I was born with it, man. Deep in the DNA, hard-wired in the genetic code.

Sometimes it has been manageable. Circumstances collide with a predisposition and I felt blue, listless, craving sleep or self-medication, sad. In those times, exercise, prayer, friends, bucking up, playing through, all of those things helped.

Other times the black dog was more tenacious and only meds helped.

Twice or maybe thrice in my life I have been in the grips of what the pros call 'anhedonic' depression.

This is another black dog entirely.

Those of you who have been there will know instinctively what I mean.

The deal with this strain of depression is that nothing makes it better. Every strategy that has ever worked before is worse than useless - as a matter of fact, your proven strategies line up in demonic array and mock you. Nothing makes it lift. Nothing makes it even slightly better. Nothing, not even for a second.

It's not as if you are sad, splayed out on your bed, sobbing.

It is just that there is no hope that anything will ever get ok and, when it spikes you flinch at anything, are scared of everything, are so anxious that you can see your heart beat in your chest and you want to claw at the cellophane-wrap-like thing enclosing you.

This is where well-intentioned advice is like freshly squeezed lemon juice on a knife puncture.

Tell someone with a migrane to get on a treadmill for thirty minutes.

Tell someone with a terminal diagnosis to buck up.

Tell someone with lupus they just need to pray and trust God more.

Tell someone in the grips of anhedonic depression anything.

"At least depression doesn't kill people like cancer does", said a well-meaning friend a few years ago.

I said nothing.

I suspect this was where Robin Williams was a couple of days ago - anhedonia. The scary thing is this - he had tried everything. He had sought professional help - it doesn't get any more professional than the Hazelden clinic.

Sometimes everything doesn't work and you get stuck in a moment you can't get out of.

At times past in my life I have picked out the overpass abutment to drive into, researched the medicinal cocktail to take, looked up state laws on suicide and life insurance

So, what to do with this?

If you are depressed or think you might be:

-You probably are, or you wouldn't be asking the question.
-You are anything but alone.
-Tell someone you trust.
-Don't self-medicate with drugs or alcohol or sex or food. Don't get me wrong - those things will give fleeting moments of relief. Then you will crash, harder than before.
-God is actually there. He really is. Here is where the Christian faith really has an answer. On the Cross, Jesus absorbed all of our pain, all of our wrong, all of our suffering. In one cataclysmic moment he took it all into Himself. Even after all these years, that knowledge doesn't stop stunning me. If you believe this, cling to it with all you have. If you don't believe it or aren't sure, consider if it may be true.

If you know someone who is depressed:

-You are their friend or loved one for a reason. Be brave.
-Nothing you can do is enough, especially if they are in anhedonic depression, so don't take the responsibility.
-Don't try to solve them or fix them.
-Do offer the good advice at first - pray, exercise, eat well, focus on the positive, see a counselor or a psychiatrist who can provide meds.
-If that advice does not work, do not press it. Be with them. Don't leave them.
-Pray, if you know how.
-Pray, even if you don't know how.

Check out the photo of Robin Williams higher in this post.

Now check out the last known photo of Robin ever taken, according to Radar Online, at a Dairy Queen near the Hazelden Clinic in Minnesota where the teen waitress said he appeared to be 'struggling':

It's a brutal, brittle, bitter, breaking thing.

But there is the Cross.

Those last two sentences.

I don't write either theoretically.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Monday Mugs

It's been a long time away from this blog. I've been deeply immersed in creating content for teams I work with and for others and have set aside my own work. A big project just ended though and I am ready to re-engage!

So, I'll start with a new feature - Monday Mugs.

Both Miranda and I are fans of coffee mugs. Want proof?

Yep, those are our coffee mug shelves. As in plural. And this does not count the mugs in the dishwasher, which was loaded at the time.

I am not a hoarder. But I find a hard time letting go of coffee mugs. So does Miranda.

I can get rid of any other kind of glass, plate, serving dish, or piece of cutlery with no conscience.

Yep, I am a psychopath when it comes to getting rid of plates.

But mugs are different. I think that's because the best mugs tell a story. A story of a place, a time, an experience, a person.

If you attract coffee mugs, chances are you are a person who likes a good story and sees their life as a narrative.

So starting next Monday, I'll be introducing you each week to a different mug in our shelves and telling you its story.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Keychain, Two Keys, and The Truth

Life in many ways is more simple today than it has been in a long time.

Take, for example, my keychain:

For years, I had more keys than I knew what to do with. Keys to multiple properties, work spaces, cars, lockers, you name it. And I had a section of a drawer full of keys I had forgotten about.

Lots of keys.

Lots of keys represent a complicated life - lots of doors to open, places to be, obligations to meet, headaches to deal with.

Now, my keychain consists of our house key and the key to my beloved, ten-year old Jeep.

(I do have a swipecard to one of my workplaces, but I am not sure where that is now, because I don't carry a wallet anymore - I have an iPhone holder that holds my phone, driver's license and a debit card and I reckon that's about all I need on any given day).

In 1 Thessalonians 4:11, Paul wrote: "Make it your goal to live a quiet life".

For me, a quiet life involves fewer keys.

I don't have a monastic temperament, or the leanings of an self-denier. I have a mortgage, two cars (one of these days I will get around to getting a key to Miranda's car) and several professional organizations I serve to earn my living and a lot of deadlines that are particularly pressing this month. I also have five kids, ranging in age from 18 to 8 months. Life is not easy, necessarily.

But life is increasingly quiet. Less about striving, or making an impression, or issuing grand pronouncements.

This does not come easily to me. I thrive - historically - on unpredictability, chaos, the next challenge, the next impassable mountain. And striving.

I also have high blood pressure and occasional, serious depression. I can't sustain life the way I am 'wired' to (or, better, have 'wired' myself).

I need to find more quiet.

For me, that is represented by one keychain, two keys, and the truth.

What is a quiet life for you?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What's Next?

As many of you know, there are five boys in our family, ranging in age from 18 years to 6 months.

It has been quite a ride and, especially in the case of the first two, has involved a lot of sports.

My two oldest played everything except for baseball along the way, with #1 being a state champion in football and #2 playing high level competitive soccer today as a high school sophomore.

Suffice it to say I have been to a lot of practices and games, ranging from the earliest soccer games (an amoeba-like formation of toddlers clustered around a ball) to watching my oldest win a state championship his junior year.

For a year there, I would watch #2 play a varsity soccer game and then during halftime walk across a parking lot and watch #1 practice football (from a distance because when they are tiny they love for you to be at their practices but when they get older, nothing could be worse!).

Until I met Miranda, I thought my days of practices and games, making sure to take water bottles and taking my turn to bring the youth soccer team's halftime snacks were over.

Not so much.

#4 just completed his first year of soccer. They didn't actually play games (he's not even quite three years old) but they kicked the ball around, played silly games, ran around and, yes, drank from water bottles.

Same as it ever was.

Hydration is as important as ever. I suspect that my kids will put "He told us to drink more water" on my tombstone.

This picture is from last night. But it could just as easily have been taken 15 years ago from #1's first season.

#4 has no idea what's in front of him, whether soccer will be his sport or not, whether or not he will even like sports.

He's got a lot of time ahead of him.

Only, he doesn't.

Our days go by in a blur. It's a truism, I know, but the darn kids just grow up so fast.

And so do we.

When asked what was his greatest surprise in his years on earth, the legendary evangelist Billy Graham said "The brevity of life".

So, what's next?

Whatever it is, make sure you are intentional about it, that it reflects your values and passions, that it is rooted in the true you you were made to be.

Take the best of what was and what is and make it your 'What's next".

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday Teaching: What's Freedom From?

Our church is in a teaching series about the concept of freedom now. With plenty of reason - it is a dominant theme in the Bible, perhaps never more clearly than in Galatians 5:1:

"It is for freedom that Christ has set you free..."

Check out the double emphasis - Christ (through his life, death, and resurrection) has set us free...for the very purpose of freedom.

Which raises the question - what are we intended to be free FROM?

These things, at least.

Freedom from religion.
Yep, I said it. Religion - when it is humanly created - leads to either self-righteousness or self-condemnation. It leads to the nearly universal human impulse to believe that it is up to me to find my way to God, to give him a good track record so he will accept me. Nothing could be further from the truth of the Christian faith, which says that God has found his way to us and that he has given us credit for Christ's track record, since ours could never measure up.

Freedom from fear.
The worst human fear is death. Christ defeated death on the cross. So we don't have to fear death anymore. Follow the logic...if we don't have to fear the worst thing that could happen, why should we fear anything else?

Picture this....a father hides his little son behind him and wards off the array of ninja assassins who invade their house one night. One by one, the killers drop dead, harmless.

Suddenly, the boy spies a spider scampering across the floor. Does it stand to reason to doubt that his dad can take care of that for him?

This doesn't mean that fearful and even terrible things won't happen. But it does mean that death can't do its worst to us.

Freedom from failure
I'm preaching on this topic in a few weeks and so I am thinking about it a lot. Not going to give away the punch line, but suffice it to say that its truth is rooted in the fact that Jesus failed.

That's right. Jesus failed.

Never had much of a following beyond a ragtag bunch of liars, dreamers, and misfits. Continually got himself in hot water. Left his family baffled and disapproving in some cases. Could have had powerful allies but managed to alienate them all (he was a terrible networker). Got arrested and chose to represent himself in court - everything he said during the proceedings worked against his own interests. Got himself killed at a relatively early age after being publicly mocked and beaten up.



He rose from the dead. And is, by far, the most influential person in the history of the world, worshipped by untold millions, fascinating to even those who hate him.

So, what do you think he can do with YOUR failures?

Turn them into roaring triumphs, that's what.

So, what are you afraid of?