Archive for June, 2010
Last fall we moved into a new house here in Jackson. One of the things we had been wanting in a new home was a setting that would encourage our kids to play outside. We found it in the house we bought. We’re surrounded by woods, and though we own only about an acre and a half of land, there are many more wooded acres around us that we walk through regularly.
My kids love to play outside, and that thrills me as a dad. In our old house, they’d go outside for a few minutes at a time, and that was it — as there was little for them to do. Now they can spend hours outside. They chase frogs and fireflies. They watch dragonflies and squirrels. They’re learning about the evils of sweet gum trees and poison ivy. They’re identifying trees and plants. And their lives are richer because of it.
I, meanwhile, manage to stay busy with all kinds of chores. I have grass to mow, sticks to pick up and a fire pit where I can unleash my inner pyromaniac. With the amount of land we have, there’s always work to be done outside, and I’ve enjoyed my time outdoors as well. As a husband, I’m sure that thrills my wife.
I recently read a book, “Last Child in the Woods,” in which the author, Richard Louv, laments what he calls “nature deficit disorder.” Louv suggests that our society, rather than encouraging children to interact with nature, in reality encourages kids to stay away from it.
“Our institutions, urban/suburban design, and cultural attitudes unconsciously associate nature with doom — while disassociating the outdoors from joy and solitude,” Louv writes. “Well-meaning public-school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields.”
Louv argues that this increasing distance from nature can be tied to all kinds of problems in kids, such as obesity, attention deficit disorder and depression. While sending kids outside won’t be an automatic cure, I think he’s onto something when he points out the benefits of kids spending plenty of time in nature. It fires their imagination and sparks their creativity, and that’s one of my priorities as a parent.
We could have afforded a bigger house on a small lot somewhere, but after living in our home for a few months now, there’s no way I’d make that trade.
Sixty-five years ago, a young man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave his life for the cause of the gospel. I’m reading about Bonhoeffer’s life now, and his story is a compelling one that offers us many lessons about commitment to God and boldness to stand in difficult circumstances.
Dietrich grew up in Germany, and by the time he was a young pastor, a man named Adolf Hitler had risen to power in that country. Hitler was one of the most evil, wicked men the world has ever seen. Think of the meanest, nastiest person you can imagine, and Hitler was worse. He was responsible for killing more than six million Jews — whose only crime was being Jewish — and for starting a war in which millions more lost their lives. He was a man who hated God and considered himself to be his own god.
Most of the people in Germany were too scared to stand up to Hitler. But Bonhoeffer was not. He knew that it was good and right for Hitler to be killed, and Bonhoeffer played a role in a plot to end the lunatic Hitler’s life. That plot failed. Bonhoeffer’s role in it was discovered, and Hitler had him killed. Bonhoeffer handled his execution with dignity, entrusting his life to the hands of a merciful God.
Why could Bonhoeffer believe this? Here was a young man in the prime of his life with a whole lifetime in front of him. Why would he have such a calm approach to his certain death?
Earlier in his life, Bonhoeffer had this to say about the Bible:
“I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive the answer. One cannot simply read the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible, God speaks to us.”
Bonhoeffer was a man who believed with all his heart what the Apostle Paul said in Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Because Bonhoeffer believed the Bible so strongly, he knew that Hitler could take his life, but he could not take his soul – that when his life on earth was over, whenever that might be, eternal life in heaven waited for him because he believed the gospel: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
As you celebrate your seventh birthday, my prayer for you is that you would grow to be a man like Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I pray that you will love the Bible the way he did, that you will believe the gospel the way he did, that you will be filled with boldness to stand up for the Lord and for what’s right – like Bonhoeffer did — even if it means an early death. May the Lord deeply impress upon your heart the truth that our lives on this earth are temporary and fleeting, and that an eternity of peace and joy awaits those who have faith in Christ.
I hope that as you celebrate your birthday, it will be but the first of many more in your life. But even more than that, I want you to be ready to face eternity, whether that comes next week or 80 years from now. Bonhoeffer knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sufferings he endured were nothing compared to the glory that awaited him in heaven. As he said upon his death, “This is the end. For me, the beginning of life.” I pray that you will cling to that truth as well.
Happy birthday, buddy. I’m so proud of you, and I love you very, very much.
Sometimes — no, lots of the time — I wonder and question and doubt whether I’ll ever “make it” as a writer. And by “make it,” I mean seeing my name on the New York Times bestseller list. Petty, I know.
One of the reasons I wonder this is because my life seems too, well, normal — while the lives of those other writers who are famous and respected are often great big stinking piles of poo.
For example, in her book “Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott talks about growing up as the daughter of a writer whose friends passed out drunk at their dinner table, committed suicide at alarming rates and generally made a huge mess of their lives. She tells about how her 3-year-old son one day used multiple curse words — and used them correctly, I might add — because he had heard her say them so much. She talks about what her therapist has told her. On and on it goes, and I think, “My kids have never even heard me cuss, nor do I plan for them to,” and “Why on earth would I need to go to a therapist? There’s nothing wrong with my life.”
So of course Anne Lamott should be a good writer and have lots of success — because she’s got so much interesting stuff to write about. Psychotic and insane stuff, perhaps, but still interesting.
In contrast, I think about what in my life would qualify as “interesting” to a mass audience, and I often come up empty. My life at home is peaceful. My children are relatively obedient, depending upon the day. My wife and I don’t have any screaming knock-down arguments with each other. I’ve tried to cut back on my drunken harangues (that’s a joke). Oh, I get to do some pretty cool things every so often (covering the Olympics is one of the most awesome things in the world), but on the whole, to quote Blind Melon, my life is pretty plain.
But then I think, maybe I have something to offer to those people whose lives are full of the psychotic and insane. Maybe those people are desperately longing for a life like mine — a life that’s peaceful, ordered and calm — and they have no idea how to attain it. So I’ll keep writing, in hopes that what I have to say might be of help to others, and in hopes that others with lives like mine might find something that resonates with them. As C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know we are not alone.”
In doing so, I’ll point them to Christ, who is the source of the peace that passes all understanding. The blessings of my life are not of my own doing, but are solely because God in his goodness has decided to give them to me.
For the past several months I feel like I’ve been on a journey with my writing, and I’ve come to a conclusion that has been helpful. I’m not the world’s best writer. Though I hope my writing continues to improve over time, I may never be widely regarded as one of the best writers of our age. And that’s fine. But writing is one of the things that I do best, and so I might as well go with it.