Sunday, March 30, 2014

No, you can't date my daughter.

I have a daughter. Which is a blessing, but it's also a problem. This is because I have a beautiful daughter. And no, I'm not just saying that because I'm her Dad. I say that because people tell us that. Complete strangers will stop us when we're out in public and ask, "Is that your daughter? She's beautiful!" Yes, she is beautiful; too bad I didn't sire her though. Because she's adopted Jess has neither sets of genetic material from me or from Angel. Which is too bad, because I think we would have had good looking kids of our own, plus I can't take any credit for my daughter's own good looks.

It's not the nice adult strangers that I find a problem when it comes to my drop-dead-looks girl (although it's certain that there are those kind of adults that are that kind of problem), it's the teenage boys that I have to worry about. To make the old adage more family friendly, when you have a son you only have to worry about one boy in town, but when you have a daughter you have to worry about all the boys in town. Christian satirist Phil Callaway wrote about how his teenage daughter had Psalm 56:1 posted on her bedroom door, which says, "Be merciful to me God, for men hotly pursue me." This could easily apply to my daughter as well.

So, being the loving, caring, protective Dad I am, I keep my little girl locked in her room when she's not being home schooled or attending church functions. I wish. It's not a bad wish, but it is just a wish. No, I have to be realistic and let her out into the world, but I take comfort in knowing that the GPS ankle bracelet is in the mail. In the meantime, you can't date my daughter. Yes, I'm talking to you - the pimply, squeaky-voiced teenage boy with the skateboard, droopy pants and the sideways ball cap that just might happen to be reading this. I've warned Jess about boys like you (and believe me, having once been your age, I know they're all just like you). I know that you know that my girl looks really good. But take it from me, with all those raging hormones surging through your veins, everything looks good. This includes sheep, llamas, goats, Justin Bieber and your neighbor's dog.

So, when the time comes when she is allowed to date (and no, I'm not telling you what year that will be), keep in mind these simple rules for when that day finally arrives:
Number 10 is my favorite.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Walking and Suffering

It's one of the most often asked questions when it comes to the issue of whether God exists or not: Why does God allow suffering? Why would a good, all-powerful God permit evil to run amok, while people live with the fallout?

Good question.

I think that's where we need to begin when we ask these sort of things. It's often because the ones who ask those questions are suffering (It's also asked by those who have little or no concept of suffering). But it's a fair question, as it acknowledges a harsh reality we find in life. I know I've asked it myself. The last four months of 2013 have been a real struggle for me. One again (surprise surprise) I endured a crisis of faith. We had endured a difficult six months prior with our daughter, who had been reassessed as having Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD. I'm happy to say that things are a lot more stable with her now, and that we are no longer in crisis mode. But it did take its toll on us. Particularly my wife Angel paid a heavy price, as the stress put on her severely affected her mental health.

Since the spring of last year Angel has been on short, now long-term disability, having been diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder. We were hoping at first that by the fall Angel would be well enough to go back to work, but as Angel went for counseling it was found that her issues ran deep and far back to her childhood. The prior traumatic events we went through as a family simply blew the lid off of problems that were for years just under the surface. And when Angel transitioned from short to long term disability the reality that she wasn't going to be healthy any time soon was, for me, the straw that broke the camel's back. I just couldn't take it any more. I became angry, lost hope and I lost sight of my faith in God.

In short, I blamed God for my pain and the pain of my loved ones.

I was done. I was done with God, and I was done with the church. While we felt the love and care of both God and church while Jess was in crisis it seemed like no one was taking much interest in her parents once the storm had passed. We both were in counseling, together as a couple and individually, but apart from the professionals we felt quite alone. And so I became bitter, and felt estranged from both heaven and heaven's people. And yet heaven wasn't estranged from me.

I may have been done with God, but God wasn't done with me.

It was rather strange for me, that while I felt done with God I still engaged with God in my pain and suffering. I kept asking, blaming and crying out to Him. There was something that still kept me going back, looking for answers, looking for hope. And I still engaged with God's people; although I had stopped attending Sunday services regularly I still met with a few friends outside the formal church setting. Bits and pieces would come out in conversation, and those bits & pieces were met with listening ears, open hearts and brief, encouraging prayers. I also started reading another one of Timothy Keller's books. His latest work, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, gave me insights that helped me see that the reality of suffering and the reality of a good, all-powerful God are not mutually exclusive. They both, for now, co-exist, and one day the only reality that will be left standing is the Kingdom of God.

But what really broke the crisis of faith I was in was the power of forgiveness. I came to see that a big part of what I was going through was self-inflicted. You see, I had a long laundry list of people I needed to forgive for wrongs both real and perceived. And when you live in bitterness, holding onto grudges, you slowly die a painful death from the inside. Like the expression goes, unforgiveness is like swallowing rat-poison and expecting the rat to die. And when I came to a place of forgiveness I felt this freedom and joy I had not felt in such a long time. It wasn't the first time I had to forgive others, but this time I had a better understanding that forgiveness wasn't going to mean that everything was OK. Things weren't OK and they still aren't. I still feel broken, but I don't have to live with the thought that things will always be broken.

And as for that troubling question of why does God allow pain and suffering? Well I could do a book report on what Keller has to say, but even if I did it wouldn't completely solve the problem. The book doesn't try to do that anyway. But I will say one thing I learned from gleaning its pages: asking the question just might actually point to the existence of God in the first place. Because if we truly do live in a universe that has no obligation to us, why should we be concerned with matters of fairness, justice and suffering? Maybe you have an objection to or an answer for that question. And that's fine. But Secularism, Keller writes, is the worst world-view in history for dealing with the question of suffering. So in spite of what I and countless others have gone through, I hold to the notion that our pain is not all for nothing. For me I will live to see the day that all suffering will be undone and all things will be put to right. But for now life is about walking and suffering. We can do it with or without God. The choice is ours.

But I'd rather walk it with God, if it's all the same to you.