Thursday, October 18, 2012

To Benjamin, who is 1

My son,

Today, you are 1.  I have trouble believing this to be true, even though I was there for the whole labour, watched you take your first breath, and shared the announcement with friends and family.  Yes, you were born on October 18.

I have trouble believing that you are 1 because I refuse to believe a whole year has gone by.  I used to roll my eyes when my father would talk about how quickly I grew up, as everyone knows that time is a constant.  But, like with so many other things he said, I see what he means.  I have held you almost every day for 12 months.  We have snuggled and laughed almost all of your 365 days.  I have prayed for you for almost all of your 8760 hours.  I have worried about you for nearly 525,600 minutes.  I have doubted my own abilities for 31536000 seconds.

Now, you are 1.  You know where your head is, and where mine is (though sometimes you get them mixed up).  You can find my nose.  You laugh and bang on the patio door when I'm in the backyard.  You're standing on your own... sort of.  You can put a loop on my thumb more often than you miss.  You have discovered how to play with the dog (something she's still getting used to). You wave "goodbye" when it's bedtime, and you know that a phone goes up to your ear.  You "roar" back at me when I do it to you (something that makes me laugh every time).  You are, if I may say, the most brilliant of all 1-year olds in the entire planet.

You are delighted by the simplest of things.  You are so incredibly happy, and I am a happier man because of it (God, do not let his heart become hard!).  Your laughter is the most beautiful sound I can imagine, and I cannot resist tickling you just to hear it.  You are big (so big), and so strong.  You fit no clothes for long, and yet I can recall when you were so tiny, so wrinkly, and so terrifying.

My dear son, you are 1.  You have, I pray, many more years ahead of you.  You will, if you are at all like me (and I have reason to believe you will be very much like me), wish those years would hurry up so you could get on to the next thing.  I, however, will be left like every dad: watching you run headlong into life's tempests and treasures, wondering what in the world happened to the wrinkly, squinty-eyed creature who terrified me somuch, praying to God that He would just slow down time's march so I can get one more snuggle, one more laugh, one more "roar."

Benjamin, you are 1.  You are the lump in my throat as I write this.  You are the reason I do not begrudge my alarm clock, because it means I get to see you.  You are the instrument God is using to make me be a better man because He knows I would never do it except that you deserve it.  You are my dearly-loved son, my very pride and joy.  You are, after your mother, the person I love most in this entire world.

I hope you enjoy your birthday cupcake.  Happy birthday.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

To My Wife

Gorgeous,

Three years ago today we were married.  I am still rather surprised at that, since I still have trouble believing you said, "Yes," to my terribly unromantic proposal, and then stuck with me through my oafish attempts to "help" with the wedding planning. 

I would be hard-pressed to list all the things I love about you; while I am on vacation, I have to go to work some day and I doubt I'd get the list done before then.  Your beauty still takes my breath away, just like it did the first moment I saw you at the zoo.  You still surprise me with how quickly you can sum up a situation and provide the very best solution to it.  Your sense of humour still delights me, and I love laughing with you.  You have the most beautiful eyes.  Your devotion to our family humbles me because I know I am not worthy of it (Benjamin is, but he's dangerously cute).  You do all these little things that mean the world to me without even thinking about it.  More than all of this, though, you continue to love God more than you love me.  I cannot think of higher praise than to come second to Him.

Three years is not a "special" anniversary by way of gift type - it is not the diamond, gold, or silver anniversary (good for me, because I can't afford any of those things) - but three years means the world to me.  Just like three years plus a day, and three years plus 4 months, that I wake up and you are there beside me is worth the whole world.

You, Gorgeous, are my home.  Home is when I'm by your side.  Home is drowning in your eyes.  Home is in each tender kiss.  When you're away, I'm the one who's homesick.

I love you.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

I am Fear

I look like Grim Death.

I haven’t slept well the past few nights, and I can see it in the dark bags under my eyes.  Thanks to my facial structure, these are especially prominent when they’re there.  Had I camera, and a desire to horrify you, I would take a picture and show you.

Trust me.
 
I deal with fear on an almost daily basis.  Part of my job is dealing with discipline issues in residence.  Students sit across the desk from me, and I can see the fear in their eyes.  Sometimes their hands shake just a little.  I can see the right holding the left in their lap, sitting nervously.  Then we start talking.  I tell them why I wanted to see them - some offense I need to talk about with them, or some query I have - and I can see the fear start to take shape, start to take hold of their words.
 
Artist's Rendering of My Office
Students who are afraid usually make bad decisions.  Students who are afraid start to speak without weighing their words.  Fear makes everything feel like it’s moving too fast to control, and students start to imagine the absolute worst happening to them and they feel so completely helpless to change or affect anything, and so they start to become defensive and not “waste time” by listening to what’s being said.

Fear like this makes us miserable beyond words.  In the moment, and for moments after.

Sometimes students cry.  Sometimes they rage.  Sometimes they sit in silent resignation.  Rarely do they pay attention and learn the lesson I want them to learn.

I wish someone had told me that I would have to be the source of so much fear.  I wish someone had told me that I would eventually then be the target of such fear.  The Chinese students - I am told - call me (in Chinese) “The Man with the Serious Face.”  It’s a joke in my office, but I don’t usually laugh about it.  I don’t like having to provide a disclaimer of, “You’re not in trouble,” when I ask to see someone in my office.

I am the boogeyman.  I am the face of students’ terror.

The fear a student feels keeps her from hearing where she erred and where she can improve.  That fear keeps a student from seeing the other resident’s side of things, and understanding why he can’t do that again.  Fear joins up with Pride, puts on a mask of indignation, and that is the person I have to try to help, counsel, or correct.

See here: pay careful attention to what you’re feeling.  Keep a watchful eye for fear.  Fear is very useful when it keeps you from walking across a tightrope without training.  Fear is a detriment when you’re supposed to learn something.

Fear, as they say in Dune, is the mind-killer.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

See what happens when you're not dressed for it?

My family and I are on a week-long vacation to Ottawa, visiting my brother and his family.  He works as a policy advisor to the Prime Minister's office, and I had asked him if we could see his office.  So, our families headed downtown to meet up with Phil at his office.

We met his colleagues and of course Clara (Phil's daughter) and Benjamin charmed the whole lot of them.  Then one of Phil's colleagues suggested Phil get in touch with "the boss" and see about maybe some pictures.

Turns out that when someone in his office says, "the boss," they mean the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Bear in mind, I'd asked Phil at Christmas if we could meet him, but Phil said it wouldn't be possible
 to promise anything, and (understandably) Phil doesn't like imposing on work people for personal stuff.  So, the possibility of meeting the PM was super exciting for me.

We headed to the PM's office and just hung out a bit while he finished up an interview.  Then we headed into the office and met the man himself.  Seriously.  Met the freaking leader of my country.

Okay, first thing to remember: I didn't expect to meet anyone, and I dressed like it.  Yes, I met the Prime Minister wearing jeans and a T-shirt.  I'm sure he's worn at least one T-shirt in his life, but still...

Here's a picture to prove I shook his hand:

He's way taller than I thought he would be.  Good handshake (anyone who has watched King of the Hill knows that's important).  He's a softie when it comes to kids.  He's has great rapport with his staff, and they with him.  There's a neat picture in his office of his family crossing the street like the Beatles on the Abbey Road album.  That he would take the time to meet us, I think, says a lot about him; it made my day, honestly, and I'll be hanging on to these pictures.

And yes: I'm dressed like a dork.


See?  I also have a fantastically awkward pose going on here... Yes, no one is as unphotogenic as yours truly.  My wife and child always look good... I'm the weakest link, appearance-wise

By contrast, take a gander at my brother and his family.  See how natural Phil looks?  He's not standing there like he's not sure what to do with his limbs...
Right.  See?  Anyway, he loves kids, and actually made me feel like he was interested in making my accquaintance.  I have no illusions that he'll remember me tomorrow, but it was really cool.

Prime Minister?  Check!

Sunday, January 08, 2012

A Tribute to Our Grandma

On Friday was the memorial service for my grandma, Catherine Margaret Friesen.  My brother and I were asked to write a tribute for her.  I thought I might post it here, in case you weren't there and wondered what we said... or, if you'd just like to read about one of the most influential women in my life.

The first section I read, and the second (after the *****) was read by my brother.  I've even included some pictures, so you can experience what the audience saw.






Writing this tribute has been difficult; how do we summarise how deeply Grandma influenced our lives?  Every attempt seemed insufficient because nothing really felt like it was really complete.

Grandma’s influence in our lives shaped us into the men we are today.  Most importantly, she prayed for us daily, and then prayed for our wives, and then our children.  She set an example of personal devotion to Christ that has inspired and encouraged.  She was a constant fixture in Bible studies and discussions; she faithfully attended church, even when doing so meant facing public transit in the middle of winter; she took every opportunity to share the Gospel with people she met, and; she served a number of ministries gladly and humbly.

It wasn’t just us she shaped with her service.  Our friends knew her as “Grandma,” and were often welcomed into her house in Calgary with only a phone call from us to ask.  She ministered to strangers with an open heart, friends without a second’s hesitation, and her family with sacrificial love.

Grandma loved her grandchildren deeply.  It was apparent to everyone who knew her just how much she loved all four of us.  I think that there are more pictures of her grandkids than of anything else in her apartment, and she was always proud of us.  No matter what we were doing, she was interested in hearing about it.  She was quick with encouragement, always first to give a hug, and she was always genuinely happy to spend time with us.

We used to spend summers at her house in Calgary.  It was there that we learned early on that with Grandma you had to try to keep up.  She was going to walk wherever she was going, and that could be a tough task for our formerly little legs.  We’d climb Nose Hill, walk to the grocery store, hike through Drumheller, and all the while Grandma was setting the pace.  She never left us behind, though.  She once did a fundraising walk of some length, and didn’t need to train for it; she still left far younger people in her dust.

Grandma was a baker.  Her shortbread cookies - “fork cookies” as they came to be known - were an annual treat in our house, and her “Grandma pies” were gone as soon as they were baked.  For a woman who couldn’t eat any of those treats, she couldn’t be stopped from making them.
I loved my Grandmother’s sense of humour.  She was one of those people who was unintentionally funny.  And she was usually game for anything her grandchildren suggested.  Whether it was riding a scooter or playing floor hockey when she was 80, going to see a Bombers game when she was 85 (and sitting on the hard metal benches!), or taking a picture like this one while on a family trip to Florida, Grandma had a tough time saying no when her grandkids were asking.

Grandma also welcomed into her life two granddaughters-in-law, and loved them deeply.  She was so proud of the women who married us, and was never hesitant to hug and love these women, and prayed for them daily.   She was overjoyed to meet two of her great-grandchildren, and covered their lives with prayer as well.

*****

Chris already mentioned how difficult it is to give a brief tribute to someone like our Grandma, who lived a long and rich life.  As I was thinking about it, I realized that it is sometimes the little memories that give colour and shape to our memories of people we love.

You already heard about fork cookies and pies.  To carry on the food theme, there were a few special things that we only ever got when we visited Grandma and Grandpa’s.  Chris got boxes of Frosted Flakes, which I don’t recall ever seeing at our house.  I got poached eggs and toast.  And we both got fresh raspberries off of Grandma’s raspberry bushes in her backyard.  (Grandma also learned the hard way that our dog loved raspberries off her bushes as well, but only once she had picked them and put them in a bowl, unfortunately at ground level)

Anyone who knew my Grandma well also knew that she loved sports, and that included pretty much every sport.  Sitting with Grandma and watching sports at her house in Calgary is another one of those little memories that stays with me.  I will never understand her love for baseball, but I do know that she had a better grasp on how any sport should be played than most of the professionals.

And I can’t touch on little memories of Grandma without talking about her knitting.  When I was young, I remember the sweaters.  I don’t think I appreciated them at the time, but later in life I learned the value of well-knit wool mittens.  I think Grandma could fire off pairs of mittens at record speed…

But it is the big things that really define for me who my Grandma is.  As Chris mentioned, she was always glad to visit with us and hear about what was happening in our lives.  Whether it was filling her in on what I was learning in school, or how my job was going, or having a discussion on politics and culture, I never had any doubt about whether Grandma was interested.  I have never bought in to the stereotyping of “older people” as closed-minded or out-of-date because of those conversations with Grandma.

And she never missed a birthday, an anniversary or any other event in our lives.  Without fail, I knew I would receive a card from Grandma and that it was sent with love.  As you know, she passed away on December 31, which was my birthday.   She had written me a birthday card and it was a fitting thing to open while she was in the hospital.  It will be the last one I ever receive from her… but only because God himself intervened.

Which brings me to the last, and most important, big thing.  It is where Chris started, and it is the only appropriate place to end.  Put simply: My Grandma loved Jesus and it showed in her life.  As I grew older and more mature, I began to realize the depth of her faith and knowledge of scripture.  Grandma faced challenges in her life, including health problems, but I never once picked up a hint of resentment or bitterness because of those.

And, as Chris said, we always knew that Grandma was praying.  For us, for people around the world.  Her praying wasn’t as visible as a card, or a word of encouragement or a hug, but it undoubtedly had the biggest impact.

Grandma lived for 90 years and touched people’s lives for all of them.  But her impact will continue because of the godly legacy she is leaving.  Chris and I are part of that legacy, and we are witness to it.  Our children are part of her legacy and we are blessed that they both had the chance to meet their great-Grandma.

We will miss her very much.  But we know she loved Jesus and, because of that, we will see her again.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Kay

My Grandma died this morning, at 4:00.  She'd suffered a massive stroke on the evening of the 23rd, and the damage was too severe.  She was responsive at first, and I am thankful to God that I had that opportunity to see her, and have her squeeze my hand and smile a half-paralysed smile at me.  I believe she knew me.

As the days went by, she responded less, until the last time I saw her and she simply breathed.  She didn't respond to sounds or sights; she simply inhaled and exhaled.

I'm reminded of this verse from the Phil Keaggy song, "Quite Suddenly:"
Quite suddenly, it may be as I lie in dreamless sleep,
God's gift to many a sorrowing heart,
with no more tears to weep,
That a call shall break my slumber
and a voice sound in my ear:
"Rise up, my love, and come away,
For behold the Bridegroom's here."

I'm sure I'll have more to write about this amazing woman and her even more amazing God... But I wanted to at least mark the occasion here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Promises, Promises

I don't like making promises.  Sometimes my wife will ask me to promise something (usually that I'll do something I've been putting off for too long), but I won't promise it.  There's something about the idea of a promise that is far weightier than our society has allowed it to become.  See: gone are the days when someone's word is his bond.  Instead, promises are made and broken so often that they've lost all meaning; we expect that a promise will be broken.  I don't like making promises because I can't bear the idea that I won't be able to keep it.

I made a vow to my wife, to God, and to my friends/family that I will love, honour, and cherish Laurel above all else, until death parts us.  I made that promise because I can keep it.  I have control over myself to the point where I will choose to love her, choose to honour her, and choose to cherish her until I am shuffled off this mortal coil.  No one can prevent me, not even her.

That's the thing about the promises we make: so many times we promise something that we cannot guarantee.  Forget the times when we lie or make a promise in bad faith - can you guarantee that you'll be alive tomorrow to repay that loan?  What if you get hit by a car, or suffer an aneurism? - your promise will go unfulfilled.  Jesus warns about making oaths in Matthew 5:33-37, and I love what He says about our power to fulfill them: "And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black."  Just give a simple yes or a no, and let that be all you offer.


Christmas makes me think about promises.  Specifically, I think about the promises God made to Mary, Joseph, Abraham, David, and all of us: The Messiah would be born to the world, be rejected by His people, and be the sacrifice for the sins of all humanity so that we could finally be forgiven and be acceptable to God.  There are more, of course, but that about sums it up, I think.  Think about this for a second: God made promises to a group of people who span all of history that must have seemed like madness (eg: a virgin would conceive and give birth, he would be born in Bethlehem, his garments would be divided by casting lot, he would be despised and rejected by men, by his wounds we would be healed)... I don't know if I could have taken them seriously.


But this is the difference between me and God: He can and does always keep His promises.  Every single one.  There is no other being who can make the claim that everything He says, He will do.  Go ahead and check it out:
Abraham's descendants will number like the stars (Genesis 15:5)? - Kept
Virgin has a son (Isaiah 7:14) - Kept (Luke 1:26-38)
This son will be despised by men and suffer (Isaiah 53:3-4) - Kept (Matthew 27)
People will jeer, "He trusted in God, let God save him" (Psalm 22:8) - Kept (Matthew 27:43)
This suffering is for us, and will bring us peace with God (Isaiah 53:5) - Kept (Romans 5:6-11)

Of course, there are more promises made and kept, but see how perfectly these things came about?  Who else can keep a promise that involves so many other people?

All of this brings me to two vitally important promises:
1)  The manger without the Cross is an empty promise, and without the empty tomb, a broken promise.  Everything in history builds toward Christ's death on the cross.  Every prophecy, every promise, every birth and death drags us to the foot of the cross and the mouth of the empty tomb.  Without the cross, there is no forgiveness of sins because the perfect sacrifice was never made.  Without the empty tomb, death has not been defeated and we still grieve like those who have no hope.  The cross and empty tomb is the focus point of all history.  Everything builds toward it, and since that moment, nothing has remained the same.

2)  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).  See: Without Christ's forgiveness, we are doomed, damned, and hopeless.  Our lives provide fleeting pleasure, only to be swallowed up in the despair of an eternal Hell.  We will run ourselves ragged trying to do enough good things to assuage our guilt, and fail miserably.  We will live as self-absorbed hedonists who do whatever seems good in our own eyes.  But God's grace is extended in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  He chose to make us His children while we have been His enemies.  All it takes is our acceptance of His terms - unconditional surrender.

But that's the beauty of the promise.  Our surrender means life.  It is the only thing that means life for us.  Everything else - all other faiths, religions, practices, values - all lead to death.

Believe in Christ and you will be saved.  That a promise.