Book Review: Family Worship by Donald S. Whitney

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As part of my own 2016 Reading Challenge, I decided to purchase a copy of Donald Whitney’s Family Worship (Crossway, 2016). It helped that Crossway unceasingly advertised this book on my Facebook feed (it goes to show you how impressionable I am, I reckon). And I am glad that I both purchased and read it. The theme of this book is that there ought to be a planned, routine, established time of worshiping God as a family through the reading of the Bible, praying together, and singing praises to God together.I was taken aback during and after reading Family Worship because, to my surprise, this little book packs a punch in the form of heritage and exhortation in just sixty-four pages. Whitney addresses the theme of the ages and one of the celebrated tenants of Christianity, namely, that God deserves our worship. He both deserves and delights in our worship, as individuals and as families who are a part of his Church (Psalm 96:7,8).

From a heritage standpoint, the book gives a quick rundown on the spiritual disciplines of men like Abraham, Job and Joshua in the Old Testament as well as mandates for husbands and fathers from the likes of Paul and Peter in the New Testament. In addition, Whitney generously refers to respected men of the faith down through history, from Tertullian, Luther, the English Puritans, Spurgeon, as well as Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Piper. Their words add a rich perspective to the argument that our families ought to have purposeful, regular time set aside for worshiping God at home in addition to assembling with other believers in our local churches.

A little more than midway through Family Worship, Whitney shares some serious words from J.W. Alexander, a Presbyterian minister from New York in the first half of the nineteenth century, who wrote a book called Thoughts On Family Worship. In the last chapter Alexander wrote, “Laying aside all flattering words, I may say plainly that I regard the neglect of family worship as springing from lukewarmness and worldliness in religion.” To be fair, Whitney adds his own anecdote.

     But, that’s not true if people have never learned about family worship. You can’t expect Christians to do what they’ve never been taught to do. I once taught a class of 115 seminary students, in which I asked, “How many of you grew up in homes where family worship was practiced?” Only seven raised their hands. Then I asked, “How many have visited in homes where you have seen family worship taking place?” No one raised their hand. In a conservative, Bible-believing seminary which attracts some of the most devoted, gospel-zealous Christians on the planet, people preparing to be pastors and missionaries, only one out of sixteen students in a class on spirituality had any familiarity whatsoever with family worship.

What does that say about the situation regarding family worship in our own churches, the kinds that are blessed to produce such committed young believers? What is the likelihood that students who have never even seen family worship would go into the ministry and teach people to practice it and how to do so? Of course, if they were not first taught about family worship themselves, we would never imagine them teaching it to others.

Here is what I mean when I wrote that I was taken aback. I was personally convicted, as Whitney meant to accomplish in telling this story. Based on the personal experience of 115 devoted young seminary students, he finishes with this:

So we can’t agree with Alexander that “the neglect of family worship [springs] from lukewarmness and worldliness in religion” if people have never heard of it. But, in reading this book, now you have.

It is in this part of the book where all my failed spiritual aspirations as a husband and father came calling. But where many popular “Christian living/ family” books perhaps may leave their readers feeling guilty and demoralized, thankfully Whitney’s book did not do so to me. In it, he encourages his readers, husbands and fathers first, to resolve to lead their families in purposely worshiping God together (through Bible reading, praying and singing) instead of dwelling on past negligence or failed attempts at family devotions. Families, single men and single women, and empty-nesters are also addressed.

Above all, Whitney makes a good case for family worship in his little book, but he is careful to distinguish this practice of family worship from the Christ of the gospel, who alone is the source of salvation. He makes it clear, “We are not made right with God by practicing family worship, or by how well we love and provide for our families, or by anything else we do. The gospel—the message that can lead to being right with God—is the truth of what God has done for us through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

But what good does it do our families if we never exemplify the gospel, by living it out every day, or by communicating God’s worth? My resolve was strengthened as well as inspired by reading this small tome. I’ll finish this post with something Whitney wrote at the end of Family Worship. “Blessed is the family where the good news of what God has done through Jesus Christ is declared, day after day, generation after generation.”

 

 

 

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House Shopping and the Solace of God’s Sovereignty

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Thou art the blessed God, happy in Thyself, source of happiness in Thy creatures, my maker, benefactor, proprietor, upholder. Thou hast produced and sustained me, supported and indulged me, saved and kept me; Thou art in every situation able to meet my needs and miseries.

-Divine Support, The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

My wife and I are in the middle of shopping for a house to buy. We have been pre-approved and have been searching out listings via realtor websites. Today was the first day we went out with a real estate agent to look at houses. We (me, my wife and our five kids) went to look at five different places and at least one we really like to the point we are praying about and thinking about making an offer on. Facing a mortgage is so very surreal, however. It’s a commitment one ought not to take lightly. The foreclosure rate during the last housing market crash still is fresh on my mind (and I have never had a mortgage before). There are many “what-ifs” and uncertainties in life, and taking steps towards any substantial life-altering decision is more than slightly daunting.

Recently, I had a chance to converse through texts with a good friend of mine, who has a wife and three children and currently lives in Nebraska. We both expressed witnessing the very stark and important truth of God’s sovereignty in each of our own lives. “Man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps,” my buddy texted, quoting Proverbs 16:9. I found solace and freedom in that reminder. God made the Universe, galaxies, stars, planets (even one’s with debatable statuses like Pluto), and He upholds all of it! It isn’t a long shot, then, to trust in God’s provision for temporal needs. In fact, His unfathomable free grace bestowed to His people laden with the wages of sin is more than enough to sing praise for all eternity even if He did nothing but that.

That will be my meditation during this time of seeking the right and wise thing to do while house shopping and facing mortgage terms.

 

Chasing Down History and Phantom Covered Wagons

Huntington Valley- north of Overland Pass.
Huntington Valley- north of Overland Pass.

We hit the dusty trail again yesterday afternoon, following the infamous Hastings Cutoff backwards. Not far from the canyon overlook we explored last week, we traveled west of the small one-bar town of Jiggs in Huntington Valley, where we hoped to find some wagon rut remains where the trail cuts across Huntington Creek.

My kids sat in their seats and boosters, anxiously peering out the car windows, expecting to see real canvas covered wagons led by oxen. My wife explained that we were looking for the wagon trail, but there would be no actual wagons amongst the sage and sun-cracked soil. Nevertheless, they continued gazing out in the distance—hopeful. Even if there weren’t any emigrants atop buckboards holding leather reins to teams of oxen, horses or mules, a certain special quality came over us as we geeked-out chasing this old trail.

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Huntington Creek in all its muddy glory

After turning around once or twice, stopping to snap pictures a couple times, we referred back to three different maps, including our Benchmark road atlas, a fold-out topographical map and a topo app on my Android. We knew were on the right track, so to speak, as we came to an obscure historical marker. The wind was picking up and small dust devils swirled out on the horizon. A rough, washed out dirt road branched off  our path, catching our attention. It ran  diagonal to the marker, and according to our maps, Hastings Cutoff ran in both directions. We turned down the washed out road and parked out car, letting the oldest two kids out to explore.

It was here, we believe, we found old wagon ruts. History geeks unite!

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From there we headed over the Rubies on Overland Pass, joining a part of the Pony Express Trail. Two historically significant trails in American history in one afternoon!

We took many more photos and read many more markers as the day wore on into evening. Once over the summit, we descended into Ruby Valley, turned left, heading north to Secret Pass, which is lies between two ranges—the Ruby Mountains and the East Humboldt range. We looped back to Elko via the interstate and made it home before dark. We drove over two hundred miles within an afternoon, something that would have taken wagon trains ten to fourteen days to do without problems. We bid the trail and phantom covered wagons adieu with fast food awaiting us in town.

Petroglyphs & Lonely Road Rambling

Photo: M.V.
Photo: M.V.

 I have been writing a series of posts about rambling and roving in Nevada. It’s a big state. Not as big as Alaska or Texas or California, but bigger than American Samoa, which is not a state, but you get the drift. It’s fairly big. So there’s plenty to write about in theory. At any rate, this is the third installment.


Depending on where you you live in the state of Nevada, most cool and worthwhile excursions are usually three to four hours away.

If you get out to north central Nevada, get out and ramble down highway 50, “The Loneliest Road in America.” You’ll find it is sparsely populated, and full of open space. There are things to do and things to see.  Make a pit stop between the towns of Austin and Eureka at Hickison Petroglyph Area. Resting between the Toquima and Simpson Park Mountains, Hickison provides a convenient opportunity to stop and stretch and see a few etchings made by pre-Columbian inhabitants. Two groups of petroglyphs are near the outhouses and parking area, while a another batch of rock art lies up a trail loop the more ambitious can hike.

A couple weeks ago my family and I got restless. After brainstorming about where to go, we at last decided to make the three hour drive out to see this particular petroglyph site. Depending on where you you live in the state of Nevada, most cool and worthwhile excursions are usually three to four hours away. It’s just how it is here in the Silver State, and pretty much in most rural, middle-of-nowhere places out West.

We had a grand time getting out and seeing the highways and byways of the Nevada Outback on this trip. The unseasonably warm weather had the sage and rabbit brush  greening up. We saw one lone pronghorn (or antelope) buck stray close to the highway, though we didn’t spot any others. Occasionally, there are wild horses and burros spotted on this stretch of road as well. Once we arrived at Hickison, we were more than eager to just plod out and begin our self-guided tour. First, however, we had to bust out the jackets, hats and mittens and dress our small children in winter wear because, despite the sunny weather, the wind chill was still probably close to freezing that day (as the snow on the ground reveals).

Setting off! (Photo: A.V.)
Setting off! (Photo: A.V.)

With our village of children dressed for war, we were finally ready to begin our half a mile hike, making our own small “discoveries” along the way.

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Photo: A.V. One of the ‘glyphs at Hickison. My wife and I debated on what this one is depicting . Some beast, dinosaur, or something for cryptologists to figure out?

  Interpreting the Hickison Petroglyphs: Hoof Prints or Vaginas?

I did a quick search on the ol’ interweb and found some interesting things about Hickison. There are at least two ways of interpreting this petroglyph site according to Online Nevada Encyclopedia , “[Hickison] was interpreted as a hunting locality… because the most common motif at the site was thought to represent ‘hoof prints.'” Alright, so far I’m tracking with this. The way the topography lays, sort of like a canyon, with ample natural rock obstructions, I can totally see how it would have made a great locale to corner pronghorn or deer. But wait, there’s more.

The article, which is brought to us by the Nevada Humanities, goes on to say, “An alternate interpretation identifies the marks as vulviforms (representations of female genitalia)…” Wait, What? “…[P]ossibly indicating that the site was the location of girls’ puberty rituals or the locale for a female cult of affliction centered on reproductive disorders.” Well, OK then. I suppose it’s how you look at the ‘glyphs because when we were out there snapping hundreds of photos with our small children in front of these things, my wife and I weren’t excitedly telling each other, “Hey isn’t this great to get out and take pictures of tons of ancient vaginas with our kids?”

I tend to interpret this as modern culture over-sexualizing things in the past. The same article further states, “There is no historic ethnographic record, however, of girls producing rock art as a part of their puberty ritual.” TRANSLATION: Basically, we made this crap up.

Moving on…

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I’m going with hoof prints… (Photo: A.V.)

So, as I try to salvage the rest of this post, it’s sufficient to say that it was a fun day with my family outside and seeing places where the ancients once stood and carved on rocks. Whatever the objects might be. As I’ve said before, Nevada has a treasure trove of things to explore, history to discover right off the highway, and above all, it is a fantastic catalyst for making memories.

Epic shot with the distance in the background (Photo: L.B.)
Epic shot with me and four out of five of our children with the Toiyabe Range in the background (Photo: L.B.)

Nevada Series: Fossil Hunting

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After a unloading a set of D8 dozer tracks in Carlin this morning, I met my family back in Elko for some off time. It was grocery day, that was all we had in mind. So I suggested we go fossil gathering, a great activity to bust out of the winter mode of operation.

We headed out of town, and not too far north, there’s a well-known and popular spot for collecting fossilized invertebrates (sadly, no mammoths or ichthyosaurs). The Great Basin is basically a giant outdoor self-guided museum, with many artifacts available to collect and some simply known as “leverites” (as in, “Leave ‘er right where you found it”). These particular fossils require no permit to collect, providing one only takes up to twenty-five pounds per year. That was hard for our young children to grasp as they tried to haul off small boulders with embedded brachiopods.

In the future, I believe we will use the Nevada Fossil Sites section of CollectingFossils.org when we plan on hitting the trail again. Plenty of obscure as well as highly visited sites are available to anyone wanting to get out and discover for themselves wonders by the wayside. I’m fortunate to have both a wife and village of children who are enthusiastic about exploring where we live.

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Youngest son getting exposed to geology

Nevada has many more “exhibits” to discover and enjoy. It’s a grand time just to get out and be nomadic with my family. We are a clan of people filled with curiosity and wanderlust. Seeking things out satisfies that thirst, and it’s how we desire to raise our children. Being a Christian doesn’t inherently make one indifferent to the mechanics of natural science and the realm of creation; in reality, having this thirst for exploring is only heightened when grace has been experienced. The God who gave me what I did not deserve also made a world filled with wonder, and so rambling within His world must be worth the trip.

The World in a Whirlwind: Childhood, Beauty, Sin, and Redemption

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Photo: Matt Valdez

Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf
Ring them bells for all of us who are left
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through
Ring them bells, for the time that flies
For the child that cries
When innocence dies

-Bob Dylan, Ring Them Bells , verse IV

The world my children have been born into is a contradictory mix of beauty, joy, sin and and indifference; it is a whirlwind of people vying for power and little children making mud pies and receiving a catechism lesson at bedtime. A quick glance at today’s current events shatters the “Happy Humanist” illusion of humanity’s inherent goodness, provoking some to curse the God they don’t believe in while exciting others who can’t wait to use their “bug out bags.”

My five children are all young–five years old and under kind of young. Our home has wooden blocks, stray A.A. Milne books, and cloth diapers in a wicker basket next to our glider rocker in the corner. Our refrigerator is a smattering of colorful art displays, a craft-foam magnet made at Sunday school which says, “God keeps His promises,” family photos, and occasionally a crayon mark at various spots within the lower three feet of the door. Their world is oatmeal and waffles, swing sets and learning letters, anticipating Christmas and their birthdays.

In contrast to the refuge of our home, the pangs of death and murder, genocide and unspeakable atrocities occur in other places as we kiss our children good night and tuck them in. Somewhere there are mortar shells destroying, a marriage dissolving, betrayal, hearts raging against themselves and the knowledge of God they seek to suppress. And yet our children sleep.

The evidence of children is everywhere in our house, our home, a storehouse of nourishment, affection, correction, teaching, refuge and unconditional love. Children bring a joie de vivre even in a world of violence and uncertainty. Childhood is an extremely fleeting time of life. An important and precious time. I cannot believe how fast the time we have had with our ever-growing family has been spent. The shortness of this perilous time provokes an ever deepening sense of calling within me to ensure my children each have the understanding of their own smallness and God’s bigness. They need to know there are troubles and woes because of sin, but peace and joy because of Christ.

The LORD tames the rebel’s heart and atones for his wrongs,

Turns hellish shouts and sobs into contrite thanksgiving songs.


Veldez, a blog, is layman literature which includes observations about family life, vocation, books, music, the outdoors, and life as it is. Written from the perspective of a twenty-something husband and father of four, a Christian worldview is the common thread throughout.

 

 

Explaining Sex to Grown Ups and Other Fun Things Parents of Soon-to-Be Five Kids Get to Do for Fun

Me and the first born
Me and the first born

It’s Sunday afternoon here in Northeastern Nevada. It’s a warm, still day today—a small pause from the wind lately. I’m listening to A Prairie Home Companion, thinking about the new baby coming soon. My lovely wife is soon due to deliver our fifth child, our third girl. A special feeling it is to be a parent, a father; also, daunting because it’s not easy and it’s laden with responsibility. Without romanticizing it, it’s hard. I’d like to turn this reflective post away from sounding like a sage-on-the-hill, and turn it over to reflecting on a few interesting responses I have received from acquaintances and fellow men folk on the job.

1. “You know what causes that, don’t you?”

Definitely had to start with this response because it’s said so often. If there were royalties paid out for this question, I’m sure the originator is stupidly rich, sipping on a cappuccino garnished with gold dust on his moon yacht.  “You know what causes that, don’t you?” is the ultimate response question! After our second child was born we began to hear this particular chestnut just about every time we went to church, the grocery, the bank, the library, as well as the waiting room at doctor’s office (because if the doctor asked us, we would probably have to find a new doctor for obvious reasons).

I generally favor the most direct and graphic answer because it fits so well in directing the flow of the conversation.

Now, on the fifth kid, when my wife and I hear the painfully predictable question, we break out some of the new playfully sarcastic retorts we have stowed away for just such occasions. I generally favor the most direct and graphic answer because it fits so well in directing the flow of the conversation. Once in a while, I’ll answer this as if the grown ups in the room have absolutely no idea what sex is and roll out with this: “So a mommy and a daddy have very passionate feelings for one another in such a way that…” And that usually keeps things lively.

2. “You have how many kids?”

This has been a tricky one due to the fact that this could go a couple different directions, but we have usually been able to skate through this segment by being ready for the follow-up questions such as: “Are you Mormon?” “Are you Catholic?” “Are you stupid or sumthin’?” After stating our non-affiliation with Smith and Young or the Vatican, and declare our historic,  Protestant-Evangelical beliefs, and how really we’re not really crazy, errant members of the Patriarch Movement, the questioner is usually nominally satisfied.

3. “Are they all yours… by the same girl?”

Yeah, this has usually been directed to me. Yes, by the way, good people, they all be my progeny by the same girl. I had a co-worker ask me this recently. When I answered in the affirmative, he proceeded to laugh out a wow and walked away.

Sometimes the responses aren’t negative or condescending at all. Sometimes there’s just awesome people out there with a genuine love for families with lots of children.

4. The Best Response Ever

The transport company I work for does a lot of work for a local branch of the drilling company Boart Longyear. We haul their drill rigs, water and pipe trucks, drill pipe, and whatever else they need hauled out to their drill sites. There’s a yard man named Dave, who I’ve come to respect and admire for the plain and simple fact that he’s a pleasant fellow who knows a thing or two. Since we transport often for Boart, Dave knows all of us drivers. When I was almost brand new, a few weeks into the job, he began chatting with me as we chained down a Rolligon on a lowboy.

In a genuinely interested tone, Dave finally got to the meat of the matter. “So I heard from the other guys you have a large family. How many kids do you have?” Oh, great, here we go…

I told him, “Four with one on the way.”

He smiled and nodded his head, “Oh, well, I have thirteen.” He didn’t say it quite like he was flaunting it, but I could read between the lines that he thought my “large” family was a cute concept. If he had a microphone, he could have dropped it while looking at me and then walked away. So rock star.

 

 

 

Grandpa’s Turkey Soup and the Weight of Glory

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

2 Corinthians 4:17

The turkey soup was in a copper-bottom stainless steel Revere pot resting on top of the wood stove in Grandpa’s shop. It was two days after Thanksgiving eight years ago. I remember it was cold out, cold enough to make nose hairs freeze and ears pine for the equator. “Come on in and take a seat, Matt,” Grandpa said as I walked in out of the cold. He was stirring the soup with a ladle and had a couple bowls and a box of plastic spoons standing by. The stove had a good fire going in it and there was a three foot by four foot stack of Douglas fir to the right of the stove against the wall- split and ready to add to the fire. The shop, stick-built and spacious, was mostly finished, needing only the interior finished. The wall studs were bare with the paper backing of the insulation showing. The ceiling was open and uninsulated but all the light fixtures were wired in and doing a nice job of brightening up the place.

“We’ll get this shop finished up next spring,” said Grandpa. We both chatted and talked, catching up on things. I had just moved to North Central Washington from the Puget Sound only a week or so before. It was good to sit there in the quiet, listening to the fire crack and pop, the heat of the stove chasing the bitter cold away. Being the late part of November, with subzero temperatures and snow already on the ground to stay, fall was practically gone, so naturally we speculated about how much snow we would get throughout the next three or four months.

In a whimsically reflective tone, Grandpa began telling me about the reason behind building this shop. “The Quonset hut was crushed under the weight of last winter’s snow. Nearly completely demolished the Mazda pickup we had and could’ve demolished me.” Clearly, he was in the “laugh about it later” stage because he joked about it. I suppose it was a good thing he didn’t go back for whatever he left in that Mazda. Since the old galvanized metal shop was no more, it was only logical that a better, stronger, more up to code building be its replacement. (I think there is a inherent yearning hardwired into a lot of men to strive after a garage or workshop if they have never had one all their life. I write this with no other evidence than what I can remember of my Grandpa. He made due without one in different ways for most of his life. Also, for myself, I yearn for a shop myself.)

“I mainly supervised and drove to town for building supplies throughout the construction,” he said. He emphasized the word supervise pretty heavily with a smile. “Soup’s ready,” he said sipping the soup and confirming it was hot. Here’s a bowl, and the spoons are on that table.” We each filled our bowls up with a hot, brothy soup filled with a liberal amount of turkey and vegetables. Leftovers from Thanksgiving. We ate and talked more like two old buddies with winter outside and soup and firewood within. It was savory, but not overly so. “I made this yesterday but it tastes better today, I think. It’s always better the next day.”

Turkey Soup and the Fall of Rome

When one is in the middle of a monumental moment in life, seldom does one grasp the gravity of it. In and of itself, turkey soup certainly does not compare with the freezing of the Rhine River in impacting the fall of Rome and changing the course of Western Civilization. Nor does it conjure up images of Beowulf slaying a dragon. It was simply soup made by my Grandpa. The fellow who told me stories about moonshiners in Kentucky, one of his older brothers being chased by a panther in a “holler” in the dark, and his conversion to Christianity in his twenties, and almost being murdered by a rooster. The grandfather who built me and my brother a tree house, took us fishing, and threw a hatchet into a tree from forty feet. The guy who told me when I was just starting to drive, “Don’t worry about turn signals; they’ll only get you killed.” He was like Chuck Norris to me growing up, light on the martial arts and heavy on the Kentucky and old country music.

However mundane turkey soup can be, lacking the historical impact on the “big picture” of things, in a fissure of time, that pot of soup will always be something important in my own life.

Fleeting Flicker

The cold chill outside sat at bay while in the shop, sitting on white plastic chairs in front of the wood stove, Grandpa and I chatted as we were being warmed by the fire with soup in our bellies. We got up to leave the warmth of the shop, pulling the damper all the way out to kill the fire.

“Shouldn’t we take the pot of soup in the house to save for later?” I asked.

“Nah, we’ll leave it out here. It’ll cool down fast in here once the fire’s out. It’s probably below zero out now,” Grandpa replied. So we left that pot of soup on the stove. “We’ll come back out here tomorrow anyway and have lunch then.” We both then turned and headed out the door where the air instantly bit and numbed our faces. (Later that winter, the temperatures dipped to minus twenty, and some north facing draws got down to minus thirty without windchill.)

The next day was just about as cold. The clear night of deafening cold gave way to sunshine without a cloud in the sky. The feeling one gets after coming down from a high from Thanksgiving was still looming, with the anxious sentiment of Christmas looming larger still. It was a happy time. That morning, conversation took place over a piece of pie and a cup of black coffee. Having newly moved, job prospects and my plan now that I had quit my job on the coast to come to the quiet of a rural area were, naturally, prominent topics between Grandpa and me.

“There’s a saw mill down in town,” Grandpa informed me. “Also, there’s a gold mine supposedly under construction up on Buckhorn Mountain.” I nodded, having heard about these potential opportunities along with a few others. Grandpa and I talked a lot about work all that day, which both added to my enthusiasm as well as to sobering me up to the fact that I quit a steady job in a more robust economy and moved over to a more economically repressed community of mostly retired people in the slowest time of year in terms of job markets. I had to be honest with myself, I moved over because of a girl. Eventually, that girl became my wife, but, as it is said, that is another story. (A success story.)

It seemed like talking was the biggest activity me and Grandpa did since I moved there. Eating even took a subordinate position to being the fuel for dialogue between me and the man who could throw a hatchet into a tree trunk at forty feet. I was twenty and could hold my own in a conversation, but I still felt boyish around him, begging him to tell me once more about the time he fell out of a barn loft, being saved by impaling his wrist on a hay hook dangling from a chain. Chuck Norris, who?

Eventually, we did make it back out to the shop, which had cooled down to not much warmer than outside. The soup was not frozen solid, but it was kept cold enough not to have spoiled. Grandpa and I teamed up and got a fire going. He opened the damper and got some newspaper ready. I took a hatchet and split a bit of kindling off a piece of larch, positioning the wood on the wadded up paper. He lit it, and once the splintered pieces began to burn nicely, we added a few rounds of larch and fir. The stove began to heat up and heave out groanings and pops indicative of a good fire. Soon enough we were both helping ourselves to another bowl of hot turkey soup. After we had eaten and talked a while more, Grandpa opened the stove door. The coals inside flickered and the flames danced, pulsating with an abundance of fuel and oxygen. He threw another small log in and shut the door. Another hour our so, we dampened the fire back down and left, leaving the flames to decrease to flickers and eventually extinguish.

Supper and Reflection

That evening we had supper in the house. Outside nothing stirred, the trees and the snow deafened any noise. Inside, the house was aglow with lights from the kitchen and front room where we all sat at the dining table, having finished our meal. The quiet outside was more than compensated for by the commotion of voices inside. Laughs and sighs from everyone due to funny stories gave way to only a voice or two, one at a time, with others listening or taking turns talking. A lot of remembering. Before I left, the subject of our 2004 road trip out to Kentucky, Ohio, and Michigan came up. That brought smiles to each of us, but especially to me and Grandpa. We were always close, but, in a subjective way for me at least, on that trip me and him became best friends.

Many of our close relatives had died in so close a time frame, I said. Grandpa looked at me and nodded, wincing his eyes, furrowing his brow like he did when he was putting thought into something- or holding back a tear. Christians weeping for Christians who have died to this mortal life seems contradictory to the gospel. We are but flesh, with ties to this world, and longings for our true, eternal home. Grief is not antithetical to the gospel, but it is a part of the redemptive story. I’ll never fully comprehend it on this side of eternity, but I know that Christ became flesh for the sake of his own and for us he was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3b, ESV).

We said goodnight. I gave Grandpa a hug and he said, “See you later.”

Morning, Freezing Fog, and the Weight of Glory

I was sleeping in a camp trailer on my mother and stepfather’s property, when I was awoke by my mom opening the aluminum door, crying loudly. “What’s wrong,” I asked, startled and not wanting the answer to my question. “My dad is dead!” she said, fighting the words. “Grandpa died!” she said again, stepping back outside in a fit of tears.

I sat up, still in bed, feeling dazed and cold. Tears streamed down my face. I could see my breath. “Oh, Grandpa,” I said aloud, getting dressed. It was still dark, and the sun wouldn’t be up for another couple hours. It wouldn’t matter anyway, the icy fog blanketed everything in frost and shrouded visibility. I hopped in the truck with my folks, and we headed over to Grandma as quickly as we could.

When we got to my grandparents’ house, the fog had barely lifted at all. Everything was dark except for light coming from the windows. Once inside, we could hear Grandma before we saw her. All we could do was hug her and cry with her, finding Grandpa motionless in his recliner in the office room. The deepest of griefs is known when the reality of death is known. It’s at that moment when it’s hardest to triumphantly proclaim,

“O death, where is your victory?                                                                                               O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55)

It’s at such moments in time, where even the reality of Christ’s triumph over death, if we’re honest, is overshadowed by the aches in our hearts and the noise of our cries. When I saw Grandpa’s body lying still, without life, the only thing I could do was cry. No trying to hold back the shock or grief. Underlying it all, the sadness, the emptiness, and dumbfounded shock, the longing gave way to clinging to the “man of sorrows” instead of the body in the recliner.

Later that morning, the body was taken away, and more infinitely deep sadness welled up within me. Grandma sat still, exhausted, tears still flowing. Some solace came that day, when what seemed like the whole local church had shown up throughout the day. Everyone sharing in the loss, exchanging hugs, with some reminders of God’s faithfulness one expects to hear from fellow Christians. I walked outside. I went to the unfinished shop. It was cold, but I had to be alone. I built a fire and sat in solitude, watching the flames flicker and grow into a roaring fire. With the stove door open, I thought about how in the previous days, and the day before, I sat with my Grandpa, the man who told me stories of growing up in Kentucky, of bootleggers in dry counties, and how he learned to play guitar. The man who could throw a hatchet into a tree at forty feet.

Alone and out of sight, engrossed in sadness, I cannot say I was in that shop quoting scripture aloud, wearing a mass market Christian T-shirt with a picture of some blue jeans with holes in the knees that says “Pray Hard!” Not so much. I wasn’t wearing a Bible camp smile. Nothing significant was going through my head. But in a completely objective sense, I knew this much, that God has swallowed up death forever and that he will wipe away tears from the faces of his elect (Is. 25:8).

I closed the stove door and put my head in my hands and sobbed. It was an honest longing, the admission that we were made for more than this transitory place, heaped up in runny-nosed scalding tears. Then I looked up and stared at the Revere copper-bottom pot. I got up and opened the lid. Soup’s about ready to eat, I thought. I got a bowl, heaping turkey soup into it. And I ate.

Robin Williams, Hook, and What I Retrospectively Learned About Fatherhood From My Favorite Peter Pan

The 1991 Spielberg movie, Hook, with Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman, probably is one of the first movies I can remember thinking of as a “favorite”. I am discrediting and dating myself in the same sentence when I say that I was five years old and some change when this flick came out. I probably actually first watched it a few years later, but regardless of that irrelevancy, I will admit here and now that I can say Hook is one of those movies that left it’s cultural mark on me.


Parenthetically, it is no new thing for people, famous or not, who we have become accustomed to having around, whether in our normal everyday lives or on the silver screen, to shake us out of a stupor when they die. I count myself with the uncountable when I say I was shaken out of my personal attitude of taking one for granted today when I heard the news about Robin Williams’ death. The relevancy of this man’s life is not measured in how funny he was (he was very funny), or how famous he was (he was that, too), but the fact that he existed at all. He mattered.


When I first watched Hook, I watched it as a young kid who could pick up on the plot line of a workaholic lawyer, a husband and father of two, who also happened to be the grown up version of the boy Peter Pan. I watched how this man in the movie’s first act couldn’t arrive to his son’s baseball game on time, and how his priorities were swayed more towards being successful in his career than as husband and dad. Also, by the third act, I can remember the triumph over shame in Peter being there for his kids when they needed him the most.

Williams’ acting, in my opinion, was perfectly tuned to the attitude many of us, men or women, gear ourselves towards. Be successful, stand out in our profession, gain commendation from our peers, and, naturally, make lots of money. All well and good, but not so much if it’s all at the expense of the reasons why those strivings matter in the first place.

As a boy, I can remember my dad working and doing his best to be the best in his field. I salute him for doing so. But I can remember that I didn’t care if he was the best at what he did; I cared about him and the time spent with him. In the movie, I believe, that family element was touched upon via Peter rescuing his kids as well as making his office as Dad more important than his career.

As a dad now myself, the impact of that basic lesson hits me again, this time as a father learning the lesson every day. This is what I find ultimately valuable from watching this adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: Williams’ character struggled with very real everyman obstacles in a fantastical setting. The domestic problems he had in the real, everyday, normal world were made drastically and painfully more urgent in Neverland. In the former, he unwittingly ignored his family in order to succeed (and oddly enough provide for said ignored family). In the latter, his children had been captured by Captain Hook and hauled off to Neverland, and their lives were clearly in peril by outside influence (or walking the plank, or semi-dead crocodile).

Williams’ character, like all of us, faced choices. Ultimately, in the face of very clear consequences, he chose to do what was right and place others’ before himself. Any good story has that elemental truth in it, whether or not the protagonist opts for the good or not. As a Robin Williams fan, I can enjoy his finest work. As a fan of the movie, Hook, I will draw from it’s enjoyable and entertaining tale. As a husband and father of four (soon to be five), I will draw all that I can from sources which do not shy away from presenting stark truths. As a Christian, to paraphrase C.H. Spurgeon, I can draw from many sources, but I live in the Bible.

To me, Hook is a great film. I was and still am a Peter Pan fan. Also, I find all the early ’90s idiosyncrasies nostalgic as well as humorous. The cell phone with the retractable antenna and Rufio’s hair adds up to limitless laughs. The “Gandhi ate more than this” quote during the food fight scene is probably one of my favorite comedic moments in the film. All in all, culturally, looking back on this movie brings back part of my childhood. Also, I can’t ignore the truths found in its script either.

And, yes, I cannot mention this movie without saying this: I, too, will miss Robin Williams.

 

 

 

With a Little Help From Matthew Henry

Contemplating many things this evening, regarding having and taking care of a family. Meditating on Psalm 127 and 128, I especially appreciate Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Ps. 127. Here is a portion:

For enriching a family. Some are so eager upon the world, that they are continually full of care, which makes their comforts bitter, and their lives a burden. All this is to get money; but all in vain, except God prosper them: while those who love the Lord, using due diligence in their lawful callings, and casting all their care upon him, have needful success, without uneasiness or vexation. Our care must be to keep ourselves in the love of God; then we may be easy, whether we have little or much of this world. But we must use the proper means very diligently. Children are God’s gifts, a heritage, and a reward; and are to be accounted blessings, and not burdens: he who sends mouths, will send meat, if we trust in him.

“Our care must be to keep ourselves in the love of God,” said Matthew Henry. I agree, not that we have to be super Christians to deserve His love, but as Christians, we ought to busy ourselves in reciprocating love towards the LORD. It’s also good to read and study these two psalms in light of Matthew 6:25-34.

I have glossed over this familiar passage simply because it is familiar. It’s easy to do so. In His summation in verse 33, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,  and all these things will be added to you” (ESV). I am going to bed with this on my mind. Must digest it further.