Thursday, August 21, 2014

Signs in Budapest

A running theme throughout the "signs" series is that often signs don't make it easier to understand what's trying to be communicated despite the intention of their illustrators. Our recent trip to Budapest is a great example. 

A. This sign is a classic. It's found in airports and public spaces all over Europe. Yet the arrow pointing up while the stick figure runs down makes it confusing. 
B. The easiest of the bunch, the simplicity of this sign stands in stark contrast to the bright complexity of St. Stephen's Basilica. 

C. What I originally thought were quotation marks are actually graffiti. Yet the X on the yield sign is intentional. 

D. I don't think context helps here, but this sign is on the lower part of a wall facing the sidewalk. There are no electric, plumbing or other devices close to the sign at all.  

I think I have the first three figured out. Any guesses on the last one?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Happy 90th Birthday Grandma!

Dear Grandma,

Today is your day!

I wish our family could be there to celebrate with you. While it would be a bit noisy and chaotic with four kids five and under, we would love to share in the festivities.

My wife and I are in the middle of a phase when our children change so quickly. It seems like they learn or do something new everyday. Things are always changing around us.

But when I think of you, I see an example of faithfulness.

You are a polio survivor. You and grandpa raised three children - one of whom has Down's syndrome. Various situations caused you to move numerous times in your lives, often at times when it became increasingly difficult. You've faced many forms of adversity throughout your life.

Yet, your faith hasn't wavered. You continue to put your trust in the One who is faithful. And doing so has allowed your face to radiate with God's faithfulness.

Since I've known you, I've seen that come out in your selflessness. You played endless games of Monopoly and Payday with me when I was growing up as if there were nothing more you'd rather do the whole day. And you've always taken such joy in gift-giving.

These days it comes out in the cards you create and send by mail regularly. We frequently receive envelopes filled with the newest family pictures wishing us a Happy Spring or 4th of July. None of our 6 birthdays get left out either. You also signed up for Facebook and Skype around the same time we did so we could stay in touch.

We are so thankful for you, Grandma. Your selflessness and faithfulness are an example to all of us. And they are characteristics that I would love for our children to embrace.

I'm sorry we can't be there to celebrate with you today. While there would constantly be a swirl of activity around you during your celebration, it would be fitting that your presence would be in the middle of it all.

Happy 90th Birthday, Grandma! We love you.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Faucet

Now the oldest brother was more crafty than any other offspring of the home that the Bohall Family lived in.

He said to the little brother, "Did daddy actually say, 'You shall not touch anything in the yard'?" And the little brother said to the oldest brother, "We may touch any of the toys in the yard, but daddy said, "You shall not turn the handle of the faucet that is on the side of the house, neither shall you touch it, lest you be sent to the naughty corner."

But the older brother said to the younger brother, "You will not surely be sent to the naughty corner. For daddy knows that when you turn the handle your hands will be skillful, and you will be like daddy, able to fill the swimming pool."

So when the younger brother saw that the faucet was good for drink, and that its red handle was a delight to the eyes, and that the faucet was to be desired to make one powerful, he turned the handle and drank and he also gave some to his little sister who was with him and she drank. Then the senses of both were heightened and they knew that they were wet. And they took off their clothes and made themselves naked.

And they heard the sound of daddy walking in the yard in the heat of the day, and the younger brother and sister hid from the presence of daddy among the pine trees of the yard.

But daddy called to the sister and said to her, "Where are you?" And she said "I heard the sound of you in the yard and I was afraid because I was wet, and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were wet? Have you turned the handle of the faucet I commanded you not to touch?" The sister said, "The brother whom you allowed to play with me, he gave me the water of the faucet, and I drank."

Then daddy said to the little brother, "What is this that you have done?" The little brother said, "the oldest brother deceived me and I turned the handle."

Daddy said to the oldest brother, 
The fact that you have done this, shows that you are devious. To your room you shall go and no lunch shall you eat until after your quiet time. There is enmity between you and your younger brother and between your younger brother and your sister.
To the younger brother daddy said,
Your shame is multiplied when you persuade other children to do wrong. Your desire is to please your brother but when you are convinced to disobey he shows his power over you. You shall go to the naughty corner. 
And to the little sister daddy said,
Because you have listened to the voice of your brother and have turned the handle of the faucet of which I commanded you, 'you shall not turn it', you shall be separated from your siblings for the next half hour.
The sister called her brother's name Ian, because that's what her parents named him. And daddy brought dry clothes down from their room and clothed them.

Then daddy said, "Behold my kids have become like us, knowing how to fill the pool. Now, lest they reach out their hand and also open the gate and be free of the yard -" therefore daddy sent them inside the house and separated each of them from one another. He put the little brother in the naughty corner and put a lock on the gate that would be difficult to turn in order to guard the way out of the yard. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Lake Effect

What if our idea of ownership had less to do with money and more to do with enjoyment?

This morning I had the privilege of running around the Orahovica lake. From our house it's a slight incline all the way to the lake and a decline back. But the half mile run around the lake is flat, peaceful and, on days like today, a pure delight.

I was the only one there this morning - save for the frogs who lined the rocks at the deep section. As I approached they began jumping in the water as if I had arranged a synchronized diving competition for them. My ever moving shadow provided the signal for their staggered plunges.

The water had just been let into the lake so it was as fresh as could be. Prompted by the wind, it lapped over the man-made banks of the lake inviting me to refresh myself. The reflection of the sky was warped but it still pointed me to the beautiful patterns of clouds overhead. The various trees crowning the hills around me made the visual treat complete. The lake was mine to enjoy.

Orahovica Jezero Fall 2013
It was not mine in the sense that I had the opportunity to use it to my advantage. I had no right to manipulate its source of beauty and refreshment for my monetary gain. There are others with that right. But I would argue that that sense of ownership is only secondary and ultimately less fulfilling.

Instead I had full access to the peace it conveyed to me as I ran around it. Even more importantly, I possessed the lake's inherent quality of pointing me to something higher, deeper and more beautiful. It reminded me of its Creator - the One to whom all things ultimately belong. This reminder filled me with joy and prompted several more laps around the lake. Each lap was faster than the previous because of the energy I had gained.

Yes, the lake was all mine this morning. Thankfully, the enjoyment I experienced was something I didn't have to leave there.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

One of Those Moments

I told your mommy it was one of the highlights of my life so far.
When you asked if we could kiss between each bar of your crib,
me on my side, you on yours.
I didn't think you'd have the patience to accomplish your goal.

You squeezed your head into the small space as hard as you could. Then you invited me:
Just a small kiss. "One".
Another one. "Two."
Still another, but this time you pulled my head closer. "Three."
A fourth kiss. "Sixteen."
Then "Twenty!"

You continued all the way until the end. Sweet innocent kisses, smiles.
And your beautiful blond hair tickling each of our noses as we went.
You wanted to be close to your daddy.

I know there'll be a time when you won't.
And it grieves me already that these moments come and go so quickly.

Yet this one is there forever.
You and me.

You are my Lovely Little Lady.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Do It Yourself

One of the things I've learned about myself recently is that I love finding things in everyday life that lead me to contemplation but ultimately point right back to everyday life. Like most people, I like to escape. But I don't simply escape for the sake of leaving. For me, the attractive part of escaping is being stronger when I'm present.

This part of me showed up a few weeks ago in the middle of Wroclaw, Poland - a city of over 700,000 people. The group I was with had the opportunity to sight-see in the old town. When I learned that Wroclaw was the birthplace of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I immediately made up my mind to do whatever I could to see whatever it was that commemorated his life.

When I got there though, I found myself frustrated by the fact that so many others were also interested in the Bonhoeffer Memorial. So, staying in the vicinity, I walked around a bit, keeping my eye on the memorial but also looking for other things that might catch my attention. Then I saw this:

"Do it yourself". 

It was enough to disturb my frustration over the crowd in front of the memorial. And it took me away for a few minutes. What was it, a command? A suggestion? An invitation?

Then it was time to get back to the bus. Another meeting to attend. This time we were to talk about how we can reach children in each European country. What paperwork do we have to complete? Where will the next camp take place? A real life conference, based upon the very event I was being reminded of, couldn't have seemed more foreign to me as these thoughts and questions penetrated my mind. 

But as I continually contemplated "doing it myself", I realized the irony is that the message of this piece of art contradicts the message of the cross. Not that the art was "wrong". I don't think we can make that sort of distinction with anything that leads us to critically examine our faith. Rather, the suggestion that I, the observer can do anything myself, is leading me away from the heart of the biblical message.  

This biblical truth has real life implications. The fact that I am only justified by Jesus' sacrifice reminds me that I cannot  - nor need not  - justify myself. What a freeing thought!  I left Wroclaw thankful that I don't have to do it myself. 

How would you interpret this piece of art?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Renewal, Freedom and Fish

The fish my son received for his birthday is only free if it's in water, if it has food to eat, and if it eats the food it's given. "Greenlighty", the name our oldest son gave his new fish, died three days after it arrived to our house. Enoh wasn't devastated though. The fact that Greenlighty wasn't eating gave him a few days to prepare for his death.


Last week, I spent a couple days up in the northern part of Hungary with some guys from America, Hungary, Serbia and Croatia. For the second time in three years, we were gathered with the intent of being renewed. Our conversations were centered around the New Testament book of First Peter.

In the second chapter of this letter, Peter calls the Church to live as free people. I wonder how foreign that must have sounded to this persecuted group of exiles. Yet as we continue reading, we find that the freedom they are to live out is set within the framework of being a servant. They were to be free servants of God (2:16). How does that work?

Our approximately 48 hours of renewal included a time of silent reflection and prayer. During this time I found myself redefining some of the borders that secure my freedom. I realized I was neglecting several areas of my life that were vital to living freely. Rebuilding those walls would mean tightening some of the relationships I have with others; freedom wouldn't be found in letting go as much as it would be in grabbing onto.

That's when I remembered that the Gospel I proclaim is all about the person of Jesus Christ. The closer I am to him, the freer I am. In fact, being a servant of God allows me to live as a free man. Like the fish, we are only free if we live within the structure we have been created to live in.

When we live in this freedom, it's expressed to others by honoring them (2:17). And we're to do so regardless of how they respond. Peter wasn't exhorting the Church to honor others so that they would be honored in turn. No, he told them to do so because honoring others is a proper expression of freedom.

My wife, four kids and job in our local church is the current framework for my freedom. And as tempting as it is to find this context limiting, the call to live as a servant of God is, in fact, liberating. At the risk of oversimplifying, my freedom comes from obedience to God and service to others. Coming to this realization, and taking time to figure out how it works practically is difficult at times. But I'm thankful for the quiet moments I've been given to reflect on what it means to live in freedom.