Giving Cancer the Middle Finger

I’m excited to read the new book from Nora McInerny Purmort, It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too). You may have seen the headlines about her: she married her husband after his brain cancer diagnosis and they decided to have a child even though he was dying.

A book about cancer and death? Oh joy, right?

Yeah, Nora is freaking hilarious. I saw her speak a few months back and the whole place was laughing to tears. She’s one of these incredible people who can make us laugh in the face of cancer and death.

Sometimes we need to give cancer the ol’ middle finger.

The Pioneer Press has a great profile of Nora, and I just loved this section:

Grieving widow books are thriving, many offering some version of “God gave me strength and made me a better person.” Not Nora Purmort.

“I hate that sh–. I didn’t want to write that book,” she says. “I don’t think things happen for a reason, and it’s not nice to say this is God’s plan.”

Amen.

Can We Have a Little Compassion?

I shared this article on Facebook last week, but I think it’s important enough that I’m going to share it again:

There’s a lot of freaking out happening right now over gender issues. I think much of it comes down to misunderstanding. Transgender is a weird issue and a lot of us don’t understand it.

If we say that we love people, then we need to try to understand it and have some compassion. That article is a start.

Because you may not know it yet, but you probably know a transgender person. I didn’t know anyone personally—until today. We need to listen. We need to [try to] understand. We need some compassion.

And we’re going to ask dumb questions or say offensive things. And we’ll need grace.

I came across this passage in the book I’m reading right now, Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. The main character, Pat, has some kind of mental health issues and he just read the very depressing The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Pat asks his therapist why kids in school should have to read it:

“Life is hard, Pat, and children have to be told how hard life is.”

“Why?”

“So they will be sympathetic to others. So they will understand that some people have it harder than they do and that a trip through this world can be a wildly different experience, depending on what chemicals are raging through one’s head.”

Some of us have life easier than others (another way to describe privilege). And so before we judge people based on that or apply our theology or political ideology to it, I think we need to have some compassion.

What other response should we have to hurting people?

Transgender: Love or Legislate?

There’s no epidemic of bathroom assaults in this country. You know what there is? A rash of suicide among trans people—41%.

Love > Fear.

I really don’t want to get into some online debate about this. I dread it. But when I see people spewing hate and pretending it’s reasonable, I can’t keep quiet.

Trans people are more likely to be harassed, bullied, abused and rejected. It’s no wonder they’re trying to kill themselves at staggering numbers.

That should break our hearts.

But instead of loving, we’re legislating.

Let’s be honest: the transgender experience is weird and complicated and confusing. Most of us don’t understand it. Imagine trying to live it.

Yet instead of compassion, too many react in fear. We refuse to consider their actual experience and assume we know better. When will we stop trying to inflict our morality on hurting people?

Look: I don’t care about the theology or morality or whatever surrounding the transgender issue. All that sermonizing doesn’t mean anything when kids put knives to their wrists.

You either care about that person or you don’t. You either love them like Jesus did—right or wrong, accident or choice, sin or something else—or what the hell are you doing?

We hate one another too easily. That’s not the gospel I believe. Sometimes I think we’ve forgotten the Good Samaritan.

Want to understand this issue better? Try talking to a trans person. The next best thing: Try reading their experience. It’s a start.

 

  • Rethinking Normal: A Memoir in Transition by Katie Rain Hill
  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out
  • Some Assembly Required: The Not-So-Secret Life of a Transgender Teen by Arin Andrews
  • Young adult fiction: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kristin Cronn-Mills
  • Middle grade fiction: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

 

Have some compassion, even if you don’t understand or disagree. These are people too.

Be a Quitter

That's How We've Always Done It: Is Your Church Ready to Quit? 166 Ways to Be a QuitterIt all started with Bob Goff. He quits something every Thursday. It inspired my latest book, Is Your Church Ready to Quit?: 166 Ways to Be a Quitter.

We’re afraid of failure and scared to quit. The result is that we keep doing things we shouldn’t be doing. That’s why Bob started quitting every week:

“I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me. But now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” -Bob Goff

I like consistency. I’ve lived in Minnesota since 1997. I’ve been blogging since 1998. Attending my church since 2001. Freelancing since 2003. Editing Church Marketing Sucks since 2004. Living in my current house since 2007. I don’t like change.

But sometimes we need change. We need to be willing to quit.

I took Bob’s encouragement to quit and shared it with freelancers through iThemes last year. I even called Bob for the article, which was kind of weird (his phone number is in his book and he encourages people to just call him; so I did).

The idea resonated, so I translated it to churches and ran a blog series on Church Marketing Sucks last August. We shared 30 things to quit. Then 30 more. The idea still resonated, so I expanded it into a list of 166 things to quit, complete with added commentary.

The result is the ebook, Is Your Church Ready to Quit?: 166 Ways to Be a Quitter. It’s a fun little project.

You can buy it at Amazon (or borrow it for free if you’ve got a Kindle) or check out a free preview.

Show Your Work: Time Travel Story

I’m trying to write a novel. Again.

Writing fiction is scary work for me. It’s hard. And I don’t think I’m very good at it. Plus there’s practically zero financial incentive.

But nobody writes books to make money.

You have to do it because you love it. Because you have a good idea inside that you can’t help but share with the world. It helps if the process of writing you occasionally find enjoyable.

I don’t know if I have a good idea or not, but it’s inside me and wants to get out. Every now and then there are times when the writing process is amazing. But especially with fiction there are long stretches when the words are wooden, the sentences flat and I wonder why I’m wasting perfectly good time that I could be doing nearly anything else.

I’ve started and stopped this latest novel a few times now. I’m trying again.

The motivation this time is that I realized the story I’m wanting to tell is a story I’d like to read to my children. I read to my kids nearly every day. We read lots of different books and now that we’re reading middle grade novels and not rhyming picture books, I really enjoy it. I love reading a book that captures my kids attention. I love reading a book that has wonderful words, spectacular phrasing and dialogue that makes me try to be a performer and not a mere reader.

I wonder if I can write that kind of book.

I probably can’t.

I’ve written three novels and have never been able to get them past a second draft to a point where I’d say they’re finished. I have a hard time following through.

It’s not that I’m lacking confidence, it’s that I’m trying to be realistic.

Yet I have this idea. It keeps working on me, spinning in the back of my head, trying to become something. It’s about a reluctant time traveler.

Happy Easter Music Mix

Holy Week began yesterday morning with the waving of the palms. We stood outside our church on the corner of Ford Parkway and Macalester, savoring the little bit of sun that offered warmth against the bitter Minnesota cold. It may have been the first day of spring, but it was still in the 30s. We waved our palms to sing Hosanna, to fight back the cold, to celebrate the march toward Easter.

So with that backdrop I offer an Easter music list.

I’m always making mix CDs for my wife, and as I started another list for her, I realized I was collecting a lot of gospel songs. Most of my mixes are pretty random, so I decided to lean into the theme.

The result is a collection of music that speaks to faith and spirituality and hope and the gospel. I’m well beyond saying this is “Christian” music, but it is a collection of hymns, psalms and laments, tinged with that old-time gospel sound.

  1. “Little Light” by The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers
  2. “What Wondrous Love Is This? by Chelsea Moon & The Franz Brothers
  3. “Not Enough” by Caedmon’s Call
  4. “Here it Comes” by Romantica
  5. “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word” by The Welcome Wagon
  6. “The Man Comes Around” by Johnny Cash
  7. “Purpose (live)” by Cloud Cult
  8. “Hand in Hand” by Jayanthi Kyle
  9. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (Rattle & Hum movie version)” by U2
  10. “Be Thou My Vision” by Ginny Owens
  11. “All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons & Daughters
  12. “The Transfiguration” by Sufjan Stevens
  13. “Lamb of God, Have Mercy” by Gospel Machine
  14. “People of God” by Gungor
  15. “Poor Man’s Son” by Noah Gundersen
  16. “This Little Light” by Mavis Staples
  17. “This No More” by The Vespers
  18. “Amazing Grace (featuring The Lily of the Valley Gospel Choir)” by Justin McRoberts
  19. “40 (live)” by U2

Continue reading Happy Easter Music Mix

Faith in the Darkness: Disrupted Adoption

My friend Addie Zierman asked her readers to share their stories of faith in the darkness to mark the release of her new book, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. I highly recommend her book and have already shared about it, but I wanted to take up her challenge and write my own story.

This is not an easy story to share, as you’ll see. There’s more I could confess. There are other, different, arguably more important perspectives. But this is my perspective and the only one I can share. I ask your grace and mercy in sharing this, not for me alone, but for everyone who had a part in this season.

***

The darkest season in my life started with a nine hour stay at the emergency room. That night—well, early morning I guess—we came home without our daughter. We would see her again, but she never came back to our house.

This is the story of a disrupted adoption.

That’s safe, clinical language for an adoption that falls through. You welcome a child into your home, make her a part of your family and do everything you can to convince her that this is a permanent and lasting home.

And then you kick her out.

It’s the antithesis of everything adoption is supposed to be.

And it’s what my family went through in 2011.

I remember driving home from the hospital and passing a wrecked car abandoned in the street. There were no police. No flashing lights. No people standing around. Just a mangled car. Broken glass littered the street, catching our headlights and throwing pinpricks of glare into the early morning dark.

It looked like someone crashed into a parked car and then drove off.

That hit-and-run felt like too apt a metaphor for what had just happened to us. There was no one at the site of that accident—no one to blame, no one to accuse, no one to give answers or directions. Just a ruined car and a lot of questions. Continue reading Faith in the Darkness: Disrupted Adoption

Speak: 2003-2016

Yesterday we said goodbye to our dog, Speak.

I’m not really a dog person. My wife is, which is why we had three dogs at one point. Working at home, I’m the one who usually feeds and cleans up after the dogs. Yet my wife is the one they adore. I tend to resent them.

I sat down this morning to blog my thoughts on Speak’s passing, because I’m a writer and that’s how I process. It’s what I do. I thought I’d do a quick post, maybe do some work and come back to it, but that should be good.

Then I wrote 1,500 words and realized I was just getting started. I’m still not a dog person, but that dog had a hold on this person. He was part of our life for 13 years. He was there when I came home unemployed. He welcomed our kids into the family and grudgingly approved of the other two dogs. He had his own mini-career as a Target model. He’s there in so many family pictures, he’s sitting on the laps of our parents and friends. In the beginning he was always in the center of the frame, and as life has gone on he may not have been the center of our lives, but he was always on the edge of the frame. He’d look on with disdain that his nap had been interrupted, but there he was.

Speak died in my wife’s lap last night. I spent the day with him, taking him to the vet in the morning when his labored breathing wouldn’t settle down and laying with him in the afternoon when he worked to breathe, then struggled to stand and flopped around like a rag doll.

It was hard to watch.

Congestive heart failure was the vet’s diagnosis. He had a shot if he responded to the medicine. Yet he sat there on the floor of my office, fighting to live. I couldn’t sit there at my computer doing work, seeing him struggle.

So I laid down next to him. I pulled him into my lap and sat with him. For a few moments he’d rest against me, but then he’d move his head around. He’d try to stand up again and I’d catch him when he wavered. I’d ease him back down and lay next to him, trying to keep him calm and help him breathe easy.

I remembered one of the things Speak loved was attention from any guests who came to our house. One of our friends in particular, Nicole, was the best. Speak would plant himself in her lap and she would pet him all evening. She gave him the equivalent of a doggie massage, and he leaned into it.

So as he lay struggling—dying, really—I stroked Speak like Nicole did. And he leaned into it.

When Abby came home after work, Speak’s tail wagged. He lay there on the floor, unable to get up, working for each breath, his tongue grey and lolling out of his mouth. But my wife came home and his little stubby tail moved. I don’t think I’d seen him wag his tail all day. But there it was, his brave spirit in that small, happy gesture.

I ran to get dinner and the kids started eating in the kitchen while I went upstairs to check on Speak. Abby was sitting in the chair with Speak sprawled in her lap, sitting on a heating pad and covered with a towel.

Speak’s labored breathing had stopped. He wasn’t struggling anymore. Was the medicine finally working? It looked like he had a little more color. All afternoon he refused to lie that still. We didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

We watched him for a moment, and then that was it.

“I think his heart stopped,” Abby said.

I don’t think she wanted it that way, but Speak died in Abby’s lap. He waited until I got home, the not-a-dog-person, and then he went peacefully, quietly.

We told the kids and there were tears. Milo asked if we could name our next dog Speak. This morning they asked me if we could get another dog.

“Now I just have two dogs,” Milo lamented.

“That’s two more than a lot of people,” I said, always with the consolation.

I looked at pictures of Speak last night—literally hundreds—and tried to write a few words today. I’m cutting this short at 800, but I’ve got so many more words to say about that dog. It will likely become some too-long, self-indulgent essay, but that’s the way it is. As much as I want to say it’s just a dog, he was so much more.

Our Speak-a-ma-dog had a good run. We’ll miss him.

Faith in the Darkness

I’m spearheading an event at my church this week about faith in the darkness. We’re bringing in local author Addie Zierman to talk about what we do when God feels far off, whether it’s tragedy or hardship or just the malaise of daily struggles.

We’re in the midst of the bitter cold darkness of winter here in Minnesota, and while it’s starting to lighten up, this is a struggle we know all too well.

I’m a big fan of Addie’s debut memoir, When We Were on Fire, which chronicles her early love affair with evangelical culture (which I can relate to) and then her slide into adult faith—which included bouts of depression and near-alcoholism.  I thought Addie would bring the ideal perspective of someone who understands that life isn’t about the ideal.

It all dovetails nicely with Addie’s new memoir, Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark. I finished reading it last week and loved how she’s still a mess. She’s still struggling with the darkness and most of the book is about her attempts to literally run away from it.

But she can’t.

And neither can we.

Case in point: Last week a woman from our church died unexpectedly. Margaret Ryther was 56, a mother of five and her youngest daughter was 16. She died in her sleep.

That was it. Just never woke up.

I knew Margaret best through our book club. Every other month a half dozen of us would gather at my house to talk about our latest book. Margaret was one of the faithful, always with an opinion or perspective to share, always with a passion for books.

She couldn’t make it to our last meeting in January when we talked about When We Were on Fire—her husband had been out of town and she felt she needed to stay home with her daughter (talk about a small moment that now feels very profound). But she gave us this impression of the book via email:

Am enjoying the book.  We were the parents of kids during the 80s and 90s, but the home school version, which has its own bittersweet legacy. Funny thing is we were never very good at living up to the image and expectations, so even though I think we really wanted to be on the perfect Christian family bandwagon—it took much more energy than we had, and our efforts to control our kids to perfection, of course, backfired.  Oh the things we learn and the price we and our children pay.  So glad for a Redeemer who sees all our foolish strivings and still claims us.

When I initially planned this event, I was thinking about darkness more in just feeling lost in our faith. Not in any grand sense of loss or tragedy, but just in that way darkness can have an almost physical presence. The way sometimes our faith feels weak and empty, and we wonder what’s wrong with us.

I didn’t really think about the tragedy of death. I wasn’t thinking about husbands losing their wives or 16-year-old daughters losing their mothers.

I was thinking about depression, but not anything that depressing.

Turns out death is so common. Last week Addie also blogged about death, about driving down to her cousin’s funeral on Ash Wednesday.

And so even if we didn’t think it was that dark, it is. Life haunts us. Friends struggle with divorce or cancer or whatever tug of despair is pulling at them.

So I feel like this event is necessary more than ever. Surely every week at church we’re reminded about light overcoming the darkness. But sometimes it’s hard to translate that pew-side perspective to the rest of our lives.

It’s hard to recognize our “foolish strivings,” as Margaret said, and be thankful that our Redeemer claims us.

I’m looking forward to this event on Thursday. Probably building it up too much now, but even the act of pulling this together and pushing back against the tide of darkness feels like a necessary act, worthy in and of itself.

This is the work of the church.

God has a history of going quiet with his people. His silence stretches over years, over countries, over generations. But it’s not an abandonment, it’s an invitation. It asks something different of us than the fire does. It asks for our trust, for our hope, for us to stay as the night darkens around us and we can’t hear a thing. … Love doesn’t always look like romance and faith doesn’t always look like fire and light doesn’t always look like the sun—and that this matters. (Night Driving by Addie Zierman)

Romantica Pre-Valentine’s Day

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, I took Abby to a barn 50 miles south of the Cities for a pre-release concert by Romantica. It was a little bit magic.

After being on hiatus for about five years, they crowd-funded their new album, Shadowlands. One of the rewards was this exclusive pre-release show in the barn where they recorded the album. I couldn’t resist.

I’ve been a fan of Romantica since long before their debut album turned me into a fawning fan boy. The new material is great: atmospheric and soulful, dripping with depth and beauty. I haven’t seen the band play in a long time (they have been on hiatus), so this was the first time I saw the addition of Jayanthi Kyle on backing vocals (yes, she’s frontman Ben Kyle’s sister-in-law). Wow. I love the depth she adds. (And bonus: I was already a fan of her work, I just didn’t know it. She wrote the Black Lives Matter protest song, “Hand in Hand.”)

The show started with the mournful/hopeful “Harder to Hear,” which resonates with the doubt, depression and yearning of this season. Here’s a poorly filmed snippet:

Another stand out track is “Here It Comes,” which Jayanthi described as her favorite. Talk about soulful and yearning. Ben said the song came to him on the last day of recording, a gift. “Cecil Ingram Conor” is another barn-burner, though I’m not sure my crummy video does it justice (Ben’s solo living room performance might be a better taste).

So many other good tracks, but that’s a start. (And the letterpress packaging design is beautiful. Worth getting a physical copy.)

Braving the Minnesota tundra to discover tender music with the woman I love is like a tonic for my soul.

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A work-at-home dad wrestles with faith, social justice & story.