For Titus

For Titus: I was da, when the milk teeth first broke ivory white through new pink and grew fast from the floor up.

I was da, a single syllable like mild, like love, like peace.

I was da-da, when the uppers came screaming through mouth's roof, when you learned of night terrors and sickness.

I was da-da the complex, the healer, the big-armed hero.

Today I am dad, a one syllable wonder yet again, delta-alpha-delta, the difference, the beginning, always the difference.

I am dad, and in that there is sorrow and hope. Sorrow that by language I have evolved beyond single syllables, and hope that I might always be the difference, yes--the beginning of all difference.

Good Links (The Ozark Fall Edition)

Another week is in the books here in the Ozarks, and we have plenty to be thankful for, even in the uncertainty. Fall is poised to break through the foothills sometime this evening, and I've started the process of digging out my favorite sweaters. The Weather Channel is predicting a break from our eighty degree purgatory, says we'll be finding highs in the sixties by tomorrow. I love the changing of the seasons, the way it hangs low clouds over the peaks and valleys of the Boston Mountains. By mid-October, the sugar maples will begin their blush, the Oaks will turn cowards. I'm anticipating it.

By now, some of you may have read about Titus. He's loosing weight again, yes. It can be maddening at times and concerning at others, yes. We're trying our best to get to the bottom of it, yes. But the truth is, never a happier boy has there ever been. He's all out, full on, always running through. He's a wrecking ball of a boy, which I reckon to be a good thing. A kid like that can punch through walls of doubt like no one's business.

popsicle

Books:

It's been a good week for music and the written word. A good week, indeed. Mandy Steward's new book, Thrashing About With God, released. Like any good feast, Steward's words deserve a good-right pairing. Instead of wine, though, I've been pairing it with Arlo Guthrie's album, "Washington County." It's a fine match, indeed. If you haven't picked up Thrashing, do it!

John Blase released his new book this week, too. In the Haines' house, John has two nicknames: "the poet of the people"; and, my personal favorite, "the cowboy of the internet." (Head nod to Amber for the latter one). It should be no surprise, then, that his book, Know When to Hold 'Em, approaches the topic of fatherhood with John's straightforward (but poetic) voice. I suppose this will be one every father needs in his library.

Music:

On Sunday, Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit released their new album, "Country Mile." If you aren't familiar with Flynn, it's time to start spinning his stuff. His last album "A Larum" is a poetic favorite of mine, and though I've only listened to "Country Mile" one time through, it has great promise. Check out his track "Murmation," in which he says "let's gather us up to the heavens above; we can always come back, my love."

Links:

As for links, it's been slim-pickings for me this week. I've spent little time in these online spaces, but yesterday I ran across Suzannah Paul's offering "incarnation." In it, she writes:

King in a cradle, born in a stable, Mighty God traded heaven for here. Man of sorrows, stricken, his blood-soaked shroud and ours are fuel for the fire.

I love her use of slant rhyme in the first line, the alliteration in the third and fourth lines. This poem just reads like a poem should. And just so we're clear, this piece served as the anchor for my morning devotion yesterday. I paired it with John 1. The two work well together.

John Blase brings a beautiful psalm of his own to the mix, too. In Sunday's Psalm, he writes:

You have bred us to write our own lyrics.
     We do not make the music, that’s sheer hubris.
     But we pen the words.

Enjoy John's words.

That's all I have for today, but I'll leave you with a little taste of Johnny Flynn. "The Water" is one of my favorites. It'll set your day right.

The Overcoming Kingdom

When life upends you, it’s tricky to balance human suffering and the goodness of God. It’s tempting to default to cliché tautologies–God is good because he is God–but these kinds of pat answers seem unsatisfying in the moment, and the starkness of our personal suffering seems to heighten awareness of the plight of all humanity. There are wars, famines, diseases, injustices, and where, pray tell, is God?  

Today, Tanya Marlow has graciously asked me to share words at her blog regarding the goodness of God in times of suffering. I hope you'll join me there.

*Photo by my lovely bride, Amber Haines.

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God is not good because...

Some of you followed Titus' struggles, his rollercoaster ride through weight fluctuations and our visit to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. You may remember the stories of the creeping prosperity gospel, how we were told that God would come through, that Titus would be healed if we asked in faith because God was good. I heard sermons of the blessings received when one lives in God's “favor,” as if grace were a lollipop given to the good-grade kid. I wrestled with these theologies, theologies that lacked balance and brought no comfort in the trials of the moment. I thought about the faithful followers who can’t seem to catch a break, or worse yet, are broken by persecution. I remembered college friends, strong believers who lost two children to early graves. Are they less favored or blessed? Is God less good because he failed to deliver from the pit?

In the waning worry of this season, I’ve come to a simple conclusion: you can sum God in simple self-help theologies that misapply words like “favor,” and “faith,” but when tragedies come calling, don’t expect comfort from your lowercase gospel. It won’t be there.

This week we received good news about Titus. He’s turned a corner of sorts, and he’s climbing back onto the growth charts. (A parent couldn’t be more proud of the fifth percentile than I am.) And let me be clear—I am grateful for God for seeing fit to give my son life; I am grateful to those of you who faithfully prayed and continue to pray. But likewise, let me be clear—God is not good because he spared me grief; God is not good because he shortened a dark season; God is not good because he healed a frail toddler. God is good because that is his nature; he is good because he is.

You may say that’s tautological double-speak in-and-of itself. That’s your call. But I ultimately found that the less I tied God’s goodness to the result of my choosing, the freer I was to experience the joys of a redeeming, preserving, merciful, and faithful Christ.

That's the pearl that was worth the struggle. I hope I don't easily lose it.

A Modest Hope for Titus Lee (Part II)

I was stumbling through my archives last night and ran across this prenatal piece I wrote for Titus Lee.

I imagine that he'll grow quickly. We all do. He'll learn to eat solid food soon, learn to say "scared" instead of "scarwed." He'll have a first grade Sarah. They'll be destined for marriage until he meets his fourth grade Emily, and so on. He might play piano or guitar or he might dunk a basketball. In high school, he might be in show-choir like his momma. They'll sing Smells Like Teen Spirit, and he'll tell us how much he loves that kind of classic rock. In college, he'll major in partying until he meets Jesus. Or maybe he'll major in Jesus from the get go. That'd make me proud. He'll marry, have children, work a job. I hope he eulogizes me at my funeral. He'll say I wasn't perfect, but hopefully he'll say "he was a good man; he was my dad."

We hold more loosely to those old modest hopes these days. Now, Amber and I chart growth in ounces and wonder when Titus Lee will stomach solid food. I think that's all the better.

 

There are lessons to be learned in the rearranging of hopes: the fierceness of a mother's resolve; the faith that extends to doctors and friends; the joy found in a toddler's smile.

Titus Lee has taught me well. I never thought to hope for that.