Health, Happy Holidays, and Hard Times Cafe

I’m often asked what it’s like being a dad to five high-energy young kids. “How do you manage when you are so greatly outnumbered?” “What do you do when Beth is working?” “How do you still have hair?” (The last one is asked by my brothers, but only because they’re jealous.)

Wanted FinalThe truth is, I’ve been blessed with really good offspring. Apart from the occasional tantrum, minor catastrophe (most catalogued here in this blog), or low-level injury, my kids usually have mercy on me. They typically behave well in public, respond well to parental decree (sometimes quickly, often somewhat slower), and are generally fun to be with. And, as a dad, I feel like I get a little more leeway than I probably deserve. I feel bad for Beth – when I’m out, I regularly get admiring comments from strangers about how well the kids are acting; Beth I suspect gets a lot more of the “look at the crazy woman with five kids” vibe.

There are days, however, when things go south. And when they do, they usually do so in spectacular fashion.

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Taking a New Road

Life rarely moves in a straight line. Despite all the planning and preparing for the future, the course of our lives inevitably is full of stops and starts—a detour here and a U-turn there. There are moments you have no idea where you’re going, and times when you wish you had taken a different path.

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And yet, when the route is complete, most of us end up where we are supposed to be (if not where we expected). And while the journey is rough, and plenty of mistakes are made along the way, there will come a time when we look back on the road trod and see that, somehow, the whole ride makes sense. It’s almost as if Someone was looking over us and nudging us forward when we thought there was nowhere to go.

This has certainly been true for me and for my family. There have been highs and lows, but we’ve kept moving, adding lots of little co-travelers along the way. It’s not always been the easiest course, and I can’t say there aren’t decisions and past moments that I would desperately like to change, but I wouldn’t alter a second if it meant not being at this moment now, with the people who walk with me.

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A Darkness to Be Felt

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt—darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. No one could see anyone else or move about for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.  – Exodus 10:21-23

Few things affect us as human beings more than being in utter darkness. In darkness we are unable to find our way, to see others, or to understand the world around us. We use it as a metaphor for not knowing what is happening, for being left out and ignored. Low points in our lives are referred to as “dark times.”

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Darkness isolates. It hides. It produces questions, not answers, and it makes obstacles out of things that are easily avoided in the light. It brings with it sadness, hopelessness, and fear.

Yes, darkness can be felt.

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Thank Heaven for Little Girls

Comedian Jim Gaffigan describes being the father of four like this: “Imagine you’re drowning, and somebody hands you a baby.”

“Five kids? Well, that’s one way to live your life …”

I’m not sure what the proper description of having five kids is, but we’re about to find out in the Rempe house. At 9:19 AM EDT on March 21, we welcomed Anna Rae Rempe as the newest member of this motley crew. She was seven pounds, 12 ounces, and 20.5 inches of beautiful baby girl. (Any biases daddy might have do not override this objective fact.)

As I type, we are still in the hospital, with mom recovering (quickly, as usual) from her c-section, and Anna chilling under the lights in an attempt to reduce her bilirubin levels. Okay, “chilling” might not be the best term—Anna really doesn’t like being sequestered, and grumps until she is able to be held. We’d like nothing more than to oblige her, but if we want to eventually return home, it’s best that we keep her in the therapy. No knock on the facilities or fine staff here at Inova Fair Oaks, who have been been wonderful, but it will be nice to reunite with Anna’s brothers and sisters at the family estate.

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Seeking Simple Answers

“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

– H. L. Mencken

It happened again.

Once again, a heavily armed teenager has walked into a public school with loads of ammunition and a grudge. Again, mothers, fathers, and friends are lamenting the taking of so many young lives. Again, politicians and talking heads are pointing fingers and assessing blame. Again, the Internet and social media are awash with loud opinions and angry condemnations in both directions.

Again.

The events at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida—and others in Kentucky, California, and numerous other locations across the country—are just the most recent in a long string of violent outbursts in public spaces. Parents are understandably on edge, wondering if their kids are safe when they leave the house in the morning, and if all is being done to protect them from a risk that most of them wouldn’t have even considered when they were in school. And virtually no one believes Stoneman Douglas is going to be the last such sad occurrence.

The initial response to such senseless loss of life is usually outrage, followed by a demand for a strong and meaningful action that will prevent future pain and suffering. Not only is such a response understandable, it is, I believe, the correct one. A failure to express anger and frustration at the murder of innocents bespeaks either a failure to completely grasp the situation or an utter lack of compassion. A moral people should be outraged by violent acts, and grasping for answers and solutions shows a desire that no one else go through what the current victims are experiencing.

That said, it needs to be acknowledged that solutions birthed during times of extreme pain or intense anger are rarely the best answers to tricky issues. They are often more fixed on assessing blame or punishing those who are perceived to be at fault than actually solving the problem. And in some instances, the cure can be worse than the disease.

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The Promise of Lent

(Stolen from my wonderful and talented sister-in-law, Karen Duke. Thanks, Karen!)

Today is Valentine’s Day. And Ash Wednesday. The seeming contradiction between a day centered around chocolate hearts and sentimental messages of romantic love and a day dedicated to reminding us that we are all going to die is not lost on those of us who aspire to be both loving spouses and faithful Christians. (Of course, the fact that the original St. Valentine  remembered by the holiday that bears his name was beaten and then decapitated for attempting to convert the emperor Claudius to Christianity in 269 AD probably brings the two remembrances closer than most people think.)

I really wish Hallmark had had the foresight to create a line of Ash Valentine’s Day cards. Maybe something like:

Roses are red,
People are dust.
Repent from your sins,
Lest your soul become rust.

Okay, so romantic poetry isn’t really my thing. The point is that for most people, the ideas of love and death seem mutually exclusive. When we are buying flowers and preparing for a romantic evening, we don’t want to be reminded of our ultimate mortality. We certainly don’t want be told to “give things up” on a day that has become synonymous with personal indulgence.

I would suggest, however, that the seeming disconnect between Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday is due to a fundamental understanding of both, and that seeing the connections between the two will ultimately end up making both days more meaningful.

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Transforming the Political Culture

In a previous blog post, I lamented the current state of the republic, and the complicity of many Christians in the debasing of the political culture. The tone of that piece might be described as pessimistic, expressing my frustration in where we currently are and how we got here.

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In general, however, I am a “silver lining” kind of person, finding possibility in the face of frustration, and glimmers of hope when hope is in ill-supply. In that vein, I would like to offer my thoughts as to how Christians can actually reclaim their role as salt and light in the culture. The following saws are intended to form a framework in which Christians of varying opinions and ideologies can actively and effectively use to engage the broader society. They are not a list of specific issues or causes on which Christians should rally. Rather, they should be seen as a sort of prerequisite—a self-searching of attitudes and beliefs that should color our conversations and debates, both in matters of policy and beyond.

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