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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The Rempe Tour of Lights: Fairview Drive

This is the second in a series on Christmas light displays in northern Virginia. To see the first entry, the house on Collingwood Road in Alexandria, click here.

As John Cleese used to say, “And now, for something completely different …”

If the first stop on our light tour was noteworthy for its technical precision and vastness, our second location is best described as an explosion of kitsch in a relatively small space. What the house on Fairview Drive in Alexandria lacks in electronic wizardry, it makes up for in sheer volume.

By my admittedly imprecise count, there are roughly 20 bajillion inflatables filling the yard … and driveway … and roof of this otherwise unassuming house. If you can think of an animated character, odds are that this house has a giant balloon of it.

The only way to really appreciate this display is to get out and among the decorations. Fortunately, the homeowners encourage visitors to walk around the display, with a well-trodden path that winds through the disparate decorations. They even allow folks to walk up onto their porch, where there are—again, rough estimate—about 10,000 animatronic Santas, snowmen, reindeer, and the like, each with a button to push, producing a merry cacophony of mangled Christmas tunes.  (I’m pretty sure my kids pressed each of the buttons, and most more than once.)

Somewhat surprisingly, there is a creche tucked away on the far side of the lawn. While I wouldn’t exactly call it “classy,” there is an odd serenity to it—an island of piety in a sea of crass (but fun) commercialism.

I’ve always wondered what neighbors of displays like this must think. There are some houses on the street that would be the talk of the neighborhood, but for the yuletide supernova next door. Others pretty much have forgone any attempts to compete. The kids across the street, however, have taken advantage, setting up a hot chocolate stand to raise money for a nearby family who recently lost their daughter to leukemia. If you visit, be sure to grab a cup or two, and tip generously.

Like the previous stop, the video below does not do the display justice. If you live in the area and have little ones hyped up on Christmas cookies and holiday spirit, it is definitely worth your time to visit.

The Rempe Tour of Lights: Collingwood Road

At the Rempe household, it never really feels like Christmastime until we have piled everyone into the van and visited our favorite seasonal light displays. Nothing says “welcome baby Jesus” quite like a house covered in LED lights using as much energy as a moderately sized Midwestern city.

While we enjoy all manner of yuletide decorations, there are two displays in northern Virginia to which we always return, and for very different reasons. The first stop here is the house on Collingwood Drive in south Alexandria.

When a light display has its own website, you can pretty much anticipate that it is going to be an experience. However, nothing quite prepares you for how huge this show really is. The house sits across the street from a nursing home, which serves as a prime motivator for the homeowner putting in hundreds of hours in setting it up. The whole display is synchronized to music, which is broadcast on low-frequency FM radio for those driving by. But you really don’t get the full experience unless you take the time to find a parking space, get out of your car, and soak the experience in.

As might be expected, the below videos don’t really capture the majesty of this display. If you find yourself anywhere close to Alexandria around Christmas this year, be sure to make the effort to check it out. You will not be disappointed.

NEXT: From the sublime to the ridiculous …

Finding Joy in Uncertainty

Recently, during a fit of spring cleaning, Beth and I were going through a stack of books and notebooks, trying to determine which were worth keeping and those that would better serve not taking up valuable shelf space. In one of those notebooks, I came across the following—a reflection written by a younger, still-single Steve (circa. 2007) who was contemplating marriage and the future. It reminded me that there is joy in uncertainty when you trust the One who holds the future in His hands. ‘Tis a lesson worth repeating—mostly for myself, but hopefully it speaks to others as well.

It dawns on me that I often view uncertainty or lack of future knowledge as a detriment. I see it as a lack of faith on my parta result of the Fall. “If only I were more committed to seeking God’s will through prayer and devotions,” I reason, “then God would make his plans known to me.”

But faith is not the result of knowing what lies ahead, but rather in the knowing of Him who knows the future. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for,” but not necessarily a certainty that God will bring these things about in the time and manner we expect, if at all.

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Running Toward a Different Goal

A version of the following post originally appeared on the Prison Fellowship blog (a/k/a, my day job). Check it out sometime!

Tim Montgomery has always been fast.

A track legend in his hometown of Gaffney, South Carolina, Montgomery established himself as a sprinter from an early age. In college, he ran a sub-10-second 100 meters, only missing out on setting a world junior record when it was discovered the track was three centimeters too short. He competed in two Olympics, winning a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta for the 4×100 meter relay, and following that with a gold medal in the same event in Sydney in 2000.  In 2002, he reached the pinnacle of his sport, setting a world record in the 100 meter dash with a time of 9.78 seconds and earning the title “Fastest Man in the World.” He even had his own Nike commercial.

And then everything fell apart.

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A Sad Masterpiece

It has now been close to a week since the conclusion of Saturday’s Bengal-Steeler playoff game (working title, “The Bungle in the Jungle,” patent pending, all rights reserved), and I am just now getting a chance to collect some thoughts in an attempt to describe the indescribable—to explain the inexplicable.

Gridiron TragedyTo put it mildly, the game was brutal.  The conditions were brutal.  The play on the field (and on occasion, off of it—I’m looking at you, Mike Munchak) was brutal.  Most of all, the conclusion of the game was brutal—the cruelest twist of fate dealt to a team who has had more than their share of bad luck and self-inflicted agony.

The Bengals lose.  It’s what they do.  Sometimes early, sometimes late, but for 47 years, the Cincinnati football team has specialized in finding new, creative, more painful ways to not win.

But on January 9, 2016, the Bengals delivered their masterpiece—a magnum opus of defeat that may never be matched.  It was King Lear, full of plots and subplots, tragic heroes and anti-heroes.  It was Guernica—a chaotic, dark work of art painted on the soggy canvas of Field Turf at Paul Brown Stadium.

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