Because life is a series of edits

Fracture

In Humanity, Thought on October 23, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Stress FractureI’m going to see my doctor today. I’m pretty sure I have a stress fracture in the first metatarsal of my right foot.

How did this happen? I was being a cool Head of School, playing a pick-up basketball game in full tie and dress shoes in a student’s driveway. I came down with a rebound (like a boss!) and my right foot landed on a small pebble, the exact position and pressure of which caused what I now presume to be an increasingly painful stress fracture.

But here’s the funny part (and where my wife gets angry with me): I’ve had this stress fracture for three years now. I never told her (or anyone) about it until last month. Even after I mentioned it to Megan, it’s taken another full month before the pain became too much (aggravated by a very full day last weekend of being on my feet) and she took matters into her own hands on my behalf, looked at my calendar, and made an appointment with my doctor.

Welcome to being – or being married to – a Dunham. Be glad you’re neither.

My wife and my mother shake their heads at such Dunham displays of stubbornness. This particularly male Dunham trait is a favorite mockery at family holiday gatherings, usually beginning with the latest example (in this case, my silently living with a stress fracture for three years), before retelling the various “best of” tales of my father Roger, my grandfather Dean before him, and always culminating with the story of my great-grandfather Kyle and his death at 50 from testicular cancer, having been kicked in the testicles by a horse. In recounting this story, the Dunham women emphasize how Kyle refused to see a doctor until after the swelling became visible through his clothes and nothing could be done, reminding the Dunham men of what can (and perhaps should) happen to the stubborn lot of us if we take the same approach.

Concerning my foot, it’s honestly not stubbornness that’s at play; it’s really pride. I’d rather not re-tell the story of how a pebble in a driveway sidelined my NBA career (I feel you, KD, I feel you). I’d also rather not deal with the hassle of doctors and X-rays because I don’t like people making that much of a fuss over me (especially when I’m pretty sure I know what the problem is). And, I’d rather not spend weeks with my foot in a cast (which I know is the only way my foot might heal) because 43-year-old guys on crutches are not pretty recipients of pity.

All of which (among other things) is my attempt at explaining why I’ve walked with a fractured foot for the better part of three years. As I’ve tried to demonstrate, it’s not my fault; I’m a product of a line of men – of Dunham men – who would just rather keep to themselves than bother anyone with what’s bothering them. We don’t ask anyone to label us as heroes, nor as martyrs; we just dutifully do what needs to be done – even when it hurts – because that’s what Dunham men do. It’s what my father Roger does; it’s what my grandfather Dean did; it’s what my great-grandfather Kyle’s legacy became.

After he died prematurely, that is.

The Power of Prayer(lessness)

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends on October 13, 2014 at 10:04 pm

praying_manA close friend of mine from Colorado texted me this today:

“Please write a blog post about the epidemic among well-meaning believers in the use of ‘just’ a million times per prayer. ‘Lord, if you would just…’ ‘In the midst of this struggle, just…’ ‘We should just depend on you…’ It’s a phony qualifier meant to make our prayers sound humble or modest. I HATE it. I just do.”

I’ve harbored the same resentful lament – first against those who pray so pitifully (for a primer, click here), then against myself for doing worse and condemning them for it.

Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner.

That one-line cry seems about the extent of my prayer life these days; sometimes I make it all the way through the Lord’s Prayer, but that’s about it. Unlike my more “spiritual” days, I don’t have any lists I keep or pray through; I don’t record requests or answers. I don’t pray (much) with my kids beyond thanking God for a meal, and I can’t remember the last time I prayed with my wife, mostly because I’ve never really prayed with Megan and the habit has mostly stuck.

The fact is, my prayerlessness is really pretty staggering. I’m ashamed of it and I’m afraid of it. I’m appalled by it and I’m alone in it (well, not really on that last part, but it feels like it sometimes).

In some regard (and forgive me if this seems a huge cop out), the only real hope I’ve found in the area of prayer is Romans 8:26-27. Everyone knows (and misapplies) Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,  for those who are called according to his purpose” – but that’s just the outcome of the means – of God’s means – found in verses 26 and 27:

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

The Spirit groans on my behalf. A lot. In my sleep, in the morning, in the shower, in the car, in my office(s), in my work, in my rest, in my study, in my relationships, in my marriage, in my family, in my hunger, in my satisfaction, in my struggles, in my victories, in my doubts, in my (over)confidences…the list goes on and on. The “less spiritual” I’ve become in my old(er) age, the more I (finally) recognize how hardly spiritual I really was in my youth. Indeed, the Lord calls us to pray (and often that’s the only reason I try), but we easily forget (or at least I did) that the Spirit is the one who does so on our behalf – even when we feel like it, and especially when we don’t. This, if there is such a thing, is the power of prayerlessness.

I’ve read the usual suspects on prayer – Church fathers and theologians, Christian pastors and missionaries – and I always come away convicted and convinced that I’m somehow not doing this right. I feel even worse when I eagerly judge those who ask God to “just” do anything, self-justifying my reaction to the lazy language of evangelicalism (which I hate in all its shallow forms) rather than actually praying in a way that seems so beyond my capacity.

So I resonate with my friend’s observation and lament, but also confess my own hard heart as I desperately cling to God’s promise that the Spirit will intercede on my behalf. I take comfort in the solace of Hebrews 7:25, which reminds me that, “…he (Jesus) is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

I try to pray because he asks me to. I’m “just” glad Jesus helps me as much as he does.

(At times in the past, I’ve written my prayers, pieces of which eventually turned into songs and other forms of poetry (or vice versa). For a Theology of Prayer course in seminary, I collected some of the shorter offerings and put them together in an anthology. You’re welcome to download and read them in this Prayer Collection.

In addition, while I’ve always found the prayers of the Psalms helpful to put words to emotions, in more recent years, I’ve also appreciated prayers in The Valley of Vision and tried (but mostly failed) to follow the Book of Common Prayer.)

Addressing the Habitual

In Thought on September 5, 2014 at 9:17 pm
“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” Samuel Johnson
 
Often when we speak of teaching our children good habits, we do so with physical actions in mind. We hear ourselves give tangible directives – “Pick up your toys when you’re finished playing with them,” “Clean your room so you can find your clothes,” “Don’t leave the keys in the car overnight so it will be there in the morning” – with the hope that these prescribed habits will soon become their own.
 
This is right, for considering external behaviors can be good measures of what our students internally understand. But if we only address actions without attitudes, we train children in one of two ways: 1) obey without learning to love to obey (which can lead to people-pleasing and/or legalism); or 2) only do what is comfortable or self-serving (which can lead to fearful and/or selfish living).
 
It’s not a question of whether our kids will form habits or not; the question is what will those habits – of action and attitude – be? Just as we do not want poor outward behavior to become ingrained in our kids, neither should we want poor patterns of thinking or feeling to take root. For just as God disciplines His children concerning means and motive, so are we called to care not just about what our children do, but also about how it gets done.
 
Do all things without grumbling or disputing…” (Philippians 2:14). May this good habit (among many, many others) come to be evermore true of our students…and also of us as their primary teachers.
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