Tuesday, April 1

Redeem Yesterday With Today

Dear Jacob,

Here is the rough draft I made for this letter:

April 1st

When I think of April first these are the words that come to mind. It's a collection of the events and emotions of a decade. Tumultuous as it was, it was a decade that left me wondering many things.  Mostly this:

What's wrong with me?

That's not an adolescents-only question. It's actually been the bulk of my internal dialog for months. It goes along with, Will I ever understand my teen? Why is it next to impossible for us to have a stable life? Why have some people found it so hard to get along with us? What needs to change? At the beginning of the decade I asked similar things:  Why has God led us here? When will he lead us again? What do we do now? Where do we belong?

The truth is, the only thing that's similar about those questions is their level of complexity.  It's been a complex decade, one that has taken our entire family for a ride. It leaves me solemn because there are only so many decades in life and less than two in childhood.  

When I was growing up my dad always had the same employer. In fact, he had the same employer for four decades and then he retired. When I was a kid I remember thinking how normal that must be. To me, life was supposed to stay the same, to be predictable, to service me and my feeling of stability.  But none of those assumptions are true. Life doesn't have rules to follow. 

In contrast, your dad's growing up was largely different. His father had several employers and a few bouts of unemployment and failed businesses and failing health mixed in-between.  He was a kind, generous and God-fearing man.  So I can't assent that our character is a dictator of our stability. I can't embrace that what we throw out there is what we get back; that there is some formula that will acquire me the good things in life and a formula that will only acquire me crap. 

But I think that's the tape that's been playing in my head my whole life. I think that because I grew up in such a stable state (not that I'm ungrateful for it) that I hit this adversity, this uncertainty, and I get a little wobbly.  I want to be able to keep the boat from rocking because I think that's what I'm supposed to do. In the middle of the hard things my heart keeps saying, "This isn't right." But my head knows, it knows, that everything is always shatterable. Life is a shatterclub, to borrow your word.

This first day of April has been significant to me for ten years.  It was on this day ten years ago that we drove away from our home in Santa Cruz, and drove away from that church plant we knew God had moved us toward. We packed everything we owned into a storage unit in Scott's Valley, California and didn't know when we'd see it again. We put you and Ben in the car with duffel bags, a few toys, our computer, a file box of school supplies and a cooler. At that very point we became homeless.  

We made our way up to Grandma and Grandpa's house in Oregon and were quiet much of the way. It was a day for lumps in the throat, tears in the eyes, for feelings of utter defeat and uselessness. I wish I could pull my heart out of my chest and show you how it still skips a beat when I think of that day, of the heavy weight we felt, the culpability we bore for you guys. It was the only time in my life that I didn't have a clue of what to do, where to go or who to even be. It was almost a complete identity negation, but you and Ben were the only things that made us something; we were still parents. I think you saved us.

Life moved so slowly that next year.  Six months at Grandma and Grandpa's and then a move up to Vancouver to the free house your uncle gave us. Dad did get a job at Target after a year of not having one, after using up the savings until we were down to $26 to our name. For the rest of that year we slowly chipped away at the mountain in front of us, trying to carve out a purpose.  We slowly began again to establish something of a life.

When April first rolled around again we were breathing and eating and learning and growing.  It was a basic life, but it was happening. I determined that we needed to remember what God had done. We needed to have a personal way to remember that his hand was continually guiding us.  So I called up a friend who had begun a church for people in Portland who live outside and I told her our story. I told her that because we had packed everything we could into the trunk of our car a year ago that we now wanted to fill it with things for other people who didn't have homes, that we wanted to give it all to her and that we wanted it to be an act of praise to God. She gulped and said a grateful thank you. This began our family tradition.

Each year we've done something similar: given to my friend's church, furnished a shelter for women who are victims of domestic abuse, donated items to a shelter for homeless families to use in their first homes, packed a suitcase full of clothes for an orphanage in Jamaica, and given money to your best friend who was squatting in his house because his mother had stopped being able to pay the rent. April first has been our family's Ebenezer stone. On this day we don't forget God's goodness.

Four years into this, when Dad was done with his doctorate and Sam had joined our family, we were at a point of being able to decide just where we wanted to be. With all our hearts we wanted to be in Portland. We looked for months for a house to rent until we found the one that was a great fit. It had a big backyard, room for community dinners with our church, and a perfect space for schooling you. It was close to the library and the rec center, the grocery store and the freeway.  Grandma and Grandpa were that much closer and our church could actually be part of our daily life. The day we heard it was ours, it was April first. 

Five years later, to the day that we had to leave our home, he was giving us a new one. We had a new future, a community we loved, and three sons we adored. I was starting a co-op for you guys to grow up in and on the horizon was a great new job for dad at a local college.  That April first rocked.  And then the bottom fell out again when that job didn't work out for Dad. That year we searched long and hard for what God wanted Dad to do next. 

When the church in Denver called and said, "Come," we were ecstatic and we pulled up to our home here on April first, ready for the next thing. But, God didn't redeem this day when we moved to Denver. He redeemed it when we moved to Portland; when he gave us a home after that long wandering period of complex questions and he placed us in proximity to a community that loved and cared for us, even when we were perplexed and melancholy. The kind of community that even said, "Come on back" when our time at the church in Denver was done.  He redeemed the day, bought it back from despair, when we found our home in him.  He never redeems us so we can stay in our old life.  He redeems us to launch us into a new one.

The ensuing years have allotted to me some difficult April firsts. I've had to deal with some of those tougher words from my rough draft list. I never imagined we wouldn't be where we aren't right now at this time on a Tuesday. Never imagined that we'd learn more about forgiveness out of community than we ever did while in it. Never imagined that God wouldn't agree with me that this was a high holy day to be observed perpetually. Sometimes, spiritualizing days can take our eyes of the Ancient of days.  

God is free to move on any day he pleases. We like to box him in and say, "It'd be really nice if you could show up by this time." We like to ask him complex, unanswerable questions when he doesn't.  I've found that I'm pretty good at doing all of that.  But what I'm getting better at is just letting him be God -- knowing that he rains on the just and the unjust -- moving out of the way so he can care for all seven billion of his people because we're all connected.

He's good every day, somewhere. This is the day he made. Be glad