Monday, April 29, 2013

The World According to Tom

I wrote this last year for Tom's 50th birthday, which we celebrated out in New Jersey with family, but somehow we never ended up using it.  I stumbled upon it today in the mess of files on the computer and decided it was fitting, considering my last post was all about Tom.  Maybe we'll call April "Tom Month."  I wish there were ten questions instead of seven.  I remember the kids and I were trying to come up with things at home just before we left, and intended to finish up at the airport or wherever; never happened and we didn't even use the ones we did write!  So they're here for your enjoyment.  If I think of three more to make an even ten, I'll add them later.  Answers at the bottom.  

11.       In the vernacular of Tom’s friends, what does the phrase “Tommy Time” refer to?
a.       Time for a nap
b.      Time for golf
c.       Time to eat
d.      Being late

22.      In Tom’s world, which of the following is considered dangerous:
a.       Talking on the phone, writing notes in a planner and eating a Big Mac, all while going 70 mph down the freeway
b.      Skiing down Black Diamond moguls in Switzerland with friends who have skied all their lives, when your ski experience consists of learning to do the snow plow in middle school in southeast Michigan
c.       Climbing an unsupported, almost-too-short ladder, which is only barely propped up against an open porch roof, on spongy grass that shows every sign of sinking 6 inches if you put any weight on it
d.      Taking a bagel out of the toaster with a fork

33.      Given Tom’s peculiar sense of danger, Tom most anticipates death, dismemberment or serious illness from which of the following life circumstances?
a.       Putting his face on the carpet after the dog has rubbed his butt on said carpet
b.      Forgetting to wash his hands after the dog licks him
c.       The violent explosion resulting from an empty gasoline container being placed on an unlit propane grill
d.      Taking too much Vitamin B
e.       All of the above

44.      It is very important that Tom have his phone with him in the bathroom as he gets ready for the day.  Is this because
a.       He is often expecting an important phone call
b.      He is diligently efficient and uses that time to catch up on his e-mail
c.       He likes to take before and after pictures of himself when he shaves
d.      He likes to play Solitaire

55.      Everyone knows that raising a family involves lots of household chores.  Which of these is Tom’s favorite chore?
a.       Mowing the lawn
b.      Weeding the flowers
c.       Vacuuming the car
d.      Cleaning the bathroom
e.       Telling the kids to mow the lawn, weed the flowers, vacuum the car and clean the bathroom

66.      You’ve been invited to movie night at the Allor house.  If Tom has his way, this night will most likely involve
a.       A Sandra Bullock movie marathon with boxes of Kleenex and big bowls of ice cream
b.      A National Geographic documentary on the ancient Aztecs with steno pads for taking notes
c.       “The Joy Luck Club,” with a glass of wine and Godiva chocolates (and Kleenex)
d.      “Caddyshack” with giant tubs of popcorn and gallons of Diet Coke

77.      If you are Tom’s friend, you might possibly find yourself in which of the following situations:
a.       Street surfing in the dead of winter on a mattress being pulled behind a pickup truck
b.      Alone, tied to a chair in an elevator, no clothes except strategically placed shaving cream, and stopping at every floor on an elevator in a multi-storied building.
c.       Imprisoned in your dorm room due to an unprecedented number of pennies being wedged in the door frame
d.      Come home to find your room and all your possessions covered in a fine coating of baby powder as a result of creative employment of a blow dryer and a large envelope slipped under your door.
e.       All of the above

Answers: D, D, E, D, E, D, E

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


My husband, Tom, is not a churchy kind of guy.  He loves the Lord and has organized our lives around obedience to the Word; he has committed himself to sometimes difficult Biblical principles even when it took a good amount of faith to do so.  But a churchy kind of guy he is not.  Consequently, we are not a churchy type of family.

Never has this dichotomy been more apparent than since our daughter began dating one of our pastor's sons.  I am tempted to feel even a little embarrassed about who we are as she gradually comes to integrate more and more with the church crowd and learns more of the culture of these families.  The issue has caused me to do a little soul searching of late.

Actually, I have done soul searching over this issue for most of our married life, because Tom is not your run-of-the-mill, Bible-toting Baptist sort.  More than once he has been accused (erroneously) of being drunk, but never Baptist.

To the point, Tom is fun.  (Oops, was that a dig?  Maybe it was…)  He is boisterous, creative, and funny; he likes to laugh, and he likes to make other people laugh.  He likes to hang with people who are engaged enough with him that they are not minding the clock, not worried about their wives, not tallying the bill, not counting the beers.  And not getting constipated if a curse word slips out or if someone tells an off-color joke.

Is it my imagination, or is that sort of camaraderie hard to find in among Christian men?
Well, it is.  But maybe I'm not being entirely fair in my indictment of Christian fellowship either.  Loving Tom and being married to him for 24 years means that I am deeply invested in seeing the good in whoever his is;  I am well practiced in whatever mental/spiritual contortions are required to construe his approach as a good one.  So, you be the judge here.

On the one hand, I can see Jesus hanging with Tom and his friends at the bar or at a party, laughing and enjoying them.  There is there a sort of joy in "fellowship," if you will allow that the word has meaning even outside the Christian context.  And there is also an atmosphere of non-judgment, a ready acceptance. 

Is that ready acceptance lacking among Christians?  Maybe.  On the other hand, is there really judgment in Christian circles, or is there only a perception of judgment because we all know the standards to which we aspire, and no one knows better than we ourselves how we fall short.  We all imagine that others are doing much better in attaining those righteous standards than we are.

Indeed, we are helped along in our imaginings when others subtly (or not so subtly) parade their righteousness for all to see.  I have watched Christians make intentional efforts to put their piety on display out of the noble conviction that they are lights in this dark world, out of an earnest desire to show us the path of life.  They insult us in their assumption that everyone must needs benefit from their munificent wisdom and virtue.

I have watched others parade their rectitude in what seems a mad scramble to keep up, to not be thought inferior or inadequate, to make a covering over their shame.

And I have, with deep sadness, witnessed God being entirely forgotten in the whirlwind of Christian fellowship.  Within these groups certain righteous standards are worn like a coat of arms, badges of honor, symbols of belonging.  But God Himself is conveniently absent.  It is uncomfortable to talk about prayer or the Word in those circles.  What passes for fellowship is actually commiserating and complaining, while talk of obedience and trusting in God is an uncomfortable conversation stopper.

But many, many, many - dare I say, most - honest believers fall into none of these camps.  They love the Lord and they live out their lives in obedience to His commands as best they know how.  Their hearts' desire is to learn to be more obedient, to grow in their enlightenment, to please Him and walk with Him daily.

This means that these honest believers want the joy of fellowship with their King more than they want the joy of fellowship with men.  It means that the restraint of their fleshly appetites truly holds appeal if it means a closer walk with their God.

Do these believers actually dominate the landscape of Christendom, or is it only that the aroma of Christ that wafts about them prevails wherever they are?

So where does this leave Tom?  Why is Tom, an honest believer, not attracted to the circle of Christian men?  He does not seem to even notice hypocrisy like I do, lucky for him, so it's not that.  It could be that feeling of inadequacy, that perception that he is simply not righteous enough.  It could be that, although generally a moral and upright guy himself, he does not want to uphold certain standards of righteousness in the particulars in order to be accepted.  It could be that he perceives the upholding of those standards as…boring.  It's hard to laugh when you're busy constipating over whether you should be laughing or not.  It's hard to enjoy a beer when you're busy worrying about whether your head is beginning to swim or not, and how many beers you can have before you’re setting a bad example for any potential alcoholic lurking about.

And now I've come full circle.  While Tom is an honest believer and our family has been blessed by his choices in the name of Christ, he is apparently not ready to be too fussy about some of his choices in the everyday.  In the end, that is between him and God, and I, even after 24 years of marriage, am not sufficiently knowledgeable about the condition of his heart or motivations to pass judgment. Let's just say that Tom definitely has a full understanding of grace.  Perhaps full to the point of being faulty -- but that is between him and God.

As it happens, however, Tom is the social force in our family.  That means that over the years we, as a family, have "done life" and come to love dearly three or four families who do not know the Lord.  These are our best friends.  These are the people who I would trust first to love our kids if Tom and I were to die unexpectedly.  Added to that is a plethora of other friends and acquaintances, none of whom know the Lord.  

Mind you, I go kicking and screaming into any new social venue.  If the word "plethora" can be used to describe our circle of friends, it is because Tom loves people, not me.  Yet I am the one who is a little closer to being, in a Christian sense,  "fussy about my choices in the everyday."  Barely, but still.  I am the one tending toward constipation if the kids are around while he's watching Family Guy, I get downright stuck up at the idea of going to a bar, and my moral indignation is in full fervor at the mere mention of stepping foot into a casino.  

But Tom loves people.  And all these friends know he is a Christian.  I wouldn't be surprised if some of them wonder how he integrates the two worlds, but they know he bears the name of Christ.  At least one family that used to openly sneer at the notion of being "born again," is now regularly attending a good, Bible-teaching church.  And I can't help but believe that others are closer to Christ, more open and softer in heart toward Him than they would have been without Tom's friendship.  Who knows what the future holds for them spiritually?

So as our daughter comes to be more engaged with the Christian culture in our church, should I be embarrassed about who we are?  Well, I don't think so.  It's a tough call, a nuanced situation to be sure.  Even I am not sure how much I am simply rationalizing because I love my husband.  But I do know that we are neck deep in opportunity to love on those who do not know Jesus, and we would not have these opportunities if we were safely ensconced in the Christian community.  

In the end, she will have to untangle this mess of truths on her own, but for now there is a certain security in her surrounding herself with church folk.  She has a good radar for what is false, and I trust she will discern hypocrisy when it presents itself.  Along the way I am sure she will also meet up with some of the majestic ones who exude the aroma of Christ, and I pray that she will follow their example.  But I also pray that from her dad she takes with her the lesson of purely loving on people, especially those who do not yet know the truth.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Passionate Barnacle

I, by nature, am not a passionate person.  Like a barnacle clings to the side of a ship, I cling to my equilibrium.  I do not like excitement in any of its various presentations: roller coasters, adventure movies, exotic vacations, even brightly colored toothpaste.  A really wild, life-on-the-edge day for me means trying a new flavor of coffee creamer.  My favorite television shows are reruns from the seventies: The Brady Bunch, Lost in Space, Little House on the Prairie.  Safe, predictable, familiar characters, all troubles neatly resolving in 30 or 60 minutes.    Steady as she goes - that's my mantra.  And for the most part, my husband and I have been fortunate enough to produce steady-as-she-goes children. 

 Enter youngest daughter.  Enter beautiful youngest daughter turning 15.  Allow her out of the house for just minutes where boys lurk in the shadows, and then fasten your seat belt.  It's going to be a bumpy ride.

She had been 15 for all of about an hour and a half when Andy came on the scene in a big way.  And they had been friends about for about 30 minutes when they decided their friendship was from the Lord, they were desperately in love and needed only to wait to be old enough to marry.

As children of the modern age, their relationship fomented around the use of social media: texting and Facebook, both much more difficult for parents to control than their actual time together.  However for this stealthy mother, it also offered one advantage:  information.  And when I discovered a text from Andy describing how he longed for the day he could hold our beautiful daughter in his skinny little arms and whisper his love for her into her ear, these middle-aged, paunchy, grey parents transformed into two roaring, fire-breathing dragons.  

Gone was any semblance of equilibrium or even rational thought.  Beautiful daughter was summarily whisked away into a heavily guarded fortress and locked into the highest tower.  The moat was stocked with hungry alligators, and experienced soldiers from all around the city were called in for reinforcement: youth group leaders, pastors, friends, Andy's parents.  The alarm was sounded in all the land and no resource went untapped in the protection of our precious possession.

This was not equilibrium.  This was passion.  Fierce, unrelenting, determined, iron-fisted, implacable and merciless.  It raged through my soul, threatening to destroy the very fabric of my being.

And for this child of the status quo, for this lover of all things moderate and familiar, for this shipside barnacle, this passion was…uncomfortable.  The situation aside, the passion itself got my attention.
This episode awakened me to something I always knew I was missing in my understanding of the Lord:  my Heavenly Father is passionate.  He is passionate. Could it be so?  Could the ferocity that ripped through my soul as I perceived a threat to my beloved daughter -- could it be that that is the same passion that moved the Father to send His Son to the cross.  Could it be that this is God's passion for me?

I have always wondered about Romans 8:32:  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?

To my way of thinking, He who did not spare His own Son had already given us enough.  How could we be expecting even more from Him?  How does it follow that He would freely give us all things, when He has already given us so much?  

This is how I sometimes felt when the neighborhood children would come over to play and ask for more snacks, for example.  I would think to myself, "You children have already eaten through the entire bag of potato chips that I bought for my family, and now you want to eat all our cookies too?  Go home and eat your own family's snacks!"  Those children did not have this mother's heart.

But my own children -- that is altogether different.  I would never say to my daughter, "I have paid for years of ballet training for you!  That is enough -- you buy your own pointe shoes!"  Or to my son, "Ice hockey is the most expensive sport on the planet!  If you want to play hockey, we don't want to send you to college -- these years of ice hockey have been enough."  No, to them I want to give all that is good, with loads of Christmas and birthday presents besides.  Because them, I love.  What I want to give them is bounded only by the limitations of our checking account and by my perception of what is good for them.  Other than that, I'd give them the world, even my life.

They ride the tsunami of our love, a powerful force that makes joyous our sacrifice for them.

This collusion of ideas gives me an entirely different view of Romans 8:32.  How is it that He who did not spare His own Son for me would also be willing to freely give me all things?  There is no other explanation.  It must be that, just like our children ride the wave of our love for them, I ride the wave of the Father's love for me, that powerful force that moved Him to send Jesus in order that I could be made fit for His presence, that I could be rescued from the damnation I deserve.  But the force of His love was not spent, or depleted, on the cross.  The cross was the culmination of that powerful force, and that force still pours over me every day, beyond my ability to understand.
At times I manage to have so destitute an understanding of God's love that I see Jesus' death on the cross as contractual.  When He chose to die, He made a way for everyone, whether He liked them or not, whether He was glad they were there or not.  It was like getting into the zoo on the family pass -- one price pays for all, no matter whom.  Out of His good character, He gives His children good things.  The fact that He has so abundantly blessed me over the course of my lifetime was evidence of His goodness -- but not necessarily evidence that He likes me.  I am allowed in His presence because of what Jesus did for everyone, the likable and the unlikable both.  Nothing in that told me He feels affection for me.

But, if you'll indulge me in a slight contortion of Matthew 7:9-11, how can I, who am evil, feel this sort of fiery passion for my children, and think that my Heavenly Father does not feel the same fire for His?  Am I so big that I feel love, and He so small that He does not?  I do not think so.

I am no theologian.  Perhaps if I were better educated I would not have needed so long and tortured a road to have come to this enlightenment.  But as it is, my own passion, unwelcome though it be, instructs me.

To give you the end of the story, our fair maiden has been released from the high tower.  The alligators have been quelled for the time being and the valiant knight, Andy, has gained tentative entrance to the castle, contingent on his payment of particular homage to the king and queen --  to wit, he minds his courtly manners.  And these two grey, paunchy folk stand at the ready, at any hint of malfeasance on his part, to do battle again as fiery, passionate dragons!