Goodbye for Now

And so it begins… My emotions and dramatic behavior are beginning to spin out of control. Well, I take that back. It actually began on March 2, 2002, when my first daughter entered this world and stole my heart. My most recent emotional breakdown, however, stems from her moving to Arizona this coming weekend as she embarks on her college adventure.
It’s hitting me that I will no longer do so many little things for her that I’ve always done. I often make her iced coffees with vanilla almond milk and French vanilla creamer. Last weekend, I bought a container of almond milk, so she would have enough for this week, but then it occurred to me that it was the last almond milk I will buy for a long time. The same is true of the multigrain bread and avocados I bought so she can make her favorite breakfast meal for one more week.
My wife is making it worse, although she’s as sad as I am (almost). Last night, she said, “Aw, this is our last Monday evening dinner with her.” Tonight, I expect her to say the same thing about our Tuesday meal. When our daughter was young, we enjoyed celebrating so many “firsts” with her; now, we must deal with the “lasts.”
I walk through her room and it’s getting emptier. Many pieces of clothing are no longer on hangers. More and more luggage is packed and sitting on her floor, waiting to leave with her. Bins full of dorm room supplies are gathered and waiting in similar fashion. I just asked my younger daughter if she’s going to take care of me, since she’s soon to be our only child remaining at home.
What will help me (hopefully) get through this is the same thing that helped me three years ago, when our son, our firstborn child, left home and moved far away to attend college. What allows me to hang on is related to some wise thoughts from a blogger and author named Kami Gilmour, who wrote a book entitled, Release My Grip: Hope for a Parent’s Heart as Kids Leave the Nest and Learn to Fly. In her book, she shares a prayer in which she asked God to keep her from expressing too much extreme emotion, because she wanted her child to know that she was more proud than sad, and that she was more excited than afraid about what was next.
I think that’s the secret to surviving our kids leaving the nest. In what to me is the most helpful statement from her book, she writes this: “Be fully present to support them and look forward to the future through the lens of their life, not backward through the lens of my life.” I need to avoid being so preoccupied by mourning what I’m “losing” that I neglect to focus on how exciting this new phase of life will be for my daughter. This is especially true when she already lost so many things as a graduating senior in the year of COVID. This season is about her, not about me.
I’m in awe of God, who gave me the honor and the privilege of raising this young lady. And I know that while life is changing drastically, she won’t be gone forever. It’s a new phase of parenthood, with lots of coming and going, of saying “goodbye for now” and “welcome home” again and again. Nothing will separate her from my love or God’s love. To quote Gilmour once more, “He still holds her in the palm of His hand even though she’s let go of mine.”
Troy Burns

It Just So Happens…

Serendipity: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way; an unplanned fortunate discovery.
“I’m so glad I just happened to run into you at the store! I was having a terrible day and you gave me exactly the encouragement I needed. Or did I just happen to run into you?
“That was a horrific accident; if I would have left your house when I was planning to leave, I would have driven into that intersection right at the time of the accident, but I just happened to miss it.” Or did I just happen to miss it?
“30 years ago, I was visiting my mom in the hospital and just happened to meet a young lady she befriended who, over the course of various events, would become my wife two years later.” Or did I just happen to meet that young lady?
In Luke chapter 10, a lawyer asks Jesus a question that He answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The lawyer’s question was, “Who is my neighbor?” As part of the parable, Jesus shares the following: 31 “A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31). In that verse, the word happened (also translated chance or coincidence), comes from the Greek word synkyrian, which is a combination of two words: sun and kurios. Sun means “together with,” and kurios means “supreme in authority.” So biblically, the word happened (or chance or coincidence) can be understood as, “what occurs together by God’s providential arrangement of circumstances.”
Did I just happen to run into an old friend? Did I just happen to miss that horrible accident? Did I just happen to meet my future wife because she knew my mom in the hospital? What appears to be random chance could actually point to the oversight of God, who tells us, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). What I used to think of as serendipity could very well be the handiwork of God, who makes it clear that He’s in charge of everything:
I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ 11 From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do. (Isaiah 46:9-11)
When I experience unexpected events or I run into someone completely by surprise, my first reaction might be, “What a coincidence.” But just because I am surprised does not mean that God is. In fact, He promised that, “in all things [He] works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). In ways known only to God, He takes those things that “just happened”—those chance meetings and coincidences, those surprise circumstances, and even my mistakes and unplanned events—and brings them together to fulfill His purposes.
Troy Burns

I’ll Never Pass That Way Again

Just for a moment I was back at school
And felt that old familiar pain
And, as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain
“Same Old Lang Syne” – Dan Fogelberg
Some memories cause pain due to the terrible things remembered; others hurt deeply, not because of the memories themselves (of things that were wonderful at the time), but because they will never happen again. For example, my memory of playing baseball with my young son causes me pain not because I didn’t love playing ball with him (I certainly did), but because he’s grown up and those times are lost and gone forever.
With one child graduating from college in a few months, and another one beginning her university adventure in a few weeks, I’ve come to realize (if not accept) that parenting involves loss. Some things are lost and gone forever. The adult child-parent relationship is incredible in many ways, but there’s also a loss of what I once had, making it clear that life will never be the same again. For all of the many struggles and challenges of raising kids, my toughest dad moment was undoubtedly walking out of my son’s dorm room in Phoenix after moving him in to start his first experience away from home. I literally walked from one life to another, knowing I would never pass that way again.
Since I’m writing this blog for our church website, I need to find some spiritual insight from all of this reminiscing and grieving over things that are no more. Maybe it’s this: as followers of Jesus, we can look forward to the time when we will live forever in a new heaven and a new earth, where God “will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). When I think about my kids, especially in their younger years, I’m pained by the things that are lost, that have passed away. But if there’s one thing I don’t mind passing away, it’s “the old order of things.” When that day comes, I’ll have nothing to mourn, no pain to feel, and no tears to shed. Knowing this paradise with God is promised, I have to believe that a day is coming when my painful memories will never hurt me again.
Troy Burns

I Can Wait (and Wait)

As a high school freshman, too young for a driver’s license and too old to grow up in a cell phone generation, I would wait (and wait) for my mother to pick me up from sports practices. Rarely could we set a definite pickup time since mom was always busy with five kids and I never knew exactly when my practices would end. What’s more, we could not easily call each other due to the aforementioned lack of cell phones. To complicate matters further, I would sometimes ride the activity bus if I could catch it in time, and with no ability to inform my mom of these bus trips, I forced her to wait and see if I arrived home before she knew whether or not to drive to the school and get me. On such occasions, we both waited (and waited).
I grew frustrated, even maddened, by the waiting and the eager expectation of hoping every car that rounded the corner was my mom’s. I could not understand what took her so long sometimes; answers didn’t come easy. But I never, ever doubted that she would arrive at some point. She saw more than what met the eye and her impending arrival helped me to endure those helpless feelings of being stuck and waiting (and waiting). In my mind, it was as though she could see me and hear me without being there. I felt near to my mom, so I could wait.
Those experiences and memories taught me something about waiting on God. Over the long months of dealing with the virus and its related restrictions, closures, delays, and cancellations, I’m reminded that I can wait for God if I know that He sees me and hears me. There’s so much I cannot even begin to understand; answers don’t come easy. But although God may not be there (in the sense of a tangible, physical presence), I feel near to Him, so I can wait.
As Sam (Leslie) Phillips sang in her song, Answers Don’t Come Easy:
Oh, and I can wait; it’s enough to know you can hear me now… it’s enough to feel so near you now, And when answers don’t come easy, I can wait. Mind’s eye can only see so far, and reason can only guess, but knowing you see more than what meets the eye helps me see through my helplessness.
Of course, God tells us to wait for Him and He makes incredible promises to those who do just that. So, I can wait (and wait) and it will be worth it.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:14)
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, ESV)
Troy Burns

The Rest of the Story

During the evening hours, if I sit on the couch to watch a show with my wife, I often doze off halfway into the show (if not sooner). Then, in the middle of the night, maybe around 3:00 a.m., I wake up to use the restroom and cannot get back to sleep. How can sleep come so easily during the regular evening hours, and yet elude me in those wee hours when I’m exhausted and can barely think straight? Then there’s my son, who can get into our car and fall fast asleep before we even make it out of our neighborhood. Thankfully, this only happens when he’s a passenger, not the driver!
I know I’m only talking about sleep, but these experiences cause me to wonder about the whole concept of rest. A line from next week’s reading in the Core 52 book jumped out at me: “It’s senseless to thank God for the job we have but not rest on the Sabbath when He promised it would increase our productivity.” As my family would attest, I have trouble just sitting still for a minute, let alone truly resting. Life is typically so busy that when I have an hour or two of downtime, I don’t feel grateful as much as guilty. How in the world can I devote an entire day of every week to rest? And is it really possible that I will get more done in six days of work than seven?
Many of us have no time for the things that matter the most, and that means we’ll never find rest for our souls. I’m sure God did not need rest, but He took a day off, anyway. Here’s what the Bible says about that: “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:2-3).
To be a little corny, you could say that’s the “rest of the story” of creation. God did not rest because He was exhausted; He rested to celebrate His creation and to put in place the principle of the Sabbath. This means that creation’s greatest productivity is within a cycle that includes rest. That’s the answer to my question of whether it’s possible to get more done in six days of work than seven. It may or may not help me sleep, but it will certainly focus my mind and heart on what matters the most, which will then lead to rest for my soul.
Troy Burns

Jumping Kids and Waiting Dads

One of my favorite memories is when my young children demonstrated a complete, unquestioning trust in their dad. My son, as a small toddler, walked out onto a diving board with his swim instructor and jumped into the water where I was waiting to catch him in my arms. My older daughter did a similar thing when she climbed several stairs and jumped down to me. Had my kids focused on anything else besides their dad, they would have lost faith and likely would not have jumped. But they were willing to take those leaps for one reason: they knew without a doubt their dad would catch them.
I always think of this when I read the passage in Matthew chapter 18, where Jesus is asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, and He responds in this way: “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2-3).
Young children trust their parents completely, unless and until something breaks that trust. I want to live out that childlike faith in God, even if it’s difficult to do in any other aspect of life. I especially want this because so many things are uncertain. I hate that nothing is really ever for sure. I want to know for certain, every day, that I will live another day, and that my wife will be there with me every day, and that my kids will come home safely each and every night. But while I know these things are likely, I also know they’re not for sure.
In our current world situation, things are even more uncertain than normal. Not only is the virus a great unknown in many respects, but the related precautions, rules, and restrictions make it difficult to count on much of anything. To paraphrase an old saying, the only thing that’s for sure is that nothing is for sure.
Much of this life troubles me, scares me, and makes me realize how uncertain everything is. If I focus on anything besides my Dad, I’ll lose my faith. But God is my Father just like I am my children’s father. So, I still want to jump into His arms because I know He will catch me.
Troy Burns

I’ll Leave the Light On for You

A house is just a building; a home can be another thing altogether. I remember an old movie where the main character, a widower, described life with his wife as something that gave him the sense of coming home, only to no home he’d ever known. I’ve told my own wife many times (especially on handwritten notes or cards) that she makes our house a home. We even have this sign placed near the entryway into our house that reads, “What I love most about my home is who I share it with.” Home is an incredible thing when it’s all that it’s meant to be.
The story is told of a woman who hated her father, ran away from her home when she was 15, and planned never to return again. For quite a few years, she in fact did not return. But there were those nights, especially around the holidays, when she would drive down her old street, look at her house, and see the Christmas tree in the window along with the porchlight shining in the dark, as if to welcome anyone who might approach. It seemed that the light was always on.
The girl would not dare to go in, however, because of all that had happened between her and her parents. The porchlight continued to shine, though, reminding her of better times and memories of her mom and dad. And somehow, someway, she’d find herself there on Christmas Eve, parked on the street across from her parents’ house, drawing comfort from that little yellow porchlight.
Then one year, the girl who was now a woman grew tired of spending Christmas Eve in her car. She decided to take a risk and go home. Thankfully, she received a grand welcome with arms open wide to draw her close. As she hugged her mom in the doorway, the woman spoke of the porchlight and how it had always seemed to remain on, no matter when she drove by. Her mom smiled and her eyes filled with tears as she said, “You know, I always left that light on for you. Just in case you came home.”
Home. That’s what we try to create as husbands, wives, parents, and children. I know this world is not our home, but the people we love can give us a glimpse into what home is supposed to be. It’s the place where stories are told, lessons are taught, and memories are made. For the woman in the story—and maybe for all of us—home is a place where the light shines in the darkness. For me, home is the place where dreams come true, every single day.
Troy Burns

God is Good (All the Time)?

The first year I took our students to summer camp during my youth ministry years, a leader from another church would yell out, “God is good!” to which a large group of kids and counselors would reply, “All the time!” Then the leader would scream, “All the time!” to which the group would answer, “God is good!” This would continue for a few rounds, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many of the young people really believed that, and how many were just joining in with the other campers. The reason I wondered was that I had many questions myself. As a “mature” adult, I had to admit I wasn’t so sure. Was God only good and always good?
It’s difficult to believe in the goodness of God when we can’t find any tangible evidence of it. It’s certainly hard to believe that God is good all the time. But as a recent article pointed out, “faith is believing the Word of God and acting upon it, no matter how we feel, because God promises a good result.” That’s where we experience God’s goodness: He doesn’t often take away the bad things, but He does work for the good in all things, whether good, bad, or indifferent.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
A couple of weeks ago, during a message from our series, Getting Rid of the Gorilla, I shared that I don’t always understand what God wants and doesn’t want. There are things He wants me to do (or not do) sometimes, and I really feel like I can’t obey Him properly. In certain situations, I don’t want to do what God tells me to do, or I want to do what He tells me not to do. But for all of my failures and weaknesses, I strive to obey God, anyway, because that’s what I signed up for when I answered Jesus’ call to discipleship. I put my trust, my very life, in His hands because I believe He is good and He loves me and He not only knows what’s best for me, He wants what’s best for me.
All the time? God is good!
Troy Burns

No, Let Me Go First

It’s mostly wrong for me to focus on myself, but it can be helpful at times. This morning, for example, I ran across a quote from Abbot Tryphon that reminded me of what I should tell myself often: “When we take our eyes off our own sins, we focus only on the sins of the other.” When I give my full attention to the shortcomings of other people, I forget to fight the battles against my own failures that cause me to miss the mark and to fall short of God’s best for me.
Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Applying that truth to this blog, when I ignore my own weaknesses, I let my guard down and my heart is unhealthy. On the other hand, when I remember my own sins, I realize how much grace and forgiveness I need, which makes me less likely to see (much less judge) the sins of others.
Jesus spoke about this issue in Matthew 7:3-5:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
It’s easy for me to judge the angry person in traffic who honks and yells at another driver—a complete stranger to him—while forgetting how I flew off the handle at my own wife, who loves me more than anyone in the world. In other words, it’s easy to see the speck of dust in someone else’s eye and forget about the plank in my own eye. As I’ll share in the next message from our series, Getting Rid of the Gorilla, I’ve run five marathons and numerous other races of various distances. In some of those races, I zipped by quite a few people, feeling good about myself, like I was some impressive runner. But I compared myself to the wrong people; the runners who won those races, or who were fast enough to have a chance to win, brought me back down to earth. I did not see those runners after the start of the race for one simple reason: I could never keep up with them.
Something like that happens when I think about the sins and failures of other people. I forget that the yardstick for moral comparison is not another person, but God Himself. Of course I will appear more moral to myself than the gossip who slandered me or the office supervisor who mistreated me. Pain makes it hard to be objective and I will always seem better in my own eyes than the person who hurt me.
In the movie, Blue Like Jazz, the main character, Don, is a Southern Baptist youth who flees his fundamentalist upbringing when he goes to college, and who starts to realize how he has set a bad example for those who don’t follow Jesus. Near the end of the movie, Don sets up a confession booth on campus and as it turns out, it’s not for him to take confessions, but to give them. When the first person comes in to talk, Don stops him and says, “No, let me go first.” He insists on being the one to confess his sin. In my own life, the next time I believe another person is sinning, or when someone comes up to me and wants to confess something, I might just stop them and say, “No, let me go first.”
Troy Burns

God, Can I Tell You Something?

Are we allowed to be completely honest with God? In the face of all the pain, suffering, and despair of our current situation in the world, I’ve thought about something that’s actually quite common in the Bible: expressing our troubles and praying for help in coming out of pain. The big word for this is lamentation, which is a passionate expression of sorrow or grief. At least one-third of the Psalms are laments and we see these types of statements frequently in the book of Job. In fact, Job cursed the very day he was born, saying, “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb?” (Job 3:11). We also find the Old Testament prophets crying out to God and the book of Lamentations communicates the confusion and suffering that followed the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
On top of that, we find many examples of lamenting in the New Testament. People who are sick and in pain cry out to Jesus for help. For example, Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). Jesus Himself cried out to His Father God in times of anguish and suffering. Just before He was arrested in the garden, He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). And during His extreme agony on the cross, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Obviously, prayers of lament and expressions of sorrow or grief appear often in the pages of Scripture, which leads me to wonder if we may have lost touch with this dimension of prayer. Perhaps we feel like that type of “venting” to God is inappropriate or even flat-out wrong. But when we hurt physically, we cry out in pain, so when we hurt spiritually, why can’t we cry out in lament?
During those times when it seems that God has forsaken us, we might believe that we should not feel that way or that we might even be losing our faith. But the truth is that lamenting can demonstrate a genuine, more complete kind of faith. In the Bible, faith is not just an intellectual acknowledgement or understanding that God exists; it’s entrusting our entire selves to God. If we’re being honest, we know that sometimes we experience God’s absence and we have serious doubts and struggles. But lamenting is an act of faith, not a failure of faith. We cry out to God because, deep down, we know He is there, that He cares, and that our relationship with Him matters.
Troy Burns