Rubbing the Lipstick In

Mom went to be with Jesus almost a year ago.  This is my first Mother’s Day without her here.  Emotions are already a little close to the surface, and then the other night hit. This might sound like the start to a sad blog, but stick with me.

For Christmas, my sister took on an amazing labor of love, and made pillows out of some of my mom’s shirts for her siblings, nieces and nephews.  We all love these, including my youngest, who has gone to bed hugging it many nights.  He also likes to smell the pillow, as it reminds him of my mom – his “NaliMa”.

The other night, as Sara was about to leave his room, I heard him start crying, and the tears just kept on coming.  Through his tears, I heard him say, “Her smell is gone.” Yeah, those “close to the surface” emotions broke through – for Joshua, and for his daddy.

During this stretch – Mother’s Day and then Mom’s one-year anniversary of meeting Jesus face-to-face (on May 16th) – I think all of us who love Mom have our own ways of remembering her.  Whether it’s smell, pictures, videos, or just thinking back on countless memories, there is much to remind us of how amazing she was.

For me, one of the biggest memories is what she told me back when I was in Junior High. Mom often wore this striking red lipstick.  She made a bit of a sport out of planting a kiss on our cheek, and there remained the mark of the red lipstick.  One time, she did that when I was about to see some friends.  If you’ve known a 13-year-old boy, you can imagine my reaction.

I started rubbing off that lipstick as fast as I could.  And then came those words from Mom – “Brad, you don’t rub off your MamIMG_3398a’s kisses.  You rub them IN!

So that’s what I started doing.  I wouldn’t swipe at my cheek, but I would gently rub those kisses in.

And as I grew, I learned in even greater ways how important that idea was – not just with the red lipstick, but with the life lessons my mom was teaching me.  These weren’t just lessons when I was young.  These were lessons being taught until the very day she left this earth.  And even incredibly valuable lessons since.

My mom taught me so many things.  She modeled generosity, she exemplified unconditional love, and she taught me how to treat others like Jesus would.  She taught me integrity, the importance of looking at issues from all angles, and the essential of standing for what is right, even if others don’t love when you do.

The things Mom taught me could honestly fill many books, as I know is true with many who were blessed to know her.  But when it’s all said and done, I am forever grateful that this young, immature boy learned early on to not rub off Mom’s lessons, but to rubMoms kiss them in.  Sure, some took longer to sink in, and some I’m still learning, but her life-well-lived has made me a better husband, father, servant, leader and friend.

So, as we deal with the sadness of not having Mom here, and as I help walk my children through the days of her ‘smell’ being gone, I am so grateful that I have what truly matters.  I can now share with the next generation the countless things Mom taught me, and can love them like she loved me…like Jesus.

“Her children arise and call her blessed…” (Proverbs 31:28)

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)

“The faithful love of the LORD never ends!  His mercies never cease.  Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

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Worthless Steps

After wondering what all the hubbub was about, I finally took the plunge.  Yes, a coupKnight Riderle of months ago, I became the proud owner of a Fitbit.  Sure, we could debate whether I bought this for noble purposes, or if I bought it strictly to pretend I was Michael Knight talking to K.I.T.T., but I digress.

This investment has been really good for me as I seek to keep on the weight loss trail.  It’s not that I wasn’t exercising before, but each day, I find myself wanting to ‘beat the Fitbit’ in whatever category.  I mean, really, who wants to be bested by a machine, especially one that fits on your wrist?!

The other day, I made the ginormous error of leaving the house without putting on my Fitbit.  As I walked around town a bit, and as I did the Walmart ‘dance’ of crisscrossing the store repeatedly, the thought hit – “Oh man!  All this walking doesn’t even count.  These are worthless steps!”.  

Yes, I quickly came to my senses.  The steps I was taking were good.  They were helping me.  Just because I wasn’t wearing the fancy-schmancy tech gear on my wrist didn’t mean the steps were worthless.  I just have gotten used to seeing with my own eyes how much my steps matter.

After I got back home in K.I.T.T. – um, I mean our family car – I found myself thinking about the steps I take as a husband and dad.  I thought about how I don’t want to take any ‘worthless’ steps in the areas of my life I treasure more than any amount of gold.  I thought how helpful it would be to have a Fitbit showing me the impact of my steps.

And as the proof ran towards me when I came in the door, I realize that I do.  There is no place else that I can see how my steps as a dad and husband matter than in Sara and my three incredible children.  Each day, I can see in their faces if I’m getting it right, or if I’m missing the mark.

I can directly see when I am taking worthless steps – choosing a Yankees’ game over helping with the dishes, keeping my phone too close when my son wants to tell me about his day, playing video games those few extra minutes too long.  And I can definitely see it in those same faces when I’m making my steps matter!  It shows in the faces of those I dearly love, and I feel it in my own heart.

The longer I walk with Jesus, the more attuned I am to the internal “GPS” He has given me.  It’s His voice that tells me what is the best use of my time, how to be the best dad I can be, how to love SarPsalm 37 23 pica the way she deserves.  And it’s a fantastic feeling when my head hits the pillow that night and I hear Jesus whisper, “Good job today”, and then as He challenges me to do even better the next day.

So, I guess it’s pretty simple – whether when I’m out walking, or focused on my family, I want my steps to count!


The Easter String

There’s something our parents never told us directly, but as I look back at Easter memories, all the signs were there.  Evidently, we weren’t the sharpest bulbs or the brightest tools in the shed.  Sure, we got good grades and seemed to be holding our own in the ‘smarts’ department, but then it happened.  The Easter string.

We were staying at the Jersey shore one Easter, in the home of a family friend.  We woke up on Saturday morninimage1g to hunt for candy, and my sister, brother and I each found our Easter string.  It was a piece of yarn that started near our beds, and continued throughout the house all the way into the back yard.  Along the way, we found our baskets, then candy and plastic eggs filled with goodies, until we reached the end of the string.

It was a fun time, but as I think back, well, what was that all about?!  I had searched for and found candy many times before…and not just on Easter.  I mean, I could have taught a college level course on “The Willy Wonka Journey: How to find the candy that doesn’t want to be found”.  Sure, I could ask my dad why they did the string, but there’s that lurking fear of what the answer might be.  I’ll just choose to believe it was more for my siblings than for me 😉

Whatever the reason, we’ll never forget the Easter string.  We’ve had lots of laughs about it.  I’m just glad the result remains the same – that Easter string led me where I needed to be.

This is one of many incredible Easter memories, but in the midst of it, my parents always made sure we knew what it was all about.

Easter has a point beyond eggs and candy and a bunny.  Multiple big words are used to talk about Jesus at Easter, but it’s pretty simple to me.  Easter is about the greatest love story ever!  Jesus took my punishment on the cross, and rose again so that I can have eternal life with Him.  “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13, The Bible).  Greatest love story…ever!

As I was thinking back on this story yesterday of that candy hunt (and smiling big!), I realized that I have a similar goal as a dad, too.  I want to lead my children to the greatest prize there is.  I want to show them Jesus.  Not just on Easter weekend, but each and every day.

I want to show my children what real love is.  I want to train them in the way they Brad and kiddos - 2015should go (Proverbs 22:6).  I want them to know that Jesus isn’t someone who came to give a set of rules, to squash their fun, or to keep them from loving life.  No way!  I want them to know that Jesus came so they can “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).  I want them to know that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17).  And I want them to know that in a world confused about who God is, .

Let’s face it…this world has become pretty complex.  May I be an “Easter string” that shows my children – and many others – the simple truth of Jesus.

What’s in a Name?

I like baseball.  A lot!  I’m one of those guys that has a countdown until pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training each year.  This year, there was an extra treat of the World Baseball Classic.  That’s where teams representing several different countries square off to see who can win it all.  And, spoiler alert, Team USA won the 2017 WBC title!

As the scene unfolded after the final out, one of the outfielders was ecstatic as he ran into the celebratory fray.  As he sprinted across the field, he kept pointing to thwbc usa 2e “USA” on the front of his jersey.  This all-star level player who makes millions upon millions wasn’t pointing to the name on the back, or talking about himself in post-game interviews.  It was all about the name on the front of the jersey.

Now, this is something the greatest coaches have talked about for years.  Google holds many quotes from coaches saying, “The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back!”.

This all got me thinking about the different names I might have on the back of my jersey – Dad, husband, provider, defender, department director, son, brother, uncle, friend… I know a lot of people with a lot of different ‘names’.  We each play several roles in life, and some more than others.

But what about the namename word cloud 3 on the front of the jersey?  Where does my identity really land?

Sure, it could be whatever role I like the most.  Or it could simply be “Brad” or “Hutchcraft”.  I dig both of those.  For some, it might be their job where they find the most meaning.  For others, their religion, or even their politics.

Playing for Team USA must have been memorable for these men.  But soon, they will be back playing for their regular team.  Logos of the Yankees, Rangers, Cubs, Dodgers, will be proudly worn once again.  Earlier in life, I changed ‘jerseys’ too many times, playing for someone different each day.

And then…Jesus.  He changed everything!  That’s the name that I proudly wear now.  It’s the name that all my other titles come under.  At least that’s the goal.  It’s the only name that I know will last.  Jesus.

It’s not about a set of rules, or a specific church, or whatever ‘religion’ that might come to mind.  And it’s certainly not about a political party!  It’s about this relationship that I started many years ago.  I was created to have a relationship with God.  The Bible says it best – I was “created by Him and for Him”.  We all were.  But I tried running my life my way instead, and I didn’t do a very good job.  Fortunately, God sent His Son, Jesus, to pay my penalty so I could have a chance at real life.  Eternal life with the One who created me.  I just had to choose Him.  So I did, and that has made all the difference.

Those other names?  I really like them.  I love being a dad, a husband, a friend, and the list goes on.  But those things can be challenging at times, and I wouldn’t be very good at them if not for the name on the front of the jersey.  For me to get it right, I’m going to stick with the strongest name there is:

“The name of the LORD is a strong tower…”(the Bible)

Hidden Daffodils

I was taking “the walk”. It’s that time where you walk around the yard, typically with one arm crossed and one hand slightly rubbing the chin, coming up with the plan of attack. Weeds are starting to fight for space, and a smattering of brittle leaves are hiding in corners. Yet, I hear the grass crying out, “Here I come! Brad, please make room.” And if you say you’ve never heard your yard talk to you, well, you’re not listening closely enough.

But then I saw it. Nestled between one of the bigger trees in my yard and the fence, a handful of daffodils had sprung forth. I was a bit surprised, as this is an area where there isn’t much sunlight or space. It’s an area where I wouldn’t expect to find this hidden beauty.image1

Now, I don’t know if you’re much of a daffodil person, and the more I write that word, the more I’m wondering when someone might come take one of my ‘man cards’, but I like them. Because of Mom. She loved daffodils. These early harbingers of spring would typically bloom right around her birthday, and Dad would always pick some and put them in a vase for her on her special day.

Next week is Mom’s birthday. This is the first since she went to be with Jesus last May. I don’t know what emotions to expect, but I know God will be there for us then as He has faithfully been all along.  But I know I was thinking about her when I saw those flowers.

Hidden daffodils. There were so many of those from Mom, and I’m still discovering them. Beautiful nuggets of love and wisdom that she planted in so many – in me – over the years. She was an amazingly wise woman. Many saw that, but I am privileged because I got to live learning from it my whole life. I can’t say that my younger self always appreciated this, but I can tell you that my older self definitely does.

And those hidden daffodils keep springing up. I keep hearing Mom’s words of wisdom as I walk through each day. She taught me more than I knew, and I count it a privilege and honor to be able to share those things with my children and anyone the Lord allows me to.

But why wouldn’t Mom have a life filled with these hidden daffodils?! She spent her life intimately drawing near to Jesus, and to His Word, the Bible. That’s the same ‘life instruction book’ I seek to dive into daily. And it is filled with more than most people know. It has so many ‘hidden daffodils’ that spring up in my life when I need them the most.

I still find it odd to write about Mom in the past tense, but I think that’s because so much of her love, her wisdom and her legacy is still so alive and active. Her birthday will be different, but she has left so many reasons to keep celebrating her, and the love of Christ that showed through her.

This year, I’ll be celebrating the hidden daffodils…

“How much better to get wisdom than gold,
to get insight rather than silver!” Proverbs 16:16

“Bells Across the Snow”

This morning, I came across a poem in the devotional book ‘Streams in the Desert’.  It says a lot of what is on my heart this first Christmas without Mom, and I pray it is an encouragement for any who may be missing a loved one this Christmas.  Even in the midst of missing Mom and some ‘hidden tears’, it does my heart good that the “thrill of Hope” remains…because of Jesus!  We can still celebrate God showing up in the form of a baby, sent on a rescue mission for us.  What an amazing celebration Mom must be having!

BELLS ACROSS THE SNOW

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
Is it really come again,
With its memories and greetings,
With its joy and with its pain!
church-bell-in-snow
There’s a minor in the carol
And a shadow in the light,
And a spray of cypress twining
With the holly wreath tonight.
And the hush is never broken
By laughter light and low,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
’Tis not so very long
Since other voices blended
With the carol and the song!
If we could but hear them singing,
As they are singing now,
If we could but see the radiance
Of the crown on each dear brow,
There would be no sigh to smother,
No hidden tear to flow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow.”

O Christmas, merry Christmas,
This never more can be;
We cannot bring again the days
Of our unshadowed glee,
But Christmas, happy Christmas,
Sweet herald of good will,
With holy songs of glory
Brings holy gladness still.
For peace and hope may brighten,
And patient love may glow,
As we listen in the starlight
To the “bells across the snow.”

—Frances Ridley Havergal

The Roller Coaster Church

I’ve been at this for a lot of years. People have all sorts of opinions on the matter. Some love it, some rail against it. Some view it as a regulation, some a privilege. For me, it’s always been a part of my life – church.

Almost everyone has a reaction to that word. Church. Joy, frustration, love, hurt, peace, defensiveness. So many emotions are tied to that one word. I’m not writing a lot of words here to defend church or everything various people in various churches have done over the years. And this isn’t me writing to tell you why you should go to church.

I’m just writing because it’s part of my story. It was part of the first half of my story, and it certainly is part of the second half. And honestly, it brings a smile to my face to write about this. Not because of a building, but because of the part it has played in me experiencing more of the incredible plan Jesus has for me.

I grew up in an area with plenty of churches around. The great things was, I felt the one my family went to was one of the best. They say hindsight is 20/20, and even looking back, I still feel that way. The biggest challenge? It set a high standard for other churches I’d attend in my life to live up to.

I went to a good church in college, where the pastor not only taught the Word of God but lived it. I’ve been to small churches while on the mission field that were filled with amazing people who loved like Jesus (and could host a mean potluck!). And I’ve found many friends at a bigger church, filled with people passionate about reaching those the world has forgotten.

Many great experiences, and I could write many blogs about what I learned along the way from each of those churches. And yes, I’ve also been to some churches that I didn’t connect with for various reasons. I’ve learned from those, too.

Now, we go to a churchroller coaster that used to have a roller coaster next to it. Yup, a real, wooden roller coaster. That’s kinda fun. It’s a church that feels so much like home to us. The worship, the teaching, the laughter, the overwhelming encouragement of marriages and families – it’s simply beautiful. I’ve heard some say that the closer they get to a church, the more they are turned off because of the “ugly side” they see behind the scenes. As we have experienced more of this part of the body of Christ, it’s been just the opposite. The closer we get, the more we love it, and the more we want to be a part of serving.

All of that said, this isn’t about one specific church. In fact, it’s about many churches, filled with people and experiences who have helped me live a life that gets more exciting with each passing year.

A good church should remind you of the early Church that the Bible talks about in Acts 2 –
“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals…and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people.”

Maybe you’ve gone to a roller coaster church before…but not the fun kind. You’ve seen ups-and-downs that have caused you to leave church in the rear view mirror. I’d encourage you to pull over, turn the car around, and maybe give this all another look. There is no perfect church here on earth, and if you’re looking for problems, you will most likely find them.

But, if you’re looking for a place to belong, a place with people who will love you, and a place that can help you find pieces that seem to be missing, you can find that, too. It might not be the first church you check out, or the second, or the third, but when you find the right fit, well, you’ll want to tell others that part of your story. Don’t give up. It’s worth the effort.

When all is said and done, people could argue with me about an “institution” that has been flawed, but I know it isn’t about an institution. It’s about a Savior. It’s about Jesus Christ, and when a church has that right, you can’t wait for Sunday!