Ink

I have tattoos. Two of them, actually.

Ink is not for everyone, though it has certainly become far more mainstream to get tattoos, and lots of them, for that matter.

Some people have very strong opinions on tattooing – whether or not it’s attractive, whether it makes a difference if you’re male or female, what parts of the body are and are not appropriate, whether or not Christians should get tattoos, the list goes on.

I am not one of those people. I love my ink. Both are extremely special to me.

What I would say is this: put a lot of thought into what you’re going to get, and be willing to consider whether you will still like the same things when you are 40 or 50 that you like when you’re 15 or 20 (hint: not very likely). I came very close to getting my fraternity letters tattooed on my upper arm when I was 21-22. And although I will always be thankful for my fraternity brothers and my time in Delta Upsilon (a truly non-secret, non-hazing, International fraternity, by the way), I am far more thankful that I do not have blue and gold Greek letters inked on my body today as a father in my 40’s.

And spare me the “You can always get it removed or covered up” line, teenagers. It’s expensive, painful, and likely not as effective as you think/hope.

I got my first tattoo when I was 36. My wife bought it for me as a birthday gift, and she even was the deciding factor on what I should get. See, I had struggled with that decision since I was 21-22 (the main reason I waited so long). I wanted a tattoo, I just couldn’t decide of what. It was Heidi who suggested the “Olde English D,” the logo used by the Detroit Tigers. I am from suburban, metro Detroit, and have always been proud to be from here. I have been a die-hard fan of the Detroit sports teams since my youth, but the Tigers came first. The design is classic and simple, yet also classy. In my mind, it symbolizes where I came from, who I am and what I’m passionate about. It secretly stands for “Dad” to me. So it means the world to me, and I love it. It’s on my left upper arm.Misc_20110417_0234

I got my second when I was 38. Yes, they are addictive. Almost as soon as the ink was dry from the first I began planning the second. But that’s not why I got it. On September 11, 2013, my son, Daniel, died. He was six years old, special needs, and my “Mini-Me.” My relationship with him was unlike any other I have ever had. I knew almost immediately I needed a permanent, visible reminder of his place in my life. He was my football buddy. He loved the Detroit Lions, especially watching them with me. When I would scream and yell at the TV, he would laugh and shout along with me. Heidi got a necklace pendant with his thumb print on it, I got the Detroit Lions logo and his name in script, Daniel Grady, inked on my right upper arm.Misc_20131004_0305

So those are my tattoos. I’ve been asked if it was “OK” for a Pastor to have tattoos (yes), but no one has outright told me I should not (though I have been told it makes me “extra cool” because I am a Pastor with ink…). Ironically, I got my first tattoo about six weeks before I was placed at my church, about three months before I became a Pastor – so yes, I was well aware of what I was doing.

I don’t know if this was interesting to you or not, but I’d love to know the stories behind your ink, whether existing or “almost.” Please share in the comments below.

Pastors

Tomorrow is the seven-year anniversary of my ordination – the day I became a Pastor. I didn’t declare myself a pastor, I wasn’t elected pastor and I haven’t even always wanted to be a pastor! It was the culmination of a long process that required hard work and sacrifice, but which ultimately was held in the hands of others. I was approved as a candidate for seminary, certified by the faculty, recommended by my vicarage (internship) supervisor, called by a congregation, approved by a District President and commissioned by the laying on of hands by other pastors.

In honor of the seven-year anniversary of that moment, I thought I would share a not-so-serious but all-too-real description of “the perfect pastor.” I don’t know the source of this – if you do, please share in the comments below so I can give credit where it is due. I have seen it in several places, so it may just be a common thing. Anyway, here goes:

The perfect pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes. He condemns sin roundly but never hurts anyone’s feelings. He works from 8 AM until midnight and is also the church janitor, yet is an exemplary husband and father. The perfect pastor makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, drives a good car, buys good books, and donates $30 a week to the church. He is 29 years old and has 40 years experience. Above all, he is handsome. The perfect pastor has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he spends most of his time with the senior citizens. He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his church. He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in his office to be handy when needed. The perfect pastor always has time for church council and all of its committees. He never misses the meeting of any church organization and is always busy evangelizing the unchurched.

The average career of a pastor in America is seven years. Seven years! With the above expectation, maybe that shouldn’t be surprising…

At any rate, after my own seven years, I can honestly say that I love my job and, Lord willing, I’m not done yet! Though it is rarely easy, it is good. I am humbled to be called to be a pastor, proud to be in the LCMS, and honored to serve at my amazing congregation.

If you have a pastor, be sure and tell him “Thank you.” He’ll appreciate it.

Paying the Price

Today, we set aside a national holiday to remember all those who have died either while serving our country’s military, or who have died since that service.

For most of us, it means the day off work or school, and a three-day weekend.

But it is also a really valuable time for reflection – to think about what it means to be willing to sacrifice everything for what you believe.

What would you fight for? What would you die for? For that matter, what are you living for?

Lots of people believe a lot of different things. And, we happen to live in a time and place where you can express those beliefs and opinions via internet comments or social media with very little risk of any real repercussion, save an unpopular response or a lack of “likes.”

But when it comes down to it, what would you really be willing to stake your life on?

What about your eternity?

Today, as we remember those who fought and died for our freedoms, maybe it’s also time to think about real freedom ourselves.

When was the last time you went to church? If you go regularly, when was the last time you invited someone?

I don’t know where you stand in what you believe, but let today be the day that you look for more than just this life and the pain and loss that surrounds us. If you don’t have a church, find one. Know what it’s like to know your Savior and to know the love of a church family.

And if you do have a church and a church family, it’s time to help that family grow. If there are people in your life that you love and care about who don’t go to church, it’s time to stand up and fight for them. Fight for their eternity.

Because faith matters. Faith in Jesus isn’t about some set of old-fashioned rules or way of controlling you. It’s about the greatest news ever given: that whatever things you’ve done, whatever things you’ve failed to do, God sent His Son to pay the price for those things – no matter how shameful or unforgivable they might look in your mind. Learn more about the One who died so that we would have life, and tell others what you know.

Thank God for the brave men and women who took a stand and paid the price for our freedom to go to church and change our eternity. Don’t you think it’s time you took a stand?

If In Doubt, Talk It Out

I cannot say this enough:

Talk.

Communicate.

Stop making assumptions.

Don’t talk about people – talk to them.

The longer you let things fester, the worse they get until they are irreparable.

This goes for your marriage, kids, parents, friendships, and all relationships – with family, coworkers, bosses, teachers, pastors, neighbors, you name it.

It seems easier to be mad and walk away, but it just breeds bitterness and you never truly put it behind you.

Marriages end because someone stops talking about what’s bothering them.

Parents become estranged from children because someone assumes the other won’t understand.

People walk away from jobs they love because they don’t hear that they are appreciated, and don’t ask, either.

People leave churches they grew up in because they hear a rumor and assume it’s true.

Friendships end because someone misunderstands something that was said, and never asks why.

And each of those people carry around for the rest of their lives the weight of those broken relationships, never able to fully understand how they could have been treated that way – and never having the courage to ask.

But what if it was all a misunderstanding?

What if we misread the situation?

What if the other person couldn’t read our mind?…

Yes, people hurt each other.

And yes, sometimes people are just mean.

And yes, sometimes talking leads to fighting.

And yes, sometimes things do get worse.

But sometimes out of the worst fights – out of those raw and real moments – come some of the deepest truths.

And sometimes those truths break us.

But sometimes being broken is what we need.

And sometimes what we need is to see ourselves in the eyes of that other – to realize what we ourselves have become.

Sometimes the only way we can grow is to be cut down and replanted.

I cannot tell you how many times this has been proven in my life.

Both to my astonishment…

And to my shame.

There are people in my life who mean the world to me.

And they remain in my life because I – or they – swallowed our pride and talked it out when something went wrong.

Because something always goes wrong, because we remain human, after all.

But it can only be fixed if it gets acknowledged first.

And that means you have to talk about it.

It’s not always easy.

But it’s almost always worth it.

If you need to walk away, then do it.

But then go back.

And talk.

And I know.

It’s difficult and scary.

And it leaves us vulnerable.

But even if all we learn from talking is that the relationship does need to end,

At least now we can truly say we know.

Because we tried.

We talked.

So talk.

Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.

Talk to the person.

Oh, one more thing:

Listen.

Thoughts On a Confirmation Service

Today, our church celebrates confirmation. Confirmation in the Lutheran church is just that: confirmation by these young people of the faith that was given to them in baptism, taught to them by their parents, grandparents, godparents, pastors and teachers, and grown and nurtured in them by the Holy Spirit. Today, they stand before their church and say without shame: this is my faith, my church, and I am walking in it.

Our church encourages them to lead the worship service; to choose a personal expression of their own faith that means something to them, and then to present it as part of the worship service. Some read Scriptures. Some write and deliver statements of faith. Some sing, some play instruments, some do sketches, some get still more creative.

It’s a brave and powerful moment, and it makes me so proud of them as their pastor. This particular group I have known (mostly) since they were in fourth grade. Watching them grow is an honor. I see parents beaming and crying, family surrounding them and church family applauding them, and I have to work to fight back the tears.

Confirmation makes me cry, and I think it always will. I go from blessing them as children at 8:30 to communing them as fellow members at 11:00. Lord willing, I will one day confirm and commune my own children, though not my Daniel, whose faith has already been confirmed, perfected and completed. I think about the confirmation I will never see, every year, and it adds tears of sorrow to the tears of pride.

But I am so humbled and honored to be the one to confirm the faith of the children of our church. Other churches give their children first communion months or years before they are confirmed in their faith, while others withhold baptism until after their faith is confirmed. I have theological reasons I disagree with both, but mostly I think both miss out – on the beauty of baptizing an infant; of offering your child to God in complete trust to His care – and on the impact of a young man or woman publicly declaring their faith, and then receiving for the first time the sacramental gifts of God through holy communion.

It is humbling and exciting to see young people stand up and show what their Savior means to them, and to see an congregation of mature believers convicted and compelled to be equally unashamed of their own faith. These are just some of the many gifts our great God delivers through worship services such as these, and I am so thankful to be a part of them.

God bless all those who teach children the faith, and God bless all those who are taught the faith, that they would not depart from it.

Fitting In

I remember a trip we took when I was growing up. I was probably seven or eight years old, and the trip was to King’s Island in Cincinnati. The overall trip included Mammoth Caves and the Air Museum in Dayton, but what really stands out in my mind, is how much I despised King’s Island.

First of all, I loved Cedar Point, so I didn’t understand why we had to drive so far to go to a different amusement park. But much, much worse, was the discovery that I was too big for the little rides… and too little for the big rides. It was a miserable visit, and to this day I am convinced that King’s Island is the amusement park of Satan, designed specifically to torture innocent children. I’m talking, when I picture King’s Island, I picture the amusement park from Pinocchio, where all the boys turn into donkeys and get sold off into slavery. Please, I’m begging you: do not take your children to King’s Island!

In all seriousness, though, that feeling of being too big for the little rides and too little for the big rides is a reality in life more times than just at the amusement park. There are times when you just don’t seem to fit in anywhere.

When you are young, you can’t wait to be bigger so you can do all the fun stuff, like have a job and have money of your own. When you get a little older, you wish you were young again, so you could do all the fun stuff, like not have a job and have parents who pay for everything. One of life’s greatest thrills is when you finally turn 21 and get carded to prove it. One of life’s most crushing blows is when you stop getting carded…

Getting older is an odd thing. We spend half our lives wishing we were older and the rest of our lives wishing we were younger. But no matter what age you are or where you are in life, there will always be people older than you – and people younger than you. It’s important, then, that we respect and look out for those who are younger than us, or who have less advantages. It is likewise important for us to respect and look out for those who are older than us, from whom we might learn. Look out for, teach and mentor those who would benefit from it, but never lord it over them – remember you were younger once, too. Respect and value those who are older than you – why learn everything the hard way, when you can benefit from experience? All of us could stand to ease up, smile more, and treat others with respect – whether we think they deserve it or not.

There are a lot of times in life where you feel like you don’t fit – like you’re too big for the little rides and too little for the big rides. But that should never happen in the church, where we all belong, regardless of our age, our height, our race, our clothes or our hairstyle. We are united in Christ Jesus, covered in His blood, which covers a multitude of sins. You can help make sure the people around you don’t wonder where they belong – or if they belong. Love and respect the people around you, no matter who they are. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t take your kids to King’s Island!