“Let me paraphrase something that Pope John Paul II once said as he addressed a group of leaders from Third World countries: Don’t look at the Western nations for models in your development.  They know how to make things but they don’t know how to live with them.  The have acquired a mind-boggling technology, but they’ve forgotten how to raise their children.”

Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection

My daughter has begun taking her first steps this week, which makes me one proud papa, but also provokes a bit of melancholy in my spirit.  Now, I know that most folks believe that Christians are supposed to be happy-clappy all the time, but I just don’t buy into that.  I don’t believe that melancholy, or a state of sober thoughtfulness, is sinful, though.  Sentimentality, on the other hand, wishing that things were the way they once were, instead of how they are today…Now that just might be a sin.   I’ve been thinking a great deal about my own dad this week, whom I lost when I was 17 years old, and having great, but melancholy, memories of him.  I’ve also spent a good deal of time pondering what type of dad my little girl will remember me as being.

I work as a child protective services investigator, so I deal with fathers, day in and out.   At worst, they behave like monsters, inflicting unimaginable types of abuse upon their children.  Somewhere in the middle, many are absent altogether.  I don’t have any quantitative data to back up the idea, but unfortunately, my perception is that many families I meet have dads that may be present in form, but not in heart.  Many of the young dads I meet are little more than kids themselves, occupied with video games, sexual conquest, and the things they can possess, from iPads to Androids to flat screens…They love their stuff, and will fight you over it…But they barely notice their children, seeing first steps and first words and first trips to the zoo as mundane, and hardly worth their attention.

I’ve grown to believe that the root of this problem is based in a faulty belief system, one which we built and actively promote in our part of the world.  Get what you can.  Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Buy, buy, buy.  Bigger is better.  All this, by any means necessary.  We learn it from our media, which promotes individuals with little or no ability, talent, or motivation (see Teen Mom and Jersey Shore), and makes them millionaires and red carpet mainstays.  We’re jealous that we don’t have these things, that we aren’t the rich and famous…Who hasn’t stood in front of the mirror and belted out a Beyonce’ tune, or pretended they were taking the final, game-winning shot of the NBA finals?  “We all just wanna be big rock stars…”

But we aren’t.  And with our stunted dreams comes diminished appreciation of what we do have, the profoundly simple and beautiful things that we often overlook.

I once made over 50 grand each year, working only 4 days per week.  I make only half that today, working 50-60 hours weekly, on average.

I once owned a home.  I am today a statistic of foreclosure.

I once drove a 1978 Jeep CJ-7, which I had fully restored.  It was a head-turner, a really sharp ride.  High school kids I worked with were jealous of my car.  I now am the proud owner of a 1997 Chevy pickup, for which I am saving money to purchase a new set of used tires.

I was once a pastor on the rise, with more than a couple of churches jockeying for my services.  I was writing for the online version of Relevant Magazine, and working on my first book.  Today, I have a group of 2-3 couples who meet at my home twice each month for Bible study, and I just attend church.  The book that I thought would make me a headliner at conferences…Publishers ignored it.

All of these things combined could make me discontent with my station in life, and contribute to my deciding that my present circumstances aren’t worth me investing my heart and time and love in.

But I don’t believe that the cumulative seconds, minutes, hours, and years that have added up to equal “now” are all in vain.  I believe in Ecclesiates 3:11, that “God has made everything beautiful in its time…”.  God has designed this moment to be as it is, right here, and right now.  He has made a beautiful baby from one lovely mom, and one incredibly average middle-aged guy.  And did I mention, there’s another one on the way?  Another little girl, due June 27, 2012.  He’s given me a merciful family to help me through the consequences of my poor economic choices and misfortune of the past five years.  And did I mention that I have a smokin’ hot wife who is in her 20’s?  Who loves her kids, and the fat, balding guy she married?  That I wake up every morning, and see the incredible red and pink and purple sunrise directly across the Sanford Road, overlooking an amazing pastoral scene?  That we actually made it to this payday with a little bit of cash to spare in the bank?  That I actually love my low-paying, high stress, job?  That my little girl thinks I hung the moon?  That I think it was actually her that hung the moon?

Henri Nouwen once wrote that in scripture,  joy and sorrow go hand-in-hand…that in order for there to be resurrection, there must be crucifixion.

I believe that might be what we’re missing in western culture, in American Christianity.  If things aren’t going well for us, we believe that God the Father isn’t investing in us, isn’t paying us a proper amount of attention, and that if He really loved us, things would be going “right”…or what we define as “right”.  We have a deficit in joy because we refuse to crucify ourselves to desires for things that really don’t mean anything at all.

I hope we all realize today that God loves us,  in spite of ourselves.  The next time you feel tempted to doubt because of circumstances, remember that the seminal question that we need to ask is not directed from us to God, and is not “Do you love me?”  The most important question that we must ask is to ourselves:  “Do I believe that God loves me?  That He has placed me in this moment, in these circumstances, that He has invested Himself in the eternal ‘me’ in order to bring me to this place in time, to this family, to this job, to this home, to this church, to this life, so that I might fully invest myself in the life that He has provided?  Can I overlook my lack long enough to joyfully count my treasure, and to deposit my entire being into that sum?”

I picture in my mind that hero of the faith, Scrooge McDuck, diving into his money bin, swimming amongst his coins.  I believe that God intends for us to dive into our own lives in the same way, whether they be successful by cultural standards or not.  If you have children, love them with all your being.  If you’re married, love your spouse with all you are.  If you have a job, do it with all your might.  And on the other hand, if you’re barren, single, and broke, it doesn’t mean that you made the Baby Jesus cry, or that you are “out of favor”.  God has you right where He wants you, for right now.  And the kicker is, whether you can see Him or not, He is present with you in the moment you are in. Make the most of that moment.

My dad isn’t present today, but I believe he would look on my baby’s first steps with delight and joy and wonder.  He would boast about her beauty, and love her lavishly, with what little he had.  God our Father, our “Abba Daddy”, does the same for us, even in midst of those moments we think we are small and insignificant.  That’s what I believe.  And that, friends, is something to believe in…