The other night I went to bed before 10 pm … nearly an unprecedented event in my experience … I usually am much more of a night-owl unless I am sick. Even so, morning came much too quickly, and I’m feeling drowsy as I ride the train northward.

I’ve been watching Rudy lately … a movie about a kid who dreams of playing football for Notre Dame, and eventually (through sheer stubborn perseverance) fulfills that dream. While I am not much of a sports guy, I have to admire the diligence and effort this character puts into making his dream a reality. As with many of these sports movies, the musical score is very good, tugging at my emotions and pulling me in to the fantasy that playing for Notre Dame is somehow a noble objective in and of itself, worth the effort and passion that is poured into it by this young man.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a very convincing delusion.

At one point in the movie, Rudy is discouraged and about to quit because of an unfortunate change in coaches and a promise made to him by the old coach that seems unlikely to be fulfilled. One of his mentors points out that by playing on the team and attending Notre Dame, Rudy has already accomplished something worth doing, and that he should not quit. “You’re five feet nothin’, a hundred and nothin’, and you’ve got hardly a speck of athletic ability … and you hung in with the best college football team in the land for two years! And you’re also gonna walk out of here with a degree from the University of Notre Dame. ” Somehow, Rudy finds this encouraging and goes back to practice.

It makes me think about my own situation in life and the many gifts and opportunities that have been lavished on me. Watching Rudy struggle through his classes at Holy Cross (before he manages a transfer to Notre Dame) reminds me of my own college career and the intelligence that God has given me. While I may be currently working in a job that does not particularly challenge me intellectually, I work among some of the smartest people I have ever known. Perhaps the challenge for me here is to learn everything I can, without being distracted or discouraged by the mundanity of my job. While Rudy is mostly a fictional character, the movie was based (however loosely) on a real-life story … it makes me think about my own dreams and what I need to do to make them happen.

So, what are my dreams? I’ve always wanted to be a Dad and a husband … check for Dad, check for husband. Except it turns out these goals are lifelong marathons, not sprints, so I guess I’m living the dream. One career or vocation I’ve long wanted to pursue is to be a missionary … yet there is a sense of not being called to that yet (or is that just fear?) in my heart.

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Sometimes you just have to rough up your dad.

I’ve never expected to be particularly successful in business, and I don’t think I have enough ability to compromise to be a politician. I’ve never felt called to be a pastor or any full-time ministry that would require a pastoral mindset (I just don’t seem to have that kind of patience). I guess I always wanted to be the lead developer on a team. I certainly enjoyed the work I did at Ford — I really had fun finding the best way to accomplish things and laying down a pattern for the other developers.

When I was in college, Kathy and I attended the Urbana Missions Conference through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. At that point I had not yet set foot on the career path I’ve chosen (or fallen into), and I remember being very much attracted to a computer job in Ghana or the Ivory Coast with one of the missions agencies. These past 15 years I have often remembered that dream and wondered what my life would have been like if I had pursued that opportunity.

Hard to believe we aren’t still this young.

Strangely, one of the things that has always held me back was something that was said at that same conference. One of the speakers was trying to challenge the students at the conference to think seriously about having a missions mindset, and he said something like this: “If you’re not being a missionary on your own campuses, where you already speak the language and are familiar with the culture, how are you going to be a missionary in a foreign culture where you don’t speak the language?” I recall feeling very challenged by that statement and I returned to my campus with that in mind, but as I have aged, I haven’t become much bolder in my witness. I still struggle to speak openly about the Lord in the workplace or with strangers I meet … a sense of unworthiness continues to hold me back from even investigating mission opportunities.

It has also been rather scary to watch our friends who are in language school as they prepare to serve as missionaries in Thailand with New Tribes Missions. As they move from school to school, they pack their entire household into a tiny trailer … just the thought of limiting our stuff at that level is daunting.

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Daniel & Zachary — It is always hard to let the Burts go.

While we’ve never been wealthy by American standards, I have generally enjoyed a decent flow of income (except for a recent period of unemployment). What would it be like to be on the other end of the financial spectrum, to work in a field where wealth is not the measuring stick? I can’t imagine that I would be very good at raising support … maybe I could show slides of malnourished computer programs in Kenya and network routers starved of RAM in Mozambique?

I don’t think that this desire to be a missionary is something that Kathy shares, and I’m reasonably sure that God does not generally call a married person to ministry like this apart from their spouse. So perhaps this is merely a mid-life crisis brought on by lack of achievement and a less-than-exhilarating job? I’m at the right age for such a crisis, although calling this a ‘crisis’ seems a bit dramatic. I suppose I could rush out and purchase a sports car. Truth be told, if I get a decent raise, I’m thinking about buying a VW beetle to replace my rapidly-disintegrating bronze Escort.

I can picture it now … I bring it home and park it in the driveway, gleaming in the sun … the kids rush out, shouting, “Daddy bought a Herbie!” I smile proudly until they start jumping on the front of the car, when my smiles turn to panic: “Respect the perimeter … respect the perimeter around the Herbie!” (See Cheaper by the Dozen — the latest remake.)

Maybe I should just go play football for Notre Dame.

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Year of Wisdom

This morning is a strange mixture of clouds and sunshine … a row of clouds darkens the morning but ends east of the highway and blue sky prevails beyond that. The mountain looms on the edge of darkness and light, pink-tinged in the sunrise.

Daniel at age 2, when we first moved to WA in 1999.

For some reason it makes me think of the way that we look at life … often we focus on the dark grey clouds above us and the gloom that surrounds us, failing to notice that only a few miles away the sun is shining. When we first moved to Washington in 1999, we lived in a suburb of the East side of Seattle, and Kathy quickly discovered that sunshine or rain was often a very local phenomenon. She used to jump in the van with the kids (we only had three at that time) and drive around ‘chasing the sunshine’. Even though the blue skies were usually over Lake Washington, she often was able to find a park or a playground where it was not raining just a few miles from our house.

Rachel loves Daniel (1999).

Too often I think we accept spiritual gloom and rain in our lives when just a little effort to ‘chase the sunshine’ would be well-rewarded. So, ever practical, I immediately think of the spiritual analogue of our little red minivan. What kind of things can I do that have the potential to move me spiritually from one locale to another?

  • Reading my Bible almost always helps me to affirm the superior reality of the Kingdom of God and to see with eyes of faith. Sometimes the gloom is an illusion, and the sun is shining right where I am … my eyes just need to be adjusted to see on the right frequency. The Word of God is excellent medicine for this kind of reality check.
  • Prayer has the capability of dispelling the densest fogs or transporting me to new and interesting places.
  • Worship (from the heart) always seems to lift my heart above the clouds.

Joshua loves Daniel (2000).

I’ve been thinking about one of my sons this morning … we have recently celebrated his eighth birthday, and there are many things I would like to teach him. Unfortunately, he has a less teachable spirit than I would prefer and pays attention to my instruction only when it suits him. On the day of Grandma’s birthday party, he committed the faux pas of telling his Grandma how much we spent on one of her birthday presents, and both Kathy and I sharply rebuked him. He looked at me with a whipped-dog expression, seemingly unaware of his indiscretion, even though I had (that very morning) laboriously explained the desirability of concealing how much was spent for a particular gift.

Grand-Dad loves Daniel (2000).

In retrospect, I’m not sure he was actually present at the time … I may have been explaining that to Rachel or Joshua, so perhaps the sharpness of our tone was inappropriate. There is a distinct difference in attitude between Daniel and the older two … where they seem to hang on my words, squeezing and testing my instruction to come to a complete understanding, Daniel is usually so eager to go off and do something that he barely listens to what I say and retains much less than I expect. As a parent and a teacher I find it very discouraging … how can I capture his attention long enough to communicate even a tithe of the things I want to teach him?

Uncle Thom loves Daniel (2001).

Part of the problem is that I am lazy. I assume that my son knows something because I have explained it once or twice to the older kids … yet I am consistently finding that his understanding lags considerably behind theirs. Maybe I am unfairly expecting him to build on principles that have never been adequately explained to him. Yet one of the major advantages of having multiple children is that knowledge is frequently handed down from child to child … I know that the older kids spend a lot of their time telling the younger ones how to do what is right.

Sarah loves Daniel — or does she fear him? (2002)

I’m thinking of declaring this the Year of Wisdom for Daniel. When I was a sophomore in college, I found myself sorely lacking in judgment and discernment. I spent a semester praying for wisdom and re-reading the book of Proverbs. Not long after that I lost my ROTC scholarship and ended up in the Army as an enlisted man for three years, proving that I was correct in my self-diagnosis. I have often felt that the time I spent in the Army was the answer to my prayer, and that my life has benefited greatly from the wisdom I gained through that experience. My family teases me for telling Army stories, yet I find that many of the lessons I learned (often painfully) during that short three-year period continue to be applicable.

Grandma loves Daniel (2002).

My parents often compare me with my middle son, and remark on how much he reminds them of me … which makes me sad, yet hopeful. Is there any way that I can teach my son so that he doesn’t have to learn everything the hard way?

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Cousin Samuel loves Daniel (2003).

When I was in college the first time, I held back from asking questions because I didn’t want to reveal my ignorance (or the fact that I hadn’t done the reading required for that class period). When I returned from my enlistment in the Army, I had a keen sense of how much I was paying for each class period, and I asked questions any time I did not fully understand something. I learned a lot more the second time.

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Uncle Phil loves Daniel (2004).

So I’m thinking of granting Daniel special privilege in this coming year, such that any time he has a question, he can invoke his Year of Wisdom privilege until he is satisfied that he understands something. This would mean that all other activity or conversation would stop until he was sure he understood. I think that we have gotten into the habit of explaining things quickly and incompletely and have assumed that he already had the intellectual foundation necessary to understand things, where he does not, in fact, have that level of enabling comprehension. If he could see it as a special privilege and would actually invoke it, this might be the way to remedy his lack of understanding.

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David loves Daniel (2005).

Added to that, I’m considering a special study of the book of Proverbs just with Daniel … focusing on his spiritual discernment as a foundation to any life wisdom he might acquire. Although the Bible reading I do at night with the kids is aimed at Daniel’s level of understanding, perhaps he needs some additional special attention. Since we’re moving his bedtime from 8 pm to 8:30 pm, now that he has attained the lofty age of 8, a good use of that time might be for me to spend it teaching him. He does try my patience, though … it might not be the best thing for me to do at the end of the day, when my energy is low.

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Tim-Daddy loves Daniel (2004).

In many ways, my middle boy has a very winsome spirit about him … sometimes he tries so hard to please us, it melts my heart. He can be very generous and kind when he is intentional, and his cheerful helpfulness is an example to us all. His eagerness to bring good news is almost comical, yet very precious. Surely I can build on those character traits?

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Kathy loves Daniel (2004).

A few days after his birthday, we opened the last of Daniel’s birthday presents, which was a model airplane powered by air pressure, capable of flying a hundred yards or so. We took it over to a nearby park and (after some initial failure) managed to fly it several times. Daniel impressed me greatly by taking turns with his older brother and sister, allowing them to fly the new toy. At one point, he promised that Rachel could fly the plane on the next turn, yet when I announced that it would be the last flight, he changed his mind and took the turn for himself. Predictably, the last flight ended in an ignominious crash, so that no one enjoyed it, least of all Daniel. Yet when I chided him about not keeping his word, he seemed entirely insensitive to the idea that he had done anything wrong … a response that is sadly not unusual with him.

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Sarah loves Daniel (again, 2005).

When negative consequences happen to me, am I prone to seeing myself as a victim, and do I fail to see the extent of my own culpability? Am I the last one to see that my conduct is not pleasing to God? Perhaps the trouble is not so much with my son, but rather with the fact that he mirrors so much of my own folly. Maybe the problem is not that I am failing to teach him, but rather that I am teaching him all too well.

A Year of Wisdom wouldn’t do me any harm, either.

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