Paul A. Paino

On Inherent Goodness

Our daughter Eleanor is two years old. I should start by saying she is an unbelievably good baby, but as all parents of small children know, the “terrible twos” are a terribly unavoidable reality.

This post is part confession because I’ve been more and more cognizant of the frequency with which I reprimand her. To be fair, the reprimands don’t come without reason, but the fact of the matter is that Eleanor does way more things right than she does wrong (most days, anyway).

The confession here is that while I’m quick to correct Eleanor, I’m slow to celebrate her. My instinct to make sure she doesn’t play with her food (like when she threw pasta at the wall on Tuesday) or explain to her that she can’t ride in her stroller with her dress over her head because we shouldn’t show our undies in public – I believe those instincts are well intended. But I believe those instincts also point to something deeper.

I recently heard that human beings are neurologically wired to focus on negative experiences – in fact, negative experiences often leave an impression on our brains instantaneously. What’s interesting is that while our brains are immediately impacted by negativity, it takes a conscious effort to focus on a good experience for 15 seconds before it makes a significant impression on our brain. This is important because it not only pales the goodness that was and is present, but it also causes us to be less hopeful about the future.

I think this also plays a roll in our spirituality. When we can’t see the world rightly we fail to see ourselves rightly, which is to fail to see and believe in the inherent goodness present in creation. We forget that before sin crept into the world the Creator looked at what was made and called it good. In other words, we started reading the book at the wrong chapter.

So what are we to do?

There’s a Hebrew “teshuvah,” which literally means “return.” To return is to remember our inherent goodness, to turn back to the kind of people we were created to be.

Coincidentally, teshuvah is also the act of repentance. This means that sin is simply forgetting who we are, and Jesus comes with an invitation to repent – teshuvah – and remind us who we were always intended to be.

So next time I find pasta on the wall, maybe I’ll be slow to correct and quick to celebrate that playfulness, and when Eleanor would rather color on our Swedish-crafted, self-assembled coffee table I’ll applaud her creativity. Well, maybe.

In any case, it’s my hope that we learn to walk in the grace of the invitation to teshuvah; that we first train our eyes to see the inherent goodness present in all creation; and be mindful of the goodness we encounter lest we lose hope in the future.

Grace and Peace, friends.

Paul

The Most Challenging Post I’ve Ever Written

Well it’s been quite a crazy week to say the least.

By now I’m sure most of you have been curious about where we’ve been – a week of radio silence after having your first baby certainly isn’t typical. It has been a week of a lot of questions, a lot of confusion, and slow-moving answers.

Let’s start at the beginning.

While Liss was pregnant, the doctors kept going back and forth as to whether this was a baby boy or a baby girl. Ultrasounds can be difficult to read anyway, but they finally settled that this baby was a boy.

About three fourths the way through the pregnancy we had to see a high risk doctor because they noticed one of our baby’s kidneys was dilated – not uncommon for boys. While we were there they said it looked like our baby had another condition called hypospadias (look it up if you want details), which basically means we might have to do a surgery in about a year to correct a couple of things with the baby’s genitals. So we knew that was a possibility.

Fast forward to Wednesday, September 25th at 5:30 pm and our baby is here! I quickly looked our baby over from head to toe. Ten fingers. Ten toes. Two ears. Two eyes. Good looking nose. The works. I noticed the hypospadias was in full effect, but that’s okay – we knew about that.

Our baby was born at 5:30 pm weighing 9 pounds 2 ounces, screaming and bald. Because of those 9 pounds and 2 ounces, the doctors wanted to do a blood sugar test because bigger babies tend to have low blood sugar when they’re born. Sure enough, low blood sugar. And it kept getting lower as the day went on, which throws a few red flags for the doctors.

By 4:30 a.m. on Thursday our baby was in the NICU being fed glucose through an IV in her umbilical cord. Sugar levels were slowly getting better. But there was something else. The hypospadias wasn’t actually hypospadias – and there was a chance we were looking at an “ambiguous genitalia” situation.

Now, let me be clear. We’ve never had to make a decision as to whether we wanted a baby girl or a baby boy – that was never something we had to do. But after a pretty intensive chromosome test, we discovered that…

WE HAVE A BEAUTIFUL AND SWEET BABY GIRL!

Wait, what!? Welcome to the whirlwind that has been our lives for the last 6 days.

Please hear me on this: she was a girl in utero, she was a girl at every ultrasound (in spite of what the doctors said), she was a beautiful girl when she was born, and she’s been a girl ever since! We were just given some bad information.

So what does this mean?
Couldn’t you tell whether you had a boy or girl in your arms?
Are you saying your baby has all kinds of crazy things going on downstairs!?

Well, we’re figuring it out.
It wasn’t that easy.
And no.

The term that keeps getting used is “congenital adrenal hyperplasia.” Which is a fancy way of saying her adrenalglands don’t produce all the things they need to – specifically a couple of enzymes that are super important, like 21-hydroxylase. So, for that, she will likely have to take medicine for the rest of her life. The bigger questions we were asking were things like…

Will our baby girl be able to have babies of her own some day?
There’s no reason to think otherwise – uterus… ovaries… the necessities should all be there

Will there have to be any corrective surgeries? If so, are they “medically necessary” or “elective?”
Yes, probably one or two. And yes – these are medically necessary.

Is she in any pain?
Nope! 

What about her development? Will she lead a pretty normal life?
Absolutely – she’ll grow and develop like any other little baby girl. The only “abnormal” part of her life will be taking medications. And heck, who knows, it’s only 2013… who knows what the medical world will come up with.

Okay. Deep breath. Lots of information, I know.

So what are we asking from you? First of all, lots of grace. Be sweet to this girl, and understand this is an extremely private and extremely sensitive conversation to have. Don’t worry – this girl already has more clothes and accessories than when we thought she was a boy (oops). (By the way, Rosie Bruhn, Kate Gungor, Cassie Beer, Nia Gillott, Patty Rich, Heather Ward, Anna Arndt, and of course Gammy Gail Gungor – THANK YOU! Ugh, so much pink is surrounding this girl right now. And it’s wonderful!)

Thank you all in advance for some space, and being patient with us as we worked to navigate the last several days. This sweet girl is already well loved. And fat.

So, without further ado… It’s this proud daddy’s honour to introduce to you:

Eleanor “Nora” Noelle Paino

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God of Chaos

As a Christian, I like to think that my believing rightly and doing rightly are directly connected to how effective God is at preventing bad things from happening to me.

If I believe the right things He holds my car together so I don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on auto repairs. If I go out of my way to love other people – to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly as Micah 6:8 tells us – God keeps me healthy and saves me hundreds of dollars in medical bills. It’s kind of like karma – an incredibly fair way to assess my life, until it isn’t.

It’s called prophetic thinking, which is a fancy way of saying if I do good things, in turn good things will happen to me. In turn, if I do bad things bad things are going to happel to me. A lot of Old Testament kings and prophets thought this way, and so do a lot of pagans. The more I understand about who God is the more I realize this way of thinking is actualy quite foolish.

The reality is, while God may intervene in certain circumstances, there is way too much going on in the world for us to pinpoint exactly why we find ourselves in particular situations. If you get a cold, it’s likely because there are an ininfinte number of germs surrounding you every day, especially if you have little monster children running around your house constantly putting their filthy little monster mouths on everything… not because you lied to your boss about why you had to clock out early. You get the idea.

It’s this thought that has led me to realize that God is a God that intervenes in chaos of our lives and helps us find good in it.

The Genesis poem puts it so beautifully:

“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.” Genesis 1:1-4

Even when the earth was formless and empty, when darkness swept over the surface of the deep – there was the Spirit of God. In the midst of the chaos God intervened, and the first thing he does is separate light from dark – creates order in the chaos – and finally looks at it all and exclaims, “It is good!” Not perfect or complete, but it is good – and that’s a start.

This is our God. He’s not thrown by our circumstances. He’s not intimidated by our situations. Instead he runs to the things that are broken – holding them together and making sense of the mess we often make of our lives.

Saint Augustin eludes to the idea that even when we as God’s vessels are broken and falling apart, His Spirit dwelling in us does not fall down as well, but instead lifts up, He’s not scattered out but gathers in. That is to say God is not surprised by our human-ness. We serve a God that runs to the broken, the marginalized, the hurting. He rushes to the chaos and begins to make sense of it all.

This is why I think in times of trouble, when we’re lost, the best thing to do – the only thing to do – is the next right thing. We will never have it all figured out. If you think you do, you’re wrong. Like God separating the light from the dark, doing one right thing will open the door for another. And another. And another.

And this is how righteousness begins. This is how God starts to put pieces back together.

Grace and Peace,

Paul

Confession

Confessing things is hard business.

I was in the 2nd grade one time (and fortunately it was only one time). One particular day we had an Abraham Lincoln impersonator come and give us a history lesson on ol’ Honest Abe. It’s hard for me to refer to him as “Honest Abe” because it was precisely that name that got me in trouble.

For those of you who don’t know, Abraham Lincoln received the nickname “Honest Abe” while working as a lawyer in the circuit courts of Illinois in the 1850’s. His colleagues considered him “the head of their profession” in the state because they had absolutely confidence he had never told a lie. (Or because he refereed numerous chicken fights with brutal fairness… depends on your source. Thanks Wikipedia.)

Anyway, back to 2nd grade. After listening to the Lincoln imposter, my classmates and I were escorted to the bathroom. Like any good 2nd grade boy, I was quick to exploit any ounce of freedom given to us by our teachers. The other boys in my class were a bunch of monkeys in that bathroom, and on this particular day, I decided to join them. Before I knew it we were all climbing on the stall walls, kicking the doors of the stall, flushing all the toilets, making “water bombs” out of wadded up paper towel and soaking it in water.

We were monsters.

I walked out of the bathroom – most of my excessive energy successfully depleted – and waited in line to go back to our classroom. Per usual, my teacher waited till all the kids were out of the bathroom to do a “bathroom inspection.”

‘Oh no.’ I thought, ‘I forgot about the inspection.’

My teacher returned with a look of horror on her face.

My teacher made her way down the line, asking us one by one if we had anything to do with the mess that was left in the bathroom. I watched as many of my classmates denied their involvement in the “Massacre of the 2nd Grade Bathroom.”

At that moment I made a firm decision to be like that bearded man in the tall hat that everyone seemed so fond of – honest.

“I did it.” I said with the utmost pride in my honesty, thinking my honesty would excuse me from any punishment.

Then I got sent to the principal’s office.

The point is being honest about the things we’ve done is hard. But at the same time, somehow, it is deeply healing.

Mahatma Gandhi (someone who admittedly did not hold the same beliefs as most of you who will read this) said, “Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession.

If I had one criticism of today’s evangelical culture it would be the stigma of confessing our faults. Somehow admitting you have messed up equates to weakness rather than strength, which is absolutely backwards.

We’ve all messed up. Romans 3:23 tells us so! “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

But “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

The danger comes when we keep things to ourselves, and in our pride convince ourselves that we can handle it on our own. Those are three very scary words – on our own. Proverbs 28:13 reminds us, “whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”

Something happens when we admit we’re broken. Luckily, we’re all broken – none of us has it all figured out. And that’s okay. It makes it that much easier for God to put us back together the way he intended us.

Lastly, let me leave you with a prayer of confession:

Almighty and most merciful Father,
we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep,
we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts,
we have offended against your holy laws,
we have left undone those things which we ought to have done,
and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.
But you, O Lord, have mercy on us,
spare those who confess their faults,
restore those who are penitent,
according to your promises declared to mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord;
and grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake,
that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
to the glory of your holy Name.
Amen.

 

Grace and Peace,

Paul A. Paino

Untangling the Headphones

One of my favorite things to do is travel with my wife. For being relatively young, the two of us have been to a number of places together. Disney World, the beaches of North Carolina, downtown Chicago, Cedar Point, Michigan, Indiana, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Texas… you get the idea.

A while back we drove from Tulsa to Denver to look after her niece for a few days. The drive isn’t too bad – 10 hours and some change. The hardest part is driving through the flat, lifeless state of Kansas.

As much as I love my wife, one of the things we never found a lot of common ground with was our choice in music. She loves Justin Timberlake. I listen to Fly Golden Eagle. Occasionally we make attempts to listen to the other’s preference, but not very often. Our solution: headphones.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like Lissa and I spend hours in the car together not talking to one another, but after we have exhausted our common musical interests and chatted for a couple hours, we each give way to the nectar our ears are craving.

We were somewhere in Kansas. Lissa was driving and I was nose-deep in a book called “Love Does.” Lissa wanted her headphones so I dug through a couple of bags and finally found them – a tangled mess of white cord. I pulled them out of the bottom of her bag and handed her a glob of headphone spaghetti. She quickly handed them back to me, patiently waiting for me to untangle the mess.

“You just keep driving.” I said, and started to work on the tangled task at hand.

I think that’s how it is with God sometimes. We’ve all heard (and made fun of) the song about Jesus taking the wheel after the driver is suddenly incapacitated and too overcome by emotion to operate a vehicle. That’s not what I’m talking about because personally, I don’t think God is interested in driving any of our cars. He flies. Everyone knows that.

I think God is more concerned with with us knowing and acknowledging that He’s in the car with us. All we have to do is keep the car pointed in the right direction – “between the lines” as my dad likes to say. When our headphones get tangled, that’s okay too. God loves taking care of the details, and He’ll gladly untangle the mess we’ve made of things both big and small.

I think this is where a lot of Christians find themselves. I can’t think of a church service, worship practice, or prayer meeting I’ve attended in the recent past when someone didn’t ask Jesus to come to where we were, for God to “show up” in service. The thing is, He’s already there. What would happen if we became less concerned with requesting things from God and became more concerned with the business of what He’s already doing, where and how He’s already moving?

Acknowledgment goes a long way.

Grace and Peace,
Paul

Falling Asleep

By the way, did I tell you I’m engaged?
Yep, it’s true. I’m getting married to Lissa Gungor this summer!

If there’s one thing that consistently disappoints Lissa about me, it is my outstanding ability to fall asleep.

Talking on the phone? Asleep.
Giving a complimentary back scratch? Asleep.
Watching a movie together? Asleep.

I must admit, it’s a gift.

You might be wondering where is the “gift” portion of these scenarios. Well, whether we’re having a conversation, giving a back scratch, or watching a show, after I fall asleep, I continue doing whatever I was doing pre-sleep.

…still scratching backs.
…still talking.
…still watching.

Yes, I can fall asleep and maintain a rather high level of activity. Do I remember it? Absolutely not. Did it actually happen? So I’m told.

Lissa tells me I’m still talking, still scratching, still going through the motions.

In some ways the church works this way. Sleeping, resting, doing nothing but the repetitions.

We’ve fallen asleep.

But we’ve been told we’re still active; still making a difference, still being the hands and feet, still delivering hope. Our busy work vindicates our lack of consciousness.

Like Christian zombies we walk into buildings together, groaning, wondering what this week’s installment of the latest series will encourage us to do. We sing songs we don’t understand. We pray together. We rarely ask why.

We might as well be sleeping.

This is why people find it easier to look at injustice and ask, “Where is God in all of this? Why hasn’t He shown up?” rather than wondering, ‘Where are His people?’

After all, it’s our job to be the people God imagined us to be; the people the world needs us to be.

We need people ready to stir.

Grace and peace,

Paul.

The Post I’ll Probably Never Publish.

What do you with people who feel entitled to things?

Some people are right – they do deserve what they demand.

Others are wrong – they have to earn whatever they think is theirs.

I’m not entitled to my paycheck. I work for it (well, not at the moment. What’s up unemployment!?)
I’m not entitled to my friends’ time and attention. I’m blessed by it.
I’m not entitled to people’s honor. I work, humbly, to deserve it, and consider it an honor to serve them first.

I’ve been to my fair share of churches, and if you didn’t know this yet, let me tell you, there’s no formula for creating a successful church.

For starters, how do you measure success in a church? By Numbers? Conversions? Offering size? Finding the perfect balance between “traditional and contemporary” worship? There are lots of questions here.

What I know is this:

Churches are made up of people. Different, diverse, unique, people. Rich people. Poor people. Middle-class people. Single moms. Divorced couples. Married couples. Real people that lead real lives and face real issues.

And if history tells us anything, it’s that when people get involved, things can get messy.

People get hurt, motives and intentions become twisted and turned inside out, the whole plot goes a-rye. That is, unless you can remember that we’re all people. We make mistakes. Feelings and egos get damaged. We hurt people, intentionally and unintentionally.

But Jesus puts it all back together.

The church doesn’t work because of an intelligent pastor who can regurgitate that other “successful” mega-church’s sermon series, or even because of a well developed Sunday School program. It works because people catch on to Jesus and purposefully choose to be a part of His story – a huge and mystifying concept. We forget that this isn’t just about us – it’s about the community of believers, the millions of people around the world that share the same faith… every Christian that has ever lived before us… the great cloud of witnesses. Our faith is as corporate as it is private.

People suck. There’s no avoiding it. They demand things that they don’t deserve. They say things they shouldn’t have said.

But we’re not saved because of our churches. We’re not saved because of our pastors. We’re saved because of Jesus. Jesus is the hope. He is the giver of grace, mercy, and forgiveness. He’s a God of justice who corrects His children.

And He’s not you.

Grace and Peace,

Paul.