Saturday, April 5, 2014

9 Questions Not to Ask Large Families


You think my large family is a little weird.

Don't worry, I understand. And I'm not mad at you. Technically speaking, the average American household is only 2.61 people. When it comes to childbearing, 52% of Americans think it's ideal to have two kids. So my family of five children would certainly be considered above average.  

But once we had our third kid, it got weird...for other people. And many suddenly felt compelled to say really awkward things. Out loud. Right in front of us.

So, I've put together a list of questions not to ask people with large families. Take note, and enjoy:

  • "Don't you know how that happens?!" I'm not really sure what possesses people to actually ask this question. Most probably think it's funny. But any normal thinking person knows it's just plain awkward. Are you really asking me about my sex life? I hope not. But if you decide to ask this question anyway, I'll be sure to make you uncomfortable with my favorite response: "Yes! In fact, she can't keep her hands off me!"

  • "Are you trying to be like the Duggars?". I'm not going to make fun of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. I've met them. They're really nice people that love Jesus. But let's check our math here. I have 5 kids. They have 19. Apparently that's pretty much the same thing.

  • "How in the world can you afford to have so many kids?" This is an inherently flawed question. You're assuming that we live our lives like you do. We don't. Our lives are actually very different from yours, and that's okay with us. You see, we don't eat at restaurants as a family. Ever. We make cheap home-cooked meals. We also don't go on fancy vacations (unless someone else pays for it). Our lives are simple, and yet exceedingly happy. We honestly don't understand how you can afford to eat out so often, buy new cars and go on so many vacations. But we wouldn't ask you to explain. 

  • "Are they all yours?" No. We kidnapped two of them. But seriously, my wife was shocked to get this question frequently as she ran errands with our first three kids. Is she a nanny? Is she babysitting? No - those are our kids. All of them.

  • "Is that your kid over there? He's about to fall off the slide!" Our kids love the playground, but we rarely enjoy the experience. Why? Hovering parents stare at us in disgust while we sit on a bench. They glare as they follow their kids onto ever piece of equipment. You may think we're neglecting our children, but we're not. While you're playing man-to-man defense, we're playing zone. Why? Because they outnumber us. Different strategy, same game. We just need a wider view if we're going to win.

  • "Are you Catholic?" No, I'm not. But do you even know what you're asking? You see, this question is rooted in the Roman Catholic position that all forms of birth control are sinful. So you're basically asking me if my wife and I use birth control. Most well adjusted people would consider that topic off limits for casual conversation. Let's keep it that way.

  • "Do you run a day care?" I know you're just trying to make conversation. But what are the odds that I run a day care full of kids that look so much alike? And so strikingly similar to me? Either I'm a racist day care provider that only accepts white kids that look alike, or they're mine. 

  • "This is the last one, right?" Through your leading question, you've made it blatantly clear that you think this should be my last child. How nice of you to insert yourself into my family's decision making! Perhaps you're worried about overpopulation. Or kids just make you nervous. As I've written before, we'll be consulting God about that decision, not you. But thanks anyway.

  • "Wow. Another kid? Life must be really complicated for you." No, it's not. This is a common misconception. We're actually quite satisfied with our existence. Our kids don't need playdates, because they have each other. We also have enough people in our house to play virtually any game imaginable. And my oldest loves to help with the baby. Bottom line - I love all of my kids. They make life infinitely more enjoyable. In many ways, it's actually easier to have a large family.

It may be hard to believe, but we're not crazy. We actually meant to have five kids. And I can't think of one that I'd want to give back. How about you?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Baby Boy!


My wife Sara and I are thrilled to announce the birth of our fifth child, Theodore Gregory Dahlen! He was born on Sunday, March 9th at 7:13AM, weighing in at 9 pounds, 6 ounces and 23 inches long. By God's grace, both mom and baby are healthy and happy. And I didn't faint.

Names are very important to us. We have strategically named all of our children in such a way that exemplifies God's hand in our family story. We fully acknowledge that we are nothing without Jesus, and wouldn't be where we are today without His divine guidance, peace, grace and mercy. May God do a mighty work through our children, and bless us with a legacy of Christian faith.

A little over four years ago, Sara and I endured a tragedy that almost ended her life. Not knowing whether we'd be able to have any more children, we see our son's life as truly miraculous. In honor of this precious gift, we name him Theodore, meaning "gift of God". It's also no coincidence that my faith hero is named Rev. Theodore Asare. In fact, the two of them even share the same birthday! We pray that our son would embrace his miraculous existence, and that God would give him a bold vision to impact the world for Christ, just like Rev. Asare.

Our lives have also been immeasurably touched by Sara's Uncle Gordon and Aunt Sarah Gregory. They possess contagious faith in Christ. They exemplify unconditional love. They model the importance of service to others. Their generosity and humility are overwhelming. Their loyalty is unwavering. So, we give our son the middle name Gregory in their honor. We pray that God would give our son an extra measure of their faith, love, generosity, humility, loyalty and heart for service.

Please join us in praising God for our son Theodore Gregory!  

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Struggle No Father Dares to Discuss

photo credit: Zach Klein via photopin cc

I almost fainted while my wife was giving birth to three of our kids.

Go ahead. You can laugh.

I thought I had a pretty good excuse the first time. The anesthesiologist instructed me to stand facing my wife while she sat at the edge of the bed. This was apparently his favorite technique for administering an epidural. I think he was setting me up. Either way, as my wife leaned forward and squeezed my waist, my knees locked up against the bed. I suddenly found myself staring directly at an enormous needle sliding into her spine. Before I knew what was happening, the edges started closing in, and I heard someone say "Dad is going down!" In my defense, I never completely fainted. But it was close.

You can't blame me for that one. But when I almost fainted during two more births for no apparent reason, I found myself without a good excuse. Clearly, there was no legitimate physiological reason for passing out. And I've never fainted before or since. So what's really going on here?

I believe there's a deeper psychological issue involved that all fathers go through. But none of us dare to discuss it.

Before we get there, a caveat is necessary. I fully acknowledge that no man will ever understand the physical and emotional pain women endure during pregnancy and childbirth. Many of us are lovingly reminded of this fact frequently. And we collectively agree that we'll never get it. However, one of the consequences of this truth is that men are fearful of discussing the difficulties we endure as our wives struggle through pregnancy and childbirth. Clearly, our issues will never be equal in value or intensity. But they exist nonetheless.

So what's our biggest struggle? Powerlessness. 

The average Christian husband wants nothing more than to make his wife happy. We'd bend over backwards to comfort her, solve her problems, and give her what she wants. We'd basically do anything to make her life as pleasant as possible. That's why pregnancy and childbirth are so hard for us

My wife and I are only a few days away from the birth of our fifth kid. That means her back is killing her. She can't bend over. Sleep is elusive. Her internal organs are being punched. And there's nothing I can do about it. Sure, I can buy her ice cream. I can let her rest while I do chores around the house. But those things don't remove any of her discomfort. I'm completely powerless to make her feel any better.

Then there's the delivery room. She's in excruciating pain for hours, and all I can do is stand there and look like an idiot. Holding her hand doesn't stop the intense anguish. Any lame attempt at encouragement or "coaching" is annoying at best. I'm basically unable to do anything of any substance or value. For any normal guy, being powerless to help the woman you love is absolutely unbearable.

Your husband may not hang on the edge of consciousness like I did, but there's no doubt that he's having a hard time dealing with your pain. He's frustrated, angry and overwhelmed. He isn't experiencing anything even remotely as difficult as you. But he's a wreck watching you suffer. He'd do anything to help you, but he can't. So he's standing quietly on the sidelines admiring you for your courage, strength and endurance. His love for you is growing exponentially by the second.

In the end, I believe God uses pregnancy and childbirth to remind men that we are powerless. And that's a good thing. The more we embrace our inability to control the direction of our families, the more we'll surrender our lives to God and let Him lead. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

An Impossible Choice

Faith isn't a position paper, or a series of boxes to check on a form. How could a relationship with the Creator of the universe be reduced to such simplistic terms?

I learned this truth the hard way.

photo credit: bies via photopin cc
We knew almost immediately that something was wrong. The blood test confirmed our fourth pregnancy, but there were abnormalities. My wife's hormone levels weren't increasing at the expected rates, and she had an overwhelming sense that something wasn't right. Unexpected pains and a mother's intuition trumped the cautious patience of doctors.

Over the next seven weeks, testing consistently revealed abnormal hormone levels. So we did what everyone else does in situations like this - we turned to Google. It was quickly evident that her symptoms were consistent with an ectopic pregnancy. This is an extremely dangerous condition that is fatal for the baby, and potentially fatal for the mother. The emotional anguish and stress of such a suspicion kept us from discussing it. We simply cried, prayed and waited.

Were it not for a series of miracles, my wife would have died in front of my three small children while I was at work.

On the day she would have passed, we had a scheduled ultrasound. Alone in the exam room, a technician was more thorough than necessary. She calmly and quickly admitted my wife to the hospital. I rushed home from work. Nobody would tell us what was wrong. But we knew. Within a few hours, I was presented with an impossible choice: end the life of my baby, or let both my wife and my baby die. 

With all the advances in modern medicine, there's tragically no cure for an ectopic pregnancy. No technique exists to transplant the baby from a fallopian tube to the uterus. Without intervention, the fallopian tube would rupture, and my wife would bleed to death. But her symptoms were abnormal. The pain should have been unbearable, but it wasn't. The doctors and nurses urged me to abort the baby. I couldn't do it. I demanded that we wait, and do additional testing.

Meanwhile, my wife became increasingly pale and weak. Nurses suspected low blood sugar and stress. I watched in horror as my wife quickly deteriorated. She passed out in our hospital room. Three times. Then the trauma team arrived. An ER doctor quieted the room, and ordered that my wife be taken to the operating room "Right now!" Forms were pressed in front of us to sign as my wife teetered on the edge of consciousness. I kissed her, told her I loved her, fought back tears, and said goodbye. I prayed it wasn't the last time.

The waiting room was empty. I have no idea how much time passed as I sat with a friend and frantically called family. By God's grace and divine intervention, she made it. But barely. Without any of us realizing it, the ectopic pregnancy ruptured. The mysterious absence of pain caused everyone to miss it. The surgeon said she lost two liters of blood internally, and one of her fallopian tubes was completely destroyed.

I unsuccessfully attempted to hold it together. My wife was alive, but my baby was dead. The blood loss and general anesthesia virtually erased my wife's memory of the hours leading up to the surgery. She didn't know we lost our child. I had to tell her.

I felt utterly alone and overwhelmed by grief. It took almost a week for us to muster enough emotional strength to even discuss what happened in any detail. It took even longer to grapple with the physical, emotional and spiritual scars. Did my lack of action endanger my wife's life? What would the "right" decision have been in God's eyes?

I soon discovered there were others like us. In hushed tones, Christian friends privately shared their own ectopic stories. Most had to end the life of their baby in order to save the mother. And they never discussed it publicly for fear of judgment and chastisement from those with an overly simplistic approach to the intersection of life and faith.

So we all sit quietly in the shadows of the faith community, struggling to come to terms with the moral complexities and tragic losses.

Life viewed through a Christian lens certainly contains black and white truths. I stand firmly behind them. But experiences like this remind me that much of life as a follower of Jesus is lived in the gray. And I'm learning not to fear the gray. Instead, I'm endeavoring to trust that the omnipotence and omniscience of God is far beyond my intellectual reach. In so doing, it becomes easier to surrender each step of my life to His divine guidance, and offer compassion to those struggling to discern His unknowable path. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Recipe for Modern Heroism

At some point, every kid has to write an essay about their "hero". I never really liked that assignment.

It's not that I don't believe in the idea of heroes. It's more that I haven't really encountered anyone that's deserving of the title. Of course, there are a few people I greatly respect. There's others I find highly influential. But the status of "hero" isn't something I take lightly. In fact, I've never called anyone my "hero". Until now.

Rev. Theodore Asare
Without a doubt, Rev. Theodore Asare is truly heroic. His unique ministry work has impacted countless lives in Ghana, and his legacy continues to spread across West Africa. God is working more powerfully through Rev. Asare than anyone I've ever encountered. But most importantly, I think Rev. Asare serves as a great model for Christian heroism today. Through his example, a simple yet profound recipe of sorts can be gleaned.

Modern heroes:

  • Receive a larger than life calling from God, and dare to accept it. True heroes don't make their own path. They take the impassible road that only God can clear. Theodore Asare dared to take the heroic journey. What was it? He brought God's Word to those who can't read it. You see, Bible translators have been working in sub-Saharan Africa for decades. And yet, finished Bibles collect dust on village shelves. Why? Because many Sub-Saharan African cultures value oral tradition. Verbal storytelling trumps the written word. Therefore illiteracy is extremely high. More than 1 in 3 sub-Saharan African adults can't read. It's not that they're somehow deficient - many simply aren't interested. Those who can read still prefer oral communication. To make matters more complicated, there are over 70 different languages in Ghana alone. West Africa has over 500 languages. That's why God chose Rev. Asare to bridge the gap. God gave him a specific vision to create audio recordings of the Bible in indigenous African languages. How could one man accomplish such a monumental task? God made a way. 25 years later, Theovision International has recorded audio Bibles in over 288 African languages in more than 35 African countries. This is truly heroic, and eternally valuable.  

  • Spread the Gospel, AND makes disciples - It's common to hear about evangelists who share the Gospel, and then promptly leave. That's not what happens with Rev. Asare's ministry. He doesn't just create audio Bibles and leave. He selects a leader from within the community, trains them, supports them financially and gives them a motorcycle. Soon, these individuals host weekly Bible listening clubs in a cluster of separate villages. Discussions and friendships develop. Lives are transformed. Disciples are made - not just converts. 


  • Possess a healthy dose of ethnic pride - America is great. But so is Ghana. For too many years, Americans have falsely assumed that our cultural norms and experiences translate well into other countries. The opposite is often true. Therefore we must treat other cultures with deference. Rev. Asare loves and respects his American ministry partners, but his heart is in Africa. He believes Africans are best equipped to reach Africans, and that they can surpass Americans in their skills and expertise. He's absolutely correct. And his value for Ghanaian culture enables him to be self-sustaining locally through innovative and creative fundraising techniques. More importantly, he meets the needs of people in the midst of their own beautifully unique cultural context. One man in a remote village thought Christianity was a "white man's" religion, until he heard an audio Bible recorded in his native tongue. He was instantly converted, declaring "God speaks my language!"

  • Creatively engage the culture, rather than reject it. Many Christians reject cultural trends and innovations. Rev. Asare embraces them. Through collaboration with a local mobile phone company, he provides a free daily Bible verse in 12 different languages. And it's completely free for users. In addition, there are many remote villages in harsh climates with no access to electricity. Through business partnerships and innovative experimentation, Rev. Asare and his team send out God's Word across West Africa in the form of solar powered MP3 players, portable amplification systems and other unique devices.  


  • Care for the soul AND the well being of others - Caring for the soul without caring about the physical and emotional health of others is an incomplete work. While Rev. Asare's passion is to bring salvation to Africans through audio Bibles, he doesn't stop there. Through partnerships with HCJB and local doctors, Theovision International provides healthcare for the needy and builds wells for those without clean drinking water. Their audio Bibles can be heard in hospitals, schools and prisons. They've started three radio stations, and their programming includes agricultural training. And miraculously, their listening clubs and audio Bibles are increasing literacy rates across West Africa. As it turns out, hearing God's Word makes people want to learn how to read it. 

  • Invests in future leaders - Truly heroic achievements transcend time. The best way for individuals to achieve this is through mentorship. While sharing dinner with a pastor in Ghana last summer, I discovered that Rev. Asare already quietly invests in others. With great passion, this pastor described a deep mentorship relationship he and a group of other pastors experience with Rev. Asare. I'm not sure how he makes time for it, but Rev. Asare meets with them regularly. He prays with them. He surprises them on Sunday mornings to evaluate their preaching. He selflessly pours into their lives, and into the lives of his own Theovision International staff.

  • Exude genuine humility - Humility cannot be faked. False humility is easy to detect, and quickly degenerates into arrogance. That's why genuine humility is so incredibly rare. Tragically, many influential faith leaders today lose sight of the source of their success and become prideful. In spite of his many accomplishments, Rev. Asare exudes an indescribably genuine and contagious humility. The kind that makes him easy to follow. If you met him, you would sense a quiet confidence. You'd hear slow and measured speech. You'd encounter a warm and inviting smile. Above all, you would see Jesus. 

The annals of church history tell powerful stories of Augustine, Luther, Whitfield and Moody. Sooner or later, names from our generation will be added to this list. I nominate Rev. Theodore Asare. Lord willing, his example will enable us to identify others followers of Jesus today who are truly heroic.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Problem with Ignoring Problems

Wouldn't it be nice if time really healed all wounds, and ignoring a problem actually solved it? Of course, everybody knows these strategies are doomed to fail.

Or do they?

A troubling study on religion and race recently revealed that 64% of white evangelicals think that "one of the most effective ways to improve race relations is to stop talking about race." The same study found that 30% of all evangelicals agreed that "it is okay for the races to be separate, as long as they have equal opportunity." Meanwhile, 46% of black evangelicals, 36% of Hispanic evangelicals and 31% of Asian evangelicals say they've been treated unfairly because of their race.

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Don't let the statistics pass by unnoticed. Yes, a vast majority of white Christians want to solve race issues in America by ignoring them. A shockingly large number of Christians think the concept of "separate but equal" is acceptable in our society today. Meanwhile, a significant number of black, Hispanic and Asian Christians believe they're treated unfairly simply on the basis of their race.

Admittedly, ongoing conversations about difficult issues can be exhausting. I've watched with disappointment as many of my African American friends seem to have settled for less than they deserve. At the same time, I'm continually frustrated by the ignorance and apathy about racial injustice among many white evangelicals. Are we all weary from the battle, or have we already surrendered?

If only racial tensions among evangelicals were getting better. But they aren't. A recent controversy surrounding an attempt at humor by Rick Warren left Asian Christians offended and frustrated. About 700 Asian evangelicals subsequently declared that their demographic "continues to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and misjudged." Korean-American blogger Jeni Flaa powerfully illustrated the pain of racism in a recent Huffington Post piece. After a stranger hurled racial insults at her, she said, "I curled up on my bed and cried angry tears. Even though I'm almost 30-years-old, one would think I'd be immune to this by now. Hardly so. It still hurts and it still makes me cry."

Perhaps we've forgotten what God has to say about all this. He said He loves justice. He told us to seek justice and help the oppressed. Jesus yelled at the Pharisees for ignoring justice. He also prayed for unity among all believers.

It would certainly be easier if we could ignore our racial problems, and let the passage of time work things out. But it won't. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wisely pointed out,

Actually, time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively....We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be coworkers with God...

The journey will be challenging, painful and frustrating. But, progress can only be made if productive and meaningful intercultural conversations actually take place. And I want to be counted among those who tirelessly and persistently work alongside God in the pursuit of racial justice and unity in the church. Hopefully I'm not alone.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Epistle You've Never Read

In 1979, a group of African American theologians proposed that it be added to the New Testament. The anti-apartheid movement in South Africa was inspired by its message. And yet few American evangelicals have actually read it. Most haven't even heard of it. Particularly white Christians.

Birmingham Revolution
In his brilliant new book Birmingham Revolution, author Edward Gilbreath introduced me to the epistle I've never read - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

In early 1963, seven pastors and a rabbi from Birmingham Alabama joined forces to publicly rebuke Dr. King. They were unhappy with non-violent demonstrations King and his colleagues were leading against segregation in their city. Their joint statement published in both of the city's newspapers called the peaceful actions "extreme measures" and "unwise and untimely". The clergy urged citizens to withdraw their support and lean on the courts to remedy racial problems. On top of that, Gilbreath points out that some black leaders also opposed King's actions in Birmingham. Time magazine described the demonstrations as "poorly timed protests." The New York Times said King and his colleagues should exercise more patience. President Kennedy urged him to wait. Billy Graham called on King to "put the brakes on a little bit." (pgs. 77-78)

History would prove them all wrong. Shortly after Dr. King penned this jail cell epistle, the world watched in horror as Birmingham police attacked children with dogs and fire hoses during peaceful protests. 

Gratefully, Dr. King ignored these high profile critics and listened to God. He wrote, "We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights." That was long enough.

Edward Gilbreath's writing is part history and part personal reflection. But it's also a bold challenge to the church to reexamine the legacy of Dr. King, and continue his unfinished work in our culture today. I walked away from the book most impacted by the following ideas:

  • The Civil Rights Movement was first and foremost a movement of the church. History books and white churches would innocently have you believe that it was a social and political undertaking. The truth is that its leaders were pastors. Meetings were held in churches. Before marching, there were prayers, sermons, hymns and offering. This reality is striking, and should serve as a powerful convicting force for the church today. 

  • "I Have a Dream" wasn't Dr. King's best work. His most memorable speech may have been "I Have a Dream", but his most important work was Letter from a Birmingham Jail. He secretly wrote this masterpiece on scraps of paper while in solitary confinement. With no notes or books to draw from, he expertly quoted Scripture. He referenced Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, T.S. Elliot, Jefferson, Lincoln and others. Even though he was alone in that cell, King later proclaimed that "God had been my cellmate." (p. 118) I wholeheartedly believe him.
 
  • Think twice before criticizing Dr. King's theological training. Many conservative evangelicals have avoided viewing King as someone with something to say about the Christian faith. Why? Because he attended liberal seminaries (Boston University and Crozer Seminary). We'll never know for sure why King chose those particular schools, but remind me again which conservative seminaries were accepting African Americans in the late 1940's? Good luck finding one. It's interesting to note that well known pastor Dr. Tony Evans was the first African American to earn a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He graduated in 1982

  • God worked powerfully through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In spite of the fact that he's been turned into a mythical secular superhero, he was a flawed human being. Gilbreath rightly points out that King experienced the same human emotions and problems as the rest of us. He got angry. He suffered from insomnia. He joked. He had moral failures. He was a sinner. But his Letter from a Birmingham Jail leaves no doubt that God worked powerfully through Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

  • The church needs to take-up the Civil Rights Movement today. Edward Gilbreath poignantly illustrates that while progress has been made, Dr. King's work is unfinished. America still suffers from racism. The church continues to be segregated, and true racial reconciliation among believers remains out of reach. Blacks and whites both have a part to play. I stand with Gilbreath in hoping that Dr. King's inspired writing can call the church today to change. I'm convinced that influential white evangelicals have a responsibility to simultaneously lead the effort, and yield to black clergy and theologians.

Lord willing, followers of Jesus in America can all embrace God's work through Dr. King, and endeavor to achieve racial justice and unity. May we all accept what Edward Gilbreath calls Dr. King's "Epic challenge to the church".

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