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The Blessing of Choice

The single greatest aspect of our country is freedom. Of course, there are the specific ‘freedoms’ spelled out in detail in the constitution: to practice religion, to speak, to protest, to be armed, etc., but really it’s just the broad, glorious idea of freedom. We tend to think of freedom more from the angle of being free from enforcement, slavery, or a monopolized ruler. Freedom to go. Freedom to stay. “You are now free to move about the country.

Choices, on the other hand, are different. Choice is the product of freedom. The consequence. Choice is freedom in action. Choice is where we comprehend true freedom. Understand it. Feel, touch, taste, see, smell it. Choice is the greatest of blessings. The more choices we have, the more we should feel blessed.

Recently, I had some choices made for me. Changes in life that interrupted and redirected my course. I did not like this. Doesn’t mean I won’t eventually like it, but right now the instinctive reaction is to be bothered that I wasn’t given a choice.

Oddly enough, even in a choice being made for me, I had more choices as a result. The aftereffect. It made me realize even more how fortunate I am in the endless choices available to me. For example, my wife would love to move back to the beach (understatement). But because of all the outside factors (family, jobs, church, kids, schools, friends, uncertainty), we feel as though it’s not an option right now. But it is! We *could* do it still. We *could* do anything!

The choice is always there. The innumerable Choose Your Own Adventure daily life choices. I know a number of people who have gone through horrible tragedies: losing a house, death of a loved one, losing a job, debilitating sickness. But they have come out with a realization that the slate has been wiped clean and now they have a whole new set of options available to them.

I’ve heard that strong leaders have the ability to focus on the important tasks at hand because they reduce the number of insignificant choices they have to make. So they wear the same outfit everyday, eat the same food, go about a standard routine. It’s in those insignificant choices we find how many choices we really have.

To snooze or not to snooze

Business Casual or Business Professional

Strawberry Red or Pink Rosè

Which breakfast

How much coffee

To call in sick

To change jobs
– what kind of job
– salary
– where is it
– big or small company
– which benefits would you like

How to waste your time

Which app

Which social media platform

To just like or emoji

Which of (all grocery store items)

Do you want to eat in or go out
– where to
– fast food or sit down
– Meal #1 thru #16
– with or without pickles
– which of 126 drinks in the Coke Freestyle machine

To talk to someone or ignore them

To ask or wait to be asked

To stand up and stretch or push through

To smile or not even try

500 TV channels or on demand

Go to bed early or stay up too late again

Where do we want to go on vacation

Just pick a pair of earrings – we’re late for church!

 

It’s beyond comprehension how many choices we actually have. We have so many that most are decided without conscious effort. What an absolute luxury to have options, and yet we react to decisions as burdens. Make a choice to not live that way. Enjoy, appreciate, welcome every choice. Life is made up of a million little choices along the way. Step by step you are writing your story. As long as you’re headed in the right direction, let go of the stress of little choices. Be thankful for the blessing of choice.

 

Sing Me a Hateful Lullaby

Here we are in another political voting season. Against my better judgment, I decided to watch a debate online. For the most part it lived up to my expectations, but the thing that struck me was I didn’t personally like the candidate I’ll probably vote for. I wonder which candidate portrayed their authentic self? Should I vote on personality or solely on policy? Between the staged debates and endless back-and-forth commercials, I don’t know what’s real.

We’re in such an awful political climate right now, and have been for some time. Whether it ended up being Clinton or Trump, I said before the election that we’re all going to get what we deserve. The hateful rhetoric from both sides is disgusting. And both sides feel justified in their tone because they feel so strongly about the issues. YES, it’s from both sides.

John Adams is famous for predicting this problem by saying “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.” But Jefferson argued that it’s the nature of man to be divided in opposition to each other. And that makes sense. We tend to be binary in most topics. Think back to arguments on the playground – how kids would congregate to one side or the other. Most questions and situations are responded to by Yes/No, Left/Right, Up/Down, Right/Wrong.

So to a large degree, opposition is natural and expected. It’s healthy, especially in government. The last thing we’d want is a single platform to rule unchallenged, without anyone questioning the logic, responsibility, or cost.

But rather than have open-minded conversations, we pick a side and sit on it. Like choosing teams for kickball – you’re either for us or against us. The President in charge gets the full support from his side and only opposition from the other. Trump actually seems to have had some exceptions to this where his party isn’t always in lock and step with him. But where his party falls short, his supporters make up in being even more solidified, blind defenders.

It’s like we enjoy the game. But how can so many people be so riled up all the time? Is it worth all the angst?

This article made me sad:

The tl;dr version is “Ten months after Inauguration Day, the trend is holding: For late-night hosts, being sharply critical of President Trump is a winning strategy.”

The author surmises that The Tonight Show ratings are shrinking because it focuses more on fun and games rather than harsh jokes. Other shows seem to be moving from monologues into lectures about the President, and from classic jokes into sarcasm and low-brow low-blows.

I’m not sad for Jimmy Fallon; I’m sure he’ll be just fine. And truth be told, if we happen to stay up and watch any late night show, it will most likely be The Tonight Show, but for the same reason this article says his ratings are going down. If I’m going to be up till 11pm (CST), I want something fairly mindless and entertaining to get me by until I decided it’s worth the effort to make it to the bed. Yes, only 11pm. Not 11:30 or later. There are only about two bands that I will stay up and risk a less-than-7-hour sleep to watch live.

What I don’t want, as I prepare for sleep, is a bedtime story about how ridiculously stupid, crazy, psycho our president is. (I could leave the name of the President out, and this blog will be relevant for years to come).

My wife insists for our kids go to sleep at night calm and happy. If at all possible, we try to avoid problems or arguments and let the kids go to sleep at peace. Marital advice commonly repeated is to never go to bed angry. One tip on how to get a better night’s sleep says not to check email late in the day in case there’s something to upset you.

We’ve all lost sleep being too upset at something. I’ve stayed awake making up fake conversations that will never happen. Why in the world then are late night shows getting ratings by people hungry for angry criticism? Is this really how people want to spend their last few minutes of consciousness for the day? Please, rock me to sleep with a snarky, hateful lullaby.

Gone are the days where politics were confined to the water cooler, barber shops, parking lots, and newspapers. Now we have Facebook algorithms creating echo chambers, and with every like and click Pavlov’s dog is asking for more. The last and first thing we see everyday is more of the same infighting.

I would like to do a better job at this myself, setting aside the first and last few minutes of the day as sacred.

To wake up like I would wake up a toddler “Good morning, sweetie. It’s time to get up. We’re going to have a great day.”

To go to sleep the same, “Did you have a good day? It’s time to lay down. Have sweet dreams.”

We should treat ourselves in the same manner. Tomorrow has enough trouble of its own. There’s no point in worrying about it the night before, or waking up full of tension. Days are full of homework, drama, politics, noise, news, disappointnents and excitements. Surely, we could reserve the bookend minutes for things more fitting.

Save the dawn for “good mornings”, hugs, slippers, peace, hot showers, and coffee.

Save the dusk for “good nights”, snuggles, music, pajamas, peace, and warm beverages.

Maybe if we all did that, our political conversations would naturally morph into ones where we cared more about the people we are talking to than the points made. Maybe I’d have a clearer mind and know who to vote for. Maybe I’d see the stark contrast between the extreme scenarios and crave more meaningful moments.

Our country could use more peace. People could use more sacred moments.

Dad Revalations: Whatcha doin?

Last fall, I was working on putting up a fence around the back patio steps where there’s a significant drop-off around the perimeter. The social worker conducting our home study left no room for misinterpretation by saying, “um, so we’ll need to do something about this.” Point taken. By using anything I could gather from around the house, and only the necessary items from Lowes (like the fence part because my wife said the chicken wire from the garden wouldn’t suffice), I managed to get something up that resembled a fence.

The last piece wouldn’t sit level so I used the closest thing within reach which happened to be the kids’ yellow duck-head-handled garden tools. As I was scraping around the edge of the patio where my 2-year-old son loves digging in the dirt, he noticed I was doing one of his favorite activities. I could hear the tap-tap-tap of his little shoes running up behind me, a pattern that only occurs when he’s excited, like for bath time or we’re getting a piece of cheese.

“Daddy, whatcha doin’?!” and laid his little hand on my shoulder. If he’s asked me that question directly before, I don’t remember it. This may be the first time I’ve noticed it because I was doing something “manly” around the house (with a yellow duck-head-handle rake) and my son wants to know what I’m doing. This calls for one of those “Well, son….” type of responses. And now I totally sound like my dad.

My kid watches me. When he copies me doing something nice, it’s cute. When he copies me doing something less than admirable, I become hyper-sensitive to everything that I do.

Lately, I’ve been noticing how he picks up on what other people do. He’ll sing the songs his sister sings. Something about a robot from a Pinkalicious show. Maybe I spelled that wrong; I’m purposefully trying to not show interest in a show called Pinkalicious.

He also has picked up the habits of our foster kids right now and their favorite word, “No.” Supposedly, as a parent you’re supposed to ignore “junk behavior.” Maaaan, that’s hard to do when a toddler straight-face tells you NO, like a boss.

It’s the bandwagon tendency in all of us – to do what we see, what’s around us, what others are doing. Sometimes completely mindless, as in the clothes we buy from the store because it’s what they’re offering this season. Sometimes it’s a little intentional, like fixing our hair just a little different or the shows we watch. Sometimes we hear the singing of the Sirens and we float through the air following the scent of the next best thing.

Image result for cartoon follow scent

When I was a teenager there was this trendy saying that was used often, maybe you remember “what would Jesus do?” It was typically used as a litmus test for the various situations teens got themselves in. “Would Jesus pick this girlfriend or that girlfriend?” “Would he cheat on his midterms or would he…. not cheat on his midterms?” 

As popular of a phrase as it was, I’m sure it was very helpful to many people. But I think there’s a better question to be asked. Not what Jesus would do in the situation we put ourselves in, but what would He be doing? How would he be spending his time? 

If we want to know what it is He would be doing, we need to look at what he did:

  • He cared about people on a very personal, individual level
  • He spent time resting and in prayer
  • He was forgiving of those who knew they had failed, and critical of those who proudly said they had it all together
  • The woman at the well who, even with a past, was the catalyst for a whole community after having a conversation with Him
  • You have the woman caught in adultery and he protected her from attackers and showed her mercy saying “Go and sin no more”
  • The poor widow with the two coins he said was the greatest of givers
  • He challenged people to be better and have a stronger faith
  • He cared for the sick and hurting
  • He cried with His friends
  • He willingly gave His life and His life’s work
  • He prayed for others
  • and countless more examples…

We do what the apostles did, like when they said, “”Lord, teach us to pray.” We ask questions like,
“What should I be doing instead?”
“What am I capable of that I’m not currently taking advantage of?”
“Who needs me?”
“How can I help?”

Instead of navel-gazing, waiting for someone to fix us, we can have a broader perspective. We can look at life with a wide-frame lens from a higher vantage point and wonder what’s possible. We can take a moment to look around at the good things already happening and ask “God, what are you doing over there? I can tell something’s going on. I see You’re up to something. What is it? I want to be a part of that?”

Hopefully, it will be like the many times my kids’ shoes will tap-tap-taps up to me, lay their hands on my shoulder and say, “Daddy, whatcha doin’?!” I hope they find me doing great things. I hope they want to do those things, too.

Be What You Want Them to See

Since Google and Facebook know me so well, they know that I ‘like’, watch, and listen to Speaking pages and podcasts. So, of course I’m going to get presented with marketing posts on that topic. One showed up on my newsfeed the other day, and as a… prudent investigator, I took the bait, clicked on his page, and searched around.

prudent investigator, aka effective evaluator, aka skeptic, aka critic

One of the first videos was “10 Steps to Create a Great Presentation”. Awesome. That’s right in my wheelhouse. *clicks play*

Side note: I’ve heard before that Praise should be given in public and Criticism in private. So, maybe if I don’t have anything nice to say I shouldn’t say anything.

It wasn’t THAT bad. It was just blah as far as presentations go, especially one supposedly teaching me how to give great presentations. No exciting opening, no hook, no passion, zigzagging direction, among other things. I was bored four minutes in before he even got to the first point.

A common comeback on American Idol was when Simon Cowell would deny a contestant, they would say “Well, you come up here and show us how it’s done!” He doesn’t have to. He’s the judge, not the talent. And to his credit, he has a resume to prove it.

So, I’m not claiming to be the best presenter myself. But we all know greatness when we see it. We all know when we’re bored to tears. And our instinctive reaction isn’t intended to be lavish praise or hateful criticism; it’s raw honesty.

Maybe the video I watched wasn’t intended to be his best, but it certainly didn’t encourage me to look further. I closed the screen. I didn’t give him a second chance. I didn’t buy anything.

One of my shortcomings is to hang my head and have an “aw-shucks” demeanor around certain people. It makes me wonder how many opportunities I missed because I wasn’t showing my best all the time. Was I being considered for something and my lack of enthusiasm wrote me off? Would a better attitude have initiated an interest that wasn’t there before?

We should be our best all the time. But. (isn’t there always a but). The extreme view of this is to stress over constant perfection. Well, that’s not the goal either. In pursuing perfection, you lose authenticity. Still, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.”

I’ve realize how much I’ve failed at this. I’m way over-involved. My day consists of working a triage of priorities and playing catch-up. My results are just enough to be acceptable. The list of things I’d rather do keeps growing and now I resent the things I am required to do. Trying to do everything limits my ability to do anything.

So, this year I’m attempting to go all Weight Watchers on my schedule. (Weight Watchers is probably a bad analogy, as in I’ll say I’m going to start and never follow through). Soon enough I’ll be able to choose what I want to do and do it well.

The guy in the Facebook video didn’t intend for me to have that opinion of him. But I’m not sure he put in the effort for me to think otherwise. This blog post isn’t going to be as good as I want it to be, because I don’t have the time to make it that way. But I’m trying. I’ll get there.

My advice to myself: look at what you’re doing and ask if other people are going to appreciate for what it is. Does it compare to the level of effort put in? What do you need to do to make it better next time? Be what you want them to see. Without excuses. Own it. Rise to the occasion.

Maundy Thursday

The cross: the single most pivotal moment in all of history. Even the cross by its design, or in thinking of things crossing each other, there’s a moment of impact where things change. Before it everything was one way, after everything was different. The cross is the only thing you’ll encounter that demands all of you. Nothing else — work, sickness, marriage — demands your entire being. This cross is significant only because of the one who bore it. The name that is known above all names. The person by which we tell time, is the same person who created time, is the one who knows all time…

and Jesus knew this time was coming near. He knew his purpose all along, but on this Thursday he knew it was ending tomorrow.


We have moments in our life of significance, ones where we know something huge is about to happen. In the moments before our children were born, I knew I was really excited, but I didn’t want to mess anything up. So I just tried to hover in a “what can I do?” anxiety.  The morning of my daughter’s first day of school, she was totally cool about it. No big deal. But something in me wanted it to be a tear-jerker of a movie moment. In either case I don’t remember saying anything poignant or doing anything mind-blowing.  

But we have these pivotal moments, these rites of passage, these opportunities for a life lesson. We’ve all had a few, sometimes we can see it coming. Jesus is in his final hours. And John records his words and conversations with the apostles in grand detail. And this is how John prefaces that moments before the cross…

Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. During supper, the devil having already put into the heart of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, to betray Him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,

This is the pivotal moment. It’s coming down to the hour where the world for all eternity changes. Everything was lined up and ready to go. Jesus has just a few hours left, before Judas betrays him, to spend with his apostles, the ones to carry this legacy. This is where a coach gives the big pep talk before the game. This is kneeling down to give my kid encouragement before the first day at school. This is the foyer before you walk her down the aisle. This is being blessed with a few minutes beside a deathbed. This is all those things…

but infinitely more.

So what does Jesus do…

got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.

That’s it. That’s what He chose to do. Now they talked plenty after this moment, it wasn’t like He did a mic drop and left the room. But Peter is obviously confused and doesn’t know what to do about it. “Don’t Wash my feet, No, Wash all of me!” But Jesus knows this and even says, “you don’t understand what I’m doing, but soon you will.”

If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.

He tells them to serve each other. Over in Luke, he doesn’t mention the feet washing, but the apostles are arguing over who’s the greatest (of course they are *sigh*), and Jesus says

For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

Which do you remember more: words or actions? I can’t think of my own words to use most the time, let alone what other people have said. My parents have said wise things to me I’m sure, couldn’t tell you one of them. But I know they love me and can give you dozens of example when they served. I can tell you story upon story of things people have done for me, and not a word of the conversation. 

By doing this act at this time, Jesus elevates servanthood to a new level of importance. But like speaking to toddlers, you can’t just say it, you have to show them. “See? Do like this, yes, be nice…”


This is Maundy Thursday. The word “Maundy” comes from the Latin derivative, which means “commandment.” Jesus says…

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another,

Then the apostles could’ve said “New Commandment? No, this isn’t new. We already know this one! Love one another. That’s old!”

But there’s a world of difference between what was already said and how Jesus phrased it here. If you read the original verse in Leviticus:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

That’s a really specific law regarding love. We would tend to skim the love part and just remember to not hold grudges.

Well then we also know this from the Greatest commandment story in Matt 22 and Mark 12. “Love God. Love others as yourself. On this hang all the Law and the Prophets.” This sounds like a much broader interpretation, but some would say this simply encompasses the 613 commands in Jewish Law. So still limited in some ways. Whether Jesus intended that to be more than the laws or not, Jesus says it specifically here.

that you love one another.  Even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

God in loving us so much, didn’t just tell us to love, but brought a part of Himself down to our level, to show us what true love is. What it looks like, What it does.

But there’s a big difference between loving others as yourself and loving as Christ did.

Loving as yourself is: Well, I would want my feet washed. *snap snap* “Hey Servant, wash my friend’s feet!”. Loving as Jesus, is picking up the towel and doing it yourself.

Loving as yourself would be to send someone a card. Loving as Jesus would be to go to the grave site and mourn.

Loving as yourself is to hand out a dollar. Loving as Jesus would be giving the blind their sight back, maybe not in a miraculous way, but in physically caring for needs.

Loving as yourself is to give an answer. Loving as Jesus is to seek for a better understanding.

Loving as yourself is to not retaliate. Loving as Jesus is forgive indefinitely.

Loving as yourself would be a portion of these proceeds go to feed the hungry. Loving as Jesus feeds the hungry.

Loving as yourself is being nice to others. Loving as Jesus is to recognize the value and worth in children, women, men, widows, and orphans.

 

This amplifies love. It magnifies love. It encompasses what it truly means to love. To lay down your life for each other, just as Jesus did.

Sunday we’ll Praise the resurrection, Saturday is a day of reflection, Friday a day of mourning, Thursday – might it be a day of Service. I would encourage you to take time today to start, not just a single act, but to begin a life of loving service to others.

Not out of obligation. Not just to fulfill a commandment, but in response to already having been loved yourself.

This is good; this is bad

My birthday started out wonderfully. Dreamlike. A movie scene after the couple finally gets together and there’s a montage of scenes with the happy couple going on a variety of dates. Smiling and snuggling and laughing. But like every movie, this too must end. That afternoon my father-in-law was working on a remodel project and I helped him move a dresser upstairs. It took much longer than expected, and by the time we finished it was birthday party time. I rushed to tell everyone to leave where they were and meet at the restaurant. As I watch my father-in-law drive off, I turned the key in my Jeep, and it wouldn’t start.

Phone is dying. No one is answering their messages. Jeep won’t budge. I’m left alone to sulk in my broken ‘how much is this going to cost’ Jeep for almost an hour. By the time we made it to dinner, I wasn’t… delighted. I made a valiant effort to put on a good face.

I don’t even try to fix it till after Christmas on a bitter cold day with all four kids (two foster) in the house. Couple the guilt of leaving my wife to tend the flock with my having to get tools and parts back and forth across town. The sun goes down just as I get the new starter home. My shivering makes it difficult to get the cords connected and bolts in place with ease.

But, and it’s a big but (that’s a kid joke right there), we replaced the starter last year and the whole cost was covered under warranty. No $150 for a starter. Do-it-yourself free labor. 

I come back inside while she’s trying to get dinner ready, the house is still a mess from Christmas, and the kids have lost all sense of sanity. Nothing seems to be going right. So, what does one do to get a few happy endorphins to feel better? Turn to Facebook.

I try making a post complaining about the hard day, but be funny at the same time so people don’t think I’m just whining. There should be a word for this. Something similar to Vaguebooking or HumbleBrag. It’s wanting sympathy with a mixture of my passive aggressiveness and desire to be liked. Complainedy? Comedy complaining. FunnyFuss? HumbleGrumble? HumorMoan? I’ll get my people on it and have something soon.

Thing is, it takes me an hour to type up this simple post because someone cries or hits or screams or draws on the table. The moment it’s posted, my dad texts back about me successfully replacing the starter for free and says “Life is good!!!!!!!!!!” This is not how I currently feel or the words I used in my WittyPity post. But an hour ago Life Was Good for a brief second when the Jeep started up on the first try. But not the next minute when I walked in the house and kids were crying. But life was still good. Life was also bad.

Being stranded in a dead car on your birthday is bad. It’s OK to want sympathy. This is where a “helpful” person would say to you, “Well, there are people out there who don’t even have cars to break down.” I don’t really like this advice; it dismisses my pain in the moment and doesn’t get my car running either.

The starter was replaced under warranty (this is good). I’m on my back under the car in 20 degrees and no light (this is bad). The car starts (this is good). All the kids are upset and screaming (this is bad). Dinner’s ready (this is good). Kid throws dinner on the floor (this is bad). It’s bedtime (this is good). Bedtime takes an hour (this is bad).

It can be both. It can be both at the same time. I remember feeling relieved when I first understood the concept of the difference between joy and happiness. You can be a joyful person without being happy all the time. I can be sad and have underlying joy. I can have good and bad moments. Life is good AND life is difficult and hard and tiresome.

When a bad thing happens, it’s cathartic to call it what it is. Dismissing and ignoring can make it worse or cause you to bottle up emotions.

Husband advice: this is where your wife comes home and complains about a rough day and instead of trying to fix it, let them talk and then you say “that sounds like a really rough day. How ‘bout some ice cream?”

Never be afraid to call bad what it is. Never neglect to recognize good when it happens.

And be who others need you to be in their moment: Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

Joseph, what was it like?

If you were able to take a trip in my stream of consciousness, it would be quite an adventure. Especially the times when I drift off during sermons. It’s usually because the preacher says something that triggers a thought, and I just go with it. One of the things I ponder quite frequently, is about the people who are mentioned briefly in the Bible and what happened in the rest of their story. The woman at the well, the leper, the Ethiopian eunuch. Their appearance lasts less than a day and only a couple paragraphs. The rich young ruler: he “left sad” but did he actually make a change or not? What happens next?!

But one story in particular sticks out, almost like this gaping hole in the storyline of the Bible — What happened to Joseph the father of Jesus? 

We know a few things about Joseph. Of course he is in the story of the birth of Christ, and again at the temple when Jesus is 12. We know he and Mary had many other children. He had a reputation; when Jesus began his ministry, people said “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”

But as a father myself, especially as a foster parent; what was it like to be given the responsibility of a child who wasn’t yours? And, oh yeah, He’ll also be the Messiah. What was it like to be chosen as the earthly father for the son of God? What pressure did he feel? 

There’s the song “Mary, Did You Know? I want to ask “Joseph, What Was It Like?”

Jesus came as a baby. Someone had to teach him to walk, eat, talk. Say “please.” Say “thank you.” We have three toddlers in the house right now. It’s hard for me to imagine a toddler that doesn’t occasionally cry about eating vegetables. So one could assume Jesus as a 2-year-old would do the same and Joseph had to deal with negotiating how many more bites were necessary before Jesus could go play. 

But Jesus, of course, was special. He was asking questions and talking with scholars in the temple at age 12. But it says when He left there, He was obedient to His parents. He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Joseph had a hand in guiding this growth. How did he conduct himself? How did he parent? Did he maintain composure at all times? As Joseph, do you give Jesus rules to follow? Maybe instead he uses a more subtle and traditional approach and talks to Jesus in stories, or parables. How much Joseph-like mannerisms did Jesus learn and apply to His style of teaching?

How protective was Joseph? Was he paranoid that someone might want harm his kid? Especially after Herod’s slaughter. Did that feeling ever go away or did he have unfailing faith?

Joseph as the father would have been the one to lead the family in the annual Passover meal. As he broke the bread and passed the cup, did he grasp the full implication and symbolism of the moment? Did he grasp the magnitude of it all and, as a result, feel pride or weight? 

What if God had chosen one of us? What if we had the responsibility to take His message, Emmanuel – God with us, and care for it? What kind of example would we be living? How would we present ourselves on a daily basis? Would we feel like we had this inconceivable treasure in our possession? 

Would we celebrate more? Would we worry less?

What if we had been given the gift of the Son of God?

Well, that’s exactly what happened. 

The gift is yours.

Congratulations! For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

“Congratulations” and other misguided remarks

This past week we got the call we’ve been waiting for since September. Would we be willing to take two boys in as foster kids? Really, we’ve been waiting for almost three years, since our last placement was a month before we began expecting a baby, which put foster care on a hiatus. This would unofficially make our seventh placement. Unofficially – since one was only 24 hours for respite care (more-or-less babysitting) and one was not through the system.

My wife texted me “we may be getting 2 boys.” After she found more details, I stepped out of a meeting, called her, we talked, we agreed, and she left to pick them up. I walked back in the meeting and apologized that I might be a little distracted since we just found out we’re getting foster kids. There was a bit of a reaction from the five people in the room, and I remember someone saying “Congratulations!” and “How exciting!”

Soon after, it came up at a business lunch and the room applauded. I’m not sure why. But lots of “That’s great!” and “Congratulations!” were shared. The waiter had even overheard me talking about it and offered his own “Congratulations” as we left.

Afterward, I felt strange about their reaction. I didn’t share the news as if I just found out we were expecting another baby. Trust me, foster care is not worth it to simply be in it for attention. At the moment it was heavy in my mind. The only reason I shared the information was because that’s all that was in my head. I wasn’t much for casual conversation either. But still, the reaction didn’t match how I was feeling. “Congratulations” didn’t seem… appropriate.

I feel really bad for knocking someone’s genuine excitement. It’s not their fault they don’t know my perception of the situation. I probably wouldn’t know what to say either. Especially since I seem to lose my entire vocabulary when someone mentions a death in their family. “Oh, wow, man, hmmm.” For some reason, “Sorry to hear that” doesn’t want to escape my voice box.

The snobby-foster-care-insider in me, now that we’ve been through this before, knows that this is not a congratulatory situation. Especially since the agency gets kids from DCS and not a voluntary placement, if you’re called on for foster care, something bad happened. I once heard a story of a single mom needing help with kids only because the she was going for a major medical procedure and had no one else that could care for them. But even though she didn’t DO something bad, something bad still happened.

Most of the reasons for a child’s removal are neglect, abuse, abandonment, incarceration, and substance abuse. If we get a call, one of those things happened. “Congratulations” isn’t the best word.

I don’t think down on anyone who might have said that to me. What else are you really supposed to say?


The next night I had already agreed to participate in the Thanksgiving Service at church, so we risked ultimate chaos and went with our new additions. Of course, everyone was excited to meet them and say hi. In the parking lot afterward, a friend walked out with us. He knows our story, what we do and why, and has adopted, too. While I was buckling the kids in the car, he stood by with this huge smile. The same look he had when they were introducing themselves inside. He stuttered, nearly dumbfounded, he managed to get out, “I… don’t know what to say, but congratulations.”

I realized then that he might really know why we do foster care. And his use of “congratulations” might be spot on.


A few days later we went out to eat with friends and they said, “we talked about doing foster care but just don’t see being able to handle more kids right now.” And we responded with a resounding “Tell me about it! Hopefully, we’ll get daycare set up real soon. We’re not in this just cause we love kids.”

*awkward silence*

“….then why DO you do it?”

Oh, yeah I guess that sounded strange. The why is the same reason for how “Congratulations” might be an appropriate saying. We don’t want a large family necessarily. Our initial thought would be to adopt out of the foster care system. But after our first placement, we only want to foster, and we realized why we were chosen for this service.

Kids, if at all possible, need to be with their parents. Even in the worst situation, terminating parental rights still leaves the child with a loss. Better than the alternative, but a loss. We could all agree on the world being a better place if houses were made up of strong, healthy, together families. Foster care is an opportunity to take a struggling family unit and breathe new life back into it.

Adoption is a different story altogether. But in foster care, as much as we love these children, and as much we try to do a good job parenting, they are not our kids. And I don’t want them to be. Because if I did, I would be dishonest to our ultimate goal, which is to reunify the family. I want these kids to be with their mommy and daddy. I want their parents to be thriving in a healthy and stable environment and to take their kids back with full confidence.

Our two placements that were the longest were the easiest to let go. Because the process worked. Because in the end, we happily, with full confidence, gave the kids back to where they belong: to a mommy who worked hard to get her life back, and get her kids back. This is the moment where “Congratulations” was welcome a word.

So when foster parents get a call to take in kids, “Congratulations!” on the opportunity to take a family in a bad situation and give them a chance to thrive.

True Kindness

*The following is an extended script of a speech presented at the Fall 2017 District 63 Toastmasters Conference*

 

What was your best subject in School? Now take that and see if you remember someone complimenting you about that subject along the way. I find that most people have a correlation between the two, and it makes me wonder if it’s a case of the chicken or the egg. Which one came first? Would you have been good at that subject anyway, or was your talent cemented because someone showed you kindness. Imagine that! Your future career choice… your life’s trajectory changed simply because someone showed you kindness.

2017 has been a difficult year for everyone. There have been so many tragedies, a number of man-made ones. It’s in times like these that I tend to sit and digest what happened for a while. And what usually lifts me up, makes me feel better, is to pay attention to the good things that happen around the event. The kindness being shown to those hurt.  Or even to get a much broaders perspective on the situation and think about all the bad things that never happened, all the bad guys who never carried through on their act, because someone showed them kindness.

Kindness today is undervalued, underappreciated, underutilized. We all aspire to being kind, but maybe we’re not as much as we think.

A few years ago, my family and I were at a cafe, we were looking for a table when another family walked in. They had a daughter about the age of ours, and she had no hair. Best guess, some kind of cancer or treatment. My parental instincts kicked in when I realized my daughter had noticed this girl, too. Just then I saw her raise her arm and point her finger directly at this girl. I jumped in front and pushed her arm down and said “No, no, no, we don’t point at people, that’s rude.” And without removing her gaze, she raised her arm back up and said, “I like her glasses.”

“I like her glasses? She has glasses?” She had these bright red thick-rimmed glasses that made her whole face shine. I was too self-absorbed to even notice. I was too concerned with being embarrassed to let that interaction happen. It made me think how many other times have I missed doing a simple act of kindness because I was too afraid of getting it wrong, that I wouldn’t even risk getting it right.

Too often we treat kindness as only a response. To turn the other cheek. If you cut me off in traffic, I’ll let you in. If you’re rude to me, I won’t punch you in the face. Kindness! But that’s just playing defense. If this were football, that’s only half the game. I want to be quarterback looking for opportunities to make a difference. I want to play offense. I want to be offensive!  

OK, not ofFENsive. OFFensive…

Offensive kindness.

Think about it: Would people be more blindsided when they’re offended, or being surprised with kindness?

People make the similar reactions to being offended or shown kindness:

Waiter says “Enjoy your meal.”
Guy, “Well, I sure hope it’s better than the service has been.”
Waiter, “Did you hear that? Can you believe what that guy said to me?”

Waiter, “Enjoy your meal.”
Guy, “Well, If it’s half as good as the service has been, I’m sure it’ll be great.”
Waiter, “Did you hear that? Can you believe what that guy said to me?”

See? Similar reaction, totally different impression. 

But true kindness, that’s not just charity or done out of moral obligation, only works if it’s Selfless, Intentional, and Neutral. That’s S-I-N. Sin. True Kindness is Offensive and SINful. 

Selfless: Halloween night, kids we know were trick-or-treating and came to a house where the lady just ran out of all her candy. This girl and her friends each gave the lady some of their own candy, so she would have some to pass out the rest of the night. That’s an authentic kind of selfless.

Intentional: When I was competing in the speech contest, my coworker Donna told me that if I won District, she would buy me a brand new suit to take to semi-finals. And she did. It was a good-lookin’ tan suit. It didn’t help, I still lost. But good-lookin’.  I can’t tell you how great it felt to be in that stressful moment before the contest, and be wrapped in a blanket of kindness. She intentionally did something she did not have to do.

Neutral: Nonpartisan. True Kindness has no exceptions or limitations. The way I knew we had found the right church to attend, after we had first started visiting, someone in the community had spray painted racist graffiti on a minority-owned business. Our minister organized a community rally to happen in their parking lot. People came with signs about Love and Peace and to stand up and say “this is not who we are!” And I looked at this group, and said these are the people, and this is the kindness I want surrounding my family.

Because true kindness is willing to help anyone no matter who they are.

Kindness seeks out people and wraps others in comfort.

It’s not concerned with what you get, but what you can give.

Kindness looks for opportunities to make a play.

It overcomes awkwardness to pay a compliment.

Simple words of kindness can have a lifelong impact.

May we all be a little more OFFENSive, S-I-N-ful, and kind.

Days That Matter

Rarely do you wake up knowing that today’s events will change your life forever.

There are some days you think should. Like going to Disney World on a vacation you’ve been planning for months. We’ve been to Disney, maybe 4 times? And I can’t really tell you when the last time was.

As foster parents, we’ve had four placements and I remember each one of them. Two of the placements only lasted a week, but still I remember them. I remember their personalities, a few of the things we did. And I think about them often. I wonder if they remember us. If they do, I hope it’s a positive memory. Maybe we said something encouraging that stuck with them.

Tomorrow we’ll be taking in two kids only for the weekend, or respite care. This time because their long-term foster family has an out-of-town engagement and need certified “babysitters.” But even if it won’t last long and there won’t be any earth-shaking moments, I know the memory will stick with me. I will take a picture and keep it with the others we’ve printed of foster kids over the years. I will commit their names to memory. My wife, I know, will find incredibly honest and insightful encouragements to tell them. She will get their attention, force eye-contact, smile, tell them why they are wonderful, and hold their attention till she’s confident it stuck.

These three days will be a blip in their lifetime and they will most likely not even remember it. But we know the purpose we’re serving. We know what it’s like to be a foster parent and needing a break. We know the uncomfortable feeling of staying at a strangers house. We know the loneliness and heartache of not being able to see your parent. We know the rejoicing of a family reunion.

It’s a couple nights of figuring out who sleeps where. A couple days of playtime. A few meals directed by their preferences. Even though it’s only a couple days, we’re still anxious. It’s been spinning around in my head. We’ve cleaned the house and keep asking each other if we’ve done all the things. “They need a bed and food. I think we’re good.” There’s a heightened sense of life in this house. Tomorrow will be a day that matters.

I’ve heard it mentioned lately that if you’re not doing something that makes you uncomfortable, then you’re not living life to the fullest. Foster care fits that mold, but there can be periods of downtime between placements. I can almost physically feel weighted down because in that time, I don’t have something forcing me to stand up straight. When you are faced with something uncomfortable, you rise to the occasion. Even if it’s a mental situation, you physically adjust your posture, breathing, alertness, consciousness.

So then going to period of not being challenged, it’s like gaining weight and feeling lethargic. I can see how it might even send someone spiraling down into despair, simply by not having to rise to the occasion. Companies with poor employee engagement are a result of not providing challenging work or a sense of accomplishment.

Your challenge doesn’t need to be monumental. Foster care is not everyone’s cup of tea. Incremental action has the same effect (think of the eating an elephant one bite at a time adage). But the downtime is why I found myself getting involved in community organizations over the years. I needed something to keep my hands busy. One of the monthly health challenges at work was to simply show kindness every day. Imagine starting your day, and rather than “ugh I hope traffic isn’t the worst”, instead having the thought “I need to find an opportunity to be kind.”

How have you challenged yourself as a Christian? Not included: having your phone prompt you a verse to read every morning. But have you talked about your faith to someone outside of your church. “Oh I wouldn’t want to impose. That would be…”  what? Uncomfortable? Exactly.

It doesn’t have to be that exact thing. You be you. But answer honestly if you have challenged yourself in any way that feels uncomfortable. What is one thing that you can do tomorrow for yourself, your job, your family, your future, your neighbors, or strangers that might make a positive difference. Can you plan to do it? Can you follow through on this one goal? If so, then you will wake up knowing the feeling that today’s event will change your life forever. Today will be a day that matters.