In the Practice of Service

Our church participates with Room In The Inn, a program which buses homeless from downtown to local churches to give them a dinner, shower, and warm place to sleep during the winter months. We saw there were open spaces for volunteers on Christmas night, for men to stay the night as Innkeepers and for anyone to help in the kitchen. Lately, we had started to notice situations where our kids and foster kids were showing selfish or entitled attitudes. (I know… kids being a little selfish sometimes. Crazy, right?!?!) And they were a little too confident of the big presents they *might* get for Christmas.

So we signed our family up to help with Room In The Inn for Christmas night. We did it for two reasons. It’s definitely not because we’re simply wonderful people; every bone in my body would rather be at home enjoying the lavish presents I just got this morning. But if we’re going to claim that we are Jesus followers, and as such are to treat other people as we want to be treated, there should be some evidence to the fact.

The second reason was to give the kids an opportunity to serve. It seemed even more appropriate to bookend the getting of presents in the morning with the giving of food at night. What I didn’t want was to bring them in just to gawk at homeless men and say “look at these poor people on Christmas night!” Cause it’s not like that. Talking to these men, you’ll quickly find out that the stories are all over the place. Not everyone is in a helpless, hopeless situation. They more or less may just need shelter tonight. Ironically, I could tell the story of our foster kids to most of them, and they’d be the ones having pity on our kids instead.

What I want for our kids is to be in the practice of service. Service isn’t to be done because the recipient deserves it. It isn’t to be done only if you are emotionally beaten into submission. Service is a practice, a mindset, a lifestyle.

I know they wouldn’t necessarily enjoy doing this. I didn’t want this to make them feel guilty about the presents they got. And I hope they don’t resent us for forcing them here. If it all works out like I’d want it to, serving will become second-nature for them, and tonight was just practice.

The heart of giving is in the act itself. Of course, most everyone who gives willingly says that you feel more blessed than being the recipient. And of course, the recipient is blessed by what was given. But the beauty is in the action of service. I’ve heard the economy explained in a similar way. There’s not a finite amount of money, like a pie, and if someone has a bigger slice it leaves less for others. Instead it has the ability to expand with both the earning and spending of money.

Giving is the same. We’ve seen stories of people with the smallest amount, still being willing to give even in their meager situation. The economy of service grows in the receiving and giving.

The smallest acts can make the biggest of differences. One of the men tonight asked if Tom still volunteered here. I knew exactly who he was talking about. He said 20 years ago, Tom struck up a conversation with him in a store and got him a good job with the Parks Dept. He hadn’t forgotten it to this day. I went on for five minutes about all the other good things that I knew Tom does and has done for people.

Earlier my wife mentioned reading about how some have a Christmas Eve tradition to go to a restaurant and leave an astronomical tip. I remember delivering pizzas during December, really hoping for generous tips to make the holiday season a little easier. Now we’re in more of a position to be the tipper. And that’s fun!

And in telling those two stories, (Tom helping a guy find a job and leaving big tips), I see a significant difference between serving and giving. An act of service is on a different playing field than blind giving, especially anything above basic needs. Most of the men taking shelter tonight are familiar with the routine of getting a meal and a bed. Many are down and asleep as soon as they’re done eating. Tonight one man mentioned a tooth ache, and one of the kitchen helpers made him a cup of warm salt water and found some medicine to help alleviate the pain. The giving is appreciated but soon forgotten, but the serving will leave a lasting connection.

The more I acquire in life, the more I realize I don’t need all this stuff. We spend years trying to get all the things, then they quickly lose their appeal. Scarcity drives desire.

Fortunately for us, the foster care system provides a stipend that takes care of the kids’ needs. But what we appreciate the most are acts of service. A night of babysitting. Grandma being able to pick up the kids from school when they’re sick. Childcare at church, especially when we had toddlers last year. Bringing a meal, so we wouldn’t have to worry about dinner on busy days. Those acts of service take more effort and intention than a tangible gift, but they mean so much more. (Although, who’s really going to turn down a gift card?)

Receiving shouldn’t be expected, but giving seems to be reciprocal. I remember so many times people served us in unexpected and generous ways. Like when we were living in Florida out of college, ignorantly trying to make it on our own, a number of people gifted me with odd jobs. As lame as a worker as I was, I’ll never forget all those opportunities.

The main reason I serve now, is because I’m “returning the favor” by passing it on to others. It’s influential to serve (watch any number of commercials copying the pay it forward concept). There is more to be had the more that’s given.

On Christmas night, it’s not lost on me the luxury of being able to choose to be in this smelly old gym instead of at home with my family, surrounded by a choir of snoring men who didn’t have that choice. I’m also not ignorant enough to think that many may be here tonight because of poor choices they’ve made. And at the same time, I’d guess they’ve had so many things happen TO them, that had the same happen to me, I’d be exactly where they are. But good grief, it’s Christmas and they’re here. That hurts. I mourn all the events they’ve endured leading up to having to be here on Christmas.

So people in churches all over the city are serving tonight, because they all recognize they too have been recipients of great gifts.

Giving isn’t only for those who deserve it. The beauty of serving is not found in the outcome or the reason. The beauty of serving is found in the service itself.

“For God so loved the world that He gave…”

“Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…”

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…”

So in response to a good Christmas, first look back and acknowledge the times others have served you this past year, then find an opportunity to serve. Start by looking at the people around you. Do something little. Something helpful. Time. Attention. Support. Validation. Encouragement. And of course, babysitting. The opportunities are always there.

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.

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.

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.

Parenting is Hard

“Adulting is hard.”

No. Shut up. Parenting is hard. Adulting is nothing. Nothing, I say!

I’ve been an adult without kids AND without money, or any prospects. Still, it was nothing compared to this madhouse. I’ll concede adulting without kids can have it’s tense moments. We were living in Florida by the beach during most of that time – (it’s already sounding better). Did you have a bad day? Things not going great? Someone yelled at you at work? You can just…. leave. Just like that. “I need to get out. Let’s go to the beach.” And you go. Gone. Like a boss.

But now we’re parents. During our last vacation, we stayed at a VRBO house a few blocks from the shoreline. I had visions of using the bicycles provided and cruising down to the water whenever we felt like it. But where does the baby ride? Can one backpack hold all the sunscreen, snacks, diapers, hats, toys, towels? What if our daughter freaks out at the big street and refuses to cross? We managed to get in one short bike ride to a park by one of us driving there and the other riding a bike. Then swapping on the way back. Basically the same thing, right?

In our first years back in Nashville, there would be a random Tuesday night where my wife would say something like, “I’ve been wanting to go to the mall for a jacket.” Or whatever. And we’d go. Across town! With a strong probability that we’ll spend all this time and walk away with nothing besides a coffee. And it’s totally cool.

But now we’re parents. Last night at 7pm we debated whether we could make it to Walmart and back for a few school supplies, but quick enough for bedtime. And without losing our minds. It’s literally the closest store to our house, only a few minutes away. And we really don’t know if this is going to work out or not. (Especially challenging since we have two foster kids with us now. They’re not any worse, it’s just all the issues of one child – times four.) We go.

Obstacle 1: Sharing. We decide not to use the new handheld scanners because that’s asking for an argument on who gets to hold it. Result: success.

Obstacle 2: Right inside the door – Halloween costumes are out. I say, “If we have time, we’ll take a stroll through on our way out.” The children seem pleased with this compromise. Result: deferred.

Obstacle 3: Opinions on school supplies. It’s just a sticky notepad. We don’t need tears cause you wanted purple. So I take the older kids to walk around while she takes the baby and gets the list. Result: success (point deducted for baby whining when we all walked away).

Obstacle 4: Potty. OK. We’re all going. I don’t care if you don’t need to. Girls together. I take the boy. The stalls are occupied. And will be. No one’s moving. Like a standoff. There’s another restroom in the back of the store. Result: deferred.

Obstacle 5: Walking through the entire store. My plan is speed. If I walk fast enough (and they follow) we can avoid all the eye candy. Everything is eye candy. Everything is touchable. And we’re off! Weaving in and out of aisles and racks. Going off course to avoid having to stop at all. I can hear “Look at this!” sounds in the distance, but I will not be deterred. Result: success.

Obstacle 6: The family restroom lock doesn’t work. I choose to guard the door while sending the girls within eye-sight to the electronics section. Things like cameras and tablets are usually locked down, so we should be safe. Result: success (point deducted for not washing hands).

Obstacle 7: Confidence. This was probably my fault. We’ve been here for 20 minutes without a meltdown or argument, so our walk back to the front was much slower. I get back to the wife, and I’ve lost a kid. Eye candy! He got stuck in the toy aisle. Not far away and he already looked scared like he was in trouble. I’ll take it. Result: success (point deducted for losing a child).

Obstacle 8: Clear instructions. So as I promised, I’ll let them browse the costumes. I sent them ahead to kill time. But I didn’t clarify what the word “browse” does and doesn’t mean. We finish the school supplies and stroll back. By the time we make it, the boy has found a knight costume and he’s in full regalia, battle ax in hand. Result: fail.

We checkout and everyone gets a bag to carry. We make it to the car and home in a reasonable amount of time. All in all I’d give us a B+.

If it really was just parenting, that would be fine. You do homework, you play, you snack, you go to bed. But it’s doing homework while the baby is throwing his food he refuses to eat. Food he loved last week. It’s snack time, but they all want a different snack and I’m trying to sort through bills and remember to email the teacher. It’s playtime, but having to be referee and negotiator when “I called it first!” while prepping dinner. Or it’s bedtime and the baby is not sleepy and the other needs a drink of water, and has to use the bathroom, and didn’t get a hug, and had a bad dream. You haven’t been in there long enough to have a dream!

See, it’s not the parenting part alone, it’s household management. This should be a degree in college. Get an MHM Degree. Masters in Household Management. If this was actually a class, I might be interested. I admire the ones who seem to have this mastered.

BUT – and it’s a big BUT (a line they would laugh at) – the fact they would laugh makes it all worth it. It’s the giggles and sweet moments. The thank you’s that surprise you. The fact that parents remember being frustrated at the playground, but all the kids remember is it had a pirate ship and so they play pirates for the next three days.

Most parents needs validation from time to time that what you’re doing is hard. I catch myself trying to talk about my hard day to someone and it all sounds superficial and petty. “Really? You had to make cookies and do bath time after Wednesday night church? Wow. That must be so hard.” But it is! Stress is stress, whether you’re meeting a deadline at work or it’s the second dish to be broken this week.

My advice to myself: Take a breath. Keep perspective. Don’t make the little things into big things. Soak up the good times. Put everyone to bed happy, including yourself, and give yourself grace if tonight it didn’t happen. Remember your principles. Take time for yourself. Be thankful in all things.

It’s worth it. Parenting is hard. And you’re doing great.

Dad Revelations: Comfort

There is nothing sweeter than the weight of a sleeping baby on your chest. This little soul has enough faith in you to hold and protect them during their most vulnerable, unconscious position. Of course, they don’t quite give it that much thought. But in reality, if a baby doesn’t know you or like you, chances are you’re not getting a nap out of them easily.

Almost every night I take my toddler boy through the bedtime routine. The same daily routine we’ve done for the past two years. I’m not bending over backwards by taking on this baby-duty, because (shhh!) it’s really one of the better jobs. Tickle time while we put on pajamas, relax in a rocking chair while he drinks milk, then snuggle (and burp) for a few minutes before he lays down. During that last stage, he knows exactly where he likes his head on my chest. Not to the left, but to the right. Just below the collar bone. His hands are either wrapped around me, mimicking my pats and rubs, or, when he’s really tired, tucked underneath him.

He is completely and totally at peace in the arms of his father whom he knows and trusts with every aspect of his life.


The other day my daughter fell off her scooter and took a nasty slide on the pavement. She came hobbling to me and when I saw her face, I knew something was wrong. There’s a difference (sometimes only parents can detect) between a fake-sad face and real-sad face. This was real. And boy was it. A bloody mess from chin to knees. And she came to… me. Of course, there weren’t too many options at the time. But if we were at the church playground with hundreds of people she loves, she would still call out for her dad. And I would sympathetically take care of every last scratch and bruise. I give her a drink of water to interrupt the constant cries. I hold her and breathe with her until she’s relaxed. Maybe even a silly joke to crack a smile.

She is completely and totally at peace in the arms of her father whom she knows and trusts with every aspect of her life.


We were talking not long ago about how sometimes poor people can be financially stuck in their situation. Without a safety net of relatives to help, and not necessarily the skills to get a job worth the time away. I have a hard time relating to that situation. I was given enough tools growing up that my job prospects are pretty strong. And I can walk from stage to stage in life knowing that at the very worst of situations, if it all came crashing down, I have my dad who will be there for me. He’s not the type to bail me out of a hole I dig myself. He doesn’t shy away from telling me what I should or should not do. But in most cases, I know that he has a room for me to stay in or a check to cover the cost. I know they would take care of my kids for a short or long term. I can live my life in full confidence that I’ll eventually be fine if the worst should happen.

I am completely and totally at peace in the arms of my father whom I know and trust with every aspect of my life.


Many of us who have strong families probably take for granted having a father in our lives. If asked, we would give a hearty reply about how much we appreciate him, but most days we float on the success that was being built before we were born. Maybe we should thank him from time to time.

Even more so, we take for granted the advantages of a Heavenly Father. It would be good practice to be in constant communication with Him to thank Him and remind ourselves of the great things we have been graciously given.

But there’s an opportunity for an even deeper communication. We could be thankful to Him like we would be a King who grants favor to His subjects. But more than just a king, there’s a relationship available. One that He longs for. In the same way that I have full confidence in my dad to cover my mistakes, I want to live without regret. In the same way that my daughter comes to me when she hurts, I want Him to be the first place I turn. In the same way my son knows just where to lay his head so he’s as comfortable as with any pillow, I want to feel that at ease.

Relationship requires time, and conversation, and living life together. It’s not simply a decision. Trust is built and becomes stronger. It begins when we recognize what’s He’s already done. We look back on our lives and see how He’s brought us to this point. We learn to trust in Him in the good and bad times.

In the toughest of situations, we are able to let out a sigh of relief knowing that we’re covered. When we need to rest, we search out our Father to help us relax. We live our lives in full confidence that He’s got this.

We are completely and totally at peace in the arms of our Father whom we know and trust with every aspect of our lives.

Date Nights: April

DATE NIGHT 1:

For Christmas, my in-laws got us a creative present: Date Nights for the entire year. They recently moved close to us to be near the grandkids. My wife and I are getting to the age where a new shirt for Christmas is a bit cliche, and date nights are hard to come by. So this was perfect. The present came with a few instructions:

  • 2 Dates a month and Grandma/Grandpa will watch the kids
  • You must go someplace that interests both
  • It must not be a movie, but someplace where you can talk
  • Talk to/about each other. Not Kids or Work.
  • Plan and talk about future dreams and plans
  • Talk about any “elephants in the room”; irritations
  • Enjoy this time together. Begin and End in prayer.

Initially, I thought this was the best gift we could’ve been given. Then after looking over the list, we were both a little miffed at some of the rules. We talk all the time. I’m not the quietest person, to begin with, and my wife has no qualms about being talkative. We discuss plans and dreams often. And going to a movie sounds fantastic! We don’t go to movies mostly because of cost. $Movie + $Babysitter + $Dinner/Popcorn, you’re looking at 100 bucks!

Work and kids happen to consume our lives, so I get that one. This is probably a healthy rule, but difficult to tackle. And my wife was not happy about the idea of me bringing a binder of categorized irritations to the table. <– Her words.

The week of Date Night #1 started off poorly. I was busy and distracted trying to tackle the too-many volunteer responsibilities, while she was trying to narrow down the list of restaurants we hadn’t tried. It ended up being a good practice of working through a problem. She was holding in a gripe of me working too long and I was ignoring her. That worked itself out. She told me her frustrations, I told her everything I was trying to accomplish so she wouldn’t think I was simply not caring, and we took the time to listen and work out our plans. Yay, compromise! Kicked the Elephant out before the date even began.

We decided on a nice restaurant about an hour away, plenty of driving/talking time. Totally talked about kids and work. Oh well. We talked about the fact that we already talk about dreams and plans. Felt like grown-ups again. Not just faking it grown-ups. I mean, we’re mid-30s now; do all grown-ups feel like they’re faking it?

The food was fantastic. But I still don’t see how people can spend that much on food on a regular basis. One observation I had might be good advice for guys, so ladies skip this part:

Guys: We get seated at our table, the waitress walks up and apparently without any shame is completely busting out of her low cut top. I’m not one make a big deal out of other people’s appearances, but this was a bit obvious. A wrong move here could ruin a date night for some guys. But my wife’s not like that, and neither am I. Jealousy should not be felt or perceived. So I kept my eyes on the menu, then when she left I talked about the new elephant that just walked into the room.
“Is it just me, or is that not appropriate for this restaurant?”
She replied with a snarky, “Oh, you know it’s for the tips! Pretty expensive restaurant, guys with too much money bring their wives and get a little extra eye-candy.”
I replied, “I just don’t know how someone could be comfortable like that.”
“It’s totally on purpose.”
And that was that.

I wholeheartedly believe that you can be satisfied completely with your wife as long as you are focused only on her. Make sure that she knows that you only have eyes for her. And in doing that, satisfied becomes fulfilled. Make sure she knows that you think she is beautiful, don’t just assume. Fulfilled becomes overflowing.

I failed to take the time to pray. I feel bad about that. We talked about church and religion at points. But my guess is experience and wisdom encouraged my in-laws to include prayer as a rule. Next time…

 

DATE NIGHT 2

Talk about high expectations; Date Night 2 was on our 15th Anniversary. For our 5th anniversary, we went to San Francisco (Heather was about 4 months pregnant). Our 10th was on a Carribean cruise. How do you follow that? By using a gift card you got for Christmas and getting a steak dinner.

It was also the week before the biggest night of the year for her work, a fundraising event that she plans. Fortunately, nothing too crazy was going on so there were no pain-points distracting us from having an enjoyable evening.

We had not been to this local restaurant before (because we’re both quite frugal when it comes to eating). So this felt like a splurge, even though it’s a fairly common establishment for many. Appetizer good, salad good, steaks delicious. Friends of ours happened to be seated right next to us. In this case, that was fun. With going to restaurants with others, there are three camps: people you know you don’t want to be seated next to, people who you don’t mind, people you would go out with. This, fortunately, happened to be the latter.

Now that we totally topped that lame cruise with a steak dinner, how do we make it even better? With a trip to Target, of course! We needed diapers. My parents sent us a little cash as a present, so we bought nice bedsheets, too. Sigh….. #adulting

The thing is, being an adult when you are an adult, isn’t so bad. Are there experiences that are more exciting and entertaining? Of course. But in the same way your dad says, “I don’t need anything for my birthday, just want to have my kids around,” the exciting events will come and go, having an enjoyable night with my wife is really all I need.

We ended in prayer where I told God I was eternally grateful for giving me a friend to spend my life with and wouldn’t want to imagine it any other way.

Taylor, for your wedding

Taylor,

The highest honor I have ever been afforded was to baptize you when you gave your life to Christ. One of my greatest privileges will be to see you give your hand in marriage. I am thrilled for you. You have had a special place in my heart all these years. You’re constantly on my mind and in my prayers. So it’s a huge comfort to know you have found the perfect man for you.

Marriage advice is not hard to find. But the greatest way to learn is through experience: failures and victories, stumbles and success. Rarely are words worth more than the paper they’re written on, but maybe it won’t hurt for me to try anyway. Distance has kept us from having regular conversations, otherwise, most of this would’ve already been spoken. Still, I’d like to give my perspective of marriage, as much as 14 years experience has given me, and hopefully, it inspires your relationship.

The major benefit/blessing to marriage is companionship. It may even be the entire purpose God intended. To know someone will be home when I get there; to have someone to drive to the store with, sit next to at church, to walk beside, to watch TV beside, to watch the sunset beside, to sit together comfortably in silence, to have so much to say to each other there’s not enough time in the day for it. It’s like having money in the bank at all times. In the worst of circumstances, I know in the back of my mind that I have her.

There’s no secret to making a marriage last; you just do it. The fact you dated means you like each other; step one. Now what? Commitment. Both sides. If both are truly committed, there’s nothing short of dying that could tear you away. I remember before we were even engaged, Heather pretty much threatened me with an “end it now or never” agreement. I happily obliged to stay. I don’t remember our wedding vows verbatim, but I know them in summary: I’m committed to her forever. And I have a ring I never take off that’s a reminder to me and symbol to everyone else of that promise.

Sure promises can be broken. Too many marriages have failed. You have to be intentionally and perpetually committed. Every morning, every night, after every fight, and every blissful moment. We saw too many couples split up; surprisingly many were friends of ours in the first few years after we were married. After every instance, Heather grabs my hand and sincerely asks, “are we good?” Sometimes I mess with her and say “depends on what’s for dinner.” (not advisable). Most of the time I know she’s serious then reassure her “we’re good.”

Learn how to fight. Disagreements will happen. You put two people together for that amount of time, someone’s going to disagree with the temperature of the room or how to handle money. So when it happens, it’s best to know how to deal with it. Understand how the other one handles an argument. It’s possible one wants to talk it out and the other needs to cool off first. Some say more than they mean, some say nothing and keep it inside. Don’t manipulate. Ask for advice if needed, but don’t speak ill of each other (even jokingly). Compromise. Be open and honest. Honest: don’t say things you don’t mean, do say the things you should.

Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. It keeps you going. Actually, it seems to center you back to where you belong. It reminds you of the dating days. Life will get mundane at times and laughing is the spark that recalls all the reasons you’re in this relationship. It makes you sigh with relief. In marriage, it’s a smile not just at the moment, but for the life you’re living.

Need each other. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit you need, but a humble awareness that together you’re stronger, better. Both of you have strengths and weaknesses that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle; two pieces that don’t fit or belong anywhere else. And if you have children in the future, may they be an extension of the strong relationship you’ve already created.

Build each other up. Enjoy life together. Be on the same page. Don’t expect too much. Have each other’s interests in mind. Surprise. Delight. Enjoy. Never take it for granted. Put God first. Love down to your core. Love to the point words can’t describe it.

Enjoy your wedding day and every day after. Marriage is the best. May yours feel like a dream come true, and every day you pinch yourself knowing yours is the kind to thrive for a lifetime.