Food and Music Therapy

Currently, our foster kids are 13 and 11 years old. For an extended weekend, my wife volunteered to watch their half-siblings, both toddlers, to give their grandmother a break. My wife may whine a little in the midst of it all, but she has the biggest heart of anyone I know. See, for the rest of us, our selfishness hushes our heart before we get too attached. Her heart beats the living daylight out of any selfishness before she realizes that we’re now watching six kids for five days.

We suddenly realize that we may have an opportunity to let all four kids see their mom (whom we absolutely love) for the first time since last Spring. So we make plans on Saturday for her to take them and I will stay with our two kids.

I decide to do something different for lunch, since it’s now only three of us, and go to a new Japanese restaurant. Before getting settled in, my wife calls and tells me that the place “didn’t have the records”, didn’t really care to try, and left them no option but to leave disappointed. So now my wife’s just pleaded and balled her eyes out in front of strangers, the older kids are upset and confused, the younger ones are tired and hungry.

“Come meet me at this restaurant,” I say.

I get the waitress to get us a big table: 2 adults, 3 big kids, 2 little kids, 1 baby. I order a variety of plates and one sampling of sushi, just for the fun of it. Everything is being served just as they walk in. The restaurant is mostly empty, dimly lit, and quiet.

I can see the distress on their faces turn slowly to relief with every dish of rice, chicken, and soup. We divide everything up. “Can I try that!?” “Can I have more?” 

Then comes the sushi. Almost everyone tries the California Roll. Three of us eat the raw fish.

It was weird, and yummy, and fun.


As if that wasn’t enough for a weekend, the next day I had to drive the little siblings back to their family. The four of them have been like Velcro on each other for five days, and now it was time to separate the pieces. We meet in a parking lot and transfer bags and car seats. They’re about to leave and I try to get the older boy to come out and give hugs when I realize he isn’t because he’s trying to hold back his tears. 

The first few minutes of the drive back he was sobbing into his hands. The girl is stronger than all of us put together; she’ll hold it all in and put on a good face for her younger brother. 

I put on a CD of what is probably our favorite album from our favorite band, “Indian Summer” by Carbon Leaf. Track after track of good, catchy, poetic songs. No one was talking so I turn it up loud and let the music fill the lonely, empty air. I can sense them starting to get in to it a little. Heads bobbing. Humming. Drumming. 

Some of their songs have a melancholy tone. The sentimentality doesn’t allow you to listen without thinking. Then comes the best one with the repeated line “When all of your tears dry, let your troubles roll by…” Over and over and over again. Not like a nagging voice, but like a mother rubbing your back to calm you down. I’ve heard that song a thousand times and never cried. But I hear him sniffle. Then I hear her sniffle. Then I sniffle.

And by the time we make it home, the tight chest-pain of sadness had been released with a deep breath.  


Life is busy and noisy. Too busy to sit at a table without distractions. Too noisy to let an entire album play and soak it in. Too often we forget how to recenter and refocus. I, for one, am thankful that in a weekend of really heavy events, which is just a snapshot of a really heavy year, we were able to come out on the other side. Heads up, eyes dry, arms around each other.

If the world could use anything right now, I think it should be:

meals around a big table with the ones you love

and good music

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dad Revelations: Sing Anyway

At work, I was asked to do a voice-over for an instructional video, so I had been using a recorder app on my phone to practice and playback. On the ride home, I was singing along to something on Country radio. Now, when the mood is right, and the weather is right, and the song is just right, there’s nothing better than singing along on a car ride. It was one of those songs that just felt good to sing. Out of pure curiosity, I wondered if it sounded as pleasant recorded on my phone. So I quickly tapped the record icon and let it go.

I should’ve let it go when I had the idea to record. I crossed the point of no return, when you can’t un-hear something you’ve heard. Listening to the playback, I certainly didn’t decide to turn around and head to Music Row. Let’s just say, it wasn’t good.

It was a bit of a hit to my ego. In general, I know I sing fine. I was in chorus, I lead singing at church, I know a bit of music theory. I’m like 3rd-place-karaoke-contest kind of good. Maybe it was just the phone’s poor sound quality… yeah, that’s it.

But I love to sing, especially the ones that feel like they’re just right in your zone. Like it physically feels good to sing it loud. In college, on the 3-hour ride back to school after a weekend away, I would wear my voice out and be hoarse the next day. “OOOOOHHH We’re half way there, OOOOHHHH OHH, LIVIN ON A PRAYER!”‘

So what? So the recording sounded bad? What’s the big deal? It wasn’t FOR anyone else. I most definitely didn’t post it to the public. It doesn’t change the fact that I enjoy singing.

My daughter, as wonderful as she is, didn’t inherit a natural gift of music like I thought she would, having two fairly musical parents. We taught her how to clap on beat (which she’s got now) and get her to keep climbing up to the note when she’s not quite hitting it. But she loves to sing. And she’s so honest and sincere when she does. It’s the sweetest thing to watch and hear.

My toddler has picked up on music. He finishes the lines to “Wheels on the Bus” and “Jesus Loves Me.” He dances when it feels right. He claps along. He sings to himself when no one’s bothering him, completely incoherent words. It’s the sweetest thing to watch and hear.

Surely God looks at us the same way and appreciates sincere hearts. Time after time He acknowledges people with an honest and clear conscience, e.g. the giving widow, the Centurian; and in some cases punished those who did not, i.e. Ananias and Sapphira. More often than not, quality isn’t the top priority. In parables like the Good Samaritan, He purposefully takes the unexpected, to prove that He’s more concerned with the heart of the matter.

It’s the same reason why you will sit through your child’s elementary school concert, with a dumb smile slapped on your face, trying to get a clear shot with a camera, but never in a million years would you want to go to a different, random school to watch their concert. If you see your kid get a base hit in little league, you will lose your ever-lovin’ mind, and scream and cheer – a bigger reaction than any other game you watch this year. Why? Because it’s your child. Their success, happiness, or achievement means more than any of your own. Their acts of kindness or selflessness gives you a sense pride you wouldn’t feel about yourself or anyone else.

God loves us the same. And when we sing, the quality is secondary to the heart. I believe the heart will cause us to want to improve the quality as well; they’re not mutually exclusive. When we give a drink of water to someone thirsty, your Father is in the audience with a camera. When we swallow spiteful remark and choose to be gracious, your Dad is in the stands with a smile and a puffed up chest. When we love others they way God has loved us, He says “well done, good and faithful servant.”

Be less concerned about the tone of your voice, or if someone is watching or listening or judging. Sing anyway.

Dad Revelations: Stepping In

How many times have you done something stupid and would have been OK if God had just stepped in and stopped you from doing it?

The other night my daughter wanted to tackle homework all on her own. She didn’t even want us to know that she was going to do it. She told me to just let her “take some notes,” as in “leave me alone so I can get my homework done.” I caught on pretty quickly. But knowing my daughter and her inability to stay on task, a trait she lovingly got passed down from her father, I figured it was only a matter of time before I needed to step in. Bedtime was quickly approaching, but I wanted to give her space.

At the same time, our 8-month old baby is pulling up on everything. He’s just getting started, so obviously this is not a graceful act. The trouble usually happens when he gets slightly distracted, or so focused on one object that he misses his mark and bumps his mouth. From his level, the dining room chairs and coffee table are like a jungle gym. The only problem is that he’s still a Bobblehead. One curious turn of the head and we have a busted noggin’ against the chair leg.

With the baby, I step in and protect him at every possible moment. Of course, I do. He’s helpless. He doesn’t know better. And then, obviously, as he grows up I will begin treating him as I do his older sister. Loosening the reins as time passes. I step in when I need to, but at the same time continue to give her space to learn and grow. Especially when she’s demanding it…

This particular event with my daughter was over math homework. Her task was to subtract minutes across the hour break using a clock dial. What’s 30 minutes before 1:10pm? Now, I could point to the answer in a second, and explain the ‘why’ in a minute. But she’s reading, and thinking, and trying to find a relevant video, and getting a drink of water, and using the bathroom, “Um..Babygirl? I thought you were doing your homew… taking some notes?” Sure enough, it became late enough that I had to step in, and after a minute of pouting then redirecting, we finally got it finished.

Someday, she may be where I find myself, sitting at work and trying to stay focused, wishing she had someone reminding her to stay on task. Someday she’s going to get unreasonably angry in traffic, wishing she had someone to calm her down. Someday she may wonder why God isn’t stepping in to stop her from doing something stupid.

I honestly don’t know how much God steps in our lives. It might be more than I realize. Less than I’d like it to be? I’m not sure how all that works. But I can see the benefit in consequences. Ohhhhhhhhh I hate to say that. But isn’t it true? There are some life lessons you can only learn by experiencing them. My poor baby boy will soon stop pounding his head when he sits up underneath the piano bench. My daughter may, possibly, hopefully, someday realize that it’s better to go ahead and finish her meal even if it’s not her favorite. Someday I might realize that it’s not worth it to hit the snooze over and over again.

I try to be an example. I try to give her reminders. I tell her stories and take advantage of life lessons that are happening right in front of us. I will be there for her when she needs me.

God gave us Jesus as an example. There’s a collection of stories, accounts, and letters in the form of the Bible to be a reminder. We have the church to share life with and learn from each other. God is always there when I need Him (rather, He’s there whether I think I need Him or not).

My wife gave me a print of this cartoon for Christmas, from a cartoonist she knew in high school. Sums up this whole thought pretty well:

Make Good Choice - Wes Molebash

Yep, I think I finally understand how God feels about us.

Dad Revelations: Giving

We just got back from vacation to the “happiest place on earth,” Disney World. My daughter is 8 years old; prime age for princesses, magic, all the rides, all the stores, everything! She’s a great kid, very polite and understanding. She gets all giddy-excited at the sight of anything remotely fun. From a dad’s perspective, it’s perfect. I don’t dread it. I’m happy because she’s happy.

When you become a parent, you instinctively care more about your child’s happiness than your own. And you’re OK with it! Their happiness IS your happiness. You want to give them things that make them happy. And being at Disney, I want to give her EVERYTHING!

I’m also cheap, so the temptation doesn’t last long. We watched the parade at night where all the floats are lit up in dramatic neon fashion. Of course five minutes before the parade, vendors are walking through the crowds selling glowsticks and light-up toys. She wanted one and we said “no.” The parade was entertaining enough, but I knew she would love a glowstick, and it stung to see her disappointed face.

The next day at the park, our second and final day, I see a vendor with balloons for sale. And I just had to. To give her that surprise/gasp/squeal moment. To give her a token of appreciation for being so good the past two days. To show her love. To make her happy.

I wonder if money wasn’t a factor, if this would be harder or easier. I use the bank account as the reason for not giving her things, whether it’s the main excuse or not. The other reason is to not spoil her, to prepare her for the life lesson that you don’t always get what you want. I really don’t like being the one to have to teach her that lesson. I guess that’s the benefit of being a grandparent, giving without restrictions.

After Disney we went to the beach for a couple days to intentionally relax. We’re done with the kid thing, the beach is the grownup thing, right? If you ask her which was more fun, she would say Disney. But I know better.

My girl was born with sand in her toes. After a hesitant start when we arrived (feeling safe in the water and getting comfortable in the sand) she was a free spirit. The kind that is unfettered, fluid, imaginative. She fluttered like a butterfly from her sand castle, to the the water with her buckets, to looking for shells, to just running cause it feels good to run. She didn’t know she was having a good time. She wasn’t expected to or told this was going to be fun. It was completely natural… and I knew it. Nothing could draw my attention away from watching her. I knew I could give her the beach, and it would be the best present. That balloon stayed back in the hotel room, forgotten.

————–

I bet God wants to give us all the things. But as a father He knows what’s better for us than we do. We ask for Disney, balloons, glowsticks, money, no traffic, our team to win, stuff. Maybe He allows us to have those things sometimes. But He gives us the beach, if we’ll take the time to notice. He gives us leaves changing colors, music, family, worship, love, hope. Then… we stop to enjoy those gifts, unfettered from the mundane. He watches, and is satisfied in seeing us stumble into true happiness. And we thought we wanted glowsticks.

Dad Revelations: Cheater

The other morning just as we’re about to leave for school, my wife is getting my daughter’s backpack ready. We hadn’t looked at it over the weekend because it was her birthday, grandparents where in town, and… whatever… just didn’t get to it. Good thing though, because she pulled out a graded spelling test and in big scary red ink was the number “0” and the word “CHEAT.”

My first thought, honestly, was an instinctive reaction as if it was my paper and I was busted by my parents. Fear and trembling. Cold sweat. They’ll kill me or worse. Oh wait.

It’s not mine. YAY!

But I’m the parent now. Boo.

“Don’t freak out,” I tell myself. My wife wisely tells me to not address this now; we’ll talk after school. But silly me can’t not talk.

We drive to school and instead I ask her about the topic in general. “Do you know what cheating is? What does the teacher think?” She’s just now 8 years old. She understands the general concept of cheating, but more in the case of “cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater” when another kid cuts a corner in a race around the playground. Her explanation to me was that her study notes were in her desk and she was stuck on the biggest word, “frightening.” More of a curiosity thing than a heinous crime. Motive carries a little weight, but still… technically wrong.

The tables have been turned, and suddenly (for once in my life) I wasn’t the one who did wrong. I’m not in trouble! But obligated to do something here as a parent. I created this pretty little independent person and am responsible to give her life-lessons, discipline, goals. Parenting is hard. I think I’d rather be the kid, take the punishment and go play than be the one to figure out how to deal with this as a father. I’m sad, embarrassed, disappointed, and frustrated that I can’t just force her do what I know she should.

Forgive me for seeing the obvious God/human parallel here. He’s got to be so frustrated with us. Especially Christians who have said to God that we will follow Him, do what He asked us to do, but manage to screw it up – daily if not hourly. I wonder what God’s reaction is. Sad? Just a facepalm? Frustrated? Or does the All-knowing have the big picture in hand, sit back and patiently wait, hoping that the guidance He provided will be enough for us to make it through? This is where as a parent I can relate to the Israelite children and their back-n-forth drama. “We will follow the LORD! Hey, is that a golden calf? COOL!” Scary part is that overall I’ll simply put my parenting skills out there and hope for the best.

So what do I want out of my children?

I don’t expect them to be perfect. Impossible. Parenting is balancing act of forgiveness and consequences, all covered in love. Being perfect is not the goal.

I do want them to try. Judging on my initial reaction alone, I was less upset by the cheating paper than I was when she left most of the answers blank on another test. Imagine if every self-describing Christian lived an intentional life. Not a perfect life, just intentional. Purposefully trying to love God and love others.

I do want them to understand that not all rules are equal. If I have to yell at her to brush her teeth every.. single.. night.. for the rest of her time in this house, it will all be forgotten if at 18 she is still the same sweet, kind, sympathetic, friendly young woman, just like the 8 year old that I know now.

But… you still can’t cheat on your test when you’re 18 either.