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.


Mentoring Matters

After moving to Nashville, I kept trying to fill the void of knowing there’s something more I should be doing. I was restless with religion and church. We tried finding a church that fit us and switching a couple times over the years. I also jumped into the neighborhood association, donated blood on a regular basis, and we began foster care, among various other things. Of them all, foster care was the standout in what seemed to make a significant life-changing difference in someone’s life. Well, I suppose receiving blood when you have none could be pretty life-changing, too.

Around 2010-2012, there were a number of news stories about youth violence. This was about the time I stopped discussing politics on social media. Online arguing typically doesn’t make a positive difference in anyone’s life. I can’t learn empathy and awareness by simply holding on to my preconceived notions. Simply wishing these youth made better choices is about as effective as 13-year-old me wishing for a girlfriend to fall from the sky. Smugly saying that people deserve what they get and consequences are fair, certainly doesn’t help the innocent victims.

After seeing the stories, reading the stats, and hearing the cyclical nonsense of political mouths, I felt compelled to do something, specifically for male teens. But foster care wouldn’t do it since we agreed the kids would only be younger than our daughter who was then about 5.

At work, I had attended on two occasions a lunch-and-learn about Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), pretty much for the free lunch (read: only for the free lunch.) I loved the concept but knew I didn’t have the time. On top of standard life events, I had a second job delivering pizzas. It was wise to only use my limited free time with my family. But I liked the concept so much, I even organized an event for the speaker to give the same presentation for our neighborhood.

In our Bible class, my wife was saying she felt worried and helpless when it came to terrorism. A friend of ours was reflecting on a Mother Theresa quote “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Then said to take the biggest problem you can think of, what’s the smallest thing you can do about it. That concept has been a constant encouragement ever since.

About the same time, the non-profit my wife works at started counseling new fathers and I really wanted to do that, too. But besides the fact that my regular work schedule wouldn’t allow me, I don’t think I fit the mold for being either young-and-hip enough or old-and-wise enough. So one day we’re chatting online about it:

me: “that’s awesome, i wanna help with fatherhood stuff. just don’t know how”
her: “I’d say signing up for big brothers big sisters is a start. we have 2 male counselors that are available to us, but we haven’t used them for a while, lately. I want you to tell me about BB/BS later.”
“what about?”
“just ask you about it.”
“what about it? Is it serious? Do I need to ask HR about something?
“what? just talk. bc you’re my husband. and we talk.”
“I thought you had a question like where to deliver a baby.”
“huh? no. not Blue Cross Blue Shield… BBBS. Not insurance, big brothers.”
“ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh! my bad. I had HR on speed-dial. Thought we were having a baby.”

My wife then had that conversation with me and it kicked me in the butt, which is about the only time I do something out of my comfort zone. The second job had come to a close. I had a friend who had already signed up as a mentor and suggested I do it as well. So, I sent the initial email and got the ball rolling.

I was impressed with the process and how thorough BBBS was. They do not take this lightly. A couple meetings, a lengthy interview, then paperwork and references (ones they really do call), and a background check. They care about making this successful. Many of the kids they’re matching have undergone some kind of loss. Most are in single parent homes or living with relatives. They don’t want to get the kid’s hopes up and be let down again.

They asked what kind of kid I thought I would fit well with. My first hesitation. I feared I’d get a kid that wanted to do nothing but play rough sports. I don’t mind a game or two, but please don’t make me run more than I have to. So I said maybe a shy kid, one that likes computers and movies. After being approved, it took a couple months to find the right Little for me, and I think they made a great choice. We’ve now been matched for 3 years.

He’s a great kid with a caring mom. We’ve done a little bit of everything: movies, YMCA, cooking, disc golf, museums, work on cars, shopping, watch games on TV, go out to eat, we’ve seen just about every sports team in Nashville, he helped us move… oh yeah. There was moving….

BBBS asked in the interview process if you’re planning any big events in the next year with the concern that a major life event will distract you from being able to get together. Foster care was the only thing I had thought about, and we talked at length about that. Little did I know that I would end up with foster kids (twice), competing in multiple speech contests which ended with me traveling to Malaysia for the Semi-Finals, running and campaigning for a city council position, my wife getting pregnant, and moving houses, neighborhoods, and churches. All within the first year of me and my Little getting matched. And I remember my petty excuse for not getting involved earlier: not having enough time.

But it’s like we say with having foster kids, they just become part of your routine. Part of your family life. It’s another entry on your calendar. BBBS asks for 4-12 hours a month. My Little and I average a few hours every couple weeks. Honestly, if you have time for TV, you have time for this. Even if you don’t have a lot of “TV time”, you just incorporate them into your life. I see him on lunch breaks, late at night, on the way from here to there. It all works out.

I wish I had a miraculous, life-transformational story about being a mentor, but I don’t. He was a good kid before I came along. I just hope to be another good influence. Someone to help him experience new and different things. Maybe throw in a life-lesson once in a while. Something as simple as last night’s trip to the indoor trampoline park, where we spent most of our time playing dodgeball. It was obvious most kids were either skipping line to play or not leaving when they got out. Not a big deal, it’s just a silly game. But it was an opportunity to talk about honesty.

Maybe something like that sticks. Maybe there will be a big moment where I get a call from him to help make a big decision. Maybe we’ll just be friends. But that’s one kid who I won’t let slip through the cracks. If I ever see him on the news, it’ll be for a good reason. This is the small thing I can do with great love.

If we all did this one small thing, it would certainly be a great thing.

Andy Stanley and the Unforgiving Tweeters

Some Twitter Christians are handling this Andy Stanley apology very poorly, but it shows our typical unwillingness to truly forgive.

If you’re unfamiliar with the situation, Andy Stanley is a preacher who, in his weekly sermon video, appears to have gotten a little worked up about the topic, and made a jab at parents who take their children/teens to smaller churches. He calls them selfish for wanting to go a small church “where I know everybody,” instead of a larger place where they have enough teens for separate middle and high school groups.

His local church, North Point, has a huge network of congregations, and is one the largest, if not the largest, depending on how you count. Mega-churches are commonly the target for criticism, typically in an ignorant and stereotypical way about the faceless, vague idea of a “mega-church.” So, I’m sure he’s in the position of defending North Point’s size, methodology, and decisions quite often.

That’s not necessarily an excuse, but a possible perspective of where his head might have been. And the point of this sermon was to defend the practice of church, why God designed it, and why it’s beneficial. So someone hears that comment, starts posting for all to see, then in our typical 140-character attention span, we hear only what the headlines read: “Andy Stanley says you’re selfish for going to a small church.”

WHAT?! You’ve got to kidding me? I go to a small church. Well not really, but I maybe once did or know someone who does and just the fact that someone would say that really offends me! Or the fact that someone might be offended offends me.

Even though there may be an element of truth to what he said, the way it came across, especially in the sound bite format that most people will see, does sound harsh. It sounds judge-y. I could retort by listing a dozen positive or necessary reasons for going to a small church. Regardless, he obviously went too far.

He admitted it went too far.

So he apologized.

End of story. Goodnight, folks. See ya next time.

Well, no. Not if you’re still bitter from what he said. Responses are all over the map. Some thank him for his humility. Some remain angry at his arrogance. A few are taking their overall opinion of him and this just adds fuel to their fire. Many demand that he do something more, like take the video down, apologize in a lengthy explanation, go to a small church to apologize in person. But is that forgiveness?

I forgive you, but…

To use the obvious example from Jesus, “How many times should we forgive, 7 times?” “No, 70 times 7.”

…unless you don’t think they’re really sorry.

…unless you’re still angry

…unless you haven’t had a chance to speak your mind

I gave up on internet-arguing years ago. Back in my more politically vocal years, I remember going at it a few times with people polar-opposite of my opinion. And I’m happy to say that I won them over and they’re a completely different person now!

You feel the weight of heavy sarcasm, I hope. Nothing changed. Rarely, very rarely do you find healthy conversations from differing sides online. People seem to lose their decency filter when behind the security blanket of a computer. Hardly anything you see in a comment section would actually be said in a face-to-face conversation. Or at the very least if you shared an opinion, you would pause and make an attempt at being polite.

We can’t get out of our own way. He said some wonderfully, amazing things through the full sermon. Things that many people really need to hear. Especially right before this debatable line. But we naval-gazers aren’t interested in what’s best, we like the drama, we have something to say, or our feelings are hurt.

The worst part is that dude actually apologized! Someone was actually humble enough to admit that he was wrong. No sugar-coating, either. And that’s not good enough for us?

I hope the comments are nothing more than internet trolls. Our response should be different (if a response is even necessary in this case). If we were to use the Forgive 70 x 7 formula, or the Golden Rule, or love others as you love yourself, any of those would change our reaction. Personally, if I said something wrong, then apologized, I would want everyone to about forget it. But I wouldn’t expect them to. I expect to be punished and belittled because that’s just how people are sometimes. So imagine the impact a positive, forgiving response would create. In real life, imagine the bond and friendship that could be formed by truly putting another’s interests ahead of your own. Forget yourself, do the unnatural thing, and truly forgive an apology.

Ironically, the Discussion Guide the church provided for this lesson included this statement: We build churches because the church encourages us to embrace a mandate that could change everything: love your neighbor as yourself.

Karma and the Law of Reciprocity

Karma, as we generally understand it, does not exist. How many times does it take to learn that it’s not going to happen? We’re tantrum-throwing children, stomping our feet screaming, “BUT?! I did good! Why is this happening to me?!”

It appears the stomach bug is making the rounds in our house. The baby had it on Sunday (all overnight of course), then my daughter on Thursday. Hers was actually overnight as well, but chose to go to the bathroom on her own, record the time, 1:30am & 4:15am, and let us know in the morning (have we raised the perfect kid?) Then my wife on Saturday.

I guess that leaves me….(dun dun duuuun!!)

Friday was a lovely day and she took the kids for a walk on the greenway, patting herself on the back for getting everyone some exercise and fresh air. Then the next day, barely able to sit up without getting dizzy, she jokes that this shouldn’t be happening cause she was trying to be healthy. And I totally get it. Instinctively you anticipate a reward for doing well. I suppose this is how we were raised: punished for poor choices, rewarded for good ones.

A couple weeks ago I had a similar reaction. School’s were still cancelled for snow. I made it into work early, got some stuff done, went to take my Big Brothers Big Sisters “Little” to lunch, ran into a guy I hadn’t seen in a while who was going through a tough situation and I hope I spoke some words of encouragement to him. On my way back, a car appeared to have broken down right in front of me and the guy was trying to push it across traffic into a gas station. I put my flashers on and helped him push it across. (You haven’t truly exercised till you have pushed a car).

This is where I beam with pride in my day’s accomplishments and wait for it to start raining money and candy from the sky.

I’m waiting…

Any moment now, I’ll get a surprise bonus.

Maybe they’ll call about that contest I entered.

I’ll settle for no traffic on the way home.

Still waiting…

Sadly, the rest of the night was pretty standard. Guess it could have been worse, like some kind of anti-Karma!

A couple years ago I had worked overtime a couple nights for a big project and had just wrapped up on a Saturday. I left to go unwind with friends at a restaurant. While taking the exit on a freshly drizzled off-ramp, I lost traction and flipped my truck. Um, dear Karma, you got it backwards. I worked hard and you forgot to reward me.

I do believe in natural consequences. Unfortunately, it seems negative consequences are more common than positive rewards.

Something inside us thinks that the world somehow owes us for doing a good deed. It’s only fair that I should be treated as well as I have done.

The Law of Reciprocity “basically says that when someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return.” Maybe “Law” is too strong of a word. If it were a Law, I suppose when I helped the guy push his car over I could’ve waited around for a little tip in return. But maybe it inspired him to do something nice later on that day. Maybe.

I typically feel great when someone does something nice for me. But not always. A compliment could make me feel awkward and shy. Someone paying for my meal could leave me feeling cheap or lower on the totem pole. I remember on a chorus trip, our director stopped the bus to ask a guy on the side of the road for directions. He insisted on showing his appreciation with a little cash, the guy tried to refuse and quite frankly appeared insulted by the offer.

So the cosmos doesn’t automatically reward us for positive actions. And people won’t necessarily return our good deed with one of equal or greater value. So why keep fighting the good fight?

You may still get a reward, just in a different form. Contentment. Satisfaction. A clear conscience.

This is how the golden rule got its gold.

Not: Do to others so that they will do the same to you

Not: Do to others as they have done to you

Do to others… whether or not they do, even if they don’t, even if they don’t deserve it, as if what they do doesn’t even matter… Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Whether you are rewarded is not the point. Whether you have been treated well thus far is not the point. Your goal is to be kind, be generous, be loving, regardless. This is true selflessness. It is not about you, it’s about how you are to others.


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.