This is good; this is bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph, what was it like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would we celebrate more? Would we worry less?

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

Well, that’s exactly what happened. 

The gift is yours.

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

“Congratulations” and other misguided remarks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

*awkward silence*

“….then why DO you do it?”

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

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

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

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

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

True Kindness

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, not ofFENsive. OFFensive…

Offensive kindness.

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

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

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

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

See? Similar reaction, totally different impression. 

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

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

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

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

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

Kindness seeks out people and wraps others in comfort.

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

Kindness looks for opportunities to make a play.

It overcomes awkwardness to pay a compliment.

Simple words of kindness can have a lifelong impact.

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

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: Identity

Our toddler is talking now and I thought it would be sweet to teach him to say something to make Mommy feel good. So I say, “Mommy is….?” and he says “the Best!” and pumps his fist in the air. It’s adorable. So we came up with words for each of us. Daddy is… awesome, his sister is pretty, and he is cute.

My children are gorgeous but something in me regrets the adjectives I chose for this game. I intend to mean it as a compliment. We tell our daughter she’s beautiful all the time and always have. And at the same time, she’s never been obsessed with looks. “Dressing up” to her is piecing together a hodgepodge of all the different things that a 9-year-old might think is pretty. This means wearing her “cool” boots, neon leggings, leopard print skirt, pink shirt, frilly scarf and all the necklaces.

Even though she’s undoubtedly pretty, she still has doubts. Like a phase of not wanting to wear her glasses, and would make up excuses to get out of wearing them. This is a girl thing, right? Guys have similar phases of questioning their looks, except we keep those feelings submerged where girls are more likely to scream it out loud and throw things at the mirror.

We try to emphasize the cliched “it’s not what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside that matters.” Then top it off with a “you are beautiful in both ways.” She shrugs it off, we pray it resonates in her mind.

This is what experts say, parents’ words become a child’s inner dialog. The thoughts you have about yourself as you grow up are a reaction to the things you heard your parents say about you. Or what they didn’t say. Or what you perceived them saying. Words are flying at us from all directions and all people. A parent’s struggle to break through with words of truth is difficult.

  • If you only say it once, it may not stick. It needs reinforcing.
  • What you say may be contrary to what they’ve heard elsewhere. They need to believe you.
  • They’re likely to believe negative comments easier than positive ones.
  • They say something negative about themselves, and you do not disagree, they may assume it’s true or that you agree.
  • They hear snarky or sarcastic comments said out of frustration. “Well, I guess you just don’t care about homework.” They think “OK, right. I don’t care.”

We all have negative perceptions about ourselves and, at the same time, agree everyone else should believe positive things about themselves. It comes down to identity – who we are. More than what we do or how we act. Much of what we do is a reaction to either how we want to be perceived or to counter-act who we think we are. A few church secretaries I’ve met have been some of the grouchiest people. That’s not who they are; that’s who they have become by being in a position of gate-keeper for years – bombarded with requests, demands, questions, arguments, gossip. They’ve forgotten their identity.

This is the root of Christian hypocrisy. We act like jerks in traffic. Snap at the cashier and waitress. Scream about politics. Scoff at beggars.

We expect service and forget we are to serve.

We demand our voices be heard and forget to be slow to speak.

We work hard for our stuff and forget none of it’s ours to begin with.

We forget that we all share the same identity. We were all created in the image of God.

At a parenting workshop recently, the leader suggested we find our kids’ talent. Saying “we all need something we feel we are good at.” I agree but added to it. More than “you can do…” guesses, use more “you ARE…” statements. What if you’ve always believed you can play baseball, then don’t make the college team. Or you can dance ballet but break your leg. What hopes and dreams come crashing down if my good isn’t good enough. We need a stronger identity to rely on.

So we intentionally pepper in words of Godly identity to our daughter. Catch her in the act of doing good. Tell her, “You’re kind. I saw it on the playground when you helped the boy.” Notice the difference in attaching the identity to her, not just the action. We do this when we tell people they’re funny, not that they just said something funny. “I heard you compliment the girl’s glasses. You’re a great encourager.”

This is intentional, daily, creative parenting. But it’s worth it to have children grow up to know they are loved by God and are called to love and good works.

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.

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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.