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.

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.

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.

Date Nights: April

DATE NIGHT 1:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DATE NIGHT 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Do Something

I messaged my friend yesterday to give my condolences for losing someone he knew. A victim of gun violence. Another victim from a public housing complex downtown where this happens way too often. Do a search for the name of the complex and the results are a chronological listing of crime reports and news headlines. The shooting happened over a petty argument between two groups. Then someone grabbed a gun and shot twice.

You may have read that and sighed. My guess is that if you are picturing the victim in your mind already, you may be wrong.

The victim was a 14 year old girl. And one that was intelligent, sweet, involved, a leader, giving and thoughtful. One with an otherwise bright future. My friend was one of her mentors. Senseless violence is an understatement in this scenario. Even more so that the shooter was another girl that just turned 18.

Both are victims of our culture that seems to either allow or perpetuate this angry, prideful lifestyle more than try to change it. After any violent event there may be protests or talking heads demanding whatever it is they demand, but whatever they’re asking for isn’t working. Homicides in Nashville, after years of decline, have doubled this year. All of us are getting worked-up, scared, or cynical with this 24-hour, nation-wide news at our fingertips spewing today’s latest tragedy.

Even so, hearts haven’t changed.

It’s the only type of change that will actually make a difference, and the hardest one to make happen. Well, it is if you’re thinking of it on a grand scale. Maybe it’s my own cynicism but laws and national programs aren’t going to make a dent. But see, there’s this one person headed for a disastrous event. Could you give them hope, support, encouragement?

This 14 year old girl had that encouragement and hope. In an interview she said she dreamed of being a nurse, basketball player, or actress. She was known as a leader in her after school programs. When asked if she could change one thing in the world, what would it be? And in the worst twist of fate she answered “my neighborhood.”

Her path was on the right track. Her story was supposed to end better than this. She had people in her life giving her direction. My thoughts instead turn to the shooter. I wonder if her life was filled with the same words? If not, how did she fall through the cracks? Who could have stepped up and made that difference in her life? One where she might have at least given a second thought to finding a weapon to resolve her issues. Whether she found a gun, knife, stick, or fist, her heart was stubborn and cold.

It’s not good enough to simply be sad about this. It’s does this little girl’s life no justice to just get upset that it happened. If no one makes a tangible step, then the only expectation is that this will happen again tomorrow. (And surprise, it did).

This story shook me. I think it’s because of my “Little.” Over a year ago I joined Big Brothers Big Sisters for this very reason. I was frustrated. My choices were to remain frustrated, become apathetic, or do something. So I joined and they matched me with a bright, introverted, sweet kid. He’s also 14 years old. He lives near where the shooter lived.

The last time I dropped him off, a group of smaller kids were upset that his brother was hit (probably by accident) and one of them said “You gonna beat him up?!” I stayed a while to make sure it wasn’t serious, and it wasn’t. But I flashed back to that moment as soon as I heard about this girl. I don’t want the same thing to happen to my Little. I can help him, but who’s out there helping the other kids that he’s going to interact with? Who’s breaking the cycle for his shooter? (I got chills writing that question.)

You have to do something. All of this drama is meaningless. Why get upset? Why watch the news? Why pretend that you care if you don’t do something? Love without action is pointless. Don’t even call it Love.

We all have our various talents and interests, so the details of what we do are not going to look the same, but might I give a few (local) options:

Mentor. Big Brothers Big SistersBoys/Girls Clubs, Youth Encouragement Services

Foster Care. Agape, Bethany

Homeless: Nashville Rescue Mission. Many opportunities there.

Abused: Thistle Farms

After school programs

Your local church, and not just “going to church”. <- (See pointless above)

At the very least, donate. Items or money. You could donate specifically for the girl in this story (I didn’t want to be exploitative by using her name.) As long as you keep in mind that a donation is to assist the people making a difference, and that you having a personal relationship with someone has the strongest impact.

Be engaged with your own neighbors. Be a decent person in general, for Pete’s sake! Why is it rare to simply be polite and conversational in public?

There are countless other organizations. The opportunity is there. The need is most definitely there.

Our choral director in college would say, after a weekend trip working with youth groups, “You never know the good that you do.” He would hear the comments and get the emails from the host church, and share a few with us later on. Stories we otherwise wouldn’t have known. Impact we wouldn’t have known. Remembering that phrase helps cure my apathy. Think if by some domino effect you have already saved a life, and you just never knew the good that you did.

If you make an impact on one life, you have made all the difference to them.

Honor this girl’s life. Do something.

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.