You Don’t Even Know

You don’t even know how beautiful she is. Sure she puts effort into looking good, but she doesn’t need to. She could dress up or not; makeup or not; hair up or down. She’s most beautiful when she’s happy. It pierces my eyes and tattoos my memories.

You don’t even know how much she needs the sun. Not loves, likes, or enjoys the sun. Needs it. She’s like a plant whose flower naturally gazes at the sun in the morning and instinctively follows it all the way across the sky. Her heart rate, blood pressure, and endorphins all change at the first hint of warmth from the light. The ocean has the same effect on her. Giving her both annually is how she survives the winter.

You don’t even know how she’s honest to the core. She wouldn’t take a penny that wasn’t hers, skip a line, or even accept something for free. It makes me blush for every little thing I’ve ever tried to get away with. To be loved by someone so genuine makes you feel pure and comfortable.

You don’t even know how hard she works. If it’s hers to do, it will be done. Mostly with ease, sometimes with tears, but you’ll never want anyone else to do next time.

You don’t know how determined she can be. Not necessarily stubborn, not selfish. She’s determined because she knows the answer already. You might as well give up. She’s too smart, honest, and willing to do what needs done, so there’s nothing that can stand in her way.

You don’t know how smart she is. She hasn’t filled up on endless encyclopedias of useless knowledge just to know it, but she could. She hated math growing up, but has mastered it for a job. She “gets it.” She’s not naive or ignorant; she’s quick and thoughtful. She will challenge you, and eventually you’ll realize she was right.

You don’t even know how funny she is. It won’t come out as a pun or a joke, but to laugh with her is like the satisfaction of a good meal and the relief after a workout.

You don’t even know her restraint. She could cut you with words and you’d have a scar for life. But she doesn’t. She wouldn’t. It’s not in her to do that to someone else. In fact, she’ll do the opposite, and in kindness heap coals of fire on your head.

You don’t even know her heart. You may have seen it or felt it, but you don’t know how sincere it is. For the vulnerable and abused, the forgotten and lonely, her heart beats for them. She would make a million dollars to have something to give away. She would build the biggest house to give them a place to live. She would hire chefs to feed them all (because she’s not cooking).

She’s a great mother and friend. She sees God in creation and music. She loves mornings and food. You may know her likes and dislikes. You may know her preferences and opinions. You may know her quirks and tendencies.

You don’t even know her like I do. In a way I wish everyone understood her fully, because she’s that amazing and you would love it. But I also know this knowledge is safe with me. I’ll protect it and defend its integrity. It will be my pleasure to spend the rest of my life getting to know her more.

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.

Taylor, for your wedding

Taylor,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.