Monday, June 23, 2014

A Letter and a Prayer for My Sons

My sons are still at an age where they think I'm an all-star basketball player and that my office job is on par with that of Jack Bauer.  They naively promise that they'd never imagine going to the movies with a girl over going to a ballgame with their Dad.  They soak in my stories, laugh at my jokes, and are always watching and sometimes to my horror, mirroring my actions.

I know that they'll not always be as open to my voice in their lives as they are today.  I know that they'll have to find their own way.  When the difficult seasons of distance arrive, may The Word be their compass.  And may some of the other words that I've collected for them be an anchor when they drift.  Perhaps this will be one such note.

To my sons,

You are both asleep in your bunk beds tonight.  Tonight we battled with swords.  Last weekend we built a fort.  The weekend before that we caught fish.  I love being your Dad.   

There are so many life lessons that I wish I could imprint on your hearts and seer into your souls.  I know that I can only imperfectly attempt to model and teach these things to you.   Here are a few of those lessons, a backdrop for your unique story. 

Treat women with respect.  Love your future wife selflessly, the way Christ loves the church.  Entering into marriage with prideful self-interest is like trying to bring luggage that exceeds the weight limit onto a plane.  It's possible, but you'll pay handsomely to do it.  It's best to shed the baggage of self-interest before you cross the threshold of marriage.  The apostle Paul gives us a beautiful description of what true love looks like in 1 Corinthians 13.  Paul authored this knowing that the only thing that casts our fear, is Perfect Love.  Which brings me to my next point;

Live your life like you are not scared.  We are all scared.  Kobe Bryant is scared.  "I have self-doubt,” Bryant said. “I have insecurity. I have fear of failure. I have nights when I show up at the arena and [I don't feel like I can do it]. We all have self-doubt. You don’t deny it but you also don’t capitulate to it. You embrace it. You respond to it. You rise above it."  The greatest moments of my first 40 years are the times when I've done things that I was terrified to do, but did them anyway.  My greatest regrets are the times when I listened to the voice of fear calling me to stand down, leaving me to wonder how those opportunities may have evolved.  Nelson Mandela said it best, "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."  Conquering fear isn't about beating our chests in bravado, it's about finding our greatest strength in our weakness.  Which brings me to my prayer for you;

Author Ann Voskamp prayed an amazing prayer for her child.  It's my prayer for you. "May [you] be dead to all ladders & never go higher , only lower, to the lonely, the least & the longing.  [You] led of the Spirit to lead many to the Cross that leads to the tomb wildly empty."  Society nudges us toward  the pursuit of happiness via the social, spiritual, career, political, power, and position ladders each leaning alongside one another, calling us to climb.  This is a lie as these ladders lead to nowhere.  Always go lower, to the least of these.  Cast out fear with Perfect Love.  Live life like you are not scared, as if the God of the universe is walking alongside you.  Live boldly as if the Author of all life created you for good works, all prepared for you in advance.  Find a woman to journey with and love her deeply.  Be led by the Spirit of God.  Lead others, pointing them to the Cross that unites us both in our brokenness and in our Hope.  In the words of Bob Goff, "Love God, love people, and do stuff."  I can't wait to see the stuff that you will do, the places you will go.  I love you more than you'll ever know.

With grace,


Sunday, May 4, 2014


A few months ago my wife sent an email to the elementary teacher of one of our boys.  She let the teacher know that our son confessed to taking a piece of candy from the teacher's desk without asking.  She let the teacher know that his punishment at home was minimal because of his willingness to tell the truth.  Also, she let the teacher know that he was quite upset about the issue and that he had written a note of apology for her, however he was awfully scared to give the teacher the note.  It's the telling that's often the most difficult.  And most freeing.

We make bad decisions.  We cut corners.  In the busyness and business of life we fall prey to the lure of the shiny piece of candy that's so easily taken without notice.  Instant gratification with risky consequences can often outweigh healthier decisions offering long-term positive outcomes.  We've all been there.  And, it's so easy to justify these decisions to ourselves.  "I deserved what I stole," we say.  "I never get recognized and it's about time I get something for me."  "If you want something, take it," we foolishly tell ourselves.  "It's just candy, she would have given it to me anyway."  I deserve, I am due, I have a right to this, and I am owed are all lies we tell ourselves to numb our prideful power-moves to trample others and take what we want. 

When the dust settles, our lies are revealed, those we hurt are painfully evident, and our takeovers aren't filling the void we thought they would - then, we see our prideful desires for the destructive narcotics they are and we know that we need forgiveness.  Too often, we do not ask - as it's too painful to face.  Instead, we ignore and we numb, allowing the wounds we've caused and those inflected upon us to fester for years. 

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is recounted by the Apostle Luke.  He tells the story of the prodigal son who chose to receive his inheritance early - it was rightfully his - and went off to waste it all on the vanishing pleasures of the world.  Broke and broken, the lost son decides to return home and ask for his father's forgiveness.  Luke writes, "His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.'  But his father said to the servants, 'Quick!  Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him.  Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his fee.  And kill the calf we have been fattening.  We must celebrate with a feast, for this son mine was dead and has now returned to life.  He was lost, but now he is found.'  And so the party began."
The son barely got the words out of his mouth asking for forgiveness when the father interrupted him and showered him with adoration and love, asking those around to tee up the party in store.  "My son has returned."  The Father says.  And so the party began. 

My son's teacher sent this email in return.  "He gave (the apology note) to me shaking.  Wow, what a brave boy!  I forgave him and expressed how proud I was that he made the decision to make it right.  ...He feels relieved.  He has it written all over his face.  We all can relate with these moments." 

We carry tremendously heavy loads of shame and guilt around because we are too afraid to simply tell.   Our pride blocks our apologies and our fear stops our returning to those we care about.  All the while, those we've wronged often just want us to return.  They don't want our apologies, they want our presence.  Like the father in the story, they can't wait to order the party to begin and celebrate our renewed relationship.  The Bible says that heaven celebrates when anyone lost is found.  Let the party begin.

I'm thankful that my son goes to a school where teachers respond to the return from his prodigal journey with nothing short of grace and forgiveness.  May we do the same. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Living Free

I went to a funeral a few months ago.  Like hospitals, I typically avoid funerals like the plague.  I suppose I don't like to be reminded that our lives are really a passing breeze.  In this case, I wanted to go to honor a friend and former coworker.  My friend was way too young to go and lived such a pure life you wonder why God didn't bless us with just a few more years of her presence here on earth. 

I worked alongside my friend for only four short years.  I had stepped into a leadership position in an organization that was in a state of great change.  I was focused on leading well, implementing change, and making improvements.  My friend had been with the organization a long time.  Our offices were side by side, separated by a single door.  After about a month into my role, she left a note in my mailbox that said she was glad I was there and that I was doing a good job.  I needed that affirmation.  I didn't keep the note, but I wish I would have. 

At the funeral, my friend's family told of her life before she "found a relationship with Jesus" and after.  It was quite different.  It was a wonderful, tranformational, and redemptive story.  I didn't know this story.  I wish there had been the chance for my friend to tell me more. 

When we worked alongside each other I was focused and intense.  I thought a lot about performance and production.  These aren't bad things.  In fact, I'd say that we improved in these areas together and that the organization benefitted from this.  Sitting at the funeral, I couldn't recall a single organizational performance improvement that we accomplished.  I did remember that she liked hot dogs on the grill, that it made her smile when her husband dropped by with lunch, and that she often played the beautiful music that her daughter recorded.  The louder she played the music, the more she needed peace in any given stressful day.  I found myself wishing that I had left the door between our offices open more often.  I wish that I had allowed more time for real conversation, for sharing our stories.

At the funeral they played video clips of her last days.  She was in very poor health, yet she told her husband (who was shooting the video), "God's been good to us.  He's good to all of us.  It's just too many don't realize it until it's too late."  From her hospital bed, she sang hymns with her daughter.  She was at peace.  She was ready to meet Jesus.

 I cried when I told me wife about the funeral.  I hadn't stayed in touch with my friend for a few years and I wasn't close to the family.  Yet, I cried because we lost a very good woman too soon.  She didn't wear masks and position herself to be someone she wasn't.  She didn't try to impress.  She was simply who she was - a broken, beloved child of God, saved by grace.  She was a grandma who loved her family and had a wonderful marriage.  She often spoke of weekend rides on the Harley with her husband.  She lived life that is truly life.  She will be missed. 

The card at the funeral included a poem entitled, I'm Free.  "Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free; I'm following the path God laid for me."  I want to live life like my friend - to ride through this life on a Harley with a smile and to approach death with a peace and contentment that only comes from a life immersed in grace - to live free.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Grace Parenting

Our friends visited a doctor last week and heard a heartbeat.  Wonderstruck, they listened to new life growing.  The best days of their lives are ahead.

I remember when our oldest was our youngest, just born.  My wife and I arrived at the hospital with life already figured out.  My memories of that time are fading at the edges.  I remember the panic that enveloped as I stood ready to enter the surgery room and the same panic that faded as I entered and my attention turned toward caring for my family.  I recall the awe of meeting my son, MY SON, for the first time.  I remember watching, as my wife and son slept nearby, Tiger Woods win the Master's with a miraculous putt.  Upon leaving, I remember telling the nurse that I knew how to change a diaper (although I did not), but she taught me anyway. 

Years later, we welcomed another son into this world. The miracles repeated in the same and different ways.  We were fully living this life of parenthood, all grace.

I think about what advice, if any, I might have for our friends.  Here are a few thoughts...

  • You don't know, what you don't know.  My perceptions of all that matters most are quite different than pre-kids.  God's teaching and renewing me.  The changes in me have only been to the degree I've been able to get out of my own way;  letting go and letting God.
  • Parenting is mentoring and trusting, not controlling.  Author John Lynch writes, "No matter what I believe, each of my children have their own relationship with God, finding their own way, in their own choices.  I do not have control over that.  It's a mistake to make myself responsible for the choices of anyone else, even  my own children." 
  • Until you've been there, don't judge.  Further, don't judge.  I used to looked at other families and their kids with their messy faces, Cheerio strewn trails, scattered toys, and disheveled cars and wonder why they just couldn't clean the whole act up a bit.  I write this on a table filled with Legos in a room will finger-smudged walls and next to a dog that sheds (which I had warned against).  All perfectly messy.
  • You have to receive grace before you can give grace.  Just this morning, a tooth was removed from underneath a pillow and replaced with a gift.  It should have happened last night.  When our son wondered aloud this morning why the tooth was still there, I told him to go back to sleep.  Sometimes, the Tooth Fairy is late.  On another occasion, the Tooth Fairy was a no-show due to the heavy snow.  It happens.  The Tooth Fairy, our parenting, our kids, and life itself isn't perfect.  And there is no getting there.  There is only grace, received and given.
  • Parenting gives new context.  So many lessons of faith, trust, and of God's love for us have come alive as I related them to my own experience of Fathering.  God, I'm so thankful.
We told our boys at dinner last night that we had big news about our friends.  Our six-year-old asked, "Did the baby hatch?"  We laughed, told of the new heartbeat, prayed, and thanked God.

My six-year-old just arrived with the sunrise and laid the money he received from the Tooth Fairy on the table with a smile.  When he awoke earlier, he had worried the Tooth Fairy had forgotten.  Although sometimes it's later than we expect, the gifts always arrive.  Grace is always on it's way.     

Monday, January 20, 2014

Imagine That

Recently, I ran into a kid who I had coached last year in Y basketball.  I asked him how he had been.  He didn't talk much.  After a few minutes he came up to me and said, "You were the best basketball teacher ever."  I needed no praise from my wife that day nor an 'atta boy from the boss on Monday.  The affirmation of a First Grader carried me for a week. 

A recent article stated that we remember more of an event when we aren't taking pictures.  A study noted individuals attending a museum who were snapping photos remembered 10 percent less objects and 12 percent less details about an object versus those who were not taking pictures.  "When you press click on that button for the camera, you're sending a signal to your brain saying, 'I've just outsourced this, the camera is going to remember this for me," said Linda Henkel, a professor, who led the study.

Years ago, a supervisor asked what I wanted to do in my career.  I wasn't sure.  I knew that I wanted to get married, have sons, and coach.  I've realized my dreams and have coached both of my sons in many sports.  I love coaching.  It's a stress release for me.  Coaching offers one of the few times that I can be fully present with others.  I'm immersed in the moment. 

My wife and I have hard drives filled with photos.  We don't always look at them as often as we'd planned.  We stumble upon the photos on our computers more often than we do the printed ones boxed in our damp basement.  I wonder why we take so many photos but rarely see them.  Professor Henkel says, "Photos are trophies. You want to show people where you were rather than saying, 'Hey, this is important, I want to remember this."  That's sad, I think.  I don't want any of my photos collections to be a presentation.  When I look at them I only want to remember the sights, sounds, and emotions of those moments.

When I'm not coaching, I'm that parent.  I have videos and stills of every Christmas pageant.  I proudly avoid the scrum of parents jockeying for territory at any given event by strategically choosing my picture-taking-position pre-event.  I take a lot of pictures.  On a good day, the tally of pictures are a photo journal of gifts received.  They are snapshots of grace for which I'm thankful..  On a bad day, the pictures represent desperate attempts to hold onto these passing moments.  The fear of scarcity drives the click-clacking of the camera; me snapping frames to store in the warehouse for when these wonderful moments end.

Author Shawn Achor said that we can replicate the neurology that occurs in our brains when we journal a positive experience.  He said that our brains have difficulty distinguishing between the reality of the event actually occurring and the journaling and recollection of the event.  The same positive endorphins are released.  It's in the remembering.

I'm thankful that I can coach.  The kids often teach me more than I could possibly teach them and it allows me to be fully present.  I can remember my sons first hits, first points scored, and the boy that said, "coach, this is the greatest day of my life." 

Pictures can draw us into a moment we experienced or help us imagine a new one.  Yet, pictures will never be a substitute for the real thing.  They'll never replace the opportunity for us to be real, wholly present, and completely immersed in the joy the of moment.  Imagine that.   

Monday, December 23, 2013

Splashing Grace

A few years back, inspired by a book she was reading, my wife began naming and counting the gifts.  The book read that everything is Divinely gifted to us and it's easy to miss the extravagance of them, these gifts we're given. We miss them when we're distracted by the clanging cymbals of prime-time news outlets stirring up fear frenzies.  We miss them when we're distracted by the rush of shared online calendars.  We miss them when they're lost in the extraordinarily mundane.  The book calls us to see differently, to see the beauty of this life, to identify the fingerprints of God on our everyday.  My wife first began scribing her own Gratitude Journal during  a cold winter;  the entries looking beyond the dreary and calling out the red cardinals of her days.  She dared me to do the same.

The call came on a calm evening.  Our friend and his family were hit by a drunk driver.  Some were okay.  Others were in critical care.  I drove to the hospital and hugged this big, burly, biker-man limping about the lobby, all frantic with concern and hope for his family.  The kids were being evaluated.  The wife was awaiting scans and reports to summarize the extent of her head injuries.  My pastor friend and I joined biker-man in the elevator to check on his wife.  And then grace happened.  As biker-man recounted the horrific details of the crash, he thanked us for responding to his call for prayer and for our presence.  And this, "The [drunk] driver... he's in bad shape too I think..."  Biker-man continued, "Let's be sure to pray for him... and for his life leading up to the crash and what will be after."  As this large man lumbered toward the ICU to hear the extent of his wife's inuries, he called us to pray for the man that caused the crash."  This is grace, amazing.

As we entered the dark room with the monitors sounding cadence, biker-man's wife was responsive.  They recalled the scene of the accident.  She asked about the kids.  She stammered through the pain medicine she was given to tell him, "I love you."  He said, "I love you too, honey."  The kids were discharged. 

Control is such an illusion.  We structure our worlds and our days to try and manufacture it, but it's always fleeting.  As we said our goodbyes to leave the hospital, biker-guy reflected, "I am just so thankful.  Wow.  It's just like that... in an instant."  And it's just like that.  In an instant an unexpected event crashes into our comfortable lives, we are wrecked, and the fallacy of control is revealed.

And this morning on Facebook, I read this post from biker-man.  "The man who hit us is in the SICU bed next to [my wife]. HIPAA laws prevent knowing anything about him, even his name at this point, but I hope to be able to pray for him and tell him he's forgiven in the morning. May he be as shocked at grace as I always am, and may he feel love instead of shame.  May the miracle of Christmas be with us."

Ann Voskamp writes,  "... Christmas can't be made, like people can't be self-made, like dreams can't be force-made.  Everything is given from heaven.  Everything is a gift.  Your life becomes a masterpiece the moment you see it as a gift of grace to willingly receive."  And that's the secret, yes?  To be humbled to know that everything is a gift from heaven, to celebrate the extravagance of it all, and to share the miracle by jumping boldly into these puddles of grace so that they splash indiscriminately into the lives of others.

This morning I write, I name the gifts, and I count. 

#4,466  My friend and his family were spared and cared for and safe after life turns on a dime and an accident changes everything

#4,467  The grace of Christ shining through my friend as he calls for his Facebook community to pray for this man who hit them.

It's two days until Christmas.  I pray that above the noise loud, tragic crashing, questions unanswered, and hope hushed, we hear the still small voice of The Greatest Gift, whose light dispels all darkness and whose perfect love casts out all fear.  I pray that grace splashes.  And I pray for my friend, his family, and the man who hit them - that they'll each have a deeper understanding of the miracle of Christmas.   

Monday, December 9, 2013

Turning Off the Smartphone

I recently sat at a Board of Directors meeting.  This particular meeting was held in the home of one of the Directors.  The host and his wife honored the team with a lavish holiday meal while the group worked through the business of the Board.  It's a relationship-oreitned group, rooted in the ministry of the Gospel.  It's also a group of leaders and decision makers who are looking daily at high-level organizational strategy and plotting the appropriate course.  I enjoy the balance, a fovused attention to the business functions of the organization while circling everything back to its reational core.

I'd consider myself mindful of meeting etiquette.  My phone is always on vibrate.  I rarely take a call in a meeting, whether it be a meeting with only one indidual or one with a more formal larger group.  However, I do keep my phone on and available as I'll often need to check my calendar, research a particular topic that's brought up in the meeting, or - admittedly - to occasionally check the score of the game.  Overall, I'd say that others consider me respectful with my smartphone use in these types of settings.

During the holiday meeting, my phone vibrated multiple times with text messages.  Each time, I glanced at the status bar to get a quick summary of the message.  None were emergencies. Some were important. All could have waited for my response at a later time.  I quickly answered maybe four or five of the messages with a simple response.  For a few, I received a follow up response saying that they were sorry to interrupt the meeting and that they'd connect with me later.  I don't believe that the texts were intrusive to the meeting, although each text did capture my attention for a moment.

The meetings are quarterly, so when a meeting does occur much content is covered and it can be quite lengthy.  This meeting was coming to a close at just beyond three hours.  As folks began closing their file folders and placing their paperwork back into their work bags, I noticed something.  Throughout the course of the entire meeting, I had not noticed a single person checking their phone.  In fact, I couldn't remember even seeing anyone with their phones in view.  The leader of the meeting did have his phone available, however he noticalbly restricted checking the text message only during a  break in the meeting when he wondered out loud whether something was urgent because his phone had been buzzing with texts.  Yet, he waited until the break to check it.  There was another gentleman who did take a call.  When he removed himself from the meeting, he not only stepped out of the room, he left the house.  And, at the end of the meeting, he met the facilitator with a handshake and an apology for taking a call during the discussion.  In short, there was a very intentional effort by all involved to be completely present, wholly available, and fully respectful with the group. 

Our attention and, in turn, our full presence to any given situation is a finite resource.  We only have so much to give.  And, science shows that the more multi-tasking that we do, the less focused and effective we become at each thing.  While it's viable to participate in a meeting, check text messages, and jot down our to do lists;  it's not ideal, effecient, or very effective.  And, just as it's possible to answer emails while also waking up to the weekend routines of our families, it's not fair. 

While the advantages and convenicnecs of smartphones and other technology are significant, we must also hold tightly to maintaining margin away from them.  I've realized that while a brief update from my phone may not directly interrupt family time, it does - despite my best efforts - effect my moods, if only subtly.  I've embraced a few practices to guard against this including turning my phone and other technology completely off for at least 24 hours during a family vacation and starting my daily routine with quiet time before God prior to jolting my brain with information delivered via my phone. 

Lance Morrow, columnist, says, "The telephone is one of those miracles one can discuss in terms either sacred or profane.  No one has yet devised a pleasant way for a telephone to come to life. The ring is a sudden intrusion, a drill in the ear.. The satanic bleats from some new phones are the equivalent of lasers.  But the ring cannot be subtle.  It's mission is disruption... The telephone call is a breaking-and-entering that we invite by having telephones in the first place.  Someone unbidden barges in and for an instant or an hour usurps the ears and upsets the mind's prior arrangements."  (A Minute of Margin, Richard Swenson). 

I started writing this post on vacation, pre-dawn, and as I finish as my family wakes.  My boys and my wife arise eager for a new day and for my full attention.  I'll close the computer, turn off the phone, and welcome the day with them - those I love, fully deserving of every ounce of presence I can offer.  And to my collegues at the recent Board meeting, I apologize for the moments of attention that I offered elsewhere, after committing them to you.  The updates from my phone (even the score of the big game) are never worth the attention given them; certainly never to be elevated above the opportuninty to be fully present with another.