Thursday, January 18, 2018

Every Day is a Gift

I believe the last funeral I attended was in 2014.  It was honoring a co-worker, someone I'd spent much time working alongside, a doorway separating our offices.  I wrote then that I'd wished I'd kept that door open more often, had more time, appreciated the moments - even the mundane, miraculous gifts of relationship. 

I attended another funeral a few weeks ago.  Another co-worker.  Gone unexpectedly and much too soon.  We worked together the day after Christmas.  We talked about the minutia of work - materials to be ordered, schedules to be made.  When I learned of his loss, I immediately grieved the conversations missed.  I'd wished I asked more about his Christmas with his family, about his dogs he loved so much, about his life.  I wished I'd talked more about my faith, about his faith, about the things that matter most. 

There is no expectation that we become best friends, or even have relationships at any depth, with our co-workers.  At least, we're to show up and work together to do a job.  At best, we're unified in diverse abilities working collectively toward a common mission, with mutual purpose.  In either case, we're human beings with lives and stories and baggage and hurts and dreams and souls.  While our work lives and personal lives are compartmentalized to some degree for good reason, they're not mutually exclusive.  We're people.  And it seems every time I lose a co-worked, I wish I'd known more of the person.

Things always slow down for a bit when someone is lost.  The pace lessens as we pause to examine the colors of the sunrise, notice the unique characteristics in the faces of our children, and realize that the conversations with our parents aren't forever.  And then things speed up.  We don't purposefully bump up the speed of the treadmill that is life until we notice we're sweating and breathing heavy, lamenting the racing of it all - the race we choose to run.

Author Ann Voskamp writes, "life is not an emergency."  I want to work hard, with commitment and relentless pursuit in my vocational and volunteer endeavors this year.  And I want to slow the pace.  To know that I do, in fact, choose when to run and when to walk.  To see the sunrises with eager expectation of what God has in store and to appreciate the sunsets with gratitude and peace.  To hear more about the person, to learn about their dogs. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Doing the Hard Stuff

My Dad says that if it wasn't hard, they wouldn't call it work.  I've had the opportunity to work on both ends of the for-profit and non-profit spectrum.  Both provide very difficult challenges and hard work to be done.  Both also provide rich soil for cultivating meaningful relationships and bearing fruit from meaningful work.  Along the way, I've learned that the greatest fulfillment and the most significant, meaningful, and lasting impact is rooted in selfless acts of serving others, done in the most difficult of circumstances.  In short, serving others even when it's hard.

Give Even When It's Hard

Recently a business owner engaged in a long and tedious debate over expanding his business in a local community.  While there was support for this effort, there was also some very vocal opposition  Ultimately, the business owner agreed to not proceed with his plans in exchange for a monetary settlement.  He and his family decided to donate the entire amount to charity, in the same community that has opposed his plans. 

Kuppy's Diner will receive part of the donation.  They posted this on Facebook, "Got a message today ... [that the business owner] wanted to donate $2,500 to our car show charity for 2018. He was paid $25,000 to keep a crematory out of our town and instead of being spiteful to our people, he is donating 100% of the money to these different community services. Bravo to [this business owner's] generosity, we would have been lucky to keep more business in town. A very commendable move and we will put our share to good use next year."

It would have been fair to reason that the monetary settlement should offset some of the personal investment the business made into the battle to expand his business.  It would hard to reason to gift the entire amount back to the community. 

Serve Even When It's Hard

I attended a retirement party this weekend for a man who gave 40 years of his life to the non profit world.  Surrounded by family and friends, his impromptu speech noted that from the start of his career, he simply wanted to serve others.  He said that it's what we all strive to do, really - serve others.  However, if you can find a way to serve others in your work and enjoy the work you're doing, you'll find real contentment.  The work of CPARC is not easy.  It's interwoven with families far extended in time and energy to meet the special needs of individuals, an ever-changing landscape of health care, funding challenges of a non-profit, multiple sites and facilities to manage, and I could continue. 

It would have been fair to reason that this man put in an appropriate amount of time in serving others with special needs and that he might transition to a role less taxing in the last chapter of his career.  It would be hard to work relentlessly for four decades, serving those in great need with an unwavering focus.

Love Even When It's Hard

I know a Director at a local alternative school.  The type of school where a student goes when they are not functioning well in a public school.  A school that can be the last stop before a student either redirects to find a path toward graduation or, too often, drops out all together.  Defiance, verbally and physically, from students in outspoken and aggressive ways is not uncommon. 

While he affirms the work can be difficult, I've never heard him speak poorly of these kids.  When a dramatic story includes student behavior that results in police intervention, he peels back the layers to expose the context in which the student is living.  Almost never a Dad to be found.  Almost always brokenness and dysfunction at best, abuse and neglect at worst.

How does this man, who has a family of his own, spend his pre-Thanksgiving break?  Coordinating and delivering 40+ Thanksgiving meals for the families of the students he serves.  In the garage where these meals are assembled, there is a huge mural painted by this man's family and friends that reads, "Love Wins." 

It would be fair to reason that showing up and doing the work of a Director at an alternative school is doing your share of loving others.  It would be hard to go above and beyond and spend your time off with your family preparing meals for these same students. 

Most would agree that loving, giving, and serving are action items to be embraced.  Few of us find the courage and motivation to love, give, and serve when it's not reciprocated, applauded, funded, required, fair, or when we're just simply too tired from life to offer any more.

Speaker and Author Andy Stanley says that any time you identify that you have power (resources, influence) in a situation, look to leverage that for the least powerful (those on the fringes, the least, lonely, or lost) in the room.  I believe that makes a life well-lived.  Receiving.  Giving.  Living.  I also believe that we always have more to give to the degree that we receive it from an inexhaustible source found in Jesus;  the Christ who relentless seeks to love, serve, and give to us - freely and unconditionally. 

I have a book signed by Author Bob Goff with a handwritten quote that I've made into my life's mantra, a decree I hope to aspire to daily.  It reads, "Love God.  Love People.  Do stuff."  I'd add, "(Even when it's hard)."

Friday, September 29, 2017


At age 22, my supervisor asked me what I hoped to become.  I said that I just wanted to get married, buy a house with a yard, have a few sons, and coach them in Little League.  I've achieved my dreams.  I am so grateful.

There are many goals I have yet to accomplish, influence to yield, and work to be done.  However, my aspirations have now moved toward the second half of my life.  My vision for the future remains simple.  I want to be one of those guys who gather at a local coffee shop, breakfast diner, or gas station and meet together.  They drink coffee, talk High School football, forecast the weather, bark about the next generation, and reminisce.  Or, at least I think they do.  I'm not yet included, so I am not certain.  But, I hope to be a part of this someday.  Another 15 years or so, I suppose.

Most of my dreams are rooted in being a part of something.  To belong.  Throughout most of my life I've been partially committed to many things, rarely "all-in" with any particular group or movement or circle.  During my most selfish and isolated years, I lived by the mantra spouted in the classic move Heat where Al Pacino says something like, "don't ever have anything in your life you can't walk away from in less than 15 minutes if the heat rolls in."  I thought that was cool, independent, free.  It's desperately sad.  As I matured, I broke down some walls and let those closest to me in... sometimes.  There was always a longing to belong to this group or that and, at the same time, a fear of the risk involved when you really love those who belong with you, for you.  The belonging not guaranteed.

I know many adults still carrying baggage from decisions in the rear view.  At times, I share their story.  Almost always those decisions were made in a misguided effort to belong.  To a person.  In a family.  Alongside a group.  As part of a movement.  To be wanted.  To be valued.  To be known.

It's a search for identity, really.  This arduous trekking toward our true identity is generationally ingrained, parentally instilled, environmentally influenced, and socially contextualized.  But mostly, it's spiritual.  What are we searching for?  Comfort?  Purpose?  Peace?  Simply to be known?

Author and Counselor John Eldridge writes, “The problem of self-identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.”  Fathered by God: Learning What Your Dad Could Never Teach You    

I believe that we only ultimately find our true identity listening to the small, still voice of our Creator, whispering through the Fall leaves for us to be still.  To know.  Calling us from the passing clouds to look up.  To see.  Through the noise of the forest, rustling us awake to His presence.  To become. 

I also believe God calls us, as fathers, to instill in our children, as imperfectly as we might, a sense of belonging.  That they might know we're proud, our love unconditioned by sports performance or academic prowess.  That they might sense, in the depths of their soul, that their is nothing they could ever do that we might love them less.  I pray my boys know this.  I pray that I know this.

Eldridge continues, “Without this bedrock of affirmation, this core of assurance, a man will move unsteadily through the rest of his life, trying to prove his worth and earn belovedness through performance or achievement, through sex, or in a thousand other ways. Quite often he doesn’t know this is his search. He simply finds himself uncertain in some core place inside, ruled by fears and the opinions of others, yearning for someone to notice him. He longs for comfort, and it makes him uneasy because at thirty-seven or fifty-one shouldn’t he be beyond that now? A young place in his heart is yearning for something never received.”  

May you find your place this week.  In true community with others.  In deep relationship God.  And may we be a springboard for that deep assurance of having a place, of being known, to others - looking them in the eye, letting them know they matter.  Every.  Single.  One.


Sunday, July 9, 2017


With all the smart talk of the importance of being present, I still find it difficult to be in the moment.  As I've aged, I'm certainly more aware, more thankful for the moments passing.  Yet, I still fight anxiety because I know the moments are fleeting.  Like I am not getting the most, or, worse, wasting.  It's the end of a delicious steak dinner and I'm wondering if I rushed it, not savoring its essence.  Or, worse, not fully appreciating the time and attention given to the recipe, not appreciating the imagination of the Creator chef, me all-consuming and insatiable. 

I've noticed the passing of many great people over the past year.  Their remembrances are grand, like parades or simple short blurbs in the local journal.  In either case, it seems their faces fade too quickly.  The world turns.  All of that work, striving, trying to please - honored by signature remarks.  And gone.

I sit with a group of esteemed professionals talking through a book about living intentionally.  We all want significance.  It's not as much about the story we're writing, it's about why we're writing in the first place.  These lives, all matter.

For years, my wife and I would take our kids to the pool and look longingly at the parents sitting in reclining chairs reading leisurely, their children off.  This year was the first year that when we made our first visit to the pool our kids were gone and we were left sitting quietly.  We could read, talk, or do whatever we wanted.  I wondered where the time had gone. 

I've spent too much time, I reckon, thinking about what's ahead and what's behind.  Forging along without regarding or holding too tightly to the tide going low.   Not enough time simply being.   Here.  Now.  

I sat in a backyard concert tonight listening to a future-star Jeff Campbell.  A lyric struck me.  "I'm me because of you."  I am me because of God's saving grace.  He's whisked me from the mire, standing me straight again and again for something I don't yet see clearly.  Purpose.  I am me because of my wife.  She's summer and sun and light in my darkness.  I am me because of family.  Friends.  Paths crossed that seemed without regard, but significant. 

It's all we can do, I suppose.  Appreciate the now.  Figure out our why.  Understand why we're who we are, becoming.  Our legacies are there, in the story, ripples of eternity in each conversation, in the moments.  I pray we see them and know that He is doing more than we could know or imagine.  Hope.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Throwing Too Hard

We were up early on a Saturday morning to run a family 5K.  My wife had to work in the afternoon, but we had four unscheduled midday hours.  We put off chores and were just home.  It felt calm but unproductive.  Rest.  Is this what our life has become?  A sliver of peace found in inadvertently unplanned hours in between literal and figurative races and work.  We wanted more.

Author Shauna Niequist tells about a time when she was with friends discussing the future.  "One friend said that a way to get at your desire or dream is to answer this question:  if someone gave you a completely blank calendar and a bank account as full as you wanted, what would you do?  The first thing that leapt into my mind:  stop.  I would stop.  I would rest.  I would do nothing at all." (Present Over Perfect, 2017).  Is this what our culture has become?  A longing for quiet, simple rest - a desperate search for peace.

Noah Syndergaard is a starting pitcher for the Mets.  He's young, strong, and strikes people out.  He's an energy booster to the already rushed hours of the Big Apple.  During the off season he added 17 pounds of muscle and stated that he wanted to top the coveted 100 MPH mark on more pitches this season.  Baseball loves flamethrowers, speed, velocity.  Even at the risk of shortened major league careers because human arms aren't made to throw 120 pitches every few nights at speeds approaching triple digits.  Still we want more.  And youth baseball rewards it.  And most young pitchers that throw that hard for that long in their early years are working in sales before they ever see a baseball scout.  In a recent outing Syndergaard felt a pull, a tightening.  The team recommended an MRI.  He refused.  Instead he went out to pitch again.  He's a hero - playing through the pain, ignoring the warning signs of fatigue.  Synergaard's next start was shortened as the pain pulled him from the game and further testing revealed a lateral muscle tear, his season over.

Niequist vulnerably defines her addictions to performance even when it was detrimental to her well being.  "I thought I needed to be fast and efficient, sparkly and shiny, battle-ready and inexhaustible.  There was, I will be honest with you, a lot of pressure from all sorts of places.  I could be those things and so I was, and then lots of people told me I had a responsibility to do more and more and more.  For a long time, I listened to them."  She continues,   "But what I've learned the hard way is you don't answer to a wide swath of people and their opinions, even if they're good people, with good opinions.  You were made by hand with great love by the God of the universe, and he planted deep inside of you a set of loves and dreams and idiosyncrasies, and you can ignore them as long as you want, but they will at some point start yelling.  Worse that than, if you ignore them long enough, they will go silent, and that's the real tragedy." 

Great stress relievers for me include running and writing.  Sadly, I often turn both into performance metrics, never content with the process, always frown-faced over more miles that could have been logged, more pieces that could have been published.  Never enough.  There is more to do at work and at home and when you're running crazy and keeping busy there isn't enough time to run and write and breathe.  I know it's too much, not healthy and whole.  Yet, things need done.  The fields need harvested and the workers are few.  And the busyness numbs.  Like the food and the drink can, it soothes.   The busyness feels a bit stressful, but eventually it makes you feel less of anything at all.  It masks real relationship for plastic productivity.  And there are seasons in my life when I've grown accustomed to not feeling anything.  Pitching through the pain.  Refusing the MRI.  Losing a season on the bench because I was bull-headed and prideful.  The crowds always applauding me for pitching a few extra innings beyond the allotted pitch count (capacity), until I couldn't.

This isn't about the number of events on the calendar, committee meetings attended, chores marked off the list, or hours logged at the you-name-it.  It's about presence and the peace that's found in just being.  The best times cannot be manufactured, they're organic.  The memorable moments kindle, flame, and bright embers fade into the starry night like a campfire.  Unique, mysterious, magical, beautiful, peaceful, and fleeting.  They're not reproducible. They're God-given and plentiful, yet easy to miss.  I've missed many moments, enjoyed many others.  This season I plan to pitch to my capacity and to ask for help from the bullpen when I need it. I'm going to try and not miss the perfectly green grass of a freshly cut infield, the smell of popcorn and peanuts at the ballpark, and the sweet crack of a wooden bat on a baseball.  I won't miss these things trying to throw 100 MPH.  I will be just where I am, imperfect and present.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


"Not everyone’s gonna believe, but that’s OK. They’ll get there when they get there."  10-year-old Anna Beam, when facing skepticism about her miraculous cure (Miracles from Heaven, 2016).

There is much time and money spent on positioning for our belief.  This is politics.  And some types of marketing. And almost all cable news.  At worst, it's propaganda.  At best, just groups of people drawing very tight circles around their perceptions.  We all believe something even beyond that of public policy or personal consumption, we believe something about life's biggest questions, about meaning.  As Tim Keller notes about faith, even non-belief is belief in something.  We commit our lives somewhere, to a certain set of beliefs.

"I want to believe." The poster hangs in Fox Mulder's office in the TV Show the X-Files, depicting his insatiable quest for truth.

I recently co-taught a Sunday school class with my wife.  We read an except from Heaven is for Real, the account of one child's sneak peek into the afterlife.  We asked the kids what they thought about account.  One young man raised his hand and said, "Here is a fun fact, that book is totally made up.  His Dad made him say it."  Not the start to class we were expecting.    We redirected the conversation from the authority of the book to what they thought heaven might be like.  They excitedly talked over each other for the next 15 minutes.  The kids painted a fantastic image of what heaven might be, a glimpse:

- angels
- gardens and grass
- raindbows and trees
- people from history
- throne for Jesus
- extinct animals
- waterfalls and wildlife
- big churches and the disciples
- colors
- music and flowers
- acceptance
- light all the time
- no fear or sickness
- large temple insidea  golden kingdom

One young man schrunched his forehead, widened his eyes, and responded as if he'd given deep thought to the question many times before.  "There would be a long table. There is food and drink.  The table just keeps getting bigger as more people come.  Anyone can come.  The food never runs out.  No one feels like they shouldn't be there."  And we're left speechless, kids teaching us extraordinary faith.

In this age of internet paranoia and fear-based revoluations, the innocent hope of children is refreshing, like waterfalls and wildlife.  In Matthew 18, it's recorded that Jesus said unless we embrace the humility and faith of children, we'd never see the kingdom of heaven.  I think pure belief  children bring was refreshing for him too, like rainbows and trees.

"Ya gotta believe."  The rallying cry of the '73 Mets prompting a late summer tear back into contention. 

When I'm approach the tee box, I'm hoping the ball doesn't careen off a tree or another player, imagining that it might.  I don't believe that I'll hit it 300 yards down the middle of the fairway.  And most times, I don't.  The worst part of my golf game and, at times my life, is my unbelief.

A child's imagination constantly reshapes what is into what could be, like having a table that only grows with provision in a world of hungry people.   Jesus often made a point to recognize the faith of others.  Notable faith almost always preceeded miracles.  I wonder if that's why Anna Beam was healed.  Or the Mets climbed back into contention. 

Author Donald Miller said "One of the things that gives me hope is that even with all the tragedy that happens in the world, the Bible says that when we get to heaven there will be a wedding and there will be [celebration] and there will be dancing."  This, I believe.


Sunday, December 25, 2016

I Believe That We Will Win

This Christmas morning is peacefully surreal alongside a strong sense that something's about to burst.  Like a sunrise, Light about to consume all the shadowy dim.  I'm Christmas-morning excited to watch my family wake with wonder.  I'm filled with life-worry.   I'm wide awake, teeming with anticipation about what's just-around-the-corner in the next season of this gift of a life.  I'm tired and can't sleep.  I'm deeply present in our home, comfortable.  I'm distracted, pushing back the could-haves and should-dos, shushing them quiet.

Everything accelerates just before it slows.  Like Christmas and the New Year.  It's frantic, giddy, full with lists and lights and then it's quickly quiet.  Like January mugs the magic of December.  And we box up the glittery happy, for another season.

Can we hold onto this just a bit longer?  The friends for dinner even when it's inconvenient, the small significant talks with the kids before bed even when it's past time, the waiting hopefully expectant?  We intend to keep it - the happy - the candles and the Silent Nights.  Yet the blistering ice rain still blows in, winter feels like forever, we can't believe summer is almost gone, and where has the time gone?  They'll be setting up for Christmas soon, we say.

My kids make fun of me for my ignorance of their music.  I didn't know about Ju-Ju or his Beat.  However, they do listen to some lyrics with deep truth.  This, from the artist, KB,

Hold the torch up high in the thick dark
The dream works no matter how bad the pics are
Cause I see how bad the globe is
But they don't know how bad our hope is
They don't know how bad we want this
It ain't where we at boy it's where we're going!

Tell the paraplegic that he gon' dance
Tell breast cancer that she won't win
Tell racism that he gon' end
What he doesn't heal now... he gon' then
Let's go!

I believe that we will win...

I do believe that we will win because I've found a Hope deeper than my troubles, like grace waves that wash away the trampled sandscape of life - a smooth canvas for another year, unwritten.

Author Ann Voskamp writes, "The world will be still tonight.  There will be lingering.  Longing.  We will long for this wonder to all go on.  One Christmas candle will flame in the quiet.  This cannot fade - none of this can ever fade.  'For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given (Isaiah 9:6).  God is with us.  God stays with us.  The Christmas candle burns hot, give its Light, gives its Light - and the world lights up, and Christmas goes on forever now." 

And this is how it's kept, how we're kept, all believing that we will win.  Our Hope greater than our fears.