Hey Sis, I Think I’ll Hang On To These

fathers days

I sat in my office recently talking to a couple of twenty-something guys about life insurance.  Neither of them were dads, but I noticed one was staring at the hand-painted artwork of my daughter Maddie, that rests proudly at the front of my desk.  Insurance talk came to a brief halt, “That’s about the neatest thing I’ve ever seen”.

I quickly answered that it was my most prized possession, a Father’s Day gift.  It’s taken me a few days to understand why I hold it so dear.  Other than the obvious reasons, I thinks it’s this; it shows that for our shared experiences, her perception matches mine.  The spirit of her memories is perfectly in line with mine in her artwork.

In a wild life of hectic schedules, we found quiet times together.  She always knew where her dad was.  She always had someone to lean on.

I don’t think I’m a hoarder, but I do tend to intercept a lot of thing that are bound for the garbage or the yard sale.  Maybe it’s just a matter of awareness of the value of looking ahead because I know the treasure that lies in looking back.  Possessions that have no monetary value become treasures for those who can look back together at shared experiences of earlier times.  Often a single object does the trick.

It’s become a Thanksgiving tradition for my brother, sister, and I to rummage through our dad’s basement and attic for worthless things that bring back priceless memories.  A Happy Days board game.  A slew of ticket stubs from concerts or sporting events.  A little league baseball hat and a 40 year-old baseball glove.  Treasures that remind me how thankful I am for my family and for childhood memories.

In a home with four children, sometimes the purges are great.  It seems that you can fill a 32-gallon garbage bag with Happy Meal toys at least twice a year.  Sometimes items go away that parents wish they’d kept…….or someday they will wish they kept them.  There was a coat that both of our girls had worn as toddlers that I spent a few years thinking had gotten away from us.  I had a silent celebration when I discovered the Pooh coat buried in the bottom of a storage tub.  “Get your Pooh coat on sis”.  It has meaning for me now.  Someday it may have meaning for the girls as well.  Maybe they’ll dig it out together some Thanksgiving after dinner…….as adults……after they’re married.  And they’ll give thanks for the childhood they spent together.  And I’ll give thanks once again for the time I spent being the daddy of two little girls.

.IMG_4041

They’re not so little any more.  Macy is a college graduate, living 4 hours away, and getting married in September.  Maddie just completed her first year of college, but is thankfully home to spend the summer with us (as much as a college student spends the summer with their parents).  The start date of her summer job was pushed back for a week, so she decided to have a yard sale last week.  Mostly things that belonged to her and Macy.  I showed up to help her set things up early on a Saturday morning.  As I was digging through the tubs and boxes, placing items strategically so they could be seen, I hesitated when I pulled out a pair of well-worn soccer shoes with a $.50 price tag on them.

IMG_3949

I silently walked to my truck and placed them in the front seat.  Maddie looked up from her work, “You decide to keep those?”

Maddie probably didn’t know why. They were her sister’s shoe’s.  I didn’t know myself. Macy had put together a pretty successful soccer career.  A player on our school’s first regional championship team to go along with some notable individual accomplishments. Two years of soccer in college.  But I honestly couldn’t even begin to remember what season she wore them in.  And she may not remember herself.

But I remember well the night she picked them out.

And as the days count down to her wedding day, I wonder if she remembers too.  For a dad that really knew little about soccer (other than learning just enough to be a youth soccer coach) and little about soccer shoes, I placed myself firmly in the middle of the annual soccer shoe buying process.  Our girls generally wore their shoes out by playing in both the fall and spring.  Sometimes I had to insist that they replace worn out shoes.

“Daddy, I think these will be alright”.

macy shoe

So the tradition became that dad combed the internet for shoes that were acceptable for his girls to play in each season.  Time after time, I’d call one of them to the arm of my recliner, “What do you think about these, sis?”.  As they got older, they came to my recliner, iPad in hand, “Dad, what do you think about these?”.  And the dad who hated to overspend on fancy things or pay too much for shoes or clothes that would soon be outgrown always made an exception when it came to soccer shoes.  I don’t think the girls really grasped just how little I understood the game of soccer.  But I think they did come to understand that their dad thought it was important for his girls to play in quality shoes.

“Are you sure those are the ones you want, sis?”.

“Yeah daddy, I’m sure”.

So I’ll store the shoes away in a tub with other treasures.  Other memories.  Someday they’ll come back out.  Maybe on a Thanksgiving afternoon, Macy will dig them out with her brothers and sister.  And maybe she’ll tell her own kids that she was a pretty fair soccer player in her day.  And it may not be worth mentioning to her kids, but I have a feeling that she, and her sister too, will have fond memories of picking out soccer shoes with their dad.

I’m glad I saved the shoes.  But they’re just shoes.  The real treasure lies in shared memories.  And sometimes saving an item here and there helps to keep precious memories alive.

And somewhere in my house is a Thomas the Tank engine wooden roundhouse that would fetch about $50 on eBay.  I was thinking about selling it.  But both of our boys spent hours playing with it.  I guess I’ll hang on to that too.

 

 

 

Not Just Some Old Guy In A Hat

vietnam vet hat

I walked hurriedly past an older couple a few weeks ago in my family’s business.  The man was wearing a hat that signified his military service in Vietnam.  It took a few steps before the significance of his hat registered in my mind.  But I kept walking.  Work.  Multi-tasking.  Tasks that aren’t going to take care of themselves, you know.  Later in the day, I was hit with the slap of regret.

“Why didn’t you just stop what you were doing to offer your thanks to that older gentleman for his service?”

Because I’m 49 years old and I’m just beginning to learn about things that wish I’d known about many years ago (and by nobody’s fault but my own, of course).

Memorial Day in the United States.  A day to commemorate men and women who have died in military service for our country.  A day to remember.  But there’s a problem.  We cannot remember what we never bothered to learn about in the first place.

Maybe the key to acquiring wisdom is to first acknowledge how little we truly know.  I used to write a lot and used to blog a lot.  But at some point I gave up writing for reading.  I can’t remember the exact moment where I was enlightened of my level of ignorance, but I can tell you that I read a couple of books whose stories floored me.  First there was amazement at the courage, sacrifice, and horrors endured by our war veterans.  And then I couldn’t believe just how little I knew about key historical events.  So I read. Not to gain knowledge, but to gain understanding.

We are surrounded by heroes today who have stories that they mostly keep to themselves, but stories that deserve our understanding.  Unless we seek a greater understanding of their sacrifice, how can we expect to show our appreciation for those who have sacrificed?  Do we even know what we’re appreciating?

As we honor those who lost their lives in service on this Memorial Day, maybe there’s something that many of us are missing as we attempt to remember and honor the fallen.  The veterans that walk among us today were there.  They have amazing stories that are too painful to tell.  They were witness to the deaths of those that we attempt to honor.  They are heroes.  Unless you’ve lost a family member in combat, unless you’ve gone to bed night after night uncertain about a love one in a combat zone, unless you were the one in that combat zone………….then you may be like me, you owe it to these heroes to learn learn their stories.

edgar harrell Do you know the story of Edgar Harrell and the survivors of the USS Indianapolis?  We all should.  When the Indianapolis went down in July 1945, 300 went down with the ship.  900 men were left to fight for survival with very little to keep them afloat and alive.  After floating for four days until they were discovered, only 317 survived.  Edgar Harrell saw many men drown and saw many men floating next to him killed by sharks.  If you saw an elderly man out and about proudly wearing a USS Indianapolis hat, would you grasp the need to express deep gratitude to this hero?  I can assure you that I wouldn’t have……until I read his story.

donald stratton  Do you know the story of Donald Stratton?  He was aboard the USS Arizona when it was sunk at Pearl Harbor in 1941.  1,177 of his shipmates were killed.  To escape the burning, sinking Arizona, he pulled himself hand over hand to a smaller escaping vessel on a rope that had been rigged between the two ships……..even though his body was severely burned and the flesh was burned away from his hands and fingers.  After a long recovery that saw his body weight dip by over 70 pounds, he declined a discharge from service.  This hero was back on another battleship before the war was over.  If you saw someone proudly wearing a USS Arizona hat, would you know what they endured?  You should.

There were others.  Those guys proudly wearing their hats.  Those who fought alongside the fallen. Their reply might be, “I’m not hero.  Those who gave their lives are the heroes”.  But their hats were screaming, “I served my country.  I sacrificed for my country.  I sacrificed for you. I’m proud of that”.  But I wasn’t listening.  I didn’t know enough to say thanks.  I didn’t understand what a treasure these men were.

18817422_10158737161745383_991575402_o

Men like Dub Newland.  He was probably in his late 50’s when he taught a middle-school age Sunday school class at our church in the late 70’s and early 80’s.  As a 12 or 13 year-old boy, I didn’t any more know the significance of a World War II veteran than I knew advanced calculus.  But I knew that he had a presence that caused inattentive boys, despite the generational differences, to listen to what he had to say.  And all these years later, his one-liners still creep into my conversation and I know that he made a great contribution to the foundation of my biblical understanding.  At his funeral a couple of years ago, I came to realize what a true treasure this man was…….what a treasure his generation is.  He served his family, his country, and his Lord in mighty ways, even going on mission trips in his advanced age to set up clean water systems in impoverished countries.  Yeah, he’s a hero too.  Did I thank him before he passed away?  No.

uss ajax  And there’s my grandfather.  He wore a hat like this one.   I knew the color of the recliner that was his official spot in his home.  I knew the brand of chewing tobacco he used.  But I couldn’t even remember what was etched on the hat he always wore (I had to ask my mom today).  I didn’t even know what his hat meant or where he served.  But I never asked.  He served on a repair ship during WWII.  And now that he’s been gone for a few years, and the more I know now, I sure wish I could ask him some things today.  And I wish I’d thanked him for his service.

The World War II generation of heroes has nearly left us.  Korean and Vietnam vets are in their 70’s and 80’s.  Behind them we have warrior heroes from the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan, Middle East conflicts, and efforts to fight ISIS.  Look for these courageous men and women while we still have a chance.  Show your appreciation.  Learn their stories so you’ll know what you’re appreciating.

My own past ignorance has led to regret, for the things I failed to say before it was too late.  The ignorance of others would seem to lead to flag burnings and the Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the National Anthem controversy, and the past unacceptable treatment of soldiers returning home from Vietnam.  Sure, those who died defending our freedom won those people the right to do these things.  But a true understanding of the history of our military’s sacrifice should make these types of actions deplorable to all.  Ignorance might be a reason for past mistakes.  But it’s no excuse for future ones.

There are heroes all around us.  Read their stories.  Listen to their stories.  Try to understand what they’ve endured.  Don’t just claim to support them.  Find the men and women in the hats.  And thank them!

And on a day when we remember the fallen, also show respect to those who fought beside them as they fell.

 

 

Yeah, It’s All About Dad

claires

Walking through a shopping mall today with my two boys, I just stopped in my tracks and peered into a Claire’s store.  After staring into the haven of trinkets for young girls for just a few seconds, I sped ahead to catch up with the boys.

“I kind of miss going into Claire’s on every mall trip with your sisters.”

Macy and Maddie are 18 & 20 now.  Maddie is away at college five hours to the northeast.  Her sister is four hours to the south, graduating from college in April and preparing for a wedding in September.

But in those few seconds in front of Claire’s, I was taken back in time.  Following two little bright-eyed girls around the displays, patiently waiting while they chose their treasures of the day.  Bracelets, earrings, Hello Kitty wallets, wooden jewelry bins covered in butterflies.

“Thank you daddy!”

Somewhere in another part of the mall, their mother would have been searching for a new Power Rangers action figure for an energetic and excited little brother.

Somehow, quite a few Power Rangers action figures have survived the passage of time and remain stored in assorted bins around our home.  I’m sure that few items remain from the trips to Claire’s.  Simple memories stick around though.

Our trip to the mall today was just an effort to get out of the house.  Doing something just for the sake of doing something together.  That something turned out to be the new Power Rangers movie.  So we met up with my wife and a friend to watch it together (I don’t think Power Rangers was their first movie choice…….or second).  I had these strange thoughts as the movie progressed:

“I’m not one to enjoy or waste my time with mindless entertainment, but I’m loving this movie (and I have this sinking feeling that I am the only one of our five that doesn’t think this movie is horrible).”

power rangers

Kal is 11 and the family movie critic.  He loved it and his 17 year-old brother did too.  Their mother even loved it.  But for me it was more than a movie.  It was a trip down memory lane.  Jumping up to run around the room to loudly sing the Power Rangers Dino Thunder theme song to the dismay of my whole family.  Driving around the state for our girls travel soccer games with a flip down TV monitor displaying a Power Rangers marathon for all in the back seats (the girls wouldn’t admit it, but they couldn’t help watching too).

So tonight, stuck in a strange mood, and missing our girls, I’m just thankful for happy memories of little things.  Thankful that I have memories that make me smile instead of regrets that bring sorrow.

For parents, when the time comes when our kids are no longer under our roofs, some things just seem to come into clearer view.  What we did well.  Where we came up short.  I won’t talk about what an amazing mother my wife is, because that’s just a foregone conclusion.  But I will share some truth about little things that dads can do to have an amazing impact on the lives of their children.

  1. Be physically present.  Our kids should never entertain the idea that they are less important than our jobs, our golf game, our fishing trips, or our workout schedule. Don’t underestimate the value (when schedules allow it) of being there when they wake up or go to bed, along with the value of attending as many school functions, recitals, and sporting events as possible.
  2. Be mentally present.  Look your kids in the eye when they speak and listen as if it’s the most important thing that’s ever been spoken.  Get your nose out of your smartphone or laptop and interact with your kids.  You only get one chance to raise your kids, don’t miss it (no regrets).
  3.  Be emotionally present.   Most of the time, guys aren’t exactly gifted in the area of saying the right thing (especially when our daughters become teenagers).  But thankfully, frequent hugs and pats on the shoulder are a valuable and acceptable substitute.  
  4. Choose your words wisely.  Kids are guided less by the instructions that we give them than they are by the manner in which we speak to and about others.  The way we speak to and about their mother (even if she’s not your wife) is so vital.

     5. Make memories.  Doesn’t have to be an expensive trip or adventure.  It just has         to be a shared experience.  Shared experiences build relationships.  Kids need           good relationships with their dads.  Watch a ballgame.  Go grocery shopping.             Go fishing. Play video games or board games.  Read books to your little ones.

Just be there.  When I read stories of American cities with annual homicides over 800 and shootings over 3,600 it makes me wonder………………

No, I’m not wondering if we have too many guns or what our government can do to swing things in the other direction.  I’m wondering how many of these shooters spent time in Claire’s with their dad and how many of their dads can name more than one Power Rangers series (Dino Thunder was my favorite).  Probably not too many.

It’s pretty simple stuff.  Hey dads, your kids need you.  Be the best dad you can be.  Start today…………maybe with a simple prayer,

“Lord, help me to be the best daddy I can be, and guide me to raise this child in a way that’s pleasing to You.”

I’ll bet you can change the world!

 

 

It’s Complicated

A Syrian refugee holding his son and daughter breaks out in tears of joy after arriving on the shore of the island of Kos in Greece.

Some questions have more than one correct answer.  Not every problem offers a simple solution.  For example, the ongoing debate surrounding Donald Trump’s executive order concerning refugees from certain nations.

Compassion vs. caution.  I’ve heard and read passionate arguments from both sides.  I tend to agree with them all.  Caution is good.  Compassion is obviously good.  But when it comes to a wise balance of the two, that’s where the wheels come off.

I’ve picked up just a few hitchhikers over the years.  Shouldn’t we all feel bad for the guy walking down the highway on a 10 degree day?  Sure.  But it’s always a risk.  The unknown.  But in the cases where I have given a ride to strangers, I never did so when I had my wife or children with me.  Why?  It’s one thing to choose to take risks for yourself.  It’s quite another to dive into the unknown and assume risk for others.  This is the problem that faces leaders of the USA.  How much risk is too much risk.  How much compassion is simply not enough?  Who can we trust when so many levels of “certainty” seem to exist.

My uneducated opinion is that Obama downplayed the potential risk involved in admitting refugees, and Trump simply undervalues compassion.  We are a nation made up of people who unquestionably have different views about how to properly balance the two.  But at the same time, people with opposing views mostly want the same things.  We want a safe country, safe from terror attacks.  And we want to do what we can to ease human suffering, especially in cases where the matter has an urgency to it, as it does in Syria. We just have different ideas about how to achieve these things.  Balance.

Some people lean toward the side of compassion.  Some people lean toward the side of safety.  I’m thankful to be surrounded by both types of people.  People care.  That’s a good thing.

I wouldn’t tell someone that they’re a bad person or a bad Christian for not being in 100% agreement with me on a stance of taking in as many refugees as possible.  I wouldn’t call someone a hate-monger if their position was that we should severely limit immigration from certain nations.

I’ve heard it said that the life of one American doesn’t have more value than the life of a person from another nation.  For an individual, especially for a follower of Christ, this is true.  But when it comes to our government, nothing can be further from the truth.  When we reach a time when our government doesn’t value our lives above the lives of those in other countries, then we may cease to have a country.

In the book, “All the Gallant Men”, USS Arizona crewman Donald Stratton recounts the horrors he witnessed and endured during and after the Pearl Harbor attack.  As his memoirs were put to paper 75 years later (at the age of 95, one of four living USS Arizona survivors), great attention was given to a burning question:

uss-arizona

“What could we, as a nation, have done to prevent this terrible tragedy?”

Obviously, refugees aren’t the Japanese army.  But it does raise the point of the overwhelming responsibility of government to protect its people from danger, both seen and unseen.

How many people have looked for ways to blame our government for the Sept 11 terror attacks?  “They should have prevented it.”  I don’t buy that.  From the heartache, the conspiracy theories, and blame game arises a great need to learn from the past.

sept-11-flag

You can’t foresee every danger.  Every catastrophe cannot be prevented, but we have to do everything in our power to see that certain things never happen again.  We can’t downplay the presence of evil or of the hatred that exists toward our country.

I’m not saying we should let in zero refugees.  I’m not saying we should let in 2 million. But I am saying that some things are worth taking the time to get it right.  It’s a matter that’s worthy of swift movement, but diligence in our actions cannot be sacrificed for the sake of fear of inconveniencing a few.

“Never forget” really does mean “never forget” for some.

My hope is for a nation that’s safe.  My hope is for a nation that cares about humanity.  I don’t really know the best way to pull that off.  Maybe a good start would be for a lot of folks to stop pretending like they have all the answers.  They don’t.  When you take a look at the big picture…………

It’s complicated.

I

Trading Poop For Sh*t!

poop shoe

 

I owe some people an apology.  Early on in this ongoing bowel movement that has been the presidential election of 2016, I spoke freely and openly about the idiocy of Bernie Sanders and socialism in general.  At the time, I really didn’t grasp that some of my adult friends would actually be voting for Bernie in the primary.  Looking back now, I realize that my remarks probably gave the impression of calling people stupid for supporting Bernie.  For that I apologize.  My intent is almost always to be critical of thoughts and ideas without being overly critical of those who buy into them.  But I know it doesn’t always come across that way.  I apologize.

I’ve followed along pretty closely through the primaries, with hopes of a candidate with true conservative values winning the Republican nomination.  Maybe someone who possesses wisdom, integrity, honesty.  Someone who understands the dangers of an ever-expanding federal government and the exponential rise of the nanny state.  Gee, maybe even just someone who has genuine leadership skills.  Someone that will be a president even for those who didn’t vote for them.  That just didn’t materialize.

Before our eight years of Obama, I was never overly concerned with who out president was. My main concern has generally been for what Americans believe and not so much for who our supposed leader is.  But it is now my belief that no American president has ever done a more masterful job of negatively influencing the thinking of an upcoming generation and effectively silencing and shaming dissenters.

From Obama’s ongoing narratives, racial division has been re-ignited and disrespect for law enforcement has been energized.  Climate change is a new religion.  Work ethic steadily dies along with personal responsibility, as he pushes for equal results under the disguise of equal opportunity.  Affordable care act has basically made healthcare more affordable only for those who aren’t paying for it anyway.  The “everybody deserves” movement has never had so much momentum.  It’s probably safe to say that no president ever has done more to lay the groundwork for outright socialism (Obama and Hillary both love socialism, but only Bernie has the courage to call it what it is).  So yes, my attention level has risen.

So where does that leave conservatives?  Between Hillary and Trump, it may be a race between socialism and free markets.  That’s enough to make me vote for Trump, almost.  I don’t feel it’s necessary to hash out a laundry list of what I don’t like about Hillary (being conservative should explain why I could NEVER vote for Clinton).  Suffice to say that both candidates face a continuous onslaught of negative publicity, simply because that is the true path their life has taken and the malodorous trail that is left behind.  Plenty of folks have done a fine job of laying out a case for not voting for either one of them.  Yeah, I get that loud and clear.

Can I vote for Trump?  At times I thought I could, simply because of what I was voting against.  I was undecided until today.

I don’t say this to get others to follow along.  And I certainly don’t want to present my position as the right position or one that Christians should take.  But I have a feeling that many others feel the same as I do.  Unsure.

I have 10 & 16 year-old sons.  I care deeply what the United States of our future looks like. I care deeply what our younger generation believes in and where they lay their hope and their trust. My hope is that they place their trust is Jesus Christ as a savior who gives them hope, strength, and guidance.  I have a family to raise and a family business to run…..no matter who is president.  And regardless of who our nation’s leader is, I can use my life and my words to make an impact for Christ.  We don’t need a perfect environment to practice Christianity or to raise our family in God-honoring ways.  We don’t need an intrusion-free business climate to keep the doors open and keep the bills paid.

Yes it’s wise to be informed and concerned.  But I refuse to resort to hand-wringing about who our next leader is.  I refuse to buy into the perspective of “we’re doomed if _____ wins.”  Maybe for Christians, we’re not doomed, but we are seriously distracted from the life that God desires for us when we allow ourselves to become overly distraught about election results.  Again, I’m not trying to shame anyone for a level of passion that they may have reached.  I’m just telling people where I landed.

As a business man, I’m thankful that I don’t conduct business and treat people the way Trump has a history of doing.  And as women, I’m just forever grateful that my wife and daughters are polar opposites of the person that Hillary is.

But still, I could vote against Hillary and vote for Trump.

Except that I have two daughters of voting age (18 & 20).  And if they ask me who they should vote for, I could not with good conscience tell them to vote for Trump. But they didn’t even ask me.  And perhaps that is the deciding factor that speaks loudest of all.  My girls spend their time in the Bible seeking God’s direction in their life instead of following the biased hysteria of CNN, Fox News, and social media.  They are more concerned with God than they are about political and economic circumstances.  Pretty sure my wife feels the same way. I’m following their lead.

For all you folks that have done such a fine job telling the world why we shouldn’t vote for either, I commend you for a job well done.  You win.  I will vote for neither.

Like a good friend of mine has always said when left with choosing between two bad options………..

“You’re just trading poop for sh*t.”

In the end, you can choose to call your prized pile of manure something else.  But it still stinks.

Don’t bother telling me I have to choose one.  No, I don’t.

Mister Magoo and a Dose of Gratitude

magoo

I rushed out the door with my son Kal one fall morning, trying to get him to school on time.  As I started down the hill of our leaf-covered driveway, I sensed that something just wasn’t right with my vision.  It took entirely too long to realize that a lens had popped out of my glasses.  Driving with one good eye and one bad eye seemed to be more dangerous than simply removing my glasses.

Kal always took his morning flag-raising duties seriously.  I didn’t want to make him late.  There was no time to go back and find the missing lens.  I took my glasses off and drove on.  “Dad, can you even see without your glasses?”  Actually I couldn’t see well at all.  But I knew the route well, and I could at least make out images of large things like cars.

As a kid I never really understood if Mister Magoo was actually blind, or if he just couldn’t see.  I knew he caused a lot of cartoon chaos behind the wheel of his car, but I was pretty sure he never caused any real harm.  So I drove on.  “Yeah Kal, I can see good enough.”

After dropping Kal off at school, I drove back towards our home to hopefully recover my missing lens.  I knew there were only about two million freshly fallen leaves covering our driveway, and I was pretty sure the lens was somewhere in the middle of them.

My mind wandered as I realized how poor my vision had suddenly become and how I was struggling just to drive.  Thoughts drifted back to a time nearly twenty years ago.  Sobering memories rushed in of a time when my heart was full of gratitude.

I remember so plainly becoming a father for the first time.  The feelings of awe.  Experiencing in the most powerful way just how loving and awesome God truly is.  And getting a new glimpse of how small and powerless I am.

Those first times walking the floor at all hours of the night with a crying baby.  Feeling helpless as to what I was doing, unable to console our crying bundle of joy.  Singing, whispering, talking, and trying anything to get our firstborn Macy to stop crying and go back to sleep.

And praying. “Thank you Lord for this precious child.  Thank you that I have legs to walk, to carry her across this floor.  Thank you that I have ears to hear her cries.  Thank you that I have arms and hands to hold her.  Thank you for the privilege of being her daddy.  Thank you for this roof over our heads and food to eat.  And thank you that I HAVE EYES TO SEE this precious child.

But something happened to that grateful heart over time.  With child #2, #3, and #4, those constant feelings of parental uncertainty and fear diminished with experience, knowledge and lessons learned along the way.  I suppose routine and comfort tend to nudge away that feeling of closeness to and dependence on God that we feel in times of fear and uncertainty.  And I guess that life can become so full that we are so busy worshiping God’s blessings that we fail to honor the One who provided them.

It turns out that my missing lens was in the seat of my truck the whole time.  As I was popping it back into the frame, it became obvious what a lousy “blessing counter” I had become.

Psalm 107:1

For most of the past year I’ve struggled with a variety of small health problems that have made life……..just different.  Things that I’m used to doing or want to do, I simply can’t do them right now.  The phrase that comes into play often is, “it’s all relative.”

I can’t run, but I can walk.  I can’t use my right arm well, but I can use my left arm well (just not with skill).  I have pain, but I’m just uncomfortable and not miserable.  I struggle terribly with sleep, but I have a real mattress in a home with heating and air conditioning. I know where my next meal is coming from.  And I know Jesus as my savior.  Shame on me if I utter complaints.

 

It’s all relative.  I don’t have problems, I have inconveniences and disruptions.  If I allow myself to complain about what I can’t do instead of being thankful for the things that I can do, I risk crushing the spirit of a grateful heart.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.
I still don’t know if Magoo was totally blind.  But I do know that we often choose not to see.  Give thanks.  A grateful heart see clearly what God has done.  And it can open our eyes to a broken world that we simply aren’t the center of.
Count.  Give thanks.  Love.  Take action.

 

The Strong-Willed Child Goes To College

maddie2

Disobedient.  Disruptive.  Defiant.  And sometimes downright mean.  These words all described what was then our chaos producing middle child Maddie as a two and three year-old.  At a loss for how to deal with it, I resorted to outside help in a couple of books; James Dobson’s “The Strong-Willed Child” and Kevin Leman’s “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours.”

I’m not really sure if the books were helpful or not.  She might have just grown out of it. But I am sure that those who know Maddie today find it hard to believe that she absorbed more tongue-lashings and doses of swift and immediate correction than her three siblings combined.

A few weeks back, I was talking to a friend whose oldest son and Maddie’s classmate was departing for college soon.  He shared with me the same uneasy feelings that my wife and I had stumbled through two years ago when our oldest daughter went away.  I told him that it would be easier for both of us when the time came for our second oldest children to go away.

I was wrong.

My theory was that I had seemingly done more life with Maddie than I had with her older sister Macy.  As things worked out, I managed to coach Maddie’s youth soccer, Upward basketball, middle school basketball, and even help with her travel soccer team.  We had been through the battles together and seen the best and worst of each other.  I firmly believed that it wouldn’t be difficult to send her away.

For all the ways that Macy had taken after her dad with a quiet and laid back personality, Maddie seemed to mirror her mother’s strength and determination.  There would be no need to worry about Maddie or a struggle to let go.

But something changed in the days leading up to her departure for Taylor University (5 hours away).  When I was alone in my office each day with my thoughts, surrounded by pictures of our kids from birth to present day, I cried.  Some days worse than others.

I cried because I know the feeling her absence from our home will bring.  But mostly I cried tears of joy and gratitude.  She IS like her mother.  Her faith in God IS strong.  Our 17 year-old daughter is going away and I have zero fear for her ability to make good decisions.  I am grateful.

maddie goes to college

Move-in day came.  Her mother and I accompanied her to a few orientation type events and meals around the Taylor campus.  I remained mostly quiet in the background, trying to study the looks on Maddie’s face and gauge her state of mind.

My thoughts drifted back in time more than once.  I saw Maddie once again as an undersized 7th grade basketball player with a big heart.

 

148-003

Maddie stood nervously at the free throw line, ready to shoot, .2 seconds showing on the clock, with her team trailing by one point.  She’d already missed the first free throw.  When our opponent called a timeout after the miss, I explained to her that they had called the timeout just to freak her out a little more.  At this point I wasn’t a coach, but I was just Maddie’s dad offering assurance to my daughter, “Sis, it will be great if you make it.  It’s no big deal if you miss.  Just relax.”  Truthfully, she probably hit about 15% of her free throws on the year because she simply lacked the strength to get the ball to the rim.  As she returned to the line to make her attempt to send the game to overtime, I positioned myself standing in front of the bench so that she could see me if she glanced my way.  Fear and uncertainty showed on her face as the referee bounced the ball to her.  Everything about her body language screamed “what if I miss?”

She did look my way before her she shot.  “Hit or miss, it will be alright”, I could only hope she could understand that just from the look on her dad’s face.

As I walked across the Taylor campus with Maddie, I finally had to ask the question, “Well sis, do you think you’re gonna do alright here?”

Her answer was a simple, “Uh yeah.”  But the look on her face said it all.  “I’ll be alright.”

Second free throw goes in.  We win in overtime.

Gone today is the defiance and disobedience of her early years.  But the strong will lives on and plays out in her faith.  Maddie believes in herself.  She is strong, determined, and caring like her mother.

She’s in a great place.  Her dad is grateful.  And grateful for homemade cards:

dads glasses

“Thank you for making me stronger.  Thank you for making me think. Thank you for showing me how to love and live through the eyes of Jesus.”  –Maddie Shay

I cried today also.  But I’ll be alright.