The Strong-Willed Child Goes To College

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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.

 

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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:

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“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.

 

 

 

 

Men Are Just Stupid Sometimes

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Yeah, I’m a basketball coach again.  Sure, I’ll do it.  Maybe I trust God to get me through the situations He leads me into.  But maybe I worship the idol of self-reliance.

Yeah, there’s a backstory.  There was a period of about a year of feeling as physically bad as I ever had in my 48 years.  Many many headaches, lack of focus and energy, minor bouts with anxiety and depression.  The fight in me was gone.

“You’ll feel better if you get into an exercise routine”.  No, this wasn’t the voice of my marathon running wife.  This was my inner voice beating me with proven truth.  So I started lifting weights and running on the treadmill.  About 2 weeks into an actual routine, I started experiencing neck pain.  But I continued to workout (because men are stupid).  My wife noticed my discomfort as I ran on the treadmill one night.  I told her, “it hurts when I run.”

“Don’t run!”   Good idea.  World of exercise was done.

Pain worsened.  Problems from an old neck/spinal problem sent steady pain to my shoulder and arm.  Sleep became more difficult.

Next problem.  Family vacation.  I only take one full week off each year, and dangit I’m gonna fish nonstop from the beach while I’m there.  Cast after cast, many with 12 and 14ft rods, made things worse.  Sleep became very difficult.  I could no longer lay flat in a bed.  Pain worsened.  But I continued to fish, continued to cast (because men are stupid).  My son and I were gonna haul in something big, even if it killed me.

Upon returning to work I have been too prideful to ask others to help me with things that I am used to doing myself (because men are stupid).

One month later, I still can’t lay flat in a bed.  Sleep comes 30 minutes at a time sitting upright, and usually tops out at 4 hours a night.

Almost 3 weeks ago, I started another tour as a middle school girls basketball coach.  Working 45-50 hours a week, plus spending 3-6 hours in the gym each night, sleeping 3-4 hours, and trying to keep young ladies excited about the game of basketball……….I was scared.

“I can’t do this”.  My inner voice returned.  The pain was constant.  My movements became limited.  My doctor and therapy visits didn’t promise any relief in the immediate future.

I struggled mentally, focusing on the things that I wasn’t able to do.  I was no help around the house.  I felt like a 100 year-old man raising a 10 year-old son.  The idol of self-sufficiency was apparent even if I hadn’t struggled with living for achievement.

But the prayers were constant too.  I received texts from my wife, “I’m praying for you right now.” I knew that others were praying also.  I don’t know exactly what they prayed for.

I’m certainly not healed today.  The pain remains a constant.  But my perspective sure shifted in a hurry.

About a week into practice, I could see clearly that I am coaching a group of young ladies that will be a joy to coach.  A feeling of peace seemed to arrive so suddenly coupled with the thought of, “this is where you’re supposed to be, this is what you’re supposed to be doing”  (yes, my inner voice talks a lot).

And I soon realized that there’s a big difference in being uncomfortable and being miserable.  Yes, I’m uncomfortable all the time, but I’m not miserable.  Headaches are miserable.  I’ve gone the longest period in my life without having one.

When God leads us to the mountain, He will also lead us over the mountain.  He provides a way.

It’s all relative.  Sure, I could be better.  But I can see clearly now that I could be much worse.  Seems pretty lame to complain about discomfort when I look at the physical problems and the absolute heartbreak of others.  My eyes have been opened.

Maybe others have prayed for healing for me.  But maybe God just wanted me to not be so stupid and whiny.  And maybe He desires for me to be more compassionate toward the suffering and struggles of others.  I’m getting there.

We don’t feel the need to change if we don’t feel broken.  We don’t ask for help when we fool ourselves into believing we can do it all on our own.

Text from Kristy today, “How you feelin dear?”

“Hurting and overloaded, but in good spirits.”

Answered prayers.  By His strength and not my own.

I’m not quite as stupid as I was yesterday.  Trying to absorb those lessons in humility, trust, and surrender.

I’m not afraid anymore.

 

A Boy, His Dog, and Being Strong For Mom

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Kal loves his dogs.  He’d rather chase his dogs and roll around in the grass or dirt with them than any other outside activity.

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We had a small household tragedy as Kal’s 6 month old German Shepard mix pup was run over by a car and died a quick, merciful death.

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As Kristy and I were assessing the dog’s condition and chances of survival, Kal walked hesitantly up to us. The typical emotions of a 10 year-old boy that loves his pup were evident- fear, blame, anger, and extreme sadness.

“Is he gonna live?”

My reply of , “no buddy he’s not gonna make it” brought him instantly to point of being distraught. But as he raised his arms in horror, and just before the tears began to flow, something amazing happened. He realized that his mother was hurting worse than him…..because she was the unfortunate driver when the pup darted under the wheels of the SUV, and because she was overwhelmed with concern for her boy.

Her tears flowed freely, “Oh buddy, I’m sooo sorry”. Kal’s previous emotions disappeared in an instant, as the strongest of feelings took over; a son’s love for and desire to protect his mother. His posture and facial expression immediately changed, even before the first tear was shed. He hugged and patted on his mom and assured her,

“It’s ok mom, these things happen. It was an accident”.

In an instant he became a big boy and revealed feelings, instincts, and maturity that I would have previously told you weren’t even present in him.

Later in the evening when I asked him if he was ok, he simply replied,

“Yeah, as long as mom’s ok, then I’m ok”.

Two of life’s most powerful forces on display. A mother’s love for her child, and a son’s love for and desire to protect his mom.

A sad night, but a blessed one.

Make America Color Blind Again

Our three older kids are color blind.  My youngest is not.  I’m not talking about their actual ability to distinguish colors.  I’m talking about the way impressionable minds are influenced on matters of race and bigotry, today versus a few years ago.

What if I said that race relations are no worse than they’ve ever been?  What if I said it’s all an explosion of hype generated by seekers of attention, ratings, and blog views?  How many would call “bullcrap”?  How many would call me a racist?

And what if I told you to view the events of Trayvon Martin and Ferguson until today, through the eyes of innocent children, both black and white?  What is the message that bombards their mind and how do they possibly process it?

We have four children in our household (in a very white small town).  Our 19, 17, and 16 year-old heard little to nothing about racism in their developing years.  They would appear to be of the generation that is finally enough generations removed from civil rights struggles that skin color is an issue only among a very very small minority of the U.S. population.

But now it seems that this small minority is thrust purposefully and constantly into the spotlight at an alarming rate on a daily basis.  How many people are actively seeking the very worst of attitudes and actions of blacks, whites, Hispanics, and police officers, for the purpose of presenting an interesting or sensational story (and making a particular group look bad)?

This is the world that my 10 year-old now sees.  Take the very worst of actions of all police officers nationwide  and make sure everybody sees them and knows about them.  What happens to our children’s views of police in general?

What about Black Lives Matter?  Who makes the news out of this movement?  Primarily those who destroy the most property or make the most inflammatory remarks toward police or white folks.

And who gets the most airplay among the white racists?  I’d imagine it’s the hate groups like the KKK or the Westboro Baptist Church?

It’s a dangerous view of our country.  We take the worst offenders we can find and give them the grandest stage.   We are constantly invited to judge many by the actions of a few.  For the impressionable young eyes and minds, lost is the opportunity the go through life truly color-blind.  Instead they are constantly tempted with opportunities to prejudge.

Cops must be bad.  Maybe all blacks are bad too.  I guess all white people are racists.

Maybe it’s time we change the tone.  Racism exists in ignorance and evil hearts.  But it’s entirely possible that, if racism truly energizes and grows in our country, it will be because of the way it’s reported and talked about, and not because of the way families are raising their children (but that would mostly account for the current level of racism…I guess).

The worst people act their worst when the cameras show up.  And the most inflammatory footage gets the most airplay.  This becomes our children’s view of a bigger world, as skewed as it may be.

Politicians pander to the outraged and indict the innocent in their quest for votes.  Political correctness has expanded the list of things that make you a racist so that the race conversation never runs out of steam.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Abe Lincoln preceded Obama as president.  I’ve heard Jim Crow more times in the last year than I’ve heard in my previous 47 years.  If you’re looking for something to get angry about, there’s always a chance around the next corner.  If you’ve never felt the need to defend yourself or pick a side, you’ll have your chance for that as well.

Those with the ability to do the most damage to race relations with their words and their actions cannot continue to receive the largest audience.

Sure, there are problems.  But the national conversations about race are basically a waste, totally counterproductive, veiled in political correctness and political maneuvering.  The picture of America as a whole is not as bad as the picture that is painted for my young son.  Americans really are better than that.

So please stop calling everything and everybody racist.  And stop digging for idiots to interview and video.  The quest for spotlight, approval, and political power has no value.  And it might just be luring our youth (and adults) into a more active role in racial tension and bigotry.

Those who choose to be angry will be angry.  Those who choose to hate will hate.  But so many choose to love.  And love is color blind.  Make sure your kids know about the many many people that choose love.  And please choose to be one of those people.  Hopefully your kids will be watching.

Get Up, You’ll Be Alright

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I guess most graduating seniors these days like to use the top of their graduation cap as a form of expression.  If this had been an “in” thing to do back in the 80’s, I’m sure my cap would have looked like a Skoal can or Van Halen album cover.

Our daughter Maddie graduates next week.  When I came across her cap last night, I held back tears.  “She knew who she was and whose she was”.

On our way to Maddie’s regional track meet today, her little brother Kal asked in that irritating little brother way, “why do we even have to go to Maddie’s track meet?”  Before I could reply in “dad tone” with a lecture, her sophomore brother answered beautifully from the front seat, “because it could be Maddie’s last track meet, and we love her, and we’re gonna support her”.  This was a day that was going call for support.

I’ve watched in silence many times as our kids have had disappointing finishes in sporting events.  It’s a struggle to hold your tongue when poor results line up perfectly with the amount of and the consistency of training that went into preparation for contests.  But that wasn’t going to be the case today.  Maddie had finished 2nd in region and 13th in state as a junior in the 800m run.  Excitement and confidence fueled her motivation for her senior season.  She had trained consistently in the offseason and supplemented her team training during the season with extra work with a trainer.  Maddie was ready for this day.

 

On an unseasonably cold May day, Maddie lined up to start her 800m run with high hopes.  She had turned in a season-best time the week before that was 6 seconds better than her previous best.  There was an outside chance of being a regional champ and a good chance of advancing to the state track meet, simply by matching her time from a week ago.

With her sister, two brothers, two grandmothers, and her mother & I nervously watching, she got off to a good start.  But as she got into the first straight stretch, disaster struck.  Her feet became tangled with another runner’s.  Maddie stayed on her feet.  The other runner went down.  But Maddie absorbed hard contact from the falling runner and spent 20 feet trying her best to stay on her feet.  There was no recovering.  The race was basically over for her.  Maddie finished 6th, almost 18 seconds off her time from her last meet.

I stood in silence, overwhelmed with parental emotions.  For all the times I’d thought and said, “I love to watch you play”, I knew I’d watched her play for the last time.  A sobering thought.  And the injustice.  For all her training and effort, her own efforts did not determine her place of finish on this day.

Little brother Kal stewed with anger.  In his eyes, Maddie got tripped.  She got cheated.  It wasn’t fair.  She deserved another chance.  He was distraught over the unfairness of it all.

I thought of all the complaints he has lodged against me.  “Dad you always tell me that, I get tired of hearing it”……….Life’s not fair.  You’ll live.  Get up, you’ll be alright.  But he doesn’t understand it yet.

I looked out past the finish line.  Maddie does understand it.  I saw her hugging the girl she got tangled up with.  Two upset young ladies consoling each other for disappointing finishes.  Life isn’t fair.  Bad things happen.  It doesn’t do any good to place blame or become angry.  What matters is how you respond to disappointment.  You can’t win every game or every race, but only you can decide when you’re defeated.

When her mother and I met up with her as she left the track, I couldn’t find any words.  She was visibly upset.  A perfectly formed shoe mark across her knee pretty much summed up her final 800m race.  I just hugged her in silence, knowing that if I tried to speak, my own tears would come.

And as I held our daughter, I knew……she was disappointed but not distraught.  Sad but not angry.  Hurting but not defeated.  She knows who she is.  She knows who she belongs to.  She is a child of the King.

Someone asked her mother and me recently what we had done as parents of our daughters.  I didn’t have an answer.  I do now.  It’s not what we have done as parents, but it is what they have come to understand.

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Their identity is in Christ.

Bad things will happen.  Life’s not fair.  Physical and emotional pain will come.  But they will not be defeated.  They will always get back up.

They’ll be alright.

As we parted ways to go in separate directions after the meet, I hugged her one more time. This time I found my words.  “I’m proud of who you are”.

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Let’s Just Be Awesome Instead of Trying To Be Great

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A funny thing happened on the way to supposedly leading my daughter and her friends to basketball greatness.  They all became awesome.  But not necessarily at basketball.

My wife played college basketball.  I played high school basketball.  This is a basketball house.  Doggone it, my four kids are all gonna be basketball players!  I was determined to guide my daughter and whoever wanted to tag along, down the path to basketball greatness.

From 3rd grade through 8th grade, I was Maddie’s coach.  I’d never coached before this adventure, but I knew basketball and I knew kids.  I could figure it out as I went, right? Was I preparing them for high school basketball?  Was I giving life lessons?  Could I even communicate basketball in a language that young girls were able to grasp?  Could I provide a path for each player to achieve greatness if they desired?  Did these young ladies love the game of basketball?  Would they become good high school players?

I thought the answer to all these questions was “YES”.  I always reminded them that they were teaching me as much as I was teaching them.  About life.  About being a leader.  About being a better communicator.  But I’m sure none of the girls understood that they were unfortunate guinea pigs to my learning experiment.

When you learn on the fly you mostly learn by your own mistakes.  And what was my biggest mistake?

I coached all of these girls as if they were basketball players for life.  It turns out they were only basketball players through their middle school years for the most part.

My daughter Maddie is now a senior.  Our high school’s basketball team will celebrate Senior Night this week.  Maddie won’t be part of that celebration.  Neither will 14 other girls that played together on that 6th grade team of 2009.  Mandy is our lone senior basketball player.  I find a great sense of pride and joy in Mandy’s basketball accomplishments…….from a distance now.  As she finishes her career, I’m hit with doubts.

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Now that she’s in the homestretch of her career, did I do all I could do to prepare her for success?  To instill a great work ethic and to be coachable?  To be a great teammate with a positive attitude?  To enjoy the game?  To play with confidence, to believe in herself?

And what about the rest of the players, knowing now the direction they took was away from basketball?  The “should haves”.  I should have laughed more and yelled less.  I should have coached the looks on their faces instead of their actions on the court.  I should have searched harder for small victories and successes for every single player. I should have coached less and cheered more.

But I don’t lose sleep with the regrets of “what ifs” and “should haves” though.   Why?   Because I know that Mandy has turned out to be an awesome young lady as well as a very solid basketball player.  And when I look at the other girls from that 6th grade team (that seems like yesterday), I see that they also have moved on to be awesome in other activities.

Soccer, cross-country, track, volleyball, band, cheerleading, modeling, golf, archery, and more.

senior soccer girls 2015

Colossians 3:23  Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters

And they are, without a doubt………..AWESOME AT LIFE!

 

Coaches and parents, don’t set out with intentions to lead your kids to greatness.  Instead, teach them to pursue excellence in all things.  In doing this, they might just find greatness on their own.

Or in the case of Maddie and her middle school teammates…….awesomeness.

I can’t take any credit for this.  But I can give thanks to the Lord for the times shared with these amazing young ladies.  And I’m forever grateful for the lessons they taught me along the way.

We had a goofy catchphrase, “If you can’t do it right in practice, how do you expect to do it right in games?”  The games are almost over.  And I see that my girls, from a distance……….seem to be doing just fine.

Good luck Mandy.  So proud to say I was once your coach!