When God Speaks Through Silence, Little Girls, and Heartache

My gosh! I’m in a funk. But I’ll get through this.

And because I’m a few beats off and “life’s a long song” (Jethro Tull), the lyrics to Suicidal Tendencies’ classic “Institutionalized” keep rattling in my brain:

No it’s ok, you know I’ll figure it out, just leave me alone, I’ll figure it out.  You know I’ll just work by myself.

Because God gave me a brain and I’m supposed to use it, right?  And I pray but I’m not sure what I’m praying for.  What am I supposed to see here?  Nothing in my life has changed but I sure do seem to be stopped in my tracks.

Peace, joy, happiness, contentment….I have all these things.  Depression?  No.

Maybe “oldtimers” would call it “being under conviction” in some way.  Abilility to concentrate leaves.  Usual passions of life escape me.  Willingness to patiently lead and encourage is gone.  Patience leaves altogether.  I begin to believe there is value in quietly making people around me uncomfortable.  I don’t want to be out in front anymore, don’t want to lead.  Just want to hide in the corner.

Backing up a bit, my wife and I have been blessed with four children (ages 8-18).  At some point we realized we may never have a greater opportunity, because of the hectic schedules of our kids, to intersect our lives with others and be a positive influence for Christ.  In recent years, I’ve stepped into plenty of situations in coaching youth sports and church leadership where my own wits and skills were sorely lacking, but God always provided the way through.

Making a choice to allow yourself to be spread thin for God requires faith.  And it makes your faith grow in amazing ways. 

Am I getting lazy?  Lacking faith, giving in to the temptation of taking the easy way out?

So what’s wrong with me?  Week after week, that unsettled feeling.  Is God telling me something by not telling me anything at all?

Always looking for perspective……prayer, meditation, reflection…..trying to piece things together.  Take a step back because you can’t see the forest from the trees.

Questions.  If you consider all the things that fill up your days and take up your time & energy…….if you dumped all the pieces out on the floor in front of you……how many pieces would have enough value that they would be worth picking up and carrying again?

Ecclesiastes 3 New International Version (NIV)

A Time for Everything

3 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,

Seasons change.  What is good today may not be good tomorrow.  Even though Christians may be working toward the same goal, it doesn’t mean that we are called to travel the same path every day of our life.

stopMy apologies for the Vanilla Ice reference.

Weeks later.  The same funk.  But I listen.  If God is speaking, I don’t hear Him.  I don’t see where He’s steering me.

I made a 4-hour drive one day to watch my daughter’s college soccer game.  In a 0-0 game, she took a shot with under a minute to go that would have won the game.  The goalie made a great stop.  With 20 seconds left in overtime, she took a shot that would have won the game.  It banged off the post.  In the second overtime the opponent took their first true shot on goal.  It went in.  Game over.

Some of her teammates were laying on the field in anguish.  Others were walking slowly off the field hanging their heads low.  I looked up to see Macy walking swiftly off the field with her head held high.  After meeting briefly with her team, she walked across the field toward me and greeted me with a smile and a hug, “Hi daddy, are you hungry?”

macy 2003

On my long drive home late that night, I knew that in some way, God had spoken.

Parents want to raise exceptional kids.  For me, that means loving and serving God, possessing high character.  I saw great character in my daughter, competing to the best of her ability (exhaustion to the point of vomitting later in the evening) coupled with the perspective of putting a game of soccer in its proper place in life.  No anguish, no blaming teammates or referees.  Head held high.  Knowing what’s important in life.

Character doesn’t happen by accident.

In a text conversation with Macy I commented (in my soured mood) that I was tired of working too much, “raising adults”, and being pulled in so many directions.

Macy has an 8 year-old brother at home.  It occurred to me that I certainly wasn’t pulled in so many directions when Macy was 8. The A-Ha moment.   Character does not happen be accident.

I started writing this weeks ago.  It appears that God added another treasured piece of direction for me today when I attended the funeral of a very special lady.  My stepmother’s dear mother passed away unexpectedly this past week.  She was an amazing lady who touched the lives of so many people.  What occurred to me as I listened to people speaking at her service was how deeply devoted she was to her family.  For someone who loves Jesus as she did, the impact of a lifetime of love and service and devotion to family can never be measured.

I give thanks to God for little girls.  They grow up to be big girls and help their dads figure out where God may be leading them.  And I thank God today for the lady that my kids affectionately called “Mammy”.  They saw the loving character of Christ in her each time they were in her presence, and her loving influence on them lives on.

Know your season.  It’s always the season to love, treasure, and guide your family in a Godly way above all else.

Do not allow yourself to be distracted.  Don’t lose sight of who needs AND depends you loving influence every single day.

Be cautious of trying to play hero to too many people.  You may end up being a hero to none.

Gospel Grenades and Change Buckets

 

“Invite people to church.”

“Bible study is needed so you can properly tell people about Jesus, and why they need Him in their lives.”

True.  And simple.

But ineffective because we, as Christians, have not been credible messengers.

And you can’t tell someone what they need if you can’t model for them something that they might want.

I’ve wasted years and opportunities with faulty “tell people about Jesus and invite them to church” mentality.

Failure is measured when our immediate actions don’t result in church attendance or baptism.

We want to lob gospel grenades and hope for immediate results.  If we don’t think we can hit a homerun, we just let somebody else bat for us…….preachers, people with better knowledge of the bible……….

I can’t do something big, so I’ll do nothing at all.

$1000

It’s a terrible mistake to spend our days believing that Jesus can only be dispensed to an unbelieving world in $1,000 bills.

I’ve never had a $1,000 bill and never spent one.  And I’ve never taken action or said the magic words that immediately led someone to accept Jesus Christ as their savior.

pocket change

But I have a change bucket that I empty my pockets into every day.  And it accumulates at least $300……twice a year…….year after year.

Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)

We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us……….. if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead,[b] do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

I don’t even know anybody that’s ever had a $1,000 bill.  But we’ve all gone through mountains of pocket change over the years.

For the talents that God has given the vast majority of Christians, there is greater cumulative value in the little things.

Simple acts can lead to amazing things when we trust God with things beyond our sight or reach.

We don’t have to be able to see the last step, we just have to be willing to take the next one…….and we can’t be frozen in out tracks simply because we think we have to jump the whole staircase in a single bound.

Check the direction of your influence.  It’s reaching somebody all the time.  Good…..or bad?

Dispensing the love and hope of Jesus to the world around us, one penny and one nickel at a time.  All day every day.

Little things matter.  Every day, action and every encounter has value…..forever.

In a world where Christians tend to be tagged as judgmental hypocrites, live with a determination to be a credible messenger of the story of the hope that Jesus brings.

Invite the character of Christ into all of life’s situations. Make someone take notice, “what do you have that makes you different”.

Before I can offer something to others that indicates something is missing in their life, I must first display something mighty powerful that is present in my life.

Don’t just talk about Jesus.  Live like Him.

Living like Jesus….even one penny at a time….all day every day……is a life worth living, a hope and love worth sharing, and a life that make someone seek something that they didn’t even know they were missing.

And if I did have a $1000 bill, I’d probably change it for smaller bills anyway.  It’s useless to me since pop machines and concession stands won’t take ’em.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Empty Life of Knowing It All

maddie auction

Five short years ago I had the honor of baptizing my daughter Maddie.

I remember standing at the front of our church asking our congregation to pray for Maddie and her peers,

“These kids aren’t going to hide in the corners.  They’re gonna make an impact in their schools and their community.”

I really had no idea what that meant at the time, but I’m learning.

Maybe Maddie’s biggest impact has been on her dad, and she’s already making a difference that reaches far beyond her school and community.

While attending Maddie’s recent high school soccer game, I noticed our goalkeeper leaving the field after a flurry of activity near the goal (I assumed she took a ball to the face and had to exit the game because of the presence of blood).

I looked up to see one of Maddie’s good friends putting on the keeper jersey and gloves, and sprint enthusiastically onto the field.

If you happened to be the opponent or simply didn’t know better, you’d think this was her normal position.(it isn’t)

She took to the goal like she owned it.

A smile spread across my face because this was one of “my own kids”, one that I’d coached for three years of middle school basketball and been around the sidelines for many of her youth travel soccer games.

I turned to another parent who also knew her spirit well,

“That’s what I love about Mandy.  She has absolutely no idea what she CAN’T do.”

As adults, we have full awareness of what we can’t do.  We revolve our days and our lives around what we can’t do or what we think can’t happen.

I have faith….or claim to.

I believe in the truths of the Bible.  I believe in God’s promises for this life and for eternity.  I believe in the resurrection of Jesus with all my heart and mind…..but still.

I think I know everything.  I live by sight.  I analyze everything and put too much trust in the mind that I was given.

If logic says it can’t be done, then I most likely won’t take the first step toward doing it.

Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
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It pains me to admit that Maddie is no longer a little child, but she possesses a trust in God that adults find difficult to find because our brains are crowded with life experiences and our own “answers” to what comes next.
 .

Maddie returned from a Christ In Youth conference this summer with a determination to become involved with a Christian missionary organization called 1Mission.

1Mission assists severely impoverished families in Latin American countries in building safe homes, and in return, asks that those receiving new homes do service projects in their own communities.

$4000 to put a family in safe housing.  Maddie set up her own campaign on their website and was assigned a family.

An ambitious amount for a 15 year-old girl without income.  (Gee Maddie, that’s a lot of money…..I thought it but didn’t say it out loud).

But she was determined to make a change.  And she had faith.

Her main fundraising idea was an arts and crafts auction.

She announced at our church and on social media her desire to collect at least 100 pieces of donated art for a silent auction at our church’s life center building.  (Gee Maddie, 100 donated pieces, that’s a lot, I don’t see you getting that many…….again, I was silent).

As the auction date approached, donations trickled in, one by one at our home, our church, and at my family business.  But still, she seemed to have no more than fifty pieces.

The final day leading up to the auction saw a wave of last minute donations.

The scope of her dream was beginning to take shape Friday night as we set up the gym for Saturday’s activities.  Volunteers showed up to help Maddie decorate and set up tables to display the donated items.

Not only was it clear that she had well over 100 items, it was clear that there were pieces donated that were of great sentimental value to those who gave.  There was something special in the air for sure.

Moments before the scheduled start time, I surveyed the gym with a sense of joy at Maddie’s faith and the display of God’s love by His people.

what if nobody comes

But my own doubts crept in again.

After all her hard work, her great faith and desire to make a difference:

What if nobody shows up?

 

The events of the night went well.  Maddie was within $1000 of her $4000 goal at the close of the night.

I awoke early this morning, rested and with a bit more clarity in my mind.

And I had an unwelcomed visitor……a burden, that feeling of a need to speak during church…..about raising a generation of true followers of Christ who live by faith…..and adults living with doubts, living by sight.

I cried like a baby on my way to church by myself for a prayer meeting.

I’d been through a 70+ hour work week and battled severe exhaustion along with that poisonous mentality of “nobody better ask me to help with their stuff because I surely can’t even take care of my own.”

And during that drive there was this sudden sense of “when you’re at the end of your rope, God shows up in amazing ways.”

I realized that God’s way of lifting me back up was simply in the pleasure of witnessing Maddie’s faith and the chain reaction of love and kindness that it sparked (and it hit me sorta hard).

When you absolutely can’t take any more…….drop what you’re doing and do something for somebody else.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Our preacher’s sermon today was on David and Goliath.

From beginning to end of Maddie’s vision to build a home for a family, she only saw God.

Each time I doubted ($4,000 is too much, 100 is too many, “what if nobody comes”) I saw Goliath.

She knows how big her God is.

She had faith and her faith grew.

Because of her faith, my faith grew.

She gave me the boldness to speak up in church this morning, and perhaps God helped me find the words.

After church dismissed, our amazing church family picked up the remaining items and the final $1,000 was raised.

God is good.

One more family will have safe housing conditions.  We know that for sure.

And faith grew.  What will happen from this??

I don’t know……as much as I thought I did.

But I know now that if I stop looking at Goliath, I will be reminded that the only thing that matters is how big God is.

1mission house

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Buy the Paint

DSC00547

“Raising Strong Daughters”,

That was going to be the name of this post.
But the thoughts and reflections have spun out of control.
What started out as four or five little points grows daily (over ten now).
I guess it’s not a coincidence that my oldest daughter turns 18 and leaves for college tomorrow.
It wouldn’t be correct to say that my life is flashing before my eyes.
But I do find myself drifting back to the day she was born (and all points in between). That wild combination of joy and fear. The realization that I was now responsible for the direction of the life of another person. A new awareness of dependence on God.
Eighteen years later……..I wouldn’t enter her in a dishwasher loading contest.
And she struggles with the concept of turning out lights in unoccupied rooms.
But for all those times I uttered that prayer,
“Lord, help their mother and me raise these children in a way that’s pleasing to You”,

I am beginning to see more clearly now the results of so many answered prayers.

Sure, there were so many times when I failed, as a dad, to listen for God’s answers, commands, and guidance.  Thankfully, as I have written before…”it takes a village”, (and she has a pretty awesome mom)

As she leaves home, I know she loves and trusts God.

She is strong.  I do not doubt her ability to make decisions.

When she was small, I never thought this day could be this way, but I am filled with peace and assurance because of the strength of her heart and character.

The moments continue flash through my mind.  What did we do right as parents?  What should we have done differently?  How did we get here?  And do I possess knowledge and experiences that have value to “younger” parents?

Hopefully I can share some insight that can help other dads (and moms?) with this and subsequent posts on the subject.

Just buy the paint.

I believe it was the summer after Macy’s freshman year of high school.  She told me she wanted to paint a mural in her bedroom.  Not just on a wall, on all four walls.  I doubted her.  My initial reaction, that I kept to myself, was that she would make a mess of the walls and be frustrated and disappointed with the result.

But when our kids believe they can do something, parents need to make it a priority to never tell them that they can’t.

“Daddy, can you just get me four sample-sized cans of paint in these four colors?”

I bought the paint.

The finished mural was “good”.  What was “great” was that she believed she could do it, and her belief led to action.

I bragged on her work and showed it off to visitors in our home.

Her artistic talents have progressed since then, and I am pretty amazed by the work she does now..

But I didn’t really do anything good as a parent.  I simply failed to do something really bad.  What if I had told her she couldn’t do it…..suppressed her creativity, her dream?  And worst of all, what if the message she heard from her dad was, “No, you can’t do that!”

Sometimes dads can be a great influence simply by recognizing mistakes before we make them.

When the opportunity arises, just buy the paint.  Don’t screw it up.  Look for AND create chances for her to create, figure things out on her own, and believe she can do anything.  Be your daughter’s biggest cheerleader.  And don’t ever tell her she can’t.

she believed

Travel Sports and Sunday Games Are More Satanic Than Kiss Albums

IMG_0256

I’ll admit it.  Three of my kids have played travel sports.  They even played on Sundays.  Sometimes we missed church two Sundays in a row.  Shriek!

Their mother and me thought our girls would be the next Mia Hamm and our son is the next Lebron James.  And of course, if they are to go to college without paying for it, they need to play anywhere and everywhere and often.  Right?  No, not at all.

No, this isn’t another lengthy blasting of youth/travel sports taken too far by overzealous parents.  It’s more like a gentle reminder of the delicate balance that exists between sports and faith in our children.

Sports teach kids things that words and parental modeling alone cannot.  Teamwork, physical challenges, determination, overcoming adversity, and lessons in character just to name a few.
And sports can certainly teach an observant parent valuable lessons along the way (by watching other parents and coaches) in exactly how not to act.

I’ll skip right to what I believe to be the tipping point of that balance: when parents lead or allow their kids to believe that a sports game or practice is more important than their faith or church attendance.

When the traveling is over and your kids are beginning to make more of their own choices, what’s the message they have been hearing from their parents during their travels and adventures?  When they make their own choices about church attendance and involvement, what will they choose?  Which end of the scale are you pushing them toward?

Traveling time with family during the younger years is golden time.  The memories, experiences, and friendships made are priceless.  The absence from church services is temporary.  But the importance placed on faith must be constant.

That kid that missed 4 weeks of Sunday church service as a 9 year-old will be 15 before you know it.  The depth of their faith and the value it has in their life will not be dependent on where they spent those four Sundays.  It will depend largely on the message they receive from their parents over the course of the entire 52 weeks.

Teach well.  Make sure kids know that you’re not away from church because sports are more important.  Keep your eyes open for teaching moments.  As your kids get older, the moments become clearer.  Are you prepared for them?  And more importantly, how well have you prepared your kids for them?

A local basketball tournament changes schedules around and places your son’s team playing on Sunday.  Let him know it’s ok to choose to go to church and miss his game.  Let the choice be his, but lay out the steps for him to choose faith over sports.

Your daughter’s soccer coach holds practice on Wednesday nights during your church’s youth group activities.  Let the choice be hers to make.  Make sure she knows that you think it’s awesome if she makes the choice to attend youth group.

Encourage them to take those bold steps that say, “My faith in God is the center of my life.”

Yes, sports are a wonderful part of a child’s development in so many ways.  But they are temporary.  Parents have to be aware when the balance scales are tipping dangerously in the wrong direction.

“I can’t miss a single practice, no matter what.”  The tipping point is when parents adopt this same philosophy.

And like sports are temporary, childhood is temporary.  A big part of parenting is simply training up our children to make good choices as they mature.

Pave the way for these types of choices, encourage them:

“Coach, I won’t be at practice tonight.  I’m going to church.”

“Coach, I’m not going to soccer camp this year.  I’m going on a mission trip.”

“Coach, I’m going to miss some summer league games.  I’m going to church camp.”

Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you are on a given Sunday morning.  It matters greatly where your heart is and the lessons that your life speaks year-round.

Play hard.  Have fun.  Watch the scales.

The sports equipment goes to the yard sales and closets sooner than you realize.

Hopefully, most of us won’t wait til then to try to convince our kids how important a Christ-centered life is.

 

He’s a Good Boy…..When He’s Asleep

IMG_2066

Very few people have the ability to be obnoxious, even in their sleep.

I would be one of those people.

No, I don’t snore. Nor do I kick, punch, swear, or yell.

My sin of slumber?

The iPhone alarm with hand-picked tunes for an alarm tone.

I don’t see it as a problem.

But I am told that my wife hates it when Bohemian Rhapsody makes it all the way to the part where the Wayne and Garth start rocking out in the Gremlin…..and it fails to wake me.

Or perhaps a quick dose of Parry Gripp’s “Chimpanzee Ridin on a Segway”.

Sure to irritate every time.

And I’m a chronic snoozer.

But overall, everybody is on pretty good behavior during their hours of slumber.

It’s during those darn waking hours that we are destined to start screwing up.

And just like a spouse with an obnoxious alarm, it’s much much easier to get irritated with others’ shortcomings rather than our own.

Sometimes we have the luxury of avoiding offensive others.

But what about when those offensive others happen to be our children?

“_______ is acting like a complete moron.”

“Son, if you’re trying to get on my nerves, you’re doing a great job.”

“______ hasn’t hit a lick at anything all day.  It would be nice to have some help.”

So following years of faulty reasoning a bad parental reactions, it finally occurred to me…….

in ALL cases of poor habits and behaviors displayed by my kids, they learned them for me.

And even if in cases where I didn’t specifically teach or model pure forms of ignorance, obnoxiousness, or laziness, I failed in one of two simple areas:

1)  Consistently modeling good habits, behaviors, and reactions.

2)  Giving specific instructions in cases where I have specific expectations.

If my kids have small failures along the way, it’s because of me.  It’s up to me to make corrections.

Effective parenting dictates that the buck stops here when it comes to accepting responsibility for shortcomings.

When my kids seem to excel at something, the praise goes elsewhere.

Victories are a gift from God.

He will help you turn your next struggle into a victory when you humbly, patiently, and obediently look to Him for guidance.

Catch your kids doing something right and praise them for it.

Catch them struggling with something and know it’s up to you to help them work through it.

No blaming and complaining allowed.

No thinking “I got this, I’m good at this.”

No leaving God out of the plans (or the battles).

Give thanks always for the privlage of parenthood.

Don’t be too proud to ask for help.

And make it a point each day to look down on your children while they sleep.

A great reminder of a parent’s great responsiblility and great purpose in life.

A great reminder of God’s love for us and our dependence on Him.

Now go find some really bad music to set 5am alarm to……even if you have no intention of getting up.

Having a spouse talk about your stupidity promotes humility.

 

I Forgot How Bad Walmart Sucks

walmart cart

I’m not just a “glass half-full” guy.  I’m a glass 3/4 full guy.

I tune out the chatter of all the ills and downfalls of my small town, my state, and the USA.  Look for the good and you will find it.  If you can’t find it, look harder.  Or better yet, just set out to make some small part of your world a little better each day.  Find the bright side.  Yeah, that sounds good.

And then I wake up in a strange town in desperate need of donuts, night crawlers, and chicken livers.  Without knowing where to turn for these three key items, I have a lapse in judgement and ask Siri those words that don’t seem natural to me, “driving directions to Walmart”.  I don’t do Walmart when I’m at home, but that’s another story for another day.

This is an early morning trip, designed to miss the first of the month mayhem.  I arrived in a good mood, happy to be away from a stressful job, free to spend a relaxing day of fishing with my family.  I drove away minutes later, convinced that our country is in complete and hopeless decay.

I suppose our view of the world depends on which part of the world we’re looking at, who we spend our time with, and what types of media we allow to invade our brain.  For those who work at Walmart, you have my sympathy.  Unconsciously, I have sheltered myself daily from a large segment of people.

As a teen, during the “rock music will send you to hell” era, I used to tell people that people didn’t turn to the ways of evil because they listened to heavy metal, but for those that were heavy into evil……heavy metal would obviously be the music of choice.  So I’m not saying that everybody that shops at Walmart is lazy.  But if you are lazy, then you wouldn’t dream of shopping anywhere else.

It’s an absolute haven for people who come from the school of thought that preaches doing as little as humanly possible and the greatest theme for life in general,

“Somebody else will get it.”

The store wasn’t very full at this particular time of morning.  I was amazed at the number of motorized shopping carts in use, not because they were needed by most……..just because they were so convenient and so dang available at this early hour.

Impaired lady in checkout line ramming her cart against the counter, causing the cashier a momentary panic……check.

Lady with a half-dressed infant slung uncomfortably in the bread basket of the shopping cart……check.

And the greatest scene of all came in the parking lot.  47 shopping carts.  Seven in cart corrals.  Forty running wild.  Forty people put their purchases in their car and listened to that voice in their head,

“Somebody else will get it.”

Too lazy to walk 15 feet to do the right thing.  Fifteen feet away from freeing up parking spaces and reducing the grave danger of runaway shopping carts.  But it’s too much to take on.  I’ll just get in my car and leave it there for someone else to deal with.

So I get judgy.  I go ahead and assume, that of those 40 cart leavers, zero have had a job and done it well.  If they do have a job, I bet they live in total fear of doing too much or doing more than their share (I’m sure they have nothing to fear).  I bet they talk quite a bit about what’s fair.  I bet they talk a lot about what they think the government should be doing for them.  I bet some have never worked, never tried, and never intend to.  I bet they’re too lazy to raise their kids right.

A real Sherlock Holmes.  Amazing what a guy can deduct from a few scattered carts on a Walmart parking lot.

But what if every cart was left by a 90 year-old WWII vet or a single mother with four kids under the age of 5? What if they were struggling and I didn’t even notice? Didn’t offer to lend a hand.

Maybe the guy with the 3/4 full cup needs to look past the empty buggies and silly judgemental assumptions.

Find a greater, God honoring purpose.  Count blessings.  If my cup is overflowing, I need to ignore the objects and distractions and open my eyes to the people around me.  Fill someone else’s cup.  Make some part of the world better even if that part happens to be a Walmart parking lot.  It’s not about the place.  It’s about the people.

But Walmart still sucks.