Life

Photo Credit: Thad Ligon via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Thad Ligon via Compfight cc

I’ve learned that all of us face dark times. I wish that weren’t the case; why wish anyone to have to experience difficulties in life? In my role as a priest, I hear the stories and sometimes have the honor of walking with people through their dark nights. These words are for them and for the others who fear they have been abandoned by God.

A sermon based on Job 23:1-9, 16-17 and Psalm 22.

“If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.”  These words of Job tear at our souls.  Here he is desolate and alone, fearing he has been forgotten by God.  We hear these words echoed in the cry from the Psalmist, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Both are in what St. John of the Cross calls “the dark night of the soul.”  And neither of them wants to be there in that seemingly God-forsaken place.  Afraid and alone and overwhelmed.

Continue reading Hope in the Dark Night

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Nine years ago today we said goodbye to my mom, Betty LaBelle.  Here’s the eulogy I gave on the day of her funeral.betty

 

One morning during Mom’s last week, we gathered together around her watching the nurse, Nancy, take her vitals. After she was done, Nancy pulled the stethoscope out of her ears and turned to my two and half year old niece Lily and asked if she wanted to listen to her Nena’s heart. Lily was thrilled and jumped at the chance. Nancy helped her put the stethoscope in her ears and then placed the other end on Mom’s chest.

After a moment, Nancy looked at Lily and said, “What do you hear?” Lily’s eyes were big, her mouth wide. “A lion!” she exclaimed. And she was right. She heard the heart of a lion.

That strong heart kept her with us much longer than we had expected during those last few weeks. I lost count of the predictions the hospice nurse had given us based on Mom’s health and vitals; she possessed a deep desire to be with her family. Instead, we surrounded her and held her hand and whispered our love into her ear and snatched another kiss. We did for her what she most certainly would have done for any of us.

 

What can a son say in a matter of minutes to sum up the life of a mother who meant so much? How can I attempt to distill the life of Betty LaBelle into a brief eulogy? And yet—and yet.   “It is those we live with and love and should know who elude us,” author Norman Maclean writes at the end of one of his stories. It is those we love, the ones we share the most moments with, the ones we think we know, who somehow turn out to be the ones who become shadowy to us. But we still try to understand them, we still reach out to them.

 

Mom lost her own mother very early in life, while she was just a teenager. Not long after that, she was asked to be a live-in nanny for another family. Those two events merged together in her mind; that early death and her departure from her family home while still in high school became fused because of the difficulty both presented to her. Losing a parent at a young age raises enough questions of uncertainty, let alone an early departure from your childhood home. Yet she jumped into her new role with a gentleness and caring that would become her trademark. She would often tell stories about Walter and Theo and their children with fondness. In spite of the tragedy of her mother’s death, she found something positive to hold onto.

 

She and Dad met at a St. Patrick’s Day party in 1958. He was completely enamored with her right from the start, and claims it was her great legs that caught his eye. The way she told the story, he asked her to marry him on their third date, and she told him to wait six months. He proposed again in six weeks. They were married eight months after they first met, and spent forty-seven years sharing their lives and love with one another.

 

My own early memories of Mom are fuzzy, uncertain, tentative, and that’s exactly what you’d expect from the sixth child of any woman. I can’t imagine the hours of work she had, the diapers and potty training and meals and homework and running this one here and that one there, and the laundry, good Lord, the laundry. I do remember sitting in my spot at the kitchen table for dinner, something we did together every night as a family.   I sat in the curve on the bench at the corner, which I must assume was the least desirable spot since I got it. And I do remember kneeling beside her each night with my sister Rhonda before we went to bed so she could hear our bedtime prayers.

 

Her faith in Christ gave a deep foundation to her life. That faith took on various expressions throughout her years, yet she never took it lightly. And I suspect that it was her faith that instilled in her a desire to help others, even sometimes at the expense of her own wellbeing. She had what can almost be described as an urgency to help others who were in need, just not in the ways you’d expect. She didn’t visit a nursing home, or give her time at local charities, rather she opened herself up to people both young and old who were hurting. She found ways to help those who somehow fell through the cracks. Our home became a haven for folks all throughout her life: from relatives who were in between places, to someone wanting a listening ear, to a friend needing a home for a few months. Ultimately she and Dad expressed this deep sense of compassion in opening their hearts and home to my sisters Laura and Berniece when Mom and Dad were just two years away from an empty nest. Instead of thinking of themselves and the gift of being finished with raising children, they began again with girls in kindergarten. They wanted to give these daughters a life of hope and promise that would otherwise escape them.

 

Mom desired for all of us as her children to fully experience and cherish a sense of togetherness. Sometimes she could be downright forceful about this. I remember a time when the entire family went to Cedar Point: children, grandchildren, Mom and Dad. Mom had made it a rule that we gather together and check in every couple of hours. So just as you were making it through the line of the Gemini or the log flume, it was time to check in again, and you had to skip your ride altogether. I ended up missing more attractions than I rode that day, but I can say that I saw my family with great frequency. I learned how to take one for the team that day.

 

This sense of connectedness that Mom desired for us spilled over one day as a group of neighborhood kids played kickball in our yard. A brother and sister from down the street got into a shouting match—they were on opposing teams. Mom heard them fighting through an open window. She came out, stopped the game and made them apologize to one another. Then in the coup de grâce, she made them end their apologies by giving each other a hug. That was the last time we played kick ball at our house.

 

Mom wanted us to have the joy in our lives that elusively evaded hers after her mother died. She would attend my brothers’ baseball and basketball games religiously. With most of us in musical ensembles, she and Dad sat through endless performances on uncomfortable chairs in the school gymnasium, all the while feeling pride. She always had high hopes for the gifts she gave, and was let down if there wasn’t an immediate response of gratitude—which meant that you had to be good at faking it if she gave you something you already had or saw that it was the wrong size. When trouble arose from time to time in our family—as it does in every family I know—she became disheartened. Although she had an ideal about how life should be, she also had a strong pessimistic streak, and that made some of the inevitable disappointments in life larger in her mind. In spite of this pessimism, she always held on to the belief that life in general, and our lives in particular, could be so much more.

 

Mom’s sense of humor around the table was infectious. I have fond memories of sitting in the kitchen playing cards all throughout my life. Mom could hold in tension both a seriousness for the game—she was a fierce competitor—and also the wisdom to have a good laugh when something tickled her fancy. She held on to that sense of humor until the very end. On one of my last visits with her earlier this year, Dad and I stopped at Wendy’s to grab some lunch for all of us. As I handed her her burger, I said, “We got it just the way you like it, with extra pickles,” knowing full well she hated pickles. She looked at me with that infamous look of hers and without missing a beat said, “So what you’re telling me is that you want to get to your grave quicker than I’m getting to mine?”

 

The thing that brought her the most joy, however, was her grandchildren. When Angela, the first grandchild, began talking, she couldn’t get out “Grandma” and instead said “Nena.” Mom latched onto that name—it made her sound less old, more fun-loving—and it became the name all of her grandchildren used for her. Those kids loved their Nena and she doted on them as every grandparent should. She went to all sorts of events, competitions, baseball games, and concerts for them. She traveled to see the ones who were out of town. She spent weeks finding the perfect Christmas gifts—she made Christmas into an unbelievable extravaganza of presents and joy. She babysat and gave hugs and always had a multitude of snacks in her pantry. Nena worked her magic and made each of her grandchildren feel special. When Dad retired, they decided to relocate to Charlotte to be closer to my sisters and their younger children, so they could see them frequently and shower them with love.

Since I’ve only become a parent recently, I didn’t have long to experience this firsthand, but I was amazed at the love and generosity she bestowed on my son Noah. Even when her health was beginning to fail, she still wanted to see him playing on the playground near her house. So one bright afternoon, Melissa and I drove Mom down to the park, and she watched from the bench with a huge smile on her face as Noah squealed with delight from the infant swing.

In the end, I know Mom took a great deal of pride in her children and grandchildren. She told me a number of times during those last two weeks of how proud she was of me, how proud she was of all us. She and Dad taught us well: to be generous toward others, to approach life in gentleness and gratitude, to be faithful to our Christian beliefs. That’s what she was proud of. That’s what she embraced in her life.

There are many things about Mom’s life that I will never understand, and there were conversations we never had for various reasons. Even though we all lived together for such a long time and loved each other and should have known each other, she still eluded us. She still eluded me. But I will continue to reach out to her. And I will always know the brilliant legacy she left: she had a deep and abiding faith, an unfathomable love and generosity for others, and, above all, she had the heart of a lion. More than anything else, I want that heart.

 

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Our sponsored child and her mother.

Our sponsored child and her mother.

This past Monday, World Vision, a Christian relief organization, issued a statement that they had revised their employment policies and would now begin to hire Christians in same-sex marriages.  Richard Stearns, World Vision’s President, stated, “Changing the employee conduct policy to allow someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ to work for us makes our policy more consistent with our practice on other divisive issues.”  He went on to say, “This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.”

World Vision struck out to find middle ground recognizing that faithful Christians are not in agreement on this issue, and that as a Christian organization they wanted to reflect that diversity within the Christian community.

The last few days have seen a flurry of responses. More progressive Christians applauding the decision, more conservative denouncing it. Folks like Franklin Graham and other Evangelicals issued statements claiming World Vision had clearly turned their backs on biblical faith. Reports emerged of more than 2000 sponsorships of needy children had been pulled.  Rachel Held Evans and others online encouraged new people to step forward to fill the gap. In short, a fire storm was taking place.

Yesterday, World Vision changed their minds.

My family sponsors two children through World Vision, a boy in Swaziland and a girl in Burundi. We get letters from them and we send them postcards and small gifts throughout the year. Each Christmas we send a larger donation, $100, to help them get something they desperately need. This past month we got a reply from the young girl telling us how grateful she was and explaining how she and her mother bought many things including a dress outfit for church, metal sheets for their roof, some soap, basic food supplies and a goat.  We got a picture of her standing near all these things.  $100 goes a long way in the poorest country of the world.

I couldn’t imagine ever pulling my sponsorship of her over any issue I had with World Vision. And that’s the thing I just can’t get over in the midst of the last few days.  2000 children and their communities lost sponsorship and a connection with a family here in the US due to this issue.

In the aftermath of yesterday’s announcement, people on Rachel Held Evan’s blog said things like, “As a gay Christian, while I cannot help but feel betrayed by World Vision’s sudden reversal, I won’t take my sponsorship away. I made a commitment to a young boy, and I want to honor that.” There were many of these responses.

I’m not naive enough to think that only conservative Christians would pull sponsorships and only progressive ones would honor the commitments.  I suspect that there will be some who feel betrayed in this week’s change and then change back who will cancel new sponsorships (although they more than likely haven’t even finalized the paperwork), but I get caught by that number of 2000 kids losing sponsorship.

All too often I hear evangelical Christians proclaim to “hate the sin and love the sinner” as the answer to tough issues. But this week many didn’t show any love at all. Kids in the Third World became pawns to be played in this issue, even though certainly they had done nothing wrong. Many conservatives claimed that they would switch to another relief organization, but still the particular child they sponsored would be left in the lurch.

In the end it comes down to whether you understand faith as incarnational or not. For many evangelicals it’s about right belief.  Either you are right or wrong (although issues they focus on shift as time goes on—see women’s ordination and divorce). Many believe this is the last great defining issue on biblical authority and if it falls, so too will fall the foundation on which they stand.

But to me it really is about how to live faith in real flesh and blood.  Pulling money from a child in Burundi goes against the biblical injunction to care for widows and orphans as the only way to gauge pure religion (James 1:27). The policy change came about certainly because of real Christian people who wanted to work at World Vision (or currently work there) and are married to another person of their same gender. Dismissing both the children and those employees refuses to see them as God’s children, as valuable to God.

Biblical faith isn’t about policies, it’s about relationships. Jesus came and lived among us. He got to know us. He had deep compassion. What this week showed deeply is that for many Christians it’s all about being right regardless of anything else. In the biblical narrative, Jesus had a tendency to denounce people like that. When sinners came in to do acts of compassion—like the woman who washed his feet—he praised her for it.

This week exposed a deep truth: we still have much to learn from Jesus.

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Kids Near Nelson Mandela's Home

Kids Near Nelson Mandela’s Home

I’ve traveled to South Africa twice—once in conjunction with a 11 week summer mission to Swaziland in 1992 and then for a Habitat for Humanity Jimmy Carter Work Project with the National Council of Churches in 2002. South Africa has a special place in my heart, so I was saddened to learn yesterday of Nelson Mandela’s death.

He fought tirelessly for equality and justice. I cannot fathom how the years in prison didn’t make him hardened, except maybe faith in God and a trust that eventually justice would be realized.

As part of my trip in 2002, our group began in Johannesburg. We toured many areas and visited churches and HIV homes. We also went to Soweto.  I wrote reflections of our trip for the NCC website, and below is one I did just after our time in Soweto. We eventually traveled to Durban for our blitz build on a site that had once been owned by black South Africans, had been seized during the apartheid and had been reclaimed by Habitat for affordable housing.

I give thanks for the life of Nelson Mandela, for all he did to respect the dignity of every human being. His life will live on in the many children of South Africa, those who will lead us forward into greater respect and acceptance of others.

My thoughts from that day over 11 years ago….

We headed out of town after a tour of downtown Johannesburg.  A few miles out, our bus stopped on the side of the road above a shantytown – a hodge-podge collection of one-room homes made by the poorest of the poor. The houses were made of wood, tin, plastic and many other materials. We were entering into Soweto, the large black township in South Africa just outside of Johannesburg.

Soweto was home to Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. They didn’t live in this shantytown but in small homes further up in Soweto. Soweto is home to over four million black South Africans. It makes up half of the population of Johannesburg.

I looked down at the homes that were no bigger than my bedroom. Upwards of twenty people share that living space. There were too many homes to count. I could see a single water faucet from our vantage point and I wondered how many families used it.

We continued our bus tour, passing by open markets; Freedom Square, where the ANC held gatherings, a group of children playing soccer, many people walking on the side of the road. We stopped at the Hector Peterson Memorial which commemorates a 12-year-old student shot by the police in 1976. He had joined other students in a peaceful demonstration against the use of Afrikaans as the institutional language at the school. A picture of his contorted, bloody body being carried by another student became a symbol of the injustice experienced by the blacks and gave rise to the anti-apartheid movement.

We stopped on a street to see the home of Winnie and Nelson Mandela – a small four-room house where Winnie lived during much of the time Nelson Mandela was in prison. A block further down on the same street sits the home of Desmond Tutu. As we looked on this street where two Nobel Prize winners had lived children gathered for us to take a picture of them near Mandela’s house.

I look at the faces of the children in my camera viewfinder wondering if any of them will be a Nobel Prize winner. Or the children I saw at the shantytown. Or the ones I saw playing soccer. Will one of them be the next Nelson or Desmond? Will they rise above the poverty, the injustice, the crime to make this world a better place?

How can they accomplish this unless someone gives them hope? How can they unless a mother or a grandfather or a pastor or someone else tells them that they can make a difference? How can they unless someone believes in them?

I snap my pictures of the children, wave my goodbyes and say a prayer. And even though the Habitat for Humanity build is in Durban I pray that the work we do might provide enough hope for even one child to want to make the world a more peaceful place.

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mywishI’m the kid who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up at a young age and still have the paper I wrote for Mrs. Sears on January 31, 1978 to prove it. If you look at the trajectory, you could draw a straight line from 2nd Grade until now and think I’ve been riding the high life.

Well, I’ve been riding life, alright.  But I’ve experienced the crazy, confidence-shattering, disquieting realities of life not some made-for-TV movie idea of life. Yet I’m a priest, and I’m supposed to have it all together so I can encourage other people during their difficult times.

My struggles in life almost drowned me at times, as they do to so many others, clergy and folk-not-crazy-enough-to-be-clergy alike. I’ve lived days dogged by depression wondering if God had left me completely alone in the dark. Not too long ago I experienced the death of a parent, an untenable and soul-crushing experience in the church I served and a traumatic leg injury.

I nearly lost my faith.

Sometimes I look back at that kid I was and wonder how he knew so certainly about things. I read his earnest writing and frankly I want to protect him from the realities of life. Which makes me sound melancholy or Charlie Brownish.

Or just real.

When I think about my wish to grow up and be a priest these days, I recognize that experiencing a not so smooth path, following a line with peaks and valleys, has given me a bit more empathy than if I moved directly to Go and collected my $200. Today I got to sit with a family as they buried their grandmother and mother, chat with a woman excited to be flying out to visit family, speak with a parishioner whose father has entered the last stages of life, email 11 families who have each welcomed a new baby recently, and learned of a couple separating. Birth and death and sharing love and holding out hope for reconciliation. Today alone.

And I wouldn’t change it for anything. Because life isn’t simple — no matter what a plasticky preacher says on TV — but it is full of grace. That’s what I’ve learned since 2nd Grade.  If we just hold on long enough to get through the pain, grace abounds.  When you feel like giving up — when I feel like giving up — I hope we all remember to just hold on.  Life does go on.  And, as I wrote to Mrs. Sears, God ultimately helps us.

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A couple of  weeks ago I traveled to my childhood home in Detroit to take part in the Relay for Life and honor of my parents, Russ and Betty. I was asked to speak that evening at the beginning of the Luminaria Ceremony. Paper bags decorated to honor the ones who have died due to cancer or the ones who currently face the disease line the track providing the only light. Over the next hour hundreds of people would walk the track helping to raise money. Here are the words I spoke to the ones gathered there.

______________________________

I walk some mornings deep into the woods near my home with my beagle, Buster. I like the time to stretch my legs since, as an Episcopal priest, I sit behind a desk like the Buddha most days. As I walk and Buster sniffs under everything he can hoping to catch a whiff of a rabbit, my mind drifts.  The sun just coming up over the trees transforms the bushes and the path with the most magnificent display of light.  Recently I’ve been thinking of my parents and especially my dad, wishing he could be walking with me to experience all this, and we could catch up on our lives.

Seventeen months ago in early January as my wife Melissa and I drove back from an anniversary trip to Quebec City, I got a text from my sister Gina to call home. It was about dad she said, and it wasn’t good. He had gone to the hospital a few days after Christmas with chest pain that had radiated to his back. They did an x-ray followed by a quick scan. They found a few nodules on his lungs, possibly cancer. I listened, stunned. I relayed all this to Melissa, and she held my hand. As we drove through Maine, we talked about my mom who had died five years early to cancer, shed some tears and tried not to give into the darkness.

More scans quickly followed, and a biopsy was scheduled. My siblings and I—there are eight of us altogether, five of us living nowhere near our childhood home—made plans to support dad. We descended into town for a birthday celebration—his 77th—and shared memories and made new ones. We got the complete report the following week, Stage 4 lung cancer. My siblings living nearby shuttled him back and forth to appointments and got medications and went with him as he began chemo.

Wanting to help as best we could, my wife and I packed up our kids and drove out from Boston in March to see him. It had been a rough go with the chemo, and he had developed a number of blood clots, earning him an extended trip to the ICU. We arrived just as he was moved to the step-down unit. My kids—seven and five at the time—made cards and pictures on our long drive, and they srambled up onto the hospital bed with their Papa to give him smooches and hugs and tell him about important things. Throughout all the complications, he kept his sense of humor and boisterous laugh. The week slipped by too quickly, and we headed back.

Dad rebounded after our trip and moved on to rehab. I saw photos of him determined to master a walker so he could get home. After a couple of weeks, he spent one day there as a trial run. Soon after however he contracted a nasty infection postponing his full return. A few days later I got the phone call telling me that his body was giving out. It was Good Friday and as the lone clergyperson at my parish I couldn’t leave until after Easter. I called dad that night to tell him that I loved him and that I was sorry I couldn’t be with him in person until after Easter. He told me not to worry, that he was proud of me and that he knew we’d see each other again, either in this life or the next. We shared a prayer and said our goodbyes.

On Easter Day, April 8, 2012, my father died. He waited until late that evening, long after my services had ended. We had driven as far as Buffalo, NY when we got the news.

Scripture tells us that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” I remember that when the sun comes up and I’m walking Buster and thinking about my parents.

I don’t know many of your stories or who you are remembering or who you know right now who is battling cancer or if you are battling cancer yourself. I’ve buried five people over the last year and half who fought gallantly against cancer.  I had another close friend die over Thanksgiving leaving her two young kids and a beloved husband. I have a parishioner currently dealing with metastatic cancer, and others whom we pray for on a regular basis.

In spite of all this darkness, I do not lose hope. Because I know the ones who—with the help of prayers, medical professionals and the people who love them—have fought against cancer and are now in remission. People like my father-in-law who had prostate cancer, and another parishioner who just this week asked me to take her off our prayer list because she has fully recovered from breast cancer.

Tonight we light luminaries and walk and hope for a cure while those candles flicker in the darkness. We walk for more birthdays and anniversaries and fishing trips and Thanksgivings and backyard bar-b-queues and Tiger games. We will stay up way past our bedtimes to hold on to that light and dispel the monsters that flood our dreams with despair. We will keep on walking throughout the night because we hope that the funds we raise this weekend will lead to a cure for cancer.  We’ll continue until the dawn breaks and magnificent light floods this field, and we are greeted with the gift of another day.

So let us walk, remembering those who have gone before. Let us walk holding in our hearts and minds those we know who are currently battling cancer. And let us walk trusting that we are bringing hope to thousands of others, believing that above all else the light shines on through the darkest of nights, and the darkness never ever overcomes it.

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Early yesterday morning I rolled the kids out of bed, quickly walked our beagle, and then got drinks and snacks ready to go. Although a holiday, we we’re headed to see the start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton, one town over from Southborough.  We arrived at a friend’s house before the roads had closed and enjoyed some breakfast together as we chatted. Then my family along with the daughter of our friend walked the quarter mile to the starting line.

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for a race, a bit crisp but sunny. And Melissa, a half-marathoner and lover of all things running, was unbelievably excited. We made it to the start, looked around at the tents set up on the town green, and chatted about the race.  Our kids found a tent selling cowbells to ring.  Olivia picked out one with hearts with a peace signs drawn all over it.  We walked back down to our friend’s house and took up residence on Main Street to cheer people on.

We watched wave upon wave of starts—first came the folks with disabilities of all kinds, the ones on prosthetics, a man we had read about in the Sunday Globe and Team Hoyt.  Then the women’s elite start.  Finally, the elite men followed by three waves of about 9,000 people each.  Our kids rang their bells out when people ran by, and we clapped and called out encouragement, by name, if the person had printed their names on their shirts. By the time all the runners had passed our vantage point, the wheelchair race was nearing its completion.  We headed back inside to watch the finish of the elite runners on TV.

Our family traveled back the 8 miles to Southborough and watched a bit more coverage before enjoying the glorious day.

My brother called to check on us, and that’s how I learned of the bombings. A good friend had just finished the race and was waiting for his wife who was about a half mile behind him.  A parishioner stood forty feet from the second explosion.  These three and others we knew racing are physically unharmed. The mental and emotional toll will linger for some time.

But I can’t help but think of Olivia’s bell with those heart shaped peace signs. Love and peace. That’s what marathons provide. We saw that in the aftermath yesterday as thousands of people helped out in so many ways.

As I sit in my office on another gorgeous day and think about those impacted forever by this, I am sad. I recognize how much we need love and peace in our world. And I know that even though there are a few out there that want to destroy both of those things, I’m gonna keep ringing that bell in all the ways I know how.  Terrorism of any kind only wins when we allow fear to creep in and control us.

One year Melissa will run the Boston Marathon for a charity she loves, and the kids and I will be watching in Boston and cheering her on.  Olivia will be ringing that cowbell of hers, and I’ll remember that love and peace are so much stronger than fear.

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My son created a card for me on Father’s Day, a class project at his elementary school.  He started with a piece of blue construction paper, and wrote the words “Happy Father’s Day!” on the front.  Inside he pasted in a copied sheet of a white paper that began with “My Dad is the most wonderful dad in the whole world!”  And then it contained lines with intentional blanks.  “He is as handsome as a_____________.”  “He is as strong as a _________________”

My son just finished first grade and can be wonderfully creative.  In this case he wanted to be funny.  I’m as handsome as a Dad.  My strength?  Like a bull’s.  The food I favor above all others garnered this answer, “Well, I do not know.”  He claims that he wouldn’t trade me for a Teddy Graham.

And my favorite activity? iPhone.

When I received this card, I laughed quite a bit until I read that line.  Honestly, that one stung.  It’s accurate, at least in his eyes (okay, it’s accurate in anyone’s eyes).  He didn’t embellish any on that empty line to make me laugh.  He just wrote down the truth.

I can get easily distracted.  Especially after coming home from work.  One of the curses of living where I work is the lack of a commute so I can process the day.  I can walk home in less than a minute.  (I’m not complaining, by the way.  I love that I can pop over for lunch or to grab something I accidently left at home or take some time in the afternoon to meet my kids at the bus.)  When I need a few minutes of downtime, my iPhone is my addiction of choice.

At times I get wrapped up in the social aspects of being online.  Seeing clever updates on Facebook.  Making some of my own.  Reading my favorite news sites for the happenings of the day.  Intently consuming Yahoo’s “Top 10 Foods You Love to Hate” story that earned top billing on their homepage.

But I can tell you, my iPhone isn’t the activity I want my son to remember about me when he gets older.  I want him to cherish the time we spent outdoors together, or reading books, or making a derby car for scouts.  I want him to know me as the one who loves to cook, who oozes passion for writing, who can’t wait to climb the next peak in the White Mountains.  I don’t want him to remember me with my eyes fixed on a smart  phone.

So while I sometimes want to connect with people online or to be up on the latest information, I know it can’t take the place of connecting with my family.  And that’ll mean putting down the phone someplace, maybe even turning it off for a bit, and intentionally building memories.  I’m starting now.  I’ve got next year’s first grade card from my daughter to work towards.

And at least I know I won’t be traded for a Teddy Graham.

What about you?  What’s your distraction of choice?  What do you long to be known for by your kids or spouse or friends?  Are you doing that?  I’d love to hear your comments.

__________________

Stock photo from Stock.Xchng by Horton Group (hortongrou).

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“A good story involves a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” – Donald Miller

I attended Don Miller’s Storyline Conference this spring.  I read Don’s life-changing book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years while recuperating from the surgical repair of my tibial plateau fracture, and Storyline follows a natural progression from the book.  In short, Don invites participants to intentionally live a better story. But if you’re going to live a good story, then you need to overcome conflict.  Most of us eschew conflict like the plague. (The plague still exists by the way.  When I lived in Colorado, an open space area near us—home to a prairie dog colony—bore signs warning that the cute little dogs had contracted the Bubonic Plague. You could enter at your own risk.  It certainly made you think twice about walking there.  I high-tailed it back to my car.) So if conflict lies in the way of us living a better story, surely we shouldn’t plop back down on the couch and give up.  But most of us do. We’d rather grab a bag of Doritos and watch reality TV on the Food Network than engage in overcoming conflict.  (Okay, I’d rather do that.  Insert your own snack food and TV addictions). I suspect we do this for a few of reasons:

  • We think conflict will go away by itself and when it does we’ll get the story we want.  Why we fall for this magical thinking stumps me, but we do.  Conflicts standing in the way of a better life—like a deeper relationship with your spouse, tackling a fitness program, getting out of debt, planning the trip you’ve always dreamed about, starting your own business — don’t disappear.
  • We push off starting till tomorrow. Maybe we’ve heard Annie sing “Tomorrow” too many times, and never realize that if tomorrow is going to be a brand new day, we really have to start over.  If we live on auto-pilot, tomorrow will be a repeat of today.  And so will tomorrow’s tomorrow.  And before you know it, Christmas comes again.
  • We don’t know where to start.  The curse of our society lies in believing that everything happens quickly and easily.   But accomplishing goals takes work, a number of small steps put together.  Rather than throwing in the towel before we begin, doing one small step today makes tomorrow’s small step a little easier.   You have to live intentionally and begin plugging away.  What is one thing you can do today to move you in the direction of your goal?

I’m trying to put this in practice myself. I love to write, but have had trouble making the time.  I’ve started finding time in the early mornings which means rolling out of bed a bit earlier than normal. I also signed up for a 7 mile road race in August.  It won’t run itself.  I’ve been hitting the roads and the gym to get my body in shape.  It’s not “fun” but I know I’ll love the feeling when I cross that finish line.  The story I want to live involves being a writer and a middle-age man who’s in shape. What about you?  What are some of the conflicts you’d like to overcome so you can live a better story?  How are you living intentionally?  I’d love to read your comments. _________________________

Photo from Stock.xchng by Julie Elliott-Abshire (je1196)
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We made water propelled bottle rockets this week with Noah’s Cub Scout Den (I’m the Den Leader).  It’s a pretty easy project including a soda bottle or two, some tape, glue, foam board and an exacto knife.  It took a bit to get going — not surprising with eight first graders — but they soon got into it and were excited to try it out.

Even though the rockets were technically for our next Pack meeting (the big group of all Cub Scouts), we decided to give them a try even though the glue wasn’t quite dry and there was a strong possibility of destruction on impact.  They boys had a blast (no pun intended).  With the help of a dad, they put their rockets on the launch pad, someone did the hard work on the bicycle pump, and then one of the boys pulled a release string.  Up they went, some much higher than others, some in spirals of craziness, some with a loud woosh.  Seriously a blast (okay, that one was intended).

Some of my friends had those handheld plastic water rockets from the 70s and early 80s when I was a kid.  Same sort of principle on a smaller scale.  FIll up a plastic rocket with a little water, pump in some CO2 and once the pressure has built, release a trigger.  I suspect you cant’ find them today as much because boys like aiming projectiles at each other.

Noah oozed excitement. He couldn’t wait to see his launch, and wanted to pull the trigger-release string.  All smiles.  What surprised me was how much I loved it too.  Seeing what would happen when one of the boys let ‘er rip, watching how different designs impacted flight. Laughing hysterically when one of the rockets literally blew apart.

I’ve always loved the movie “October Sky.”  It’s about some boys from coal mining country who get consumed with making rockets around the time of Sputnik, and the science project that results.  It’s about following your dreams and passions and finding the joy in the simple things of life.

Sometimes it’s easy to lose your focus in life.  We get so used to consuming — be it entertainment, social media, food, and whatnot — that we don’t really experience all the fullness of life out there for us.  Like focusing on people rather than things or having fun.  Or taking an hour and building a water bottle rocket with my son and watching it shoot up into the evening sky.  That was a highlight of the day for me.  And today I’m drinking a bit more soda than I usually do so we can build another rocket this weekend.

 

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