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Friday, December 26, 2014

Our God - Christmas Version/Edition

Our God (Christmas Version)
Verses by Jason Holdridge
Song, Chorus, & Bridge by Chris Tomlin

Leaving the glories above,
You came as a gift wrapped in love.
There’s no one like you,
None like you.

As God took on flesh with a face
Our eyes beheld truth kissing grace,
There’s no one like you,
None like you.

Our God is greater,
Our God is stronger,
God you are higher than any other,
Our God is Healer
Awesome in Power
Our God, Our God.

Making our likeness your own,
You humbled yourself to our home.
There’s no one like you,
None like you.

With earth touching heaven we sing
Declaring this baby our King.
There’s no one like you,
None like you.

And if our God is for us, then who could ever stop us

And if our God is with us, then what could stand against.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

"Dad, are you happy?"

“Dad, are you happy?”

This is a question I would expect from any one of my daughters.  They have grown in a household where we aren’t afraid to ask each other questions if we sense the need to go there.

But I was taken aback when it was my 2-year-old son, Caleb.

“What did you say, buddy?” I responded just to make sure I heard him correctly.

“Are you happy, Daddy?”

Yep, that’s what I thought he said.  I was stoking the wood stove when his question flew across the living room and landed in my ears.  I wasn’t unhappy, but I was distracted and somewhat preoccupied.

“Yeah buddy, I’m happy?” I said to answer his probing inquiry.

“Me happy, too, Dad.”

He bounded off like Tigger and left me sitting there wondering what he saw in me that made him ask me that.  What was my face saying?  What was my spirit emitting that made him stop dead in his tracks to pull me out of my trance?  I still don’t know exactly.

I do wonder sometimes what kids notice that we don’t think they do.  What they pick up on that we think we alone are privy to.  I shutter at the thought. 

A moment later he stumbled over and draped himself over my lap.  He gasped out these words as his lungs were stretched over my knees…

“Dad, I a good boy?”

“Yep, buddy, you’re a good boy.” 

He threw his arms around my neck and gave me a hug repeating my answer as if to speak encouragement into his own heart…

“I a good boy.”

All these feelings, moods, words, touches, non-verbals, voice inflections…all these combine to communicate a powerful narrative to our children, answering questions we rarely consider they’re actually asking.  The answers they receive to these spoken and unspoken questions at the earliest of ages write the prologue of their storied lives.  If we aren’t careful, we will show up late into their story before we realize how many chapters have already been written without our consciousness. 

May I wake up to what is already happening that I’m mistakenly waiting for.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The difference between "my boy" and "my son"...

“Caleb, did you know that you’re my boy?”

“Caleb your boy?”

“Yep, did you know that you’re daddy’s boy?”

“Yes.” He said with eye aglow.

I leaned in to kiss him while tucking his covers up tight around his neck.  As I turned and walked toward his door to turn out the light, he spoke again.

“And your son.”

I thought I might have misheard him.  So I turned back around and said, “What did you say?”

“…and your son.”

“That’s right, buddy, you’re my son.”

I don’t know why, but this statement coming from my 2-year old boy startled me.  He was making a distinction that I’ve been wrestling with from the day we adopted our boys from Ethiopia.

I don’t know why, but it’s much easier to say that they’re my boys than it is to say they’re my sons.  Even when I’m introducing my family to people I’ve noticed that I say, “I have three daughters and two boys.”  Something about the word “son” feels awkward to say aloud.  I feel bad saying that, but it’s the truth.

For some who adopt, the connection is immediate, the bond almost seamless.  Love flows freely, feelings run deep as though it were meant to be and always was all at the same time.  There isn’t a grafting into, there is almost an ordained spirit of oneness that permeates the relationship from the get-go.  I’ve seen it, I’ve read of it, I’ve prayed for it…but I haven’t experienced that, at least to the degree I’ve witnessed in others who have adopted.

It’s taken time to feel like their father, the way I feel like my girl’s father.  To hold them without knowing I’m holding them.  To kiss them without being aware that I’m kissing them.  To play with them without self-consciousness or restraint. 

I’m getting there, but in fits and starts.  There will be moments that I forget about our life without them and feel as though it’s not just the “new normal” but all we’ve every known.  These are truly beautiful moments.  But they aren’t as frequent as I wish they were.  I’m sure there will come a day when I don’t even think about it, but after over a year and a half, I’m still startled occasionally.

“and your son.”

How could my 2-year old sense my need to go to that place?  How could his jovial little spirit speak aloud such a clear delineation, such a much needed distinction? 

As I kissed him again and again stroking his hair and rubbing his arm I said to him again and again, “You’re my son, Caleb.  You aren’t just my boy, you’re my son.”

“Caleb your son?” he asked as he laid his head on my arm. 

“Yep.” I reply with misty eyes.

“Caleb your son.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Things I tell myself from time to time:

Things I tell myself:
1. You're not that big a deal, relax.
2. You've been here before, don't sweat it.
3. Remember everyone is fighting a personal battle, be gracious.
4. But for the grace of God, there go I.  If you think you stand, take heed, lest you fall.
5. This too shall pass, soldier on.  Get a good night's sleep and see what it feels like tomorrow.
6. Don't demand from others what you don't demand from yourself.
7. Don't demand from others what you do demand from yourself.
8. Be ok with slow growth, that's how all healthy things grow.
9. Things will be ok if you take a day off and do nothing, seriously.
10. Remember your last mistake, learn from it, then forget about it.
11. You don't know as much as you think you do, be humble.
12. You're not going to be liked by everyone, deal with it.
13. Do a few things well, rather that many things poorly.
14. Do not be deceived that pressure is the same as power.  They feel the same; they are not.
15. Listen more than you talk...listen way more than you talk.
16. When speaking to people, seek to make an impression rather than be impressive.
17. I all your getting, get friends that you can sit by a fire and laugh with.
18. Don't hide behind God, if you've got a problem, don't busy yourself with ministry.
19. Do all you can to foster congruency between your family and the rest of your life.  Fear duplicity.
20. Look for the good news everywhere you go.  It's there, it just isn't talked about as much.
21. Everyone has a glory inside them, draw it out patiently and celebrate it.
22. Don't be afraid to stand for something even if people don't like it, life's not a popularity contest.
23. Learn from criticism, don't run from it or dismiss it...take time to pan for the gold found therein.
24. Do hard things. It's the only antidote to not wasting your life.
25. Don't feel guilty when you relax and treat yourself to nice things.
26. Want what you have today more than you did yesterday.  You are blessed, remind yourself of that.
27. Share your blessings with those less fortunate.  You are blessed to be a blessing.
28. Interact with people, ideas, and books your disagree with.  Sharpen the saw of how you see life.
29. When your mind belches: "More, Better, Different, Faster." Say back: "Enough. That's enough."
30. Train your brain to not be a people-pleaser.  Please God and be done with it.
31. Constantly peruse your priorities and reorient your schedule around your core priorities.
32. Trust the truth.  Even when (especially when) the truth seems opposite of the currents of culture.
33. Commit to pray even when you get distracted. No matter how broken the prayer...pray.
34. Fight for the hearts of those you're leading.  Listen to them and celebrate them.
35. Don't succumb to pride.  You aren't as unique as you're trying so hard to be.
36. Make time for down time.  There is nothing that kills the soul faster than occupational constancy.
37. Trust your gut.  If you're instincts are says something isn't right, it probably isn't.  Back away.
38. Don't let negative and passive/aggressive people be in your inner circle.  They will eat you alive.
39. View sin seriously and aggressively. Practice radical amputation in regard to sin.
40. Seek to rid yourself of excessive accumulation that deadens the nerve endings of gratitude.
41. Love your God, Love your neighbor, Love your enemies...and so fulfill the law of Christ.
42. Smile as much as possible and aim that smile directly at the people around you.
43. Lead when life needs leadership, follow when there's already great leadership in place.
44. Listen with all your being.  Don't take your eyes off the person talking.  Lock in.
45. Don't listen or watch stuff that trains you to think humanistically.  Shut it off and consult God.
46. Don't bemoan the fact that people are watching you because you're a leader.  It's a privilege.
47. Don't forget to play and engage in mindless recreation.  Your heart needs to decompress.
48. Do all you do for the glory of God.  Anything less is humanism; anything more is legalism.
49. My success in ministry doesn't translate into success with God.  Ministry can be godless.
50. God, then my wife, then my children, then the church.  From there it's up for grabs.

Friday, July 11, 2014

non-anxious presence...

"non-anxious presence."

I asked a dear friend who is a counselor what it was that allowed for life to live.  This was his answer. 
I felt it struck a chord inside me.

Probably because I'm having one of those weeks where anxiety is swallowing almost every waking moment of my life.  Like sand through my fingers, I'm losing my hours to this feeling of chronic self-critique and self-doubt.  I know what it means to be beside yourself because that is literally what I feel.  I feel as though I'm standing right next to myself unable to merge in the present tense with myself.  I'm not trying to find myself, that's another expression altogether.  No, being beside yourself is standing very near to your own life without the ability to move from duplicity to congruency.

I want ever so badly to become one with myself and to see with one set of eyes and to hear with one set of ears.  To be of one mind and heart.  Single-minded, whole-hearted.  I know what that feels like and it's the pure definition of "presence".  To be fully present is a cherished treasure and the greatest gift I could receive from someone or give to someone.  

But this idea of non-anxious presence fills my mind today.  I want to make myself do it.  I'm almost sure that I would lose the presence in the "trying"...the "striving for".  

I believe in God and I believe He is the one who doles out this rare jewel of peace.  He is the one who can whisper "Peace, be still" into the wind and waves foaming and fomenting in my mind.  He is the one who can hold me together...mind, body and spirit.  

I've decided to open myself to this possibility today asking God to enable me to be at peace with myself, one with myself.

It's no mistake that the Greatest Commandment has within it the necessity of "loving yourself".  It's impossible to non-anxiously love anyone or anything unless and until you find rest in your own chest.  


Friday, June 20, 2014

Daddy-Daughter conversations...Flopping.

“Dad, it seems like guys flop so much more than girls.”

I was watching the World Cup with my 13 yr. old, Aly, yesterday.  I absolutely love laying on the bed and snuggling with her while watching professional soccer.   Our commentary alone on the play-by-play is worth its weight in gold.

Her astute observation about the difference between men’s soccer and women’s soccer struck a nerve and stuck with me.

“It doesn’t make sense to me.  If guys are so much stronger, why do they act like babies, why are they so over-dramatic?”

I’m not gonna’ lie.  I wanted to defend my bros.  I felt like she was talking about something that goes way beyond and below the surface of soccer.

True story…my first thought was the time I heard my daughters say at the dinner table: “Dad is so much more dramatic when he gets sick than when mom does.”  No kidding.  The association came to my mind instantaneously.

In fact, the last time I got sick and puked (two weeks ago) I didn’t even tell anyone about it because of this conversation until my wife caught me in between the bathroom and the bedroom.

I don’t want to be like that.  I don’t want to milk pity.  I don’t want to overdramatize pain.  I don’t want to get a call because I fake an injury.  It’s not good soccer.  It’s not good manhood.

“Don’t marry someone like that, ya’ hear me?  Don’t marry a man that acts hurt to get attention.  That’s not a man.  You don’t want to hook your cart to someone like that.”

It made me think about my own life a lot.  Where do I flop?  Where is God calling me to man-up?  I don’t want to be a flopper.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Daddy-Daughter conversations...

“Taylor, what’s wrong?  Have I done something that makes you uncomfortable talking to me?”
Last night, Taylor and I put the boys to bed and we were home alone for a couple hours.  She was busying herself with stuff almost like she was avoiding me.

“Tay, what are you doing?” I asked.
“Just looking at some photo albums.” She replied.

After she was done doing that, she would bounce immediately to something else.

“Dad, can I use your computer to play a game?” She asked.
“Sure, just make sure you plug it in ‘cause the battery is low.” I replied.

This is when I noticed a more pronounced isolation from my presence.  She took the computer into another room and closed the door.  A lot of times she will open the laptop and sit next to me or lean against the wall in the same room, but she clearly wanted to be apart from me.  Not wanting to force her to be with me, I checked in on her to make sure she was ok.  Of course, she said she was just fine.

I noticed her open the door to the piano room and as she was closing the door behind her I couldn’t help but engage.

“Are you practicing piano, Tay?” I asked.
“No, I’m writing a letter.” She replied.  (not usual)
“Who are you writing a letter to?” I asked.
“I’m just writing a letter to Mommy.” She replied.
“Oh, what for?” I asked.
“I dunno’, I just wanted to write something to her.” She replied.

And with that, she closed the door behind her and came out 15 minutes later with a closed envelope scurrying away so that I didn’t have time to ask her a question…almost like she sealed it so I wouldn’t be able to ask her if I could read it.  She was over in the living room area mindlessly loitering.

“Hey, you wanna’ play a game with me on the bed?” I asked.
“Sure.” She replied.
About a minute later she came in with a wicker basket full of card games.  As she hoisted it up on the bed I could see in her eyes a distance that concerned me.  It is the kind of glazed look she has when she’s thinking hard about something and is carried away with her colliding thoughts.
“Is everything ok, Tay?” I asked.
“Yeah.” She replied.
“What did you write your mom about?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing much…it didn’t really come together that good.”  She replied.
“So did you not write the letter?” I asked.
“No, I did…It just wasn’t very good and it didn’t make sense.” She replied.

The more she talked, the more nervous energy she emitted.  It was actually making me feel awkward even being with her one-on-one, something I never feel with my daughters and never want to feel with them if I can help it.

“So what did you write her about even though it didn’t come together like you wanted?” I asked.
“Oh, nothing much. Can we play a game?” She replied.

At that point, I knew she didn’t want to talk to me about something that was absolutely overtaking her mind.  I knew I had to proceed gingerly and stealthily into her tender and timid soul.  Honestly, I didn’t know what to ask, but I just knew we needed to talk even though I could tell she didn’t want to talk to me.  It was hurtful to my heart to see her resistance to my pursuit, but it was even more painful to watch her hold in her feelings and put on an act in my presence because she was embarrassed to “go there” with me.

“Tay, were you writing Mom about sleeping in our room?” I asked.
The emotions and tears just detonated and she covered her face in what appeared to be shame.  I began to speak to her heart.
“Tay, I don’t know why you feel like you can’t talk to me or be with me when you’re feeling afraid.  Have I done something to hurt your feelings in the past?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so.” She replied.
“I would like to believe that, but I don’t understand why you avoid opening your heart to me when you know that I love you, cuddle you, support you, and will always protect you.  Are you sure I didn’t do something to hurt your feelings?” I asked again.
“Well, one time you got mad at me when I told you to stop laughing so loud in the movie theater.” She replied.

It’s amazing to me that things that seem so small and insignificant can lodge into a child’s heart and crawl into other areas of emotional entanglement.

“Well I’m very sorry for getting mad at your for that.  Will you forgive me?” I asked.
“Yes. I forgive you.” She replied.
“Can you think of anything else I’ve done to make you feel embarrassed to talk to me about your fears or your feelings?” I asked.
“Not really.  Well, there are sometimes I feel like you get frustrated with me that I’m sleeping on your floor and I’m scared that you’re mad at me.” She replied.
“I think we need to make sure that you understand the difference between frustration and anger.  I don’t feel anger toward you, I feel frustrated for you that you don’t feel free…I want to help you get free.  Do you understand the difference?” I asked.

She nodded while still trying to keep me from seeing her cry.

I began to talk to her about my love for her and how I long to be close to her.  I told her that I didn’t feel bad that she talked to mom about her fears and feelings, but that she could always come to me at any time and say, “Dad, can I talk to you about something?” and that I would stop whatever I was doing and listen to her.  I told her that I cared deeply and that I understood her feelings to some degree and didn’t want her to feel embarrassed for any thoughts or emotions she felt with me.  I told her that I have tons of emotions and ideas and conflicts bouncing around in my head and understand what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and scared sometimes.

The longer we talked, the more relaxed her facial muscles were.  I almost felt like I watched her pupils change as her eyes widened and looked up where the light was looking square into my eyes.  I didn’t want to stay too long in “serious” conversation and “wear out my welcome” so I said, “Let’s play a game.”

She picked the “Do I REALLY know you” (or something like that) game where you pick a stick that makes a statement where the other person has to guess how you would answer it.  It was a perfect game following our conversation because it confirmed that we know each other and care about each other very well.  Every time we would guess the other person’s likes or dislikes, favorites or non-favorites, Taylor would say something like, “We know each other pretty well, don’t we?”  I would respond with something like, “What do you expect, I’m your dad?”

When the game ended I was laying down on my stomach with my face pointed toward the end of bed.  Tay came over and laid down next to me facing the same direction.  I could hear that her sisters had just gotten home due to the stomping around upstairs, so I seized a moment before we were joined by the other princesses.

“I hope we will always be close to each other our whole lives.” I said softly.
Tay looked at me and said, “Oh, we will.  It makes me sad when I see daughters that aren’t close to their daddy’s and it makes me glad that you’re my dad cause I know we’ll always be close.”

Just then, the door opened and her sisters came into the room.

“Tay, were you crying?” Aly asked.
Tay quickly responded: “Yeah, but dad and I got to talk…and it was good.”

Yes, it was very good.

Friday, May 30, 2014

“Dad, I think our family talk the other night really helped me.”

“Dad, I think our family talk the other night really helped me.”

I was lying in bed last night next to Aly and was just asking her about her day.  I asked her how she was feeling about life in general and she gave this response.  She added, “I know that we have family talks a lot, but I really liked that one for some reason.”  (for some reason…interesting statement)

“What did you like about it?” I asked.

“Well, I just like getting together as a family and talking about each other and what we’re feeling.  It helps me to know what everyone else is going through.”

Sometimes it’s really that simple, isn’t it?  To gather your brood together and have a “family talk” seems intimidating to many, I’m sure.  But I think we think it’s supposed to be organized and ordered, planned and programmed—that’s why people shy away from gathering the troops and getting the lay of the land, and EKG on each family member.  But it’s nothing like that.

All it takes is someone, usually the father or mother, summoning the children into the living room.  As they sit down and you crack open a can of questions and commentary, the objective is nothing more than answering this question: “What is going on and why?”  It seems simplistic, but if you can inquire of each other’s hearts so that everyone can get a read on each other’s feelings and thoughts, the nucleus is strengthened bit by bit.

A lot of times these times can start off and put everyone on edge.  You can make statements like:
1.     Things are going to change around here.
2.     I’m sick and tired of your crappy attitudes.
3.     You’re driving us nuts and it’s gonna end today.
4.     Your mom and I have had it with your crap.

…and the like.

But I’ve noticed that when we have family meetings that begin more softly and sensitively, we have a better shot of disarming the defensive spirit in ourselves and our children.  It usually starts with thoughts like:

1.     We’ve been noticing a few things lately that really concern us.
2.     I don’t know what’s been eating at you guys, but it’s clear something is bothering you.
3.     These are a few things I’ve observed that break my heart and I think break God’s heart.
4.     We know that you guys have good hearts, but the way you’re talking to each other isn’t showing that.
5.     There is coming a day when you will grow up and we won’t be together anymore, I just don’t want you to look back on these days with regret, so we want to talk about how to make this season one of good memories.
6.     You guys say you love each other and us, but your attitude and actions aren’t demonstrating as of late. 

Or it can be tender questions: (Heidi is good at this)

1.     Is something bothering you right now that you aren’t telling us?
2.     Have we done something that has hurt you or caused you to have angry feelings toward us?
3.     How do you feel like you’re being treated that isn’t fair?
4.     Is there anything that you’ve been wanting to say to us or your sisters that you’ve bottled up inside?
5.     Do you feel pressure or stress that is causing you to be impatient and irritable?
6.     Do you feel overlooked or unappreciated in our family?
7.     Do you feel like someone else is getting more attention and it’s making you feel less valued and noticed?

Questions like that.

The third layer of thought is a little more nuanced and difficult, but this is where the parents have to speak into each child’s heart according to their particular story.  You have to tell them who they are, who they’ve been, and what you believe their unique glory is in life and within your family.  Each of them is different and it’s important to point out and affirm those differences or they all feel bad that they aren’t like someone else leading to chronic disappointment and demoralization.  The other night it took on the form of statements like:

1.     Taylor, I’ve seen you grow so much in your affection lately.  Ever since we talked about how you were standoffish, I can see how you’re taking initiative to be affectionate and ask questions to others.  Isn’t that so much more enjoyable?
2.     Kami, you didn’t used to be withdrawn and isolated…that isn’t who you are.  You have always been bold without a care in the world what people thought.  It seems you’ve been less confident lately and we want you to know that you have every reason to be bold…that is how God made you.
3.     Aly, you are caring and tender…you always have been.  Your attitude lately with your sisters is quick, cutting and combative, that’s not you.  You are a peacemaker and the more caring and sharing you are, the more joy you’ll experience.
4.     Kami, you make statements about how you don’t feel smart because you see your sisters excelling in school, but I don’t think you understand that you are way above average in your intelligence.  Your mom and I were no where near as smart as you at your age and I fear that if you keep telling yourself you’re not intelligent, your belief will infect your behavior.  You aren’t just smart, you are brilliant.  The only thing that will keep you from success is you applying yourself.  The main reason your sisters excel is that they practice, take time to learn, and apply themselves.  If you misunderstand that and believe they are smart without trying, you will believe a lie.  They excel because they work hard.  If you work hard, you are just as smart.
5.     Aly, it’s important for you to affirm your sisters.  It’s not enough to just “not fight”.   You need to see areas of their lives that they are doing well and let them know that you see it and encourage them.  And that goes for all of you, don’t tear each other down…be each others biggest fans.  Tell each other how good of a job you’re doing and what you love about each other.  Things like, “You look cute today.” or “Great job in your game.” or “I’m proud of your for how well you did on that project.” 
6.     There is stuff every day tearing you guys down and breaking down your confidence…you don’t need to be another one of those voices.  You need to build Taylor up so that she can overcome fear and feel less self-conscious.  You need to let Kami know that she is gifted and encourage her to pursue life with passion and to work hard to accomplish things.  You need to let Aly know how much you love her attitude of joy and humor and encourage her to never lose that spirit.  ‘Cause that’s what we all need…encouragement!
7.     Kami, you have always been an overcomer.  You were born with Moebius Syndrome and have never let it stop you from trying things.  If either one of your sisters had that setback with their personalities, they would probably have crumbled, but you have a strong spirit and as you’ve never let it stop you from trying things or pursuing your dreams.  Don’t let it start now!  Your strength in the midst of your obstacles is what draws people to you…it is your platform of power!  We know it hasn’t been easy, but it has made your stronger and God gave you the perfect personality to handle what would kill most people.  Don’t ever lose that.  I can see something slipping on the inside and I don’t want you to forget where you came from and who you’ve always been…it’s what makes you truly beautiful!
8.     Taylor, remember when you were younger?  You danced and were the freest of all your sisters.  Because you have a deep mind, you think about things so much that it causes you to hold back and to be fearful and uptight.  But you aren’t a fearful person, that is not how you were when you were younger…do you remember?  You need to remember what daddy told you a couple weeks ago before bed.  You are valued; You are secure; You are protected; You are loved; & You are cared for.  You never have to worry or feel anxiety about those things.  We feel those things about you as your sisters and parents, but most importantly, God feels those things about you.  So live with freedom!

These were some talking points that just emerged as the night became more informal and open.  We talked about leadership, but not “pressured” leadership that comes from us as parents.  We talked about what true beauty is without diminishing their desire to be cute.  We talked about sisterhood and how quickly life goes by, yet didn’t want them to think about the sudden and foreboding future that is just around the corner.  We talked about what we want our family to look like, feel like, and be like.  We tried to cast a vision of what it could be “if only”.  We shared our observations of what it was becoming and the weeds that were growing up in our beautiful garden, and how we wanted to rid ourselves of those weeds that creep in and crowd out the colorful flowers that each of us possess that showcase God’s glory set within us.  We tried to climb out of the fog and clear the air.

And amazingly, when you take an hour or two every so often to just hear from each other’s hearts, things get better.  Not perfect, but better.  We will never be perfect, but we can get better at life and living, and that doesn’t happen without deliberate effort given to discipline and disciple our children. 
Both Kami and Aly said yesterday that they liked our last “family talk”.  It amazes me that in the midst of their busy lives, it actually provides more capacity inside of them to order their interior worlds in family community.  When we don’t take that time, their minds and hearts are congested with chaotic thoughts and ideas.  We must pursue truth together, for the truth is what sets us free. 

And that’s what family nights should be about.  Not a time to lay down the law, but a time to dig out each other’s hearts.