July 18th, 2016 § 1 Comment
I’ve had a five year conversation with God. I realize how that sounds. It is however about as plain and as accurate as I can state it. It’s the truth or at least what I believe to be the truth. A few weeks ago, we arrived at what I think was the conclusion. While it was going on, I thought, “I need to write some of this down.” So, in a few posts, I am going to try to capture the highlights of this conversation. I’m writing this more for me than anyone else, but the point of the conversation might be of interest to you. It was about joy.
For most of my adult life, I’ve taken a day a week to spend some extended time with God, which is my way of saying I spent anywhere from five to eight hours reading the Bible and praying. When I transitioned to a new position at work, I let this part of my life slide a bit. My wife notices when I neglect these times, so at her behest, I renewed my commitment. About the same time, I decided to depart from my usual pattern of skipping about the Bible in my readings to read the Bible in a linear fashion from Genesis to Revelations. In those first couple months, as I read through the first five books of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch or the Torah, my attention was drawn to the repetitive phrase, “You shall do no work …” In particular, I was struck by the stern, prohibitive language.
And you shall not do any work on that very day, for it is a Day of Atonement,
to make atonement for you before the LORD your God. Leviticus 23:28
I came home and told Tara, “I think God is telling me not to work.”
“If he’s telling you not to work, you had better listen.”
For the next year, one day a week, I decided to do no work. Not to touch it. Almost immediately, I expanded the definition of work to include any life giving activity. One day a week, I did zero work. No computer. No calendar. No people. Nothing. The only thing I did was spend time with God and come home to serve my family. I fasted on those days. No food. No exercise. No entertainment. No TV. No hobbies.
The surprising discovery was this: Of all the things from which I abstained, work was the hardest thing to drop. Not doing work was by far the most difficult discipline. Harder than not eating. Harder than not playing. The discovery was particularly noteworthy because I have always been by nature someone who enjoys play a good deal more than work. One of my highest values is leisure. Why was it than that when told I mustn’t work, I squirmed and fidgeted. How’d I become that guy who at every opportunity was all about frenetic activity?
March 22nd, 2016 § 2 Comments
It didn’t go as I had hoped. It rarely has since he’s become a teenager. A discussion turned into a fight, and then anger and disbelief. Before it was over, I was chasing him up the stairs, yelling the stupid question, “Who do you think you’re talking to?”
The next day, I was with a trusted friend. THANK GOD for trusted friends. This friend happens to be a licensed marriage and family therapist. THANK GOD for marriage and family therapist. He hears me out and then says, “Sounds to me a lot like a thinker vs feeler thing.” Now, I have a cursory knowledge of Myers-Briggs psychological type indicator, but not much beyond what the letters represent.
Okay, what do you mean?
As my friend began to explain it to me, it was like someone calmly lighting a candle in a room darkened by hopelessness.
The gist of it went like this: A thinker – that would be me – processes the world through the mind. Things have to be explainable, reason must govern decisions. Conversely, a feeler processes reality primarily through their feelings. How one feels is a prominent, reliable source of motivation. To a thinker, a feeler sounds … frankly, a feeler sounds dumb. To a feeler, a thinker sounds narrow and overbearing. And here’s the kicker, they both believe they are right.
No, wait, here’s the real kicker: In many cases, they both have reasonable cause to believe that they are right … because, because there may not be a right. Crazy, right?
So, this friend tells me, “To a feeler, a thinker comes off like a bully — a reason bully. Your kid could feel cornered by your reasoning. He may feel dismissed. Try this: Try listening, drawing him out. Resist the temptation to offer your understanding.” Later, my friend’s wife added, “No matter how dumb it sounds to you — you have to remember, it may only sound dumb because you lack the ability to process things the way he does — try to find things in what he is saying that you can affirm.” They agreed that once he feels heard, you may find him much more open to your input.”
Seriously, it’s been like magic.
October 7th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
Most of my ideas about parenting come from the Bible. The latest one is from the life of Eli. Eli was one of the last of the Judges – an executive office of the nation of Israel, which was then a theocracy. Sort of a Priest ruler. And sometimes even the military leader. All this is beside the point. Eli had two sons, who also served as priests. These sons were corrupt. From their position of authority, they stole from and took advantage of the people they were assigned to serve.
It seems for many years, Eli did nothing about his sons. The section of the story which speaks of Eli addressing the issue with his sons begins, “Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing …” Very old? Why didn’t Eli say or do anything before he was very old?
Years later, after Israel had become a monarchy, David sat on the throne of Israel as its second king. One of David’s sons, Amnon, rapes his half-sister, Tamar, and casts her aside. She publicly mourns this hideous crime committed against her, and enters the house of her brother, Absalom. “So, Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.”
What was King David’s response? “When King David heard about all these things, he was very angry.” That’s it. That all it says. If one reads on, the text reveals that Amnon was left to live his life freely in the kingdom … well, until his brother, Absalom, kills him. Would Absalom have killed Amnon if David had done something? Would David have always had Absalom’s heart if Absalom had seen his father act? Instead, Absalom murders his brother and eventually carries out a coup against his father.
As I father teenage kids, there is great temptation to be scared of my own kids. As they begin to separate, I fear rejection. What if something I say leads to their rebellion? They seem so annoyed – maybe I shouldn’t bother them. What if I lose them.
Of course, we must be careful. We need to be patient, long suffering. One of the most important skills to master is parenting teenagers is biting your tongue. Yes, all this and more. But I must try to never be scared of my kids.
The lesson of Eli is this: Do not fail to act upon something you know to be right because you fear the loss of your child. There are more than one way to lose a child.
August 9th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
A great quote on self-awareness.
“I learned early in my medical career that the doctor you should worry about isn’t the one who doesn’t know anything. It’s the one who doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does.
Not having the answers isn’t fatal if you at least have the self-awareness to know what you don’t know. ‘Often wrong, never in doubt’ is no way to go through life.”
Rany Jazayerli from “Teardown Artist” Grantland.com, July 15, 2015
August 8th, 2015 § 2 Comments
It was all going according to plan … and yet, driving away, all I could hear were the sobbing cries of my wife and daughter.
Last Friday, we handed our foster child over to his family. After months of steps, moving forward and back with his parents, out of nowhere, his grandparents were suddenly approved for a temporary placement. A month ago, all we knew was a looming court date. Then one morning, my wife gets a call from the social worker about the possibility. Two weeks later, we were dropping him off. Just like that. After ten months of holding, kissing, changing, walking, playing, feeding … it took all of thirty minutes to say, “Good bye.”
I know it sounds embittered. I can only tell you that we are not. Was it too abrupt? Yes. Would a different timetable have helped? Probably not. Did we want to keep him. Yes and no. You see, there in lies the complexity. We all – but especially my wife – loved this boy like our own. Unreservedly. Almost immediately, my wife dropped her guard and opened her heart. He was hers. It’s exactly what he needed. A real mom … well, while separated from his real mom that is. It’s what made him chunky and smiley. Can any real mom want to give that up?
All the while, we spent eight hours a week with his real parents, doing everything we knew to help them get their son back. Praying. Encouraging. Hoping. Coaching. When together, we longed with them that one day their son would be returned to them. We exhorted them, even pleaded with them to do all that was mandated.
Paradoxically, the only way to do this was to work ourselves into wanting to keep him while remaining unwavering in our commitment to return him. My wife did this. She did it well – just like we’d planned. And by so doing, she guaranteed for herself a broken heart. And in a way, this broken heart is her last generous gesture … a parting gift given to a boy who will not be forgotten.
July 3rd, 2015 § Leave a Comment
I’m always working on myself. Mostly, I’m not content with who I am. Come to think of it, I’ve never been content. Whether it was spending countless hours on the basketball court to get my jump shot right or burning out the blow dryer to get my mullet into that feathered perfection, I’ve always worked hard at becoming a better me.
If this sounds like a confession, it’s because it is. I have to clarify because our culture loves self-improvement. Get educated. Get ahead. Get thin. Get healthy. Get married. Get financially independent. Get happy. Work, work, work. More, more, more. In a world in which busyness doubles as significance, not only is my malady easily hidden, it can be re-appropriated as something positive. “That guy … he’s a self-starter.”
Yes, there is a fine line. It takes a keen eye to spot that line and rightly identify what lies on either side. Activity driven on by quiet desperation can be passed along as good ole fashioned hard work. And we can justify laziness with being comfortable in our own skin. Walking that line of a healthy self-love requires the sort of honest assessment and a “hell with the world” commitment to finding our proper bearings that is rarely even attempted.
Just the other day, I may have found my inspiration. In an exasperated attempt to help one of my kids understand something, this question crossed my mind: “Do I dress up my discontentment with my kids with flowery nonsense about believing in their great potential?”
That’s not to say I do not believe in my kids great potential. God knows I do. And of course I’m not saying I shouldn’t instruct and correct. But when I feel the nearness of that familiar darkness, the closeness of the despair that gets my gut turning a desperate pace, I think I work on my kids the way I’ve always worked on myself.
Maybe the love for my kids will get me over the hump to actually love myself.
May 14th, 2015 § 2 Comments
You’ve heard of the projectile vomit. Last week, I had a run in with its uglier cousin, the projectile diarrhea. We had one of those fierce stomach viruses rip through our family. Yes, all you imagine and more. No one got a pass, not even our nine month old foster child. Who knew so much could come out of so little a person?
At the rate and volume he was pumping, the super absorbent diaper had no chance. If anything, the diaper acted as a diverting obstruction adding pressure to the flow. Like a thumb pressed over the nozzle of a hose. Every few hours, it was as if a canister of yellow paint detonated from his butt. Splat. It was everywhere.
One time, after an initial blast, I picked him up, hoping to create a little room between the nozzle and the diaper. I waited for the real eruption that didn’t come. “Are you done?” Rookie mistake number one. Of course he wasn’t done.
I put him on the changing shelf of our Pac ‘n Play. The initial shot was substantial but contained. Feeling optimistic that I’d be getting away with a standard change, I proceeded to clean and remove. What I did not do was place a new diaper underneath to overlap as I removed. Rookie mistake number two.
As I reached over for a fresh diaper, I felt something hit me in my lower abdomen. Not hard but with weight and force. Before I could react, there was liquid splatter at my feet. It was what getting hit by a large, very fragile water balloon might feel like.
“The hell?” When I looked down, I saw that diluted, curdling yellow paint. When I looked up, I saw the nozzle stairing back at me like a barrel of a gun. The thing might as well have been smoking. My wife, who saw me get blasted from the kitchen came running with … not a towel, but her phone, which she couldn’t use to take a photo because she was laughing too hard.
When I peered past the nozzle, to look my assailant in the eye, I swear the kid had a smirk on his face.
May 1st, 2015 § 2 Comments
My kids are more than I could have ever hoped for. Seriously, by any measure, they’re great kids. Simultaneously, they can be complete disasters. Parents among you know that these are not mutually exclusive realities. An hour into any given day, I can correct them a half dozen times. “Hey, get out of bed. You’re going to be late.” “Don’t get on your phone while you’re eating.” “Really? You’re going sprinkle sugar on your Fruit Loops?” “Hey, don’t give me that look.” You get the idea.
When my kids were quite a bit younger, probably as I was correcting them for the umpteenth time, it dawned on me how difficult it is to receive correction.
I’m forty-five now. I’m hardly ever corrected. I go about most of my day without a single person pulling me aside and saying something like, “Hey, you might want to walk a bit faster. You know, have the look of someone who’s got somewhere to go.” Yes, true, I do walk slow. But regardless of how accurate the info, my initial impulse is to react defensively. I like to think that I’m mature enough to measure my response, but hard to say for sure.
The point is even for a relatively mature adult, who is infrequently corrected, receiving correction is tough. When I realized it, I decided to put myself on a correction allowance. Three. That was it. I could correct each child three times in one twenty-four hour period. This little exercise in self-restraint had a couple unintended benefits. For one, it helped me prioritize. I found myself asking, “Do I really want to burn one of my three on this?” The second thing it did was help me store things in my mind for an opportune time. The goal isn’t personal satisfaction; the goal is instruction. The heat of the moment is not always the best for delivering or receiving correction.
Teaching a child to respond well to correction is part of a parent’s job. It’s not easy. A limited allowance makes a tough job easier … especially for your kid.
April 20th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
The thing I’ve heard about poverty is that it removes the steps between what is by all appearances a normal existence to a life of utter destitution. In other words, the steps between a poor person and the streets are fewer and in many cases non-existent compared to those of a middle class person. Most of you – maybe all of you reading this would have to have multiple things go off the rail before wandering the streets, not knowing where you were going to lay your head for the night. The chances of you not knowing where your next meal will come are so remote that words like “impossibility” would best describe the unfolding of such a scenario. For the poor, not only is it possible, that world lies just on the other side of the door.
Ever since we’ve had our foster child, we’ve spent six to eight hours a week with his parents. As you might imagine, they are not without their flaws. One thing they cannot be accused of is lacking interest in their son. Despite the many challenges, their determination to try to regain custody of their child is undeniable. In a significant way, we believe he is an anchor that keeps them resistant to the forces that would shove them out the door. It is their love for him that stirs in them a certain, healthy love for themselves, and a love for life itself.
Early in our pondering about foster parenting, a good friend helped us look beyond the child to the plight of parents. She put us in the shoes of parents whose child was removed. And by so doing, stirred in us an empathy for those who deal with the unthinkable: Losing a child.
Like countless others in their situation, our foster child’s parents are a jump, skip and a hop from a destitute existence. Their unlikely savior is the baby they hold in their arms for eight hours a week. And the love they have for him is the thing that keeps them standing on their tenuous foothold on life.
April 8th, 2015 § Leave a Comment
It was one of those times. Somehow, I just knew that what I was hearing needed to be stored away for safe keeping.
Two older men, both in their sixties were talking. One was asking … well, really more complaining to the other about a child who had long since stopped listening to him. The child in question was a daughter who had moved away – clear across country. While there, she fell in love with a man. Naturally, the man was not one who met her father’s approval. They got engaged anyway, and were planning their wedding when the subject of an open bar came up. And that was it. On this, he wasn’t budging. It was the proverbial straw buckling the camel’s back.
As the father went on and on, the other older gentleman carefully listened. Finally, he got an invitation: “What do you think?” I don’t remember his exact wording, but in essence what he said was that no matter what it took, as much as it was in his power to do so, a father needed to stay connected with his child. As long as the child didn’t bolt the door shut, he was going to be a part of the child’s life. Then he recounted a trip he took, across country to visit his daughter who likewise had years before left them. She had moved in with a man he didn’t even know. They took a road trip together, just him and her. No demands. No efforts to redirect. Just spent time with her. Let her know, no matter what, he was going to be around. She was always going to be his daughter. She was always going to be loved.
Then he asked, “Do you really want to close the door over an open bar?”
There’s a certain indignity in going to a child who’s out there because they decided they weren’t going to listen to you. It’s something to suffer speaking to a child in and about the place that is their rebellion. To pay for an open bar of a wedding you never approved. I think the man’s point was that a father committed to love his child at all costs had little use for dignity.
I’m pretty sure he was right.