To My Six Year Old – Happy Birthday!

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My Goo-Goo-Pop.  My Monkey. My Little Sweetie.  My Stinker. My Cutie Pie. I love you so much, and I am so thankful you are my daughter and I get to be your dad.  I pray for you every day that you know the love I have for you is the same love God has for you. His Love is even more bigger and better than mine, though.

 

Watching you grow up has been crazy.  There have been some hard days, because I don’t know how to handle someone so smart, and someone like me.  I want things my way, and I know you do too. I wish I could just give it all to you. But more importantly, I want you to know God and know His purpose for you.

 

There have been some awesome days too that are so much fun, like when I make funny noises or faces and make you and your sister laugh non-stop.  Or when we go to the store and we have fun goofing as we walk around the store. Or when I carry you to some other part of the house and you want me to do it again and again.  

 

And, of course, there are the days I get to watch you be so focused on your karate katas that you take home trophies or medals.  I could not be prouder of how hard you have been working this summer at karate camp and getting your belt promotions. I am glad you are excited about karate, and I am proud of your accomplishments.  I am always going to be proud of you, but I am glad you found something that you enjoy and makes you happy.

 

Always do your best, and always do what you love.

 

I love you just the way you are:  how silly you are, the crazy, silly things you do and say, how hard you try, how you play with your sister or yourself, how you don’t like putting away your laundry, how you talk to your turtle in the morning, how you snuggle with me before falling asleep some nights.  I love to hear you act and play with yourself. Your messy room drives me nuts, but I love that you love it just the way it is.

 

I love how much you love your sister and your friends.  I am glad you are so loyal to both, and I hope that continues through your life.  I pray that both your sister and your friends know how much you love them.

 

I don’t remember much of your baby days, unfortunately, but I remember your days from two years old and on.  I remember the scowl on your face just about anytime someone took your picture. I remember how impressed I was to see you use my iPhone at such a young age.  I remember some of our fights, but I also remember some other times of love and kindness and peace we had. I remember the times I would be squatting down to talk to you, and you would turn from facing me to trying to sit on my lap knocking me down.

 

I try my best to not get too mad and tell you to stop and obey, because I don’t want you to shy away from your feelings and keep your mouth shut.  I want you to speak up and speak your mind when it is necessary. I want you to fight for what you believe in, and I want you to fight for others and what is right.  I want you to fight for God, and follow His purpose for your life.

 

I can’t promise you good times.  I can’t promise that I’ll always agree with you.  But I promise to always love you. I promise to always be on your side and choose you.

 

Thank you for letting me be your dad, and thank you for being Haley.  Thank you for being a silly monkey. Thank you for being an awesome six year old.

 

I love you.

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Overweight Because Of A Sword

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Traveling can be a stressful undertaking. I don’t fly that often, so I definitely am not accustomed to all of the stresses and mild inconveniences that go along with it. And there are so many. Add that to the normal anxiety I have commuting anywhere in a desire to not be late, which means 15 minutes early.  

 

First there is just getting there. “They” suggest you get there a minimum of an hour before your flight, which means living in Southern California I need to leave my house about 3 hours before my flight.

 

Next is checking in my bag and checking in. This is only a concern for me because I have that panic as the computer is processing my request wondering to myself, “Am I sure I purchased the ticket? Did I write the time and/or day wrong? Am I at the right airport? Did I forget anything? What if it’s cold? What if it’s too hot? What if my ID is expired and I didn’t realize it? Did I lock the front door? Did I lock the back door? Is the turtle going to be ok? Did I forget…ok I’m checked in.”

 

Yes, just about all that goes through my head in the 15-25 seconds it takes the computer to locate my reservation.

 

Third is going through security. Having your boarding pass and ID in one hand, backpack over the shoulder, put the wallet back, put the ID back, take off my shoes, take out my phone, take out my laptop if I have one. And now being a dad I need to help my kids with all their stuff too as well as make sure no one is trying to kidnap them. Walk them through, good, shoes back on, backpacks back on, don’t drop my boarding pass, and now find my gate.

 

Didn’t even leave my home state yet, but time for lunch and I can breathe for a second. Unless I’m flying Southwest and the cattle call starts.

 

Well, this trip was manageable and the minor stress happened at the check in of our bags. The luggage for my wife and I was three pounds overweight, but our kids’ luggage was under weight by about five pounds. I asked if I could move some stuff over to our kids’ luggage, and the attendant said I could try.

 

So I opened up our luggage, took a quick survey, and my wife’s Bible-for-leaders looked to be of significant weight. Switched it to the other suitcase and both were under weight with room to spare. Checked in, told my wife, and had a little laugh.

 

Gosh, where to start on the symbolism of that? So many places to go: the weight of God’s word is heavy; the sword to battle your spiritual enemies is heavy; the blessings of God are so abundant you are going to be overweight.

 

But only if you carry the sword, only if you know and believe what God’s word says and use it to build a relationship with Him, only if you seek to draw close to Him. Just like a sword or any other weapon, it is only useful if you know all the parts, and know how to use it.

 

I have carried my Bible a lot of places. I didn’t always let it affect me. I would read it because that was what I was supposed to do because I called myself a Christian. I still don’t know it as well as I should or as well as I would like.

 

I went to church because I was a Christian.

 

I went to Bible study during the week because I was a Christian.

 

I prayed for forgiveness of my sins and that God heal my sick friends or family because I was a Christian.

 

But the weight of God’s word only slightly became part of my life. There were times in my life God played a significant role even when I was not close to Him. That’s how much God loves me, and you (“but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8).

 

I didn’t have to clean up before He decided to save me. He did that anyway AND still gave me the choice to follow Him. And choice is also a key word here. I know there is the idea among some non-Christians that they don’t want to become Christians because it means they won’t get to do what they want, or God is trying to control them. Just so not true. God wants the best for you and every day you have the choice to choose to follow Him or not.

 

End of story

 

The last few years I have drawn closer to Him, tried to understand His will and plan more, surrendered control of my life over to Him more, and have tried to listen to Him more in prayer instead of listing off my demands to give Him my love. I have been learning and trying to let His love be what fills me and controls me more than the love for myself and what I want to do with my life. He has a plan for good things in my life, so why would I try and get in the way of that?

 

It is hard to surrender and let a book thousands of years old full of crazy stories be what guides my decisions on huge issues like where to go to college, who to marry, what job I take, or how I spend my money. But it is a book full of meaning behind the simplest of words, and some of those stories are people acting in great faith at the direction of a mysterious God, who they could only call Yaweh.

 

But that name was enough.

 

God is enough.

 

I love reading my Bible and recently got a journal-Bible that has room to write in the margins, but I am silly because I feel like if I write something in it the idea has to be profound. It has to be worth writing down to sully the beautiful, clean lines of my journal-Bible.

 

I purposefully didn’t carry my Bible for this trip, but I have my Bible app. I didn’t want to have to carry it either in my carry on or my luggage. I anticipated the weight of God’s word to be too much for me to handle.

 

And it is. God’s love and grace is too heavy for me to manage all at once.

 

The weight of God’s word can withstand if I make mistakes writing out what God says to me. God’s word can withstand you and I wrestling and working out of our faith in flesh and blood. The weight of God’s word can carry you through the circumstances of life you find yourself in. Maybe not right away or the way you want Him to, but He will carry you.

 

I hope the weight of the word, the weight of the sword of Jesus finds you. I hope it strikes your soul and impacts your heart. Not only because you need it, but because I want you to know what blessings from God feel like. The weight of His word can free you from whatever chains you feel are weighing you down. I pray His word impacts your life.

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Glancing At God Through A Peephole

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I am a huge hockey fan, and I have played a little bit in a couple of beer-leagues, I mean, adult recreational leagues where only water or sports drinks are consumed, the last couple of years.  When my wife and I were dating she made me learn how to play for my own good. Why wouldn’t I? I love the sport, and have followed the NHL for a long time, learn to play it. She’s the doer; if left alone I would just dream about it forever.  So I got skates, pads, sticks, and signed up for a clinic. I wasn’t too bad, but I still can’t skate backwards and have “tripped” over the blue line on a breakaway, or two. I stopped playing in part because of kids, but it gave me a glimpse of what it was like to play the game I love so much, which is enough at this point in my life.

 

But it was only a glimpse, an impression.  I have no idea what it’s like to be a pro, ride the bus or charter plane, have a team trainer take care of all of my stuff, get slammed into the boards, or take a 90 mile per hour slap shot to the foot, ankle, or face.

 

That’s how some people experience God.  Maybe they went to church once. It may have been a good experience, but it didn’t change them, but they’re not rushing to go back anytime soon.  Maybe they even went to a Christian or Catholic school as a kid, but it was only because their parents made them. There are the unfortunate examples where they had a bad experience with someone who claimed to be a Christian, took advantage of the situation or their position, and it left them with scars of how God is.

 

Whatever the case may be, the picture they have of God may not be clear, and it is not because they have looked into it.  They just have that one glimpse or view and have decided that they understand God and He’s not for them. Unfortunately, you can only convey an idea so much before someone has to experience it for themselves.  They have to choose to investigate and look into the situation on their own, and they have to want to do it.

 

You may have heard of Jesus, but you don’t know Jesus until you experience Jesus, which is just like any relationship with anyone else you know.  You don’t know Jesus until you talk to Him, and you stop and actually try to listen to Him (it wouldn’t be much of a relationship if you were the only one talking).  You may have heard of how He works from other people, but you don’t know Him until He has moved in your life, until you have experienced His hand working out for the good in your life.

 

It is interesting, to say the least, when you hear a false claim about a topic you personally know about.  Maybe you don’t know a great deal about it, but you know enough that what you just heard was wrong. You can refute it the best you can, but the people spreading false information have to decide, willingly, that they are going to be open to a different point of view other than their own.

 

That’s not always easy, and the change doesn’t happen immediately.  Nor do people, typically, want to hear another point of view, because that would mean that they are wrong, or just that what they thought was the truth wasn’t.  And that always goes over well, right??

 

The easiest thing I can do is point to my life as evidence of what God is like.  I am certainly not perfect, which is why I am a good example. God’s work is progressive.  I am a work in progress and far from a masterpiece.

 

For a long time, I thought God was a vengeful God, just wanting to catch me in the wrong.  So I would sin, as we all do, and then ask for forgiveness, and try to repent. Then sin, ask for forgiveness, try to repent, and repeat.  Over and over again.

 

And get tired.  Because I was trying to do it on my own.  I was not resting in His power to take away my temptation to sin.

 

That would always make me pray and ask for salvation over and over again to make sure I could actually call myself a Christian.  I was worried I could lose my salvation.

 

But God isn’t keeping score.  He isn’t counting up all the wrongs I have done to use against me later.  Because of salvation, I am forgiven, my sins are forgotten, and I am made clean.  I will need to stand before God and account for my sins, but the blood of Jesus has washed away the consequence I would have faced.

 

The true picture of God is that He wants me to be free.  He wants the weight, the guilt, the shame, and the pain of sin to be taken away from me.  This way I am able to be free, free to do His work of serving others and sharing His word, free to share the story of the freedom I have been given.

 

To define God’s plan as salvation and forgiveness so that we can have eternal life with Him, “fire insurance”, is just so narrow of a view of God and His plan.  It is like looking at God through a peephole.

 

Now, I don’t love God because of what I get from God.  I love God for what He has already given me. And He wants to give me so much more.  He wants to give you so much more. He wants to give you life abundantly and eternally.

 

I cannot even give you a full view of God.  I am still learning about what He is like every day.  What I do know of God is His grace, peace, love, mercy, and abundant life.

 

I don’t know your circumstances, but there is abundant life waiting for you.  I know the world may not look like it is possible for you to have abundant life, but it is with God.  The promise of salvation and forgiveness of your sins is just the beginning.

 

There are days I still wrestle with my human self.  I see what is going on in the world, and I cannot understand how or why what is happening is allowed to happen.  So I pray. I had to stop working the other day and fall to my knees and pray. I had to surrender my anger to God and be reminded that He has a greater plan.  Then I felt His calm.

 

I still get angry, but I pray and ask for His peace.  Because I know there is a bigger view. There is a wider lens to see God through, and I know the lens I am using is not wide enough still.  It is getting wider, though, as I spend time reading about His power, His goodness, His purpose, and His plan for my life.

 

I just look forward, though, to when I can see Him face to face, without a filter.

 

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The Thing Bringing You Back to God

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It is easy to drift, wander, or day dream, when given the chance.  Even when I am focused, I might think to myself “Wow, look how focused I am right now!”  I might even think, depending on where I am, “Can everyone see how hard I am working? I must look so busy to everyone else.  Is my boss watching?? How much could I get done if I was like this more? If I played less video games? I haven’t played video games in awhile, will I remember how to play?  Should I play when I get home? For how long? I’ll set a timer. Which timer? The one on my phone? Or the one on Alexa?”

 

Yes, this is what I think at times.  No, my boss isn’t watching, so no brownie points were scored.

 

Eventually, at some time during my day dream I wander back to reality, to what I was supposed to be doing.  Eventually, I complete what I was doing, but not without a few distractions of checking Twitter first, then Instagram, then maybe Facebook if I’m really bored or not wanting to do whatever I am supposed to do.  But something always brings me back.

 

For better or worse, this happens to me and my relationship with God.  I will say, for better, because I cannot imagine my life would be better without God.  But there is always something that pulls me back to Him no matter how far I have drifted, and I am glad it happens.  Fortunately, also, I do not wander away from God for very long. At least not anymore.

 

In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul recounts conversations He has with God, asking for a thorn to be removed.  But God says to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made in weakness.”

 

There are times I feel I am pretty proud of myself or confident in how things are going.  Then my kids start acting crazy, and I lose all my sanity. Then I need to try and take a breath, say a prayer, and ask God for His power to help me be a loving, peaceful father.

 

Paul had a thorn in his side to remember God’s grace by.

 

I have my own thorn.

 

My wife seems to have hers.  Separately, we both came to the real possibility she may deal with what she has been struggling with for the last year for a long time, if not the rest of her life.  She has noticed when she has had her thorn, she has had to give work over to God and her coworkers to handle instead of taking it all on herself.

 

Both of our thorns don’t seem to be going away, but neither is God.

 

The thorn keeps us closer to God, keeps reminding us that He is what we need to live free.  

 

The thorn leads me to surrender because I cannot do life without His power.  I keep falling and failing, trapped in my own sin if I don’t continually surrender and ask Him for relief from my thorn, to have it removed.

 

He doesn’t take it away, though. That would be too easy, but it also doesn’t mean He doesn’t hear me, or isn’t a good God, or that He doesn’t care, or that He is trying to torture me.  He just reminds me that His grace is sufficient. His power is what I need all the time, not just when I need Him because I am in trouble.

 

I always need His power and grace.

 

I have heard some sermons lately with one of the main points being God’s timing is not ours, and we may ask for an answer for “a long time”, but He’ll answer when it is His time.  And once I get an answer, looking back, I’ll be able to see all the steps along the way where God was there even when I didn’t think He was.

 

That is not always easy to do in the moment, in the moment when all you want is relief from the pain, the shame, and the guilt of the sin.  It can be difficult to choose to turn to God and admit you need help, but that is when He steps in with His power – in your weakness. And it is enough.

 

His power is always enough.

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How Did We Get Here?!?

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How to go from asking your wife for a new car to deciding when to quit your job in 10 hours – from suits to scrubs to activewear

 

This could have so many titles.

 

Do things just happen?  Or is there a plan? Does God have a plan?  Or are we just floating along and random circumstances lead us here or there?

 

I believe in God, so I believe He has a master plan for everyone’s life, not just mine.  The catch, if you want to call it that, is He won’t tell you His plan. You have to have faith in Him, trust He wants good things in your life, and listen for Him to speak to you.  I will admit that can be hard to do, even in the best circumstances.

 

I am lucky I come from a good family, a good school with good friends, and great opportunities, some that I have squandered.  So I can’t really complain about what I don’t have, but I’m human and I want more. When it came to my career I would do the best I could in the position I was in, but I was looking ahead all the time.

 

My education choices led me to the scientific/biotechnology industry.  Out of college, I found a job working in a lab, felt like I had room to advance, but seemed to stagnate.  I transferred departments after a couple of years, did well, but was stuck. After a few years, I went back to school, left the lab and tried my hand at a completely different role in sales, where I had to wear suits.  I didn’t do well, because it wasn’t a good personality fit, and I ended up back in the science field.

 

Same kind of thing happened as before where I was doing lab work, doing a fair job, but not going super above and beyond to catch the eye of the boss.  There were also some internal, political forces working against me, but nothing I could not have overcome if I wanted to. I just never wanted to, because I felt like I was just kissing butt, which is not my personality.  One perk, though, was the dress code: I could wear scrubs, which was like wearing pajamas to work.

 

After a few years went by, and a friend referred me to another lab that paid better.  For a year or so, I was just happy to be treated like a valuable human. Eventually, I started feeling like trying, so I did.

 

I tried to do better at my job, but I still didn’t do extra, as the managers would have liked to see.  I ended up bumping along in that space for awhile.

 

For a long enough time of coming home venting to my wife about my gripes and frustrations about nearly the same thing everyday, I wondered what I was doing, wondering how God’s plan was working out.  I felt like I was meant for more but wasn’t getting the opportunity (even though I wasn’t trying extra hard). I felt stuck, like I was not going anywhere in my career.

 

In the meantime, my wife had started a company that fulfilled her passion, work experience, and had a mission:  to work with her friends and change the world. In three years, she started on her own, has helped over 4000 students, and hired 10 other employees.  It has been awesome to see what she has been able to do following God’s will, being in continual prayer, and trusting in His call in her life. And to work from home wearing warm up pants or workout shorts every day was an added bonus (and sometimes owl slippers).

 

There have been some roadblocks though.  She has had a relapse of some health problems.  Doctors have provided few solutions and remedies, but she has powered through.

 

Also, I work Saturdays, so if the kids have hockey games, karate tournaments, or birthday parties, she is on her own.  I get to relax at work, and have been for the past 9 years.

 

So we had talked casually and passively about me quitting my job to stay home with the kids later this year, maybe early next year.  With my working in Corporate America and working Saturdays, when I need to ask for time off, I also need to find someone to cover my shift most times (then there were the times I was asked to find coverage for no reason but whatever).  So that was tedious and annoying.

 

Then looking forward in her business she may need me home more to be Dad for the kids (well, their dad, not just any dad), so working corporate doesn’t lend to that so much.  Then related but somewhat tangential was the new car factor.

 

I have been joking with her about getting my dream car, a BMW M5.  She said, “No way,” but I have been harassing her, jokingly, for a year.  I have a hatchback right now, and our oldest daughter is tall for her age and needs some more leg room.  She asked if I could get a new car. I told her to ask her mom, but when she does, just say “M5”.

 

That didn’t help.

 

So we sit down for a relaxing Sunday earlier this year, and I remind her we should talk about a new car.  The M5 was out of the question, but she would settle for a nice care as long as she picks the color. No problem.  But there’s still the question of which car.

 

This is because I have a car problem:  I want them all. I love sports cars, but I also like trucks and SUVs.  If we buy a car, we figure it is a 7-10 year commitment. We don’t want to lease because it isn’t financially wise, but if it gets the new-car feeling out of my system, it is worth it.  So we considered something practical for a couple of years to lease until we get something we really want.

 

However, the issue of mileage comes up on a lease if I’m driving to work every day, which led to the game-changing question:  “Why are you even working there?”

 

Hmm…good question.

 

I thought it was the desire to get promoted and follow my career path in the science industry, but it kind of wasn’t after talking about it.  It was maybe pride, but if I was going to quit within a year anyway to be home more, working just to get a title change then leave anyway wasn’t worth it.  It wasn’t worth it for me to work Saturdays, get up at 4 A.M. (yes, that was my shift) and be cranky and yell at the kids by dinnertime, and to be exhausted at the end of the week.

 

So why do it?

 

As my wife and I talked, she remembered she had a big project coming up in the spring and few people on her team were excited about heading it up.  

 

So what if I did it?

 

She went to consult her brain trust:  her operations manager, her business coach, and her sales manager.  Also, during these past months, my wife and I had separately been praying for my mission and purpose in life, to find what that was.  I was having trouble getting a clear picture; she had a vision of me working in a soup kitchen, or volunteering somewhere behind the scenes since me being people-facing was a bad idea based on my Strengths Finder profile.

 

It seemed the brain trust and God approved this move, so I was hired, thanks to nepotism, and God’s plan.  Now I’ll get to work from home. I went from wearing suits to scrubs to workout clothes (I still wear jeans some days).

 

It has been somewhat of a rough time wondering what I am supposed to be doing with my life.  I never doubted God has a plan. I was just wondering what and when He would reveal it to me.  And we both wondered where He would direct us as a family. Well, we have an answer now, until the next adventure.

 

The decision has been made.  Now I just need to tell my boss…

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Pillars

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This weekend was bittersweet.  A lot of long-time friends and I were in the same place at the same time.  However, the reason was for a memorial service for my friend’s dad, who was a teacher and administrator at the school I went to, and who was an elder and fellow congregant of the church I attended most of my life.  During the service, as due praise was being spoken, his legacy was being remembered, and it was significant because he was a servant.

 

He was a servant of Jesus Christ, and that led him to serve others around him, namely the students he taught in the classroom, the players he coached, and his own family at home.  He dedicated his life to service, and his impact was felt by those in the auditorium.

 

He was a pillar in the community.

 

As I sat there listening to memories and stories being told of this great man, I looked around the room and saw a number of my former teachers and coaches there to pay their respects.  None of them “took me under their wing,” or were full-blown mentors to me. They were just there in some way in my life as a positive influence, even when I may not have been the model student, player, or kid.  I just know and still know that if I run into them when I am in my old stomping grounds, or see them at mutual gatherings, I will receive a hug and a smile, and give them one in return.

 

This is about the pillars in my life, or some of them.  The men and women that said something to me once, that stuck, or spoke to me through years of action.  Whether it was once, whether it was a steady stream, it was significant to me, and I thank you all.

 

Thank you for taking the time.  Thank you for your life of service to role of being a teacher, or coach, or youth pastor.  Thank you for your life of love for a greater purpose. Thank you that I could be a result of your legacy (or I’m sorry because…you never know).

 

In no particular order, I’ll start with Dean Lagasse.  I met Mr. Lagasse when I was, maybe, in fourth grade. He was a summertime day camp counselor at my school, who later was my P.E. teacher, who later was my football coach, who later is just a great man I would call a friend.  I am happy to see him when I am in town and attend my home church. Mr. Lagasse, whether he meant to or not, showed me how to love by being a parent to his step kids, and, later, heaping adoration on his own daughter. He praised my athletic abilities, encouraging me to excel, and showed me that I have to work for my spot.  He did that by cutting me from the baseball team in seventh grade. There was no easy way in. You gotta work for it.

 

Mr. Lagasse, Dean, thank you for your love and service to the King.  Thank you for your sacrifice to teach students like me. Whether you knew it or not, your example made a great impact in my life.

 

Before I was in Tom Nare’s class, all of my teachers were women, which was noteworthy only because I had to wait until fifth grade to be have a male teacher.  I finally was able to be a student in his class, and he was legendary. Right now, I can’t even remember what was so noteworthy about looking forward to being in his class, but I know we all wondered and hoped to be a student in his classroom.

 

I was lucky enough to be in his math class that year.  He just had an aura of cool for a teacher. Relaxed but not a pushover.  Maybe he was cool because randomly every couple of weeks I would have random work in my folder, bring it up to him, and he would take it and give me credit.  I was supposed to turn it in, but didn’t for no particular reason. Or he would tell me to trash it. Maybe I thought he was cool because he let me get away with that.  Let’s not ask him.

 

One time, a few days after the first earthquake most of us kids had ever been in had happened, I was in class, and a fellow student was standing up against the window in the room with his back to the outside walkway.  Mr. Nare was walking the hallways and pounded on the glass as he passed by scaring the living daylights out of my classmate and most of the rest of us in class. I don’t think anyone stood up against the glass again.

 

Whatever it was about Mr. Nare, it was significant to me.  So much so that when I see him when I am in the old neighborhood and see him at church, I have to call him “Mr. Nare.”  I can’t call him “Tom”. To me, he was a pillar of cool.

 

I had mild reservations when this new guy from Minnesota showed up to lead youth ministries at my church (MY church) when I was in high school.  But I gave him a chance since he came from the church some of my friends had come from a year before when their dad was called by God to become the lead pastor of “my” church.  He seemed pretty funny, fun and knew how to connect with the kids. Tim Bolin was cool enough that I stuck around church and his mission to grow God’s kingdom until I was twenty-three.

 

Tim was fun, funny, and he made loving Jesus fun as well.  He didn’t make a joke out of church, but he wanted to rid the stereotype or idea that church was just another day at school, except God was the subject.

 

One thing he wanted to change was to kick the old people out of the front rows of service.  Our church started in the 1930’s, and, no offense, but a proportion of the congregation looked like they were there from the time they broke ground.  So Tim wanted us young kids to take over the front rows. Eventually, we did take over, and I think some of my friends still sit there now some 25 years later.  

 

Sadly, we are becoming the old people the kids will need to kick out soon.

 

I hated going to church, even though I had liked going to “Sunday School” for junior high service, because my friends were there.  In “Big Church” you had to sit, be quiet, listen – all the things junior high kids “love”. There was a short period of time when my friend Steve and I would ditch church to walk down to KFC and sneak back in until we got caught (Dad, the statute of limitations is up.  This was 30+ years ago. Please don’t get mad). When Tim showed up, he changed church into a place to be. I wanted to be there.

 

It’s a little funny now being a dad:  I am so in love with Jesus and want my kids to be too, but they don’t always want to go.  I’ll just keep praying for them and asking God to speak to them.

 

Before Tim was Randy Strickland, and he was a crack up.  I think if I didn’t know him, or know he loved God from head to toe, I would be really worried that he was actually nuts.  I can’t say I have a specific memory that makes a significant impact in my mind, but he was steady and consistent. I knew he loved God.  I knew he wanted me to love God, too, and that was his mission: to share the gospel.

 

As I am writing about Randy, there is one memory I do remember.  It was junior high winter retreat, and he was driving us in a van to a cabin in the local mountains.  There was a street that had a tree as a lane divider. He wasn’t going fast, but the streets had some snow dust so there was some risk, and he was heading right for the tree.  He got closer and closer saying, “Decisions…decisions…” until he eventually got to one side of the road.

 

I never told my parents about that, and I doubt my kids are going to tell me about their adventures when they’re in junior high, but I hope my kids have servants like Tim and Randy in their lives to help guide them through the mystery of Jesus.

 

When you’re in school, there are situations you just dread.  Getting called on to answer a question in class, to write on the board, act in a skit.  The usual kind of thing. Up until recently as an adult with a career, I was a scientist, and in school that was my focus.  So English class was not my jam. Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Crucible.  Kill me now.  

 

Then there are the days you walk into class and your teacher (in my case, Mrs. Fickett) says, “Hi class, it’s creative writing day!  We’re going to write a poem about your feelings.” Not exactly but the poem part was true. I had forty five minutes to write the perfect poem to avoid getting an F for the day.

 

It didn’t happen.  No poem under pressure.  I wrote a paragraph to Mrs. Fickett explaining that writing under pressure like that, to flip the switch and be creative, was not in my wheelhouse.  From what I could gather, she bought it and accepted what I submitted, because I didn’t fail 11th grade English.

 

Then, out of nowhere while I was in college, I started writing.  I started writing poems. None of them rhymed because that is too hard on my brain.  I don’t know if Mrs. Fickett would care, but I have always thought of sharing with her some of my work.  Not in a, “In your face!” kind of way. More of a, “Thanks for understanding” kind of way. Thanks for recognizing, very simply by saying, “Okay,” to what I turned in, that different people work differently in different environments.

 

But if you don’t like my writing, blame her. 🙂

 

Another legend that I had heard of before I was a student of his was Mr. Endacott.  The stories were that he was laid back, fun, and his class was cool. He lived up to the hype.  He even managed to keep his cool when he had a class full of seniors, made up mostly the “cool” kids who did not care about Human Anatomy – until the reproductive system was covered, of course.  And he maintained his cool even when he found out a friend and I were passing notes after, AFTER, we completed our AP Bio exam.

 

Endo was a big reason I became a scientist.  Science was fun, science was easy in Endo’s class.  He had an easy way to explain and help students understand biology.  He did his best to explain mitosis and meiosis, and I still can’t get the steps straight.  Endo had a picture of Gregor Mendel, the Father of Genetics and doppleganger of Sting, up on the wall, one time mumble-sang a song by The Police, and said he listened to the same morning radio show a lot of us did.  That helped with his “cool cred” in my mind, not that he needed more or my acknowledgement. I just was glad to be a student in his class.

 

I’ve been lucky enough to grow up in the church, have a positive experience, and have positive Christian influences around me to help mold my thinking and idea of God.  A family that helped do that when I was in college, and even now to this day were the Swansons. Bob and Marilyn opened up their home to our college group Bible study to meet on Thursday nights for years.  Some weeks they would provide dinner for up to 40 of us, other weeks, it was potluck. Either way, “starving students” would come, eat, talk about God, His relationship with us, and our relationships with each other.  It was a chance to meet with friends, and gave me a midweek God-calibration.

 

Even though I grew up in the church, my relationship with Jesus was still superficial, or just on my terms if I needed Him.  Recently, it has grown, and I love Jesus more than ever, but if I didn’t have that foundation, I don’t think it would be as strong as it is now.  And I have Bob and Marilyn to thank for that, for helping build a pillar in my life.

 

I have been in a Men’s LIfe Group for a year and a half now.  We have met at my house a handful of times. I have to scramble to sweep, pick up the kids’ toys, and make the house mildly presentable for 4-8 middle-aged men (meaning they wouldn’t care).  The Swanson’s did that routine every week for at least 5 years. AND they got food for people without asking for anything in return. I will always remember the sacrifice they made to help plant seeds and grow the kingdom in a group of college-aged kids.

 

But their son is still a jerk, amirite?!  😉 Just kidding, he’s one of my friends I have known the longest and always can call on.

 

There are many more people that have impacted my life.  Gary Correll led my high school Life Group. He spoke on James once about faith and works, and I will never forget his words, “It’s faithworks.  Not faith AND works, or works AND faith. They go together.” Also in high school, Dan Wonser took time to meet with me and a couple of guys for breakfast once a week.  We would talk about high school life, and what’s more important in life. Kenny Murphy lead high school before Tim Bolin did, and he shared, among other things, how God used football and life to speak to him.  He also was an example of sacrifice running the high school ministry while managing and balancing his family and, I believe, a full-time job.

 

Talking about the pillars in my past makes me wonder what kind of pillar am I?  Who am I a pillar to? Do my kids see me as a pillar? A strong, positive pillar?  Or a crumbling one without a solid base?

 

In listening to sermons and podcasts, or watching the way NBC brings out the emotional stories of Olympic athletes, kids just need an influencer.  In hearing horror stories, there are negative influences that can lead to tragedy. But with an open heart and a positive role model, there is a way towards renewal and redemption.

 

I’ll make mistakes, but I hope to be a strong pillar as part of s solid foundation in Christ for my kids.

 

What kind of influence are you on your kids?  On your community? At work? What kind of foundation are you helping build in your kids?

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Freedom Act

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People are constantly looking for freedom.  Freedom from money. Freedom from routine. Freedom from boredom.  Freedom from a 9-to-5 job, or micro-managing boss. Freedom from shame, guilt, sin, fear, ridicule.  Freedom from the limits we put on ourselves.

 

I live in the United States.  By law, I am free. I am free to express myself within a certain set of parameters.  

 

But I don’t.  

 

I fit in so not to stand out.  I try to not draw attention to myself a vast majority of the time, because I am generally insecure.  I step out some when I am comfortable around family or friends. I mostly stay in a bubble of comfort, though.  

 

I don’t arrive too early to a place or event so not to be first and waiting for others to show up.  I wouldn’t want to look out of place. I limit the political articles I share to Facebook in an effort to not annoy my friends too much (even though some of you may argue otherwise).  I even have a secret social media profile that I sometimes use to post either “too extreme” ideas, or jokes some of my Christian friends might be offended by.

 

The place I should have the most freedom, though, but feel the most restricted by:  church.

 

It isn’t the church’s fault, though, or it isn’t all church’s fault.  It is me. It’s in my head. I cannot, or I have trouble, raising my hands to God in praise during worship.  I am too worried about what people behind me might be thinking about having my hands up. MIGHT think. Chances are they are not thinking anything about what I am doing and just wondering what to have for lunch after service.  Or that the music is too loud.

 

I also worry about sounding terrible since I am tone deaf, but that is less of a concern because the church I attend is relatively large and worship is like a rock concert so no one can hear me anyway.  But my arms and hands raised! People can see that, so keep those things down!

 

I wouldn’t want someone to think I am one of those Jesus Freaks.  In church. Full of other Jesus Freaks.

 

I am not free, even though I could be or should be.  I have never been the guy randomly at work say to his coworkers “Hey, let me tell you about Jesus!” type.  I have stayed in my comfort zone. I still do. Even writing posts like this sometimes scare me that I might offend non-Christian friends of mine.  It’s what the devil wants. But I still want and ask for God’s blessing. He died for me-I can’t lift my hands in praise in His house.

 

I will get stronger, better, and more confident.

 

Do you know what true freedom is?  True freedom is throwing every ounce of everything you have at God’s feet and shouting all your love and praise and pain at knowing He hears a joyous noise, a sweet sound.  Freedom is also knowing that when you do that, when you throw all your crap, and all your good, which is crap to God, He takes you in. All of it. He accepts you and loves you as a perfectly imperfect being.

 

True freedom can be seen and heard in the faces and voices of members of a church’s Disabilities Choir leading in worship.  I witnessed this, and I cried.

 

I cried as these men and women with  various disabilities sang the song “Good, good Father.”  I cried as I remembered the verse that Jesus died for all.  I cried as I thought about that verse, because I have been trying to think of it in the frame of labels culture or society put on people, but Jesus meant it in a human-for-human frame.  A mindset of “we are ALL created in the image of God” way. I cried as the chorus was sung, “You are perfect in all of your ways,” filled the auditorium.

 

God is perfect?  Even to people with disabilities?

 

Yes.  Yes He is.

 

God can bring perfect freedom.  He can bring freedom to me. He can bring freedom to you.  Surrender of control is an ongoing activity. I pray to do it every day.  I have to make a conscious effort to remind God I want to surrender and let Him have control of my life.  Freedom is an active act that can also be yours.

 

Here is a version of the song the choir was singing:

https://youtu.be/CqybaIesbuA

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Memories Trapped In A $5 Bill

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When my grandmother passed away a little over 10 years ago, all the grandkids received a classic, Chinese red envelope with a $5 bill in it.  Since then, I have just kept it in the center console of my car, and I had changed cars a couple times since then.  It just transferred from car-to-car.  Untouched.

 

I don’t always remember that the envelope is there, but I stumble across it every now and again when I am rooting through my center console looking for change to buy a Snickers bar from the vending machine at work.  Or when I am looking for hand sanitizer that fell to the bottom of the console.  I can count on one hand the number of times I have thought about breaking that $5 bill, but I couldn’t do it.  If it was going to be spent, it had to be worth it, because it came from my grandma.

 

I was never very close to my grandma only because there was a language barrier.  I never learned how to speak Chinese, and she had a limited English vocabulary, but she definitely loved me dearly.  I remember living with her for a summer during college.  I wasn’t and never have been a party kid or adult, so I was there most nights during the week, went to my parents’ on the weekends, and stayed in my room most evenings when I was there.  I remember she would make fried rice, especially for me, with Chinese sausage.  Definitely better than restaurant fried rice.

 

I could use a bowl now.

 

She always said I was a handsome boy.  She would say at times my hair was “very pitty” (very pretty).  Then the times I had shaved my head, she would say, “Charlie’s BALD!”  At least that’s what she would say to my parents before I was able to see them.  Then when my parents did see me, they would say, “Oh, grandma said you were bald.  You’re not bald! Whew!”  Then the time my cousin, Jessica, cut her hair before moving to Spain I heard, “Oh she cut her hair like Charlie.”  I don’t know if I have a picture of that, like a “Who Wore It Best?”  Maybe I’ll find one.

 

Besides cooking for me and complimenting me, my grandma, from what I did know of her, was pretty cool.  She loved to gamble.  If the dinner party didn’t have any gambling-cards or Mahjong-it was a boring party.  When I was a kid, she would go to Chinatown in Downtown and play Mahjong with her friends.  One of my aunts would drive her to her friend’s in this shady, rundown townhouse in downtown, then some time in the afternoon or evening my mom and I would go pick her up and take her home.  A couple of times, I would be the runner to ring the doorbell and get her.  Being a shy little Asian kid walking up to the front door and having some weird old man answer the door was, clearly, something to remember.

 

Whenever Hustler casino opened, which was in the general area of her house, some of the family gossip was that she wanted to go.  I was thinking, “Ummm, grandma might…not…like…it…there.”  I don’t think that deterred her.  The only thing that did was the location – I don’t think anyone wanted to drive her there.

 

Today, I had to break my $5 because I was a dumb-dumb-dad and forgot my wallet at home.  My youngest wanted to get something from the store with her own money, but I forgot to include tax.  Luckily, I did have my $5.  I really only needed some, so I put the rest back into the envelope.  Then put it right back into my center console.  Hopefully, saving the day for my daughter is a justifiable reason.

 

It would have been cool if my kids could have met their great-grandma, my grandma.  They have a great-grandma in my wife’s grandma, and I am thankful that they have the opportunity for that relationship.  They are also very close to their grandparents, both my parents and my wife’s.  But I would have loved to see her be a great-grandmother.  I’ll always have this to remember her by.

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“Nevertheless, She Persisted”

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My two daughters run my house.  My wife and I have big plans for both of them.  My oldest is the straight-and-narrow kid, who is going to get straight A’s and follow all the rules.  My youngest is the firecracker, the spitfire, the evil genius, the wild card, who is also going to get straight A’s but sneak out on a school night to go meet her friends at the frozen yogurt place across the street until waaaaay after curfew, which will be 4:15 P.M.  And when we catch her in the act, she’s going to do what she does now:  flash us that smile that says, “Who, me?  Noooo! You’re being silly, dad!  I’ve been here the whole time!  Ok, maybe not the whole time, but the whole time you thought I was here physically, I was home in my heart…and yours.”

 

I am not looking forward to the junior high or high school years.

 

Part of what makes my youngest daughter, who is now five, such a wild card, is her persistence.  Some might call it stubbornness.  It just depends on who you ask or when.  So there are times she digs in, and, if it is not something too serious, we’ll give in.  Those times are mildly inconvenient or not preferred, but they are not too problematic to give in to.  Most of the time, though, we try and diffuse the problem and help her get to more of a compromise.  We’re not always successful and she slides down the metaphorical hill that results in a temper tantrum.  And it’s not too surprising considering both my wife and I were stubborn, according to our respective parents.  Our daughter is just following in our footsteps-the apple of my eye.

 

I’d like to call it persistence, though, because, as much as I want my kids to be respectful of me, other kids, and authority figures, I do want them to stand up for themselves.  I don’t want them to be walked all over, and I don’t want them to just say “Ok” to whatever it is and harbor resentment and bitterness against someone else for the rest of their lives.  Ya know, like I have.

 

It is about balance.  It is about knowing when to push, when to pull back.  To know when to hold ‘em, and to know when to fold ‘em.

 

Well, this persistence played out a while back.  I didn’t see it first hand, but I have seen other examples of it.  I was at my older daughter’s hockey game, and my wife took my younger daughter to a family baby shower where her two cousins were also in attendance.  Usually once a week my in laws have my two kids and the two cousins over to spend the night for the four of them to play.  That week they didn’t get their weekend together, so after the baby shower my daughter asked my wife if her cousins could come and spend the night at our house.  My wife was totally caught off guard, tried to deflect and make up reasons to prevent it from happening more for my sake since I don’t like change, but, in the end, she didn’t have a good reason.  And my daughter was starting to step and slip down Tantrum Hill.  At every turn my wife said, “No,” my daughter would just say, “Yes!” and jump and down and say it again, and again.  And again.  Having witnessed this before, I know it just continues until someone gives.

 

Nevertheless, she persisted.

 

So I got a call as I was leaving the hockey game.  You know the kind of call, because you probably have made that call yourself in your life at least once, or were on the receiving end of such call.

 

“Hi, Honey!  So…how are you?  Ah huh, yeah, that’s good.  So…guess what?  We’re having guests over tonight!”

 

Now, I’m not opposed to guests in my house.  I’m just an introvert that likes my free time, my personal space, peace and quiet, and no changes to be made anytime ever for any reason.  So my wife asks her sister if it’s ok if her boys spend the night, and, of course, she says yes, because what parent wouldn’t jump at the chance to have a kid-free night?  I know I would if one was offered to me.  My daughter got her wish:  Her cousins came over, they played and had fun and got their usual weekend of family bonding in.  And that, actually, worked out:  since the kids were occupied it gave my wife and I time to chat and catch up.  And drink wine.

 

Persistence pays off.

 

Both of my daughters are going to be a handful, namely for me since I am not great at change or conflict resolution.  I need a new strategy since “My way or the highway!” isn’t very effective most of the time.  I need to ask myself, “Do I want my daughters to stand up for themselves?  Do I want them to, respectfully, defend their ideas and discuss solutions in the boardroom to the boss?  Or do I want them to be ‘Yes’ people that fold to the power of the position that is facing them?  Do I want them to shrink back?”  I know I want them to stand up to bullies, or other physical confrontations.  In an incredible time as now of the #MeToo movement that started late last year, the year of the Women’s March that for two years in a row had record numbers of people marching in the street, and a record number of women engaging politically running for public office, I want my girls to be women of power, too.  Not necessarily to be CEO’s, politicians, or women as the face of a movement, but women standing up and not backing down in the face of opposition.

 

Part of persistence is pressing on, not giving up.  Some people should give up on their goals.  I always think of the early rounds of American Idol contestants that believe in their hearts that they are born to be stars but can’t hold a note, or they are too pitchy, dog.  Some people, though, shouldn’t give up.

 

Nevertheless, persist.

 

I also want to encourage them and to know it is ok to stand up for others.  Speaking up for the voiceless, helping those in need, and serving others are actions that Jesus preached His followers to do.  I pray they follow in His footsteps.

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Blood, Swag, and Tears

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Remember that episode of Friends where Joey pretends a Porsche parked on the street as his own?  Then to try and play it up he covers himself, head-to-toe, in Porsche merch.  Ross passes by him on the street and asks him, “Did a Porsche throw up on you?!”  Our house is getting to be like that, kind of, with swag from my wife’s company.  She was gone on a week-long trip, I opened up her suitcase to put stuff away, and all the leftover swag that didn’t get into the hands of potential clients fell out.  It was like like her luggage was spitting up her swag a little in the hallway.

 

Everyone has their dreams they dream.  Some people work harder than others to achieve their dreams than others.  Then there are some who dream, don’t do any work, and wonder what is wrong with them.  Or they wonder how the people who are seeing the rewards of their hard work got so lucky.  I can be that way temporarily at times.  I hear of cool things people acquire for whatever reason, and I think they are so lucky.  Then I remember whatever the reason they are getting whatever cool thing they get is because of the work they put in, possibly for years and likely for very little reward for a long time.  I’ll tell you what I am talking about.

 

There are a couple of podcasts that I listen to that are not part of larger media outlets like NPR, or The New York Times.  A couple of the shows started as a couple of people in their garages or living rooms, turned on microphones and a computer, and pressed record.  These shows have created a following of loyal listeners.  Their show didn’t start off as a hit, or immediately go viral like NPR’s Serial or S-Town.  It was a slow build.

 

As well as podcasts, I have heard other stories of authors or public speakers and how long they had been doing their work before they were an “overnight success”.  One way I saw it was in a “Successories” type of quote that said “Overnight Success Takes Years.”

 

One particular podcast that I listen to was started by two guys literally in one of their living rooms.  It is a hockey podcast, and they have listeners across the world, with a very loyal following in Australia of all places.  Loyal listeners in the the country often send the show hosts a local dessert from Australia.  Other listeners around the world send them hockey jerseys of their local teams, or just jerseys of teams with cool logos.  When they are opening packages they receive and describe it, I get a little jealous sometimes.  I ask myself, “Why don’t I get free stuff?”  These guys don’t get paid to do their show, though.  Sometimes they have sponsors, but for a long time they paid to produce the show and give it out for free.  It is a weekly show, each episode is often two hours or more, and they have not missed a week in ten years.  THAT is why they get free stuff.  Listeners are grateful to have the podcast and want to show their appreciation and thanks.  There was a period of time they were recording the show during a graveyard shift because that was the time they had access to recording equipment.

 

I also listen to a local morning radio show and follow their Instagram account where they post pictures of free food local places will send over for promotion or just for fun.  What did they do to deserve all those cupcakes?  Or those yummy looking sandwiches?  Or all that pizza?  Oh nothing.  They just spent 20 years making people laugh in the morning on their way to work, put on concerts with some of the most popular bands in the world, and just generally entertain people.  That’s all.  Just that for 20 years.

 

For us normal folk, the rewards and spoils of life take hard work.  It might take a more time for some compared to others, but hopefully there were a few lessons learned along the way.  As kids, most of us can’t understand how other people get so lucky.  Recently, my youngest wasn’t advancing having a hard time getting motivated to go to karate class.  She was frustrated that it had been sooo loooong since she earned her last stripe (the dojo we go to has a 3-stripe process to advance to the next belt).  She forgot, however, that she had taken a couple of months away from karate class and was only going once a week to play hockey instead.  Hockey ended, she picked up karate again, and after three weeks she got her next two stripes on back-to-back days.  She remembered the benefits of hard work.

 

It is hard to remember in the moment, for all of us of all ages at different stages of life, that things take time, sometimes the road takes longer than expected, and the process is just as important as the destination.  Two things to remember:  Work takes work and it’s worth the work; and kids are looking to you as role models.  They love copying you, so copy some hard work and they might follow in your footsteps.

 

A good reminder is you reap what you sow.  It may sound cliche, I know, but you can’t deny that it’s true, can you?  Sure, some kids are going to grow up trying to avoid hard work no matter what you do.  Or if you are a lazy parent, your kids might do the opposite of you.  Who knows, but I know my girls are watching me so it’s up to me to set the best example I can.

 

When my daughter earned her stripes, she was so proud of herself, and I was so proud of her as well.  She was a little disappointed that she has to wait a month before she can officially get promoted and get her next belt, but in the meantime she is more motivated to go to class compared to the beginning of the month.

 

Also, since Christianity and faith in God rule our house, my wife and I encourage our kids to do their best because we serve God in what we do.  What we do matters also because as we serve God in our actions, people are watching and seeing how we react and walk in the world.  This is important to me, because that means I need to clean up my act too.

 

Whatever you do, put in the work.  Yeah, most days it sucks to work hard.  I certainly wish I didn’t have to, but I know there is a greater reward down the line for me.  The reward may not even be for me, but if my kids are rewarded by my hard work and learn how to build on it, that would be worth it.

 

Now go bust your ass!

 

After you watch this video:  https://youtu.be/ZqWa1c4sf9Q

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