The way of all men…

OUR1stcarA week ago, I woke up to an ominous message from my brother.  My father was in the hospital and it didn’t look good. I immediately notified our local family and started to pray. I knew in my heart, that my father was already gone the way of all men. It wasn’t until later that morning that I received the call confirming the news. That is when the tears flowed and it was hard to breathe. The world is not the same anymore.

You see, he wasn’t just my father, he was a great man. In fact he was the greatest man I  have had the privilege of knowing, and I have been blessed to know some amazing people. I expect that most people think their parents are great people, and that is a great blessing. It is even more to know it to be true. He did not invent cures for chronic terminal diseases. He did not solve the energy crisis or clean water problems for the world. He did notFamSunnyside lead civilization into a new era, or solve world peace. Those are all great accomplishments, but they do not make someone great. What makes a person great is not doing something in a moment in time, or even an era. A great person is not  great because of their actions. Their actions reveal their greatness regardless of the scale. A star is a star no matter its size, the size of its solar system, or its remoteness. My father was a star among planets. Everyone caught in his orbit was affected. You could not meet him and not feel the impact of that experience. I don’t know another human being that can make that claim.

I also don’t know anyone else that drew every breathe, and whose heart beat every beat for those around them, the way my father did. He was always concerned for others and if there was a way in which he could serve and make someone else’s life better, he did it. He demonstrated again and again that if something needed doing, and we could do it, then we should.

fam-kHis last day under the sun is a perfect example of my father’s life. His last post on Facebook was concern for those left behind in a war torn country. Even as his body was shutting down in its final moments, he was reminding my mother to follow her doctor’s orders. While he was in pain and his health was declining, his only complaint was that he didn’t want to burden my mother. I pray that I meet my Heavenly Father with the same love of others.

It was not just that he was focused on serving others (although that would be enough in itself). He was brilliant, kind, creative, devoted, dedicated and probably the most ethical person you could have met. He was also flawed, just like the rest of us. But he knew his flaws were not an excuse to remain that way. In short, he was a great man.

I will miss him immensely as I know the rest of my family and his friends will.  When a star winks out in the universe, its absence is most Guyers-2definitely felt. After spending time in prayer, I am at complete peace with his absence. The tears have been replaced with joy and happiness. I am at peace, because I know he is more than the clay and dust that makes up these bodies we know. I am happy because I know that his life and his trust all rested on the Lord Jesus Christ, and he is able to enjoy the awesomeness of being in His presence.  My greatest regret is that those of you who don’t know him, will not have the opportunity in this life. 

My father has gone the way of all men, but he did not do it like most of us. He was a great man and he still is. I will get to see him again and that brings me great joy. I pray when it is my time to go the way of all men, my children and grandchildren will know the same comfort.

Blessings Dad.  I look forward to seeing you again. Thank you for all the ways you impacted my life.

Working from Home survival guide

This post is a bit of a departure from the usual fare (not that the usual fare is all that usual or regular to begin with).  Given that we are all “social distancing” many of us are now working at home.  It occurred to me that some of you that are newer to this, might benefit from a few of the lessons I learned the hard way over the decades I have worked, on and off from home.

Qualifiers

Just to be clear, these principles apply whether you are in your living room in an 800 square ft. apartment with a toddler watching reruns of Sesame Street on a worn out VHS tape (done that), or you have your own dedicated office space in your home (actually, I haven’t done that).  They will also apply if you are an introvert (done that) or an extravert (I can pretend pretty well most of the time).  What will differ is the particulars of how you implement the principles.

Chunk and Breath

That is not the latest birthing method, it is a work at home survival tool.

Chunking your work

If you are blessed to be in a busy role, you have an abundance of work.  This is a good problem to have, but it is still a problem if you don’t have a strategy.  Work Chunking is one of the most important because it makes many of the other principles possible.

Chunking is conceptualizing and pushing through your work in pieces.  No matter what kind of work  you do, it is chunkable, however, the type of chunks may vary.  If your work is project based, you might have chunks that are task oriented(e.g. write 4 pages).  If your work is transaction work, or “line work” you might chunk based on time or quantity (e.g. 2 hours, 20 calls, 30 email, etc.).  Most of us will find time to be the easiest divisor.  This is particularly true if your work, like most office workers, is a mix of a variety of activities.  You may also find that what you start with is inadequate and you need to adjust.  That is also fine.  What is not fine, is not having a plan with regard to when you have completed a chunk.

Breathe.  Seriously.  Breathe.

Those of you that know me, know that I am definitely not into mysticism of any kind.  This is not a criticism of those readers who are, it is just an qualifier that this concept is a healthy principle for everyone.

When you complete a chunk, you need to breathe.  This can actually be taking a minute or two to just clear your head and focus exclusively on nice deep breathing.  The science on this is pretty clear.  Clearing your head and your lungs will go a long way to help you regain perspective.  If you have an Apple watch, it has a great app, named Breathe (clever folks down there in Cupertino).  Try it out.  It is pretty helpful.

However, this step can be substituted with sitting on the porch rocking, watching the birds in the bird feeder, etc.  Just a minute or two of separation from mental stimuli is all that is necessary.  It is giving the brain, and your emotions a rest.  I actually love to pray for a bit.  It helps me reorient and let go of things beyond my control.

Catching up on Facebook, the news, or TV does not qualify.  Usually listening to music does not qualify either because music is intended to move your emotions and your goal here is to avoid external stimuli that causes strong reactions.   You are looking for inactivity that is calming.

Set Boundaries

Normally you have the opportunity  to transition from work while you commute.  When you are working from home, there is no commute so you need to transition almost instantly.  That means  you need set two kinds of boundaries and communicate them with your family. 

Set Work Day Boundaries

With work being at home, it is too easy to jump back into work and leave your family hanging.  Keep in mind that they likely need your time during this crisis as well.  For me, it was easier to create family hours, then working  hours.  That means that outside of an emergency the family has me from dinner until the children are in bed.  This means I shut off my notifications and don’t check my smart device during that time.  I belong to the family.  My team knows that if they have an emergency, they can call and I am ready to roll.  Short of that, they can email me and I will get back to it after family time is over.

Set Family Boundaries

One of the benefits of working from home is you are able to see your family throughout the day.  One of the challenges of working from home is you are able to see your family throughout the day. 

As you probably discovered by now, it is both a blessing and a challenge to have family this accessible during the work day.

Setting up boundaries will help them know when you need to focus and when your work is interruptible.  For us, it is the office door.  We have a community office.  The entire family shares my office (there are 4 desks in here) and I love it.  However, there are times when I need to give every firing synapse to a difficult problem.  For those moments, the office is emptied and the door is closed.  Everyone in the family knows that means “stay out or you may not survive the encounter.”  Fear not, none of my family members have expired yet.

This technique allows you benefit from both the presence of the family and the distraction free environment you can create at home.

Share the Load

If you have a significant other at home, they may likely be working as well.  In our case, my wife is running our household and a non-profit therapy farm while I sit in my comfortable chair and pluck away at my keyboard.  Sometimes, she needs help, or just needs to be free to get something done herself. 

This is where work chunking is really important.  If you chunk your work, you can transition between chunks to help mind the little one, or the dog, or goldfish, or whatever you may have at your home.  This enables you to plan ahead, coordinate with your work team and be helpful without causing additional stress to yourself and your coworkers.

This will lengthen your work day if you have to take time out to share the load, but this will also enable you to help your household weather the storm as well.

Don’t forget the Chocolate

You need to ensure you indulge a bit in what takes you to your happy place.  The breathing part is about resting.  This is about moving toward happiness.  For me it is chocolate.  So much so, that we have a chocolate lab, and her name is….Hershey.  I also like to build things or dig up weeds (funny, I used to hate that).  Whatever it is, make sure you include it in your routine.  

The point is to pursue happiness that is apart from your work routine.  While my work makes me happy, a person also needs to diversify a bit to stay balanced.

Don’t Forget to Date

While our favorite date places (like Tractor Supply and Home Depot – only partially kidding here) are now off the list, you can still take time to spend with your significant other.  Give the kids a game or a chore and go sit on the front porch and watch the sun set or sit on the back deck and listen to the crickets.  For those still in colder weather, you might escape to another room and just visit about the day.

The important point here is to ensure that you are still making time to spend with your favorite person.  This will fill both of your emotional fuel tanks like nothing else.

Summing Up

You can work from home and do it successfully.  Just like your work communication has likely had to change, so will your other habits.  If you are diligent about the suggestions above, you, your family and your coworkers will thrive, not just survive.

Sunset, Sunrise

Fall (50)One of my favorite memories from my youth is watching the sun go down while sitting on top of the haystack.  I remember sitting there, up high with my legs hanging over the side.  I would sit there alone, feeling the wind slam into me (it seems like it always blew from the west), watching as the sky would turn from the sharp blue to the glorious color wheel of oranges, pinks, purples and blacks (further evidence for God – because let’s face it, who would ever think to put those colors together).  The force of the wind pushing me back off the edge was powerful, scary and comforting all at the same time ( Just like our God ).  At the time, I was simply marveling at the display of glory that was there every day!  God, in His wisdom chose to close out every day with a glorious visual feast.

Back then, I would often marvel that from the ground, it was the same sun and the same wind, but somehow, it didn’t feel the same.  It didn’t have the same overwhelming feel when my vision was a little obscured and I was safely on the ground.  Comfortable.  That is what we become.  Once we are comfortable, we just don’t marvel at God’s majesty the way we should.  We miss the work of a living God all around us because we safe, on the ground, where we can’t get hurt.

This year has been a haystack year for us.  We have been on the edge, pushed by the wind from our front row seat of God’s majesty.  The climb up the haystack was a lot more difficult than what I remember from my youth.  The wind is a lot more fierce and the edge feels a little bit terrifying.  But it has been a glorious sunset to behold!  We have been so busy with other things, that I am finally getting the opportunity to put some thoughts down.

Sunset #1

Beautiful completed her cancer treatments on September 27th.  That statement is as plain as I can make it.  Unvarnished because our emotional tanks were nearly completely drained at the end.  Just before her last treatment, Beautiful had another surgery that was unexpected and in comparison to her other surgeries was fairly minor.  However, she had some complications about a week after it was over.  As I was parking the truck at the hospital, trying to hurry because the ambulance beat me there, I remember the reality that this was the first point since knowing she had cancer where I felt like I might lose her.  I remember thinking that no one on earth had the benefit of knowing her like I did, but it wasn’t enough.  I remember praying that I needed more, and everyone else needed the opportunity to know God through her.  All of that happened in an instant before I needed to clamp it down and be there for her.

God is faithful.  He has given me more time and He has lifted that burden from all of us.  We are thankful for the growth we experienced, but we are also relieved to be watching this Sunset through the rearview mirror!

Sunset #2

Part of what has added to the busyness of our lives is we have had our home on the market to sell.  We are thrilled that our home has new owners today.  I still sit in an office full of boxes and our garage won’t see a car for a loooooonnnngggg time, but we are pretty settled and we can find what we need most of the time.  It is here somewhere, we just need to figure out which box.

To help add some context to the magnificence of this sunset, let me help provide some perspective.  A little over two years ago, we sold our dream house.  It was the 7th one that I had designed and had built and it included all of our lessons learned.  It fit us perfectly.  We all loved the home and it was a blessing to many.  But in the end it was a just a house that we made our home.  Giving up that home allowed us to be in a position to be part of something bigger.  By selling it we would be able to build a therapy farm to help children with special needs.  Fast forward 2 years and we are ready to begin!

Sunrise

God’s timing is perfect.  Most of the steps of getting this farm going have been difficult or time consuming or both.  There will surely be more difficult tasks in front us, but for now, we can be encouraged by the new beginning.  You see, not only did we sell our house today, but our builder and good friend filed our permits to begin construction today.  A small step, but it is the beginning of something glorious.

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” Zechariah 4:10

The passage above was angelic encouragement to the chief re-builder of the temple, Zerubbabel.  The work of rebuilding the temple was huge.  It was overwhelming, but it was also important.  Even though it was far from easy, it was worth every drop of sweat and more.  While our work is not on par with rebuilding the temple of God, we are still doing His work and we are rebuilding His children, those that bear the image of the living God.  We take comfort from the same encouragement that Zerubbabel was given:

“It is not by force, nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.” Zechariah 4:6

We have always known that our job is do the work and not force the timing or the results.  God has His purposes in all things and we are to be faithful and apply ourselves whole-heartedly to the work, but trust Him for the outcome.  We are not in control and we cannot work as though we are.  It is God who wills and who does.  Our job is to get working and witness what He does through us.

In other words, I don’t make the sun set or the sun rise, but I am still very much a part of the process.  We are there. We bear witness to the majesty of our God through glorious works He is performing.  The sunsets have been spectacular.  Now we will turn to the east and watch the new beginning as the Sun Rises on a new chapter. 

12 Days and only 10 Left

pink-awareness-ribbon-hi

Part of the spice of life is that some days are unique and stand by themselves as special markers in life.  I am not referring to days that sneak up on you unexpectedly, like baby’s first steps or a lost tooth.  I am referring to those days that are marked on the calendar well in advance.  Sometimes they are circled in a different color or have some other embellishment that declares to all that that particular day is special.

We have 12 of those days.  Since I have been off the blog lately 2 of them have already passed so, we have 10 ahead of us.  Those days are Chemo days.  While that might seem like an odd thing to have on your calendar as a special day, you have to be here, in this place to understand.  I know a year ago, I wouldn’t have understood.  Walking the cancer journey gives you a different perspective about a lot of things.  For instance, your definition of a good day goes from something really great happening, like being in the neighborhood when Krispy Kreme is HOT NOW (once you have you know what I mean), to Beautiful managed to put together 5 continuous hours of sleep.  It goes from, “did the kids get ‘A’s on their work” to “did they get their homework done and actually turned in.”  Your focus goes from “did they have on a coordinated outfit” (Beautiful is the amazing at this – me, not so much) to “did I manage to get the baby dressed today.”

I think my first real wake up call was during Beautiful’s first chemo session.  She had received a whole battery of drugs to “prepare” her for the cancer killing ninja drug, so we were there for a while and the nurse had come and gone.  A little while later, she came back in a full surgery gown, complete with face shield.  At first, I assumed she had been assisting in surgery some where because this is a Cancer Center after all.  Once she hung the I.V. bag, I put it together.  No, she was not just in surgery.  The ninja had arrived.  Complete with warning labels all over it about special care, and disposal precautions that were necessary for the safe handling of this particular drug.  That is when it hit me.  This is poison.  It is so dangerous that you cannot get it on your skin, and they were about to put this right in my bride’s veins.  Wow.  That was a full brain freeze moment.  Later I learned that for 48 hours after the ninja has done its work, body fluids like sweat are toxic.  Yeah, your perspective about a lot of things is going to change at that point.

When you have time to process all of that, you start to put some other things together.  Like the fact that somewhere, someone thought to do this and tried it on people.  You know they got it wrong at least a few times and your heart goes out to the families of those people.  There are those that had too much of the Cancer Ninja and suffered horrible side effects.  Then are the other ones that didn’t get enough and lost the fight.  I am grateful to our Lord, those doctors and those brave souls that endured those trials.  My bride is benefiting from all of that learning, testing and suffering.  So, here we are, celebrating the 12 weeks of chemo with 10 more Chemo days in front of us.  Every Tuesday for the next 10 weeks will be a small victory party.  Each will be one session closer to being done.

Yes, my definition of a good day has changed.  The bar will probably drop lower still as the effects of the chemo build, but we will cross that bridge if we find ourselves in front of it.  For now, we victor in the small things.  To celebrate this particular 12 / 10 day, I will leave with you 2 Corinthians 12:10

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Yes, my definition of a good day has changed.  We are content in our weakness, hardship and calamity, for when we are weak, then we are strong!  10 more days of hardship to strength ahead of us!

Beautiful’s Burden

Harvest Asparagus

I was blessed growing up in many ways.  One of those blessings (although at the time, it didn’t always feel like one) was having a job harvesting asparagus. It started in the spring, and we would get up early before school, (when the temperatures were just above freezing) to be ready to work as soon as the sun provided enough light to see.  I remember my first trip down the row.  It dropped down a hill so I couldn’t see the bottom.  If I looked up to try to see the end, I was overwhelmed with the task.  Everyone else had done this before and they all seemed so capable.  The size of the job and my lack of experience was crushing down on me.  I remember my sister telling me, “Just look down at what your doing and you will get there before you know it.”  That was the key.  Focus on the individual asparagus, knife, grab, and on to the next.  Before I knew it, I was at the first dump bin.  Then the next. Then the next.  And finally the end of the row.  It turns out my sister’s advice is pretty good regarding most things in life.

Beautiful is in that exact situation now.  We felt like we had this cancer thing pretty well in hand.  Yes, she is still in pain and yes she has a lot of healing to do, but we felt like we were managing it pretty well.  The medicines were mostly happening on time (I missed one last night for her and that created a lot of extra pain).  The kids, with the help of neighbors and other friends are being cared for. Our neighbors, friends and church family are providing meals so I can focus on the rest.  All in all it seemed like things were going pretty smoothly.  The best part is all the reports we received were incredibly positive.  The surgery was an incredible success.  Her pathology reports showed the cancer had not spread and all seemed well.  We were starting to look down the row to see how far we were before the end.  That was when we discovered, we still can’t see the end.

We met with the Oncologist today and he explained that she had the best type of cancer you could get.  She had a very small cancer that had only invaded a small area.  It was not aggressive and it tested positive to respond to hormones (which means it can be controlled by reducing them).  Fantastic news!  But there was an anomaly.  Her cancer also tested positive for HER2  which is most often found with large aggressive cancers.  There are no studies for effective treatment of HER2 positive cancers that are very small because it is very rare to ever have that situation.

The doctor was well into the treatment he was recommending before it registered that he was talking about Chemotherapy.  That was a “I just want to sit down in the row and not move until they plow the dirt over me moment.”  Everyone has seen the results of chemotherapy, but not everyone has lived it.  We haven’t yet, but we have done enough reading to know it is hard.  It is hard to endure and it is hard to watch your loved one endure it.  What made it harder still was the fact that it was so unexpected.  It seemed like things were going so well.

And truly they are.  We are still stuck in the middle of the row we can’t see the end of, but we know who made the row.  We know that He made that row just for us.  He made it so we would be perfected in ways that we could not be otherwise.  Today, I don’t know what that future work will be or how this will change us, but I know it will and it will make us better fit to serve Him.  We just need to keep our heads on what we are doing.  Knife, grab and on to the next one.  The glorious end will be here before we know it.

Butterfly Kisses

Mr and Mrs

Our Princess and her Prince Charming were wed yesterday.  I couldn’t be happier!  Everything, and I  mean everything, was perfect.  Yes, it could have been a little cooler.  It might have been nice to have had more cool beverages on hand for guests to enjoy.  The cake could have been a little fluffier.  I am sure if I dwelt on things long enough, I could come up with a list of things that were not perfect.  But those things don’t matter one bit.

Beautiful and I focused on preparing her for this day for as long as I can remember.  You see for each of our children, we try to prepare them to be a good spouse.  Our world is geared around teaching them to be good at everything else, but very little preparation is ever given to ready them for committing to another person, by choice through thick and thin.  On the contrary, we live in a society that seeks to eliminate any kind of responsibility for anything.  Commitment is not something  that we hear a lot about.   That makes the lessons we teach as parents all the more important.

Yes, there was the usual household skill training that Beautiful imparted to her.  I tried to help Princess understand and engage as an equal partner that alien species called “Men.”  I like to think we did a  pretty good job.  Princess is excellent with her household skills, but she will clearly do it differently than Beautiful.  Princess is also great at spotting logic fallacies, articulating an excellent position and dialoging in challenging ways, while simultaneously enjoying things that normally interest those MEN.  Together we tried to model working together and sacrificing for one another.  Most importantly, we tried to show her that true harmony together, comes from true harmony with God.  Some days we did better than others.  All of that preparation culminated in a brief, beautiful and inspiring ceremony.     

You see this was the perfect transition from one story to a new story.  Our Princess has grown and blossomed.   Our Princess went from being one of many in our story, to being a partner in their story.   Yes, she will still be part of our family, and now, so is he.  But, it will not be like it was.  They have their own story to write, their own songs to sing and their own paintings to paint.  We are here as a foundation and a bulwark of sorts, but we are not central to their story.  They, and their relationship with Jesus Christ, are central to their story.  They will make decisions together.  Some we will applaud with fervor, while some will baffle and frustrate us.  But our approval no longer matters.  That all changed, when I placed her hand in his yesterday.

Our Princess went from being one of many in our story, to being a partner in their story.

For my part, as father of the bride, I was good with all of it.  I have watched her grow and blossom, and I was excited more than anything for her.  I was good with it all until the Father – Bride dance.  She selected Butterfly Kisses as the song.  I didn’t know she even knew that one.  It was my theme song for her for many years.  It describes exactly what took place yesterday.  My little girl spread her wings and became the Great Queen alongside her Great King.  I thank God for His mercy and blessing me to see this day.  That is why everything, was perfect, despite, the heat, and the cake, it was PERFECT.  I look forward to the chapters they will write together.

Washing Dishes

dishwasherI love our dishwasher.  It is a great dishwasher.  It is the kind where you don’t have to clean the plate twice (once before you load it, then while it is running).  Is also incredibly quiet.  I have been sprayed numerous times when going to put a dirty dish into it, not realizing that it was running (yes, it does have a light, but I would rather take my chances then bend over and look to see if the light is on).  I wish I was as good at parenting as our dishwasher is at its job.  When it washes cups they are clean, inside and out.  I can’t always say I get the same results.  Thankfully, I am better than I used to be and Lord willing, I will continue to improve.

You have probably figured out, I am not really discussing cleaning cups you drink from.  Jesus got after the Pharisees because of their tendency to focus on behavior and not heart.  His teaching, as always, sets us free. He said,

“…First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” –Matthew 23:26

As parents, and caregivers, we tend to focus on the behaviors (the outside of the cup).  Why wouldn’t we?  It is the part we can see.  “I don’t know what is going on in their little hearts, but I know that Johnny should share.  I will make him share.  I will teach him that if he doesn’t share, he will lose what he has completely.”  And you can because you are bigger.  It all seems pretty straightforward doesn’t it.  However, consider for a moment that Johnny may not be sharing for another reason.  One that wouldn’t even enter into your head (because it is not your head).  Perhaps Johnny isn’t sharing because he is afraid.  That lesson I was intending to teach becomes a different lesson for Johnny.  “If you don’t want to lose what you have, don’t let anyone know you have it.”  BAM!  Johnny learned the exact opposite of what we were trying to teach.  Instead of ending with a generous child, we ended with a more fearful, secretive, hoarder.

I understand that my previous example may not be a common problem, however, it does illustrate the point (which was the whole point after all).  Yes, some children will respond to that teaching.  Their hearts and minds are enlightened when we correct behavior.  However, that doesn’t work for all children and in fact, it doesn’t work for most.  If it did, Jesus wouldn’t have had to correct the Pharisees on their teaching methods.  When we address behavior, we are addressing what the child does.  When we address their hearts and minds, we are addressing who the child is.  That is a big difference, and that is exactly what Jesus was talking about it.  Address Johnny’s fear and he will share on his own.

Dr. Karyn Purvis said it brilliantly.

“The behaviors are the tip of the iceberg. If I’m a caregiver or a parent and I understand everything beneath the surface I am going to have great success in bringing deep healing to this child. But if I only see the behavior, and not what’s behind it, I have missed most of what my child needs.”

I am grateful that Beautiful and I were given this understanding some time ago.  We saw it first with P.C.  He is such a larger than life child that it couldn’t help but have been him.  The same techniques that we used with our older children were not working with him.  We were regularly getting the opposite of what we were teaching and wanted (just so you don’t wonder he is great at sharing).  Our hearts were breaking because we knew we were loosing him.  We couldn’t reach him with what we were doing.  Thankfully, we were given Dr. Purvis’s book, The Connected Child.  The truth, set us free.

I know a number of parents, schools and churches that focus on behavior to the point that they almost completely miss the child.  This passage that Paul wrote becomes their mantra:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” – Philippians 4:8.

Please don’t misunderstand me.  What Paul says is the truth.  And, many of these parents, schools and churches are doing a great job of raising awareness about how we can do a better job with how our faith looks in culture.  We just can’t let the externals of excellence become our idol.  We cannot become satisfied with good grades, high test scores, beautiful music, poetry, and art.  They are all excellent, but they are only the outside of the cup.

When externals become the measuring stick, all kinds of problems result. The parents and caregivers become so used to focusing on behavior, they don’t have the tools to connect to the heart.  Older children and adults needing medical assistance to deal with anxiety, or simply abandoning the “values” that were taught are way above norms.  Unfortunately, many of the leaders don’t know it because it is not being talked about (at least to them).

True excellence for our children is knowing who they are, that they are loved by us and by their Creator, and they are joyful, content and at peace with that.  Jesus told us plainly that when that happens, the rest will take care of itself.

That my friends, is how you do the dishes.

New Hats

HatWe have had a very exciting and exhausting week here, we all were given new hats to wear.  Everyone in the family, from the smallest to the “not small” received a new hat and we all love them.  Some people love the idea of a new hat and the recognition that it brings.  People greet you and say polite things to you.  The problem is that after a while the hat is not new anymore.  No one says anything when you wear the hat after that.  It just a hat.

If you love the hat because it brings you attention, then you are going to be in for a world of disappointment. If you love the hat, unconditionally, then it never mattered how people react to you because of it.  I know people who buy new things or take on new responsibilities, or even volunteer to do good things because of how other people will react.  I imagine that is a very sad and lonely existence.

You may have guessed that I am not really talking about hats.  I am talking about a wonderful, exciting and amazing new chapter in all of our lives.  Little Buddy has arrived!  Needless to say we are all excited beyond description.  I am truly at a loss for how to describe my feelings.  I can, however, describe my thoughts as I held him for the first time.  As he lay there sleeping and I was praying out my thanksgiving and quietly asking a blessing over him, my mind raced with all of the wonderful ways he was like me, and all the wonderful ways he was different.  It was amazing to see Sweetness and Coco and her parents and Beautiful and I all rolled up into that handsome little man.  You cannot help but wonder what this little person is like.  His preferences are there, we just don’t know them yet.  Is he a man of action, or a man of letters?  Is he a man of both?  Is he a chocolate or vanilla ice cream man?  Perhaps he doesn’t even like ice cream (I cannot imagine that, but it could happen).  Will he be good at catching chocolate chips in his mouth (yes there are certain privileges that come with this new hat)?  Maybe we should start with marshmallows.  They are better for training.

I cannot even begin to contemplate what he will become.  Those possibilities are just too varied to even begin to pin down.

What I do know is this.  He has two wonderful parents that love him beyond his comprehension.  He has two very LARGE extended families that love him beyond his comprehension.  It doesn’t matter what he likes or becomes.  We will all love him, just because he is.

That is how you love a new hat.  You love it just because it is, not because it does something for you.

Parenting from the box

shape sorterI remember to this day, when the humbling happened.  Of course getting taken down a few pegs only happens when you were on a perch to start with.  Beautiful and I thought we had parenting by the tail.  Holding something by the tail is well and good as long as the tiger you are holding doesn’t have teeth.  Coco and Princess were, model children.  Clearly our parenting wisdom was validated by the fact that they were “turning out.”  Time and again, other parents would say, “Just wait until they hit X.” and X never came for us.  Later, we noticed other parents asking us how we achieved the results we did.  Yes, we were feeling pretty good.  I mean stick your thumbs in your suspenders and rock back on your heals kind of good (except I don’t have suspenders).

Then Thunder happened.  I am so thankful that our Lord brought him.  When I consider all of the blessings he and the other siblings that followed brought, I am moved to tears.  Being able to see one of them go from sadness to a beaming smile because we were there for a skinned knee, or shared a root beer float, or some other minor little thing that was meaningful to them makes every sacrifice absolutely worth it.  But Thunder brought another blessing as well.  He brought a big dose of humble pie to two parents that thought they had parenting down cold.  Sometimes I forget that other parents have not had the blessing of raising children that did not spring from their DNA.  Consequently, they probably still have a bit of pride in their results.  I don’t mean to take anything away from their accomplishments or their children, nor is my goal to try to inflate what is happening here.  Rather, my point in this post is to raise awareness, because I was once again reminded of the ignorance that some parents still hold.

I was looking through some support forums the other day where a parent had my exact problem.  They were looking for a way to disable a feature on some technology for their children.  One parent posted a bit of a snarky comment that you can’t “raise your kids in a bubble” and went on to describe the rules she put in place for her two boys, now grown and making good choices.  The outcome, clearly validated her methods and so the rest of us should get on board.  [Sound familiar?]  Fear, not, I was kind in my reply.  I realized though, that her perspective, is common and the danger that it represents is very real.

Children are not little plants or machines.  You don’t put the perfect mix of nutrition, hydration, and affection in, and out comes the perfect child.  If they have issues, clearly you got the recipe wrong.  That is not how it works. 

Each child is unique and you need to constantly pay attention to their needs, expressed and never articulated.  You have to meet them where they are at, and take them from there.

I remember getting asked by pediatricians for many years about the child proofing in our home.  Social services actually inspects for child proofing when they do their home inspection.   Why is that?  Because every child, at some point, doesn’t understand boundaries.  Others, even when they do, are wired in such a way that they have to test those boundaries.  No parent in their right mind would let a child come to fatal harm in order to learn consequences.  We protect them from what they cannot understand or what they are unable to resist in order that they will grow as much in maturity as they are able.

Some kids will never get there.  They will never get to the point that they will make those good decisions on their own without lots of help.  It could be because they cannot sort through the decision matrix (common with children that endured trauma).  It could be because they cannot connect the consequences with the action (common with children exposed to alcohol in vitro).  It could be because they need to role play through the situation before being in it (common with most children).   What happens to these children?  they end up as adults that cannot make good decisions.

— Warning Political Tangent —

I am conservative and I think we have a lot of good ideas.  One idea that most of us conservatives hold that I think is horrible is the idea that all we need is for everyone to have opportunity.  Work for everyone and everyone works.  WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!  Some people did not get the right care growing up and likely are not getting the right care as adults.  You could put opportunity on their doorstep, or better yet, in their lap, and they won’t know what do with it.  They cannot hold a job because they do not know how to function.  What do we do for these people?  It is a serious problem and callous policies on welfare will only make it worse.  I know, we all know people abusing the system, but that is no reason to make everyone suffer.  We need to understand the full scope of a problem before we start holding our opinions overly tight about how to solve them.

— Tangent end —

There is no safe box for you to parent from.  There is no formula that works on every child and produces perfect results.  There are a lot of great ideas and some methods that definitely help and yield good results, but even these will have set backs.  Since I took away your box, I will give you a list.  Not a firm list, or one you can just check the boxes on, but a list to serve as a guide.

Parenting methods that work all have these common elements (all are Biblical, by the way, but not the list most would look for):

  1. Care of the biological needs come first – if you aren’t providing adequate nutrition and hydration, their behavior issues are on you.  It is also a good idea to consider how biology might be affecting your child’s decisions.  Not every behavior problem is a spiritual problem (in fact, very few are).
  2. Listen before you speak – Children frequently resort to bad behavior when they were not being heard.  If you are not listening to them, you are not really caring for them.  You are also not proving to them that they can, and should trust you.  Children with delayed communication are going to act out more, so expect that and give them what tools you can (sign language is great for little ones).
  3. Model right behavior – Show them how it is done.  Don’t expect them to know unless you work through it first.  Jesus came to earth, not just to die for us, but also to show us how to live.  Model it before they are in it.  If they get something wrong, take them back to the situation and work them through doing it right.
  4. Protection not punishment – If your parenting response is punishment oriented, you need to recheck how God deals with us.  We all receive WAAAAY more grace than we deserve.  If your child cannot make good decisions about something remove them from the temptation.  That is exactly how God deals with us.  Yes, negative consequences do come  and some you need to let your children experience.  But you need to protect them from getting into situations they cannot handle until they have the strength and knowledge to handle it.

I understand that this list is going to cause a lot of you some grief.  It did for me for a long time.  However, the more I studied the scriptures, the more I saw it.  Give it some time before you dismiss it.

The bottom line is that there is no parenting box.  The quicker you come to grips with that, the quicker you will be a better parent.  If you have only raised a few of your own children, keep your perspective in perspective.  You have a miniscule sample size from which to draw your evidence, and it is not even close to being representative of the general population.

2014 Christmas Letter

(Picture gallery at the end of the letter)

Change is an interesting phenomenon.  I have come to think of it as an old friend.  Sometimes you don’t hear from it for a while and things just sort of chug along.  Then it is back in your life and you remember all the old times you have shared together.  2014 has been a year of massive change for us.  We came here almost 12 years ago to help with a church and a school.  In God’s wisdom, we are at a new church and the children are at a new school.  We would never have imagined that two years ago, but here we are (more on that later).

In the middle of all that change, we have been reminded repeatedly, of what matters most.  Our strivings, and efforts, while important, are important only in how they affect the eternal: people.  We are grateful for all of you, some near, others far; some recent, and others from times gone by; some we have known forever, and others we have not even met yet.  All of you, are what truly matters, and it is my honor to share a bit about God’s work in our lives this year.

Pooh Bear (2 Years)

Our little man has been the subject of many posts this year.  He continues to grow and become more of his own person every day.  It is truly amazing to watch his little personality expressed in new ways every day.  He clearly has his preferences.  In fact, he is probably the most opinionated young man, I have ever known.  He knows what he likes, and he knows what he doesn’t like.  At the same time, he is generally a very happy boy.  Beautiful and I are regularly asked if he always smiles.  Let’s just say that we are glad you are only blessed to see his happy times.

The boy is an incredible athlete and he loves to get into with Thunder and I.  If he sees us doing something with a ball (which is frequent), he has to get in on the action.  He also discovered Cars this year.  We feared for a while, we would never get him to watch anything else (yes indeed he is that much of a boy of habit), but he has finally branched out.  Now he will also watch Cars 2.  Okay, he will watch a bit more, but he clearly prefers Pixar animation over anything else.  Of course, he also loves to play cars and read about cars and whatever else involves wheels or balls.  Yep.  Definitely a boy, this one.  He recently developed this little growl when he is not pleased with our interpretation of his request.  It isn’t an animal growl, just sort of, “I am so exasperated with what you thought I said, I don’t even know where to begin,” growl.  It is actually pretty funny, but not particularly helpful, so we are looking forward to when he is past that phase.

Bright Eyes (5 years)

Bright Eyes is full of life and our little purple tornado is still at it.  She is a girl who lives on extremes and I believe that will be a trait that marks her life.  She speaks her mind all of the time and it has led to some very interesting conversations with adults.  You always know where you stand with Bright Eyes.  If she is happy with you, she will give you the sweetest compliments.  You would be tempted to think she was getting them from a secret stash of Hallmark cards, but she is just a sincere and sweet little girl.  Of course, she can  be just as creative with her words if you should upset her.  She is still cuddly and is very sensitive.  Her older siblings get a bit frustrated with what she finds frightening (two kitties duking it out, would be scary in her mind), but that is part of what makes her such a kind-hearted little girl.

The transition from pre-school to Kindergarten has been amazing.  Her teachers have embraced her and her challenges with great enthusiasm.  We frequently get to swap funny Sarah Grace stories with them.  It is a huge blessing to us to have her somewhere that recognizes and loves the broad spectrum of children that are part of God’s big world.

Portable Circus AKA P.C. (7 years)

P.C. has had a great year.  He continues to amaze us with what his mind comes up with.  He is definitely not a conventional thinker.  That is both a strength and a challenge for him.  There are times, as all of us must do, where he has to focus on something mundane.  This takes a tremendous amount of personal energy for him.  On the other hand, if it is a subject he is interested in, the house could be on fire and he wouldn’t notice.  His teacher has been fantastic at working with us and him to maximize his learning experience at school.  Once again, this is a huge blessing to us.

He played baseball in the program that Thunder has played since he was 6.  It is one of the best programs in the country.  While he loved the uniform and the equipment, his favorite position was botanist.  Needless to say, we are looking at other activities for him.  He enjoyed a basketball camp this summer and has decided that is his sport.  He informed us, there is no waiting in basketball.  This might just be right up his alley!

Curly Girly (9 years)

Curly Girly had a fantastic year in 2014.  She really emerged from the extreme quiet and shy girl that we saw two years ago.  Her teacher has worked with us and with her to provide the right challenges to grow her without overwhelming her.  The immediate result was when her sense of humor began to show again and she began to participate in her schoolwork with renewed enthusiasm.  She was very disappointed when we hit our first school holiday of the schedule.  She loves school that much.  While it may seem odd to say that it was heart warming to see my daughter disappointed, if you understand what that represents, you would understand.

She has also started to emerge in her play.  This is also represents tremendous growth.  In the past, P.C. used to imagine and guide all of their play.  Curly Girly loved to participate, but now she also leads.  Watching her confidence begin to blossom in tangible ways in something that we pray for all of our children.  We are blessed to see it happen a bit more every day.

Thunder –  (14 years)

Thunder, or if you prefer Brute Force, also had a great year.  He received some disappointing news earlier in the year (at least at the time it was).  He learned that he was probably done growing in height (5’ 10”).  Now that he has adjusted his expectations, he has come to love the news and the way that God made him.  He is still built like a line backer, and he is getting stronger and faster every day.

He had another great year playing baseball and has turned an important corner.  He used to coast on his talent alone.  This year he has learned to work hard with that talent.  He was able to see very clearly that when you combine incredible talent with significant effort, magical things happen.  Thunder has enjoyed the transition to High School.  He misses his friends from his old school, but he has made plenty of new friends as well.  He definitely likes his new school better and he also has started to emerge as a solid leader.  Like all of us, he has set backs, but his general progress from boy to man continues and it is a blessing to watch.

Princess (21 years)

Princess has always been a blessing, but this year she took it to new and glorious heights.  Not only has she been an incredible help at home, she was able to get a clearer picture of where God would have her for now.  It has been fun to go through this time of great growth with her.  I cannot say enough about how much we all enjoy her sunny spirit in the home.  We are enjoying this time and treasuring it as much as we can, because I know the Lord could have her minding her own household in a metaphorical blink of an eye.

She completed her CNA studies and certification, but didn’t find any open doors with that skill set.  This Fall she found  her current calling.  A non-profit organization, Together We Rise,  that serves children in foster care by raising awareness and meeting various needs, needed an intern in our area.  Princess was the perfect fit and has been faithfully serving ever since.  This year for her 21st birthday, instead of having a party, she hosted a party for 10 children in foster care at Build a Bear.  One of the children, an 7-year-old, had never had the Happy Birthday song, sung to her.  Princess has since made the party a monthly event.  Each month, something as amazing as the first happens.  I wish that each of you could attend one of these parties as they are truly moving events.

Coco, Sweetness & Little Buddy

Coco and Sweetness just celebrated their first anniversary, but honestly it feels like they have been together forever.  They are such a good fit together it is hard to imagine or remember when they were not.  We have all been blessed by their joy and dedication to each other.  As you can see in the family picture, they are also expecting Little Buddy soon.  We are all looking forward to meeting him and seeing what the Lord has for him.  They all live fairly close so we are blessed to be able to frequently enjoy their company.

Coco is enjoying his job writing software for one of the truly innovative companies of our time.  Sweetness has stepped right into being an amazing homemaker.  She is clearly a natural, but she has also had a great example in her own mother and it has been a blessing to see that love of family and home carry from one generation to the next.

Beautiful and I

As I noted at the beginning, this has been an amazing year of change.  I always thought that if big change would come, it would come in the form of a new job because of the unconventional arrangement.  However, that is more solid than ever as the work we are doing together remains incredibly exciting and the people are phenomenal.  It is truly one of the those rare organizations that produces amazing results while simultaneously valuing its people as people. This has drawn more great people and so the firm continues to get better everyday.  It has been an easy thing to turn offers aside when I consider how great our firm is.

While we loved the children’s old school, it was no longer a good fit for our children.  I cannot begin to describe how painful that decision was to make.  But, as I have noted in other posts, love, requires that you do what is needed by the beloved, not what is convenient or acceptable to the one doing the loving.  We are relieved and the soundness of our decision is affirmed every day as we see them flourish in new and inspiring ways.  The church was a similar, unexpected change.  This one was an even more painful decision as we specifically moved here to help get the church going.  We have literally seen many of the young people grow up before our eyes, and the adults grow old…wiser.  However, the Lord is bigger than any person or organization.  The church is in a different place and its needs are different.  While we will always be connected to and love the folks there, my efforts were no longer needed.  The Lord, in His wisdom brought us to a new church plant in the area that not only benefits from our family significantly, but also benefits our family significantly. That symbiosis is amazing and difficult balance to achieve.

Amongst all of that change, Beautiful and I have started a new venture.  We have seen first hand the benefits of solid therapy for children that come from hard experiences early in life.  As we thought about how to bring that to more children, the ideas began to coalesce into a solid vision.  That vision into a plan and the plan is starting to grow legs in reality.  We don’t know yet where this will go and what it will look like over time, but the entire family is excited to see where this will lead.

Blessings!

While our family celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ we remember that greatest act of sacrificial love.  It reminds us again of the things that matter most: each and every one of you.  We are blessed to be a small part of your lives.

We pray that the Lord has kept you and your loved ones close to His heart this year, and into the New Year.