Tag Archives: children

A letter to my son about rocks.

Little buddy,
I know how much you love rocks. Since you were a toddler, you’ve been picking them up, feeling them, putting them in your mouth (ugh, glad those days are gone), studying them, collecting them and admiring them.
Before I go any further, I want to apologize. I want to apologize for hurrying you. I want to apologize for throwing back some (many) of the rocks you find. I want to apologize for thinking these are unacceptable toys. There are so many times (seriously, so many) that we were on our way somewhere and you find a rock. I’ve dragged you through parking lots, fields and streets with you crying or upset that we don’t have enough time to pick up every single rock. Your mother and I have pulled rocks out of the washer and dryer and (occasionally) we catch them before they even make it that far.
Here’s the thing, I’m actually really fascinated by what interests you. Geologists get excited when they find a rare fossil in a rock, preserved for thousands of years. You get equally excited when you find a rock from the parking lot. You don’t see the thousands of rocks around you. Instead, you see the one rock that caught your eye. I love that about you.
I want to make you some promises.
  1. I promise not to stifle your exploration of the world. There is so much out there and I want to show it all to you. I want to slow down and be able to look at all the rocks, the trees, the stars, whatever it is. I want us to see it all.
  2. I promise to join you as you learn. Together, let’s read books about rocks. Let’s study the differences between metamorphic and igneous rocks. Let’s go find some examples of each. Whatever it is that drives you, I’ll be by your side.
  3. I promise to tolerate whatever it is that you collect. I collected weird stuff as a kid. For a while, I collected beer bottle tops. I didn’t care at all about what was inside the bottle, I just thought the logos and designs were really cool. My mom tolerated that phase and she even dusted my desk around where they all were kept, organized by brand or color or font or however I had them organized that week.
As I write this, I’m on a personal sabbath – a time for spiritual retreat and renewal with the Lord. I spent time walking around a lake tonight and I found a rock for you. It’s not a spectacular rock, but it’s your rock and I’ve got some thoughts about it for you.
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  1. One side of the rock is bright white. Let this be a reminder of the purity of our savior, Jesus Christ. Through his blood, we are washed clean. Our sins are forgiven and for that, we should be eternally grateful. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” I found this rock because it was in the middle of a patch of dark leaves and soil. The whiteness of it stood out amongst the darkness behind it. The contrast drew me in. Be that light. Show the world, your friends, your classmates, girls you might one day date (a loooong time from now) that you are different because you are in Christ.
  2. One side of the rock has been darkened and stained by the earth. Let this be a reminder of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” At one time, this entire rock was all the same pure color. But, over time and exposure to the earth, dirt and red clay from the ground, part of the rock was made impure. It’s unlikely that me, or anyone else, would have picked up this rock for the beauty of the stained side if it were facing up. If I asked you if this rock were clean or dirty, you’d probably answer that this rock were dirty because one of the sides was dirty. That’s just like we are. Because there is even one ounce of sin within us, we are tainted and stained in God’s eyes. But, the good news is that we do not have to remain that way. I can bleach this rock and make it as white as snow. And Jesus does that for us.
  3. This rock can be used for good. Along with thousands of other rocks, this one can make a walkway or path to a lake or resting spot. It could be stacked on top of others to form a wall or shelter. It can hold down papers when it gets windy. It can be studied and appreciated. Let your life have function. Let your life be used for good. By itself, this rock doesn’t do much. But, when added to many other rocks, it has potential. Sitting next to a lake, this rock has no influence over the water. But, if you exert some effort and throw the rock in the lake, the ripples would be great and they would extend farther than the eye can see. Be a ripple-maker for the Lord. Be a leader. Be a teacher. Be a listener. Be an explorer.
  4. This rock can be used for evil. This rock, though small, could break a window on a car or house with enough force. It could be deadly if thrown at someone with enough force.  This stray walk on an otherwise solid ground could cause someone to roll their ankle or trip. Don’t be that rock. Be thoughtful of your actions. People are going to follow you. I’ve seen it in you already. But, will they follow you for good, or will they follow you into mischief? Align your will with God’s and your path will be straight.
  5. This rock is solid. It would take an immense amount of force to break it. Know that your family is just as solid. I love your mother with all my heart, but I love Jesus more and your mother is okay with that. Your mother loves me (even when I don’t deserve it), but she loves Jesus more, and I’m perfectly fine with that. We both love and adore you and your sister. Our family is rooted in the Lord, therefore we are strong. The Lord is our strong tower, our refuge and our strength. Our love for you and your sister will not falter, even though your actions and obedience might. We will always be waiting for you. Patiently. Lovingly.
  6. This rock sparkles. There are specks of minerals and crystals in this ordinary rock that sparkle and shine. I hope you know how special you are. There are special pieces inside you that sparkle and shine as well. You are so creative. You love to design, build, draw and create. I can see your heart. Not figuratively, but I can see how compassionate and caring you are. I can’t describe it, but I can see my heart in you. The things that make you tick are the same things that make me tick. It’s in the way you look at things. It’s in the way you interact with your stuffed animals. It’s in the way you want to help. But, I know that one day you’ll do things far greater and inspire far more people than I ever could.
As a son, I thought I understood the intricacies of a father/son relationship. Now, as a father, I realized that I’ve barely scratched the surface. I am so proud of you. I am praying for you. I look forward to our adventures together. I will dream about the rocks we’ll find together and the ripples we will make. I love you, little buddy.
Thumbs up,
Daddy
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10 things to teach our kids

My friend Chris and I have a history of creating top five lists.  We would make lists at work, at home, on road trips – top five rock songs, top five comedies, top five things we miss about our old lifeguard jobs – lists about anything and everything. 

Today, Chris sent me a list of five essential things he wanted his daughter to learn.  So, I’m combining his list (and blatantly stealing quotes of his) along with many of my own.

Top 10 Things to Teach Our Kids.

1. Love others unconditionally.

Our values may not line up with what our friends, family or society believe, but it’s important that we love others no matter what.  Not only is it God’s command to love each other, but it’s just common sense.  We have to tolerate each other.  We have to love people because, frankly, we need to be loved in return.  We all want to be loved.  No matter how big, bad and macho we are, inside we still crave human compassion.

2. Hugs are completely OK.

My kids give awesome and sweet hugs.  There’s comfort and security when I hug my wife.  I enjoy a brotherly hug from my male friends.  A hug is more personal than a handshake, but not too intrusive to be inappropriate.  Hugs can show appreciation.  Hugs can show congratulations.  Hugs can be consoling or forgiving.  Hugs are quite versatile.

3. Winning is important.

I used to play recreation basketball in middle school and junior high.  At the end of each year, we got the stereotypical participation trophy that basically said, “Hey, you played in a bunch of games, though you won only a couple.  Thanks for the $30 season fee.” Chris is a cross-country coach and had a parent complain that the varsity team was too competitive for her daughter.  This is not acceptable.  Winning is important.  Winning builds character and rewards hard work.  Losing forms humility and identifies areas that need improvement.

Additionally, as parents, we should want to always support our kids, but not fight their battles for them.  One of my close high school friends didn’t make the basketball team, even though I did.  His dad was convinced that he was better than me and others on the team and demanded that his son get another chance.  Luckily, our coach stood his ground and didn’t let that happen.

4. Ask for help.

Be confident in your abilities, but don’t be too filled with pride that you don’t ask for help.  We need to learn to do things on our own.  Our culture is becoming concierge society.  We want someone to wash our cars, change our flat tires, buy our groceries, run our errands and even teach values to our kids.  There are so many things I want to learn.  I want to learn to paint.  I want to learn to change my own oil.  I want to learn how to do home improvement projects.  In many cases, I’m too busy to take the time to learn and would rather pay someone to install something for me.  There’s something special about learning and accomplishing something on your own.  There’s also something endearing about asking for help…and receiving it!

5. Hard work is essential.

In addition to being a successful coach, Chris is also a very gifted teacher.  Over the years, he has had several conversations with students that all-too-often sound like this:

Oblivious student: Why did I fail the test?

Chris: Well, did you study?

Oblivious student: A little.

Chris: So, you didn’t study, you didn’t do any homework and you didn’t actively participate in class.  I have a pretty good idea why you failed.

If you want to truly do well in sports, school, work or in your walk with God, you have to put in the work.  Nothing just “comes naturally.”  LeBron James is an amazing athlete and a talented basketball player.  He’s won four MVP awards and two consecutive NBA championships.  He didn’t just pick up a ball and start scoring at will.  It took work.  A ton of it. 

I didn’t study much in college, but I graduated with honors.  As an art major, many of my final exams were actually final projects.  In other academic classes like psychology or art history, I just understood concepts and remembered art pieces well enough to excel on tests.  I put in the time to my regular lessons and then cruised on through the tests.  But, in an American government class, I got a low C on our first test.  It was nearly a D.  I had never gotten a score so low.  Ever.  I’ve always been a stellar student.  Getting a C terrified me.  So, I had to put in extra work in that class so my GPA didn’t suffer.  After that first test, I got an A on every other test including a perfect score on my final exam.

My Drawing 1 class was a nightmare.  I had to take the class in order to meet my core art requirements.  I couldn’t move on to courses in my photography concentration until I completed the core work.  On the first day of class I was handed a piece of coral and told to draw it.  Huh?  How do you even start to draw a chunk of coral?  “Just draw it,” the teacher said.  “Can you help me?” I asked.  “No, just draw it,” said the teacher as he sipped his coffee (rumored to contain shots of liquor.)  “I’ll be transferring classes soon,” I said.

And I did.  My new professor gave me a lot of help.  I was not an “art kid.”  I only used charcoal to start a grill, not to draw with.  I’d never used Gesso or those fun erasers that you can pull apart.  I struggled to learn drawing and fought all semester to earn my grades.  For our final project, our assignment was to draw a still life scene our professor set up (he created WEIRD still life arrangements) on a 48×36 paper.  Yes, four feet by three feet.   Holy crap.  I sat in our classroom and drew the still life for 18 consecutive hours.  I started in the afternoon and drew through the night.  I took a break only to get a soda and use the bathroom.  I didn’t sleep.  I didn’t eat.  Other art kids came and went and finished their masterpieces in a few hours.  Meanwhile, I was burning both ends of the midnight oil.  I worked incredibly hard on that piece and got a B-.  For me, that was huge.  I still have it today and it remains a very proud accomplishment for me.  Hard work is essential to our careers and our character.

6. Try everything once.

My mom had a rule for me while I was growing up.  I had to try every food once.  If I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to have it again, but I needed to try it.  I follow that rule still today.  I’m a very adventurous eater (the weirder the better).  But, I keep the same mentality with experiences.  I want to enjoy life for what it is, a collection of moments that are gifts to us.  We’re only around for a small amount of time.  If God places an opportunity in front of me, I want to act on it.  I want to be available to experience his glory.

7. Stop and relax.

Life gets busy.  Too busy sometimes and it is important to recover and relax from the stresses of the world. God knew this and that is why the Sabbath was so important.  Chris has coached many runners who continually pushed themselves harder and harder.  The human body cannot do that without getting injured. Recovery runs and rest days are just as essential to a good runner as a hard workout.

I struggle with this concept.  I was training for a 5k at the end of last year.  If I ran for three straight minutes one day, I wanted to run for four the next day.  If I ran three miles one day, I couldn’t understand why I shouldn’t be able to go do three-and-a-half the next day.  One day, I ended up running/walking over 6.5 miles.  This was quite a feat for me.  My body is not built for running, despite my multiple attempts at doing so.  I never ran that 5k because I developed bursitis and couldn’t even lift my legs to get into the bathtub.  I needed rest.

We need rest from our schooling and our work.  If we push and push and push, we will burn out.  We need to reduce the noise and relax.

8. Expression is crucial.

We all need a release.  For me, I need to create.  I need to be taking photos or writing or something.  I wish I had more time (and money and space) to have a studio where I could paint, sculpt and photograph.  I am absolutely fascinated by abstract painters.  I love watching them create and assessing the psychology of what they do, where they place their strokes and what colors they use.  Check out this video of Asheville, NC painter Jonas Gerard.

He’s amazing and inspiring.  He is completely free and spontaneous, but controlled and deliberate.  I have a huge desire to paint huge pieces, but I’ve never tried it before.  These are the things I think about when work gets chaotic.  This blog has helped immensely with organizing my thoughts.  We should never be hesitant for our self-expression whether it’s music, cooking, writing, painting, yoga, drawing or basket weaving.

9. Encourage others.

One legendary coach said to praise three people a day as one key to a happy life. Chris says he is much happier when he’s focused on encouraging others. 

Last year, I wrote letters to the five people who influenced me the most in my Christian life.  It felt great.  I wanted these men to know how much I appreciated their prayers, their example and their involvement in my life.  I get a thrill out of telling the people who have influenced me how they have helped change me.  I found a former high school teacher online a few years ago and sent him an email thanking him for encouraging me to change the way I thought and approached life.  He was all about the “carpe diem / O captain, my captain” movement from Dead Poet’s Society.  He encouraged us to write and explore new music and ask ‘why?’

One day, shortly after my family moved to Florida, all the high school guys I taught during Sunday school texted me at the same time on a Sunday morning.  I missed them so much and appreciated the encouragement.  As a manager, I try to build up my team.  I hope they know that I appreciate all their work, though I know I probably don’t tell them often enough.  I respond so much better to one sentence of encouragement than a tirade of tearing down.

10. Observe.

We should also observe others.  As a husband, father, Christian, employee and manager, I learn from everyone.  I have observed all the managers I’ve worked for and worked with to see how they handle their staff and approach their goals.  I take away all the good things and learn what things I need to leave behind.

For the last 17 years, I’ve been observing the world through a camera lens.  When I travel, I enjoy documenting everything.  I remember my experiences through my photographs.  I might not remember all the details, but I remember my photos, which remember the details in turn.  We should observe the world around us as if we won’t see it again.  God’s creation is beautiful, one of a kind and amazing.  Observing our environment, the smells, the feels, the sensation of the breeze, it all helps us appreciate what we have.

We need to look around with curiosity.

11. Extras are OK, too.

I want my kids to know how special they are.  They should never doubt for a second how much I love them. They should never wonder if I will forgive them for something they did (or didn’t do).  They should know how much I love their mother. 

My daughter should know she is beautiful, no matter what some girl at school says or what some magazine/tv show/music video portrays.  She should know that it’s OK to be tough and competitive.  She should know that no boy will ever be good enough for her, but God will pair her with one anyway.  

My son should know that he will always be my little buddy, no matter how big, tough or old he gets.  He should know that I’ll always love watching him play and compete, even when he plays poorly or loses.  He should know that I am so incredibly proud of him every single day.  He should know that it’s OK to love his mom publicly and protect his sister. 

They should both know that they are prayed for every day and loved unconditionally.  They should know that they are blessings and the answer to many prayers.

Sometimes extras are OK.

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No one cares, Samuel.

Some kid’s book are pretty terrible.

Some are cute, some rhyme, some are playful, some have wonderful illustrations.  And some just suck.

We got one real gem from a kid’s meal.  Usually Chick-Fil-A has some good books like Clifford the Big Red Dog,  but Wild Animal Baby has a pretty rough plot line.  Try to follow me here.

Page 1-2: “Polly the Polar Bear.  Polly and her mom live where it is cold and snowy.”  OK, not bad so far.

Page 3-4: “Polly likes to climb on her Mom’s back and go for a ride.  When Polly and her mom get tired, they snuggle together for a nap.” Not bad, it’s cute and fuzzy.

Page 5-6: “Numbers.  How many puffins can you count?  Four puffins stand on a hillside.”  What! What happened to Polly?  You build the story and then just dismiss the bears?

Page 7-8: “Samuel can jump!  Can you jump?  Look at the kangaroo jump.” Where are the puffins?  Who the heck is Samuel?  How did we circumnavigate from the arctic to Australia?  Why is there suddenly a creepy skunk wearing overalls in the corner?

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Page 9-10: “Look at the animal shape.  It is a duck.  Can you find the real duck on the next page?”  So…Samuel got killed off already?  Did a dingo eat him?  I’m so lost.

I’m certainly not saying that all children’s book need to have character depth and significant plot development, but there should at least be one train of thought, right?  And the language.  The language should at least reflect how people talk.  Try this line on for size:

“You burst upon our world like a comet, like birdsong in the silver silence of dawn, and how could we help but love you?”

If that’s not some over-thought poetic nonsense, I’m not sure what is.  Indulge me, tell me when the last time you used the phrase “silver silence of dawn”?

Don’t get me wrong, I love reading to my kids.  I love Dr. Seuss as much as the next dad.  My favorite is The Foot Book.  I read it all the time when I was a kid.  My dad and I would alternate reading pages and by the time we were done I had it all memorized.  I like the books that give me the chance to do voices or find an appropriate time to tickle the kids and make them laugh.

To say that today at work was challenging might be an understatement.  When I came home, two screaming things wielding plastic weapons sprinted toward me for a hug.  In approximately sixteen seconds, I learned what my son was just doing, that he was reprimanded for having an accident, that he went to Target and that he was highly curious about whether or not I had spaghetti in my belly.  After a long and stressful day all I wanted to do was sit down in silence.  But, instead I was assaulted with reading material.  During the first book, a Paddington Bear thriller, I read it without much passion and probably just exhaled in impatience the whole time.

But, then we read another one called Count Your Blessings.

I opened the book, having never read it before and was largely pessimistic about how much fun it was going to be.

Page 1-2: “I have so many blessings that I cannot count them all.  And they are very big even though I’m still so small.”  Great, I thought, this one is starting off nice and cheesy.

Page 3-4: “I’ve got seven happy days a week to rise and shine.  Six pretty morning glories bloom and twine.”  Oh yeah, lay on the cheese nice and thick.

Page 5-6: “Five bitsy toes to wriggle in the sand.  Four funny finger puppets on my hand.”  Why do we have so many books that use the word ‘wriggle?

Page 7-8: “Three cheerful friends who giggle and play.  Two little hands I fold to pray.”  Hmm, I haven’t prayed much today.

Page 9: “One little me with lots of love, counting all my blessings from the Lord above.”  You know, work was tough, but I do have a pretty good job that takes care of all my family’s financial needs.

Page 10: “Dear God, thank you for all my blessings for each new day, for the beautiful earth, for my amazing (yeah it said that) body, for all that gives me joy, for my friends and family.  Thank you for listening to me.  I love you!  Amen.”

Oh.

I don’t think reading this book was for my kid’s benefit.  I think it was for mine.

I seem to have forgotten my own advice.  There’s a retired coach that runs the gym where I play basketball each week.  God had placed him on my heart and I have been building a friendship with him.  It started by talking about the NBA playoffs and built to me asking him if I could pray for him during the week.  He wanted me to pray that his spirits would be uplifted.  I told him I would be praying for him and I did all week and continue to do so.  Last week, I shared with him that I had been praying for him all week and that he should read Isaiah 12.  It’s a passage that really stood out to me recently as I’ve been reading through the book of Isaiah.  The passage says:

1 In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. 2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” 3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. 4 In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. 5 Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. 6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

God is my salvation.  God is awesome.  God has done glorious things.  A bad meeting doesn’t take that away.  A missed day at the gym or the fact that your DVR didn’t record your favorite marathon doesn’t give us reason to wallow in our self-pity.  This is a no-wallow zone.

It’s pretty hard to sit on the couch feeling sorry for yourself when you have your arms filled with beautiful, energetic kids who only want to hug on you and have you read them cheesy stories.

In the immortal words of philosopher Ice Cube, “It was a good day.”

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You matter. (For reals.)

Recently, Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti did a photo study on children around the world posed with their favorite toys.  His series, Toy Stories, spans several continents and children from a variety of cultures.

Three thoughts came to mind while I was looking through his collection.

1. This is brilliant.

What a great idea for a photo study.  The toys were hand-picked by the kids and in a way, they represent their society, their hopes and their dreams.  I have a passion for photojournalism and telling stories.  I wish I came up with this idea first.  Seeing how these kids meticulously arranged and presented their toys, like this one from Noel in Texas.

Photo by Gabriele Galimberti

Photo by Gabriele Galimberti

2. What would my selections have been?

First, I’d probably pick my M.U.S.C.L.E. Man collection.

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I had (have) over 250 of these guys. I’d love to come across some more.  They are all in a Tupperware in my storage unit.  I used to spend hours playing with them as wrestling figures.  I can still remember their signature moves, rivalries and which ones held championship belts.

I’d also include my basketball.  I seemed to wear out one every few months.  I had plenty of these old indoor/outdoor leather ones chipping and fading away in my garage.

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3. These kids matter.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I think I’m getting soft in my old age.  I was looking at these kids and their toys and definitely got emotional.  Some kids had tons of toys.  These kids didn’t have enough hours in the day to play with all the stuff in their rooms.  But, then there were kids like Chiwa from Malawi.

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Photo by Gabriele Galimberti

Chiwa is living in a block house, held together with mud and brick.  Chiwa sleeps under mosquito nets to prevent malaria and other diseases.  Chiwa’s clothes, bedsheets and legs are filthy.  But, look at the toys.  The little white dog is pristine.  It looks like it just came out of the shopping bag.  Chiwa took great pride in keeping the toys clean and desirable to play with.

This little girl is Kalesi from the Fiji Islands.

Photo by Gabriele Galimberti

Photo by Gabriele Galimberti

Look at the joy on her face!  She loooooves her backpacks and her dolls.  She even looks like a baby doll.  There’s not a lot in the photo so I’m only assuming that the rest of her home is relatively bare.  I can see Kalesi sitting on the hard floor taking care of her dolls.  She feeds them with the pink bowl and blue cup.  She carries them around in her Transformers backpack.

Viewing these photos made me want to go and just hug these kids and tell them that God loves them.  The same emotion and care they had for their toys is the same love and caring that God has for them.  I wanted these kids to know that they matter.

To this kid I photographed in a park in Asia where Christ is not allowed – you matter.

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To these kids enamored with boats and ducks in a lake in Spain – You matter.

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To this little kid in North Africa, whose family may never tell him about Jesus – You.  Matter.

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To these kids who had their portrait taken at a church in the barrio of Caracas, Venezuela – You Matter.  God has a great plan for your life.

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To these students who heard the Gospel during English club at their university and can make a difference in a socialist community – You Matter.  Place your faith in Christ and worship him instead of saints.  Show your city God’s love.

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To anyone who thinks they are too dirty, too broken, too messed up, too beyond repair, too unworthy, too old, too young, too confused to get on your knees and respond to a living God who is calling you to him – you matter.  You do.  You are God’s favorite possession.  He wants to shine you up and show you off like the kids showed off their toys.  He wants you to love him.  He wants to hear your praise.  He wants you to matter, because when you matter to the world, you matter to him.  It’s time to respond.

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