As I was preparing to leave for work this morning, Rylan insisted that I take his Matchbox tractor with me. Since it’s perfectly acceptable for grown men to have toys in a corporate workplace, I obliged.
So, I headed to the car with my coffee, iPad and banana. And tractor.
I’ve had to travel a lot recently and I’ll be gone for most of the rest of September. I figured that any way I could connect with Rylan while I’m at work, it would help him feel like he was part of my day. So, I decided that I would start taking photos of his tractor throughout my day and message them to my wife to show him. Here are the shots.
Tractor in my car.
Tractor on my keyboard.
Tractor on banana.
Tractor in the mints.
Tractor on the beach (or on my Father’s Day present.)
Tractor vs Tractor.
Tractor vs. Butter.
Tractor & white board fun.
Reunited and it feels so good.
I’ve been reading through Joshua recently and this exercise got me thinking about how God is with us and desires to connect with us throughout the day as well. Joshua 1:5 says “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
God is a promise keeper. God guarantees us that he will be with us on our toughest days, in our lowest valleys and on our highest mountaintops.
Joshua 1:9 continues on to say, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
God is a constant comforter. He knows that we can become unsettled, stressed out and over-anxious. He knows that we struggle to keep our priorities set on him. He knows that we get cut off in traffic, spill coffee on our notes, burn our mouths with pizza cheese and struggle with jammed printers. We need God to remind us throughout the day that he constantly loves us and is with us, just as Rylan knew from our tractor experience today that I was thinking of him and loved him.
Even though I was not physically with Rylan between 7:30a – 5:15p, his father was still thinking of him and loving him all day. Here’s the awesome part. God is with us all the time. Physically. If you’re a believer in Christ, then you have God’s holy spirit living inside you. If you haven’t yet placed your faith in Christ and you feel like you have a void in your life, he will fill it.
In my upcoming travels to exotic places like Kinston, NC and Sarasota, Gainesville & Ocala, FL, I’ll have to find a way to sneak the tractor out the door and continue to remind Rylan how much I miss being around him, his sister and his mommy while I’m at work.
If prayer is a priority, your priorities will be in your prayers.
I had to work late tonight (yay, Friday), but made it home to put our son to bed. The routine includes reading 2-3 books, daddy saying prayers, Rylan saying prayers, tucking in and then coercing Rylan to stay in bed.
A few years ago on one of my East Asia trips, my roommate was praying with his family on Skype and I overheard his child thanking God for dirt and soccer. There is nothing cuter than listening to the prayers of a little kid.
Tonight, Rylan thanked God for the following things:
Jesus (good start, little buddy)
Bailey (little sister)
Pop-Tarts (uh, I suppose I’m grateful for them?)
Church (OK, back on track)
Safe travels (family is coming to town next week)
Jennifer (his aunt)
For Rylan, these are the things he loves. Sometimes his prayers include gratitude for the events of the day. Sometimes they include his toys or Disney World. They almost always include his family and his love for going to church. These are the priorities of a three-year-old.
What do your prayers consist of? Are you always asking, asking, asking? Constantly sending God your dirty laundry, but withholding his much-deserved thanksgiving? I know fall in to that routine regularly and need little reminders from an innocent kid prayer to break the cycle.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.”
Sadly, this will be the last post in the Trilogy of the Fish. It started here when we were given two fish (Siggi and Devo) over the weekend. Next, things escalated quickly when Siggi really did go “swimming with the fishes.” Then, yesterday I got the following texts from my wife.
In the matter of just a few days, our kids had their first pets, their first experience with death and their first blasé response when confronted with death. Luckily (I think), we still have our loud, fat, missing-toothed bag of fur named Gilligan. He’s a 12ish-year-old cat and a cancer survivor. Yeah, he had a lumpectomy a few years ago. I’m pretty certain that Gilligan is immortal, so my kids can love on him for decades to come.
I got Gilligan when I was in college. He has lived in eight different residences, with two different college roommates, two different dogs, a cat, a wife and now two kids. During the day, the kids constantly want to yell at him, hug him, attempt to cut him with a toy knife (from a kitchen set), sit on him, cuddle with him, ski behind him while holding his tail and chase him. His tolerance for putting up with crap is low. Gilligan goes from I-love-you-I-love-you-pet-me-pet-me to I’m-gonna-punch-you-in-the-face in about six seconds flat.
Gilligan laying on a kid’s puzzle box top
Gilligan has been a great pet. He’s put up with a lot. He’s brought a lot of laughs. He gave me companionship during some of the biggest moments of my life. He was with me in my first apartment by myself after college. He was with me when I moved into my first house. Gilligan was around when I got married (not in person) and when our kids were born (again, not in person).
Gilligan has helped protect our home, as evidenced here:
There (might) be a day when Gilligan gets bored enough with this world and decides to move on. When he does, our son will certainly wonder where Gilligan has gone. Our kids weren’t around the fish enough to really care about them, but they have been around the fur bag for their entire lives, and over a third of my life.
Once that day comes, it will surely be sad, but I see a silver lining. It gives me a teaching moment to describe a real heaven where we will go one day. I can describe the scene that John writes about in Revelation, minus all the wrath, destruction and pre-tribulational theology. Rylan read the chapter in his kid’s Bible tonight about Revelation. He loves the part that says, “Jesus will return again soon.”
I used to have visions where I was standing at the end of a diving board. Below me was a huge black chasm. The visions made me fearful and filled with anxiety over life, afterlife and my purpose. But, something happened. Once I started growing in my faith, exploring the truth and seeking answers, the visions drifted away. I know where my future home will be. I have complete comfort and peace in knowing where I will be once my body fails me.
In order to prepare for that day, I suppose I should put some thought in what I want done with my body so we can document the instructions. Casket? Cremation? Or flush down the toilet like Devo and Siggi?