Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fountains of Youth

I'm not sure who coined the phrase "let it all hang out," but I may understand the inspiration behind it now.

My family and I were enjoying a lovely evening out at Swift-Cantrell Park yesterday with some friends. Our collective children were running amok in the playground area, and my wife and I were talking with some friends at the picnic area. Periodically (as any parent is prone to do), I would glance over to the playground to check on the kids and make sure one of them had not been impaled or dismembered.

On one such glance-over, I was met with something I could not have fathomed. When what to my wondering eyes would appear, but a 5-year old boy standing on the top level of the playground structure with his pants down to his ankles, relieving himself on the barky ground 10-feet below. He literally was letting it all hang out! And, it was quite a windy day, so this was not pleasant for anyone!

My friends and I start yelling at the little boy - who is absolutely oblivious to us, and quite content in what he is doing. Further, I don't think he understood English...but it seems to me that public playground peeing should not be acceptable in any culture.

When he was finished, he simply hiked up his drawers, slid down the slide, and went on his merry way. No big deal. Like it's an everyday occurrence.

When you gotta go, you gotta go.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Backwards K

As a former baseball player, there’s one thing I can tell you that no ball player likes to see next to his name in the official scorebook. The backwards K.

You can stomach the occasional error (errors will happen to everyone), pop-outs, being caught stealing, or grounding into double-plays. None are as irritating as the backwards K.

For those of you who are not baseball enthusiasts, let me briefly explain what a backwards K is. When a batter strikes out, the official scorekeeper will notate it with a “K.” In fact, you have likely seen fans lining up K’s along the outfield wall at Major League Baseball games. But, the backwards K just isn’t a strikeout. It’s when you strike out looking. It’s when you don’t swing the bat. You just watch the pitch cross the plate and do nothing.

I heard a funny story recently about a tee-ball player who had some issues in the batter’s box. He would get in the batter’s box, and the coach would place the ball on the tee for him to hit it. The kid would take the bat from his shoulder to about an inch from the ball several times, as if he was just getting ready to clobber it. But he would never swing! Coaches and umpires looked at each other in confusion. This went on for a couple minutes, before the umpire finally ruled that the batter had to be called out. The result was the first-recorded backwards K in tee-ball!

Unfortunately, backwards K’s are not just relegated to the baseball field. Pitches come at us every day of our lives. Sometimes we’ll whiff at the low outside breaking ball – poor choices we made but couldn’t resist. Other times, we’ll foul tip it and get another crack at it – our first effort isn’t quite our best, but we’re given additional opportunities to capitalize upon. Other times, the ball will be screaming at us, and we have to get out of the way – these are those times when we’re under attack, spiritually or emotionally, and we have to dodge the impending danger.

But, still, too often we watch perfect pitches hit the mitt without taking our cuts. And, when we are deep in the count, we’ve got to be ready to put the ball in play. That may mean swinging at a pitch you don’t really want to swing at, just so you can stay alive at the plate.

Let me leave the baseball metaphor on the shelf for a moment. Speaking plainly, we’re either too picky, too scared, or too complacent about making decisions. We think maybe another opportunity will present itself, when the pitch God is throwing you is the one he wants you to hit.

In his book Wild Goose Chase, Mark Batterson talks a lot about the cages of fear and failure we all find ourselves locked inside.

Batterson says, “We are so afraid of making the wrong decision that we make no decision. And, what we fail to realize is that indecision is a decision. We need people who are more afraid of missing opportunities than making mistakes.”

What he’s saying is that we should avoid a backwards K at all costs. All too often, God is hurling the ball in the strike zone, and we’re afraid to take a hack at it.

Swing the bat. After all, you can never score unless you get on base!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Cut Back

I am finishing up a book entitled The 3 Big Questions for a Frantic Family by Patrick Lencioni. Simple book. Right on the money.

Essentially, the book talks about different ways families can achieve goals by planning ahead and implementing measures to get them on the right track.

The primary example outlined in the book (which is a fable) is a family who is desperate to simplify life in order to spend more time together. Like most of us, this family has sports events, school meetings, work trips, church involvement, and other extracurricular activities all vying for space on the calendar.

As a volunteer baseball coach, and as a pastor for a church actively involved in the community, I encounter families all the time who are simply tapped out. Parents who have no time to serve, no time to sleep, no time to just chill. In the short term, sometimes this cannot be avoided. But, as a lifestyle, I have found that almost all the time, parents and families make choices that pin them in overextend them.

Much of this stems from people wanting to do too many GOOD things. They want their kids to be actively involved in church, sports, music lessons, and countless school programs. And, they themselves also want to be active participants and supporters of the things their kids do. But, there are times when parents want to also cram in their own personal activities - Bible studies, tennis teams, softball leagues, concerts, etc. - and it just seems impossible.

The bottom line is that something has got to give. Kids don't need to play two sports each season, or do guitar lessons on top of a 3-month soccer commitment. They don't need to be in every play, every recital, every Scout activity. Are there benefits of their involvement? Sure. But, remember that there are opportunity costs that come along with these choices - such as more time for studies, time as a family (meals together, social time), and play time.

I never want to deprive my kids of opportunities to participate in a life-enriching activity. But, I also don't want to miss precious time I could be spending with them myself.

I encourage you to pick up Lencioni's book - and put the principles to work in your family. You might be amazed at how practical - and simple - these measures can be to achieve your family's elusive goals!