Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Joy Does Not Equal Happiness

When you ask anyone what they want in life, one of the more popular answers will be "happiness."

When you speak with couples early in their relationships, and ask why they are with their significant other, he/she will almost always say "they make me happy."

Even the wise sage Bobby McFerrin capitalized on this emotion: don't worry, be happy.

Easier said (or sang) than done.

We desire happiness, but if we're honest, there's a great deal of time in our life spent unhappily.

Happiness is contingent upon our circumstances.  We're generally happy when we have our way.  Conversely, we're unhappy when things don't go our way.

One definition of the word "happy" says this: delighted, pleased, or glad, as over a particular thing.

Sometimes we can confuse happiness for joy.  While they are similar, I believe there's a rather profound difference in the two words.

The same dictionary defines the word "joy" as follows: the emotion of great delight caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying. Read that again.  Now re-read the definition of "happy".  They're not the same.

In "C.A.'s abridged dictionary," I would define happiness as a feeling you have when you get what you want.  Joy, on the other hand, is much deeper.  While happiness is typically something we feel when something happens to us, joy is something working in and through us.    

The source of happiness is clearly my circumstances.  I am healthy.  I got a bonus at work.  My son hit a home run.  I got ten cents off at the pump with my membership card today.  The sun is out. I got to eat at my favorite restaurant.  My boss told all of us to cut out of work an hour early.  I am happy.

The source of pure joy, however, is not dependent upon my circumstances.  It is a gift given by the One to whom we need to be anchored. Especially when things do not go our way.

Consider the following scriptures that speak of joy:

The hope of the righteous brings joy. Proverbs 10:28    

There I will go to the altar of God, to God—the source of all my joy. Psalm 43:4

Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. 2 Corinthians 6:10

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. James 1:2

Say what?  When trouble comes my way, it's an opportunity for what?  For anger? For revenge? For scorn? For bitterness? No. For Joy.

I know!  I am with you!  It just doesn't seem to make sense.  But, when does God ever work in ways that make sense to us?

But, here's the deal in a nutshell.  When we consider that the source of our joy is the Lord, the picture begins to clear a little.  When we then consider that our Lord is the source of hope, we are yet a step closer.  

This is precisely how we can be so distraught, yet remain joyful, in the midst of a storm. Our hope is not in our salary.  Our hope is not in our spouse.  Our hope is not in our kids. Our hope is not in our health.  Our hope is in the Lord God Almighty, and was given to us through Jesus Christ.

I'd like to leave you with words from someone who knew intimately about the joy that only comes from the Father.  His name is Paul.  He killed Christians. But, then Jesus confronted him.  Blinded him. Stripped away everything he knew. Then, he filled him up with Himself, transforming this "chief of all sinners" to the man who, aside from Jesus himself, had the most profound impact on the spread of the Gospel. 

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Opportunity Costs

You may not realize it, but there is a cost associated with everything you do.  I am not talking about money here, although many times our decisions do involve dollars and cents. No, I am referring to opportunity costs - those things we give up when we make a decision. Each and every choice we make costs us something we are NOT doing.

In terms of our budgets, the decision to buy a car likely means we cut back on eating out, trips to the movie theater, or a family vacation.  Those are all costs of buying a car, in addition to the amount you are paying your bank or a dealership.

But, while financial decisions are concrete examples of costs that hit our wallets, there's a resource far more valuable in terms of opportunity costs: time.  When we choose to spend our time one way, we relinquish our ability to spend it another way. And that means the stakes are high.  Sometimes we can earn or make the money back that we spend.  But, we cannot get the time back.
  • When you choose to spend an hour browsing the internet, what are you giving up?
  • When you live on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, etc - what are you surrendering?
  • When you watch Judge Judy, Days of Our Lives, Dr. Phil, and Ellen each day, what are you missing out on?
Conversely, there are also costs associated with our supposed "wise" choices in life:
  • When you go on a four-mile hike, you may sweat, ache, and burn - you are giving up relaxation.
  • When you serve at a concession stand at a high school football game, you are allowing parents watch their kids play...but there are other things you could be doing - Friday night movie? A night out with the boys? A date night with your wife?
  • When you coach your son or daughter's team, you are pouring into kids who need positive influences in their lives.  But, you are sacrificing some things as well - sitting on the sidelines as a fan, not having to worry about lineup cards, dealing with umpires/officials, planning for practices and games.
Generally speaking, I don't believe people weigh their choices.  Most times we just fly by the seat of our pants.  We are not intentional.  We make choices in the moment, rather than contemplating the possible ramifications of our decisions.  And, in the end, most of us just wind up doing what appeals to us the most.  Meanwhile, we surrender our ability to make calculated investments in the lives of those we love the most.

So, here's the question:  What is greater - the rewards you receive for the small sacrifices you make, or the potential you've squandered by chasing things that matter little?

Everything has a cost.  You just may never see it until it's too late.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The "Little" White Lie

"It's no big deal."
"No one would care."
"I'm only protecting him/ her."
"It's not hurting anyone or anything."
"No one needs to know about that."
"It's just a little fib.  At least I am not killing people."

These are the rationalizations that echo in our minds and hearts when we make the decision to tell a lie. 

I understand that no one wants to hurt someone's feelings when they ask, "Do these pants look good on me?"  But, this is not what I am talking about.  I am talking about a good (bad) old-fashioned lie.

As a parent, I am having to deal with this subject.  Just this week, I had a "family meeting" with my kids after I was informed about a conversation my youngest son had at a friend's house.  Essentially, he and his friend were talking about lying.  I am not sure exactly how it came up, but my son said something to the effect of, "I don't tell lies very often...but when I do, I get away with it." He's still trying to pry his size 4 Reebok out of his mouth.

If that wasn't bad enough, he went on to justify these fibs by saying that lying "isn't that big of a sin."  He said there are much worse things he could be doing than lying...almost as if he's doing us a FAVOR by "only" lying! Deep breath. 

I wasn't present when he had this conversation, but it was relayed to my wife, who in turn filled me in.  The string of emotions I felt ranged from disappointment to anger to disbelief to sadness.  And, while my initial tendency was to get upset with him, more than anything else this discovery led me to think more deeply of my role as a parent.

One morning this week, I drove my son to school, and I brought up this not-so-fun subject.  I explained to him what I had heard, and he pretty much admitted what he said.  I asked him if he said that lying wasn't that big of a sin, and he also admitted that to me.  Instead of body-slamming him and screaming to the top of my lungs, I decided to use this as a teachable moment.  I told him that "sin is sin," and that ALL sin is wrong, and it makes our hearts yucky.  

I proceeded to say that while sin is sin, that the consequences of our sins depend on the violation (I used more 4th-grade friendly words for him).  Lying is a sin.  Murder is a sin.  Adultery is a sin. Idol worship is a sin.  The penalty for my transgression will vary greatly from situation to situation.  But, while on the surface lying may seem like a "small sin," it has the potential to be just as devastating as any other.

I told my little boy that developing a pattern of lying behavior is not a road he wants to travel. I asked him what can happen when he lies, and gets away with it.  He had some great answers!  First, his friends and teachers could label him as "the kids who lies."  Second, he could begin to lie more and more.  Third, he would have to humble himself and apologize and ask for forgiveness.  Next, he would lose credibility with the people who matter to him the most. Finally, he would lose privileges.

Obviously, the list could go on and on, but I think my little buddy got the point.  And, while the topic of sin and lying is never a fun one to deal with, I must say that having these frank conversations with my family has truly been a highlight of my week.

My eyes need to be opened to what my kids are facing.  And, they also need to be opened to my role and responsibilities as a parent - to love and train my kids to not just believe in Jesus, but to be like him.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Let 'em Play

A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting sports psychologist Jack Llewellyn.  He had spoken at our staff meeting on a couple occasions, and he had given us each one of the books he had written as a parting gift.  One of those books was entitled Let 'em Play, which was written to parents of kids who play youth sports.

Being a dad of two boys who play baseball and basketball, I was very interested to read the book.  In a nutshell, Dr. Jack claims that having kids participate in ultra-competitive sports at a very young age is likely a bad thing.  First, it can put too much pressure on them.  Second, it can burn them out.  Third, they don't have as much time to participate in other sports or activities.  Fourth, it often turns sensible parents into monsters.  And, fifth, you as a parent leave less margin in your own life.

I enjoyed the book so much, and believed in what he shared to the point that I asked him if he would get me an additional ten copies of the book.  I gave each family on my baseball team a copy of the book to read for themselves.

That was part of the reason that we waited until age 12 for my oldest to participate in travel baseball.  I knew the time commitment involved - both for him and for me (as well as my wife).  I also had heard and read about so many young athletes who quit playing before high school because they just wanted some of their life back.  They spent ten months non-stop playing 100+ games with no time for anything - friends, family gatherings, church, other hobbies.  I didn't want that to become my family.

I think back to when I was a kid.  I was one of the better baseball players and basketball players during my time.  On average, I would play 12 regular season baseball games, and maybe another 6-8 All-Star games, from age 10 up to age 14.  So, that was less than 20 games total! For basketball, I played eight regular season games, and a tournament at the end of the year.  So, maybe 11-12 games total.  In all, I played in 30 contests in a given year for two sports!

Today, some kids are playing in excess of 120 games if they are playing travel baseball and competitive basketball.  That doesn't take into consideration the practices.  This leaves little time for anything else.  Further, it truly can get them exhausted before they ever enter high school - the years that TRULY matter most when preparing to play at a competitive level (if you hope to play in college).

Most of all, I want my kids to have fun. As a parent, I want them to excel and I push them to do their very best.  But, I can get carried away.  

Recently, I was playing basketball with my two sons in the driveway.  I was wanting them to work on dribbling properly, squaring their shoulders up to the basket when they shoot, pivoting and bounce-passing to their teammate.  What I was instructing them to do was absolutely correct.  But, sometimes my timing couldn't be worse.  My kids just wanted to have fun with dad in the driveway. And, I almost missed it.

I remember taking the ball out and "checking it" with my older son.  I was harping on his younger brother for not doing something the correct way, and his older brother says, "It's OK, dad.  We're just playing for fun."  His words pierced my heart and about knocked me over.  I felt so ashamed of myself for spending these 15-20 minutes I had with them pointing out everything they were doing wrong instead of just enjoying our time together on the "court."

In the end, Dr. Jack is right.  We just need to "let 'em play."  There's a time for hard work - but it doesn't have to happen in the driveway with dad all the time.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

An Unusual Way to Increase Your Lifespan

For years, I was what you might consider "detached."  My wife and I had married, and in my early 20's, I lived a rather inconsequential existence.  I went to work, came home.  I played softball on Wednesday nights.  I went to church occasionally - maybe once per month. It was probably an "ordinary" way of life for most people.  But, it was dull.  Meaningless.

Three and a half years into our marriage, we had a son.  Obviously, he became the center of attention, and being a parent was certainly new and exciting and tiring.  But, still, life was rather ho-hum.  At the time, I likely didn't realize it, but I was missing something.

It wasn't until around 2002 that things began to change in my life.  I began to serve on Sunday mornings at the church.  I was the "bulletin guy."  I stood at the side entrance to the worship center and handed you the worship guide as you entered.  I was there every week for nearly two years, missing maybe two Sundays in that time.  I began to connect with a devoted group of faithful servants - Mike Davis, Brian Dodd, Pete Brumfield, among others. I looked forward every week to arriving at 9 a.m. to see these people and to serve at my post.

Around that same time, I was invited to attend a Bible study, which was led by Mike Linch.  At the time, Mike was the Associate Pastor at my church, and through our occasional interaction on Sunday mornings, I had come to enjoy talking to him - mostly about sports. At the age of 28, I was by far the youngest guy in this "Executive Study."  But, I was welcomed, and made to feel like an important part of the group.  I spent four years in that group, and learned countless lessons from the wisdom shared by those guys, most of whom were in their late 40's and 50's.

I could write hundreds of more pages about what has transpired in my life in the decade since.  In a nutshell, it's just been God at work in me and through me.  But, how did it start?  What was the powerful force that ignited the flame within me? Two words: being connected.

Before 2002, I knew only two people at our church.  And, Amy and I really didn't have friends we hung out with.  We sort of did life on our own (and with family, which lives nearby). But, we were missing out big-time.

Mother Theresa once said, "Loneliness is the leprosy of modern society."  The issue here is not that we disagree with this statement.  The issue is that we rarely see ourselves as lonely creatures.  But, if you are disconnected from other human beings, you likely are lonely - whether you know it or not.

Studies by a Harvard social scientist have proven that connected people live longer than lonely people.  That's probably, in and of itself, not a surprise.  But, did you know isolated people are three times more likely to die than those who have strong relational connections? Also, did you know that people who are in poor health, or who have developed poor health habits, live significantly longer than healthy individuals who are isolated? Finally, that same study showed that people who were not connected in any groups, but who got connected into just one group, cut their risk of dying in half over the next year.

I'm sure glad that I took advantage of the opportunities I had more than a decade ago to get to know more people, and to actually belong.  Those decisions have changed the course of my life and my family's lives - more than words could ever say.

If you are just coming and going, trying to do life all by yourself, you're missing out. But, it doesn't have to be that way.  Take a step.  Join a group. Get connected.  You'll be better for it.  And, so will those all around you.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Clean it Up

One of my biggest pet peeves is walking through a parking lot and seeing shopping carts strewn about.  It's as eye sore.  And, for years, I have stated that it's just plain lazy.  But, as it turns out, it's much more than laziness that leads to people leaving a shopping cart in the middle of a parking lot.  Or, throwing a soda can on the side of the road.  Or, littering the ground with a candy wrapper. Let me explain.

I am currently reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  In the book, he demonstrates how seemingly insignificant factors can make a huge difference in creating an epidemic (or reversing one). The example I am currently reading about is how New York City was able to turn around its crime epidemic, which peaked in the late 1980's.

At that time, the subway system was a wreck - dirty, disorderly, and in poor shape. Further, drug use was escalating, and felony crimes throughout the city - particularly on the subway - were at an all-time high.  Additionally, a practice known as "fare-beating" was prevalent at subway stations.  Teams of young men or teenagers would jam turnstiles, then force passengers to give them their subway tokens or money to earn passage through a gate. Because of violence, theft, and fare-beating, the general public lost confidence in the subway system and hundreds of thousands of people stopped using it.

In the mid-1980's proponents of "Broken Window" theory decided to try an experiment to clean up the subway system - and the city.  According to Gladwell's writing, Broken Window theory says that "crime is the inevitable result of disorder.  If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread..."

The City of New York tested this theory. For years, subway cars were covered in graffiti.  The city decided that graffiti was one of the primary deterrents to people riding on the subway. Graffiti sent a negative message.  So, car by car, they began to remove and repaint over the graffiti.  When cars were taken out of service, teens would spend hours painting graffiti on these cars late at night. After they had completed their works of art, the city would come with paint cans and rollers and paint over it. The graffiti artists began to realize their efforts were wasted. And, after doing this for six years (until 1990), the city had won the graffiti battle.

They also put resources in place to put a halt to the fare beaters, but they found that cleaning up the subway system was most attributed to putting a stop to the graffiti.

So, what does this have to do with shopping carts and litter in parking lots? Well, it's the same principle.  If certain retailers and neighborhoods would put their foot down and demonstrate that cleanliness is of huge importance, it would send a message. A dozen carts standing alone in a parking lot tells shoppers many things.  But, putting personnel and resources in place to keep carts either in cart holders, or to be returned easily, would also result in contagious behavior.

If you live in an area with lot of broken windows (literally or figuratively), you have a choice to make.  You can move to another area that has nicer windows, or you can help change the attitudes and behaviors by doing your part to keep your neighborhood clean and safe. Trust me...others will notice, and will likely follow suit!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Where's the Evidence?

Seems that the world is just full of believers – people who say they believe in God (whatever you may call Him).  Many of these say they believe that Jesus Christ came to earth, died, and was resurrected.  I have read a couple different statistics on this, but the most recent Pew Research study indicates that 84 percent of the world’s population “has faith.”  Approximately 32 percent of the world’s population considers themselves Christians.  

But, what does this really tell us? If 2.2 billion people believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and that only 16 percent of the people in the entire world don’t have faith of any kind, what can we glean? If you ask me, it’s simple.  It’s not good news.  What it means is that people’s beliefs and actions are not in alignment.

Somewhere along the way, we decided that our actions just weren’t as important as the belief we professed.  Sure, scripture is clear that must first BELIEVE.  And, it’s also clear that works cannot save us.  But, the Bible also paints the picture that our actions follow closely with our belief.  Salvation requires repentance, which is turning your back on your old life and beginning to walk in the opposite direction. This means change.  This means sacrifice.  This means discomfort at times.

The problem for most Christians is not that they don’t want to change, or that they don’t want to do the right thing.  It’s that wanting to do it, and actually doing it are completely different.  Let’s say you love your spouse with all your heart. Day after day you thank God for him or her.  They are on your mind constantly.  But, you always work late. You rarely speak an encouraging word. You never tell her how much she means.  You never plan a date night. You rarely smile at home. But, wait…you love your spouse.  You adore them. But, your actions don’t line up with your feelings.

In James, we read that faith without good works is a dead faith.  Not “no faith,” but a dead one. Lifeless. Pointless. Dormant. So, if your faith is pushing up daisies, who even knows that you have faith? What evidence is there to support that you believe?

I read a quote in a magazine article a couple years ago that has stuck with me.  To paraphrase, the author said that the biggest gap that exists in the life of a Christian is not the gap between what we know and what we need to know.  The biggest gap is between what we know and how we live. Ouch.

You may not know the entire Bible from cover to cover.  You may only know a couple of the Commandments – that you’re supposed to love your neighbor, not murder, not steal, not covet.  So, what are you doing with what you know? How are you living?  What choices are you making to demonstrate your beliefs?

I recently read a book entitled Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman.  The book is incredibly well-written, and equally convicting.  Idleman claims that most Christians are “fans” of Jesus. We like to associate ourselves with Christ.  We even agree with everything Jesus says.  But, we just don’t want to actually follow him.  We don’t want to give up control. We don’t want to go “all in.”

We think if we go “all in” we’ll have to give up some things. Maybe so.  We think if we go “all in” we’ll have to act differently.  Hopefully so.  We think that going “all in” will change our identity. Definitely so! 

After all, isn’t that why you accepted Christ in the first place? 

John 14:15 simply says this: If you love me, obey my commands. (NLT)

Your spouse wants you to cherish her.  Your kids want you to spend time with them.  Your friends want you to be trustworthy. Your co-workers want you to be dependable.

But, God wants you to obey.  Why?  Because He loves you.  He knows what is best for you.  And, He knows you love Him when you do what He asks. And, everybody else will too!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lazy Kids, or Lazy Parents?

There was really no way to prepare myself for this.  No self-help book, YouTube video, blog post, or podcast could possibly have done the trick.  Most days, I feel like I am Velma, blind as a bat and scrambling on all fours trying to find my glasses on the ground.  This harsh reality is starting to sink in: I am now the parent of a teenager.

I can barely remember when I was a teenager at this point.  While I am not yet in my 40’s, my teen years are distant memories. I can recall events, people, places. I remember games, parties, school trips.  What I have a tough time remembering is what it was like to be a teenager. The awkwardness.  The growth. The increased appetite. The hormones.  The pimples.  OK, I remember the pimples a little more…especially those I got between my upper lip and my nostril – OUCH!

I keep hearing people say that it’s so much tougher being a parent of a teenager today than it was when I was an adolescent.  I know there’s the technology – internet, social media, camera phones, texting, and the like.  I understand that teens today consider their phone an appendage. I get that.  But, is it really tougher to be a parent today than 25 years ago?  I’m not convinced it is.

Since the Garden of Eden, there have always been ways for people to get into trouble – both adults and kids alike.  It’s called making poor choices.  The “device” or snare may be different, but essentially it’s the same.  The forbidden fruit of yesterday is a multitude of pleasures and vices today. Temptation has been around forever. But does more temptation mean you parent differently?

Sure, smart phones, Xbox 360, tablets, laptops, and of course HDTV have collectively given kids of all ages more ways to spend (waste) time than when I was a kid. Shoot, my summer break was spent watching reruns of The Jefferson’s and Gilligan’s Island all morning long, then playing the occasional game of Missile Command on my Atari.  Because these were the only forms of media I had available, I spent a lot of time playing baseball, basketball, football, and riding bikes outside. You don’t see that as much from kids today.  But, is that because moms and dads have a tougher time parenting?

If you ask me, it’s simple.  Today’s kids are not tougher to parent.  That isn’t the issue here.  Technology hasn’t made it more difficult to be a parent of a teenager.  It’s the exact opposite.  Technology has made it easier for parents to become lazy.  It’s opened the door for mom and dad to not have to be hands-on with their kids.  Instead of coming up with ways to be engaged with their kids, parents use the TV, iPod, tablet, or phone to babysit.  And, so far it is working.  When parents allow this to happen, they are essentially being replaced. It’s sad.

You may be wondering, “Does your teenager have a phone? Does he have a nice gaming system? Does he text? Does he watch TV?”  The answer to all of these questions is “yes.”  But, here’s what I can tell you: the amount of time he watches TV is limited, as is the amount of time on the video game. The phone is never kept in his room, and his texts are not “private.” We do not have a “video game room” that our kids disappear into for hours on end. My wife and I watch them like hawks.

The best parenting advice I think I have received was from Nick Person, who used to serve as the Middle School Pastor at my church.  As my son was about to enter sixth grade, I told Nick I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to handle being the parent of a teenager.  He laughed and said, “Just keep loving him like you have been, and stay in his business.  The kids who have the most trouble are the ones whose parents back off and don’t stay involved in what’s going on in their lives.”

So, that’s what I am doing.  I do not want him to get swept up in the current that will likely toss some of his classmates out to sea.  I know I will have to choose my battles, and will even have to allow him to fail and make unwise choices.  But, I will be with him every step of the way, and I will love him so much that it might mean I am not as cool as everyone else’s parents in his eyes. 

And, I am OK with that.  I can handle the attitude.  But could someone please help me with the B.O.?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Take a Hike

I had many reasons not to.  I was exhausted.  I had things to do – mow the grass, edge, weed, remove bird poo from our porch and sidewalk (bird’s nest – sheesh), shop for Mother’s Day, get kids to school, pick up kids from school, haircuts, laundry…just to name several.  Everything in my brain, and every ache on my body was telling me not to.  But, I did it anyway.  I took a hike.

One of my favorite spots to hike is up Pigeon Hill to the top of Li’l Kennesaw Mountain, and that is where the story begins.  It was a crisp spring morning, but just warm enough to throw on some shorts. I began the steep climb up the hill, a rather wide, gravelly jaunt in the shade just across Burnt Hickory Road. The first 50 yards were great, but I quickly began to feel the burn in my thighs and heaviness in my lungs.  I hadn’t even been out there two minutes.

I had the picture of cannons in my mind…cannons that marked the pinnacle of this particular journey. The ones located at the top of Li’l Kennesaw Mountain.  I looked up at the incline ahead of me, and immediately I began to make concessions.  “I’ll just go far enough where I can look out and see the land below.  I don’t have to make it to the cannons.” The cannons seemed so far away.

After just five minutes, I was questioning my will to press on.  I had done this trail in the fall a couple times, and I just didn’t recall it being so steep.  Every ten paces or so, I would look up and doubt myself. After what seemed like an eternity, I came to the end of the path and began the arduous climb up the rock.  This is not like REAL rock climbing, but in the most literal sense, I was climbing/walking up nothing but granite for several minutes. My feet pounded. My heart did the very same. And, before long, I reached the top of Pigeon Hill.

Shortly after reaching the top of Pigeon Hill, the path transitioned from rock to soil/pine straw, and back to rock again.  And, it narrowed considerably. As I pressed onward and upward, I noticed patches of Poison Oak reaching in, trying its best to nip at my ankles. I carefully placed each foot on the rocky path, carefully avoiding the pesky leaves.

Before long, I was having difficulty putting much weight on my left ankle.  Any step down/in that caused my toes to be higher than my heel resulted in extreme pain. So I began to climb more gingerly, putting the bulk of the strain on my right foot and ankle.

I realized that perhaps hiking today was not the wisest choice I could have made.   But, at this point, I was a mile up the mountain. What choice did I have now?

I made the decision that the only way I could continue was to keep my head down. Keeping my head down accomplished two things: first, it was the only way to avoid injury, given the terrain; second, if I kept my head down, I was less likely to be discouraged by what I saw ahead.

I began to focus almost exclusively on the music playing on the iPod, developing a rhythm with my steps. I soon reached the lookout point, and I knew I was fairly close to the top.  I pushed my body and my mind harder, inhaling deeper, more controlled breaths with each pace along the path. As I neared my destination, my pace quickened, and my spirit soared.  I was in the zone. 

I made my way through a final rocky clearing, then around one last bend…and there they were: the cannons.

Perhaps you are facing an uphill battle in your life.  You have legitimate reasons for delaying the journey. You ache, you are tired.  Every time you begin to face it, you are discouraged by what you see ahead.  You have convinced yourself that you will never get there.  So, you compromise.  You feel like you are pressed in.  Obstacles are strewn about, trying to trip you up, and cause your footing to slip. You feel alone. 

But, there is hope.  You can keep the vision you have for your life in your mind.  Play it over and over again.  Don’t look up at the obstacles ahead.  Keep your head down, and take it one step at a time.  It may require delicate steps and careful planning, and some voices of encouragement to help you find your rhythm.  But, in the end, if you persevere, there will be a clearing.  And, you will experience the exhilaration of knowing that the cannons are just ahead.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

An Extra Cheesy Story

My son, Chandler, is a picky eater.  He really only has one food group: carbs.  He’ll eat breads, cereals, Pop-Tarts, waffles, and candy.  But, not pasta. No way.  Suffice it to say that it’s a challenge to find things he will try.  Over the last couple years, he will actually try BBQ sauce on chicken.  It’s the only sauce/ condiment he will eat.  Not ketchup. Not mustard. Not any type of dressing.  He won’t even put milk on his cereal.  Dry cereal – yes.  Cup of milk – no problem.  But, you CANNOT mix the two!

For a long time, he would only eat a taco if it was ground beef on a soft flour tortilla.  He eventually added shredded cheese.  But not ON the taco…on the side, in a little cup.  Gradually, he was willing to put the cheese inside the taco, but it was a process.  A painful one for us as parents. 

After he was willing to introduce shredded cheese to his diet, he began to try other types of cheese, and actually liked them. After a while, he started eating the cheese sticks.  You know…the white individually wrapped “string cheese” sticks that are packaged as a snack food.  Because of his finicky eating habits, this was a big deal, especially since he doesn’t each much protein – other than the gallon-plus of 1% milk he consumes each week.

Even though he started expanding his world of food, it continued to be a challenge for him to find things he was willing to eat at school.  He’d purchase a school lunch, and only eat the bread, and maybe a couple chicken nuggets.  So, this year my wife started packing his lunch at home a couple times each week. That way, we can prepare foods that we know he likes (and will eat…most of the time).

A typical lunch for Chandler would look like this: shaved ham or turkey slices (not on bread – the horrors!), a stick of cheese, some Wheat Thins, raisins, and a couple cookies.  Not too bad of a lunch for an eight-year old.  But, many times he’d bring the cheese home.  And, his mom and I would say, “You need to eat your cheese!”

A couple weeks ago, Chandler got a stomach bug, and wasn’t able to eat much of anything.  After several days, he finally was able to regain his appetite and return to school.  On the way home from school, I had the following conversation with him:

Me: “Chandler, did you eat your lunch today?” 
Chandler: “Yes.”
Me: “Did you eat all of it?”
Chandler: “Yes.  Well, most of it.”
Me: “Did you eat your cheese?”
Chandler: “No.  I gave it to my friend.”
Me: “You did WHAAAAT?  Why did you give it to your friend?  Did he have his own lunch?”
Chandler: “Yes, he had his own lunch.  He just asks me every day if he can have my cheese.  So, I give it to him.”

OK, timeout.  At this point, I am thinking a couple things.  First, that kid needs to keep his hands off your cheese.  Second, I come up with an idea…and I share it with Chandler.

Me: “Well, you tell your friend that he can have your cheese if he gives you his cookies.”
Chandler: “OK!”

It then hits me what a horrible father I am.  Not only am I encouraging my son not eat his cheese, but to trade it for more junk!

So, I say to Chandler, “No, no, no.  Don’t do that.  (I am already playing out in my mind what my wife would say if she heard my proposal).  Just tell your friend that your parents told you that you need to eat your cheese from now on.”
Chandler: “OK.”

Later that evening, Chandler tells Amy that he has been giving his friend the cheese stick every day.  Amy asks him some of the same questions I asked him, and thankfully Chandler left out the details of my scheme to score more cookies. Whew!

I wake up the next morning, thankful that this little cheese episode is behind us.  I get Chandler his breakfast (Pop-Tart or dry cereal, of course), and start to pack the lunch that Amy has prepared for him. I open the freezer to take our one of the ice packs, and place it in the bottom of his lunch box.  I then open the refrigerator.  I reach up and take the shaved ham, when I notice something peculiar.  I immediately wonder if there has been some sort of mistake. But, then a small grin breaks out on my face.  My heart dances, and I shake my head.  I reach back up to the top shelf of the fridge, and stare in wonder at what I hold in my hand: two cheese sticks.