The Real You

You have a mind don’t you?  You have thoughts.  You function in the real world. (Not before my morning coffee, Jeff) Still, every single day we have to make decisions about what we are going to do, what we are going to believe, how to use the time we have been given, how to respond to what someone said to us or what we even think of ourself.

That last one is what I’d like to focus on.  What do you really think about in respect to your own thoughts?  That may seem like an odd question so here’s some examples;

You oversleep (again) and you think to yourself, I am such a lazy person.  You intended to exercise this morning but that didn’t happen because you overslept again or didn’t get enough sleep or it was a long weekend or whatever excuse works for today.  I am such a fat slob.  That friend on social media just took their 15th selfie today with their perfect spouse on their perfect vacation.  When will I ever have fun? I am so jealous. Where are my car keys for God’s sake? I am so stupid!

You get the idea.

It’s so easy to think I am angry, jealous, or I am such a failure or stupid for thinking that. But did you notice something?  YOU are thinking about your thoughts. YOU are observing your feelings.  All this can happen inside you in the quiet of your mind in just seconds.  Sometimes its a fleeting thought, a quick condemnation or a temporary frustration. But when you step outside of yourself you will notice, “Oh look. There’s grief. There’s anger. There’s jealousy”.

That’s the power of non-judgmental observance. I, the real me, am not my thoughts. Yes, those things are present now. Why are they here? Where do they come from? So, if you can observe your thoughts then that means one thing. Your thoughts are not YOU. Because YOU, the real you, is observing your thoughts. The real you is infinite(we hope). Let’s just say the real you goes on.

My thoughts are not truth. They are just thoughts. So don’t believe everything you think. The good news is you can free yourself of your mind. I know that sounds like hippie dippy stuff and I am certainly no spiritual guru or shaman or expert.  I don’t even have a lot of success with it. But it has happened.

It seems to me that that is true freedom; to not be controlled by our thoughts, to not be controlled by what we think. To not be controlled by what we think God thinks. To not be controlled by what we believe God says. Too many times Satan or unbelief in the bible are blamed for circumstances in our life when it is really just us not taking the time to just see. To just be. Being. Not doing. Not believing. Not even thinking. Just listening. Listening for that voice that observes our thoughts.

Someone said, “We either make ourselves miserable or we we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same”. So to be happy is to let go. Not letting go and letting God. Because God in the traditional sense is loaded down with so much tradition and work and study and what your parents said and what this pastor said. It can be exhausting. Because what happens there is God, or our thoughts disguised as God, sneak in the back door of our mind. We believe we are obeying God but really we are just doing what we’ve always wanted and using our lazy thinking as an excuse.

That’s because the voice belongs to our conditioned mind. Breaking free from repeated patterns of the past is the hardest thing to do. My response to a ‘tone’ in my wife’s voice. My reaction to a perceived slight from a friend or family member. My judgement that life is not fair because of some rule that was put in place. All these come from the past. None of them are true in the right sense of the word. They just are. They don’t have to control me.

When you become aware that you really are not your thoughts then the jig is up. You can observe your own thoughts from somewhere else. Almost like watching a video of yourself in the present. Your deeper self observes your thoughts and there is a separation. And, most importantly, there is a freedom because the thought has lost its power over you. I remember thinking about a thought I had and realizing in that moment that that thought was not the real me. It was like catching one of my boys getting into the cupboard to sneak some cookies. I could observe them and my present observance stopped their behavior. My thought was caught and powerless to do anything but leave.

I hope this helps you. It has helped me and it is where I am today.  Tomorrow or an hour from now I may fall back into old though patterns but I’ve seen it now.  I’ve felt it now.  I know it now.  It’s the difference between pictures of the Grand Canyon and seeing it in person.  They are not the same.

It is a struggle.  It always will be.  That’s the deal.  You won’t always have the answers.  You won’t always respond in the “right” way.  You will make mistakes but that’s okay.  If I am going to fall then let me fall.  The one I am becoming will catch me.

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Let there be joy

Whatever this life is, I hope it’s going to end in laughter. I know it’s going to end in joy. I don’t have any proof mind you. I don’t belong to a secret society that knows “we win in the end”.  I do think joy is the deeper meaning behind all of life. Laughter is fleeting but joy remains.

So the obvious question? Where does Joy come from?

I have always been kind of a jokester. If I get a grin my wife thinks I am up to something. I have always been quick to go for the laugh yet at the same time I was also very serious about the meaning of life. Early on I added a bunch of religious rules and I enforced what I thought were biblical laws on my children and I held up what I thought was a good standard. But there’s a lot of what passes for Christianity that just does not work and has nothing to do with joy.

I kept looking for that life sustaining joy. In the bible you read that “the joy of the Lord is my strength”.  So I kept looking; in church, bible studies, Sunday school, men’s groups, conferences, deacon boards, baptisms, worship, workshops, quiet time, concerts and mainly my own heart.  The “fake it till you make it” mantra was just too much bullshit for me to deal with. Fake joy equals fake authentic spiritual living. And I couldn’t escape the gnawing question, “Is this it?”

I just wasn’t seeing it. Maybe it was my poor eyesight through my own judgmental lens.  So then what? Serve the Lord till the sweet bye and bye because the joy will be there?  Wait for your reward?  Just have faith?  Hang in there little kitty? None of that helped in the now.

I’m talking about the deep joy that transcends the shit one has to walk through on a regular basis whether brought on by one’s self or by a benevolent being or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I am talking about the life giving contentment that comes when you realize you’re on the right path and that the God of this universe (or maybe just the universe itself) is truly cheering you on and has already giving you all that you need to accomplish all that you need to do.

Some mornings you have to get up and walk the hard road down.  That’s life. Those are truly the ‘grin and bear it’ times.  But it’s not your whole life.  I’ve just met too many people who have physical struggles or lifelong disabilities whose perspective puts most of us to shame.  I’ve met others whose mind has been made clear by their terminal disease.  Meanwhile, I will sometimes lose my mind over a nail that won’t go in straight.

So there is that hard road but there’s also a heart road.  Along its path we find that peaceful place where you remember the best parts of life and see the best parts in people.  It’s a magical thing when you can change someone’s day with a compliment or a smile.  Rather than just hanging on till the next life, whatever that is, how about investing in this one?  The joy filled abundant life can be, must be, this one right now.

I want to be fueled by it.  I want to eat it, smoke it, drink it and make love with it.  I want to lay back in it like a hammock.  I want to soak in it.  I want to breath it in and exhale it out to others.

The fruit of the Spirit is the evidence of a life lived well.  Love, JOY, peace patience, kindness, etc.  I know how to love people or be at peace with them and be patient with others, how to be kind to strangers, etc.  But I want that joy to be all over me.  I want sticky hands and a stained shirt.

Is it a matter of capturing those moments and holding on to them till the next one comes along? Is it a matter of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture? The beautiful mess of this whole holy thing? Breathing in the good with the bad?  Or can we rise above the fray just long enough to see what we need to see before we are pulled back down?

Whatever metaphor works for you; eating, diving, falling, soaking.  It’s all good.  Life, unless seasoned with joy, true joy, will be a sad existence.  Maybe not for you but it is for so many.  So when you get a glimpse or a taste or a good dunk in it, do us a favor.  Show up, link up, share it, hug it up, smear it and spread it all over everything so it can be seen, smelled and heard.

I don’t know a lot but I do know that once I let the joy in it wants to keep coming in.  The real me wants it.  The fake me doesn’t believe it. My true authentic self welcomes it.  And just like streams that deepen in time, I find that new paths are being formed in my brain.

It’s kind 0f selfish but the good kind.  It’s more of a decision. Much like love, only taking a little more courage.  One that stands up against all life has to offer and walks into it with a smile (and sometimes the finger) just to say “I am here.  I’ll take your worst and your best. I choose joy”.

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Adventure

Adventure is written into the heart of man.

You see it in boys with their heroic sword fighting using Christmas paper wrapping tubes, superheroes flying off the garage onto the trampoline and conquering little balls that are hit or thrown.  It can be a dragon that is slain even if only by a video controller.

Adventure is written into the heart of man and it takes more then having a wife and children, a job or being on some leadership team at church. There are people who have never left the area they grew up in and that is OK if you’ve inherited the family farm or you need to take care of your aging parents. But I feel if you never leave home and see the world or be challenged in your viewpoints on things you take for granted in culture, society, life and religion then you will never change and reach your full potential.

I think we all need to go through “conversion moments”. Maybe you thought black people were a certain way until you actually lived or worked or made friends with African-Americans. Or maybe you thought all gay people were a certain way or all atheists were this or that or liberals or conservatives, etc.  It’s tempting to throw everybody we disagree with into the stereotype that we all like to categorize people into on Facebook.

I think if you keep your eyes and your ears open and listen to the people around you and watch events as they unfold you find out that the vast majority of us agree on just about everything that’s important. But there are still those who like to form little tribes and focus on that one thing that we don’t agree on rather than figuring out how we can do this thing together.

Still, speaking as a male, we need an adventure. (I’m not sure what the female equivalent is but I know they want to be included and invited into the pursuit). We need to be challenged.  And if we are going to grow we need change. Part of that is what is driving this next phase of my life.

I thought radio was going to be my career for all of my life but the worst thing that can happen to a man happened to me. I got bored. That was over five years ago and I have been just filling my time with odd jobs exchanging my hours for cash looking for the next thing that would call me up and out. I am 56 years old and I am too young to settle into some boring routine where I work the same job and do the same thing over and over again until I hit some sort of retirement age and then just sit around and play with my grandchildren.

The year was 1985 and I packed up my Toyota Tercel with all my clothes and a briefcase filled with every cassette tape I owned and I drove from California to Illinois. The reason I was driving across half the country? I was out of the Marine Corps and had been dating a girl for about a year and a half and things were pretty serious and I either needed to marry her or leave. So I was going home to clear my head and decide what I wanted and it wasn’t long before I realized I wanted her.  (Her version of the story is that I gave no indication of this which I chalk up to males being bad at communication, a skill that she has aggressively pushed me to grow out of ever since). So I sent for her and flew her in to St. Louis where I picked her up and on the way back to Illinois proposed marriage and we eloped three days later.

We went back to California and started a life. After a few years I decided that Christian radio was going to be my thing. We had three children at the time so we packed up a small U-Haul trailer and headed out on this adventure. I started my radio career right there in western Illinois and after being there for about 10 years went to Michigan. I was there for 12 years and then got out of radio. Many of the beliefs that I held onto began to change due to those conversion moments I mentioned before but the desire for adventure never left.

Recently, through a longtime friend I was offered a job in Phoenix, Arizona which would require a lot of things to happen because I already have a seven-month-old grandson, a daughter who is getting ready to have her first baby and a big house filled with “stuff” along with five children. One of those is graduating high school this spring so there was a lot to consider but to me the call was clear. This was my chance to strike out and do it one more time. So I packed up most of my clothes again with CDs this time, got in my little car and headed back west kicking it old-school all the way.

Now I am trying on a new job in the sixth largest city in the country where there is no snow and no cold Michigan winters anymore. There are mountains and deserts and cactus and an opportunity for me to spend the foreseeable future carving out a new life with new opportunities.  The hardest part was leaving and I cried a lot as I told each child that I will miss them, I love them, I wanted them to help their mother and that I will be back when I can. I know I am going to miss out a lot over the next few months and if our life becomes permanent in Arizona I will miss out even more but I also know that if Dad is not happy the family is not happy. You’ve heard the saying that a happy wife is a happy life. Well that does apply to your marriage and family but when you apply to your future if Dad is not doing something that he loves or feels called up to or at least can enjoy then it eats away at his soul and takes the life out of him. I have not felt alive for a long time. I still have moments of enjoyment, the best being my marriage, but now I have this new thing that’s been missing. Hope.

I’ll know for sure by Spring if this is the right job for me.  And if so this Summer we will sell our house and almost 30 years later pack another U-Haul and with our last 3 children head across country again.

I do not know what the future holds. I do know it’s going to be hard because the best things in life are; marriage, parenting, finding a place to make your stand, being challenged in your assumptions, being called up and out. It will be hard but it will also be good. I think I am a different person now and I think I have at least one more adventure left in me before I sit in that rocking chair and hold those grand babies on my lap where I will whisper in their ears stories of adventure. And one day they will look at the horizon and wonder what is beyond.  Then they will take what they learned from their parents who learned from their parents how to make a better future.  And they will strike out and find their own adventure and then come back and tell Grandpa all about it.

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Connection

The last thing I wrote was my attempt at being fully honest about the meaning of Christmas to me. In it I mentioned that its really about 2 things, family/being with the ones you love (hopefully those 2 go together) and presents. We attach values and traditions to Christmas in addition to those 2 things but the thing we get most excited about is seeing the faces when they come through the door and when they open what you got them. Nobody wakes up Christmas morning and shouts Happy Birthday Jesus!

If I could summarize it down to one word for me it would be connection. I’ve come to realize, believe it or not, that is my baseline operation. Now, I have been guilty multiple times of focusing on a task and let that distract from connecting with the one I am working with. I have been distracted from it many times.  But I know it is still there. I just wish the older me could sit down the younger me. I’ve seen the pictures.

Unlike the selfie focused culture of today – (I know people who take more selfies in a day than all the pictures that exist of my entire childhood). There was a time when people took pictures of you and you would have to WAIT to see what they looked like. It could be weeks or months. And then when you saw that person again you would pull out the photos and remember when you did that thing at that time. Sorry, rabbit trail.

Anyway, I’ve seen the pictures of me and I look umm, let’s call it unenthused.  I don’t often look like I’m having a good time.  I don’t look angry or even grumpy just serious and bored. So I DO understand now why my kid’s friends were all intimidated by me.  Inside I know I was thinking ornery thoughts or of a play on words or something silly and, yes, on too many occasions, dwelling on something that I was frustrated with. But that stuff was just in the way. I was happier than I looked.  But maybe not.  I often think about that quote that says, “People will judge you by your actions not your intentions”.

And I knew I wanted to be a great Dad but my anger with whatever that kid was doing often stopped my intention of making a connection.  There are thousands of examples with my wife.  Her desire for connection was ALWAYS there pure and unfiltered.  Her times of wanting to ‘have a talk’ were times of improving our communication not me being in trouble which is how I always took it.

It really is all about connection.  And even though we are missing 3 today we can at least still stay digitally connected.  I hope you never take for granted what an amazing time we live in.  That we can face time Levi on the other side of the world is a miracle.  The same conversation on video would take 2 to 3 weeks back in my day.  One person would have to record himself then mail it to the other person then he would have to do the same.

It’s an amazing time also because we are all here.  On earth, together.  I know I drift back to this somewhat morbid thought once in awhile but it could be different next year.  I was reminded of this last week when a guy I was working with’s mother him died in his home.  She was just 70.  He was yelling and cussing at the punch in the stomach that life had just given him as we made the hour drive back. He was on speaker phone all the way talking with his 16 year old boy who found her plus the authorities.  We heard the screams of his Mom’s sister as she walked in.  It was intense and I was in tears.

I admit that it was hard this year for me to get into the Christmas spirit.  We’ve had a lot of struggles lately.  Mom’s birth work is not taking off yet.  I’ve been tired a lot or sick.  But aren’t there always going to be struggles and disappointments and hurt feelings?  I think it means your alive.  So I’ve really been working on opening my heart more, so that what’s going on on the inside actually makes it to my face.  And just yesterday I walked out of the gas station and it was snowing.  Not the hard kind that you turn your head against.  But the pretty kind that gently floats down to blanket the earth in soft white.  I turned my face up to catch a flake and in a moment of gratitude I was reminded again for the umpteenth time, ‘it’s all a gift”.

When most of you here were small you could not afford to buy anything for your parents for their birthday or Christmas so you would often give us handwritten vouchers good for a massage or housework or helping finish a task. Or maybe it just would be a thoughtful note where you shared your heart with us.  I have a shoebox full of them.  It was your child like intention to make a connection.

I love our big family get togethers.  It’s my favorite thing but it’s not the only thing.  I would like to connect with each of you in a more personal way.  You will find a card redeemable at your convenience for a time spent with yours truly.  The only thing I miss from radio days was the Father/Daughter banquets.  I knew every year I could dress up fancy and go out with my daughters.  I thought that it would just happen naturally later but it hasn’t.  I’ve also let the business of life get in the way of parenting my younger ones at home.  So I hope that in that time we can make a memory and make a connection.  It could be over a burger or a coffee or a walk in the park or working on a project together.  Just the 2 of us. That is my gift for you which is really a gift for me which makes it a gift for all of us because it’s all a gift.

 

The Reason for the Season

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Ah, the reason for the season.  Nothing brings more ire from folks who’ve been listening to Christmas music since October 1 than a challenge to what they think are their sacred traditions.  I used to think the statement was innocent enough.  I even used to say it but now it strikes me as rather passive aggressive.  Of course Jesus is the reason for the season.  His title is in the name of the holiday; Christmas means the mass(or celebration) of Christ.

But some are not happy enough with that.  There is often during this time of year a ruckus of some sort over whether there should be a live nativity in the courthouse square or if store clerks could say ‘Merry Christmas’ thereby causing some kind of a disturbance in the unbelieving shopper thus producing harm or a disruption to their personal belief system.

So what’s it all about? (cue the Charlie Brown Christmas clip of Linus walking to the spotlight and delivering the spot-on literal scriptural meaning of Christmas!).  Yes, it is the celebration of Jesus’ birth. There’s no disputing that although there is much dispute and evidence (he chimed in) that Jesus’ actual (he said with emphasis)birthday(he continued) was nowhere near December 25.

So we got the date wrong and why was that? (he posited) The short answer is we have Constantine to thank for that.  Still, Jesus was the most powerful and wise person who ever lived (according to the brochure) We have the sacred texts which includes the reference that “Jesus did so much more but all the books in the world could not contain” (I’m paraphrasing) It seems like he was a pretty important person. We have the bible for crying out loud with actual irrefutable proof (brochure again) that everything in there is true and literally happened in the exact moment without a misstep or mishearing or dropping of some notes out of one’s robe pocket on the way to the corner market to buy some great, locally sourced goat cheese.  Notes that one took at the sermon on the mount because he wanted to remember the cool phrasings of Jesus. Or notes he got second hand from traveling strangers who heard a tale about a manger, shepherds and angels.  And, as we all know, second hand information is always accurate.  Yet somehow the note taker or someone else 60 years later wrote them down for us all.  It sounds eerily like a Dan Brown mystery novel about a biblical scholar who begins to doubt the validity of the bible because of all the pesky evidence that the many scraps of often confusing and hard to understand writings on scrolls of goat skin  (poor goat, great cheese) don’t actually match.  (And I know scripture was not written on goat skin, just go with it).

So did His birth literally and actually happen in the exact way it was described in Luke 2?  I’ve read it to my kids for years.  But you know it doesn’t match the other accounts and, even odder still is not even mentioned in the gospel of Mark.  You would think he would want to start at the beginning.  Seems like when there is any important historical figure who had something important to say that we should remember, someone tried awfully darn hard to get the origin story correct. “So when was he actually born, I mean you are his mother right? So you should know. Let me get out this chisel so I can carve the date into this granite.” That could’ve happened. I mean we had people on the scene with excellent penmanship and we had others who were evidently really, really good at remembering things with amazing details like the sons of many generations and how many goats they owned.  (I can’t even remember my Mom’s birthday).

So does it matter? What if its just kinda close? What if the story is just a poetic interpretation of approximate possible events that would have been really cool?  I mean are all the characters on that silent night an integral part?  What if it actually happened exactly as described.  Will it change the way you think or talk?  Will it change what you do?  Will it change who you are?

What if it didn’t happen at all?

Because that sniff of acknowledgment that Jesus gets this time of year (which he reeeaaallllly needs because his social profile has really taken a dive over the last few years and He’d reeeeaaaaaallllly appreciate the increase of likes you’ve been giving over things He has said in various Facebook posts and that if you would just keep it up that would be awesome). That tip of the hat that Christians give because they think they got the story right and even spent a whole night at church listening to cute children give an even cuter interpretation of said story. They even took a bold stand when they caused a disturbance with the store clerk who with no heart at all wished them ‘Happy Holidays Ma’am’ instead of glorifying Jesus with a hearty Merry Christmas.

Does it matter?  Will it really change anything in your home besides not having to bake Jesus His birthday cake amongst all the other preparations of the holy feast of sacred Turkey. No I say.  I say it does not matter.

Because if we are totally honest modern day Christmas is really only about 2 things. Presents and family. That’s it. What we really want is a cool gift for ourselves and hopefully surprise that loved with what they’ve always wanted. And then being with the ones we love the most. That’s honestly just the way it is. No need to dress it up just to impress Jesus’ Dad and hopefully gets some bonus points (only redeemed in eternity) that will make your mansion look even spiffier.

So can we stop fooling ourselves? Please? Yes, I want presents around the Christmas tree, that evergreen symbol of the dark lords of false religion. And I want to share a meal and some stories even if they are not found by chapter and verse with my family and those who are becoming a part of my family. And I want to remember in song some traditions, cultural and religious.  And it’s OK to rock around the Christmas tree and even have a Coke with Santa if that’s your thing because forgiveness is already given for your guilt and your fear whether a babe was born in a manger or not.

There can be peace on earth when we become more honest with ourselves with our questions and doubts about who we really are and who we want to become. What we really believe and what we really want. Then we can focus on what is most important right in front of us today. Right here.  Right now.  Not over something that happened 2000 years ago.

I hope you are not mad at me for rocking the holly, jolly boat.  Because I do acknowledge there really is something about Christmas.  Whether you wish Jesus a happy birthday or not something happens this time of year that is hard to explain. People are little nicer, more generous, kinder, more loving (and worse drivers) around the holidays.  And as the prophet Ray Charles challenged, “Why can’t it remain all through the year, each day the same? That Spirit of Chrismas!” Because when it is here and put it into practice we get a little glimpse and an invitation of what peace on earth and good will toward men could really look like.  It’s more than a season filled with reasons.  It’s a season of hope that you can’t reason away.  Merry Christmas.

Trump’s Favorite Joke

I heard Sean Hannity the other day say that President Trump’s tax plan and latest actions were “Reaganesque”. I’ve heard him say things like that before but this time I just had to turn the radio off. Being Trump’s mouthpiece is one thing but AC/DC is more likely to release an album of ballads than Trump becoming Reagan.

Maybe you’ve seen this before;

My favorite is “Nobody loves the bible more than me” and “Nobody respects women more than I do”.  Puh-leeze.  Can you imagine Reagan saying any of those things? Yet, there are those who still blindly follow this man and thinks he is great, a straight shooter and tells it like it is.  Whatever.

Do you remember the beginning of reality TV?  The first Survivor finale had HUGE viewing parties. I was at one of them.  It was new and exciting.  But soon reality TV became formulaic and we figured out how fake it really was.  All you had to do was have someone willing to do wild and crazy (prearranged) things and you had a hit.  Ala Duck Dynasty, Honey Boo Boo, Jersey Shore and all those Pawn shop things.  “Reality” become our new normal.

Problem is you elected a president straight out of the playbook.  Whoopsie.  Didn’t see that coming did ya?  Ok, not all of you.  Only half of you elected him.  OK, half of half of you who could vote, voted for him.  OK, 3 million less than half of half but you get the picture. You may have picked up on the fact that I don’t like the man nor did I vote for him. (I voted third party).  Even still, I gave him a pass on things he’s said.  I’ve looked the other way on the awkward and embarrassing things he’s done.  I chalked it up to be an outsider, a rookie and not a politician.  But it’s been 10 months now.

But back to the Reagan thing.  You want to know the main thing that bothers me?  Trump is not an ideologue or a leader of a cause.  He is just the result of where we are.  He is the President we deserve.  He is just the recipient of our frustrations and a lot of us believed him when he said no one can do it better.

Ronald Reagan WAS an ideologue and he WAS the leader of a cause and an eloquent communicator of that cause which was conservatism.  Trump can not communicate anything unless it is written down for him and he only goes off script when he wants to emphasize the importance of whatever he is saying by adding “very” twice.  i.e. “This is very, very important.”

Conservatism is not his guiding light because he was a liberal and a close friend of the Clintons.  He switched horses just a few years ago.  He is not a Christian so he doesn’t have the spiritual fortitude to overlook or forgive.  He only kowtows to the religious right to pacify them.

But here’s the main thing that bothers me that I heard someone say yesterday.  He doesn’t laugh.  Have you noticed?  He’s not funny.  He smiles but its more like a used car salesman smile or someone who’s really trying to convince you of something they’re not.  There’s just no wit inside him that existed with previous presidents.

He is simply humorless.  The only thing that comes close to sense of humor were the things he said when he was campaigning but those were really just insults towards his opponents and Rosie O’Donnell.  Now he is the president but he is still campaigning and lashing out against the press, late night television or any who cast a disparaging word.

Speaking of the press.  Remember how much they picked on George W. Bush?  Mostly for some of his bumbling and speech faux pas.  But W. had wit and humor and could make fun of himself and it was OK.  He didn’t attack anyone.  He stood strong in the face of opposition and inspired us wth leadership during 9/11.  He never lashed out once. Obama had a lot of wit and charm.  Reagan had TONS of both.  He was the master of the joke and storytelling and could communicate where he wanted to take the country.  His speeches inspired.

Trump has no inner agenda to guide him.  Sure, he says what all presidents say like cut taxes, support the military, increase education, blah blah, etc.  Most great leaders have a mission statement.  You can boil down what they are trying to accomplish in a sentence or two.  It appears that his mission statement is HIMSELF.  That is why when anyone makes fun of him he cannot stand it and must respond personally.  He spends more time attacking the press and entertainers than in the trenches working out policy and figuring out a way to lead the country.

I know the job is hard but I imagine every morning when Trump wakes up he sits on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands and thinks, “Oh shit, what have I got myself into?”  And then goes out and tries to convince himself and us that he can deliver all those things that “nobody else can do better”.

So stop with the Reagan comparisons.  And let’s hope nothing serious happens because Trump has yet to inspire, communicate or lead in the face of opposition with any amount of grace, wisdom or humor. For example, during the recent hurricane (he dedicated a golf trophy to the victims – I was so moved).  In a short time he has become a national and international embarrassment.

And that’s no joke.

A Father’s Son

I think I am a better dad than my father was.

Now I know that sounds like an arrogant statement and even if it were true it would still be rather bold.  So please let me try to explain.

I think I am better as long as I get to define the parameters. Just like when we all compare ourselves to others by looks, skills, income, opportunities, etc.  As if we were all on the same playing field (which in one sense we are but in another sense we really are not).

My father was from the Greatest Generation. He lived through the Great Depression and things were just done differently then. Fathers were more distant because they weren’t taught to be demonstrative or expressive.

I remember when I first started spending significant time around my dad as a married man and I was trying to figure out why he was the way he was. Because in my simple mind all he had to do was make a decision to change. If he thought he should be showing more affection to his children then just do it. I remember asking him about his marriage because it was an old school relationship where they stayed together just because that’s what you did. And I would not call it a joyful marriage even though there was plenty of laughter.  But I also would not call it an unsatisfactory marriage either.  They learned to work together in all of their strengths and weaknesses.

I was looking at him through my own generational lenses because I lived in a time where things were getting a little more open and some hard topics were beginning to be discussed and the demonstration of affection was a little more acceptable. So in whatever capacity he had to become a good father and whatever heart he possessed to be a good dad he performed, I believe, with the rules that he had and the tools that he could.

I don’t know how I would’ve responded if I were in his shoes. So it is unfair for me to judge him and his circumstances. I have no idea how I would react if I were to lose my leg in my 50s like he did. I don’t know what kind of drive I would have if I had grown up dirt poor like he did. I can tell you that I had a naive higher expectations of him and I probably told him that in certain ways that were not pleasant to hear. I also know I was frustrated by his stubbornness to not change.

But in retrospect that stubbornness, if applied correctly, can be a wonderful gift because in the translation it gave me a heart that keeps hanging on. It gaves me a desire to see things through. And it makes me hold onto relationships longer than other men seem to be capable of.

So as long as I get to define the rules I can honestly say that I am a better father based on how well-adjusted my children are and the way we communicate. But I can also say without hesitation that he was a better son. I know that he honored his father and I am positive he never said some of the things that I said to him in the disrespectful ways that I said them. But maybe the same silence that kept him from expressing affection was also a quiet strength that he could hold in the face of an angry son.

Because isn’t that what any son wants to hear from their dad?  “I love you and I’m proud of you”. 

So here is what I am trying to say; Be better than the generation before you, even if it is only a 1% improvement.  Find a weakness that your father had (it will be an easy look) and improve upon it. Or do something that he never did. But don’t forget to take his strengths, whatever they may be in all their glorious deficiencies, and apply them to your life. That will make you “better” I think.

Just be careful with the rules you choose for this paternal game. Because in the end there is a lot that does not matter and there are other things that matter more than ever. 

I hope that you, dear reader, can forgive your father for what he did not do and even for what he did do. Because you may think that you were cursed to have the childhood that you had but I believe you were blessed. Because now you know what to do and what not to do. Let that knowledge draw you closer to the responsibilities before you.

Let go of the anger. Embrace the sadness. See what is true and feel what is missing. Then move towards your sons.  You only have them for a short time.  Demonstrate to that next generation you can be better if only in some small way. I had to forgive my father for not speaking to me in the language that I needed to hear. I know that my own sons will need to do the same thing for me.

There are no perfect fathers.  Just men trying to be better.  

It’s dads holding on to sons letting go. 

Don’t Ever Have Kids

© jill devries photography

It’s something I’ve been saying lately…either to a friend of one my kids or to my kids directly. It’s always in jest. It’s called sarcasm. It’s what I do. For example, when I have to run one of them somewhere I will sigh and look forlornly at whoever is near and say, “Don’t ever have kids.”  It usually gets a snicker or an eye roll.  The irony is not lost on the hearer as I have acquired a dozen said children in my tenure as their father.  #dadjoke  Mission accomplished.

The thing is when it comes to sarcasm there usually is a nugget of truth buried in there somewhere.  I don’t fully mean what I am saying.  It should be obvious.  But if I’m fully honest there is probably a small percentage of me that wonders what it would be like to not have any children.  Partly because I became a parent on the day I got married with the responsibility growing exponentially from there.  And partly because I’m just curious.  It’s never been just me and my wife.

So I have twelve kids.  Unfortunately, my twelve kids only have one Dad.  I understand the math.  People are usually flabbergasted when they hear about the size of my tribe. How do you pay for them they say.  I don’t I say.  How do you have enough time for them all they say.  I don’t I say.  It really wasn’t a concern.

Generally the youngest gets the most attention and care.  By the time the older ones reach a certain age they have to get in line and pay attention to each other.  Different systems are put in place for chores, travel and schedules.  It’s a machine.  Not a smooth running machine but an operational one (thanks to Mom).  Actually it’s more like one of those machines you might see in a Dr. Seuss book.  One kid is smelling a flower while another is kicking a ball and another is shooting an arrow while watching a sibling balance on top of another sibling while riding a unicycle.  All this happens atop a house that looks similar to moving bus.  It’s organized chaos but it seems to work.

Back when our family was half the size it is now I would always be amused to hear from parents complaining about their little blessings.  About how much work they were.  What a pain they were.  How tired they were.  While I was nodding politely, in my head I was saying, “What is wrong with you? You only have two!”  It goes by so fast.  It takes a couple kids just to practice on before you find a rhythm.  Just keep going.  You’ll get it.

Yes it is hard.  Yes you will be tired.  Yes the pay sucks.  It comes with the territory.

And there is no formula for success.  “Don’t smoke!”  They still do it.  “Train up a child in the Lord and they won’t depart from it”.  Nope.  “Shut the front door!”  Seldom happens.

Still, we must’ve done something right because every time we go somewhere in mass there are compliments.  We were out for one of my sons 21st birthday and I had a complete stranger tell me she wished she was in my family.  When we descend on a wedding we take over the dance floor.  Friends of our kids kind of get adopted in for a season and they have to learn to navigate the noise and the honesty that happens around the dinner table.

So if you truly can’t let go of selfish pursuits, if you can’t compromise, if you can’t stand a mess and you absolutely won’t live below a certain standard of living then you probably should not become parents.  You won’t have all the answers.  Your actions will betray even your best intentions.  You will make mistakes but almost all of them are correctable.

I only have two pieces of advice that have guided me lo these 32 years.  Work on yourself and love your children’s mother.  The rest seems to fall in place.  I really don’t know how but it does.

© jill devries photography

So.  Don’t ever have kids.  Unless you don’t mind seeing a portion of yourself in all of them.  Unless you don’t mind being embarrassed by how much better people they are than you.  Unless you are able to be humbled when one of them confronts your prejudices.  Unless you can take fashion criticism and cultural correction.  Unless you don’t mind being a hero to your little ones for a few short years just because you show them something for the first time.  Unless you can harness the mighty power of your words.  Unless you don’t mind being intimidated by your strong boys.  Unless you don’t mind feeling helpless as you watch your pretty girls become beautiful women.

Unless you don’t mind having your life changed forever.

Happy Father’s Day

 

Now What?

Today someone’s life will be changed forever.

A young man will become a father for the first time and he will discover a love that will change his perspective on everything. Things that were important before will fall away. He will know happiness and joy in a fresh, new way.

A couple will move into that home that will house memories for decades.  Their kids will make a trip there someday and tell their kids “this is the place where I grew up”.

Someone will receive the title they’ve worked so hard for their entire life. Doctor, winner, owner, champion.

But there’s also the other side.

A young woman will receive a call. There was a crash. The results are in. It’s cancer. A man in uniform will knock on the door holding a flag. Her hero is not coming back.

This is life. Winners and losers.

The curse was lifted and the jersey of the team you’ve worn for decades finally reached the top. Or a plane crash killed the entire them all on their way to the finals as happened to the Chapocoense soccer team last November.

There are no answers. Or reasons. In sports it often comes down to the last shot or the last second and your team become legends. In life it could be a car that missed you by a hair, a bomb that didn’t go off in battle or a fire that burned your home to the ground but no one was in it.  Victory or defeat.  Joy or sadness.  It can come down to inches or milliseconds.

I don’t know where you are in life. I don’t know how hard you’ve worked. I don’t know what your dreams are or even if you have any. Maybe you’ve joined a cause because you thought you could make a difference and it didn’t. Could be time for something different.  Maybe you developed some bad habits and need to dump them to start new ones. Maybe you should put down the remote and make a call, visit your parents, read a book or write a friend. Heal that broken relationship. Take that risk. Or just take a step toward something or someone.

In sports and life if you don’t make some goals you don’t win.  What are you shooting towards?

One step. One shot. One thought. One decision.

You have today. And only today. Be thankful for it because tomorrow may not happen. It’s been said so many times but today is the first day of the rest of your life.

So now what?

.

Today

Some days I want to read all the books, fix all the things, build all the stuff and make all the money. Other days I lay in bed and watch Youtube on my phone till my hand goes numb.

Fulfillment can be an elusive, slippery thing. Within our grasp but just beyond. Right there but hard to reach. In our hands but even harder to hold on to.

I’ve never known success. At least, success in the way my unsatisfied mind defines it. Happy and content all the time. Able to accomplish whatever I set my mind to. Present in the moment. At peace and full of grace. Smart and in shape.

The spiritual axioms I applied to the wounds of the world and to my own heart feel like a Hello Kitty band aid now. Life is simple according to my younger self. Accept Jesus into your heart. Be thankful for that gift. Trust and obey then wait for your deliverance…

The first time he was born again
Was at small town church afraid of sin
And no matter how hard he’d pray or beg
The doctors still took his father’s leg.

Next time he was born again was at nineteen
At a west coast chapel as a young marine
Baptized into the music of Keith Green
He set out to live a life separate, obedient and clean.

He trained up his children in the way they should go
But obedience was fleeting and the process was slow
He thought Christian music would get them to their feet
An ancient, holy message with a modern beat

But records scratched, CDs skipped and Rich Mullins died
He dared to believe but it all burned and he cried.

His Sunday best was ripped as he exited the church door.

The programs, systems and tracts were in a pile on the floor.

He saw different possibilities but there was no left to tell.

And he learned life is a gift much more powerful than Hell.

So life is tough and God is good. Is that what I’m saying?
Do your best, Jesus takes care of the rest, just keep praying?
Life IS short and won’t turn out the way you think. Of that I’m sure.
But it’s not a problem to be fixed or a disease with heaven as cure.

This may be my own vision or it may be just a dream.
But this world can still be like no place I’ve ever seen.
I dream that we are laughing and I dream that we are free.
And we all watch as we become who we were meant to be.

I’m not sure how we get there but this is the only song I sing.
Rise up, grab hands and move forward because love is a beautiful thing.