Elliott heaved, the ball fell aimlessly short of the basket, and the chance to play superhero passed. But wait, he was fouled. With no time on the clock, Elliott was going to the freethrow line to try to sink three consecutive freethrows and send the game into overtime.
The gym was quiet. Some of his buddies from other teams were now standing around the gym waiting to play the game after his. I stared at Elliott, trying to gauge how much pressure he was putting on himself. I've been a part of sports all my life. I know how meaningless a middle school rec league basketball game is. I also know none of that matters when you're a 12 year old kid standing on that line. Hero on one side. What could have been on the other.
Part of me wished I could go take those shots for him. The other - and more wise part - had to concede that the best free throw shooter in our family was standing on that line. I trusted Elliott knew the chances were next to impossible to stand there and make three consecutive free throws. Still, I began practicing my dad talks.
The game is more than 3 seconds long pal. That missed free throw didn't lose the game.
Hey, just use that miss to fire you up to practice those free throws more.
Or, hey, this is a chance for you to show how to miss shots with as much class as you make them.
I had all my talking points tucked away and ready.
Elliott stood at the line, took a couple of dribbles, looked up at the basket and shot: nothing but net. He looked like he was standing in the driveway shooting by himself, calm, just killing time on a Saturday afternoon.
I sat a nervous wreck. To be honest, I thought it would have been easier if Elliott would have missed that first one. There's no way he can make three in a row. But making that first one leads his teammates to believe yes he can. Making that first one makes the fall from potential superhero to just another one of the young and little guys on the team all the steeper.
Elliott stood at the line, took a couple of dribbles, looked up at the basket and shot: nothing but net. My heart began racing. The line between superhero and what could have been was now big and bold and bright. Where at once it was a line only a worried dad could see, it was now a line everyone in the building was staring at.
I wondered how clearly Elliott could see that line. Could he feel it grabbing at his feet, trying to trip him in the middle of his next shot. Did he know all my dad talking points were now useless, that by making those first two free throws the only talking point I had left was consolation. I knew all I'd be able to tell him now if he missed that next shot was I know it feels like you lost the game with one missed shot, but someday you'll realize that isn't the case. Only I knew all too well a 12 year old never comes to realize that. Dropped passes and missed shots live with 12 year olds forever.
Or - at the very least - until they're 54.
Elliott stood at the line, took a couple of dribbles, looked up at the basket and shot: nothing but net. Elliott's teammates swarmed him. Shoot - I wanted to jump up from my spot in the bleachers and swarm him. But I sat there, taking it all in, feeling happy for a little guy enjoying his moment in the big guy spotlight. I sat there thankful for the moment my 12 year old got to play the role of superhero.
His team ultimately took advantage of those free throws and won the game in overtime. For at least a few days, Elliott had secured the rights to smack talk.
After the game, I asked Elliott, "how nervous were you?"
"I wasn't really nervous," he said. "I practice those shots all the time."
We have that conversation a lot, mostly around sports, But for me, sports is the best metaphor for life I've found. Because in sports, and in life, there's this idea that when no one is looking, if we'll practice and prepare for our turn at the line, if we live life like we're always headed toward a superhero moment - filled with spotlights and nerve twisting and bending silence - when we get to that moment, we'll be ready for it.
I haven't heard Elliott mention that game since. (Even though I have no doubt his buddies have). But I know it's a memory that will live with him forever, which is cool. What's coolest to me, though, is Elliott seems to get it. At least as much as a 12 year old can. He seems to get that practicing the right things doesn't guarantee a superhero moment, but the only possible path to those moments - is practicing the right things.
And for this dad, that's a superhero moment I'm thankful for.
So I forgot to mention another thing I have in this office. I have a window. As I was searching for the words to plug into the next sentence for an article I was writing, I turned and gazed out that window. I wasn't hoping to find anything as much as I was looking to escape the words refusing to show up on my keyboard. Windows just happen to make great escape routes.
They can also be filled with beautiful surprises.
My eyes were drawn across our backyard into the distance to a sparkling playground in the sky. The ice from the day before was now soaking up the sun. Like our dog likes to lay in even the slightest beam of light blazing through our front door, creating a sunny bed on the entrance way floor in our house, ice seeks the sun. And when it finds it, one of the most beautiful pairings in nature springs to life.
Like much of nature - the scene is fleeting. The opportunities to catch it can be small. The saddest part of that is many of those opportunities are lost because I don't take the time to seek them. I spend time racing ahead in life, taking note of all I don't have, instead of giving thanks for the windows in life I do have.
Maybe the greatest luxury we all share in life is the window. In windows, we all have something uniquely ours. Our window. Our view. Our beauty. Through our windows we all get to see a moment in time that will soon be extinct. How we remember them, and maybe write about them, is all that carries them forward.
How many moments are missed because we're frantically searching for the next open door and not gazing out windows? How many moments in time face the darkest of extinctions because no one stops to create a memory; no one stops to absorb a light that can shine on others forever.
As I write this I'm suddenly grateful. This is a tiny closet, but at least it has a window.
I've always accepted fairly well that our boys will grow up. I make few efforts to freeze time, even less trying to dictate what the future holds for them. I've tried to stay grounded in a belief that my best opportunity to honor the days I've had with them, and shape the days that await them, is to pour myself in their heres and nows.
But I'm human. There are days I get distracted by father past and want to run from father future.
early mornings reading and writing. He was still climbing up on my lap for a morning hug and a debriefing of the previous night's sports scores.
Talk about fake news. This whole middle school thing was a hoax.
We've both always treasured these morning hugs. In fact, many mornings Elliott sleeps a little past when I leave for work, but he hears me on my way out. There have been mornings I'm pulling out of the driveway and see Elliott standing at the opened front door, wrapped in a blanket, looking at me as I prepare to pull away. I stop the car, get out, run up and collect my hug, then go on my way. Grateful for a hug not lost.
Oh middle school, you can take a lot, but you're not getting my hugs.
One morning last week I got to work and I had a message on my phone from Elliott. It said, dad, I was at the door and you pulled away and you didn't see me. Talk about instant heartbreak. I messaged him and told him I was sorry and that I loved him. But as I walked up the hill to the office, I celebrated a bit. He might be in middle school, but he's still my baby.
That same afternoon I got off work early and had the chance to go pick Elliott up from school. I thought it might be good redemption for missing him that morning. He hopped in the car. He seemed to be long over our missed opportunity from that morning. I asked him the robotic question - how was your day - fully expecting the robotic answer - good - without any supporting evidence ever to support what exactly was so good.
But he didn't say good. He told me one of his friends broke up with a girlfriend that day. He rattled off some details about the tragic event: hearts were broken - lives altered - futures forever thrown off course.
I didn't hear many of those details though. I was stuck on girlfriend. How did a boy who sits on my lap each morning, a boy who laments missing hugs, how did a mere baby of mine even KNOW what a girlfriend was, let alone befriend someone who would have one?
He kept chatting all the way home. I wasn't with him, though. I was lost in those parents' warnings. What fell out of my pinata was a boy discovering girls and breakups. What was going to be next, cars and heavy metal bands? This whole sitting on my lap tradition, he was carrying it on to hide a young man in the shadow of a baby I'd grown to love and in many ways count on.
Oh, middle school. You've humbled me haven't you. I spent 12 years raising a baby. In 3 short months you've flexed your muscles and showed my how easy it is to just pick him up and walk off with him. Well, middle school, you evil monster, be thankful I didn't make him eat more meat along the way. He would have been a whole lot heavier for you to carry!
As I reflected on that conversation later, though, I was thankful. One of my dad goals is that our boys will be able to talk to me when life is good, and when life gets inevitably challenging. When they grow to discover life treats young men and then grown men differently than it treats babies, I want them to know I'm here to hear them out on the thrills and complications of that discovery.
I know I'm the biggest hurdle to that goal. There are conversations I'd rather tell than hear when it comes to growing up. It's hard for me to accept our boys need me to listen as much, and probably more, than they need to hear me talk. But I listened.
Sure, it was easier because it was a buddy's breakup, not my baby's. Still, I listened. And I practiced. Because middle school seems evil and formidable. And the day is coming I'll lose hold of that baby I cling to, and a young man will catch me. When he does, he'll want me to hear him out. Oh help me, I pray that's exactly what I'll do.
Reading the first creation account in light of the second, we see that the creation is not called “very good” until we have the human male and female. For the goodness of creation requires the logic of otherness, which becomes articulate only among those who, being in the image and likeness of God, can speak and hear a word from one another. Therefore they can also hear a word from God and speak to this divine other words of praise and thanksgiving, which give a voice to the goodness of creation. They are creation’s own voice giving thanks for its own goodness, which happens when the one sees the goodness in the other: “This one—at last!” So creation is perfected, fully good, when there is the human male and female, the man and the woman, Adam and the helper fit for him.
"The goodness of creation requires the logic of otherness" - that struck me. To me it says, sure, we all know if no one hears the tree fall in the woods the tree still fell. But what goodness and beauty is born out of it if logical people can't watch it tumble over, hear it, stumble over it months and years later on a hike or a run, and stop and look at it in wonder, and say to someone who is with them, or someone they'll share a picture of it with later on their iPhone - isn't that beautiful?
And in that moment of shared wonder, these logical creations can look to their creator with awe in their bursting hearts and voices lost in wonder and proclaim you are so right, that is very good.
To me this article implies the true beauty of creation is in the capacity we have to see it and talk about it and share in it with one another. The true beauty of creation is being able to celebrate it with an other and look to the heavens and say, you are right, this is all so very good.
The true beauty of creation is found in the thank you.
Yet, it also begs the question, how beautiful is creation, really, if we don't acknowledge it with our words to one another. How beautiful is creation when we don't thank the one who created it? It begs the question: if creation is there but no one sees it and celebrates it...... well, you know how the rest of the question goes.
When I look back on my life, I see just how much time I spent trying to discover who I am. To be honest, much of that discovery was filled with destruction and dead ends. Dead ends when I'd get to a point of knowing who I am and not much caring for that person. Destruction when I tried to drink away how disturbing life can get living in the reality of that kind of dead end.
Then one day I realized I'd spent a lot of time searching for the wrong answer. Life was disturbing because I was spending my time trying to discover who I was instead of first coming to grips with who I belonged to.
Genesis 1:27 says:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
If you believe that, and I do, then you can logically begin to understand that discovering who God is will always lead you to a better understanding of who you are than the dead ends we often chase outside of Him. Dead ends I sure spent a lot of time chasing.
The most beautiful understanding I've come to about God is this:
Every day we get to make a choice. Do I focus on how I see myself - and continue down the non existent road in search of a place where I see myself as someone I love. Or do I go down the road of knowing in a deeper way the God I belong to, a road where I am always good enough, a road where I'm loved more than any other road can love me.
Today I'm thankful that although there are times I'm still prone to going down the wrong road, I know the road I belong on. I'm thankful that today when I'm tempted to deal destructively with being at a dead end in life, I quickly realize I'm not at a dead end at all. I'm simply on the wrong road.
To all the fathers out there – Happy Father’s Day. And to all the wives and moms who help keep us dads in line, thank you and we celebrate you today as well. I also want to take a second and ask God to bring peace and comfort to those who may be missing a dad today, and to those whom Father’s Day doesn’t feel like an occasion to celebrate. In my message this morning you'll hear that Father's Day doesn't always mean the same thing to everyone.
For me, there could be no greater honor than to share Father’s Day with you all here in church this morning. I’m grateful that my dear friends from St. Peters church thought enough of me and what I might have to say about fatherhood to invite me. Father’s Day more than any other day has strengthened my relationship with God.
I have the added honor of having my dad here with us today, which makes this a little more meaningful. My mom – who keeps him in line – is here as well. So, it’s a special opportunity for me.
So, this message starts when I was 30 years old. I was finishing up what has easily been the most challenging decade of my life. The nature of those challenges is an entire sermon series in itself. I'll simply tell you I'd been living in some pretty dark days and had been creating plenty of darkness in the lives of the family and friends around me.
But after more than a decade of stumbling towards it and being tripped up by it, I was holding a business degree from Ohio State University. And so I did what every recent graduate with a business degree does – I went to work as a therapeutic counselor in a wilderness camp serving at risk kids in the middle of the Croatan National Forest in eastern North Carolina.
A few months into that experience, in the middle of a hot, Carolina summer, I found myself canoeing for 3 weeks down the Edisto River in South Carolina. I was joined by 10 pretty tough teenage boys and 3 other counselors. The program director who hired me told me a major trip like that early in my career would be a great learning opportunity. And boy was he ever right.
About a week down the river the heat and exhaustion began taking a toll on all of us. I discovered with a little bit of coffee, even the kind brewed by soaking a sock filled with coffee grounds in water heated by the flames of a small fire along a river bank, adults can forge on. Kids, on the other hand, especially kids who have no idea how to manage the stresses life throws their way, have no interest in forging.
Kids would rather explode.
One late afternoon around this time we pulled over to a small clearing in the woods along the river to set up camp. One of the young men, Jimmy, became agitated because he felt the counselors were asking him to do more than his fair share of the work setting up camp. His protest started with an angry look and quickly escalated from there. He began cussing at the counselors and the rest of the guys in the group. He obviously thought they were part of the plot to unload all the work on him.
One of the kids had heard enough of Jimmy's accusations and decided to shut him up. He charged after Jimmy. The lead counselor intervened. One of the other counselors hurried to assist him. For a few moments, as the counselors tried to build order out of chaos, bodies intermingled and whipped around like they were unknowingly trapped inside a high-speed blender. Then, almost as soon as it was turned on, the blender stopped, Jimmy lay pinned to the ground by two counselors. I had witnessed my first physical restraint.
Restraints were an ugly part of camp. But the reality is they were often necessary to prevent kids from hurting themselves or each other. I can't prove how much the two are related, but it was my experience that some of the most life-altering conversations took place in the aftermath of some of the ugliest problems. Many of them involving these restraints.
I'll likely never know how much our conversation altered Jimmy's life after he was restrained that day, but it impacted my life as much as any conversation I've ever had in my life.
You see Jimmy eventually calmed down. He and the counselors re-joined the rest of the group. Then we did what we always did to solve a problem. We huddled together and talked about it. Some discussions went well. Some not so well. Some carried on for hours in chaos and confusion before all of that came together in the middle of us as wisdom and understanding. Like our discussion with Jimmy.
I don't remember much about the first several hours of that conversation. The chaos and confusion. We talked about a number of unrelated things, I'm sure, from the most popular gangster rap artist at the time to how much better a McDonald's quarter pounder with cheese sounded than the can of beans and spam we would heat over an open fire for dinner that night.
But here is what I do remember; I remember every word and every tear of how that conversation ended.
I remember Jimmy asking us if we wanted him to tell us what was really bothering him. I remember how quiet we got when he asked that. And not because of his words, but because of his cold and watery eyes. I remember when he took a step toward our lead counselor. He was no longer angry, but clearly was intent on making a point. He pointed his finger at the counselor, and with tears now streaming down his face, he asked him, "Do you have any idea what it is like to grow up without a father?"
A lump barged into my throat, crowding everything from my breathing to my thinking. Then Jimmy spun around until he located another counselor, the tears now beyond control. He asked him the same thing: "Do you have any idea what it's like to grow up without a father?"
I knew what was coming next. Jimmy looked at me. He pointed his finger at me. It looked like a missile firing my way.
"Do you have any idea what it's like to grow up without your father?"
You know, the truth is I didn’t. And until that moment, at 30 years old, I don’t think I’d ever stopped to consider it. I didn’t have to. My dad was always there. When you always have something, it makes it easy to live life overlooking what it means to be without it. In Jimmy’s tears I had the opportunity to see who I was in that moment was largely influenced by having a dad in my life. And everything Jimmy wasn’t - was rooted in the suffering he endured being without one.
Let me take you 12 years ahead in this message. I’m sitting in the waiting room of my wife Katie’s doctor’s office. She was about a week overdue with our first child. I was reading a golf magazine while a dozen or so pregnant women sat around me talking about what life was like being pregnant at their various stages of pregnancy. We’ll just say I felt a little out of place.
I didn’t have long to settle into my awkwardness, however.
I’ll never forget the look on Katie’s face when she came rushing through the waiting room – as much as a woman over 9 months pregnant can rush. She said, “you need to get me to the hospital.” Trust me, over the last 19 years I’ve heard her say to me “you need to” a million times – but this “you need to” will always be a little different. There was a sense of uncertainty and fear and urgency I’d never seen.
Fortunately, the hospital was right across the street and we were there in no time.
The next thing I remember with any real clarity is a team of doctors and nurses wheeling my wife away. They were all wearing the same looks of uncertainty and fear and urgency Katie had back at the doctor’s office. In that moment I said what I will always remember as the first real prayer of my life. Because in that moment all I could think to say is God I’m completely helpless here. I have no idea what to say other than I trust you with this one.
That moment has helped me understand that’s God’s favorite prayer from me: God my strength is nothing here - and yours is everything.
And I know God was with us in those next hours.
Relatively quickly it became clear that Katie was going to be fine, but there were more questions than answers when it came to our baby. He was ultimately put in a helicopter and flown from Morehead City to Pitt Memorial Hospital in eastern North Carolina where they had a very highly regarded neonatal intensive care unit – forever known to me as a NICU - the place where angels work.
I made what seemed like a weeks-long drive to get to our baby, who we'd named Elliott. When I got there, I was met by an older nurse. To this day I don’t know here name, but I’ll always remember her. I told her who I was and what I was doing there, and I was pretty anxious to find out how our son was doing. She clearly sensed that in me. So, she wasted no time in putting a hand on my shoulder and saying what to this day are the most comforting words I’ve ever heard:
She said, “honey, your baby’s going to be just fine.”
In the months leading up to having our first baby I always imagined how I was going to meet him. It was going to be a scene from the movies. The doctor hands the baby to mom and then mom hands the baby to me. As I walked with this nurse through this NICU, looking at incubator after incubator filled with tiny little babies all connected to wires and tubes, I realized that wasn’t going to be my meet my son scene. But I look back on the moment of meeting my son and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God choreographed every step of the walk and the introduction that was about to happen.
We stopped at an incubator in a far back corner of the room. She said there he is. There’s your son. I walked over to the incubator and looked down in it. As I did my eyes made contact with a pair of the most beautiful little eyes I'd ever seen. And in that moment, I was overwhelmed with a love unlike any love I’d ever felt before. All I could think to say in that moment was “hey pal, I’m your father.”
Here’s what I want you to know about those words and that moment. In that moment and to this day I hear the echo of those words.
“Hey pal, I’m your father.”
But the echo is no longer my voice. In that moment I felt and heard God say that as much as the love you feel for that child overwhelms you, my love for you is infinitely greater. In spite of whatever darkness you’ve lived in, are living in or will ever live in – I am your father.
A couple of years later I got to experience that echo again when our son Ian was born. Although Ian decided to arrive much more according to that movie script. From that moment on it’s never been lost on me that God could have chosen any role in our lives. He is God, after all. But he chose to be our father.
Ephesians 1:4-5 says: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will
You know, every time we say the Lord’s prayer, we acknowledge this adoption to sonship. When Christ taught his disciples how to pray, the first words he taught them to say was “our Father.” Think about that for a minute. This is the living, breathing son of God saying this is not just my father, this is our father. The father who decided long before we were ever born, the father who decided that in spite of all the imperfections we’ve had and will ever have, this is the father who longs to have us as his children.
Let me give you some things to think about in these stories.
You know, that young boy Jimmy, he, like all of us wants to belong. I believe an overwhelming amount of the collective human suffering in this world traces back to a lack of belonging. We want to belong to our parents and our family and our friends. We want to feel like the people who are closest to us in life value us and accept us. I believe God created that longing in us. He did so we’d keep pursuing it and following it until we hear the words “I am your father.”
Because the reality is the desire to belong never really gets satisfied short of God, no matter how much we feel like we belong to those around us. We keep pursuing it until we can feel the holiness and blamelessness talked about in Ephesians, until we can feel God's pleasure in calling us his children, until we can finally say "our Father who art in heaven." Then and only then does that longing get satisfied.
But if we never feel accepted by one another – we'll give up on that pursuit far short of our father in heaven.
Second, I’d like to repeat this: When you always have something, it makes it easy to live life overlooking what it means to be without it. One of the great mandates we have as children of God is to not get so comfortable in our own lives that we overlook the struggling and hurting going on in the lives around us. Going to sleep in a comfortable bed every night makes it easy to overlook we have brothers and sisters who don’t. Going to work every day and living with the security of a paycheck makes it easy to overlook we have brothers and sisters desperately looking for work. And sitting in church this morning surrounded by the love of family and each other makes it easy to overlook there are people around us looking for just someone – anyone – to share in their lives.
And finally. To dads. Especially young dads I guess. Being a dad is hard work. There are a zillion opportunities every day to ask; am I doing this dad thing the right or wrong way. If I ever have any advice for dads – and parents in general – it’s a lesson I first took from my dad. Just be there for your kids. When they screw up – be there for them. When they hit the home run or strike out – just be there. You’re going to say the wrong things a lot. Scream the wrong things a lot. Miss opportunities and overstep your role. But all that gets lost in the mind of a child who can simply count on you being there with love and understanding.
I will also remind you of this, dads. Our kids were born in the image of God, not in the image of us. And the sense of belonging our kids crave will never be satisfied by us. Our love, our being there for them, it's definitely one of the biggest clues, one of the biggest pointers they'll ever get when it comes to finding that ultimate love. But the biggest dad success story we can ever write is making sure they know a heavenly father adopted them long before we ever met them. Our goal isn't to make our kids think they can't live without us, it's to make them know they can't live without God. Our goal isn't to make our kids love us, it's to make sure above all that they love God.
In that they'll come to understand the message our heavenly father wants us to understand most on this Father's Day. That no matter who we are and what we’ve done, our heavenly father wants us to delight in the security of knowing he is there for us.
Happy Father's Day.
I'm convinced the most beautiful hearts in the world live in moms. Hey, I'm a dad, so it's not like I'm looking to short change us here. But being a dad has given me a front row seat to watching a mom's life. Most days I get up from that seat feeling incredibly awed. And honestly, I walk away from that seat a lot of times feeling like this dad's heart needs to be a little more like a mom's heart.
I watched a friend's kids play the other day. They had giant smiles on their faces. These smiles, they weren't just happy smiles. They were smiles that said I feel safe, I feel loved and I feel like I'm perfectly placed in a world where too many kids feel hopelessly out of place. I told this friend she's a good mom. I told her that her kids are complete reflections of the love she pours into them. Her response? She told me that's her job as a mom, to make them feel safe and loved.
I thought that was an odd response. Dismissively humble. The more I thought about it, though, the more I got what she was saying.
I think it's the mom in our house that helped me get it. Katie loves our boys with all her heart. And what she does so much better than the dad in our house is she loves them on the hard days. On those rare days when it's challenging to love them - not because they're more unlovable but because the rest of the world sucks the ability to love anything clean out of you - she never abandons the idea that it's her job to keep them feeling safe and loved.
Me, I'm afraid when parenting gets to feeling like a job, I disappear more often than his non-mom hearted dad likes to admit.
Do you want to know what our boys' favorite words are when mom's not home? They are, "Dad, when is mom getting home?"
I don't take it personal. They don't always ask because they're hungry, naked, unbathed or in need of immediate first aid from the pummelings unloaded on each other with xbox controllers all day. Often that's the case, but not always. There's just an inherent sense of security that fills the house when mom's home. Shoot, when Katie's not home, even the dog burrows himself under 7000 protective layers of half eaten cushions and frayed blankets only to emerge and pee in excitement at the front door the second her car pulls into the neighborhood entrance.
Don't get the wrong picture here. It's not like I'm a walking safety hazard of a dad. Social services might be interested in visiting us when I'm home alone with the boys, but I think they'd return to their offices without the kids. They might step in dog pee on the way out the door. They might shake their head a time or two and ask, "when is mom getting home?" But in the end I think I'd meet a standard that would keep me out of jail and the boys out of foster care. But I guess most days the boys are looking for a higher parenting standard than one that allows dad to keep custody of them.
From the time our boys were just seconds old Katie's met that standard. She's responded to their tears, bruises, and distresses of every kind. And Lord do I mean every kind. And it's not because dad can't do it, but because mom's are built with these hearts that tell them they are the only ones equipped to do it. Maybe it's part of the bond that happens when mom and kid hang out together for 9 months before anyone else in the world gets to lay eyes on that kid. All I know is "moms know best" isn't just a phrase moms use to keep dads from interfering in a mom's world. It's a mantra that lives front and center on the heart of almost every kid I've ever met.
I'm not useless. If there's a Lebron James dunk that just has to be seen or an Odell Beckham Jr. catch Madden 2018 can't for the life of it figure out how to replicate, you're going to here "dad, come here, you've got to see this!" But when it comes to our boys thinking they can actually fly like Lebron, miraculously snag balls out of the air like Beckham Jr., they get that from their mom. They get it when she reads to them every night before they go to bed. When she insists they read on their own every, single, day. The words in these books were once someone else's dreams. On the days when Katie is tired and would probably rather do a million other things, she refuses to skip these dreams being transferred to our boys.
I'm not useless. When the boys need disciplined, many times I'm the one to deliver it. But when the boys need heard in that discipline, when they don't want someone skipping the step of talking things out with them before handing down the sentence, they have their mom. You see, talking things out sometimes requires hard work. It takes a parent who understands this is my job. Some days I don't want to work, I just want to raise good boys. Katie, more often than I do, understands raising good boys is hard work. And she shows up every, single, day.
I'm not useless. I can laugh and wrestle and fart with the boys as good as any dad out there. I show these boys every day life doesn't have to be so serious. Thank God Katie's here to show them sometimes life is serious. You can't always fart or wrestle your way out of it. Katie shows up to her mom job every, single, day with a realness that keeps our boys rooted in the reality life is up and down, it's happy and frown, it's devil and clown. Life isn't about pretending the day is something it's not. It's about navigating the day with who we are and what we have and knowing beyond any doubt both are enough. Katie never lets our boys forget they are enough.
And I'm not useless - because I love God. And because I love God I was smart enough to listen to my wife when she said God wanted us to have kids. God's voice pouring into her turned into two sons pouring life into us. But returning that gift and pouring life into them requires a constant and steady heartbeat. One that pumps love and energy and hope every, single, day. It's not a good thing for any life when the heart decides to take a break. That's why God gave our family Katie. It's why God gave my family my mom when I was a kid. It's why God gave your family your mom.
Because mom's get it. Some days its a tough job to keep kids feeling safe and loved. They get there are no days off. And the way they honor that job, the ways they show up and do it in realness - every, single, day - that's the greatest expression of love I've ever had a chance to see.
That's why this is one special day. Happy Mother's Day to the mom who expresses that love in our house. Happy Mother's Day to the moms who do or have expressed it everywhere.
On January 18, 2014, I went for a run. I joined thousands of runners from across the country who were running to remember Meg Cross Menzies. Meg was a local woman who was hit and killed by a motorist while out on a training run for the Boston Marathon. I planned to run a few miles that day. I wanted my coming out of running retirement party to be a painlessly brief one.
That was my plan. But somebody else had a completely different plan.
In the four years since that run for Meg, I've run nearly 3,000 miles. I've run 2 marathons and 11 half marathons in 6 different states. I even ran a half marathon in the Cayman Islands. Last Friday, I celebrated my birthday by running 27 miles. My longest run ever. I'm not sure what happened there. Somewhere along the way I traded birthday beers for birthday miles. His plan, not mine.
I've conquered running milestone after running milestone. Every one of them has caught me off guard. In fact, for years I cursed the thought of milestones that pushed me even a single drop of blood, sweat or tears out of my comfort zone. And those crazy distance runners? I had a special kind of disgust for how lazy and uninspired they made the rest of us look.
But today, with each new milestone, I begin dreaming of the next challenge.
And somehow the next challenge has taken me from the relatively flat streets of my Ashland, Virginia home to the rocky and mountainous trails of northern Georgia. Because this coming September I'm headed off to run the Georgia Jewel.
The Georgia Jewel is a 17, 35, 50 and 100 mile trail race through northern Georgia mountains. There will be waterfalls, rocks, caves and gardens. And oh, there will be intense climbs that will make my previous 3000 miles feel like a runaway ride down a long hill in a red flyer wagon. Luckily. I'll only be running the 35 mile race.
Trust me, I never thought I'd use 35 miles and only to describe my running life.
Now this whole Georgia Jewel experience - you can call it crazy, fate or whatever you want to really. I call it God's crazy plan. Back in December I interviewed my good friend Jenny Baker on my TwoTim47.com podcast. And really, back then Jenny wasn't a good friend. She was a complete stranger. I was introduced to her online as a runner and didn't like to eat a lot of meat. At that time I was starting to admit I was a runner and was toying with the idea of giving up meat. An idea, by the way, I considered a thousand times more insane than I once considered the idea of running a marathon.
This is part of the online interview my friend Harvey Lewis did with Jenny that caught my eye:
1) In a sentence or two what do you love most about running?
Running allows me to connect my mind and my body which allows me a chance to hear what both are saying and benefit from the communication. While running I realize how strong and capable both are while also understanding what my body needs to function as I age. It's an incredibly empowering feeling!!
2) Are you vegetarian or vegan? How long? What motivated you to make the switch?
Franklin (my hubby) and I like to call ourselves "plant-based". After having my second kid, I felt physically slow and sluggish. My gut health was all over the place as was my energy level. I decided to cut meats and most animal products to see if it would help.
3) Has eating vegetarian impacted your athleticism? In what way?
It's affected my athleticism tremendously! After a few weeks of detoxing my body started responding positively. My energy level rose, I felt strong and faster and my gut health was way healthier (in other words my poop was awesome)! I worried about nutrition during my ultra runs and quickly realized a lot of the truths I believed about fueling my body for performance were really just unsubstantiated myths.
After reading that excerpt I knew I had to have Jenny on my show. She was a great interview. (Interview with Jenny Baker - Co-Author of War on Normal). Jenny's spirit is contagious. She lives to pour herself into others and that came out loud and clear in our interview. Ironically, though, one of the pieces of that interview that was only quietly mentioned and hardly featured was Jenny and her husband Franklin are the race directors of the Georgia Jewel.
You see what God's doing here now don't you?
I ran another marathon after I did that interview with Jenny. I also gave up meat and went on to run my fastest half marathon ever. And in the process I started obsessing over what's next. It had to be something bigger and further and seemingly more impossible than anything I'd ever taken on.
That thinking was constantly interrupted by a quiet voice - at least as quiet as Jenny Baker can get - saying Georgia Jewel. Georgia Jewel.
I interviewed Jenny recently to talk about my decision to make her race my first ultra marathon - (listen to our conversation here).
I asked Jenny what I might experience when I tackled this new challenge. In answering, she told me what she experienced in her first trail race. She said, "I remember feeling like a lost boy in Peter Pan. Truly, for the first time in running, feeling free and alive. And it was play."
She told me quite confidently, "You are going to have 35 miles of playing in the woods. You are going to feel like a kid again."
In starting to prepare for this race, I've taken my family on a few local hiking trips lately. It's my way of spending time with the family and secretly scouting places to train for this crazy adventure. As I've watched my boys in these settings I've begun to wonder if they might be pictures of my own Peter Pan moment Jenny seems to be predicting I'll experience on those trails in Georgia.
I've had a lot of people tell me. People have written it in the books I've been reading. They say once I run on the trails I'll never go back to running on the roads. I don't know how true that is. But after spending time on the trails the last couple of weekends I won't be surprised if that turns out to be the case.
The reality is God has called me into this running journey from day one. Every race I've run he's had a bigger plan for that race than I've had. I simply wanted to run, God greatly wanted to touch lives. Somewhere along the way I saw what he was up to. I started accepting his plan for my running as my own. Because I did, I find myself looking ahead to the Georgia Jewel and imagining what God has in mind. He usually doesn't give me many clues, but he doesn't seem to mind if I try to figure it out without them.
I read something lately that made me wonder if it might not be a part of God's plan for this race. In the article - Could Trail Running Be Your Church - Christian Hawley writes:
We need to feel small. We need to recognize we are part of something grander, and bridge the ever widening gap between a vague spirituality focused on the self, and Bible idolatry obsessed with a calcified point-of-view.
I've always freely shared that running has been a real spiritual journey for me. I've talked with God more the last 4 years while running than I did all the years of my life before then combined. The key is I talked with God, not at him. We talked a lot about what was going well in my life and not what I needed God to fix in it. I think he liked that, because he kept giving me things to do that made me love my life more. Most of the things he gave me to do had to do with loving more people around me.
There's a powerful scripture in the bible. Jesus is talking to his disciples who've demonstrated a lack of faith. He says to them:
"For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Jesus is very intentional here about giving us the imagery of one of the smallest things imaginable - a mustard seed - against the backdrop of a giant mountain. He makes this point that as small as we are, as little as we think we have, if we at least have our hearts pointed in his direction nothing in life is impossible.
Here is something I've learned, though, along this spiritual running journey I've been on. We have to go to the mountains in this life if we want to see him move them. Whether it's John's Mountain along the Georgia Jewel course, the homeless downtown or that person in your life you've never forgiven - if you're going to see those mountains move - you have to take your mustard seed sized dose of Jesus with you and go to that mountain.
I think that's what this Georgia Jewel is about. God wants me to feel like a mustard seed. He wants me to look up that long and seemingly impossible climb up that mountain. He wants me to feel like I don't have near enough. So that in the very moment I'm standing at the top of that mountain looking out over his beauty, his awesome and mysterious creation, he can say:
"I'm always enough. You bring your mustard seed, I'll pack the rest."
A year ago I stumbled across a study in my substance abuse prevention work. It was the adverse childhood experiences study. This study, in its simplest form, says the more trauma a young child experiences in their early years the more likely it is they will experience future mental, emotional and physical health challenges. Here's an awesome Ted Talk if you want to learn more about this connection between trauma and future health outcomes. (How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime)
Tonight, Oprah Winfrey will be on 60 minutes to discuss this connection. In advance of the story, Oprah says this about her own discovery of this connection between childhood adversity and future health:
"This story is so important to me and I believe to our culture that if I could dance on the tabletops right now to get people to pay attention to it, I would. It has definitively changed the way I see people in the world, and it has definitively changed the way I will now be operating my school in South Africa and going forward any philanthropic efforts that I'm engaged in," she said.
"What I recognize is is that a lot of NGOs, a lot of people working in philanthropic world, who are trying to help disadvantaged, challenged people from backgrounds that have been disenfranchised, are working on the wrong thing," Winfrey added.
While there have been plenty of job and training programs to help the disadvantaged, Winfrey said, "If you don't fix the hole in the soul, the thing that is where the wounds started, you're working at the wrong thing."
The shift in perspective comes down to what Winfrey calls a "life-changing question."
"See, we go through life and we see kids who are misbehaving. 'You juvenile delinquents,' we label them. And really the question that we should be asking is not 'what's wrong with that child' but 'what happened to that child?' And then having the resources to be able to address what happened to you. The most important question you can ask of anybody which is what I now say even for the Parkland [school] shooting – instead of what's the matter with that kid, I say what happened to that child?"
Intuitively, I've known this connection between trauma and poor health for almost 25 years. In the early 90s I entered into the lives of kids who'd experienced various forms of trauma. When I took a job as a counselor in a residential treatment center for at-risk kids, I thought I was entering into their lives to fix their whacked out behavior choices. In my mind, I was there to stop them from taking drugs, taking other people's belongings - and generally - to get them to stop treating everyone around them like crap.
I thought I was there to teach them, to bless them with the brilliant knowledge I held within me about having a perfectly put together life. Knowledge that would make them smart enough to make good choices instead of dumb ones. The most ridiculous part of this theory, I would soon discover, was how grossly I overestimated the perfectly put togetherness of my life.
When we grossly overestimate how well our own lives are put together, we can be grossly arrogant with our expectations of how other people should get theirs together.
One of the beautiful things about the program I worked in was when these young people made their whacked out choices, we talked about them. We started with the negative consequences of their choices and worked backwards to what on earth they were thinking and feeling when they did it. I'll save you about 13 years of stories and tell you more often than not we worked our way back to a kid who was hurting.
I'll never be able to shake the number of times we talked conversations back to kids who'd been neglected or abused, to kids who had parents in prison or parents they didn't even know. I found myself talking to kids who'd been suffering for years and were discovering for the very first time someone who was willingly taking the time to listen to their pain. Can you imagine what opens up when someone has held their pain in for 13 years and then suddenly stumbles into someone who says I want to hear about it? When they find someone willing to feel their pain with them. To believe it's real enough to share in it. For the first time they have a pain that isn't dismissed away as just another broken part of another screwed up kid.
When a kid starts talking about their hurting and another caring human being shares in it something powerful begins to happen. It always felt spiritual to me. But I'm telling you, I saw lives turn away from prison bound to dreams of hope and happiness in a single conversation. What I witnessed was young kids beginning to heal. I saw adults and kids around them begin to realize broken people don't need the brokenness in their lives sealed shut like leaky windows that let the cold of winter in. They need us to lovingly walk into that brokenness and listen and hug and I say I know you hurt.
Those conversations helped me realize how useless my self-perceived brilliance was and how powerful all the hugs were I'd received in my life.
When Oprah Winfrey says, "If you don't fix the hole in the soul, the thing that is where the wounds started, you're working at the wrong thing," boy does that hit home. It hits home to me, and my prayer is it's going to hit home to an entire country tonight.
So much of what we're doing to try to fix problems in this country is rooted in trying to fix people who don't need fixed. They need healed.
I was at a conference recently about the opiate overdose crisis. The Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Jerome Adams, said something that was profoundly simple, yet complicated beyond words. He said if we're ever going to get good at prevention, we're going to have to have a paradigm shift. That shift has to take our prevention efforts much closer to where people are hurting.
I walked away from there thinking he's right. But not just about preventing substance abuse. When you factor in the adverse childhood experiences study, his words could be used to talk about a paradigm shift to address all major health challenges in this country. Profoundly simple, right. Why so complicated?
Because we're good at developing programs and campaigns in this country and comparatively awful at searching for the holes in souls. Programs lean on brilliance like I once mistakenly thought I had. Holes in souls require relationships. Sometimes I fear we know that. We know if we discover someone hurting the only right answer is diving into someone's hurt with them. I often think we're far more willing to pay the high dollar price of programs to excuse ourselves from the sacrifice, the blood, sweat and tears required to take on someone else's pain.
I think we're also pretty quick to assume because we got through things in our lives everyone else should too. What that often discounts is the relationships we had by our side to "get through it." It wasn't until I had hurting young boys in my arms, sobbing away the pain of abandonment and neglect and worse, that I realized the army of love I'd always had at the back of my life. In those tears, I discovered how much love my family and teachers and coaches had poured into me in an effort to build a man who'd always be able to recover from hurting.
Resiliency is what helps us recover from hurting. But resiliency isn't about our ability to get tough, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Resiliency is our capacity to draw up from the depths of us the love that's been poured into our lives. If love's never been poured, there is no resiliency.
To be fair to you and to us, I'm not sure everyone understands the level of hurting in this country. When we watch the news, when we look around us, it's easy to see the level of poor choices and destructive behaviors. What we don't see is the hurting that's buried hundreds of layers beneath those behaviors. It's much easier to report a mass shooting, to write someone off as deranged and leave it at that, than it is to dig beneath the surface and discover a lifetime of hurting.
Let me be clear. Even when we discover hurting in the aftermath of a heinous mass shooting, it doesn't excuse anything. It doesn't erase or sadly heal the pain now inherited by the victims. It remains tragic and sad. What it does do, though, is help point us in the direction of healing a problem and not fixing it.
I suppose it sounds like I'm ranting. Maybe. But in it I'm asking a favor. Please watch Oprah tonight. When someone like Oprah, a woman who's devoted much of her life to helping people, says I've had it all wrong in my approach to helping, I think it's worth at least watching.
I get asked to be a part of a lot of things. My inclination used to be to say yes to all of them. Then I ended up with a schedule that left me halfheartedly servicing a bunch of yeses and very little time and passion tending to the things that mean the most to me. So I started saying no. And life got better.
After coaching both of our boys' football teams last fall, I said no to coaching basketball this winter. I love coaching. I love being around the kids - both mine and yours - but sometimes you just know when you need a breather. So I said no.
Then came the call. The all too common call: Keith, we don't have enough coaches.
Let me pause to editorialize for a minute. In Elliott's age group there were over 50 kids. When the call came to ask me to coach there were 4 coaches committed for the 6 teams. Four. And the four of them were the same folks who'd coached year after year after year for all the years we've been a part of the league. I don't know why that is. Plenty of good reasons, I'm sure. But my guess is while I'm working on saying no at least a few folks might work on saying yes? Maybe there's a comfort zone issue, but our kids need us outside our comfort zone not in it. And if it's an "I don't know enough about basketball deal" - you're talking to the wrong guy. Thank God for YouTube!!
So I said yes. Mainly after our dear friend and fellow coach Mary Chris Luck agreed to share the responsibilities with me. She's awesome with the kids and shares my competitive fire.
At the beginning of the year we started with one simple philosophy. Guys, we're going to outwork everybody we play. I don't know if we'll beat any of them, but we're going to outwork them. That means we're going to get more steals and rebounds than everyone else. And because we're going to get more steals and rebounds, we're going to take more shots than everyone else. I don't care if you make them, just shoot them. On the days more of those shots go in than others, we're going to win. It's that simple boys.
Like I suggested above. When it comes to basketball I'm not smart enough to out-strategize anyone. I'm also a believer at this young age of teaching the boys things that are useful in all sports and all areas of life. Hard work and hustle aren't skills, they are attitudes. Attitudes that say you might beat me today, but it won't be because you worked harder than me.
I'm not sure I've ever had a team cling to that attitude better than this group of kids. Because they did, we won a bunch of games. We also lost some.
Our season closed last Saturday against one of the better teams in the league. The game came down to the final possession. I called a time-out. One of the boys in the huddle looked at me and said, "my heart is racing." I thought, be thankful you're not 53, son. I'm living on the edge of cardiac arrest right now. But I loved that. 10 and 11 year old boys with racing hearts. Sitting on the outer edges of hard work and hustle and on the verge of feeling it translate into a victory.
When they came running off the court with their arms raised, fist bumping and chest bumping each other, I knew "yes" is still the right answer from time to time. Especially when it comes to spending time with kids. They keep me young. They keep my heart racing. They keep me reminded that in a society that places a lot of emphasis on education and learning, there's still a lot of value in hard work and hustle.
Coach Mary Chris told the boys after the game that even if we'd lost that still would have been a great game and we'd have been proud of them. That is the absolute truth. Win or lose, I think we'd both be happy to hang with these hard working guys any day of the week.
OK, so maybe I do have some skills!!