June 7, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I am not a yard guy. When I give someone directions to my house, I usually cap off the details with, “Look for the highest grass and the most toys in the yard.” In some neighborhoods, apparently unwritten rules exist for lawn care creating all sorts of fertilizer fueled competition. Fortunately for me, my neighbor and I usually compete to see who can go the longest without mowing. One year, we sponsored a field trip for a kindergarten class and made $20 a head for a safari tour through the elephant grass in our backyard. The teacher seemed a little put off by the souvenir machetes we gave the kids. So uptight…
Although my general lawn maintenance has gotten a little better in recent days, our front flower beds have been a trouble spot that Jude and I have avoided for years. When we moved into our little old farmhouse 12 years ago, the elderly lady that was the owner, had recently passed away. However, she left behind a house surrounded by foliage and beautiful flowers. She obviously had a green thumb.
Well let’s just say that over the years, Jude and I have run a nursing home for plants. As in, they come to us to quietly finish out their leafy life. Apparently we have a black thumb. The front flower bed has taunted me for a number of years with its overgrown bushes, roses, hostas and even a flower filled tree. This past Saturday Jude and I jumped in and dug out everything, and I mean everything. It was not fun. It was not easy. We dug, hacked, hoed, pulled, tilled, sweated, bled, got covered in dirt and repeated this process for hours.
Our last major hurdle was a small, but deep rooted tree that we attacked in a cumbersome combination of Jude standing on the base to hold it to the ground while I hacked at the exposed roots with a large metal pick tool.
As I whacked the root over and over, it occurred to me that if I had simply done this three years ago, the roots on the tree and its vegetative colleagues would never have been so thick and rooted in the ground. The removal process would have required effort, but not like the teeth gritting frustration we experienced.
Isn’t that the same issue we face in our own hearts? I know that I have seen personal development spiritually over the years. But there are some areas, some little flower beds in the yard of my heart, that need some extra care. What about you?
The longer we wait to go after heart problems like anger, bitterness, jealousy, pride or fill in the blank, the more work we’ll face when removing them. Every day we wait, their roots grow a little thicker and dive a little deeper until their presence becomes an unwanted fixture. Their seeming permanence becomes the new normal. Not only do they become difficult to root out, but when they are removed, it is more damaging to the surrounding environment due to digging deeper and wider.
How do you clean out stubborn heart issues? Get some help. It’s hard to do this kind of work alone. Acquire the right tools, you’ll need several. Don’t put it off. It’s worth it. When you’re finished, the unwanted garbage will be on the rubbish pile, and there will be fresh soil to plant something beautiful.
Simple but not easy.
June 3, 2013 § Leave a Comment
For those of you who enjoy writing, I’ve found a little tool you might like. It’s called Focus Writer.
It’s a simple program that grays out your screen so the only things visible are a cursor and your words. Usually when I publish something like this, my wife will roll her eyes and mutter about how behind the curve I am. Regardless of my uber chic forward thinking bride, maybe you haven’t seen Focus Writer.
There exists a plenitude of cool writing products on the market, and up to now, I’ve simply used a Word doc. However, I thought it was time to try something to block the visual distractions from my screen. If you’re like me, you can be riding an enterprising train of thought one minute, then respond to an email…which sucks me into an email update from REI…at REI I click on an Outdoors Magazine ad…that takes me to a video of skydiving… which leaves me unattended on YouTube. Next thing you know, I’ve written one paragraph and watched two hours of People Are Awesome videos. By the way, have you seen those videos? [I just sensed my wife’s ocular muscles preparing for a counter clockwise orbit as I typed that. GRIN]
Focus Writer has free themes, word counts and tools that push you to write certain numbers of words per day. Or you can clock your writing time. Either way, it’s a simple program designed solely for writing. It even has an optional setting that allows your keystrokes to sound like you’re typing on a typewriter, if you’re into that vintage typewriter thing, but can’t find new ribbon ink. Whereas Word docs can make you feel like you’re pumping out policies when you are trying to be creative, FW’s clean appearance and streamlined features keep one goal on your mind. Content creation.
I’ve only been using it for a week or so, but it seems fairly helpful. So if you’re writing a bit and want a distraction free monitor, check out Focus Writer.
May 23, 2013 § Leave a Comment
I took Emerson, my precocious eight year old son, to an estate auction last week.
A kind old pastor had recently been promoted to the special section of Heaven reserved for Baptists…think angels with comb-overs passing out hard candy at the door. Em and I sat patiently for more than three hours looking for deals. I really wanted a trailer, but we had to wait awhile as they sold off small goods.
If you haven’t been to an auction recently, let me refresh your memory. The lead auctioneer fires off bid announcements in non-descript staccato babble that sounds something akin to a three year old attempting repeated Swahili phrases with a gumball in his mouth. You’ll catch an alphanumeric occasionally that signifies where the bidding may or may not be, as the auctioneer always starts the bidding for someone’s Goodwill items at about 50% above retail. Don’t nod, or you may pay $35 for a used toothbrush.
The process is fast and furious as assistants from two sides hand the auctioneer items. He quickly describes the junk, and then initiates a bid. As soon as some habitual hoarder buys the treasure that will finish sealing off the doorway to their third bedroom, the assistant passes the auctioneer a new item. Then he’s off to the races, speaking a language that would make a Pentecostal proud. The auctioneers have it figured out. To keep an audience, they sell all of the decent and/or higher priced items at the end, i.e. the trailer I was interested in. Meanwhile the landfill is being deprived of its rightful booty.
I can’t tell you that I didn’t get frustrated and antsy as the list devolved. At one point, the auctioneer, who was wearing a mic connected to large speakers, was handed a box by his assistant. He tried to whisper, but alas, the mic projected his comment for 200 people to hear. He said, “Who would want to buy that?” And with a noticeable sigh, he turned and began the bidding at $5. True story. Fortunately there were a number of folk present who appeared to simply enjoy the bidding process and the victory of winning.
Well, my story is not about Baptists, as funny as they (we) are, or auctioneers, as funny as they are, or even hoarders, as funny as they are. My little story is capped off with something fundamentally refreshing.
We finally left after three and half long hours and no trailer. As we walked to our car, I said, “Well Emer, what did you think of your first auction?” I assumed he had been bored to tears. Nope. He replied, “I had a great time, Dad. I climbed on tractors, drank Sprite, locked old men in the Port-a-Potty and spent time with you.” (#3 is a separate story)
Ah…the intangible, untouchable but immeasurable memory embedded in Emerson’s heart. I spent time with you. In my mind, I had wasted my morning. In Emerson’s mind, he had spent the morning hanging out with his Dad. Just a simple reminder that time spent with my kids is an investment that always pays dividends.
Simple but not easy.
May 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
As a male I’m on the outside looking into the motherhood community. While I’ve had a part in helping my wife become a mother, the depth of motherhood supersedes biology. And so I’ve become an observer to this unique role…Mother.
One of the things I’ve noticed, and I’ve had to take one for the team to learn this, is the ease with which mothers trade their birthing war stories. Right guys? You can be enjoying lighthearted banter with a mixed group of friends when all of a sudden subjects like effacement, dilation and epidurals wash up like flotsam on the pristine beaches of your conversation. This is usually my cue to “check on something”, but honestly there is elemental identification among women who have gone through the energy sapping cell creation of the first trimester to the final painful surges of delivery. Although ladies like to share too much bodily information about this little subsection of motherhood, their Creator granted identity as the progeny miracle bearers must be observed and revered.
Another observation is that motherhood’s ocean is deep and wide, and cannot be condensed to a birth experience. My close friends who have adopted, and my sister who is fostering two kids are navigating motherhood’s open seas despite the fact they have not carried those children in utero. Being a mother is a matter of the heart, not the body. It is a calling that carries momentum through each waypoint of the life of their children.
This deep longing drives mothers to press on in spite of physical and emotional fatigue. This deep calling trains, nurtures, loves, weeps, goes sleepless, washes mounds of laundry, shops for groceries, clothes and bookbags, and the list goes on. Yet this repetitious enervation, perhaps legitimate drudgery some days, is superseded by the wonder of a mother with her children. Like the towering transcendence of grace over its arch nemesis sin, so the wonders of motherhood crush its weariness.
Does she operate like a sleepwalker during the early days of midnight feedings? Yes. All for the joy of a few coos. Does she get frustrated when a son tracks mud in the house? Yup. But what delight she feels when that same son gives her unsolicited hugs and kisses. Does she pry open her eyelids with toothpicks after a night with a puking kid? Of course. But the warmth of a snuggle with that little one provides just enough recharge to get up once again.
This short post can’t scratch the proverbial surface of motherhood. But I want to honor moms as a beneficiary. From my amazing grandmothers to my own mom who is a veritable case study of perseverance through trials, I’ve been blessed personally by women who saw their responsibility to their children and grandchildren as a high calling. I’ve also married a woman who views being a stay at home mom as a blessed freedom.
As a man, I can only marvel at motherhood’s untamable power and incomparable dignity. It’s ability to press forward, to nurture, and to impart wisdom. The twinkle of her eye, the touch of her head on a child’s feverish forehead, the tenderness only momma’s voice carries. To be a mother is a magnanimous honor. Much love to all of you ladies who give your lives for your kids and grandchildren. And to my wife, the mother of my three sons…you are simply the best!
Happy Mother’s Day!!
Simple but not easy.
May 6, 2013 § 1 Comment
WOW!! I really stepped in it!! As a husband, father and leader of my home, it is my responsibility to model a lifestyle of humility, service and love. Alas, I don’t always do this. Believe it or not, I’m not perfect. I know a few of you will be completely shocked, but get used it.
Recently I had the occasion to be in a foul mood early in the morning. Nobody’s doing really, just oozing frustration. Note that I’m not saying there was a reason to be in a foul mood, just an occasion. The best part of it was that there were people I love in close enough proximity for me to share my attitude. Sharing’s good right?? It was amazing, in fact, downright impressive. Within a two minute stretch I was able to hurt the feelings of not one, but all four of the members of my beloved immediate family.
One observed quietly. One cried. One steamed. And one started a conversation with their imaginary friend. (Yea, Jude’s gotten a little strange. J/K She actually rebuked me like a strong wife should.) It started with kid stuff. Running and roughhousing until someone sustained an injury. But it spiraled into much more. There were two things I observed.
First, I had no reason, absolutely no reason to be mad. One of my sons had done something I had asked him not to do, but disciplining in anger is futile and rather damaging. I needed to be in control of my emotions. Instead, I fired off a few cannons in his direction. And as in any situation involving artillery, there was collateral damage. That included the next son, then the third, and somehow my lovely bride.
In situations like this it’s easy to justify spitting venom. “I did/said ________________ because they did/said _______________.” Except, nobody makes me do anything. My reactions are my reactions. And in this case, my sons didn’t make me mad. I allowed myself to be mad and raised my voice. No one made me fire off. My tongue is mine. If I blame my meltdown on them, then I’m really saying I’m too weak to control myself.
My second observation gutted me. I saw the hurt in their eyes. I actually saw them watching me. So what did I communicate? Well, I suppose it’s possible they’ll quit tearing through the house like a scalded dog. That was the basic content of my tirade…quit running in the house, you may start a conflict with North Korea or cause some other global catastrophe. But what I really imparted was, “I’m a slobbering tyrant and jerk. I’m bigger and stronger than all of you. So shut up and keep me happy!” What I said, and what I conveyed was vastly divergent. What they learned was dads must intimidate to keep things in order. Training, teaching, caring and loving aren’t enough.
Why tell this story? For one, our social media platforms generally present a contrived world of pseudo awesomeness where every picture is a good angle, every kid comment is hilarious, and every event in which we participate is transcendent. What I’ve given you is raw and real.
Secondly, this whole thing put me in the position, unenviable for my ego, to teach a real lesson to my family. I sat them down and explained that I was wrong, and that I jack things up. I quietly apologized without excuses, asked for forgiveness for my temper and hardness, and expressed my love through words and hugs and kisses. While this doesn’t make up for my outburst, I sure hope they’ll observe a Dad/Husband who admits weakness, wrongdoing and knows how to humble himself and change.
Simple, but not easy.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city. Proverbs 16:32
May 2, 2013 § 2 Comments
I hope that one of my sons tackles Mount Everest one day, well sort of. The boys and I have just finished three seasons of Discovery Channel’s Everest: Beyond the Limits. Thanks Netflix. Discovery followed the experiences of climbers who embarked with Himex, the world’s premier Himalayan mountaineering logistics company. While the reality producers fabricated some 8000 meter drama, much of the fear, pain and hardship faced by the climbers seemed legit.
To climb mountains of such scale is hard to fathom, especially for those of us on the east coast. The highest mountain east of the Mississippi is Mount Mitchell at 2037 meters. The Colorado Rockies are known for their 4000+ meter peaks. But at Everest, the base camp is established at 5600 meters. The dangers of wind, bottomless crevasses, -40 degree temperatures, dysentery, snow blindness, pulmonary edemas, altitude sickness and the general bodily destruction that occurs above 7300 meters — what is referred to as the Death Zone – are enough to keep most sane people jogging the pathway at their local park.
In fact, though the numbers are hard to nail down, only about four thousand people have climbed to the Summit and back successfully. What is interesting is that with new technology and skilled guides, over the last five years, the two main paths up Everest have become a virtual logjam of tourist climbers. So while not everyone is literally climbing Everest, relatively speaking, “everyone is climbing Everest” these days. Climbing such a mountain remains a hairy and audacious goal. However, what I like is the guys who tried something a little different. In 1963, two guys ascended the West Ridge. Instead of walking steep hills, and using ladders to go up rock faces, they left what some refer to as the cattle path, and literally attacked the mountain with high altitude technical climbing. To put it in perspective, only 5 guys have ever summitted that route, while 9 have died trying. That’s a 180% fatality rate.
I’ll admit, I’m too afraid of heights these days to even consider gambling at a casino like Everest. But I can’t help but admire those who go up, especially the guys who leave the fairly simple beaten paths up the North and South Cols. Simple but not easy, but not easy of course. GRIN.
One of the conclusions I tried to impress on my sons is not that they should be adrenaline junkies, though I like that…and all of the cool mountain gear. I pointed out the people that make a living doing something they love. Look at the guides and the outfitters, even the base camp doctors. They’re not crammed in a cubicle going blind linking Excel worksheets. They are on the side of the world’s highest rock formation, and getting paid to do it. In other words, you don’t have to be like everyone else. You don’t have to take the path everyone else does. In fact, the most daring feats are accomplished by leaving the banal in search of the breathtaking. Climb the West Ridge route.
Simple but not easy.
April 26, 2013 § Leave a Comment
When was the last time you did something adventurous? Seriously. Can you remember the last time when your heart pounded and you lost your breath because of taking a risk? Endorphins race, adrenal glands fire, serotonin surges, and testosterone flows.
What a natural rush. Taking risks and engaging adventure will scare you to death, and then force an intense grin across your mug. Are you cheating death? Nope. You’re pushing your limitations and testing the edge. Now ask yourself, am I teaching my children how to stretch themselves? If you don’t have kids yet, who are you helping to stretch themselves?
I’ve found that most people grip the notion of safety so tightly they’ve lost the exhilaration of speculative adventure. A good friend of mine was explaining how when he coaches softball, sometimes the kids make errors because in the game, their hearts pound, their minds become nervous, and they’ve never experienced that before. A high pressure situation literally limits physical motor capabilities…until you experience it…repeatedly…and work through it.
I circle back to this supposition regularly because I think it important. The concept of adventure needs to be ingrained in our children, our students, the next generation. We have to allow them, and often intentionally, we have to put them in situations that create unknown outcomes. Situations that test their mental and physical strength, their fortitude and will power. We have to help them navigate uncharted territory that combines physical and mental demands. By injecting mild hazards into their lives, the heart pounding adrenaline rushes become a normative construct, and not only will they adapt, but they’ll learn to thrive.
My buddy Robbie is a hunter’s hunter from a family of hunters. He loves it, and his oldest daughter, Katie, loves it too. (Katie is, gulp, 15, which makes me feel OLD.) Last fall, Katie arose early, while Robbie was at work, in other words…alone, and ventured into the crisp morning air to climb a deer stand on their property. Her diligence paid off when she knocked down the biggest buck anyone in her entire family of hunters had ever shot. Not only that, she pulled the 200 lb animal almost all the way home. For you Surry County boys reading this, remember her dad is a big fireman with a lot of guns, a lot of land, and a number of shovels…so don’t get any ideas.
My point is that Katie was able to take down the big buck alone because of the extensive time Robbie has spent putting her in the situations to know how to handle herself. This wasn’t a fluke, or luck or happenstance. She was prepared. And whether she knows it or not, she is prepared for a lot of tough situations in life because of the investment Robbie has made to teach her humble self-confidence.
Adventure will include pain. Accept it. Our five year old, Alden, acquired his first Swiss Army Knife this past week and proceeded to cut himself a few times. I don’t want him to cut his hand, or fall out of a tree, or off a trampoline. But I would much rather my kids go to the ER to get some stitches, than to the physical therapist because they have tendonitis in their thumbs from playing video games.
Take a second and look at your palms. Go ahead, give them a once over. Do you see any callouses? Cuts? Scabs? Scars? I have to admit that for a season in my life, I was much more accustomed to holding an Iphone than a knife, tapping on a laptop versus using a rope to climb, navigating an Xbox controller versus navigating a trail. When Robbie started threatening to teach my sons the Man Arts, I realized it was my responsibility to get them outdoors; to paint them a landscape of adventure and catalyze the exploration of their personal limitations. His example was motivational!
If we want a future generation of men and women who can sustain stress, failure, pain, obstacles and tragedy, and keep moving forward, we must prepare them now. Unblazed trails are tamed by pioneers. Raise your kid to be a leader not a lemming.
Simple but not easy.