The Present


I’ve been working hard lately on this idea of being present where I am at.  It is so easy to get caught up in the next text message that comes through on the cell phone, “checking in” on Facebook when I’m out, or becoming focused on describing an experience in 140 characters or less so I can make it tweet-worthy.  Don’t get me wrong – I love social networking and I believe it is a powerful force for good, but I’ve noticed that too often I miss what’s going on around me for the sake of trying to preserve it for other people to experience by reading about on Facebook or Twitter.

This weekend I had the honor and privilege to take both my daughters out on very special Daddy-Daughter dates.  This past Monday Celeste, my 3 year old, and I attended our local Chick-fila for their annual Daddy-Daughter night.  I had to make a reservation a couple of weeks ago, and when I “asked her on a date” last weekend she was so excited.  I picked her up straight from work, and the two of us arrived at the restaurant (she in her fancy, red and black dress and me in my fancy work clothes).  I gave my name to the hostess, who then escorted us to a reserved table and we ordered chicken nuggets, french fries, and chocolate milk from the server (well, I had tea instead of milk :)).  We chatted and talked for about 15-20 solid minutes about her day, about my day, and about our plans for the rest of the evening.  Then we found out there was a limo ride!

So when it was our turn, Celeste and I got into the stretch-SUV limo, rode in it to the local convention center (about 1/2 a mile), and they dropped us off.  Once inside we did a craft project (making a ring), had our picture taken, then got back into the limo to return to the restaurant.  The entire time I made a point to not check my cell phone because I wanted to just spend time with her (though I think I took about 4 pictures); at the end of the evening we went out to one of our favorite frozen-yogurt places for desert.

Tonight Chloe (five) and I got to go on our date – this time to the Daddy-Daughter Dance put on by American Heritage Girls (which she joined this past fall).  She got all fancied up (Melissa did her hair and nails and I got her a corsage), I put on a suit, and we arrived at the location right at 6:30 when it started.  As we walked in she said, “Daddy, what do we do at a Daddy-Daughter Dance?”  Then, for the next two hours, she found out!  We danced (if you could call it that) fast songs and slow songs (at one point she looked at me when we were “slow dancing” and asked, “Daddy, are we waltzing?”).  Again, I tried to make a point of not looking at or using my cell phone while we were there (okay, I used it once, when she said, “I want to dance by myself and you sit her” to make a comment on Facebook about the music).  One thing I noticed, though, was that I was so focused on her and having fun with her that the thought of picking up my phone – even to take pictures – rarely crossed my mind; I found myself more interested in making a memory than taking a picture of a memory I was missing. (granted, it helped that I knew there were photographers all around taking pictures for us, but every time I thought “I need to get a picture of this” I literally found myself saying, “I don’t have time, because it will only distract me from her”).

I love spending time with my girls – partly because they’re just fun to be with, and partly because I really believe it’s important for them and for me.  Several weeks ago Chloe was playing Legos when I woke up from my nap (yes, I fell asleep and she was awake!), and so I went to see what she was doing.  I sat down and just watched her and chatted with her (even though I “needed” to be doing some other things, like fold laundry and read homework), but when she said, “Daddy, will you play with me?” I immediately said, “Sure – I’d love to play with you.”  So often – and I’m as guilty of this as the next person – we get distracted from what’s really important for what “needs” to be done.  When Chloe asks me a question like, “Daddy, when I get sick does that mean God’s up in heaven saying, ‘Hey – Chloe needs to be sick – so bam! now she’s sick’?” or Celeste climbs in my lap to “tell me a secret” (which is generally something along the lines of “Daddy, I love you sooooooooooo much”, I have to believe that one of the reasons they feel comfortable doing so is because we’ve spent time together.  Time together doing Legos and swinging at the park, and time together going out on Daddy-Daughter dates.

I get discouraged easily about families in my line of work (public schools) because I see so many kids without fathers, or from homes where they spend more time with a TV than they do with a person.  But tonight, holding Chloe and dancing to Cinderella by Steven Curtis Chapman, I was encouraged to see a room full of Dads pouring into their daughters’ lives.  I was on that “dance floor” with dozens of other guys, and I could see them moving their mouths to the words, I could hear them around me singing the lyrics to the song, as they did the same thing I did – danced with their Cinderella.

Why do I do it?  Why do I take the time to take the girls out on dates?  It used to be simply so that some day when some guy comes up to them and asks them out, they’ll know what a date should look like and how a guy should treat a girl.  But I’ve come to realize it’s more than that – it’s about investing in them, spending time with them, and letting them know they are cherished and loved – that they are special.

And one way to do that is being present where they are when they are.  It’s more than just taking them out one on one; it’s about focusing on them, turning off the cell phone, and just being present.  I realize I don’t need to tweet about it, I don’t need to check-in on Facebook about it – at least not while it’s going on – because when I do that I’m ultimately not doing it for them, but I’m doing it for me as a way to say, “Look how good a Dad I am.” to all the people who follow me (many whom I barely know).  I’m robbing from them to feed my own ego.

Yet we do it all the time – I do it all the time.  I do it with my kids when we’re playing at the park and I’m checking email, I do it with my wife when she’s trying to talk and I’m texting at the same time, I do it at my job when I’m trying to read an email while talking on the phone and responding to a question via Google chat, I even do it to God when I’m praying and I start thinking about other things instead of focusing on Him.  I need to just stop – stop and be present.  And, at least on two occasions this week, I did.

I would encourage you to do the same.  Just be where you are at when you are there – don’t worry about sharing the experience with everyone else in the world while it happens, focus on sharing it with the ones you’re with and share it with others later.  And, yes, that includes putting down the camera phone and just making the memory – don’t try to record everything, simply experience it.  That way when you think back on it and remember it you’ll remember the experience, rather than remember taking the picture of the experience you wish you had been involved in.  Stop standing on the sidelines and get in the game.  I’m not great at it – not even sure I’m any good at it most of the time – but I can tell you it’s the best place to be.

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The Faith of a Child


I pray that God gives me the level of faith that my children have!  A couple of weeks ago we realized Celeste was having difficulty hearing us, so we scheduled a doctor’s appointment and had her hearing checked.  After a visit to the pediatrician’s office we discovered that she has 100% hearing loss in one ear (for the record, we’ve now been to the specialist and it is 100% reversible, so don’t go freaking out on me!)

Anyway… The day we first found out we decided to have a chat with Chloe after dinner to let her know that Celeste may have trouble hearing her at times because one of her ears “isn’t working so good” (we didn’t go into a whole lot of detail – she is only four).  But here’s the point of this entire story… Chloe looks at Melissa and I, and with the most matter-of-fact tone says, “Well, we just need to pray for Jesus to heal Lestee’s ear. He can do that.  He has the power.  We just need to ask him.”  Then she walked away and started to play in her kitchen.

Yea, it really was that blunt and that simple.  Why didn’t I think of that?

No pun intended, but “He who has ears, let him hear” comes to mind… Why is it we adults (translation: I) allow so much to muddy our view of God?  Why is it we (translation: I) can’t just see God for who he is?  Why is it that we (translation: I) get so worried and bent out of shape by what, in the scope of eternity, is really a minor issue?  Chloe not only didn’t let this news destroy her day, but, more importantly, she knew why it didn’t need to destroy her day: Jesus was watching out for her sister, which meant she didn’t have to.

Oh to have the faith of a child.

Train Up a Child


My children are not perfect by any stretch of the imagination – just last night we had an incident.  But today I was reminded of two verses while I listened to them playing…  Solomon advises us in Provers to “Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older they will not leave it.” (22:6), and Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.”  It is never too early to teach your children the truths of scripture – my girls are 4 and 2, and we’re already seeing dividends.

Here’s what happened…  This morning I woke up feeling very sick.  I stayed in bed for awhile, then got up and took a shower to see if that helped me feel better, but it actually exhausted me so I went and laid back down.  We decided to skip Sunday School so I could sleep until church started.  While I lay there in the bed I could hear the girls playing in their room (which is adjacent to ours).  Not sure what happened, but they must have bumped into each other because I heard Chloe say, “I’m sorry, Lestee, for bumping into you.  Will you forgive me?”  And Celeste replied, “I forgive you.”  Then they continued playing.

Then a little later Chloe went in to the bathroom and Celeste went in there, too (what is it about girls having to go the bathroom together!?!?!?).  Melissa went in to check on them and I could hear Chloe say, “What’s wrong with Daddy?”  Melissa said, “He’s not feeling good.”  So Chloe said, “Then we need to pray for him.”  And I could hear them all praying together that Jesus would make me feel better (and it wasn’t Melissa leading them in prayer, it was Chloe leading them :))

Finally, this afternoon after church I laid down on the couch to take a nap before the annual church Fall Festival.  After my nap I still didn’t feel good so I decided to stay home while Melissa took the girls.  Celeste came in and asked, me, “Daddy, you go to fall festival?”  I said, “No, sweetie, Daddy doesn’t feel good.” She replied, “Daddy not feel good?  What not feel good?”  I said, “My tummy.”  She replied, “I wanna pray for you.”  So she grabbed my hand and said, “God our Father, God our Father” (prayer she sings to the tune of Frere Jacques), “Please make Daddy’s tummy feel better.  Amen.”

It was that simple, and that sweet.  Today I got to witness three little fruits from all that Melissa and I have invested in our girls.  We have a long way to go, but it’s days like this that remind me there is no greater joy in life than family.

A Bedtime Experience to Remember


Last night was one of those nights God decided to speak to me and teach me something through a two year old.  I’ll be honest and say that some of my readers may find this story unbelievable, or try to explain it away in a non-supernatural way, but I’ll just start by saying that if you feel that way I just see it a little differently…

Last night after Awana I brought the girls home while Melissa went out with a friend for some girl-bonding-time (whatever it is women do when they go out!)  I was putting my girls to bed and had both in my lap after reading a story and we prayed and then rocked.  You need to understand that lately Celeste has really been struggling with the transition from the rocking chair to the bunk bed – she wants to rock, but then she wants in her bed, then she wants out of bed to rock again, then she wants me to lay with her… You get the drift.  Anyway, I’ve been trying to train her than once she says she’s done rocking and is ready to go to bed then she can’t decided to get back in my lap again.  Last night we prayed and then were rocking, and after a few minutes Celeste said, “I’m ready for bed” and went to get down.  I said, “Are you sure you’re ready, because once you get in bed you have to stay there.”  She said yes and jumped down out of my lap.   This is a pretty normal evening routine for us, but then she walked only two or three steps and stopped.  She looked at me and said, “Daddy, I want more rock.” and came back.  Since I had told her that once she gets in bed she can’t get back in my lap I decided to not fight with her and let her back in my lap (something told me I needed to let her sit in my lap again).

Then she said, “Daddy, I no want horse get me.”  I said, “You don’t want the horse to get you?”  “No, Daddy, I no want horse get me.  I want pink pillow.  Pink pillow keep horse away.”  I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, so I looked over and Chloe’s toy horse (which was pink) was on the floor under the dresser.  I said, “Are you talking about that horse?  You don’t want Chloe’s horse to get you?”  “No, Daddy, I no want black horse get me.”  I said, “The black horse?  I don’t see a black horse.”  “No, Daddy, I don’t want black horse get me.  I want pink pillow.  Pink pillow keep black horse away.”

Chloe then said, “She’s talking about her rocking horse in the shed.”  (which is blue, not black).  I said, “Celeste, are you talking about the rocking horse?”  “NO, Daddy, I no want BLACK horse get me.”  Then I started hearing these questions come to my mind to ask her….  “Sweetie, do you see a black horse?”  “Yes, Daddy.  I no want Black Horse get me.”  “Where do you see the black horse, Celeste?”  “Right there, Daddy.  I know want Black Horse get me.”  And she pointed towards the ceiling fan and was staring up there.  “Celeste, do you see a black horse up there by the fan?”  “Yes Daddy, I no want Black Horse get me.”

At this point I could hear all sorts of thoughts in my head – it was like the Holy Spirit was giving me the questions to ask Celeste up to this point, and then I heard in my head this thought that said, “Children can often see things that you can not.  Trust her.”  So I said to Celeste, “Celeste, do you want to pray for Jesus to take the black horse away?”  “Yes, Daddy, pray Jesus make Black Horse go away.  I no want Black Horse get me.”  Mind you, the entire time this conversation was going on she kept looking up at the ceiling where she had pointed to the fan and then back at me.

So we prayed.  We prayed that Jesus would make the Black Horse go away.  We claimed his power and blood over our house, over the room, over the girls, and we told the Black Horse that he was not welcome at our house and that in the name of Jesus he needed to leave.  After we finished praying I looked at Celeste and said, “Do you feel better now?”  and she replied “Yes”.  Then she turned her gaze away from me and looked straight at the fan (where she had kept pointing to) and her face lit up with a HUGE grin and she said (practically shouted), “Daddy!  Black Horse Gone!  Where Black Horse go?”  “I don’t know, sweetie, but he’s left.  Jesus made him leave because we asked him to keep us safe.”  She said, “But where Black Horse GO?”  “Outside, sweetie, Jesus made him go outside.  Do you feel better now?”  “Yes.  Maybe Jesus send Black Horse to see Bullseye” (the horse from Toy Story!)

Now I know some people will say this was all just an over-active imagination, and perhaps it was.  But want I want to communicate is that Celeste doesn’t have a developed imagination like this – she doesn’t have imaginary friends (at least not yet), and she doesn’t make-believe with anyone but herself – the most she’ll do is rock Baby Doll to sleep or give Baby Doll a bottle, but she never has imaginary stories like this (Chloe on the other hand, she likes to imagine all sorts of stuff – and I LOVE that she does it!).  Can I say with 100% certainty that there was an unwelcome, evil spirit that had entered the room for some unknown reason?  Let me put it this way – after we prayed, not only did Celeste all of a sudden light up and calm down (and go to sleep very easily and quickly), but there was a sense of peace in the room that I can only describe as the presence of God.

Listen to your kids.  And listen to what they say.  More importantly, listen to what God is saying through them or to you in regards to them.  Was there really a black horse in the room?  I don’t know – but I do believe there was SOMETHING and the only words Celeste knew to describe what she saw was to call it a “horse”.  What was wonderful to me, though, is that while she was uncomfortable (which was obvious in how she acted), she trusted me and she believed that prayer was going to help us.

I do want to mention that when Chloe was little there were similar (though not identical) situations.  Sometimes she’d tell me she was afraid of the dark and wanted me to pray that Jesus would help her not be scared.  She told me there was nothing specific about the dark she was scared of, just that she was scared and wanted me to pray to Jesus to help her not be scared.  We would pray, and then we talked about the fact that she can even pray without me – so that if she woke up in the middle of the night and Daddy wasn’t there next to her she could pray to Jesus and Jesus would help her.  Sometimes she’d wake up in the middle of the night and call me and I’d go in there and we’d pray together, but eventually one night she prayed by herself (with me in the room), and then as she got older one day I asked her if she got scared in the dark and she told me “No, Jesus keeps me safe and if I get scared I just pray to him and he makes me not scared.”

For the record, this morning I asked Melissa if she had recently been reading any stories about black horses or if the girls had watched any shows lately with black horses.  The answer was “No.”

The faith of a child.  Would that we could see the world as it really is.  Thank you, Father, for giving my daughters eyes to see what you want them to see.  Thank you for giving them courage to speak up, for trust to share, and for faith to believe.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat….


Yesterday was a very significant day in the life our our family.  Most people who follow this blog probably know that we have a kayak and one of my favorite things is to spend time out on “The Boat” – whether it’s on the The River or out in the Sound (we call it “The Boat” because it makes it sound like we have a really cool yacht or something, when in actuality it’s just a 14′ kayak, which requires me to paddle instead of using a power motor :)).

Anyway, Chloe has always loved going out in The Boat – and she asks on a fairly regular basis if I’ll take her out in it.  The last time she was out in The Boat was in the spring when she and I and my dad all went kayaking for a few hours down the Tar River (Dad was in his kayak and I had Chloe with me in mine).  At a very early age Melissa and I took Chloe out and gradually eased her into longer times on the kayak, so now she really enjoys it.  Celeste, on the other hand…  Well, is Celeste 🙂  The first time we took her she screamed bloody murder the entire 15 minutes we were on the water, so we decided to wait a year before trying again.  Last year we tried again.  She again screamed bloody murder the entire time we were on the water, so that was the end of that.  Until yesterday…

Melissa had Awana leader training so I decided I was going to be brave (stupid?) enough to take both girls out on the kayak by myself.  Before we left the house I talked with Celeste about it and she started getting all excited and said she wanted to try it.  I went and got her life jacket and put it on her in the house to see how she would react (it was wearing the life jacket that caused her to scream, not being in The Boat), and she did okay.  She said a couple of times, “Daddy, I no like it,” but she said she wanted to try going out in the boat.  So I loaded the kayak on the van, got the girls lathered up in sun screen, and off we were to the Tar River.

Once we got into the water I had Chloe up in the front cockpit and Celeste sat with me in the rear – and she was pushed up against me staying very close.  After about 15-20 minutes she became more relaxed and actually started moving around a little and putting her hands in the water.  The girls ate a snack, we stopped at a little sand bar for them to walk around, we kayaked under the 264 bridge, and then returned to the put-in and got out.  All told we were gone between 60-90 minutes.  And Celeste did fantastic!  It was a HUGE success (and it only cost me two packets of snack crackers to keep everyone happy!).  Below are a couple of pictures I took while we were out – two of the girls playing in the water when we stopped at the sand bar and one on the way back to the car when the girls actually wanted to sit together in the front cockpit – they sat like that for 5-10 minutes before Celeste decided she wanted back on my lap.

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I told them that the next time we go out they can wear their bathing suits so they can swim in the river while we’re are out – and they are already asking when we go back out on The Boat with their bathing suits and with mommy!  Woo-hoo!

Family


My girls are typical siblings – sometimes they can be at each others’ throats and at others they are sweet-as-can-be (and most hours it’s both back to back!).  Yesterday, however, was one of those tender moments I wanted to get on video camera but just couldn’t get it turned on fast enough to record…

We had just finished lunch (Melissa was out on a prayer walk, so it was just me and the girls) and I told Celeste it was time to get ready for her nap.  I sent her into her room to get ready as I tidied up a little bit in the kitchen, then as I went to walk over to her room I realized she was sitting in the rocking chair with Chloe, who had a flashlight and was “reading” her a story before nap time.  Since they were having a good time I just went into the living room and tidied up a little more, then went back to her room to put her to bed and she said to me, “Daddy, I want Issy rock me.”  So I go her changed (ie, put on pull-up), helped them get her books picked out, then sat them both next to each other in the rocking chair and turned on the lamp so Chloe could “read” stories to Celeste.  I then closed the door and and sat outside the door on the computer, and as Chloe finished reading I went in to rock Celeste and put her in bed, but she said, “No, Daddy, I want Issy rock me.”  So they sat in there together in the rocking chair until Chloe told her to go to bed and she did.  (of course, after about 2 minutes Celeste decided she did want Daddy to rock her so she called for me and I still got my rock time – but that’s not the point of this story…)

Anyway, here’s why I write this…  I have always treasured the times I spent with my sister and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to have more than one child.  Like my girls, Erin and I used to fight and get on each others’ nerves all the time.  But the bulk of my memories are not those times – in fact, it is difficult to consciously recall them – but the times I remember the most are the tender ones: bike rides, running in the woods, going fishing in the lake, swimming, playing in the backseat, rollerblading on the inter-coastal, talking on the phone after X-Files, going on youth group trips together, and the like.  Granted, we had our differences (boy did we have our differences!), but the one thing we had that tied us together was that sense of family: we were brother and sister.  Unlike my girls, however, I am unable to share life with my sister anymore.

So here’s the point of this post: treasure the moments you have with your siblings and loved ones – enjoy the time you have together, because you never know when it will end.  My girls may fight and argue, but they are sisters – family – and that is to be expected.  But even more important than that I at times see glimpses of the hope and love and joy that family brings. While my favorite times are hanging out with Melissa and my girls as a family, a very close second is witnessing my girls enjoy family on their own without my participation.  And that makes me grateful and glad.