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.


“Who Makes You Brave?”

Today around 11:45 I was sitting down eating lunch with some coworkers, just getting ready to start a meeting, when I glanced over and saw “911 – call my cell phone now” pop up on my phone.  I picked up the phone, called Melissa, and within about 20 minutes was sitting inside the ER at the local hospital.  Long story short, Chloe, our five-year-old, had fallen and broken her arm.

While we were in the ER (for several hours), there was one person in particular who would come into the room and chat with Chloe (can’t remember her title, but basically she was a child-care support worker who tried to explain what the nurses and doctors were going to do, and help keep Chloe calm and help her understand everything).  At one point Melissa, myself, and this lady were all complementing Chloe on how well she was doing, how brave she was, and just, overall, trying to keep her in good spirits.  The worker then asked, “So, Chloe, who makes you brave?  Your mom?  Your dad?”  Chloe looked at her and said, “Jesus.”

Not sure anything else today much mattered.

Psalm 8:2a: “From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise[a]

The Lesson

Chloe loves to sing – I mean, she loves to sing.  She’s almost always singing something – sometimes it’s serious, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s real and sometimes it’s a goofy made-up song –  but one of her favorite songs is Blessings by Laura Story.  Whenever it comes on the radio or the CD she gets all excited and says, “I love this song!” – at times she’s even called it her song.  And after Jesus Loves Me, this song is the one I am glad she is learning.  For if we can somehow teach her the truth found in this song and help her accept God’s sovereignty over life then she will have learned perhaps the most important lesson she will ever learn – and she is only four.

For those who are not familiar with the song you can listen to it below (and see some comments by Laura during the extended introduction).  Be prepared that the words may make you cry, but broken hearts are what our God specializes in healing.

What I find interesting is that one of the songs Melissa and I have our choir working on is a medley from Fiddler on the Roof, and part of that medley is the song Sabbath Prayer, which contains the words, “May the Lord protect and defend you, may He always shield you from shame.” and “Favor them, Oh Lord, with happiness and peace.”  Every week when we rehearse this song I can’t think of the contrast between what it teaches and what Laura Story’s song teaches.  I pray daily that both Chloe and Celeste would learn the truth found in Story’s song – and every time she sings it I ask God to help her understand the words she sings.  I can tell you without fail, though, that when she sings, “This is not our home!” it brings me to the brink of tears every time.

For more information on the song you can always visit the official page by clicking here.

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.

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!