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.



About 8 months ago I was first introduced to the song Forever Reign by Hillsong, and, to be completely honest, I didn’t care for it.  The phrase that particularly frustrated me (for lack of a better term), was found in the chorus: “Oh, I’m running to Your arms, I’m running to Your arms. The riches of Your love will always be enough. Nothing compares to Your embrace, Light of the world forever reign!”

If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you know a frequent focus of my posts is worship.  I actually feel I’ve been rather silent on the issue for several months, due in large part to no longer serving in an official capacity as a church worship leader but also just because I’ve not been blogging much lately.  One of my criticisms of much modern worship music has always been the lyrics, and I’m in the camp of those who sometimes feel like worship songs sometimes sound more like “prom date music” than they do words of adoration to the King of Kings.

That was, honestly, my first reaction to this song, in particular the phrase quoted above.  For several months I struggled with the song because of this vision it created in me – a song I didn’t, as a male, feel comfortable singing to Jesus, who walked the earth as a man.  It just seemed… well… wrong.  It was one of those songs that I categorized as “more appropriate for women” but not necessarily a good song for men.

As I prayed and meditated on this, though, I asked God why I struggled with singing certain songs.  I asked questions such as, “Do I really love God as much as I say I do if I don’t feel comfortable singing these words?”  But I never felt like the answer to that question was in the negative; what I sensed God telling me,though, was that the answer was in how I was viewing Him and understanding the text myself – it was all in my perspective….

One day I received a new “vision”, so to speak, a new perspective.  Instead of seeing the text in a clearly romantic light (that “prom date” idea), I saw it as the love between and father and his children (or, more specifically, between a child and his father).  There is little I enjoy in this life more than to see the look on my daughters’ faces as they run up and jump into my arms.  One day when I came home from work and they did this I realized they could be singing these words about our relationship: that they were running to their daddy’s arms and wanted to be held by him (which they do all the time).

It was at that moment I realized I could say the same about my Heavenly Father.  I didn’t need to see these words as a twisted eros type of love (not that I ever did because I didn’t, I just struggled with finding a suitable alternative).  I could see these words as a little kid running up to his daddy and jumping into his daddy’s arms.  One of my favorite descriptions of prayers is, “If you want to know how to pray just watch how a little kid talks to her daddy.”  So I guess in the same vein, I’ve realized that if you want to know how to view yourself as truly believing the text, “I’m running to your arms,” view it as a little kid running to her daddy.  This new perspective changes everything.

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 Walk in the Woods (5.6)

Skipping.  Literally – skipping and hopping!

For days Chloe had been asking me, “Daddy, when are we going HIKING!?!?!” (emphasis hers).  So the second day we were in Virginia we went and did a moderate little climb, and she had a BLAST (perhaps about 1.5-2 miles round trip).  And as soon as we finished that hike she was asking again, “Daddy, when are we going hiking AGAIN!?!?!?” (emphasis hers).  So on our way back from Virginia we took a brief stop at exit 99 off Interstate 64 and parked at the entrance to the Shenandoah National Park where the Blue Ridge Parkway begins.  Along the Blue Ridge at this point runs the Appalachian Trail, so we went down and decided to hike the trail as our last hike. Melissa was leading the charge, the girls were both hiking between us, and I was bringing up the rear.  And Chloe?  She was hopping and skipping down the AT!

She was so excited to be out in the woods hiking, but what was even more exciting was for me to watch her as she enjoyed this new experience – the excitement in her eyes, her energy as she flitted along the trail.  That was absolutely priceless.

Which makes me wonder: what does God feel when we travel the road path he lays out for us?  If I as a human father experience such joy when I witness my Little Girl running and playing in the woods, how much more does my Heavenly Father experience joy when I spend time “in the woods” with him?

So often Bible study, prayer, and quiet time get pushed aside in a busy day because I’ve got other things to do.  What would I have felt this weekend if when I told Chloe we were going hiking she had responded with, “That’s okay, Daddy, I’ll just stay in the car and watch a movie on the DVD player instead.”?  I would have been heart-broken.

But that’s the equivalent of what I too often say to God when he invites me to journey with him.  His invitation may not be to go on a literal hike in the woods and may instead look like an invitation to work at a new job, volunteer for a new ministry, or invest in a new relationship – but it’s ultimately an invitation to spend time with Him.

So the next time you hear his voice calling, make sure you answer “Yes” – you’ll not only get to hop, skip, and jump down the path he has for you, but you’ll bring Him joy, too.

A Made-For-Movie Family

Last night Melissa and I rented Soul Surfer, the true story of Bethany Hamilton, the teenage girl who lost her arm in a shark attack while surfing and then went on to become a championship surfer after the tragedy.  This was one of the best inspirational movies I have seen in a long time.  While I found the strong connection with faith to be a great aspect of the movie that wasn’t the reason I enjoyed it so much.  The reason I found it such a great movie was the wonderful portrait it painted of the strength of family.  The movie showed the ups and downs of family life – the good times, the hard times, the highs and lows, even the struggles.  But it showed a family that persevered through it all, that honestly confronted difficulty and worked through it – a family that didn’t give up when the going got tough.  It showed parents who honored their commitment to be faithful in both good and bad times, and it demonstrated how that love and commitment filtered down to their children.

One of the best scenes in the movie was when they brought Bethany home for the first time from the hospital, and her parents sat in the car to talk for just 30 seconds about their worries and fears.  It was an honest conversation between two people committed to each other and their children.  Throughout the movie I witnessed this couple share their pain and struggle with each other – like they were supposed to.  Too often in movies I see one of the two people in a marriage find support from someone outside the marriage and an affair (either emotional or physical) begins.  But here was a picture of a couple that valued their commitment to each other, their family, and their God to find that strength and support within.  And that was a refreshing and inspirational image.

This isn’t one of those long-rambling posts I can sometimes do, it’s just a short and simple one to recognize and applaud those strong families out there that I admire and which I try so hard to model my own family after.  I thank God for the family I have now (meaning my wife and kids) as well as the family I am in (including both my parents and siblings as well as my wife’s family).  God designed the family as the foundation for society, and I can’t help but wonder how much different (and better) society would be if more families were like the one I saw in the movie last night.

The Captain’s Family

This evening I watched The Captains, a documentary by William Shatner on the lives of the six actors who portrayed the main captains on various Star Trek series (Shatner for Star Trek, Patrick Stewart from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Avery Brooks of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek: Voyager, Scott Bakula of Star Trek: Enterprise, and Chris Pine from the latest Star Trek movie).  I DVRed the documentary because I am a Star Trek fan and thought it would be an interesting show to watch.  And I was right, but not in the way in which I expected.

I was impressed with the amount and depth of (what appeared to be) some very real and honest conversation between Shatner and the other actors reflecting on their roles and the impact those roles had on their personal lives.  The part that struck me the hardest was when they all spent time talking about their families and the impact on them the show (and their profession) had: at least three (Shatner, Stewart, and Bakula) talked openly of failed marriages as a result of their commitment to their profession, and two of the remaining three (Brooks and Mulgrew) expressed significant regret and disappointment over the loss of time with their family.  In fact, Mulgrew expressed that her children resented her job so much during the years she worked on Voyager that they to this day have never watched a single episode and still despise the show because of what it did to their family.  That, to me, is depressing.

And while it’s easy to look at these very famous actors and say, “That would never happen to me!” the reality is I’ve known (and know) too many people who allow their work to consume their life to the exclusion of family.  And let’s be honest, it doesn’t even need to be work – it can be ministry, hobbies, exercise, or any number of idols we erect.  When I was in college I wanted to be a high school choir director – until I realized that I knew more high school music teachers who were divorced than happily married.  I went through a stage (no pun intended) where I thought, “Maybe being a professional theatre person would be fun” – until I realized I knew more divorced and/or single people there as well.  And what about leaders: I can not even count the number of principals, superintendents, and other people in leadership positions whom I know personally that have sacrificed their families and relationships on the altar of career success.

Now before I go on I need to be fair and say I also know plenty of HS music teachers, professional actors, principals, and other leaders who are happily married and who do have wonderful family relationships.  So it’s not impossible.  But what I know is that it is not easy.  This past month I have been gone on three trips, for a total of 12 days out of the last 28, and it’s been difficult (to say the least).  The girls missed me, Melissa missed me – shoot, even my dog missed me!  And I missed them.  Thankfully, the travel I’m doing now is for a short season and is not an indication of what the next several years will be like.  But even without travel it is so easy to become consumed with work, especially for men.  And the only way to combat that is to be intentional about investing time with family (which is, sadly, easier said than done for me).

Yesterday I was exhausted from a very busy week at work, but decided we needed some time away together so we took a day-trip down to the beach.  Just the four of us.  And we had a blast – the girls loved it, Melissa enjoyed herself, and I even was willing to let Chloe bury my legs in the sand (though not very deep).  This morning I took the girls to Lowes for the Build-and-Grow clinic (we made binoculars!) and then it was off to the pool so Celeste could show me how she goes down the water slide, “all by myself, Daddy!”  Now, understand, I don’t enjoy the beach (I hate sand) and I am not a fan of pools with lots of chlorine in them – but I knew it was important to Melissa and the girls so I went.

And it’s not just me, either.  One of the reasons men find it so easy to get consumed in work is because that’s where we receive a huge sense of respect and self-worth, particularly when people at work are praising us for a job well done.  It’s not that we consciously put family on the back burner – in fact, we often consciously put so much into work because we want to succeed and provide for our family – it’s just that at times we feel more appreciated and supported at work than at home.  This is one area Melissa has really helped me in, telling me she’s proud of me, or posting on Facebook or telling others about how she’s thankful for what I do (even if I don’t do everything I’m supposed to, to my shame).  I remember in pre-marital class talking about how we should never talk poorly about our spouse to other people because it tears them down, and I’ve tried very hard over the years to never complain about something Melissa does or says to other people (not that I’m perfect in this area, mind you, but I can say honestly I can (by the grace of God) count on one hand, with fingers to spare, the number of times I’ve violated that rule).

Over the past several months I’ve noticed, as well, how other wives lift their husbands up to people.  Check out this blog post by a friend from Florida where she lifts up her husband (who, for the record, was my roommate for 4 years).  I’ve also seen a growing number of wives posting wonderful things on Facebook about their husbands (which I can’t link to because, unless you’re their friend on FB, you won’t be able to see).  And let me tell you, ladies, how much this ministers to your husband’s heart.  My wife does it and it makes me feel proud, and when I see my friends do it I am reminded that there are those who still treasure, cherish, and invest in their marriages and families. And that brings me hope.

So here’s the point: don’t allow what’s happened to these “Captains” happen to you, and pray for Melissa and I as we journey through life together.  Marriage and family are under attack by the evil one.  It takes intentionality to keep it strong and growing.  Pray for us as we pray for you.  And may we never look back and realize we traded the most important thing for something fleeting and temporal.