A Father’s Day

My Father’s Day began around midnight on I-95, crawling through construction traffic, on the way home from a performance where a grand total of 5 people attended.
It continued with arriving home, taking the illuminated phone out of my sleeping teen’s hand, turning off the lights, locking up the house, and prepping for today’s service.
It does not look like many of the pictures you will see today, with smiling children next to proud, smiling fathers.
It looks like work.
It looks like missing some moments.
It looks like a struggle.
Of course, the pictures that we will see represent all those hours, some of which I am experiencing at this moment.
Please don’t misunderstand. I believe time with my children is the greatest and most important part of fatherhood.
But it isn’t the only one.
It is also the hours away. The times no one sees. Where no photographer is ready to capture the perfect moment of being a dad.
Those hours I know that my dad spent, late nights at a dental office that he started and kept running year after year; nights where I knew he would come home tired and needing rest.
Those hours where I’m sure the one thing he did not want to do was the thing he did.
Stay faithful.
Make a way financially so that he could spend the time he wanted to spend with his family later on.
I think of the fathers called away to battle. The fathers on the front lines of assembly lines. Those that never got the chance to have the children rush into their arms.
And I realize I’m blessed.
I may not have every moment I want to have with my family.
But I will treasure every one, while working to fulfill every responsibility this role presents to me.
Because the picture I want my kids to see is a complete one.
One where they see me having fun with them, and also one where they see the dedication necessary to provide for them.
I pray every father will also know every moment, both those with your children, and those where you have to be away, are important.
Thank you, Dad, for fulfilling both of these roles extremely well.
I see a little bit of you in myself at this moment.
And it feels good.

Back to (Home) School: Learning at the Speed of Life

It’s about this time every year. These conversations begin to bounce around my home. And I’m never ready.

“When are we going to get the books?”

“What time do we have to get up?”

“How many papers do I have to write this year?”

“Are all the forms filled out?”

Despite our flexible family learning lifestyle, in which we try to encourage a year round environment of learning, we are like many homeschoolers in that we use a standard scholastic calendar, where most of our educational activities occur between August and April / May.

In other words, our preparation for school doesn’t really vary that much from our traditional school counterparts. We have to prepare our family to enter a new season of life and learning, make schedule adjustments, renew previously established routines, and re-focus on academics.  Getting our family out of the more lazy and relaxed summer tempo takes a considerable effort. Just the mention of waking up earlier causes the rolling of eyes to begin anew in our teenagers.

So we can empathize with the millions of parents besieged by the back-to-school craze. But we also have less school-induced stress than the average family. I’m grateful that we’re still in control of our kid’s schedule. Not worrying about clothes, lunches, or bus schedules as our traditional schooling friends might. School supplies determined by our own needs. Not fretting over which classroom / home-room our kids will be assigned to. My kids knowing they will see their friends because, well, we take them to see their friends whenever we want.  Their school year looks less like being thrust into an externally constructed schedule and more like adopting a more academically focused routine in their daily lives, one that still allows them to be flexible and responsible with their time.

One of my friends at church has a daughter entering kindergarten this year. He shared with me his concern about the new school routine they would have to adopt.  As a leader in our ministry, he and his wife are often required to stay late at church, which means the family gets home late.  He is concerned that having to rush his daughter to school every morning will negatively affect her focus and temperament through the rest of the day. This is one of the reasons I value homeschooling – because it allows us to be disciplined when we need to with schedules, but also to know when we have to let our kids be kids and release them from the tyranny of the calendar.

Life demands different tempos and routines from us throughout the year. Although we follow prescribed calendars in our organizations, churches, and workplaces, we as parents have to be sensitive enough to know when to buck the trend and let our families adopt the pace that works for them. Whether it means an impromptu weekend out of town, a dinner date for just the parents while the kids are babysat, or just a couple of minutes in a busy day to unplug and unwind as a family, the tempo of learning is most effective when it is running within the speed limits of life.

As the year approaches, I’ll continue to feel a little anxious. I won’t get every book we need on time. We’ll have attitude adjustments and mammoth misunderstandings. And they will still be moments when we feel like there’s just not enough time for everything. But we’ll jump into this school year with the understanding that we are the drivers of this educational process. As we drive the highway of home-schooling, we’ll keep to the speed limits that our lifestyle suggests. If traffic speeds up, and the wheels start to spin out of control, we won’t hesitate to pull over and take a pit stop, so that our academic progress is never prioritized at the expense of our family’s peace of mind.

Words to Live By

I’ve always been a fan of self-improvement and leadership books. From age 16, when my dad promised me $100 if I would read Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, I’ve found my reading material always includes something that would inspire me to be more proactive, or to set goals, or any other flavor of motivation I could get my hands on. Of course the distance between theory and action is the space we live in daily, so I can attest that I haven’t followed through with much that I have read. But the wisdom of those words is always only a look away, and when I view those words habitually, I start to form my habits around those words.

While listening to a motivational audio program, I thought about all the times as a teen and young adult that I found myself at critical decision points, and when I should have followed a wisdom point. That led to ruminations about my kids and all the words they are surrounded by. I am blessed that they have many wonderful influences and people to speak into their lives, including our beautiful church family and the wonderful homeschooling support groups we are a part of. But there are always times that those words of life and empowerment are needed, and there may not be a kind soul nearby to speak them. They must be hidden in the heart for their power to be applied when necessary.

We live in a time that we have access to all kinds of apps and games, but do we access the words that we need to make wise decisions? I know many times I haven’t. To combat this,  I’ve recommitted myself to memorizing verses of Scripture. My new goal is to memorize all of Romans. I’ve only made it to verse 7, chapter 1, but the exercise is reminding me how every word matters when you study and apply it to your life. The book of Phillipians speaks of meditating on whatever is pure, lovely, or has any good report. Proverbs, the ultimate wisdom book of the Bible, mentions a word fitly spoken being like a apple of gold. Even my church has a new “Words with Friends” evening dedicated to sharing God’s word in small groups. If my heavenly Father knows the power of words, I must be sure as a earthly father that I’m accessing the same ‘word power’ and implanting it in my family.

It seems my wife was on the same wavelength as me without even us discussing it. Around the same time that I was considering this ‘word’ emphasis, she came home with stencils for placing quotes on the walls, and I came home to find them already adorning our living room and kitchen. Needless to say, I’m grateful that she understands the power of positive words.

Wall words

Each time I look at these words, I remember what’s most important about our family – that we are together, that we dream, love, and pray together, and that we support one another. These concepts are simple, yes, but never are they more precious and sacred than when the pressures of life try to steal the power of making them a priority.

One of the pastors at my church’s recent men’s conference stated this quote: “The choices you make make you.”  When talking with my son on the ride home, he said that those words impacted him the most. So in effect, the words he has chosen to believe and maintain in his heart will then make his choices, and then those choices will make him. All the more reason for me to make sure that the words that he hears, that he sees, and that he will live by are always words of life, of meaning, and of eternal value.

Dinner Table (subtitled: Michael Jackson, Gender Equality, and The World’s First Rash)

This is just like our dinner table...ok...it's nothing like our dinner table.

“Let’s eat at the table tonight,”  I said.

An audible groan escaped from my 11 year old daughter, who was already getting comfortable in the corner of the couch.  One of those tween-age Nickelodeon sitcoms was coming on, and her displeasure at the prospect of having to share a meal around the dinner table was evident. She got up and approached the table with the fervor of a death row inmate approaching her last meal. My boys were more amenable to our first family meal around the table in months, but it still felt a little awkward having to clear the table of my computer and piano studio games in order to place the plates and cups where they belonged.

The dinner around the table tradition has slowly melted away in the last few years. When the kids were younger, we tried to make it a point to always eat as a family.  However, as the nights of coming home late from church activities, homework, and other distractions grew, our time around the table shrank to once a week, to once every few weeks, to the point that I noticed us over and over sitting around the couch watching Wheel of Fortune while stuffing our faces with spaghetti. Something had to change. I was glad that we still were together, true, but I never thought we’d become a family where the voices from the TV were more prevalent than our voices interacting and sharing during our rare moments together. Thus was my declaration inspired.

We finally got everyone seated around the table and looked around to see who would begin the grace. Our family grace has been passed down from my parents, which I believe is a Lutheran table prayer…”Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these, thy gifts to us, be blessed.”  Much of the tradition of our current family dinners come from my childhood. My dad was the expert at turning anything into a teachable moment – I still remember the 30 minute dissertation he gave on why the ice cracks when you pour a hot beverage on it — and I admit I take the same kind of stewardship of the dinner conversation. This includes asking everyone what they are thankful for, which can elicit a variety of responses: from my younger son reciting a 5 minute list of everything he did that day, to a random grunt that sounds vaguely like “being alive” from my oldest son. The second conversation starter is the “highlight of your day”, which often leads to long discussions about random topics that have nothing to do with the day’s activities. Needless to say, as the kids have gotten older, it’s become much less about guiding the family’s conversation and more about trying not to get sucked into arguments.

Yesterday’s conversation was no exception. How we got on the topic of Adam, Eve, and gender equality escapes me. Suffice it to say that my 18 year old, who is almost always in a defensive conversational posture, was doggedly stating that men were superior to women because Eve was silly enough to talk to a snake. My wife and daughter, predictably, formed a united front against him.  Here’s an example of the exchange.

“Eve shouldn’t have been talking to a snake.”

“Well, Adam was right there. He should have stopped her.”

“Because he knew she would talk to a snake?”

“No, Adam should have been more interesting. He was wasting time talking to animals and naming them. She was bored.”

“God told him to do that!”

“Besides, Adam lied. He told God it was the woman’s fault. That’s why He was mad.”

“Yeah, and it was Adam’s idea to use those leaves to cover them. He probably used poison ivy.”

“Yeah. The world’s first rash.”

At this point, any attempt of mine to correct the theological missteps of my children is confounded by my stifled laughter. A child’s greatest weapon is the ability to make their parents laugh, and my children have the mental equivalent of Iraqi Scud missiles – witty rejoinders fired randomly and often haphazardly, but very effective when they hit.  Another example from last night illustrates this point. I remarked how I might take my children with me to the preschool music class where I teach this week. They used to accompany me every time I went, but when they got old enough to stay home I let them remain behind. Both objected vehemently to the prospect of being re-introduced to the little ones.

“Ewww, Dad, no. Those little kids creep me out,” whined my daughter.  “The little boys always stare at me.”

I probably shouldn’t have said this, but I did. “So you’re trying to date little boys, huh?”

Never one to be outdone, my younger son chimed in. “They do the same thing to me.”

To which my daughter pounced, “Oh, so you’re like Michael Jackson. Only smaller.”

Score: Kids 1, parents (who were trying again not to laugh, and failing miserably), zero.

The comebacks, laughing and attempts at a semblance of parental control continued throughout the evening.  The main point is this — when we got up from the table, there were several stories and moments we would laugh over and share for the next week or month, if not longer. In this day where money is tight and sometimes our attention spans too short for real interaction, there’s still no substitute for a table and a group of people sitting around it and forced, if need be, to engage each other. Even if the consequences include a rewriting of Genesis to include skin irritations.

Storage, Sickness and Sacrifices

Short post today, my friends.

Allergies have claimed the little energy I had left today (I refuse to claim a cold after my month long battle through December.) and the Tylenol Sinus has decided that my mental capacity should be reduced to that of a slightly advanced moose.
And so I will be brief.
The dreaded Christmas tree has finally been packed away, as the rest of the Christmas decorations have resigned to their 11 month hibernating status in the cave of the garage. It was really necessity that drove them out of the house, as I began winter piano lessons and it would have been quite embarrassing to have students gathered around a Christmas tree in the middle of January. The kids and mom took down the majority of the decor last night, as I lay in a stupor after a three service Sunday, but I had the honor of completing the transition today by packing the tree in its cardboard coffin. Also, yesterday my mother in law came by with dinner to help out my wife, who is just now coming back to herself after her own bout with the flu bug. It was a kind gesture for her to drive an hour and a half just to spend a few hours, and somewhat made up for the fact that the kids hadn’t gotten a chance to spend Christmas with the grandparents.

Unfortunately for our family learning, Naomi is the flu bug’s next victim, and she spent the day in a similar half awake state. Marcus did move ahead with his public speaking work, and I forced him to complete Friday’s language arts, which he claimed he couldn’t finish because he was ‘busy’. His ‘busy’ is code for ‘playing games and watching TV’, so that went nowhere with me. I used the time at home to order much needed curriculum – Saxon Math for Naomi and Math-u-See Zeta for Marcus. Math U See is my preferred method but Naomi has showed zero interest in the last few months, and it has become obvious that she’s not progressing, so it’s back to the drawing board with her. Marcus, on the other hand, is chomping at the bit to go through his self directed video tutorials. Once again, the differences in the kids learning styles is evident. Naomi has a independent streak, but is very hesitant to approach open ended tasks without clear guidance. Marcus would have me believe he is capable of completing a Masters with no help from me. So the challenge is to meet both of my children (as well as my oldest in public school) where they are educationally, and not only in light of my teaching preference.
Financially I wish we could play the waiting game and find other ways to supplement our curriculum, but I am loathe to skimp on the materials I know are the best for the kids. So we bite the bullet and skip past eBay when what we really want is not available there. We had the sobering experience of telling Marcus he couldn’t do football league this semester and finances did play a role. Can’t blame the economy on this one, only our lack of foresight in budgeting for all the experiences we wanted the kids to have this year. So we’ll have to do better in filling in the gaps until we can shift our budget to match our true priorities – our family’s educational and spiritual growth, which weigh much heavier than just the gimmes and wanna haves of life. Another place where practice has yet to match with principle.
Did I say I would be brief? The moose had a lot to say apparently. Proverbs does say that the wise are few in words, so perhaps I need to spend a little more time in meditation tomorrow, so that my verbosity will be curbed by a fresh wind of wisdom. We all can hope.

Looking unto the Hills,

Back to Reality

The Christmas tree stands aside me, unlit, like a monument of some ancient culture long since passed into memory. Not that the tree or Christmas itself wasn’t memorable, but we all feel that sense of the holiday spirit draining away in the view of the normal work week and school schedule returning. The holiday hangover is almost over, but it was in full force today. I couldn’t figure out why I was so tired the last few days. As I in vain tried to pull myself out of bed after a wonderful but draining first church service of the year, I realized that I no longer can recover quickly from late nights of New Year celebrations and bowling with friends and family til midnite. I’ll have to shake off this holiday malaise quickly though.  With Christopher returning to school tomorrow, and the subsequent return of the homeschooled kids to tutoring, I have to begin our second semester planning, which I’m sure will have to have some changes in terms of direction and intensity.  My original plan to focus on the three R’s (reading, ‘ritin’, ‘rithmatic) seemed to lose steam after a few weeks, and while I know our unit studies often may lacked some detail, they gave our family learning experiences purpose and an overall sense of application for the information we were learning. Possible subjects for the next unit abound, from the inauguration of President Obama to the discussions of world problems such as the Middle East conflict and the economic news – all designed to give my kids a handle on real word issues. Although I’m sometimes depressed by their seeming preoccupation with video games and the latest movie releases, I remind myself that they are still well able to become capable and prepared adults, as long as I give them the spiritual and educational tools to be able to seperate hype from history.

Fasting Update

The Twitterfast continues strong into it’s fourth day, with me only having received one direct message from a follower via e-mail – which I felt OK in responding to since it was a link to a blog. As for my other fasting items, I’ve not been tempted seriously to drink coffee (I’ve replaced with tea) and no fast food cravings have hit me yet.  Skipping the lunch meal hasn’t been too bad yet, either, although while spending New Year’s Day at our friends house, it was awful hard to watch my wife chow down on Ray’s super seasoned ribs while my stomach growled.  Spiritually I have felt God’s prompting to remain faithful to our original commitments – starting with first fruiting our first checks to God.  By faith we’re starting the week with no income save what was present before Dec. 31th. Although I have the normal feelings of wondering how we will make it through the week, I have more excitement than worry. I like the idea of wondering how God will meet our needs – will it be an unexpected check? will we be more disciplined and careful, and as a result better able to manage our funds when our income comes through again? Will needed repairs and contacts come to fruition this week?  It’s a reminder that our unknown is already known by God, and we just have to wait for him to pull back the covers so we can see what was already there in the beginning. Not for our physical needs alone, but for the spiritual confirmation of Romans 8:28 – that all things work together for our good, whether we see it our not. So I continue to pray for specific needs, but more so that God’s will for my family and I be revealed. After all, He knows way better than I what we really need.

With that, until tomorrow, another John Mayer quote for the parents out there…

“Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too”

John Mayer, “Daughters”

Looking unto the hills,


Day One, 2009

Courtesy of Colorcubic.com

Courtesy of Colorcubic.com

Yes, it’s a new year.  2008 has passed into the history books, and historians will have a field day putting their whys and hows upon the year’s events. So much has already been discussed about the election, the economy, and all the ups and downs of the world that it seems pretty pedestrian to put my own spin on it.  But faithful as I am to the study of my own opinion, I must say at least a few words regarding the past year.

While many have termed 2008 the year of “new beginnings”, due to the biblical significance of the number 8, I see it as the year of the reality check.  The year where governments, banks and families alike realized that you can’t avoid the consequences of living like there’s no tomorrow when tomorrow arrives. Of course, blame can be widely and deservedly dispersed to all kinds of entities, but it comes back to the individual.  Were we following the principle of the proverb of the ant, storing up goods in plenty in preparation for winters to come, or following the example of Joseph in Egypt, saving an entire nation from starvation by recognizing the natural cycle of feast to famine? Or did we get caught up in the “irrational exuberance”, as Greenspan termed it long before the housing bubble burst?  As I read in a great entry by Andy Crouch, this may be the best thing that happened to the US in a long time. Not because we stop buying SUVs in a vain attempt at saving the planet by restricting our individual choices, or because we begin artificially dampening our own economic engine, but simply because we begin to remember the lessons of the last great generation to survive a great crisis – the WWII generation that rose from depression and world war to form the basis of our culture of hard work, sacrifice, and dedication.  Ideals that appeared antiquated and out of touch are no longer seen as such.  Any return to common sense principles is a good thing. Only we decide how low we must slide before coming back to ourselves, as the prodigal son realized.

As for my family, we also are facing our own 2009 reality check. Schooling still looms as priority number one, as our kids struggle with their individual subjects – the oldest and youngest in math, the middle child with writing and language arts. Homeschooling remains the choice of greatest potential benefit, but also the greatest fear of missed opportunity. The fundamentals of the Paul economy are not super strong, and my wife and I must measure our commitment to preparing for a future move versus paying down debt and making a real change in our cash flow.   Ministry remains a blessing and a burden, as I enter a phase of trying to reform an entrenched culture of entitlement in our music ministry.  None of these areas carry the sense of imminent satisfaction on the horizon.  However, even in this extended transition, we must be thankful that we are able to see where we stand, because without the clarity of reality, we would simply spin into the abyss of blissful ignorance, followed by abject failure and misery (i.e., the American economy). As a father, I recognize more than ever that it is my job to see the “whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”  I’m the one accountable for making sure we are prepared for the rainy days, and if we are caught without the umbrella, I have to take off the coat and shield my family first. It’s not fun to be the party pooper, to say no to the big party or the night out with my wife in the most expensive restaurant, but it’s the job I signed up for and the one I’m responsible to do. The reward is not the immediate gratification of hugs around my legs or kisses on the cheek, but it’s the future days of graduation walks and worry free vacations that I must look forward to in days like these.

Personally, I begin this year along with our church in a time of fasting and prayer. One of my sacrifices may seem small, but it’s a major one for me.  Last year Twitter became a major source of release and enjoyment for me, as I connected with great people across the country.  But the things I need from God outweigh the joy I find in the electronic chronicling of my daily walk, so I have given it up for the month. Hopefully, as I rechannel my ruminations to this blog, I’ll sharpen my desire for consistent communication with my heavenly Father, as well as my blogging (one blogger called Twitter the “crack of the blogoshpere”, and I can attest to its addicting properties). After all, if I checked in with God as often as I checked in with Twitter, my spiritual walk would be much stronger. God can do way more with a 140 characters anyway. I do hope any of my followers will check in on me here and encourage me as I move through the month of reconnection and dedication.

So to all, may a blessed 2009 be yours.  Don’t be afraid of the challenge of reality, embrace it, and give thanks for it.The strength of life is built in the struggles of life. We all have much more than 99% of the world, but gratefulness is a characteristic we can never have enough of.

Looking unto the hills,