My wife is a teacher.
She doesn’t teach because she gets the entire summer off.
She doesn’t teach because her job is from 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM, Monday – Friday.
She doesn’t teach because she is never criticized for the job she is mandated to do.
She doesn’t teach because she’s responsible for a child’s complete education.
She doesn’t teach because that’s the only thing she can do.
Teaching contracts vary depending on the number of professional development days required by the state and school system. So, on those Fridays your students are out of school, or you have the extra-long weekend because school is out generally means that teachers are working, in a professional development meeting. During the summer, most teachers attend at least one professional development workshop. Teachers use the summer to plan for the next year and pour through new curriculum they will be teaching the next year. Also, while you are enjoying the last weekend of the summer, remember, most teachers have been back in the classroom for weeks, mopping, dusting, replacing lightbulbs, rearranging their rooms, hanging new posters, and getting the classroom ready before the start of the new year.
Most teachers arrive early, stay late, and spend hours on the weekend doing school work. Throughout the school year, they sacrifice time at home for activities such as grading papers and preparing for the next day. They are always on the job. Bus duty in the rain? They’ve got it covered. Selling tickets at the Friday night football game? Teachers. Standing in the middle of the produce aisle at Wal-Mart talking about a child’s behavior that day, oh, trust me, teachers have that one covered too.
It takes an exceptional person to be a teacher. Don’t believe me? Shadow one for a week, heck, try it for a day. See how long you last. Only to know that when a child is punished, it will be the teacher who is called into question, not the child who caused the problem.
Parents are any child’s greatest teacher. Teachers only spend a few hours each day over the course of a year with a child, but parents spend a lifetime. As parents, we must accept our God-given responsibilities and raise our children. No teacher can do it alone.
Tonya has a college and master’s degree in education. She is nationally board certified.
However, she doesn’t teach for those reasons.
She teaches because she loves her children and believes they deserve a bright future. And, with God’s help, that’s what she brings to the classroom every day.
I appreciate my teacher wife. Not just during Teacher Appreciation Week.
But, every day.
Wednesday, August 1, 2018
I really stink at being a parent. Just ask my ten-year-old son. He’ll tell you.
Well, I don’t always stink at it, but too many times I do. I make wrong parenting choices. I raise my voice. I lose my cool. I don’t provide the right example for my son. So, yes, there are plenty of times that I qualify for the “worst parent of the year” award.
Oh, I never set out to be a bad parent. I try to be the parent God calls me to be and that I want to be for my son. But, I fail.
How about you? Do you ever fail as a parent?
While it may not be cool to admit it, and we rarely see such an admission plastered on the jacket covers of parenting books at the local bookstore, most parents fail from time-to-time. And, we fail miserably.
Quite frankly, there are times I want to give up. Those are the moments when I realize that I’ll never be all that I’m supposed to be or all that my son needs me to be. But, as my wife reminds me, quitting isn’t an option.
What’s a failed dad supposed to do?
Well, as in all areas of life, I find myself praying and seeking God’s wisdom to be a better dad.
Thankfully, God doesn’t give up on me when I fail. He’s working in me daily to change me and how I parent. I’m blessed to have a godly wife who encourages me, challenges me, and yes, shows me the errors of my ways when that’s what I need. And, I have a son who pushes back when I’m wrong.
This parenting stuff is tough. And, yes, it does stink sometimes.
But, God has placed me in this role and He’s given me wisdom in His Word about how to be a better dad.
Tell you what. I’ll pray for you as you learn to be a better dad or mom. And, as you have opportunity, I’d appreciate any prayers you can offer on my behalf.
With God’s help, maybe we’ll stink less at being a parent.
There are some things in life that are best left to adults. I’m thinking about things like driving a car, being an astronaut, performing surgery, or skydiving.
But, on the other hand, there are other areas in life where age really isn’t that important. An example? I’m thinking about evangelism—sharing our faith with others.
The Bible teaches us that sharing our faith is a vital part of fulfilling the Great Commission. When you check out Matthew 28, you will discover that there is no age requirement for sharing one’s faith. All of us are responsible.
So, what should we teach our children about sharing their faith? Here are few simple things to talk with them about.
First, we should encourage our children to invite their friends to church with them. This is probably the easiest way to introduce the subject of faith to others. Even the smallest child can ask a friend to come to church with them.
Second, we should encourage our children to share with their friends how God helps them. If a friend is worried, our children should be able to share how praying to God helps them when they are worried. If our children have friends who are struggling with moral issues, they should be able to share the truths found in God’s Word with them.
Third, we should encourage our children to make their lives a living testimony of their faith. Can they be counted on to tell the truth? Do they show God’s love to those around them? Do their lives reflect the fruit of the Spirit? Do they respect their parents? Are they a good friend to others? Over time, as our children live out their faith, their friends will begin to notice the difference. When they do, our children have an opportunity to share their faith.
Fourth, we should encourage our children to serve others. As they serve others, God often opens the door to share His love with them. When we serve others, people often ask, “Why are you doing this?” Jesus put the two together in His ministry on earth and we need to as well.
Let’s remind our children that when they feel led by God to talk with someone about Jesus, they should begin to pray for that person and ask God to give them the opportunity to share their faith. When God gives them the opportunity, they should talk with the person naturally, as if they are carrying on a regular conversation. There’s no need to argue or debate or try to convince. Let God do the leading.
As a seminary student, I was required to take a class on personal evangelism (in simple terms, a class on how to share Jesus with others). Before the end of the semester, we were required to make a certain number of personal visits with people in the community.
Some people will say that a seminary student shouldn’t have to take a class to be taught how to share Jesus with others; it should come naturally for someone called to serve God.
But for busy students who are trying to complete their academic work, maintain a family life, and work full- or part-time in a secular or church position, it is often difficult to focus on personal evangelism. Yes, I know seminary students should be about “God’s work,” but it’s still difficult to find time to focus on sharing Jesus with others.
That last statement probably isn’t limited to busy seminary students. More than likely, most of us need a little push to reach outside our comfort zones, to share our faith with others, and to lead others to a personal relationship with Jesus.
As Christ followers, we must find ways to encourage our boys and girls to share their faith in God with others. How do we do that? What are some things we need to teach our children about sharing Jesus with others?
First of all, we must teach our children to follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit as they share their faith with others. The Holy Spirit will guide, direct, convict, etc., as they share their faith. There is really nothing more important for boys and girls to remember than to trust the Holy Spirit’s leadership as they share their faith with others.
Secondly, girls and boys must develop a love for people who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Bible clearly teaches that people who die without a personal relationship with Jesus spend their eternity separated from God. Rather than ignoring, shunning, or feeling sorry for people who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus, we must teach our children to love and care for them. It’s out of love that we want others to know Jesus and to be known by Him.
Finally, we must teach our children to pray before, during, and after sharing their faith with others. Our task as Christians is to open doors for people to meet Jesus personally. Our job is to prepare their hearts to accept the good news of Jesus. We can’t force belief. We can’t force acceptance. But we can pray. We can pray for people to be open to hearing the gospel. We can pray that they will listen to what we share. And we can pray that they accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior.
No matter our age, it’s not always easy sharing our faith with others. Children (and adults) struggle with witnessing. Hopefully, by focusing on these 3 areas, we will be more intentional in sharing our faith in Jesus with others and teaching our children that they too can share their faith with their family and friends.
“Families on Mission” is more than a concept or even a catchphrase.
At least, it should be.
After all, who better to do missions with than the people you love the most—your own family! What a great future we are providing our children as we not only teach them about missions, but we serve together doing missions.
While summer is in full swing, there is no better time than now to get your family involved in a missions project. Your project doesn't have to be anything elaborate, cost a small fortune, or even require faraway travel. You can do missions as a family in your own community!
Here are a few ways your family can get involved in the mission of God.
- School is out. Kids are looking for something to do. Parents want to find meaningful lessons to teach their kids, especially when it comes to helping others. Why not go through your kids' closets and pull out the clothes they have outgrown? (As a parent, we all know those clothes may have been new just last month.) Donate those gently used clothes to a nearby clothes closet. Better yet, why not go as a family and volunteer at the center for a few hours or even for a day? Roll up your sleeves, help others, and teach your children the value of serving others in your community.
- Make handmade cards for people who are sick or homebound. You might even want to bake a few cookies or a cake to take to them as you deliver the cards. Handmade cards and sweet treats will add a smile to those you visit! And, it'll certainly warm your family's hearts, too.
- Take a walk through your neighborhood and pick up trash along the way. You might meet a few new neighbors you don't yet know. As you walk, pray for people not in church, people who are sick, or other needs you know about. And, as you go on this little project, you'll certainly improve the look of your community.
- Many school districts now require uniforms for their students. Sadly, some families struggle to afford these for their kids. Why not donate your children's outgrown uniforms to their school? In addition to that donation, when you go out shopping for their new school uniforms, pick up an extra uniform in the same size as your son or daughter. Donate that new uniform to the school to be given to a struggling family.
See? You don't have to do anything elaborate, spend a lot of money, or travel very far to do missions as a family. Just look around you. You'll find plenty of missions projects your family can accomplish this summer.
M. Steve Heartsill loves God, his family, and sometimes his dog, Peanut.
Recently, my wife, son, and I were driving down the road. My son said to his mother, “Mom, you are cool.” She thanked him for his kind words. For a moment, there was silence in our car. Finally, I said, “Son, what about me? Am I cool?” Evan paused longer than I wish he had, but he finally said, “Yeah, I guess you are cool, too.”
You guess? I’m cool “too?” Seriously? Was that the best he could do?
Well, truth be told, I never really thought of my parents as being cool either. You know how it is. Parents and adults are just old and out-of-touch. Kids think that adults don’t understand what it’s like being a kid these days. Adults don’t dress the right way, don’t talk the right way, and certainly don’t understand kids at all.
Over the years, I have noticed that some kids are drawn to certain adults and see those adults as “cool.” I’ve watched those kids hang out with the “cool” adults, spend time at their homes, and go places with them.
Have you ever wondered why some adults are like magnets to kids and some simply aren’t? Have you ever wondered why some adults are “cool” and some aren’t?
Some general observations come to mind that’ll help us understand children better (even if we still won’t be the "cool adults" in the room).
First, to better understand children, we need to spend time with them. When we spend time with kids, we tell them that we value having a relationship with them. Every Friday morning, my ten-year-old son and I go on what we call a “daddy date.” We get up a little early, get his stuff ready for school, and then head to a fast food restaurant for breakfast. Nothing fancy. Nothing expensive. Certainly nothing good for my cholesterol level! We just spend some time together as father and son. Sadly, many adults don’t see the value of taking the time to build relationships with kids. However, what I’ve learned in spending time with my son is that I can’t wait for him to need me before I make him comfortable with me. I think that applies in all adult/kid relationships.
Second, kids need to know that they are loved. How do you show them love? Yes, spend time with them. Go to their football games or watch them march in the band. Ask them about their favorite pets. Don’t judge them if they have long hair or tend to let their pants droop a little. Be positive with them. Kids need to know they are genuinely loved by others. And when adults show them love and friendship, they learn how to better model that with their friends and classmates.
Third, talk with kids. Some people will say, “Duh! Everybody knows that!” Do they? Unfortunately, what we too often see are adults talking down to children and not talking with them. OK. Before you freak out and say, “What in the world do I have to talk with kids about?” or “I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin,” just slow down a little. Talk about whatever interests them. Maybe it’s their favorite football team. Maybe it’s their schoolteacher. How do you find out what kids are interested in? ASK! Talk with them about sports, hobbies, school, etc. By taking time to actually talk with kids, you’ll know better how to speak their language. And when the time comes to talk about God, Jesus, church, or missions, they’ll know you genuinely care about what they think.
Fourth, never forget that you are the adult and kids aren’t. I realize that this can be difficult. It also seems to be a forgotten reality today. However, kids really do need clear boundaries. Kids have a way of pushing and pushing and pushing to see just how far they can go. Whether it’s with a curfew, or what they watch on TV, or how much time they spend on the computer, kids need to know that there are rules and that the rules apply to them. You see, children need to know that they aren’t the adults. They need clear boundaries, and they need to know who’s in charge and who isn’t.
Finally, be consistent with children. Consistently show them respect. Listen to them. Talk with them. Don’t talk down to them. Be honest with them. Over time, kids will see that you are being consistent with them. They will learn what to expect from you.
Will we ever be the “cool adults” in the room? I don’t know. But what’s important isn’t being the cool parent or teacher or adult. The important part is modeling for children a godly life of respect, love, and kindness.
M. Steve Heartsill loves his wife, his son, and exploring the world.
October is recognized as Pastor Appreciation Month in many churches.
It’s not too late to recognize your pastor and church staff, whether you choose to do it corporately as a church or as an individual. Here are some quick thoughts on how to recognize the leaders God has placed in your church.
- Write lots and lots of letters! Letter writing is basically a dead art today. It is said that Annie Armstrong hand-wrote tens of thousands of letters per year to encourage people to support missions. Today, with the advent of email, text messaging, and social media, many people rarely write more than 140 characters at a time. This week, write a personal note or letter to your pastor and church staff. Encourage them in their work. Thank them for how they have blessed your life.
- Everybody has their favorite things! Some of us crave chocolate. Others love fresh fruits or vegetables. And who doesn’t love coffee? Collect a few of your pastor’s favorite things, and place them in a nice gift basket that you can give him. The gift could come from your Sunday School class, from your family, or from you personally.
- Pray. Pray for your pastor and church staff every day. Pray for their emotional well-being, their physical strength, their families, etc. There is little doubt that this is the simplest yet most impactful way to encourage your pastor and staff.
- Many times, pastors and church staff members find themselves burning the candle at both ends. While they’d love to cook and eat at home more often, that’s just not always possible for them. Why not prepare a home-cooked meal and deliver it to their home (be sure to notify them of your intentions so they’ll know to be at home that night). Not much of a chef? That’s okay. A nice gift card to good restaurant in town will be equally special. Or better yet, order dinner from a nearby restaurant for your pastor and his family and have it delivered to their home.
- Some church members have a vacation home at the beach or in the mountains. Why not reserve a week or two in that home for your pastor and church staff? Not only will they save the cost of a hotel or rental, but they’ll enjoy getting away from every day pressures with their family.
- As you are able, mow your pastor’s lawn, freeing him up from this never-ending task. If your pastor really loves spending time outdoors working in his yard, you could always volunteer to have him come over and cut YOUR grass!
- Wash your pastor’s car. You could enlist the youth or children to help you, or you and your family could “sneak attack” his car and wash it while he’s working in his office. Imagine his surprise when he comes out and sees his shiny ride!
As you can tell, there are countless ways to show appreciate to your pastor and church staff. Some ideas will take a little time and financial resources to pull off. Other ideas are inexpensive but still demonstrate how much you love and appreciate your pastor.
M. Steve Heartsill once served as a pastor. He never forgot the kindnesses shown to him during October and other times in the year
Country music fans are probably familiar with the song titled “Family Traditions.” It plays quite frequently on the radio.
This weekend, that song went through my mind as I remembered my family's tradition of putting up Christmas decorations during Thanksgiving weekend. Back in my childhood days, my father, brother, and I would head out to the woods to look (for what seemed like hours) for the perfect Christmas tree. Finally, once we had found the perfect tree, my dad would take the axe and cut it down. Then, we’d head home and get the tree ready to be decorated. For the next few hours, we’d pull out old decorations, lights, and even that long, stringy, silver tinsel that wound up everywhere but on the tree.
I’ve continued that Christmas tradition with my family. Every Black Friday or Saturday, we pull out the decorations and start the process of transitioning our home from fall and Thanksgiving to Christmas. Each year, as the tree is being decorated, I reflect on the ornaments that adorn our tree. Some decorations were made by my son when he was in preschool. Others were gifts from family and friends. A few ornaments were “won” at “Dirty Santa” Christmas parties with office staff, church members, or family. Each ornament brings back a memory. Maybe that’s why it takes me so long to decorate the tree—I’m thinking of the people who gave us the ornament or where we purchased it.
One set of decorations is especially meaningful to my wife and me. My wife worked for Kentucky WMU when we met. After I proposed and we set a wedding date, we both realized that she’d have to give up the job she loved dearly and make the move from Kentucky to Alabama, where I live and work. The Kentucky WMU staff and their executive board threw a wedding shower for Tonya and me. The ladies took an unusual approach to the shower. They divided the year into the 4 seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Then, they each selected one of the seasons and bought gifts that were appropriate to that particular season. We received Easter decorations and Fourth of July decorations, and oh, the Thanksgiving decorations have added so much to our home over the years. But my personal favorites are the Christmas decorations. I know the reason they are the most special—because of the family traditions I had as a child. Those women gave us Christmas ornaments and plates and table runners—you name it. They blessed us with so many wonderful Christmas decorations. And each Christmas, as we pull the decorations out, we remember their generosity and their love for Tonya and her time of service in their state.
This Christmas, what family traditions will you enjoy? Will it be a trip to Grandma’s house? How about hearing your favorite Christmas song on the radio? Or what about a Christmas meal with your siblings and their families, friends in your neighborhood, or your church family?
I am also reminded that it’s not too late to begin a new tradition this Christmas season! New traditions could include attending a community presentation of Handel’s Messiah, going to a Christmas Eve service, etc. It’s never really too late to begin a new memory that will become a family tradition as the years go by.
I pray that this holiday season will be a blessed one for you and your family. And may God bless the memories you will make before 2018 comes to an end.
M. Steve Heartsill loves his wife, his children, and, sometimes, even his dog.
I've never been very good at making—much less keeping—New Year's resolutions. Oh, I'll give it a passing thought as I hear others talk about their resolutions to lose weight, exercise more, spend more time with their kids, etc. However, I've learned over the years that many, if not most, of those people who made those resolutions never kept them for more than a few weeks. Don't believe me? Visit a local gym on January 2 and then again on February 16. See if you notice the difference!
What it comes down to for me is not so much about making yearly resolutions I won't keep as it is about digging in and doing the hard work to accomplish what needs to be accomplished—in other words, setting goals and accomplishing them.
At my annual physical, my doctor asked me how often I eat healthy, which he had never asked me before. After thinking a few moments, I gave him my answer. When I told him that I usually eat a healthy diet between 80–90% of the time, he was both shocked and pleased. Yes, there's still room for improvement. I could eat healthy 100% of the time, but I don't really see that happening. So, what do I do to reach those numbers? Well, I don't make a New Year's resolution about my diet or exercise each December 31; I just go about a daily plan to eat healthy and to stay in the best shape possible. I have a plan, and I work on my plan. I tend to set goals that I hope to accomplish—not just for the short-term, but also for years to come. And then, I don't stop when I set the goals; I establish ways to accomplish those goals.
Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about. For years my wife and I have talked about opening a consignment-type shop. We enjoy building crafty things, and we are always on the hunt for some "treasure" that can be re-purposed into something new. For years, we did little more than talk about it. Then, about this time last year, we put a plan into motion to open such a shop later in the spring or early summer. We began making items that could go into the shop. We began purchasing items we could resell. For a while, our house began to look like we were hoarders! In late spring, we opened our shop. Now, our goal is to keep it filled!
Now, if we'd only talked about opening a shop and never done anything to accomplish it, well, nothing would have ever been gained. But, when we began putting our talk into action, we were able to accomplish our long-term goal.
Much of the same can be said about our work habits. Maybe you've been talking about beginning a new project at work. Maybe some of your work needs to be passed along to someone else.
Well, as each day rolls along, remember that now is the time for more action and less thinking about it.
This year is waiting to be unpacked. Start today putting your plans into motion and finding new ways to work better, not harder.
Well, as each day rolls along, remember that now is the time for more action and less thinking about it.
This year is waiting to be unpacked. Start today putting your plans into motion and finding new ways to work better, not harder.
From Greece to the present day, actors and actresses have worn masks during performances to transition from one character to another. During Elizabethan days, one actor could portray various parts of a play simply by wearing a different mask on the stage.
While we don’t wear physical masks as we go through daily life, some of us nevertheless mask the feelings, thoughts, and even pain we are carrying around on the inside.
Recently, I was talking with a friend about a member of her family. Her family member is struggling with the consequences of a decision made years ago. From all outward appearances, the family member seems well adjusted and seems to have their life together. However, behind the appearance—behind the mask they are wearing—is a huge amount of pain and suffering few know about.
While my job as an editor and writer often requires me to share personal experiences, I tend to be more private about my personal life. No, I don’t hold a mask in front of my face. But, I am an expert at disguising what’s really happening inside.
Pulling back our masks can be troubling. Putting a stop to the hiding and masking of our emotions can be a difficult, almost impossible task for many of us. We find our world simply makes more sense when it is neatly tucked away and hidden from public view.
Some people are hiding behind a mask. It would be easy to judge them as distant, aloof, or even shy. However, what we sometimes forget is they may be hiding pain we know nothing of. They could be struggling with decisions that need to be made.
When my daughter was 11-years-old, she confessed to me, “Daddy, I’m weird,” as we drove home from one night. I said to her, “Sweetheart, why do you say that?” She replied, “Well, I don’t fit in anywhere. I’m not a child anymore, and I’m not a teenager either. I’m just weird.”
People you are around may be experiencing the same emotions. They may be transitioning from childhood into adolescence and find that the journey is a tough one. They may be dealing with abuse at home, whether emotional, physical, or even spiritual. They may be struggling to understand their place in God’s kingdom and don’t want others to know of their doubts or fears.
As we go through life, the easy thing to do is to judge the people we meet. “They are weird.” “They are different.” “They don’t seem to like me.” While some people are weird, I suppose, and some people are definitely different, the person you are judging may simply be going through one of life’s struggles, or worse yet, a struggle you can’t even imagine someone dealing with.
Take time to understand the people you meet, work with, and lead week after week. Love them through their weirdness. Listen to them as they talk. Pray for them to feel safe and comfortable around you. And, hopefully, given enough time, they’ll lower their masks and allow you to see the people God created them to be.
M. Steve Heartsill is a husband to Tonya, a father to Lauren and Evan, a grandfather to Monroe, and a tolerated human to his dog, Peanut.
Tuesday, January 7, 2014
5 Ways to Make a Post Go Viral
By M. Steve Heartsill
In recent months, I’ve noticed a trend online. I’ve been watching how many lists go viral online, especially on Facebook.
People will write about 7 ideas for this…or 10 ideas for that…
So, I like testing out my theories and being in the “end” crowd at the same time.
So, here’s my list of how to make a list go viral:
1. Create a list.
2. Determine how many items to include on list.
3. Write list.
4. Post list online.
5. Link post with list to Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Magically, there you go. In a matter of hours, your list will go viral and you’ll see yourself on Good Morning America, the Today Show, or even Fox News!
Enjoy your stardom.
And, don’t forget the little people like me who helped you get there!
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Heck, it could be today, I suppose. In many ways, I hope not. But, if that train pulls into the station, I’m ready to board.
As I have aged, I’ve left a lot of things behind.
For example, I don’t play hide-and-go-seek too much, unless you include trying to find my car keys each morning.
I also don’t play the Hokie Pokie too much. At my age, it’s not safe to keep putting my left foot in and taking my left foot out. You know, broken hips and all.
I’m getting better, though, at playing Freeze Tag. Whenever I’m sitting in a chair or laying on the bed, I’m finding it is getting harder and harder to get my back and knees to unfreeze from their laying down position.
But, even as I age and leave things behind, there’s one thing I haven’t forgotten nor left behind. It’s the simple words to a simple children’s song:
“Jesus loves me! this I know, For the Bible tells me so’
Little ones to Him be-long; They are weak, but He is strong.
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so.”
Then, the third verse really touches my thoughts today:
“Jesus loves me! loves me still, Thou I’m very weak and ill;
From His shin-ing, throne on high, Comes to watch me where I lie.
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me,
Yes, Jesus loves me, The Bible tells me so.”
My friends, Jesus loves you! No matter who you are. Where you are. What you’ve done. What you’ve said. Or not said.
His love for you never fails.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Do you ever sit back and listen to someone talk about an event you saw and experienced first-hand, but you know they didn’t see first-hand?
Ever listen to the details they share about what took place, pieced together not from their own experience, but from countless bits of gossip or conversation they’ve heard since the event took place?
Isn’t it amazing how those events can take on a life of their own? Somewhere in their retelling of the event, there’s some truth in there, but there’s also a lot of falsehood thrown in for good measure. Not that they would intentionally pass along falsehood. Then again, maybe they would.
As a police chaplain, I’m often a first responder to events taking place in the community. Sometimes, I’m a second responder, coming after law enforcement has arrived on the scene and determined that a chaplain is needed. Either way, I see, hear, and experience many situations first-hand, many that I’d just soon not see, hear, or experience.
And, more than likely, you’ll never hear about those experiences. Well, at least not from me. You might hear about them on a local TV or radio station’s newscast. You might see someone post about it on Facebook. If you live in this area, you might hear about it through gossip at the barbershop, work, salon, or even in the church you attend.
But, you won’t hear it from me.
That’s a promise I made to myself when I began as a chaplain. Keeping a confidence is important. It is important in law enforcement. It is important to the person injured, arrested, or under investigation.
It is important to me as a minister of God’s kingdom.
In our nation, we could use a good dose of keeping our mouth shut. Less talking to the news media about what we saw or didn’t see. Less gossiping about what we heard or what someone told us to be true. Less sticking our noses where they don’t belong.
Sadly, I don’t think that’ll happen. We humans tend to like our 15 minutes of fame, or with instant technology today, it’s more like 15 seconds of fame. Just read Facebook posts or go to many Wednesday night church prayer meetings, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
Today, practice staying silent. Don’t gossip. Quit sharing details that you know. Or don’t know. You’ll be a better person for it.
Friday, December 14, 2012
“If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters” (Alan Simpson).
A good policy (and a cliché, I suppose) to follow is this: Say what you mean and mean what you say.
I don’t know who said that first, but, I’ll use it here. I like it.
Keeping your word is not always easy. It should be—but, it’s not.
We learn from an early age to tell “a little white lie” to get out of a problem. We can be tempted to “cheat just a little” on our taxes, because everyone else does it. We can cut corners because no one is really going to check behind us.
But, is that the point? Do we lie because it is easy? Do we cheat because everyone does it? Do we cut corners because no one checks behind us?
I’ve never seen the top of the Statue of Liberty, at least in person. I am told that the top of the statue is finely crafted, as is the rest of the statue. The statue was designed by Frédéric Bartholdi and dedicated on October 28, 1886, as a gift to the American people. The date of dedication is important to note, 1886. That’s long before airplanes. Or helicopters. Or even people climbing on buildings without permission, often called buildering.
So, why not cut corners? Why not leave the top (which at the time no one would see) unfinished? Roughed in? Doing so would have saved time and money.
But no. It was finished. Crafted. And completed.
How I wish my life could be like that. Complete, finished, and crafted, both inside and out, the parts seen and those never seen by anyone else.
What a goal for me. And, maybe for you too. Do what you say you are going to do. Complete the work placed before you. Be a good steward of your time, energy, money, etc. Give everything your very best effort. Honor what you say you will do.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
At first glance, Evan’s theology might need a little work.
This past weekend, we hosted several friends at our house for a little Christmas fellowship. Evan grew more and more excited about our guests as their arrival time approached.
He was especially excited about the idea of playing “Dirty Santa.” You know the game, right? Everyone brings a small gift or ornament. The gifts are placed in a pile and are opened one at a time. When it’s time for the second person to open a present, that can “steal” the gift previously opened or can open a yet unopened gift. It continues that way until all gifts have been opened.
The game is fun. It usually brings laughs. And, maybe even a little good nature competition.
As Evan was talking about the game, he couldn’t remember the game’s name. Finally, he said, “You know, that game. Dirty Jesus.”
We couldn’t stop laughing when he called it that. Neither could our guests when they heard what he’d said. Neither could those who read about it on Facebook that night.
But you know, the more I’ve thought about what Evan said, he’s more right than wrong.
Jesus came from heaven to be born in a dirty stable, with common dirty animals, and was placed in a dirty hay trough. I’ve been in barns. Trust me. Dirty.
Jesus spent His early years as the son of a carpenter, getting saw dust under His finger nails and probably hitting His thumb with a hammer. I’ve been in many workshops. Again, trust me. Dirty.
When Jesus’ earthly ministry was ending, a woman washed His feet with perfume and scrubbed His feet with her hair. When the woman's actions were criticized by those around Jesus, He said that not a single one of them remembered their manners and washed His feet when He entered the home for a meal. Calloused feet. Dirty. Stinky feet.
Jesus walked every where He went. His feet were often dirty. His feet may have been dirty more than clean. Jesus worked with His hands as a boy and dirt and mud were often found on Him and His clothes. Lava, Gojo, Mr. Clean, Ajax, and Tide or Gain hadn’t been invented yet.
Jesus experienced dirt firsthand. Jesus got His hands dirty.
That gives new meaning to “God becoming flesh.” Or, “God among us.” It’s amazing how much God loves us—He even sent His Son to live on our dirty planet and to be like us. And, to experience dirty firsthand.
Dirty Jesus. I’m so thankful for God who allowed His Son to play in the dirt.
And, I’m thankful for my son who reminded me again what Christmas is really all about.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important” (Steve Jobs).
How high should our expectations be?
For our children? For our family? For our job? For our church?
How high is too high?
How low is too low?
I will admit that I struggle with determining expectations, both for myself and others. I’ve always set high expectations for myself. Whether it was with my education or my work or even in my hobbies, I’ve tried to always aim for impossible heights. I figure if I don’t set high expectations for myself, no one else will.
But, should I have the same high expectations for other people? Maybe. Maybe not.
In truth, other people are responsible for what they do and don’t do in life—that’s not my job. In truth, other people determine how much education they get or high they climb the ladder in their chosen profession or how they live their every day life. Again, that’s not my job.
I have no right to place my expectations upon others. Not upon coworkers. Not upon my wife. Not upon my friends. Not upon anyone else.
I do think, however, that there is an intersection, where expectations meet. If I hire someone to do a job for me, they should do the job as I expect it to be done. If I am empowered to do a job, others should respect the work I’ve done and the decisions made. They may not agree with the decision, but they should respect my efforts.
Do I think our world would be a better place if everyone set higher expectations for themselves? For their work? By all means, yes! Do I have a right to enforce those expectations? By no means, I don’t.
So, we are left to decide what falls to the side and what things we set as priority. That’s a personal decision.
But, I challenge you to believe in yourself so much that you believe you can reach higher than ever before!
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Startling reality for some people, especially those who believe someone, something, or some Higher Power is responsible for rescuing them from it.
Yet, life happens.
I had a heart attack 4 years ago, when Evan was 8 months old. That really wasn’t fair. I was in good shape. I exercised daily. I ran. I tried to eat right. Having a heart attack was just plain wrong. It was totally unfair.
Yet, life happens.
Three years ago, when Tonya came up for tenure, she was terminated. I’ve since learned that’s a pretty common occurrence, even for someone who had been nominated as "Teacher of the Year" in our country! As a matter of fact, every teacher in her school who came up for tenure that year was terminated, even a teacher who had moved here three years prior with her husband and who was two years from retirement, was terminated. Not fair! But, very painful!
It’s 14 days before Christmas. Two weeks. Yet, over the weekend, our septic tank alarm system went off. Water level was too high in the tank. Upon examination, our pump is dead and the tank needs to be cleaned out. We’ve delayed washing clothes. We’ve taken very fast showers. And, Evan has had permission not to flush after every bathroom visit. Really not fair to have to spend this kind of money so close to Christmas.
Yet, life happens.
But, where am I promised that life will be filled with roses, clear skies, and happy days? Only on the TV show Duck Dynasty does life seem to be “happy, happy, happy.” Real life, is never always happy. Nor, should it be expected to be.
Yet, even as life happens, God remains in control. And, He teaches us things through our life experiences—both the good ones and the ones we think are so unfair.
I have no clue what today holds. I haven’t the slightest idea what’s coming for you or me. But, I know God. And, I know He’s in control.
While I may not like everything that happens and I may think it’s unfair, what does that really matter in the grand scheme of life?
Monday, December 10, 2012
I sometimes sit and watch my son, finding myself shaking my head at his behavior. Evan is such a good child, most of the time. He probably averages 80% good, 20% terror. That’s not a bad average.
I never expect perfection from him—he’s only 4 ½ years old. He’s learning new things every day. He’s testing his limits. He’s finding his way in the world. Evan has so much to learn.
While I don’t expect perfection, I do have certain expectations on how he should act and how he should react.
One of his new “behaviors” was picked up from another child at school—I’m not making excuses for his behavior by blaming another child. But, it’s important to note that this was a learned behavior from watching someone else.
What’s the behavior? When he doesn’t get his way, he’ll literally throw himself on the floor and begin wailing. You should know there are no tears being shed. Oh, there can be screaming and kicking the floor. But, it’s more of an act that being heartbroken.
When he reacts/acts this way, we respond with discipline. The discipline varies, depending on a number of factors.
Most of the time, if not all of the time, his little “fit” only lasts for a few minutes.
I have to admit that what Evan does seems frighteningly similar to how I react to situations in my life. Or, how I react to God saying “no” when I want something.
Now, I don’t literally throw myself on the floor, kick, or scream. But, I’ve been known to throw a fit or two. And, in truth, my fits are just as wrong as Evan’s. And, I suppose, if anyone were watching, they’d think I was being as childish as a four-year-old who isn’t getting his way.
I’m not four. Not even close.
I have to grow up. I must mature. I must continue learning from God’s discipline and instruction. I must stop watching others and behaving the way they do. God doesn’t call me to be like anyone else—He wants me to be like Him.
I don’t like God’s punishment any more than Evan likes my discipline. But, the discipline is necessary—if I want to mature and become more like God.
I want to grow up! I must grow up!
Thursday, December 6, 2012
“Ariel, listen to me: The human world is a mess. Life under the sea is better than anything they’ve got up there!” (Sebastian, The Little Mermaid).
Do you ever “get thrown under the bus?”
Maybe that’s a phrase you aren’t familiar with. To be “thrown under the bus”, at least by my definition, means to sacrifice someone else, usually someone who is undeserving, to cover for something you have done or are thinking or something you’ve experienced in the past.
One day recently, I was thrown under the bus by two different people, relating to two different situations.
One person is a friend. The other person I only know by reputation.
One threw me under the bus to cover up something they had done.
The other person threw me under the bus because they were transferring their emotion for something in their past, that I was no part of, onto me.
Neither situation was pleasant. Neither enjoyed. And, quite truthfully, neither was deserved.
I long ago learned that you can only defend yourself so far. Before long, it appears you are protesting too much.
For example, someone says, “Do you still beat your wife?” How do you answer that question? If you say, “Yes, I still beat my wife,” you should go to jail. However, if you say, “No, I don’t still beat my wife,” it tends to imply that you once beat your wife.
You can’t win for losing on that one.
When you are thrown under the proverbial bus, you never really win.
In the first situation I mentioned above, I just took it and didn’t reply.
In the second situation, I told the person that it was best I not respond, because no answer would truly satisfy them.
That’s how I responded. Hopefully, I’ll continue to always remember that, at times, (maybe most times) it’s just best to keep your mouth shut and not reply at all.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
“You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is a mist that appears for a little while. Then it disappears” (James 4:14).
During much of my life I’ve had a singular goal. My goal has been to be used by God to make a difference in the lives of the people I come into contact with.
Even complete strangers.
Whether in person, through a sermon preached, a blog, a Facebook update, or a written word, I’ve desired for those, in some form or fashion, to have an impact upon other people.
The older I get, the more I realize that my opportunities to make a difference are running out. I’m aging. Eventually, and sooner than later, I’m going to die.
In the days after my death, someone will come along and box up all of my personal effects for my wife to take home. If I am lucky, in a few months after that, someone will see something I worked on or remember something I said and they’ll say, “I remember Steve…”
But, those memories won’t last long. I doubt anyone will be quoting me as they do George Washington or Martin Luther King, Jr. or Jeff Gordon or even David Letterman.
It’s somewhat demoralizing to realize how little impact we actually have on this world, and for the short time we have any impact upon it.
At this moment, the reality of just how short life is and how little time we have to make a difference is sitting heavy upon my shoulders.
I guess I’m supposed to say that I’ll just need to redouble my efforts and do a better job in the time I have left.
But, at some moments in time, thinking that and doing that are two different things.
Tuesday, December 4, 2012
“Setting boundaries is not a more sophisticated way of manipulation—although some people will say they are setting boundaries, when in fact they are attempting to manipulate. The difference between setting a boundary in a healthy way and manipulating is: when we set a boundary we let go of the outcome” (Robert Burney).
My four-year-old son is testing boundaries right now.
He’s doing so almost all day every day about everything.
I know he’s growing up and pushing boundaries is a part of growing up. I’ve got that. I don’t need to be reminded of that. Honest I don’t. I do remember being a child.
Evan will ask me a question twelve times when he doesn’t get his way. Each time, I’ll tell him no and why the answer is no. Finally, when he realizes that I’m not giving in, he’ll go to his mother and want to begin the questioning again with her.
Fortunately, Evan’s mother and I are on to him. And, we work as a team.
Don't misunderstand. Evan is free to ask questions. He’s free to challenge our answers. We encourage his independence to grow (when he’s thirty, we don’t want him still living at home with us)!
But, his constant pushing wears on us. And, yes, at times, it wears us down. Almost to our wit’s end. Even to the point of anger and frustration.
I look at that little boy—who I love with my entire being—and I want to say, “Son, grow up! Accept the boundaries your mother and I set for you! We are doing what’s best for you. Accept it. Move on!”
Then, as I look into his eyes, I hear God’s voice speaking to me. I’ve been the master of pushing boundaries many times. I’ve been known to go back to God again and again and again. Each time with the same question. Each time getting the same answer from Him. But, with me asking just once more. Hoping He’ll do what I want!
I’m really no better than Evan at taking no for the answer.
Yet, God patiently loves me. Disciplines me when I need it. And continues to do what is best for me, even though it’s not what I always want.
I certainly need to pay more attention to God’s parenting skills as I parent my son. God’s the expert.
I’m still pushing the boundaries I’m afraid.
Monday, December 3, 2012
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” (Amendment 2, United States Constitution).
While watching Sunday Night Football last night on NBC, I was surprised that heading into their last break before coming back for the 3rd quarter, I heard Bob Costas give a personal 90-second anti-gun rant (or what sounded like a personal rant), related to the murder/suicide committed by the Kansas City Chiefs player over the weekend.
What took place in Kansas City was terrible. No way around that. Countless lives, including a 3-month old baby’s life, will forever be changed by what took place.
But, for Bob Costas to give a rant about guns was unnecessary, uncalled for, and unprofessional. I don’t remember Costas condemning players who have raped, murdered, and assaulted people over the years. I don’t remember him condemning Michael Vick for killing dogs. Maybe he did and I just don’t remember.
But, football is about football and not delivering the personal political agendas of a sportscaster or network. If I want political agenda, I’ll tune in MSNBC, CNN, PBS, or even Fox News. I expect it there. I don’t expect, nor want to watch it while I watch sports.
I fully understand that neither NBC nor Bob Costas care what I think. I got that.
But, I made my decision last night. After Costas’ rant, I turned off Sunday Night Football. No big deal. No huge protest. Just my personal choice. How will my protest last? Time will tell. At this point, I won't turn it back on in the foreseeable future.
Believe what you want about guns, gun controls, or gun owners. I know the old cliché may be tired, but it’s people that kill, not guns. All we need to do is to look at the city of Chicago to verify that. Chicago has one of the tightest gun control laws on the books in the United States. Yet, so far this year, they’ve had 508 murders and over 2,475 shootings recorded, as of December 1.
So, clearly more is involved in stopping crime, murders, and shootings than just taking away weapons.
I don’t have all of the answers. I just know that for a sportscaster to rant about taking away guns doesn’t really help the discussion, nor offer any reasonable answers.
Friday, November 30, 2012
“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for” (Bob Marley).
I find myself sitting here on our anniversary thinking about all the unforgettable times we have shared together.
Just thinking about these times makes me happy. But, more than just being happy, I am proud to be part of something extraordinary—you.
I was going to write a lengthy, detailed letter confessing my unconditional love to you, but that would be somewhat of a waste of time. It would be a waste to write a letter so extensive when my feelings remain so logically simple in my mind. It only takes a few words to clearly describe how I feel about you.
To everyone else who knows you, you are a bright, capable, caring woman who is beautiful and kind. Without you, their lives would be a little more difficult and a little less pleasant.
To me, you are a huge part of me. Without you, I would not be me. I would not faintly resemble the man I am today.
It’s that simple!
I love you with all my heart.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
“You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on you. No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man” (Heraclitus).
Evan, my son, came home yesterday with his monthly calendar from daycare. On the calendar, his teacher includes things like “Pajama Day,” “Wear Red Day,” “Wear Green Day,” and “Watch Polar Express Day.”
Evan’s calendar is like precious gold or diamonds to him. He proudly carries the calendar in to the house every time we get it. He can’t wait to show the calendar to his mother. Then, we all have to sit around and read the calendar together, circling the days Evan can’t wait to enjoy.
This morning, when I woke Evan, the first thing he did was grab his calendar from where he left it last night. He took it to our bedroom to “read” while we got ready for work, reminding us again about the special days coming in December.
Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was THAT exacted about my calendar. Can you?
My calendar is filled with meetings and assignments and due dates and responsibilities. There’s no pajama day or day set aside to wear red or green. Or, even to watch movies with my friends.
What if I approached my calendar as Evan does? What if I faced my responsibilities with the same excitement and enthusiasm? What if I circled day after day on my calendar and couldn’t wait for those days to arrive? I’m thinking if I did that, life might be far better than it is most months.
A river (or a month on a calendar) only passes once. I think I need to spend some time today going back over my December calendar. I am going to find some days to circle!
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
The other day, I found myself in a really bad mood. In trying to understand why, I’m not really sure what the cause was. It’d been a good day. Nothing major had happened, good or bad. No major stressors in life. Just another normal day.
But, I was still grumpy. More than a little on edge. And, I knew I was taking that attitude out on others around me.
I don’t like being like that. I’d rather be cheery and happy. I’d rather be nice to people and not that person that seems to thrive on being negative and angry. I’d rather be a positive influence on people and not a constant drain.
My wife often laughs at me for striking up conversations with so many people. I’ll talk with cashier at the grocery store, the person collecting tickets at the movie theater, even the person pumping gas next to me as I pump gas. I like talking to people. I like hearing their story.
If truth be told, I’d rather hear their story than tell my own. You may find that impossible to believe. With Facebook, Twitter, and blogging, it’s often easy for people to think you are an open book. But, with all the electronic media that we have today, we can be as open as we want to be and still never reveal the real us. That’s the great thing about the electronic word or printed word, you can share as much or as little about yourself as you desire.
That’s not the case with the spoken word. Those words linger, as if in a cloud hovering around us. People not only hear those words, they see us speak, they watch our body language. They interact with our lives. Our spoken words echo a long time.
I hope today that I’ll be the person I want to be and not the person I sometimes become. I want to listen and learn and see the value in others. I want to treat those around me with respect and love.
Lord, help me to be a listener and learner. Help me to keep my mouth shut more times than it is open. Use me as Your hands and feet and mouth and ears with those I come in to contact with today. Help me to be a positive influence and not that person people try to avoid. Amen.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
If I had hair, I’d pull it out! Yes I would!
That’s how I feel many days being a parent.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my son. I really do. He’s so much fun and he’s such a good boy—well, he is fun almost all of the time and most of the time, he’s a good boy.
It’s those times that he’s not so good that drives me crazy.
One minute, Evan is talking back to me. Telling me what he’s going to do or not do. Telling me why I don’t know what I’m talking about. Yeah. It’s those times that I just want to scream. And, it’s during those times that I’ve lost it with him.
Then, just as soon as I’m ready to lose what little hair and mind I have left, Evan will look at me and say, “Daddy, you are the best Daddy in the world. I love you.”
In less than 60 seconds, I go from being ready to do bodily damage to his backside to wanting to hold him as close to me as possible and to tell him how much I love him.
This parenting stuff isn’t for the faint at heart.
I want to be a good parent. I want to be the best father possible. Yet, most days I find myself thinking about my shortcomings, failures, and the times I missed an opportunity to teach Evan something or to simply love on him one more time.
Those days haunt me. They really do.
I have one opportunity to get this right with my son. One moment in time. To teach him to be a man. To teach him to be a father. To raise him to love God. To love him.
Lord, I need your help to be the parent You want me to be. I need Your strength and wisdom. I am helpless without You. Amen.
Monday, November 26, 2012
A Facebook cartoon I saw last week said something like, “Thanksgiving—the day family gets together—and you just hope the police don’t have to be called.”
Or, it said something like that.
You’d think that of all holidays, Thanksgiving, wouldn’t require police activity. Or fist fights. Or domestic violence. Or a cross word. But then again, shouldn’t that be the case with ALL holidays? Shouldn’t all families’ holiday get-togethers look like a Norman Rockwell painting on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post?
Yet, that is not the case. Too often, when families get together, the long-ago buried demons seem to rise to the surface.
It has nothing to do with Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day or any other holiday. It has nothing to do with turkey or presents. And, it probably doesn’t even have anything to do with that canned jellied cranberry sauce being served.
At the root of the problem seems to be the other 360-something days in the year. Or, maybe it has to do with the years and years of unresolved problems within the family.
Why do we believe that a family can come together for a meal or party or get-together and everything will be fine for those few hours? What leads us to believe that everything from the past will be glossed over as the dressing or stuffing is passed? Do we really think mean-spirited words, hateful attitudes, or favoritism can be covered over with faked smiles, a turkey from Kroger, or a preserved box of mystery meats from Hickory Farms?
A lifetime of anger, frustration, or disappointment doesn’t melt away like a stick of butter left on the stove. Those conflicts, whether spoken or swept under the proverbial rug, eat away any possibilities of joy or happiness.
Some people will say, “Smile.” Or, “Grin and bear it!” Or, “It’ll be over in a few hours, just suck it up and take it.”
Yet, over time, you can’t smile or grin and bear it or suck it up any longer. You just can’t. A clean break is needed. That’s about the only way to deal with it. Just walk away. Just wipe your feet and move on.
There are some people who will say that’s running away. Maybe it is. But, after a lifetime of seeking resolution and peace, and never being able to find it, you have to do something to preserve your sanity…and the belief in what you know is right.
This holiday season, as people talk about love and celebrate family, remember, not everyone is celebrating family. Not everyone is surrounded by love or joy or even peace when family is close by.
Rather than judging or sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, just say a prayer for families that aren’t close. You’ll probably never know why they are estranged. Nor is it even your business.
Just realize that what you see took a lifetime to come. Only prayers can bring resolution. And, peace.
Monday, May 7, 2012
Friday, November 18, 2011
I’m thankful for projects. Lists. To do lists.
When we bought our house 1 ½ years ago, there were few problems with the house.
However, I took the inspection room and made a list of everything the inspector said needed a little “work.”
I prioritized the list and started tackling projects.
No urgency about it at all.
Just made a list, then worked the list.
My mind easily wraps around lists and projects.
They give me a target to aim for. And, to accomplish.
I need targets. Without them, I get lost.
Pardon me. I’ve got more items to accomplish.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
I’m thankful for uncertain things.
Probably sounds weird to some.
However, I’m not a big fan of “sameness.”
No, I’m not ADD or ADHD or any of the other AD words.
Yet, I find that I get bored with doing the same thing every day.
I guess that’s why I don’t work on an assembly line in a factory. Or, do any number of jobs that involve the same tasks each day.
I think I’ll literally die from the sameness.
Nothing wrong with those jobs. They just aren’t for me.
So, I’ll stick with the unknown.
Long live the uncertain.