Run To, Not From

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. – Plato

We’d just spent 14 of the past 15 waking hours at the baseball fields. The first two games rained out twice due to heavy storms of lightning and rain the previous evening. Instead of playing games over two days, we had one day to play at least 3 games. A lot to ask for of a group of 9 year olds.

Nine and a half hours at the baseball fields on Sunday, and we didn’t sniff victory for one inning. I was deflated. So was my son.

As soon as we arrived home, he began to show his anger. He gave a little to his 4-year old brother. A little to his mom, and a little to me. His final blow up happened when after asking for a friend to come over (it was 5:15 on Sunday afternoon), we told him “no.”

He ran to his room, slammed his door and buried himself under the covers.

I wrestled with what to do. Do I go after him, chastising him for slamming his door and waking up his 4-month old brother? Do I leave him be, and wait till he returns to the land of the living? Or do I do something different?

Wisdom, as I’ve heard it described, is a historical perspective.  Thankfully, I chose something different.

I went to him in his room, and told him I was really sorry that he couldn’t have a friend come over. I also told him that I was sad that we’d spent the past 10 hours at the baseball fields and that he only got to bat 3 times, and make a play on 2 balls in the outfield. I told him that I really wish things were different.

I also asked that he not slam his door so as to not wake his sleeping brother. He agreed and buried himself under the covers again. I let him be.

Ten to 15 minutes later, a different child emerged from the shadows. Something had changed for him. He was cheerful, bright, and kind. His anger no longer oozed from his pores, and he smiled as he invited his younger brother to play basketball outside.

I smiled, too. And then it hit me: He just needed to be heard.

My kids, you, me, everyone: We all need to be noticed, seen, and heard. He had just fought a great battle this weekend, and lost. No doubt he was sad, and angry that things didn’t turn out the way he wanted them to. And he did what we humans naturally do when we feel: we hide.

He hid under his covers.

A question for you: What do you hide under/behind?

A challenge for you: When you see hiding: Run to, not from (or against).


Live to die once, not twice.

While watching a show on the Battle of Franklin last weekend, I was struck by a statement the narrator made about life, death, and story. While describing the Lotz family and house being caught in the middle of the Battle of Franklin, he said that every person dies twice. Once when our bodies stop breathing, and then again when our stories stop being told. The narrator said that his goal was to ensure that the story of the Lotz family was never forgotten.

This statement struck me because I am constantly intrigued by the concept of telling stories (my kids can attest to this with our bedtime story adventures). But more importantly, this statement about dying twice helped me to conceptualize how we go about engaging with the fear of living our lives. For one, we can live in fear of our human death, or secondly we can live in fear of our legacy dying.

Living in fear of physical death likely leads to a very safe and cautious life of not taking many risks, if any at all. I think this fear of death takes many different shapes. Sure, we can fear the actual human death when our bodies stop breathing, but I think the more prevalent death we fear is relational in nature. We don’t want to be left alone, to be dead to others whom we care or want to care about. We don’t want to fail at something or in a relationship. We don’t want to start something and not be enough to finish it. This fear of death confronts every one of us. This is the fear of starting a business, speaking in public, seeking out a new relationship, having children, writing a book, or creating something new. I often think that life would look differently if success was defined as how often we failed.

On the other hand if we live in fear of our legacy dying, we’ll be faced with living in pursuit for someone/something that is bigger than ourselves. This is the hard work of life. (And I stress hard work, because it is truly hard work). To live in such a way to this thinking beyond today. It is suffering the reality of delayed gratification (or perhaps sometimes no gratification). To live this way accepts the frailty of physical death and the robustness and power of a story.

One death is certain for everyone. The certainty of the other is what we all must face every day. Will you live to die once, or twice?


The Sexual Commodity of Beauty

The rise of self-promotion and narcissistic endeavors is ever growing. The public sharing of ones life is the modern day equivalent to having access to 500 million pen pals. We have less and less face-to-face interactions with people due to the popularity of twitter, facebook, and texting. And in this growing stage of self-promotion, patience, beauty, and humility are virtues easily becoming replaced by immediate gratification, sexiness, and a see-me-hear-me-want-me attitude. The substitution of beauty and pretty for sexy and hot is a concerning trend in media today.

A few months ago I read a great article about how to talk to little girls. Instead of focusing on their outward looks, dress, or appearance, the author encourages us to engage little girls in their mind, imagination, and other aspects that are “non-physical” in nature. This article set a good stage for me in shaping how I want to encourage and engage with my daughter about who she is, not what she looks like. This perspective is quite counter-cultural. Most ads in the media are helping to shape the pervasive stereotype that women are only to be concerned with their looks and outward appearance. A few decades ago, the virtue of beauty wasn’t tied to how much cleavage you had, or how young a woman looked. Today, the trend is for women to be concerned with being all-sexual, or “hot” as Pat Archibald suggests in a recent blog post. Before reading his post, I hadn’t considered defining pretty as a virtue, but compared with the cultural push towards hotness it strikes me as a worthwhile conversation. I especially appreciate Pat’s connection with the drive towards hotness as ending with women becoming a commodity instead of a person.

It’s not uncommon for men to tell me that women are difficult to be seen as anything other than a sex object. Conversely woman often explain the tension they feel in the need to be like a sexual goddess (no doubt influenced by the overwhelming use of porn by men and women) for her husband. Both of these relational realities create huge issues of objectification. It’s impossible to have a functioning relationship, intimate or not, when one is viewed as anything other than a person.

There are two issues here. First is the need for women to transcend the message that to be sexy and hot is to be beautiful. To take it one step further, women need to reject the notion that beauty is synonymous with being sexual. Some of the most beautiful people in the world would never be selected to appear on the cover of a vanity magazine. Capturing and extending external beauty is a losing battle. It’s not just the women’s responsibility to reject this, it also requires men to engage beauty and sexuality in a mature and person-centered manner.

Men need to develop sexual integrity. The statistics are numbing as to when boys/men are exposed to sexually explicit material (average age is 11 for exposure to pornography). These statistics show that the ease by which men can move into sexually unhealthy behavior only supports the previously discussed biases that women are only to be viewed as sex objects. The development of sexual integrity will help men to reject the notion that women are sex objects and that they are only motivated in life by sex. Despite popularly held beliefs, men are more than just a sex organ.

With issues as difficult as this, it’s be easy to play the blame game. This often happens where women suggest that men are the problem because of their hyperactive and aggressive sex drive. Conversely men often say women are the problem because they dress in a suggestive and provocative manner that is impossible to ignore. Unfortunately, the reality is that sexual objectification happens to both men and women. Regardless of the cause, this is a problem that faces every relationship, parent, and person. Thankfully the responsibility of this issue falls on both sexes. It will take action, leadership, and wisdom by both sexes to change the course we are currently taking. Waiting for the other to take the first course of action is choosing to remain silent, and silence does not promote truthfulness.

Life in the Real World

Over the Christmas break I found a new game on my iPhone called tiny tower. The premise is pretty simple: build your own sky scraper, populate it with people and businesses, rinse and repeat. It’s wildly addictive in that you can spend tons of time in the game earning money and building more. It’s amusement at its finest. And thats why I stopped playing.

Amusement is good in small measured doses, not in vast quantities. The carnival or county fair only comes to town once or twice a year. Any more than that and it would lose its novelty and amusement. But I’m afraid that this natural law of diminishing returns isn’t as obvious in the virtual world.

As I played the game and built my tower, I began thinking about this little empire that I was building. It brought momentary pleasure to see my tower grow to 30, 35, and then 40 floors. But as soon as I turned my iPhone off, my building disappeared. It only existed virtually. And I began to wonder why I spent 20-30 minutes a day building something that will never be real. In reality I don’t know that building a real tower would provide much more satisfaction, but at least there would be something real to show for my work.

What I’m realizing about life is that unless we are engaging with real things and people, we will not grow. When we don’t grow, we get anxious and depressed. Life is not designed to be lived in the virtual world, even though the virtual world offers a painless and entertaining life.

Relationships are not amusing. They are challenging, difficult, and rewarding. Virtual rewards are just that, virtual rewards. It takes hard work to live life on the real world, which is why there exists an enormous quantity of escapes to the virtual world. Because these worlds are so accessible, we need to be aware of how much and when we use them.

One of the ways my family is combating this issue is that we do not use devices with screens between dinner and bedtime for the kids. This means no tv, wii, games on the phone/iPad, etc. it’s been harder than I thought to follow through with is. It’s easy to grab your phone and check Facebook, the news, your tiny tower, or any number of apps that are a daily part of life for some.

If amusement is bringing less and less to your life, create something. Build a Lego tower or town, write a shorty story, bake a cake, paint a picture, or start a new relationship with someone. Obviously this is a short list, but the idea is that life will be more fulfilling and enjoyable when you do something in real life, instead of the virtual world.

Parenting as a journey with kids

Lately I’ve been studying and researching on the nature/effect of shame in our lives. There are a number of fantastic resources that have provided a lot of help for me personally and professionally as I consider shame-based systems. One of the systems I’ve been considering lately is the family.

One clear sign of a shame-based family is the drive for perfection. Expecting family members to be or behave “perfect” is the penultimate form of performance. And while most, if not all, parents would admit to not expecting perfection from their children more often than not rules, demands, and expectations parents place on children are absorbed as the need to be perfect by the children. The pervasive underlying message is that in order to be accepted, one must perform above the fold of satisfactory behavior. Judgements are quick and plentiful that create lifestyles with hidden desires and actions.

Recently I had a conversation with a family to help with their oldest son and his use of drugs, alcohol, and sex while in college. During our conversation, I explored the rest of the family interactions and relationships. They explained to me that the two younger siblings were not a problem because their behavior was respectable and good, but the oldest was sinning and betraying the family.

The more the parents talked, the more clear it became that all of the children were responding to the expectation the parents had of their family being perfect. There was a sense that both mom and dad needed their kids to live a life that looked mature and respectable. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but left unchecked this “need” from your kids could leave some difficult issues to deal with. Living in the middle-Tennessee area, a very wealthy and affluent region, is difficult for a lot of families even if they do not realize it. There’s an expectation to have it together, be wealthy, and not have any personal cracks/issues in life (this reality is not just limited to this area of the country, but happens to be quite strong here).

The parents wanted only to focus on the oldest child’s behavior and how to curtail the rebellious spirit. I challenged the parents to first look at themselves and how they have perpetuated an environment where the son would “act-out” in this way. Their response, which is understandable and quite normal, was to focus on the actions of the son. While his actions certainly need focus and attention, the larger issue at hand was that of the family values, system, and roles.

Parenting is about guiding, engaging, and journeying alongside your child in order to help them become who they were created to be: Not who parents want them to be. The most difficult part of parenting is that children cannot be controlled. No matter how hard parents try, kids will ultimately do what they will do. And this reality is difficult and painful.

Kids break things, hurt others, express themselves in ways that do not conform to the cultural norm , and push the boundaries. The common thread in all of these seemingly “errant” behaviors is that they are exploring themselves and their world looking for way to to be connected to what and who is around them. There are obvious limits that parents need to set for children, but as they mature and get older they need to be allowed them to have more freedom and expression of their lives.

The most relationally adept parents that I see are those that come alongside their kids in walking with them in their journey through life. When parents and kids can meet together at the intersection in the disappointment of life, powerful relationships are built.

The ways we love

Recently there has been quite a stir about the Christian sub-culture around the issue of Rob Bell and his new book Love Wins. I’ve read a few of blog posts, some twitter posts (including a very prominent Author and Pastor who tweeted “farewell Rob Bell”), and some reviews of the book. While the debate is interesting to watch, I find the practicality of it all a bit obtuse. So in light of that, I wanted to share a few thoughts about how I see love and the ways in which we can love others (This is an article that will be published in April in a local health and wellness magazine).

Love is strong. Love is tender. Love is hard. Love is the nourishment of life. Of all the needs in life, none is more common or more core to us than love. We are all born into this world in dire and desperate need of love. In the early years of life, love was expressed to us through feedings, holding, rocking, and playing. As we grow up, we become more defined in our personalities and in who we are as individuals. And with each step of growth towards being independent, so too our need for the expressions of love we received as kids.

As adults, our need for love is no less than when we were infants. That’s the way we were created. Much research has shown that humans have a need and tendency to attach and connect with other humans: This is the basis of love.

So how do we love? Here are four categories that are broad in scope, but really give us some great insights into practical applications for loving others. “Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love covers all offenses.” Proverbs 10:12

First, we can delight in the other. My six year old daughter catches me off guard almost daily. Her creativity and artistic flare show me that there is beauty and glory much beyond what I comprehend in my mind. One of the ways that I delight in her is to give her my full attention. This little act of being fully present for someone will go a long way in communicating to them that you are excited and delighted to be in their presence. Another way that we can delight is through gifts, acts of service, words of encouragement, or touch.

Secondly, showing love comes through being curious. When we ask questions out of curiosity and interest about someone else, it communicates that we want to know more about what it is that they are sharing about. Taking people at face value often creates some undercurrents of mistrust or feelings of being unsafe. We are complicated creatures, and to assume or presume that anyone is as simple as they claim to be is not fully appreciating the complexity of the human race. Sometimes the complexity is comical, and sometimes it’s downright confusing. When you’re confused, ask questions. I saw a bumper sticker the other day which read “the shortest distance between two people is a story.” Curiosity is the fertile ground for stories to be told. And when stories are told, we get the experience of the other person beyond what any data could provide.

In a bit more difficult way, we can show others that we love them by being willing to stand in their way. This is a tricky way because it can often be misused and manipulative. Love is not self-serving, and does not return void. With that in mind, being willing to stand in someone’s way can be the most difficult thing you do, but could change their life. Addictions are running rampant in our culture and there are many friends and family members who are deeply engrossed in a loved ones addictive behavior by enabling. Standing in someones way is the opposite of enabling. Again, this is incredibly difficult to do, especially with adults, but it is paramount that we do this with those we love the most.

Lastly, we show others love by being willing to allow for painful situations to occur. This might be the most difficult to do and understand, but is one of the most rewarding aspects of love that I’ve ever experienced. Again, just as the previous example there is the possibility of this being misused or abused. With that said, consider this: Is it ever ok to burn or cut someone? Before you read on, think about that for a moment. In most situations the answer to that question is no, but not in all situations. But in some situations, it is necessary to burn and cut people for their care. Cancer patients need to be burned in order to kill the cancerous growths in their body, just as someone in need of a heart transplant must be cut open in order to be saved. In the common relationship, the ones that don’t involve chemotherapy and surgery, our unexpressed emotions or feelings can sometimes bring harm other people. We give too much power to silent and unexpressed emotions. What love calls of us is to be willing to do things that might hurt others, which is a very risky and scary thing to consider. But if you tell me a story about someone loving you well, I will tell you the story of how they risked hurting you to love you.

Love is what we all desire. Perhaps there is someone in your life that needs you to be curious about them, to stand in their way, or to delight in them. Consider risking love, because ultimately, love wins.