Four Tools you should have in your Toolbox

There are four tools that everyone needs in their toolboxes. Not everyone has these tools and they can manage through life without them, but it certainly is easier with them.

I have been a proponent of strengths-based service delivery since before I even knew it was a thing. Strengths-based service delivery is centered around finding the strengths of those you are working with and building upon those strengths by adding more tools. I have taken very personally Abraham Maslow’s assertion that, ‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to approach every problem as a nail.’ I am not that much of a handyman or construction dude, but I have done enough shade tree projects to know you have to have the proper tools for the job. The same thing is true of life. If you want to overcome the stressor or difficulty facing you, you need the proper tools to overcome it. Here are four tools that I believe are essential for us all to possess in our toolboxes, whether we are helping other or just looking to overcome our own stressors.

  1. Empathy – Empathy can be defined in many ways, but simply put it is the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Being able to understand their perspective and see the situation from their eyes. This goes a very long way when we are helping others, because we are able to step outside of ourselves and see things from their point of view and combining that with our knowledge assist them in devising a solution. It is also helpful because sometimes we are wrong and we need to see the other side in order to come to resolution. We need to know how we have hurt someone. We need to be able to understand how others think and feel. Additonally, empathy entails a genuine care and concern for others. This isn’t a sympathetic feeling sorry for others, it is an authentic care for them as people.
  2. Apathy – This may seem strange, but I have come realize I can only do so much. And it doesn’t matter how much I want something for you, if you don’t want it for yourself you will never change. As long as I can lay my head down at the end of the night knowing I have done all I can do, then I am good. You have to want it to and until you make the efforts to change or adjust, it doesn’t matter how I try to change you. This is the classic ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink’ scenario.
  3. Everyone has at least one strength – This is tough… because it doesn’t always feel like this is true. But deep inside, somewhere hidden amongst the mess is their strength. Is something they do well. Something they are proficient at. Something they are confident in. Finding this strength and building upon it is critical to working with others. And when we are facing our own struggles, it is critical to recall our own strengths and not dwell or wallow in our shortcomings. Which really leads to the last tool:
  4. We are the same – I learned very early on when working in child welfare (fancy name for the child abuse field), there was a fine line separating me from my clients. This is still true today. I have more tools, more resources, more supports but without them I would be in jeopardy of making choices and decisions I would regret. I have to realize the tools I have doesn’t make me ‘better’ but charges me with a responsibility to help others. This can also be worded as humility. Knowing I don’t have all the answers. Knowing I make mistakes and I am in need of the same grace I am offering you.

Having these tools doesn’t guarantee success or an easy life or whatever. But having them is one step closer to being better prepared to face whatever may come at you today.

A Run-Of-The-Mill Soccer Weekend

It’s Monday morning. I am sitting at my desk, wishing I was at home in bed. So far, this Monday is winning the battle. It was a long weekend, but it was a very good weekend. Our two oldest boys played in a soccer tournament this weekend, the Alliance Cup. And by all standards, the tournament was a success. By far, the most successful tournament our boys have participated in.

In the past, tournaments have kind of been a necessary evil. A long weekend of soccer that leaves you exhausted and wishing you could go back in time and devise any excuse to have not gone to the tournament. This weekend is different. I am tired and I am sunburned, but I am satisfied with the outcome of the tournament.

More than that I am proud of how my boys played their hardest and showed how much they have grown and improved in soccer this fall. They are both playing with an intensity and commitment that brings great joy to my heart. But more importantly, they had fun and enjoyed the experience.

hayden-goalHayden’s team finished the tournament 1-2 and did not make the finals. However, in the game they won Hayden scored a goal. This was his first goal of the season. He was so excited and happy! He barely could contain his excitement throughout the day and weekend. This was definitely a highlight for him and us as parents. Our satisfaction with Hayden doesn’t change because he scored a goal. We love him the same no matter what. I am full of joy because of the happiness this goal has brought to him. Aside from the excitement of the goal in that game, Hayden played one of his best games he has ever played that game. He was put on the field as a forward and several runs on the goal with the ball and had it not been for the defenders stepping in, he would have been in a position to take shots on the goal (somehow, he managed to make runs without the support of his teammates). During the other games, he played goalkeeper and he has show great improvement overall but especially as a goalkeeper this year. I could not be happier with where Hayden is at this moment.

Noah’s team finished the tournament 3-1 and Champions of thenoahchampir division. They came out strong and played strong throughout the tournament. Noah played goalkeeper in every game and he only let 3 goals in for the whole weekend. He had two clean sheets during the weekend. He claims his team named him the Man of the Match for the final game. The final was a great game and he played a very good game. He was challenged by the opposing team and stood the test and emerged victorious.

This was a significant tournament for both of out boys because their previous tournament experiences left something to be desired. This season as a whole has been a great one. I credit their growth and development as young men to making this season a good for them in addition to a new coach (they both have the same coach) who is able to coach and speak to them in terms they can understand. He is a great coach and really enjoys coaching and enjoys these boys.

As a father, it is hard me to find greater joys than seeing my boys happy. And today, they are happy… therefore I am happy.

What does God want from me?

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Three weeks ago at Grace Orlando we kicked off a new series of sermons. The series is entitled ‘One.’ With the main focus to unify the church (all 6 campuses) to one purpose. It’s sorta a capital campaign that is focusing more on 100% participation by the church members than it is on the money. It’s about discipleship more than anything.

During last week’s sermon, Pastor Mike asked the question – what is God asking you to give him that you aren’t sure you are going to be willing to give up? As I sat listening to the sermon, challenged to be sure, I wasn’t sure what God is asking of me. As the day progressed and I thought more about the sermon and talked it over with my wife, I think I may have come up with something. As I write this, I’m sitting in the lobby of a DCF office waiting for my new supervisor to come and get me. I think maybe one of the things God is asking me to give him is my job. Over the last few years, work had been pretty much what it always has been for me. After almost 20 years of work experience, the longest employment I’ve ever had anywhere is 3.5 years at a part-time job. I have lots of experience in essentially the same field, but very little in any given place for any amount of time.

Jack of all trades, Master of None.

This is how I feel. When I don’t feel like a failure for being almost 40 with nothing more to show for myself. (It may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I feel the pull of this midlife thing.) I feel like I have the opportunity to start over. Begin again. Embark on a new career. And as such, I am committing this one to God. I am letting go of expectations or regrets and letting God supersede in this endeavor.

I will excel at this job, not for my own career advancement but to glorify God. I will realize this is my calling. This is where he has placed me.

As I sit here waiting for this job to start, I’m anxious and nervous… hope and waiting with anticipation. I am ready to go to work for God in the setting he has placed me.

To God be the glory.

Undivided Attention – What Kids Need Part 2

In our digital, global, information overload world with rapidly changing images and stimuli, we have cultivated a culture where less is more and this has bled over into our relationships and most detrimentally to our relationships with our children. As parents, we often look for ways for us to not give our kids the Attention they are looking for.

It is the little things in life that make the most meaningful impact sometimes. It is the tying of the shoes. It is the folding of the clothes. It is the completing of the homework. It is sweeping or making of the bed together. It is the picking up of the toys. It is the time spent doing the tasks or things that have seemingly no importance at all that make the difference. It is the not-so-helpful hands preparing dinner. The snuggles on the couch before bed. It is xbox, board games, card games, kicking a soccer ball, playing war or the occasional lightsaber battle in the living room. All of these are times when children get the attention from their parents they crave desperately. Attention focused on them and no one else. Attention given to them, showing them their little lives matter to us as parents.

Sometimes it is hurtful yell or scream. Sometimes it is chastising glance and mean words given. Sometimes it is unending berating in the form of a lecture about how the smallest mistake means the child is stupid. Sometimes it is spanking, the slapping and the forcibly being put into the corner or on their bed for timeout. It is the undivided attention of a parent who can no longer ignore the actions of their child and now they have to intervene and give attention to the child because the child has so completely disrupted whatever activity the parent is engaged in.

Either way, the bottom line is attention. Children crave the attention of their parents. The old cliche is so very true, ‘negative attention is better than no attention at all.’

Many kids just want someone to pay attention to them. Someone to give them something. The challenge as parents is for us to not be irritated when our kids need attention from us. Often, if we stop what we are doing for just a few minutes we can give our kids the attention they desire and be able to get back to our tasks. It isn’t hard. It is about giving them the attention and time they need. It usually doesn’t require a lot of time. As parents it is our responsibility to be on the lookout for the attention our kids need from us and then give it to them. Offer them what they desire. Give them the love and attention they crave.

Are we looking for ways we can give our kids the attention the desire or are we viewing every interruption by them as a nuisance to be overcome? I challenge you today and the rest of the week to take the moments your kids ask for… and then some. Don’t be bothered. Don’t be agitated. Don’t get mad. Give your kids what they want from you… you. Your attention. Your time. You.

Are you willing to accept the challenge?

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I want Gatorade!


A few weeks ago, as I got the boys up and ready to go for school this happened:

Each day brings its own adventure. Each day brings its own challenges as a parent and as a human being. Today was no different. The boys were up til almost 11pm last night wrapping up homework. So we let them sleep in later than usual today. Got them up at 7:50. 
We quickly powered through breakfast, getting dressed, brushing teeth and combing hair with little incident. Lunches got packed, backpacks got packed and we prepared to walk out the door. 

That’s when it happened. 

Jagger realized he had lemonade in his lunch and one of his brothers had Gatorade in theirs. I did this because we didn’t have enough lemonade for everyone. And there was only a little Gatorade anyway. 

But Jagger, decided he wanted lemonade. So he threw himself on the floor and began to yell ‘I want Gatorade!’ As I headed for the door to leave, he changed his tune to, ‘I want water in my lemonade!’ By adding water, he would then have a full bottle of beverage to take with him. Which was the real dilemma for him. He was concerned that he wouldn’t have enough to drink today. 

He quickly made the change, then headed to the car. At that point, my 6th grader decided at plastic grocery sack didn’t make a cool lunch box (he’s lost 2 lunch boxes this week), so he was like ‘I have a sack in my room I can put this in’. 

Seriously? 

As I walk to the car, he grabs his sack and catches up to us. 

I have a full morning of counseling sessions planned, so I was absolutely prepared to drive off leaving young men stranded to find their own way to school this morning. 

Ruthless and reckless. That’s me. 
How was your morning?

First Week of School 2016-2017

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Here we are having finished the first week of school for the 2016-2017 school year. We have successfully navigated the beginning of middle school for our oldest son. We have survived our second son starting fifth grade and our youngest growing up into first grade. It has been quite the first week of school. There have been no major mishaps, but there has certainly been humor and growth along the way already.

We started the year, before it even started, in email communication with the principal asking for our 5th grader to be moved to another classroom. We were denied our request. We went into the year with trepidation over how this year is going to go for him. At the close of the first week, he is confident he will be ok in the class. There is much more to this story, but suffice it to say we are keeping an eye on the teachers and the school experience for him.

Our first grader seems to have had a first week without a hitch at all. He has a great teacher who is on maternity leave for the first month or so and his sub is fantastic. She has subbed at the school for years and she recognized Jagger at meet the teacher and it is going to be a good year.

Our 6th grader is the one we were most nervous about. Mainly because there is such a dramatic transition to 6th grade. He is the source of the most humorous moment of the week. Due to a scheduling mix up he ended up attending the wrong class at least one day, maybe more and was totally unaware of the experience! If Ronda hadn’t been checking his planner, no one would have been any wiser to this.

This week we also had several experiences which I would classify as significant progress in the development of these men we call our boys.

The first is brought to you by our 6th grader. He plays goal keeper on his premier level club team. Last year, US Youth Soccer changed the way they divided youth on teams. This is significant because it means he went from playing U11, 9v9 on a 75 yard field with a smaller goal to 11v11 on a full size field with a full size goal. He has a large learning curve ahead of him currently. This dramatically changes the nature of game for his age group. He asked if he could try out for the soccer team at his middle school. We said yes. He went to the first day of tryouts and had a really good showing – he was asked to come for the second day of tryouts. He made the cut, so to speak. That night, he approached my wife and I and asked if it was ok with us if he didn’t continue going to tryouts because he didn’t want to play for the school. We asked him why, and he said ‘I think with everything I have going on right now, I might be putting too much on my plate. I have a lot to learn for my premier team, I am still playing on an indoor soccer team too and on top of all of it, I’m in all honors classes this year. I think I already have a lot of work for me to do and adding this might be too much.’ We were like, whatever you wanna do, son. I was proud of him (I am proud of him no matter what, honestly. Or should I say I delight in him?) for having a moment of clarity and lucidity to realize he may not be able to do it all. If I have learned anything about myself, I have learned I am a visionary. I have big ideas and grand plans and significantly overestimate what I have the bandwidth to accomplish. This week, an 11 year old was able to do something I usually can’t – know his limitations. This was a moment that made me feel as though I had done something right as a parent. Or more realistically, my wife had done something right and he has just witnessed me get in over my head many times and decided he didn’t want to be like dear old dad. Either way, I am placing this experience firmly in the ‘parent win’ category.

The second is brought to you by our 5th grader. On Saturday, his soccer team had their first scrimmage. Kick off was at around 1pm. If you don’t frequent Florida in the summer at 1pm, you may not know it is hot as balls or hell… whichever you determine to be worse. It was wicked hot. His team managed to get scheduled to play an older, more established team (my son’s team has a new coach and many new players whom this was their first on-field experience together). Our team lost, but my son played with a headache and low blood sugar the whole game. He played hard and he played good. He was subbed out for a short time and was put back in and finished the game. This was very frustrating for me, because I know he can play better soccer than what he did at that game. But he finished the game. He was in tears at the end of the game partially because he felt as though he could have done better and because his head hurt him so much. I am proud (Or should I say, I delight in it?) of his determination commitment and strength of character to finish the game, even though the easier road was to give up. His character stood strong.

As we move to my youngest son and I am reminded he has a constant spirit of joy. He is the happiest little boy I have ever met. From the moment he was born, he has brought joy to our family. He is happy and enjoys his life. I am proud (Or I delight) in the way he brightens up the room and brings happiness and joy to our family. He has hit this first week of school in stride and has had fun during it. He is growing so fast, yet he still takes time to snuggle and cuddle with his mother and I. He takes time to bring us some of the joy he feels each day.

All in all, this has been a good first week of school. The boys have been fantastic. Each day I am reminded of the blessing it is to be a father. I hope each week is as good as this first week.

Faith or is it Hope?

cropped-grace-family.jpgHebrews 11:1 says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This verse begins what has been called the ‘faith hall of fame’ in chapter 11 of Hebrews. Often, as I read the Bible I am thankful it was written long before my feeble attempt at being a Christ-follower ever occurred… because I am not certain any action of my life would warrant being recorded in such a book. Except, maybe as the ‘don’t do it this way’ kind of story. In a situation like that, it is better to not be remembered than to be remembered as the idiot who didn’t do it right. I imagine that is how Peter feels that Matthew and Mark recored in their Gospels that he drew his sword and cut a dude’s ear off when they came to arrest Jesus. (Ok, we don’t know definitively that is was Peter… but it seems reasonable.)

One of the words that sticks out in this verse is ‘hope.’ This word is tied to a concept that is difficult for me to grasp and understand. I say this because hope implies a change is possible. A change of significant value. A change that is worthy of the hope we have placed in the change. My hope often falters because I place my hope in things that falter.

In myself.

I expect that I am capable of being the hope that I hope for. I expect that I am the one who is able to make the change, to make the adjustments, to fix the broken that is my soul. This is simply not true. More than that, it is arrogant to think that I am powerful enough, dare I say sufficient enough, to make the changes needed in love my life. As I reflect on that, it occurs to me that if I was able to make the changes to my broken soul that need to be changed God would not have had to sacrifice his son to cover my multitude of sins. I would need no savior, because I would be my soon savior.

This perspective is fine and dandy, if one does not believe in the saving power of the death of Christ on the cross. However, if one takes an honest look at the idea of humans being capable of the kind of good in actually takes to save one’s soul from damnation you would wonder why things had gotten so out of hand in the first place. If humans are capable to save themselves and do not need the saving grace of God who loves them, then why is the world full of such shit? Please excuse the language, but this is reality. How did things get such out of hand if we can do it ourselves? The answer here is, we can’t. We need something outside of ourselves to save ourselves from ourselves.

Enter the dragon… or maybe just Jesus, riding a dragon. Leese_CRU-T-shirt_09jesus dino

No seriously, just Jesus. He is the one who can save us. He is the one who gives us hope. This morning as I am grasping for hope and realizing my brokenness, I will cling to a savior who can actually save me and not my feeble attempts at being my own savior. I will hope in something bigger than me.

Where are you finding your hope?

I am a Thief. 

I am a thief.
This is difficult for me to admit to myself, let alone to anyone else. I’m not the only one that knows it. I don’t want to be. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate it. It feels constricting, suffocating and like I want to die.
No, I don’t really want to die… the point is that being stuck is debilitating and it robs you of joy, peace, happiness and all the good things of life. I don’t like being robbed. Especially, of the things in life which give it the most meaning and purpose.
I am a sarcastic, cynical and somewhat cantankerous human being. This makes it difficult to be around me sometimes. It is an interesting scenario, being robbed of your joy, because it causes you to rob others of their joy as well. You become a thief. I don’t like being a thief even more than I like being robbed by one. The other day, I came to the realization that it is time to check myself before wrecking myself. It is time for me to get a handle on my inner child and find what has robbed me of my joy, my peace, my happiness and my tranquility and serenity so I can stop robbing those around me.
I am a straight-forward kind of dude and I don’t put much stock in the whole life-force/energy thing we each have. However, I have seen firsthand how we can rob each other of joy, happiness and peace. I have been a thief of those things. When our personal experience is missing those them, we will rob others to of them in order to have them in our lives. Sometimes it is on purpose and other times it is unintentional. But it happens. I have done it… recently.
As humans, we grapple at anything that can/will fill the various holes we feel in our lives. At our core, we are fallen, sinful creatures who have selfishly rebelled against our God and creator; so it makes sense we would rob others of their joy in a feeble attempt to find joy for ourselves. The problem is, your joy can not and will not ever be my joy. Your joy can not and will not ever fill the hole in my life needing to be filled by joy.
And so, I selfishly attempt to find my joy by robbing you of yours and as a result leave a swath of pain, hurt and broken relationships because of my selfish attempt to fill the hole in my soul. I’m not the only one. Many of us do it. Sometimes, we don’t even realize it. At this very moment, I sit on the back patio of a lake house in North Carolina praying to God to find my joy… more specifically that he will be my joy. That God will re-orient my heart and my mind to him. That he will renew them into something new focus on him, his glory and his kingdom and not be focused on my selfish, sinful self. As I sit here, I feel very convicted of how I have allowed Satan a foothold in my life, a foothold of sarcasm and discontent (sarcasm isn’t inherently sinful, it easily leads down the path to the dark side though). I ask God to renew a right spirit within me, his spirit within me to be a man, a husband and a father, after his own heart. I ask for my joy and peace and excitement for life to be restored.
I am sitting at a lake house on the men’s retreat for my church. I came on this retreat with the sole purpose of getting my joy back, getting my focus back. Of remembering who I am before God and how he expects me to live and lead those he has trusted me with. On Sunday, we started a new series of sermons on the parables and we began with the parable of the sower. As I am reading and studying that passage this week, I find I have become the thorny soil. I have a solid foundation and root system in Jesus Christ, yet I have allowed the worry of life to choke out my walk with Christ. I have allowed other things to distract me from my Savior. I have become distracted. I have become like Peter as he stepped out of the boat to walk on the water… afraid, unfocused and distracted. I love Peter. 12 dudes in the boat and he was the only with the balls to get out on the water and walk towards Jesus. 11 dudes in the garden and this joker was the only one who pulls out a sword and says, ‘If you want Jesus, you have to go through me!’ Neither time did any of the others dudes make an outward sign of moment towards Jesus. Peter was impetuous and premature. But at least he did something. He was crippled by fear… not until later, when he denied Jesus 3 times. Which sort of brings us full circle on Peter. While being singularly focused, he was also distracted and unfocused. I am Peter and Peter is me.
They say the first step to fixing the problem is to admit there is a problem. I have a problem. I have become distracted and unfocused and allowed God to be shifted from the center of my life and as a result I have become a thief. As I have lost my joy, I have robbed others of theirs in a feeble attempt to have it for myself.
God, un-distract me.
Focus me on you once again.
Re-orient my life around you.
Renew my first love.
Become my joy again.

What if Star Wars became the paradigm we used to understand life?

What if Star Wars became the paradigm we used to understand life?

So much of life is mirrored in the Star Wars saga. Every major life situation or dilemma is found in the hallowed stories of what is arguably the greatest movie series (greatest story outside the Bible) in all of human history. 

All of the emotions each of us cope with everyday are found in Star Wars: love; hate, fear, betrayal, belonging, connection, depression, anxiety, joy, sadness, excitement, loss, despair and hope. 

We see stories of people being broken, we see redemption, we people use their talents/gifts/powers for good and evil. 

We see fear in the eyes of a little boy taken away from everything he knows to chase a dream. 

We see the hurt in the eyes of a young adult when he realized his friend and mentor has lied to him. 

We see the sting of betrayal by a close friend. 

We see the brokenness in the eyes of a young man who knows he has done terrible things and now he no longer owns himself. 

We see disappointment in the eyes of a father when he couldn’t save his son. 

Star Wars resonates with so many fans because, the story is their story too. They can identify with the feelings our heroes and villains feel. They can see themselves in their shoes. 

Star Wars has become our story. 

Each Day is a New Day

Each day we wake up and we are given a new day to do with it what we want. It can bbe a good day. It can be a bad day. It’s up to us as to what we do with each day. 

No one else can decide what kind of day we are going to have. This realization is difficult for me to swallow sometimes. I don’t think I play the victim card, but I do think I like to blame others for my actions. I like to think things are out of my control and others are responsible for my actions. 

But this is simply not true. 

I am responsible for my actions. No one else. Me. 

How this plays out is we determine how the course of the day goes. We can’t influence the obstacles that come at each day, but we can influence how we respond to them. We can determine how we react, how we respond or what we do with the obstacles that come at us. We aren’t innocent bystanders, we are active participants in every day we face. We decide how we are going to react to whait we face. 

This gives us courage, knowing we are able to impact how each day goes. We have some input into whether it is going to be a good day or not. 

Today, I chosen have a good day. Today, I chose to make a difference in how my day goes. Today, I decide to actively engage in my day. 

What are you choosing?