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.

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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Common Threads – What Kids Need Pt. 1

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I’m not an expert on anything… except maybe Jeeps and Star Wars. I would pit my knowledge of those two subjects against any other human on the planet and bet on myself every time. Hands down. Other than that, I’m not an expert in much of anything. But I pay attention to people, things and details. I watch. I listen. I take notes. I connect the dots. I read between the lines and see the picture beneath the surface. I cultivate an interest in behaviors and the motivation for the behaviors. I desperately want to understand the ‘why’ of what motivates each of us to act the ways we do. I make assessments and evaluations based on what I see, hear and observe.

As I look back on my professional career (which has involved a wide range of jobs/roles, but with one common thread throughout), it is clear working with youth and families has been the center of everything I have done for the last 20 years. I have worked with youth and families in a wide range of settings. Sometimes it has been fun. Sometimes it has been difficult. Sometimes it has been uncomfortable. Sometimes I have been an advocate. Sometimes I have been a fried. Sometimes I have been an adversary. Sometimes I have been a mentor, teacher or guide. And sometimes, I have been the ‘bad guy’.

Through it all, it has been highly rewarding for me personally. I have learned tons and grown much. I have jokingly called myself a ‘Jack of all Trades & Master of None’ due to wide variety of roles I have found myself in. The reality is, I have consistently worked with youth and families fro 20 years. It feels very good to be able to say I have been a field of work for that long. I have been told (finally) my resume is impressive. For someone who struggles with confidence (a shocker, I know) this is a much-desired boost.

In my current season, I am working as a therapist with an agency which allows me to offer therapeutic services to youth both at the homes and in their schools. On a side note, I really enjoy seeing a kid in their home and then seeing them at school and being able to see the difference of personalities that come out based on the setting. I spend a lot of time with kids these days. I spend a lot of time having fun, joking and laughing with kids. I spend a lot of time sitting in the homes of families. I lose a metric ton’s worth of card games in any given week. And sometimes it’s not on purpose. Haha. There’s more there for another time. I spend a lot of time one-on-one with kids trying to tear down the walls they have built to protect themselves. I get to take the time to just sit and talk to them. To play card games. To have conversations that don’t always have an agenda. I get to take a genuine interest in the menial things of life that matter most to kids.

As I have spent these hours with kids, I have started to notice some trends. I have begun to notice common threads running through the lives of each one. Abraham Maslow identified some basic needs each human being has and noted until we learn to meet each need as we develop in life, we can’t move on until we learn how to meet each need progressively. I find there is some truth to his assessments. I notice certain kids react or behave in specific ways towards me each time I see them. I have also come to realize, I can learn much about what is going on in the life of these kids based on how they respond to me. I can learn much about what affirmations they are getting… or not getting at home. I can learn about their insecurities and where they are confident.

I have noticed at least three common needs each of the kids I work with has. I think these three needs are common to the experience of every child. I believe every child looks to have these needs met by their parents and other family members, friends, teachers and other important figures in their lives. No doubt, there are many more than three needs each child needs to have met or affirmed, but these three seem to me to be common and are likely some of the easiest for us as parents to dismiss or to simply just miss on.

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.

In a world where social media has become dominant and our relationships have become more and more surface with little actual substance or depth to them, we have created a culture where we have confused disconnection for connection. As parents, we have missed the critical aspect of Connecting with our kids and learning more about them than what kind of day they had at school.

In a world where we are strapped for time, being pulled a million different directions and our kids are bombarded with an ever-increasing amount of homework, sports, video games and Pokemon to catch, we have cultivated a culture where we are too busy watching mindless television and immersing ourselves in the ridiculous lives of unworthy role models we don’t take the time to actually play with our kids anymore. As parents, we relegate Playing with our kids to the iPad, Xbox, PS4 or whatever else we can so that we don’t have to be distracted from our Facebook feed.

In my work with youth and families, I have found these three needs do wonders for lives of the kids I work with. When I take a few minutes of the time I have with them each week, to invest in each of these needs I see a marked change in their attitudes and behaviors. I think these needs are critical and as parents we must work overtly to ensure we are reaching our kids in these three ways.

I’d like to take the next few weeks to discuss some of my observations on these needs and how I think we as parents can do better about meeting them. Will you join me in learning how we can meet the needs of our children?

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?

The adventure continues…


Gave the website a refresh yesterday. New theme. New identity. New focus. 

Last week we were on family vacation and we had the opportunity to go to the mountains of north Georgia. It was fantastic. Adventure was waiting at every turn. The boys had a great time. Although, the trip wasn’t without one day where the boys were ‘bored’ and ready to leave. We powered through and that actually turned out to be one of the best days of the trip. 

As I drove back to reality Friday and then back the grind of normal everyday life, I thought back on the adventures we had, the excitement we experienced. As I mused, the thought that everyday is an adventure came to me. As a father, everyday is the greatest adventure I will have. Times like this vacation are tons of fun, but they aren’t the normal. As a father, each day is an opportunity to live a full life teaching and guiding my boys into new experiences. Forging them into men. Giving them guidance and direction to mold them into the kind of dudes who are trustworthy, reliable, integritous, compassionate and disciplined. The kind of men who treat their wives and children with respect and dignity some day. The kind of men who after God’s own heart, like King David.

The adventure starts each morning when I wake up. Some adventures will be safe and easy to navigate: eat your vegetables, share your toys. Some adventures will be dangerous: stay away from pornography, don’t lie. And some adventures will be downright reckless: stay away from the 150′ cliff, today you are getting married. 

Being a dad is always an adventure (especially when you have 3 boys). It’s not always a safe adventure… sometimes as a dad you throw caution to the wind and are reckless. 

Gentle Peacemakers

  
I sit down this morning with one of my favorite passages of scripture: the Sermon on the Mount. These 3 chapters in the Gospel of Matthew have been the basis for many hours of personal bible study for me. Two of the verse pictured are some of the hardest for me to swallow: Blessed are the gentle… & Blessed are the peacemakers… I find these verses difficult because I don’t think I’m either. 
Honestly, I find myself relating more to Colt’s peacemaker than to that of a maker of peace. I struggle with being a peace maker for a couple reasons. Peace isn’t just absence of conflict, it’s the presence of calmness. I certainly don’t being calm to most situations, but do bring my share of conflict. I’m cantankerous, quick tempered, I have a fast tongue & I have to be right. All qualities the scriptures urge Christ followers to NOT be. I have decided to I want to make a goal of my to be more of a peacemaker in my interactions with others… especially my family. A few weeks ago at church, we discussed how as parents we shouldn’t exasperate our children… even if they do so to us. I’m trying to me less argumentative. It doesn’t always come out that way. 

And gentle… which I know being gentle or meek means have overwhelming power that you keep restrained. I’d much rather display said power, in order to control. Which is problematic. 

These are shortcomings I’ve noticed in my life. Shortcomings, that bother me. Shortcomings, I want to change. Each day, I try and I have success as well as failure. But each day, I will continue to fight the good fight to become a better husband, a better dad, a man who is more like what Jesus has called me to be. 

What about you?

Mentors

Mentor defineA big brother. A father. An uncle. A grandfather. A best friend’s father. A youth leader from church.

Every person, but young men especially, need an older man to pour into their lives. We need someone to help us learn how to be a man. In our society, we put a lot of pressure on young women but there is also a lot of pressure put on young boys to become manly men. There are certain things that men must know. Things it is expected as a man we are aware of. There are also expectations for men which will dramatically change the world all of the men on the planet would get it right. Once these boys develop into men and then as they take on the roles of husband and father, the expectations only get higher.

How do boys learn to be men? How to boys learn the critical ‘man-stuff’ they need to know? The same way any of us learn anything – someone teaches us.

We need someone who will teach us how to treat women. Women are to be treated with dignity and respect, not as objects for our use and abuse. Boys and young men need someone to teach them the proper way to speak to a woman. The proper way to treat a young woman. I am not necessarily a supporter of the whole idea of courting, but certainly something has been lost in the way our youth and young adults are approaching dating. It has lost the special-ness and wonder it once had. It is now a commonplace, ordinary thing and not something that is special. We have lost to excitement and mystery of entering into a relationship with the opposite sex. There are a myriad of societal issues that could likely be traced back to this… that is a discussion for another time! As boys we need someone to teach us how to treat girls and ultimately women.

We need someone to teach us the mystery, wonder and exhilaration that is fire. This is essential to being a man. Other men will immediately gauge the usefulness of a man based on whether he can build a fire. Whether you use raw elements, a flint stone, lighter fluid or straight gasoline a man must be able to make a fire. This ties into a man’s overall outdoorsyness. Men are supposed to skilled outdoorsmen, too. How good of an outdoorsman can you be if you can’t start a fire.

We need someone to teach us how to properly grill meat. Any meat. Dead animal cooked over open flames is quintessential manhood. Without this ability, is a man really a man? Grilling is more than utilitarian preparation of food, it is an art form. It is something special.  Magic happens when meat is grilled.

We need someone to teach us sports. Almost without exception, it is not possible for a group of men to arrive at a park, field, friend’s house or church without some sports equipment. It could be as simple as a football, soccer ball, Frisbee or a baseball and glove. It would seem as though men are hardwired to play sports. In a group of dudes, even the ones that aren’t ‘athletic’ will find themselves getting drawn into the exhibition off sports. While we seem to be inherently keyed into sports, we still must have someone take the time and interest to cultivate the athlete inside of each of us.

Who teaches us these critical life lessons? It is often our father. Sometimes it is an older brother. It can be an uncle. Maybe a grandfather. Maybe it is your friend’s father. Or it could be a youth leader from church. Or maybe it is all of the above. As boys and young men we need someone to teach us important skills and lessons we need in life. We need someone to mentor us.

We all do. We all need someone to pour into our lives and help us to grow. It doesn’t have to be a perfect mentor. It just needs to be someone who cares about us enough to walk through life with us for a season. Mentors change. Seasons and times of our lives change and what we need out of mentors change. But, no matter the season of life we are in we need mentors.

Who has been a mentor to you? What have they taught you? Who have you been able to mentor?

Mystery

The church we go to is in the middle of a sermon series titled, “Identity Crisis.” We are working our way through the book of Colossians. I have read Colossians, heard sermons on it and likely even preached a sermon from the book. However, I haven’t spent the kind of time in study of the letter like I am right now. One of the epic things our church does (Grace Orlando) is they write and provide these handy dandy sermon guides. They are packed full of tons of great stuff – background info on Colossians like what was happening when Paul wrote it, what are the main themes, where Paul was when he wrote it, etc. This provides a holistic approach to the book we are studying. The guide also provides space to take notes during the sermon and a handful of thought-provoking questions to guide personal reflection time and our community groups for further study/discussion.

Over the last month, I have been following up the sermon and studying Colossians in my personal Bible study time. Today I read from the end of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two. As I read, the word ‘mystery’ stood out to me. Paul talks about the mystery of God. He goes on to say the mystery of God is Christ. This can be kinda confusing, but at the same time simple. The mystery of Christ is how mysterious, wonderful and strange it is that the God who created everything would take on the form of his creation, live among us a sinless life so he may die in our place taking our punishment so we may be presented righteous before a holy God. This is a mystery. How did this happen? I daresay, the details of how exactly the incarnation works can not be known by us mere humans. It is a mystery.

As I read this, it occurred to me in our digital age we have lost some of the mystery that is mystery. Maybe I should clarify, I have lost some of the mystery that is mystery. I suspect you may be the same though. In a time when we can pull a handheld computer out of our back pocket and ask Google anything and in a fraction of a second have a more information at our fingertips than was previously possible after hours of research at a library a decade a half ago, we have lost mystery. Mystery is about not knowing all the information. It is about having missing pieces. It is about having to think through and figure out the missing details and connect the dots. We rarely have to do that anymore as Google will accomplish all the hard work for us. We get consumed with information and details and facts and knowing the whole story.

On one hand, this is very attractive to me. I like to know the details. I like to know what is going on. I like to know as much information as I can. I like to know what is happening. I don’t like surprises and I don’t like to be surprised. I have a need to know. So, for me having a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips is a great resource… but at the same time, it breeds an inability to not have all the facts.

In some ways, it reduces my ability to have joy and satisfaction. It robs me of the pleasure of surprise. It takes away the excitement of not knowing. The exhilaration of the unknown. The unknown brings with it a sense of adventure and wonder and excitement that I often miss out on because I am so consumed with having to know all the details, every little piece, every aspect, all the facts.

But sometimes, the facts and information can’t be known. Won’t be known. Shouldn’t be known.

Mystery brings with it a sense of awe and wonder. No matter how awesome something is, once we figure it out it is difficult for it to carry the same power of awe and wonder. Fire is amazing. But it doesn’t hold the same awe for us who know it is simply a combustion or burning, in which substances combine chemically with oxygen from the air and typically give our bright light, heat and smoke. It is amazing, but it doesn’t hold the same sense of awe and wonder since we have figured it out. Travel over long distances doesn’t hold the same sense of awe it used to. We live in a global reality where we can be anywhere within a matter of hours. Our communities and commutes have grown exponentially over the last 200 hundred years and we now live farther away from our jobs than many people traveled in their whole lives. A 30 mile commute takes an hour in traffic when 100 years ago it would take 10 hours or more to walk there or about 8 hours if you had a horse to ride.

In some ways, the digital age has inhibited our ability to be awed and wondered. Again, maybe I should correct myself and say it has inhibited MY ability to be awed and wondered. Not entirely. There are still things that awe me. Creation never ceases to awe me. Looking at the magnificence of what God has created… it is awesome. As I get older and adjust work/life schedule to better accommodate family, it is harder for me to go run at night, which happens to be my favorite time to run for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons I enjoy running at night, is looking up to the stars and being awed by the vast expanse that is space. I;m not much of an astronomer, but I know enough to know you can tell what time of year it is based on where the Orion constellation is in the night sky. Mountains always awe me. Their hugeness and greatness towering over the landscape is moving. Most of any existence of water on the planet awes me. With the exception of the plethora of retention ponds we have everywhere in Florida (A funny side note, when Ronda and I first started dating and would visit her family in Florida I would ask about why there were so many retention ponds everywhere. She answered me one day, ‘to keep the alligators from coming back.’ I took it as Gospel. I didn’t realize until years later when I said something to her about this that she was joking. They do serve to collect the excess water so as to keep Florida from becoming a swamp again and therefore sorta serve to to keep the gators at bay… but not really.) I Waterfalls amaze me. Springs amaze me. Rivers and creeks amaze me. The beach amazes me. How the moon affects the beach amazes me. Rocks amaze me. Hahaha, I sound like a little kid with that one! But it is true. Trees amaze me. Creation amazes me.

My wife amazes me. She amazes me for more reasons that I could justly articulate. But her commitment and love for me amazes me. Her devotion to God amazes me. Her warm heart and caring soul amaze me. Her never-ending service to me and the boys amazes me. Her strength amazes me. She amazes me.

My boys amaze me… and not always in good ways! They are fantastic, wonderful humans who are amazing. Their caring spirits, good hearts, imaginations and laughter amazes me. Who they are becoming as men amazes me.

I am amazed by the wonder of a God who created me, provides for me as a father and who died for me so I can spend eternity in his presence. The mystery of how he did that is not lost on me. I don’t understand it. I can’t understand it. But I accept it.

Let’s not lose mystery from our lives. I live technology and I love the world I live in, the digital age I wouldn’t want to give it all up… but I equally don’t want to give up being amazed by mystery.

What is mysterious or amazing to you?

So Much has Changed…

Often in life, each day is just another day. Each day is a day unto itself. But sometimes, the day is more than just a day. It is a defining moment.

This day last year was one of those. It was a defining moment. It is frozen in time. It is a day never to be forgotten. It was probably one the hardest days of my life.

Without sharing too many details or the particulars – one year ago today, my brother was taken into custody after a court hearing and transported to county jail and ultimately to state prison. This is an experience my family has not talked about much outside of the ‘Westfall Family circle of trust.’ Today, I am feeling as though I need to share my thoughts on the last 12 months. I am not going to talk about the details, but I want to talk about the feelings and impact this experience has had on my family from my perspective, my point of view.

February 5, 2015 was one of the hardest days of my life. Watching your brother get taken into custody is hard enough, when you add into the mix having to watch your parents as their son is taken into custody and you have the makings for a tough day. I have found it is one thing to cope with your own emotions and to assist others in coping with their emotions… but when the others is your family, it is significantly more difficult to keep an objective presence. Watching my parents explain to my niece and nephew their father isn’t coming home for a long time… as their little minds attempted to wrap around the concept of another parent who would be missing from their lives. As they tried to make sense of something that makes no sense at all. Watching parents struggle with the exact same thing… finding sense, meaning and purpose in a experience that makes no sense.

It was on this day I learned the futility of saying, sometimes crap happens to good people and we have to accept it. This does nothing to comfort those suffering. Knowing it is unjust doesn’t make it easier to handle. I mistakenly thought those were wise words in a time of crisis because they are true. Scriptures teach the sun shines on the wicked and good all the same. But in times of distress, these words are hollow. Empty. Meaningless. We search for meaning, for understanding and we want things to make sense. And when things don’t make sense, posting out they make no sense, makes no sense.

Over the last year, I have experienced feelings of loss I hadn’t anticipated. Some time ago, I wrote the following words trying to understand my feelings:

  • This feels strange to write this…I find myself mourning my brother. No, he’s not dead. But he is in prison. While the story is complex and convoluted at best, I want to muse more on how this whole story causes me to feel.

    I find myself mourning him. He’s gone, while not being gone at the same time. It causes an odd void in my heart and life.

    On any given day, I communicate with Ronda more than I do any other human being… makes sense, cuz she’s my wife.

    Next in line on this list was my brother. I didn’t realize how often. I called, texted, emailed, facebook messaged, sent him a YouTube video or otherwise reached out to communicate with him. Countless times over the last two plus months I have found myself wanting to reach out to him about something, nothing or anything in between. I actually called his his iPhone last week! Haha. Habit.

    Given the amount I typically communicated with him, there is now a void in my daily communicative expression. This evokes a feeling similar to mourning in my heart because I am unable to communicate with him when and how I want to.

    I don’t know what I expected the feelings to be like…

    At least we can speak on the phone once a day. We could write letters, but that’s not a fun as it might sound. We can visit, but things have been some crazy at work I haven’t had the time to plan a trip to Georgia.

    I know this is only temporary and after this season has passed life will return to normal. But in the meantime, I miss him.

I feel a great sense that can only be described as loss. There is a hole in my life which can only be filled by my brother. A large, special piece of my everyday has been taken away from me. It is missing. This loss has certainly changed our relationship… I don’t know how exactly or what things will be like when we can talk whenever we want, but things have changed.

I know my family has felt the same or similar feelings on loss, too. This has affected us all. We all have felt the pressure, the loss, along with other feelings. We have felt betrayed at times. We have felt lied to. We have felt disappointment. We have felt like we have been left to pick up the pieces of shattered lives. We have felt overwhelmed and unable to cope. We have felt guilt. We have felt responsible. We have felt feelings that are real and powerful. We have hurt and we are hurting. I would argue this is normal. This is to be expected. And this is ok. What’s not ok is bottling the feelings up and letting them gnaw at our hearts and allowing those feelings to adjust or change the love we have for a brother/son who himself is hurting. Maybe more than us. Likely, more than us.

This may be a simplistic approach to the dilemma, but I believe guilt or innocence to be irrelevant. Maybe not irrelevant, but holding no bearing on the reality of my feelings about him or about this situation. I love my brother. I will always love my brother, no matter what. But loving my brother doesn’t mean I am not allowed to have feelings like the ones above. It doesn’t mean when I have those feelings I am in the wrong. But it also doesn’t mean I can use this as an excuse to feel differently about him. What has happened has had a dramatic impact on my family and we are forever changed because of it. And at the resolution of this whole experience, there will be more exploration to finally resolve it. To finally, make sense of it… as much as we can. No doubt, there will be more tears, more frustration, more anger, guilt, remorse, sadness, joy, laughter, more whatever.

I’m not going to pretend I see the silver lining and I know on the other side of this we will be stronger, better, blah blah blah. This sucks, from start to finish. But, this is where we are. This is our life. This is the experience we have. This is the hand we have been dealt and whether God is in it or not, we will endure it. God will use it, certainly. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier. Doesn’t make it suck less.

For about 12 months I have wanted to share my thoughts and feelings. I have wanted to express what we are going through. And I haven’t. I don’t know if it is because I was embarrassed. Or if if I didn’t want to hurt feelings. Or if I wasn’t sure we were or I was ready. But the sooner we stop hiding in the shadows, the sooner we can have some resolution about what and how we feel.

I love my family. I love my brother. I will always love them. Nothing will ever change that. This has been hard, but it hasn’t killed us yet. And I don’t think it will. If we continue to stand against this as a family, we will endure.

These are my feelings. These are my thoughts. This is my voice. If you are reading this and you feel like you have suffered and are suffering know you are not alone. Know there are others walking through life carrying heavy burdens. Burdens we daily try to give to Jesus, but hang on to because it is hard to give them up. There’s a band called HELLYEAH. They have a song entitled Hush. It talks about growing up in a family wrought with abuse. While it is not always true, emotional pain (regardless of the source) often easily translates from person to person. What I mean is, when we feel emotional pain we can associate with others feeling emotional pain regardless of whether the source of that pain is the same or not. As the scene is described in the song, a line from the chorus says, ‘if this reminds you of home, you better know you’re not alone.’ This is why I write these words today. I want share my pain to let others know they are not alone. To let others know they don’t have to suffer alone in silence. We can help each other. Today I may be strong enough to hold you up, but next week I might need you to hold me up.

I will hold you, will you hold me?