Dogfight Alley

  
A couple of blocks from our house, there is a park with a variety of attractions. There’s and off leash area for dogs. A BMX bike trials area. A mountain bike trail through the woods. Open fields for running & playing. 
This afternoon, I took the boys up there to ride their bikes & for some soccer drills. At one point, they rode off to the water fountain and I kicked the soccer ball at the boys. Don’t worry, my aim is terrible so I didn’t hit anyone. But as the ball rolled towards the bikes, I was reminded of dogfight alley. 

Abe & I would ride our bikes to this parking lot and proceed to kick a soccer ball whilst we rode our bikes. I don’t recall if we ever named the sport, but it became vicious at times. Imagine full throttle bike riding & kicking a ball. There were times the ball didn’t exactly pass safely between the tires of the bike. Wipe outs were had. Scars were earned. 

As I think about this game, this experience it occurs to me this is the stuff of life. Creating new games, dangerous games. Games bringning to the brink of death. 

Epic tragedy possible at every turn. 

The very essence of existence. 

This is what it means to be alive. This is the quintessential experience of being a child. Of being a boy. Creation & destruction all wrapped into one package. 

As we grow older, we sometimes lose sight of the awesomeness that is being alive. As we grow, we get bogged down by reaponsibility and adulthood. Life takes hold of us and there suddenly things ‘more important’ than this life of fun & adventure. Excitement & creativity take a back seat to responsibility and work. Wonder & awe are traded for rules and regulations. 

For those of that are parents, we are caught in the middle. Caught between the reality that is life as an adult and the reality of living with growing, developing human being who haven’t matured beyond simply viewing everything in life as a place to have fun. As a parent, I confess, I am too often concerned with the rules and don’t focus on the fun. If you know me at all, this may or may not perplex you but it is true nonetheless. 

I prefer order over chaos. I prefer rules to anarchy. And children are nothing if they aren’t chaos & anarchy. (Especially my 3 boys) They are the antithesis to everything I hold valuable. 

So there is a struggle… can I break free from the chains of adulthood and allow myself to step back into the world of my youth and experience the creativity, wonder, awe, excitement and adventure that is being a child? 

More importantly, can I allow myself to allow my boys to have the fun get so desperately crave? I don’t always. 

But I always wish I did. 

So here’s to being a little less uptight & and more like a child. 

I am a Runner

  
I’ve been what I would call a ‘runner’ for 11 years this month. While my wife was pregnant with my oldest son I gained about 25 sympathy pounds. After his birth my wife looked at me and said, ‘I was pregnant, so I gained baby weight and I’m not pregnant anymore… what are you going to do?’ So I started running. And kinda like Forest Gump, I never stopped. But after 11 years of running, I completed my first ever tempo run. While I have run often and far, I realized I was a lazy runner, running for distance and not really caring about the pace. Not anymore. I’ve started a new training plan that is going to kick

my butt. But it will also get me ready to destroy my current half marathon pace. I’ve set my eyes on the Tomoka half marathon at the end of March. 

So today, as I ran my first ever tempo run I feel like I’m now beginning to train like a runner. Refine my skill and become better more efficient at it. 

I like running. 

Razor’s Edge

  
Maybe it’s just me, but I find I live life on a razor’s edge. 

What I mean is this: each day has the propensity to be a good day or a bad day. It all depends on which way I lean. Which way am I going to go. Which direction do I allow my day to be taken. 

If I allow my day to be dictated to me and don’t specifically take steps to make it a good day, it won’t be one. It’ll be a bad day. This shouldn’t be surprising to us. We live a world marred and broken by sin. We live in a world where selfishness and sel-gain are the order of the day. Our world is broken and leads towards destruction. So it shouldn’t be surprising that our days can easily become bad days full of pain and suffering. 

On the other hand, if I wake up and determine to make this day a good day it is more likely than not thT it will be a good day. I know what you are thinking, some days are always going to be bad due to their circumstances. True, but our perspective incredibly affects our outlook on life. Perception is 9/10 of the law, right? We can’t always make everyday an epic specimen of existence, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Here’s four practices I utilize in my efforts to make everyday a good day:

  1. Remember today is a new day. P.O.D.’s song Alive starts with the words, ‘Everyday is a new day, I’m thankful for every breath I take’. I often find myself reciting these words at the conclusion of a tough day or at the beginning of the day. Everyday is a new day. Today doesn’t have to be like any other day you’ve ever had. 
  2. People depend on me. I’m a dad, husband, boss, mentor, friend and role model. People are looking to me to gain insight on how to handle their lives. People are looking to me to learn something. People are relying on me to be strong and consistent. I am not an island. People need me to be the best I can be today. 
  3. God has blessed me beyond what I could ever deserve. Even in my darkest moments, my life is favored and blessed. As a child of God, I am in dwelt by the Holy Spirit and therefore have found favor with God. He loves me. He watches over me. He is preparing a place for me that is free of pain, suffering and hurt. 
  4. The last practice is somewhat more practical in nature and may qualify as more than one practice, but whatever. I use everything at my disposal to make each day good. Counseling, prayer, reading the bible, wise counsel from friends, self-help articles and books, time with my kids, video games, anything. God has blessed me with a myriad ofresources at my disposal to make my day good, all I have to  do is reach out and use one of them. Surprisingly, God doesn’t want me to be miserable. 

I still have bad days. It happens more than I want. But those are the days when I let life happen to me and not the days when I happen to life. Decide today to be more than conquerors and Almagest today a good day. 

All Saint’s Day

574797_3631959845175_594874501_nEven though I am a day late writing this, I wanted to share it with anyway.

November the first is All Saint’s Day. This is a religious holiday that was created as a response to All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween as we know and celebrate it. All Saint’s Day commemorates those who have attained sainthood as a response to the commemoration of the dead (and presumably evil spirits) which happens on Halloween. Unless you are Catholic, you probably have no idea what this holiday is about.

November 1, also happens to be my mom’s birthday. I was afforded a special treat and had her at my house on her birthday this year and I was able to celebrate it with her. I don’t recall the last time I was in her presence on her birthday. Before you brand me a bad son, keep in mind we live 500 miles a part. We had a joyous time joking that the day is called All Saint’s Day thanks to her being born on that day. We tried our best to make her feel special and celebrate her.

What I want to share with you, is not thoughts on Halloween or All Saint’s Day… I want to share a few thoughts on my mom. As most sons will tell you, their mother is the best mom and I am no exception. She is the best mom I could have hoped for or wanted or deserved. I’m not sure how she put up with me all these years, because if as a child I was anything like I am as an adult I am sure I was challenging. There are many things my mom has taught me, but three things stand out to me.

  1. She taught me to never give up. This may seem simple, but it really isn’t. There are many times throughout our lives where we will want to give in, to throw in the towel, to just give up. I have seen my mother deal with some very difficult situations and to take on responsibilities that are very heavy and overwhelming to her. But each day she never gives up. She continues through the difficulty, through the hardship and through the toughness. My mom taught me, that no matter difficulty or obstacle is in front of you you must overcome it, you take it head on and you must not give up.
  2. She has taught me the power of enjoying the little moments of life. No matter what is going on around you, there is never not enough time to enjoy those you love. There is always time to share an experience, to snap a photo, to slow down and enjoy the little things which bring joy to those around us. Enjoying the little moments keeps us from getting uptight and upset about trivial details which don’t matter anyway. She taught me to not get hung up on little inconveniences when they result because we allow kids to be kids.
  3. She has taught me above all else, never stop trusting God. Each of us have experiences and encounters which lead us to question and wonder where God was in the midst of our pain. Why would he allow us to suffer? Why wouldn’t he step in and stop this from happening? Why? Despite these questions and pondering, we must not stop trusting that he is our father and that he loves us and that is still in control of the things happening around us. She has been an example of trusting God through the good times, the easy times, the bad times and the utterly difficult and unthinkable times.

My mom is an unsung hero in my life. These aren’t the only things she has taught me… it would be impossible to write everything I have learned from her. But these highlight the character and essence of who my mother is: a Godly woman, a woman who is able to find joy amongst the whirlwind and a woman who will never stop. These are characteristics I try to cultivate in my life and hope to cultivate in lives of my boys.

I love you, mom. Thanks for being who God created you to be. Thanks for being my mom.

The Ordeal

strategic therapyOne of my favorite classes in my counseling program was the Brief Strategic Therapy class I took while we lived in Jacksonville. One of the things which made this class so enjoyable for me was the professor. Had I not taken the class at a Jacksonville campus, it would not hold such a high place in my heart. The professor was a straightforward, no BS, cuss like a sailor professor who told you how it was. On the first day of class, she shattered the strongly-held precept of mental health counseling – the client must have insight into the struggle before real, lasting change can be made. The first day of class she comes in and tells us we don’t care if the client understand the why or gains any kind of insight at all… all we want is for their behaviors to change. We don’t care if they understand why they act the way they do or if they understand why they need to change or why the changes work. All we want is for the client to change.

This literally, was a slap in the face to everything I had learned in my program prior to this and it was exactly what I had been screaming in my head as I sat in class. What I didn’t understand at the time, is that you want change first to allow time for the understanding to come. In a brief, strategic scenario you are time-limited and need to change to occur quickly allowing the client time to reflect later. This approach was refreshing and laid some solid groundwork for me as I began to formulate and design my own approach to counseling. Since then, I have become more convinced that real, long, and enduring change can only come when you take time to reflect and understand what the root cause of your anguish is. Having said that, there is also a time and a place for a brief, strategic approach which doesn’t waste precious time assisting the client in gaining insight, but rather forces a quick, necessary change immediately.

This morning, I arrived to work and found one of the youth in our Residential Group Care (RGC) home refusing to go to school. I walked into his room, woke him up and said, “You have two options – 1. Come sit at the conference room table in my office and let me get all the tasks on my list for today done that require me to sit in front of a computer. For this to happen, you don’t have to tell me anything… I don’t care what’s going on, I don’t care why you don’t want to go to school, I will leave you alone to sit at the table and do nothing all day long. 2. Come with me to run some errands, a different set of tasks on list for today. For this to happen, you have to give me something… you have to help me understand what is going on inside your head and heart which explains why you don’t want to go to school. Help me to understand there is something churning inside you and that you just aren’t choosing to be a turd this morning.” He replies, “I’d rather go to school!” And I say, “And there is option 3, get up and get dressed so I can take you to school.” He got up, got dressed and I took him to school.

This is a Directive technique called the Ordeal. The rationale here is to give the client something to do which is harder to fulfill than following through with the symptom you wish to alleviate. I wanted him to go to school, so I gave him options that were less desirable to him (i.e. harder) than going to school. Additionally, I utilized several Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) techniques in the process. First, I empowered him to have a choice… have a voice in the process. He was given the freedom to choose any of the options and I would have been ok with whatever he chose. This also employs the compromise technique. He doesn’t get what he wants, but he can choose from two alternatives and we roll with what he chose. It was a win-win for everyone this morning. He was empowered to choose and we did what he chose and I got him to go to school and didn’t have to have shadow all day long because he refused to attend school.

When working with the youth in our RGC, it isn’t always this easy. There are times when it goes much less smoothly. However, the key ingredient in each interaction which continues to prove successful is authentic engagement. Many times, the youth we work with haven’t been given a choice, they are shown respect, they are lead to believe their voice doesn’t matter and that no one cares for them. But we do. I do. By authentically engaging in the life of this youth, we establish a relationship where we can accomplish much simply because we take the time to engage in their lives in an authentic way which demonstrates that unlike so many others in their lives, we care about them and they matter to us.

Wisdom

  

It’s 8:30 on a Friday night and I’m on I-75 in the middle of South Georgia. Why?
I’m heading to north Georgia with two of my independent living youth. We are headed for the culmination of a mentoring program they started on the spring. It feels a little odd to be wrapping up the mentoring program I wasn’t really a part of. But tha s kind of how it goes. 

I have mixed feelings about being away from home this weekend. Without letting the cat out of the bag, there’s a lot going on back in Orlando. Ronda and I are in the midst of praying through a big situation for us. On one hand, I want to be there with her. One the other hand, I’m looking forward to the space and clarity that comes with spending a weekend in the woods. 

I suppose that means this weekend has a twofold purpose for me. To capstone the mentoring program and solidify my place in the lives of these youth as a mentor. And to allow God to speak to and mentor me this weekend. I have high hopes for this weekend. I’m trusting God won’t let me down. He doesn’t usually. 

The Celldweller song ‘The Last Firstborn’ is playing. That song always make me think of the Apostle Paul. He claimed his apostleship cake as one untimely born. I feel that way. Not that I’m an apostle, but that I often wonder about God’s choice to love me and use me to fulfill his purposes. But he does. And I believe this weekend he is going to teach me as much as he teaches these dudes with me. 

In some ways, I really need to hear God speak to me this weekend. I need it more than I have in quite some time. We started a new sermon series at church last week on the book of James. I’ve been reading it this week. In chapter 1, James says any who lacks wisdom should ask God in faith that he give generously to the obedient. That’s where j find myself. Asking for wisdom. Asking for God’s spirit of be upon me and inform my decision-making. I want to be a spirit-filled wise leader of the family and ministry God has trusted me with. 

This seems like a good place to close… God grant me your spirit of wisdom to be a wise leader of the people you have given to me. 

The Beginning of Another Year.

As we begin another school year, we have a fifth grader, fourth grader & a kindergartner.

We also have a safety patrol.

This is the only year they will all be at the same school.

These little dudes rock! So happy to be their dad.

I find as I get older, it is the little things in life which bring me the most joy. Sending the dudes to their first day of school for a new year. Celebrating the little things in life that make them who they are. Getting excited about our safety patrol in the family. I joked with my parents, that we all have to be on good behavior because we now have law enforcement in the family.

Noah had a pre-season soccer tournament this weekend. His team ended the tourney 1-2. He was a little disappointed, but happy for the win. Ronda and I saw a lot in Noah over the weekend and we spoke with him a length about playing the best soccer he can. I know he thought we were coming down hard on him, the reality is we see something in him and we want others to see it too. I told him (and his bros) I only push him for more, because I know he is capable of more. I know he has more inside him. I have seen it. He agrees. In the midst of our discussion, he conceded Hayden (our middle child and Noah’s arch-rival) was putting out more effort in soccer than he was. I asked how he felt about that… he said he was glad for Hayden and a little disappointed in himself. He said he was going to do better. He was going to put more effort into it. He left the house with a soccer ball today, to spend time at recess and in his free time working on his skills.

With all the boys, we are pushing them to work on the skills/drills each of their coaches assign them as homework. Additionally, we are trying to play more pick up games and encourage them to practice juggling the ball to improve their footwork and touch on the ball. We are trying to make it fun again. This is one of those little things I spoke of. Making soccer fun. Making it a friendly competition between them and me to see who can improve themselves quicker. I have decided I need to practice my ball skills too. I try to do the drills they do also in order to improve myself, but to also model the commitment they need to see.

Commitment. It hit me this weekend, we are asking our boys to commit to touching a soccer ball for 20-30 minutes everyday. Using the argument, the people who really want it, who want to be the best, who want to get better do this. You have to be committed to putting time in everyday for this. If you love it and want it, you will do it. As I gave those words of encouragement and instruction, I felt convicted there are many aspects of my life I give lip service to their importance but don’t follow through with any real commitment to them. I felt convicted to be serious about my life and the things which are important to me. It felt a little hypocritical to be asking them to do something I wasn’t willing to implement in my own life.

What does this mean for me? I hope it means I will take stock of the things in my life, identify those I wish to excel at, and them implement a strategy to excel at those endeavors. I want to take my own advice and become a father and leader they look up to and follow because they see me modeling in my own life what i am asking of them.

It’s all about People

baby eliw

I’m not the best dad this world has to offer.

I’m not the best husband this world had to offer.

I’m not the best brother or son this world has to offer.

I’m not the best friend or co-worker this world has to offer.

 I’m not the best director or supervisor this world has to offer.

But what I am, is implicitly aware one of the things that matters most is relationships with people. People matter more than most other things. The relationships we build with people matter more than most other things. In my line of work, building authentic and trusting relationships are critical. It is the bedrock upon all of what I do is built. I am in the business of people. And people want to know you care about them. People want to know they matter to you.

I have learned there are three sure-fire ways to torpedo a relationship and totally destroy a chance to make an impact in someone’s life.

  1. Sarcasm – This is tough for me, because I fancy myself a sarcasm expert. My ability to use sarcasm extends beyond the average person’s ability. I am really good at it. I can use sarcasm in every scenario. There is no situation where a healthy dose of sarcasm isn’t warranted. Sarcasm is cutting, injurious and it tears down instead of building up. It is the antithesis to building relationships.
  2. Belittle them – This is easier to do than you would think sometimes. It is easy to answer with a short, terse answer that hurts. Belittling comes in many shapes and sizes, but it often looks like treating them, their experiences or ideas as stupid. When we do this, we communicate they are not valued and their ideas aren’t valued. Belittling someone makes them feel small and insignificant.
  3. Dismiss them – Dismissing others tells them they don’t have value. Not just their ideas, but they themselves aren’t valued, aren’t important, they aren’t relevant, that they don’t matter.

On the flip side, I have learned there are at least three ways to build any relationship, deepen it and show those in it you care about them:

  1. Put people first – No matter else is going on, what the heat of the matter is… focus on caring more about the person than the issue. Issues will come and go and aren’t want really matters… people do. Show people you care by placing them above whatever the issues at hand is. More than that support your people. Let them know you have their back and this issue is in no way going to affect your relationship.
  2. Be humble – If you are like me, this is hard. Not because I’m overly prideful (although I am at times), but because this includes a significant amount of vulnerability to admit when we are wrong or to allow others to speak into our lives for purposes of improvement or to offer advice. Humility says, I don’t have all the answers and maybe you can help. Humility is keeping a proper view of ourselves and out limitations. Humility doesn’t have to be right or have the last word.
  3. Put yourself in their shoes – Trying to understand their perspective will go a long way to building your relationship. Being able to consider their side of the story or to see where they are coming from will help you to put them first and remain humble. Understanding their side helps us to understand why they are acting the way they are, it helps us to know their heart.

People are important. People need to know they are important to us. We have to make efforts to ensure people know we care about them and that we are committed to building an authentic, trusting relationship with them. Will you take the extra effort and focus on the relationships with the people around you?

Objects

Westfall Family Stone Mtn
I’m sitting here at work, and we are watching a video for our weekly Bible study with our dudes in our Independent Living home. As I think back to this last week and the vacation I was able to take with my family, my mind is drawn to my preoccupation with things.
On Tuesday, we went tubing in Helen, Ga. As we were preparing to go, I went to get a waterproof case for my iPhone. I felt as though I needed the case to protect my iPhone from the water. After all, my iPhone is my camera and I wanted photos of my family as we tubed. Over the course of the day, I dropped my iPhone in the river twice. I can attest and affirm, the Lifeproof case is actually waterproof. Each time I dropped it, I fumbled along the river bottom to locate my iPhone. Each time, I thought to myself ‘how terrible it would be if I couldn’t find it!’
As we neared the end of the experience, I looked down and noticed my wedding ring was gone.
Lost.
Somewhere at the bottom of the river.
Never to be found by me again.
As I floated in my tube, realizing my wedding ring was gone I felt an intense sense of loss. My marriage wasn’t lost, but the outward symbol of it was. It’s just a ring, but it holds a powerful and special emotional connection for me. This was the ring I used to symbolize my commitment to Ronda.
I will never get this object back. I can buy a new ring, but it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same one. As I feel these feelings, I recognize I am a traditional kind of dude. This ring holds a special place in my heart and I can never get it back.
Had I lost my iPhone, I would have had a sense of loss but not like this. My iPhone is just an object, not a sentimental object. This is an occasion for me to reorient my mind and priorities and be reminded I need to keepy mind and heart focused on things that matter and not be consumed with things that don’t.
The ring itself isn’t what matters. The relationship it represents does. I may have lost a wedding ring last week, but I had a fantastic family vacation. I got to spend quality time with my family doing things we enjoy doing and we had fun doing them.
That’s what matters.

When Parenting Happens and We Aren't to Blame

boysAs a parent, each day is full of moments where you are sure you are doing it wrong. On occasion, there is a moment when you know you have done it right. And then there are moments, when it is right and you know it wasn’t that you had done it right as much as the character you have been working so hard to instill in your children shows through their actions.

Recently, our oldest son has been having a bit of a philosophical dilemma with friends at school. He is finding himself in need of locating new friends. As we inquire as to what is going on, we have discovered the ‘cool kids’ are being mean to the ‘uncool’ kids. My son typically falls into the cool category, but he is having a problem with the way his friends are treating other kids. So he had started to hang out with others at school, because he doesn’t want to be cool if it means being mean to others.

As a dad to three boys, I feel like I spend a lot of time trying to instill a sense of justice in my little dudes. As brothers do, they constantly fight and argue and get on each other’s nerves. They love each other, but they also love to fight each other. What inevitably happens, the youngest and smallest gets pushed around (although, in all honesty he can hold his own… he doesn’t know the phrase dog eat dog yet, but he is aware of the principle!). When the little guy gets pushed around, I try to instill in the older boys a sense of the injustice inherent in picking on the little guy. It really irritates me. I want them to know that it isn’t ok the push the little guy around just because you can. As a side note, this is an important lesson for them to learn in my kind because I want to ensure as husband and fathers, they don’t use their size to push their families around. We call those men batterers and abusers. If I teach my dudes nothing else in life, I will teach them not to abuse or batter their family. I wouldn’t necessarily say I have an inflated or big sense of justice, but I would say I want justice to prevail as much as I can help it.

So when my popular, athletic, electric, outgoing, tons of friends oldest son says he is struggling with his friends because they want to pick on and be mean to the less popular or cool kids, my heart is warm. It’s not that I did it right as a parent, as much as my son is becoming the man I have prayed and hoped he would be. It’s not that I have done it right as much as he had the character of a man who has a heart after God’s heart.

And the icing to this cake of awesomeness is when you realize the other two boys are walking through the same struggles with their friends too. When they are also beginning to see and understand it isn’t ok to pick on kids to be cool. For one son to demonstrate the character I hoped for is great… for all three of them to demonstrate that kind of character is indescribable.

I’m not some super parent who is awesome… but I am happy with who my dudes are becoming as men.