See (and be) a Helper

While driving on a stretch of interstate recently I saw several cars pulled over onto the median on the other side of the highway. As I drove by I saw a car smashed against a bridge support and people running to the vehicle. Running so fast, to someone they didn’t know, to help.

In a time where divisiveness, being rude and mean is easily recorded and splashed before us, it’s easy to believe we’ve lost our good nature. It might seem that a thin veil covers a deep well of a negativity; that an angry outburst, from even the most mild-mannered among us, could happen given the right topic, time or forum.

As we marked 9/11 a few weeks ago I was reminded of Mr. Rogers. Do your remember his mother’s wise and calming words to him when he was a boy? On that sunny September 11th, in the midst of unspeakable evil that unraveled before our eyes, we were encouraged to tell our kids (and maybe even ourselves) to “Look for the helpers.” There were so many helpers in the rubble, in the air, on the ground, in the stairwells, on the street, on the phone…they were everywhere.

I heard those very words in my head as I watched several men running toward the highway accident; there they were, the helpers. My heart lifted and my spirit was reminded that it is our very natural nature to be a helper. We instinctively run to our fellow man in need.

There are many helpers all around, we need to look for them…and we need to be one. When have you last seen a helper? Or have you been a helper? Would you share it in a comment? Your story might just lift someone else’s heart and renew a tired spirit.

The Wisest Christmas Gift

With kids who truly lack for nothing,  we decided to do Christmas in a completely different way two years ago. Instead of shopping for presenTs we chose presenCe. We purchased plane tickets and signed a rental agreement for a house in Arizona. Courtney, Zach and Erin were 20, 18 and 15 years old when we told them time together was the best gift we could bestow on them for Christmas. We stayed home to attend Christmas Eve service, enjoyed our traditional late night feast of hors d’ourves, slept for a few hours and then early Christmas morning we left on a jet plane for warm weather, sunshine, a pool and seven glorious days together.

It felt a little risky, but it also felt a lot right.

To be transparent we did give a few small gifts, mostly stocking stuffers, but their biggest and most important gift was in the form of a simple but significant envelope ~ a letter letting them know they had each been gifted 5 Wisemen for 1 year. “Back in the day” families lived so much closer to each other making a way for natural influence and more opportunity for grandparents, aunts and uncles, even neighbors and friends to be very involved in the life of a family. With that missing today we came up with the idea of “wisemen” traveling with our kids for a year ~ keeping with our theme of presenCe instead of presenTs!

We wanted to give our kids voices that didn’t belong to us; voices that could be trusted and perspectives that were different. So we created a list of people we wanted to speak into our kids ~ specific voices for specific reasons. We wanted them to have wise friends and family who would spend a year talking to them about life and work experience, integrity, faith, character, struggles, triumphs and more. We know there is much to be discussed about relationships, friendships, social media, pressures, college, marriage, humility and strength. With our transient culture, the proliferation of social media (which promotes many good things but also some a significant amount of superficial sharing), with feeling like Christian faith is being attacked and mocked in the media, and inappropriate language and conversations being overheard on a daily basis at school and at college, we believed this was one way we could speak goodness, value, belief, faith, character, integrity and more into Courtney, Zach and Erin. We also thought this was an intentional way of bringing adults directly into their lives for real relationships.

Here’s the thing we also knew ~ people are busy, which is why we spread it out. We approached five people for Courtney, five for Zach and five for Erin. We asked them if they would consider entering the life of one of our kids in a very intentional manner over the course of the new year. We asked them if they would email, call, or meet for lunch or coffee 2 to 3 times during that year. With 5 people reaching out to each of them 2-3 times a year, that would be at least 10 to 15 conversations with other adults who cared about them. That my friends, is quite a gift.

Each of our kids received a specific person who could talk to them about their future careers, someone who would meet them where they were on their faith journey and walk with them.  They each received one extended family member, as well as one person who I felt was put on our hearts for each particular child. Lastly they each received the gift of a dear friend of mine who has been in our lives for many, many years, I chose her because as our kids were turning the corner of adulthood I wanted her voice to go with them, linked more directly to them instead of just through me. It was quite a year – there were lunches, very early morning coffee dates, Skype times, notes and cards in the mail, texts, conversations, mentoring, walks and more. As a parent it was incredible to watch other really good adults pour into our kids.

I told our kids I was writing this article and asked each of them what they took away from, or appreciated about, the year of the Wisemen. Zach, now 20, said he liked that it put mentors in his life, he said he got a lot out of things that he was taught, but his big takeaway was the importance of a mentor in his life. Courtney, now 22 appreciated knowing that people of influence in her life, people she thought highly of and looked up to, were thinking of her and had committed to guiding her. Erin, now 17, says “Having other adults cheer me on in life was meaningful. Also as a kid it can be hard to create relationships with adults, even though we want to, so it was beneficial to have a catalyst for these relationships that we could develop.”

The wisest Christmas gifts we ever gave was the gift of wise men and women to walk a little more intentionally alongside our kids. It seemed a good time to write this – as we scurry busily around during this season it’s good to be reminded that what we truly need most isn’t all the presenTs under the tree, it is the presenCe of others in our lives.

Living Under the Influence

I have a wonderful opportunity next week to speak to a group of mostly retired women and some men. Upon receiving the invitation I immediately wondered what could I possibly say to a group who should be speaking into me?! But once I accepted the engagement I was sure of my message ~ You still matter, your influence is needed and valuable.

In a world moving a thousand times faster than in my grandparents day, when we seem to know it all (or can find our answer in the blink of an eye), it might just be possible that the elders in our lives could feel marginalized. Some of us feel so busy we worry that a phone call to a friend might seem intrusive. (Plus why talk when we can text? Insert sarcasm.) So what might possibly run through our parents’ and grandparents’ minds when they think of us and want to reach out? I wonder if they skip the contact because they don’t want to “get in the way” of our day.

Great-Grandma & Erin June 2001I will always be grateful for, and never forget the year my husband’s 90-year-old grandmother lived with our family. One of the moments that influenced me greatly was the day she sat at the kitchen table and asked if I would sit down and have a cup of coffee with her. I remember it vividly — I said I would pour her a cup but that I didn’t have time to sit down. In my mind was I thinking, Can’t she see I’ve got a sandbox full of sand on my floor waiting to be swept and dishes piled in the sink, not to mention the need for a shower and a dinner plan?! I don’t recall what caused me to sit down with her, but I did. Thirteen years later I still remember the sunny day I choose to sit for that cup of coffee. I recall feeling peace overcome my soul and being grateful for the reminder that people matter more than lists and sand and dishes.

That year we shared many cups of coffee and I learned to slow down. There were so many afternoons I sat across from her asking her stories about her past, and writing many of them down. She had a baby — out of wedlock — all those years ago. Imagine how strong she had to be, back when they called those children a name I won’t write here. I learned about how children, in her family line, had been “farmed out.” If you have a great-grandma, ask her what that means; it was common in our history.

That year had some difficult times, but what I gained and how she influenced me will be with me forever.  I was taking care of her but in the end it turned out we were taking care of each other ~ it was an unexpected and everlasting gift.

When I go to speak next week to the ones who carry so many stories, a lot of history and maybe a little insecurity about how they fit into the bustling extended family of 2014, I want to bring your input too. I have created a quick 10 question survey that I would so grateful for you to take. I want to tell them (and show them data) that their influence matters.

You can take the survey here:     Thank you!

Please feel free to share this link – gathering as much input as possible would be amazing. :)

Crisis – I Lost My Phone!!

Guest Blogging today is my daughter Courtney. She sent this post to me months ago and it kept getting lost within my in-box…today it has been found. (The post, not the phone.)

On my first day back on campus for my junior year at Purdue, the unthinkable happened… I lost my phone. I had met up with a friend to catch up and drink some bubble tea by the clock tower, and at some point had received a text asking what I was doing later that night. I responded, set my phone down, finished up tea, and walked back to my apartment. Halfway back, I realized that the miniature computer I had only had since last October was not in my purse… or my pockets… and when I walked back to the bench we had been sitting on, I found that it wasn’t there either. I tried to text the friend I had been hanging out with, only to remember that was nearly impossible without a phone.

I traced my steps a few times and said a silent prayer of thanks that I already had dinner plans, so when I arrived at the restaurant I had my friends call my phone and leave a voicemail. “Wait… you need my password to get into my voicemail. WAIT… you need my tracer passcode to get into my phone.” I remotely installed apps for lost phones, set a screen telling anyone who found my phone to call my mom at her number, forced my phone to send me pictures and sound bytes of its location, tried to use GPS (the radius of its potential location was 1856 meters. Thanks, phone), and went on several recon missions until the battery’s inevitable death. For days after I frequented the campus’s lost and found locations and checked the activity online, but all my efforts were fruitless, and remained fruitless for the next two weeks, until I got a SIM card for my high school flip phone. But during those two long weeks, something crazy happened.

I survived the experience.

The thing I was most worried about was becoming a social recluse. How do you make plans without a phone? But I found something encouraging – when my friends wanted to see me or were making group plans, they made the effort to reach me on Facebook or texted the people they thought I would be with to make sure I was still getting included. After a two-day-long withdrawal period, it was even kind of nice not having a phone in my pocket all the time, and I found I was able to focus for longer periods of time on a single thing. The drawback was I did get a little Facebook addicted, but when I wasn’t around a computer that wasn’t really a problem.

Thanks to my incredible parents (who dealt with two weeks of intermittent online chatting, as my computer mic was also broken, taking Skype convos out of the picture) I do have a functioning phone now, and I would absolutely choose having a phone over not having a phone (just being honest). But it was nice to get a little taste of a life unwired; it allowed me to see that I didn’t need to be constantly connected, and the friendships I had were meaningful enough that my friends put a little bit of extra effort into including me. I do feel as though phones and iPads and all this social connecting all the time has driven us a little up the wall, and the confirmation that I could survive without it all was good, as I really do sometimes wonder. It’s something good to keep in mind as we go through our lives in this culture – you can survive without a constant connection!

Random thoughts that cannot seem to be contained

I’m just having a hard time today with the killing of these children and teachers in Connecticut. These are the things swimming in my head today ~

I’m thinking about all the violent, personal warfare video games (and the insistence that it’s fine for kids to be playing these types of games). I’m having a hard time with the efforts that have been spent on legalizing marijuana; this thought courtesy of an article in the paper this morning (in the same section as the many articles on these killings). Why is this something our culture values?

The passionate plea to end ANY mention of God in schools, the expulsion of our church youth leaders from the lunchrooms of our schools, Christmas trees in public places now being called “Holiday Trees” or “Celebration Trees”. We all know they are Christmas trees. You can call them what you want, we still ALL know what they are.

The mocking of Christians & Christian beliefs in mainstream media – and yet the prominent pictures showing up today in mainstream media of people praying, and mainstream media displaying images of the hundreds and thousands of people in churches. We mock it, then are grateful for the peace and comfort these images create within us. I’m grateful mainstream media shows these pictures, I’m just confused by the constant mocking.

My mind can only think about all of this in small bites, then I have to divert my mind. In a chorus of a worship song this morning, I dropped to the floor, with tears splashing on the tile on behalf of these families. When I got up I had to move my mind to a different place – I could not think about it any longer.

I’m horrified for the parents, families and communities who don’t get to divert their minds. I’m just aghast by the families drowning in sorrow today.

Listening to worship music, and praying, praying, praying….

A good article by Rev. C. Emily Heath in the Huff Post. Dealing with Grief: Five things NOT to say, and five things TO say in a trauma involving children. Read it here.

What the Heck

A story on NBC’s Today Show yesterday highlighted an area in which I believe so many of us are falling down –  it’s as if we’ve forgotten that it’s our job, our responsibility, to teach respect, honor and integrity to our kids.

Here’s the story, an Oklahoma high school valedictorian, Kaitlin Nootbar, submitted her written graduation speech to her principal for approval. In the speech she had this line, “They’re gonna ask us what we’re gonna be and we’re gonna say, who the heck knows”. The problem is she was pretty sure she was going to say “Who the hell knows” (a line from the Twilight movie, Eclipse). She said in the Today Show interview that she discussed this with her partner with whom she wrote the speech, and then again with classmates right before giving the speech, all encouraging her to stray from the written, and approved, line. So she did, and now the principal is holding her diploma certificate until she apologizes ~ a reasonable request.

In the Today Show piece Kaitlin says she won’t apologize; she says she’s not sorry and that she doesn’t really need her diploma anyway. Matt Lauer turns to her father at one point and says that he (Matt) is a parent and was wondering what he would do; would he want her to give in to the school, or would he want to teach his child the lesson of standing his or her own ground. (Personally, I don’t think it’s either of those lessons) He then asks the father how he feels. The father said he wanted her to stand her ground, that he is a veteran, she has freedom of speech and why should she “bow down to this man”, and give her rights away.

Oh my goodness. “Bow down to this man”, really? How about a lesson that goes like this, “You were under the authority of the school, you purposely used a word in a commencement speech you knew you shouldn’t use, but you did. You knew this would cause a problem, so now, show some level of respect, go apologize and move on with your life.”

Instead she gets to fly to New York City and be highlighted on a national news program where many people applaud her for “standing her ground”. The ground that supports her decision to defy the authority over her, because she wanted to swear at a commencement ceremony. No wonder our kids believe the world revolves around them.

Kaitlin says the lesson from this whole thing is to “always stand your ground…that whatever is in your heart you should stand up for it…” (Unless you’re the principal, I guess she doesn’t believe he should stand his ground.) NBC conducted a poll and 88% of respondents said she should not apologize, 12% said she should. Really, a poll was conducted for this?! But the results are revealing.

Some will say this a freedom of speech issue, I believe it’s a character and lack of self-discipline issue. When we glamorize and jump to the defense of the kids in situations like this, we just cannot be surprised when they function as if they are the center of the universe, or when they have a hard time with authority in their lives, or when they come to job interviews and ask questions like “How long can I be on the internet before I get in trouble” (This question was actually asked by a college student during an interview at my husband’s company).

There is such an emphasis in our culture about doing what you want, when you want, no matter what, and then defending it. I just believe we should also be emphasizing building integrity and honor, within our kids. What do you think?

You can see the interview here.

Are we as outraged by Syria as we are by Chick-fil-A?

Normally I don’t enter into headline news type conversations – especially political ones. To be honest, I usually don’t think I’m smart enough to say anything of value, or I don’t feel I understand the issue or care passionately enough to enter the dialog. Not to mention there typically is more than enough dialog going on. But this one is stirring in my head, my heart and it was worked its way to my fingers, which have moved to the computer this morning.

Chick-fil-A…oh my goodness.

First of all, the news clip I watched yesterday and in the article I read this morning, what I heard and read was that Dan Cathy told the Baptist Press that the company was “guilty as charged” of supporting the traditional family. “We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit…” I then went and read the entire article in the Baptist Press. You can read it here. (I believe it’s good to read with your own eyes and not believe what the media is shouting through headlines…maybe I’m smarter than I think.)

What really pushed me into the conversation is that I’m so sick and tired of the media and celebrities and organizations turning a stand FOR something into a stand AGAINST something. What is wrong with us that we so strongly bash a privately held company – that has experienced 44 consecutive years of positive sales growth – in an economy that NEEDS sales growth (!!) – who this year is expected to generate more than $60 million in economic impact through TWO (never done before) Kick-Off Bowl games.. Yeah – lets bash that company, who needs that kind of economic infusion?

I’m sick and tired of late night comedians taking a stand FOR something and creating vulgar skits, bashing any support of marriage, and with open hostility attacking a union from which they came. Seriously, we don’t need to become so incensed with each other. I believe we can take a stand FOR something without cutting up and slashing another perspective. The picture of standing for a position with fists up and mouth wide open while yelling makes me completely miss anything positive you might have to say.

I know there are many instances you could give me where people who claim to speak for Christians do the same thing. I know. But I’m not talking about that today, I’m simply addressing a positive article written about a company that has a goal in the workplace “to take biblical truth and put skin on it. … We’re talking about how our performance in the workplace should be the focus of how we build respect, rapport and relationships with others that opens the gateway to interest people in knowing God.”

I’m talking about a company that supports kids in foster care, college scholorships, marriage conferences, and the economy. Who wouldn’t want a company like that in their city? I support Chick-fil-A for being a positive company, for being a company that doesn’t bend to the pressures and whims of culture. Thank you Chick-fil-A….I’ll see you for lunch.

(A CNN article about Syria – Massacre feared in Syria’s Aleppo)

El Salvador – from Courtney – 2009

While Kevin and Zach are in El Salvador I decided to re-run previous posts written about previous trips to El Salvador. The first one is written by Courtney after returning from her first Habit for Humanity trip in 2009. Enjoy! 

el salvador…from courtney

   El Salvador 2009 001 alright, so when i got home from el salvador, my mom told me that she may or may not have hinted that i was going to be writing something about my trip for her blog. so here i am, against my will…i’m just kidding. well, not about what she said, but i am excited to share about my trip!

my dad and i went on this trip because our family friends, katie (my age) and todd (her dad) german, told us about how much they love going and having this experience. on the saturday we left (march 14) we arrived at the airport at about 4:30 a.m. it was quite intense. our flight left at about 6:00 and we were off to a different country! it was pretty exciting, especially as i had never been out of tDSCN3897he country before! after a connecting flight in atlanta, we arrived in el salvador in time for dinner, which is where our first adventure started. with the language barrier, it was a little hard to order food! but we did manage, and for the next day and a half, we hung out and saw the country. we also ate in this restaurant, which, yes, is 20 feet off the ground on those unstable looking stilts (and on top of that, located in a volcano). it was quite the experience!

El Salvador 2009 078 but the real part of the trip started on monday (march 16). that’s when we first went to the sites we would be working at for the rest of the week. there were three sites, so our group split up into smaller ones. we met the masons and workers we would be working with, and later in the day we also got to meet the family we were building the house for! it was a really cool thing to see why we were working – they were so grateful for this house. it was actually really small – there were five rooms, and the two bedrooms were a little larger than the top of an good sized kitchen table. throughout the week, we got to know everyone we were working with quite well, and it was incredible to see everyone form friendships through this huge language barrier. we started out the week really at the beginning of the construction process, but by the end, we had the foundation laid (which was a lot of sand and rock moving on katie’s, mr german’s, and my part, and a lot of cement mixing on my dad’s and mr german’s part) and had the first row of cement blocks laid. it was so hard to leave the last time – the mom of the family was crying, and El Salvador 2009 227 the teenage daughter was crying, and we were all so sad!

really though, the entire experience was so great. it was so interesting to see all of these different things, and eat all of these different foods, and meet all of these different people. the entire lifestyle there is different – everyone just seems so laid back. i am not sure we ever saw anyone in a hurry. which of course is a major contrast to life here – everyone is always rushing to get somewhere!

so my mom just looked over at me typing and said, “at the end of every post i write, i always answer the question, what’s the point? why would someone want to read this post?” i was actually unaware that i would have to have an actual point to this.

ok. i thought about it. i think there are several points. i think one of the points is, it’s incredibly important to experience a different point of view. the masons there like to do many things their way. sometimes, you can think of other ways to do them, but their ways aren’t wrong – they’re just different. i think you can apply that principle to a lot of different areas in life. when you’re having a disagreement, it’s entirely possible that neither side is wrong – they’re just different. i think another El Salvador 2009 fish point is to be grateful for what you have. a lot of people in america constantly hope for bigger, better things, and it’s really easy to forget that the majority of the world would do a lot of crazy things for the things or house or car you’ve got. when i said those bedrooms are about the size of a kitchen table, i was not kidding… and a lot of people in america have closets bigger than that. i think another point is nothing bad will happen if you relax a little bit. you’d have to see what it’s like – when we were working, a lot of people in the neighborhood would spend up to an hour just sitting around and talking to each other, visiting the worksite, trying out their little bit of english on us gringos, while we just smiled and nodded and said “si” a lot. and yes, things still got done. and the people there seemed pretty happy – most likely from the smaller amount of stress. that El Salvador 2009 166 is my guess.

so thanks for looking at this, and i know some of you prayed for us while we were gone – thanks for that too! i hope you enjoyed reading what i had to say.

love, courtney

p.s. the fish up there is from dinner one night… i ordered a fish stuffed with shrimp, and that is exactly what i got. complete with teeth. and we also had the chance to go ziplining! so that is that picture to the left. you can’t actually see the platform i’m headed to, but it’s somewhere on the other side of that canyon…

(Tomorrow I will post last years column from Zach after returning from his trip)

Things that make me say, “Really?!”

In random order:

The story this week about a high school girl who submitted a racy photo to the yearbook staff for her senior picture. When the photo was rejected she, and her mother, said they are considering legal action against the school. Really?! Please spend your time and energy filling out college or job applications, going out with friends, or even playing Tetris. Yearbooks are not meant to be seductive and sexy. And, how did we get to the place in our culture where this story is on a national news program?

The “controversy” about Tim Tebow. Controversy…really? I appreciated this article, especially because it was not written by a Christian. Yesterday I heard this on MSNBC, “Is Tim Tebow the next Michael Jordan for marketers? Or does his faith make him too controversial?”  Lady Gaga isn’t too controversial, but Tim Tebow is. Huh.

The challenge to FCC filters on profanity and nudity. There are already plenty of T.V. stations that allow profanity and nudity, can’t we just keep a few for the family? A few that we can count on to be free of profanity and nudity? Please? And let’s be honest, even these stations aren’t exactly “safe”. There are more programs that we don’t watch due to content – and language – than we do, and that’s with restrictions. It’s a slippery slope that we are on, and the potential landing place is a cesspool.

Seems rather gloomy. But I will do what I can do…continue to teach my teens about modesty, appropriateness and not encourage legal battles for frivolous means. I will live by my faith, and encourage my kids to do the same, no matter the uproar…or the silence. I will continue to screen programs and watch TV with my teens, and then talk about the issues that sometimes come up.

I will stay engaged in what’s going on in culture. I will remain hopeful for the future. Really.