40

40Today I turn 40. Things I’ve learned over my four decades:

  • Prostate exams aren’t comfortable in the slightest, but they’re a cotton-candy-coated breeze compared to what it must feel like to give birth.
  • Hell is outliving a child.
  • You can’t run away from who you are, or who you’re meant to be.
  • Christmas isn’t fun until you have kids.
  • A lot of what they teach you in high school is less than useless.
  • Sadly, some little boys don’t have their growth spurts until college.
  • You do only live once — that’s why it’s imperative you not do stupid shit.
  • Much of adulthood is extended improv.
  • You have to choose to outgrow your fears.
  • A leap of faith doesn’t always bring immediate resolution.
  • People who don’t believe the same things you do make good friends but lousy spouses.
  • Just because someone is older it doesn’t mean they’re smarter.
  • Accountants, doctors, and repairmen are more important than anyone ever admits.
  • Your gums bleed because the hygienist keeps poking it with a sharp metal stick. All the flossing in the world ain’t gonna fix that.
  • For a great many of us, the world proved much larger than we were led to believe.
  • The highest level of human fear is felt by the parent of a sick child.
  • The second highest level is felt by a parent attempting to potty train a child.
  • Live together all you want beforehand, it still won’t prepare you for marriage.
  • Every parent does it differently than their parents did.
  • Pure love is a toddler’s unprompted hug. Second place is how a baby smells after a bath.
  • If you stop feeding the online jerks, they eventually go away. Works well with pets, too.
  • The most amazing club in the coolest city with the most beautiful people is not one tenth as awesome as a warm bed on a cold day while snuggling with your family.
  • The path of least resistance is often the path of largest regrets.
  • It is never – and I mean never – too late to chase a dream or your God-given purpose.
  • Fashion changes. Style morphs. Elegance and class are timeless.
  • It’s possible to say “Yes sir” and still be a jerk.
  • You will disappoint people. Make sure to pick the right ones.
  • Watching someone die is hard.
  • If you live with integrity, you will have to face difficult decisions. You will also come out better for having made them.
  • God did not have pastoring as part of my long-term plan.
  • It is possible to write a letter so strongly worded that a Fortune 500 company executive has his assistant call you to apologize.
  • It’s also possible to write a strongly worded letter without sounding like a reality-show refugee, and more impressive.
  • Seasons of life apply to people as well as circumstances.
  • You will never regret learning to cook well.
  • Some of the sharpest, most interesting people are the ones your younger self thought unworthy of your time.
  • If you pray to marry an intelligent, wise, caring, gorgeous, SEC grad who was once a cheerleader, you may just get more than you bargained for. In all the best ways possible.
  • If you worry that you’ll struggle to be a good dad, have nothing in common with a daughter, or fail miserably as a father to a son, you will be so happy to be proven wrong.
  • For all the hype, 40 isn’t so bad.

Beware the Ban-dwagon

This probably should’ve been a tweet, but there is something dangerous about Christians who are so quick to call for others to be “banned” or excluded from the freedoms we enjoy here in America.

We really need to do some soul-searching before we start pushing those thoughts out onto our social media, if only because we might one day find ourselves in the opposite situation.

Pragmatism aside, however, there’s an even better reason for us not to embrace the restriction of someone else’s rights:

“Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.”

Good to Give

Saturday afternoon the kids and I went through their playroom for the annual pre-Christmas purge. (It’s kind of a tradition, though some years it’s more of a post-Christmas purge.) We dump all of the toys on the floor and the kids go through them and pick out a handful they want to keep. It’s an exercise in shameless downsizing.

It’s also a good reminder to the kids (and myself) of just how blessed we are as a family.

While I was a little saddened by the purge of some of their stuffed animals (I’m sappy that way), I was mostly amazed at how effortlessly my kids gave things away. Granted, they know they’re going to get some Christmas gifts soon, but they were quite pleased to give away nice toys that they recognized weren’t being played with anymore.

In the end, we hauled away two large bags full of nice cars, dolls, action figures, accessories, games, and balls, all donated so they might find a new home by Christmas Eve. It felt good to give.

*****

Sunday morning, my church doubled down on the gift-giving idea. After a message on Intentional Living from John Maxwell, our Senior Pastor Kevin Myers revealed a twist on the church’s annual Christmas offering: instead of us giving the church money, the church was giving money to us — $100 per family. They called it a reverse offering.

Yeah. It kind of blew my mind too.

You can read about the church’s decision to take such a staggering leap of faith on Dan Reiland’s blog. Dan is 12Stone’s executive pastor, and the church basically put $800K into the hands of their people and said, “Spread a little Christmas!”

Tonight, my family is going to pray about how much we want to add to the pot and how we want to use it. There were some really cool ideas provided by the church, but Rachel and I want to see what our kids come up with, and share some of our ideas too. Personally, I want to buy someone’s meal AND leave the server a big tip. I’ve never been able to do that, and it seems like fun. But we’ll see what God says and the family decides.

Regardless, this Christmas is shaping up to be one filled with hope and joy. Instead of thinking about what we’re getting, we’ve started out thinking about giving, and it has me so excited for Christmas, I feel kind of stupid.

Overly-excited is probably a better phrase, but the anticipation is through the roof. I’m looking forward to knowing that we will make a difference to someone this year.

And isn’t that what Christmas is about?

 

 

 

 

When the Magic of Christmas Dies

PARENT WARNING: This blog post is for parents only. Do not read this where your kids can see it. Don’t read it out loud to them, either (not that you would, but I’m trying to be thorough). In fact, bookmark this post and read it after the kids go to bed.

 

Christmas magic died for my daughter yesterday afternoon. It was an accident. Her little brother, looking for a stray sock, stumbled upon the hiding place where I’d stashed his Christmas gift. Being the innocent six year-old that he is, Jon didn’t understand why there was an Xbox tucked away in my bedroom. I told him it was mine and he needed to leave it alone. He said, “Cool! Maybe we’ll both get an Xbox for Christmas!” and then proceeded to go on as if nothing were out of the normal.

Ella, however, looked dead at me and I knew.

*****

This story really begins about two years ago when Ella got off the bus with a pained look on her face. She sidled up to me, slipped her tiny hand into mine, and said she wanted to ask me something.

“Sure,” I said.

“Promise you won’t get mad?” she asked.

“I promise.”

“My friend on the bus said there’s no such thing as Santa Claus. She says it’s just your mom and dad putting presents on the tree and moving the Elf around the house.”

My heart stopped. Ella looked up at me, her green eyes glinting.

“Is that true, daddy?”

*****

I’ll never forget those eyes, especially since they reappeared yesterday afternoon. The hurt. The sadness. The betrayal. It was too much to deal with, so I hustled the kids off to the kitchen and fixed them a treat — brownie sundaes — hoping to just let the uncomfortable moment pass. Jon was fine with it. Ella was not.

So I talked it over with Rachel. We knew we were going to have to tell Ella the truth, but Rachel was adamant that we not blow things up for Jon. It was going to be awkward.

I walked into the kitchen and sat down next to Ella. Jon was across from us, his back to the living room. Ella grabbed my hand. I took a deep breath. She looked at me. I looked at her. Her eyes were so sad.

And all I could do was laugh.

I know. I suck as a father. I’m used to it by now.

I laughed because Ella never let go of that question the little girl put into her mind two years ago: Is Santa real? For the last couple of Christmases, doubt has been an ever-present part of our festivities. Ella wasn’t belligerent about it or anything, but she would just have these moments when her brain would circle back around to the issue. And every time she would ask me or Rachel about the reality of Santa’s existence, we would patiently (and sometimes impatiently) explain that yes, Santa was real.

Last year, we actually softened it and said that as long as she believed Santa was real, that was all that mattered. And that seemed good enough for Ella. If nothing else, she trusted her mom and dad.

And that’s why I laughed: the absurdity of the entire situation simply overwhelmed me, and my response to absurdity is laughter. My daughter, who might just be the single greatest detective alive, finally had the confirmation she needed. Her long-held suspicion was true: mom and dad were behind the jolly fat man.

*****

To Ella’s credit, she ate her sundae and didn’t say a word. When she was finished, she got up and went to her room. I had to get ready for my company’s Christmas party, so Jon followed me to hang out and Rachel went to check on Ella.

She was laying on her bed, crying. Not because Santa wasn’t real, but because her childhood was over. Rachel sat down next to her and stroked her hair, and Ella wept over the death of a part of her childhood. The magic of Santa, of the Elf on the Shelf, of the lights and the tree and everything else was now exposed to the cold reality. Ella lifted her head, put it in Rachel’s lap, and sobbed.

“I just don’t want to grow up,” she said through tears.

My wife is a brilliant and godly woman. And God gave her the wisdom in that moment to explain to Ella about what Santa really means. How he’s a symbol for hope and good. How he inspires people to be generous and kind. How he creates a magic that we, as her parents, didn’t want to rob her of because there is so precious little magic in the world. Especially as adults. Rachel shared how Christ is really the focus of Christmas, but in a world that has gone cold to the message of Jesus, Santa is the best that some people can do.

“We’ve seen people who grew up without the magic of Christmas,” Rachel told her. “And we didn’t want that for you. We wanted you to have the memory as something precious to hold on to.”

Ella wiped her face and looked at Rachel, and folks, there is a God in heaven and he moves in our lives, because at that moment Rachel said Ella’s face changed. The tears went away and a wide and astonished wonder took its place.

Ella looked at Rachel and said, “If there’s no Santa, that means you and daddy have been the ones giving all of my expensive gifts for Christmas.”

What had been a moment of devastation was suddenly a moment of comprehension. It was a sudden shift in Ella’s worldview: in a moment, she was flooded with gratitude for everything Santa had given her, because she finally understood where it all came from.

“It was you,” she said.

Rachel explained to Ella how we manage to make Christmas fun, how we work hard to afford the gifts that her and Jon ask for. Ella thanked Rachel and gave her a big hug. It was a moment I missed, but one that moved me when Rachel shared it.

*****

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t conflicted. There’s a huge part of me that is absolutely devastated that Ella knows the truth. There’s an equally huge part of me that is glad to be done with the charade, if only because it means Ella won’t go through this season grilling me like Jack McCoy.

(Ella, being a smart little girl, quickly pieced together the truth about the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy, so we had to own up to our roles there. We actually got a good laugh about the Tooth Fairy because Rachel and I both despise that ritual).

But there’s something missing now that she knows the truth. Ella woke up this morning still a little sad. After all, she has to keep the secret for another couple of years because Jon still believes. We’ve also made it clear that she’s not to spoil things for others the way that one little girl did for her. Ella, because she is kind and generous and full of light, has agreed to hold the line and let other kids keep the magic a bit longer.

I mentioned yesterday that it was strange moving deeper into adulthood. So many things for which you’re not prepared, things which no one can really warn you about because they’re too busy being surprised themselves. Some days it seems like the plainest truth is we’re all just making it up as we go along, hoping we get it right, hoping no one suffers much when we don’t.

There are things we do to try and make the world a little bit better place, and some times those very nice things bring with them a price tag of sadness when they go away. The question, then, is whether or not the magic is worth the cost. It’s still early for me, but I’m thinking I know what my answer is.

Yes.

The Trouble With Growing Up

Yesterday was one of those days when you know you’re a grown up. My collegiate alma mater hired a head football coach who is the same age as me. A young woman from my high school graduating class died from cancer. My daughter got off the bus and told me a boy asked her to go to a school dance with him.

Each of those things gave me pause for reflection. And after careful consideration, I came away with only one single thought:

When did I become an adult?