The 45 Minute Cushion

45

So I think I am figuring out this whole timing thing with a baby.

I am told that getting anywhere on time with kids is pretty much impossible. “You just have to plan better” was my answer. That was always responded to with laughter as parents stared at each other and shook their heads at poor ignorant me. “You just wait till you have kids!” they would respond. Well…I recognize it isn’t as simple as I thought—it never is.

I can see why people say that being on time is almost impossible, but I hate being late and not honoring people’s time. When we first had Claire we were late to everything. I blamed lack of sleep, the dog, running our of coffee and the cat…its always the cats fault in our home.

Anyway, so after a few months of being late to pretty much everything I started preparing things the night before to make sure we would be set for the next day. However, Claire always has a schedule of her own: diaper change as we walk out, barfing everywhere, or the cat sneaking outside as I hold the door open with my pinky toe while at the same time holding the baby carrier, diaper bag, work bag and lunch bag.

Does anyone want a cat?

So it seemed like the night-before-idea just wasn’t cutting it. I tried prepping an hour before we needed to go anywhere but that also didn’t work—an hour was too much time. It’s amazing how many diapers and outfits (Claire’s and mine) a kid can go through in one hour. I tried 30 minutes but that was nuts! I would forget half of the things I needed to bring with me. I swear no one noticed it, but one day I wore a brown and black shoe to work…sigh.

Last week I tried 45 minutes. It works! 45 minutes before needing to be anywhere is perfect. Just enough time to change, feed, prepare everything and kick the cats sorry behind back through the door. I’m telling you a 45 minute cushion is perfect. I realize that will change when kid number two comes around (some day, but not yet). However, right now 45 is this guys new favorite number.

Seriously, does anyone want a cat?

Fully Alive: Part II – Waking the Dead

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So complacency has led us to not live our lives to the full. Complacency has in many ways stolen our ability to see what this fullness even looks like.  Worse of all, complacency has stolen our heart—the one thing we need to be fully alive.

How did this happen? How is it possible that we could have our hearts taken from us? Here is the thing, our heart is not something that can be taken from us—we give it away.

We hear the phrase, “He/She stole my heart” all the time. The reality is that when we say that phrase what we really mean is that we gave that person access to our heart and they did something with it—good or bad. My daughter has stolen my heart in the sense that I am so in love with her. That love is so strong that it physically feels like she has my heart in her hands. Another example can be a girlfriend who you have given your heart to that breaks it and causes it to ache. That pain is so strong that it physically feels like she has taken your heart but in this case has done harm to it.

We give our heart over to people and things. Some of these people or things never should have had access to our heart and this, is how we lose it. Here are some examples:

  • The man who goes online to watch porn. He gives those images permission to access his heart. He lets them in and those images speak to his heart in a destructive way.
  • The man who chooses work over family because he’s successful there. His heart connects to work more so, and family loses the rightful place of that heart.
  • The man who plops himself in front of a TV connected to a X-box and plays shoot ‘em up games till 4am. His mind tells his heart he is “saving the world” but it’s virtual—fake.
  • The man who has no control over food and eats everything and anything placed before him. His heart longs for pleasure and satisfaction but its disordered.

These are just some of many ways we give our heart away. I’m sure you can come up with others yourself.

To whom, or to what have you given your heart to? And does this person or thing deserve to have it?

I have been thinking, wrestling and praying about those two questions for a long time and the answer is: I have given my heart away to things that do not deserve to have it. Those things suck the life out of my heart and have led me to complacency, this sort of zombie like state I mentioned in my last post.

I recently watched this movie called Warm Bodies. It’s a zombie comedy that has a really interesting twist to the zombie situation.  In the movie a zombie pandemic consumes the whole world. There are a few humans who are surviving and fighting the zombies. The movie follows R, who is a young zombie that really doesn’t know what he is doing, how he became a zombie, or why he is living at an airport. R feels…dead. Yet, he knows there is something out there, something more to his current state.

Eventually R meets a human named Julie and this is where things get interesting. Julie’s company does something to R that begins to change him. R recognizes that Julie is beautiful, strong and that her presence begins to wake him up from the inside out. R starts to become human again. He is reclaiming his humanity and the way he does this is through whom he gives his heart to. R falls in love with Julie and love awakens him. By the time the movie gets to the end R protects Julie from a fall and as they get up they both realize that R has woken from the dead—he is fully alive. R comes back from this zombie-like-complacent-state due to his desire to love the right thing; in this case it is a person—Julie. R reclaims his heart by giving it to Julie and he comes back to life.

Giving our hearts to the wrong things leads to death. Giving our hearts to the right things helps us to be fully alive. This is how we reclaim our heart. We love the right person, the right things.

So what does this have to do with fatherhood?

To be a good father I must be the best version of myself—that is who God has called me to be. To be fully alive is the best thing I could ever be for my family. To be anything else is simply unacceptable.

So rise up men! Reclaim your heart. Wake the dead. Be who God has called you to be.

Because the glory of God is you fully alive.

Fully Alive: Part I

fully alive
There are so many things to fear in this world: death, being mugged, losing a loved one, loss of financial stability, cancer…the list goes on.

I fear never becoming the man God has called me to be.

There is something incredibly frightening at the idea of someday standing before God and Him saying, “What happened? I gave you everything you needed to be what I called you to be, and this is what you did.” Maybe this isn’t the thing you fear the most, but I think its something worth looking at.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from a man named Saint Irenaeus. St. Irenaeus lived in the second century and died in 202 A.D. St. Irenaeus is known to have been a hardcore Catholic man who fought some nasty heresies in his time. He wrote lots of great works, but the quote below is one that has always struck my heart.

“The glory of God is man fully alive.”

When I first encountered this quote I found it curious and confusing. The glory of God is man fully alive? How is that possible? Man fully alive? What does that even mean?

In a simple way it means that God rejoices when man is being his truest self. A being that lives in grace and embraces love, uses his talents, and is willing to be a total gift of self to others. There are so many ways to try and describe or interpret this quote, but I think that these examples help explain the heart of it.

Claire recently started eating pureed foods—it gives me great joy seeing her take this next step in life. I guess you could say, ‘The glory of Dad is Claire eating her pureed food and growing into a toddler’.

Or

A Dad is teaching his son to ride a bicycle without training wheels. The son starts to peddle and Dad lets go. The son is riding alone. ‘The glory of Dad is his son learning to ride his bike.

We could say in these examples that, ‘The glory of Dad is his child being fully alive.’

If you have experience similar examples you know exactly what I’m talking about. That moment when you see the full potential of your child reached—and it is glorious.  You stand proud at his/her achievement and you can’t help but light up. As Father I rejoice when my child is living to her full potential. We all do. God, as Father does as well. He knows us through and through so when we are fully alive He is in glory. He beams with joy at seeing His children living to their full potential, just as we do.

The question is how many of us are fully alive?

I don’t know about you but I don’t feel like I am fully alive. I know many people who feel the same way. We read the above quote and wonder how is this possible? Have I ever been fully alive, fully me, fully what God has called me to be? There are moments when we brush past this fullness; we get a glimpse and do a double take.

I recognize in my life that the reason I am not fully alive is because of complacency. Complacency is that terrible, insidious vice that tells us, ‘its okay just the way it is’, ‘we’ll get to it tomorrow’,  ‘someone else can take care of it’. Complacency is a cancer to the heart of man and it leads us to being fully dead. The worst part is, we chose to be complacent.

If the glory of God is man fully alive, then the glory of Satan is man fully dead. Complacency is Satan’s favorite strategy to get us to live lives that are not full.

Complacency is what leads man who can be great to settle for good. When you are meant to be great, good is never good enough. Complacency allows a man to recognize that he must love his wife more, but lets that recognition slip away because it is too difficult, or will demand change on his part and so the love continues to fade. Complacency allows a man to sacrifice his goal of health and fitness to eat the cheeseburger because it’s fast, easy and tomorrow he can run an extra half hour.

Complacency kills us…slowly…and silently.

For many, we recognize what is happening too late. We go from somewhat alive, to fully dead. Maybe this is why the whole zombie phenomena is so attractive to us. We recognize in zombies what we see in ourselves—the walking dead.

Yet something deep in our hearts tells us that this quote is true. It may not be true in our daily lives, but we recognize its reality, its tangible-ness. Pause for a second and read it again. “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Does not your heart burn as the words enter your mind?

Fully alive…what a glorious thing to be.

Complacency has stolen our hearts. We have lost the realization that we were never made to live lives that tip toe the surface and never dive in. I know it, you know it, we all know it—but we sit in the shame of knowing this without doing anything about it. We pretend no one sees it, but deep inside our hearts we want this quote to be true in our own lives. We want to be fully alive, because to not be is the greatest fear and failure of all.

So if complacency has stolen our heart, then how is it that this happened, and more importantly how do we get it back?

The Skimpy Costume Dilemma

jackolanternA few days ago I was in a Wal-Mart with my daughter Claire and I saw that they already had Halloween costumes out. There were two high school girls looking at the different outfits and I happened to overhear their conversation. The one girl thought that the costume she was looking at was not “skimpy” enough. Yes, she actually used that word. The conversation ended with them deciding to go to one of those pop-up Halloween stores in town to get something that would be more “fitting” for their needs.

Every year I see some of my Youth Ministry girls’ pictures on Facebook from Halloween parties and I dread the potential of seeing one of them in these “skimpy” costumes. I dread it because:

  1. It hurts my heart to see them dressing in a way that is going to objectify them and have guys thinking all kinds of inappropriate things about them.
  2. I have to call them out on it and remind them that they have dignity and worth that these costumes do not reveal, which is always a tough and sometimes awkward conversation to have—mostly for the girls.

So this is my open letter to my beloved ladies of Youth Ministry. I love you girls so much that I want to say this before Halloween comes around and you buy your costume.
Maybe this year the skimpy, inappropriate Halloween costumes are hitting closer to home because I am a father to a baby girl. Maybe holding Claire as I heard the above conversation had me see her in those two high school girls. Regardless of the reason I don’t think that the skimpy costumes are necessary. So here are this Youth Minister’s 6 reasons why I would advise against the skimpy costumes.

  1. The skimpy costumes are not original: Every year there are tons of girls scantily dressed up as cops, pirates, nurses, etc. I guarantee you that there will be at least one of each at the party you go to. If having the same dress, as another girl at a dance is a no-no, then I’m sure having the same costume, as another girl is just as bad. The skimpy costumes are not original, so be more creative.
  2. Halloween is not a modesty-free-day: No other day of the year would you wear anything remotely skimpy as that costume, so why is Halloween all of a sudden an acceptable day for this? Seriously, if it is the size of a dinner napkin it isn’t modest! Modesty is not something you can put aside for a day even if Seventeen Magazine says so!
  3. You become a target for the wrong type of guy: The skimpy costume is notorious for attracting guys that only want to check you out and potentially go beyond just staring. The skimpy costume is a magnet for jerks, pervs, and guys who don’t want to see the whole you. Who wants that?!
  4. Help a brother out: Our primary sense is our sight. For most guys sight is the one sense that can really get us in trouble. What the eye sees the heart desires. If you have a skimpy costume on that shows off your body, a guy is going to desire it. That’s not to say every guy who stares at you will be thinking inappropriate thoughts, but there is a real good chance they will. Help a brother out by not having them have to deal with that.
  5. Think beyond Halloween:  You might think the skimpy costume was cool, but what about after October 31st? What will people say when they talk about that night or look at those pictures you are sure to post on Facebook? “Wow, I thought Susie was really going to arrest me.” is not one of those things. If you looked skimpy, people will refer to you in that way. The rest of the year you will have to live with what you wore for a few hours of one night.
  6. The skimpy costumes don’t reveal enough: Let me explain. The skimpy costumes may reveal the beauty of your body, but that isn’t all of you. You are a person with a soul, with intelligence, dreams, talents, gifts, personality and most importantly dignity. A dignity that is yours to uphold, protect and reveal to the world. The skimpy costume only puts focus on your body, and as beautiful as that body is, it only reveals a very, very small, tiny, bitsy piece of who you are. You are so much more than just flesh!

There are so many cool, creative non-skimpy costumes out there that can highlight your creativity, intelligence, gifts, talents as well as your beauty. My challenge for you is to not get sucked in by the worlds desire to make you into a thing, an object, a means to an end.

You are holy. You are sacred. You are precious. So be all of those things.

Mommy Daddy Time

IMG_9062-1024x651The last couple of weeks I’ve noticed that my wife and I have been unable to spend a lot of quality time together. Claire is such a gift and we love her to death, but taking care of her leaves us exhausted. There are many nights that Claire goes to bed and we drag ourselves to bed as well. Recently, the only quality time we have had is watching episodes of a show called, “Grimm.” As fun as it is to watch, we realize that our relationship requires more than sitting in front of a screen.

One of the things that friends, spiritual directors, priests and anyone who has any kind of experience with marriage and family tell me is that the Date Night is crucial. Having a date night with the wife is absolutely necessary for our relationship as husband and wife—not to mention our sanity. The Date Night is great, but it now takes strategic planning, synchronizing of schedules, and the alignment of Mars and Jupiter for it to work. Most importantly, we need to actually have energy for it.

We are always tired.

I love going out with my wife or doing the cheap date night at home. The problem is our lack of mental and physical energy. We are both exhausted from work and Claire that doing something outside the norm seems like it will be way too much.

Did I mention we are both taking classes for our Master’s degree? Maybe we are sadistic—or crazy.

Yet, the Date Night is crucial. I know many couples that have said that not having a regular date night was a bad choice on their part. So, the Date Night is a must. Got it. Now we need to make it happen because mommy-daddy time is foundational to our marriage, and our marriage is what gives life to our family. Everything that our family will become will flow from how my wife and I love one another. This is an incredibly scary thing, but it’s true. How I love my wife affects not only our relationship, but also the entire atmosphere and development of our home. Our children’s happiness, peace, calmness, understanding of God, sense of compassion and trust will flow from how Jess and I love one another. The way Jess and I romance each other with the Date Night perpetuates the cycle of falling in love with one another; which keeps us discovering more and more about each other; which will cause our children to grow in an atmosphere filled with love.

Love begets love.

So lack of energy, masters degrees, children, etc. cannot allow us to drop mommy-daddy time. Claire and any future children will recognize sacrifice, selflessness, love, respect, joy, kindness, and much more from what flows out of our marriage. Our love will either lead our children to recognize all that is beautiful or the opposite. So mommy and daddy time is necessary for all the other times to come with Claire and the rest of the future members of our family. Romancing one another is so important.

So with that said, “Honey, grab a Red Bull and your coat. We’re going out and having some mommy daddy time!”

Time-free-carelessness

ImageI was talking to a friend the other day about trying to get things done when I have Claire with me and how impossible this seems. I shared that the Saturdays when my wife is working and I am home alone I can’t mow, fix or do the guy-type-things I need to do. I will try to figure out how I can get a task done with Claire, but it usually doesn’t go far.

“Maybe she would enjoy a ride in the wheelbarrow full of mulch? She can hold the shovel!”

When I accept that my guy-type-things are not going to happen I will sit on the couch with Claire and hold her while I watch TV or surf my iPhone—something I consider productive. Claire will usually get fussy and begin to cry and squirm. I’ll try to give her a bottle: she isn’t hungry. I’ll change her: she isn’t dirty. I’ll try to get her to nap: she isn’t tired.

A few days ago I sat down on the couch and forgot my phone in the bedroom and didn’t get the remote off the TV stand. I was sitting on the couch holding my baby girl with nothing to distract me. We sat…that’s all.

Claire didn’t fuss.

Claire actually goo-goo gaga the whole time and I responded with daddy’s own version. Forty-five minutes had passed and we were still hanging out without any distractions or interruptions. We were simply spending time together doing nothing in particular.

Why is it that spending time doing nothing in particular with my daughter is not enough?

I think many of us have lost the ability to be present to one another. To sit still, without a task, a text to check, an email to respond to, a dish to wash…the list goes on. One of my favorite authors/speakers, Matthew Kelly, says that we must develop the art of “time-free-carelessness.” Time-free-carelessness is being able to soak in the moment you are in without thinking of other moments to come.  To simply be in that moment and surrender to it.

The moments that I am able to have time-free-carelessness with my wife, daughter, friends, and self are usually the moments I enjoy the most. These are the moments where I don’t give other things permission to pull me away. Time-free-carelessness is a moment when I can give myself completely, and also receive fully.

I think that the issue with me lies with physical vs. emotional/spiritual tasks. A physical task such as feeding, changing or putting Claire to bed is got some substance. I can concretely establish the need and do the task necessary to accomplish the mission. An emotional/spiritual task such as playing, holding, or simply laying on the floor with Claire doesn’t have an immediate, tangible end goal. I can do these things a million times a day and there isn’t a physical need per say that is being accomplished.  I feel like a physical task is easier to do since it has an end goal whereas an emotional/spiritual task depends on many different variables.

I really need to just shift my way of thinking. My daughter is not a thing to fix, she is someone to know and love. Time-free-carelessness needs to be a priority because lawns do need to be cut and guy-type-things are necessary but Claire is more important. Those emotional/spiritual tasks may not have concrete manifestations now, but they will in the years to come. Lord, knows there are too many of us with daddy issues based on a lack of care-free-timelessness. I for one, definitely do not want to add to that.

Through the eyes of the Father

Old-Man's-EyesI love gazing at my daughter. Not looking at, but gazing. When I think of gazing I think of staring with the intent to acknowledge the worthiness of the object I am gazing at.  I look at toast. I gaze at my wife and daughter. They are both exquisite and beautiful. There are moments when Claire gazes back, smiles, laughs, cries, and poops on me. Still, I love gazing at her.

A few weeks ago I was studying my notes for a class I am taking when I noticed Claire gazing at me with her hand straight out as if calling for me. I succumbed to this chubby mini-hand and laid my head next to hers. We just lay there. Eventually I lifted my head and stroked hers with my fingers. Something about this moment was different. I was noticing her little baby bumps (which I assume are pores), her eyelashes, nose—everything. She is perfect and lovely to behold.

As I often do, I started telling Claire that I love her and that she is beautiful, strong and smart. I told her how much she means to me and that I would do anything for her…even lay my life down. At one point I remember saying, “I don’t think you will ever understand how much I love you.” I believe that statement. I don’t know why but I just know this.

As those words came out of my mouth another voice spoke, not an audible voice (not crazy) but That voice that has been speaking to us since before we had being. I felt that God the Father was doing the same exact thing I was doing with Claire, except that it was with me. He had His head laying next to mine; stroking it and telling me how much He loves me, and would do anything for me…even lay His own life down.  It’s as if I could hear Him saying, “I don’t think you will ever understand how much I love you.”

Discovering fatherhood is so much more than learning about my daughter. It is discovering that God as Father is gazing at me…at you…at us. He acknowledges the worthiness of how lovely we are to behold. There are moments when we gaze back, smile, laugh, cry, and poop on Him. Still, He loves gazing at us.