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.

The Diaper Reality

DSC02881There was poop everywhere

A routine 3:00 a.m. diaper change turned ugly at about 3:01 when I discovered that Claire had pooped up to the back of her neck. How does that happen?! Seriously. The physics of it just blows my mind. I’m sure there is a YouTube video out there explaining it with simulations and quadratic equations, but I digress.

The problem with this particular blowout was not so much that Claire was caked in it, but that the diaper was not disposable. My wife and I’s inner hippie got the best of us before Claire was born when we decided that we would use reusable diapers. This isn’t your great-grandma’s dinner-napkin-with-a-safety-pin diaper. This is a technologically advanced diaper that makes those hundreds, even thousands of dollars a year in disposables vanish. What these “BumGenius” company folks don’t tell you before you buy them is that there’s this nasty, sticky, Spiderman web like poop that doesn’t come off easily. It’s the kind that you need laser to remove it from the diaper. “It’s still attached!” “Get the laser, hun!”

They sell a sprayer attachment that connects to your toilet. It works—20 gallons later.

So I cleaned Claire off, changed her and then did battle with Satan’s forgotten child in a technologically advanced diaper. 20 gallons later, I claimed victory. I thought I was going to need a priest, but it worked out.

I went back to Claire’s room because she was making some noise. She was probably traumatized from the experience. I know I was—it was up to her neck! I walked in and smelled poop. I thought that maybe some had passed Claire’s head and hit the wall or something crazy like that. I sniffed around and found the source—in Claire’s new diaper. Apparently Satan had another forgotten child.

I began the cleaning process again (this time I used a disposable diaper—who’s the bum genius now?!). I began to pull the Velcro strap of the new diaper close when I heard a foul noise followed by a smell. Claire had pulled off a Hat Trick and it was only 3:10 a.m.

At this point I am beyond upset and I lose it. I start quietly yelling (which is hard to do) at Claire for this unnecessary level of bowel activity. She starts crying. I start crying, which is followed by shame, guilt, and many other terrible emotions.

I put Claire to bed and head to the living room to let the whole ordeal set in. “I yelled at her, God! For pooping!” More shame. More tears and the realization that I might not be as good of a father as I think I am. As I sat on the couch upset at myself, and asking God for patience and strength, I felt that God had something to say.

As usual I wasn’t expecting this.

God was showing me that Claire’s bowel movements are an image of my life. I sin. God comes in to clean the mess. I sin again—almost immediately—and God comes in to clean the mess again. As He patiently and lovingly cleanses me I go ahead and make another mess—the Hat Trick. Yet, God patiently wipes away the nasty, foul and unpleasant reality that is my brokenness. The diaper reality is this: we sin, seek forgiveness, God cleanses and heals, and we sin again. However, our heavenly Father is much more patient than this rookie dad. When I look at the analogy of this diaper fiasco I realize God is right and that, yet again, discovering fatherhood is more than learning patience with Claire and diaper cleansing techniques. It demands that I recognize and accept God’s never-ending patience with me, and my own constant diaper Hat Tricks.

*No technologically advanced diapers were harmed in the making of this blog*

Holding on to you, dear life

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Before getting married I thought I was a pretty selfless person. When I got married I thought I needed to be a little less selfish. When we had Claire I came to the realization of the full extent of my selfishness.  It was real, big and in every facet of my life!

There is nothing like giving your life to someone else to make you realize your desire to hold on to it. I think we all come to a point in life where we recognize that to truly live we must die to ourselves, but the distance from dying to self…………and actually doing it…………is quite…………far.

Claire is a pretty easy baby. She has been sleeping through the night since she was 2 months old.  I am told that I am extremely lucky, even blessed. There are those moments of crankiness, random crying and 2 am feedings that I can handle, but it’s the moments when I am unwilling to be interrupted because I am doing “my thing” that I recognize the full extent of my desperate hold onto life. Whether it’s watching re-runs of Arrested Development, praying, or trying to finish that book I started 5 months ago, I recognize that I am unwilling to fully surrender myself to my role as father.

I recognize that when I hold onto my life on my own terms I end up enjoying it less. When I am willing to surrender, sacrifice and serve my wife and daughter I am fulfilled, happy and joyful. However, 2 days later I am at it again desperately clinging to my own life not realizing that by doing this I am actually chocking it to death and keeping it from being what it should be—a gift.

I think all of our lives are a gift. And gifts are meant to be given away…to others. Discovering fatherhood is helping me to realize the power that this gift of life can have… if only I would be willing to let go of it.

The Cyrus Lesson

miley-cyrus-babyThe other night my Facebook newsfeed was inundated with comments about Miley Cyrus and something crazy, raunchy, etc that she did. I finally decided to Google her name and see what would pop up.

Yikes.

I’m sure by now many of you have seen the VMA “performance” that Miley was in. If you haven’t don’t look for it, your souls is better of not watching it. Lets just say she pretended to be something less than human on stage.

My first reaction to Miley’s performance was not shock, disgust or embarrassment. I was thinking to myself, how did she get to this point? Where along the way did this 20 year old think twerking (if you don’t know what this is you are better off) on stage in her underwear was the right thing to do? The sad thing is that anyone can become what Miley was on stage that night. My daughter, your daughter anyones daughter. We all have the potential to be incredible people or to chose something less…twerking.

The picture in this post is of Miley Cyrus when she was a baby. Here is a child with infinite potential in all aspects of life. A child with dignity, worth and goodness. The Miley on stage at the VMA awards is that same person. The same dignity, worth and goodness is there. I think she just forgot, or maybe was never told about it.

A few years ago Glenn Beck (*diclaimer: I am neither a fan or foe of him*) did an interview with Billy Ray Cyrus where he asked him about his daughter, Miley:

“Are you at all concerned?” Beck asked the young star’s father, Billy Ray Cyrus, at the time. “I mean, the odds of Miley turning into Ron Howard — meaning sane — pretty low. Living in Los Angeles, being a child star — hello? Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, name a million others…”

Cyrus was confident that his daughter had a “great head on her shoulders” and a “great heart.” He also explained that he tries to be her “best friend,” while letting his wife act as the disciplinarian.

“I taught them how to build a good snowman, how to ride a motorcycle, how to ride a horse, how to roast a wiener properly over a fire, and a good marshmallow,” Cyrus explained. “…But discipline I always left up to the mama. She was really, really good at that. That never was — I never was really good at that.”

There is a lesson to be learned here. Billy Ray is not to be blamed for Miley’s VMA spectacle, she is her own person and has a will and intellect to chose. One can though wonder what Miley would be like today if dad had disciplined her, told her no, change that outfit, you are grounded, don’t you ever twerk–ever!

There have been tons of articles, seminars and books that talk about the crucial role of a father in a child’s life. If you are a dad please understand this: you set the precedent to what your child will understand a man is supposed to be. You also set the precedent for helping your child discover their dignity, worth and goodness–especially a daughter. If you are a coward, lazy, angry, raunchy, immoral, good, caring, faithful, selfless…then this is what she will  understand a man to be. Why is it that every now and then we hear women say, “I just seem to attract all the losers and jerks.” The reason is probably because that is all they have seen and known.

As a Youth Minister I have ministered to some girls who have forgotten or were never told that they have dignity, worth and goodness. The majority of those girls had no fathers or if they did, were around but not fully, actively and consciously participating in their lives. So that is what they learn a man is: not around, not able to focus, not really invested in their lives.

Men, we have a responsibility to be more than a provider of house, food and education. Building snowmen, roasting marshmallows and teaching our kids how to ride a horse are great bonding experiences, but not enough for them. I realize I only have a 5 month old, but I cannot settle for anything less than my daughter recognizing that she is an unrepeatable, exquisite, beautiful human being. We must remind our children that they have dignity, worth and goodness. More importantly, we must live out dignity, worth and goodness in our everyday lives so that they can see it and understand that this is what they deserve!

If we do not…expect worse things than twerking.