Sap isn’t just for trees

If you’ve been reading my posts over the past couple of weeks, no, I haven’t been auditioning for Harlequin.

I admit, I am a sappy, sappy man. I have been criticized by men and women throughout my adult life for being a deep feeler. It makes some people uncomfortable. Transparency makes people feel awkward. I’ve received well-intentioned advice from female friends that I need to be more of a ‘bad boy’ in order to attract women. As Leo Durocher famously said, “nice guys finish last”. Male peers look at guys like me with a skeptical eye, as if maybe we’re confused about our gender identity.

Even in this day and age, and maybe even especially in this day and age, fathers all over the land get nervous if their sons are emotional and creative. We’re not supposed to cry. If we are hurt, physically or emotionally, we’re supposed to rub some dirt on it and not show that it hurt. My dad would probably kill me if he knew I was telling this story, but I think I can outrun him. When I was about 8 or 9 years old, I injured my arm at my neighbor’s house. For three days, I complained about the pain. My mom was very concerned, but my dad wanted me to tough it out. “C’mon, tie your shoes. You’re fine.”

Finally, a few days later, my dad relented and took me to the doctor. When we returned home, I emerged from the car with a cast from my hand all the way to my shoulder. My mom watched us through the living room window as we made our way up the driveway. I had this cool cast, my trophy for my broken arm, and was grinning from ear to ear. It wasn’t until I was an adult when my mom told me my dad had the guiltiest, most remorseful look on his face. See? He has a heart!

God gave us emotions. Whether it’s love, anger, sadness, fear, excitement or happiness, EmotionsGod intended us to experience a wide range of feelings. The key is to embrace them, but keep them under control. We can’t let them control us. Any of these emotions can lead to impulse issues. We must control these impulses. However, there is nothing wrong with feeling and expressing our emotions, when appropriate.

In the past week, many of you have shared with me your emotions, and how you were touched by the content of my posts. Many of you have paid me very nice compliments about my writing. I don’t even know how to tell you how much I appreciate these comments. The only thing I know to say is that what you’ve been reading is a direct result of accepting and utilizing the way I’m designed. As such, I try to harness my emotions to communicate through my writing, my singing, my speaking, and my actions. God has used my sensitivity to connect with teenagers with self esteem issues. With kids with special needs. With the elderly. With people enduring heartache. And now, God is using my tools in a new and special way for my own life.

For men, young and old, it is not a indictment on your masculinity to express sensitivity. We must embrace it and express it. Being Mr. Macho is fine with the guys, but not so much when you’re with your mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter, etc. I have worked with kids of all ages, and so many boys feel guilty and confused if they show love or sadness. Whether it’s peer pressure, or something they’re conditioned to think by their culture at home, there needs to be some teaching to boys and young men about how to express their emotions in a healthy way.

Harnessing emotions comes with maturity. Believe me, I’ve had to learn from a lot of my own mistakes and heartaches. God is faithful, however, to take these things and use them for His purpose. But that is just so God. The Great Improvisor. He makes us all different. We all have our own skills and tools. The important thing for each of us is to utilize the gifts He has given us to serve something bigger than ourselves.

Others may do things differently than we’d do it, and that’s okay. God will use me in ways He may not use you, but He’ll also use you in ways He won’t use me. Be who you are. And please, encourage kids to be who God designed them to be, even if it’s different than we are. God will bless and use them in special ways. For each of us, we need to yield back to Him what He has given us.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.   ~1 Corinthians 15:10a

My two Sarahs

Today is October 25th. 78 years ago today, my mom was born. Sadly, she left us 4 and a Momhalf years ago, in March of 2009. As I contemplated what I would share about her in this post, I found myself at a loss. Over the years, I have written a great many things about her. From specific memories, to simple thoughts of her heart and character.

As my life is entering an exciting new chapter, I’m left to think of her indelible imprint on who I am as a man. Over the years, I have been criticized for being a sensitive man. My mom was a very emotional person. She would cry at Hallmark commercials. I’m not nearly that bad, but she did pass on the sentimental gene to me. So no, I don’t cry at commercials, but no matter how many times I watch the movie Mr Holland’s Opus, I cry like a baby at the end.

As a sentimental fool, it should come as no surprise the significance of having a such a wonderful mother named Sarah Jane, only to be followed up by finding and experiencing the love of such an amazing woman named Sarah-Jane. I can’t prove this theologically, but there is something inside me that recognizes my mom’s fingerprints in this love connection. Not so much the name thing. That has God’s signature on it. But I know that my mom would approve of and be completely on board with my new Sarah-Jane.

I probably will never understand on this side of Heaven why God couldn’t have kept my mom around long enough to meet her. But that’s okay. It’s just my hope that the best part of my mom lives in me enough that Sarah-Jane can get a feel of who she was. And I’m confident that one day, they’ll be introduced to one another and embrace for a long time.

Remembering that moment again, in my mom’s hospital room, when she wondered aloud, “who will pray for you when I’m gone?”

I found her, Mom. I found her. Enjoy your rest.

Hurdles are meant to be hurdled

“It’s not meant to be. Look at all the obstacles.”

I have seen far too many people give up on something by caving in with that way of thinking. We sometimes see obstacles as being detour signs. I’m not sure why we expect that God’s will is going to be paved in cashmere with free pizza and your favorite beverage all along the way.

The pathway to God’s will is going to be challenging. By definition, our journey is going to test our faith. It is going to require us digging in, fighting our human tendencies to lose faith. I believe that adversity is God’s way of showing us just how important our dreams are. If they’re not worth fighting for, then they’re not that important to us. If our dreams, if pursuing God’s will for us is really, truly our passion, there is nothing that will keep us from it.

Hurdles If you’ve ever been at, or watched a track meet, you may have seen a hurdles race. You may have even stood next to a hurdle. They are challenging, for sure. Even the best runners get tripped up from time to time. But the thing is, the purpose of hurdles is not to stop you. They are there to be jumped over! They’re not meant to be easy. They should be difficult to get past. But to reach the goal, you will have to go over them.

Years ago, my parents sold their home and most of their possessions in order to move to Costa Rica to start a ministry there. Whether it was governmental red tape, or outright dishonesty and thievery, they met many, many obstacles along the way. It literally lasted the first two years they were there. Uncharacteristically, my dad confessed to me that he was beginning to question whether they had made the wrong decision in going there. In a moment of spiritual clarity, I let him know that what they were doing was of spiritual significance. That means they were in the devil’s crosshairs. If what they were doing was a mistake, he would simply let them go on their merry way. He wouldn’t put up any interference.

I think of the life of Joseph in the book of Genesis. After all his brothers put him through, he had a heavenly perspective. When his brothers ultimately and humbly threw themselves at his feet in guilt and grief, Joseph said in Genesis 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

Are your dreams worth fighting for? Is God’s will important enough to you that you’ll deal with any obstacle that comes your way? No matter what anyone else says or does, do you have the conviction and faith to stay the course? Do you have a heavenly perspective?

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” -Deuteronomy 31:6

Bigger dreams than you thought

dream-quotes-images-6-f3f199deLately, I’ve been a little fixated on dreams. Not the ones that happen during the night as you sleep. The ones that you have while wide awake. The ones that God inspires in you. The ones that shape your character and your decisions.

Years ago, I shared this story of 3 trees to a large audience of kids and their families. I thought it was especially poignant in speaking to children because their whole lives were in front of them. After sharing this fictitious, yet very real interpretation of dreams often times coming to fruition in different, yet bigger ways, I shared with them a very personal story.

Since my mid-to-late 20s, my desire to get married and have a family grew very strong in my heart. I shared my heart with friends with families. I learned from them. I watched videos. I read books. I listened to audio tapes from seminars. I wanted so much to learn all I would need to be a good husband and father. I was preparing for my dream.

As I stood before that audience that night, I was about 40 years old. Still never married, and still no children. In preparing my message for that audience, I sensed the Lord was speaking to me probably more than He would speak to those children and their families. What God had given me wasn’t one or more children of my own, but hundreds of children, even thousands I could inspire and influence in some way.

I am now 48 years old. Still never married. Still no children of my own. Yet, I’ve been able to develop wonderful relationships with kids throughout the years. Many of whom are now adults, and even parents themselves. Some of them have mild to severe disabilities. Some have endured devastating heartbreaks in losing parents to cancer. Many are living full lives as they build a strong foundation for their futures.

Just like these kids, my story isn’t yet complete. My dream is still alive and well. It won’t turn out as I had envisioned it all those years ago.

It will be even better.

Overdue rant

ranticon(The following is a rant I posted on Facebook on April 10, 2013. I’m posting it here for those who may have missed it)

I’ve felt a good rant coming on for weeks on a variety of topics, but I’ve pretty much kept it all in. At least in an online format.
I must say that the recent controversial comments in the MSNBC ad by Melissa Harris-Perry have challenged my restraint.

Whether you agree or disagree with her view, I just have this to say. Your kids are not my responsibility. They are not the community’s responsibility.

They are yours.

The community is made up of individuals. These individuals are as different and diverse as the stars. No two are alike. No two agree on everything, and no two see things exactly the same way. There is commonality, and there is contrast in each of us. We all have different gifts, talents, temperaments, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and experiences. Our experiences influence the expression of our innate tendencies. Our experiences often shape what direction we go in our lives.

My responsibility is to take all that I have experienced and learned in my life, and be a contributing member of the community. Because I know probably less than 1 percent of the population of my community, perhaps my greatest contribution is by getting out of the way of others in their pursuit of happiness. To those I know, my responsibility is to be the best me I can be.

My parents raised me with core values. They taught me the real meaning of responsibility, and it always came down to me.

No one else.

If I had a bad teacher, that didn’t give me an excuse to be an idiot. If I had a rotten neighbor, that wasn’t an open door for me to be a criminal.

Take responsibility for yourself and the ones who depend on you. Don’t rely on “the village”. If you do, you relinquish the right to complain about what happens next.

Has it been 4 years?

Presidential elections. Olympics. Leap year. World Cup Soccer.

These are things that happen every four years. In some ways, it seems like a very long time. But in the case of today, it’s hard to imagine it’s been 4 years.

4 years ago tonight, my mom passed away. It came at the end of an emotional 6 week journey from the day the doctor told her she had stage 4 lung cancer. That, after more than 10 years of living with severe Systemic scleroderma.

Not a day goes by that she doesn’t enter my thoughts. Sometimes, it’s just a fleeting thought. Maybe something I see or hear triggers a memory. Other times, it can be a full blown conversation about her. In almost every instance, I smile as I remember. Other times, there is sadness that I can’t just sit down and talk with her again.

She handled adversity with grace and dignity. She went through life with integrity. She never sought or wanted the spotlight. She was incredibly generous. To this day, most of the people she helped never knew her name, and maybe never saw her face.

Just the way she liked it.

So today, 4 years after she left us in body, she’s active in our hearts. Making me laugh and smile. But also moving us to tears with her sweet sensitivity.

It’s like she never left.

Happy Birthday Dad!

A mere five days after my mom’s birth, my dad was born. Yep, same year, too! I used to tease my mom about “robbing the cradle” with a younger man.

As I have said before, my dad is a man’s man. He is a former United States Marine and a retired San Francisco police inspector. To say my dad was something of a thrill seeker in his day would be accurate. Recently, a list of the top 15 scariest jobs was released, and not only did my dad hold three of them, those three are in the top 5, including the number 1 scariest job!

Those who have come to know my dad in the past 25 years are often shocked to hear of the life he led. Hearing of the kind of man he was doesn’t seem to fit with the man he is.

Having known him my whole life, I see how it all blends. To mentally survive being a cop in San Francisco, you must be able to keep yourself from getting emotionally attached to human suffering. Professionally, he was able to do this. But personally, he poured himself into serving others. He loved building things. While he did a lot of home improvement projects, he volunteered his skills and time to so many community groups. I was in the Boys Club, so he had a big part of building our floats for the annual 4th of July parade through town. This time of year was always busy for him. He built many haunted houses for my schools, as well as perfected his costume and presentation as Santa Claus for decades. He coached little league baseball, and ultimately became the league president.

As he neared the end of his career in law enforcement, he did the unthinkable. He got involved in prison ministry. For a cop to go into San Quentin to meet face to face with inmates was completely absurd. As you might imagine, cops were not all that popular in prison. But he didn’t care. He felt it was important for inmates to see the human side, the Christian behind the badge.

After he retired, he and Mom got involved with an orphanage in Mexico. To see my dad play with little children was a side I had never seen. He let them climb all over him. He let them put things in his hair. He let them do whatever they wanted as long as it made them happy and smile. He performed magic tricks for them.

He simply loved on them.

At home, he went from a man who I never saw make a sandwich..because Mom loved to take care of us that way, to a man who made breakfast, lunch and dinner. He did laundry. he cleaned the house. Dinner conversation ranged from talking about the Giants and 49ers to tips on what kind of fabric softener I should use and how to steam vegetables in the microwave. When my mom’s sickness made her incapable of maintaining her role as the homemaker, Dad embraced it. I never thought that could happen. But he did it. On top of it all, he became a nurse. He took such tremendous care of my mom during the last 15 years of her life.

What an example of a real man my dad has been. He was a provider. He was and is a man of strength and integrity. He is and was a strong spiritual leader. He was and is generous with his time and money. He is eager to take care of people.These are the qualities that underline the Marine, cop, and mild-mannered grandpa.

Today is the birthday of a legendary man. I’m honored to know him as Dad.

Happy Birthday Dad!

 

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is the 76th anniversary of my mom’s birth. She passed away two and a half years ago, but her legacy lives today.

As I thought about this day and its meaning, I thought of all she had to go through with raising me. I didn’t make things easy on her, that’s for sure. After all, I was a teenage boy at one time. There was a significant portion of my life when I simply didn’t respect her as I should have. I always loved her, but I didn’t truly respect her.

Thankfully, when the time came for me to see her for who she was, she was still very much alive and available for me to express my love, and my respect. So many lose out on that opportunity because they learn too late, or their parent(s) died too young. I’m so grateful to God that nothing was left unsaid. We had several years to finally have the loving relationship she deserved.

My mom taught me so many life lessons without me even realizing I was learning. As a teenager through the early adult years, I figured I knew it all. My mom was 29 years older than me, so she couldn’t possibly be in touch with today’s issues we face.

Yeah, in some ways she was out of touch. My mom couldn’t set a VCR to record a TV show. Trying to get her to use a cell phone was pointless. Forget the idea of her ever getting the concept of sending text messages or using a computer. But whether my mom was technologically illiterate or not didn’t keep her from being on the cutting edge of what was truly important in life.

My mom lived her life with grace and dignity under pressure. The years leading up to my birth were among the most difficult for her. She endured very difficult circumstances. The last 15 years of her life were particularly challenging. But through it all, she never complained. She simply marched on. My mom found the joy and fulfillment of serving others. She took care of her family, she was always the class mom throughout my school years. She was the team mom on most of my youth sports teams. After I was out of high school, she and my dad turned their attention to serving under privileged kids. They served on the board of directors of a Mexican orphanage. They bought an RV for the express purpose of being able to drive down there and stay as long as they wanted without being a burden to the orphanage by taking up much needed beds. I went with them on occasions. What an eye opener it was to me to see these children and the way they responded to my parents, and my parents to them.

My parents then went on to spend 8 years living in Costa Rica ministering to couples and families there. Again, when I went to visit, I could see the amazing impact my parents had made in their new world.

My mother was an amazing woman. There was a time in my life when I tried to distance myself from her in order to carve out my own identity. It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized the honor it was to be her son. Maturity has that affect on us, I guess.

So on this day, I search the depths of my heart to pay a meaningful, tear filled tribute to the woman God blessed me with to raise me and teach me.

And the lessons didn’t stop just because her heart did.

Happy Birthday Mom.

A different voice

Next week is the 76th anniversary of my mom’s birth. She passed away two and a half years ago, but I still find myself learning from the example her life was.

Back in January of 2009, I wrote a post about her and a particular lesson she taught me by her example. As I face uncertainty in an area of my life that has never been an area of question, I am reminded of her heart. To give you a little background, my mom was a woman of great faith, and a fervent prayer life. One of her favorite things to do was to pray. She loved praying for others. I never knew her to pray for her own wants, unless they were for the purpose of blessing others.

As her illness became more aggressive in her body, she was unable to physically do things that were a big part of her life. Chief among them was being able to kneel and pray. When her body would no longer cooperate with her desire to do so, she felt a certain disappointment in not being able to take a posture of humility and reverence. Her statement to me was that she felt like a bird with its wings clipped, unable to fly. But without missing a beat, she followed that moment of disappointment with a moment of determination.

“But I can still sing”.

I have been dealing with my own disappointment lately in being unable to minister to God and others in a manner to which I have been accustomed since I was 19 years old. In my frustration and sadness, I heard my mom’s voice in my heart.

Sometimes we are forced to find a new voice, a new way to express ourselves to God and man. I guess that’s why you’re seeing a resurgence in my blog posts. This is my way of using my voice…to open my heart. I don’t know what the future holds for much of anything in my life. But I am choosing to not be silenced. I am choosing to continue to try and make a difference. It may not make a difference in anyone else’s day or life, but I pray it does in mine.

Thanks Mom. Your legacy and your example continues to teach and inspire me.

The Sweetest Duet Ever

Yesterday was my birthday. It has been a birthday tradition since my childhood that my parents would sing Happy Birthday to me on that morning. And yes, still to this day. My birthday isn’t official until I get that phone call and they sing to me.

Yesterday was the last duet.

Move over Celine and Andrea, BeBe and CeCe and anyone else you can think of. There can be no greater sound than the beautiful duet from the heart of my parents yesterday. And I’m absolutely certain that my mom sang with more volume, love and joy in her heart this time than any of the previous birthdays.

And there have been a lot of them.

I was both dreading and anticipating this duet for the past couple weeks. I knew it was coming, and I wanted to be able to listen to it and savor every note and every syllable. I also wanted to get through it without crying. I actually did!

I thank God that He gave me one more duet from them. It truly was the sweetest duet of all time, and I’ll remember it the rest of my life.