Monday, April 07, 2014

Gamer Gentility

The other day I was working at a church for a bit.  And the place was active.  Bible Study was happening, as well as making kits for feeding people that needed food.  Most people would look at it, and be impressed with the ability of a church to gather that many people on a weeknight to do things that a church does.  It made me smile.  I left in a good mood, and a little earlier than I expected, and I drove to a game store that I had heard about.  I walked in and then my attitude changed.
No one said hello.  No one seemed to notice I was there.  But there was no where that I felt so alive that day.  There was a palpable energy going on in the store.  It was large for a game store, but it would be tiny for a church.  A large desk commanded the center of the room, and there things were being bought quickly.  Tables were laid out.  One one a group of 4 or 5 played one game.  On another there were three sets of a card game being played.  Another groups were painting pieces to be used in the future.  Kids were playing with kids.  Kids were playing with adults.  People were teaching and learning.  Mothers looked on in disbelief as their teens did something beyond their comprehension.  Passions were being passed on from one person to another.  And outside of that, there was a not a group that they all fit in, other than they liked to play games.
When is the last time you walked in to a group of 30 people and felt all of them passionate about something in the church?  When were you astounded by the energy in a room of a church.  Not for a church but against anything?
We are supposed to be that passionate.  We are supposed to have something that bowls us over.  How do we get the energy of a bunch of nerds?  How do we surpass that?

Monday, January 06, 2014

Tiny Treasures

I love my son dearly, and he is now at the stage where he can manipulate his world in a way he never could before.  He can grab and run with things long before Tiff or I know he has them at times.  And when he decides to put something somewhere, you are never quite sure where it will end up.  There is a remote that he hid ages ago that we have no idea where it is.  But on principle I won't buy another one.  
That being said, he is now in the habit of moving small things and hiding them places.  So you check your shoes for cars, trains, nuts, locks, or whatever small thing he has found and decided that a left shoe is the perfect safe for its keeping.  He favors Tiff right now, so she tends to get more of the tiny treasures.  I will admit it would be easy to find one and get angry, doesn't he know that is not where a toy car goes?  It also helps that as far as I know, neither one of us has been hurt, so that might change the equation drastically.  
I will more readily admit that when I checked my University of Texas Crocs (they may be ugly as sin, but I get to walk on a cloud all day) and found a little pad lock that had been placed in the heel, my heart melted.  You see, Tiff and Thomas left Christmas Day to see her sister who had just had her third son.  It will be January 10th before I see them again.  I left before they got back.  But I found this little lock  around January 1st or 2nd.  Something smaller than my thumb, gleaming out of the shadows of this horrendous footwear had warmed my heart.  I will not begin to try to say why it was there, but I know immediately it made me think of my son, and the love I have for him.  It also made me think of the love he has for me.  It has made me smile more than the remembrances of phone calls we have had.  I think because it was unexpected.  It is easy to call and expect to hear his voice.  It is also easy to call and be told, "He does not want to talk to you today." by Tiffany.  The latter is saddening to the Nth degree.  But the unexpected.  It changed what was to be.
I could have just shaken my shoe without looking at it, and been on my way without looking at the ground.  I could have quickly bemoaned my son due to his carelessness with other people's stuff.  I could have called him and asked why he put it there.  But I did not.  I took time to think of him, and his love, and my love.  That was a much better thing to do.  
It also made me think of how to show up unexpectedly in the lives of others.  How can I show a glimmer of light in their ugly shoe that they only wear when they need to feel comfort?  How can I be a remembrance of something wonderful even when so far away?  How can I use mundane things for amazing purposes?
It also made me wonder, how often do others try to show up in my life, and I am too busy to be concerned about it.  How often have I shaken my shoes, scared their was a bug and missed the moment?  How often has than other person been God tempting me to a new understanding?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Waffle House Hospitality

Christmas Eve was my wife's last day at her current job.  I was off, and after a few small errands (Christmas shopping was done), Thomas and I went to eat at Waffle House.  He loves WH.  We have went a few times, but he does ask for it by name.  And every waffle he sees elicits a point and "Waffle House."  So we went for brunch (no melon or Mimosas, but we are guys).  Immediately upon entering the restaurant, greetings ring out from the staff comfortably working behind the counter.  Since he loves to watch anyone and everyone cook, we walk to a table that will give him a good vantage point.  A first waitress comes over and gives us menus, and takes my order for coffee.  She smiles and talks to Thomas for a few moments before asking how old he is and reaching down and giving him a paper hat.  Turns out she has a son not too much older than he is.  Then came our waitress with coffee, stopping to talk to us a bit.  Another waitress came up from the other side, grinning as she came to see the wonder that is my son (it may sound conceited, and I may just be a skewed dad, but I think he is pretty amazing).  Our food came and we began to eat.  The little rush that we arrived in abated, and the staff began to take their breaks.  One of the cooks came over and did a little magic trick for Thomas.  I laughed the entire time, but Thomas was amazed at the little bit of prestidigitation.  (I heard some of the other staff laugh a bit at the corny trick, I think they had seen it more than once...)  One person knocked from behind the one-way mirror to Thomas' surprise.  It may sound like we had no peace, but in reality we at our food in relative quiet.  But at no point did we feel like we were intruding or banished.  We belonged there, in that booth, in that diner.
I am sure the staff at the Waffle House is reminded to welcome patrons.  I assume they welcome others the same way they welcomed us (or at least me).  But I know I have been to other restaurants where they ask your name, but it feels forced.  The entire time on Christmas Eve it never felt forced or strained.  (And to be honest, never at that location has the spirit been any less genuine.)
We have been on a journey to find a church home for a while now.  Sometimes more focused, sometimes enjoying the freedom that Sunday morning at home can provide.  But at one church a group of people saw Thomas and fawned over him enough that we felt uncomfortable.  (Churches & people should never paw at children like a kid coveting a present on Dec 24 that has set under the tree for almost a month.  Creepy is never welcoming!)  We have been to churches with over 1000 and only the guy (it's almost always a guy) handing out the program (or bulletin or newspaper) is the only one to talk to us.  We have been to churches with much fewer people and the same thing happens.  Never have I walked into a strange church that has come close to the warmth that I get at Waffle House.
Sadly most churches are deserts of hospitality.  To the new person they seem dry and empty.  Mirages exists but as you approach you notice they were not really for you.  Oases exist, but only once you know the routes (and they know you).  I guess I would rather die of thirst than drown... I don't want to be flooded with people touching me (and especially touching my son).  But surely there is a happy medium.
I know that when I enter a church, be it as a member or a visitor, I did not just wake up on the church step.  (Blessing to the church that has that problem and welcomes the homeless and/or hungover.)  But I got there somehow.  I went, and if my family is with me, it was with some difficulty.  Just as I go to WH with a purpose to get fed, I go to church to be fed.  The problem is that when we go to church, too many of us go only to be fed.  We see ourselves as taking a booth and being waited on by the staff.  It is not our job, we have done that Monday thru Friday.  It is someone else's turn to greet and host and offer something to the kid to keep them entertained.
What would happen if your church (or mine) acted like they were happy that whoever walked in the door walked in?  What if the corny guy was allowed to be corny?  What if the person that throws the best parties was in charge of the greeters?  What if we stopped seeing the staff as only staff, but if we saw ourselves as hosts?  What if the staff were the chefs, in charge of feeding us, but we were the waitstaff in charge of our section?  Would you go to that church?  Would you work there, even without pay?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


We went to the State Fair of Texas this week.  And for those of you in other states, ours is the best.  It welcomes over 3 million visitors a year.  It invented the corn dog.  And this year it has ostrich racing.  We went and it was raining.  Even after the rain had abated, the sidewalks were wet and we were soaked.  Thomas was tired enough that he was a bit loopy.  But to get him to the gate, and try to save our backs, we/he started playing a game of Go-Stop.  Think Red Light/ Green Light but with no lead person.  Anyone could declare Go and at any point anyone could say Stop.  Thomas had such enthusiasm that he got our friends to play along, and then total strangers that were coming up on us from behind.  He brings joy and smiles to a lot of people, and seems to have a knack to saying hello to someone that really needs it.
Thomas is also growing up.  He is almost two.  And he is a ham.  He think he controls his world, and to a bit he does.  If he is hungry, we feed him.  If he is tired, we put him to bed.  If he is wet, we change him.  We cater to his needs and desires.  But he knows things are changing too...  His car seat now faces forward.  At the car show, he wanted to drive the new cars.  He thinks complete strangers should listen to his voice and follow along without a thought otherwise.
Now when I buckle him in his seat in the back, and make sure he is secure, he will look at me, point to the steering wheel and command "Drive!"
Most of the time I laugh at him, and ask, "Do you want me to drive, Thomas?"
"Yeah Dada, drive."
Little does he know that I have been driving since long (in his time scale, maybe short in others) before he was born.  And that I know how to steer and press the pedals to have the engine move the car.  But in his world, his decree that I drive has some power to it.  I could teach him a lesson and sit on the hood as he commanded that I drive, but what would that prove, other than a young child has a old child for a father?  Or I could put him in the driver seat, and ask, "If you can command that I drive, show me how."  But that would be as silly as me telling a mechanic or a pilot how to do their jobs.  But you can see it in his eyes that he feels some power, some control in this way.
Most of the time, I play along, and let my son believe that it is his decree that motivates me to drive, instead of a need to get somewhere, or a desire to leave WalMart.  A few times, I will admit that Thomas has a stubborn dad, I have tried to reason with him as to the reality of the situation... but then next time, "Drive!" is still the command.
How many times does God put us where we need to be, and then we feel secure enough to begin to try to dictate what comes next?  Or how many times do we negotiate with God when in fact all we really have to do is go along for the ride for a while?  There can be comfort in being safe as long as it gets us to a needed destination.  Then we are to go out and exude joy.  Joy enough to get strangers to play along.  And isn't that what the kingdom of God is, getting others to know the joy that we know and sometimes show?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Train... Biig Truck

We live in a blue collar town.  I drive over at least two sets of train tracks on the way to day care.  I drive by two huge grain silos, and too many trucking parking lots to count.  Most of the time, we go early enough that we see two or three 18 wheelers, and if I have my way, we do not get stopped by any trains.  They both represent things that are good in my life, but slow my day down a few extra minutes.  Minutes I could use to drink some coffee or check Facebook.  Thomas however sees these marvels of engineering as a delight to his soul.  I guess most kids his age do, but I cannot comment on their reactions.

Most mornings my son is pretty laid back.  We wake him up, get him dressed, put him in the car, and he is at day care in time for breakfast.  But then some mornings my son drives me crazy some mornings.  One morning in particular he was in a foul mood.  It was like someone had swapped my son with the Bizarro version of him.  He flipped and flopped trying to change his diaper.  He did not want to get dressed.  He tried to stay home.  (Maybe it was just a teenage version of him somehow trapped in his body.)  Once in the car, I turned on music to see if that would help.  It did very little.  Then we got stopped by a train.  Another few minutes trapped with my anti-son, and a few minutes late.

Thomas then noticed the train.  "Train...  Train.  Train!  Train!!!"  His voice audibly becoming happier with each exclamation.  The train passed and we were on our way again.  I learned a bit though, and as we passed the first lot, I pointed a few things out.  "Big Truck! Big Truck! Biig Truuck!!"  He was in pure bliss.  It was incredible.  I think we saw two or three trains, and almost 20 18 wheelers.  By the time we got to day care, he was all smiles and dancing to meet his teacher.

The small parts of life.  The parts that most of us see as annoyances.  Those are also the same things that with the right vision become the joy bringers, the toys, the angels.  When we see them with the eyes of a wonder-filled child the world becomes something more than it was before.  How else do you explain boxes becoming trains, or pillows becoming forts.  There is magic in the world than we could explain, and a lot more when a child sees it.  There is no doubt why Jesus tells us to let the children come to him.  If you want to overturn the way people view the world, start with the people that view the world differently.  If you want to explain how to love your enemy, call the people that have not yet learned to hate.  If you want to teach the world that rocks and trees can sing, dance with the people that can hear their song.  I do not know if I have heard a rock sing, but one morning I know big machines showed me that my son has the eyes of God.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

No no no

Right now "no" is Thomas' favorite word.  It is his automated response to any number of verbal stimuli.
"Do you want to eat an apple?"
"Do you want to go to bed?"
"Do you need to go potty?"
"Do you want to go to the park?"
Any of these, and plenty more, if you ask him he may not even consider the question, he may only answer "no."  He may take a nano-moment and still answer "no."  If he is in a funny mood, he may smile a bit and then answer "no."  That last one is about as close to a "yes" as we get most of the time.  But any of the "no"s he gives actually gives no indication of what he wants.  It is just a response.

OK, I know he knows the difference between "yes" & "no."  "Do you want to watch Bubble Guppies?"  is always answered with a "yes."  I do not know what kind of enchantment BG has on my son, but it is strong...

But since he just responds, one of our (my) favorite games with him is when I am holding him and I am lying down, I will hold him at arms length above my body and ask, "Does Thomas love Daddy?"
He will shake his head, and grin just a bit and say "no."
"Yes he does," I reply as I lower him down and kiss him once or twice.  It is then back up in the air.  "Does Daddy love Thomas?"
A bigger smile crosses his face, "no."
"Daddy does love Thomas, and I will show you," as I lower him down and cover him in kisses, and light scratches from my beard til he giggles and smiles.  Then back in the air.  "Does Thomas love Daddy?"
"No," he says almost giddy and with a smile.
"Yes he does."  I lower him again and kiss him a few times on his neck and maybe give him a zerbert. He is laughing now in my arms.  I hoist him up one last time.  "Does Daddy love Thomas?"
"No," he laughs.  His body tensing waiting for the barrage of tickles and kisses that will make my son go into hysterics.  It is my Dad given right and responsibility to do just that.  So down he comes, and we end up laughing together once it is all done.

If he knew more fully what I was asking, and if he thought before he answered, this little game of ours (mine) would not be possible.  I would simply ask "Do you love me?" and Thomas would answer (hopefully) honestly "Yes."  And if I asked him "Do I love you?" he would answer the same way.  I say hopefully since I hope my love for him is apparent, that he knows without question.  But the way that happens is I have to show him.  Day in and day out, I have to make a vague concept like love concrete for my son.  I have to not only give it lip service but show him again and again.  If I stop, then it becomes possible for him to wonder if my love has ceased or if my love was never strong to begin with.  And if I only show him one way, then it might be seen as love of the game, or love of reading or love of something and not love of him.  So the ways I show love have to grow and change so they keep up with him, and hopefully keep ahead of him... loving him in ways he does not know he needs yet.

As people of faith, do we love our neighbors?  Most of us would say "yes."  We would Love for them to come to worship.  We would Love for them to find us welcoming.  We would Love for them to join our church.  We would Love for them to do the work and find us compatible.  We would Love for them to find our ad/sign/website and think that looks like a great date church to go to.  But this is not love.  This is member lust envy.

Love is going out of our way to show people that we care.  Love is meeting them when they do not have the vocabulary to say "yes I know you love me," and showering them with hugs and kisses.  Love is seeing the need they have and the need they do not see, and finding ways to help them thru both.  Love is being a father to someone you just met, and crying for the father they never knew.  Love is much harder than we want it to be.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


We are trying to help Thomas learn to count.  So we count an amazing amount of things, how many colors he has, how many blocks he has, how many apple slices he has, and on and on and on.  At one point though he would only say three numbers.  I would start out Onnne...  He would chime in Woooon.  I would say Twooo...  He would stay silent.  I would say Threeee...  He would smile and say Hureeee.  (Three was his favorite number.  And if all else failed, he would say three.)  I would say Foooour...  He would sit there.  (Oh yeah, and he never said an even number.  Just three odd ones.)  I would say Fiiiiiive...  He would parrot Fyv.  I would go on with Ssssiiixxx, Ssseevvveen, Aaaaate, Nnniiiiinnnee, & Teeeeennn.  Thomas would look at me as if I had started to speak Klingon, or at least French.  So Tiff and I talked about how Thomas only knew three numbers right now, and we were happy that he at least put them in the correct order when he said them, even if he skipped a few.

One night it was late and Thomas had begun the ever so subtle way of saying he was tired by beginning to throw things.  I asked him, "Do you wanna go night-night?"
"No," as he rubbed his eyes.
"I will make you a wager...  If Daddy says a higher number than you, it is bed time.  If you say a higher number, then it won't be bed time."  He seemed to nod in agreement.  If your 21 month old ever agrees to take a bet with you, be afraid.  I was unaware of this, and thought I had used a calm enough voice to get him to agree with me.  I thought for a split second and came up with Seven.  The next number in the string of numbers he knows, but not one I had ever heard him say.  So I utter, "Seven," and smile thinking I had outsmarted my son.
"Eight Nine," he chirps up, still looking down.
Tiff chuckles in the kitchen.  "Did he just say Eight Nine," I ask with incredulity.
"I think so," she says with a smile obvious in her voice.
I have lost control of the slam dunk situation.  "Seeeven," I say again, more questioning in my voice this time.
"Eight Nine," he says almost bored with the continuation of this game.

After a few moments of be acknowledging that I had been bested by my son (including kisses and smiles and hugs), I picked him up and put him to bed.  The win still did not give me the rest he needed.  I was both proud and amazed at my son.  Had he hidden this knowledge from us?  Had he learned it that day?  Was it divine inspiration?  I cannot say.  He first went back to only knowing One, Three, & Five.  Now he has added Two, but he does not like One at all anymore.  And Eight & Nine... Right out.

But how many times have I played a similar game with people.  Let me only count on what I know to be true.  Let my beliefs and convictions be immutable, so that others must conform to them.  If something falls outside of that, then something is wrong with them...
How many times have I gambled with God?  God if I can do this, then I should not have to do that or the other.
Or how many times have I sold God short?  God you really don't know what is going on, so I need to be in the lead on this one.
Amazingly I think God wins more of those bets than I do, and God knows a lot more than I want to give credit for.
But just as amazingly, God usually rebukes and teaches with a small voice, a smile, and a laugh.  Even the small voice of a bored child, my own smile, and the laugh from an amazing wife.