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.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I do not have a green thumb.  I have a green cuticle at best.  But I try.  Thomas tries with me.  When it is time to water the garden, Thomas has to get his own little watering can.  He knows where it is kept, and either Tiff or I have to fill it so he can water on his own.  He has his own spade when we plant (and if he can steal it one of ours as well).  He wants to be close when we pull veggies off, and gets mad if he can't help bring in the (meager) harvest.
Thomas should grow up with more of an ability to get more out of the ground than I have since he is learning about it earlier.  And for me it is an hobby, for him (for now at least) it is a love.  It is not a should, it is a want.  He does not love gardening for the love of gardening, he loves it for the love of me.  He wants to be close to me, doing what I do, so he loves the work.  Now how and why my son loves me that dearly, I can not say.  Even my wife and my mom don't love me that much.  And I do not think that his love will remain steadfast as he grows.  But I will continue to work with him so that I continue to love him more and more even if/when his love wanes.
In faith we should do what God does out of love.  We should do it for a want not a need.  Most of the time we go through the workings of faith and deeds out of a requirement.  We know we should pray.  We know we should give mercy.  We know God wants us to do whatever it is we really don't want to do.  But love is a much better reason.  First we do it out of love of God.  We go where God is to be close.  We do not go out of love for the prayer, the mercy or whatever.  We are madly in love with God and just to be close to the holy fills us with joy and pride.  Eventually, hopefully, we love the prayer, the mercy, and the others because we have mimicked the love we saw in God so much that it has grown in us.
But the good news is that even if our love in God cools or fades a bit, God comes to us.  Filling the void not with pain or coldness, but with love and grace.  I know I am not the greatest dad, but hopefully I learn from a wonderful Father.

Letting Go

Thomas loves to climb, and he loves to be like Daddy.  So one of the first things he climbed into was the chair I sit in for dinner.  Tiff, Thomas & I eat dinner together almost every night, and most nights we are sitting around the table near our kitchen.
Thomas had climbed up and sat down at the table, but decided pretty quickly that was not the place he wanted to be.  So he started to work his way down.  He grabbed onto an edge of the chair to shimmy his way down, and he got stuck.  His legs dangled just an inch from the floor, but they would not reach.  He squirmed to try to feel secure.  Then the greatest/worst groan came from him, "Dada!  Dada!"
It fills you simultaneously with love and dread.  I had watched the entire thing, and knew what was going on.  But the cry still makes you stand on end.
I tried to respond in a calm voice, "Just let go."  The flailing on the chair got worse not better, and the grip on the chair tightened.  "Thomas, just let go.  Don't you trust Daddy," I told him as I started to draw close to him.  No answer came, but for a tighter grip.  The more I tried to console him, the less he was going to be consoled.  Finally I reached the chair, and his hands loosened long enough to trade the edge of the chair for two fingers.  I eased him back the inch so his feet were on terra firma and he let go.  All crying stopped, and he was happy again.
Did anything really change when I moved him an inch?  In reality, very little, but in Thomas' world everything changed.  He went from danger & fear to safety & faith.  Could he have found the same results on his own?  He could have.  Could he have found the same results listening to me?  Absolutely.  But he did not.  He waited and stalled.  The safety of knowing where he was, even though he was scared was easier than letting go.  How often do we do that?  How often do we stay where we are, even though it is not where we want to be simply because it is safer or easier than letting go?  How many times have we heard God speak to us, and waited, waited for something more tangible to drop us to safety?  I will say I have done that more times that I would like to admit.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Thomas Isaac

I have started writing again.  Mostly it is due to the fact I have learned so much from my now 21 month old son.  More than I would have thought, and a lot more than I wanted to.  But most of all he has taught me a lot about how God deals with me/all of us.  But before I get to that, I think you should know a little about Thomas.

Tiffany and I were having trouble conceiving.  Lots of trouble.  We were at the point in our lives where the easy pregnancy methods, and the not so easy methods, and the first few rounds of help from doctors did not work.  It is strange, but the price for in vitro and local adoption are both around $10K.  I do not know about you, but for us that is real money... a LOT of real money.  We decided to start saving and we would decide what to try when as we went.  I know I was burned out from trying to have a baby, and the Dr visits, and the stress, and the waiting, and the stress, and the tests, and the deposits, and did I mention the stress.

Then one day in February Tiff told me that she had taken a test that day and it said she was pregnant.  She took another before dinner cuz I was in disbelief.  Then another after we got home.  Neither of us could believe it.  These little sticks were telling us we were going to have a baby.

After the first shock wore off (I needed an angel telling me, "Do not be afraid...") and other things were taken care of, we had to think of a name.  I had long wanted to name a son Charles Isaac.  My grandfathers were Charles & Claus.  And Isaac for the patriarch of the Bible and Yitzhak Rabin.  I told Tiff I could call him El Cid...  That was the end of that name.  After a long process we agreed on Thomas Isaac Decker.  Thomas the disciple and I got to keep Isaac.  It seemed even more appropriate since we felt a little like Abraham and Sarah, and Thomas never stops giving us laughter.

Occasionally I wonder if we named him backwards...  Do names have any power of the individual...  Thomas was best known for being the doubting disciple.  Do we normally put doubt before laughter.  Is it necessary to have doubt of something before you can laugh with joy in it arrival?  Abraham and Sarah laughed due to their doubt.  Is laughter part of God's plan for breaking through the doubt we have?