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Why We Foster

We are merchants of hope. That is our currency, whether it ends up being six months’ worth or a lifetime supply. As kids, you need hope that a better life is possible. Hope that you’ll have parents who will be there for you. Hope that you’ll have a decent meal, and then another one and another after that. Hope that you’ll get out of the crib, out of the corner, out of the dark room. Hope that the yelling will stop. Hope that you’ll get to touch the grass, look at the trees, laugh at the moon hanging low on a warm summer evening while fireflies dance through the night. Hope that you’ll be heard. Hope that your parents will change. Hope that if they don’t, you can overcome genetics. Hope that this sadness is not forever. Hope that you someone will wrap their arms around you and hold you close. Hope that you’ll find a different way than the drugs and the alcohol and the selfishness and the parade of guys through your mom’s bed. Hope that someone will pick you up when you fall. Hope for boundaries that really just mean someone cares. Hope that there’s more to this life than just this life. Hope that keeps hoping, beyond all reason, beyond all sight. Hope that hung on a cross and took your pain and sin and sadness and brokenness and made it new. Hope that will never end …

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March. Madness.

It seems so simple, this business of putting a ball through a hoop. These guys try to get it in that goal and those guys try to get it in this goal. Easy enough.

Then you watch the first day of March Madness (The First Four nonsense doesn’t count. At all.) and you experience the rush of elation, the hope, the edge-of-your-seat nervousness and, if your team flames out unexpectedly, the depression. And then it’s not so simple.

It’s very, very exciting. You feel ecstatic when some school you’ve barely ever heard of (did anyone outside Kentucky know where Morehead State was?) upsets one of the giants. You flip out when a ball leaves a shooter’s hand, drops through the rim and the backboard lights up a split second later and it’s over. No matter how much the other team wants just one more chance — just a chance! — it’s done. Pause the replay for a minute — you’ll see pure joy and pure defeat in one frame.

Emotions run the gamut. Announcers lose their minds. Players remember these moments the rest of their lives. Fans go bonkers. And if it’s YOUR SCHOOL that’s making headlines and hitting buzzer beaters? Well that’s just glorious. If it’s your school that’s doing the losing, well, that’s just depressing.

Either way, you know you’ve done something today. You’ve remembered, cheered, gotten mad, chewed your nails, yelled at the tv, cheered with a crowd, slapped hands with strangers, ripped up your bracket, laughed, cried, watched that replay over and over — did you see that?!

And we get to do it all again tomorrow. Spectacular.

Should he have been kicked off?

BYU kicked one of the best players off their basketball team this week for violating the school’s honor code. (BYU is a Mormon school.) The honor code, among other things, says that students must live a “chaste and virtuous life.” In other other words, no pre-marital sex.

Brandon Davies admitted to having sex with his girlfriend. School officials held him to the honor code he agreed to abide by. Therefore, he’s off the team, and it has huge implications.

BYU was having a dream season, headed for a number one seed in the NCAA tournament and a run at the National Championship. Without Davies, it probably won’t happen. In fact, they lost their first game without him last night.

So here’s the question: should he have been kicked off? There’s been a knee-jerk reaction all across the country of “That’s a ridiculous rule, there’s no way he should be off the team.” As one guy put it today, though, whether or not you agree with the rule is irrelevant. He broke it and is suffering the clear consequences.

Read another guy today who said the school is being hypocritical by not showing him grace and allowing him to make a mistake. He has a point to a degree — I’m sure Davies isn’t the only one on his team having sex. He’s just the only one who got caught.

And there’s this — the honor code also forbids alcohol, coffee and tea. Wonder if they’d kick a guy off the team for stopping at a Starbucks one morning?

We can debate the reasonableness of the rule all you want (and it’s not as unreasonable as our secular society would have you think), but it really comes down to this: Davies knew the rule. He broke it. He got caught. He — and his teammates — are suffering the consequences.

Doing the wrong thing usually turns out the wrong way.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Warning: kinda long.

There’s an outstanding essay in the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen called, “How Will You Measure Your Life?” The class of 2010 asked him to address them on how to apply his management principles not just to their business careers, but to their personal lives.

 Christensen’s perspective springs from his faith. He says that on the last day of class, he asks his students to ask themselves three questions. They discuss the answers together and he uses his own life as a model:

First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail (life a life of integrity)?

 A couple things stood out in what he wrote. They have to do with life purpose, parenting and standing firm in your beliefs. Excerpts below, but it’s really worth reading the whole thing.

— Know your purpose:

For me, having a clear purpose in my life has been essential. But it was something I had to think long and hard about before I understood it. When I was a Rhodes scholar, I was in a very demanding academic program, trying to cram an extra year’s worth of work into my time at Oxford. I decided to spend an hour every night reading, thinking, and praying about why God put me on this earth. That was a very challenging commitment to keep, because every hour I spent doing that, I wasn’t studying applied econometrics. I was conflicted about whether I could really afford to take that time away from my studies, but I stuck with it—and ultimately figured out the purpose of my life.

I apply the tools of econometrics a few times a year, but I apply my knowledge of the purpose of my life every day. It’s the single most useful thing I’ve ever learned.

 — Allocate your resources

When people who have a high need for achievement—and that includes all Harvard Business School graduates—have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted.   In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. Kids misbehave every day. It’s really not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “I raised a good son or a good daughter.” You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.

If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.

— More parenting

during the teen years … parents start wishing that they had begun working with their children at a very young age to build a culture at home in which children instinctively behave respectfully toward one another, obey their parents, and choose the right thing to do. Families have cultures, just as companies do. Those cultures can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently.

If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.

— Marginal cost doctrine (just read it …)

Unconsciously, we often employ the marginal cost doctrine in our personal lives when we choose between right and wrong. A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK.” The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails. Justification for infidelity and dishonesty in all their manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once.”

But looking back on it, resisting the temptation whose logic was “In this extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK” has proven to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? My life has been one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over in the years that followed.

… it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up.

Like I said, read the whole thing.

Holiday World 2010

A few random thoughts after going to Holiday World today:

— A lot of people like that place.

— Free drinks are fantastic. Impossible to overrate. Thirsty? Problem solved — quick, easy and cheap.

— That was about the fastest I’ve ever seen a storm move in. About 4:30, dark, rolling clouds swept across the park. Then the cold, drenching rain hit hundreds of fleeing people. The overhang we huddled under didn’t do a lot of good. Then the almost-simultaneous, right-on-top-of-us, so-loud-and-sudden-it-was-all-you-could-hear lightning and thunder made us jump out of our skin.We were soaked, shivering, kids were scared and crying, summer thunderstorm at its wildest. And in the background, bizzarely, the strains of music played over and over: “simply having a wonderful Christmastime.”

— When a storm hits and the power goes out, lots of people leave. It’s better to stick around a while — you might get a free ticket to come back another day. Nicely done, Holiday World. Nicely done.

— In a water park, there are a lot of people who should have things covered who don’t. America, the beautiful, or something like that.

— Watching kids be excited and amazed is very cool.

— To everyone at Holiday World today: the slightly goofy looking guy running back across the park with two cups and a cone of smurf-blue ice cream melting all over his hands and down his legs and shoes — yeah, that was me. Yes, there was some left by the time I got back to the family. Thanks for all the funny looks (ok, I’m sure I did look funny — not the brightest idea I’ve ever had).

— Whoever designs giant water slides and roller coasters is smart.

— Santa Claus is not very big. (The town, not the guy.)

— Holiday World is a great place to take your family. (I sound like a commercial …)

Digital World vs. Here and Now

Good article today in the Washington Post about the way that people (mostly men) become so obessed with their smartphones that they ignore the obvious reality of the physical world they live in — including their wives and kids.

The reporter tells stories of men checking their phones while they’re bathing their kids, at dance recitals, walking through the mall and even (help us all) having sex.

Why does this happen? Information is king, and we no longer have to wait for it. The thrill of what piece of news might show up next feeds the cycle — it’s rewarding to find out new stuff, so we keep checking for more, over and over, to our detriment:

The complication is that we devalue delayed rewards — the feeling, for instance, of looking back on lovely moments with family — in favor of the immediacy of the new. In this case, it’s data. It makes us high.

The issue is coming up in couples’ counseling more and more as well — a spouse feeling neglected, as if her husband finds everyone else more important than her. There’s no more time to sit, to enjoy silence, to let moments breathe.

I feel the pull, even though I don’t have a smartphone. I’m at a computer all day at work, so it’s easy to click over to Twitter or Facebook for a quick check. I get home and get away from it, but still find myself wanting to just check for a minute, even when I’m playing with my kids.

Weekends are a nice break sometimes, but it’s still almost always there, in the back of my head, the constant refrain — “what’s the latest, what’s going on, what am I missing?”

As valuable as electronic devices can be, as much as I love Twitter — there are more important things. Our kids’ faces when we come in the door. Quiet moments with our wives. Time in God’s word. Time to think, breathe, be.

Here and now (and eternity) are more important than an ethereal digital universe that sucks us into its ever-widening maw.

(And yes, I’m aware of the irony that I’m posting this on Facebook …)

The Dance of the Dressing Room

Every so often, I experience the age-old dilemma of a man who shops with his wife: where to stand when she’s in the dressing room and wants you to see what she’s trying on.
 
On one hand, especially in a woman’s clothing store, you don’t want to look like a skeevy pervert who is just loitering around the women’s dressing room hoping for a peek. On the other hand, your wife wants you to be close enough to see what she’s trying on so she doesn’t have to venture out into the actual store. She may also want to talk to you about her choices.
Where to Place Yourself
Option 1: Go in the fitting room with her — Not happening.
 
Option 2: Wait in the open area outside the individual stalls — Depends on the store, but in a woman’s store, also not happening. Other women are likely to walk in and give you an uncomfortable glance before scooting quickly into their small room. In this case, you try to look anywhere but directly at the woman, even if she is as old as Moses and is wearing a sackcloth up to her neck and down to her ankles with sleeves to the wrists.
 
Option 3: Hang around the entrance so you’re close, but not actually in the room — This is the preferred method, but still has its dangers. Get too close to the door and you’ll either block it or risk the aforementioned uncomfortable glance. Take a minute to wander farther away and that will inevitably be the moment your wife appears. If there’s a seat near the door, take it — it helps immensely.
 
Also, don’t look up, as is natural, if you hear any voice other than your wife’s. You might just catch the eye of a woman calling her mother who then feels like she has to apologize to you. Or it might be an older woman who just wants privacy. (True story: I got asked to leave the area once.)
With Option 3, you work out an intricate dance of position: Walk close to the door — if your wife is not ready, turn away, don’t meet anyone’s eyes, wander briefly around. Come back within a couple of minutes to check on her again. Make sure to maneuver out of everyone’s way (especially if you have stroller — see the prop section below). Rinse and repeat.
 
Props
To improve Option 3, bring a prop that will clearly telegraph your upright and honorable intentions toward all of society. The best prop is a darling, smiling baby (preferrably your own) who is charming to all. Women melt instantly at such a heart-warming sight. In their eyes, you are no longer a member of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted. You are now a devoted father and husband and a pillar of the community who would never stoop to loitering around dressing rooms for devious purposes.
 
With a baby, though, you must be prepared to entertain the child during the short(ish) moments that your wife is deciding how best to stimulate the economy. If the child becomes too loud, you will be a nuisance to all. Peek-a-boo with clothing store mirrors can help with this; a stroller is also useful. If you’re feeding the baby a bottle, you’ll get extra publicity points.
 
Books also work well — you can just keep your noise buried until you hear your wife’s request for your opinion (remember — it looks great!). This works best if there is a chair available, but make sure to keep your legs out of the main walking aisle. Cell phones are also good distractions during the moments of waiting.
 
Done correctly, the dance of the dressing room can leave you feeling fulfilled for having mastered a tricky situation. Done incorrectly, you’re facing trouble.
 
This Christmas shopping season, master the dance of the dressing room, and you’ll be well-liked both at home (you’re shopping with your wife!) and in public (you’re not a weirdo!). Everybody wins.

We All have Stories

Not sure how all of this fits together, or if it does, but here it is anyway …
It’s a curious thing, this business of living. We go through each day in a whirl, triaging the things that need to be done until we fall in bed at night with most of our list still waiting for us. We focus on the individual minutes, and sometimes there are so many things staring us in the face that we barely realize we’re stringing those individual minutes into a life that means something. We look up and a week has passed, a month, another month, and we’re not sure where it went or how we’re any different now than when it started.
 
That’s why we have to be purposeful in our moments — because they are what make up our lives. We can’t have a grand plan for our lives and then live as if that plan doesn’t exist each day. The plan is in the details.
 
 
In those moments, we’re living our stories. We all have them, whether we think we do or not. Many people tend to think they’re not interesting, that they have nothing to offer, that they don’t have a story.
 
I beg to differ. And here’s why:
 
Imago Dei. The image of God. It’s in all of us, and it expresses itself in a multitude of ways. None of us are boring, none of us are ordinary, none of us are the same. We all have stories.
 
Especially as Christians. We are the stars that Abraham saw flung across the sky. We are his descendants in Christ, and God has purposes for his glory that transcend each one of us, but that use us to display that glory.
 
Walk into a church, any church — say, our church — and point someone out. If we don’t know their story, we can find out. It’s there, you just have to dig sometimes. You never know what you’re going to find when you peel back the layers.
 
Here is a young mother who lost her baby boy at 37 weeks. She’s displaying grace and courage and salvation in the face of heartbreaking loss, and we’re all better for it. That’s her story for now. She will have others.
 
Here is a young man, engaged to be married, waiting for his fiancee’s visa to come through so they can begin their life together. It’s just a piece of paper, but it’s an important piece. With it comes happiness. Without it, there is longing.
 
Here is one of the most cheerful men you’ve ever met. He runs a plumbing and heating company and provides jobs for guys who need them — he’s like a one-man employment agency. He gets his hands dirty, he’ll answer your random plumbing questions and he does it all with a smile. And then he likes to preach the glory of God on the weekends.
 
Here is a mom with three little boys. Here’s another one with four little girls. And they’re not alone. Dozens of young families are training, growing, struggling, living, reaching for the ideal of what they think they’re supposed to be. And it’s hard. Sometimes desperately so. But ask any of them and they’ll tell you it’s worth it, that these small, eternal lives with runny noses, dirty diapers and constant questions are motivation enough.
 
Here is a pastor with a brilliant mind and a booming voice. He could be off in an ivory tower, but he’s here, using his heart of compassion to drum theology in the lives of young men so they can turn it into practical application in the lives of their future church members. And for fun, he coaches soccer. From eschatology to how to spread the field, he’s got you covered.
 
Here is an older couple with silver hair. They’re retired, but far from useless. They’re experts at providing rides for people who need it in the service of God’s kingdom. And he hiked the entired Appalachian Trail — who knew? He’s got a journal in enormous three-ring binders to prove it.
 
Here is a family — several families, in fact — who have moved from various states to pursue God’s call in their lives. They’ve sold houses, taken their kids out of school, packed up all their belongings into a truck and then unpacked them in an unfamiliar house. They’re out of their comfort zones, but they’re following God.
 
Here is a young father. He works hard by day and does graphic design — for websites, books, billboards — by night, usually late. And he’s good, really good. He should be paid for doing this full-time. Maybe someday. His wife just spent three weeks in a medical clinic in another state, learning to manage the pain and fatigue brought on by a disease. This after several surgeries to fix a different physical problem. And that after their newborn son endured surgery after surgery of his own so he could, you know, breathe. And they endure each day, each trial with hope.
 
There are many more stories to tell. Some are inspiring, some are incredibly hard. We all have stories, and they all point to God and his gospel. We live, work, move and breathe only by his grace. We talk, we celebrate, we dream, we grieve with hope, we press on because of Him.
 
What’s your story?
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Crossword Puzzle Trickery

the-new-york-times-crossword-puzzle

All kinds of goodness in today’s entry in the Writer’s Alamanac:

It’s the birthday of the world’s only academically accredited enigmatologist, Will Shortz, (books by this author) born on an Arabian horse farm in Crawfordsville, Indiana (1952). He’s the current crossword editor of The New York Times, the puzzle master of NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, and the author or editor of dozens of books.

Shortz sold his first puzzle to a magazine when he was 14 years old, and within a couple years, he was a regular contributor to puzzle publications. In college, he designed his own degree program in enigmatology, which he describes: “Literally, it’s the study of riddles, but at Indiana I defined it as the study of puzzles.” He drew himself up an undergraduate curriculum of classes in English, math, philosophy, journalism, and linguistics, and wrote a thesis on the history of American word puzzles before 1860. He went to law school, thinking he’d work for 10 years and earn a bunch of money so that he could pursue his avocation of puzzlemaking.

But after graduating from law school, he skipped out on taking the bar exam and went straight into enigmatology, earning a living by creating puzzles for publications like Penny Press and Games magazines. In 1993, he became the crossword puzzle editor for The New York Times, only the fourth person to hold that position in the newspaper’s history. He has made some changes to the Times puzzle page in his 16 years of editorship: The crossword puzzles now have constructor bylines (before the contributors weren’t acknowledged), and the puzzles contain more references to contemporary pop culture (stuff like rock and roll and what’s on television). Puzzles also now have more tricks and ambiguities, he said. He has also “increased the slope of difficult further,” as he claims, between the daily puzzles so that Mondays are slightly easier than before he took over — while Friday and Saturday crosswords are even harder than they used to be. He said that the idea is “to have something for everyone, both beginners and veterans.”

His all-time favorite crossword clue is “It might turn into a different story,” with the answer “SPIRALSTAIRCASE.”

His favorite crossword puzzle is the one that was printed on Election Day 1996, designed by Jeremiah Farrell. The puzzle had two different correct solutions with the same set of clues. The clue whose answer formed one of the middle rows across read, “Lead story in tomorrow’s newspaper.” The answer seemed to be CLINTON ELECTED, but Jeremiah Farrell had carefully constructed ambiguity in all of the crossing clues, so that the answer to that middle-across clue could also be “BOB DOLE ELECTED.” Either answer worked perfectly in the puzzle.

The first downward crossing clue, for instance, was “Black Halloween animal.” Either “bat” or “cat” would be correct, with the C for the start of CLINTON or the B for the start of BOB DOLE. Will Shortz later said, “It was the most amazing crossword I’ve ever seen. As soon as it appeared, my telephone started ringing. Most people said, “How dare you presume that Clinton will win!” And the people who filled in BOB DOLE thought we’d made a whopper of a mistake!”

More than 30 years ago (in 1978), Shortz founded the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, an event he still directs. Will Shortz and the Tournament were the subjects of a 2006 documentary by Patrick Creadon, called Wordplay. The film also featured a string of prominent puzzle-solvers, like Bill Clinton, Ken Burns, Jon Stewart, and the Indigo Girls.

When asked why people are so drawn to puzzles, Shortz said, “We’re faced with puzzles every day in life. What’s the fastest way to run some errands? What’s the lowest price we can get on home repair? Most problems we’re faced with, we just do the best we can — we muddle through. We never know if it’s the best solution or not. With a human-made puzzle, when you answer the challenge, you know you have a perfect solution. It’s satisfying.”

Here are a couple of the many brain-teasers that Will Shortz has come up with:

1) What part of the body can be spelled by rearranging the letters of the word “ELATION”?
2) Change one letter of the word SHUFFLE to make something to eat.

1) Answer: Toenail

2) Answer: Soufflé

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The Rundown

–From the “this doesn’t pass the common sense test” department:

Plaxico Burress carries a gun into a nightclub, accidentally shoots himself and is sentenced to two years in jail.

Dante Stallworth kills a man while driving drunk and serves 24 days of a 30-day prison sentence.

Yeah.

–Whole Foods’ CEO John Mackey wrote an editorial last week criticizing President Obama’s health care plan and offering a few alternative (and conservative!) suggestions. His customers are now in a uproar — they can’t believe that the CEO of a business frequented by many liberals would publically support a conservative position. They’re talking about boycotts, never shopping there again, etc.

Really? You’re going to abandon your shopping habits — just like that — because of the policy position of a guy you probably couldn’t even name last week?

 –The U.S. Census Bureau just announced that in the 2010 census, they will not count Mormon missionaries serving overseas. They will, however, be counting military and federal employees on duty across the world.

They say that it’s difficult to get accurate counts of Americans abroad, but I’m sure the Mormon church has pretty good records of who is serving where. I’m not even Mormon, but this doesn’t seem quite right.

Don’t know about missionaries from other denominations. The SBC has a bunch of missionaries serving across the world. Probably shouldn’t count them either. They’re not actually in town when the count is down, so we’ll just cross them off the list.

–I’m glad men like this are teaching future pastors and missionaries, even if those missionaries don’t count.

–Speaking of the census, why hire fraudulent groups like ACORN to do it? We’ve already got an organized system of visiting every address in America every day. It’s called the United States Post Office.

Surely we can adapt the USPS to meet the needs of the census. Brilliant idea. (First heard it from Glenn Beck, I think. Side note: my old boss’ name is Beck Glenn.) But again, makes too much sense to ever happen …

–Funny blog post and video about two kids whose parents bought a backyard pool at K-Mart that turned out to be not quite as advertised … classic stuff.