My House is Trashed

We try really hard to keep a clean house, and it doesn’t seem like our effort is enough.

It doesn’t matter that we clean the house every day. It doesn’t matter that we give the girls rules about picking up after themselves. Toys are still EVERYWHERE, sprouting up from the tile floor like weeds after a big rain.

I’ve watched this problem closely because–well, because it annoys me–and I think I know what the problem is. Kids lose interest in their toys. It’s that simple.

I try to get the girls hyped about these toys, and it never seems to work. I want them to enjoy these toys as much as they did on the day they were unwrapped at Christmas or at their birthday party.

It only seems right. The toys haven’t changed. They aren’t broken. They are the same toys as they were on their first day out of the package!

(At least if they played with the toys, I would have some proof that they belong here and they’re not just trashing my house.)

Then I look at my own life as an adult and realize that I’m pretty much the same way. I’ve lost interest in almost everything that I’ve ever bought.

There was a time where I thought that this iPad and the Bluetooth keyboard that I’m typing on right now were really awesome. I was excited about life because I had these cool new things. Now I completely take them for granted. I could point at any object in my house, and the story is the same: it was really cool, and now it’s just okay.

Are people damned to lose interest in it all?

There has to be a way out of this. Because it seems like we’re all doomed to be disappointed with life here.

There are extreme examples of this, stories that we can all tell. Stories of spoiled brats who take it all for granted. If you have good friends around you, they’ll call you out if you get too spoiled and bratty.

I don’t think this is the real problem. There’s a more subtle version of dissatisfaction that can take over your life. It can clog up your thoughts and weigh you down.

For example, right now I’m really disappointed in my front and back yard. For whatever reason, the summer grass didn’t grow in evenly, and it looks rough. There are rangy patches of yellow brown grass that seem to be devouring the green. It’s hard to be proud of my yard when I swing into the driveway. I keep my curtains closed so I don’t have to look out at it. On my worse day, I’ll obsess over the grass and feel sorry for myself.

Rev Run posted on Instagram last week something like this: “The things we take for granted are the answers to other people’s prayers.”

Could my yard be the answer to someone else’s prayers? Of course. Grass? Dirt? Rocks? It doesn’t matter. There are countless number of parents around the world who dream about just having some wide opens space their kids to run and play. Far away from crime, war, and famine. My yard is paradise for them.

So why can’t I enjoy this yard as my paradise, even with its imperfections?

Get it together.

My sweet Stella has a hard time keeping her cool when she’s frustrated or when things don’t go her way. She’s only 3 years old, so none of this is a surprise. But when the tantrums hit, they hit HARD.

I try to be a good dad by getting down on her level and then patiently remind her not to be upset, but to take a breath and be patient with the situation…that kind of stuff.

I tend to feel good about myself when I act this way. I’m cool, calm, and collected. If a stadium of parents were surrounding me in that moment, they would lean into each other and nod with approval. Yes–that dad is one cool dude. Then we would have break-out sessions where I would give lectures on parenting through difficult times. I’d sign my parenting books and things like that.

But that will never happen because I’m only cool like this only half of the time. Not even that! Maybe 1 out of every 4 tantrums do I play it cool. The rest of the time I pitch a fit too. I lose my control. I bark at her and act disappointed.

My emotions are raw and real–but they don’t help me or my little daughter. It’s just two people pitching a fit. Except one person should know better.

Zoom out a little bit, and I realize that I’m just like Stella when I get frustrated or things don’t go my way. I don’t cry or roll around on the floor, but that’s what I’m doing that in my head. I get consumed by the situation and forget how wonderful life is around me. I can hear a dad voice speaking to me in those situations: “Don’t be upset… take a deep breath… be patient with the situation…”

If I listened to this voice, I would see how wonderful life really is. So what if can’t find the stylus to my iPad. So what if I have to go back to Home Depot to get a different paint brush? These are AWESOME problems to have!!

The only resolution here is to at least try to get better at this.

If I expect my kids to play with their old toys, then I need to enjoy my old stuff. I need to be proud of my shirts as I iron them and then hang them graciously in my closet. I need to feel special when I slip on those fancy Johnston and Murphy shoes, just like I did that first time I tried them on in the store. Those shoes felt magical then. Why would I deprive myself of that same joy every morning when I lace up my shoes for another big day?

Everywhere I look is something that should be appreciated again. Not just the material things. But I need to appreciate friends, family, loved ones. This city, this state, this nation.

I don’t think this is only about being consistent–telling my kids to act certain way only after I’ve proven to myself and everyone else that it can be done. It’s so much more than that!

This is really about deciding to be happy. It’s about being grateful for what you have, and to keep calm amidst the storms of life.

2013 in Review, As Written on New Year’s Day 2014

What were you favorites of the year?

Favorite Songs

  • Avicii – Wake Me Up, Hey Brother
  • Mumford & Sons – I Will Wait (can’t get enough of that song)
  • Lorde – Team
  • Matt Maher – Oh Come Emmanuel (remix)

Favorite Movie – Fading West, the documentary from Switchfoot

Favorite Coffee Drink – Macchiatto, American style with a little bit of steamed milk

Favorite Saturday – Loading the three girls into the bicycle (Stella in the back seat of the bike, Norah and Eden in the trailer) and exploring South Tempe. Our favorite spots are neighborhood yard sales, the canal, Home Depot, and Crepe Bar. I am interested in the trend of leaving the car in the driveway.

Beautiful moments from your year of traveling?

  • Planning to have fun. Usually I zip in-and-out of a city as quickly as possible. But this year I took time to plan ahead so that I could actually enjoy cities that I’ve visited a half-dozen times over the past 10 years, but I never really got to know. While in Kansas City, I enjoyed a cup of coffee at Oddly Correct and then explored the Utilitarian Workshop project that I first discovered on Kickstarter. When in Indianapolis, I enjoyed hanging out with friends at Bee Coffee Roasters and The Libertine with old friends. While doing a parish mission in Boerne, Texas, I took a morning to explore Austin with my cousin Laura.
  • Getting sick in Georgia. This sounds strange because nobody likes to be sick when away from home. Plus I had so much to do with Camp Hidden Lake and Camp Covecrest while I was in Georgia. But getting a 24-hour flu forced me to be still and depend on my first family. My sister Katie, my brothers Paul and Andrew, and Mom and Dad all helped this grown man get through. Also, the drive through the mountains during autumn while listening to classical music in the swanky rental car was a treat.
  • Opening day at Camp Hidden Lake. It was a wild year trying to pull the whole deal together, but on a cold day in November, they handed the keys to Camp Hidden Lake to Life Teen. This might be a one-year lease, or–God willing–we will end up buying it. This could be very awesome.

In total, I probably made 20+ trips in 2013. It was a wild year. I don’t like traveling that much, so hopefully 2014 will be more manageable.

Hardest thing to understand?
All these ethnic patterns in women’s clothing. At this rate, hipsters will be wearing Kokopelli earrings by mid 2014.

Life with Candyce is…
Awesome. I mean that in the most sincere way–she is worthy of awe. I never knew when I met her ten years ago when she was 20-years-old that she had such depth of soul. Our life together is so fun, rich, and rewarding. I love her so much.

What challenges refined you in 2013?

  • Recovering from surgery. Praise God that is over. It’s a painful thing to not be able to pick up your children for that long. And yes, sunscreen is important.
  • Stress from work. It was a challenging but beautiful year for me and all of Life Teen. I am still in the wake of this whole thing, so I haven’t had time to reflect on what I’ve learned. What I do know is that I am glad that 2013 is over so that I can learn to love my job again. I need a new beginning.
  • Sleepless nights. I spent many long nights keeping Stella company as she is tormented by her itchy skin. This has gone on for a year and a half now. We’re working hard to help her get rid of this eczema, but it’s a long, confusing process. It’s a real trial. All I want is for my little Stella to feel relief from the incessant itching; I want her to sleep through the night and wake up refreshed and ready for the day. I want this part of her life to be normal. That is my dream situation–NORMAL. It makes me think of all the other parents out there who have dreams, fantasies for their child. The mom who wishes her son could walk between classes and wasn’t bound to a wheel chair. The dad who wishes his daughter didn’t have asthma so that she could run and play with her friends. I understand that although this is difficult for little Stella and for me and Candyce, her parents. But she isn’t bound to a wheel chair. She can run and run and run and not get shortness of breath. So we are 99% close to a perfect childhood. I have to be happy with that, and understand that this 1% problem that we’re dealing with right now is for a reason, and that God is drawing us to be a closer family because of it.

What am you most excited about in 2014?

Welcoming a 4TH DAUGHTER into our family. This is a bit overwhelming when we got the news on Christmas day when we learned that the baby is a little girl. Honestly–I am still overwhelmed. I just have to step back and watch God’s plan unfold.

There are other things that are worth getting excited about…

  • Simple Living – Our new lifestyle that began in 2013 was a tough transition, but well worth it. I love having no satellite TV, eliminating gluten/wheat and dairy from our diet, and keeping the girls’ bedtime routine. I also need to make running a priority again.
  • Parent Teaching – Our classroom / art room is almost finished upstairs. I am excited to have our daughters develop a love for learning. I want their childhood to be filled with creativity, imagination, and adventure. This art room upstairs is a special project because it is the first room in our home to be renovated with the child-first design.
  • Coffee Roasting – I’ve enjoyed roasting coffee in the last several months and I want to keep the party going. Take your passions seriously.

What quotes are you loving?

About attitude…

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” – Henry Ford

About standards for life…

“How you do anything is how you do everything.”

 About life purpose, a quote made popular by Nelson Mandela, rest in peace.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This Is My Life in 2013

Three words to describe the first half of 2013. 

Busy. Busy. Busy. I can’t keep working at this level. Something’s got to change.

How is the house coming?

Slowly but surely. In fall of last year, I tackled the last segment of the family room remodel: the fireplace and “wet bar.” We now have a new fireplace, finished wainscoting, and a new acrylic floor. Now it’s time to hang the TV and finish the carpentry details. Earlier this spring, a friend of ours gave us an armoire which made us think hard about an office/storage room that we had been ignoring. Why put a beautiful piece of furniture in an overcrowded room with beat up carpet? So I emptied the room, pulled up the carpet, and added new floors. We grabbed some key furniture and storage options at local thrift stores and yard sales. That’s where we stopped for the summer. Also, I am okay with having two concurrent remodeling projects.

Favorite leisure?

There hasn’t been time for leisure this year. So it’s been about bringing leisure into the key parts of life. For example, for several weeks of the spring, we ate our family dinners in the backyard.  Sometimes we would make campfire. Other times we’d lay on blankets and look at the stars. Or Candyce and I would sit back in our Adirondack chairs and watch Norah and Stella dance and do tricks to the music that played on Pandora. It was a family meal, entertainment, and outside play all at the same time. Dinner outside–it’s such a simple idea, but it added such richness to our lives.

Most gratifying moment?

For most of May and June, Stella has asked me to hold her and walk around the neighborhood to help her fall asleep at night. This has kind of been our thing since she was little, but this is a new chapter because she’s more alert and mature. We’ve enjoyed looking into the night sky to look for airplanes, satellites, and shooting stars. When we took a vacation in Big Bear, it was much cooler than when we were down in Phoenix. So I made a bed of cozy blankets in the wagon and pulled her along the ridge of the mountain. It was so heartwarming to hear her talk to herself about the thing that she saw in the sky. I love that girl so much.

When have I been afraid?

Nobody likes to admit being afraid because nobody wants to show weakness. But the fear is there. I had a skin cancer scare on my back near my shoulder blade. I had so much anxiety through those weeks of testing. Is this a ‘minor cancer’ or a ‘major cancer’? Lucky for me, it was minor. But then there was the long, drawn-out healing process that took almost three months. I couldn’t do anything for fear of damaging my back: no holding kids, no moving stuff, no reaching, no hugs with friends. Those rules seemed to last forever. In the end, that whole thing made me really aware of my humanity.

Anything random?

While recovering from skin surgery on my back, I enjoyed watching old episodes of MacGyver with Norah and Stella. Who knew that a 4- and 2-year-old could like a 25-year-old TV show? I’ve recreated memories from my own childhood by making a big bowl of popcorn and sharing it like Dad always did. So of course, this whole scene is nostalgic and awesome. Just as importantly, though, is the fact that this is the first live-action man show that I’ve watched since Norah was born almost five  years ago. That’s a long time.

What’s changing in life?

When we first had Norah, Candyce and I were still in the 20-something lifestyle. We were out and about, except we had a baby with us the whole time. Now that we have three kids 4-years-old and younger, we stay home a lot more. The little girls are happier here, so that makes us happier too.

Anything else changing?

Our diet has changed drastically because we’ve discovered that Stella has some strong food allergies. After several months of painful trial and error to figure out that wheat/gluten, nuts, and eggs give her most of her skin irritation. It was a joy to finally narrow down these foods as problematic, but that was just the beginning. How do you make three meals a day without using wheat, nuts, or eggs? Wheat is in everything. But it looks like Chef Candyce has pulled a good menu schedule for the family before the chaos of the summer settled in. This whole project was a huge burden for our family this year. The good news is that Stella has less skin irritation, which means she sleeps better and wakes up happier the next day. She’s a happier girl, and that makes all of the struggle worth it.

Breakthrough moment?

Realizing how fast life is going by and feeling like there was no way to put on the brakes. We tried canceling TV, saying “no” to social events with friends, and after that we ran out of ideas. That was back in January. Then in June, Candyce and I decided that we wanted to homeschool our girls. We had many reasons why we felt good about this direction, and I’m sure she’ll write a blog about it. But what I’m most excited about is to avoid the rigidity of the school year.

Fondest memory with Candyce?

We’ve had a few fun dates. Our 6th anniversary staycation at the Scottsdale Resort. It was fun bringing baby Eden along with us so that I could give her attention that normally gets diverted to Norah and Stella. While enjoying our anniversary dinner, we reminisced about all of the beautiful weddings that we’ve been to since our own wedding. We counted memories 18 weddings. That’s three weddings a year! Also, we saw a “Wall of Sound” performance from choreographer Travis Wall. I enjoyed it immensely. This is a big deal, because I was traumatized by watching a Bob Fosse show back in the 1990s, and I haven’t paid to watch people dance ever since.

What are you crushing on?

  • The 2001-2003 VW Eurovan Weekender. There’s something timeless and cool about a VW van. The Eurovan was their last, most modern van and it defied all the norms of minivans 10 years ago. This makes me happy so I look at them online.
  • The outdoors. After spending the 15 years after high school in big cities all the time, I’ve felt the urge to get into the wild more. (See my board on Pinterest of cool destinations.)
  • And Candyce, of course.

What wisdom gives you clarity at this moment in life?

  • It’s not about having a balanced life; it’s about knowing priorities. It’s that simple.
  • You can’t control situations. You can only control yourself. What actions can I take to make things right?

What do you want from the rest of 2013?

I want a schedule that’s not as packed. I need more time to live. Life is short.

From Richmond, Virginia to Phoenix, Arizona

I’m on a long 5 hour flight back home to Phoenix. I spent the last three days speaking at the Diocese of Richmond’s annual youth conference. It was a real treat to spend time with the 500 teenagers over the weekend. I do enjoy speaking from stage, but my favorite part is hanging out with the teenagers in between the sessions. It’s just fun to share a bit of our lives with one another like that. It adds warmth to a world that can be very cold.

The Injury

There is an early episode of “The Office” where Michael Scott accidentally burns his foot on a George Foreman Grill. It’s a random and completely funny first five minutes of the show. Michael likes to eat bacon while in bed in the morning, so he lays bacon in his George Foreman Grill each night before he wakes up. Except on this day, he got clumsy and stepped into the hot grill on his bedroom floor and burns his foot.

He didn’t want to miss the chance for attention, so he becomes over-dramatic about his injury. He calls into the office and demands that someone come pick him up and drive his broken body to work. When he gets to the office, he’s using crutches and has a pitiful, desperate look on his face. He begs for help throughout the day on easy tasks because he is “disabled.” You get the idea. People can make such a big deal out of nothing.

I don’t want to be the guy that makes a big deal out of nothing. However, this is my life, and this is my story. And this is my injury.

I had a small cancerous area of skin cells removed from my back. It was a quick surgery and the surgical team promised me that I would l have a quick recover. I had to limit my motion for two weeks, but after that I should be feeling back to normal. I asked if I should cancel an out of town trip a few days later, and they said I would be fine. I canceled the trip anyway.

It seems like I take one step forward in healing, only to take two steps back. In the last six weeks, I’ve battled two staff infections, which made my back feel like it was on fire with pain. Sleeping was difficult because I couldn’t toss and turn. To make matter worse, a few weeks into recovery, I got a heavy cough and a fever too. My stitches broke free and my back opened up as if I never had stitches at all. It was a gory site! Plus I was in worse pain than week 1. So for some time now, my bandages must be changed several times a day.

When you are healing and feeling stronger with each day, you know that you are making progress towards being 100% better. But when you get worse with each day, it’s quite frightening because you don’t know how bad it’s going to get. It’s hard.

Last Week’s Detour through Denver

Sitting in this airplane seat is uncomfortable, but not nearly as bad as last week when I attempted to fly to Michigan while passing through Denver. That was random. Heavy rains in Phoenix delayed my flight to Denver. The ticket agent suggested that I fly to Denver, even though I will miss my connecting flight. I would need to stay the night in Denver and then take an early flight to Michigan. My friend Leah’s husband Rick picked me up from the airport and drove through heavy snow to get diner. It was fun getting to know Rick because we’d never met before, although I’ve met his wife a few times at different conferences. Soon we drove through more snow to get back to their place.

The next morning we drove back to the airport through heavy snow. I looked up to check departing flights, and every screen was covered with the word “CANCELED.” Anxiety surged through my body. What is going on? Will I be able to make it to Michigan? Will I have to spend a long weekend in Denver to wait out this snowstorm? After waiting in line for 30 minutes, the ticket agent explained to me that there was almost no chance that I could make it to Michigan today, but they might be able to get me in tomorrow. I looked at my weather app on my phone and saw that it would be heavy snow pounding the city of Denver for the next 48 hours. I knew that chances of me getting out tomorrow were even slim. I was getting more anxious. I wanted to be in Michigan to speak at this conference, but now it looked like I would be stuck in Denver away from the conference and my family. So everyone would lose.

So I asked for a flight back to Phoenix. Incredibly, she got me a seat on flight taking off in 35 minutes. Once I had my ticket, I ran down the escalator to get to the security checkpoint. I saw a line of 25 people to get through security, which surely would take 15 minutes. I walked to the front and gently explained to two friends that my plane was taking off in 19 minutes and would they let me through. They smiled and gestured me forward. Quick through security. Then onto a train, then up the escalators at the gates. Then sprinting down the moving sidewalks to finally arrive at my gate. I handed them my boarding pass and they closed the door behind me. I made it with less than a minute to spare. All that running while having a heavy cough and breathing the thin oxygen of the mile high city. Let’s not forget that my back was a mess too.

Back to the Situation

So yes, as I type this on my flight today, I am so so thankful to be feeling better. I still have a lot of healing to do, but I am very happy to be where I am right now. Thank you Jesus.

I understand that many people have suffered worse than I have. Once this is all done, it will probably be remembered as a rocky three months of my life. It will be remembered as a difficult time mostly because I couldn’t hold my children. A time where doing normal things like reaching for a glass on the shelf threatened my healing. But in the end—it’s no big deal. For whatever reason, God has wedged this small chapter into my life. A chapter that I didn’t see coming; a chapter that has lasted so much longer than I expected.

Here’s how I see all of this. When you are in good health, it’s hard to have compassion for those who suffer. It’s hard to even imagine that suffering is an option because day-to-day life is so consuming. You’re just living life. But once you’ve suffered, your heart becomes bigger with compassion for others. When friends ask for prayers on Facebook because they’re in poor health, I pray hard for them because I know what it’s like to feel desperate. To pray for these friends and friends-of-friends adds richness to this life.

Simplifying Life

I am going to try something new. I will write this blog under five subheadings and see what happens.

1. Family

So our story is much like everyone elses. You have babies in the house, and all of a sudden—just like that—they’re not babies anymore. Norah is a little girl, Stella is a toddler, and Eden is crawling all over the place. Yes, they are not old enough to go to school yet, but Candyce and I have been a little sad about how fast this whole thing has happened.

I’ve been dreaming about moving outside of the city to a more relaxed place where there is fewer stimuli. I’ve been thinking of little ski towns in the mountains, or maybe a sleepy coastal town in California. I posted it to Facebook, and some friends from high school invited me back to Hiawassee.

It’s just such an unexpected thing for me to be thinking like this. My primary goal since high school was to escape the boredom of small town living and drown myself in the excitement of city living. Atlanta, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, and now Phoenix. But now I have my precious children, they are all the excitement I need. They satisfy so much of that unrest from my 20s.

Candyce has been feeling this way too. It’s not in our cards right now to move to a slower town, so we have to find ways to slow down our lives. So we made too steps as we entered 2013: say “no” to fun social time with friends in favor of boring time at home, and cut off DirecTV. I do miss HGTV and the Food Network. But I don’t miss sports b/c all of my favorite teams are horrible right now.

2. Home

I didn’t update my blog much near the end of last year because I was working on remodeling our family room. I tore down the off-centered fireplace and rebuilt it smaller and more centered. Then I finished the wainscoting and repaired the drywall. I pulled out the 1980s mirror behind the wet bar and built-in some shelves. So I got about 90% done then we escaped to California for a couple weeks over Christmas and New Year. I pressed pause on the project because of cold and wet weather over the last six weeks. I hope to finish off these last details soon.

3. Spiritual Life

This Lent is very different for me. I got surgery to remove a cancerous area from my skin. So as I type this, my shoulder is uncomfortable with soreness form surgery and discomfort because of limited motion b/c of stitches. I am happy to be where I am today because this is the best case scenario. I am defiantly praying hard.

4. Work

I’ve really enjoyed getting out of the office this year. Since accepting the position of VP Operations Etc., I now oversee all of our facilities including summer camps and offices. So in January and February this year, I’ve visited Covecrest, our camp in Georgia, and Tepeyac, our camp in the mountains of Northern Arizona. Both camps have had snow when I’ve visited, which is a treat for me b/c I’ve always adored the snow. All in all, things are very busy at Life Teen. The first quarter of every year is so critical for the success of the year. I am very proud of how well organized and forward thinking our staff is today. I try not to get overwhelmed by all the hyperactivity.

5. Life Lessons

I came across a quote recently that really struck me: “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.” This pretty much sums up the tension that I deal with every day. I want to do so much but I cannot do it all. So I have to focus on what matters most and then do that. Right now I can’t see anything more important than my family. My little girls are growing up so fast. Every day our relationships grow because they’re maturing. So everyday I have a new opportunity to get to know these little souls. It’s the quiet adventure within my life. It’s not something that can be blogged about every day. It’s not something that will make me more money or win esteem from my peers. But it means everything to me. Other things will have to wait.