Saturday, June 4, 2011

Come See Where I've Been!

I've neglected LIFE by the LESSON as I've dedicated quite a lot of time and energy to another project. I will find balance between them soon.

In the meantime, come see what I've been working on! Click on the link below!

Meant to be HAPPY

Monday, May 2, 2011

4 Life Lessons from my Son’s Obsession with Transformers

Here’s a conversation Jacob and I just had this morning over breakfast:

“Daddy, I wish I was a Transformer that could turn into a rocket ship.”
“I’m glad you’re not! Then I couldn’t hug you and hold you!”
“But I could hold you, daddy! And then I could put you inside me when I transform into the rocket ship.”


1. That’s what love does: It puts those we love on the inside.

Those we love get nestled deep in our hearts, their lives beating in sync with ours. It is no longer you against me. Rather, the you and me gets transformed into we. Husbands and wives become one. Families become units, separate and unique, but one in purpose and identity, in values and in love.

You love them as a part of you. You are willing to sacrifice for them, not because they demand it, but because it’s a natural extension of the process that put them inside you, the process of becoming the type of person strong enough to be vulnerable enough to love enough.

JAcob didn;t realize the double meaning of his words as he said them. The conversation continued:

“And then,"Jacob said, "I’ll fight bad guys because I’m a good guy … because I’m already good!”

Good point! It is, after all, only good guys who fight bad guys. And while not all decent people actively fight bad guys, of course, very few who are truly evil ever do.

2. Raise kids to be Good Guys and you help take a bigger bite out of evil.

This battle of good over evil is waged in 3 ways:

  • Your child will grow up good, not evil. Strike one against evil!
  • Good guys will be more likely to raise future good guys. Strike Two!
  • Good guys will more likely fight against societal evil, thereby, to some measure, diminishing it, or at least road-blocking its spread. Strike three!
3. We Should be Transforming Too!

Quite literally, every single time I see my son (home from work, up in the morning, back from church, out of the bathroom) his very first words to me are these:

“Do you want to play Transformers with me?”

When (almost every time) I say yes, he adds: “You can be the bad guys, I’ll be the good guys!” Then we start our battles. As the forces of Tranformer good are fighting the forces of Transformer evil, Jacob constantly transforms them back and forth between robot and car or truck or plane.

That got me thinking again: That’s our role and goal as parents too. We should continuously be transforming into a better person, a better parent, a better neighbor and employee and friend ... a better example to our kids.

4. Celebrate our Children’s Transformations.

If we take the time and extend the energy to celebrate our children’s moral growth, our children will more likely morally grow. Jacob is constantly changing. I have to be strong enough emotionally to allow the changes to take place.

Some hold on to baby language far after their children cease being babies. Some never quite let go of the purse strings. Some try to control their children’s lives well into adulthood. For full moral development to occur, children have to be allowed to grow and progress and make mistakes and fall down and bruise knees and pride and then push past it all and move on.

Final Thoughts

Life is all about transformations. Ours. Our childrens. Life’s. Embrace it and direct it for good, and life will be bright and beautiful … most of the time. Sometimes, the Decepticons win. But the Autobots always defeat the bad guys in the end.

So will we!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Examples Should Be, Well, Exemplified … belated reflections on Easter

In gearing up for Easter Egg hunts this year, and realizing he would be battling for the coveted title of Best Easter Egg Finder, Jacob and I had quite a few trial runs in our backyard.

The two of us would trade off hiding and finding. When it was his turn to find, I would usually give him “hot-cold” directions to the hidden eggs. When it was my turn to find his hidden eggs, well, let’s just say that Jacob still needs to hone his hiding skills.

He tends to hide everything in plain sight, out in the open, and usually in clumps. Spotting one egg leads you directly to finding almost all the rest.

When I would spot an egg, I would walk over, bend down, and pick it up. But I would stay bent because there, all around the first egg spotted, would be others.

If one flower pot had an egg, every single other flower pot beside it would have one (at least) in it also. Finding his eggs took no longer than a handful of seconds … if I walked slowly … and sat down for breaks … and took a nap before finishing my “hunt.”

But as such things tend to, it got me thinking.

Many of us make “finding” the principles and values we want our kids adopting more difficult than my son makes finding his “hidden” Easter eggs.

We shouldn’t. Let’s commit this Easter season to “hiding” our examples out in the open where they will do our children some good.

That would be a good Easter season commitment that would make Easter a bit more significant and meaningful than the current dentist-employing version today.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Oops, I Did It Again! ... courage vs. patience

The Motive

I want my son to grow into a courageous man, unafraid of being good in a world that does not always reward goodness. I want him to face his fears and overcome them.

I want him to be a man who does not cower behind excuses or look the other way when bad people do bad things. All it takes for evil to flourish, someone once said, is for good people to do nothing. I don’t want Jacob to be one of those who do nothing while evil spreads.

The world needs brave men. I want my son to be one of them.

That was at the heart of my most recent parenting mistake.

The Context

It was Easter. I was visiting with my mom who is recovering from open heart surgery. Jacob and my wife came in to her room to visit too. It wasn’t long before Jacob wanted to return to the main house to play with his cousins.

Then my brother’s two baby Labrador Retrievers came romping by and Jacob decided he didn’t want to play after all. I could tell he changed his mind out of fear of the dogs.

But wait. They weren’t really dogs. They were puppies!

My son … my son … afraid to go outside because a couple puppies are out there? No way! They are clumsy but friendly, so I took him to the door to face his fears.

The Mistake

As I took my son to the door, he began to cry. I felt him pull against my hold on his arm. But I knew that what I had in mind would be good for him, even if he didn’t know it yet. So I pushed forward and stepped out the front door where the dogs were. Jacob started to cry louder. Panic crept into his voice. The pull against my hold turned into a struggle to get away.

Still, I knew that what I was doing would show him the invalidity of his irrational fears. So I continued pushing forward. He was trapped, pinned up against my lap as the dogs began to jump on him in excited puppy language for, “Hey, I really like you, and I mean I really like you a lot!”

But Jacob is still 4. He is a short 4 year-old. The baby Labs are almost as big he is, and probably heavier. And yet I still knew this would be good for him. Besides, since they were only playing, there was no danger of any realistic reason to fear anyway. And so I stayed with it. Jacob began to scream. He was in full fight or flight mode, even hysterical.

I realized in that final moment that I was being unfair, but it was too late. The puppy Labs were all over him and his terror excited the them even more. The dogs to him were the same as though a horse was jumping up on me to play. I should have been more understanding. My pride had gotten in the way (my son afraid of puppies?).

The Lesson

Jacob has been traumatized by two pooches that he now fears more than he did before I stepped in to rid him of those fears. Not the intended lesson!

But a lesson was successfully taught … to me.

Courage is not the only virtue. Patience matters too. So does compassion. Including the patience needed to successfully teach my son to be brave and the compassion needed to keep myself from turning irrational 4-year-old fears into rational ones.

 Please comment! How would you have handled it? Have you made similar mistakes?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Moral Whiplash

I trust you know what whiplash is: You’re hit from behind so your body is thrust forward and your head whipped backward, causing physical injury. I hope you have not experienced it.

Conversational Whiplash

But have you ever experienced conversational whiplash?

It happened to me this morning:

Jacob and I were watching the cartoon “Gloria” when he suddenly opened up this random conversation:

Jacob: “When I grow up I’m going to have to buy a house.”
Me: “Oh? … Why?”
Jacob: “Because if I don’t buy a house, I won’t have a house to live in.”
Me: “Good point.”
Jacob: “Maybe I can find a house with no cars and just live there.”
Me: “Hmmm. I’m not sure about that one.”
Jacob: “But probably I’ll have to buy a car and a house.”
Me: “Probably.”
Jacob: “And I’ll have to buy furniture.”
Me: “I guess you’ll need it.”
Jacob: “That would be cool if I had the whole set of Transformers!”

Ouch! Whiplash!

When you encounter conversational whiplash on an infrequent basis, it can be cute and funny. When it comes from a 4-year-old, it is expected. When adults engage in frequent and predictable conversational whiplash, attaching unrelated tidbits of information at the end of unrelated conversations, people grow weary of conversing with such people. It can result in social injury.

Moral Whiplash

Have you ever experienced moral whiplash? It is the moral equivalent to what happens in a car. Your expectations and assumptions move forward and reality crashes from behind in the form of hypocrisy or significant moral inconsistency. Your head snaps back in the opposite direction, often leaving moral carnage and injury and devastation.

There is someone near and dear to me who left church and God because he could not recover from the moral whiplash he experienced in the form of a person of “status” in the church who proclaimed one thing (car moving forward) and lived very differently (neck jerking backward). This is a man responsible for his own moral religious and spiritual life. Pinning so much on a flawed human being is not wise. But it underscores the impact such moral collisions from behind can have on others.

Our children are another matter altogether. At birth, our kids board the family vehicle and begin an 18-year moral road trip with mom and dad at the wheel. They can never be dropped off at grandma’s en route. They are on the bus for the duration of the trip.

Final Thoughts

How we live matters to our kids. It affects how they choose to live.

So the pertinent question is this: What kind of drivers will we be on the moral highway to teach our kids to be good … and free of injury from moral whiplash?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Letter to Jacob … a 4-year-old Superhero (in training)

Dear Jacob,

Today you filled me with pride.

A Story of 4-year-old Courage:

Your mommy and I took you to the gym this afternoon. I had been on the bike for 30 minutes or so when mommy came to get me. She looked so concerned, like something very serious had happened. She asked me to meet her in the play room. I didn’t know why. I was a little nervous, thinking maybe you had fallen and hurt yourself or maybe even misbehaved badly. I hurried over.

It didn’t take long before I realized another little girl had bitten you … hard. She bit you through a thick shirt and left a mark on your arm. It looked like it came very near breaking skin. There was already a bruise around the teeth marks. Redness surrounded the bruise.

Mommy asked about the pain. You said it hurt. I could see it in your face. At one point you wanted to cry, but I could tell you were holding it back.

As we talked to the employees on duty and to you, the picture of what happened began to come into focus … and my pride at the circumstances of the bite focused too.

The Bite

A girl was angrily pulling an older girl around by her jacket. The older girl was choking, so you tried to step in and stop it. When the biter wouldn’t let go, seeing the other girl choking, you grabbed the biter’s hand and tried to force her to release the older girl. That’s when you got bit.

Well, mom disinfected your arm, we went home, had dinner, and the day was soon over.

An Important Question and an Inspiring Answer

As I was putting you to bed, we chatted about the day, and soon our talk led to the biting incident. I told you how proud I was of your decision to help. I guess all our playing good guys and bad guys helped instill some important values your mom and I believe in very strongly. Here’s how the conversation went as we talked.

Dad: “I’m proud of you for helping that girl today, even though you got bit.”
Jacob: “I didn’t know she was going to bite me.”

I thought for a minute, then asked, “Would you have helped even if you knew she would bite you?”
You paused for a moment, then matter-of-factly said, “Yes.”

You couldn’t see my face because it was dark, but I was smiling. It was the kind of smile only such answers to such questions can bring to the face of a dad who believes teaching faith and morality is his highest duty as a father. 

But you felt the hug as I squeezed a little tighter than usual. My hug today was a little more than the love and affection it usually conveys. This hug meant much more.  It conveyed the feelings of a dad who knows his son is the right kind of son, the kind of boy who will stick up for those who can’t defend themselves, who will go to those in need, the kind of son a dad can feel proud of.

Final Thoughts

My dear Jacob, I look forward to many more games of good-guys and bad-guys and playing Transformers and other games of good versus evil with you. I believe they have helped you to see the world in a unique way, in a way that requires good guys to stand up to bad guys and do good even when it means some pain.

Keeping Your Favorite Flaw in Your Back Pocket: procrastinating progress

We all have favorite things. Most of us have favorite teams and favorite shows, favorite music and food and favorite places to buy our favorite things for our favorite people on our favorite holidays.

Jacob has his favorite things too.

He has favorite colors (orange, yellow, blue and, well, beige). He has favorite dinosaur toys (stegosaurus and, well, no, just the stegosaurus) and even favorite shapes (stars and circles).

Jacob and I often take out his toy dinosaurs and create what usually turns into epic prehistoric battles. But before the battles begin, he divides up the toys. I get all the dinosaurs (about 10 or so), except 5, all stegosauruses, the only ones he wants to play with. His dinosaurs are the good guys, of course, and mine, the bad. Jacob always wins.

But then when it’s time to clean up, I generally get something like the following:

I’ll put the stegosauruses away, daddy. You put the rest away, okay?”

A week ago, when we came back from shopping at Costco, he grabbed a circular box of something we had bought and took it in the house for us. “Wow! What a wonderful helper,” we thought. He came back out as I was bringing in the rest of the groceries. He wanted to help out some more. I asked him to take a bag of English muffins in.

His response?

“No thank you, daddy. I just want to take circle things in.”

Luckily I could show him the English muffins were, in fact, circular. He was then suddenly struck again with the desire to help!

Strange, right?

But then again, aren’t we all kinda like that too? We recognize the need to clean up and rearrange, putting away parts of our lives that need cleaning, rearranging and putting away, but we hold out and pull back. We take a hold of that favorite moral flaw and tuck it away in a back pocket for later use.

This is the moral dead weight that slows us down and clogs us up and turns us down paths that sometimes lead to darkened dead-ends.

When we excuse moral faults, we prevent growth and allow the weeds of life to infiltrate our moral flower beds. And as any homeowner (and likely most everyone else) knows, weeds quickly propagate, quickly turning flower beds with some weeds into weed beds with some flowers.

Then the moral examples that we are (for good or ill) become compromised. We are all flawed. That’s not the issue. The problem is different than simply being imperfect. It is the planned imperfection, the intended flaw, the premeditated immorality of a favorite sin held onto tightly that is the difference.

So just decide that now is the time. Now is the time to get on your hands and knees and pull out all the weeds from the flower bed of your character. No more favorite weakness tucked snugly in a back pocket. Lay everything out on the table and continue the moral climb, one weakness, one flaw, one lesson at a time.