Perfectly Present

Photo Mar 13, 3 24 05 PM

I love this picture. I stumbled across it somewhere online a couple of weeks ago. I feel like it perfectly embodies the problem that plagues my own heart and soul, which just so happens to be the same problem that plagues our society as a whole.

And what would that problem be?

We don’t know how to be present.

Check out the picture again. Dozens of people standing in a gaggle, each of them holding their phones in the perfect position to capture whatever it is that’s just out of frame for you and me. Were the picture zoomed out, there may even be hundreds if not thousands of people all doing the same thing. They’re there, but they’re not really there.

And then there’s the elderly woman on the front row.

No phone. No camera. Nothing.

She’s just there for the experience. Perfectly present for the moment.

She’ll have no snapshot to post on Instagram with the perfectly applied filter. She’ll have no photo to add to her Facebook timeline, making all her “friends” secretly jealous that she lives such an awesome life with such incredible experiences. She’ll probably have no proof whatsoever that she was there for whatever spectacular event this appears to have been.

But she’ll have the experience. She’ll be able to tell you what it was like to be there. She’ll be able to recount the sights. All of them, not just the fragment that was captured on a tiny digital screen. She’ll be able to remember the sounds. She’ll be able to recall the smells. She’ll be able to relive that moment in a way that the other dozens, hundreds, or maybe thousands of people never will.

Why? Because she was perfectly present in a way that you and I hardly ever are anymore.

Have you ever thought about how much in life we’re actually missing because we’re trying to capture it? How much are we missing in those moments when we’re there, but we’re not really there.

Oh, the stories we could tell if we were able to be so perfectly present.

Let that be a challenge to us all.

Thanks Dad

Dad,

First of all, thank you for being present. I thought it was normal to have a loving dad at home all the time. I have since learned that I was likely in the minority. Because of my assumption, I overlooked the value of having you involved in my life. I wish I had paid more attention at times. I wish I had asked more questions. I wish I hadn’t slept so much in the passenger seat of your truck while we traveled up and down I-75. Thankfully, your presence in my life is not a matter of past-tense. I am grateful to have you just a phone call or short drive away.

Thanks for not living vicariously through us kids. I’ve seen so many dads put an incredible amount of pressure on their children to perform or excel at certain activities. You never did that. You always let us have the freedom to choose what activities, hobbies, interests, and sports we wanted to pursue. When I didn’t make the basketball team in middle school you weren’t disappointed. In fact, you wrote me a letter of encouragement (didn’t think I’d remember that, did you?). When I wanted to be a teenager instead of being at the racetrack on a given weekend, you were fine with that. Thank you.

Thank you for practicing what you preached. I vividly remember watching an episode of “Dirty Jobs” one night. The job at hand was cleaning out port-a-potties. One of us boys made a comment about how we’d never do that job and I remember you replying with something along the lines of, “You’ll do whatever you have to do to provide for your family.” Fast-forward several years and you lived out those words. The economy turned south, business slowed down, and you picked up a second job to provide for your family. That spoke volumes to your sons who were learning what it meant to be men.

Thanks for making us work. Once we were old enough to enter the workforce we didn’t spend summers sleeping in and playing video games. We were up at 7:58am for work at 8am (side note: thanks for living so close to the shop). Even before that you had us mowing the yard, washing trucks, and so on. You taught us that work is a good thing. Also, thanks for not bringing work home. I am still amazed at your ability to leave the stress and weight of owning a business in your office instead of bringing it to our living room.

This might sound odd, but thanks for crying. You showed us that real men can and do cry. I’ve seen your eyes fill with tears of sadness and sorrow at the death of a loved one. I’ve watched you choke back tears of gratitude as the family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner. I recall hearing your voice waver as you apologized to us for the time a campaign took up much of your family time. And I’ve seen tears of joy as you held your grandchildren for the first time. Tears are powerful. Thanks for not holding them back.

I could go on and on and thank you for many more things—but instead I want to finish with the words of the great Urban philosopher (first name, Keith) who sang the words that I think every father wants to hear:

I only hope when I have my own family
that everyday I see
a little more of my father in me.

I love you, Dad.

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What Do You Dream Of?

I’m generally not one to walk around with my head in the clouds; I’m far too much of a realist (aka pessimist) for that. But just for the sake of conversation, here’s a question for you: What do you dream of? I’m not talking about those “post-late-night-mexican-food” dreams. I mean aspirations, goals, the type of dreams that keep you going even on your worst days?

About two years ago Kelli and I took a weekend vacation just to get out of town. I remember on the drive up we took a sheet of paper and wrote down some of our dreams and goals in life. I still have that paper stuck to the inside cover of my journal, so I thought I’d take a chance and share a few of my dreams with you (as long as you promise not to laugh).

Write a book.
I love to read—which makes me want to write. Obviously, I write on this blog. I’ve also been fortunate enough to write some articles for 1798 Magazine. But I really I want to write a book. I have no idea what I would write a book on, but I know at least two people would read it. Thanks Kelli and mom.

Earn my doctorate.
In all fairness, having a child changed my perspective on this one a bit. I’m not willing to exchange precious moments with my children for a couple of letters before my name, but maybe someday down the road I’ll have the time (and money…crossing my fingers) to pursue that doctorate degree.

Plant/pastor a church.
I know these are two very different animals (and by animals, I mean that both can maul you and potentially leave you with some nasty scars.) Nevertheless, if I’m honest, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of planting or pastoring a church someday. Also, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t remember that I am far too inexperienced and unwise to plant or pastor a church. Maybe someday.

Build a house.
This is at the pinnacle of my list. I’m a family guy, so very few things make me more excited than dreaming of designing and building a place for my family to laugh, cry, play, fight, eat, sleep and make memories together.

What about  you? What do you dream of? Do you dream at all? If not, you really should.

A Lesson from Lent

In an effort to try something different and new this year, Kelli and I decided we were going to partake in Lent. Before the 40 days of Lent kicked off on February 18 (turns out it’s actually more than 40 days) we each decided on a “lesser thing” we were going to give up in an effort to better focus on the “greatest thing”—the gospel. Kelli abstained from caffeine and sugar for the entirety of the 40 days while I took an extended vacation from social media. In addition to giving up our “lesser things” I also found a great Lent guide from The Village Church for us to walk through together as a family. The guide led us through a series of passages from the gospels as well as through a series of weekly fasts (food, TV and movies, social media, caffeine and sweets, radio and music, purchasing non-essentials, sleep—in that order) with the goal of “preparing [us] for the joy of Resurrection Sunday as we enter the sorrow and pain which preceded it.”

I wish I could tell you it was a time of incredible spiritual awakening. It wasn’t. I wish I could tell you that each and every week I led my family through powerful devotions full of deep and life-changing spiritual insights. That didn’t happen either. However, Lent did reveal something in my own life that I’m certain many can relate to.

Having decided to give up social media for 40 days, I deleted the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps from my phone. What’s funny (or mildly disturbing) is that over the first few days of the fast I would mindlessly pick up my phone as if to jump onto Twitter or to scan through Instagram, only to realize that the apps were no longer available. So did I just put my phone down? No. I checked my email instead—you know, just in case I started getting emails from people who haven’t messaged me one time in the last three years. It didn’t take me long to realize that I’m overconnected.

We live in a world that makes it incredibly hard to power down and disconnect. The devices we carry in our pockets make it nearly impossible. We’re always connected. Yet in the gospels we have record of Jesus slipping away from time to time to pray in a quiet place. Jesus exemplified what it means to disconnect—and if Jesus exemplified it, I think we would do well to imitate.  If you’re like me and find yourself on social media quite often, let me encourage you to shut your phone (or tablet, or computer, or whatever you use) off every once in a while (maybe even for a whole week or weekend—gasp!). Unplug. Disconnect. Your husband/wife/children/family/friends will appreciate it—and you’ll benefit from it as well.