Once Upon a Halloween

costumes_1970sI grew up in New England where weather in the Fall was fairly unpredictable. While we rarely got Fall snow, it was pretty much a guarantee for me and my brother that any cool Halloween costume we were to find at the store would be deep-sixed by the cool October weather.

I can’t tell you how many years I would be so excited about my costume. Yes, you know the kind, not the cool and sleek costumes of the 21st century, but the cheap ones of the 1970s and 1980s. Remember those cheesy plastic masks that would begin to shred or break into pieces? The rubber band would break requiring your parents to reattach it, albeit a shorter version of itself, to the plastic mask, causing it to dig into the back and sides of your head. And when you tried to get the thing off, your hair would get all caught up in it. Am I the only one who remembers this?

That was the mask, forget about the actual costume that you would wear. It was mostly comprised of some kind of flimsy material with a tie in the back and looked like a body smock of sorts. I’m glad I didn’t get too close to any open flames, otherwise I probably would have gone up like Michael Jackson’s hair in a Pepsi commercial.

Yes, those were the cool costumes, but there was nothing that could say “uncool” about your costume more than having to wear your winter coat over it. Since the costumes were made of material that was about as thin as a piece of toilet paper, to think that they might actually protect you from the elements was a joke. In fact, I would imagine that if my parents had let me go out on Halloween in Connecticut with my costume and an outfit underneath that they would be soon receiving a visit from Child Protective Services soon after.

Yes, many a Halloween night was ruined because of the need for an outfit that would actually protect me from getting miserably sick. As I got older, I smartened up and realized that a simple rubber mask could suffice if I found the right combination of clothing to go with it. I began to strategically choose a character or costume in which I could actually incorporate the clothing, making me look a little less uncool.

Back then, there were no fancy baskets in which to collect candy, we used Stew Leonard’s bags (if you have to ask, you’ll never know). We carried around these little cardboard boxes in which we were supposed to collect money for UNICEF. I’m not quite sure how many of those little boxes actually made it to school the next day. I’m pretty sure that there had to be at least 2 or 3 of my classmates who pocketed that money. Hey, what does a young kid living in a privileged white collar community know about starvation and the Third World? Apparently, not much.

As I got older, the UNICEF boxes were no more, neither were the cheap plastic and nylon costumes, but the pranks started coming out. I learned the art of melting the Barbasol shaving cream dispenser to enable shaving cream to shoot up to 5 or 6 feet (maybe 9 or 10 if you were really good) away at your enemies. Smoke bombs. Toilet paper. I never used eggs, but I knew plenty of people who did. All of these things were reserved for each other, never on houses or cars….although they were occasionally used on mailboxes.

These were the days when you could actually give away unwrapped candy and not worry about it. It wasn’t unusual for apples to be given away either, at least until the time when people started putting razor blades in them. Oh yes, those were the days.

Now, I live in Virginia and my kids don’t usually have to worry about winter coats with their costumes. We live in a pretty cool and tight community where they can walk around a few blocks and have their entire bags filled up. Occasionally, the costumes might actually be too hot because it was 70 or 80 degrees that morning. The neighbors all gather in the cul-de-sac and hand out candy together. We even have a neighbor who gives special Halloween treats only to the kids on our street. Some people with recreational vehicles will even fill their trailers with hay and take kids around the neighborhood for a hay ride.

Yes, just like everything else, Halloween has changed. Well, I guess I had better figure out what I’m going to dress up as tonight!

Trust the Process?

broken-process1I’ll be honest, I’m a cynic. I don’t trust easily because I’ve been burned before. I am a firm believer in the fact that our past experiences dictate our responses to the things that we face. When we have faced situations where we’ve been hurt by others or where we have trusted others and they have disappointed us, we all have a tendency to be somewhat skittish about jumping into things head first the next time around.

Throughout my adult life, I have seen different processes that were put in place to protect or to ensure that outcomes would not be skewed. Some of those processes have been political processes. Some of those processes have been within educational systems. Some of those processes have been within the church.

Over and over again, I was told to trust the process. The processes were put into place by people smarter than me (at least, that’s what I’m told). The processes were supposed to be foolproof. Is that really possible? If a process is put into place by fools, can it really be foolproof?

I watched my dad fall victim to a process that was faulty and fallible. I watched friends as they were burned within systems that were ruled and governed by processes. I have watched processes be manipulated by people who had agendas, somehow skewing the processes to result in their desired results.

The other day, I was reminded of a process that was supposed to be trusted. It was a process that was supposed to flesh out truth. Over and over again, people said to trust the process, but as the process went on, many realized that the process wasn’t the problem, it was the people who had put the process into place. Processes may be trusted when they are static and unchanging or when the rules of that process are defined and maintained. But in this process, the rules were changing and many of them were undefined or fluid. How does one operate in a system where the rules continue to change and where they are constantly in motion and fluid?

It was amazing how I could feel the tension rise within me as I answered questions about a process with which I had been involved nearly two years ago. I always find that somewhat startling, how one can be removed from something for a long period of time only to be ushered right back to that moment when something suddenly triggers your memory.

Processes are only as good as the people behind them. It’s a reminder to me to constantly lean on the wisdom that God gives rather than my own. It’s also a reminder to be praying for all of the people behind processes, be they politicians or judges or pastors or teachers or whomever. We are all fallible people with the ability to subjectively usurp power and steer things to be the way that we want them to be. If we aren’t careful, we can hijack processes that were meant for good and cause people evil.

It’s just a humble reminder where I need to go for guidance and who I need to rely on. If any of us lacks wisdom, we can ask of the Father above who gives generously. He knows how much I need that.

What Lies Beneath

UNC_athleticsLOGOGrowing up, my parents were just never into sports. My mom didn’t go to college and my dad went to a Bible college, so college sports were pretty much a moot point in my family. Even when my brother and I went to college, neither of the schools that we went to were known for their athletic prowess or history.

As I got older and saw friends latching on to favorite teams, I realized that I needed to get on the ball and start liking someone. Even though I was raised in New England and born in New York City, my heart has always been in the South. So, I settled on UNC as a favorite.

It wasn’t until college and after that I fully realized what I had gotten myself into. Like I said, my alma mater wasn’t a big basketball school (except for that time when they knocked Duke out of the NCAA tourney), but as I began to follow NCAA basketball a little bit more, I realized that I had made a pretty good choice of favorites.

Years went by and I found myself married to a die-hard college basketball fan. My wife and in-laws bleed blue, UConn Husky blue. My wife and I moved to UNC, which eventually solidified my favoritism towards the Tarheels. Even when we left, my heart still belonged to the Tarheels.

My heart is heavy. For 18 years, according to reports, the University of North Carolina has fraudulently assisted their athletes to allow them to continue to compete at the NCAA athletic level while not competing at all at the NCAA academic level. “Paper classes” have been on the books for years to allow athletes to “take classes” while competing.

The commentary on this is so vast. It’s easy to point fingers at the institution, and while I give no “free pass” to the university, I wonder how much this case is more of a social commentary on our culture and the things that we think are most important. I wonder if this doesn’t give us a clearer picture as to why athletes from top-ranked athletic schools ditch their educations in order to pursue multi-million dollar contracts in professional athletics. If academics are not enforced and are made to seem disposable, extraneous, or unnecessary, should we be surprised that athletes would abandon so-called academics to pursue the very thing that has been emphasized and accentuated?

My heart is heavy. It’s heavy for those student athletes who came in and were used as pawns. They could have gotten a decent education, they were supposed to get an education, but they played into a system that played them, that used them for their own gain. Some of them left without even completing their degrees, fabricated as they might be. Now they’re turning against that system, but the damage has been done.

The thing about all of this is that it would be naïve and even ignorant to believe that UNC is the only college or university guilty of such behavior. Truth be told, they are the ones who got caught. That certainly doesn’t make it right, but it does beg the question, “what else is going on?” If it’s happening and has happened there, where else is it happening? What other improprieties have taken place in what other places.

Anyone who follows sports has seen similar occurrences within the Major League Baseball world with athletes who take steroids and other stimulants. All of these things are symptoms of a deeper problem. We put such an emphasis on sports and athletics in our country that we’ve lost sight of their purpose and enjoyment. Participation in athletics can result in healthy habits that will last a lifetime. They lead to discipline and consciousness of the need for physical activity. Athletics can stay with a person for their lifetime, regardless of the level of competition that they attain or the level of competition at which they compete. By emphasizing sports as primary, above using one’s mind, what are we saying? What has our emphasis become?

Like anything else, if this report and investigation leads to change and reform, then maybe one could say that good has come out of it. But if it leads to the same behavior in all of the places which have not gotten caught, God help us. May we reflect upon what is really important to us, not elevating things that should never be primary and never throwing away the primary things at the expense of the temporal or fleeting.

Warning Signs

warning signsI’ve never liked sirens. For as long as I can remember, the sound of a siren sends shivers down my spine and sends me running for cover. I remember times as a child when I would be playing in the neighborhood and I would hear a siren. I would run home crying to my mom. For whatever reason, the sound of the siren would get my ever active brain moving into high gear, thinking about the reason for the siren, who might be hurt or injured, what might have happened.

41 years into this thing called life, it doesn’t evoke the same response that it once did, but I’m still not a fan of sirens. That same feeling that I used to get as a kid when I would hear sirens in the distance still creeps up my spine when I hear sirens to this day.

The other day, after the school bus had come for my children, I was taking a walk in our neighborhood. Even with headphones on, I heard sirens in the distance (I guess that’s reassurance that my music wasn’t too loud). I nearly stopped in my tracks as I thought about what was wrong. Who was hurt? Was everything okay with my kids? I learned a long time ago to pray when I heard sirens, so that’s what I did. Then I went on my way and continued my walk, eventually arriving home and realizing that things were okay there.

The thing about sirens is that they are kind of like warning signs. When you hear them, you instantly know that something is not right in the world. The world of the 1950s is behind us, fire engines aren’t generally sent out into neighborhoods to retrieve cats and kittens from trees, at least I don’t think that they are. When there is a siren in the distance, it is generally an indication that there is an emergency somewhere. Something is wrong and the responders are doing what they do best: responding to it.

I wonder how many times in our lives we hear or see warning signs and we look the other way. We know that they’re there for a reason, yet we still turn our backs on them and look the other way. Maybe we think that the situation will fix itself. Maybe we think that the situation is not as grave as it really is. Maybe we just don’t want to be bothered or inconvenienced by a potential emergency in our lives.

Regardless of why we might avoid or ignore warning signs, the end result will never be anything beneficial. Eventually, those warning signs will creep up again and it we have done nothing to address the warning that was signaled to us in the first place, the chances are pretty good that the situation that was once grave will be downright catastrophic by the time we finally respond.

I will fully admit that there are some times when warning signs will pop up and they seem to sound the alarm to make it seem like things are worse than they really are. For instance, the “Check Engine” light in your car might come on just because you didn’t screw your gas cap on tightly enough. There are other cases when warning signs come off as false indicators, causing alarm when they really shouldn’t be going off at all. But let’s face it, these situations are not as common as we might think or as we might convince ourselves that they are.

As I get older, I’m doing my best to look for and listen to the warning signs that go off around me. Sometimes, I might get alarmed myself by them, escalating what the real problem is in my mind before I even have a real analysis. But if I am heeding those warning signs and following up with them, the chances are slim that whatever they are warning me about will get worse by addressing it as soon as the warning signs go off.

The end results of listening to those warning signs may be scary. They may cause us to address things that make us uncomfortable. They may lead to changes that we don’t want to face or even have to address. But what’s the alternative? What will happen if we leave those warning signs unaddressed? That’s just a chance that I’m not sure I’m willing to take.

 

A Collision of Worlds

IMG_0035When I was in seminary, I made a few really good friends. It all started one night towards the end of one of our intensive weeks out in St. Paul, Minnesota. There was a sports bar called Grumpy’s where a few of us went to partake in nachos and libations. As we ate and drank, the conversation flowed and friendships were formed. The friendships that were formed have lasted to this day although all of us are spread out, not only throughout the country, but through the world.

This past weekend, one of the crew reached a milestone in his ministry life as he was ordained to the ministry. Ordination is an interesting thing, especially for those who are on the outside looking in. For most larger, mainline denominations, a person’s individual sense of call on their life to enter into ministry is only the first step in a process. After the individual sense, it needs to be affirmed by a larger group. The process, depending on the specific denomination, can be simple or difficult.

My friend had entered the process prior to our finishing seminary back in 2013. The hoops that are required to jump through can become tedious and cumbersome. One might think of it a little like Jedi training, it’s a tough road, but in the end, it’s worth it. Of course, there are no cool powers that come with ordination, no force push or lightsabers, just responsibilities and privileges to administer the sacraments of baptism and communion.

The church where my friend has been serving (and will continue to serve) is not typical of others within his mainline denomination. The same could be said of my own, but on a much smaller scale. As I spent the weekend at two separate campuses of my friend’s church, it was pretty incredible to see all that was taking place. Breakfast served to homeless bused in from shelters. A church set up in a school, similar to my own church experience. A consistent theme running through all of the campuses as they tracked through a sermon series through the Gospels together. Even though they have many campuses, there is a cohesion that runs through all of those campuses, allowing people to see themselves as something bigger.

I told my friend that there can be a tendency for pastors who remain in their own contexts week after week to be limited in their views. For me, to travel across the country and experience what I did was a breath of refreshing air. It was a reminder of the breadth, width, and depth of the Kingdom of God. It helped me to know how to better pray for my friend and his church. It gave me some good ideas to bring back with me to share and experiment with to determine their viability in my own context.

It’s always neat when you hear about people through conversations with a friend and then are able to meet those people face to face. My friend spent a year in California for his internship for his denomination and the pastor with whom he had worked flew out to take part in the ordination service as well. I was interested to meet him as I had heard so much about him. I also met one of the pastors with whom he works whose mind is a raging torrent of theology. A ten minute conversation with him was like drinking from the proverbial firehose. In fact, I tossed out the idea of getting all of our seminary crew together for a weekend to spend with this guy.

In the coming days, I am sure that I will process more of what I experienced this weekend. I am forever grateful to the people who allowed me to step away for this time, particularly my lead pastor and my wife. I am grateful for the team with whom I work who stepped in for me while I was away. I can’t wait to see what God will do in me and through me as a result of this time away. I can’t wait to see what God will do in our little crew from seminary as we continue to vision and dream together of what can be done when we think outside of the traditional boxes of doing ministry together. I can’t wait to see what God does through my friend as he enters this new phase of ministry. What a privilege to be on this wild ride.

Storm – A Book Review

storm cymbalaThere is a storm raging and the warning signs are there. This storm isn’t a physical storm but a spiritual storm. Jim Cymbala asks, “Is the light of Jesus that we are to shine before people growing dark? Has another kind of storm cut us off from our power source? Is the church of Christ disappearing into a dark night?” How did we get here? What is endangering the church and the message of Jesus Christ? How do we move on and become effective at reaching people with the message of Jesus Christ? These are among the questions that Cymbala tries to answer in his book, Storm.

As you might expect from the Brooklyn native, Cymbala comes out swinging with a “take no prisoners” approach. He is not hesitant or shy with his criticism, addressing the issues that he sees on the landscape of the American church. While there are outside influences such as the secular culture and the relativism that runs rampant throughout much of ideology today, those are not to be embraced by believers in Jesus Christ.

Cymbala is critical of the many methods of church growth that have been embraced today which have abandoned the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. Methods such as the entertainment church, the relevant church, the corporate church, the latest fad church, the radical church, and the stale orthodoxy church are among those which fall into the crosshairs of Cymbala’s criticism. We need less gimmicks and more God, he says, stating that the problem, “is not with a godless, secular America, but with a church that is increasingly prayerless, compromised, demoralized, and weak. We have drifted away from the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Throughout the criticism that he heaps, he offers advice and pointers in how to “right the ship” as well as interspersing the stories of people from his own church, the Brooklyn Tabernacle, who have experienced life transformation through the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. Prayer is among the suggestions that Cymbala makes in getting the Church back on track. His emphasis on prayer and the Holy Spirit should not be unfamiliar to anyone who has read his books before. While he may come across brash in some of his criticism, the track record of Brooklyn Tabernacle with their own prayer ministry and Holy Spirit reliance are enough to cause the reader to take pause in wonder of God’s workings through Cymbala and his church.

While Cymbala’s criticism may seem harsh to those unused to a New York state of mind, his own humility is evident. He is not simply casting blame on everyone and everything else but also owns his own shortcomings and faults over the years. Leadership, he says, or the lack of it, has caused much of the divergence that is seen within the church. If pastors are critical of their congregations, is it possible that those congregations are simply reflections of them and their own leadership?

Ultimately, the effectiveness of the church will be directly related to the place of the Gospel, the importance of reliance on Scripture, and the dependence on God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When we fail to see the importance of these things, we should not be surprised when our churches decline and become irrelevant. A reliance on the basics could go a long way to see a revival within the church, Cymbala argues.

Having been born in Brooklyn with parents who had likewise been as well, Cymbala’s style was not surprising. There were moments that I cringed at the harsh criticisms that he heaped, but I realized that he was holding true to being a prophet, one who speeks the truth of God’s word and applies it to current circumstances. Multiple times in the book, Cymbala claims to not want to be hypercritical but then goes on to do just that. His criticism comes out of his own passion and desire to see the message of Jesus Christ proclaimed to bring about life change and transformation. Considering that the average reader of this book will most likely be indoctrinated to the church, his stern words and warnings may be just the thing that is needed to wake some from their slumber and denial of the oncoming storm.

Storm is a book that calls it like it sees it. Cymbala does a good job at interspersing criticism with encouragement and calls to action. He has a heart for the people of God and the lost sheep who have yet to come into the fold of the Good Shepherd. While his style may not be for everyone, this book is a helpful reminder for those of us within the American Church to stand strong on the principles that have been tried and true for two thousand years.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Zondervan Publishing. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Another Hurdle

hurdleOne thing about grief that some people tend to overlook is facing similar circumstances to your own loss afterwards. As a pastor, that happens much sooner than it would for the average person. Pastors are called to bedsides and hospitals frequently as people near the end of their lives. Sometimes, the similarities between the experiences of these people and the experiences of your lost loved ones can be so eerily similar that the pain gets dragged up and out again, making the loss and grief feel fresh all over.

This morning, a gentleman from my church passed away. Yesterday, I stood at his bedside, prayed over him and read Scripture to him. It was a very difficult moment for me.

I had been mentally preparing myself for the visit. The Holy Spirit had laid on my heart the need to go see this man and his wife. I knew that his time on earth was short and I knew that I had to get over there.

But I also knew what I was walking into. I knew that the memories of what I experienced 1 ½ and 3 ½ years ago with my parents would come flooding in. I knew that I would be transported back to another hospital bed. I knew that I would not only be seeing this man coming to the end of his life, but I would be reliving my mom and dad’s last moments as well.

I was glad for the opportunity to mentally and spiritually prepare myself for this. Had I walked in thinking that everything would be as usual, I would have been much more impacted than I already was.

Later on in the day yesterday, I would have a conversation with someone and tell them that our own experiences helped give us sensitivity and insight into people whose experiences were similar. God can take the things that we experience and use those to help others as they encounter their own difficulties. That’s what happened for me. While I felt some moments of reliving the past, I realized that my presence there was more effective because of what I had gone through myself.

I don’t think that I can say that every subsequent experience gets easier. It’s never easy to open up wounds that have been trying desperately to heal. But there’s something different here, there is something healing about seeing a redemptive purpose in your own suffering and difficulty. Knowing that your own pain can help others when they find themselves in similar pain helps to feel that it all wasn’t in vain.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Earlier on in the letter, the writer writes, “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  Jesus experienced what we experienced so that he could help those whose experiences would sometimes parallel his own.  He earned our trust, respect, and love by being God who took on flesh and suffered worse things than most of us will ever have to experience.  We are not alone.

It’s always nice to know that you are not alone, especially in difficult circumstances. I’m on the other side of a hurdle today, having looked in the face of death and survived. My heart is heavy and it hurts, but knowing that God has higher purposes helps the sting to be a little less painful.

The Chair

2014-10-13 07.56.16I have a chair in my media room. It’s not the prettiest chair. While it’s pretty comfortable, there are probably way more comfortable chairs out there. The thing about this chair is that there’s so much more attached to this chair than comfort and aesthetics.

When my wife and I got married, like many young couples, we didn’t have a whole lot. I was working in the engineering field and she was working at our church. I also volunteered at our church, playing in the band and leading music, filling gaps wherever they might be. In all of my time and travels, I met some incredibly gifted people, and among them was a drummer named Steve.

Steve and I became friends as soon as I met him. He was a PK (pastor’s kid) like me, so there was an instant bond there between us. We were musicians who played multiple instruments as well. I think that we were both troubled souls as well, like most musicians, there was a deep longing within us, a restlessness that came out through the creative process of making music.

Steve was real and genuine. There was no pretense to him, and I loved him for that. Life’s too short to cover stuff over with fixings that simply hide what’s really going on inside. Every time that I spent with him, I would stand in awe of his abilities on whichever instrument that he was playing. In fact, on more than one occasion of listening to him play, I wanted to hang up my musician’s clothes and never touch an instrument again. But, alas, I continued.

When I got married, Steve mentioned a chair that he had. He and his wife were getting rid of it. Never one to turn down a handout or free stuff, I willingly accepted his offer. He delivered the chair and it began as just one piece of furniture at the onset of this journey that we call marriage. It wasn’t pretty, but it got the job done.

Steve is gone. He’s been gone for a few years. I can’t remember how long it’s been since we lost him. A bass player friend whom we used to play with all the time informed me of this loss when it happened. I was kind of numb when I heard the news. Two young children and a wife. Incredible skills and abilities. The troubled soul had finally found rest. My only solace was the knowledge that his faith stood throughout all that he had wrestled with and gone through. That solace usually doesn’t take immediate action though, it usually takes some time to set in.

Through more than 13 years of marriage, 3 homes in 3 different states, the chair still remains. There’s something about sitting in it. It brings me back. I can’t help but think of Steve when I sink into the chair. It represents something so much more than a simple chair.

As I looked at it the other day, I thought about the movie “When Harry Met Sally.” When Harry and Sally’s friends, Jess and Marie, are getting married and getting rid of some of their individual stuff, they argue over a wagon wheel coffee table. The coffee table finally goes in the trash after some arguing back and fort

One day, this chair will probably end up in the trash too. It seems inevitable.

But, for now, I’ll milk every minute that I can sit in it. I’ll dream of another time and place, of the times that I enjoyed playing music with my friend. It will serve as a reminder to me of the beginning of my marriage as it was among the first pieces of furniture that we ever hard. It will also serve as a reminder of Steve. Sitting there among my music and instruments, my pictures of Miles Davis and Bob Dylan, I think it kind of feels at home…….but furniture doesn’t really have feelings!

8

100_1983My oldest son is 8 years old today. It is yet another sign that the world isn’t slowing down. He’s actually the last of the birthdays in my immediate family. Starting on September 20th and ending today, my three kids and wife all have birthdays in that time frame. So, after having a Jedi party where we made lightsabers and trained in the Jedi arts yesterday, we’re done with birthdays in our house until mine comes in the Spring.

I vividly remember that day, becoming a dad for the first time. We were living far from family in Asheville, North Carolina. We thought that our baby was coming on Friday the 13th, but he waited about half an hour too long. My poor wife had been laboring since the early morning hours of the 13th, so it was a long labor.

We didn’t know that it would be a boy, but we were so excited when he came. He was a little jaundiced, so we had to put him under a Bili Light for a few days. We called him our little “Blue Light Special.” He was, and is, a cuddler. He loves to snuggle and cuddle and I’m not sure what I will do when the day comes when he’s too big to do that.

The first two years of his life, it was only him. I did my best to savor every moment. We probably have more pictures of him than either of the other two kids. Seems first children always get the special portraits, all of the attention, the new presents, and less hand-me-downs.

It’s when you have multiple children that you begin to appreciate just how time flies. I look at my son and am not scratching my head wondering how eight years went by so quickly. I look at my daughter and I DO wonder how three years has gone by so quickly.

The busier we get, the faster time flies, at least, that’s how it feels to me. It’s always key for me to look back at those pictures and remember. They bring me back to a different place and a different time, even though it was just a few years ago. Life’s pretty different now than it even was eight years ago.

Over the years, people have told me again and again how fast time flies. They have told me that I would blink and my children would be heading off to college. I’ve done my best to heed their advice and seize every moment, being around as often as I can, capturing the simple, silly moments, the stuff that memories are made of.

Yesterday, I was Jedi Master at a birthday party for my eight year old. Someday soon, he won’t have big birthday parties anymore. Someday soon, I’ll have to grill him to try to find out what’s going on throughout his days. Heck, I kind of have to do that already.

So, I’ll savor these moments. I’ll play the Jedi. I’ll stop what I’m doing a little more frequently. I’ll close my eyes and remember those days gone by. I’ll make memories in my mind, capturing those moments as best as I can.

But I’ll also think about what will be. Every chapter that ends is the beginning of something else. One day, we will look eye to eye and I will learn even more from him, probably more than he has learned from me. One day, I will move from father to friend. One day, we will share more than ice cream, candy, or cake.

I don’t want that day to come too soon, so I’ll just sit here right now and squeeze that little boy. I’ll take every hug that I can. I’ll savor the fact that he’s still not big enough to be embarrassed about kissing his Daddy on the lips. These are the moments that bring a smile to my face, and I’ll savor every one!

Happy birthday, buddy!

Yard Sales

2014-10-11 08.04.59Our neighborhood holds two community yard sales every year, one in the Spring and one in the Fall. It seems that life has not afforded us the ability to slow down in recent years to actually take part in them. Although they are called “Community Yard Sale” the only thing “community” about them is that the whole community is in on it. In other words, these are the only two times throughout the year that you are allowed to have a yard sale, if you want to have one any other time during the year, you will be in violation of the HOA rules. One other rule of yard sales in our neighborhood: they always seem to be scheduled on days with the crappiest weather!

At any given time in our house we are getting rid of stuff. With three continually growing children, we are always setting aside hand-me-downs for cousins or getting rid of unused toys. My wife and I are always trying to clear the clutter as best as possible by getting rid of unused “stuff” as well. My wife has actually helped me to get a whole lot better about this over the years that we have been married. I hold things too closely, sentimentalizing things that should just remain as stuff.

Over the past year, we have been trying to get “my room” settled and straight. That’s a task that is much easier said than done as I am a collector and the room isn’t that big. So, my wife took to the internet to find a solution for our space problem. Thank God for Pinterest, right? With a large collection of music and movies, it was a tough task to accomplish.

Let’s face it, everyone’s going digital! CDs, DVDs, and Blu Rays are just not flying off of the shelves. People would much rather store stuff in the “Cloud” rather than figure out how to store it all. I started my collection too long ago to try that approach, but it’s a battle.

I’ve put lots of CDs onto my computer to conserve space or make room for more music, I’ve gotten rid of plenty of movies that I just wasn’t going to watch again. But when I’ve tried to get rid of them, I’ve found myself frustrated and depressed as no one wants to buy them. Boxes have been sitting around for months awaiting this yard sale, in hopes that someone might come along who still wants to support this “antiquated” medium of listening to music and watching movies.

As I sat out in our driveway the other day, rain spitting down from the heavens, I surveyed the cornucopia of “stuff” that sat there, slowly getting wetter in the hazy rain. Old children’s toys. Multimedia shelving. CDs and DVDs. I thought to myself, is this stuff really worth it? Is it worth sitting out here on a miserable, rainy Fall day? Did I really value this stuff this much? What did it mean to me?

Things are only valuable if someone else attaches the same value to it that you have? In fact, you can have what seems to be the most valuable thing in the world to you and if nobody else sees and appreciates that same value, it’s not worth as much as you thought it was.

I’ve posted before about the things that I valued most that my parents had left behind (read it here). So many of the things that we value ourselves don’t really have intrinsic value, the value is limited to us. We have experiences that suddenly attach more meaning and value to things than they had before. Our memories are triggered by “stuff” that sells cheap at yard sales. Chances are, there won’t be many people who will find that same value there, unless they’ve had similar experiences with that same stuff. The chances of that happening are pretty slim.

So, as I sat out in the rain, wondering whether or not anyone would think this stuff was actually worth something, one person came. Then another person came. Then another person came. Before I knew it, the value of these things dropped down (who ever comes to a yard sale and pays the asking price for something?) and our driveway was empty.

Well, it was almost empty. The ensuing weather coupled with our shortage of storage in the house and my need to get to another appointment later in the morning led me to throw everything that remained into the car and drive to Goodwill. As I handed the last box to the worker there, I breathed a sigh of relief. Whether I valued these things or not, they were just given away for free (well, I have a receipt that I can deduct from my taxes).

In the end, we made more money (which wasn’t much) at this yard sale than we have in a long time. The stuff is gone, and that’s what matters most, right? Here’s hoping that next time, when there’s a yard sale, that the weather is better and the stuff is just as valuable as it was this time around.