Kids going to college?

9 years ago I was getting ready to say farewell to my son Spencer as he headed to San Diego for college at Point Loma Nazarene University. Here are the thoughts I had at the time:

Empty Mitt Syndrome

Most of you have heard of “empty nest syndrome”. It’s that feeling of gloom that hangs over a home after the youngest child leaves. Most often associated with moms, I know dads experience these feelings too.

This week my son leaves for college in California. Since I always try to be prepared in advance for big events, I started missing him about two months ago. I decided to get all my tears and sad feelings out of the way early. But it didn’t work very well. I found myself continuing to wrestle with mixed emotions: excitement for his great adventure; sadness as I lose one of my very closest friends.

I have called this feeling “empty mitt syndrome” caused by the fact that my baseball mitt will be empty and virtually unused now that Spence is gone. Our pool table will be nearly silent and the supper table will be set for only two. I’ll be able to find all my shirts and ties in my own closet. Personally, I don’t like empty mitt syndrome.

In order to cope with my son’s departure I self prescribed some therapy. Instead of flying to San Diego I decided Spencer and I would drive the 1300 miles. That way, we get to spend two and a half days together reminiscing, hiking, playing loud music and getting lost by following bad maps. Knowing I have those last two days with Spence gives me some small solace.

I also realized part of my sadness was because I felt I hadn’t fully completed the fathering task. I had crammed a lot of “words of wisdom” into his nineteen years but there seemed to be much I missed. So over a month ago I began writing letters to Spencer several times a week. I collected them in a journal and will give them all to him the day we depart for California. They contain advice I may have forgotten to give along the way. I don’t know if my son will get much out of those letters, but writing them has helped me. At least a little.

The movie “Shadowlands” tells the story of author C. S. Lewis’ romance with an American lady named Joy Gresham. After they fall deeply in love Joy discovers she has cancer and only a short time to live. Lewis’ exultant happiness is suddenly turned into profound pain. But Joy braces him about his sadness: “We can’t have the happiness of yesterday without the pain of today. That’s the deal.”

And that is the deal. When we love someone deeply and they leave us either temporarily (going to college) or for a longer time (through death) we feel the pain and sadness of love’s separation. But it is a pain worth experiencing. Perhaps you’ve been holding back, being cautious about loving your family for fear of getting hurt. Don’t be afraid to love deeply, even at the risk of pain. That kind of pain can be a positive sign of love shared.

Trust the boys in your boat

On a recent road trip I finished one book on CD and started another. Curiously, I heard the same message in both even though they were on entirely different topics. The common message: Trust is essential to happiness.

The book I finished up was one given to me by my son, Spencer. “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown is the terrific story of the 1936 Olympic rowing crews’ quest for gold…but it is much more. At the core, it’s the story of Joe Rantz, one of the young rowers who, at a young age, was abandoned by his family during the hard scrabble depression years of the 1920s. Consequently, Joe resolved to never rely on anyone but himself. Today we would say he has “issues with trust”. Joe struggled with rowing and with life, but Joe changed and grew because he eventually learned to trust the other boys in his boat. His life took a significant turn once he learned this and he was no longer weighed down by his apprehension of abandonment. He learns to trust. Rowing (or “Crew”) requires absolute trust of your teammates. There are no individual stars–only the team. It’s a very well written story and worth the read. The life application is obvious and the book–and the lesson–are compelling.

On my road trip, after finishing The Boys in the Boat I popped in the next book on CD I wanted to listen to: “The Geography of Bliss” by Eric Weiner. Weiner travels the world looking for the “happiest” places and trying to figure out why those people are happy. One of his early conclusions in the book is that people who “trust” are happier than those who don’t. If you live your life suspicious of others, always looking for the descending knife in the back, your life will be unhappy.

Since we’re all interested in happiness, I wondered, how do we find people we can trust? One major idea occurs to me.

Be trustworthy yourself. You must be what you seek. Keep your word. Stay true to your commitments. Hang in there in tough times. If we become trustworthy people we will find the trustworthy people around us. Not all the time. Not everyone. But like begets like and if we become trustworthy we will find more of our relationships marked by trustworthiness.

Start with small things. Start today. Start being trustworthy.

That’s what Joe Rantz did with the boys in the boat. And they won Olympic gold. Because they trusted one another.

Don’t Pull a Dog by the Ears

As a lawyer, it is my job to give advice. Every day I receive phone calls from clients who are facing dilemmas. They tell me the facts. They state their plight. They ask for counsel. I make recommendations about what to do and then charge them for it. I’ve discovered, over the years, it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.

But things are not so neatly arranged in life. Every day we see people with issues. It might be someone wondering whether to take a new job. It could be a person struggling with a lackluster marriage or a possible move to a new locale. In the midst of it all you sit there, crystal ball in hand, waiting to be asked your opinion so you can predict the future and fix their problem.

I ran across a verse in the Old Testament book of Proverbs that painted a vivid word picture in my mind. “Like one who takes a dog by the ears is the person who meddles with strife not belonging to him.” Proverbs 26:10. Most of us would not literally grab a dog by the ears, but we do something like that when we stick our nose into another person’s business by giving unsolicited advice.

There is a line, a narrow line, we often walk. It is the line that divides “appropriate advice” from “maddening meddling”. It is the line between helping someone with possible solutions and hounding them with unwanted opinions. We’ve all been on the line. We’ve all crossed over it, too. It’s just about impossible to keep your mouth shut when someone you know is struggling with a problem you think you could solve.

Sometimes they ask for your advice. But sometimes they don’t. Whether someone asks for advice or not, all of us Ann Landers-wanna-bes face the same annoying question: Do you stick your nose in and give advice or keep your opinions to yourself?

Just as fools rush in where angels fear to tread, I have often rushed in with advice when it was not requested. My words were not always well received. Why would they not want my advice? I wondered. My clients pay good money for my opinions on legal subjects–I was offering this same sage wisdom for free! It didn’t seem to matter. When I plunged, uninvited, into the problem pool, I often found myself flailing away in the water, rescuing no one, and making everyone wet with my splashing. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that my unsolicited advice was not particularly helpful. I was pulling a dog by the ears. I needed to learn the art of shutting up.

It’s a hard lesson for most of us to learn.

There are important, appropriate times when we must speak our opinions , providing instruction or encouragement. We should not be bashful or blush when speaking up at these times. But there are at least as many occasions when we should pause, listen, and wait for an invitation to give advice–or to stay quiet.

The tricky part is in discerning which time is which. Where is the line? When does expressing a moral position become shoving our opinion down someone’s throat? Some quick suggestions:

  • Has the person asked for your opinion? If not, be circumspect about rendering advice.
  • Answer this honestly: Does the problem have truly eternal or life changing implications? If so, it may be appropriate to speak up, even unsolicited. If not, hold your tongue.
  • Does the situation involve significant moral or ethical decisions? If not, it may be wise to bide your time.
  • Do you want to “set them straight” or sincerely help? If you’re simply looking for a nearby audience to listen to your latest speech, give it a rest.
  • Have you truly listened to both the words and the emotions of the person? Before we give advice we must hear with both our ear and our heart. Until you have done so, keep a lid on your advice box.

Giving advice is easily done, but not so easily done well. That’s why we need to ask God for great discretion as we listen to people pour out their problems. To whisper a respiratory prayer, like a quick breath, before we speak. With a listening heart and Godly guidance we can avoid pulling a dog’s ears and, instead, lend a word of counsel that is truly helpful.

Take me out to the ol’ slow ball game

For those who have not been keeping track, this is the official mid point of the baseball season. Tomorrow night, All Stars of the American and National League will meet in Minnesota for “The mid season classic”–the All Star game. The number of people in America who are crazy about baseball seems to be dwindling, but I count myself in that number.

I grew up in a minor league baseball town in upstate New York. The Syracuse Chiefs were the farm club for the New York Yankees and, once a year, the Yanks would travel north to play an obligatory exhibition game against their ambitious minor leaguers. On that day, or whenever any other opportunity arose, my dad and I would travel to the other side of town, park down by the old warehouses, and wind our way to the wooden seats scarred by peeling green paint on the first base line. From this breathtaking vantage point we would watch baseball played on a field of dreams. We would eat a hot dog, drink a Coke, keep score on our program and talk casually in an unhurried cadence.

I do not remember a single thing I ever said to my father during those games. Nor do I remember a single thing he ever said to me. Our conversations during the games were not profound. He never gave me sage advice, as he did on many other occasions. I don’t believe I ever asked insightful questions about the meaning of life during those games. Instead, we were just two guys watching men play a boy’s game. Cheering at the good plays, sighing disappointment when the other team scored, but all the while sitting next to each other, almost as equals, enjoying a game we both loved.

There is a measured rhythm to baseball that allows you to talk to the person next to you in a leisurely manner. It’s true, once in awhile things grow intense. Like the bottom on the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, and the home team down by one run. But ninety percent of baseball occurs at a more deliberate speed. You can usually buy a hotdog from a vendor in the aisle and not miss too much of the action. Because of this, some people say baseball is too slow. But for me, it is the pace of the life I long to lead but so often fail to.

Baseball is the perfect spectator sport for a parent to attend with their child. Oh sure, you can take your kids to a basketball, football or hockey game and reap some of the same benefits. But baseball is the unhurried game where a parent can sit, side by side, with their kid, and have a conversation that moseys along from topic to topic, without an agenda. I’ve found parents and children can talk much more easily sitting side by side watching baseball than sitting face to face staring at each other. The slower pace of baseball allows conversations to wend where they will. That doesn’t happen too often in a world ruled by cell phones, tweets and texts. Such casual conversation is a good thing, especially between a parent and child.

I’m glad my dad infected me with a love for baseball. I’m glad I passed this genetic defect along to my kids. But most of all I’m thankful for all the games I’ve watched both as a son and as a dad, talking about things that were “unimportant” in one sense, but very, very important in another. Take me out to the old ball game. And take your kids –or any kid–with you.

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Humility and the homegoing of “The King”

All the media venues are awash with the news that LeBron James–“The King” is going home to Cleveland to play for the NBA Cavaliers. But one of the stories that is getting short played is the role that humility played in this homegoing.

As reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, it seems both LeBron and Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert humbled themselves in each others presence and that this meeting paved the way for LeBron’s return.

LeBron humbled himself by saying he regretted his splashy, ego centric tv announcement (known as “The Decision) about his move to Miami four years ago. Gilbert humbled himself by apologizing for his letter (known as “The Letter”) viciously trashing Lebron for abandoning Cleveland. From Wojnarowski’s report, the humility and apologies by both sounded sincere. Isn’t it amazing what a little humility can do? I like the power of humble service.

Not long ago I attended a dinner at which several people were recognized for outstanding contributions to the community. These folks were, without question, well deserving of praise. The person giving the awards recounted the honorees’ impressive resume and their many notable achievements. These people had been busy. They had given money, worked hard and made an impact. Their names were familiar to everyone present. Most of us in the audience felt pale and puny by comparison and wondered to ourselves how these super humans found time to accumulate such achievements. They were given a plaque, a gift and had smiling photos taken. Their pictures no doubt appeared in local newspapers the next day.

But once, just once, I’d like to see an organization or university give their “outstanding” award to a mom who, without fanfare, has given of herself sacrificially and quietly for her family. I’d like to see a dad given a plaque for tirelessly working all day and then coaching his daughter’s soccer team or working with his son’s Scout group. My choice for an outstanding award would be the grandparent who, having raised their own kids, are now helping raise their grandchildren. I know this is probably an unworkable idea. First of all, such people would be hard to find because they draw little attention to themselves.

Their pictures do not appear in the newspaper and their names are never mentioned in the media. They go about their family commitments with unheralded faithfulness. They don’t ring their own bells. They never blow their own horns. No trumpet fanfare announces their arrival home. The award selection committee would have a hard time locating these steady servants of the family because they blend into the background and seek no spotlight. It would also be difficult to make a selection because it is difficult to locate these people. Their unassuming nature and humble service don’t sparkle and sizzle so the selection committee would really have to hunt hard to find them in the everyday routine of the community in which they live. These aren’t ones to glitter and glow; instead they simply grind the grist at the mill.

The real problem with trying to give an award for faithful family service is there would be too many who deserve recognition. It would be unfair to single out just two or three for honor and adulation. Behind the scenes and back stage, while other notable actors are in front of the footlights, these steadfast family members are laboring hard so the “show can go on”. They’re packing lunches, vacuuming floors, driving in car pools, mending holes in socks, earning a living, saving money for their kid’s college and trying to live, love and laugh even when it hurts. They belong to a cast of thousands so it would be difficult indeed to pull just a few to the front for applause. Besides, they’d rather be working in the back than taking a bow center stage.

My suggestion about a college or a business or a civic group paying homage to a quiet, simple, faithful family member is probably just another of my wild, impractical ideas. But if it were within my power, I’d give an honorary degree, a thousand dollar savings bond and an engraved plaque to each person who fits the profile of the laboring and long-suffering family member I’ve described. I’d give a tip of my hat, a pat on the back and a warm, hearty handshake to those who are pulling steadily on the oars of the family boat. Maybe some of you reading this Blog are eligible for such an award. If you are—congratulations!! I salute you! But even if you never receive an “outstanding” award on earth you can be assured your Father in heaven is watching with approval. He will see your silent steadfast commitment to your family and say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things. I will put you in charge of many things; enter now into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)

The Providential PET Scanner

Did you know God has a Providential PET scanner? I only had a vague awareness of what a medical PET Scan was until recently. Here’s what one reliable medical website says:

“PET stands for positron emission tomography. PET scans can be used to diagnose a health condition, as well as for finding out how an existing condition is developing. PET scans are often used to see how effective an ongoing treatment is.”

That’s something like what God’s Providential PET Scanner does. He uses His Scanner to diagnose our spiritual condition, to see how we’re developing and see how effective His on going treatment of us is in terms of drawing us closer to Him.

Here’s what one reliable God follower named Job said about God’s Providential PET scanner in Job chapter 31:4 and 6

“Does He not see my ways and number all my steps?…Let Him weigh me with accurate scales and let God know my integrity.”

Yikes! What if God could really see all my ways and knew the integrity of my heart? What if He could hear all those suppressed curse words? What if He could see all the mean spirited thoughts in my brain? What if He could see all the wrong headed stubbornness and the mixed motive intentions I keep hidden in my mental closet? I surely wouldn’t want Him to know about all those things….

But why am I saying “What if”? As Job says in this passage, God DOES see all of these things. He is already well acquainted with my ways, my steps, my integrity–and He weighs them with an accurate scale.

Integrity is a word which, in its root origin, means “whole”. As in “integers” or “whole numbers”. So if I have integrity I am a “whole” person and not two faced. I behave the same way whether someone sees me or not. Whether anyone finds out about it or not. Whether someone knows my heart or….

And that’s the challenge–but also the attractiveness of this passage from Job. We don’t get to–and we don’t HAVE to–fake it with God. He knows us, sees us, weighs us with His Providential PET Scanner. While there is vulnerability in being fully known by another human being, there is great security in being fully known by God–because after truly knowing us He still loves us, warts and scars, secret thoughts and all.

So here’s today’s assignment: bask in the glow of the Providential Pet Scanner. We don’t have to be afraid that God is going to “find us out” and punish us. He already knows us–and loves us in spite of any and all shortcomings.


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What is wisdom–and where can I get some?!


Today’s underlined verses are found in Job 28, verses 20-28 and deal with the subject of wisdom:

“Where then does wisdom come from? And where is the place of understanding?

Thus, it is hidden from the eyes of all living. Abaddon (Destruction) and Death say ‘With our ears we have heard a report of it.’

God understands its way; and He knows its place. For He looks to the ends of the earth, and sees everything under the heavens.

When He imparted weight to the wind and meted out the waters by measure. When He set a limit for the rain, and a course for the thunderbolt,

Then He saw it and declared it; He established it and also searched it out.

And to man He said ‘Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”

What a poetic way of talking about wisdom!  The bottom line, of course, is found at the end of this passage, that true wisdom is found in the fear–or reverence (not fright!) of the Lord.  What a great description of God is contained in this section of Scripture:

  • He understands the way of wisdom and knows its place.
  • He looks and sees the whole earth and heavens.
  • He gave weight to the wind (which can be pretty heavy here in Oklahoma!)
  • He got His cosmic measuring cups out and measured out the waters, setting a limit on the rain and designing the trajectory of lightening.
  • He saw wisdom, declared it, established it and searched it out.

How could we not hold such a being in reverence?  I think what this passage is saying is that we will be wise when we recognize the greatness of God and our rather small place in the universe.  When we refuse to snooze through the glory of each day, but recognize it as a gift from the hand of God.  When we wake up to the fact that God is God and we are not.  When we recognize the emptiness of inward boasting, as Muhammad Ali used to like to brag, “I am the greatest!”  When we see how we fit into things–neither a puny little gnat, nor the center of the universe, we are wise.

Wisdom then is found in humility–a commodity not in abundance around us.  Here’s what Phillip Yancey says in his book “Prayer–does it make any difference?”

“Today’s modern celebrity culture shines the spotlight on a billionaire who takes delight in firing people, as well as on supermodels, strutting rap musicians, and boastful athletes.  As theologian Daniel Hawk puts it ‘The basic human problem is that everyone believes that there is a God and I am it.’  We need a strong corrective….Humility does not mean I grovel before God like he Asian court officials who used to wriggle along the ground like worms in the presence of their emperor.  It means, rather, that in the presence of God I gain a glimpse of my true state in the universe, which exposes my smallness at the same time it reveals God’s greatness.”

Are we wise people?  We are if we begin by acknowledging our true place in the universe and God’s sovereignty over it and us.  There is a God, and He loves us like we were His only child.  But we’re not His only, spoiled child.  We are part of a big family which needs us to pitch in.  And that’s where wisdom comes in to play.  Showing reverence for God and for his people.  Partnership with God in meeting the needs of people.

Today’s assignment:  Pause several times today to think about how we can really show reverence toward God and in the way we deal with people.

Launching a blog July 4, 2014

I tried blogging a few years ago but for some reason didn’t stay with it.  But at the encouragement of a few people to whom I write, I am trying again.

I have been writing a series of devotional thoughts I’ve labled “Jimmy Calling” for most of the past year to Karen and David Sandlin, my sister in law and brother in law who have been locked in battle with a deadly form of cancer in David.  They really loved/love the devotional “Jesus Calling” so I shamelessly latched on to that title.  I have been writing about my “underlined verses” in the Bible– verses that have spoken to me at various stages of my life.  So that will be the basis of my “blog” although I am apt to sneak in other thoughts or topics from time to time.

Here’s today’s Jimmy Calling:

Today’s underlined verses are found in Job chapter 27: 3-6

“As long as I have life within me,     the breath of God in my nostrils, my lips will not say anything wicked,     and my tongue will not utter lies. I will never admit you are in the right;     till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my innocence and never let go of it;     my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.”

Job is responding here to the speech of the shortest man in the Bible:  Bildad the Shuhite (shoe-height–get it?!)

He is pledging faithfulness and integrity and his commitment to “being right”.  And he really does do that throughout the book of Job, even after being braced by God.  But interestingly, I did NOT underline verse 2 which introduces this passage:

 “I vow by the living God, who has taken away my rights, even the Almighty God who has embittered my soul…”

So why did I NOT underline verse 2?  I think it’s because I didn’t like what it suggested about God:  that He took away Job’s “rights” and He “embittered” Job’s soul.  Not the kind of things I want to underline about God in my Bible. 

But it reminds me of this important quote from Patrick Morley:  “There is a God Who is and there is a God we want, and they are not the same God.”

My non-underlined verse is what speaks to me today even more than the underlined ones.  It reminds me to take God as He is, not as I want Him to be.  That He sometimes does seem to take away our “rights” and the things He allows into our lives sometimes do embitter our souls.  But He is God and He does all things well, even the stuff I don’t understand and the stuff I don’t like.  Like cancer.  Like job frustrations.  Like inexplicable pains and hardships that seem to have no point.

So here’s today’s assignment for us all:  Look for the God Who is today, rather than the God we want.  He is the God who sustains us in all our hard times.

Boom!  Bang!  Happy 4th!