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His Kingdom is Forever

February 12, 2015 — Leave a comment

Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863

I was reminded in a devotional from John Piper this morning that Abraham Lincoln was born on this day 206 years ago. He was areligious well into his 50′s until suffering drove him into an encounter with Jesus that ultimately resulted in his conversion.

After witnessing the horror of war and the death of a child, he said of suffering “I’ve been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go.” Peter, speaking for the disciples, said almost the same thing to Jesus in John 6:68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

I was burdened yesterday by some people in my circles who are hurting deeply, mainly with illnesses where the prognosis is not encouraging or even hopeful. The world is broken. May the hurt here remind us that our hope is not in anything here on earth. It is in Him alone. As the old hymn says, “The body they may kill; His Truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever.” God, may that deep, rich, hopeful truth marinate deep into my heart.

The longer I’m a parent, the more it becomes clear to me that I’m a rookie at this child raising stuff. Everything is new. Still, I’m committed to get things right the first time as much as I can.

When it comes to Santa, Julia and I decided long ago that we would have that discussion once the time came that our boys were old enough. Our culture’s message about Santa is that we must “believe.” Believe, believe, believe.

But believe in what?

The message of Santa says there’s a big dude far away that kids must believe in–even though they can’t see him–and that he does nice things for them if they are good all year. But if they choose to be naughty, they will be punished and receive things they don’t like.

Sound familiar? Is it any wonder why I grew up mistaking Santa as an archetype for God? I think the concept of Santa also helped fuel my legalistic approach to life with Jesus, too. For many years, I thought that if I was good, Jesus would like me. Even now, I am a recovering legalist.

But regardless of your background or to what degree you celebrate Santa, the inevitable outcome of kids believing in him is always the same: they discover the truth. There is no Santa.

Are You Perpetuating A Lie?

Some of you may freak out that I even typed those words, but to me, the discovery that Santa is not real pales in comparison to a child discovering that his parents are liars. And make no mistake about it. If you tell your kids that Santa is real, you are lying to them.

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

In time, all kids–including yours–will learn that Santa is not real. But they never have to learn that your words are not real. We’re committed to always speak truth to our boys. So at Christmas, we’ve made a choice to refrain from perpetuating the Santa lie.

So, let’s have the truth about Santa Claus:

  • Santa Claus does not exist.
  • He does not live at the North Pole. Hardly anything does.
  • Elves don’t make toys. Or cookies. Or shoes.
  • Reindeer don’t fly. Neither do sleighs.
  • It’s impossible for anyone to make a world tour in one night.
  • There’s no such thing as magic.
  • The Santas at the mall are not Santa, nor do they work for Santa. They are businessmen who sport a unseasonably thick white beard for 11 months out of the year in order to make major bank taking pictures with your terrified kids at Christmas time. And more power to ‘em, too.

So when we speak the truth about Santa, it may feel like we are not left with any of the good parts of Christmas, but I respectfully disagree.

All the Best Parts of Christmas Are 100% True

People ask me sometimes, “if you don’t do Santa, what do you do?”

We do the truth.

Honestly, I’m jealous for my kids’ affection, and I don’t want a nonexistent, overweight elf-lie getting credit for the awesome gifts we give our kids. Santa doesn’t love them; their Mom and I do. And Santa sure doesn’t pay for Christmas presents; we do. And that brings me to sharing the best parts of Christmas that are 100% true.

Parents’ (and Grandparents) Love for Their Children

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Tampa Band Photos via Compfight cc

We love our boys. They are an absolute gift, and it is our pleasure to provide for them. Once a year, it is our extraordinary pleasure to surprise them with all sorts of Christmas goodies. It’s the dedicated time of year where our love manifests in gifts, just as God’s love for us manifested in the gift of the presence of Jesus Christ. What a true joy that is!

God’s Love for His Children

Christmas is all about Jesus, and we celebrate the reality that He not only exists distantly as the deist would believe. Rather, He exists intimately and personally in the here and now.

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Erik Schepers via Compfight cc

He is Emmanuel: God with us. He didn’t have to come, but He did. That incredible, impractical love became tangible when a teenage girl and her fiancé became parents to a baby boy that was conceived right in the burning heart of God’s love for us.

He is true. And His presence changes everything.

The Example of St. Nicolas’ Selfless Love for Others

The real inspiration for Santa Claus is a man from the early 4th-century named St. Nicholas. Not much is known about his life, and much of it has long since morphed with legend. What is known about him is that he was an orphan from a wealthy Christian family who became known for his generosity and care for children. St. Nicholas’ inspiration for his selfless generosity was Jesus, which is an example worthy of emulation.

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Bjoertvedt via Wikipedia

Standing in stark contrast to the lie of the modern, secular Santa Claus myth is the reality of St. Nicholas and his devoted life of service to Jesus Christ. It’s a story worth retelling. And it’s absolutely true.

How We Teach Santa

We don’t want our kids to be the ones with the Santa allergy, so we don’t make Santa out to be a bad guy. He’s not unwelcome at our house. In fact, we enjoy him. We have books about Santa, and we like to have fun with the story, but we make it clear to our boys that their presents come from real people that love them enough to give them one.

Santa Claus is just a character. That means we treat him the same as Wolverine, Cinderella, and Darth Vader. These characters are totally fine when kept in their appropriate context. We have lots of fun with them, but they have their place. We’d no more try to convince our boys that Santa is real than we’d tell them Superman is real.

When you take Santa out of Christmas, you’re not degrading the Christmas experience. You’re enhancing it. You make the message of Christmas shine for what it really is: a true story of love-made-manifest for the people you love most. After all, that’s what Christ did for us.

What a beautiful Christmas truth. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the dangers of buying your kids iPads, iPhones, iPod Touches, and other Internet-connected devices. The main takeaway from that post was simple: unless you have a plan to aggressively monitor what people and content your kids and teens have access to on that device, then it’s probably going to be more of a liability for your child than anything else.

I wanted to create a follow up post to help parents understand how they can control access to content on devices they already own.

So What’s A Parent To Do?

When I was growing up, the ultimate cool-but-forbidden thing was to have a TV in your bedroom. My parents never allowed that for the simple reason that they didn’t want me to watch networks like MTV while I was alone. Instead, they preferred to monitor the content I put into my head.

Now, iDevices allow access to content that makes the MTV of the 80′s and 90′s look like the Disney Channel. Why would you leave your kid alone with an iDevice? Simple. You shouldn’t. But what if your child or teen already has an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. What should you do? Here are a few tips.

Photo Credit: flickingerbrad via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: flickingerbrad via Compfight cc

Use the Built-In Parental Controls.

Go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Enable Restrictions. You’ll be asked to enter a passcode. Be smart and make it one that your child doesn’t know and cannot guess. Then, go through and lock down Safari. This will remove Safari from the device.

As an alternative to Safari, download and install Mobicip. You can read an older review I wrote for Mobicip here, but it’s what is known as a “safe browser.” It doesn’t prohibit all nefarious content, but it helps. It also won’t provide the same deeply integrated experience as Safari because Apple doesn’t allow users to choose their own default browser, but the experience is tolerable and worth the modest inconvenience.

Adjust for Allowed Content.

While you’re enabling Parental Controls, on the same screen, you can restrict the type of content that can be downloaded from iTunes and the App Store by adjusting the allowed ratings. Don’t forget to adjust Siri and turn off “explicit language.” It may also be a good idea to turn off “web search content,” lest Siri is told to fetch unsavory things.

Adjust Location Services.

You may also want to tweak location services. Apps are able (with your permission) to report the device’s geographic location. In some instances, this information is generalized to the nearest city or town. But in other instances, the phone can report your exact geographic location with accuracy down to within a few feet.

For example, did you know that photos taken from your iPhone are set by default to contain location information? It’s called geotagging, and that geotagged data travels embedded in the original photo wherever the photo is sent.

This picture I took in my office contains GPS metadata that is accurate, even down to the side of the house where my office is.

This picture I took in my office contains GPS metadata that is accurate, even down to the side of the house where my office is.

So as a real-world example, let’s say your child takes a photo and sends it to a friend or to a blog. As long as the original file is not altered, all the original metadata, including the GPS coordinates of where the photo was taken will travel along with the photo. Anyone can then view the metadata file embedded using a reader like this one to view all the info about that photo. If the GPS coordinates are included in that photo, it is possible to find out not only where your child lives, but the area of the house where the photo was taken.

Yes, it’s very creepy. By the way, your iPhone works the same way. So think about that the next time you snap that bedroom mirror selfie.

To be fair, many social media sites resize and resave the image, and the metadata, including the location, is stripped out. But original photos that are emailed or sent via SMS still contain that data.

Use OpenDNS On Your Home Router.

I don’t want to make this post too technical, so I will explain DNS (Domain Name Service) as simply as I can and to the best of my own understanding. In the early days of the telephone, a user had to first dial the operator and ask to be connected to the person they wanted to talk to. The operator’s job was to connect the call. DNS works similarly.

Photo Credit: MarkGregory007 via Compfight cc

DNS works kind of like an old school telephone operator. Photo Credit: MarkGregory007 via Compfight cc

To use another analogy, DNS is also like a taxi driver. You get in the taxi and say to the driver, “Take me to the airport, please.” It’s the driver’s job to translate that information to a physical address and take you there.

Simply put, DNS is kind of like that operator or taxi driver because DNS servers take the website name input from a user (like “haydenwreyford.com”) and then connect that user to the server address where that particular website lives.

By default, your internet service provider (Comcast, Charter, UVerse, etc) has DNS servers that connect you to websites. OpenDNS is a 3rd party service that provides their own DNS service as part of their FamilyShield parental controls. The community of users provide feedback on objectionable sites, which are then added to the black list.

As a result, Open DNS is able to block pornography, proxy servers, phishing sites and some malware. Essentially, its taxi drivers are smart enough to refuse to take you to certain places if the place is known to be shady. You can also whitelist and blacklist sites for your own account to further customize what content OpenDNS allows you to access.

OpenDNS offers premium features, but basic site blocking is free. You can sign up for it here. If you tell your home router to use OpenDNS servers, then any device connected to your home network will have the same filtering applied–even laptops and desktops, and even computers of guests. If it’s connected to your home router, it will be filtered. OpenDNS has a handy walk thru for adding filtering to your router or computer. Again, I strongly recommend doing it at the router level for the most protection.

NOTE: If you have a device with a data plan, like a 3G iPad or an iPhone, if it’s not connected to wifi, OpenDNS can’t filter those devices. Unfortunately, AT&T (my service provider) won’t allow users to select 3rd party DNS servers. So this is one way for kids to get around your protected home network. They can just turn wifi off and fall back to mobile data to browse unfiltered. This is where filtering apps like Mobicip come in handy and can pick up the slack.

Add Access Controls on Your Router.

In addition to setting up OpenDNS on your router, nearly all routers have access controls that allow you to set time-based limits for certain devices. So if your kid has a wifi iPad, but you only want him to use it between the hours of 5pm-8pm on weekdays and 10am-9pm on weekends, you can do that. Just set up your router to recognize that unique device ID and only allow access between the hours you set. This is a highly under-used feature.

You’ve heard it said that “nothing good happens after midnight.” If you believe that, then you can shut your entire home network down after midnight, if you want. So learn to use your router like a filtering tool.

Be A Parent.

Being a parent means making tough calls. It often means your kid won’t like your decision. Be their parent, not their friend. Supervise them. Be proactive. Get involved. Monitor them. If you wouldn’t let them run with scissors, then don’t buy them an iDevice that they can use away from your supervision.

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Joe Shlabotnik via Compfight cc

I want to help parents to understand what these advanced devices are capable of. Many parents just simply don’t know. Your job now is to take this information and make the best call possible for your child and your family. And to that end, I hope this was helpful.

Was this information helpful to you? Please leave a comment below and be sure to repost and share!

As the Christmas season kicks off with Black Friday this week, parents are busy making gift plans for the kids. At the top of wish lists everywhere are internet-connected smartphones, tablets, laptops, and music players. Most parents are very well-intentioned when it comes to deciding what to give their kids for Christmas, but many never consider the inherent risks of the Internet and the responsibility that comes with giving a child an Internet-connected device.

When parents hand a child an Internet-connected device, they give them access to the Internet and everything on it. Most parents understand that kids should be monitored when watching TV, but many fail to exercise that same caution with iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices. Many parents never check the devices to monitor a child’s activity, and some even allow kids to have private, unsupervised time with these devices.

My heart here is to simply inform non-tech savvy parents of the risks of giving an Internet-connected device to any child or teen–regardless of how well-behaved they are. So, let me just state my two main points up front:

  1. Any time you give your kid or teen an Internet-connected device, you should have a plan in place to monitor everything they do on it.
  2. For many of you, buying these gifts for your kids is simply a bad idea.

So just how easy is it for your child to have access to objectionable content online?

It’s Easy To Find In Their Browser

private browsing

Private browsing leaves your internet tracks virtually untraceable.

Traditionally, parents could monitor what sites have been visited on a computer or device by checking the browser history. But a few years ago, a browser feature called “private browsing” emerged. When enabled, private browsing allows a browser to “forget” its website history and anything else that would leave a trace behind. Now this feature is now standard on modern web browsers, including Safari for iOS.

If your child wants to erase his Internet tracks behind him, it is very easy to do, and you’ll be none the wiser.

Private browsing is easier to enable in iOS7.

Private browsing is easier to enable in iOS7.

It’s Easy to Find Inside “Innocent” Apps

It’s hard to imagine that kids would create their own porn or nude and compromising photos to share with each other, but that’s exactly what “sexting” is. Now, there’s even an app for it.

Screenshots from Snapchat.

Screenshots from Snapchat.

Snapchat is intended to look like just another photo app, but it’s become enormously popular as a tool for sexting because it allows the sender to send a message, photo, or video and specify an amount of time the recipient can view the message before the message deletes itself. When used to send inappropriate content, it’s kind of like a digital peep show.

But what many teens don’t realize is that anyone can take a screenshot of that photo by pressing the Home and sleep/wake button on their iDevice simultaneously. Now, that content that was intended to be ephemeral has been captured permanently and can be shared like any other photo. Snapchat created an in-app warning to inform a sender if the receiving party takes a screenshot of the chat, but by then, it’s too late.

How popular is Snapchat? According to TechCrunch, it’s about as popular for sharing images as Instagram and Facebook, combined. Instagram sees about 50 million photos uploaded per day, while Facebook sees about 350 million. Snapchat sees a whopping 400 million photos uploaded per day, and it’s still growing. Recently, there have even been rumors of new funding and even a $3 billion acquisition by Facebook. You can Google more info about Snapchat and sexting than you care to read.

Just a few things you may not want your child exposed to.

Just a few things you may not want your child exposed to.

It’s worth noting that Apple has basic parental controls built into iOS that allow you to prevent downloads of apps with certain ratings. But keep in mind that even if your child never downloads an app like Snapchat, they can still receive unwanted content on their device involuntarily if it is sent from contacts by other means.

Even if your child is a well-intentioned Snapchat user, the app is designed to hide the user’s digital footprints. So the app intends to inhibit a parent’s ability to monitor their kids’ conversations. And what mixes better than kids and a lack of accountability?

It’s Easy To Find On Social Networks

Objectionable content abounds on popular social networks like Twitter and Vine. Twitter and Vine both allow obscene content and have no controls whatsoever for foul and inappropriate language. Even though the iOS Twitter app is rated for ages 4 and up, your child can find inappropriate and even pornographic content on Twitter with a simple search.

It’s also worth noting that while hardcore pornography is not allowed on YouTube, inappropriate content is plentiful. It may not be porn, but you won’t want your kid to see Miley Cyrus’ latest videos. And that’s just one example. Beyond sexual content, YouTube has plenty of violent content, including videos of death. And outside of sex, violence, and other objectionable content, YouTube is full of sophomoric foolishness like soda bottle bombs and cinnamon challenges that are just unwise for parents to allow unmonitored access to.

Beware of the seemingly innocuous social networks and video sites. When in doubt, it’s better to know what your child is doing online than to be clueless about it.

It’s Easy to Find In Built-In Browsers

You probably use them all the time without realizing it, but many apps have their own built-in browsers. If you click a link in Twitter, Facebook, and many other apps for iOS, the app will launch its built-in browser to view the link. Because these browsers don’t have the features of traditional browsers, there’s no way to view the browsing history in them, thereby making them just as untraceable as private browsing.

So What’s A Parent To Do?

I’ve also posted a few tips parents can employ to help keep the Internet on a leash, but the reality is that there is no sure-fire way to prevent your kids from being foolish on the Internet except one: to be an educated, active, watchful parent. It’s up to you to take an active, even aggressive role in the digital lives of the children living in your house.

Your responsibility as a parent in a digital age is a big one. Don’t be fooled by those (including your own kids) who would have you believe that your involvement is snooping or an invasion of privacy. Those are lies. You love your kids. Knowing where they go and who they are with is vital to your role of being an effective parent. This is even more true in the digital world, where the places they go and the people they are with can be much less clear and, thereby, far more precarious.

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I’m an optimistic, upbeat, and positive guy, but if I can just be honest, life has just been challenging lately. Late Sunday night, a circumstance arose and life pretty much ninja-punched me in the throat. The result has been occasional moments of panic (which I mostly keep to myself), feelings of discouragement, and a general, foggy haze of anxiety.

Julia can tell you, I never have trouble sleeping, but I didn’t sleep at all Sunday night. The last numbers I remember seeing on the bedroom alarm clock were 4:43am. My mind was an endless din of questions and possibilities and “what if’s.” I just couldn’t calm my mind enough to let sleep take over.

Have you ever had seasons of life like that where concerns seem to make a nest in your hair?

I am extremely grateful for a solid network of friends who will pray for me and encourage me when life knocks the wind out of my lungs. It’s one of the best benefits of living in community with others, and I am so glad all I have to do is call out when I need them. Yesterday, I emailed a few of them to let them know what was going on, and they were quick to respond with great truth and encouragement that helped give my heart some reprieve.

One of these friends sent me a series of screenshots–tweets from John Piper. Each tweet was entitled “Jesus’ arguments against anxiety.” Jesus’ words were just the truth I needed to calm my storm-weary soul. Each of these points are Dr. Piper’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6. They are a powerful reminder about why anxiety is a pointless activity.

Rather than worry, we should focus our energy on trusting Jesus to provide. Jesus gives these reasons why:

1. Life is more than food and the body is more than clothing.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” -Matthew 6:25

2. God feeds the birds, and you are more valuable than they are.

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” -Matthew 6:26

3. It’s pointless. It adds not one hour to your life.

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” -Matthew 6:27

4. If God clothes ephemeral grass, he will clothe eternal you.

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?” -Matthew 28-30

5. Unbelievers are anxious about stuff. And you are not an unbeliever.

“For the pagans run after all these things [...]” -Matthew 6:32a

6. Your Father knows that you need all these things you’re anxious about.

“[...] and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” -Matthew 6:32b

7. When you seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, what you need is added to you.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” -Matthew 6:33

Another good friend sent me the entire chapter of Hebrews 11 yesterday. It had been his morning reading. In it, the author lists example after example of people in the Bible who trusted God by faith alone. The passage concludes by saying that all of them died not having received what they were promised.

That stunned me.

I had read it before, but this time, it really caught me. When crisis arises, it’s an opportunity for faith–not because we have what we need, but precisely because we don’t yet have what we need. I think the greatest reminder here, as yet a third friend and I discussed late into the evening last night, is that what we truly long for cannot to be found in this life. That’s a hard truth, but it is a reminder that we were never meant to be fulfilled by anything from this present world.

So when trials inevitably arise here, I long to be quick to suppress my natural urge to worry and put my faith in the One who will not only provide for my needs, but will ultimately make me whole again when He restores all things. Because when He comes back to fix all the broken stuff, I will have no reason to worry about anything ever again.

Man, I can’t wait for that Day.

Give Yourself Away

November 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

At church yesterday, a woman came up to me to tell me how thankful she was for my wife. I had been sitting near the back of the auditorium while Julia sang on stage with the band. After the service ended, the lady–the mother of one of Julia’s voice students–stopped me to say how thankful she was for how Julia is investing in the life of her daughter. I was quick to tell the mom that Julia felt equally blessed by her daughter.

She continued to express her gratitude, explaining that there is a gap sometimes with teenagers where the parents don’t have sway for a season. She was so grateful that Julia was able to come in and fill that gap for her daughter and be a godly woman for her daughter to look to.

Photo Credit: Daniele Zanni via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Daniele Zanni via Compfight cc

“I understand completely,” I said, as I pointed to my two boys, who were sitting at our feet, engaged in some sort of game on Julia’s iPad. “We’re happy to be that for her now, and you can join us in praying that someone is able to come stand in the gap for our boys when that season comes for us.”

She smiled and nodded in agreement, and we left feeling mutually encouraged.

Follow the Leader

I’m thankful to have had people over the years who have invested time and energy in me. If I can draw the analogy between people and software, I’d point out that both are always in the process of iteration and improvement, with the earliest versions being the most buggy, featureless, and crash-prone. I’m incredibly grateful for the friends and mentors who put up with a lot of bugs and crashes to stay with me and see me through to better iterations of myself.

To the degree that I am thankful for their investment in me, I want to always be intentional about seeking out opportunities to mentor and positively impact the lives of those who are just a little ways behind me in life. I also want to be faithful to encourage Julia to do the same. Obviously, Jesus had his own Disciples, and Paul did, too. He puts it so well in 1 Corinthians 11:1:

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

That is what biblical mentorship is all about.

Short Time, Eternal Impact

When I think of my life on this earth and consider how short 80 years really is, it makes me realize a couple of things:

  1. At this point, my time on earth is close to half way over.
  2. I need to make good use of the time I have left.

What will my legacy be? Where will I invest my effort while I’m here? Which strings will continue to resonate after I’m gone? I love the quote from the movie, Gladiator:

I will leave a few echoes, I’m sure. Some of them will die out faster than others. But the ones that will reverberate the longest are the ones that echo down through the generations. When I spend time over lunch with some young guy trying to figure out if he should ask his girlfriend to marry him, God willing, I’m talking to someone’s future husband. When Julia invests her time in a high school-aged girl, God willing, that’s someone’s future mother–or grandmother. These people will undoubtedly go on to influence and lead many others, so the investment in them has the great potential for a return.

It can be difficult to see past the mundane routines of life, but I want to see every opportunity through a spiritual lens and ask myself, “will this have value in eternity?” and focus intently on the things where I can say “yes.” I often fail miserably at this, so I am thankful for God’s grace.

Whose World Are You Rocking?

So that’s the real question, right? Who are you impacting? How are you making your life count beyond these 80 or so years you might have? If you aren’t sure, I have a few tips for you:

  • Live in community. If you only crawl out of your shell in the morning, then crawl back in each night, you’ll find it hard to build relationships and invest yourself in others. You’ll also miss out on giving others opportunities to invest in you. (Hint: This is what the Church is for.)
  • Look for targets. I don’t mean to objectify people by using that word, but look for people around you that you can impact. (Hint: Teenagers and kids are a great place to start, and younger kids will think you are cool just for showing up. They are also very forgiving of mistakes.)
  • Give yourself away. I prefer life on my terms. We all do. But giving yourself away means sacrificing time and schedules to serve others. If you have a family of your own, always make sure you give yourself away to them first. Otherwise, volunteer at a local charity or co-op. Mentor or tutor kids after school. Opportunities are everywhere.

Are you sacrificially giving your time and energy away to others? Feel free to share your story in the comments!

My wife and I are coming up on ten years of marriage in a few months. People used to warn me that the first year of marriage is the hardest. Looking back, I’d probably agree with that, but it wasn’t because we argued a lot. It’s just that early in marriage, you’re forced to think for someone besides yourself all the time.

And quarter-century-old habits like that can be very hard to break.

I remember the first big post-marriage argument we ever got in. It was over something dumb, as most arguments always are. We were aggressively paying off the nearly $50,000 in debt and student loans that we married with. We had an aggressive plan that involved a lot of skipping “wants” in favor of “needs.”

Photo Credit: yezi9713 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: yezi9713 via Compfight cc

That day, Julia had gone to the grocery store and come home with a 12-pack of Gatorade. This bothered me for two reasons–both of them stupid:

  1. As a Georgia Bulldog, I’ve always chosen to avoid the sports drink named for and developed by one of our most hated sports rivals, opting for Powerade instead.
  2. I’ve never been one to reach for sports drinks anyway. Water is free, and while we were paying off these loans, I saw sports drinks as a luxury, not something to be brought home en masse.

Being the sophomoric groom I was, I chose to say something instead of carefully choosing my battle. It started innocently enough, but there was menace in the question that she immediately detected.

“What’s up with all the Gatorade?” I asked.

“It was on sale, so I bought it,” she answered.

“Do we drink that much Gatorade?” I asked, knowing the answer.

She did not appreciate the obvious question, and the conversation quickly deteriorated. Not wanting to back down, I continued to press until she became very upset. She slammed the refrigerator door and retreated to our bedroom as ice began to form on the walls of our apartment.

I don’t remember how long we let the tension sit, but I remember thinking that was our first real argument. I felt like I was right. I kept justifying my actions to myself. She should be more careful with our money. She should have thought before she bought that. She should just agree with me.

You should just drop your guns.

The words rang out in my head like a megaphone in a library. The thought was so piercing, so resonant, and so foreign to my line of thinking in the moment that it couldn’t have come from my own head. God was telling me to shut up. He was telling me to go win back the bride that I had wounded.

I battled with the idea of walking in our bedroom and just telling her I was sorry. It was so counterintuitive. It’s the worst part of any argument: admitting you were wrong. In the moment, I began to question why it seemed so painful to just tell this beautiful girl that I was sorry for how I’d treated her. Then, I realized the answer.

It was just my own selfish pride.

 Photo Credit: Christopher Chan via Compfight cc


Photo Credit: Christopher Chan via Compfight cc

Pride. What a scaly, fire-breathing beast. It growls and stomps its feet, unapologetically demanding respect while giving it back disproportionately. It wrecks the house with its own special, grandiose kind of bullishness. It poisons the air with its putrid breath until it suffocates life. My pride had just taken a bite out of my wife, and I was letting it make its den for the night in our apartment.

What does it cost me to just walk in there and apologize to her and tell her I’m sorry? I questioned to myself. The answer was clear: I had to sacrifice the beast, my pride. I had to take a sword and stab my pride between its scales, right in the heart. So the question became “is my pride worth it?” Did I value preserving my pride more than I valued my wife’s feelings?

I love my wife. I knew the answer was easy: No.

I walked into the bedroom, over to her side of the bed and knelt down where she lay on top of the covers. She looked tired and wary, unsure if I was there for round two. I looked her in the eyes and, as sincerely as I could, said, “I’m sorry, baby. I shouldn’t have made a big deal about that Gatorade. It was so dumb and not worth making you upset. Will you please forgive me?”

As she always is, she was quick and gracious to forgive me.

Since then, we’ve had a standing pact to never go to bed angry with each other. In ten years, we’ve never done the sleep-on-the-couch thing because it’s not how we operate. We like to take Ephesians 4:26 rather literally:

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry,”

And you know what? It’s made a big difference in how we argue, when we do. But most of all, it has taught me to be willing to sacrifice my pride quickly; to not value it over her.

My pride betrays me. It makes me think I’m more important than I really am. It inflates my sense of ego and distorts how I see the world. It’s like a fisheye lens with me standing front and center. It skews my heart toward entitlement rather than sacrifice, love of self rather than love of others, and toward valuing the temporal over the eternal. My pride lies to me.

Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: YanivG via Compfight cc

So when the storm comes and it’s time to start pitching things over the side of the boat, I want to be spiritually well-conditioned enough to have my pride start to shake nervously, knowing it will be the first thing I’ll point to angrily and demand, “YOU!

I’m not there yet, but by God’s grace, I’m getting there.

Over the weekend, I received a Facebook message from a friend that I had not seen or spoken to since 1993. That was early high school for me. Back then, he and I were pretty good friends. We played a lot of back yard tackle football, and hung out in classes a good bit with the other friends in our peer group. So we were good friends until I moved away, but twenty years is quite a long gap.

A year or so ago, we found each other on Facebook. Neither of us reached out to catch up, so you can imagine that I was a bit surprised to get this message (complete with grammatical errors) from him over the weekend:

Hayden I have something you got to check out.. My wife joined a few months back and I will admit it took me a few times to really get it and believe it but its legit. check out this video it explains a lot and if you have questions at all call me or message me(cell [phone number redacted]) [website redacted].

Photo Credit: visualpanic via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: visualpanic via Compfight cc

Immediately, I think, This is spam. He’s been hacked. I mean, only the most legitimate organizations begin by defending themselves with, “We’re legit.” Right?

“Hi, you should check out this company called Costco. My wife joined them a few months back and I will admit it took me a few times to really get it and believe it, but it’s legit.”

“Hi, you should check out this company called The Georgia Aquarium. My wife joined them a few months back and I will admit it took me a few times to really get it and believe it, but it’s legit.”

So, I figured I’d do him a favor and inform him of the hack, lest his unintentional spam hit anyone else.

facebook message

I got this reply back.

Lol it was really me the link is [company name]

So the spam was intentional. Oh my. I felt an initial rush of embarrassment for assuming his personal message was spam. But that lasted about four nanoseconds before changing into embarrassment for him for having intentionally spammed me. “Now this is awkward,” I thought. Immediately, my mind went to Michael Scott in the garage of his condo, trying to convince Jim and Andy to invest in Serenity by Jan.

Unsure of what to do, but not wanting to simply ignore him, I replied.

HA! What is it?

His reply only confirmed my initial gut reaction.

It a way to travel and make money at the same time watch the video it’s only 14 minutes long

“Did he move to Nigeria?” I wondered aloud. And to assume that 14 minutes is a short video is a bit presumptuous. Doesn’t he know I have kids running around, college football games to watch, shoes to re-lace, paint to watch as it dries…

The list of more things more important than watching a 14 minute video for a scam is virtually endless. So, not wanting to burst his bubble, I decided to let this conversation slip away into the ether.

But 24 hours later, he messaged me again.

Hey man did you ever get a chance to watch that video? This company has changed my wife in so many positive ways I had to really give it a closer look and it is probably the most positive people I have ever been around

Really. Hmm. Well, passengers on the Titanic were positive even after the ship had struck an iceberg and was taking on water, but I digress. Since when does positivity equal legitimacy? I’m positive, too–positive this is a conversation about a scam. Still, I now felt obligated to let him know I was not interested since my silence had apparently not communicated that.

facebook message

Short. Simple. Honest, but also rather blunt–with a hint that he should also be careful if he chooses to move forward. I thought that would be the last I heard from him about it. His reply came back.

Understand if its not for you its just not. I wish you would have checked the video out first but that’s ok. I can google anything and find negative info even Jesus.

I see. Maybe I don’t understand the opportunity because I didn’t watch the video. And did he just indirectly compare this vacation club to Jesus?!

Unfortunately, I had watched the video. I even Googled them. What I found wasn’t good, not that I was optimistic. Now, I felt I needed to just level with him.

I watched the video. I felt suspicious when they started talking about the “viral” blue sign that I’d never seen before. About 5 minutes in, it started to sound like one of those high-pressure membership clubs. About 8 minutes in, it started to sound like a pyramid scheme.

That’s when I Googled the name of the company. I typed the name, and the first live search result that came up was accompanied by the word “scam” and the next one was accompanied by the words “pyramid scheme”. There were lots of results for both. The only place I found any positive comments was in the video you sent.

I’m guessing you reached out because you get some kind of return for recruiting others. That’s also a red flag for me, because it is further symptomatic of a classic pyramid scheme, where under the surface, the focus is more on the recruitment to membership than the product, itself.

You are right that you can find lots of negative info on the internet, including negative info about Jesus. When this vacation club has been radically transforming people’s lives for thousands of years as Jesus has, they will probably still have their dissenters. But maybe by then the positive testimony on the Internet will outweigh the negative. That does not currently seem to be the case.

We are extremely judicious about our finances. We are from the Dave Ramsey school of thought. We keep a budget. We live beneath our means. We are big savers, and we’ve learned to carefully vet anything we buy, from cars all the way down to our deodorant. So any kind of monthly recurring membership with up front fees is not something I would be interested in anyway, even if they offered trips to space (which I would at least be tempted by). This is even more true when the goal of the program is to get money from me now on the promise of later benefits. Red lights and alarms are going off everywhere in my head, man. The video only made me more suspicious.

We were always great friends in our much younger days, and it really is great to hear from you. I will say it is difficult to communicate how much anyone selling this type of product is barking up the wrong tree by trying to sell it to me. All the same, if it works for you, I hope you enjoy it, but even more so, I hope you don’t get taken for a ride or cause anyone else to. I would hate to see any friendships ruined that way.

Regardless, I hope you and the family are well. Just know that I’m not a good target for this type of thing. At all. Best to you, bro.

His reply was understanding and appreciative, but also still a bit defensive of the opportunity. We politely moved on to exchange other pleasantries about work and family. For my part, I at least felt good about warning him about the company, but if someone decides to swim with sharks in the water, that is their business.

Just don’t expect me to come swim, too.

Photo Credit: WIlly Volk via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: WIlly Volk via Compfight cc

 

Suzanne

This past July, our dog, Sandy, was due for a vet appointment. Julia and I had been delaying it for a few months because every time we go, we feel nickel and dimed into a $250 or $300 bill for them to poke around on a perfectly healthy dog. So this time, we decided to try avoiding that.

Being the aggressive, Dave Ramsey budget-types we are, we set a budget for this visit. Julia suggested, “Let’s not spend over $200. Deal?”

I answered emphatically, “DEAL! But let’s call first and get an idea of what they need to do and how much they expect it to cost.”

So Julia called the vet and learned that we should be able to get Sandy in and out for around $200 after all the necessary tests, vaccinations, and exams were done. We booked the appointment, loaded the car with Sandy and the boys, and drove to the vet’s office, nearby.

They weighed. They vaccinated. They felt around on her, checking everything from Sandy’s teeth to her tail. They found a small mole that they kindly offered to biopsy for $80. I explained–as politely as I could–that we were not concerned with $80 dog moles today. The dog nurse smiled and nodded understandingly, then left the room to prepare the paperwork for us to check out.

“Dogs have been around for thousands of years,” I mumbled to Julia. “How did they survive without mole biopsies?” My clever sarcasm drew a wry smile from her, accompanied by a poke to my ribs.

The offending dog mole.

The offending dog mole.

The tech came back in and asked if we needed flea prevention. We’d done our homework–we knew that the vet discount was exactly $10 cheaper than what we could buy the same meds for online. “Yes, please,” Julia answered. The vet gave us the medication, and we left the exam room for the front desk.

As we waited for our turn to check out, Julia noticed that the total for services was $218…$18 over our $200 budget. We grumbled to ourselves, but by this time, the boys were starting to get rowdy and had begun to tease a rescue cat in a cage nearby. We agreed we both felt unwilling to create drama over the fact that we’d been told we should be able to get in and out for less than $200.

Julia suggested that I take Sandy and the boys to the car so that by the time I got them buckled in, she’d be checked out and would meet us. I left, put the boys in the car, and Julia followed moments later.

As I started the car and began to pull out of the parking spot, I noticed Julia staring at the bill with her lips pursed and a curious look on her face. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“This bill. It was only $128,” she replied.

My first thought was Whoa! That’s awesome! My second thought was Man, that was WAY less than I expected! Then my third thought was Wait a minute. That’s almost a hundred dollars less. Huh?

“Here, can I see?” I asked. She handed me the bill.

Everything looked the same as it had on the bill the dog nurse gave us. Then, I noticed a line item for a $100 discount. After staring and scratching our heads for a minute, we both concluded that the nurse had fat-fingered an extra zero. She had accidentally given us a $100 discount on the flea medication instead of a $10 discount, essentially resulting in her handing us a scott-free $90.

We looked at each other for a moment, taking in the situation.

Lots of things went through my mind. Here are just a few:

  • Hallelujah! God has provided for our needs through this much-needed discount!
  • This was their mistake. It’s not my fault.
  • Go ooooon, take the money and run! Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!
  • Well, I would go back in there and let them fix it, but I’m already in the car and everything.

I looked at Julia, who was already looking back at me. Her expression made clear that she was thinking what I was thinking, but that the Holy Spirit was gnawing at her, too. It was my call. I looked in the back seat at the boys, who looked back, not fully understanding what had happened, but knowing enough as toddlers to see we were wrestling with something. It pained us both to correct such a fortuitous error.

I looked at Julia and said, “I know we could really use an extra $90 right now, but this is not a gift from God. This is a test.” Julia nodded in agreement. “I’ll stay here with the boys. Can you go back in?” Julia was already unbuckling herself as I spoke and she left to go back inside.

Ten minutes later, she came back out. I had walked the boys over to the nearby train track to watch a passing freight train, and Julia came over to join us. “Well, we blew that lady’s mind today,” she commented. “She made a big scene about me coming back in there to correct that. She called all the nurses over and everything.” Then she added with a mumbled whisper, “So embarrassing.”

I laughed, feeling confident we had done the right thing, but also a bit sore that we had now paid $218 instead of $128. “Well, it’s probably not every day someone returns to correct a $100 error. She probably figured we didn’t need the money.”

Yes, I know this is only $50, but you get the point.

Yes, I know this is only $50, but you get the point.

Integrity for Sale?

On the way home, Julia and I continued to discuss what had happened. It’s not that we didn’t need the $90. It’s just that we were not willing to sell our integrity for $90. But that begs the question: would I have sold my integrity for $900? Or for $90,000? Or for $900,000? I’d like to think that I surely wouldn’t. The promise of money like that is tremendous. It would promise a lot of security at a time when we could use some.

The only way to combat the incredible promise of money like that is with a greater promise. And that’s what went through my head as I debated leaving or returning that $90. Whatever that $90 promised me, here is what God promised:

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10

“The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness.” -I Samuel 26:23a

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” – Matthew 6:33

So the key is that I had to gut-check myself over which I valued more: A quick return here on earth, or a greater reward in Heaven? Too often, I make the wrong choice. On this day, God gave me the clarity of mind to honor Him and make the right choice.

We didn’t give that lady a gospel pamphlet or write a bible verse on the receipt. We didn’t tell her we were Christians or invite her to church. We didn’t do anything to advertise Jesus, except to do what He would have done. And I hope that for that one lady, it made a difference.

If it did, it was surely worth $90 to me.

In September of 2009, I had just been promoted to a special position within the company where I’d worked for the previous six years. I enjoyed the work, and felt like the promotion meant that a lot of hard work had payed off. Best of all, it allowed my wife, who had worked in the same department with me during that time, to quit her job to stay home with our eight month old baby.

Her being a stay-at-home mom was a dream come true for us both.

But two weeks after she quit, I was called into the conference room for a rare, impromptu meeting with the Vice President. After seeing the economic downturn affect our company the previous few years and cause round after round of layoffs, I suddenly had that ominous feeling of a cow being led to the slaughterhouse. My senses were confirmed when I arrived at the conference room to find the room full of three managers and two other employees that I’d never worked with before.

This was no layoff. This was a firing squad.

The Vice President proceeded to tell me and the two redshirts on my flank that the company was changing in a way he didn’t like, and that he was sorry…blah, blah, blah…and he had to let us go. I was completely shocked, but before I could even summon a reaction, he slid an envelope across the table that, he explained, contained my severance package.

He continued to explain to the three of us that today would be our last day. We weren’t allowed to return to our computers. We had to pack our things right now and one of the other managers in the room would be glad to help me with that. (Translation: we’re also going to escort you from the building just in case you decide to flip out and start breaking things or peeing on them.)

I felt stunned. I felt panic. My mind immediately went to thoughts of my wife and baby at home. My gut reaction was to try to change their mind and remind them of the promotion I had just received and of how much value I was bringing to them with my current projects, but I immediately realized we were beyond that. Then, I felt a rush of desperate anger––but I immediately realized that would be no help, either. All of those emotions and thoughts came and passed in less than two seconds.

As the two other schlubs painfully filed out of the room with their tails tucked between their legs, I did the only dignified thing I could think to do. I stood up, looked the Vice President directly in the eyes, reached out my hand to him and said as sincerely as I could, “Bill, it’s been a great working for you, and I appreciate you hiring me six years ago and for the opportunities I’ve had working here. Thanks.”

I later realized this must have taken him off guard. He was probably preparing for something less cordial. The image of Han Solo in the Mos Eisley cantina later came to mind––his hand secretly grasping his blaster under the table, pointing at Greedo with his finger on the trigger, in case things went south.

Whatever Bill was ready for, he wasn’t ready for a sincere thanks from someone he’d just sent packing. The look on his face made that clear. But he quickly gathered himself, stood, and shook my hand while mumbling something about me landing on my feet.

As I left the parking lot that day, amid the rush of “what now?” thoughts, I felt an undeniable and overwhelming sense of relief. It felt strange, and as I began to question why I felt relief, I realized how much I disliked that job. The politics, the gossip, the commute, the mundane, factory floor-style nature of the work itself–it was a rock in my shoe that I had, in time, developed a callous for. With it suddenly yanked from me, I couldn’t deny the relieved feeling of “ahhhhhh!” that I felt.

And that was when I felt a sense of great comfort wash over me like a gentle, giant wave. “God is up to something big,” I thought, “and this is just the beginning.”

When I got home, my wife asked why I was home so early. I explained to her what happened. She cried. I told her about what I had been thinking about on my way home, trying to reassure her that we wouldn’t soon be out on the street, eating garbage.

One week later, we found out we were pregnant with baby #2. I just laughed. I laughed from joy, but I also laughed because I didn’t want to panic again. “These are only the kinds of stories you can write,” I told Jesus. I’m sure he laughed, too. If he could have text messaged me a response, I like to think it would have said, “Yep. I know! LOLZ. Best parts are still coming.”

He would have been right.

With a severance package that lasted for six weeks, I found work in five. And the new job paid more and was half the commute of the job I’d lost. Baby #2 was born very healthy (at nearly 10lbs). I’ve had a couple of different jobs since that time, and each one has been better than the last.

So how did I survive that first job layoff?

There’s a scene in Matrix Revolutions where Neo speaks with the antagonist who built the matrix. They’re in a room surrounded by walls made of hundreds of small TV screens. When the Architect speaks to Neo, each TV screen plays a different reaction Neo could choose as a response. The responses range from anger, to weeping, to fear, but in the end, Neo chooses one reaction to actually display. From a range of emotions and reactions, he chose to give the best one.

There’s also a place in the Bible where Jesus gives a hard teaching, and most of His disciples choose to abandon Him. Jesus turns to the core Twelve who remained and asked if they wanted to abandon Him, too. Peter speaks up in John 6:68 and confesses that there’s nowhere else to go when Jesus is the only thing they need. He says:

I survived that trying time in my life by doing the only thing I knew to do: trusting God and choosing the response I thought He would have given. That doesn’t make me special or holy. It just makes me thankful that God has trained me to weather life’s storms by looking to Him for strength instead of looking to myself.

So in every storm, I can always claim His promises to me and know that the best parts are still to come.