The One Thing

2048 - Michael's High ScoreOn October 1, 2014 I was sitting at a Starbucks in India, when my good friend, Bill, shared something profound. Well, let me clarify. I wasn’t in India. I was in downtown San Diego at the corner of Hawthorne and India. But Bill did share something profound.

By way of background, Bill and I have a long history of playing iPhone games. Upon besting the other’s high score we text screen shots as proof. Call it what you want. Essentially we’re 2 pathetic middle-aged men attempting to compete without physically injuring ourselves (as we’ve both done more than once).

Our latest obsession is 2048. It’s been a top game since it’s introduction in March. Simply put, the object is to slide numeric tiles around a 4X4 grid, pairing up numbers, doubling in size each time a match is found, until no more moves are possible. The object is to pair two 1024 tiles, yielding a single 2048 tile.

As Bill sat outside waiting for me to join him with my Americano, he started playing 2048 on his iPad. Seeing him deeply engrossed, I sat down and shared a lament. “I’m stuck! No matter how much I play, I can’t break through my high score of 7,016.”

Bill looked up and shared something profound. “Do you know the Rule of 3?”
“Only move in 3 directions. My son told me if you only move left, right, and up or down (but not both)…you’ll score higher.”

Not one for reinventing wheels, I started playing. The rule was simple so I needed no further instructions. Move after move, I slid the tiles left, right and upwards. Never down. My score quickly surpassed 1000, 3000, 5000 then 7500. Within minutes of hearing The One Thing (the Rule of 3), I established a new personal best. Then I blew past 10,000 and 15,000 – gaining momentum.

I wondered why I didn’t think of this sooner. The logic is simple. If you never swipe down, all the high numbered tiles collect at the top – making it easier to match em up. Duh!

Like Millennials we sat 3 feet apart tapping away on our phones in silence. Much to my excitement, the very first time I played with Bill’s rule I tripled my high score reaching 22,160. I also revealed the 2048 tile and won the game. I felt sorta bad that with Bill’s one simple rule, I crushed his personal record – and became the first to win. I texted a screen shot to shame him.

Bill's Latest High Score

Bill’s Latest High Score

It was surprising how long I sat atop our leader board. Much to my disappointment, Bill has regained the lead and I can’t catch him. Perhaps there’s a Second Thing he’s not telling me.


It’s amazing what a difference One Thing makes. Sometimes One Thing is all you need to get unstuck. One Thing can help blast through ceilings – and reach new heights. One Thing opens eyes and changes minds. The 2048 Rule of 3 didn’t change my life, but that one little thing did change how I played the game.

There’s this other One Thing that did change my life. His name? Jesus.

I can’t remember who first told me about Jesus. I heard once that, on average, people have to hear about Him seven times before they embrace Him. I don’t know if I heard about Him 5 times or 50…but somewhere along the way it hit me. Like the Rule of 3 for 2048. Someone I trust told me The One Thing – and I decided to quit trying to figure out life on my own?

In case you’ve never heard The One Thing, let me tell you about it.

Most of us have heard John 3:16 (or at least seen a crazy fan at an NFL game hold it up on a sign). But if you’re like me, you don’t watch NFL football seeking wisdom from hand-painted signs. Needless to say you may not have recognized it as The One Thing. Here it is.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

There it is. The One Thing. Believe in Jesus and you won’t perish.

C’mon. Really? Can it really be that simple? What’s the catch?

I suppose there is a catch, and it’s found in Ephesians 2.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The catch is this. You can’t do anything to earn it. It’s a gift! You have to accept this gift on faith. Trusting it’s the One Thing that will set you free.

I occasionally wonder where I’d be if Bill hadn’t told me about the Rule of 3. I’d probably be stuck at 7,016. Not a bad score – but not victorious. As it turns out that one piece of information – that one missing piece – made all the difference.

I’m pretty sure Bill was also one of the many who told me about Jesus. I shudder to think where my life would be without that One Thing. If you’re not sure about the One Thing – read this blog 6 more times and maybe by the 7th time…you’ll decide it must be true for you too.

If you play 2048, try the Rule of 3 and let me know if it improved your score. And while you’re at it – place your faith in the real One Thing…Jesus. Let me know if that move improves your life.

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Fantasy or Reality…Buyer Beware

Disneyland-29This past October my wife and I took our boys to Disneyland.  One afternoon as I returned from the Thunder Mountain Railroad Fastpass station, I scurried across the moat, over the drawbridge and through the gates of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. I was en route to It’s a Small World to rejoin my family.


My body tensed as I collided with the wall of humanity inside Fantasyland.  I sidestepped princesses, tuned out screaming children, and scanned the queue for Peter Pan’s Flight.  Shocked at the depth of the line, I skirted an oblivious stroller-pushing mom and shimmied past a dad corralling his kids.


Glancing at the camera-toting parents chasing their kids around King Arthur Carousel it struck me that the word “Fantasyland” is a misnomer. 


As a self-proclaimed marketing guru (ask my wife), I’d suggest Disney is ripe for a “deceptive adverting” class-action lawsuit.  Although this may have been what the medieval judicial system was trying to prevent when it introduced the concept of Caveat emptor (buyer beware) – to govern commerce between buyers and sellers.


I slowed between the Carousel and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride to survey the proverbial land of fantasy.   I saw hundreds (maybe thousands) of strollers parked everywhere my eye could see.  It was then I realized that none of the rides inside this enchanted land had Fastpass access.  No, the wait times here are amongst the worst in the park.  It’s as if Walt Disney himself plotted to quarantine all the infants, toddlers and unwitting parents in one part of the park.  Like a juvenile detention center, the youngest and most dangerous humans known to parents were imprisoned right here.


My pace quickened as I sought to blow through the nightmare called Fantasyland.  


Now smiling to myself (thankful that my kids have outgrown this part of the park), I sensed an overwhelming concentration of exhausted parents, melted down princesses, and grimy Mouseketeers licking their fingers and picking their noses. It makes sense that Fantasyland sits just outside of It’s a Small World.  After all, anything communicable on the planet has either been caught or transmitted here.  Sounds more like a hot zone than a fantasy.


Researchers recently proved airplane armrests and seat pockets sustain living bacteria for up to 72 hours.   I shuttered to think of the bio hazardous waste smeared on the handrails of Pinocchio’s Daring Journey.  They sure named that ride appropriately.


But then I had another thought. Maybe Walt had it right.  In a stroke of genius, Walt built a double entendre.  On one hand Fantasyland is the tangible manifestation of all the magical things about which we humans dream.  On the other hand it’s a microcosm of our human experience – a place where exuberant expectations are dashed, and yet strangely met via something much less than expected.


Think about it.  Some of life’s greatest moments – fell woefully short.   We build lofty expectations for things like our first kiss, college, our first job, marriage, kids – even vacations to Disneyland.  Then as we live out life, people and situations that miss the mark often dash our hopes.


At the same time, as we look back on life, some of the most vibrant memories were at one point in time…disappointments.  Think again of your first kiss, college, your first job, marriage, kids – even vacations to Disneyland.


Maybe that’s why Fantasyland resonates so deeply.  It isn’t all that foreign to our human experience.  It strikes a chord with kids and adults alike.


To kids it’s the petri dish in which their dreams are grown.  For parents, it’s where our kids’ fresh dreams take priority over our broken ones. Deep down, we know the power of imagination and dreams.  Maybe we hope our kids will be able to run the gauntlet of life and make it through with their dreams in tact.


Probably not!  But that’s ok.  Hopefully by now we’ve learned that even in disappointment – we can find joy.  For most of us, whether we consider ourselves dreamers or pragmatists…we have dreams.  Some call their dreams “plans” because it sounds more “practical” (ahem…sweet wife of mine).  But in some bizarre way, our dreams do come true.  We just have to re-work them along the way.


One of my favorite passages in Scripture is Proverbs 16:9.  It reads:


The mind of man plans his way,
But The Lord directs his steps.


Another favorite is Psalm 37 (verse 4), which reads:


Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.


These passages remind me that God not only knows the longings of our hearts, He desires to fulfill them.  Whether I experience joy or disappointment is really up to me.  The important thing is that I delight in The Lord.  When I do that…the stories seem to have happier endings.


So as I hurried past the Storybook Land Canal Boats and waited for my family to exit It’s a Small World – I exhaled. And I thanked God. I thanked Him for helping me see that while life isn’t a fantasy…it is an amazing journey. And I thanked Him for caring enough to chart a path that so often satisfies the longings of my heart.


Side Note:

One of my favorite authors, Dr. Tim Kimmel wrote a book about this – and he called it In Praise of Plan B.  It’s a delightful book, full of reminders that God often replaces our Plan A’s with a Plan B’s of His design.  And while these detours are not what we planned…they often fulfill the longings of our hearts.


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The Stomach Flu and Thanksgiving

With kids…the WHAT isn’t a matter of IF – it’s a matter of WHEN.Sick Kid

And the WHEN is rarely convenient.



September 2, 2014 about 20 minutes after midnight.  It was my wife’s Second night home after major surgery and I’d been asleep for 15 minutes.



My youngest son came into our room, woke me, and announced, “Dad I feel like I might get sick.”


Normally my son lingers at my bedside until I wake up and offer instructions.  For nightmares, it’s usually, “Go climb back in bed and I’ll lie with you for a few minutes.”  For headaches it’s, “Meet me in the bathroom and I’ll give you some Motrin.” For, “I feel sick,” I usually ask a series of questions and conclude he just ate too much before bedtime.


On this night, my son merely turned and scurried away. As he hit the hallway I heard that awful sound we all dread as parents.  That deep convulsion from within followed by a grand release, and then a ceremonial splash.  Not once. But twice. (My wife later informed me there was actually a third which I blocked from my memory).




As a Christ follower I’m called to, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)


As I ran from the bedroom and rounded the corner into the hallway, I seem to have forgotten this important imperative of the Christian faith.  In actuality I only forgot the part about rejoicing and giving thanks.  The praying?  Well I did utter something to God – probably a cry for help.  I suppose it was more of a plea than a prayer.


In trying to recount the event now, I can only piece together a few threads.

  • I stuffed my hands into women’s black rubber gloves (only momentarily contemplating whether or not the cute frill should dissuade me),
  • I ushered my son to the nearest bathroom (for the inaugural shower in our recently remodeled guest bathroom),
  • I formulated a half-baked plan for cleaning up a massive amount of liquid and debris (wishing I’d pulled the trigger on the Wet Vac),
  • I barked something rude to my wife (as she kindly offered advice from the bed where she lay helpless after her surgery and post-op narcotics rendered her motionless and hallucinogenic),
  • I hauled trash bags full of clothing, paper towel, sponges, hand towels, wash cloths and even a cookie sheet out to the trash can (so as to remove all evidence of this gruesome night),
  • I looked for the medical masks my mom purchased after 9/11 (to protect everyone in the house from catching whatever it was my son contracted at the church camp he returned from one day prior).
  • I took our dog out on a brief walk around the backyard so she could do her business (so sorry Gracie that all the commotion interrupted your sleep).

Keep in mind all this transpired between 12:20 AM and 2 o’clock in the morning.




Looking at this event in the rear-view mirror I think my modus operandi that night was:




As I stood  in my front yard hosing off the hallway rug – it was then I started to pray. The reasons to give thanks washed over me. I even rejoiced (a little).  After all, I could’ve still been at the hospital with my wife and my son would’ve been someone else’s care.  I was thankful my son still comes to me when he feels sick.  I was really thankful he left the room before he decided to expel the contents of his stomach. I’m thankful God appointed me to be the caregiver for my wife and the father to my boys.


I prayed something else to as I stood there out front in my underwear and rubber gloves – looking like the husband who offed his wife and was cleaning up the crime scene.  I prayed God might improve my response time.  I was slow to act when my son said he felt sick. That wasn’t such a big deal.


The bigger deal was I was slow to rejoice, pray and give thanks.


It’s not uncommon for me to do the right thing…eventually.  But oftentimes I’m not quite quick enough.  As I wrestle with what it means to be a man of God, I think that’s part of the journey.  Figuring out how to do the right thing as a reflex rather than a delayed reaction.  I hope someday it just becomes second nature to quickly, joyfully, and prayerfully do the things God calls me to do.  In the moment – not after the moment.


So I don’t look forward to the next wake-up call from a son who feels like, “He might get sick.”  But when it comes, we’ll see if I’ve made any progress in this journey called faith.


How about you? Do you ever struggle to rejoice or give thanks?


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My Kids Have Fallen in Love…with Golf

Golf ImageAmerican’s fall in and out of “love” faster than changes to our Facebook news feeds.  And we “love” everything: sit coms, celebrities, salty snacks, smart phones, and all things shiny.  But our love is fickle. One day we’re in love.  The next day we’re out.


Recently my boys fell in love with golf.  The catalytic event was a night at Top Golf – the cosmic bowling of golf. Pop music, elevated tee boxes, automated scoring, illuminated targets, tee-side table service…even injectable donut holes (the raspberry filling is best).  From that night until today, they can’t stop talking about it. And who can blame them. Top Golf is the “Shiny Penny” of golf.


I wanted to be sure they hadn’t fallen in love with a Hollywood version of golf. So I took them out to play 9 holes. Amazingly, they hit the clubhouse wanting more.


A week later, they were marching around the back yard with clubs in hand – hitting every kind of ball known to man.  They looked more like hunters than golfers. My oldest was preparing to haul off on a soccer ball when I screamed, “STOP” – for fear he’d break his new wedge.


Wandering over I noticed exploded citrus scattered across the lawn. Knowing what happened, but curious as to their explanation, I inquired of my eldest.


Me:     Were you guys hitting citrus?

Son:    There were a few limes on the ground so we hit those.

Me:     Those were lemons.

Son:    Oh.

Me:     That’s what lemons look like 4 months before they’re ripe.  Did you pick them? 

Son:    Yeah, I guess we did pick some.

Me:     Based on the carnage it looks like you’ve got a slice (pun intended).


That night I dozed off on the couch.  When I awoke, the boys were asleep in bed. I asked my wife, “How was bedtime?”  She replied, “I mediated a fight.  One of our boys had a golf club – the other a plastic bat.  I disarmed them before they maimed each other…”


Love makes us do crazy things.


I’ve contemplated the parental implications of my boys’ newfound “love.” Candidly, I couldn’t define love until a few years ago when I heard a powerfully simple definition.


Love is the commitment of my will, to your needs and best interests – regardless of the cost (to me). Dr. Tim Kimmel


Let’s pause momentarily to address the elephant in the room. My boys don’t “love” golf. They “like” it. It’s fun – a novelty. But me – I “love” my boys. And I recognize that any time something captures their attention for more than a day – I have an opportunity to make them feel loved…simply by validating their interests.


I know it’s just golf – but to them it’s radically important. Beyond that, it’s a metaphor for something bigger. You see; when our heart inclines toward something – it often drags us into uncharted territory. In unfamiliar places, we defer to our feelings and emotions rather than fact and logic. It’s in these times, when lacking wisdom to illuminate the path, that our kids needs us most.


Take golf for example. Knowing virtually nothing about it, their emotions drive the cart (another pun intended). They swing for the fences – caring little about technique. They putt whenever they’re ready – with no regard for other golfers on the green. They cheer loudly when one of them hits a good shot – forgetting others are teeing off. Don’t get me started on replacing divots, hitting out of sand, marking their ball, or all the other subtleties? Knowing little – they do what they feel.


That’s where dad comes in. I must be willing to commit my will (deciding to step into this moment) to meet their needs and best interests (imparting wisdom about the thing they’ve fallen in love with), regardless of the cost to me (investing my time and money).


I suspect my boys will fall out of love with golf – maybe before breakfast tomorrow. But until they do, it’s incumbent upon me to teach them all I know. In doing so, my boys will know they’re loved – because what matters to them matters to me.


At some point in the not-too-distant future, my boys will actually fall in love. When that day comes, the stakes will be higher. Teaching boys about golf is one thing. Teaching them to love a young woman – that’s a whole different thing. My job will go from tee box etiquette to matters of the heart.  Lessons about purity, faithfulness, self-sacrifice and delayed gratification will trump lessons on ball marks flop shots.  If I’ve proven to my boys I care about the little things that matter to them – they’ll listen to me when I wade into the big things. If I haven’t invested in the little things, why would they trust me on the biggies?


To get good at golf you have to practice. And like spending time at the driving range, we have to practice with our kids to get good at parenting.


Let me know how you’ve practiced loving your kids in the little things.

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Getting in Touch with my Emojis

imageThis past week my wife had spinal fusion surgery.  Most doctors consider this “major surgery.”  As such,  I experienced a wide range of emotions including fear, doubt, concern, worry, relief, joy, and numerous things in between.  Although a man, I’m reasonably in touch with my emotions.  With some degree of clarity I can both identify and articulate how I’m feeling.  But after this week, I’m starting to doubt my emotional literacy.

And it’s not because of what I experienced with my wife – it was what happened with her friends.

As my wife’s primary caregiver, I took it upon myself to handle as much as possible so she wouldn’t worry.  We’re blessed to have quite a few  dear friends.  And like good friends do when someone has surgery, they offered help…and asked for updates on my wife.

Wanting to keep our friends “in the know,” I tried to communicate early, often and with some degree of detail.  I sent email and text updates in the days leading up to and following her surgery.  From the moment I sent my first communique, I noticed that my wife’s friends are gratuitous users of Emoticoms (or Imojis as they’re called in the iPhone and Android world).

I’d seen Emojis before.  But as a man they’re a rare, even questionable, form of communication.  So my exposure had been limited to basic smiley faces, winks and frowns.  Never did I imagine the sheer breadth and depth of this alternative language.

Wanting to make my wife happy with how I handled her friends’ communications, I found myself pausing to try to interpret the Emojis hitting my inbox.

In the context of a sentence I could tell, based on the words, that her friends were encouraging her or empathizing and lamenting with her.  But without the words, the images rarely made sense to me.  For example, what does two thumbs up, with an asterisk-eyed smiley face and flowers mean?  My initial thought was that this was a common way to say, “Good job girl, get well soon.”  But as I looked closer, the Profiler in me was convinced this lady was perhaps instead happily plotting to secretly kill her husband then throw a party after the funeral.

Yet another friend sent along a winking Emoji face with its tongue sticking out.  It looked more like the poor Emoji had pink eye and a severe allergic reaction to MSG.  What was this lady telling my wife?  Stay away from the kids play area at the local mall and don’t visit the downtown Chinese food buffet for dinner?

Needing help, I turned to Google.  Within seconds, I was relieved to find Emojipedia.  Thinking I could quickly download this bit of cultural literacy – I soon gave up.  You see, in the world of Emojis there are categories of images which include faces, nature, objects, places and symbols.  In the face category alone, there were 189 faces.

I mentioned earlier I consider myself to be in touch with my emotions.  I didn’t say I was a master black belt in emotional combat.

The last text I attempted to translate I discovered was a face with tears of joy.  Really?  It looked more like the guy on America’s Got Talent that could inhale milk through his nose and blow it out his tear duct.

Instead of pressing on to learn this new language, I’ve decided to simply apologize to my wife’s friends.  I’m sorry ladies I didn’t acknowledge your Emojis with my own Emoji strings in response.  It’s not that I don’t care.  Rather, I simply don’t have time to learn how to translate my feelings into images of faces with furrowed brows, hearts, suns, sunflowers, thumbs up and smiley faces with or without teeth.

My parents always taught me to, “Use my words.”  I can do that.  But this does make me wonder if I should be teaching my boys to, “Use your Emojis.”  On second thought…I think not.

In my studies I did come across an Emoji football.  With this being the opening week of College Football…now that’s one Emoji I understand.

How about you?  Are you in touch with your Emojis?


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How to Build a Fan Base

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I try to stay relevant to my kids.  Candidly, I sometimes wonder if I should give up.  Maybe it’s best to simply be branded out of touch or irrelevant.  But something in me wants to make the effort.

I listen to their music, watch their shows, and interact with their friends (usually at the dinner table or “dance parties” we have while driving).  I’ve even taken up posting, texting, tweeting, and pinning.  When in Rome!

This week, I resorted to eavesdropping.  I know, in the era of WikiLeaks and NSA scandals, spying on my kids is lame.  But I couldn’t resist.  As I was chauffeuring a carload of kids to the water park, I heard my niece and her friend discussing their fan base.  The numbers were staggering – 40,000 each.

I was intrigued.  After 2 years of blogging I have an anemic 19 followers, 502 views, and a handful of likes.  I need help.

Also curious, my boys started asking questions.  How’d you gain so many fans?  What’s the best way to get people to like you?  Did it take long?  The answers surprised me.

“It didn’t take long at all.”
“I bought a house in Florida.”
“I partied at a club in Hollywood.”

Keep in mind, these kids just hit (or are nearing) the teenage years.  What tween or teen buys a house and goes clubbing?  I nearly crashed trying to listen in on their conversation.  The lesson on fanship continued.  

“I accepted a photo shoot.”
“I upgraded my wardrobe.”
“I hired an agent.”

Finally I’d heard enough.  “What are you talking about?”

My niece’s friend proudly shared, “We’re talking about the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game.  Have you played it?”


I’m a 44-year-old man with a full-time job, 2 kids and a wife.  That’s just 6 quick reasons why I’ve never played Kim Kardashian: Hollywood.  But I was strangely intrigued.  “No, tell me about it.”

This launched a fascinating conversation about building a fan base.  What struck (and saddened) me, was that so many youth have well thought out, highly elaborate, social media strategies.  They care deeply about being “liked.”  And now they’re playing video games that train them to garner imaginary fans.  I suspect these same strategies would actually land them fans in real life too.  Somewhere deep inside, my intuition tells me it doesn’t end well when a generation cares so much about being liked.

The dilemma is hardly new though.  In Biblical times the question posed was this:

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.  Galatians 1:10 (NIV).

Humans have always sought the approval of their fellow-man.  The vehicles to gain approval simply change through the generations.  Things like fame, material possessions, power and beauty often occupy the pole position. This generation, with all its advances, simply seeks to accumulate clicks on a “like” icon.  A superficial thumbs-up!  But at what cost?

To retain relevance I also download my kids’ favorite games and apps to experience them first-hand.  With my interest in Kim Kardashian: Hollywood strangely piqued…I secretly downloaded the game.  I was curious to learn from the master.  Here’s the initial advice Kim’s character offered as the game loaded onto my iPad:

  • Dating famous people will get you more fans.
  • Charming people will get you the best opportunities and rewards.

If you track Luke’s account of Jesus’s life, he made an interesting observation.  In one scene, at the age of 12, Jesus spent a few days at the temple sitting amongst the teachers.  He was listening, questioning, and displaying great knowledge.  At the conclusion of that scene, Luke says,

Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people.  Luke 2:52 (NLT).

Jesus, as it turns out, was less concerned with his fan base, and more concerned with gaining wisdom and the approval of God, his Father.  Last I checked – Jesus has over 2 billion fans.  Maybe he had it right.

I like the way one entrepreneur explains visibility (or anonymity).

I don’t care if I’m completely anonymous to the masses, as long as I’m highly relevant – and adding extraordinary value – to those close to me. Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach

I suppose the bottom line is this.  We should seek wisdom.  Not fans. We should seek the approval of God.  Not man. If we do this, we may not end up with 2 billion fans – but we’ll receive “likes” from the fans that matter.

What wisdom have you learned about building a fan base?  And how do you use social media to gain the approval of God?

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Caught Up!

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????I set out early Wednesday morning with the boys to go fishing at Ponto Beach. I didn’t plan on them getting caught up in a ripcurrent. But sometimes life isn’t what we expect.


I love to fish.  I learned when I was young.  My grandparents had a cabin in Northern Arizona and we’d fish nearby lakes.  My dad, my grandpa and me!  I learned from these two men and one of my favorite fishing memories still today – was an experience with them 35 years ago.

I was about 8. The 3 of us stood on the shore of Lake Mary when a fish jumped 25 yards out.  It was a big one and my line wasn’t in the water.  My dad said, “Here let me have that!”  I handed him my rod. He cast it to where the fish jumped and it immediately bit.  My dad set the hook, handed me the rod, and I reeled in a beautiful Northern Pike.  It was the biggest fish we ever caught in those waters.  My dad would humbly tell you he’s not much of a fisherman – but that day I was in awe of him!

It was in that moment I got caught up in fishing.

Fast-forward 36 years to Wednesday.  I roused my 2 boys for an early morning surf fishing expedition.  The previous night they said they wanted to go – but I wouldn’t know for sure until sunrise.  I nudged them and they leaped out of bed.  They were serious!

We arrived at the beach and a curtain of surfers was draped across the surf just beyond where we’d cast our lines. The boys scurried to fill our bait bucket with sand crabs as I readied the lines.  In the blink of an eye we were standing side by side by side in knee-deep water with our lines in the ocean.  This…is my heaven on earth!

My youngest son caught the first fish of our vacation two nights earlier.  That same outing landed me in the Scripps Hospital ER with a hook embedded deep in my finger.  A story for another time!

This morning, my oldest son had the first catch.  It was a small surfperch but to a young fisherman – size doesn’t matter. I caught the next two – also small surfperch.

It didn’t take long for my boys to tire of fishing and ask if they could body surf.  “Of course!  Just????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? watch my line and don’t go out too far.”  They set their rods by our beach chairs and ran headlong into the surf.

This stretch of beach is the one after which I named my blog – out of respect for the ripcurrents sprinkled along the coast.  My boys understand ripcurrents, and they conceptually know how to swim out of them.  They’d never been in one though…until Wednesday morning.

After body surfing for 20 minutes without incident, I caught my largest fish of the morning.  As I reeled it in and dislodged the hook – I held it up and called to the boys.   I held up the fish and they offered enthusiastic thumbs-up.

What happened next unfolded with startling speed.

I released the fish, washed the scales off my hands, baited the hook, cast my line and glanced toward the boys.  It couldn’t have been more than 2 or 3 minutes.  They weren’t standing where I’d been watching them previously. They were 30 yards further out.

I knew instantly they were caught up in a ripcurrent.  I watched intently and saw them swimming along the shore just like I taught them.  The problem was they weren’t making progress and their heads were dropping lower in the water signifying fatigue.  I was up to my knees in water and just as I’d decided to abandon my rod and swim out to them…I saw not one but two lifeguards entering the water to retrieve them.  

I reeled in my line and waded toward them.  I contemplated swimming to my boys but the lifeguards didn’t need me interfering.  I backed off and let them do their job.  My mind flashed to the worst-case scenario but fortunately help was nearby.

As the lifeguards helped them over to me I thanked them and hugged my boys tightly.  I asked one of the lifeguards to point out the current and she said, “This is a tricky one.”  She pointed to where I’d been fishing and said, “That’s a deep hole – and there’s a slight ripcurrent off to our left.”  Apparently at this spot currents travel both right to left and out to sea.  The boys simply got caught in converging currents.

Lifeguards enter the water along this beach a lot. Friday on this same beach we witnessed 4 rescues.  

One happened right near us as we body surfed. The lifeguard pulled an exhausted teenage boy out of a current.  Truthfully I think he was fortunate to walk ashore on his own.  As he did, his irate father ran out and yelled at him.  “Christian!  Christian!  GET OVER HERE!”  My boys were closer to the dad and later told me he called his son a stupid idiot.  My boys said to me, “Dad, thank you for not talking to us like that when we had to be rescued.”  


In life, our kids get caught up sometimes.  Sometimes it’s actual ripcurrents like the ones at Ponto Beach.

Other times it’s figurative ripcurrents in which our kids get caught up. All around us kids get caught up and swept out to sea.  The hidden currents are drugs, alcohol, lying, stealing, laziness, sex, pornography, or myriad other seemingly harmless things.  But these ripcurrents are deceptive – and deadly.

So keep your eyes open! If you see a kid caught up – give them a hand.  And when you pull them out – don’t yell at them and call them an idiot.  Put your arms around them and let them know you’re glad they’re safe.  Let them know your love for them is secure!  And point out the current so they don’t get swept out again while you’re not looking.  After all, they didn’t set out on Wednesday to get caught up in a ripcurrent. They were just fishing with dad!

Have you or your kids ever gotten “Caught Up” in something and needed to be rescued?  If so, I’d love to hear your story.

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The Gem I Received from an Eagle Scout

Eagle Scout PinHow many times have you been told to embrace a lifestyle or attitude of continuous learning?  To develop a thirst for knowledge?  Knowledge is perched high upon a pedestal and is the means to many noble ends.  A modern-day snake oil, knowledge is  seemingly a cure for all that ails us.  It makes us interesting.  It’s a key to career success and upward mobility.  Knowledge is power.  It’s the antidote to ignorance and the secret sauce to great conversations.  With it – the world is our oyster.  Without it…well I shudder to think.

The pursuit of knowledge even keeps us young.  In the words of one great captain of industry, knowledge might be the very fountain of youth for which explorers have searched for ages.

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. ― Henry Ford

Now in my 40’s I’m realizing learning was easier in my youth.  Young minds are like sponges.  Older minds – like rocks.  Our schools and social systems were built to engage and train kids.  Let’s face it, many kids go to school for at least 13 consecutive years (K-12) and have no choice but to learn.  They do it day in and day out.  The world is set up to guarantee our kids learn as much as possible.

As adults though we have to work at learning.  We default to learning through things like:

  • Reading books,
  • Perusing magazines & newspapers,
  • Visiting art galleries and museums,
  • Taking eco-tours and adventure vacations,
  • Picking up hobbies,
  • Enrolling in community college courses, and
  • Completing professional continuing educations classes

All this in the name of knowledge!


A few weeks ago Russell, a 15 1/2 year old young man, asked me to speak at his Eagle Scout Court of Honor event.  For five years Russell had immersed himself in the scouting world and successfully completed all the requisite training to be called an Eagle!  When I looked at Russell’s accomplishments over the preceding five years it was staggering the amount of time he’d spent learning new skills.  Here was a young man who, at a very early age, had embraced the notion of continuous learning.  In this short corridor of time, Russell had completed:

  • 14 camping trips (totaling 25 nights in the great outdoors)
  • 5 hiking trips (totaling over 37 miles of hiking)
  • 33 merit badges (including rowing, swimming, first aid, tracking, signaling, carpentry, computers, shooting, fishing, horsemanship, personal fitness, emergency preparedness, camping, weather, geology, forestry, and cooking – to name a few).
  • 20 service projects (totaling over 66 hours of service)
  • 15 other events (including CPR classes, mock disaster training, fund-raisers and various leadership activities).

For my part in his Eagle ceremony, Russell asked me if I would say a few words about him.  I was honored he’d selected me of all the men in his life.  I approached this humbly seeking to share with the audience the wonderful things I knew about Russell.  I’ve known him for over a decade, but I wanted to interview him prior to his big night to get a deeper glimpse into his head and heart.  I knew Russell has accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior…but I was curious to see where Scouting and Faith sat in relation to each other in his young life.  I’d hoped that by mining this vein I might unearth a gem of wisdom that nobody had seen.  Not even Russell.  Something I could polish up and share with the audience on his big night.

After talking with Russell for nearly an hour, I asked him to give me the bottom line.  “Compare your experience with scouting…to your experience with your faith,” I asked him.  In his answer I realized this young man had already discovered the gem.  I was merely blessed to be both the recipient and the messenger of his wisdom.

Russell thought for a moment then replied, “Scouting is great – it was worth the sacrifice.  But learning how to tie knots may only last me for 60 years. My relationship with God will last forever.”16706512_s

That was it.  Russell handed me a precious gem!  This young man verbalized what so many of us wrestle with our whole lives.  Culture touts the importance of continuous learning.  Cultivating a thirst for knowledge.  What culture doesn’t tell us is that some forms of knowledge trump others.  Some things are like tying knots (job training, art galleries and the local news).  Other things are more eternal (praying to our Creator, basking in the beauty of God’s creation, enjoying fellowship with other believers, and learning to live lives of consequence).

It’s not just our culture that places a premium on learning.  The Bible also suggests that learning is vital.  God’s Word says it’s essential to building a relationship with a living God.  In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul tells us,

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Culture has a way of subversively creeping into our lives and overtaking us.  If not careful, we awaken to realize we’ve not only conformed to the pattern of the world but the pattern has corrupted us.  We realize we haven’t been transformed at all because we haven’t actually renewed our mind.  We’ve instead feasted on things that “may only last us 60 years.”  We awaken to discover we’ve filled our minds with garbage, and it’s slowly rotting like vegetables in a compost pile.  We’ve polluted the very mind God instructed us to renew.

I’m not suggesting we only ingest mental “Super Fuel.”  I’m the first to believe a healthy diet includes an occasional episode of Duck Dynasty, a bowl of ice cream or a Twinkie (thanks for the comeback Twinkie).  But at some point we have to stop and question the significance of what we’re learning.  Are the things we’re filling our mind with of earthly or eternal significance? If the overwhelming majority of what we put into our mind is temporal…then HERE is all we have.  We have no hope in the ETERNAL.


I wish I’d been friends with Russell 29 years ago when I was 15 1/2.  I could have used a friend like him.  If I knew then what I know now (thanks to Russell), maybe I’d have filled my head with more things eternal.  Congratulations Russell!  I’m proud of your great accomplishment.  I’m also glad you agreed to meet with me so you could share with me your wisdom!  For you…I’m eternally grateful.

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Bus Drivers and Rotten Words

Utter the word “school bus” and for anyone who’s ridden one…every sense instantly engages!  As an Arizona native the word resurrects scorch3551231_ming hot seats, sweaty legs, melted gum, foul odors, gruff drivers, screaming kids, bad language and more.  In today’s therapeutic environment, most bus riders would be diagnosed with at least mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  For me the bus was so unsavory that after a few early morning misadventures, I rode my bike to school for nearly a decade.


Fast forward from the 1970’s to 2006.  In the 35 years since I’d last boarded a school bus, I assumed there would’ve been some advances.  Nope!


My oldest son was 5 and my wife and I thought the one-mile ride to his first day of Kindergarten would be good for his self-esteem.  A character-building adventure!  We were sorely mistaken.


Like lambs to the slaughter we headed off to the bus stop.  We’d planned to follow the bus to school in our car so we could meet our son at the bus lane when he disembarked.  So we drove the quarter-mile to the bus stop.  Our son was nervous…really nervous.  But staring down his fear and trepidation he took a deep breath and stepped into the abyss of the bus.


The driver, who’d likely come out of retirement, wasn’t friendly.  Not unlike many men of that generation, he barked at my son, “Little kids in the first 3 rows.”  My son walked past the first 3 rows, which were full…and panicked.  His little face turned to me and said (I’d followed him onto the bus at my wife’s urging) – “Dad, what now?”


“Just sit anywhere!” ripped through the air – from the sweet, nurturing man behind the wheel.  So as he fought back tears, my son found a seat…and so began his journey into the fallen world.


If you ask my kids, they’d tell you I turn every moment into a “teachable moment” – often to their dismay. Usually these moments revolve around sex, making good choices, avoiding drugs & alcohol, or loving their brother. But as I reflect on this moment – it’s simply about the power of words.


Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.  Ephesians 4:29 (The Voice)


I like this translation because of the words “rotten” and “fresh.”  The bus driver didn’t use profanity.  He didn’t abuse my son.  But as I stepped off the bus I saw a man who’d hurled rotten words and showed no grace to a little boy who was nervous about his first bus ride.


I don’t know the true impact of the driver’s words, but we never saw him again.  Not because we had him fired (we’re not those kind of people). My son just never rode the bus again.


When we met my son at school, he got off the bus and said with tears in his eyes, “Please don’t make me ride the bus again.”


Thinking the bus was supposed to be the “easy part,” we walked our son to his home room to say goodbye.  As expected, our misadventure on the bus didn’t set this up to be a Facebook moment.  No, our goodbye was an emotional one between mom and son…culminating with me telling my wife, “Just walk away and I’ll get him in the door.”


I ushered him in, showed him to his desk, turned and left.  He followed me to the door several times – clinging to my leg. Our final goodbye was me stiff-arming him Heisman style as his teacher, Miss Staley, grabbed him gently from behind, and pulled his clenched fist from the door handle as I slammed it in his face.


When I caught up with my wife who was standing out of eyeshot, she asked, “How’d it go?”  I simply said, “Rough.  Why don’t you let me manage this until he can do it without getting upset.”


So for the next 29 consecutive school days, I took my son to school.  It literally took our son 6 weeks to get over the separation anxiety.  Was it the bus driver’s fault?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that had he used “fresh words” instead of “rotten words” – showing grace instead of harshness – the first month of school might have unfolded differently.


If you have a minute, I’d love to hear about your school bus misadventures!

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Roller Coasters and Joy Sickness

Intellectually, I love roller coasters.  In reality, I hate them.  What I like are theme parks.  Disneyland, for example, is awesome!  I enjoy every ride in the park.  Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain and The Matterhorn are all great.

Roller coaster photo

However, crossing the walkway to Disney California – well the thought of it makes me nauseous.   That park contains disorienting rides. And the truth is I don’t like to be disoriented.


The last time I attempted a sequence of disorienting rides was at the Arizona State Fair (circa 1986).  I rode a half-dozen “G-Force” rides culminating with me lying in the grass near the food court while my friends traded adventure stories.  I roused myself to join in but simply threw up on the stuffed bear Kerwin had won after we left the Tilt-A-Whirl.  Sorry Kerwin!


God “blessed” me with an eldest son who loves roller coasters, g-forces, free falls, blind turn – all things disorienting.  God also gave me a wife with a bad back, and another son ambivalent towards these iron monsters.  I’m the only remaining blood relative to accompany my son when he pleads for a companion.


My son was 10 when he first rode California Screamin’.  He stared longingly at it for hours before mustering the courage to announce, “I’m doing it!”  I was thrilled to discover the “single line” – which ushered him to the front, bypassing a 40-minute wait.  This also exempted me from having to go along. He rode it twice by himself and it was the highlight of his trip.


Two years later we returned.  My son couldn’t wait! In the weeks prior, he fixated on California Screamin’ – asking me repeatedly if I’d ride it with him.  I inadvertently led him to believe my answer was “Yes!”


As I strapped myself into Disney California’s longest and fastest roller coaster, I knew this would be both the high and low point of my day.  Pun intended!  With the 4 point harness imprisoning me – I knew I’d pay dearly!  I knew that hours after the pneumatic brakes whiplashed us to a halt, I’d be left dizzy, nauseous, and disoriented.  I only hoped I wouldn’t throw up on my son!


As we prepared for the violent acceleration, 4 words went through my mind.


Count it all joy!


Referring to James 1:2-4, the full verse reads:


Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.    


Don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not suggesting roller coasters are “spiritual tests.” But they are a metaphor for parenting.  As parents we see spiritual tests coming. Like standing in line for roller coasters, we see what awaits us.  When the doctor informs us, “there’s an abnormality on the ultrasound,” when we see our kids’ hearts broken, or we witness our kids self-sabotage – we know what lies ahead isn’t pretty.  In near cliché form, we know we’ll wrestle with self-doubt, anemic faith, isolation, a need for control, and feelings of inadequacy. We’ll even question whether God exists.  But God does exist.  And He calls us to count it all joy.  ALL of it!


So the ride began with a drag race-like start and quickly deteriorated into a series of climbs, drops and turns that blurred my vision and drew bile into my mouth. As we headed for the barrel roll my son screamed, “Isn’t this awesome dad?!” Clutching the bar and suppressing my gag reflex I screamed, “I love this ride!” As my feet went over my head in the loop I thought, “I hate this ride!” In the same moment I thanked God for appointing me to be my son’s “ride-along.”


When it finally ended my son was grinning from ear to ear and chattering about something. With my head reeling, we climbed out and I fought to get my legs. The best I could muster was a hollow, “that was cool!”  I probably sounded drunk…but he wasn’t REALLY listening. He was recounting every acceleration, turn, roll and loop. He was euphoric. I was catatonic. But then me agreeing to ride along wasn’t about me. It was about him. Parenting is kind of like that. It isn’t about us. It’s a roller coaster. And God asks us to count it all joy!


The nerves, the sore back, the subtle taste of vomit, the whiplash, the headache and vertigo (and I’m not talking about the roller coaster here) – all of that…Joy! As a parent, I don’t always FEEL joy. But if God says it produces steadfastness that makes me perfect and complete – lacking in nothing – then I will COUNT it joy!


I’d love to hear about your parental roller coaster…and how you’ve fought to count it all joy.

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