Woman!! Cheeseburger.

Just so’s I don’t forget, Gracie’s favorite word right now is “Cheeseburger” and she likes to throw it into conversations, more or less at random:

Me: Girls, it’s time for bed, please go upstairs and take a–
Gracie: Cheeseburger?

Heidi: Gracie, get some plates down and set the–
Gracie: Cheesebuger!

And for some reason, her favorite exclamation is ‘Woman!’ regardless of the gender of the listener.

Me: Alright girls, I mean it. Stop watching TV and get to bed! (turns off TV)
Gracie: Woman!

Heidi: Hey who wants to go get some ice cream?
Gracie: Woman!!!

Don’t really have a back story or overriding purpose. Just writing this down so I will remember five or so years from now. Who knows when I may need this as evidence.

To Girlzilla on her first day at university

I am so proud of you as you start college! As your mom and I were shoveling, er, clearing out some stuff you left in your room, I came across the letter I gave you at your graduation. I’m posting it here because I think it bears repeating and I want it to be Google-able in case you (or I) need it.

So, here’s the thing about adulthood. You start becoming an adult when you get your act together and can take care of yourself and you’re nobody’s dependent. But you don’t finish becoming an adult until you live your life for others and not for yourself. Remember that stuff about essential discipleship and generative discipleship from your Teen ACTS talk? You can’t claim to be a grown-up until you have both in full swing.

My hope for you is that you get there in God’s time and don’t hold on to some fantasy about this next few years being “the best years of your life.” Bullpockey! It gets better as you go, but you gotta go. An extended adolescence is a recipe for self-absorption and misery. Getting on with responsibility is where ultimate happiness lies. No, really.

And so I have to apologize for not saying more about how proud I am of you. I have been hard on you lately. And by lately, I mean for like a year or so. I do adore you and want more than ever to share some of our dwindling spare time with you. You are someone I really like to be around. As a human being, not just as my daughter.

But my problem is that I am your Dad and I can’t help but want to try to save you from the suffering I had as a young adult and, to certain extent, even today. Every parent wants to save their children from making their same mistakes. I see the troubles I am having with being overweight, for instance, and I get scared that I didn’t do enough to protect you from it. I gave you my genes but not enough good habits to compensate for your natural disadvantage. That’s just one.

And, because of those kinds of fears, I sometimes can’t help picking at you and cajoling you. My fears and mistakes are my burden, not yours. It’s not fair of me to try to correct 18 years of parenting mistakes in the last months before you go off somewhere and strike out on your own. And I wish I had spent more of this year encouraging you and less time trying to “shape” you. Please accept that it’s all out of love and, as a Dad, I cannot help it.

But enough about me. I wanted to let you know in no uncertain terms that I admire you and am in awe of the woman you are in the process of becoming. I am very privileged to be a part of what God is doing in you.

In you I see a deep kindness. When I see you stop and focus on making someone feel loved, supported, and accepted, I see God at work in my world. It is a joy to behold. Please let this be a core value for you. In every moment. Because this is what will help make you a joyful adult.

I admire your loyalty in friendship. You have the capacity to be fiercely devoted and that’s a great thing. Just don’t let your fierce loyalty draw lines between Us and Them. To God, we’re all Us.

You are a natural leader. You’ve had the gift of persuasion from an early age (like, say, age two). You have a Tom Sawyerish ability to get people to do things for you and with you. That’s a powerful gift and will serve you well as an educator. But that gift must always be focused on others and what they need. When focused on yourself and your benefit, it is a venomous poison! I don’t want you to poison yourself.

I am so happy that you made it to your age with your natural playfulness and whimsy intact. I would tell you to keep taking time to play, but I know I don’t have to. And that’s a great thing. A challenge for you would be to approach everything as play, even the mundane stuff of adulthood — bills, housework, commuting, whatever. It’s a trick I only have started to try to master. I just know you can be better at it than I am.

You have such a gift for creativity. You have the talent to be a producer of art and entertainment and not just a consumer of it. You owe it to the world to continue to develop that gift. Because it seems you can always see a more fun, interesting way to do or say things. And with your creative gifts, drawing, graphics, video, etc. you can make some of those things a reality for others. This will mean the difference between being a good teacher and being an awesome teacher. And I see in you an awesome teacher, whether or not that’s how you end up making your living.

And, in what has been at times my joy and my exasperation, you have the gift of powerful words. Since you uttered your first word, Mom and I have had many occasions to shake our heads and say, “My God, what hath God wrought!” Your speech has the power to heal. I’ve seen it lots of times. Your speech has the power to wound. I’ve seen that too. But nobody can deny that you are a great communicator. So you have to decide who you are going to serve with everything you say. Remember the movie Hancock where Will Smith caused a lot of damage when he was careless and did a lot of good when he used his power mindfully? You have a super power like that.

I can look back and see how Mom and I either encouraged these gifts in you or just gave them to you by virtue of heredity. So I feel a little better about the overweight gene thing. And the ADD gene thing. I know that your gifts will help you get over some of the hurdles we left you with.

Since I am a Dad, and since you’re sitting here watching 67 gazillion people walk across a stage and don’t have a lot better to do right now, let me indulge myself and offer some advice:

Always turn outward. Always. If you find you’re bored, or depressed, or in a general funk, that is the time to find something to do for someone else. Turn off the TV and go find out what you can do to help. It’s the surest way to ensure your true happiness. Focus on helping others be happy instead of yourself. This is not my idea. It’s how God set things up. Just ask Him.

Remember that you are poor. When Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he meant for you to remember that you have nothing that is not from Him. It’s all God’s. It’s like he says to everybody, “Hey, hold this stuff for me. It’s good stuff. And when you see someone who needs some stuff, give them some of this stuff I asked you to hold. That’s what I put you here for, to give out my stuff. So take some of the stuff when you need it, because I want you to be rested and healthy and ready to give out my stuff. But be certain that I want you to pay attention and look for opportunities to give away my stuff.” Remember, none of your stuff is your stuff. God”s stuff is better anyway.

Embrace suffering in little doses for a big purpose. This is a hard lesson that I am learning. I can see that, like me, you are a procrastinator. (Sorry again.) Do a small task now to avoid a large mess later. Get the boring essential discipleship stuff out of the way so you can achieve the good stuff. The trick is to have a clear view of the Why, the Purpose, the Big Hairy Deal. Keep your Eyes on the Prize, so to speak. Each bill you pay, each dish you wash or shirt you fold can be put in the context of some big Core Value or Goal. So teaching will have lots of paperwork and administration. Do it promptly and you will have more time to do the funner teaching stuff and you will reach your Goal faster.

Love is a decision, not a feeling. In fact Love is what you do when you’re not feeling it. Mom and I are fond of the idea that “Love is being bothered for the sake of another.” Practice being bothered in lots of small ways everyday so that you don’t have to endure too many big hassles.

Reach out and ask for help. You can’t do it alone. Neither can they.

Practice being alone. Practice being still. Read Matthew Chapter 6. Practice listening to God. Sometimes you have to get away by yourself with no distractions to truly understand, at your very core, that you are never really alone.

So by now you may already know about your graduation present. And I promise to help you set it up so you can be successful with it. But I offer you a few more things.

I promise to give you maddening advice. I can’t always give you a straight answer. Often because I just plain don’t know the answer. But sometimes I do know and still there’s value in you getting at least part of the way on your own. As a teacher, you understand that idea. I promise to be there for you, but try not to do too much. Your life is becoming your own life and we both need to get used to that.

Of course, I promise you my constant prayers, but not necessarily for what you want. I thank God for the many times He did not give me what I wanted. Someday you will too.

I promise you a prophetic voice. I am a guy who looks to the future. It’s what I do. I tried to use that when you were little, guiding you to this or that hobby or interest that I thought might best position you for the future. Remember the times you were grounded and the only electronic thing I would let you do was Paint Shop Pro? That was what I was trying to do. I can still offer that kind of thing. I make a living, in part, helping people think goals and plans through, helping people see possibilities. I can help you with any time you ask. And forgive me in advance for the times I can’t help myself and do it without being asked. (Like when I urge you to take every opportunity in college to study distance education. Wave of the future, I tell you.)

I promise to always be your Dad. This job never goes away. It just changes.

And, of course, I promise to always love you.


A Prayer for Mr. Hitchens

“In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

When I read this last bit of the canticle during this morning’s Lauds, I thought of Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is most likely going to die of esophageal cancer. The fact that one of the world’s most famous atheists, notorious for his devotion to smoking and Scotch, is facing his own end, may seem like an opportunity to some.

For those inevitable religious who may indulge in schadenfreude, I am ashamed for you in advance. I know it’s hopeless, but I plead with all the faithful to deny the media that kind of hypocritical spectacle. And I don’t join those hoping for Hitchens’ deathbed conversion, especially those who seek it for what it would do for “the cause” of Christianity. If Hitchens has a change of heart, I hope it is a private one. I hope his defiant intellectual integrity remains intact at least in public.

But here’s what I do pray for, aside from his healing and peace — that God will shine on Mr. Hitchens in his darkness and in the shadow of his death.

I hope that whatever love Mr. Hitchens has in his life, whatever kindness, gentleness, and empathy, is his salvation. I imagine him waking in the presence of God thoroughly astonished to be there. Though Mr. Hitchens intellectually denied the existence of a supernatural deity, I certainly hope He had Love in his life. God, regardless of what he called it.

And I hope the God of Love, in His tender compassion, finds a place for the unrepentant and defiant atheist. The doctrine of my faith tells me it is not likely, but what we do not know of God’s power and mercy dwarfs what we can doctrinally say about His justice. If anyone can do it, God can.

Too bad saints cannot issue retractions from Heaven. It would be one I would love to read.

Identify, yes. Idolize, no.

I can’t call Stephen Slater a Hero. Just can’t. I admit I feel for him. I admit to a sympathetic vicarious thrill at his flambouyant outburst. And I give him serious points for style, grabbing a beer and sliding away and all.

But, even by his own previous statements on an attendant forum a few years before, his behavior was childish and unprofessional. I’m sure he knows it and I hope for his sake he doesn’t let the hype convice him that his behavior was justified.

I do think his story points out a great lesson for us. That how we as customers treat service people is an important base measure of how civilized our society is. I hear my daughter complain regularly about customers’ behavior when they come through her checkout line. The most bitter complaints come from customers who abuse her when she has to enforce policies she did not set and has no power to change. She just checks groceries, folks. She does not set prices, coupon policy, or the number of items allowed in the express line. Give her a break, okay?

Service people do more than serve us what we want and need. They help ensure that public resources are most available and accessible for all. When we are all in a public place, Superrationality dictates that we need to be aware that everyone else there is there for some need and we all need to share this space, time, resource in a way that works best for everybody, not just me. Often I find myself in line somewhere actually being grateful for the whole phenomenon of it. That people actually acquiesce to standing in line as a default. To me it’s a sign of cooperation, civility, and justice. When I have the presence of mind to see it, I can actually enjoy the quotidian social wonder of taking my place in a queue.

For me, it’s a good barometer of my prayer life. When I am in my mindless ego-drone state, I am Mr. Exceptionalism. Yeah the rules are good, yadda yadda, but my situation is different. When my praver hygeine is caught up, I can be aware of my behavior and the needs of others. Especially service people and my fellow customers.

Oh, and for the love of Pete, I hope that the identity of the woman whose behavior was the cause of all this is not discovered. She owes an apology, but she does not deserve the crapstorm that will hit her if her name hits the media.

Plus, if we think about it, we have all been this woman at some point. We can all think of moments where we’ve rationalized exceptionalism, where we are convinced that the rules can be bent in this case, just this once, for me.

I do it while driving several times a week. I sheepishly hung up my cell phone in the car the other day, recalling how I often huff at other drivers to “get off the damn phone and drive!” Pot, Kettle, black, way too often.

So I find two great measures of my own Christian maturity; how thoughtful I am in public service situations, especially to those who serve, and how gentle I am with those (including myself) who fail to overcome their own exceptionalism.

Good To Know: Minty Fresh Money

Well, whaddaya know? Apparently the U.S. Mint sells new John Adams dollar coins, in lots of $250 and $500, with free shipping and handling. And they will let you use your credit card so it will show up as a purchase and not a cash advance.

Like free money. Well, not free money, but money “at cost.”

Apparently the Mint is doing this to encourage the circulation of new dollar coins. The coins last longer than bills and so saves printing costs over time. There you go — you can buy fresh minted cash for free and do a civic service (of sorts) at the same time. Good to know.