Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Stuff of Fairytales

Photo credit: Aleksandra Shepherd®
There's something special captured in this moment. I see a snapshot of forever that is locked in the gaze of an imaginary princess and a dog loyal to her affections. We have no need of movies or imaginary tales... they exist under our roof.

This moment that you find yourself here, is no mistake. It is time for you and I to take a step back from the noise of the day, and to again reconnect to the imaginative spirit that is embedded into our souls. 

Created by the God that spoke the universe from His mouth, we are not defined or limited by the confines of our reality. We are created for more. What can you imagine today? Are you willing to step into the stuff of fairytales? I think what we can tap into is even so much larger that that.

The Kingdom of God is something that we must grasp with our imagination. While it is even more real than the reality that culture creates, it is sometimes harder to see, and even harder to realize that it is here. 

We are called to imagine the world as created by God. A garden. A relationship. You are the son or daughter of the God who speaks everything into being. I want to gaze into his face for eternity... like the gaze between my fairytale princess and her loyal hound.

There is something powerful there.

I believe it is held in the gaze. A focus on the one who creates. Everything else comes into alignment. We see the reality that is imagined by God. Not the reality that a fallen world has distorted. In this gaze is an eternal understanding. There is nothing that can separate me from His love.

This fairytale is real.  

There is nothing that is worth more than knowing Him. There is nothing that is more appealing that following the footsteps of His son. There is no better place to be than in the imaginative world of the God of everything.

May we stand in the light of this moment, captured in the gaze as trusted companions.


Jesus said, 

“Let the little children come to me, 
and do not hinder them, 
for the kingdom of heaven 
belongs to such as these.”

The Gospel according to Matthew
Chapter 19, Verse 14

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Single Dark Braid

She had a single, dark braid running down the back of her head. It seemed so dark, so historically correct to her home country. When the social worker first handed her to my wife on that rainy day in Guangzhou, her hair was short and thin. Her forehead seemed to be the biggest part of her, only overshadowed by her smiling eyes and perfect mouth.

The braid was thick now and covering her neck. She was aware of its weight as she turned her small neck to smile at me. The kids had been set loose and had the run of the house. This meant that random piles of pillows, dirty dishes, and pajama clad children littered the floors.

I really like this part of my life. I like it all really... when it comes down to it. It's just that this part seems so natural, so lived in like a good pair of jeans. I just hitch them up and settle in. This is my life. This is my life and it is good.

Lately I've been learning how to really be a leader. Grant it, I've been in leadership positions most of my life. I must say... that has always surprised me. I remember my senior year of high school being selected by my class to be a peer counselor. It shocked me. The guidance counselor of the school told me that she was sure that I had "natural leadership abilities." I scoffed. I was an only child. I'd rather be just left alone.

To my surprise and not my ability, life seemed to immediately through leadership roles my way. Song-leader, Resident Assistant, Group Home Manager, State Hospital Liaison... and I'd meet each title with stupefaction. I'd just sort of lean back and smile. Surely some big joke was being played on us all. I am no leader. And yet... people seem willing to follow.

Life was generally unhappy for me for a good many years. I mean, we looked good... right? We moved from a small house to a medium house to a big house. It was like we were intent on playing the roles of each character in the Three Bears storyline. But nothing was "just right" (popular culture reference).

These past few days I've realized that we're at a new place in life. The leadership roles have gotten quite serious. My mind flashes to when I would assemble Lego blocks as a child. Sometimes I'd struggle to make two pieces fit... and without warning they'd "snap" into place. Yes, that's it. Things have snapped lately. 

Caleb and I watched The Matrix last night and my mind has been replaying a scene ever since. The Oracle told Neo that he wasn't ready yet... because he didn't believe. It was such a sad scene. I was left wondering, so... if he believed... would that simple belief had changed things in that moment? 

How many of us lose out on our destiny because we lack belief? I don't want to lack belief any longer. I want the solid assurance of those two Lego blocks clicking together. "I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I've committed unto Him against that day" (Whittle, 1883; 2 Tim 1:12).

There was a moment in The Matix when Neo believed... and it was after he had sustained fatal wounds from the agents. His own strength and ability had failed... and yet faith and love and belief were what was needed to give him the strength to realize his identity. We really are not so different. 

Like any good story, the truth is the same. It takes faith, love, and belief for us to find who we are created to become. Yes. This feels good to me. It's like soft denim over sneakers on a Saturday morning. It is right and it fits like a favorite t-shirt. 

I picked Sterling up and I asked her if she missed me today. She looked at me sideways and grinned as she glanced away. I asked her again... and she smiled while pretending to ignore me. Silence hung in the balance.

I spoke her name, "Sterling."

She turned with a twinkle and said, "yes Poppi."

My soul was complete. 

And so in this time where I wrestle with what it means to be a leader... when to offer grace, when to turn the other cheek, when to hold a firm line, when to accept criticism, when to apply discipline, when to collaborate, when to yield, and when to charge... I find my gravity in the warmth of this thick, dark, pony-tailed embrace. 

She had a single, dark braid running down the back of her head, and it felt like home.

Friday, May 22, 2015

"People will stare, make it worth their while."

"Mr. Shepherd, why does your face hair grow faster than the hair on top of your head?"

"Mr. Shepherd, when are you going to grow your hair back?"

"Mr. Shepherd, why do you like to have no hair?"

Many of the students at CAS are perplexed when they contemplate my slick pate. While many of them have grandpas or father's with unfortunate hair patterns, they had not observed anyone who voluntarily shed their locks.

I knew from past experience that if I kept it consistent, the shock and novelty would soon give way to normalcy. For the most part this is true. This past week I encountered a mission partner who hadn't seen me for several months, and he was a bit surprised. It took me a few moments to understand why he looked so unnerved... until he uttered slowly, "uh... your hair."

I thought surely I'd heard all likely responses, but this week I encountered something entirely new. I walked into a 10th Grade English class to find everyone say... look at Jimmy. I glanced over at Jimmy to see that he had a black scarf wrapped around his head. Jimmy is always doing funny things, and so I just said... "nice scarf, Jimmy" and then turned away. The class immediately began urging me to look back at Jimmy.

I turned as he unwound the scarf from his bald head! He said, "Now I look like you, Mr. Shepherd." He reached out his arms and said... "Hug me?" What was I to do? I walked over and I leaned into his hug. He immediately reached up and rubbed my head, saying, "Papa."

This was awkward! The class erupted with laughter as I nearly collapsed with the hilarity of the moment. Jimmy surprised me! I never in a million years expected any of the kids to copy my non-traditional hair-did.

I arrived the next morning to find that two of his friends had joined him. They informed me that there was a method: my head was shaved with a razor, so it was a zero. Jimmy had used a 1 guard, Javier a 2, and Esteban used a 3. We were the perfect sequence of head shavedness!

Since Wednesday, each day has greeted me with at least one more student with a shaved or tightly clipped head. I'm not quite sure what I think about this... but it is a unique phenomenon to say the least! I've never been a trend setter, and I certainly didn't set out with that intention when I decided to live life as a bald man again. 

The owner of the school asked me if I'd noticed that students were shaving their heads, and did I know why? I thought I was about to be fired as I answered, "yes, I've noticed. Jimmy started it, saying he looked like me." She cracked up laughing and it seems I'll keep my position.

Torres, after showing me his bald head yesterday, told me, "You know, it feels really good. Especially when you do this!" (He proceeded to pour a little water from his water bottle, and rub it on his head). Yes! Indeed! This is quite refreshing! 

So... if you're in the neighborhood and you see a group of close cropped young men, please do not be afraid. They're not a gang, they're not neo-nazis, and they don't all have cancer. 

They're just under my influence. 

Pray for me?

Quote attributed to Harry Winston

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Shared Timeline | 20 Years In

Today marks 20 years. Twenty years that began with an awkward phone call, answered by a "yes" that changed the course of my life in a syllable.

Our shared timeline began to the surprise of many. I remember the reaction of our youth pastor, Randy Montgomery. He eyebrows raised, he nodded his head up and down as he looked me over and said, "that's powerful."

I think we knew we had something pretty early on. I still have my journal entry from the night of our first date to Beauty and the Beast and TGI Friday's (along with the receipts and ticket stubs). It says, "I think I may marry this girl."

I remember our first steps at Anderson University. I don't think I would have ever gone there without you, girl. I am fully aware today that the best parts of my life are those events that I shared with you. I am who I am due to my relationship with you that makes me so much more than myself.

A glance at our shared timeline on Facebook was the reality that I needed today. Adoption, children, mission, ministry, friendships, adventure, travel, the essence of the pursuit of living... the best of it, the most meaningful of it all, we have shared together. I love our shared timeline.

I love you. 

I don't know the future. We both know that time is fleeting. But, looking back helps me to abandon worry for tomorrow. Our shared days are meaningful. Our path has had purpose. I can see those moments when we've been able to fully yield to God, and those moments are by far the best of all.

Our timeline is shared by God. It may be better to say that we share His timelessness. Whatever our story has yet to bring, I am confident that we will continue to raise eyebrows (there really is no doubt to this).

We began with a single syllable of "yes," and that little, powerful word continues to be the response that drives who we are, what we do, and who we will become.

Happy Anniversary, girl. I feel like we've barely begun. I feel your hand in mine, just like that day when we walked down the aisle, faces flushed, running into the world... come what may, we'll take it together.

"It's enough for this restless wanderer, just to be with you."
Can You Feel the Love Tonight, from the Lion King

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Significance of Tea (Parkinson's Disease, Native Tribes, & My Own Narnia)

When I think of the concept of time, my mind goes to a large three-story house on Baltimore street in Middletown, Ohio. It was build in the 1920’s and it was a majestic house of beauty, standing in the best part of town, filled with a large family and the laughter of children. 

But it looked so very different by the time I walked into it’s doors. The local economy had not fared well, and the once bright neighborhood had become dark, dirty, and dangerous. We’d scurry from our car on the street, up the concrete stairs, and duck behind the great oak front door while my Great-grandfather slide the dead bolt lock, and turned the two locks below it. 

Suddenly my childhood self would enter a world no less real than Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan entering C.S. Lewis’ Wardrobe. Everything changed, and my white-haired, spectacled grandfather became the best of imaginative storytellers. I would sit at his feet for hours while my mom would set the hair of my great-grandma. Her religious beliefs prevented her from ever cutting it. My mom would roll it up into a Phd…. known as a pentecostal hair do… high above her head.

While all that hair-doing was going on, I listen to the quiet, slow voice of Grandpa Elden. He tell of an old Model-T Ford driving over him, leaving him unharmed in the dirt road. He said that he was unharmed because he'd put on three pairs of pants for a recent spanking. I don't think the corporal punishment had much of an effect on him. He also told of stealing candy at the corner store as a child… and of course getting caught. I think that actually led to the spanking and car rolling? 

He’d tell of surviving the Great Depression, and two world wars. He knew the world before televisions, and a phone in every house. He'd gone to Africa as a missionary. He had tribal shields and spears to prove it... hidden in a dusty room that was usually locked. He open it and leave the door cracked so I could sneak it and explore. 

I was fascinated with this little quiet man who had so many stories and secrets. I would have ignored his stories for tall tales... except for his intense blue eyes that spoke of truth.

What I remember most of him is his use of time. It was incredibly efficient. I suppose he’d had decades of perfecting his movements. His life was filled with patterns. The old carpet was worn with trails that perfectly fit his footsteps.

Even an action as simple as making a cup of tea was a beautiful symphony of small meaningful actions… the rise and fall of his hand as he’d swirl the spoon. The way his face would crinkle with a smile and a sigh after his first sip. The sound of the teaspoon being gently placed back onto the china platter.

He had Parkinson’s disease. I remember watching him fade. I remember visiting him in the elderly care home when I came from college. I remember his thinned face and hands. I remember helping him in the bathroom. I remember our final prayer together.

My last words to him on this earth were, I love you Papaw Henry. I walked out of that facility feeling like my throat was being squeezed as I fought back tears. I remember my time with him so clearly. 

He filled each moment with purpose.

He was aware of his passing days, and he poured those moments into his little great-grandson. 

I smile when I think of him.

He gave me a great gift… 
time well spent and a life on purpose.

Our house in Guatemala has no shag carpet. And yet I am keenly aware that my footsteps are making paths from the shuffling of my days. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Hinted Intellectualism | Confirmed Vision

*notes on a bow-tie, below

It requires a sense of humor to be here in this place. There are days that seem too hectic, with too many requirements. Each day begins at 6:45 and is filled. I'm an introvert at heart and sometimes I long for a cave on an island. 

And then there are these incredible moments that pull back the veil and I am able to see these days as God sees them. These little glances fill my heart and energize my body. A single student that finds hope, or breaks the grasp of what held her back... these moments are immeasurable.

We are learning to dream big. Giant. Epic. God is showing me a plan that will extend into generations. A partnership between a church congregation and a school... a student ministry that reaches beyond language, nationality, culture, and even denomination... a community center that serves missionaries, churches, and provides students safe, structured, and crazy fun God-focused activities.

I think this may be the role for a person with a sense of humor. Maybe God really does know how to handle me?

Soon we'll be linking up individuals and churches with students in Guatemala, providing partial scholarships along with student and parent commitment and contribution, shaping young lives that will go out and influence a culture and a nation. We empower and serve beside young men and women who will be the change they seek. 

The Shep family is learning (taking a note from my wife's blog) that we are called here to work with students. We are called to live in community. We are the catalysts that reconcile relationships and bind together partnerships. We are kingdom builders.

We've formed an alliance with individuals from the US, and Guatemalans that has come together as an international non-profit, the Guatemalan International Christian Education Foundation. We ask that you begin to pray and to help us network as we prepare our first big steps. 

Sponsor a student. Come down and see the work. Help us source funding for a building. We're dreaming big... and we're doing it with the joy of the lord. We like to refer to that as... our sense of humor. So pray with us. Pray that we follow the will of God and remain in His favor. Pray that if this is the path... that He makes it straight before us.

So tie a bow on your head... and follow me!

Preliminary Sketch - Future Home of Journey Church | Guatemala
Local partnerships with Schools & Missions

2nd & 3rd Floor Classrooms

*To its devotees the bow tie suggests iconoclasm of an Old World sort, a fusty adherence to a contrarian point of view. The bow tie hints at intellectualism, real or feigned, and sometimes suggests technical acumen, perhaps because it is so hard to tie. Bow ties are worn by magicians, country doctors, lawyers and professors and by people hoping to look like the above. But perhaps most of all, wearing a bow tie is a way of broadcasting an aggressive lack of concern for what other people think… A list of bow-tie devotees reads like a Who’s Who of rugged individualists: Theodore Roosevelt, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill and Fred Astaire wore bow ties, as did Senators Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York and Paul Simon of Illinois. 

-Warren St John, New York Times

Monday, May 11, 2015

Life by a Grain of Salt

I look at this picture and I feel the warmth of the moment. The sunlight fills the air with an assurance that all is well. A salt and pepper set rests on a plaid tablecloth that somehow just feels grounded, classic, and timeless. 

Reflecting back on this image, I realize that the camera captured what I failed to see. I was preoccupied with a messed up double order of orange juice, the nasty taste of my sandwich, and unconsumed food on my children's plates. The unimportant noise of the day received my attention as a symphony played at my table. 

Quiet, simple moments are the memories that will linger. I remember bulky photo-albums that held pictures that were intentional. Memories were captured with effort with film loaded, wound, flash connected, and finally film dropped off and picked up a week later. Everyone smiled, collars were smoothed, and the memory was fixed into paper.

Pictures are cheap now, but our time is no less valuable. I take a moment today to remember those things like sunlight silhouetting those I love and the permanence of salt and pepper resting on a dinner table. Such quiet symbols that remind us of memories as powerful bits that shape our future.

I remember the salt and pepper shakers that sat on the small table of my Grandpa Harry and Mammaw Mack. My family spent many dinners there, centered often around corn-bread or biscuits. I can envision the salt-shakers of my home growing up, on the tables of my university, and even on the tables of Russia, China, and Guatemala. Each place comes with powerful, life-shaping memory.

I want my children to have these sorts of meaningful, warm memories that link their lives. There must be some sort of consistent thread that roots us into identity as we set out to explore the world. So what must be the salt of our lives? What captures our days and our moments? 

It's time today to dismiss the noise and pay attention to the symphony of life that plays at our table. 
11 years ago today. A moment captured in film.
The day we received our daughter in Orekevo-Zuevo.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

We have a Bidet in our Bathroom

We've never spoken of it, not even to each other. It sits in our bathroom next to the always overflowing wastebasket, toilet plunger, and broken towl bar that I've neglected to fix since September, as some sort of silent monster in the corner. I had to Google how to even spell it's name. 

This thing was a joke of childhood. It sits here on top of cracked tile as some sort of poetic contrast against the poverty of a nation. There was once a family of means that lived in this house, and misfortune for them provided opportunity to forward the Kingdom of God with us. This sets with unease in my mind. I am aware of the critical nature of our existence. We are called to fear God and act in obedience. This is how we are covenant people.

The abandoned trappings of wealth are a reminder that what we hold is temporary.

Concrete walls, unscreened windows, steel security doors open to recovering courtyards seem to represent the work that God is doing through us... restoring relationships and connecting His children. Kellie and I are becoming catalysts that God uses to advance His kingdom. We are amazed when we stop to see what He is doing... and allowing to pass through our hands.

I feel like an abandoned bidet... people ask me these questions of substance: "what is your primary role in Guatemala" or " what is the central focus of your ministry" or "where do you see yourself in ten years?" I haven't a clue. We wake up every morning with a simple prayer, "God, please use us today. Help us to fear you alone, and to be obedient. Send us opportunities to advance Your kingdom today."

We are servants. We give thanks to stand in this place. Every single day offers us unexpected turns. We are standing beside giants in the faith. We bumble though this existance without exception, in pursuit of the face of God. There simply is no greater goal. Life is day to day. We exhausted our life savings last January. God has provided through our brothers and sisters, and even through some folks who don't even know Him. 

All I can tell you... is that there is something to faith. There is something to true belief. There is something to abandoning all your cares to the one true God. He is Yahweh. I know Him. I want you to meet Him. 

We have a bidet in our bathroom. I think I'll try to turn it on this week. Who knows what kind of post you may read next? Hopefully there will be no pictures... or reports of medical intervention.

I find myself contemplating a bidet in the wee hours of the night. I could sleep, but I find myself awake giving thanks for the road we've travelled. We could have said, "no." We could have missed these days. Praise God we were just wild enough to say, "yes." 

There are big things in store here. Pray with us as we move forward through our days. We remain willing, even when the means just aren't apparent to us. I have a $1,200.00 bill on my desk for my summer classes. I don't have a clue how I'll pay for it. But I know from experience that God will provide it. The plan He has for my life requires it. He requires my obedience. I've completed 5 semesters of classes. It has not been easy, and we've made sacrifices. Still... I am aware that God has covered every cent. I don't owe a dollar. 

He won't abandon me now.

Journey Church has a tremendous opportunity through a community partnership. Pray with us. God is providing an open door for us to make a permanent footprint on this land. My relationship with Christian American School deepens. I am keenly aware that God has me here for a purpose. 

Sometimes we sit like abandoned appliances in a cold broken tile bathroom... and still, God has us here for a specific reason. 

Wherever you are, open your eyes. God has placed a purpose before you. I am here tonight, contemplating a bidet... so that this message reaches your heart.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Scenes from Mr. Mom: Day Five (Sterling's Ballet Video)

"Let's all dance like a daisy."

Much of this day, I certainly did not feel like a daisy. Our primary technician l was out sick and this meant that I added sound and light tech to my roles of principal, pastor, and father. I was technician for 2 chapels, and pastor for 3 others. A first aid training was scheduled at the same time Aleksandra was playing basketball, and Sterling was in a ballet. I knew something would have to give. I was required to be in three places at once.

I dashed out of the building at Christian American School and ran down the street to Christian Academy of Guatemala. The guard now finds my comings and goings humorous this week as I juggle multiple roles. The times have changed for both the ballet and the basketball game. There are no parents present to help with the small ballerinas. This isn't my forte, but I figure at least my presence there would be assuring?

The internet was down... again. There are forest fires nearby, I don't know if that has anything to do with it? So, I run back across the street where I've left my school stranded. They've been resourceful and they have things up and running for the training. Thank God. I run back to the Academy.

I sit on the concrete bleachers while Sterling's group practices for the performance. It's me and all the Mommies. I'm a novelty. They all seem to take pity on me since they know I've been without Kellie. I wonder if I'm really that obviously lacking? I dismiss the though. I'll evaluate later. 

Me and the Mommies are moved down to the performance area, and suddenly my day regains perspective.

I was threatened by my wife that I get a video of this. I honestly didn't know if I could. I felt guilty leaving my school on a day that they needed me, but when life presses, priorities must align. Today, my children had to take priority.

After the dance Sterling and I found Caleb who was perplexed as to why he had to sit and wait for me under the tree (somehow he had missed that I was there watching his sisters) and we walked to the basketball court to watch Aleksandra and her team beat one of the biggest schools in the area, 23-12. Still undefeated. One more game and it's a perfect season.

I figured we all were due for a treat. It was time to go to my all time favorite restaurant (seriously). McDonald's here comes the Sheps! Caleb ate two value meals, and we all enjoyed Chocolate Sundaes. Caleb said it was the best trip to McDonald's ever!

Kellie is back in less than 24 hours. I'm going to dance like a daisy.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Scenes from Mr. Mom: Day Four (I forgot my kids!)

At the conclusion of my fourth back to back meeting I looked at my watch and dashed off like the White Rabbit shouting, "I'm late, I'm late!" I ran out the gate, down the street, and past the guard at the academy and continue huffing up the drive. I see my children about to be led into the holding area for delinquent parents. I flap my arms like a crazed man... she sees me, and leaves my children un-contained. 

I made it. Just. Barely.

Holding Sterling's hand with the two bigs behind me, we cross the street, walking across the speed bump of course (Sterling insisted), back through the gate, and into the safe confines of my office. My three kids are crammed into two seats as I pack my bag, lock the door, and turn to exit.

Now, a parent that we've been trying to track down for a week decides to make an entrance. I usher my three kids off to a trusted teacher, and into yet another meeting I descend. 

We solve the issues of the world, well, just delay them really... and then the guard is reminding me that I must move my car [NOW] or it will be locked in for the night. This is my cue that the day is ended. Me and the kids high tail it to the car, and I make tracks home.

We are late. It is 4:30 and the Sports Banquet is at 6:00. No, Aleksandra tells me it has been moved to 7:00. Great! Maybe she is wrong... but I'm going to assume she's right. She wants to bake brownies, shower, paint her nails, and put on a nice dress. I honestly don't see how she can get it all done, but I'm intrigued. I tell her to go for it. She showers and comes down to begin her mixing. I light the oven for her and I stand back to look at her. She surprises me as I recognize that she is making giant steps in her life... right in front of me.

Meanwhile, I have discovered that the bunk beds I've ordered were installed in the wrong room. Fabulous. Leaving on my bow-tie and dress clothes... I get out my drill, disassemble, move, and re-assemble the beds. My shirt tail is out... and it remained out for the duration of the night. So be it. This is life... unfiltered. 

I walk into the kitchen... and miracle of miracles, there is my beautiful daughter, hair and nails done, in her mother's high heels, dress on, icing her blonde brownies... all from scratch. I must say that I am in awe of her, and of my wife, for training her so well. They even tasted great.

I've hollered at Caleb, reminding him that he is in charge of dinner for himself and his decade younger sister as Aleksandra and I spirit away to the Sports Banquet. He has to cook their dinner, and take care of her while we're away. I am shocked for the second time in the night as he comes to the kitchen, fires up the store, and makes his specialty, grilled cheese sandwiches. I stand back and observe my two children at work in the kitchen. 

Perhaps these humans will be able to make it in the world on their own someday? I feel hopeful! I appreciate my wife in this moment, and think maybe we've done a few things right? Maybe it's just dumb luck, or more likely, God is laughing at our ineptitude and having mercy on us.

Aleksandra turns to me with the finished product. 

Walking into the little chapel at CAG where we'll have our sports awards, I tell Aleksandra that I am honored to walk in beside her. She is beautiful, and strong, and capable. She receives recognition for her participation in soccer and her undefeated season in basketball. This is a big deal. I know she'll remember this night forever. 

Her Soccer Team
Aleksandra's Undefeated Basketball Team
By chance I make a professional contact I've wanted to make for two years. He is here, he is walking around by himself, and I feel confident enough to speak to him. To my surprise and delight, it goes great. We hit it off! We find out we know the same people back in my hometown. Crazy! God... you've got this.

We sneak out at intermission. We don't want to stay for the high school awards... and I am worried that Caleb might have Sterling duct taped to a chair shooting nerf darts at her by now. 

Arriving at home, I find Caleb and Sterling have eaten the leftover chocolate from the brownie frosting. She is running around barefoot and feral, but unharmed. Aleksandra helps her shower and prepare for bed. We Skype Kellie briefly while Caleb and I finish dishes, and we all tuck into bed early. 

Another day complete. Everyone fed, bathed, schooled, and growing up... I am a blessed man. I am thankful. My life may look pretty messy to the outsider, but I see nothing but beauty. 

Tomorrow has more appointments than I can possibly hit. I am scheduled to preach three chapels, conduct a 3 hour First Aid Training, and somehow make a ballet performance and a basketball game. I have no clue how it will all work out. Oh, I can't forget to pick up the kids again... 

Even so, my head hits my pillow softly tonight. I'm thankful to have these few days to really see my kids. These days are a testament to my wife. She's raised these booger eaters into functional humans. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Scenes from Mr. Mom: Day Three (Scrappy Fighters)

Dear Scottie Pippen, I've been a fan since watching you beside Michael Jordan in the nineties when your team dominated world basketball. I need you to know that you are no longer my favorite forward.

Aleksandra's middle school team remains undefeated with only one more game to play. To put this into perspective, the team did not win a single game last season. These girls and their coach are epic.

Yesterday I was able to catch the final three minutes of her game. The girls are scrappy fighters. I love watching their intensity. They never let up. They press, they steal, they rebound... and my daughter is right there gaining some insights for life.

God has seen fit to give me two daughters that absolutely takes life head on. I was meek as a child, never engaging in competitive activities. This was something that I had to overcome as an adult... sometimes it causes me to overreach. I sat watching the game with Sterling in my lap. Her mind was engaged on overdrive.

She saw friends in every direction, she noticed the bugs in the air, the birds in the sky outside the window, the snacks by the door, the necklace around my neck, the phone in my pocket, the moles on my arm, thoughts of dinner, and Frozen, and when is her mom coming home?

She has gone from telling everyone that her mother is "never coming home," to saying she'll be back in "two weeks." I think today I finally convinced her that it is two more days. She's making it hard on her mother. She is highly skilled in working people's emotions to get what she wants. 

Sterling has not missed a beat. She's a strong trooper. She has cried for her mother on two occasions: the two times we've connected on a video call. She cries and whines and clutches the iPad... and then after the theatrics, immediately follows up with a question, "What surprises are you bringing me?" Her methods work.

She has perfected the art of human expression and she can work it to get what she wants. A sad face, a tear, a sideways-head-tilted-sparkly-eyed smile... all are tools that she has mastered. 

These girls can teach me a great deal. They chase life and they use every little bit at their disposal to grasp with open hands. There are days when I have to be less like the shy quiet little boy that I remember, and more like the aggressive ball-busters that are my daughters. 

Live is meant to be lived with boldness. I woke up this day ready to hit the court with passion. After all, I also serve on an undefeated team.

 For I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 

Philippians 1:19-21

Monday, May 4, 2015

Scenes from Mr. Mom: Day Two (You're Worth More than Chicken)

You may notice this post is a day late... things got busy.

Sunday morning I came downstairs to the smell of french toast. Gloria, one of our friends who rents space with us had stepped in for kitchen duty. Aleksandra stood at the counter wearing her mother's heels, plating up the warm breakfast and Sterling struck a pose when she realized I was about to snap a picture. I thought to myself, "if the entire day goes as smoothly as this moment looks... then what a wonderful day this will be."

We went to church, where we offer the sacrament of Holy Communion every first Sunday of the month. I was missing Kellie when I walked over to the table to present the elements to the congregation. Usually she stands next to me holding the bread. Suddenly Aleksandra stands and comes up front. She smiles at me and picks up the cup. 

All eyes are of course on us as I grin and trade her the basket of bread for the cup. There are soft snickers and giggles from those who know her. We don't want to see the representation of the blood of Christ shattered on the floor. I think to myself... well, maybe there is an illustration there? 

After church we head to Taco Bell. Caleb casually mentions that he would really enjoy a crunchy taco roll. I tell him that if he's willing to place the order, he can get the extra item. He agrees and navigates the transaction flawlessly. We have more food than usual, with less family members at the table. We eat it all.

It is indeed a quiet Sunday afternoon. The weather is beautiful and the breeze blows softly through the door, of course carrying with it countless giant beetles that buzz through the air like miniature angry helicopters. I've stopped fighting them. They're harmless. We've found that we can race them and also get them to fight each other. Cheap entertainment! 

I retire to my office to complete my Ethics Final Exam. The mid-term was multiple choice and short answer, so I know what I'm expecting. I've studied the past exam and I've reviewed all my notes. I've a concept based mind, so I had to work extra hard to wield the facts and details. I open the exam to find that it consists of four essay sections. I had to step away to clear my mind... this would normally be good, but it wasn't what I expected. 

With the exam completed, I go downstairs to the smell of burnt cheese. I had no idea what I was walking into. The picture perfect and smooth day had been confronted with reality. 

Aleksandra has on her apron. The stove is on. She sees my face and says, "Chelsey lit the burner for me." From the top of the overflowing garbage are flour tortillas burnt to a black crisp. I ignore it. I walk over to the counter and see three plates of beautifully browned quesadillas. 

Aleksandra reaches her hand into our precious 3 lb. bag of cheddar cheese shreds and I say, "you should have your hand inside of the bag, it could contaminate it." She immediately releases the cheese from her hand, dropping it all back into the bag. Ugh. I say, "Now you've made it worse. If your hand was dirty, now you've introduced the contaminant to the entire bag." Her shoulders slump as she looks down (in the past I managed food safety for Kroger).

I notice the stainless steel bowl of chicken I prepared yesterday is on the counter. I had prepared enough to cover three dinners. I touched it to see if it was warm, and found that it was still chilled from the refrigerator. 

I was aggravated as I explained to Aleksandra that the quesadillas were plated up with cold chicken inside them. And, she had the wrong pan and had used no cooking spray, causing cheese and tortillas to burn and crust on the pan. I took out the large, non-stick frying pan from the cabinet and turned to her, fussing with it in my hand, "you have wasted them. They are ruined!" Suddenly I heard from behind me, "you need to put that frying pan down."

It was Gloria. She may have saved a life?

As I began to calm, I heard Aleksandra activate the microwave. I continued to work at the stove when a question entered my brain. I turned, "Aleksandra, what container is in the microwave?" She says, "the same one." I rush to the microwave and hit cancel. The steel bowl was being microwaved!

I began fussing about how she might have set the microwave on fire, blown us up, or irradiated my eyeballs (none of which is likely, I understand), when I heard something hit the garbage. I turn in a slow-motion-horror-movie shout of... "nnnnooooo!" as I see the three plates of cold-chicken quesadillas have hit the trash. 

Now I progress to full-blown monkey rage. My hands are flapping and I'm hopping around the kitchen... a full day's worth of prepared meals have hit the nasty garbage. I reflect on an old Seinfeld episode where George Constanza pulls a doughnut from the top of the garbage can.... and I resist. I am frustrated. I turn to my daughter.

"You have thrown away perfectly good chicken!" She says, "but you said it was no good." I say, "what were you thinking? The chicken was fine! It only needed to be removed and reheated. You are fired! Get out of the kitchen." I pictured myself as Gordon Ramsey! Chelsey has entered the scene and stands silently. I say, "I fired her." Chelsey says, "I see that." The moment causes me to reflect. I notice that before leaving, Aleksandra had turned off the gas. That was some smart thinking under fire. 

I wash my hands and leave the kitchen, finding Aleksandra's door closed. This is never a good sign. I knock softly and she replies that I can come in. She is face down crying into her pillow. I realize I've failed. I've blown it. I've lost perspective. I want to fall into my own bed and cover up. I realize that her and I are now in the same space. We need to come back... and we can do so together. 

I sat on her bed. "I'm sorry. I was too harsh." She says, "I'll never be a chef if I can't even cook a quesadilla!" Her mascara from dressing up at church ran down her cheeks. I look at her and I really see her now. She is becoming a little woman. She's beginning to shrug off the softness of childhood.

I took a deep breath and blew out the last bit of my tension. "No, I was wrong. It's just chicken. You didn't know. You're still learning. You were trying to help. I should appreciate that and not complain. It's just chicken. I love chicken, but you're worth more than chicken."

She laughed and smeared her mascara all over her pillow. I decided not to comment. She saw me observing the stained pillow and looked up to meet my eyes. We both laughed. We returned downstairs and together cooked up some really good quesadillas. 

We washed dishes together, me, Aleksandra, and Caleb. The conversation turned deep as Aleksandra asked me questions of sin, God, creation, and marriage. She was trying to reconcile our belief with behavior that she's observed. Near the end of our conversation, she said, "I liked being a child better. The world was perfect." 

I took her face in my hands and I said, "yes, you're right... it is oftentimes messed up. But you must also never forget that it is perfect." Keep both perspectives. 

Day two began beautiful, and it ended sweet. No children were harmed in the making of this entry.