Communication Principle: Keep Learning

I’m a lifelong student of communication. The way we function at work, the habits we have in our relationships, and the view we have of ourselves — all of this and more are shaped by how we learned to communicate. As a leader, a spouse, a parent, a friend… never stop learning to communicate more effectively. #leader #learning #communication #work

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CovidAGAIN

Zac asked “how’s Covid treatin’ ya?” and I said “like I’m it’s punching bag.” Thankfully Zac is at Nana’s house, 106 miles away, which keeps him isolated from our family’s 50% infection rate. Those of us who have succumbed to the viral load are laying low and making the best of it. For the sake of optimism, and in the practice of being continually thankful, here are three bright spots to having this disease… again.

  1. The fever dreams are awesome. I didn’t know that Covid=creativity. I’ve never dreamed of eating food via a mid-torso drawer rather than using our mouth. Yeah, it’s a weird dream, but it kind of makes sense: how do we eat and talk with the same hole? Also, it should be noted that I am still running a fever as I write this.
  2. Cam (5) can eat anything. “Can I have a popsicle?” is followed by “just eat whatever you want…” — a sure sign of parenting while sick. The rules go out the window with Covid. We’re in survival mode.
  3. We’re forced to slow down. I have a list of 17 things that need to get done in the next 72 hours, but guess what… you can’t use your limbs if you can’t feel your limbs. Take that, progress!

We are like many who had the disease, celebrated thanksgiving, had it again, went to Disney, had it again, went to a family reunion, had it again. It’s the circle of life, and it moves us all.

And now, off to give Cam another sucker while I hack up a lung.

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Improvement Is Messy

I used to work at a place called Renovation Church. I think “Renovation” is a great name for a church because it describes the kind of work Jesus does in our lives. When we were in the process of finding. new name, we tossed around the name “Restoration Church” but landed on Reno because renovation is different from restoration. Restoration bringing us back to a previous, original, like-new state. We restore old ’57 Chevy’s, Grandma’s dresser, and vintage computers to their original condition, just like in their glory days. If we were to renovate instead of restore, the ’57 Chevy would have added antilock breaks and airbags, Grandma’s dresser would include USB charging ports, and my old Apple II would run Oregon Trail at speeds so fast that you’d miss it if you blinked. Just in case you missed it, you still died of dysentery.

Jesus renovates us, taking what was and making a new version. If he were to restore us, we would have all our hair (yes, please) and straight teeth, but our souls would still be full of sin. We’d look good but still be dying inside because we’ve been on the wrong track since birth (Psalm 51:5). Spiritual renovation is the goal, not just restoration. Indeed, Jesus does restore us, but not to an old version. We are a new creation (1 Corinthians 5:17).

One important consideration in spiritual renovation is the mess that this kind of work brings to our soul. When we choose to follow Jesus, we will undoubtedly find ourselves in the middle of a long and costly project. The cost is due to the self-sacrifice that always comes with following Jesus (Galatians 2:20). The length of the project will be lifelong, since this project is much more than just losing weight or taking on a new skill (Philippians 2:12). Spiritual growth is messy because it always brings major disruption to our lives. Friendships will change, because not everyone in our lives is bringing us closer to Jesus. The way we think about things will change, because it is our way of thinking that births everything in our lives (Philippians 4:8). Our free time will have a new feel because Jesus will pull us away from selfishness and toward serving others. The kind of media we consume will be challenged, since, as we all know, most media is garbage. It is fascinating that, in the process of curing our boredom, most of what we watch/listen to is poison to our souls.

We’re trying to re-grow grass on a part of our lawn that really took a beating from some earth moving equipment that had to travel from front yard to back for a home improvement project. The back yard has a brand new patio, but it cost us something, as the Bobcat frotloaders and concrete pumps left an ugly, grass-killing two track path that can’t be ignored. Now we have a better backyard but the byproduct of a trashed lawn. Yes… improvement is messy.

Back when I used to work for the plumbers, my job was to destroy an old bathroom before the pros came in and installed a new one. “Down to the drywall, or are we going to 2×4’s?”, I’d ask, because I needed to know how destructive to get without accidentally taking out a closet or kitchen. By the time the plumbers were done, the owners of the home had a new bathroom. If we did our jobs right, the solder joints were tight, the caulk on the sink sealed properly, and not a speck of dust was found in the carpet, walls, or household pets. We made huge messes, especially when the remodel included removing old tile and plaster. The end product was amazing, but, again… improvement is messy.

I can’t tell if this is the BEFORE or the AFTER picture…

Spiritual improvement is messy, too. I use the word “improvement” to mean that we become more like Christ in how we think, act, love, and live. It’s not my goal to become the best Adam, but rather to become like Jesus (the second Adam, a happy coincidence). The mess can be a distraction or even a discouragement, and the enemy will use this to keep us from growing in Christ. But, like all meaningful change, we will have to do something different if we will be different kinds of people.

Don’t be surprised, then, that spiritual formation/improvement is messy and painful. Paul says that our suffering produces perseverance, and that this kind of drive and sustaining energy will lead to our character becoming more like Christ’s, and that this, dear friends, is the hope of the gospel.

“Wow, this is difficult and messy, but it’s worth it because I am in the process of becoming more like Christ” is the motto of every disciple. Don’t let the dead grass or the drywall dust in the air dissuade you from continuing to press on. In the end, our goal is to be found faithful with the gift of salvation that Christ has so freely and generously bestowed upon us. Difficult? Yes. Costly? You bet. Messy? Oh yeah. But… is there any better way to live? No.

Enjoy the renovation. It is your very life that God has given himself for.

Amen.

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Therapy Horses

Today we took Cam to Hugs Ranch in Byron Center, MI. Like all of our kids, Cam has experienced trauma in his life. When a neighbor told us about Hugs, we knew we had to check it out. It was a fantastic experience for him and for us. Hugs is a faith-based nonprofit that (according to their website) provides a healing path for hurting children. The kids do ranch chores — brushing horses, feeding pigs and goats, cleaning stalls, and petting Chester the braying donkey who demands attention from passers by.

Dressed in his Texas cowboy gear, Cam took the grand tour as Britt and I spent time in the parents area. Between emails and blog posts, we’d see him walk by, give a smile and a wave, and go about his merry way with a bucket of feed or a brush.

On the way to the ranch, Cam was heartbroken because, earlier in the day, we caught a frog in the front yard that eventually hopped away. “Froggie… I want Frooooggggiieeee” he cried, needing a few minutes to collect himself in the parking lot. “I don’t want horses, I want Froggieeee…”. By the time we left, he was ready to come back again, which he will. The frog was long forgotten.

They say that kids who deal with PTSD, ADHD, and the like, strongly benefit from these life skills. After a good amount of time passes, a horse will grow to trust the child, thus teaching them the value of nonverbal communication and consistency. I imagine the day where Cam is reading Horton Hatches the Egg to a goat.

We have our hands full in our blended family. All of us have lost something, and we’ll spend the rest of our lives processing. Therapeutic practices like this help kids (and grownups) work through loss in a healing way. There’s something centering about tending to God’s creation that can’t be replicated any other way. When Chester the donkey yells “HOWWWKNEEEEEEEEE”, you can’t ignore it.

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Unemployed

I’ve been intentionally out of work for the last three weeks, and it has been rather surreal. My last day at the church felt like a retirement party, though I’m still way too young to retire. My people were kind, generous, encouraging, and thankful, and I sense that the Lord used me to do good things in the last 10 years at that place. Now, I’m a “civilian“, in that I just go to church. with my family. I have enjoyed this immensely.

People ask what my plan is. I have no plan, except to start working again sometime next year.

I had a dream last night that I was a substitute teacher, which I’ve considered doing this fall while I’m in between gigs.

I’d like to crank out a book, something I’ve been working on for 15 years.

I’m itching to start broadcasting again, whether it’s online or on the radio, or both.

Indeed, I do feel pressure to find a job, but I know that I’m not ready yet. I never had a sabbatical, and I’ve never been truly unemployed until now. This actually works to my benefit:

  • not working gives me a chance to slow down long enough to get a hold of myself beyond my vocational identity.
  • not working allows me to take time to assess the world and the job market, and to try something new, exciting, and maybe even outlandish.
  • not working gives me a chance to make new friends and establish new connections, while still maintaining friendships and connections I’ve had for years.
  • not working allows me to focus on merging a blended family, which truly is a full-time job right now.

The last point is most important. Nobody else can do the job I’m doing right now, namely, being a husband and a dad. Every other job I’ve had includes the replaceability factor, meaning that dozens if not thousands of people could easily replace me.

Until then, I’m just watching and waiting and trusting. A door will open, a business idea will strike me, and I am already preparing to be surprised.

I am maintaining my disciplines and sharpening my morning routine that I’ve practiced for years now, which includes prayer, exercise, and reading/writing. Thankfully, I don’t have to start from scratch in that arena. There is a whole lot of newness in my life, but the basics are still there, and, thankfully, going well.

It is a gift and a curse to have time like this. The curse is that I feel like I’m not contributing and that I’m wasting time. The gift is that I have a chance to really prepare make a go of whatever is next.

In my observation, a majority of people don’t like their jobs. Why is that? Why do we do things that we hate? Why do we knowingly step into a trap of misery?

I’ve also come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to love my job in order to make the world a better place. My life is not my job. My life is my faith, my family, and my friends. A job just means food on the table and necessities met, which I’m not worried about, at least not yet.

What are some things you would do if you had time like this? i’m curious…

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Family as Team

We’ve been working on blending our family, which is no simple task. One central idea that seems to help is to see our family as a team. I came across this idea in a book by Jefferson Bethke called Take Back Your Family: From the Tyrants of Burnout, Busyness, Individualism, and the Nuclear Ideal — yes, the title alone got my attention. The author makes a solid argument for switching from individualism in our families to a collective whole.

For our family, it means that we work together on common projects. It’s more than chores, though each has their own job (Zac, take out the garbage… Carter, load the dishwasher… etc.) We work together toward short-term and long-term goals. Short term goals include having dinner together most nights, where some people are cooking certain things, others are setting the table, and all of us work together to clean up afterwards. Long term goals include setting up something in the house for all of us to enjoy, or thinking through job or college ideas for each other. A day together at Six Flags, for example, falls somewhere between short and long term.

As I write this, everyone is mostly doing their own thing, which is necessary. I don’t really feel like playing Terraria or Minecraft, so I’ll leave that to them. However, we’ll get around the dinner table in a little while and share a meal. Meals together are really important for setting our family culture. They also give a place to talk about whatever comes up — even (gulp) politics.

Dinners together set culture. Breakfasts together set the trajectory of the day. We have a checklist of things we’re working on and looking forward to. One of the highlights of developing our team has been working together on a house remodel, which really helped pull us together.

We’re a long way from the ideal, but the basic shape is, well, taking shape. We still need to work on vision. We have to figure out how to help each other with individual projects. With Christ at the center, we are definitely on the right track.

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Dear Renovation…

Thank you.

That phrase doesn’t begin to convey the deep gratitude and joy that comes to mind as I think of how well you loved us and sent us off into the wild last Sunday. I had the chance to talk with so many people after the service that it made me wish we had a Luau each week. That would’ve been especially nice during those harsh winter months together.

Together. We’ve been together for 10 years. Ten! Lexi, Mac, and Zac have grown up around you and with you. You have loved, supported, cheered on, and been there faithfully in the good times and bad. In fact, you played a big part in helping to make the bad times less bad. As we’ve talked about regularly, only God can truly take bad and make it good. Only Jesus can turn suffering into hope. Only the Spirit can be fully present and divinely helpful in every detail of every challenge.

You are, dear sisters and brothers, the body of Christ. And you have loved and cared for your pastor and his family very very well in the last 10 years. I have been shepherded by you. This reminds us that it is truly the Lord Jesus who leads the church. He “owns” the place, not you or me. It’s just better that way. Plus, it gives us every reason to have nothing but confidence and trust as Renovation moves onward, which it will — to even better days.

If you know my story, you know that I, by God’s grace, have moved forward to better days. As it turns out, I fell in love with the best woman. No, I didn’t mean to, and neither did she, but it seems that this is just what the Lord had for both of us. Now that we’re happily married and are in the process of merging our families, the most important pastoral ministry of my lifetime is unfolding. I am now entrusted with Brittany and her boys, as well as Lexi and my boys. Our kids. Together. With Christ at the center of our marriage, we make a great team. No, it’s not perfect, nor will it be easy, but it will be covered in grace and carried by the promise of redemption, which is all anyone can ask.

Renovation, you prepared me for this new pastoral challenge. Thank you. For the hospital visits, the weddings, funerals, graduation parties, and the sermons. Oh, the sermons. They just went on and on! Thank you for letting me be part of your spiritual formation. I asked Jesus for a chance to lead a church like ours, and he granted that prayer request with flying colors. What continues to surprise me, however, is just how loving and patient you were with me. I came to you as a child and left as a… more mature child? I’m not sure how to measure it, but I do know that you were a big part of my spiritual formation. Thank you.

Lastly, thank you for such a great going away party last week. Britt and I read through the notes and cards and felt loved and heartbroken, held on to and sent off, all at the same time. You’re so gracious and supportive. We know that your prayers and encouragement cheer us on like no other church possibly could. Thank you for your generosity and understanding. It’s time for me to move on, but not time for you to move on. You stay strong, stay together, keep being the faithful, encouraging, generous, and solid church family that you are. Your next pastor is about to find out how amazing a local church in Southwest Michigan can be.

Until then, know that we love you, and that we’re cheering you on.

Don’t’ forget Ephesians 3:20-21.

Love,

Adam, Brittany, Lexi, Mac, Carter, Zac, Cameron

PS: Tell the new pastor that their office might need a little space heater this winter. Those windows get a touch drafty.

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Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Happy Mother’s Day! I was listening to a podcast that talked about Anna Jarvis, the founder/creator of Mother’s Day. It made me think of you. First off, I think about you nearly every day. Sometimes it’s only for a brief second, like when I see an elephant or piece of weird art that you’d enjoy. Other times I find myself wondering what life would be like if you hand’t died 11 years ago.

Sometimes I wonder what you know about my life. My understanding (theologically, which never impressed you, nor should it), is that you are with Jesus in paradise. It doesn’t seem like paradise to know that your loved ones have bad days, like I’ve had for, oh, the past few years or so. No, it’s not been easy. But God is gracious and merciful.

I think you’d be pretty happy with how it all turned out. Redemption, for sure. The same kind of redemption I saw in your life when you said yes to Jesus back in the early 90’s. Things are much better now, and I bet you’d get a kick out of Brittany. You’d love her no-nonsense attitude, sunshine, and determination. You’d be impressed by how well she loves my kids, as if they’re her own. You’d be glad to see how happy I am. Who knows — maybe you already know this. Then you must also know that I picked my nose while I was driving yesterday. And you know where I put it. And I’m sorry.

Anyway, like I said earlier, I heard this podcast that referred to a woman named Anna Jarvis. She created the whole Mother’s Day campaign and ended up hating what it turned into. She lived long enough to see what it did for the floral and greeting card industry. She didn’t like the commercialization of it all, referring to the greeting card as “a poor excuse for the letter you were too lazy to write.” Ouch. I shared that at church today and couldn’t help but notice that I may have inadvertently rained on some parades. It got awkward. But you would’ve laughed and laid the thick guilt on me and Paco, with a smile and that laugh, telling us we should produce 10 pages each. I would’ve sarcastically submitted the screenplay from RoadHouse, and you would’ve set it up on the table and we’d laugh about it, strange as we were.

So, here’s my letter. It’s going really well. I’ve said what I wanted to say. Big hugs. Miss you. Love you.

And thank you.

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Special Needs & The Doctor Appointment

I recently took our 13 year old daughter to her doctor’s appointment.   Nothing too medically marvelous, just some X-rays to see how her skeleton looks and a talk with the doctor about how her legs and hips are getting along with each other.  Turns out all the bones are happily coexisting, which is good to know.

Lexi is 13, yes, but mentally functions at about a 2 year old level.  Down Syndrome combines with the Autism Spectrum in this one, and the combination makes for some interesting… everything.  Especially doctor appointments.  Especially X-rays.  Especially holding still for X-rays.

She and I walked in, arm in arm, and found the path to the waiting room.  I could see that it was sparsely populated, a slight relief, given how Lexi has chosen now to test the acoustics of the building using her own unique brand of echolocation.  En route to the check-in desk, Lexi sat down.  The reasons for her sudden sitting can be varied, but it’s usually because she objects to something.   No, it wasn’t the waiting room or the obviously approaching interaction with medical staff.  It was the elevators.

She’s suddenly afraid of elevators.  Come to think of it, the last time she was in an elevator was for a quick procedure at the hospital a little while back.  Seated in a wheelchair for ease of transport, she found herself suddenly wheeled into a little room that had hardly any acoustic value and — much to her chagrin — felt like it was moving.  Lexi’s the kid who never wanted to be on my shoulders and doesn’t like to be swung around or tossed in the air.  She’s all about the firm ground and keeping a low center of gravity.  That’s got to be the issue with the elevator.  It’s not like she’s going to tell me flat out.  She’s non-verbal.  And it’s not like I can explain to her that it’s totally legit, and that elevators hardly ever get stuck, and, even if it did, they’d rescue us… eventually.  Plus, if we really wanted to get free, we could just escape through that tiny hatch in the ceiling and… you know what?  I get it now.  Let’s take the stairs.

But no, she wasn’t budging.  Going nowhere near the elevators.  I found myself praying that our appointment would be on the main floor because a haunted elevator (the screams, the terror) would be fun for no one. I get to see people look and quickly look away from time to time, but freaked out Lexi is communal stare fodder.

I lifted her up (she hates that) and she walked to a seat in the waiting room as I approached the check in desk.  Lexi shouted HI! at a lady in the waiting room.  Lady said “Hi, how are you?” to which Lexi responded with the sign for The Wheels on the Bus.  It’s her favorite song (Lexi’s).  Lady did not know the sign for Wheels on the Bus.  Sometimes we translate, but not this time. I was at check in, providing all the necessary paperwork and such, Lexi came up to see what I was doing, setting her chin on the counter where my hands were resting gently. She said HI! to the staff, to which the staff cheerfully replied.  I was getting ready to say the whole wheels on the bus thing but was interrupted by Lexi’s pushing a big cup of pens off the counter and onto the desk below.  Coffee spilled, barely missing a rack of hanging files.  Everyone totally didn’t overreact.  It was, in actuality, pretty funny, at least as Lexi laughed so.  “Quiet hands,” I said as she walked back to her seat.  Oh – a maintenance guy just came in!  HI! (Um… Hi!) So… wheels on the bus?

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How To Tell If Your Kid Is Actually Sick

You know the scene, parents: you’re topping off your kid with pop-tarts and pancakes before pushing them out the door to school with (on a good day) combed hair. On the way to the bus he suddenly halts and says “I have to go to the bathroom real bad”, which will make him late… and possibly you, too.

Or maybe it starts even sooner in the morning. Wake up, wake up! Time for school, y’all! They let out an adolescent sound, a long “meh…”, followed by a descriptive symptom and furrowed brow. Sometimes it’s an entire list of symptoms — I have a sore throat AND my stomach hurts AND my left big toe is swollen. Just one symptom is barely enough to stay home. The know that a whole constellation of symptoms has the power to conquer even the strongest willed parent and guarantee a day off school.

That’s you — the strong willed parent — and you now face the impossible question:

Are they really sick?

In that moment, we make rather important decisions. Will we call their bluff? Are they bluffing? Will we send them to school sick? Are we being played? Are we the fools they treat us like? Perhaps.

Perhaps we are.

I’ve come up with a parenting guide to help you make the decision on whether or not your kid can stay home from school. Are they sick or “sick”?

  1. Take away their electronics (I learned this crafty move from Brittany). A sick kid is too sick to be on Insta all day. This can often be the dealbreaker and will save you lots of trouble. Watch out for the divine healing once they get their phone back.
  2. Offer to take them to the doctor. If they say no, CAUTION: it might be fear of shots and they might actually be sick. If they say “sure”, they might be calling your bluff. That’s when you say “if the doctor looks at me and asks why I’m wasting their time, I’ll ask you the same.”
  3. If they’re sitting in front of the toilet and moaning, and you have yet to make the decision, tell them they can go back to bed. If they assume you’re green-light their deception and spring right up like they’re at a Benny Hinn service, off to school they go.
ET always makes me slightly uncomfortable

I’ve been doing this long enough to know that kids can be very convincing. I remember putting the ol’ thermometer on the ol’ lightbulb as a kid, a move I got from the movie E.T. At least I think that’s where I saw it. Either way, it worked. I was a young fool but smart enough to shake it down from 108 degrees, lest we end up at the hospital. Today’s kids can’t do that because we’ve replaced our hot incandescent bulbs with cool LED’s, and we’ve finally realized we shouldn’t have breakable glass tubes of mercury in our cupboards. These days, we’re afraid of getting cancelled for sending our kid to school with a sniffle. The world sure has changed.

There’s one last test I like to try before giving in to their triage. It’s called the laugh test.

The laugh test is where you look your “sick” kid in the eyes and say “don’t laugh.” If they laugh, OFF TO SCHOOL. Of course, it could be because their delusional from fever. In that case, you will certainly be cancelled.

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