As I write this, you’ve just fallen asleep in your room next door, Mommy is buying groceries at Whole Foods, and I am letting John Mayer’s new album, Paradise Valley, serve as my background for this quiet (for now) Saturday afternoon.
I didn’t want to feel sad right now, but I kind of do.
Just like I don’t think John Mayer intended to make a sad-feeling album, but somehow in all of its mid-tempo mellowness and subtleties, it makes me feel… almost… alone.
And that’s crazy!
The last thing I ever have time to think these days is that I feel lonely.
By default, it seems nearly impossible for me to feel that way. How could I?
We don’t have a large family. It’s just the three of us.
But having you and Mommy to need me to make your lives function right, it keeps me feeling like part of a whole that would otherwise be incomplete.
Even if we never add a fourth member to our family, we’ll still always be family. It’s us. For life.
It’s just that I am so grateful for our family. I’m so grateful for how far we’ve come and grown together:
I think about how you were brought into this world in a time when Mommy and I had just moved away from our home in Nashville, only to have to move back about 8 months later because we struggled to find jobs the whole time, and lived off our savings until they were all gone.
I think about that financial burden and how deeply that psychologically affected me. To be too honest, I’m just now realizing as I’m writing this that I am actually still finishing up the healing process from that dark time in my life.
I think about how over the past two years we’ve dug ourselves out of $58,000 of debt, becoming debt-free a few months ago, the Dave Ramsey way, not by winning the lottery or even by getting raises, but thanks to living by a merciless budget which has included zero tolerance for eating meals out, cable TV or smart phones.
We’ve paid our dues and still are.
I think about the lyrics of the Steve Miller Band song, “Jet Airliner,” where it says, “You know you got to go through hell before you get to heaven.”
Our family has officially made it through to that crossroads, that ground zero, where we can build our lives together, upwards.
I feel it. It’s like I’m standing on top of a mountain right now looking down, seeing the difficult way we got here, then turning around to see that paradise valley on the other side. It’s like I’m finally taking some time to take long deep breaths now. (Both figuratively and literally.)
Life is always uncertain, but now, it’s somehow more certain than it’s ever been or felt.
And we have each other for it. We have our family. This is me expressing gratitude. Amen.
I’ve written before about how I pray for you. Today, I want to tell you about how I pray for myself, as your dad.
First, I pray for wisdom, more than anything; because if God grants me wisdom, I am better prepared to handle any future blessings or challenges that come my way.
I pray for wisdom to guide me in life, as a husband, a daddy, as a steward of time and money, and as I attempt to be a decent human being in general.
Life would be so much easier if things were predictable; if life came with a literal play-by-play instruction manual. Instead, by praying for wisdom, I hope to gain maturity to know how to handle each situation; as I build upon what humility as taught me in the past.
Therefore, I also pray for humility.
Though there are many wise sayings about pride, this one by Yogi Bhajan is currently my favorite:
“When ego is lost, limit is lost. You become infinite, kind, beautiful.”
The older I get, the more I realize what really matters in life… and that’s serving other people. Like I wrote you yesterday, I am now very consciously aware of not letting my own specific beliefs on politics, religion, and even food, get in the way of that. So when I speak of what I’m passionate about, I want to be inclusive, not exclusive.
Plus, on the flip side, I figure that the less people in life I give the authority to hurt my feelings, the better. It’s like that great quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Which brings me to the last element of the trifecta of my daily prayer, as a parent:
Every day, I expect for situations in life that will force me to choose to put my wisdom and humility to the test. If there’s not something new I can learn about myself in the process, and if there’s not something new I can learn about overcoming my pride and helping others, it’s then that I should be worried.
Therefore, I need grace on a daily basis. I need grace to land the falls that are sure to come.
I believe that God passionately opposes pride, but gives grace to the humble. Without wisdom, I wouldn’t desire to become humble. But if I am humble, I want grace, God’s favor, along with the humility.
That’s all I’m going to say about wisdom, humility, and grace today… otherwise what I am saying could come across as being prideful.
So I will end with this.
These three things I pray for are also what I hope to share with you on a daily basis, from father to son.
I want to share my wisdom by teaching you, my humility by serving you, and my grace by giving you mine.
After all, if I’m asking these things from my Heavenly Father, I must be wise, humble, and graceful enough to give them to you first.
Tonight as I sang “Amazing Grace” to you as a lullaby, you wanted to clear something up:
“What’s grace? Is that a man?”
You had caught me off guard, as I was trying to decide whether or not a second verse would be necessary before I could walk out and help Mommy finish folding laundry. That’s what I was really thinking about.
I replied, “Actually, grace is talking about God.” From there, I paused a moment, attempting to quickly analyze your understanding of God at this point in your life.
“God loves you,” I added.
Your instant response: “Me?”
It was one of the most sincere things I’ve ever heard you say. I was able to see firsthand what it’s like for a person to be told for the first time (and attempt to understand) that God loves them.
Whereas I’ve believed my whole life that God loves me and it’s far from a new concept now, tonight was the night that seed was officially planted in your mind.
The lights were off as I knelt next to your bed, but just the tone of your voice showed me it meant something to you to hear that God loves you.
I continued, “God made you. He wants you here.”
Without any hesitation, you laughed as you declared, “Bow-wow!”
A week ago when I published “5 Impractical Ways To Save Your Family Money In 2013,” I intentionally left off one crucial way that I believe our family saves money. Maybe it’s not so much about it saving us money, as much as it helps us manage our budget with even more discipline and focus.
In fact, out of the 5 impractical ways I listed, I see this “6th way” as not only undeniably impractical, but the most important, for our family, at least:
For us, that means we give 10% of our paychecks to our church. From there, a lot of that money goes to helping people not only in our area, but all over the world.
Of course, that 10% of our income isn’t the only money we give to help others, because we help financially support other non-profit organizations that help people too.
But right off the top of every paycheck, we know that 10% of it goes to our church, which in turn helps other people.
I should be clear about something: It’s not that we have a 10% excess in our income. Not at all. Instead, we build our budget around the 10% we tithe.
“If you cannot live off 90% of your income, then you cannot live off 100%.”
If this can make any sense, we can’t afford not to tithe.
We believe that God will bless our family’s efforts as we acknowledge that what we have is not ours to begin with; instead, everything we have is what God has given to us.
So to “give back” 10%, technically isn’t giving back.
But I believe a lot of the importance of tithing has to do with the mindset it puts a family in. In the likeness of feng shui, tithing constantly keeps us mindful of where each dollar we earn goes.
Just like the importance of having a solid weekly budget on Excel, tithing helps us tell our money where to go, before it can tell us where to go.
Therefore, I think tithing is even a good idea for families who don’t go to church, as well as, those who aren’t particularly religious at all.
I would venture to say that a family who always gives at least 10% of their income to, at least, a charity that helps the needy, even if it’s not through a religious organization, is still going to find that they manage their money better than before they started promising to give away 10% of their income.
Sure, giving away 10% of every paycheck is pretty extreme and not necessarily normal.
But I suppose for a family who doesn’t pay for cable or satellite TV, or Internet on our phones, or for the fact we don’t really dine out, or update our electronics, I guess it’s not really that much of a shock that we automatically give away 10% of our income.
As the picture is currently going viral, it makes me wonder what people are thinking as they see it for the first time.
It makes me think of what was going through my head when Mommy was only 21 weeks pregnant with you. Here’s what I wrote about you during that time:
“And as real as this is, that our son is actually inside there, so lively, it’s still ingrained in my brain somehow Baby Jack is light years away, floating around in a heavenly baby universe until November. Despite feeling him with my own hand, with just centimeters separating the skin of my hand and the skin of his body, despite him literally being a matter of a few feet away (or less, depending on how near I am to my wife), I’m having trouble grasping that in reality, he’s right there.”
This picture is obviously worth a thousand words; so simple and universal, yet still nearly too difficult to capture in words.
Just off the cuff, though, my initial thought is about how helpless a newborn is; grasping desperately for comfort, strength, and guidance. Likewise, when you were born, I also was grasping desperately for those same things.
It’s as if when you were born, I felt like I was automatically supposed to know what to do with you. I see now how impractical it was to think that at the time.
No matter how many books, blogs, and relevant conversations I exposed myself to in an attempt to prepare myself to be your dad, none of it really came close.
Probably the most realistic image to symbolize the moment you were born is if your hand would have popped out of the womb and we nervously shook hands, in agreement that we’re both really new at this. We would then half-jokingly wish each other good luck.
Here we are, over 2 years into this and I’m still trying my best to give you comfort, strength, and guidance in this world. That will never change.