The Power of the Church

“Church.”

It’s a word that has the power to evoke many different emotions.

Sadly, a lot of them are negative.

For many people, the church is a symbol of repression, discrimination, and boredom. I get it. There is a lot of bad history there and I’ve fallen asleep in church a bunch of times.

Despite the negativity, the history, and the bad stereotypes, I have a different story to tell.

A story of hope, a story of generosity, a story of love.

That is the church Jesus intended.

That is the church Jesus loved.

That is my church.

A family at our church has been going through some really tough times. The unwanted trifecta: medical issues, unemployment, and the loss of their home. They asked for prayer, so a lot of people prayed. However, I felt like we needed to do more. These folks have amazing spirits, are always willing to serve, and their church should be there to help in their time of greatest need.

It was.

In a way unlike anything I could have ever imagined.

Last fall, one of my good friends, Teddy, and I went out to a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant. We once lived in the same small town in Texas about 25 years ago and so we both have a passion for Mexican food. Work, technology, and to-do lists occupy so much of our time, so it was priceless to just sit down, eat tacos, and talk with a friend face-to-face.

We invited more guys from Capital City Church to join us for Mexican food the next month. We’ve gathered together every single month since last November. I started to call it “Dude Date.” About 25 of us hit up a local Mexican joint, bond over tacos, give out a coveted “Dude of the Month” award, and raise money for a different charity each month. We usually raise about $125. We also raise a lot of eyebrows when we roll into a local taco joint 25-deep on a Monday night.

The Church

Dude of the Month

These two separate stories converged last week. Instead of raising money for a charity, I decided to use this month’s Dude Date to raise money for the family at our church who needed some hope. I emailed the group of guys and asked for help. I thought we’d raise $300. I was really hoping for $500.

We raised $5,160.

(drops the mic)

(picks the mic back up because there is more to say)

I’ve never seen such unbridled generosity, enthusiasm, or love from a community. I was moved, I was shocked, I was honored to call these guys my friends and this church my home.

Most of these guys didn’t know the family we were helping. It didn’t matter. One guy said God was pounding on his heart when he heard there was a need. He gave $1,250. Someone mailed me an anonymous $800 money order. Another guy paid for everyone’s bill at last week’s Dude Date and encouraged the thirty other guys to donate to the family what they would have paid for their meal.

I gave all that money to the family today. It has felt like the week before Christmas since Monday. I was so excited for that moment. It was priceless. It was powerful. That money will be used to make sure this beloved family has a place to live.

That is the power of the church.

The church Jesus loved. The church I love.

Incomplete

I was in Atlanta this past week. Despite all the rumors on TMZ, I did not spend my four days in the ATL partying it up with Outkast. It was a work trip. When I wasn’t working, I was missing my family (and making an ill-advised decision to eat an entire pizza at 11:30pm).

I often spent breaks flipping through photos of the kids on my phone. It felt depressingly silent during the early mornings and late nights without babies crying. I missed the constant whir of the white noise sound machine.

I felt incomplete.

A year ago, I didn’t even know these little kids existed.

It was on July 19, 2013 that I found out we were having a baby. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I instantly loved that little nameless and faceless baby who was only the size of a poppy seed.  A few weeks later, we thought we may have lost the baby. We were terrified. Instead, we found out we were having two babies.

Incomplete - 2

I thank God for those two miracles every single day.

Incomplete

Sure, there are times when I’d like to take a nap or I’m tired of walking up the stairs to put a pacifier in a crying baby’s mouth, but I can’t imagine life without these kids. They have melted this thug’s heart. I don’t know how the military heroes of our world do it. Being away from the kids for four days felt like an eternity. I can’t imagine having to do it for six months.

In short, it is really good to be home.

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Fantastic Four

The kids are about to celebrate their four-month birthdays. And by “celebrate,” I mean that they’ll lay on a blanket and we’ll take pictures of them wearing cheesy costumes and I’ll use a terrible pun.

photo (11)

photo (15)

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I’m not sure where all the time has gone. On one hand, it feels like we were just waiting anxiously in the hospital delivery room a few heartbeats ago. On the other, I can’t remember life without kids and so it seems like they have been hanging around forever.

So here are some random thoughts about fatherhood and babies after four months of priceless moments, a thousand dirty diapers, and a lot of sleepless nights:

-Baby smiles and laughs are the greatest thing I’ve ever watched. “Jurassic Park” is a close second.

-My wardrobe is ridiculous and I’m meticulous with organizing my clothes and making sure that everything is neat and ironed before I leave the house. Well, I used to be like that. On Monday, I picked my clothes off the floor and rocked red pants to work that had spit-up on them, because, well, babies.

-The kids have regressed with their sleep during the past few weeks. It’s humorous in a sad and “wow, is it really 3:30am?!?!” kind of way when you long for five hours of sleep.

-I love watching soccer players celebrate goals at the World Cup. I do similar airplane moves and fist pumps when I successfully lay a baby down in a crib without waking him or her up.

-There are a lot of movies out that I’d like to go see. I’ll catch them on Netflix in six months.

-It’s amazing how babies can shift the important question of “what do I want to do with my life” to “what should I do with my life so I can help support these kids” so quickly. .

-I look at baby photos and videos on my phone multiple times a day when I’m at work. I should print a bunch out and put them around my office, but that task hasn’t passed “work,” “sleep,” or “exercise occasionally” on the to-do list yet.

-Trying to figure out day care is the toughest decision we’ve ever had to make during our relationship. First, deciding whether we’ll both go back to work is a really tough choice. We both want to work and interact with human beings who can form sentences, but we also want to stay at home and hang out with the kids all day. Second, deciding who will watch your kids, your perfect, beautiful, and adorable kids, all day when you’re at work is a sad, challenging, and scary decision to make.

-The protective papa bear in me has already come out a few times. I called to report an 18-wheeler that recklessly cut us off a few weeks ago. I also confronted a guy, politely, in the Metro parking lot after he blew by a stopped school bus with kids walking around so he could make a green light. I was worried he would go crazy and try to fight me or something, but I guess my teal pants scared him off.

-Travelling with kids. OMG. Someone invent a teleport ASAP.

-We had to listen to Katy Perry’s “Roar” 10 straight times when driving to the lake house last weekend. Although I appreciate that it always calms down Madison, instantly, I’ve listened to that song way too many times.

-The inventor of baby swings is our savior (other than Jesus and Tony Bennett, UVA’s basketball coach, not the singer). Thank you.

-Kids grow up too fast. I miss the “old” days when they were “small” and I wish I could relive those moments over and over again. Not because those days were better, but those first minutes, moments, and days were so intense, so scary, and so beautiful.

-I miss my autonomy. I miss sitting on the couch and staying there as long as I wanted. I miss eating dinner when the food is hot instead of an hour after it is cooked due to baby shenanigans. However, I will gladly give up all of those things for these kids.

-Hearing a baby stirring or crying on the monitor often creates an interesting test for a relationship. Neither of you wants to get off the couch or bed, but someone has to do it. Thus, you wait 5-10 seconds, sometimes pretending to be asleep, hoping the other leads the charge…

-Having these kids has given me such a different perspective with my faith. I am constantly mesmerized by His love for humanity and His endless grace.

-Most importantly, moms are heroes. So are people who want to babysit.

War on Weight – Week 3

The last song at a wedding is often a slow jam.

At our wedding, it was Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer.”

If you play that song anywhere, once that chorus hits, “Ohhhhhh, we’re halfway there…,” people will sing.

Just like those American poets from New Jersey famously proclaimed, I too, am halfway there. I’m halfway to my weight loss goal! However, I never worked on the docks. And my name is not Tommy. Or Gina.

I kicked off my War on Weight on April 21, 2014 and set the goal of losing 20 pounds by July 4th. After three weeks, I am now down ten pounds. Holla. I lost six pounds the first week, two pounds during Week 2, and two more last week.

220 on the left. 210 on the right (sorry, fellow Costco customers):

War on Weight - Week Three

Pride can be a dangerous thing, but I’ll admit it, I’m proud of myself. After seeing the numbers on the scale increase for more than three straight years, it’s nice to see things go the other way for a change. I’ve also ridden my bike to work for ten straight days. While I doubt that’s a world record, it is my personal best.  Not only have I burned thousands of calories during the past few weeks on the bike trail, but I’ve saved about $150 on Metro fares and spent hours thinking, exercising, and dreaming instead of mindlessly looking at my phone on the Metro.

I’m really excited to have made it to Week Three because I hear people say that things become a habit after 21 days. Well, it’s been 21 days. Hello, new habit. Please stick around this time.

Things are still a challenge and sometimes there are missteps. Oh well, that’s life. Candidly, as I was writing this post at 1:00am I remembered we have Rice Krispie Treats. I ate one. Then I ate three more by the time it was 1:05am. I was disappointed I didn’t stop at one, two, or three, but one time I ate 11 in a row back in 2005, so I’m calling last night’s misstep an improvement.

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Best of luck to anyone else out there on the weight loss journey! As Bon Jovi said, “we’ll make it, I swear.”

It Takes Two

Two months ago, my life changed a lot.

I ate an epic club sandwich. It was perfect.

I also met our newborn son and daughter that day.

First Day

Two months and approximately 1,200 diapers later, life looks a lot different now:

My wife and I haven’t left the house together, without children, for 60+ days.

That probably won’t happen in the near future. We’re still firmly in the paranoid parent stage.

I desperately want to go see the new “Captain America,” “300,” and “Transformers” movies. I will watch them on Netflix in six months.

We have started using online grocery shopping. Thank you, internet.

We had dinner with some friends on Friday night. I was able to engage in focused conversation 25% of the time. The rest of the night was spent bouncing, swaying, and trying to hold a pacifier in a kid’s mouth while having a conversation.

On that note, I have a love-hate relationship with pacifiers. Just like a midnight run to Taco Bell, things are great at first, but you may eventually regret that decision. That pacifier will fall out at some point and there is a good chance that baby will scream.

I’ve got nothing but love for baby swings. God bless the man or woman who invented those.

My wife is a legend.

I want to give out millions of high fives on those occasions when I successfully transition a sleeping baby from my arms to the crib. However, I give out zero high fives on those occasions due to the risk of waking the baby.

However, those times when you lay a baby down and you start to hear some grunts, whimpers, cries, or movement, those are the moments that strengthen your prayer life.

I’ve been to thirty countries and three Britney Spears’ concerts, but there is nothing greater than hanging at home with the family.

The dirty laundry never ends. The piles of clean clothes on the floor never go away.

I’m disappointed when a diaper has pee, but no poop. The poop will likely happen within five minutes of putting on the new diaper.

I enjoy baby clothes a lot.

Matching

Going to work in the morning, especially on Mondays, is so rough. I do everything to stall for time. I’ve done laundry and paid bills at 8:00am on some recent workdays.

We hit a dark spot a few weeks ago where we felt like we were going crazy. Thankfully, that has passed. However, we sometimes feel like prisoners to two hungry babies. At least our captors are really cute.

The idea of taking our kids to day care in a few months is terrifying and sad. Not just because it will cost an insane amount of money, but because we’re paranoid parents who will miss them desperately. I’m sure it will become easier as they get older, bigger, and stronger, but right now that thought is depressing.

I think way too much about germs these days.

I have listened to Katy Perry’s “Roar” 100+ times. This week.

These kids are growing up too fast. We see them as big kids already. I’m sure that’s funny to the rest of the world who sees them as tiny babies.

There are a million different baby books, videos, and websites out there that will tell you a million different ways to raise your baby. Those suggestions are infinitely helpful, but there is no right way to do anything. Just do what you have to do and don’t judge others who do things differently.

I’ve realized I use my phone way too much. I think a lot of us do. That should stop. We all deserve better.

Our kids may not like us when they are teenagers.

One Month

 

Two Months

Taking a shower at home is now a luxury. Naps too.

Seeing these kids smile, even if gas induced, is the best thing ever.

Other than naps.

Lost and Found

In case you didn’t notice the creepy bunny at the mall or the absurd amount of yellow candy at CVS, Easter is almost here. I’m really excited about Easter this year because we’ll actually be able to go to church. It’s been five years since we’ve been to an Easter service because we were either gallivanting through Thailand or Hungary or visiting my brother in jail. I’m also really excited about Easter because I have a new pair of teal and orange shoes I want to wear.

Oh, and because I have a new appreciation for the story of forgiveness that is central to the message of Easter.

Like every human being ever, I am my own worst critic. I magnify my mistakes and replay the memories of my stupid decisions over and over again like they were Katy Perry songs on my iPhone. I’ve struggled with a lot of the same issues for so many years. It’s tiring. It’s frustrating. I feel defeated, I feel like a loser, I feel condemned. Thus, if I feel that way, then God, OMG, must really feel the same. It has to be a horrible movie for Him to watch me screw up again and again (but it is still a better movie than Cloud Atlas; that was a waste of three hours this week). I feel like the weight of my mistakes is so heavy and my shame so great that I am unworthy of God’s grace.

And then Luke 15 slaps me all up in the head. In this chapter, Jesus tells three stories:

The first is about a sheep that got lost from the herd. Jesus emphasizes that a single sheep is so valuable to the shepherd that he will leave all the other sheep to find the dumb one that went astray. After he finds it, the shepherd invites all his friends over to celebrate the return of his lost sheep. I’ve been to a few awkward parties over the years, but a “I Found My Sheep” party sounds like the worst. Despite that, I still love this story.

The second story in Luke 15 is essentially the same as the tale of the lost sheep, but it is about a lost coin. Thus, there is less poop and fleas, but still the same awkward party at the end to celebrate finding the lost coin.

Finally, there is the story of the prodigal son. I like this one the most because sometimes it is hard to relate to a sheep or coin. However, a dude who lived it up, made some poor life decisions, and found himself full of regret and laying face down in the mud, yea, I get that. Although the prodigal son blew a bunch of his dad’s money on booze and prostitutes, the dad still welcomes his son back with open arms. Yep, the son screwed up. A lot. Yep, he hit rock bottom. Yep, pops still threw a rocking party to celebrate the fact that his son came home. It didn’t matter that the son was filthy. He was home.

I love these stories because they remind me (1) that we should throw more parties; (2) that God isn’t up there excitedly waiting to smack me down each time I screw up; and (3) my mistakes will never be too great for His grace.

I am the sheep.  I am the lost coin.  I am the prodigal son.

I am also hungry for some McDonald’s breakfast. BRB.

Satisfication

Amanda and I went to Memphis a few weeks ago.  We had a great time experiencing rock and roll history, eating lots of barbecue, and waking up without an alarm clock.  I’m convinced the latter is one of life’s greatest, and rarest, joys.

Satisfaction

There’s the baby bump making its debut at Graceland! 

Our Memphis trip also served as an important reminder:

(1)  there is no such thing as too much BBQ;

(2)  a city full of awesome all-night rock and roll bars and clubs is a great place to visit with your friends, but maybe not with your pregnant wife (“Oh, it’s already 9:30pm. I’m sleepy.”); and

(3)  the things we often strive for the most will usually leave us feeling empty.

Elvis is everywhere in Memphis.  The dude is probably the most famous person of the 20th Century.  He was loved by hundreds of millions, if not billions, of fans.  He was a baller and had more money than one could imagine.  Elvis had his own racquetball court and the walls, floor, and ceiling of his living room were covered in green shag carpet.  Despite all those wonderful things, his story ended tragically.  He was divorced, he was addicted to drugs, and he died a premature death.

Those sobering facts made me think a lot about the types of things that can bring true satisfication.  These are the things that won’t:

1.  Money: I think it’s silly when people say that money can’t buy happiness. Oh, money can definitely buy my happiness.  Temporarily.  Burritos make me happy.  A speedboat makes me happy.  A Sodastream would make me very happy (FYI – Christmas is coming soon).  All those things require money (or generous friends).  However, I don’t think any of the things money can buy will ever truly satisfy you. They are only temporary.

2.  Clothes: I love clothes. A lot.  Yes, you might feel fly when rocking some new Jordans or hot pink pants, but those feelings will eventually fade.  Your shoes will get scuffed and your slim-fit pants will eventually become no-fit pants.

3.  Popularity: Whether you’re thirsty for Facebook “likes” or the admiration of your peers, it’s not going to bring you any long-term happiness or satisfaction.  A photo of your dog got 1,000 likes on Facebook?  Cool.  Now what?  You were prom king in high school?  No one cares.

4.  Legos:  Little plastic blocks will never . . . .  wait, nevermind.  Legos will definitely bring you infinite satisfication.  (Again, Christmas is just around the corner.)

5.  Sports:  I would do anything to see the Nationals win the World Series, UVA’s hoops team win March Madness, or UVA’s football team win any bloody game.  That would be thrilling, remarkable, and would easily crack my “Top Ten Moments of My Life” list.  But then what happens the next day?  Yes, I’ll order a championship hoodie, but then life will go on as normal.

All of those things are amazing, but none of them will ever truly satisfy you.

So what will?

I’m not sure, but it probably has something to do with working hard, serving others, travel, faith, Chihuahuas, and family.

Oh, and Legos.