Through Struggles and Twisted Lips

I used to think I was justified somehow in not choosing to lead a life based on the love of God for me, and the love of me for God. It made sense for most of my life–in my mind, anyway–because life had been hard at times, and still was, occasionally. Still is, actually.

And in the fullness of time, I have discovered that is true of everyone. Christian and non-Christian. Catholic and Muslim. Righteous and unrighteous alike, everyone has their struggles.

It’s not a litmus test to gauge holiness or sinfulness. It’s just true.

Even after I did finally choose to live a different sort of life it was true. Struggles come and struggles go. Not God. God stays, once you choose to follow him.

It’s just different when you don’t struggle in solitude. Paid doesn’t seem as painful when you aren’t huddled in the dark trying to ride it out. And it’s funny how God reveals himself and his love once you choose to see those things. It’s been that way for me. I think of several things that I’ve previously struggled with in the way of seeing God in, or feeling his presence.

Since my early 20’s, I’ve struggled with the way my skin looked due to struggling with psoriasis. I felt ugly and in my mind I looked ugly, too As an aside, I’ve since fallen into a medication that appears is going to help quite a bit with that. But God showed himself to me way before that revealed itself as a possible new reality.

One day I was looking at myself in the mirror and feeling kind of woebegone about things. I’d always been hesitant to go shirtless before my wife because of how I looked, or felt I looked. This day, it was as if my wife sensed my feelings and she just looked at me for a minute and then asked me if it ever hurt. She was sitting on our bed at the time and I was in the bathroom. I told her no, and a second later, she embraced me from behind and kissed me.

And she said she loved me.

Some time after that, I had my shirt off in the bedroom as I was changing and my young son wandered in. He looked at my torso and saw the patches of rough skin on my sides and my arms. He asked what they were and I told him they were sort of like owies for daddy. He sat on my bed and I sat next to him. He gently kissed my sides and my arms and said, “better now. Love you, daddy.”

He gave zero craps about my scars, and still doesn’t.

For about a year or so, my wife and I were teaching 3-5th grade Sunday school at church and I remember my face starting to feel weird. This time I thought I was having a stroke, but it turned out to be a run-in with Bell’s Palsy, and my left eye and the left side of my face kind of crapped the bed as far as facial nerves went. The left side drew up in kind of a snarl. Once I learned it wasn’t a stroke I felt a little better, but then I got to worrying that it looked pretty weird, especially since I had to wear an eye-patch some of the time. And worst of all, I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to kiss my wife, and I had no idea when it would get better.

Around the same time, my little boy one day said to me that he loved me with an eyepatch on. But I was weird. I could appreciate that. Not long after, my wife kissed me and we figured out how to make it work. Twisted lips and all, she loved me.

More recently, I had kind of an anxiety attack or breakdown or something, and having come home from work, I was laying on my bed again trying to rest a little. I started freaking out again for some reason, and my wife happened to call to check on me. My older son came in the room to ask me to talk to her and I just shook my head because I didn’t feel I could speak. I actually felt like I was having a heart attack (I wasn’t). He started to walk away and I grabbed his hand and felt moved to place it on my chest for some reason–I guess I wanted him to feel my heart. He seemed a little uncomfortable, but still there for a bit while I started losing my cool again. I don’t remember what he said after that, but it was one of the times I felt a real sensation of God’s presence and my son’s love.

My father in law and my wife got there a few minutes later and I ended up going to the ER, but it was OK in the end. I remember hugging my father in law in our driveway and he was telling me it would be OK and a few other things. Later, my mother-in-law did, too

All of those instances to say that sometimes life doesn’t feel like a blessing. Sometimes it feels like crap. Yet a blessing could be on the horizon, or maybe just hiding somewhere.

It will come, and sometimes from an unexpected place through unexpected means.

And you don’t always see love from God in your circumstance. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

It comes through bad skin and twisted lips, which can keep you from seeing the obvious.

It comes through anxiety, and warm hands.

It comes through hugs, and words from another state.

But the love of God is always there, once you choose to recognize that simple truth.








Thanks for the Opportunity

To the men who are the “fathers” of my kids:

I want to tell you something. Science may tell you that you are responsible for the lives of these two young men. You might believe that, and it might even be true—but only in the biological sense. They do not belong to you anymore, if they ever did. They belong to God, and to my wife and I, in that order.

You see, being a father is not just contributing DNA. At most, I believe that is a catalyst for what follows. Being biologically responsible for their lives and being in their lives is not the same, and the former is not worth nearly as much as the latter. For 8 years, I have watched one of my boys grow strongly toward manhood. And as the former Senator from New York once said, it took a village—in this instance, a village named Whitson.

This kid is special: a natural athlete and musician, more talented in every way than I could ever hope to be. I’m sorry for whatever occurred in your life that caused you to become the sort of man—the sort of father—who would eschew any sort of responsibility, and I could not care less if it was because his mother asked you to.

You find a way, in a family. You lead the way.

Yet when I think about the fact that you did shirk that and every responsibility you had with this young man, I am glad for it. Because through it, God called me into this family. I met the love of my life, and her amazing heart has been part of my own healing journey. I get to be the man and father I didn’t have personally, and always wished to be. I didn’t think I would ever have the chance.

I claim the responsibility of raising this young man to know the Lord, and to know me, in all my imperfections and brokenness. To know the real me; the one I’ve been both chasing and running away from my whole life. Now I’m found, and a lot of it had to do with my son. And in the smallest of ways, you are partially responsible for that, too.

And you, unknown father. Your many ignored responsibilities and rampant selfishness make me want to abandon the values I treasure and know to be true and worthwhile for the brief moment of satisfaction I would get from knocking your two or three remaining teeth down your irresponsible throat.

I don’t get to do that, and I am glad. It took me a long time to find peace in my life, and I would not give it up for anything. Instead, I’ll pray for you. I’ll pray you find the absolution you may not have even been seeking after. Brother, you need it, and it is the only peace you will ever find, should you decide you want to really know what life is about, which is loving and protecting those under your roof—and teaching them about what matters most in life, which is knowing and serving the God of the universe, made real in the person of Jesus. Also, I might add, the best place to find healing.

He will not know that because of you. If I do right by him, he will know it because of me, and my wife. Let me tell you something about this boy you left by the wayside. He has a strong will, and an artistic sensibility I can only wish for. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s learning how to loved and more importantly, be loved. No nine year old boy should have to learn how to be loved.

Let me tell you something, and I want to make sure you understand, because I barely understand it myself. Whether or not you support it is up to you. As a father—as a man—if you have a family it is your responsibility to fight for it. Ignoring that responsibility should be criminal. It teaches the kid they aren’t worth fighting for, and that’s what we’re dealing with now. Nine years of abandoned parental responsibility—on both sides of that coin. He doesn’t really even know what love is, but we’re going to teach him.

Do you know what my wife and I did a couple of nights ago? We got on our knees beside this young man’s bed and we comforted him, or tried to. My wife has this amazing and God-given ability to comfort, and even when it feels impossible, she does her best. She tells him every day that he is beautiful and loved. She strokes his hair, and says soft and loving things. I’d like it to be, but that’s not really me. I’m more of a brute. I suppose my wife and I are both strong, but in different ways. We may be weak apart, but we are strong together. We intercede for this beautiful young man every day. That same night I just spoke of?

A very good but relatively new friend pointed out that what I needed to do was fight for my kids, in a very real and literal way. From my knees. I’ll tell you the truth—it was and remains exhausting. I claim that responsibility, too. I will love and protect and pray for my family, my kids.

I’m no warrior. I’m probably nowhere near as tough as you. Yet I will fight the only way I know how, and give my kids the best shot I can. I may have to fight that battle every single night of my life, but it’s got to be the best reason to fight there is.

Neither one of you two did that. May you one day live to realize that, and become the men you can be. That, however, is not my responsibility.

It’s yours.


Toward The Hard Things

My desktop background on my work computer is a picture of all three of our boys riding their bikes down 17th Pl toward the intersection with Magnolia–John in the middle with his training wheels, David and Jose on either side.

Just this moment, I was thinking about the work I have before me as their Dad. I was not thinking in an apprehensive way, because there’s nothing to be afraid of. I was simply watching them ride down the street away from me–all at their own pace, in their own way.

Toward the end of the street.

How do I prepare them for that, or help to?

I think the best thing I can do is show them how to be men, and hopefully one day fathers who do not shy away from the hard things.

How on Earth do I do that? I will try to show them respect for people, and respect for life. I’ll try and teach them how to listen to understand, and not just respond. I’ll teach them that God can be real to them, as he is to me. I’ll teach them how much of a blessing a kind word can be. I’ll teach them that God didn’t make people as objects, but sentient and loving beings, just waiting to be recognized for who they are, rather than what they have done or can do. I will teach them that for the most part, politics are so much compost. People matter, not agendas. God matters most of all, not whether America is great, was great, or can be great again.

And because they might want to have a family some day, I will teach them how I came to mine. Through openness to love when it seemed a futile endeavor. Through an open mind and an open heart. Through loving beyond myself. I will show them this by loving their mother as best I can, in every way I can.

I do not worship my wife, but I love her, as my wedding vows said, “as Christ loves the church.” I love my kids as my kids. I am not their buddy; I’m their father, and that carries a hefty chunk of responsibility. Sometimes there will be discipline. That’s OK. There will be a greater measure of love.

Sunday, Jen was staying home from church because she was in pain and more than a little jacked up from her fall on Saturday. There was a bit of a dust up amongst the kids–they are still learning how to relate to one another along with their newest brother learning how to relate to them. On XM63 a song came on, from the band Fee, I think, called “Glory to God.” All three boys knew the words from various places, and they began singing it. Not in perfect harmony, because life isn’t perfect. They sang it like brothers with three different voices, and it was awesome.

It ended up being a pretty good day.

Life’s Too Short

There’s this video going around right now that’s making everyone feel all the feels. In it, a youngish African-American man comes home and his younger brother is in his house. He hasn’t seen him in 4 or 5 years, I think it is. They laugh, and hug, and it’s great. Then his mom enters the video, and he hasn’t seen her in ten years (I think both mom and brother had been in some African country). The older son completely devolves to his childhood, it looks like. He falls on the ground, cries, and hugs his mother.

The first thing I thought of was this one time I forgot my lunch when I was in high school. The bus stop was literally right across the street from my house, and I remember standing there with a big group of kids when my mom came onto the front porch with my brown bag in her hand and yelled “Tommy, you forgot your lunch!”

I must have rolled my eyes or something, because she set it on the porch and went back inside. Immediately, all the kids started mockingly calling out “Tommy, Tommy.”

I went and got my lunch, and it was more of that stuff the whole way to school. I don’t remember how the situation was resolved with my mom. It was true I’d been extremely embarrassed, but it wasn’t right to be rude to my mom.

Anyway, I saw that video of the kid breaking down when he saw his mom and it occurred to me that’s probably what I’d do, too. I’d give anything now for my mom to hold up my lunch and call out “Tommy!”

The point of this isn’t to have a pity party–my mom’s been gone many, many years. I just want to say that life is too short to be consumed with stupid things. If you’re a kid and you somehow read this, your parents are going to embarrass you sometimes. Maybe they’ll even do it on purpose (I remember taking the boys to the fair a couple years ago, and my older son brought a friend. They were playing this really loud fair music and my wife and I started dancing along behind my son and his buddy–he was horrified. And when we ran into one of the cool kids from school, he practically screamed “stop!!” Too bad, really, because my booty song came on…). Let it go when that happens. It’s making memories. Things you’ll look back on later and be glad they happened.

Be embarrassed, that’s fine. Just never forget that if your parents didn’t really love you, they wouldn’t take the time to act the fool in front of your friends. For my part, I love doing that stuff, and I am not above sacrificing my dignity for a laugh. I just wanted to say that, in the words of Bradley Nowell from Sublime, life’s too short, so love the ones you got.

Top 6

So today I want to take a few minutes and not think about a few things that really have been bugging me lately, and concentrate on what I feel is really important, that I am so very grateful for.

  1. For some reason, God sees my usefulness, even when I do not. He has seen fit to allow me to be part of an amazing and spirit filled congregation, at a bible-believing and bible-teaching church, with a pastor I have known for nearly a decade, and consider a personal friend. I get to serve with people I love and respect, and that’s awesome.
  2. At this moment, I have two young men I get to be dad to in my life. They challenge me greatly. They frustrate me sometimes, but at the end of it is a blessing—always, always a blessing and a reminder of God’s love for me. That he chose me to be their father. Me, with parental relationships cut drastically short by life, and only a couple of good, effective fathers (my brothers-in-law) for example in my younger years. I struggle at times, but I know it, and I can pray through it. That’s what I plan to do—concentrate my effort on that area in a way I haven’t always done.
  3. My wife—my lovely, talented, and inspiring wife. I say lovely not just because she is a pleasure to my eyes, but a pleasure to my inner self—to my heart and to my soul. God sent her to me in her boldness, and in her faith. She believes in me, even when I don’t believe in myself. Who does that? Jen does. Even when I’m a giant hairy toolbag.
  4. My job. Everyone who works out here complains about it at times, and that’s understandable. The elements are unforgiving, and the hours are sometimes long. So long that eventually it wears on every part of your life—except maybe the checkbook. And that’s what happened to me. I got weary, complacent, ungrateful, and laid off. Three days later, I was rehired. In a job capacity that suited me and my skill-set. Working for a boss that is a very decent and family oriented man. Working with people that are 4 oddballs, and very colorful characters, but quite the team. I really like them, even when they tick me off with the pranks.
  5. Similar to my first point, for some reason, I was extended a hand to help pull me from the muck my life had become. This hand from a God who welcomed me into the family, but first defeated me in my rebellion, which so desperately needed to happen. See, the thing about abject capitulation; the thing about supplication, the thing about crawling to his feet, with the world dragging behind you like a parachute, is that when you get there—head down—he tells you to look up. He sees you, the real you. The you of addictions, and sin, and meanness, and sarcasm, and misuse of your gifts, and he tells you to look up. He reaches down and lifts your head. He lifted my head—he does whenever it goes down. (this last one is partially inspired by the poem linked at the bottom)
  6. My life, without changing anything

Today, this very morning, I felt like God told me to start living my life with more abandon, and less inhibition. So I’m going for it. Life is pretty good. Make of it what you will. Believe it or not, and any other cliché you want to insert here.

I don’t know how the execution of this inspiration will work out, or how successful I will be. But I do know that while I am not perfect, I also don’t want to be the guy who gets to the end and wishes he’d tried harder.

I’ll leave you with this poem. It’s wonderful, and powerful, and means a lot to me.




I read someone else’s blog recently about parenting, and I thought it was both funny and carried a lot of truth. It’s tough to be a parent–the toughest thing in the world. Parents are usually not thanked for their efforts, at least not until our kids are grown and have a family of their own.

Kids are individuals, just as we are, and Lord, do they sometimes have their moments. So what do we do as parents?

We try to take what we’ve learned and use it, all the while filtering out the nonsense that our parents got from their parents, and we got from them, and so on.

Sometimes there’s a whole lot to filter. Sometimes not.

My parents were not the worst ever, though they had plenty of shortcomings like everyone else does, too.

I guess I kind of think of my own experience as a parent as something ever-evolving. Ever-changing. It’s not all good, and is sometimes really challenging, especially when they are being little toolbags. It isn’t all bad, either, because a lot of the time we get it right. I guess for me, it’s a lot like looking into a kaleidoscope, and seeing all those reflections of little pieces of broken glass or plastic or whatever it is. Triangles of bright glass multiplied by mirrors. Sometimes they combine in such a way as to make a beautiful mosaic. That’s what it’s like when I feel like I get things right as a parent, and do good deeds. When I give my kids stuff they can use.

Other times, the glass combines to make something straight up ugly–like mirrors and something gross. I somehow dredge up some of the less-than-good parenting habits of my folks. I crap the bed as a parent, like some of my Marine friends might say.

But you know what? Another thing I’ve discovered is when that happens, you can shake the kaleidoscope a few times and move on. The picture looks different.

Sure, parenting is hard. Everything good is, at least for me.



I keep a sword behind my bed—two, actually. A pair of sheathed Roman-style gladiuses (or is it gladii?). Not much of an edge on either, but both have relatively heavy blades and nasty points. So while I may not shoot you, if you break into my house and try to hurt someone who lives there, you will either be killed and partially consumed by a Chihuahua and a dachshund, or stabbed in the head by an angry, middle-aged bald man.

Or that’s my plan.

The issue I run into is that I am not certain I could do it. I hope I never have to find out. That’s the thing about courage. I guess you never really know if you have it until you’re tested. I think these days, home invasion is the most likely situation in which that test would ever occur.

As I said a minute ago, I hope it never does.

When I think of courage, I think of people doing what has to be done in spite of potential danger to themselves—up to and including killing to protect those in their care.

I don’t think about senior-aged men deciding they were meant to be something other than what they already are, and then going on national television and suddenly becoming heroic for talking about their issues. Identity. Whatever.

Courage, of course, does not always have to be meant in a martial or violent sense, either. I think about people like Randy Pausch, maintaining his composure, and hope, and delivering his last lecture in the face of certain and eventual death.

I don’t mean hope of death passing him by, either. Randy had something he wanted to achieve before he passed, and he did, in spite of his illness.

That’s courage.

I think of my brother-in-law, John, climbing this…electrical tower thingy and bringing a potentially suicidal guy back down to earth.

That’s courage.

Or how about those Coptic Christians being marched down that beach earlier in the year, moments from literally dying for their faith?

Most definitely courage, and I can only hope to be as brave should something similar ever happen here.

Talking about how God gave you the wrong plumbing?

Not so much.

I guess in a sense, every boy wants to be courageous when the time comes. We all want to be heroes. What am I after with all this? I’m not sure. I guess I just hope that if and when it is necessary, I come through and do what needs to be done.

Until that day, I will just do my best to raise my boys to know that I am there for them, and will protect them and their mother to the best of all the abilities God has given me.

I never served, and never had the honor of protecting my country–I wish I had, now.

What I can do is support my country however I am able, and support those who do protect it with the best of all the abilities God has given me.

And I will hold all life as sacred, because God said to (and because I read Coleridge–the Ancient Mariner had some real problems) and because all life is sacred. All lives matter.

I think if I can do those two things, even when society tells me I don’t need to, or don’t have the right, then we will be OK.

Does that make me courageous? I don’t know.

Who Is Your Mom?

I wasn’t expecting any emotional catharsis taking the boys to school and Ken and Linda’s house this morning. I was just thinking it would be the usual Monday drop off, and then I would go home and go to sleep, hopefully getting enough rest so the first night shift of the week would not set the tone for the rest of them.

But because life is weird like that, it isn’t what happened.

I don’t remember how the conversation between my youngest (he’s 4) and myself started. It probably doesn’t matter much with kids, because it’s usually video games and cars and things of that nature. As we drove down 24th Street toward Ken and Linda’s house, John asked me the question, “Who is your mom?”

I told him she’d died many years ago. And that her name was Lila Wilkins, and she had blue eyes and liked country music.

“What did she die from, Dad?”

“She had a bad sickness called cancer. She died on February 27, 1987. I was 18 years old.”

“Oh. Grandpa’s Uncle Dee died, too.”

I knew Dee had passed a week or so ago, and he’d probably heard Ken talking about it.

“He’s in Heaven. I wish I could see him.”

“You will one day, buddy. But hopefully not for a long time.”

“I wish I could see God.”

“You’ll see him, too. That’s what heaven’s like. You get to see the people you love again, that went before. And you get to see God and be with him.”

“He wears a white robe,” he told me. “Mimi says.”

“That’s right,” I told him. “And a gold sash, because he’s also a king.”

We pulled into Circle K because I needed some gas, and he dropped this truth bomb on me.

“Uncle Dee is home now,” he told me, in his matter-of-fact little 4 year old voice. “So is your mom.”

“That’s right,” I said, and had to try really hard not to lose it right then.

“What did she die from?”

“Cancer, buddy.”

“She bumped into a cactus?”

I didn’t think it was possible, but I started laughing and crying at the same time. If you think crying makes people ugly, you should have seen that. I had to have looked like a madman. I’d calmed myself down a little by the time I got to Ken and Linda’s, but then I had the brilliant idea to tell them the story and it started all over again. Oh well, they probably already thought I was a goof.

Kids, man. I found out a little later from my older son that apparently, there’s these cactus things in Minecraft that kill you if you bump into them. It’s a dangerous world out there, I guess.

Thoughts From The Park

I’m sitting here at the park and watching the boys play. They’re playing together for once, and they aren’t fighting. It’s been a pretty good day so far.

I’m thinking that they’re growing up so fast, it’s like a soft rope, slipping through my fingers. I wonder what kind of example I’ve been as a man? As a father? What kind of example will I continue to be?

I think of the example of my own father, who was close to the age I was when I got married and started my family. It wasn’t necessarily bad, I just think that people of his generation were different than they are now. And then he died when I was still young, just 16.

I think I learned more about manhood from my brothers-in-law than I did from my father. Mainly because I spent so much more time with them. Especially my sister Lee Ann’s husband, Phil.

I don’t think I ever thanked him, or my sisters, for being there for me when I was young. They saved my life in so many ways. They taught me how to treat women, and how to be emotionally available. Phil gave me most of my sense of humor. He also taught me how to relate to people in a way that puts them at ease, using the aforementioned sense of humor, mostly. And he taught me how to be a husband.

I’m hoping to give that to my boys. To show them how women should be treated. To be good and godly men, and husbands.

I think I do that by loving their mother, and letting them see. If that embarrasses them sometimes, I can live with that.

They also need to see me love God, and show them what he can do in a life–the changes that can bring. I learned that part from several Godly men and fathers who came into my life every now and then, always right when I needed them.

James Hogan.

Tim Wakefield.

Matt Botkin.

Merrill Roach.

Ray Traynor.

Ken Whitson.

John Whitson.

Zeb Ohland.

Paul Mondragon.

They made me realize how important it is to set an example.

It isn’t easy, and I probably should not expect it to be. Nothing good is.

So I will continue to love their mother, who is truly my better half, and the love of my life.

I will let God be my father, and example. I will love Him through the hard, and the ugly.

I will let him love me.

Brennan Manning said something once, to the effect that when our time comes, Jesus will ask us one question: did you believe that I loved you?

That may be the most important thing I can teach my kids.

God loves them. And when they believe that in their hearts, their lives will change forever.

Mine did.


Crooked Face Dad

I hate that at my advanced and decrepit age, I both need and crave reassurance of things, but lately I’ve certainly felt that way. More so than in a long time.

The Bell’s Palsy has really sort of made things difficult. The left side of my face is stone paralyzed, including my eye, which I have to tape shut much of the time. The resulting dryness has made it more susceptible to injury, which has already happened once and was incredibly painful.

Can’t drive, so I haven’t been able to work. All of that is bad, and a real pain in the butt. The house is decorated for Christmas and I haven’t felt like enjoying it. The worst part for me has been the inability to kiss my wife and kids.

So I have been getting really good at feeling sorry for myself.

Then a couple things happened yesterday. My younger son and I were sitting around and he said “will you play with me?”

I was about to say I didn’t feel well, and then I thought of a movie line from somewhere (of course). You’ve only got one life to live. You can make it chicken salad, or chicken shit.

Yesterday I made chicken salad. We played cars, and scooters, and ate peanut butter sandwiches. We got mom a Christmas present (I made all right turns going to the store), and when we were done, my little guy kissed me smack on my twisted lips and said “I yuv you crooked face, dad.”

Jen came home and did the same thing. I guess sometimes a kiss is a kiss. It’s the heart behind it, not the lips in front of it.

It’s going to be a good day.