What do you want to do when you grow up?

The idea of growing up and having to figure out what to “do” seems to be coming up more often around our house. For so many years it was focusing on the basics, like using the toilet instead of pants.

Those basics are easy things. Success is well defined.

Now we are turning to much more unsure ground. The thing that really scares me is I look around and see so many people that are absolutely miserable with what they do for a living. As a society, we don’t have this problem figured out.

So how can we guide our kids to a life that is full of purpose and joy?

College obviously isn’t the answer. I think it can be an answer, but not the answer. There you can learn some things you love and other things you don’t love. Through all the courses that you’ll probably never use in life, you can discover a passion for something.

Starting a business isn’t the answer. It can be an answer, but not the answer. While it’s great to feel ownership over one’s future, so much of running a business has nothing to do with finding passion.

Passion has to be discovered. We’re designed by God to have certain passions and drives. I was very blessed. I had an idea of the career field I wanted to go into by the time I was in my early teens.

What’s funny is that career field has taken me to a place I never expected. I wanted to do design and marketing. And while I do that every day, I’ve come to a place where my focus is on helping people. I get so excited every day to work. It has nothing to do with money either. It’s entirely about changing lives. When we help a small business with marketing, those are people who have put their dreams into their business idea. We can help realize those dreams and make sure they endure. A business that keeps going and prospers can have a huge impact on the course of someone’s life.

It took me a lot of years to get here, and I have an odd feeling my life will look even more different and even more people-focused a decade from now.

So how do I help my kids get to that place? I want to send them out into the world with lots of creativity, a monster work ethic, and a drive to help others. I want them to try things, sometimes fail, pick themselves up and start over again. I want our family to always be a safe platform they can launch from when they get new ideas.

I’m not satisfied with kids who just make a good living, and I’m certainly not satisfied with them being miserable while doing it.

I want kids who will make a difference.

How do we do that?

Six years makes all the difference

My 13-year-old walks into the room, iPod Touch in hand.

“Dad, I want to buy this game.”

“Well,” I respond, “I don’t.”

“It’s only $4,” he says.

“$4 is a lot of money.”

“No it isn’t, besides, you owe me from when I had some gift cards on iTunes that you spent.”

I grudgingly punch in the password to download the game and quickly send him away in annoyance. He walks out, smug sense of entitlement firmly in place.

The next day my seven-year-old walks into the same room, iPad in hand.

“Dad, can we download this game?” he asks.

I take the iPad from him and look at the screen. “Do you really need a $3 game?” I ask.

“No, I clicked the free version,” he says “It’s a really cool game and I just want it but you don’t have to pay for the nice one. We can play the free one.”

I quickly punch in my password and download the full version, paying the $3.

“Here you go,” I said, handing him the iPad back. “I bought you the full version.”

A huge grin spreads across his face and he jumps in my lap to hug me, almost dropping the iPad.

“Thank you so much, Dad!”

He quickly rushes out of my office and I can hear him all the way through the house.

“Conner! Dad bought us the full game!”

Best $3 I’ve ever spent.

The wrong mine

I watched the steam curl up from the fresh brewed cup of coffee.

“I’m off to the salt mines!” I yelled as I always do and began the 20-foot walk from the kitchen to my office.

“That’s the problem,” Rebecca said, “You always go to the salt mine. Maybe you need to try the diamond mine.”

The nis list

Nis List

I’m not sure why, but this note Cody wrote to Santa and placed under our tree makes me profoundly sad this morning. Maybe it’s the realization that my kids are growing up too quickly and I feel like I’m missing large portions of it. Maybe it’s the bittersweet thought that I get to watch my kids grow up while many others do not after last week’s events.

Regardless there is something magical about childhood innocence. As I’m learning with Colton, our 12-year-old, kids eventually hit a point where you just want them to grow up. Until then, though, I’m just going to enjoy Cody’s hope that he’s “not on the noty list” and not think about the fact that he won’t have many more years of notes like this.

Don’t worry, buddy, you’re definitely on the “nis list”.

Various and sundry

It’s been so long since I’ve written a real blog post, I barely remember how to start them. That’s why you get this awkward intro. Looking back at the history of my writing, it’s odd for me to go long stretches without saying something. Over the last few months I feel like I’ve had things to say, I just haven’t had the time to pull the thoughts from my brain and place them here. And so this post serves as a stretching of muscles. I’m trying to remember how it was that I used to write on a regular basis.

We survived the long stretch of the spring baseball season, only to enter summer, which has somehow been just as busy. Cody and Colton’s teams both finished somewhere at the back of the pack, but they both had fun and learned a lot. Conner’s made a run at the championship and ended up in third place. It was the most fun I’ve ever had on the baseball field.

Since joining Life Church in February, we’ve once again become sucked into ministry which seems to eat a substantial amount of time. More so than actual church work though, we’re spending a lot of time really getting to know people we’re doing life with. It’s honestly something I’ve never been good at, but I’m learning.

My business continues to grow and branch out. Not as quickly as last year, but still growing, slowly but surely. Always with me at the helm, questioning everything we do all the time. Does that ever stop? That uncertainty that comes, not only with developing a business, but with knowing the decisions I make help or hurt the future of my family. It’s the odd position of always having to be sure of what you are doing, but never actually being sure.

In a few weeks I get to preach on the Gospel. All the study that goes into that has me examining my life to see all the places where the Gospel of Jesus really doesn’t have a hold. It’s a process of God prying my fingers off the things I want to control. It’s a battle He is winning, and I’m thankful for that. The transformative work of Christ is by no means easy or even fun, but I can see changes for the better.

Maybe that’s the source of my introspection this hot July evening. Maybe it’s my impending 32nd birthday. I tell myself I’ve accomplished a lot in my 32 years but the other side of my brain knows I probably could have done more, made better decisions here and there. But my deep-seeded theology about the sovereignty of God tells me I had to make every decisions the way I made it. He has been very gracious in my life and I should be more thankful for that.

As a rule, getting older doesn’t bother me. A big part of me relishes the idea of being in my sixties or seventies and really enjoying the wisdom of age along with finally having an excuse for my cantankerous nature. But, every so often, I have the occasional day when I acknowledge that I am getting older. My kids are growing rapidly and before I know it will be out of the house. I tell myself I’m looking forward to that day so Becca and I can start a different chapter in our lives, but I know the day one of the kids leaves my house I’ll be devastated.

God has blessed us with some of the most amazing friends in the world. Tomorrow night they will descend on our house for hamburgers (hopefully), margaritas (definitely) and swimming. We’ll swim and splash with our kids. We’ll relish the fact that their oldest just had his cast removed and is on the way to recovery. We’ll stay up entirely too late and talk. We’ll probably spend a lot of time dreaming about the future of the people God has entrusted us to care for in the church. And in that time I’ll take a moment and thank God for all he has done and I’ll forget that I’m about to turn 32 and anything else that’s bothering me.

But for now I get to be quiet and introspective and listen.

And that’s okay every once in a while.

Exotic fruit

“Mom, are there any fruits I haven’t heard of?” Conner asked.

“I’m sure there are,” she said.

“Yeah,” Cody said, “Like Fruity Pebbles.”

The rumor going around

“Mom, there’s a rumor going around school about Santa Clause,” Conner said.

“What rumor?”

“The rumor is that parents buy all the presents and put them out. Santa is just a homeless man parents hire to come in and eat the cookies on Christmas night. Is that true?”

Just kind of in the middle

Cody plopped down on the couch with his usual buzzing energy. “You know what I know, Dad?”

“What?” I asked.

“You and Mom are the best parents.”

“That’s sweet. Thank you.”

“Yeah,” he continued, “You get us the best birthday presents….and Christmas presents.”

“Oh,” I said, “So if we didn’t get you any of those presents would we still be the best parents?”

He gave me a look like I was talking crazy, then he pondered it for a moment. “Well,” he said finally, “If that happened, you’d be just kind of in the middle.”

Quality parenting can, apparently, be purchased.

Worst case scenario

“What time do we have to leave in the morning?” Becca asked.

“Seven would make me happy,” I said, “But eight at the absolute latest. Worst case scenario, we have to leave by eight. If one of the kids spontaneously bursts into flames and the other two are running around naked, we still leave by eight.”

“Flames, huh?”

“Flames. Eight ‘o clock.”

“Okay.”

Heartbreak at third base

Conner has struggled all year with baseball. Not with his play, which has been really good for a first-year player, but with how seriously he takes things. I place no expectations on him for each game other than to play hard and have a good time. Get a hit or strikeout. Catch the ball or miss it. Just play hard and have a good time. Nothing else matters.

But it does to him.

Every chance he has to play matters to him. He takes the weight of the world on his shoulders. A strikeout to him is devastating. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard we try to convince him that he’s doing well. And trust me, we’ve been trying.

Tonight, during batting practice, the coach decided to try a different stance for him. It worked wonders for his hitting. The first time up he hits a single and then made it home a few plays later. He started the season batting .500 but has since dropped a little. It was nice to see him more confident at the plate.

Unfortunately the rest of the team just wasn’t hitting tonight. It happens sometimes. Baseball teams can just hit strikeout slumps. Tonight was that night for us. If we scored five runs in the final inning, we would tie the game up. Conner was due up to bat third in the inning. I was nervous about the potential last out being in his hands.

Jace, who’s having a rough night, is the first kid up and strikes out.

One out.

The second kid up, Bryce, take a few pitches then hits a great shot and makes it to first base.

One out, runner at first.

Then comes Conner. I want him to get a hit so he can end the game on a high note. He takes the first two pitches. He has three pitches left and the coach tells him to swing at all of them. Two more pitches, two more swings, two more strikes. Last pitch. He has to swing no matter what.

I watched as the ball left the pitcher’s hand. Conner began to turn his hips and bring the bat around. It connected perfectly and was driven down the third base line. Conner ran as I prayed it would stay fair.

It did. One out, runners at first and second.

Dane walks to the plate. Another rough night, another strike out.

Two outs, runners at first and second.

Here comes Charlie. Charlie can get some good hits, and he does. He smashes the ball into shallow right field. He is safe at first. Conner is safe at second but it looks like Bryce might be thrown out at third. The throw comes in high and goes over the third baseman’s head.

The coach waves Bryce home and tells Conner to take third. Conner runs harder than I’ve ever seen him run. He kicks up dirt as he goes. The left fielder picks up the ball and turns to throw it to third. It’s going to be close. Conner’s extra burst of speed from deep down drives his legs and, almost in slow motion, he runs for the bag as the ball comes in.

His left foot touches the bag a second before the third baseman catches the ball.

He’s safe!

The crowd roars.

His right foot goes past the bag and lands on the dirt.

His left foot follows off the base.

The third baseman tags him for the final out after he leaves the base.

In unison, the crowd’s cheer turns into a long, disappointed “aaawwwww.”

Conner looks around not knowing what happened, but the coach’s angry reaction tells him it was bad. He had never been in that situation and didn’t know you had to stay on the base or you could be tagged out. Now he knows. He also knows that was the final out of the game.

He breaks down in tears when he realizes what he did.

I want to cry for him.

Two great hits for the game and all he’ll remember is the heartbreak at third base.

Stealing $10

Along with 100-plus degree temperatures, August brings birthdays for both Conner and Cody. Being eight and six respectively, that means lots and lots of Legos. Legos as gifts, and when the gift is money, the opportunity to go buy additional Legos.

This means as soon as the final presents are open they are consumed with the Lego catalog, planning out their next purchases. This goes on for days because with our schedule it will probably be a while before we haul them to the Lego store.

Through the course of these days I hear snippets of conversations from the two boys about the sets they want and the amount of money they have to spend. It’s like a constant background noise in my life. During one of these snippets, I hear Cody say he found $10 and needs to put it in his wallet. My brain, consumed with a thousand other things, just assumed it was $10 he already had but lost at some point. My brain dutifully filed that fact away somewhere so I didn’t have to really focus on it.

It wasn’t until later that evening that it came up again. I walked into my office and saw my wallet laying there. A five dollar bill was sticking out at an odd angle. I don’t normally carry much, if any, cash on me but I remembered I had a ten and a five. Sadly, only the five was still in my wallet. My brain (I’m still amazed at how it works) immediately dredged up the memory of Cody saying he “found $10″.

I went to him and asked if he had stolen it out of my wallet. After a few weak denials, he admitted it. He wanted as much money as he could get before we went to the Lego store. Here’s the really sad thing, though. Every time we go to the Lego store, they find a set that’s just a little more expensive than what they have. Every time, I buy it for them and cover the extra cost myself. Every time. But he didn’t trust me. He didn’t realize that I love seeing their eyes light up when I do things for them. He didn’t realize that it brings me joy to do that. He didn’t trust that I would make sure it was an amazing trip to the Lego store. So he took matters into his own hands. That path led to sin and punishment and away from the joy I had prepared for him.

It’s times like this that I picture God with a look of satisfaction on his face. My kids are here as much to teach me lessons as anything else. You see, the “thousand other things” my mind was focused on that weekend was actually just one big thing. I was worried about my business. Why? I’m really not sure to be honest. We’ve had an amazing year and I have enough work lined up to last me a while and new clients signing on. But, none of those projects is of the “hey, that’s an entire month’s salary in one project” type. We’ve been very blessed to have a lot of those this year. Suddenly, for the first month I didn’t have anything like that on the books. Just your run-of-the-mill “string these all together and we make a great living” type projects.

Was that really cause to freak out and worry? No. The fact is I didn’t trust God to take care of me. We’ve had some rough years and the shadow of those years always seems to be at the periphery of my vision. I fear that business will dry up and we’ll be back to worrying about paying bills. The fact is, God has provided, even in the lean years. He stayed close with us and gave us exactly what we needed at the time. I’ve produced the same high-quality work for years but people are finally starting to really notice. That will continue for as long as God wants it to and I have to trust that he knows best.

Like Cody stealing $10 to take care of his wants, I steal time. Any time spent worrying is a demonstration that I don’t trust God as I should. Worrying steals quality time from my family and, ironically, from my business itself. When I’m worried I don’t function in any area like I should.

I need to acknowledge that God wants nothing but my joy in him. He has me on a path to experience that, either through good times or bad. I just need to trust in that. And Cody needs to know that I love him (and Legos) and will always do what I can to bring him joy.

Sometimes life just isn’t fair

I know it’s not possible for me to protect my kids from hurting, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to. There’s a lot to be learned when we suffer. Sometimes, though, the only take away is that life just isn’t fair.

Conner’s best friend (ironically, also named Connor) is moving to California tomorrow morning. Tonight was the last time they’ll see each other for a very long time. They spent most of the day playing then we took them to see Captain America and had some Chili’s. I have been dreading this night since we found out they were moving. Connor is Conner’s (confusing, right?) best friend in the entire world. I know he’s seven so that’s a fairly small world, but it is still a pretty devastating thing.

As I expected, Conner is torn up about it and I can still hear him crying in his room. I know I can’t protect him from everything, and probably shouldn’t in every case, but this is one of those times when I just want to make all the pain go away. I know he’ll be okay, and I’ve told him that. I guess you just have to make it through something like that before you have the knowledge that you can survive it.

Maybe that’s the big lesson here.

Life isn’t always fair. But we still make it.

Good at math

“Dad, I’m good at math because you’re good at math,” Conner said.

I laughed. “No, Conner, you’re good at math because you’re smart. I’m terrible at math.”

“What? No, you’re great at math, Dad. You add better than anyone I know.”

“The problem is there are several layers of math above addition. None of which I’m particularly good at or ever stand even the slightest chance of understanding.”

“I still think you’re good at math.”

I hate you and your vacation photos

Twitter becomes very, very annoying this time of year. Everyone starts posting their look-where-I-am-don’t-you-wish-you-were-me-but-haha-you’re-not vacation photos.

This week I was blessed enough to be sending out those photos instead of just sitting there thinking, “I hate you and your vacation photos.” Feels good to be on this end of it.


Cody building a wall to keep the ocean away from his soon-to-be-built castle.

The funny thing about vacations is how absolutely exhausting they are. Last year we went to Galveston for four days. This year we stretched it to five but I don’t think we did anything extra. Instead, we added a nap every day, which was nice.


The six inches of glass doesn’t make this experience any less creepy.

Our favorite location was the aquarium at Moody Gardens. It’s very expensive, but worth every dollar to see. Last year we met a bright yellowish-green eel and named him, creatively enough, Eely. Eely became a bit of a legend in our house over the year and the kids (especially Conner) couldn’t wait to go find him again. After making it through the entire aquarium, Eely was nowhere to be found. Conner was dejected, and being the emotional kid he is, I knew this would probably ruin the better part of his day.

So we made one last pass, everyone spreading out to find this eel. Finally, everyone was ready to give up. I turned to walk back to the group and saw a tiny bit of yellow out of the corner of my eye. I looked again and saw about an inch of Eely’s nose sticking out from under a rock. “Go get everyone!” I told Colton.

Sure enough it was Eely, comfortably hidden under his rock. The day was saved and Conner was happy.


Conner shooting down Japanese war planes while we toured a battleship.

It’s funny how vacations with kids become more an exercise in recreating last year’s magic rather than seeing new things. Other than a little extra shopping I can’t think of one thing we new thing we did this year.


Colton, who insists he’s too old to order from the kids’ menu, doesn’t have any trouble coloring on one.

Oh wait, there was one new thing. The Rainforest Cafe. Now maybe it’s just me being old and cranky, the hour-and-a-half wait or the $100+ bill, but animatronic animals (and the occasional “rain storm”) are not enough to make a good meal for me. But, the kids enjoyed it.

And as an adult, that seems to be where most of the enjoyment comes from. The vacation wasn’t really about me having fun doing things I wanted to do. It was about creating an experience the kids would both enjoy and remember. This was brought to my attention during some of the kids’ brattier moments, when I was suddenly not having any fun.


I love this view.

My idea of fun? The view above. We stayed in an amazing 2,800-square-foot house. Not only was it nice to spread the family out beyond the confines of a hotel room, it was a beautiful and relaxing place. My favorite spot was in the brightly-lit living room, sitting on the right side of the couch, writing. I love to write fiction, but being that my job is to be creative all day, I don’t usually have much left in the tank to write. On vacation I could pretend I had no other creative obligations and just write. I ended up with a good outline and 8,000 words on a new story and was quite pleased with it. What I wouldn’t give to be able to stay at a place like this for a month and just write.


The view while riding the ferry at sunset.

My wallet is a little lighter than when we left, and I’m a lot more tired than when we left, but I hope my kids have something they’ll remember.

Now to try an adult vacation some time.


And I leave you with a photo of Conner riding a dolphin, because, well, it’s Conner riding a dolphin and that’s reason enough to be featured.

Thanks for taking the time to hate me and my vacation photos.

Camera geek note: I opted to leave all my gear at home this year and just use my iPhone. I was perfectly happy with that decision and never once regretted not having to lug around several pounds of metal, glass and plastic.