BlogEd

Family, Faith & Fun

Short Term Mission Sanity

Summer is over which mercifully means, the end of family and friends asking for money so they can go on a paid vacation — I mean, short-term mission trip.

Ok, there are short-term mission trips that are impactful and meaningful. But come on. I’ve seen the itineraries, looked at the pictures and videos, and listened to the stories reported back in church. Everyone had a great time, returned with killer tans, enjoyed trying new foods, felt bad about how other people are living, were glad they helped (with their project), and oh yeah, got to share a testimony or two.

Can you imagine if the short term mission trip organizers were to ask those they were going to serve, “What would help you more, a group of well meaning North Americans coming to your place to work for a week…or the cash equivalent?”

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I love short term missions

It is difficult to find a week long short term mission trip overseas for less than $1,200 per person with most costing upwards of $3,000 (which enables the trip organizers to go for “free”). Then, when you consider most short-term mission trips have a dozen or so travelers, the money spent on one weeklong short-term mission trip is more than most whom they are going to serve will earn in 10 years.

This past year I received roughly a dozen please-help-pay-for-my-short-term-mission-trip-and-or-vacation letters. The least expensive was $1,850 for one week and the most expensive was over $8,000 for the entire summer abroad. In my mind I’m saying, “Hey, I like exotic vacations too, but why are you asking me to pay for yours?” But of course, I bite my tongue, try to think positively, and sometimes even write a check. But I confess, in most of those circumstances when I write a check, I am not a joyful giver.

There is certainly a place for short-term mission trips. Medical missions will always be needed. Disaster relief and projects that need specialization are powerful. But should we really be sending a bunch of North Americans to run vacation Bible schools and music camps? I’ve talked to national pastors who watch well meaning North Americans build or fix up a church building while capable people in their congregations are desperate for that very work. “It’s the only way we can get it done,” they lament. I know of several churches whose single largest annual mission budget item is to send a group of their families to a lovely Caribbean island for a week or two to “help” with the local vacation Bible schools. The matching t-shirts are cute, too.

It’s time for some short term mission sanity. Can we really claim our short term mission trips are resulting in “making disciples of all nations?” Can we really “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” in our seven day trip less two days of travel? Can it happen? Sure. But if all you have is a few days, it’s a lot easier to help fix a roof or hand out food and clothing to those in need. Disciplemaking takes time…and a relationship.

Short term “mercy” trips to help meet physical needs are just fine. But call them what they are: mercy mission trips to do good deeds for our fellow man while helping our travelers see how good they’ve got it living in North America. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s also be honest and admit that few short term mission trips accomplish much in the way of fulfilling the Great Commission. For that, you need to empower “national missionaries:” men and women who love the Lord, already live there, understand their cultures, and see the spiritual need in others. They are the ones establishing relationships and doing the hard work of making disciples. They are the ones helping others in their communities discover the love, grace, and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Every time I receive one of those well meaning short term mission trip letters asking me to help cover the costs of their exotic vacation, I think of the thousands of national missionaries who are already there not only meeting physical needs but more importantly, making disciples. The cost to do that? $5 per month per national missionary (see FiveDollarMission.com).

If my math is right, for the cost of one $1,200 short term mission trip traveler, on-the-job Bible training, resources, and encouragement could be provided for 20 national missionaries focused on making disciples…all year long.

But of course, I could use a paid vacation.

Dad’s Wallet

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My Dad kept his wallet in his back right pocket. I remember it being thick and full of things like credit cards, business cards, a little cash, a full year’s calendar, and notes he had torn from pieces of paper. There was also the plastic photo holder filled with pictures of me, my brothers, and my mom.

Dad was very far from ever being considered rich, but you’d never know it from his wallet. If we were at dinner with another family, Dad was always the first to grab his wallet in order to pay the bill. He often did so on the sly so that by the time the time we would finish the meal, the bill would have long been paid leaving the other Dad surprised…and grateful.

I never thought too much about his wallet until I had a family of my own and discovered how few dollars were usually in mine. I have since learned from my Mom how tight things were when we were growing up. They would talk privately, late into the night, wondering how they were going to make ends meet. But I never knew. Dad’s wallet always seemed to have more than enough as far as I could tell.

There was the time I found my wallet completely empty. I had no where to turn, except Dad’s wallet. A difficult and tear-filled phone call home resulted in an immediate gift which to this day, I have no idea how Dad’s wallet managed. Missionaries, after all, are almost always just barely surviving financially. There was never even the slightest hint of repayment.

As Dad grew older, the need for his thick back pocket wallet changed. New technology let him carry around his calendar and notes on his cell phone as well as dozens of photos of his family. Several years ago I noticed Dad’s old wallet had become worn out and it was time for a new one. I found a new slim-lined front pocket wallet and wrapped it up for his birthday. It was the last wallet he’d carry.

It’s funny how such a simple little thing like a wallet can become meaningful. Just this past week, my Mom and I returned from a trip to visit my youngest son. As we walked through the airport I mentioned I needed a new wallet because mine had started to fall apart. Shortly after returning home, Mom presented me with a gift. Yes, Dad’s wallet. The same one I had given Dad a few years earlier.

I love this wallet. I had carried it many times before running various errands for Dad when he was restricted to his bed. When he gave me his wallet, he intended for me to use it completely and freely, just as if he were standing next to me. And I did just that.

Missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” I think Dad understood that statement rather well and dedicated his life and wallet to “gain what he could not lose.” Dad believed God’s promises and often talked about being an “heir to an infinite inheritance.” He would quote Romans 8:17, “Since we are His children, we are His heirs…”  He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

As I write this letter to you, Dad’s wallet is resting comfortably in my left front pocket. It was three years ago this month the Lord took my Dad home to start collecting on that inheritance. I can’t help but take Dad’s wallet out and look it over. Each time I do, sweet memories come pouring back. It has my things in it now, so I suppose to my kids it still is “Dad’s wallet.”

Over time, I know Dad’s wallet will wear down and eventually need to be replaced. That’s okay, it’s just a thing. But in many ways, it represents who I am, the choices I make, and how I live my life. And that makes me wonder what my children will remember when they think about “Dad’s wallet.”

May God give me the grace to “give what I cannot keep in order to gain what I cannot lose.”

Making Better People

I have a vivid memory of my oldest son, Matt, walking off his high school football field after his final game. I wrote about it in “Surviving the End of High School Athletics” describing the slow, agonizing walk off the field. Shoulders were slouched giving way to heavy sobs. And Matt wasn’t doing much better, either.iF7D45B52-C766-470B-9882-B5CF871AB46D-1

Another powerful memory was after my dad died. The time had come to clean out his belongings from dressers and closets. I was standing in Dad’s closet overcome with emotion when Matt quietly put his strong arms around me, buried his head in my shoulder, and cried with me.

There was the time he chased a young man down the street who showed up to visit his little sister. Matt was just goofing around, but it was evident the young man didn’t know that by the cloud of dust his legs and feet were leaving as he took off down the street never to return. Guarding, protecting, and loving his little sister has, and always will be, a top priority.

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Dropping Matt off his first year in college in Pennsylvania revealed the inseparable bond he has with David, his six-year-the younger little brother. Saying goodbye was like they were both having an arm pulled off. I first became aware how close they were when one of David’s school assignments was to write about his hero. I was accustomed to being the “hero” and didn’t quite know what to think when David’s assignment revealed it was actually Matt. The two of them still have an awful time saying goodbye to each other.

054 too hard to say goodbye

Of course, I also remember Matt’s failed attempt at “neighborhood pool hopping.” He and two high school buddies decided it would be a lot of fun to video each other hopping fences and jumping into unsuspecting neighbor’s pools. It was a lot of fun until police cars and even a police helicopter showed up with sirens blaring. Apparently it never crossed their minds that some terrified homeowner may have misconstrued three screaming teenagers’ fun for an Al-Qaeda training exercise. Hiding out at a friend’s house until the heat cooled off was just part of their unforgettable summer afternoon.

August 2nd is Matt’s birthday. It’s hard to believe someone as young as I am has a 27-year-old-son, but it’s true. He married one of Miami’s most wonderful and beautiful girls and a career move has taken them to California. We text and phone and Skype quite a bit, but I still miss them terribly.

One of the things I told Matt when he got to the age — when a girlfriend could turn into fiancé — was to make certain she brought out the best in him and he brought out the best in her. “Do you make each other better?” I often asked. When he met Laura, I didn’t need to ask. It was obvious for all to see and their wedding was one of the great days in my life, too.

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God has blessed me with a wonderful family. We’re so far from perfect that even the hint of such a thing is laughable. But at the end of the day, the one thing that has bound us together is right from God’s Word. 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

Thinking back over Matt’s 27 years swells my heart with pride and joy. It is a very rewarding and beautiful thing to realize your child makes you a better person. Thanks, Matty.  I love you, son!

Happy birthday.

Pops

Enjoying Life

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Our dog, Bentley, has fallen deeply in love with my wife, Jenn. He has also become rather protective of her. I found this out the hard way when I leaned over to give Jenn a kiss while Bentley was lying beside her. Instead of the nice soft embrace of my wife’s lips, I got a face full of Bentley, who with amazing quickness and agility, sprang between my face and hers and pushed me away with his long, wet nose.

I jumped back with a start and stared at this crazy dog who was now suffocating my laughing wife under his protective paws. Not one to easily give up when it comes to getting a kiss from my wife, I leaned over once again searching for her lips. This time, Bentley started barking and positioned his long body completely over Jenn’s head.

By this time, Jenn was laughing hysterically and Bentley-the-Protector was barking madly to keep me away. The battle was on. Man versus beast. Passion versus protection. Crazy dog versus desperate husband wanting a kiss.

I cautiously circled the sofa. Bentley stared at me with his big, black eyes with Jenn safely secured under his paws. Tail wagging, he watched my every move. When the moment was just right, I jumped in, scooped Bentley up in my arms, ran the yapping dog into the other room with the tile floor. I put the frantic dog on the tile floor, held him back from running, and took off for the sofa to retrieve my kiss. As I ran toward Jenn, I could here the clatter of Bentley’s toenails flailing wildly on the tile floor desperately trying to get traction so he could beat me to the couch. His spinning legs gave me just enough time to race back to Jenn and win my kiss.

Man had won over beast once again.

Oh, the simple pleasures of life. Playing with a dog. Working hard for a kiss. Laughter. The list of ways to enjoy life is truly endless.

I am amazed by the entire concept of joy. It’s interesting, for example, that “joy” is both a noun and a verb. My dictionary defines joy—the noun—as, “intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness.” Joy—the verb—is defined as, “to take great pleasure; rejoice” as well as, “to fill with ecstatic happiness, pleasure, or satisfaction.”

I recently heard a wonderful message on creation. I was enthralled when the pastor suggested that God may have “sung” the world into existence. Of course, we have no idea if this is the case, but I love that imagery. Just imagine the beauty and joy of God’s voice singing as he creates stars, galaxies, and you and me…into existence.

Like love, joy is a part of God’s very essence. “God is love” as much as “God is joy.” The two are inseparable. The Tyndale Illustrated Bible Dictionary explains that joy is a “quality, and not simply an emotion, grounded upon God himself and indeed derived from Him.” Perhaps that is why famed author and professor, C.S. Lewis, described his conversion and ultimate belief in Christ, by simply saying, “joy.”

I have a friend who is battling cancer. Through emails, he keeps me up-to-date on what is going on through the various stages of treatment. He has endured many surgeries, medications with terrible side effects, long hospital stays, difficult setbacks, and endless doctor visits. Watching him fight this terrible disease is a reminder that none of us are immune from trials, sorrows, disappointments, and frustrations. “What a blessing,” he says, “that I have a basis for which I can experience God’s love, joy, and peace regardless of my situation.”

The famous preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon once said, “When you speak of heaven, let your face light up with heavenly gleam. Let your eyes shine with reflected glory. And when you speak of hell—well, then your usual face will do.”

So, here’s hoping more and more faces “light up with a heavenly gleam.” After all, there are far too many walking around with their “usual face.”

Father of Girls

My Dad’s favorite singer was Perry Como or, as Bing Crosby referred to him, “the man who invented casual.” I can picture Dad sitting in the living room with his eyes closed and head tilted back soaking up Como’s every note. “Now he is a singer,” Dad would say, “every note is effortless.”

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“Mr. C,” as he was nicknamed, sold millions of records. He also pioneered the weekly musical variety television show. He was the 7th of 13 children and when his parents emigrated from Italy, he was the first to be born in the United States. Along with his smooth-as-silk voice, he was known for his high integrity and demand for decency. If he felt something in one of his TV shows crossed the line, he would publicly apologize for it in his next show. Imagine…

One Christmas back in 2003 while visiting my parents’ home, we were listening to Perry softly crooning many of our favorite Christmas songs. Then came The Father of Girls. I had not heard the song before and was captivated by the lyrics and melody. You see, I was the father of a girl and every note he sang made me think of my daughter. Abby was then 13 years old, beautiful, full of personality and adventure. I was a nervous wreck.

We somehow survived Abby’s teenage years and I certainly took to heart the message from the song, When you’re the father of boys you worry. But when you’re the father of girls, you do more than that…you pray.

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And now I have had that experience that simultaneously fills a Dad’s heart with joy and dread: a young man asked if I would give my blessing and permission for him to ask my little girl to marry him. I knew it was coming, but was woefully unprepared. I did my best to not appear a blubbering idiot, but failed miserably. He was asking for my treasure.

So it was soon thereafter, a young man named Alex got down on a knee and with my blessing, asked my beautiful daughter, Abby, to marry him. She said, “Yes!” of course. I had no doubt she would. (You can see their engagement video here.)

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I had the opportunity to record my own rendition of Father of Girls which you can see the music video HERE. The song lyrics rapidly move through time saying, “From the time of diaper and pin, till the time she cries ‘don’t come in,’ till the time you gown her in white and give her away…” Now these lyrics are coming true and the emotions running through my head and heart are difficult to describe.  Can I ever really “give her away?”

It’s Father’s Day weekend and Abby will be out of town. She’ll call of course; probably FaceTime. We’ll talk about all the wedding plans underway and she’ll beam with excitement. She’ll ask how I’m doing with all the wedding thoughts and plans and my eyes will fill with tears as a thousand memories flood through my heart and brain. After all, it really was just yesterday I was trying to figure out those diaper and pin things.

Oh, did I mention they will be living in Australia?

Time to listen to Father of Girls again.

 

Back in the game 53 days after major surgery

The University of Miami’s final regular baseball series was agains the University of North Carolina May 16 & 17, 2014. The series included a 16 inning first game of the double header. Miami won the series to take first place in the ACC.

The series also featured my son, David, and his return after missing 32 games due to Venous Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He was hospitalized on March 19th, had six hour surgery on March 24 (including having a rib removed), and returned to action on May 16th. A remarkable return just 53 days after major surgery.

David said, “Having a little rib removed isn’t going to keep me out of the game.” Amazing! God is good, all the time.

Baby That’s Love

I admit it, I need a kleenex every time I watch one of those “soldier comes home” videos where they surprise their family. I’m reminded of the sacrifice made not only from the soldier, but of all the family and friends. I wrote a ballad a few years back with my friend, Don Koch, which seemed a nice fit for some of my favorite “soldier reunited with family” clips. It was also fun to include clips from my son and daughter’s engagements.

The idea behind “Baby That’s Love” is enduring love–love that survives through thick and thin even when it comes to saying goodbye. The song is on my “Beautiful Feet” CD which is available, of course, on iTunes. Hope you enjoy it, too…with or without a kleenex.

What Mom Really Wants for Mother’s Day

 

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Apparently, what my mother really wants this Mother’s Day is a Miami Dolphin’s t-shirt. At least that’s what the email I just received says. I’m a bit confused, however, because another email said what my mother really wants is an iPad. Macy’s tells me she really wants a particular heart-shaped necklace and Sharper Image says she really, really wants a foot massage bath thing. JCPenney, on the other hand, says she just wants a tote bag.

I asked my mother about all the things these advertisers say she wants, which was news to her. In fact, when I asked her what she really wants, she said, “nothing.” That was great news because I have a whole lot of that. But then she thought a moment more and said, “a hug and card would be nice.” I just so happened to have an extra hug on me so gave her one of those early. Guess I’ll have go look for a card.

It is interesting how the older we get the less store bought gifts mean to us. Sure they’re nice and sometimes we really do need this or that, but words of love tenderly spoken or written on a card or letter are what mean the most. Expressing our heartfelt feelings to those we love is a very precious gift.

It is often said the Bible is God’s love letter to you and to me. What a beautiful thought. For many, Psalm 139 epitomizes this amazing love story in 24 short verses. It begins with an almighty God who examines our hearts and knows everything about us to the point of knowing every time we sit down or stand up, every step of our travels or even when we’re resting at home. The Psalm goes on to detail God’s intense attention over us and causes David, the Psalm’s author to rightly say, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!”

Then, verses 17 and 18 jump off the page, “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!”

Even now, though we have homes and families of our own, there is no doubt my brothers and I are constantly on my mother’s mind. Like Mary, who “kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often” (Luke 2:19), a mother’s thoughts are constantly on her children. (Some of us take up a bit more of her thoughts than others, but that’s another matter entirely.)

But as closely as a mother watches and loves her children, it cannot be compared to a loving God who “knit me together in my mother’s womb and laid out every moment of my life before a single day had passed” (v16). It cannot be compared to a loving God who knows what I’m going to say even before I say it (v5). There can be no comparison to a loving God who assures me “I can never get away from His presence!” (v7).

How beautiful that God made Moms in His image. That’s why they love so much, care so much, and give so much. My mom has been raising children now for well over 50 years and I’m glad to say she’s still at it. Some of us children, after all, still need a lot of looking after.

I came across this great quote from a famous painter you may have heard of. In just a few words he captured the incredible love and influence moms have on their children. “My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and became Picasso.”

I love you, Mom. Where would I be without you?

Happy Mother’s Day.

P.S. Do I still need to get you a card?

A Father’s Restraint: An Easter Message

As I write this, I’m sitting in a hospital room in Miami looking over my son. He’s trying to sleep but the pain keeps waking him up. Parents absolutely hate seeing our children suffer. We would willingly take their place in an instant if possible. Of course, we are often helpless to do anything but pray.

Some TLC from Grandma

Some TLC from Grandma

A blood clot was discovered in his upper right arm after it swelled twice its size. The skilled doctors moved quickly to remove the clot but with obvious concern. Most healthy 20-year-olds do not develop blood clots. “Venous Thoracic Outlet Syndrome” was found to be the culprit and surgery to remove his first rib was the solution. It was a shock to all of us and the reality hit hard. Dave was playing well for the University of Miami baseball team. He was leading his team with an amazing .579 batting average in ACC conference play (.328 overall) and was just starting to hit his stride. The last place he wanted to be was in the hospital…again.

Now, before I go any further, let me quickly say that David is expected to have a full recovery and return to baseball in due time. While scary and disheartening, there are countless others facing far more devastating issues. We thank the Lord this did not result in a far greater tragedy.

A few days before David’s six-hour surgery, I had finished reading Bill O’Reilly’s book, “Killing Jesus: A History.” It is not a religious book, but was helpful in better understanding the political and religious climate amidst the events leading to Christ’s crucifixion. As I sat watching David struggle through pain, my thoughts wandered to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Biblical accounts explain Jesus went with his disciples to the Garden to pray. As O’Reilly explains, Jesus knew full well the terrifying suffering he would endure at the hands of a professional Roman crucifixion death squad. The account in Matthew 26:36-46 (NLT) says Jesus was anguished and distressed. Verse 38 reads, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.” Three times he prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

As a father, I would do anything to protect my son. If I had the power, I would have cured his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome before a scalpel ever pierced his skin. If I had the power and my son was in anguish and asked me to take away the cup of suffering he was facing, I would not have hesitated.

The Bible says God the Father had that power — but did not use it. That blows me away.

Several days have now passed since I started this article. David was in the hospital for eleven long days and is now on the road to recovery. He can hardly wait to once again pick up a baseball bat and start swinging for the fences. We pray he has many days ahead to enjoy the game he loves and I will gratefully resume my place in the stands to cheer him on.

It’s Easter, and I’ve thought a lot about God the Father’s restraint as He watched His one and only Son being crucified. Of course, He knew that death could not hold his Son. And He knew His Son, the perfect lamb, had come to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

As I discussed these things with Al Valdes, LOGOI’s professor of biblical studies, he simply smiled and quoted John 3:16:

“For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Thank God for Easter!

Life of an Athlete’s Parent

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The late George Carlin had a wonderful routine about the differences between football and baseball. “The objectives of the two games are totally different,” he explained. “In football,” Carlin said in a tough military voice, “the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz even if he has to use the shotgun.” Carlin then switched to a much softer, kinder voice and said, “In baseball, the object is to go home and to be safe. I hope I’ll be safe at home.”

At a recent University of Miami game, I was talking to a few other parents of athletes about what it’s like to watch our kids perform “on the public collegiate stage.” We sit in the stands amongst emotional fans and can’t help but overhear both praise and disparagement spewing from strangers’ lips. At any particular moment, your child is either great or terrible. “There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground” was an agreed upon statement. Sometimes, we wish we could just grab up our kids and like Carlin said, “go home and be safe.”

Of course, our young athletes would have nothing to do with that. They are competitors and something deep inside them drives them. They are always their own biggest critic; demanding more of themselves than any unreasonable fan. No one is more disappointed with a poor performance than the competitor his or her self. And while we parents sometimes wish we could whisk our children home to safety, the truth is, we’ll stand in the fire with them. We fully understand that all too often, the only encouragement they hear, is from mom and dad.

As I watched the Olympics this year, I felt a new kinship with the parents of those amazing athletes. I could appreciate the tremendous sacrifice both in time and money that was invested to help their child get to this incredible pinnacle. I could better understand their sleepless nights as they worried, consoled, and encouraged. And when one of the olympians would falter after all those years of training and sacrifice and their dreams slipped away in an instant, I could imagine the tearful meeting with a mom and dad whose hearts were equally broken. I wondered how many said the same words I have repeated more than once knowing full well their answer, “You only have two choices: quit or persevere.”

The other side of that coin is equally emotional. I truly understand the expression of being so proud “your buttons might pop off.” Few things are more exhilarating or fill us with more pride than the achievements of our kids. In those moments we know it’s been worth every sacrifice and every struggle and we’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. Lou Holtz added some excellent insight when he said, “You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say you are when you lose.”

So we parents sit in the stands running the gamut of emotions right along with our children. We disregard critics who callously offer opinions with little understanding of what is really taking place, how hard they are working, and how badly they want to succeed. Rather, we welcome the caring eyes and embraces from those who truly understand the struggle. We watch the body language of our kids, read their faces, and pray for wisdom as to how best to respond whether they succeed or fail. Then we pray some more.

It’s not easy being the parent of an athlete. But we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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