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Family, Faith & Fun

Archive for the category “children”

Award Winning Book

Fun summer reading. “Monkeys In My Coconut Tree” by Ed Thompson, is a compilation of fun, easy-to-read stories of fun, family, and faith. It was a Reader’s Favorite 2016 Silver Medal Winner. So come on, check it out. Read some of the reviews and download your copy by clicking HERE. (Also available at Amazon.com, iTunes and others.)

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Moses & Baseball

 

IMG_1312“Little League baseball is a very good thing because it keeps the parents off the streets.”  —Yogi Berra

Realizing my youngest son, David (then 9), was excelling at baseball, I decided to move him to a more challenging baseball park in Miami called Tamiami. Instead of the popular “draft” where the talented players are spread out over the various teams, coaches handpick their young baseball players and bring them to the park to battle it out.  

David was the only “American” on the Tamiami All-Star team filled with second and third generation Hispanics. To be fair, all the boys on his 10-and-under All-Star team were  born in America. They embraced their Hispanic heritage and cultural diversity, but were proud Americans grateful to live in the USA and the wonderfully diverse city of Miami.

Tamiami baseball is well known for being “over-the-top” competitive. And just to prove it, in our very first Tamiami game, the team mom from our team got into a fist fight with the team mom from the other team. I knew right then and there it was going to be a very exciting season of baseball.

And it was. Despite all the fist fights (and there were many), the constant heated quarrels over the “real” age of some of the kids (just about every game), and some umpires who performed their own little dance move with every strike-three call (one umpire called himself Michael Jackson), it was a great experience. David’s final game that year was played on TV as the Tamiami All-Star team won the Pony League World Series in Dallas.

David learned the fundamentals of the game of baseball from passionate Hispanic dads. Lessons he is no doubt taking with him now in his first full professional year in the NY Mets farm system. Not only that, but his Spanish improved dramatically.

In many ways, the passion David’s Hispanic coaches used for teaching him the fundamentals of baseball is what Moses was getting at when he said, “Teach [God’s commands] to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up…so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors” (Deuteronomy 11:19-21).

And who doesn’t want to flourish?

Most of us have a hard time truly believing God gave us the Ten Commandments for our benefit. But unlike baseball where breaking the rules may cost you the game, we are all in the middle of the great “game” of life where the stakes are so very much higher. So if you’d like to know why Moses said obeying them will help your life flourish, my Dad just so happened to write a short book explaining just that.

You can find it here at Amazon or on our ministry website at LOGOI.  

Lemonade Stands

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According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, summer officially ends on September 23rd at 4:21am. Yes, I agree that’s a peculiar date and time for summer to end but who are we to argue with old farmers?

Sadly, the end of summer also brings the season’s end to a beloved American pastime—lemonade stands—which inexplicably, are under attack by various government branches. No, I’m not making this up.

The government lemonade crackdown may have begun last year in Coralville, Iowa, when  police shut down little 4-year-old Abigail’s stand after she had been open barely 30 minutes. The reason? She did not have the required $400 permit. In Midway, Georgia, police shut down a stand run by three little girls because they did not have a business license, a peddler’s permit, or a food permit. In Overton, Texas, public outcry was so loud after two children’s (7 and 8) stand was shut down for not having the proper permits, the Chief of Police released “dash-cam” VIDEO of the occurrence.

The list of government shut downs of children’s lemonade stands has grown substantially over the years. So much so that websites like lemonadefreedom.com have opened up with news and videos to promote “Lemonade Freedom” throughout the land. So in the hope some government official will read this and have second thoughts on sending the police to shut down a child’s lemonade stand, I share this story.

I love lemonade stands.

In fact, my wife and children know it’s almost impossible for me to drive past a neighborhood lemonade stand. I’ll circle blocks, make illegal U-turns, and even try to sneak past a police crime tape surrounding the permit-less operation of a 4-year-old, just to get to a child’s lemonade stand. Then I’ll call my wife and kids and insist they drive over and buy some, too.

It goes back, of course, to my grade school days when I proudly opened my very own lemonade stand in my front yard. I was a proud and hopeful small business owner determined to make millions from the ten-cents-per-cup lemonade my mother made. It was back in the day when a young entrepreneur could set up shop in their own front yard without ever worrying about being busted by the Chief of Police.

I remember setting up the table alongside the street, making the signs, and wondering how much to charge for a wonderful ice-cold glass of lemonade; a nickel, a dime, a quarter? Could a cold glass of lemonade be worth a quarter?

Of course, mom helped make the lemonade and even supplied a small box of change. She helped me make the sign and set up the table in a spot where she could keep an eye on me from inside the house. Then, finally, it was time to sit in the chair behind the table and wait for the line of cars to show up, driven by thirsty people with an extra dime or two in their pockets.

That’s where a major flaw in my business plan was revealed. At age 11, I was unfamiliar with the “location, location, location” principle and Freakonomics hadn’t even been written yet. So I was on my own, on a quiet street, learning tough business principles the hard way. But dreams are beautiful and I never once considered our quiet street would not be teaming with thirsty drivers coming from all over Miami to drink my lemonade.

Long, lonely minutes crept by as I sat there anxiously waiting for a car—any car—to pull down my street. Then, when a car did come into view, nothing crushed my spirit more than watching it rumble past as I stood there with a cup of cold lemonade in hand and a hopeful smile on my face. (There’s just something un-American about driving past a lonely lemonade stand.)

But dreams die hard and I knew my first customer could be coming down the street at any moment. I would be ready. The minutes slowly ticked by and turned into a discouraging hour. Then that hour slowly passed into another hour, and another. The hot sun burned down, the ice in the lemonade pitcher quickly melted, and no one, not one car or person ventured toward my lemonade stand.

Mom had given me a nice apple to offer to my first customer as a special bonus. It had been nice and fresh when I had set up the stand, but now it too, was starting to look beat down from the sun and heat. Still, no one stopped. I was fairly miserable.

The afternoon wore on and I was dragging my head in discouragement. I was just about to close up shop when off in the distance, I noticed a car coming my direction. It was a familiar car. It was my dad’s car and Dad was in it. He pulled up to my stand and rolled down the window. “How’s business, young man?” he asked with a big smile. All I remember was bursting into tears.

The next thing I know, my dad was asking for a glass of lemonade. “Are you selling that apple, too?” he asked still smiling. I managed a “yes” through my tears but said it wasn’t looking so good anymore. “Looks like a great apple to me,” I heard back, as I handed it over.

I can still picture handing my dad the warm glass of lemonade and the sad looking apple through the window of his car. He leaned back and drank the lemonade in one long swallow, smacked his lips and then bit into the apple. “Wow, that’s delicious,” he said to my surprise. “I think I’ll take another lemonade.”

When he was done, he reached into his wallet, pulled out a bill, and handed it to the little boy trying to overcome his sobs. He said a big “thanks,” complimented me on the excellent lemonade and fine tasting apple and drove away.

He was around the corner and out of sight before I looked and saw the twenty-dollar bill he had pushed in my hand. In many ways, it remains the biggest sale I have ever made.

I have a sneaky suspicion my mom called my dad to let him know I was out there struggling to make a sale. I can see him dropping whatever he was doing at work and driving over as quickly as possible to buy some warm lemonade from his son. With tenderness and compassion, it was “Dad to the rescue” because that’s what loving dads do.

The Lord is like a father to His children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him (Psalm 103:13).

As my dad drove up our lonely street, I’m sure he knew the sad sight he was about to see: a little boy with a sad face and slumped over shoulders fully engulfed in his own private pity party. But as a loving father, he knew what to do.

For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust (Psalm 103:14).

I’m so incredibly thankful the Lord knows how weak and frail I am. I so often feel like I’m still that little boy at the lemonade stand down the lonely street with nothing going right. But my Heavenly Father is tender and compassionate. He knows I’m made of dust and always takes my frailty into account.

For His unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth (Psalm 103:11).

So the next time you see a lemonade stand—STOP—and remember the Lord’s amazing love, tenderness, and compassion for you. Then, pull over and invest in the hopes and dreams of a small child who is waiting just for you to make his or her day. It may just be the best decision you make all day.

Zealots and Trolls

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Sports fans are an interesting breed.

On one hand you have, of course, the “fanatic” or “zealot”, whom The Free Dictionary defines as “a person marked or motivated by an extreme, unreasoning enthusiasm.” The opposite of a fanatic, according to Yahoo! Answers, is the “troll.” A troll or “hater” as they are often referred, is someone who opposes what you think.

Things can get real interesting when a zealot and troll sit next to each other in the stands.

I’ve just returned from Omaha, Nebraska, where I had the thrill of watching my son compete in the 2015 College World Series. David was six-years-old when he first told me he dreamed of playing in Omaha. Seeing his dream (and mine) come true was a beautiful, amazing experience.

As our team took the field, I was talking with another dad who was also experiencing dreams coming true. “There are over 300 Division 1 baseball teams,” he explained quite excited, “which means with 35-man rosters, there are roughly 10,500 student athletes playing baseball.” I nodded my head in agreement giving him the impression I was able to multiply large numbers in my head.

“Eight teams get to Omaha,” he continued, “meaning out of 10,500, less than 300 kids get to experience this.” Once again I nodded confidently in agreement. But then he asked, “Do you know what percentage that is?” He then just looked at me and waited as if my brain was somehow capable of figuring out his complex mathematical equation.

He must have noticed the blood rushing out of my head as I was trying to do math and mercifully volunteered the answer: “Roughly 2.6 percent.” “Yes, that sounds about right,” I said, stomping my foot trying to get the blood flowing back to my brain. “Think about it,” he insisted, less than 3% of all college baseball players ever get here. This is amazingly special.”

Despite my horrible math skills, I’ve thought a lot about that brief conversation. It was indeed “amazingly special” to get to Omaha. And when you consider the winner of the College World Series represents fewer than half of one percent (0.33%) of all division one baseball players (I figured that out all by myself), you realize how truly incredible it is to win this, or any other championship.

Which brings me back to the fanatics and trolls. You see, most are so focused on the win or the loss, they never take into consideration the incredible journey the athlete must take just to get into a position to win or lose. All that matters is for “their” team to finish in that very elusive half of one percent.

My wife and kids have urged me to not look at social media – the playground for zealots and trolls. For the most part, I have complied. But sometimes, I just have to look. And so it was after our team lost I ignored the warning bells and viewed a few social media posts.

And there they were. The zealots and trolls filling page after page with their unbridled vitriol. The fanatics chimed in on all the mistakes made which lost “us” the championship and the trolls basically suggested blind lame dogs would have beaten “our” team.

“It’s okay,” as my son has said to me more than once. “It doesn’t matter what they say or think.” In fact, like most athletes, he seems to have a basic understanding of the zealots and trolls. “They’re just fans,” he says a bit matter-of-fact. “They cheer and they boo. But they don’t understand.”

Then he looked at me and said, “But you understand, Dad.”

Indeed I do. I know all about the countless hours he spends to hone his skills when no one is looking. I know about his terrible disappointment after a poor performance and his heartbreak with a loss. I understand how hard he has worked to fight back from injuries and overcome way too many surgeries and hospital stays. And I certainly know all the sacrifices we have made as a family to help him get where he is today. Yes, I do understand.

So go ahead with your cheers and boos all you zealots and trolls. We understand.

What Do I Know?

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Five years before my daughter, Abby, was even engaged, I wrote a song with my friend, Don Koch, called, “What Do I Know?” The song is about a dad’s emotional struggle about giving his daughter away. Of course, that dad is me.

I knew the day was inevitable and tried to project my emotional state. Even then, the thought made me my heart sink, my knees weak, and my eyes wet. I jokingly told her I’d be doing her wedding via satellite.

When I wrote this song, however, I never once even imagined she’d fall in love with an Aussie and move to Australia. So her wedding events and day were filled with an extra amount of emotion as our window of time together would come to a sudden end with her moving to the Land Down Under.

In the hundreds of photos taken by the wedding photographer, most of me were as you see below. I assured Abby they were not sad tears. I was and am thrilled for her and her new adventurous life with Alex. They make a great team. God is good.

With the exception of the “lanky and juvenile” part, I think I got it pretty right. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get a Kleenex. I’m about to watch this again:

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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.

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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

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.

 

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?

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