2 Years In

2 years ago today 2 little boys arrived at my house.

They’re a mess. They’re a handful. They’re knuckleheads. They’re sweet as can be. They’re monsters. They’re such a joy. They’re amazing little people. They’re invigorating. They’re exhausting. They’re my boys.

I have raised a lot of boys in my life. But… I was a much younger man the last time there were toddlers and preschoolers in my house. I’m feeling every minute of my 51 years plus a decade or two extra.

I was well-trained for the work I’ve been doing for two years with these boys. But it’s so much harder than I could have imagined. I’ve got an incredible support system. But it’s so much lonelier than I would have thought it would be. I have the best partner ever in this full-time job. But some moments I feel like I have to carry the whole thing myself.

I have blown it so many times. But every one of them was an opportunity to teach these boys the most crucial lesson: every man makes mistakes, but a godly man admits it and tries to make it right quickly.

One of these boys has a very hard time when he’s not the first or the best or the most special. If it looks like he’s not going to win, he is very much inclined to quit. I can relate to that. In my own ongoing journey of growing, it’s so easy to give up on a day or a week or a month or a year because I’ve just blown it so badly. It’s hard to re-frame the struggle to simply try to make a better next minute or hour.

But there is so much to be said for simply keeping on.

Even as I see on the horizon my time in this role coming to an end, I’ve made a promise to these boys since the day we met them. “No matter where you go, no matter what you do, I will always love you – no matter what!”

Last weekend we made a pretty special memory. Since the day they came to live with us, the boys have been fascinated with my wife’s display of race medals. She’s completed a number of half marathons and 5k races and a couple of marathon relays and such. (I have a collection too, but it’s not as extensive as hers.) So we signed up (all 4 of us) to participate in the Kids Marathon with the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon so that they could win their own medals.

We logged a lot of miles over the last 2 years. The plan for this event was that we log 25 miles independently leading up to the event and then complete the last 1.2 miles on the course.

Saturday morning these boys and I took off running together—not fast, not hard, just running—and ran the whole course, all 1.2 miles of it, without stopping to walk or rest or anything. And we did it together. That’s the deal. That’s what I stepped into 2 years ago. I committed to keep going with them until we cross our finish line.

On Saturday, when we rounded the last turn and saw the finish line about a block away, I said, “There it is, boys! Let’s finish strong! Run hard!” And they took off and left me behind. The little one looked back at me over his shoulder just before reaching the finish line, giant grin on his face, and then turned and blazed on across. The older one was right on his brother’s heels. And I was finishing my race with tears in my eyes with the joy of seeing them run well.

Right now my race is to help them learn to just keep going. Soon another will step in a take up the coaching mantle and I will move to the sidelines as the loudest, proudest, most familiar voice in the great cloud of witnesses cheering for their success.

It doesn’t matter where you start. It matters that you keep going.

One day maybe my little boys will read this and know how incredibly proud their Papi is of them. My hope is that they will not be surprised, just reminded.

As we move forward in our transition journey, please pray with me that these boys will only gain momentum in running toward the great plans our Father has for them.

I’m 2 years in… and trying to finish well.

Grandpa’s Hats

I have two hats hanging up in my garage. They’re not where I can reach up and grab them to wear when I need them. They’re just there to help me remember.

These hats belonged to my grandfather. He was a World War 2 veteran, a hard worker, a fishing enthusiast, and a quiet, peaceful man.

One of them is a hard hat. He worked for many years for our state’s highway department. As a kid I was quick to play the cool grandpa card by injecting, “My Grandpa drives a dump truck.” In the early school years it is way cooler to drive a dump truck than to be a lawyer or accountant or most anything else.

When I look up and see that hard hat hanging there I am reminded that my Grandpa was a man well-acquainted with hard, sweaty, dusty work. I can see him coming in the back door, lunch box in hand. I can see the previous day’s freshly washed overalls hanging on the clothesline and work boots airing out on the back porch. I can smell the sweat and dust… but it’s not a bad smell—pungent but organic, earthy.

The other hat was his fishing hat. He wore a lot of those out over the years and probably lost at least one to bungling grandkids and their fish hooks gone awry. When it’s warm I can still smell him in the hat band of that old hat.

He was never what anyone would consider a wealthy man. I don’t think he ever even owned a house. He went to work and worked hard for his family. He kept going for decades for his family. He worked out in the scorching Oklahoma summers in those trucks with sticky vinyl seats and no air conditioning and endured the cold, blustery winds that come sweeping down the plains. There was never any question that he did it for all of us.

But the fishing he did with us. He took us and taught us and put up with us and endured us and loved us. My dad took us too, but my earliest fishing memories involved my Grandpa. I can still hear him call my name to come back toward him when I would wander too far down the dock for him to keep a good eye on me.

He worked for us.

He fished with us.

And when I look up at these two hats that still bear the marks of the same head, I remember the lesson he taught me without ever saying a word… which was his favorite way to teach.

He taught me to work hard FOR my family. You can’t always like everything about your work, but you must work hard for those who depend upon you. He showed me how to invest my sweat equity in my family.

He taught me to invest the rest of my time, as much as I possibly can, in working (and playing and generally living) WITH my family.

There were many other lessons he taught me… like being (almost irrationally) early for literally everything. But these hats hang in my garage as a silent reminder to pour myself out FOR and WITH the people that have been entrusted to my care.

I think he’d be proud. And that makes my heart smile.

Bus-Hopping (Thoughts from a Bus Driver – Part 4)

I’ve argued that leadership in most contexts is a lot like driving a bus. It’s a different view when you’re in the driver’s seat. I’ve suggested that we all should consider that our leaders are feeling the weight of leadership like never before. And I have asked you to remember that these chaotic days are truly unprecedented in so many senses of the word.

But I can’t finish this discussion without making some observations regarding the passengers.

Imagine being on that bus in the ice storm and the bus slips and slides up to a four-way stop. Imagine some of the passengers demanding to be let out of the bus.

Why would someone do that?

Some might insist that they must get off the bus because the driver is not being careful enough. They feel the driver is driving too fast for the conditions and not allowing enough following distance. They believe the driver was not giving enough attention and oversight to the passengers on the bus or was so consumed with the outside conditions that they were neglecting the passengers.

Others might want off of the bus because they were convinced that the roads were not as bad as the weather reports had suggested. They felt the bus driver was being unreasonably cautious—trying to protect them from things they didn’t need to be protected from in the first place. They were sure that the bus driver was reacting in fear to unfounded reports. Some simply could not stay on a bus when the driver was so cautious.

Absurd? Perhaps. But I have heard of a number of folks abandoning organizations and such for these very reasons.

I’ve been a pastor for a long time so I tend to think of these things in a ministry context—an entirely voluntary association. But I have heard so many stories and watched them paraded on social media as people have ranted and raved all of the reasons I have expressed here for leaving a group. In ministry circles, we’ve always called it church-hopping. But the same thing happens in civic organizations and workplaces and professional associations of every kind.

When someone wants to hop off the bus and find another because the driver is doing something no person alive has ever done in an unsatisfactory way… well, that says more about the person doing the bus-hopping than it does the bus driver, does it not?

If you’re one of these bus-hopping folks, would you please take some time to reflect on the heart of the leaders you’ve been so dissatisfied with? If you can see that, right or wrong, their decisions were made out of genuine care for the people they lead, would you at least acknowledge that? If you are sure they were motivated entirely by fear, can you at least understand that they were afraid of bringing harm to you?

I recognize that there are leaders who are not really caring people, but if that was the case you probably knew that before the pandemic came along. There are some folks who have needed to get off of their bus for a long time and perhaps the circumstances have caused you to see it. But PLEASE be sure before you jump off the bus.

The old adage about greener grass comes much into view… like, “the ride is always smoother on the other bus.”

I think it’s important to recognize that disagreeing with someone is not a reason to part ways. Every relationship gets stronger when we work through our disagreements to gain understanding. Do the harder work and value relationships more than being “right.”

These have been just a few leadership thoughts from the perspective of a bus driver. Thanks for reading. And for all of you that have been frustrated with your leader’s handling of things but have trusted that they have made their decisions out of genuine concern for the people they lead… thank you. As a weary pastor I can say this: the grace and patience I’ve experienced has been crucial to my survival… but then my CalvaryDuncan family demonstrates grace more effectively than any church I’ve been around. My heart is deeply grateful. And for my colleagues who don’t experience this kind of grace and patience I will continue to pray.