Who Am I and What's Going On

44. 22. 15. 13.

Just like words have meaning, numbers do too. So, what do these numbers represent? Good question…

44 equals the amount of time that I have blessed the earth with my presence. While it also represents Jackie Robinson’s number (the baseball player that I respect the most), that’s not what we’re talking about here. Age is a weird thing. Back when I was 12 years old, I thought someone in their 40’s was ancient. But now, at 44 years old, I don’t feel old. I feel more like a 35 year old. We’ll see if I still feel the same way at 45.

22 equals the amount of time that I worked with students and families in a range of ways. It started in college and an internship I did for my youth ministry minor. Then it continued on after my undergrad work as I went to seminary and took a job as a youth pastor in Michigan. We built that ministry from six kids to 65. That might seem like a small number, but the overall church size was only around 150 members. It was one of the most rewarding and challenging jobs I had. It was also a time where we learned to train and build a volunteer team. We worked there for just over three years and left so I could work with kids caught up in the juvenile justice system… First in the jail, and then as a probation officer where I supervised kids with serious substance abuse issues and a separate caseload supervising kids who committed serious violent offenses along with kids tied up in a local gang. During this time, I worked with kids ages 13 to 18. To say it was interesting is an understatement. To say it was heartbreaking at times is well, accurate. Quite honestly, there are still stories that I haven’t told my wife and stories I won’t ever tell my kids. But some of the relationships and trust that was built with the kids and parents I’ll forever remember.

One story will stick with me forever and I tell it every chance I can. Mauricio R. … I worked with him for just over two years. He was mainly on probation for substance abuse issues and went to a local drug cottage. But he was also deeply involved in a local Latino gang. I sat with his mother, who couldn’t speak English, on a number of occasions and listened to her even though I spoke very broken Spanish, tell me how fearful she was of her son and his gang life. And that fear was founded in truth. The night after we had conducted a home search on his house, a rival gang had driven by and shot up his house. So his mom was right to be fearful. Mauricio would successfully finish his time at the drug cottage. He would also successfully complete his terms of probation. But Mauricio never successfully got out of his gang. As I was driving back from a guys trip in Ohio, I received a phone call from the local police. They got my number from my card that Mauricio was carrying in his pocket at the time he was shot in a shootout behind his home with that same rival gang. When I got back, another probation officer and myself went to Mauricio’s home as they were having the wake. As we walked up to his home, we had to pass through a sea of blue… the color the adult gang members were wearing. Any other time, we would have had been in serious trouble. This time, we simply got death stares. I could only guess what they were thinking. As we walked through the home, I asked where Mauricio’s mom was in Spanish. More stares of confusion. Why were these two white probation officers in the home. As his mother rounded the corner and saw us, she broke down in my arms. No words needed to be said. It was understood. We hugged and cried. And then we left and let her grieve with her family. Working with students doesn’t mean that everything will turn out well. And sometimes the biggest impact you’ll have is on the parents. I learned that as we were walking back through the sea of blue, this time receiving looks of thanks for showing our respect.

I also learned that even more as I next worked with kids and families with the Boys and Girls Club in St. Joseph County. We made some great relationships with the kids. And I hope that we made lasting impact on many students. Time will tell. But what I know for sure, we helped a lot of parents… single moms, single dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, foster parents… all who were raising the kids we were working with. Standing and listening to a mom who’s sister was dying of cancer. Listening to a mom struggle with not only divorce, but also tell me about how her son was struggling with their divorce. Talking with a father who had just lost his brother. Helping and listening to grandparents struggle with taking care of their three grandchildren because their mom can’t stay out of jail because of her issue with drugs.

I got into working with students to make a positive impact on their lives. To work with kids. But I found that, while we did make an impact on the students, I also found that we could make a huge impact with the parents and guardians of those same kids. The parents, who were doing their best to make the best life possible for their kids… struggling day after day. Sometimes I just listened. Sometimes I offered advice whether it was through simple discussion or parenting classes I taught. And sometimes it was in silence while we both cried.

Empathy for the people is a powerful thing. If you want to be like Jesus, it starts and ends with empathy.

And then you have 15 and 13. The current ages of my kids. I’ve been a parent for 15 years. It seems weird to say that out loud.

Being a parent is the toughest, yet most rewarding job in the world. It’s a job that, on one day, I feel like the best parent ever. We had moments, real teaching moments. I handled everything perfectly. And then, the next day, or better yet, later the same day, I feel like the biggest failure ever.

I fail everyday in some way as a parent. What I find hilarious (and I say that in the most sarcastic way ever), as I look back on my life, whether it was during the time I was a youth pastor, or as a youth worker, when I was teaching a message or a parenting class, we dealt with that same issue in parenting times ten. As I look back on some of the posts I’ve written in the past month and a half, the same thing has happened… as parents we struggle with the very same thing I had just written about. In fact, their behavior is a little extra naughty in the very same thing I had just written about. So now, as I write, I just kind of expect it... I expect that our kids behavior will be, well, a little “extra special.”

The purpose of this blog going forward isn’t to shout out loud that Jami and I have got it all figured out. To the contrary, we fail everyday… and that’s ok. We are still learning and growing as parents. I’m simply hoping that the stories I share and the applications I draw are an avenue of growth for me and you. I’m hoping that it will offer simple reminders and let you know that we’re in this together and inspire you to be a better parent and/or youth worker.

If this is your first time here, welcome. If you’ve been here before, thank you for returning.

Let’s strive to be the best parents and youth workers we can be… together.


Bike Rides Funnel Cakes & the Mess

I'm sitting here at home, on my couch, looking for a moment I wanted to share with all of you.

I knew I had posted it on Facebook. But for some reason, I thought it happened about two years ago. But no, it was five years ago! FIVE! In the grand scheme of things, five years isn’t that long. But when your kids reach a certain age, five years is forever ago. The amount of change that happens between five years is, CA-RA-ZY. Anyways, side tangent over.

Morgan has ALWAYS loved to ride bikes. Still does. Five years ago she would ask all the time. Like… Every. Single. Day. As a parent, you love your kids. But there comes a time when you just need, well, you need a break. This was one of those times. The day before, she had asked to ride bikes when I got home. And, well, since it was raining I said no, we couldn’t do it. She asked why. My response, “Sweetie, it’s raining. If we go for a bike ride now, we’ll get all wet. Our legs and shoes and clothes will get all muddy. We’ll be a mess. Let’s see what the weather is like tomorrow.” I could tell she was disappointed. But I just didn’t want to clean up that mess. And, I needed a break from riding bikes (my seat is terrible).

The next day rolls around. I’m driving home and it starts to rain. As I walk in the house, Mo comes running up to me and asks, “Can we go for a bike ride?” And in my head I’m thinking, “Our clothes are gonna get wet. Our shoes might get ruined. We’ll definitely get muddy. It’s gonna be a huge mess.” But when I get done thinking those things, I start thinking, “We’ll definitely get wet. It’s not cold out, it’s the middle of June. There’s no thunder or lightening. This is something I’d love to have done as a kid. We’ll definitely have fun. And it’s memories they’ll have for sure.” So I say to Mo, “It’s raining.” She says, “Awwww.” To which I said, “Wanna go for a bike ride IN THE RAIN?” Mo and Carter at the same time asked, “CAN WE?” And I said, “Absolutely! Get your bikes.”

Did we get wet? 100 percent. We were soaked. Were we muddy? Absolutely. I made sure we rode through all of the puddles. Did our shoes get ruined? I have no clue. I just know that as we were riding through our neighborhood, there was nonstop giggles and fun. It’s something they still talk about five years later. It was an absolute mess. But it was worth it.

Fast forward five years. Carter shows Jami and I a TikTok video of a guy making homemade funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos and deep fried Reese's Cups. My first thought, man, this could be a real mess. Two inches of vegetable oil in a pan. A 15 year old in charge of this little project. And powdered sugar. What could go wrong? We literally put this experiment off for a couple of days. But there was no chance that he was gonna forget about this. So, we said ok. And, it turned out to be a mess. We had dishes all over the kitchen. Powdered sugar everywhere (mostly because of me). Burnt chocolate smell. Like I said. It was a mess. But, Carter loved getting it ready, following the instructions, and watching what he did actually work. It was fun. He was successful at what he set out to do. And we made memories.

There have been times throughout the years that we have said no to things our kids wanted to do because we knew that there would be a giant mess to clean up. I wish I had those times back, honestly. In the last five years, we’ve begun to intentionally said yes to things (like our Christmas Dinner Christmas Card) because we know that sometimes the moment means more than the mess. The memories that will be created in the moment you have with your children will far outweigh the mess that it creates. And I want more memory-filled moments in our house… even if it creates a huge mess.

It’s ok to have a mess. Because the moment means more than the mess.


Morgan, Carter and Me. June 14, 2015. This moment meant more than the mess.