Like Time Stands Still…

In my garage I have a poster sized picture  that is approximately 24 years old.  It is a photo of a beautiful college girl sitting in the surf on the  Pensacola beach.  She is smiling at the camera and there is a sparkle in her eye.

The other day my wife asked me if I miss seeing that girl.  I told her that I still see her every morning when I leave for work, and every evening when I go to bed.  She still smiles at me that same way, and I still love the sparkle in her eye.

24 years may have passed (maybe 23, I know it is somewhere in there), but that young girl who became my wife is still the woman of my dreams.  Today is her birthday, and though years have passed, when I look at her, time has stood still.

I read once that a man should look at his wife and remember her as the love of his youth.  They say that keeps the passion and the fun of life alive and builds a marriage that stays vibrant and interesting.  I can’t say that is a bad idea, and on the surface, I think it makes sense, but I am afraid that way of thinking lacks a little something.

My wife and I will have been married for 23 years next month on August 20, 2017.  I have met many people who have been married longer than that, but I am also very aware that unfortunately once you hit the double decade mark, you are in a drastically dwindling crowd.  Being in that minority kind of allows me a position of authority in speaking on marital matters!

My wife is an amazing woman.  She is sweet, kind, and wonderful in so many ways.  She still smiles at me with that sparkle in her eye, and I can’t help but love that girl there.  She’s more though. So much more.

At times there is a tiredness in that eye as well.  There are pressures she feels that try to dim that sparkle and tug down the corners of that smile.  The surf that gave her so much joy is sometimes now a few baskets of laundry needing to be folded.  The sun on her face is replaced by a lamp at her desk as she works dutifully on helping her kids with their college schedules.  Time marches on, and if we focus on the march, we miss something.

I know years have passed, but that girl is still there.  I saw her at breakfast yesterday when we joked about a whisker I had growing out of a freckle on my cheek. She laughed and I saw all of the “stuff” of life roll off her for a moment.  There she was again.  My girl was right there.

I see her every day, even the days she doesn’t see herself.   I should probably tell her more that I am seeing her in the moment.  Maybe if I did, she would see that girl more too.

Well, today’s her birthday, and we have plans to go out as a family and have a good time.  I’m excited about it, and if all goes well, we will go to the beach.  Maybe I can get another pic of my girl sitting in the surf on a sunny day.  I don’t really need it though. She is right there in my mind each and every day.

Happy Birthday to the love of my life.  The woman I am still Relentlessly pursuing and working at loving her as Christ said I should.  Tammi, time may move on, and we are not immune to the effects of it, but for you, time has stood still.  You are so precious to me, and even more so when I can take that young girl, sitting in the surf and mix her with the woman still with me after 23 years of marriage.  I think it makes everything more powerful and real.

You are the love of my youth, my now not-so-very-much-of-my-youth-as-I-would-like, and the rest of my life as well.  You have made time stand still for me, and I love you for it.  I hope you have a very happy birthday

I love you! You are God’s best gift to me on earth!

Tom

 

My Son – A Graduate. Time Flies…

imageThis past weekend my son received his high school diploma.  13 years of school have come to a close, and we could not be more proud of his efforts.  Over the past 13 years, we have exposed him to three different education models, and he excelled in all of them.  The last two years he has been dual-enrolled in college at Cedarville University via on-line courses, and has done an amazing job there as well.  He will walk on campus as a sophomore this fall.

There are so many events in our lives that we want to remember.  Milestones exist so we can look back and see where we have been and how far we have come, and I have learned that those moments need to be recognized.  We need them as confirmation in our lives that we are moving forward – achieving goals.

I have been blessed to be in a small men’s group where I learned the importance of taking the time to recognize these moments and commemorate them with a tribute.  When we take the time to write something down from our hearts and give it to someone, it creates a lasting impression.  Those encouraging words will endure long past the moment and will be a touchpoint we can go back to when we are feeling the weight of the world.

Sitting on my desk is a framed copy of a letter I received from my mentor for my 40th birthday.  Aside from the words of encouragement I have receive from my Dad, it is probably the most prized collection of words I have received from any man on earth.  It has made an impression on my life because of the relationship that we have.  Men need to hear words like that and be reminded that they are doing good things – the right things.

So, it is with example from Lou that I put together this letter to my son on his graduation day.  I read it to him at the graduation ceremony, and there will be a framed copy of it for him to take to college this fall so he will be able to see that his Dad believes in him, is proud of him, and prays for him.

I hope that reading this will give you an encouragement to recognize those milestones with your family and close friends.  It may seem like it is only a letter as you write it, but I can tell you that when the relationship is there, the impact of a letter like this will last for years.  Take the time to do it.  It’s worth the effort.

Zachary,

I’ve wanted a son as long as I can remember, and I wanted that son to be just like me.  When you came into my life, I thought I was getting that gift, but your Mom and I got more than that.  We received a son that was a unique blend of the two of us.  Your physical and personality traits seem to morph and shift back and forth so often, but there is no doubt that you are ours.

One of the things I have learned as your Dad is that as much as I wanted a son to be like me, I am thankful that you are an individual, and I have been learning, albeit sometimes slower than either of us would like, to appreciate you as that individual.  You often hear that you are “just like your Dad”, but you and I know that there are a number of differences that make you an “individual”.

Your Mom and I are so proud of the young man you have become.  Our goal as parents has been to equip you to take on the trials of adulthood, to stand as a man of God in a world that needs men who know how to stand.  You have had opportunities to learn and grow in your faith, and have had to learn to lean on God during those times, and I am happy to see how you have developed.

You have made us very proud in your dedication to your studies, your love and devotion to your family and friends, and your desire to squeeze the fun out of life.  You are a thinker, a processor and yet still manage to be spontaneous.  A nice blend that has kept us on our toes.

Our dream is that you will be that man mentioned in Micah.  We have seen the beginnings of that man as you seek to do what is right, show God’s mercy and grace to those you relate with, and maintain a humility in your relationship with God.  We pray for those attributes to continue to grow as you enter the college campus this fall and begin the next steps toward what God will have you to do.

We have offered many prayers for you over the years, and today I want to offer this one more written by General Douglas MacArthur.  It is titled “A Father’s Prayer”, and I cannot think of words that would make it any more my prayer for you as your Dad.  Your Mom and I love you very much and will always be here for you when you need us.

“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid; one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.

Build me a son whose wishbone will not be where his backbone should be; a son who will know Thee—and that to know himself is the foundation stone of knowledge. Lead him I pray, not in the path of ease and comfort, but under the stress and spur of difficulties and challenge. Here let him learn to stand up in the storm; here let him learn compassion for those who fail.

Build me a son whose heart will be clear, whose goal will be high; a son who will master himself before he seeks to master other men; one who will learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; one who will reach into the future, yet never forget the past.

And after all these things are his, add, I pray, enough of a sense of humor, so that he may always be serious, yet never take himself too seriously. Give him humility, so that he may always remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

Then, I, his father, will dare to whisper, ‘I have not lived in vain.’”

—GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR, “A FATHER’S PRAYER”

Be Relentless in your parenting. Build into the hearts of your kids and share with them how you feel about them.  They need it, and coincidentally, so do you!

Happy Birthday, Babe!

13576829_10209726198062742_3651700631496807898_oYou know what day it is?  It is my wife’s Birthday!  Last year I did a list of reasons I love my wife that had an arbitrary total of 44 reasons. You can read that list here.  I have chosen not to do a list again this year, opting instead to just add an item to it.  It’s not that I can’t come up with, O, let’s pick another random number like 45 reasons I love her.  I could.  Easily!  I just want to focus on this item I am adding to that list from a year ago.

45. We are going to rock the next chapter of our lives.

Yep. I said it.  We are going to be that amazing couple people look at whose children have gone to college and are just walking through life without a care in the world and the world on a string.  We will have people asking what our secret is and how they can be more like us.  Who knows, we might get asked to write a book, do lectures, and even host a theme cruise because we just have it all figured out!

*SNORT*

I don’t think we are going to see things at that extreme, but I think we are going to be pretty awesome in this next stage.  There might some people who want to learn from us who feel like we do have it all figured out, but they will be wrong.  That’s OK.  We know it, and we aren’t afraid to show it.

So, I want to speak to my wife for a moment now.  Please silence your cell phones and try not to leave your seat or cause a disturbance.  I do allow flash photography, but politely request that you refrain from shouting out suggested poses.  This is a serious moment.

Tammi,

We have known each other a long time – seriously it is like 32 years or so. That is insane!  In all of those years we have grown to know each other very well.  We have seen each other at our best and at our worst.  Tears have been shed in fear, grief, pain, happiness, joy, and sometimes because it was a Tuesday.

So many memories, and I treasure them all because they tell a story. It’s a beautiful story about two people who fell in love with no idea they were in the shallow end of the pool.

Today is your birthday, and I want you to know that as crazy as I was about that young(er) lady who walked down the aisle almost 22 years ago, I am so much more head over heels with the young lady I am still married to today!

As the years have gone by, I have watched you try new things and succeed, and try things that did not, but in all of them I saw your excitement over something new and unexplored.  It’s just like when we say it is time to choose a vacation spot.  For you, getting ready to start getting there is more than half the fun!

We are getting ready for another adventure as we take Jess to college in a month.  I know it is going to be hard on you while at the same time you are so excited for her.  I’m just going to be a mess for all of us.

Life is changing, and so are we.  I’m thankful that we are going to do it together.  I will get to be there with you every year that you have a birthday but get no older (Really. It’s not even fair!).  I’m thankful that I get to see you get excited, experience things, and then learn from them.  I get to be a part of your life.

13690941_10209850451529001_594576326055113612_oI say every year that I got the gift the day you were born, and it is true.  What I am also seeing now is that the years that are passing by are taking us to a place where we have not been hoping for, but have been preparing for.  We knew an empty nest would happen and that it would bring a sadness with it, but we also knew it would bring new opportunities to use the things we have learned.

Where is that going to be?  Not sure.  I just know that whatever we do, it is going to be awesome, and that is why the completely arbitrary 45th reason I love you is that we are going to absolutely rock this next chapter of life!

I love you, Babe!  You are the best!

Tom

No Excuses

there-are-no-excuses-4We have all been hearing the news of the Stanford rape victim and the lenient sentence passed down to the rapist.  Yesterday I read the young woman’s letter she had written to her attacker and I was hit with a few different thoughts and emotions.  I know I have not been here lately, and this is a pretty hard thing to come back from a hiatus with, but here we go…

  1.  I am impressed with this woman’s ability to so clearly articulate how she feels after this heinous act.  The way she described her emotional and mental state actually took me into her mind where I could feel the trauma she is experiencing.  I can never know what someone who has endured this has felt, but thanks to that letter, I have a much better idea of how deeply the wounds go into the mind and soul.
  2. I am full of respect for this woman for owning her part in this.  Careful.  No stone throwing… I did not say she should be blamed.  There is no excuse for what happened to her, but she admitted that allowing herself to get that drunk put her in a position for a bad thing to happen.  She could have made a better choice that evening, and she admitted that.  That takes character.
  3. I am cheering for the two young men who acted heroically by stepping in and stopping the act.  Truly Good Samaritans in their actions and bravery.  They must have a couple of very proud sets of parents today.  They saw evil and stepped in to do something about it.  Good job, men.  Good job.
  4. I am thankful that at the very minimum, and it was minimum, the attacker was convicted of the crime.  To the 12 jurors, I appreciate their ability to wade through all of the excuses and attempts to cast doubt and still come back with a decision that puts a mark on this man for what he has done that will stand for the rest of his life.  His victim has been marked, so should he.
  5. Beyond that, I have a range of thoughts and emotions I would rather not focus on in regards to the rapist, the passive father who made excuses for his son and tried to downplay his actions, the lawyer that worked so hard to humiliate a young woman who had already endured so much, and a judge who did not sentence a rapist with an appropriate punishment.  I am going to take the position that God will judge their actions.  I cannot change the past, and outrage simply for the purpose of being angry will accomplish nothing.

What we need to focus on is finding ways to make sure acts like this do not take place again.  Parents!  If you are going to count on school officials, government officials, and the ability of campus security to keep your children safe, then YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM!  I am sorry, but this is not a problem that will be cured with programs and more parking lot lights.  This is a matter of the hearts of the kids that we are raising and the character we instill in them.  As a country, parents need to step up and insist on building character and integrity into their children.

We will never see a world without predators.  It is a broken world we live in and the effects of sin are far reaching, but we can fight against them.  The education we give to our kids in how to think past the moment in their choices is so important.  What are the consequences of this decision? Who could potentially be harmed if I do this?  What are the long term ramifications of this choice?  We focus so hard to get them to look both ways before walking across the street, but are we teaching them to pause and look both ways when given options on who to hang out with, what to drink, and what to eat?  Are we teaching them to weigh the possibilities of walking through a dark place alone rather than hanging out with a group of friends?

Again, we will never be able to stop all evil, but we can build into our kids wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and character that can guide them when we are not there.  Take the time, be Relentless in it!

To my daughter – You are beautiful, sweet and pure, and I want you to stay that way.  I want you to think about the places you go and the things that you do fro other viewpoints than your own.  I have tried to tell you as much as possible about how the mind of men works and where they are weak and potentially twisted.  I have tried to show you how to identify behaviors that you should avoid as well as indicators of character that you can trust.  I pray that you will make the right choices when given the opportunity, and I pray for your protection when the evil of the world crosses your path through no fault of your own.

To my son – You are a young man now.  You have been taught and have been showing you understand how to properly show women honor and respect.  You have been taught that while women are strong, and intelligent and capable of doing things on their own, God has charged men to be tender warriors for them.  Our job is not to hold them back and keep them captive “for their own good”, but it is our job to be men and stand up for what is right and protect their honor as those two young men did.  Women are not tools or toys, they are treasures and should be considered that way by all men.  You will have opportunities to choose, and I pray that you will make the right choice to show the same respect for them as Christ did in the Bible.  You will see men who will objectify them or hurt them and I pray that you will suit up and gear up for battle against that evil as one of God’s warriors.

Men, the battle is won in the preparation, and our home is the place it needs to start.  Show your wives how much you care for your children and their character.  Prepare your children, be involved.  Identify their battles. Teach them to recognize their enemies. Educate them on the weaknesses of evil. Coach them in how to fight evil. Cheer for them as they fight. Recognize their victories. Nurse their wounds. Encourage them for battle.

This world is not getting better.  We must be Relentless in developing children who can stand in it.

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Those Pastor’s Kids…

12821566_922719921179919_8072265062176788583_nI saw this picture on social media the other day. At first glance it made me laugh because I grew up in church and I have seen the extremes that often take place, and seeing the anti-hero Deadpool compared to the virtuous Captain America seemed to be an apt comparison.

As a son of a former deacon, I felt like I could laugh about this picture because of the stereotype that exists there, and even though people don’t like stereotypes, they exist because in many cases, they are true. Not always, but often enough that you can have a snicker from time to time over them. The Pastor’s kids got in trouble because the whole church was watching them The deacon’s kids probably got it the worst from the other deacons more than anyone else. We were a different group, but still in the mix.

After seeing this and thinking about it, I started to see different faces from my childhood – kids from school and church and how they “turned out”. Often they did swing to one of these extremes – “good guy” or “bad guy”. Whoa. Where am I in that mix?

Looking at the two extremes is just a part of the story. You also need to look at where a kid is in the process. They don’t just become Deadpool or Captain America. It’s a process. Some of it takes a long time, and sometimes, time is the best way to help us see where that person might land. I’m not saying I’m Captain America now, but I can say that there was a time that a fairly decent crowd might have considered me well on my way to being a Deadpool! Time was a good thing as it allowed God to work in me. Time is working in a lot of kids right now.

Since time is working on them, we might be better not to judge those kids we see out there. They might be dealing with some issues we don’t know about. They might have more on the ball than we give them credit for. We may have an unrealistic expectation for that kid, or we might just think they should be a little more mature than they really are.

At the end of the day, I don’t see this as a good person or as a bad person. I see them as two very different attitudes. In a way that is a little reassuring, but at the same time, it is a little scary. If it is an attitude, then it can be changed. It is not a defining thing unless you decide to leave it that way. Once you have slipped down a slope, it is harder to get back up. Doesn’t mean quit, but it will be hard.

Anyway, back to the attitudes. Here is how I see them:

Deadpool – “This is who I am. I’m not changing for you or anyone else. My reasons? Why should I try? Nobody expects anything better out of me, and being better than I am is more work than I am prepared to give. It will never be enough to satisfy those people. I know I could do better, but this is how they see me. So, I am just going to embrace it. This is all there is.”

There is so much potential in a Deadpool. So many things that could be done, but self is chosen over others or even a goal. Opportunities are missed, Potential is unrealized, relationships are hurt and sometime destroyed. There are glimpses of heroism from time to time, but they are tempered by a fear form those closest that they will soon decline again.

Captain America – “I might not be the best person for the job, but the job needs to be done, so I am here to do it. I’m willing to go the distance to help another person. I want people to live free and happy. I can follow directions, but I am willing to lead as well. I make mistakes, and I am trying to be better. I’m not satisfied at just being who I am, I want to be better in order to help those who need it”

There is a humility in a Captain America. They may be as gifted or even less gifted than a Deadpool, but they are not focused on themselves. They are focused on others. They are not settling for who they are, they want to grow and develop new skills. They have down times where they feel like they have failed, but they do not let those moments define them. They get back up and keep going because they see the goal is worth the effort even if those around them do not.

The pastor’s kids really aren’t any different than the rest of us; they just live under the microscope. Take any cross section out there and if you just want to take a snapshot of that moment in time, you will see the extremes, but the reality is that there is a near constant swing in kids as they are figuring out who they will be. Personally I see a lot more Captain Americas start showing up around the late twenties and early thirties. Life has a way of helping you see things in a different way.

There were a lot of comments and a lot of Scripture being taken out of context where I saw this pic. I saw a ton of legalistic talk, and I felt ashamed by that. It’s easy to draw lines sometimes when you don’t really know what you are talking about. I’ve never been a PK. Never felt the stress of living up to an expectation that I didn’t ask to be a part of. I know what it feels like to be held to a higher standard though…

I see that photo now as a warning to me. How do I look at people around me? We all have an internal struggle, and we will choose whether to take that struggle and use it as an opportunity to serve ourselves or to serve God. I hope that people see me as a guy who is Relentless in his drive to grow and make the right choice. I hope they see my failures as pivotal moments for me to stand up smarter, and stronger for the struggle rather than weak for failing. I hope I see the same in those around me.

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Grace And The Church – Grace Part 3

Last year I was asked to help in writing a book of devotionals for our church campaign on grace. It was the first time I had been asked to write something for a book, and I really appreciated the opportunity. I have decided to post these devotionals every other day over the next couple of weeks. I hope you enjoy them and that they make you think about the wonders of the grace of God.

You can see the previous posts by clicking the links below:

scriptureongraceWhat Are We Here For?

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. – Acts 6:8

Have you ever wondered what the purpose of the church is? A support system?  A source of community benevolence?  A place for  people to worship? A place for friends to get together?  A place to learn how to be abetter person?  Well, I think it is all of those, but it is more than that.

Think about what we have been given as believers.  We are given the grace of God that has given us salvation!  We are blessed with eternal life and a source of power for living.  We have had the truth of God’s love, mercy and grace revealed to us through His Word and his people, and we have been given a direction for its use.  Are we supposed to just sit on that?

No.  Absolutely not!

Stephen was called to be a deacon in the church, and he took his job seriously as he went out to serve people. Acts 6:8 says he was “full of grace and power.”  A man like that isn’t going to sit still waiting for Sunday morning and the Adult Bible Fellowship or Sunday School class to share what he has been given.  Stephen was out talking to people, sharing the work of Christ in His life in whatever way he could.  God was giving him the ability to do amazing things, and he made sure to not let Him down.

What is different from Stephen than you and me?  Do we not know the same God?  Do we not have the same access to His power?  Does the God Stephen served not allow us to speak out boldly in our faith?  What is holding us back? We have the same Spirit of God at work in us, and we have the same grace in our lives.  Where is the power?  Is it possible that we could do amazing things in the lives of those around us if we let God work in us?

Think about the things that people are enduring every day – cancer, divorce, loss, addiction, emotional abandonment, and the list goes on.  What difference might be made in their lives if a person full of grace and power from God were to get personally involved in their lives?

There are so many opportunities in a day for us to speak of the goodness of God and His life changing work in our lives.  While the Christian faith is under more persecution here in America than at any other time, we still have the ability and freedom to show God’s grace to those around us.  How you do it is up to you and your skill set, but there is nothing stopping you or me from doing it.

We can show the grace of God by not getting irritated with person at work, by giving someone the benefit of the doubt in a moment of annoyance, by showing humility in a confrontation.  We can show sympathy and empathy to those who are struggling.  We can share out life stories and how God works in our circumstances to show us how He is always there, and in that, we can show people the ultimate grace – extending God’s offer of salvation to them!

God didn’t show us grace to have us sit in a building on Sundays.  If grace was just meant to put my body in a chair on Sunday mornings then I am doing no good for God here on earth.  He gave us grace so we can show the reality of a life changed to those who do not yet know Him.  As the church, it is our mission to reach out and show a bit of Christ everywhere we go.  Stephen understood that mission and embraced it.  How about you?

  • Who do you know that could benefit from a friendship with someone who can share God’s grace with them?
  • Who are you encouraging in the church to reach out to others?
  • What next step will you take to living a life “full of grace and power?”

Father, you gave your grace to us to save us in your mercy, but you also gave it to us so we can share it with others.  Give us your heart for the hurting that we can bring them to know you.

Over the last several years I have been slowly coming to the understanding that as part of the Church (the bride of Christ) I have been commanded to share the gospel not only in how to come to Christ, but in how Christ in me is changing me.  Relentless Growth comes from surrendering to Christ’s call through the Spirit to share what He has done.  Not every work that God has done in me is a miracle, but in giving Him the credit and the glory for what has happened, I believe He is giving me more power to speak of His gift and involvement in my life.  That is where the growth happens, and it is what every believer is called to.

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Where Grace Begins – Grace Part 1

Last year I was asked to help in writing a book of devotionals for our church campaign on grace.  It was the first time I had been asked to write something for a book, and I really appreciated the opportunity.  I have decided to post these devotionals every other day over the next couple of weeks.  I hope you enjoy them and that they make you think about the wonders of the grace of God.

poured-outEphesians 1:7 (ESV) – In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

Salvation.  The most amazing gift we could have from God.  It’s not a gift we deserve, but how often do we get one that we really deserve?  The thing is, we could never even come close to deserving this gift.  It is a gift given to us expressly because we DON’T deserve it.  It is the gift of God’s unconditional, unfailing, unending love to us.

Grace, simply put, is the giving of something good to someone who deserves nothing good.  If you are drawing a breath, then you, like me, are a person who deserves nothing good. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit, mankind experienced a separation from the best thing – relationship with God.  That separation is a birthright that all mankind has shared from that day forward. God could have left it like that, but the Son offered Himself as the redemption for us.  His perfection offered to us, the imperfect.

Why did He do it?  Think about who Jesus is.  He is the embodied Word of God.  The world was spoken into existence by Him.  He created man.  We are His creation!  Have you ever made something?  If you have, you feel an attachment to it.  It belongs to you, and there is a little bit of you in it. We belonged to Him, but we turned away.  He was willing to set aside His position, come to earth, live as we did, and die for us in order to bring that relationship back. Not because He had to do it, but because He felt we were worth it.

Grace was the motivation for Him. He is rich in grace, and we were chosen to experience that gift of salvation because of His ability to forgive and restore His most prized creation.  Because of His grace, we live eternally.  Because of His grace, we are given the Holy Spirit. Because of His grace we are God’s children.  Because of His grace we are heirs with Christ.  Because of His grace, we have access to God.  The riches of God’s grace given to us at salvation are just the beginning of it!

Grace for the purpose of salvation was not the end.  It was the beginning.  When you know Christ, you have experienced the first taste of grace in salvation.  Jesus is not done there.  His riches in grace are open to you now, and He wants you to grow in those riches.

  • Have you experienced the grace of God in salvation?
  • How do you see forgiveness as a component of grace?
  • What are some ways that you can model that forgiveness and grace in the lives of those you know who are not yet believers?

Father, we thank You for Your grace that allowed us to be back in relationship with You.  Please help us to remember that grace and tell others about it so they can know it too.

Grace is a gift.  It plants the seed in us to grow to be like Christ.  As we put our roots deep into the Word of God, we experience Relentless Growth in Him. We grow stronger in Him. His grace begins to spread into other parts of our lives until it covers those we come in contact with, and eventually it bears fruit as we are given the opportunity to plant that seed of God’s grace in others.

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19 Reasons I Love My Daughter:

IMG_0648Well, another trip around the sun has taken place and here we are again.  January 23 has arrived and with it the celebration of Jessica’s birth.  This will be the fourth time I have done a birthday blog for my little girl, and I am not sure what I can say that I haven’t already said. Thankfully, not knowing what to say has never kept from saying something in the past, so here we go!

  1. She made me fall in love with her at first sight.  I didn’t want a daughter, and we didn’t know what was coming, but I was certainly not looking for a little girl!  You can imagine my surprise when I saw that slimy little girl for the first time and knew immediately I could not have been happier.
  2. She taught me the importance of discipline.  When you are responsible for shaping the personality and character of a small human, it behooves you to pay attention to what is going on.  As she grew and started to not “stay put” so much, we had to teach her proper behavior.  Teaching that to her opened my eyes to how God is always doing the same thing with me.
  3. She taught me the importance of consistency.  Whether it was a sleep schedule, feeding schedule, or a “no-no” rule, it was not long before we realized as parents of a little human that we needed to be consistent for her benefit and for our sanity.  One of the things that we look back on as being in the top 5 most important parenting things we did without always realizing we were doing it.
  4. She showed us that it’s okay to just stop and enjoy a moment.  I will never forget seeing her walking across the yard as the radio was on  (turned up to 11) in my garage blaring an advertisement for McDonalds or something like that.  She was heading toward a toy of hers and then the music started back up.  She stopped and just did that toddler “bouncing dance” (all parents know what I mean) for the entire song.  She started to try and walk away a couple times, but she just couldn’t stop the bounce until the music was gone.
  5. IMG_1253She showed me true appreciation for God’s creatures. To be honest, I am still learning on this one.  To me, animals were created so that I may eat them.  Therefore, I have a soft spot for cattle, pigs, chickens, deer, elk, buffalo, and whatever Gorton’s uses to make a fish stick.  Other than that, I like a dog to follow me around the yard.  Jessica loves anything with a pulse, and has always been so keenly interested in them.  We still look at her in amazement as she spouts off facts about animals but we are never surprised to see her go the rescue of any animal.
  6. She is an amazing friend.  Jess has always reached out to people and been willing to be a friend to them.  She especially looks for the one person that seems to have no friend. She draws them to her!  She shows interest in their lives and is a genuine friend to them.
  7. The girl knows how to work.  We have had horses for almost seven years now, and the other day we were commenting on how many times she has acted like she didn’t want to go out to “her boys” to feed them.  We think the number is around 2 – in seven years.  She is up early in the morning and late at night to take care of them, and she knows how to throw hay!
  8. She is content.  Jessica has never been one to walk around asking for things she knew she couldn’t have or pitching little fits if she didn’t get what she wanted.  It was almost like she thought if she had something it was better than nothing, and that was good enough.  I might be exaggerating little bit, but not by a lot!
  9. She has always been comfortable with herself.  She is not a person to “put on airs”.  She is who she is, and doesn’t change for someone just because that is how they might want her to be.  If she makes a change, it is because she has decided to do it.IMG_1095
  10. She does hard things.  Hard things are hard because they are hard, and Jess has been one the tis willing to take on a challenge.  Sometimes we tease her about a stubborn streak (no chance she got that from either parent), but more often than not it is because she has a tenacity about life and is willing to do what needs to be done – even when it is hard.
  11. She is still a girl.  Even though she loves pig wrestling, horse maintenance, and throwing hay bales, she still likes to put on a pretty dress and get all “girled up” from time to time.
  12. She’s a smart kid.  Jess has always done well in school.  There are times she has really had to attack a subject in order to do well, but she gives it her best.  She made the Dean’s list with a 4.0 in her first semester in college!
  13. She loves her family.  Maybe some of it is because we live in the sticks and she doesn’t have a lot of friends right inner neighborhood, but she actually seems to like being at home with us.  Yep.  A teenage daughter that has always been happy to spend time with her parents… Maybe unicorns exist after all!
  14. 995302_10202357674841693_1646407219_nShe liked Cricket Hunting with me when she was little.  It’s goofy, would probably take a ton of explaining, but we enjoyed it!
  15. Some of her more memorable quotes: “I AH-DOOUGH-A-BULL” “Wedgies.  They happen!” To her Grandpa Williams when she was still in diapers – “Grampa, I dotta yode.” (“I gotta load” meaning a full diaper.  I’m not saying her mother taught her that one, but there was only one other adult living in our house that could have taught her that, and surely it wasn’t him…)
  16. IMG_20150705_171623She is resilient.  One of the hardest signs we experienced with Jess was watching her deal with the pain that came out of her competing in High School Equestrian events.  She was hurt in many ways during that time, but she kept her gentle heart and attitude and was willing to forgive rather than hold on to hard feelings.  She has been a true example to me in that regard.
  17. She likes to pull my finger.  Yes, my wife just covered her eyes and shook her head in shame that I wrote that, but it is the truth.  It makes us laugh!
  18. IMG_0597Her brother is her best friend – and he likes that.  They have always been good buds, and even though they have the occasional spat, they truly love each other and miss each other.  Next year is going to be hard on both of them as she leaves for Cedarville.
  19. Jess truly wants to live her life in a way that glorifies God.  She reads her Bible, journals, prays, and genuinely looks to Him for guidance and strength for living.  She has been modeling a Relentless Life all through her teenage years.  While life has been hard from time to time, she has not lost sight of God, and has continued to draw close to Him.  It makes me very proud to see her grasping the importance of a relationship with her heavenly Father.75003_4832780735866_725842936_n

Jess, I love you, and I am proud to be your Dad.  You have been a joy since your first breath, and I stand in amazement as I continue to watch you grow in so many ways.  You are a blessing to me and Mom, and I thank God every day for entrusting us with a daughter like you.  Happy Birthday, Squirt!

Love you,

Dad

Time To Start Over

2016 Calender on the red cubes

Well, another year has reached its end.  Tonight, I, along with everyone else in the world, will tip my hat to the year of 2015 and welcome in the new year of 2016.  It’s been a big year in a lot of ways for us here at Tanner Manor.  We have laughed, cried, stood in disbelief, and sighed in relief.  We made new friends and said goodbye to some old ones too.  We watched travesties and tragedies unfold in the news, but we saw people rise to stand for what is right in the middle of those tragedies as well.

We are at that time of year when I feel an urge to start over.  The year feels like a shirt I have been wearing just a little too long and I am ready for something fresh.  So, it’s time to look at what I am doing, what I want to do, and how do I get there!  While I say I’m a simple man (please don’t read that as simpleton), I have many different aspects of life to think about when it comes time for change.  Trust me, you aren’t any different.  Our categories may not all be the same, but you have at least as many as I do.

So, here are a few things that I want to work on this year.  I’ve pretty much been an open book on this blog over the last three years, so if you want to be a voyeur, this is your chance!

Me As a Believer – This year has been a good year for growth for me.  I’ve had challenges, faced them, had some good and bad outcomes, but I’ve learned something from all of them.  I have spent more time in God’s Word this year than I ever have, but when I add that up, I honestly have not been as close to Him as I would have liked.  Reading my Bible, journaling, and praying are drawing me closer to Him, but in the last few weeks I have come face to face with the fact that I still try to do too much on my own.  I need to be fiercely dependent on Him in all aspects of my life.  God’s will and direction need to be my first thought in anything I do or say.  Big goal.  A Relentless goal.

Me As a Husband – This year Tammi and I have had some really good conversations about fears, plans, situations, and how to endure.  We are approaching some major life change this next year as our daughter will be leaving the house for college in the fall.  We are bracing for that, and while there is an aspect of my life that can simply address that as a parent, I need to be ready to address it as a husband as well.  My wife will need me in new ways.  I will need to be listening to her and listening for new things and how I can meet her needs as a  husband.  I will continue to love her, support her, and grow closer to her, especially as our lives are changing and in a  blink we will be just the two of us again.

Me As a Father – Like I said, Jessica will be leaving soon, and Zach is hot on her heels.  I only have a short time left with my kids in my home, and just like every day for the last almost 19 years, I don’t know what I need to know for the next thing until it happens.  God has blessed me with two great kids, and I pray that as they continue grow they will understand just how seriously I took the job of being a Dad.  I might not have gotten everything right, but I’m not done trying either!  This final stage of “parenting in the home” is confusing for all of us as we try to give freedom to them while protecting them from trouble and guiding them to do the right thing.  Prayer time for my kids and their future is growing and becoming a greater comfort.  What better thing can I do than to ask God to carry them?

Me As a Friend – This year I have been working harder at being a friend.  It takes work for a guy like me, but the dividends are priceless.  I’ve had chances to weep with friends, laugh with friends, see my friends pour into my family, and times to just be together.  God never intended for us to live our lives as individuals.  Our first and greatest relationship is with Him, and He has given us His Son as our example, our brother, and our friend.  We should be taking that example and identifying people in our lives that we can grow with.  My goal this year is to deepen and strengthen the friendships I have and to continue to look for other men I can call friend as well.

Me As … Well, Me! – This year I have been much more aware of my health – and the lack of it.  Knee problems have plagued me for most of my adult life, and this year they have become harder to ignore.  It is requiring some changes in my lifestyle.  I’m not going to sit here and list out my goals for losing weight or eating healthy.  Let’s face it, nobody wants to read those because everyone knows that those goals are usually shot by March.  My goal this year is to be more conscious of my opportunities to make a better choice for my health (after tonight’s party – lots of good food tonight).  I want to take the opportunity to take the stairs, walk down the block, or skip the second helping.  That is the goal.  If more happens than that, then fantastic!  I just want a healthier me when I sit down to write at the end of 2016.

Me As a Writer – Like I said, this is the completion of my third year of writing this blog.  I’ve also had opportunities to do some writing for our church.  I love writing, but I don’t take the time to do it as often as I would like.  The goal for this past year was a post per week.  I fell a little short of that, but I had some of the highest numbers of readers/views this year as well.  I have been humbled by the number of people that have read my “stuff”.  Some of them even come back!  This year, the goal will be to blog at least once each week, but additionally, to write for 15 minutes at least 5 days per week.  I want to focus on developing this skill and figuring out how to best use it for God.

Me As an Employee – It’s been an interesting year at work.  I have been encouraged in how so many long-term projects have turned out, how relationships and trust are growing, and how lessons are being learned.  This next year has some larger projects ahead that will require a lot of preparation and thought.  My prayer and goal for work is that I will be more focused while there.  The focus cannot be singular.  The organization is complex, and so are the challenges.  I need to have a focus that is broad, but can be sharpened when necessary to deal with things.  I wan too work this year on developing some other staff as well.  Their development is necessary in order for me to be able to let some things go in order to do my job better.  This is going to be fun!

It doesn’t really make a difference if you want to look at a new year as new opportunities. Those opportunities are coming whether you want them or not!  Relentless Living is living in a way that prepares for what it can, plans for what may happen, and adjusts to what comes, all while clinging to God for His insight, direction, and leadership.  He knows what every tomorrow will bring, and through His grace I can face 2016 with my head up and my shoulders back, because together, We’ve got this!

Have a Relentless New Year!

TT

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I’ve Been Watching You, Tom…

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*This took place the morning of August 27, 2015*

I need you to know I have been watching you closely the last few weeks.  I think it is time that we take minute and talk about what has been going on.  It might be hard for you to hear, but I need you to hear it. Not because I want you to feel bad.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I need you to hear this because I love you.  I care about you.  I’ve been concerned about you, and I don’t know that you have realized just how much those things are true.  It’s time for you to hear Me.

For the last  month, I have watched you struggle with holding it together.  You have been facing a lot of uncertainty about some of your dreams and whether they are coming to an end.  You have been struggling with concerns about the future and your kids going to college.  You have been working overtime to help your wife feel loved, supported, and important when it has not been easy for her to feel those things.  You’ve been concerned about your friends and how they are doing when you have not had the time or energy to contact them the way you feel you should.  You are worried about responsibilities and promises that you have made, and how you will follow through.  You feel like you are dropping the ball in many different areas of your life – Family, Friends, Work and more…

I know you feel that way because I have heard you talking to yourself about it.  (Do you  realize how much you talk to yourself?)  You look at your circumstances and you try not to grumble about them.  I know it isn’t easy, I’ve had hard times that I had to get through without complaining too.  You take an inventory and then you develop a plan and move forward.  You look at the results of previous attempts and try new things.  You really have a knack for banging your head against a problem, you know that?  I gave you that trait to see what you would do with it.  Sometimes, you are a little Relentless about some things…

As I watched you this week, I noticed that your attitude had started to slip a little more.  I saw a more cynical approach to your problem solving, the complaining was a little louder, and sadly, you started to let your temper slip with people.  I know you were feeling ragged and worn, but that doesn’t make it right.  I hoped you would realize that blaming your circumstances is nothing more than a crutch to hide a bitterness that is building in your heart against those you feel have wronged you even when they might not even think they have.  I know that sometimes you have to forgive people BECAUSE they don’t realize what they are doing.

Yesterday I think you hit the wall.  You reached a point where you knew that your actions haven’t been right, but you felt too numb to do anything about them.  You knew you were about to leave town for a couple of days, and I was pleased to hear you tell yourself that this might an opportunity to unplug from the normal and get your head and heart right.  I was excited about where this work trip might take you even though you didn’t want to leave home, and I don’t think you even believed for a moment that you would see any change.

So, this morning you left in the dark hours of morning and began your drive.  You turned on some music and just drove.  You also did something you haven’t done in awhile.  You were quiet.  You weren’t talking to yourself.  You just listened to the music.  That was when I was able to do something that I haven’t been allowed to do in a while.  I was able to speak to you.  I chose a song, but you heard Me.  You weren’t ready to talk to Me yet, but I could see that you had heard Me speaking into your heart through the words of this song:

As the song came to a close I heard something I had been longing to hear again.  Your voice speaking to Me.  You acknowledged that you needed Me. You told Me that you were hurting, struggling, trying to hold it all together and you needed Me, but then you said that you felt like I had left you alone to get through all of it.  You were tired, and you had been doing so much to try and understand and cope, to be heard, to be help to others.  Through all of that, you were sure that you had been alone, so I spoke to you again to remind you that I never left you alone for a moment:

You see, Tom, I was there the whole time.  I listened to you as you tried to work things out for yourself, pulling different strings and throwing different plans and ideas together to see what you could build that would be a help to your weary soul, for your family, for all the stuff you have going on in your life.  I listened, and I tried to speak to you through the loving words of your wife, through the book you have been reading, and even through the encouragement of your friends and people at work, but you didn’t hear me.  You were too busy building, and this morning you finally noticed that you had been building on something else instead of Me.  I was to be the Cornerstone that you build your life on:

I want you to know, that I saw the brokenness in your heart this morning as you wept.  It made Me hurt to see you in pain, but it also made Me happy to see your heart open to hearing Me again – that you were willing to acknowledge my desire to be with you and to work with you in the struggles of life and that you were willing to say that you couldn’t do it anymore and I would need to do it for you.  It’s what I have been waiting for.  I want you to feel My power working through your heart and soul, for you to listen to the wisdom of My Word as it changes your thoughts and gives you words to say.  That you would be willing to set your agendas aside and abandon yourself to My will and to trust Me:

It’s what I was waiting to hear, Tom.  I love you, and I forgive you for trying to go it alone.  You’re probably going to mess up and do it again, but I want you to know I AM here.  Forever and always I AM here, and I will never let you go.  Just look to Me and keep talking to Me.  You’re Mine, and I want you to share in the glorious things I am going to do.  Be Relentless in your pursuit of knowing Me more deeply.


 

This post has been a little different for me.  I might have shared more than some of you realized has been going on in my head, but maybe you did know.  I’m not sure.  You see, I think that with a few exceptions, I have been putting together a pretty good front in my struggles, but I was not fooling Christ.  He has been watching the whole time, and waiting for me to realize I needed to step aside and allow Him to come in and rescue me with the power and strength only He can give.

As I drove this morning, These songs played on my Pandora station, and I really believe that I heard Christ speak many of the words that are written above.  I have taken liberty to speak for Jesus in this post, but as I have gone through my day, I really believe that He was there, speaking to me as I finally started to put the pieces together.  I felt His loving correction for my stubbornness, and I believe that He was pleased.

Why did today work?  I think it was a combination of hitting that wall yesterday, a long drive with nothing that I really had to think about, and the choice to put some good music in my head this morning.  My playlist for this drive was random from Pandora, and “coincidentally” every song I heard built on the one before as Christ spoke into my heart to take me through the stages of lamentation, repentance, and restoration.  I can’t explain it all, but I know I have a peace that was not there when I left that house this morning.

Relentless Living requires a time to check in with God.  It’s not just a prayer at meal time, but a real time of worship through song, prayer, and examination.  I stumbled into that this morning, but I want to be more intentional about it moving forward.

Dear Reader, God is watching you too.  He is feeling that same yearning to hear you address Him in your struggles.  Are you willing to do it?  It takes a moment of humility, but let’s face it, we can all use a bit of that!  Please, if you could do one thing for me, take a block of time this week to be intentional about talking to and listening to God.  Also, please share this post with anyone else that might benefit from reading it.  My prayer is that it will be a help.

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