Financial advice for my daughters.

Recently, I read a quote that said “Most of you don’t want wealth. You don’t even want to be rich. You just want to be free.” I totally agree and I’d take it a step further. We aren’t necessarily chasing financial freedom, we’re chasing freedom from worry. We spend a lot of time, energy, and resources in pursuit of that freedom. What I’ve come to realize is that some of the most popular financial advice can be so restrictive that you end up in bondage to the “process” rather than learning to have a healthy relationship with money.

For a long time, I’ve been interested in investing and thinking about the markets. I studied finance in college, became a financial advisor at the ripe age of 22 - pretending like I knew what I was doing advising people older and smarter than me on how to manage their money. With 3 weeks of training in New York, I was a supposed expert on how to invest and manage wealth for people who had spent their entire life working for it.

It was not an easy job but I learned a lot about managing money, the forces that cause us to make ill-advised decisions with our money, and all the steps on how one can accumulate a secure financial future. Like many other financial planners and advisors, part of my educating people was trying to convince them to save every penny they found under their couch to put into a 401K or IRA to save for their retirement.

Dave Ramsey, a very well known author, speaker, and radio host; has a phrase he likes to use when giving financial advice: “if you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” If you’ve read his books or listen to his radio show, you’ll hear him tell people to live off beans and rice and keep track of every penny in order to get out of debt and attain their financial goals. There is a lot of truth to what Ramsey says and he’s helped countless people get out of debt and find “Financial Peace”, the name of one of his bestselling books.

However, I’ve come to disagree with some of the tactics and advice he, or other financial advisors, may give that directs people to be incredibly tight or extreme with saving money today in hopes of accumulating a potential pot of gold in the future. In my opinion, the problem with being so rigid in saving money is: 1. it creates a false sense of security about our future. 2. we can rob ourselves and our families of joy and experiences by being cheap and too focused on funding financial goals off in the distant future.

After Jacob passed, our families relationship with money changed. I was as uptight and worried about saving for my retirement as anyone. We tried to keep a very strict budget that was written out every year and I even taught a bible study class at our church using Dave Ramsey’s book Financial Peace. Even though someone would say I was managing our personal finances in a prudent and responsible way; I had an unhealthy fear of the future and unknown. And, the “saving” gave me a sense of control over the future. Even though I still struggle with this to some degree, the way I define “Financial Freedom” is not what it used to be. I place a much higher priority on trying to live in the present over meeting some future financial goal.

A sudden illness, a crisis, or the death of a loved will show you exactly what’s important in life and where you should be investing time, your mental energy, and money. That being said, I/we are far from perfect on how we handle money. At some point I’ll be trying to teach my daughters about managing their personal finances, so I thought I’d share what I would tell them using Dave Ramsey’s steps to financial freedom with my own twist. I realize everyone’s financial situation is different, so please take this with a grain of salt. Ramsey’s steps are in bold with my comments following.

  1. Save $1,000 for an emergency fund: Agree with this one. You will always need some cash in the bank to help with emergencies.

  2. Pay off all debt: First, don’t ever get a credit card. However, if you do get one for some reason, pay it off and then cut it up. Depending on your financial and job situation, I’m not so worried about rushing to pay off vehicle debt. If you can, it’s best to get to a point where you’re paying cash for your cars. But, I realize that’s going to depend on your income and it may take a while to get there. 

  3. Save 3-6 months of expenses: My goal would be to save up to 3 months in your 20’s and 30’s and then do your best to have more saved in your older years. It’s hard when you’re young, buying a house, having kids, etc. to be able to sock away that much money. Don’t sweat it. Eventually, you’ll find your footing in your 40’s and you can start saving a little more to have a cushion. The key here is balance in saving versus enjoying your family at the same time. Don’t be so tight that you create a weird energy within your family about spending money and saving. Money is a tool, it’s not your master.  

  4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRA’s and pre-tax retirement: Disagree. I believe that paying for your kids college is as important as funding your retirement savings. I would balance the way I allocate money between the two. I don’t think you should give priority to building a retirement account over providing your kids with a college education.

  5. College funding for children: See above and I wouldn’t be maniacal about having it totally funded. Do your best to save but realize college is very expensive and you may have to borrow a little as they get through school.

  6. Pay off home early: Try to buy a house that affords you the ability to pay it off in less than 20 years. Assuming interest rates are still fairly low, it doesn’t make any sense (to me) to try and pay off a house in less than 15 years. Keep your monthly mortgage payment below 30% of your monthly household income. Have your house paid off by the time your in your 60’s.

  7. Build wealth and give: Agree with a caveat. You need to start giving to charity and church once you start earning an income. I don’t really believe in building a nest egg for the purpose of retiring and to stop working. I am all for building wealth as long as you’re not making your family miserable on the way to it. There is no guarantee you or your spouse are going to make it to retirement age. So, have balance in saving and spending throughout your life. Invest in making memories now, not just in your latter years.

I realize I’m at risk here for giving bad financial advice. This is just my opinion and I’m sure there are numerous arguments to be made against some of what I’ve written. My hope is that we can pass on to our daughters some lessons we’ve learned by experiencing a life altering tragic loss. There is no amount of money that can help you control your future and there will be challenges you can’t plan for. So accept it, do your best, have balance, live in the present, and cherish your friends and family. 

Let's talk politics.

What you’re about to read isn’t going to be any new revelation and at some point; what I’ve written will frustrate or irritate you. So, on that note - here goes.

We have lost our ability to respectfully disagree and it’s eating our country alive. If we don’t find common decency again in our political arguments then; Democrats - you’re going to get another Trump elected and Republicans - you’re going to get a Socialist elected who will make Obama look like Reagan. We have got to learn how to treat those with opposing views with care and respect again; instead of hiding inside our tribes and lobbing grenades of insults across enemy lines.

To my more progressive friends - one of the biggest reasons Trump was elected is because most conservatives feel like liberalism is tearing the fabric of our country apart. To be blunt - voting for Trump was a big “you know what” to years of feeling like the country is being hijacked by ideals that half of us don’t agree with.

To my conservative friends - Trump is an absolute mess. He’s a terrible leader and he doesn't even come close to behaving in a manner in which many of you would allow your children to act. Honestly, I’m embarrassed to say I voted for him in public. However, I did for a number of reasons do so. I wish there would have been another viable candidate and plenty can be said as to whether Clinton would have been better for the country.

How have we become so divided to the point we aren’t even able to socialize and be friends with those we disagree with? I know it’s a number of complex factors built over many years but I’m going to talk about one.

I’m afraid to say I voted for Trump because I don’t want my liberal friends to label me as ignorant, racist, or a sexist. I’m afraid to criticize Trump because I don’t want any of my conservative friends and family to think differently of me or to ostracize me from our “tribe.” If I don’t fall in line with this group or that group - what group do I belong to? Thus, the overwhelming factor motivating our primitive behavior is our need to belong.

Having a sense of belonging is vital to our physical and mental health. It’s a desire God gave all of us for well being. It’s what forces us to connect with each other and we’re certainly better together versus being alone. However, the political strategist and pundits have taken that basic human need and used it against us and turned us against each other. They have built systems and used 24/7 media channels to perpetuate how ignorant one group is, how one group has power over another, and to tell us how unfair it all is.

They have divided and conquered us.

Our drive to belong has capitulated us all into two corners - us and them. If you try to associate with the other side or have ideas outside of our defined tribes way of thinking - then we are afraid of (and it’s proving true in our society) finding ourselves operating on an island alone. Therefore, we do what we have to do to make sure we have a place to belong.

Recently, I read a tweet from an actress that read:

“Shame on you GOP. You’ve chosen Trump over truth and liberty. You’ve chosen Trump over decency and honor. You’ve chosen Trump over equality and tolerance. You’ve chosen Trump over environment and oceans. You’ve chosen Trump over the American people and Democracy.”

Many of you may agree with that. But, I’d ask - How many GOP’ers do you think read past the first sentence? Do you honestly think this will change even one mind of a conservative on any issue? No.

The motive for the tweet isn’t necessarily to change anyone’s mind but to solidify her belonging to the group of people who think just like her. She will get likes and affirmation from people who hold her same beliefs and get hateful comments from those who don’t. In the end - nothing constructive will come from her use of words and energy.

Conservatives do the exact same thing and to the same magnitude. Let’s all tear the opponent apart in order to do what? Make a point? It’s surely not to get anyone to change their mind or follow you.

If you want to start being a part of uniting this country and being a part of the solution to help fix our political system and how we engage with each other in debate, here are some ideas for helping: 1. Stop sharing mocking video's or posts of others ideals, values, or candidates 2. Stop saying derogatory statements about those who have opposing values 3. Stop making fun of those you don’t agree with. 

Doing any one of those things only contributes to further division and an increased probability that you’re not going to persuade anyone to listen to you, much less - change anyone’s mind.

Additionally, we have to stop voting for and supporting politicians who act more like kindergartens throwing tantrums every day than civilized adults who can debate with each other. Our congress and senate are full of people who do nothing but pander to their bases for money and votes. They don’t solve problems or even try to work with each other to find middle ground.

True leaders are those who are able to motivate, unite, and persuade a group of people to work toward a common goal. They also have the respect of those who disagree with them and are gracious in the way they carry themselves. The media coverage of President G. W. Bush’s passing highlighted a man who was gentle and led with conviction. What stood out in stark contrast to our current President was his kindness to others, even his opponents. Thus, you were hard pressed to find a negative word spoken about him last week.

What I noticed was that for a few days - it felt like everyone put down their swords and came together to honor a man who led the country.  

It felt good.

I felt relieved.

Then it all started again…

If there is going to be any change to this problem, it’s going to have to start with all of us - one disagreement and interaction at a time. One choice at a time to stop sharing or saying degrading material about opposing views.

Instead we have to start debating and disagreeing with respect for the other. Then, we have to find common ground from which we can agree and work together to solve problems. I want to be able to tell my progressive friends why I disagree with them without being labeled or defined. At the same time, I need to check myself before I dismiss their arguments and understand why they hold their views.

I have confidence that we have the ability to change things. Last week I saw it and I felt it for just a moment. We are capable. We just have to start treating each other with respect and then voting in real leaders who are willing to shun this insane tactic of ripping the other side apart to win.  

If we do that we gain a more peaceful and united nation. Equally as important, we’ll also gain deeper relationships with people who have differing perspectives than us; leading to a richer, fuller life and a much bigger group to which we all BELONG.

Keep fighting.

"Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

Life does not discriminate in giving everyone it's fair share of difficulty. I take no pleasure in pain, however, I do acknowledge there is some purpose as to why God set life up to work this way. For sure, it helps our understanding of goodness, joy, and happiness - after we go through our darkest and most difficult times. Though you won't see it in the midst of the struggles, there are gifts in pain. I wish it didn't have to be this way but there's no sense in denying it.

People have asked us "how did you get through the death of your son?" The honest answer is - I have no idea. This week I was looking through some old files and ran across a prayer I had written after Jacob's death. It was full of confusion, sadness, desperation, and rambling. What was so shocking to me was not what I wrote but the date. September of 2012. Over a year after Jacob had died - my thoughts and writing sounded like it had just happened.

Undeniably, what got us through the last 7 years was God giving us the strength, grace, and hope we needed one moment at a time. I'm certain of God's presence carrying us because that person writing that prayer 6 years ago did not know how he was going to make it to the next day. Those early years became a system of routines and disciplines to just make it through each day. Then, 7 years later, you look around and wonder - how did we make it here? How are our girls so awesome! How is our marriage this strong? I can assure you, I have no delusions that it is from mine or Brea's doing. It is only by God's grace and mercy on all of us.

However, I am not immune to bouts of intense sadness. I don't like going to the cemetery because I don't want to be reminded that my son's body is buried there. I want to hold him and hear him laugh. I can't remember what his voice sounds like. I can't let myself think about all of life's milestone's our family will go through without him there. I imagine him playing with his cousins but it's just in my mind. I want to drop him off at school and take him to basketball practice. I used to be able to remember his smell and it's fading. I'm afraid that my grief is easing and I'll stop thinking about him.

Now, it's easy to get stuck in these thoughts for a while and start to feel sorry for myself and our situation. But, I know better. There is nothing good that comes from feeling sorry for myself. It only steals the moment I'm in and robs me of the joy I feel for all the gifts I do have. Also, I've come to realize that - Everyone is struggling and everyone is fighting. None of us get out of here unscathed. So, what can we do about it?

One of the best pieces of advice I've read recently on this topic is from Dr. Jordan Peterson's book - 12 Rules for Life. One of the rules is "Treat Yourself Like Someone You Are Responsible For Helping." If my child is feeling down. I don't let them stay there. I talk them through it. I give them advice. I tell them to go exercise, to get some rest, and to keep moving through life. Eventually, you have to get on with life.

We need treat ourselves with the same care and advice we would give others.

Diseases, family deaths, debilitations, and disabilities. We ask ourselves - Could I make it through that? I believe the answer for all of us is - Yes. God can give us the strength to endure a lot, but it's our choice to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We can not allow ourselves to become victims and to wallow in self pity. Yes, life can be tough but it's still worth fighting through.

Take one day at a time. Keep fighting. Then, some day you'll look around and wonder how you ever made it.

 

 

 

 

 

How I live with anxiety.

It's been almost a year since my last post. Limping But Blessed came out about a year ago, and for the most part, I haven't written much since. (Not a good move on my part, but I'll get into that later.) Finishing the book was a relief and for a couple of months following, I was happy to not be on a deadline.

However, almost immediately, I kept wondering to myself "what am I going to do now?" The book gave me a project to keep my mind occupied, and of greater value; it provided a meaningful purpose outside of work and family. Writing the book had helped me work through some anger, the sadness of missing Jacob, and grieving the life I had to let go.

I didn't realize how cathartic writing was until I stopped.

In September of 2017, I had back surgery to alleviate some pain I've had for several years. The procedure went fine but I later developed a complication that triggered something I wasn't prepared for. We're not quite sure how it happened, but 3 weeks after the surgery, I woke up with a headache so bad I couldn't stay standing. It was a spinal fluid leak. Prior to my surgery, I had read about this complication and was familiar with Steve Kerr's (the head coach of the Golden State Warriors) ongoing issues from the result of a spinal fluid leak that wouldn't heal after one of his back surgery's. 

To make a very long story short, I spent the next week in bed hoping the leak would repair itself. Lying in bed for a week, not able to exercise, constantly worrying about the "what if's", reading about worst case scenarios on the internet, and not sleeping - resulted in a perfect storm of circumstances that caused severe levels of anxiety and fear. 

The reason I'm writing this is because I hope what I write about my anxiety can help someone else who lives with it. 

For much of my life, I've dealt with varying levels of anxiety. My first awareness of it was in college and it progressively became worse with work, life, and after Jacob's passing. His accident made me acutely aware of the fragility of life and the lack of control we all really have.

God wired me a certain way. Part of who I am includes a higher level of anxiety than the average person. Even though I've fought hard for years to get rid of it, I've come to realize it's more important for me to find peace in living with it. Finding peace with anxiety is a bit of an oxymoron. Yet, it's something I've found to be an incredibly healthy pursuit to keep it from having power over me.

With the help of a therapist, one of the ways I've found some peace with anxiety is by seeing the good in having it.

One of the positive attributes anxiety has given me is a higher level of awareness of my environment than the average person. I see and hear things others don't. I'm able to analyze scenarios and outcomes fairly quickly. My analytical mind, coupled with anxiety, allows me to be fairly good at forecasting, planning, making conservative decisions to avoid bad outcomes, and usually noticing potential problems. These help me in my work as a CFO and business person. Although, trust me, I still make plenty of mistakes. 

My anxiety can also be fuel for persistence and discipline. If I set my mind to a project or task, then I can get it done. Few obstacles will get in my way until I complete it and I'm not one to procrastinate. Because I'll care (worry) about an outcome or finishing something, I'll think through a number of creative ways to get to a result I'm proud of and won't stop until I'm at the end.   

Additionally, my personality type tends to be more emotional than others. I would say, and Brea can attest to it, that I'm more "sensitive" than the average male. In the last few years, I've noticed that it's important for me to express my emotions creatively on a regular basis rather than hold it in. Otherwise, my anxiety will force itself out in it's own unhealthy manner. For example, I'll not sleep well, I'll obsess on an issue and make it bigger than it is, and my thoughts will be scattered. At it's worst, anxiety can cause me to be paralyzed with consuming thoughts of irrational fear. I will catastrophize a situation I'm in and see the worst outcome instead of the realistic.

Through this recent struggle with anxiety, I realized how much of a role my lack of trust in God has exacerbated my anxiety. 

I've written plenty about my faith struggles and this episode brought me to my knees again - figuratively and literally. In short, I realized how important it is that I pursue my relationship with God. Spiritually, I had been going through the motions. My spiritual practices were almost non-existient. There is a direct correlation between my anxiety level and the amount of energy I'm putting towards my faith, spiritual disciplines, and following Jesus. 

I was recently recommended a book called, How God Changes Your Brain, which is written by secular scientists. Interestingly, the book provides scientific evidence that believing in and thinking about God is good for your health and lowers anxiety. It's pretty fascinating and interesting that God wired our brains that way, huh?? 

Over the last 7 years, I've spent a long time wandering in the wilderness and it felt like it was time to pick a path and get going. I know asking very hard theological questions and wrestling with faith can be good for a season. However, I don't believe it's good for an extended period of time. At some point, you end up just being the person "tossed in the waves" who doesn't have a solid foundation to handle life's barrage of difficulties.

All of us are living out our beliefs with some manner of faith. We don't know everything. We are humans with limited understanding and limited control. We are not God and I had to surrender to the fact that I am not going to have God totally figured out. My anxiety craves to be in control of life, and to be honest; to control God. 

A big lesson in all of this is: I can not and will not control God.

I know that sounds a little crazy and very arrogant - To think we can control God? But, it's not so crazy when you think about all the rituals, habits, and language we use in order to get God to be pleased with us. Albeit, most of it is done subconsciously. Nevertheless, I have been guilty of trying to control God by doing the right things or saying the right things in order to get what I want. 

Sorry for this short aside, but my faith is something that is a big piece to this anxiety puzzle. It's been an everyday conscious decision to just start moving forward, trusting, and letting go to what "is" - knowing God is for me, God is with me, and God loves me.

I've also been blessed by having found great therapists who help me manage and an incredible group of friends and family who have supported me during rough patches. Just talking about my anxiety helps. I know there's a stigma, especially with men, about seeing a therapist or counselor. So, part of the reason I'm writing this is to let others know they aren't alone or weird, or crazy. A lot of people have anxiety and anxiety disorders. This world isn't perfect and neither are our bodies or brains. 

I wanted to end with a list, in no particular order, of the things that have helped me:

  1. Prayer - I try to pray everyday in the morning and throughout the day as I feel compelled to do so. Often, I've found it helpful to write my prayers out too.
  2. Reading Scripture - I read the verse of the day from the bible app and I usually read a chapter from a bible study I'm doing. 
  3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy - Short term, I see a therapist weekly. Eventually, I'll move to "maintenance" schedule of once a month. 
  4. Meditation - I use the Centering Prayer App for 20 minutes. I try to do this a few times per week but it would be better if I did it everyday.  
  5. Getting Plenty of Sleep - Boy, am I not good when I don't get enough sleep. If someone wanted to torture me for information, just keep me awake for a few nights and I'll crack.
  6. Medication as needed - This is just a rule I follow: I will only take psychiatric or sleep medication under the direct care of a Psychiatrist. Family docs are certainly capable and can prescribe these meds. However, all a Psychiatrist does is work with these medications and they have too many side effects - some being potentially dangerous. I have taken medication off and on over the last few years to get through some severe periods of anxiety or to help with insomnia. I'm not one to want to be on medication or to "need" it. However, I'm coming to realize that it's just something I'm going to be okay taking when I need it. There should be no shame in it. 
  7. Exercise - I do low impact exercise and weightlifting, along with some cardio (stationary bike, swimming, walking, etc.). This is one of the things I have to do 5-6 times a week in order to regulate stress and anxiety. I start going a little nutty after just a couple days of no exercise. 
  8. Writing - my therapist pointed out to me how important is for me to write and express myself and my thoughts. When I was writing the book, I wrote nearly every day for over a year. Then, I stopped. Looking back, over that year and a half - I felt strong, stable, confident, centered, and purposeful. My personality type tends to live up in my head and it is healthy for me to catch the jumbled mess, put it on paper, organize it, and to make some sense of what is going on. Icing on the cake is to hopefully engage with readers or to make a difference.

If you have any specific questions about anything I've listed here, feel free to send me a private message and I'll try to help where I can. 

 

 

Jacob's Legacy

Jacob's Legacy

Even though we are bombarded with bad news on television, and currently our country is deeply divided politically and socially; our troubles pale in comparison to what most of the world endures on a daily basis. The sustainable projects funded, resources given, and love shown to the people of Uganda are part of Jacob's legacy. I can't begin to tell you how much it means to Brea and I that you have given so generously to this cause.

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Writing a book is way harder than I thought.

It's a good thing I didn't know what I was getting myself into when I said "yes" to writing a book. For the last nine months, I've written just over 70,000 words and 11 chapters. In order to hit my manuscript deadline of July 1, since September I've been writing an hour or two every week night and at least half a day every weekend. I greatly underestimated the amount of work it would take to get to this point. Here's the kicker - I'm not even close to being done. 

God bless Tony and Lisa, my editors at Fortress Press. They may need a raise after the overtime they've had to put in editing my book. Let's just say, I should have paid a little more attention and not slept through most of Ms. Day's English class my senior year of high school. When I received the first edits and comments back, my proverbial balloon got popped. I'd done the best I could and it was not as good as I hoped. Entire chapters were marked through, every "would" had a red line through it (who knew you weren't supposed to use "would" so much?), along with what seems like an overwhelming amount of additional writing I'm going to need to do over the next few months.

When I turned in my manuscript, I didn't have any grand illusions I was completely finished. I just didn't realize how long the process actually takes. I feel like a sprinter who thought he was running the 400 meter dash and as he approaches the finish line, he's told to keep going and that he's actually running a marathon. It's not anyone's fault but my own. I simply signed up a for a race I didn't know I was running. 

Additionally, since I had poured so much time and emotions into what I have written, I was totally unprepared for how much the the edits and critiques hurt. As Tony gently put it, "I have a lot of work to do."

I thought seriously about quitting. 

A part of me is tired of writing and I miss spending time with my family. After nine months, I'm exhausted thinking so hard about how I feel and writing it down everyday. 

I'm not a writer. I like to write but I'm an amateur, at best. It takes me a long time to form a good sentence. My ability to write well is even more handicapped when I'm given a deadline. To be frank, deadlines just take all the fun out of writing for me. It makes it really hard work. 

The book writing process has been a fascinating experience. I never imagined how many rounds of edits and how many months or even years it takes to get a book completed. I have a new found respect and admiration for full time authors who have written multiple books. The amount of time they spend in front of blank pieces of paper and screens is unimaginable to me.

Additionally, my family has suffered because of the time I've had to commit to writing. It's my fault and Brea will tell you that I normally take on a project and then figure out how to make it happen without thinking about the consequences. Part of it is my nature. I like working on creative projects. I'm starting to realize, though, I use work and projects as a distraction from my pain. 

Working, writing, fundraising, staying busy - all keep my mind occupied. I'm afraid of being still too long for fear of my grief coming to the surface. Doing these projects seems good and worthwhile from the outside, but other aspects of my life have suffered.

For the last nine months, my time at home with Brea, Kendall, and Kelsey has diminished. I wouldn't say that distracting myself with projects is a bad thing. Actually, I think the work has helped me stay sane and provided healing. The reality is, my daughters will only be home for 4-6 more years and I have a limited amount of time to parent them.

Since Jacob died, I've probably been more focused on healing myself than being a parent. It's not something I've consciously chosen. And, I don't think it's something I would change. I think I've done the best I could given the circumstances. The example that comes to mind is how flight attendants tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before you help your children in the event of cabin pressure issues in flight.

If I hadn't worked on myself first, I know I wouldn't be the father my daughters need going forward. 

After having a few days to gather my thoughts and Brea talking me back off the ledge of throwing in the towel, I'm feeling back on track and confident in being able to finish a book I'm proud of. Moreover, after talking with Tony about the edits and comments they gave me, I'm incredibly grateful I have people editing the book who have some distance from me. They are great at what they do and it takes guts and commitment to tell someone who is writing a book about the death of their child that it's not where it needs to be.

All that said, I'm so thankful to have got this far in the process. I'm taking the month of July off from writing and will get back to edits and rewrites in August. The book release is tentatively scheduled for Spring/Summer of 2017. For now, I'm going home after work and spending evenings and weekends with the girls, and it feels amazing! 

Before you leave, please sign up for my updates and sample chapters by clicking here. and entering your email address in the Get Updates box on the right hand side. Thanks!

Celebrating Jacob's Life

Celebrating Jacob's Life

Please consider giving to The Uganda Leadership and Skills Development Fund we have set up through Children's Hopechest by donating here. HopeChest Uganda staff is working with each CarePoint to identify youth that either have an interest or aptitude toward specific skills and those that are not able to continue with formal education. Older youth are selected from different CarePoints to go through skills development programs (tailoring, mechanic courses, etc.). to help them earn an income for themselves and their families. Additionally, each Carepoint will be intentionally investing in the older youth to become leaders within their community.

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Are Americans raising weak children?

On our trips to Uganda, one of the things that I noticed most about the children we met was how resilient they were. I couldn't understand with my white American male brain why these children seemed to be so joyful in the midst of what looked like overwhelming poverty, suffering, and a lack of basic resources. The homes we visited had dirt floors, bare walls, no running water, and no electricity or plumbing. In addition to that, everyone had experienced profound loss. I listened to one story after another of orphans who had experienced the death of one or both parents, and mothers who had lost one or multiple children for a multitude of reasons. Yet, every kid I encountered exuded joy and stoic contentment.  

When I would come back to the U.S. and hear other children, and my own, complain about things like not getting to have their favorite piece of candy while standing in line at the grocery store, or not getting to have the newest pair of $100 designer jeans; it would make me cringe. Most American children have more than enough and well beyond what any Ugandan child I met has, however; many kids in the U.S. are massively more discontent in life and whine at the drop of a hat if they don't have or get what they want when they want it.  Why is that these Ugandan kids seemed to be so much more resilient and joyful with considerably less resources and a more difficult life than American kids? I know there is probably more to it, but this is what I boil it down to: America has, effectively, run out of problems. 

I know that sounds controversial and too simplistic to some, but let me explain. Americans live in the most comfortable society in history. The problems I'm talking about in developing nations, like Uganda, are problems of survival. I know there are exceptions, but most Americans don't have to struggle to find enough water, food, and shelter to survive. And, if you're reading this, you don't have the problems the kids in Uganda have to deal with. With our abundance of resources we have less challenges and struggles in our daily lives. Over time, our lack of experiencing regular discomfort has led to a society which, I argue, is becoming less resilient. So, when bad things happen or when life doesn't go the way we want it - we are less prepared to take that challenge head on and overcome it in a healthy manner.  

In an effort to make it even more comfortable and less "offensive" for American children, parents seem to have significantly eased up on disciplining their children, leading to a prevalence of coddling never seen before. This coddling has also lead to a lack of respect for others, a focus on satisfying the self, and a lack of discipline. In contrast, nearly every Ugandan child I met, walked up to me, put out their hand and shook mine, and bowed their head out of respect to me as an adult. Honestly, their manners were so good that it caught me off guard. In America, some parents can't get their kids to be still for three seconds. Or, you get a "yeah" or "uh huh" instead of a yes sir or no sir, when you ask them a question. Call me old school, but one of the things that really irritates me, and is getting pervasive in our society, is hearing a child call an adult by their first name. Why does it seem like our kids are getting less respectful and more undisciplined? I think it ties back into mommy and daddy not wanting their child to be challenged, uncomfortable, or to feel bad about themselves.   

PHOTO CREDIT: LUIS LLERANA

Don't get me wrong, I'm not interested in my daughters constantly struggling, having to live a hard life, or having low self esteem. But, kids who are protected their whole lives from learning how to deal with difficulty are being set up to be emotionally weak and have the potential to be found in the corner in the fetal position sucking their thumb when life goes wrong. Additionally, our preoccupation with our own "self care" is creating a culture of victimhood and a generation of easily offended whiners. Our colleges are becoming full of kids who are more preoccupied with taking selfies and protesting "micro aggressions" than becoming productive members of society. I want to tell these kids to go to Africa or Haiti, and see how offended they would be by only getting to eat one meal a day or to have to drink dirty water to survive. 

I wouldn't want to live anywhere else on the planet and I'm thankful to live in a country that has produced a society with so much opportunity, resources, and wealth. So, what can we do to help our children build more resilience so they can better handle difficulties in life?

Here are 4 things I think can help:

1. Put your kids in a position to have opportunities to fail or lose. I think every kid needs to be involved in a sport, or FFA, or any type competitive activity where they get exposed to disappointment and have the opportunity to lose after putting in hard work. They need to learn that even with hours of hard work, sweat, and tears, you can still lose. My work ethic and discipline as an adult is a direct byproduct of competing in sports from the age of 5. I learned how to win, to lose, be disappointed, and how to push myself beyond my own limits. Most importantly, I learned how to get back up off the ground and get back in the game after getting knocked down or losing. You realize there is always a next time, another game, or another tomorrow. 

2. Don't give your kids everything they want. When I see a kid throwing an uncontrollable fit or screaming at their mother, I see a kid who may be getting what they want a little too often. (Obviously, this excludes kids who may have an emotional disorder.) Some children don't know how to handle not getting what they want and they have learned that acting out will get them what they want. That child has a higher probability of turning into an unhealthy adult. Life doesn't give you what you want all the time, so it's better they get used to it at an early age. 

3. Teach your children to take responsibilty for themselves. If we are rescuing our kids out of every problem, they will have a harder time learning how to pick themselves up off the floor and becoming self reliant. I don't want my daughters to be dependent on anyone for their physical or emotional well being in order to be healthy adults. I want them to have a certain amount of grit, and to learn at an early age that they have what it takes inside themselves to be what they set their heart and mind to. 

4. Get your kids involved in helping others. Our children need to know, see, and help others who are less fortunate than them. They need to learn how to appreciate what they have and to get a sense for what others struggle with. For example, you and your family could sponsor a child from the community I've written about at http://murole.hopechest.org/sponsor/, or take your kids to serve at a homeless shelter. Whatever it is, we need to teach our children that in almost every situation, someone else is suffering worse than them. I don't say this because anyone needs our pity, but because we need be inspired by the resilience others are able to muster in their cicumstances. 

 

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The Power In Redeeming Your Pain: "Redeeming Sunday"

Sunday has always been a special day to me. For a lot of us, it brings up memories of growing up going to church, or having a regularly scheduled lunch with family or friends. Maybe it takes you back to that feeling of easing into a pillow, stretching out on a couch, and dozing off in the first quarter of the afternoon football game you really didn't care about anyway. For me, it brings up years of memories of being with family, sitting around a table with a full belly and empty plates; laughing so hard until my stomach hurt. 

June 12, 2011 was a Sunday - the day Jacob passed away. Our family had gone to church together that morning and then Jacob and I went to eat lunch. He and I headed home while the girls stayed at church to help with VBS. We went through our nap time ritual. Like many toddlers, he wasn't ready to go to sleep, but it was time. We talked a little while in bed and then I got up and went and layed down myself.

He got up from his nap and went outside without me knowing. At 5 P.M., Brea and I found him in our car unresponsive. 

From that day on, Sundays became a brutally tough day to get through. From the time we got up we would be stuck in a loop, replaying the events of the day. Hour by hour, I would visualize and remember where I was and what I was doing. The closer it got to 5 P.M., the higher the anxiety level would get.

When it turned 5 P.M., I was transported back to the scene. We find him and open the back door of the expedition. I pick him up. I remember what he looks like and then what it feels like to do CPR. It's so hot outside. I can remember all the sounds that contributed to what felt like pure chaos all around our house. It's 5 P.M. on Sunday and I'm back in it all over again.

I was scared I would never have a normal Sunday again. Am I going to go through this every Sunday for the rest of my life? How are we going to ever enjoy this day of the week again? It's supposed to be a day of rest, relaxation, and family. It had turned into the worst day of our lives.

Sunday is obviously connected to our faith and spirituality, as well. After June 12, 2011, my faith, theology, and understanding of God started breaking down with each day. Throughout my life, my faith was built around a theology that worked in the context of my life experience. For example, I believed God was totally sovereign, good, and loving even though the world is full of evil, pain, and innocent suffering. For ages, humanity has wrestled with this issue. How "in control" or "interventionist" is God when there is so much pain and suffering? In the context of my fairly comfortable life with little heartache or struggle, I hadn't been forced to face this paradox.

Here was the internal dialogue I was wrestling with after Jacob passed: "If God is totally in control of everything that happens, then isn't God ultimately responsible for the death of Jacob and the way he died? Even if I say God allowed this to happen but didn't cause it to happen, isn't He still to blame - because He could have done something to prevent it? Is God really all good and loving if he causes or allows such innocent suffering and pain? Or, is God all good and loving but not totally in control of everything like I had thought before?"

Askvoll Church

I had a lot of big questions with not a lot of great answers laying around to make me feel better. So, over time I did start pointing the finger at God and blaming Him. My anger towards God grew as the months went by. I prayed for God to give me peace and to help me with my faith. But, all I experienced was silence. That made me even more angry. So, I stopped praying altogether.

Going to church didn't help either. I found myself getting angry listening to sermons about how God loved us or how God had a plan for all of our lives. I didn't feel very loved. And, I certainly didn't think it was God's plan for Jacob to die at 3. One Sunday after another, I walked out of church not wanting to ever go back again. As the months went on, my faith continued to break down and a new set of questions came up. "Do I even believe in God anymore? If I do believe in God, how do I find a faith that makes sense of a loving God, who may or may not intervene in this world, after what happened to Jacob?"

The last 4 1/2 years I've been on a quest to try and rebuild my faith from scratch. Part of my hope was to find answers that would satisfy the questions I had about the nature of God. But, more so I was hoping with everything inside me to just find some peace with God again. I was hoping to be able to redeem this relationship with God that was broken. 

I've written previously about how we decided to fight against letting Sundays cripple us. We decided to make Sunday a day of the week to have friends and family over for dinner. This was how we were going to reclaim, or redeem, that day of the week. Instead of being alone we were with friends and family. Instead of letting the house be filled with grief and sadness; we welcomed laughter and community. Instead of being stuck inside our own heads; we forced ourselves to move, to cook, to talk, to laugh, and to cry. Consequently, the sting of the day faded over time and we weren't paralyzed at 5 P.M. on Sundays anymore. 

I also needed to redeem my personal faith. My understanding of God broke down over a period of a couple of years and I wanted to reconnect with God if it was possible. My faith needed to be something I could work with in light of my experience. The faith I had constructed before fell short when I needed it most and left me feeling incredibly disappointed. Over the last five years, I've slowly tried to rebuild what faith looks like to me. It is different and I don't have all the answers I wanted. But I can say that I have at least found a foundation from which to start. I do believe in God. And, I believe God is first and foremost operating from a place of love. I know this faith stuff is a life long journey, so I don't pretend to have it all figured out. So, with baby steps, I feel like I'm moving in a good direction. 

We've spent the last 4 1/2 years trying to rebuild the various areas of our life that fell apart. One day at a time we pick up the pieces, dust them off, and we're learning to live life in light of our circumstances; just like everyone else. It was important to us to not let this turn us into a victim of our pain. As we look back over the last few years, redemption has been a big piece our story. Redemption of what happened and redemption of the pain and suffering our entire family has experienced. The reason we started working with and supporting orphans, why we want to share our story with others, why we make a daily conscious effort to choose to find the good in life rather than dwell on the bad, the reason I'm writing this book - It's all about "Redeeming Sunday."

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"The Fallout"

This post is a bit different than previous entries. Below is an unedited excerpt from the book I'm working on which provides details surrounding the legal issues we dealt with immediately following Jacob's accident. If you have time to read it, I'd appreciate your feedback. 

The Fallout

Over the next several months, we dealt with simply trying to survive our grief and the unexpected fight we found ourselves in for our rights as parents and to prove my innocence. We were destroyed inside and at the same time we were having to to deal with the legal fallout from investigations from both Child Protective Services and the County Sheriffs office. 

We've all heard the heartbreaking stories of children being accidentally left in car seats by parents and those children dying from heat stroke. From the second the authorities showed up at our house on June 12th, this is the lens in which they were investigating the accident. It was another level of stress that was sitting on our shoulders while we tried to figure out how to live with our grief. It was a nightmare within a nightmare. 

Being accused of something you didn't do is hard enough on it's own. But, dealing with it after the death of your child was unbearable. 

A week after Jacob's accident, I was in an attorney's office going through the events of that day. My family had to hire a criminal defense attorney that charged hundreds of dollars an hour who defended the worst of the worst. I had never been arrested in my life and now I was sitting in an attorney's office talking about defending myself from being prosecuted for criminal negligence of my child. I felt sick to my stomach as the attorney talked about his experience and the type of people he defended. To him, it was just another case. Understandably, he didn’t know me or Jacob, so he didn’t have much compassion in his tone. He was rather matter of fact about the law surrounding the events of that day and whether any one could prove whether I was negligent or not. All I could think was "How is it possible that I'm sitting here trying to prove that I didn't leave my son in his car seat? Why don't they believe me?"

Thankfully, my Dad, brother in law, and father in law went to the meeting with me to support me and to help me get through it. Painfully, I recounted every detail I could remember about that day and the timeline of events. Once he finished interviewing me, he said he was going to get with the Sheriffs investigators to see what direction the investigation was going. 

A few days later my attorney called. He said that he had talked with the Sheriffs office and he said I should take a polygraph test. "I need to take a lie detector test?" He said it would go a long way in providing evidence I was telling the truth and it would be proactive to push things along. After talking it through with my family, I agreed to whatever he thought was best. Three days later, my Dad and sister drove me to take this polygraph test. 

I was incredibly nervous and my stomach was in knots. I wasn't afraid of failing the test. I was afraid of having to recount the details, once again, and reliving each painful moment. I was angry I was even having to take this test. The shock my body was in affected me so much physically, I could barely do more than walk and sit. 

The defense attorney met us at the office where I was to take the test. When we walked inside, the attorney went straight into a private meeting with the person who was going to administer the polygraph. They were in there for about half an hour. It seemed like an eternity. With every passing second my anxiety and stress level went up. "How long is this going to take? I just want to get this over with." I thought. My sister did her best to keep me calm. God bless her and my Dad for being there. I don’t know how I would have got through that day without them. 

Finally, my attorney came out and brought me into the room where they were meeting. He asked my Dad and sister to come into the room where all of us would meet. The administrator said he was sorry I was there and that he was sorry for what happened to Jacob. He then said "There is no way I'm giving you this polygraph test. Your son passed away just a week ago, and your body is not going to give an accurate reading. It's not worth putting you through this to get an inaccurate reading. So, I'm not doing it." 

I was relieved to not have to take the test, but I was pissed at my attorney for not having enough foresight to know it wouldn't be a proper time to put me through the test. We are paying this guy a small fortune and I felt like he should have had enough experience to know this test wasn't going to work at this time. It had created an enormous amount of stress for me and my family and had been a complete waste of time. 

Weeks would go by with questions back and forth from the attorney to the Sheriffs investigators. One day I got a call from the attorney saying the Sheriffs investigators wanted to come by the house for a face to face interview. He said they wanted to do one final interview before they made their recommendation to the DA on whether to prosecute me or not. We were ready to do whatever it took to put this behind us, so we told the attorney to set it up as soon as possible. 

Around 5 p.m. one evening two Sheriffs investigators, my attorney, my sister, Brea, and I sat around a table in our living room. Once again, I'm full of nerves, scared of the unknown, and just under the surface I'm seething with anger at these investigators who keep dragging us unnecessarily through hell. My heart is broken and I'm missing Jacob, but I’m still having to put my grief on hold so I can get through this investigation. 

The investigator starts the meeting with this statement "I know you gave a statement on the day of the accident, but I think it's time you tell us all what really happened that day. I'm not sure that we're getting the truth." 

Those words pierced right through whatever thin sheet of composure I had holding back the tension built up over the last couple of months. I envesioned jumping across the table and grabbing him by the throat and beating the crap out of him. All of the rage I had towards this investigator boiled right up to the surface in that moment. 

“I have told you the truth from the very beginning and I don’t know what else to do.” I told him; my voice getting louder with each word and trembling with emotion. I was so angry I started crying and I slowly started standing up out of my chair leaning slightly toward him. Brea put her hand on my leg, slightly pushing me back down into my chair. She didn’t say anything but I got the message. ”I got you honey, but you need to take it down just a notch." I knew I was losing control but I was done. I had enough of this. I don't know what else I said but I sat all the way back in my chair and looked at both the investigators, intentionally not breaking my stare. 

After a few silent moments the lead investigator said, "OK, that's all I needed. I believe you." “What? That’s it?” I thought. The message was pretty clear. They were there to push my buttons and to see what came out. The lead investigator told me he would recommend the District Attorney not prosecute me and that he believed me. Before my attorney left that evening he said he felt good about the direction the case would take and that it should be over soon. 

Unfortunately, a week or two later, I got a call from my attorney saying the DA was taking my case before the grand jury. We were all shocked. I couldn't believe it. Of course when you hear those words, you think the worst. But, our attorney then explained that it was the only way the case could ever be completely closed. If the DA didn't let it go to grand jury, then it could be opened up years later for any reason. I didn't like it but there wasn’t anything we could do about it. It was going to be a couple of more months of waiting with this hanging over our head. 

At the same time, we were dealing with Child Protective Services. The night of the accident, a CPS case worker came to our house. She took down the names of family members who would be staying with us and we had to sign paperwork that said I could not be at home with my daughters by myself. It made me feel ashamed and like I was unfit to be a father. Of course, it made me angry. It was enraging and terrifying to see how easily someone who doesn't know you and your family can come into your house and take away your parental rights with the stroke of a pen. 

CPS drug their feet on their investigation and they were terrible in communicating with us. We just wanted to get on with our lives but they wouldn't meet with us or release us from investigation. We didn't understand what the hold up was. It took one phone call after another but finally we were able to get some movement in the CPS investigation. Weeks had gone by and I was still restricted from being alone with the girls. Finally, CPS said they wanted to interview the girls before they would close the investigation and make a determination. The interview had to be with the girls, one on one, with an investigator. We were not allowed to be in the room with them. As parents, we didn't like the idea at all but we didn't have an option at this point. We agreed to the interview as long as we were able to review the questions they were going to ask the girls beforehand. We could have objected through the attorney we hired for the girls if we thought one of the questions was inappropriate for their age. After reviewing the questions, we approved them and set up the meeting.

At the CPS office, they took the girls back to be interviewed with the girls attorney present. They interviewed them together and then seperately. When they came out, they seemed fine and unaffected by the experience. The attorney said they did great and that the interview went well. Unfortunately, the girls were asked questions that were not on the list. We kept feeling like the system was abusing us, and this was another example of what seemed like an abuse of power and deceit. They asked them questions around topics of physical abuse and about mine and Brea's relationship and if we fought a lot. No questions like this were presented to us prior to the meeting. It wasn't that we were afraid of the questions, but it was frustrating they decided to ask them unapproved questions. We were angry and disappointed, but we were glad it was over. Our main concern was that the girls weren't traumatized by the interview.

After waiting several months, the case with the County finally went to the grand jury. I can't imagine what Brea was feeling at the time. Grieving her son and worrying about whether her husband was going to be prosecuted or not. Was our family going to be able to move forward or were we going to be stuck fighting a legal battle for the next year? She was amazing through it all and always supportive. Whatever we were going to go through, we at least knew we were walking through it together. Finally, the grand jury returned the decision and "no-billed" the case. Essentially, that means the case was not going forward with prosecution. It was a huge weight lifted all of our shoulders.

After months of questioning and defending ourselves, and what felt like unwarranted and unnecessary stress added to a very difficult situation; all the legal and CPS investigations were closed. It felt good to put these issues behind us and I was relieved for a moment. But, I quickly realized the real struggle with our new reality was just beginning. 

Gifts from my son on his birthday.

On January 4th, 2008 at 8:46 a.m. Brea and I fell in love with a fat, little red headed, blue eyed baby boy. We were thrilled to have our first and only son. Today, is Jacob's 8th birthday. And, today we are filled with mixed emotions. We delight in the memories we had with our happy rambunctious son. At the same time, we walk with a sinking feeling in our stomach because today is one of those concrete reminders of our loss. 

But, before I totally bum everyone out - I want you to know I feel so blessed and grateful to be Jacob's daddy. I'm incredibly proud of what his life has inspired and to see how people have given of themselves and their resources to honor him. As his daddy, Jacob's life impacted me in ways I could have never imagined and I've been given the gift of perspective that most of us don't get until we experience suffering. So, today, on his birthday; I wanted to share some of the important lessons my son's life has taught me over the last few years.

Our legacy will be measured by the love we share and by the investment we put in others. No one is going to remember how many toys I accumulated, the hours I put in at work, or the title that came after my name. So much of our time and effort is focused on attaining some level of success that is measured in stuff, money, and power. If you asked me out of college what I wanted to do, I would have told you - "I want to make as much money as possible as fast as I can." That was my goal and money was my measure of success. It's an incredibly shallow and selfish viewpoint. Now, I would consider a successful life one that is focused on doing meaningful things, living with purpose, and making a difference for others.  A couple of factors that have helped me move toward a more meaningful life are: 1. Making sure I foster and invest in the number of close relationships I have. It's scientifically proven you live a healthier life with a strong network of friends. Yes, friends are great to share the good times with, but they are even more important to have to help you get off the ground in the bad times. 2. Spending my time, energy, and resources on causes and charities that are important to me. Giving to, and being involved in, something outside of yourself can give you a tremendous sense of purpose. Trying to find fulfillment by accumulating stuff or power only leads to a life of temporary highs, stress, and a lot of disappointment. When I look at Jacob's life - I see the scores of people inside a standing room only funeral service; I think back to the time I was standing next to orphans admiring a picture of him on the dormitory they live in, named after him, in a remote village in Uganda; I think of the group of widowed Ugandan women who started businesses with money from the micro finance fund we started who told me they love Jacob and pray for our family. Even though Jacob was only 3 1/2, his life inspired love, hope, opportunity, and empowerment. That is a life well lived.

Don't be a victim of your suffering. All of us have (or will) experienced suffering, but the good news is we have the choice and ability to overcome whatever we've experienced. We must choose to NOT live as victims of our circumstances or pain. Honestly, I didn't know if I would be able to survive the loss of a child. It's excruciating emotionally, mentally, and physically. There were many times when I wanted to give up. There were times when I thought it could end our marriage. Yes - there were times when I felt sorry for myself. We all have some suffering that can get to a point where we feel like the world, or God, is against us and life isn't fair. I have felt this way. The question that helped me choose to find healing was this: "How do I best honor Jacob with my life?" Is it by living a life steeped in bitterness, resentment, and self pity? Or, is it by figuring out how to find joy again and by living a good life. The answer is pretty easy, but doing the work to find healing is not. Jacob was one of the reasons that I decided to make the choice to NOT let my pain and grief define who I am. We are made up of more than just one disappointment, bad choice, mistake, or tragedy. We all have the choice to get off the ground. We just have to choose to do it and start taking the incremental steps by putting one foot in front of the other towards hope.

You are good enough. For most of my life, I've worried what other people thought about me. We all struggle with insecurities to some degree. But, it has really been an issue for me in the way I act and the way I treat people. When you boil it down, there is one question I whisper to myself that generates this fear in me - "Am I good enough?" If someone says something to me or does something that makes me feel insecure about myself, then I get scared. I go into defense and protection mode. This fear then turns into anger towards the other. Honestly, I still struggle with this a lot but I'm learning that the antidote for this is love. Love for myself and love for others. And, even love for people I don't get along with or like. When I think of Jacob - I remember how much he loved people and how much they loved him. The innocence of a 3 year old has taught me a lot about how I should be as an adult. Unlike adults, toddlers aren't sizing each other up and comparing their lives to other 3 year olds. They aren't trying to measure up to some imaginary level they've imposed on themselves. They aren't hiding and pretending to be someone they're not so they fit in. The key for me is to first know that "I am enough" - just the way I am. That allows me to love myself and accept who I am, faults and all. That confidence that I am "enough" then allows me to be more vulnerable and loving towards others. I would rather live a life being open and loving, risking getting hurt and disappointed; than to live a life full of fear, anger, and stress.

Even though Jacob was only 3, I'm thankful for the time we did have with him. I'm thankful to be his daddy and I'm grateful for how much love he showed me. On his birthday - may the gifts that my son has given me be a gift to you as well. 

 

One of the reasons I started this blog and I'm writing a book is to raise further support and awareness for the orphans we work with in Uganda. Two things you can do today to help me with that are:

1. Sponsor a child in Uganda. We have 15 more children in our program that need to be sponsored today in Rubanda, Uganda. You can click here to sponsor one of them. If you'd like to donate monetarily to a project we're funding click here and click on the "Fund a Project" button.

2. Share this blog via Facebook or other social media channels you use.

Thanks for your help! 

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Where I find hope and redemption.

When our children are born, our hopes and dreams for them are born in us as parents. We imagine getting to experience life's milestones with them and wonder what it will be like in those moments. What will it be like dropping them off for their first day of school? What will it feel like to walk my daughter down the aisle? 

When Jacob died, so did my dreams for him. Not only do I grieve him. But, I grieve the moments we'll never have. I get a knot in my stomach when I see kids his age walking into school holding their daddy's hand. There's a pee wee football field near our house that I drive by often. I imagine him in one of the uniforms running around and wonder what it would have been like to help him put his helmet and pads on for the first time. We won't get to hear his name called and watch him walk across a stage at a graduation. I won't get to watch him dance with his Mom at his wedding. I won't get to hug him and put my arm around him when he needs someone to talk to. 

If I focus on the things I won't get to do with him, I can get very depressed and sad. So, I intentionally have to make sure I practice gratitude and to be thankful for the impact Jacob's life continues to have, even though he's not physically with me. 

I experienced one of those moments last week. We received a letter announcing the opening of the Murole Computer Center at the Murole Prep School in Rubanda, Uganda where we help sponsor orphans. With funds raised at the Superhero Ball, in honor of Jacob; Children's Hopechest bought 23 computers for the center to be used by the village and the children who attend Murole Prep School. This is just one of many projects that have been funded over the last 4 years. But, this computer center to me is one of those projects that will be an education game changer for the children in Rubanda. Now, with the help of the internet and these computers, the children have an entirely new education experience and unlimited access to information.

I'm so proud that my son's life has helped hundreds of orphans and an entire village on the other side of the world. He has affected so many people even though his life here was so short. 

The Murole Computer Center

A few weeks ago while working with a friend on the outline of the book I'm writing, it became very clear that this book is about two words. Hope and Redemption. Whatever difficult situation we find ourselves in, I believe there is always hope. I find ultimate hope in a God who suffers with us; who one day will make all things new. And, I believe a vital step in healing our most difficult and traumatic experiences is to find some redemptive perspective toward the suffering and pain in our life. 

I find hope in the eyes of these children in Uganda who feel loved and valued by sponsors in America who they have never met. They know someone cares enough for them to give monthly to provide access to quality education, healthcare, and their basic living needs. And, I find some redemption of our pain and grief knowing orphans in Uganda will be forever changed because of the life of one little boy.  

These are not the dreams and moments I had hoped for when Jacob was born. But, this is the life we have and I choose to see the good in the midst of the pain. I hold both the joy and the pain simultaneously. Many of us can look back and say - "Life did not turn out the way I expected." If you're stuck, the challenge I make to you today is - choose to find hope amidst the ashes of your pain. It's there, I promise. 

Finally, redeeming your difficult experiences and trauma is about finding some positive aspect to the pain and suffering it has caused you. It may be one of the hardest things you will ever do. But, it is worth the cost. When you redeem those moments, you take the power of them into your own hands. You can choose to allow love to overcome bitterness, good to overcome evil, and joy to overcome despair. 

 

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While working on the book, I've been listening to Sleeping At Last. This song, from the Many Beautiful Things soundtrack is one of my favorites. It's beautiful. 


What I learned about having close relationships.

Jacob passed away on a Sunday. And it was 5:00 P.M. on that Sunday that we found him and started doing CPR. From that day on, our Sunday evenings had become a painful loop that played back in our minds over and over again. We dreaded waking up each Sunday; knowing we were going to relive in our minds the events of that day one hour at a time. As the clock got closer to 5:00 P.M., the more adrenaline started pumping through our bodies and our imaginations took us back to June 12. It became overwhelming because we thought our Sundays were always going to be a cursed day full of flashbacks and sadness. 

When we told our therapist about this, she asked us if there was something we could start doing to distract ourselves on Sunday evenings. She said it would help if we had people that would come spend time with us so we weren't stuck inside our own heads. So, Brea and I talked about it and decided to start having a standing dinner with friends and family every Sunday evening.

We put the word out - "if you are available, please come have dinner with us." We couldn't have been more blessed by the willingness of people to come be with us. Some Sundays we had a house full and some we had one person. The fact was - we had a community of people who stood by us when we needed them most.

With each week, the people that spent time with us brought a little more light into our life when it was filled with darkness. Also, the more people we had around us, the more moments of laughter and joy brought back hope that we would find a way to the other side of this. 

On one of those Sunday's, some of our closest friends drove up with a little tree in the back their truck. They told us it was a tree for Jacob and that we could all plant it together. The family and friends over that day pitched in and helped us plant "Jacob's Tree." After it was planted we stood around while one of our friends read something she wrote to dedicate the tree for Jacob. This gesture and act of kindness touched Brea and I deeply. And, it's something that we will never forget. Every time I look at that tree, I do think of Jacob. But, I also remember that we're not alone and that we have people who care for us and love us.

Photo Credit: Kevin Curtis

In his book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges, Dr. Steven Southwick, writes about ten common traits found among resilient people. I once heard a talk he gave where he said one of the top contributors to recovering from trauma was the community you had supporting you. From our own experience and from witnessing other families who have lost a child - the progress made was significantly affected by the strength of the network of family and friends that surrounded them.

In the busyness of our lives we often neglect building friendships. The older we get, the more work and demands of raising children take up the bulk of our time and focus. And, when life happens, we wonder why no one is around to help. At our core, all of us are afraid of being alone. And, some of our loneliest times can be during our darkest moments.

As humans, we all yearn to feel loved and cared for.

The people who surrounded us day after day, for months, are one of the biggest reasons we are able to live a good life again when we didn't think it would be possible. Without them, there is no way we would be where we are today. We are truly blessed to have such loving and faithful people around us.

It's so important that we make a conscious effort to build relationships. If you don't feel like you've got a strong community around you, then start building one today. Practice hospitality and have people over for dinner. Start going to church. Join a small group within your church. Do something to connect with other people and do it often. 

Not only is it wonderful to enjoy friendships and family during good times, but those relationships become even more important to help hold us up in the bad times. This is a two way street. Your family and friends are going to need you too. And, the absolute best thing you can give them is your simple presence. Sit with them and hold them when they need it. They won't remember what you said. But, they'll never forget that you showed up.

 

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What's the best question to ask yourself in the toughest times?

We often hear "everything happens for a reason." It's easy to believe this statement when things are going well. But, when the rug gets pulled out from underneath us, it's not so easy and causes a lot of confusion. 

To me, there could not be any good reason God let my son die in an accident. At this point, I just don't believe there is a good reason for Jacob not being here experiencing life with us. I know, it's my one sided human point of view. But, that's all I've got, and that's where I'm at. Call it a weak faith or whatever you like - Jacob's my son and I'm his Dad. Life was not supposed to turn out this way. And, I don't think God wanted it this way either. 

Soon after the accident, Brea and I would start our mornings by sitting on our front porch with friends and family drinking coffee. Then we would go sit and write in our journals. Most of my journaling was me writing out prayers. I would ask God question after question, with most of them starting with - why? My heart was broken and I felt like a loving God would want to give me answers that would provide some comfort and peace. Day after day, I would beg and plead but for whatever reason, I just didn't get what I was looking for. 

Frantically, I would read through the bible scouring scripture for something that would help make sense of our circumstance. Normally, in life I was able to find a verse that I could connect with or that would speak some peace into the situation. But, this darkness I was in was too big and deep to find any quick resolution. This was a pain that was unbearable and too profound. I couldn't find anything to ease it's intensity and my desperation. 

Photo Credit: R. Nial Bradshaw

One day I had outlined a number of my questions in my journal and I wanted to talk through them with one of our pastors at church, Bill Hill.  He had been coming over to visit us daily and I wanted to talk through how God's sovereignty and the presence of so much innocent suffering made no sense to me. Why would God let Jacob die at 3 years old in this horrific accident if he could have done something about it? And, why are people OK with responding to my questions with  - "You just have to trust God." Really? You think I'm going to trust a God who lets little children (let alone my son) die a senseless painful death? I would want to say, "switch places with me for a second, and see if you still feel the same way about that God."  

Along with a couple of friends, Bill and I sat on our back porch together on a 100 degree Texas evening. We sat outside pretending like it wasn't uncomfortable with plastic cups full of luke warm wine. That would be my first cup of many for the evening. For better or worse, this had become a way to self medicate myself to help numb reality just a bit. 

I got my journal out and started running through my questions with Bill. My thought was that if anyone was going to give me the answers I had about God, it was going to come from an experienced Pastor. BIll had also worked as a hospice chaplain for much of his life, so he's not new to grief or listening to a grieving person talk about their disappointments with God.

As I started going through my list with Bill, he sat back and listened. He didn't try to rebut my questions. He nodded in agreement and solidarity with my anger and disillusionment over what happened. After some time, I finally stopped talking and I waited in fervent anticipation to receive the answers I'd been hoping to find.

He sat up a little in his chair and said to me "Jason, these are all legitimate questions. These are hard questions and you have every right to ask them. But, "Why?" is not the right question. The only good question you can ask your self is this"

"Now that this has happened, what are you going to do about it?" 

I sat back in my chair and took it in. Honestly, I didn't like what he said at all. "That doesn't give me any answers?" I thought. "What about God? If there's a reason for this pain and for Jacob's death, and God is in control, then I want to know why." I felt like out of a sense of responsibility for Jacob and because I was his Dad that I needed to know why this happened? If I don't find out why, then I felt like I was letting Jacob down and that I was somehow letting God off the hook.  

For many more months, I continued to seek answers from a number of theologians, scholars, and others who had experienced the death of a child. I continued to come up empty handed with a good answer to the Why? question. Ultimately, I realized that Bill had already given me the best question I could ask. 

The question "What am I going to do now" requires action. This is very important because sometimes our circumstances can paralyze us. And, our inaction can cause us to sit and wallow in our sadness or despair which can lead to depression. By getting our minds and bodies in motion we at least begin to look outside of ourselves and take the focus off of our current state of pain and suffering. 

Also, by choosing to use your suffering and energy to do something good, you can redeem some of the circumstance you are in. Even at your lowest points, you can bring some meaning to your life and it will give you continued reason to get out of bed on those days it feels like you just want to give up. 

Bill had one last thing to say to me about my "Why?" questions that day. He said "Jason, is there any answer to your why question that would take away any of your pain or sadness?" Without hesitation, I said "Absolutely, not." There couldn't be an answer that would make me feel better at the time and there still wouldn't be one today. Even if I knew why - it wouldn't be a good enough answer to keep me from missing my son with every fiber of my being. 

There are no good answers to the Why question. Even though the truth of that question gave me reason to stop asking; a new level of grief set in because I now had to accept that I would begin a new struggle in having to live with unanswered questions the rest of my life. 

For most of our why questions we won't get answers. At least not answers that will satisfy. And, to be perfectly candid - I don't think there are always reasons to why things happen. Life is full of chaos and accidents, and sometimes the consequences of living in this world lead to really bad things happening to us. When those things happen, asking "Why?" will not help get you through it. The start of finding peace and healing again starts when you ask: What am I going to do about it? 

 

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Writing and Book Update

First, I wanted to thank everyone for their encouragement and support for me starting this blog. The positive feedback has been overwhelming.  

Two weeks ago, I signed my book contract with Fortress Press. So, now it's for real! I get to write a book and I have a deadline. My goal is to be done with a workable draft by April 1, 2016. The final 45,000 word draft to the publisher is due June 1, 2016. The book will probably come out September 2016. 

As a numbers guy, I can't help myself from breaking this down into something I can analyze and measure. For those of you who know me, you won't be surprised. I've broken down my deadlines into words per day, week, and month. As long as I'm disciplined, this should be doable.

Knowing that I have a decent amount of writing to do, a fantastic full time job, and a family - I'll be reducing the number of blog posts from weekly to something else that works. I enjoy sharing through the blog but it's very different than writing in book format. And, writing this book well is going to be my main focus from a writing standpoint. 

All proceeds from the sale of this book are going to support orphans in Uganda through Children's Hopechest. That being said, this book isn't going to sell itself. And, I have to start building an audience. Let's be honest - the fact is, I'm going to have to hustle to get this book into as many hands as possible. I'm not an accomplished writer and there is more content than ever competing for our constantly decreasing attention span. 

So, I'd like to ask for your help in doing something today.

In an effort to spread the word, if you found any of the blogs I've written helpful or of value thus far, would you go share that blog post on social media? Facebook, twitter, instagram, etc. - whatever medium you like the most - go to one of the blogs you like, copy it, and share it. It would be a huge help! 

Have a great day and share away!  

Love,

Jason