On disappointments, relief, and future promise

I find I have an interesting pattern here on my blog. Interesting to me, that is. The more real life stuff I have going on the less I either can or want to write about it. Sure, I process the world and everything in it by writing, but that does not mean I need to or should share that with anyone else.

Last month, I started writing for God’s World News again. It’s writing I enjoy and I mostly have adequate time to get it done on time. It’s meeting a need for our family as well, which is a great thing. Last week, I stopped writing for WORLDMag.com. I cried. I laughed. I’m moving on. Disappointments, relief, and future promise, all wrapped up into one.

Two weeks ago Craig met a guy hanging from the very end of his rope. One week ago that guy called Craig, reaching out for help. We took him in for the weekend, made more coffee than our wimpy coffee pot has ever been asked to make before, and the girls drew pictures for him and ministered to his weathered soul in a way most of us will never be able to. Even our dogs loved on this man in a significant way this weekend. Yesterday, Craig checked him into a rehab place for the next 10 days. We’re praying for him. We’re planning a (very small) party for him for when he gets out. We’re hoping. Disappointment, relief, and future promise, all wrapped up into one.

One of my kids is really struggling with Latin. This same kid, who has previously really struggled in math, is carrying an A- right now, seven weeks into the school year. Disappointment, relief, future promise.

We have an amazing house that isn’t nearly as close to the city as we’d like it to be. It’s also never as clean as I’d like it to be, but again, it’s an amazing house that holds much potential for refuge and strength. Disappointent, relief, future promise.

August was a bad financial month for our family. September was a good one. October is a big fat mystery. Disappointment, relief, future promise.

I think somewhere in my life I used to believe that if I could only do all the things good Christian girls are supposed to do, I was owed something. Of course, I understood that Christ paid it all and only through Christ could salvation be obtained, but I think I wasn’t just interested in salvation. I wanted good and safe and secure and I wanted it now. I wanted it because I was good. Because I followed the Christian rules. Because I earned it.

I wonder now just how long it’s going to take me to stop trusting in myself for my sanctification.

I have no idea why life plays out the way it does. Why are hard things really HARD? Why do some people seem to have it so easy? Why do some people have lives that suck so much you can hardly stand to be around them? Why do we condemn everyone around us who we perceive ourselves to be better than for fill-in-your-own-twisted-blank?

I needed a reminder of reality today of the Isaiah 53 variety:

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

And I’m forced to ask myself the question, “So do you still feel like you are owed something for good behavior? Because let’s take an honest look at your heart, shall we?”

I am not owed a life free from hard things. I can’t earn safety or security because I follow the rules. I do not deserve either the life I’ve been given or the promise of things to come.

Disappointment, relief, future promise. It’s the story of redemption. It’s the story of the cross. And it’s the story I need to have read to me over and over and over and over because when I put it back on the shelf I forget how the ending goes. In Christ alone.

On China’s One Child Policy

Have you seen this?


My head has been in the sand for far too long. In hunting around for some info on China’s one child policy, I found this report from a Chinese family a year ago.

This Sunday is the 31st anniversary of the implementation of this horrible event. I wrote about it for WORLDMag.com today.

Be sure to check out All Girls Allowed for more info, links, videos, and thoughts on what we can do. But the main thing is…pray.

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This Sunday marks the 31st anniversary of China’s one-child policy. Created for the purpose of improving social, economic, and environmental problems in the country, it was supposed to end in 2010. Instead, believing it has contributed to China’s economic prosperity, the government has decided to keep it in place indefinitely.

Economics aside, the policy, combined with China’s strong preference for sons over daughters, has most definitely contributed to a multitude of horrific practices, leading to the loss of millions of girls through abortion, prenatal sex selection, infanticide, abandonment, and trafficking.

In June 2010, a woman named Chai Ling founded All Girls Allowed, a humanitarian organization devoted to restoring life, value, and dignity to girls and mothers in China.

“As Christians, our only reaction should be deep sadness and outrage that leads to desperate prayer,” says Ling. “We are standing up to a massive communist government and saying that every baby deserves to live. This is God giving us an opportunity to pray more desperately than we ever have before.”

This coming Sunday, on this deadly anniversary, churches around the world will watch a short video produced by All Girls Allowed (see below) and pause to pray for China and the 37 million girls who have been lost since the policy was implemented in 1980.

When asked why this anniversary is so significant, Ling starts with basic math: “You know, the policy was only supposed to last 30 years, and already China says they have ‘prevented’ more than 400 million lives. Many scholars and experts have said that China will fall apart unless the policy is not only abolished, but education and effort is put into reversing some of the effects of the policy, like China’s massive gender imbalance and aging problems.”

But with the anniversary being on a Sunday this year, Ling goes beyond the arithmetic, issuing a call for Christians to take notice and pray more desperately and helplessly than ever before. She reminds us that this is an issue we really can’t do anything about, even if we had billions of dollars or a bill passed. It is going to take prayer to stop China’s one-child policy.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?


We hosted a block party in our Cul-de-Sac this past Saturday. I wrote about making the effort to interact with your neighbors for WORLD Mag this week.

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We’ve been in our new house in Oklahoma City three months now. A few weeks ago we decided it would be fun to host a neighborhood block party. But it’s been 100-plus degrees ever since we moved in, and that kind of heat does not lend itself to having a successful outdoor party.

But with fall just around the corner with school starting and schedules quickly filling up, we were afraid we would lose our window of opportunity, so we decided to go ahead and give it a try. My husband designed a killer flyer that we distributed throughout the neighborhood. We then held our breath. Would people respond?

We had good reason to be apprehensive; we’d tried similar events in other places we’d lived with mixed results. But this time turned out to be different. Several families on our cul-de-sac indicated ahead of time they wanted to come. In addition, the weather “cooled off” to the low 90s, so it was actually tolerable to be outside for a couple hours.

All told we had about 30 people hanging out in the middle of our street that evening. Adults chatted and kids had Hula-Hoop and chalk-drawing contests. We met neighbors we had not yet met and were surprised to discover that some of the neighbors who had been living on our street for several years were also introducing themselves to each other for the first time. In fact, several commented how they had wanted to do something like this before but never did.

In the end, it was a great evening. I have no grand illusions that we became BFFs with our neighbors, but I do think we cracked open some doors for future cookouts or dinners or get-togethers in the future.

It’s hard enough to follow Jesus’ command to love your neighbor as yourself-harder still when you don’t know your neighbor’s name. We’ve got names now; let the lovin’ begin.

Facebook for Teachers?

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Craig recently posted his thoughts on the state of Missouri banning teachers and students from interacting on social media sites. I wrote about that today for WORLDMag.com.

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As Brittany Smith reported earlier this week, the state of Missouri has passed a law prohibiting teachers from using Facebook and other social media to privately contact their students. The intent behind the law is the prevention of inappropriate relationships between children and teachers. The law states, “Teachers cannot establish, maintain or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child’s legal custodian, physical custodian or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a non work-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.”

As you can well expect, there are people with good arguments on both sides of the issue. But the problem, as usual, is government legislation over personal responsibility. Three years ago, knowing he had experience in social media, the administration of my husband’s previous school asked him to share his thoughts on social media as an educational tool. In response, Craig drafted a document that was later adopted as part of the school’s social media policy. Here’s what he had to say:

  • Never initiate the friend, wall-to-wall, inbox, birthday, or other functions; always be a responder to students, but even then, refrain from excess posting on their pages.
  • Unless you have a pre-determined set of relationship criteria (i.e. males only, females only, etc.), do not discriminate among friend requests; accept all or accept none.
  • Always maintain a degree of formality despite the informal medium; keep titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss) and try to relate with as similar a classroom tone as possible.
  • Realize that conversations you may have in other networks may be privy to those in your network unless you set up different access levels. Use discretion, as you are exposing students to your college/post-college discussions and topics, which may or may not be helpful to your students.
  • Use good punctuation and grammar whenever possible; avoid slang and model excellence as an educator in your communication.
  • Do not post pictures of yourself that are questionable, sensual, or ridiculous; if other friends include you in such pictures on their profiles, ask to remove them or untag yourself from them.
  • Do not delete inbox or wall-to-wall conversations; always keep a record.

For more, read Craig’s “On Teachers, Students, and Social Media.”

What’s your take? Is Facebook a friend or foe in the world of education?

What about Barbie?

Today I posted on the long-popular, sometimes-debated, oft-duplicated Barbie doll for WORLDMag.com. You can agree with me (like some did) or you can roll your eyes in my general direction (like others did). You can choose. Just be intentional with your choice. *wink*

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Shortly (or so it seemed) after we had one daughter, the next thing we knew we had four of them. Four girls means four times the opportunities to bring Barbie, the plastic dream queen, into our home with all her luggage . . . or should I say baggage?

Our oldest daughter received her first official Barbie doll when she was 5 years old. She hadn’t asked for it, nor did she seem particularly attached to it, at least not any more than she was to the other plastic paraphernalia she acquired that year. This made Barbie an easy sneak-out-the-back-door item.

Why did we do it? I wouldn’t say I had totally developed a complete rationale against all-things-Barbie, but I did have a sense that Barbie stood for a lot of cultural misrepresentations with which I didn’t necessarily want to bombard my girls. So out she went.

Soon we had another 5-year-old on the scene. This one actually requested a Barbie for her birthday. This was right around the time I found a new line of soft-bodied cloth dolls with proportional anatomy that were about the same height as Barbie. We bought two.

My second-oldest didn’t mind. Granted, these dolls were harder to dress than traditional Barbies but were still fun to play with and-get this-they looked like young girls, not magazine pin-ups.

Fast-forward five more years. We still have a toy bin filled with old-fashioned Barbie clothes and we still have the two soft body dolls. We also have one actual Barbie doll, another unasked-for gift. I think she is Princess Barbie, and she has managed to pay her rent and secure a spot in the bin.

We have some ground rules for Barbie: She has to remain clothed while living in our house. And Ken is not invited over . . . ever.

Last week, Terry Mattingly wrote an interesting article for GetReligion.org about “God, Barbies, and girlie girls.” He didn’t just stop with Barbie but follows her down the path of her natural progression. He wrote:

“Will you buy your daughter a Barbie doll? Other questions follow in the wake of this one, linked to clothes, self-esteem, cellphones, makeup, reality TV shows and the entire commercialized princess culture.”

These are great questions to ask. I’ve had conversations with more than one mom who, after battling over the bikini question with her teenage daughters for years, finally gave in. It wasn’t the battle they wanted to fight anymore.

I’m inclined to think that if the bikini question is a battle at 17, some key conversations on modesty and the heart were missed while the girls were 7.

Mattingly pointed out that the problem with Barbie is not uniquely religious. He quotes writer Naomi Schaefer Riley, who said:

“Mothers are divided on this whole issue and some can get very upset just talking about it. Yet others are not upset. You’ll see all kinds of women, religious and non-religious, who are taking their 6-year-old daughters to get manicures and to get their hair done, trying to look pretty just like the girls on TV and in all the magazines.

“Then there are women who are the total opposite of all that. They may be evangelical Christians or they may be feminists, but they see this as an attack on what they believe.”

Riley went on to say that though this commercialized, highly sexualized culture has a dominating presence in our society, the real question for us now is whether or not we as parents are willing to dare challenge it.

Philippians 4:8 provides us with a nice grid for running the ways of our culture through:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

I’m not saying Barbie can’t fit through that grid, but our daughters need to see discernment modeled for them. Even over toys. Even at the age of 5.

 

Thoughts on The Help

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Craig and I took the girls to see an interesting movie this week. I wrote about my thoughts on The Help for WORLDMag.com this week.

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With the exception of, say, Julie and Julia, books are generally better than the movies based on them, right? It’s almost impossible to capture the entire essence of the printed word in two hours or less.

Earlier this week, my family was invited to a screening of The Help, and having read the book earlier this year, I had high hopes for the movie but a nagging fear that it would not live up to my expectations.

As it turns out, The Help was no different from most book-to-movie adaptations in that some things were left out, but those missing pieces did not diminish the stirring, heartbreaking, yet hopeful story of domestic life that took place during the 1960s civil rights struggle in Mississippi. (Warning: The film does contain a lot of vulgar language.)

Raised in our modern day culture, my kids are vaguely aware of the notion of racial tension, but they have never been personally confronted with it. Although my girls have an understanding of the history behind the issue-we’ve read books together like Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and biographies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks-they have very little firsthand experience with the emotion attached to the issue or the hatred involved, and thus have a hard time understanding it as a concept.

Taking the girls to see The Help helped them understand just how serious, sad, and senseless the racial divide was in 1960s America. There was more than one tear shed among us as we watched how the white women portrayed in the film so poorly treated their black house help. We also felt the tension of the white women not being present with their own children, which in turn created a bond between the children and the black women who actually raised them, causing confusion for all.

As the film credits rolled, we sat silent for a while before leaving the theater. My oldest daughter gave me a look of disbelief as she asked if that was really how some white people treated black people back then. I assured her that in some cases it was all that and worse. She shook her head in anger: “That’s just . . . so . . . wrong.”

Agreeing, I explained that while we’ve come a long way in redeeming race relations since the 1960s, we still have a long way to go. I believe true reconciliation among the races will never be final this side of heaven. Once glorified we will finally fully realize that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

Still, with young hearts and minds stirred by movies like The Help and, most importantly, informed and transformed by the Gospel, perhaps we can see God’s Kingdom come and His will be done now, on earth as it is in heaven.

At least that’s what I prayed for my girls on Monday night.

 

 

There are some things I regret

There are plenty of things in life I regret. I regret attitudes I’ve copped with my family in the past. I regret words I’ve spouted at my children in moments of anger. I regret ordering magazines that were being offered for $5/year because even at $5/year, I still don’t have time to read them and they waste away in a stack in my living room.

I wrote a piece last Thursday and posted it at WORLDMag.com. I don’t regret posting the piece, but I do regret posting it at WORLD.

If I could go back and change a couple of things I wrote, here’s what I would change:

1) I would have done better by my friend Wesley. I wrote him to get his thoughts on the issue and said I would probably quote him, but I did not not tell him I would most likely use the entire email he sent me. I used most of his email because I thought he had some really good things to say. Had he known I was going to do that he would have said some things differently. I wronged Wesley in that way and I am deeply saddened I did that. I regret doing it. I asked him to forgive me and he did. Wesley is a very grace-filled man.

2) I likely would not have used the term “celibate homosexual Christian” to describe him. I would change that term to a celibate Christian who struggles with same sex attraction. Most of the readers of that piece would have understood that a little better than the phrase I used and I get why.

3) I would make a one-word change in the middle of the piece from “should” to “can,” going from “I’m understanding a little better that what is commanded of Christians is simply not the same as what we should expect from those who do not follow the ways of God” to “…I’m understanding a little better that what is commanded of Christians is simply not the same as what we can expect from those who do not follow the ways of God.” It’s subtle, but it makes a difference.

4) I would have clarified more than once that my struggle wasn’t in what I believe to be true about homosexuality or what I teach my kids regarding it: I do not agree with the way the world and culture are going with the practice of same-sex marriage. I would have made sure my readers all knew my struggle was in understanding what to expect from an unbelieving world on issues of morality. I didn’t make that clear and I regret that.

I won’t lie and say that being taken to task by “big dogs” around the internet (I’m talking to you, Douglas Wilson) doesn’t sting. It does. But, in the words of someone wise tonight,

“I know this is discouraging. I would encourage you to ignore it and just keep blogging. Jesus loves you! The gospel is true. You’re a worst poster than you thought. You’re more ‘muddled’ than you ever dared to believe. You’ve become more liberal and tolerant and a product of your culture than you know. But Christ loves you more than you ever hoped. He loves bloggers like you, moms like you, thinkers like you, heart reactors like you.  He died for you and your kids and people that are ripping you and people who like you. I don’t mean that to sound silly or trite, but to encourage you that your confidence is not in what World Magazine thinks or those commentors think, but it’s really, really rooted in Jesus and what he thinks. And he thinks you are awesome!”

Those are some words I don’t regret hearing tonight.

Thoughts on same-sex marriage

I’m holding my breath and jumping in the deep end today at WORLD. Care to join the discussion on explaining same-sex marriage to kids?

PS: If you haven’t read Wesley Hill’s book, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality you really really should.

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My oldest daughter, who is 12, was checking her email the other day. Before she logged in to her account, she saw the headlines on Google News and took notice of the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York. She asked me later what I thought about that.

Some sins are worse than others, right? Not in the eyes of God maybe, but certainly to most of us. For better or for worse, we tend to place degrees on sin. In doing so, cheating on a test isn’t nearly as bad as-murder, adultery (whether heterosexual or homosexual), stealing a car, or perjuring ourselves in a court of law. I don’t mean to teach my kids that some sins are worse than others, but I do it every day by my own reactions and responses to sin in both their lives and mine. They are learning early from me.

For the longest time I’ve struggled to put my finger on just what I believe about homosexuality and whether or not same-sex marriages should be allowed. Five years ago, I think I would have come down pretty solid on the line of “absolutely not”-under no circumstance should this mockery of what God ordained as union between one man and one woman be given the same status.

I’m not sure I can say that anymore. Wait a minute: It isn’t that I think homosexuality is OK and is something Scripture overlooks or agrees with. But it is that I’m understanding a little better that what is commanded of Christians is simply not the same as what we should expect from those who do not follow the ways of God.

Because of my Christian worldview, I do not agree with the practice of homosexuality, but I do not expect the government or most of our country or world to share that view. The trick for me right now is how do I explain that to my kids?

My friend Wesley Hill is a celibate homosexual Christian. His book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality has been formative in helping me understand the struggle of Christians who find themselves wondering what it means that they struggle with a homosexual orientation. I asked him for his thoughts on the legalization of same-sex marriage, and he responded in this way:

“I tend to think the church shouldn’t behave as if its viewpoint on same-sex partnerships resonates, deep down, with everyone . . . because it doesn’t. We tend to think everyone really knows gay sex is wrong, but when we say that, we’re just not listening to gay people well enough about how their (my) orientation is ‘hardwired’ and not ‘chosen.'”What that means in terms of specific policies, I don’t know. I’m inclined to think that Christians shouldn’t have much of a problem with American governments (state and federal) granting recognition (e.g., ‘civil unions’ at least) to non-Christian same-sex partnerships. . . . Even Focus on the Family is admitting that conservatives have pretty much ‘lost’ the culture war on this issue. (Wasn’t there a recent interview with a Focus employee in WORLD to that effect?)

“The vast majority of my generation is in favor of gay marriage, and I suspect it’s only a matter of time before it’s made legal across the board. Which should be no cause for despair among more traditional, Bible-believing Christians. As Paul Griffiths says, ‘What the Church ought do . . . is to burnish the practice of marriage by [Christians] until its radiance dazzles the pagan eye.’ Our best apologetic for ‘traditional marriage’ is the beauty of the Christian lives we live. We ought to woo people towards it rather than legislate its acceptance.”

1 Corinthians 1:18 says:

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Lord, how do I-and my kids-pray for Your power on behalf of the perishing?

Finding meaning in the mundane

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I hearby take a break from Operation: Pack This House to post something on WORLDMag. I think I have some typos over there, but haven’t had time to fix them yet. Forgive?

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Sorting socks is not a task I enjoy very much and the pile-o-mismatched socks that sits in the corner of my room proves it. Yesterday was the big match day and I sat on my daughter’s bed sorting socks for a good half-hour. I started groaning inwardly while doing this, but somewhere in the middle of it all my perspective changed and I began thinking about all the people in my home who wear said socks and my heart changed from bitterness for the task to thankfulness for the wearers. The job became less demanding as I opted for cheerfulness in the midst of the chore.

I’ll be honest. Thankfulness in the midst of thankless acts is not my natural default. I don’t take to heart the words of Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” But in that moment of sock sorting, something switched in my heart that I needed to get through this, our last week in St. Louis, which hopefully will have a lasting effect. I began to see my work as, not only for the Lord, but also for the people in my family who benefit from it.

My next test came soon after that as I was packing up my 10-year-old packrat’s, I mean, daughter’s bedroom. I can’t remember the last time I took a peek at the back of her bedroom door. It was completely covered with clippings of favorite animals, notes from friends, Cardinals baseball memorabilia. At once, tempted to groan at the amount of tape that needed to be peeled, I was instead quickly able to move to a position of thankfulness for the unique position of being able to catch a glimpse into some of her very favorite things. These were all things she’d hidden from most eyes most of the time, but things she felt compelled to display for her own enjoyment. And seeing the world through her eyes, for only a moment, made the peeling more palatable.

I’m not the most patient mama. It’s definitely one of the spirit’s fruits I wish grew in more abundance on my personal tree. But I’m finding that developing new eyes for the ordinary things of life with young kids goes a long way toward helping sprout that fruit. It also enables me to take the long way home with my kids a little more often. It’s during that long path home we discover more of who we all are. And I’m finding that when I take time do this, I remember how much I love the life I’ve been given, mismatched socks and all.

On Leaving Well

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Craig was given a sword when we left Colorado. It seems very appropriate that our time in St. Louis will forever be marked by this bat. I wrote more about this at WORLDMag.com today.

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Our time in St. Louis is quickly coming to a close, but we’ve barely had time to think about it in the midst of everything that comes with the normal springtime and the culmination of various recitals, events, end-of-year hoo-has, etc.

As I’ve turned over my own various responsibilities, I kept expecting to feel a twinge of emotion or regret or sadness or something. So far, though, I’ve just been numb concerning all of the things that have directly involved me. But my emotional faucet got nudged for the first time last week when my husband’s junior varsity baseball team finished its season with its 20th win, setting a new JV school record for most wins in a season, and the boys celebrated by giving Craig a water cooler shower after the game.

As I was shuttling our own kids to their various activities that evening, I missed the entire game, showing up just in time to see the boys dump the water on him. And I instantly teared up.

It wasn’t necessarily the water dump that made me cry; it was the connection these boys have with my husband that, though I’ve seen it all season long, we all really experienced last week as the season wrapped up.

In anticipation of his leaving, the boys chipped in and bought him an engraved bat, which they all signed. Their parents also surprised him by purchasing tickets for the entire team to go to a Cardinals game together. The water cooler shower was just their final way of saying thanks . . . and that they have really appreciated his role in their lives as their coach these past two years.

When preparing for a move, it is easy to get completely caught up in all the practicalities of what has to happen to make the move happen. It is easy to lose sight of everything and everyone we’re leaving. I think Craig needed the bat. He needed the tickets to the game with the boys. And he needed the water dumped on him to really understand the impact he made here in St. Louis, if even for only 12 guys, if even for only two years.

And I needed to be there when it happened . . . and I’m really glad I was.

In the spirit of Matthew 25, it’s these little things that matter most. “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.”

It could be said that being a JV coach pales in light of almost everything else, but I’m here to tell you that it matters. The investment my husband made in those boys made a difference. And I know 12 guys who will happily agree with me.