Let's Check In With Jack!


Jack's preschool teacher, Mrs. Easton...  I just don't know how to convey strongly enough how much I mean this, but she really does have the patience of a saint.  Every day, she sends home a note with each child, letting parents know what they did that day, and what kind of day they had.  Here is Jack's note from last Thursday.
You may not be able to read that without clicking on it to blow it up; here's what it says under "Comments":
Took his shoes off before chapel, pooped in pants during centers and pulled B--- and C---'s ears because he didn't like what they were doing.

Now, take a look at what it says under the "My mood was" section:
Mostly in a good mood

He had a shoe-removing tantrum, pooped his pants, and pulled not just one, but two people's ears because he didn't like what they were doing, and that was on a day when he was in a mostly good mood.  I'd say we owe Mrs. Easton a steak dinner, but by this point in the school year, I think we owe her a steak restaurant.

Merry Christmas: A Look Back at Project Advent II


Do you remember the three words that I launched this project with?  Anticipation.  Expectation.  Joy.

I know that I keep coming back to the events in Newtown on December 14th.  It's been really prominent in my thoughts.  Certainly, when we started Advent, none of us anticipated something so awful happening.  None of us expected to arrive at Christmas in the shadow of not just that event, but another mass shooting which occurred yesterday.  Another!  All of us have struggled to cling to our joy.

I've been trying to find some kind of perspective to help me around it, but there just is no perspective where things like this make sense.  Instead, I've had to turn my focus within.  Let me share one of my very favorite passages of scripture with you.  It's from the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew.
34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,

I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
It is a sad truth that the smallest and most helpless members of our society are the ones who bear a disproportionate share of the brunt of society's worst tendencies.  But that doesn't mean you and I can't try to help.  We can work together (and it doesn't even have to be that much work!) and do whatever we can for the least of these brothers and sisters.

And when we do...

When we do, it's just like we're doing it for Him.  There's your joy.  As good as the anticipation and expectation of Advent are, they're still looking towards a defined end.  Anticipate bigger.  Expect eternity.  Love each other.


Project Advent II, Day 24: The Newtown 2025 Fund


First, some pictures from today.

Christmas cookies were decorated for Santa.
Christmas Eve service was attended, with these three beautiful kiddos.
The Christmas tree was appreciated one last time before pajamas were put on.
Now, on to today's project.

I can't claim to be a perfectionist (a frustrated perfectionist, maybe), but I would definitely say that I live my life beholden to the schedules and timetables that I set for myself.  I don't know when I became that way, but my poor wife can tell you that it's definitely been for as long as we've been together.  The easiest way to see me at my worst is to knock me off schedule.

As your Jewish grandmother always says, though, "Man plans, God laughs."  It doesn't matter if I wake my family 3 hours before church or 30 minutes: we'll be walking in to service about 10 minutes late.  Life with a family has made me learn the value of flexibility.

I had hoped to have today's service completed by today, and have it ready to announce, but it was just too involved a task for me to complete in an hour, or even in the week or so that I've been working on it.  Let me tell you why I'm OK with it being in progress.  What is Advent?  As I mentioned at the beginning of the project, it's a time of preparation.  Advent is the journey to Christmas Day.  I've only begun today's project, but it's the first part of a journey.

My children have made me an entirely different person than I was eight years ago.  I think I've always been a pretty emotionally open person, but having children took things that were always there and brought them right up to the surface all the time.  I'm watching It's a Wonderful Life right now as I type this, and when it showed the scene where George Bailey runs back into his home and embraces his children after his vision of the world without him, I got choked up.

If you ask me what my proudest accomplishment is, I will tell you that it is fatherhood.  That's why I haven't been able to stop thinking about the parents of Newtown, CT for the last week and a half.  I think about the sounds that will fill my home tomorrow morning, sounds which will be absent from so many homes in that town, and it just shatters my heart.

The Wednesday after the shootings, I saw an interview with Frank Keating on CNN.  He was governor of Oklahoma in 1995, when the Oklahoma City bombing occurred, and they were asking him about his perspective on what lies ahead for Newtown.  He noted that 17 years after the OKC incident, funds are still being used to put victims’ children through college, provide counseling to first responders and cover medical care for the severely injured.  That made me start thinking about long term goals.

So many people have reached out to Newtown already.  If you go to IndieGogo and search for "Newtown," it returns lots and lots of results.  It's encouraging to see people taking action.  I considered just contributing to one of the existing fundraisers, but so many of them were so vague about their purpose: "to raise money for the victims..."  I wanted to do something with a very specific aim.

Here it is, and here is why it's not entirely ready yet.  I've been working with an attorney friend to set up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization called the Newtown 2025 Fund.  My goal is to establish a scholarship fund for the current kindergarten class of Sandy Hook Elementary School.  For the next 12 years, it will be able to take in contributions and let them grow before being disbursed.  The only two criteria it will have are that the recipients must be a member of the kindergarten class that is enrolled at Sandy Hook right now, and they must graduate (from any high school) in the spring of 2025.

I've never done anything like this before, so I'm figuring it out as I go, but my friend has been really helpful.  I hope to be able to announce the successful formation of The Newtown 2025 Fund in early January, and to give you the chance to help me establish it, and to help spread the word about it.  If you're reading this right now, I won't ask you to promise a contribution, but will you commit to help me tell others, and to pray for this project?

Affirmation Project:  This may sound like a cop-out, but today I just want to send an affirmation to all of you.  This month has been so full of friends who have contacted me to encourage me or to say that they have enjoyed following Project Advent.  Christmas can bring with it such a tide of emotions - it's a joyous time of year, but so many of us also contend with more difficult feelings, too.  If you see this, just know that I am thankful for you.  God made you wonderfully and fearfully.  Thanks for being a friend.
That's the end of Project Advent II!  Check back tomorrow for the wrap-up, OK?

Project Advent II, Day 23: The WE Fund


My friend Wyatt is a great guy.  He's a brilliant medical researcher, a great father, and a generous friend.  He and his wife Enusha have one of the most romantic stories of courtship ever.  She also works in medicine.  When the two of them were married, they started a non-profit organization called The WE Fund to promote scientific solutions to societal problems.

Here, from The WE Fund's Facebook page, is a description of their organization's goals:
The WE fund supports those who use basic science to provide the insight necessary to solve the most important human problems in development, research, and conservation.
Unfortunately, their website is offline right now, but I contacted Wyatt and he anticipates that it'll be back online in January.  Today, I dropped a check in the mail for The WE Fund.

Tomorrow's it - the end of this year's Project Advent.  I'm kind of coming down to the wire on preparing for what I'm working on, but I really, really hope it comes together.

Affirmation Project:   There's a girl whose family goes to our church, and she occasionally works in the nursery.  As I was walking down the hall to get the kids this morning, she got excited and said, "I never knew that you and Mrs. Lewis are brother and sister!"  My sister, Kristen, used to be a counselor at a junior high here in Lubbock, and is working her first year in a high school this year.  This girl had seen a picture of my kids in Kristen's office, and put things together when she asked about it.  I'm proud of you and the difference that you make in your students' lives, Kristen.  It makes me proud when they associate me with you!


Project Advent II, Day 22: Helping the Mullins


You may remember a week and a half ago, I asked for your help with today's project.  My original goal was to find somebody who needed a number of household repairs and tasks done, and to help them out with that.  It turns out that finding somebody for that was much harder than I had anticipated!  But earlier this week, my wife's cousin Chad called me with a suggestion.

Chad owns a few rental homes, and told me the story of Mr. and Mrs. Mullins, who live in one of them.  They're a retired couple on a fixed income, and he has battled with cancer for the last several years.  They believed it to be in remission, but it has returned.  Mrs. Mullins has some back trouble, which makes it difficult for her to do certain things around the home.  Chad told me that they've always kept the place really nice, and have always been fantastic tenants.  The home is in good repair, but their health troubles have made certain cleaning tasks really difficult for them.

The project took on a different direction.  Instead of repairs, we'd be doing cleaning.  This morning, Chad and his daughter Halle met us at the Mullins' home, both of us armed with cleaning supplies.  A few minutes later, my friend Amy Johnston showed up with her three daughters (and one of their boyfriends, too!).  The next hour and a half was a whirlwind of Swiffers, bleach wipes, magic erasers, mops, Windex, and dust cloths.  Chad and Halle worked outside to tidy up the yard some.  Amy and I focused on the kitchen, scrubbing down the cabinet fronts and counter tops.  Blake and one of Amy's daughters took turns on the Swiffer, while another of her girls cleaned the glass in the front door.  Amy's oldest daughter and her boyfriend cleaned the bathroom until it shone.

And you know?  I really have to brag on all of our kids today.  All of them just got out of school for the Christmas holiday yesterday, and they've got their whole break ahead of them.  It's a Saturday morning.  There's a million things they could be doing, but instead of doing any of those things, they are with us in the home of somebody they don't know, doing a great job of cleaning.  I was so proud of them all, I thought I would burst.

I was dusting the many family photos that hung in the Mullins' living room, and Mr. Mullins came in and said, "Careful, now!  Those are my trophies."  And as he said it, he stopped to look at a picture of his grandkids and his whole face was covered with a smile.

While we were wrapping up, Chad's wife Heather arrived with a trunkload of groceries for the Mullins.  We unloaded them and put them away, and Mr. Mullins told us that he had never had anybody do this much for him before.  Chad thanked him for giving all of us the chance to bless him today.

Today wasn't the project that I had imagined, but it ended up being something even better.  Merry Christmas, Mr. and Mrs. Mullins!

Affirmation Project:  I was surrounded by so much generosity today.  Chad, who set this up, and who has done other things to help the Mullins.  Heather, who shopped for them.  Amy and her kids, who gave their time to come and help us out.  My friend Ann, who didn't feel well enough to join us today, but who contributed a gift card for groceries.  My mom, who overwhelmed me with an unexpected act of kindness.  Thank you, everybody.

Project Advent II, Day 21: Snacks for All Saints Teachers


Short and simple one today.  We actually signed up to do this at the start of the school year, but each Friday a different parent brings snacks up to All Saints for the teacher's lounge.  Today was our turn.  I made pigs in a blanket, and picked up fresh bagels from Einstein Brothers.  It looked like they were a hit!

The rest of the day was really nice, too.  Blake went home with a friend to play for the afternoon, so I got to have a daddy-daughter lunch date with Ava.  I told her I'd take her anyplace in Lubbock.  She chose Chik Fil A.

Affirmation Project:  My cousin Aaren - geography meant that we couldn't be as close as we would have liked when we were growing up, but you've become such a valued part of my life, it's like we've made up for all of that lost time.


Project Advent II, Day 20: Saint Benedict's Chapel


My friend Courtney got in touch with me after I worked at the Sick Children's Clinic earlier this month.  It turns out that she is now the full-time financial administrator for Second Baptist Church, the church that sponsors the clinic.  She invited me last year to work an evening at Saint Benedict's, because Second Baptist also does that every Thursday night, and she was getting in touch to renew the invitation for this year.

They start serving the meal at 5, which is when I get off of work.  Fortunately, St. Ben's is only about a quarter mile from my office, so I hopped in the car and booked it over there as quickly as I could.  When I got there, the tables inside were already completely full, and most folks had already had a first serving of food.  However, there were still seconds to be served, and a crowd of people waiting outside for seats to open up so that they could come in and eat.

Last year, I waited tables, taking food out to people and picking up their plates when they were done, or bringing them more food if they wanted more.  This year, I stood in the assembly line and helped make plates.  The first two people put meatloaf and green beans on the plate, I added potatoes, Courtney topped them with gravy, and the last volunteer added bread.  It was fun!  We caught up on the last year, talked about what's been going on in our lives, and just enjoyed each other's company.

The hour passed quickly.  I thought about how many of these projects have involved feeding hungry people.  It makes me glad that there are places like this where people can get a meal.  It makes me glum to think that in 2012 in America there are still so many people who need a meal.  Tonight, though, I also thought of a scripture that I haven't thought of in a long time, Hebrews 13:1-2.
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Affirmation Project: Mark, I'm really proud of you for the new job that you started this year, and for the way that you're always there for my kids.