The art of storytelling: 4 explanations why the HIMYM finale was hated by many and loved by few

THERE ARE SPOILERS IN THIS BLOG. DON’T READ IT IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE FINALE.

“Aunt Lily wasn’t wrong. It was at times long, difficult road. But I’m glad it was long and difficult.  because if I haven’t gone through hell to get there the lesson might not have been as clear. You see kids, right from the moment I met your mom I knew I have to love this woman as much as I can, as long as I can, and I can never stop loving her, not even for a second. I carried that lesson with me through every stupid fight we ever had, every 5 AM Christmas morning, every sleepy Sunday afternoon, every speed bump, every pang of jealousy or boredom or uncertainty that came our way, I carried that lesson with me. And I carried it with me when she got sick. Even then in what can only be called the worst of times, all I could do was thank God. Thank every god there is or ever was or will be and the whole universe and anyone else I could possibly thank that I saw that beautiful girl on that train platform and that I had the guts to stand up, walk over to her, tap her on the shoulder open my mouth and speak.”

Classic Schmosby.

Or was it UN-classic Schmosby? So many people are talking about how the characters weren’t true to themselves, how the writers valued big emotional stunts over good storytelling. They hated how the story between Ted and Tracy didn’t have more screen time, and how their one interaction at the train station was the only thing that felt genuine. This is just what I’ve heard from other blogs and seen from Twitter. Here are my explanations for why there was such a polarizing effect from the final episode. 

Before I jump in though, you need to understand something about storytelling. Ted is the author of this story, so the stories he chooses to tell and how he chooses to tell them are INCREDIBLY significant. Ok, so here we go:

1. The characters didn’t develop.

We spent 9 years watching these characters grow and develop, almost always seeing them in their “real time” environments, i.e. when it was 2007 in real life we were watching them in 2007. We connected with at least one of the archetypes and that kind of became “our character”, and no matter what happened we always rooted for that person. We loved everyone else too, because all the characters together usually made “our” character happy. That’s what sitcoms do, they help us slide into the roles of the characters even if everything they do isn’t what we would do. People felt like the characters “blew up” (thanks for giving language to this, Chris) in the last episode, meaning all of their character development in the previous episodes of the season were tossed aside for their traditional, typical roles. Particularly, Barney went back to being a womanizer and Robin went back to being unable to commit. 

What I think: I both agree and disagree with this. Some of the characters did indeed blow up, heading back to their previous archetypes, Barney being the prime example. But I think there was a reason for that. We all wanted Barney to change permanently for Robin, to show us there was a different side of him. But, he wasn’t able to do that, because in reality Barney never changed. No woman could ever make him change, even Robin. He made promises before he was about to get married, just like all married couples do. “I’ll change who I am, I swear. No more this, no more that.” But the harsh reality is that people don’t always change, even when they promise they will. What finally caused Barney to change was the birth of his daughter, and as every father knows, nothing causes change like being responsible for another life. Yesterday, a friend told me that since the birth of my daughter three months ago, that I “look more grown up.” I understand why Barney changed not at the hands of any lover or woman… but by the eyes of a baby girl. And I, personally, loved that moment. 

2. Ted was still in love with Robin. 

I’ve been seeing “How I met the woman who I loved more than your mother” and “How I was in love the whole time I was married to your mother” and things like that all over the Twitterverse (Twittersphere? Tweeterdome?). People hated how it felt like Robin was actually “the” girl and Tracy was just the runner up. Ted’s wife was the one who got there at the right time and captured Ted’s heart. For so long, we wanted the love story to culminate in how Ted met Tracy, but we didn’t “wind up” with that. 

What I think: Ted was not in love with Robin while he and Tracy were married. In fact, you see them interact even when he and Tracy are married. They don’t flirt, they don’t reminisce about times they used to be together… they just see each other, he tells the gang, and that’s that. You see, when Ted met Tracy, he fell in love with her instantly. They had the spark, they both knew it, and all of their past melted away. Tracy even said under the umbrella that she just knew. Every scene of Tracy and Ted together is perfect in every way. The reason is because that’s how Ted sees it. Remember, Ted’s telling these stories from memory, and he doesn’t always tell them exactly the way that they happened. He adds flair, exaggerates, forgets certain details, adds the details in later… And that’s what he’s doing with Tracy. He’s framing them in such a way that the stories are perfect. He doesn’t tell stories about them fighting or breaking up or being mad at each other. He paints a fairytale picture of his wife, because as he’s telling the story 6 years after her death, he’s telling it as a fairytale that ended too soon. His “one” was now gone. Ted was completely in love with Tracy, but that story ended. In telling the whole story, he remembered how much he loved Robin before he met Tracy… and wanted to try to love again. 

3. Tracy Died. 

I don’t think a single soul liked this part of the show. Everyone was upset that it wasn’t played out and that she wasn’t given more screen time or explanation as to why she was sick or why she died, some even going to far as to call her a “macguffin”, a plot device to frame the story of Ted and Robin. 

What I think: I didn’t like that she died either. It was sad. I understand that everyone is upset with the writers for “making” her die, but that’s just the thing. People, even people we don’t want to, die. The fact that she got sick might be a plot device, but I think that’s just the way that life goes. See, Ted isn’t telling the grieving tale of her death, because he’s already grieved. It’s six years after she died when Ted’s telling the story, so as much as we want to hear the story of his wife’s passing, we have to remember that he’s telling the story to his kids. They know the story of how their mom died; they were there. They have already dealt with and moved on from the tragedy. It’s not that the writers put any less importance on the event than they should… it’s that Ted wouldn’t go into details about the way in which Tracy died with his kids, who were present for that event. The kids would’ve already heard all the stories pertaining to their mother as they were growing up because Ted (and Tracy) are storytellers. So Ted sums those parts up, knowing they’ve already experienced it. 

4. The ending felt contrived. 

This goes back to #1. People don’t like Ted’s character being disingenuous for going back to Robin, because they felt like he was actually in love with her the whole time when he should’ve been in love with his wife (see #2). The Blue French Horn was predictable. Robin wouldn’t have appreciated Ted doing that, and people hated that it felt like the story was all about Robin, not Tracy.

What I think: This is exactly what was supposed to happen. I kept hearing that it meant that Ted was in love with Robin the whole time, but I disagree. Ted was in love with his wife (see #2) but it’s been six years since her death. Ted was ready to get back into the romanticism of life, because that’s who Ted is. He’s always been hopelessly romantic, and his story is a way of justifying to himself that it’s ok to try to be with Robin. After all, they had been through so much together, but the timing was never right. Robin even said, “If you have chemistry, you only need one other thing.” To which Ted replied: “What’s that?” “Timing”, Robin answers. Ted knew they had chemistry. And after six years, it’s ok to remember something you once had. It doesn’t mean that he and Robin were in love the whole time… it means they had history, a history that might be able to work out. Ted needed to try again, because that’s who Ted is, at his core. He always tries, always makes a big show… even if it might not work out. And at this point, something already has worked out, run its course, and finished. The viewer shouldn’t punish Ted for wanting to love again. We’re supposed to be excited for him, because he’s moving forward. And I think that’s what Tracy would’ve wanted for Ted… for him to be happy. 

All in all, I think we have to remember that this is a story within a story and that Bob Saget… Uhh, I mean, Ted Mosby is the storyteller. When you look at everything through his eyes, it all makes sense. It would’ve been a different show if it was “How Ted met Robin” or “How Your Uncle Ted met his wife.” The point of the show wasn’t to display the relationship between Ted and Tracy. The point was to show that Ted had moved on and was ready for another relationship… with Robin. But he needed to know that his kids would be ok with it, so that’s (unconsciously) why he told the story in the first place. 

And if you don’t like that ending? That’s fine. But I did. Ted did exactly what I think his character would’ve done. And it made me happy. 

Classic Schmosby.  

5 things that parents don’t realize (x-post from my other blog)

Parenting is hard. That’s a sentiment that a lot of parents feel, I’m sure. I’ve only been a dad for two and a half months, and it’s already challenging! Amazing, but challenging. The benefit of being a youth pastor and a dad is that I get to watch a lot of teenagers grow up before I watch my own do the same.

My cardinal rule in youth ministry is “Every student is different”, so I can make all the generalizations I want in this blog. But when it comes down to it, parents don’t know a lot about their kids. Usually, it’s because they’re trying to blanket them with some solution that Dr. Phil said would fix all their problems, like discipline or positive rewarding or whatever. So, while I’m no Dr. Phil, I think I might be able to start giving you some solutions to your scenarios, starting with #1… 

#1: Your kids are not problems. 
Sometimes I hear parents say these words: “problem child.” I cringe every time I hear them. You’ve got to be aware that the moment you start treating your child like a problem that needs to be diagnosed, you take all the humanity right out from them. Instead of treating your child like she needs a cure, you need to be aware that she is a human being with needs, a personality, and emotions just like you are. And while she may not have them all figured out (like you, the always wise and perfectly put-together parent), she still deserves to be treated with dignity, not  behavioral prescriptions. 
For example: If your 8 year old is acting out in class and gets detention (or whatever it is that kids get these days… a red balloon instead of a green one?), don’t immediately try to diagnose the problem. “Detentions (or red balloons) are bad, therefore I must make good things come out of my child instead of bad things.” Instead, talk to your child about their life. This is something you should be doing from an early age anyway. Ask specific questions: Do you enjoy when you learn about history? What’s your favorite lunch food? Are your feelings hurt while you’re at school? Are you tired, or bored in class? More often than not, if you have been listening to the stories that they tell about when they were at school, you’ll find the solution. BUT REMEMBER, that’s not the point. The point is to know and understand your child like a human being.

#2: Talking isn’t enough.
This is the one that’s really hard for me. We talk at our kids. We talk at our kids A LOT. But that isn’t enough to get them to understand the dangers of smoking, or to get them to participate in church. In addition to talking, what you need is: 

a. Conversation – have a dialogue with them. Don’t just say words at them. Communicate. Let them respond. 
b. Modeling – Your kids will do what you do. If you tell them not to get drunk and then get yourself plastered every night, don’t expect them to listen when you tell them to stay away from booze. 
c. Quality Time – Sometimes you just need to be with your children to show them that you love them. Read them a book. Play with their toys. Interact with them on their level. Play board games with them. Take them out for Ice cream, just one on one. You’d be surprised what spending time with your kids will do with your relationship.

When your kids start seeing what kind of life you lead and the things that you do, they will either respect you or not. You’ve got to be aware what kind of life you’re leading, and what you’re showing your kids is important in life. And they will hate you if you are the most important person in the room. Which leads to:  

#3: Teenagers don’t automatically hate you.
I know this is a weird one, because it felt like one day, all of the sudden, your teenager flipped a switch and wanted more to do with their phone than they wanted to do with you. They may even say things like “I hate you!” and then storm in to their rooms and slam the door. Human beings are designed with reason behind them. Unless your child is a complete sociopath (in that case, these won’t help and you should seek counseling immediately… no joke here), there are reasons that your child feels the way he does. That’s right, boys have feelings too, even if they don’t want to admit it. Usually, the reason they lash out is because they feel hurt. And what you have to understand about your child is even if you don’t think that their hurt is valid, EVERY CHILD’S PERCEIVED HURT IS VALID AND SHOULD BE ADDRESSED. It’s not ok to pretend that your child’s first heartbreak isn’t a big deal just because you’ve had a few yourself. A child’s hurt is very real to them, as it is possibly the only thing occupying their minds at the time. You need to be there, as a parent, to not only hear but understand your child’s emotional needs. Every child has a story. There is almost always some way in which they were hurt by one person or another. More often than not, your teenager doesn’t hate you, he just really hurts inside and has to take it out on someone… and statistically, you’re the one who spends the most time with him, so it’s probably going to be you. And there are times you need to be ok with that, to look deeper, and see the pain that has been caused in your child’s life. No one likes to see their child hurt, but people like even less to be hurt by their child. But it’s not always your fault. And sometimes, your child just needs some time, and then they will come and apologize to you. And then rainbows will shoot out their butt and the whole house will smell like gingerbread and unicorns. Just kidding. But seriously, Sometimes time is what’s needed for you child to heal. But always remember that when you experienced hurt, all you wanted was for someone to be there for you. Be that someone. 

#4: Your child needs other adults in their life. 
This is the really difficult one for those helicopter parents. Oh, you don’t think you’re a helicopter parent? I can answer that in one simple question: What percentage of your time outside of school and extracurriculars do your kids spend with you? If the answer is over 95%, you’d better get your pilot’s license. 
Your children need to spend time with other adults THAT YOU TRUST. I wouldn’t just go handing off my kid to strangers, but one of the things I’m looking forward to doing is being able to have my daughter spend time with other upstanding, wonderful adults who I respect. And that starts early, by the way. Have other adults spend time with your child as a baby, an infant, and on through the developmental list. Plus, if they get really attached it’s like free childcare… anyway, what I’m trying to say is that your child is going to need a mentor, and that should be someone other than you. If your child gets only your perspective throughout their life, they’ll miss out on some of the things other people have to teach them (which is impossible because you’re not only a wise and perfect parent, but you also know everything). Think about the kinds of adults you want to have around your kids, then let them be around those people. Let them take them out for playdates or coffee or movies. It’ll be fun for them and you’ll be amazed at the difference in their attitude towards you.

And finally, #5: Your child will make the same mistakes you did. 
This is what every parent does not want to happen. But it will. And your role when it happens is twofold: grace and boundaries.

Give your child grace, and tell them that you love them no less because they made a mistake. Tell them you understand and that you made the same mistakes when you were a kid. Part of growing up is learning from the dumb things you’ve done. Love them just where they are. 

And then, set boundaries for them. If they made a mistake, help them to set boundaries so they don’t make the same mistake again. If your daughter slept with her boyfriend and she feels bad about it, help her to set boundaries in such a way that they aren’t alone in compromising situations again. If you work with her, she’ll feel like she owns the boundaries rather than them being superimposed by some force which doesn’t want her to “have any fun.” This, again, starts early. Help your child to learn from their mistakes and give them guides so they can set their own boundaries. This is not an easy one, but it will make a huge difference. 

What do you think? Parents, did you know any of these before reading this blog? Students, am I right in saying your parents should treat you this way? Do I need to wait until I have my own teenager to talk? 🙂 Let me know in the comments what you thought! 

   

Studies show that articles you agree with are no longer subject to skepticism.

You, there, with the opinions. Yes, you! Have you noticed that the articles you’ve been posting on facebook are alarmingly biased? Just last week you posted how guns need to be banned completely because of some crappy “news” article. Or what about the post backed by a conservative site that says “guns need to be in the hands of every American Citizen because how else will we protect ourselves from the terrorists”? Remember that article you posted saying vaccinations for your child are going to make their organs turn to liquid and seep out of their pores, and then someone posted on your wall that if you don’t vaccinate your kids the bubonic plague will come back?

Oh, you don’t remember doing that? Well, I do. I remember thinking to myself, “What is the world coming to when people trust a third-party news source just because they agree with the headline? I thought we lived in a world of proof, where there needed to be tangible evidence in order for a decision to be made. Well, I guess not. As long as someone feels like their opinion is validated, I guess it doesn’t matter what people post”.

It’s amazing how little we think when it comes to our “sacred” values. We’ve usually got one, two, sometimes even three ideals that if someone says something that remotely agrees with your point, all other logic goes out the window in favor of some shred of support. See, a little bit of skepticism is actually a healthy thing. When you see an ad that says “You could win five ker-jillion dollars!!!!!!!1! Just put in your credit card nummer right hear!1”, you probably should be a little skeptical. But, suddenly there’s an article that says “Eating the fruit of the juju mojo plant sheds fat like a biggest loser competitor!”, and you eat it up. Haha. Puns.

Clearly, there’s hyperbole in this post. Also clearly, this doesn’t happen on a lot of mediums outside of facebook (maybe twitter). But the fact is that people do post stuff like this.

The people writing these kinds of articles usually do it for one reason:

Yes, because they sincerely agree with the premise of their article and have done the proper research on the topic.

WRONG.

Money.

Don’t become the kind of person who willingly increases the ad revenue of sites that put out bogus news stories for the sole purpose of making a quick buck or getting you to believe that this ludicrous piece is actually true so that you post it to more friends who then end up giving them more money through ad clicks (The Onion excluded… that site is hilarious and well written). You have to be aware of your surroundings, and that includes the internet. End the cycle of mis-information: check your sources first.

Now don’t get me wrong, everything that comes from primary news sources aren’t infallibly accurate. What I’m saying is that you’ve got to question your articles, at least a little bit, before hitting the “share” button. Are you posting this because it supports one of your “causes”? Are you posting it because its arguments obliterate the other side? THINK before you post.

The 7 things new parents need

My wife and I just had our first baby a week ago… and what a week it was! For some reason, we’re both pretty tired. People helped prepare us for the physical aspects of being parents: wipes, diapers, nursing stuff, bottles, blankets, swaddlers, etc. And of course, we’re incredibly grateful for that; it would be much harder without this stuff. The advice came flowing in too: sleep when the baby sleeps, feed her when she’s hungry, cherish the time. Which, again, we’re grateful for. But I wish people would have told me the seven things that we really, really needed. So without further ado, here they are:

Number 1: A sense of humor
This one’s a no-brainer. When you’re changing a diaper, put a clean one on, and then she starts to pee? Sure, it can be frustrating. But really, it’s hilarious. How many times did you pee on your parents? And, if you don’t laugh, you do get frustrated. Which is the number one thing you don’t want to do with your baby.

Number 2: Kindness
When you bring breakfast (even if they’re pop tarts) up to bed for your wife who is nursing the baby… it doesn’t go unnoticed. Small, kind gestures are what keeps spouses smiling when tempers could be flaring.

Number 3: Persistence
You will do the same thing over and over again. Taking bags of milk from the fridge to the freezer, changing diapers, nursing/bottle feeding, changing diapers, burping the baby, and did I mention changing diapers? You’ll think that you’ll never change a diaper again, but you’ve got to persist. You’ve got to keep going, for baby and your spouse.

Number 4: Support
It takes a village. Maybe not because of how many people it takes to teach her, but because you’ll need sleep. Breaks. And time to reflect on what just happened to your life… which is changed forever. Support helps you do that; and they’ll feed you too, so that’s nice.

Number 5: Understanding
Baby will cry. Your spouse will snap at you. It’s really not their fault. They’re both tired. The baby is just communicating with you. You have to understand that when your wife says “WILL YOU JUST PLEASE DO THIS NOW” she needed to get your attention. When your hubby said “I’m tired and need to nap” even though he slept while you nursed all night, you have to understand that he’s tired too.

Number 6: Patience
Patience is the second most important thing that all new parents need. You will wake up at one in the morning. You will wake up at three in the morning. You’ll wake up at four thirty in the morning. IF you are lucky, you might then get to sleep until seven. But you MUST be patient with baby. Take deep breaths. Close your eyes, remember why you’re doing this in the first place… then change that diaper like you mean it.

And finally, number 7: Love.
When you really, truly love your baby and family, all the above things will fall into place. Love takes work; it isn’t easy to look your baby in the eyes after she’s woken you up for the fifth time that night, smile, and say “I love you.” But those three little words put the whole experience in perspective. You see, love isn’t about you. It’s about others. And when you fully love others, you step outside of the immediate situation: the exhaustion… the crying… the drained emotions… the frustration… and you look at the moment as a whole. An opportunity to share your love with someone who needs you. An over-arching promise that you will love your baby no matter what… whether they wake you up for the fifth time when they’re a week old, or the first time they sneak out at fourteen. You must promise to always love your child, no matter what.

And that’s what advice I’d give to anyone about to become parents. That, and sleep when the baby sleeps. Seriously, it makes the whole parenting thing easier!!

What other things do new parents need that can’t be bought?

This is me writing this post with my daughter:

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The Power of “Thank You”

Thanksgiving is upon us!

So are the obligatory blog posts about giving thanks. But I’d like to turn the stereotypical idea on its head. When we’re in “Thanksgiving” mode and someone asks us what we’re thankful for, I’d wager that the responses range from “my family” to “not being dead this year”. And, if you’re harboring a teenage boy at home, the answer is “turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy…”

The reason I bring up thanksgiving is not just because it’s in a couple days. The reason I bring us thanksgiving is because I don’t think we do it right.

No, not the holiday.

When was the last time you actually gave thanks for something, as opposed to just saying “thank you”? There’s a difference.

Lemme ‘splain.

This past weekend, I was at a conference put on by Youth Specialties, an organization dedicated to my field, youth ministry. I spent around 35 hours gleaning wisdom from  people significantly smarter and more experienced than I am. Atypically, this work conference was quite personal. Although many of the people who held stage presence didn’t really interact with me personally, there were those in attendance who got to spend time with them. The organization’s character qualities and care for the well-being of each attendee was apparent. During the last day of the conference, I sat alone at lunch. Not long after receiving some biscuits from the sweet Tennessee waitress, a man sat down at the table next to me. We introduced ourselves, exchanged pleasantries, and began to talk. I quickly found out that he was Jim Hancock, the writer of a book I had just picked up at the conference called “How To Volunteer Like a Pro.” Jim is also instrumental in Youth Specialties and the planning process of the conference. It seemed natural in the moment to thank him for the book he wrote, as well as everything that he and those participating in the convention had done. He looked grateful, as if thanking him for what he had done was the greatest thing anyone had ever said to him. He was so moved, in fact, that he wanted me to communicate my sentiments with the staff of the conference. He invited me to share the thankfulness that I displayed on video, so that the staff of the conference would be encouraged.

That video, along with the time I got to spend with Jim, was one of the most powerful moments of my life. I thought it was because I said, “Thank you.” But it was more than that. I said that it was great to have a whole staff of people caring about each individual at the conference. Their attitudes were amazing, and they worked so hard to make sure everything went well. They gave it everything they had. When I mentioned this, Jim’s head nodded, he laughed, he smiled.

I think that those moments displayed to me the power of gratitude.

I’m not talking about blowing smoke, here. I’m not talking about just telling your mother that you’re thankful for her. Or that you’re thankful for turkey.

Why are you thankful?

You’ll find that when you think about why you’re thankful for what you have, your gratitude is much more sincere. 

“I’m thankful for my Dad”

Why? What has he done for you? “Dad, thanks for being my dad. You’ve given everything to me that you could. No one’s a perfect father, but the fact is that you tried… and you admitted your mistakes. When you did that, it taught me a valuable lesson about owning up to my actions and being a responsible dad myself.”

See? Isn’t that different from “Thanks for dinner, dad”?

And yet, that’s not even the full power of gratitude.

You know what the power of gratitude is?

Action.

You see, I almost missed it. The reason that Jim was excited about my thanks wasn’t just because of the words I was saying… it was that I took time to act on it. Sure, I could’ve said thank you and that could’ve been it. Or… I could show it.

There is no world in which real gratitude does not lead to action. If you’re truly thankful, you will thank your mom, tell her why you’re thankful, and help do the dishes. Gratitude is truly real if you actively respond.

I found myself telling my wife “thank you” a lot before I left. But when I got home from the conference, I started to show her more through what I did. I did dishes. I spent time with her when I wanted to play video games. I sacrificed. And she started to see that I meant my “thank you’s”.

Saying thank you is not bad… it’s just polite. My challenge to you this thanksgiving, is not to be polite. I challenge you to make your “thank you’s” powerful. Give them meaning. Tell people why. Show people why. If you show how thankful you are, you’ll be surprised the way they respond.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The value of experience

Our society puts a tremendous amount of value on experiences.

Anywhere you go on the internet you can see reviews of one thing or the other. Restaurants, hotels, cars, you name it; it has a review. Experiences are precious to our culture. For a humorous albeit childish example, check out the Amazon reviews for Haribo Gummy Bears.

In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called “Epistemology”. The branch that deals with experience is called “empiricism” – this is what we know through experiences. In high school, I was taught that there are four other branches of epistemology as well. So then, why does it seem that empiricism is the ultimate tool to gain knowledge? In other words, a poor experience with an object completely destroys the way we receive information on that object… or that belief system… or that person.

When I walked into the hospital where my daughter will be born, I began an experience I won’t soon forget. It was just a simple tour of the Maternity wing so that we knew where to go when the big day arrives. The motherly-voiced woman who led us around told us all about the facility, what mom and dad will do once they arrive, and what kind of things to expect. That was lovely, but it was an interesting method of information. She was telling us about a future experience. In that moment, we had not experienced the labor would bring us to the Hospital. Yet, one of the husbands asked if there was a way to reserve one of the rooms that had a window, because he wanted to make sure that they got one. Needless to say, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that he was focused on something so petty. I thought, “this is where the birth of your firstborn child is going to take place, and you’re concerned about the room arrangement.”

Well, of course he is.

Because experience is valued above all else.

I didn’t think about the window situation at all, before it was brought up. I’ve been told I’m “in my head” a lot… and that night was no exception. I was too busy wrapped up in the idea that my wife was going to birth our child in the next few months. I envisioned standing next to her, holding her hand while she felt the pain of childbirth. I envisioned my little girl being pushed down the hallway in the bassinet, looking up at me… her dad. And I was overwhelmed with the thought of being a father for the first time.

And of course I was wrapped up in all that.

Because my experiences are valued, but not as much as wholeness.

You see, experience is just one piece of the puzzle. There’s a lot of things that are happening in each moment that you can’t experience if you’re too focused on experiencing them. That’s why I didn’t care about a window. I care about my wife. I care about everything going smoothly in the delivery. I care about my future daughter. I care about meeting her for the first time.

The value of experience is decreased when wholeness is neglected.

We miss things when we value experience over wholeness. We forget about people, we devalue their experiences in favor of our own, and we lose sight of things bigger than ourselves. The birth of our daughter isn’t about me. It’s not about my wife. It’s about family, love, and seeing what the combination of those two can accomplish. It’s about bringing a life into this world that will, hopefully, care about wholeness as much as I do. I pray that my daughter will be the kind of person who cares about more than just herself. I certainly plan on modeling that for her.

 

7:22 – The time it takes to make a difference.

This video displays the story of Moriah Peters, a talented vocal artist who tried out for American Idol. Hear her story, then come back.

What are your emotions after this? Do you feel triumphant, or disgusted? Swindled of your time, or grateful for any encouragement?

My emotions, like yours, are never that black and white. I felt happy that she stuck to her guns and wouldn’t let the opinions of celebrity judges change her outlook. I was a little sad because they tried to stereotype someone who wasn’t trying to be perfect, but trying to be Godly. I was puzzled when she went from being on American Idol to being engaged. And, I was grateful. Because that’s the kind of girl i want my daughter to be like.

No, no… I don’t want her to have to save her first kiss until marriage (although…).

Over and over again, her conviction was: “Whatever you want, God.” “God has opened up the doors up until this point, but now he’s closed them.” “Your will be done.” “This is something powerful, this is something special… and I wanna be a part of it.”

This attitude is exactly the kind of attitude that I want to teach our little girl to have. This kind of attitude doesn’t happen overnight. This is a “write it on the doorposts”, all-life-long kind of teaching.

I admire her not because of what her convictions are. I admire her because she had them, and she knew why. So often, people act this way to attract attention to themselves…  because their parents said this is what they should do… because they read in some book that it’ll get them the kind of husband/wife they want.

But she is genuine. She chose her convictions because that is what God called her to do.

We see hundreds of examples of the kinds of people we don’t want to be like every day. They’re glorified in the daily media reports. Their scantily clad bodies are slathered on the front covers of magazines in the grocery store. How many countless hours while she’s watching TV, on the internet, or just plain walking around will she see female “role models” who shouldn’t be modeling anything for her character? “I slimmed down in 10 easy steps!” “Can you do sex sexier?” “One little tip to keeping your man interested!”

But for 7 minutes and 22 seconds, my daughter can see a role model who has the right attitude. “Not my will… but Yours be done.”

I wish everyone could live into God’s calling primarily because He called them. That’s what it’s all about! Don’t just do it because a life coach said you should, or celebrity judges rejected you, or you’d rather take the safe route… do it because God called you.

Are you doing what God has called you to do right now? If so, how do you know? If not… why aren’t you? Have you talked to God about what you’re called to do? Because chances are God has talked to you, and you might’ve missed it. You might’ve even ignored it. Be warned: God doesn’t really let ignorance slide… apparently He’s kind of hard to ignore.

Moving words

I’ve moved to the grand metropolis of writers (with coffee shops sporting free wi-fi on every corner). The big names live in the heart of “Wordsburg”, creating the buzz that keeps the city creative, moving, and alive. I’m beginning to write Video game reviews for Jonathan Mckee’s Website, The Source For Youth Ministry. So, right now I live in the suburb where the new kids reside.  But instead of unpacking… because who really enjoys that… I went into the city.

I stumbled across Jon Acuff’s blog, which is a six-day old blog at the time of writing. However, Jon had done some incredibly successful blogging in the past with “Stuff Christians Like”, or SCL for short. His blog posts were poignant, thoughtful, and heartfelt… and so funny it made my abs hurt. His new blog’s post that stuck out to me the most was the one where he talked about how there was history to his blogging. He was worried about starting over, and if his new writing would live up to the fame of his previous blog. The post is called “Day Zero“, and you should definitely give it a read.

But what happens when you don’t have anything to live up to? There aren’t many of you who have read anything by Anthony Livoti before. I have a blank slate to start with. A new house to fill with words; pictures of reality that I have painted over my short time on earth. There’s benefit to starting from scratch. You have nothing to live up to. No one’s expecting to see the most inspirational message they’ve ever read on the pages of a youth pastor’s blog they happened upon.

And I like that. Because instead of you as a reader expecting perfection, you will have the opportunity grow with me. You get to look and say, “wow, I really like the progression he’s made.” I mean, assuming you find your reading experience worthwhile. The truth is, this blog might not end up being read very much at all. WordPress has this cool thing where they tell you your “site stats”. The most readers I’ve had in one day is 50! It’s not like I’m affecting millions with perfectly crafted phrases and moving words.

But… at least I’m starting it. Starting is nerve wracking. The genesis isn’t always as smooth as it could be. As Jon put it in his Day Zero post, “The only thing harder than beginning is beginning again.” I think it’s hard to start because there are still a slew of technical, emotional, and actual writing issues to be worked out.

But I’d like to work them out with you all. So as you read, critique. Banter. Encourage. Constructively criticize, heck even flat out insult. I’ll have to learn how to handle all of these one day or another. So why not start now? Maybe one day you’ll sit down to a post, give it a read, and feel inspired to change, grieve, laugh, respond, write a song… or even mutter a simple “hmm.”

Wish me luck. Or better yet, pray for me. I hear that works well.

Processing the sidebar: Pre-Parental reaction to rampant sexuality.

We’ve all been there. We are reading an innocent article or blog post on the internet… and our eyes wander to the distractions on the side of the screen.

This happened to me the other day as I was reading on CNN.com about France being spied on by the NSA, and I couldn’t help but notice the thumbnails on the side of the page. “New fashion trend” in emboldened letters accompanied by black bars covering a bare-chested woman. “Social Media sex tape actually rape” with more black bars covering nudity. “Beach bodies – It’s always Sunny in Hollywood” supported by a picture of a star in a bikini.

I understand that CNN is trying to keep people on their page by slathering it with eye-grabbing images. This is no secret to me. But as I sat back and thought, “this is the internet that my daughter is going to be traversing”, I pondered. What happens when the advertisement of sexuality meets her eyes? How will that shape and form her understanding of her own body? Will she ever see herself as anything other than her figure?

It was fear that gripped me in it’s anxious hands. “What if? What if? What if?” it screamed.

But then I thought harder. It was so easy for me to think that the product of the media was going to impact my daughter’s outlook on the world more internally than my own teaching would. My fear was a reaction to seeing the blatant intent of a website to grab my attention, and assume that my daughter would not know how to respond to it.

But then I remembered what my job as a parent is.

Dr. Tim Elmore (author of “Habitudes”) has some amazing things to say about today’s generation, the generation he calls “iYouth”. These are the first generation of kids who don’t need their parents for information. What Dr. Elmore said was that, in fact, we are needed much more for interpretation rather than information.

I don’t think that I’m going to be teaching my daughter that “there are bad internet things out there, and she should stay away from bad things because bad things are bad.” And all too often, these are the things that I hear Christian parents doing. The other side of that is that there are parents who think “well, there’s no keeping it from them so let’s just let them watch / play / engage with whatever they want.” And that’s equally as silly. What I need to do, as a parent, is begin to help her process. The question isn’t whether she’s going to see the images. And the answer to the question of what to do when she does see those images isn’t “just let her figure it out”.

It’s having those conversations that too many parents don’t have. It’s asking the questions that parents don’t ask. And it’s talking to them about what most parents unconsciously do: analyze and filter.

When we are together, and situations that require analysis arise, I will have those conversations with my daughter. The Victoria’s Secret commercial. The “romantic comedy” we just watched. The inappropriately dressed man or woman that walks by.

“What do you think about what you just saw?”

I’m going to help her process. I’m going to help her question the things that she sees, and in doing so I’m going to build her ability to process information.

So, when my daughter sees thumbnails like the ones I saw today, I’d hope that the process by which she processes would form her opinion, not her knee-jerk reaction. Of course it’s appalling, of course it’s tasteless. But it’s more than that, too. It’s a reflection on the masses. “This is what is popular, this is what people will click on when they see it”. I’d hope that she will see what she sees and critically engage it rather than steer away or dismiss it altogether. Because the reality is that we’ll all see smut. And the question is:

“What do you think about what you just saw?”