Nov 9, 2010

National UnFriend Day

There isn't a category picture for this post because, really, it falls into most of them.  On November 3, Jimmy Kimmel proposed a new holiday.  November 17 is being known as National UnFriend Day.  On this day, he is urging people to unfriend some of the glut of friends they have accumulated on Facebook.  He makes some good points.  Friendship is a special thing that should be treasured.  Instead, Facebook has minimized the importance of that word by calling anyone who you know "a friend."  To help us identify "true friends," Kimmel came up with some questions.  Would you loan this person fifty dollars?  If you posted you were moving, would that person help?  If the answer is no, unfriend them.

I can understand the thought behind Kimmel's semi-serious rant.  I love Facebook.  It has allowed me to reconnect with people who I had lost track of over the years.  But there are tons of people that I don't really  know that well.  Right now, I have 650 friends on Facebook.  How many of those are "true friends?"  I have no idea.  I have people on that list from just about every major phase of my life.  There are people from my high school years - both my school and my church.  Then there are people from college - old Student Government friends, classmates, BCM pals.  I have people from the church at BCM I worked at in Tampa, people from our year in Orange Park, friends from our time up in here in Tallahassee.  And there are tons of people from Orlando - Apple coworkers, students from ICS, friends from church.  I also have a good number of ministers and students that I met at Defender Ministries appearances.  So, would I consider them all good friends?  Not at all.  In fact, some of them I don't know very well at all.

So, according to Kimmel and others who think his idea is super, I should jettison most of those people.  In a kind of funny twist, I had a completely different plan.  I had no idea about Kimmel's idea until yesterday. Instead, while I was driving down to Tampa this past weekend, I had a lot of time to think.  And I found myself drifting back into the dark vortex that a combination on loneliness, fear, and lack of adult interaction leads to.  At that precise moment, I honestly felt that I had nothing to offer anyone.  I was worn out and beat down.  It is a pretty ugly feeling, honestly. I was trying to think about how I have fought that in the past.

The greatest weapon to that feeling of emptiness and hopelessness, to me at least, is to try to minister to other people.  It is one of the great mysteries of life.  But, even when we are completely empty in our own tank, we can find fulfillment and refreshment by giving to others.  In those times when I allowed myself to be an encourager, an edifier, a positive influence I would always find myself better off as well.  This is part of God's plan for mankind.  We are not build to be loners.  We need each other to encourage and strengthen us.  In addition, we are built to need to provide that for others.  It seems a little strange - we need to give ourselves away to be truly full.  But, the big problem for me right now is that I don't have a whole lot of people to bless that way in person.  I am with the kids all day.  I don't know a lot of people up here in Tallahassee.  I could make food for Heather's study group at FSU.  I could call or email a few people I know here - maybe 10 or 15.  But it isn't what I was thinking.

As we were driving, I came up with a way to minister to others and told Heather my idea.  (And keep in mind that I had no idea what Kimmel had proposed at this point.)  I thought about the fact that I had these 650 Facebook friends.  I decided that I was going to begin reconnecting with every single one of them.  These people have all been brought into my life for a reason.  It may have been nearly twenty years ago in Mr. Trotsky's English class.  Or it may have been at a workshop four years ago in Ridgecrest, NC.  But that person still connected with me enough to create a Facebook link in the first place.  So, what better way to start this process?

Think about how much you love getting an encouraging note from someone?  I could give that to people.  I have the time to get on Facebook.  And writing is something that comes naturally to me.  So I could probably put together a few of these letters every day.  I don't mean write some lame cut and paste memo either.  I mean to write a personal letter - thanking the person, reminiscing about how that person is important to you, offering to pray for the person.  I thought it was a pretty good idea.  Of course, after the weekend I kind of suspected the idea would just float away like many others.

That was until I saw Kimmel's proposal.  I watched the clips from his show and read his twitter feed.  And I knew for sure that I needed to follow through.  Instead of removing people, I am going to try to minister to them.  I'm sure some people won't appreciate it or care.  They can unfriend me and we'll move on.  But I would wager that it will instead be something positive for a lot of people.  I'm not sure how quickly I'll finish this.  But I am going to get started as soon as I can.  So if you get a note from me at some point on Facebook, you'll know why.  And I hope it will make your day better.

Nov 4, 2010


Today is my mom's 65th birthday.  Over the years, I have written blog posts about my kids on their birthdays, and about my wife.  I have written several posts about Heather's grandparents.  But, as I went back through my posts, I realized that I have never actually written about my mom.  I've mentioned her, of course.  But she has never gotten her own posting.  That is an oversight that will be remedied right now.

Patricia Staples was born November 4, 1945 in West Palm Beach.  She was the third of five children born to George and Dorothy DeBay.  And she is an extraordinary woman.  Her life has never been easy.  She would probably be labelled unlucky in love by people who like tagging labels onto things. I know from personal experience that my father was not exactly a stellar selection.  They remained married until he died in 1999.  But their marriage was far from perfect, and our family was far from peaceful.  My dad was a quick tempered and intolerant man.  He was an alcoholic who, even though he quit drinking when I was a kid, always projected the stereotypical alcoholic behaviors.  Rage, irrational behavior, fighting.

It was all made worse when I was two and my mom became a Christian.  The added point of tension from differing worldviews created massive tension.  As a child and a teen, I always felt like the guys in Hurt Locker - trying to diffuse the bomb that was my dad.  He could go off at any instant and from any prodding.  You never knew what it was that would cause it.  It didn't have to make sense.  You could sit in the wrong chair, put the wrong sauce on your sandwich, say the wrong thing about the wrong athlete, not respond the right way.  It was like walking through a minefield.

Through it all, my mom was constant in where she stationed herself.  She was between us and him.  She was the human shield.  There were actually some times where literally she had to step in between him and one of us.  Most of the time, she placed herself emotionally in the middle.  She took the brunt of the blast.  I can't count the number of times that she stood there and diffused the explosion before it got to us.  It wasn't a passive action, either.  She would call him on his behavior.  Sometimes we would be like, "Shut up!  You're making it madder!"  But she didn't back down.  This little woman - a foot smaller than my dad and half his size - would stand right there and give it to him.

In addition to serving as a defense for us, she also was completely responsible to maintaining our home, coordinating the day to day activities, and teaching us.  When it came to issues of faith, she was the sole influence.  Actually, that isn't true.  She was the sole positive influence.  And she had to work extra hard to overcome the other point of view being presented.  She was a great example to us - both of strength in the face of adversity and of applying what you believe.  I have said many times that I would not trade my experiences growing up because it made me who I am.  I had to be sure about what I believed because I had to defend it every day to my dad.  It wasn't just a casual thing I decided to think one day.  It defined me - and it still does.  My mom exemplified this.

She also showed how important it was to always learn and read.  One of the most indelible images I have about my mother is her sitting in her chair at night reading.  She would have her Bible and a AW Tozer or Warren Wiersbe book in her lap.  She had a whole bookshelf full of books on the living room wall jammed full of books on theology, devotionals, and study guides.  She had topical Bibles, dictionaries, and concordances.  Seriously, her shelf was a loaded as most ministers' would be.  This example has stuck with me - and subsequently my kids.  We always have books around and are reading. I never depended on just what I learned in church.  I studied for myself.

Her generosity also was so amazing.  I remember all of the unbelievable things she did for us and our friends - just because she loved us.  She made me overalls when I was a little guy with Sesame Street characters on them.  In Kindergarten, she made cookies for my whole class that were made to look like each child.  She helped turn the garage into a rec center of sorts during our college years so we could have people come over.  Over the years, she made us toys, shirts, blankets, wall hangings to reflect things we loved.  And, one of the most amazing gifts she gave me was a full king size quilt for our bed - hand stitched and embroidered.

My mom also was our best friend.  I know there is the great debate over if parents should be their kids' friends.  I never wondered about her role.  Trust me.  She had no problem busting out the stick when we needed (which was frequently).  But she also was there when we needed her. We could talk to her about anything and everything.  I remember calling her when I was desperately homesick at camp in high school.  I spent many hours on the phone with her at college - dealing with frustration, loneliness, confusion, being mistreated.  When I first moved to Tampa, I distinctly remember calling her crying because I felt abandoned and wanted to leave.  Even now, during this new stage of life as a stay-at-home dad, I have relied on calling her and talking to her.  She has been an encouragement and source of strength.

We didn't always want that friendship.  I know that all of us went through periods where we pushed her away.  The phone conversations were short and terse.  We didn't want to talk and share.  And we certainly didn't want her advice.  And we could all be selfish jerks.  I remember her 45th birthday.  The kids were being so nasty to each other that she turned the car around and we went home.  She was so hurt.  It was a very special birthday to her (born in 1945, 45th birthday).  And we ruined it by being pains in the butt.  I would like to say that it was the last or only time that behavior happened.  But it wasn't.  Over the years, I have hurt her in so many ways.  But, every time I come back, she is right there.  That has taught me about God, as well.  He is willing to forgive and repair our relationship.  He never stops loving us.  My mom demonstrated that constantly.

I know that I am the man I am because of the mom she was.  I can never thank her enough for her example, her love, her teaching, her strength, her protection, her forgiveness.  Now I get the joy of watching my kids experience all of those things.  Gabe today was crying because he wanted to go see her today instead of tomorrow.  The kids sang happy birthday to her on the phone today with such glee and love.  They adore her and love their time with her.  We only wish it could be more often.  She isn't the same physically.  Her many health issues have robbed her of her ability to be as creative or involved. She is constant pain and distress.  But she still makes cookies with the kids when they come see her.  Or she paints with them or makes volcanoes.  That same person is there, reflecting God and radiating love.  It just is imprisoned by the frail body.

So, I would like to wish her a very happy 65th birthday.  Mom, thank you so much for being who you are.  Thank you for sacrificing for us, for protecting us, for teaching and guiding and disciplining us.  Thank you for loving us and praying for us.  Thank you for introducing us to God and for demonstrating how to live a life pleasing to Him.  Thank you for loving my wife and my kids.  Thank you for the many hours of phone calls.  Thank you for shedding tears with me and talking me off the proverbial ledge.  It has been a blessing to be your son.