Thursday, June 20, 2013

5 Sentences Every Father Needs to Hear

Reading to Jack back in Idaho

He flopped on the couch and flipped on the TV, exhausted from a long day at work. From his body language, I could tell my husband was even more worn out than usual from all the craziness that goes with putting officers into the Air Force. The NBA Finals were on, and I knew he couldn't wait to relax with his family for a few hours.

But two-year-old Jude, inspired, grabbed his little basketball. "Wanna play basketball outside with me, Daddy?"

I wouldn't have blamed Nick if he had said, "Not now, buddy, but maybe at halftime." Instead, he briefly closed his eyes, took a deep breath and hopped back up. "Sure," he smiled at Jude. "Let's go!" As they jogged away, he glanced back at me. "Go ahead and keep watching."

Jude may not have understood what just happened. But I did.

I just saw a real father in action.

Meeting Jude for the first time
I know fatherhood isn't exactly a hot trend at the moment. With one out of three children living in fatherless homes, millions of women are parenting solo. And while I am friends with and admire many single mothers, I am so grateful I'm not one of them. The statistics don't lie: kids living in fatherless homes experience higher rates of aggressive behavior, incarceration, suicide, teen pregnancy, drug use and other risky behaviors while simultaneously experiencing lower rates of education and steady pay, among other things (check out more fatherlessness stats here).

But beyond cold statistics, I know in my gut that fathers matter. Here's why: my own dad.
After the father/daughter dance at my wedding
My dad, though excellent, was nowhere near perfect when I was growing up. His high-stress, high-hours, high-intensity job often left him feeling drained and spread too thin, something I couldn't truly appreciate until I was out of the house. So sometimes his record as a patient, soft-spoken, gentle guy at home was less than stellar.

I was his first daughter after two sons, with a different temperament than my older brothers. Those two worlds often collided, leaving me with hurt feelings and hot tears. So my mom gave me an assignment: I was to write down every single thing that I liked about my dad.

At first, my teenage self chafed, but I begrudgingly obeyed and got to work. It was slow-going in the beginning, but then I picked up steam: he provides for us. He comes to all my games and recitals. His boisterous laugh. How everyone in the room turns to him in a crisis, and he comes through. How he grew up poor on a farm in the boonies but still managed to put himself through seven years of college and grad school, eventually becoming a well-respected attorney. His work ethic. How crazy he was and is about my mom. And so on, until that one page became a dozen.

Every time my dad and I didn't see eye-to-eye, I looked up that list. And my heart, though hurt, softened. Eventually, the entries showed my blooming maturity when I wrote things like, "He's letting me marry Nickolas Kupper." Today, here's what I love about my dad: he's an even better father to my younger siblings than he was to me. Plus, he's an awesome, hands-on grandpa!

Wrestling matches at Grandpa Dale's house can get pretty intense!
Nick has been a dad for more than five years now; my dad nearly 36 (sorry for the reveal, Shane). As a wife and daughter, I've seen the value of both men. It's immeasurable and irreplaceable, really. In other words, I need to do my part to make sure they know their worth.

I'm betting the father of your children and your dad aren't much different. Try one of these out and see their reaction:
  • I see the sacrifices you make, and I appreciate them. Nick and my dad don't have the same work ethic, true. Yet both have made deliberate choices in their careers, free time, friendships etc. to enhance their families above themselves. They need to know that those decisions have not gone unnoticed.
Nick and his little lady
  • I respect you. This one can be tough for a woman. After all, if we don't feel loved, we don't naturally give respect. And marriage and parenting experts have plenty to say on the subject. But flat-out, feeling respected is not optional for men; it's necessary.
Nope, it's not Jack at a vintage portrait studio -- it's my dad!
  • What can I do to help you? So maybe most dads don't face the exact daily grind as their stay-at-home wives, but that doesn't mean you (whether as a wife, mother or grandchild) can't be a blessing. Could you send them an encouraging or funny note/text/e-mail/card from time to time? Bring them their favorite candy bar at work unexpectedly? Find out their prayer needs and offer to cover some of them? Men don't always ask, but they need help just as much as the rest of us.

  • I love the way you___________.  My dad wasn't and isn't a perfect man, and neither is Nick. But they both are fantastic at several things. My dad is one of the smartest guys I know; Nick can fix almost anything; Dad's still got skills on the court; Nick would look hot in a Hefty sack. But more importantly, they have skills unique to them as fathers. My dad's protective instincts are legendary; Nick plays a mean game of "Beatup Time" with the boys; kids love it when my dad bounces them on his lap to "How do ladies go?"; Nick is incredibly sensitive to small children's needs. I used to merely think these things, but now I know better. Now, I make a point to say them out loud. It makes a difference!

Returning from deployment
  • No one can take your place in our child(ren)'s lives. This might be the most important. Society tells us today that dads aren't that important; that they are all as stupid as every sitcom portrays them to be; that their masculinity is old-fashioned and shameful; that they can be replaced by a celebrity or other cultural icon. But fathers are that important; they have talents and gifts that every society needs desperately; their manliness is a wonderful gift from the Creator; and they can't be replaced by anyone else.

    I was raised by a wonderful man and am married to a wonderful man (who also has a great dad, by the way!). I realize that's a modern rarity, and I'm not going to let it go to waste.

    I love my children so much that I'm going to do everything possible to give them the best chance at life. And that includes loving and supporting both their dad and grandpas... because fathers matter.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Failure Turned Inside Out

One year ago today, you probably don't recall exactly what you were doing. I do.

I was getting ready to learn, stretch and grow in spectacular fashion. I just didn't know it at the time.

Waking up in the 3:30 darkness, I paused for just a minute. The day I had been planning for -- race day! -- was finally here.

The dream had started out small, but like anything in my fertile imagination, had grown. I would take my two passions of running and social justice and combine them, putting on a 5k/10k charity race to raise money for Compassion International's Child Survival Program.

I spent 18 months planning Run for Compassion Salem -- more than twice as much time as I had spent planning my own wedding. I put hundreds and hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of hours into the website, finding sponsors, marketing, signing up runners/walkers, procuring prizes, etc. And things just clicked along. God removed one obstacle after another.

I just knew in my gut that the race was a God-thing. And I knew that June 16, 2012 would be my greatest triumph to date.

And in many ways, it was. We had aimed and hoped for maybe 150 runners, and if we were really lucky, 200.

We had more than 300.

I thought if everything went well, the race could raise $3,000 for impoverished mothers and babies all over the world.

We raised more than $6,000 -- enough to keep a CSP center running for several months.

From those numbers, the race was a stunning success, especially when you consider that it was founded and ran by a rookie race director who really was just a stay-at-home mom with no idea what she was doing.

And yet, from the moment people started showing up, things went wrong.

An unapproved race had taken place the day before, with gigantic, elaborate chalk drawings pointing racers in all the wrong directions. In the early-morning darkness, I grabbed the wrong can of spray paint -- non-washable -- and accidentally graffitied the whole park to try and frantically cover the wrong markings up.

Parking was limited. Registration was crowded. About 20 people got lost on the course. The dog park people yelled at our volunteers. Nick backed up a borrowed truck into a stranger's car -- after he had blown out the windshield of a borrowed golf cart. And once the post-race survey comments rolled in, it looked even worse. There literally was not a single aspect of the race that at least one person didn't complain about.

I locked myself in my room and sobbed for 2 days straight, emerging only the next morning to go to church, where I barely held it together long enough to pretend I was okay for all my friends. Once we got home, it was back to my papa san and salty tears and calling my best friend Rochelle so I could hiccup out more regrets. (Sorry about that, Celia. I really appreciate you taking over the house while I hid from the world!).

All I could think was FAILURE. I had planned, planned and planned some more, but obviously it wasn't enough.

For months, I couldn't even drive by Minto-Brown Park (the location of the race) without my heart rate flying high. I never brought up the race in conversation and quickly changed the subject if anyone else did. I was so deeply ashamed of the job I had done that I tried to erase it from everyone's memory...especially mine. The worst part was the nagging thought that perhaps the runners would never donate or be involved with Compassion in the future because of me and my failures. It was almost more than I could bear.

What if I had gotten to the park at 3 a.m. instead of 4? I could have had more time to erase the other 10k's markings, and maybe no one would have gotten lost. What if I had recruited more volunteers to direct people? What if I had gotten the right can of spray paint? (Thank you, Nickolas, for working for hours to scrub all those markings off by hand when I was too emotionally wrecked to do it myself). What if, what if, what if?

More than anything, I was confused. God, from the get-go, you've had your hand in this race, I prayed. You moved mountains for me. So what happened? Why did everything go wrong? Are you mad at me? Was this just to knock me down a peg or two? I just couldn't understand why so many things went wrong if it was in Jesus' plan all along for me to create and direct this race.

Months went by. My anxiety and embarrassment eased some. Yet I never stopped rolling those thoughts around in my heart.

And with the passage of one full year, here is what I have learned:

God uses both our strengths -- and weaknesses -- to glorify Him. In many ways, my personality perfectly lent itself to being a race director. However, it also lent itself to other things, as well: overconfidence, impatience, lack of context, etc. No matter. The Lord, with his infinite planning skills, can utilize both to accomplish his purposes.

My standing with God is not based on my performance. My love language is acts of service, so this is a toughie for me. In my humanness, I felt like God was disappointed in what I did or didn't do on June 16 and therefore loved me less. If you would have asked me beforehand, I would have given the proper Sunday School answer of "Of course God loves you no matter what!" But even I didn't know that I didn't truly believe that, and it took the race to bring that faulty belief into the light.

The ones who truly care are the ones who get out and do something about it. While sobbing through the phone to Rochelle, she gently pointed out that my biggest critics weren't the ones dealing with the race's 10,000 details. They were the ones who merely had to pay the $20 and show up on race day. "When people have the choice to get up off the couch and change the world," she said, "they don't always take it. You did. What's easier: organizing an event for several hundred people or typing in a complaint afterward?" She made her point.

Failure isn't always failure. Sometimes, it's a launching point. Since the race, I have made a very concerted effort to use my words in a more constructive manner. I'm quicker to praise (I hope) and slower to criticize, especially when it's someone trying to change the world for the better. 

I can look back at 6-16-12 without flinching now. It wasn't a perfect day. It was awful, and exhilarating, and revealing, and terrifying. Kind of like life.

I know what God was doing now: taking a dream in my heart and using it to raise money to make a tangible difference across the world, yes.

But also teaching me that in this life, you get lost on the course sometimes. You get overwhelmed by the twists of the race route and don't always make the right turn. You deal with some jeers from spectators, and even more from the inside. You trip and fall on the trail.

But you keep running, and keep praising the one who gave you breath to do it.

Which means, I guess, that it wasn't such a failure after all.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

She Didn't Tell Me...But I Know

I watered the blueberries and raspberries, grateful to be out of the house and away from the kids after a long day, even if only for a little bit. Hose in hand, I noticed my neighbor Carolyn in her sunroom across the fence. She lounged in a lawnchair, book in hand, enjoying the perfect evening temperature. Nearby, O.J. the cat (so named for his voluminous orange hair) purred contentedly. Every few minutes, Carolyn glanced over at Marlin, her husband of many decades, and smiled. He smiled back. Nearby, Arnie -- their beloved motorhome -- rested in the driveway, freshly unpacked from their latest adventure across the Pacific Northwest. Tomorrow, they would probably work in their yard, go to the gym, visit some friends for drinks, all on their own pace and schedule. Their two sons, grown and living across town, would most likely visit soon for dinner.

And in that moment, my hair matted with fresh spitup from Avinly, shin bruised from Jude's line drive and brain frazzled from questions such as "How does tape get made?" from Jack, I was insanely jealous.

Get a grip, Crystal, I told myself. You're seriously jealous of an old couple with gray hair and wrinkles? You would trade your fitness level, your smooth skin, your flat stomach and 50+ years of life for what you're seeing right now?

And immature, tired Crystal said yes, why yes I would.

Marilyn Monroe was NEVER this cute when the wind was blowing!

After a decent night's sleep, I changed my mind. I'll keep my smokin' hot, still-looks-like-a-college-student husband (well, technically he still is) and everything else that goes along with that. But still, the temptation remains: how not to wish away the hours, days, weeks and months from deep within the foxholes of motherhood. 

A few days later, my in-laws came for a visit. "You look fantastic," my mother-in-law told me. I started in with my usual line of "Thanks, but you should see me naked." But then I switched and let loose with how I really felt.

"I seem stuck at this one stupid weight," I complained. "Everyone tells me that I look great, but I can't fit into any of my clothes. In the meantime, I just want to eat a Blizzard every 5 minutes and hate myself when I finally give in. I just want to be thin again!"

Jeannie didn't tell me I had no right to complain. She didn't give me more compliments, or weight loss ideas. She didn't detail her own postnatal body stories. She simply grabbed my hand, looked me dead in the eye and said, "I get it. You're tired. You want energy and a full night's sleep. But really, more than anything, you just want to be yourself again. I hear you, and I'm also going to say that you will get there."

This coming from a woman who raised 3 young boys in a foreign country with no car, TV or phone while her Army husband was gone for months at a time...and came out alive, intact and sane. If you want a definition of a tough, tell-it-like-it-is woman, look no further than Jeannie Kupper.

The next morning, I ran a 10k, Jeannie's words running along with me. I felt grateful to have a mom-in-law who listened to and encouraged me. Looking down, all those positive vibes flowing through my body and spirit, I was pumped to see that I had run my fastest 6.2 miles since Avinly's first trimester. When I believed the truth of Jeannie's kindness -- when I stopped listening to my own negative self-talk about my body -- I ran farther and faster.

Kind of like with my own mom.

There have been nights when being a mommy just felt like too much. When I had to eat corn on the cob one-handed while nursing one baby and disciplining another while my husband lounged in a movie theater hundreds of miles away on a TDY, his tummy full of a meal he didn't cook.

"I just don't know what to do!" I wail. And Mom -- she of 8 children raised -- quietly says, "I know. I didn't either. But I learned, and you will too."

There's a cheesy old Val Kilmer movie called At First Sight. Virgil, the blind main character, gains his sight back after a one-in-a-million new surgery. Staring at Jenny, his sister and caretaker since childhood, he's amazed.

"Why didn't you tell me you were beautiful?" he asked.

Jenny turns away to hide the tears. "No, seriously," he reiterates. "You're so beautiful. Why didn't you ever tell me?"

I know why she couldn't. She was too busy working, too consumed with her little brother's needs, to ever even consider the fact that she might be beautiful.

I, like Virgil, am seeing these women in my life with new eyes. Why didn't they tell me they were so beautiful?

Because, of course, they were too busy serving, too busy being a blessing to others to ever stop and consider their own profound beauty.

Carolyn, I see the way you have served your husband and family through the years. I see how you are kind and patient with my energetic boys, always ready with a smile and an encouraging word of "I've been there, too." And I see that you're beautiful.

Jeannie, I see the way you found strength within yourself to raise a family, to rise to unexpected challenges (baby #4 in particular!), to have a backbone and not apologize for it. And I see that you're beautiful.

Mom, I see the way you've sacrificed your career in order to stay at home, your Christ-like attitude in the midst of trials, your perseverance to always do the right thing even when it hurts. I see your quiet selflessness, how the world often passes you by, yet you never complain. And I see that you're beautiful.

These women may not have told me. But I know, and I see.

I see you, too...and I know.