It’s a Wonderfully Difficult Life

 

It’s a Wonderful Life strikes a chord — several chords — deep in my soul, every time I watch it.  Most importantly, it makes me want to be a better man and to live my life as well as I can for my friends, family, and community. Deep down, I want to be counted in the ranks of the George Baileys of the world.  And if I can’t, then I want my son to get there upon my shoulders.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” should be required viewing for every young person growing up.  Anyone over the age of ten should see this movie with their parents, grandparents, or any adult who cares enough to explain what’s going on as the film rolls.  If you haven’t seen it in a few years, do so.  And bring a kid along for the ride.

This movie says it all about growing up well.  It does not hide the truth that life is hard, and it’s even harder for those who choose to serve others.  It teaches just about every character trait you would want to see in a young man or woman.  In no way is it an easy life — just ask George Bailey — but it’s worth it all.

Here’s a fun little trivia game for lovers of this movieClick here


Kids Need Community

No man is an island,” said John Donne, in reference to the ripple effect of the death of one man in a community.  Indeed, we are made for community; we are not meant to live alone.  By living and working with others, we enjoy many benefits.  By choosing to go it alone, whatever the endeavor, we give up countless blessings.  While mavericks make great movie characters, real loners miss out on so much. Unfortunately, there are more and more loners in our modern world.

A large social study in 2006 at Duke University illustrated “a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties — once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits — are shrinking or nonexistent.”  Click here for the article We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com and e-mail 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”

teen in hall alone

It’s nothing new to learn that many people find it extremely difficult to live with others.  They find themselves in all kinds of trouble when they have to work with others at length.  They hurt people’s feelings, and they get hurt.  They annoy and they get annoyed.  They both get jealous and cause jealousy.  So, they do the logical thing; they take the path of least resistance and withdraw from others.  They become independent, vowing to avoid the problems that people cause in their lives.

After all, it is much easier, in the short run, to look out for yourself and take care of your own business, steering clear of other people’s business.  But easy is not always good, especially when it comes to relationships.

Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of Bowling Alone, wrote his famous book about the same problem – increasing social isolation in the United States.  He believes that people must make deliberate steps to join and remain in small communities; otherwise, they will suffer great long-term consequences.

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Being a Good Loser in Youth Sports

After a weekend out of town at my son’s soccer tournament, I’m a little tired of hearing, “Did you win?”  It was, without question, the single-most popular question of the weekend. Even strangers in the hotel would ask my uniformed son, “Didja win?”  And each time he would sadly reply, “No,” followed by an awkward silence.

For an 11-year-old boy who loves to win, it’s not easy, especially when you lose all three games.  Especially when you drive 5 hours each way to make it happen.
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O for 3.
Winless.
Losers.

And yet he and his teammates played so hard and so well. They did all that their coach asked them to do.  They pressured the ball on defense.  They stayed spread out.  In particular, they passed the ball much better than all the other teams.  They put together nice plays and took more shots than the other teams.  They kept playing hard, giving their best – body, mind, and heart – even when knocked down over and over without a foul being called.   Shot after shot would hit the goalposts or just miss the net.  But then they’d give up a breakaway goal to the other team.

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Life Is Not Fair

The Pitfall of Comparison (Part 2)

In our house, there is little room for whining and complaining about how “It’s not fair!” or “But all my friends____________, so why can’t I? That’s not fair.”  Fair is a taboo word in our home.  It’s another F-word. When it rears its ugly head, I jump on it.  I will respond with, “Do we really want to talk about what’s fair?”  At which point I can choose from a limitless supply of examples of how we are so blessed while others are suffering so much.  And we don’t have to look far to see that.

You see, in our house, we have a constant reminder that life is not fair.  It is a beautiful reminder.

Our nine-year-old daughter, like everybody on the planet, has gifts and talents, as well as limitations and weaknesses.  She is physically beautiful, socially charming, and emotionally intelligent.  Honestly, she is one the most delightful people I have ever met, and many other people agree.

Now, before you get too jealous of her (or embittered about my bragging), you should know that she cannot walk, cannot talk, and cannot care for herself in any way.  She has severe spastic quadraplegic cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and epilepsy caused by a lack of oxygen at birth.  Her brain is damaged and there is no cure.  I have lost track of how many surgeries, pieces of mobility equipment, and orthopedic braces she has had.  disabledgirlIn addition, she eats from a very restricted diet, consisting mostly of fats, in order to control her seizures.  Needless to say, she has a very difficult life on many levels.  It is not fair.  Yet she is happy.  She makes the best of what she has been given.

By comparison, I am less happy than she is, even though I have none of her problems.  I am very capable and blessed in every area of life; I enjoy a good life, yet I don’t smile and laugh as much as she does everyday.  Sometimes I feel deficient compared to her.

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The Pitfall of Comparison

“Senior class president, she must be heaven sent.  She was never the last one standing.  A beautiful debutant, everything that you want.  Never too harsh or too demanding.  Maybe I’ll admit it, I’m a little bitter.  Everybody loves her, but I just wanna hit her.  I don’t know why I’m feeling sorry for myself.  I spend all my time wishing that I was someone else.” (from the song “The Girl Next Door,” by Saving Jane)

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Adolescents ask themselves all sorts of questions related to their identity.  Am I athletic and strong enough to play varsity?  Am I good looking and fashionable enough?  Do I have the cool clothes and gear?  Do I like the right kind of music?  Do I have the right friends?

Even long after high school, we measure ourselves by how we compare with our peers.  Depending on our values, we assess our self-worth based on things like our socio-economic status (house, neighborhood, cars, vacations, private schools), educational level, beauty, fashion, fitness, career success, and even our volunteer activities.

It’s human nature.  We judge ourselves (and each other) in every area that we value.  If we value athletics, then that is how we compare ourselves to others.  If we value fashion, then that is how we compare ourselves with others.  However, we need to learn that anytime we compare ourselves to anyone else, we are falling into a pitfall, a trap without any good results.

There are three possible outcomes when we compare ourselves with someone else:

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Training Up Independent Kids

Embracing Mistakes; Developing Problem-Solvers

Thomas Edison believed that failure was not a bad thing; it merely directed him closer to success.  He embraced his mistakes as opportunities to learn, and he ultimately succeeded as the greatest inventor of all time.

The truth is that you want your children (or students) to learn from their mistakes, which means that you are going to have to be okay with them making mistakes.  You want them to learn that they are capable of creating solutions to their own problems.  You want them to struggle with fixing their own troubles.  And you want them to know that their parents, teachers, and coaches are sources of wisdom and help along the way.

“So at the heart of good parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy
.” (Silk 51)  In fact, mistakes are often the greatest teachers.

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