Category Archives: family

daddy’s little girl

this past weekend, while i was speaking at the “stuck in the middle” event for middle school kids in kansas city, my daughter liesl was attending the “lift” event for middle schoolers in orange county along with her small group, lead by ys’ mindi godfrey. they had a “stupid human tricks” contest at the lift event, and liesl volunteered, taking home the top award for a wonderful little ability i taught her a few years ago called nose-flossing (snorting dental floss up your nose and coughing it out your mouth).

last night at dinner i told liesl, “you can tell our family is a bit unique, liesl, because i am SO proud of you for that!” she grinned from ear-to-ear.

parenting is tough right now

i absolutely adore our two kids. both are so much fun, and both have really beautiful hearts, are caring, and seem to love god. but that doesn’t make parenting easy, and jeannie and i are both really struggling right now.

liesl is a wonderful creative. put her in a dance class, or in choir, or in the art studio, or performing a play, and she is ‘in the zone’. but her creativity has a common ‘other side’ — completely lack of discipline. this shows up most in doing her homework (or even turning it in), which is a massive all-hands-on-deck family effort every single night. we’ve tried natural consequences, rewards, punishments, encouragment, systems, and forty other approaches. but her homework results in tension between her and us (or at least one of us) almost every night — certainly multiple times each week. cleaning up her room and other regular jobs fall into the same kind of struggle. we’re close to our wit’s end, and have considered whether we should pull her out of school for the rest of this year and home-school her — which would kill us, and, we’re worried, seriously deflate the bright spark she has in her.

max, on the other hand, does mostly fine in school, but really struggles socially (liesl has pretty much zero struggles socially). i’m convinced he’s going to do great in life, once he gets comfortable with who he is and finds his niche. he’s not very athletically-inclined, but there’s so much pressure for every kid to be in sports — so max tries at baseball. but i don’t think he’s having fun. and we don’t have any boys around us his age, so he plays by himself most of the time (which he actually likes much of the time). we want to help him, but not try to change him.

these have been weighing really heavy on my heart, and on jeannie’s, for a while now. but they seem to have heightened in the last 6 months. i don’t see any simple (or even difficult) solutions.

fun parent, responsible parent

the other night, when we were putting max (8) to bed, he said — totally out of the blue: daddy is the fun parent, mommy is the responsible parent.
i’d just prayed with him and kissed him goodnight, so he followed up by calling out to jeannie: come give me a kiss, responsible parent!

we laughed our heads off. and jeannie was trying not to be offended. but then i realized, maybe i’m the one who should have been offended. my son just said i wasn’t responsible!

max’s walk in the woods

during my sabbatical, i had a spiritual practice of going for a walk every day for an hour, while reflecting on one of ten questions given to me by my friend and advisor, mark dowds (the walking and reflecting was followed by another 30 – 60 minutes of journaling, the old-fashioned way, with a pen and paper). they were great questions — maybe i’ll post them seperately. anyhow, i’m not much of a walker – i have wimpy feet. but walking on the beach in hawaii at sunset kinda jump-started the plan. so when i returned home for the second two-weeks of my sabbatical, it wasn’t difficult to keep up the discipline. a few times, back at home, i went for a walk on a beautiful path through the woods behind our old house (2 miles from where we live now). it’s about a mile-long loop, and has a great variety of visuals, from brushy scrub (almost tumbleweed) and drooping willows, and ending in an aromatic and peaceful stand of eucalyptus trees.

one day, i was on my walk, and max (8 years-old) asked jeannie where i was. she explained. his response was, “really? i want to go on a walk!” jeannie assumed he just wanted to get out, and started talking about how they could go on a walk together. max interrupted: “no, i mean, i want to go on a walk by myself!” then he stopped, realizing this would never be possible for him at his age. his face fell, and he said, “i’m too little. you’d never let me go on a walk by myself. but i wish i could.”

the next day, the three of us planned the walk and drove to the starting point. max had a backpack with an apple, a piece of string cheese, a bottle of water, and jeannie’s cell phone. jeannie set out on the path, creating the front bumper. when she was barely in sight (probably a couple-hundred yards), i told him he could start walking. i waited until he was the same distance, then i set out, as the back bumper. at one point he ran up to jeannie to get help opening his string cheese. and at one point he climbed onto a rock to eat his apple and yelled out to me as i approached, “hi dad! i’m just resting for a bit and eating my apple!” i waited at a distance, because i didn’t want to disturb his plans for a walk by himself.

i’ll cherish this story for a long time, because it’s a little window into max’s depth. he said he loved it, and we should do it again, but he didn’t want to talk about what he’d spent his time thinking about (which is fair, they were his thoughts to hide if he wished). but last night we were retelling this to a friend, and another friend who’d previously heard it said: “i love the max part of the story. but i also love how marko and jeannie were a great picture of god — that god goes to great lengths to give us the desires of our hearts, that god is willing to set up the safety and boundaries (be the front and back guard), and help us pack our little backpack, all so we can have our walk in the woods.”

i’m not trying to play god. but i did like that thought of the multiple imagery of max’s desire to walk by himself.

and it’s good

20 years ago today, january 4, i stood at the top of the aisle at faith baptist church in dearborn heights, michigan, and felt myself go completely numb when i saw jeannie renee turner appear at the other end of the aisle. i sang a cheesy song to her that i’d written, and we made our wedding guests sit through a much-too-long wedding ceremony that we were convinced was the most wonderful wedding anyone had ever witnessed in the history of the universe.

i love jeannie. i love seeing her grow; and i love how she’s pushed me to grow. i love that we’ve been on a similar spiritual journey over the past decade (which sure makes things easier!). our relationship is better than it’s ever been. and i can’t wait to spend the next 20 years with her.

here’s jeannie in times square a few nights back, a few hours after we’d arrived in nyc, holding a triple grande non-fat white chocolate mocha.

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NY to Det

jeannie and i are at laguardia, in nyc, about to head back to detroit to collect our offspring and (tomorrow) fly home to san diego.

what a great five days! our hotel was steps (literally) from times square, which was such a cool location for our first trip here. highlights:

– an afternoon at moma (museum of modern art). i love modern art, and it was very cool to see van gogh’s starry night, works by jasper johns and picasso, monet water lillies, a special exhibit by pop-artist elizabeth murray.

– walking through times square with HUGE snowflakes falling (our 10 minutes of bad weather on this trip, which turned out to be fun) at about 5pm on new year’s eve. we didn’t stand out there for the ball dropping thing — there’s a surprising amount of control; we wouldn’t have been able to come and go from our hotel, but would have had to stand in one area the whole time.

– amazing meals all over the city, but our most fun hightlights were: the bar room at moma (ht to bob carlton on that one), crepes on columbia (a little hole-in-the-wall crepe restaurant on the upper west side, near the cathedral of st john the divine), and caffe napoli in little italy (we’d wandered through chinatown, up into little italy, and just chose a restaurant at random, but we chose well).

– visiting cbgb’s in the east village. american birthplace of punk. very, very cool — and a total dive!

– we saw two sets of friends (two couples). one had a friend who is a former junior higher from one of my churches forty or fifty years ago got a hook-up with a friend who’s a private helicopter pilot (for some rich guys), and he took us on a private helicopter tour around manhattan at about 7pm on new year’s eve. pretty amazing! spent news year’s eve with our good friends george and cris baum (george of lost and found fame). they’d recently moved their family to the chelsea neighborhood in manhatten for george to attend seminary.

[[continued the next day…]]
we’re in detroit now…

– an afternoon at “the cloisters” (the met’s extension up on the northern tip of the island), a collection of medievil and gothic architecture and art. beautiful place.

– one broadway musical and one off-broadway play: dirty rotten scoundrels, starring john lithgow, was absolutely hilarious. really, we laughed out loud through the whole thing. then we got half-price tix to see dog sees god, an unauthorized story of the peanuts characters as older teens. lots of laughs, but a very heavy story-line overall. interesting.

that’s about it! like i said, it woulda been tough to have a better four-night trip to nyc. now, back to the land of semi-normal living!

off to NYC

jeannie and i are heading to new york for our 20th anniversary tomorrow, and i’ve promised her i won’t bring my computer, won’t blog, won’t check email (even on my phone). so… my blog silence will continue until early january. i can’t remember the last time i haven’t checked email, anywhere in the world. but this is for a good cause! happy new year!

max’s christmas story

every year for a decade, the grandchildren on my side of the family (my kids and my sisters’ kids) have put on a christmas play. for many years, it was a reasonably straight version. everyone rotated parts — both of my kids were baby jesus when they were babies; and my brother-in-law built a handy collapsable manger for re-use each year. in later years, it got a but funky, with new settings and new characters.

but the teenagers aren’t so interested in putting on the play anymore.

my daughter liesl got to do it enough times, she doesn’t mind too much. but max just turned 8, and there wasn’t a play last year; so he only has fuzzy memories of this thing that had so much hype when he was really little. he was sad that there wouldn’t be one again this year, so we encouraged him to make something up — either a play or a story or a song. max decided to write a modern version of the christmas story, set in detroit. it’s still a little undecided, but it sounds like he’s going to read it and try to enlist a few cousins to act out the parts while he reads it.

we wrote this in three sessions, and my main job (besides typing) was to ask a lot of questions: do you remember what happened next in the christmas story? how could that happen here? what would happen to someone in mary’s situation? i did suggest the “emmanuel” ending — he wouldn’t have remembered that; but he loved it as soon as i suggested it, and the words are his.

so without further ado; the christmas story, written by max oestreicher, age 8…

Once upon a time – well, actually, it was this year – but, anyway… there was a girl named Mary. She was 15 years old, and she was poor. Her dad had passed away, and her mom disappeared. So now, Mary was the oldest. She had a brother who was 7 years old, and his name was Carl. Plus, she had a little sister who was 3 years old, named Sophie.

Mary’s family lived in two boxes, on the streets of Detroit. Sophie was too young to sleep by herself, so she shared the big box with Mary. Carl got his own, though. Carl had named his box “No Girls Allowed”; and every time he said that name, he would add, “says Carl!” His sisters would always laugh – even though Carl wasn’t really joking.

My name is Max Shepherd, but everyone calls me “the shepherd”. I live in a box across the street from Mary, Carl and Sophie; and I’ve been watching them for months. I want to make sure that no one messes with them. I trade peanuts to get food. Whenever I see someone walking past with any type of food, I try to trade my peanuts for their food. They usually won’t trade, but sometimes they will because they feel better about trading than just giving me money.

Anyhow, back to Mary’s story.

One night when everyone was asleep — last spring, when the weather was a LOT nicer than it is now in December — I heard a noise, and peeked out a hole in my box. I saw a glowing light that was shining over Mary’s box. I never talked to Mary about the light at that time. But six months later (three months ago now), when it was really obvious to everyone that Mary was pregnant, we talked about the light. Everyone was sure Mary either had a boyfriend, or someone had done something bad to her. Those are pretty much the only reasons why a 15 year-old girl living on the street would be pregnant. But Mary insisted that an angel visited her and told her God had put a baby inside of her, and the baby was going to save the world.

Well, of course, everyone just thought Mary was totally crazy!

I said to Mary, “Everyone thinks you’re crazy, you know?”
She smiled at me, and said, “I don’t care that people think I’m crazy. I just care that God chose me! Shepherd, do you think I’m crazy?”
“No,” I said. “I saw the light that night. I peeked through a hole in my box. I know you’re telling the truth. Are you hungry? I’ve got some peanuts.”

It was a little bit silly to offer her some peanuts at that point, but the conversation was making me a little uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to say.

A couple months ago, Mary got so big with that baby in her that Sophie had to move out of Mary’s box. And she moved into Carl’s box. And Carl changed his box’s name to “No Girls Allowed, Except Sophie”; and he still always added, “says Carl!”

Mary tried to go to the hospital, but they wouldn’t let her in, because she doesn’t have any money. They said she could come back after the baby’s born, but they can’t offer anything to her now.

After Mary got that news from the hospital, she, Carl and Sophie disappeared. It made me feel really sad and afraid for what might happen to them. But there was nothing I could really do.

So here we are: Christmas Eve. I was in my box, just getting ready to go to sleep when I heard a noise. I mean, I hear noises all the time, but this one was weird. When I came out, I saw an angel. Now, usually, the angels are going to be girls; but I could tell this one was a boy, because it said, “doood, don’t be afraid, doood! It’s a message from God, the holy one. Like, baby Jesus is born, doood!”

Obviously, I had no idea what was going on. The angel could tell from my face that I was confused. And I said, “I don’t get it.”

He said, “doood! Don’t be afraid, doood!”

“Ok, hold up,” I interrupted him, because he was going to repeat everything he’d just said. “Just help me find where Mary and baby Jesus are.”

“Mary?” said the doood angel. “Oh, yeah, I know her – she’s the one who gave birth to Jesus! Tell you what, doood: all you have to do to get to them is go a little bit west, and you’ll find a glowing path on the street. And you just follow that glowing path, and eventually you’ll find her, doood. And plus, like, how you’ll know yer close, doood, is, like, you’ll see a star – a big one, too, doood – and it will look like it’s, like, right over the spot where, like, JESUS IS! oh yeah, and Mary. Well, goodbye doood!”

Then the doood angel went up to a bunch of other doood angels in the sky, and they started rocking a Jesus song, singing, “Glory to the God-doood, like, in the highest!”

The whole thing was kinda funny, really. But it was also really amazing too.

So I started to walk west, wondering whether I would really find a glowing path or not. But a few blocks over, I saw a glowing path on the streets. And I followed it to a big parking lot. The parking lot was for the “Star Shopping Plaza”. I looked up at the sign, and it had a HUGE star on it. I looked below the star-sign, and there was a place where someone was selling Christmas trees (well, they sold them during normal hours, but this was late at night, and no one was there). And next to the Christmas trees was a little petting zoo to entertain little kids while their parents were picking out a Christmas tree.

I walked over to look, and in the petting zoo, right in the middle of all the animals, were Mary, Carl and Sophie. The animals weren’t walking around, and they weren’t sleeping either, or eating and drinking. All the animals were staring at a baby – a baby that was laying on a pile of hay.

I walked over and looked in the baby’s eyes, and I could tell it was Jesus. I don’t know how I could tell – I just could. Mary, Carl, Sophie and Jesus all stared at me; and then baby Jesus started to laugh! And we all started to laugh!

I didn’t know what to say, so I asked Mary what the baby’s name was. She answered, “Well, Shepherd, I’m calling him Manny, but his real name is Emanuel.”

I said, “That sounds about right!”

The end.

merry, peaceful, awe-filled, aware, transcendent christmas to all of you. no more posts from me ’til after the weekend.

children who fly too much

we’re sitting in the united airlines red carpet club, at the san diego airport. and my daughter just turned to me and said, “you know which is my favorite red carpet club?” then, before i could guess, she interrupted herself and said, “that’s kind of a weird thing for an 11 year-old to ask, isn’t it?”