I am in a position right now between the Navy and my family which is pretty rough. I am handling it pretty well, but it is awfully hard. As I have told my story to a couple friends, I have heard the response,
“You are a better man than me”
I usually dismiss that phrase because I know it just isn’t true. These guys are men of character, men who would respond very similarly to how I am responding were they in my shoes.
My kids, on the other hand, really are “better” than me. I hope they stay that way.
Because I did not make it through the school I was in, I fall at the bottom of the Navy’s priority scale for selecting orders. As it turns out, the only set of orders that I am allowed to have right now are to a foreign country. I’m not upset about that. Jessica and I have wanted to take the family overseas for years. Herein lies the problem. Because the family is so large, we may have to be separated for 2 years. The orders I am taking will allow me to bring my family with me, but there are other restrictions which can cause my family to be left behind and, at this moment, there is a very real chance that they will not join me.
Can you understand the sadness, fear, turmoil, and agony which I am swirling in? It is hard stuff to say the least.
I knew I needed to tell my kids. It isn’t fair to them to have them going to the appointments and screenings and for them to feel the tension in Jessica and I and to have no idea what is going on. We have always spoken to our kids as though they are capable of understanding the life which swirls around them, and this is no exception.
I sat with my older 2 and explained to them that I may be going overseas and they will probably have to stay here. Neither of them cried. They got quiet, but didn’t even seem to get sad. I explained it again… That I AM going overseas for 2 years and they ARE NOT going with me… for 2 years… separated… without me. Again, no great emotion came out of them. I asked them,
“Are you sad at all that your dad will be gone for 2 years?”
Daughter – We are sad…
Son – Yeah… but we don’t know for sure if we will be apart or not
Daughter – … but we can trust God
Whose kids are these?
Surely not mine! Surely not the offspring of a man who walks with such uncertainty and fear upon his shoulders. Surely not the son and daughter of a man who agonizes every detail of a plan in order to ensure the best possible outcome. Surely not the kids of a man who can talk about God, Christianity, Faith, and Trust but falls hopelessly short when his back is up against a wall.
My kids are more mature than I am.
This little conversation we had, coupled with a Vacation Bible School song that they love (You Can Trust God) and play on their stereo over and over again, as well as other conversations I have had in the midst of this decision has me really pondering the goodness of God.
The congregation my wife came from regularly participates in a call and response during their Sunday morning worship. The pastor says, “God is good” and the people say “All the time”. Then the Pastor says “All the time” and the folks say “God is good”. I believe this to be true. God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.
But I am not a blind Christian, I don’t just check off the boxes without thinking (or feeling) about the stuff I am agreeing with and forming as a part of who I am. This is one of those moments.
I can continue to walk around under this painful cloud feeling like I am under a storm and over a barrel because I don’t know whether or not I will be separated from my family for 2 years. This is what I am doing right now. It essentially says that I do NOT believe God is good… or rather, I do NOT believe God is good ALL the time. Most of the time maybe.. A lot of the time for sure… But all the time? Do I really believe that? My thoughts and feelings right now say no.
Now y’all hold on a minute before you send me encouraging and correctional emails and messages. I know what the right answer is… and that is the point. I could swallow what I am feeling and hide it from the world (which I did for SOOO LONG) and I can give the right answer and nobody in the world would know that a Man of God has a hard time grasping the full implications of the God he follows.
Here are the hard questions in my heart. If I am separated from my family for a period of 2 years, where is God’s goodness in that? Where is God’s goodness when it comes to my kids growing and struggling with identity/purpose/value troubles and my wife is left alone to encourage them? Where is His goodness in this? For that matter, where was His goodness when Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Jim Elliot, Ed McCauley, and Pete Fleming were killed on Palm Beach leaving their wives and kids behind? Does God’s goodness address my desire for comfort or the feelings of security at all?
I am reminded of a verse in Romans that says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
Where is God’s goodness in the death of His Son? In the temporal perspective… I’m not seeing the goodness. With an eternal perspective, the goodness of God is realized in the redemption of mankind. In the temporal perspective, there wasn’t much good about the previously mentioned 5 men dying on a beach, but within a generation or 2 the rampant murdering and revenge killing of an entire tribe of people came to an end.
On the one hand I want to reject the idea of God’s enduring, timeless goodness in exchange for my own temporal comfort and pleasure. But I know the way that seems right in my heart will lead me to my death. I know the other hand leads down a painful road which, for some, has held certain death, but it ends with redemptive healing in the lives of others for generations to come.
I should be more careful with what I hope for… what I pray for. Though I have asked many times that God would grant me influence in the lives of men so that His kingdom will advance through my labor to many cultures for generations to come, I do not want to take the road necessary for Him to use me to that end.
I want my family to go with me. I have tears in my eyes as I finish up this post because of the pain which I feel when thinking of being separated from them.
I fear that my family will not be able to join me.
And I am resolved to bear my true character in the face of adversity with hope, trusting that the temporal pain to be experienced by my family will surely result in the realization of a theme of Scripture and Christianity…
God is good
All the time
All the time
God is Good
Just Thinking, My Story
despair, emotional security, faith, family, fatherhood, hopeless, insecurity, kids, leadership, sacrifice
Hours spent at breakfast with my oldest daughter… 90 (or so)
Dollars spent on donuts, coffee, hot choclate, pancakes, and muffins… $1170.00
Moments of significant depth and connection from one soul to another… 1
Totally Worth It!!
I have been taking my oldest daughter to breakfast once a month for at least 6 years now. I have only missed the Sunday morning breakfast dates with her when I have been away from home. I started these 1 on 1 breakfasts with each of my kids in hopes that we would develop an emotional connection early in their lives. If we can develop these early connections, then when they are in the midst of the teenage years, we will have a foundation in our relationship in order to have good conversations about some of those hard teenage conversations… you know…
I have written my ideas about connecting with my oldest daughter before. I call her my little sweetpea.
This last Sunday we went about our normal routine. We got up and walked to our local Dunkin Donuts, paid for breakfast and coffee, then walked to Church. All in all about a mile and a half.
When we got to the Church, we sat down on one of the rail ties that is used to delineate the parking areas. Makes for a pretty good little bench. She got to go to a friends house on Saturday for a few hours and she loved it. I was asking her questions and just “following the emotion” in what she was saying which lead us to talk about her and being shy. I learned several things that morning.
1) She told me she is shy because other people are so nice to her and she doesn’t know how to say Thank You. We talked about this one and what she is really saying is that she feels as though she cannot repay people for being so nice to her, and that if she cannot repay their kindness to her, they will stop being kind.
2) She thinks that she has nice stuff, but not as nice as other peoples stuff, and when these other people see the kind of stuff that she has, they will think that she is not a good girl and that is why she does not have nice stuff.
I expected to hear her tell me that she thinks people will think she is ugly, mean, stinky, boring, etc. I was ready to tell her what I think about her regarding those things. I was a bit blown away when I heard that she is afraid that she cannot repay the debt of kindness and grace that others have given her. Before rooting around in this though, I decided to just keep asking questions and helping her put into words what she was feeling.
I asked her if somebody she knew told her that her stuff was not as nice as theirs or that she was not as nice as them. (I think “nice” is a bad word but that is what she was saying… I’ll write about that later.) She immediately… as in with no pause or break to think about it… tells me that she was picking blackberries with a little girl from our neighborhood in Washington along with a couple other kids. This other girl announced to the rest of the kids that when she starts making a clicking sound with her mouth, they should hold her hands behind her back. This sound, she said, was a warning that she was about to go get a knife from her house and cut the head off of my little sweetpea.
I remembered this incident. I remembered having to intervene with these 2 little girls in the past. They both had little attitudes while playing together and I would get on to both of them from time time. I also remember seeing a very manipulative and mean spirit from this other girl. I figured it was just little girl attitude, just like mine has sometimes, and didn’t worry about it. It is good for my kids to face those kinds of people so that they can learn how to interact with folks who aren’t all sunshine and butterflies.
The rest of the conversation went swimmingly.
She ended up sitting on my lap, we talked for a while after that and then went into the gym to play a pool ball shuffleboard kind of game.
I felt great because I was able to intervene in my daughter’s life early on in order to root out some of the damage done to her little soul and to affirm that she really is a good and sweet girl.
I felt great because, after 6 years of breakfasts in which I sat thinking about the rest of my day, wiping syrup off of little hands and cinnamon and sugar off of little dresses, drinking coffee from fast food chain cups, wondering if there is a better way to lay these foundations, wondering if I should have started these breakfasts a little bit later… a bridge was built into her heart upon a solid foundation… of donuts and coffee, pancakes and chocolate milk.
emotional security, fatherhood, joy, kids, parenting
Like the little bubbles on the bottom of a pot of water getting bigger and bigger until a full, rolling boil is present, so was the excitement washing over me. I could hardly sleep the night before and I was finally setting out.
I know that the hands of the clock are ever moving and that there is nothing I can do to push back against them. One of my favorite admonishments from the Bible is found in Ephesians 5. When I spend some alone time meditating on this passage, I can almost hear Paul saying, “Mike, the days are evil, the clock ticks life away so make every moment count.”
I also know that there is a great demand upon my time (a major reason why this blog has fallen a bit to the wayside… I’m sorry y’all). I recognize that my kids are spending a lot less time with me than they were in Washington and that, if I plan on finishing well at this school, I must put in some long hours.
I decided to guard my weekends in order to nourish the fragile relationships I have with my kids. Most notably with my older two. I want my kids to feel like they are a part of something that I am a part of, not just tagging along. I want them to feel like they are wanted, chosen, sought after… like they belong.
I have belonged to some really amazing groups during my life and, though they are drastically different, they did have some things in common. They were exclusive (some more than others), I had to do something to be a part of it (some more than others), I had to want to be there, there was a designated purpose, and it usually cost me something. When I did the things required to be a part of these groups and demonstrated a desire to commit to their mission, helping to fulfill their purpose, I felt as though I mattered and that I belonged to the team. This is what I want my kids to feel like when they are with me and each other on an adventure.
So I started a club. I called it the Saturday Morning Adventure Club. Before I went to work on Friday morning, I wrote out 8 questions on the board for the kids to answer. I had them write down their name and birthday. They had to list their skills. They had to tell me what made a good adventure good and a bad adventure bad. They had to answer the question “How awesome is your dad?” They had to look up in a dictionary (or use other resources, like their mama) to find out what the words Koinonia and Outdoors mean, then they had to draw a picture of what they think when they hear these words.
When I got home, I called each of them into my “office” one at a time for an interview. We went over their applications in detail. One applicant does not care about adventure, but put on the application that they wanted to join the club because they liked the leader and wanted to be a part of whatever club he was leading. This one’s artwork was creative and well proportioned.
Applicant 2 decided to answer the questions in whatever random order he so desired. I could not follow his answers to save my life. I gave him double points during the interview for demonstrating his ability to “draw outside of the lines.” I admired the “I’ll answer your silly questions in my own silly way” spirit. Though his ability to follow directions was on the low side, he listed his skills in the following order… I can run fast. I’ll take it.
I made a simple little emblem for our team and am in the process of getting hats made for us. Team emblem on the front, nickname on the back. These kids do not come with me on Saturday mornings because they have to, or because it is just what we do, but because the team is going, and they are a part of the team. They have to get the gear together before the trips and they carry more than their fair share of the cleanup after the trip.
And I have started building another team!
Every Saturday morning we depart from our Team Headquarters (the garage) No Later Than 0800 (though the target departure time is 0645) and we go paddling.
That first trip was like walking on lightning for me. I love getting up early, in the calm stillness of the morning, drinking my coffee and restoring my soul before breakfast. I woke the kids up an they got the requisite gear together for the day as I double checked the straps on the canoe (loaded the night before) and made final checks of the weather. Breakfast was done, gear was inspected, packed, and loaded, and the kids were strapped in. We were off.
1 hour later I had unloaded the canoe onto the beach, put the gear bags in the bottom of the boat, and left my teammates on the shore watching the gear as I drove back to a suitable parking area. As I walked back to the rally point my mind raced. Are we ready? Is this actually going to be a good thing? What if we flip the boat or get rained on? Will my teammates, my kids, want to abandon the cause?
With great apprehension and a touch of icy fear, I pushed the canoe out into the channel…
And for the next 4 hours, Team Hitefield’s Saturday Morning Adventure Club chased horse shoe crabs and herons, watched striped bass and egrets, paddled like mad and drifted inconsolably in the wind.
I have not been in a long time as proud as I am now to be a member of a team.
So if y’all are ever up in the stillness of the morning on a Saturday before the world starts humming, go for a walk, take a kid with you (if there is one available), and post comments about your adventure!
adventure, fatherhood, joy, kids, leadership, team building
For those of you who read this blog but do not know me personally, let me make something clear…
I am not an introvert.
Though I do not always enjoy being the middle of the crowd, I do enjoy being around people. I love backpacking. The only thing better than backpacking is backpacking with somebody else. I have spent quite a few hours by myself sitting in the woods on hunting trips, but I would much rather spend that time sitting in the woods with somebody else. I have found that I enjoy bird hunting more than big game hunting because it is a more social event. Drawback… you have to kill a lot of birds to equal a deer.
I love who I am.
I love how I am.
There are still things about me that need to mature and develop, but on the whole… I love being me.
I have four kids. When they were very young, they were your typical toddlers. Into everything, running around, making noise, making a mess, spontaneous. Our house seemed to vibrate constantly with the activity and noise that simmered perpetually within the walls. My home is not a safe place for an introvert. I understand that and so, when I am hanging out with an introvert, I meet with them outside of my home. We meet somewhere quiet… like the mall…
I have all these ideas about ways to raise my kids. I have these ideas about things to do in order to communicate just how much I love them and to really connect with them in a meaningful and intimate manner.
It never crossed my mind that any of my kids would turn out to be a calm, quiet, introvert.
What do I do with that?
How on earth do I communicate my love to a little girl who would like to just sit and look at a book… or look at art!
How did this happen?
On a more serious note, it really is pretty fascinating to see the budding personalities coming out of my kids. My oldest is displaying her individual personality more and more. The girl loves art. We have a friend of ours who graduated with an art degree teaching private art lessons to my daughter. I have found myself reading blogs from artists, both Christian and non, in order to broaden my ability to appreciate the same things my daughter appreciates.
Instead of going places and doing things with her, I have started making it a point to simply sit next to her. We sit down to watch a movie and I invite her to sit next to me. I try to make it a point to have her sit in my lap when I read books to them instead of always letting the toddlers sit on my lap. I have started paying closer attention to which kids are running around downstairs and when I don’t see her, instead of calling her down to see what is wrong, I go upstairs just to sit on the floor of her bedroom with her and make small talk.
I take each of my kids to breakfast on Sunday mornings. The oldest gets the first Sunday of the month, the youngest gets the last. One of my kids wants to go to a busy sit down style place that serves great pancakes. My oldest prefers to buy a donut and a juice in a grocery store and sit in the front of our car to eat. I used to ask her why she preferred to sit in the car instead of going to a restaurant. I do not ask any more.
I know she values these moments with me and I know they are good for her, good for me, and good for our relationship.
I have no clue how to evaluate these moments. I see these times through my own perspective as an extrovert. If I am comfortable, I am talking or doing, not sitting and stewing. So when I sit with my daughter and we just sit there… something feels wrong. When I ask a question and get a little short answer, I feel as though something is wrong. I believe that things are not wrong, but that is how it feels.
It makes it very difficult to relax and just enjoy being with her when everything in me is convinced that something is wrong. She must be upset with me. I have to have hurt her feelings in order for her to sit so quietly for so long.
As I sit and analyze this, my questions tend to drift from wanting to connect with her to wanting to diagnose the break in our relationship. It is so difficult to diagnose a problem that is not there.
I love my little girl and I know she loves me.
But I really wish I could figure out how to connect with her, and her introverted little soul.
confusion, connection, emotional security, family, fatherhood, kids, parenting, personality
It is an answer that my kids get a lot.
My precious wife is doing a superb job of replicating her character in our kids. It is a true joy for me to think about the kind of people my children will become because of the influence of such a woman upon their lives.
I spend a lot of time at work. Sometimes more than I need to, but that might have to wait for another day. For the entire time that I have been in the Navy, I have been leaving for work in the morning before most people are getting out of bed.
This includes my kids.
It is part of their routine to ask where I am while they are getting ready for the day… or for them to just not ask at all anymore since it is normal for me to be away in the mornings. The standard answer is usually given.
Daddy is at Work
So yesterday my wife and I went to a meeting after I got off of work. I am behind on a few deadlines, so I stay late at work to get caught up. I left straight from work to go to the meeting. We left the meeting at about 9 PM. By the time we got home, my kids were already in bed. I spent another day not seeing them at all.
As we were riding down the road, Jessica told me that my youngest decided to snuggle up in my bed after I went to work. When Jessica came back into our room, my sweet little child asked her the standard question and got the standard answer.
Jessica asked me a question…
“Does it hurt for you to hear that your kids ask about you when you are not home?”
“Or is it encouraging since you know your kids are thinking about you?”
“Yeah… it kind of hurts.”
But then I started thinking about this.
Why does it hurt?
It really is a matter of perspective. I look at this from the perspective that I am missing so much, my kids seem to be growing up so fast, and they don’t have me around. I miss them. They miss me.
Here is what started to stir these thoughts around for me…
It does not hurt when Jessica tells me she misses me when I am away. I have spent some hunting trips away from home for a week or two at a time and when Jessica tells me she misses me, it really doesn’t hurt. I don’t feel sad. I don’t ache to be home.
So why do I feel that way after a long day without my kids? Do I love them more than my wife? Do I reason that Jessica’s understanding protects her while the kids are still vulnerable in their ignorance?
I do not love my kids more than my wife.
Her understanding vs. their ignorance… that may be.
What if it is perspective? I have this feeling like I HAVE to be home with my kids. I have this feeling that I am doing them a disservice and ruining their little lives if I am not home.
But what if my perspective is wrong?
What if my kids need me to be gone?
Check this out. My kids are going to define normal for their lives based on what is common for them now. If it is common for me to be gone often, then the normal for them is that Daddy spends a lot of time away from home. If I can keep a very deep emotional connection to my kids for the duration of the time they live at home and protect the security they feel in our relationship, then normal for them looks like peace and security in relationships even when not physically near.
I am not saying that I am going to find ways to stay out of the house in order to try and develop this in my kids. Absolutely not!!
But it is something to think about.
If security in a relationship for my kids looks like face time and close physical proximity, then what happens when I leave? What happens when they grow up and business or school takes them or their significant other away for extended periods of time?
Maybe it is good for my young kids to hear my wife say, “Daddy is at Work,” and then for them to feel the warmth, love, and connection to me when I am around.
Could this build that kind of security in our relationship that might not have otherwise developed?
And maybe I am just belligerently over thinking it…
connection, emotional security, fatherhood, kids, stability