Why I’m Glad My Daughter Got Kicked in the Face with a Soccer Ball

kids resilience

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Several years ago, when my daughter was five, she played soccer and got kicked in the shin during a game. From the sidelines, judging by her behavior, it seemed like the leg would have to be amputated. We were able to save the leg (with a bag of ice), but she never really recovered emotionally.

She takes after her father in this way.

Eventually, she finished the season and decided she’d rather dabble in extracurriculars with lower odds of getting kicked with a cleat—dance and gymnastics and piano, for instance. However, this autumn, she decided to try soccer again.

The first practice, she looked like Frogger.

She ducked and dodged away from every other player on the field. When the ball came toward her, she turned away from it and hugged herself tightly. She never actually fell onto the grass in the fetal position, but it seemed like it could happen at any moment. She explained that the kids at this level were bigger and she was afraid of getting kicked in the face with the soccer ball. I told her the odds were long that it would ever happen.

Whoops.

By the time our third game rolled around, she’d become less afraid and more aggressive on the field, refusing to back down on defense and inserting herself into the scrum for a loose ball. Her fear appeared to be melting away for good.

Then it happened.

A giant, precociously pubescent fourth grader launched a ball directly into her little third grade face. I didn’t see it happen—I was busy trying to get four players on the sidelines to sit still and quit squirting water bottles at each other. But, when she arrived at the sideline, the evidence was there: a big, rosy welt covering most of her left check. She was in tears, head in hands.

But I’ll be honest, a part of me was glad it happened.

This was her biggest fear about soccer, and you can’t play your best soccer if you don’t know that you will be able to endure your biggest fear. The same is true of life. A good life isn’t one in which we avoid all of the loss and heartache and disappointment and loneliness and rejection and failure of being alive; a good life is one in which we become confident we can survive all that pain.

In life, most of our anxiety comes from fearing the soccer balls that will be kicked in our face, while most of our resilience comes from feeling them.

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This Is Why Your Definition of Success Might Be Keeping You Stuck (And Here’s a Better Definition)

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One morning, I won a bunch of gold medals on my first try.

When I ride my bike, I use a social app, which tracks your route, distance, speed, and other metrics. Usually, other riders have created “segments” along your route—specific stretches of road or path in which your time is recorded and then ranked against your past rides.

On the day of the gold medals, I was bored with my typical routes, so I chose a new route with new segments, and I began. My legs felt heavier than usual, and the humid late-summer air was thick in my lungs. It was clear from the outset that this morning would be a long, slow, slog of a ride. So, when I finished the route and looked at my results I was, at first, incredulous.

Four segments. Four gold medals.

Then, as the dawn turned into day, it slowly dawned on me: it had been my first time riding this route, my first time completing these segments. So, no matter how badly I performed, it was my best performance of all time. At first, this was exceptionally unsatisfying. But then I realized why it was so unsatisfying:

My definition of success is all messed up.

My definition of success has to do with being the best, rather than being determined. My definition of success emphasizes conquests instead of courage. My definition of success focuses on the completion of projects, and it neglects the bravery required to begin them.

What if the first time we do something is always our best performance, regardless of how we perform, because getting started always requires the best kind of courage?

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How to Stop Chasing What Won’t Make Us Happy

He’s growling and twitching and aging way too quickly.

I’m sitting in my reading chair, trying to enjoy On the Road by Jack Kerouac. (For some reason, I’m convinced the title of my next book will be found within it.) But I can’t concentrate, because our dog Cole—a miniature schnoodle who is all shnauzer—is standing on red alert at the window and salivating at every creature of the land and air that passes by.

Mostly birds. An occasional squirrel.

loveable study experience

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A yellow finch lands in the fountain outside the window. Now Cole is silently apoplectic. Shivering and shuddering with desire and frustration. I watch him and I laugh to myself, thinking how silly he is, how silly dogs are. He’s made this bird the center of his universe. At this moment, he believes catching it is the only thing that really matters. His instinct tells him it will satisfy him. Will it? Probably, for a minute or two. Then there will be another bird to bark at, another squirrel to chase up a tree. I think again about how silly it all is, and I return my attention to the book. But my eyes won’t focus because my stomach has just sunk.

My whole life I’ve created birds to chase.

For a while—a long while—my birds were grades. Also, I chased friends. And girls. My birds were gadgets to save for and restaurants I couldn’t afford. I chased attention. Approval. Love. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. I look around, and I see bird chasing happening everywhere. We chase youth and immortality. We chase image and Instagram. We chase righteousness and victory.

I sit there and watch Cole shake as he watches the finch splash, and I know that I’ve chased a lot of birds in my life, but the yellow finch in my life has always been success. I’ve twitched and trembled and shuddered and salivated at the window of my life, growling at success out there just beyond my reach, splashing around in the fountains of the world. Once I catch my yellow finch, I tell myself, I’ll be able to finally relax, settle in, enjoy this ordinary life. It’s silly, of course. The way to live the simple bliss of an ordinary life is not to chase an extraordinary one; it’s to quit chasing an extraordinary one.

Because in order to truly enjoy what you have, you have to release what you don’t.

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Why We Need to Wobble

I was accidentally sabotaging my daughter’s dream.

For two summers, Caitlin began the season dreaming of riding a bike. And for two summers, by the time the bees were on the buds and the cottonwood was on the air, that dream had been stashed away, along with her bike, in the back of the garage. I couldn’t figure it out. Caitlin is brave, but our practice sessions would always end in her fear and my frustration.

It turns out, I wasn’t giving her what she needed.

facing your fears

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A few weeks ago, signs of summer returned to our part of the world—grass got green and buzzing bees could be heard on the warming breeze—so Caitlin and I rolled her bike out of the garage, hoping for third times and charms. But, once again, the fear and frustration quickly set in. I began to wonder if a bike-riding gene had been deleted from her DNA. Then, the truth hit me. There was something missing, but it wasn’t a gene.

I wasn’t letting her wobble.

I was holding the back of her seat for stability, but I was holding on too tight. I was eliminating any sense of imbalance from her ride, so she would feel safe, so she could learn while unafraid. But, ironically, this had magnified her fear. Now, she wasn’t just afraid of falling; she was also afraid of the sensation of wobbling.

And wobbling is how you learn to ride.

Wobbling on a bike is the only way to learn balance. When you wobble one way, you lean your body in the other. When you overcorrect, you learn to recorrect. Eventually, you learn the skill of making countless minute adjustments to keep yourself upright and moving forward. Wobbling is how you learn to ride.

Wobbling is also how you learn to live.

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Why We Must Become Like Little Children Again

little children

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They’re fighting over grapes.

My daughter Caitlin, age 8, has decided she wants grapes for breakfast, and her older brother Quinn, age 10, has decided to run interference. He gets to the grapes before her and tells her he’ll break off a cluster of grapes for her and keep the rest for himself.

Caitlin never suffers injustice quietly.

She plants her feet, looks him in the eye, points a finger at his chest, and says, “Quinn, you are being controlling!” Quinn looks at her, pauses for a moment, and then surprises both of us. “No,” he says, “I’m not controlling; I’m greedy.”

Then, he apologizes and hands her the bowl of grapes.

“Truly, I tell you,” Jesus said, “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The meaning of this proclamation has been debated for millennia. What does it mean to become like little children? How does this usher us into the kingdom of heaven? And, oh, by the way, what in the world is the kingdom of heaven?

Whether you think of Jesus as truly a God-man, simply a wise man, or ultimately a crazy man, this declaration of his tends to capture your attention. It rings true. And yet the tenor of that ring feels complicated and uncertain and mysterious. Right now, I’m not interested in changing your decision about what kind of man he was, nor am I interested in uncomplicating this particular teaching of his.

But I don’t mind telling you how it has changed my life.

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This Is the Powerful Promise of Our Pain

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Piteously. She hung her little head and whimpered piteously. Spell the word piteously.”

For three years, my oldest son Aidan has been aspiring to win his middle school spelling bee. In sixth grade, he froze up and was out in the first round. Days of heckling ensued. In seventh grade, he placed second. No heckling, just a hint of his own disappointment. This year, he’s the favorite, and he has his eyes set on the trophy that is, bizarrely, half his size. Then, after a half-dozen rounds dueling with the remaining contestant, the pronouncer asks Aidan to spell the word piteously.

Aidan spells it with two “i”s.

I’m watching via Facebook Live and I pump my fists in exaltation, believing he has spelled it correctly. The pronouncer tells us otherwise. And, on the screen of my mobile phone, my beloved son simply deflates. Somehow, I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut, too. Sure, it’s just a middle school spelling bee, but still, I want to claw my way through the digital screen and wrap him in a father’s hug.

There is nothing rational about it. A hug won’t roll back time and change an “i” to an “e.” A hug won’t prevent him from feeling piteous before his peers for the rest of the day. In this moment, a hug is no more and no less than the full promise of his pain, and the promise is this:

Pain pulls us together.

More than fourteen years ago, when he got stuck in the birth canal and his heart rate was dropping, his earliest moments of pain and peril turned all of my life’s priorities upside down. Everything I thought was important was suddenly inconsequential, and the only thing that mattered was holding him in my arms.

Pain disorients us and then reorients us to each other.  

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How Your Phone Is Robbing You of You

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My son is waiting by the road for his ride to school.

I remember being fourteen and waiting for my ride to school. Sometimes, I would try to walk the balance beam of railroad ties separating our yard from the shoulder of the road. But I bored of that quickly. Then, I would pass the time walking into myself. I’d think thoughts. Feel feelings. Wonder about who I was and where I was going. Daydream of dating girls who were way out of my league. Feel insecure, even in my own daydreams. In other words, I’d wander into my humanity.

My son is not walking railroad ties.

But even more importantly, he’s not walking into himself. He’s not wandering into the infinite abyss of his humanity. Rather, he’s wandering into the infinite abyss of something else. He’s on his phone. Rather than venturing into his interior world, he’s venturing into his digital world.

This is tragic.

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An Old Man’s 7 Resolutions for a New Year

As we age, it seems, life presents us with two options: denial or humility. And, in my opinion, if you decide to trade-in your denial about your limitations for a little bit of humility, you might as well fold some of that humility into your New Year’s resolutions…

funny new year's resolutions

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This year, I’m going to stretch.

I’m not going to stretch because I’m training for the 2020 Summer Olympics or a marathon or a Tough Mudder, or even a 5k. No, these days, at the ripe old age of 41, I’m not stretching out of ambition, I’m stretching for the sake of prevention. I’m stretching so I can walk into the grocery store without a limp. So I can ascend a flight of stairs without pulling a hamstring. So I can roll out of bed without throwing out my back.

When I was younger, my New Year’s Resolutions were usually, in some way, related to conquering the world; now, as I age, my goal is a bit more ordinary: I just want to continue functioning in the world. So, if you’re like me and time has humbled you—if you now realize that mind-over-matter is a privilege of youth and, in the end, matter always wins, by eventually changing form—here is a list of New Year’s Resolutions for you to consider.

After all, it’s a worthy goal to be an upstanding citizen, but the older you get, the more you need to focus on simply standing up…

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How to Show Up to Your Life

We traveled together, this young boy and I.

We were in the back of a hired car, on the way to the airport. I was scheduled to give a national radio interview the next day, and I was mostly looking forward to the adventure. Flying isn’t my favorite thing to do, but the weather was good and I had plenty of margin in my schedule for unforeseen delays and unpreventable problems.

But my little traveling companion was a mess.

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He was worried about what might happen, what might not happen, and everything in between. I tried to ignore him for a while, but that seemed to make him more scared. So, I tried to convince him there was nothing to worry about, that nothing would go wrong. Nope. Too smart to be fooled by platitudes. My efforts were making his anxiety worse.

He was close to panic.

Then, I told him, no matter what happened, I’d take care of him. I told him he could relax, because even if things went wonky, I’d handle it. I told him it’s okay to be anxious, because when you’re a kid you lack control over almost everything and you pretty much can’t protect yourself from anything. But, I told him, you can relax if you want, because I’m in charge now, and I’ll make sure things turn out as well as they possibly can. I simply invited him along for the ride. And do you know what happened?

Slowly, he calmed down.

I embraced him and we walked through the airport together and got on the plane together and found the rental car together and checked into the hotel together and, believe it or not, we went on the radio together. The studio was a little intimidating for him, but I told him I couldn’t do the interview without him, because in a lot of ways, he’s wiser than me. Wiser in a way only kids can be. Once again, I invited him along for the ride. And he did great. We did great.

It turns out, we work really well together.

I wish I would have reassured him like that years ago, because that scared little boy has gone on a lot of adventures with me, always afraid, always wishing he could just go home and hide under the covers. But I guess I couldn’t really do that sooner, because the truth is, for most of my life, I didn’t even know that boy existed.

You see, that little boy is the little kid in me.

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Whoa, That’s Deep!

When we moved from the suburbs back to my rural hometown, I thought we’d be trading the cacophony of Chicagoland for the quiet of the country. And, in a way, we did. The thing is, the countryside wasn’t as quiet as I thought it would be. In a really good way…

The Loveable Podcast

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On a spring morning, the birds twitter and tweet and make a concert of their morning song. On a summer evening, the cicadas crescendo in the crowded trees, until, in the small hours of the night, they finally quiet, and the crickets take over, with their constant hum. On an autumn afternoon, dry leaves rustle in the treetops, and they skitter raspy along two-lane roads. In the winter, a snowfall can lay undisturbed for hours, and the muffled world fills your ears with the tinny ringing of your own blood rushing.

Underneath the loud and frenetic world we’ve created is a world that’s been created for us, and it moves to a deeper, slower rhythm.

I was recently asked, in an interview about Loveable, how do we start the journey toward wholeness? My answer was…space. Space to rest, to notice and to feel, to contemplate and to question. Space to move deeper into the wholeness that already exists, forgotten and neglected, somewhere within the depths of us.

Depth.

As we live increasingly on-line, where depth is quickly going extinct, it can look like the desire for depth is dying, too. For instance, the comments section of a blog was once the place you went for meaningful conversation; now, it’s the place you go to troll people. Not so long ago, social media was where you shared content that stirred your thinking and your heart. Now, generally, social media is where you stir up controversy and conflict.

But the publishing of Loveable renewed my hope.

The desire for depth has not died and it has not even gone dormant. We simply don’t go to social media for it anymore.

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