The Sinister Nature of “Maybe”

My kids ask me questions every minute we are together.

“Daddy, can we go out and build a fort?”

“Can I have a banana?”

“Will you play horses with me?”

“Can I be all done?”

If you’re a parent, you know the drill.  The sheer volume of questions in such rapid succession is overwhelming.  I can’t keep my mind on the task at hand because I’m always making decisions about their actions.  And I know my answers will create responses – angry, disappointed, or overjoyed.  And I must be prepared to back up my answer, stick to it under further pleading or not-yet-shared information, and deal with the screaming crying fit that could quite possibly explode.

So I often do the worst thing available to me.  I answer, “Maybe.”

As little kids we all knew “Maybe” meant no.  It was just sugar coated, delayed, stalled, avoided.

Seth Godin says, “The opposite of yes is maybe.  Because maybe is non-definitive, and both yes and no give us closure and the chance to move ahead.”

I don’t want to be a “Maybe” dad.  I want my yeses to be as frequent as possible, and my nos to be firm, given with a cheerful smile, and meaningful.  When I answer yes, I won’t retract it.  They can count on it.  And when I answer no, it really means no.  They can move on mentally to something else.

The same principle overflows into any realm of influence.  When someone invites me to a party, how do I reply?  When my wife asks if I can fix the broken lamp, what do I say?  When my employee or pupil asks for help or a raise, how do my words or actions respond?

There is a second part to this thought.  My grandfather is famous for not responding to a question at all.  He has a hearing problem anyway, but we laugh about how he takes so long to reply to questions that we don’t know if he really heard us or not.

I’m catching his bad habit.  It’s a escape mechanism, a way to stall while I think.  It’s not wrong to avoid a hastily given answer, but I do need to at least acknowledge the question!  I don’t want to run and hide from hard questions.  I want to become a man who faces them, keeps his joy, and brings wisdom and generosity to the world around him.

Yes Son, you can have a banana.

Validation: Willing to try

Do I have what it takes?  This question haunts me.  Every time I’m faced with a new challenge, something I fear, something that stretches me, the question comes again.  And it’s not necessarily about that particular task.  I’m not asking, “Do I have what it takes to unclog this sink?”  Rather, the question goes to my core.  “If I struggle with this clogged sink, or can’t figure it out, what does this say about me, as a man?  Am I a failure?  Am I stupid?  Am I a Poser?

Failing at something is not a big deal.  It happens all the time.  Of course I don’t know how to do everything.  Of course I am still learning and growing.  But failing at something little and insignificant can touch a nerve in the heart, re-awaken a wound of not being validated.  Then failing becomes a defining part of me.  All the sudden, I didn’t just fail, I am a failure.

How can I find validation as a man?  I can live my whole life seeking “atta boys” and “great jobs,” but it doesn’t work.  The fun disappears from sports.  The satisfaction disappears from creating things.  I don’t enjoy the activity, only what I can get from admirers.  What happens when I don’t get the praise I so desperately need?

Depression, self pity, and despair.  The lie is reinforced – “You are a failure, Cam.  You don’t have what it takes.”

A wise man told me that those who have been validated in their core heart will be willing to do two things.

1. Try new things, even if they look silly at first.

2. Ask for help.

If I encounter an area in my life where I won’t do these two things, then I am bringing my validation question into it.  Maybe it’s finances or fitness, loving my wife or raising my kids.  Maybe it’s being a true friend or starting a business.  Whatever the category, I want to be willing to risk new things and ask for help.

But how?

There is only one way to find my validation.

It’s scary.

I must ask God what He thinks of me.

“What do you think of me, God?  Do I have what it takes?  Am I a man?  Are you proud of me?  Do you love me, I mean, truly?

This is the most raw prayer we may ever pray.  I have trouble even forming the words.  The answer feels so vital.  I’m afraid He might say no.

But you know what?  Every time I have asked, He has answered.  Not right away, and not in the way I expect.  But He has.  And every time I hear Him say, “Yes.  A million times, yes.”

Going Soft

I have this love/hate relationship with Challenge and Hardship.

On the one hand, I love overcoming, gaining the ground, winning the game, and bragging to my friends afterwards (in a subtle, mature way, of course :-)).  I love seeing how the excruciating exercise shaped my body, or how the sleepless night showed me I can survive without rest, or how the flat tire forced me to learn to change it and keep going.

On the other other hand, I am terrified of Challenge and Hardship, I hate them, and I do everything I can to avoid them at all cost.  I long for comfort in all aspects of my life, or better yet, convenience.  Smart phones, microwaves, pillows, and automatic transmissions.  I fear that if I take the challenge, grin and chase it, I will fall flat on my face.  I’ll be shown up as a weakling, a loser, incompetent, wimpy, confused, lost, unprepared, and over-matched.

While I’d love to say I mostly choose the first hand, the sad reality is I more often choose the second hand.

This is not good for my soul.  A young man needs hardship, adversity, and a healthy dose of occasional danger to mature.  If I never overcome because I never have to, I lose much.  This encourages me to lean into challenge, smile at it, thank it, even taunt it.  “When I get through with you, I’m going to be even more a man.”  But how can I say this?  How can I know I have what it takes?  I’ll talk about that in the next post…

For more on this thought, watch this five minute clip.

In the Middle of the Marriage Fight

What phrases consistently come to mind when you are upset and arguing with your spouse?

“They will always be this way.”

“This is as good as it gets.”

“I already know what they will say, and how they will react.  There is nothing new to learn.”

“It’s the same old path again.  It will never change.”

When I believe them, these phrases paralyze me from finding true reconciliation with Rachel.  We might agree to a cease-fire because we’re both exhausted, but the same issues come up again later.

Are these phrases true?

Is my wife the exact same person as when we got married, or even last month?  Or has she grown in small ways, maybe invisible to me now, that would cause her to react differently?

Is this really as good as it gets?  Are we stuck?

Will it really never change?  Ever?  Really?

I say no.  These are lies, powerful because they seem so true in that moment of anger, depression, and despair.  Don’t believe them.  They are the bait to a mediocre existence.  Scream back at them if you must, “I reject you!  I refuse to give in to despair.  My marriage will be better tomorrow and next month and next year, because I will continue to change for the better.  Get out of my head!  Stay away from my heart.”

Being the Beloved Son

My theme the past week or two has been Beloved Son.  That is who I am, but it’s rarely how I live.  More often, my actions and thoughts reveal phrases like, “You are on your own,” “Make it work,” and “If you don’t handle it, no one will.”  But beloved sons don’t have to worry, for they have a Daddy who delights in them, and takes care of them.  On this theme, I have been chewing on the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke.  I wanted to write a gripping version of the story that captures the despair of the son at his wits end, and the amazing love of his Papa.

But Morgan Snyder beat me to it.  And did it so well.  Read it here:

I must admit – I’m tempted to feel jealous.  “Dude, you beat me to the punch.  I can never top that.”  But quickly, I’m overwhelmed by how he conveys the scene, how the son finally comes to know that he is still his daddy’s Beloved even after all he has done, and I smile and give Morgan a nod.  “Great job Brother.  Great job.”

Building Castles and Believing Lies

This evening Rachel is going out for a while to have some much needed Me-Time, and I’m taking care of the three kids.  As I ponder what the evening might hold, I notice a theme.

How much time do I have to play with them?

I’ve fallen prey to a powerful lie that holds many parents – “You are always behind.”  I feel behind in everything.  My career, my yard work, my home renovations, my chores, my education, my friendships, and every aspect of the farm.  But if I live life constantly trying to catch up, I can’t possibly engage fully with my kids when they say, “Daddy, help us build a fort!”  There is no time for making bows and arrows from saplings, or dressing up and defending our yard from invaders, or building trucks, stables, and houses with Legos.  Every minute is needed for the to-do list.

I simply can’t live life trying to catch up.  I’ll miss too much whimsy, too many belly laughs from my three year old son.  The to-do list will have to wait.  It’s waited before, it can do it again.

On second thought, I need to add a new item to it – “Make a cape, sword sheath, and hero hat.”  If we’re going to play, Daddy is going to do it right…

What is My Effect on Others?

If I want a question that cuts through the hazy mumbo jumbo surrounding the word authenticity, here is a great one –

What is my effect on others?

(It might help to use relational layers to this question.)

What is my effect on others who have never met me?

What is my effect on people that meet me for the first time?

What is my effect on my co-workers or the family that sits behind me at church?

And most revealing…

What is my effect on my spouse, my family, and my closest friends?

The answers might be completely different depending on the category of people.  As people get to know me better, do they feel safer, more comfortable, and more joyful?  Or the opposite.

If I’m honest this is a great exercise for uncovering the problem, which as we know, is half the battle.  But the solution to that problem once it reveals itself…  I don’t have the cute little blog-post answer for that one.

My Dream Job

I’ve landed my dream job.  It’s going to be a huge challenge, but the rewards, both physical and emotional, will be so worth the effort.  Nothing is going to stop me from excelling and giving it my best self.  I will show up early, and leave late.  When other activities or people come along to distract me, I will make sure they don’t take too much time away from it.  I’m going to give it my all.

My dream job will determine the way I dress, the books I read, and how I spend my free time.  I will work overtime, going above and beyond my peers, to become a master in my field.  My goal is world class expert, and if it takes 10,000 hours, I will do it.

If I succeed in my dream job, I will be richer, happier, more peaceful, more healthy, and live longer.  If I fail, quitting is not an option.  The stakes are incredibly high, but with God’s help, I am up to the challenge.  I foresee it being all-consuming.  Retirement doesn’t really exist.

My job is marriage, and my title is husband.

The Rainforest Economy

News anchors and talking heads love to spout off about what they call The Economy.

“The Economy is suffering under this administration.”

“The Economy is making a brilliant recovery.”

“The Economy is in danger.”

What are they talking about?  What is this thing called the Economy?  They make it sound like a big machine hidden in some government warehouse that churns out stuff and consumes stuff and might die tomorrow or might grow bigger and run strong.  But what is it really?

The economy is more like a rainforest than a machine.  A rainforest is made up of millions of little living things – snakes, mice, ferns, monkeys, algae, jaguars, fish.  On any given day, if a scientist studies one of these factors they would be alarmed at what they find.  “The snake population has grown 17% in the past year.  If this continues, all the mice will die, and there won’t be enough food, and then the snakes will die, killing all the iguanas that feed on the snakes, thereby ruining the delicate ecosystem in the rainforest.  Be afraid!  Warning, warning!”

While the facts about the individual populations of the rainforest are true, if we abandoned the whole thing and came back 500 years from now, the rainforest would still be there flourishing.  Because it’s composed of millions of factors, taking any one factor and saying it has the ability to control all the others is silly.  Things adapt, adjust, and move on.

If the Economy were a giant machine, then one malfunctioning part or one bad operator could ruin it all.  The growth or decline would be immediate and explosive, or predictably gradual.  But neither of these scenarios are reality.  Even the Great Recession was a temporary roadblock, albeit a painful one.

No one can predict or control the Economy.  Like the rainforest, it is more adaptable then we realize, because it’s made up of millions of living beings called people making millions of predictable and unpredictable decisions.  No “expert” can know how things will go.  We are all along for the ride, making educated guesses and constantly reworking our theories.

NOTE: I credit the analogy for this post to Brian Wesbury at First Trust Portfolios.  I really enjoy his little 5 min. economics videos.  You can see the latest ones here –

The Aerobics of Spending Money

Last week the whole family visited our local Good Will store.  In our area of the country, Good Will is an organization that runs thrift stores with 100% of the store’s inventory coming from donations.  They generally employ folks who have been smacked around by life, and are trying to get back on their feet.  It’s a great business model.  We love the store because it offers clothes, toys, and household items at dirt cheap prices.  We purchase most of these budget categories from thrift stores in our town.

As Rachel browsed for name brand dress pants for me, I took the kids in the cart and cruised slowly up and down each aisle to kill time.  I’m not a shopper.

Genevieve, my little horse queen, saw a shiny plastic horse with a purple mane for sale, and just had to have it.  We do not make impulse purchases for our children while shopping, but if they have the money saved, then they can spend their own money for toys they want.  So we began having a conversation about the wisdom of the purchase.

“OK darling, let’s leave the horse on the shelf here and walk around the store for a few minutes.”

“But what if someone else buys it?”  Distressed tone.

“It’s OK.  I think it will still be here if we come back.  Do you really really want the horse?  A whole whole lot or just kinda?

“I really want it.”

“You have plenty of other horses already.  How will this horse be different from your other horses?”

After thinking about it she replied, “Well, if the horse is a girl, she can marry my other big horse because he is a boy.  Let’s go see if she is a girl.”

We live on a farm, so our kids learn early how to tell the gender of an animal.

As we slowly cruised back towards the toy aisle, I continued to ask her questions to help her decide if the purchase was a good one.

“Oh yes, this is a girl.  Can I buy her Daddy?”

“Did you bring your money?”


“Hum, well that is a problem.  How will you pay for her?”

“Maybe we could drive back home and get my money.”

“Well, I’m willing to pay for it now, if you promise to pay me back.  Is that OK with you?”

“Oh yes Daddy.”

“Let’s take another close look at her and make sure she doesn’t have any cracks.”  As we inspected it, we found the seam on the rump was pulling apart, so the discussion took a new direction.

“Darling, it has a crack in it.  Are you OK with that?”

“Yes Daddy.  Look, with this crack I can make her tail go down longer than her legs.”

Looking at the price tag again, I said, “It costs one dollar.  Do you have a dollar?”


“And you are sure you want it badly enough to spend your money on it?”


“OK then, let’s head to the checkout line.”

Before I got out of bed the next morning, Genevieve had already brought in the dollar and put it on our dresser.  I’ve been happy to see she has played with the horse frequently, and it appears right now to be a good purchase.

Deciding whether or not to buy something should be a long hard process, full of tough questions and much thought.  Even if it only costs a dollar.  I pray my kids will grow up learning that buying stuff doesn’t make them happy, and the more they spend, the more they will give their precious time to other people to pay for those purchases.