This Is What Love Looks Like

I have an uncle that I admire. His name is Rick.

You probably don’t know him. But, if you did, you would sense that he’s different.

He’s one of the most loving guys I know. And we can all learn from him.

When he wants to talk to my wife or me, he will call and call until he gets a hold of us. If he can’t reach me, he’ll call my wife. If she doesn’t pick up, he will call me, then her, then me, then her again. And if he still can’t reach us, he will wait a few hours then call us again, even if we don’t call back.

When he finally reaches us, he will ask to see us. There’s no shame or guilt in his tone; he’s not upset that we didn’t pick up or call him back. He seems genuinely happy to talk to us. And while my wife and I are deliberating on when to see him, I will look at my wife and she will look at me, while Uncle Rick is still on the phone–waiting. He’s not pestering us. He’s not shrinking or embarrassed that we are taking our time. He quietly waits.

And then when we eventually say, “Yes, it would be great to see you!” he’s delighted. Even though he had to wait minutes for us to figure out the timing, he didn’t interpret it as us not wanting to see him. He gives us the benefit of the doubt.

When he shows up, he blesses us. He loves on us with his words, big smiles, and kind gestures. He brings gifts for our kids; he wishes us well.

And that whole series of events from calling to showing up hasn’t just happened once, it’s happened multiple times, in one form or another, since my wife and I married.

See, Rick’s a pitbull of love. He doesn’t take no for an answer. He’s not deterred by our indecision, upset by our uncertainty, troubled when we don’t call back. He just keeps coming.

He doesn’t think, “Oh, these people have disrespected me by not calling me back or not picking up or making me wait.” No. He just keeps on loving.

And I love him for it. I can’t help but respect him for it. I admire him and try to imitate him. He inspires me. I’m far from being like him, but I’m trying.

I hope he inspires you, too.

In a world that is broken relationally, we need that type of behavior. We need people who fight for each other, take the initiative, reach out, and give generously. We need more generosity. We need more Uncle Ricks.

What would this world look like if people were more resolute, resilient, resolved, tenacious, unwavering for others? What would we as a people be like if we loved each other through the awkwardness, the pauses, the silence? 

We should all be more like Uncle Rick.

Let’s try today.


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When You Savor Life, You Are Rich

An urgency to live well grows in us when we see our parents growing old.

Or at least that’s what happened to me yesterday. 

“It felt like a few days ago when we took these pictures,” my mom said to my son as she showed him an album of Polaroid pictures of me when I was a one year old. Disbelief marked his eyes as she flipped through the images of me with chubby cheeks captured on instant film framed on the iconic white borders over four decades ago. 

Disbelief struck me too. It’s cliche to say that time moves so quickly. But when you are standing with your child socially distanced from your seventy-something year old mother looking at baby pictures of you learning to walk, with her saying it felt like a few days ago, it’s not cliche at all. It’s real

It’s a reality that slaps you in your face and kicks in the heart, urging you to live. You feel rushed to cram as much as you can in the years, months, days, because you sense the ticking of time somewhere out there, somewhere in you, flitting away. 

But, for me, making the most of life isn’t so much about doing more or going to exotic destinations or achieving incredible milestones, as much as I do appreciate travel and creating big experiences.

It’s more about savoring the little moments. The bite-sized love packets of the seemingly ordinary, like I was having with my son and mom looking at pictures of me drooling on myself, or having a nice meal at home laughing with my wife and kids, or sharing ideas and stories with friends.

When you can drink those in, that’s when you can really start living. Those are the times of connection that flow with fresh meaning. And by drinking them in, you’ll taste the goodness of life anew, like tasting fine wine for the first time as the flavors dance on your palate like little fairies having a party.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget those “smaller” events when we’re trying to check off our bucket-list. But when we are, let’s not forget the “normal” instances that truly make up the stuff of life. It’s less about the thrill and more about feeling intimacy, closeness in those meaningful everyday interactions that hold monumental significance.

In life, less is often so much more.

Savoring the daily joys fills the cups of our hearts to the brim and makes them overflow. 

It’s an abundance and flourishing that anyone can have. 

It’s here. Take it—every day. Enjoy.

You’ll be rich.


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The Best Thing About Our Baby Having a Cleft Lip and Palate

Our son was born with a birth defect called a cleft lip and palate.

This happens when the lip and roof of a baby’s mouth doesn’t fully close up in the womb creating a gap, thus the “cleft.”

During almost all of the pregnancy, we went about our lives completely unaware of it.

Finding About the Cleft

We were so excited to have another child, and with each passing day, the excitement grew. And around 36 weeks, we were ready to pop emotionally and physically. But something strange started to happen.

My wife experienced mild contractions, but not enough for labor. We were surprised but not scared, at first. Then the contractions went on for days.

Alarmed, our midwives thought it could be the placenta blocking the birth canal, which was scary. So they rushed to get us an appointment for a full anatomy scan of the baby to see if that was the case. It wasn’t.

But the doctor found something else.

In the tiny examining room (in New York City most rooms are tighter than you think they should be), my wife could sense that the doctor was uncomfortable. Eventually she found the words to say, “Your baby has a cleft lip and palate.”

Cleft Conversation

I couldn’t be at the appointment but met my wife at the clinic so that we could walk home together. When I saw her there, she melted into tears. So I wrapped my arms around her and tried to provide some comfort.

Her reaction frightened me, and I asked her if the baby was ok. She said yes. But there was clearly more. Then she told me why she was so distraught.

And, after a moment, I said, “So, he’ll be like Joaquin Phoenix.”

She looked at me with a look that said: “What the #%*# are you talking about?” So to clarify, I said, “You know, the actor with the cleft lip; he’s famous,” and rattled off a couple of his better movies.

She ignored me. “I guess she wasn’t looking for clarity,” I thought.

Eventually, we walked out of the sterile clinic, hand in hand, bracing ourselves for the unknown as we plunged into the outer world.

Once we hit the streets, we prayed. It helped both of us.

Then we did the thing that she was dying to do—plan. Planning is my wife’s love language. So we talked through the scenarios and what we needed to do to find the best care we could and how we would go about it. I was already googling up physicians in NYC who specialized in this as we walked through Brooklyn on a chilly but sunny day. A course of action started or form as we made our way to the subway platform.

Everything started to feel ok again, when she said, “So. Joaquin Pheonix,” and smirked at me. “Yeah,” I said, as I googled him up and showed her a picture of him, “He’s a good looking dude, right?” She seemed to give an approving look. I said, “See. Our baby will be fine,” reassuring her.

Cleft Birth, at Home

A couple of days later, she went into labor. We weren’t sure if the baby was coming or not. But then something switched on, and it got real.

And all the while my wife was laboring, I held a hope that our baby didn’t have a cleft thinking there was a chance the doctor was wrong. But she wasn’t.

Twenty minutes later, our son was born, and it happened so fast that the midwives didn’t have time to arrive to make the birth. So my wife and I were alone (as we were for the first one).

He was healthy, but he had a full unilateral cleft lip and palate, which means his cleft was on one side and extended to the back of his mouth and up to his nostril.

I just wanted our son to be ok, healthy, “normal.” He was beautiful. But he was also different. He had a gap in his face.

Cleft Surgeon

Surgeries were also in his near future.

We had already researched all kinds of doctors, knowing who was the best and where they worked and reviewed their resumes and read all of the reviews and what so and so said about them in 2013. We talked to other parents of cleft babies and asked about their surgeons. We dug deep.

Then it was time to do interviews, which sounded like speed dating with surgeons. We set up meetings with our top three.

But after interviewing the first one, something clicked. He was confident, as all surgeons are. But more than that, he had a determination to provide the best outcome for his patients. And the postoperative pictures were amazing. Also, he specialized in cleft operations. It’s all he did. And somehow, there was even a twinge of humility in him. We liked him; and more importantly, we trusted him. So we canceled the other interviews because we didn’t need to look further. He was our guy.

Cleft NAM

The weeks that ensued were much harder than we thought they would be. It probably had to do with the fact that we were essentially shaping our baby’s face with a piece of acrylic, called a NAM.

Our baby basically needed a “retainer” for the gums, called a nasoalveolar molding (or NAM). It’s like that plastic contraption people wear on their teeth that an orthodontist will give them after they get out of braces. But our baby had that for his gums on his upper jaw (since newborns don’t have teeth).

He had to wear the NAM all day every day for the most part. And my wife and I (but mostly she) would fasten it to his face with surgical tape and rubber bands, the same ridiculously tiny ones used for braces. Every week my wife would go in to see the dentist so that he could adjust the NAM.

Our baby screamed a lot during that time because shaping a face with a big piece of acrylic in your mouth probably hurt him, or at least it was super annoying. So, like a banshee, he would rail at the top of his lungs. And for such a small human, he had a huge voice. And he would employ it for hours, sending us curling into a fetal position, feeling like we needed to vomit. It was hell.

There was also some screaming between my wife and me. I mean, having a newborn is hard enough with the lack of sleep and diapers and blowouts and making sure they’re gaining weight. Fights are bound to happen. But add the fact that your trying to pull one side of your son’s upper jaw to the other side to close a wide gap in his face is something else entirely. Babies cause stress. With the cleft, that was taken to another level. Sometimes we went nuclear.

But regardless of who was screaming and no matter how loud it was, we were grateful for the results. We knew that doing the NAM well would make a huge difference for the outcome of our child, so we wanted to overachieve here. And, Thank God, it worked.

After three months, the cleft shrank to a sliver.

Cleft Surgeries

But, nothing prepares you for letting your three month old baby go under the knife. The surgeries were planned. And the first one was scheduled. But we were terrified.

The lip and nose came first. Waiting for him to get out of the operation was terrible, but the transformation was astounding. After the swelling from the surgery went down and he started looking like our baby again instead of a boxer after fighting ten rounds, it almost looked like he never had a cleft. (These days, you can’t even see the scar.) It was amazing.

Then seven months later, right as the coronavirus started to ramp up in NYC, we had the palate surgery. To this day, I have no idea how the surgeon closed up the cleft on the roof of his mouth. One moment our baby had a gap on the top of his mouth. Then, later that same day, it was gone.

There was only one problem. It was agonizing for our baby. With stitching everywhere and raw flesh, it looked like the roof of his mouth was Frankenstein-ed together. It essentially was. And that meant pain. He was desperate for pain-killers, which we gave him. We agonized with him.

Cleft-less Future

But all of that is past us now.

And these days, what happened almost feels like a dream, a distant memory of some event that probably occurred. It could have been someone else. And the truth is, it is.

There are thousands of other families who go through a similar experience, and many aren’t able to get the kind of care we received.

So, I’m grateful. It makes us—my family and me—more compassionate. We can empathize with and have compassion for those who also have difficulties or circumstances that are worse than ours. All of this has softened our hearts and made us more aware how hard parenting can really be. Having a baby is a dangerous business. It can crush your heart. But it’s worth the risk.

Best of all, we are grateful that God gave us this baby. He’s special. He’s undergone a lifetime of pain before he’s even tasted his first birthday cake. Some of the experiences were awful, but they gave us perspective. And we are richer because of him and all of the moments we’ve had, good—and bad.

Before the birth of our baby, if you had told me that a birth defect could be a gift, I would have thought the idea ridiculous. But now, I know it’s not.

We are blessed: We have a son who looks like Joaquin Phoenix. 😉

This is Cleft Awareness Week. And this is our story of having a cleft baby.

Love to you all.


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This Perspective Helps You Live

Stories of death have been haunting me lately, helping me view the world, better.

This week I read two posts about people I know who lost loved ones, not to the pandemic, but tragically nonetheless. One lost a young wife, and the other, a baby who was stillborn.

And while my eyes pored over the words filled with loss, there was a pressure on my chest, and a sorrow that filled me, the same feelings I felt when my father passed when I was a boy.

Death feels wrong. No matter how many times people say, “It’s a part of life,” death feels faulty, like looking through a distorted lens leaving everything misshaped. Some say it’s “natural,” but I think it’s the most unnatural thing there is in nature. It always leaves a void, a wound. It feels like a gaping hole in one’s heart. It’s an end that feels like it never ends and where new beginnings cease to be. Of course, that wound will heal, some, but it never fully mends. It will ache. It always will.

But just because death is wrong doesn’t mean that right things can’t result from it. For example, the pandemic is terrible, but it has brought out incredible courage and sacrifice from people, especially those on the frontlines. No one would say that the virus is good. But nonetheless, good can result from it. A gift can still be given even in the bleakest of times, from the worst of events.

For many of us, death also gives us something good. It’s perspective. It’s a mindset given to us, who are left behind, that will go before us for the rest of our lives. It reminds us that there is so much to lose, more than money, possessions, investments, homes. We lose connection, the very thing we all really want the most, the relationship with a wife that didn’t get as many days as she should have, or to hold the crying baby who shouldn’t have died before birth.

There’s a clarity in death that no other event we experience can provide. We see so clearly that life is fragile. We are fragile, mere mortals, who can return to dust again so easily. We can see the treasure we have in time. Yes, it’s finite—and there’s nothing like death to make us realize our finitude—but that fuels the urgency to live fully, making the best of the minutes, hours, days, we’ve been allotted. So we enjoy the present, basking in each moment. Through death, we see life more clearly.

Gratitude, eventually, somehow flows more naturally after a loved one dies. When death takes what feels like everything away from you, the people who remain seem all the more precious. Your life does, too. You see it as you ought—as a gift. Each day, each waking moment, each memory are all gifts to you, to me, to us.

For those who have been humbled, you will understand that you do not have as much control as you want. You are not on the throne. Knowing that, you are able to release that ultimate direction to another, freeing yourself from the burden of trying to reign a land that is beyond your power. For your crown is not big enough to rule life. And in that understanding, you find it strangely freeing.

If you have faith, you will remember that the Son of God wept over death and He Himself suffered a bloody end. He was torn from His earthly mother and Heavenly Father. He knows the powerful grip of Death and how its boney fingers take without care. And yet He rose from the grave, defeating Death by death. And because He knows its sting, He comforts us who suffer at its hand.

My hope is that, even in the heaviness of these words, you find comfort, that you can fly on it’s wings and feel the dawn breaking around you, presenting a fresh new day before your eyes. I also hope that you see the glory of life and that there is much to be grateful for at this moment. And even if you feel an ache right now, I hope you can, even if it’s just for a mere moment, know the goodness of today.

Death does haunt the living, but it can never hold down Life.


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Finding Rest Right Now

We’re tired. Fighting a pandemic is exhausting. Even if you’re home alone or with kids or whatever, this is taking a lot more energy than we ever imagined it would.

Who knew homeschooling was like herding cats and trying to teach them math.

And then there’s the militaristic effort to sanitize everything—I mean everything—before it gets into your house. That alone can grind you down to a nub.

Lately I even find myself getting a little sloppier with my sanitization practices. Usually at the grocery store I ask the person checking me out to sanitize their hands before touching our groceries. But recently I didn’t. Staying hyper vigilant is getting harder.

Yes, we shouldn’t slack. We need to continue herding the cats, sanitizing, etc., but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to rest even in the midst of a battle.

Just because you’re working a lot or not at all doesn’t mean your mind isn’t overworked. That’s what a crisis does. It makes you worry, stress, think. That’s a lot of work no matter how busy you are. So finding a respite for your head is essential.

Find times to stop working or worrying. Watch a funny video or read a chapter of a beautiful novel that doesn’t have anything to do with viruses or a pandemic and sit back and enjoy the ride. (Need some material? See below.) Pray, meditate, exercise, but whatever you do don’t read the news.

Find ways to practice self-care. Create space for yourself or your partner, so you can do the things you need to stay as healthy as you can. They don’t need to be long moments, just long enough.

Even in a pandemic, or especially so, we need to know our limits and take the time to find restoration. Doing that will help you continue this fight.

Stay well.

Great Reads To Divert Your Mind

In These Trying Times I Want to Remind My Followers I Have A Ridiculously Hot Body :: Beware! Laughter will pour out of you if you read this. My Restaurant Was My Life for 20 Years. Does the World Need It Anymore? :: This is related to the pandemic, but it’s an incredibly well written story that gives us all perspective. It’s strangely diverting. 

Jeff Bezos’s Lazy Saturday Morning Routine :: Another funny gut busting piece. 


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Feel Connected

Be the first to initiate, text, call, zoom.

Just because you’re in isolation doesn’t mean you need to be isolated.

You can be connected, connecting, loved, loving.

Reach out to your friends, family, colleagues, neighbors. Ask them how they’re doing. Wish them well.

And the loneliness you feel will somehow feel far less lonely.

You’ll feel rich, blessed. So will they.

That’s what initiating does.

You’ll connect.


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How you can be a good friend when life sucks

Being a good friend isn’t easy, but it’s simple: Just show up.

Last week I went to a funeral for my good friend’s dad. And I’ll be honest there was a part of me that wanted to run, shy away, draw back.

I’m an introvert (maybe you can relate).

Then, there are no guidelines, clear protocols, understandings of how to conduct yourself when you go to a funeral for a friend’s parent.

So I endeavored to do what I could. The moment my plane landed, I texted my friend announcing my arrival. He asked if I wanted to come over to his mom’s. I said yes, of course.

When I got there, I greeted his sister, mom, kids, wife, and of course, him. Some conversation was made. But mostly I sat, and was just there.

Then he and I went out to eat with a couple of his kids, and we talked about all kinds of things: friends, him, me, us, family. And we inevitably talked about death and his dad. It wasn’t scripted. It wasn’t perfect. But it was rich.

After we dropped off his kids, we went out to get a cup of coffee and talk and spend some more time together. We reminisced and shared stories.

I told one about how I almost peed my pants while filming a video for a client in the middle of some random neighborhood in East St. Louis while the client was there, and how I was looking for a bush to go in and then had a brilliant idea to go to a complete stranger’s house and knock on their door to ask if I could use their bathroom. To make matters worse, it was around 630am. And somehow I talked my way into that complete stranger’s house in East St. Louis and used their bathroom, and I thanked God that I didn’t pee my pants in front of our client. He laughed; I laughed; we laughed. Then he shared his own stories, and I almost peed my pants (metaphorically) again. At one point we were crying from laughing so hard at some of our stories, mostly his, my belly hurt. It was magical.

It’s weird how much you need to laugh when there’s so much pain surrounding you, in you. Laughing heals.

Eventually, we made it back to his mom’s place, and I went back in even though I had no idea what to do. I didn’t want to intrude or be a nuisance, but I also wanted to be near and supportive.

They were just moving around as they normally would, and I said that if they needed me to leave that I would. They said, “No, no, you’re fine,” but my insecurities made me feel unfine. After spending some time with all of them, I decided to leave.

The visitation was in a couple of hours, and I still needed to change clothes since I doubted my hoodie, albeit black, would be appropriate garb for the occasion.

After changing, I went to the visitation, said hello, hugged folks, made some conversation, paid my respects, reflected on the deceased, life, my life, death, my death, and moved on. I didn’t leave though. I sat in a wing backed chair, waited, watched, pondered, and prayed. An hour passed and I saw that I wasn’t needed, so I left.

And I thought about what I was feeling and what it meant to be a good friend in a time like this and how awkward I felt and sounded. But I kept on thinking about a conversation I had with my son when he asked me why I was leaving to go out of town again.

I explained to him that friendship is mostly just about “showing up, just being there, that’s often all that matters.” When I said it, I don’t think I knew how true it was.

To be honest, I felt like a dolt much of the time. But I resolved to be present. I didn’t need to talk, say the right thing, in fact, I probably said something stupid; but I was there. And it was all driven by love.

“Love covers over a multitude of sins,” the Bible says. That was very true for me.

No matter how doltish I felt or acted, I still seemed to get the feeling across that all I wanted to do was love. And it was received and welcomed.

When I was younger, another one of my best friend’s dad died, and I didn’t go to his funeral. It was one of the great regrets of my life.

I don’t exactly know why I didn’t. At the time, I would have said something about it being out of town and that I was just there a couple of weeks ago. But that’s lame. I was lame.

I think I was just afraid. I didn’t want to feel unwanted or like an idiot or be doltish. Instead, I acted like a fool and failed as a friend.

This time I wouldn’t.

You see, friendship isn’t about being perfect. It’s more often than not about being present, “just being there, showing up.” It’s about telling embarrassing stories about yourself so your friend can laugh. It’s about being willing to make yourself uncomfortable and just love.

Even if you’re an introvert, insecure, unsure, a dolt (like me), just show up. And magic will happen.

Anyone can be a great friend.

You can, too.

True strength

True strength isn’t about how much weight you can throw around in the gym; rather, it’s about your ability to carry the burdens of others.

It’s certainly not about how many people you can hurt, but it’s about those you can heal.

The strongest of us shouldn’t spend our energy trying to control anyone else but ourselves, mastering our own desires and impulses.

If you are strong, you serve. If you are powerful, you expend it on those who have less power.

Your strength should make others stronger.

How to love your life

To love the life you have, you must live a life of love.

It’s easy to buy into the idea that the more we possess like money, homes, stuff, the happier we will be, but that’s not true.

Being rich doesn’t make you feel rich. There’s always someone richer to make you feel poorer.

And there’s nothing wrong with being wealthy; just don’t expect it to make you feel fulfilled. That doesn’t work.

What works is loving what should be loved.

By making people, family, friends, neighbors, strangers, ourselves, God the objects of our heart’s desire, caring for and serving them fills us with the joy we want, need.

Love begets love.

The most important thing that should matter to you

What matters, really? Your life does. The very fact you get to breathe, wake up, chit chat with your neighbors is paramount. Without it everything else wouldn’t matter.

Another thing that matters are relationships, getting to be with loved ones, the people who really love you and whom you love—for whom you would die—and know.

And that’s when you know what really matters when you’re about to die. It’s ironic, really, that you often can’t see what matters in life until you reach the end of it. What really matters is invisible until you’re about to close your eyes for the last time. But don’t wait until then. That’s too late, damn it!

Why not wake up and live for what is worth dying for before you’ve spent your life living for something or someone you never intended? Don’t make that mistake! Do what’s important.

Start by imagining yourself on your deathbed, drawing your last breaths, dreading the inevitable. In that, what or who are you thinking about, caring about? That is what matters. Death is the key to life.

Because when nothing matters is when we realize what really should matter and that we made what shouldn’t have mattered matter.

That insult, that heartache by that lover we spent too many years fretting about, that partner who cheated us, that parent who failed us, that job we never cared for, that failure we made, that money we didn’t make, that party we weren’t invited to, that flaw we have don’t matter when compared to what really does.

And remember this.

You matter.