On Learning to Accept the Gift of Free Time

lake hope family free time
“I always talk about the flexibility of our schedules, but when do I ever take advantage of that?”

I said that to my wife while I had my jeans rolled up, my feet dipped in a shallows of a lake, and our son chirping joyfully as he dug at the sand and splashed it into the water with his shovel.

It was the last warm day for a few weeks, perhaps for the entire fall and certainly the last time the nighttime temperature would be warm enough to sleep outside.

It was also a Tuesday.

My wife is a graduate student and I work as a freelance writer. We split up the childcare with our two kids, and we try to keep our schedules flexible when she’s not teaching a class. This set up means I get to spend more time with the kids, but my income can also be uncertain from month to month.

I often tell people that being a writer means I get to be really flexible and get to spend more time with the kids even if the income isn’t amazing. And then last Monday we realized that the temperature would drop after Wednesday and it would most likely rain over the weekend. So we debated whether we should go camping on Tuesday evening and spend part of Wednesday at a lake.

I wondered for about an hour if I really should jump on the opportunity.

By the time we stood on the shore of Lake Hope the next day, I was disappointed in myself. Why had I even debated this? True I had to work late on Monday and then had to hustle a bit on Wednesday afternoon to keep on pace for one deadline. But I HAD the flexibility to make a 24-hour camping getaway happen when the weather was most conducive.

Our toddler especially loved sleeping in the tent. I mean, what’s better than shining a flashlight all over a tent and occasionally blinding your father with its beam? And what could be better than having free reign of a beach and lake with a bucket full of digging toys?

This little camping trip was supposed to be the precise kind of benefit to my uncertain freelance career!

Sometimes I’m so focused on my work and my career that I forget about the trade off I’ve made. I try to keep pushing, and I fail to rest, take breaks, or receive the gift of free time. I start to measure my success in terms of my bank account even though I’ve tried to make a flexible schedule a priority for my family.

I’ve tried to give myself the gift of free time. Unfortunately I’ve been so focused on my work that I’ve failed to take it.

How many gifts are right in front of us for the taking?

What keeps us from receiving what is already ours?


I’m at High Risk of Enjoying My Life


The sun has been shining non-stop each day for the month of September, and we’ve spent almost every morning taking a walk—myself and my two sons in our epic double stroller.

There was a season when I used to think of how much I wasn’t getting done compared to other people because I spend the morning with our kids. When E, our toddler, was a newborn, I used to really resent the times when his naps ended prematurely. When I can’t catch a break with our current newborn, B, there are times when I can hardly stomp my feet hard enough with frustration.

Today was one of those mornings where nothing seemed to be going right.

B needed his bottle during our walk within a half block of our home. Then he needed to be burped. Then he needed a new diaper within another half block. Then he fussed and fretted, whining for his pacifier but not actually sucking on it.

After forty-five minutes of sticking the pacifier back in his mouth repeatedly, I relented and strapped him into the Ergo Carrier where he immediately dozed off. We cut our snail-paced walk short and beat it to the playground where E was eager to kick his ball around on the tennis court.

“Ten-is court!” he said over and over again.

We kicked and tossed his ball around at the tennis court, but he soon transitioned to the playground, lugging his ball along and looking over his shoulder to make sure we were following him as he trucked ahead. The sun continued to blaze in the sky, and I hung back in the shade whenever I could.

He zipped down the slide, scaled the steep steps, and ventured up a ladder. He even climbed a new ladder on the other end of the playground after I encouraged him to give it a shot. B hardly moved a muscle all morning, his docile face still with his hands balled up in little fists that eventually fell limp.

As E scampered from one slide to another, I paused to reflect on the moment. I wasn’t anxious, resentful, or distracted. I wasn’t wishing I could have a steady 9-5 job that paid more reliably than freelancing. I was present for a change.

This is something I’ve been working on.

It’s not that I don’t want to be a dad or to stay home with our kids during the mornings. It’s just that I’ve tried to balance the need to earn some money with my parenting, and it’s easy to let the money side of things win. When my anxiety came to a head last June and I struggled to fall asleep each night, I hit a point where I had to just let go of control.

I can work hard when I’m working, but I also need to play hard when I’m with the kids. Who would have thought that I need to learn how to play again?

I’ve spent so much time wishing I was somewhere else with my life with more stability and with more opportunities that I failed to see all of the blessings in my present. And when I failed to see the blessings of the present, I worried about all that wasn’t going right.

I used to think I was building something, creating something big and meaningful that I can leave behind some day. It’s not quite like that.

Yes, my writing work can be quite meaningful. Other days it’s just something to pay the bills. Still, it’s all something that I’m able to do and that I generally enjoy doing. But I used to place so much stock in my identity as a writer and provider for my family that I lost sight of everything else.

I’m trying to see what I’d overlooked.

I am being undone, unraveled, one day at a time. I’m demolishing that false identity that, quite frankly, was falling to pieces anyway under the weight of my expectations and comparisons with others.

I’m seeing the sun. I’m seeing my son’s delight in black walnuts and the way he holds them out toward a squirrel and says, “Yum! Yum! Yum!”

I punt E’s ball as high as I can and he tracks it down before settling it and giving it a kick of his own. These days his kicks are shockingly accurate for a two-year-old.

I’m grateful for babies who nap and who can be satisfied with something as simple as a baby carrier strapped to my chest.

I’m starting to see God’s hand all around me. I’m receiving these gifts he’s given me: the sunshine, my children, and a walk in the park. I’ve stopped looking for gifts and blessings in the future. There’s too much to take in right now.

God is present among us, and I never realized how much my “forward thinking” prevented me from sensing that. I never saw how looking ahead could turn into a steady upheaval of anxiety discontent.

I’ve worried about so many things, but only one thing has been necessary. If I’m not careful, I may actually end up enjoying my life.

There’s theology everywhere—even at the playground.

We See You

Early Morning on Playground

Our toddler, E, is running up the steps and zipping down the playground’s small slide on his stomach. Our newborn, B, is strapped to my chest, a heater pack on a hot fall day wiggling from time to time, threatening to wake up before I have time to run home for his bottle. We need to head home soon.

I hear her before I see her.

When I do see her, I can hardly take my eyes off her.

Maybe five or six years old, she’s running behind her father who is five paces ahead and engrossed in a call on his smart phone. He’s muscular, wearing a perfectly fitted shirt and what I imagine to be designer shorts. It’s as if he’s walked out of a catalogue and onto a playground where a little girl started chasing him.

He only acknowledges her when her shouts are audible for everyone within a few blocks.

“What? What’s wrong?” he demands.

If he’d spent ten second listening to her shouts, he would have known.

“I want you to stay right here!” the girl says as she points at a spot next to the playground. “Don’t walk away while you talk on the phone. Not like last time. You can’t leave me here and walk all the way down the bike trail. I’m afraid of being alone.”

He nods and says, “Yeah.” With that he turns away from her and resumes his phone call. He may as well be a mile away.

Resigned, she stomps over to the swings and glides back and forth on her stomach, staring down at the mulch. A few other kids her age are wrapping up a game of tag and catch her eye as they charge past her.

I see her loneliness and heartache, and I feel the challenge of my position as a man. I don’t want to be that creeper guy on the playground who goes over and talks to random little girls, you know? But her loneliness and perhaps even fear strikes a place deep within me from the past. And I know that pain, and pray out of that pain that God would send someone to see her, to pay attention, and to let her know how wonderful she is.

I want to scream across the playground from where I stand with my two boys, “We see you! We’re here! You can join us! You’re always welcome to play with us. We’ll listen! We won’t turn away or walk away! You’re beautiful and kind and completely right. You should never have to be alone.”

But then B starts to squirm, and E gets that mad dog look in his eyes that portends both hunger and exhaustion converging, and I have to let my boys know that I see them. I have to go, luring E back to the stroller with promises of peanut butter sandwiches and crackers.

The other kids and their families hop onto their bikes or retreat to their cars. It’s as if we’d all agreed to leave once this girl set foot on the playground.

The man continues talking on his phone. E babbles to me about crackers and this sheep bath toy that I know we’ve lost during the walk. B makes a “sqwicking” noise as he settles into his pacifier.

The girl rocks on the swing, back and forth, back forth—alone.

Two Years Ago I Had an Anxiety Attack And Then We Had a Baby

Ethan birthday with Ed CyzewskiTwo years ago I was losing my mind. Fifteen years of dreading my (limited) role in the labor process and exponential fear about parenthood culminated in an evening when we wife walked into our bedroom at midnight and told me, “It’s starting.”

“Dear God, help me,” was about all I could pray as I writhed in the grips of an anxiety attack. My chest tightened and I puffed out my breaths, the prospect of sleep all but gone at that point.

This moment was the culmination of many, many anxiety attacks and public faintings.

Learning about the birth process in college?

Out cold in my desk.

Talking about having a baby four years ago?

Panic attack.

Going to Bradley birth class with my pregnant wife?

Panic attacks.

Infant CPR class?

Panic attack.

Thinking about birth?

Panic attack.

I nearly lost my mind anticipating the birth of Ethan. It was nine months of living in fear of what I wanted the most. I really wanted to have a child. I was just terrified of the labor process and of being a parent to a helpless little baby.

The fears kept invading my mind:

I was going to drop the baby, suffocate the baby, or expose the baby to innumerable dangers. I would surely do something to hurt our child.

And even if our child managed to survive my incompetence, I could also be a terrible father. Here’s the thing: I get bored around other people’s kids. I mean, they’re great. We interact and play. It’s a great time for 30, even 60 minutes. But could I survive an entire day of attentiveness to my own child? Would I just end up praying for him to leave me alone or take a nap or something?

My pounding heart aside, we couldn’t stop labor.

So this is what happened, we took a lot of walks. I tried to control my anxiety, and when things got totally insane and my wife went through transition in the car on the way to the hospital, I got my head in the game, guiding her through a calming breathing procedure that calmed myself as well.

We were in this amazing rhythm and kept it going on the way up the elevator to the delivery floor even as a nurse chided me for not “encouraging” her.

It was otherworldly to think that a baby would soon come out of my wife. I was relatively calm, and I had to keep telling myself that I wasn’t the one actually in labor. In fact, it helped to remember that I had a role to play as support for Julie.

The closer we got to the actual birth, the calmer I became, more focused, more aware of the moment. Anxiety didn’t have any space in my head to inject worst case scenarios. Soon we had a little baby snuggled against my wife’s chest as she said, “Oh sweetheart, sweetheart!”

When the nurses weighed him, I stood by his side and let him grip my finger, rubbing his head and belly.

Everything in the past two years has been wonderful and exhausting. Having my own child was completely different. It’s always a wonder to see your own child develop and change from day to day, learning and experimenting, improvising in his own ways.

You never know what he’s going to put in one of the pots in our kitchen. He may just as likely help me stir an egg as plunge his hand into the bowl. Some days he’ll throw a ball right to me and other days he’ll turn away from me and throw the ball as hard as he can.

You wonder, what is he thinking?

We’re anticipating our next son any day now. He’s due on July 22nd, but my wife has already had a few strong contractions that ended after she sat down for a while. On Monday she was exhausted and had a few contractions, and the old anxiety returned. I could barely focus on my work all morning.

What brought on the anxiety?

I’m not sure. I didn’t really have any concrete fears that morning. Just the waves of anxiety rolling in the pit of my stomach. Perhaps I feared change and the unknown. Perhaps I had no good reason for all of the anxiety.

I thought of Ethan and how wonderful the past two years have been.

He’s had his bumps and bruises that no parent could prevent. He’s stolen hours and hours of sleep. He pooped on me once. That’s about it. Generally speaking, there most likely isn’t anything to fear at all. It’s just one big unknown cliff I’m jumping off, and I don’t get to say when the leap begins.

When you leap into the unknowns of parenthood, you fall into the wonder of praying over your child and finding that it connects you with the heart of God like nothing else. It’s like getting baptized in the Holy Spirit every time for me. I’ve fallen into the joys of watching him play in his pool where he dumps after from one boat to another, seeing him build train tracks and push his trains around for hours, and reading books together that he later picks up to “read” on his own with crossed legs.

There are many unknown blessings that you land on if you leap into parenthood.

I know that my wife is healthy, the baby is in great shape for a safe delivery, and friends will care for Ethan’s every need. We don’t have much to fear.

Two years ago our life changed forever. Besides the lost sleep and the pooped-on t-shirt I threw out, I learned that the majority of my anxiety has no basis in reality. It’s just an exercise in my mind shadow-boxing, flailing against the impossibility of controlling the future.

After my anxiety attack this past Monday, I stepped back and saw all that has been wonderful and joyful about parenting Ethan. I saw that anxiety may come, but it doesn’t have to stay.

It took the arrival of a beautiful little boy two years ago with a perfect head of hair to show me that fear of the unknown cannot compare with the ever-expanding love of parents for their children.

If You Like to Get Hammered, Maybe Parenting Won’t Be Fun

IBeer Glass had a cross-cultural experience of sorts a few weeks ago during a theology conference. We had about 45 minutes to kill, so I suggested we walk over to my favorite brew pub that happened to be right across the street from the convention center hosting our conference.

The brewpub was wall to wall people, so we slipped a few doors down to a legit, gritty bar.

I think I’ve been to a legit, gritty bar once before. Maybe. Unlike the brew pub where folks order a flavorful, fresh beer on tap and enjoy it over a rich appetizer, many of the gritty bar folks hauled fists full of Bud Lights in wave after wave. I have no idea how many people walked past our table with 3 Bud Lights in each hand.

I’m sure people drank other things at the gritty bar. I’m sure some of the Bud Light drinkers even branched out. Perhaps they tossed in a Coors Light too.

Whatever they added to their epic beer consumption, I soon caught on to the goal. This was not about “enjoying” the beer. The beer was a mood enhancer, a mechanism for partying. You didn’t need the beer to taste good. You just needed to get drunk enough to lose your inhibitions without vomiting or passing out.

I presume bar fights sometimes enter into the picture as well.

This was a fun night out for many folks.

Needless to say, I couldn’t relate. Call me a killjoy if you must, but I’d rather think of my own jokes rather than relying on the booze to do the heavy lifting.

Later that evening I walked out of our final plenary session for the conference, longing for the quiet of my bedroom, snuggled up next to my wife. However, many people in downtown Columbus were just starting their evening. Some may have still been at the bar.

If I pulled over and told the people waiting in line at the night club about my ideal evening that involves reading a book on the couch next to my wife, many of them would probably give me a thumbs down or sneer, shouting, “Boring!”

I didn’t think for one moment that I was missing out. Booze and booming music? No thanks!

That brings me to parenting and “fun.” There’s a book out about parenting called All Joy and No Fun that addresses the demands and limitations of parenting.

I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve read articles about it and have heard some lengthy interviews about it. I have participated in conversations about how parenting changes your life and the limitations it places on you.

I’m not an expert by any means. We only have one kid with another on the way this July. So perhaps take what I’m about to say with a grain of salt.

However, I think the all joy to “no fun” ratio for parenting will be REALLY different for everyone. It’s really tough to come up with a hard and fast rule about what kinds of joy and fun you’ll have as a parent because we all have different needs and expectations about what is “fun.” In addition, our conceptions of fun may change when kids are in the picture.

On the one hand, my wife and I relish a quiet evening at home. Having a kid asleep upstairs isn’t a major burden. We’re not fans of the times that he wakes up screaming, but for the most part, we’re not missing bars, clubbing late at night, or cruising the city after midnight because that wasn’t our lifestyle to begin with.

It would be nice to go out more often for artisan NY style pizza, but for the most part, having a kid hasn’t been the kill joy that it may be for those who want to party all night—Whether that’s clubbing, lengthy bar outings filled with cheap beer, or leisurely sipping a Saison at a brew pub.

There’s no doubt that one must reign in the bar hopping and beer guzzling in order to be a responsible parent. You need to be present. And if you hire a baby sitter, you can’t ask the baby sitter to come scrape you off the pavement outside the bar after last call.

Look, parenting is tough. You will be super sleep deprived for the first 6 months, if not longer.

You will have your patience tested by toddlers who would rather die than put on shoes.

You will be pooped on, peed on, and spat up upon over, and over, and over.

You will repeatedly ask, “What’s THAT smell?”

It’s not convenient. It’s almost always messy. We all have to make sacrifices. We all face limitations because of kids. Life changes.

And yes, there are many joyful, wonderful moments.

I watched my son take his first steps. We play together with his stuffed animals each day, and he’s kicking his imagination into high gear. Peter Rabbit has attempted to eat just about every object in our living room at this point.

My son loves digging in the dirt of our garden, and he can haul his wagon down the sidewalk on his own. He can wiggle to music, and there’s nothing better than sweeping the floor with his very own broom.

There are daily interruptions and tests of my patience. There are incredible joys and accomplishments. Every parent knows that. Every expectant parent can at least imagine that as well.

However, when it comes to the all joy/no fun balance, remember that every person has different needs.

The extroverted mother will hate being stuck inside all winter with her kids. The introverted dad will wince at the thought of going to story time with ALL THOSE PEOPLE.

The beer-guzzling champion who wants to settle down will have to give up on a particular version of “fun,” while the quiet bookworms will eventually figure out time to read and drink tea as is their habit, but they’ll never have enough time to read all of the books.

All parents need to make sacrifices for the sakes of their children, but those sacrifices will be different for each of us.

Some will sacrifice more fun than others. Some will find more joy in the daily ins and outs of parenting than others.

In my own case, I’ve found different fun and different joy in being a parent compared to when we were childless. It’s not like the fun stopped with kids or the joy only reached epic levels when we brought our son home from the hospital.

Yes, we don’t hang out with friends as often as we used to. Yes, our lives look quite different than before parenthood. There are times when the all joy/no fun mantra feels accurate.

At the same time, our son has redefined joy and fun for us. However, I can say without judgment that other parents have found that transition to be far more difficult.

I spent most of my adult life fearing parenthood. Seriously. Straight up anxiety attacks and all. Now, I can’t imagine a greater joy than parenting alongside my wife. Our family is evolving and changing, and for the most part, it’s changing for the better, even if we had something pretty awesome to begin with.

My wife is my favorite person in the world, and having a child together has added more than it has subtracted.

It would be presumptuous to suggest that every family’s transition to children will be the epic win we’ve experienced. It’s going to be different for everyone, even if I can guarantee that effectively parenting will most certainly require passing on the gritty bars where people walk around with three Coors Lights in each hand.

Then again, I can’t imagine getting much joy or fun from slamming back six Coors Lights in a gritty bar to begin with, so what do I know?