Parenting To Make Disciples: Overcoming fear and perfectionism

 

Photo credit: Babble.com

Photo credit: Babble.com

 

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Are you nervous about how your kids will grow up? Are you trying hard to give them all the right opportunities? Does parenting feel like a high-stakes game of “Whose kid is more awesome?” If so, be encouraged. We made 10,000 mistakes and our kids still turned out ok.

So much parenting advice plays on our fears. We see the results of this being lived out in young adults as they struggle with the fruits of our fear-based parenting: Questions of identity, lack of community, confused calling, and sense of entitlement in an increasingly complex world. Is it possible to parent without fear? Our advice: Feel free not to play along – refuse to drink the “experts” Cool Aid.

It takes a fair amount of hutzpah to give someone else parenting advice, but we get a decent amount of street cred by knowing that we have made a mind-bending amount of parenting fails and still having adolescents who are turning into nice young adults - heck, we’ve even had people tell us they joined our church because they wanted their kids around ours. And our kids actually are pretty swell: They are kind. Thoughtful. Motivated. They love God. They seek community (both multi-generationally in church and in age-appropriate ministry groupings). They lead and serve others. And they are doing these things without much prompting from us. How did we do it? Was it dumb luck? Were we experts in child psychology? Were we blessed with compliant children? Actually, it was none of the above. We are ordinary people who did a few grace-based things that we thought were right. Here, in no magical order are…

10 things we do as parents that seem to have worked:

  1. Keep the end in mind. When our kids were young we sought the advice of parents whose young adult children we respected. A surprising number talked about “parenting for the future.” It was freeing to remember that what we were  not after eight year olds with the most activity ribbons, but self-directed, moral, responsible, God-following thirty-year olds. We parented alongside friends who were forever fretting: “Are they meeting the right kids, playing the right sports, learning the right version of Mandarin, eating sufficiently organic meals, will they try sex, will playing that video game turn them into a basement-lizard crackhead?” It was exhausting. So we relaxed. We lowered the bar early on. Our big goal for early childhood was that by age four our kids would know, “God loves you and Mommy and Daddy do too.” That was it. Instead of club sports and video games we kicked them outside and let them engage in kid-organized play. We let them be bored. We, gasp, put them in the “wrong” schools.
  2. Realize they will become you. All of us become our parents. Knowing our kids will become what they see, we watched what we said and, especially, what we did. In Christian Smith’s groundbreaking book Soul Searching, he describes the belief system of Americans as a shallow, touchy-feely, do-goodism masquerading as faith. The bombshell is not just that this is the belief system of both secular and many churched Americans, but that the source of that theology is parents. It may be trendy to blame the church, but the number one reason kids don’t love God is not the pastor. It is us. So we tried to grow in our faith and our kids noticed. And, because children live what they learn, they developed the habits of faith too.
  3. Love each other. It is (or should be) a given that we parents love our kids. Want to raise secure children? Love your spouse. It creates a stability that allows them to take healthy risks later.
  4. Live grateful, generous lives.We made service and ministry hallmarks of our family. We opened our home and family and let our kids see us sacrifice time and money for other’s benefit. We involved “those people” in our family. Most parents try to avoid “them.” Don’t. Have your kids in school with kids who are different from them. Have “them” in your home. In the small youth group that met in our house last night, kids from twelve different countries were present. This is not about serving the “less fortunate.” “They” have values that we wanted our children to learn. Educational research tells us that heterogenous groupings (differing abilities) are more effective than homogenous groupings (i.e. all the smart kids in one place). Our kids are broader and more able to cope in a diverse world as a result. More than that, it fights the creeping narcissism of our culture when your kids grow up involved in things that are for the good of another for another’s sake.
  5. Use lots of words. Ask good questions and listen. Talk. Read. Create a word rich environment. The dinner table is critical for this. Skip the baby talk. And don’t be afraid to praise them when you see them doing something admirable.
  6. Remember the goal is adults who walk with God. This is not the same as having the appearance of walking with God. Rule following is not nearly as important as a heart that wants to walk with God from love. We worked on teaching them to learn to love doing the things Christians have always loved doing: Read the Bible, pray, be in mutual surrender with other Christians, gather to worship, serve, etc. But experiencing being the beloved’s of the God behind these practices is the goal.
  7. Tell the truth. There are plenty of things we cannot and should not tell our children, but we tried remarkably hard to be sure that our kids could count on our word. (BTW, we took this one all the way to Santa Claus. We said, “Santa is really fun pretend. Sort of like your dolls are really fun, but still pretend.” You may not want to do that. It made us pretty unpopular with other parents when our kids spilled the beans.)
  8. Don’t need them to “like” us. Instead, be people they can respect. Parents seem to be confused in the Facebook age of “like.” You don’t need to be “cool.” You don’t need the latest slang. Kids are like sharks – they can smell a parent’s desperation. The impulse to be liked is in all of us. But what kids need now is a parent. So, rather than need to be liked, be someone who is courageous to talk about their life. Be someone worthy of their respect. …But do like
  9. Develop their gifts and dreams. Not ours. Encourage experimentation and risk taking. But before they can experiment with chemicals and sex, help them experiment with their God-given gifts and dreams so that they can begin to taste their calling. Help them to prefer adventure and risk to safety and security. Faith and fear do not go together. As a result, our kids have done a bunch of things that we would never have dared attempt.
  10. Have lots of honorable people in their lives. Hillary Clinton was right, “It takes a village to raise a child.” The successful families we were watching were all people who knew that they needed other adults in their kids lives who were saying what they were saying, but just happened not to be them when they said it. Surround them with healthy Christian adults, young and old.

In other words, we placed high value on effort, risk, faith, and service, and a lower one on club sports (never played one), academics (although they signed up for plenty of AP courses on their own), and fighting their battles.

How about you? Do you have any tips for young parents who are embarking in this lifelong adventure?

For another post on parenting: The Secret Sauce for Raising Great Teens

 

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Rappelling, Race and Your Role in the Redemption of the World

tumblr_m63xqaWsoc1r4kpnxo1_400A sermon from the Healing of the Paralytic (Mark 2) given at the Diocese of California’s “Equipping the Beloved Community.” Topic: “Reaching people who don’t look like us.” 

Today we heard the story of a person literally at the end of ropes in a strange place.

What is it like to be at the end of a rope hanging over the unknown?

I had that experience once. I took students rock climbing and rappelling on the boulders outside of Tombstone, Arizona, site of the gunfight at the OK Corral. A retired Army Special Forces guy named Mike organized the trips to teach spiritual principles through great adventures.

In case the terms are new, “Rock climbing” is going up a rock face, “rappelling” is sliding back down on a rope – you see it on military recruiting commercials. It was spectacularly fun. Afterwards, we went to dinner in town. We assumed we were done for the night, when the guide turned his station wagon back toward the desert and informed us we were going to night rappel.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a little bit afraid of the dark.

Don’t laugh – You are too.

We were led up the back of the 90′ cliff by flashlight. The guides tossed the rope over the edge, looked at me and said, “You first.” Ever the reasonable man, I pointed out that it would make more sense to have a trained person on the ground first. Mike says, “We need them up here. You first.”

There was a sliver of moon, which, in the dry air, lit the top half of the cliff face. An outcropping shielded the bottom from the moonlight, The bottom half was a dark mystery.

When rappelling you are attached to the rope by a metal figure 8. This slows your descent by friction. Placing your hand in the middle of your back with the rope in it acts as a brake and you stop. Moving your hand away from the middle of your back allows the rope to slip through the figure 8 and your hand, and down you go.

I started the descent – nine stories in the dark.

Wanting off the rope as soon as possible I go down fast. Perpendicular to the rock face, I jump out as far out as possible to slide down the rope as fast as possible…

I get below the outcropping blocking the moon. Now in blackness, I slow to a crawl. I am shivering in the warm evening.

“How is it going?” The guide yells down at me.

“Great.” I yell up unconvincingly.

“Good.”

“Sure is dark down here.” I say somewhat pathetically.

“Tell us when you are on the ground.”

I feel the end of the rope in my hand.

“Uhhh, we have a problem. I’m out of rope.”

“Good. Send it back up.”

“You aren’t reading me: No rope, AND no ground either.”

If you have had grief training you know the stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression… In the slowest two minutes of my life I journey through them. Mike, leaning over the edge, starts with denial. “That’s impossible. You are on a 90’ cliff with a 100’ rope.”

As you might imagine, I respond with anger. “That’s a nice theory but I am definitely not on the ground.”

“How far away is it?” The guide calls.

“Since you had me rappel into utter darkness, you tell me.” I move to bargaining: “How about you pull me back up?”

“Sorry, we have no way to get you back.”

Now depression sets in…and a little panic. Beads of sweat form on my forehead. “I hope you have some ideas, I’m stuck here.” I say nervously.

“Uhmm, try poking around with your foot some more?”

So there I am, in a dark place, all alone…at the end of my rope.

We have all been in dark places. Felt alone. As Christians, though, we know we are not actually alone, no matter how dark the night. We are, however, surrounded by people for whom “God with us” is not their reality. They are lost and hurting. In dark places. Alone. At the end of their ropes. Some are aware of this. Others not so much.

Look at what Jesus does with someone in that place…

Picture yourself at our Gospel event that long ago evening: A crowd shoehorned into a living room. The yard also jammed with people. In the crowd, you listen to Jesus teach when dust begins to fall from the ceiling of the sod-roofed home. Dirt chunks, grass and sticks fall to the floor in front of you. Heads pop through the hole. The vandals pull out beams, expanding their damage. And then down comes this guy, lowered in front of Jesus.

Jesus, master of the unexpected, sees “their faith” and “looking at the man says, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’”

When most of us hear the “s” word we cringe. Even in church “sin” makes us fidget in our seats. If you are “conservative” you probably have a mental list of personal behaviors that are “sins,” “progressive” and you probably see systemic evil as “sins.” I propose a more ancient way of defining sin…simply as looking for life apart from God. When considered in that way, it explains both our wandering into individual self-destructive behaviors and participation in systemic evil. We were made to worship the one true and living God. We all wander from our purpose and look for life apart from our maker. Jesus looks at the paralytic and says in effect, “You have a bigger problem than legs that don’t work. You have a heart that is looking for life apart from me. I forgive you.” And, “so that you may know that the Son of Man has the power to forgive sins, Get up, take your mat and go home.”

And he does.

Imagine the friend’s giddiness. Can you picture them staring through the hole yelling, “I told you so!” to their wobbly-legged friend?

These friends were pretty amazing. They:

-Went as a team, rather than alone.

-Knew that healing is found in a person, rather than a place.

-Cared enough to bring him to Jesus.

-Wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, neither from their friend, the crowd, or even the homeowner. Imagine the conversation to convince the friend. I would guess the paralytic said something like, “I have no intention of being the butt of every joke in town when your scheme doesn’t work.”

-Went to ridiculous lengths to put their friend in front of Jesus: They risked time, energy, potentially their self-respect, and, surely, a good bit of money at Home Depot afterward. They literally got their hands dirty to bring their friend to the Savior.

What about you? Who are you a spiritual friend to? We have friends all around us who need the healing and forgiveness of the Lord Jesus Christ: at your work, school, in your family, surrounding your church.

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to help them see Jesus…willing to get your hands dirty? Jesus saw “their faith.” Do you faith to bring Christ’s healing and salvation to your community?

I don’t know your context. But I have looked at the demographic data for your schools. They are remarkably integrated. Why isn’t your church?

Shouldn’t a church reflect its community? Why is your church mono-ethnic in an integrated neighborhood? Perhaps, as it was for the paralytic, the way into church is blocked? It isn’t always the crowds that keep people away from the Savior.

Mark DeYmaz, in Building a Healthy Multi-ethnic Church, says the average American church is 10x more segregated than its neighborhood.

Prior to coming to the Diocese I worked in a historically upper middle-class youth ministry in a neighborhood becoming less White by the year. We took our leaders to the high school quad and, while looking at real students, asked “Who on campus isn’t in our ministry and why?” Then leaders picked groups and went and got to know them.

When those kids began to follow Christ we took them to church. A painful thing then began to happen: After worship the young people would say what Luis Acosta said, “Matt, I love that you stalked me for Jesus. I love that you made me come to Bible study and taught me to obey Jesus.’ I love that you are training me to be a Christian leader….but do you have to keep dragging me to these godawful churches.” I was confused: We had gone to Anglo churches, Latino churches, Black churches.  At each the people were nice, the music excellent, the sermon interesting. Luis pointed out the monochrome reality, “Everyone here was (fill in the racial blank). Then he asked, “Why is God the only racist in my life?

I was stunned by the question. It has been more than 50 years since Dr. King said that 10 am on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America, and still 92% of American Protestants attend mono-ethnic church services. Your own Julia McCray Goldsmith’s son said to her, “I don’t want to go to church-it’s the only place I go that’s all-White.”

We hang signs that say, “We welcome you.” But what do we do to welcome people who don’t look like us?

I came to the Episcopal Church in part because, in addition to promising Protestant theology with catholic worship, access to the wisdom of the earliest Christians and the hopeful idea that we could agree to pray the same words rather than agree on every theological jot and tittle, we believe in the dignity of those who aren’t like us. Unfortunately, “Welcome” is easier to paint on a sign than to do.

Statistically Evangelical churches are much more integrated than Mainline churches. How is that possible? Perhaps while we were talking about justice, they were talking about Jesus.

How will our children believe us that Christ loves the world and went to the cross for the salvation of humanity if the church looks completely unlike their world? We can do better for our children.

What if everyone here said, “I don’t care what anyone says or thinks of me, the Christian message is true, so the most important thing in the world is the forgiveness and healing found in Christ.” What if out of that conviction each of us engaged in friendships with people who are unlike us? What if we talked to the under-represented about what would need to change in order for them to feel culturally welcomed while spiritually challenged.

Imagine what your world might look like a decade from now if we lived that kind of Biblical welcome…

-Entire neighborhoods walking in the healing and forgiving love of Jesus.

-Not just full churches, but joyful neighborhoods, laughter in the streets and hope in human hearts.

O that we would say what Isaiah said to God so many years ago, “Here am I. Send me.”

…Back to my climbing story: It turned out I was only inches above the ground. Coming down the cliff face I had angled left toward the moonlight. The cliff bottomed into a downward sloping hill. I had moved just far enough toward the moonlight to leave the ground 2” below my outstretched toes. In the end, I had been afraid of a harmless unknown. Isn’t the unknown what we are really afraid of when it comes to opening wide our churches so that others could experience the love, healing, and salvation of Jesus?

Are you willing to take a risk for the Kingdom? As one who is safe on the rope of God’s mercy, are you willing to go, make unchurched friends, and jump with them into God’s unknown?

When we take a risk we never know what God might do.

And, the paralytic that gets healed might just be us.

Today: Tears and prayers. But what next?

hc-newtown-school-shooting-20121214The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School is a punch to the gut of an already wobbly America. Can any of us imagine anything more horrifying than a classroom full of dead first graders?

I wonder if we are exhausting our ability to process senseless tragedy. I had a meeting with a friend yesterday. We had an important agenda, but in the wake of breaking news, this brilliant up-and-coming academic could discuss nothing else. My 16 year-old son asked to be tucked in for the first time in 5 years. My 70 year-old father-in-law, posted his shock on facebook. Even the president was reduced to tears. The media is full of information on how to process this with our children. But all over America adults sobbed ourselves to sleep last night.  Our theological frameworks are stretched. Our trust in our fellows diminished. Our numbness increases.

Several things I cannot get out of my head today:

1) The sinking awareness that it is easier for the mentally ill to get a gun than help.

2) The report that since Columbine in 1999, there have been 31 school shootings in the U.S. and 14 in the rest of the entire world. (Source: ABC Nightline)

Newtown, Ct. isn’t even our first mass murder this week. Portland has that distinction. Prior to that, in 2012 alone, there were 41 other murders in 7 other mass-shootings. (Source: Think Progress)

We will say prayers for the victims and for the shooter. We will pray for our country. Our grief will eventually subside. And, if past history repeats itself, do you know what we will do next? We will lock up our schools even more tightly.

Our communities will become a little more paranoid, and our children a little more afraid to venture and roam and try new things. Parents will helicopter more and children risk less. The cost of the Sandy Hook tragedy will be paid by every single elementary school student in America….and our entire society will pay a price for yesterday in lost inventiveness and entrepreneurship. (See Mindset: Carol Dweck)

When something like this happens we tend to “politicize” it in the worst possible way: We retreat into corners and lob partisan platitudes rather than work together to solve our problems. But what if “politicize” meant to “muster the courage to work together to make our nation a better place”? Then what better thing could we do to honor the dead than by working together to see that mass-killings stop? Surely we can meet in the middle and agree on the obvious: Criminals and people with mental illness should not have high capacity semi-automatic guns. It shouldn’t be easier for me to get an assault rifle than a law enforcement officer. We need to become better at identifying potentially dangerous people. We need more accessible help for those with violent tendencies. We need to take seriously the connection between violence in the media and video games and violence in the real world.

People are dying at an accelerating rate at the hands of unhinged people wielding high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons. And we can all agree that a risk-averse, fear-based future is not the right solution for our children. Do we really want to lock up our schools rather than our guns?

This is America. We will never have a country without privately owned guns. It will just never happen. But if we know that humans are sinful and broken, then surely those whose brokenness involves violence should not be in possession of semi-automatic weapons. Unlimited access to high capacity weapons and mental illness have proven to be a disaster: A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. (Source: Nightline) Google a timeline of shootings since 1982. The number that appeared upon cursory inspection to be committed with hunting weapons: 0

We are not a totalitarian state. No one will come and force a solution upon us at the point of their gun. In our system we have the opportunity and responsibility to work together to solve our problems.

We have the opportunity and responsibility to not allow these children to have died in vain. Pull together. Avoid the all or nothing rhetoric that is coming. Live peaceably. Pray faithfully. Worship in your faith community. Vote dutifully. Speak forcefully. Love relentlessly.

The President is right, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3) But what happens after that is up to you and to me.

Epic Fail: TEC/SC Issues Boil Over

Prelude: I am in grief. The conflict between the Diocese of South Carolina and the national Episcopal church leadership has been brewing for years. The boil-over is like a bad divorce between two people who, in your mind, should have been able to work things out. You love them both and, even though you saw it coming, you keep wondering, “How did it come to this?”  I wrote this post on Wednesday evening. I have sat on it for three days hoping that my grief would subside. It has not.

“I ask…on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” –John 17:20-21, NRSV

 Epic Fail. It’s a junior high expression overused to meaninglessness: Dropping a pass. Spilling coffee on your laptop. Tripping in public. Yesterday an actual Epic Fail occurred. The Episcopal Church brought abandonment charges against a bishop actively trying to meet to work out differences. It was my worst day in five years as an Episcopalian.

This is where decades of disagreement over biblical interpretation and human sexuality have left us. If you are not a Christian you are probably wondering why we can’t just treat each other like Christians. If you are a Christian, and especially an Episcopalian OF ANY STRIPE, you will almost surely take issue with what I am about to write.

I write, however, as one who loves his church. Five years ago I walked away from reductionistic evangelicalism to embrace the wisdom of the ancient church, the beauty of liturgy, the soul enrichment of spiritual practice and social engagement as a force for good in the world. As someone who always rejected the small box of fundamentalism, I was enthusiastic to join a church that promised to be a big tent welcoming all to the table. You see, unlike other Christians, Episcopalians were never really a confessional church with long detailed doctrinal statements. We are a CHURCH UNITED BY OUR WILLINGNESS TO PRAY WITH THOSE WE DON’T AGREE WITH, and in what we do believe, we keep it simple – We are a creedal church (the brief Nicene Creed-a large tent with lots of room for disagreement). That room was necessary in England where one church contained Catholics, Protestants and the publicly religious.

If you are not an Episcopalian you probably have no grid in your experience for what a church united around the willingness to pray together might look like. My first Sunday in an Episcopal Church I sat with a friend who worked for our bishop.  He answered for me all the usual questions about the Catholic practice and Protestant theology that characterize us. Then I asked about the political stances of the church. The friend explained that with Episcopalians agreement was not expected. Diversity of opinion was considered a strength, a charism. On one end of the spectrum we had diocese’ that pushed the envelope to bless same-sex couples and, on the other, diocese’ that did not ordain women. As someone with every inclination toward including others, reconciling those in conflict, and whose life’s ministry has been to work across boundaries in ecumenical evangelism, to say I was intrigued by this commitment to comprehensiveness was an understatement.

The church I fell for promised roominess. It welcomed progressives to come in and allowed them to push the envelope on many issues. One would have thought that same roominess could be extended toward those who disagree with the new directions of the church. Unfortunately, yesterday we found out that was not to be.

I have followed things in South Carolina closely, both because of my own wiring toward reconciliation and because I have CLOSE friends on both sides of this issue. I know both sides of this debate well. Both sides have operated in ways that made perfect sense to them in their context and BOTH appear duplicitous and mean spirited to the other. The series of reactions and re-reactions has resulted in broken fellowship.

I realize that there are deep wounds on both sides. I know both sides chronology of what the other side did. I also know that the other side loves God and honestly thinks they are acting in good faith. But do you catch the language? Referring to our sisters and brothers in Christ as sides is tragic. Tragic also is that, in the end, we were the ones who said, “There is a stage leaving town at sundown. Be under it.”

I fear that the “oneness” for which Jesus prayed is going to become defined for us, as in other denominations, as agreement – or at least as the willingness to give the appearance of walking in lockstep with whoever holds the keys of power. That might be the most tragic result of all.

For those not following this situation, here is what appears to have happened in the simplest terms: The husband decided to divorce the wife for quitting on the marriage while they were sitting in the marriage counselor’s office. Did South Carolina really want a solution? I do not really know. They say they did. Did the national church want a solution? I do not really know. They say they did. I do not presume to read minds or motives…of either side. I merely grieve.

South Carolina is unlike the rest of the Episcopal church in many ways. But we have a long history of making room for people who push the bounds of our theology, politics and canon law. We had room for Bishop Pike who literally begged our bishops to inhibit him. We had room for Bishop Spong and his version of the old SNL Fluckers skit, “Here’s a new theology I just made up!” Now, sadly, we do not have room for a bishop and the lion’s share of his diocese, that hold a traditional view of marriage. The truth is that we have changed. We moved their cheese.[1] Why can we not give them room to differentiate themselves?

Last night I was in a car with someone who is a key player in our institution. She is a great person who loves God and the church. I cannot describe the sinking feeling in my heart when she said, “We will be a leaner-meaner church now. One that can stop pretending and be who we are.” Well, we will be leaner- by 30,000 Episcopalians. And we will certainly be meaner as we will no longer be held in tension by opposing voices. Is it really a good thing to silence dissent? Will we be able to “be who we are?” I fear that unless who we are is redefined as “a narrow group of Progressive Puritans” then the answer is no. We have been a comprehensive church – A table with room for all. Will that still be who we are? Or is that day passing?

The saddest part of the whole thing for me is the response on the web-organs of our church. Where is the grief in these posts?

The tone on the South Carolina sites is instructive. Their tone is grief. It is not the tone of someone who took their toys and went home.

I do not judge the motives of those on either side. Although this is a very public dispute, there is surely much information that I am not privy to. It is being said that this is what South Carolina angled for all along. I can say that, if this was a conspiracy, it was the greatest conspiracy since the resurrection. I would have to believe that multiple South Carolina diocesan employees including their bishop…in public and private conversations , within and without the walls of their diocesan offices, face-to-face, over phone and text, over years, faked frustration and fear. I think there is a better explanation: We missed it. Us. Them. All of us. We missed one another. They wanted to be different to be sure, but the South Carolina Episcopalians I know wanted to be Episcopalians.

And worst of all, in the eyes of the unchurched, we have all failed in both unity and love.

The irony of all of this is that the Episcopal Church has and is becoming much more theologically orthodox over the five years I have been here. It is more progressive politically to be sure, but it is noticeably more orthodox every year. If we could only have waited another five years both sides would surely end up closer together.

But we didn’t. None of us. And that is the shame.

We could have done better. All of us. We could have assumed the best of one another. We could have refused to respond out of fear. We could have made the other make the first move…and the second…and the third. I understand why everyone made every move they made. All around people did their best. Yet today we have an…

Epic Fail.


[1]Who Moved My Cheese: An Amazing Way to Deal With Change in Your Work and in Your Life. Spencer Johnson, 1998.