Cultural Commentaries

The Uncertain Future of the Ministerial Housing Allowance

267px-logo_of_the_internal_revenue_service-svgU. S. District Judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling on October 6 declaring the ministerial housing allowance to be unconstitutional. This was the second time that she has issued such a ruling, the first coming in 2013. The lawsuit was brought by the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) challenging that excluding the housing allowance from taxable income is unfairly biased toward religious leaders.

Judge Crabb ruled in part that the housing allowance exemption “violates the establishment clause because it does not have a secular purpose or effect and because a reasonable observer would view the statute as an endorsement of religion.” This is the same conclusion she reached in 2013 but was overruled by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that FFRF lacked standing to sue since no one affiliated with that foundation had ever filed for a housing allowance exemption from the IRS. During the intervening years at least two employees of FFRF have done just that. Therefore, Judge Crabb essentially invoked her previous ruling since she believed that the FFRF now had standing to bring the lawsuit.

The law in question is 26 U.S. Code § 107, which reads:

In the case of a minister of the gospel, gross income does not include—

(1) the rental value of a home furnished to him as part of his compensation; or

(2) the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home and to the extent such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home, including furnishings and appurtenances such as a garage, plus the cost of utilities.

Of particular importance is the second paragraph which allows ministers to exclude a portion of their income that is used to provide for a home when a church does not provide a parsonage. Prior to 1954, ministers could only exclude from taxable income the fair rental value of a parsonage provided by the church. The Internal Revenue Service code was amended by Congress in 1954 to allow the same exemption for ministers who provided their own housing.

Judge Crabb believes this is an unfair benefit for ministers that does not also apply to non-ministerial employees. She writes, “Ministers receive a unique benefit under § 107 (2); it is not, as defendants suggest, part of a larger effort by Congress to provide assistance to employees with special housing needs. A desire to alleviate financial hardship on taxpayers is a legitimate purpose, but it is not a secular purpose when Congress eliminates the burden for a group made up of solely religious employees but maintains it for nearly everyone else.”

Much of the defendants’ case is built upon the idea that ministers have a unique challenge for housing because they are expected to live in the general vicinity of their churches and be on call at all hours of the day. Similar housing allowance deductions are given to federal employees working overseas and members of the military. Judge Crabb rejected this argument in her decision.

Another element of the defendants’ case addresses the ecclesial differences among denominations. Not all denominations have a practice of providing parsonages, and some do not provide them for theological reasons. Joe Carter offers a good summary of this distinction as he writes, “The parsonage exemption, for instance, provides a preference for institutional churches whose ecclesiastical properties are owned by a central governing body (e.g., Roman Catholic). Smaller, independent, local churches often have less money to provide a parsonage. It also presents a bias in favor of wealthy, established churches over younger congregations and church startups. Many church plants that can’t afford a church building would be unable to afford to buy a parsonage.”[1]

The similar case from 2013 was ultimately overturned by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but a similar outcome may not happen this time. The case will undoubtedly be appealed to the same appellate court, but the issue of standing will not be in play this time. In an interview with  Baptist Press, Mississippi College law professor Matt Steffey states that the precedent of interpretation of the establishment clause by the Supreme Court may bind lower courts to decide in the same way that Judge Crabb did.[2] This could lead to a showdown at the nation’s highest court.

Why should we care about the future of the ministerial housing allowance? First, many ordained ministers depend upon this tax benefit to make ends meet. When churches are unable to provide adequate income, this tax deduction may make it possible for ministers to stay at a church. In fact, many churches include a housing allowance as part of an overall compensation package.

Second, the focus on the ministerial housing allowance is likely the first step in a larger plan to remove even more significant tax benefits that churches receive. The next set of lawsuits may attempt to overturn property tax exemptions for churches. If churches were not able to claim property tax exemptions, many would have to close their doors rather than pay large tax bills for commercial property.

Third, there is a growing trend to view churches as value-neutral institutions for a community. However, churches have been viewed historically as providing great value to communities. They often meet the needs of the sick and poor without placing a burden upon tax payers. They are organizers for community service to benefit their neighborhoods and cities. They provide a moral foundation for their members that often make them better citizens of the community. Viewing churches as value-neutral is shortchanging the role of churches.

As this case progresses through the appeals process, we may see significant changes for ministers and churches.

[1] Joe Carter, “Explainer: Why clergy get tax-free housing,” Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, October 12, 2017.

[2] David Roach, “Clergy housing allowance struck down again,” Baptist Press, October 9, 2017.

Show Me the Money: Bribery and Scandal Hit NCAA Basketball

636420161513221488-usp-ncaa-basketball-ncaa-tournament-first-round-m-89581795As my Adidas shoes lay on the floor next to my chair, I opened this morning’s Wall Street Journal to find sports news on the front page (not a normal occurrence for the WSJ) about Adidas’ involvement in a scandal with multiple universities. The headline spoke of bribery and kickbacks at major college basketball programs. Coaches have been arrested after a covert FBI investigation.

The WSJ reports:

In one of several alleged schemes outlined Tuesday by federal prosecutors in New York, a top Adidas executive worked with others including a sports agent and a financial adviser to funnel tens of thousands of dollars to the families of high-school recruits to induce them to sign with major-college programs including Louisville. In exchange, they were expected to sign with the agent and adviser and, when they turned pro, choose Adidas as their sponsor, prosecutors say.

Criminal charges against the Adidas executive, James Gatto, and others were unsealed Tuesday as part of a sweeping crackdown on alleged corruption. The case also involved alleged bribes paid to assistant coaches at the University of Arizona, Oklahoma State University, the University of Southern California and the University of South Carolina.

Prosecutors said Adidas paid high-school recruits through third-party intermediaries to attend schools with Adidas shoe contracts. Prosecutors also alleged financial advisers and agents paid bribes to the coaches with hopes of securing college stars as clients after they enter the National Basketball Association.[1]

Every year during the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, there are commercials touting the student component of the student-athletes participating in sports programs around the country. Many of these student-athletes are not on scholarships. They are at colleges and universities to get an education. Sports are merely an extracurricular activity. The image the NCAA wants to portray is an idealistic world where students put on the uniform of their educational institution for the love of the game.

Today’s news reveals what most of us already believed to be true. Major college sports programs are big business to many universities and can be the ticket to extravagant wealth for a handful of players, agents, and coaches.

With so much money on the line, some people involved in these sports have ventured far past the line of ethical behavior. ESPN reports that the coaches who were arrested could face up to 80 years in prison if convicted.[2]

What this reveals to me is that sports has become form of idolatry in our society. What else could drive coaches, players, families, and major corporations to participate in criminal behavior? Perhaps it is not the sport itself that is the idol, but the money it could bring. Either way, we are at an unhealthy place in our society.

Just this week I taught my Bible and Moral Issues class on the ethical implications of the Second Commandment. For the most part, we do not find ourselves fashioning graven images to worship in an American context. However, there are plenty of idols that we worship. In this case, money and basketball come to the forefront. Perhaps it is time for us to rethink the role of sports in our society. Particularly in the church, it may be time to focus our time, attention, and money on the things of God. In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. . . . No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. (Matt 6:19-21, 24)

[1] Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Ben Cohen, and Sara Germano, “Bribery, Kickbacks Alleged at Top NCAA Basketball Programs,” The Wall Street Journal, 26 September 2017.

[2] John Gasaway, “What you need to know about the FBI’s NCAA basketball investigation,” ESPN.com, 26 September 2017.

To Marry or Not to Marry: The Question for the Next Generation

Thisft_17-09-14_marriage_halfof week is Unmarried and Single Americans Week (September 17-23), so it seems appropriate to contemplate the changing landscape of marriage in America and its potential impact on our churches.

According to a recent Pew Research Center study, half of all American adults today are married. This number is down from 59% twenty-five years ago and 72% in 1960. In addition, the median age for first marriage in 2016 was 29.5 for men and 27.4 for women. This age has risen 2 years over the past decade and nearly seven years over the last half century.

Pew Research also reports some interesting data regarding the desire to get married on the part of those who are unmarried:

Among adults who have never been married, 58% say they would like to get married someday and 27% are not sure if they want to get married. Still, 14% say they do not want to get married.

Even those who want to get married offer various reasons why they are not yet married. Pew Research notes:

Among adults who have never been married but say they are open to marrying in the future, about six-in-ten (59%) say that a major reason they are not married is that they haven’t found the right person. . . . About four-in-ten never-married adults (41%) who say they may want to marry in the future say that not being financially stable is a major reason they are not currently married, and 28% point to this as a minor reason. Fewer – but still a substantial share – say that a major (24%) or minor (30%) reason they are not married is that they aren’t ready to settle down.

ft_17-09-14_marriage_mostnevermarriedThe growing population of unmarried individuals in the United States has significant implications for the church, and it would behoove us to take note of both the positive and negative impact.

Positive Impact

There are several potential positive benefits that unmarried individuals bring to the life of the church. Here I will highlight two of them.

  1. Unmarried individuals have more time to devote to the work of the Lord. The Apostle Paul gave great encouragement to those who were unmarried in the church at Corinth. He said, “But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). Paul knew that unmarried individuals could focus more time on serving the Kingdom of God because their attention was not (rightfully) drawn to serve a spouse. Churches should not lose sight of this. There is an entire population of unmarried people in the church who can provide a great work of ministry while undistracted by the concerns of marriage.
  2. Unmarried individuals can move more quickly in fast-paced ministry settings. Both Texas and Florida were recently hit by devastating hurricanes. Calls went out form disaster relief organizations all over the country to provide supplies and volunteers to meet immediate needs. In many cases, unmarried individuals (particularly in my church) were some of the first to volunteer because they are able to act more quickly in these circumstances. Without the obligations of caring for a spouse or children, they can respond and serve when immediate needs arise that demand quick attention. Thus, churches would be well-served to cultivate this ministry mindset among the unmarried believers in their fellowship.

Negative Impact

As with the positive impact, there are potentially several negative consequences of a growing unmarried population in the church, but these two demonstrate some of the issues the church must address.

  1. Cohabitation rates are growing. One reason for a decrease in marriage rates and an increase in the median age of first marriage is that cohabitation rates have increased steadily over the last thirty years. The National Center for Family & Marriage Research (NCFMR) notes, “The percentage of women who have ever cohabited nearly doubled between 1987 and 2013. In 1987, one-third of women (aged 19-44) had ever cohabited, and in 2013, nearly two-thirds (64%) of women had cohabitation experience.” As I noted in a post earlier this year, the church is not immune to the problem of cohabitation. As more people cohabit, churches will be forced to address issues of church membership and discipline in a culture that is more accepting of cohabitation. And it is not simply the young about whom we must be concerned. NCFMR reports that the number of cohabiting older adults tripled between 2000 and 2014. In many cases these cohabiters are widows and widowers who choose to cohabit rather than remarry in order to avoid losing Social Security or pension benefits.
  2. Out-of-wedlock birth rates are growing. Just because people are waiting longer to get married or not marrying at all does not mean that there are no children being born. The National Center for Health Statistics notes that “the percentage of all births to unmarried women was 40.2% in 2014.” This means that 4 out of every 10 children in the United States are born to unwed mothers. CNN states that a third of women who give birth in a given year are not married. These are the children who will be coming through the children and youth ministries of our churches. In many cases, they will not have a father in their lives. Thus, the church will be called upon to fill in the gap for these children who do not have both mother and father.

Conclusion

There is no reason to fear the growing population of unmarried adults in our midst. But we cannot ignore them either. The church needs to minister to them and allow them to minister as a valuable part of the body of believers.

_________________________

U.S. Census Bureau, “Facts for Features: Unmarried and Single Americans Week: Sept. 17-23, 2017,” 14 August 2017.

Kim Parker and Renee Stepler, “As U.S. marriage rate hovers at 50%, education gap in marital status widens,” Pew Research Center, 14 September 2017.

U.S. Census Bureau, “Estimated Median Age at First Marriage, by Sex: 1890 to the Present,” November 2016.

P. Hemez and W. D. Manning, “Over twenty-five years of change in cohabitation experience in the U.S., 1987-2013,” Family Profiles, FP-17-02, National Center for Family & Marriage Research (2017).

P. Hemez and S. L. Brown, “Cohabitation in middle and later life,” Family Profiles, FP-16-20, National Center for Family & Marriage Research (2016).

National Center for Health Statistics, “Births: Final Data for 2014,” National Vital Statistics Reports 64 (2015).

Stephanie Coontz, “How unmarried Americans are changing everything,” CNN.com, 21 September 2017.

Be Vigilant Against Sin: Learning from Freeze’s Fall

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Hugh Freeze (via Wikimedia Commons)

Within a few minutes of each other, a friend got my attention and my dad called me. Both wanted to pass along a piece of breaking news that they thought I would want to know—Hugh Freeze had resigned from Ole Miss. In the phone call with my dad, I found out the initial reports of the reason for his resignation was not a losing record or an ongoing NCAA investigation. Instead the reason for his resignation is what Ross Bjork, the athletic director at Ole Miss, called “a pattern of personal conduct inconsistent with the standard of expectations for the leader of our football team.”[1]

In full disclosure, I’ve never been an Ole Miss football fan. I could have been called a hater at one point. But that changed to a certain degree in 2012 when the University of Mississippi hired Freeze as their head football coach. My history with Coach Freeze goes back to 1992. That year Coach Freeze joined the staff of my high school, Briarcrest Christian School. I was a freshman; he was my geometry teacher.

I never played football for Freeze, but I interacted with him in class and around campus. If you checked my Facebook feed for comments from my high school classmates, the reviews on him would be mixed. My experience was always positive. My experience with all my high school teachers was positive.

What disturbs me today is the line from the athletic director at Ole Miss—his behavior demonstrated a pattern. Bjork describes that pattern as “troubling.”

My attempt here is not to write a vindication of Coach Freeze. I haven’t seen him in person nor talked to him in probably 20 years. I have merely followed his career from a distance after I graduated from high school, yet as one who felt like he had some knowledge of the man. What I want to address is the idea of a pattern of behavior. As a friend of mine mentioned to me after the news broke, our lives demonstrate a pattern of behavior. The question is whether that pattern is destructive. We most likely all have a pattern of sin, we just don’t have the public image of Coach Freeze.

This current situation reminds me of the life of King David. A relative unknown, he won his way into the limelight by defeating Goliath (a.k.a., the Alabama Crimson Tide). Somewhere along the way, the destructive pattern of behavior started. We don’t know when for certain. I doubt his downfall started that fateful evening when his men were at war and he was spying Bathsheba from the roof (2 Samuel 11). David was then confronted with his sin by the prophet Nathan. His consequences were great. Far beyond the loss of a job, David lost his son who was the offspring of his illicit relationship (2 Samuel 12). David’s life was forever changed. His family life was a wreck. He never got to build the temple he longed to provide as a place of worship. There were multiple attempts to usurp his throne.

In light of all this, what can we learn from David’s life that applies to our own and that of Coach Freeze?

  1. Sin will ultimately come to the light. Nathan delivered a powerful message from the Lord to David. He said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun’” (2 Sam 12:11-12). As much as we try to hide our sin, it will eventually come to light. It may not be to the extent that David’s and Freeze’s have been exposed to the sun, but it will happen. And it will be devastating.
  2. Confession is the first step. After being confronted by Nathan, the king confessed his sin. We read, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord’” (2 Sam 12:13a). This is just the beginning of David’s confession. Psalm 51 gives us a full picture of his confession. Many of the psalms have introductions that gives us the context of their composition. Psalm 51 tells us that it was written after Nathan confronted David with his sin. David asks to be washed, cleansed, and purified from his sin. May we do the same.
  3. Consequences are real. Nathan gave David a picture of his consequences when he said, “The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (2 Sam 12:13b). There are two key consequences to David’s sin. First, his deed has given the enemies of God cause to blaspheme him. We often think private sin only has private consequences. However, sin always extends its tentacles beyond what we think. The pagan nations surrounding Israel must have looked at David’s behavior with a sense of vindication. The righteous king of Israel was no more righteous than they. Second, his sin led to the loss of his child. After the corporate consequence, this was the private consequence. This loss must have stung for the rest of his life. There are no words to describe this tragedy.

I wish the best for Coach Freeze. I wanted to see him succeed in the world of football. More importantly now, I want to see him succeed in life and godliness. I pray this situation reminds us all to be vigilant about identifying and eliminating destructive patterns of behavior in our own lives.

[1] Mark Schlabach, “Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze resigns; escort-service calls cited,” ESPN.com, 21 July 2017.

Taming the Tongue: Parents and Youth Sports

L SoccerHer soccer coach calls her “Big Foot.” She’s probably the smallest player on the team, but don’t tell her. Our youngest daughter has made it her goal in life to ignore her own size and play like the big kids (a.k.a. her older siblings). As a result, she has a “go big or go home” attitude on the field. On a few occasions that has resulted in scoring as many as six goals in a single game. It has also led to at least a couple confrontations on the field from opposing coaches for her unorthodox tactics (hey, the ref never blew a whistle). But most of all, it displays a zeal for the game and pure joy in doing what she loves.

With kids’ sports, especially when they are young, problems don’t generally come from the kids. Sure there might be a foul here or a trip there, but the little ones are in it for the fun. The problems are usually generated by parents, and I have been part of the problem.

In a move to curb some of the problems created by parents at soccer games, the South Carolina Youth Soccer Association is calling for a “Silent September” this fall. CNN reports:

Heckling referees is practically a tradition in any sport, but South Carolina youth soccer officials feel it’s gone too far. Come September, they’re instituting a new rule: “No cheering, no jeering.” Overeager parents will get two warnings. If they don’t pipe down the third time, they’ll be kicked out. The state’s Youth Soccer Association is calling this code of conduct “Silent September.” And it’s cracking down after problems with parents who are verbally, and even physically, aggressive toward referees—some of whom are still kids themselves.[1]

As we signed up a couple of our children for fall soccer over the weekend, I was hit with a twinge of conviction. How do I conduct myself at the games? I am admittedly a very competitive person whose days of playing sports at any level are basically over. I love watching my children play, but I have raised my voice in criticism of officials far too many times. I have thrown my hands up in the air as if the integrity of the game was at risk due to one inconsequential call. I have even tried to shout instructions to my kids from the stands when I am not the coach.

With this next season of sports coming quickly, I want to redouble my efforts to be a supportive, positive parent at the games. Thankfully the Bible has much to say about the use of our tongues—if only we will take it to heart. These admonitions clearly apply to the way we should conduct ourselves at children’s sporting events.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way. (James 3: 5-10)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)

A soothing tongue is a tree of life, but perversion in it crushes the spirit. (Proverbs 15:4)

I want to be a parent who encourages, edifies, and inspires with my words. I don’t want to be “that parent” at the game who yells at the officials and demands perfection from everyone at a child’s game. These children are not professionals, nor are the officials. May we as parents not ruin the sport by our words.

Before the start of every game, I hope to join King David in his prayer:

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

[1] Nancy Coleman, “‘No cheering, no jeering’: South Carolina tells overzealous parents at soccer games to zip it,” CNN.com, 7 July 2017.

A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting

book_cover_everyday_parentingMelanie and I were asked to contribute a chapter to a recently-released book entitled, Everyday Parenting. While we still have much to learn in the realm of parenting, we are hopeful that our chapter, “A Text-Driven Philosophy of Parenting” will be helpful. Below is an excerpt from our chapter. You can purchase the book from Seminary Hill Press.

The word “parenting” brings to mind many words that could be paired alongside it. Wonderful. Exciting. Exhausting. Loving. Frustrating. Joyous. Sweet. Stinky. Gracious. Sacrificial. Heartbreaking. Precious. Blessing. But the one word that has proven to be the overarching theme throughout our parenting adventure is “humbling.”

We do not necessarily mean individual incidents that prove to humble a prideful soul—although plenty of those exist. For example, when your young child throws a gallon of milk out of the cart, and it explodes all over the frozen food section with the force of an atomic bomb.  Or when your teenage daughter chooses the middle of a clothing store as the best place to loudly discuss the appropriate length of a woman’s skirt. These are humbling situations where you hope the floor will open up and swallow both you and your child and transport you quickly back to the privacy of your own home.

Those situations are real, but they are not the extent of parenting as a whole. The humbling experience we refer to is the constant act of dying to yourself and your personal comforts for the sake and well-being of your children. Thus, parenting is one of the most humbling experiences a person can have.

In every stage of rearing a child, the Lord must work on the heart, mind, and soul of both parents to continue to place them in the position where they can effectively guide their child. We have been on this journey for more than twelve years now, and while there is still much opportunity for successes and mistakes, we have noticed one common thread. The daily act of caring for someone else causes great friction in a heart that primarily wants to tend to its own needs. The friction causes a hard, self-sufficient heart to soften and become moldable, allowing God to work greatly in the life of that parent. With God’s tender leading, the parents die to their own selfish tendencies, see their child’s needs, and reach out to connect to their child in whatever way is necessary.

In light of dying to our own desires and recognizing the needs of our children, we periodically sit down to consider our goals for the four children whom God has entrusted to us. We have a number of goals along the lines of education, physical activity, and spiritual development. Those goals change over time as our children grow older, but the main focus of those goals remains to see our children grow into responsible, productive members of society who know the truth of the gospel and follow after Christ with all their hearts.

The one constant in our parenting strategy is that we would be guided by the principles and promises of Scripture. You could call this “text-driven parenting” in the sense that we want our parenting to be the product of our study of Scripture. We lay no claim to being experts in parenting since our journey as parents is still in-process. However, we want to offer some basic biblical principles that can serve as a philosophy of parenting. In so doing, we want to look at the effects of parenting on both children and parents. Seeing the effects on children may seem obvious, but the effects of parenting on the parents less so. Yet, our conviction is that parents are both humbled and changed in the process of parenting according to God’s Word.

*Everyday Parenting is available from Seminary Hill Press here.

Theological Matters: The Forgotten Value of Time with Our Children

LenowTXRangerThis post originally appeared at Theological Matters on May 2. You can read the full post here.

Last month, I took my 10-year-old daughter to a baseball game. It was just the two of us. Our other three children were home with my wife. For nearly four hours, we spent time together in the car and at the stadium. My phone mostly stayed in my pocket (except for taking and posting a few photos), and we talked.

Over the course of the game, we talked about the rules of baseball; I showed her how to tell if the umpire was calling a ball or strike; we even met the people sitting next to us and talked about their experiences watching baseball. My daughter got randomly selected to receive a game-used baseball during the game because she was wearing her Texas Rangers shirt and hat. Clearly, it was a wonderful evening at the ballpark.

The value of that time at the game was priceless. Had it not been for a letter that my 12-year-old daughter penned to my own mother, this opportunity would likely never have manifested itself. Back in November, as the kids were making out their own Christmas wish lists, my oldest daughter put a letter in the mail asking my parents to buy me season tickets to the Texas Rangers for Christmas.

Her motives were pure. She knew how much I loved watching the Rangers play baseball on television. We went to a few games last season and loved every minute. The final reason that tugged at our heartstrings was when she said that she missed being able to go with me to a game—just the two of us—and spend time together. Although my wife and I intercepted the letter before it ever made it to my parents’ house, the letter still had an impact. Last week, I started the summer-long goal of taking each of my four children to at least one baseball game by ourselves.

My second daughter was overjoyed about the opportunity to go first. She has a memory of getting a ball at the game that will never fade from her mind. I even stopped on the way home at 10 p.m. to get ice cream—something only a dad would do. But most of all, we simply spent time together.

We talked. We listened. We slowed down.

If your life is anything like ours, you are busy. . . .

*Read the rest of the post here.