Who Qualifies for Quality?

by Sam Melden

sam-melden-hero.jpg

Recently I was in a conversation where someone referred to various issues facing their community as “quality of life” issues. These were issues like the condition and beauty of local parks, the reliability of trash and recycling services, the local unemployment rate, various economic growth indicators, and the metrics related to public schools. 

Quality of life. Three simple words, with one strong implication: certain lives in certain places experience more quality than others. In this instance, the determination of quality was predicated upon external factors. No one was saying that any one individual was less worthy of such a level of  quality, it was more about the governing and leadership bodies who make decisions being committed to creating a better world for its citizens. 

On September 2, 2015 my wife and I, expecting our third child received the news that our baby had a condition called Spina Bifida. While I couldn’t even spell it at the time, I grew to understand more and more about this neural tube defect that would significantly alter the way my little girl would interact with the space around her. When the doctor gave us the news though, he used this familiar phrase; “quality of life.” He said our child “will have a low quality of life.” And he said it over and over. Since then, we’ve heard this from so many people who have received a similar diagnosis. Quality of life were the words used to describe the implications of this diagnosis. “Your child has spina bifida, and kids with spina bifida have a low quality of life.”

This was a discouraging start to the journey of welcoming our 3rd daughter into the world, to say the least. We were confused, worried, afraid, and now we were wondering what our lives would become. 

Today, however, when I show most people a video of a little 3 year old girl smiling on the beach or spinning around to a song in the kitchen, they are filled with joy. And, to be honest, I have often referred back to that “low quality of life” diagnosis and wondered why we are stuck with such limiting language to describe the ways some people navigate the world around them. 

One of the main thrusts of the “Disability Dialog” campaign is to challenge the way we think of those often referred to as “disabled.” This campaign points out, that the truth is, so many people are actually “disabled by society.” There are many ways we define what brings quality to a life in our culture today. But when we really slow down and think about it, the ways mark progress don’t apply to a large amount of people in our society. It seems as though not everyone truly qualifies for a certain quality of life.

If someone learns differently, communicates differently, walks or talks differently, shouldn’t they qualify for the same quality of life as anyone else?

My understanding of the concept of equality is all about how we answer this question: who qualifies for quality? When we talk about quality of life issues if someone doesn’t qualify for any reason, they have in essence been disqualified. And when that happens, all moral citizens have a responsibility to ask why? 

This is the question in front of all of us: how can we work to create a quality of life where everyone qualifies? How can every leader, and every citizen in this community step up and answer this crucial question. That is what I am committed to, and that is why I am thankful for this Disability Dialog Campaign and the hundreds of other leaders in this community who are in this fight as well. 

Let Christmas Stories Inform Our Policies

by Sam Melden

Advent is on us, and it’s my favorite time of year. Advent is a season of deep breaths made for looking forward to a better day. And for those of us who come from a tradition connected to the way of Jesus, this season of Advent is also a season of good stories. Stories like that of Mary and Joseph — a young couple, miraculously expecting a child, and the difficult journey that would accompany bringing this life into the world. Angels appearing in dreams, men of wisdom visiting the family, and violent threats from the State come together in this story often portrayed in simple nativity scenes.

It is easy to breeze through this season, race to Christmas Day, and begin a new year without slowing down to consider the nature of the stories that inform the Christian faith. To do that would be to miss the magic of the season. The contemplative knows that we must ask good questions of the sacred texts and allow the texts to ask questions of us.

And, while I’m not even the most contemplative person living at my address, I try to give it my best. I try to approach these sacred stories with a sense of wonder, and allow them to ask questions back.

This original story of Mary and Joseph is about young parents welcoming their son into a dangerous world. A ruler, Herod, whose fear of losing power leads him to order the murder of all boys under 2 years old. A voice in a dream tells Joseph to take his family somewhere safe to increase the odds of the child’s survival. It’s a powerful story. It makes me wonder.

Where are the living nativity scenes in our world today?

Are there young parents in our world who are worried about their children’s survival?

What survival stories are being written as you read this?

Today there is a story of escape being written. A collection of human beings — the “caravan” from Honduras that traveled through Mexico, their sights set on the United States. The conditions they left behind and the expectations they had remind me of stories in the Bible. I think about the Exodus. I think about Mary and Joseph — Joseph waking up from his dream, and telling Mary what he was thinking. I picture them rising in the middle of the night, gently wrapping the baby, starting their journey. Then I think about those in the “caravan.” What kind of sleep are they getting to refresh their bodies? How are the child travelers? I even think about how their shoes are holding up. I wonder: how will their story end?

I’m reminded of other major themes of the Bible — welcome the stranger, look after the orphans and widows. That little baby, Jesus, who survived the trip with his parents, would grow up to teach us about how we should treat “the least of these.”

We have folks in our country who want to convince everyone we were “founded on the Bible” without considering the stories found within the Bible. It doesn’t take too much biblical literacy to see how the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would want people of historic wealth and fortune to treat people who are running for their lives.

The Rev. William Barber II says we have many leaders in our country who “are saying so much about what God says so little, and so little about what God says so much.” The current presiding bishop of the Episcopal church, Michael Curry, calls President Trump’s America First rhetoric “a theological heresy for followers of Christ.”

And while we have a few brave voices speaking up, where are the rest? Over 80 percent of self-proclaimed Christians voted for President Trump. We often hear about our President speaking to his base and offering up policy positions that will keep those who voted for him happy and supportive. So what should that 80 percent do? How do we embody the way of Jesus no matter our political persuasion? Troops with tear gas is not the only alternative to open borders. It can’t be. And we need leaders of moral conviction to stand up and offer another way.

Is it really possible that the Christian can spend their Sundays worshiping and praying in sanctuaries, and then spend their Mondays denying their neighbor sanctuary in their city? We must work to find another way.

How can we work together to transform immigration policy while embodying a posture of compassion and love?

My hope this season is that Christian faith leaders in communities all around the country accept this invitation. Good questions are powerful. These sacred stories contain powerful questions. May we have ears to hear.

Today's Caravan

by Sam Melden

This is the time of year when favorite holiday traditions come rushing back into our lives. We dust off decorations, both hand-made and handed-down. And many of our holiday memories come in the form of stories which inform our understanding of the holiday season and help us to interpret ordinary days on a calendar as sacred days of celebration.

Stories turn the last few months of the year into “a season” for sharing, caring, love and giving thanks. And for many (but not all) Americans, the stories that inform the Christmas season are often taken from the Bible. 

The Bible is a book of stories about people taking long trips, making the journey from this place to that place. Often these journeys are from the place that defines who they used to be, as the stories’ characters travel toward the place that signifies who they are becoming. One of my favorite stories is from the book of Genesis about Joseph and his brothers. This story is full of journey, back and forth, over and again. And Joseph transforms. He was one way when he was shipped off, and was another person altogether when his brothers meet him again. 

There is of course the story of the Exodus. An entire group of people moving through harsh conditions, fleeing oppression, looking forward to something that only exists in their imagination. No more slavery, no more suffering, no more tyrannical abuse of their loved ones. When you’re leaving that land behind, the risk of not surviving the journey and the promise of the next land is worth it.

A protective warning

The Bible is just full of these stories. And this time of year one of the stories that can easily be lost is the story of a young couple traveling with their newborn to flee the threat of death. The story of Mary and Joseph has been morphed over the years into a cute story with farm animals, and three wise men bringing peculiar (to us) birthday gifts to the newborn baby. The original story however, is about young parents, welcoming their son into a dangerous, perilous world. There is a ruler, Herod, who, out of fear of losing his power, orders that all who threaten his power be murdered. One night, in a dream Joseph hears a voice telling him to get out of town. Go somewhere safer. Take care of your family, and go somewhere else that increases the odds of your child’s survival. It’s a powerful story about escape. 

A present day journey 

Last month, we all heard stories of a present day dangerous journey. A group from San Pedro Sula, Honduras were beginning their travels from their hometown, through Mexico with their eyes set on the United States. As I read about their journey, the conditions they were leaving behind and the expectations they have I can’t help but think about the Exodus. I can’t help but think about Mary and Joseph. I picture them getting up in the middle of the night, gently waking up the baby, and starting on their journey. Then I think about those in the caravan. What kind of sleep are they getting to refresh their bodies? How are the children? I think about how their shoes are holding up. And I wonder… How will their story end?

What happens when you leave one Herod, only to discover another one? 

What happens when you are seeking Lady Liberty only to be met by Captain America-First? 

Parallel stories 

When I think about those travelling from Honduras, I’m reminded of another major Biblical theme, “Welcome the stranger.” “Look after the orphans and widows.” Even Jesus, who survived the trip with his parents, grew up to teach us about how we should treat “the least of these.” Sometimes it feels like our country wants to convince everyone that we were “founded on the Bible” without regard to the stories within the Bible.

Listen, it doesn’t take much biblical literacy to see how the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob would want people of incredible wealth and fortune to treat people running for their lives. The Dr. Rev. William Barber II, a Protestant minister and political leader, says we have leaders in our country who “are saying so much about what God says so little, and so little about what God says so much.” So what can we do?

Sometimes, rules need to change

In this column, I often discuss large, difficult topics. And often, I don’t have concrete solutions for those problems. Now, I can already hear all the usual talking points. “What about the rules?” “We have a process, they should follow it.” Do you know what my wife and I teach our children to think about rules that don’t help people? Rules that don’t serve people? We teach them that sometimes, rules need to change, to expand, to evolve to match the problems they were initially designed to address. 

What I’m trying to do in this column though, is to give us images, language, and ultimately more tools to talk to our children about these issues. I think that is the point of parenting too. It’s about the journey, rather than finding all the right answers. We want to equip our children with how to think about the conditions they will face in their world.

And, if we are honest, it’s a crucial investment in our future. I can support and vote for candidates that I think most honestly embody a welcoming posture toward our neighbors, but it is our children who will take us to the next level. Our job is to tell the right stories. Stories that meet fear with hope, and hate with love., that build bridges over barriers and creative solutions to citizenship over fear-based walls of military force. 

So, let’s tell those stories this year. May your holidays be filled with love, imagination, hope, and good stories.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Family Rhythm -- Avoid Being Swept Away

by Sam Melden

If your house is anything like mine, over the past months many different plans have been justified by two simple words: “It’s summer!” Bedtime gets pushed back? “It’s summer!” Staying out later than normal eating pizza and ice cream on a Tuesday night? No problem… “it’s summer!” If summer equals impulsive outings, longer days, weekends or vacations away, September means the return to schedules. School schedules, sports schedules, pick-up and drop-off schedules. With all the requirements of a new school year, our tendency is to rush back to a “routine.”

Family rhythm

But how to make that routine meaningful? How can we bring the big issues in our lives to our kitchen tables? How can we talk to our kids and make connections for them that last? I think finding a meaningful family rhythm is more important than sliding back into a routine.

Routine is what you do yourself, individually, alone. Routine is how you get ready in the morning. It’s about when you brush your teeth. Routine is about when the coffee pot gets switched on.

Rhythm is something different. Rhythm is what we remember years from now. Rhythm is like waves in an ocean all moving together. It’s a song’s notes rolling to the same beat, or all the leaves on a tree, blown by the same breeze. And rhythm is what we want for our families. Not uniform routine, but a rhythm that has us all moving through the crazy schedules, together. Think about it this way: a rich, healthy family rhythm is what our kids will remember when they are grown.

So, how can we create rhythm for our families?

It all starts with values

Often in this space we talk about living our values, together as a family. How we spend our time, where we invest our attention, is all based on our values. Does your family value time together? Building a rhythm of family game nights, or “pizza & a movie nights” might be key to building a good family rhythm. Does your family value being active together? Taking family bike rides or going on long Saturday morning walks at a park might be the way to get started. Finding a good family rhythm assures that your values remain at the top of your household’s priority list.

Your “Yes” is a “No”

Identifying your values is so important to building a healthy family rhythm is because there are so many things competing for our time. To fully live our your values as a family requires discipline. And the best way I’ve come to think about discipline is realizing that your “yes” to one thing, is a “no” to something else. Being committed to family dinners together three or four nights a week has clear implications for what other routines individual members of your family can say ‘yes’ to. If you want to go on family walks every Saturday morning, saying “yes” to that, means you will most likely have to say “no” to the myriad of other Saturday morning opportunities. If your family wants to build a rhythm around supporting each other, saying “yes” to one child’s sports team might mean saying “no” to other activities. Our ability to say no to certain opportunities gives us a better chance to form meaningful rhythms for our families, with those choices rooted in our values.

So, as we move out of one season and into another, find a meaningful rhythm based on your values. And I hope you find the collective willingness as a family to say “yes” to what matters, and “no” to anything that might get in the way.

Sparklers and Snare Drums: Telling America's Story to Our Children This Summer

by Sam Melden

I don’t have a summer birthday. I have a spring birthday, but growing up I always envied those with summer birthdays. Their birthday parties could be at a pool or at a baseball game, the days were longer and the food was better. Summer birthdays are the best. One of my daughters has a July birthday and it’s so sweet to see her enjoy those moments. Running around, playing with dirty feet, and eating popsicles with all of her friends. She loves having a birthday in July.

A few months ago we were talking about her upcoming birthday, which wasn’t that “upcoming” because it was so far away, but when you’re 5 looking at 6 it is never too soon to plan, and her big sister took the opportunity to interrupt and ask about the 4th of July. “What is the 4th of July about anyway, Dad?” Of course, I told my oldest to let her little sister finish her list, but I also (happily) took advantage of this opportunity to change the subject.

Teaching stories

As we talked about the 4th of July I found myself thinking about origin stories and their power to inform all that comes after. Instead of talking about hot dogs and sparklers we talked about how this experiment called America began in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I love different aspects of the 4th of July. I mean, it’s just a fact: the 4th of July cannot start until you hear those first snare hits in Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful.” This year we’ll watch “The Sandlot” again and consume more hot dogs than any one person should. But in the same way a cupcake isn’t enough to understand the birthday of a child and all that comes with it, fireworks and “patriotic music” just isn’t enough to encapsulate all that the 4th of July means.

This year let me propose two ideas to help us begin sharing American Stories with our children during the festivities of the 4th of July.

Tell the whole story

It is so easy to only tell the palatable portion of the story of our founding. But we owe it to our children to explain as much of the story as we can. The truth is, we know more about America’s founding than a few boats and stories of pilgrims. We also know about the way we took this land from people who were living here before us. We know the brutal ways in which we claimed this land for our own and dispensed with those who were here first. We need to have more confidence in our children’s ability to comprehend difficult topics that aren’t easy to discuss. The brilliant and wise Bryan Stevenson says, “We don’t really like to talk about our history, and because of that we haven’t really understood what it means to do the things we have done historically.”

Write the next chapter together

The more we can talk about the whole of our American story with our children the more we can begin to write a new beautiful chapter together. When we face up to the negative elements of the founding of our nation, we are naturally drawn to what makes this country wonderful. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are worthy, necessary things to talk about with our children. Reading the morning news reminds us that “liberty and justice for all” is an urgent lesson to teach our children today. But we have to tell the whole story.

Our children, these little citizens, are heirs to this American story. So, the next time you hand off that fiery sparkler or apply an American flag (fake) tattoo to their cheek remember to tell them the whole story. Because, when we own the whole story of America’s yesterday, we can enlist these little citizens to help write a better story for tomorrow.

Giving Back With Kids in Tow

by Sam Melden

Each year these few days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are filled with chances to serve our community. Preparing and serving Thanksgiving dinner for someone in need, packing food boxes, buying presents for children, singing carols to seniors, and on and on it goes. And I think the question that most parents work through in this season is: “What can I do with my kids?” We want to serve our community, we want to give back, we want to get involved in making our community a better place… and we want our children to experience this with us.

Redefining “kid-friendly”

Recently I had a friend ask what local service opportunities exist in our community that were “kid-friendly.” They wanted to bring their kids along in their seasonal service endeavor but they weren’t sure which activities would be appropriate for children. While I certainly understand this impulse I want to suggest another question we should ask as we try to give our children memorable moments of giving back. Often when I hear parents talking about whether or not something is “kid-friendly” they are either talking about how easy it is to manage their children in that space, or how their kids may understand what is actually happening. Parents can worry about whether or not their children will get the same satisfaction as the parent. They worry about whether or not the kids will understand why they are doing the specific act of service.

I believe, the better question than “what can I do with my kids?” to ask is:

“What can I do, that I truly care about, to make a difference?”

The reason this is a better question to ask is because our kids often aren’t going to get their own personal “warm and fuzzy” feelings from serving their community. They are going to feel good about what they are doing if they do it with their parents. If we, as parents, are engaged, passionate and committed to the work we are doing, and bring our kids along, that will make the biggest impact on our children in the long run. Now, there may be exceptions, but as long as you aren’t really passionate about building houses or putting yourself in unsafe environments, then this rule probably applies.

(One tip to keep in mind if you aren’t sure about bringing your kids along? Call ahead and ask the organization, the church or the group you are working with how they would feel about you bringing your children.)

Remember, 10 years from now, when your kid looks back, what they will remember most is the cumulative set of experiences they had with you. They will remember how you acted, how you gave up your time, and how you went out that night in the terrible weather to go serve your community.

There is a quote I love from Howard Thurman that goes like this: “Do not ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

This time of year as we parent in the midst of the Holidays I would offer a different version of that quote: “Do not ask yourself what your child needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do that. Because what your child needs is parents who have come alive.”

Raising Radicals

by Sam Melden

If you are anything like me, on Saturday August 12th you were terrified to find out that the young man who had driven a car into a crowd of people in Charlottesville was from our area. We learned of the details of this young person who decided to take part in the white supremacist rally and then allowed his radical ideology to take him to a place even he couldn’t have planned. An innocent life was taken, unjustly and the attack was felt up here. That small red sticker on his license plate let us all know that the killer was from our very community. Many people responded with anger and disgust, more responded with love and resolve to move forward even more powerfully.

I found myself processing this particular attack for several days afterward. Immediately I was certain that this was a cowardly act of domestic terrorism fueled by hate and a distorted view of human beings. I continued to think through how this hate-filled ideology takes hold of people and wondered what the proper response should be. What could it be?

A proper response

Before we can understand the response to a problem I think we must understand the cause of the problem as thoroughly as possible. Let’s be clear: the attack in Charlottesville was radical white-supremacist terrorism. It was an ideology, no matter how illogical that ideology may be on its own, that was taken to a radical place. And the murderer was radicalized, which is to say, essentially intoxicated by this belief system. It clouded his judgement, lead him to far away places and his actions ultimately stood out among even his own peers in the application of their belief.

I think radicalization is what happens when a story about humanity, a way of understanding the world, grows such deep roots in someone’s life that it bears fruit uncommonly seen. Then I started to wonder. What if there was a different type of radical? Of course there is a different kind of story about the world… but how deep could those roots be?

Telling stories

As parents we tell stories to our children. We tell stories that we believe. We tell them stories that teach and then reinforce the way we want them to believe. And, as parents we have to make sure those stories are taking root. We want good stories to fill our children’s minds and hearts and souls.

  • Stories about how the planet is open and expansive and owned by no one but leaving
    everyone in its debt.

  • Stories that show there is enough to go around.

  • Stories about equality and justice and love and hope and acceptance and forgiveness.

  • Stories about working hard and sacrificing harder.

  • Stories that teach us to earn as much as you need but to give all that you can.

These are some of the stories that I want my kids to hear and remember as they grow up in a world that is filled with the counterpoints of pessimism and data that shows your doubt is true. But I also want these stories to take deep root in their hearts and mind and souls. I want these stories to bear fruit in their interactions with their friends, their plans for their careers, and their hopes for the future.

But what happened that day in Charlottesville made me even more hopeful. Now I’m hoping that these stories I tell my children bear fruit uncommonly seen. I want these stories to cloud our children’s judgement and lead them to far away places. I want to radicalize love and acceptance and inclusion and justice and hope. And then I want to send these radicals out into the world with courage and confidence to speak up. Speak up when a classmate, who is growing up with many different stories begins to repeat lies they’ve heard about how certain human beings are less deserving of love and acceptance. We all know that it’s hard to raise your voice in the midst of darkness. So I want to work now to raise radicals who will not be afraid to speak up, to tell a better story, no matter where that leads them.

What Makes for a Good Leader?

by Sam Melden

I have a leadership test. It’s pretty short, not too complex, and I apply it to every leader I know over and over and over. Leadership is a tough subject. We can confuse leadership with directing, dictating, being in charge or having more money. But I hold leadership to a higher standard because I think it’s more than that. When I meet a leader and try to discern if this is someone I want to follow, or would enjoy following,I ask these questions.

First: who’s on their team?
Meaning, who do they associate with, or surround themselves with?

Second: the closer you get to someone, does it get better or worse?
This one takes a bit more time, but it’s been so helpful. When you get to know someone, beyond first impressions and quick introductions, who are they? How do they act when no one else is around? What drives them? How do they handle conflict?

To me, when you figure out who people surround themselves with, and who they truly are as a person, then you know what kind of leader you are following. And the truth is, then you know what kind of person you are following.

As I think about this simple two question test, it strikes me that we can teach our children valuable lessons about how to find good friends, what to look for in role models and certainly, what type of person to become themselves. Now that we’re going back to school, settling into new rhythms and meeting many new people, let’s look at the questions from my leadership test and think about how we can give them to our kids to empower them to make good choices themselves and become the type of leader their peers want to follow.

1. Who is on your team?
It seems basic, but this is a difficult lesson to get through to our children. We are who we spend the most time with, right? So often in school age environments we base this on who is the funniest, who has the best style or who scores the most in a game. But how do we get our children to use different criteria? I think the most important factor here is who we lift up in front of them as the role models in our world. Do we love the star quarterback more than community leader in our neighborhood? Do we spend more time reading magazines about fashion than we do about important issues in our country? The more we lift up the true role models in our world, the more our children will become the true role models in theirs.

2. The More Someone Gets To Know You, Does It Get Better, or Worse?
People are always surprised when they get to know someone beyond the first meeting. For better or worse, we find out more and often are surprised. Either we had it wrong and are disappointed or we are increasingly impressed the more we see. Think about those first weeks in school. Kids want to posture, they want to be liked just like the rest of us. It is imperative that we teach our children to be themselves, right from the beginning. Introduce our true selves to our new classmates, our teachers, our coaches and anyone else who may be watching. Every one of those interactions have the potential to turn into a deeper and truer friendship, and when it does, we want our new friends to be pleasantly surprised.
These two questions have served me well in assessing leaders from every sector, including politicians. And, if we can help our children first apply this leadership test to themselves, we will have given them the ultimate gift as they go back to school and continue in their growth, the ability to not only figure out who a good leader is, but to also be one.

Following Samuel "Golden Rule" Jones Example

by Sam Melden

This morning I stood in a special place. Today is the birthday of Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones. And over the past few years as I’ve read his own writing and what others have written about him, I have been inspired and encouraged by the potential for values, heart and courage to be present political leadership. 

I believe the way you honor someone is not simply by naming buildings after them, but by living how they lived. So this morning, to honor Golden Rule on his birthday, I visited his gravesite in the Historic Woodlawn Cemetery. And I asked the press to come along so I could invite leaders from every sector in our city to join me in following Golden Rule’s age old example of leading with heart and courage. Golden Rule Jones is legendary because he exhibited Moral Leadership. 

And if Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones were around today, he would not sit back and watch Toledo’s public school students struggle with homelessness at a rate higher than any other city in the state. This is the Moral Leadership Crisis of our day and I am calling on, and inviting leaders from all sectors in our community to join me in meeting this challenge head on. 

Recent reporting has shown Toledo has more homeless students in our community than any other city in Ohio. This is not a TPS problem alone, this is not a homeless shelter problem alone, this is not a faith community problem alone, this is not a business community or economic problem alone. This is our collective problem, and it is going to take our collective resources to solve it. 

So, on August 24th I am inviting community leaders to join myself and the following individuals to get together and come up with a solution to this problem. I am thankful to Dan Rogers, who will host this meeting on August 24th 11am-1pm at Cherry St. Mission’s Life Revitalization Center. We have invited several key community leaders and will be inviting many more over the coming days. 

We can do it. We can meet this moral leadership challenge and together honor the legacy leaders like Golden Rule Jones and in doing so, leave a better legacy for those who come after us. 

If you want to join us, or know someone who should - let me know! (RSVP link coming soon). 🙏🏻

Always an Opportunity, Always a Lesson

by Sam Melden

Last month I talked about how I continue to prioritize my role as a parent to my children as I run for office. Whether that is creating a “Canvass with Kids” event to involve children in knocking on doors, or bringing my oldest to a community meeting, there are many ways we have found to keep our kids involved in this process. These principles can be applied to any meaningful work though. Whether it’s volunteering with a nonprofit, leading the neighborhood organization or organizing the church potluck, all bring opportunities to bring our kids along.

Now, running for Toledo City Council while managing everyday “Kitchen Table” issues can leave very little time for almost anything else. But this month I wanted to take a few minutes to think ahead. As every parent knows, thinking about the future is an integral part of parenting well. You have to assess opportunities, values and develop a plan to get your family where you need to go. This also applies to the lessons we want to teach our children.

So, what will I tell my children about this campaign in November if I win? What if I lose? Either outcome is an opportunity, each one contains a lesson to be taught.

If I win… it seems pretty easy, right? We will celebrate, talk about how great it feels to win and take in the moment of victory. But what other opportunities may exist? Here are three lessons to share with our children that I believe apply to any successful endeavor, running for office or not.

First, we celebrate the team. None of us make it alone. We need so many people along the way. And while a campaign obviously relies on many visible people, helping our children identify and acknowledge those involved in any of our success along the way is an important lesson to learn.

Second, we reflect on the process. It’s so easy to move on to the next thing, get swept up in excitement and forget what you just went through. Slowing down and looking back with gratitude is important when it comes to celebrating success with our children.

Then, it is time to prepare for the challenge. Great, we won. Now we get to do the work. Winning is rarely the end. Often winning is just the beginning. A threshold to walk through on our way to another challenge.

However, what if I lose? What do I say then? Was it all a waste? Why should I ever try again? Is it worth the heartbreak? These questions are natural and I think even more common from the honest mouths of children. Here are 3 crucial lessons we can teach our children after we experience loss.

First, we must ask: did we follow our heart? Did we listen to that still, small voice within ourselves? When we follow this voice, we rarely go wrong. Win, lose or draw, being true to yourself is such an important lesson to give to our children.

Second, think of all of the good. Rarely do we experience a total loss. The important conversations we had, the relationships we formed, the amount of people we worked with along the way… it all matters! It adds up, and it changes us. The outcome might not have been what we wanted but good work took place, and that is always a win.

And lastly, while it may sound simple, there are no losses, only opportunities to learn. Because at the end of the day, what we all want for ourselves and certainly what we want for our kids is progress. We want to get better.

So, win or lose… I’m looking forward to these conversations with my kids.

The Cost & The Opportunity: My Decision to Run for Office With Three Small Children

by Sam Melden

(*Originally appeared in the June Edition of Toledo Area Parent. See more here.)

Running for political office is a big decision. It is a big commitment, and quite an undertaking. So when I announced my run for Toledo City Council, it wasn’t my decision alone. My wife and I had several, meaningful and intentional conversation about what the commitment was going to be like, and how much of a challenge it would be for our family. There would have to be boundaries, limits and hard lines in the sand. Because, even if running for office is a huge commitment, it pales in comparison to raising children. So my wife and I had to talk.

Conversation concerning cost and opportunity

What is the cost? What is the opportunity? How do you decide to pursue something that is going to take so much of your valuable time? Our kids are only small once, which is what makes any time we spend away from them quite costly. It’s a sacrifice.

While that’s true, isn’t is also true that everything worth doing requires sacrifice? It requires collaboration, more hands and more energy coming together. When people I know start a company of some kind, from a restaurant to a private law practice, if they work 85 hours a week,often it receives a much more gracious response than I have heard about running for office. Most people ask me “Why would you want to do that?” Or, less subtly, “Are you crazy?” Now, it would take another column to break down all of the baggage that is being dropped off with those words, but for now I want to talk about a few ways to pursue large commitment while staying true to our primary commitment as parents.When pursuing something with such a large cost there are a couple ideas or even mantras that I try to hold close:

Be Where You Are

If I am working late, I work late. If I’m home with the kids, I’m home with the kids. We live in a world that demands multi-tasking. And yet, as parents we know that our kids aren’t looking for an evening of watching us reply to emails or sitting behind a laptop screen at the dinner table. Our kids need us with them when we are with them. Presence is about the only thing we really have to give our children, so when we are with them we can’t afford to let ourselves be there only in bodily form. Put the phone down, leave it in your car if you have to. Sit on the floor with them. Or just find them in the house when you get home and walk into their environment and join in. Nothing shocks us out of our adult, productivity rhythms like an impromptu tea party or jumping into a kids book.

Bring Them Along

This could mean a few things. First, if you are juggling a busy schedule there are probably opportunities to bring your kids along for the ride. However, throwing them in the car on your way to an event or a meeting is different than really bringing them along. To bring your kids with you requires that we talk with them before, during and after the event. Give them some understanding of what you are going to do. Let them soak it in. And then ask good questions when it’s over. I have been so pleased at how my older girls have responded after they have processing different events we’ve attended. They take in different pieces, and let their tiny little steel-trap memories play it back over the next few days and weeks. All of this adds up and equals a true team-effort.

There is one last thing I should say about our process for deciding to take on such a large task while staying true to our primary task as parents. We both understood two things: it is lopsided, and it is temporary. My wife gets to stay home with our girls, and we are thankful for that. But this decision means even more of a burden on her time and energy. However, the second piece is crucial as well: it is temporary. There will be an election date, and after that, once I’m elected the rhythm will change again.

The rhythm is always changing. But in the midst of the changes if I can be present to my children, and bring them along and share pieces of my life with them at any and every age… I think I will look back with pride on what turned out to be a family endeavor. What an opportunity we have to discover such a blessing.

Run With Me

by Sam Melden

Today was the 7th half marathon I’ve completed. And they’ve all been incredible experiences.

There are really two groups of people on a marathon course. Runners and spectators. Now, I want to be clear, I am so thankful for all those who come and cheer me on during a race. It's wonderful!

In the end, the feeling that is shared between those who ran and those who watched is much different. Those who raise their mug and eat orange slices and wipe sweat from their face share a feeling of joy and collective accomplishment. No matter who finished first, how much someone trained, at the finish line it doesn't matter. What matters for this group is that we all ran together and achieved what we set out to do.

I can't help but think about these two groups when it comes to this other race I'm currently running. Running for office isn't just for those on the ballot. And certainly, in 2017, we've all just been reminded that democracy isn't a spectator sport.

I don’t need you to watch me run.

I need you to run with me.

And here’s what I know: when that last vote is counted and this campaign is successful, the feeling of joy and elation will be ours to share… because we ran together.

Instead of watching, you decided to get involved. You emailed the campaign and asked how you can help. You donated. You called your friends. You knocked doors and helped register new voters. It all added up and in the end, you weren't on the outside of the course boundary sipping coffee, wishing me the best... you were with me. We did it together.

I'm running for office because I care about our city, all of our neighbors and our future together. If you do too, run with me. You can start today.

Picture Your Family

by Sam Melden

(*Originally appeared in the April Edition of Toledo Area Parent. See more here.)

I was recently in a conversation with someone I haven’t seen in roughly 10 years. We covered the basic topics of conversation that you would expect after such a time. As we worked through the names and ages of my children he asked “Wow, three girls! Did you ever think you would have 3 daughters?” Of course my answer was “No.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want three daughters, it was simply that I had never thought about it. I don’t necessarily think I ever considered how many children I wanted at all. And while you can barely control how many children you have, you certainly can’t control how many sons or daughters you have. That is a real trick.

While I had never envisioned a life with three daughters, there are certain aspects of my life right now that I did envision, and I think this is true for all of us. Certainly as parents there are many things that take place that we did not have in mind or plan for, but hopefully there are those other realities that we did have in mind. We all have hopes and dreams for our children. Big lofty dreams. We want them to fall in love, travel the world (safely of course) and get a great education and so on. This is often what we think about when we think about the vision we have for our families. I want to suggest here that the more specific and detailed the vision for our family becomes the more powerful it is in our day to day ives.

Often when when we set long term goals for our family we essentially settle in to vague aspirations. There is a big difference between goals and a vision. A vision isn’t something you can check off a list. A vision isn’t something you can accomplish or move beyond. A vision is a reality you can picture and imagine. It moves and ebbs and flows and changes as you do. So the vision we create for our family twists and turns as our family grows.

Here are two ideas to create a family vision:

Picture It, And Work Backwards. Picture a point out in the future and ask yourself, what does your family look like? What does a normal week look like for this imaginary family? Is everyone running a different direction involved in their own personal lives only sharing just a few moments together each week? Is dinner consumed separately, everyone looking at their own screens? Or do you share a meal at a table together? What else is your future family doing together? Do you volunteer together? Are you a part of a faith community on a regular basis? How do you spend your money? Do you travel together? Is there a regular rhythm to your year or do you try to cram relaxation in to one epic family vacation every year?

The key here is to get as specific as you can! Nothing is too small for this exercise. In fact, it probably is better to talk through the mundane activities in life. After all, is that most of family life together? Yes. Yes it is.

Once you’ve pictured it, it’s time to work backwards. While picturing life in the future is fun, realizing and working out it’s implications can be more difficult. Work backwards and figure out what needs to change. What needs to be added to your life? What needs to be taken away? It’s important here to give yourself margin and space to make these changes. Sustainable change needs to happen bit by bit. You can’t get to this future point on the calendar by rushing and your life won’t change that fast either. But as you begin living into this picture more each day eventually you will see it transfer from your brainstorming session to the pictures on your wall and the dates on your calendar.

Remind Your Family Who They Are. The second helpful idea to creating a family vision involves the most central part of any family, identity. One of the most powerful ways to create a family vision is to remember who are you are as a family. What is the character of your family? If you share the same last name, how do people with that last name behave? How do they treat people? How do they treat each other? How do they engage in their community? Why do they get up in the morning? If you don’t share the same last name, what about your physical address? How do people who share that home behave in the world?

This is one of my favorite ways to think about parenting. Now, I certainly miss the boat a lot with my own children. But, it is so much better to call our children back to who they are rather than simply telling them not to be someone. When my daughter is rude to her friends, reminding her that people in this family don’t treat others that way is much more significant than simply telling her not to be rude. We all want to be someone much more than we want to stop being something. The same is true for our families as a whole, isn’t it?

Most of us never could have imagined how many sons or daughters we might have, or what the make up of our family would be. But all of us, with a little bit of effort can imagine what we want that family to look like once it exists. So lets picture it, make it happen and remind ourselves of who we are.

This is a Donut

by Sam Melden

This is a picture of a donut. And petitions. And a sister of mine at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church signing my petition this morning to allow my name to appear on the ballot this fall.

But it is also a picture of oil and water. It's a picture of two things going together that, so often, we have been told belong apart. Faith and Politics.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about quite a bit over the past few years is about this unfortunate, I might even say tragic, divide between faith and politics.

Look, I know we can spend time talking about the bad connections and similarities. We can get into all of the awful misappropriations of personal theological conviction upon political direction and policy decisions. We can spend time talking about the way that money has often corrupted both spaces. We can talk about how hierarchy and bureaucracy have forged apathy and created a disengaged people in faith systems and democracies alike. Slick preachers and corrupt politicians are pretty common images that come to mind as their uninterested, disengaged and sometimes wounded consitituency considers why they gave up altogether. Indeed, we could spend quite a bit of time talking about many of the root causes of our shallow ability to allow both of these cultural properties overlaping space.

But you know what I want to spend time on first? I want to say what else I see in this picture.

When I think about the heart of the church and heart of democracy, I can’t help but see their positive connecting points. These are two groups of people who are fundamentally tasked with answering a very simple question… How do we move forward together? While they may start from different places, and those differences are vitally important to preserve, the questions are quite similar.

How do we organize our life together?

How do we take care of people?

How do we make sure all the people are represented and every voice is heard?

How do we order our life to pursue the common good?

This is what I love about the church and why being a part of a faith community has been so important in my life for so long.

One more thing I see in this photo... hope. Hope that no matter how difficult our past experiences have been or how deep our suspicions lay or how dominant our cynicism has become. I'm hopeful that we will see new pictures and hear new stories that remind us what we have always known to be true... that we are all in this together and our leaders should act like they know that to be true as well.

A Million Open doors

by Sam Melden

(Originally written for the February edition of Toledo Area Parent)

It’s true what they say about your third child getting much different treatment than your first. Think about birthdays. It’s just so anti-climactic, isn’t it? You’ve been there before. You have other kids demanding attention, running around sucking up your time, energy, money and imagination just like that vacuum cleaner you forgot to run. Who has time to plan a party? Before we develop too much pity for the short-straws of our families, of course, there is a flip side to all of this. Your youngest always has more people singing her song because her big sisters are so excited to celebrate her life. Nothing like when your oldest sat there alone with his parents watching him eat his first birthday cake. Hardly compares to being born into a party. That said, we will save the topic of sibling dynamics for another day.

In our family our youngest child just turned 1 and I was again reminded of the word that comes to mind as a baby finishes their first trip around the sun: wonder. Every time I see a new born learn out how to pick up those little packing-peanut like treats (cleverly named “puffs”) or watch them grow teeth right before my eyes I find myself filled with wonder. I wonder how it all works? How does a mini human being learn to chew? How did they universally agree to play fetch with their parents one day? “You set the spoon on my tray, I pick it up with interest just before I drop it on the floor. You retrieve it for me and round and round we go.” There is so much about this stage of a child’s life that makes me wonder.

I also wonder about heavier things, about the future and who they are as people and who they will become. I wonder about who they will fall in love with and what instrument they will want to play and what clothes they will wear that will make their parents crazy? I wonder about their hopes for education and what type of career they might pursue.

Here is the truth: wonder holds the key to this whole parenting game we are playing. I believe, to try to cultivate and protect a sense of wonder toward our children is one of the greatest tasks we have. Often I refer to this concept in terms of certainty and curiosity.

Certainty is the opposite of wonder. When we are certain about who our children will become we lose the ability to wonder about their future. We simply fill the gaps, color in the lines and tell ourselves a fairy tale that won’t come true. The parent who lives vicariously through their children risks losing that life when their child takes a different path. We all know this to be true. Living through someone else, is no life at all. When I look at my 6 year old and marvel at how she is excelling in her piano lessons I have two options: become certain that she will keep with it, love playing her music for the rest of her life and go on to have a successful musical career. This of course is fraught with issues for everyone involved. Being certain about how your little one will turn out is like closing a million doors leading all different directions out of a belief that you know best. And, we see this all the time as parents of young children evolve into parents of adult children. Years of certainty and dogmatic belief in a future never realized causes frayed relationships and shattered expectations.

Now, consider what happens when we cultivate a curiosity about our children. If we can hold on to a sense of wonder and curiosity, we not only guard ourselves against unmet expectations but we leave open those doors to what is possible. They are free to explore and travel and meet new friends and form their own passions and ideas. This of course is the risk involved in every intimate relationship. The more I can remain curious of my wife’s changing interests, needs and desires the stronger our relationship becomes. Wonder and curiosity lay a healthy foundation in a family because they grant permission to grow and explore. And a bed of soil to sprout from, a nest fly from is what we all need.

Imagine if we carried this curiosity into other areas of our life as well? How might our relationships with co-workers improve if we left our certainty at the door and approached their perspective and ideas with genuine curiosity? This is the path we walk to truly understand another perspective. We need this in our political conversation as well. A bona-fide curiosity about the other side’s political convictions can help us remember the original intent of our democracy. We all need curiosity and wonder in our lives, perhaps most of all in relation to the little ones we have been given the task of caring for and believing in.

When we look at our children with the permission-giving curiosity that only a parent can, we create a space for our children to grow into who they will become. And in that moment we will find that familiar feeling of wonder that we created this person and we get to watch them grow and mature and walk through whichever door they choose. What a gift.

Surviving Election Year Holidays

by Sam Melden

[Kitchen Table Politics - December 2016] 

So there you are, it’s been a year since you’ve seen most of your family and your Grandma just asked you to pass the butter. You would love to but you are currently using the butter knife to pretend to cut through that awkward tension in the room from your opinionated Uncle who just said that about his favorite candidate. Your cousin’s eye roll was exaggerated, even for her, and your brother is going on and on because “this is what you get when you only have 2 parties.” Now, where is that butter? Right, it’s next to Grandpa who is sitting at the end of the table staring, silently, at his mashed potatoes. 

The question is: What do you do? 

For more than a year we have all been surrounded by the news of this year’s election. And even with the result being known, chances are pretty good that many of our relatives will take an opportunity to bring up their thoughts when we gather for the holidays. Whether its a random dig at the candidate they didn’t like, or parroting back the headline they read on the way to dinner or actually attempting to bring up an issue that matters in a thoughtful way, we all have to deal with these moments with our family. 

It would be easy to think about this in terms of what it it does for our children. We’ve all heard “our children are watching” over and over, so to attempt to model good behavior would be safe route to take. What we also know as parents is how much we learn from our kids. I think if there are 3 lessons we can learn from our children to make it through these moments with our family.

First, ask questions. Children are the most inquisitive, curious people we know and after the political season we just witnessed, we could use more of an inquisitive nature. We would do ourselves well to lean into our curiosity rather than resting on our certainty. Ask good questions. Questions are inherently respectful. Badgering, poking and baiting family members will only end poorly. Genuine wonder in the form of a question is an invitation to deeper understanding. When was the last time you asked someone in your family a question about what they thought about politics or current events in general? What if you asked the eldest family member “In what election did you first vote?” That question could take the conversation to new places. You might learn something about a family member that has been at every Christmas dinner you could possibly remember. That’s quite a gift. 

And, of course, it could all backfire. Your Grandpa could answer you and immediately mourn the “good ole days.” Well, you tried. So then we take another lesson from our children: Don’t take yourself too seriously. Just move on. The chances are pretty good that you’ll get another chance, or that someone will notice your intent and follow your lead. And what if you end up on the defensive? You forgot to take that bumper sticker off your car and your Aunt decides to confront “whoever owns that car in the driveway.” Simple, clear explanations are great. Sharing your values about what you think about the world is a wonderful opportunity with family, but not taking yourself too seriously will help. Trading in the soap box for a quick joke about your bumper sticker could be a useful approach. The point of the gathering is to enjoy family, have fun and eat a lot of food, not to change hearts and minds. Kids have that down. 

The last lesson we can learn from our kids to help us with our families is not even that political, but we need it now more than ever. Be where you are. Put down your phone, leave it in the car, in your coat, whatever it takes. I might even suggest employing a “phone basket” at the front door. Collect all the phones and watch how the gathering changes. Children do this so well. Kids aren’t thinking about where they want to be next or scrolling through photos of what the kiddie table looks like their buddy’s house. Wherever they are, there they are. So wherever you are, be there. The holidays will come and go, just like elections and scandals and aggregated polls, but our family, even with their strange, unexpected comments, will only be with us while they are here, and we should be too. 

Disagreeing With Dignity

by Sam Melden

[Kitchen Table Politics November 2016]

My daughter dropped her head as she walked back to the house. She just realized that one of the neighbor kids wasn’t rooting for the same Presidential candidate that she was. She told me the story. One of the kids repeated a line they heard from their parents and then my kid repeated a few things she has heard in our house. And of course in our neighborhood, where the signs in our yard stand in protest of the large parade of the other candidate’s signs, we knew she might run into this situation. Kids say the darndest things, don’t they? Or when it comes to politics perhaps we could say, “kids repeat the darnedest things.”

When my oldest told me about what had happened with her friend, I had to reassure her. “First, honey, it’s okay - your friend can’t vote.” Now, that may have been more for the benefit of my wife who was listening in. It was funny. But then I started to reinforce what we believe about this time of year, and what we believe about politics and even more fundamentally, what we believe about disagreement. “It’s ok when we disagree with our friends. It just means we have a chance to learn or to grow. Or we have a chance to try to get better at listening than we are at talking,” I said.

By now, she wasn’t that interested, but I was reminded of something central to parenting: kids are going to repeat what they hear. This situation was partly about how to handle the infrequent bi-partisan playground discord and it was also about our kids repeating what they hear. Our children soak up all of these words and sighs and eye rolls and commercials and tense moments talking with Grandma about how she can’t believe its gotten this far. They see it, they hear it, they breathe it in. And then they repeat it to their friends while swinging. But, you know what else they hear? They hear the questions we ask in the tone we ask them. They know what it means when we respect each other and they are capable of repeating that tone and showing that respect back to their friends. So, how can we best prepare our children for these interactions? And how can we best prepare our children for all of the interactions they will have after the immediacy and heat of the election passes?

While it is important for adults to prepare for November 8th and to consider who they will vote for, I believe it is important for us to prepare our children for November 9th. The day after the election. When the results are in, a winner is declared and yard signs and bumper stickers transform from signs of hope to souvenirs. That is the day that we really want our kids to be prepared for, right? After all, they always need to be ready to treat all people with the dignity and respect they deserve.

The way we do that, is by behaving in such a way that the reality of November 9th is front and center in our family life. That is the day we are all reminded that we are all in this together. Despite the past year of separation and line-drawing, once the votes are tallied, we remember that we are all on the same team again. Isn’t that what we want for our children? Isn’t that what we want for ourselves?  This grand experiment called democracy is predicated upon this hope and dream. We the people, we are all in this together.

So, as I look back at that conversation with my daughter I think I’ve learned a lot. And the next time around I trust that she will be more prepared and less disappointed to learn of her buddy’s parent’s differing viewpoint. And I trust that the next time around I will be more prepared. When can teach our kids we are all in this together, we all win, no matter who wins.

Including You Kids In The Conversation: Nourishing Bodies And Mind

by Sam Melden

*NEW COLUMN FOR TOLEDO AREA PARENT. FIND IT HERE, OR ALL OVER THE CITY IN ADAMS ST. PUBLISHING NEWSSTANDS.

I love my kitchen table. A few friends of mine made it out of wood used to repair the front porch of our old house. It’s one of those “trendy” farm-style table, but it was also quite cheap because it was repurposed from an intense building project. It seats around 8-10 people and will be in our house for a long, long time. Recently, my wife and I have been thinking about the role this table plays in our kid's lives.

We have three daughters and they eat and draw and read and write at that table. They also laugh and scream and argue and spill and smear food at that table. It holds a significant place in their life and whether they know it or not, it fills an important role in their development. How to clean up and how to have fun with your family.

And while they are learning manners and listening skills they are also learning how Mommy and Daddy interact with each other. Learning about conflict and resolution and sustenance and contentment and lack and want. It is the place our children are filled. We have some really great moments around this table. But what else could happen at this table? What else could our little ones be learning?

A few nights a week, after the kids go to bed, this table transforms into the space where my wife Lindsey and I discuss all different kinds of issues. Sometimes we’re talking about what homeschooling might look like in upcoming weeks. Sometimes we are talking about family and friends or what’s happening in the neighborhood or what bills we need to pay. Sometimes we are talking about current events and headlines and political candidates and campaigns. And while the subjects may change, around this table everything is in someway connected. Yet, we have found that sometimes there can be healthy, and not so healthy distance between the kitchen table experience our kids have and the kitchen table experience we have.

We want to merge the two. How can we talk about the issues that really matter to us with our kids? And especially in this election season, how can we talk to our girls about the political issues that matter to our family? How can we begin to merge those two conversations when appropriate and formative to our young children?

I think the best way to form some of the most central habits and perspectives in our children is to begin with those topics and issues that are most central to them. Want to talk about poverty? Talk about hunger at the dinner table and see what conversation emerges. Sure, it may be easy to talk to my three daughters about the possibility of the first woman president in US History, but what about crumbling infrastructure and pothole-ridden roads and tap water with microcystin? Go to the lake and ask them what color the water should be. Then start to explore how the water became that shade of neon green. The next time you are on a bike ride together ask them who should take care of the roads? All of these conversations, bit by bit, add up to something.

As we have started to try to explore these discussions, we found we need our children in this dialogue. They are the most creative, intuitive and imaginative people on the planet. Why not give them a shot at thinking about these things?

When we teach our kids, we force ourselves to become more informed. We gain perspective. By talking to our children we discover the issues that really matter. It is an active practice that forces us to be involved. It forces us to research and dig for answers to those questions your kids ask that leave you stumped.

“Kitchen table politics” is a common term in political circles referring to issues that immediately affect our lives. What is more immediate than our kids? What has a deeper effect than their well-being? What if kitchen table politics referred to the issues that mattered to you so much, that you had to talk to your children about it? What would that list look like for you? I encourage you to explore it